Lesson plan for Hour of Code with Year 4-6 students

1. Introduce the concept of Hour of Code

  • Ask students if they have heard about it or noticed the flyer advertising it
  • Find out who is already coding e.g. with Minecraft
  • Show introductory video

2. Your turn:  Create an Interactive Holiday Card using Scratch

Learn more about Scratch

Try some more Scratch tutorials

3. Explore more ideas and practice at home



Code.org website  http://code.org/

Harvard Graduate School of Education – Hour of Code activity http://scratched.gse.harvard.edu/hoc/






Hardie Fellowship year draws to a close

I have now received approval of my Master’s Integrative Project and so ends my formal studies at Teachers College, Columbia University, but not I hope, my connection with it into the future.

My Integrative Project title is:

In a Crowded School Change Agenda, How can Educators Develop Twenty-First Century Quality Teaching that Includes Effective Integration of ICT?

This link is the Executive Summary plus the full Table of contents and references Bowes_2014_Executive Summary

The project is a literature review resulting in a set of 5 guidelines for teachers and 5 for principals, illustrated by a small set of case studies.  The executive summary was well received by the fellow students, colleagues and some of my professors who provided feedback and helpful suggestions.

I have learned so much from my courses, my professors and colleague students. I very much enjoyed the opportunities I had to participate in and contribute to the Games Research Lab projects, and the International High School Leadership program run by the Center for Technology and School Change. I feel so fortunate to have had so many wonderful opportunities and experiences, only some of which I have written about on this blog so far.

After returning home to Tasmania, Australia via a few days with my daughter and her husband in Sydney, I had a two week window before returning to work. As I unpacked, re-aquainted myself with my home and garden, adjusted to the major change of both my adult sons now living in their own homes, and gradually picked up the threads of my life in Hobart, I found myself reviewing the year and realizing many things that I have not previously had time to process.

Intensity of the learning

Choosing to do a full Master’s in a year is very intense! I did not realise that at the start. Perhaps it explains why I did not manage to blog as regularly as I  intended. I started many reflections but then found the next wave of input would be upon me before having time to complete the thought. I am still working on many of these.

The first semester was full of new experiences and adjustments – to living in New York City, the rhythm of the US academic year, new terminology, the reality of a cold and snowy winter, being one of the few more mature students among an international cohort, taking care to temper my Australian sense of humor lest it offend unintentionally, soaking up the enormous range of new cultural experiences and all that the university and New York City had to offer.

The full program required 32 points of courses, some of which were required (with choices within four pillar areas), others were electives and then there was a breadth requirement to take at least 3 courses external to the department offering my program. My advisor recommended doing 12 points (4 x 3 point courses) in the Fall semester, 13 in the Spring and the remaining 7 in the Summer. I ended up doing 33 points total and to reduce the Summer load (as I would also be working on my overall Integrative project) I took 5×3 point courses in the Spring. The additional load meant the Spring semester felt like a roller coaster.

Some key features of the overall experience were:

Variety of course designs and learning experiences

Now that I look back and take time to savour and appreciate the variety of course experiences I had, in terms of understanding myself as a learner, I am struck by how impactful the organisational context of learning can be. I value the variety of learning experiences that I had across the 11 courses – in course design and approach, and the individual experiences within the courses. I experienced a mix of

  • courses  concentrated into two spaced blocks of learning two weeks apart – intense but intimate learning community experiences
  • a course that took an extreme  challenge-based approach with almost no direct instruction – it felt stressful, frustrating and confusing at times. However, we did learn a lot and the bonds of solidarity we built in our teams turned into ongoing friendships
  • an online course that was conducted over a six week period with two synchronous 3.5 hour online sessions on consecutive days of the week. It seemed daunting but the professor skilfully designed the sessions to be an interesting mix of guided instruction, participatory discussion and groupwork in breakout rooms.
  • two game-design courses that had game-design principles embedded – they were effective, fun, highly personalized and immersed me deeply in an area I have always been interested in but only had peripheral involvement in recent years
  • two courses that modeled an inquiry approach to learning infused with a variety of technology integration and careful setting of tasks with feedback leading up to a final project.
  • five of my courses were in Horace Mann 438 – the prototype classroom of the future that I have previously written about. I experienced the room being used in a variety of ways and was interviewed for a Teachers College magazine article about it.

I also enrolled in two Coursera MOOCs – one offered by Prof Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University on Sustainable Development and the other by Prof Patrick Griffin and Esther from the University of Melbourne on Assessing and Teaching 21st Century Skills. They were both offered on the same platform and had some similarities but also some important differences. More on that another time.

Graduate school is not just about the courses

About six weeks after starting my first semester, I was at a lunch for International students, arranged by one of my professors, at which about 20 of us were discussing the international experience with one of the Vice Provosts. He made the point that a post graduate program is not just about the courses you do – it is about taking charge of your learning and designing your own overall experience by tapping into the full resources of the University – the wider Columbia as well as the graduate school of Teachers College. It was very easy to fill up all available time on coursework and this was like permission to let go. He also stressed the uniqueness of New York City and its wider cultural, social and academic offerings. From that point forward I made it my business to frequently attend guest lectures, meetups and whatever was on offer that appealed both personally and professionally. I learned that hard way that spending endless hours on a task is not necessarily more productive. Variety adds spice. Judging how much is enough is something I continue to struggle with.

When I think back, we were certainly given strong encouragement at orientation to make the most of what the University and NYC has to offer but I interpreted that as taking a break from study, rather than recognizing it as being an integral part of the learning, to gain broader perspectives, and keep the brain fresh. Perhaps I was hearing the same message  but was ready to process it differently.

Learning with a diverse international cohort – friends and colleagues for life

Of the many things I have experienced in the last year, learning with a mix of international and American students almost all of whom were a good 25 years or more younger than me was a gift. I was to contribute by virtue of experience and the opportunities I have been lucky enough to have in over the course of my career. 

The diversity of cultures, ethnicities, backgrounds was astonishing and a stark contrast to the relatively mono-cultural nature of Tasmania. Many of the young people had done so much already in their careers by age 30  – working in developing countries, passionate about returning to their countries to make a difference, widely travelled, entrepreneurial. Others were studying the program because they wanted a career change. Some were from teaching backgrounds but many were not. It was a lot of fun learning about the subtle differences in other cultures and we had many laughs when comparing notes about attitudes to every day life.

New connections

A friend and colleague in Australia introduced me to a few of her colleagues in New York and from those introductions and follow ups I was fortunate to spend time at work and play with them. The ACCE 2014 study tour included New York in its itinerary en route to the ISTE 2014 conference and I hosted a half day for them at Teachers College. I then joined them for other New York based activities and  met up at the ISTE 2014 conference in Atlanta. I expect to meet some of the in Adelaide soon at the ACEC 2014 conference.

New York City 

It’s a cliche to say I love NYC but I do!

Once I was home I felt as though I had been to Narnia and had just stepped back through the wardrobe to my real life. It was almost as though time had stood still and the year away is rapidly receding into memory as a blip in time.

New York CIty is an amazing mix of contradictions. The craziness of density of high rise buildings and the serene natural environment of Central Park; the haves and the have-nots; the rich cultural dimension of museums, art galleries, performing arts, street artists and the confronting sight of the homelessness; the strange beauty of the skyline and the ugliness of some of the high density housing; the beautiful design in some of the modern architecture and the classical buildings; the subway art contrasting with the general run-down condition of much of the subway system. There is so much available within an hour’s travel on public transport.

I managed to get through most of my bucket list but there is still plenty more of NYC to bring me back again and again in the future.

What a wonderful year it has been!  Thank you Professor Charles Hardie for the opportunity.

Carolyn Bliesener: students try styles of government in Minecraft

Students in Carolyn Bliesener’s 2013-2014 year 5 class used Minecraft to experiment with different styles of government in a social studies inquiry unit exploring the essential question ‘How can societies organize themselves?’ By experiencing different styles of government and taking on roles, the concepts they learned about in class were experienced and made real in a virtual world.

Photo of Carolyn Bliesener in her classroom

Carolyn Bliesener in her classroom

The context

Schooling level: Elementary School – 5th grade

Location: Elisabeth Morrow School, New Jersey US

Teaching experience: 17 years

Learning design: Inquiry-based learning designed around an Essential Question.

Innovation: Using Minecraft as part of a Social Studies inquiry unit on American History and government

Technologies used: Minecraft within a 1:1 computing environment. Students have their own laptops as part of a BYOL (Bring Your Own Laptop) program being gradually implemented across the middle school. Carolyn says that this has been a game-changer for curriculum planning. It means that she can use a whole range of tools available through the school intranet (e.g. Google Apps for Schools) for organizational matters and monitoring and responding to student work.

 “It has transformed my ability to pinpoint what every child in this classroom needs and how I can differentiate for different student needs.

Communication between students and teacher has completely changed. I can give them instant feedback. It’s changed so much how I communicate with my students. It’s no longer me and the class but me and the individual, and they are learning from each other.”

Why adopt the innovation?  

Carolyn was inspired by seeing the level of engagement of her students when attending weekly sessions with the technology teacher, Marianne Malmstrom (whose online persona is @Knowclue Kidd). In these sessions the students played Minecraft to explore ideas and design games. Carolyn had no games background herself but she decided that she wanted that type of engagement in her classroom. She reflected

 “….the discussions, the conversations that the children were having about what they were doing in the game so inspired me that I wanted that – that level of engagement, in my classroom.”

Carolyn decided to learn about incorporating Minecraft into her classroom by adopting it  as her professional development focus.

”My biggest hitch was, how do I find the time to do this?……and that took a while to figure out”

 “Teachers make choices every day about what to spend precious learning time on. For me to play this game, I have to know why I am doing it. I need to know what I want them to accomplish by playing the game, and also what they want to accomplish.”

 Marianne’s modeling and the ongoing support provided by her when needed, has been the catalyst and inspiration to encourage Carolyn to adapt the affordances of the Minecraft environment to suit her curriculum needs, and the needs of the group of learners.

Image of classroom poster - Question Everything

How did you go about the innovation? 

With Marianne’s guidance as coach, mentor and critical friend, Carolyn explored how she could use Minecraft to model real-world problems relevant to a curriculum unit whose content was American History, guided by the essential question: “How can societies organize themselves?”For one semester students spent 45 minutes most days putting into practice ideas that had been previously introduced and discussed in lessons. Between sessions and as issues arose, skillfully facilitated class discussions enabled the students to think deeply about the consequences of decisions and actions, and collaboratively solve problems. Every time they played, they wrote a reflection that was private between the student and the teacher. Carolyn required that they write a minimum of 50-100 words but on some days, some students wrote 300 words or more!

Photo of computer screen showing Minecraft scene

A morning in the classroom

On the day I visited, the morning began with a discussion about an incident that had occurred in-world in Minecraft earlier in the week. The students took turns to air their grievances thoughtfully and vigorously, and discuss the issue. They were respectful of diverse viewpoints and proposed various solutions, informed by the knowledge they had developed of the American Constitution. The issue was one of whether a particular action by a student was fair or legal in terms of the rules of the game. The discussion made it clear that fair and legal were not necessarily the same thing and the idea of bringing in a new law to prevent further instances of the same behaviour was raised. One student then pointed out that even if they did that, it would not be appropriate to retrospectively apply the law to the “guilty” student who technically had not broken any rules. To justify his position, he stated that Ex Post Facto was not in place and explained what it meant!

They then proceeded to have their Minecraft session in which they were playing out the next iteration of their experimentation with ways of organizing a society.

Photo of class and teacherAt this stage of their experiment, they had formed tribes and alliances. Each tribe had a constitution and each alliance had a treaty. It was amazing to watch the engagement, intensity and absorption of the students as they worked in ‘creative mode’ to build their respective tribal areas.

Photo of students playing Minecraft

Students playing Minecraft

Then, Carolyn announced

“The raiding tribe has been notified. You are now in survival mode.”

The adrenalin surge could be felt as survival mode was invoked, and the students sought to protect themselves from the unknown foe. At the end of the allocated time, the game stopped and students packed up and moved to their next class. What I had observed was a finely tuned balance between overall teacher-designed learning and a lot of freedom for students to explore in their own ways individually and in teams.

After their session, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carolyn about her journey, as an experienced teacher (but non-gamer), with this innovation.

What was the shift in teacher role? 

The hardest thing for Carolyn was letting go of control and being willing to give the students the freedom to explore within parameters determined by the curriculum. Carolyn implemented the innovation in the second semester of the school year. She stressed the importance of knowing the students well and having sound classroom management routines in place. She talked about the school’s underpinning values that are well understood by students – the 4 Cs of Cooperation, Compassion, Courtesy and Consideration.  She explained

“The students like playing the game within the parameters of those values. As a school we have to provide a safe environment.”

Carolyn described the disconcerting feeling of not knowing how this experiment would go. She enlisted the support of parents by letting them know of her intention at the start of the school year. At first parents were resistant, thinking that students would just be doing more game playing like many of them did at home. However, when Carolyn explained that it would be contained to a curriculum-related context they became excited and said “my child is going to love being in your class.”.

Evidence of success

Carolyn has been amazed at the processing and transfer that have taken place as a result of this approach. She is in no doubt that it has made the concepts they have been learning about real. By modeling different ways of governing within the virtual world, students get to experience first hand and through different roles, the realities good and bad, and nuances of different types of societal organization.

Image of classroom poster - Question Everything

Classroom poster – Question Everything

I asked Carolyn what exactly were the students learning by playing the game and she responded

“My answer will be different to the students. They blow me away sometimes…….they learned what an ex post facto law is. Little did I know until we had a discussion about something in the game and one student said ‘we hadn’t made that decision yet. It’s ex post facto.’ I think they are learning to make connections between what they learn and applying it in the game.”

“To me what they are learning in the game is how to work together, maybe not on a high level but it’s generating so much discussion about what is right and what is wrong, and how we want to organize ourselves. Do we want chaos, or do we want some law and order?  The whole idea of human rights and how that works in the game. We talked about treaties this morning and they discussed whether they would help others in need if they did not have a treaty with them.“

 When asked if she thought they would get sick of playing the game, Carolyn  replied:

“I don’t know. My feeling is that if I started to impose more on them, they might push back.”

Student perspective

During the lunch break, the students had agreed to give some of their time to answer some questions about their experience with Minecraft. I asked them three questions:

  1. What are you learning?
  2. What surprised you?
  3. Do you think you will get sick of it?

1. What are you learning?

Their responses to the first question included many mentions of teamwork, cooperation, making the learning about the forms of government real to them. Sample responses were:

  • Teamwork and we are learning about government.
  • Everything is hands on and you can feel it.
  • We are learning how government works and we are actually getting an experience with it and we get to have discussions about real issues.
  • We get to learn how to do things ourselves and in a group. You also learn how to survive.
  • What I learned is that it makes it so much easier to understand because you are actually doing it.
  • You learn how to play Minecraft!
  • We are learning all this history and social studies and bringing it into the game which makes it fun so it’s fun learning.

 2. What has surprised you?

  • I thought it would be more just surviving and not coming together and forming government and things like that. Mrs B was Queen for a while and that was fun and then Daniel was the autocrat which wasn’t as much fun for everyone.
  • Now what is really surprising me is that we are starting to not just form tribes but form the basis of a country, not just tribes.
  • What surprised me is that not just the tribes, but the alliances work well.
  • I was surprised that we were actually playing Minecraft in the classroom.
  • I was surprised that today we managed to help the other tribe to survive the raid.
  • I am surprised at how far we have gotten in the game and where we are now, with the alliances, we can merge together and become countries but because we have made our own bases it might be hard to become one country so we may have to stay as an alliance.
  • I was surprised at how well the raiding went and how well everyone helped each other.

3. Do you think you will get sick of it?

All but one student declared that they did not think they would get sick of playing. One student remarked:

“I think I might get sick of the game if the two tribes not aligned with us keep raiding us rather than other tribes, I might get frustrated.”

These young students were articulate, enthusiastic and certainly demonstrated real understanding gained from their virtual world experience.

The next iteration

Carolyn talked about her intentions for the next iteration of the game with next year’s class. She intends to  incorporate some ideas from @John Hunter’s work (World Peace Game Foundation) and the book The Art of War by Sun Tzu which promotes the notion of war being an option only if all other avenues are exhausted.

I caught up with Carolyn at the ISTE 2014 conference where she was sharing her work with others in Marianne’s very popular workshops and presentations. She reflected

“Overall, using Minecraft in the classroom has been an extremely positive experience for me and my students.  I look forward to next year with now a little more experience under my belt, and I hope to even play more with the class than I did last year.”

To me what is most inspiring about this story, is the way that Carolyn has carefully thought about her use of technology from a learning and curriculum perspective. She has given herself time to think it through and then been willing to take a risk, to try out her ideas in a well planned way within the context of learning design, and with a willingness to iteratively refine what she is doing through a process of ongoing reflection. I think it is a wonderful example of learning leading technology and what good teachers can do as learning designers.

Last but not least, she has been able to do this because of the enabling and supportive conditions of the school’s infrastructure, IT management led by @Sarah Rolle and ongoing professional development and technology support from the technology teacher Marianne.

Contact Carolyn on Twitter @coggone.


Hunter, J. (2011). Teaching with the World Peace Game. TED. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/john_hunter_on_the_world_peace_game

Hunter, J. (2013). World Peace and other 4th Grade Achievements. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Tzu, S., & Giles, L (translator). (2009). The Art of War (1st ed.). Blacksburg, VA: Thrifty Books.



Teaching as a design science – Diana Laurillard

I am reading Diana Laurillard’s book Teaching as a Design Science (2012)  which strongly resonates with the themes I am exploring in my Master’s study. She proposes that teachers acting as design scientists would observe four basic precepts, to

Image of book cover - Teaching as Design Science

1. Keep improving their practice

2. Have a principled way of designing and testing improvements in practice

3. Build on the work of others

4. Represent and share their pedagogic practice, the outcomes they achieved, and how these related to the elements of their design

These principles of professional conduct are free of any mention of technology because they should be neutral with respect to how the practice operates, so the methodology should work just as well for conventional teaching.  Any test of effective and improving practice should be able to test all forms of teaching to discover what is optimal for different contexts and settings. p. 211

She addresses the many criticisms of studies about the failure of educational technology to impact at scale on education, by using an analogy of paper as a technology. She says (quoting her own earlier work from 2010)

My favorite analogy is with the story of paper in education. Its role is now so completely embedded, and it is so diverse in its benefits, and potential for even further benefits, that no-one begins to ask how “effective” it is. And yet paper is extremely limited as a technology in comparison with digital technologies. So 30 years after the first program for computers in schools we are still investigating the potential of technology. Understanding and fully exploiting its potential will take a lot longer . (Laurillard, 2010) p. 210

Professor Laurillard  has been working on a particular model for consistently describing learning design so that teachers can have a shared basis to reflect, discuss, modify, and share. 

Book chapters

Scanning the chapter titles gives a good sense of the book and in each of chapters 6-11, there is a section on how technology can help

1. Teaching as a Design Science
– the role of technology
– harnessing technology for educational ends
– learning about teaching
– education as a design science
– design patterns for learning
– the foundations for teaching as design
2. What is formal learning

3. What students bring to learning

4. What it takes to learn

5. What it takes to teach
– introduction
– factors influencing the design of teaching
– approached to designing for learning
– aligning goals, activities and assessment
– monitoring alternative conceptions
– scaffolding theory-generated practice
– fostering conceptual change
– encouraging metacognition
– teaching as design
– a principled approach to designing for learning
– Summary

6. Motivating and enabling the learning cycle

7. Learning through acquisition

8. Learning through inquiry

9. Learning through discussion

10. Learning through practice

11. Learning through collaboration

12. Teaching as developing pedagogical patterns

Keynote presentation

In this keynote presentation from 2012, titled Teaching as a Design Science in Learning and Technology, Professor Laurillard discusses the ideas that are in the book.

She has some interesting comments about MOOCs at about the 37 minute mark and the Q and A section at the end raises important points.

Slides from the presentation

The book also analyses the costs of designing learning and the benefits of openly sharing so that others can build on the work without starting from scratch, which requires technology to do smartly. Without leveraging the benefits of sharing, the upfront cost (in teacher time) is hard to achieve. This is where collaborative planning is part of the solution.

Harnessing the work of teachers

So 30 years after the first program for computers in schools we are still investigating the potential of technology. Understanding and fully exploiting its potential will take a lot longer (Laurillard, 2010) p 211.

She goes on to argue that the task of doing that lies within the teaching profession. Investment has not been directed at changing the system, only at acquiring the technology.

While we wait for sufficient investment, there is another approach that is equally necessary: to harness the work of every teacher, working with their students to discover what they can do with technology. Even with a well-designed investment program education would still need a teaching profession able to innovate and build its knowledge about teaching and learning with technology.  p 211

How can these ideas be used right now in schools?

The systems Prof Laurillard describes for building a digital repository of shared practice are not yet in common use.  Meanwhile, these principles can be used to guide incremental improvement that builds teacher capacity at individual school level and within professional learning networks and communities of practice. Using one of the evidence-research based frameworks for learning design (e.g.guided inquiry frameworks such as Understanding by Design, Teaching for Understanding, 5Es, Problem Based Learning, Challenge Based Learning) as a starting point for a shared frame of reference for collaborative planning, reflection and ongoing improvement.

Something to think about

When it comes to investment in the mindful use of technology in learning design, is it better to invest in well-designed products that schools can buy (and receive professional development and training to use) or to invest in buying time for teachers to develop their capacity to use what is freely available in mindful ways? Perhaps the two things are not mutually exclusive. What do you think?


ASCD Express, Vol. 6, No. 25. Copyright 2011 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol6/625-video.aspx

Bybee, R. W., Taylor, J. A., Gardner, A., Van, P., Powell, J. C., Westbrook, A., … Knapp, N. (2006). The BSCS 5E Instructional Model : Origins and Effectiveness A Report Prepared for the Office of Science Education National Institutes of Health.

Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology. Florence, Kentucky: Taylor & Francis.

Problem-Based Learning for the 21st Century Classroom (DVD), 2010, Alexandria, VA: ASCD

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2006). Understanding by Design (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River: Merrill/Prentice Hall by arrangement with the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wiske, M. S. (2005). Teaching for Understanding with Technology. San Francisco: John Wiley and sons.

Mindful versus Mindless engagement with technology

One of the many areas that my studies have delved into is the one of mindful versus mindless uses of technology, and how we  can design learning tasks to encourage mindful rather than mindless engagement.

A long time ago (1991), an article called Partners in Cognition – Extending Human Intelligence with Intelligent Technologies was published by Gabriel Salomon, David Perkins and Tamar Globerson, in which they discussed the potential of some computer technologies to

“aid in cognitive processing, support intellectual performance and enrich individuals” minds, even when the technology is removed.”

They argued that  that effects both with technology and of technology depend on the individual’s mindful engagement in the partnership. They defined mindful as “non-automatic and requiring effort” and in relation to mindless engagement, they observe that no important impact can be expected when the same old activity is carried out with a technology that makes it a bit faster or easier; the activity itself has to change, and such a change cannot take place in a cultural vacuum.

An ongoing challenge

That was 23 years ago and since then we have witnessed a steady flow of research and studies that show disappointing impact on student learning outcomes, given the investment in ICT in hardware, software, networks and professional development. Many studies point to fairly shallow, arguably mindless uses of technology as being the norm and those uses that might be described as mindful being the exception rather than the rule. Michael Fullan, in his book, Stratosphere, lists many of these studies. The OECD has found, based on PISA results in 2005, 2006 and 2009, that the use of computers at school does not correlate with increased learning outcomes in literacy and numeracy. Rather, student computer use at home does correlate with higher scores. A meta-literature review in 2004 by Mary Webb and Margaret Cox found that with the exception of simulations to convey complex concepts in science, outcomes for ICT integration depend entirely on how it is used. In 2011, research into Innovative Teaching and Learning found that there is a gap between the type of teaching and learning  described in policy documents and the pedagogy that most students experience. In other words, the effectiveness of technology depends on how it is incorporated into learning design. 

David Jonassen’s work – learning, problem solving and mindtools

The theme of mindful engagement with technology was fundamental to the work of David Jonassen who developed an enormous body of work on Computers as mindtools, and using technology to enhance problem-solving. His early writing about this, a book chapter called Learning with technology: Using Computers as cognitive tools has been cited than 1,100 times in the literature, most often in support of research and development related to innovative learning environments. 

The 4th edition of his book Meaningful Learning with Technology was published in 2012 and remains a very useful guide, organised around  learning processes such as inquiring, experimenting, writing, modeling, community building, communicating, designing, visualizing, and assessing.

Image of book cover - :Meaningful Learning with Technology"          Image of book cover - "Learning, Problem Solving and Mindtools"

Jonassen was such a giant in the field that following his death, a book was produced in 2013, Learning, Problem Solving and Mindtools, consisting of articles from other leaders in the learning sciences, honoring his work and its contribution to the field.

Jonassen sought to help educators use technology based on the assumption that

“meaningful learning requires active engagement in authentic learning tasks, articulation and reflection on personally and socially constructed meaning, collaboration in those tasks whenever possible and, most important, an intention to learn.”

Computers as cognitive tools is not the only way that digital technologies can potentially improve learning. Connectivity and increasingly ubiquitous availability of devices has opened up other opportunities to reduce the limitations of time, distance and location.

Alan November’s six questions to check if an assignment using technology represents transformed learning

Recently at the ISTE2014 conference, Alan November gave a presentation titled Learn to Learn: the First Five Days of School during which he posed some questions which also relate to the theme of mindful engagement with technology. He proposed 6 questions to ask when considering using technology in a learning assignment (or as a reflection on an earlier use):

1) Did the assignment create capacity for critical thinking on the web?
2) Did the assignment reach new areas of teaching students to develop new lines of inquiry?
3) Are there opportunities to broaden the perspective of the conversation with authentic audiences from around the world?
4) Is there an opportunity for students to publish (across various media) with an opportunity for continuous feedback?
5) Is there an option or focus for students to create a contribution (purposeful work?)
6) Were students introduced to “best in the world” examples of content and skill?

He suggests that if the answer to all 6 is “no”, then transformative use of technology has not occurred.

I did not manage to get into the session but Anthony Speranza has written about it and produced a short video summary of his version of the key points, also relating it to the SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Transformation) model of technology integration.

Anthony’s video ends by posing the question “Are you effectively integrating content, technology and pedagogy to transform learning to new possibilities in a global world?  This is (presumably) a reference to the TPACK (Technology, Pedagogy and Content Knowledge) framework that was released in 2006 and offers another way to conceptualize the problem of what teachers need to know, understand and do to effectively integrate technology in learning.

 How will future generations of teachers approach learning design?

As I ponder all of this I and aware that there are amazing things happening all around the world in many schools and classrooms, not just in terms of technology but in creating wonderful learning environments for students that engage, challenge and excite them. See for example, Hobsonville Point Schools in New Zealand, brand new schools set up as student-centred learning environments.

How differently will children who learn in these sorts of environments approach learning design when they become the teachers of the future? Current generations of teachers are often limited by the models they have experienced in their own schooling, in teacher education programs and in their career to date. As networks improve and availability of devices increases, the task of integrating technology will surely become more manageable and accessible to the majority of teachers.


Howland, J. L., Jonassen, D., & Marra, R. M. (2012). Meaningful Learning with Technology (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Jonassen, D. H., & Reeves, T. C. (1996). Learning with technology: Using Computers as cognitive tools. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology (1st ed., pp. 693–719). New York: Macmillan Taylor.

Salomon, G., Perkins, D. N., & Globerson, T. (1991). Partners in Cognition: – Extending Human Intelligence with Intelligent Technologies. Educational Researcher20, 2–9.

Shear, L., Gallagher, L., & Patel, D. (2011). Innovative teaching and learning research 2011 – findings of SRI research sponsored by Microsoft Partners in Learning.

Spector, J. M., Lockee, B. B., Smaldino, S. E., & Herring, M. C. (Eds.). (2013). Learning, Problem-Solving and Mindtools. New York: Routledge.

Webb, M., & Cox, M. (2004). A review of pedagogy related to information and communications technology. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 13(3), 32. Retrieved from http://ejournals.ebsco.com/Article.asp?ContributionID=10273871




Twitter journey – part 2

At the recent ISTE2014 conference I tweeted in my usual manner when attending professional learning events but with a view to extending myself. The conference encouraged the use of Twitter through pervasive promotion and reinforcement of the conference hashtag #ISTE2014 via all available means –  banners, printed materials, twitter feed displayed on screens throughout the conference, reminders at start of sessions etc.

Image of Twitter feed at ISTE 2014

I learned a lot from observing how others at the conference were using Twitter. I also confess to the pleasure of experiencing people favoriting and retweeting my tweets, while realizing how easily the very human tendency to enjoy recognition can influence behavior. There’s a fine line to tread between professional sharing and self-promotion.

Here’s what I added to my Twitter understanding.  

1. Improving tweeting fluency and efficiency

At the start of a conference session, it is worth taking a few moments to prepare for tweeting by thinking about the hashtags relevant for that session and having the core ones (e.g. ISTE2014 @<speaker’s twitter handle> #<focus of topic> already typed and copied so that they can be quickly pasted in a new tweet. I like to use my laptop (which happens to be a lightweight MacBook Air) to take my notes which are often more detailed and thorough than what can be included in a tweet. However, if I want to include a photo, the smartphone (yes it’s an iPhone) is more immediate. Snap, share, annotate, done.

My current preferred practice is as follows

  1. Write on a laptop using  EndNote (new note for each session)
  2. Maintain a mindset of being fully present and focussed to achieve the required multitasking of
  • listening
  • writing notes in both
  • copy/pasting segments as a tweet periodically OR writing directly as tweets and copy/pasting back to EndNote

Sometimes I just used the phone, but I find it limiting as I am much slower in typing and, if I want comprehensive notes, there is a follow up task required. My preference is to document my thoughts at the time and not have a follow up job to do.

Tweets that include images are usually more powerful than text alone. Images can be taken at the time or screenshots from relevant websites referenced during the presentation (additional multitasking required).

Like any skill, using Twitter is  easy once you know how and with enough practice you internalise the different ways of doing thing. Over time, you  can get to the point of making quick decisions about the optimum path to take in a given situation.

2. Stretching the capacity of Twitter’s  140 characters

Twitter’s 140 character limit can be a great challenge especially if you include a couple of hashtags, maybe an @ reference and some Twitter shorthand. I noticed a few tricks that people used to get the most out of the 140 characters.

Shorten URLs when sharing links. I have always used tinyurl.com but bitly seems to be very popular among the twitterati. Bitly generates slightly shorter URLs than Tinyurl  and you get other features (e.g. tracking your URLs) but you also have to create an account and log in which might be a downside. Tinyurl is very quick.

Embedded Slideshows

An effective way for a presenter to share their presentation slides via Twitter is to use Slideshare to publish the slides, and then use the embed code within the tweet. This places a web-enabled slideshow in the tweet. Once published on Slideshare, the presentation can be shared in multiple ways via its unique URL, the embed code or other options indicated on Slideshare.

Screenshot of embedded Slideshare in Tweet

 Words as images

Using images of words gives prominence and formatting as well as sometimes saving on characters. In the example below, multi-award winning 2014 Presidential Scholar and ISTE2014 closing keynote Jeff Charbonneau also includes his twitter handle in the image which means his identity stays with the image if it is re-used.

Screenshot of words as images in twitter

Such images can easily be created as single presentation slides, nicely formatted and then screenshot to generate an image file for upload  OR if tweeting from iPhone would simply involve taking a photo of the screen.

Another example is shown below though this has more design applied than simply typing and formatting text.

Image of nicely formatted text as part of a tweet

3. Tutorial- Twitter for educators

This tutorial was first written in 2012 but is regularly revised and updated

“Most educators who learn to use Twitter effectively say they learn more from their personal learning network (PLN) on Twitter than they’ve achieved from any other forms of professional development or personal learning.”

Image of Twitter Guide 2014

An (ongoing) Twitter journey in three phases so far

Phase 1 – Rejection (2007-2011)

Twitter first came on the scene on 21 March 2006 according to twitter.about.com and wikipedia. I first joined Twitter on 7 November 2007 but after a bit of a play, I decided it was pretty trivial and a distraction I could do without.

On 3 June 2008, I tweeted “I’m giving Twitter another go for a while. When I first checked it out I could not see the point but others I respect tell me it is great.”.

screenshot of tweet

Still it did not grab me. I was too busy and already had more than enough regular information flowing to me via email alerts, email lists, Facebook and newsfeeds. The noise:signal ratio was far too high and I still could not see it being valuable to me.

Phase 2: Contained adoption (2011-2014)

In May 2011, I attended a Skills Tas eLearning conference and they promoted the use of a hashtag for the conference. I decided to have a go and found it really effective for getting a sense of how others in the room were experiencing the same session, and also how other sessions were going. From that point, I adopted a practice of tweeting at conferences and other events where participation was otherwise fairly passive. I felt pretty comfortable about that – it was something I could do well in those periods of time dedicated to focussing on professional learning. I got into a routine of taking notes and copy/pasting extracts as tweets and/or using my tweets as brief notes.

That has continued to be my practice. Over the last year as I’ve attended various events related to my studies, I have got into a rhythm with my laptop and smartphone (for when I want to include pics). I have found it strangely gratifying when tweets get favorited or re-tweeted. I wonder a lot about that very human trait of liking recognition and how it can be so easily manipulated, and the associated pitfalls of social media.

At a recent conference, a colleague and I were comparing notes and she too was saying that she just couldn’t get into twitter. I told her about my use of it for conferences and she later emailed me to thank me for opening her eyes to the value of Twitter for conferences. It felt good to have have that validation.

Phase 3: Attempting more regular use (2014 – )

In recent times, I have had a growing awareness that many many  educators whom I respect, use Twitter as an essential part of their professional learning network (PLN) and their open sharing creates a rich resource for others. I have been surprised at how many busy people extol the virtue of Twitter as a source of professional learning and started to think that maybe I was still missing something. Maybe Twitter is an effective way to share just enough to be useful, without requiring the much longer time to do a thoughtful blog posting.

I have spent the last couple of days with the ACCE 2014 study tour group and have observed (and participated in) some serious tweeting to good effect. There has also been lively discussion about using Twitter as a classroom tool, especially from the very talented and innovative  Miss Spink.

So, I am giving it a go again, to see where it takes me and how I feel about it after a month or two. My current reality of being a full time student will change in August so it will be interesting to see which of my practices serve me well in a work setting. My top reasons for being willing to give Twitter a serious try (yet again) are

  1. A belief in giving as well as taking (online community)
  2. Acknowledging others
  3. Maintaining/extending digital fluency (maybe)
  4.  Making an informed decision going forward (about Twitter)
  5. Developing my personal learning network.


Ironically, as I was finishing this post, I checked my Twitter feed and there was this item from Joyce Seitzinger –  about a series of blog postings titled “Is Twitter worth it

screenshot of Twitter post about the value of Twitter

This link to top 50 Twitter acronyms might be useful too – I had cause to look up “MT” today – “modified tweet”.

I’d be interested to know others’ Twitter journeys.


EduTech 2014 roundup

EduTech 2014 happened last week in Brisbane Australia and thanks to social media, I feel like I have a good sense of what happened. I had a pretty busy week but checked the Twitter stream each evening, followed the links that interested me and came up with the following take-aways thanks to the generous people who tweeted, retweeted and blogged to share their experiences.

The takeaways from my browsing are:

Sir Ken Robinson’s keynote

“Kids are born as learning organisms,” he says to a communal nod of approval from the audience.

“The real point of education is not to increase yield … the real purpose of education, our job is to help people grow from the inside out.”

Australian Teacher Magazine wrote this summary of his talk (includes three short video clips).

Sugata Mitra’s keynote

The twitter stream was abuzz with praise and the audience clearly inspired by Sugata MItra’s keynote. His original  talk in 2007 about kids teaching themselves via the Hole in the Wall project has been seen 1 million times. His 2010 TED talk about child-driven education  has been seen 1.9 million times and he won the 2013 TED prize enabling him to pursue his School in the Cloud research and associated SOLEs (Self-Organising Learning Environments), an early example of which is Room 13 at Greenfield Community College in the UK.

Apparently his EduTech presentation covered much of the same ground as the TED talks and it is interesting to read the reflections of Claire Amos (educator and blogger), Donelle Batty (Tasmanian educator and Hardie Fellow, who attended the Master Class) and Australian Teacher Magazine.

“Is knowing obsolete?”

This was a provocative question he posed and one taken up by Michael Coghlan in his conference reflection.

Jenny Lucca presentation

Digital Literacy: guiding students (and teachers) to develop their 21st Century skills

Jenny published her presentation slides  and for me it was like a summary of many of the references and themes I have been learning and researching about since beginning my graduate studies. It was apparent from the Twitter stream that her presentation was very well received, including remarks from some of the keynote speakers. She also posted her own conference reflections on her blog.

Ian Jukes’ closing comments

Ian Jukes is usually entertaining, provocative and extreme in his views. Apparently he spoke so fast, he was un-tweetable!

Claire Amos has a summary and reflection of Jukes’ presentation and this posting includes some of the charts used by Jukes to illustrate the changing nature of the workforce and the need for creativity.

Other conference reflections

The website will soon disappear to make way for next year’s event  so it is the artifacts created through social media that provide the ongoing record rather than formal conference proceedings.

Biohazard 5: Paul Andersen’s game-based flipped classrooom

“Good morning, my name is Mr Anderson and my classroom is a video game “. So begins a 2012 TEXx talk titled Using game design to improve my teaching in which Paul Anderson  describes how he uses game mechanics to increase motivation in his classroom.  Paul is the 2011 Montana Teacher of the Year and was one of four finalists for National Teacher of the Year.

image of video of Paul Andersen talking about his game-based classroom

Paul Andersen talking about his game-based classroom.

Profile summary

Schooling level: High School
Location: Bozeman High School, Montana.
Teaching experience: 17 years
Game-based learning approach: Transformation of year long Biology course.
Learning design: Guided inquiry with Essential questions, mini lectures (video podcasts), special activities to apply learning to the real world, Science Inquiry Labs, ongoing feedback from the teacher, teacher determines when students are ready to take the mastery test for the level.

Game-design elements: Narrative storyline as theme, experience points (XP) and levels (described with biological analogies), leaderboard, failure seen as part of learning (opportunities to retake tests);  students learn at their own pace;

Technologies used: class set of  Internet -connected devices (iPads), Moodle as course management system to organize and keep track of the learning and assessment tasks, video podcasts made by the teacher, digital resources from various sources; Google docs, spreadsheets and forms to collate data within and across classes.


After reading Lee Sheldon’s book The Multiplayer Classroom – designing coursework as a game, Paul was inspired to re-design his classroom to improve student motivation and learning.

How (2011)?

Essential questions based on big ideas (from the formal curriculum) are represented as levels in the game.  The Biohazard 5 class uses a science inquiry learning design approach intertwined with game design. The end result  is a game-based learning program that uses a rich variety of learning experiences to suit the cognitive, behavioral and emotional requirements to achieve the overarching goal of the class – mastery of the essential questions posed in the course.

A TEDx video Using Game Design to Improve my Teaching describes the program and in another video, Paul walks through the Moodle representation of the class, describing some of the teacher management tasks involved with the technology.

Paul ends the TEDx talk by talking about what he learned from 3 mistakes:

  1. “Conventional class is like a schoolbus with the teacher as driver ensuring everyone gets to their destination.  I gave my students a new car , handed them the keys and told them “you’re on your own, now drive.” Some stalled, some got there, and some crashed”. Lesson learned – provide more scaffolding.
  2. The importance  of reading – kids struggle with reading when you make your class independent. They need to be explicitly taught how to read for meaning. Paul sought the help of a reading specialist to learn how to do this.
  3. We are not vulcans –  we need to add social elements. Learning that is fully automated sucks!

How (2012) – rethinking the re-thought classroom

In a blog posting titled The Blended Learning Cycle  that includes a  third video. Paul reports on how he has incorporated the lessons from the first year, together with additional sources of inspiration from people, books and his Master’s study. He describes his deeper understanding of inquiry learning and his own way of applying the  widely used 5E’s inquiry framework.  The end result is his Quivers model of a learning cycle for each topic (level) in the course (game). Watch the video to see it explained.

Shift in teacher role:

Paul describes his shift from a passive teacher-centered environment to an active student-centered environment. In his own classroom he discovered that this freed him up to spend his time working with individuals and small groups as needed. Some direct instruction is part of each week. 

Evidence of success:

In the first year, the success was clear in terms of the increased student engagement and motivation. This was not however reflected in increased test scores.  The results after the second year, where the underpinning learning design was adjusted to include more scaffolding and directed inquiry, are not yet published.

How does the teacher keep learning?

Paul’s account of learning from the mistakes in the first year of Biohazard 5 shows that he is a reflective practitioner. He cites several inspirations from his professional reading, conferences attended and his Masters thesis as key to improving his practice. He continues to learn independently and through the opportunities that have come to him through recognition of his achievements.

Links to source information

Books that inspired Paul

image of Lee Sheldon's book, The Multiplayer Classroom

Sheldon, L. (2012). The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game. Boston, MA: Course Technology, a part of Cengage Learning.




More information on some of the pedagogical ideas mentioned 

  • Reading for meaning
  • Inquiry learning – Essential Questions (from the Coalition of Essential Schools)
  • The 5 Es framework was originally designed by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study for science inquiry. It was released in 1989 and is  now widely adopted as an inquiry framework for any subject area.
    • 1 minute Video from BSCS outlining the 5 Es steps
    • Research study about the effectiveness of the 5’s model:
      Bybee, R. W., Taylor, J. A., Gardner, A., Van, P., Powell, J. C., Westbrook, A., … Knapp, N. (2006). The BSCS 5E Instructional Model : Origins and Effectiveness A Report Prepared for the Office of Science Education National Institutes of Health.



Game-based learning case study: The Fearless Classroom

Award winning teacher, Joli Barker has created an innovative classroom where, in her words,  students are active players in their own educational game.

Screenshot of video of Joli Barker in her Fearless Classroom

Joli Barker in her Fearless Classroom
Image: www.discoveryeducation.com

Schooling level: Second Grade elementary.
Location: Earl H. Slaughter Elementary School in McKinney, Texas.
Teaching experience: 16 years
Game-based learning approach: Gamification of science inquiry learning segments in classroom. The Department of Significantly Important Operational Geniuses

Why?  Joli had a desire to increase engagement and motivation – she was  inspired by Jane McGonigal’s book  Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World .

How? All elements of the classroom are integrated as a game – students rotate around centers that emphasize particular types of thinking:

  1. Curiosity center – experiencing and experimenting, asking “I wonder / What if?” questions.
  2.  Imagination center
  3. Adaptation center – connecting globally and creating new content
  4. Passion center – assessment through the students’ passions. Students are given a variety of ways to demonstrate their learning.

The same consistent approach applies across all learning areas of the curriculum:

  • Guided inquiry learning  through the use of story lines framed as challenging questions in key subject areas
  • Learning activities are available online (in a wikispace) via QR codes that students navigate independently. Students have their own color coded QR codes linking to personalized activities.
  • Adoption of game-like language and concepts to promote growth mindset in students i.e. struggle, challenge and failure used as drivers of engagement and achievement

e.g. leveling up = ready to move on to next task;
Game over, try again = need more practice;
Cheat codes = assistance

  • Badges are awarded to recognize mastery.
  • The students use of a variety of web 2.0 tools to demonstrate learning, aggregated on individual student wikispaces page that serves as a digital portfolio.

Shift in teacher role This approach to teaching requires giving up the stage, but not classroom control.

  • 30-45 minutes of each day is spent in direct whole-class instruction.
  • For the remainder of the time, the teacher is facilitating thinking by monitoring, guiding, asking questions, giving feedback.

Evidence of success: The teacher reports increased State test scores beyond what she would normally expect.

How does the teacher keep learning? Joli cites her Professional  Learning Network (PLN ) of like minded colleagues as her richest ongoing source of ideas and inspiration, both face to face and through  online networks.

Full story and more information

Books recommended by Joli

Image of book cover - Brain Rules      Image of book cover_Reality is Broken     Image of Book cover_Habitude

Medina, J. (2008). Brain Rules – 12 principles for surviving and thriving at home, work and school. Seattle: Pear Press.

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is Broken – Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. New York: Penguin.

Maiers, A. (2012). Classroom Habitudes: How to Teach 21st Century Learning Habits and Attitudes (2nd ed.). Bloomington: Solution Tree Press.