The Press Release

I was recently interviewed on The Press Release podcast with David Hotler. I found it in interesting chat with him and we covered quite a range of topics so I thought I would just share the episode here as well.

Whenever I get interviewed I generally prefer not to know the questions in advance, and this was no exception. I find the conversation flows much better when I have no idea where its going. David asked some good questions that led into, hopefully, an interesting discussion.   I guess you can be the judge of that!

You can subscribe to The Press Release directly on their website. There are a ton of interesting episodes there!

Thanks for having me David!

Introducing Storyville

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”— Dr. Seuss – I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

Watching a child learn to read is a fascinating thing. I remember watching my own two kids acquiring the skill of reading for themselves, and seeing what a remarkable difference it made once they were able to pick up any book they wanted, on any topic, and read it. I remember the joy of watching my kids devour literally hundreds and hundreds of books as they got older. It really is quite amazing. And that ability to read – not just for functional understanding of words, but with a fluent and genuine love of literature – opened up vast worlds of learning and imagination and curiosity for them.

I think most educated people understand the value, and importance of reading.

There is a substantial body of evidence to support the idea that reading TO children when they are young has a positive, long term effect on their development, not just in helping them develop as readers themselves, but in even more substantive ways across a whole lot of cognitive domains.

In fact, studies using fMRI have proven that children who are read to when young show a big difference even at the neurological level. One study by Dr John Hutton concluded that “Results showed that greater home reading exposure was strongly associated with activation of specific brain areas supporting semantic processing (the extraction of meaning from language). These areas are critical for oral language and later for reading.” 

There is a lot of research that all comes to basically the same conclusion – reading to your children when they are young is hugely important and the effects of it can be seen well into their teenage years. The effects can be seen on language acquisition, vocabulary development, imagination and inquisitiveness, reading fluency, listening skills, pronunciation, and so on.

The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research concluded that “Children four to five years old who are read to three to five times a week have the same reading ability as children six months older (who are read to only twice or less a week). Reading to children six to seven days a week puts them almost a year ahead of those who are not being read to. It was also found that reading to small children has a positive effect on the development of numeracy skills.”

Unfortunately, even though the benefits of reading to young children are so well documented (and it is such a simple and enjoyable thing to do with your kids!) there seems to be a obvious divide based on socioeconomics. Lower income families tend not to do it nearly as much as higher income families. Which is kind of sad, because if they did, the research suggests it could be the single most effective thing those families could do to help break the poverty cycle and give their children greater opportunities in the long term.

In fact, a 2012 a study titled Reading to young children: a head-start in life,  by G. Kalb and J.C. van Ours noted that children who get read to more frequently at age 4-5 achieve higher scores on the NAPLAN tests for both Reading and Numeracy in Year 3 (age 8 to 9).  These differences in reading and cognitive skills are not related to the child’s family background or home environment but are the direct result of how frequently they have been read to prior to starting school.” In short, reading to your kids makes a big difference, no matter what background they come from.

The good news is that reading to your kids when they are young is a pretty simple thing to do, and it seems there are more parents than ever making the time to read to their children. That’s awesome. The bad news is that even with the overwhelming evidence that reading to your child might be the single most important thing you can be doing to help them, still only about a half of all parents are actually doing it. (Depending on the study you look at, the figure varies from about 40% to 55%)

So parents, you want to do the best for your kids? Read to them! It’s that simple.

Meet Storyville

Knowing that reading to kids is incredibly important, and acknowledging that for many kids it does not happen nearly enough, let me introduce you to Storyville. Storyville is a project by the Equity Foundation, the professional development arm of Actors Equity, representing Australian actors. Their idea is brilliant and simple. Storyville aims to connect trained actors – many of whom have spare time during school hours – with classrooms around Australia, providing talented readers for children. These actors voluntarily go into schools and read to kids. That’s it. Simple. Brilliant.

Some of the things that trained actors learn to do really well is to play different characters, use their voice effectively, tell stories that engage an audience, and act! So who better to read to children than an actor?

I think it’s a brilliant idea. If you’d like your school to be part of it, and have a talented trained actor come and read to your kids, just fill out this form.

Hat tip to my daughter Kate, a trained actor herself and a graduate from WAAPA, for telling me about this project.

Show Me The Money!

YouTube has been around for quite a while now, and apparently I’ve been part of its history for much of that time. The domain, youtube.com, was registered in February 2005 and I joined YouTube just over a year later in May 2006. I uploaded my first video in August 2006. So I guess that makes me an early adopter? Google bought YouTube in October 2006 for USD$1.65 Billion. I recall that the tech press was stunned by the purchase price at the time, as that seemed like a ridiculous amount of money. Of course, by the silly standards of some tech purchases since then (like Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp for $19 Billion, for example) YouTube was quite a bargain.

YouTube mainly makes money by showing ads, although I must admit I spend pretty much all my YouTube time in Google for Education accounts where there are no ads, or in my personal Gmail account where I pay for YouTube Red, which again, has no ads. So I still get a little surprised when I watch YouTube on someone else’s account and see an ad pop up. I had largely forgotten that there are still ads for most people!

I remember one time, back in about 2007, I made a screencast showing how to use Skype. I was planning a workshop for a conference on the Gold Coast and was planning to demonstrate Skype (which was still relatively young at the time, and still new to many people). Being concerned that the conference wifi might let me down, I prerecorded a screencast of a Skype call with Linda in Canada just in case. (Good thing too, as the wifi was indeed awful). Since I’d already made the video, I figured I may as well upload it to YouTube to share with the world, which I did in October 2007. In the settings for uploaded videos you can turn various features on or off, and I turned on a setting called “monetization” and didn’t think too much more about it. In fact I turned this on as the default for all my videos. You know, just in case.

I recall looking at my YouTube account about a year later and seeing that I’d earned something like 28 cents, but I had no idea why. After digging into the settings a bit more I realised that the 28 cents was just from that DAY, and that there were similar amounts being added every day. Now, this is certainly not the sort of income that one retires on, but I must say that over time it did add up to a nice little surprise. I connected my bank account to YouTube and over the next few years I would occasionally get little cha-chings into my account that were never really much, but still nice to receive. As it turns out, that Skype tutorial video was getting lots of views and along with a handful of other videos was mainly responsible for bringing in the “monetization”.

Once you get to a certain level on YouTube, based on number of views and subscribers mainly, YouTube considers you a “YouTube Partner”. I’ve never taken this status super seriously, and anyone who looks at my channel knows it’s a bizarre and eclectic mix of pretty much anything I feel like putting there. There are lots of tech tutorials, but also snapshots taken from my classroom, stopframe animations, videos of my dog being washed, GoPro footage from my motorbike rides, and weird video experiments. As you can see, I like using YouTube, but I’m not really a serious YouTube Creator.

Still, some of the statistics are surprising, especially with the compounding of time. Some of the videos about, well, nothing, have a surprising number of views. For example, that Skype tutorial video has been viewed over 836,000 times. Another video about how latitude and longitude works, which I made for my year 11 class as a bit of a “flipped classroom” resource, has been watched by over 127,000 people. And a short video my students made to talk about their Scratch projects has had over 55,000 views. I know these numbers are nothing compared to lots of other videos on YouTube, but considering it’s just me adding my random crap to YouTube, I still find it surprising.

I got an email from YouTube today explaining that they are changing the terms of their YouTube Partner Program…

The new baseline is 4,000 hours of watchtime in the past 12 months and 1000 subscribers. According to the analytics for my channel, I have just over 1600 subscribers, but only 184,096 minutes of watchtime (or just over 3000 hours). Not bad for a channel about nothing, but not enough to stay a YouTube Partner.

In case you are interested in such things, YouTube also now has a new version of the Creator Studio. This is the back end console for YouTube that tells you all about your videos and their statistics. It’s still in beta, but definitely worth a look. Check it out. It is still missing lots of features (YouTube audio library, Playlists, Live Streaming) so that makes it a deal breaker for me to permanently change to it right now, but you can always switch back and forth between the old version and the new version.

Now go watch some cat videos.

Risk vs Reward – Lessons from the Road

Open road

I spent a few hours this afternoon driving the nearly 200km from Sydney to Bathurst for a day of work in a Bathurst school tomorrow. As I crossed the Blue Mountains and went past Lithgow, the roads open up a little and there are longer, straighter faster stretches of road. On one particularly long straight stretch of road I noticed that my steering wheel hung ever so slightly to the right even though I was driving in a straight line. It wasn’t enough to really bother me, but I started to wonder why it was like that and what it would take to fix it so the steering wheel was perfectly neutral while driving in a straight line. I’m sure the reason had something to do with the camber of the road, and I realised that I do in fact have some level of understanding of how a vehicle’s steering system works. How did I know this? As I pondered the question I remembered back to my very first car and how I had – on several occasions – pulled the steering wheel off and put it back on again.

VW Type 3You might be wondering what caused me to remove and replace the steering wheel on my car.  I mean, who does that? As I tried to remember the reason for why I would be disassembling parts of my car, it dawned on me that I used to take that old 1970 Volkswagen Type III apart and put it back to together again not because there was anything wrong with it, but simply because I could. Yes, I used to pull things apart on that car and put them back together again just for the fun of it and to try to understand how things worked.

There were many times where I pulled my VW apart and couldn’t figure out how to put it back together, and it was off the road for a few days until I could work it out. Back then, that didn’t seem like a big deal. And the value in learning how my car worked seemed a small price to pay for the inconvenience of having it off the road temporarily.  Since the VW I’ve had several other cars that I’ve been quite willing to pull apart and try to put back together, simply because I wanted to know how they worked. Engines, gearboxes, diffs… I’ve had all these things in pieces just because I was curious about what was inside and how things worked.

As I drove along in my current car, a 2015 Mitsubishi ASX, I pondered the prospect of pulling the steering wheel off and putting it back on again, adjusting it by one spline and wondering if that might fix my steering wheel’s droop to the right. As I thought about doing this, I realised that I honestly wouldn’t attempt it on the Mitsubishi, not only because it was probably way more complex than my old VW, but it was more likely to be an expensive repair if I messed it up.  Could I work out how to remove and replace the steering wheel on my current car? Sure. But would I? Nah, probably not.

And I got to thinking about why that is. I’m still a curious person and I still like to know how things work. But the idea of taking my 2015 ASX apart and putting it back together again – for fun – is just not something I’d consider, even though I’ve done it to several of the cars I’ve owned over the years.

What was different? As I thought about this, I wondered if it was the fact that the newer and more expensive the car, the less inclined I would be to tinker with it just for fun. My ASX cost about $26,000. My first VW cost $800.  There was a lot less to lose with the VW if I got it wrong.

This got me thinking about the learning process and about the balance between risk and reward. Unless you are prepared to take the risk of breaking something, you’re probably not going to reap the reward of learning. I don’t really know exactly how the steering wheel on my ASX works because I’ve not attempted to pull it apart, and so I will probably remain fairly ignorant of its inner workings. That’s just a risk vs reward situation I’m going to accept for now. This car is simply too expensive if I fuck it up.

As a teacher, over the years I’ve done a lot of great projects with kids. Some have been amazingly successful and have dramatically changed the way I think about the teaching and learning process. And some have been total disasters. But the value for me as a teacher – as a teacher who wants to continually be getting better at what I do – comes from being willing to take that risk that even if things don’t work out, the value of what I learn from trying makes it worthwhile anyway.

For several years I worked in a fancy high-falutin private school. I won’t say that I was being completely risk averse during my time there, but I also don’t think I took as many big gambles and tried as many radical things as I once would have, simply because the stakes were a little higher if I happened to mess it up. This school had a reputation to protect, demanding parents to keep happy, and there were more policy-driven hoops to jump through to really try outrageous ideas. By contrast, I’ve worked in several schools that had far less to lose, and in those schools it was always much easier to try new ideas because it didn’t matter so much whether they worked or not. Most of the best innovation seems to come from situations where failing is most definitely an option.

It’s nice to be well resourced and have great facilities. But you can do an awful lot of great stuff in a school with very limited resources. You don’t need a lot of money or resources or fancy facilities to be innovative and try new ideas. You just need to be willing to try stuff, and to not worry about whether it works or not.

The other things that struck me as I thought about this idea is that some of the cheapest, shittiest cars I’ve ever owned – the ones I had no issue pulling apart and tinkering with – are the ones that gave me the fondest memories and the deepest emotional attachment. The last few cars I’ve owned have been brand new, reasonably expensive, “nice” cars, but I have very little emotional attachment to them at all. They are just transport. Yes they are comfortable, reliable and pleasant to drive, but that’s about it. The cars I’ve loved owning the most over the years were mostly second-hand, cheap, with lots of quirky flaws yet I look back at the experiences they gave me with such great memories and the knowledge that they even shaped me as a person.  I see some parallels with the classroom there too.

Sometimes you can put that steering wheel back after you pull it apart, and sometimes you can’t. The point is not that everything you do needs to work. The real point is that everything you do should be an opportunity to be a better learner.

Learning in Sydney

Sydney is a great city. As well as being visually stunning, there is always something interesting going on. The Vivid Sydney Festival launched last week, which is definitely worth checking out.

With my work at EdTechTeam I love being part of the crew that runs Summits all over the world, but as a proud Sydneysider I get especially excited when we bring the Summit to Sydney. And this year I’m especially excited about the Summit because of a few extras it brings with it, which I wanted to tell you about.

First, the actual Summit itself is being held in a NSW public school for the first time. We’ve run the event in private and Catholic schools in the past with some wonderful host schools. But I’ve always wanted the public sector to be able to share the Summit experience too, so I am thrilled that this year EdTechTeam is able to partner with the NSW Department of Education and Anzac Park Public School to host the 2017 EdTechTeam Summit featuring Google for Education. The NSW DET has made Google GSuite available to every public school across NSW via the DET Portal, so there are a lot of teachers and students in these schools who will soon discover just how amazing these tools are and how they can change the way our schools operate.  I think that’s exciting!

Anzac Park Public School is a brand new DET school in North Sydney. It features modern learning spaces and an open design, and the DET was especially keen to showcase it as a great example of their future schools. I know it will be a great place to host the 2017 Sydney Summit and I’m sure those who attend will enjoy spending time there.

Of course, whiel I’m excited that more public schools can join us for the Summit this year, the event is open to ALL teachers in every sector – public, Catholic and independent.

Find out more about the 2017 EdTechTeam Sydney Summit here

In addition to the actual Summit on July 4 and 5, there are also two more awesome events on either side of it.

The first is a PreSummit workshop for anyone wanting to prepare for their Google Level 2 Certification exam. It’s being run the day before the Sydney Summit on July 3, also at Anzac Park, you can take part in a full day bootcamp workshop that will not only be a great hands-on deep dive into the GSuite tools, but also get you ready to sit the Level 2 exam and get certified in them. If you’re after the certification and would like some support in getting it, this is for you.

Find out more about the Level 2 Certification Bootcamp Presummit here

Then following the Summit on July 6 (at a venue still to be announced), EdTechTeam Press will be offering a full day masterclass with the authors of three amazing books about educational change – Trevor Mackenzie from Canada, author of Dive into Inquiry, Lisa Highfill from the USA, coauthor of The HyperDoc Handbook, and Holly Clark, the coauthor of The Google Infused Classroom. These three authors will take you on deep dive into the concepts discussed in the books, and help you apply the principles in your classroom/ It’s like a book club on steroids! There is also the opportunity to extend that learning with some pre and post discussion group activities online, and I think this is a great opportunity to try something different for your PD needs.

Find out more about the EdTechTeam Press Masterclass Booktour here

Three great PD opportunities for one great city!  Hope to see some of you there!

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons via Destination NSW CC BY-SA

Gridding up

I was turned onto this rather cool new tool that I think has a ton of great potential in the classroom. It’s called Flipgrid. It’s a way to collect short video responses to a prompt. As well as looking great, it works on mobile (with the Flipgrid app), doesn’t require a login, and is super simple to use!

I’ve embedded a link to an example. Just click the container below and it will take you to a topic page. Then just click the big green plus button to start recording (and you’ll probably also need to click “allow” to give permission to your camera). Then just record your message, add your name and a poster frame, then submit it. As more people submit theirs you can revisit the site to see what they add. Give it a go!

After you click the button, say who you are, where you’re from, what you teach, and how you might use this with your students. You have 60 seconds! Go!

The direct link to the topic page is https://flipgrid.com/2a35ea

The administrator of the grid has a lot of control over things like moderation and approval of comments before they go live, whether replies are allowed, whether likes and plays are shown, whether auto transcription happens, and more. This tool is well designed for classroom use!

I see this as a great way to collect feedback from students, allow them to share their learning with the rest of the class, reflect on an activity, brainstorm ideas, and so much more. What suggestions can you come up with?

PS: If you’re on mobile, grab the Flipgrid app for Android or iOS. I love that it works so well on mobile as well as the web. Well done, Flipgrid!

Header image: Sprites by Thomas Quine via Flickr CC BY

 

Announcing the 2017 Sydney Google Innovator Academy

Innovator Academy

Certified Innovator Sydney

Back in April 2011 I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the Google Teacher Academy held in Sydney, Australia.  As part of this first Australian cohort, I was so excited to be part of this amazing team of educators from around the world and we spent two days deeply immersed in all sorts of Google nerdiness mixed with teaching inspiration. It was at this event that I saw a Chromebook for the first time, played with Android for the first time, learned about a bunch of new Google tools that I wasn’t really aware of, and most importantly, met an astoundingly talented group of educators who shared brilliant ideas about pushing education forward. To say that this event had an impact on my life would be a huge understatement. Becoming a Google Certified Teacher (now know as a Google Certified Innovator) was not only highly relevant to my work at school, it also opened up opportunities to do work with EdTechTeam, travel the world presenting at Summits and workshops, and eventually lead to my current role as their Director of Professional Learning.  So when I say that the Google Teacher Academy changed my life, I’m not exaggerating at all.

So I’m excited to let you know that the Google Innovator Academy (what was previously called the Google Teacher Academy) has just been announced again for Sydney!  The program has morphed and changed over the years, becoming far less about just the tools and much more about developing moonshot thinking about some of education’s biggest challenges. The program asks you to consider ways in which you can truly impact your own educational context, to think big about it, and to work on a project to make a 10x difference. In the process, you get connected to a simply amazing group of innovative educators that can, and probably will, change your life too.

If you love what you do, if you want to push education forward, if you think you can make a difference, if you want to be challenged and inspired, if you want to connect some powerful tools with some powerful pedagogy, then you should think about applying for the Google Innovator Academy.

It’s an application process and there is some work to do in applying.  You need to fill out an application, make a video and do some work. There are limited places. Many apply, and only some are selected. But if that’s you, trust me, it can change your life.

Find out more, and apply, at https://edutrainingcenter.withgoogle.com/certification_innovator

  • May 9 – Applications open
  • June 26 – Application Deadline
  • August 16, 17, 18 – Innovator Academy held at Google Sydney

And good luck! Be awesome!