Teachers, are you paying attention?

If you are a teacher in a school, this video should be required viewing.

It may just change your view of what you do, and if it doesn’t, you should get out of teaching now. If you can’t become part of the solution then you are almost certainly part of the problem.

Btw, this comes via mscofina’s blog, which is most definitely worth a look.

Just like the "Real World"

I’m sneaking in this quick blog post as I sit in class supervising some of my kids doing a test. Sorry, a quiz. I have to be careful of what I call it… if I call it a quiz they are ok about it, but if I call it a test, or heaven forbid an ‘exam’, they go into a little panic.

I use Quia as a tool for giving class quizzes, partly to make my job of marking a bit simpler, but mostly because the kids seem to prefer doing a test online rather than on paper. I’ve been using online methods for testing for quite a few years now, using various methods or creating them including Quia, Hot Potatoes, and even crafting them myself from raw html code hooked up to a sendmail.pl script back in the ‘old days’ . I’m of the overwhelming opinion that today’s students relate to the idea of answering their test questions in an online format.

Anyway, I let them do the quiz in an open-book mode. They are free to use the textbook, use Google, use whatever, to answer the questions. I figure that I can’t think of too many jobs in the “real world” that don’t allow people to go find the answers when they don’t have them. I still don’t reckon that school should be about just “remembering stuff”, but more about applying the knowledge they have to a particular situation. To my mind, the important thing is not whether they know the answer, but rather, could they find an answer if they had to.

If a mechanic turns up to the garage and needs to order a part for a car, he gets the chance to lo.ok it up, make phone calls, talk to the spare parts people, and so on… he isn’t expected to remember all the part numbers.

A doctor ought to have a good working knowledge of illnesses, and sure, that means remembering a lot of things – body parts, disease symptoms, drugs, etc. I guess that’s why they expect people who want to be doctors to be reasonably intelligent. But all those books on the shelf of most doctors’ surgeries are there for a reason. Sometimes a doctor will need to look something up, find an appropriate drug, or check a symptom against a reference. She isn’t expected to be the sole source of all knowledge.

I’m not sure why we in education have such a thing about our kids needing to “remember stuff”. Facts, dates, names, places … we put questions on our tests that really just test a kid’s ability to remember these things, rather than apply them in any meaningful way. As teachers, we need to be cleverer about the way we test whether our students have learned anything by asking better questions, questions that get them to think and not just remember, and if that means they need to look up a fact or two along the way then I don’t have a problem with that.

Action Painting Online


I had the pleasure recently of visiting the Guggenheim Museum in New York. It’s an amazing gallery building and my daughter Kate and I enjoyed going through it to see the exhibitions and displays. We both really enjoyed the Jackson Pollock exhibition, No Limits Just Edges.

The art of Jackson Pollock, (who just happens to share the same birthday as me) caused quite a stir in Australia in 1973 when the government at the time purchased the infamous Blue Poles for $1.3 million. It was quite a controversy at the time, with the media making all sorts of claims – from “he was drunk at the time’ to ‘it was painted by monkeys’.  In hindsight, the painting was recently valued at $40 million so it seems Gough’s government made a good decision after all.

Anyway, if you’re an art teacher, or just want your students to have a bit of fun, you might like to check out www.jacksonpollock.org for a bit of interactive online action painting. Hopefully they will realise that creating art by dripping paint on a canvas is a little bit trickier than just, well, dripping paint on a canvas. After getting the kids to mess about with this tool, there are a lot of useful discussions worth having about line, colour and composition and how these elements work together.

Thanks to Kate for the masterpiece above!

Swept up in Blogging

With all the hype about Web 2.0 in the classroom, I have been very keen to explore the use of blogs as a learning tool and have been busy reading lots of articles and blogs, listening to podcasts, etc, trying to absorb lots of ideas on how this might be best done. I don’t think anyone really has any clear strategies about edublogging… a handful of teachers are just trying out different ideas and I guess the most effective uses will just bubble their way to the top eventually.

In the meantime, I decided to set each of my students up with a learnerblogs account and attempt to create some sort of blogging ecosystem in the classroom. Of course, I hope they expand and link to idea way outside of just the classroom, but it’s a start.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Horse before the Cart

The release of Google’s new “Google Apps for your Domain” program is an interesting business move, and I can see more clearly now how Google is making inroads into territory that has traditionally belonged to Microsoft. GAfyD offers email, calendar, chat and a webpage designer – all for free – but enables organisations to rebadge these apps with their own domain and graphics. All you need to do is edit the MX records for any domain you might own, telling it to reroute the mail requests through to Google’s Gmail servers. End result is the abilty to have yourname@yourdomain.com become a defacto Gmail service. Same goes for the calendar and chat… runs in your own domain but is hosted by Google.

My first thought was to register for my school… the thought of having 1000 student email accounts hosted offsite, with 2Gb of storage space each, complete with calendar, webspace and chat, all at no cost, seemed to good of an option to pass up. So I registered, changed the MX records, added a custom graphic to replace the Gmail one, and sure enough it all works exactly as advertised.

Next step was to ask the school to look at this as a serious option for student mail. The alternative would be to host an Exchange server ourselves, providing infrastructure, storage and backup for 1000 mail accounts. I know which is less work.

Seems I was a few days too late though. The school had just committed to buying a new server expressly to host student email, so the GAfyD program, despite its free pricetag and simple implementation, is on hold for now as we try to go it alone and host the mail services ourselves. Sure there are some advantages to hosting the mail ourselves such as Active Directory integration, fine control over content, filtering, etc, but it sure does create a lot more work. I’m undecided as to the trade off and which would have been a better path to take.

But it did cause me to think about the need to supply student email, mainly when I asked the question “what sort of things will they be doing with their email account?” It wasn’t meant as a facetious question… I could not survive without access to email, and I think every student should have an school email account of their own. My reservation revolves around the idea that I would like to think that the other teachers should have a clear idea of what they plan to do with students via email. I doubt that many are fully prepared for the onslaught on mail volume that can be created when each student has an email address and actually uses it to submit work, ask questions, clarify issues, etc. The volume of mail will increase exponentially… say you teach 5 classes of 25 kids, thats 125 kids. If they all use email effectively to send, reply, dialog with teachers, then that’s an awful lot of mail that starts to flow into the inboxes of teachers that previously thought getting 3 emails a day was a big deal. For those of use used to getting high volume mail its no big problem, but for those not used to it… I can hear the complaints now…

With the huge boom in Web 2.0 technologies, sometimes called the read/write Web, email is not the critical tool that it once was, even a few years ago. The explosion of educational use of blogs, wikis, podcasts, forums, etc, changes things somewhat. These things all offer the same sort of publicly accessible interactions that email only provides on a private level, making plain old email a little redundant. Email is still important, but not as important as it once was. In an educational setting, if I had to chose between giving each student an email address or giving each student access to a blog or a wiki, I think I would be going for the latter option.

The point is that providing an email account for each student is a relatively small first step. It’s what they then do with that email account that really matters, and in the case of my school I still don’t think we have a clear idea of just how we plan to use email effectively to enhance real learning. It’s like being given a hammer and some nails but not having any idea of what you might make with them.

Adding my Voice

I figured that since I was enjoying the whole blogging experience during our teaching exchange to Canada, I would start another blog, this time focussed on matters educational/technological. I plan to use it mainly to air my thoughts and ideas about the uses of technology, especially with regard to education, but pretty much about whatever I feel like writing about.

I can see a lot of potential for the uses of blogs, wikis and podcasts in the educational environment, but it will be interesting to see exactly how it all pans out. I did convert a largely textbook task into a podcast project last semester, and I think it worked out ok, but this semester I am going to try to push things a bit further.

If you have any ideas about interesting uses of Web 2.0 technology in the classroom it would be great to hear about them…