Are ActivTables transforming teaching, or simply substituting existing practices?

Yesterday I was invited to see a demonstration of the Promethean ActivTable, a multi touch learning tool that allows students to work in collaborative groups to manipulate and share information.

It was pretty cool. Watching students use it reminded me of those scenes in TV shows like CSI where the detectives use their hands to drag and manipulate images and data.

The students using it were very engaged, and the software running on it very cleverly required students to work in a cooperative and collaborative manner.

But while the technology was exciting, having seen the demonstration, I’m not sure that a table like this would really enhance the learning or facilitate the kind of pedagogies I want to see more of at my school.

When running on Windows, the table could only have one point of touch, so wasn’t really very useful. However when running the Activ software provided by Promethean for the table, multiple touch was enabled, and groups of up to 6 students could work together.

The software was full of engaging activities and teachers could use them as templates, modifying them to create new activities. I watched as children worked together to join consonants with vowel-consonants on virtual flashcards, and match these with pictures. I saw children pull out questions about famous people, such as Bill Gates, and use browsers within the software to research the answers to specific questions, such as his birthdate.

But what I was seeing was nothing more than substitution.

The demonstration I saw took typical activities that we might use with students in literacy or mathematics groups, and transferred them to the table. While it was fascinating to watch, and highly engaging for the students using the table, I couldn’t see what it was adding to our repertoire.

I really love using the SAMR model to help me consider how technology is used in the classroom:

SAMR: Puentedura, R. R., Ph.D., SAMR model.

SAMR: Puentedura, R. R., Ph.D., SAMR model.

In the demonstration I saw, this amazing technology was only being used at the lowest level of enhancement. It was a direct tool substitute, and for several thousand dollars, an extraordinarily expensive substitute.

Normally, that wouldn’t deter me because I’d expect that someone out there would already be developing  great software that could be added to enhance the product. So many useful apps have been developed by third parties to allow iPads to become powerful learning and creation tools for K-6 classrooms. Without those apps, iPads wouldn’t be nearly so useful.

But the problem with the ActivTable is that the multi-touch only operates when you are using their specific software. Under windows, it goes back to being single touch, which defeats the point as its designed to foster collaboration. I assume that this means third parties would not be able to develop software for the table, so we’d have to rely on Promethean to develop a software package that does more than act as a substitute for existing classroom practices. Making it such a closed system seriously limits its potential, as the creative minds outside Promethean are shut out from developing anything for it.

Now I’m not sure if my concerns are valid. I didn’t get a chance to fiddle around with the software myself to see what sort of transformative capabilities it might have. I have asked for some further information from the company that demonstrated it for us and I’ll be interested to find out what they tell me.

However, until some of these concerns are addressed, I don’t think that the ActivTable is going to help take my school in the direction I’d like to see it go. At this stage, I’d rather invest in a 3D printer. That’s a technology with amazing creative potential. I have no idea how 3D printing would transform our curriculum, but I know it would take us into territory we haven’t been before.


Here is the response I received from the Promethean rep when I expressed my concerns to her:

The Table fits in with all of the SAMR elements.  We only looked at a couple of the apps (about 4 out of 80 odd) and there are plenty which cover those two final stages of the SAMR diagram below; either  in a small way (eg. self-creating own CVC words in that one app we saw today) or else the whole activity is about the creation, for Eg the Music Maker or the Newspaper Maker or the Presentation maker, just to name a few off the top of my head, where absolutely all of the activity relies on the students creating or building the content for their own purposes/ needs. 

And the main thing the Table brings, which is 100% the ‘Redefinition column’ is the very fact that you can provide students with an authentic and truly collaborative environment- they cannot do this on IWBs, iPads/Tablets as on these other technologies the kids have to take turns, only one person can make a change / input something at once.

 On the ActivTable it’s possible to ALL be interacting with things simultaneously and have a practical situation where the students are discussing, making decisions and changing things/ inputing things simultaneously- in other words, truly working collaboratively.  In this regard, the ‘new task, previously inconceivable’ is actually collaboration.  How do you teach these skills authentically in any other way? With other technologies its about ‘turn taking’. (NB. PISA international exams are introducing a collaborative working component to their exams from 2015, collaboration is where schooling is heading 


So you want to work in a NSW public school – Part 1: Applying for Casual Teaching

Last week I had the privilege of speaking with a group of pre-service teachers, many of whom are about to graduate and were eager to find out how they could get work in public schools.  In the time available, I could only provide a very sketchy outline, so I’ve decided to follow up with this post.

In NSW Public Schools you can either be employed as a permanent teacher, or as a casual/temporary teacher. The process involved in securing a position as a permanent teacher couldn’t be more different than the process for securing work as a casual or temporary teacher. In this post, I’ll focus on how to get casual and temporary teaching work as it’s where most new teachers will start.

First some definitions…

Casual teachers are not permanent employees of the Department of Education and Communities. Casual teachers are the people we call in to cover classes for short periods, such as when a teacher is away sick, at a course, or on short term leave.

When teachers take longer periods of leave, such as maternity leave, a non-permanent teacher might be employed to take their place for a year. This teacher is a Temporary teacher. They sign an agreement, and their job is reasonably secure for that period. I say reasonably, because there are always circumstances that could change. For example,  if the teacher they replaced returned from leave early, then the temporary position would come to an end. In this case, employers are required to give notice.

Temporary teachers are also entitled to receive benefits such as sick leave and holiday pay. However, their daily take home pay is less than that of casual teachers because leave loading is added to the casual teachers’ fortnightly pay, rather than paid in the actual school holidays.

Now a reality check…

As much as I hate to say this, it has been quite unusual for new graduates to secure either permanent positions or temporary teaching positions in schools. This is especially the case when looking for work in areas such as the one where I work, which is a high SES suburb close to a major centre and well connected by both road and public transport. Many, many people look for work at my school. When you’re a new graduate you’re competing with not only other new graduates, but also with experienced teachers who have a proven record of successful teaching experience.

However, I have noticed over the past  year or so that new graduates seem to be getting more and more opportunities. In fact, often when I ring new graduates to offer them some casual work, they’ve already accepted work somewhere else. So times seem to be changing.


First of all you need to have been approved to teach by the DEC and have been issued a teaching number. In addition, you MUST have a current anaphylaxis and emergency care certificates.

Both these certificates can be completed online at the following links:

Anaphylaxis Training     Emergency Care Training 

There are also new requirements for the Working With Children Check. It is your responsibility to have this done. For more information, go to this website.

The application for casual teaching

Here’s another reality check – the people who read your application are busy. I know, because I’m one of them. Employing casual teachers is just one very small part of my job. My role of assistant principal requires me to supervise a team of 8 teachers and support their classes, mentor new scheme teachers, deliver professional learning programs for my colleagues, coordinate student welfare across the school, manage targets and respond to various situations and crises as they arise. As well as all that, I’m a full time class teacher. In short, I don’t have a lot of time to read your CVs, so please be concise.

Now, what follows is my personal opinion.  I’m quite certain that other people responsible for employing casuals may have different ideas, but this is what I like.

The best applications I see have 3 parts: a good cover letter, a cv and supporting documents.

1. The Cover Letter

Because I’m busy, I always appreciate applications where all the information I need to know is included on cover. This is because when I’m desperate to find a casual teacher quickly, I don’t have to leaf through several pages to find the essential information. If your cover letter tells me everything I need to know, I add you to my casual list immediately. If not, I wait until I have time to read the rest of your application, and if its a busy time, that can take weeks. Reading CVs is rarely to be a priority for me, so I get around to it when I’ve worked through my many other more pressing jobs.

Here is the information I consider essential in a cover letter:

  • Your name
  • Your phone number
  • Your availability (5 days or just particular days each week)
  • Confirmation that  you have your anaphylaxis and e-care certificates as well as a current approval to teach.

It can also help if you mention specific skills and expertise that you bring to the role.

Every now and then I read a cover letter that stands out from the crowd. Most recently it was from a teacher who had been working for around 6 months. He hadn’t been able to secure as much work as he’d like in the area he was working in, so was looking to find opportunities further afield. How do I know this? He wrote it in his cover letter. Somehow, that personal story humanised him and helped him to stand out. I liked his proactive approach to finding work, and have rung him several times since to offer him work. It seems his cover letter impressed some other people as well, because so far, he has been booked at other schools whenever I’ve rung.

But it’s best not to provide too much personal information. I once received  a cover letter  from a woman who had recently left a very unhappy marriage and was trying to rebuild her life but was finding it almost impossible to break into the world of teaching – to the point where she was quite angry and resentful towards the people who were knocking her back. How do I know this? She wrote it in her cover letter. The amount of personal information she provided made her seem a little, well… unhinged. So keep the information that you share in your cover letter professional.

The CV

Along with your cover letter, attach a CV with your relevant work experience and achievements. To be completely honest with you, I rarely read the CVs. The one page cover letter should provide all the information I need to employ you for day to day casual teaching. However, while I don’t often read them as they come in, I do keep all the CVs on file. If a teacher is going on leave for an extended period (such as a month, a term or even longer) and we have no one available to take their class, this is when I turn to the CVs. When looking through the CVs I look for a number of qualities. Experience working in schools will always give you an edge, and you’ll gain this experience through the day-to-day casual work that you’ll do once you finish university. Additionally I’ll be looking for skills that might be relevant to the particular teacher you are replacing. For example, if the teacher on leave runs some of our sports programs it’s always helpful to find someone with those skills. There are loads of templates online to help you write a cv. Try to include as much information about what you bring to the role as possible.

Supporting Documents

Your supporting documents are all the documents that you are legally required to provide, such as your teaching approval, anaphylaxis and e-care certificates.

Getting a foot in the door 

Applications for casual teaching arrive at my school several times each week, and most of them are very similar. So how do you go from being just another name on the list, to someone we actually call?

Usually, I call people who are known to my school and have proven themselves to be good workers. Teaching is a huge responsibility and we like to ensure that our children are in good hands, so schools do tend to stick to people they know. However, I also like to add new people to our group of regular casuals throughout the year. Often our regular casuals will get permanent or temporary work elsewhere, and I need to have a pool of reliable people. At particular points in the year , usually at times when I’m less busy, I deliberately start calling some new names. I quite like to call new graduates as there is more chance they are available. If the new grad impresses me, I’ll call them often because I don’t want some other school snapping them up.

There’s also a lot of luck involved. Some days, I might have received an application on the same day as a job came up. If I’ve no one specifically in mind for that job, l ring that applicant. In fact, I quite like doing that because if the application has only just come in, there’s a good chance the person will be available.

If your cover letter has piqued my interest for some reason then I’ll try to call you before one of the other unknown names on my list.

Networking helps a lot too. If you are known to me, or another staff member, I’m more likely to give you a shot. Again, this knowledge humanises you, so take opportunities to form your professional networks. Networking won’t guarantee you ongoing work, but it will help you get your foot in the door. 

There is so much more I could tell you about casual teaching, like the sorts of things you can do that will help you get called back to a school, and also things that might stop you being called back. But I’ll leave those for another post.

I’d love to hear from you. What questions do you have about teaching in NSW schools, or, if you are responsible for employing casual teachers, what advice would you give?

Please use the comments section – this is a great topic for a forum.


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A Teacher’s Guide to Starting on Twitter

Networked Teacher Diagram - Update

Networked Teacher Diagram – Update (Photo credit: courosa)

There are many ways you can become a connected educator, but one of your most powerful tools for this is Twitter.

Starting out on Twitter can be overwhelming. How on earth do you start from having no followers, or just a handful of people you know to becoming a truly connected educator?

Here is what I’ve learned on my journey so far…

Twitter is not like Facebook.

Facebook is a social network. A typical Facebook user will be friends with a range of work colleagues, old university and  school friends, family members, team mates, and gradually that connections grow through the network of people you already know.

Twitter on the other hand is not a social network. It’s an information network. You form connections based on the information you share and are interested in. People don’t follow you because they want to be your friend, they follow you because they share an interest in the kinds of things you are sharing and talking about. Twitter will link you to far more people than Facebook will, due to hashtags, which I write about later in this article. It allows you to quickly connect with networked educators across the globe.

If you tweet about politics, as I sometimes do, then you will find yourself being followed by people who are interested in politics. If you tweet about education, then you’ll find yourself being followed by educators.

Be Purposeful.

If you are using Twitter to find a network of like-minded teachers, then keep it for that purpose. Unlike Facebook, there’s no need to tweet about what you ate for breakfast (unless of course you are hoping to find a network of like-minded breakfast enthusiasts).

It’s okay if strangers start following you. 

I’ve known a number of new Twitter uses who have been very worried when total strangers start following them. This is actually okay, in fact, it’s what Twitter is all about. You’re not going to expand your network if you just stick to people you know. Remember, Twitter is about sharing information, so they’re not following you to be your friend. They are probably following you because they think the information you are sharing may be interesting.

It’s okay if people stop following you.

I know other Twitter users who freak out when people stop following them. That’s okay too. If people choose to unfollow you, it’s their choice, and unless you know them well in real life, it’s unlikely to be personal.

There are also Twitter ‘bots’ who follow people automatically. People use software to scan Twitter for key words and may automatically start following you simply because you mentioned a word. This is often to advertise their own product and you can usually work out their purpose just by checking out their twitter feed. If you don’t follow back, they usually automatically stop following after a few days.

How to find people to follow.

If you are on Twitter to find other teachers to follow, you’ve probably been introduced to it by a teacher already using Twitter. If this is the case, ask that person to recommend people to you. If you are an Australian teacher, a good place to start is by going through this list of Australian educators on Twitter put together by Perth teacher, Sue Waters.

Rather than just following every name on that list, as it will become overwhelming, look at their bio’s. This way you’ll learn a little more about them. Also, have a look at their tweets. Are they tweeting about things you are interested in? Are they engaging with other people? Those are the two qualities I like to see in people I follow. Sometimes you’ll find someone who does nothing but self promotion on Twitter: ‘Read my blog’, ‘Check out my product’. I don’t mind a little self promotion, but if that’s the only way a person uses Twitter, I choose not to follow. I don’t like my feed being filled up with self promoting spam.

Twitter Chats

Another great way to find people to follow is by joining, or simply following the many Twitter chats that occur. Chats are discussions that take place on a particular day and time. Two of my favourite are #ozprimschchat and #teacherwellbeingchat.  To follow the chat, type the chat name, with the # at the beginning into the search field at the top of your Twitter page. This will bring up all the tweets for that discussion. You can either join in, or if you are just starting out, you might prefer to watch and learn. People who participate in chats are usually a good place to start if trying to form a network as they are active users who are interested in engaging and sharing ideas with others.  Here is a great list of Australian education Twitter chats and hashtags, and here is a list of global education chats.


You can also find communities of people on Twitter. Earlier this year, @poppyshel, @Liz_loveslife, @dbatty1 and I began a rotation curation Twitter account, @EduTweetOz which has a different Australian educator tweeting each week. We have built a community of nearly 2000 educators who are interested in learning and engaging with each other and participate in discussions throughout the week using the #edutweetoz tag. A lot of the people who participate in this are great to follow.

What to Tweet

It can be scary sending out those first Tweets, but eventually you will become comfortable in the medium and your own voice will emerge. I began by sharing any articles or blogs about teaching that I found interesting.  Another early strategy I used was to ‘retweet’ tweets by others that I liked.

Eventually I became confident enough to begin engaging with people, perhaps by asking a question of someone who had shared something interesting, or thanking them for it. Over time I became confident enough to join discussions, but it took me a long time as I’m a very shy person. I spent a months lurking, watching and learning how others interacted before I was ready to have a go myself. 

The importance of hashtags

Hashtags are really important if you are new to Twitter and trying to find or build a network. They are an amazingly simple, and very clever device that will amplify your tweet and send it out to potentially thousands of people.  Even if you have zero followers, a hashtag will allow your tweet to be found by others. By tagging a tweet #ozprimschchat, for example, it will be seen by anyone who participates in that chat and likes to follow that tag. For a list of commonly used hashtags, check out the links I included above for Australian education Twitter chats and Global education chats.

By the way, if  you see a hashtag on someone else’s tweet and click on it, Twitter will show you all the other tweets that have recently been sent using that tag.

For me, Twitter has caused an absolute explosion of professional learning and opportunities. I’ve learned about and begun using pedagogies I had never even heard of before, and I’ve connected with educators all over the world. I’ve found a great group of teachers who willingly share their practice, and a wonderful group of academics who keep me updated with their latest education research. I’ve made great friends with other teachers around Australia and the world, and have had opportunities open up to me which I never dreamed of. If you’re not using Twitter, I recommend you have a go, and if you are just starting out, I hope you stick with it. The rewards really are worth it.

For more tips, check out my 5 Tips for Teachers Getting Started on Twitter

Checking in on the journey towards C21 Learning

After spending the day at the Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre for the ‘Reimagining Learning’ event and reflecting on my own growth in this area, I’ve realised two things:

1. I’m doing pretty well as a  C21 learner.

2. I’ve got a long way to go before I’m a great C21 teacher.

The keynote speaker, Dr Alec Couros shared this great summary of 21st Century skills with us:

21st Century Readers/Writers Must…

  • Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
  • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross culturally
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes.
  • Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information.
  • Create, critique and analyse multimedia texts
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by those complex environments

NCTE Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment (2007)

So how am I going against those standards both personally and as an educator?

1. Develop proficiency with the tools of technology.

I’m really pleased with my personal progress against this standard. In the past two years I’ve taught myself to use Twitter, to blog and to use social bookmarking and curation tools such as Pinterest and ScoopIt. I’ve recently started podcasting and I suppose its only a matter of time before I move into some sort of animation or video creation. I’m also very comfortable with using Google Apps for personal and collaborative projects

However, when it comes to teaching students these tools, I’ve made some progress but tend to drop the ball a lot. Last year I had my students blogging, but this year we haven’t really gotten around to it. This year I started a class blog but haven’t kept it up.  Last year I had a class Twitter account, but this year it all seemed too hard. While I use collaborative tools such as Google Apps, it’s never occurred to me to use them with my students (though that might change when Apps for Education are launched in DEC schools).

2. Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross culturally

Once again, I’m pleased with how I’m going in this area. Thanks to Twitter, and my the DEC network on Yammer, I’ve built a huge personal learning network of teachers, some whom I’ve never met, others who have become good friends. We pose questions and solve problems collaboratively. Twitter chats are awesome for this. We share resources to help each other out, and through these connections I’m now collaborating on two major projects: EduTweetOz and Teachers Education Review.

While I’m certainly collecting great ideas for teaching through the relationships I’ve built on Twitter and Yammer, I haven’t succeeded in providing opportunities for my students to do the same. Last year my class connected with some other classes around the world through our blogs, however I didn’t find that this facilitated any real relationships or collaboration. The only real purpose was to provide a sense of connectedness and a real audience for their writing.

3. Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes.

I think I’m doing pretty well here. I’m constantly engaged in designing and sharing information. My blog, my Twitter and my podcast are all about creating and sharing information with others.

While social media gives us so many platforms to do this easily, I haven’t considered any opportunities for my students to share information with a global community.  But when I think about it, it doesn’t really sound too hard. Our Science teacher does a great job at this. Check out the website her Year 4 students created.

4. Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information.

I seem to have developed this skill over time. I’m now pretty good at scanning my feeds to find the information I want, and using tools like TweetDeck to manage my Twitter feed, Flipboard and Zite to manage the blogs and other feeds that I like to follow.

However in the classroom I’m just busy trying to teach my 7 and 8-year-old students to read and comprehend basic texts. I have absolutely no idea how I would teach them to manage streams of information. But perhaps, at this stage of their schooling and development, they don’t need that skill.

5. Create, critique and analyse multimedia texts

I like to think I do this well,  although there is still much more I could learn. After all, I’ve not really ventured far into video and film creation yet. I  think that I can analyse these texts critically, but perhaps others would disagree.

While I have had students creating some multimedia texts, I tend to manage much of this process for them. Our lessons are more prescriptive than creative. Part of this is simply because the age group I teach are still acquiring basic ICT skills. I’ve given them the most creative freedom with a program called Scratch, which allows them to code their own computer games. I actually have no idea how to use the software, but we had it on our school computers so I encouraged them to experiment and create their own games and animations. They’ve had a great time doing it.

The critique and analysis of multimedia texts is an area I’m unfamiliar with teaching, and to be honest, a little intimidated by. Our new NSW English Syllabus, to be implemented next year, has a good framework for this. I hope it helps me to incorporate that more in class.

6. Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by those complex environments

I think I’m tracking fairly well against this both personally and as a teacher. I always endeavour to use  attributions correctly and usually search Creative Commons for any images I might need. I teach my students to do the same. We also talk frequently about etiquette for commenting on blogs, and I use the class blog as an opportunity for students to learn and practice these skills.


While I’ve come along way as a 21st century learner, I’m lagging a long way behind this when it comes to teaching those skills to my students. I’ve made some progress, but there’s much more I can and should be doing.  I think the new NSW Syllabi  that are aligned with the Australian Curriculum will help, because these 21st Century skills are embedded throughout them.

I’ve realised that I’m augmenting my curriculum with these skills and opportunities, rather than transforming it. I think that’s why its been so easy to drop the ball when things get busy. They haven’t been an essential part of my program, so they are often the first thing to go.

The SAMR model provides a good framework for transforming teaching.

SAMR: Puentedura, R. R., Ph.D., SAMR model.

SAMR: Puentedura, R. R., Ph.D., SAMR model.

I’ve one term left with my class. I wonder how far we’ll move on our journey.