Building Resilience: Overcoming Adversity

Several powerful and important messages came out of the Positive Schools Conference, which I was fortunate to attend in mid June.  I’m sure it will lead to a number of posts, but for today, I wanted to focus on some very simple ideas on resiliency, shared by Dr Tim Sharp in his keynote presentation.

Rather than writing about it, I’ve tried to capture my thoughts using some images, quotes and videos which are included in this short presentation. Click on the picture below to view it.

I’d love to know what you think of the ideas contained here, and also what you think of using a presentation tool as a form of reflection. After viewing it, please return to share your thoughts  in the comments.

Overcoming Adversity




Podcast: Edutech – an Overview

2 weeks ago, Cameron Malcher and I attended the 2014 Edutech National Congress and Expo on behalf of our podcast, the Teachers Education Review.


Attending the event as media was an enormous privilege and I’d like to thank the Edutech team for being so accommodating. They provided us with introductions and access to many of the major key note speakers who generously gave of their time so that we could record some interviews with them.

We left the conference full of ideas and inspiration, and with memory cards full of interviews and presentations so that we could share some of the learning with those who couldn’t make it.

The material we collected will form the basis for a series of podcasts, the first of which has just been released. In the first episode of our Edutech series, we provide a general overview of the conference, to give you a taste of what the event was like.

Our interviews (with time codes)  include:

  • 32:54 Craig McFarlaine, the CEO of Association and Communication Events, the company behind Edutech. He speaks about the history of the event, its mission, and also how the event has influenced his ideas on education  as a father of two young children.
  • 39:25 Suan Yeo on about some new tools for the classroom from Google
  • 46:25 Leigh Murphy from Education Services Australia tells us about Scootle
  • 51:27 Rachel Guo, from the International Fund for Animal Welfare talks about some curriculum resources.
  • 56:17 Peter West, from St Stephen’s college explains about their whole school approach to blended learning.
  • 1:05:19 Ewan McIntosh talks about the founding of TeachMeet (yes, he was part of the first one) and some ideas on how to develop the global movement
  • 1:12:32 Dan Haesler speaks about the experience of presenting at large conferences
  • 1:17:23 Simon McKenzie talks about his experiences as an edutech participant over the years, and how he was able to affect some change.
  • 1:22:20 Adam Spencer, the event’s MC provides his perspective on the event and on the important work that educators do

We also collected some extended interviews with a number of keynotes including, Sugata Mitra, Conrad Wolfram, Jenny Luca, Joyce Valenza, Ian Jukes and Alan November. These will become the focus of a number of future episodes of the podcast.

To listen, you can either use the soundcloud player below, or download the podcast to your smartphone. You can subscribe to us on iTunes, Android and Stitcher Online Radio.


Making Maths Meaningful with Scratch

Making Maths Meaningful with Scratch

I’ve been writing a few articles for Fractus Learning. In this one, I explain how I’ve been using Scratch software to make mathematical concepts more relevant for my students.

To read it, click the link in the title of this article.

Digital Resilience and the 21st Century Educator

If there is one quality that I am being sorely tested in this year, its my digital resilience.

I heard the term during Jenny Luca’s keynote at last week’s Edutech congress in Brisbane when she shared this slide:

4122632440_7f97d7afdd_o(Image Credit)

It seems that almost every digital project I have worked on with students this year has hit a wall due to infrastructure problems, blocked websites and security protocols.

For two terms now, I have been trying to get a school news show off the ground. A group of Year 5 and 6 students have been filming and editing news reports which we are putting together into a single news program. We’d planned to have our news come out at least twice a term, and we would have, if we hadn’t hit a brick wall of security protocols and infrastructure failures.

Our first issue was security protocols. At some point over the Christmas holidays, a change was made to the security protocols that allow us to transfer data from our school iPads to our school computers. I’m not sure if it was a school security issue, or an apple update, but no matter what we tried, we could not move the films off our iPads as it they would not ‘trust’ the connected device.

The files were too large to email, so I tried setting up a Google Drive account for the group and we attempted to upload our videos to that. This is when the infrastructure started to fail. Our school wifi, which is usually reliable became patchy. Some of the iPads would not connect at all. Others would, but transferred the data so slowly, it took days to upload the videos we needed. Eventually, I took the iPads home and was able to upload over my home network, but there is still one iPad, containing some of the best videos, that I can’t shift data from.

Our computer coordinator managed to work out a fix for all this, but installing it means wiping all the data off the iPads, including the videos we are trying to save.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working with another group of students teaching them to code using Scratch. They’ve been developing games for a games arcade that we plan to link to our school website. Today, after several weeks, the games were ready to upload. Scratch has a built in uploader which will share games created in the software directly to a user account on the Scratch website. Today I learned that the uploader won’t work in our school environment. We need a password to get through our proxy but the software won’t let us enter one. As a workaround, I had the students save their projects to my USB stick and I uploaded each project from home.

Hitting obstacle after obstacle takes its toll. They slow our projects down, and they frustrate and disappoint our students. It is so hard not to give up altogether and I’m tempted at times to choose non-tech projects in future just to avoid these problems.

I persist for a number of reasons:

  • I believe in the value of these projects. I see how they’ve engaged and excited my students, and the great learning that is occurring by participating in them.
  • I don’t see the setbacks as defeats. I am convinced that every problem can be solved, and it’s just a matter of finding a workaround.
  • After years of trouble shooting issues, I’ve developed a fairly wide repertoire of strategies which allow me to find workarounds to the sort of tech problems I’ve been facing.
  • When I can’t find a workaround myself, I consult with my network of teachers on Twitter and Yammer. Inevitably someone will suggest an idea I hadn’t considered, which solves the problem.
  • When no solution presents itself, I’ve learned to let it go. In every case  learning that has occurred in spite of the problems encountered. While the end result of the project may be different from what we intended, the process has still been worthwhile.

I would love to see an easing of security protocols which impede learning in schools and I would love to have reliable wifi that never drops out. But as technology continues to develop, at a faster pace than our protocols and infrastructure can possibly keep up with,  I suspect we are always going to face issues like this.

Persevering can be stressful, but if the project is worth doing, then it’s better than giving up. If there isn’t a workaround, then  adapt the project. Our twice a term news project looks more likely to become a year in review video, and that’s okay. It’s not quite the project I’d intended, but the students are still learning and developing their skills.

And there is an unintended but valuable consequence for our students. Our students get to see us learn. They witness us solving problems from different angles, trying new strategies until we find the one that works. They see us research answers and consult and collaborate with others. And they see us remaining positive in the face of set backs. They see in action the life-long learning skills that we would like to see in them.

So when faced with set backs,  stay positive and persevere. Be digitally resilient. It’s worth it.

Knowledge builds a fence around learning

I’ve been struggling to put down my thoughts from Edutech. I saw so many great keynotes, all of which challenged my thinking and even better, offered me ideas that are helping me to map a route for change and improvement at my school. For now, here is one of the thought bubbles that I had during the conference, which I think will shape what I do in the future.

Knowledge builds a fence around learning.

Sugata Mitra and Tom Barrett both spoke about the difficulties with knowing things. When children, who had never seen a computer before asked Mitra what it was, during his famous Hole in the Wall study, he answered ‘I don’t know’. This set the children upon an amazing path of exploration and learning which is revolutionising the way we think about the role of learners and the role of the teacher. They learned far more than anyone had predicted. If Mitra had answered their questions, they would no longer have been curious, and the learning would not have occurred.

Barrett touched on this in his keynote about Creativity in the Australian curriculum. In a world where information is immediately accessible, we need to be discerning in the way we use that access. When students ask ‘What is it?’ or ‘How does it work?’ they could use a search engine to find an answer. Or they could explore, speculate, theorise and experiment, allowing deeper learning and the potential for curiosity to spark inquiry in all sorts of unexpected directions.

Mitra saw in his work that rather than answering children’s questions with knowledge, it is better to answer them with encouragement. Instead of responding to student work with statements like, ‘That’s not right’, he suggested answering with:

‘If you do it again, will you get the same result?’

‘Is there a chance that is not right?’

And instead of responding to the ‘What is it?’ questions with facts, respond with ‘I don’t know’.

In our role of teachers, we want to support our students in their learning journey. We often feel we are helping when we provide knowledge and answers. But to fan the flames of curiosity that will drive learning, we need to be discerning in when and how we do this, because the moment we feel we KNOW something,  we stop wondering, and its that sense of wonder that drives a love of learning.