What kind of world are we preparing our students for?

I’ve had a very busy couple of days. Actually, I’ve had a very busy last few months. I’m immersed in a new way of looking at education and it’s very hard to switch off. As much as I try and stay off the grid for periods of my day, I find myself thinking all the time. Any down time I have for housework, driving my kids to their next destinations, even having a shower and getting ready for work seems to be occupied with my head mulling over ideas about the future direction of education and how we respond to it.  (Just to clarify my interpretation of down time – none of that is really what I’d like to think of as down time, but it’s the only down time I have!!) 

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach’s visit to my school this week brought a lot of this into focus for me. Of late I’ve been reading Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind. He talks of society moving from an information age into a conceptual age, where we are going to need people who are creators with the ability to empathise with others using Right brain directed thinking. According to Dan, Left brain directed thinking is still important, but there needs to be a balance betwen the two. Hence the book’s title, ‘A Whole New Mind’.  Much of what Sheryl relayed coalesced with the thinking I have after my period of immersion.

Sheryl was speaking of the need for education to address the changing society we live in. Her focus was on the Human Network we habitate, and how we can use technology to foster relationships with people not just in our immediate locale, but worldwide and the importance of these digital literacy skills for the students we teach. Tania Sheko, who is from one of the school’s joining our cohort, was in attendance and she has written a  very good post about Sheryl’s visit. Here’s some of what she had to say ;

Firstly, she emphasised that 21st century learning, although based on technologies, was primarily a human network. These technologies enable global connections and wisdom of the crowd. Sheryl gave the example of Twitter as a means of finding the best information about buying a new car. I suppose it’s an extension of the network of friends and colleagues people turn to when looking for a good car, or finding a good plumber, only the global aspect facilitates expert knowledge more effectively. In a fast-changing world, where the information today will be outdated tomorrow, rather than teach memorisation of content from a single text, we need to teach students how to work collaboratively. As Sheryl said, ‘don’t think computers, think innovation’. Our students need to be able to be productive, self-directed and effective communicators, understanding digital communications, and not be overwhelmed by the fast pace of change in their lives. It’s not about the tools, the technology, but about learning. 

A very good summary Tania. Read her post  – she has much more there and it does encapsulate the thinking of Sheryl.


My time spent with Sheryl lived up to expectations. She loved Toorak College and felt like she’d been visiting Hogwarts. We do have the most beautiful school setting; a wonderful original building and stunning gardens. Sheryl was impressed with the examples of self directed learning taking place. A Yr 8 inquiry week and students from Yr 7 filming in groups for a Connections class. She’s a frenetically busy lady; when you listen to her describe her schedule you swear you are never going to complain again about how busy you are. When she presented to the staff at my school I’m sure none of them would have been able to ascertain that she had come off a long haul flight with no sleep. By the time I left her Thursday night she’d been awake for 33 hours and she was still sounding very lucid. We’ve chatted many a time through Skype, but this was our first meeting. I have to admit to being a little apprehensive – what if she didn’t like me or vice versa? Happy to report we got on really well. She’s passionate about what she does and so am I. That ‘s what’s important in being able to relay this message and have it heard; you have to believe it.

This brings me to Friday.  As with any staff, there are going to be people open to new ideas and people who take time to move along with change. A discussion ensued with a member of staff about the relevance of Sheryl’s message in the light of the stringent exam structure that exists in our senior years of high school. The argument that was presented suggested that our parent community wanted high enter scores. Our job at those year levels was to get our students through the curriculum and prepare them for 700 word essays, and it wasn’t helping them to have them learn how to collaborate with students from around the world. The other argument was that they couldn’t see how computers could be used for exams and didn’t see how it would be likely in their lifetime.  

My answer to these statements went something like this. What is our responsibility as teachers? Is it to prepare them for an exam, or is it to prepare them for life and the type of world they are going to be entering where these type of collaboration and digital literacy skills are going to be valuable? Will there come a time when we are going to see students use technology in exam situations? I think so. When, I don’t know, but with the rate of change and adoption in our society it could be within the next 10 years. I’ve been mulling this over the last 24 hrs and have been wondering if the English course will adapt and have students complete tasks that assess their digital literacy skills. At the moment we assess their ability to analyse persuasive language. I could see this evolving to include  assessing their ability to locate persuasive arguments from Web based sources; it seems to me that in the future, and now for that matter, it’s becoming more important to know how to find the best and most authoritive source of information in tandem with how to analyse the language and persuasive techniques (including visual stimuli) being used. Digital literacy , knowing how to find what you need, for the purpose you need it for, is going to be the vital 21st Century skill in my belief. We will all be in command of hand held devices, our phones, that are going to be able to perform so many tasks for us. We need to know how to use these to best effect and how to source the best of what is out there.

The week finished with a dinner in the city with Sheryl and local Melbourne based bloggers. Sue Tapp, Jo McLeay, John Pearce, Lauren O’Grady, Pam Arvanitakis and Darren Murphy (soon to relocate to London).  A fun evening where I got to chat with new found friends and share some ideas.

My hope is that Powerful Learning Practice is going to be the launching pad for further uptake of this kind of thinking in the school I work at. After meeting Sheryl, I know she has the passion and commitment to help us traverse this new approach to learning and hopefully give us the capacity to build this with our staff who are yet to be convinced of the need to move forward. What we’re facing is the change cycle that comes from moving from the knowledge age to the conceptual age. We are all going to have to adopt a whole new mind in order to cope with this change.

It’s the field of dreams adage, ‘If you build it,  they will come’. Hope so.

School’s out Friday

Friday again! Rolls around fast doesn’t it?

Had to revisit Hamish and Andy who took on the Olympic city of Beijing to take the sport of Ghosting to a new level – Forbidden Ghosting in the Forbidden City! Funny guys, and game ones at that, without a doubt.

For those of you wondering how Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach’s visit to my school went yesterday, it was great. I’ll write about it tomorrow when it’s not one o’clock in the morning and I’m not sitting at my laptop with a glazed expression that reeks of too much to do, too little time and too little sleep!

Nearly spring! (Or Autumn/Fall for all you Northern Hemisphere folk) Enjoy the weekend.  

Sheryl’s visiting Australia (and Toorak College!)

If you’ve been following this blog you’ll have some inkling that I’ve been helping Sheryl Nussbaum Beach and Will Richardson set up an Australian arm of their Powerful Learning Practice initiative. This group is going to be global in scale including schools from the United States, New Zealand and Australia. I’ve been working at getting schools here in Australia to join this initiative and am pleased to report that we have schools from New South Wales and Victoria across all sectors; Independant, Catholic and Govt. Schools.

Some of the people leading these school teams include those writing blogs. Dean Groom, Judy O’Connell, Frances Manning, Rhonda Powling and Tania Sheko. Three of those names are Teacher-Librarians. Great to see them at the helm of change in their schools.  It’s going to be very exciting leading our schools through what we all hope is going to be something transformational for our colleagues who are taking the leap with us. I first started reading about Powerful Learning Practice in December of last year. I could see that it had the potential to shift my school and it’s teachers towards an understanding of the power of these technologies to reach out and make a difference to the learning environment for our students. We start the program on Sept. 8th. Our United States participants will be having a fact to face meeting at Freidricksburg Acadamy and we’ll be joining them via ustream. I’m excited to see that there are names I am already familiar with from our United States and New Zealand participants. Elizabeth Helfant, Alex Ragone, Lenva Shearing and  Jane Nicholls.

What is really exciting for me is that tomorrow I am finally getting the opportunity to meet Sheryl. She’s in Melbourne to keynote at the Expanding Learning Horizons conference being held in Lorne. She’s visiting my school tomorrow to present to the staff here about 21st Century learning and Learning communities.  I hope the people I work with realise the status Sheryl occupies in the Educational Technology sector and pay heed to the message she delivers. I’m sure her visit is going to make an impact; I feel very fortunate to have been able to work with Sheryl and get to know her during our Skype chats. It’s going to be wonderful meeting her face to face at last!

Wikipedia’s citation advice and help.

Wes Fryer sent out a link to his blog over the weekend highlighting ‘cite this page’ in the left sidebar of Wikipedia titled toolbox. He’s never seen it and I have to admit that I’d never taken note of it either. Maybe it’s been there for awhile or maybe it’s new. Regardless, it’s useful for the students you teach.

Whether you like Wikipedia or not, you’d be foolish to not have recognised that your students are using it as a source of information. My 12 yr old daughter completed an assignment over the weekend and three of her reference sources were from Wikipedia. I see it in the bibliographies of many of my students.  Wes’ post led me to the cite this article link to check it out and see if it could help my daughter with her bibliography. It could.  

When you click on the link you are taken to a page with some useful advice that you can use when you teach students about Wikipedia as a reference source. Very responsible information from the Wikipedia team;

Couldn’t have said it better myself, and I won’t from now on because I’ll be pointing students to this information. Below this information comes this;

How cool is that! My students are going to love this. Some might say that it reinforces the cut and paste attitude of some students, but I see nothing wrong with it. It is a laborious process putting together a bibliographic record, especially for a website.  What’s important is that our students know that a bibliography is essential and that it should follow a required format – if they are able to cut and paste it in more power to them I say.

Wish this was around when I was studying. Honestly, it must be so different being a student today.  I can remember having to hole myself up in the State Library of Victoria’s Reading Room for over a week because it was the only place where I could access a resource I needed. Somehow, I don’t think that would be necessary today with the wealth of resources available via the Web. Today’s challenge for students is sifting through the vast array of resources to find quality information. Maybe Wikipedia is a quality resource, maybe it’s not. At least they are providing apt advice and assisting the students of today.

School’s out Friday

Friday again already! Hope your week has been a good one. Time to revist the improveverywhere team and see what Charlie Todd has been up to. This is their latest effort. Using the subway system (a favourite location of theirs) they managed to get 15 sets of identical twins to form a human mirror on a train. Watch the quizzical expressions from the unsuspecting passengers as they look from one side of the train of the other and try and fathom what is going on.  

Charlie Todd, in my book, you are a superstar. I so look forward to seeing what you will come up with next. You and your team of voluntary improvisors lift my spirits. A real tonic for the weekend. Enjoy.

Learning 2.008 – I’m so excited (to quote the Pointer Sisters!)


 I. am. actually. going. to. this. conference.   

Can you even begin to imagine how excited I am about this? It is such a great opportunity to connect with people I have worked with and talked to in my online network of connected friends who teach me so much. It’s an opportunity to meet with many who I haven’t yet had opportunity to connect with. Just being at a conference with so many like minds is going to be so exciting and such a learning experience.

I can’t wait to hear the thoughts of people like David Warlick, David Jakes, Ewan McIntosh, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Marco Torres. People who will be presenting include Clay Burell, Kim Cofino  and Jeff Utecht – more minds I want to tap into!! I’m particularly looking forward to finally meeting Clay who has had such an impact on my life this year. I’m also looking forward to meeting Simon Power, an Australian teaching in Shanghai.

I’m actually catching up with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach in Melbourne next week. I’ve been working with Sheryl to get an Australian arm of the global cohort for Powerful Learning Practice formed. The cohort’s pretty much come together now. It’s really exciting and we should be kicking this off on September the 8th. I see this as a way to move my school forward. It’s been wonderful getting to know Sheryl online and I’m looking forward to our face to face meeting next week.   

Would I have thought this is where I’d be when I started blogging in January? No way. Just goes to show you what can be achieved with determination and persistance (and a very supportive school behind you who appreciate what you are doing – I am so very grateful). To retweet @thebuddha;

 All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become. 

Periodic table of videos -now Science teachers have got to love this one!

Alec Couras found this site. He writes a wonderful blog that you should be checking out. His was one of the first blogs I subscribed to and I always find something worthwhile when I visit.  This is no exception. It’s from the University of Nottingham. They’ve developed a Periodic Table of Videos about the periodic table of elements. Elementary, some would say!!

This is great. There’s nothing more dry than trying to memorise those elements. At least using these your students will have a visual element to peg their learning to (excuse the pun!).  They’re not trying to be radical with these videos, but they will be useful I’m sure for Science teachers everywhere. A great initiative from the University of Nottingham.

And don’t forget, if you have problems loading the vids from their YouTube channel  , under Australian copyright guidelines you can convert the file to another format that you can download to your computer so that the video will play straight away in class. I use Keepvid and download to Mpeg 4 quality for playback.  Easy done and saves loading problems.

WikiTaxi – offline access to Wikipedia

Now here’s something that could prove useful. WikiTaxi provides you with free offline access to Wikipedia. Here’s what it can do according to their front page;

WikiTaxi enables you to read, search, and browse Wikipedia offline. No Internet connection is needed, all pages are stored in a WikiTaxi database. Because Wikipedia is constantly growing, WikiTaxi uses compression to make sure that the database stays reasonably small. The huge English Wikipedia easily fits on a 8 GB memory stick.

There are explanations on their homepage about how you go about creating a Wikitaxi database. You have to do a database dump, which means that you are downloading Wikipedia from the internet and importing it into a Wikitaxi database. According to them, this is easy to do and there are instructions on their page explaining how you go about doing this.  I haven’t done it, so I can’t verify if it is easy or not. It sounds like a big call to me, considering the size of Wikipedia, but they claim that compression makes it possible.

Why would this be useful?? Not all of us in this world have seamless Internet access. Some of our students struggle with digital divide issues and can’t get access to what is becoming a very good reference source that is available online. Imagine if we could provide our students in situations like this with 8g memory  sticks (that are becoming cheaper by the day)  that have Wikitaxi available for them to use at home. Cheaper maybe, than subscribing to an online database like World Book or Brittanica that requires an internet connection once again.   

Jay Hathaway from Download Squad pointed me to this new app. Read his post for his take on it.

School’s out Friday

How quickly does the weekend come around huh? (And how quickly does it go!!!) This is a recommendation from a student of mine for this week’s School’s out Friday. It’s the Discovery Channel’s ad called Boom de  ah dah. It’s a lot of fun. I love the fact that my students want to share their good finds with me. Saves me a lot of time looking and I really appreciate it. On YouTube the Discovery Channel are looking for people to create their own video response to this ad. Here’s one of the efforts that have been made by the public. It’s a couple of inventive kids with a trebuchet – they could cause a lot of damage if let loose with this!  

Have a great weekend.

The power of Twitter

This tweet from Mark Pesce got me thinking this morning. So many people I know don’t write blogs or operate in an online environment. Some have difficulties dealing with email. Most of them have no understanding of what Twitter is or why on earth you’d want to spend time looking at the 140 character responses that are posted on this microblogging tool.

I was with them once. And it wasn’t all that long ago. I’d heard about Twitter but wondered why people would be interested in using this tool. Twitter’s prompt is ‘What are you doing?’ Why would you want to tell people about the minutiae of your life. I danced around it for awhile but finally started using it. Clay Burell helped me to form my network by doing a shout out for me asking people to follow me. The thing with twitter is is that you have to follow people and they need you to follow you back in order for you to see each other’s posts (tweets!). It’s a reciprocal relationship and when it’s like that that’s when it works best.

Seeing Mark’s tweet this morning prompted me to reply with my belief about the power of Twitter.


And that’s it really. It’s the capacity of your network to share with you that makes it such an essential tool. Twitter has taken me places I never would have found without the valuable links being provided by the wonderful sharing people involved in my network of reciprocation. Sometimes those same people who post those great links also share with me that they’ve just burnt dinner or have to put the kids to bed. And that’s OK too. I get to know them as people and enjoy the human experience with them.

Let’s face it, it’s powerful. How else would a teacher like me get to connect with a mind like that of futurist Mark Pesce? Personal learning networks are amazing. If you’re dancing around the edges of Twitter it’s time to take your turn in the middle and explore the potential of what is an incredible tool for connecting and sharing.