Another first day of school

One of the things I love about the school year beginning each year is the opportunity we have as teachers to start fresh, set goals and the enthusiastic nature a new year brings in. The first morning as we meet back as a staff after a well deserved break is always full of enthusiasm and excitement. Sadly, I have been part of many first days where that excitement is withered away with endless descriptions of protocols, overviews and inductions. Usually presented with a dry PowerPoints and limitless pieces of paper reminding us all what we should be doing.

This year’s start to the school year for me started at the Melbourne Museum, with who we have developed a wonderful partnership over that last year with ongoing projects. The aim of the day was to provoke our thinking about how we provoke children’s learning. A meta provocation if you will.

As a Reggio Emilia inspired school we use provocations to provide meaningful and emotional connections to learning. Leaving the OHS induction for another staff meeting, we were able to hear from two amazing speakers who shared their designs for the Children’s Museum at Melbourne Museum and reflect on how we might design purposeful provocations for our children.

First we heard from Mary Featherston, who was was in the original design team for the Children’s Museum in the 80s. She spoke about recognising that although museums in the 80’s had established themselves as treasure houses for the community there was nothing for children. They understood the importance of talking to and listening to children in the development of the museum and observing how children made direct connections with the artefacts and their experiences. They were able to identify that children learn through their senses, vigourously. They learnt that hands on exhibits that were deemed boring by the children were often vandalised and that they needed to find a way to slow children down and allow them to dig deeper in the artefacts. Quickly our teaching team was beginning to compare and contrast learning experiences in schools and museums.

As the Children’s Museum is now going through a redesign we were lucky enough to hear from the most recent design team about how they have tried to create a “wondrous museum place for children.” They see children as co-creators of the museum and have worked with a variety of audiences to develop a balance between the familiar and unfamiliar and high and low pace experiences.

The staff interacting in one of the exhibits

We had time to walk through the current Children’s Museum asking ourselves the questions; What is the essence of a provocation? How is a provocation more than just an object? How do we find rich ways to engage in the world with our objects?

Now back at school and a week in, we are still thinking and reflecting on the experiences of our first day. When the museum staff spoke about the design of a welcome space to draw children in. A space to let the child know that the authority of their learning and experiences had now been handed over to them, has certainly inspired us to think about how we welcome children to our learning neighbourhood. How does a child know that when they enter the school or our spaces that we respect them and recognise their desires for learning? How do we show them that this is a place that is not separate from but connected to their home and community?

Already in the first week we have begun to unpack the children’s understanding of welcome and how we make people feel safe and cared for and in the coming weeks we will use provocations to think about how we might transform our welcome foyer into a space that hands over the authority to children.

Much better than walking away from the first day with a checklist of frameworks and protocols……

A day at the museum

I have always believed in the power of the network in education to provoke, support and connect. As a user of twitter I have built up a large network around me and now people I have connected with through that have become close colleagues who I talk to regularly about my practice. This year one of those connections I met on twitter using the #vicpln hashtag a few years back provided me with an opportunity to work closely with our local museums.

Throughout the year, our children have been inquiring into how our community curates and shares knowledge. After researching what is important knowledge, how it can be shared and the types of knowledge a community shares, the children have worked on creating their own museum exhibits for a museum at our school.

After connecting with Cam Hocking at Museum Victoria early in the year we were eager to bring the kids to the museum with a new experience of the school trip to the museum in mind. We didn’t want the experience to be anything they’d had at a museum before. Where they were told what rooms they can be in at a given time and with restrictions put in place because teachers are worried about what the museum staff an visitors would think. We wanted to see how the kids would experience the museum given the chance. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard at times to stand back and not look at my watch. But the kids were taken by what they were seeing. And they were considerate of the others using the museum. They didn’t need me to spend my time shushing them. In not being hung up on what others were thinking or what the kids should be doing, I was able to actually observe what they did. How they interacted with the artefacts. How quickly they moved from one to another. How they didn’t read anything, although much of the museum displays had writing. How they shared what they were seeing with each other and how they documented it with their cameras. The types of exhibits they were attracted to weren’t big or moving, but things they had a connection to. And surprisingly the dinosaurs, weren’t as exciting as the bugs!

But this was just part of the visit to the museum.  What we also wanted to achieve was a different experience for the kids. One were they were engaged and engulfed by the visit. What would it take for them to experience the museum on a deeper level? So after lunch we visited the museum wearing a researcher lens. Children entered with questions about the museum that would help them to build their own museum at school. How are the artefacts displayed? What do the artefacts have in common? What sizes are the artefacts? How wide are the walking paths? What senses are used for each of the displays. Why did they decide on that artefact? I took with me a bag full of tools they might need including measuring tapes, timers, paper, pencils and they all had cameras, iPads and a GoPro to use as well.


You can probably guess what happened next. The kids spent longer at each of the exhibits. They didn’t rush. They questioned each other. They shared their learning. They interacted with the visitors at the museum. It was a completely different experience. And what the children came back with was a different lens in which to visit a museum. Not only was it a mysterious holder of knowledge but armed with the right questions, a day at the museum could be a researcher’s delight that could set the basis for developing our own museum and further strengthening our connections.


As the inquiry continued we had many more great connections with the museum through twitter, hangouts with experts and visits from their team. As we built our own exhibits it was time to visit the museum again, this time with our own artefacts in hand.

With the ongoing relationship and connection we had with the museum we felt it was the perfect time to ask for a request; an activity room to create a School Museum Pop Up and some experts to give us some feedback. Wish granted, we jumped on a tram with arms full with boxes, ready to set up a pop up at the Melbourne Museum.


It is not often you get to have such an authentic experience with real and purposeful feedback. The CEO of Museum Victoria dropped by, as did numerous experts within the museum; designers, curators, volunteers. All giving well considered feedback to the students who couldn’t get enough advice to make changes to their exhibits.  At the end of the day not one child was sad the experience was over as they headed back to school eager to make changes based on the feedback they had received.


And that is not the end of it. This week the museum opened in full at school. Visitors from the community have been invited in between the hours of 10am – 2pm daily to visit, with some very animated tour guides showing them around. And it was not surprising to see some Museum Victoria staff in there eager to see the final product and get their hands on the exhibition booklet.


….all from a connection that started on twitter and ended with the most amazing group of people from a museum, ready to support our learning every step of the way.

Telling or Teaching?

I picked up this 1937 Teachers Quarterly for a $1 at a market over the summer. It was really for a bit of a laugh to read and look at how much had changed.

Screenshot 2015-09-13 at 10.20.10

But I was a little surprised to see that after all these years, educators are continuing to send the same messages. And it appears, policy writers are reluctant to listen.

Screenshot 2015-09-13 at 10.19.34

I think the main difference is that this article was written for teachers with a want to change them. Now teachers are very familiar with less talk, more learning. Sadly it a message we try to get through to our government who are supporting teaching as “telling” through their advocacy of programs such as direct explicit instruction.

Screenshot 2015-09-13 at 10.18.45

As education continues to become a valuable market where NAPLAN results are the currency, educators are having to defend pedagogies and their knowledge of how learning occurs.

And this is likely to become even more extreme as we hand over education to private businesses with discussion turning to Australian versions of Charter Schools.

Reggio Emilia

I recently attended the Australian Reggio Emilia Conference, which was this year in Melbourne. For a long time I have looked at the Reggio Emilia region with envy as many of my ideals of education are enacted within their city walls, while our policy makers were busy talking about back to basics and mandating phonics. This year I am at a school which is inspired by the Malaguzzi philosophy so it was a great opportunity to attend the conference.

On first looking at the program it appeared to be keynote after keynote, which it pretty much was, but I found myself so mesmerised by the pedagogues and their daily experiences that I didn’t care. And they spoke in their native language, Italian. Now you might be thinking it would make for a very long conference but the pauses from the interpreter gave me valuable thinking time. In contrast to many professional learning opportunities I have had, the two visitors from the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre did not talk about processes or educational outcomes. They spoke of what the children said and did. And the contexts they provided them. It was refreshing to hear educators who were so immersed in their pedagogy that they knew the experiences would speak for themselves. No need for buzz words because the concepts were clear. Educational outcomes were not as important as the moment.

A little insight into the high regard they have for children and the power of listening is seen in this video collated for the World Expo in Milan.

 Here are a few of my take away moments from the conference from Claudia and Francesca.

Children don’t separate the cognitive from the social. They don’t separate the subjects. They make connections. 

Children don’t only learn through spoken words.

The capacity of teachers listening means children’s processes aren’t invisible.

Children offer us opportunities for learning and wonder.

A drawing restructures and experience. Processes of learning are a wavy line, not a straight one.

Children are intimately connected to everything in the world. They treat things of the world the way they treat their peers. Children give voice to the what is invisible in the world.

In difficulties we build defences and shut down. Closure leads to the loss of optimistic view of the present and the future.


A Fringe Festival of Learning

“People don’t go to conferences for presentations. They go for the networking.” Overheard on tram 48, 6.47pm, 16.4.15.

As educators we know and understand the importance of providing authentic, rich and fulfilling learning experiences that provide real world contexts for learning. We provide choice for students and empower them to be lifelong learners, giving them agency to learn from their mistakes. We use contemporary pedagogies and digital technologies to prepare them for a life in the 21st century. Yet, when we attend a conference our learning is not always treated with the same respect we give to our learning design.

This year I am once again the chair of DigiCon, the Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria annual conference and working with a wonderful committee we have been able to step outside what has become the traditional conference structure where educators are led through learning experiences in a linear and set structure.

We started last year with the concept of a self organising conference and have learned a lot from that experience, which has allowed us to go a step further. But how do we change a conference that has a long history of concurrent sessions flanked by keynotes? And how do we change the tradition that a conference is something you come to where you are talked to. It is even more difficult for a not-for profit who relies on the conference to produce other resources and events for students. We knew we wanted to support our delegates through this change, a change we believe will allow us to think about conferences and professional learning differently.

DLTV conference 2014

We wanted people to leave the conference empowered. We believe individuals are in the best place to decide their own learning and to filter what they need and what they don’t. We wanted people to leave sessions in the middle if they are not meeting their expectations but also to contribute. We want them to ask questions, share ideas and to make connections.

When we were designing the conference program at the end of last year we drew inspiration from The Edinburgh Festival Fringe where in 1947 a group of theatres who didn’t want to conform to the traditional constraints of a festival took advantage of the crowds in Edinburgh to showcase their alternative events. DigiCon – a festival of learning, will also have an alternative place to showcase learning. The DigiCon Fringe Festival will allow presenters to showcase what they are doing in digital learning in an alternative setting with no constraints to time, location, people involved or traditions.

We had lots of  interest from presenters who also wanted to think differently about how they present.  In the Fringe Festival we will have a radio station, students coding, developers to chat to, students printing a 3D printer, loads of new gadgets and a series of  inspirational mini keynotes. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing the unexpected in The Fringe.

DigiCon15 is on 24th and 25th July 2015 at Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn.

Register at

DLTV - DigiCon 2015 - Logo



Digital Technologies | A Curriculum

Last year I was lucky enough to be involved with VCAA in trialling the new Digital Technologies Curriculum in the primary school.  The AusVELS‘ version of the Australian Curriculum is set to be released later in the year and will be the first time we have seen computer science in the primary curriculum.  After presenting on the weekend about this I had much interest in how I got my head around it and I thought I would share some tips and  my learning.

Unfortunately I can’t share access to the AusVELS documents, you will have to wait for their release and you do have two years before it will be fully implemented so technically there is no rush.  But if you wanted to get a head start and look at the Australian Curriculum Digital Technologies will get you on your way.

1. Before we got into what was written in the curriculum it was important to work out why this is even important.  What is it about computer science that is so important to our students that we should be teaching it. This was easier for us to do by discussing why it was important to teach other domains and we found many similarities to our beliefs around why science is important or why students should be literate or numerate. Splash and Hour of Code are great places to start with videos of the importance of computation thinking and coding in our lives.

2. The second step was to unpack the language of the curriculum.  As with any new subject, it comes a new technical language. Words like ‘data’ really needed to be examined, placed in context and revisited with a new lens to understand the content descriptors within AusVELS.

4. Brainstorm what the content descriptors and achievement standards mean. Bring a few people together if you can, read through the descriptors and standards and discuss.  What does this mean?  What could it look like? Compare and contrast with the other descriptors and statements. It was amazing how much clearer it became when we started to jot these down. Even though it might be difficult to start; try and think of some of the learning activities which may go with these. And don’t forget to make changes as you learn more.  By the end we had much of our thinking scribbled out as we became clearer on what was involved.  If you are looking for some Computer Science related tasks check out Tim Bell’s CS Unplugged.

3. Don’t just look at the level you are teaching.  In order to fully understand the progression of skills and understanding it was important to look ahead to how students would be using the learning in the 3/4 level.  It enabled a clearer context to the expectations.

5.  AusVELS is written to cover 80% of your teaching time.  Therefore we all probably ‘overteach’ the curriculum.  An example of this is the Australian Curriculum Digital Technologies curriculum in Year 3 and 4 is expected to be taught in 80 hours or 40 hours a year. (Australian Curriculum, Shaping the Curriculum).

6. Use your common sense (aka professional knowledge or pedagogy). It is easy to get caught up in the curriculum being a linear, sequenced document and feeling that we should teach this way.  We know that learning, and specifically design, are flexible, iterating and complex journeys and will weave backwards and forwards through stages. Don’t fall into the trap that design follows a plan, build, test and evaluate cycle.  Not all designs start with a plan and they are certainly more iterative than how they appear on paper (that’s not a dig at the curriculum but rather understanding at how difficult it is to put something that is not linear into a written document).

Overall I would recommend dedicating some time to unpacking and understanding the new curriculum.  Not only because it is part of the curriculum but because you have done the first thing on my list and know that it is important for us to be teaching.


Last week I became a Splash ambassador.  Splash is an Australian website run by the ABC which collates high quality content to share with Australian educators, parents and students.  It includes videos, audio clips, games and interactives which can be used across all year groups.

I was part of the initial group which worked with ABC in the conception days of Splash.  It was a great opportunity to have some input into what would become the Splash website and also see the process of building the website from brainstorming ideas to having students involved to find out their needs of the website. We even got to vote on the name!

So why have I become a Splash ambassador? Well, here are a few reasons.

  • You can trust Splash.  We all know what it is like in a classroom when you want a video or information at a moment notice.  We also all know how easily we can get into trouble when using YouTube without checking through all the video first.  At least with ABC Splash I trust that the videos and materials are related to education and have been through a process to be placed there.  I can confidently allow students to browse the resources and know that they will not come across unsafe material.
  • It is Australian. So often I look for resources online and get stuck with geo cached resources I can’t use in Australia.  All of the resources on Splash are available in Australia and there is also lots of Australian made content. It also means there are resources specifically designed for Australian audiences and related to local events.
  • The quality of the resources are high.  The Splash resources are selected with educators in mind and are very high quality.  You only need to look through the video to see documentaries that are filmed by professionals and often come directly from the ABC.
  • It is ever changing.  There are lots of resources that are continually being uploaded to the website. I have Splash on my RSS reader and enjoy flicking through the new resources which are added every few days.
  • There is a great variety of resources from videos, audio to games and interactives.
  • They think about teachers too.  The teacher section not only has lesson plans and resources to support them but also some great articles from amazing educators around Australia who share their insights, expertise and provoke us.

As an ambassador I am certainly in good company as I join many great educators who share their love of Splash. You can catch these educators on twitter and Google+ using the #SplashEd hashtag as they share how they are using Splash in their schools and universities. I will be tweeting using that hashtag and you can also find me on Google+ where I have set up a community to share resources.  I will also be reviewing a Splash resource every week which I hope you will find useful.

If you want to find out more about Splash you can go to the website, follow them on Twitter and join their group on Facebook.


New beginnings

I always love the opportunities new beginnings offer you and this week my new beginning was starting at a new school. Usually a time of trepidation and nerves I found myself full of excitement and a sense of feeling like I was truly at home. Instead of the agenda for the first day being full of protocols, check boxes, lists of things to do and timetables, my first two days was spent at the school conference, two days focused on learning and teaching, pedagogy and the teacher as a researcher.

From the first few minutes my head was spinning with thoughts, reflections and questions.  The perfect beginning in my mind as I am provoked by those around me and challenged in my thinking, setting the scene for the year ahead both as a teacher and an inquirer.

The conference was made up of a series of presentations such as those which looked at theory, philosophy of learning, the educational environment and assessment. We also heard from different teachers as they shared their own research and past inquiries with students. The most confronting activity for me was when we listed different types of assessment and categorised them according to the learning theory area they aligned with, behaviourist, constructivist or cultural historical. It was interesting to see how I use learning theory to drive my teaching but this had not crossed to assessment.

Our morning back at school after the conference started with a visit to the National Gallery Victoria where we had an opportunity to look through the Emily Floyd Exhibition and meet the Melbourne based artist who uses education and knowledge as themes in her work. Using this as a chance to create our own provocations as educators we stepped through the exhibitions and analysed some of the pieces. It provided a unique opportunity to have another lens with which to view our educational lives and put ourselves in the shoes of learners as well as using it as inspiration for our professional work.

Emily Floyd Exhibition

After two days away with my peers I was able to get a real sense of belonging and by the time we headed back into school on Friday I felt part of a team that was passionate and inspired, ready to challenge each other as professionals to provide authentic and rich learning experiences for students.


Festival of Gaming

At this time of year I love reading everyone’s wrap up of the previous year. Highlight, lowlight, best of.  I am not usually one to write that sort of thing, and if you look back over my year of blogging I haven’t been one to write much at all. No, this is not gong to be a promise to write more but I thought it would give me an opportunity to blog about something I wish I had through the year, the gaming inquiry my class did.

Rigor had been a word I had tried to ignore for so long when it came to inquiry but I think in this inquiry I got the true sense of the word. It feels like I have come full circle in my thinking about inquiry.  From the rigid ‘you’ll do inquiry my way, my process’, to the ‘let the kids go and they will learn’ inquiry. This inquiry was somewhere in the middle.  Did the students have complete freedom to direct their own learning? Yes. Did I influence that decision? Yes, probably. Many times I started my sentences with “It is up to you but can I ask….” and “Have you thought about…?”

The inquiry group was 24 boys who were interested in computers, games, Lego and paper planes.  The first few weeks were spent getting to know what our interests were, identifying what we knew and coming up with some questions which would drive our inquiry.  We found a common love of gaming and groups were formed by the students and the following questions developed.

  • How is music used in gaming?
  • How do you make a good game?
  • How do you make an open world game?
  • How do you get real things in games?
  • How do you make an arcade game?
  • How do you make a game?

And off they went!  During our check ins (Time for sharing what everyone was doing and discussing our next steps) we came up with ideas for finding out what we needed to about gaming.  Some students reviewed games using Sploder and Scratch, others followed tutorials on how to use different platforms. Max from grade 6 was called in as a Scratch expert.  Meanwhile, Max in grade 3 used Code Academy to learn Python. Surveys such as this one asking about the use of music in gaming were analysed to help one group design their own pieces of music using Soundation. Images of arcade gaes were used to come up with a criteria. And yes, there were lots of games played. Some students became experts in certain areas and Max and Gareth skyped another school to teach them about using Sploder.

As the groups developed their own knowledge, changing their opinions as they went and asking more questions a culture of sharing was developed where groups helped each other out in their quest to make their own games.  The music group made music for another group’s game.  Experts using Scratch helped out the music group. The list goes on.

As the games neared completion it was becoming clear we needed to share them. At a later check in it was decided we should have a festival of gaming, both as a website and an event. The festival would have a few aims. Firstly an opportunity for us to share our learning, also to get feedback and finally to prove to our school community that gaming is a good thing. Before the festival there a few things that needed to be done. Marketing had to be organised, venues booked, and the games would need to be finished.  As part of the designing process we knew it was important to have users test our games before the final showcase so the students invited their peers and parents to try out their games, then made the final changes to them in preparation for the festival.

The festival was a huge success.  With large numbers of the school community turning out to play the games, give feedback and learn about gaming through the students led workshops. It was at this stage and during the reflection the following week that I really got to see what the students had learnt about design, the creative process, inquiring, collaborating but more so the confidence they had in their own learning. And this wasn’t from me letting them go nor from telling them how to do it.  But from setting the culture, modelling the inquiry and for one group, me even being a team member sharing ideas and contributing. Would they have pulled it off without me? No.  Would they have had as many people visit their website had it not been for me?  Would the group with the arcade game thought of the idea without me.  Probably not. But what I did do is show them how next time they can do it on their own.  I modelled to them how amazing curiosity, inquiry, determination and failure can be.

Visit the Festival of Gaming Website here to play and review the games and see the videos and gallery.

Watch me talking about the inquiry for AITSL’s Teacher Feature.

Startup Weekend Education Melbourne

Last weekend saw the first Startup Weekend Education in Melbourne and I was lucky enough to be one of the organisers.  Startup Weekends are typically a grassroot movement to empower entrepreneurs….. although ours was a little different.  Education Startup Weekends are typically aimed at entrepreneurs to work with educators to develop ideas for education….. but ours was a little different.

With my fellow organisers, Kynan Robinson and Hamish Curry we had attended similar events in the past but had felt there was another level to these weekends.  We aimed to bring more rigor to the event and ensure it was about learning from the process.  To do this we enlisted the help of Marina Paronetto, who helped us to connect with the startup world.  The concept of the weekend was to bring developers and designers from the startup world together with inspired educators to solve some of the big issues in education.  Participants were invited to pitch their educational problems in one minute and teams were formed to work on solving the problem over the rest of the weekend.  The emphasis was on problems rather than ideas as the last thing education needs is another solution that overlooks the problem.

Early on the Saturday morning teams came together to define their problem.  They spoke to educators, researched their area and spent the first day finding patterns in their problem to help them ideate.  We really wanted to focus on this part of the process for teams and encouraged them to find out as much as possible before jumping into building ideas as so often we see the problem being lost in the solutions. Once they had defined the problem, teams worked on coming up with different ideas before choosing one to prototype.

Our amazing coaches arrived to support teams and things started to get busy.  By Saturday night teams were starting to validate their ideas in the market using surveys and asking for feedback from their networks. By Sunday morning teams were out and about on the streets gathering feedback and iterating their initial ideas to create a solution to pitch at the final presentation. Some teams had prototyped websites and others had set up social media accounts.

Regardless of what was pitched at the final on Sunday we wanted the process to be the winner of the weekend.  After I attended my first Eduhack event I was really excited by what I could learn from the startup methodology and it was evident that I could use this process to make change in education.  I also realised how much the startup community could learn from actually talking to an educator and hearing about what it is really like in education.  This was a big part of the weekend where people got to learn from each other by working together. It was also the reason we took the competition out of the weekend, which allowed teams to be more collaborative and work together to solve problems.

As you can imagine after a weekend of early mornings, late nights and head hurting thinking everyone was exhausted by Sunday night but the accomplishments of the weekend made every minute worthwhile.  It was very humbling to think we had these 30 odd designers, developers and educators learning from each other to solve real problems in education. Although there were some amazing ideas and projects to come out of the weekend more so it was the learning from each other in an intense process of design that was the highlight.

Like any intense event like this I have spent the week in a state of loss as I said goodbye to people I met over the weekend. Dare I say, I can’t wait for the next one. Sometime in the future….