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.

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.

Why our schools are NOT failing your children

This morning I read this article by recent graduate Johanna O’Farrell in The Age.  Of course any article which opens with “Why your schools are failing your children: a teacher tells” piqued my interest.  I have always advocated for teachers telling their stories in our media rather than politicians but this one had my heart rate rising as she spoke of schools tossing aside “any sort of rigour, routine or repetition when it comes to classroom learning.”

I am truly concerned of Johanna’s experiences in schools where she believes that the strategy is that students “will simply learn to read and write by osmosis” and that rote learning should be a valid part of learning.

If we want our schools to factories of students who can travel a conveyer belt learning times tables through hours of chanting and memorising the laws of the English Language then maybe she has a point.  But I couldn’t imagine why we would want students to know facts in isolation and that a “blackboard and chalk, a pen and paper, a few good books and some learned teachers will suffice.” Isn’t an education of experiences which connect ideas, is in context with the real world and develop skills of self directed life long learning a more holistic approach?  Sure, we can rote learn many things if we believe the learning journey ends with our VCE results.

I am saddened that Johanna doesn’t have the knowledge to explain why students expression in English is wrong, not because she was denied learning about the laws of the English language but because she was not exposed to experience of curiosity, self directed learning and how to take control of her own learning.

Maybe this is a message that we need to be more articulate in what we are doing in schools.  I too believe that technology is not a silver bullet and have questioned the use of “genius hours” or “inquiry learning days.”  But I do believe that inquiry learning and technology should be embedded into our classrooms and become as normal as pen and paper learning and chalk and talk was in the past. We need to talk about why we do what we do.  It is more than engagement.  It is embedding real experiences and constructing knowledge through context, introducing conflicting ideas, connecting those experiences and developing their own understandings.

Maybe the more we talk about the why, the less misconception will be there about the relevance of education and demonstrate how schools are helping our students to succeed.

PLE Murder Mystery

On Thursday and Friday this week I was lucky enough to run two workshops at the PLE Conference held at Monash University.  The PLE Conference is a two day conference held in two cities, Melbourne and Berlin.  This year’s program, Personal Learning Environments: Learning and Diversity in the Cities of the Future, was full of presentations looking at the use of PLEs in education and examined the use of technology enhanced learning.

A PLE, or a Personal Learning Environment includes methods, tools, communities, and services constituting individual learning infrastructures or ecosystems which learners use to direct their own learning and pursue their learning goals.

The first workshop I did was a Murder Mystery.  Although I have never participated in a Murder Mystery dinner party I love the idea of immersing yourself in a character for an evening of mystery!  So I thought why not add that to a presentation.  I hoped that by placing the participants in different situations and looking at PLEs from different perspectives would help to make clear our understandings of PLEs and the different ways we use them.  In the session, participants were able to play the devils advocate and possibly the opportunity to play a role that went against their true beliefs of Personal Learning Environment.

The setting for the Murder Mystery was the launch of PLE – a new program that brings together different tools of collaboration, work flow and networking.  At the launch were a variety of people, some who loved the idea, others who felt a PLE should not be forced upon someone and of course those who were anti technology all together.  As part of the launch I shared a few of the tools which would appear as part of the make believe program’s suite of tools.

Unfortunately for Paula Louise Evans, the CEO of PLE, she was the victim of the afternoon and the other characters spent the rest of the session trying to determine the killer. Needless to say we all had a lot of fun.  The conference participants were wonderful getting in to their characters and there were many robust conversations about PLEs.

My second workshop looked at my Personal Learning Environment.  After having participants choose a photo that best represents their Personal Learning Environment, I used Richard Olsen’s White Paper, Understanding Virtual Pedagogies for Contemporary Teaching and Learning and the Collective Knowledge Construction Model to map some of the tools and networks I use as part of my PLE.

Then came the fun part as we used some craft materials to make a visualisation of our Personal Learning environment  It was really interesting to see the different ways people think of their PLEs.

I enjoyed being part of the conference and enjoyed the opportunity to see how others are using technology to enhance learning experience and enjoyed the opportunity to tackle questions such as what is the difference between personal and personalisation.  If you would like to check out any of the tweets for the conference you can do so with the Storifys of Day One and Day Two.









The End of the Ultranet Era

This week sees the end of the government supported Ultranet (The Victorian Learning Management System)   and tonight I looked back at the blog post I wrote on the 6th of August 2011, just days before it was openly released to all Victorian teachers. It was only the third blog post I had written on this blog.  It is with pride I look back over how I have evolved as an educator in this time and part of this was thanks to the Ultranet.

Some of the tweets I read are celebratory and others are angry that the Ultranet tried to fence in our students. I believe otherwise. When I first started on twitter I locked my account.  It didn’t take long for me to realise the potential was in the world being able t see what I was saying but I needed that time to find my feet.  I did the same things when I first started blogging.  The first few posts were hidden from the world at the beginning until I felt comfortable in sharing what I was doing.

The Ultranet was a great opportunity for my kids to ‘play’ and I, my students, their parents and the school felt safe that they could test the waters of an online world without the harsh consequences the world wide web. For the first time my students were connected to every other school student in Victoria.  As much as we would like to think so we can’t do that with any other platforms.  My students could go into chat rooms and write on forums even if they were under the age of 13. They could design their own spaces and invite teachers and students from around Victoria. And as for the walled garden, I saw it no differently to the classroom, where students could take risks in their learning and I was there to help them.  Of course they didn’t stay in the walled environment, and I didn’t expect them to. With confidence they made their way to blogging and collaborating in Google docs, sharing our class account on Twitter. But the Ultranet gave them the skills. I wish I had had more of an opportunity to use the assessment side of the Ultranet and am frustrated we continue to report in a manner we know is not beneficial to our students or their families.

So what went wrong?  I don’t think we will ever know.  Was it the disaster of August 9th which would become the grey cloud that continued to hang over it? Was it the over sell that it would revolutionise ICT in schools?  Was it the infrastructure difficulties when trying to link all schools together?

As I look back for me it was a wondrous time.  I met amazing educators using the Ultranet hashtag on twitter who today are close friends. It connected me with my prep teacher 30 years on. I learnt basic html and css and it opened a world of online learning design.  It created a community of educators who saw it for what it was, warts and all, and took the potential rather than feeling boxed in. For the first time in my teaching career I was ready to share my learning with others and did so at conferences and online. Maybe I would have got there anyway but the Ultranet was certainly a catalyst for me.

I am saddened to see that after today the Ultranet hashtag will dwindle as the last few have their chance to say “I told you so.” But I look back on the opportunities the Ultranet opened up for me and my students proudly and take with me the learning it allowed me to do.

Help. Feedback Wanted!

I have been dappling with the idea of a scope and sequence for ICT.  My first instinct when I hear the words ICT scope and sequence is to cringe.  I have always found the idea of a scope and sequence restricting and irrelevant but I also understand that teachers have a varied level of competence and confidence in teaching and using technology.  Therefore I have come around to the use of a scope and sequence being beneficial, not binding.

So I started to play around with what I thought a scope and sequence should be.  After looking at some examples I certainly came up with what I didn’t want the scope and sequence to be.

  • A document cut and pasted from various places
  • A reworded curriculum
  • Irrelevant
  • Too wordy
  • Impracticable
  • Only about word processing

Today I finished the first draft of what I am calling a Scope and Continuum. I really wanted it to have a continuum of gradual learning experiences for students whilst retaining scope for it to be used in a variety of ways.

I used Richard Olsen’s Ideaslab White Paper on Understanding Virtual Pedagogies as the framework for online learning as well as CyberSmart’s concepts of Digital Citizenship.  I then wanted to offer ideas for applications for a variety of devices, using different platforms and integrating it with learning systems we have in place in Victorian Schools (The application is a work in progress, as you will see.)

Now after spending quite a few hours in putting it all together I am certainly having second thoughts.

  • Is it too wordy?
  • Have I missed the point?
  • What have I left out?
  • Do the skills and understandings even create a continuum?
  • Is it too restricting?
  • Would it even help anyone?
  • Have I got Richard’s White Paper completely wrong?

And what better way to help me answer these questions than by putting it out to my personal learning network for some feedback.

So I would love to have your feedback.  What do you think about scope and sequences?  Is there a need for them?  What do you think I should take out or include?

You can view the Scope and Continuum here and add comments directly to the document or share your thoughts in the blog comments. And I would love some ideas for applicationstoo!

Safer Internet Day

Today is Safer Internet Day and I, like many teachers, organised a day filled with activities based around the safe use of the Internet. It fits in perfectly to our ‘Creating Our Learning Environment’ program, which we run in the first two weeks of school.

The year 3/4 students I am teaching have a varying background of safety online so it was it was really about getting back to basics with them. I used the ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority) website resources and they were so easy to follow and really got to the crux of the message I wanted to deliver to students with clear and easy to follow ideas.

Our day started with a treasure hunt to find some strategically placed cards with letters (spelling out iPads). One team had precise clues whilst the others had vague ones. It was a great example to show what looking through the internet is like and how easy it is to become frustrated and lost. And of course how important it is to be specific and accurate.

The main concepts we covered were about the information we put on the Internet and how to look for web pages safely, especially what to do when we come across inappropriate material.  The student’s responses were very clever and well thought out and although I have known this group of kids for a few days, I was already proud of the maturity they showed with how to deal with inappropriate material. So much so that I am looking forward to sharing lots of technology with them this year with the faith that they will grow to become digital citizens who respect the online world.

Our top Tips from today:

  • Always use a complex 7 password
  • Don’t share your password with anyone
  • Always share what you are doing with your parents
  • Use an avatar and online name
  • It is unlikely you will win a prize – it is spam!
  • Don’t go online when you are angry or upset
  • Use a Safe Search
  • Be specific and accurate in your searches
  • If you are unsure always ask an adult

As an ironic touch to the day, we had server problems this afternoon and everything I had planned to do online wasn’t possible. We had to do some flexible teaching, continuing to cover the concept without the Internet!  It did get me thinking if it is possible to teach internet safety without the Internet.

Today I was able to continue the discussion and students were able to share examples but I do wonder how much of an effect it had on students.  Especially compared to actually receiving spam in their inbox, or having an inappropriate page pop up that they needed to report and close.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think we need to experience everything to be able to say we are Internet Safe Savvy but we do need to be able to experience the Internet.

I firmly believe that Internet Safety is not something that we teach on one day in February every year.  It should be taught at all the opportunities we have, whether a discussion from a child’s experience, using the Internet or from a TV show.  Internet safety is important and we need to ensure we keep it important all year round.

You can also read more of my safety tips for parents and students here on the ACMA Blog

Keeping the conversation real

I have recently begun back channeling in my 5/6 classroom.  Back channeling is where you provide a space to allow a conversation to carry on, usually whilst you are teaching or throughout a lesson.  It allows a real time conversation to occur while you are teaching.

I used the Community Chat application on the Ultranet (Victorian Department of Education’s Virtual Learning Environment). This is a great space to use as it is in a walled garden but if you are not a VIctorian teacher you can still back channel through spaces such as Today’s Meet, Edmodo or Chatzy where you can set up a private room and students do not need to sign up to be involved.

Before beginning our first chat we discussed online safety and the importance to read over what we have written before hitting the send button.  Children were aware that once you post a comment it can not be taken back and they should check that what they mean to get across is actually what is written.  They also understood that there is no private conversation and everyone can see what you write.

At first I gave students an opportunity to just chat.  And I admit there wasn’t much of that!  Plenty of one word responses or questions such as ‘Hello?’ or ‘Cool’ but it didn’t take long for kids to extend these to ‘I love nachos’ and ‘I am so cool!’  Yes – I realised there was a little bit of work to do first!

chat roomphoto © 2005 doug wilson | more info (via: Wylio)

How does back channelling look in your classroom?

The next time I used it I gave students a task – to listen to the story I was reading and ask a question about the text.  The great thing about this was that other students started to answer these questions.  And all while I was busy reading a book!

Don’t get me wrong, there was still some chat about how much they loved Justin Beiber or how much they disliked Justin Beiber but after using back channelling with a group of adults recently I noticed a lot of discussion about favourite football teams!

But what was happening, was a great opportunity for students to ask questions that could be answered in real time. They didn’t have to wait for me to finish.  They could share their thoughts and respond to ideas as I was reading.  And I could then see all of this at the end of the lesson and follow up on anything I needed to.  Even students who don’t usually like to share were joining in.

We now use back channeling every time we read and I have loved seeing how the conversation behind the book is developing.  Of course there is still a fair bit talk about nachos but I see this disappearing.  I look forward to using more back channeling in the classroom.

Have you used back channeling?

What does back channeling look like in your classroom?


I have been participating in a monthly elluminate sessions on the Learning Management System we have in Victoria called the Ultranet and have thoroughly enjoyed the interaction you can have using Elluminate web conferencing.

After the last session I was asked if I would like to lead the next session.  Although it couldn’t have come at a busier time and I actually enjoyed sitting back and letting someone else run the session, I felt it was time to take a risk and jump in.  And I am so pleased I did!

I really didn’t understand how much Elluminate has to offer until I had a go myself.  It was a new experience to go behind the scenes of an elluminate session.  And now I have done it I have some advice for others who are thinking about taking the plunge and having a go.


Woman with computer headphones

1. If you are a DEECD teacher you can access Elluminate and book a room free of charge at the Virtual Learning Centre

2. Join the Educators Guide to Innovation Ning.  This is a great place to find and advertise upcoming Elluminate sessions.

3. Listen to some recordings.  On the Educators Guide to Innovation you can look up past events and listen to their recordings.  This will give you an opportunity to watch how different people set up their presentations and involve the participants.

4. Do the training.  Quite often training comes up in the Educators Guide to Innovation Ning and you can join a live chat.  But if this doesn’t suit your timeline you are best to head directly to the Elluminate Support website where you can look through some recorded training.

5.  Book a room for some sandpit time. You can book a room that is private so you can have a play around.  Doing this with two computers is a great idea. Log into one as the moderator and the other as a participant. You can then see what you as the moderator can do and what the participants can see.  You can even record yourself to check your pace or hear how clear you are.

6.  Be prepared.  The great thing about doing an Elluminate session is no one can can see your notes.  Write notes to remind you of when you have to turn on the recording or what you want to talk about in each slide.  Don’t forget to plan for time for someone else to do some of the talking – this will give you a break.

7. As much as it may make you cringe – listen to your recording after your first session.  This will give you great feedback on how you went and allow you to improve next time.

Elluminate is definitely a wonderful resource and one we can use to collaborate with schools across the world.

Have you used Ellumiate before?

Do you have any tips for moderating or participating in a session?

Copyright Images

In my ignorance I will be the first to say that I have used an image I found on Google Images and just popped it into my work.  That was until I was taught about copyright!

Although my ignorance is no longer, I come across it every day, especially in children.  My class were the perfect example of ‘Imageburglars,’ until I taught them about copyright.  Now we are becoming experts in seeking creative commons images and attributing them.

As Flickr and wikimedia are both blocked at our school we needed to find other sources. So here are our favourites.



Image: ‘Ladybird Walking’ @Photos8

We love Made by photographer, Sam Mugraby, it is full of very high quality photographs perfect to add to blog posts.  All he asks is that you attribute (Show the name of the photo and where it came from) the images you use.

Free Digital Photos


Attribution: Africa by Africa @Free digital photos

Free digital photos also has a great selection of photos.  The medium sized photo is free as long as you attribute it.  If you purchase the image you can use it without attribution, great for photos used as email signatures.

Discovery Clip Art


Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on

Discovery Clip Art has some cute education clip art, which you are free to download and use, non-comercially and attributed, up to 10 times.


Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuaryphoto © 2009 Mark Peters | more info (via: Wylio)

Finally our favourite is Wylio. The best thing about this website is you don’t need to download the image.  When you select the image you can alter the alignment and size.  After that you simply grab the code to put directly into your blog. It automatically attributes the image for you.


Attribution of these sites is very important.  It gives recognition to the person who originally took the photo.  I also find it is good to link the picture back to the website also.  You can do this when you add the image to your blog.

When I first come to an images site I always check the terms and conditions. This will spell out for you where you can use the image and how you need to attribute it.  Generally you will need to put the name of the image and who took the photo, including a link bcak to the website you found it on.

Checking the terms and conditions of websites before use is good practice for any website.  This is especially so when working with children, as many of the sites we use are only intended for over 13s.  Check out this Terms of Service blog for some tips on commonly used education sites.

Do you have any free photo sites you use in the classroom?

How do you use photos in your classroom?