a site for serious play


Looking for learning in all the wrong places

Although this is my last post for my VICPLN13 course, I’m going to make sure that my blogging doesn’t stop here. Admittedly I do struggle to find the time to blog in between all the other things going on in my life–amongst them a commitment to be an active member of the Twitterverse–but I have enjoyed sharing my learning journey and revisiting it through this blog. It’s kind of like picking up an old photo album and reminiscing!

To summarise my journey through the PLN course, I used Storybird–a digital tool that was new to me–to create an online picture book. The thing I love about Storybird is that the images unlock the story, rather than the traditional arrangement in story creation where the words precede the images. It sends a nice message to students that images can be as powerful as words.


Here’s the link to my story, ‘Looking for Learning’. Once it’s been moderated by the Storybird administrators I’ll embed it here. If you want to understand my blog post title you’ll need to watch it!

PS. A bit of searching and I’ve found that Storybird stories can’t be embedded into WordPress.com blogs. The link shall have to suffice 🙂

And if you’re interested in learning how to create a story using Storybird, here’s a short screencast recorded using Jing and edited in Camtasia Studio (which I have to say was a totally new and fun experience). I signed up for Camtasia’s free 30-day trial, but I’m so impressed I think I might have to buy it. The Jing-Camtasia Studio-Screencast combo works a treat! Only problem is, the video won’t embed… I’ll keep trying to find a fix. Aha,,, after a few hours of trying to embed the video directly from Screencast.com (it seems it’s a common problem) I uploaded it to You Tube and then inserted it here. Wish I’d thought of that earlier… all a learning exercise! It made me think though… we don’t give students enough time to work things out. Let’s ditch the notion of the 6-period day!!

PS… sorry about the pop-up message that appears. I wasn’t even aware of it until I looked at my finished video 😦

And thanks so much to the VICPLN13 team. It didn’t seem to matter what time or day it was, you were always there to lend a hand 🙂



On the shoulders of giants…


Shouders of Giants by David Goehring (CC Flickr)

Last week I attended the EduTech conference in Brisbane–a huge affair with over 3000 delegates! Keynote speakers included some of the “giants” in contemporary educational thinking such as Daniel Pink, Ken Robinson, Stephen Heppell, Alan November, Gary Stager, Ewan McIntosh and our own Stephen Harris. Whilst there, my guilt about not having completed my VICPLN “homework” abated somewhat as I realised what a great opportunity I’d been given to “stand on the shoulders of giants” (Isaac Newton) and reflect on what it means to be a 21C teacher and learner. Here’s my brief take on what the giants had to say:

Daniel Pink:
Pink drew on Science to offer some thoughts about motivation. The three key motivators for enduring performance, said Pink, are:

    • Autonomy: We engage in an activity when we’re required to get there under our own steam, and we engage when we’re required to do non-commissioned work (i.e. work that is not constrained)
    • Mastery and Feedback: Making progress depends on feedback and feed forward
    • Purpose: People need purpose to do something better

And the biggest takeaway: The notion of “FedX days” (aka “Ship-it” days or “innovation Days”) where teachers and students are given time to do whatever they want–to do “non-commissioned” work. But whatever work is produced, must be shared with others.

Just came across this fantastic video tweeted by @medkh9 to illustrate the difference in creativity between commissioned and non-commissioned work in a 3rd grade classroom. The video’s creator , Elad Segev, invites viewers to try the same project and send him the results.

Ewan McIntosh:
The gist of McIntosh’s presentation is encapsulated in this video he showed:

And McIntosh’s advice for learners?

  • Be curious
  • Listen to yourself
  • Humble is cool
  • Good energy is infectious
  • Find a way

And the implicit advice for teachers?

  • Don’t take away students’ opportunities for creativity and curiosity
  • Provide periods of time for “design thinking”–periods of deep immersion in an idea
  • Give learning back to students
  • Let students find the problem (by asking ‘Why am I doing this?”) and the solution
  • Link learning to Claxton’s  pillars of learning: challenge, collaboration, responsibility, real things, choice, curiosity.

Teach students it’s okay to:

F – first
A – attempt
I – in
L – learning


Here’s a presentation by Ewan McIntosh delivered in January this year at the International Conference on Thinking. It’s long, but it’s the next best thing if you didn’t make EduTech.

Stephen Harris:
For schools to change, vision, strategy and resources must align. Shape the learning culture at every level.

  • Collaborate
  • Take risks
  • Question everything
  • Do, then ask (Icelandic mantra)
  • Grow a team who understand paradigm shift
  • Create the vision together

Harris’ full presentation can be downloaded from his blog.


Gary Stager: Stager is an education revolutionary leading the charge of the Maker Movement into classrooms around the world. Riding on the educational theories of Piaget, Dewey, Vygotsky and Papert, Maker Learning is “learning by doing.” It’s not a new concept–children have been “making” for eons, but what sets the “new” maker learning apart is the incorporation of digital technologies which enable the reanimation of traditional forms of “making.”  Check out Sylvia’s Mini Maker Show to see what an 8 year-old maker is doing.

Image: Teachers as Makers Academy New York (ISKME cc Flickr)

Maker learning in the classroom blurs the boundaries between subjects, and the boundaries between academic and vocational activities. The best projects, noted Stager, “push up against the persistence of reality… they create memories, and that’s the core of our business.” When designing projects for students, aim for:

  • brevity (your question should fit on a post-it note)
  • ambiguity (give students a choice in how they address the problem)
  • freedom from assessment (remember, prescription kills creativity)

Stephen Heppell

His main points:

  • Return the trust to the students
  • Giving students identical projects is like giving them identical haircuts
  • introduce kids to technology EARLY
  • Make learning spaces playful
  • And for teachers: “If we don’t believe it [the power of technology], who the hell will!”


Alan November:

A great classroom is one where you can remove the teacher and the learning continues

November advocates that technology hasn’t been the change agent we hoped for; that we haven’t learnt how to kick-start the “expensive stuff” and  the dominant use of digital technologies continues to be as a $1000 pencil! So how do we use technology to make learning more effective? November says:

  • Change the purpose of work to make it more meaningful
  • Let students pose the questions
  • Apply knowledge in a context
  • Flip the classroom – let students do the talking, the challenging

Ken Robinson

Sir Ken

A very impressive presentation for someone who had to deliver it at 2am local time!

The purposes of education:

  • Economic
  • Cultural
  • Social engagement
  • Personal

The principles of improving education:

  • Create a climate of possibility in which people flourish
  • Recognise diversity
  • Nurture creativity
  • Recognise that life is organic and non-linear

Finding your element (the title os SKR’s new book):

  • Do something that you are good at
  • Do it with passion and your energy will be lifted

A final Edutech thought:

This conference was not about technology. It was about learning! For more resources on the conference, check #edutech on Twitter.

Characteristics of the 21C Learner
So where have these giants taken me in terms of identifying five (let’s make that six)  characteristics of a 21C learner? And what role can digital technologies play in each of these? Here’s my list:

Creative: This has to be at the top of the list, and serves as an umbrella characteristic for the other six characteristics noted here. Traditional understandings of creativity consider it a “special” quality possessed by eminent individuals, especially those in the arts. More recent understandings of the term, however, adopt a wider stance and view creativity as something possessed by all individuals and capable of being expressed in all areas of human endeavour. For many, Ken Robinson touched a sensitive nerve when he declared that traditional educational settings stifle creativity in schools. The creative process, he notes, is so often constrained in a world of high-stakes assessment, outcome-driven curricula, and rigid school structures and schedules.

It’s broadly acknowledged that the use of digital technologies can foster creativity by enabling users to think and act in ways that have been previously inaccessible or non-existent. Digital technologies provide new tools, media and environments that enable individuals and groups to build and share knowledge in ways that support exploration, play, risk- taking, collaboration and reflection. And then of course, there’s the sheer ability of digital tools to engage and motivate learners. But, as Elad Segev’s video above suggests, access to all the technology in the world wont’t foster creativity if the the parameters of a project place too many constraints on the learner.

Flexible: Learning is iterative and circular. It really is all about the journey and not the destination. The 21C learner needs to be prepared to wander down dark alleys, rest awhile to reflect on where they’ve been and where they’re going, maybe go back to the start and try a different path, and basically enjoy the sights and sounds at every twist and turn. Digital technologies provide a wide range of “travel options” for learners. They can take learners further and faster; they can help learners meet fellow “travellers” and offer myriad ways to share  and create travel stories.

Curious: Simply put, you can’t learn if you’re not curious; curious about “How can I use this information?” “Why am I learning this?” Rote learning is not learning; it’s regurgitation. Listening isn’t learning until you convert it to something personal–and that won’t happen until you’re curious. So how can ICT help the curious learner? Well, it certainly makes for a much deeper rabbit hole, and a rabbit hole that one can explore anytime, either alone or in the company of others. And no matter where a learner is (within reason) their personal rabbit hole can be right there in their pocket.

Passionate: As the decisions on what to learn, how to learn and the ways in which learning can be demonstrated shift onto the learner, self-drive–or passion–becomes a prerequisite for learning. Whilst curiosity might light the  learning fire, passion will fan the flames and keep the learning going . So where do digital technologies fit into this? Like anything, “variety is the spice of life” and the enormous range of ways in which a learner can discover, create and share using digital technologies can keep the passion alive by engaging and motivating learners.

Collaborative: My recent EduTech experience was a great reminder that learning together can be so much more powerful (and fun) than learning alone. There’s no way that I could have left the the conference with a record of all the gems of wisdom I wanted to revisit at my leisure. But thanks to digital technologies I now have that record. The Twitterstream, Twitter aggregators such as Storify, and delegates’ blog posts have helped me create my conference quilt that I shall snuggle into over the next few weeks.

Intellectually courageous: Although this comes at the end of my list, I believe this characteristic is perhaps the quintessential one. Creative ideas are often the product of intellectual risk-taking; of continuing down the path without knowing what lies around the corner, or in fact, without even caring what’s there. It’s a characteristic that lies at the heart of Michael Schrage’s “serious play”- the notion that underpins my own learning and which inspired the name for this blog. The digital landscape provides a perfect playground for the intellectually courageous learner. There are endless opportunities to try new things in new ways. As well, the collaborative nature of digital technologies enable learners to take risks in supportive environments where feedback and feedforward are offered.

And what did I learn whilst writing this blog post?

  • I couldn’t have done it without the support of those in the Twitterverse who kept the #edutech backchannel buzzing and who provided me with a wonderful summary of the conference.
  • To embed a video in a WordPress blog just paste the link and then unlink it. WordPress will do the rest!
  • To stop unwanted text appearing next to images, change the image alignment to “none.”
  • My next-to-no knowledge of coding is improving on a “need-to-know” basis. It’s something I’m going to keep working on!


Searching for substance, or is it CRAP?

Part 1: Which search engine?

It only took 0.23 seconds for Google to provide me with just over 40 million hits to  my search on “graphic novels.” I was going to say that’s less time than a blink of an eye, but then I wasn’t really sure just how long that is, so that was my next search. Despite some variance in how long a blink is, it would seem that Google did in fact produce results in less than the 0.33 second blink-time that I found on one site. I think we take it for granted these days, but when you think 40 million results were found in less time than it takes to blink it’s pretty amazing! What puzzles me though is that when I did this same search about three weeks ago (yes, I started this PLN task some time ago) I got over 55 million hits on exactly the same search term. Why is that? I can’t believe that 15 million sites on graphic novels have been sucked into cyberspace since then.

I also wondered if using the speech facility in Google to do a search would yield different results. After some previous experience with voice-to-text software that obviously didn’t think I could speak English, I suspected the results would be different. Well, the top ten hits at least were the same, but there was no indication of how many results there were or how long it took to get them. I can only say it  seemed as quick as the written search, and I’m not really interested in how many million results there are as I probably wouldn’t look beyond the first 50 or so results.

In terms of the actual results that came up, as is the norm when searching through Google, Wikipedia came in at the top of the list, followed by a mish-mash of commercial, educational, and organisational sites. Since I’m particularly interested in information about graphic novels in education, I added a domain search (by adding Site:.edu) to “graphic novels.” That certainly narrowed things down to just 120 000 results (yes, that’s still a lot). So now a trip over to change the “Any” option just above the “hit list” to Reading Level and then Advanced, and I’m really cooking with gas in terms of finding some quality academic articles about graphic novels. Again, there is no indication of how many hits there are, other than saying it’s 37% of the original 120 000 hits. Using the Google search bar as a calculator, I soon found out that equates to around 44 thousand hits. Time to start looking at what other search engines can do.

Bing brought up just over 2 million results with Wikipedia again topping the list and the remainder of the first page looking similar to what Google had to offer. Adding “site:.edu” brought up 68 thousand results, a lot less than the Google offering and no option to further reduce it by reading level. Onward to try something else…

I guess I’ve been put off in the past using DuckDuckGo because of its rather silly name. However, I gave it a go and, apart from it yielding useful results, there are some features that I found really appealing: the options to change the privacy of my search history; the clean, ad-free interface, the absence of page breaks (so none of that annoying “next”), and the provision on the sidebar of tips and tricks such as search syntax options, keyboard shortcuts etc. I just think I might be returning to dive into DuckDuckGo a little more often!

Last but not least, it was time to try a visual search engine. I’ve tried instaGrok before and wasn’t a fan, but in the name of Vicpln13 I made a return visit. I knew it was a mistake. All those floating balls made me woozy. Whats more, a look at the glossary section to see their definition of “comics” as “Comics is short for \”comic strips\”, usually a section in a newspaper” and I knew this was no place for me to source material for academic study. Sorry Instagrok, but get your facts right if you want my vote.

One place I will have a bit more of a look around is the PLN course recommendation for the College of DuPage Library website. There’s a good list of search engines (including specialised ones for music, audio, video etc) here that is worth exploring.

Part 2: How do I trust what I  find?

I’ve seen the way students select information–if it’s at the top of the list of search hits, it’s the best source. So how do we move them beyond that mindset? How do we help them learn to be discerning researchers?

In a school that is all-boys until Year 10, the notion of using a CRAP test (Currency, Reliability, Authority, Purpose/Point of View) to evaluate websites has a certain appeal for boys, as does using some hoax websites to demonstrate application of the test. A good starting point are the websites that even the novice researcher has to be skeptical about (I hope); sites such as the Aluminium Foil Deflector Beanie and Buy Dehydrated Water.    But what happens when we go to something far more realistic looking (and far more dangerous) such as this website on Martin Luther King Jnr?It looks authentic, the URL seems legitimate, and for all intents and purposes it offers students some historical information about the life of Martin Luther King Jnr. But when the boys apply the CRAP test they soon see otherwise; that this is a site hosted by a group whose racial and religious tolerance is beyond belief. It’s a great lesson about not believing everything they find on the Internet.

So let’s visit a site that we know passes the CRAP test. How easy is it to find all the CRAP information? I’ve toddled over to the website of National Geographic; a site that I often refer to teachers and students. And whilst most people of heard of Nat Geo, it’s still important to establish that this is in fact the “official” National Geographic site. In terms of Currency, the Homepage of the site clearly indicates the site has operated between 2006-2013.  The Daily News section indicates today’s date. As for the site’s Reliability, National Geographic has a world-wide reputation for the presentation of matters pertaining to the physical and human environment. Its statement that it is one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world further encourages one to feel that the the site will offer a balanced perspective on issues of a science, geographical and anthropological nature. Re the site’s  Authority, the site carries the Nat Geo logo, has a URL that looks genuine, and has a clearly labelled and accessible ‘About’ section that provides us with the purpose of the National Geographic Society. Regarding the site’s Purpose,or Point of View, the reader can clearly see in the ‘About” section that one purpose of the Nat Geo Society is the “promotion of environmental and historical conservation.” A perusal of the site and the reader can see that this purpose translates to articles and resources that focus on issues such endangered environments and species, urbanisation, etc. One has faith that these issues are provided in a balanced fashion, given the reputation of the Society, and its involvement with education and research. So well done National Geographic–you pass the CRAP Test!