Thursday, December 17, 2009

New thoughts on National Standards

The National Standards debate has become polarised and silly. The Minister has managed to paint teachers and principals as lazy cheats who want to avoid National Standards because National Standards will show teachers up. She has done a good job of this, with support from ERO and editorial writers, if not parents. Through the debate parents have had their fears and doubts about teachers reinforced.

Schools are not going to win this fight unless we can label National Standards as "fart tax" was. This is unlikely now. "Tolley's Foley" doesn't cut it and the reality is teachers have lost the high ground and lost this battle with the Government.

I'd suggest that a better approach than fighting the Barbarians (as we are now outgunned) is to negotiate an accommodation with them. It might be better to see how best to work in an environment where National Standards are a reality. How do we live with them? How do we put them in perspective, give them only the importance they deserve, use them to improve the quality of teaching and learning in schools without making schools worse? We might learn something from the relationship, and I'm sure Anne Tolley would.

We now need to work to ensure students can and do achieve well in classrooms despite the barbarians at the gate. We also have to stick to our guns on what good teaching looks like and feels like, and if we are right, then surely kids will achieve and the National Standards will help prove it.

I think the things we need to stick to in New Zealand schools and in our teaching include:
  • Rich language environments
  • Whole language approaches and the love of books and stories
  • A strong focus on meaning (comprehension, understanding)
  • Rich conversations with students (in literacy and mathematics)
  • High expectations of students and teachers
  • A focus on building teacher capability and confidence
  • A focus on professional dialogue and teacher learning in both literacy and mathematics
In the States, Lucy Calkins, a passionate advocate of whole language literacy teaching and a strong critic of standardised testing, wrote a book called A Teacher's Guide to Standardized Reading Tests: Knowledge is Power. I'd suggest this is the approach we should take to National Standards. Accept them (even if they are Barbarians) and put our energy into our classrooms.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Book Council video

Nice to see a quality piece of animation coming out of New Zealand. The Council's website is worth a visit too.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Learn to Juggle!

8 Reasons normal people should learn to juggle

And teachers too, I reckon. Especially teachers because it reminds you what it is like to be a learner, to learn something new. Holiday goal: Learn to Juggle. Start here.

From Jason Kottke

Friday, November 6, 2009

Doodle for Google

Congratulations to Hampden Street Primary School student Amelia Abbott, 8, for winning the New Zealand Doodle 4 Google competition.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Got 15 minutes?

Star Guitar music video.

Music by The Chemical Brothers. Video directed by Michel Gondry.

Ever since this video blew my mind when I first watched it, I've wondered how it was made. Turns out Gondry tested the concept out on a sidewalk with oranges, shoes, videotapes, and drinking glasses. Alas, the making of doesn't cover the three months of post production required by the finished product, although the video isn't completely digital as you might expect...

The video is based on DV footage Gondry shot while on vacation in France. They shot the train ride 10 different times during the day to get different light gradients.

From Jason Kottke

Teach a kid to programme

It may be intimidating at first, but it's well worth the challenge. Besides, it can be very creative, fun and useful.

A wiki on WIRED with a useful list of links and programming languages for kids.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Beat a Path

Derek Powazek on Search Engine Optimization

... The One True Way
Which brings us, finally, to the One True Way to get a lot of traffic on the web. It’s pretty simple, and I’m going to give it to you here, for free:

Make something great. Tell people about it. Do it again.

That’s it. Make something you believe in. Make it beautiful, confident, and real. Sweat every detail. If it’s not getting traffic, maybe it wasn’t good enough. Try again.

Then tell people about it. Start with your friends. Send them a personal note – not an automated blast from a spam cannon. Post it to your Twitter feed, email list, personal blog. (Don’t have those things? Start them.) Tell people who give a shit – not strangers. Tell them why it matters to you. Find the places where your community congregates online and participate. Connect with them like a person, not a corporation. Engage. Be real.

Then do it again. And again. You’ll build a reputation for doing good work, meaning what you say, and building trust.

It’ll take time. A lot of time. But it works. And it’s the only thing that does.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Why iLife sucks

If your dad is a builder, when he buys you a tool for your birthday, he buys a real tool, a real hammer, or plane, or chisel, not a toy one. (Grandma does that.) Same if dad is a plumber or a graphic designer. Or mum. Real tools.

The Inuit give their toddlers real knives, real sharp knives, and expect them to use them, appropriately and safely. They model it for them. Just like the plumber or builder or designer.

So why do we give kids iLife - applications that no real filmmaker, web designer, musician, or photographer, would use?

And iLife has got worse in recent versions, more like someone from Microsoft designed it, with more automated features and more templates. The problem with these features is that they diminish the learning rather than enhance it. They mean you never have to learn to do stuff, rather than promote learning. If you make something for dummies, all you get is dummies. A real tool insists that you learn, it doesn't prevent learning.

When teachers know and use real tools themselves they can see the advantages of using them with students and they see the deficits in using the toys. I think we should stop behaving like Grandma and start giving students real tools to make videos, music or websites.

There is also a difference between using a template and providing scaffolding. A template excuses the user from thinking - chooses for the user - while scaffolding supports the learner's own thinking, own choices, and reinforces the learning. Also, in the end, the automatic template is less satisfying for the user because he knows he didn't do it. A cake mix cake always tastes like a cake mix, looks like cake mix. So do iWeb pages, or iMovie credits, or iDVD menus.

So, Creative Suite, Final Cut, Logic Studio, here we come.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

At the end of the day...

Don't you get sick of all this talk about ICT, new frontiers, paradigm shifts, digital this and that?

The thing is, at the end of the day, you have to do something. Computers are only a tool, you have to build something with them.

So what is it that you should do? What is worthwhile doing, on this laptop?

Gary Stager gives a list of ten things. Here's my ten (some the same or similar).

Make a newspaper: Newspapers use a whole range of really worthwhile skills and knowledge in a real context: Interviewing, using primary sources, questioning, thinking, learning about current events, writing, layout, newspaper conventions, photography, illustration, design, graphics, deadlines, editing, proofing, printing, advertising, distribution. So DON'T write a novel, contribute to a newspaper. In a team, in school.

Make a website: Make it about something local, real, interesting. Use all those skills above. Learn some html. A good website is just a faster newspaper. It could also be a blog, or Tumblr.

Take a photo every day and post it. Learn how to take good ones.

Write a iPhone app (or a video game).

Design and make something with Ponoko or on a digital making network.

Build a robot. Programme it.

Interview someone on video (not one of your friends). Edit it.

Follow several internet blogs, at least daily. Make regular connections to new blogs.

Collect some raw data. Analyse it, interpret it. Present it graphically.

Set up a video network at school. Broadcast weekly. Only good stuff.

Take up an issue and run with it, using all of the above.

Maurice Sendak on Spike Jonze's new film

Sendak: "If they can't handle it, go home. Or wet your pants. Do whatever you like."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Kids make websites

This term I have been working with students at Hira School and Hampden Street School on websites for the TVNZ6 NetGuide Web-challenge. These are the sites they have entered.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fair Go Ad Award Entry

Earlier this term I worked with the Year 5 and Year 6 students at Hampden Street School on an entry for the Fair Go Ad awards. The brief this year was to sell a time travel tour. The kids filmed their ad at Founders Park and on the Maitai River in Nelson. The Fair Go ad awards screened on 30 September on TV One. Nelson Mail story.

The results are here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bring back Logo

"Sadly, as the technology has become cheaper and more ubiquitous, its use in schools has become more cautious and pedestrian. I rarely encounter the learning renaissance or explosion of classroom creativity I experienced pre-1996. This is not an indictment of the technology, but of schools and a failure of leadership. It is not the technology that has failed, but our imagination and willingness to engage in reflective practice."

From Hard and Easy: Reflections on my ancient history in 1:1 computing
Gary Stager (Keynote speaker at ULearn in Christchurch this October.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Netflix on Organisational Culture

Worth a read for school leaders, just don't despair too much... From

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

ICT Transformation?

At the recent Consortium for School Networking conference educational computing pioneer Seymour Papert was asked to explain why there has been so little [school] transformation. Papert told the crowd that their practice of verbal inflation was the major obstacle to educational innovation in the digital age. He meant the breathless rhetoric about the magical ways technology is used in classrooms, when most of those tales could not pass the “So what?” test. Conventional notions of curriculum, assessment and practice are seldom questioned, he said, and yet we have the temerity to declare, “Transformation!”

Computer-generated mind maps are presented to the community as justification for the technology investment while they represent little more than high-tech napkin scribbles or a book report outline. Wiring is mistakenly confused with innovation while we hold on with all our might to the ridiculous mythology of drill-and-practice. The only transformation in the software industry is the ever-changing collection of ways it disguises that you’ll be gonged if you get a long division problem incorrect. Integrated learning systems, classroom performance systems and adaptive instruction are clever euphemisms for turning classrooms into high-stakes game shows.

Another ICT sceptic? Read the rest by Gary Stager and see if your teachers are disabled ICT learners?

Thanks to Greg Carroll.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Models, anyone?

"From 1790 until 1870, U.S. patent law required inventors to submit actual physical models of their novel machines along with their drawings and descriptions." From WIRED

Friday, July 24, 2009

Mud Art

Environmentally friendly pavement art. Try some at school!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fantastic Mr Fox

The stop-motion animation film of Roald Dahl's book, directed by Wes Anderson, is scheduled for release in the US in November. Mr Fox is voiced by George Clooney, with Michael Gambon, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody and Anjelica Huston providing some of the other voices.

Two screen shots here. The trailer is out!

Apollo 11

Anyone doing the Apollo 11 anniversary?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Last night I watched Kes, the Ken Loach film from 1969. It is still a great film, even after 40 years and I have been thinking about it today. It is number seven in the British Film Institute's top ten British films of all time.

The way it portrays schools in the 1960s is really interesting. It looks far-fetched now, but I remember teachers and incidents not too dissimilar from my own schooling around the same time. It shows how far we have come even if you could argue that it's not far enough. The cruelty in the name of discipline is amazing. As is the lack of empathy and connection with the students. I think children learnt despite how we were taught, rather than because of it. I also wonder what was in it for the teachers?

In 1970 Colin Welland won a BAFTA for his role in the film. He is portrayed as the sympathetic teacher and at the time what he did might have seemed extra-ordinary, but 40 years later it is no more than we would expect from any teacher.

Get it out on DVD and show it at a staff-meeting.

Another film I watched during the holidays was The Class. It is an interesting contrast, showing life in a French secondary school today. The Class gives a subtle and deep insight into life in schools and classrooms and it shows how far we have come but also how far we have to go. It won the Palme d'Or for best film at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. Recommended for intelligent teachers.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Benign neglect

Nigel Latta outlines how to be a "bad parent" in this week's Listener. Mostly I agree with his thesis that we currently over-parent our children and that we perceive risks where there are few, and that risk-taking might be life-enhancing rather than life-endangering.

I've always said that benign neglect is the best form of parenting. "Go outside and play" is a phrase we don't hear enough. The best learning I did as a child was when I was outside playing. And there were risks, and not everything I did was good, or good for me, but all the experiences taught me something I couldn't learn at home, or from my parents.

We must give those with responsibility for children more freedom to allow children to take reasonable risks with the understanding that getting hurt is a part of growing up. This has always been part of wise parenting, but it is wisdom we've lost.

Today while I was at Riverside Pool a number of parents were taking their toddlers swimming, and good on them. I worry about the intensity of the interactions though, which seem one-sided, and the anxiety. We all need to relax a bit.

I also liked what Latta said about how the local school did him no harm and that his parents just assumed that was where he would go and that they spent no time even thinking about it. Parent's school anxiety is such a waste of effort, and money. Sometimes choice can be a very bad thing. We don't need to control everything, in fact it is not good for us or our children.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Even more on national standards...

In a book I read (I'll paraphrase) it describes how a group of teachers invited a writer to talk to them about reading and writing and one of the teachers asked the writer, "What do we do if a child doesn't learn to read?" and the writer replied "First, love them."

When I first read this it brought tears to my eyes. Because it is true. But also because I know it is true but as a teacher, and a school administrator, I never said it out loud. Love is the most important ingredient in learning to read.

Anne Tolley needs to visit some classes where there is love in the room. She needs to hear what the teachers in these rooms think about National Standards.

I want to ask her: What mother says to her child, "I love you - but you don't come up to scratch"? And I want to say: How can you ask a teacher to say to a six-year-old "You don't meet the National Standard"? Because I think the harm you do is greater than whatever good you might do in saying to even 100 other kids "You did meet the standard."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

more on national standards...

I think we should be less concerned about league tables and more concerned about what the "data" does to kids - and teachers.

"Does not meet the standard" is not a very nice label for a six year old. Nor does it tell a parent (or the kid for that matter) what may be wrong (if anything) or why.

Does the State have the right to set a "standard" that 25% - 40% of kids may never reach, and then label them as not meeting the standard? Should we start sewing yellow stars on their shirts?

The whole thrust of the new curriculum (and educational thinking over the last 50 years) is an attempt to meet the variety of needs that present themselves in school. The effect the standards will have is to standardise what we teach, not raise achievement, or encourage us to meet the diverse needs of children in our school. As someone wiser than me said, the quickest way to make a non-reader is to say, "You aren't very good at reading," make them all anxious about it, so they give up. Six is the perfect age to do this if you want to create non-readers.

Good teachers - excellent teachers - particularly of 5 year-olds - feel oppressed by the whole notion of National Standards. Anne Tolley needs to hear their voices and see the standards as a constraint on good teaching, not a tool for raising achievement.

BTW - Who in National has ever been a teacher? Wasn't Brownlee a woodwork teacher once? He'd know about measuring achievement, wouldn't he? Didn't Anne Tolley run motels? Don't both Key and English send their own children to private schools? Does this say anything about their faith in public education?

Don't we need National Standards for politicians?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

So what's wrong with national standards?

There is a report in today's Nelson Mail about the MOE consultation meeting on the national standards held in Nelson yesterday and it gives space to several principals and teachers to express their universal dislike of the standards.

Boy, these pedagogues need better sound-bites if Joe Public is going to understand the issues. Don Mclean's "measuring kids doesn't make them taller" is the best but really it still misses the point.

The point is that kids come in a variety of sizes and having a standard "height" for 6-year-olds is absurd. Someone will always come up short - not meet the standard. There will always be a distribution of height, weight - or achievement. Go find your Plunket book. If you set a standard "height", all those short kids get hurt and resentful, and their parents fret, when it's just normal for some people to be shorter (or just grow slower).

The thing we might agree on is that New Zealand has a long tail of underachievers. Will national standards shorten this tail? I don't think so. The factors that contribute to under achievement are complex and varied. If it was just good teaching that produced high achievement then good teachers and good schools wouldn't have a range of achievement - everyone would be high achievers. I know this is not true. Good teachers and good schools still have a range of achievement, even when other factors that influence achievement are weeded out (poverty, parents' education level, etc).

Politicians seeking simple answers to complex problems will always be a problem. National standards for politicians - now there's an idea...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Photography lesson for teachers

Rule 1: Engage your brain. You need to think to take a good photo. You don't need the best equipment, good photographers can take wonderful photos with a soda can and a pinhole.

Rule 2: Turn off the flash. The flash will make your photos look flat. Most digital cameras will take an acceptable photo in natural light in a classroom.

Rule 3: Be deliberate. Those old guys with glass plate cameras couldn't waste a shot so they took lots of care about framing, focus, foreground, background, etc. And their photos are better than yours because of it. Beware of the snapshot. Lots of bad photos do not make a good photo.

Rule 4: Don't stand the subject in front of the window. Have the window behind you. Move the subject over so something darker than they are is behind them.

Rule 5: Don't stand the subject up against the wall. Move the wall several metres behind the subject. Beware of poles and trees growing out of their heads. It might look OK in 3D but photos are 2D and a tree growing out of your head is not a good look.

Rule 6: Bend your knees. If you are taking a photograph of children, get down to their level, or below.

Rule 7: Take a look at the background. Is it interesting? Would it be a good photo without the subject in it? If not, move the subject. The background becomes more important in 2D.

Rule 8: Often the first photo in a series is the best. Go figure.

Rule 9: Frame your shot in the viewfinder. Get in closer. Bend those knees. Never cut off the subjects hands or feet. Having hands in the photo is better than no hands.

Rule 10: Take a look at the photos you take. Do they suck? Why do they suck? Try not to do that next time.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Why clip art still sucks...

I've just visited the most appalling classroom blog. The teacher has discovered slideshows and clip art and has added these to their blog. What they really need is a lesson in web design.

The blog now has a slideshow with floaty flowers swimming all around over the photos and it just looks naff. The kids artwork might be quite good but you can't see it (they need photography lessons too). Then there is the new blog "background" imported from some other site - monkeys with bananas!

Now this isn't just a matter of aesthetics or taste. This stuff sends important messages to kids about what is "good" and that their own stuff needs tarting up before it's any good, and that "fluff" is cool and "teacher approved". And all this is wrong. BAN THE FLUFF. Value the kids' creativity, which is so much better than the commercial monkeys and floating flowers. Teachers must teach this, model it. No clipart in our school, ever. No superfluous borders and other crap.

Worry about the content. Ask the students, "What are you saying, what are you showing? Is is quality? How do you know?" These are thinking skills. The thinking skills we neglect, unfortunately. Critical judgement.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Web design basics for teachers

  • Provide kids with lots of scaffolding. Think about how you teach kids to make a cake. You need the same amount of scaffolding to make a website. Learn together. Be directive. Talk through everything. Ask questions. Explain. This is the stuff of learning. 
  • The best software in the world is between your ears. You can make quality websites with simple equipment. It takes quality ideas.
  • The three most important things on a website are content, content and content.
  • Web builders underestimate the users need for information and overestimate the users desire for graphics.
  • Keep the design simple – it’s about the content not the container
  • Keep it small – even in the days of broadband small is still good. Repeat elements that have already been used and cached.
  • Don’t break the navigation rules (eg underline means a link so don’t underline other stuff, visited links are a different colour to un-visited links, don’t link a page to itself, make the link name clearly describe the destination page.)
  • Look at other people’s websites. What makes them good?
  • Learn a bit of code. Look at other people’s code (even borrow some).
  • Frames suck
  • Anything that flashes or scrolls sucks as well.
  • Anything that looks like a banner ad sucks
  • Websites are a form of publishing. Many of the same rules apply. Look at magazines. See what works and what doesn’t. 
  • Be very tidy. Organise your files carefully.
  • Get on board now. It will never be easier.
  • Remember: Content, content, content.
Whales NetGuide winning site from 2002
Hot Air Balloons TVNZ NetGuide winning site from 2008

For the Nelson ICT Cluster seminar - April 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Learn it, don't laminate it!

So how green are our schools? Are we thinking green at all?

We should make it a rule to ask "Is this green?" Take laminating. What is it we are laminating? Does it need to be covered in plastic so that it lasts forever? I suggest not.

The other trouble with laminating kids work is that it is about "product" rather than "process". While an artefact may be evidence of learning, it is not the learning. Instead of preserving the evidence in plastic it might be better to focus our attention on the learning itself.

Throwaway pens? White board markers? Plastic book covers? Photocopy-able worksheets? Is the learning worth the rubbish?

And what about those fundraising Easter eggs? What are we teaching kids when we ask them to sell this stuff? Not only are they junk food, they also come packaged in more rubbish.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

creativity rocks

From the link on WIRED. Real colour radio? Take a look at the other Kutiman Thru-You clips.

Friday, March 20, 2009

More thoughts on interactive whiteboards

"Interactive whiteboard" is an oxymoron, a bit like "colour radio". There is very little that is interactive about one, all you can really do is sit there and watch while someone (the teacher, the teacher's pet) fiddles with stuff on it, or writes on it, or shows you something. What else does it do? I'd suggest that they are really passive whiteboards rather than interactive. At least with colour radio you have to use your imagination.
(See why interactive whiteboards suck.)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

every class should have one (or more)

This is a list of 25 tools every class should have instead of an interactive whiteboard. Think of the learning that might happen with this equipment (and all the fun everyone might have). And it would cost less than an interactive whiteboard (a real one, not a wii remote one.

Class technology list:
several hammers (and nails of all sizes)
an electric screwdriver/drill (with heaps of bits and screws
a jigsaw (plus wood and particle-board off-cuts)
a tenon saw and mitre box
a square
a vice
a plane
a soldering iron
spanner set
class set of craft knives
set of pliers
spirit level
tape measures
sewing machine
pinking shears
oven, microwave
clothes iron
screen printing equipment
tin snips
a potters wheel (and access to an electric kiln)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Top ten technologies ever

Some explanation first: technology is any tool that we use to achieve anything. It doesn't need to be a thing, it can be an idea or a concept. It might also be a collection of different tools or a new use for an old tool. If humans do it and other animals don't, then it is probably a technology.

So my top ten are:
fire (includes the fireplace, oven, kiln, furnace)
the wheel (includes all transportation - boats, trains, roads, planes)
the written word (includes the printing press)
agriculture (includes domestication of animals, fishing)
sanitation (includes running water)
the house (shelter)
the village (includes the town, the city)
Notice how the most powerful ones are the most pervasive - and we just take them for granted.

Another ten:
trade (includes money)
the nail (also the screw)
the electric plug
the clock (measuring time)
the compass
the transistor
the telegraph (includes the telephone)
radio (the use of radio waves)

So what have I missed?

Third-world kids don't need laptops, just make sure they have access to the technologies above first.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

more fun with OE-Cake

You can import pictures into OE-Cake and select different attributes for whatever you import. I have erased the background of this photo (found on the Internet) and made it transparent. The file has been saved in a format that supports transparency (.png). All you need to do now is drag the picture into the frame and experiment with different attributes.

I've found that if you want to save the OE-Cake file for later use you need to save it in the same place as the picture file was dragged from (otherwise you lose resolution).

Experimenting with Sumo Man on YouTube.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The trouble with coloured pencils

You might think that coloured pencils would enhance the 35 cent laptop but you'd be wrong. Colour subverts the task. Instead of thinking about content, by using colour we start thinking about design, and only a very limited aspect of design.

Just as beginning writers overestimate the readers desire for "language" when their readers really want information and detail, beginning computer users think that their audience wants design when they really want content. Content has always been king. It is not about the font, the colour, or the layout, it's about the information, the meaning. The message.

So don't give the kids the coloured pencils, get them to focus on the ideas, the content.

Friday, February 20, 2009

35 Cent laptop

This is a 35 cent laptop. Don't laugh. It has a simple input device (a pencil) and a memory-card-come-display (an index card). It uses the best software in the world - your brain.

It is extremely portable, requires no power and can be used anywhere. You can also add components (an eraser?) or expand the memory by adding more cards.

The software is infinitely flexible and can learn, adapt and undertake a multitude of tasks, sometimes simultaneously.

Any laptop is only a glorified pencil anyway. The quality of the end result is still reliant on the quality of the user.

Vladimir Nabokov used a similar system (index cards, pencil) to write his most famous books - Lolita and Pale Fire. This is Nabokov using a 35 cent laptop in his car (Life photo). While his software was probably better than yours and mine, the language he used is the one we share - the same alphabet, the same grammar, the same words. The quality of any writing is not dependent on the size of the hard-drive or the speed of the processor but on the quality of the ideas. And these ideas can be recorded as easily on a 35c laptop as a $3,500 one.

The great architects, the great composers, even the great blues singers didn't need an expensive laptop to achieve great things. Nor did Pythagoras, Gallileo, or Spike Milligan.

It is an important lesson for kids to see what can be achieved with simple technology. Challenge them to make up a game on a 35 cent laptop. Start with an old one - hangman, battleships, noughts and crosses. Write a poem, a memoir, a recipe, a shopping list, a song. Draw a picture, a map, a plan, a wiring diagram...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Having fun with OE-Cake

I've been playing with OE-Cake a 2D physics-come-fluid-dynamics engine. There are some great examples of what you can do with it on youtube ranging from spectacular to plain crazy (and worse - some adult supervision might be required when searching at primary age-level). There is also a iPhone - ipod touch version called Aqua Forrest.

This description from the OctaveEngine site: OE-CAKE! is demonstration software for 2D-based multi-physics simulation. In a way similar to drawing images using paint software, users create objects and can see them move according to the laws of physics. 
This software supports various physical materials with real life properties such as fluids, gases, rigid (hard) objects and elasticity (soft) objects as building blocks. Users can combine these objects to create and play with more complex objects and mechanisms such as cars, gears and moving dolls. Users can also attach pictures and photos to objects and change their shape, break them apart, or melt them. Use your imagination to create your own unique world! Note: OE-CAKE! is software that makes it easy for users to experience the capabilities of OctaveEngine™ Casual, a physics engine for game development.

Download page for Mac (MediaFire)
Download page for PC (4shared)

Here's a screen capture of a string thing I made:

Check out the instructions on how to make a string-thing on YouTube

How to make a wii-remote interactive whiteboard

Even though interactive whiteboards suck here's a cool project for senior primary or junior secondary students (and all teachers). A wii remote costs about NZ$90 and the components for a IR pen are about NZ$10 - so for NZ$100 (plus a data projector) you can make your own interactive whiteboard.

Johnny Lee's original youtube video:

Johnny Lee's TedTalks presentation on YouTube

You need this software:
Johnny Lee's site for PC wii remote whiteboard software.
Uwe Schmidt's site for Mac wii remote whiteboard software.

How to make a IR pen for a wii remote interactive whiteboard:
A movie by students at Auckland Point School, Nelson, NZ.

Note that there is a step missing in this video. The second terminal of the switch is soldered to the side of the switch. The + terminal of the battery touches the side of the switch to complete the circuit once the pen is assembled.

Why interactive whiteboards suck

There are a number of 19th century classroom practices that we've tried hard to eliminate during the 20th century. These include whole-class teaching from the front of the room, seeing learning as the transfer of information from the knowledgeable teacher to the ignorant students, and seeing knowledge as discrete - as facts to be learned. I'd suggest that interactive whiteboards encourage teachers to revert to these 19th century practices and that their use runs counter to the direction set in the new New Zealand Curriculum, which emphasises self management and personalised or co-constructed learning.

We forget that technology massages us into behaving in certain ways: the car, the telephone, the electric plug, television, the Internet, have all dramatically changed the way we behave. The interactive whiteboard encourages us to teach in particular ways and these may not actually be a good thing. We need to think through how this technology changes our behaviour and the messages about learning interactive whiteboards encourage.

And I'm always suspicious of "products" that teachers need to be better teachers. To be better, teachers seldom need products - they don't need a Smartboard, they just need to be smart.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Serendipity is one of the most neglected aspects of learning and I think that we should run courses in encouraging it. I was reading Donald Murray recently (on writing research papers) where I discovered this: "Practice the art of serendipity, discovering one thing while looking for another. [Students] should be encouraged to glance at the books on the shelf below the one they are looking for, at the article on the page following the one they have found in the directory."

This is especially true on the internet. Often the initial search leads to something entirely different, and way more interesting. We should value these journeys and encourage students to see their value too. Many great discoveries have been made when someone set out to find something else, but there is also a skill in recognising the worth of the new thing discovered.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Why teachers should write - Pt 2

Would we trust a cooking teacher who didn't cook? Or a fishing instructor who didn't fish? So why do we have teachers teaching writing who don't write?

It's different, I hear you say. All teachers can write (and read) so they are well qualified to teach writing (and reading). But do they write? What do they write? How do we define 'writing'? (Let's not get onto reading!)

I suggest that very few teachers 'write' - sit down and compose, craft, a piece of writing. I think they should. Regularly. I think it would change how they think about writing and teaching writing.

In the 1980s New Zealand schools flirted with "Process Writing", then found it wanting and abandoned it. But I think we got it all wrong. It was never "Process Writing". Donald Graves talked about "the writing process" which is what it is, a process. Teachers interpreted this as a process that goes: draft, revise, edit, publish. Process as production line. That is not the process of writing and it is little wonder that "Process Writing" failed here. It is not what Graves meant. But in dismissing "Process Writing" we neglected to see what Graves and others were really saying about teaching writing. More fool us.

I think we misunderstood because we don't write. So teachers don't think of the writing process as a thinking process, as a process that helps us find out what we know, what we think, and helps us find out how language works (and doesn't work).

Let's encourage teachers to keep journals. We don't have time, I hear. Let's write with the class when they write. Twenty minutes flat-stick writing. If we are writing personal narrative this term then the teacher writes personal narrative. If the theme is poetry, the teacher writes poetry. And the teacher shares her writing in the same way she expects the students to share their writing. Think about how this would improve how teachers would approach feedback to students, approach conferencing with students. Think, also, about the insights the teacher would get into the writing process, into what it feels like to be a writer, to be scrutinised, to have to put your thoughts and ideas out there for all to see.

Donald Murray's thoughts on this posted below are spot on. "The best preparation for the writing class, workshop or conference is at least a few minutes at the writing desk, saying what you did not expect to say." I especially like the bit about "saying what you did not expect to say," which is what happens while writing. Writing is a process of discovery; of discovering what you know, what you think. These are the very things that we want students to learn; that what they know and think is important and that they can discover it through writing.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Why Teachers should write

Teachers should write, first of all, because it is fun. It is a satisfyingly human activity that extends both the brain and the soul. It stimulates the intellect, deepens the experience of living, and is good therapy. As Graham Green says, "Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation."

Teachers should write so they understand the process of writing from within. They should know the territory intellectually and emotionally: how you have to think to write, how you feel when writing. Teachers of writing do not have to be great writers, but they should have frequent and recent experience of writing. The best preparation for the writing class, workshop or conference is at least a few minutes at the writing desk, saying what you did not expect to say. If you experience the despair, the joy, the failure, the success, the work, the fun, the drudgery, the surprise of writing you will be able to understand the composing experiences of your students and therefore help them understand how they are learning to write.

From A Writer Teaches Writing Revised
by Donald M Murray