Posted in 02. Professional learning, Professional development, Uncategorized

Worldwide ADE Institute 2018: Texas


This year there were 371 educators from 38 countries represented in Austin. The temperature in Texas exceeded 35 degrees on most days. On others, it climbed to 40. Not that we would’ve noticed because we were grinding away on our projects in the sometimes rather chilly air conditioned rooms. Regardless of temperatures, it is always great to connect with my New Zealand teacher-friends. Donna Smith is generally the first to spark an idea, and this is normally after a casual ten minute conversation.

Donna and me

In addition to the Kiwi connection, it is a really humbling experience to witness the stories of inspiration from across the globe. Some teachers are utilising the accessibility features in iPads simply to allow their students to communicate with them on the most basic level. Without these features, these students would be silent.

The hashtag for the conference was #EveryoneCanCreate. There was still an emphasis on coding, but the big drive was towards getting our teachers and students to be more creative, in the largest sense of the word. The point was made that conformity is easier than creativity. I’ll be challenging my students on this one: are they taking the easy road because it’s simply that- easy? And what about our own teaching practise? Are we doing what we’ve always done? As one of the presenters said, don’t confine your students to your style of learning.

After a full day of workshops, we broke off into homeroom groups. One of the first things we had to do was define what creativity means to us. So what would you say? What does creativity mean to you? For me, at its core, creativity has freedom and choice. It also has flexibility and courage to produce your ideas. The next thing I really took away from the creativity topic is that less is more. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. With the result, the Clips video I made (using the combined ideas from our project team,  namely Donna Smith, JJ Purton Jones and myself) was clean and simple. We were pleased to see it up on the big screen as one of the nine examples used in the institute reflections on the last day.

The other big winner this year was surprisingly, Keynote. This app is no longer being used as a presentation tool. We saw the most fantastic movies, animations and inspiring ideas, all created in Keynote. The great thing is that our students are very familiar with the tool, now I’d like to get them digging way deeper into the capabilities of Keynote. In fact I thought I knew quite a bit about this tool, but there are so many as yet unused layers. This will be my mission over the coming weeks, to familiarise myself with the deeper layers. What I think was the best sharing session regarding the capabilities of Keynote was from Noah Katz If you have ever seen the graphic novel The Boat by Nam Le, this is the type of animation Noah is producing, along with his students. When I have more insight into how to do this, I will share. As I’m sure will my fellow ADEs.

Stephanie Thompson gave a fantastic spotlight session on using gender equality apps to track who speaks up in group work.  She used where you can download the app ($4.49: It’s a teacher app so only you need to buy it.) She found that when she started using these tracking maps, the boys dominated over the girls. You are able to chart the dialogue in group work, or in fact get the data about how much time you spend talking in a lesson. The point for group work is clear: Whose voices are not being heard? In addition, we might find that we need to develop the mantra of talk less and listen more. I wonder what the data would look like if we tracked school meetings?

But wait, there’s more! Who knew that Pages could be so exciting? My students have used the book template in Pages, but they tend to use the blank copy and work from scratch. No need to do so as all the templates are editable. Teachers can make use of smart annotation when marking, which magically anchors to the text, even if the student edits and moves text around. Hit presenter mode and the document transforms into a teleprompter. Add voice recordings and you can edit the audio directly in Pages. Mask photos with shapes for some really cool effects. To change colours, drag and drop the central dot in the colour wheel.

Next we went to a session which looked at Universal Design for Learning. They highlighted how important it is for teachers and students to get to know how the accessibility features work on our devices. This could potentially remove barriers to learning for some students. They recommended a book by John D. Couch called Rewiring Education: How Technology can Unlock every student’s potential.

Book Title

Another great view, which I think will resonate with many teachers, is that digital natives do not exist. We need to actively teach digital literacy. How many times have we seen students happily producing digital work, only for us to be disappointed with the quality of the sound, visuals, or both? What I picked up is that teachers are taking time to teach these digital skills. The question is, if we stick closely to the curriculum, where do we fit digital literacy in?

John Danty of GarageBand fame was sublime. I’m no musician but even I felt inspired to investigate loops and smart drummer more closely. I’ll prompt my students to make use of GarageBand to create special effects and tracks to be used with their videos and podcasts.

We ended institute at Salt Lick BBQ, an authentic Texas experience. And a quick trip to 6th street for some of the best live music and jam sessions. My last trip was to fulfil my mission of buying some Texas boots for both Trevor Rubens and myself. I’m pleased to report: Mission Accomplished.

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So finally, in sticking with the theme #EveryoneCanCreate, if creativity is higher order thinking, are we driving our students in that direction? And is our work allowing for courageous and flexible freedom to create?

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Posted in 05. Design for learning, Professional development, Uncategorized

English Department Professional Development session

At our school we have professional development sessions every second Wednesday morning. Our head of department, Meryl Howell, requested that we each take a session and in this way draw on each others’ strengths and skills. It is a wonderful idea to collaborate in this way, but also quite scary to present to those closest to you in your professional capacity. I’m pleased to say that once I got over the initial nerves, they were a very welcoming audience.

I had recently returned from the Apple Distinguished Educators’ Institute in Berlin so I was brimming with ideas. I kicked the session off some sketchnoting using the app Procreate. Karen Bosch (@karlyb) did a spotlight session on sketch noting and this is a great tool for mind mapping. I like to draw and write as I plan or listen to ideas, as do many students. So this is an app I’d recommend.

Next we looked at Don Goble’s spotlight session where he took Hemingway’s six word story and extended it to a six unique shots film. His students’ work is fantastic and it is wonderful to use as exemplars. I have included some of the resources I got and adapted from Don Goble at the end of this post. (@dgoble2001)

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Image from @dgoble2001

This lesson could be taken a number of ways.

  1. You could first look at Hemingway’s story on a creative writing level. How many interpretations have been suggested for the story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
  2. Next you could look at newspaper headlines where they very often are made up of six words. Since this session I find myself counting the number of words in headlines and invariably come away with the answer six. Those media stories could be a lesson in and of themselves.
  3. Then we spoke about getting students to write six word stories and story board these. The aim is to create a film with only six shots. So each shot has to be powerful to tell the full story.

As a group we decided that this would work with our year 10 students. I will post examples of my students’ projects next term.

Here is a link to the powerpoint I used: 6-word-story


Posted in 05. Design for learning, Professional development

Lifelong Learners

The New Zealand curriculum states as one of its visions that we want our students to be lifelong learners. What about our teachers? Are we modeling ourselves as lifelong learners?

I’ve been speaking to a number of my colleagues and the answer for many is yes. Take my one colleague who, when faced by a year 13 class who seemed reluctant to prepare for their speech, prepared her own speech. She researched her topic and applied the speech techniques. And so the teacher was the first to present her speech, modeling what she expected from her students. Another colleague has joined a band and has undertaken to learn a new instrument. He is, how should I put it, not a spring chicken. (He’s only a few years my senior, but then again, I’m no spring chicken either.) And then of course we have a number of staff doing post graduate papers. I’m happy to say I’ve signed up to do MindLab, based on the recommendation from my colleagues.

As an English teacher I find that, prior to introducing formal writing, I model what I expect from my students by writing an article. I submit my work to Fractus Learning which is an educational blog. Once it has been published, I share it with my students. Besides the idea of modeling what I expect from them, more often than not the subject of my article is my students. So it’s good for them to read about my reflections on what they’ve done and what I’ve learnt from them.

Link to my article here


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So this is a link to my article. My hope is that, through sharing this sort of article with my students, they will see that I am still reflecting on my practice and learning. And for some at least,  instill a love of lifelong learning in them.



Posted in 02. Professional learning, Professional development

LoopEd conference in Wellington 

I felt pleased to be invited to Wellington to present a session on blogging for students and teacher registration. I divided the session into the following sub sections:

  1. Why publish work to a blog when you are using Google Classroom
  2. The three way split between students, teachers and parents when work is showcased on a blog
  3. How blogs can vary across the year levels
  4. Examples of student blogs
  5. Teachers’ blogs for TAI and Teacher Registration
  6. We looked at the conference theme: Connection. Collaboration. Courage.


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So this is what we discussed:

  1. If blogs are used wisely with categories for posts, students will create wonderful digital portfolios. This will make it easy to refer back to published work. Having an authentic audience does mean that students need to proofread very carefully. This differs vastly from the stream of tasks in Google Classroom, useful in itself. But different.
  2. Blogs provide a link between teachers, students and parents. This is one of the big  bonuses to using  a combination of Google Classroom and blogs.
  3. The way we use blogs can vary across year levels. Middle school students can be encouraged to blog about topics that interest them. Media rich posts are very convenient as students can post video and photos directly from their camera roll. Publishing to YouTube is not necessary. NCEA students can be more selective, choosing to password protect certain blog posts. TurnItIn is used to check for authenticity.
  4. We looked at the differences between the genders with regard to their blogs.
  5. We spent some time looking at teachers’ blogs. We looked at TAI and Bundles of Evidence. We also looked at the 12 criteria for teacher registration. We spoke about blog-able moments and what evidence could look like. We also spoke about professional readings and reflection to improve practise.
  6. Finally we looked at the conference theme: Connection. This would be following and reading each others’ blogs. I suggested that teachers look at Twitter to develop their PLG. Collaboration. This could develop across schools, across the country and globally. Courage. We finished with this. It does take courage to encourage students to blog as some teachers do not feel fully confident with the process. Teachers also need to be courageous to put their reflections “out there.” But taking the first step is the best way to move forward. Have faith in students as they are the ones that trouble shoot and figure things out. You then end up with a couple of experts in the room.


Wellington did not disappoint, dishing up some glorious weather for us to enjoy after a well-run conference.

Posted in 02. Professional learning, Professional development

Teaching a thesis statement

Written text Essay

For our morning PD Gavin went over the best way to teach a thesis statement for written text essays. The main point he made for level 3 was that students should not feel afraid to disagree with the statement provided in the exam. They can also partially agree with the statement. But whichever stance they choose, they should spend a good amount of time planning so that they are clear on where they stand. The powerpoint he provided gave clear steps to take for classes ranging from year 9 right through to level 3.

Posted in Collaborative, inclusive, supportive environment, Professional development

Wellbeing in Schools

Wellbeing equals intelligent selfishness that is sustainable

In the holidays I was fortunate to attend a Wellbeing in Schools conference along with my fellow deans and senior manager. As so often with these events, it’s the small talk where you learn the most. Having said that, I did come way with some gems of information. Not that it was anything new. Rather a timely reminder to be kind to yourself and those around you. So ten things I took away with me:

1. Drink lots of water. You see every last student carrying a water bottle, but how often does the teacher get to midday and suddenly realize: “I’m parched!”

2. Do shoulder rolls with your students. Man, after sitting listening to lessons for three days, I realised why students love flexible learning spaces! Get up and move during lessons, and allow students to do the same.

3. Be aware of your students’ FLOW: the balance between skills and challenge. If the challenge outweighs the skill and becomes overwhelming, you’ve lost them.

4. Surround yourself with people that are on the same mission as you. Enough said.

5. When people smile, they learn more. Imagine how much they’ll learn if they laugh!

6. Be resilient without burning out.

7. Career wellbeing: what gets you up in the morning?

8. Forget work-life balance. Strive rather for work-life integration.

9. Health is not just the absence of disease, but a state of well being.

10. Wellbeing equals intelligent selfishness that is sustainable.

Posted in 03. Professional relationships, Professional development

ADE 2015 Institute Revealed

ADE Class of 2015

My friend Chris Wells, who also happens to be a collegue, and I were fortunate enough to be accepted as Apple Distinguished Educators, class of 2015. This meant that we could go to the institute in Singapore and these are my observations. The professional development and personal growth we experienced was priceless. The following video is a 5 minute snap shot of our experiences.




Each morning we began with stories from teachers from across a number of Asia Pacific countries. Inspiring stories which were linked by a common theme: it’s about having a passion for teaching, regardless of age or nationality. Teachers from a variety of backgrounds are flipping their lessons with incredible results and increased engagement. Blogging is the norm for both students and teachers. Multi touch, interactive books find students investigating and thinking for themselves. And a common thread was that teachers really have to have a growth mindset.  A teacher from Japan said that school should not be viewed as a place where only the students learn. Teachers need time to learn too, emphasising the need for professional development. Another teacher quoted Mike Tyson when describing teaching in a connected classroom. He said:

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face: be prepared to adapt.


Bill Frakes

You might or might not recognise the name, but a quick Google search of Bill Frakes’ photography will probably show that you recognise his work. He is a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer and we were fortunate to have a master class with him. Yes he has all the equipment to take some stunning images, but he also said that a smart phone and an app like Snapseed can yield some wonderful images. His view on taking good photos:

Take a slow walk with your eyes wide open and your heart engaged.

What struck me about him was his passion for his profession and his humility. He has spent time with and taken photos of heads of counties, the pope, and me. It must have taken him hours to take photos of the entire class of 2015. But he seemed to take time and care with each one of us. 

Image courtesy of

On what motivates him he said:

I’m focused. I have a voice and I need to use it.


The developers of both these amazing apps took to the stage and they did a work flow type demonstration creating a movie and accompanying music in real time. It made me think that I never want to resort to using theme music again. And certainly encourage my students to dig into their creative sides to create their own brand of music. 


The next highlight for me was the lessons on design in learning, and by that I mean the resources that we and the students create. The message was that our resources should be clear, crisp and clean in order to create interest. In the words of Einstein: Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.

We have been encouraged to stay connected with our fellow ADEs. We are all also in the process of creating  an iBook or iTunes U course based on our ‘One Best Thing.’ I think it’s a great way to share resources with a global network of hardworking and passionate teachers. So to sum up, the experience was uplifting and inspiring. I firmly believe that we are moving in the right educational direction.


Posted in 02. Professional learning, Professional development

Fun and laughter as we learn: Term 2 PD at OC

We have had a productive time in our PD sessions this term. The greatest value I have found is in the cross curricular discussions. We have shared and collaborated and had fun along the way. Our focus has been on:

1. Blogging. This is used by our students and our teachers. The gem is that you can add video directly from your camera roll, cutting out YouTube. We also looked at easy ways to embed presentations

2. We looked at Explain Everything and the multitude of ways to use this brilliant app 

3. My colleague Christine Wells helped teachers to develop a matrix to give students ownership of their learning path

4. Another colleague Korrina Kracknell helped us with Kamar and the powerful tools which help with data analysis 

5. Pearl Trees, Kahoots, Avatars, Talking Avatars and Video Star have featured strongly as possible apps or websites to enhance student work and engagement, as well as enjoyment

I include the following short video as a note to self to always allow students to learn through laughter. We all had a good laugh, and then my class started adding their own Video Star to the adverts they are creating.