Light Offerings

Surfing the digital light fantastic in education

Posted by jturner56 on October 30, 2012


School is about the relationship between education as a society set of expectations and learning as a personal construct. Digital has potential to enhance this.


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Mobile Technologies in Education (6) Using Computational Thinking

Posted by jturner56 on March 3, 2019

  1. Computational Thinking was introduced and best explained in Jeannette Wing’s 2006 paper Computational Thinking
  2. Computation Thinking is a term given to advancing computational science objectives of pattern recognition, decomposition, abstraction and algorithmic design
  3. The relationship between computational thinking, coding, and digital literacy is overlapping although to what extent depends on different perspectives.
  4. Anyone can learn to code through, or MOOCs such as in Coursera and EdX
  5. There are fundamental building blocks that are found in all major coding environments. This includes: data types, objects, conditions, loops, variables, functions, arrays and error management (syntax and logic)
  6. There are also several approaches to learning coding. This includes

    – Tinkering/Bricolage where learners construct with the coding materials at hand (Logo and Scratch were developed with this in mind)
    – Controlling through building a concept toolkit. In early days this was evident in DOS users. More recently with Python
    – Advancing to more abstract conceptual developments, such as through C+ and Java
    – Finally creative app making using environments such as XCode/Swift, App Inventor or Android Studio.

  7. When looking at app development we drew on Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR analysis (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) to aim for something that if we developed it as an app would be more than just substitution
  8. This would be evident in an Information Only App (Substitution), an Interacting App (Augmentation), a Data Collection App (Modification) or a new app that redefines an educational process in a better way
  9. The effect also depends on the teacher, drawing on examples such as word processing, Google Docs and Web searching to show each SAMR level can be the objective
  10. A useful resource is ISTE (2016) Redefining learning in a technology-driven world
  11. Drawing on App Inventor ( – an MIT development with links back to Logo) is useful to see what can be achieved and how the AI tutorials can assist developing understanding. Other choices could have been, and have been included in our school’s overall approach
    – Scaratch and Scratch Jnr for young students to experience coding agency
    – Python for its introduction to abstraction through line coding and then linking to robotic concepts through Micro:Bits
    – XCode for app development / coding because of its media creative environment coupled with its deep abstract power
    – Java also for advanced abstraction power
  12. When developing Apps the importance of clear goal recognition, understanding users, and good planning.



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Mobile Technologies in Education (5)

Posted by jturner56 on February 24, 2019

  1. This week we looked at how best to include mobile technology apps in educating processes…
  2. …starting with the traditional approach (teacher responsible for transmission of provided materials to the student)
  3. …and highlighting the calls for change from the likes of Ken Robinson, Marc Prensky and Will Richardson
  4. …we touched on “adjustments” such as Flipped Classroom and Blended Learning.

  5. Revisiting the Constructionist contention, which Seymour Papert best advocated through calling on teachers to prioritise creating conditions for invention where the learner takes charge of their learning, links were made to Resnick’s advocacy of play as a basis for learning (see Lifelong Kindergarten 2017) and the Makers Movement reflected in Papert apostle Gary Stager (see Martinez & Stager Invent to Learn 2013/2019) as well as related manifestos and research.

  6. After all this we came back to Larry Cuban’s 2018 research-backed observation that after decades of external advocacy there has occurred no fundamental changes in teacher approaches to their teaching and lesson formats. For Cuban the best approach is to appreciate, recognise and support teachers as primary decision makers.

  7. So how best to help improve use of mobile technologies in school education?

  8. Spreadsheets are an interesting app in that it has been around for over four decades, yet is still not ubiquitous in school education despite its strong links to mathematical thinking and analysis.
  9. Using Spreasheeting as a case study, we worked through Project Based Learning (see Buck Institute for more) and Design Thinking (see Stanford for more)

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Mobile Technologies in Education (4)

Posted by jturner56 on February 17, 2019

Recap so far

Week 1:  why use mobile techs?
Week 2:  what apps are useful to consider?
Week 3:  what does the research say?

Week 4: what learning objectives?

  1. This week we looked at Digital Literacy as a means to measure tasks created to advance learning that included use of digital technologies
  2. Starting with those who advocated using computers to advance ‘ICT skills’ within the challenge of ‘traditional’ school expectations such as handwritten exams, subject textbooks and teachers as ‘knowledge experts’ and vioews of students as ‘digital natives’
  3. The WEF (World Economic Forum) three pillars of 21st century learning (foundational literacies, competencies and character qualities) provides an overview of where digital literacy can be valued (as a foundational literacy)
  4. A framework for developing and measuring Digital Literacy was explored, drawing on my 2012 paper. Digital Learning was dismissed as a term with too wide an intepretation
  5. Digital Literacy, first coined by Paul Gilster in 1997, and expanded by Doug Belshaw in 2012 to eight elements, has been organised by me into six considerations (Planning, Adapting, Organising Information, Creating, Problem Solving and Connecting (Collaborating)) across 4 levels (play, use, extend, higher order application)). This structure was used to create and analyse tasks that include digital technology use.
  6. Media Literacy is another literacy with digital considerations. Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman and Richard Myer provided useful insights. We looked at how media requires particular considerations when presenting/recording/creating.
  7. Digital Citizenship is an important considerations for any computer use to ensure students are focused and tasks are engaging (check out commonsensemedia as a useful resources)


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Mobile Technologies in Education (3)

Posted by jturner56 on February 4, 2019

This week we started by asking the question: who decides what apps should be used in a classroom? Heads? Teachers? Student Choice? And in support of this what can looking at research tell us?

Before looking at various research undertook a survey that asked for responses on traditional and constructionist approaches to school, teaching, curriculum and student learning. This I have found influences choice and approach. Interestingly, from an initial look at the results, the participants support both logic/control structures and opening student choice and personal responsibility. Points to the competing choices and complex decision making teachers have to contend with.

Looking at ‘research’ six perspectives were identified

  1.  Narrow: focusing on single aspects

    For mobile technologies in education, university based research into mobile learning by the likes of Mike Shaples, John Traxler and Daniel Churchill provides a useful window, although there are other competing streams. My 2015 paper Mobile Learning in K-12 Education: Personal meets Systemic (Chapter 13 in “Mobile Learning Design: Theories and Application (D. Churchill et al. eds)) attempted to review this and place within a school context

The Burden & Kearney (2015) identification of mobile learning affordances provides a good working example

2. Wide: focusing on aspects across education
We have already spent time with Papert and his MIT research on using computers for empowered learning, and some time on Larry Cuban, one time History teacher and then Stanford Professor. Cuban’s analysis reported in Teachers and Machines (1986) and then Oversold and Underused (2000) provided a skeptical insight into computer in school limitations. Be sure to check out as he is still contributing. Others such as Roy Pea and Sherry Turkle have added to this debate over several decades. Mitchell Resnick with his Lifelong Kindergarten (2017) is a recent iteration of this.

3. Associated: that included digital impact on learning
How People Learn (2000) edited by John D. Bransford, Ann L. Brown, and Rodney R. Cocking for the US National Research Council provides a comprehensive cognitive analysis of what research can tell us about how best to learn. Interestingly the Barbara Oakley (2014)  A Mind for Numbers provides a useful counter-focus on traditional learning (say for exams). From another perspective, Lee Haddington in Cybercognition (2017) looked at the impact on brain function and behaviour arising from increased exposure to digital technologies.  He noted that “At present there is a growing body of research evidence that is beginning to make the comparison between how cognitive processes are being deployed in both the online and offline environments. However, such work is still very much in its infancy and even less is known about how the use of technology is changing such processes for better or worse.” Blumberg and Brooks (2018) Cognitive Development in Digital Contexts is a more recent addition, although drawing significantly on research on the impact of television on cognition.

4. General: system wide influences
We have already spent time with Thorndike, Dewey, Skinner and Piaget, influences that carry through to today. Added to this should be Lev Vygotsky (1896 – 1934), a Russian psychologist whose Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is used as a basis for many social-constructivist contentions. A more recent addition is University of Melbourne professor John Hattie, whose analysis of 800+ studies into learning effects provided a meta analysis that was published as Visible Learning (2008). Of relevance was what he gleaned about use of computers (falling short of being a positive influence, albeit within traditional structures and expectations).

5. Interests: such as commercial and political entities and lobbyists
Look for sponsored research. The Apple Classroom of Tomorrow (ACOT) (1985-1995) was an early example. Audrey Waters provided an interesting analysis of the connection that some have referred to as the Educational-Industrial Complex at

6. Propositions: ideologies and thinkers putting forward engaging contentions.
Finally we have those who have put forward contentions that have entered modern debates. One of the best examples is Marc Pensky’s (2000) contention that our young are digital natives. There are links in many interpretations of this that can be traced at least as far back as Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) who advocated natural education, Ivan Illich with his Deschooling Society (1970) and its anti-school influence as well many others. Conversely Nicholas Carr in The Shallows (2011) promoted an alarmist approach to the effect of digital on memory and learning, echoing Todd Oppenheimer’s (1997) The Computer Delusion.

One must always be careful to analyse the intent of research and advocacy as there can occur a tendency to confirmation bias. For example, in the early days laptops were seen as conducive for improved learning within the pro-laptops community, while even recently the Elfeky, and Masadeh (2016) in The Effect of Mobile Learning on Students’ Achievement and Conversational Skills reported that “Results showed that mobile learning had quite significant effect on both students’ academic achievement and conversational skills.

This is not to say that research is generally tainted. One just needs to be aware and mindful of where ‘research’ and ideas originate and lines of connection. Look for names that represent certain ideologies and try to remain objective to the bigger picture. This is in no way an exhaustive insight but provides a lens to help evaluate.

We looked at Facebook as an example. Putting aside the current controversies (although data privacy and COPA requirements warrant must not be overlooked), a research view might yield:

  1. useful considerations such as Using Facebook in the Classroom (Shaw 2015) published by the Oxford University Press
  2. others that many require more thought / substantiation such as
    4 reasons why Facebook is an educational tool for schools (Vota 2010) from ICT Works (a partnership between  Inveneo and FHI 360’s TechLab
  3. while others need to be treated accordingly
    For example: 10 mobile learning trends for 2018 (Pandey 2018) opens with “The demand for mobile learning from the learners is on a steady increase, and it is clearly transitioning from an “option” to a “must have”.” The publisher is the eLearning Industry which promotes itself as representing this industry.
  4. can provide one starting point, even if it too has been accused of bias in some instances.
    The first listing is: Facebook: Learning tool or distraction? (Fawkes and McCabe 2012)

Returning to Shaw (2015) a useful balanced analysis, and with ICTWorks providing some support, one finds contentions that

  •  “potential educational benefits, including: creating community and promoting collaboration, enhancing communication, developing computer literacy as well as language skills, and incorporating pop as well as foreign cultures into the classroom.” (OUP)
  • Recognized challenges include privacy concerns, maintaining professionalism, guaranteeing access, preventing distractions to learning, and operating under university restrictions.” (OUP)
  • effective use depends on the instructor’s specific pedagogical goals (OUP)
  • Facebook can be an Educational Tool for Schools in
    1. Language Development
    2. Interpersonal Communication
    3. Group Collaboration
    4. ICT Skills (ICT Works)

Next class we will be looking more into the ICT Skills aspects as we explore Digital Literacy and Media Literacy in digital for learning worlds

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Mobile Technologies in Education (2)

Posted by jturner56 on January 28, 2019

In this second week of the Masters course I am currently teaching we examined the value of mobile apps for learning

We started with Socrative ( as a Tool for seeing what learning students had acquired from week 1. A test was analysed and learning value discussed.

Then we went through competing approaches to evaluating software:

  • such as competing philosophies of how best to learn: Behaviouralist v Constructivist
  • how some terms such as Personalised Learning and Deep Learning have been appropriate by both end of this philosophical spectrum
  • and how modern technical agendas such as AI and Machine Learning fit into such philosophical agendas

screen shot 2019-01-28 at 9.57.57 amThis was then linked to this to how a school might look at proposed apps. While a school looks for tools the philosophical intent of apps can be significant. If teachers want to use apps to promote student creativity, thinking about their thinking, and taking control of their learning (hallmarks of the tutee approach) then some apps are more supportive than others

Using such an analysis we looked at a range of apps, starting with which reports on the most popular apps in use within education. Interestingly a behaviour modification app, ClassDojo is classified number one in the US, while language development apps are high priorities in HK. The often overlooked significance of Youtube and the Browser and how they are changing approaches to learning was included.

When we analysed a range of apps and sites to categorise as whether primarily tutor, tool, tutee or somewhere in-between.  The role of the teacher in adding tutee value was evident with only one or two apps having been specifically designed with tutee intent to provide a creative learning environment for thinking.

Finally we looked at the mobile phone as a learning technology and what it could offer (its affordances). Both positive affordances and negative drawbacks were identified.

Drawing on my 2015 IMLF paper a range of affordances used in a school were looked at and the ever changing nature of digital technologies which has seen some technologies superseded (such as iBook author by Xcode/Swift).

Closing off students joined their app investigations into a combined presentation on how apps can be combined to advance learning. Once again the importance of teachers to build tutee learning environments was apparent.

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What do mobile technologies have to do with learning and school education?

Posted by jturner56 on January 20, 2019

This week I started teaching a Master level course at a local university on the subject of Mobile Technologies in Education. An eight week course that is intended to “provides a hands-on oriented and in-depth exploration of smart-phone/mobile devices in general, together with essential concepts and the impact of ubiquitous technologies for education and training. This includes investigating the potential for this technology in the next-generation learning systems to impact socio-technological and educational developments

Interesting student group. About one-third computer science graduates who are looking to apply such skills to education. About one-third teachers who want to make better use of mobile technologies. And the rest spread as wide as a finance graduate to a general interest. A young group that is on the edge of being able to help schools, research or industry.

So for the first week had to both provide a wide introduction while starting forward movement. The following is a summary of what we covered and did. As we progress I will update as an insight into not only what I think is important, but how this plays out with such a group:

  1. Mobile Digital Technologies can be used in School Education to act as a teacher (Tutor), be focused on doing something required (Tool) or as a means for student expression (Tutee) (first coined by Robert Taylor in his 1980 book: The Computer in School: Tutor, Tool, Tutee). They also can provide a means for students to learn through making/creating as an expressive medium. (Interestingly this morning’s press reports on the ‘Ubification of Education‘ with strong links to the Tutor contention.
  2. Mobile Technologies can refer to laptops, tablets or smartphones with many overlapping affordances and some interesting differences. But in general considerations can be generalised as long as strengths and weakness taken into account. One challenge is that while smartphone might be available widespread computers are still a school managed resource (Recently reported as 1:5 in the US)
  3. Competing views on how best to educate, such as between Dewey and Thorndike which go way back), as well as resources gaps between schools, makes it difficult to embed mobile technologies in schools. Although it is possible to find supportive research for most mobile technology use for learning, there is no strong evidence that the use of mobile technologies can lead to sustained improved test scores on standardised school exams.
  4. Interestingly there was a low level of knowledge about significant figures in the history of educational technology. A couple knew of Dewey but not much more. Probably a bit of a mis-targeting on my part, assuming stronger education backgrounds (as I normally work with teachers). Something to address for next week (Education being a continual learning process for all involved).
  5. Moore’s Law means digital power keeps doubling about every two years. This means we are continually dealing with new technologies. (Once again media report on real-time animation evidences the disruption being brought about but this)
  6. New ideas continually required for new technologies because of constant change and development. But to date no “killer app” for education has been forthcoming (to the level of say Spreadsheets in Accounting).
  7. This week’s Task was to share ideas on how you might use mobile technologies to support learning, to make links to similar ideas (an important part of building ideas into bigger ideas of bigger value.)
  8. This is linked to the first assignment that will require generating and explaining an idea of potential school educational value (which will require links to underlying beliefs and objectives)
  9. Next week we will be looking at Mobile Technology Affordances for learning to expand understanding of where mobile technology can add value for learning.

Appreciate any feedback or suggestions that I can include.

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After more than 30 years in schools where is the teaching of CODING?

Posted by jturner56 on January 13, 2019

I could go back to the early 70s when enterprising teachers linked into university mainframes to provide coding opportunities for their students. But I‘ll start in the 80s when widening access to desktops provided schools with digital technological structures to advance the teaching of the skills needed to control and exploit such technologies.

Putting aside the intrepid teacher who saw coding as a personal mission, coding has struggled to acquire system recognition to a level enjoyed by subjects established in the post world war one expansion of secondary education. School Mathematics is a good example of the latter, a ‘measure’ of thinking prized by employers which is content to allow students to be compulsory ‘educated’ through ‘expert’ teachers.

Coding remains a contested consideration within schools. As Sterling (2016) documents, there is still no agreement as to whether teaching coding would be best approached as a subject, a topic, or through integration across the curriculum. So why hasn’t coding enjoyed a similar valuing, as it contains most of the conceptual challenges associated with Mathematics and underpins the digital constructions that uphold so much of business, society and life in what has come to be known as the Digital Age?.

One reason is that even in the 1980s Coding (like digital in general) had to take on an already overcrowded curriculum. It became a political football for those gatekeepers defending status quo or self-interest driven education for many reasons.

Secondly is the limitation of teacher competencies. While sharing many of the attributes of School Mathematics when it came to learning, coding requires a certain subset of skills to cater for a more flattened nature of problems solving. Once again, while Mathematics as an established subject can get away with non-qualified teachers who had ‘done some Maths’, Coding has been subjected to different requirements. Industry, while bemoaning school standards and lack of coding development, have contributed to the problem as it gobbles up coding competents leaving school deficient. Elite education (which has more to do with resources than quality) can drag in available teachers leaving wider gaps elsewhere.

Thirdly, there has been limited pathways for developing deep coding skills. Coding is subject to fast technological change (another aspect that Maths did not have to contend with). While Pascal and Logo were developed with education in mind they were the exception with commercial products taking precedence. To keep abreast a teacher had to not only be willing to take on conceptually demanding software, but also display a willingness to learn at the rate of digital change.

Fourthly, alternative pathways beyond School existed for students to learn themselves, even before the internet globalised such connections. Interest was high within one element of youth (overwhelmingly a certain subset of males willing to put time in as a priority over social or even school progression). This meant the teacher was not usually the cleverest coder in the room. An approach to flattening the classroom learning approach was required that control-focused teacher had difficulty even comprehending.

Overall, Computer Programming (Coding being a more recent language development that came about when HTML coding became part of the consideration) is conceptually demanding learning that requires connected learning in flattened learning environments while addressing fast changing elements.

There are also some associated issues that are still treated as ‘wicked’ problems. Foremost in this is the gender discrepancy with males dominating the industry. While Mathematics continues to experience similar issues (Berry 2019) , the coding industry has continued to enjoy a male self-serving culture that is evident in many aspects of digital influence. This can be seen as going as far as many senior years curriculums which has failed to move much beyond a small subset of student type.

Faced with these challenges school leaders as gate keepers by the system, of the system and for the system have been content to isolate as much as possible, as occurred in the early days for computers in general and even today in some cases. From the 80s schools leaders, to shield non-interested ideologies, have been content to be driven by “digital natives will save the day” rationalisations or shallow reactive thinking around ‘event’ such as ‘hours’ or ‘days’ or ‘segments’ for ticking the coding box (Imagine if schools approached Maths in such ways). Funding gaps have also allowed justifications of insufficient resources, even though in this day and age a smartphone connected can provide sufficient access to learn coding.

A danger is that lack of teachers and defensive nature of school decision-making has opened the door to ‘teacher less’ coding curriculums built around ‘plug-in’ behaviouralist driven online commercial products that form part of the edtech industry agenda.

The limiting nature of an exam driven school system which prioritises closed pre-packaged knowledge will always have trouble with personally empowering technologies. Coding is true mathematical thinking (and that’s not School Maths) meets personal artistic expression and choice meets digital problem solving. No wonder School struggles.

On top of this youngsters want to make personal choices as they mature. The standardised approach to school will always be in conflict with this as it tries to balance risk with choice with system measurements.

Not all students will want to be straight coders, though; even if some experience would support working in teams in the future.

From my experience school works on a 25/50/25 principle when it comes to change. 25% will personally take to what is offered if it provides avenues for personal engagement and empowerment. 25% will evaluate against the non-digital priorities of school (hand written exams being the case in point) and the middle 50% will depend strongly on what the teachers offers and says. Flexibility in choice too often been treated as a ‘add-on’ consideration in school industrial timetables. Meanwhile entrenched subjects are able to evade such scrutiny.

In order to get coding embedded beyond an isolated consideration a school requires
1. Leadership that values to the point of providing sufficient resources (time, money) – although this is not enough
2. Leadership supported approaches for programs that build logical thinking, supports self-driven interest and curiosity, provides pathways for student choice, and can link beyond the classroom, all in fast changing digital domains
3. A middle school that can move beyond control through reactive defensiveness and/or tokenism. (This is the area where schools have yet to address student potential to take on coding).
4. Opportunities for students to build depth of understanding and breadth of application.
5. A social commitment to redesign School to allow higher-order digital thinking to be preeminent with other subjects, but addressed in new ways.
6. Leaders who can support by leading by example would help, although if this a required objective we could be waiting a long, long time.

We need to provide more opportunities for students to be able to add value to their and our world and coding is one way this can be supported. Some countries have moved towards this but still have a way to go.

Using the red pill or blue analogy from The Matrix film, I teach coding to students based on the question of whether they wish to learn to control the computer, or are they content to let the computer (or whoever has coded it) to control them. Perhaps a question for teachers as well?

We teach students to develop a portfolio of skills covering the basic building blocks of coding (sequence, conditionals, variables etc) which then can be applied through projects with personal appeals (such as an app that teaches something, or an enterprise product to address some need). Media is connected and coding Robot technologies included. Then students are given choices as to how far they want to go with this. The approach combines the specific concept coverage that one would expect from a traditional school approach with project challenges for application and enough openness (and support) to cater for the diversity in aptitude and attitude.

To me coding is a higher form of computational thinking (Wing 2007) that we can all benefit from experiencing. But to empower students as coders a school cultural update is required.

David Berry (2019) No equal ratio: the maths gender problem
Leon Sterling (2016) Coding in the curriculum: Fad or foundational?
Jeannette M. Wing, Computational thinking, ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, v.39 n.1, March 2007

#Digital #school

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On Coding Education in Schools

Posted by jturner56 on October 28, 2018

Two rules that I usually follow is (1) not to listen to podcasts (I’m a reading sort of guy these days), and (2) particularly by those where I have a fair idea what they will say before they talk. But this week I made an exception as I am working on a Middle School curriculum component where I will be teaching students coding concepts. This coincided with coming across Dean Shareski’s podcast “Does everyone need to code“.

The podcast arose from Dean’s twitter post “I hear some suggest everyone should learn to code. Ok. But should everyone learn basic woodworking? electrical work? cooking? plumbing? automotive? Those are all good things but is time part of the issue? How do all these good things get taught?.” Joining Dean was first Gary Stager and later a teacher, Shana White.

Once one gets past Gary’s sound bits and personal homilies there is much to listen to, even if one might have heard most of it before.

Gary’s reason to teach programming is to provide students with educational experiences that enable if not empower them to make stuff and in doing so link to many educational benefits (which are listed on the slide that accompanied Dean’s post). Gary cites his own experiences learning to code as a 12 year old and what that has enabled him to achieve. To Gary only through fluency can the door to empowerment and enlightenment be opened. (Sidebar: I had a similar experience when first starting as a teacher and as such share many of Gary’s perspective on coding).

Gary’s second main point is that students need to be introduced to learning to code so that they can make choices as to where they would like to go with such knowledge. While acknowledging that this can include formal computer science options in later years,  he bemoans the delivery of curriculum “boxes” that try to constrain agency into a K-12 “program.” Gary is not at all complimentary to those charged with developing contemporary curriculum programs with their “fake” experiences.

Gary’s third point is that this should not be an either-or question. He is also a passionate advocate for music and shop and other liberal arts. Rather an approach based on introductions then choice is seen as a better way to ensure students have experience on what they don’t know but might provide avenues to better opportunities and pathways to being a rounded adult.

Shana’s take, as classroom teacher, is a more personal practical perspective. She sees in coding an avenue to providing students with opportunities to develop critical thinking skills, something she feels is being denied by those teachers who “teach to the test” and as such are focused on rote memory / regurgitation that engender in students a “just tell me the answer” approach. School, to her, needs more tinkering, exploring and play.

There were two reasons I stayed with this podcast. Firstly, as indicated above, I am involved with developing and teaching a Middle Years school coding curriculum. Nine weeks, which as it turns out was how long it took Gary to get hooked as a student. This year is the second year of the course. We always plan for three years of development, learning from Year One and refining for Year Three (and in many cases having to completely redesign in Year Four to cater for changing technologies and still developing student starting digital literacy. Gary points to this when he acknowledges that the program he encountered in Grade 7 would nowadays be more applicable to Grades 3 or 4).

How well did we go  in Year One? If the end of year Innovation Fair is any guide, when 20% of students chose to make an app as their response, through collaborative approaches involving coders working with designers working with entrepreneurs, not too bad. But in other regards, such as the bridges beyond the introductory course, and the cognitive load of introducing a professional app development environment (XCode/Swift) there is still areas to address. Twenty years ago it was Logo into Hyperscript/Actionscript into Pascal or Visual Basic. Now we  teach Scratch in  into app inventor into Swift into Java. Such is education, we all have to keep learning. The issue remains is whether coding mindsets are compatible with what school will offer.

This links into the second reason. I am also involved with curriculum rethink of Middle Year curriculum (involving Grade 6, 7 and 8) and as such am thinking about how coding should be approached. After thirty plus years working with coding in schools I also ponder why we still have to ponder this question. The podcast provides some insights that I have listed above.

So thanks Gary, Dean and Shana for sharing your insights to help us reflect on the challenges, opportunities and barriers all schools have to take on. I’m sure Gary will take issue at any misrepresentations in what I have written but such is good education.

BTW: Some Gary sound bits
people can’t choose what they haven’t experienced
– STEM/STEAM has become a parody
we should be educating for longer than an antibiotic
– how do most people get their first job? Through their father or uncle
– those who know better should be doing better


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Introducing Adobe Illustrator to Grade 7 students

Posted by jturner56 on October 2, 2018

As part of Grade 7 MYP Design students create a Virtual Reality (VR) movie with an embedded logo as an advertisement branding themselves (though not with a hot poker). Adobe Premier is used with 360 degree cameras for the VR, and Adobe Illustrator is used to make the logo. Design principles and Design thinking round off the approach.

Each year the project in some ways needs to be updated to take into account the increasing expertise, as well as the range of prior experiences that students bring to the class. This year is no different. The diverse backgrounds (some students had no prior Illustrator difference, some had already made logos with illustrator) required extension challenges (3D logos, 4D logos (aka an animation) ) and room for students to acquaint themselves with new software. The culture of the classroom (non-comparative, open to pace and idea differences, formative feedback assessments) supported as smooth a class as possible (not withstanding the student who forgot their laptop). Just another day teaching with digital as an central consideration.

What struck me this time though was how what I saw reflected what Seymour Papert was contending 40 years ago (Yes his book Mindstorms has been with us since 1980 but his ideas preceded its actual publishing). Papert contended that computing can make powerful representations personal and concrete and through this support powerful learning. The evidence as students created digital artifacts was within every student’s actions. As I watched a class progress as individual learners within a education defined boundaries, confident in their abilities to take on quite abstract software in support of powerful learning (using a tool that professionals use daily) to cteate meaningful products for themselves I could only think…

Salutee Papert.

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Doing Projects is not Project Based Learning…but we can learn a lot from both

Posted by jturner56 on September 16, 2018

As a teacher whose work with digital in the classroom has involved projects for over thirty years I continue to be interested in the intersection of school, projects and learning.

Of particular interest this week was a Grade 7 Design project. Its purpose is to introduce students to the four stages of Design problem solving process (Analyse & Inquire, Generate Ideas, Create, and Evaluate). The technological focus is creating personal brand logos (to enable Adobe Illustrator skills to be updated or introduced (there being students new to the school involved)) and to embed said logo into a student generated Virtual Reality movie (thus supporting Digital Literacy (adaptability, problem solving, creating) developments. Students are required to keep a journal of evidence of their analysis, ideas, skills and evaluations. They are provided with teacher generated guided questions.

As I looked at progress I was struck by the following

  1. Students would just be getting into the project when the school timetabled kicked in and they were required to go to the next scheduled class.
  2. Some students preferred to go straight to the Create stage and make their own choices on support provided. Is this acceptable? How should assessment feedback consider this?
  3. The so-called 21st century soft or success skills (collaboration, time management, etc) emerge from a well structured project. It also helps identify those students with areas of need. Teacher feedback is an important part of this.
  4. Where does this it into Project / PBL considerations?

On the first point, if schools are truly committed to projects they need to provide a structure to enable students to work on projects unencumbered by any need to move to the next teacher. A balance between core skills and opportunities to apply in problem-solving situation, balancing teacher direction with student responsibility for their learning is needed. Perhaps school needs to be less teacher-centric and more open ton students taking responsibility for their learning?

The second point puzzles me with it contradictions of teachers as directing guides up against student centrality. In an age of entitlement and student digital options the work of the teacher may have changed, but is no less important.

On the third point, as students have used digital technologies more at earlier years in supportive environments they are developing stronger collaborative and problem solving skills before entering Grade 7. This is also the case with their digital understanding, something that I have noticed and had to respond to for over three decades. This provides grounds for deeper learning opportunities to be provided. Hence the VR choice.

tptFinally, calling on Jonassen’s (2000) Taxonomy of Problems, my project appears to me to be an example of “Rule-using Induction problem”, towards the structured end but with clear intent to provide a set of rules that will enable students to take on more ill-structured problems. There is some evidence that this can be seen in Personal Projects that students take on in later years of their schooling. It is also why opportunities for students to take more responsibility for their learning is behind Innovation Fairs for younger students.

But is it a good example of Project-Based Learning? Using the BIE checklist (2018) a good example would include:

  1. Challenging pblProblem
    VR and Design Concepts appear to be engaging and challenging
  2. Sustained Inquiry
    Apart from short teacher introductions students are free to work at their own pace.
  3. Authenticity
    There is a personal aspect, although more could be provided on wider application. What is provided is an introduction to skills that are at the cutting edge of future storytelling needs (say for gaming or advertising).
  4. Student Voice and Choice
    Students have choice on what the logo will represent about themselves, although they will have to justify against design principles.
  5. Reflections
    Redrafting and alternative ideas are part of the Design process.
  6. Critic and Revision
    Students have to justify and incorporate critical feedback from others. Teacher formal feedback is provided at milestone points.
  7. Public Product
    As indicated, this is probably the weakest area of this project. But its purpose is to provide skills and processes that can be applied in wider contexts.
  8. Key knowledge, Understanding and Success Skills
    It is this area, which BIE had to update from its original thinking, that best justifies the teachers important role in projects, be it introducing important concepts, following up with conversations and feedback, as well as identifying and supporting stragglers.

I can see the project satisfies most elements, but like all projects it is a piece of work under constant revision.  This is the second year for this project and some adjustments have been made(particularly in clarifying the design concepts and providing better feedback).

From experience projects undergo three iterations. First time through has risk (if it is to be challenging). Second time sees adjustments and clarification. Third time through is hopefully refinement. With the fast changing nature of digital technologies few projects last more than three to four years without significant updating. Teaching with projects is like learning through projects. Always seeking to go deeper while constantly responding to new challenges and problems.

B.I.E. 2018. What is is Project Based Learning? Available at
David H. Jonassen. 2000. Toward a design theory of problem solving. Available at


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