Light Offerings

On hamsters and hamster wheels and pizzas

Posted by jturner56 on December 7, 2016

Once there was a hamster wheel that was cherished as a provider of energy that fueled the hamster economy. It also helped keep young hamsters fit and occupied.

But over time the hamster elite wanted more and more from the hamster wheel. They devised ways to increase the hamster wheel speed by getting hamsters to go faster. They considered this was an improvement without end.

To help with this, they devised ways of measuring speed and using this to show how inefficient the wheel was becoming. They also blamed the wheel engineers, without ever listening or seeking to understand the impact of an aging, flawed system. Perhaps it was just a need for better more-committed engineers. The elite also created several variations of wheels to ensure that their own offspring wouldn’t be caught in any of these efficiency drives. They devised ways of putting wheels up against each other to identify winners and losers. This included testing whether feeding pizzas into the system led to better outcomes. Finally, they also noted that hamster wheels in other communities were becoming more efficient, while failing to note that in part this was because those communities could afford better wheels than they had previously. If only their wheel could go faster.

What they also failed to see was that the energy required by the community was no longer just from the hamster wheel, and that by pushing the young hamsters even harder, and in inconsistent ways, the energy that these hamsters had for non-wheel contributions was being dissipated. Those older hamsters who did not enjoy the energy provided by the wheel in egalitarian ways grew increasingly concerned about the whole situation. Some even contemplated sabotaging the wheel. Which led to the elite putting up dividing walls.

But of course, these elites had had to go through their own hamster wheels when younger, even if in less taxing ways. And of course, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander (although a hamster has no idea what a goose is, because if they ever met one they wouldn’t survive to tell others).

So the hamster community just kept on focusing on going round and round the wheel. One can only surmise what will happen when the goose finally arrives.


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Vale 2016

Posted by jturner56 on December 7, 2016

I see where I have not been posting all that much this year. Have been more involved with looking at school structural possibilities in real and relevant ways.

One area has involved working with teachers on a State University of New York – Buffalo (SUNY) course that has been developing teachers are researchers who can add value to themselves and the school. As we came to the end of this particular course I provide a snapshot of my rationale for use of educational technologies in schools. Beliefs play an important part in what is likely or even possible.

I have topped and tailed the video and provided it here for those who might be interested.

I look forward to the ongoing discussion with the teachers I am working with as we go into the next course which focuses on Action Research.

All the best for a well earned Christmas break and may 2017 be a better year all round.

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Digital, Maths & School. Two’s company, Three’s a problem

Posted by jturner56 on September 24, 2016

Each week in education is a heady mix of idea conversations, related readings and cognitive wonderings. At times it feels that we are all quantum educators; one can evaluate value and progress, but not at the same time.

This week I was drawn to two diverse readings. In 3 theories why digital learning access is good for students, Dr Liane Wardlow (from Pearson Education) examines three educational theories that she contends “bring huge potential for increasing learning“: Behaviorist, Social Cognitive (through modelling), and Information Processing theory. Within this “teaching should emphasize ways to increase desired behaviors, which can occur through connectionism or operant conditioning

Meanwhile, in Philosophy, beauty, complexity: what you are missing out on if you don’t do the maths, Nalini Joshi, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Sydney opines “Maths in schools is often presented as a rigid hierarchyTeachers present as priests pointing the one, true way to a solution. This is not what maths is about.” The need to “learn to celebrate the complex and creative in mathematics if it is to regain favour” is put forward.

What connects these two contentions? Perhaps the relationship between real Mathematics, School and what many contend should be the primary purpose of Digital use.

  1. Looking at School‘s approach to Mathematics learning, the weaknesses are there for anyone who is willing to look objectively
  2. Approaches to Digital in School are stuck in Assimilation thinking even as society takes on new Accommodations (see Piaget for more on what this means)
  3. The potential within Digital to support more powerful Mathematical exploration of complex ideas in creative ways is well documented for those who are willing to look beyond the School lens and its associated inequalities and failures to meet contemporary or future needs.

By the way, this is not new. Over thirty years ago Seymour Papert (1980) said it so much better “In my vision, the child programs the computer, and in doing so, both acquires a sense of mastery over a piece of the most modern and powerful technology and establishes an intense contact with some of the deepest ideas from science, from mathematics, and from the art of intellectual model building.” It was exhilarating to engage in this conversation again this week, even if the context is little different from twenty years ago.


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Are Screens In Schools a $60 Billion Hoax?

Posted by jturner56 on September 16, 2016

Like regular back-to-school routines, the highlighting of how computer screens have failed School emerge. Going all the way back to the mid-90s when Todd Oppenheimer opined The Computer Delusion, recent author Dr Nicholas Kardaras contends that Screens in Schools are a $60 Billion Hoax.

If only it was so simple. Call up one side of an argument and focus on the negative aspects  so that no meaningful way forward have to be put (except maybe by implication “if only we could go back to the good old days”).

This is not to say there aren’t two sides to this. The neo-Liberal aspects of Future sellers, based on promoting technology as savior, also have much to answer for.

A good reference point for this is a recent Larry Cuban (2013) book – Inside the Blackbox of Classroom Practice – which postulates “While many important instructional changes have occurred since the late nineteenth century in elementary and secondary school classrooms, no transformation in classroom authority or how teachers teach on the scale of the above fundamental structural, curricular, and cultural changes have altered classroom instruction.” Driven by what he termed dynamic conservatism. So what should the role of computers in schools be in the face of this?

Some options.

  1. inside-out: leave it to the teachers as optional. From experience this results in embedding Cuban’s contention
  2. outside-in: system solutions imposed without adequate change support mechanisms If schools focus more on using approaches primarily built on past values to control (they might say make) the future, this might continue to be limited. Straw man arguments in such circumstances are all too easy. None more so than it’s Teacher-centric versus Student-centered. Progressive versus Reasonableness.
  3. The potential of computer technologies to amplify positive cognition requires commitment to it’s potential for metacognition (through reflection and feedback), information literacy (through inquiry), digital literacy (through design thinking), engagement (local and global, digital citizenship (through community building), making (through personalised creativity), and empowerment as learners relevant to the world they face.What Papert termed “incubators of knowledge“, which I have seen add value for over three decades.

Papert, like Cuban, was interested in the limitations that teachers work under within School as an institution. The traditional system, for all its advantages, lacks in structural willingness to innovate (although some schools might from time to time seek to break out of the box). Closed knowledge too often overwhelms.

School is a teacher-centered system. What if we are faced with a system where student capacity to add value through technology use outstrips on average teacher capacity to adapt? If the balance between closed standardised systemic education and personal learning is altered through technological developments?

One related area needing more honesty is clarity about the expectations and purposes accorded to this, including the role of the teacher and opportunities that should be provided to all students. Then maybe we will start getting better value for money.




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Why we need Critical Thinking!

Posted by jturner56 on September 12, 2016


From a local widely-read Newspaper.

Demonstrates that it’s not just the Internet when it comes to sharing differing views.

How would you respond?

Perhaps applying Critical Thinking skills might help.

Such as trying to understand if there is any difference between ‘lesson performance’ and learning.

Says a lot about School.

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Digital influenced Shifts in Learning Reponsibilities

Posted by jturner56 on August 22, 2016

How should one respond to this request:

How do I organise my email inbox so that emails starred as important stay at the top of the inbox?

Traditionally a help desk might send instructions or arrange a visit (if a demanding request). I have also seen a ‘get back to you’ response (usually code for I have no idea so will need some time get my act together). Some might help a colleague (but can become wary of repeats that don’t seem to show any learning.) Putting the barriers up serves no-one.

Interestingly, I just googled How do I organise my email inbox so that emails starred as important stay at the top of the inbox? (note – changed e to g as we’re dealing with gmail) and received this as first up. Case closed.

So should the response be “google it!”?

This points to some interesting issues, apart from any expectation that workers should google as a prime problem solving strategy (Level 3 in my Digital Literacy rubric).

Gmail in many organisations is a systemic choice because of cost, alignment to the many with personal gmail accounts, and interconnected access to other services. So what responsibility lies with the organisation to solve workers questions? What responsibility to provide professional development for those who don’t meet Prensky’s Digital Natives expectations? What’s the role of a Help Desk?

Where do people fit into this mix? In my case we have increasingly focused on team pro-active development as increasingly expertise lies within the team. But this is challenging as teams change quicker than ever before. We have flattened approaches that make productive use of student expertise. We take every opportunity to demonstrate to individuals by example. We share problems encountered and solutions and strategies arising.

But this simple case highlights that as always, Digital with its inherent rates of change and personal choice remains a challenge to education based on the latter’s systemic controls that can carry over into intransigence (as seen in checkbox learning), up against personal expectations that the organisation bears problem solving responsibilities to meet individual needs. Systemic Expectations v Individual Capability and Interest. How best to empower in such an environment remains a mystery.

BTW, when I google learning personal v systemic I find three of the top 5 are from my contributions. Superficial at best.

There is much still to be done, although John Seely-Brown (2000) was talking about this many digital generations ago when he identified:

“knowledge can be produced wherever serious problems are being attacked and followed to their root. Furthermore, with the Web it is easier for various experts to interact casually—in the academy or in the firm—and to mentor or advise students of any age.” (John Seely Brown 2000)

The problem of the changing nature of knowledge between personal and systemic demands within a Digital Age is surely one of these. If only I could google it.




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Welcome to the new school year

Posted by jturner56 on August 8, 2016

As a new school year starts in the northern hemisphere, what objectives will you be working towards. Will it be outcomes externally dictated or pursuing an inner sense of something better?

If my case I will be continuing to look for opportunities to contribute to direction setting and implementation of innovative teaching and learning structures to support school and education leadership and delivery at all levels. Opportunities which includes an emphasis on what students can make with their learning (opportunities, pathways, connections, applications). This year I am particularly interested in the relationships between critical thinking, innovation and where digital can fit into such a focus. I look forward to sharing some ideas and engaging in some constructive interactions.

All the best for all educators wherever you may be.

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On Coding

Posted by jturner56 on June 29, 2016

Computer programming in Education and I go way back, to before the term coding was introduced to cover HTML and then CSS. So it was of particular interest when I had the opportunity to mix with Apple engineers, app developers and fellow educators involved in school-based computer programming. This was around Apple’s release of it’s Swift Playgrounds app, intended to support students learning coding in schools. (Interestingly at a time that Apple was distancing itself from Adobe Flash even more. I spent over a decade teaching programming through Flash, and all I say here is just as applicable to that time).

The first question that needs to be asked and answered – is learning to code valued within school education, and if so, to what degree? Although there is a strong STEM focus across many education systems, too often I find this question dismissed or at best superficially considered from narrow political or self-serving industry perspectives. The Apple focus ‘Everyone can Code’ is laudable, but is it realistic?

In discussions, I was struck by two comments made by an Apple executive and an Apple engineer. Firstly, “until I code I don’t understand it”. And secondly, “once hooked I basically taught myself”. Both reflect what I have observed over many years. That coding can provide a powerful meta-cognition purpose. And that most software engineers are basically self-taught, and posses an intrinsic self-motivation to further their understanding. This was reinforced by countless software programmers I spoke with. Coders became coders because they see the time on task as personally, professionally and meta-cognitively compelling. They code to create, understand and challenge themselves, like writers or musicians. They can work through the frustrations and challenges towards personally satisfying goals (both short and longer term). There are flattened ecosystems of cooperation. From what I’ve seen, School does so many things to deny  value to such attributes.

So when we see advocacy for “everyone learning to code” what are the realities? In school, as judged by Grade 12 Computer Science numbers, we seem to be stuck with around 5% of students with the interest and motivation to become coders within the school structures and priorities. When efforts are made to increase this, issues of teacher availability emerge (like when increases in second language learning is touted). What increases can we expect in a means-to-an-end school system that seeks to standardise over personalise? One that remains beholden to teachers as gatekeepers, who too often lack the attributes for teaching higher-level computer programming. That is confused by advocates like Bill Gates, who on the one hand was self-taught (in league with fellow coders such as Paul Allen), yet now contends: “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important”(Brown 2013). Will a software app make much difference?

At the school level, we recently surveyed a grade of 120 12 year olds following an ‘Introduction to Programming’ extended class (150min) using the MIT/Android Scratch-based, cloud coding environment, AppInventor (as an end-of-year add-on). The students reinforced what I found in my PHD 25 years ago, that around 25% thought programming engaging and for them, that about 25% had already dismissed any interest, and that the middle depended on the challenge and where they saw themselves in the mix within the demands of School. They  are unsure as to what is required to be a coder and whether they are willing to get further involved. But they have strong personal preferences. If the intended student target area of the Swift Playgrounds App is 12 – 16 year, olds has the boat already been missed? Conversely, at the top-end I see a small cohort of 12 year olds and professional coders working together on understanding and applying Objective C data structuring. What is needed is a clearer school-valued pathway to bridge introduction to personal preference and potential. Many students will judge this from within what they see as what school provides , as well as both overtly and tacitly values.

Perhaps a better approach would be to initially value that “Everyone should have the opportunity to Learn to Code”, reinforced by structural pathways and incubators for those who wish to take this further. Perhaps 10% to 25% would be more achievable as a short term goal. This has worked for music, with various levels of involvement possible.

Getting back to the software under review, Apple’s Swift Playgrounds app. The Playgrounds part of the Swift programming language provides a potentially engaging test area through interpreter feedback and professional power to make meaningful apps (using Apples Xcode environment and Swift programming language).  The Playgrounds app focuses on ‘learning the concepts’ in a traditional structure, while enlisting gamification techniques. It is designed for the iPad and can take advantage of the iPads sensors. Unfortunately our students start in Grade 4 with their own MacBook laptop as we have seen it’s potential as a making device and productivity tool preferable over the iPad’s power for as mobile inquiry and media manipulation.

The Swift curriculum support materials, although interactive, were generally standardised and aimed at the teacher in the first instance (even though there were attempts to ‘personalise’ what students could do). Project-Based yes, but delivering conceptual understanding over the power to make. An okay start, but needing abridge to enact the power of making.

For any initiative such as this to succeed, it requires school system value and teacher acceptance, both of which are uphill tasks in overloaded systems. The closed nature of Apple’s ecosystem could work either for consistency, or as a limited choice. Individual students may take up the opportunity, even just as an alternative experience of digital interaction over school alternatives. Time will tell.

What really impressed me, though, was the capacity that was used to create the interactive materials. Here was an evolutionary step forward from iBook Author where new worlds can be created through coding. The potential for book creation (and app creation for that matter) through Swift Playgrounds is apparent.

So what does this all mean? For a Coding curriculum to have any chance, particularly in a school where at best it occupies ‘optional’ or ‘ticked-box’ status’, it needs an introduction that engages across differing levels of student interest, provides pathways concomitant with student potential, can be personalised, and has end value in terms of what students can produce (and let’s hopefully see this as not about grades). It needs to incorporate Making as a process of conceptual development, not fall back on delayed gratification through accumulation of ‘concepts’.

I have a strong affinity with the educational potential of learning computer programming. It has a strong digital literacy relationship necessary for learning and working in increasingly digital powered work environments. To this end I have always hoped that education or allied interests would share such a view. Coding is not the solution for a better future, but putting ideas into common practice is. And in a Digital Age where employment and opportunity are increasingly tied to digital creation and innovation, coding remains a strong opportunity for education to be a pro-active.

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How can we use our tech to enhance subject specific thinking skills?

Posted by jturner56 on May 29, 2016

How can we use our tech to enhance subject specific thinking skills?
A question recently posed to me by a respected Principal.

Apart from the ongoing question as to why is this still a general question, and what is meant by ‘enhance’ and ‘subject skills’ it helped focus on what is a suitable response answer. The following is what I provided:

  • Primarily and epistemological question. So many subjective terms. If talking ‘improved grades’ questionable. I see it more about the relationship between
    •  meaning (relationship between personal and formal systemic)
    • knowledge (relationship between closed and open)
    • expression (domains of valued expression)
    • empowerment (how well do we develop student as independent, connected learners?)
    • social learning (strength of connections)
    • communities of practice (strength of leadership)
  •  But if talking digital value, it has been recognised that the computer as a tool to think with can add value (‘enhance’?)
    • through making meaning
      for example, through students creating multimedia products to demonstrate understanding (such as games), but also through media constructions such as presentations and movies
    • or for modeling learning
      from Spreadsheet what ifs to programmed models
    • personalising pathways
      such as using Khan academy or Mathletics in conjunction with f2f
    • interacting with wider feedback audiences
      such as blogging (provided their is constructive feedback)
    • enhancing skills now valued more so (such as “21C Skills”)
      which includes Technicak Literacy through 1:1 and Collaboration through GoogleDocs
    • digital information handling
      one of the Digital Literacy pillars and a pillar of IB PYP/MYP Inquiry
    • for visualising thinking and learning
      once again blogging, but also mind-mapping, redrafting…..
    • building meta-cognitive understanding (thinking about thinking)
      through the personal cognitive feedback loops created by human-digital interactions

Would recommend work by David Jonassen as best to better understand. His (2006) Modelling with technology: mindtools for conceptual change  and Meaningful Learning With Technology, by D. Jonassen, J. Howland, R.M. Marra, D. Crismond, 2008 support this.

Skills separated from context is so last century. Also danger of container checklists. Not saying not important, but as people are abrogating more of their memory to digital (do we need times tables when we can use a calculator in our phone. What about long division?) I say yes to the former, debatable for the latter.

Schools, though, need to be stronger and clearer in their advocacy.

Digital can help build bridges. But if allowed to be treated as optional add on, value will continue to be debated. It then becomes a leadership issue.

Critical then is what is provided within a school’s vision and planning.

What sayeth ye?

Postscript: I find it of interest in this week’s reading that

  1. teaching programming continues to be approached in wrong ways (Idit Harel goes was back in this)
  2. students continue to be frustrated by teacher ineffectiveness with using digital as part of school education
  3. the ongoing debate about what to do as digital changes memory approaches
  4. that teachers continue to have to try and come to grips with the changing nature of digital on learning. In this case digital v page when it comes to reading and writing.

It’s a complex challenge, but one needed to be met if we are to continue to have hope in schools helping our young prepare for a better world.


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Digital Age Necessities for School

Posted by jturner56 on May 23, 2016

Seems at times we are being swept along by competing interests and overloaded hyper-connectivity. At one end of the spectrum of digital’s relationship with learning we have calls for digital-enabling revolution. At the other gatekeepers of a system forged and entrenched pre-digital. The realities are much more complicated and multi-dimensional than this.

diged spectrumMeanwhile Schools and Teachers are left to contend, with many problems brushed over by marketing, self-interest promotion, or winds of political expediency.

What, then, are the necessities for any school as an institution in such times?
From my perspective this should include:

  1. Recognition of each school as a Social Community that is best built through Respect by example.
  2. Schools, representing the Present, are at the Intersection of Past and Future. Curriculum needs to appreciate this. Digital considerations require inclusion of Inquiry, Projects and a Digital Literacy Curriculum.
  3. Schools are a Teacher-Centric system, yet Student Focused system. Connected Teachers matter as the builders of the learning environment. Teachers inclusion and development matters.
  4. Digital has a personal aspect and can be a distraction, the degree to which depend. School, nevertheless, need to be in the business of Focus Building for Adaptable times.
  5. This needs to include coming to grips with Personal and Social Learning opportunities and challenges that Digital provides.
  6. Leadership is a multi-dimensional consideration. By example. By inclusion of teachers and students. By active partnerships across the school community, (including parents). Committed to building a Shared Vision allied to a workable Strategic Plan.
  7. Student well-being matters – valuing rest, time-out, choice, feeling supported and empowered to became independent, connected learners. To find a good balance.
  8. Teacher well-being also matters (See (1) above)
  9. Education should be empowering, not a matter of trying to satisfy short-term ends for teachers or students.
  10. Learning in schools therefore needs to evolve to include and value the question:  what can you make with that learning? (beyond grades or test scores) Both in digital and non-digital realms.

We have a way to go. But is has always been thus. Viva Education.

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