Reflections from the 2014 Independent Schools Conference

Click the image to download a PDF copy of the PowerPoint

Click the image to download a PDF copy of the PowerPoint

Last weekend I attended the ISNZ 2014 conference titled “Agents of Change” in Auckland, along with a number of staff and Board members from St Andrew’s College. Our Rector, Christine Leighton, had asked Francesca Eathorne (Head of Communications) and myself to co-present at a 1 hour workshop around the theme of Innovative Marketing, Communications and Blogging.

The quality of the keynote and plenary speakers was outstanding and, interestingly for me, most of them came from outside of the education sector. This enabled them to share insights from a wide range of backgrounds including business consultancy, technology incubators, advertising, governance in the health sector, along with some educational specialists.  A review of some of the speakers is further down this post.

In the 1 hour workshop presented by St Andrew’s College, the Rector started by talking about the importance of reputation and reinforcing the branding of the College through the promotion of our student voice. She showcased this through two student-led videos:

This Is Us:

Three Years On:

The delegates attending our breakout session actually clapped at the conclusion of the second video, suggesting the continued resonance of earthquake stories from the Canterbury region.

Francesca Eathorne then talked about the progress in the Communications Department at St Andrew’s College over the last four years, highlighting this beautifully with the “then” and “now” of the following marketing images:


Standard Advertising Material from 5 years ago

Standard Advertising Material from 5 years ago


Advertising from 2014 showing students in action

Advertising from 2014 showing students in action

I finished off our workshop, suggesting what does this innovation look like at the “classroom” or “teacher” level, and chose to explore this through the lens of blogging and contributing to marketing through sharing the College’s eLearning stories. To do this, I selected a few screenshots from various blogs around the College including:

  1. Year 2 Class Blog – focused on giving simple information on learning to parents
  2. Yr9 Science Class Blog – focused on videoing and recording the teaching moments in a class and allowing students to contribute notes and review their learning at any stage
  3. Teacher Reflection blogs – two examples that are used as part of their professional reflections for their Registered Teacher Criteria (RTC)
    1. Sitting on the Classroom Mat
    2. Exploring Modern Learning Environments
  4. Official eLearning Blog – this blog, show casing innovative and engaging eLearning stories from around St Andrew’s College.

This message tied in nicely with the earlier comments from Francesca Eathorne, as the stories on this blog have been picked up and re-blogged elsewhere, including the following websites:

Finally, through this blog promoting our teachers’ innovation in the classroom, we were approached by Bradley & Montgomery Advertising Agency on behalf of Microsoft to explore creating some videos of our teachers talking about use of MS OneNote in the classroom. These “unintended” marketing opportunities have reinforced the importance of celebrating the stories of our teachers and students in a range of different ways and tied in nicely with messages from the keynote and plenary sessions.

Some Reflections from a number of the Keynote and Plenary Speakers

Brian Sweeney, a Kiwi living in the USA and co-founder of SweenyVesty Consultants, challenged us how we can leverage the four big “I’s”

  • Ideas
  • Innovation
  • Inspiration
  • Identity

Continue reading

Wolfram Interactive Models Bring Learning To Life

I was recently reminded by Stephen McConnachie at Middleton Grange School of the excellent Wolfram Demonstration Models available online and I have explored the ability to embed these directly into Moodle, our Learning Management System.

These interactive models allow students and teachers to directly manipulate animations to increase understanding of complex ideas such as insulin molecular structure, radial engine design and how microwave ovens work. Wolfram Demonstrations uses CDF Technology (Computable Document Format) to deploy the interactive demonstrations to any standard web browser – a plugin approximately 230MB in size.

Once the plugin is installed, a user can manipulate the model directly within the browser as this video shows:

The full video above shows the three stages of using these demonstrations:

  1. The installation of the CDF plugin
  2. The obtaining of the embed code for the selected model from the Demonstrations page
  3. Inserting the embed code into Moodle (or any other page that supports iFrames)

The Wolfram Demonstrations pages were created to support Wolfram Mathematica users. Anyone wishing to create their own demonstration model must submit their examples to Wolfram Research where a full vetting for accuracy and completeness takes place.

So far, High School students, teachers, professors, researchers, lawyers and hobbyists have all submitted to the ~9600 examples. Below is a screenshot of some of the demonstrations:

Featured DemonstrationsThe other strong feature of Wolfram Demonstrations is the cross-curricular range of models as evidenced here:

Curriculum areas that have Wolfram Demonstration Models available.

Curriculum areas that have Wolfram Demonstration Models available.

These demonstrations represent an excellent additional resource that teachers can take advantage of, particularly when trying to aid student understanding of complex ideas. I will be promoting these to our staff and beyond for inclusion into Moodle courses within the College.

Trading In The Whiteboard for MS OneNote and a Surface Pro

MS OneNote projecting onto whiteboard via MS Surface Pro and Miracast

MS OneNote projecting onto whiteboard via MS Surface Pro and Miracast

This morning I was invited by Mr Ben Hilliam to sit in and observe one of his Year 9 Math classes. I was keen to do this as I knew the Maths Department had been experimenting with the combination of MS Onenote, a Microsoft Surface and a Miracast device to wirelessly broadcast the screen of the tablet through the classroom projector.

The following video is a screencast of Mr Hilliam’s first 6 minutes of the lesson. He is writing on the Surface Pro directly, and using MS OneNote to record his voice and handwriting in the background:

All students in this Year 9 class have read only access to this OneNote notebook so they can revise at anytime, and in this instance the lessons were being recorded for a student that was absent for the week. Once uploaded to YouTube, the link is inserted into the Notebook for student access.

The various technology components involved in this lesson

The various technology components involved in this lesson

What impressed me about this section of the lesson was the ease of the technology – it essentially existed in the background and in many ways, it was a direct substitute for the role of a whiteboard. Mr Hilliam was still asking students questions back and forward and they were still coming up and pointing to places on the graph on the projected image on the whiteboard to indicate their answers. The big difference however was that this was being recorded digitally for later revision.

Towards the end of last year we undertook training for a lot of 2014 Year 9 teachers and introduced them to the SAMR model. I recently came across a new poster for this:

Explaining the SAMR model through coffee

Explaining the SAMR model through coffee

The teaching in this Year 9 Math class falls clearly in the augmentation range – the teaching is not obviously different however the technology operating in the background provides massive functional improvement. Students, both those absent and physically present in the class, can all revise the concepts being taught at anytime.

Here are some photos of the students at work practicing the concepts that had been taught:

A student reviewing the MS OneNote content recorded moments earlier by Mr Hilliam, and then practicing in his exercise book.

A student reviewing the MS OneNote content recorded moments earlier by Mr Hilliam, and then practicing in his exercise book.

Students around the room making using of their laptops to review / rewind the concepts as taught and recorded from the start of the lesson

Students around the room making using of their laptops to review / rewind the concepts as taught and recorded from the start of the lesson

Whilst the phrase “ubiquitousness of technology” is over used, this lesson did demonstrate that when used effectively, the technology is not at the forefront of the lesson. It was not gimmicky or flashy, instead it provided functional improvement to what was already a great lesson.

I am excited to see how other curriculum areas make use of technology like this in their classrooms and will blog about these in the future. As the Director of ICT it’s important for me to support initiatives like this that trial how new technologies can be used in the classroom. On my recent trip to Edutech 2014 I trialled a MS Surface Pro 3, some of the only demonstration units outside of the USA, and was very impressed. I have pre-ordered one for our staff to trial once it is released and am interested to see at what point in the future touch screen devices like this may replace the traditional laptops given to staff.

Bringing It All Together: The Power Of Embedding Content

One of the common complaints I hear from teachers in schools where computers/tablets are common place in the classroom is that students are easily distracted when browsing websites they’ve been directed to by the teacher. One way to address this is by where ever possible, choosing content that can be embedded directly into your Learning Management System, which in our case is Moodle.

Prior to the introduction of Moodle at St Andrew’s College in 2012, a number of teaching staff had various blogs, wikis and websites around the internet where students would be directed to find content useful for their learning. One of the initial attractions of Moodle was that it would centralise the sharing of resources for all teachers and students, whilst still providing a convenient launching point to locate relevant content elsewhere on the internet.

Increasingly, however, content can now be embedded from the source provider directly into Moodle meaning students do not need to leave the Learning Management System at all which increases engagement and reduces the chance of distraction by clicking off to other websites.

When sourcing great eLearning content from around the internet, I immediately look to see if it allows sharing through embedding, and where it does I always promote this option to our staff rather than simply linking to an external website from Moodle.

Embedding YouTube

One of the most popular resources to embed into Moodle is YouTube video clips and I created a video tutorial for our staff showing them how to do this:

At St Andrew’s College we have a Staff PD area within our Moodle site, and I’ve embedded all our video tutorials into a section of this site so that our staff can follow along with screencast tutorials like the one above.

Embedding ETV

Another valuable video source is ETV which more of our staff are finding the benefits of:

(I mentioned ETV embedding in this earlier post explaining various Moodle functions too)

Embedding Twitter

I’ve been posting recently about the merits of Twitter for Staff Professional Development and increasingly I’m seeing interesting uses by teachers of Twitter in the classroom. One way to achieve this is to embed a twitter feed directly into Moodle – again, a video tutorial showing how to do this:

Having recently returned from the outstanding EduTech conference in Brisbane, the Twitter hashtag of #eduTECH continues to be very active and remains a good source of links and advice. Embedding this into Moodle, or indeed this blog, is achievable with minimal effort:

Increasingly, more and more content is capable of being shared through embedding which is great news for teachers wanting to make their Learning Management Systems more engaging and interactive. A colleague recently tipped me off to using Wolfram Alpha maths resources that can be embedded into Moodle and I’ve demonstrated this briefly here:

Embedding Wolfram Alpha

There are so many other tools that can be embedded such as FotoBabble, Padlet and not to forget Google Docs / Presentations and Office365 WebApps that also allow for sharing through embedding into Moodle or other Learning Management Systems.

Feel free to share other great online resources that can be embedded in the comments below.

In the end, you want your students focusing on the content you’ve selected for that particular part of a lesson and by embedding the content you’re making it easier for them to access the content and stay on task.

Forging Global Connections – Mystery Skype to Singapore

On Friday 23rd May Yr3 students engaged in an eLearning first for St Andrew’s College – a Mystery Skype!

Mrs Jane Egden agreed at short notice from me to help out a request I’d seen on Twitter from Mr Craig Kemp, a Senior Teacher and ICT Specialist at Avondale Grammar in Singapore for a Yr2 or Yr3 class to engage in a Mystery Skype session. The object of a Mystery Skype is

An educational game, invented by teachers, played by two classrooms on Skype. The aim of the game is to guess the location of the other classroom by asking each other questions.

In preparation for the Mystery Skype, Mrs Egden had discussed what sort of questions would be good to ask to find out where the other class was – this is what the students came up with:


With the session scheduled to kick off at 1:30pm, the fantastic ICT support team at St Andrew’s set up a HD webcam in the classroom linked to the projector, and arranged chairs for the students to sit in front of so they would be visible on the webcam to the class in Singapore. Meanwhile, Mr Kemp and I had exchanged tweets showing both classes eagerly anticipating the start of the Mystery Skype:

Armed with atlases, globes and a little help from Google, the students were underway with their questions, both classes trying to “win” by correctly guessing the country of the other. Mr David Jensen from our wonderful Film and Media department filmed the action:

In the end, Avondale’s questions of “What continent are you in” and “What is the most popular sport” allowed them to correctly narrow down to New Zealand, whilst probing questions like “Are you south of China” helped our students locate Singapore.

Throughout the 30minute session, there was high engagement and excitement by all students, and as they popped outside for a quick play at the conclusion, a number requested “can we do this again soon?” A successful initial Mystery Skype for all, confirmed by Mr Kemp’s tweet shortly afterwards:

I have written previously about the benefits of harnessing Skype to pull experts into our classrooms, and I am delighted at the prospect that through this initial Mystery Skype, these two classrooms may be able to reconnect and share other learning experiences with each other. Ultimately, it is these types of learning experiences that excite me so much about the possibilities of technology in education. It is easy to expand the horizons of our students through connecting them with others all around the world, whilst keeping the learning engaging, relevant and fun.

I am looking forward to introducing other teachers at St Andrew’s to the rewarding experience of Mystery Skype sessions.

Here is a link to a different Mystery Skype from Skype’s own webpage:

Internet Radio Archives – Improving English Listening Skills

I recently sat down and chatted with Mrs Natasha Derry, a new teacher in the English Department at St Andrew’s College this year, and she talked about a lesson sequence she had just finished as part of lead in to teaching the play Twelve Angry Men.

One of the wider goals of the English Department in 2014 was working on the listening skills of students and so with this Yr12 class Mrs Derry decided to combine the intriguing story of Cornealious Michael Anderson with a radio broadcast on the internet from the website By using a radio broadcast, albeit from the internet, instead of a video clip from the many TV news articles that ran about Anderson, students would need to actively engage in the listening process. Helpfully, the website also provides a transcript of the radio interview which in this case allowed students the benefit of listening and reading to review what they had heard.

The blurb for the radio item said:

Mike Anderson was 36 years old, married, a suburban father of four. He owned a contracting business and built his family’s modest, three-bedroom house in St. Louis from the ground up. He volunteered at church on the weekends and coaches his son’s football team. All pretty normal, right? Except for one thing … which surfaced one day last summer.

Cornealious Michael Anderson in prison garb

Cornealious Michael Anderson in prison garb

That one thing was 13yrs ago had he been convicted of armed robbery, before posting bail pending the outcome of his appeal. When the appeal was rejected he expected to be collected and imprisoned for 13yrs. Due to a clerical error this never happened, and it was only when they came to “release” Anderson, was it discovered he had never served his time.

The students listened attentively to the 16mins in the radio broadcast, before being asked to decide whether Anderson should still serve his prison time, and to reflect their decision by standing in different areas of the room. Each group had to elect a foreman such as a jury might have, who would then represent the group, explaining the basis of their decision.

Mrs Derry was very pleased at how much detail the students recollected from the radio broadcast, evidenced by the inclusion of facts and opinions expressed during the interviews. She also showed some visuals of Anderson in prison garb and with his family as well:

Cornealious Michael Anderson with his family

Cornealious Michael Anderson with his family

Throughout this activity, the message being reinforced was how much power individual jury members have over the outcome of a court case and therefore the life of the person on trial. By contrasting the different views of the students on Anderson’s situation, Mrs Derry was able to prepare them to critically think about the play Twelve Angry Men

As we discussed this use of internet based radio broadcasts, we considered what the next steps were in consolidating the themes. One outcome from this was the possibility of leveraging Skype in the Classroom to bring an expert on the law “into the classroom” with a number of District and High Court judges as possible candidates through connections with the College.

I hope this comes to fruition as it would again highlight the important role that technology can play in making the learning authentic through connecting texts with real life events, people and experts – all of which are important factors in engaging our students.