Reflection on 2012

I have been thinking about writing a post based upon my experiences last year regarding all things iPads for quite a while now… I just don’t know where to begin! Last year was amazing, thanks to the awesome group of students I taught 🙂 It was one of those years where everything fell into place – the learning, the ideas, the choices, the voices, the risk taking, the sharing, the collaboration, the respect (for one another). I was blown away by the way my students supported each other in doing “better than their best”. They set their own high standards and continued to surprise me each day. An example is the video clip two very talented students published. During our poetry unit, these boys asked if they could write a song to the music of the 80s rock classic, Sweet Child O’Mine. Of course I said they could… they were enthusiastic about this idea! For me, learning is about embracing my students’ interests, listening to their voices and allowing them to make choices. When students are excited about an idea, they are engaged. Learning comes naturally then, it’s not forced. Well, this choice worked for these two young boys. Word soon spread about their video clip and within days they achieved rock star status! Take a look for yourselves…


Tutorials – Take 2

Last year, I wrote a post explaining how my students were creating tutorials to demonstrate their learning, mainly in mathematics. Students either took screen shots, inserted these images into a movie making app and then voice recorded over them, or they used the app Show Me Interactive Whiteboard.

This year, some students have continued to use Show Me Interactive Whiteboard. Many, however, have moved onto using Explain Everything. Explain Everything offers many more features, including the ability to add additional slides and export to the camera roll.

At present, my students are continuing to create math tutorials. They are also using this app to publish explanation and procedural texts in writing, as well as to explain concepts and systems in science.

In the past, my students kept their tutorials on their own iPads, sharing their work with me when prompted. Now, my students upload their work to the ‘tutorials’ folder in our shared class folder in Dropbox. My students really enjoy watching and listening to the different ways they each learn.

Earlier this year, I followed the hashtag thread from a conference via Twitter. Alan November was the keynote. He said something that really resonated with me:

“We are very good at asking students to create tutorials to demonstrate their learning, but what are we doing with them?”

As a result, I’ve now created a separate folder where I’ve placed the best examples from my students. I plan to use these next year, if I teach in the same year level again, to front load students in a way similar to a flipped classroom.  The main difference will be that these tutorials have been created for students, by students, using what I call “kid speak”, as opposed to “teacher talk”. I also plan to place these tutorials on the school server for other year levels to access because sharing is caring 🙂

Passion Projects

My students have been completing Passion Projects since 2001, after I attended a Gifted Education Professional Learning session at Bialik College in Melbourne. I was really impressed and inspired by the projects students in grades 1 and 2 created. I vividly remember a scaled down model of a blue whale made out of chicken wire suspended from the ceiling. Facts were attached to it in a mobile-like fashion. It left a lasting impression on me, to the point that I still speak about it today. I recall going to school the next day and sharing my excitement with my grade 5/6 students. Within a week, two students had created a wire elephant – they had worked on it over the weekend. I suppose my intense enthusiasm rubbed off on them.

Over the past ten years, I’ve set few parameters regarding Passion Projects, other than the students having to list five things they already know about the topic and five things they’d like to find out. I think it is important to provide the students with some guidance regarding their research as a way of narrowing down their focus. I’ve also encouraged them to list where they think they can find information, to highlight the difference between primary and secondary sources.

imagesLast week, my team and I were talking about how to incorporate the Design, Creativity and Technology domain into our learning and teaching program. Passion Projects can easily satisfy this. The only problem I have is that I don’t want to set parameters for a project just for the sake of it. I’d like to present an idea to the students that they’d find interesting and exciting to explore, something to draw on their strengths, yet also allow their opinions and ideas to shine. It was then that I had a brainwave. Over the weekend I received a link to an amazing infographic about the evolution of the web: How good would it be for the students to explore the evolution of computers, from mainframes to mobile devices, including smart phones!? They could be a recently employed member of a technology firm whose first project is to design the next generation mobile device. Our students have used iPads for over a year now. They know what they like and what they don’t. I’m really excited about this. The students can sketch designs, label diagrams, even make their own prototypes. I’m currently writing the Design Brief. Please find a snippet of it below:

“Congratulations! You are the successful applicant! We, at MLC Technologies, are excited to have you as a member of our team.

For your first project, we’d like you to think about the development of technology over the years, i.e. computers to laptops to mobile devices, including smart phones.

In your interview, you mentioned you had extensive experience with current technologies, this being iPads. We’d like you to consider the positives of the iPad in your design. We’d also like you to add components you believe it lacks. Be as creative as you like! Money is not a problem!”

Check back soon for an update on how things are going.


Screen shot 2011-09-02 at 9.07.18 PMThis year, my students have created a range of tutorials to demonstrate their learning and understanding of concepts covered in class, mainly for mathematics. To begin with, my students used a number of apps to create a short movie, i.e. a drawing app and ReelDirector. They would take screen shots of their work as they progressed through the equation, then import their screen shots from their Camera Roll to ReelDirector. In ReelDirector, they’d place their images in the correct sequence and voice record over them the steps they took to complete the equation, eg. Addition and Subtraction. This process proved to be quite time consuming, but it displayed my students’ ability to use a number of apps to create an authentic piece of work they could embed in their iPortfolios. This tutorial also revealed any problems and misunderstandings a student had regarding the concept/s and the calculation of the equation. What a fantastic form of assessment!

Screen shot 2011-09-02 at 8.53.32 PMShow Me Interactive Whiteboard is an app my students now use to create tutorials. It is a simple drawing app that integrates the steps the students had previously taken, as outlined above. Students are able to record their written and verbal explanations at the same time, similar to a screencast. There are now quite a few apps similar to this one available. I suppose it is up to you and your students to find the one that best suits your needs. I was actually involved in trialing the beta version of this app, so I am a little biased… hehehe…


Portfolios and digital portfolios have long been a way for students to share and celebrate their learning and selected work samples throughout the year with family and friends. This year, the students were asked to think about what they wanted to include in their portfolios. This allowed them to have a greater sense of ownership over their iPortfolios, as well as a greater connection with what they selected to present. We discussed the purpose of iPortfolios, as well as the possible apps they could use to showcase their learning. This was uploaded to our class wikispace ( so students could regularly refer back to our agreed class expectations.

Having worked with students on digital portfolios for over 10 years now, I must admit I was blown away by the standard of work my students produced using their iPads. The capability of the devices compared to laptops and netbooks was phenomenal. My students’ creativity and ‘eye for design’ reinforced the impact of digital media on the youth of today. Their colour choices, font selection and general layout looked professional. Their iPortfolios were actually of a better standard than my students from the year before… and they used MacBooks!

**Screenshots to come**


One thing I am noticing more and more during this learning journey with iPads is the way my students like to sit on the floor in pairs or small groups to discuss their learning and what they are doing on their iPads. I have always given my students the choice to sit at their tables or on the floor whilst undertaking independent work tasks, but I’m becoming more aware that very few students are remaining at their tables. After being involved in 1:1 laptop programs for two to three years, I’m seeing a greater degree of collaboration amongst my students with the iPads than I did with laptops. They hand their iPads between each other like they are workbooks. They are happy to share them. They are happy for someone else to use theirs. They are happy to work together. They are happy to learn with and from each other. Upon reflection, I find I am like this too. I am happy for my students [and young nephews] to use my iPad and show me what they can do; however, I wouldn’t be as comfortable having them use my laptop. What does this say about iPads and how we use them in the classroom? What does this say about iPads and how students view them in relation to their learning? What does this say about iPads and how we should use them in the classroom?

Stephen Heppell actually made me conscious of this when I heard him speak at the DEECD iPad trial PL last month. He spoke about students’ seating choices within learning spaces, the way a number of schools overseas encourage students to take their shoes off during class and how willingly students hand over their iPads to their peers. Maybe this could be something for you to think about too…


Grade 6 students + Prep buddies + iPads = iPals

Grade 6 students have often paired up with prep students as a way of providing prep students with an older friend to turn to in the playground should they have a problem. It has also been an opportunity for grade 6 students to demonstrate a greater level of responsibility within a school, to be role models, to prove they truly are leaders. This year, rather than run the usual ‘Prep Buddies’ program, the year 6 and prep teams decided that we wanted to maintain the focus of the buddy program, yet incorporate the iPads and student to student coaching.

I have been fortunate to work as an ICT Peer Coach in the past. I loved the experience and came to see peer coaching as taking on many forms – educator to student, student to educator and student to student. I found student to student coaching quite powerful. From my observations, students responded better to what I call “kid speak”. Sometimes, “teacher talk” was just too complicated and frustrating for them to grasp and understand. I noticed this to be the case with student to educator coaching too. Students had a different way of explaining to educators how to use certain programs and create things. Many educators responded better to working with students as well. In my opinion, this pairing was very effective for the professional growth of some educators too because it opened their minds to learning with students, moving them beyond the mind shift that they had to be the bearer and instructor of all knowledge and skills.

My class paired up with Prep Kim. Kim and I decided it would be best for my students to meet in her classroom so her students were in their comfort zone. Meeting and working with “big kids” can be a daunting experience for preps.

From the moment my students entered the prep classroom, the prep students’ eyes beamed. They knew the grade 6 students were bringing their iPads and they knew they were going to have a chance to play on them. I say play for a reason here because I believe it is really important to have play and discovery time in all areas of learning, whether it be looking through new books, decoding and writing new words, using a calculator, playing a musical instrument, experimenting with new pastels and paints or exploring software and mobile devices.

It was amazing! From the moment the iPads were in the preps’ hands, they knew exactly what to do. They were sliding their fingers across the screen, as well as turning and shaking the iPad around. Many students opted to play games, whilst others chose to draw pictures. A few even decided to create a little movie in PuppetPals, including voice recordings. I was particularly blown away by the excitement level of one prep student who made a PuppetPals movie. He jumped up and down and giggled when he played the movie for Kim. Afterwards, he clearly articulated his experience and what he learnt. It became very clear then that the iPads not only provided opportunities to support the prep students’ interests and preferred learning styles, they also provided opportunities to support their oral language and reflection experiences. This was evident during the session’s share time too. Many prep students not only recounted what they did and what they played, they also clearly explained what they liked and what they learnt.

Now that the preps have had their discovery time, Kim and I hope the grade 6 students can work with their iPals to create little movies to support what they are learning in class. We will still allow for discovery time at the beginning of our sessions, to tune the students into learning, but our main focus will be on reinforcing concepts covered in class. I will provide some guidance to my students prior to our iPals session, but in most cases, it will the grade 6 students working with the preps to create something that incorporates a number of apps and skills.

I, personally, want to see the iPads used at the transformative level, not just as a substitute… even with preps. I believe the devices are more than just a game console, word processor and web browser… they are true multimedia devices. It just takes some vision, creativity and risk taking to see this and make this happen… and we, at Manor Lakes College, will make this happen!

Please click on the following links to see some movies created by the preps and their buddies:

Learning Tree

Last year, when I found out I was teaching year 6 and co-leading the iPad trial, I wondered how I could draw together my students’ learning goals, their wonderings and discoveries, as well as app reviews. I thought back to the times when I had a ‘Learning Tree’ in my classroom. I remembered my students posting their wonderings and discoveries just with sticky notes on the tree’s trunk. They loved it… as did I 🙂 My classroom looked fantastic… but my students didn’t actually publish their learning goals back then, nor app reviews… so what was I going to do? How could I incorporate these?

Then I remembered seeing a picture posted by a bookstore I “like” on Facebook, Enchanted by Books. They posted the following photo of a visiting author… standing in front of a tree.

learning tree

In the past, I used strips of tissue paper to create the effect of the canopy. As you can see, this bookstore actually cut out paper leaves and hung them from fishing line from the ceiling. Wow! I thought to myself. That is it! Our school’s logo has leaves in it. I could get the students to write their learning goals on leaves, the same shape as those in our logo, and hang them from the ceiling 🙂

Hmmm… but what about the students’ wonderings and discoveries? Another idea came to mind 🙂 My students could write their wonderings on butterflies, or rather, “wonderflies“… and they could write their discoveries on ladybugs, or rather, “discoverbugs“. My ‘Learning Tree’ was coming together 🙂 I was thrilled. Then, a day or so later, another idea came to me… my students could also write app reviews on apples and we could hang these from the ceiling as well. This is exactly what I wanted. My vision had finally come together 🙂 I now had in mind a ‘Learning Tree’ that incorporated everything I wanted – my students’ learning goals, their wonderings and discoveries and app reviews 🙂

It’s amazing where you find inspiration and how one thought sparks another 🙂