Brick or foundation

brickI wonder whether those of us in Christian education sometimes struggle with Christian worldview integration because we try to add Scripture to what we already do instead of starting with Scripture and then adding the curriculum to it.

Are we building the “fortress” of teaching and learning on the foundation of Scripture, or are we adding Scripture as a “brick” instead? Could it be that the reason for our “faulty” building plan is a “lack of knowledge”, as Hosea puts it?

Photo credit: joostmarkerink via / CC BY

Looking in the mirror

Reflective practiceThis post marks the end of a 32 week journey completing a Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital and Collaborative Learning) with The Mind Lab by Unitec1. I will use the “Practising Teacher Criteria and e-learning”2 resource from the “enabling e-Learning” website to discuss three of the criteria I have met well. I will conclude with outlining a possible plan for future development and the justification of two main goals related to this.

Celebrating areas of growth

Fully registered teachers demonstrate commitment to ongoing professional learning and development of personal professional practice3. When I heard about The Mind Lab at the Interface Expo4 of 2015, I was quite curious about the kind of learning students and teachers were doing there. Now, after being stretched and challenged for about 32 weeks, I realise that the programme has made a positive difference on how I view the intersection of teaching, learning and technology. So initiating this learning opportunity has advanced my personal, professional knowledge and skills. I have been able to identify a professional learning goal with a colleague, the year 0 to 2 team leader at our school, which has led me to do a literature review5 that has enabled me to start developing a research-focused understanding of the integration of educational technology into the curriculum (follow this link6 to read about it). The resulting collaboration between me and our year 0 to 2 team has enabled me to participate responsively in professional learning opportunities within my school’s learning community by addressing a need that presently exists to use digital technology more effectively.

Fully registered teachers show leadership that contributes to effective teaching and learning. In my post “My communities of practice, version 2016“, I identified three communities of practice that I am part of, i.e. educators using technology, educators teaching technology and educators teaching Christian Living7. As I have mentioned in the previous paragraph, I have been able to actively contribute to the “educators using technology” community of practice. I have also started working on a digital and collaborative project to improve the communication of our school. I have called the project ARISE Media and I am presently working on one aspect of the project, the redesign of the school website. The principal has asked me to be the project manager for the redesign process and I am closely following the lean canvas8 and project plan9 that I have created during the first 16 weeks of my studies at The Mind Lab. I am striving to undertake this area of responsibility effectively. We hope to have the new website live at the start of term 2.

Fully registered teachers respond effectively to the diverse language and cultural experiences, and the varied strengths, interests, and needs of individuals and groups of ākonga/learners. The weekly interaction with teachers from a wide variety of cultural and contextual backgrounds during the first 16 weeks of the course has reminded me of the rich funds of knowledge that our students bring to the classroom every day and the importance of creating learning activities that are inclusive and effective for diverse learners. In the past, the coding courses I have taught to my students were pretty much a “one size fits all” approach. All of the students followed the same recipe to create a project. Yes, they were able to add some personal touches to the project, but everyone produced a similar end product. In an effort to recognise the varied strengths, interests and need of my students, I have redesigned these units of work by integrating design thinking. I believe that design thinking recognises that students are unique, that we learn from each other and that when we combine our efforts it often results in a product that appeals to more people. This diagram10 from Richard Wells may help you visualise it.

Design Thinking by @EduWells

So far my students have produced amazing, personalised projects. I have also come to realise that my students and I can use the design thinking process to ensure that I keep on modifying my teaching approaches to address the needs of my students, especially since no group of students has exactly the same needs.

Planning for change

Although I have learned to value cultural responsive pedagogy over the years11, I realise that there is room for improvement in how I address it in a New Zealand context. I have not been intentional enough about utilising the cultural funds of knowledge that my students bring to the classroom, neglecting being a “learner among learners”12. Fortunately technology is a wonderful learning area to celebrate and respect the impact of technological innovation on culture. I want to work on the following goals.

  • “Acknowledge and respect the languages, heritages, and cultures of all ākonga/learners”13 by asking students to provide culture-specific examples of technology related to the units of work I plan for them in order to develop students’ technological literacy14. I will try to accomplish this by ensuring that at least one lesson at the start of each unit is dedicated to reflecting on how relevant, cultural examples of technology have impacted the societies represented in my class. I hope that this process may help students think through the possible impact their products may have on their target audience.
  • “Specifically and effectively address the educational aspirations of ākonga Māori, displaying high expectations for their learning”15 by “actively facilitating the participation of whānau and people with the knowledge of local context, tikanga, history and language to support my classroom teaching and learning programmes”16 in technology. I will measure the success of this intervention using the outcomes that has been outlined in “Tātaiako: Cultural Competencies for Teachers of Māori Learners16.


The past nine months have been a good example of reflective practice17 in action. It has not been easy (as I have written here18) but it has been beneficial. It has shown me how challenging it can be to change one’s practice, something to keep in mind if you are responsible for the professional learning of your colleagues.

I feel more equipped to have a meaningful conversation about future-focused education and I have a better appreciation for the resources New Zealand teachers have at their disposal to confidently go wherever the future of education may take us.

Although I have had a love-hate relationship with my studies at times, I want to thank The Mind Lab staff for patiently working with me. You have mostly practised what you preached and I really appreciate that. To lifelong learning!

References and notes:
1. Postgrad Studies – Programme Overview – The Mind Lab. Retrieved 26 March 2016 from
2. Practising Teacher Criteria and e-learning – enabling e-Learning. Retrieved 26 March 2016 from
3. Criteria 4 – Practising Teacher Criteria and e-learning – enabling e-Learning. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from
4. Interface Xpo New Zealand. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from
5. Blom, B.J. (2016). Knowing with digital technology. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from
6. Blom, B.J. (22 February 2016). Exploring the impact of professional connections. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from
7. Blom, B.J. (8 February 2016). My communities of practice, version 2016. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from
8. Blom, B.J. (10 November 2015). Lean Canvas for Launching ARISE Media. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from
9. Blom, B.J. (10 November 2015). Launching ARISE Media. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from
10. Wells, R. (2015). Learn, Empathise and Prototype with Design Thinking. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from
11. Blom, B.J. (25 March 2016). Relationship is the key. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from
12. Bishop, R. (1 September 2009). A culturally responsive pedagogy of relations. Retrieved 24 March 2016 from
13. Criteria 2 – Practising teacher criteria and e-learning – enabling e-Learning. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from
14. Criteria 10 – Practising teacher criteria and e-learning – enabling e-Learning. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from
15. Technology in the NZC. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from
16. Tātaiako: Cultural Competencies for Teachers of Māori Learners. (2011). Retrieved 27 March 2016 from
17. Osterman, K. & Kottkamp, R.(1993) Reflective Practice for Educators.California.Cornwin Press, Inc. Retrieved on 7th May, 2015 from
18. Blom, B.J. (4 February 2016). Key competencies to success. Retrieved 27 March 2016 from

Relationship is the key

Relationship is the keyI have had the privilege of teaching in multicultural settings in five countries across the globe. In my experience, the quality of the relationships I have with my students trumps almost any other factor in shifting student achievement. Russell Bishop calls this relationship-centred education, and he sees it as an essential approach in culturally responsive pedagogy1. He mentions that highly effective, culturally responsive teachers have six characteristics1, i.e.

  1. They care for Mãori students as Mãori. They create a learning context for Mãori students to draw on their own funds of knowledge and bring it to the classroom.
  2. They have high expectations of students and they signal this to students.
  3. The culturally informed pedagogy these teachers use promotes the fourth element of being a highly effective teacher.
  4. Their interactions with Maori students provide the students with academic feedback feed forward and negotiated co-construction of learning (learners among learners) as opposed to transmission models of learning.
  5. They use a range of strategies effectively, implying that they understand the pedagogy behind the strategies, e.g. cooperative learning is not ‘group work’.
  6. They use evidence of students’ performance to guide where they take teaching and learning, and they ensure that students know about their outcomes in a formative way so that students also know what they need to learn and where they are headed.

Research backs up the importance of teacher-student relationships in student achievement, e.g. it had a significant, positive effect size in John Hattie’s meta-analysis of influences on learning outcomes2, and in his book “The Art and Science of Teaching” Robert Marzano states, “Arguably the quality of the relationships teachers have with students is the keystone of effective management and perhaps even the entirety of teaching”3. It is interesting to note that the generalised principles embodied by Russell Bishop’s six points are highlighted by both John Hattie and Robert Marzano’s research into what constitutes ‘effective’ teaching and learning. I believe that the principles of high quality teaching and learning are timeless.

The reality is that very few of us are able to display all of these characteristics consistently and, although we may do certain things really well, there are always areas of improvement.

  • One of the things that our school has started doing well the past year and a half is trying to be more intentional about being culturally responsive in the way we communicate with others. We have worked with one of our Mãori parents to welcome newcomers, like new staff members or special guests, with a proper powhiri whenever appropriate. We recognise that New Zealand is a bi-cultural nation and we want to honour and respect our cultural heritage. These powhiris have enriched our school culture and it instils a sense of cultural pride in our Mãori students.
  • An area that I am still working on is utilising the funds of knowledge that our Mãori, Pasifika and other cultural communities can bring to teaching and learning activities in the technology learning area. It will enable me to facilitate learning programmes that are contextually relevant, promoting higher engagement from all of my students. There are remarkable technological innovations in Mãori culture, such as the waka4, that may be a great starting point for rich conversations about the impact of technology on society.

Culturally responsive pedagogy is not optional. It is an integral part of being an effective teacher. However, it requires an intentional, daily reflection on whether my actions and words have displayed this to my students. The best people to tell me whether I have succeeded or not, and how I can improve, are my students. Let’s strive to be learners among learners1.

References and notes:
1. Bishop, R. (1 September 2009). A culturally responsive pedagogy of relations. Retrieved 24 March 2016 from
2. Hattie, J. (2009). Influences and effect sizes related to student achievement (diagram). Retrieved 24 March 2016 from
3. Marzano, R.J. (2007). The art and science of teaching. Virginia: ASCD
4. “In the past, Māori used waka (canoes) just as we use cars today. New Zealand’s waterways were like roads, running along the coast and up rivers. Waka would be paddled along them, carrying people and goods. Some Māori still build traditional waka today”. Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr. ‘Waka – canoes’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 12-Oct-15. Retrieved from

Photo credit: Zarko Drincic via / CC BY-ND

The reality of plagiarism

PlagiarismThe Internet gives us access to a wealth of information. Whereas in the days before the Internet information was mostly found in libraries or knowledgeable people, today all we have to do is type a request in a search engine and be overwhelmed with too much information to handle. In fact information has become such a commodity that I think we have lost respect for other people’s intellectual property. Unless we intentionally teach our students to cite the sources of their information and how to use raw information to produce ‘new’ information, we may unwittingly be encouraging our students to be intellectual thieves. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I learned this the hard way.

The website that landed me in trouble

At a previous school (2003 to 2007) I taught marine science. It was a compulsory, semester-long course for grade 12 (year 13) students. I loved teaching the subject since much of the host nation’s culture and economy were rooted and dependent on the ocean. In addition, marine science gave great context to the pure sciences such as physics, chemistry and biology.

Each student created a detailed, scholarly website of a marine organism of their choice as a culminating project for the course. I encouraged students to use any resources they might find on the Internet but to make an effort to cite the sources of their information. Although our school didn’t have a policy about acknowledging digital sources, I was very aware of the consequences of plagiarism since I was enrolled in a postgraduate degree at the time and the university emphasized to us the importance of respecting intellectual property. In the end, the students and I were very proud of their final product.

A few weeks after they completed the project I got an email from a marine photographer who threatened me with legal action. He claimed that I was using an image that he owned illegally. Fortunately for me the student did cite the source of the photo correctly, which I pointed out to the photographer. In a gesture of good will, I removed the offending page from the website’s menu so that public users could not browse to the photo. I didn’t want to delete the page altogether because I wanted to keep the website as an example for future classes. I emailed the photographer back to say that I had removed the page from the public eye.

However, this was not good enough! A week later the photographer emailed me back with an even more threatening message demanding that I remove the page immediately. He did not like that the image was still embedded on my student’s page despite the fact that no-one could navigate to it from our site. I obviously had something to learn about how search engines catalogued images. I promptly removed the image from the page because I was concerned with the integrity of my students and our school, and I had no desire of settling this matter in court.

The ethical dilemma

My students and I learned an important lesson from this experience. Although we felt that we followed due process by acknowledging the source of the image, the creator’s response clearly demonstrated that acknowledging the source of our information was not enough. When a photo, video or piece of text was produced by someone else, it was important to ask the creator permission to use it if the licensing wasn’t clear – especially when the creator made a living from it! The authors can say no and there is nothing you can do about it – it is their intellectual property. I was very fortunate that I didn’t end up in the Catch-22 position of the blog author who had to pay thousands of dollars for the ‘incorrect’ use of an image in a post1. The good news is that some creators will be more than willing to give you permission to use media if you ask them for permission first and explain that you are using it for educational purposes.

By respecting the creator’s intellectual property and working with the creator to remove the “offending” image, I was fulfilling my “commitment to society, teaching and modelling those positive values which are widely accepted in society and encouraging my students to apply them and critically appreciate their significance”2 and I showed “commitment to the profession, advancing the interests of the teaching profession through responsible ethical practice”2.

Ever since this incident I am very careful when I use images in material that I publish online and I try my best to use images that are clearly marked for reuse. I go to great lengths to teach students the importance of citing their sources and to use images with a license that gives your permission to freely reuse an image. Google Search allows you to choose this setting, as shown in this screen shot I have taken.

Image Labeled for ReuseThere are also many photography websites that produce images that can be reused with permission, so long as they are cited correctly. Most of the photos I use on this blog are either from or I have taken them myself.

The moral of the story: my students and I always have to cite our sources and we need to make an effort to ask a creator for permission to use work if we are not sure whether it is legal to use it or not. I believe this is becoming more and more important as we collaboratively “do things” with knowledge in a knowledge society3.

References and notes:
1. Chrystie. (7 January 2016). The $7,500 Blogging Mistake That Every Blogger Needs to Avoid! Retrieved 21 March 2016 from
2. The Education Council Code of Ethics for Certficated Teachers. Retrieved 21 March 2016 from
3. Gilbert, J. (2005). Cathing the knowledge wave? The knowledge society and the future of education. Wellington: NZCER Press.

Photo credit: jobadge via / CC BY-NC

Being social in teaching and learning

Social MediaI have been using social media tools for about 11 years. My wife and I started teaching internationally in 1999 and finding an efficient and effective way to communicate with family and friends became a necessity as our personal and professional community grew. I created a personal blog in 2005 while we were working at our second international school to keep in touch with family, friends and former students and colleagues.

An international audience inspires

Although I incorporated very little of my initial foray in social media in my teaching and learning, I did realise that using an Internet-enabled communication tool gave me access to a massive audience. This was especially valuable in the context of international schooling where students’ extended family in other countries wanted to know how they were doing and what they were learning.

A direct result of this realisation was completing an action research project that aimed to study the effect on the learning outcomes of marine biology students when they were asked to create a public website on a sea creature of their choice. The students enjoyed that their work was on display for ‘everyone’ and it inspired them to take more care with the presentation of their work. However, not all the students enjoyed showing their learning in a digital format and the content management system (CMS) proved to be unintuitive too – it was the early days of the CMS as a content delivery system …


I taught an asynchronous online class, Oceanography, for the The Virtual High School for 2 years. The students in my class were from all over the world. The learning management system was not as well designed for collaboration as some of the ‘new’ social media platforms of that time. I encouraged my students to collaborate via Facebook and many of them told me during and after the course that the study groups they formed on Facebook proved to be very helpful in helping them stay motivated. Facebook helped them to get to know each other on a more personal level, something the official learning management system didn’t facilitate well.


I joined Twitter in 2008 and a whole new world of learning opened up to me. One of the challenges with teaching in international schools at that point was that I only networked with like-minded educators from other schools once every two years due to cost constraints and the massive difference between local and international schooling systems. Twitter enabled me to communicate in real time about a challenge or a problem, as mentioned by Brian Crosby1 in the Connected Educators video, enabling me to be more productive as a teacher. It also ensured that I stayed current with developments in the North American education system on a day to day basis.

To this day Twitter remains my favourite social media platform. I am trying to be thoughtful about who I follow on Twitter to ensure I get access to a broad range of ideas. It helps me to be a more reflective practitioner as I consider the impact of other people’s ideas on my understanding of effective teaching and learning – even if their ideas differ from mine.


As I started following some of the links people shared on Twitter, I discovered that many educators loved sharing best practice, teaching and learning frustrations and their dreams for the future of education via blogs. I started curating the RSS feeds2 of these blogs with Google Reader, a now-retired RSS feed reader. It provided me with a wealth of current ideas and thought in the world of education. It became a valuable source of teaching and learning research as my colleagues and I attempted to integrate educational technology effectively into our subject areas. I realised that it had great potential as a classroom resource for students and I encouraged and taught them to do their own curation for long-term research assignments.

I presented some of my ideas at a education conference for international educators in 2012 and you can still download (the now outdated) eBook from this website (just follow the links above to My Publications3).

The challenges

I will briefly discuss the challenging aspects of social media from a professional learning and teaching point of view.

Professional learning
I have found two challenges with learning via social media. The first is that learning from social media can be like drinking water from a fire hydrant: it is very easy to be overwhelmed with the deluge of information. You have to be very intentional about curating what you want to read. I have found that curation tools such as Feedly4 and Paper.li5 enable me to learn what I am interested in when I have time for it. Here are three web newspapers that I am curating with the help of

The second challenge with learning via social media is that social media can often be a lot of noise – and I say this at the risk of being part of that din. What I mean is this: since it is easy for everyone to publish her or his thoughts, a lot of social media is based on opinion and it is well-known that carefully crafted media can be used to influence people, whether the idea being propagated is evidence-based or not. Politicians do this very well …

Now I realise that you can prove anything with ‘evidence’, but I believe in education we have to be very deliberate about choosing to digest teaching and learning ideas that are based on evidence. It doesn’t mean we can’t travel in uncharted waters but we have to try to do this in an informed way. As I have mentioned in my previous post, I believe that the principles of sound teaching and learning have not changed much over the years. Alfie Kohn echoed this in an article6 that addressed the thoughtless use of educational technology in education. I quote (emphasis mine),

We can’t answer the question “Is tech useful in schools?” until we’ve grappled with a deeper question: “What kinds of learning should be taking place in those schools?” If we favor an approach by which students actively construct meaning, an interactive process that involves a deep understanding of ideas and emerges from the interests and questions of the learners themselves, well, then we’d be open to the kinds of technology that truly support this kind of inquiry. Show me something that helps kids create, design, produce, construct—and I’m on board. Show me something that helps them make things collaboratively (rather than just on their own), and I’m even more interested—although it’s important to keep in mind that meaningful learning never requires technology, so even here we should object whenever we’re told that software (or a device with a screen) is essential.

My biggest concerns with the use of social media in the classroom are around the privacy and safety of students. I realise we can teach our students digital citizenship skills and we are fortunate that groups like Common Sense Media has produced fantastic resources7 for this. However, do teachers want to be complicit in social media services’ openly acknowledged collection of users’ interests in order to increase their revenue?

Another challenge that can be addressed via careful planning and curation of content is the fact that social media platforms have been designed to connect people. Since students usually do not use social media within the context of education, it must not come as a surprise if students do not ‘stay on task’ when learning tasks do not have a very specific function for social media in a lesson.


Social media has become an integral part of modern society. It enables us to connect and collaborate with a global audience and it can contextualise teaching activities. When social media tools are used thoughtfully, they can add real value to any classroom.

References and notes:
1. Connected Educators. (18 September 2013). Retrieved 18 March 2016 from
2. “RSS (Rich Site Summary; originally RDF Site Summary; often called Really Simple Syndication) uses a family of standard web feed formats to publish frequently updated information: blog entries, news headlines, audio, video. An RSS document (called “feed”, “web feed”, or “channel”) includes full or summarized text, and metadata, like publishing date and author’s name”. Retrieved 18 March 2016 from
3. Blom, B.J. (2012). Social media for professional development and classroom research. Retrieved 18 March 2016 from
4. Feedly. Retrieved 19 March 2016 from
5. Retrieved 19 March 2016 from
6. Kohn, A. (16 March 2016). The overselling of educational technology. Retrieved 19 March 2016 from
7. Common Sense Education. Retrieved 19 March 2016 from

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