Technology Activator version 2016

I am a pilgrim. My journey has taken me to many exotic places. Five of them have been “Home”. I have assurance of my final destination but the rest of the journey is a wonderful mystery.

Presently, my family and I are living in Middle Earth in the wonderful village of Auckland. I have the blessed privilege of teaching at Elim Christian College – oh yes, I have been called to teach! My title is: the Technology Activator.

What do technology activators do” you may ask. Before I can answer this question, please allow me to digress. In my experience, teachers are in constant beta (please forgive my geek speak). I have been upgraded more times than I can remember and this year is no exception. So my title is: Technology Activator version 2016 …

Technology activators aim to get everyone, themselves included, excited about the interesting, pedagogically-sound possibilities that digital technology bring to today’s classrooms. Koehler and Mishra1 mention that the challenge with digital technology is that it is constantly changing, it doesn’t always do what you want it to do and you are never sure what exactly it is capable of. They add that it is “neither neutral nor unbiased”. Someone has to lead that conversation …

I teach year 5 to 8 students coding, year 7 and 8 students technology and year 12 students Christian living. In addition, a colleague and I are trying to raise an awareness and correct false perceptions of a misunderstood study area at our school: computer science. I hope to start a radio station for our school and I have been asked to manage the update of our school website. I do not see boredom in my future …

When you visit my classroom, it will most likely be noisy but students are busy “doing things with knowledge”2 – most of the time anyway. I try to cultivate a culture of respect, i.e. respect for myself, my classmates and my teachers – learning seems to thrive in these circumstances. Scardamalia, Bereiter, McLean, Swallow and Woodruff3 have identified a few principles to keep in mind when you use computer technology in teaching and I realise that over the years I have aimed to include these in my classroom. They are “making knowledge-construction activities overt, maintaining attention to learning goals as opposed to other goals of an activity, providing process-relevant feedback, and giving students responsibility for contributing to each other’s learning”.

Now that you know who I am, please let me know who you are, dear reader.

1. Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 60-70.
2. Gilbert, J. (2005). Cathing the knowledge wave? The knowledge society and the future of education. Wellington: NZCER Press.
3. Scardamalia, M., Bereiter, C., McLean, R. S., Swallow, J., & Woodruff, E. (1989). Computer-supported intentional learning environments. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 5(1), 51-68.

Walking the talk

Please walk on the grass ...I have just completed week 2 of The Mind Lab experience and I have a number of ideas I have to reflect on. The readings I had to do this week also took me down some rabbit trails. So now I have more than enough to write about and too little time … the lament of many a teacher blogger. Is this what my students feel like? 🙂 So let’s get to the first reflection.

How is your understanding of the purpose of education visible in your classroom?

Before you jump into my ramblings try answering that question for your classroom. Do it …

Perhaps you will start, like me, with what your understanding of the purpose of education is. I briefly reflected on the purpose of education in “Room for improvement“:

In my opinion, the purpose of education is to equip my students with robust critical thinking skills that will enable them to come up with creative, collaborative solutions to the challenges they will face in life. This also implies teaching them the communication skills they will need both to collaborate and to explain their creative solutions to others.

Please read that statement in the broadest possible sense. It goes far beyond employment since there is far more to life than just a job …

Now for the tough part: will this purpose be evident when you attend one of my classes?

  1. Is there a positive classroom atmosphere that facilitates authentic collaboration?
  2. Do my students regularly work on learning activities in my class that are challenging enough that they cannot find ‘the answer’ in Google?
  3. Do my students see failure as a learning opportunity?
  4. Do I actively promote the value of thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication?
  5. Do I actively teach the skills related to thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication?

My responses to these questions are (in order):

  1. Yes, most of the time. Teaching and learning don’t really work without it …
  2. Not as much as I know they have to. However the learning areas I am teaching in, technology and the social sciences, lend themselves to more open-ended assignments.
  3. Unfortunately my students struggle with this one and it gets worse the older they get. Without getting too political, standardised testing encourages a focus on an excellent end-product instead of the process to get there. One could argue that if students understood what an excellent ‘process’ looked like, the end-product would be excellent too …
  4. I am more successful in promoting this when I teach in our school’s modern learning spaces than when I am teaching in a single cell classroom. There is something energising about a team-teaching approach in a modern learning space …
  5. I think I have grown a little slack in this area … although I try to choose assignments that indirectly ‘force’ students to develop these skills, I believe being more intentional about teaching these skills and then letting my students practice it as the year goes on may be more effective.

I want to encourage you to come visit my classroom and let me know whether I have been honest with myself … I can see all sorts of inquiry goals come from this reflection … 🙂

To walking the talk … and lifelong learning!

Knowledge is …

Human BrainLast week I started a Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital & Collaborative Learning) at The Mind Lab. One of the highlights of our four hours together was a discussion on the definition of ‘knowledge’. Our group came away with two visuals and one video to showcase our understanding of ‘knowledge’. Here is a copy of our pen-and-paper collaborative effort:

Knowledge isWe were also given the task of creating a video to show our understanding of knowledge and this is the result of our efforts (compliments to Amara who put everything together after the session since we ran out of time during the session):

These activities challenged me to review what I believed knowledge might be. As a Christ follower, I have to turn to the Bible first.

Knowledge according to Scripture

It is incredibly hard to compress what the Bible teaches about knowledge in a small space. So here are some points that stand out for me.

  • The Bible teaches that God is the source of all knowledge (1 Samuel 2:3), His knowledge is perfect (Job 37:16), He teaches us knowledge (Psalm 94:10) and that the ‘fear’ (worship) of the Lord is the beginning of all knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). In addition, we are taught that knowledge is more valuable that wealth and that there is a strong link between wisdom, understanding and knowledge (exemplified in the book of Proverbs). As you read through the references to ‘knowledge’ in the New King James Version, it becomes clear that there are different kinds of knowledge, i.e.
    • moral knowledge / knowledge of God’s ways (the most commonly referenced example of knowledge in Scripture)
    • artistic and skill-based knowledge
    • knowledge of God as a Person
    • knowledge that enables wise decision-making
    • informational knowledge
    • knowledge gained from observing the way you and other people live
    • knowledge of the natural world
    • God’s knowledge of each one of us
    • knowledge gained from our parents and elders
    • historical knowledge
  • When Jesus went back to join God the Father (Matthew 28), He told His disciples that He is not leaving them alone but the Holy Spirit will be with them. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of knowledge (Isaiah 11:2) and He teaches us all things (John 14:26).
  • Both knowledge and the lack of knowledge can be dangerous, either “puffing us up” or bringing us under God’s judgement.

So where does this leave me? What is knowledge? I have to come back to Proverbs 1:7.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.

As a Christian I believe that God has created me for a reason and a purpose. I will find fulfilment when I “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). I don’t have to worry about material things because God knows what I need. This means that when I teach I need to help my students look at the world and all its people with wonder and awe and help them realise that each one of them has a unique calling and purpose under God. When they aspire to search this out, they will go on a most exciting educational journey that will prepare them to make a difference in their family, their community, their country and possibly the world.

To lifelong learning!

Room for improvement

Room for improvement

I had the amazing privilege of attending the Apple Distinguised Programme and Schools Leadership Summit of Australia and New Zealand with Shaun Brooker in Adelaide at the end of last term. I have been fortunate to attend a number of Apple Education events in my teaching career. I always walked away feeling enriched and challenged to be a more innovative teacher. Here are the two main takeaways from this learning experience.


In a post-dinner discussion, a few of us bounced some ideas around. One of the ideas was around SAMR and the existence of ‘research’ to back the model up: is it possible that we (me?) misunderstand its function and purpose? Some thoughts, each roughly contained in a paragraph and some spilling over into the next paragraph …

The SAMR model is an instrument that can to be used to reflect on the use of technology at a school. As such, I believe it is unhelpful to get bogged down in arguments around whether research ‘validates’ the model or not. Perhaps it is more helpful to consider whether Dr. Puentedera’s idea indeed can assist us with thinking more deeply about how we are integrating technology.

The ‘danger’ of the SAMR model is that it can be misused as a ‘learning theory’ of sorts to aspire to. In other words, when it is used as a rating scale to judge whether a teacher or school knows how to integrate technology effectively and ‘substitution’ is judged as a ‘fail’ and ‘redefinition’ is judged as a ‘pass’, the model is used incorrectly. It merely provides the teacher or school with an instrument to evaluate whether educational technology has transformed a learning experience or not.

Not all learning activities have to transform learning but if all teaching activities that involve educational technology only enhance learning, it is possible that not all of the learning potential offered by educational technology has been tapped into.

A question that I think often sits in the back of teachers’ minds when ‘transformation’ of education is mentioned, is why we want educational technology to transform learning because it seems to imply that there is something ‘wrong’ with the present state of teaching and learning. A question that naturally flows from the previous question is how ‘wrong’ is defined and then we also have to ask what is the ‘correct’ definition for teaching and learning and who has decided what that definition is.

Call me an uninformed optimist if you want, but I don’t think there is something inherently ‘wrong’ with teaching and learning but I do think we are doing our students a great disservice if we are not constantly thinking about how we can use technology to enhance and transform learning. This leads me to ask yet another question: what is the purpose of education? Your response to this question will of course influence your reaction to my comments.

In my opinion, the purpose of education is to equip my students with robust critical thinking skills that will enable them to come up with creative, collaborative solutions to the challenges they will face in life. This also implies teaching them the communication skills they will need both to collaborate and to explain their creative solutions to others.

So why use the technology at our disposal in the classroom? When we look at the world our students are entering, it is increasingly making use of technology in the areas of critical thinking, creative pursuits, collaboration and communication. We therefore have to equip them with the knowledge they need to use society’s ubiquitous technology competently.

I also believe that this competence goes beyond skills and it has to include an ethical understanding of the impact of technology on society. As a Christian I believe the Bible provides the moral framework needed to use technology to the glory of God and the spiritual and physical benefit of others.

Telling great data stories

Before I attended the Apple Distinguished Programme and Schools Leadership Summit for Australia and New Zealand, I have had some doubts around the purpose of teachers collecting data to show to others what their students are doing in their classes.

Don’t understand me wrong: I have no problem with assessment as a construct, I hold to the importance of running a transparent learning plan and I believe in the importance of students having the freedom to show their learning in ways that recognise the uniqueness of each individual. I also believe it is important that students have a record of their learning to show how they mature and develop.

My issue has been with what I perceive as a modern tendency of people in different industries to ‘show off’ how good their work is. I have a firm belief that the education of my students is not about me getting recognition for what they are doing. It is about my students being encouraged and equipped to make a meaningful contribution to society. I have therefore done very little over the years to tell my story of my students’ learning. My students have told their own learning stories – I don’t think there is anything wrong with that but perhaps there is a place for me to tell my side of the learning story as well … ?

One of the workshops I attended at the summit has encouraged me to revisit my reluctance to tell my version of my students and I’s learning story. It can be argued that telling this story is important. “But why” you may ask?

Telling stories is intricately part of who we have been created to be. In Genesis 1 we read that God has created us in His likeness. God reveals Himself in His story (History) that He has given us through the Scriptures. It follows, therefore, that if God communicates with us by telling stories and we have been created in His likeness, then telling stories is the best way for us to communicate with God and others. He has made us that way! Arguably Jesus’s most effective teaching strategy was using stories to communicate what He wanted His followers to learn.

We know from experience that there is nothing as engaging as a great story. We can learn from each other stories. I have come to realise that telling the story of our students’ learning is a great (the best?) way to communicate the process and results of learning with our students, their families and communities, and our colleagues.

Now the challenge ahead of me is to learn how to tell a great story with my teaching and learning data so that it

  • has a positive message
  • enables my listeners to do meaningful reflection and
  • respects the role players’ privacy (where the role players might be students, colleagues or anyone else who has contributed to the storyline)

To using technology to tell great stories!

What does a Christian school mean to me?


Murray Burton, the principal at Elim Christian College, asked me to answer the question “What does a Christian school mean to me” at our school’s heritage assembly on 16 February 2015. Here is what I said.

A Christian school is a place where God enables me to fulfill the responsibility He has given me to talk about the incredible inheritance we have through Jesus Christ.

Hear, O [people of God]: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 6:4-6, NIV)

See, the people of God are in incredible debt to our Creator. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved … We lived in malice and envy … But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And [we have] to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. (Titus 3:3-8, NIV)

A Christian school is a place where we devote ourselves to doing what is good, not because doing good gets us in heaven: accepting what Christ has done on the cross does.

But doing good, inspired by the gospel, is excellent and profitable for everyone: my family, my friends, my community, my city, my country, the world.

So a Christian school is an oasis on the journey of life, a place of safety where students are prepared for the challenges ahead. My time as student or teacher is the most meaningful when I realise that whether I am in maths class or P and P, playing foursquare or volleyball, writing a story or solving a physics puzzle, I am where God wants me to be right now and I give Him glory when I give ‘my utmost for His highest’.