Friday, 20 September 2013

Santa's Little Helper, Task and Criteria Sheets

It's a long time since I've been a regular watcher of the Simpsons but there is one episode that has always stuck with me entitled, "Bart's Dog gets an F". For those of you unfamiliar with the Simpsons, Santa's Little Helper is Bart's dog and this quick clip sums up what he's like.

Not only does Santa's Little Helper struggle with catching a frisbee, in this particular episode he also struggles to understand commands from his owners and hears speech as blah, blah, blah.  Finally, he begins to hear blah, blah, blah, sit - YAY!  So what does a struggling dog have in common with task sheets and criteria sheets\rubrics\marking schemes  or (insert whatever you call them here)? 

Have you ever spent an "amazing" lesson deconstructing a task sheet, giving your students invaluable insight into what they need to do, received feedback from the students so you are confident they understood what is required, explained the criteria and how you will be marking the work - only to find two weeks later that what you received was nothing like what you had asked for.  At some point your "amazing" lesson had turned into blah, blah, blah...

So in your effort to turn it into something more, something where your students heard sit, you tried things like highlighting the task sheet and key criteria, explaining in more detail, recording your explanations so that students could use them "just in time" when completing the assignment or a myriad of other strategies that possibly worked or worked for some of the students.

That was me, then I had a "Doh" moment - why was I doing more work than my students? A conversation with a colleague (thanks @smitt_tim) led me to a light bulb moment and then another and another.  I've completely changing the way I deconstruct tasks and explain criteria sheets and I'm never going back. What's my new strategy? I don't do anything, my students do it. 

FutUndBeidl, Puzzle (Bender), CC BY 2.0

Deconstructing the Task Sheet

Using a think - pair - share strategy students work out what they are being asked to do (use post-it notes or a padlet to collate results).  If you ever want to find out how good your tasks sheets are, try this out and don't say a word (so you don't corrupt the findings).  Have each group report back to the class what they think they have to do and still say nothing until each group is finished.  Why say nothing? When you tell a student they are right, the whole class stops thinking. (This my favourite learning from 2013 so far). Okay you can speak to the class now. Hopefully the first words out of your mouth are something like "That was amazing work" but may need to be followed up with "and you've helped me realise there are some parts of this task sheet I need to clarify" - look who just got homework! That's right, if you need to clarify you should be rewriting.

A slight twist - what if I had walked into class and told my students that I had the assignment draft for the topic\methodology that they had previously selected and wanted their feedback? What level of engagement do you think I would have had from my class? I'm fairly certain it would not be blah, blah, blah. We teach students to take risks and that it is okay to be wrong, even encourage them to hand in drafts for correction and redirection. I firmly believe that there is nothing wrong in doing it ourselves. My relationships with my students have never faltered as a result of me admitting I'm wrong or that I need to fix something up, especially as I see carrying through as essential. It helps me to be humanised, real and seen as a learner too. 

You may see this idea as a waste of a lesson.  I have seen the benefits of co-ownership and co-creation many times and see this lesson as a way to have student buy in, understanding and ownership of a task which leads to subsequent improvement in outcomes.

Deconstructing the Criteria Sheet

In Queensland we have Essential Learnings and Standards descriptors in rubrics which are quite difficult for students to understand. The introduction of the Australian Curriculum has further complicated the matter.  Here are some examples for those from other systems:

From the ACARA English Syllabus for Year 9 (14 year olds)
Discerning evaluation of relevant ideas and information from a variety of texts to develop appropriate and justified interpretations
From Essential Learnings for Technology for Year 9 (14 year olds)
Discerning interpretation and analysis of information and evidence to generate well-reasoned design ideas
Now I don't know about your students, but my 14 year olds don't speak like that and would quite possibly require a dictionary for some of those words even though I've been sure to explain them in the past. In a perfect world, my students would create their own rubrics and decide how they would be marked, but I don't live in the perfect world, I live in the real world. Here is my next best thing.

The strategy used again is a think - pair - share model but this time some more tools are required: a dictionary and a collaborative document.  This document has already been shared with the class and contains a table with 5 columns and as many rows as you have criteria (all of this content is mandated and not written by me, I'm just the copy and paster). Notice that the "C" column is first.  That's because I want the students to think first about what they would have to do as a bare minimum to pass.

At the think stage I gave students a digital copy of the first three columns of the table (you could use paper) and had them go through the task sheet (remember they already have a solid understanding of what they have to do from its earlier deconstruction) to pull out each part of the task and enter it in one or more boxes next to the criteria they thought it would count towards. Students then joined with a partner to compare notes and refine their decisions.  

A criteria was then assigned to each pair.  With their partner they had to decide the amount of detail that would be needed to meet the descriptor for their criteria eg what did "relevant interpretation and analysis of information" look like. Students added comments such as "used 3 sources of research and picked ideas that showed the use of the principles of design".

An essential part of this process was learning the meanings of the vocabulary used.  What do "relevant interpretation" and "analysis of information" mean? If you want a fresh way to look at teaching vocabulary try this blog post by Rebecca Alber. Students at the Year 9 level I'm currently teaching can successfully break these criteria descriptors down into language such as what, why, include justification, say how you would improve next time, needs to be real etc. 

Once pairs turned into groups and refined their C grade descriptions, groups then turned their attention to the A grade with a focus on what extra things would need to be done to meet this descriptor.

Each group then had to present their findings to the class.  As all students had invested time into deciding which elements of the task would count for each criteria they all had opinions and could challenge the presenting group if they thought they had left things out.  As a teacher, I was very happy with the descriptions the students came up with and my main role in this process was to keep asking questions such as "what would that look like", "how many examples" (not that I'm a huge fan of saying x number of things), "how would that be shown" etc. One group member was in charge of updating our shared document while the discussion took place to ensure that it was complete.

Before class finished we had all agreed on exactly how the assignment would be marked and a B was judged to be "more than a C but didn't quite make it to A" which fits quite nicely with the syllabus descriptors for a B.  Finally, and quite importantly, we spent another few minutes talking about the thinking processes we used, determined how they could have been more efficient and came up with a checklist to use next time. 

Monday, 16 September 2013

Checking for Understanding in the Digital Age (with Analytics)

This is my presentation for the Brisbane Teachmeet on 17 September 2013.  It is a quick overview of strategies that teachers can use to gather more data on how their students are going in achieving their learning goals.  All tools used are free and commonly available.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Encouraging Students to Interact with New Knowledge

I Think Therefore I Am Dangerous by JohnE777, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  JohnE777 

I have been reading "The Art and Science of Teaching" by Robert J Marzano this year and have found it invaluable as a means of focusing my self reflection.  Much of what I have been reading is not necessarily new to me but serves as a fantastic reminder of the "best practices" supported by the research.  In addition, I have been thoroughly enjoying looking at new ways to combine these best practices to make my pedagogy more effective and thus improving the learning of the students under my care.

Central to this process is the selection of critical learning experiences.  A couple of critical learning experiences per learning goal gives students the opportunity to develop new knowledge and build upon it by creating connections from one learning experience to the next. By clearly identifying which of the learning experiences are critical, students know where to dedicate their time and focus their energies.

Previewing and Cuing

Previewing involves activities which come before the presentation of new content to activate prior knowledge or encourage students to begin thinking about the topic prior to critical instruction events and have been found to be particularly useful for students with limited prior knowledge (Mayer, 1979). One particularly useful type of previewing activity is an advance organiser which is the presentation of content that facilitates the student organising and interpreting new information (Mayer, 2003). Effective previewing can be done in a number of ways including:
  • asking what students think they know; 
  • asking students targeted questions which will focus their attention on specific parts of the content in the critical learning activity; 
  • providing a brief teacher summary; or 
  • providing opportunities for students to skim the content (looking at sections and subheadings and then logically guessing what the content is about). This is a strategy which will probably need to be explicitly taught and it can be beneficial to look at all the students' summary statements to look at similarities and differences in their perceptions. 

Basically, it is the provision of a scaffold on which to hang the new information. When previewing is used in conjunction with cuing, the process of teachers providing direct links between previously learnt content and the new content, students are situated in a great location to begin learning new content. 


Regardless of whether or not one subscribes to cognitive load theory, the benefits of chunking, or breaking new information down into small manageable chunks cannot be disputed.  This is the case regardless of whether or not the new information is visual, a lecture, text or some other method. To aid students in the processing of this information, ask for a variety of thinking around the content such as descriptions, discussions and most importantly predictions.

Some strategies to support chunking include:
  • Reciprocal Teaching: in small groups students make predictions about a text, read a portion, a group leader asks the others questions to discuss and clarify understanding, students make new predictions about the text and the process continues. The group leader can change with each chunk.
  • Jigsaw: in small groups students are assigned a topic and each student has a role to become an expert on a specific subtopic.  The students with the same subtopic meet in groups to become experts then return to their original group to pass on their expert knowledge.

Inferential Questioning

Whilst questioning students to check understanding definitely has a place, inferential questioning which requires students to think beyond the information presented to them is much more powerful. Stretching the thinking of students offers opportunities for cognitive development by forcing students to make connections between pieces of information. For example, why do you think that is true? An interesting perspective I heard recently is to withhold whether or not an answer is correct or not because once students have a confirmed answer they stop thinking about the question.

Some types of inferential questioning include:
  • have students use their background knowledge to fill in implied knowledge (default questions)
  • infering what is likely or not likely to be true (logical reasoning)
  • Why do you believe this is true? (draws out the thinking behind the answer) It can also be useful to restate what the student has said to have them examine their own reasoning
  • What are the typical characteristics you would expect? (generalisation)
  • What do you think would happen if..? (elaboration)

Student Reflection on their Learning

Looking at a learning experience to determine what was simply understood, what caused confusion, how confident the students feel about their understanding, and an evaluation of which of their preconceived ideas were correct or incorrect can be an invaluable tool in consolidating students' understanding about their learning.

Cooperative Learning

Coperative learning gives students the opportunities to view the content from multiple perspectives to enhance their own understanding.  This can happen in a number of ways: by explaining to others; by asking questions and clarifying understanding; by gaining new perspectives and insights into the content.

Putting it All Together

A strategy to combine many of these techniques is detailed below. It provides great opportunities for students to deconstruct and support one another in the acquisition of new information by combining a number of other strategies including cuing, chunking, inquiry questioning, student reflection and cooperative learning.  Before beginning the critical learning activity, have students share any prior knowledge they have about the topic verbally with the emphasis not being on what is right or wrong, but rather what the students think they know.

  1. Divide students into groups of 3 and assign each student with a letter
  2. Show the new content to students eg watch a video of new content for a few minutes (Visual instruction is the preferred method as it results in the highest retention of information one year after instruction at 77%, Nuthall, 1999; Nuthall & Alton-Lee, 1995)
  3. Student A share with the small group their understanding of the new material
  4. Students B and C listen to A and then question and present alternative views - all members have the opportunity to clarify their understanding
  5. Whole class discussion for questions, conflicts in understanding and for the teacher to ensure that each group has correctly understood the critical aspects of the content.
  6. Repeat but this time Student B takes the lead in the small groups; repeat again with Student C
  7. When all the content has been discussed, the whole class comes together again but this time the focus is on the teacher asking questions which require the students to go beyond the information that has been presented to them, to make inferences, or apply the knowledge. 
  8. Each small group then has an opportunity to summarise what they have learnt, perhaps graphically or through notes.
Please feel free to leave comments detailing your strategies to help students interact with new material so we can learn from each other.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The 12 Must-Have Skills Of Modern Learners

via Edudemic via User Generated Education

I consider myself a modern learner.  I participate online, share ideas and resources with both students and teachers (known and unknown) and collaborate with others, working towards a greater good. This infographic made me stop and reflect on how well I am providing opportunities for my students to also develop the skills of a modern learner.  It is a great summary of not only the so called "21st Century Skills" we hear so much about but takes it a bit further in its consideration of values and the characteristics of an independent learner.

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Initiative and entrepreneurialism
  3. Curiousity and imagination
  4. Hope and Optimism
  5. Self-regulation
  6. Vision
  7. Empathy and global stewardship
  8. Resilience
  9. Grit
  10. Agility and adaptability
  11. Collaboration across networks
  12. Effective oral and written communication  

In considering this list I stopped and considered (even looked up) exactly what was meant by grit and resilience.
Grit (psychology) is a positive, non-cognitive trait, based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or endstate coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment and serves as a driving force in achievement realization. (Wikipedia)
Psychological resilience is an individual's tendency to cope with stress and adversity. This coping may result in the individual "bouncing back" to a previous state of normal functioning, or simply not showing negative effects. (Wikipedia)
Thanks Wikipedia for a quick definition of these two terms and a new insight into the huge favour I will be doing my students by ensuring that I intentionally integrate opportunities for them to develop these skills - not that I don't - but I believe that the intentionality is important. I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about ways to more effectively develop my relationships with students and the idea seemed to logically flow that this makes it far easier to tap into their passions and thus provide opportunities for them to develop their perseverance or grit through overcoming difficulties and carrying on. Resilience seems a little more tricky - it's not like I'm going to traumatise my students so that can learn to bounce back.  Providing constructive feedback and opportunities for others to do so in a safe and nurturing environment still seems like my best bet but if you have other ideas please comment at the bottom of the post, I would love to learn from you.

Wouldn't it be great if we could all include all of these skills and attributes into every unit of work. With a little creativity, well crafted essential\inquiry questions and the willingness to "let go and let our students" it is possible. In fact, isn't it just a case of practising what we are preaching.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Think Club's Greatest Hits - Adrian Bruce

Think Club is an afternoon club for school kids to explore a myriad of tech tools to discover the ones which inspire, capture their creativity and help them find their passion.

The guiding principle behind Think Club is Rapid Skill Attribution.  Some resources on this:

The Matrix Guide to Rapid Skill Acquisition

Adrian Bruce's Website

RC Desk Pilot

Flight Gear

Puppet Videos

Encourage students to step out of their comfort zone and begin video production with puppets, bad jokes and any camera (phone\ipod\flip....) Step out of your comfort zone.

Sketch Up

Export from Sketch up to Lumion Free



Virtual DJ

Serious Games


A game for learning about cancer


A game to help teenagers learn about feeling down and depression.


Teach game design

Link to download


Machinima - using screen shots from games to make cartoons

Macbeth in Machinima

Cartoon Dave

Go Teach This

Tools for teaching Reading and Mathematics - nearly ready - still in testing phase

Taking Learning Analytics back to my school from ELH School Tech 13

Friday, 16 August 2013

Khan Academy Crash Course

This blog is in no way a replacement for the full Khan Academy Coach Resources but is designed for a teacher workshop to get secondary school teachers up and running using Khan Academy with their students.

Purple italic text requires you to do what is asked.

Why are we doing this?
An email received by the Head of Maths from a student...

"Oh my god Mr Martin, I used Khan Academy to understand Riemann sums and it is literally the best thing ever. I have never tried it before and I understood it completely (I think) and it has made my assignment so much more clear (I think). You are a genius!! Peace owwt"

Being a Student

Sign into Khan Academy using "Sign Up" and your Google Account
Teacher sign up instructions

A Tour of the Khan Academy Site for Coaches (Student Interface)

Student section goes to 6:15

The Dashboard

On your dashboard (the opening screen) you will be prompted to do the pretest - complete this pretest. Notice when you are finished that the big box at the top will start to fill up with little blue coloured boxes.

Continuing to work on these dashboard tasks provides a lot of background information so that content is accurately pitched at the correct level for students (Start not practice).

Start the next topic you are prompted to perform.

Khan Adacemy has some interactivity.  Scratchpad allows free hand drawing on most questions, manipulative data tables, graphs and diagrams.

This is a great way to learn Maths for fun or to expand your skills generally.

What information can you find out about your skills already:

  • Areas in which you have mastery or a high skill level (the darker the colour of the little box the better you have demonstrated that you are)
  • Areas that you need to work on (the red boxes - obviously Maths teachers won't have too many of them unless you wanted to see what getting questions wrong does)
  • Click through the vital statistics on the left to see how you are going (looks like the picture to the right).

The Knowledge Map

The reality is that students generally study discrete topics for a period of time before moving onto another topic unlike the way the dashboard operates.

It may be appropriate to use the knowledge map to search out the specific topic you want to learn.

Click on Learn in the top left of the dashboard screen, and select Knowledge Map.

Down the left, suggestions are made.  These become more appropriate the more the student interacts with the software as more data is gathered.

On the right is a large image which can be dragged around to find a particular topic of interest or study.

Click on a topic.

Three columns of information are shown:
  • where this topics fits within the big picture
  • a real world context for the mathematics
  • a program of study - the arrow is play for a video; the * is a quiz to see whether the student understands.  When starting, students may wish to jump straight to the test to check their knowledge and only go back to the videos if they lack understanding of the topic.

Navigating to the Topic

You may wish to take the more direct path; click learn at the top left > select maths > select your area of study > and select a subcategory

Once you choose a subtopic on the right you navigate to the same course of videos and quizzes you got to via the knowledge map.

Being a Teacher \ Coach

Click on Coach next to learn to see the options

Below is a selection of the resources in the "Coach Resources" section - if you can find time you may like to look at these more thoroughly in the future.

A Tour of the Khan Academy Site for Coaches (Coach Interface)

Download the Quick Start Guide for Maths Teachers

5 Easy Ways to Start Using Khan Academy

What makes a Khan Academy Classroom?

  • Meet the needs of each learner
  • Create an interactive and engaging learning environment
  • Use data to inform instruction (provides effective feedback)
can be a challenging transition to let go of control over pace of the content, however, teachers who do make the transition enjoy the increased time with each learner
The Role of the Student
Students should be encouraged, at every stage of the learning process, to adopt an active stance toward their education. They shouldn’t just take things in; they should figure things out.
Data Driven Instruction

Log out by clicking the arrow next to your name at the top right and selecting Log Out 
Demo Data - click this link and select "Access Demo"

Download - Navigating Khan Academy Reports

Use the Access Demo and the Navigating Khan Academy Reports Document to identify actions you could take as the coach in this classroom.

Making Your Own Classes
Two options:

  • Create a class and invite all students via their email accounts (a little time consuming out of class for teacher) OR
  • Create a class; have students sign up for an account; have students enter the class code (class time needed) As all our students have google accounts it is best to insist they use these as it makes it easy for you to identify who they are.
We are all going to add Dan as our coach now.

Personally, I would take option 2 as all of our students have a google account so it is fast and easy for students to just add a class code.  The teacher will need to check that all students have joined the group.

Create Your Class Groups now

Some notes regarding the use of iPads

  • The Khan Academy App only shows videos - it does not show this whole website
  • Students need to log in through Safari
  • Work on the screen in landscape so you don't have to horizontally scroll
  • It may seem to take a more time to load on an iPad due to the amount of online information being collated and loaded if you have a large class. I tested most things and didn't have any problems - but I only had one student. If you have problems use your computer rather than iPad.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

My New Favourite Tool - Readlists

In my never ending quest to learn more I have been exploring the offerings at Modern Lessons and in their free course "5 Powerful But Little-Known Ways To Use Your Apple iPad" I discovered a real gem.  Welcome to Readlists...

For the uninitiated, Readlists is a free web tool which allows you to collate a list of URLs and then download them into a collated ebook (ePub\mobi) for offline reading in the app of your choice. As we have iPads for Years 8 and 9 at my school, it is a simple process to download the book to the iPad and use it with iBooks.

10 Reasons why I think using Readlists to create ePubs for iBooks is an excellent way to support learning:
  1. It's free.
  2. Students don't need the internet which for some is still an issue at home.
  3. Students can highlight key points.
  4. Students can make notes and stick them in a location which provides context for revisiting.
  5. It is possible to make the text larger for those students with vision and literacy challenges.
  6. For those students who struggle with organisation - they don't have to keep going back to the LMS to access links, the entire collection has already been downloaded to their device and is ready to go.
  7. iBooks makes it possible to change the background colour to black or sepia if the eyes need a rest.
  8. It's a free textbook which is more up to date than any you could buy.
  9. iBooks remembers where you are up to in a book and you can also bookmark your page.
  10. The "speak" function allows an audio reading of the book for those who require assistance.
Go on, give it a go - what do your students have to lose?

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Collaborative Notetaking

Gone are the days when the focus was on having everyone sitting in neat rows, facing the same way and doing the same work.  In recent months I have seen and developed some great ways to utilise web tools, in this case a Google document, to maximise the effectiveness of note taking through collaboration with the side benefits of deeper learning, increased engagement and staff peer support.

At my school all staff and students have a Google Education account.  This gives us access to Google Groups and Google Drive across our entire community.  After taking the time to set up a Google Group for your class (approximately 10-15 minutes) any one of these activities takes 1 minute to set up and the students can do it for you. All students are signed into their Google Account and ready to go as part of their lesson set up.

Strategies for minimal teacher input (and planning) lessons:
  1. Explore and Share
  2. Answering the "Ungoogleable"
  3. Pay it Forward
  4. We all have a turn
  5. Not ready for Twitter yet 

Strategy 1 - Explore and Share 


We were learning how to use a new software tool in class.  In the past I may have demonstrated and explained different features and purposes and then let students play but that morning I had read an article on Twitter about how students retain more information if they are allowed to investigate by themselves first so I changed my strategy.  The desired learning goal was for students to learn the basics about how to use a particular piece of software.

Teacher work before the lesson = decide on what software the students will be investigating


A student again created and shared a Google Document with the class group.  Instead of demonstrating how the software worked I decided to let the students do it so I broke them up into four groups and instructed each group to take notes about the functionality of a section of the software (in the same document). Only one person from each group was allowed to type in the Google Document to encourage collaboration.  When all groups thought they had finished their note taking I gave them 2 minutes to prepare how they were going to present what they had learned to the class (possibly it could be better to warn them in advance that this is going to happen but in this case I wanted the focus on meaningful notes the student could refer back to as they were using the software).  Each group stood up and demonstrated the functionality from their section (recall that all students had already had time to have a play).  Other students could add additional notes to what the groups had recorded when discussion and questions identified areas that had been missed.


Not only were all students invested in ensuring that the notes for their section were thorough, they were all jointly responsible for making sure that there were no gaps left by other groups.  At the end of the lesson students felt confident that they had a strong foundational knowledge in the features of the software and could find any functionality they wanted to use in the next lesson.

Scenario 2 - Answering the Ungoogleable


I want my students to collaborate on answering a difficult question (that is not googleable) but they need an understanding of domain specific vocabulary, key concepts and a range of information to be able to answer this question.

Teacher work before the lesson = think up an ungoogleable question (obviously related to one of their learning goals)


Create a Google Document with a table with 3 columns and assign a student to each column.  The first column is for vocabulary.  The second column is for the researcher to post links to relevant websites and sources of information that the other students can use to inform their decision making.  The third column is for key concepts.  For this lesson, these three students sit together and they are the only ones to write in the document. As the researcher posts links, the summariser reads them and pulls out key concepts.  The summariser and the researcher can offer suggestions of words for the first student to add (and define) in the vocabulary column. Although these students have specific jobs to perform, they help each other prepare the resource for the class.  What's the rest of the class doing? Reading what these students add to the document, deciding in groups what their answer to the challenging question is going to be and preparing their response\justification\deliverable.


All students learn quite deeply about the topic.  You may think that the note taking students miss out on some learning but the level of reading, analysis and synthesis required to perform these roles can lead to quite deep thinking around the topic.  Obviously you would change around the students who held these roles.

Scenario 3 - Pay it Forward


Similar to the scenario above, sometimes you may just wish to have students take excellent notes from the lesson.  Telling them to do so is going to result in mixed and inconsistent results.  Or sometimes a new teacher or new to the subject teacher may want to learn from a more experienced teacher but it is just not possible for them to attend the other's class.  


Similar to the methodology above, a shared document can be completed by three students for vocabulary, links and key concepts during a wide variety of classroom activities and shared with not only the students in the class but other teachers or students of the same subject in a different class.


Teachers can learn from other teachers and all students have more detailed notes than they would have taken individually.

Strategy 4 - We all have a turn 


The other day we were watching a documentary which was rather content heavy.  I wanted the students to have notes about the important aspects of the video but did not want them all to be focused on taking notes rather than watching the documentary. The learning goal was for them to be able to apply the knowledge they gained from watching the video in the evaluation of an existing product.


A student created a Google Document and shared it with the group.  All students had the document open and ready to go.  Each student took notes for a couple of minutes before passing on the job to the next student. Students were encouraged to add to the notes others had taken if they felt that important information had been neglected but this was not their primary role - their primary role was to be an observer of the video.


A far more comprehensive set of notes than if one student had taken them alone. The students' subsequent blog posts demonstrating the application of their learning were quite sophisticated and of a higher level than I had initially anticipated.

Scenario 5 - Not Ready for Twitter Yet


You want the students to have a place in which to post notes and comments and to be able to ask questions but you are not quite ready for Twitter or Today's Meet.  


You can use your three column Google Doc for any combination of data collection and feedback.  Some options include:
  • Comments
  • Questions
  • Vocabulary
  • Key Points
  • Links
  • How do I...
  • I don't understand.....
Another option would be to use your Google group to create a post for the days lesson and have the students post their comments and questions in reply.


Students have an opportunity for their voice to be heard, to ask questions and to receive immediate feedback within the safety of a closed environment.

Tips for Success

  1. All of these suggestions require a Google Group to be set up.
  2. Swap the roles around so that all students have a chance to try out the different roles - either within a lesson or for different lessons. 
  3. Be clear in your expectations from the notetakers and be prepared to redirect them if they are not meeting these expectations
  4. Prepare engaging activities for the rest of the class to be doing that require them to draw upon the knowledge in the collaborative notes, thus providing an audience and purpose.
  5. Don't expect your students to be perfect the first time - they'll probably muck around and write some silly things the first few times but will become much more proficient the more they are exposed to this type of activity.


Wiredforlego, Stop, Collaborate and Listen, CC BY-SA 2.0

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Non-Designer's Guide to Teaching Infographics

I have been talking about infographics for the last year or so and they were one of those things that only a few people expressed any interest in.  Enter Year 10 Religious Education. Who would have thought that 14-15 year old, sometimes reluctant learners would revolutionise the way that infographics were viewed at the school?  No teacher had ever given so many As in their religion classes nor had any student, ever, in the history of the school, uttered the words “my RE assignment was too local so I created a second, more global focused one to hand in as well. I hope that’s okay”. 

What are Infographics?

Simply put, infographics are visual representations of data.  On a deeper level, infographics are a means of being able to tell a story; a way to inform, persuade and call to action. Not all of these purposes have to be incorporated into every infographic, however, the majority of those that go viral tend to have these characteristics.

Why use infographics?

What thinking skills do infographics develop? As a teacher in Queensland, both the general capabilities and the Common Curriculum Elements from the QSA
  1. As students need to collect a lot of raw data to make an interesting infographic their research skills, particularly in the use of statistical databases become more developed.
  2. Once the raw data has been collected, students need to interpret, analyse and synthesize the data to select relevant statistics and facts, which they can use to tell their story.
  3. Once the data is synthesized, numeracy skills are needed to create data representations. This does not mean that students create 20 pie charts, rather that they select the most effective means of communicating their information for each statistic or piece of information.
  4. Literacy skills such as the use of correct spelling, punctuation and grammar go a long way in helping a student’s work look professional and authentic (these are made to go online and be shared)
  5. Design skills are also essential for the presentation.  A good understanding of layout, white space, the principles of design, font and colour will go a long way.
  6. The final skill set is reasoning and logic.  The flow of information when leading the reader needs to be logical, paced and  or readers will move on.
I could go on and on here but I think you get  the idea.

How do I teach infographics to my class?

I’m going to make an assumption now that the readers of this blog have research, synthesis and analysis, numeracy and logic skills and focus on how I teach infographic design to students. The lesson I designed for this purpose involved three stages: 
  1. Orientation
  2. Domain Knowledge
  3. Creation
Some additional notes for before we begin the lesson overview:
  •  I like to use a strategy whereby 3 students are assigned the role of note takers for the class (on a collaborative document eg google doc) which can then be easily shared with the class (via google group or by being uploaded to the LMS).  Specific jobs for this lesson included:
    • Student 1 - Links - any websites or references are written in the first column
    • Student 2 - General Information\Content - general facts; any information regarding what types of content should be included etc
    • Student 3 - Design specific information - how should the infographic look
  • I am going to assume that the students have been engaged in a unit of work that has required them to research the chosen topic and have a variety of research, statistics and course of action available to them.

The learning goals for this stage are an understanding of:
  1. what an infographic is
  2. why a person would want to use an infographic
  3. that images are powerful representations and should be chosen carefully
  4. the purpose of an infographic
Some sample opening questions and answers:

Q:  Can anyone tell me what an infographic is?
  • Graphic representation of data
  • One of those really long graphics with lots of statistics and information on it
Q:  Why do you think using a visual representation of data is a good idea?
  • 6 out of 10 people are visual learners – Who learns better from watching a video on YouTube than by reading text ? (Conveniently, it’s usually about 6/10ths who put up their hand)
  • 75% of our brains is used to process visual information
  • Your brains process visual information 60000 times faster than it processes text
  • Visuals are powerful ways to deliver a message
Demonstration Example

Put up an example of an infographic – I like to use one I found on “The Alarming State of SingleParenthood” to use as my example. I start with just showing the top title and image of the infographic to the students and ask them their initial thoughts on the type of message they think this infographic will carry, on what they see when they look at the image.  The types of answers I get are along the lines of:
  • It will be a negative representation.  Why?
  • The title is a powerful message – use of the word “alarming”
  • The kids are all crying
  • The mother is not comforting the children
  • The mother is dressed “skankily”
  • The mother is too busy on her iPhone
From this I lead into a discussion on how students should be very careful in the images they select for their infographic as they do not want to send a message unintentionally.

Q: What do you think the purpose of an infographic is?  (I scroll slowly down the page and let students see the type of content in the infographic)
  • To inform
  • To persuade
  • A call to action

Domain Knowledge

The learning goals for this stage of the lesson are an understanding of:
  1. the variety of data representations that can be used
  2. how information can be organized
  3. the role of colour in design
Some sample questions and answers:

Q: How is information depicted: (another slow scroll)
  • Pie charts
  • Arrows showing rising or falling statistics
  • Bar graphs
  • People (6/10 is 6 one colour and 4 of another)
  • Money bags or $ are used whenever a dollar figure is used
Q:  How is the information organized? (another slow scroll)
  • Red banners with subheadings
  • Coloured boxes
  • Image backgrounds
  • Text boxes


All students to go to the website (or in pairs) and choose any infographic they like (they are on the bottom of the page)
Look at:
  • How is data represented?
  • How is the information organized?
Add to the answers given earlier.

Q:  What can you tell me about the colour schemes used?
  • Monochromatic
  • Only 2-3 colours
  • Usually quite bright
  • Occasionally rainbow type colour schemes are used but these are usually not as effective
Q:  Colours are meant to bring about certain feelings.  What does blue mean? Red? Green?


What type of colour scheme would you use for:
  • An infographic about the environment? Why?
  • An infographic about geological structures? Why?
  • An infographic about cities? Why?


Some other considerations:
  • The meanings of colours are culturally biased.  If you are creating for a global audience it is important to consider alternative colour meanings.
  • Look at information on culturalmeanings of colour
  • What are some colours that could send mixed messages to people from other backgrounds?
Q:  Who thinks that they can create an infographic now? (You’ll only get a few)

Q:  What about if I tell you that you can do it in Powerpoint?


The learning goals for this stage of the lesson are an understanding of:
  1. the simplicity with which an infographic can be created 
  2. the importance of planning
  3. the creation process
  4. how to use the software
I have used three different types of software to create infographics:
  1. Powerpoint (recommended for students with computers)
  2. – this was the best online site I found.  It was quite simple to use and worked well on an iPad.
  3. – this is a website with templates you can use to create your own infographics.  The free version did not seem to have a great number of template choices.  It did not work very well on an iPad.

Why do I like Powerpoint?
  • The students currently in high school learned to use it from birth (well maybe not quite)
  • Clip art is royalty free, you don’t have to attribute your images
  • Shapes, arrows, text boxes are already all there for you to use
  • It comes with built in colour schemes that have been designed by graphic designers.  Once you choose a colour scheme on the Themes\Design tab, the top row of offered colours is from your selected colour scheme whenever you draw a shape or text box
  • There is little or no cognitive load on learning to use the software.

Open up powerpoint
Go to the Design Tab and then select Page Setup – change the page length to 60
Practise creating:
  • Text boxes
  • Arrows
  • Graphs
  • Using clip art
At our school we have a subscription to Atomic Learning.  There are some 1-2 minute videos on doing any of these activities if you are not confident yourself.  Alternatively, you’ll be able to find information on YouTube \ Google.


I like to have a discussion with the students at this point for them to step out the process.
  1. Research
  2. Decide on audience and purpose
  3. Re-search
  4. Analyse information and decide how you are going to tell your story - what information stays in to advance your purpose
  5. Sketch it out (very important tip for powerpoint - an A4 page is approximately 30cm long - add an extra 15cm to the page length as you can't add more later without stretching out the content - it's far easier to crop space off the bottom)
  6. Create
  7. Review, get peer feedback
  8. Edit
Remember Image Attribution

If you are using one of the online options you will need to attribute any images that you use (or if you have used images that are not built into clipart). 

It is a good idea to only use creative commons image searches so that you do not accidently use a copyrighted image.

The format is Artist, Image name, URL, Type of License

Alternatively, you can use the Artist, Image Name (as a hyperlink to the original image), Type of License.

If you need to know more about Creative Commons here are some resources to help you:

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Learning Goals in the Drivers Seat

I recently began reading “The Art andScience of Teaching” by Robert Marzano and have found it to be extremely useful on a number of levels.  Firstly, it has reminded me of many practices that I had forgotten or which had fallen by the wayside as new ideas were explored.  Secondly, I have been exposed to some new and innovative ways to implement best practice in my classroom or new twists on old practices. Finally, I have also learned quite a few new strategies and techniques, which I am going to use to inform my practice.

Like many of you, I learn most effectively when I find ways to integrate what I have just learnt into what I already know, so that it ceases to be new knowledge, but instead just becomes my knowledge. To that purpose, the next few blog posts will be my reflection on how I can effectively integrate what I am learning into what I already do.

Setting Effective Learning Goals

Learning goals are statements which define what a student will know (declarative knowledge) or be able to do (procedural knowledge) by the end of the lesson or unit of work. These are most useful when expressed in terms of “the students will be able to…” or “the students will understand…”. Fortunately for me in both the Queensland and Australian curriculums learning goals are expressed this way. Setting too many learning goals for any particular unit of work makes it difficult for students to focus on what they should be learning.  Not only should learning goals by determined by the teacher, but having students create their own learning goals is a great way to engage them in ownership of their learning. 

In my current Year 9 class, some students are lacking the skills to be independent learners. To improve this I have been embedding opportunities into the unit design for students to identify their strengths and weaknesses in this area and hopefully improve. One example of this is that in their current project the students have both collaborative and individual components to complete.  Every fortnight students have a simple rubric to highlight where they evaluate team work skills of both their team members and themselves. Students evaluate each team member, including themselves on:
  • Providing ideas
  • Providing solutions
  • Positive attitude
  • Focus on the task
  • Being a respectful group member
This originally began as a means of accountability until I realized that it was a much more powerful tool when students had to also look at their own behavior within the team and not just judge others.

At the bottom of the rubric is  an opportunity for the students to reflect on their behavior as an independent learner. The five behaviours are being reflected upon are:
  • Meeting deadlines
  • Focusing on the task
  • Requesting clarification
  • Organisation skills
  • Ability to work independently

This is a great idea to help students identify their weaknesses and to see what they should be aiming for however falls down because it is once again teacher imposed.  In my next unit of work I am going to ask students to identify their own learning goal and offer the behaviours we have already been working on as suggestions of they may like to use to establish their own learning goal\s.

Assessing Learning Goals

In my education system we have criteria set by regulatory authorities to determine student achievement based on their performance. What they don’t do is help students to be able to determine how they are incrementally improving as they work towards attaining the learning goal. Whilst I have to use the mandated criteria for determining student level of achievement on summative assessment, I have decided to use learning goal rubrics on all formative pieces of assessment and have the students track their learning progress as they acquire the knowledge\skill of the learning goal.

Marzano recommends a rubric scale of 0-4 in his simplified scale; 0 meaning that even assisted the student can demonstrate no skill or understanding; progressing through levels of assistance, complexity and types of errors to 4 where the student can apply the knowledge\skill and make inferences beyond the explicit teaching of the classroom.  In addition, he recommends that students track their learning through the levels and that all improvements are counted as successes and celebrated.

My students are currently studying a unit of graphic design including learning to use Photoshop. When they enter my classroom for the first time, most of the students would be a 0 as they have no prior knowledge of how to use the software.  As the unit progresses and they learn new tools and effects students will move away from teacher supported learning to the application of skills and procedures which have been explicitly taught.  Finally, some students will be able to move past that which has been explicitly taught into the classroom and be able to investigate and extrapolate to use the software in new ways.

Marking student work using this rubric is much more friendly to students in terms of supporting their development of the learning goals.  In addition, having students self reflect to determine what level they think they are operating at gives me opportunity to work with the student to determine what they need to do to move to the next level using a common language. As a means of encouraging continuous improvement I am also going to have the students plot their marks on a graph so that they can see their improvement over the unit of work. Finally and most importantly I’m going to remember to praise and publicly acknowledge everyone who is moving in a positive direction regardless of whether that movement is from 0-1 or 3-4.


In my next unit of work I’m going to use learning goals in the following way:
  1. Identify learning goals
  2. Have students identify a learning goal for themselves
  3. Create a rubric for each learning goal (for formative assessment)
  4. Use the rubric to grade formative assessment
  5. Have students self-reflect using the rubric
  6. Give all students a graph on which to plot their results
  7. Celebrate successes