Literacy and Numeracy – Week 6

Way past time to catch up on this work. So week 6 is looking at “Models for Teaching and Learning Multiliteracies”.

Timelines out of whack

Ahh, that’s right, this was the material we had to pre-read in order to complete the assignment that was due in week 5. And look, the trend continues. We’re asked to reflect on the teaching and assessment tasks we’ve observed in our prac. teaching. Which doesn’t start until this week, two weeks after we were meant to complete this week.

Four resources model

This is positioned as an important model for the teaching of literacies. A quote from one of the proponents of this work

Any program of instruction in literacy, whether it be in kindergarten, in adult ESL classes, in university courses, or any points in between, needs to confront these roles systematically, explicitly, and at all developmental points. (Freebody 1992, p. 58)

We’re meant to be introduced to the four resources model through this reading. The initial quick reading of this document for the assignment did not impress me. A reflection on the evolution of a model didn’t strike me as the most accessible introduction to the model, given that it must both introduce and point out limitations in an approach. But perhaps that was just the negative mindset created by the disorganisation. Let’s try again.

The four resources model identifies “four necessary but not sufficient “roles” for the reader in a postmodern, text-based culture”:

  • Code breaker (coding competence)
  • Meaning maker (semantic competence)
  • Text user (pragmatic competence)
  • Text critic (critical competence)

Widely adopted, this particular reading is a review and reconsideration of the four models. It does not discuss “what we meant or intended”….which might make it somewhat harder to use this reading as an introduction.

Some history

The “received wisdom” is that there is no one definition of literacy. It’s culturally and contextually bound. In addition, literacy instruction is not about skill development, but “institutional shaping of social practices and cultural resources”. It’s about “shaping and mastering the repertoire of capabilities called into play when managing texts in ways appropriate to various contexts”.

Perhaps I am too much a product of traditional schooling, but I find this almost complete relativism a bit of a struggle to accept. Especially the bit about “institutional shaping”. I can accept that what denotes the “best way to do X” as being largely shaped by context, but if I’m teaching X in a certain context, my aim is to develop skills. The outcome may perhaps to be to contribute to “institutional shaping of social practices” but my intent is to develop skills, and hopefully an awareness that how I’m teaching students “how to do X” may not be the last word in how to do X. Which I guess is what the authors get to in the end

Teaching and learning literacy, then, involves shaping and mastering the repertoire of capabilities called into play when managing texts in ways appropriate to various contexts.

But then there is this position

In this sense, it is difficult (and what’s more, pointless) to proclaim that “phonics” advocates or “word recognition” advocates or “early intervention” advocates are somehow right or wrong in any absolute sense.

I can see how this quote would frustrate and anger a lot of folk. Perhaps not in some absolute sense, but we’ve certainly been shown some folk who believe phonics is wrong. But then this connects with the authors next perspective

When we refer to something as being “normative,” this suggests that it involves a set of moral and political, cultural and social decisions about how things should be, rather than a simple description of what is.

i.e. prescriptive, rather than descriptive.

Flowing from this cultural construction of literacy is the view that many aspects of the “literacy crises” arise from “economic, cultural and social change” more so than what happens in the classroom.

Am I beginning to give the impression that I have been adversely influenced by the moral and political, cultural and social perspectives of the authors?

Anyway this is the setup for the authors not wanting to promote a single teaching model, the instructional silver bullet for literacy education…”we have attempted to avoid and resist the ‘commodification’ of critical literacy”. The four resource model was intended to both validate practices and provide opportunity and a vocabulary for “productive development”.

There’s been a bit of a shift from roles, to family of practices and other shifts in terminology. Mostly to better explicate the understanding/intent of the framers that literacy is a dynamic and changing set of understandings.

Propose 3 dimensions of literacy capabilities

  1. breadth of an individual’s or community’s repertoire of literate practices.
    “regarded in terms of the range of social activities” that offered in the curriculum. Genres sometimes used as the label. But as always in this discussion, there can be more to it.
  2. The depth and degree of control exercised by an individual or community in any given literacy activity.
    This is where the four resources model applies, it defines the repertoire of practices
  3. The extent of hybridity, novelty and redesign at work.

Depth and breadth embody areas of “significant educational responsibility”. But the 3rd dimension is more difficult an issue.

We take a bit of a side trip now and get into the area that illiteracy is not a “deficit model”. i.e. illiteracy is not a question of the illiterate not having skills, instead they haven’t had access to the communities/experiences in which to develop skills. Education can’t solve unemployment, in equality, illiteracy, these are sociological questions.

But then there is mention of the common problem that folk like Luke and Freebody, and in other circumstances Gardner and his multiple intelligences work, suffer from

Yet the school-effectiveness and school-management fields continue the pursuit of what has become the holy grail of instructional psychologists: a single effective or “authentic” pedagogy.

There is an “industry” within education that want/need simple, efficient, and effective pedagogical interventions that serve all students. But also, at the other end are the coal face teachers (or trainee ones like me) looking for interventions that work for them and their students. The whole fad/fashion problem arises here in education as much so in information systems.

And I can see the authors’ last sentence annoying the hell out of some management folk

What better way to assist teachers’ work and pedagogy in these new times than with complex and critical questions rather than simple answers.


So, we’re meant to reflect on the four resources model and how it applies to literacy/numeracy in our teaching areas. This was meant to be contribution to our first assignment, submitted quite a few weeks ago. Let’s try again. Again, I’m finding this hard due to the mismatch between the purpose of the reading above (a “researcher” reflection on an idea) and its use as an introduction to an important model.

And as I search further and further, I’m yet to find a resource that effectively explains the four resources model in a way that I can apply to other contexts, like my teaching areas. Is this simply a combination of my experience and these two areas being somewhat more prosaic and not – at least to one embedded and as unreflective as I – “culturally and socially constructed”?

Mmm, wonder if the textbook we were required to purchase (but are never directed toward) might provide some assistance?

Resources Mathematics IT/coding
Code-breaker Recognition of mathematical symbols (including numbers), terminology and operations. Ability to read code, statements, operations, syntax etc.
Text-participant Given a mathematical “text” understand what it means. Simlarly, given a (word) problem, relate it to maths. Able to deduce what a program will do. Link requirements to intended code.
Text-user Understand which “branch” of mathematics applies to a particular problem. Be able to explain how/why a particular processes was used.
Text-analyst Understand that mathematics is an abstraction, not the real world. Is the maths used here useful/”true”. Understanding that programs embody programmer assumptions or purposes. That they close down certain actions. e.g. an integrated enterprise system is trying to be the one way of doing everything. And that this extends to programming language paradigms (Perl vs Java vs Haskell etc)

I do wonder how you could effectively reconcile the relativist position embedded in the predominant view of literacy with the need to pass judgement upon answers to the above. Personally, I think my answers are a bit naive, rushed, ill-informed. But I could also find it fairly easy to adopt a slightly different perspective of the above – especially with IT – that is held by a fairly important community, but which I think is wrong. Who’s right? Who gets better marks?

I do hope my attempt at engaging with this subject for the assignment was somewhat more successful.

Am wondering if I should spend more time on this, or be pragmatic. After all it’s already been tested!

More models

So, we’re now told that some folk have connected the four resources model to the “3 dimensions of learning and practice” from Durrant and Green. And with little more than a listing of the three dimenions (operational, cultural and critical) we’re mean to reflect on whether or not this is a good match? In fact, we’re meant to reflect on the connection of these two PLUS the 4 steps of a multiliteracies pedagogy. Which we read more on soon.

Going by this article (which is referenced by the material and is somewhat useful in getting some context) the 3D model combines features of early literacy models with constructionist work to propose a “3D model of literacy-technology learning which brings together…three dimensions of learning and practice; the operational, the cultural and the critical.

The idea is that all three of these dimensions must be addressed so teaching a skill can be done in an authentic context with “a focus on its use in social practices”……I do wonder how much “how to use LMS X” training that occurs within higher education engages with these ideas.

The idea is that they can be mapped with the four resources, but do not exactly overlap.

Multiliteracies and the four resources model

And now this reading

Anstey, M. (2003). Multiliteracies and the four resources model. New York; Sydney: Prentice Hall.

And of course, the link is broken. Oh, and the library system is down as well.

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So, let’s try the second reading

Martin, K. (2008). The intersection of Aboriginal knowledges, Aboriginal literacies and new learning pedagogy for Aboriginal students. In A. Healey (ed.), Multiliteracies and diversity in education. pp. 59-81. South Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press.

Wish I had have known about this reading prior to completing another assignment. But it does tend to raise a whole range of questions, for me at least, including:

  • Does the notion of Aboriginal learning styles still hold?
    The above reading mentions specific learning styles and the reading I did on a prior assignment suggested that there was some significant research that suggested they did exist. There was, however, also more recent research that suggested that the notion of learning styles specific or common to Aboriginal people was somewhat mistaken and/or simplistic. In part, because Aboriginal people are so diverse themselves.
  • How different are Indigenous (Aboriginal) Australians’ world views from others?
    The reading mentions the accepted point that good teaching/learning connects with the experiences of the learner. But then, just how different is the experience of the Indigenous learner from the non-Indigenous? This article by Noel Pearson from the Weekend Australian points to some research that suggests there are differences within the Indigenous population. In fact, it identifies two separate Indigenous populations: the “welfare-embedded population” and the “open-society population”. The suggestion is that the “open-society population” achieved improved learning outcomes “regardless of any indigenous-specific educational interventions and perhaps despite them”.

There is some interesting discussion of relatedness within Aboriginal cultures, which gives food for thought. But I do question how widespread a consideration this may need to be. There’s also the problem of much of the cited knowledge/research in this article appearing to be self-citation from an earlier work.

In terms of literacy, there could be questions raised about the story contained within this paper.

Okay, so there is a summary of Harris’ Aboriginal learning styles theory which identifies a number of processes Aboriginal children prefer

  • Learning by observation.
  • Learning by personal trial and error.
  • Learning in real-life activities.
  • Context-specific learning.
  • Learning is person orientated, rather than information orientated.
  • The group is more important than the individual.
  • Learning is holistic – focusing on overal concept before details.
  • Learning relies on visual and spatial skills.
  • Reduced emphasis on spoken language.

The first four or five would seem to be have strong connections with the preferences of many students. Ahh, there is some mention of literature that is somewhat critical of the idea.

Okay, now onto some material around multiliteracies and teaching, including

  • The two “prompts” for multiliteracies: diversity in cultural and linguistic literacies; and, the influence of new technologies.
  • Role of teachers as designers of learning processes and environments.
  • Focus on design and the components of situated practice, overt instruction, critical framing, and transformed practice.
  • Articulation, by teachers, what they bring to learning/teaching, how to connect with students and mediate tensions.
  • Overt consideration of the differences in backgrounds.

Pedagogical model for multiliteracies

And now we get a summary of some of the work mentioned in the above reading….I am increasingly annoyed by the apparently disorganised way in which much of these concepts are introduced..

This is Cope and Kalantzis (2001) pedagogy for multiliteracies mentioned above

  1. Situated practice – learner is doing
    Which seems to be to get the students to engage in some known literacy, probably with little real knowledge. Some scaffolding.
  2. Overt instruction – learner is reflecting
    Provide instruction that helps the learner develop insight into the literacy.
  3. Critical framing – learner is reflecting
    What have they learned, the purpose of the activity…cultural context…
  4. Transformed practice – learner is doing
    Create a new design using improved knowledge.

An alternate description here in the bottom image “the ‘how’ of multiliteracies”. Which seem to have significant links to the authors Learning by Design pedagogy

  1. Experiencing
  2. Conceptualising
  3. Analysing
  4. Applying

5 elements of a Literacy Toolkit

And now onto this reading

Rivalland, J. (2000). Finding a balance for the year 2000 and beyond. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy. February Newsletter. 4 pages

Proposes a literacy toolkit with 5 components (i.e. we need to help students develop these in order for them “to survive in an ever increasingly complex world”).

  • Make meanings of and compare a range forms and modes of texts.
  • Decode and encode effectively.
  • Read and write fluently.
  • Critically analyse texts to recognise whose views are being presented.
  • Adapt reading and writing processes to different text forms, different subject areas, and different modes.

At this stage, I find it interesting to reflect upon these requirements and comparisons with the literacies – especially technology literacies – demonstrated by the teaching staff of the course. Oh, and then lets apply the following list of 12 points associated with “what we need to teach”

  1. Teacher talk which is clear and precise enough to focus children on what is being learned;
  2. Oral language activities which develop awareness of sounds, listening, speaking, complex oral
    language structures, vocabulary and knowledge about the world;
  3. Comprehension and composition of a range of text forms through teacher instruction, modelling,scaffolding and metacognitive instruction;
  4. Systematic practice through engagement with a variety of oral, written and multi-modal texts using a range of effective instructional strategies;
  5. Explicit instruction in code-breaking techniques, which include phonological awareness, letter
    recognition, letter-sound correspondences and sight word recognition;
  6. Frequent practice, in reading aloud to develop fluency and in writing to develop automaticity;
  7. Encouragement of invented spelling to help children develop understanding of phonemes,
    phonemic segmentation and spelling relationships, with strategies to support the move to
    transitional and conventional spelling;
  8. Games and computer activities which will provide practice to support the development of children’s ‘literacy toolkit’;
  9. Regular analysis of a range of texts to help support children’s understanding of how texts are
  10. Critical analysis of texts to look at whose interests are being served by those texts;
  11. Regular assessment, to monitor the progress of children, and to help make decisions about ongoing teaching; and
  12. Regular sustained time for literacy learning. (Rohl et al 2000)

How we teach

  • Will change according to the needs of students and the literacy experiences they bring to school. …i.e. know as much as possible about the children we teach
  • Need to give them experience of the literacy practices which will allow successful participation in school.
  • Not to de-value the ways of talking they bring to school.
  • Help them move between the ways of talking based on contextual need.
  • Use what they know to engage them in reading, writing and critically evaluating texts.
  • The activities have to be cognitively demanding.

My Response

We’ve been asked to

What does Rivalland say about how we teach? Do you agree/disagree? What are some of the implications for teaching in your work context/s? Share your responses on this week’s Discussion Forum. Talk with your colleagues about your interpretations.

The advice on “how we teach” provided by Rivalland evokes in me a serious case of deja vu. It appears to have a significant connection with the constructivist, especially social constructivism, perspectives and theories that have been embedded in most of the readings we’ve been pointed to within the program. Which might be said to boil down to, at some simplistic level,

  • Know and value what your students know and their context.
  • Design activities that use that context to develop new learning.

Do I agree or disagree? In general, I agree with the advice. It is certainly a perspective that will inform how I approach teaching. My response changes, however, when we start talking a little more theoretically. I retain some qualms about constructivism and how it is conceptualised and described (or not as the case may be). If pushed to cite a theoretical perspective that informs my practice, I’d rely on connectivism and argue that it also supports the simplistic “boiling down” from above.

Given that I won’t actively experience a local school context (with students) until tomorrow, any comments I make on the implications for my work context are liable to be limited. As an aside, it could be argued that the study material for this course is not showing a good understanding of its students context in that it is assuming that by week 6 we have gained experience in schools. When for most of us this doesn’t happen until week 8.

Given those limitations, some potential questions that I have:

  • How possible is it to achieve a good understanding of our students and their context?
    I am quite a bit older than them and come from a different context. I’m only going to be there for 8 or so weeks, for a few days a week. While I’ll be able to draw on the insights from my mentor teachers, there will also be a great deal else I need to be getting on with. Not to mention that my mentor teachers may hold very different views about the value of social constructivism and may also have generated many different interpretations of the students and their context. Achieving this to some end is the purpose of one of the assessment items.
  • How diverse are the students?
    It’s possible that there will be up to 150 different students in the classes I’ll be involved with. Theoretically, that’s 150 people and their contexts to get to know. Getting to know (or even remember) 150 people well is not likely to happen in 8 weeks. Which suggests falling back onto stereotypes or categories.
  • How flexible can I be within existing constraints?
    In EPL I won’t be teaching my class. I’ll be helping out in someone else’s. I’m observing and learning from what they are doing. I will be able to teach a class or two, but within the context/culture they have already set up. In addition, add in constraints from school priorities, the timetable, existing school architecture, NAPLAN etc. and the flexibility required to change in response to students context is somewhat reduced. Not to mention the potential application of the “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”.
  • Can I actually work around the limitations of my own knowledge?
    The ability to recognise student diversity and manipulate learning experiences to connect with those contexts requires a lot of knowledge. Rivalland recognised this herself

    Instead it appears that teaching literacy requires highly skilled teachers who have the knowledge, sensitivity and capacity to adapt their teaching methodologies to the differing contexts and conditions in which children grow up.

    I don’t have this knowledge yet. Initially, I’ll be struggling to fit into the school, get a handle on where the classes are up to and how they are run, remembering some of the content, trying to fit the requirements of Portal tasks into EPL etc. Some of those Portal Tasks will help, but in the end, I’m still a beginning teacher. My knowledge is not the same as someone with more experience.

  • Where are the concrete prescriptions or examples?
    Much of the literature we’re being introduced to within this course is largely theoretical and/or descriptive. It’s the four principles of this, the 16 forces of that, the XYZ model of alpha, describing particular aspects of literacy, multiliteracies etc. Given it’s reliance on a similar social constructivist “like” perspective, it’s not surprising that I find a certain amount of coherence. The trouble is that all this description doesn’t feel like it’s providing sufficient scaffolding to help me achieve some practical outcomes. Particularly practices that are likely to help me within the context of a Queensland-based high school.

    While recognising that this type of request has the potential to degenerate into a search for the “one true approach”, that’s not what I’m asking for. Rather than the one true approach, I’m after examples that have been used within the local context, some reflection on why they did/didn’t work, and some connection with the broader theory we’ve been introduced to. Where is the practical TPCK around literacies that would help address the limitations of my knowledge? It does appear that the next reading might be a start in addressing this.

Developing multiliteracies

And yet another model

Stewart-Dore, N. (2003). Developing multiliteracies. Education Views. April 25.

This reading commences to provide some more practical strategies. It proposes another four phase pedagogical model for reading and then has some practice advice within those phases

  1. Accessing knowledge – engaging learning.
    i.e. connect with what they know. Various brainstorming, cataloguing approaches are mentioned. But these don’t necessarily encourage reflection. Two possibilities are: K-W-L and reflective diaglogue journals.
  2. Interrogating meanings- comprehending critically.
    Fact/Fiction position statements etc are mentioned. Most are connected to reading.
  3. Selecting and organising information – connecting understandings.
    Graphic organisers, note-taking.
  4. Representing knowledge functionally and critically – synthesising learning.
    Content plans, graphic organisers etc and other writing aids.

I think I’ll leave this for now.

ICTs for Learning Design: Week 7

After a couple of weeks focused on assessment, not to mention two assignments which I’m far from happy with, it’s time to return to some study. First, the ICTs for Learning Design course and this week the focus is on

  • WebQuests, including “contemporary ideas about webquests and why they are not necessarily aligned with our current perception of good curriculum”.
    That should prove interesting because I’m fairly sure a previous teacher of this course liked WebQuests.
  • Thinking routines.
  • Optional ideas.
    I’m particularly interested to see how this is structured. My impression is that many students are struggling with this course. Consequently the idea of optional may well get translated into “not required”.


Defined by as

A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web. The model was developed by Bernie Dodge at San Diego State University in February, 1995 with early input from SDSU/Pacific Bell Fellow Tom March, the Educational Technology staff at San Diego Unified School District, and waves of participants each summer at the Teach the Teachers Consortium.

This is an approach I’ve heard a bit about, but never really seen in action.

Mm, this description raises some interesting questions

is wrapped around a doable and interesting task that is ideally a scaled down version of things that adults do as citizens or workers.

I imagine there are some “inquiry” folk who pause at the “scaled down” description. At this end of the argument, I imagine using scaffolding to bring the students up to the complete complexity might be preferred to scaling down. I think this will be a problem I fall into often.

There is a WebQuest lesson template which provides a good idea of the structure. A structure that includes the following sections

  • Introduction – prepare and hook the reader
  • Task – describe the end result of the learner’s activity.
    My first response is “what about surprise”. Education folk seem to always want to give the surprise away. I recognise the need for learners to understand the purpose, sometimes, but there is also a place for surprise, not to mention the question of unexpected outcomes.
  • Process
  • Evaluation
    Ahh, rubrics raise their head. I’m getting more and more disappointed in how rubrics are used, they really don’t make things clear. i.e. yes I understand that as the grades go up the quality of performance have to go up. What I want to know is what your expectations are for each level of performance and the rubric doesn’t really help.
  • Conclusion
  • Credits
  • Teacher Page

And look, design patterns have made it into the WebQuest world. Most of these design patterns strike me as not specifically for WebQuests, but as good designs for general inquiry-based learning activities.

Which makes me wonder about the differences between WebQuests and lesson plans? There are some structural differences and WebQuests are specifically web and inquiry-based, but the aim appears to be essentially the same. Especially if you happen to be someone who values inquiry/problem-based learning and just uses the Web and online resources as needed.

Oh dear, I have to take exception to this claim

These five verbs: design, decide, create, analyze and predict, represent the highest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Starting with those verbs guarantees that your WebQuest will be wrapped around a higher level thinking task.

This reminds of some university experiences with learning outcomes. When the learning outcomes in a group of Masters courses were deemed to be at too low a Bloom’s level for a particular jurisdiction action had to be taken. i.e. verbs from the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (like design, create, analyse) were substituted in for lower level verbs. No other work was done.

Using higher level “Bloom’s verbs” doesn’t guarantee anything. The activities you ask the students to undertake have to require them to actually engage in those “verbs”.

And there’s a link to a good WebQuest.

And now onto WebQuest 2.0. And this seems to be where the idea of WebQuests not being aligned with modern ideas about learning.

Second, research in Self Determination Theory and critical thinking demonstrate the greater learning gains that can be achieved when students are self initiated……Thus, although we might feel as though students will “learn more” when we actively shape their activities into tasks, research suggests that what we lose in the trade-off are long-term retention, interest in further study, better achievement, more conceptual understanding and mental health. Win the battle and lose the war? WebQuests delivered as a series of hoops for students to jump through are not “scaffolds,” but little more than teacher-directed learning dressed up as what might be moderately more engaging Web-based learning.

Which connects well with what I thought the concern might be, however, I have to disagree somewhat. At an extreme, leaving students to be “self initiated” can, in some contexts and groups, generate a sense of confusion and frustration the actively disengages students. There is a balance to be kept here, and it is no simple task. It would have been very interesting to have researched the perceptions of students in this course throughout the term and beyond. As recent as a couple of weeks ago, I sensed a great deal of disconnection from the use of technology for learning amongst many students. The “self initiated” aspect of this course may, I think, have contributed some of this.

Actually, while on the topic of this course, I feel that there is some connections with what comes next in WebQuests 2.0

How do these CEQ-ALL inspired Learning Paths actually eventuate? Using an online learning space provides both the private workspace and public audience that are both important to an authentic learning process. By using a WordPress blog or Ning network, a teacher-centered classroom shifts to a flattened learning hierarchy where each member of the community can initiate posts, get feedback, leave comments or contribute new content.

It’s my impression that while this course has Moodle course site (with forums) and requires each student to create an individual blog, not enough encouragement and scaffolding is provided early on to create a “flattened learning hierarchy”. I think the separation into individual blogs and no attempt at aggregation encouraged this difficulty, but the uncertainty around teaching staff in the early weeks of the course also contributed.
Simply having an online environment does not create a “flattened learning hierarchy”, the members of the community need to be familiar and comfortable with contributing and using such a hierarchy.

Thinking routines

There has been an emphasis in this course on using and becoming familiar with various thinking routines, such as this collection and discussed in this paper. With this paper (mmm, 46 pages), I am now meant to

think about it, contextualise it, what does it tell you about thinking routines? Can you see the value in your own learning, that of your students? Can you contextualise?

This paper arises from the Visible Thinking Team at Harvard. The connection to my context is probably captured in this quote

Understanding how teachers establish, use, and adapt thinking routines to make them a part of the culture of the classroom provides useful insights into how thoughtful classroom environments can be established and maintained.

The “enculturative model of dispositional development” is a new term, but the idea of requiring an appropriate culture to create a disposition is something I can agree with. To some extent this idea resonates with what I think is wrong within University teaching and learning, the culture is wrong. Mmm, eight forces the shape classroom culture: expectations, time, modeling, routines, opportunities, relationships, physical environment, and language. Need to remember this Thinking routines are seen as a “high-leverage practice” as they touch on serveral of the cultural forces.

The use of the term “routines” (rather than strategy for example) is quite specific. It is based on the idea that routines become part of the culture, they contribute to the establishment of the context in which learning takes place. Instructional strategies on the otherhand, are used on occasion.

Four types of routines in literature

  1. housekeeping
  2. management – help students prepare for learning
  3. discourse – structure the discussion and sharing of students’ learning
  4. learning –

Thinking routines are seen as a subset of discourse or learning routines.

Characteristics of routines

  • Explicit in nature – mention the name and the students know it.
  • Instrumental – designed to achieve a specific purpose.
  • Used over and over again.
  • Useful across contexts.
  • Used as both individual and group practices.
  • Having only a few steps.

Okay, so now there is an epistemological analysis of thinking routines. Not exactly all that accessible to pragmatic pre-service teachers, though interesting. The idea is that thinking routines encourage students to engage students in certain epistemic moves – types of thinking – and these moves should influence how the students think or think about thinking.

A list of epistemological beliefs conveyed by this specific subset of thinking routines

  • Learning is doing. i.e. not just read, but do something with it.
  • Learning stats with their own ideas.
  • Learning involves getting personally involved.
  • Questions are engines and outcomes.
  • Learning involves uncovering complexity.
  • Learning can be a group process and a group outcome.

iPhone tracking as a teaching tool

Via George Siemens I learn about my iPhone tracking where I’ve been, a nifty app that can visualise that data, some useful resources to implement this sort of visualisation, and some detail about the file format. The obligatory visualisations of my movements – significantly less a world traveler than George – follow (click on an images to see it larger).

iPhoneTracker visualisation 001

iPhoneTracker visualisation 002

I particularly liked how it captured the trip I took with the boys to look at fossils in Western Queensland. Though that probably wouldn’t work now as my new provider doesn’t get much reception in that area.

As a teaching tool

My initial thought was how could this be used in a teaching context. Here are some initial rough ideas.

It would be a fairly concrete way to raise questions about just what all the cool tools people use are actually doing. Did students know about this tracking? Does it worry them? How can they be sure it’s not being shared? What about online services like Facebook? Link it in with a discussion of the story about police downloading phone data.

Then there are potential applications in a more advanced IT class. Can we develop tools to aggregate this data from all classmates? What implications and safe-guards would such a tool need to consider?

I need to think a bit more about mathematics applications. Wondering about the possibilities that might arise within the study of Space that might involve students mapping out distances/locations etc and then testing these by walking around with iPhones or similar devices. Needs much more thought.

I feel that there’s much more that could potentially be done here. Any good ideas?

Starting on a “student diversity report”

Ahh, the life of a student. No sooner is one assignment completed, is another one underway. In this case, one I’ve essentially ignored/forgotten about until a week out from being due.

This post documents some early thinking about how I’m going to start my “Student diversity report”. The assignment description essentially boils down to

You are to examine forms of diversity and select one to discuss in a report.

The audience for your report is a beginning teacher.

Your report is to identify the characteristics and ways to manage this diversity in a school setting.

So the task is to write a 2000 word report that can help a beginning teacher identify and effectively handle a particular type of diversity within a school setting.

The meta questions

I find myself struggling with “meta-questions” when faced with most of the assignments in this program. For example, if I were truly trying to help a beginning teacher learn about a particular form of diversity, wouldn’t I use some other approach than a 2000 word written report, including correct scholarly referencing? Seems an awfully “un-diverse” way of achieving the goal.

For this assignment, as for some of the others, I’m trying to quieten these questions and focus on the pragmatic task of submitting what is asked for. A task I am not always successfully achieving.

Type of diversity?

The first question is which form of diversity should I select? One approach was to select a form of diversity that I’m likely to experience as a new teacher. Hence the report can at the least serve one real life student teacher, me.

A while ago I used the Australian governments “My Schools 2” website to compare the three schools I had listed as my preference for Embedded Professional Learning (EPL – i.e. prac teaching). In the end I wasn’t allocated to either of those three choices. But I still retain an interest in teaching at one of the schools. One of the defining features of that school is that, according to MySchools, 21% of the student population are indigenous students. That’s compared to 1% and 4% for the other two schools.

So, at this stage, I am going to focus on indigenous students as the topic for this report.

I am especially interested because I have heard second-hand reports that at least one teacher of the school is “tired of being a babysitter”. My interpretation of that is that the students are simply not engaging with school, and teaching has become a task of ensuring they don’t do too much damage to themselves or others during class. When I heard this, I was wondering how/if a report like this could help.

Other questions

Which brings me to a range of other questions that arise from the task

  • What is “manage this diversity” understood to entail?
  • What is currently being done in schools/school systems?
  • What is the state of research in this area?
  • What would a beginning teacher need to know?

Manage diversity

The Queensland Department of Education has this web page on Managing Learning for Diversity which talks about “skills necessary to provide an inclusive program”. But it does seem to focus mainly on students with a disability.

Possible structure. I do, however, like the structure for one of the parts of that site – Assessment, Curriculum, Environment, Planning, Reporting, Resources – seems a potentially useful way (if only indicative) of structuring what a beginning teacher might need to know. i.e. what might I have to change to X, to better support Indigenous students? This is part of the “Teaching and Learning” part of the site, which is described as “the core business of schools and teachers”.

Working with teams. The same website includes the idea of Working with teams. i.e. that there are multiple professional roles involved in helping out with diversity. A key part of the report should probably be to identify what people can help.

Current work in schools and school systems

There are at least two types of information sources to look at to see what is currently being done:

  1. School websites for local strategies.
  2. State-based departments of education.

Indigenous education – Queensland

The Queensland Department of Education has a site on Indigenous education. Aside: This page notes that ATSI students make up “more than 8 per cent of the total student population in Queensland state schools”. Interesting to note that the school I mentioned above had 21% of the school population being Indigenous. Related quotes from this page

Improving the educational outcomes of Australia’s Indigenous people is a priority for education both nationally and within Queensland. Every day, in every classroom, we want every student learning and achieving.

This seems to be the page that points to all the relevant state projects and resources.

The Victorian Education Department site on Managing Diversity looks to be a bit more useful.

Now the What Works website looks particularly interesting. It appears to come from a subsidiary the Victorian Commercial Teachers Association (VCTA) – a teacher union?

This is a great resource and will inform the final report.

This site from the Qld Department also looks good, especially in terms of awareness raising.

The Queensland Catholic Education Commission has this page, includes a summary of various government moves.

Ahh, which takes me to the Qld government’s Close the gap plan, which seems to be the most recent, relevant government policy. From this page there are links to other related pages. The Close the Gap plan has three key targets

three key targets: to halve the gap in Year 3 reading and numeracy by 2012 and to close the gap in student attendance by 2013 and in Year 12 retention by 2013.

State of research?

Need to check the textbook and class resources on this question. Will also need to do a literature search, at least a small one to see what insights can be gained.

The QSA has this site

What does a beginning teacher need to know?

If the primary purpose of a teacher is to enable students to improve their learning, then it would appear that a report like this should offer concrete advice on how to modify teaching to better suit ATSI students. The structure mentioned above might help.

There’s also the question of “global” versus “local” advice. A starting teacher would be most interested in information specific to the school they would be teaching in. So such a report should tend to focus on the specifics of the local context as well as not repeat information that is already available. The tension between the dual purposes of this assignment (demonstrate my understanding of diversity and be something useful to a beginning teacher) shows here.

Questions and tasks

From searching all of the above, I think I have a neat

  • Double check that indigenous students is a valid example of diversity for this assignment. No worries.
  • Do a bit more searching and add to the collection of bookmarks on the topic
  • Skim the textbook again to gain a more “academic” perspective on the question of inclusion, managing for diversity and general strategies. Look to link current planned structure with what is found there.
  • Specifically search for online networks that can be joined/harnessed on this topic.
  • Figure out a structure for the report.
  • Start filling in that structure with appropriate material.

Analysis of digital technologies

What follows is a ~1600 word reflective blog post required for assessment purposes. I find myself less than pleased with this assignment. In part because I don’t think 1600 words is enough to do justice to the problem. But also because of my own limitations in terms of knowledge of the context and content.


This assignment involved examining four groups of technology, selecting one technology from each group and subsequently analysing how that technology could be applied in my teaching areas of Information Technology (IT) and Mathematics. Table 1 summarises the four groups and the specific technology I chose from each group. The references are to blog posts that provide more detail.

Table 1. The four chosen e-learning applications
Group Technology/Application
1 – Online spaces Blogs as individual, reflective journals (Jones, 2011a)
2 – Images, video and audio Digital video and WCYDWT (Jones, 2011b; 2011c)
3 – Information presentation VoiceThread poster session (Jones, 2011d; 2011e)
4 – Open Minecraft (Jones, 2011f; 2011g)

Before providing more detail on the four chosen e-learning designs, this post starts with a summary of some broader perspectives that informed how I approach e-learning design and some general principles and practices that would underpin implementation.

Theoretical perspectives, tension and influences

The Week 2 reading for this course (CQUniversity, 2011) suggest that

Learning with ICT is beneficial only when appropriate learning approaches are taken.

What are “appropriate learning approaches”? The reading (CQUniversity, 2011) continues

Learning should be authentic, it should be embedded in a real context. It should be connected to the world beyond the boundaries of the learning context. Learning should be problematic, in real life, learning is always messy and ill-defined.

While I sympathise with this perspective, it is my belief that effective and efficient use of ICTs to facilitate and transform learning must be informed by a broader collection of perspectives. The following sections summarise some of the perspectives that create a diverse set of tensions that in turn influences my approach to e-learning design.

Alternate learning theories

Rowe (2006, p. 2) argues, amongst other points (emphasis added)

there is a strong body of evidence that exclusive emphasis on constructivist approaches to teaching are neither initially nor subsequently in the best interests of any group of students, and especially for those experiencing learning difficulties (see: Center, 2005; Farkota, 2003a, 2005; Moats, 2000; Swanson, 1999; Swanson & Deshler, 2003; Westwood, 1999; 2000, 2001, 2003a,b,c, 2004, 2006).

Based on my experience and reading, I remain hesitant to adopt an exclusive constructivist approach. Instead the intent is that my teaching will have elements of constructivism, some connectivism (Downes, 2011), and some direct instruction.

The mix will depend on the context (see next section). In some situations, that mix might be result I an “extreme” constructivist pedagogy such as some project-based learning designs. Within such a design, it would be up to the students to select the what they need to do and how. My role would simply be facilitator, not designer.

Limitations of generic analysis routines

Based on previous experience in analysing e-learning technologies (Behrens, Jamieson, Jones, & Cranston, 2005; Jones, Jamieson, & Clark, 2003; Jones, Vallack, & Fitzgerald-Hood, 2008) I’ve arrived at the perspective that generic analysis routines, such as SWOT analysis, are somewhat limiting. Reasons include:

  1. No theoretical guidance.
    Mishra and Koehler (2008) describe e-learning design as a wicked problem. SWOT analysis provides no additional theoretical guidance to reduce the difficulty of this problem.
  2. Analysis from one perspective.
    This limits the value of the analysis, as it becomes biased. </li.
  3. It’s more than pedagogy and technology.
    The components of the TPACK framework (Mishra & Koehler, 2008) include technology, pedagogy, content and context. The analysis here has focused only on the first two components.

I have made some attempts to address these limitations by performing SWOT analysis from three perspectives – student, teacher, school leadership –but time and length limits prevent further work.

General practices and difficulties

When thinking about e-learning design for this assignment I have generated a number of general difficulties (Table 2) and practices (Table 3) that need to be addressed. While perhaps not explicitly stated in the following designs, these practices and difficulties have been considered.

Table 2. General difficulties
Difficulty Description
Mathematics online Writing mathematics online is difficult with no standard (Hayes, 2009).
What is authentic What I deem authentic may not appear so to students.
Time in the day Developing effective, innovative e-learning applications will take time that may not always be available.
Table 3. General practices
Practice Description
Overlapping and integrated Where possible use of these ICTs will not be in stand-alone lessons. Use will overlap. e.g. as described in one blog post (Jones, 2011b) if creation of digital video is required during a term, the class “getting to know you” activity might include digital video creation in order to get students started with the technology.
Training Training in the use of the ICTs and the broader ethical, legal and safety issues would be integrated. In part, as per the appropriate curriculum framework (e.g. the ICTs KLA) and the development of 21st century literacies.
Anonymity Where applicable students will be encouraged/required to use pseudonyms and other tactics to maintain anonymity within public online spaces.
Observation The connectivist/social constructivist flavour in these designs often requires students to interact with a group of people, including teachers. The openness enables observation, both for feedback, but also safety.
Sandbox and opt-out Where appropriate activities will occur within a sandbox – school specific area – such as with Minecraft. Who can access the sandbox would vary.

Group 1 – Blogs as individual, reflective journals

The focus here is on web blogs as individual, reflective journals. The design I’ve analysed and would adopt is based on a previous design I used within a university context (Jones, 2006; Jones & Luck, 2009). The basic model is:

  • Each student creates and maintains and individual blog for the entire term/class.
  • Blogs are used to post responses to specific tasks and also for general reflection.
  • Student blogs are aggregated, read and commented upon.

The design is intended to encourage student reflection in part through the blog becoming the students’ learning journal. The specific tasks would depend on the class and context, but would be designed to scaffold student learning and achieve specific learning outcomes. A particular emphasis would be on creating connections between students and appropriate members of the broader community. Another primary aim is to increase the visibility of student understanding and subsequently increase the level of feedback to the student. Reflection, feedback, collaboration, and active construction of artifacts are all seen as important activities for improving learning outcomes.

Group 2 – Digital video and WCYDWT

In terms of digital video, I am interested in the application of the What Can You Do With This (WCYDWT) (Meyer, 2010) approach to mathematics education. WCYDWT is a design strategy for mathematics through which multimedia materials – mostly video – can be used to show the students something interesting. This is then used as the spark for the question “What can you do with this?” and the subsequent collaborative, inquiry-based lesson around mathematics concepts. WCYDWT increases the interest and relevance of mathematics to the students, but also creates an environment in which students are scaffolded to think mathematically.

WCYDWT has a number of other attractions. There is an active and growing community of interested teachers producing WCYDWT resources (e.g. WCYDWT Group, 2011). Also, the initial technical resource and skill requirements are limited to the ability to show a digital video. There is, however, the possibility of expanding this approach much further so that students are creating video. For example, Noschese’s (2010) description of analysing the speed of cars on a local road using video.

Group 3 – VoiceThread research poster session

For group 3 technologies I chose to focus on the use of VoiceThread as an enabler for a public research poster session (Jones, 2011d). This is also based on an early project (CDDU, 2008). The idea is that:

  • Students are asked to create a research poster addressing a relevant topic.
  • Topic choice needs to connect with an important aspect of the curriculum, interest the students, and enable a connection with an external community.
  • Students create the poster using means of their choice, as long as a digital version can be created at the end (e.g. scanning a physical poster).
  • All student posters are uploaded to VoiceThread.
  • Virtual and physical poster sessions are held where students, parents or outside community members can comment on student posters.

In terms of learning theory and pedagogy, the approach has strong connections with constructionism (Papert & Harel, 1991), connectivism (Downes, 2011) and Learning Engagement theory (Kearsley & Shneiderman, 1998). The connectivism influence is why VoiceThread was chosen over other tools such as Glogster. In particular, VoiceThread’s support for comments in the form of text, audio or video.

While VoiceThread’s limited online authoring support can be seen as problem, it is also a potential positive as it increases student choice. Especially in terms of using traditional physical means. This reduces the required digital skills barrier, especially if this were used in mathematics.

Group 4 – Minecraft

Seymour Papert (2004) said

Because in our popular culture the informational side of the computer is the side that is most familiar and most useful, it has the tendency to strengthen that side of our education system. Now that’s good to strengthen it, but it’s also had the effect of pushing the balance over, away from the constructional side.

To some extent I saw the above designs as tending toward the informational. So, for this last group, I looked for a tool that lean toward the “constructional side”.

What I found was Minecraft, an award winning sandbox construction game (“Minecraft,” n d) that is gathering an increasing level of interest within education circles (Webster, 2011). It provides a virtual world in which resources are used to construct objects. Beyond encouraging the “constructional side”, Minecraft is relatively cheap, provides plugins that can be useful for a teacher, enables students to collaborate in world (or not), and can be run as a school (or class) only server.

The pedagogical possibilities of an open-ended virtual world are enormous, however, I found my limited content and contextual knowledge holding my ideas back. On further reflection, I am interested in how Minecraft could be used in an integrated and overlapping way for Year 8 and 9 Mathematics. Some possibilities include:

  • WCYWDWT activities created/shown within Minecraft.
  • Quests into existing Minecraft worlds that require students to apply mathematical knowledge and teamwork to finish.
  • Various pedagogical approaches around collaborative projects requiring the design and construction of replicas of real-world objects.

There are obvious and immediate connections with sections of the Mathematics KLA (QSA, 2007), e.g. the Space organiser. The more complex applications would require significant work, however, given findings around the positive effects of computer games on achievement in mathematics (e.g. Kebritchi, Hirumi, & Bai, 2010), it seems an effort worth making.

More difficult again, but also very interesting, would be the cross-curricular possibilities.


Behrens, S., Jamieson, K., Jones, D., & Cranston, M. (2005). Predicting system success using the Technology Acceptance Model: A case study. Sydney.

CDDU. (2008). Voice Thread for research posters. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from

CQUniversity. (2011). eLearning Design. Retrieved April 13, 2011, from

Downes, S. (2011). ‘Connectivism’ and Connective Knowledge. Retrieved April 9, 2011, from

Hayes, B. (2009). Writing Math on the Web. American Scientist, 97(2), 98. doi: 10.1511/2009.77.98.

Jones, D. (2006). Blogs, reflective journals and aggregation: An initial experiment. Retrieved April 4, 2011, from

Jones, D. (2011a). Group 1 technologies: Blogs, Wikis and websites. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from

Jones, D. (2011b). Group 2 technologies: Images, audio and video. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from

Jones, D. (2011c). ICTs for learning design: Group 2 technologies – The readings. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from

Jones, D. (2011d). Group 3 technologies – The readings. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from

Jones, D. (2011e). Group 3 technologies – The activities. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from

Jones, D. (2011f). Group 4 technologies – activities. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from

Jones, D. (2011g). Exploring Minecraft. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from

Jones, D., Jamieson, K., & Clark, D. (2003). A model for evaluating potential Web-based education innovations. Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (pp. 154-161). Hawaii: IEEE. Retrieved from

Jones, D., & Luck, J. (2009). Blog Aggregation Management: Reducing the Aggravation of Managing Student Blogging. AACE. Retrieved from

Jones, D., Vallack, J., & Fitzgerald-Hood, N. (2008). The Ps Framework: Mapping the landscape for the PLEs@CQUni project. Melbourne.

Kearsley, G., & Shneiderman, B. (1998). Engagement Theory: A framework for technology-based teaching and learning. Educational Technology, 38(5), 20-23.

Kebritchi, M., Hirumi, A., & Bai, H. (2010). The effects of modern mathematics computer games on mathematics achievement and class motivation. Computers & Education, 55(2), 427-443. Elsevier Ltd. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2010.02.007.

Meyer, D. (2010). WCYDWT – A new vision for math reform. Retrieved March 17, 2011, from

Minecraft. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2008). Introducing technological pedagogical content knowledge. Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (New York, New York) (pp. 1-16). Retrieved March 14, 2011, from

Noschese, F. (2010). Speeding problem? Retrieved April 14, 2011, from

Papert, S. (2004). Keynote address at the i3 1 to 1 Notebook Conference. Sydney, Australia. Retrieved from

Papert, S., & Harel, I. (1991). Constructionism. New York City: Ablex Publishing Corporation.

QSA. (2007). Mathematics: Essential learnings by the end of Year 9 (p. 4). Brisbane, Australia. Retrieved from

Rowe, K. (2006). Effective teaching practices for students with and without learning difficulties: Constructivism as a legitimate theory of learning AND of teaching. Background paper to keynote address presented at the NSW DET Office of Schools Portfolio Forum, Australian Council for Educational Research, Melbourne. Retrieved April 13, 2011, from

WCYDWT Group. (2011). Best content in WCYDWT. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from

Webster, A. (2011). Educational building blocks: how Minecraft is used in classrooms. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from

Safe, legal and ethical practice for ICTs in schools

The assignment for ICTs for Learning Design that I am meant to be completing has a rubric with four criteria. The fourth criteria is

Model and support safe, legal and ethical practice

During my wonderings within the course, I have yet to come across (or remember) anything that explains what is considered “safe, legal and ethical practice”. Is this constructivism gone made, simply my bad memory, or is knowledge of what this is just assumed?

In the following I’m attempting construct my own meaning so that it will shine through in my assignment submission.

What do I know?

In short, my current knowledge can be described as:

  • Safe – the kids aren’t exposed to situations in which they may suffer harm in various forms.
  • Legal – the participants aren’t doing anything that breaks laws.
  • Ethical – from a simplistic perspective, don’t do unto others, what you don’t want done to you. Morals enter the picture here somewhat.

Time to look further afield.

From the course

Yes, my memory was playing tricks. The course – back in week 2 – does mention the safe, legal, and ethical application of ICTs. It points to the following resources

  • Risk management for web publishing from Queensland Department of Education.
    Which includes the idea that no student information can be disseminated online as part of school activities. Though parental consent can be used in some circumstances. Also, copyright considerations apply.
  • Some more specific discussion of schools, students and teachers and copyright online. (for which the bottom “next page” link doesn’t seem to work).
    Some implications from the examples in this resource
    • Posting original student work online is okay, and can be open to the public if students agree.
    • If the student work contains 3rd party material, fair dealing/use applies.
    • If fair dealing is used, any online student material using it must be restricted to teachers, students and parents.
    • Staff use of copyright material (including video) are covered under the “Part VB” approach and must be limited to teachers and students (and parents for assisting students).

Thinking digitally – Ethics, issues and ICT

Another Queensland-based online resource provides another view on this information. It talks about National Statements of Learning for ICT – which will be picked up in the following section.

It does make the point that teachers are meant to model the ethical use of ICTs for their students. But most of the resources are essentially about creative commons and other mechanisms by which you can access resources that are free of copyright.

Essential learnings

The use of ICTs is actually part of the curriculum (e.g. the year 9 essential learnings for ICTs). “Ethics, issues and ICTs” is one of the organisers for this KLA and includes the following.

Students understand the multiple roles and impacts of ICTs in society. They develop and apply
ethical, safe and responsible practices when working with ICTs in online and stand-alone
environments. They:

  • apply codes of practice relevant to local and global environments, particularly in relation to online
  • understand that values shape how ICTs are used
  • apply codes of practice and strategies to conform to intellectual property and copyright laws
  • consider individual rights and cultural expectations when accessing or creating digital information
  • select and apply a range of preventative strategies to minimise health and safety issues
  • secure and protect digital information, including personal information and recognise the specific
    needs of some users
  • develop and maintain strategies for securing and protecting digital information
  • analyse and evaluate ICT use, considering economic, social, ethical and legal perspectives
  • reflect on, analyse and evaluate the current use of ICTs and predict future impacts on the
    workplace and society.

Some questions/thoughts which arise from that

  • What are the most applicable “codes of practice” in this context?
  • Ahh, health and safety is included in this, posture etc.

I find it interesting that the Western Australian Department of Education website on ICT in learning has “Student Safety” as a major section, but not ethics. Not to mention that content filtering is placed within this category, i.e. it’s a student safety issue.


This ethical use document for ICTs from a Tasmanian school has, what I think, is an important perspective on the ethical use of ICTs.

Characteristics of ethical use of ICT equipment and systems are no different from
the fundamental principles on which Christianity is based:

Not so much the Christianity point, but that ethical behaviour is ethical behaviour regardless of whether it is with ICTs, a pen, or your fist.

That said, the connection with the fundamental principle of “openness” and the ICT translation being “acceptance of the monitoring of computer use” has me pausing just a bit.

Exploring minecraft

Update/recommendation: The following may be helpful for some, but it has it’s limitations. For example, in terms of coming up with L&T applications for Minecraft I was constrained by my limited knowledge of Minecraft, and even worse, a limited view of L&T. For a broader view I suggest reading about and engaging with Massively Minecraft. You have to be in it to learn it.

The ICTs for Learning Design course I’m taking has a second assignment that requires us to engage in a number of technologies (organised into four groups) and analyse their applicability for learning and teaching. Group 4 is fairly open and includes simulations. We’re allowed to choose our technology. I have been tossing up going the easy route and looking at a given technology, or branching out. The Minecraft movement has encouraged me to choose it. This is a very early, incomplete analysis.

Why Minecraft?

It started with a week or so ago with me stumbling across The Minecraft Teacher. Sorry, I can’t remember how or who directed me this way, but thanks. But it was probably via this article. An important point to make, this teacher is primarily teaching 1st and 2nd graders.

Skimming this blog I came across the mama’s Minecraft birthday post. The story of a 9 year old girl so engaged by a game that she wanted it as a theme for her birthday party was interesting.

But I left it there, didn’t connect it to my situation.

The over the weekend @deangroom started tweeting some, apparently very successful experiences!/deangroom/status/54019263664635904

Dean has since blogged some of his experiences.

And just as I’ve written this, Dean has tweeted this

(Can you tell I’m using this as an excuse to try out WordPress’ new “embed a tweet” functionality? Mmm, they come up big in this theme, must look to see if there’s a way to customise the presentation.)

In the days leading up to this I’d been thinking about and starting to do some groundwork on how I could use this assignment to reflect on work I’d already done or examine technologies that I was interested in. All this movement has encouraged me to add Minecraft to the list.

A particular reason I wanted to add it is that most of the “digital simulations” included in the study material were somewhat close. Minecraft is much more open.

What is Minecraft

It’s a game. According to the Minecraft Wiki (implemented using Mediawiki)

Minecraft is a sandbox construction game, inspired by Infiniminer, and created by Markus Persson, the founder of Mojang AB. The game involves players creating and destroying various types of blocks in a three dimensional environment. The player takes an avatar that can destroy or create blocks, forming fantastic structures, creations and artwork across the various multiplayer servers in multiple game modes.

The following video is shown on the Minecraft home page and gives some feel for the interface, variety of the world and the intent of finding resources and using them to build.

Getting started – the purchase

The first step to playing the latest version of Minecraft is spending 14.95 Euros and then either playing it within a Web browser or in a downloadable client.

If you’re more advanced, there is a server that can be downloaded and used to play multiplayer. This appears to be a common approach within a class context. Each class having their own server.

So, off to play.

Okay, so that’s my first pig killed. Picked some flowers and oh dear, night has fallen. This, I believe, is when zombies are supposed to come out. It’s quite dark. I’ve found myself a hole to sit in. Not sure this will be sufficient. The ad hoc comments I’ve seen suggest a need to built a shelter before night fall. Will I die?

Ahh, a Beginner’s guide, this would have been useful to see earlier.

Yes, I did die. That is a bit annoying, you respawn 5 minutes after dieing, which means it is still night time and you die again. I can feel a new world coming on.

Mmm, it appears that Minecraft really chews the battery life on a laptop not plugged in…CPU and 3D I assume. more tomorrow.

A couple of days later and I’ve used a few hours to play the game, as @deangroom found, I’m starting to get a bored with the single user mode. I can see how a multi-user world would be much more interesting. I have developed quite a little underground shelter, have done lots of mining and crafting, killed a creeper and then died in a freak boating accident (actually silly mistake). Death can be a bit frustrating as you lose the resources you were carrying.

So, I have a feel for the game, how is it used in teaching?

Using it in teaching, in schools

Following up on the teaching angle I get pointed to the Minecraft in school wiki. It appears to be early days but they have started on lesson plans. Currently with a single lesson plan for the Language arts with an idea for teaching non-fiction/procedural writing in primary school.

As described in the ArsTechnia article the game very much is used to achieve certain learning goals. The class starts with an explanation and the teacher has pre-configured the world with some sort of task. For example, exploring a pyramid and thinking about what to do with the artifacts. As described here the classes being taught are basic computer skills. So skills like typing, manipulation etc fit. “Minecraft makes it fun for them”.

The big question about using Minecraft – as with any of tool, ICT- based or not is whether you can come up a purpose connected to the learning objectives which emphasise the strengths of the tool.

This blog post (from what appears to be the IT director of an Australian school) points out some of the following

  • “First, the kids really needed to know how to make decisions based on priorities.”
  • “Another thing that came out of it was how students quickly developed an appreciation for the value of hard work.”
  • “it became clear (quite by chance) that the discussion around Digital Citizenship was more and more relevant.”
  • “I’m not even mentioning the incredible amounts of math you can get into when you start to talk about building plans”.

Some of the requirements for use in schools

  • Purchase a licence of the game for each computer to be used.
  • Probably set up a Minecraft server.
  • Install any mods deemed appropriate.

It is interesting to see how the flexibility of the game is used by “The Minecraft Teacher”, examples include

  • Making students invulnerable so they cannot be hurt or killed.
  • It is played on a school only multiplayer server version of the game.
    i.e. only the students are in the world, but they are all in the same world.
  • The teacher uses a “god” mode in the game to help students who get stuck.
  • Provided a narrative and a constrained world in which the lesson will take place.

Why use it

Well, engagement seems to be a significant reason

Not only did we have a productive and fun unit, but I would say that this was the best project I have ever done in the classroom. In my 8 years of teaching I have never seen students so excited and engaged.

Something about letting go as per this comment

If we give kids the appropriate motivation and respect, they can be a lot smarter than most people expect them to be.

Not to mention some of the comments on the post that are from students “wish i had a teach like you”

The sheer openness of the possibilities is perhaps one of the major advantages of the game, possibly also one of the major challenges. There are folk who have built 1:1 models of the Enterprise or the following video that shows someone who has built an Arithmetic Logic Unit (the component of a computer that performs arithmetic).

This is one of the major advantages of the game, as described here

Minecraft has gained a cult following for essentially allowing players to create anything they can imagine; it has the same cathartic ability as a drawer full of Lego bricks


As mentioned above, there appear to be some obvious mathematical applications around space. One quick idea would be that once students are familiar with Minecraft

  • Give them a specification for a building within Minecraft. (e.g. length, breadth, height or some other primitives).
  • Have them calculate the amount of resources they would need.
  • Use the “god” mode to provide each group with exactly those resources.
  • Get them to construct the building.

I’m somewhat ashamed to include that example, as it doesn’t explore the full capabilities of the tool.

A related, and perhaps slightly better example, would be to go the whole hog with a building project for the school. i.e. set groups of students up as builders who have won the tender to construct buildings for the school. The buildings would be the existing school buildings, each group given a different one. The allocation of buildings to groups could be random. At this stage the steps could vary

  • Each group might have to convert an existing “real-world” plan for their building into a Minecraft plan.
    This could be used to teach scale, but also requires decision making etc.
  • The group could be given the Minecraft plan for the building but then have to develop the quantities of material required.
    In fact, this step could be put first and the groups could be asked to tender for the building project. i.e there could be some market rates set for different Minecraft blocks and the students have to compete against each other for the tender process.
  • The quantities they estimate are then provided to them (via the teacher in god mode) and they are required to construct the building.
    Before this, they could be asked to develop plans for how they are going to build it. In fact, this stage could also be turned into a game. i.e. The speed with which they complete the building could be rewarded. Either through competition with other groups developing the same building, or through bonuses for early completion.

Other possible application in a mathematics class, coming from a beginning mathematics teacher, might include the following. This is a brainstorming list, the validity of the ideas has not been checked.

  • Some linkage with graphing.
    The block like nature of the game seems to lend itself to this.
  • Length, perimeter, area etc all link with the building examples above or similar.
    e.g. introduce the pyramids and get them to calculate how many blocks would be required. Could actually start with the complete Minecraft pyramid in a WCYDWT type application using the game to show it, rather than video.
  • Angles and direction.
    Having small groups of students each with their own computer in single player mode. Have the same world loaded up and use it for an orientation game. They are given a in-world compas or other tools to estimate angles/direction and have to follow a set of directions. If successful, they will see neat things, gather good resources etc.
  • Shape recognition.
    Rather than simply ask the students to name a set of shapes. Have them explore a Minecraft world that has various shapes already created in it. They have to correctly identify the full list of those shapes and perhaps record other characteristics of those shapes. The task could perhaps be combined with the previous one.
  • Probability.
    Am wondering if/how statistics and the study of probability could be used to estimate the best places to look for resources within the game. Depending on the game mechanics, have the students (in groups) estimate the best locations to search, perform the search and see what they find. As a whole class they could perhaps compare where they want to search, what they find, and then calculate some rules of thumb.

    In fact, perhaps a better way to frame it is to ask, where is the best place to mine? And have them empirically test it by performing experiments in mining in different locations, comparing and analysing the resource data and developing rules of thumb.

  • Money.
    Wondering about the setting up of a Minecraft economy in which the students have to participate and subsequently exchange money. Perhaps even countries????

In an IT course, especially a junior one, I can some applications in teaching students about the value of combining different tools and manipulating data. For example, show them the guy who create 1:1 scale model of the Enterprise and ask them how they would have done this. The idea being that manually creating this model by putting block on block would be a very silly idea. Instead, it’s about grabbing plans from one place, converting them into another, feeding it into another program (map editor) etc. From here, see if similar projects can be set for them in terms of constructing some rather large local or important artifact.

And let’s not forget the guy building a computer in Minecraft. Obvious connections between that and an IT class. Beyond that, having the IT class support the local school community in its use of Minecraft offers some positives.

The experience described on this comment strikes me as something much more interesting. The idea of exploring bartering for resources as part of an economics class. Or perhaps constructing Minecraft renditions of “important” environments and having the students role play various tasks. Starting to make connections here with the early work of Mike Wesch.


So, for the purposes of assessment, let’s bring the analysis together into one place. A SWOT analysis as used in previous posts. As previous, the idea is that the “internal” perspectives (strengths and weaknesses) are associated directly with the technology (Minecraft) while the “external” perspectives (opportunities and threats) are associated with the pedagogy used for the technology and the broader social setting/issues.

Strengths Teacher Students School leadership
Strengths A “sandbox” game, limited only by the imagination of the users.
Ability to set up a “school” server.
Flexibility provided by mods.
Possibility that students could continue playing at home (at least single user mode).
It’s a game! The ability to run a school server provides a safe environment for the students.
Weaknesses The theory is that students require a significant amount of scaffolding to engage effectively in the game *
There are a few online reports of technical problems with the vendors servers.
It’s no Call of Duty. Why would I both playing such a silly game.
It’s so basic and a little difficult to get going in
You want to spend $$ on installing a version of a game on every computer?
You want to set up a school server for Minecraft and allow the students to access it from home? And others from around the world?
Opportunities The motivation/engagement of a game.
All of the positives that arise from a more constructivist approach to education
It’s fun. The chance to be seen as innovative?
Threats The difficulty of coming up with applications that actually work within the constraints of schooling
Finding the right balance of freedom, scaffolding and control would appear to be difficult in an open game like this, especially in terms of balancing perceptions of children, parents, management etc.
All the difficulties that arise from a more constructivist approach to education.
All we do is play games. Aren’t the parents going to question whether playing a game is learning i.e. the “fear of games” (Squire, 2002)

* There is an alternate perspective (e.g. as shown in the Hole-in-the-wall experiments) that children don’t really need all this scaffolding. Instead, given the right setting they can figure much of this out themselves.

There is a significant literature around “game-based” learning. I have not had the opportunity to engage with it in any meaningful way. And will not have a chance to do so for this assignment, though it is definitely on my list of tasks to do. That literature will have significantly more informed perspectives on the application of a game like Minecraft into education. I would imagine there is also quite a history of using such games within education that would offer insights.


Squire, K. (2002). Cultural framing of computer/video games. Game studies, 2(1), 90. Retrieved April 12, 2011, from

Group 4 Technologies – Activities

And so the final group of technologies to play with prior to the assignment. This is an open-ended group and includes: animations and simulations; Google earth; Google Maps; and Google docs. The “historical” recap of what I’ve done associated with these technologies is part of the assessment – showing that I’ve “played” with the technologies.

Animations and simulations

I have a bit of experience with using and helping create (usually in a fairly minimal role) animations and simulations as evidenced in some publications (Chernich and Jones, 1994; Chernich, Jamieson and Jones, 1995; Jones and Newman, 2001; 2002). All of those publications were about various versions of Ron Chernich’s Operating System (RCOS). RCOS was a simulated operating system in that it actually ran programs and managed I/O devices etc. But it also showed animations of the internal algorithms and data structures that the operating system used to perform these tasks.

The following images show the same basic view. First in RCOS, the MS-DOS version of from the early 1990s.

RCOS CPU Scheduling screen

Second from, the Java version from the late 1990s. CPU Scheduler

Interest in RCOS arose because I was given the task of teaching a course on operating systems, which was described as (Chernich and Jones, 1994)

An advanced level computing subject covering the theoretical concepts of operating systems is an essential part of any computing degree (Denning, 1989). The study of computing has three essential paradigms: theory, abstraction and design (Denning 89). An operating systems subject is very heavy on the theory. In such a subject providing the abstraction and design paradigms to enable students to fully understand the theoretical principles involved is difficult (Hartley, 1992. Withers and Bilodeau, 1992. Goh, 1992. Christopher et al, 1993). The provision of these paradigms to distance students is considerably more difficult.

Essentially, the concepts within the course are difficult and heavily theoretical. Most people struggle to get them when taught face-to-face and accompanied by lots of physical demonstrations. The majority of the students in the course I was teaching were distance education students, i.e. they never saw my physical demonstrations. Initially an existing animated operating system tool – PRMS – was used but it had some difficulties. One of the students who experienced that difficulty – Ron Chernich – liked the idea, but thought he could solve many of the problems. He did, very well.

But by the late 1990s, the MS-DOS platform was not really state of the art. So with the release of Java a decision was made to port RCOS to the Java platform. was the result and much of the work ended up being done by another student Andrew Newman. As it happens website is still up and provides access to the code and some of the background to the project. was never used at CQU, but has been used at a number of other universities around the world. For example, this project report from a Brazilian university student.

Simulations, especially as complex as RCOS, take a lot of effort and resources to implement effectively. Hence that option tends to fall out of the realm of most people. There has been significant improvements in the tools that can be used to implement simulations, but if you are attempting to simulate something that is complex, it is still going to be complex. RCOS and were possible because of the benefit of having talented project students who were able to develop these simulations as part of project work.

In addition, really complex simulations can be a barrier for student use which implies significantly more work on the part of the teacher to effectively scaffold student use of the simulations. This is one of the reasons why was never used at the host institution. Other people were taking the course, they didn’t see the benefit from investing the necessary time to scaffold effective student use. The quality (perceived or otherwise) of probably played a part in that.

Which is one of the reasons why by the late 1990s the focus had turned to producing “canned” animations of operating systems concepts. I am somewhat amazed that these 12+ year old Flash animations are still working. Which does raise the other problem with these type of approaches, obsolescence. As technology progresses the significant resources invested in a particular application may have to be thrown away. e.g. it would be very difficult to get RCOS up and going again these days.

All of which points to the idea that K-12 teachers are more often than not going to be consumers of simulations (and to a lesser extent animations) produced by others than producers in their own right. There are tools and approaches, especially for animations, that do lower the entry level especially for animation (e.g. Animoto, Powerpoint, stop-motion video etc) and in some cases enable students to be more engaged in the production of animations.

Picking up on that point, the activities page for this group of technologies starts the animations and simulations section with the following quote

Animations and Simulations offer substantial advantages over print based material when it comes to complex interactions and abstract concepts.

And that certainly was one of the major driving forces behind the above work. There was, however, a more important finding or reflection from this work.

Student construction/manipulation of animations/simulations provide an even stronger learning experience

The two project students that helped design and implement the animations reported this. The task of designing correct and pedagogical effective animations taught them more about the operating systems concepts than they had learned taking the course the previous term (and they were amongst the best in the class). In addition, the real benefit from RCOS arose because as a simulation, students could create programs that RCOS would run. They could also change algorithms used by the operating system. Both of these changed how RCOS operated and they could observe these changes. This ability to experiment significantly helped learning.

Learning objects

The difficulty and cost of producing animations/simulations brings up the idea of Learning Objects. We’re pointed to this article (Bratina, Hayes and Blumsack, 2002) on “Preparing teachers to use learning objects”. I have to admit to always being a bit of a skeptic of learning objects, especially in terms of the large-scale, centralised warehouse projects that were all the rage. i.e. to help people use learning objects we have to have them all stored, categorised and described within this single index. As if by doing so you would solve all the problems that were preventing teachers from using learning objects. Which I thought was just wrong.

One reason why I think this comes back to the observation that most people, there are always exceptions, don’t want abstracted, formal, packaged recommendations of useful tips and tools. Most people get their tips and tools from people they trust. If Fred in the class next to me found animation X useful and his kids were in raptures about it, then I might use it. Average Joe Teacher isn’t going to get enthused and adopt learning objects from centralised repository because he doesn’t use the repository as a regular part of his everyday life and somewhat relatedly doesn’t really trust the repository. Average Joe Teacher does, however, know and interact regularly with Fred. From this perspective encouraging the building and maintenance of PLNs (why is it I feel a little dirty when I use that buzzword) would seem a better approach to spreading the use of PLNs.

From my experience (not entirely bias free) I’ve used more “learning objects” that have come over my PLN than from any repository. For example, I really want to trawl through the collection of resources put together by the WCYDWT group on Diigo. Here’s a group of learning objects I think I would use.

How’s this for a learning object that just came across my PLN (click on it to see a bigger version). It shows a series of dance moves based on arranging arms to match the results of graphing various formula. How’s this for an activity for kinesthetic learners? Given a piece of music, create a dance limited only to these dance moves. Which has me wondering how games like Dance Central and the Kinnect could be harnessed as part of this.

The article offers the following advice about how to “motivate teachers to use learning objects”

  1. Help teachers to find and develop useful learning objects.
  2. Have new learning object users determine lesson objectives.
  3. Urge novices to begin gradually and play with purpose.
  4. Motivate novices to conduct a “dry run” and seek critiques of their work.
  5. Stress the use of research-based, interesting and connected learning objects to beginners.
  6. Support teachers’ work on learning objects.

Is it just me, or does this have a preachy tone to it? For example this quote from the paper

We must help teachers recognize that determining objectives is a requirement for all lesson plans.

Are there really any teachers who don’t really know this? I think some of my biases about this sort of work apparently have a deficit model of teachers practice. i.e. the teachers are missing something by not doing X – in this case using learning objects – so we have to help them overcome their deficit. In this case, by helping them start with lesson objectives and use a research basis.

Explore Learning and Gizmos

One example we’re given is ExploreLearning and its collection of Gizmos. First problem, need the Shockwave plugin, download that. Second problem, they cost money. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but depending on context, might be a limiting factor. Back to this later.

Actually, no. The Shockwave installer has worked, but the Gizmo is still giving me an error message, an unhelpful one at that. It’s a commercial application that has problems, so I’ll ignore it. What I suspect I would have seen is well designed “applets” showing off particular aspects of content all integrated into a nice package, including lessons plans.

Google earth and google maps

Ahh, google earth the old standby example for “cool technology” presentations, like this one I gave at Glenmore High 4 years ago. A presentation that included a section on Google earth which was demonstrated using the following movie (wasn’t sure I’d have Internet access at the school). The video briefly shows off the Travels of Odysseus in Google Earth.

Oops, vimeo doesn’t like the format of the video and I’m not going to waste the time to do the conversion. It essentially showed an image of Google Earth first focusing on the school and then zooming out and across to the Mediterranean and showing the placemarkers for the travels of Odysseus.

Was interested to see a link to Real World Math. It’s a pity that the website is having problems. Though the related blog seems operational. Ahh, this is what I wanted to see, a collection of lesson plans. This lesson around estimating distance using landmarks familiar to the students looks like having some benefits. It connects them to their real world/context and lets them see it in different ways (both through Google earth but also through mathematics). A related example is Dan Meyer’s Speeding in Compton.

And to pick up again on the argument for PLNs being the best mechanism for disseminating learning objects, take a look at this post. It details how someone else has taken the Meyer idea and applied it in their context.

Interesting to see Google Earth and Google Maps put into different categories, I always treated them as essentially the same technology using a different interface. Each interface having its relevant strengths and weaknesses based on the context.

In a previous life, we used Google Maps on the group’s website to show people where we were located on the campus. The map has changed a bit since then – organisational restructures are great – but it’s essentially the same.

Google docs for collaboration

Personally, I think many of the Wiki activities used in the early weeks of this course would have been better done using Google docs. Especially given that most of those tasks were based around collaborative authoring of a single document. In my experience, Google docs offer a much easier to use, familiar approach to collaborative authoring than Wikis. Wikis work better, in my experience, for entire websites or collections of web pages.

I haven’t had the experience to use Google docs in learning and teaching but I have used it to co-author papers and also in managing processes used to produce study guides for a University. Traditionally the process had been done using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that was controlled by a single person. This created all sorts of problems, mostly around that person being the only person who could contact authors. To make the process more distributed we moved and adapted the spreadsheet into Google docs.

Online concept mapping

We’re pointed to and Text2Mindmap as examples of online concept mapping. As it happens I came across this presentation on Google Docs (via my PLN) which outlines “15 Interesting ways to use Prezi in the Classroom” (It is interesting that it is a presentation about using Prezi, that isn’t done in Prezi). #7 is “Use Prezi as a mind map”. It in turn points to the following video of a Prezi mindmap

I think I’m tempted to use Prezi for mind/concept mapping, more so than other tools. I must admit that I have rarely used concept mapping myself. The other challenge is being able to achieve the task

Develop a mind map that presents an overview of this week’s topic. This will be used to support your analysis of tools for Assignment 2.

My first response is exactly what was the content/purpose of this week’s topic?

The stated topic title was “Digital tools and pedagogies 3”. The overview basically mentions presentation tools and “favourite” tools. The readings essentially summarise the tools and point to some extra readings (e.g. the learning objects article mentioned above). Mmm, am thinking this doesn’t interest me much, instead I’ll go for something aimed more at assignment 2. In particular, the concept of “effective and efficient digital pedagogies to enhance student learning”.

And here it is with an image of it below. It is still very incomplete. Mainly because the affordances of the Prezi authoring functionality isn’t that well matched to concept mapping. i.e. the authoring functionality is more low level and doesn’t know anything about concept maps. Which means the author has to combine the lower level Prezi functionality to achieve the concept map effects he/she wants. On the plus side, the visualisation is, at least to me, a big plus. The zooming nature of Prezi lends itself to this sort of thing. A Prezi concept mapping overlay would work well.

prezi concept map

Other tools

It’s suggested that we also looking at Dipity – a online timeline tool – and Zooburst – an interactive digital storybook – I’m going to ignore both of those. They are just essentially more tools for information distribution. A very different emphasis than other tools but I’m confident I could learn how to use them quite quickly and I can see applications for them. Intead, I’m going to focus on the other aspect of this group and look at a tool that I choose.

Which begs the question as to what tool to choose. Some of the possibilities I have considered over recent weeks include:

  • Minecraft – a construction game which is being used in teaching and getting some positive feedback.
    This connects somewhat with the simulation category this week, but goes beyond that. It does lead me to thinking about the role of games in education which is becoming increasingly prevalent.
  • Scratch, Alice or some other introductory programming language.
    This is really getting into Papert/constructionist territory. A programming language would normally be seen as something restricted to IT courses, but there’s an argument to be made that programming should be something everyone learns (e.g. Ruskhoff’s program or be programmed argument).
  • Python or some other “real” programming language.
    For example, the idea of programming in math/sciences.
  • ManyEyes or similar data visualisation tool. Especially when used in connection with some of the open data repositories and the ideas associated with quantitative literacies. Or, alternatively, just with data provided by the students.
  • Some mathematics related software such as GeoGebra.
    As described by Stols and Kriek (2011)

    This software allows learners to discover patterns, to explore and to test conjectures by constructing their own sketches. Dynamic mathematics software is a powerful teaching and learning medium and it has been reported to (a) enhance mathematics teaching; (b) help with conceptual development; (c) enrich visualisation of geometry; (d) lay a foundation for analysis and deductive proof; and (e) create opportunities for creative thinking (Sanders 1998). School students can improve their understanding using software because the dynamic environment improves visualisation skills and ability to focus on interrelationships of the parts of geometric shapes (Clements, Sarama, Yelland & Glass, 2008).

In the end the decision most comes down to time. All of the above are interesting to me for various reasons. But it is Minecraft that I have already put a bit of time into having a look at, so that’s the one I’ll focus on. That focus will be done in another post.


Bratina, T. A., Hayes, D., & Blumsack, S. L. (2002). Preparing teachers to use learning objects. The Technology Source, 2. Retrieved April 12, 2011, from

Chernich, R., & Jones, D. (1994). The design and construction of a simulated operating system. Brisbane.

Chernich, R., Jamieson, B., & Jones, D. (1995). RCOS: Yet another teaching operating system. Sydney: ACM.

Jones, D., & Newman, A. (2001). A simulated operating system with animations. In G. Chapman (Ed.), (p. section C4). Brno, The Czech Republic.

Jones, D., & Newman, A. (2002). A constructivist-based tool for operating systems education. World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications (pp. 882-883). Denver, Colorado.

Stols, G., & Kriek, J. (2011). Why don’t all maths teachers use dynamic geometry software in their classrooms. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 27(1), 137-151. Retrieved from

What shapes how we think?

I’ve only listed to some of the audio of this presentation, and from that experience, watching the video is probably the advised approach.

I find this interesting because of how it undermines the smug confidence of some folk who are so certain that they are objectively correct. That they are logical, objective and unbiased. It shows how the language you speak does appear to radically influence how we see the world.

Which is important because how you see the world impacts, I believe, in how you act in the world.

This connects with @sthcrft blog post from yesterday on bias.

It also connects closely with my wife’s PhD work – hence you can see some or the origins of my bias in this work. My wife has examined articles from (arguably) the three most important journals in the field of Information Systems, sampled in a variety of ways. She’s looked for the metaphors that these journal articles have used to describe three central concepts for the field of information systems: technology, people, organisations.

And what has she found? The pre-dominant metaphor in terms of both prevalence, but also in how deeply it has been constructed, is that of the machine. Technology, people and organisations are talked about as if they were machines. Can you imagine how that might influence how people take action around these concepts, if they see them as machines.

There are two other evident metaphors: organism and culture. Both are present, but significantly less so than the machine metaphor and they are not developed in as much depth.

I’ve often wondered what a similar research activity performed on the educational technology literature would find?

Amplify’d from
o the languages we speak shape the way we think? For example, how do we think about time? The word “time” is the most frequent noun in the English language. Time is ubiquitous yet ephemeral. It forms the very fabric of our experience, and yet it is unperceivable: we cannot see, touch, or smell time. How do our minds create this fundamental aspect of experience? Do patterns in language and culture influence how we think about time?



A feeble first attempt at moving towards WCYDWT

Late last week I was thinking about how I could develop something approaching a WCYDWT lesson for mathematics. It is something I am going to have to do very soon now. As it happens, in looking for the WCYDWT link, I came across this Diigo group that I am going to have to return to.

The following is a first attempt. Actually, it’s the first example of me seeing something in my everyday life that I can connect to the curriculum and see some ideas for developing a lesson. Given that I am going to have to be developing lessons soon, I’m hoping to get into this practice more.

This type of thing may not connect directly with the strictures (if such exist) of WCYDWT. I guess I am using that as a useful label to encourage me to structure lessons that ask the students to generate the questions (which I am hopefully strongly guiding towards the curriculum) in the hope that it is more meaningful and interesting to them and consequently leads to better outcomes. The ultimate aim being to encourage them to see the relevance of mathematics.

A comparison of Household finances – The McGuffin

The Weekend Australian Magazine from last weekend had a “Trend Tracker” column on infographics (can’t find it online) which led with some infographics comparing Australian household finances from 1971 to those for 2011. The following table summarises the figures. In a lesson, I’d probably go with the graphics or some form of multimedia.

Figure 1971 2011
Average price of a home $21,000 $557,000
Average grocery bill $23 $250
Average household size 3.3 2.6
Average # of cars per dwelling 0.75 1.5
Average # of household appliances and gadgets 9 27
Average wage $84 $1250

This is one of the difficulties that I see with WCYWDT type problems, while I can see a number of questions that arise from this prompt, what will the students see? Of course, that is also one of the interesting aspects of this type of problem.

Within the Queensland syllabus, this seems to fit with “Chance and Data” and discussions of averages/means, but also with decimals, money and a few other places. Making these connections is one of the skills I need to develop further.

Some of the questions I can see (feel free to suggest more)

  • What does it mean to have 2.6 people in a household?
    The notion of averages etc.
  • Given the costs of houses, groceries etc and the average wage, are people better off or worse?
    Apart from the calculations, there are a range of further questions – not necessarily mathematical questions – about what “better off” means. i.e. do 27 gadgets make you better off than 9 etc.
  • What were the maximum and minimum values for these averages?
    Leading into more questions about what “average” actually means

An extension of this, somewhat fraught with peril, would be to get the students to provide data to do an in-class calculation of equivalent figures. Some possibilities might include

  • Real figures from home.
    i.e. bring in the grocery bill, Mum and Dad’s group certificate….obviously there are some major privacy issues arising from this approach.
  • Actually start with the students providing their figures.
    i.e. start the lesson with students in groups talking about how much they would like to earn, how much they think the would need to spend on groceries etc. Or perhaps ask them to provide the minimum, just right and maximum wages they’d like to earn (a Goldilocks approach). Get the class playing with those figures and then reveal the national figures.

An obvious extension to this would be to get access to the ABS raw data and see what other interesting data can be pulled from there, but also see if there are ways to get the students mining and manipulating that data.

Another option might be to get some average salary figures for different occupations (perhaps from the ABS) to give the students some idea of the range of salaries and then also to use those as data points to illustrate the concept of average. i.e. some occupations are above and some are below.

Which obviously leads into some of those survey results where everyone thinks they are average.