Category: Teaching and Learning

Down Blog’s Memory Lane


This post is my response to the Teacher Challenge, supported by Edublogs, Kickstart Activity 1:  Ten questions to ask my blog. The image was created in Tagxedo, using the text from this post.

1. Good Afternoon Mr. Technoscience. Now tell me when and why you started blogging?

My first post was in February, 2008 and I have been posting regularly since then, with over 260 posts to date. I was encouraged to start blogging when Heather Blakey visited our school for professional development. I saw blogs as a good place to collect all the many science, maths and other educational resources online, together in one space. I have been encouraged by Anne Mirtschin and Jess McCulloch, both keen bloggers, as well as comments from other teachers and students.

2. Has it been difficult to keep blogging regularly?

 I usually post two or three times a week on each blog (I have five blogs now!) during the school term. I have a blog for each class I teach, so it is my lesson planning, resource storage, reflection space, as well as the place for my students and I to find links to content, tasks and extension activities. So it is not difficult, it replaces some of my pen-and-paper planning and is a resource for students who are absent and other teachers who may be interested.

3. Why did you create separate blogs, instead of different pages on your blog?

I found that it was more difficult to edit pages than post on the front page and most of the time, people just look at the most current material anyway. I could have created separate categories for each subject, but then the posts were moving down the front page too quickly. So now I have Biology, Environmental Science, Technomaths and “Photo a Day” blogs as well as Technoscience.

4. What do you like most about blogging?

I really like having my own space on the internet, where my students, as well as their parents and other teachers, can see the work we have been doing in class. Blogging helps to organise my thoughts and plan for the week ahead. It gives students a launching platform to the world wide web – a familiar place from which they can start to explore the vast array of resources available, with a specific task in mind. It is a place to celebrate student achievements (videos, slideshows, text and images of their work) and a place to gain feedback about their learning. It is one of the places, together with Twitter, where I can meet other teachers.

5. Which are your favourite tools to embed in blogs?

 I regularly use Irfanview to crop, rotate and resize images for my blog. These images are my own photos, creative commons photos and diagrams from Flickr or sourced using Creative Commons Search. I also often use Voicethread, Slideshare, MyStudiyo (quizzes), Google forms and YouTube to embed content I or my students have created. You can find links to these sites in the column at right.

6. Which of your posts have been the most popular?

According to which posts have received the most comments “Steep learning Curve”, “Porshe versus Volvo” and “Test-driving the Volvo” have been the most popular. “Like knitting with a knife and fork” was also an interesting post. The thing that these posts all have in common is that they are my reflections on teaching and learning with technology. I am always grateful for the positive feedback I receive from colleagues and teachers from other schools.

7. What have been the most challenging parts of blogging?

 In the beginning, the most difficult tasks were the ‘behind the scenes’ technical aspects – how to add widgets and links, embed code, manage comments and add an avatar. Now the biggest challenge is maintaining my readership – keeping the content interesting enough to attract an audience and have readers return to the site. I also find I am getting more spam comments, which need to be managed.

8. What have been your most exciting moments?

Receiving a comment on my first post (very encouraging), receiving a comment from a fellow maths and science teacher in Lima, Peru, requesting participation in a global project and being nominated and short-listed in the 2010 Edublogs awards.

 9. Where does your future lie?

I think that I will continue to blog as long as I teach, and possibly even after that! I believe blogging is an essential tool in my professional development, improving my teaching by thoughtful planning, gaining feedback from students and teachers and regular reflection on teaching and learning. Although the Ultranet is designed to host teacher and student blogs, I will be running my global teacher and edublogs sites outside the ‘walls’.

10. What would you say to teachers who don’t blog?

Blogging won’t suit all teachers, but technology is nothing to be afraid of – it is a neutral tool that can be used for both good and evil. Many of our students are very tech-savvy and expect to be constantly communicating and connected to the world beyond the classroom walls. Keeping a blog doesn’t need to be something extra on top of the daily teaching load, it can replace a professional learning journal, lesson planning diary and task sheets for students. Give it a try and you might even get the blogging bug!

Why is it important to teach and learn Science?


Unfortunately, I missed the most recent #scichat on Twitter about “Assessment in Science”, which included discussion about rubrics, portfolios, “open journal quizzes”, “performance labs.”, oral tests, addressing misconceptions and content vs process. Two of the comments that resonated with me were “shifting away from thinking of students as future scientists to students as future citizens” and “providing an authentic audience”.  This was a timely discussion, as we are finalising a curriculum document at our school at present, and I have been thinking carefully about why it is important to teach science in schools. This is what I have come up with:

As a science teacher I aim to:

1. Improve students levels of scientific literacy to enable:

  • informed debate about scientific and technological issues that appear in the popular media
  • active participation in decision-making policy on a range of scientific issues, including environmental matters (for example: stem-cell research, genetically modified organisms, climate change, immunization)
  • consumer confidence based on rational, scientific thinking

2.  Encourage students to become enthusiastic about learning and about science (increase motivation)

3. Develop student’s confidence in their ability to achieve their goals (in science and more generally)

4. Foster an appreciation for the natural environment and the develop the knowledge and skills to contribute to a sustainable society

5. Develop students knowledge, skills and attitudes that are necessary to establish and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Why do you think it is important to teach and learn about science? Please leave me a comment if you have any more ideas.

Porsche versus Volvo


Since Monday’s state-wide, student-free professional development day, I have been pondering the what the future might hold for Victorian teachers and the Ultranet. According to some reports, six years and $88 million has been spent developing the on-line education platform that will allow 24hr access to lesson plans, timetables, student assessment data and attendance records.

 Some teachers have been using the tools that the ultranet purports to deliver for many years already – web2.0 tools, such as blogs, wikis, slideshows, interactive calenders and message boards are readily available on the internet. These ‘early adopters’ of technology in education have tested the tools, used them with students and made decisions about how they can be used to improve learning outcomes. Many of these teachers have become ‘lead users’ of the ultranet, trained to deliver professional development to their fellow staff members and be responsible for the uptake of the ultranet in their schools.

 It has been disappointing, to put it mildly, for these teachers that the ultranet was unavailable and running very slowly on the day that it was meant to showcase its benefits. As well as giving credence to the ‘blockers’, naysayers and critics, many of the hours spent preparing for the day have been wasted. Experienced teachers had plan B in place and the day was not a total loss, with the opportunity to introduce many other web2.0 tools to staff. Our staff were able to spend time exploring FUSE (Find, Use, Share, Educate), GradeXpert (assessment tracking tool), image, audio and video software as well as iPods and Google. Anne Mirtschin, our ICT expert at Hawkesdale and our beloved  guru of technlogy, has written a much more detailed account of our day, including preparation and post-op at “Are we there yet? The Ultranet.”

 When we first heard about the ultranet, four or five years ago, it’s premise was a ‘safe’ learning environment for Victorian school children, a ‘walled garden’, where students could learn about communication, collaboration and connections without risks to their privacy and safety. Since then, our students have been involved in many global projects without any concerning incidents. They have learnt how to be ‘cyber-safe’ and the importance of the digital footprint they leave behind. They have been prepared for life outside school, when there is no wall keeping them in.

 Hence my pictures – the Porsche is what we’ve been using up to now – a smooth, fast and up-to-date vehicle for experienced drivers. A high-performance engine and easy to manouveur with your finger-tips, the Porshe is fast and flexible but risky to drive for inexperienced users. On the other side is grandma’s Volvo – solid, safe and practical. Good for learner drivers, the Volvo can be slow, clunky and difficult to turn. The Ultranet will give teachers who have not yet fully embraced web2.0 technology the opportunity to learn in a safe and secure (but slow and inflexible) environment. Hopefully, the owner and mechanics will keep the vehicle well maintained and up-to-date and it will transport many passengers , until they are ready to purchase their own high-performance vehicles!


iPods in middle years science education

ipod with lego men

Image Source

Since attending the Slide2Learn conference, and being the holidays with plenty of time to play around, I have been exploring the possibilites of using our class set of iPods in the science laboratory. Even without the applications mentioned in previous posts ( Technoscience at Slide2Learn conference, Our Solar System and Free iPod Touch applications for maths and science learners), there are several very useful tools that are pre- installed.

note_taking The note taking application allows the user to tap in quick notes, saved for later use. the advantage of using an ipod over a netbook, laptop or desktop is, of course, it’s portability and it is very quick to open. This is ideal for taking  notes on excursions:

– recording data from water testing, results of quadrat or transect studies;

– adaptations of plants at the Botanical gardens, animal behaviour at the zoo;

– names, (you could also use the Contacts for this) times and dates (likewise, with the Calender) for later reference  – an external memory-jogger!

voice_recorder The voice recorder, an uber-modern “dictaphone”, allows very good quality voice recording  with the supplied earphones and tiny microphone. More sophisticated options for recording are available as acessories, but would only be necessary for podcasting and more serious recordings. I hope to use this tool with students who are very reluctant writers and those with poor literacy skills. As well as all the above uses, a voice recorder will be useful for recording observations of laboratory and outdoor experiments. Instead of writing up a proper experimental report, students can create a digital story using the microphone and drawings or photographs. So, the student will record the materials and equipment, method or process, results, observations and conclusions. The recording can then be sent, quickly and easily, by email to the student’s own email address, the teachers address and/or to a class “Posterous” account. Posterous is an online blogging platform which allows posting by email to a unique web address.

ipod_clockAs well as a world clock, which allows you to add the time in different cities around the world, this tool has an alarm, stopwatch and timer – three useful devices in the science laboratory. And don’t forget the calculator! So, if your students have these devices in their pockets, encourage them to use them for educational purposes as well!

A UK study by Becta Schools concluded that “The iPod can be a flexible tool for students to create their own resources and have access to these resources anytime, anywhere. They can make audio notes, PowerPoint presentations and multiple choice quizzes, thereby having a variety of tools to reinforce their learning.”

Skype a Scientist


Image Source by dzingeek@flickr

This week I particpated in a meeting with dozens of science teachers from around the world – right from my own loungeroom!  Science chat is held each fortnight on Twitter, with all members using the tag #scichat. This week’s topic was “What does the ideal 21st century science classroom look like?”. It was a very interesting discussion (although somewhat limited by everyone only using 140 characters!) that included student-centered instruction and real-world, authentic experiments, rather than the cook-book style of laboratory work in 20th century classrooms. One of the exciting things that was mentioned, along with lots of links to great science resources, was having science experts to speak to students in the classroom, from their own laboratory.

In Australia, we have the Scientists in Schools Program, administered by the federal government and the CSIRO. In May this year there were 1617 partnerships across the country, in both government and non-government; primary and secondary; rural and city schools. However, many partnerships rely on the scientist having the time to visit the school – which is not always possible. It would be amazing if more scientists could use Skype for Educators, so that those partnerships could be fully realised. This kind of communication could help to dispel the myth that all scientists wear white coats, have crazy hair and mix brightly coloured, explosive chemicals together!

Technoscience at Slide2Learn conference


This week I was fortunate to participate in the inaugural “Slide2Learn” conference, held over two days in Shepparton, Victoria. It was a fantastic event, organised by a committed and enthusiastic group of innovative teachers, to share their specialised knowledge with other teachers from Australia and beyond. The conference was held at the school of Louise Duncan, winner of the 2009 Lindsay Thompson Fellowship, for her Personalised Learning program. I was thrilled to meet Jenny Ashby, a leading teacher,  seasoned presenter and iPod Touch  expert educator. I also attended inspiring sessions by Jonathon Nalder (Key note speaker) Megan Iemma, Stacey Kelly, Kate Maccoll (fellow science freak) and Deon Scanlon. One of the highlights was the Ustream presentation by Tony Vincent, who gave practical, hands-on advice about how to implement mobile devices in schools.

Some of the applications we found out about that are relevant specifically to science teaching are:

  • 8Planets – animations, information and quiz about our solar system
  • CO2 footprint – a greenhouse gas calculator
  • Human calculator – add your birth date and time and find out how many breaths, heart beats, how much food eaten, urine produced and much more…….
  • Periodic table – beautiful images and information about of all the chemical elements
  • Biology core – glossary with biological definitions

In addition, there were many, many more applications with more generalised use that would be useful in my science classes:

  • Simple Mind Express and Idea Sketch for concept mapping
  • SWOT for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats
  • Studystack for flash cards
  • iTalk and Voice memos for voice recording (with a microphone)
  • Posterous to send podcasts to a blog
  • Animoto and Sonic pics for slideshows
  • Etchasketch with colours, shapes, text and free-form writing and drawing
  • Cropsuey to crop, rotate and flip images
  • Colour magic and Glow for special effects on images

I’ll be writing more posts about using iPods in education soon – what an exciting time to be a teacher!

There is a more extensive list at  the ICTeD Services blog and on the ning.

Free iPod Touch applications for Maths and Science learners


Image Source

My twelve year-old son has just joined the iTouch brigade, buying himself a hand-held, game-playing, music device that has become permanently attached. Our school has also recently purchased several, thanks to a grant awarded to Anne Mirtschin. So how can teachers use these slick and intriguing machines to engage students in maths and science learning? I searched for free educational applications and this is what I found:

Times tables – imultiply is a 12 x 12 multiplication grid that you tap the two numbers you want to multiply and the answer is highlighted in the grid. TimesTables Free  is more colourful and more fun, with flashcards and drills to help master multiplication tables.

Math Minute is a simple to use application that offers addition, subtraction, multiplication and division drills. Maths Drills Lite is similar, but with richer graphics and helpful hints in the form of number lines, wooden blocks and finger counting.

Number Line and Fraction Factory assist students to understand fractions and decimals. Percentage Change (99c) helps to reinforce, step-by-step, the process of calculating percentage change. For more advanced mathematics, Math Tasks has commonly used algebra and formulas, including calculating areas and volumes, while Geometry Stash has descriptions of some common theorems, with diagrams and Geometry Touch (99c) is a study guide to the formulas you may be required to know for exams.

For the real science geeks, Periodic Table of the Elements  and Molecules (download and rotate 3D models of molecules) are two of my favourites. Science Glossary is a useful app. for scientific terms and biographies of scientists. Planets is a 3D guide to the solar system for aspiring astronomers and Planet Facts has hundreds of informative snippets, with beautiful graphics, about the planets of our solar system. Muscle System (free for a limited introductory period only) is one of a series of medical applications to assist learning about names of muscles of the head and neck, their action and nerve supply. 3D Brain allows you to explore 29 different regions of the brain.

Not Free ($11.99) is “Star Map“, a pocket planetarium, for locating planets and constellations, written by a professional astronomer. “iBird Explorer Backyard” ($4.99) allows bird identification by sight and song – I’m guessing for northern hemisphere species? For the full list of educational apps check out the Apple Store.

Welcome Back to School!

I’ve hit the ground running with four new classes in 2010 – 6/7 Maths and Science, Year 8 Science and VCE Biology. We have many new students to the school in our 6/7 program, so it has been a busy first week introducing them to the values and expectations of our school and making sure everyone is feeling comfortable.

Some useful science resources I have discovered recently are:

Interactive Teaching in Science – the UK Dept. for children, schools and families national Strategies and Standards

CAST Science Writer – A free site for students to write up practical reports and submit by email, including writing prompts, text to speech reader and animated helpers. great for reluctant writers.

And for Writing Individual Learning Plans for Special Needs students –

Teaching Every Student Blog

Goal Bank for Students with Special Needs

End of year 2009

Bailey's Island

We only have three weeks left of school at Hawkesdale, before the Christmas holidays. Many of our year 7 to 9 students will be going on the Great Hawkesdale Bike Ride in the second last week, riding from Hawkesdale to Mt Eccles to Yambuk to Port Fairy and back to Hawkesdale. The remaining students will participate in an end-of-year program including kite making, gardening, sport and craft.

We look forward to 2010, when the school is implementing a Year 6/7 program using integrated units and flexible groupings to allow for individual differences. I may not contribute to this blog until we return to school at the end of January, so I would like to thank my readers for their comments and support and encourage fellow teachers and students to contact me for collaboratie projects, sharing teaching strategies or classroom ideas.

Junior Landcare Conference in Lorne


We are just back from our three day trip to Lorne, via the Otway Fly Treetop Walk and the Great Ocean Road, where we saw two mother-and-calf pairs of Southern Right whales. My own calves are still aching from the 47-metre climb to the top of the Otway Fly tower, where you can view through the treetops of the mighty mountain ash, native beech and blackwood trees to the forest floor of tree ferns and bracken.

Our students presented their very entertaining “Flash News” multimedia presentation with confidence and good humour and then attended two other “kids-teaching-kids” workshops in different groups. Some of the presentations included “What’s cute, grunts like a pig and needs our help?” (koalas), a school restoring their local creek, a giant snakes-and-ladders board game and an interactive drama about a picnic by the river.

Today we participated in hands-on environmental activities including:

  • building nesting boxes
  • investigating macro-invertebrates with Waterwatch
  • testing salinity with Estuary Watch
  • indigenous games
  • netting in the Erskine River
  • weed removal and tree-planting
  • recycling – how and why?
  • Rock-pool ramble

The post-conference reflection session allows students from each school to express their thoughts for the future – what they can do differently in the future to improve their home and school. The conference aims to give students opportunities to connect with their environment and with their peers, and instil a sense of hope and optimism for the future. By the end of this year, 15,500 students will have attended a Riverhealth/Environment conference, since their beginnings in Mildura in 1999. These students are our future decision-makers and hopefully they will spread the sustainability message in their homes, schools and communities for many years.

Arron Wood, the managing director of Firestarter Ltd, heads a team of passionate environmentalists who are dedicated to “environmental and educational credibility, applied and innovative work commitment, respect for social responsibility and the choice of ethical projects only”. Arron has just recently started blogging (Arron’s blog), so drop by and give him some encouragement to continue comunicating using this media by commenting on your experiences at Lorne.  Let Arron know what you learnt at the conference, what you enjoyed most and how the conference will affect the way you think, feel and act in the future.