It's all about learning


How often do you praise?

One of the required reading for my Master in Special Ed course struck a chord with me (well, actually, several articles did but I’m just writing about this one because…busy!).   (Beaman, R., & Wheldall, K. (2000); Teacher’s use of approval and disapproval in the classroom. Educational Psychology, 20, 431-446. )

Beaman and Wheldall found:

  1. teachers usually praise for academic behaviour (work, achievement, effort) – also see Dweck
  2. teachers rarely praise for good conduct/social behaviour
  3. positive correlations between teacher approval and on-task behaviour
  4. negative correlations between teacher DISapproval and on-task behaviour
  5. teachers respond more frequently to inappropriate (vs appropriate) social behaviour

There is a trend towards increased praise in the classroom and they posit it’s possibly also due to the change in operational definition of ‘praise’ to include non-verbal actions, e.g. gestures.

This made me reflect about my practice and how often ‘approval’ and ‘disapproval’ happen in my classes. Do academic behaviour and social behaviour have equal importance in my classes? Do my ‘disapprovals’ result in engagement or just look like it? Can I attribute on-task behaviour to my explicit ‘approvals’? Mind you, most of my students are well-behaved most of the time. So really, this should not even be an issue.

Still, I’ve never really looked at my classroom dynamics (social interactions) as a series of approval and disapproval – I wouldn’t normally even use these terms – e.g., I would never say: I approve of you using your mobile phone to capture notes on the board; I approve of you helping your peer; I disapprove of your coming in 5 minutes late every lesson…etc. I’m more likely to say:  that’s a really good question; it’s not ok to talk while another student is speaking, etc. (maybe  I say ‘ok’ too much?). There’s also the ‘look’ and that ‘tone’. haha.

Seriously, this is akin to feedback, for which I’ve used Petty’s Goals, Medals, Missions on a regular basis. In a previous post, I’ve written about my austerity in giving medals. I’m happy to report that I now make a concerted effort to balance out Medals and Missions, as best I can (@BiancaH80 was right that students do care about having both, preferably more medals than missions). Now, I just got to apply it to ordinary classroom scenarios; after all, every time we interact, we give ‘feedback’.

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Can we teach resilience?

Is it possible to teach resilience? I guess it depends on what we think ‘teach’ means, i.e. direct instruction vs facilitation vs guidance, etc. Whatever. I think there is more consensus that resilience can be learnt….somehow.

As a mum, I think resilience is one of the most important things my daughters ought to learn. I have a professional and personal imperative to know how to teach resilience. Previous advice and research have taught me to expose my kids/students to challenges/difficulty and failure; easier said than done, at home and at school. Still, it seems to work (at home, at least) and my daughters are fairly resilient (lucky me!) BUT not so much when it comes to school stuff.  We’ve had plenty of dramas on this over the years (“I’m stupid; I’m dumb; I’m no good at Maths…).

Whatever happens at school, at the end of the day, us parents have to help our kids deal with it. Likewise as teachers, we can perhaps help our students learn resilience.

@anniemurphypaul wrote Tough as a drill sergeant (apropos, it’s worth subscribing to her posts….do it) with strategies that make sense and are easy enough to remember.

Think like an optimist.

Optimists see setbacks as “temporary, local and changeable”.  This phrase appeals to me far more than related clichés: Think positive, Don’t sweat the small stuff, This too shall pass and I dare say: Keep calm and carry on.

Fight back.

Negative and disparaging thoughts will come so it’s important to know that one can and should fight back. Block them. Challenge their validity. Search for a different/positive perspective.

Be grateful and generous.

Find the good and be thankful.


I’m not so sure this would work but I’m willing to give this a go. With my kids. With my students.  I love that the strategies are action-oriented, concrete vs. abstract.

I wonder, is resilience context-specific and how can it be made transferrable?

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NCSS Summer School

The idea of going to NCSS Summer School posed a mini-dilemma for lots of reasons but in the end, I decided to go and what a good move that turned out to be. The ‘intensive’ in their blurb is for real. It was intense.

This year, there were over 100 participants including 15 teachers (like me) who were meant to be just like the students – relieved of ‘duties’, so-to-speak. That’s interesting, in and of itself. I pride myself of being a good learner but being a student is different. Being a student (learning the content) as a teacher (learning the process/meta stuff, e.g. can I use how they teach to teach my students?) was full-on. I struggle to articulate all that just now so I’ll focus on my main NCSS reflections as a teacher….and hopefully, this would encourage other teachers (my main blog viewers) to give the camp a go.

The camp is project-based learning, a high-quality PBL.  I’m actually struggling to write this but if I don’t do this now, it may never get done so I’ll use my Process, Tools, People (and Products) post as a framework. Here goes…


PBL as a term was never mentioned but that’s what it was. 4 groups had to develop social networking web applications and 2 groups developed embedded systems. Lectures were streamed as per student ability, interest and/or systems. Throughout most of the 10 days, there were Lectures followed by lab so students had opportunities to apply what they’d learned with the help of amazing tutors (more on this later).  Tutors also helped with task and time management throughout the project which started officially on day 6. Groups had to brainstorm and decide on what they wanted to develop. There was even an all-nighter as happens sometimes in the industry. The camp culminated with a ‘graduation’ and presentation of group videos. Except, I’m finding out now that the project has not really ended as students continue to work on the projects and are now available online – for an even wider audience.

There were also plenty of fun activities with plenty of opportunities to develop collaborative skills and team-building: Newspaper tower challenge, Trivia Night + Chinese (Whispers) Charade, Scavenger hunt, cryptogram, simulation/theatre sport, programming challenge and excursions to some sponsors’ sites (WiseTech Global, Atlassian and Google). All these activities were cleverly designed and well-executed.


We used the University of Sydney’s School of IT facilities. We were told not to bring computers because, indeed, there were enough. We also used GitHub for version control and Sqlite3 for the database. They’ve configured Tornado for ease of use supposedly but I honestly wouldn’t know the difference – it still looked complicated for me.

Analog-wise, whiteboards were used for planning and tracking.

Tools used are all ‘free’ so in theory, anyone can do this.


This I think, is the strongest point of NCSS. At the helm is Dr James Curran (a very clever man and an endearing lecturer – I can only name 2 others in my experience), very ably supported by Nicky Ringland and Tim Dawborne plus an army of very clever and enthusiastic volunteers and industry mentors (they have to apply to be volunteers year-on-year – whoa!). There’s a fine mix of academia and industry perspectives to make the experience of app development realistic. I watched with interest how they interacted and managed students…including me (I was always there for roll call – haha – and definitely needed 1:1 help). It was good to see tutors get excited by a tricky problem/question

And then there were the students (and teachers as students). Such an amazing bunch of cleverness! I do believe every state was represented, and NZ, too. High levels of enthusiasm (boosted by cordial,  perhaps?) and engagement (good program, see?). Very few seemed homesick – alas, I was one of them! (who knew?)


Videos are yet to go up but there are links to the web apps. Our group developed Word by word (my only visible contribution there is the tagline: write a word. read a story.). Other groups developed Tableau and Pose challenge. Amazing stuff!

I honestly cannot replicate these projects in my classroom.

tldr version

It was a fun, intense, immersive and challenging experience. I met some amazing people, young and not-so-young, and had many fascinating conversations – people are truly interesting! I learned more about computing technology and computational linguistics(just a teensy bit). I learned more about teaching technology. I learned more about kids and how stereotypes persist even amongst the like-minded (still wrestling with why it’s so hard to get girls into computing). I learned more about effective pedagogy including planning and delivery. Surprisingly, I learned more about me.

Not sure if I could make it to NCSS2015 or if I’ll ever get accepted again but I sure would like to go back.

This snippet from a WiseTech Global t-shirt just about sums it up for me:



My next challenge is to incorporate some of what I’ve learned into what I teach.

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Game On 2013

At PLSM back in August I pledged to run a PBL unit getting my computing students to write video games and publish to a public audience. This may not seem like a lot to you but it was for me.

I’ve never written a video game before, let alone teach and inspire students to do so, using a programming language I’ve never really used before. My students have only just learned how to code – in Python – so, a different language (syntax, UI, etc).

While I’ve run PBL before, I’ve never had a public audience. I honestly didn’t think it was necessary until challenged at PLSM. And yet when I launched this PBL with my students, I told them they would have an audience beyond me, beyond the classroom,and possibly beyond the school.

My students took on to the task well enough BUT they did not take the public audience bit that seriously…..which, of course, challenged me even more! and made me more nervous as well. This PBL was running mostly AFTER formal assessments were done so I was also worried about the motivation factor as their efforts would not go towards grades or report comments.

The original plan was to have this Game On event with the public audience being the target audience of the game, i.e. our junior school (K-6 students).  But as end-of-year schedules typically are, it was difficult to find time to schedule the event, let alone synchronise with junior school as well. I’ve yet to share this with our junior school.

And, to complicate matters, we decided to use the event to launch the idea of a computing club ready for next year. The good thing about that was the opportunity to collaborate with @townesy77.

What I really wanted from a Game On event can be summed up thus: give my students a public audience, raise the profile of gaming, raise more interest in computing (why just play games when you can make them, right?), outsource feedback and give purpose to learning (software programming and concepts). Lofty aims needed a big event!

yada yada yada….let me just tell you a few of my strategies (which fortunately worked):

  1. I picked Scratch because no downloads/installs were required for either developer or game player. That, plus Scratch has a Studio feature which makes it super-easy to create and share a game arcade.
  2. I participated in the PBL. That is, I went through the PBL myself and designed and wrote my own game. Two, in fact. This forced me to learn Scratch more. Having to think through different algorithms demanded by the different student projects made me learn super-quick
  3. Get @townesy77 to do her magic…creating posters, organising and running the Xbox station for the Game On event, setting up the computer lab with generic logins ready to play the Game On Arcade, help me to announce the event at assembly, etc etc etc
  4. Get my students to talk up the event, invite their friends as well as speak at assembly
  5. The turning point was getting Google to sponsor the event. Much like how my Google excursion came to be, I just asked. Well, okay, I wrote a proposal! And they gave me enough funds to buy prizes and more besides (and really, this is worth another post…really, really). When I told my students about the sponsorship, they were stunned (as was I) and realised that I was serious about this public audience thing. I told them I sent a link to the arcade as part of the proposal (with only 3 games in it then) and that it wasn’t just me holding them accountable for delivery. Amazing!
  6. I tied prizes to feedback. For every 3 game reviews, each reviewer got a chance to win a prize (chocolates). The drawcard, however, was the Google goodies – which I got from my visits to Google (I just remembered I haven’t blogged about my other visit!). It’s a pity not all my students were at the event because they missed out on feedback that weren’t written – the buzz, the ‘oh, this is fun!’ comments, the ‘that looks good’, etc.
  7. Get my students to decorate and help out at the event.
  8. I called on my PLN to visit the arcade.

The Game On event today was amazing! My room looked amazing. The prizes looked desirable. The ‘sponsored by Google’ thing provided more gravitas. Many came and participated on the 2 main activities: playing Game On and Xbox. All up, I got over 60 entries to the feedback draw with contributions from all year groups! Ditto with Xbox participation. This is awesome stuff considering there were other events happening at the same time!

I’m knackered but my heart is full :-)

Thank you to Bianca and Lee for staging PLSM and challenging me. Thank you to@townesy77 for being my mockingjay (Katniss). Thank you to Google Australia for sponsoring my event (special mention to Sally for giving me another Oprah moment) and Chris for opening my eyes (and my students) to the wonders of open source software. Thank you to Jeannette for getting her students to visit the arcade. Thank you to all the participants in the Game On event.

Most especially, thank you to my IST students for delivering! There wouldn’t have been a Game On event if there were no games at all.

Now for some pics:


Game On arcade – come and play :-)




one of the banners. can you see the letters in Gallifreyan? hmm, maybe not – but it certainly attracted the Whovians!


playing and giving feedback


so many feedback sheets! yay!

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Google Excursion

I spent more days at Google this week than I did at school, 1 day for excursion and another 2 to attend the Digital Technologies Curriculum Summit. I took away heaps of ideas and inspiration but here’s one that stands out: Google has a lot of initiatives to promote Computer Science (not just coding/programming) at school, uni and industry levels. Let’s just say that, from a Design process perspective, I’m hopeful that my question of why it’s so hard to get girls into computing is shifting from ‘understanding the problem’ to ‘ideation’ – generating some possible solutions.

This post will focus on the excursion as I’ve promised a few of you that I will share how I got there and suggest how you could do it, too.

How it happened

It all started with a question in the NCSS Challenge forum (yet another perk of joining the challenge – do eeet). I noticed that one of the tutors, Sam Thorogood (@samthor), worked at Google so I asked about the possibility of an excursion there. I’ve since found out through Sam about Google’s culture of do-ocracy and what people might actually do for their 20%. Sam helped me arrange to get this happening including enlisting Lisa Zhu and Valley. I get to do the fun part of following the protocols of school excursions (oh joy!), find another teacher (lucky that @townesy77 said yes), arrange public transport (a story and half, right there) and announcing it (using Python just for fun).

What was it like?

There were 4 agenda items: Computer Science workshop, site tour, Q&A panel, lunch with the panelists.

Lisa was the MC as well as facilitator of all of the above. Sam and Valley were there, too, helping things run smoothly; it was really good to meet them. Lisa used a few activities on binary and hexadecimal numbers, from the CS Unplugged resources (a free open-source gem which was a key part of the Summit, but more on that at a later post).

The site tour made it evident that Google values creativity by providing different spaces for people to chill out, escape, and/or work. Sorry, no pics of this one but trust me, you will want to see for yourself.

The Q&A panel consisted of female engineers. This session made it evident that Google values degrees/careers in STEM and diversity in the workplace.

Morning tea and lunch were yummy though some of my students thought these were too gourmet-ish. Having panelists join us extended the conversation at a more informal level. It was evident that Googlers do enjoy working at Google and the food there is yummy.

My students and I and @townesy77 all had a wonderful time. We learned heaps as well. It was affirming to have current IT professionals (as against ex, i.e. me) say things I’ve been saying in class. And yes, we also got Google merch – a delightful surprise. There was no spruiking of Google products at all – I guess they don’t have to; they know the students there use Google for searching, YouTube for videos, Maps for directions, etc.

How you could go there, too

Apart from not having time to write this post straight away, another reason why I delayed writing was figuring out exactly how this excursion could be replicated. I have 2 answers, in fact, though there may be another option as there was another school there when we went and they had even more students…a coach-load as against my 17.

You could wait until Sally-Ann Williams (Engineering Community and Outreach Manager) comes out with a scalable program to make excursions easier to organise with set agenda (maybe several options). I have no doubt that this will happen since at the Summit, it was clear that Google is committed to scalable practices as a good approach to making Computer Science more accessible.

You could also contact Sam (@samthor) who kindly reminded me of Google’s do-ocracy culture. Depending on what he can pull together, the agenda may be different from the one I mentioned above.

Here are a few pics which, I have to say, hardly captures the day…sorry about that. Do go find out for yourself, arrange your excursion!
photo4 photo3 photo1 photo

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