Excursion to Microsoft

Today I took my year 10 IST students to the Microsoft headquarters in Sydney. This was the first school excursion I’ve ever organised and after jumping so many hoops, I was really hoping it’d all be worth it.

The free event was organised by 2realise, a government-funded initiative to help students explore career pathways. The pitch was promoting careers in IT for women and this was good enough for me to jump the hoops to take my girls.

The event ran for 2 – 1/2 hours, comprising of an overview of career pathways in Microsoft, a Q and A session with a panel of women employees from various divisions, a tour of the office and finally a session on gaming (er, Interactive Entertainment Division), including playing Xbox Kinects.

The Good

All-up, I think the event was a success in enthusing students about IT, in general, and the potential of careers in IT. One student said, “I thought that I really couldn’t work in an office environment but I could work in that office”. Microsoft had funky furniture in different configurations, shapes and colours – meeting hubs, workspaces, etc.  Employees had cool lockers – because they have no desks. Each floor had a kitchen/dining area where employees could get free hot and cold drinks. There were also chill zones for relaxation or playing Xbox, table soccer, etc.

Panelists spoke passionately about their different roles and how they loved the flexible work arrangements, travel, opportunities for professional learning and career advancement. The graduate program sounded really good. They all seemed to love what they were doing and genuinely loved working at Microsoft (maybe I should go back to IT and work for Microsoft).

My students were a-buzz and the de-brief on the way home indicated that they really enjoyed the experience…. I even got a ‘thank you’. (Aside: I’m sure I read a while ago that students remember excursions more than what they learn in the classrooms).

But then

The downside, I think, was that there were no panelists who were “real” techies – the geeky side of IT. It’s not a real surpise given that Microsoft research and development are all outside of Australia (maybe I won’t go back to IT or work for Microsoft, after all). The focus in Australia is sales, marketing and technical support.  All good professions, I’m sure, but not for me.

I felt disappointed every time a panelist said that they’re not a techie as I felt they were saying they were not good enough for it. Maybe they’re too cool to be a geek? OR maybe, I’m just reading too much into it? However, I felt short-changed for not hearing techie stories of women thriving in a techie world.

It was certainly good to hear that the company is working towards further raising the current 29:71 ratio of women to men. I do wonder though if that ratio is higher in Sales and Marketing and so the disparity and stereotypes continue?

Here I am trying to enthuse my girls to get excited about IT research and development. Yet, how much of that actually happens in Australia? Are exciting IT jobs off-shore?

So then

So, was it worth it? I am not so sure yet. But hey, I’ve learned how to organise excursions. The class feels closer and I’ve also got something concrete I can refer back to in future lessons.

Hmmm, where can I take them next?  Requests are in for Apple and Google. How hard can it be to score an excursion to these places?

GBL n00b

Jedi badges

Games-based learning (GBL) n00b – that’s me!!!

I’m proud to say that I am a n00b because it actually means I’m trying it out. There’s only so much theory one can take because in such matters, the best way to learn is to dive right in.

My year 9 Information Systems and Technology (IST) topic is Digital Media. I know most students typically engage in digital media everyday in some shape or form. I also know that given the chance to create digital media, most students enjoy it. From past experiences, I also know that students don’t often give much thought to purposeful design as they enjoy creating more.

Game-plan (my bigG)

In junior Technology subjects (like IST), we use a very simple Design Cycle of: Design, Produce, Evaluate.  I tried to fit the course outcomes according to this design cycle, matching it with the Jedi ranks so students can level up from initiates to Padawan (Design), Knight (Produce) and Master (Evaluate).  I think it fits rather well such that as learning deepens, students do level up.

Text-based digital media is the simplest so I made it a compulsory start so students experience what is expected to level up. After this, they are free to choose any of the other digital media types (audio, image, animation, video). They are all keen to move on as I said they can create machinimas (how lucky am I to have a class of gamers to be a GBL-n00b in?).


Edmodo is my friend! It has given me a platform to assign work (and annotate/give feedback online – woohoo), award badges and insight into class dynamics. I love that the class is using Edmodo like facebook (they said so themselves), seemingly oblivious to the fact that I’m there. So far, nothing inappropriate has been posted.

I created these student accounts using randomly generated Jedi names and their first names as Surnames. I prefer this than them renaming their usual Edmodo accounts. I wonder if Edmodo will get cross with me….oopsie.


Students were not levelling up quick enough to sustain initial motivation generated by the idea of badges. XP points to the rescue thanks to Classdojo (how lucky am I that student logins came out on the eve of introducing it to my class?).

Looking at the positive and negative behaviours as a class was a good way to communicate my expectations, not just about behaviour per se but the quality of the work they turn in. That is, if they are showing creativity and good thinking in their submitted work, they gain +XP. A few days in, they are indicating some thinking about their own behaviours by suggesting certain actions merit +XP, including exceeding expectations (one of the positive behaviours). I think here is an example of extrinsic motivation seeping into intrinsic mode. Classdojo has made much easier to track – and publish – XP.

But are they learning? Am I teaching?

Submitted work and work in class would certainly suggest so. There is still an incredible urge to create and bypass design and theory so I remind them regularly – these are essential to levelling up.  Students are challenged by each other and by me.  Feedback is constant. I am not teaching in a traditional style yet I feel more attuned to my students – their interests, abilities and understanding of the topic.

Look at their notebooks and there is nothing. By the time we’re done, they would have created Digital Media rather than read or write about it. Is that teaching? Is that learning?

I’m not going to lie – they do disengage sometimes and I bring them back. At first I seriously doubted my approach. But then, how sure are we really that kids are 100% engaged, 100% of the time. Is that even a realistic expectation?

I’m a GBL-n00b and proud of it. This is just the beginning.

Full Disclosure

I am not their real teacher – I’m filling in for four weeks. I took a punt designing a GBL unit with students I’ve never met. It is evolving as I get to know them more and as they come to trust me and my “unusual” approach.  The work students are doing is not graded and likely will never show up in their reports. And yet, they do the work….with enthusiasm….and increasingly better quality.

I am happy….and tired.

What makes people tick?

In a social world, real and virtual, it is likely that we’ve been baffled by how people behave or what motivates them.  As a teacher, one of the biggest challenges I find is to understand what motivates students.  Ditto figuring out colleagues.  And if I’m truly honest, it is something I wonder as a wife, mother, friend and generally, as a citizen.

When I recently chanced on a TV show that teased “people are irrational beings and we should be surprised when they act in a rational way“, I was hooked.  The show was a talk by Hugh Mackay at the Sydney University on his book, What makes people tick?  The Ten Desires That Drive Us (show/broadcast also available on the internet; as well, there is a transcript of a similar talk but tailored for business which only mentions 7 of the 10).  Mackay is a psychologist, social researcher and author.

The 10 desires that drive people:

  1. to be taken seriously
  2. for ‘my place’
  3. for something to believe in
  4. to connect
  5. to be useful
  6. to belong
  7. for control
  8. for more
  9. for things to happen
  10. to love and be loved

The desire to be taken seriously

According to Mackay these desires are connected, complicated and sometimes in conflict (think dilemma).   He said that what we do is often a mix of the desires but that the one often present, and thus perhaps the most relevant to know, is the desire to be taken seriously.

 It [the desire to be taken seriously] is all about the desire to be acknowledged as the unique individual each of us knows ourselves to be – the desire to be noticed, appreciated, valued, accepted … perhaps even remembered.

This really struck me as a wonderful articulation of the interdependence of the “I” and the “other”.   As I was mulling over this, days after watching the show, blog posts from my PLN seemingly conspired to emphasise the point.  They all came in seemingly rapid succession.

@mrsdkrebs wrote “My one word – Voice”, a manifesto for finding and sharing her voice as well as to help develop the voices of others.

@whatedsaid wrote “A little empathy”, a story of an orderly who showed empathy to a distressed elderly patient at the hospital, when others failed to do so.  This post was also a call for educators to teach empathy. (aside: How to teach empathy post is personal favourite).

@colekpharm wrote “Uninvited Gift”, a personal reflection on the dilemma of medical professionals to ‘see’ the patient, constantly reminded of the “fragility of life” and “humanity laid bare”.   On one hand, it provides a flipside of @whatedsaid’s post.  On the other hand, it calls for the same thing – more empathy.

@billgx wrote “Overcoming Techno-Distance”, a personal reflection that echoes most of the desires listed by Mackay, particularly the human desire to connect and love.   Bill wrote about the death of teen Ashley Duncan whose suicide was voiced via social media.  In this, Bill echoes my question of how can we better decode social media to help those crying for help.

All of these posts do confirm what Mackay has said about desires that drive people, particularly in the desire to be acknowledged.  Perhaps knowing this is one step to understanding people, improving relationships and helping individuals.   It helps me, too, to know that yes, this is one of my desires.  This comprises empathy, respect and appreciation.

The desire to be taken seriously….

We desire it.  So does everyone around us.  Let’s try to fill it for at least one person everyday and perhaps the world will be a better place. How? Be there. Listen. Ask. Hold the hand. Hug. Say nothing. Acknowledge something said. Really, whatever feels as necessary….even if it is irrational; after all, we are irrational beings.  

A note to teachers

Students (and kids) express this in many ways.  In a classroom, this may be tricky and perhaps impossible to do all the time.  However, I think it is possible to address everyone’s desire to be taken seriously in the course of the day, week, year.  It probably is good to discuss this primordial desire with them.  I think it is easier to conceptualise than “Respect”.  Besides, quite likely, they too are wondering what makes people tick.

Be amazing!

We could all do with a bit of motivation sometimes; a reminder to keep believing in ourselves and our capacity to do something of value.  I am very fortunate that motivation comes when most needed.

Good Thinking Made Public

 This is a book I received from @kathleencushman, the author.  In it is a ‘with compliments’ card saying “…thank you for your good thinking made public”.  I’ve previously blogged about this so won’t re-hash too much.

This came early in my blogging career when I certainly didn’t assume my thinking was particularly good, or good enough to really be made all that public.  Truth is, I started blogging for me – read more in “Reader, you are important to me“.  For the most part, I still blog for me, as part of my thinking and learning process. However, I have come to believe in the power of getting it out there – good or bad! well-articulated or not.

As an aside, I have read Fires in the Mind since that previous post and I can tell you that this book is gold.  Kathleen’s work is practical as well as inspirational.  It is practically a handbook for helping youth discover the values of mastery and develop skills accordingly.   If you don’t trust my judgement (which is fair enough), perhaps you will @shannoninottawa in this post.

Ordinary to you. Amazing to others.

This is a gift from @whatedsaid who invited me to join the Inquire Within community.  She gave me the link when I voiced my doubts of being good enough;  I was very touched.  The video itself is powerful, for sure as evidenced by the replies and kudos I got for tweeting the link.  It is even more powerful as a targeted gift; Edna honestly believed it was true for me  – I’m still hoping she’s not somehow deluded.

So I write this post not to say that my thinking or blogging are any better though I certainly hope I’m improving. The point really is to show Kathleen and Ed that their gifts have kept on giving because in my ordinariness, perhaps I have been amazing after all.  So then, my dear reader, be inspired enough to be amazing in your ordinariness….and generous enough to give this gift to your peers and/or students.

We can all….

Be amazing!


Keep Blogging

I haven’t blogged for quite a while but now’s a good time to pick it up again. A recent Twitter conversation between @MitchSquires, @kathleen_morris, @henriettaMi and @lindayollis is the real catalyst.  The question was on how to sustain blogging after the initial enthusiasm wanes. In tweet form, the answer boils down to this:

Twitter post

Twitter post

ie, Prioritise, make it a habit, persevere and apply to self (i.e. be a model).

@henriettaMi has written a post on how to make class blogging a habit (please visit and read the comments, too, as the conversation continues).  I’m not about to re-create any of that but rather, in the interest of keeping this going, build on it (also, if you don’t follow this people, make sure you do especially if you teach primary school students, click on my hyperlinks above).

I’m adding by persevering and applying to my self. Here i am blogging again, making myself do it!

Beyond that, let me tell a story.

Working as an IT integrator, it is actually my job to help teachers integrate technology. As it happens, I started two teachers out this year on the road to blogging: one with a focus on numeracy (Teacher A) and another on literacy (Teacher B).  Both work with strugglers and my pitch was that a class blog is an extension of the classroom and allows the teacher to document the lesson so students can re-visit it and associated resources as often as they want as well as free-ing up the teacher to provide more individual support as needed (here’s more on why a having a class blog is good).  Enthusing both teachers was not a problem.  For some reason, Teacher B seems more able to sustain the effort and appears to be more successful.

Here are some reasons of why this is….(just my initial analysis).

  1. Have a specific scope. Teacher B decided to use a blended learning environment (fortunately fits my idea of class blog) for a novel study, incorporating both a class blog and OneNote. She did this as an Action-Research activity such that if it proves successful for one unit then she’s got more reason to use it in other units.  I guess, you can call this as Identify your blogging focus as well.
  2. Have specific objectives. Teacher B knew she wanted her students to write more and that they were only to do comments initially. Blogging was more reflective writing whilst OneNote was used for research. That’s 2 forms of writing right there.  She also wanted more collaborative work which meant getting each other to read and comment on each other and pairing up on the research activity.
  3. Feel your students and have a willing and active audience. Teacher B respected the fact that the class wanted a close environment.  They did open their real and virtual doors to me (Lucky me!!!) and they were happy to see me in both environments (classroom and blog).
  4. Persevere. Yes, it works. Teacher B engaged her students the whole time, prompting them to interact face-to-face and online.  In my case, I kept touching base with her and encouraging her: face-to-face, visiting the blog and email.  She knew she has my full support and my enthusiasm should hers start to flag (it hasn’t).
  5. Highlight and celebrate successes. The beauty of specific objectives and scope is that it is much easier and quicker to see successes. Even in just 5 weeks, both of us have seen improvements in student collaboration and writing.  Her students have shown great empathy for the characters in the novel and understand the context deeper than expected.  Our celebration was a mere exchange of affirmation (is it too early for bubblies?).

So there you have it, a few more ways to sustain blogging from the perspectives of a teacher and IT integrator.

Any other ideas?