Teaching Thinking

There are currently a couple of initiatives at my school that target thinking as a skill; I’ve been fortunate enough to be somewhat involved in both..

One of these is using the Philosophy framework, i.e. Socrates’ “Logos, Pathos, Ethos” to unpack how we think when faced with situations where we need to make decisions or we need to be persuasive. In a nutshell, what is at the forefront is logical reasoning for Logos, emotions for pathos and ethics, character and wisdom drawn from experiences for ethos. This is a simple framework that is very accessible for year 9s to whom this initiative is targeted.

Another one uses the neuroscience framework, i.e. “Pre-frontal Cortex (PFC), amygdala and hippocampus” – parts of the brain. In a nutshell, amygdala is responsible for our ‘flight or fight’ response or when we allow our impulses and emotions to rule our behaviour and thoughts. The hippocampus is in charge of storing our memories, like a scrapbook of our lives. The PFC – which is not fully developed in adolescent brains – takes care of thinking and decision-making and so, moderating our behaviour. This framework is very accessible for year 8s to whom this is targeted.

In Software Design and Development – and really many (all?) subjects, students need to think logically particularly when critically analysing, evaluating and making recommendations. In SDD, we look at software from the perspective of users and developers and yet I’m finding that my students are not leveraging their extensive experience using software to inform their thinking. Seems like such a waste of resource, right?

So, I told them about the 2 frameworks above. The idea is that the frameworks provide them with another way to view contexts. For example, when they struggled to name features of a banking system, a prompt using their own experience in banking opened a flood of features in far greater detail…and stories (gotta love those). A student who often struggles with staying on-task and is regularly disruptive was also quick to change when prompted with “you’re letting your amygdala rule; try a bit more PFC”.

In our last lesson discussing software installation methods, a richer discussion was had as students were challenged to think of examples drawing from their experience and how they may have felt (connecting to another syllabus content: impact of software to users). And so then, the logic of choosing one method over another makes more sense, from a social-ethical perspective. It may well merit adding to my list of ways to teach empathy.

I’m under no illusions of the impact or permanence of these changes.  What I’ve done is planted seeds that I hope to nourish in the next few terms as I help my students face the HSC and the wider world beyond. I’m teaching them to draw deep into resources within themselves as a way to connect beyond themselves (is any other way possible?). Teaching thinking skills is all part of building student agency.

This may be an unconventional approach to teaching the syllabus but for me, it makes sense. It aligns with my own industry experience and consequently, vision of introducing more of humanities into learning about and creating digital technology.

Be The Change

This is my pecha-kucha presented at the TeachMeet at Northern Beaches Secondary College – #TMSeaChange on the 25th of June 2013. I did plan to share this straight away but time just flew!

Anyway, here it is as a PDF with relevant links:

BeTheChange (pdf)

and a ‘movie’ version, condensing my 7-minute PK to under 2 minutes.

The presentation is divided into the following major sections:

  1. Pressures that make teachers feel “cooped up in the box” or overwhelmed
  2. Change is everywhere: Teachers who’ve made changes in their classrooms and they look like they’re having “fun in the box”
  3. Inspired changes I have made in my classrooms – ideas I’ve “stolen” like an artist
  4. It’s ok to “steal” ideas like an artist (there’s a book) and it’s ok to get lost (we make our own map)
  5. An invitation for teachers to “Be the change” and to share…so I can steal more ideas 🙂

In case you’ve missed it, this presentation is a hat tip to my tweeps (by order of appearance) – links in PDF shared above:

  • @cuttheknotM – shared story of H Fawcett’s unique way to introduce and teach Geometry
  • @brucew_o – weekly newspaper to enrich engagement and learning of Biology
  • @7MrsJames – use Instagram to showcase and inspire student work
  • @whatedsaid – promote curiousity and wonder through Inquiry; build community of teachers
  • @samjshah – motivation for teachers swamped with report-writing
  • @dbatty1 – inspire students to lobby for and run a new elective: Minecraft
  • @cpaterso – give feedback before grades
  • @biancah80 – goals, medals, missions and also campfire, watering hole, cave
  • @dcox21 – problems vs exercises
  • @maryannreilly – getting lost is a privilege (for students and teachers) and we make our own map

I’ve been inspired by so many and it was difficult to limit to the above…but hopefully, you get the drift….change starts with us and it has already started.

Be the change.

No entry?

I’m struggling a bit getting ready for the new school year. So many distractions and I’m not fighting very hard to win (read: losing).  I’ve said before that I love planning (I over-plan). Feel organised = Feel prepared = Feel calm; except calm isn’t a word generally associated with me. haha.

I don’t feel organised. I don’t feel prepared. I don’t feel calm. I feel jet lagged (just lost your sympathy then, eh?).

Actually, I feel excited BECAUSE I start a new teaching role. This time ’round, I’ll be with TAS (Technological and Applied Studies) rather than Maths. Full teaching load and no official tech integration duties. It’s at an independent girls’ school and I’ll be teaching mandatory Technology in years 7 and 8, Info and Software Tech in years 9 and 10 and Info Processes and Tech in years 11 and 12. I’ll be teaching years 7-12! Big focus on Design and projects.

That’s why I’m excited.

I was wrong to say that I’m not teaching Maths this year because there’s actually a lot of maths in the subjects I’m teaching. The big difference is that now, the maths will be in context and applied….the way I want to teach maths.

That’s why I’m excited.

The TAS curriculum has core content with several options to apply the core content via projects. What this means is that PBL becomes the natural pedagogical choice (for me, anyway) as pre-cursor to the assessed project work. And yes, I distinguish between project-based learning and project-work.  PBL becomes the norm.

That’s why I’m excited.

I’ve never taught mandatory Technology before. My rotation will involve Digital Media but mostly it’s Textiles. How cool is that? I get to bring in my interest in colour theory, design principles and sewing.

That’s why I’m excited.

It’s all new really and there’s so much to learn.

That’s why I’m excited.

Now if I can just channel some of this excitement into focusing to get organised….

But wait, let me share these photos with you first:

I spotted this sign in one of the back streets in Montmartre, Paris; in the residential side, not in the tourist hub.  It took me a while to figure out that the sign was your usual no entry sign but had been altered in a more fun way, I think. Granted, it looked to be a completely different sign, e.g. different meaning BUT I just fell in love with the artistic approach to defacing the sign (if you can call it that).

Also in Montmartre, I spotted this lamp post with emoticons on the glass panels.

Can teaching be approached the same way, i.e. seek different perspectivesenjoy the unusual (every student is an individual, after all), maybe inject a bit more art and fun, maybe dare go where I’ve previously not dared?

Now, that’s exciting.

Trick or Treat?

This was my micro-presentation for #TMSydney hills yesterday – Halloween. As there are only 5 slides, I thought I’d blog it rather than slideshare it.  In truth, I found it very hard to create something for just 2 minutes.  I guess it’s kind of like my philosophy or approach to tech integration and working with people.


Jack Skellington by Verónica Bautista, on Flickr Trick or Treat

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic Licenseby Verónica Bautista

If I can deliver anything of value in 2 minutes then that’s my trick.

If you can get anything of value in 2 minutes then that’s a treat!
I’m going to give you a glimpse of how I work as an IT integrator.

Spring Ball by Anna Fischer, on FlickrCage-Shaker

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by Anna Fischer

I ask a lot of questions. I like playing the ‘devil’s advocate’ (and for effect, wearing plastic red horns).  Who? What? WHY? When? How? Where?  and What if?  Now there’s a good question as it opens up to lots of possibilities and opportunities.

I first heard of “Cage-shaker” from @whatedsaid. Her Learner Profile post explains this concept better than I can ever do in 20 seconds!  That post helped me distill my thoughts into a 2-minute presentation.
Baby Cage (1930s)
Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images


I am a creative thinker. This photo shows a 1930s nanny in the UK using a patented baby-cage to ‘solve’ the problem of space in the home.  As an IT integrator, I think of solutions that may actually seem ‘out there’ and admittedly, may not always be the best solution.
Cage-maker is a metaphor for creative thinking rather than poor solutions – I hope you got that! 🙂


i have no idea why that caged bird does by emdot, on FlickrCage-Buster
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  emdot 

I’m a cage-buster. I open up possibilities and opportunities.  But sometimes, the bird inside is too paralysed to fly out.  I think for these people, workingn with me is more a trick than a treat.

So this is what I do.
I think: critically, creatively and reflectively.
I act: coach, model, workshop. I provide training. I communicate. I talk. A lot.
All this amounts to a ‘trick or treat’ experience for some people.  I know that it can feel like a treat for some but  I hope that for the most part, working with me is a treat.
That’s my presentation. Happy Halloween. I hope it was a treat.

Explore the power of one

Something that really interests me lately is education reform, undoubtedly because I am a stakeholder on matters about education – as a parent of school-aged kids, a taxpayer and an educator.

Exploring problems

I’m first to say I’m not an expert on any particular camp.  However, I can definitely see the wisdom in the fight against standardized tests, bursting curriculum, teacher-centric modes of teaching, proliferation of subject/course-expertise/silos, etc.

image from http://www.tpck.org/

Using the TPACK model, a teacher not only needs to know Content, Pedagogy and Technology – he/she needs to know how to blend the three aspects in the classroom.

Add to that external pressures (expectations) about student performance, teacher quality or even just to keep with the times (pedagogically and technologically, for example).  Really, there’s a plethora of learning theories waiting to be realized in the classroom.

And there are studies, too, like how adolescents adjust circadian rhythms and would benefit from a later start to their day.  Or how students learn best when engaged or find the topic personally relevant or meaningful.  Or statistics that show increased funding in the education sector has not shown a proportionate level of increase in student performance (not justifying this act of measuring and statistical interpretation, in the first place).

In short, teachers are challenged by students, society and peers to optimize learning opportunities in schools, even beyond if you ascribe to a blended learning model. That’s a tough call, particularly when you think that teachers are being expected to teach in a way they have never been taught (assuming you accept that modeling is an effective way of teaching), using tools not even thought about when they learning the content they are now expected to deliver.

…that’s just scraping the surface….

Exploring solutions

As a parent

I accept my responsibility as a co-teacher of my children in developing them as active contributors to society, even as children.  I tell them to see their teachers as human beings and be particularly understanding of teachers who appear to stumble because they are learning themselves.  I fight the urge to value grades and awards yet somehow celebrate achievements  (I’ve got to post on this).  I acknowledge that a lot of content covered in school is not really “useful” but hey, learning can be fun nonetheless.  I tell them that though individually important and valued, togetherness is just as important; sometimes compromises have to be made (individual vs. collective).  I encourage them to do join team sports as well as pursue individual interests like playing musical instruments.

…you get the drift…

As a taxpayer (generic member of society)

I exercise my right to vote and policies on education are weighed along with everything else.

I talk to anyone about the demands on schools and teachers.  Empathy breeds understanding. I veer away from talk about the best profession because that’s like asking what’s the best part of the human body.  Know your role and do it well; learn about others and appreciate them.

I wish I could say I am an activist and lobby for change but that’s not really me.  I can’t even say I’d sign petitions as such but maybe, when the cause moves me enough….

As an educator

I am the change agent in my classroom. I change what I can – try out different learning theories: new technology, new pedagogy and extra content.  With variety, there’s a greater chance of addressing the diversity of individual students.

I continue to learn by reading, connecting and reflecting (where would I be without my PLN at school, in Twitterverse and the blogosphere?).  I’m not embarrassed to say that one of my strengths is connecting ideas so, while not exactly original, I do innovate.

I help spread and develop ideas in my own little way in my own little world; I talk and listen, I blog and comment, I tweet and re-tweet.  It’s not revolutionary but it is something and I take comfort in that.

I support and cheer those who are also doing what they can.

I accept what I cannot change, like I cannot make everyone happy (or address individual student needs and aspirations) all the time.  I might grumble just a bit though.

Is this enough? What else can reasonably be done?

I should probably attend RSCON3 by Reform Symposium.