How are you, or is your approach, different than your favourite teacher? #YourEduStory

My favourite teacher was my Year 5 and 6 teacher Mr D because he was kind, funny and had a genuine interest in me as a person. It is strange, but I forget most of the actual lessons Mr D taught us, but I clearly remember his humour, his smile and the way he would grab the book I was reading to determine its title. It seems true that “at the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

Right from the beginning of the year, Mr D made us feel so comfortable because he was honest and informed us how much he enjoyed teaching and students. He constantly told us jokes and would sing funny songs about our names. We always laughed and had a good time with Mr D.

We never felt rushed with Mr D and no question was ever considered a silly question. Sometimes a session on history would be put on the back burner simply because a student asked a question and Mr D recognised it was a teachable moment that had to be addressed.

Mr D was genuinely interested in each and every one of his students. He would know what I was reading and I remember talking to him about ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. As a student I was shy and Mr D gently provided me with opportunities to be confident. He encouraged me to read excerpts of my novels out loud to the rest of the class during lunch eating times.

Mr D loved to learn. He was taking Japanese lessons and taught us how to sing ‘Heads and shoulders knees and toes’ in Japanese, which I still know how to sing to this day. He loved to read and write and had published his own children’s book.

I aspire to be like Mr D – someone who inspired his students to be life long learners in a fun, safe and caring environment.

How will I make the world a better place? #YourEduStory 2015

I find this question to be pretty tricky. I think everyone has the power to make the world a better place, no matter how big or small the difference. As a teacher, I believe I can try to make the world a better place for instilling a passion for learning and the desire to continuously aim high. Nelson Mandela said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’

Being in my 4th year of teaching this year, I feel that it is difficult for me to say how exactly I will make the world a better place. It might be a combination of all the small success stories in the classroom that will make the world a better place. I remember a couple of years ago I was teaching a Year 2 boy who absolutely detested reading. During reading groups, he would read a chapter in a few seconds and yell out “finished!” Of course we knew he couldn’t possibly have read a whole chapter in that time. In addition, he dreaded going to the library and with a great deal of persuasion would borrow a book to take home. That year I specifically tried my best to foster a love of reading in all my students – by constantly talking about the books I was currently reading and reading a wide range of books. We read a couple of Roald Dahl’s like The BFG and James and the Giant Peach in addition to the countless picture books and by Term 4, this same boy was the last person to leave the library and I had to pry his fingers off a book to get his attention.

I am also passionate about providing different opportunities for my students to explore their interests and be empathetic. In the past, my students have worked with UNICEF to write a story about refugees and belonging that was made into a book. Many of them informed me that they did not realise how difficult the lives of refugees were before participating in this activity.

I hope I can continue to make the world a better place, no matter how small the change.

Failure is the word! #YourEduStory 2015

So this year I’ve signed myself up for the #YourEduStory Challenge 2015 in an attempt to be more reflective about  my teaching. I feel it can be so easy at times to let each day, week or year pass by without thinking deeply about my successes and failures as a teacher. This challenge encourages me to do exactly that – and I dearly hope I can keep up! I really like the fact there are weekly topics as sometimes I am lost for inspiration on what to write.

What is your “one word” that will inspire you in your classroom or school in 2015?


I really love this video on ‘Famous Failures‘ and find it so inspirational to show that success doesn’t come easily or naturally. However, sometimes seeing how successful people are right now makes us forget the hard journey they had to take along the way.

This year I’m going to be teaching a new year level I have never taught before, Year 3/4 and I’m sure there will be many challenges along the way. However, I also know that this new year level presents many opportunities for me and my students to embrace. There are many things I would like to try (and possibly fail at) including coding and gamification. I’m going to use what Sara Blakely‘s father always asked her at the dinner table to inspire me this year, ‘So, what did you fail at today?’

via stockfreeimages © Kianlin

via stockfreeimages © Kianlin


A Paradise for Teachers – Google Teacher Academy Sydney 2014

‘We will not be daunted by the things people say’ – Tom Barrett, NoTosh

In many ways the Google Teacher Academy (GTA) is a blissful paradise for teachers. When does one get the opportunity to meet with 50+ amazing educators and spend two days discussing educational issues? When does one get the opportunity to talk about ideas, make suggestions and feel that whatever you say matters? The GTA, that’s where! This year I was lucky enough to attend, along with 49 other Australian and New Zealand educators, the GTA in Google’s Sydney offices. I heard that this GTA was unlike any of its predecessors. This GTA was all about looking at education’s bigger picture – what issues are educators and school communities facing? How can these issues be resolved? While it was called the Google Teacher Academy and was held at Google’s headquarters, it actually had very little to do with Google as Rob pointed out here.

Pre GTA Activities

The lead up to the GTA was paved with excitement. NoTosh, a global company which challenges the status quo in schools, public services and creative companies, was to facilitate the GTA. I heard many wonderful things about them and was more than a little excited to be learning with them. In addition, knowing that I would finally get to meet so many of the educators I follow on Twitter was a wonderful feeling. I was placed in a team with a mentor, Chris Betcher, and five other members, Aaron Davies, Jordan Grant, Narissa Leung, Kim Martin and Juliet Revell. In the month leading up to the GTA, we were tasked with ‘immersion’ activities that would provide us with greater insight into our community’s issues. I chose to interview some staff members and students at my school. We also participated in Google Hangouts to discuss our findings each week.

At the GTA! Design Thinking ‘We want this world to be different by the time we leave GTASYD’ – Tom Barrett


The magical day had finally arrived to arrive at the GTA! The weather was absolutely gorgeous, which must have been a sign of the wonderful things to come. I felt instantly inspired by Tom Barrett’s introduction where he stated simply ‘we will not be daunted. We must not be daunted by things people say. We want this world to be different by the time we leave GTASYD.’

Over the next two days, we engaged in ‘Design Thinking’, which is a ‘framework onto which we hang specific thinking skills to achieve specific learning tasks’ (retrieved from NoTosh, The process involves: immersion; synthesis; ideation, prototyping and feedback; and implementation or display. See here for more details on this process.

For the GTA, it was all about really thinking deep and delving into the issues facing education. We went into focus groups looking at the educational issues that were specific or suited to our particular context. Some issues included: changing teacher mindsets, changing student mindsets, change beyond the classroom, curriculum development and change leadership just to name a few. In each focus group, we spent time engaging in hexagonal thinking. This is literally using hexagons to map out each issue that comprises the overarching issue.

Mich hex thinking pics.JPG

We then framed the issue our school context was facing into a question by using a ‘how might we… ‘ statement. This proved to be quite challenging because the question needed to be specific enough to know where to start, yet general enough so it wouldn’t dictate the solution. Initially my question was ‘How might we empower teachers to connect in order to create meaning learning tasks for students?’ however, this proved too specific. With a bit of tweaking and help from my other teachers and my mentor, I framed the issues as ‘How might we empower teachers to create learning tasks that connect with students?’

Next, we had 10 minutes to generate as many ideas that could help to solve our issue (as part of the ideation process). It was stressed that generating ideas is different to filtering ideas, which comes later. It was an intense hands on experience and after 10 minutes, we (all 50 of us) generated 1538 ideas to solve education’s issues! From our ideas, we sorted out which ones were the moonshots, which ones were our darlings (something we hold dear to our heart) and which ones were the safe bets (ideas that were achievable). With regard to our moonshots, this is something that is the combination of a huge problem, a radical solution and breakthrough technology. This is a fantastic video about what moonshot thinking is all about:

I think all our moonshots could be considered huge and are pushing the envelope ideas. However, this is a good thing as Einstein says, ‘if at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.’

The rest of the design process involved brainstorming and getting feedback from other teachers and mentors about how to proceed with our educational issue and bring our moonshots to fruition. I have a clearer idea on how to approach this question thanks to the top minds I had to bounce ideas from.

At the GTA: Great learning from fantastic people

Whilst being exposed to Design Thinking was a truly exciting experience, I think one of the most powerful things for me was to hear the stories and experiences of other people.

Annie Parker from muru-D

Annie Parker is the co-founder of muru-D, a start up accelerator backed by Telstra. She has reviewed thousands of applications and grants $40K to support brand new start-up companies. It was really interesting hearing from Annie, a non-educator, talk about the successful traits of entrepreneurs, as ultimately these are the skills I wish to instil in my students. A few key take away points for me were:

  • Collaboration is paramount. It is important to share your thinking and receive feedback from others. Do not be shackled by your fear of feedback.

  • Don’t take things personally.

  • Passion and tenacity are key. You will hit many roadblocks and at times question why you are pursuing this path. But you must keep going.

I also loved the quote she used:


Brett Morgan developer relations manager from Google

Brett Morgan, who works on Google maps, spoke to us about the design process and how this is all about focusing on the problem and making it go away with a simple solution. Successful designers (such as himself) seemed to have many things in common with successful entrepreneurs including prototyping and testing. Testing on a colleague, a team and the rest of the company.



Our mentors were fantastic and I feel so privileged to have worked with such outstanding educators. They were not only amazing in how they helped us work on our questions, the fact that they are still so passionate about providing the best possible learning experiences and outcomes for students is truly inspirational.

Other teachers

I will never forget talking, collaborating, laughing, joking, working, eating, walking and learning with these 49 teaching comrades. I think this is the perfect quote to sum up how I feel about them:

“A key to growing as a teacher is to keep company mainly with teachers who uplift you, whose presence inspire you and whose dedication drives you.” – Robert John Meehan.

It seems that something extraordinary happens when 50 enthusiastic, passionate and ‘never settle for less’ people meet and work together. These are the type of people I wish I could keep company with everyday.

Google itself

Okay, okay whilst the GTA did have little to do with Google, I simply can’t talk about the GTA without mentioning a little bit about the headquarters. I was simply blown away by Google, which seems to be the blueprint for workplace bliss. The Sydney office is not exactly like the movie The Internship, but it’s pretty close. There was a nap room and a games room. There was a treadmill that you could also use whilst writing your notes at the same time. There were 4 cafes, with chefs and kitchen staff, each with a different menu every day. And goodness me the food was awesome. Butter chicken and white chocolate slice for lunch anyone? Fresh juice made with whatever fresh fruit and vegetables you want in the juicer to accompany it?  Oh and did I mention that you could eat breakfast, lunch and dinner there? Apparently one of Google’s policies is to not have food more than 100 feet (30.48 metres) away from its staff. That is just my kind of policy, where lollies, muesli bars, chips, a whole fridge of soft drinks and gelati are all within arm’s reach. There were also scooters to get you across to the other Google buildings.



Oh, and there was one downside to the GTA. It went too quickly. Far too quickly.

To Apply or Not Apply? The Google Teacher Academy Application process

A year ago if you asked me what the Google Teacher Academy (GTA) was, I would have had no idea. Now, I am a fully fledged Google Certified Teacher (GCT). So how exactly did I make this jump?

Like many teachers, I am fairly active on Twitter and more recently, Google+ Communities.  Mention of the GTA first appeared through these mediums.

So what exactly is the GTA? This is from the website:

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Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 5.31.02 PM.png

Meeting with 50 other awesome educators eh? Creating a strong professional community of educators who support each other eh? This sounded more than awesome! However, I saw this:

Google for Education.png

I proceeded to look at the training on the website and information for sitting the Google exams and then felt daunted. It would take me weeks and weeks to watch the videos and study up. Oh and the exams cost about $60 (and you only have a set period of time to take these exams as well). I thought to myself, okay maybe I can do this.

When I saw that the application to the GTA required me to not only submit a written application, but a public 1 minute video that would be submitted to Youtube (yes, for the whole world to see!) I was like, forget it! No free professional development, no matter how awesome, is worth humiliating myself!

However, two main things in 2014 made me change my mind. Firstly, I began to use a great deal more Google tools. Google Docs, Sheets, Forms and Slides are amazing inventions. Some of the great features of these tools are no need to save, up to 50 collaborators on the one document and huge cloud storage are just some of the perks. I suppose it is accurate to say I was seeing how valuable Google tools were becoming in my classroom and was more than a little excited about seeing the Australian Headquarters. Secondly, I have a classroom blog for my Year 2 students and by pure coincidence, another Year 2 teacher (Kate Cooper) came across this blog and started to reply to my class. As teachers, we started to email one another and met up in person at a Google Educators Group meetup. She told me how she was applying to the GTA and I thought to myself if such fantastic educators are applying, what do I have to lose?

Thus began my application to the GTA. Google certainly doesn’t make it easy to be a GCT. Whilst the application process involved both a written and video submission, I don’t know their exact weighting. I am by no means an expert on the process but these are some of the things I think helped me get a spot:

  • Be proud of your student learning achievements. You are in this profession to help your students. Show how you have helped them. Show how you have motivated them. Show how you have facilitated meaningful learning experiences. Show how you have used technology as a tool to empower students.

  • Be proud of your learning. Show the extra professional development you engage in. Do you attend Teach Meets, engage in Twitter chats or attend and present at conferences? Put that in. Applying for the GTA demonstrates a real passion for learning.

  • Be sincere. You don’t have to show how awesome Google tools are. For me, applying to the GTA was not about talking up Google or reiterating how I use Google in the classroom. In fact, I didn’t mention Google at all in my application video.

  • Use Google’s tools. I feel that there needs to be at least some awareness of Google’s products.

Unlike some of the other blog posts on the GTA that recommend you read up about it or give you tips about making the video, I didn’t heed this advice. Partly because I didn’t have time and partly because I didn’t want to feel more overwhelmed than I already was. It was only after I submitted my application, I looked at the calibre of applicants’ videos and read up on people’s experiences of the GTA (which then proceeded to freak me out as the quality of applications was staggering).

At the end of the day, I was very lucky to be accepted on my first attempt. There were many teachers out there who were more experienced, more innovative and more creative than me who missed out. I heard from some amazing educators that they had applied twice and been accepted on their third attempt.

So my last tip is apply and just go for it! And as the saying goes: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

My World has Turned Googly!

During the September school holidays, I was fortunate to attend the Google Apps for Education Summit at Xavier College, Melbourne for two full days of googly goodness. Before attending, I was already using some Google products in the classroom such as Google docs, sheets, slides and forms. One feature that I particularly like about Google’s products mentioned previously are that they can be saved automatically and allow for collaboration (say bye to version control). Oh and they are FREE 🙂


The keynote speaker Suan Yeo was inspiring and his statement ‘strong teachers don’t teach content, Google has content’ really resonated with me. He referred to the fun theory website here and made me think how I can make all learning activities, no matter how uninspiring they may seem, fun. This website has a piano staircase to encourage people to use the stairs and a rubbish bin that plays music to encourage people to throw rubbish. How cool is that?

The Summit had a wide range of speakers from across the country and internationally. These are some of my highlights:

  • Seeing the benefits of using e-portfolios using Google Sites. How one sets up an e-portfolio should be dependent on your vision and what you want to achieve. E-portfolios have a wide range of benefits, some include: it encourages reflection; it can assist in the curation of assessment for, as and of learning; it provides students with a sense of identify; it can be interactive, and stored/accessed without physical limits; anyone in school community can access the e-portfolio.
  • Becoming a GAFE school is  a long process and you need to be selective about which part you implement first based on the needs of your school.
  • Some tips for using the Chrome browser include: Command or control T for new tab; Shift + Command/control + B – to turn bookmarks bar on and off; you can bookmark all the tabs by right click on a tab and click and put into a folder.
  • Some great Chrome extensions include: Clearly – awesome to get rid of things you don’t need (eg it gets rid of ads); Awesome screen shot can take a screenshot of your entire screen and then you can annotate it; Chromespeak – good for reading out text.
  • Google Maps and My Maps have some amazing features that include: adding pictures/images/videos to markers; measuring the distance, area and perimetre of places;  

Dorothy Burt did an amazing closing keynote on how she has used technology to transform her school community. It is all very easy for people in high socio-economic schools to say technology is just a tool, but as Dorothy Burt pointed out, ‘it’s not just a tool when it transforms and opens up new opportunities’. Her student are empowered to do fantastic things such as ask the minister of education some questions, repairing a couch at school by watching youtube, connecting with other students around the world through blogging and learning to cook with a Michelin star chef.

All in all, I really enjoyed the GAFE Summit and hope to go again next year!

What Google tools do you like using in schools? 

Thursday Thinkers – Getting students to develop great questions

In order for students to practise their oral language skills and engage in higher order thinking, I have gotten them to participate in something called Thursday Thinkers (based on Rebecca Davies’ creation that goes by the same name, see here). Rebecca’s post got me thinking about how I could support my early years students (Year 2) to develop more complex questions and answers to events and things in our every day lives.

Thursday Thinkers in my classroom is a half hour session with the whole class where students have to come up with their own questions and answers to a particular topic.

Initially when my students were first asked to think about questions they have about a book or video, they would simply use the stock standard ‘who, what, where’ question stems. However, I soon saw a dramatic change after I used the Harvard Visible Thinking Question Starts  in conjunction with watching a video on Behind the News. I specifically chose videos that had some relevance for my students, for example some of them recently bought a labrador and as a class, we watched the video on Guide Dogs.

After watching the 3-4 minute video, I showed my students the Question Starts:

How would it be different if…?
What are the reasons…?
Suppose that…?
What if…?
What if we knew…?
What is the purpose of…?
What would change if…?

I modelled how to come up with a question using the question starts. Students then came up with their own and each session we picked one to answer as a class or in groups. Some of the questions we came up with after watching the guide dogs video were:

  • What if everyone in the world were blind?
  • What if there were no guide dogs?

After implementing these thinking sessions over numerous weeks, the students became more independent when asking questions and the increasing complexity of their questions really surprised me. It is also wonderful to see how they are starting to apply this way of questioning to other parts of the curriculum. I am now keen to try some other visible thinking routines to use with my students such as Tug of War in preparation for their persuasive writing.

Photo credit: Woof via

Have you used any other visible thinking tools? How have you developed your students’ thinking? 

Making real connections at the DLTV conference 2014

Blown away, amazing, practical and awesome are just some of the words to describe this year’s Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria conference at Swinburne. I was fortunate to attend the DLTV conference as both a presenter and attendee. Some great things I took away from the conference (in no specific order) were:

  • Inspirational key note speakers (Adrian Camm and Khoa Do). I don’t think I can fully capture the impact these speakers had on me in words. They used their own experiences (as educators and film makers) to show that anything is possible.
  • Seeing the power of Google apps for the classroom and to organise myself as a teacher and my students. I am really making use of Google forms, Google tasks and Google calendar. I have gotten my students to complete post reflection tests using Google forms (I only had access to 6 iPads), but the ease of using it was fantastic.
  • Understanding the importance of giving students more say in their learning and the apps they choose to use. As teachers, we don’t always have time to search and trawl through the thousands of apps out there, but students do. Why not get some appsperts in your class and let them review apps and choose which apps to use to show their thinking?
  • How students can really show their creativity through movie making and green screening. I have now downloaded the app Green Screen by Do Ink and plan to use this with my class. It’s a great app to use especially if you don’t have a 1:1 iPad system.
  • You can learn from everyone. Last year when I attended the conference, I didn’t think I had anything I could bring to the community. However, this year when I chose to present on ‘Blogging in the Early Years’, I realised that everyone has something to contribute. I feel that I shared some useful ideas and knowledge on blogging.
  • Implementing change in schools takes time. I went to a fantastic session on ‘Motivating the Masses’ and this was a main theme throughout the DLTV conference sessions I attended. Whether you are a principal, have a position of leadership or classroom teacher, it all takes a long time. It also doesn’t matter what you are implementing, be it Google apps, iPad apps, etc, you need to be patient and not expect things to change overnight. Before implementing any change, it is very important to know the three Ps which are: knowing your product, your people and your process. It is also so important to get people on your side (followers or early adopters) – see this fantastic clip on leadership, dancing guy.
  • There are so many fantastic teachers out there and I feel so motivated and supported when I talk with them. Meeting people who I have communicated with on twitter and then meeting them in person to chat about teaching is insanely fun.

I can’t wait for next year’s DLTV conference! 🙂

Explain Everything v Thinglink

ThinglinkExplain Everything

For many projects and assignments, I have often used the iPad app Explain Everything for Year 1 and 2 students to share their thinking. I have used Explain Everything for students to explain the features of 3D shapes and how they have worked out particular maths strategies. Thinglink has been used for students to review books they like or to make a quick comment about an image. After students make these projects, we share their work on the interactive whiteboard. It’s a real thrill for students to see their work displayed for the whole class to see.

Pros of Explain Everything:

  • Pictures, photos, text, symbols (arrows, etc) and videos can be inserted.
  • Students can draw pictures using the tools.
  • Students can record their voice.
  • The final Explain Everything project can be copied to the photo roll of the iPad, and then played on an ordinary computer.

Cons of Explain Everything:

  • It is not that intuitive and not simple to use (for year 1 and 2 students at least). Students need to be explicitly taught what each symbol (i.e. the + one for new slide) means, how to insert a picture or take a picture and so on. Inserting arrows and different coloured text needs some playing around with.
  • I am still not sure how students do this, but sometimes when students draw a picture and then record their voice explaining the image, the picture somehow disappears until the very end of the video.

I recently discovered a great app called Thinglink. This is also an app where students can share their thinking.

Pros of Thinglink:

  • Pictures, photos, text and videos can be inserted.
  • Students can make a video.
  • The final Thinglink can be embedded into a blog.
  • It is intuitive and very easy to students to learn how to use.

Cons of Thinglink:

  • The final Thinglink cannot be saved onto the camera roll.
  • Students can’t draw pictures.
  • Internet connection is required for work to be displayed.

Overall, I feel that if I want students to make a book response or project that doesn’t require it to be saved onto the camera roll, Thinglink will be my preference.

How do you feel about using Explain Everything and Thinglink? Which one do you prefer students to use and why?

Stretching students’ thinking without reinventing the wheel – ask a question!

As a teacher, it is so easy to think we have to keep reinventing new activities to ensure students are challenged, engaged and most importantly, learning. Whilst it is certainly important to maintain a degree of ‘freshness’ in one’s teaching, it really doesn’t mean we have to go and reinvent completely new activities. Sometimes asking a simple question at the end of an activity is all that is needed.

I learnt this recently when I was teaching some of my Year 2 students about patterns using the same activity I used a couple of years ago. My students were both tasked with continuing the pattern (based on  Nelson Maths activity) of L’s, see below.

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 5.02.18 PM

Students had to work out what the 10th L would look like and how many counters would be needed. They worked on this until they reached the 40th L. Most students were able to work out that this was the counting by 2s pattern starting from an odd number. I thought to myself, ‘great, they get it now onto the next activity.’ I was just about to hand out a follow up activity when I realised that this certainly was one pattern, however, there were other patterns as well. In order to make this activity more challenging, I said could anyone work out the 100th L in a different way (without using the counting by 2s pattern)? This really got my students thinking. For some of them, they needed the hint of referring to the number above the L as well as the number of tiles required to make the L. I got two groups to come up with a different rule.

Using this L pattern activity in this way made me realise I need to make sure my students’ are genuinely challenged before rushing to the next activity. Adding just one simple question to their activity made it more challenging. I learnt that it is so important for me to continue asking questions like ‘Can you think of another pattern? Can you show me in another way? Why do you think that?’ to ensure my students are suitably challenged.

How else do you challenge/stretch your students’ thinking in maths or other subject areas?