Why #EdChat is NOT just Resources and Ideas

What keeps so many teachers from professionally engaging  online? I’ve found it’s possibly not their confidence with tech, social media or educational debate.

This year, I’ve been privileged to be part of a research team put together and funded by Core Education in New Zealand. I’ve run a research project around teacher engagement with social media and to what extent it has real impact on classroom practice. My original plan was to monitor how 10 volunteer teachers would join and engage with the networks and how marvellous it would be to see it filter through to their students! Well, that plan lasted for about 11 minutes! My opening explanation to the volunteers centred on acquiring new ideas and resources and that it was social media that offered teachers cheap and convenient access to these new ideas.

After a couple of months, we had held lunchtime and evening Twitter chats and met for face-to-face discussions and I was disappointed by the majority of volunteers who hadn’t found an incentive to network at all outside these scheduled research meetings. So, our discussion turned to why people weren’t engaging in the online edchat.

What’s stopping you?

FINAL EFELLOW KEYNOTE4bSome felt the issue was time, but this was countered by the more engaged teachers definitely having more commitments in their life. Was it a lack of interest in pedagogical debate? No. Many of these teachers were in cluster groups around Auckland and even providing professional development to other teachers in the school. Was it a dislike for social media? Of course not! All the volunteers used social media on a daily basis in their private life. In fact, one participant who had not engaged in edchat used 4 social media sites a day!  I realised we had to refocus our discussions on something deeper.

“You have to know the network is a supportive group” – Teacher (NZ)

Half way thorough the year I held interviews with each individual. From these, strong themes developed around teachers felling isolated in their classroom and being uncertain about their own practice and where it would sit within a sharing network. This started the 2nd of three phases in this project where I focused on confidence in one’s own teaching as a decider for joining the edchat conversation or not.

“I would share but I’d have to be confident that what I was doing was ok.” – Teacher A

“I had a bit of self-doubt about what what to contribute” – Teacher B

“I don’t think I was well rehearsed with scripting the conversation around learning.” – Teacher C

The discussion around isolation highlighted the issue of not knowing how to position one’s teaching or attribute a value to it and this led to ambiguity about how and what one would contribute to a wider, especially worldwide, discussion online. This led me into a 3rd phase where I considered how teachers build an individual identity as a teacher rather than viewing the job as a single destination that all teachers are heading towards.

What teacher am I?

What Teacher am ISince 2007, New Zealand has had teaching inquiry and formal experimentation into one’s teaching practice built into our national curriculum document but for many teachers this has become a personal and not shared experience. So, they again have no real comparison with which to judge the value of their inquiries against other teaching. The discussions I was now having with the participants indicated that it was positioning oneself amongst the teaching profession within these online networks that caused them to pause, reflect and delay their input.

“I’m trying to articulate what my niche is. I spend hours thinking while I’m out walking, running, about my identity and I know I wont arrive at it now and I might be working towards it but it’s got me thinking exactly what I want to be identified by.” – Teacher C

Inspired by the work of  Manu Faaea-Semeatu, who’s been researching how people connect with people from other cultures and recognise the gaps in their knowledge about the different situations and priorities others might have. An inspiring talk with her led me to realise that recognising one’s own gaps in teaching knowledge is a starting point to look for ways to address those gaps. Where Manu asks questions about one’s individual cultural identity, connecting online asks questions about one’s teaching identity.

This is the deeper reason I think social media will and is impacting on teaching. Considering to join these networks is to consider where your teaching would sit within the conversation. These thoughts about values and practice and what we would present / give to others is what strengthens the profession. It is so much more than accessing and promoting resources and ideas.

A question for teachers: Are you teaching a classroom or your classroom?

There’s no denying that a teacher influences the form and style of their classroom. Teaching is not a job that develops towards a destination predetermined by the profession. I now wonder if many of the teachers not finding an incentive to join and share in the conversation haven’t yet viewed their teaching role as a personal and unique product that should really be evaluated against other teaching and developed through sharing it. They may have reduced their view of the role to something already fixed and known that they can slowly work towards on their own. Joining networks through social media helps teachers consider and develop their personal set of values and interests and build a better classroom environment based on their own reciprocal edchat discussions.

Joining the online edchat through social media is to start to consider and develop your professional persona and find your place within the network that expresses your own values and triumphs.

Five reasons your school’s NOT transforming

5 reasons your school isn't changingSo, maybe you’re on Twitter, your colleagues are on Twitter, you’re excited about ideas around new learning and your Principal might mention these themes in staff meetings. So why’s no real change happening in your school?

All this 21st century learning talk is happening but you’re still performing standardised tests, teachers are still teaching from the front of class and most are still predominantly isolated in their own classrooms. There’s probably a small group of “new learning” types who you know are trying the “Project-based-design-thinking-SAMR” type stuff but the school as a whole isn’t following their lead.

I recently came across a talk by Michael Fullan on making change. I thought this would be useful to share but it also reminded me of a TED talk by Linda Hill, which then led me to dig up 3 more TED talks which when combined might give schools and their leadership teams some real incentive and instruction for change. They also combine to indicate that progress will not be made with either top-down or bottom-up approaches but from a developing a new school culture towards shared, networked collaboration at all levels.

Here are the 5 videos:

  1. Michael Fullan: Leading quality change
  2. Linda Hill: How to manage for collective creativity
  3. Eddie Obeng: Smart failure for a fast-changing world
  4. Manuel Lima: A Visual History of Human Knowledge
  5. Barry Schwartz: The way we think about work is broken

Inspired by these talks, here are my …

Five reasons your school’s NOT transforming

  1. Your Principal is NOT seen by the teachers as an equal participant in learning.
    This I got from Fullan in his talk he gave in New Zealand about transforming the Canadian school system. He highlights that a principal behaving as an active learner was a surprise key indicator in his research into schools making significant and positive change.
  2. The teachers are unaware of the impact of 21C opportunities and challenges
    Eddie Obeng’s talk is both fun and powerful in explaining how so many people didn’t notice when all the rules changed regarding how success happens, how organisations are run, how work gets done and what skills & knowledge are required to survive in a world where the new scale people of all ages operate under is global. If we want to say we are preparing young people for the world, we need to wake up and take note that many of them are already making use of this new interconnected world that many schools are yet to accept exists.
  3. The school still operates as a hierarchy 
    Manuel Lima indicates how one of the changes that’s taken place without most schools noticing is that, after 2000 years, we’ve moved from seeing everything as a hierarchy and now view and operate everything in networks. This is also backed up in the Fullan talk. Lima’s talk will make your school consider if it operates as a 20th century hierarchy or a 21st century network. This is key to preparing both staff and students for the next 50 years. It also connects with Fullan’s theme about “social capital” or the quality of the group work and connections used by the teachers and with Obeng’s thought on everything now operating at a global scale, due to new online networks.
  4. Schools assume they must pay students to work with grades
    Complementing Obeng’s need for a new look at learning, Barry Schwartz introduces his concept of Idea Technology. He explains that one simple assumption introduced by Industrial Revolution removed all non-material incentives to work on a premise all people were inherently lazy and you wouldn’t get them to work without incentivising with pay. It made me think that schools adopted the factory model and it seemed only natural that you would need grades as payment for work without considering what work environment might be created to have people genuinely satisfied at school. A wonderful quote is : “The very shape of the institution within which people work, creates people who are fitted to the demands of that institution and denies people from the kind of satisfactions from their work that we take for granted.” If students work for tests and grades they are only prepared for exactly that environment. An environment that doesn’t exist outside academia.
  5. School leaders should NOT build a vision and inspire people to follow it
    Linda Hill says “Innovation is not about solo genius but collective genius.” She goes on to outline how the most successful organisations build organisational structures and cultures that are “iterative, inter-related and quite frankly messy.” She also highlights that investing in all the people to give them time to develop and collaborate around new challenges and ideas. It is also critical to build a culture where everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, feels they might have something to offer in improving the operation of or output from the the organisation.
    This is a huge issue for schools, where many teachers never bring problems to the leadership team because they don’t think it’s there place to suggest change. Schools are often not flexible or iterative enough to adapt to changes as they arise. A fixed-time vision for learning in a school issued from top-down can kill excellent ideas that surface during the period of time in question. What I took from Linda’s talk was that schools need to develop a staff culture for collaborative problem solving, discovery driven learning (and that’s the teachers we’re talking about) but run integrated decision making where everyone is confident to express ideas.

Adapt or loose your students

Schools lag further and further behind the pace of world change year-on-year and we need bold, aware, flexible leaders who know how to work with their community to collectively build a new culture of adapting to change to remain relevant. More children every year are finding alternative paths to early success and careers because their school was unable to adapt to their needs. Let’s stop wasting the potential of what might take place during a person’s school years and start operating the way the world does already.

Teaching a Room of Nerds and Noobs

What was my most challenging classroom and how did I turn it around?

This story wont be new to everyone but it’s an important one all the same. A common discussion amongst teachers is differentiation and how to allow for faster and slower learners and/or catering for different styles of learning. This was a key problem for me in 2012 when I had to introduce an advanced Computer Science course to a class of students with very differing levels of experience.


iPadwells Pofile Pic 2015Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls. Twitter :  @iPadwells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.


Some students had no experience of the terms or concepts, where as some were keen computer nerds chomping at the bit to discuss the most advanced computing technical aspects they could get their hands on. There were visible tensions in the room regarding advanced students being held up by the inexperienced. So how do you plan lessons for a class you know will be at vastly different levels of understanding after just 5 minutes? Answer: Flip it !

DifferentiationI started the year by announcing I would not be teaching the class once that year. That is, there would be no teaching of any concept to the class as a whole. Students then set about personal, subject-related project work, whilst I recorded 5 minute videos of the usual content I’d normally be covering in the following week. I found that before we got half way through the year, I’d already recorded all content, diagrams, animations and videos and arranged them into playlists. Some students had watched the videos as I made them and arrived at class with specific questions, some were confident enough to leave many of the videos unwatched until the exams drew closer. The personal projects I mentored in the classroom were also significantly more in-depth then we’d managed in previous years.

Important fact: When I did this for 6 senior high school courses, the total video delivery for any individual course never exceeded 4 hours! That’s right folks, no high school course’s entire year’s content takes more than 4 hours to deliver. If it’s condensed with clean, edited, uninterrupted delivery of all information all students need to know.

Grades that year were over 20% high than previous years and 2013 became a year of tweaking videos I’d already made allowing me to dedicate my time to full project based learning in class. I was able to focus on developing team skills and project management because the content delivery worked for all. Some students reported watching each video more than 10 times, some said they hadn’t bothered watching some topics. In  over 80% of cases, Computer Science was the top grade for any particular student in the class.

If you haven’t considered it, try flipping your content into videos, but NOT as fixed, timetabled homework.


School Transitions – Kings and Queens reduced to Pawns

Leaders become followers: I spent last week visiting and discussing a range of schools in New Zealand from early childhood (ages 2-4) to high school. A theme arose around the expectations teachers had of their students in each school and how it seemed less dependent on age or ability and more on a year level’s seniority in the particular school.

Kings & Queens reduced to pawns

Let me explain …

In the final year of early childhood, elementary, middle school and high school the teachers’ expectations of students were always set high, often dealing with leadership & independent learning opportunities, even in early childhood centres! This is due to them being the most senior year in their current context. The problem was that when those same children switched to the next school they were treated in relation to their new context, as the babies, and had lower expectations placed on them. This was happening at each stage of school transition and expectations on the new arrivals were often set lower than in their previous year.

A major problem

This is a serious issue with the various divisions in education systems and that a lack of communication between the schools leads to damaging transitions. Students spend their education switching from treatment as leader to treatment as baby at least 3 times.

Just imagine if we were to build on the self-esteem of the previous schools expectations and allow the students to reach their true potential? At the moment, we are dragging them back on a number of occasions making it hard for more to succeed over the first two decades of their life

Examples from last week:

  • Leading 4 year-olds by the end of kindergarten discussing what leaders do and say. A design zone to improve the layouts of public buildings in the city.
  • Baby 5 year-olds as new entrants in elementary school sat in lines on the mat and asked to all follow teacher.
    • Leading 10 year-olds at end of elementary asked to man the reception for half a day every week and act as the face of the school and create a short documentary on a social issue in New Zealand for a national competition. Plan a 1 hour assembly from beginning to end.
  • Baby 11 year-olds at the beginning of middle school taught by a teacher who said “I don’t share class activity online because at only 11, what is there to share?”
  • Leading 14 year olds, pre-high school assessment, running community projects to look at developing new approaches to clean waterways and their impact on the local environment
  • Baby 15 year-olds starting high school exams told to listen to teacher and get ready for tests
  • Leading 18 year-olds told to aide the running of the school and organise school events.
  • Baby 19 year-olds jokingly told by college lecturers to “forget everything you learnt at schools!”

Request to all teachers

Make sure you have in-depth conversations with your new students regarding their previous experiences and have them consider their pre-existing strengths. As senior students in their last school, they might have been treated like adults. Let’s stop dragging them backwards and loosing out on the potential they might have achieved if they ever got to control their own learning programme.

It takes a village to educate a child

What are the best ways parents can help teachers and that teachers can help parents?

The key secret to education is building and maintaining relationships. Here I mean all relationships between students, teachers, parents, administration, and both the local and world communities. Strong relationships give all parties status and recognition. Being recognised for anything is what drives most people to aim higher and do more. (Here’s 3 people who agree: 1,  2, 3)


iPadwells Pofile Pic 2015Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls. Twitter :  @iPadwells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.


In this context, I want to keep things simple and effective. What teachers must do for parents is instigate student learning logs (in any format) and raise the incentives for parents to be involved in them. Documenting learning allows parents and teachers to recognise it and this raises learning’s status in the mind of the child. Parents need to be made aware that becoming participants in this recognition they will raise the achievement of their own children with only small but regular gestures and comments.

The power of affirmation: “Facebook conquered the world with just a ‘Like’!”

Now when I suggest learning log, I do mean ALL learning. Be it in a book or online, students should be encouraged to reflect on any significant learning they encounter, in on out of school. The new dance routine, the new Minecraft features, the local news event. This personalises the journey and makes these small daily achievements visible and available for further recognition. This also feeds more information to the teacher from both the posting and the parent comments. This regular two-way information is vital in building deeper relationships and providing yet further affirmation.

Why I suggest digital blogs?

We’re all busy people. It seems that prioritising time to genuinely recognise others in this fast paced world is becoming more and more difficult. Let’s not worry about how we might change the world and look at how we might benefit from the the tools to recognise even the smallest of achievements. Blogs allow students to auto-organise by ticking categories and using tags. Teachers can subscribe and only need show recognition once a week. The key is to have the parents and the wider family subscribe to the updates and use the “Like” and comment features to affirm the child’s learning. The subscription does all the hard work in keeping the family informed and the power of these small gestures should not be underestimated.

“Even for teenagers, don’t underestimate the power of a thumbs-up from grandma!”

The big benefit of digital is that many people in the life a child can provide these small gestures of recognition from their phone anywhere and at anytime. Schools need to harness the power of having a child’s learning widely affirmed by their own community, including peers, and move beyond the reliance on just their teacher as learning provider.

…oh and Edmodo’s a good place to start!

Who needs teachers when you have students?

Last week, myself and four of my students attended New Zealand’s Google Education Group ‘s NZ Student Summit. An event by students for students. My 9th graders were running a workshop on coding with MIT’s Scratch programme and they did a great job but what fascinated me more on the day was the workshops being organised and run by students from grades 1 to 4! 


It wasn’t that these children from ages 6 to 10 could code, collaborate inthe cloud, animate, blog and create radio advertisements, or that they were already running online reflection learning logs and explaining levels of thinking through the SOLO taxonomy!! What struck me was that even at the age of 6, tens of students had volunteered to attend a strange place to confidently run workshops for hundreds of strangers. 

When I was at elementary school, everything was devised, organised and delivered by the teachers and the idea that children might have something to suggest in what took place at school was not up for consideration. I, as an average student, therefore had to wait until I was 25 before I had the confidence to take charge of any situation!

The rules have changed

IMG_1366It is so exciting to see that so many elementary schools work on the principle that the children are there to take charge of their own learning (in fact that was the theme of a session). For these 350 students, the understanding is that one takes any opportunity one is given and sharing the experience is the norm. In this context, putting your hand up to run a workshop at a large event seems like common behaviour and so much less threatening than it would have been for my generation.

One session I saw was on collaborative development of animations in Google Slides. They were presenting from a TV with examples and demonstrating the tool, whilst the 30 attendees used their own devices to give it a go. They presented and assisted people so positively and confidently that if I’d closed my eyes it would only have been the chipmunk style voices that would not have me assuming they were already qualified teachers!

But it wasn’t just tech. There were children running workshops on writing, thinking and publishing. In these sessions, the audience engagement was visibly higher than I’ve seen in a number of classrooms possibly because they related more directly to learning from their own generation. One thing that struck me was how prepared most attendees were to ask questions and for assistance. I know this would not have been the case if learning from adults.

A challenge to High schools

One reflection that wasn’t so positive, was that high schools did not feature at the summit. My 4 students were the only ones of high school age. Now I’m not going to suppose a definite reason for this but here are some possible questions that need asking:

  1. Google Summit Students04Was it because it was hosted at a newly built elementary school and this was enough for the average high school teacher to assume it wouldn’t be appropriate?
  2. Is it that the culture in elementary schools is “let’s see what you can do” where as in high school it’s generally “you are here to receive my wisdom.” Does this leave high school students perceived as having less to offer in the process of learning?
  3. Have High schools been slower to make the shift to empowering the individual to take charge of learning? Would this summit not make sense to many high school teachers?
  4. Connected with the above, is it professional connections? The event promotion on social media would NOT have been seen by most high school teachers who also have been slower to connect with the profession through these networks. (Last years biggest NZ education conference (ULearn) attendance was 85% elementary teachers and less than 15% high school teachers)

Just a thought

The big question is what will high schools do in the near future with students who have already run conference workshops at the age of six and have higher expectations of themselves than to expect to slow down and accept the predetermined wisdom of self-important high school experts? 

Dear high school teacher, is your teaching closing doors on the potential of your students?

P.S. The keynote speaker was a 16 year old from west Auckland who, from the classroom, both passes his school courses and runs 2 companies collectively worth NZ$1.5 million !

The “WHY” Guide to #Edchat topics

Although many educational models and pedagogies can seem like a conveyer belt of fads sometimes, many of them at least focus on one or two key educational concerns. Regardless of whether you think it a passing fad, many of them have an aim that you should know about and be considering as a teacher in the 21st Century. I must admit though, as busy teachers, it is understandable that to fully implement a number of them is unrealistic. So here’s my summary of the key take-aways from each model that you should aim to implement in your teaching. (Click for larger version)

The WHY Guide to edChat


OLD FLIPPEDIt’s not about lessons becoming homework. Flipped teaching solves all of the traditional complaints teachers have when teaching traditionally (Chalk & talk), such as:

  • I don’t have enough face-to-face and/or practical time in the classroom
  • I struggle to get through all the content
  • Students just don’t listen or are distracted by others or are away too often.
  • I wish I had time to stretch my more gifted students
    Here’s my post on Flipped Teaching.


You might be against all this staring at screens but learning must involve digital if it is to prepare young people to be productive in the 21st Century. But digital does not allow students to practice all skills. Real-world collaboration and debate are also survival skills in a successful future. Don’t do the work for them! The students must practice balancing and selecting the appropriate tools, digital or not for a task. At the end of the day though, a good balance is the way of the world.


i4S SAMR MindsetThere is some confusion over SAMR but it does make teachers reflect on the impact tech is having in their classroom. It encourages good conversations about pedagogy rather than being focused on tech for tech’s sake. My advice is allow the students to experiment and introduce you to new approaches. SAMR challenges teachers to push tech to do more for students. It also encourages tech use towards connecting and collaborating rather than just regurgitation and helps teachers to move forward with pedagogy.
Here’s my post on SAMR.


I am happy to raise my hand and admit my guilt about not planning well enough to consider individuals in my class who have specific extra learning challenges and obstacles. Anything from a sever disability to simple a lack of social confidence. Too many teachers plan whole units and lessons just for the “average” student Universal Design for learning asks you to start your planning with those with the greatest needs on the basis the others will cope. ensure your room has multiple options for accessing the learning and that you become aware of the extra aides available inside various technologies you have. Offer the required variety of media so all can access the learning.
Here’s more info on UDL.


i4S PBL AppsThe world operates in teams whilst most students don’t. Project-based learning prepares students more for productive social interaction and team skills. An emphasis for presenting to external clients or experts adds a real edge and accountability to learning. PBL improves the scope for genuine community connections and authentic learning. It can also add a much needed purpose to schooling, often missing in the normal abstract content teacher delivery.
Here’s my post on PBL.


i4S-The Connected Class ChallengeThe internet and improved access through BYOD means that learning that encourages wider connections Inspires young people to make a real contribution to the world. They are not learning to be citizens, they are citizens NOW! Offers new perspectives & live learning, not available in an isolated classroom. Encourages peer-to-peer support & independence, creating more definite life-long learners. Oh, and Skype Classroom is free !
Here’s my post on a connected classroom structure for the students to practice with.

WHY DESIGN THINKING? (My new Favourite)

Design-Thinking-iPadWellsDesign thinking can present a little like PBL but offers specific structure that has:

  • a bias towards action (How might we …)
  • a easy structured process for the classroom
  • a Focus on thinking, empathy and prototyping ideas immediately.
  • it also encourages input from all, on the basis that any suggestion might form part of the solution.
    Here’s my post on Design Thinking.


In New Zealand, our national high school assessment is based around SOLO. We grade our students on their depth of thinking more that their ability to regurgitate the ‘right’ answer. Solo helps student consider their depth of understanding on any topic. It has a focus on the relationships between topics and themes to enhance learning rather than just the isolated topics themselves. Solo aims for students to show understandings by moving content into other contexts or from other perspectives.

Here’s my Star Wars Solo taxonomy Poster:


Redesign your teaching year with just the key take-aways

I do hope this has helped some busy teachers, who haven’t had the time to look into these models. I also hope it might have some teachers reconsider elements in their teaching that require a little more attention.

Why High Schools’ biggest problem is Lessons

A major problem in High schools is their lessons. Those short 1 hour sessions that relate to a specific subject, where in most cases, the teacher stands and delivers ‘learning’.from the front. I’ve spoken before about teacher talk, so I wont go over it again but it’s time to challenge the timetable.

Here’s a summary of how my students have voiced their concerns about the typical high school day and also what I have observed as teacher:

High School's Biggest Problem

4 Problems with lessons

  1. 6195581056_281fa13715_zLessons cancel each other out: The unmentioned part of any high school teacher’s job description is to ensure that no student in their classroom is focused on what happened in the previous lesson. Students are to forget or at least change focus entirely to what is happening in their current setting. How are any young people to take anything seriously if our timetable doesn’t? [image credit]
  2. This clock had been circulating around our school with it's twin for almost five years now. It's twin hangs on our new administrators yard wall and this one was given to me a few months back and sat in my classroom. Each measures almost 3'X3'. They are cast iron and atomic. This one will now hang in my wall. 2010/05/28: Clocks are omnipresent in modern life. Make a photo of the clock, watch, or other device that you use most to tell time. #ds194Time to inquire: As a teacher who attempts to run student-driven classes, it is often the case that just as students really gain momentum, it is time to pack up and refocus on something completely different. Many, if not all, subjects in a high school could benefit from longer sessions to allow projects and challenges to embed and students to dig deeper. Our bell-driven factory model does not allow for this. [image credit]
  3. 7115374283_30d07f11c3_zRelations and context: So lets look at a common high school day:
    1. Plate tectonics
    2. Picasso
    3. Newton’s Laws of motion
    4. Macbeth
    5. Football
    6. Nazi Germany
      Is it just me, or is the idea that any human would be capable of ending the school day with a full retention of these 6 unrelated hours of learning absolute madness. The sad thing about much school content is that their are so many relationships that go undiscovered. I’ve been in cross-curricular planning meetings where colleagues have discovered for the first time they both teach the same topic. The saddest part of that story is that the students hadn’t even noticed! Schools must design a day of learning to make sense and add context to what’s being learnt. The factory model makes all learning abstract and doesn’t prepare young people for real life. [image link]
  4. 6040624392_5fe29b8dae_z (1)Allowing for Energy: Teenagers take time in the morning to wake and get going, are effected greatly by food intake and are expected to deal with hours of unrelated content all day. But despite this, most teachers behave and plan lessons as if it were the only lesson of the day. Teachers need to plan activity that allows for the time of day and how much the students have had to deal with during previous lessons. In a project or inquiry based environment, free from rapid context change, the students are free to manage their own activity type to match their energy levels at the time. [image credit]

Empowered and talented

iPads and technology in general empowers students to deal with their learning on their own terms and over their own timeframes. Young people are so much more talented than the traditional school structures assume they are. To segregate each hour’s learning from the next is possible the most damaging element of high school education.

An alternative?

Here’s a timetable from Auckland, New Zealand. You can see how 3 or 4 projects are on-going through the week but span beak and lunchtimes to allow for true progress and learning. [Image source]

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 9.41.12 am

iPadpalooza 2015 (Austin)

iPadpalooza 2015 : Unicorns, Band Karaoke, iPads and Online Choirs – not you usual Edu conference! It was weird!

IMG_6017After 2 amazing days in Austin, I fortunately, I wasn’t scheduled to do anything on the first conference day and could get used to the way this “learning event” rolled!. And wow, did it roll! As I had be flown in as a token foreign presenter, I was able to bask in the mind-blowing, influential VIP green room. The discussions I had on the first day in the green room alone made the trip instantly worth while. In Picture:  @TheTechRabbi, @felixjacomino@gcouros – Wow! What a Line up for the “Mini-Keynotes.”

New Friends

IMG_6008The event had a team scavenger hunt game, which worked well to team up people who might not know each other (I highly recommend this to other event organisers). Using Twitter, I ended up in a team of the most amazing people. We became very good friends in just the 3 days. Cathy Hunt (@art_cathyhunt) was my fellow foreign team mate and also happens to be an inspiring iPad-art PD machine! (Check out her iPad art Website – Now!) She is all about the learning, I went to 3 of her sessions over the week and every time, the attendees raved about how genuinely useful and inspiring they were. Cathy also is one of the funniest people I’ve spent time with. Chris Parker(@Kreyus) signed up for the team and fortunately just happened to be the nicest, most hospitable man in Austin. He took us on guided tours, acted as taxi every day and introduced us to the best Austin had to offer.


Workshops & 15 minute swift talks

IMG_0985I attended many great hands-on and here’s my new friend, Cathy Hunt’s excellent and fun session on stop-frame animation. Felix Jacomino did an excellent session on the power of sharing. The discussion was excellent and he had asked several guest Edu-celebs to Facetime video recording of what where views on sharing were, which I thought was a great format to use in a presentation. My 15 swift talk on learning environments was well received and can be found at the bottom of this page.

Man of the People


The event organiser, Carl Hooker (@MrHooker) is a people magician and has created the most relaxed, friendly and thus powerful conference (he prefers “learning event”) I have been to. Not many conference organisers open the event with a personally written and performed #EduEminemParodyRap! Carl’s genius, is building a talented team of people who respect and like him to the extent they’ll all go the extra mile to make it as amazing as it can be. It is impossible to have a negative thought about Carl, so stuff gets done and the green room was evidence of just how powerful Carl’s mojo is. Thank you Carl for bringing me to the most fun, inspiring 3 days of my professional life.


IMG_6006Adam Bellows (@adambellow), is one of the nicest guys you could meet. Is opening keynote involved crafted keynote slides, perfectly timed jokes and a drone flying over the audience. Need I say more? I had the privilege of chatting for some time with him back stage and it was enjoyable to see how much we had in common, including receding hairline and glasses!

IMG_6026Full respect to Guy Kawasaki who had inspiring insights into making real change and innovation in , great slides and enough laughs to keep us entertained. Very strong messages and advice from his times working with Steve Jobs.


IMG_6058Eric Whitacre was probably the most powerful and emotive Keynote I’ve seen. His story of following your passion and using technology to connect and launch world changing collaborative projects was inspiring and all my music teaching friends back in NZ were SO jealous! Check out his latest Youtube Choir here.

The conference had a warm, friendly and relaxed atmosphere with all keen to play and learn in excellent workshops, 15 minute swift talks and one hour take-away sessions.

Thank you

tweet InspiringThanks for all the warm feedback  from my audiences (Thanks for the tweets :-)
I was amazed at how people responded to my ideas. A huge thank you to Kayla Veatch (@miss_veatch)  for her amazing sketchnote of my “Guide to Everything” talk. I makes for a great poster on my wall!

guide to everything sketchnote

Here’s the amazing (filmed by students) highlights video of the 3 fantastic days at Westlake School, Austin.

Here are the links to my Slides:

@iPadWells Guide to EVERYTHING !

Open Minds with Blank Walls

Demonstrating leadership in the classroom

Technology and new societal hierarchies are changing the demands on teachers and thus the opportunities for and style in which teachers should demonstrate leadership. Expectations on young people have also developed as the world evolves increasingly quickly. I wonder how many CEOs are now below the age of 25? It’s now less about displaying mastery over content and skills and more about demonstrating successful leadership by nurturing a creative and challenging classroom environment.


Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls. Twitter :  @iPadwells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.


I have just read an excellent article in Time magazine by Julie Lythcott-Haims, where she summarises her book about the growing dependency children have on their parents. She explains how middle-class parenting, in particular, has developed in such a way it helps foster this dependency. Julie highlights that children increasingly expect to be fully catered for in any event or situation. To quote Julie: “We have to deliberately put opportunities for independence in our kids’ way.” This problem often gets discussed at my school in regard to students’ lack of initiative in the classroom but I can’t help but argue that the traditional classroom fosters just the same level of dependency.

Demonstrating leadership whilst not fostering dependency

student teams02In a classroom where every child carries out the same task for the same outcome, the temptation is to lead by command and control. After all, everyone has to tow the same line. The underlying issue in this context is that every student is dependent on the teacher for every step of the task. “Turn to page 52,” “Answer questions 5 to 10,” “Draw a mind-map of …” In these situations, a student’s need for initiative and decision-making is limited to the tight confines of the page, question or requested specific output.

Like anything, humans learn best through experience and this includes leadership. To demonstrate the more modern requirements for transformative leadership, teachers need to show mastery for adapting, evaluating learning goals and building productive working structures. These need to be open enough to let the students take control over the environment where true experience is gained in managing time, information, decision-making and social interactions. This has had very positive outcomes in my school where it seems self-respect has developed and the extra ownership over the work improves attitude and productivity.

Design-Thinking-iPadWellsSince opening up my classroom to structures like Project-based learning or Design Thinking exercises, I have seen what student leadership looks like. When it’s normal for students to be dealing with self-expression, task management and working relationships, it will amaze teachers as to what young people are capable of. Regardless of teaching model, the basics of: set negotiated goals, offer working structures; expect collaboration and let the students drive, are much more likely to develop the leaders of tomorrow.

This is important as the problems these young people will face are likely to require a more collaborative and global style of leadership. In my classroom, the quality of output but more importantly, the level of understanding and ability to lead a scenario have never been better.