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.

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.

Combating teacher’s stress in a classroom

Students-postitMy general rule for stress relief is to orchestrate classrooms that rely more on the students than the teacher to lead the learning and contribute. Short-term, quick fix solutions will only work so many times with a class. I would recommend developing long term strategies that relate to overall classroom environment and relationships. When discussing stress with my colleagues, I start by suggesting moves to slow down and dedicate more time to see what the students can bring to the table in classroom activities. Here in New Zealand, our future focused national curriculum states 5 key competencies for young people to be focused on. These are aimed at reducing the demand on the teacher to ‘deliver’ education and at building habits amongst the students to manage and take the lead over their own learning. Here they are summarised that every learner should:

  1. set and monitor personal goals, manage time frames, arrange activities;
  2. interact, share ideas, and negotiate with a range of people;
  3. call on a range of communities for information;
  4. analyse and consider a variety of possible approaches;
  5. create texts to record and communicate ideas, using language and symbols.

Given these prompts, teachers must consider a pedagogical approach that will allow students to practice and develop these competencies. In most cases, designing the sort of environment that encourages this behaviour will reduce demand for teacher attention and thus reduce stress in general. Personal thinking space leads the better outcomes and happier teachers I have been doing a lot of work recently with Design Thinking. Beyond being an excellent framework for projects, it has an important and obvious first step that few classrooms utilise: personal thinking time. During my teaching career, many high school teachers have complained about the stress caused by students who just don’t engage or the supposed inability of students to discuss topics meaningfully. In both cases, the lack of time given to allow each student to think, process and prepare thoughts for the class inhibits successful contribution. Here’s my post on Design Thinking.

Typical scenario: A teacher asks the class to form groups of 4 and discuss topic X. After 5 minutes, the teacher expresses disappointment in the results of the discussions. When activities launch immediately into group or class discussion, more confident individuals dominate or if little is known about the topic, they disengage and wait for input from the teacher due to having had no real time to think about what they might contribute.

 Three to five minutes of silent thinking time for every student on a topic to consider their own existing knowledge or questions they have, before embarking on a discussion or project means each individual will bring more to the activity. Then comparing thoughts and lists of ideas they’ve had time to compile leads to more engagement from every student and less need for prompting from the teacher. It took me many years to realise this but I now enjoy working with classes of active students who display more confidence to contribute. Rather than worrying about small quick-fix tools and activities to reduce stress, teachers need to have a long-term view and look at developing a learning environment that encourages confidence in students to take charge of the learning and rely less on teacher input. This way, teachers will discover they can focus more on facilitating conversations and dynamics in the room and less on the fear of content delivery failure.

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 edubloggers.

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

Are your kids always staring at screens?

IMG_0651I’m a father of two girls (7 & 10)  and like many fathers in developed world in 2015, school holiday time has become “constant screen time” for my kids. Unless I painstakingly structure every minute of their day, given the choice, they pick screen time before considering other activities. They are kids after all and it may have been 1987 and it may have been an Atari ST, but I was just the same.

The 70s gave us screen time, the 80s brought it home, the 90s expanded the choice and the 21st century has now given many young people the power to download further screen time options when they feel like it.

What’s good for kids?

If most parents are allowing it, is it ok to deny your own kids (as a parent or teacher) the access other’s enjoy? What long-term effects will show themselves in 20 years? Will they be positive or negative? You can find news stories and studies to prove any case you’d like to.

So, what do we parents and teachers do with a generation who have increasingly higher expectations for how much screen time is considered normal? I have written before on categorising screen time to give more value to creative pursuits and this has helped family time in my house considerably. But here’s other ideas I’ve had that help in this increasingly challenging debate about what is good or not good for children.

Children generally think of the games first but are also naturally curious and creative and often just need reminders of the more productive activities available. Here are some ideas for how to structure these reminders.

Idea 1: Make rules & reasons clear

Folders screentimeRealistically, most families I know would allow a couple of hours in any day for iPadding. Organise apps into folders based on family rules about screen time. As examples: 20 minutes playing games; 40 minutes playing ‘thinking’ games; 1 hour of these creative apps. Using the Control Centre (swipe up from bottom of screen) you can quickly access the timer to ensure the kids get an alarm to say ‘time’s-up’. I also use Emoji characters to help the kids remember why they’re categorised (see pic). It seems sometimes that screen time becomes the issue more than worrying about exactly what’s on the screen. and my kids will move onto more productive activities, if it means more screen time. (Sad, I know)

Idea 2: Make them earn this precious resource

Yes, they will do almost anything for screen time and so use this to your advantage and make them earn it. The parenting advice on this also changes week to week, depending on which book, expert or website you follow but generally, publishing a list of ‘good citizen’ tasks that all earn screen time works well. It puts the onus on the child to carry out good deeds before the earn device time. My daughters have very tidy bedrooms, we have an automatic filling dishwasher and the fire wood was transferred to it’s winter location all because of the desire for the screen. I’ve had no arguments about work around the house if it’s weighed up against iPad time.

Idea 3: Become master of the games you want your kids playing

Here are some games I’ve recently become very good at, so as to spark discussion and competition within the family.

land of vennMath: The Land of Venn – Geometric Defense This is a great game where young kids learn and draw geometric shapes as weapons against monsters. It quickly had my 7-year-old daughter using math vocabulary she might never have used at home. Lots of extras to win and spells to purchase with your winnings. Cleverly designed to award more power to the more complicated shapes. Great fun and sparks good conversation.


English : Sentopiary

sentopiaryThis was a great distraction that both my daughters enjoyed as it reinforced things they’d studied at school and was interactive enough that even I learnt a few things regarding grammar. As the app states: “Guided by Common Core standards, it is intended to be used both at home and in classrooms and works well in environments where iPads are shared.” This is true as it also sparks conversation between 2 people looking at it.


Languages: Duo Lingo

duo lingoWe’ve made it a family challenge to learn Spanish using this app. My elder daughter has now decided that after Spanish, she’s ‘gonna learn Russian’ :-). Make it a weekly challenge to work through a particular number of lessons. The app is very carefully crafted to make sure you build your knowledge and skills in successfully in written, reading and spoken forms. There is discussion about the teaching of languages dying out in schools but this app and gasified online system could be the saviour for language learning.


Art: Sketchbook Express

Sketchbook ExpressThis free app gives you advanced tools presented in a straight-forward fashion. Even I could reignite my liking for art with some nice first steps tracing a photo using the layers available (see pic). This immediacy and extra safety (kids don’t like to mess up their pictures) of this layering made it an instant hit with my 10-year-old daughter.




Movie making: iMovie

iMovieUsing siblings, pets or classmates to put together a story introduction using iMovie’s Trailer option is a popular activity that I find with some theme prompting from me always gets my kids outside and ‘acting’. The other day, all I had to say was “what about using our chickens for a trailer?” and they were off!




Logic & Coding: Kodable & Thinkrolls 2

IMG_0642Both these apps challenge the brain for logical thinking. They present themselves as games but in such a way that the kids have to pause and think rather than just react on instinct like typical gaming.

Kodable is a great introduction into coding that both my daughters will play for the full 30 minutes overtime they’re reminded of its existence.



screen322x572Thinkrolls 2 looks easy to start with but quickly gets very challenging and is cleverly designed to deliver challenges in quick succession that my kids will choose to play this without reminding.

This means WAR!

Yes, as a parent or teacher you might feel you are in a constant fight and you may win some and loose some battles but if we are careful, I believe we will win the war. With some thought and a positively mindset, this screen time might create a generation of thinking, creative and collaborative people. By setting up structures to help the children self-manage their screen time, I am hoping that I can already see the benefits of what these apps have to offer transferred to ‘real-life’ with two girls who are happy to help, keen to solve problems and create projects of their own design. Make sure you make some time to showcase the results of their more productive device use and it will encourage more.

Good luck everyone !!!

Mistakes when integrating Technology into classrooms

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

What’s the biggest mistake teachers make when integrating technology into the classroom?

During a recent conversation I had regarding a new tech tool, a colleague told me, “it would probably go wrong and mess his lesson up.” The root of much fear around integrating technology derives from teachers wondering, “what do I do if it goes wrong?” In working with teachers in multiple schools, I have found this is due to a traditional mindset that the teacher must be the master of content and activity in the room. Fear of losing that control and sense of respectability is what still leads many teachers to avoid introducing technology and limiting the scope of what might be achieved with it.

Classroom Design Thinking

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 edubloggers.

Teachers often prescribe which apps, websites and gadgets are allowed in “their classroom” to ensure nothing goes wrong. Notice here that the priority is on teacher comfort over that of the students. This can lead to learner frustration, scope limitations and restrictions to creativity and many learners not realizing their potential. Creating an environment like this, can foster disconnect between teacher and learner, and for me is the most common mistake I come across when working with schools introducing technologies. Young people live in a world where technology offers them much personal control over when, where, and, how they do things. If school does not reflect this world, it will seem to become ever more irrelevant.

In all my teaching, writing, research and presenting, the central theme in education at the moment is the empowerment of students over their own learning. As this becomes more understood by teachers, it redefines the classroom as a space of shared ownership, relaxing the need for absolute control and freeing them up to work with the students, whilst learning alongside them. Most technology these days has to be designed to be user friendly or it doesn’t survive in the marketplace and young people have become accustomed to quickly mastering gadgets, apps and other technologies. If the classroom is a flexible and collaborative space, my students help each other apply their own choice of technology to the task at hand. The focus is on the learning goals and/or problems, not the technology itself.

Operating a more democratic classroom environment has led to my own use of technology being enhanced by student suggestion. The Iinternet has increased the speed at which young people discover new tools and examples of them being used. Allowing them to experiment with their new discoveries gives them ownership over how they learn and in my experience and observations of others, it increases engagement in the tasks and content in nearly all casesclassroom.

The issue is not about faith in technology but more faith in the students to showcase their own mastery and adoption of a rapidly advancing world. The trick is to harness this potential and use the keenness shown by young people to enrich the learning experience for themselves the students.

Read the other excellent posts here: Top 12 Bloggers