#ISTE2014 Reflection Number 1 #iphoneography

Since signing up to twitter in 2009 I have been keen to attend ISTE due to seeing tweets pop up that captivated my interest and conversations occurring in the twitter-sphere. Well this year, thanks to the generosity of the Hardie Fellowship, I was able to attend. I signed up for a session on the pre-conference day, of which I am really glad I did for a number of reasons. Firstly, I got to scope out the venue prior to the 16000 people populated the space.  This number of people made lining up, in what felt like never ending lines, for programmed events and coffee the norm. Secondly, I enjoyed a session that will provide wonderful opportunities for students and myself as we continue to develop our visual literacies combined with social media.

To contextualise this a little, in term one I was teaching a couple of English classes, of which I felt quite out of my depth due to it not being an area I have trained in. To support myself and the student learning I felt that it was important to start with something we could all buy into and as a result have ownership over our learning. Photography seemed like the perfect platform for this to occur. So with smartphones, ipods, ipads and cameras in hand my classes set out on a range of tasks that set the scene for their English work. In the process we learnt heaps about each other, our interests, talents and developed our English skills along the way. This was not all smooth sailing, as the issue of school policy was our first hiccup, but hey, policy is there to evolve to enable learning to occur in our ever changing world. So after a few weeks our mode of learning was not in too much conflict with school based policy. I will chat more about this later as this was central to another session I attended at ISTE.

So my desire to attend this session was based on the learning I and my students had undertaken before I left for the USA.

For a look at the slides from the session Edutogs – Integrate Photography into the Classroom visit:


The thing that I loved about this session was the chance to go and play, to immerse and to think about how I could ensure that the next time I use photography in the classroom more is gained from it. One of the challenges that I face, and I’m sure that some students do too, is the time to tinker and explore the medium being used. Sometimes it takes time to feel comfortable with what you are doing and the tools you are using before you can focus on the assessable task that is required. Creating does not necessarily happen immediately, how do we provide adequate time for our students to do their best, to feel connected to the task and the learning?

He are some pics I took on the day during our photo walk, where I focused on texture, angle and shape:

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I then went onto playing with different apps to change the photos:

Since then I have had further opportunity to think about the photos that I take and manipulating them to communicate a story that I want to tell:



Games, Society and Learning #gls14 – Part 7

The last day of #gls14 rolled around quickly, as with most conferences a lot is discussed, shared and questioned. I need time to consider what I have learnt, and I am still thinking about some of the presentations from this last day. A storify from that day is available by clicking on the pic below:


Screenshot 2014-06-29 22.04.26


I do appreciate those that tweet out during a conference, some people are so quick at summarising what is being said into the 140 characters available for each tweet. These people provide a great backchannel for those not in attendance and a great bank of notes/discussions for those of us in attendance. For me, these tweets compliment hand written notes that I take while listening – yes that’s right I still take hand written notes! I find I am able to learn more effectively this way. The tweets are a mere summary/snapshot of the moment for me, my hand written notes contextualise things a little more and take me back to the moment in a physical/emotional sense. Having my PLN participate actively on twitter during a conference ensures the learning is no longer an individual pursuit, it has a real connectedness to others, hence I find the combination of tweets from others with my own thoughts, reflections and notes provides greater richness to the learning undertaken.

What is it that I will take away that will last with me for a long time and become part of my practice? What will be momentarily useful?

Some aspects of this conference have already come in handy and have had direct application to what I am doing now, especially from a reaffirming perspective. Others will be more relevant later on. I am sure that my brain will effectively dig deep into my memory to reacquaint itself with the information and thoughts filed away, in amongst the grey matter, when the moment arises. ;)

Games, Learning and Society Conference #gls14 – Part 6 Social and Emotional Learning

After watching my students play Minecraft for the past few years, it has become obvious to me that they gain so much from game play. It provides a space for them to connect, to be and to grow as young men and women. It completely delights me when I hear how supportive they are of other players, taking on roles of mentors, community builders and leaders. Demonstrating in each instance behaviours that are often not openly captured easily in face to face interactions by their teacher or other significant adults. Behaviours that identify strong values and beliefs around equity, fairness, trust and acceptance of difference.

Having opportunity to watch without impacting on their game play is truly remarkable. We have a dynmap (dynamic map, a map of the Minecraft server worlds that shows where they are and their in-game conversations) set up so I can do this without interrupting their play, without impacting with my presence. They are all aware that I use it to watch, and I do say hi, as I believe it is important that they know I’m around. By using the dynmap it just means I’m not physically appearing in the game, so their play is not impeded by me. This vantage point has enabled me to see the value games have in a learning context with regard to self esteem building, negotiating ones way around social interactions and building resilience. As a result of this, I was particularly interested in attending the paper presentations on Social/Emotional Skills.

Jessica Berlinski presented on SEL and the game IF, an overview of SEL and the game can be found here (click on the pic for a spreecast, it is a bit sketchy at times):

jessica berlinski

We want our students to develop:

  • self awareness
  • self management
  • social awareness
  • relationship skills
  • responsible decision making

The game IF, which can be found at https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id709306030?mt=8, and information about the game can be found at http://ifyoucan.org.

The game allows building of identity. It provides for failure to enable self awareness building. Through the game play children can explore and participate in taking different perspectives, building empathy. This game is primary school focused and does provide for parental involvement.


The other presenter was Richie Davidson, whose biography can be found here http://richardjdavidson.com/biography/. He spoke about compassion as a learnable skill. He mentioned that 1 1/2 hours of game play can change the structure of the brain, which incorporates the understanding of neuroplasticity. To gain a better understanding of what he presented it can be found here:


Richie Davidson commented that we are born with the seeds of compassion and goodness. We need the opportunity for these to develop – just like language. We need to regard wellbeing and kindness as skills. He made further comment to mindfulness being vital, as without it all forms of learning are compromised. Richie Davidson has been working with the Games Learning Society with regard to Crystals of Kaydor and Tenacity (http://gameslearningsociety.org/blog/?p=431 and http://wid.wisc.edu/featured-science/wid-collaboration-builds-video-games-aimed-at-teaching-pro-social-skills/)


Games, Learning and Society Conference #gls14 – Part 5 #failure

What do you think of when you hear the word failure? Do you think of all those times that you tried but did not succeed? Should failure be associated with negative emotions? Failure and games go hand in hand. Failure is part and parcel of hard learning in a gaming environment. Failure in games leads to success. Why is this not the case in other environments? Failure in games means you have discovered what does not work, that you need to take another path.

Playing games involves play!

freedom to fail

This is why playing games is so important. Games involve narrative, problem solving and good games provide agency.

Interesting questions were raised and it became evident people have different perspectives on some topics, which is great to see occurring on the backchannel. For an insight into the second day, via the backchannel, of the #gls14 conference click on the pic below:

Screenshot 2014-06-25 21.25.37

A slight deviation – FOOD!!!

Before arriving in the USA I was aware that portion sizes would be different to what we receive at home. I was also aware that there would be some minor difference in the way we do things too.

To be totally honest, I am amazed at the subtle differences and the portion sizes! So far Simon and I have shared an entree (main) for most of our meals – they are huge! Drinks are huge too!

It all started in Madison where beer came in one size – way bigger than I was use too! Nothing smaller than a pint. Later on in Lanesboro I ordered a root beer. Well…I didn’t want that much soft drink! I didn’t want that much sugar.

root beer
Food servings are huge – OMG, my head is still spinning, or should I say I am still in a food coma. Simon ordered a Pizza, let’s just say there was enough for a family! Please note that the pizza is sitting on a king sized bed and the box has been cut down to fit in the mini bar fridge – OMG!



Then there was the appetiser…sausage platter for one!

sausage platter


Please don’t get me wrong, some of these have been wonderful and fitting for the place of purchase. The sausage platter was a menu item at a German themed pub.


We have had opportunity to experience food more to my liking, such as a wonderful gluten free sandwich at a little cafe in Winona, called the Blue Heron Coffeehouse.



Not to mention the cheese platter in Madison.

2014-06-09 15.06.01


Tonight was our first experience of fine dining. Portion sizes were normal. Cutlery was not. It appears that Americans in a fine dining experience don’t use a knife with their entree (which they call appetiser), nor do they use a fork with their dessert…I will eventually stop making comparisons, well until I get back to Australia when it will start to happen again.



Games, Learning and Society Conference #gls14 – Part 4

One of the things that my Minecraft students have taught me, over the last couple of years, is that we need to be true to the game. We need to understand the genre of the game, just as we would if we were immersing into music, literature or other cultural objects. In coming to terms with this, I have been challenged on many levels with the internal conflict of placing Minecraft into an educational context. In particular, are we using Minecraft in a manner that it was intended, and more specifically, are we using it in a manner that students are playing it when not in school? One of the greatest challenges that comes with taking a game that is not specifically designed for the educational context, and placing it in one, is the fear that students will get to a point where they will buy out, rather than buy in. This thinking was also presented at the session I went to called Designing Fun Learning and Assessment Games.

The Designing Fun Learning and Assessment Games session was focused on Sim City Edu. Interestingly, they spoke about similar things that my students believed I should be aware of and apply to the classroom with regard to using a game in an educational context.

In the development of Sim City Edu they asked Jenova Chen what the original SimCity taught him. They mentioned his response was “life is difficult and confusing, but if you work hard at it you can change things” and he also learnt about coal. The key message they took away with regard to taking a cultural object and placing it into an educational setting was that they needed to:

  • resect the game
  • find the learning
  • focus on what players do – series of meaningful choices
  • plan for failure
  • seek the wisdom of others

This has led me to think and question the use of games more broadly in the classroom. Do we feel a need too, in some way, tweak video games so they are educational when we use them in the classroom? Do we feel this same need with a board game?

Games, Learning and Society Conference #gls14 – Part 3

The first official day of the #gls14 conference’s keynote came from Drew Davidson. The take-aways from his keynote for me included:

  • Great learning games give you agency.
  • The chaos of the creative process is good.

For an overview of the keynote and other happenings throughout the day click on the pic below, it’s a storify incorporating tweets from a range of attendees.

Screenshot 2014-06-18 21.41.02

The reference to chaos reminded me of the comments that Sugata Mitra made regarding learning happening on the verge of chaos, bringing in the notion of Complexity Theory. Sugata Mitra was referring to a type of learning environment he sets up using SOLEs. Games are a learning environment in their own right. Doing a quick google search on Complexity Theory and games led me to this conclusion found in Videogames and Complexity Theory: Learning through Game Play (http://journals.sfu.ca/loading/index.php/loading/article/viewFile/62/56) :


The sense of video-gamers being empowered to solve complex problems allows them to experience the feeling of in-depth understanding, to learn how to take risks and solve challenging problems. Essentially, good videogames create highly complex environments that create new worlds for video-gamers, immersive worlds that intrigue, engage, and enable sophisticated learning. Good videogames draw players into very challenging learning experiences and motivate them to continue, often for long periods of time. Good videogames also create interesting and important problems that players need to solve in order to continue their involvement in worlds in which they love to virtually live; in sum, good videogames are fun. As noted by Davis and Sumara (2006), complexity theory focuses on adaptive, self-organizing systems where learning emerges from transformation in the learner triggered by the experience. Understanding videogames as adaptive, self-organizing systems enables us to make better sense of complex global worlds, both ‘real’ and ‘virtual’. Videogames encourage self-organizing systems which encourage players to focus on connections and relationships (Gee, 2007) rather than decontextualized skills and facts, thus encouraging meaningful learning and understanding that empowers learners to adapt their perceptions and resulting actions in the video game world. Learning is understood as an emergent process, an ongoing renegotiation of the perceived boundary between personal knowing, collective knowledge and the environment as a person observes, acts and engages in the perceived world. In is no wonder that such a rich experience of learning is so attractive to so many adolescent and young adult players. If we can understand learning in this way, surely we can enhance the way we institutionalize learning in society.

The other interesting thing that connected in with comments made by Sugata Mitra was that along cheating – which was mentioned in my previous post. Sugata Mitra was not referring to games, rather the fact that we as educators don’t like the word cheating and often see using the information and connections available on the internet as cheating. He suggested we needed to reframe our perspectives and structure questions that we use to focus on skills and deeper understandings.

I find it interesting that I have been to two different conferences recently that have raised similar concepts, while focussing on different learning environments.



Games, Learning and Society Conference #gls14 – Part 2

Playful Learning

Playful Learning

For an overview of the Playful Learning pre conference day click on the above pic, it will take you to the storify of tweets.

The term cheating was mentioned in the keynote address, it attracted discussion with regard to meaning and use of the term via the twitter stream and during question time. Some did not like the term and wanted to replace it with the word hack, others embraced the term. However, my thoughts are that it is important to use terminology that is appropriate to the context. Within games creating and using cheats is a common practice. In the creation of cheats gamers are demonstrating their understanding and willingness to pass on their knowledge. It was noted in the keynote that we use cheats everyday, yet we don’t assign the term cheat due to the context. For example, we might use google maps when travelling in an unfamiliar city. Cheats are a reference point, they don’t necessarily provide the end point but rather a way of getting there – you still need to get there of your own accord.

I think the hardest part of accepting the words cheating or cheats is the negative connotation it is connected to in a non gaming environment. However, we should not let this stop us from using a rich environment to challenge and support our student’s learning. If a student is using a game as part of their learning then finding appropriate cheats requires skills in searching,  skimming through information and knowing when to read deeply (or watch). If a student is creating cheats for a game they are able to participate in forums that are authentic, not to mention being able to communicate effectively is a priority.

Above all else the most important thing for our students to learn, and enact, is to think critically and act ethically. Maybe this is why the word cheat is such a hard word for many of us to accept?

Games, Learning and Society Conference #gls14 – Part 1


Pic via David Leach (@LeachWriter)

Pic via David Leach (@LeachWriter)

Its been a big 4 days of conferencing for me and I am feeling quite exhausted, which is compounded by the flight from Brisbane, Australia, to Madison, Wisconsin, on June 7. I find conferences interesting micro climates, where learning is condensed into such a short time and the thinking regarding what has been absorbed often occurs later. The thing that I loved about this conference was being given half an hour between each session and lunches going for around an hour and a half. This time allowed for plenty of chatting and some quiet time to think.

The first part of the #gls14 conference started with a Playful Learning and ARIS summit. Me being me, found it hard to work out what I was most interested in, so I jumped between the two. I am really happy that I did this as I was able to expand my learning experience.

ARIS http://arisgames.org/ “is a user-friendly, open-source platform for creating and playing mobile games,
tours and interactive stories. Using GPS and QR Codes, ARIS players experience a hybrid world of virtual interactive characters, items, and media placed in physical space.”

I can see great application for ARIS in the classroom. I attended Denise Bressler’s mini presentation at the ARIS summit and then later at the #gls14 conference I sat in on her paper presentation that focused on analysing social interaction using the game that she created:

  • School Scene Investigators: The Case of the Mystery Powder

The other two ARIS based games that I really liked included:

If you download the ARIS app and create an account you will be able to find the above  games.

If you would like to watch the micro presentations then follow the link http://arisgames.org/2014-aris-summit-gls/.

#EduTECH Masterclass with Sugata Mitra


Since Sugata Mitra’s TED talk last year  I have become quite interested in Self Organised Learning Environments and School in the Cloud. Last year I emailed Sugata Mitra to determine if he was speaking in the USA while I was there, as to have the opportunity to attend an event he was speaking at would be something I would appreciate, unfortunately there were no dates at that time that seemed to match mine. I then noticed he was on the keynote speaker list for the EduTECH conference in Brisbane, which aligned nicely with when I would be leaving Australia for the USA. I quickly booked the master class and then proceeded to use the dates as the beginning point for my Hardie Fellowship.

Click on the pic to view the Storify from the Master Class:


Pic acknowledgement: Corrine Campbell via @EduTweetOz

Pic acknowledgement: Corrine Campbell via @EduTweetOz

The Masterclass was wonderful, not only was Sugata Mitra insightful, he intertwined his conversation with humour and thought provoking questions. A key aspect of SOLE is the question given to the students and ensuring that the teacher does not provide the answer, he modelled questioning in a natural and considered way, which made us all feel at ease. I felt engaged for the whole master class which went from 9:00am to 4:00pm and I came away feeling supported and encouraged in what I have been doing over the last couple of years, both with Minecraft and the Think Big class that I co-taught with another colleague.

The discussion, which I felt represented a ‘fire side’ chat, considered the physical space of the learning environment, noting that this is the easiest aspect to change – consider furniture and its placement, look for ways that encourage collaboration. It then moved on to a focus on curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. Within this discourse it became highly evident that there is a need to support the wider community in understanding education now, bearing in mind that everyone has been to school and everyone has their own perception of what education should be, educating the school community on what education is now is paramount. This then broadened out to acknowledging over time different values, skills and needs take centre stage. Careful consideration needs to be given to “what does a child need to know and learn?” (Mitra, EduTECH, 2014).

Further to this, some takeaways from the session included:

  • SOLE is not to be used all the time, it is a pedagogical approach – use it when it will be powerful
  • Parents want to know what school should now be
  • Leaders allowing innovation to be taken up by their teachers is key
  • Who are we engineering the students for?
  • The environment we are in can determine the way we interact and think
  • SOLEs is low tech – using one computer per group of four students
  • Look for the point of engagement
  • SOLE needs at least 12 students in 3 groups focussing on the one question to be successful
  • Too many students engaging in the approach at one time will not work effectively (no more than a normal class)
  • SOLEs groups self organise into the following roles operator (pointer, talker, director), mouse driver, note taker, hoverer (joker, disrupter) – all these roles have a place and students will move in and out of them
  • Anecdotal evidence shows students with diagnosed ASD can participate in SOLEs
  • Students must be able to read to participate in SOLEs
  • The question provided re SOLEs must have significant challenge
  • Using SOLEs more than once a week can be disruptive


For information about SOLE visit http://www.ted.com/pages/sole_toolkit

For SOLE stories from a range of schools visit http://tedsole.tumblr.com/


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