Power PD

Whilst PD in its traditional format is great and provides opportunity for getting into the guts of the issue, I also recommend what I call ‘Power PD‘. Not exactly a revolutionary concept, but one that was encouraged by a former head of Primary I once worked for. He enthused over short sessions (usually relating to Google Apps). And he was right. This is something I decided to build on and encourage, whether the ‘victims’ are aware or not.

As a tech mentor (whether unofficially or officially) one should be aware of the areas that can be improved in a colleague’s daily practice. This is particularly true for administrators who are getting to grips with a new system. Google Docs is a massive topic for a newbie which can’t be covered in one PD session, and we can’t rely on teachers/admins having time to revisit any online resources that have been provided.

As the weeks go by, it becomes apparent how colleagues are (or are not) using the tools you have in place – particularly those who are regularly communicating with the faculty. It is then we can make a mental notes of how we can help to improve this. The right approach is essential so as not to offend or seem pushy. A positive and proactive colleague will welcome your advances. Some others may need more gentle persuasion.

For example, one day I spotted a particularly busy inbox in Gmail (over a shoulder) with a large volume of mails everyday but nothing at all to organize mail. So the following day I asked if they would like any help in organizing their mails and whether they could free up 15 mins. They agreed and in that time we covered starring emails, showing unread emails first and how to apply labels and filters to mails. We also looked at how to search the inbox properly.

Someone once compared PD to Chinese water torture. A little at a time, drip drip drip. Relentless. It could even be as little as a passing comment in the canteen – “Hey, I saw you did XXXX the other day, did you know you could do XXXX instead?”. Little do they know it is all part of your elaborate PD strategy ūüėČ

In summary:

  • Keep an open eye on the way colleagues use the tools you have in place.
  • Suggest a short 15 minute session focused on one particular thing.
  • Repeat¬†ad nauseam


Inside a Masters in Educational Technology

I’m very excited to be starting the MET with Boise State University in January. There are a plethora of Ed Tech courses out there, and in the end I had to balance quality with value for money. I was very tempted by the MSc in E-Learning¬†with Edinburgh University, but this I deemed a little more relevant for higher education, and perhaps not perfectly suited for the career path I wish to follow. Boise came out as a winner – and comes in at no 4 on this list¬†of Ed Tech courses. I couldn’t fault their program and the range of classes on offer. Also, at a price of roughly $1200 per class, that’s a good value degree at just over $12000 total. Essentially for me, international student rates are the same as home students.

There are five core courses as follows:

  • Intro To Ed Tech
  • The Internet For Educators
  • Instructional Design
  • Theoretical Foundations
  • Evaluation

There are then 6 elective courses that must be chosen from the following:

  • Graphic Design For Learning
  • Interactive Courseware Design
  • Online Course Design
  • Multimedia
  • Online Teaching in the K12 environment
  • Online Teaching for Adult Learners
  • Advanced Online Teaching
  • Teaching and Learning in Virtual Worlds
  • Educational Games and Simulations
  • YouTube For Educators
  • Integrating Technology into the Classroom Curriculum
  • Technology-Supported Project-Based Learning
  • Social Network Learning
  • Technical and Grant Writing
  • Introduction to Network Administration
  • Managing Technology Integration in Schools
  • Introduction to Edutainment
  • Digital Game Design for the K12 Classroom
  • Blogging in the Classroom
  • Mobile App Design for Teaching and Learning
  • International Issues in ICT.

There are also ‘Graduate Certificates’ which are earnt on top of the Masters course through combining core/elective classes. Certificates are available in Online Teaching (k12 emphasis), Online Teaching (Adult emphasis), Technology Integration and School Technology Coordination.

I’m going for the cert in Technology Integration. Deciding on what electives to choose is hard. The agony of choice! And I’m still flip-flopping over what I want to study. Rather geekily I feel like a kid at¬†Christmas.

Digital Design: Foundations of Web Design

I am coming to the conclusion of teaching my high school elective course entitled ‘Digital Design: Foundations of Web Design‘. The title is borrowed from Adobe’s year long curriculum of the same name. Adobe’s curriculum is comprehensive to say the least, so for my quarter course with these Grade 9 students I cherry picked parts of it to create a suitable and relevant course.

Course Overview

As a quarter course we meet 5 x 45 mins a week. The course begins in the PC lab using Notepad and then moves to the Mac Lab to work in Photoshop, Illustrator and Dreamweaver.


I once had a sub comment on my lesson plan and say ‘Why are you teaching them HTML in Notepad, I did web design in college and we didn’t need to know any of that’.

Maybe so.

1) As an experiential learner myself I know how much a working knowledge of HTML/CSS coding has helped in my web endeavors. Many analogies can be made, the bricks that build the house, the parts that make up the machine…to me, it makes no sense to learn a piece of software without knowing what the code it is writing means. Often, we need to edit that code to tweak what we want. How can we do that if it is a foreign language to us?

2) I LIKE pure HTML/CSS design

3) These days there are many easy ways to start a website, with WordPress, Google Sites, Blogger and the like. However, they are all built on templates that use HTML/CSS, so having a working knowledge is great for understanding how to edit your templates even if you do use CMS.

Course Structure

Weeks 1-4 (Web Design Basics)

  • Use notepad to create basic HTML pages
  • Use notepad to add images to a webpage, create multiple pages and link them together
  • Use notepad to create a CSS file
  • Layout a page using the <div> element
  • Use a page wrapper to center the page
  • Create a navigation bar using a list


  • HTML/CSS quiz after week three (electronic)
  • 1 website designed in week 1/2 using HTML and CSS
  • 1 website designed using <div> tags and with a list used as a navigation bar with appropriate styling in CSS.

Weeks 5-7 (Graphic Design/Intro to Dreamweaver)

  • Research and write about the basic elements and principals of graphic design
  • Use Photoshop/Illustrator to create a nameplate (simply a way to have students begin to use the basic tools in a graphic design package)
  • Have students create a logo (based on a fictional company or one that represents themselves)
  • Have students create a page banner for a website that incorporates the aforementioned logo.
  • Set up a root folder for a site in Dreamweaver, begin to explore the software by adding images, text, CSS rules etc.


  • Written assignment on ‘What I understand about the basic elements and principles of graphic design’
  • A nameplate (png)
  • A logo storyboard outlining plans for design and how it incorporates basic elements and principals of graphic design
  • A logo (png/jpg)
  • A page banner storyboard outlining plans for design and how it incorporates basic elements and principals of graphic design.
  • A page banner (png/jpg)

Weeks 7-9 (Final Project)

The final project is to create a website from scratch using Dreamweaver. Students are expected to be web designers, graphic designers and copywriters. The website is based on a fictional NGO company called Aid for Children. I give them a site map but all page content is created by students.

During the project students will:

  • Follow a tutorial in how to set up their homepage using the <div> element in Dreamweaver.
  • (Some) will design a ‘wireframe’ outlining their preferred layout and implement it in Dreamweaver.
  • Use the CSS panel in Dreamweaver to style their sites.
  • Create a logo and page banner for the NGO (including a storyboard)
  • Use Creative Commons search sites or free stock photography to populate their site
  • Learn how to create a template with editable regions that can be applied to other pages in the site
  • Write all content for the site.


  • Project Diary (completed at the end of each class, shared with teacher via Google Docs)
  • Website hand in (assessment based on Rubric)

Friday is hand in day!

5 good points

Some great things have come out of the course

1) The obvious eye for graphic design that many of these kids have

2) A good proportion of the kids just ‘got’ the HTML/CSS thing and made some really great looking sites with drop-down menus (pure CSS!)

3) This project is easy to differentiate. Students who struggle with the coding can be provided templates, given a code to edit. Others who are advanced can be given additional coding task to complete like drop down CSS menus, advanced layout, embedding widgets, forms, etc.

4) Design transcends the language barrier. I have one student who speaks and understands very little English. However, in her 1:1 ESL sessions the instructor worked on producing the ‘copy’ for the site, which she saved in a Google Doc and then simply copied and pasted into her site once the pages were ready. For the web design, I was there to guide her through the layout and CSS design, and she was able to visually follow tutorials in the graphic design packages to produce in the end a very nice looking site!

5) Students have been introduced to web design and graphic design fundamentals and a range of new software.

Points to improve

  • Including HTML5 !
  • iMacs required an admin password for some of the Dreamweaver extensions for widgets (image gallery etc) that students wanted to use, which slowed down their design process
  • The two week final project is explicitly independent work. Some students lingered too long on the graphic design (which they were comfortable with) I think in fear of approaching Dreamweaver. Perhaps a little more structure and internal deadlines to help the progress of the project.
  • Small groups make this project infinitely more viable from a teaching perspective.

Check out this example of a page banner incorporating a logo, all themed to represent this particular student:

Here’s an example of one of those student projects:


Problems with developing Ed-Tech in schools

Ed-tech is a joyful undertaking done by the luckiest and most talented teachers, working at the best schools in the world, who have all the time and resources they wish to have in order to complete their mission.

That’s what it feels like sometimes, browsing the Twittersphere.

Allow me to bring some perspective to the overall picture. Lots of us little schools out there may strive to reach lofty ideals, but to get there can be a frustrating battle.


Where we are going
  • From next year all teachers are expected to have a ‘presence’ in Moodle.
  • I have been working on documentation of all our tools, including a detailed Moodle course on ‘How to Use Moodle’. All staff have access to this before the school year starts and should be familiar.
  • PD in the week before school, to ensure teachers understand their course creation¬†privileges. Continued PD opportunities particularly in Q1 to keep Moodle course development moving.
  • A new school information system, which will hopefully be integrated with our Moodle/GApps SSO.
  • Have hired an ICT¬†specialist¬†for primary school whose focus/experience is on tech-integration (on the same page is vital).
Where I’m at
I am called the ‘ICT Coordinator & Teacher’. And that’s exactly what I do. I do what is essentially a full time job in itself (attempting the management and development of ICT) and have a full teaching load (9 classes, 98 students).

ISTE Technology Coordinators Handbook


I was recently shown this diagram. And it scared me a little bit, and really got me thinking about the model we have to keep driving towards. How do you develop effective ICT staffing and job responsibilities. Well, I can tell you, having one person in charge of all PD, development, integration AND teaching doesn’t work well, or not well enough. Unfortunately, not a lot will change next year, as I will still be teaching a full timetable. I hope that after having improved the access to the materials on using our VLE I will be able to free up more time to start some effective tech integration.
In many ¬†schools, I’m sure there are a number of barriers to effective Ed-Tech.
1) Top down
Involvement of technology in the curriculum and school-wide philosophy needs to come from the top down. We are disenfranchised if the school focus is elsewhere, and also if administrators ‘do not get it’. It is not entirely hopeless, but you will end up working with only the willing, rather than as part of a school-wide push to improve in this area. That leads to fractured and ineffective use of technology. Without a top down drive into technology, there is little hope of providing off timetabled time for that purposes, as other priorities are in place.
2) HR
Many of the best schools in regards to ED Tech actively hire teachers who already have an ed-tech background. For many schools, that is a luxury that is not afforded. And yes, those teachers who DO have proven ed-tech backgrounds deserve the best jobs, they are pushing the boundaries in their chosen subjects and are inherently creative and motivated.
3) Established 
Schools with advanced and effective Ed-Tech have often chosen technology to be at the forefront of everything they do. They have also already established successful how departments work together effectively, and have other major focuses successfully completed like curriculum development and accreditation.
4) Resources
5) Misson/Vision
This kind of dovetails in with all of those above. The school needs to have 21st century learning in its mission, at its forefront, as an integral part of teaching and learning, and that expectation needs to hammered home to teachers.
6) Delivery
Co-planning for technology integration should not seem like ‘extra work’, rather an¬†adaptation of what you are already doing, improving your classroom¬†efficiency. Hence the delivery of PD and changes to practice needs kid gloves. Here again is a link to the importance of the support and vision of admin, where off-timetable meetings may help facilitate the process, rather than hanging back after school or during lunchtimes.

Sherlock Holmes cracks another case: ‘ICT at school is boring, say children’

The Guardian has offered to try and improve digital literacy in the UK, after a series of news articles stating that the quality of ICT lessons in UK schools is not good enough. I argue it is not the quality of the lessons, but the quality of the material taught, and the total inflexibility of the British curriculum, particularly in secondary schools, that is not good enough.

The thrust of  previous articles has seen a chubby finger pointed accusingly at the fact that we need to teach more programming skills (see Programming should take pride of place in our schools).

I don’t agree. Saying we need to teach 11 year olds programming skills is like saying we need to teach 11 year old English students how to write a novel, or 11 year old scientists about Higgs-Bosom. We don’t. We give them the building blocks of that potential for future use. We teach them about sentence and paragraph structure, about rules of physics and life cycles, and computer fluency.

Programming, in its raw form, should be available for those with the aptitude and interest at 16 to study further, and in my opinion, is for the realms of the university student to become an ace coder. In the most part, those who excel at programming in secondary schools would be teaching their teachers, its something 14 years ‘get in to’ in their bedrooms using the Internet as their resource and playground, not through tapping out a few lines in the classroom next to twenty-four others who really don’t care.

The UK national curriculum for ICT is so archaic, so mind-numbingly boring (and easy) that its no wonder there are complaints about the subject. Here are five points to improve digital literacy in UK schools.

1) Improve the curriculum at Key Stage Three

The current curriculum at Key Stage three takes students in 6 week topic blocks through the tedious humdrum of the Microsoft Office package. Sure, some ¬†schools may allow teachers to use things like Prezi and Scratch, but all must plough through Word, Powerpoint, Excel, Access and Publisher. Powerpoint is a useful tool throughout a child’s educational career (or one of its alternatives).

Excel and Access however – they can wait. We should be using KS3 to engage children with technology through ICT and all their other subjects. Video production and editing, audio production and editing, using smartphones and tablets (like they do in real life outside the classroom), digital storytelling, blogging and connecting with classes around the country and the world, digital photography and editing, graphic design, web design, flash and digital citizenship.

2) A Foundation course in essential skills

At the start of secondary school all students can start with a term long foundation course in essential computer skills for learning. That would include a proficiency check in Word and Powerpoint, a study skills course. In doing this, all other Year 7 teachers will know that by the end of term one, all their students should be able to create, save and edit documents and presentations. They should be able to use email to send and receive, download and upload files. They should be able to format a document with name, title, date.

2)  Improve GCSE ICT 

Current GCSE ICT is a very poor course. And I’ve seen kids, even in my short stint teaching it in the UK, struggle with it. And its not because they can’t do it. It’s because their minds are closed after years of the same boring rubbish in their ICT classrooms. All they see when they enter that room full of computers is a long, dull lesson looking at a page of word processing. Revamp the GCSEs. Bring in alternative methods of publishing work. Take out all the MS Office nonsense from KS3 and bring it in here. With an interesting, engaging Key Stage three period, students are more likely to show an interest when undertaking their GCSE studies in ICT, and slightly older students are more likely to be engaged in less interesting things like spreadsheets and databases.

In my experience, the outcomes of an entire KS3 scheme of work taught to Year 7 can be learnt in a couple of lessons by older students. Learning formulas in Excel for example.

3) Involve everyone else 

And by this I mean cross-curricular use of technology. Again, KS3 three is the place to sow the seeds for this. English teachers need to have a class blog. Not just because blogs are great, but because students also indirectly learn technical skills…how to navigate a CMS like WordPress, start new posts, reply to posts, add comments. Of course, digital citizenship. The possibilities are endless across all subjects, and it comes down to training and the willingness of the staff to improve their lessons.

4) Improve Resources

How many schools are using Google Apps for Education? How many schools have a CMS like Moodle or Frog and are getting the best out of them? How many schools see educational technology as key? To change perspectives a fundamental shift in what ICT is all about needs to occur.

5) Improve teacher training

Paradoxically, when I started my PGCE with around 10 other ICT trainees I was concerned that I didn’t have enough technical knowledge. I was expecting a more computer science orientated course. However, the calibre of the trainees really shocked me. Some of them struggled with Internet browsers. Only a couple had heard of RSS, no one blogged. The concept of integration across the curriculum was a novel one. The end result was a course that produced robots trained to teach those units of work and exam courses, but not much else. I’m not convinced many would have the ability to take an opportunity outside of this bleak existence of the British ICT teacher in order to push the¬†boundaries¬†of what is needed for true ‘digital literacy’. ¬†So the quality of teacher training needs to improve too.


Why I don’t agree with Waldorf School in Silicon Valley regarding technology

I came across this article recently entitled ‘A Silicon Valley School That Doesn‚Äôt Compute‘ the premise of which is that according to the Waldorf philosophy ‘computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans‘. The article highlights the fact that many parents who work at tech companies like Google, Apple and Yahoo send their kids to this school, including people like Mr Eagles, a man who works in ‘executive communications’ at Google and has a degree in computer science. He says “The idea that an app on an¬†iPad¬†can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that‚Äôs ridiculous”. Mr Eagles, I beg to differ. Unfortunately, Mr Eagles was allowed to continue by bragging about how easy technology is to use: ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs supereasy. It‚Äôs like learning to use toothpaste,‚ÄĚ Mr. Eagle said. ‚ÄúAt Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There‚Äôs no reason why kids can‚Äôt figure it out when they get older.‚Ä̬†Projects are highlighted such as darning socks and cutting up food to teach fractions. Revolutionary.

My first reaction to reading this article was a calm panic. I’m I getting it all wrong? However, after taking time to rationalise, I began to understand. It’s total nonsense. And here’s why.

Firstly, some logical oversights in the article. The fact that 75% of the kids have parents working at tech companies is probably related to the fact that, as the title says, the school is in Silicon Valley. I would be more fearful of my profession being a total dunce if the school was populated by the children of Educational Technology¬†specialists¬†with Masters degrees and PHds in child¬†psychology¬†and eduction – who having spent years training themselves in this area suddenly, in a moment of terror, realised it was all just so wrong, and they had to send their kids back to the Victorian days of slate and chalk. This is not the case. These parents may work at a tech company, but they aren’t education professionals.

You’ve got to be an app short of an iphone to not understand what technology brings. It’s not specifically about improving students grades. It’s about enrichment, access to information, and new ways of expression like video, audio, digital storytelling and publishing. Arguing that computers can not provide critical thinking skills is just, well, bizarre. Scratch anyone? And that would be, errm, scratching the surface. An example for Mr Eagles comes from my three year old daughter.

She loves puzzles but she gets bored with them quickly. Her latest 60 piece Winnie the pooh puzzle she has lost interest in. You know how it is with kids. So I downloaded this app onto the iPad for her. It has about 30 picture puzzles pre installed and you can also select any photo from your library to turn into a puzzle. You can select the pieces from 12, 24, 48 and 96, so she started on 12 and has already moved on to 24 pieces with my help. This is an endless supply of differentiated puzzles for $1.99. And Louisa will never get bored of putting puzzles together of mummy, daddy and herself on the beach. In two days, she had already¬†figured¬†out using (say it quietly) critical thinking how to best use the app. Indeed, I was delighted to see her moving pieces she couldn’t fit yet back into the ‘box’ to create more space on the screen for other pieces. Comparing this to the physical puzzle, with missing pieces, chewed pieces, the bordem factor etc. The¬†physical¬†taught the concept, the basic skills – the technology supplemented magnificently.

If you are going to argue that a child’s education is better off without having the ability to use a computer or mobile device, you better give me a sound logical argument and I’m afraid this article doesn’t have one. No chance to use a videocamera and learn how to edit video? No chance to have the satisfaction of seeing someone comment on your blog post from half way around the world? No chance to watch a video of a cat getting stuck in a washing machine on You Tube at break time?! Seriously, where’s the love? I guess learning how to knit socks is more important to Waldorf than creating digitally savvy students who are prepared for a world where we are, like it or not, surrounded by technology. Mr Eagles argument that technology is easy to use and can be learned anytime – my friend – you have spent little time in a technology classroom.

Year 2 at the American School of Vietnam

We are into the fifth week of school here at the American School of Vietnam, and I’ve been busy orientating new staff to our Google Apps for Education/Moodle integration, along with Engrade online grade book and much more. ¬†I have also had to administer about 100 new students, creating accounts for them within Moodle/GA and showing them how to use it. It’s been a fun, but hectic few weeks (all talk of school politics banned on this site). I held our first ‘Moodle Monday’ session for staff where we covered how to create courses within categories and how to edit the courses and add activities and resources. One English teacher has already set up an assignment hand-in and used glossaries in an interesting way…satisfying!

Our Mac Lab is here and it looks beautiful:



Where to start…

I’m not sure where to start, since I’ve decided to dust off this blog and really get some momentum going. I think I’ve got some interesting things and perspectives to contribute to the debate, whatever that debate is! Even being totally inactive for months on end, I still have all kinds of interesting people following me on Twitter – ICT people from the UK.

I hope what I have to say might be interesting because:

  • I am working internationally with students whom for the vast majority English is a second language.
  • I am overseeing the tools we are using for this new international school, still in its first year.
  • I am working in an American school which follows the California state standards, but there are no standards for ICT! My strategy has been to use the National Educational Standards for Technology and base many of my Units on the UK schemes of work in KS3 and KS4. However, I also have the ability to be flexible around these units, miss out ones I don’t like or adapt them to be suitable.
  • Currently all my classes are participating in the Student Blogging Challenge. See my students blogs all linked up here.
  • I’m studying for a Masters in Educational Leadership and Management with Bath University via distance learning.

I hope to post on these issues and more in the near future. Comments welcome!

Starting ICT at a brand new International School

First a little update: since I started this blog I have passed my PGCE and spent one year at a British International school in Saigon. I have now left that post to become ICT Coordinator at The American School of Vietnam.

It’s an exciting time and we have only four weeks left before teachers arrive.

For school communication, student work and collaboration, we are going to use Google Apps for Education. We are also starting with Moodle, and have integrated the Google Apps module into Moodle. For our SIS we are looking closely at Open SIS. We are all agreed, as much as can be in the cloud should be in the cloud, despite the sometimes unreliable internet connection in Vietnam.

There’s a lot of training to plan and I hope to share some of these experiences over the coming weeks and months.

Web 2.0 shows its power

Wow, well I get home from a hard days slog at the gulag (well, observing Year 10s and Year 7s mainly) only to find my humble delicious slideshow is being shared around the interweb by some of the UKs premier ICT bloggers! Happy days…a basement room presentation to 15 people one day, a world wide web phenomenon the next day.

How did this happen I hear you ask?

Well, it’s a perfect example of the learning and sharing environment that Web 2.0 can provide for us. After writing the post below which explains the context for the presentation. I then posted the link to the blog to my twitter network, still a modest 40 followers. I got a comment from John Sutton of Creative ICT fame (an excellent blog). He read it, good enough I think. John then sees Mr Doug Belshaw post onto Twitter that he is doing an elearnr session on delicious. My slideshow gets thrown into the bargin. Thanks to the power of Slideshare Mr Belshaw can then embed my presentation into his presentation on elearnr. Slideshare tells me that so far 77 people have viewed my slideshow, 3 have favourited it and 2 have downloaded it. So, I am thinking to myself, it must be useful…

All this is not for the sake of showing off. It is an example of Web 2.0 POWER! Blog. Twitter. Share presentations with slideshare, embed, blog again. You love it don’t you. I do…

Thanks John and Doug.