Ten Trends 2014: Maker culture

Trend 7: Maker culture

CORE's Ten Trends for 2014 have been published. This post considers the seventh of these trends: Maker culture. We publish posts on one of the trends approximately each month. You are encouraged to comment or provide supporting links.


Think of learning at its earliest stage: a baby learning to play with blocks or manipulate objects in three-dimensional space. It’s something our human brains are hard-wired to do. Researchers like Dewey and Piaget talk about constructionism — suggesting that learning is an active process in which people actively construct knowledge from their experience in the world. People don’t get ideas; they make them.

This idea of making, of building, of constructing has a strong basis in research. Active learning increases the rate of learning faster than passive learning, Even just watching others build or make things fires up parts of our brain that are left untouched by passive learning.


While the maker movement has been around in many forms, it’s only now that we’re starting to see technology catch up with our aspirations for a powerful, active, authentic education.

Last week we broke the bracket that holds up the towel rail in our bathroom. The first thing I thought was not, Oh, we’ve broken it. It was, ‘I wish we had a 3D printer’, because I could scan the broken part with the camera on my phone and print a replacement. And it’s conceivable that there will be some form of 3D printer in many homes in the foreseeable future.

Is your Nan having trouble plugging the jug in because of her arthritis? There’s your year 7 technology project. Learning about insects for science? Design and print a bug hotel that you can attach to a tree or a fence for insects to live in. It’s all made possible by the magic of 3D printing, and a range of 3D modelling software tools — many of which are open source, and able to be installed on any computer learners have access to.

Another driver of the maker movement has been the emergence of a powerful suite of small electronic microprocessors that you can programme with a bit of code. Often they snap together with little extras, like light or movement sensors or Bluetooth and wireless modules, and all of a sudden you’ve got something you can attach a solar panel and a rechargeable battery to, and you’ve got a completely self-contained, internet-connected data-gathering tool. So what do you want to know? How many sunlight hours there have been each day this month? What the maximum temperature has been every day this week? The Arduino and the Raspberry Pi might sound like funny names, but they are essentially tiny, extremely affordable computers that kids can add onto like Lego. This freedom and creativity is right at the heart of the maker movement.


Art, technology, design, music, film, science all come crashing together in the maker movement. Want to sew a circuit into the hoodie you wear when you ride your bike home so that a arrow made of LED lights on your back indicates which way you’re turning? Piece of cake. What about creating an interactive sculpture that changes colour depending on the kind of music you play in the room? No trouble.

So what’s the impact of all this possibility on learning? For one thing we've got more chance to unleash student creativity than ever before. And we’ve got the chance to really connect our learning to the real world for another. We can solve real world problems and give students the kind of voice and confidence


Our learners have the ability to shape and bend all sorts of technology to meet their needs — we need to make sure we’re giving them plenty of opportunities to do it. Design thinking and design processes need to be central to our planning, not only to meet learners’ needs but also to give them opportunities to meet others’ needs. We can start small:

  • Grab a little electronics starter kit that doesn’t need soldering skills or even a good understanding of circuits, and see what your kids can do with it.
  • Talk to your principal about getting a 3D printer
  • Download something like Sketchup so kids can start playing around.

Because, it’s this playfulness that’s at the heart of the maker movement.

Examples and links:

For more about the Ten Trends:


Unpacking 3D in Chromebook

I don't know about you, but I've always found it hard to get my head around stuff like


As a boy, I'd chew my pencil and stare out of the window and wish I was playing with my kite or riding my bicycle. With dreams of being a navigator I would need not just to pass maths, I'd need an A.

Easty (we called him that because his brain had gone west) failed to capture my imagination. The chalk squeaked on the blackboard, and some days tears would well up as I tried to get to grips with it all. Mr Kirkwood's class was a slight improvement, we plotted parabolas on graph paper. We weren't sure what parabolas were for, but at least there was a physical manifestation, a drawing on a piece of paper. Not until I was 17, and attending sea school, did it all start to make some sense, because now there was a globe, and angles subtended at the centre of the earth, and arcs described on the surface of the earth. Arcs along which you could steam a ship.

But now, in second childhood, I am happy playing on my Chromebook. I have just grabbed 3D Function Graphics from the Chrome Web Store. It's free, so I didn't even need to think about it. Click. Done. It's obvious how it works. All I need now are some cool 3D functions (if I was at school my maths teacher would be writing them on the board). In another tab I go to Google and put in the obvious search string "cool 3d functions" and I land on the Physics Forum page 'Cool 3-D functions for graphing' by LPHY.

I try a few – you just enter the function in a text box at the top of the page – and the one I like the best is


It makes an object that looks like this

3D Function Graphics - 1

I wonder… what would it look like if I … put this?

Wow, look what's happened to the corners!

3D Function Graphics - 2

Now, I didn't tell you that another thing I've found in the Chrome Web Store is Pixlr Editor. I'm wondering if I could turn my object into a character. There's an 'export as image' feature in 3D Function Graphics, so it's easy to get these 2D snapshots of my object (viewed from any angle) Pixlr Editor. I try a few filters, and then hit on this one… that's one mean duck. Quack! Quack!

3D Function Graphics 3

Since discovering 3D Function Graphics I'm taking a lot more interest in functions. All this fun has put me in mind of Ed Catmull, the brains behind many of the algorithms that powered Pixar and gave us Toy Story, and Finding Nemo, and Cars. It seems that all those numbers can be an enormous amount of fun. Serious fun. Hard fun.

I think what I'm trying to say is this: When you see a student idly playing around in their Chromebook, fiddling about with something, don't be in too much of a hurry to pull them back on task. They may be learning something very important and personal to them.

Number 6 of CORE Education's 10 Trends 2013 was 'Thinking 3D'. I think you can unpack that in many ways.


UDL at the dentist

“To promote understanding of information, concepts, relationships, and ideas, it is critical to provide multiple ways for learners to approach them”. David Rose.

An unexpected learning experience

Photo taken by Chrissie at dentist

A UDL experience: My dentist simply explained what was happening in my mouth highlighting each tooth with different coloured lines and marks.

A couple of weeks ago, Scott Turner, a Wellington Endodentist described how he was going to clean around and possibly retrieve the broken drill piece lost deep in my root canal by my dentist.

At the end of the consultation, he asked if I had any questions.

“Actually I do”, I said. “Do you think I could take a photo? The way you have explained what is going to happen when you work on my tooth perfectly modelled something called Universal Design for Learning (UDL). You have just modelled the principle of offering multiple representations to support understanding. I’d like to write about it.

A regular part of any trip to the dentist, is the inevitable post procedure chat, the bit where they talk about what they did and what is going to happen next. As fear is my trusty companion in a dental surgery, my ability to listen is significantly inhibited. In fact all my energy and attention is generally consumed by trying to hold myself together until I am out the door.

The chat with Scott, looked like it was going to go the same way. He pulled up a photo of my tooth on his computer screen. I in turn moved into auto-pilot and began singing, “la, la, la” inside my head to block out the expected medicalese and to distract myself from the enlarged image of my filling-filled mouth.

To my surprise, Scott didn’t launch into the technicalities of the procedure. Instead he gave me a walk through of each tooth on the screen, its integrity and said things were in great shape. No-one has ever said anything positive about my teeth and hooked my attention. He also usefully connected his storytelling directly to the examination he had made of my mouth. He linked specifically to the way he had tapped here and prodded there and I could feel myself actually connecting to some kind of shared experience rather than disassociating myself.

The practical and effective use of digital tools

Scott then introduced some x-rays and opened them in a programme that looked like Microsoft Paint. Again rather than launching into details of the medical procedure, he orientated me to my own mouth. It was a bit like being introduced to a new landscape. As Scott introduced each feature, he highlighted it with different coloured lines and marks, as in the photo. He made no assumptions that I knew what anything was. He consistently linked his storytelling back to the photo and my shared experience of the examination. His use of the technology was absolutely fluid and functional. It was actually a joy to watch.

By the time Scott introduced the nitty gritty of the actual procedure, I felt almost confident. He described each stage of the intervention with words and by drawing and where applicable made analogies to ordinary things. At the end of section of the “chat” he would pause and check if I understood and for once I actually felt like I did.

So why the strong UDL connection?

Multiple means of representation: Engagement - Stimulate motivation and sustained enthusiasm for learning; Representation - Present information and content in different ways to support understanding; Action and expression - Offer options and support so everyone can create, learn, and share.

Multiple means of representation

The principle “Multiple means of representation”, one of the three principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is about the need to offer students a range of options and supports to increase their understanding.

In the text, UDL Theory and Practice, David Rose reflects:

"Learners' ability to perceive, interpret, and understand information is dependent upon the media and methods through which it is presented. For learning environments to support varied learners in all of these recognition processes, three broad kinds of options for representation are needed: options for perception; options for language, mathematical expressions, and symbols; and options for comprehension. A learning context with these options presents few barriers, regardless of the variations in biology and background of the students."

As the student, in this context, Scott offered me options in each of the three recognition processes. Interestingly, he probably does that for every client. He takes a universal approach, building into his way of working options to support understanding. He plans for the diverse needs of clients at the outset.

As an unknown client and one who brings a swag of negative expectations to the environment, the learning experience was quite honestly inspiring. I couldn’t help but make connections to teaching and learning and to the potential UDL has as framework for the inclusive flexible design of environments and the innovative use of technologies.

Useful links:


What does it mean to be a Cook Islander in 21st Century Aotearoa?

Kia orana kotou katoatoa i te aroa maata o te atua.…

It was Cook Island Language Week here in Aotearoa last week. It got me thinking about what it means to be a Cook Islander in 21st century Aotearoa, mainly because of kids really — specifically mine. I live in a rural village surrounded by animals, nature, farms. I tell other islanders it’s pretty much like living in the islands, except there was snow on the hills last week — Oh! and, we have less coconut trees and taro plantations here as well.

Cook Islands language looking forward
Photo: Darlene Tuiono

What our grandparents and parents are to us rubs off

In the spirit of looking back in order to consider moving forward (the 20th Century seems so long ago now) — I think back to when my family migrated here. They worked hard, and came here with that work ethic, along with a strong commitment to community. I think of some of the stories my grandfather told me, like when he was a young man and worked on the Makatea island, in French Polynesia, mining phosphorus, and how tricky it was in New Zealand back then when you did not have much English. He always had great advice like, “You talk a lot — you should go to University”, or, “You argue a lot — you should be a lawyer”. Being successful at school was integral to them moving here.

Leaving the home island and going to another country to work or to study is an experience that is fairly typical of Cook Islanders. In fact, so much so that Facebook now tells me that about half of my relatives from the Cook Islands no longer live in New Zealand, but in other countries. Cook Islanders travel a lot — if you saw the size of some of our islands you would know why.

I like to think that some of the things my grandfather talked about has rubbed off. I think also, that my generation would feel the same about their parents and grandparents about the values that they brought here from the islands. These things make us who we are, but they are also supported by other things such as language and culture.

Language makes a culture unique

It is language that makes those specific things in a culture unique. Words give meaning and provide nuances to the values and histories of a place, and its connection to people. This is supported by what we know about bilingualism.

The most difficult thing however to bring from the 20th century into the 21st is the health of our indigenous Cook Islands languages.*

It has become so serious that it has been predicted that there will not be another generation of speakers of Cook Islands Māori Rarotongan in New Zealand. This language has dropped inter-generationally to levels as low as those of New Zealand Māori (5-8 per cent of school-aged children) before the revitalisation of te reo with the Kohanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa Māori movements.

Serious questions for young Cook Islanders and educators alike

These are serious questions for my generation of New Zealand-born Cook Islanders. There have been opinions put forward (and I agree with them), that since the Cook Islands, along with Niue and Tokelau, are ‘Realm’ countries, that there should be official support for these languages, and that should be supported by a National Languages Policy. Those ideas have been around for a while now.

I think this would go along way to protecting, rejuvenating, and maintaining an important connection to our pacific cultural heritage.

That is big picture stuff, and while us mere mortals in the community and schools might not yet be able to move the legislative/policy mountains to make this essential step reality we can at least take some small steps in a direction that supports the identity of our Cook Islands students. Cook Islands students, like all Pasifika students, can have a wide range of identities at play. A third generation New Zealand-born Cook Island student could have completely different needs to a Cook Island student who has just arrived in the country particularly if they are from the outer islands.

Simple beginnings and small steps

We can start this journey simply, I believe, by getting our students / children’s names right. I remember as a child finding out that my father’s name wasn’t the English name that everyone called him — they called him Tony — his actual name was Teanau , my name, and that people called him Tony because it was easier for them to wrap their tongue around.

I, of course, never got called Tony, or T, or any other abbreviation. My mother is a Ngāpuhi — who generally don’t go in for that sort of thing. She would routinely tell my teachers that they were not to abbreviate, or give me a nickname. It used to make me cringe when this happened, but I’m glad now, or else I’d probably be known as Thomas, or Jack, or something like that — it was tried when I was 11, and then stopped. Mother must have had a word.

I remember dreading the beginning of the year, as teachers would read out names, and inevitably get to mine and stumble over it for 5 minutes or so. Every now and then, a teacher would get it right, and my ears would prick up and I would pay attention because obviously this teacher knew a thing or two.

I have no doubt that there are Cook Islands and Pasifika students sitting out there around the country who have had, or are having, a similar experience.

Another step is participating in Cook Islands Language week. If you missed it this year – don’t worry there is always next year. Cook Islands Language Week /Te 'Epetoma o te Reo Kūki ‘Āirani celebrates the identity, languages, and culture of the Cook Islands.

Those of you with some command of Te Reo Māori, Cook Islands Māori is very similar. I tell my Māori friends that it helps if you try channelling the sun, drums, and food of the Cook Islands — it helps with the accent.

mou i te ko, mou i te ‘ere — take up the challenge

meitaki ma’ata, kia orana e kia manuia.



Three distinct Polynesian languages are spoken in the Cook Islands:

  • Cook Islands Māori is an Eastern Polynesian language, belonging to the same language family as New Zealand Māori and the languages of Hawai‘i and Tahiti. It has a number of distinct dialects.
  • The language of Pukapuka is a Western Polynesian language, belonging to the same language family as the languages of Sāmoa, Tuvalu, and Tokelau. Pukapuka Island’s inclusion as part of the Cook Islands has resulted in some Cook Islands Māori terms and expressions being adopted into the the Pukapuka language.
  • Palmerston Island has its own unique and distinctive mixture of Cook Islands Māori and English.

Cook Islands Māori has a number of dialects. Speakers of one dialect can understand the others. The dialects are:

  • Aitutaki
  • Ātiu, Ma‘uke, and Miti‘āro (Ngāpūtoru)
  • Mangaia
  • Manihiki and Rakahanga
  • Rarotonga
  • Tongareva (Penrhyn).
    The dialect of Rarotonga is the most widely used and standardised dialect, both in the Cook Islands and within Cook Islands communities in New Zealand. Learners of Cook Islands ancestry whose heritage language is that of Pukapuka or whose heritage dialect is other than that of Rarotonga benefi t from learning the Rarotongan dialect as a lingua franca because they are part of the Cook Islands community. Learners of Cook Islands Māori who are not of Cook Islands ancestry normally begin by learning the dialect spoken in Rarotonga.


Focusing stories

Storying live

One of my favourite parts of my job is to visit schools around New Zealand and help them tell their curriculum story through video.

I have been interested in the process that schools go through when they let us into their place to help them tell their curriculum story. I find the whole process of 'storying' intriguing. By sitting down and taking the time to explore their own school story individually, and then telling the story to each other as they tell it to us, you can see new possibilities opening up.

Principals have told me that, after we leave, they can see even more possibilities for change and growth in their schools. It is as if our visit becomes a step in the process of change.

People construct identities through their talk in interaction with others

Greer Cavallaro Johnson mentions that 'people construct identities through their talk in interaction with others' (2009, p270). This is evident when you place a video camera in front of someone. They are not only telling you the story of their curriculum change, but also their place within that change. It is interesting to see them explore this narrative through a different lens. They have been active in the process, but the process of storying allows them to see what their place was in that process, and to reflect on the experience.

Telling stories is an interactional process


Greer also discussed the 'interactional process of how people tell and respond to stories' (2009, p275), which got me thinking about the part that we actually play in the storying process. By inviting the school to tell their curriculum story, we are providing a lens through which to look at what is happening in the school. We have a specific focus — that of curriculum development. We funnel what we see and what people tell us through this lens to reveal the parts that make up the change and the perceived outcomes. Next, we pull the story together, and present it back to the school. Prior to this, the school may not have taken the time to see how all the parts of the change process connect together. There are always many different initiatives occurring in schools, and sometimes those within the school do not see the interconnections between the initiatives and how they influence each other.

Story tellers are in charge of how they want to be heard

The last point I picked up from this paper was that 'storytellers are in charge of how they want to be heard' (2009, p281). I think, a lot of the time, in the process of telling us their stories, teachers and leaders see how they want things to be rather than how they might currently be. And this is the story they tell. It is a 'looking forward' story. And, hopefully, with telling us their story, reflecting on where they have been and where they are heading, schools find the process of telling their story an actual step in the process of making their story a reality.

Storying for professional learning, reflection, change, and growth

I believe that ‘storying’ is a very important process for reflection, change, and growth. It can be used effectively to help students tell the stories of each other, of their change, and for schools to tell the stories that are happening within. What a fabulous professional learning opportunity it would be for teachers to tell the stories of other teachers, and to help them see the change, growth, and connections that may not be evident from within. Imagine then combining those separate stories into the story of the school. How much could we learn from telling each other’s and our own stories?

Here is the latest curriculum story from NZC Online


Narrative inquiry and school leadership identities (2009) Greer Cavallaro Johnson


The LOGO turtle and Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms – thirty four years on

When I look back at my time as a primary school teacher in the 1990s, one of the most powerful learning experiences for me and my students was the use of LOGO – that little pixelated turtle tracing geometric shapes on a monochrome CRT screen. I was inspired by the impact that LOGO was having on my students as learners, as well as by the thinking that Seymour Papert used in the development of LOGO.

LOGO turtle

At its most basic, LOGO is an environment that enables students to programme an onscreen turtle to create geometric shapes. At its most sophisticated, it is a tool that enables students to explore, problem solve, experiment – and become immersed in an environment in which they take charge of the computer.

I recently re-read a book by Papert published in 1980: Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. Thirty four years on, I am interested in revisiting the themes that Papert discussed and reflecting on these in the context of 21st century teaching and learning.

Papert was strongly influenced by constructivist educational theory, particularly the work of Jean Piaget. Papert saw that the power of the computer was its universality and its power to simulate. It was his children’s thinking machine – a machine that enabled children to be builders of their own learning and thinking.

“In the LOGO environment … the child, even at preschool ages, is in control: The child programs the computer” (Papert, 1980, p. 19).

Papert claimed that in 1980 education was at a point in history when “radical change is possible, and the possibility for that change is directly tied to the impact of the computer” (Papert, 1980, pp. 36-37). This was a bold prediction given that the book was published at a time when the smell of methylated spirits from the Banda machine filled staff rooms, the Apple II+ was released, and the first microcomputer hard drive (5MB!) was released by Seagate. The IBM PC and the Internet were yet to reach us.

Papert’s vision was of a new kind of learning environment, one that “demands free contact between children and computers” (Papert, 1980, p. 60) and where children can learn to use computers masterfully – becoming the programmers and creators in new and unimaginable ways. He also argued that computers may affect the way people think and learn. They could become tools to facilitate thinking about thinking.

However, Papert argued that for this radical change to occur, society’s view of the role of ‘school’ would need to change, and that this change would need to be revolutionary rather than reformist.

Looking back at the thirty-four years that have passed since Mindstorms was published, it is interesting to ask how Papert’s predictions have (or haven’t) come to pass, and how his philosophy of learning impacts our use of digital technologies in 2014.

Firstly, how visible is the impact of the microprocessor on education. As Papert predicted, the microprocessor (in all its forms) has had a huge impact on almost every aspect our 21st century lives. In medicine, commerce, and in our social connections it has created dramatic changes. However, can we see the impact of the digital revolution in our schools? Has the technology radically changed the way teaching and learning happens?

In his subsequent book, The children's machine: Rethinking school in the age of the computer (1993), Papert appears disconcerted by the lack of impact that technology was having in classrooms. I believe that in 2014, he would still argue that in many classrooms teaching and learning looks strangely similar to that seen in 1980 and that technology is having only a limited impact.

Secondly, are we now at a time when society will permit the radical change required of schools to ensure that they are able to maximise the potential of the tools we now have available?

Thirdly, are the technologies that we are putting in front of our students providing environments that enable them to become more than consumers of content? Are we providing technology that supports students to be creators of their own knowledge and to become active, self-directed learners?

In summary, in this world of eye-catching multimedia, are we able to learn something from that old black and white turtle?

“I predict that long before the end of the century, people will buy childrens’ toys with as much computer power as the great IBM computers currently selling for millions of dollars” (Papert, 1980, p. 24)


Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. New York, USA: Basic Books, Inc.

Papert, S. (1993). The children's machine: Rethinking school in the age of the computer. New York, USA: Basic Books, Inc.


“He māori noa te kōrero Māori nē Māmā?”

“Isn’t speaking Māori the norm Mum?”

Ok, so I have this beautiful family that looks a bit like this…

Wawaro whanau

Well actually, that’s exactly what 4/6 of our whānau look like. My partner and I both brought two beautiful children each into our relationship, so, together, we have four children in what we call our ‘whānau kōpere’ or ‘rainbow family’ though most would refer to it as a ‘blended family’. We trick ourselves into thinking that a rainbow whānau will be more beautiful and colourful than any other and mostly it is.

There are times when it hard-out works, and there are times when it’s just hard work! Sometimes we go to bed at night thinking, ‘Our blended whānau will work tomorrow’. So, we get up in the morning ready to face the highs and lows of the day knowing that we will have our fair share of both, always hoping, however, that there will be more highs than lows. :-)

They are so completely different, which makes life colourful! I would say, the one thing that we all share is our passion and hunger for all facets of language — you know, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the incomprehensible also! From our children we learn that words like ‘anu’, a Māori term for ‘cold’, has been coined from the full word ‘anuanu’ to mean ‘ugly’. And, when we ask them to pick their bags up, or piles of clean clothes, and take them to their rooms, that ‘Mē?’ is, to them, an acceptable response. Forget that translated, it means,‘Must’, and they are missing the ‘I’ to form the complete defiance, ‘Must I?’ According to them, we should ‘get the gist’.

Arohatia te Reo: I love the language

Recently, Aotearoa celebrated ‘Te Wiki o te Reo Māori’, Māori Language Week, and I was quite encouraged and excited by the effort made in public sectors and media alike, along with personal efforts made by friends and whānau.

We are a Māori-speaking household; we have chosen to speak only Māori to our children, so when our second daughter was asked what she would be doing to celebrate Māori Language Week, I wasn’t surprised by her response, “He māori noa te kōrero Māori nē Māmā? Ka puta rānei ki tētahi wharekai whakanuia ai?” Meaning, “Isn’t speaking Māori the norm Mum? Should we go out and eat to celebrate?” Now there are two things that are very distinctly ‘our daughter’ about this. Number one is her belief that Māori is the norm, and English is her ‘other’ language, and number two, her love for food!

The kids view Māori Language Week as a time when there are lots of stickers sent to kura that are in Māori that they can stick anywhere, and when the supermarkets add Māori labels to their shelves. Simple, yet effective nonetheless, because they definitely notice the difference.

Countdown: te reo

I must acknowledge Radio New Zealand, who for years now has had their news presenters lead the news in te reo Māori all year round, and they are doing a sterling job keeping te reo Māori out there. Countdown supermarkets are on board, too, and it’s really awesome to hear our emergent reader children in these spaces having success when reading the labels.

So, while Aotearoa has done a beautiful job dedicating the past week to te reo Māori in many diverse ways, I’m always left a bit deflated when things go back to our ‘norm’. We, as second language learners know, that there are no more news reports in te reo, no more greetings and farewells by airline staff in te reo, no daring posts in social media circles challenging people to Give it a go! The hype dissipates, and it’s left to the steadfast few to maintain.

We are so proud of the efforts made by our children in keeping our language alive. And even more so because it’s not that they think that it’s disappearing, or that they feel obligated to do so — it’s because it’s their norm. We are even more impressed with their efforts in learning their second language, English, and the value that they give it. They are always experimenting and wanting to get it right without being instructed to.

I think this means that they have a high regard for the English language, and this shows in their need to get it right. I would love for this to be the way that we all think about te reo Māori. I would love to hear people making an effort until they get it right, and it becomes their norm. I’m not talking about making te reo Māori compulsory in schools or workplaces, I’m just talking about something as simple as a person seeing a Māori word, making an effort to learn how to say it and what it means, and making that your ‘normal practice’.

It’s simple in our children’s minds, He māori noa!


Twitter – it’s no big deal

Andrew Penny and Twitter for LEARNZ

When I was a kid, my opinion of computers was that they were for nerds only. And, according to me, I wasn’t a nerd (despite mum telling me it was nerds who succeeded in life)! Consequently, I fiercely resisted any new technology that came into vogue over the following few years. I even paid someone at university to type my hand-written assignments. In fact, I only began using a computer when I started teaching back around the turn of the century. It didn’t take me long, however, to get sold on the whole gig. Computers and the Internet: where had you been all my life?

Fast forward to 2014. Technology is everywhere. And, despite being at the cutting edge of using ICT in education as a LEARNZ virtual field trip teacher for CORE Education, I still find myself resisting its application in education. Weird huh! Actually, not really. I am, after all, a Digital Immigrant.

As Digital Immigrants learn … they always retain, to some degree, their "accent,"— that is, their foot in the past.… Today’s older folk were "socialised" differently from their kids, and are now in the process of learning a new language. And, a language learned later in life, scientists tell us, goes into a different part of the brain (Prenksy, 2001).

So, there are two things to take on board here:  First, that I shouldn’t be too hard on myself given my “accent”; second, that I am now actually part of the “older folk”! But seriously, I’m sure I am not alone in this experience, which, despite being somewhat comforting, is not exactly helpful to the so-called Digital Natives — “our students today (who) are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games, and the Internet” (Prenksy, 2001).
But, even though I have one foot in the past, I have the ability to seek new ways of teaching and learning by testing the waters with the toes I have free. That is after all, how I began using LEARNZ as a classroom teacher in the first place. And so, it also was that I began my venture into the Twittersphere.

Don’t get me wrong, using Twitter is not something that came easily or naturally. As a digital immigrant I had many questions about its usefulness, relevance, and, well, how to actually do it (they call it “tweeting” by the way)! Not to mention the fact that I had pooh poohed the whole Twitter thing right from the outset. Similar to the likes of Sam McNeil from St Andrew’s College (@samuelmcneil – this is his “twitter handle”) who said: “For so long I’ve rejected “social media” as a frivolous waste of time and something I was not going to engage with in any meaningful way, let alone for work related purposes.” Whatever its raison d'être, one cannot deny Twitter’s popularity. A quick search on the Internet will also quickly point out its usefulness as a tool for education engagement and learning.

Anyway, I discovered that Twitter is no big deal after all. What I mean by that is two things: First, that for today’s Digital Natives, using Twitter is quite normal. Second, it really wasn’t that hard to get started — once you get started, that is. And that’s the key really — just giving tools like Twitter a go and seeing what doors they might open, kind of like how we ask our students to take risks with their learning.

I am still only in the early stages of embracing this social media phenomenon. But, already I have realised its power to reach out and inspire. By tweeting from the field on LEARNZ virtual field trips I have created a sense of immediacy with those who dare to follow me. I am making connections with students who are also tweeting their thoughts and learning related to the field trip inquiry topic.

Don’t let your “accent” get in the way of giving IT tools like Twitter a go in the classroom. You might be surprised at just how easy and effective they are — though, I doubt your students will be.



Ten Trends 2014: Learner orientation

Trend 6: Learner orientation

CORE's Ten Trends for 2014 have been published. This post considers the sixth of these trends: Learner orientation. We shall be publishing posts on one of the trends approximately each month. You are encouraged to comment or provide supporting links.

What do we mean by learner orientation?

It’s helpful to think of learner orientation in two ways: firstly, how does the learner orient themselves toward learning? And secondly, how does the school and community orient themselves towards supporting that learner?

Let’s look at the first one. For a long time, learners oriented themselves toward the end point of learning – the outcome, the grade, the qualification. It was assumed that if the learner emerged from school with a credential or certificate, that would open doors for them as they made their way through the world. And for a long time that was true — if you got school certificate or a degree, you could use that to secure a job and then learn all of the other required skills while in that job.


But now there are so many people with qualifications that having a credential or qualification is no longer enough. The various New Zealand curriculum documents have anticipated this shift toward actionable knowledge: applying our knowledge to make a contribution to our schools, communities and the wider world. The spirit of the NZC is to think about teaching learners, not subjects, and many people are thinking about ways to honour that spirit.

Which brings us to the second way of thinking about learner orientation: the way that schools are orienting themselves to support learners. When many of our current teachers were in formal education themselves, schools operated like benevolent dictatorships: teachers chose the right material and level of difficulty for the majority of the class and planned accordingly. But the more we learn about the brain and effective pedagogy, the more we know we need to meet all learners where they are, not where we’d like them to be. Everybody brings with them different levels of experience and interest when they arrive at class, and while some things need to be coherent and consistent, many other things need to be personalised. Frameworks like Universal Design for Learning encourage us to think about how different learners need things represented to them in order for learning to stick: reading written material, listening to a story, looking at a picture.

Implications and challenges

Wisely, some schools are taking a systems thinking approach to this view of learner orientation, recognising that in order to make progress, they need to reconsider not an individual component, but all of the elements we put in place to cause learning to occur:

  • Pedagogy: how we teach. How we orient ourselves to meet learner preferences, and these preferences change through a sequence of learning.
  • Curriculum: what we teach. How much is determined by the school and the curriculum documents, and how much space is left open for the students?
  • Assessment: how can we give students more control and ownership over what counts as evidence of learning?
  • Community: How do we tap into the learning opportunities and resources that exist in our communities
  • Physical environment: If spaces are not designed to command and control, but to activate learning in all its many different forms, what physical environments are needed?
  • Technology: what role does technology play in personalising learning? How can it make teachers lives easier so they can focus on the most important thing?

It’s not any one of these that will make a difference, but the interplay and the relationships between them all, and more importantly how we can look at the physical environments as an activator for this interplay. We call these physical environments modern learning environments, or flexible, open, agile environments, but really they’re just environments that allow us to orient ourselves towards the needs of learners.

Examples and links:

For more about the Ten Trends:


HP Chromebook review

HP Chromebook

I'm an early adopter. I'm a dedicated follower of fashion. As a result, I have a number of netbooks and tablets serving as bookends; batteries flat, lock-screen password forgotten—should open a museum. So, having recently attended the GAFE Summit in Christchurch, I thought I should acquire a Chromebook. The GAFE team had hyped Chromebooks to the max, but actually trying to get hold of one was not easy. I signed up for a pre-loved one from Cyclone, who were exhibiting at the summit. My preference would have been for a Samsung; I am something of a Samsung fan. I have a Samsung TV, several models of Galaxy phone, and, if they made kitchen appliances, I'd buy those too. None of the many retailers I spoke to, however, could supply one. In fact, they couldn't supply any flavour of Chromebook, and several professed that they had never to have heard of them. Odd for a device that is (supposedly) taking the education scene by storm. Nevertheless, on June 2 Google Chrome blog announced that Chromebooks are coming to New Zealand soon.* I drove home via Cyclone, and collected my Peach coloured pre-loved HP Chromebook.

First impressions out of the box

Chromebook and Apple Air comparison

After tea I opened the box. If it was pre-loved, I would not have known, the packaging was all in tact and it looked and felt like new. I had paid an ex-demonstrator price, so I was well pleased. The first things I noticed were the colour and the texture, it was pink and rubbery like a hot water bottle; I warmed to it immediately. The next thing I noticed was the weight. I put it on the kitchen scales and the needle went around to a massive 1.9 kgs—compared with my Apple Air at 1.3 kgs. Back in the 1990s we tossed an HP optical drive into Loch Ness (to the dismay of the HP representative, who thought he had arrived to receive praise)—we were that annoyed by it. If later I want to send this Chromebook into Low Earth Orbit, it will cost me around US$5000. Battery life comes at a price. But what battery life! With default power saver settings HP Chromebook outruns Apple Air by 4 hours.


Pros and cons: pleasantly surprised

CORE's IT guru, Glen Davies, warned me I may feel claustrophobic in the Chromebook. With minimal on-board storage, with Chrome the only browser (because the browser is the operating system), and with all the activity channelled through Google, that was a possibility. But you know? I think I feel liberated. I feel less ownership of the device, in fact, I'd be happy to share it, because my stuff is not in the device, it's in my login. Once I re-train myself to think like this, I can go to any cybercafé login, and be at home.

To expand on this idea, and take it into the secondary or tertiary learning environment, it's a lot more robust. No longer is "a crash ate my homework" a valid excuse. A Chromebook that goes bouncing down two floors of concrete stairs can be replaced with a loan machine for the very next class.

And they're cheap. The original target of the One Laptop per Child project was US$100 per unit, but that was maybe never that realistic; better to say US$500, and get a few features that even the undeveloped world might expect … like good battery life, a robust keyboard, a smart lid, virus immunity, and hundreds of great apps.

Worth trying out

So, my suggestion is that if it's not too late, if the Powers That Be have not already decided otherwise, get hold of a Chromebook and pass it around your teachers, tutors, or trainers, and some of your user group, and solicit feedback. You'll be pleasantly surprised. I'd say the big advantage of a Chromebook over a tablet is the keyboard, and the big disadvantage is the weight. Try it for yourself!


Google Chromebooks

Google Chrome Blog 

Cyclone Computers

One Laptop per Child project timeline

Share your views:

Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts about the Chromebook so others may benefit.

* Looks like they’re on their way: Stuff news

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