Device choice in schools driven by the ‘write’ things?

device for collaboration

Modern Learning (environments, practices and supporting technologies) is something that most schools I interact with have firmly on their radar. Some are just starting out, and others are well on the way. The conversations about Modern Learning Environments and Modern Learning Practices sometimes start slowly, but usually end up being vibrant, exciting discussions jam packed with possibilities, and leave me feeling thrilled to be part of the transformation of aspects of our education system.

Themes in discussions about Modern Learning

I find that discussions with school personnel about Modern Learning (ML) have many common threads. You can see a more formal definition on CORE’s website, but things that often get mentioned in conversation are:

  • flexible/fluid seating and furniture arrangements
  • pupils interacting with a greater variety of staff and other children
  • pupils interacting with others outside of their school and school day
  • mobile devices
  • personalised learning
  • being able to learn in a variety of mediums
  • pupils being able to demonstrate their learning in a variety of media
  • greater accessibility and the removal of barriers
  • flipped classrooms
  • a focus on process rather than outcomes
  • collaboration
  • online access to education resources.

But, what about supporting technologies in Modern Learning?

When discussions move to the supporting technology, however, it seems that ICT decisions often highlight a gap between what schools espouse and what schools do. For instance, one thing that I never hear mentioned in discussions about Modern Learning is essay writing, or in fact, any activity that binds students inextricably with a keyboard. Yet, that often becomes a must-have item for device specification.

Tablet or laptop? What are the pros and cons?

When I listen to schools talking about Modern Learning, the device I picture is often a tablet. Tablets are small, light, and have good battery life. But you could also argue that laptops have all those things as well. Indeed, if you simply compared features of tablets and laptops, you can make a long list of common features: things like SSD drives, bluetooth, wireless, touch screens, speakers, microphones, headphone jacks, video out, and so-on. In fact, in terms of features, there aren’t a lot of differences. The most notable are, perhaps, a physical keyboard on a laptop, and a rear-facing camera on a tablet.

But, I think the feature list is misleading, as it is the form of the device that really sets a tablet and a laptop apart. Some of those differences are fairly obvious, for instance, both have a camera, but it is pretty clumsy trying to take photos with a laptop. Others are subtler. For instance, it is easier to have a group of people working concurrently on a tablet, as there is no dominant position, and anyone can reach out and use the screen to add their contribution. But, a laptop’s design makes it easy for one person in a group to enter data on behalf of the group. The following table highlights what I think of as some strengths and weaknesses of both types of devices:

ML Attribute\Device Type Laptop Tablet
flexible/fluid seating arrangements great to use at a desk, usually needs to be supported on something great to use anywhere, but at times will also need to be supported
pupils interacting with a greater variety of staff and other children thirty laptop lids open in a class makes a lot of barriers to interacting easy for multiple people to look at or pass around or use. Discreet when not being used
pupils interacting with others outside of their school easy to do via any number of web based services easy to do via any number of web based services
mobile devices tend to be light and relatively easy to move around tend to be even lighter and there is not even a lid to open or close
personalised learning a great device for interacting with via keyboard or mouse/trackpad a great device for interacting with in a variety of ways
responsiveness can take some time to boot/switch on always immediately on
being able to learn in a variety of media a great device for interacting with via keyboard or mouse/trackpad  touch interface — intuitive
being able to demonstrate your learning in a variety of media a great device for interacting with via keyboard or mouse/trackpad
Many tasks such as video and image editing and sharing require a more complex workflow
Many tasks such as video and image editing are simple. Sharing the finished product is often a coherent part of the workflow.
greater accessibility and the removal of barriers Modern operating systems have accessibility features included Touch interface is simplified, powerful and intuitive. Accessibility features available on tablet operating systems
flipped classrooms provides access to almost all websites and resources provides access to most websites and resources, though some tablets will not display Flash content
collaboration online can easily collaborate via online spaces with people on other devices can easily collaborate via online spaces with people on other devices

As I said earlier, I often picture a tablet when I hear schools describe to me the environment that they envision their students working in. That is not to say that I see no place for laptops. I firmly believe that the end goal is for the students to choose the device that best suits them. It is important to remember that just as environment and practice will impact how learning happens, so student device choices will in part be guided by the learning and assessment tasks that they are confronted with in their schools.

Why does having a keyboard seem so important in modern education?

Is it because teachers are still elevating the written (typed) word, either consciously or subconsciously, above a staggering array of other ways to communicate thoughts, ideas, and creativity? Keyboard-centric thinkers often also believe that tablets are good for younger students, but that older (more serious) students need permanent access to a keyboard.
Maybe we still want to assess a class set of similar answers, created in as close to the same way as possible, and that is deemed easier on a laptop. But how personalised can we really claim the learning is when what we collect to mark is 30 books, or 30 paintings, or now 30 word-processed documents? So, is convenience of teaching and assessing and our innate desire to place students on frameworks more important than allowing them to explore a subject, and then express their knowledge in the way that best suits them as students?

Or, is it not the keyboard at all? Is it simply that managing school-owned laptops (the devices with keyboards) is simpler for technical staff than managing school owned tablets? If so, have we really decided that the management of devices trumps the ways they can be used? Or, did that just happen without us noticing or thinking too hard about what we were giving up in the interest of a more convenient technical solution?

Schools may wish to consider:

  • How often they check that their ICT infrastructure aligns with their vision?
  • If they fully consider that device choice impacts on what happens in classrooms and therefore learning outcomes?
  • If the way devices are chosen may serve as a proxy for where they would sit on something like the e-Learning Planning Framework?


Considering environment as the third teacher

 Children are consistently learning regardless of the involvement of an adult/teacher or their peers. Even when a child is alone they are learning. With this in mind, consideration of the environment becomes a critical undertaking within the planning of an early childhood programme.

Personal identity is co-constructed and reflected in the places we regularly participate in. In order to reflect the values and beliefs of a community within a space, an environment benefits from flexibility so as to create a responsive platform that supports children’s learning as they develop and grow. It is also important that teachers reflect on their own values, and how their values impact on the decisions they make about the arrangement of space, the equipment, and materials made available to children (Fraser & Gestwicki, 2002).

The effort and thought that goes into creating beautiful spaces for children reflects the belief that children deserve the very best, and that their aesthetic senses need to be nurtured in the early years. Children are active learners, which means play spaces need to be stimulating and offer children many opportunities. The environment needs to invite children to become involved and encourage them to explore a wide variety of materials (Fraser & Gestwicki, 2002). The physical setting in which children play and learn is crucial in facilitating their experiences. The environment communicates to children ‘what’s ok in this place’, ‘what’s valued here’, and ‘how the child may behave, interact, and be involved’. We know that children learn through active participation with people, places, and things. This can be facilitated through the physical layout of space, access to resources and equipment, and through direct and subtle messages from adults and peers in an early childhood setting.

“In order to act as an educator for the child, the environment has to be flexible: It must undergo frequent modification by the children and the teachers in order to remain up to date and responsive to their need to be protagonists in constructing their knowledge. All the things that surround people in the school and which they can use — the objects, the materials, and the structures — are not seen as passive elements, but on the contrary, are seen as elements that condition and are conditioned by the actions of the children and adults who are active in it.”
(Edwards, Gandini, and Foreman, 1998, p.177)

 “Collaboration is one of the strongest messages that the environment, in its role as the third teacher communicates. An environment that is planned to act as the third teacher is particularly effective in helping children learn skills for working with others in a group.” (Fraser & Gestwicki, 2002, p113). The ways in which we lay out and create spaces indicate ‘what’s ok here’ to the children. For example, using shelving units, couches, or partitions to delineate an area may tell children where to enter this space, and can indicate how many people are able to work in this area comfortably. Soft floor covering and cushions can demonstrate that working on the floor is okay in here. In the same way, a hard floor and a round table with no chairs can say, ‘stand at this table to work, it’s not a problem if something gets spilled, and talk/share with the person alongside you’. It is essential that in creating an environment that acts as a third teacher, children are given the opportunity to work with others in the co-construction of knowledge.

internal space
(Image courtesy of CPIT Early Learning Centre, 2014)

Diversity is a gift to us all, and valuing difference through our environment aids in the development of strong personal and national identity, and provides a platform for inclusive and accepting communities. Early learning services benefit from considering the cultural values made evident in their environments. The challenge for each early childhood centre is to understand firstly, their own philosophy, and secondly, the nature of the community they serve. Developing shared insight into what you, your families, and community value can provide teachers and management with the opportunity to align and reflect shared whānau and community aspirations in their centre, and in the programme for learning. When teachers review the philosophy of their service, and identify the values inherent in that philosophy, they can translate this into pedagogy of practice that includes and is reflected in environmental considerations.

external space
(Installation by John Allen, Image courtesy of Infantastic TRCC, 2007)

Undertaking deeper consideration of the environment can enable teachers to conceptualise their role less as a teacher controlling the group, and more as a partner with the children in the social construction of knowledge, and the exploration of working theories and areas of interest. Enhancing the physical environment and reflecting on the ways in which the core curriculum underpins learning can dramatically alter children’s learning experiences. Teachers can become better able to respect the children’s ideas, and trust in the children’s resourcefulness and competence (Fraser & Gestwicki, 2002). Rich, purposeful, and well-designed spaces support children’s cultural identity, concepts of the world, social success, and holistic learning.



Fraser, S., & Gestwicki, C. (2002). Authentic Childhood: Exploring Reggio Emilia in the Classroom. Albany, NY: Delmar – Thomson Learning.

Edwards, C., Gandini, L. and Foreman, (1998). The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach- Advanced Reflections. Greenwich CT 06831, USA: Ablex Publishing Corporation

Earlychildhood News: An Environment that Positively Impacts Young Children

ECE Educate: Key aesthetic considerations for an early childhood environment

He Kepu: He Kepu: Reggio Emilia Pedagogy in Early Childhood Education: How can this approach enhance visual arts experiences in New Zealand? (PDF)


Give credits where credit is due

Polyfest dancers

The magic of the Regional Polyfest festivals

It's that time of the year where the buzz of excitement begins to kick in as the Secondary Schools cultural groups are currently preparing for Regional Polyfest festivals across Aotearoa. The ambience of nervousness, suspense, passion, and anxiety waits for our Pasifika students when they showcase locally who they are and where they come from. It’s such a magical event that embraces the true meaning of biculturalism and multiculturalism from different walks of life.

ASB Polyfest logo

There are many forms of primary and secondary school cultural festivals, but none bigger than Auckland Secondary Schools’ ASB Polyfest, who will be celebrating their 40th anniversary in a few weeks time. Congratulations on your success and longevity of service to the wider community! An amazing accomplishment thus far, and may you continue to drive the vision of scaffolding the future for our Pasifika learners, parents, families, and communities. In my opinion, this event stands alone for providing the best atmosphere for bringing a diverse group of communities together to celebrate culture, language, and identity as one neighbourhood.

It's surprising how many schools don't assess their students for Polyfest using NCEA credits

I was fortunate to attend the festival last year as part of the CORE Education Pasifika professional development fono, and I was stunned to hear from some Pasifika parents about the number of secondary schools that don’t assess their children for Polyfest using NCEA Dance credits. I felt for them because I know, as a parent, I have been advocating for Polyfest credits in the past 3 years for my daughter’s Pasifika group. Christchurch is no different.

For many Pasifika groups, the time and effort the students put into their preparation, is nothing short of aspirational. Some groups have started preparation since the beginning of the term, some groups have been preparing for months. We’re talking about rehearsals during lunchtimes, after school, weekends, and during the holidays. If you’re looking for what Pasifika collaboration, connectedness, and agency may look like, I encourage you to attend one of their performance practices. It defines the meaning of reciprocity of teaching and learning between the seniors and juniors — an ideal environment where our young upcoming Pasifika students understand that pathway to leadership is through service.

Christchurch Polyfest preparing for a first

Christchurch SpacPac Polyfest is gearing up for the first time as an outdoor event to be held on 21st March at Westminster Park. Christchurch SpacPac has been around for over 15 years. Participating secondary schools hail from the top of the South Island (such as Nelson Boys College), right to the bottom of the South Island (such as Southland Girls’ High School). They have participated in the festival over the years, and it’s overwhelming to see such a diverse group of learners across the South Island participate with enthusiasm, energy, and passion. As a proud Pacific Islander, it’s more powerful and inspiring to witness non-Pasifika students such as Palagi students dance and sing songs that are foreign to them. Check out this video clip where a Korean student leads the Epsom Girls Grammar in a performance and won the best Fuataimi (conductor) prize at the Samoan stage last year. She also gained Excellence credits for her performance.

Although Auckland has been setting the standards for high quality performances for 40 years, Christchurch should be proud of setting their own performance standards. Some secondary schools offer Polyfest credits, and I commend them for being responsive and proactive. Other schools don’t know what they don’t know and must look at ways of implementing these cultural credits as part of their school-wide assessments.

My plea for Polyfest credits

In reference to my advocacy for Polyfest credits for my daughter’s school, the Principal and the Music teacher are willing to offer singing credits for the Pasifika group. As a parent, it’s a small step in the right direction, but the girls and the parents are screaming for dance credits.

I believe some secondary schools need to rethink their wider-assessment criteria and take a serious look at how other schools reward Pasifika groups for the mammoth time and effort put in to represent their school with pride. The impact of offering NCEA Dance and Music credits for Polyfest can only enhance Pasifika student achievement. It can also have a positive impact on the Pasifika community. On a personal note, it’s the right thing to do. It’s 2015, never too late to encounter change.

Finally, I would like to share a video where Manu Faaea-Semeatu talks about NCEA Polyfest credits on Tagata Pasifika 2014. Best wishes to all participants of all the regional secondary schools Polyfests. Stand tall, brown, and proud!


Virtual field trips open the door for all learners

Virtual field trip

In this blog post I’d like to briefly explore how participation in a virtual field trip with the aid of technology such as web conferencing helps all students learn alongside their peers.

Dyslexia Advocacy Week and the Web

This week (16-22 March) is Dyslexia Advocacy Week in New Zealand. Curious, I did a web search and landed at Plus 20 in 2015 – Making Good in the Classroom, where I wondered if the content could be accessed other than by just reading text. I was pleasantly surprised as. Alongside the usual option of reading the text on the web page yourself was the option of having the text read to you in a fairly good automated rendition. The text highlighted in time with the narration, and it could be paused and restarted. I further noticed that the heading fonts on the page were big and wavy and colourful, and there is also an interesting big-scale, colourful graphic that summarised the content. I must admit, although I enjoy reading, I went straight to the interactive graphic to get the underlying message quickly! Anyway, I thought this was a good example of a website that was accessible to those with dyslexia, but was also interesting and accessible for everyone.

It got me wondering if everything on the Web improves learning for everyone, not just for students with dyslexia (reading), dyspraxia (fine motor skills), dysgraphia (writing) and dyscalculia (maths). It seems to me that the UDL (Universal Design for Learning) framework offers some hope — I wrote more about this in a previous blog called UDL and Teaching.

Our own experience in applying the principles of UDL

We have always taken this issue seriously. We are increasingly applying UDL principles to our e-learning programme called LEARNZ virtual field trips which has been operating on the Web for 20 years, reaching a wide diversity of New Zealand teachers and students. We are always looking at ways to make our field trips more engaging and more accessible and UDL is part of the “heavy lifting” we undertake so precious teacher time goes further in reaching all students in a class. For students with dyslexia, any learning experience that removes total reliance on printed text should be beneficial.

The benefits of web conferencing as a useful tool for all learners

To provide more immediacy and a more realistic experience for all learners, another addition to LEARNZ is Web Conferencing. It allows multiple interactions to take place in real time between people in different locations. Incidentally, we are also using the same platform to run regular free Teacher PLD about LEARNZ.

During field trips, web conferencing enables our guest experts in the field, such as scientists or conservationists, to discuss and answer students’ questions. LEARNZ teachers, working alongside the experts can also connect to the platform using their mobile phone over the cellular network. Enabling the webcam on their mobile phone means they can show who the experts are, where they are and what they are working on. Back in the LEARNZ office support staff preload or upload in real time related material like photos, diagrams, charts, raw data and web links or summarise spoken responses in the text area. Students, or teachers on their behalf, type questions live into a chat window and the expert’s support people or the LEARNZ support people answer them straight away or provide hints to guide their inquiry.

The multi-mode nature of web conferencing, its immediacy and flexibility allows all students to get a sense of what’s going on and to deepen their understanding. Dyslexic students benefit because web conferencing de-emphasises reading text. Although they may initially find the many nodes of a web conference busy and overwhelming, access via a mobile device shows just one node at a time and allows dyslexic students to focus their attention and spend more time on one activity; such as interpreting a photo.

Web conferencing also allows collaboration. Students, or teachers on their behalf, can upload items to share. It could be photo of a class on its own field trip. It could be a photo of a local action they have taken, like native planting along a waterway. It could be water quality data for discussion.


Combining a field trip experience with a web site and a web conferencing platform whilst applying UDL principles creates a powerful e-learning experience for everyone, dyslexic students included. 

What other sites have you found to be a good user experience for those with dyslexia as well as all users?


Strengthen your inclusive practice

Wondering how you are going to meet the variability of learning needs of the students in your classroom? Keen to plug into the experience of other teachers or hear first-hand recommendations from students? Come and explore Inclusive Education: Guides for schools.
Inclusive Education: Guides for schools” is the new Ministry of Education’s website. There you’ll find a range of guides which provide “New Zealand educators with practical strategies, suggestions and resources to support learners with diverse needs”.

To orientate yourself visit the Guide intro or About Inclusive Education pages. Alternatively just dive in and explore guides such as:

It’s worth noting that guides focused on an area such as ASD and learning have separate content dedicated to supporting teachers in primary contexts and intermediate/secondary contexts.

Valuing first-hand experiences and perspectives

On the website you’ll also find videos of NZ students talking about how teachers can create more effective learning environments. For example, here a high school student with dyslexia makes some useful recommendations that could be employed in every classroom and could benefit all students.

Having dyslexia – how teachers can help from Ministry of Education on Vimeo.

You can also view videos of NZ teachers talking about how they are adjusting their practice to develop more student-centred approaches in partnership with families and carers.

Involving families in transitions from Ministry of Education on Vimeo.

International content has also been curated for the website.You’ll find videos, articles and research papers from leading educational researchers and teachers from around the planet, plus there’s TED Talk videos and relevant case studies and stories. It’s great that we can now both access an international body of knowledge and tailor it for our own context. We can also make a considerable contribution.


The website includes a growing Resources and downloads archive where you can filter your search by both subject and format. We’re also keen to add to the archive, resources that you have found particularly useful, so do let us know about them using the email.

Bookmark the site — more content to come

It’s worth bookmarking the site as new content will be available early in term 2. Upcoming guides focus on leadership, governance, assessment, deterring bullying behaviour, supporting positive behaviour, approaches to support Māori and Pasifika students, IEPs, and developing the teacher's aide role.

Help us improve and refine the website

Lastly we would love to hear your feedback and recommendations of things we could refine and improve on the website. We want this site to be useful for NZ schools and their communities. The design and content development have been underpinned by many, many cycles of inquiry and cross-sector collaborations and we are keen for this to continue.

Email feedback, ideas and suggested resources to, add a comment below or just utilise the feedback link on the website.


Mentoring – The next big development?


Over the last two or three years I have noticed an increasing discussion in the early childhood education community regarding mentoring, and I believe this is a dialogue of growing importance.

Since the mid 1990s I have been interested in, influenced by, and an active participant in coming to grips with the characteristics of leadership in an early childhood arena. My experiences in professional learning and development and in teacher education have highlighted for me the significance of leadership and the ways in which the values, actions and behaviours of centre-based leaders influence and set the scene for the culture of an early childhood centre or organisation.

Over recent years, with the developments to expectations around appraisal, performance management, and the teacher registration process, the role of centre leaders has become more refined and clearly anticipates leaders taking an active role in mentoring their teaching teams and beginning teachers. I have, over the years, worked closely with many centre-based leaders (teachers, managers, and those in governance roles) and have regularly seen the complexity and isolation of the positions in which many of them work. I have been a long-time advocate of providing regular, formal supervision and/or mentoring for centre leaders, and formal mentorship is increasingly becoming part of teachers’ professional experience.

Those who work in early years education negotiate a physically, mentally, and often emotionally demanding context in their daily practice. Much of their professional learning takes place within the relationships they have with their teaching colleagues, professional leaders, families/whanau, and children. They are generally engaged in working in close collaboration with other teachers, and this can be complex and fraught with opportunities for miscommunication, differences in philosophy and pedagogy coupled with few opportunities to really discuss deeply what they are doing together.

The role of mentor provides a confidential and professional opportunity to discuss, reflect, and investigate the challenges of teaching and leadership within a community of practice. But I believe it is crucial to consider:

  • What is the purpose of a mentor?
  • What role does a mentor play?
  • What are the expectations and outcomes sought by working with a mentor?

My involvement, experience, and professional learning has led me to consider, refine, and develop an increasingly consolidated personal philosophy, or a set of views, which positions my approaches. Being clear about my own purpose, aspiration, and intention as a mentor allows me to align more clearly with the client/mentoree, and to develop a shared concept of the outcomes of the mentoring sessions together.
I believe a mentor’s aims are to:

  • prompt thinking rather than attempt to create a model of their own thinking
  • be a critical friend who encourages and respectfully questions or challenges the mentoree
  • help the mentee work their way through complexity.

Wherever the mentee is in their practice, career, or journey is perfect. There is no such thing as not ready, or too far down the track. Mentor meetings are a think tank of opportunities and possibilities, a safe haven to manage your own emotions and reactions, consider many paths and strategise to reach worthwhile outcomes.

Professional supervision and/or mentoring is a requirement within many early years comparable fields. Those working in the health sector, social services, and other family/whanau-focussed services are often required to ensure regular meetings with either peers or professional leaders to discuss and consult on their actions, practice, and performance. In my view this is a support mechanism that would be valuable and warranted for many in the early childhood education field.

In a modern learning context mentor relationships are becoming increasingly accessible, especially for those who, in the past, could have been viewed as isolated by distance (rural and semi-rural services). Advancing approaches in technology, enhanced broadband, and high speed internet becoming more reliably available, coupled with a simple ICT capability such as Skype means mentoring can be available directly, one-to-one, and in almost any context across Aotearoa.

CORE Education is constantly investigating and developing new ways to push the boundaries of education and connect more widely and in more accessible ways. CORE Early Years Team has two programmes currently available to support early years services to engage in professional learning, development, and mentoring. Check out the links below to learn more about our SELO 3 South Island online Leadership Programme, which includes one-to-one mentoring and/or the newly developed UChoose Programme aimed at supporting digital learning, leadership, and literacies, and much more, in contemporary education.


Anatomy of an ARG

Stephen at lighthouse

I haven't been to the lighthouse for years. There's no road to it; you have to walk. You drive the car to a spot the locals call Jack's Point. It's named after Bloody Jack, a hard man who, by his name, you might think was a fierce warlord. Turns out he got his nickname from his colourful language. His real name he gave to the headland half a mile to the south, Tuhawaiki Point. It's marked with a white octagonal light tower. On my right is a rolling paddock of wheat, on my left a sharp drop to the shingle beach fifty feet below. The dog is in a state of high excitement, new scents abound. I am having a ball, and I wouldn't be here if I wasn't playing Ingress.

So if your opinion is that computer games promote a disconnect from the planet, obesity, and a taste for violence, then you may have to rethink it; if only by acknowledging that there are games you can play on your feet, in the open air, in loosely knit teams of like-minded, peace-loving people your own age. These games go by many names: alternate reality game, augmented reality game, urban gaming, location-enabled game, pervasive game, street game, and probably more. I'll use just the one term in this article: alternate reality game (ARG). Imagine a world in which things are slightly different. Allow yourself to buy into that idea, and temporarily re-invent yourself. In your real life you'll be whoever you are, but in this other world you are effective, pro-active, insightful, and above all resilient. Put that other life on hold. See if this new effective self transforms your old self. Maybe even transcends your old self. That's why ARGs come under the broad mantle of reality hacks.

Typically these games are played on mobile devices, most likely your phone. They are "multi-player location-based games played out on city streets and built up urban environments" [Wikipedia], but I'd say that there is plenty of evidence and rationale for Ingress to push out into the wider landscape, and even to really remote locations. Ingress is a game from Niantic Labs, a startup within Google led by John Hanke, the man who, with others, invented Google Earth. You think it's a game, but it's not a game, the authors say. Every time you long tap an empty space on the Ingress map and choose New Portal, you are sending Google a little tiny piece of their stock in trade. That's not a bad thing, nor is it a conspiracy theory; it's just crowd-sourcing.

Exotic Matter (XM) is entering the world through portals. These portals are statues, monuments, porticos, churches, football stadiums, murals; any object of interest openly available to the public. The players are divided into factions: the Enlightened, and the Resistance. I chose to play on the side of the Resistance, because I don't want the world filled up with this Exotic Matter, whatever it is. I like the old world, the way it was before. You can defend a portal of your own, and you can attack a portal of the other faction and try to take it over. You must physically approach a portal to play it, you have to move in the real world to engage. The gameplay is deliciously complex, rich in rewards, inventory and powers. It's played out on Levels 1 to 8 and beyond. I heard of a Level 15 player the other day, a demi-god. There are frequent bulletins, videos posted on YouTube called the Ingress Report, and Ingress News. There are communities, both official and unofficial. There are around 7 million players worldwide.

So, why am I doing this? For the good of my health? At one level, yes. I need the exercise. But at another level, I am trying to understand the anatomy of an ARG. There's a whole new pedagogy here. It's constructionist, connectivist, and game-based. I have a strong feeling that students and their teachers should be doing this in some way. Designing, building and playing alternate reality games folded around curriculum. Just how I don't pretend to know yet. I'm looking for that now. That's why I'm at the lighthouse with my dog.

I’m keen to hear from any educator who is following a similar pathway, and may have experience of alternate reality or augmented reality games used in an educational context. I’d like to join any existing community, else I’ll start one and we can begin sharing!


Just as Niantic Labs is a start-up within Google, so is Stephen's project a start-up within CORE Education. Towards the end of last year CORE established their internal incubator. ARG-EF, The Alternate Reality Games in Education Framework, is one of the projects supported by the CORE Incubator, and is scheduled to deliver its first demonstration game in June of this year.



A glimpse of being young, gifted, and brown

Manu teaching Pasifika students

I have had a particular interest in gifted education for some time now, but I think it stems from personal experience as well. I thought I would take an autoethnographic approach to today’s blog post and show some highlights about how I have been raised, and how growing up in Aotearoa has contributed to being young, gifted, and brown. This, then, is my story…

Life as a gifted and talented Pasifika child at primary school

I vividly remember being in primary school and going through the SRA reading system—the colour coded reading comprehension programme that was widely recognised in schools in the mid 1980s. In my final year of primary school in West Auckland, we moved back to Central Auckland, but before that time I had already completed the final colour grade of the system, the coveted “Gold” grade.

My teacher placed me and other students who also completed this grade in what he termed the “Language” group — students who had high literacy levels. We were responsible for producing the school’s newspaper (the Glendene Gazette, if I remember correctly). We all had assigned roles and wrote poetry, short stories, drew animated cartoons, gave advice, and produced quizzes for students to complete. I hadn’t realised until later, that we were the same students that had been selected a few years before to be senior reading buddies for junior students who had just started to learn how to read.

It was within this group that I also experienced a few field trips that included visits to MoTAT (Museum of Transport and Technology), Microworld (a science and technology inspired museum), and even watching a high school debate at Auckland Girls’ Grammar School (which would later be my high school of choice based on this trip alone). In-school activities included exploring our interests and passions such as performing arts, visual arts, sports, and science. At this age I was an athlete — competing in the school triathlon as a runner. Track events became my forte: being in the first round of selection for the 4 x 100 relay, winning the 100m final for my age group, and competing with other schools was a common experience for me.

At intermediate school

I skipped my second year of intermediate school. My eldest brother advocated for me in a meeting with my principal to push for this. My parents had no real understanding about what was happening. I remember my brother arguing with my principal that I didn’t need to be in Form 2 as I was in the top three of the class and wasn’t learning anything. This was a lesson about advocacy and standing up for yourself. They were important lessons that I would carry with me well into adulthood.

Learning in the home

While this learning was happening at school, it complemented the learning that was happening at home. My parents impressed upon us at a very young age that we were not permitted to speak English in the home — that was the purpose of school — to speak all of the English that we wanted to our heart’s content — outside the home.

I didn’t fully appreciate their hard-line approach until adulthood. Being bilingual has opened many doors to opportunities that I would not have had without knowing how to speak my own language. Samoan language was the first language of the home. We were disciplined if we did not speak our mother tongue, and we attended a church every Sunday that reinforced our heritage language as the language of worship to our God. I think, because the mode of communication at church was Samoan, it in a way helped to elevate the status of my mother tongue into the stratosphere of the heavens where I could feel closer to God, because we worshipped him through song and Scripture in Samoan.

The focus of learning at home was about cultural protocols: the Samoan manners of how to walk, how to talk, how to sit, how to stand, how to respect your elders, how to listen, how to watch and learn. My brothers and I were very quick to be able to walk in both worlds — our home world and our school world. We became quite adept at it. In time, we became interpreters for our parents for more complex social situations. Such situations required us to not only translate English into Samoan, but to also think critically about the best pathways forward, particularly in matters that affected our family. Some have the idea that Pasifika peoples are not taught how to think critically in home contexts because we are taught to obey instruction from cultural standpoints. However, we develop our thinking in conjunction with our learning at school to be able to think critically from a different standpoint. We think critically and question critically to gain understanding and clarity — rather than to challenge the status quo for the sake of it.

At high school and tertiary education

In my first year of high school, I learned how to play the piano. By year 12 I was teaching piano to other young girls at my church. I attained a Grade 8 Trumpet practical certificate through the Trinity College London, and went on to complete a Bachelor of Music degree. Most recently, I completed a Master’s in Professional Studies in Education in 2013 about connecting gifted Pasifika students with their musical talent. This dissertation has been synthesised into an article that will be published in the forthcoming first edition of SET this year.

I am currently embarking on a PhD in Education in the School of Curriculum and Pedagogy, Faculty of Education, at the University of Auckland. The research focus is on Pasifika students’ perceptions of factors that contribute to success in NCEA.

Drivers in education for Pasifika children

It is fair to say that growing up in my household was like growing up in a boarding school, because learning was interweaved with the demands of daily living, with the demands of high expectations, and being the best reflection of the family. In Pasifika families, it matters where you come from. If something happens — good or bad — the first question that is asked is, “Whose child is that?” You would either incur the wrath of your parents or their absolute pride, based on your actions and deeds. This is still one of the great incentives for success: that Pasifika children engage in with their parents — we do what we do to make our parents proud.

I developed cultural identifiers for giftedness by canvassing Pasifika parents at the school I was teaching in, to ensure that notions of giftedness from Pasifika perspectives would be included in the school’s gifted and talented programme. As a result, there were some Pasifika learners who were identified as having both domains — being identified as gifted through cognitive models and the cultural identifiers for giftedness (Faaea-Semeatu, 2011).

Further reading:

For further reading and information about cultural identifiers for Pasifika giftedness you can read the following article that inspired my Master’s research. Coincidentally, this article has been adapted by the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) PLD provision within the Te Toi Tupu Consortium, and is currently being used to identify gifted Pasifika students in Aotearoa:

Faaea-Semeatu, T. (2011). Celebrating Gifted Indigenous!Roots: Gifted and Talented Pacific Island (Pasifika) Students. Papers from the 11th Asia Pacific Conference on Giftedness, Sydney, 29 July–1 August 2010. Australian Association for the Education of the Gifted and Talented/Australian Government, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Also available at AAEGT – Australian Association for the Education of the Gifted and Talented.

Podcasts about being young, gifted, and brown:


5 top tips for a safer internet

Safer Internet Day

CORE Education is delighted to be recognising international Safer Internet Day 2015 #SID2015, in support with NetSafe.

We present the following advice as starting points for early childhood, schools and kura who are planning ways to keep students safe online. Which of these is happening for your learners? Let us know on Twitter @coreeducation #SID2015.

Tip #1: Give respect, get respect

The Internet can be a powerful tool for connecting and working with others, both locally and globally.

  • Find ways to collaborate and learn to work positively with others online.
  • Teach our learners to manage their online reputations.
  • Design learning that creates safe, meaningful opportunities to grow ideas responsibly with others online.

Tip #2: Walk the talk

Safe and responsible use of the Internet is normalised through the way we all behave together.

  • Model critical thinking when using the Internet.
  • Find real-life, positive ways to model the use of the web as part of our own learning.
  • Guide others.

Tip #3: Open the door on dialogue

Rather than restricting access to the web or using fear-based messages, the best way to manage challenges online is to work them out together.

Effective prevention strategies emphasise approaches that actively involve discussing with students how they use digital technology, and more specifically, the challenges they experience online and how they keep safe. Teachers, students, peers, parents, family and whānau — we all have a role in this process. There are no quick fixes.

  • Talk to our learners, children and colleagues about online activity, cybersafety behaviours.
  • Lose the fear-based messages. Plan an approach that balances protective approaches, such as technical mediation of student online access, with strategies that promote safe, responsible and pro-social behaviours.
  • Provide support when they meet challenges.

Tip #4: Use the right tools

Use the tools that come with all devices and platforms to restrict or monitor our information and identity online as part of an overall strategy to manage safe use online.

  • Make sure we know how to manage our devices and the security systems that are in-built.
  • Set up secure passwords and consider using software to manage them.
  • Explore the use of Safe Search and student-friendly browsers.

Tip #5: Harness the power

Design experiences and learning opportunities that invite learners to pick up new skills safely and in meaningful contexts. Weave safety messages into the learning process. Make it part of learning plans before you set out with your students.

  • Look for meaningful opportunities to connect with other people across the world. Other young people, whānau and wider communities can all be guides.
  • Use social networks to foster conversations about issues that are relevant to students.
  • Weave web tools through local inquiry – take action in our community

Download a poster of these tips (PDF, 1.2MB). See a copy of the poster at the end of this post.

Other resources

If you liked this, you might also find these other cybersafety resources from CORE Education useful:

EdTalks on Cybersafety


  • Sticks and Stones: Fighting cyberbullying: The Sticks 'n Stones project aims to support students to be Positive Digital Citizens, to help those affected by Cyber Bullying and to encourage everyone not to be bystanders.
  • Te uru ipurangi:He kaupapa nui te uru ipurangi (digital citizenship) i roto i te ao hangarau e noho nei tātau. Ka kōreo mai a Wharehoka Wano mō te uru ipurangi i roto i te ao Māori nei. Hei tāna me whai wāhi ā tātou tikanga Māori i roto i ēnei mahi o te hangarau.
  • Ten Trends 2013: Digital citizenship: Dr John Fenaughty, University of Auckland, suggests a shift towards using inquiry based learning to promote critical thinking and then applying that to understanding what digital citizenship would look like for students.
  • Why research NZC students' online practices?: In this talk from ULearn11, Craig McDonald-Brown outlines why more New Zealand specific research is required into students' online practices.

McDonald Skype sessionImage source: #Skype screenshot mockup of 3way video call by Phil Wolff (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Cybersafety on the CORE Education blog:


Keys to transformation

Keys to transformation

The beginning of the school year provides us with plenty of opportunity to consider bringing new ideas and fresh ways of doing things into our schools and classroom programmes. Such thinking is a sign of a healthy system, with change coming as a result of the desire to continuously improve what we are doing, and to ensure we are providing the very best we can for our students.

The need to keep to core values

Any change we consider making should start with considering how such changes might align with our core beliefs, the fundamental ideas we have about what is important for our school and our learners. This is particularly the case where the change being considered is going to have significant impact on staff, students, and the community – e.g. rebuilding all or part of the school, changing the configuration of classes, or introducing new forms of assessment for instance.

As our school system seeks to adapt to the rapidly changing social, economic, and political pressures, the changes being considered can often conflict with the core beliefs, values, and principles we have established, resulting in tensions at all levels and a lack of any real vision for what we are doing or why we are doing it.

Transformation is the new buzzword

In New Zealand, as in many parts of the world, there are calls for a transformation in our school system. A simple search for “NZ Education” and “Transformation” on the Web will reveal just how pervasively this term is now being used across a range of policy and programmes. Yet, do we really understand what transformation means in practice, and is that practice built upon our own set of beliefs about transformation, or are we simply adopting the practices suggested by others?

The argument for and justification of a transformation of our education system is certainly gaining momentum, but a clear articulation of what this will look like is still to emerge, leaving many of the initiatives appearing to be nothing more than simply “different” to what they were.

What transformation really means

At the heart of this transformation is the shift from the school as the focus of education policy, to making the learner the focus of all educational decision-making, with a concerted effort to personalize the learning experience for each learner. Where previously many of our practices reflected an assumption that students start school as a ‘blank slate’ with an innate and fixed capacity to learn, a transformed system develops practices that build on prior learning and reflect a belief in the potential for all students to learn and achieve high standards, given high expectations, motivation and sufficient time and support. Placing the learner at the centre not only makes them the focus of attention in terms of policy and planning, but also involves them in the decisions made about these things. These thoughts are expanded on in CORE’s Ten Trends on Learner Orientation.

The three keys to unlocking transformation potential in our schools

Having established the fundamental premise of placing the learner at the centre of our thinking, there are three keys to unlocking the transformation potential in our schools. These three things define what is fundamentally different about teaching and learning in the 21st century, and help us understand the areas we need to focus on changing in our practice.

First, we must empower our learners by providing them with choices and the ability to act on those choices. This is the key of agency where learners have the ‘power to act’. Agency isn’t about abandoning our role as teachers and leaving everything to the learner, but recognises the learner as an empowered and active participant at all levels of the educational process. It requires us to re-think how we engage with learners and the role we take as teachers, and it requires an emphasis on a different set of competencies that will ensure our learners are able to make good and appropriate choices and act on them in their learning.

Second, we must acknowledge that learning is not confined to the four walls of a classroom, nor finishes at the school gate, but can and does occur anywhere, at any time and at any pace. This is the key of ubiquity, challenging us to find ways of embracing the wide range of contexts in which learning occurs, and to see our schools as ‘nodes’ on the network of learning provision. The increasing availability and use of digital technologies is enabling this to occur more easily, for example, learners are able to access what they are learning and doing at school from home or elsewhere, and they are able to access programmes of learning from other places, not depending purely on what is provided in their local school context.

Thirdly, we must embrace the idea that learning involves the process of knowledge building, and that this is no longer regarded as an individual endeavor, but occurs as individuals interact with each other, contributing, shaping and refining ideas so that the new knowledge is created ‘in the network’ of connections made. This is the key of connectedness, recognizing that ‘no learner is an island’, and that the connections between and among human beings is fundamental to learning in the 21st century. Again, the increased availability and use of digital technologies means that there is now no limit to how and where these connections are made. This is particularly significant in an increasingly globalised world.

Ready to make this the year of transformation?

Applied properly, these keys will require some fundamental shifts in our thinking as educators. They cannot be used in an ‘additive’ way, simply creating another layer to what we already do. Beginning by placing the learner at the centre of what we do, we have the opportunity to truly transform our education system, starting with what happens in our schools and classrooms. What better time to capture this sort of thinking and let it guide our actions than the beginning of a new school year? Let’s make 2015 the year of transformation!

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