An Open Letter to the Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham

Dear Simon,

It takes a village to raise a child.

Much gnashing of teeth, furrowing of brows and pointing of fingers has resulted from Australia’s performance on the recent TIMSS and PISA tests.

The TIMSS tests measure a narrow band of maths and science achievement for Year 4 and Year 8 students. They have been conducted every four years since 1995. PISA measures maths, science and reading of 15 years olds.

For those who have not read a newspaper or listened to any news for the past week, the results for Australia were not great. On TIMSS our students performed about the same as they did in the past three to six years. On PISA they performed significantly worse than  in 2006.

My first complaint Simon is that we exaggerated the negative. It has been reported that Australian Performance in Maths and Science on TIMSS is slipping. In fact it is not slipping. It is not improving either.

Is Australia doing worse in TIMSS? No, we are doing about the same.

Is our ranking slipping? Yes. Other countries are doing better.

Semantic maybe, but let’s not catastrophize more than we need to.

On the ABC news last night it said we had plunged from 13th to 28th in Year 4 Maths, 12th  to 17th in Science. The media cried, “We’ve now fallen behind Kazakhstan!

Yes, we were previously performing better than Kazakhstan and now we are performing worse than Kazakhstan. Why is everyone singling out Kazakhstan? Borat has much to answer for.

On PISA Australia performs better than the US and the UK and is significantly above the OECD average.

Mention some positives too Simon.

You said the results are “appalling”.

You said we need to move away from “just throwing more money” at education and look at what teachers are doing in the classroom.

Fair point. But Simon, you should look at the fine detail of the data. If we judged Australia’s performance on these tests by the results of ACT students, Australia would be in the top five in the world. When you include the NT, Tassie and all those low SES and rural areas in the data set, we slip quickly down the rankings.

Australia is a low equity county in terms of education. Our kids from advantaged backgrounds with highly educated parents do way better than those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is more pronounced in Australia than in other countries and it is getting worse!

Gonski still matters Simon.

Inequity in the Australian education system is a massive problem. These international studies like TIMMS and PISA, and  our own NAPLAN, continue to highlight the growing gap in educational attainment between the haves and have nots in Australian society.

Sometimes people need hard data to see the picture more clearly.

Here are the six secondary schools in the local area where I live. We are 100km from Melbourne.


You can see that most high income families send their children to non-government schools. 

Notice that indigenous students are also concentrated in the government system.

To compound  disadvantage even further, the amount of money spent on education in a private school is more than at the government school. It is a classic case of the the rich getting richer. We are putting more resources into the most advantaged students.

The conservative governments argue that wealthy parents have a right to spend their money on their children’s education to give their children the best they can afford.

I agree, but the government shouldn’t then chip in as well to widen the gap between rich and poor. In the Australian education system that is exactly what we do. 

To quote the PISA report, “Generally speaking the smartest countries tend to be those that have directed more resources to their neediest children.”

Look at the table above. In Australia we do the opposite!! Not smart Simon.

As the Education Minister in charge, you need to do something to fix this.

And while you are at it, instead of jumping straight into the teaching profession as the only cause of these poor results look more broadly. Just blaming teachers for the TIMMS and PISA results is like saying doctors are wholly responsible for the overall level of Health in Australia. Teachers are one part of the picture. The other parts of the picture seem to have been completely overlooked.

Students and parents need to lift their game too.

In fact the whole village needs to get on board here.

Look at the Asian tigers at the top of the PISA and TIMMS tables. When their kids do badly at school Asian parents are ashamed. They take responsibility. They do something about it. They hire tutors; they insist their children put more effort into their studies. When I visited Singapore recently there were maths homework books and tutorial centres at every train station. Being educated, doing really well at school, is central in their lives. Central to the culture of the society is personal responsibility and hard work.

In Australia when students do poorly it is the teacher’s fault, or the school’s fault or the government’s fault. We need to change this attitude.

Simon your comments are not helping, in fact they are reinforcing this victim, “blame the teacher” mentality.

The PISA report has given you a good checklist for the agenda at the next Ministers for Education meeting.

Here it is …

Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have:

  1. acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective;
  2. directed more resources to their neediest children;
  3. enrolled most children in high-quality preschools;
  4. helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement;
  5. applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.

Good luck Simon.

Get the village behind you.

Rob Monk

Cognitive dissonance and the Michaela phenomena

cognitive dissonance

  1. the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

For those of you in Australia who don’t read any of the English education blogs, follow twitter or read “The Times”, Michaela Community School is an English Charter School in London. It is a free school that takes in a largely poor and ethnically diverse cohort of students. Michaela has been labelled “The strictest school in England”. It has generated widespread acclaim or loathing depending on your notion of how a school should operate.

Tom Bennett described the Launch of Michaela’s book here in a wonderful piece of writing about the light and dark of 2016.

What have the Michaeleans done for us?

bennet michala.pngFew educators on social media could have failed to notice that the Michaela Community School/ Factory For Turning Children Into Glue and Tears (delete as your ideology dictates) ran a book launch that doubled as a rally for their unconventional blend of traditional teaching and 21st century learning- ultra trads, if you will. Live streamed, tweeted in real time, and punching so far above its weight that David and Goliath look like a fair fight, it represents a new model for how schools face the world. Scorned by people who have never visited, and often admired by those who have, I have yet to see an institution that, in the face of such antipathy, exposes itself so candidly to scrutiny, challenge and frontal attack. It’s almost as if they knew they were doing something extraordinary. Twitter sizzled with their battle cries, and it was inspiring to see so much positivity for a school that has worked hard to earn it. All credit to their head teacher Katherine Birbalsingh, who has two settings, as far as I can see: combine harvester, and dead. 

He also posted this contender for Tweet of the Year.


How many schools have published their own book? The Michaela PR machine is an amazing beast.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Michaela’s results are outstanding.

So what is it they do that is different?

This is the impression one gets of Michaela from listening to what the staff and others have said about the school.

  • Very high behavioral expectations. – They sweat the small stuff. Classroom default position is silence. Corridors between classes; silence. Demerits given for slouching in your seat, not having correct equipment, top button undone, calling out in class. No Excuses Discipline.
  • Pedagogy is “Teacher centered” – Constructivist= no, Instructivist = yes. Just tell them. Here is a school that says “No, we don’t want our teachers to be a ‘guide on the side’ or ‘a facilitator of learning’. We want our teachers to teach.” They seem to have taken much from the Lemov, “Teach Like A Champion” playbook. Lots of drill and practice and didactic instruction.
  • Differentiation: Not much – Lots of whole class teaching. High expectations for all. They don’t want teachers to design three levels of instructions. They want everyone to get it.
  • Group work: Not much. Think pair share seems to be as close as it gets.
  • Project based learning -No
  • Inquiry learning. – No.
  • Personalized Learning – No.
  • Technology – Not much. They had tablets in year one; electronic ones not stone ones as some would suggest,  but they decided the benefits were outweighed by the loss of learning time keeping them running. Now they proudly say they don’t even use powerpoints for instruction. Having said that the common homework involves the web based IXL , a maths drill program and Quizlet a vocab drill program. Students don’t have 1:1 devices in class but are expected to use them for homework.
  • Curriculum – The schools motto says it all. “Knowledge is Power”. Very content rich curriculum. Content matters at Michaela.
  • Reading – There is a huge focus on reading across the curriculum. The expectation is that children will read at home each night. There is a big reading program of classic literature unashamedly based largely around “Dead White Men” authors.
  • Work hard, Be kind. – What a wonderfully simple and all encompassing four word slogan. The things most valued at Michaela are hard work and kindness. A common vision and purpose and everyone rowing in the same direction are the hallmarks of any successful organisation. Michaela seems to have that in spades. Work hard, be kind. This applies to staff and students.
  • Dynamic, charismatic leadership – Principal Katherine Birbalsingh seems a little manic but no one could doubt her passion. Watch this  unscripted rant to see her in full flight.


I’m still chewing the food for thought.

My stomach is full.

Cognitive dissonance gives me indigestion.

Increasing the reach of your comments on student work

Feedback is important – there are some ways we can allow feedback to reach more that one student. This also allows the comments to become a more “renewable” use of teacher time.

An open and collaborative classroom culture and skilful use of ICT can mean you get more “bang for bucks” for your investment of time in writing comments on student work. Lemov’s “Show Call” technique increases the reach of individual feedback to the whole class. While “Show Call” is usually used in class, it can be extended using technology.

Organise your students to submit work in Google docs. Comment on the work online. Share your comments with the whole class. This way more than one student benefits from your hard work.

Saving a good example of student work with your annotations for use in subsequent years makes a non renewable resource that would benefit one student into something that could benefit many students for many years.


This document was shared with the whole class so all students could benefit from the feedback given.

Non Renewable Teacher Energy

Sometimes you hear an explanation of something that reinforces what you have tacitly been doing.

In this debate Joe Kirby from Michaela talks about writing comments on student work. He talks about this practice as being a non renewable use of teacher time.

A teacher has a finite amount of time to invest during the week. They can invest time in any number of activities. These include preparing lessons, correcting work, writing comments on work, professional reading, attending professional learning, counselling students, contacting parents. There is never enough time in a teacher’s day to do all these things. A teacher’s life is a series of time based compromises. What will I invest the next 30 minutes of my time doing? There is always a choice and always more to be done than time available to do it. 

Writing comments on student work is a non renewable use of teacher time. It benefits one student probably once. Investing time in preparing lessons on the other hand is a renewable use of teacher time. Whatever you prepare will benefit many students and can be reused in subsequent years.

What will I spend time on now, preparation or correction?

Err on the side of preparation, especially if it is something that can be used many times over.

Preparing great learning activities is even better if your preparation can be used by others


Classcraft Review and the search for the GUSITS

Teachers should try something new every term. With the plethora of IT related products out there in the education industry now, this is not a difficult proposition.

This term I have been trying Classcraft.

classc7Classcraft is a game that helps you establish and reinforce a positive classroom environment. You sign up your class. The students log in at take on a character in the game. Some are warriors, some are healers and some are mages.

My initial difficulty with Classcraft is my lack of knowledge of games. What is a Mage ? I didn’t know the value of experience points, activity points, health points and gold pieces but as usual, often your best resource to learn from is a student in your class. A couple of my students were hardcore gamers and they came to my rescue. I may even hand control of the game over to them at some stage.

You use the game to establish classroom routines and expectations initially. When students are in class ready to work before the bell they are given gold pieces or reward points in the game. This allows them to do different things like move up a level or earn rewards both game based and real life ones. These include the ability to change the appearance of their character in the game or to ask a question during a test. Some of the preset rewards in the game, such as “You can listen to music in class”, I deleted.



You can also be punitive and take health points away from students who do the wrong thing.

The behaviours lists, both positive and negative,  are completely customisable. One of my “pet peeves” is students packing up early. I added this one to my Remove HP list. I also added “Non charged netbook” for students who don’t have their computer charged to avoid the risk of falling over a chord.


There is a great phone app so when you are teaching you can easily allocate points from your phone or from your computer.

Another feature that I use regularly is the impressively named “Wheel of Destiny”. It is just a random generator of student names but it is great for cold calling students. Students can see you are not picking on anyone and they know their name will be drawn at random eventually to answer a question. There is no escaping “The Wheel of Destiny”. Eventually a question is coming your way.


There are other features that I have not made much use of yet. The site has a built in class countdown timer for timed activities and a stopwatch.

You can start your lesson with a random Classcraft event that is sometimes funny and other times just lame. The other day a student had to sing a song for 20 gold pieces. One of her teammates took on the challenge when she refused. The team aspect of classcraft does appeal to students.

Classcraft also has a quiz module for class quizzes. It also looks like developing into a Learning Content Management System. You can put assignments and quizzes into class craft and make the results of these part of the game as well.

Here is where I begin to hesitate: So often in education I see IT applications developing what in the IT industry is known as “scope creep”. A system designed to do one thing well starts to try and do other things too. The scope of the applications creeps ever outwards.

We already use Moodle as our content management system and as our gradebook. We don’t want Classcraft doing that but we love the slick game like interface that Classcraft brings with it. Quizlet and Kahoot are amazing apps for quizzes. I want Classcraft to be able to use a quiz from Kahoot rather than have to write my own quiz in Classcraft. I want it to integrate with Moodle as well so I don’t have gradebooks in two places.

In Science we have searched for the GUT; the Grand Unified Theory. The theory of everything. The theory that unifies quantum mechanics and classical physics. In education we need the Grand Unified School Information Technology Solution (GUSITS); a school system that includes timetable, attendance, student behaviour management tracking, markbook, learning content management, reporting and assessment including quizzes and online testing, . The system would be online and open to students and parents 24/7. It would have built into it “gamification” elements just like Classcraft is doing. A school IT system that does everything? Such systems are developing. We use Sentral to do some of these things. Many Victorian schools use Compass. These systems lack any gamification elements at the moment and they fall short of the GUSITS we seek. The ultimate GUSITS would incorporate some gamificaton and these system designers could look at Classcraft and borrow some ideas from it.

There is great potential in Classcraft. The interface is slick. It is easy to use. The behaviour management aspect of the program is great. You are quickly and easily able to identify and reward positive behaviours for students. This explicit recognition and acknowledgment of positive classroom interactions has a powerful motivating effect on most students.

Reward systems only motive students if they are motivated by the reward. Some of my students are not motivated by the game at all. They could not care less about being able to change the appearance of their character or being able to ask me the answer to a question in a test but they still respond to being recognised for positive classroom contributions.

I would like to try Classcraft with a teacher who is struggling to maintain a positive classroom environment. I am the Assistant Principal who teaches one class a semester and students do tend to respond to positional authority. “They are very good in my class.” is something no teacher who is struggling with a student wants to hear. I would like to see if Classcraft would make a difference to the battling first or second year out teacher who has a challenging Year 8 class.

My other hesitation with Classcraft is the investment of time in playing the game. You do need to devote five or so minutes of class time a couple of times a week to it. Every minute counts in the classroom. Is this too much time out of the regular teaching and learning program? It could easily be argued that investing five minutes a lesson on establishing and maintaining a positive and engaging classroom environment is time well spent. It could also be argued that this is equivalent to four hours of instructional time lost over the course of a semester to playing a game. This time could have been better spent on covering the curriculum.

I will continue my trial and let you know how it goes after a full semester.

So many toys. So little time to play with them all.




My three favourite classroom IT applications from 2015

The best thing about being a teacher who likes using ICT is the seemingly never ending array of new applications you can try each year.

There are ample opportunities to try new things.

My favourite IT products I used 2015 were:

  1. Kahoot

There is nothing new under the sun. Kahoot is really just a quiz program. It does multiple choice and true and false questions but it does them in an amazingly engaging fashion. It is so rare that a program is engaging enough for students to request a practice quiz. “Can we do a Kahoot?” The beauty of Kahoot is it is so easy to use and set up. With little investment of your time you are up and running. Create a free account, search for the topic, use someone’s quiz, get students too log in. They don’t require user names or passwords. Kahoot has the gamification aspects that work perfectly embedded; Leaderboards, Instant Feedback, Competition, Interaction and Challenge. Students can play on their computer or on their phones.

I looked into a digital clicker system a few years ago that would have cost thousands of dollars. Kahoot does it for free.

If you are not using Kahoot with your classes they are missing out.


My tips for Kahoot:

  • You need the music on.
  • Get students to use their real names. Do this by “kicking them out” of the login screen when they put in silly names. The reason for this is for your formative assessment. You need to know who does and does not understand a concept.
  • Offer a small prize for the winner. Our school has ARCC awards which are positive behaviour notifications. I give n ARCC award to the top 3 on the leaderboard at the end of the quiz. This keeps the students motivated.
  • Between 10 and 15 questions is plenty.
  1. Quizlet

Once again an old idea with a new front end. Quizlet, at its most basic level, does flashcards of vocabulary. Word on one side of the card, definition on the other. I used to tell my Year 12 Chem students to make flashcards in 1989 when I first taught the subject.

Students can use these digital flashcards on both their computers and their phones. Where quizlet is great though is that once your vocab list is in place students can test themselves with spelling quizzes, multiple choice quizzes and games. Once again it is free and is so easy to use.


My tips for Quizlet:

  • Keep your word list fairly small. Better to have two wordlists with 10 words in each rather than one with 20.
  • The paid account really does not give you much more than the free account.
  • Encourage students to install the Quizlet app on their phones. It is a great app. Ask them to do a word list game on the bus or the train each night. Spaced practice made convenient.
  1. Shared Google Docs for group work

I made extensive use of shared google docs in group work. My science classes had to write up prac reports in groups of 3. One prac report between 3 students. This made collaboration essential and Google Docs makes collaboration easy. Three students would all working on the same report at the same time. Students would often divide up the report. “You do the Aim and Method, I’ll do the Results section, and you do the Questions and the Conclusion.” They would then, with some suggesting (read insisting) from me, check each other’s work to improve the quality. The quality of reports was significantly better than when students worked individually. I had 24 students in the class so I only needed to give feedback on 8 reports. This reduced my workload too.  I would use the comments and edit function of google docs to give feedback on a draft for each group. I could see from the Editing History of the google doc which students had done what and who actually responded to my feedback. Google docs solve many of the issues associated with group work. How often in the past have we had the situation where a group of students would be stopped in their tracks when on Monday a group member was absent? “Billy’s got our results and he’s away” or “Our report is on Billy’s computer.” This is not a problem when students are using Google Docs. We even had the situation where Billy was at home sick but was still able to contribute to the write up from there.


My Tips for Google Docs:

  • When giving students feedback click on the Editing Button and change it to “Suggesting”. This means students are easily able to see your suggestions.
  • Use the Comment Function to give feedback as well.
  • Ask students to submit a link rather than submit a file. This means your server and computer don’t fill up with large files.
  • Use the Revision History to see what and when students contributed to the group report.


I’ve already picked out three programs to try in 2016. I’ll tell you about them next week.

This will Revolutionize Education

This is a link to a quick presentation I showed before a whole staff PD session on using ICT in the classroom.

I still love watching it.

This will Revolutionize Education.

The main job of a teacher is to inspire, to challenge, to excite their students to want to learn

The most important thing a teacher does is make their students feel like they are important, to make them feel accountable for doing the work of learning.




1:1 Computing: Are we there yet? Where is there?


The ubiquitous use of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) in schools is the biggest change in education in the past 20 years. While we have dabbled with open learning spaces, integrated curriculum, standards based assessment, vertical timetables and extended teaching periods, not much of what we do has really changed. Our school, like most others, still consists of buildings similar in design to what we learnt in during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. It has classrooms with 20 to 25 students and one teacher delivering a subject based curriculum. A trip in a time machine by an observer who moves forward from 1995 to 2015 would actually notice little change in the “what is taught”. Our students still study Maths, English, Science, Humanities, PE, Art and the traditional subject based curriculum. Our Year 7 Wood Technology students still make a pencil box. Our Year 7 Science students still get their “Bunsen Burner Licence” and spend a lot of time boiling water. In terms of “how” the curriculum is taught though, the observer would notice a huge difference.

The major difference in how the curriculum is taught is the omnipresent use of ICT.

In 1995 our school had three computer labs. Students would see it as “a treat” to have a class booked into a computer lab for one or two of their thirty lessons in a week. Classrooms had televisions and video players. We were cutting edge.

The major change our time traveller would notice now is that all students bring a netbook computer to every class. Every room has a data projector. The college has wireless access to the internet in every classroom.

In 1995 the teacher was the major source of knowledge in the classroom. In a Social Studies class, if a student wanted to know the date of, or the background to the Cuban Missile crisis the teacher or textbook was the only hope of finding this information. If the teacher didn’t know the answer to your question you could ask to go to the library and look up the answer in Encyclopaedia Britannica.  Now at our school, most of the information and knowledge collected in human history is a few mouse clicks and a well-executed “google search” away from our students at any time in any lesson. Thousands of pages of information on the Cuban Missile crisis are a few clicks away.  This is a profound change.

It is worthwhile to reflect on how we have moved our school from occasional computer use to a school where students use ICT most lessons in most subjects.

Like many schools, we started with a computer lab based network. As wireless technology developed and staff use of wireless laptops developed, we began to consider the option of putting portable devices in the hands of students.

We set out on a journey to become a 1:1 school in 2009. We started with optional laptop classes where students bought their own school-approved laptops, and then followed this by school subsidised purchases of netbooks for all students in 2012.

What follows are our top 11 tips for schools who are undertaking a similar journey and where we think that journey will go next.

1.     Have a clear vision and restate it often

Our vision:

We are a 1:1 School:

  • We put our courses online
  • We put our due dates online
  • We put our assessment results online
  • We get our students, parents and teachers used to working this way.

We first translate our current practice into an online environment, then we transform how we educate our students using ICT.

We put this vision statement at the top of every document to do with our 1:1 program for teachers. It was the first slide of every presentation given to staff. It was part of the induction process for new staff. People behave their way into new visions and ideas, not just think their way into them.[1] With this in mind, much of our work was directed at developing staff capacity to use ICT. Changing behaviour would change beliefs and make the vision a reality.

2.     Your LMS-(Learning Management System) drives everything

We use Moodle. The brand of your LMS doesn’t matter. Ensuring all staff and students use it every day does matter. We put everything on Moodle: worksheets, quizzes, tests, resources, weblinks, feedback. We have eliminated as much paper as possible. Without an LMS, teachers will use ICT for Powerpoint presentations and “internet research tasks”. Some teachers won’t use IT at all.  An LMS is central to your 1:1 program.

An LMS also allows you a window into what is actually happening in the classroom. With Moodle we can see what tasks are being set in classes and what is actually being set by staff and submitted by students. An LMS has been vital in allowing our professional learning teams to work on common assessment tasks. Having everything in one place is essential for students, staff and parents.

3.     Make sure your IT support team is customer focussed

Keeping staff and student computers running well is essential to the success of your 1:1 program. Your IT support team needs to share your vision and needs to be increased in size as the number of machines in your school increases. Customer service is essential.


Our ICT support team get regular feedback via the ICT support survey that all Educational Support and Teaching staff complete annually. This has helped encourage the development of a “friendly, customer focused support team.”

4.     1:1 means everyone has to have one, preferably the same one

The type of device you choose is important. Cost is obviously a factor but durability is paramount. Computers in the hands of students get dropped, often. We have benefitted from having a standard operating environment across the college. The staff and the students all use Lenovos. They have the same keyboard layout, the same chargers and a very similar software image. This has made support and repair much easier for the college. Staff know that what they can do on their computer, the students will be able to do on theirs.

We work persistently at the beginning of the year ensuring all students have a netbook and are bringing it to class. Any students who cannot afford the parent co-payment are placed on a payment plan.

We have a fleet of “loaners” ready to go to replace those of students who have their device in for repair. A key to being 1:1 is the certainty that when a teacher says “Get out your netbooks and log into Moodle”, every student has a netbook and can do that.


The one or two that “don’t have them” are students that have either left them at home or have them “with the techies” getting fixed. In this situation we say, “go borrow a loaner”, and the student is ready to go within minutes.

This also means staff will be confident they can use computers whenever they need to. As this chart shows, our staff have students using their netbooks most lessons. Staff who come to Drouin from other schools comment that while their previous school claimed to be 1:1, many students did not have computers or did not bring them to class so you could not rely on being able to use them. This guaranteed access also allows teachers to plan for short periods of the lesson where computers can be used. A 15 minute “break out” activity on the computers then back to written work is possible.


5.     Allow teachers to translate first, then transform

For many teachers, using ICT in an innovative way is not easy. In our experience innovative use of ICT is just as common, or uncommon in more experienced teachers as it is in younger staff. We have encouraged staff to translate their current practice first onto the computer. It may seem a “cop out” to have students doing what is essentially a worksheet or some text book chapter questions on the computer rather than with a pen and paper. You may ask in this situation, “What has really changed?” For many staff this is a vital first step.

We have used Ray Nasher’s[2] 3 carriage train analogy as a model for moving our staff from translation to transformation.  Moving teachers on from translation to transformation is an ongoing challenge.

What students actually do most of the time is difficult to track. The Data below is from a survey done in 2007 and 2011 and 2015. The 2007 version had “use Encarta to do research”. We removed this question from the 2015 version. Our current students would  ask “What is Encarta?” Change in the ICT world is rapid. We are now encouraging students and staff to use ICT in more collaborative ways so we added “Used Google Apps to work collaboratively” in 2015.


The changes from 2007 to 2015 are interesting to look at as well.


It would be fair to say that most of our use is ICT for producing and for technical administration, for example, submitting work to a teacher or looking up marks. The rate of what we would consider as “higher skill level” ICT tasks like Programming or Web design are still not being carried out as frequently as we would like at our school.

6.     Build an expectation of classroom ICT use into the Performance and Development process.

Staff receive feedback on their Online Moodle Courses as part of their annual review process. This sets up a clear expectation that they have courses online. It took seven or eight years to get to this point. Some of our staff were reluctant at first but as more got on board the change became inescapable for all.

This is our Performance and Development (P&D) feedback process.


Staff get feedback on their Moodle course development via a rubric. We were very specific about what we wanted to see in people’s courses.

This was based on our vision.

We are a 1:1 School:

  • We put our courses online
  • We put our due dates online
  • We put our assessment results online
  • We get our students, parents and teachers used to working this way.

As well as staff getting feedback from Leading Teachers and Principals on their Moodle courses in 2014, we added some ICT and Moodle questions to the Student Opinion survey that all staff have to complete with one of their classes each year.

Students now give staff feedback on ICT and Moodle via these questions on the Effective Teacher Survey.

  • The Moodle course in this subject was easy to follow
  • The Moodle course in this subject was always up to date
  • The progress bars on this Moodle course were up to date
  • The due dates were always on Moodle for this course
  • I could see from my grades on Moodle how I was going in this subject
  • In this class I get the chance to use what I know about computers and other technologies.

Staff receive feedback on all aspects of their teaching as well as their Moodle courses from the students.


7.     Create a “Certification System” for staff who are high end users of ICT

It was serendipitous when a silly “throw away” idea in a brain storming session becomes, within 18 months, an established part of the college culture. We wanted a way of spreading the organisational knowledge of Moodle among the staff. The idea of the “Super Moodler” was born. Staff who on their P&D reviews scored consistently above a certain level were given the title Super Moodler. They were presented with their Super Moodler sticker in front of the staff. My initial thoughts were that this would be “pretty lame” and a minor amusement for the recipients. It has taken on a life of its own. Some staff have set as one of their P&D goals “to become a Super Moodler” this year. The title is sought after.


Super Moodlers are identified with stickers on their laptops and desks. This has had the effect of putting 50 “help desks” around the school. It is essential that new staff get this help when they start at our school.  Super Moodlers have been vital in helping new staff get up to speed with Moodle.


We have even plotted the rise of the Super Moodlers.

8.     Train the staff but don’t water the rocks

We put hours of time and resource into ICT staff development. For two years we ran whole staff ICT Toolbox sessions twice a term. We would have five or six different sessions running on these nights and staff would choose which they would attend. They were run largely by our “Super Moodlers” but were not entirely Moodle related. The staff resource was our own. We didn’t use external facilitators for training. There is enough expertise within your own building.

We cultivated the early adopters and innovators by grouping them together in Laptop Teachers groups in the early years of 1:1 implementation. This allowed expertise to develop more quickly in what would soon become our “Super Moodler” group.

We still have a vibrant E-learning committee whose members are encouraged to innovate and share new practice.

It is inevitable that there will be staff who are slow to come on board. Resistant staff have been overcome by the push and expectation set up by other staff, students and parents. Eventually they just have to come on board. We didn’t waste too much energy trying to convince them to get their courses online. At the end of the year their student survey results and Moodle feedback showed a very clear area for improvement and they could not avoid it any longer. For some of these staff the major impetus for change was when students gave them the feedback, “We need a Moodle course for this subject.”

9.     Don’t assume the digital natives know what they are doing

Mark Prensky’s pervasive term, Digital Natives, is in our experience slightly misplaced. Students may have grown up with ICT but that does not mean they know how to use it effectively. We have set up ICT bootcamp courses that give students the skills they need to manage their devices. Our students have full admin rights to the computers so they can, and do, manage to clog them up with “dodgy” software and viruses. They struggle to manage the operating system and keep the device running efficiently. We have fluctuated between “lock them down and not let manage the device” to “let them learn from their mistakes”. We have tried both and there are definite benefits wtih the latter.

10.Monitor your progress regularly

“What gets measured gets done.”

“Without data all we have are opinions”

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”  Arthur Conan DoyleSherlock Holmes

We have been careful to track our progress every year.

Each year we administer our staff computer use and ICT support survey. This gives feedback to our ICT support team and also allows us to track “staff reported” computer use.

Every three years we carry out a whole school computer use survey where we ask the majority of the student population about their ICT use at school and at home.

We give staff feedback on Moodle use via the P&D process and this data is tracked to look for trends.


This creates small wins, allows staff to see the progress they have made.


11.Create a culture of sharing

Sharing is not optional at our school. When you put something on Moodle it is available for all staff to use. We have no IP at DSC. We don’t want new staff to have to set up a Moodle course for Year 8 Maths from scratch. They simply grab someone else’s course and modify it as they go. All staff have access to all courses. The system is very open from a staff member’s login.

So are we there yet?

We are now at the point were more students are telling us they would like to use computers less rather than more. Our next challenge is to focus more on the quality rather than quantity use of ICT.


Feedback from students indicates that they want to use ICT more for collaboration and less for independent learning. We are making extensive use off google apps for education students are asking for more. This is usually a sign that we on the right track.

In terms of keeping staff using ICT our challenge now is to hold the gains. It cannot be underestimated the desire for some staff to “back slide” to the old ways of working. While we are confident that use of ICT and Moodle are part of our culture and culture is defined as, “the way we do things around here” there is always a danger in assuming that a change is embedded before that is actually the case. We will keep the foot on the accountability pedal awhile longer.

Contributing to this challenge of embedding a new way of working is the influx of new staff. New staff at our school do find the learning curve of Moodle steep. Our teacher training institutions are not doing well in skilling staff with the ability to use a Learning Management System in their teaching. Our graduate teachers have little or no experience of putting curriculum online and seem more versed in 20th century pedagogy than they are in the use of ICT when every student has a device that the students expect to use for learning.

For new teachers classroom management in general is always a challenge but their ability to manage a class using ICT is an added test. For some it is easier to just revert to pen and paper, worksheets and text books as they seem more in tune with this method of instruction than using 1:1 devices.

Has it worked?

Our aim was not to become a 1:1 school for the sake of becoming a 1:1 school. Our aim with using technology was always to improve student learning. Student learning is still largely measured by pen and paper based standardized tests; VCE and NAPLAN in particular. How has the push for online learning affected VCE and NAPLAN results at DSC?

When John Hattie, the godfather of evidence based, know thy impact, data analysis looked at our NAPLAN and VCE results his assessment could be paraphrased as “you appear to punching above your weight”. Since becoming a 1:1 school our SFO and ISCES number, as measured by the myschool website, has headed in a “more disadvantaged” direction. Our student cohort has become poorer and more disadvantaged. Our NAPLAN and VCE results have improved though.

2015 State Growth 40 37 34 52 34
2015 DSC Growth 50 47 37 64 48
Us vs State 2015 10 10 3 12 14




While we know that NAPLAN and VCE are not the “be all and end all” in terms of measures of student learning they are indicators that what you are doing is working on one level.

Where to next.

We are 1:1. Every student has a device. They bring it to every lesson. Their curriculum is online, their results are online and their due dates are online. But what do we do next? What do we see as the next challenges and innovation in the use of ICT?


This seems to be a new “buzzword” in the education industry which always makes us tread carefully. We have dabbled already in gamification with interesting results. Read about how we “Gamified NAPLAN Preparation” this year. Adding game elements to courses is something we will encourage staff to experiment with. It shows real promise in cultivating engagement.

Flipped Learning

Again it seems to be a “flavour of the month” term. “Are you doing flipped learning at your school?” The concept appealed to me. I tried it with my Year 10 Science Class on the topic of learning how to balance chemical equations.

My traditional approach to teaching this is to explain the concept to class. The class listens, takes notes and comes to grips with the concept. I then move into the guided practice phase of the lesson. Some simple examples of equations to balance are provided and the students work on them. I am there, at hand, to help the students when they get into difficulty. The class then moves into the independent practice part of the lesson. I give them 20 or so equations to balance that gradually increase in complexity. By this time the bell normally goes and most of the independent practice is carried out at home. If the student gets stuck they are on their own.

The Flipped model works like this, (in Theory). Teacher finds someone on YouTube who can explain the concept well. There are some amazing teachers on You Tube who can certainly explain balancing chemical equations as well as I can. I actually used a “Lazy teacher tactic” and asked students to find 2 videos themselves and post them in a discussion forum on Moodle. I then picked the best one for the whole class to watch for homework. The students then learn the new concept at home by watching the video, taking notes or doing a simple quiz set by the teacher. The new direct instruction is actually done at home. The students then came into class and were supposed to go straight into the guided practice phase of the lesson and independent practice phase in class. This way if they have difficulty there is a teacher, a guide on the side, there to help.

My initial trials of flipped learning with my own classes have had mixed success. For the students who do the “flipped learning” and watch the video and do the quiz at home, it was a winner. Unfortunately many of our Year 10 students didn’t take that opportunity. Ah well. Another silver bullet misses the mark but flipped learning definitely has some promise.

Competency based certification (badges).

A defined skill or competence like the example above “Ability to balance chemical equations” can be set up to be taught and tested on moodle. When a student completes this competency they can be awarded a badge. Badges can be used to qualify for other courses. By earning competencies and certification the theory is that students will be more motivated and will take more responsibility for their own learning.


The national curriculum now includes some forms of coding as a compulsory skill from grade 3 onwards. We need to plan what this will look like in our school.

Parent involvement

An ongoing challenge for us is to get parents more involved in the online education process. We have experimented with a Parent Role in Moodle but have had little success. We now just share the student’s login with parents so they can login if they want to and see what the student sees. Linking Moodle to our student admin system still remains an unresolved problem. It is fair to say we have not had great success getting our parent community to significantly engage with online learning.


We make little use of student’s mobile devices. They have them. They bring them to class but we don’t allow them to connect them to our network. Many staff are reluctant to let students use phones in class at all.

Q14. Do you have internet access on your phone?
Answer Options Response Percent Response Count
Yes 77.0 % 295
No 13.8 % 53
Don’t own a phone 9.1 % 35
answered question 383
Q15. Do you regularly bring your smart phone to school?
Answer Options Response Percent Response Count
Yes 80.4 % 308
No, don’t bring it to school. 6.5 % 25
I don’t have a smart phone 13.1 % 50
answered question 383


Social Media

Social Media is another untapped resource that most students access every day. Can we integrate Moodle or our admin system, Sentral, with Facebook? That would certainly increase student interaction with the systems.

Q13. What sort of social media do you use (Can be at home or at school, on your computer or your phone.)


Answer Options Use daily. Use a couple of times a week. Use a couple of times a month. Have an account but rarely use it. Never heard of it or don’t use it. Response Count
Facebook 50% 15% 2% 7% 25% 368
Snapchat 49% 8% 3% 8% 32% 372
YouTube 42% 26% 14% 7% 11% 374
Instagram 41% 14% 5% 10% 30% 373
Skype 17% 12% 7% 34% 31% 362
Twitter 11% 6% 6% 16% 62% 356
WhatsApp 2% 2% 2% 6% 89% 352
StumbleUpon 1% 0% 1% 4% 95% 355
Flickr 1% 0% 1% 8% 90% 355
LinkedIn 0% 0% 0% 4% 95% 353

The other major challenge for all schools is simply to keep up with the rapid advances in both the hardware and software that are constantly emerging. There are fads to be avoided and innovations to be adopted and always the choice between the two to be made.

Is flipped learning a fad or a positive innovation that will improve student learning? Is gamification the next big thing or just a flash in the pan? Can we use facebook, twitter and snapchat as a powerful learning tool or will this be another dead end or a distraction?

Who knows, but as educators we must remain curious and open to innovation.

The content we teach has not changed much but the way we can teach it certainly has.