Web 2.0 Tools for Educators

Here are a couple of links for the hottest webtools for educators, coming from the latest Web 2.0 conferences in the US this summer:

Firstly, livebinders looks interesting in its own right, a place where you can gather up favourite websites that interest you, in one place for your own use of for sharing with colleagues and friends:


Next, a variety of links and a short write up from the Edu Blogger Conference presented by Steve Hargadon. Over the years Steve has been at the cutting edge of IT in education and I can even say that on my mobile I have 30-40 audio discussions he has held with some of the leading experts in the field. When I have the chance I listen to them and they have played a significant part in shaping my own thinking in this area.

Edutopia Report from EduBloggerCon

Steve Hargadon and his work can be found at:

Future of Education and

Teacher 2.0

Final link – someone’s used Livebinders to put together a formidable selection of Web 2.0 tools for educators to explore:

Livebinders Web 2.0 Tools

Moving the Classroom Outdoors

Here’s an opportunity to preview a new book out in the US, exploring ‘Enhanced Learning in Action’ through moving learning outside and bringing children closer to nature:

Moving the Classroom Outdoors – Book Preview

To preview the entire book you just need to click on the link above the large photo.

It’s packed with really practical steps that can be taken to implement a green curriculum approach that doesn’t just see children thinking about or beautifying nature, but genuinely interacting with it.

Teaching Hours

The Wall Street Journal has published some interesting data from the OECD comparing the numbers of instructional hours in Primary Schools throughout OECD countries:

Wall Street Journal – Publishing OECD Data

Now, I believe the most important caveat to this data has to be that numbers of hours spent under ‘instruction’ is no real measure of the quality of education that children are getting in different countries. Nevertheless, the data is still indicative.

India, of course isn’t in the OECD, so just as we can’t get directly comparative data under the PISA tests which are carried out in OECD countries, used by many of them to shape their national education policies. However, one interesting perspective comes when we look at the new (well, new in the sense that still little of its intention has been achieved!) Right to Education Act, we see stipulated minimums for instructional hours:
Class 1 to 5    800 hours per annum
Class 6 to 8    1,000 hours per annum

On a very basic comparison these figures would probably look right for the higher classes, but might be considered a bit on the light side for class 5 and below. As I said at the beginning, what’s really crucial though is not just the number of hours, but how they are used. That these targets have been set in the RTE suggests that most schools, especially the government ones are short of these hours currently. My bigger concern is that “too little time” is the excuse heard most often from traditional chalk-and-talk teachers when they resist changing their classroom teaching practices. So, there’s a real risk that you get a double negative – short hours, used poorly resulting in ineffective, weak learning.

This is certainly one target in the RTE that should be aimed for early. Then, armed with the international comparison data we can show all teachers that the time they have available to teach is comparable with that available to teachers in any country, so they need not be restrained in their methodologies. Then, we need to back that with massive, high quality training, using IT based resources when possible for leverage right across the country.

Seth Godin on External and Internal Motivation

Here’s an excellent blog post that says something that’s been in my mind for some time, and I believe he’s spot on:

Seth Godin Blog

As educators this becomes interesting when we give our thought to how we can ensure that the biggest possible proportion of our students have adequate internal motivation to succeed. Motivation is not something ‘innate’ where each person must just accept the amount and type they are born with. It is also a response and product of environment, habits and common practice and also the choices that are made in how we and children respond to situations.

In an education system driven by positive external motivation in the form of teacher praise, smileys, stars, certificates (give me a certificate for everything!!) and external negative motivation with reprimands, teacher disapproval, rule books etc. are we really doing all that we should or can to help students to develop their internal motivation? I often worry that we’re too fearful to hand over the responsibility and accountability to the child because the adults believe they must ‘make’ the children be successful, do things right, complete the homework on time etc. and if we let them mess up, fail or perform below their best they might make a habit of that, or be overly harsh on themselves at the other extreme. Either way, I fear we’re stacking the odds against children if we’re not creating the environment for healthy development of internal motivation and its close cousin internal accountability.

My Rights vs Everyone Else’s Rights

The population of the world is heading for 7 billion. India’s population is over 1.2 billion and rising. There’s an inevitability that we’re all going to have to get used to being around a lot more people a lot more of the time. Solitude and isolation will become increasingly rare. So, to me, it’s an extremely worrying trend that people are behaving more selfishly, more often and being less respectful of others’ rights.

This can relate to some fundamental things like queuing (Yes, I’m British), cars and vehicles filtering alternatively if two lanes of traffic are merging in to one. What they all have in common is a logical acceptance that life is simply better for all if we practice the decency of ‘give and take’, from a position of acceptance that my rights cannot be superior to anyone else’s. Even if in this moment I lose out a little, I’ll make it up on another day when someone else does something that favours me and my rights.

Here’s a BBC article looking at the levels of frustration and annoyance that people feel over the issue of mobile phones in public places, particularly music concerts and recitals.

BBC Article

This is an area where standards of interpersonal respect have dwindled at a very rapid rate in almost no time. In 1993-4 I and my colleagues working in private banking in London were in possession of our first mobile phones. One day I received an urgent call from one of my account officers, mortified by what he had done and the consequences! He had been invited to lunch at the East India Club in the West End of London. Arriving on the dot, in his haste to get in to meet his client, he forgot to switch off his mobile phone. After a drink in the bar, client and banker moved in to the dining room and took their table. Conversation was going well, until half way through the soup course, his phone rang. A deathly silence fell over the whole room. He snatched it from his jacket pocket and switched it off as fast as he could. He offered a sincere apology to the client, who had turned a nasty shade of red. The client just stared at him in silent horror as the restaurant manager approached. “Sir, I must ask you to leave the room.” “No, it’s OK. I’ve switched it off. It won’t ring again. Very sorry about that,” replied the humbled banker. “That’s as may be sir, but as you have angered some of the members and are here as a guest, I must nevertheless ask you to leave. Allow me to get your coat for you on the way out.”

There was no way back. Whilst it was all done with the utmost politeness and tact, he was thrown out and found himself on the street before he’d even got his coat done up. The client did not join him, in fact showed no wish to even acknowledge his existence! Cleaning up the mess took considerably longer. The client had to be provided profuse apologies and, if I remember correctly a trip to the Badminton Horse Trials, as well as a change of account officer. Dire warnings were issued to all the account officers across the country about mobile phone etiquette.

How times have changed, and so quickly.

Whilst we can probably all laugh and consider that the ‘stiff upper lip’ rigid rules of the East India Club are overly extreme, do we have to accept that ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ is just going to keep getting g worse? Are we all going to just keep complaining that ‘someone ought to do something about it’, insist on a profusion of CCTV cameras to catch the worst culprits who place their own interests above the law and others’ interests? Or, can we really, as members of society and as educators and parents of tomorrow’s leaders in society, swing the pendulum back through getting enough people to recognize that educated people understand the logic that all our best interests are served by treating all our interests as equal.

Students Working Together Globally

Here’s a report from the BBC which I just loved. It’s a genuine project that will engage students across the world in sharing real data with a real scientific purpose:

BBC Article on Mass Chemistry Experiment

I’m hopeful that we will be signing up to participate across our two Senior Schools.

IWB’s – Marketing Missile, Not Education Changer

Here’s a very well written article that really reinforces, for me, my belief as to why Interactive White Boards don’t belong in 99.9% of Indian classrooms.

Edweek Article on IWB’s

The article does highlight some wonderfully creative uses for these boards in the hands of some highly trained, highly skilled and motivated US teachers. I know from first hand information that when these types of boards were first put in to UK classrooms, the amount of training that needed to take place to enable teachers to really make use of the boards effectively was very extensive indeed. However, we know that when these boards are going in to Indian classrooms they are in the hands of teachers whose existing training levels are already far less. They are given perfunctory training in how to use the board …… and then, the key. A big board is put up outside the front of the school saying that this school has interactive white boards (underlying message being that your child in this school will be guaranteed great success because of the presence of these great technology gizmos!). All very sad.

I once received a haranguing phone call from a salesman for a company marketing these boards. When I figured I’d heard enough I asked him, “What happens if I’m a really traditional teacher and you put one of these boards in my classroom?” Without a second’s hesitation, the genius salesman replied, “Well, that’s the great thing. You won’t have to change a thing”.

Isn’t it sad how some salesmen don’t get irony?

Technology Changing the Concept of Libraries

When I went to school I was a volunteer librarian. I hung out in the library at lunch times and after school. We put plastic covers on new books, did cataloguing, learned about the Dewey system and guided other students where to find books they were looking for. However, as this article clearly demonstrates, today those are peripheral skills for a twenty first century librarian:

Harvard Education Letter Article

I consider I was very fortunate to have read enough that gave clues about these new trends that were going to change the very nature of school libraries a few years ago. That was why, when we started to talk with architects for reshaping the Aravali and Phase III campuses this was a major focus. At Aravali, this is going to be the last element, the last piece of the campus redesign jigsaw, when we replace the existing Junior and Senior School libraries with a brand new, purpose built 5-storey Learning Resource Centre (LRC).

When we started to look at Phase III it was right that we went down the same route. So, this summer we have said goodbye to the central badminton court. It was a bit startling a few weeks ago to see a JCB in there, ripping the heart out of the middle between the buildings. Now, they’ve made good progress and when I paid a visit yesterday it was clear that the ground floor will go in very soon. From there on, the bulk of the structure will be steel and glass, so it will go up very quickly. Symbolically, this structure in which students will be guided to take ownership of their own learning will rise one floor above the existing building, so as to command a panoramic view over the school from the top floor. It’s fitting that in this case it will sit at the very heart of the campus, as I believe that this article hints at the pivotal role that an LRC will play in the whole learning experience within a twenty first century school.

It’s pretty clear to me that the changes happening are not just impacting on librarians and the role they play in school, but also have vitally important implications for all teachers as well. Today’s student wants to be ‘cut free’, to be less controlled by a spoon-fed curriculum dispensed by teachers. LRCs and 21st century libraries have a fundamental role to play in the empowerment of learners to take ownership of at least part of the experience for themselves. Amongst other things, this includes the ability to pursue deep level learning of those things that really interest the student, where their motivation level is high.

Exciting times lie ahead.

Block Periods – Enabling Deep Level Learning

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece for this blog relating to the length of school days and the debates going on about what is ‘right’.

Here is a further aspect of the whole debate, which really has its roots in the kind of learning experiences we believe our children need to prepare them to succeed in the 21st century. This is an interesting article about a private school in New York that has fundamentally changed the way in which time is allocated to learning.

New York Times Article – Longer Classes

To me, such ideas are certainly worth exploring seriously for a number of reasons;

a) We need an approach to learning which addresses all levels of learning skills (see earlier blog post on Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning),
b) Education needs to shift from its ‘content-centric’ processing of a body of knowledge to the development of genuine skills for all students (this cannot be a realistic proposition in 30-minute bites of learning,
c) There was always a fundamental artificiality in the idea that a student should learn different ‘subjects’ in bites joined together through the day, when those subjects require them to use their minds in fundamentally different ways,
d) Learning and knowledge don’t fit in to neat compartmentalized boxes and the sooner educators acknowledge that, the sooner we will get some ‘relevance’ in education. Cross curricular approaches allow for far deeper levels of learning and thinking,
e) Students are becoming ever more bored by the irrelevant, mundane and overbearing controlled nature of what passes for school, especially in the secondary years. They believe themselves to be far more ‘grown up’ than previous generations at the same age. As a result, they want learning environments that give some respect to their self-determination, that allow them to make at least some of their own decisions (even when the learning comes from mistakes in those decisions).

Such changes in the way learning is ‘done’ in school shouldn’t be simplified down as being to make things fun, reduce stress etc. learning should be rigorous and such block periods are no lightweight option. In fact, they bring the processes of school learning one step closer to the way people spend their time and learn in the real world.

Class Activities With Visual Media

When the students arrive back in class in July after the long summer break, they will discover that we’ve invested in a set of ‘Flip’ video cameras for each campus. These are very much learning tools, simple and easy to use and ready to be put in the hands of the children to give them an opportunity to show their creativity with visual projects etc.

So, to help the process along I thought I would share this link – 10 ideas for the teachers about how these cameras can be used:
Tech Learning – 10 Uses for Visual media

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