Category Archives: Other Resources

Teaching & learning resources created by other people.

Old Hong Kong

Causeway Bay 1955The older I get the more interested I seem to become in the history of the place where I grew up: Hong Kong. Having read a few books on the subject (Hong Kong, History of Hong Kong, Diamond Hill and Gweilo), I am always delighted to find video footage to put images to text. Despite not being born until 1980, I feel a strange affinity for images and footage from the 1950s and before. Recently, my father-in-law (a Hong Konger from way back) shared the presentation below with me, and I thought it was worth sharing:

Whilst searching for an embeddable version of this file online, I also found the videos below, which are very interesting. Sadly, the two best videos, could not be embedded, but you can watch them here and here.

Credits: a big thank you to Michael Rogge for curating and sharing this amazing archival footage. Thumbnail image of Hong Kong by Shizhao on Wikipedia, under Public Domain

An Evening With CogDog (aka Alan Levine)

CogdogLast night I was lucky enough to play host to the very knowledgeable and laid back Alan Levine (aka @cogdog on Twitter) as he presented to a group of 50 educators. With teachers from 12 schools from around Hong Kong, and a few intrepid students, we had a small, intimate group, an excellent speaker and a fantastic location (the Assembly Hall at LPCUWC). Over the course of 2 hours Alan presented a wide range of ideas, which were eagerly noted down for later application in the classroom. The list below is a summary of some of the ideas I picked out, and my take on them, but it is by no means exhaustive or authoritative.

True Stories of Internet Openness

For the first half of the show Alan focused on the theme of Internet openness, but from a social/content point of view, rather than the more traditional hardware/protocols angle. Through the use of a range of resources, anecdotes and ideas, he weaved a compelling prompt to share what we do online.

The Internet Is So Big – even bigger than the Grand Canyon (which has been Google Maps Streetviewed, as one example of just how big the Internet is). It is so big we simply cannot comprehend it, or in some ways, even understand how just big it is.

You Can Get Lost – there is so much data and so much detail (often in one place, such as in this 320 giga pixel panorama of London), that it is incredibly easy to lose yourself. But we often also find the unexpected, because we simply don’t know what is out there.

All Because People Share – and because there is such a variety of people on the web, you get a huge variety of sharing. Take for example Into The Continuum, a website which shares crazy Mathematica formulas for creating art.

Massively Collaborative – mix this sharing with some imagination and you get some crazy, massive online collaborations, from which emerge ways of interacting never before possible or conceivable. Take for example The Johnny Cash Project or In B Flat.

And The Tools Are Evolving – with new standards, such as HTML 5, we can create ever more interesting things on the web. A great example is Snow Fall, an interactive story from the NY Times. Another great (self-referencing) example of this is Evolution of the Web, which uses a very innovative interface to help explore the progression of web technology, using some of the latest HTML 5 and CSS 3 techniques.

But Think Of The Children! – and yet, with all this positive potential, we too often focus on the negatives of our new found connectivity. How about spending more time looking at the amazing new ways we have to inspire each, such as 25 Days To Make A Difference.

It Has Become Our Lives – and whether you like this connectedness or not, it is inescapable. Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web (not to be confused with the Internet) hoped that it would become not only an information share, but also “a realistic mirror of the ways in which we work and play and socialize”. And he was right.

CogDog Responds – one of Alan’s reactions to all of this, is to share what he calls True Stories of Internet Openness: these are video-based personal anecdotes of amazing things that have happened to people who have opened up and shared online. And the message, if it needs to be stated again is this: share, share and share some more, you never know what amazing things might happen. True to this message, Alan even found some time to record some true stories from the audience during his talk.

Digital Storytelling

Launching into the second half, Alan stepped up a gear as he moved into what I guess is his main passion: digital storytelling.

Getting Started – for those new to digital storytelling, Alan recommended reading The New Digital Storytelling by Bryan Alexander, and in doing so made some links back to the age-old oral tradition of storytelling.

Improv -moving deeper into storytelling Alan made a connection to the art of improv as a way to get creativity started, and to help people lower their inhibitions. He showed us one of his own tools, PechaFlickr, which facilitates improv based on random images based on a keyword. We played a couple of rounds of this (well done to Charlotte, Katrina and Alex), and it really energised the room. Alan did mention that the “Pecha” part of the name comes from Pecha Kucha, which is another really interesting line of investigation (for another day). Another one of Alan’s interesting Flickr API creations is 5 Card Flickr, which is another way to build a narrative, but a little more structured than PechaFlickr.

Narrative – really firing on all cylinders by now, we moved onto narrative structure, and how we can tell compelling stories. How do we hook people, so they are interested. The following videos were all viewed and discussed in this light:

The video below I absolutely loved, and it lead me to this excellent visualisation.


Just Like The Pros – in approaching our own digital storytelling, it is useful to consider some of the models and approaches used by the professionals. One such model is the BBC’s 5 Shot Method, another is the Three Act Structure. These can help us to engage the audience, using formulas which work, and which are familiar. A member of the audience (a Media teacher from RCHK, whose name I do not know) mentioned the following fantastic video, which plays on such models, showing just how familiar we are with them:

Teaching & Learning – having convinced us of the importance of narrative, and shown us what it looks like, Alan introduced Dan Meyer’s Three-Act Maths (each of the items in this spreadsheet links to a page with more detail), which is a way of using movie narrative to get students engaged in solving math problems. Another example, MinutePhysics, gave another example using narrative in teaching and learning.

Simplicity – wrapping up a 2-hour mind explosion, Alan closed with a disarmingly simple thought on narrative, storytelling and hooking your audience: “Arouse and fulfill“.  Whether you are teaching school kids, selling a product or just telling a story: first arouse the interest of your audience, and then fulfill it. Easy!



After saying various goodbyes, I was fortunate enough to snag Alan for dinner and drinks, which we had in a small restaurant in the village in which I live. It has taken almost a full 24 hours for most of the buzz to wear away, during which I have tried to record as much as I can. My own personal and professional thanks go to Alan for a fantastic time, sentiments which I am sure will be echoed by other participants.

Credits: cogdog image by Alan Levine, shared under CC BY SA (just a guess on the license, but sure it is right ; ). Thanks to Nick Cotton, Kalpana and LPCUWC for their help in hosting the event.


SocratesParadoxes are a great way to get student thinking and talking about thinking. The initial state of confusion, followed by the illusive, enigmatic feeling of understanding is somehow enticing and enjoyable. I spent a little pastoral time discussing the following paradoxes with a group of Year 8 students, and the result was a palpable buzz in the classroom.

They are all taken from the excellent list of paradoxes on Wikipedia, and ordered (roughly) in ascending order of confusion generation:

  • Socratic paradox: “I know that I know nothing at all.”
  • Liar paradox: “This sentence is false.” This is the canonical self-referential paradox. Also “Is the answer to this question no?” And “I’m lying.”
  • Ship of Theseus (a.k.a. George Washington’s axe or Grandfather’s old axe): It seems like you can replace any component of a ship, and it is still the same ship. So you can replace them all, one at a time, and it is still the same ship. However, you can then take all the original pieces, and assemble them into a ship. That, too, is the same ship you began with.
  • Sorites paradox (also known as the paradox of the heap): One grain of sand is not a heap. If you don’t have a heap, then adding only one grain of sand won’t give you a heap. Then no number of grains of sand will make a heap.
  • Crocodile dilemma: If a crocodile steals a child and promises its return if the father can correctly guess what the crocodile will do, how should the crocodile respond in the case that the father correctly guesses that the child will not be returned?
  • Barber paradox: A barber (who is a man) shaves all and only those men who do not shave themselves. Does he shave himself? (Russell’s popularization of his set theoretic paradox.)


Lecture HallBackchanneling is an idea that has been around for a while, and is something that I have encountered at various education conferences. Despite the technical-sounding name, a backchannel is simply a real-time conversation, happening online in parallel with some kind of face-to-face communication. For example, a keynote speaker might advertise a Twitter hashtag for their session: as they are talking, participants conduct a conversation using tweets, which are grouped together using the hashtag.

So, what’s the point? Is it just more needless technology, or is there something to be gained? What a backchannel provides is a way for your audience to make extra meaning based on what you are saying. For example, they may require clarification or extension on a particular point, or they may wish to contend an assertion or add a meaningful anecdote. This added dialogue is available to everyone with access to the backchannel, and can be responded to in order to help out or further the discussion. A savvy presenter will keep an eye on the backchannel, and deviate from their plan according to what the audience is saying.

Of course, a backchannel can be a distraction, or might even be used to subvert a presentation (a good presenter should welcome this, I guess). One danger in the classroom is that inexperienced or immature students might get carried away with excessive off-topic chat, with all the LOLs and OMGs that that entails.

On Friday my school is hosting the Global Issues Competition 2013, an event for students in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta. Our aim is to encourage a backchannel with the aim of helping the students learn and make new connections. Originally we were going to use Twitter, but have now settled on a less public platform called TodaysMeet. Another good option is Backchannel Chat, which is specfically designed for education, and has some cool features, such as liking posts.

Credits: Image by Miss Barabanov on Flickr, shared under CC BY-NC-ND.



There is plenty of speculation that technology is making us less intelligent. Certainly, in the classroom, I am seeing evidence that it is hindering the development of social skills, especially in boys. As per usual, it seems like Einstein knew exactly where we were headed:


Note: image of unknown origin, not covered under this site’s Creative Commons license.

Visual Compare & Contrast

Personally I really like asking students to observe two artifacts or phenomena, and ask them to compare and contrast what they have encountered. I have found that students usually come up with excellent observations, and that these can be used to prompt further discussion and to encourage deeper, more critical thinking. This is especially true when the observations are visual in nature, such as a videos, physical artifacts and real-life events. I recently did this with my Year 8 pastoral group, using 15 minutes to watch and discuss the following two videos:

I find these two videos fascinating on their own, but together they let the students cogitate on and discuss some of the following ideas:

  • Times have changed – look at the advancement in materials, tools, techniques, and compare the resulting products: what a different 70 years can make. It seems white work overalls are here to stay though.
  • Media has changed – the way we tell stories has become more sophisticated and much more subtle. Less use of voice, and more use of imagery, implying a more sophisticated/educated audience capable of making their own deductions.
  • Technology obsessions – the two videos show how much technology amazes us, and how we marvel at pushing boundaries and creating new things. Both focus on technologically-empowered people (“wizards”) at work, as these are people that are held in high esteem.
  • The cutting edge – what seems advanced and sophisticated at one point in time (e.g. the planes and music in the first video) soon becomes outdated and comical to some degree. The same will happen to the second video over time, even if that seems unlikely to contemporary viewers.
  • Non-metal – both videos celebrate the use of non-metal materials, which flies in the face of what we see every day in terms of how most cars, planes, trains and boats and constructed.
  • Purpose – media is made for different purposes: in the first case it is as propaganda to boost moral and promote unity, in the second it is to further brand image and as artistic/creative expression.

There are a myriad other ways to look at these two clips, but this article is limited to a narrow point of view: can any readers suggest alternative perspectives or ideas?

Connected Quiz

Friday mornings are a great time to try new things in form time: students are ready for a change, and it helps get a slow day off to a better start. This morning I was thinking about giving a quiz to get things going, but struggled to find something that students could relate to, and which might be within their general knowledge. What I did find, though, was a collection of 10000 General Knowledge Questions And Answers from Looking down the list, there are a lot of questions that are far from contemporary, but which are really interesting nonetheless.

I decided to run a quick quiz, with the students split into two teams. I borrowed another teacher and his class (thanks Ben), to make sure the room was full of kids. To make it really interesting, students could use their laptops to search for answers online. The test, then, would be not who knew most, but who could search best. To answer, students just had to shout out the answer (it took them a while to get used to this, with many raising hands and waiting patiently). In the end we played for 15 minutes, and one team came out a few points ahead. The atmosphere in the room was pretty good, which most of the students getting into it and trying their best. Leaving the room, students seemed energised and ready to get on with the day.

Note: thumbnail courtesy of Tantek on Flickr, shared under Creative Commons BY-NC

Press Pause Play

Press Pause Play is a feature-length documentary that is part inspiring, part demoralising and all stunning. Using a patchwork narrative, it explores the constantly evolving landscape of digitally-empowered creativity. A lot of amazing new work is set against the views of industry veterans, who spend a lot of time bemoaning the demise of creativity as the domain of the cultural elite. A typical tale of freedom and choice pitched against the profitable machine. The juxtaposition of hope and inspiration played against maintaining the status quo, was extremely powerful. In my opinion, creating, as an active endeavor, is generally more fulfilling than consuming, and I see nothing wrong with a world full of individuals and groups creating in earnest. In the end, the best talent will still rise to the top, as there will always be plenty of consumers with an ear and eye for what is great. After all, being a producer does not prevent me from consuming: rather, I think it makes me a more thoughtful, engaged consumer.

Thanks to David Dworsky and Victor Köhler for producing such an entertaining and thought-provoking piece which will hopefully lead to a lot of interesting conversations within education.

Why I Must Speak Out About Climate Change

I’ve been a committed believer of climate change for at least 10 years, but I have to admit that in the last few years I have started to have my doubts. The reading that fixed my mind in the first place (The Weather Makers, Boiling Point, etc) has diminished in my memory, the movement seemed beset by scientific scandal, and there seems to be a fog of FUD obscuring the issue. This video provided a timely reminder of the urgent need for action if we are to avoid destroying ourselves and huge parts of the world around us. It is important to focus on the message provided by the science, and in the strength of the scientific method, which is, after all, one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal.

Stop Joseph Kony

Joseph Kony, head of Uganda’s LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army), is responsible for the abduction, sexual enslavement, multilation and militarisation of thousands of African children. Although he has been indicted by the International Criminal Court, he remains essentially invisible to the world’s media, governments and armed forces. Kony2012 is a massive online and real-world campaign to push for the capture and prosecution of Joseph Kony this year. Watch this video, share it, and take action.

My current thinking is to bring this to my students in the hope that they will be inspired to take action.

Edit 09/03/2012: it seems like this story is taking the world by storm. When I watched the video it had 40,000 views: two days later the figure had jumped to 49,000,000 and within the last three hours it has accrued a further 3,000,000. This really attests to the power of social media, although of course there are years of grassroots campaigning behind this seemingly spontaneous combustion. I guess Malcom Gladwell’s “tipping point” should be invoked here. As is to be expected, a huge number of critics have surfaced regarding all manner of issues to do with the operation and methodology of Invisible Children. It is nice to read a level headed response to these, and whilst they need to be acknowledged and dealt with, let’s not lose sight of the fact that this movement shows that a huge swathe of humanity are willing to stand up for their less fortunate brethren. I think the critics need to take a good hard look at themselves and ask if their negativity is due to a lack of personal success in this very same sphere.