Tag Archives: teaching

Gamer Spotting For Teachers

wasdThis post was originally posted on the #teachICHK site at ICHK.

As in any school, our students do sometimes get distracted in class. However, rather than traditional distractions of days gone by (passing notes, firing spit balls), we see that distraction often takes the form of off-task laptop use (chatting online, checking social media, gaming). In particular, gaming is a temptation that certain students find it hard to resist.

In the past we had a system of being able to monitor student screens remotely (at least in the Secondary school), but this proved incompatible with building trust and forming adult-adult interactions, and was fairly useless at any rate (those kids who wanted to game worked out how to disable it).

A much more effective way to spotting students gaming in class is to look out for the following tells that students produce subconsciously. These often apply to non-gaming off-task activities as well, although they are more obvious during gaming. Try to keep an eye out for these, and approach students who you suspect of gaming, so you can discuss the issue.

  • Keyboard & Mouse Use – different activities produce different patterns of keyboard and mouse use. For example, during a typing activity, we would expect students to use the full range of keys. If they are focusing on one part of the keyboard particularly (see image below for common gaming keys), or predominantly on the trackpad/mouse, they are most likely not typing.
  • Body Language – students busy gaming often becoming really immersed in their game world, and seemingly forgetting where they are IRL. You might see students leaning in close to their screen, getting physically worked up, or suppressing the urge to call out.
  • Screen Hiding – often students will try and sit in a position where their screens are out of sight, perhaps against a wall or under a desk. Sometimes this is innocent (just students getting comfortable), other times it is not.
  • Three Finger Swipe – by keeping a game on a separate virtual desktop on their Mac, students can quickly swipe back to work. This three-finger swipe is a good sign that something is being hidden.
  • The Guilty Look – a three finger swipe is often preceded by a quick look up, if a student suspects you are heading their way.

With any luck you can put these tells to use to signal to your students know that you are aware of what they are doing, making them less likely to try it on. At the same time, consider why your students are distracted, and find ways to get them more engaged through curriculum appeal, active group work, non-laptop based learning, etc.

End Of Year Assessment 2014-15

ScalesAs has been my practice in the past, I recently unleashed an end of year survey on my students, with the aim of having them tell me what I can improve, and what they appreciate and enjoy. The survey, which can be viewed here, was relatively short, and focused primarily on overall feedback on our ICT program and its delivery, as well as thoughts on our new Free Learning pedagogy, which we have been piloting this term. I really want to give my students a sense that what I ask of them is only what I do myself: do some work, assess the work, see how we can improve, make changes to improve.

Embedded below is an analysis of the results received, including plenty of graphs, comments from students (both positive and negative), as well as my own conclusions, thoughts and targets. If you prefer a less cramped view, use this link.

At the end of this document is a list of 6 targets that I will aim to implement in the coming school year. These are summarised in the visual below, which aims to give students a quick look at the changes their comments will inspire:

ICT Targets 2015-16

All of this information will now be distributed to students and parents, and I will begin making plans to try and ensure that these targets are met during the coming school year.

Credits: thumbnail image by Steve Harwood on Flickr shared under CC BY-NC

The Learning Zone

When we are too comfortable we do not need to learn. When pushed too hard, we are not capable of learning. In between is the small zone, different for each of us, in which learning takes place. This theory of the learning zone (or as Vygotsky said, the Zone of Proximal Development), is widely used at my school, and reminds us that in any class we will have kids spread over all three zones. Hopefully, with skill, we can pull our students into the learning zone for more of their time, thus helping them become more effective learners.

As there were no good Creative Commons version of this graphic, I have produced the one below, so please feel free to use it.

The Learning Zone

Assess This Teacher

Gress LessonYesterday I put together an end-of-year survey for my students. Instead of focusing on lots of questions on different aspects of my teaching, I simply asked students to grade me in the same way I grade them: a comment, an attainment score and an effort score. I also asked them to tell me their most and least favourite projects. The response was immediate, with 50 submissions in less than 12 hours (out of a possible 150 students). A quick scan of the data showed a good mix of positive feedback and things I could improve on. Some of these things I already knew, others were revealing.

I really want the kids to know that I am serious about becoming a better teacher, so I acted fast to analyse the data and make a list of things that will be changed come next year. These include the following:

  • My teaching style:
    • Talk less in class, giving students more time to work
    • Give students more time to explore ICT individually (this will most likely take the form of more free time at the end of lessons where students have focused well.
    • Give students more time to work outdoors (we can hold discussions on the lawn, and students can work spread around school).
  • Curriculum design:
    • Introduce a new, improved and less resstrictive visual assessment guide. There will be less self assessment (2x per year instead of 4), and a new chance for peer assessment once a year.
    • Instead of giving attainment grades, I will experiment with just saying whether students are: knowing, doing, understanding, judging or creating. The focus will be on being a better learner, and not obssessing about grades so much.
    • In Year 7 I will seek to make the Tools For Learning unit more interesting.
    • In Year 8 I will get rid of the High Tech Stuff assessment task, and try to make the year more hands on.
    • Year 9 – I will add in a unit on mobile app development, as many students enjoyed the Web Design 101 in Y8 this year and would like to learn more. However, for those who don’t like programming, there will be a choice to do an independent unit if there is something a student would rather learn.

Hopefully my students will see me modelling what I ask of them (try something, assess your performance, find ways to improve, follow through), and understand that I really do want to be a better teacher, and do myself what I expect of them. No one likes a hypocrite, right? In order to try and stick to these goals, I have added the curriculum ideas into my plan for next year, and created the poster below to remind me of what I need to be focusing on:

My Pledge 201415_web

12 Hard Lessons

Stop SignThe following 12 ideas are lessons I think we really should be teaching students to help them become healthy, sane adults. But for whatever reason, they are hard to teach and even harder to learn. How can we get these messages across to students without sounding preachy or just plain weird? Of course, some of these items will be controversial. Colleagues, administrators, parents and students may at various times disagree with the content, or even with the idea of departing from the normal curriculum. However, despite the risks, I think that students really do need to be aware of these ideas, and who else is going to broach them? The question is how…any ideas?

1. Guns are not glorious Violence is ugly, the sound and sight of violent death is terrifying. Yet the media and gaming makes it glorious, and kids (especially boys) buy it wholesale. I went through this as a young boy, and maybe it is just part of growing up. Maybe if I watched The Empire in Africa as a boy I would not have been so keen on violence.
2. Masturbation is OK It is fun, reduces stress and helps us learn about our bodies and preferences. Everyone does it, yet few talk about it, and so kids grow up feeling guilty. I know I did, and it took a long time to work out that it was not “sick” or “wrong”.
3. Your body is a wonderland You might not look like a model, but make no mistake your body is a wonderland. And you only have one. Respect it, love it for what it is, exercise to improve it, look after it. Your body will age quickly, drugs will screw it up more than you can imagine.
4. God may not exist Whether your god is a super-intelligent being, the mystic power of the universe or something else, there is a good chance it may not exist. No matter how much faith you have, we just don’t know. God may be useful, but we need to be open minded about it. And please, let’s stop killing people because their god is not your god.
5. Being gay is OK I can’t imagine growing up and being gay: the feeling of having something to hide must make the shame of masturbation feel like a walk in the park. And yet, being gay is just like being different in most any other way: it is something that should not really matter.
6. Failure is great In school we punish failure, yet teachers almost all know that we learn through failure. What we want to avoid is failure from which no lesson is extracted. Almost nothing of worth is ever created without some kind of failure preceding it.
7. Porn is not sex Pornography may be intriguing, entertaining and arousing, but it is not realistic. You might say porn is to sex what Hollywood is to everyday life: a grotesque caricature full of impossibly beautiful people. But seeing as pornography is so readily available, it is easy for boys and girls to grow up thinking it is a realistic version of sex: they are generally starved of alternative, equally rich sources of information? What happens when you grow up expecting your partner to act like a porn star? What happens when you grow up expecting to behave like a porn star. Certainly this is not how to learn the art of making love.
8. Don’t rush, it’s not a race All kids want to grow up, and kids today want to grow up faster than ever. The sad truth is that whilst adulthood brings certain freedoms, it generally takes away more. On the whole, kids are far freer than adults, and this freedom needs to be enjoyed, cherished and used to its potential. Youth is easiest to appreciate once it is gone.
9. Good grades aren’t “it” You can get good grades, and still fail miserably in the real world. At the end of the day, grades are a poor way of representing some part of a student, and certainly don’t reflect the whole. Let your students know that if they get good grades that is fantastic, but what about the things which aren’t usually tested in school? What about sense of humour, charisma, social skills, passion, creativity and all the rest?
10. School will not make you “world ready” In line with point 9. above, we do learn a lot at school, but we are certainly not ready to face the world when we leave. I am not sure we are ever “complete”, but certainly we are no where near completion at the point of exiting school, nor on leaving higher education. Students expecting this (as I did at 18 and again at 21) will be sorely disappointed when reality smacks them in the face.
11. History is important Of all the subjects I undervalued at the school, history has to be the most important. Maybe at 12 I was just too young to get it, or maybe the pitch was wrong. What I know now is that history is my personal story, and explains who I am and why I am the way I am. It teaches us how not to behave (plenty of role models there), what to expect from life, and the consequences of not sharing and getting along. What could be more important?
12. There is no “normal” The Hollywood/advertising ideal of happy, wealthy, beautiful, funny, amazing people simply does not exist in the read world. At the end of the day, we all have our flaws, and we are all different. There is no “normal”, just lots of variation. Students expecting to be happy all the time in an age of widespread depression is asking for trouble. Students need to feel comfortable being “different”, so they can talk about problems, and learn to deal with them before they escalate.

Credits: Rainbow and Stop Sign image by sandy.redding on Flickr shared under CC BY-NC-SA.

Teaching & Learning Visualisations

The two visualisations below are part of an ongoing attempt to define my views on education, and make these accessible to my students, fellow teachers, parents and leaders. I would be interested to hear if and how you find them useful, and what you think could be improved.

1. Teaching & Learning: Style Comparison

Teaching & Learning Style Comparison_web

Download A2 Printable Version (PDF) | Download 1680 x 1050px Wallpaper Version (PNG)

2. Teaching & Learning: Essential Mindsets

Teaching & Learning Essential Mindsets_web

Download A2 Printable Version (PDF) | Download 1680 x 1050px Wallpaper Version (PNG)

Teach A Teacher 2013: Writeup

Teach A Teacher ParticipantsTeach A Teacher is part unit of study, part conference. Hosted at HLYIS this year, the event featured students from ICHK, and teachers from JIS, HLYIS, ICHK and ESF Kindergardens.

The aim is for students to work in groups to prepare and deliver professional development sessions for teachers. Students develop their abilities in presentation, communication and collaboration. Teachers get to learn new skills, and see education from the other side of the desk:

“I could sense that the students loved the topics they taught and it showed in their enthusiasm. Made me think of how my students see me when I teach.” – Participating teacher

And students start to understand what life is like for their teachers.

“This activity helped the students to know a teacher’s role and what it is like for their teachers. The interaction between teachers and students was great.” – Participating teacher

During ICT classes, students spent time devising, naming, imagining and planning their sessions. They presented to each other, to themselves, and to a few teachers too. Their work was filmed and reviewed by themselves and their peers. Over 9 lessons of 70 minutes each, groups polished, improved, refined and rehearsed. They strove to be imaginative, creative, clear and professional. On the day, all were nervous, but at the same time they managed to channel their energy into doing a great job. At times, they modeled current best-practice in the classroom:

“I think this group of boys were exceptional in their preparation and communication. I loved how hands on it was and they let us learn by doing.”

Relieved to be finished, students commented on how happy they were, and how much they enjoyed their experience. But, as is the way with technology, not everything went to plan:

“I really enjoyed the Teach A Teacher event. I have experienced that being a teacher is not that easy, you need to plan out the lesson really carefully. I noticed that I should always plan about what would you need to do when you’re having technical difficulties.” – Charlie Yau, Year 7 Student

Asked how they found the experience of being taught by students, teachers reported the following:

“It was a very good learning experience both for students and teachers. I enjoyed it a lot.”

“Loved the fun aspect of the presenter that used the sword in place of a pointer!”

“Great! I learnt a lot and felt very comfortable with the students teaching me. The best thing about this is that I can ask silly questions and not be laughed at!”

This is an event which will definitely be repeated, and hopefully expanded, in 2014. Please feel free to email me if you wish to receive information about next year’s event, either to come as a learner, or to enter student teams from your school.


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.


Your Work: Dead or Alive?

The following tweet landed on my feed this morning, and it really got me thinking. I so often try to tackle printing as an environmental issue, that I forget the fact that it is, in many ways, simply an inferior way to work.

This led me to compose the following email to my colleagues, as an opening salvo in a new offensive against the poor practice of printing:

Colleagues, you all know that I am opposed to printing. But there is more to it than just environmentalism.

If you want to think of your work as “living” (eg actively used, collaborative, flexible, responsive, meaningful) then why consign it to static paper? Why not share your work online, build an audience and set your work free. Put it in a blog, or an online document, invite commentary, make everyone an owner.

This is the future of knowledge for our students. Lead by example. Paper is a dead end. Isn’t it time to upgrade?

Fortunately Chris Betcher put his thoughts down in a shared, digital environment, and so we are all able to make use of them. Imagine if he just printing them out, and filed them away.

Warning: Anything Might Happen

ExplosionAnother school day comes to a close, and yet again I discover that the earth has shifted beneath my feet. Maybe this is the best thing about teaching, the thing that keeps us coming back every day. You just never know what is going to happen. And be it great, terrible or mind-blowing, it will surely get your attention. Today, the girls who just didn’t care turned out to have spent hours on your assessment piece, simply because it sparked their imagination. And their work was amazing. Today, the kid you really like, one of the good ones, did something so rash and bizarre that it made your head spin. Today, the teacher who resists change asked you to make a change on their behalf.

Sometimes I think I have a handle on this thing called education. This is generally right before it mysteriously slips through my fingers and spins into the distance. But lo, the next day it is back beside me, wagging its tail and begging to play. Sometimes I feel like I can change my students for the better. And then, all of a sudden, I realise they have changed me.

I guess its inevitable. Take a few hundred people of different ages, backgrounds and agendas, mix them together, take a step back and see what happens. In spite of all of the planning, the reflection and the striving, the real action seems to happen in the margins, annotations and footnotes. In the places where we don’t expect them, at the times least anticipated. And wham, there it goes again.

I guess the lesson for me here is to let go of my dreams of perfection and homogeneity, consistency and control. Instead, I will lay down my best plan, hit the play button and hang on for dear life. I will flail, kick, scream and smile. And then I will come back and do it again tomorrow.

*Note: Electric Explosion image by *georgiaheartslosers on DeviantArt, under CC BY-NC-ND