To Chromebook or Not to Chromebook …

I’m just back from a month in the UK – mainly holiday – and visiting family and friends – and a conference (Thinking Digital UK) where we had the privilege to speak about our experiences of teaching using some of Sugata Mitra’s SOLE ideas AND to meet him as he spoke directly after us! Everything about the month was wonderful – we visited places and people and had a great time. Towards the end of the month we decided to invest in a Chromebook each – something we’d talked about doing but weren’t sure we could afford to. I’m so glad we did. I love mine.

  • It was very easy to set up – read that as I didn’t have to do anything in order to get going – any setting up has been for apps I wanted to try out.
  • It is very quick – I started both my Chromebook and my Macbook up at the same time – I was browsing on the Chromebook before my Mac login page had even appeared.
  • It is very unobtrusive regarding popups – I hate the ‘there’s an update ready’ popups on my Mac and am forever hiding them – on the Chromebook there are no popups just a little up arrow that appears in the bottom right hand corner so you can update when you’re ready.


  • Updating is quick – just restart and it’s done.
  • Backups are a piece of cake – it’s all cloud based – I got 100GB free for 2 years – not that I’ll ever use it all. (Mac backups are easy but nothing like this – and I get an annoying popup (this time saying I haven’t backed up for 33 days – the length of time I’ve been out of the country) which I have to deal with.


  • Offline docs/mail are automatically enabled – I’m yet to test this as I live in a wifi environment.
  • At school my Mac is connected up to the interactive whiteboard – the Chromebook gives me the opportunity to do other work without having to ask kids to stop their work.
  • All my work for school is in Google or Wikispaces – my students use Google Apps for Education as well – the Chromebook is all that is needed for that kind of work.
  • At school we print via Cloud -> no problems for the CB – at home I have an old classic printer at the moment – but have just managed to print via my Mac/CloudPrint/USB cable – but even if I couldn’t do that because I’m working in Chrome I could just open the file in Chrome on my Mac to print.
  • I can connect remotely to my Macbook and even run apps/programmes – handy if I’ve taken a screenshot on the mac and want it on the Chromebook – which is what I did with the two screenshots above!
  • Creating videos isn’t a problem – you can now create a webcam video live on youtube AND edit and remix it – fantastic project for kids to work on. (Or they can use the WeVideo chrome app.)

There’s a lot of debate about iPad vs Netbook for kids – how about a Chromebook instead? In a school environment (especially one like my classroom) this is all you need. A lot of time saved in setting up from my perspective. At home we’ve had the kids (16, 12, 8 – all boys) using it – they get their own login (their email accounts) and all their own settings – no longer do we have to log out of someone else’s facebook or email as it’s all contained within their logins. And because it’s cloud based they can access anything they do from any other computer in the house. Is it the computer to end all computers – I don’t think so – I’m still a Mac fan – but I love the ease of using this – because it’s so quick to start up I’m reaching for it before the Mac. I can see that it won’t be long before I just leave my Mac at school and take my Chromebook back and forwards. (OK – that won’t actually happen until next term since I’m still on sabbatical!)

So my verdict to the “To Chromebook or Not” is definitely give it a go!

ICTs and Reluctant Writers

What does the ‘e’ stand for anyway?

I’ve had this post hovering in my head for some months now. We used to talk about ICT and now we talk about eLearning – but what does the ‘e‘ stand for?

A lot of people seeing the connection between ICT and eLearning just assume it means electronic because most people involved in eLearning are using technology in their classrooms but I disagree.

The key word is LEARNING – because that’s what it’s all about. As for the e – here are some suggestions for what it could stand for:

  • enhanced
  • enriched
  • electronic
  • enabling
  • enquiry
  • encompassing
  • engaged
  • enduring
  • enabling
  • enjoying

What are your thoughts – do you have any other ‘e’ words that could fit into the e of eLearning?

Term 1 Reflection

Where on earth did Term 1 go? The 10 weeks of Term 1 were some of the most exciting, challenging, and exhausting of my teaching career.


I’m one third of a collaborative teaching unit – we’re the 3 Js – Jo C, Jo F (me) and Julie K. In Term 1 we worked with 2 classes – 25 year 3/4 and 29 year 5/6. Term 2 sees the addition of 25 year 2 students. We started the year working mostly with our own classes. During those first weeks we met together as a team – we have a ‘hub celebration’ followed by PE skills on Monday mornings as well as fitness sessions together. 


Week 6 saw us begin to work together during our topic sessions. Jo, Julie, and I had spent a Sunday working together talking about where we thought the unit would go (Energy) and came up with a couple of starter activities. The first was a wonderful collaborative art project created in groups of 4 students mixed from our two classes. It was amazing to see the students working together – talking with each other, and seeing the older students taking a leadership role. We followed this with a beginning discussion ‘What is Energy?’ 


At the end of the day Julie and I were exhausted but we both agreed – ‘We can’t ever go back to single class teaching!’ 


What we’re doing is the most natural thing in the world to me. It makes no sense at all to restrict kids to an age group and a single teacher – and we’ve seen the two classes respond so well that at times onlookers wouldn’t be able to tell who is in ‘my’ class and who is in Julie’s.  To me the reward is seeing how much all these kids are enjoying themselves – the younger kids just love working with the older ones, and the older ones just love having younger ones looking up to them. 


Our goals for our kids are to help them become self-managing learners – from the year 2s up. We believe that they are capable of managing themselves (with guidance and support) and we believe that they are flexible enough to work with three different teachers. There’s no ‘dummy’ class for core curriculum subjects – in fact we’ll develop our roles so that it’s not just me teaching the top groups or Jo C teaching the bottom groups – it’s flexible teaching.


As we’ve been sorting out our junk and packing things to keep for an upcoming house move, I’ve come across all sorts of photos. This has had me checking out the Old Friends website – to which I’m a member – and attempting (and failing) to upload some of the school photos. (The site won’t accept any scanned photos from a mac!)

However that got me thinking about mum and her career as a teacher. Imagine how nice it was to discover today that she was well remembered – and in a good way.

I imagine she was a lot more patient than I am even though many of her classes were large. I also found this class photo from 1965 – (I’m the cute one!) – 38 students (~7 years old) – what a handful!

As we wind our way towards the start of a new year I’m constantly reminded of mum and the lessons she taught me. I want to be the kind of teacher she was – respected by both students and families alike.

Lessons and Carols

And so we come to the Christmas season.

For many it’s a time of buying and receiving presents, for last minute shopping, for stocking the house with enough food to last through a blizzard.

For my kids (21 and 24) their presents come care of Oxfam Unwrapped and Both are causes we think are worthwhile and are ones where we are thinking of others less fortunate than ourselves. We have no need of gadgets and presents – we have enough of them – oh, we might WANT more but we sure don’t need them.

We spend Christmas Day with just us – Jon, Emma, and me. Both are working now and will work up to and after Christmas so it’s a day of rest for them both. We’ll watch favorite videos, and play family games, and yes, we’ll do a bit of eating too. But it’s also a time to remember family who are no longer with us: Dad – who died in September 1987; Mum – who died in January 2006; and my nephew Mark who died much too young.

At mum’s funeral I spoke about the ‘lessons’ I’d learnt from her:

  • You’re never too old to do something new
  • Always try to do the thing or things you’re passionate about
  • Don’t give up just because things seem impossible
  • You don’t have to be young or a male to influence other people
  • People aren’t important because of possessions or money, they’re important because they’re people
  • Music is a universal language – you don’t have to understand the words to feel the emotion
  • You don’t have to stop working just because the government says it’s time for you to stop
  • Even if you can’t travel you don’t have to remain ignorant of other peoples and cultures
  • You can’t judge something you have no experience of
  • Rules made by men are not necessarily the same as what God would say
  • You’re never too old to be a rebel
My mum was a true inspiration to me – and I take heart in what she set out to accomplish later in life – she didn’t see anything unusual in gaining her Bachelor’s degree at the age of 62! And boy what a rebel she was!!
My personal faith has taken a beating over the last ~10 years – but there are some things I still hold dear. My favorite carol is O Holy Night – here is a version that I think you’ll enjoy.

Conference vs (un)conference

I’m back home from a wonderful weekend away in Dunedin and Invercargill. While I stayed with friends in Dunedin, a car-load of us drove down to Invercargill for an educamp. I love educamps – they’re so different from the usual conferences I attend. Don’t get me wrong – I love conferences too – but educamps provide the opportunity to sit down and have conversations with others in a way that’s very difficult at a conference. At conferences we tend to maintain a frenetic pace rushing from one session to another; grabbing moments to catch up with old friends and meet new ones, and occasionally getting to sit down over a meal for a quick conversation. I love reconnecting with friends but come away feeling like we’ve only managed a bit of a conversation and needing more.

Enter educamp. I’ve been to three now – Wellington, Dunedin, and Invercargill. They’ve all been different because what happens is dictated by who attends and what’s important on the day. The one key factor for all of the educamps I’ve attended has been the conversations. At Ulearn, one of the presenters at the Pecha Kucha session talked about that while our online connections are important, it is also important to turn our computers off and meet each other face to face for conversations. How true this is.

Being able to sit down with a small group of like minded people and talk about what’s happening in our classrooms or our schools, or what we’re passionate about, or the current learning that’s been happening for us, is extremely valuable.  If I just sit around talking with my colleagues from school I’m never going to learn about how things work in a small school, or a rural school, or even a school in a different area of the country.

Educamp provides wonderful opportunities to talk about the things that are important to us. We can ask questions, debate, agree or disagree.

Most of all we can learn.


Stronger together

I’ve been reflecting a lot on my teaching practice over the last few months.

Teaching traditionally has adults working in isolation with age-leveled groups of children. While there is usually an overview set by senior teachers/management/school, what happens in the classroom is a result of how the teacher interprets the overview and presents to students.

I hate teaching like that – it’s not my natural style and I fervently believe it is not in the best interests of the students.

Over the last few months I’ve been having conversations with various colleagues – some at my school and some long distance.

Driving to my friend Jo’s house after school one day we pondered and discussed why we had to work in our year levels – why couldn’t her 5 year olds work with my 9/10 year olds? We wondered what an open plan type classroom might look like.

Meeting my twitter friend @annekenn for the first time in July and starting a conversation that four months later is still continuing, we wondered what a distance collaborative classroom would look like and how we might manage it.

Conversations with my team leader Julie in the middle of our learning street between our two classrooms were about how we can best serve our learners and happened while watching with some bemusement and awe at our learners (a year 4 and year 5 class) intermixed and worked alongside each other (and sometimes even to the point of going for help to the other teacher).

Anne and I started putting together a plan of how we could run our classrooms collaboratively – involving each other’s learners, not just in one-off projects, but in daily/weekly ‘ordinary’ things. We talked about using a collaborative wikispace and guiding our learners into taking ownership of their learning with ePortfolios. We talked (and wrote) about how we could use the wonderful collaborative spaces available to use through Google Apps and wikispaces. Big dreams.

Back home, similar conversations were taking place with Jo, Julie and I. We looked at the slideshow about Hingaia Peninsula’s Learning Studios and asked ourselves how can we do something like that with existing classrooms. We tossed ideas around, talked with our principal and DP and came up with a plan.

Anne has just been here for two days to work with me and my class and to meet up and have conversations with Jo and Julie – because we’re going to merge our two plans. Great to sit and talk with 3 others with a shared vision! And we’re really looking forward to a visit from Jane who is the principal of Hingaia Peninsula School later this month when we can sit down and talk with her about their philosophy around their learning studios.

Because behind the ‘good ideas’ we need to have some firm understanding about why we are doing this. Why collaborate? Why not just teach in the ‘tried and true’ method? We believe that we are stronger together. When we share our strengths and our visions; when we plan and collaborate together; when our strengths complement each other; when we are accountable to others – we are stronger. And being able to give our learners that variety of learning leadership (rather than teaching) has to be more powerful for our learners.

It will be interesting this time next year to look back and see what lessons we’ve learned. I believe that that four of us – Jo, Julie, Anne and I – will be better teachers for the experience. We will have learned alongside our learners – different lessons but similar journey. We have already determined that we will document our journey and any resources we co-create (under a CCbySA license of course).

(I deliberately haven’t talked about how we might set up our learning spaces for next year … that’s for a later blog post!)


Who pays the price of war?

In conversation with a friend a day or two ago, I was reminded of a series of plaques I first saw quite some time ago on the Wellington Waterfront. They commemorate the arrival of 732 Polish children by ship on their way to Pahiatua to experience a different kind of life to one they had become accustomed to during the war. I remember standing reading their story with tears running down my face.

It made me stop and think about the price of war – who actually pays for it? For these 732 children it was momentous and advantageous – to move from an area that had been ravaged by war to one that was untouched. And many of these children stayed here in NZ and became citizens.

I think about my dad who enlisted in the RAF before the declaration of war, even though he worked in a protected industry. He was ~20 at the time. The next 10 years of his life was spent at war and taking part in the clean up in Europe after the war. By the time he mustered out of the RAF he was in his 30s. His next move was to emigrate to NZ under an assisted package deal for ex-servicemen. He was 40 when I was born. I never ever saw my dad as anything but old. War stole his youth, his 20s – that time when we get to experiment with life and figure out who we really are. I only knew my dad for 30 years – war stole him from me – today we’d say he was suffering from a combination of delayed PTSD & Alzheimer’s.

And let’s not forget the millions of innocent people who have died over the years simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or were from a culture that was perceived as being wrong or ‘dirty’, or who ascribed to a religious belief contrary to the beliefs of those in power.

War is a dirty business. Some would say it’s necessary. Maybe I’m too naive – but I wish people were better at debating and negotiating and compromise and listening and accepting. Maybe then we could live in harmony.

Music makes the world go round

During term time I don’t spend a lot of time listening to music – when I get home I savor the peace and quiet and don’t turn it on. However, come holidays, I enjoy listening to favorites both old and new. One of my students sent me an email today with a couple of youtube links in it. I really loved this one:


I was immediately reminded of another piece of music – this one classical which I recall fascinating me when I was younger.

I wonder what amazing ways today’s kids will find to create new music.