A handy PBL student talkie

I have a thing about Mind Maps in PBL. At times, I’ve seen them used as a sort of patchwork quilt, where students set out ‘what they need to know’. While some kids will come up with imaginative and probing questions, quickly reflecting on what they already know and predicting where this topic is going … the majority tend to set out a set of keywords and phrases they have picked-up from the initial teacher mini-lecture and hints. As teachers like kids to succeed and get started, the core terms they issue freely quickly become the foundation of the mind map.

Young Creators: Good Practices across Europe

These mind maps are flat and don’t offer any heights to climb or depths to explore. Kids generally write down the low-level stuff, which is often quickly forgotten (remembering, memorising) – as it’s easy(ier). There’s a high level of work that some students get the opportunity to do. There are also the neo-ideals presented by the post-modernists in love with the 21st Century trope – all very exciting, but for many classrooms, not really going to happen unless culture and funding changes. But it makes a great story and teachers love to hear about it.

I do like Doug Belshaw’s ideas and respect that he’s been making useful stuff for ages – most of which isn’t space-cadet stuff, but quite practical and easy to put in front of someone and they can work with it.


Here’s a good example from 2009. I like to use by making students ask ‘need to know’ questions based on the rotation of the circle, beginning with knowledge (remembering). The technology around the edge might of moved on, but it’s really handy to ask students what ‘tool’ or ‘presentation’ they are going to give me to show me that they get the idea or can solve the problem.

Another tool I like to use is to shift the focus of their mind map. The ‘easy’ mind map is the focus area. Logically this comes first, as the teacher is generally in charge of bringing the topic into focus. However, the focus should just provide a foundation, delivering terms the teacher thinks (but doesn’t know) are going to be unfamiliar and also critical to the enquiry. They can also drop in some red-herrings too, just to make sure kids start with their ‘crap detectors’ turned on.


I like this simple chart for several reasons, the main one being is I can push kids into these other areas and get them to formulate better need to knows around them. The problem with flat mind maps is that there is no ‘so what’ at the centre, so the task becomes procedural, even didactic.  I am also a fan of one-page talkies. Things I can show and kids can point to, highlight and choose. Both of these work and will transform the flat mind map into a much deeper enquiry with distinct phases.

The Screenie Generation

Not all kids are ‘screenies’ but and increasing number appear to abandoning corporeal life-lessons for virtual ones. The screenies have been furnished with iPads and Smart Phones which they carry around everywhere their parents go.

Media form-factors have homogenised the viewer into normality. Take a look at this photo of kids watching personal screens and compare that to the neo-evolutionary screenie who hides their phone in the hand, or conceals their ear-buds in a hoodie. The act of viewing hasn’t changed (passive watching), but the modality has. No longer do screenies have to suffer the boredom of visiting aunt Norma, subjected to passive adult-chit-chat as their parents did. Screenies will ask for the wifi password of every home they visit — and get it. Between Temple Run, Tower Defence and checking in with their Clash Clan, they will guzzle down YouTube channels on everything from cupcake obsessed mommy channels to the endless parade of Minecraft channels with sarcastic multi-millionaire presenters and millions of inter-channel connected shared-audiences.

Shows such as Big Bang Theory have embedded ‘insults and comedy’ as a cultural pass time. It is no surprise that the screenie generation are having a hard time understanding and applying their communication skills to the real world – as it once was and how parents generally believe it should be. The screenies don’t have deep and meaningful conversations JK embedded into the Harry Potter narrative, they are busy on Insta, Snap, Kick and FB Messenger – as their connection is more virtual than real – and it seems so are many of their ‘problems’.  They have been drip-fed sarcasm, insults and consumer culture and amongst each other, apply and re-apply with increasing severity as they approach fifteen or sixteen.

The worst of these is the Neo-Insult Comic. They believe someone needs to, and can be, humiliated on a large scale. They don’t believe they have to get into television or become a front page journalist to do this. The Insult Comic can take an online audience of people and get them to laugh at the unfortunate target – hashtag #boomcomedy.

A decade or more of instant access to YouTube, streaming TV series and movies has removed the once visible boundary markers of media watching. As a parent, it’s not possible to vet, monitor or even attempt to ‘ban’ media from the lives of kids. Kick her off Minecraft because you’re worried, and she’ll demand her iPad and watch YouTube (about Minecraft). Threaten to take away media and the tantrums begin — often acting as an accelerant for the negative-media images of power-struggles between family members and friends.

Screenies are very difficult to manage. There’s no roadmap for parents here either. While the previous generation needed a sofa and TV to watch DVDs, this one doesn’t. Regulation is much harder now than even five years ago. 4G data is cheap, fast and by the age of twelve or thirteen, having it is seen as ‘normal’.

I’m amazed however, that despite their access to media and a the section of teachers online who promote it’s totes awesomeness, screenies are fickly, self-indulgent and quick to throw tantrums if their media-hub is removed. From stats on my blog – it seems parents are looking for answers over ‘too much Minecraft’ where really the issue is too-much-media-culture inside a neoliberal society that guzzles down endless ‘reality’ renovation shows and cooking competitions in between binge watching Weeds and Sons of Anarchy on Netflix.

I’m not sure what the ‘cure’ is – aside from once again reminding parents that in Australia at least there is no media-education in schools, no curriculum and no teacher training. What is happening in schools is totally random and ad-hock. The border of bad-taste and inappropriate content is set often by an establishment that has never had success with it’s ‘banning’ and ‘filter’ approach. This might cover the school against future litigation over media-exposure and use, but don’t for a second think that it’s a ‘media eduction’ for this century. Kids skip around the filter and these days, most have 4G and don’t even bother with the local network.

The mobile devices are also symbolic. Media is everywhere and not something to be accessed (and critically appreciated) in certain locations, such as library, computer lab or family lounge room. Everything is media to the screenies. As a teacher, this is most noticeable when they are asked to do something that requires comparison, critical thinking or choosing one thing over another. They struggle to break free of their neoevolution-self which believes that typing “how do I” and “what is” into Google is how to get though the school day. Screenies live on a virtual-goat track. They roam back and forth between media-sites which feed their interest or are seen as ‘in group cool’. Occasionally some kid will show me something they made online, but mostly they show me things they’ve seen.

As I said at the top, not all kids are screenies and many kids are both screenies and sporty, screenie and academic. The question is what are they losing as a result of learning about the world around them though a globalised media phenomenon fuelled by adwords, remarketing and savage media bias in subscription channels which celebrate sarcasm and promote the narcissistic self. Being a ‘hater’ is seen as a valid form of social-expression, overlaid on TV media shows – and you can’t really be good-at-Twitter unless you’ve got something to hate-on these days.

There’s no point moaning and freaking out about the time she spends on Minecraft, without looking at the environment that creates and sustains it. Few parents are interested enough in media education to demand it in schools – and yet media education is increasingly fundamental to how kids are growing up. By media education, I mean actually knowing how media works, and why it is presented to them as it is – and that includes the role consumerism and advertising plays in media-diet. I have at least one screenie in my house … and it takes a lot of effort (and cost) to engage him in other activities. I am not at all sure I’m winning … but I’m very sure that his school-day won’t even be trying due it’s modernistic views organisation.

Why I don’t make workbooks.

I’m going to build on my deep suspicion that Blooms Triangle is one of the most problematic ideas sold into the undergraduate psyche. It symbolises an idealistic, progressive, narrowing ladder towards so called ‘high order’ thinking that students can climb. A ladder which is provided by a teacher. A teachers starts with the list questions and keep going regardless of time or understanding.

The biggest problem with Blooms is that it doesn’t account for time in either the corporeal or virtual world kids live in today. Most schools run on 40-50 minute sessions because it fit’s the organisational structure of school, not because it’s good for learning. No one ever runs a conference keynote argument about time-table reform – and teachers seem to think that reform is bounded by the same timetable arrangements of the last fifty years. Classes run X number of times a cycle and there are Y dot-points to ‘get through’ according to the overseers who decide what our cognitive apprentices need to ‘learn’. These are then divided into ability levels. I refuse to stream kids by some faux-measurement of ‘ability’. I really doesn’t make sense in today’s classroom. What some kids need to know – and can know in 50 minutes is never going to be stable or standardised. Instead teachers are told students should learn to and learn about … which is well meant, but hard to do.

I say need to learn, because it’s fundamentally different from need to know. The latter cannot be regulated by 40-50 minute sessions or planned into a timetable. Today you and I are probably going to encounter a problems and generate a ‘need to know’. It is ridiculous to believe that this will be a t !:40pm.

The ladder is broken. Kids don’t climb it on a chain like sherpas. More capable kids don’t like being tied to less capable and visa versa. A piece of advice I gave a prac-teacher this week was to be careful of the assumptions around these procedural ladder climbing sequences. More importantly – question idea that fun activities are rewards for work and those who don’t do enough work are somehow less worthy of having ‘fun’.

When I say ‘fun’, I mean any activity that to most kids is ‘active’ – throwing/catching, chasing, exploring, experimenting, playing a game, running around etc. In other words, activities that require learning through reflection on doing, rather than copying down, remembering, memorising and so on. While there’s a need for that, the ladder method assumes these things are low order and ‘beginning’ tasks that lead to doing (proficiency testing). In essence, experiential learning (Kolb) is a collection of spirals that become relational though doing.

Some kids need to so some of the spirals a few times before they recognise how to move from one to another. Eventually the spirals become connected (repeatable) patterns that have a shape which is both recognisable and applicable in new situations. Games do this rather well, which is one reason she doesn’t want to get off Minecraft and becomes so engaged in it. Some people are mistaking this experiential learning for addiction. One reason for that is probably that they themselves didn’t do any at school and therefore don’t see much value in it.

In school, while we are aware (or should be) of Dewy, Piaget and Lewinian theories I’m hinting at here … if not more recent work by contemporary scholars (Brown, Gee, Jenkins, De Freitas) there remains this lingering loyalty to Behaviourist ideology (especially computing-machine learning) which is also touted as being somehow experiential by design.

Learning design which doesn’t reform the rigid time-table, rethink physical space and allow students to step and repeat (voice and choice) cannot realistically be called ‘new’ or ’emerging’. Where they do have this … I would hope that their own knowledge of educational theory and instructional design would immediately tell them to avoid the cognitive apprentice model at all costs.

Learning in open spaces, flexible time tables and with mobile technology can be elegant and rewarding. It’s not about being one or two steps away from the modernist norm, it’s about realising that norm was wrong to begin with. It’s only now that we deliver experiential learning with relative ease – using imagination, creativity, games and, dare I say it – fun at a sustainable, relatively low cost level.

I don’t make workbooks because kids don’t learn anything. If they can do the workbook, then it pointless and if they can’t do the workbook, then it won’t help them. If one simply has to give a test, then give a test now an again … but modern learners live in an experiential world – so why give them a factory model of learning anymore.

Blooming Confusing

I have a confession. I collect Blooms adaptations. It seems like the making up new Blooms is a very popular pass time of teachers using the Internet these days. Most of them don’t feel particularly interesting, but I tend to bookmark them as I find them as a sort of personal Blooms Museum. Every now and again I find one that is interesting such as this.


You can grab a copy from the author here and get a better quality version. What I like about this is that it’s a loop, not a triangle. It’s also a good attempt at describing the typical problem-solution cycle evident in video games. The author is proposing that these stages can be constructively aligned with Blooms taxonomy.

If you are teaching though an enquiry process, then this loop is relevant. Rather than learning being a series of steps, which might take place over several days or weeks – consider how this could be uses as a daily activity loop. I’d argue that if a child is involved in this cycle – and more importantly can IDENTIFY where they are in the loop at anytime, then it’s highly likely they will be reasonably engaged and productive. Of course the key is to make sure they are immersed in a learning episode that uses these stages.

The start here, I’d suggest is a good way to pre-test and find a way for students to make something that reveals their interests, knowledge, skills, assumptions, biases and errors. All to often lessons seem to start without doing this at all. If the kid can get 60/60 on a pre-test, then why would they bother doing the task.

Think of a video game, the first thing you get to do is choose gender, race, class and a small selection of gear to get started. We all have our preferences here … as we’re often used to playing (learning) in a certain, familiar modality. There’s nothing wrong with allowing kids to work from their preferences – comfort zone – as ultimately they are going to have to move away from it with the problems you set later.

This loop is something that can be actively tracked and reinforced to students during the enquiry. It can be designed into the sequence of learning with ease. It doesn’t have to use the rigid language of Blooms (high to low) and I’ll declare here that I think this is too dogmatic for modern learners anyway. I think this is a pretty innovative way of looking at learning-loops, and if kids get to try and repeat these loops, know where they are, and why they are doing it — then it’s going to help reinforce the essential value of enquiry based learning.

I skipped the readings

Teaching is something teacher’s do to students. In most cases, it’s called a profession as we get paid for it and show up weekdays to do it. Like all professions, teaching is a collection of applied skills and knowledge that shifts with society. It is not like a book that remains static. This modulation of skill, practice and knowledge includes cultural and technological shifts. The fact those happing right now are digital does not mean they are separate to what happened before. Take the microscope for example, it was the iPhone of it’s day to an enthusiastic section of society. Teaching today is driven by neo-liberal ideologies which are deeply connected to globalisation and consumerism. Teaching is a political act, so while we can moan about it, the truth is that teaching is linked to sales, profits and increasing marginalisation of sections of society.

A professional teacher can only carry out their work effectively if they can fully appreciate the delicate balance between educational theory and research and the sociological axes which in the last decade have favoured consumerism over open source and evidence. From that, they make informed choices — and return to the readings (and keep reading) about education and the service of professional teaching.

This is perhaps the biggest reason I stopped paying attention to the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ on Twitter etc., a few years ago. I joined the 2006-8 global vanguard with high hopes and enthusiasm to ‘hack the system’ and for a good while, I learned a ton of things which ultimately has fed into my PhD. Yet for me, what was once a vibrant peer-network exploring the potential of technology to help professional teaching has turned into a cacophony of voices who promote themselves though their promotion of certain brands. Some do this shamelessly while other wrap it in faux-theory which is often full of logical fallacies. To be convincing, they use media to invent demons, problems, issues and of course solutions. Overall, I don’t think this actually matters in the reality of the classroom as less than 10% of the world use Twitter anyway where as 100% of professional teachers undertook an under-graduate degree.

The battle for quality teachers remains in the tutorial rooms and lecture halls of first and second year teachers. It’s here that we have the opportunity to interrupt and redirect their ‘cultural baggage’ away from their own experiences as students and to focus on what the profession should be.

I get very irritated when I hear new and newish teachers proclaim they skipped the readings or didn’t attend lectures. From their new found authoritative position in society, they gleefully write off their behaviour as being wise and effective. We then find teachers who have a low understanding and respect for the research whom soon reach their professional capacity when it comes to creativity, innovation and empathy with popular culture and technology. By and large I’d argue those who skipped the readings largely apply on their own memories of being a student to their practice – complete with all the biases, assumptions and halo-effects of what the recall as ‘good teaching’. I get even more cross when they fire the punitive-canon at some kid to make them ‘get on task’ and it fails. Don’t come and ask me what do that is more punitive as though familiarity is a bigger bore. This is a reading problem, not a kid problem.

Of course no one can make them do the readings. But as Universities are enrolling thousands (yes, thousands) of potential ‘new teachers’ each semester, we are faced with a problem much bigger than whether or not they’ll use an iPad over a worksheet. The is a sizeable over-supply of teachers, whom simply didn’t do the readings or attend lectures and are now looking for work. At the same time, professional development of practicing teachers is being pushed from being centrally necessary to the profession to the edges of Twitter and the world of #edchat which to me is no more professional than me posting comments on my favourite Alfa Romeo forum. Yes, we all love Alfas here, what’s your favourite.

If we, the profession, are to develop effective maker-spaces, put games like Minecraft to work and create imaginative, well designed spaces to learn in, then we can’t also accommodate the reading-skipper-class or those who rely almost entirely on authoritative or punitive pedagogy. We will be drawn back into the vortex of worksheets and procedural activities based on a Blooms verbal triangles.

There is still a lot of reason to do the readings, and although too much research is locked up behind the pay-wall – there is still plenty to discover online away from “I reckon” posts like this. Find that stuff, share that stuff around the school and after a while, start to realise that much of the last decades angst has been generated by consumerism rather than ‘digital childhood’. I assure you, kids still love to play, learn and make around adults, if what the adults are doing is meaningful. You don’t need an iPad or to follow GooglePrincess to do that — if you’re still reading.

Living below the tech poverty line

11738047_10152969268283053_5325047692073970609_nI saw this photo from a teacher in the USA who was learning about using a new ‘laser’ cutter. Another teacher commented how cool they are, as they have one too. It seems I’m living below the tech poverty line these days with no Augmented Reality Goggles, 3D Printer, Robot Laptop Trolleys and certainly no laser cutter.

This made me wonder … given just about all the kids I now teach have smart-phones (mostly entry level, but smartphones none the less) and each kid has an iPad mini, this seems to be ‘entry level’ technology now. We don’t have a computer lab (yet) or laptops and by virtue of the campus location, the uplink to the internet is below the basic NBN tier (and not scheduled to be on the faux ‘fast net’ for some time).

Where I work, we do have the low-tech luxury of working with kids at a ratio of 1:20 (ish) in a PBL modality (but I don’t subscribe to the BIE model with much loyalty these days). So on one hand, when I see the raft of technologies in which some schools appear to have … I’m below the tech poverty line, but on the other I barely use technology as I once did. This is me the consumer talking of course. The one that used to believe that keeping up with the latest and greatest, lobbying for more was important. I used to pay way too much attention to people who make a living by peddling the ‘tech poverty line myth’.

I don’t doubt that some schools still have nothing, that some kids have nothing. After all, MOST of the kids on this planet right now don’t go to school or get any form of prescriptive education. So I wonder how relevant the ‘digital divide’ dogma is today among educators who seem relatively un-interested in the have-have-not-education and more interested in the have-have-not machines.


The Australian media networks may have influenced the monopoly political parties to force ISPs to block ‘file sharing’ sites. Here’s a discussion about how this will work if you missed it. No one is shocked by this, as those who have had the luxury of power like decide what ‘freedom of information’ and ‘freedom of speech’ is in our democracy.

As a teacher, I really wonder about the literacy that is being promoted through the curriculum. Some western governments like to control societies moral compass by setting it in a spin. Video games are bad, the Internet is bad, ‘chat-rooms’ are bad and the youth are either part of the problem of unsuspecting victims. At the same time the Chitter-lobby are increasingly living in factions – GAFE, Apple, Laptops, iPads etc., and obsessed with ‘collaboration’ and ‘features’ rather than noticing how utterly vapid ‘media education’ has become. Media education is not about ‘how to use’ tools to share documents or how to ‘curate’ things found online towards a school room project. Media education is about what the media has, can and might do for or to you. While the politicians and media producers decide what you can and can’t do online, children are increasingly being reduced to user-consumers.

Households (ruled by Gen Y) are increasingly able to “Google” what they want to know or find. The Internet’s front door for almost all households is “Google”. As we know, you can miss-spell, have half an idea and with a few clicks and re-tries you can find a list of answers. But Google isn’t very good at indexing the Internet anymore. It’s become good at indexing things most people Google. It isn’t focused on education (GAFE is merely a consumer-education strategy) nor being the index of the Internet. I am not sure how exactly Google became validated by education as the keeper of information or services, but it is clear that the 9% of people on Twitter and the small percentage of teacher-users seem to believe they are pioneering a ‘digital literacy’ agenda which enables children to thrive in the face of this media landscape.

Sonia Livingstone says that discussion about children’s media literacy and use often contain“disconnected questions about the impacts of particular media on particular groups of children, often framed in terms of moral panics, and with a predominant focus on American children as the implicit prototype for children everywhere.”

This really is a problem. The low level of literacy needed to ‘find’ information dominates children’s ritual behaviors around technology. Bored or lost children settle to tap and swipe, just as bored tiger paces around the enclosure. These apps don’t create new understanding but increasingly pretend to offer quick, easy and fast solutions for users.

Children, when  given some problem often ‘pace’ until someone in the room offers a simpler problem. Simple terms are more likely to be Googled than complex sentences. The ‘net’ result, interesting to parents perhaps, is that children enjoy seek and find activities, but no improvement in critical analysis or synthesizing occurs. The most obvious behaviour is to ‘copy and paste’ changing a few words or to claim that the task is too hard or too complex … which justifies a return to pacing. As teachers are motivated by and required to cover lots of content and collecting work samples for dot-point proof, there simply isn’t much room for new approaches to media education. What I think happens are modified approaches to media use, which suit the networks. We are training a generation of users who actively ‘pace’ when classroom activities attempt to move past Blooms low-order (Google-able) tasks. I reject the simplistic graphics which claim they can align some ‘app’ with one of Blooms levels (assuming Bloom is relevant in media-enabled learning).

How then, are children going to know what information is actually available online if they are being trained as low-end-users? In particular, I see ‘rich’ schools parading their access to the latest devices, importing ‘expert’ speakers for private sessions and great spaces to learn with great furniture, super fast and reliable wifi etc.,

Culture is winning out. While the masses are content to Google, the network owners: political, social, religious and economic are allowed to advantage of their control of information. Media education still has a long way to go … and right now teacher-technicians seem content to eat conference muffins and re-Tweet in agreement about ‘what needs to be done’ … also pacing like so many of their students when faced with the real challenge today – the media is more powerful than ever.