Anywhere, anytime collaboration

Our Enrichment Coordinator has just set up a new blog to communicate with her TLT. The TLT meetings were being hamstrung by conflicting time pressures. The blog is an attempt to facilitate collaboration without needing to rely on all being in the same place at the same time. I am not really impartial on this subject but if you’re looking for a way to communicate with a group, I reckon you can’t go past blogging.


Blogs are a very considerate way to impart information because the reader chooses the time; reading is much faster than listening to someone speak (just compare watching a how-to on YouTube to reading one); and, the reader can skip to relevant information.

Catching up with reading can also be fit in around other things. Keeping a tab on your phone open with an interesting blog post allows you to revisit it when you have some time to kill waiting for a train.

Blogging is also a great way to organise information. You and your audience can come back to the post whenever you need to and blogs are very rich information sources that can contain links, videos and other media.

Most importantly, writing a blog is a developmental exercise in itself. Writing a blog allows you to reflect deeply on your topic (and sometimes learn about it first from the ground up), condense it down to it’s most important elements and then try to communicate it effectively. I am fully aware that the person who benefits most from my blog is me.

There are heaps of websites offering blog hosting services. I use WordPress; the Enrichment blog is on Blogger (Google). If you want any information about how to set one up, let me know – I’d be happy to help!

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Writing Research Assignments

Research assignments are very different to tests. Tests function to show what the students have learnt throughout a unit while research assignments are a learning experience in themselves. As a result, if you ask your students to recall what they have learnt in a research assignment, they will usually copy and paste the answer. The antidote for this is to ask the students to do something with the information that they are finding.


The following example comes from the History curriculum but the process is the same no matter what the topic is.

The History curriculum says that students need to be able to understand ‘the role and achievements of a significant individual and/or group‘ in Japanese feudal society. A copy and paste assignment would ask the students to explain the social structure in feudal Japanese society and the students would copy and paste something like the text in the image above. Job done. Even if they tried to put this in their own words, they would struggle – there just aren’t that many words for ‘top’, ‘under’, ‘followed’ and ‘bottom’.

This is the same for any project where they are asked to write a biography of a person (scientist, artist, etc.), describe the achievements of a person or describe the role or function of an object.

Questions stems

Enter question stems. These give us prompts that can help us to generate questions where students access and create information at different levels.

Consider the question ‘what would happen if..?’ from the understand column. The question ‘what would happen to a samurai if their Daimyo lost a battle?’, seems more simple than ‘explain the social structure…’ but to complete it the kids need to read closely and pick the correct information to answer the question. Once they have the concept that these classes were fluid and people could move down the social structure, you could ask them if there was any evidence that people could move up the pyramid as well.

‘What would happen if..?’ is also a good alternative to ‘Describe…’ for biographical assignments. ‘What would the world be like without..?’ allows the students to appreciate the contribution of a person or invention, consider if others were at a similar stage of innovation and consider alternative solutions.

Now consider the prompt ‘Do you believe…’ from the Evaluate column. Going back to the history task, the position of farmers in feudal Japanese society is very interesting. You could ask the kids why they think farmers were above artisans, whether they believe farmers are more or less important in our society and what these positions reflect about society.

‘Do you believe..?’ can be applied to many comparative tasks such as, ‘do you believe strength is more important than endurance?’ or ‘do you believe that price is more important than quality?’.


Once you have created your questions, organise them so that the lower order questions come first and the higher order come later – this way you will be able to tell right away how deeply a student has engaged with a topic based on how far they got through the assignment.


Getting question stems to work requires practice. Students will need formative exercises and feedback before they embark upon their major assignment to make sure that they know what is expected of them.

Both writing these questions and answering them is a skill that needs to be developed. Once the practice is ingrained though, copying and pasting becomes at-best insufficient and the whole process of researching, writing and assessing these assignments becomes more interesting for everyone.

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Coding – Project #1

Coding is a fun and rewarding experience that can develop a deeper understanding of how the devices in your life work. Have a go at completing the following problem using Scratch. If you get stuck, go to the video tutorial below for instructions.

Problem: Create a sprite that moves every time you touch it with a mouse. For bonus points, create a counter that keeps track of the number of times you have touched the sprite.

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Resourcing the curriculum – The Spanish Conquest of the Americas

“When the Spanish reached the valley of Mexico in 1519, they were amazed at what they saw.” – Wood, Tim. The Aztecs. London: Hamlyn, 1992.

Next semester we will begin to look at the Spanish Conquest of the Americas in history at Year 8. The starting point for all resources is, of course, the Victorian Curriculum. But you would be forgiven for looking for something more interesting or approachable. Alternatively, you can go straight to the source as RZI intends to do and wade into 420 pages of primary material. Whichever way you start, there are ways that the library can help you in regards to resources and skills.

The Spanish began visiting the Americas many hundreds of years before ClickView. I don’t even think YouTube was a thing back then. And even though our compactus was probably already full by 1492, I don’t think anything about the ‘conquest’ has made it in there since. So where to start?

On the shelf

The library has a small collection of books on the Americas that are mainly located on the shelf at 972 (History of the Middle Americas).  This includes books that cover pre-Columbian life, the Aztecs and Tenochtitlan.

Because there are so few of these, we can’t rely on each student getting their hands on one. But we can provide them with photocopies on relevant chapters (under copyright, we are allowed to make copies of one chapter or 10 per cent of each work).


The next best thing (because we pay for access to it) is Britannica Online. Students can access this from school or home using the link in Simon. The good thing about Britannica is that you can select the level (Primary, Middle or High) of information being retrieved.


Our kids will be way ahead of us in googling this. They will search for ‘the Spanish Conquest of the Americas’ or they will jump right in with the assignment question or some keywords (probably names).

We will need to come up with some clever tasks that will require them to do something with the information that they find if we are to avoid ctrl+c, ctrl+v answers. Once again, the curriculum can be of help here, along with Bloom’s question stems.

Flip it


To get the kids interested and give them some background information, as well as to teach skills throughout their journey, we can provide them with content that they can watch from home. This allows them to chill out with their headphones on after school with a legitimate excuse and makes us on hand to help out while they do their homework in class.

Aside from the huge amounts of content on this topic on YouTube and the Khan Academy, there are videos on the subject available on ClickView. Check out this video on the Waldseemüller map, for example. Skip to Chapter 10 to begin at Columbus’s big mistake.

Blood and guts

While elements of this story are undoubtedly gory, there are many ways to interest the students without labouring this side of it – they were real people who were sacrificed after all.  Pre-Colombian societies had some marked similarities and differences between other indigenous cultures including Australia’s. This can be an opportunity to explore where the came from and when and how they got to the Americas as well as an opportunity to explore: the notion of ‘civilisation’, myths attached to indigenous lifestyles and the way these came about.

The subject of how to manage first contact between societies is also still very much an issue. Finally, the way that we are explaining and contextualising colonisation is a big news item in Australia today but is it an issue in the Americas?

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Hop. Book. Chat. E02 has dropped.

Twice as long is twice as good, right? Our second episode, Adaptations are the New Vampires, is twelve minutes of pure auditory joy about books that have been, or are about to be, turned into movies. Steven Spielberg, Suzanne Collins, John Green – no one is safe. Listen below.


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Q: What makes an excellent presentation?

A: Body language and visuals.

If you have the time, watch this clip. Not just because Amy Cuddy is a terrific speaker and someone you can emulate but also for the message that your body language is critical to how you are perceived by others and how you are perceived by yourself.

Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are

Her advice? Strike a powerful pose for a couple of minutes before you do your presentation.


While you’re at it, TED have a whole playlist dedicated to public speaking here (Sebastian Wanicke suggests letting your hair grow out a little, wearing glasses and dressing up slightly more than your classmates, which, since talks are next week and you’ll all be in uniform, will be a bit challenging but I guess you could try tucking in your shirt).

It is all an act

Silliness aside, presentations are, in essence, a performance – so try to pretend that your talk is being delivered by a super-confident expert to a bunch of enthralled fans. Stand up straight, make eye-contact with your audience, smile, speak clearly and vary your tone to match what you’re saying and maintain interest.

While we’re talking about your audience, make sure that you have them in mind when you write it. Think about what they would like to know about your subject and how you can inform, persuade or surprise them.

What’s that behind you?

Your talk should be accompanied by a presentation that contains enough information that your audience can predict what is coming next (and foresee an ending) and get back into it if their attention drifts. Fifty words per slide is about right.

If your talk is accompanied by visuals, make sure that they are high enough quality that they won’t look blurred or pixelated when projected onto a screen; free from watermarks; and, accompanied by a caption describing what they are and where you got them from. Even better, make them yourself.

Practice, practice, practice

Last of all, make sure you practice your talk heaps of times before giving it.

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A+ for research

With oral presentations coming up, you will need to be pretty dynamite at research in order to stand out from the crowd.

I have chosen (…made up.., ok, stolen…) the topic: Young people should be allowed to drive younger. This is obviously insane. Young people are terrible drivers and, for a range of reasons too great to mention, will be a greater danger to themselves and almost everyone else alive if they are allowed to do so. Luckily, you don’t need to agree with your contention to do a good presentation.

If you want poor results, just ask the question

To gauge the internet’s feeling about this, I waded in by asking Google: ‘Should young people be allowed to drive earlier?

This was the least productive of my searches but, due to the magic of the internet, even bad searches can get good results.

The first answers were totally irrelavent, a couple of hits about elderly drivers, a couple of hits from lazy kids asking debate sites the same question. I’m not after the unfiltered thoughts of internet users, I want a broad overview from a professional writer working for a publisher with a reputation to manage. The sixth result was just that. I was delighted to find an article about lowering the driving age in the UK (“…controversial…”) but then disappointed and a bit surprised to find out that they don’t have what’s known as ‘graduated licences’ (think L plates) and were thinking about lowering the driving age to 16. Bummer.

Keywords and quotation marks

The article mentioned accidents. I thought that would be a good direction for my research so I tried the keyword ‘accidents’ plus the phrase ‘”teenage drivers”‘ (in inverted commas because I only wanted results about teeneagers). This confirmed that teenagers are also horrible drivers in the US. But maybe they are better here in dot au.

Site restrictions

To isolate information from australia I added ‘’. This returns only pages with an .au URL (accidents “teen drivers” You can also do this to get .gov or .edu (or even .pdf for that matter) results. Alternatively, you can remove certain sites by putting a minus in front of them (accidents will no longer return commercial sites, for example). For more awesome search operators, click here.

Unfortunately this confirmed that teenagers are terribly dangerous here as well. I am going to have a tough time making people think I am a good person while arguing that teens should be allowed to kill themselves and others earlier. But maybe if they were shackled to an adult while they are learning, they would be safer (defeating the whole, ‘teens want to be more independent argument’ but anyway…).


I searched for ‘rates of accidents for L-plate drivers’. It turns out that this statistic is not so easy to find. In hindsight, I probably should have searched for ‘accompanied’ drivers or tried to find the terminology that road safety authorities use to describe that relationship. I did however find this neat graphic:

L Platers

My argument is going to need some more work so now I am going to try to find some evidence that stretching the time young drivers spend with a licensed driver increases their safety and then work backwards from there.

Research can be a bit of a twisty-turny process but it can also be the most fun and interesting part of an assignment. Hopefully using these tips will make it moreso!

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