Yes, Quizlet got even better; now with diagrams

Quizlet remains as one of those Swiss Army knife style apps that you end up repurposing and going back to time and time again. Last year it got a significant revamp with the Quizlet Live game feature and now there is a clever addition called Quizlet Diagrams.

The new diagrams tool goes further adding a really clever visual layer. You can pin a term to a specific part of the diagram and then the students use the match or learn tools to revise which term matches which part.

How does this improve learning?

In essence using Quizlet is a perfect approach to get students to revise new terms or develop and broaden their vocabulary. In Economics I want student to use the appropriate terms and words to explain the nuances of complicated concepts and models. For instance we want our students to confidently use the term ‘appreciation’ rather than trying to just say that a currency has gone ‘up’.  In my experience Quizlet is a pretty good tool to help develop this basic knowledge and helps to do this is a faster and more engaging way. Ultimately we want to spend more time in class help student to apply their knowledge and skills to new contexts and to develop conceptual understandings. Quizlet is therefore a super effective method to explore in your class.

How do I use?

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  1. You need to sign up for a free Teacher account with your GApps account
  2. Search the diagrams examples for your subject
  3. Duplicate an existing set of flashcardsor create to start a fresh
  4. Drag a screenshot or image into Quizlet
  5. Use the pin icon to add terms.

Are there examples I can look at?

There are lots of really clever examples already created and available online. You can share any of these with your students by posting the link into any online learning platform. There are a few useful ones for Economics. I have linked one below that I developed for the circular flow diagram.

Have a go and test yourself first !

  1. Circular Flow Diagram – IB Economics
  2. Biology Cell Structure Diagram
  3. Soil Layers Diagram – Science and Geography
  4. Match the European Country
  5. Spanish Vocab – el desayuno (what’s for breakfast I think 🙂

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How do students access?

You can copy the link directly from Quizlet and send this to your students with the Online Learning Platform (Teamie) The two best modes from students to practice diagrams are either Learn Mode or Match Mode.

Learn mode is very clever and randomly gives students either match or multiple choice questions based on the set of flashcards you have created and it helps students track which ones they find easy and those which are harder. This was recently improved and really supports independent learning.

Match Mode is probably the best supported to diagram and give the students a random challenge based on the flash cards you have added to a diagram. See below


Quizlet Diagram


IB Diploma Onscreen Assessment – stepping into the unknown

A year ago I spotted an interesting development for the International Baccalaureate programme tucked away in a blog post on their website.

Substantial planning is underway for the migration of DP examinations from paper to on-screen. We are extremely excited about this important development for the IB. It means that exam papers will no longer be printed and couriered to schools, students will instead sit on-screen examinations on a computer, laptop or tablet. We will have some on-screen diploma examinations available as an option from 2018. (Technology advancements in DP assessment: IB Community Blog)

Yikes, I thought the day where students would do exams online would be years away. Well… it is still is a few years away, but closer that I would have anticipated for a huge organisation with over 150,000 students completing the IB Diploma exams each year. Last year was the first time students in their Middle Years Programme had the opportunity to try an optional end of programme online assessment so it does seems like the next logical progression for them. Since the announcement I have pondered some implications.

The chicken or the egg?

Curriculum and the intended learning goals should always guide assessment. In a “backwards by design” approach we are clear about what outcomes we hope students will achieve and are clear on what kind of evidence we need to collect.

Online assessments open a range of new possibilities in some areas to redefine what we could assess in the final exam. In the traditional hand-written exam the material presented to the students is in many ways one dimensional. We may show them data, a picture or map but is is just printed on a page. We can now provide multimedia stimulus such as video resources or interactives and manipulative resources showing data.

IMG_4325.JPGYet at the same time are we constraining the questions we ask students to what is possible in the online software? How easy will it be to annotate a graph? draw a diagram, or sketch a model in the margin to enhance your answer? I still can’t fathom how student’s in Economics will a draw an unemployment diagram like illustrated here to support their writing? Surely this is a significant issue for Physics, Biology and Chemistry. Will more and more questions default to a text format or response?

If the assessments do indeed broaden what can be assessed in the final examinations will this lead to changes in the various curriculum guides overtime? Will be interesting to see if the online nature of assessment better suit more concept based assessments.

The Mathematics exam seemed to be the most complexing for me, as you are reducing a problem solving process to a range of online boxes. I was yet pleasantly surprised to see the sample screenshots below or an MYP Maths assessment where students could annotate using the drawing pad at the right and then use formula in the boxes at the bottom to complete their answer.

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MYP Mathematics – Sample Assessment (IBO, 2016)


Would students prefer the offline or online experience?

As a teacher I feel that student work which is typed assessments is more refined, whilst the hand-written work is more organic and nuanced. Student’s write with sections crossed out as they try to reorganise their thinking. My students comment that the one element they struggle with in the traditional exams is the inability to drag and reorganise their thoughts as they are used to in the online environment.

An interesting piece of research around the MYP eAssessment project is available here written by the IB. It highlights the trend where students are becoming more and more digitally literate, creating a disconnect between the classroom experience and the format of the traditional examination. Furthermore they and others speculate about the connection between the motor skills of writing fluently, either offline or online and “the expression of the higher order thinking skills necessary for high quality essay writing” (Peverly, S.T. (2006). This difference might be especially stark when so many of our students type and work online for much of the school day. Many may find that the slow speed of their handwriting compared to their cognitive ability constrains their ability to demonstrate this understanding in exam situations.

They also comment on the findings in research by (Mogey and Hartley, 2013) focused on essay writing under timed conditions, “that typed responses seem to be slightly longer and score marginally better on readability measures”. Both of these findings resonate with my experience that students now feel more comfortable in the on-screen world and the step back to written handwritten assessment each June, will soon be part of history.

Produced by IBO 2016

A logistical and expensive nightmare?

With nearly 2,500 schools in 143 different countries, the IBs sprawl is amazing. Yet schools are often located in areas with very different socio-economic backgrounds where technology usage is incredibly varied. For this reason I presume that the MYP eAssessments have been an opt-in project for schools who see value and have the technology provision to make it work.

In our school, every student has a personal laptop but if your infrastructure is limited to a couple computer labs then you will struggle to run the assessments. Yes, technology is now ubiquitous in many contexts, but this is usually just an abundance of mobile or tablet devices and not a laptop or PC.

It is likely that for a long time schools will have the ability to run off-line versions of the exam with handwritten responses. You can imagine that the existing English examinations could work equally as well both offline and online when the stimulus provided to students is static. However once you begin to tweak the questions for subjects such as Science and ask questions in a different style of format the offline becomes impossible. Surely all students globally must complete the same format of final examination. Therefore the will be a tension for a couple of years, and issues for school IB schools to scale up their technology provisions.

I visited my previous school last year to see how


ISS International School

students were using the practice eAssessments, and they seemed rather unconcerned about the development and happy. Behind the scenes there was a world of juggling USB sticks to install the software for each student and later download the files to again upload to the IB servers. For each exam you need to ensure each student has a USB with the examination and then ensure you upload the students work correctly to the system before repeating this for the next examination. For a stretch of three weeks this will be an added overhead to schools, and harder than the current process of storing, opening and then resealing and posting the exam packages.


Next steps…

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MYP Maths – Sample eAssessment

The IB organisation has yet to announce any subsequent details about the launch of eAssessments for the Diploma programme and their initial mention was suitable vague about the 2018 phased introduction. In practice I guess this means that some subjects have an on-screen option for Grade 11 students beginning the DP programme in August 2018 for final examinations in August 2020? For our school I think that means our current Grade 9 students will be the first to cohort to have the option in some of the subjects such as English or perhaps History where style of questioning is typically more text heavy. For other subjects such as Economics or Maths the wait might be slightly longer and may match the rollout of the new syllabus and the curriculum reviews.


In the meantime I hope our Grade 9 students are practising their speed typing skills.

Further Reading and Resources:

What makes effective teaching?

This week’s Economist magazine explored a question I have thought about a lot in my career. Is the ability to teach an innate skill that some have, and others do not; or is a skill that can be developed and taught? Our perception of whether great teachers are either born or made, leads to dramatic differences in how schools structure and emphasis professional development.

What really matters in education?

20160611_FBC639Plenty of research by John Hattie and others, now points to the fact that the quality of the teaching is the most important factor in shaping a child’s educational success. Over and above factors such as smaller class sizes or streaming by ability, the top 20 factors relate exclusively to what the teacher can do in the classroom. Therefore we need to make a very conscious effort in schools to upskill teachers in both the what and how of effective teaching and make exemplary practice more visible to others.

In my experience schools can explain what teachers should be doing to improve practice with documents such as IB Approaches to Teaching and Learning, but struggle to prioritise time to give teachers adequate support in discovering how these ideas can work in their classroom.

How do teachers learn?

With teaching as with other complex skills, the route to mastery is not abstruse theory but intense, guided practice grounded in subject-matter knowledge and pedagogical methods (Economist, 2016)

The article makes interesting reading and highlights what several progressive groups are doing to help new teachers develop mastery through intentional practise, coaching feedback and relentless assessment. I don’t consider this to be anything revolutionary, but it is being done relentlessly and at scale. In my job as Digital Literacy Coach the most significant change has not come from sending out emails of ideas, but from helping teachers seeing how other respected teachers are using technology and then providing cycles of support, coaching and reflection to help the teacher grow and be confident.

In mainstream education, I think the development of teachers pedagogy is left to chance and seldom improved in a systematic manner. It is by chance that someone once went on a course on collaborative group work, or has read a book on formative assessment. Schools must encourage greater structured collaboration between peers and provide opportunities and time for exemplary teachers to support, mentor and coach others. I wasn’t really surprised by the statistic reported in the article below about such incredible isolation in the profession.

Few other professionals are so isolated in their work, or get so little feedback, as Western teachers. Today 40% of teachers in the OECD have never taught alongside another teacher, observed another or given feedback (Economist, 2016)

I do wonder if teachers at our school would respond in a similar fashion? I would hope that more than 40% of our teachers over their career that they have experienced these collaborative aspects. Despite every effort, schools still remain a closed door profession especially in High School settings. However it seems simple to engineer opportunities for greater feedback, observation and team teaching. Once a month could you cancel a weekly meeting and instead ask staff to observe a peer in their free periods?

This article more than most, has piqued my interest and I will try make two of the key observations from the article personal goals for next year;

  1. Engineering more opportunities for teacher collaboration in the form of team teaching, observation and feedback.
  2. Make the how of effective teaching more explicit to our teachers. We have a well document list of learning principles but not everyone has the same practical understanding how some of these could be employed in practice.

Additional Research and ideas

Below is some of additional research mentioned in the Economist article. After a bit of searching it presents a wealth of contemporary knowledge if you want to dive deeper. Hattie’s latest work is a good read.


Quizlet – back to an old favourite

Quizlet is fast becoming one of those Swiss Army knife apps that you end up repurposing and going back to time and time again. Like most teachers you probably got the email about their new Quizlet Live feature so I was keen to give it a go.

In essence using Quizlet is a perfect approach to get students to revise new terms or develop and broaden their vocabulary. In Economics I want student to use the appropriate terms and words to explain the nuances of complicated concepts. For instance we want our students to confidently use the term ‘appreciation’ rather than trying to just say that a currency has gone ‘up’ In my experience Quizlet is a pretty good tool to help develop this basic knowledge.

Quizlet Live is a free games based add-on to the core flashcard tool. The game cleverly takes any existing stack of vocabulary and definitions and then creates a game. On the first prompt students visit Quizlet Live and then enter your class code from the screen. You need more than 4 students to join and then it will place them into groups.

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The best hint is to get kids to then move to sit in the randomly allocated group. Once you click begin, the students have to match up the answers. (see demo) Each member of the group has a different list of four terms which they can use to answer the pop up question. Collectively they use the terms to answer all of questions in the race to reach the end first. A great catch is that if they get one term wrong it makes the students start again.


On first impressions it sounds a little simple and a bit too much of a game, but it was one of the most fun and yet effective end of lesson activities I have done in a long time. Yet at the same time I think they all have mastered a broader list of terms that will hopefully help develop their ability to write more academically like an economist. Never underestimate the competitive nature of teenagers on a Monday morning.

A couple of hints to make it a more effective assessment task…

  • Share the Quizlet set of terms with the students for homework to look at independently before they do the game in class.
  • Carefully choose your lists of terms. A couple on my list had the actual word in the definition so made it easy to guess. (this was my Macroeconomic set)
  • Add a few terms to really stretch the students, or even from the next topic. 
  • Once the game is finished the screen changes to show feedback… essentially what were some commonly confused terms, what was the hardest to get correct etc. This is a good learning point where students could add to their notes or the teacher could unpack the misconception. (my students all stumbled on the inflation/disinflation/deflation terms and it was a timely reminder when the game prompted the kids to reflect on this at the end)
  • Pictures you might have added to the quiz don’t show in the game at the moment
  • You need at least 6 kids and I think at least 12 terms to make it worthwhile.
  • You can repeat the same activity at the end of the game and choose to keep students in the same groups. If you want to then use a different set of terms you need to restart Quizlet Live and it then resets the groups. 
  • The best Econ terminology sets I have found are here 

Enjoy and please comment if you find it useful or have other ideas on it’s use.


Where to next..? Goal setting and the meaningful use of Technology.

It that crazy time of the year, when we as a school begin pondering our goals for next year, whilst still trying to make progress on our ambitious plans from a year ago. It is also a landmark for me and the end of our ‘iLearn project’ which introduced the use of technology to our teachers and students and has lead to significant changes in student learning. iLearn is now operationalised and a part of our school culture.

This week an interesting critique on Educational Technologies by Alfie Kohn grabbed my attention and made me question the types of goals we are setting. The Overselling of Ed Tech questions if the promises of technologies disruptive and innovative power to change education have ever been borne out. The most poignant remark below resonated with me as someone who has always worked in excellent, yet largely traditional academic schools.

The rationale (for use of educational technologies) that I find most disturbing — despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that it’s rarely made explicit — is the idea that it will increase our efficiency . . . at teaching in the same way that’s persisted for a very long time.

Perhaps it hasn’t escaped your notice that ed tech is passionately embraced by very traditional schools:  Their institutional pulse quickens over whatever is cutting-edge: instruction that’s blended, flipped, digitally personalized.

This apparent paradox should give us pause.  Despite corporate-style declarations about the benefits of “innovation” and “disruption,” new forms of technology in the classroom mesh quite comfortably with an old-school model of teaching that consists of pouring a bunch o’ facts into empty receptacles.

Which makes me think, what has really changed at our school over the last five years? Has technology provided opportunities for student’s flexible progression, unhindered innovation, critical thinking and collaborative learning as we initially envisaged in our planning?  Or as Alfie Kohn mentions has our technology use “perpetuated, traditional teacher-centered instruction that consists mostly of memorizing facts and practicing skills”

I think we have to be very cautious of pandering to individuals and the use certain apps and tools which do little more than enhance teacher-centered instruction. For instance does the conversation about a quiz tool Kahoot focus on revising facts and keeping the kids engaged, or does it also provide data to cleverly inform differentiated groupings in the next lesson? Does the use of an online learning platform just deluge students in greater flow of resources and bring the teacher-centric paradigm online, or does it empower student to ask questions, resolve each other’s concerns, progress at their own pace and make connections.

Essentially, I think we need to be consistently raising the rigour and relevance of the technology related goals that our schools, departments and teachers set so that technology is used to support or even transform student-centred, inquiry based models, not just seen as tool to bring greater efficiency to linear, exam focused, teacher centred approaches as illustrated by Kohn below.

We can’t answer the question “Is tech useful in schools?” until we’ve grappled with a deeper question: “What kinds of learning should be taking place in those schools?”  If we favor an approach by which students actively construct meaning, an interactive process that involves a deep understanding of ideas and emerges from the interests and questions of the learners themselves, well, then we’d be open to kinds of technology that truly support this kind of inquiry.

Show me something that helps kids create, design, produce, construct — and I’m on board.  Show me something that helps them make things collaboratively (rather than just on their own), and I’m even more interested — although it’s important to keep in mind that meaningful learning never requires technology, so even here we should object whenever we’re told that software (or a device with a screen) is essential.

I think our school has a firm grasp of that we mean by effective learning in the form of our ten learning principles. Other recent developments from the International Baccalaureate and the development of the Approaches to Teaching and Learning philosophy further illustrate that we as educators know the conditions under which student learning flourishes. Technology goals should therefore be written and pursued to enhance, or amplify these ideas and provide students with even more beneficial learning experiences. This therefore provides teachers with a framework to determine the relevancy of different software and tools. For example should we buy more Document Cameras so kids can see a textbook via the projector, or can we use it to record mini-lessons or to unpack success criteria and allow students to access these at their own pace.

Lots to think about, but would be interested in other school who have mature use of technology and how them look to raise the bar through goal setting processes.

Essay planning and drafting with Mindmeister

Brainstorming or creating a mind map is a common process to help students develop ideas and to encourage ideation. In many classes, a brainstorm is used as the first planning step in a writing process which flows into drafting.

Online tools such as mindmaps can be a simple way to enhance the planning stage of student writing. When the tool is mutable ie. student can reorder, change and edit their thoughts on the go it should support deeper thinking and exploration of ideas. When doing a similar activity with paper, students are constrained by the size of their paper, frustrated when they need to erase or make a change and struggle to reorder the hierarchy of their thoughts. Whilst you can also plan in a word document and rearrange ideas, the visual element of a mindmap should be an important consideration.

Mindmeister is an online mind mapping tool that our student can use to develop an essay outline and then translate these notes into a text document. A clever export function allows students to export the structure and contents of their mindmap as headings and bullets in a word document. As shown below, this simple trick takes thier ideas into the an essay plan, helping them to draft potentially each paragraph and sentence.

Few tips to get started

  1. A school can subscribe to Mindmeister and this can linked to each students GApps accounts.
  2. Alternatively the free option allows you to do most things, but with limits on the number of maps and the ways they they can be exported.
  3. This can be accessed from the grid app icon at top of GMail/GDrive.
  4. Students can click share, to send a link to the teacher or class site / learning platform.
  5. They can also invite collaborators, but this slows the speed of the website down considerably.
  6. Small downwards arrow at bottom allows export function – MS Word translates document into headings, and sentences, but unselect all of the options to get a cleaner look with only text.

See video below for a full walkthrough.

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With the help of the export button, from this to this…. !

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Full tutorial and more ideas

The Reflective Coach – using data to drive your practice

Instructional Coaches are now common place in some schools and are a group of people who work with teachers to reflect on their professional practice and to help teachers grow and learn. At our school with have a series of specialists including Literacy, Numeracy and Digital Literacy Coaches. As one of the school’s Digital Literacy Coaches, I support teachers and our Tech Mentors develop ideas for using technology to amplify and even transform traditional pedagogies. My work around Information Literacy and Digital Approaches to Formative Assessment are a couple of examples.

I have previously worked with Jeff Plaman, Keri-Lee Beasley, Clint Hamada and Louise Phinney on a model of Coaching for Digital Literacy, but looking back the one aspect we have overlooked is the how coaches reflect on their effectiveness in how they work with teachers. Over the last month it has been a concept that has been mentioned by colleagues at NIST in Bangkok and Canadian International School in Singapore. Below are some ideas of what we are trialling at the moment and some thoughts for the future.

Coaching Logs for Reflection

My colleagues Adrienne Michetti and Jeff Plaman from our East Campus, have developed a simple Google Form, which is used to log different coaching activities. The form (shown below) collects data about the individual the coach worked with, their subject and the nature of the interaction. The different interactions have been nicely summarised into 14 different Coaching Roles including a common interaction for Tech Help… ‘can you help me fix my printer settings’. The Google Form collates each of the interactions into a spreadsheet which is becoming a very useful reflective tool. It provides the data to highlight the patterns of interactions that the coach might have with particular departments or individuals. This can be used as a discussion prompt with other school leaders or just a personal reflection tool.

Dover Secondary   DLC Log  2013 2014

360° Surveys

Every teacher at our school is part of our Professional Learning Programme. This the processes where teachers set goals, collect evidence of learning, and reflect with their mentors, critical friends or line manager. If you are a Senior of Middle Manager (Head of Subject) you are encouraged to use a Google Form to collect upward feedback in a 360° manner from people you interact with and lead. I think there is potential for coaches to use a similar form to get feedback from staff or subject leaders you work with on a consistent basis. Some of the criteria from our school 360° survey would be useful. This is derived from our school Leadership Standards. I think we need to look more broadly at what kind of criteria would be most useful for a coaching survey. The NETs Coaching Standards from ISTE seem and obvious starting point, but perhaps some of the Cognitive Coaching material from Bill and Ochan Powell would also be useful.

Looking for Learning

Another key feedback method should include some aspect of feedback on your coaching interactions. This can be from a critical friend, who you arrange to watch a session with teachers, or perhaps you working with a small group of teachers. The crucial aspect of this is the conversation that occurs with the critical friend before the observation. You should pin point an aspect of your coaching that you want feedback on. For instance if could be how you pause and paraphrase in a conversation, or how you present a complex idea to a group of teachers. In the coaching interaction it is important that the critical friend is ‘looking for learning’ in the group of teachers in the same way we use with students. A form or template might be a useful tool to prompt some discussions.

Sharing reflections via posts

Another simple feedback method could be a series of weekly posts that look back on one interaction during the week. We use a Google + community to share between our group of Coaches and Tech Mentors, but perhaps this could be used to post small snippets from the week that highlight the use of a new tool.

Overall I feel that coaches ought to be highly reflective and think strategically about how they spend their time. Looking ahead, technology coaches need to ensure they are seen as being relevant when technology becomes a less explicit strategic goal of a school and more implicit in other initiatives such as Formative Assessment or Differentiation. In the future, I see the descriptor Technology Integrator being an obsolete phrase, as if we believe that technology to be an essential or ubiquitous  part of learning, it should be part of each teachers effective strategies, then perhaps the phrase Instructional Coach will better reflect the work of an effective coach. Regardless of any future changes a coach should be using different feedback tools to be reflective.

If you school has another approach to gaining feedback for coaches, I would be interested to see how this works. Add a comment below.

Padlet – for collaboration and low stakes formative assessment

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 10.25.43 PMI have perhaps become a little reticent of new Web 2.0 tools and the hype lots of them generate for a short period of time, before the next fun toy comes along. Something that I keep coming back to at the moment is a great collaboration tool called Padlet. (previously known as Wallwisher)

I strongly I encourage every teacher I work with, to develop a toolkit of digital tools that the use in the classroom. Overtime the rapid experimentation and sharing leads most teachers to a point where they have develop a set of 3-5 tools which they seem to go back and that they see as an effective teacher strategy. The best tools have a clear link to what we recognize as good classroom pedagogy and are often an enhancement or transformation of an existing ‘non-techy’ approach. Language teachers seems to have a set of tools that fit their teaching style as do Scientists or Geographers.

Padlet fits very nicely with ideas around both collaboration and formative assessment. Especially the idea of setting a quick task to elicit evidence of understanding. Because Padlet requires no-student log in it is an unobtrusive activity in task that seldom breaks the learning routine.  Below is an example from my Economics class this week. I use the mini-whiteboards so much, but this was a chance to modify the task, so that I could look at the both an analysis paragraph and the whiteboard diagram later. The little snippet of understanding shown gives me a good clue to the students progress and thinking.

Below is a presentation I have shared with my teachers, please borrow and repurpose !


Internet WebTimers and self reflection

The Web Timer app extension to Chrome, is a great but simple tool to help both students and teachers reflect on how they use their time online. The extension sits directly in the browser so is just a click away and an excellent tool to help students take ownership of how they manage their time. The simple pie graph has three different settings; todays time, average time and total. My breakdown is a little depressing and highlights how much time I spend on GMail and Google Docs.

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The app does not track activity in other programs such as Skype or games and only measure activity in the current tab or window and Other programs such as RescueTime Lite track more activity including uses of different applications.

21st Century Learning at UWCSEA

Here is great video showcasing how we use technology at UWCSEA as part of our successful iLearn Initiative. We submitted this as part of a 21st Century Learning School of the Year competition, and we recognised as the winner.  The following paragraph was a snippet from the organisers, which nicely encapsulates what we try to do, and how I have spent my energies over the last 2.5 years. The panel was especially impressed that…

“staff professional learning structures are built into the process. The targeted use of coaches and Tech Mentors maximizes the ‘spread’ of capacity throughout the school and helps embed a culture of change which we believe will reach well beyond a single initiative, and even beyond technological competence.”

It has been great to work with a wider team of now eight Digital Literacy Coaches, with lots of additional support and clear leadership. It is evident that we are now developing creative and innovative pedagogies that are becoming ingrained into the learning culture of the school.