To LMS or not?

An interesting discussion on Twitter for #ohedchat today about blended learning which not surprisingly turned to the necessity of an LMS for effective teaching in a blended classroom. But first what is blended learning? Wikipedia defines it as:

Blended learning is education that combines face-to-face classroom methods with computer-mediated activities.[1] According to its proponents, the strategy creates a more integrated approach for both instructors and students.

The terms “blended,” “hybrid,” “technology-mediated instruction,” “web-enhanced instruction,” and “mixed-mode instruction” are often used interchangeably in current research literature.[2] However, recent researchers in the United States tend to use the term “blended learning” with more regularity.

To me it is the use of digital technology to enhance and extend classroom learning experiences.

So is an LMS essential? Well it depends….

My first teaching job was at Trinity Grammar School Kew – the first school in Australia to have a school wide wireless network to support a laptop program. In the same year I started they also employed a teacher to look at a means of providing access electronically via the web to resources. He designed his own LMS (called school tool from memory) and I spent lots of time trying to break it. Anyway after a couple of years out of teaching I went back into a school that used Moodle – once again I always pushed the boundaries (often getting frustrated and the limitations!) using Moodle extensively.

The change of schools (and systems!/ states) to Coffs Harbour High school also coincided with the start of the Digital Education Revolution – so of course I set up a school Moodle ( ) that is still up and running today. the reception to this was to say the least varied! But now four years on I myself only use Moodle for some things (e.g online administration of diagnostic tests at the commencement of the year and for subject selection for senior years) preferring to use a blended (pun intended!) mix of tools to assist with the digital support of students learning. This includes blogs, Edmodo, Adobe Connect, Facebook, OneNote, DropBox,Mathletics, Mangahigh….

Of these I have found FaceBook to be the most successful (for senior students) mostly because it is an online ecosystem which my students already inhabit. Ever since I started teaching my mantra with regards technology has always been “see what the kids are using in their own time and try to find an educational use for it”. If I post a message on Facebook (in our class group) at 5:30 am (I am a morning person!) 90% of my class will have read it before school – why because the first thing they do when they wake up is check Facebook! But this approach is not for everyone –  it is to unpredictable and ever changing.

Whenever a new way of digital delivery is suggested many teachers want to: be trained;  know exactly what it should be used for; know how it will be managed etc. Now this is all fine but my question is how will you ever keep up with the continual changes if you expect a training course in everything! Consequently many just don’t do anything! An LMS offers a nice safe place for these types of teachers and will perhaps expose them to alternative options down the track.

The biggest problem I have  with any LMS is that it is a walled garden (this includes things like Yammer too!) but once again this is what makes them attractive to some people and institutions.

I guess there is no “One-size fits all approach” some will want to use an LMS and others not – but at what point does an institution no longer provide an LMS for those who want to use it and are not confident elsewhere?  Will removal of something perhaps destroy the confidence of a teacher who has either just taken or is about to take steps to use online tools in the classroom? How can our professional learning as educators be more about taking risks and experimenting with new tools? And WHO IS GOING TO TAKE OVER ADMIN OF OUR SCHOOL MOODLE? :0 Any volunteers?

Staff Development Day Term 3 2012 – The National Curriculum, Feedback, Deeper Thinking & Rich Tasks

National Curriculum and Feedback

This presentation gives an update on the national Curriculum, discusses the importance of feedback as part of the teaching and learning cycle (including a practical example applying feedback to student work).

The content on Feedback was taken from a CLiC presentation – originally by the Curriculum Corporation

Other stuff is below:

Some Deep Thinking

I am using TED-Ed a fantastic initiative from the creators of TED.

They allow a very easy FLIP teaching model for using video to stimulate deep thinking. (Well easy when YouTube is ever unblocked!)

The example we worked through is presented here Kevin Slavin: How algorithms are shaping our world (Join in! – You will need to create an account on TED-Ed)

Some student examples

Bonus Rich Tasks

I have included some rich tasks I have either created (or modified! – thanks to those who came up with the idea initially!) and used in the classroom. Some suggestions about links to the syllabus are provided. The size of the file is next to the link (for the big files!).

NS 4.1  -Operations with Whole Numbers, PAS4.2 Number Patterns

An investigation of the patterns in Pascal’s Triangle including application to real life situation. Extension looks at further patterns.

Pascal’s Triangle Investigation
Pascal’s Triangle  Extension

Pascal’s Triangle Extension Solution
Pascal’s Triangle Template 
 (For those who wish to do the Pascal’s Triangle activity electronically)

DS 4.1 Data Representation, DS4.2 Data Analysis and Evaluation

In this Smarties Project students take a sample from one box and compare it to the whole class’s samples. They then conduct a survey to determine which colours are preferred and make recommendations about how the composition of a box of smarties should be changed to improve sales. As an extension students could design an advertising campaign for the new and improved smarties boxes!

Smarties Project

MS5.1.2 Trigonometry

This is an entire unit that introduces students to trigonometry through investigations using Geogebra. Included are screencasts that explain how to conduct the investigations and how to apply the concepts. I have used it as a Moodle Course  but all the files imbedded in that course are below.

Trigonometry Unit  (Big File 118MB)

Non Linear Functions (PAS 5.2.4, PAS 5.2.5, PAS 5.3.4) – really designed for National Curriculum

This is a unit of work that investigates non-linear functions created for the Curriculum Collaborations Project. It specifically addresses ” Linear Relationships and Non-Linear relationships pages 240-242; Outcomes 5.1.3 and 5.1.6″ – note the page numbers may be incorrect in the second draft of the syllabus.

The unit consisted of 6 activities commencing with some investigative work adapted from “A graphing matter” – Mark Illingworth, into which we explicitly instructed students in Mathematical report writing skills.  Students were also explicitly introduced to 2 visible thinking routines (Project Zero) to promote more explicit discussion about the thinking being undertaken. Specific Geogebra skills were then included in the unit with clear links to investigating the properties of non-linear functions. Final assessment was through an extended task that incorporated the use of skill and content knowledge obtained over the course of the unit.

Non Linear Graphs Unit (13.3 MB)

Angles (SGS 4.2)

An investigation that looks at maximum possible angle for a milk carton to lean before it falls over. This activity has links to fractions, decimals and percentages as well as cross curricula links to science

Leaning of Life

Fractions (part of NS4.3  -but only really an introduction)

Egyptian Fractions

Geogebra Investigation – Roots of Multiplicity Ext 2 Polynomials

Rather than just guide my students down the garden path tommorow when we are starting the Polynomials Topic for Extension 2 Mathematics I have prepared a guded investigation in Geogebra that encourages them to make their own conjectures about roots of multiplicity and polynomials. Hopefully it will jolt their brains back into gear after the summer break (Yes I know it is still holidays – but we miss the first doulbe period of Ext 2 in Week 1 and I can’t get behind (besides they wanted to come in and promised me coffee!).  It will be interesting to see how this goes – Coffs High students don’t like not being told the answer straignt away! 🙂

Roots of Multiplicity Geogebra Investigation

Subject Selection in Moodle

A video explaining how I set up our subject selection process in Moodle using the Questionaire module. It saved us a lot of time!

Download video: MP4 format | Ogg format | WebM format


Assignment and Quiz in Moodle

This is the presentation I gave on the last SDD of the year.

Assignment and quiz no videos

View more presentations from Simon Borgert

Maths Extension 2 Using Technology Day

Conics Files

All ConicsGeogebra FileHTML Applet

EllipseGeogebra File HTML Applet

CircleGeogebra FileHTML Applet

ParabolaGeogebra FileHTML Applet

DER One year on – a rant

Following an email from the HT English yesterday (@madiganda) in which she noted the negative attitude that Year 10 students displayed toward the use of the DERNSW laptops in a letter to the editor as part of their Trial School Certificate I decided to come out swinging…..

To me it is not unexpected that the students are commenting that laptops have caused distractions and are actually having a negative impact on their learning because generally as a school we are not using them properly yet. (Disclaimer – there are some teachers who are!). From my conversations with Year 10 students the sum of the laptop usage at the moment is to: copy notes down from the board into a “One Note”; access the internet for research; and play Mathletics.

While these represent a start none of them seem to promote higher order thinking or seem to be a change in pedagogy as a result of the DER program. In fact while the NSWDET has done a fantastic job with the introduction of the DER my only criticism would be that it gave teachers an out with regards the opportunity for a “revolution”. A common phrase bandied around is “the laptops don’t have to be used every lesson”, “we can do this slowly”…etc. While both those statements are true I would never have said them! It is the same as me saying to my students: alright you really need to do these problems by the end of the week they an essential part of the course – but if you are not confident then just do one (or none!) and that will be enough. Too many teachers in my opinion have latched on to the option that laptop use is optional.

The obvious answer is training of teachers so that when they are not confident they seek out support – with an emphasis on the teachers seeking the support. At present it appears as if there is an expectation that training be provided – but what in? What program? How? When? Who pays? (I know there is a DER PL fund!). In a reply email yesterday @madiganda noted “Maybe the kids don’t like it as much because it does require them to use their initiative a bit, to be self-directed and many are not capable of this yet – again, we need to train them from Year 7 for this self-directed learning.”. I think she is spot on – and not just for the students.

Teachers themselves need to become independent and self-directed in their learning of the technology – to seek out information when it is required – as it is required. Venture into the unknown – take the risk – challenge all previously held perceptions of how teaching is undertaken. Model being a learner to our students. Make mistakes – be a non-expert.

I think I understand the “softly, softly” approach that has been taken with regards the politics of education. But I do not agree with it. In fact it reminds me of a quote from Douglas Adams in the ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ : “utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”. Do we fit that mould?

One year on I think we should be focusing on the “revolution” part of the DER. And revolutions are often bloody. I for one have taken my gloves of – I will no longer accept the idea that technology should not be an integral part of all education – particularly when access issues are removed. Students and teachers must now embrace the opportunity. To steal President Obama’s famous phrase: “Yes we can”.

A future post will contain a brainstormed list of suggested activities that promote higher order thinking using technology.