Learning as Transformation

22 03 2010

I recently stumbled across a website which looks at the idea of “Learning as Transformation” and sure did hit the mark.

As an educator I find myself in search more and more these days for the  elusive “mark” many of us have been missing.
Every now and then I do experience a glimpse of it in a lesson which comes to life through a “spontaneous emancipation from mindless questioning to something real and meaningful.”
Somehow something happens in the lesson where both students and teacher find themselves deeply engaged in the content.

These lessons are far too few and far apart these days and I only wish I could make it happen more often.

Have a read of this site and let me know your thoughts.



John Coppola


Creating a culture of learning

11 11 2009

Can a focus on assessment for learning help change our learning culture and have a significant impact on learning outcomes? Check out the report below and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

click the link below to download the article
inside the black box – assessment

Why students don’t like school

21 08 2009

Just listened to this interesting discussion on Daniel Willingham’s new book – “Why students don’t like school” and made a crude summary of the points I found interesting below.
Much better to listen to the actual interview as my wording has quite possibly changed the meaning of a few of his points but here it is anyway.

Cognitive sweet spot – people like learning new things but only under certain circumstances. Learning has to be challenging but not too hard or too easy. Can be difficult to set challenging activities for a mixed ability class of 30 students that hit the ‘cognitive sweet spot” for all students. If activities are not in this cognitive sweet spot then is unlikely to be interesting or engaging for student.

21st century learning/skills – goals of 21st century skills are great but question is that the goals are not new so why is it going to be different this time. Has been tried previously and failed. Higher order thinking skills are important but are not new. Technology is a small part of 21st century learning. Major thrust is about problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration which is not new. Current circumstances make these skills more important than in the past for school leavers but is not convinced current models are the right ones.

Constructivist approaches (student centred – we construct knowledge by building on prior knowledge. Learn best by discovering and doing things and relating to prior experiences) – The argument seems to be that the learning should look like the mental processes but does not necessarily agree to this. Get into trouble when we use the theory to influence models of pedagogy. When we leap to the idea that we construct everything so we let the student do a lot of that constructing. Can be very inefficient to have learners discovering simple concepts and ideas. Whether we use discovery learning, guided discovery or direct instruction they are still constructing knowledge. Cannot have a ‘passive receptor’ of knowledge. It is possible to have very effective lecture style, didactic learning and possible to have very poor learning this way – just as it is possible to have great & poor student centred learning activities.
You can’t think critically about something unless you have a strong background knowledge. Back to basic vs 21 st century skills- need them both – need a good knowledge of facts to be able to really develop higher order skills.
21st century advocates would argue that the balance has been to heavy around facts and looking for a better balance.
The way that accountability has been handled means that examinations dominate the education landscape as the key accountability measure. These largely encourage learning bits and pieces of knowledge that are not integrated. Fact collecting and fact teaching.

Multiple intelligence – different people have different abilities – importance of goals in using multiple intelligence theory in schooling. Gardner says that just because there are multiple intelligences does not mean that you have to teach to them all in schools – depends on the goals of schooling – economic, self actualisation, social etc. Eg economic – would not focus on all intelligences – self actualisation – would try and develop them all.

Can’t cover everything in schools – better to cover a limited amount of material and develop in students a deeper understanding of that material. eg maths – cover 6 or 7 topics and repeat them over 4 yrs. Better performing countries cover limited topics but develop deeper understanding. Procedural knowledge is developed in drill and repetition but students lacking conceptual knowledge. Once taken out of context students struggle to apply the knowledge.

Technology – will it change the way we think – Web 2.0 tools – the fact they exist will not change things – it will depend on whether we can find ways to leverage them in a way that is useful. Greater possibility for more interaction but someone still needs to know something – much more information available . Greatly increases the burden on the student to differentiate the interesting and useful information from the non-useful. There are more opportunities for learning – still need to be able to differentiate the information.

I think I expected him to be an advocate for technology and new models of schooling based on the name of the book only. It was refreshing to come across some ideas challenging some of the accepted wisdoms of learning and I am currently going through his website and digging up lots of other interesting stuff.


Children failing at schools but in reality is it the schools that are failing children?

7 06 2009


I have been following Sir Ken Robinson on “Twitter”.

For those of you who have never heard of the man then get yourself on to one his books or podcasts.

Sir Ken argues that the modern world needs to rethink what we are educating our children for. He points out that a many of our schools are still educating our children for the 19th Century. Sir Ken also highlights the importance of creativity and the fact that our high schools are teaching our students “not to be” creative.

Please do yourself a favour and check this page out. Click on the radio link at the bottom once you have read the page.

Click here to hear Sir Ken Robinson’s Reality Check interview

Challenge based learning

5 06 2009






There has been much talk about “Challenge based learning”, so I decided to have a read through the latest publications.CBL_Paper

What came through loud and clear to me is that learning is most effective when it is contextualised and relevant to the learner.

We have been trying to achieve something along the same lines through “Learn 4 Life”.

“Learn 4 Life” is a project based program run for yr 7 students in the 1:1 Macbook program at our school. 

Click here to see the video

The paper attached here has neatly structured the idea of “CBL” into Key Components which are;

The Big Idea:

The big idea is a broad concept that can be explored in multiple ways, is engaging, and has importance to high school students and the larger society. Examples of big ideas are Identity, Sustainability, Creativity, Violence, Peace, and Power. 

Essential Question:

By design, the big idea allows for the generation of a wide variety of essential questions that should reflect the interests of the students and the needs of their community. Essential questions identify what is important to know about the big idea and refine and contextualize that idea

The Challenge:

From each essential question a challenge is articulated that asks students to create a specific answer or solution that can result in concrete, meaningful action. 

Guiding Questions:

Generated by the students, these questions represent the knowledge students need to discover to successfully meet the challenge. 

Guiding Activities:

These lessons, simulations, games, and other types of activities help students answer the guiding questions and set the foundation for them to develop innovative, insightful, and realistic solutions. 

Guiding Resources:

This focused set of resources can include podcasts, websites, videos, databases, experts, and so on that support the activities and assist students with developing a solution.


Each challenge is stated broadly enough to allow for a variety of solutions. Each solution should be thoughtful, concrete, actionable, clearly articulated, and presented in a publishable multimedia format such as an enhanced podcast or short video. 


The solution can be assessed for its connection to the challenge, accuracy of the content, clarity of communication, applicability for implementation, and efficacy of the idea, among other things. In addition to the solution, the process that the individuals as well as teams went through in getting to a solution can also be assessed, capturing the development of key 21st century skills. 


The challenge process allows for multiple opportunities to document the experience and publish to a larger audience. Students are encouraged to publish their results online, soliciting feedback. The idea is to broaden the learning community and foster discussion about solutions to the challenges important to students. 

View  CBL_Paper 

I encourage you to apply  some of these ideas  to your lessons.

John Coppola

Learning Technology Coordinator

The Effects of Technology on Reading Performance in the Middle-School

24 05 2009




This article reports the results of a meta-analysis of 20 research articles containing 89 effect sizes related to the use of digital tools and learning environments to enhance literacy acquisition. Results (weighted effect size of 0.489) demonstrate that technology can have a positive effect on reading comprehension, but little research has focused on the effect of technology on metacognitive, affective, and dispositional outcomes. The study concludes  that although there is reason to be optimistic about using technology in middle-school literacy programs, there is also reason to encourage the research community to redouble its emphasis on digital learning environments for students in this age range and to broaden the scope of the interventions and outcomes they study.

There has been much discussion about this and I am sure there will continue to be much debate in the next five years.

The question we should be asking is, how well do you teach our 21st century students?

Perhaps a question for some of our resisters could be, how long can you hold back the tide?

Your comments are welcome!!

Click here to read the facts

Feedback – Yr 12 Examinations

7 04 2009

A recent discussion amongst KLA’s has been around the role of feedback in improving learning for our students. Feedback is a crucial ingredient for learning and we have been discussing the types, quantity and timing of feedback we are giving to our students. Some underlying questions for discussion around feedback are “Do our students know how they are going in each subject?” & “Do they get feedback on what they need to do to improve in each subject?” KLA’s are currently putting together ideas on the way they provide feedback in their subject areas and we will hopefully be able to link to those here shortly.

With Year 12 currently completing examinations Cathy recently shared some great ideas on ways to provide examintion feedback to students. For multiple choice, she has put the answers the students selected onto the examination and has included the syllabus area beside the question so students can link each question to the syllabus (see picture below). She plans to have students link future practice questions to the syllabus as part of their revision activities in a similar way.


This provides some great feedback for the students and the teacher as questions where a large number of students performed poorly can be examined as a class to breakdown any problem areas in exam technique or understanding of the content area. 

Have you got any other ideas on ways to provide meaningful feedback to students for examinations? Please add comments to this post and share your ideas. (A big thank you to Cathy for getting us started here!!)