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Learning is complex, but being part of a community helps it to be fun, collaborative and engaging. My own learning is greatly enhanced by the connections I make and the conversations that happen as a result. So how can we help students to create, connect and communicate effectively and how can technology help?

Conole and Dyke (2004) explain how collaborative spaces are most effective when the teacher has a clear vision for the use of and interaction with the space, so it is important that educators remain at the forefront of technology but with learning being the prime focus, not the app.

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Nearly 10 years ago Wallwisher was launched with the initial idea to wish your friends a message on their birthday wall. It was a carefree, simple space to post ideas much as you would stick Post Its on a poster to share thoughts. It was quick to connect and easy to use. You built a wall with a shareable link so others could add to it. Since 2012, rebranded as Padlet, it has much the same intention but with far more affordances. It is widely used in schools for sharing resources, generating ideas and feedback, for book reviews and as portfolios.

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What is Padlet?

Padlet is an online collaborative space to display ideas visually or to share information and communicate together. In its simplest terms, it is a digital pinboard on which to post thoughts and ideas on electronic sticky notes. It is a free app, accessible online or on mobile devices, making it an app of choice for many educators. It is easy to set up and versatile in its uses, and appropriate for all ages. You can find Padlets about using Padlet online to demonstrate the multitude of situations it can be used for. Setting up is simple and straightforward, connecting to your Google account, Facebook or email so that posts are personalised rather than anonymous. You can customise a wall (Padlet) to match your intentions, adding a specific URL for ease of sharing with your students and establish a format for the wall as a grid, stream, canvas or shelf. These can be changed at a later date should you wish although it is worth noting that shelves need a little bit more time to be set up and do not react well to change in format.

What are the affordances of Padlet?

Affordances, according to Gaver (1991), are “properties that are compatible with other’s actions” and specify “what it offers, good or ill”. In other words, what can a particular technology bring to education that works in conjunction with their existing environment, ideas or context? When choosing an app or tool we need to be aware of both its affordances and its constraints in order to make appropriate choices about its inclusion to enhance learning. With this in mind, here are some of the positive affordances of Padlet in my experience:

  • Quick to set up
  • Free, available on IOS, Android and through a web browser
  • Simple walkthrough to signup and login
  • Clear sidebar to set up a board
  • Unlimited wall space and boards
  • Themes and backgrounds available with options to add own
  • Easy for participants to engage and participate
  • Privacy and moderation settings
  • 5 formats to choose from: grid, wall, stream, shelves and canvas
  • Visual and personalised
  • Reaction choices – like, vote, star, grade
  • Dashboard for easy retrieval and tracking participation and activity
  • Uploads images, audio, video and text files to posts

What are the constraints?

Conversely, an app or digital tool may also have negative affordances or constraints. These, in turn, may require greater instruction to guide the learner or may take time to navigate. Here are some of the negative affordances of Padlet:

  • Requires internet connection
  • Can be overwhelming and cluttered if no structure used
  • Size of Padlet board may mean some posts go unnoticed
  • Takes time to set up, especially if using shelves for a whole class
  • If users haven’t logged on, posts are anonymous
  • Moderation can be time-consuming, no immediate response
  • Reactions need to be considered for their purpose and inclusion
  • Unwanted or unkind comments if board is not private

Clearly, Padlet has many positives and negatives to consider. When we select a tool to use in the classroom we should choose it because it will enhance the learning. So how can Padlet be used in education?

What makes Padlet such a popular app in schools?

Padlet’s beauty is in its flexibility and it is the educator’s (or author’s) imagination that determines the way a Padlet could be used. Many teachers use it as a space to discuss, debate book reviews, to post resources or to share ideas. Padlet allows users to upload and share images, files, links, videos and audio, using the webcam to take photos. Each attachment loads and views easily. Its simplicity and intuitive use make it immediately usable in the classroom; share a link to the board and the learning starts. There is no need to explain or instruct in most situations, as long as the teacher has a clear vision for the task created.

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How can it be used to enhance student learning?

I use Padlet in many contexts, but the most transformative has been using a class board to track individual progress during a unit of work. I set up a Padlet using the shelves format with student names at the top. Students can add posts as the unit progresses and see their peers’ work at the same time. I use the space to consider their organisation, offer feedback and track development and skills shown. It also serves as a space for students to reflect on their work. Padlet allows students to see other responses immediately and so they can interact with others’ posts, sharing feedback, ideas or comments. A new feature added recently is for participants to be able to react to posts. These reactions can be chosen before or during an activity and give the teacher the option for students to like, star, grade or vote up a post. This can be engaging for students, especially in today’s “like” society, but care needs to be taken when selecting this option and having a clear rationale for their use and timing.

Other ways Padlet is used in my school, are for book reviews and recommended reading, curating resources, visible thinking routines and sharing essays as podcasts for critical feedback. There are many ideas online on innovative ways to use Padlet. One of the most extensive by Anissa Labrador documents 100 ways to use Padlet.

Stephanie Thompson, an elementary teacher in Singapore, asked her Grade 4 students to share their artwork on the book they were reading and used Padlet to ask provocative questions like “Is it ever acceptable to lie?

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In Middle School, Angie Erikson asks students to upload audio recordings of their personal essays to a private Padlet, much like a podcast, to connect the listener to the individual. In turn, they provide critical feedback to guide the writer in refining their work.

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Lipponen (2004), explains that collaboration is important for peer interactions and shared learning. Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) assists learning through social interaction. Encouraging students to engage with the technology, to interact and create new learning builds these necessary 21st-century skills including collaboration, problem-solving and communication. Through active participation, Lipponen states that it is not only knowledge that is constructed but skills that develop the identity and future actions of an individual. Knowledge and learning are distinct entities with learning denoted by a change or advance in understanding. How can Padlet assist with this?

Padlet IB Econ recording thoughts and whiteboards.png  Padlet HS Econ.png

Andrew McCarthy, in IB Economics, uses Padlet to help students to sort information and resources working collaboratively to construct new learning with the materials and information discussed in class, setting up columns to guide students. David White, an IB English teacher, shares a blank Padlet for students to build their interpretations and comments on literature chapter by chapter thus creating a wide resource of views and ideas across the participants, sharing quotes, thinking and learning collectively to broaden preconceptions and knowledge.

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Web literacy is a basic skill required daily when reading, writing and participating on the internet. Students need to be taught how to navigate, participate and to synthesize information in order to make sense of it and apply it. It is no longer enough to be solely an acquirer of knowledge; one needs to participate to learn effectively in today’s connected society. (Sfard, 1998)

These skills can be seen on the interactive diagram by Mozilla on web literacy:


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By clicking the wheel you can see which skills are used in a particular activity.

Visible Thinking

In addition to assisting in knowledge creation, shared understanding and collaborative feedback, Padlet also affords us with the ability to see interactions, connections and visuals. The canvas format, as seen in the screenshot below, allows students to connect to others’ ideas in real time, expanding their thinking, much like a mind map but collaborative on a large scale. Of course, unless directed and set up appropriately this can be overwhelming and difficult to comprehend, as the example in the video below shows. A slight adjustment to the setup and organisation of both task and class channels thinking more clearly and understandable to participants. Harvard’s Visible Thinking encourages active participation to allow individual and group thoughts to be seen and accountable, debatable and therefore learning tangible. David Perkins (Project Zero, HGSE) asks whether students frequently ask questions, debate information and share ideas and understandings in our classrooms. Conversations and thoughts are lost and forgotten as time passes so how do we make this thinking visible? Padlet can document and visualise student thinking and become a space for learning to be revisited and reconstructed over time.


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Participatory learning

Padlet allows students to participate individually and collaborate as part of a group: activities crucial to learning and knowledge building. (Lipponen, CSCL). Similarly, Flipgrid allows students to build a thread of feedback and information depending on the task set. Through video, participants can respond to one another at different times and locations to connect and debate thinking and build understanding. Whilst Flipgrid engages individuals, not every student is comfortable seeing their face or hearing their voice publically, so Padlet allows the introvert or camera-shy individual the choice of a participatory method when interacting on a board. Over time students become creators of their learning not just consumers of knowledge, collecting and sorting information, ideas and resources on boards they set up. 

To survive and thrive in the 21st-century students need to develop their higher order thinking (Bloom, 1956) and in particular skills in analysis, evaluation and synthesis. CSCL helps students to connect and share their learning more visibly through spaces such as Padlet and in turn build these vital skills in a supportive and responsive environment.

How could you use Padlet in your classroom?

Please share your uses and ideas in the comments below.

You can watch my Padlet review below which includes many more examples and guidance in setting up and collaborating.



(n.d.). Retrieved from

Boyle, T., & Cook, J. (2004, 09). Understanding and using technological affordances: A commentary on Conole and Dyke. Alt-J, 12(3), 295-299. doi:10.1080/0968776042000259591

Conole, G., & Dyke, M. (2004, 06). What are the affordances of information and communication technologies? Research in Learning Technology, 12(2). doi:10.3402/rlt.v12i2.11246

Conole, G. (2012). Affordances. Designing for Learning in an Open World, 85-100. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-8517-0_6

Homepage | Project Zero. (2017, November 20). Retrieved from

Hopson, M. H., Simms, R. L., & Knezek, G. A. (2001, 12). Using a Technology-Enriched Environment to Improve Higher-Order Thinking Skills. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 34(2), 109-119. doi:10.1080/15391523.2001.10782338

Lipponen, L., Hakkarainen, K., & Paavola, S. (n.d.). Practices and Orientations of CSCL. What We Know About CSCL Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning Series, 31-50. doi:10.1007/1-4020-7921-4_2

Sfard, A. (1998, 03). On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing Just One. Educational Researcher, 27(2), 4. doi:10.2307/1176193

Strijbos, J., Kirschner, P. A., & Martens, R. (2004). What we know about CSCL and implementing it in higher education. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Tankersley, K. (2005). Literacy strategies for grades 4-12: Reinforcing the threads of reading. Assoc. for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Visible Thinking. (2018, February 26). Retrieved from


Art class - MS - Dover-34Art classroom, UWCSEA Dover, Singapore

What does learning look like in the modern classroom?

If you visit a classroom today, you may notice that learning is quite different from when you were at school. Students work in groups, collaborating on a document or slideshow on a laptop, or independently researching with the teacher circulating as a guide. Even in the last 10 years, teaching and learning have changed with the rapid advances in technology, and devices being common in the classroom. In UWCSEA, we are a 1:1 Macbook school and, in the 7 years I have worked here, laptop use, Google Apps (now GSuite) and the online learning platform Teamie have dramatically transformed the way we teach and how youngsters learn. In my art room, I may flip the learning and set a video task using Edpuzzle to draw out prior knowledge or to see what they can recall and apply. I use Google Slides and Padlet to share work as a portfolio of learning and to track progress, and Hyperdocs to set a range of content to support, satisfy, and stretch my developing artists. Across the school, learning is all around, as groups film or photograph, annotate a diagram on iPads, and it is visible on post its, anchor charts and posters, as role play or animation, online and on the walls. It is an exciting time to learn.

Learning from the past

But it didn’t always look like this. When I was at school we sat in rows, listened to the teacher, worked through sheets or books and produced set tasks for marking. There was no one to one conference about my prior knowledge and skills, this was assumed. There was no group work or collaboration, only individual work, theories, books, and it was content driven. My learning centred around the acquisition of knowledge and skills.

All learners want to be engaged, to understand the reason for the learning and to apply the knowledge. I recall being around 17 years old, enthralled on a geography field trip, immersed in the physical attributes of the rugged coast of southern England, up close and in context. Again, in an English Language class, with an inspiring young teacher who connected us to foreign penpals by writing letters to share how we live. In both these examples we, as learners, were moving from acquisition to participation, and, according to Anna Sfard’s article “On Two Metaphors for Learning”, we would retain this new learning better through practical application and active participation. (Sfard, 1998)


David Kolb’s model of experiential learning is as relevant today, supporting students to apply their knowledge and understanding through hands-on, practical activities, reflecting on the process and experimenting. (Kolb’s Learning Cycle, 1984).

To learn we need to be actively engaged in the learning process whilst at the same time being aware of what and why we are doing it. This active learning, according to Charles Bonwell, of “doing things and thinking about what they are doing” is a fundamental part of learning, leading to greater student participation and retention. (Bonwell, 1991)

What is learning and what does this mean in the contemporary classroom?

Learning is the acquisition of skills and knowledge, engaging in the content and the ability to apply this to new contexts and tasks.

John Hattie states in the Science of Learning that “learning must be embedded in something worth knowing”. (Hattie, 2016) Students need to understand the relevance of the knowledge, skill or understanding so that they can make sense of it in relation to their own lives.

concept based learning TPACK

At UWCSEA we frame our teaching around Lynn Erickson’s concept-based learning and, as digital literacy coaches, we are using TPACK (Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge) to focus our conversations with teachers on how technology can make a difference in conceptual learning. (Erickson, 2014) Focusing on transferable concepts and the relationships between these concepts allows richer learning experiences to develop. In today’s classroom, integrating technology as a tool to enhance learning, not as a substitution, transforms the learning in a way not possible before. (Puentedura SAMR, 2009)

How has it changed? The changing face of teaching and learning

In the modern classroom, learning is still centred around the acquisition of skills and knowledge, but also experiencing this in an understandable context to fully comprehend the meaning and reason for this learning. Schools have embraced students’ preferred style of personal learning through videos, utilising Kahn academy, YouTube and TED talks to immerse students in the learning. Engaging with real-world contexts aids understanding and technology can bring the world into the classroom through examples such as Skyping experts and visiting online galleries and museums. Learning for today’s students is no longer a lonely existence but involves group work and collaboration. Connecting with others both in the classroom and outside develops skills in communication but can also open up thinking and see the learning in a different context. Collaborations are commonplace with the ease of Google Suite, online software such as Mindmeister and learning platforms like Edmodo or Teamie. As described by AJ Juliani in his book Empower with John Spencer, the teacher should now be more of a guide on the side, giving up power and control to allow students to own their learning. (Juliani, 2017)

Making it stick. How can contemporary learning be realised?

It is important to remember that effective learning stems from good teaching and this does not change no matter what the new app, device or strategy is. We often hear that the best app is still the teacher, especially in a technology-enhanced classroom.

Pedagogy is important, as is knowing your students’ needs and accessing their prior knowledge. Teachers must be adaptable and willing to embrace change to transform learning yet retaining its’ relevance.


Whether using the lens of concept-based learning, the framework of TPACK, SAMR or RAT (Hughes, Thomas and Scharber, 2006) or the new most favoured pedagogical swing, students’ needs, both now and in the future, should be at the centre of the choices teachers make. We should ensure that students are involved in the process and that real-world examples provide relevance to their learning for greater engagement, motivation and retention. In an ideal world, developing individualised learning would ensure each student learns in their preferred style whilst accessing their interests and prior knowledge and skills. Leveraging our experiences with technology and how it can transform learning should be a shared experience, where teachers learn from other teachers. Technology can ease this through online communities such as Twitter to share best practice and practical application.

Keeping up with all the latest apps is not always the best route towards realising an effective learning environment, as the focus should always be on the learning, not the technology.

What will be the next big thing in education, what new strategy or innovation will shape the next decade of learning? What will tomorrow’s classroom resemble and what difference will it make to the way we learn?

Tomorrow’s World?

Top 10 skills 2020

In the near future, students will need to navigate a rich tapestry of opportunities where technology competence is crucial. Digital literacy will be on a par with reading. The World Economic Forum published an updated list of the skills necessary for 2020 including complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity at the top. We need to be teaching students how to learn more independently through active participation and divergent thinking. (World Economic Forum, 2016)

In Future-oriented Education by Marc Prensky, Prensky talks about these same skills required, viewing technology as the “new foundation of education”. (Prensky, 2013) In a previous article “Shaping tech for the Classroom” (Edutopia, 2005) he discusses that instead of “doing old things in new ways’ teachers work towards doing “new things in new ways”, developing innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Already AR and VR are leading the way forward with immersive technology bringing together the digital and the physical world. It is our responsibility to prepare our students for a world that we do not know and for jobs which we cannot imagine by building resilient, motivated and creative thinkers.

How are you preparing your students for tomorrow’s world?


Visual note from Marc Prensky’s Shaping Tech for the Classroom by Nicki Hambleton



Bonwell, C. C., & Sutherland, T. E. (1996). The active learning continuum: Choosing activities to engage students in the classroom. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 1996(67), 3-16. doi:10.1002/tl.37219966704

Erickson, H. L., & Lanning, L. A. (2014). Transitioning to concept-based curriculum and instruction: How to bring content and process together. Corwin, a SAGE Company.

Hattie, J. A., & Donoghue, G. M. (2016, August 10). Learning strategies: A synthesis and conceptual model. Retrieved from

Hughes, J., Thomas, R., & Scharber, C. (2006, March 19). Assessing Technology Integration: The RAT – Replacement, Amplification, and Transformation – Framework. Retrieved from

Kolb, D. (2000). The Process of Experiential Learning. Strategic Learning in a Knowledge Economy, 313-331. doi:10.1016/b978-0-7506-7223-8.50017-4

Prensky, M. (2005, December 02). Shaping Tech for the Classroom. Retrieved from

Ruben, A. (n.d.). SAMR: A Brief Introduction. Retrieved from

Sfard, A. (1998, 03). On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing Just One. Educational Researcher, 27(2), 4. doi:10.2307/1176193

Spencer, J., & Juliani, A. J. (2017). Empower: What happens when students own their learning. IMpress.

Teaching effectively with technology: TPACK, SAMR, RAT. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Written by Jenny Soffel, Website Editor, World Economic Forum. (n.d.). What are the 21st-century skills every student needs? Retrieved from


Mission possible

Posted: September 24, 2017 in The Networked Educator


SShh! Geniuses at work

The time: 9:50-10:15am every Friday

The place: The Ideas Hub, UWCSEA Dover, Singapore

The Mission: to work on a personal creative project

If you had 1 day a week to do what you like and to be creative what would you do? What about 1 hour or even 20 minutes each week? Students at UWCSEA in a Grade 6 advisory group every Friday are engrossed in planning something creative, something fun and above all self-driven.

So how do we structure the time to best help our students delve into their area of choice? How can we make the best use of the resources and time to authentically investigate and make?

Jacqui Benson is a Middle School Maths teacher, a creative thinker and enthusiastic maker. With an underused facility open to students during the school day, an ideal opportunity dawned on her and she shared this with her new  22 x 11 year olds during the first few weeks of term. Hearing about this I was keen to join in and, having read Spencer and Juliani’s book Empower over the summer, the opportunity to truly empower students with choice seemed perfectly timed.


Mad ideas or bad ideas

A moving car, robots, sewing, LittleBits, and banning plastics. These are just a taster of the projects our group are investigating each Friday morning.

Further down the school, iTime is a part of their working week, where primary students visit the Ideas Hub with their class teacher weekly to work on all sorts of creative projects. But, as students get older and move into Middle or High School, these creative personal projects dwindle and, for some, sadly disappear altogether. I have so many students (and adults) tell me they cannot draw, that they are not creative and don’t know where to start when given a problem to think about or solve. Yet creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving are at the top of the skills needed, according to World Economic Forum, to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution.

Having been a teacher for over 20 years, and valuing creativity above all other skills, I was excited to now see creativity and thinking at the top of the necessary skills for the future. Our roles as teachers must be to equip our students for this and it is all of our responsibilities, not just the art, drama and music departments. Thinking is involved in all subjects and in walks of lives, yet often an undervalued and tapped into skill. Being able to think and work creatively should be an integral part of school life.  Having trained as a graphic designer the Design Cycle is a natural workflow for me and it mirrors the way our minds need to work when solving a problem.

There are a multitude of methods, visuals and instructions for the creative process out there, from Spencer and Juliani’s Launch Cycle to Tiffany Shlain‘s 10 stage video, but the language and the sentiment are the same and always about generating lots of ideas. Often students (and adults) say they are not so good at this. They become fixated with a single solution and don’t allow themselves to wander into other possibilities. This is where creativity happens. Those what if and aha moments. You have to fail or at least produce bad ideas in order to take a new direction and then ultimately the good, and even great ideas follow.

But youngsters need help in getting there.

The Investigation


In the Hub, we are adopting a streamlined version of Juliani’s Genius Hour Blueprint. Genius Hour (aka 20% time, iTime or Passion projects) originated from the concept of 80:20 time used to investigate ideas not pursued in the normal working week. It became a time for individual creativity to flourish and for great ideas to blossom. From Google’s introduction in the workplace to personalised education and project-based learning, it engages and empowers individuals.

What's your passion sketchnote

What’s your Passion? sketchnote by Nicki Hambleton

The first session in the Ideas Hub last week, saw students heading straight for the woodworking area or trying out the sewing machine and playing with littleBits. But some were unsure, not knowing where to go, what to do or what to try out. These were the most interesting students, about to embark on a journey of discovery: clueless but curious. I asked lots of questions:

What do you like to do? What have you seen that intrigues you? What are you drawn to? What are they doing over there? What is your passion?

I am always thrown when I ask students what is your passion. Often they do not know how to answer this as they may not have one. It takes time to figure out what they want to do and sometimes they just need time to play to see investigating what there is and what might be interesting to them. Two girls wanted to continue their Grade 5 Expo project about banning plastic bags and were starting with a petition. I asked them, what do you want to achieve? What will success look like? Then what? They hadn’t thought much further than their original project and just wanted the time to continue it. This was fine, but I wanted to push them more creatively. I wanted them to think what difference they could make and what they thought that might look like in the context of our school, the community and beyond. It will be interesting to see how far they travel from their original plan. In the second session, we introduced the group to the next phase following their initial investigations.

The Pitch

The second phase in our revised structure is, for me the most exciting. Anticipating what different ideas these boys and girls have in their 30-second elevator pitch, I just can’t wait! Some will be very clear as to their idea, others very unclear, but, come next Friday we will hear them all, then open the floor to questions. This is an important phase as it can help the struggling ones to clarify their thinking and, for the fixated, blinkered ones, open their idea to other possibilities and directions. We aim to do this through a circle solutions approach with a follow-up on Padlet to pose and answer questions, and, if you like, with the permission of the class I will post the link here as an update next week. Please feel free to jump in and comment. I expect they will be secretly thrilled to have an outsider interested in their project at this early stage!

Purposeful Planning

Having clarified their idea it will be on to the main event: planning, more playing, experimenting, making, creating. Often creativity can be quite messy, figuratively or literally! But it always starts and ends up somewhere different, occasionally quite the opposite from where you originally thought. and that is the wonderful thing about the creative mind, how geniuses and, in particular, how young learners work – they don’t restrict their thinking or preempt the result. But even as young as 11, this utterly free thinking is all but over; the active imagination is closing down. Why is this? Why do we lose that wonderful freedom of imagination of a kindergartener? Do we lose it naturally as a part of life and growing up or do we stop using it or stretching it, like a muscle in sport, as the curriculum takes over?

Whether young or old, we all need to find time and space to work our creative mind, to activate our imagination and to allow bad and plain mad ideas to foster and grow. If you haven’t seen Elizabeth Perry’s Learning 2 talk “Play on” about her 10 minutes a day drawing practice, do watch it, and if you have, watch it again as it is a wonderful example of an adult’s journey into creativity and exercising the brain. It is also a great story of failing not failure (Spencer & Juliani, Empower) and about grit to deal with mistakes as bumps on the road of discovery.


Lightbulb moment by Maureen Barlin on Flickr

The lightbulb moment

As for me, I have too many passions, too many projects and too many ideas. But, if I were to choose one, it would be to do the opposite: To practice meditation, to clear my mind in order to be more open to alternative possibilities. To anyone who knows me this will be a difficult task. I have always been blessed with having a creative mind with tons of ideas (often too many) and to try to have a clear mind with no thoughts seems impossible! But we all need to switch off occasionally, and it was whilst having my hair washed yesterday at the hair salon, that I found, just like in meditation (and often in the shower!) as my mind cleared and I relaxed, I then had my best ideas, genius thoughts and creative possibilities. I had to concentrate really hard to remember them as the shampoo was washed away, not wanting my ideas to do the same! So, as I returned to the chair, excited with my brain’s activity under calmness, I quickly jotted them into my sketchbook.

What do you do to be more creative, to activate your imagination?

What would your Passion Project be?



It’s the start of the year, with new routines, rosters and rotas. With the new term comes new students fresh from Primary School and raring to get into the Art room at the end of a busy day of listening, learning and hopefully a lot of laughter. I want my room to be a refuge, a rare oasis of calm and happiness and above all a place they feel safe. I want to get to know them, all 247 of them, especially the ones I have taught before yet never truly got to know well. How does one get to really know another?

FullSizeRender 94

The first week meeting my students is also tainted with some sadness as I say a tearful goodbye to my eldest son, who departs for University back in the UK. It is with heavy hearts that, as parents, we have to finally let go and allow them to fly with their own wings, when really we just want to hold on to them for a little (or a lot) while longer. Do I know him well enough to know he will be happy, healthy and ready to embark on a new adventure 1000s of miles away?

Do we know anyone truly?

I first watched The Lab: Decoy last year and was intrigued by the concept. One man, 6 photographers, 6 perspectives.

It is fascinating to see, not only the skill and sensitivity of each photographer but how much the story influenced their portrayal.

“What would you like the photograph to say about you?”

Art expresses the heart and the none better than the medium of photography to capture more than just what someone looks like. Each photograph reveals some of the characters of a person through pose, position or emotion. Each photographer puts some of their own feelings and beliefs into their final chosen composition. My favourite part of the fascinating video is by far the grand reveal and the comment by the actor, “it almost looks like 6 different people”. How do people see you? How would you wish to be photographed? What story would you tell to help someone get to know you better?


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still from The Lab: Decoy


How do you portray someone through photography? As we embark on a digital photography project with Grade 7, their first task was to capture their partner and design a poster if they were running for student council. As they got underway, I overheard similar conversations to the video as students checked in with their partner as to how they felt they should be portrayed. Perhaps this is my first glimpse of them, not just as a person, but as a photographer.

“I want to bring out something of who you are”

How do we do that? How can art or photography capture the real person?

“A photograph is shaped more by the person behind the camera than by what is infront of it”


Grade 7 poster campaign

Getting to know you

Think about when you have met someone for the first time. How often do we judge someone by their name, looks or first impressions? Do first impressions really count? If this were true, some initial impressions of me might be that I am too quietly spoken, therefore shy or unconfident. They might notice that I am a good listener, so I am interested in them. But how much do we give away on a first meeting? When do you reveal your true identity, warts and all? When do I reveal that I am a tech geek, chocoholic, football widow and an introvert with wannabe extrovert tendencies? When do I share that I love being around people but also need peaceful time alone?


Photo Credit: Nguyen Vu Hung (vuhung) Flickr via Compfight cc

Introverts are perhaps the least well-known individuals and there will be introverts in your class – some obvious to you, some not. How do you sense them, how can you engage them, and how can you support them?

There are many articles, books and videos guiding us about introverts but here are 3 recommendations:

  1. Watch Susan Cain’s Ted talk The Power of Introverts
  2. then read her book, Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking
  3. finally, scan the list of 14 real life examples of extroverted introverts


Stop demanding group work
Go to the wilderness and unplug
Solitude is often a crucial ingredient for creativity
Own your intro/extroversion but delve into both

As I scan my 11 classes online, searching for any clues as to their inner personalities, one click takes me to their medical information, learning issues, contacts, siblings and previous attendance. But I don’t see what excites them, scares them, what their favourite sport, TV show or food is. I can’t access what their dreams for the future are or how many pets they have. I can’t tell if they love my subject or loathe the very thought of putting paint on a paper or drawing a plant. I can only guess their story.

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On the first day, Middle School teachers we were asked to write a short blurb, an introduction about ourselves, for students to gather together a picture of their teachers for their parents in the initial weeks of term – but what about their blurb, their story?

I wish I had asked them to write to me about what they would like me to know about them, much as a Primary teacher might ask students to send a postcard introducing themselves during their holiday. I wish I had the time to chat with each and every one about their likes/dislikes, life at home and away and to see where we cross paths and interests.

In the meantime, I have asked Grade 7 to make a Top Trumps card as an initial door into who they are as a person and an artist in my class. It’s a bit of fun but a starting point for discussions into their strengths, passions and Achilles heels! (If you don’t know what a Top Trumps card is, google it!)

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Will I judge them by their first artistic creation, or by their ability to complete the homework creatively and on time? What will I learn about them from their questions, their answers or their silence?

Could blogging allow their voices and their idiosyncrasies to unfold?

I have only one lesson a week with all these individuals – how can I use the time wisely to get to know them better?

How will you be getting to know your students better this year?

Postscript: Like to get to know you well was a hit back in 1985 from the fabulous Howard Jones, who is still creating, performing and sharing his passion today. I dearly loved his words, sentiments and hair, and I continue to follow his changing style and endless innovation in music and technology today.

What does Learning Look like Crazy 8

What does Learning Look like? Post it Crazy 8 thinking routine challenge by Nicki Hambleton

Think of a lesson you have been planning.

You might have spent hours putting together the most engaging lesson for your students: visuals and slides mapped out, handouts printed, you’ve planned fun and varied activities and you have probing questions at the ready.

You have taught this lesson a hundred times so you know the content well. But how will you know if your students have really understood and learnt anything?

What does learning actually look like?

I asked the same question to a group of educators at the Learning 2 conference, Warsaw back in April, where I was running an extended session called Learning and Thinking Out Loud through visual note taking and thinking routines. I used the simple routine Crazy 8, first demonstrated to me by Kelly Grogan and Ed Chang from the Chinese International School, HK at the iPad conference held at UWCSEA.

I explained that they would be drawing 1 idea per post it every 20 seconds (a feat most thought they would be incapable of, but weren’t!). Each idea drawn would represent what learning looks like. To show them what I meant, I drew a quick example:

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quick doodle for collaborative learning

At the end of the 3 minutes their ideas looked like this:

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Crazy 8 example doodles.JPG

We shared thoughts and discussed what they had drawn with comments such as:

“Learning can be messy”, “Learning is never ending” and “Learning should be fun”.


Photo from Learning 2 conference, Warsaw, April 2017

What learning actually looks like and what it should look like can be quite different, but learning out loud, making it more visible and tangible can aid further discussion and understanding of that thought process.

What would you draw for What Learning Looks Like? 

What alternative question might you ask in your classroom for students to draw their responses using the Crazy 8 thinking routine?


Photo Credit: Alan Vernon. Flickr via Compfight cc

When I was at school, learning was predominantly teacher led and all about listening, reading and writing, with exams at the end of the year. I don’t recall there being any student choice, collaboration or to that extent much fun, but that’s how it was.

In my classroom today, my students share that they are more empowered by autonomy and choice and, wherever it is possible, I try to include them in the planning process. But how do I know that they are learning or indeed, what they are learning?

You may be thinking that learning in Art is quite obvious as it is visual – a drawing, sculpture or painting. But how do I know whether they have truly understood the concept, the skill or technique? How do I know what is going on in their heads?

When learning only goes on only in one’s head we cannot see it, understand it or question it. We cannot track the thought process, probe into their thinking or push ideas in other directions. It is only when we get students to visualise their thinking that we can start to understand their processes, methods and see the way they work.

If you haven’t read the book “Making Thinking Visible” by Ritchhart, Church and Morrison or “Creating Cultures of Thinking” by Ron Ritchhart or devoured the resources on the website Project Zero and the Visible thinking routines, I strongly urge you to do so at you earliest convenience, I promise you will not regret it.

Project Zero began 50 years ago, led by a team of researchers including Howard Gardiner, discussing the cognitive skills needed for arts education and conceptual understanding through the arts.

You can find multiple, easy to use thinking routines through the website and many educators from elementary to high school use these to enhance and visualise thinking in their classrooms.

The best way to start is to choose just one routine and try it in different ways with different concepts and classes.


My most favoured routine is SEE THINK WONDER, which I use when introducing a new artist or art form such as installation art, when reflecting or giving feedback and when analysing or discussing artworks. During a discussion, it allows students to think more out loud, hear others ideas and to expand their own thinking. For Middle School art students it opens their minds at the start of a new unit and allows them to ask questions and wonder about the meaning or reason behind the artwork. In short, it gets them thinking more independently.

You can read more about the Making Learning Visible online course on their website and about UWCSEA’s group experience in a previous post of mine.

Recently I stumbled on a new routine, via Simon Brooks’ website called 8 to 1, where students whittle complex concepts into more manageable understandings, essentially by capturing it in 8 words, then 4, 2 and eventually down to one word:

1. If you were to write exactly 8 words that captured the heart of what should be remembered, what would those 8 words be?

2. Now that you have your 8, can you distill them down to 4?

3. And 2?

4. And 1?

5. REFLECT: Share your 8 words, your 2 words and your 1 word.  How did your thinking change?  What did you learn about what’s most important here?

Sharing their thinking seems to be at the heart of the routine and I see this as the most valuable learning experience for them. Brook posts a student example, below, relating to Hamlet’s speech but this routine could easily apply to IB Physics, HS Geography or MS Art.



How might you try out this routine in your class?

How could this help students to share their learning?

How does learning look different in other curriculum areas?

EMPOWER sketchnote

EMPOWER sketchnote by Nicki Hambleton drawn on iPad using Adobe Draw

Student choice is the heartbeat of ownership and empowerment

so what can we do to ensure this is integral in our students learning? How do you integrate personalised learning into your lessons?

Personalised Learning

Personalised Learning visual note by Nicki Hambleton using Adobe Ideas on iPad

The book has certainly given me much food for thought here relaxing in Italy, sipping rich red Tuscan wine and munching on sweet succulent tomatoes and bruschetta.

What have you read this summer that has changed your thinking?

How can you embody the ideas in Empower to help students own their learning?

What does learning look like in your classroom?

One of my goals for the next academic year is to build students’ skills in self-directedness and, to help this process I have been investigating Hyperdocs as a strategy to guide students through the unit yet allowing them choice and time for personal progression. Hyperdocs are a possible solution to personalised learning using technology to gather multiple resources online.


Hyperdocs are and are not



Hyperdocs, a transformative, interactive Google Doc replacing the worksheet method of delivering instruction, is the ultimate change agent in the blended learning classroom.

You can read more about Hyperdocs on Cult of Pedagogy or on the main Hyperdocs site. Have you used Hypedocs yet? How has this changed student learning?

I would love to hear about your experiences, challenges and thoughts on personalised learning, empowerment and any other ideas you have for making thinking more visible.

Please share your experiences and ideas in the comments below.

This blog post was a reflection of and in response to the powerful TED talk by Will Richardson “The Surprising Truth about Learning in School”.


Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 8.32.56 PMThe Creative Revolution – full STEAM ahead

First there was the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century with the mechanisation of the textile industry. Then, the second industrial revolution of the early 20th century leading to increased mass production and in the 1980’s the Digital Revolution was well underway, changing industry again. So what’s next?

Are we about to have a new revolution or is it staring us in the face? Could this be the Age of Creativity?

According to Sir Ken Robinson, “Creativity is as important in education as literacy” so what are we doing about it? (TED, 2009)

Ken Robinson Creativity

We read about the importance of STEAM and the integration of the Arts being crucial for holistic education, so why, in the UK, are creative subjects being cut from GCSEs and A Levels, including History of Art. (Independent, October 13th 2016) In fact, A Level History of Art will see its last students examined in 2018. In response, historian Simon Schama says: “Axing art history deals another blow to the creative capital of this country. Art history is an exacting discipline: to engage with it needs history, philosophy, languages, literature, tools the next generation needs.”

In the US, Trump proposed cutting funding to Arts related agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) (Independent May 1st 2017)

In Australia, over 50 creative subjects have lost funding for student loans including jewellery, circus and art therapy (Student loans cut to creative courses, Richard Watts, ArtsHub, 10 October 2016).

So instead of supporting and promoting more time and resources to creativity it appears to be quite the opposite.

Why is creativity so important to our future?

For over 20 years I have been promoting the benefits of the Arts and how the skills involved in our subjects go beyond simply being able to paint, draw, sing or dance.  It genuinely upsets me that students, at aged 14, can all but give up any form of creativity as they enter GCSEs. Even Group 6 of the IB Diploma is optional, where students do not have to choose a creative subject and can opt for another science or language for example. In my short video, prepared as a proposal for an ADE showcase on creative thinking, I highlight the growing trend away from creativity further up the school and how this skill is such an important life skill. A skill needed for a world that is rapidly changing, for jobs which we do not yet know and the obvious need for innovative and creative thinkers.

Being creative is not about being artistic, dramatic or musically minded. It is about thinking differently. Creative thinking is a skill that must be encouraged and taught through opportunities in every subject.

Tara Prendergast, in her TEDx talk The Creative Revolution, reminds us that we are “living in a world that is moving so fast and where technology is blowing our minds”. Being creative is one of the top skills needed to prepare students for this future. According to P21’s Framework for 21st Century Learning “A focus on creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration is essential to prepare students for the future.”


In order to develop this essential skill Prendergast says we should “build community and a culture around creativity”. So what does this look like in your school? What exists already to encourage and cultivate a culture of creativity?

How can we encourage creativity?

In Primary school, play forms a crucial role in allowing students the time and space to freely experiment, invent, fail and succeed.

The Kindergarten approach allows learners to develop as creative thinkers for a world that is changing more rapidly than ever – the need to be creative is imperative in order to come up with innovative ideas for solutions we don’t not know about yet. “We need to develop innovative solutions to unexpected problems that will arise” (Mitchel Resnick, MIT). In the same way that Kindergarteners learn, we need to continue this approach throughout our lifetime: experimenting, inventing, failing and succeeding. There is a genuine need to tinker and play in order to develop creativity.

In my previous post about Play, I talked about the need for students and adults alike to be more playful, to problem solve and thus more creative. But what about higher up the school? How can all subjects integrate elements of creativity alongside their content?

In the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, CREATE appears at the top, upgrading “synthesis” and leapfrogging “evaluating”, for we know that, in order to create we must thoroughly evaluate first. How do different curriculum areas incorporate this higher order thinking?


What do you do to promote creativity?

Taryn BondClegg, a 5th Grade teacher, recently posted about creativity on her blog, Risk and Reflect. If you are in Primary, I urge you to read this engaging post about her Creativity Thursdays. Actually, if you are NOT in Primary, I urge you to read her post! In brief, she dedicates one whole day a week for her students to pursue their creative passion or a creative project they want to learn more about. They select from “a menu of creative endeavours” each week and what Taryn noticed goes way beyond simple creativity:

Not only were students developing their Learner Profile attributes, PYP attitudes and ATL skills, but there was also rich, authentic engagement with literacy, math, humanities and science!

Whether you are interested in STEAM projects or just want to help develop curious and creative individuals, there is compelling evidence for teaching innovation and creativity.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Albert Einstein

Pete O Mara, in the Times Herald article on May 17th, 2017, states that “developing the creative mind has never been more important“. Why are schools and parents paying more attention to grades and assessments and such little emphasis on creativity and imagination?

“We place such a high value on intellect in our education and ignore imagination.”  (Pete O Mara)

Creativity in Education - exploring the imbalancePhoto Credit: Shakespeare1980 Flickr via Compfight cc

There are so many ideas for incorporating creativity, imagination and thinking, I found it hard whittling my research down to just one to start you off! The 3 Rules of Creativity by Stephen Guise on Pick the Brain, back in 2014, still rings true for me today and hopefully offers you some simple guidance:

3 Rules of Creativity

Rule #1 Limit your options and narrow your focus

Being specific about what your task or goal is will help focus your ideas. Too many options can be overwhelming so limit these so you can develop better ideas. Narrowing your focus can lead to greater creativity.

Rule #2 Believe you’re creative

Self belief plays a huge part in being more creative as it does in many walks of life. Believing you can improve is the first step.

Rule #3 Embrace bad ideas

By rejecting bad ideas you may be preventing a good idea forming. By accepting bad ideas are just ideas you might be able to combine them to produce a good idea.

Simple, right? You have no excuses – get out there and not only teach creatively but teach for creativity. (Quote courtesy of Sir Ken Robinson)

I’ll leave the last word to John Spencer on how creativity is tough. It is tough but worth it.


When we use the word play it conjures up lost days as a child making sandcastles on the beach or tents from sheets on a rainy day. It reminds me of free time, unrestrained joy and creative interludes in the drudgery of normal life. Play means fun.

If I use the word in the classroom, the atmosphere changes; students are more free with their experimenting without boundaries and restrictions. But often they don’t know what to do; they have forgotten how to play in a learning context. My students are Middle School but I am sure that High School students are the same. So, when did they forget how to play when learning?

Teenagers play all the time when learning a new video game, trying things out, failing, trying again, but they don’t equate the same when at school.

Being playful appears to stop at Middle School, perhaps as they may look foolish in front of their peers, are fearful of making mistakes or maybe they just think they are too old for play any more having transitioned from Primary School.

As for adults; we play even less when learning something new.

So who told us to stop playing?

Picasso stated that,

All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.

What is play?

The Oxford dictionary describes play as:

activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation, especially by children.

to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.

Play is a fundamental part of Kindergarten or pre-school, taking up much of these youngster’s day. Play is important to build imagination, collaboration and friendships and they are “developing their language, math, and social-interaction skills.” (Osei Ntiamoah, The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergarteners of Finland, October 1st 2015). Further more, according to her research study The Power of Play, “in the short and long term, play benefits cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development…When play is fun and child-directed, children are motivated to engage in opportunities to learn”.

But is play just for the young learners?


Get the Play-doh out!


Photo Credit: el genio del dub Flickr via Compfight cc

There is nothing more satisfying than playing with a lump of clay, plasticine or play-doh. At any age, the feel of the soft dough (and the smell) brings back memories of childhood and a uncontrolled time of wondrous abandonment! As an art teacher, my classes go quiet when clay is out and students would genuinely choose this medium above all others! But clay work higher up the school is far less used and painting, drawing and photography dominate our exhibitions every year. Other sculptural media feature but less so ceramics. Is this due to their fear of failure or just that we don’t allow them to play enough once past Primary school?

So how can we bring back fearless play and incorporate Play-doh into other curriculum areas?

In the Edutopia article “15 ways to use Play-doh in the High School classroom” (Carrie Wisehart, 6th November 2017) she reminds us that “Create is at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy. When students are forced to synthesize what they’ve learned and make a sculpture, they are doing some crazy critical thinking. Play-doh is a great way to keep students engaged, let them use their hands, employ creativity, and you can have a new and different form of assessment that is actually fun.”

We remember when we engage.

Real world play (a bit like imaginative play, make believe or role play) may well be the way forward for many of our older students. In the article, “How to bring Playfulness to High School students” (Zaidee Stavely Mindshift July 24th 2015) students are more motivated when faced with problems to solve that take them beyond the classroom walls. Arana Shapiro, director of school design at the Institute of Play, believes that “when you start with content, and then you think about play, you often think about a game like ‘Jeopardy’ and the facts that kids need to know. If you can really dig deeper into the understandings you want kids to have five or 10 years down the road, those are almost always real situations.”

Play lights up our brains

Elizabeth Perry, in her recent talk “Play On” at the Learning 2 conference in Warsaw, Poland, reminds us that almost all creativity involves purposeful play. She talks us through her own experiences of new learning and how she nearly gave up when faced with a failed drawing.

“stay playful by doing something badly, then keep doing it”

You can read more on the creative exploits and daily drawings of Elizabeth at her blog, Wool Gathering.

 MIT Mitchel Resnick


The Importance of Play

When trying out something new, play offers no boundaries and no assessment, allowing us the freedom to experiment to learn.

One of my most favourite TED talks, “Watch me play…the audience” shows Bobby McFerrin “playing” the audience as an instrument and tapping into their ability to learn music on the spot:

There is an inherent need for play in us all, whether just to let off steam, as an antidote to our stressful lives or as genuine therapy.

Child’s Play

Play therapy (for adults) is a thing. In fact, in the Telegraph article “What’s behind the infantilising trend for adult play?”(The Telegraph, 3rd March 2016) I discover there are “creative counsellors” helping clients to let go and revisit the footloose days of their childhood, playing with sand and wellness centres with therapeutic play practitioners. Husni Bey, founder of Creativity Unmasked, believes, “creative play can help connect us with the subconscious, free emotional blockages and develop our confidence, optimism, self-worth and personal growth.”


Photo Credit: ClevrCat Flickr via Compfight cc

We get lost in play and stop thinking.

Popping up in the UK are adult soft play nightclubs. The first, in Birmingham at Amusement 13, hosted a “Regression Session”, with bouncy castle, a lego lounge and ball pits and BallieBallerson, in London, boasts 250,000 clear glow-in the dark balls in its adults-only ball pit bar, pulsing away to the music!

That’s it! I’m off to bounce away my Monday blues- care to join me?


Some of the most popular buys on Amazon this Christmas were adult colouring books and board games. In our busy and technology driven lives these retro tools give us a well earned breather and a step back into how it used to be before were were permanently connected.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my devices but we need to strike a balance and games, books and even jigsaw puzzles are a nod back to the days of calm and uninterrupted focused, unstructured play.


Photo Credit: mondays child Flickr via Compfight cc

But is it just a fad or a need for nostalgia?

In the article “How jigsaw puzzles became the latest warriors in the battle against the digital revolution” (Telegraph, March 26th, 2017), Sara Allbright, senior buyer for John Lewis says, “People see it in terms of trends like mindfulness in a world of technology,” says Allbright. “Using things like jigsaws to re-engage and take a moment away from the day-to-day.”

What sort of play do you remember and what do you think of digital vs traditional methods of play?

Learning a new tool

Just this week, I attended the local ADE meet up where we were invited to play around with the relatively new tool Apple Clips on our phones. We were challenged to tell a story using simple images and video clips including natural, outdoor and close up shots as well as selecting from some quotes to include.

We had 20 minutes to collaborate with other ADEs, have fun and learn the tool. Chaos and laughter ensued. The results were hilarious, clever and downright silly (ours) but it took this unstructured play to let us loose with our creativity and get to grips with the app. Needless to say we will all be looking for ways to include it in our classes as a result.

Mark Anderson (@ictevangelist) has written a great post on using Apple Clips in different curriculum areas

100 day project

This week I decided to commit to being more playful as a result of this post. I invite you to look at the 100 Day project, which originated in New Zealand or follow the posts on Instagram. Participants sign up online (this year’s starts on May 22nd) and commit to posting one creative thing every day for 100 days. Beck, an art teacher colleague, and I decided to both participate so we can encourage each other and track our creativity over time, much like how Elizabeth first started her daily 10 minute drawings.

Watch this space for the final (100) artworks.

What would you choose to do creatively daily for 100 days?

What would you like to pursue to bring back the child like playfulness in you?

What ways can you bring play into your classroom?

36599215214_dfaad3eda7_kMy Desk – tradigital tools

Digital Tools across the decades

What were the first digital tools you used?

How has your practice changed over the years because of the digital tools available to you?

What will be the next transformative tool we cannot imagine teaching without?

Here, created using Knight Lab Timeline is an interactive visual documenting a selection of the tools I have used professionally and personally. Scroll to the right to follow the timeline or click the arrow to navigate.

(Currently, the embed code isn’t working so please click the link below)

What is your most frequently used digital tool?

Which could you not do without?

If you want to make your own timeline the website is very easy to follow, and there are many tutorials online.

They also make very nice Story Maps, check out this one on Hieronymus Bosch

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What if…

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All drawings made with Adobe Draw and Adobe Capture. Animations made on Brushes and Keynote. Credits to Dave Caleb for the family photographs towards the end.


What if JK Rowling had stopped believing in her story when she was rejected by 12 major publishers?

What if Walt Disney stopped creating when he was fired because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas“?

and what if underdog Eddie the Eagle Edwards had given up on his inconceivable dream of Olympic glory in ski jumping?

But they didn’t – why was that?

Because they were passionate about their work, it mattered to them and they were determined to carry on

But what if you’re not passionate about something and you still have to do it? What then? 

How do you motivate the unmotivated?

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As parents you might give extra pocket money incentives or take away privileges, and as teachers you might have used rewards or punishments, but, according to Dan Pink, these carrots and sticks just don’t work. Not in business or in education.

You are more likely to stick at something and be better at it, if you are intrinsically motivated.

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and it is Autonomy, Purpose and Mastery that drive us.

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But what about the individuals, the unmotivated ones?

Luca is a fun loving guy who loves music, art and gaming and, as a typical teenager he is easily distracted from work by playing games with his friends, watching wrestling and funny videos. But he was getting frustrated with the challenges he was facing with his cognitive skills and, like so many of us, needed regular support and feedback.

So I showed him Peak on my phone, an app that levels up your brain, using games that challenge and motivate to build Focus, Memory, Problem Solving and Mental Agility

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soon he was showing Progress and improvement and this was having a positive effect on his cognitive skills.

Further up the school the fun element sometimes gets lost and curriculum content takes over. Piers is a creative thinker, musician, filmmaker and, no surprises, a gamer. He will commit days to edit a film, practice for hours on his guitar and while away time perfecting his driving skills in Euro Truck Simulator! But he is not so motivated when it comes to revising. With just one month to go before his final IB exams and university offers to study Film making, he has purpose but has he got the drive?

He uses Quizlet and flashcards to study?/review key concepts, but how can he motivate himself to revise Hamlet’s monologues or molecular Biology? So we looked at sketchnotes as a way to map his thinking and and he started to plan some of his own.

Just as mnemonics, narrative and songs help us remember, adding visuals to text (dual coding) and connecting new learning will help to retain memory.

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We are more motivated when we have freedom and choice, so what if we could have more autonomy in our learning?

Richard loves sport and is a keen footballer, but he’s a little overweight, has high blood pressure and a bit of a weakness for beer! He uses the Activity app on his watch to track his runs, distance on the pitch and general fitness and, like Peak, it shows him small measurable progress that motivates him to keep improving.

But unlike Richard I am not motivated by competition and leaderboards, in fact I am more likely to swap the gym for a packet of Maltesers! But I am engaged by games (Luca), passionate about visuals (Piers) and driven by small measurable successes (Richard).

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I use WaterMinder which visually (and audibly) reminds me to drink more each day and tracks my progress to keep me hydrated

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and recently I was introduced to Zombies, Run; a fun fitness app that relays an engaging story as you collect items and walk or run away from the zombies – this might just be the motivation I need to get fit.

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Now if only I could find an app to gamify report writing!

So how might you motivate the unmotivated? Could technology the magic trick you are looking for?

Understanding what drives us works, as it did for Luca, Piers and Richard. And the reason I know this? is because these aren’t just anyone’s family – they’re my family and my motivation. What I see in my family, I also see in my students, and every day is an opportunity to help others to drive and motivate themselves, whether a future blockbusting screenwriter or a regular 7th grade guy.

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Get rid of those carrots and sticks and try some motivation magic, then perhaps it won’t be game over for you or your students just yet.

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and if you want to see the live video here is the link on YouTube

Visible Thinking

Posted: October 2, 2016 in Visual Thinking

New Year New Learning

Around 5 years ago I stumbled on the work of Ron Ritchhart through my Vice Principal Paul Brogden, an avid fan and user of the Thinking Routines. I devoured the book, “Visible Thinking” and pored over the HGSE website, specifically Project Zero, wondering how I had ever lived, let alone taught before knowing this! Testing out some of the routines was a start and, as most new learners, I began with one that fitted neatly into the curriculum: See, Think, Wonder. You can read all about the thinking routines at the Harvard site.


A team of 6 MS teachers from the UWCSEA Dover campus embarked on the online Making Visible Thinking Course from HGSE. We were an eclectic team of me (Art teacher and Head of Grade), a Head of English and Literacy coach, a Science teacher, a Language teacher (Head of Spanish), a Maths teacher (and MS Pastoral Vice Principal) and finally a Geography/Humanities teacher (and Curriculum Vice Principal). It was a great mix and we learnt so much about each other and the curriculum we have for our Middle School students.

The course is divided into 6 individual courses and each team has a coach who manages many other teams from around the world. We connected through the portal and comment and feedback on other teams which is wonderful. My art teacher friend from COETAIl, Matt McGrady first introduced the idea of the online course and he and a team from Abu Dhabi participated in this phase too.


The first course opened us up to the routines and helped us to navigate the site, sharing and posting about what we discussed as a team about creating a Culture of Thinking. Earlier this year, Ron Ritchhart published the book, “Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools” to help guide us in teaching students habits of mind for deep learning and to encourage collaboration and group learning to develop powerful communities.

Already, as a group we were collaborating online, meeting and chatting ad hoc and sharing experiences and ideas about our thinking as a result of the readings, videos and information shared. It was an exciting time. Time will always be a stumbling block for teachers and finding time to share and talk was always going to be challenging for 6 teachers in different areas of the school with varying constraints

As laid out below, the 8 forces that shape our classrooms are imperative in developing a rich learning environment:

cultural forces1

Fostering a culture of thinking resonated with us as we help youngsters navigate the complex digital world they have been brought up in. So much is done for them; an answer is just a click away. When do they stop to think for themselves? Do we give them thinking time on class when we ask questions? Do you give students at least 7 seconds pause time for thinking when you pose a question to the group? Which of the cultural forces most resonate with you? It seems that this course opens our thinking and help us to encourage others to draw students away from their comfort zone and to enhance their critical and analytical thinking more.