EduIgnite and The Mind Lab

The Mind Lab, Auckland, New Zealand

I attended my first EduIgnite event tonight, hosted by The Mind Lab on Carlton Gore Road, Newmarket, Auckland. If you ever get the chance, it’s well worth it.


These are held once a term, organised by Emerging Leaders of Aotearoa. The premise is that people give a 5 minute presentation, accompanied with a PowerPoint whose slides automatically transition every 15 seconds, about something that’s worked for them in education. There were people there tonight from primary, secondary and even tertiary institutions. There’s a mix ‘n’ mingle both before and after, with drinks and nibbles if you desire. Oh yes, and it’s free. It’ll only cost you a couple of hours of your time.

Some of the topics I listened to tonight included:

  • Student blogging
  • Focusing on the why of student writing in primary school
  • An educational trip around in the world in 5 minutes
  • The ethos behind the structures and setup of a new secondary school
  • The importance of embracing Te Reo
  • Giving teachers a voice in their PD and faculty work
  • Parallels between working in retail and teaching

5 minute presentations with short breaks in between, to allow the next presenter to setup, is perfect timing at the end of a work day. It’s easy to concentrate in short stints and it’s also interesting to hear snippets of different perspectives and activities that are occurring in a wide range of New Zealand schools. It doesn’t matter if those schools are not like yours – it’s the sharing of ideas and experiences that counts.

It’s all about sharing. The first time you attend, there’s no strings attached. Subsequent attendance requires you to either:

(a) help to expand the group by bringing along someone else

(b) give a 5 minute presentation

Fair enough, considering it’s organised by volunteers!

The Mind Lab

I’d driven past The Mind Lab often since it opened in the old Christmas / Party store at the top of Carlton Gore Road, Newmarket. I didn’t realise how big the place was!

It’s very cool!

Their website states

The Mind Lab is a specialist digital technologies lab teaching hands-on, practical classes and courses in animation, programming, game development, robotics, science technology and film for students aged 4 – 14 years.

School groups, private lessons after school, home-schooled students and holiday programs that cover a wide range of activities; there’s something here for every one, I’m sure!

  • robotics
  • electronics
  • stop motion animation
  • green screen filming
  • augmented reality
  • 3D printing
  • coding / programming
  • science principles

Team building for teachers is also available. I’m wondering if they’ve got an electronics course for teachers – I’d be keen to sign up, for sure! :)

There’s a ‘4’ in my age, but I still don’t ‘quite’ fit the 4-14 age range, dang it!

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Posted by on November 28, 2013 in Professional Development


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Android, Twitter and the power of your PLN

HTC One Smart Phone I‘ve finally made the plunge and moved to the dark side – switched to Android from iOS!


I’ve had two iPhones, but my iPhone 4 hardware was failing. The home button had good days and bad days. It was frustrating when it became unresponsive and therefore didn’t allow me to get out of an app! About a month ago the camera also stopped working. The lens doesn’t open nine times out of ten and when it does there are purple striations running down the image. Finally, the battery really was crying out for an end of life. So…after much research (phones, telcos and plans) I decided to take the plunge. Picked up my new HTC One last night. It was time for a change…


With some sense of trepidation I sent a tweet (@gadgetgurl42) announcing my move from iOS to Android and received two replies; @misterel and @qriaz. I couldn’t figure out why I had two different times shown. The clock was accurate, but the main screen was two hours behind. Since @misterel had tweeted that he loved his HTC One, I sought his advice. After nearly a dozen tweets over about half an hour, including @misterel sending me a screen shot of his settings for comparision, I finally worked out the problem; the time was right (clock), but the timezone was set to Australian Eastern Standard time. No wonder it was 2 hours behind NZ time! Doh! @qriaz mentioned that he’d also switched to a Chromebook. It’s a piece of gear I haven’t had a chance to play with, so it was a great opportunity to ask a question that had been bugging me about the hardware – do you always have to have an Internet connection to use a Chromebook? My early reading when it first came on the market seemed to suggest that yes, you do, so I wondered about the usefulness of using a device like this in schools. After a quick Twitter chat, it turns out that no, you can in fact use a Chromebook offline and sync to Google Drive when you’ve got a connection. I guess you learn something new every day!

The power of your PLN

All of this tweeting occurred around about 8pm, New Zealand time. @misterel and @qriaz were in the UK – the other side of the world. The chats, especially the one about settings on the HTC One, felt like synchronous dialogue because both participants were online. I could have learned the knowledge I gained last night from reading a manual or website, but why not tap into the insight gained from actual users of products in a more informal setting. So thanks, @misterel and @qriaz! :)


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A Teacher’s Use of an iPad – Example 1

Today was spent conducting 1:1 interviews with each of my tutees, Years 11 to 13. It’s a biannual conference in which students, parents and tutor collaborate on each student’s goals for the semester. Unlike other teachers, I don’t use a forest of paper during these achievement conferences; haven’t done so in years!


Simple – I’m more effective using digital technologies to help my organisation of resources and the same tech allows me to be more efficient as well.

Today it involved a two-pronged approach.

  1. Student goals were recorded in OneNote on my Tablet PC (I’m sticking with this for at least this year, rather than switching everything to the iPad, because my main tutor file is currently in OneNote anyway – and my typing’s quicker on my laptop too, to be fair…)
  2. PDF copies of goals were generated and sent to students and parents via email at the end of the day – this is where the iPad came into play.
Screenshot of the Notability app for iPad

Notability app for iPad

To follow this process:

  • Step 1: save each student’s OneNote page of this semester’s goals to PDF in the DropBox folder on my laptop
  • Step 2: import all PDFs from today into my tutor folder within the Notability app on my iPad
  • Step 3 (optional): delete the PDFs from my DropBox folder to save storage space (I’ve already got each student’s goals in both OneNote and Notability anyway…)
  • Step 4: send each student a copy of their Semester 2 goals (PDF) via email directly from Notability (and cc parents at the same time)

It may sound convoluted, but it’s not really. The whole process, at the end of the day, took me about 10 minutes for 23 students.

  • Each student has a copy of his / her goals for this semester
  • Parents all have a copy of their child’s goals as well
  • I, as their tutor and subject teacher in many cases as well, also have a copy of each student’s goals at my fingertips; laptop and iPad – I’ll always have one of those items on me, so the goals will always be within easy reach! :)

Compare this with colleagues who now have to manually photocopy two pages (the length of the template we used today) per student, distribute the goals (even, in some cases, to students they don’t teach) and have fingertip access to student goals for constant prompting and reflection – that’s going to take them longer than 10 minutes!

Enough said really! :)

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Posted by on July 31, 2013 in iPad


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A plan for applying the SAMR model to a Middle School ICT task

Page from my current Dreamweaver handoutI teach Middle School (Years 7-10) ICT and Senior School (Years 11-13) Computer Science at a New Zealand secondary school. On the back of some PD I’ve been doing with colleagues regarding eBooks, I’ve been reflecting on what I can do in my subject area if all students had an iPad in class.

I sat down yesterday and starting looking at my Year 9 Website Design unit. My initial reflections considered what seems to be working well and what still causes issues (I’ve been teaching the unit in some form or another for several years). Currently, the basic task centres around students developing a 4 page website on a topic that they have studied during the year (any subject). Software used is Dreamweaver CS5.5 and Fireworks / Photoshop CS5.5

Oh yes, and all this in one 40min lesson a week! :)

What currently works well

  • A lot of students respond well to my Dreamweaver handout (see image), which provides a step-by-step guide, including lots of images, regarding how to use Dreamweaver.
  • Video tutorials aligned with the handout are available for students in Blackboard as well.
  • It’s a great task to differentiate learning needs for students at the upper end of the spectrum. For example, I get extension students to write their code by hand, use HTML5 and Javascript, get them using external stylesheets etc.

What currently doesn’t work well

  • A lot of students still don’t get the importance of a website’s root folder, no matter how many times (and in different ways) I’ve tried to get this through to them. Spatial awareness or just plain poor file management??
  • A surprising ignorance regarding file types and file management by students.
  • Still a fair amount of misunderstanding by students regarding what actually goes into the creation of a website.
  • Still too much copying and pasting from Wikipedia etc, especially from less able students.

With these thoughts in mind, I placed the unit alongside the SAMR model of technology integration and came up with several conclusions:

  1. Creating an eBook in iBooks Author will allow students to have both text/images AND videos in one place – an improvement (for some students) on my current setup.
  2. I can get students working on an iPad up to the modification level. At the redefinition level, the iPad is replaced with other technology (see below).
  3. This may take me longer than I thought…

So, here’s what I’m thinking – updating my current website design unit by placing it within the context of the SAMR model.

  • Use a free online host and get students to upload their web pages and images here
  • The website is therefore ‘live’ and students submit their URL rather than (or in addition to??) a zipped root folder
  • Yes – need to test multiple logins at once onto one host from the school network though
  • Students use a wireframe iPad app to plan their page design. A way of increasing the emphasis on the planning process involved in web design, not just technical skills in Dreamweaver etc
  • Yes – could be a starter
  • Convert the current Dreamweaver handout into an eBook
  • ePub – can incorporate video tutorials with text / images
  • iBook – can include video tutorials AND reviews AND create an HTML5 widget of a project checklist
  • Yes – thinking iBooks Author at this stage
  • Current Dreamweaver handout (printed) is provided to students in PDF form
  • No, I can do better than this. May as well stick to the status quo of a hardcopy workbook if this is all I can come up with!

I still want the focus on students creating web pages from scratch rather than using a content management system. I want them to gain an understanding of what goes into creating websites, both from a technical standpoint and in terms of content (we also go over how to write content for the web – use of shorter sentences / paragraphs, sub-headings, lists etc to chunk content). I want to encourage creation over consumption and extend all students in the process.

If I take my current unit / resources I can try and create a more effective learning experience for students by:

  • Packaging how-to guides AND video tutorials in one place (i.e. an eBook) instead of having them as separate entities as they are now
  • Using the iPad as a consumption device – eBook
  • Using the iPad also as a creation device – wireframe app
  • Providing a real-world context for students in more than just content (i.e. they currently base the website on a topic they’ve studied in another class) by getting them to upload live sites. This will hopefully get more students understanding that images exist independently from web pages and the online host will likely have limits to file size – another important consideration I’d like students to recognise.

So there it is. My plan to improve an existing unit by incorporating two elements on the iPad (augmentation and modification – eBook notes and wireframe exercise) and use desktops in the computer lab to also tap into the redefinition level of the SAMR model.

I’ll let you know how it goes later on!

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Posted by on November 28, 2012 in BYOD, eBooks, iBooks Author, iPad


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Interactive eBooks and websites share common traits

Apple's iBooks Author for interactive ebooksWhat I’ve been up to…

Well, a long time has past since my last post, but over the past few weeks I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on iBooks Author, both in learning the nuances of the software and with an aim to help support colleagues create their own eBooks for Middle School.

Up until this week the only examples of interactive textbooks of which I’m thinking were the ‘Life on Earth’ and ‘The Beatles Yellow Submarine’ samples, both of which came out when iBooks Authors was first released in January this year. However, the newly supported iBookstore in New Zealand has a ‘Made with iBooks Author’ section, found in the non-fiction category, which I’ve found really useful. It’s a great thing to be able to view what others have done with this technology and internalise what we could do with it in our own contexts. Especially since the textbook category is still not supported by the NZ iBookstore.

Similarities between interactive eBooks and websites

Coming from experience in web design, I’ve noticed that a lot of the workflow and methodologies used when working with iBooks Author is very similar to that used when designing and building websites. A summary is below:


Websites use stylesheets and interactive ebooks use the layout panel.

Whatever it’s called, the result’s the same. Different page layouts, background designs and house style (for want of a better term) can be customised AND deployed from a central point. This greatly saves time in the construction of your document and any modifications to the design can be updated everywhere instantaneously. If your staff are familiar with the slide master in PowerPoint, it’s the same thing here too.

Asset Optimisation

File size is an issue for web page download times and eBooks. If a school went down the route of having all digital textbooks, consideration needs to be given to the management of these documents. If students have 6 classes, each of which has it’s own ebooks distributed, and only a 16GB iPad we could have a problem.

I’ve had it said to me that we’d just teach students to manage their documents; essentially get them to transfer files to and from iTunes when needed in order to save space on their iPad. I see two immediate problems with this:

  1. That’s just too much for some students (you know the ones I mean…11 years old and totally disorganised whether analogue or digital…)
  2. It’s actually a barrier when it comes to study. Students want need access to all available resources when studying for a term test or exam. Why should huge file sizes of eBooks prevent them from doing this effectively?

So where am I going with this? With the inclusion of video, audio and large images in interactive ebooks, it’s no wonder that the full version of ‘Life on Earth’ is over 1GB! Imagine if the majority of texts available to your students were that huge.

What can we do about it?

A lot, actually, especially if you’re compiling interactive ebooks in-house.

  • VIDEO – embed clips from external sources instead of including within the book itself. Sure, this means that students need to be online to view the material, but you may not require all students to do this separately whilst in class anyway. Use the YouTube widget from or head over to for YouTube and Vimeo options (I’ve also asked them for something similar with Educreations videos I’ve created – here’s hoping!)
  • IMAGES – regardless of your source, make sure you’ve optimised them before placing in the book. Resize the image in a program like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Fireworks first. Also, like web design, you don’t need to use the best quality images for books produced in iBooks Author. Viewing images on a screen means you can remove pixels and decrease the image’s file size (without becoming pixelated) and still produce a very good result. Remember, images for print need to be the best possible, but there’s a lot more leeway for the screen…

Chunking of Content

Content is king, but the way we present that content is equally important. I’ve noticed that some of my student handouts are not as suitable for an eBook as I had originally thought they would be.


They were written for print, not the screen. Like websites therefore, the use of sub-headings, bulleted lists and short sentences are often more effective in imparting content via a screen. You can still have your explanation, but in an interactive eBook this can come in the form of an audio or video file. Same content, just different modalities of learning being used – and that can only be a good thing, right?

What I’ve found is that I’ve rewritten some sections and culled others in favour of video. I’m still largely using resources I’ve built up over the years, but I’ve realised that a straight import from Word to iBooks Author is not necessarily the best thing to do at times.


Serif style fonts, such as Times New Roman, have been around since the earliest days of printing. The little feet (‘serifs’) that flick out at the ends of letters help to create an illusion of a line. This is useful when printing on paper, but it’s not really needed when reading from the screen; hence the proliferation of sans-serif fonts such as Arial or Verdana.

Think about that when working in iBooks Author. You can always change the template in the Layouts panel…

  • Use serif fonts for headings or sub-headings, if you really can’t do without them
  • Use a sans-serif font for your body text
  • Limit the range of fonts used to no more than three as using too many fonts can just add clutter to a page

Use Columns

In a number of free books made in iBooks Author that I’ve downloaded from the NZ iBookstore, I’m frustrated at times by the large number of ‘authors’ who have not made use of columns in the landscape template. In some cases I’ve switched to portrait mode, but that’s not always available.

What’s my problem you may ask?

A common trait with dyslexics is that they lose their place by the time they get to the end of a long line of text. Speaking as someone who experiences this, it does a world of difference on the iPad screen if you just allow even two columns on a landscape page. It’s enough of an issue to prevent me from continuing to read the text…

A parting word

An interactive eBook constructed in Apple’s iBooks Author is a document that is first and foremost designed for reading from a screen. It would be a shame if we didn’t consider the implications of this (exciting as these are) and simply produce a substitute for what every teacher’s already got in a Word or Pages document sitting on their hard drive right now.

Harness the potential of mixing different modalities of learning very easily in iBooks Author and remember that existing documents may need to be viewed in a more critical light and/or modified before taking the plunge into the exciting realm generated through interactive eBooks and iBooks Author.

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Posted by on November 20, 2012 in BYOD, eBooks, iBooks Author, iPad


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Why Blackboard’s MobileLearn app is missing the point

Blackboard LMS MobileLearn appDear Blackboard,

Can you please design an app that actually utilises the platform of mobile devices? Don’t just get on the bandwagon by rushing out a piece of junk simply to say you have an iOS app.

The problem…do you remember the children’s tale of the emperor’s new clothes…??

Yes, the app’s user interface looks ‘pretty’, but that’s about it.

Sure, aesthetics are important, but not everything. An app (like any piece of hardware or software) has to be functional too otherwise it’s missing the point! ‘Digital floss’ is a phrase that springs to mind. Or how about marquee text on web pages from the 1990’s?

If I can organise my Blackboard courses to adhere to principles of good web design – e.g. a student should be able to find what they need in no more than 3 clicks – then it’s NOT acceptable to locate this same content in the MobileLearn app with 7 touches? And where does this student see the content in the end? In a browser!! So why don’t they just go straight to Safari…??

To be fair, Blackboard have made a few enhancements since the launch of their first app last year. They’ve made changes to how instructors see content, but you still have to look hard to distinguish hidden folders from available ones. In some lighting conditions or when people are in a hurry, it’d still be really easy to miss and think that students can access content when in actual fact they can’t!

The one thing I do really support is the push notification. When an announcement is made in a course, your phone or iPad that has the app gets a pop-up on screen alerting the user / student to the fact. This occurs even when the device is in sleep mode.

So Blackboard, could you perhaps have a rethink about the purpose of your app? Don’t make students jump through ridiculous hoops only to end up in the browser view of a course anyway!! Make an actual mobile app. Redesign things from scratch and tailor it to iPads. Websites can do it (my own blog has a mobile-friendly view and a standard desktop/laptop view), so it is possible…!!

I don’t mean to be rude – I am, in my own way, actually trying to be constructive. It’s just that I think that there’s so much more that Blackboard could achieve with the MobileLearn app (and iOS compatibility in general!) that it’s frustrating when I’m left feeling let down – again – with Blackboard Learn. Has potential – will travel? Not at the moment, but here’s hoping!! :)

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Posted by on June 10, 2012 in Blackboard LMS, BYOD, iDevices, iPad, mLearning


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The difference between 1:1 and BYOD programs

1:1 or BYOD. What's the difference?

After a great deal of reading and investigating about implementing a BYOD program at the Middle School level, I’ve come to realise the marked differences between 1:1 programs versus BYOD programs. The differences are great enough that it’s important for schools to know which option they’re implementing as it can have a major impact on how technology can be used to support learning. It’s important that 1:1 and BYOD do not become interchangeable terms.

1:1 programs

The devices in a 1:1 program are owned by the school. Thus, not only is there are large financial outlay by the school before a program has even begun, but there’s the ongoing issue of maintenance and long-term IT support. Devices may need to be reimaged every so often (e.g. in a 1:1 laptop program) and the purchase of software is determined by the school as well. This could mean that in a 1:1 iPad program, for example, that apps are locked down and a highly personal device is not as flexible as it could be. Schools invest a lot of time and money in a 1:1 program, but is it worth it in today’s world of personalised and mobile environments? For me, a 1:1 program is a bit old-fashioned. It may still have a place in some situations such as schools where families do not have the money to purchase technology (whether this tech goes to school or not), but the writing’s on the wall. As technology becomes cheaper, accessibility of devices like iPads and laptops reaches out to ever-widening audiences.

BYOD programs

In contrast, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) requires that students own the technology. Schools have the opportunity to stipulate the hardware and / or software requirements, or they could embrace any piece of technology into the classroom. Arguments against BYOD inevitably refer to the financial investment needed by families and that this could restrict participation in BYOD programs. Arguments in favour of BYOD however often highlight that students take greater responsibility for their own technology rather than that owned by someone else (i.e. the school). Whatever the case, I think BYOD is the future. I don’t know about you, but the first thing I do when I get a new piece of tech is to personalise it. It may be to change the desktop background or set the touch pad buttons to left-handed on a laptop, or to set the home and lock screen on an iPhone or iPad. It doesn’t really matter the level of personalisation being added, just that it’s a natural part of what people do with their devices nowadays.

My earlier error in thinking…

Until recently I was thinking that I was looking at a 1:1 iPad program, but what I now realise is that I had combined too different concepts. It’s important to try and avoid this mistake. If the school owns everything, the school (and IT) ends up controlling everything. If the students own the hardware and software, there’s often a lot more flexibility in what can be done. The distinction between 1:1 and BYOD options is critical when thinking about the use of iPads in particular. The thought of schools stopping staff or students from downloading apps that can really make a positive difference to learning is something that scares me. It goes against the reasons people look towards iPads in the first place. For older students in particular (i.e. Middle and High School ages) their engagement in learning is often demonstrated by their interaction with technology. If they’re prevented from exploring the potential of new apps when they’re released and / or the benefits of iOS upgrades, then we really need to consider why…

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Posted by on February 25, 2012 in BYOD, iPad


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