Instructional Media or “What’s an Overhead?”

Mobiles in the Mountains

June 19th, 2010 · 1 Comment

I noted that a number of the more innovative projects where mobile phones are used (mobile, by the way, is the term used almost everywhere but North America) is in Australia, from the list we were given for this analysis. I immediately keyed in on Jarrod Robinson’s wonderful class records of their trip to Victoria’s Grampian Mountains National Park. Australia is a geographic wonder, and a short (sometimes very long!) drive in any direction often leads one to very unique environments in which to explore and learn.

Wow! The Grampians (named after a range of mountains in the highlands of Scotland) are an incredibly unique geological feature of the Victorian landscape, and one of the many reasons I really liked this project was my personal familiarity with the area. We lived in Victoria in 2007 and as as family, we took four trips to the Grampians combined, due to its unique environment. Ironically, it was 6 months into our year in Australia before I encountered a wild kangaroo. That happened on my first visit to The Grampians, where hundreds wandered freely in the bush and in the villages, like the Joey pictured above. Students grasp the unique connections between the geography and biology of a place when they are evident firsthand.

Every school child in Australia has an equal opportunity to go to “school camp” and my youngest son spent his week in the Grampians on a similar trip to the one featured in Robinson’s Victorian Certificate of Education Year 11 Outdoor and Environmental Studies Trip. This course is one of the courses that can be taken for high school completion for year 11 in Victoria.

Robinson’s classes recorded audio blogs during the experience, captured photographs, and then created Slideshare Presentations to synthesize their learning after the trip, which are embedded in the class Blog page.

Coincidentally, our school trip leaves Monday morning for a cultural and historical learning experience in Quebec City, a UNESCO world heritage site and the only walled city in North America. Students “peuvent pratiquer le français” and be immersed in “the joie de vivre” of Quebec. We’ll be broadcasting live fom my iPhone back to the school on

I contacted Robinson in a variety of ways, knowing that he is in the middle of report writing mode at the school year’s halfway mark in Victoria, an extremely challenging and difficult element of the Victorian school teacher’s job. He acknowledged my inquiry on Facebook and then later, answered the edited questions I posed:

  1. How did you mange to convince the Principal/Headmaster to allow the use of phones by students?
  2. Were there any other policy obstacles you had to overcome before doing this?
  3. What was the parental reaction to  this project?
  4. Were there any other challenges (technical or otherwise) that you had to deal with?
He replied this way:
  1. In order to convince the principal I showed her the actual software and idea in action. She was then in a position to see the potential and realise how valuable it would be for the learning experience. She gave me permission to trial it as long as it was under the direct supervision of myself.
  2. Our school policy at the time was against use of mobile phones within class. This trial was an exception to see just how they could be used for good.
  3. The parental reaction was quite positive, parents were able to log onto the website and listen to their kids blogs as they were happening. The students reactions were only temporary, the students thought it was cool but in the end their mobile phones are everyday items to them. I didn’t expect them to make a fuss over what they see is normal technology. As teachers we shouldn’t expect them to think these sorts of things are amazing….because in our students world’s…they are just normal…
  4. The only potential challenge I faced was ensuring that all students had access to a mobile phone. So before deciding on the project I surveyed students to find out the data and then based my decision on this. It turned out that all students did have access, which meant I could safely go ahead with the project.
A point that emerges from Robinson’s use of mobile phones in class is that, when phones are banned, they become a clandestine tool for mischief by students intent on circumventing the rules. Outside of the supervision of teachers, they will be used for purposes that easily slip towards the lowest common behaviour. When they are embraced as a learning tool, as a means to document and describe learning, then most students understand the purpose and the expectations and rise to the challenge. There is a lesson here for reluctant adopters of mobile phone technology in their programs.

Jarrod Robinson also has an excellent, award winning Blog in which he records other innovative methods for using technology in Physical Education, Outdoor Education, and Environmental Studies, all areas in which I have a great interest. He also presents at various Australia conferences and his innovative integration of technology into his classes is noteworthy. I’ve added him to my Google Reader list. He can be contacted in any of the following ways:

Email –

Twitter – mrrobbo

Skype – robbo6486

Tags: Internet Tools

Web 2.0 meets Web of Life

June 3rd, 2010 · No Comments

The assignment was this: take an established lesson that you teach, and rewrite it to include a Social Network. You might envision how grade sevens could use Facebook to do their fractions, or perhaps how Twitter could be used to explore word usage in Language Arts (come to think of it, these ideas have the seeds of successful classroom learning activities, but I digress). This lesson took a standard summative assessment task assignment for Grade 7 Science in the Ontario Curriculum, and used a lesser know Social network, Edmodo, for students to share and evaluate their products.

In the Ontario Science Curriculum, the unit Interactions in the Environment includes the following expectations:

  1. explain why an ecosystem is limited in the number of living things (e.g., plants and animals, including humans) that it can support
  2. describe ways in which human activities and technologies alter balances and interactions in the environment

Using the theme of “Local Endangered Species,” students will gather, organize and analyze information about a local species under threat and create a mindmap using a Web 2.0 tool. They must then post their mindmap to the Edmodo discussion forum, and use a Rubric to checklist their own as well as some peers’ work, and add their comments too. The Mindmap should include information about: biology, habitat, local range, status, an action plan for improving the status as well as images, maps or links. Of course, students would have received direct instruction about mind mapping as well as introductions to the various Web 2.0 mind mapping sites before beginning. They would also require an introduction to Microblogging, specifically the use of Edmodo.

I experimented with three Web 2.0 Mindmap tools in the process, and these were invaluable lessons in themselves for assessing the strengths and weakness of various tools for school use. Mindmeister was the most flexible (it has lots of features such as links and images), Mindomo the most robust features, but with a steeper learning curve and was the simplest to use, and also yielded the plainest mindmaps due to limited features. Each has advantages appropriate for various learners and could be used to assist in differentiating instruction.

The choice of Edmodo as the social network tool was simple. I wanted a tool that I had limited experience handling (I tried it out with a few colleagues one day over a year ago but never in the classroom) and it also had limited features that would not overshadow the learning goals of the unit. The focus was on local endangered species, and peer sharing and evaluation, not the many features of a full blown social network. Click on the image below for a closer look at the Edmodo environment.


Edmodo Screenshot

Edmodo Screenshot

Before starting, I reactivated my Edmodo account and became re-familiar with the Edmodo environment. It handles simple posts (140 characters) but also handles embedded objects, like the Mindmaps I was going to create. I made three “student” accounts and a class group in which to work, and then set about trying the three Mindmap products. When I opened Mindmeister, I discovered a map that I had created for a previous Wilkes course some time ago. It was related to the same ecosystems topic so I posted it as my sample.

Teacher Sample

After setting up my student account, I set out to improve on the quality of the teacher sample and use Mindmeister’s full set of features. The results are embedded below.

Monarch Butterfly Mindmap

Jefferson Salamander Mindmap using

Hooded Warbler Mindmap using Mindomo

The Mindomo embedded Mindmap may not appear, so its direct link is provided here.

An added element for evaluation would be to include a Google Form for the self, peer and teacher evaluation, like the sample below. The form would include all elements of the Rubric as well as comment spaces, that correspond to how well each expected feature was done and the depth of research that was completed.

Example Google Form for Evaluation

Please email me if you wish to obtain access to my Wilkes Edmodo group and see how the embedded links and student submissions appear.
This is a practical example of the merging of Science and Web 2.0, and I look forward to implementing it with students.

Tags: Internet Tools

A sad day for Canada, a sad day for the World – Earth Day 2010

April 22nd, 2010 · No Comments

To quote Canada’s largest newspaper, the Toronto Star: “Earth to Canada. What happened?”
Once a leader in environmental issues, and now, the laughing stock of the world, Canada’s government marked the 40th anniversary of Earth Day today by…well…doing nothing.
In sharp contrast to the United States, which only a few years ago completely frustrated the rest of the world by its intransigence on the existence of climate change and other environmental issues under President George Bush, Canada once fought for and lead the western world on environmental policies. Canada’s leadership was well regarded, that is, until the agenda was highjacked by the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. A quick search of Youtube today shows that President Obama’s Earth Day speech has already received almost 8,000 views. It was notable in that he specifically challenged teachers and students to continue working for a cleaner, healthier environment.

And what was said, of note, by Canada’s Prime Minister? Nothing. Rien. Mr. Harper seems to have forgotten that our two nations share a continent. For years Canada battled with the USA over cross-boundary pollution. Now that we have a government south of the border that actually listens to and acts on trans-boundary and global issues, the Canadian government has taken the approach that all this is of little relevance, and the celebration of Earth Day is just like any unremarkable day.
And what kind of example does that leave our children? The message is clear. The environmental issues that the next generation will face just don’t matter anymore, and children might just as well learn about other things. The struggle of teachers to help students understand the challenges of energy, the environment, ecosystems, biodiversity, climate and health issues using unique teaching and learning experiences, both inside and outside the classroom, has very little support from the Government of Canada, and particularly its leaders.
It all seems a little hopeless. But just as governments come and go, teachers, and the children they serve, the ones who become the next leaders of the nation, will overcome the self-serving interests of present day short-sighted politicians and make a difference. The power of great teachers and engaged students is a great hope.
I just have to look out the window of my classroom and see the wetland that was saved by students acting united to force a government to preserve it for future generations. Earth Day reminds us that the power of a small group of educated youngsters, lead by dedicated teachers and other leaders, can accomplish much more than narrow-minded governments.
To quote President Obama, who inspired our school motto for the year: “Yes we can!”

Tags: Differentiated Instruction

The National Atlas of Canada

November 17th, 2008 · 1 Comment

The National Atlas of Canada

Having always had a fascination with maps, I immediately saw the potential for the National Atlas of Canada’s website in education. There can be found here more maps than one can actually study in a lifetime, due to the fact that the site has pre-made printable maps, in addition to user created maps on an almost infinite number of topics: history, economy, health, geology, environment, climate, transportation, population, and hydrology. In fact, only the curiosity of the questioner and the depth of information that one seeks limit the maps that can be created.

Therefore, if creative minds are the goal, encourage students to seek information about Canada that intrigues them.

Here is an example: Grade Sevens at my school often research Natural Disasters. Given a type of disaster, students could research the location and magnitude of a disaster such as Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Hurricanes etc.

Here’s How:

Go to the Atlas and pick: Environment-Natural Hazards-Tsunami.

Zoom in to an area of the country of interest. Click on Population overlays. Add roads or other human data. Centre the print area. Print a colour PDF for study. The parameters of the map are completely user defined.

Here is an example of the map created. BC Tsunamis Map

Pop-up-windows allow the user to examine individual events, perhaps leading to further research questions.


Earthquake Event



Cascadia, 1700






Latitude 48.5° 15’ 20″ N / Longitude 125° 00′ 00″ W



January 27, 1700



Recorded widely in oral native accounts and by geological evidence for subsidence and a tsunami along the outer coast; confirmed by a tsunami record in Japan. Extent of damage unknown.


Number of Deaths:

Unknown, native villages destroyed according to oral traditions



Yes (in Japan from tsunami)


Related Tsunami:










This data set may trigger further research, analysis and understanding. Students might compare events of different time periods, or at different locations. Or they could compare the relationship between two different disasters e.g. earthquakes and tsunamis. Perhaps their curiosity would lead to other types of creative pursuits, such as a podcast of a radio broadcast of an historical disaster or their own video on how to prepare for such a disaster in the future, or a brochure on the topic.

No matter what the end product, a student will have a richer understanding by using the creativity of the map making feature at the National Atlas of Canada.

Tags: Uncategorized