Category Archives: Teaching

On Boys and Games and School…


Ali Carr-Chellman doesn’t have the strongest, tightest narrative or argument in her TED Talk on ‘Gaming to re-engage boys in learning’, but she does make some compelling points. In particular she highlights;

– the gender disparity around behavioural problem diagnoses and reactions

– the impact of a (growing!) absence of males from the primary school environment

– the marginalisation (or even exclusion) of children’s culture (she sees it as boy’s culture, but I think the same can be said of many cross-gender cultural interests… like gaming)

Her recommendations around incorporating ‘children’s culture’ into the classroom is a complete no-brainer, my only comment is that it still privileges the classroom – perhaps it’s time that we take the classroom into children’s culture?!

Again, her call for increased investmemt of focus and resources in gaming to capitalise on it’s educational potential is well founded. The same argument stands for investment in educational entertainment, something we seem to have got right here and there… but there’s still an awful lot of twaddle for kiddies on TV. Exactly how we make real change in the quality and power of education-focussed games is a tough one. Perhaps we will find that evolving tools and business modesl mean that we can get away from the very expensive publisher model that has created such high barriers to entry for game production to date.

An interesting extension of Carr-Chellman’s argument is that if we get gaming right and bring it into schools, perhaps we might spend a little more time thinking what more feminine gaming (educational and otherwise) might look like beyond unicorn raising and cake baking.

Visible Collaborative Thinking

"The drawings help the children look at each other's thinking."
Foreman, G. (1993) Multiple Symbolization in the Long Jump Project, in The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education (eds. C. Edwards, L. Gandini and G. Forman).

This comment struck a chord with me, as it so clearly highlights the role of what superficially looks like 'art' (meaning something to be seen purely as an aesthetic endeavour) within the Reggio approach. Visualisation of thinking can play a critical role in group work as a way for ideas to be externalised, shared, critiqued and evolved.

Children discuss their own work – both as they create it and afterwards. Their work becomes a point of reference for conversations with other children – individually and within a group. Drawing (and other 'artistic' forms) become one of the many ways that teachers can scaffold the kind of reflexive practice which builds into higher order cognition. This idea of externalising thinking also resonates with the 'embedded cognition' work of theorists like Andry Clark. Clark talks about the important role that technology (in the broadest possible sense, which incorporates things like drawing) plays in our 'thinking'.

It would be interesting to look explicitly at how an understanding of embedded cognition may influence the design of the environment and process of early schooling. By acknowledging the role of the body, other people, and environmental objects in thinking, how can we teach better and build richer thinking skills?




The world needs more ‘canny outlaws’ and ‘system changers’

"[Canny outlaws] are people who, being forced to operate in a system that demands rule-following and creates incentives, find away around the rules, find a way to subvert the rules. So there are teachers who have these scripts to follow,and they know that if they follow these scripts, the kids will learn nothing. And so what they do is they follow the scripts, but they follow the scripts at double-time and squirrel away little bits of extra time during which they teach in the way that they actually know is effective. So these are little ordinary, everyday heroes, and they're incredibly admirable, but there's no way that they can sustain this kind of activity in the face of a system that either roots them out or grinds them down.

So canny outlaws are better than nothing, but it's hard to imagine any canny outlaw sustaining that for an indefinite period of time. More hopeful are people we call system-changers. These are people who are looking not to dodge the system's rules and regulations, but to transform the system…"

Barry Schwartz talking about 'practical wisdom' on

“schoolhouses without walls”

Finally getting around to reading 'The Hundred Languages of Children' (on the Reggio Emilia approach). In the foreward, Howard Gardner writes;

…just as we now have "museums without walls," which allow us to observe art from all over the world, so, to, we can now have "schoolhouses without walls" which allow us to observe educational practices as they have developed around the globe. (p.xii)

Very neatly put, Howard. Which raises the question, how would one go about creating a 'school without walls' (in this context, notwithstanding other interpretations of the phrase)?

Imagine an experiential curriculum…

"The [UK] National Curriculum does not focus on these [rich, complex living] skills, or indeed, demand that they are covered. So much of what is really important is left to chance, is seen as a by-product. Imagine the power of a curriculum that puts the life and learning skills of children at it's heart and uses concepts and information as the tools to exemplify and provide experience."
– Richard Gerver, 'Creating Tomorrow's Schools Today', p.49
Imagine, indeed.

Like you needed another reason not to move to Texas…

The other night I was enjoying a little Jon Stewart on iView. As The Daily Show constitutes pretty much the only news I ever watch it's nice that I can see it on iView now as it is notoriously hard to BitTorrent… or so I've heard.

Anyway, Stewart was interviewing the (Republican) Governor of Texas Rick Perry – a man who incidentally looks like he's playing himself in a tele-movie. They were speaking about his new book 'Fed-Up' (I'm not linking to it to improve his search ranking, go look it up for yourself on Amazon).

What caught my attention was part of his rhetoric praising the wonderful state of Texas. Amongst its various other assets, he celebrated the fact that Texas has "an accountable public school system that [out]puts a skilled worker as a product."

Oh my.

The Smithsonian Commons (through the eyes of a Primary teacher)

Last week, I had the opportunity to see a talk by Michael Edson, the Director of Web and New Media Strategy at The Smithsonian. You can see a version of the presentation on slideshare. He spoke eloquently and passionately about the challenges of taking an established and successful 'old school' knowledge institution and make it relevant and useful in the digitally connected world. One of the major initiatives they are working on is The Smithsonian Commons, an externalisation of the resources and information that traditionally reside within the institution – providing users (not just visitors) with the ability to use (and increasingly 'remix') material. So far, they have developed a prototype with a number of videos showing how inidividuals might interact with the commons. From an educational perspective it is interesting to watch the experience of a primary school teacher to see how knowledge institutions like The Smithsonian (and The Powerhouse Museum more locally) are starting to re-imagine their role in society.

TEDxYouth@Sydney – an ideas conference for 12-16 year olds

So I find myself in the position of organising TEDxYouth@Sydney, an event in November this year where young people will come together to share ideas in a similar style to other TED and TEDx events. If you don’t know what a TED event is, visit and education yourself. Now. No, seriously, now.

The event will be on November 20th at the Powerhouse Museum. Participation will be open to anyone aged 12 to 16, on the basis of a written and video submission. Presentations will be by young people, for young people. Other than that, we are still in the planning stages and negotiating the finer details.

Many people I mention this to express a desire to help, which is absolutely awesome, but this early there are not necessarily a lot of things it is easy to help with. However, there are several very specific areas I would be very open to assistance with should you be interested in contributing to the project. If you are keen and have skills/experience in these areas (or want to put me in touch with someone who does), drop me an email at

  • Securing sponsorship to cover costs of the event
  • Writing a number of teachers resources that help teachers (and other people working with kids) understand how they can integrate creating and submitting ideas into their student’s activities
  • Writing a inspiring and engaging kit that explains to kids what the conference is all about and how they can get involved
  • Securing media coverage of the event
  • Liaising with selected schools to get them engaged with the project
  • Building required web functionality for online submission
  • Building and maintaining a branded social media presence (specifically in Facebook and Twitter)

As the project evolves, I will post here if there are other areas that we are looking for help with. We will be particularly keen to get as much help as we can in a few weeks when we have material promoting the conference that we want to get to as many people in and around the education sector as possible.

Spread the word. Much obliged.



Brett Rolfe
Executive Producer

TEDxYouth@Sydney | ph. 0414 455 530 |


The Fourth Way: The Inspiring Future for Educational Change (Hargreaves and Shirley)

‘The Forth Way – The Inspiring Future for Educational Change’ by Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley was mentioned to me by the curriculum director at the very interesting MLC School, so I thought it would be worth a look.

In a short but insightful hundred pages, Hargreaves and Shirley from Boston College present a broad overview of the evolution of Western education since WWII, and then outline what they believe is the next step – the Fourth Way.

Drawing heavily on Anthony Giddens, they describe the various stages that education has passed through, primarily in the UK, US, and Europe (but mentioning Australian and New Zealand). From the First Way (innovation and inconsistency), the Second Way (markets and standardisation) to the Third Way (performance and partnerships). From here they analyse several instances of emergent ‘best practice’ (from Finland to ‘Tower Hamlets’ in the UK) to chart a way forward that keeps the best of the Third Way, but moves away from the cultures of ‘customers’ and ‘accountability’.

I was interested at the assumption of the authors that (with the exception perhaps of the US) we ave moved beyond the Second Way of high stakes census-based testing because we all realised it was expensive and didn’t work. I’m not sure – we must have missed that memo!

It is refreshing to read such an informed piece – both theoretically and through contemporary evidence – about the future of education. While the broad strokes of the work chart more of a broad destination than a practical course, the repeated reference to actual places where these changes are being explores gives the reader ample focus for further investigation.