Category Archives: research

Using Thinglink to curate aspects of evil #heartsofdarkness

Some of our year 10 English students are pondering on the theme of evil. They are unpacking ‘Hearts of Darkness’.

I’m going to show them how to use Thinglink to create an interactive image which contains links to different places on the web which they’ve chosen to portray their picture of evil or darkness.

Thinglink has so many possibilities. After you sign up there really are no limits with what you can do with it. You can even collaborate on one which is a cool idea for small group activities in class.

Kevin Hodgson is a hero of mine who has shared many examples of his prolific creativity online. His collection of Thinglink examples is a good start when thinking about possibilities.

For example, something as simple as an annotated Book Shelfie, as Kevin has done here:

When I thought about helping the year 10 students create a Thinglink for their curated collection of online resources around the theme of evil, it occurred to me that they  might want to start their research in a Google Doc which has very recently added the ability to research within the document. After you open the Google Doc you click on Tools and then select Research. A side-bar will open up on the right and from here you are able to research from the Web, or select images, dictionary definitions, Google Scholar, quotes, tables and anything from your own Google Drive. There is even an option to filter results by usage rights which is exactly what we should be teaching students – ethical use of online material. What’s brilliant is that everything you add is automatically cited in a footnote. You even get 3 options for citation format!

 Here’s my example for what the doc might look like for ‘evil’.  What do you think of these two applications? I think there’s a lot of room for imaginative uses, don’t you?

I’ve been collecting online resources for ‘Hearts of Darkness (humanity’s capacity for evil’) in a Pinterest board. Of course, you now need a Pinterest account to view this collection.

Learning is a waste of time?

A day of conversations.

Good to record these and then reflect and analyse.

Firstly, a conversation with a Year 7 student who was ‘unable’ to do any work during English class because his laptop wasn’t working (note: he managed to remain undetected for most of the writing session before we realised, and then his visit to the computer centre was uneventful because he forgot to take the obligatory note, and the second visit left him without a computer until the end of the day). During our conversation, I told him that he should put the session down to valuable life lessons – taking the initiative to solve the problems instead of sitting aimlessly and wasting time, etc. – and he said these lessons were irrelevant because he was going to change schools the following year anyway. (My eyebrows raised involuntarily). He continued: the new school didn’t have a laptop program until the senior  years, and all his problems would be gone. What problems? You know, internet not working, things disappearing. He would get more work done. So, after a respectful pause, I asked him what he thought his future life of work would be like, wouldn’t it include functioning with technology? With all its glitches? And he would have to continue to problem-solve because there would always be problems? Yes, he agreed, but in the meantime he’d get more work done at school without the technology. It would all be in the book; easy to find and keep. (Has he heard of the technicality of losing the book?)


Get more work done…

Funny he should say that. Later in the day we had a meeting of the teachers involved in the Year 8 immersive project (mentioned in previous posts). I was late to the meeting, and I came in at the point where  groups of teachers were doing a post mortem on the project. The group I veered towards was engaged in passionate discourse, expressing negative views. There were too many points to remember them all, but the gist of it was that the big picture week-long, student-driven project didn’t work and was a waste of time. A waste of time because it took time away from the real work that had to be taught.  If it weren’t for the project, they would have ‘got more work done’. Work that was valuable.


I ventured to say (I never learn, do I?) that all the problems and difficulties expressed were part of the teachers’ learning process, and that a collective discussion of these would result in a very different project next time – properly scaffolded, rubric based not on theory but on specific skills and capabilities demonstrated (or not) during the course of the project. The need to provide consistency throughout the different classes, the need to maintain seamless transfer between teachers, to deconstruct the questions at the beginning, to check for understanding, to get feedback from students on each day’s progress, etc. – all these observations I thought were valuable reflections, driving the discussion towards collective analysis and future improvement. But what I viewed as positive, some viewed as evidence that the project was a waste of time. The project took valuable time away from real work.


Not entirely surprising, though. I think you have to expect the initial digging in of heels, the panic and confusion when things are not spelled out, when teachers are just as much learners as the students, when stepping out onto unchartered territory. I can’t say that I”m not uncomfortable in new situations – of course I am. But if at least half of the teachers see the positive elements of the project, the rationale behind passion-based, student-driven, enquiry-based learning, then I hope that the scales will tip in favour of trying this out a second time. View this as a first draft, and collaborate towards an improved second draft.


And please, consider the definition of ‘work’. Think about what it means to ‘get something done’. Or maybe you’d rather refocus on ‘learning process’ and navigate your learning  instead of getting it done.

Any thoughts?

Process, process, process


 Kuhlthau, 2004.

The Year 8 immersive big picture project has come to an end. After an intense and productive week, students presented their perspective on what makes the human race worth saving with creativity and technical flair. Though the bell sounded the end of the week, the learning process, I imagine, will continue visibly and invisibly beyond the project itself. 

I’ve always been more interested in the unseen learning, the mental moments and shifts in between the visible structure.  Supported by a 7 day continuum, uninterrupted by regular classes, if learning moments were audible or contained in comic speech bubbles, we would have heard ‘ping!’ and ‘zap!’ and ‘kaboom!’ If learning was a visible chemical reaction, we would have seen from discussion and interaction marvellous blended colours and awesome explosions.

 Watching and assessing the presentations (mainly film or photostory), a  spectrum of topics and creative approaches was noticeable, as well as depth of thought and synthesis.  Some of the presentations were obviously stronger, and others weaker, but sitting next to the teacher who knew the class well, I was able to glean valuable insights such as whether the student had come a long way, pushed boundaries or surprised with hidden talents. Choice and big picture questions had allowed students to connect with topics of interest, and some had run with this. If the idea behind this project (or one of them) was to engender passion-based learning, then this was successful in a good number of final products, but the architecture of learning and teaching is multi-layered, and in the aftermath, there is much to be reflected upon and pulled apart.

These are some of my thoughts throughout the week as I roamed from room to room:

  • the confusion and mess at the start is normal, and should be a warning  point to students and teachers
  • Carol Kuhlthau’s graph of ups and downs in the affective domain during the research process may be useful to provide an insight into what can initially be a frightening undertaking
  • teachers are just as much learners in this situation, and a forum throughout the process would be great support as well as make transparent the learning journey if recorded
  • there was a noticeable difference between some classes in terms of concepts grasped and degree of synthesis, so teacher support in unpacking questions, leading discussion and debriefing at different stages of the process cannot be underestimated
  • time needs to be taken by teachers to equip themselves for this journey
  • assessment encompasses the whole process through recording in One Note and is more valuable than the assessment of just the final product
  • a celebration involving the entire project cohort is an important part of the journey, and although this was done by some teachers to some degree, there was insufficient time to do this properly
  • the learning process will continue silently after the last day, and we should not lose this but provide opportunities for discussion and reflection, and record these.

I’m looking forward to a recorded presentation of this journey, especially comments from students and teachers about how they felt at different stages, and what they learned along the way.

Collaborative project – Harvest of Endurance scroll

Human potential and creativity never cease to amaze me. Today I came across an online version of a work of art in the form of a 50-metre-long scroll representing two centuries of Chinese people in Australia. Harvest of Endurance is a painting in the traditional gong bi style depicting the story of hardship and resourcefulness of the Chinese in the history of Australia. Taking a little over 12 months to complete, the scroll is made up of 18 elaborately painted panels. It was purchased by the National Museum of Australia in 1992.

Appreciating the actual scroll is one thing, but just as impressive in its own way is the accompanying interactive website produced by the National Museum of Australia. You can explore the scroll from right to left along a timeline from 1788 to 1988 by clicking on stages which are described as eg. Australian gold rush; the rise of merchants, etc. In selecting a period, a scene forms in front of your eyes, first as an outline, then graudally as a complete coloured picture. Clicking on red arrows outlines an object or person, and provides you with a brief explanation or definition. There is a detailed audio-visual explanation of how to read the scroll, including how colour and form create the story, and an explanation of how the scroll was created from the point of view of the artist and the researcher.

The presentation of historical facts in artistic form, coupled with an interactive, multi-layered online representation, is a clever way to facilitate learning through exploration. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to create a similar project for students where each would have a choice whether to contribute as either a researcher, artist, technical expert or other. In particular, I like the way you can select parts of the picture for explanation or background, and I think that would be a great way for students to present their newly found facts.

The collaboration between the people of Australia and China in the form of the Australia-China Friendship Society aimed to promote friendship and understanding between the two countries and their cultures. It would be interesting to connect Australian students with students from another country, perhaps through blogs, in order to create a final product requiring collaboration and fostering friendship and mutual understanding. That would be an authentic and meaningful project.

Addictomatic – need a search engine? But wait, you also get…

Smashing apps put me onto the search engine, Addictomatic: inhale the web. Ignore the fact that it sounds like a subliminal cigarette or gadget commercial, the results are actually quite impressive in breadth. Addictomatic searches the following:

Topix ‘is the leading news community on the Web, connecting people to the information and discussions that matter to them in every U.S. town and city’. My result had ‘Melbourne, Australia’ as the locality. news
Google Blog Search : find blogs on your favourite topics
Twitter search (search Twitter in real time; see what the world is doing now)
New, images, video ; Digg is a place for people to discover and share content from anywhere on the web. From the biggest online destinations to the most obscure blog, Digg surfaces the best stuff as voted on by our users. Continue reading Addictomatic – need a search engine? But wait, you also get…