Teaching Techie Teens

By Rebecca Davies


We Have iPads, Now What?

At the DLTV conference this year, I presented a session titled ‘We Have iPads, Now What?’. The sessions was aimed at teaching educators how to increase authentic iPad use in their classroom and how to coach teachers effectively.

Below are the slides from the presentation if you missed it. Let me know if you have any questions, or want me to elaborate on any of the points – I would be happy to make them the focus of a future post.


Techie Brekkie: Introduction to Edmodo

Below is a the content from my school’s first Techie Brekkie, an introduction to Edmodo. The video explains the content of the two sets of slides. Feel free to use this as inspiration for your own school’s techie brekkies, or simply to increase your knowledge of Edmodo.

How Students Submit Assignments using the Edmodo App


40 Apps All Educators Should Know

Two days ago I presented at the inaugural DLTV conference about 40 apps that all teachers should know about. Some are older and have been used in education for a little while; others are newer or less well known, but equally as useful. Take a look through the slides below to see which excellent apps you may be missing out on using.

Are there any apps you use in your teaching that are not on this list? Why do you like them? 


Introducing EdTech to Reluctant Teachers

Despite the stereotype of older teachers avoiding technology and younger teachers embracing it, in reality there are many teachers who are reluctant to use technology. There are a number of reasons for this, from lack of control to behaviour management to beliefs in ‘traditional’ teaching. There are a number of ways, though, that you can begin to introduce to reluctant teachers.

1. Find a need and target it with technology

Reluctant teachers are often hesitant to use technology because they do not see a purpose behind it. Every teacher, however, has a need that can be solved through technology. It may be that they need to extend students using a tool like Khan Academy. Maybe they need an easier way to manage their assessment data (like Evernote or Socrative). If you can show them how their lives can be easier through one technological tool then you are one step closer to them embracing technology.

2. Know the research

Many teachers are hesitant to use technology because they think it is an unnecessary add-on. They do not know the research behind using technology in the classroom and how it is proved to improve student learning. You do not need to inundate them with information, but a handful of well-chosen articles that demonstrate how technology can assist students to fulfil their potential.

journalsCreative Commons License Photo Credit: ben haley via Compfight

3. Model classes

Other teachers may be hesitant to use technology because they simply don’t know how to use it or manage it in a classroom. In these cases, offering to model classes in which you are using technology will help. An opportunity to see how a teacher manages distractions and integrates technology into a lesson can be the tipping point for a teacher who is hesitant because they simply don’t know what it looks like. If there is time, debrief with them so you can highlight what you have done and why you have done it. Make teaching technology explicit and learning focused (as it always should be!).

4. Be persistent (but not preachy)

Not everyone is going to suddenly start using technology in one day, no matter how good your introduction. This does not mean that you should just give up. Some people need time to come around to an idea. When the opportunity arises, remind them of how that tool you mentioned to them could make their lives easier, or help to differentiate their classroom. Once you have some people on board they will begin talking about it too, helping to create an EdTech culture in your school. If it is the only thing you talk about though, people are likely to get bored and stop listening, so tread carefully!

5. Be available for technical assistance

If a teacher is willing to give technology a go, the first thing that will put them off is technical difficulty. If it does not work straight away, then they will often just class it as ‘too hard’ and move on. If possible, be available for technical support when someone is trying out a tool for the first time. If that is not possible, some schools have established ‘Tech experts’ – a group of students who can assist their teachers with technical problems. If neither of these are possible, simply remind the teachers to always practice using the tool first before introducing it to their students.


Planning Tool Showdown: Evernote vs Drive

We are ten weeks into Term 1 in Australia and as such timetables and planners are being finalised. If you are exploring new ways to plan to make your teaching life easier, here are two tools that make every teacher’s life easier.


The free version of Evernote is great for teachers who plan on their own. It will hold all of your planners and make them available on all of your devices. It is also fantastic for organising meeting notes, to-do lists and observational records. The free version is great for text-based notes, but if you want to add images you will quickly eat into your monthly bandwidth allowance.

 Quick Tip: Use Evernote to back up your blog in real time Photo Credit: Joe Ross via Compfight

The paid version of Evernote is fantastic for team planning, as everyone can add to the one note. I highly recommend Evernote for teachers who work across a number of devices, as the app works seamlessly across them all. The paid version also gives you 1GB of uploads, allowing you to add images of students work, voice recordings and even short videos. This is fantastic for organising formative and summative assessments, and will make report writing a breeze.

Check out Bec Spink’s blog for more information on how to set up Evernote for effective teacher organisation!


Google Drive

Google Drive is absolutely fantastic for planning in larger teams, especially those who do not have significant common planning time. I used this last year with my team and it was fantastic. It allows many people to contribute to the one document at the same time, allowing planning to be a lot more efficient. It also has a comments section that allows you to discuss any problems or questions with your team. Best of all it is free and easy to establish.


For organising observational notes and assessments, Drive is a little harder to manage. It is more difficult to search within notes and does not have the ease of use for reporting that Evernote has. Also, if your internet is not reliable, you cannot immediately upload or edit any of your notes. This was a constant issue for me as my school’s internet was not constant. If you need reliability, even without internet, then Evernote is a better choice.


Global collaboration: making it happen!

Last year I ran two professional learning sessions: one at Braemar College on iPads and Collaboration, and another at my school on global collaboration and creating global citizenship. Having only an hour and an hour and a half respectively, it was really only an introduction to the tools available. You can check out the presentations and the resources used at the links above. Resources, however, are only half of the solution. The other is actually implementing it in a classroom. Below, you will find information on how to actually make it happen.

Flat Classroom Skype

Global collaboration is an excellent learning experience for students.

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: superkimbo via Compfight

Choose ONE tool at a time

There are so many wonderful tools out there to try that it can be difficult to choose just one. Some schools use Skype, others use blogs, others join global projects (such as iEarn). If you try to implement two or more tools at a time both you and your students will become overwhelmed. Research the tools that you are interested in and choose one that will match your school resources and your class’s needs. Once you have explored that tool, you can always experiment with a second, third or even fourth tool at a later time.


In order to implement the tool you choose successfully, you must know how to use it first. While you do not need to know absolutely everything when you introduce it (there is always room for learning with your students), you need to know the basics. Do you login with a class account or individual accounts? Does it work on the students’ devices? What misconceptions may the students have with the tool? Practice a couple of times without your students to iron out the obvious creases. 

Include the tool in your planning

You will only ever use a tool if it is in your planner. Even with the best intentions, it is easy to forget the morning check of your class blog, or to organise another Skype meeting with an international school if it is not in your planning. School life will always get in the way of technology if it is not made a priority. As soon as you can make a connection with your curriculum or inquiry topic, link in the global connection you want to make, including any of the time you will need to plan and set up the task.

Teach the tool and the skills

When implementing any technology, the students need to be taught how to use the tool and the skills they need to use it effectively. There is definitely a digital native myth; you cannot just assume students will know how to use the tool well. Spend a lesson (or several, in the case of more complex tools, such as blogs) teaching the purpose of the tool and the skills needed to use it effectively. This will significantly decrease any potential classroom management and technological issues when using the tool throughout the year.

Patience and persistence

Lastly, just as when teaching anything new, you must have patience. This can be difficult with all the talk of students ‘just understanding’ technology or expecting tools to work exactly the same way every single time. If something does not work the first time, that does not mean it is a failure. It may just need more practice time, or the students may need additional skills. At the very worst, it may be the wrong tool for your circumstances, in which case you can always choose a new tool and try again.

If you cannot find another class to collaborate with, look in new places – there are always a number of global projects and new ways to meet teachers from around the world. There are a list of potential global projects here. Persistence goes a long way to ensuring your global collaboration is successful.

Good luck!


6 Strategies for Managing Behaviour in an iPad Classroom

Classroom management is one of the number one topics discussed in iPad schools, by principals, teachers and parents. Many teachers I have met, many of who have taught for years, are afraid to use the iPads for any new tasks in case it causes classroom management issues. Below are a list of six strategies that I have found are the most effective in ensuring students are on task when using their iPads.

Self-Organized Learning Environment

Using the iPad in non-traditional ways helps stop challenging behaviours

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Andrea Hernandez via Compfight

Let go of some control

One of the reasons that many teachers fear technology in students’ hands is because it means there is another commanding force in the classroom. Students can search up relevant things (answers to questions they have) and irrelevant things (checking the sports score) during class time. This is challenging for people who have a ‘sage on the stage’ approach to teaching.

What helps me in this area is remembering what schooling was like before technology. It was not a magic time when all students listened attentively, hanging on to every word the teacher said. Students still passed notes and whispered or drew pictures all over their books. You can only control certain aspects of your classroom. Keeping this in mind will help your wellbeing, whether or not technology is involved.

Have clear expectations

Just as with any learning, if the expectations are clear then they are easier to follow. When using technology, the instructions for the learning task and for using the technology must be crystal clear, with no grey areas. The minute students are confused about what is acceptable and what is not, they will push those boundaries to find out exactly where those boundaries are.

Provide engaging tasks

Students will become distracted by their technology when the learning is not holding their attention. How often do adults do exactly the same thing; checking their phones when they are bored at a meeting or presentation? If the tasks are engaging to students, then they will be less likely to misuse their devices.

Stop the chalk and talk

As with the above, technology is not conducive to traditional ‘chalk and talk’ teaching. While there is always going to be some degree of teaching that occurs from the front of the room (such as explaining the learning objective), this time should be considered in relation to students’ age and relative attention levels. If you are in a 1:1 classroom and students need extra advice, help or instruction, consider using a tool such as Today’s Meet or Edmodo to deliver it – this means that the students who understand can keep working, while the students who do not can seek the help they need before continuing.

Move towards the ‘R’ in SAMR

If technology is used in traditional teaching ways, it is not going to be engaging enough to keep the students attention on their learning. Moving towards ‘modifying’ and ‘redefining’ tasks, as shown in the SAMR model, assists teachers to create more engaging and authentic tasks. Using devices well is a huge step towards managing behaviour; simply, the off-task behaviour will not occur to the same degree if students are interested in their task.

Using a range of tools also allows this to happen – I have taught challenging classes where every student was on task because they were using a fantastic tool that they had never seen before (in one case, it was Tellagami).

If something is vital, make sure their devices are shut

Sometimes, something needs to be said that is relevant and important for all students to hear. In these rare cases, ensure that all their devices have the screen of or are shut. It is only when they are shut that you can increase the likelihood that the students are listening to the fact that the sports carnival is on tomorrow/their excursion money is due etc.


5 Tips for Using Minecraft in your Classroom

Ever since my first post on using Minecraft in the classroom, I have been inundated with emails asking me for my lesson plans. After significant consideration, I have decided not to post my lesson plan. It was a part of a larger maths unit and very targeted to my specific students. I doubt that it would have the same effect if anyone else tried to implement it with their class, especially without the considerable work that the students put in during the rest of the unit to make it possible. Instead, I have below a list of things that must be considered before implementing Minecraft in your lessons. My use of Minecraft would not have been successful without them.

I made a Minecraft treehouse

When used well, Minecraft can be excellent for learning.

Photo Credit: Mike Prosser via Compfight

Consider the learning objective

Number one, always and absolutely: consider the learning objective. While this should be done when planning any lesson, it especially needs to be considered when working with interactive technologies. You want students’ learning to be increased by using the tool, not sidelined by the tool. This can only be ensured by having a very specific learning objective that is explicit to both you and your students.

Don’t force it to fit

If you are having difficulty creating a specific, explicit learning objective that can justify the use of Minecraft, then don’t use it. Just don’t. Wait until a better learning opportunity comes along that is more conducive to the use of Minecraft. In order to be successful, Minecraft must be a natural extension of the students’ learning. If it is not, then that is when the distractions, misbehaviour and boredom begin. When it fits, using Minecraft is amazing; when it doesn’t, it can be disastrous. If you’re unsure, read about other teachers who have used it in a range of situations, and think if you have a better session in which it will fit.

Provide students with specific expectations

Just as when using any technology, students must be taught how to use Minecraft in an educational setting. You may choose to give all students ten minutes ‘play’ time before using Minecraft formally, but once the lesson begins students must know that they are using it to learn. That doesn’t mean that it is going to be boring or stagnant, just that they are using it as a learning tool, not to destroy each others’ buildings or fight Creepers. It is a good ideas to come up with a set of guidelines before using it to ensure that all students know what it okay and what is not okay while in the game, leaving no room for confusion.

Ensure students have the relevant prior knowledge

Just as with all good teaching, students must have the relevant prior knowledge in order to develop new learning. If they do not have it, they are more likely to misbehave or become distracted from their intended task simply because they do not understand it properly. I have found Minecraft to be particularly useful as a way for students to apply their knowledge, after they have already studied, shared and discussed the topic at hand. If you are new to using Minecraft, I would recommend using it in the last quarter of a unit, rather than the first quarter, in order to ensure that students have the knowledge they need to fully participate in the Minecraft task.

Know how to keep your students’ work safe

This is the tech knowledge you need before introducing Minecraft to your students. You do not need to know how to build castles or even mine materials, but you do need to know how to keep all the students’ work safe. There are two modes in Minecraft: Creative and Survival. Ensure that all students work is completed in Creative Mode so that students cannot lose their characters through being attacked by other players or night creatures. Secondly, if you are not playing on a school server (if you have iPads, you definitely will not be), ensure you have a plan if someone unwanted enters a students’ world.

If you are on iPads, only people connected to the school’s wifi can see and enter students’ worlds, but this does not stop griefing (trolling within Minecraft). My method was to have class ‘experts’ who knew how to make world’s private, and they went around and helped those students who were new to the game protect their world. If you want to be 100% sure that no student from outside of your class can interact with your students’ world, talk to your technician to see about setting up a school Minecraft server.


Know your Creepers from your Griefers

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: George via Compfight


On Teaching Teenagers

Every year, whenever I mention that I am once again teaching middle years students, I receive comments from people that they could never spend that long with teenagers. These comments come from a range of people, teachers and non-teachers alike. I have never quite understood the aversion. Perhaps if my students resembled the teens that are shown on ‘current affairs’ type programs that often depict teenagers as alcoholic hooligans ready to destroy the community. While I am fully aware that of the drinking culture and violence that can result from it for young people, you cannot judge a whole generation based on the behaviour of a few.

Teaching teenagers is inspiring. If anything, I feel like I have more hope for the future than most, knowing that I am comfortable with the world being passed into these young people’s hands. For every story about homophobic bullying, I see 20, 30 40 students who think that no one should be judged for their sexuality and openly support their gay friends and family. I see others who go to protests for marriage equality, whether they are straight, gay or against labels of any kind. For every story of a racist bashing I see groups of students standing up for their friends when they are targeted by adults in the street.

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai

Teenagers often know more about the world than many adults give them credit for. They have seen domestic violence, friends struggling through depression and anxiety and pushed against peer pressure. They often experience these things without a voice, not having the power in society to be allowed to speak up for themselves. I see teenagers who fight against this, constantly trying to prove their place in society. Stories about teens like Malala Yousafzai, Tavi Gevinson, the participants in Girls Up and countless others are working to express themselves, gain independence and be a voice for teenagers everywhere.

The trick, I believe, is in how we, as adults, view them. If we view teenagers as capable, responsible and caring young human beings then that is what we will get in return. If we are constantly suspicious, belittling or even cruel, then we will receive secretive, rule breaking teenagers in return. In the right environment, any teen can help change the world. The decision we have to make, as adults, is whether we will make it easier for them, or harder.


Creating a thinking classroom

As my teaching has developed over the past two years I have focused more and more on creating a thinking classroom. Beginning with learning mind maps in my first school to reading everything from Buzan to DeBono to Bloom to Costa, is it now a staple of my teaching. It is hard to believe anyone teaches without teaching critical thinking.

The longer I teach, however, the more I realise that not everyone is comfortable teaching these vital higher order thinking skills. As a result, I have found myself showing a number of other teachers how to implement thinking tools in the classroom. Of course, most people have heard of the Six Thinking Hats, or Mind Mapping, or the Habits of Mind, but not everyone is confident in using them effectively. Below are the ways that I use various thinking tools in my classroom, and have found successfully improve students’ critical thinking skills.

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is the brain child of Tony Buzan, who created it as a more effective way of note-taking, one that would match our natural desire to make connections between words and ideas.  Mind mapping needs a clear introduction with plenty of opportunities for students to practice. If you have it available, Matthew Boyle’s Learning File has some great exercises to introduce students to mind mapping, and for proving to them that it works!

The different between ‘brainstorming’ or ‘concept mapping’ and mind mapping also needs to be made. It is not something to be rushed in one colour pen, or to just every thought down. The rules of mind mapping are very explicit and there for a reason, to improve students’ memory and interest in learning. Once the students understand and can apply the rules, then they can begin breaking them.

Mind mapping is such a vast idea with so much research behind it that it difficult to summarise in a paragraph.  As always, the first place to look for more information on mind mapping are Buzan’s range of books on appling mind mapping with students, in business and for life. Once you begin mind mapping you will always wonder why you did not start earlier!

Mind Mapping Guidelines

Mind Mapping Guidelines 

Six Thinking Hats

In my experience, many students have been introduced haphazardly to the Six Thinking Hats. They may know of them, and may have even used them, but don’t really understand how to apply them in their learning. The most important thing here is applying them in the most authentic ways possible, connecting them directly to the students’ learning. They must also be used regularly in then beginning, otherwise students forget how to use them effectively.

Introducing the students to sentence starters for each hat is a good way to begin. This helps students understand what types of comments may be associated with each hat. As their confidence grows, they can then comment more generally based on the hats.

Class discussions are also useful, especially as students become used to the concept of the Six Thinking Hats, as this allows students to develop their ideas. It is in considering all of the different perspectives that the strategy becomes particularly useful and really challenges students to view other perspectives and have evidence for their opinion.

Six thinking hats

Six thinking hats

Habits of Mind

The Habits of Mind are wonderful for teaching with a whole-child approach. Rather than just teaching students facts, the Habits of Mind allow students to learn how to learn.I have found that it works best to introduce the concept of the Habits of Mind as a whole and then focusing on a habit a week. Each habit needs a different strategy for students to successfully learn it.

Different strategies and approaches for each habit are outlined by Costa and Kallick here. Most teachers, however, should be able to use each habit as a prompt to associate with skills and strategies they are already familiar with, and may already use in their classroom.

Once the strategies have been introduced, continue referencing to them throughout the year. There may be a task that needs one habit in particular, or a student who is always successful in displaying another attitude. Without this referencing back, students will turn their attention elsewhere and will not apply them as effectively.


This is only a very short introduction to three thinking strategies that have been effective in improving the thinking skills of my students. There are many books and articles written about all three, and I recommend looking at them in more detail once you decide to implement one of the strategies. No matter what thinking strategy you decide to implement, as long as you are persistent and explicitly teach it, you will find significant improvements in your students’ thinking skills.

How have you used these thinking tools in the classroom? What are other useful thinking tools you have used?