Appy New Year!

Happy New Year!

The New Year is an ideal time to reflect on the past and gaze at the future.

It is a time for thinking about where we are now. It is also a time of new beginnings with fresh perspectives

If you are a teacher, this means new colleagues, new students, new classrooms and new ideas about teaching and learning.

To kick-off 2014, Jacaranda is excited about releasing a new iPad App. In many ways this is a new beginning for accessing jacPLUS eBooks on your iPad. The new App enables a wider range of eBook resources to be downloaded to your iPad for offline use.

It is also a new beginning for schools using Jacaranda’s $100 Digital Bundle on iPads. Now your students can download their eBook materials to their iPad – then attend your class and seamlessly access a wide suite of engaging learning resources without relying on internet connectivity.

See the video below for more information.


Smaller video file (for slower connectivity)


Minimum technical requirements – eBookPLUS iPad App
Which products can I download to my iPad via the App?

Innovate through connections


Recently I watched an interesting interview with Harper Reed who was the chief technology officer for Barack Obama Presidential election campaign.

Reed describes himself as ‘an engineer who builds paradigm-shifting technology’. He also loves ‘using the enormity of the Internet to bring people together’.

What I really found interesting in this interview is that a self-confessed geek thinks the time has come for innovation to focus less on technology and more on people.

Reed says that technology has been mostly solved. Sure, technology will continue to move at a rapid pace with many more innovations to come. However we at the point now where we need to focus more on how people work with each other. As Reed says, how do you innovate on working with people?

Part of what Reed is interested in here is connecting diverse groups of people. He sees these connections and collaborations as the seeds of innovation.

I once worked with a history teacher who connected his students to the United Nations via live webcasts of the General Assembly. What a simple yet powerful way to connect his students to the world’s foremost organisation for peacekeeping and human rights! What a powerful way to learn at the same time as history is being written!

Connecting people is one of the key components of Jacaranda’s digital products. assessON, Knowledge Quest, myWorld Atlas, myWorld History Atlas, ProjectsPLUS and studyON connect students with their teachers. This enables teachers to track the progress of their students and to diagnose the strengths and weaknesses.

And there is also scope in myWorld Atlas, myWorld History Atlas and ProjectsPLUS to connect students, and their work, with not only their class mates but with students and teachers all over the world!

The technology has largely been solved.

Now the time has come for us to innovate powerful learning experiences by making the connections between learners.

The right conditions for feedback

Feedback …… is the rocket fuel that propels the acquisition of knowledge and without it no amount of practice will get you there”.

One of the most interesting books I have read on high performance is Matthew Syed’s Bounce.

Syed was England’s Table Tennis Champion for many years and competed at the Barcelona and Sydney Olympics. He now works as a prominent sports journalist in the UK.

Bounce explores what really lies behind world-beating achievement in sport and other walks of life. In doing so, Syed explores the success of a wide range of high achievers including Mozart, Roger Federer, Picasso and David Beckham.

The general view that we have of high achievers is that they are blessed with extraordinary natural ability. However Syed’s central thesis is that natural ability has very little to do with high achievement and more to do with implementing the right conditions for performance.

One of these conditions is purposeful practice and meaningful feedback.

In exploring his own development as a table tennis champion, Syed points out how he was instructed by his coach to change his highly variable forehand stroke. Sometimes his forehand was played with a high arc, sometimes with a bit of sidespin. Syed reasoned that the variation in his forehand made him an inventive player.

However Syed’s coach insisted that the forehand should be identical every time it is played. For two months, Syed’s was instructed to repeat an identical forehand in training so that it is “played with a long sweeping arc, starting from my (Syed’s) right ear and finishing a few inches above my ankle and taken at precisely the same height of the net with exactly with 80 degrees of knee bend” (p. 94). This was practised until it was encoded into Syed’s DNA.

Syed questioned the value of spending so many gruelling hours practising the same stroke without any variations. But with the wisdom of hindsight, he realised his coach was creating the conditions for purposeful practice and meaningful feedback.

With a variable forehand it is difficult to identify what was wrong when Syed made an error was made. However by reproducing an identical stroke, it is far easier to identify technical errors so that corrective refinement and readjustment could be made.

In other words, Syed was empowered with a tool for automatic feedback and a powerful mechanism for learning. In his own words, “feedback …… is the rocket fuel that propels the acquisition of knowledge and without it no amount of practice will get you there”.

When implementing meaningful assessment for our students we also strive to provide the right conditions for purposeful practice and meaningful feedback. If we can provide the right conditions, our students will have tools to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to make refinements.  More importantly, purposeful practice and meaningful feedback will help build the capabilities of our students to make effective decisions about their learning.

Jacaranda is committed to providing the right conditions for learning. Purposeful practice and meaningful feedback is deliberately built into all of Jacaranda’s digital-first products including assessON, Knowledge Quest, myWorld Atlas, myWorld History Atlas and studyON.

This feedback loop provides the right conditions for:

  • Assessment of learning (to compare what has been learned to what has been taught).
  • Assessment for learning (to check what is known and what needs to be known to complete a learning task).
  • Assessment as learning (enabling students to self-assess and find out more about themselves as learners).
studyON VCE Further Mathematics Units 3 & 4 - My results

studyON VCE Further Mathematics Units 3 & 4 – My results

Whether your students are striving to hit the perfect forehand or solve a difficult equation, purposeful practice and meaningful feedback is vital in all learning contexts. Like Syed’s coach, teachers need to create the right conditions for this to occur.

Your students will thank you for implementing and optimising the right conditions for their learning.

Finishing Kick


The story of Mo Farah’s journey to be an Olympic champion is truly inspirational.

Mo Farah was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. At a very young age, he moved with his brother and mother to Djibouti to escape the civil war in Somalia. Shortly after at the tender age of eight, he moved to Britain to join his London-born father.

Farah’s schooling in London was difficult. He spoke little English. He was one of the few black faces at his school. He struggled academically because of the language barrier. And he desperately wanted to fit in with his peers.

Alan Watkinson, a Physical Education teacher, noticed Farah’s athletic potential and thought that running could be a creative and emotional outlet for his academic and emotional struggles at school. Farah’s well-being became a personal project for Watkinson.

After several years of focused training Farah won the European Junior 5000m title in 2001. He then progressed into the senior ranks representing Britain at European and World Championships. This followed with Farah’s selection to compete in the 5,000 metres at the 2008 Beijing games.

While elated at becoming an Olympian, Beijing was also a bitter disappointment for Farah as he was eliminated in the first round heats. Farah knew that he had not reached his potential and he began searching for the difference that was needed to become an Olympic champion.

In early 2011, less than 18 months before the London games, Farah approached Alberto Salazar, a Cuban-born American coach. Salazar, a former world class marathon runner, set out to identify the strengths and weaknesses in Farah’s previous performances. After assessing a great deal of data, he concluded that Farah didn’t have one ingredient – the tactics and strength to execute a finishing kick to win in the last 100 metres of an Olympic final. So Salazar set about educating Farah about the right time to kick. At the same time, he added 7 hours of gym work every fortnight to Farah’s training program of 110 miles per week.

The rest of the story is history!

Mo Farah won the 5,000 and 10,000 metres in London and is now one of the greatest distance runners the world has seen.

While most of us will never come anywhere near Olympic glory, it is the lessons in Mo Farah’s story that we can take away to inspire our students.

Mo Farah’s success would not have been possible without a teacher at school who changed the course of his life and an astute coach with an eye for detail. Alan Watkinson and Alberto Salazar helped Farah to see where differences could be made.

As teachers we all have the task of helping our students see where a difference can be made. Sometimes the difference can even be life-changing. But, more often than not, the difference is the simple daily advice we give our students.

As the Year 12 exam season looms, there are many students asking their teachers to help them find where differences can be made. Many Year 12 teachers in NSW and Victoria are currently using studyON to help their students find the difference. Teachers are using the monitoring and results tools in studyON to help students diagnose their strengths and weaknesses in exam practice.

Year 12 students are embarking on the last part of their school journey. Like Mo Farah, they are asking for your help with their finishing kick.


The Semmelweis reflex

I’ll believe it when I see it!

This is our defensive response when we are asked to believe in something. Show me the visible evidence and only then will I believe you.

Evidence before belief.

Ingaz Semmelweis was a Hungarian doctor who noticed high incidences of infant deaths in Vienna’s maternity hospitals during the 1840’s. He was puzzled as to why there was a much lower incidence of infant death with women giving birth at home.

After conducting a controlled experiment, Semmelweis concluded that mortality rates would improve ten-fold if doctors would wash their hands with a chlorine solution between having contact with infected patients and non-infected patients.

Sounds like common sense, right?

But Semmelweis couldn’t convince other doctors that washing their hands with chlorine solution would dramatically reduce the incidence of death. The other doctors said that his theory lacked reasoning and evidence.

Two decades later Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory of disease – that microorganisms are the cause of diseases. Only then were Semmelweis’ findings accepted by the medical establishment.

The reason why doctors didn’t believe Semmelweis two decades earlier is because he challenged the established scientific and medical opinions of his time. He challenged their belief system. The doctors didn’t believe because they expected to see the evidence that fitted their own belief system.

This became known as the Semmelweis reflex – a metaphor for our reflex-like tendency to reject new evidence because it contradicts our beliefs.

School principals and eLearning Coordinators face a similar dilemma. They believe that using technology can add significant value to teaching and learning. They want to convince teachers. But some teachers first want to see the evidence. It is a natural reflex-like defensive response from teachers.

What principals and eLearning Coordinators need to do is start with existing belief systems. This means serious conversations with teachers about their existing beliefs as to what does effective teaching and learning look like. It means asking teachers to first explore and think beyond their own belief system. Challenge them to test and experiment with new ideas outside their own paradigm before passing judgement.

When teachers believe first that technology can add value to teaching and learning then they will proactively seek further possibilities. No more reflex-like defensive responses.

Belief before evidence.

I’ll see it when I believe it!

Did you invent Knowledge Quest?

Did you invent Knowledge Quest?
Did you make up Knowledge Quest?
How did you make Knowledge Quest?

I’m just back from two weeks in Victoria where I visited several schools using Knowledge Quest.

In every class I visited, 13 year olds peppered me with questions about Knowledge Quest and my capacity for creativity and innovation.

Regrettably I had to answer these questions with ‘no, I didn’t invent Knowledge Quest, but I wish I did’.

It is always a good sign when students ask these sorts of questions.

In an industrial economy, there was little scope to ask questions. Compliant workers in factories had a set of procedures to follow. Schools were established so that compliant workers could be churned out to work in factories.

No need to ask questions, just do what you’re told to do.

The rapid changes of today’s economy require a new worker. Today it is important to ask questions, take some risks, have the capacity to solve problems and create new ideas. This presents a cultural shift in the way we live and work in the 21st century.

Knowledge Quest symbolises a cultural shift. As a learning resource, it draws on elements of gaming in popular culture which are combined with new ways of learning in the 21st century. It gives students a new way of learning grammar.

No questions here about engagement from the students I met – they like this way of learning.

But these 13 year olds also peppered me with questions about features they would like to see in the next version of Knowledge Quest. No shortage of ideas here.

At this point, I opened my notebook and jotted down their ideas to pass on to some of my colleagues at Jacaranda.

These 13 year old inventors had many ideas to share.

Knowledge Quest

Knowledge Quest – video

Using maps & statistics in the myWorld Atlas app

In the past week various teachers have contacted me with questions about Jacaranda’s myWorld Atlas app.

Below is a video tutorial which shows how the following features can used:

  1. Interactive maps
  2. Statistics.

Viewing this on an iPad? View tutorial for iPad (without narration) below.

More information & tutorials can also be accessed from Jacaranda’s Customer Support Centre.

myWorld Atlas

The CORE of project-based learning

This morning I assisted a teacher with setting up ProjectsPLUS for her class.

This turned into an interesting discussion about the necessary elements of project-based learning.

We agreed that project-based learning should have the following CORE elements:

  • Critical thinking – The project enquiry promotes complex problem solving and higher-order thinking skills.
  • Choice – The project gives students the opportunity to make decisions.
  • Collaboration – The project gives students the opportunity to test their understanding and decision-making with peers. At the same time students should have the opportunity to critique the work of other group members.
  • Creativity – The project allows students to be innovative when creating a solution to the problem posed by the task.
  • Ownership – The project task is driven by students (with prompts and scaffolding from the teacher).
  • Relevance – The project enquiry is linked to the real world.
  • Engagement – The project must have an engaging context and authentic purpose.

We went a little overboard with the ‘C’ in CORE!

Jacaranda’s ProjectsPLUS is a unique ICT-based project which uses an exciting new research management system featuring media, templates and videos. It is a quick and easy way to set up group projects with all of the CORE elements.

Some examples of the CORE elements in ProjectsPLUS

Each student group is given a real world task and scenario. In the example below, students create an interactive map to demonstrate their understanding of China. The purpose here is to promote tourism in China.


Chinese tourism wants to attract more visitors to China to appreciate its fabulous history. As part of their marketing strategy, you have been asked to create a possible visitor’s itinerary for an historical tour of China.


You will use Google Maps to create an interactive map of China, which provides the location and details of possible venues to visit. You must ‘pin’ on a selection of ancient sites that people could visit now in modern China. Each pinned site would help them learn more about China’s past and should entice them to visit. Each pin can include images of the site and also details of the historical significance of the site. Your potential visitors will want to know

  • What will I see?
  • Why is it important?
  • When did this happen or which Chinese dynasty does it represent?
  • Who made or created it?

The teacher can use the project video to give students an engaging context to the task.

The students in the group can also test their ideas and understanding by collaborating with other group members. In particular, students upload their work to the research forum. The other group members check the work and add comments. Students can then use these comments to refine their work.

Students are also teachers in project-based learning!

ProjectsPLUS research forum

Select image to enlarge

ProjectsPLUS is available in various English, History, Humanities, Mathematics and Science eBookPLUS titles.

Connecting the dots…..

Connecting the dots!!

I’m just back from another two weeks on the road in Melbourne and Perth running professional development sessions for teachers.

There are many seen factors in a professional development session that help you to gauge its effectiveness. How do teachers react to your presentation? What does their body language tell you? What questions do they ask you?

However it is the unseen factors after your presentation that will determine whether you have really made an impact.

How much knowledge will teachers retain? To what extent will they process the information and skills you presented?  How motivated will they be to act on your great ideas? How will they behave after your presentation? Will they actually try to implement your ideas?

In other words, will teachers actively connect the dots between your presentation and the classroom?

Donald & James Kirkpatrick in their book Implementing the Four Levels: A Practical Guide for Effective Evaluation of Training Programs point out there are four levels that presenters (including eLearning Coordinators) need to evaluate when delivering professional development and training:

  1. Reaction – Did learners enjoy it? Did they think it was effective? Did they think it was a good use of their time?
  2. Learning – Did learners learn the knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes needed to close a performance gap?
  3. Behaviour – Did learners apply what was learned?
  4. Results – Was the performance gap closed? Was the investment of time and money in training teachers effective?

One simple but effective strategy that will help teachers to connect the dots is projects. In other words teachers are encouraged to initiate and design a project that puts their new found knowledge and skills into the real world context of the classroom.

Once your PD presentation is done and dusted, it is the context that teachers work in (not the content of your presentation) that will actually connect the dots and make a difference.

What strategies do you have in place to help teachers connect the dots?

What does ‘digital’ mean to you?

I have a problem with the word digital.

The word digital is used to describe technologies that digitise content e.g. digital cameras. No disagreement here.

Sometimes the word digital is bandied around to describe pedagogy. I have a problem here.

When schools promote a digital curriculum, are they referring to the technology being used? Or are schools referring to a pedagogy that facilities interactive learning?

A focus on technology as a means to distribute information is narrow and limits teaching and learning. PowerPoint is an easy way to sequence information into bullet points and distribute en masse – but a classroom as a place for bullet points is not teaching. A PDF is a convenient and easy way to distribute content – but it does not necessarily provide learning experiences which enable rich and engaging interaction.

The 21st century teacher advocates a wider view where technology is a tool that can be used to create conditions for interactive and collaborative learning. This teacher places a greater emphasis on the context – the learner (instead of the information) and the various ways he/she interacts with his/her learning and other learners.

This is when the word digital can used to describe and promote curriculum. No problem here.

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