So what if the beach was a whiteboard?

In today’s classrooms on at least one wall, there exists a whiteboard – used to be a blackboard but those days are long gone. I’m wondering then if maybe it’s almost time to sign off on whiteboards. Yes, I know we have those interactive numbers in many schools but even so…I’m not convinced they are being used to capacity.

Since it’s supposed to be summer in Melbourne – I say ‘supposed to be’, cause I’m currently at the beach in a lovely new house on holiday, just a few minutes walk from the beach, and it’s freezing… aside from that… what if the beach was a whiteboard? What might this look like?

This post was initially prompted and began swirling in my head by a couple of photos sent to me in November when most kids were busy studying for upcoming exams. It was cemented in me last night when walking along the beach here and happening upon some wonderful sand drawings.

sand drawing

What prompts children (and adults) to write and draw in wet sand? Have you ever thought about it?

I bet you’ve done it.

Thomas was prompted to write in the sand while studying for his English exam. Yes, really. He scraped out quotes from his novel as a way to remember them. Funny. No one encouraged him to do it, in fact, he was on his own down at the beach and then…he picked up a stick.

He tells me he actually planned to walk down to the beach so he could write them in the sand.

Thomas’ sand quotes


“I didn’t have a whiteboard. I usually write them on a whiteboard, rub them out and write them again.” At the beach, he didn’t need to rub them out. It was expansive enough to just move on to another space and repeat.


Thomas purposefully adapted his preference for learning and used his immediate access to the sand in order to learn.

As he stands back to admire his writing, passers-by are curious.

“It’s okay,” says Thomas, “I’m just revising for my English exam.”



Is that what it is?


Thomas doesn’t think so – for him, he was just studying, thinking, adapting to his environment, taking advantage of what he had – a stick, a voglia, (desire) to explore learning, sand, prior knowledge and experience.

So what if the beach was a whiteboard?

How might you use it for learning?

Thanks for reading 🙂

Boys have this thing…about learning: My NBEC2015 experience


NBEC tweets, diary, progam and pen

National Boys’ Education Conference (NBEC) at The Kings School in Parramatta, NSW.

Monday 5th October 2015

This afternoon I was fortunate enough to attend the pre-conference session at The King’s School. There were two sessions; the first facilitated by Dr Ed Dixon on Cognitive-Kinesthetics. Ed is a Canadian boys’ learning expert. His workshop was very much a hands on participatory and ‘fun’ way to spend a couple of hours. Boys need to WIN in our classes, using movement, game, humour, challenge, mastery and meaning can improve boys’ motivation. According to Dixon, these are the 6 secrets of boys’ learning.


Janus -past & future

The second session explored the idea of Character Education. Dr Steve Middleton (The Kings School staff member) presented the double faced Janus figure from ancient roman tradition who looks to the past and also to the future. He spoke of the need for a personal development and awareness of self that helps develop the character of boys.

I want to see you game boys,
I want to see you brave and manly,
and I also want to see you gentle and tender.
Be practical as well as generous in your ideals.
Keep your eyes on the stars
and keep your feet on the ground.
Courage, hard work, self mastery, and intelligent effort
are all essential to a successful life.
Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual
and of nations alike

– Theodore Roosevelt

Tuesday 6th October

Dear Diary,

Today was the first official day of the conference.

Tim Hawkes (Headmaster of The Kings School) opened proceedings and officially welcomed delegates this morning: “Boys bring an energy and purpose to [schools]”

Li Cunxin (Mao’s Last Dancer) then mesmerised the crowd with his story; I couldn’t bring myself to take my eyes and heart from him, he was so magnetic. He had beautiful movements, wonderful expressions and his whole being in those shiny black shoes seemed to float around the stage arms raised and then clasped beautifully at his waist. He spoke of his childhood in impoverished China, being selected to learn ballet, his journey to America, through to his current responsibility as a husband, father and Artistic Director of the Queensland Ballet. Li’s honesty, integrity and dignity never faltered throughout.


Li Cunxin


My take home message; Our lives are not based on how long we live but on how we live our lives.

He encouraged us to raise our boys’ potentials to allow for the journey, to enjoy every step of the way and to keep aiming higher and higher. To work hard to realise what we are capable of and then some.

Professor Donna Cross had a hard act to follow but she delivered a powerful session looking at new social behaviours online, particularly the positive and negative impact on boys’ mental health. There were a couple of comments she made that really stuck with me:

  • teacher well being reflects student well being
  • we assess what we value and value what we assess (a plan for NAPSEL National Assessment Program for Social and Emotional Learning)s
  • on and off line for the young is seamless
  • boys on line gambling increasing at a quick pace
  • Adultelecence
  • “alcohol does to your brain what rain does to newspaper”
  • losing /watching weight more prevalent in boys 60%:55%
  • males less likely to seek formal help but will go to parents and friends -they are less likely to tell teachers!!

We then broke out into Lightning sessions where I chose to follow through with Relational Learning – 4 fast paced presentations about learning boys, relationships, enjoying school and Drama.

Dr. Simon Breakspear who presented a lively keynote on designing deeper learning in this digital age led the ‘siesta’ session. We cannot learn from someone else, says Breakspear, our learning must come from within. We must be more human, stop asking questions that can be answered using Google and Siri and start learning by doing.

Then into workshops again, did I tell you my head was pounding? This session was a little disappointing not because of what I chose but simply because the time was cut so short the presenter didn’t have a chance to get into the nuts and bolts and then it was time to leave.

I will remember this though:

P: “Oh you’re a secondary school teacher? What do you teach?”

T: “Children.”

And it still continued this first full day with Maile Carnegie and Joel Solomons holding the fort talking Google and educating the future. 




The highlight was the presentation of the new program Expeditions built on inspiration of Google cardboard. They encouraged us to launch the boys into the magical ‘learning’ years to come.

Wednesday 7th October

Dear Diary,

I’ve literally just returned from the National Boys’ Education Conference (NBEC) at The Kings School in Parramatta, NSW. I mean literally -I am sitting in my hotel room at the desk my husband has been hogging for the last three days. He’s not back yet from work in North Sydney!

I’m feeling rather calm at the moment though yesterday my head was pounding. Many of the delegates seemed tired on the way out today but for me, I was feeling okay. Not sure why, maybe it’s because I’ve been before, and knew what a great learning experience it is or maybe I don’t have that anxiety of many of the delegates who have already flown out, left the hotel, rushed to the airport or driving home in time for school tomorrow. I feel peaceful. I feel I have lots to talk about and lots more to follow up.

Thursday 8th October

Dear Diary,

Sorry, never got to finish the blog, dinner and drinks were waiting! Now on my way out to the airport so…



Friday 9th October

Dear Diary,

Back home now and just catching up on my adventures this week. The second and final day of the NBEC conference was just as good as the rest.

6 secrets

6 secrets of boys learning


First up this morning was an Ed Dixon comeback who revealed the 6 secrets of boys learning one at a time. This was followed by some more Lightning sessions, this time I attended the one on Mental Wellbeing – 4 power sessions including one facilitated by Glen Poole who attended and maintained a live blog during the conference. You can catch that one here.

The highlight of my day was the visit to the Prep School to watch the boys learning differentiated literacy.


Puppets for literacy learning


The two classes of boys were in ability groups working with three teachers and one teacher aide in an open plan learning space. There was activity going on wherever you looked. They were all learning and teaching fairy tales; in particular the story of the Three Little Pigs. There was a myriad of tasks through which the boys would eventually rotate from puppets telling stories, boys describing characters on Popplet then writing sentences, others completing writing tasks, building houses using Lego and colouring in pictures before ordering them to re-tell the story.

Wednesday’s ‘siesta’ session was the Workshops. I chose to attend Jill Sweatman‘s workshop “Fry my chips -not my brain!” She discussed the latest research in brain and education that looks at creating the right kind of environment to enhance learning.

And finally as at the beginning we come full circle; Tim Hawkes took to the stage for his last plenary keynote as Headmaster for the NBEC (he retires end of 2016). As always he gave a wonderful, dramatic and engaging session centred on ‘Who we are and what we say.’

Who are we? He asks.

We are Patrons, Professors, Prophets, Parents and Priests. We must be all these things to our boys. Teachers live forever, a little of us remains forever with our students, our children, our boys.

And so ended NBEC2015.


Thanks for reading 🙂

Learning from autistic children

As promised:

This week’s post is all about Craig Smith’s demonstration session – “Learning from Autistic Children in Supporting Boys to Really Learn” at the NBEC.

Craig’s presentation was very inspiring and made me want to get out there and try these strategies not just on kids with autism but on kids generally. I think that what he had to offer would be most beneficial for ALL kids.

kids with ipadsCraig presented a wonderful journey through a program used at Autism Spectrum to engage autistic kids in learning. It focused on knowing how to best support the kids in everything they will face throughout their schooling. He explained that because these kids have poor communication skills 90% of the data presented is taken in visually. They need a focused interest and for it to be successful it needs to be something they are interested in. For this reason Craig says that the iPad is the tool that can help bring the teacher to the student. This is supported by research that you can read more about here

One study in particular reports the following:

Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) (2013) recently undertook research to investigate the effectiveness of using iPads for developing core competencies in students with ASD. The researchers also reviewed the teachers’ perspective on the usefulness of the technology. The results identified that teachers reported that the iPad is a useful pedagogical tool which is valuable as a motivational device for learning and increasing class inclusivity. The findings showed that student educational goal achievements can improve when compared to what the teachers would expect when using traditional teaching methods. The results showed that student achievement levels improved more than teachers expected in:

  • o Behaviour goals–increased by 67% (30students)
    o Communication goals–increased by 45% (58students).For more information on this project, please see the media coverage about Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) (2012) Proloquo2Go app trial here.

The main message here in getting autistic kids more engaged is  VISUAL – VISUAL – VISUAL.

imovie-110310-1Craig then explained a wonderful program they run where the goal is to make a movie. The kids have to plan, design, film, make trailers and posters to advertise their movie using iPad apps including sketchbook, storyboard strip designer, iMovie, Final Cut Pro among others. This project got kids shining, one success story is that of Jackson Miller who loves music and  entered one of his songs in Triple J’s competition. He came second!!!! He likes being famous so click on his name to listen to some of his terrific music mixes.

The boys also used iBooks and iBooks Author to make an iBook teaching others what they know. This is challenge based learning where kids can work at their own pace and develop as learners in their own right.

Evernote and Penultimate are also good tools because they are less inhibiting than paper and for autistic children this is great because they can wipe the board clean and start again. TalkBoard is also an excellent tool as it turns your iPad into a communication aid and visual prompt board and you can easily use your own pictures and symbols to personalise the app.

Craig encourages us to see the iPad as a blank canvas. Remember though that we need to show our kids how to best use the apps – oh wait – maybe they could probably teach us that!

So those of us who have iPads in schools and there are many, why not try some the apps and get autistic kids buzzing and while you’re on it why not get all kids buzzing!

logoASAFor more information on autism visit their website’s facts sheet page.


Have a great week 🙂

I know I promised, but I just finished reading this book…

blizzardlinesBlizzard Lines by Dr. Tim Hawkes (Headmaster at The King’s School)

I recommend it to all young men and their parents. The story follows a father and son(s) relationship from two different worlds. The father is working in Antarctica while his biological son lives in Sydney. John (the son) has a mate named Ben who gains just as much from Peter’s (the dad) messages and advise via email after John gets into terrible trouble for sexting. It brings to the fore the importance of relationships and “describes the getting of wisdom and the growth of understanding.” The dad also gets a lot of help in raising these young boys to men from his own father, JJ, his brother Geoff, and the people he lives and works with in the icy wilderness. They all play a role in these boys’ lives.

The novel is the English text for all Yr 10 boys at The King’s School as part of the Boys to Men Program.

Order a copy for your teenage son today – click here for details – and NO I’m not getting any kick backs from sales – just thought it was a good book for parents and teens.

I promise to post that review of Craig Smith’s demonstration session – “Learning from Autistic Children in Supporting Boys to Really Learn” next. 🙂

Reaching Boys

kings_school_boysHi Folks,

As promised in my last post, today I’d like to outline one of the ‘other’ sessions I attended at the NBEC. It was entitled “For whom the boys toil” and run by the resident woodwork teacher at The King’s School, Nick Green. The session explored the content and implications of Reichert and Hawley’s (2013) paper For whom the boy toils.  There is also this link that gives a quick easy to read overview of the research paper if you prefer. 

R&H 8 AspectsAfter his presentation a panel was formed with Drama and Mathematics students and volunteer delegates from the audience to reflect on the eight gestures (left) Reichert and Hawley found as central to the boy / teacher relationship’s success. It was a fascinating and interactive presentation.

These are some of my favourite comments and reflections from the presentation:

  • Boys are willing to try for teachers to whom they are able to relate
  • “I like people who think”
  • “He makes me feel I’m worth something”
  • “He makes an effort to get to know every student”
  • Drama classes enable boys to develop much stronger relationships with their teachers
  • In Maths class the boy felt that he had to ‘create’ a relationship with the teacher in order to get assistance and desired academic results
  • When the teacher is able to give a real life example and use for what they are learning then boys are more engaged 
  • Boys see through phoneys
  • When relationships failed to form boys tended to blame the teachers while teachers tended to blame structures, boys’ problems, learning difficulties and family difficulties.

Next week: I’ll post a review of Craig Smith’s demonstration session – “Learning from Autistic Children in Supporting Boys to Really Learn”

🙂 Have a good week!