“Cook dinner, don’t just supply the ingredients” (Tomlinson)

You know when you hear something that really gels with you? It’s that moment when culture meets a light bulb moment and suddenly you know. You know this is something that just has to be said.

That light bulb moment

That light bulb moment

The other day it happened to me, sitting in the ACEL conference listening to Carol Tomlinson talking differentiation. Now this was not the first or even second time I’ve had the pleasure to hear her speak in person. I had even heard the differentiated story she told, but it was the first time I connected with it in a new way.  It really brings to the fore the idea of readiness to learn. In order to learn, one must be open to learning. So when we teach, how do we know whether our students are ready to learn? How do we know if we are ready to learn from them in return?

Tomlinson at ACEL conference 2016

Tomlinson at ACEL conference 2016

Tomlinson compares the ingredients for dinner with that of curriculum. As ingredients, they stand alone but have very little to offer unless combined with other ingredients to make a meal. In fact, depending on the ingredients one can make a myriad of meals using them in different combinations. Let’s take similar ingredients to those that Tomlinson uses in her comparison:




The above, when combined, will make a meal (or 5 if you live at my place – if you want a list, I’d be happy to forward one) – the same as all the components of teaching. Teaching isn’t just one ingredient but should be a whole lot of ingredients which are combined to create a great learning experience. In combining the ingredients, however, one doesn’t necessarily have to use them all in every meal but they can be used in different combinations. Teaching is like this too. These ingredients on their own are not very inviting – but in combinations can make a number of really appetising meals.

So let’s compare this idea to teaching. What are some of the ingredients in teaching and learning?

Relationship? I suggest kilos and kilos of it. In fact, in my opinion, there is very little, if any teaching or learning that happens without this ingredient.

Curriculum – knowledge and skills?

Assessment – formative and summative?


Environment – inviting and safe?

Emotional Intelligence?







What else would you add?

Share the commitment to teaching and learning

Share the commitment to teaching and learning

In teaching and learning, there may be any combination of the above and more. Each class would need more or less of these depending on the needs of the students in that particular class. Even if one is teaching the same content to the same year level in two different classes, the ingredients would not be identical in both type and quantity. So when planning your next ‘cooking’ session with your class think carefully about the ingredients and combine them in such a way that really gels with your class. Take the time to ask your students, ‘What would you like for dinner?’ It will help you to become a much better cook, I guarantee it and ultimately they’ll enjoy the meal a whole lot more.

Dinner's READY!!!!

Dinner’s READY!!!!



Thanks for reading 🙂







Lava lamps, origami, magic and many more pre-service teacher adventures

This year I am very excited about having my own tutorial group of 2nd year pre-service teachers. Our adventures began just four weeks ago and since then we have been busily exploring what it is to be a teacher and a learner. They are an interesting bunch of students coming from all different backgrounds and for the most part quite enthusiastic, although at times I think I’m more excited than they are! I love teaching. I have said it many times.

Having the opportunity to work with pre-service teachers has been one of my goals for many years. I want them to experience the same passion I have for teaching and I hope that this semester I can share some of my experiences with them so that they may come to love teaching as much as I do. I hope I can instil in them the essence of learning. They have the key to the future of education and I hope they use it wisely.

So while the first few weeks of tutes were all about theory, standards, their own experiences of schooling, their favourite teacher and a little boys’ Ed thrown in for good measure, this week was all about practice.

I just had the privilege of watching my tutorial group fully engage a class of Year 7 boys in a 30-minute session. My pre-service teachers were waiting on the pavement outside the school when I arrived. Nervous but excited. They had come with bags of tricks, coloured paper, bottles filled with oil and water, laptops containing presentations and videos to shares.

work in progress -homemade lava lamps

Work in progress -homemade lava lamps

The Year 7 boys we were to teach seemed anxious but ready for action. Each pair had 30 minutes to ‘teach’ a couple of students. They prepared a wonderful array of learning and the boys seemed to be lapping it up. As the lesson began the pre-service teachers showed no signs of their initial nervousness. Fourteen round tables, two teachers and two students on each totally engaged in learning and teaching.



A couple of groups displayed their plane making skills while others engaged in different aerodynamics feats.

time to see if it works

Time to see if it works

One group learnt magic tricks while others ventured into the world of critical thinking and music.

Making magic

Making magic

Teaching Chinese with music

Teaching Chinese with music

Boys on another table were experimenting with volcanic eruptions using Oreo biscuits. Another mixed a concoction of water, oil, food dye and alka seltzers to make homemade lava lamps. There was some history, space exploration, mathematical calculations, geometry and a whole lot more. The session flew by and in no time it was gone.

3-D geometry

3-D geometry

“One minute to go folks!” I call out. “Oh no,” says a student in the corner, “Quick! Let’s have another go!” he calls as they take one last shot at getting the plane to spin.

A round of applause goes out to my class and to the students and teachers who supported us at De La Salle College. I look forward to seeing these same pre-service teachers in action with a class of their own, approaching it with the same apprehension but feeling themselves ‘hooked’ as their students’ faces come alive with curiosity.

Teachers are not born great – they become great.

Be great teachers.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Moonshots and other really cool shooting stars

Last Sunday night’s Aussie Ed tweet chat was all about moonshots.

Moonshot is literally the launch of a rocket into space. In more recent times the term has been introduced in education as a means to think ‘big’, think ‘innovatively’, think ‘huge’, think ‘change the world’ one small step at a time.  It can be big or small, done on your own or in collaboration with others.

What we said

The first question in the #aussieED chat asked this: In your opinion, what is a moonshot? My initial response was

What is a moonshot?

What is a moonshot?

You’ll notice my question mark at the end – obviously I had not heard this before and was taking a stab at it. As the chat continued and others shared their thoughts, it got me thinking about my own personal experiences with moonshots and those of the people around me, family, friends, students, colleagues, and parents. I really enjoyed reading what others thought about moonshot. I’d like to share a few here.

Kim said this

Kim said this

A crazy idea

I love this! I’ll admit I’ve had some really crazy ideas over the years and was not afraid to see if they could go anywhere. My crazy idea that I could write a book came about simply because I thought I could. Mostly it’s pretty much finished but needs a little tinkering and possibly updating given I began writing it some years ago. Maybe I’ll shoot this one early next year.

Joel said this

Joel said this

It just won’t work…(really?)

This kind of comment just makes me more inclined to go after that which others think won’t work. I’m an optimist but more importantly I work hard to solve problems or issues. There are a great many things out there that people thought impossible  – imagine if we still thought the world was flat and if you went to the edge you’d fall and plunge to destruction. Thank goodness that belief was proved wrong. What else? Better still what other beliefs are there today that could be holding us back?

I’d like you to imagine a place where all children had the opportunity to learn in their own preferred way but also engage in other ways of learning so as to grow their repertoire as an ‘all round’ learner. Imagine a place where children and adults collaborated to change the world to make it an equitable, safe and sustainable place for all living creatures. Some have already started but it would be much more logical if we all worked towards it. So…let’s do it!

We can begin making a difference by taking Carl’s advice and developing a plan to save the world. Impossible? Do you mean making the plan or saving the world? Nothing is impossible.

Carl's plan

Carl’s plan

As Steve points out:

Steve said this

Steve said this

It is most important that we adults model how to deal with failure; after all without it we cannot learn. To make a mistake we have to take a risk, if we fail, we analyse why it happened and move on to make it better next time. Imagine if Edison stopped work after blowing up the first bulb.

Never give up

Never give up

Shake it out

Shake it out

Shake it out

I really like Karen’s idea of a moonshot too. I enjoy shaking things up – in fact I make trouble all the time. I say what I think and I back it up because taking a shot at something you truly believe will make a difference – so worth it. A major component of moonshots is to believe.



Last week I had to deal with a family issue interstate but had a consulting gig already booked which couldn’t be undone. So I asked a colleague if they would consider workshopping it for me. I never doubted her ability to do it – not because I’m so good but because she is. It’s a little like paying it forward – someone gave me a chance to shine long ago so I’m passing it on. Its success is in your hands.

exploding moonshots

exploding moonshots

What’s your moonshot?

Thanks for reading 🙂

AussieEd chats on twitter happen Sunday nights 8:30 pm AEST #aussieED

A process of becoming…

Last Friday I attended the MERC conference at Monash University. This was a day to celebrate research to share ‘insights thoughts and practices’. The week leading up to the day I spent tossing up whether to attend at all – could I afford the time? Did I want to spend the day listening to how successful others have been in their journey? Did I want to hear again that a PhD is a rewarding and wonderful learning experience? But then the day came and I felt excited to go, so I went.

I’m glad I did.

The MERC team did a great job of organising the conference. I learned a lot. I met some great people and was able to chat to others I’d seen and heard speak in other forums.  I was even inspired.

The day began with the keynote speaker, Associate Professor Lucas Walsh; I used his message as my title for this blog. He spoke about how the process of becoming changes us and that we should enjoy it. Walsh described the journey using a theme park as metaphor.


The main aim of going to a theme park is to have fun. One has a plan for what to do while there; go on this ride, eat this food, play this game, and see that show. We encounter signposts that help lead us in different directions. We try new things and once the day is over we meet up with friends and family to share our adventures and plan the next. Have a plan; remain focused but open to new ideas, said Walsh.

The process of becoming…


This message remained with me all day as I moved from room to room to listen to the presentations by fellow PhD students. Each presenter had 30 mins or so to discuss their research and take questions. I heard from researchers of self-management interventions, spirituality, use of guided questions, teaching practicums, young men’s access to universities, task based language teaching (TBLT), mindfulness intervention, and the last, and most animated of the day for me, on arts based research.

In these sessions the process of becoming was very evident, not just for the presenters but for me personally.


The afternoon panel session featured stories from the field by five academics. I listened with interest as they spoke about their journeys and experiences in becoming… I heard that it’s okay to have doubts. I certainly have many in relation to my PhD journey to date. This was one of the reasons I attended the conference – to see if I was on the right track. I wanted to be able to analyse if what I am doing has purpose. Is what I’m doing important enough to spend such time and effort? I was happy to share my ideas about the research and received some positive feedback. But still there are doubts. Am I good enough and determined enough to pull it off? I’m not one to give up, as many who know me will attest, but I find myself grappling with these thoughts every day.

There was lots of talk about life balance at the conference and at this moment I’m not sure mine is balanced.

Am I spending enough time on my PhD?

Am I giving my consultancy work enough attention?

Am I putting enough into my current leadership position in school?

Am I giving enough to my family and friends?

Do I have enough time for me?

Am I trying to do too much? (Don’t answer that – I know what you’re going to say!)


Can this be measured?

My favourite quote from the conference came from Dr Marc Pruyn who said,

“Do what you want to do, on purpose.”

I think I’ll do exactly that. It is the purpose of becoming…

recite-1m74d0Thanks for reading 🙂


“My brain is full!”


2014conf_1dinst_7Connecting Content and Kids: Understanding by Design and Differentiation – 1-Day Institute

Last Monday I attended one day of the Hawker Brownlow Thinking and Learning Conference. I attend almost every year and have always chosen to follow one ‘hero’ for a day. This year I decided to attend Carol Ann Tomlinson‘s and Jay McTighe‘s 1 day institute. They played it like a tag team where Jay talked about Understanding by Design (UbD) and Carol on Differentiation. They integrated the two and while one day is simply not enough to really do these two areas justice we got an overall picture of how to integrate them to benefit the students in our classes.

12 things I heard that made me think:

1. Curriculum is a plan to get kids where they need to go

2. UbD provides the framework for developing the curriculum

3. Instruction is a plan on how we need to teach the curriculum

4. Differentiation provides the framework to carry out instruction

5. Teach all kids as though they are really smart

6. Start with planning for top level learners rather than aiming in the middle, do not dumb it down but work towards getting the students up there

7. Formative assessment is not for filling in report cards but to inform instruction

8. There is a logic in backward design

9. Essential questions are not the right answer questions

10.Teaching is not just serving ingredients but rather blending them in different ways to suit all people’s tastes

11. We learn when things are just a little too hard for you

12. One cannot ‘hand over’ understanding; this is something each learner needs to develop for themselves

Some other things I thought you might find interesting…

Evidence of understanding means you can do one or more of these:

  • explain in your words and justify your responses,
  • interpret,
  • transfer the understanding to a new situation,
  • see other people’s point of view or take a critical stance,
  • empathise, and / or
  • know yourself as a learner.

Reading and writing shouldn’t impair the student from showing you what he/she knows and can do.

One cannot differentiate poor quality curriculum.

Differentiation does not mean multiple assessment tasks, instead, one can simply change the complexity of the task to challenge students based on their skills and knowledge.

As a reference check on the validity of your assessment tasks in meeting your original aims and objectives, why not show the tasks to another teacher and ask them to state what they think your initial goals might have been.

I also think it’s valid to carry out the above with the students who are actually going to be working on the task.


Thanks for reading 🙂