Friday, 30 August 2013

Business Brand Awareness

I teach a mix of Modern History, Ancient History, and also Business. My real passion is my Modern History subject, but my first degree and job was in the business filed.Every year in my senior business class we have a unit on Marketing. We started about a week ago, and this week we did an activity that everyone enjoys -  The Blind Taste Test. We started talking about the Marketing Mix -The 4 P's; Product, place, Promotion and Price. The first focus is the actual Product and establishing the Brand. We discussed packaging, labels, name, symbols, colours and how the actual product needs to stand out in crowded marketplaces. I introduced branding with a few short clips and then we do an activity based on the top Superbowl adverts of the year.

What is Branding?
Superbowl Top Ads from 2013

The lesson explains how important is creating your brand image, and what the major companies do to promote and safeguard their images. I'm planning on the next lesson to link how they create their own brand on the internet by their activity on social media, and how to actively build it and protect themselves.

So 'The Blind Taste Test':

I have 4 different well known brands and 4 store brands. The items are placed in bowls and numbered. They then have to try them and write down which product they think it is. The brand names included Schweppes Lemonade, Doritos, Allens and Tim Tams. These brands are what the kids grow up with, what their families buy and which they identify with when thinking of these products. It is a fun lesson, and by the end of it everyone is usually quite surprised by the results. For most of the products they preferred the no-name/store brand products. They believed that they were eating the well known brand name, the 'better tasting' product, but they were wrong in more than half the results. This was to highlight how the actual brand, with its reputation, packaging and emotional connections, actually influence our purchasing habits. their all time favourite chocolate biscuit, Tim Tams faired the worst. Only 2 out of 10 identified it right, they were shocked by this. Helps with putting the point across about expectations.


Everyone had a great time and at the end the message came through clearly on how branding influences our purchasing habits. This will hopefully make them consider what products they buy next time they go shopping.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Why do I blog?

Why do I Blog?

Well, this blog is based on sharing ideas, reflecting on teaching and learning, reflecting on my own practice and improving my teaching. I'm not a great writer, I struggle to really gather ideas and thoughts for writing on most occasions. But, here I am writing, and starting to write more often. I'll admit, the posts won't always be perfect, may contain errors, but it is just honest writing about what I'm thinking and learning. I have been constantly experimenting with the layout and what it looks like. It is a work in progress as I figure out how Blogger works and what suits my style the best. My last post it did something strange with the formating and highlighting text, and I have tried many different ways to fix it, but it will stay as is.

I have been a teacher for about three years now, and it has been over the past two years that I have realised the powerful nature of sharing and reflecting. Since being exposed to Twitter, and the innumerable amount of educators out there, I have been actively engaging in exploring and sharing. One of the big messages was that having a blog really improves your reflective practice and makes you think about what you do in class. Also one of the main driving forces is sharing of information, and being to help others.

I hope my blog will be interesting, that I will be able to share valuable information and encourage greater reflection of my teaching practice. Any comments, suggestions or critique is welcomed.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Every contact leaves a trace

One of my favourite television shows is 'Dexter'. I have been intrigued by the story from the very beginning, and the moral ambiguity of the main character. It definitely is not your traditional story, not a black & white story, but many different shades of grey for each situation. This past week a quote from a recent episode came through my Facebook newsfeed.

“Every contact leaves a trace. Everything and everyone we touch is changed in some way. But the changes, they are never what we anticipate.” –#Dexter

This made me think of our role as teachers and how each day we leave a trace of ourselves with the people we come in contact with. Over the past few years I have come into contact with many students in my classes, in playgrounds, different events and multiple excursions. I have had great discussions, laughter, stress, tears, stand-offs, joy, excitement, surprises, fun, anger, happiness, success, failure, achievements, and many other experiences. Many of these situations I have had an influence on a student, and in most cases I could never anticipate exactly what it would be. 

There have been a number of students that have in turn had an influence on myself and my teaching. They have left a trace on me and how I approach my own teaching. Many of them probably will never realise how they have left an influence on me. 

As a teacher we have a very important responsibility in how we influence our students and what legacy we leave with them. This is why it is important to be mindful, considerate, approachable, fair, dedicated, committed, compassionate, and always give your absolute best. 

Friday, 23 August 2013

No more Homework - Part 2

Since posting the 'No more Homework' post yesterday I have had quite a mixed reaction from people. Seems having a title like that gets more people looking at your Blog, tripled the usual 'traffic', but that was never my goal. This is something that I feel quite strongly about, and an idea I plan on exploring further.

I received some mixed reactions, with some really positive and supportive comments from people and offering their points of view. I quite enjoy hearing other viewpoints that support and challenge my own ideas. Life is a learning process and every single day I'm learning new things in education and become exposed to different theories. I read this interesting extract from Alfie Kohn, education author and speaker, regarding homework.

The Case Against Homework
By Alfie Kohn
After spending all day in school, our children are forced to begin a second shift, with more academic assignments to be completed at home. This arrangement is rather odd when you stop to think about it, as is the fact that few of us ever do stop to think about it.
Instead of assuming that homework should be a given, or that it allegedly benefits children, I've spent the last few years reviewing the available research and talking to parents, teachers and students. My findings can be summarized in seven words: Homework is all pain and no gain.
The pain is obvious to kids but isn't always taken seriously by adults. Backpacks stuffed with assignments leave students exhausted, frustrated, less interested in intellectual pursuits and lacking time to do things they enjoy. "Most of what homework is doing," says literacy expert Harvey Daniels, "is driving kids away from learning."
We parents, meanwhile, turn into nags. After being away from our children all day, the first words out of our mouths, sadly, may be: "So, did you finish your homework?" One mother told me it permanently damaged her relationship with her son because it forced her to be an enforcer rather than a mom.
The surprising news, though, is that there are virtually no pros to balance the cons. Even if you regard grades or test scores as good measures of learning, which I do not, doing homework has no statistical relationship to achievement in elementary school. In high school, some studies do find a correlation between homework and test scores, but it's usually fairly small. And in any case, it's far from clear that the former causes the latter. And if you're wondering, not a single study has ever supported the folk wisdom that homework teaches good work habits or develops positive character traits such as self-discipline, responsibility or independence.
Some teachers know all this but feel compelled to keep assigning homework for tradition's sake, or because of pressure from administrators or, ironically, parents. Adults also may assume that kids will waste their time (read: do things grown-ups don't regard as sufficiently constructive) unless they're made to do schoolwork at home.
Still others believe—incorrectly—that more time spent on a task produces better results, or that because practice is required to be a good athlete or musician, it's also at the heart of intellectual growth. It isn't. You can't "reinforce" understanding the way you can reinforce a behavior. In my experience, people with the least sophisticated understanding of how children learn, or the least amount of concern about children's attitudes toward learning, tend to be the most enthusiastic supporters of homework.
We might forgive the infringement on family time if homework were assigned only when there was good reason to think that this particular task would benefit these particular students, that it will help them think more deeply about questions that matter and create more excitement about learning (and that it can't be done at school). But what educators are more likely to say is, in effect, "Your children will have to do something every night. Later on we'll figure out what to make them do." If there's a persuasive defense of that approach, I've never heard it.
Not only should there be much less homework assigned, there ought to be none at all of the worst types, such as filling out worksheets or cramming forgettable facts into short-term memory. I believe "no homework" should be the default arrangement. In other words, weeknight (let alone weekend or vacation) assignments should have to be justified on a case-by-case basis. Because most homework can't be justified, some teachers, and even some whole schools, have stopped assigning it altogether, with fabulous results.
We parents need to reach out to others in our communities to debunk uninformed assumptions ("homework is academically beneficial"), to challenge silly claims ("homework is needed to provide a link between school and family"), and to help restore sanity and joy to our children's lives. We should respectfully but pointedly inform educators that the status quo isn't supported by good research or basic values, and those values include a commitment to let kids be kids and provide them with time to grow socially, physically, emotionally and artistically—not just academically.
(The Homework Myth (Da Capo Press) Alfie Kohn)

Thursday, 22 August 2013

No more Homework

I have been reading Pernille Ripp's Blog about homework these last few days. I have had the same thoughts over the past two years, and even more so recently. I found an old post by Pernille on her reasons why she does not like homework - here is a link to it

Her thoughts really resonate with me. Below are some of her reasons why she does not like homework and I completely agree on all accounts:

   * Homework is an excuse for the stuff we didn't get to.
   * Homework is not fair.
   * Homework steals away childhood.
   * Homework does not always fit the learning.
   * Homework is maybe not just done by the student.

I can see how busy our students' lives are. There is so much going on, they spend most of their day at school and only a small amount with family. Yes, there are times when they need to be doing assignments that count towards their grades, but homework really does rob them of their time. They should be pursuing their own interests, spend time with friends and family, relax, play sport, discover new hobbies, explore. We need to seriously rethink the way we approach Homework, is it beneficial or are we just doing it for the sake of it.

We should find time; we have to find time in school for homework. Allow them to enjoy their childhood and pursue their passions. Who knows, the passions might just start to overlap with school and become part of school. Encourage their passions and let them pursue that, rather than hours of homework each week.

I know we are sometimes so time-poor and struggle to get through content, but do we really need to cover every little thing? Focus on what is essential to know and the critical skills required. That is infinitely more important than doing homework every single day. Encourage students to explore the content themselves without you having to force prescribe work. Make it interesting, engaging and challenging. Then the learning will continue without homework.

I hope to try and make homework non-existent for my classes in the very near future.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Finding my 'Element'

I'm slowly reading Ken Robinson's The Element, and it has been quite insightful and I have enjoyed his writing style. The book contains a lot of different stories of how people found their calling, their element and purpose in life.

Ken Robinson discussing The Element

I have been teaching for almost 3 years now after only becoming a teacher in my 30s. I had studied a business degree and found the field of logistics along the way. I enjoyed the scheduling, organising and planning elements of Logistics. I still find it fascinating how the big manufacturing industry function and love watching programmes on them. There was also the family history of both my dad and granddad being in the construction industry. Construction and Logistics appear to be very related fields with the planning and organising of complex operations.

Then how did I end up being a teacher? I enjoyed school, loved university and loved learning; but at the age of 22 I had not given any thought of being a teacher. I thought my career was set to be in the Logistics world. A few years after university I married a teacher and my eyes were opened up to the education world. I saw her passion for her students and the challenging environment she was working in. There were highs and lows during her teaching years in South Africa. I started entertaining the thought of becoming a teacher, but no opportunity to do it in South Africa. We then moved to Australia in 2009 and not long after we arrived here I took the step to become a teacher. After doing my teaching diploma over 18 months I secured my first and current teaching position.

Over the past 2 year I have come to realise I have found my 'Element'.  I have found my passion, what I'm good at, and where I believe I can make a difference. I absolutely love being a teacher; it's challenging, exciting, rewarding, intellectually stimulating, unpredictable, evolving and a whole lot of fun.

I look forward to sharing more of my passion through this Blog and Twitter as I continue on my Teaching River.

Friday, 16 August 2013

My paperless class part 2

The second week of being paperless is over and it has brought along some challenges and opportunities for learning. The students have embraced Evernote, some more than others, and they are actively doing their work on there. The activity of each student in their notebooks shows up in  my Evernote account and allows me to see where they are up to. 

We have looked at 9/11 for a number of lessons and through Evernote I was able to share timelines, images and questions with them. As we covered the section on background and reasons behind 9/11 we looked at the middle east, Israel, Ottoman Empire and explored this part of the world to show the link to 9/11. 

At the end of the lesson students completed and 'Exit Card' on what they had learnt and what they were having trouble with. Instead of writing it on a piece of paper, they created a note in their shared Evernote notebook. I went through the "exit card' notes that afternoon and could clearly see where I need to focus on and look at again. Next lesson I covered this section a bit differently and they all understood the sections that was a bit unclear. This showed to me how invaluable the 'exit card' can be, and with it being recorded digitally the students are able to reflect on it and refer back to it.

Last lesson of the week we started looking at their assessment piece. I shared a note with the different documents that they will be referring to.

We will be doing the development of the assignment next week, and they will be saving it as they progress. The research notes will be using the Evernote webclipper to record their research pages and I can track their progress. Will see how this goes over the next few weeks.

Two burning questions that I have is whether to allow students the option to write down notes in class with pen & paper, or just record notes on their laptops? And when it comes to assessments; at the end should they have to print it out, should I or can it remain digitally. This becomes even more complex in year 11/12 in Queensland where their work gets sent of to a review panel to be evaluated. This means that they will have to have their work printed off. 

If you have any questions, please leave a comment or email me, or send me a message via twitter @jdtriver.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013


I have been trying to think these last few days what to blog about next. Last week was a little rough, and over the past few days I have struggled to get any inspiration or direction. I have started looking into MOOC's (Massive Open Online Course). These are courses that accessible online to anyone in the world for free by many major universities around the world. There is no limit to how many courses you can take, types of courses or where you are in the world. They don't award credits for university courses, but they allow you to learn new ideas, concepts and grow.

Below is a quick video explaining the MOOC concept.

Some of the main platforms I have come across are

and edX.

I'm very interested in this concept; how it can benefit my own learning and others. More importantly, can I get my students interested and engaged in this. I have already found a course that I might be doing later this year, Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom from the University of California, Irvine through Coursera. I find the prospect exciting that I can learn new skills and develop my understandings of concepts. I will keep you posted on what i decide and please let me know if you have had any experience with MOOC's.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Ups and downs

This term is almost half way and it is getting to countdown time for my seniors. The term has also been filled with many ups, but recently quite a few downs.

The Year 10 Modern History class has been the highlight thus far. The students are engaged with the paperless concept, they are enjoying the topic, we have interesting discussions and I leave every lesson with a big smile on my face. I love that feeling.
My other senior classes are also going well, my seniors are working so well independently. I'm feeling a little bit bored, I walk around and try and force them to get some help from me. I had an 80 minute lesson where my History class were doing research, and only 3 questions. They understand the process, the success criteria, the end piece, they know what is required. Feeling quite proud of their independence and that they are just about ready for university studies.

I won't discuss the downs on a public forum or blog, I have respect for my profession, colleagues and school not to do that. We all have frustrations at points and as I said in the previous post, teaching is like a river. It will pass and we move along down the river to the next moment of calm and joy.

Another good thing, to end of with, is that I have finished drafting a new Business Management subject work program a few months ahead of schedule, and rewrote my Modern History program during the June holidays. Both have to be sent off to a district panel to be analysed and approved for next year. Now I can focus on this term, and the mountain of marking looming and developing some other ideas.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Why River?

I thought I might share the reasons behind my blog name, 'The Teaching River' and my Twitter handle @jdtriver. I hope that this gives some insight. By pure coincidence the school I work at is called Riverside, but this is not where the river name originated.

I believe our lives as teachers is like a river. We start our careers flowing along from a starting point. Then as we progress through our careers, we have many different streams flow into this river - influences from friends, family, colleagues, communities, our students. Then as the river flows, we go through calm patches - the periods where everything just runs smoothly in our classes. Then there is a series of rapids, filled with ups and downs - teaching goes through so many emotional and stressful phases, but the river does not stop and nor does your teaching. Then there are the streams that flow out from a river. This is where we influence people and make a difference in their lives and they go on their own way. Eventually the river will reach the ocean, and this symbolises how teaching never ends and the legacy you create in your students goes out to the rest of the world.

Life does not happen in isolation, we all are influenced by others and in turn influence people. I know that my life as a teacher I will go through many phases, ups and downs, and that they are all part of my own learning journey.  This is how I see the link with a river, the continuos flow of developing my own skills, learning, gaining knowledge and wisdom, being a role model, a positive influence and mentor to my students.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

What will be my impact on the generations to follow

At church this morning one of the key points was "What will be my impact on the generations to follow".  This was related to priests and prophets during the old testament and setting the example for their future generations. I immediately saw a strong link to our role as teachers. It needs to be one of the integral philosophies behind what we do. What we do today impacts the lives not only of the student in front of us, but their children to come.

We need to reflect on this question, "What will be my impact on the generations to follow?".

How will I impact my students lives?
How will I inspire them?
How will I change, transform and develop their learning?
How will I lead them on their journey?
How will I help them to explore their abilities?
How will my role benefit their lives?
How can I be a positive influence?
How will, what I do today, influence their children's lives?
How can I be the best that I can be for others?

We have a profound responsibility and duty to every student that crosses our paths. We never truly understand how much impact we have on a students' life.

Be prepared, be knowledgable, be reliable, be fair, be strict, be flexible, be approachable, be compassionate, be reflective, be there for them, be the teacher, be the mentor, be the guide, be the inspiration, and be awesome.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

My paperless class

Last year I started getting into Evernote and using it fairly regularly. This increased over the course of the year and I signed up for a Premium account in June last year. I started reading more and more posts about going paperless and having a paperless classroom. The most influential blog on this topic came from Nicholas Provenzano - The Nerdy Teacher and his 'Epic Evernote Experiment (here's a link to it). It has been fantastic reading his experience of doing this in his classes and it has got me thinking about this more and more.

So, I decided to make a step in this direction and launch my first paperless class. My Year 10 Modern History classes this semester will be entirely paperless using the absolutely amazing Evernote (I'm a huge fan of Evernote and constantly encourage people to use it for everything in their lives). Here is how I went about doing it.

Paperless Class Part 1

Modern History Term 3: The most significant events of the 20th century

The first lesson was about introducing the topic and the concept of going paperless to a group of 19 Year 10 students. Initial reaction was mixed, but most seem to embrace the concept and open to the idea. I went through an Evernote tutorial and helped each student set up an Evernote account, install the web clipper and create a notebook. Most managed to get on quite easily and have it installed, however their were a few technical issues with some student laptops that did not get resolved straight away. By the next lesson, they were all ready to go.

I had set up a class notebook where I would share all notes, pdf's, images and assessments with them.
My Notebook shared with students

The next step involved them sharing their individual notes with me. This would allow me to see their progress and a way to track their learning. I placed all the shared notebooks from the students in a notebook stack:

Our topic on greatest events would cover a brief overview of the 20th century, followed by a focus study on 9/11 attack and then introducing their assessment piece. Each of these I will cover over the next blog posts.  

If you have any questions, please leave a comment or email me, or send me a message via twitter @jdtriver.