It’s hard to believe, but text messaging reached a milestone last week!

25 years ago – December 3rd 1992 to be exact – the first text message was sent by Engineer Neil Papworth when he wrote “Merry Christmas” on a computer and sent it to Richard Jarvis, the then director of Vodaphone.  It was an event which changed technology forever and along with it, set in motion a colossal shift in social norms.

While it’s debatable whether SMS today is being overtaken by social media platforms, the impact of texting on our lives has been profound.   Twenty five years is a very long time!  A generation of young people know no other way to communicate, a fact which raises a whole range of issues including whether or not the art of interacting face to face is being lost.  Have a listen to this discussion to gain a greater understanding:

I’ve been in teaching long enough to remember the days when fears for students’ ability to spell beyond texting shorthand was a serious concern.

Educational concerns however are constantly evolving.  As reflected in a presentation by New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman at a conference earlier this year and repeated regularly since, he advocates the need to teach all children how to talk to each other on the internet and how to understand fact from fiction:

Believing in the importance of starting to educate children from a young age, the DQ Institute has developed a 15 hour free online curriculum aiming to teach digital citizenship covering a range of key skills:

Underlining the importance of school students learning digital civics, Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) will, from next year, assess ‘global competencies’:

From next year PISA will test not only maths, science and reading skills, but “global competencies”, which its education head, Andreas Schleicher, described as young people’s attitudes to global issues and different cultures, analytical and critical skills and abilities to interact with others. The first results will report in 2019.  (“Don’t teach your kids coding, teach them how to live online” The Sydney Morning Herald, March 25 2017)

How appropriate it would be to see teacher librarians take the lead to ensure the introduction of digital civics lessons during library sessions!

Having worked in a few different schools over the years, I have often felt bemused when the school admin starts looking at the timetable, contemplating changes and refinements which most often involve running calculations on how many minutes per subject are given over to core subjects versus elective subjects.

Inevitably the focus switches to how much time is wasted: students and/or teachers arriving late to class; teachers dismissing students before the end of the period; or students straggling into class after changeover time.

Then the arguments start on the length of recess and lunch breaks.  If class time is at a premium, the thinking and eventual application is to reduce these precious break times.  Students, after all, are in school to be in class not to have endless break time.

So it was with a sigh of relief when I read that Harkaway Primary School, a South East Melbourne suburban school, had radically overhauled their school timetable to provide six breaks in the day – four 10 minute breaks and two 45 minute breaks – an initiative inspired by standard practice in Finland.

Giving children time to play during the school day, Pasi Sahlberg who addressed the recent 2017 Annual ACEL National Conference, highlighted the benefit seen in the Finnish school system.  A recent report by Henrietta Cook: ‘Ready to go’: School keeps kids switched on by ending each hour with Finnish break  (The Age, October 18, 2017) noted many of the benefits enjoyed by Harkaway Primary School students:

  • healthier and happier children
  • improved ability to focus and concentrate in class
  • improved behaviour: less fidgety on return to class from breaks
  • better grades in literacy and numeracy

As adults, we know this formula very well.  What do we do when our concentration starts wavering?  We get up and walk around.  We grab a cup of coffee.  We chat with another member of staff.  We go get some fresh air.

If this kind of boost to our concentration is essential, it seems quite obvious that it should be the same for the students in our schools.

Stuffing more into a day cannot possibly lead to increased achievement levels.  Increasing the number of teaching sessions in a day or increasing the length of each period to 60 minutes is, I feel, counter productive.

Let’s instead bring on a revolution!

Restructure timetables in our schools to incorporate more frequent break times to enable improve learning outcomes!

I’ve been desperately trying to get back into shape, so have decided to take the lead from this guy!

Phonics is “in” again?!

When I first heard about the push to reintroduce Phonics into Year 1 teaching programs, I thought I was hearing things!

Could it be possible that a tried and tested method of teaching kids to read was making a ‘come back’?!

You see ….. when I was a kid ….. learning phonics was a major path to unlocking the mysteries of letters on a page.  Warm memories of sitting on the mat staring at letter combinations and cue cards to help me remember the various letter combinations that made the same sound are as fresh in my memory today as they were when I was very little.

The result?  My ability to pronounce words – as distinct from knowing the meaning of words – is quite straightforward.  Even though I have trouble explaining ‘why it is so’ to those who come to English as a second language, I have clearly internalized a wide range of basic rules.

By the time my son started school though, ‘Whole Language’ was the ‘thing’.  After a couple of years observing that this approach didn’t necessarily suit all learners, I quietly dubbed this new approach as learning to read by osmosis!  Structured instructions had been thrown out the door, immersion in ‘whole language’ was the one and only way.

The sad fact though, ensuring that a generation of children struggled with learning to read, was that this approach just didn’t suit all children.

Building foundations by giving young children a scaffolding on which they can build makes so much more sense.

So it was with much pleasure I recently read an informative article by Kirstie Chlopicki: Why we need the phonics screening test  (Education Review, October 17, 2017; access by subscription to Education Review only unfortunately) which notes that a phonics screening test will soon to be introduced into Australian schools for all Year 1 students.  Acknowledging that children will not learn the complex relationships between sounds and letter symbols in English, a language recognized to be more complex than other languages, unless they are taught “early, explicitly, systematically and regularly” says much for the previous teaching methods.

Announcing the impending introduction of the phonics screening test, Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training has clearly signaled a change in the right direction.

Screening students however is only the first step.

Considering the current frightening literacy levels in a county such as Australia – a developed Western nation – taking action to not just develop but to implement a phonics teaching program is urgent!


Apple’s latest “baby” –  iPhone X went on sale in Melbourne this morning.

For my Apple addicted family, this is really HUGE!!

Needless to say, one of the family got up early enough to see the long queues snaking their way around Chadstone and was in the Apple store, ready to purchase, just after 9.00.  I’ve just come from seeing a live demo of just how good it is and well ….. the story goes on from there of course!!

A few days ago I had a look at a pre-release review by Engadget which by and large gave it the thumbs up!


Pretty impressive!

I’ve just gotten home from a coffee/chat with one of my sons for a real-live-look-see though and can confirm that like other Apple products, the iPhone X is indeed very sexy and beautiful.  The design and look, with its glass front and back and silver trim edge, really is an impressive creation!  Lots of other features, including it’s full screen, add much to the appeal of what is already a very ‘un-put-downable’ product.

I’ve been reading  lots lately about the impact of iPhones on our lives and indeed on our society.  I just look at my own behaviour and can see the incredible shift in how I think and operate – and realize that my iPhone is centre-stage of all my daily activities!!  I literally don’t move around the house without having it near me!  Is this compulsive or obsessive behaviour?!  Ye gads!  I never imagined I’d be like this!

But then – have a look at this incredible statistic about our smartphone use!

People tapped, swiped and clicked a whopping 2,617 times each day, on average.

Dig the last two words: on average! 

If you happen to be in the top 10% of users, that figure doubles to 5,427 touches a day! 

Hard to believe?  Research reported on this dscout article: Putting a finger on our phone obsession paints an incredible picture of our use of phones.  Some of it is outright scary.

Hmmm ….. Definitely food for thought!

Sometimes I sit around trying to think up a good idea that would be of benefit to others and would be a fabulous tool to market.

Rarely – if at all though – do ideas pop into my head!

So when I read about the ideas of others which have been turned into start ups I’m in awe – both of the idea and of the determination of people to get out there and do what I most often procrastinate about!

And ….. so often ….. the ideas that hit the market place are so very, very obvious!

Upright Go is just one of these ideas.  In fact, the idea is so simple, it’s curious that no one thought of it before.  While you can read about the technicalities of this start up on Kickstarter, the product is now fully funded and is being produced and distributed.  It’s accompanying app is also available from the app store.

It’s a tool that is guaranteed to train you to stop being a screen sloucher!!  If you are a keen Aussie looking for an Australian distributor, you can purchase it today here.

Check Upright Go out in this short video:

If you haven’t been following the argument about the benefits vs the dangers of AI, you can get a real feel of the controversy from this summary of a very public stoush between Marc Zuckerberg and Elon Musk just a few months ago.


Then out comes this announcement from Google just a few days ago:

Google unveils AI that learns on its own”

It seems like science fiction has come alive!

Within just three days, AlphaGo was able to master thousands of years of human knowledge about the game Go before inventing its own better moves!  Read more details here:  “It’s able to create knowledge itself: Google unveils AI that learns on its own”  (The Guardian, October 19th 2017):

Pretty incredible!

The only difference though is the fact that this is real!