Embracing the new Technologies curriculum

This article was originally published in Educational Technology Solutions magazine, Issue 66 (Jun/Jul 2015).


Our nation’s first digital technology curriculum is on our doorstep, and if you have been paying attention in educational circles for the last 2 years, the words “Computational Thinking” and “Coding” are all the rage right now. So what are the implications for the practitioner, who is likely to have had little exposure in their training as to how to teach Computer Science to children, and are therefore somewhere between frightened or excited by what lies ahead?

The dawn of a new curriculum approach to technology.


The official stance from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) of the Technologies Curriculum at the time of writing is that the curriculum is “available for use; awaiting final endorsement”, even though it has been in this state for well over a year now.

Our current education minister Christopher Pyne has done little to ensure the endorsement, particularly after a review of the entire National Curriculum was released in October 2014. Political agendas and duress aside, it is ACARA’s intention that schools commence partial adoption of the curriculum, with full adoption expected by 2017.

The Technologies Curriculum encompasses two interconnected areas; Design and Technologies, where students use critical thinking to create innovative solutions for authentic problems, and Digital Technologies, where students use computational thinking and information systems to implement digital solutions.

According to ACARA, the aims of the syllabus are to ensure that students can:

  • create, manage and evaluate sustainable and innovative digital solutions
  • use computational thinking and the key concepts of abstraction to create digital solutions
  • use digital systems to automate and communicate the transformation of data
  • apply protocols and legal practises that support safe, ethical and respectful communications
  • apply systems thinking to information systems and predict the impact of these systems on individuals, societies, economies and environments

What is most promising about the way in which this curriculum is written is the way in which it has embraced technology as a holistic approach to thinking and exercising creativity. The traditional teaching of ICT in schools has usually been around the idea of integrating tools to assist in other subject areas, which is the intention of the ICT as a General Capability in the Australian Curriculum. Instead, the Technologies Curriculum paves the way for teachers to work with children as young as Foundation on pattern recognition and classifying data in contexts that they can understand, which gradually builds up to the development of students with a strong understanding of computer science by the time they reach Year 10.

The content structure of the Technologies Curriculum can be viewed at australiancurriculum.edu.au/technologies/rationale


Demystifying “Coding”.

Code used in a Term 4, 2014 Genius Hour project by a group of students who used an arduino board to program a car.

Code used in a Term 4, 2014 Genius Hour project by a group of students who used an Arduino board to program a car.

Noticeable in the Digital Technologies component of the new curriculum are the ideas of Computational Thinking and Coding, which are introduced to students in early primary school.

The idea of coding is not to simply have students churn out computer programs. Rather, it is about assisting them to identify and analyse problems, develop innovative and creative solutions, which will ultimately help contribute to a global society improved by technology.

Computational, System and Design Thinking all require the ability to examine problems clearly and to break them down into manageable parts, in order to systematically analyse a process to best solve them.

It encourages the design of several solutions that can be applied in broad contexts. This type of problem solving – or thinking – is highly valued in the outside world. The ability to analyse problems and come up with clever solutions is the kind of thinking that continues to push our world forward, yet oddly enough, we don’t teach it in a deliberate and defined way – until now!

Through the Code.org initiative, more and more advocates are championing the idea of coding in schools, from celebrities like Will.I.Am to the Silicon Valley elite. The worrying trend is that the number of Computer Science graduates are currently not meeting demand, yet alone in the future, where the demand is expected to further increase as the world starts to crave employees who are affluent in using technology to design products and solutions. Mark Zuckerberg is quoted as saying “Our policy (at Facebook) is literally to hire as many talented engineers as we can find…the whole limit in the system is that there aren’t enough people who are trained and have these skills today.”

Coding can have the stigma of a un-sexy operation which takes place in a dark room with nerds sipping on soft-drinks, huddled around glowing screens and punching in lots of ones and zeros. Once upon a time, one was required to have a tertiary degree to operate punch-card machinery and to develop lines of code for programs that ran on mainframe computers. Through the advancements of technology, and particularly in the way in which we can interact with it, anybody of any age can now code.

Put simply, coding is about writing and following instructions. When a set of instructions are written for the computer, it follows them. Any time you have explained to someone how to bake a cake, or typed a sum on a calculator, or organised a filing cabinet in alphabetical order, you have essentially been designing an algorithm to execute a desired action. Coding is teaching a computer how to run a sequence of events, for the reason that a computer can execute steps a lot faster than a human can.

Technology is starting to automate a lot of tasks that can easily be replicated by traditional human driven processes. For this reason, we have started to see a shift in our modernised and globalised world.

Take for example, Japan’s Toyota production line which, through the use of machines and robots, can assemble a car in 18 hours to specific client orders. Or the ambitious Google Car project, which promises to safely transport passengers from A to B without requiring the commuter to lift a finger. Or the use of computer assisted self-checkouts at the supermarket.

The overly critical may say that technology is taking over our jobs, which to some extent, is true. However, more accurately, it is disrupting jobs and changing the supply and demand for workers. Jobs for production factories will still exist, as will people who drive cars, as will people who work in supermarkets.

What will probably be true, is that these jobs are far more likely to require the skill sets of engineers and coders, who are affluent with technology and programming, to be able to deliver solutions. Those who can build robotic arms to weld alloy will be more sought after than those who can assemble nuts and bolts. Those who can write programs that analyse traffic patterns for automated cars will eventually be in more demand than taxi drivers or chauffeurs. Those who can design computer-assisted checkout systems will replace those who manually scan items for consumers.

It is for this reason that we all need to embrace the new Technologies Curriculum for the good of our kids, and the future of Australia as a technologically relevant country.

How to support Computational Thinking, Coding and the new Technologies Curriculum


  • Code.org – Launched in 2013, Code.org is a non-profit organisation that is dedicated to expanding participation in computer science, particuarly by increasing participation amongst women.
  • Hour of Code: an initiative of Code.org, is an annual event that promotes coding in primary and secondary schools across the globe. The coding tutorials can be completed online and have modules suitable for all ages (see studio.code.org).
  • Code Club Australia: a nationwide network of free volunteer-led after-school coding clubs for children aged 9-11 (see codeclubau.org).
  • Code the Future: aims to forge crucial links between the technology industry and education (see codefuture.org).
  • Bebras Australia Computational Thinking Challenge: Bebras is an international initiative whose goal is to promote computational thinking for teachers and students in Years 3 to 12, and is aligned with the new Digital Technologies Curriculum (see bebras.edu.au).
  • Computer Science Unplugged: is a collection of free learning activities that teach Computer Science without having to learn programming first. (see csunplugged.org).
  • Careers with Code: is a publication by Refraction Media and Google which promotes computer science careers in design, education, science, health, arts, media, law and business (see refractionmedia.com.au/careerswithcode/ or search for Careers with Code on Google Play or iTunes App Store).
  • CSER MOOC: the Computer Science Education Research Group at the University of Adelaide have developed a number of open, online courses designed to assist teachers in addressing the new Digital Technologies learning area (see csdigitaltech.appspot.com/course).


ACER EPPC 2015 Conference – Using Google Forms to drive differentiated instruction

This week I will be co-presenting a paper at the ACER Excellence in Professional Practice Conference in Sydney with Phillip Holmes-Smith. Philip has worked closely with our school in the last few years and has been instrumental in pushing our thinking when it comes to data literacy and fluency.

The session aims to describe the process in which our school has undertaken to improve outcomes in mathematics by using Google Forms for assessing skills and concepts for and of learning. The presentation builds upon previous talks I have given (particularly at #GAFEsummit) but is more explicit in the rationale behind our initiative and the associated improvements in outcomes which are drastic.



At St. Mark’s Primary School in Dingley, Victoria, teachers have developed an effective and
efficient approach to teaching mathematics in the senior years. For several years the school was faced with NAPLAN results which indicated average performing students in mathematics. The school desired to lift this by structuring an approach to mathematics where the use of data was central to the teaching and learning process.

The teachers developed a scope and sequence of curriculum for each area of mathematics. They used them with students who were able to plot and track their learning at various stages of development. The teachers designed assessments using a free tool, Google Forms (a web based data collector). Students take the online assessment as a pre-test of their learning. The data of 125 students is captured instantaneously, the test graded automatically, and the students are sent an email with their results. They use it to plot their current stage of learning on their scope and sequence.

With a guiding hand, they make decisions and elect to position themselves at given stations to suit their progress. The teachers design activities, tasks, and pathways to deliver explicit instruction of skills and concepts in mathematics over 6 lessons. At the end of the unit, the same assessment is taken as a post test of learning.

The approach developed at the school has led to several improvements. Time and money has been saved, but most importantly, the strategy has demonstrated significant improvement in learning outcomes for students. Teachers calculate effect sizes for individual students and cohorts to track growth.

The data correlates to more longitudinal sets like NAPLAN and PAT-M which confirm the effectiveness of the approach. This presentation will unpack the data and explain the process employed in detail.

2015 Edu On Air: Ignited learning through Genius Hour

Last week I had the privilege of presenting on Google Edu On Air, a 2 day global PD event that took place online. Many keynotes and over 100 sessions took place this year, all of which can be watched on demand from the 2015 Google Edu On Air website.

My session, titled ‘Ignited learning through Genius Hour’, was an overview of our school’s experiences five iterations of Genius Hour in Year 5 and 6 and the lessons learnt since it’s inception.

A recording of the session can be viewed below, as well as on the Google Edu On Air website.



On demand Edu On Air page

Presentation slides

Session materials

Google+ event


Hacking student passions through Genius Hour

This article originally appeared in Educational Technology Solutions Issue 64 (APR/MAY 2015)


10 Principles Of Genius Hour

Genius Hour is a movement picking up traction globally – an opportunity where students given true autonomy explore their own passions and exercise creativity in the classroom. It allows pure voice and choice in what students learn during a set period of time during school. Genius Hour is student-driven, passion-based inquiry at it’s best which can be enhanced by technology in the hands of modern learners. Put simply, it is a time where learners choose what to learn and how to learn.

A traditional view-point of education is one where teachers map curriculum and standards, plan and control units and lessons based on those standards. Yet in Genius Hour, students are the ones completely in control, choosing what they study, how they study it, what they do, produce or create as a result.

With the ever increasing rise of information and communication devices in the hands of students, Genius Hour is allowing students to pursue their interests, seek information, and make genuine impacts in ways never possible otherwise.


Where has Genius Hour come from?

Genius Hour is commonly associated with innovative companies like Google, where engineers spend up to 20% of their time working on projects they are interested in and passionate about. The study and process is motivated intrinsically instead of extrinsically, which lets people work on whatever sparks them and therefore reaps productivity benefits. Engineers spend up to one day of their working week on projects and initiatives of their choice. Have you heard of or use Gmail? If so, you are enjoying the use of a product conceived during 20% time, an idea that started with one person’s interest which now benefits millions of others.

In 2011 Daniel Pink blogged about this idea in relation to other workplaces in his post  ‘The Genius Hour: How 60 minutes a week can electrify your job’. He stated that:

“Each week, employees can take a Genius Hour — 60 minutes to work on new ideas or master new skills. They’ve used that precious sliver of autonomy well, coming up with a range of innovations including training tools for other branches.”

If the idea is to give employees in a workplace a scheduled time each week to think, learn and explore themselves and their work environment better, more creative and more exciting things might ensue. In essence the idea is very simple. If you give time for creativity, discovery and learning, you create an opportunity for empowerment and growth of both the individual and therefore the organisation.

His blog post sparked conversation with educators on Twitter, and shortly after, the hashtag #GeniusHour  was born. Since then, educators globally have been marvelling at the engagement and motivation happening in classrooms adopting the idea of Genius Hour. A group of educators around the globe are actively compiling resources and reflections of this movement which can be accessed from geniushour.wikispaces.com, and is an excellent go-to point for any one interested in pursuing this idea further.


How does Genius Hour work in our school?

Similar 20% Time principles were applied to our school setting in our version of Genius Hour. Together with my colleagues we went about designing this opportunity for our students.

We set aside time for students to work on their own projects. We challenged them to explore or do something that they were interested in. They would spend several weeks researching and working towards their projects before sharing their results. We would show students how to use ICT’s to research, create, communicate and collaborate to carry their intended actions.

The Genius Hour projects became revolutionary. They changed students’ thinking and developed their knowledge and experience even if their projects didn’t quite work out. We placed emphasis on the process of learning, innovation and iteration; not the product itself. After all, if a student’s intended product didn’t eventuate or failed numerous times, haven’t we created a valuable and meaningful learning experience?

We discovered that it is not just the projects which are important. Rather, it is how the underlying skills that empower students to transform themselves into active and critical citizens in their education and future lives that really mattered.

All students are naturally curious. Our job as educators is to get them to realise how to take productive actions on those interests. Here lies  the essence of Genius Hour:  the point being that students learn how to transform their passions and interests into actions. Through this they realise that they don’t have to be a bystander, but they can take actions that matter, and that they can make contributions and communicate their understandings in an ever-connected globalised world.

It has been extremely positive to see a high level of engagement and motivation during the term as students were working on their projects. I remember on one particular day during the term I had a professional development to attend outside of school. In the afternoon I returned to find the whole Year 5/6 level working on their Genius Hour projects. When I walked into our building, I found students in different spaces, not necessarily in their home class or with their home teacher, using various pieces of technology, from their laptops, to their mobile devices which they had brought in to assist them with their projects, to school video cameras to record and produce content. Not one single student was off task or disruptive (which is rare for an afternoon late in the week), and is a testament to the deeply personal and motivating influence of Genius Hour.


10 Principles of Genius Hour.

In commencing Genius Hour in my school I designed 10 principles based on what I have read and understood about Genius Hour, and suited it to our students and the desired process.

1) Start with a question – We wanted our students to lead an inquiry, and therefore the question became a crucial point in determining how the project unfolded. A great deal of time was spent with students in developing a question that was deep and complex (see principle two).

2) Be larger than Google – Technology allows us to retrieve fact-based questions quite easily, so we wanted our students to investigate a question and share their knowledge with something that cannot be answered with a simple Google search or a flick through a book. Why teach others about “What are reptiles?” when the answer can easily be discovered for oneself? Hence, we encouraged students to pursue a “Non-Googleable” question that could involve the use of technology or a library search to assist, but wouldn’t necessarily locate an answer in an instant.

3) Work towards a project – We wanted our students to have a desired outcome, product or goal related to their question so that they had a direction and could accomplish or achieve something during Genius Hour. We encouraged our students to think about what they might make, do, or teach to others (see principle four).

4) Make an impact – We wanted our students to think about how they could shape the world around them, whether that be on a local, national, or global stage. We raised the expectations that they could contribute something meaningful to their society and that their contributions were valued. Could they create a useful product? Could they carry out a socially just action? Could they teach others by tapping into their creative talents or passions?

5) Share your learnings – We wanted our students to communicate and celebrate their learnings to make those above-mentioned impacts. Students presented their projects to their peers in any format that they wished. We held an open expo day in our school where other students, teachers, and the local community came to see and celebrate our students’ passions and interests evident in their projects. We offered students the opportunity to connect to a virtual community via Google Hangouts, so that they might teach others, present to a meaningful audience, and seek feedback on their learning. We uploaded every project to our class blog to reach a global audience (see principle six).

6) Present and capture digitally – Students were free to use their school provided laptop or their own mobile devices for researching and presenting information. Whilst not all students used digital tools for creating or completing an action, having digital evidence meant that they could share their projects to the class blog and reach a wider audience.

7) Include a bibliography – We want our students to be digitally literate and 21st century responsible citizens; which means understanding sources of information, copyright, and giving credit where credit is due! As students uploaded their projects to the class blog as knowledge artefacts, they were required to include a bibliography for their images and sources of information.

8) Don’t ask for a mark – We wanted our students to be intrinsically motivated and self-critical of their own processes, and not expect that there would be a final mark or score for any produced product or presentation. As teachers we were critical of the impact that a score or rubric could dictate on a highly creative process. Instead we placed emphasis on the students conducting their own weekly self-assessments and reflections whilst giving and receiving teacher and peer feedback.

9) Work on your project only when your other work is complete – In some ways, Genius Hour is a direct contradiction to what goes on in most of our school day, where the teacher ultimately decides the content, even if it does include student voice and choice. Nevertheless, the nature of the beast is that there are areas of the curriculum in which students must be entitled to.

10) Learn by yourself or with others – We wanted our students to decide for themselves if they should pursue their interests individually or with others. Students used a variety of Google Apps tools to share their documents and presentations during the process with their teachers and peers. Students working independently could do so at home or at school. Pairs and small groups of students could share and work on files at the same time regardless of the time of day or place.

Below is an infographic that I have developed to display these principles visually, or click here to download as a PDF.






Genius Hour – an oxymoron?

Genius Hour is often challenged. After all, if it is indeed so good for students, why relegate it to only an hour? Whilst there is some truth to this premise, for some teachers Genius Hour might be a means to an end where their context is challenged by the impact of high-stakes testing, content-based teacher practises or other influences which might inhibit student voice and choice in the classroom. Genius Hour may offer a practical way of changing this paradigm, but certainly the principles are nothing new of contemporary or sound education practises. Whether it is the Maker / Tinker movement, Challenge / Problem Based Learning, or in this case Genius Hour, our job as educators is to carefully create and deliver pathways for students that cover an entitled curriculum for all, whilst delivering it in the most meaningful, relevant, and developmentally suitable manner for each child.


The impact of technological rich classrooms.

The idea of passion-based learning or passion projects are not new. In fact, I remember completing my own project about dinosaurs in the early nineties in my primary schooling; ironically enough, it was also one of my most vivid learning experiences from that era. In that time, education was mostly bound by teacher control, with typical information accessed from textbooks and the library. In today’s modern classroom, a reflection of an ever-increasing technologically developed world, students have a multitude of avenues to seek and find information, and have an arsenal of physical and digital tools at their disposal.

As such, we live in an age where information is becoming ever ubiquitous, should you know how to find it an discern it. This is an essential and basic fluency that any citizen needs. However, beyond this lies an even more important facet. It should be with urgency that we encourage our students to pursue deep and meaningful experiences that go beyond surface level learning being permeated by our increased access to information.

Our aim should be to push the boundaries of kids and their imaginations so that they become creative citizens who find problems and develop ways to solve them. We need to stretch their minds so they fully believe themselves to be capable of genius as they go forth into an uncertain future.


You can find more information about our Genius Hour implementations via this blog – http://anthsperanza.global2.vic.edu.au/category/geniushour/

To view examples of our student’s projects see – http://stmarks56.global2.vic.edu.au/category/geniushour/


Google Apps for Education Summits – Canberra and Sydney 2015

I will be speaking at both the Canberra and Sydney Google Apps for Education Summits this March and April. I am in the process of setting up a Site for all of my training material, but in the meantime, below is a round-up of all resources from my sessions:

Unleashing the potential of Google Forms


E-portfolios made easy with GAFE


Managing your learning environment with GAFE and Chrome


Ignited learning through Genius Hour


 Deployment guide to Chromebooks



Transformed learning with Google Apps for Education

This article originally appeared in Educational Technology Solutions Issue 64 (FEB/MAR 2015)

40 million and counting. That is the number of students and teachers who use Google Apps for Education around the globe. But why are they using it? Furthermore, do schools use it to its true potential?


The power of the web

Google Apps is a suite of free productivity tools designed to help students and teachers work together more efficiently and effec­tively. It is a multi-purpose platform with a myriad of educational and instructional benefits.

At its core, Google Apps includes Gmail (webmail service), Google Drive (online documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, and drawings), Google Calendar (web based appoint­ments and organisation) and Google Sites (website creator); not to mention the many additional services like Hangouts, Blogger, Youtube, or Picasa which can be used with Google Apps with seamless integration

As cloud-based technologies, they are always readily available, backed up, accessible at any time and place, and available to use on any device. They remain automatically up-to-date, and are constantly being refined and improved with increased functionality (see http://goo.gl/CdPj).

Google’s foray into Education is enabling a total rethink in the way that teachers and students use technology for learning (see http://goo.gl/p4Cp4). Google Apps is an online solution that bridges the divide between learning at home or at school. It offers the opportunity for collaboration to happen in real time, irrespective of physical or digital location.

Google Apps makes it easy to share with fellow students, teachers, parents and the wid­er community. Teachers can apply the appropriate security and share settings for resources as they see fit, all via one account and one password. Simplicity and flexibility at its best, it is removing obstacles for students, teachers, and even technical departments.

From primary to tertiary institutions, students and teachers are realising the benefits of the Google Apps for Education platform. Google Apps has been growing fast, if not virally, over the last few years. There are currently over 40 million students using the service worldwide, and the number continues to grow each day. Google delivers a high quality service, at a cost-effective price, as an easy to use system, with powerful potential. With guaranteed reliability of 99.9% up­time, Google Apps is scaling at an incredible rate.

Each week on Google’s Official Enterprise Blog (http://goo.gl/ipTXOO), stories are emerging of the continued uptake of Google Apps, and the way in which they are changing communication and productivity for the better once organisations have ‘Gone Google’.

From connecting 45,000 schools across 7,000 islands in the Philippines, to equipping 4 million students in São Paulo in Bra­zil, Google Apps is bringing new and exciting opportunities to education.

As technology is developing at an ever-increasing rate, Google Apps has the potential to make communication easier; and lead us to more powerful collaborative and connected experiences. Equipping this generation of learners with modern tools makes sense. This is why many schools are adopting Google Apps for Education, an extraordinary platform for the 21st Century.


The redefinition of the “learning task”

With powerful technology comes the opportunity to design powerful learning tasks which harness the richness that digital tools offer. However, this all depends on the extent to which the technology is used effectively for such opportunities. As educators, we should not assume that the use of technology leads to the automatic enhancement of learning and teaching in our classrooms.

Instead, we should think about our deliberate practices and how they offer the opportunities to truly transform new opportunities for students which were previously inconceivable. In fact, let’s start thinking about how much of our use of technology is in fact transforming classrooms, instead of getting carried away by the simple urgency to use digital tools with our students.

Educators often talk about how apps or software are “transformational” because they are engaging or motivating, or personal devices that are in the hands of students lead to transformational “approaches”. For me, the transformative opportunities in today’s digital age with technology are when the technologies are used to connect, share and widen classrooms, which in my opinion, are scarcely met in a genuine sense.

Here are a set of 6 questions that can be used to consider how, in fact, technology is improving (or hindering) the learning process or opportunities for students (adapted from Alan November, see  http://goo.gl/wv79oL):

1) Does the task create capacity for critical thinking on the web? – The extent to which critical thinking and higher order cognitive skills are utilised with the web. The word “web” here is particularly important as it offers the opportunity to broaden perspectives, break down the barriers of place and time, and share and connect across communities.

2) Does the task enrich the possibilities for students to develop new lines of inquiry? – The extent to which the technology is used in a way that sparks curiosity and provides the avenues for students to develop and seek questions.

3) Does the task broaden the conversation via authentic audiences? – The extent to which the technology is used to flatten classroom walls and open dialogue and interaction between other students, teachers, parents, and the wider community.

4) Does the task allow opportunities for students to publish with the possibility of continuous feedback? – The extent to which the technology is used to publish student knowledge and synthesis with the opportunity of viewership and feedback from others without the restrictions of place and time.

5) Does the task allow opportunities for students to create contributions? – The extent to which the technology is used for questioning, moderating, collaborating and co-creating with others.

6) Does the task expose students to “best in the world” examples of content and/or skill? – The extent to which the technology is used to demonstrate high quality examples of the learning objectives content and/or skills.

If the answers are more no than yes when analysing the impact of technology to the task at hand, then we could suspect that transformation is not taking place.  According to the Substitution – Augmentation – Modification – Redefinition (SAMR) model by Dr Ruben Puentedura, transformation occurs when the technology has allowed for significant modification of the task and / or created new opportunities which were previously inconceivable.



Beyond substitution with Google Apps for Education.

As educators, how do we harness the richness of Google Apps to go beyond substituting the traditional tools employed in many classrooms?

Take the example of Google Docs, a light-weight word processor delivered through a browser or the use of an Android / iOS App. Let’s assume that students are crafting a piece of writing that might normally be achieved with paper and pencil.

Students could use a static word processing application to type up a draft or final piece of writing. In this case, one could argue that nothing significant has taken place except that, instead of using paper and pen, students have used a device and application to communicate their thoughts. Here, substitution of the paper and pencil has taken place.

If students drafted or published their piece using Google Docs, their piece becomes accessible from any device with an internet connection, and thus removes the physical barrier or carrying around the paper and pencil. Whilst the purpose has slightly changed, augmentation of the task has occurred.  The improvement means increased student access and word processing ability that is irrespective of neither place nor time.

If students share their Google Doc with multiple classmates then this could open the opportunity for collaboration and synergy to the task. The students might ask to receive feedback or invite input from peers or the teacher. The teacher could check the revision history of the document to monitor the activity and progress of the exercise. Through communicating and working together in a production space, modification of the initial task has taken place, and an entirely new opportunity has been created, that goes beyond paper and pen that was once private to the student.

If students share their Google Doc with ‘view’ or ‘comment’ access to a global audience then this could open the opportunity for authentic connections that go well beyond the classroom community. The task of processing words has transformed to an opportunity which requires a set of high-level thinking skills, where a stage is offered for students to share their learning beyond their local contexts.

Below are further uses of Google Apps for Education with the SAMR model.


Design Thinking during the Genius Hour process

“How might we use Design Thinking and ICT to increase student engagement and motivation during the inquiry process?”

The CEOM ICON Research Schools Project aims to research powerful approaches to learning and teaching that harness the richness of technology in order to provide opportunities to transform learning. As a participating school we are supported to conduct our own research in our setting. Together with other participating schools, we are invited to produce artifacts to inform the CEOM system towards ICON.

This is a reflection for our school’s progress in 2014.

For our school, our Inquiry question was:

  • How might we use Design Thinking and ICT to increase student engagement and motivation during the inquiry process?

In particular, we wished to apply this question to our Genius Hour program in Years 5 and 6. The Design Thinking process and tools were used for both staff planning when designing learning opportunities for students, as well as mapping the current Genius Hour program against this process.



In Genius Hour, students develop personal questions of their choice and research and present in any method they wish. They are able to work collaboratively or independently towards an action, and is a form of Passion Based Learning that follows a line of inquiry.

Students have already been visibly engaged and motivated during the Genius Hour program. However, as a relatively new program which was introduced last year, the team felt that there were opportunities to strengthen the process of inquiry within Genius Hour as well as consolidate and build upon the use of ICT.

In Years 5 and 6, students are provided with one-to-one access of a Windows 8 ultrabook. In Genius Hour, students use technology to:

  •  Submit proposals: via a Google Doc shared between the relevant teachers and students. Comments can be made as feedback during the proposal and planning stages.
  •  Conduct research: using Google Search on the World Wide Web, as well as World Book Online.
  •  Create products: producing video and pictures, designing websites, or coding games and applications. At times this includes the use of personal technology that students are encouraged to bring.
  •  Share learning: via a Google Presentation, shared between the relevant teachers and students.
  •  Communicate learning: via the Year 5 and 6 blog, where final projects are posted for the wider community. A selection of students also shared their learning via Google Hangouts to reach the parent and wider community.
  •  Collaborate and extend beyond their community: Some students worked with another school (St. Francis of Xavier Primary School in Box Hill) who were also doing Genius Hour using the Google Apps platform.

The aim of our research was to examine ways in which we can use design thinking and consider the use of technology to further strengthen the inquiry process throughout Genius Hour, so as to improve student engagement and motivation.


Measures of success

From a qualitative standpoint, we hoped that if we succeeded we would see an improvement in:

– engagement

  • less off task behaviours.
  • increased ownership of projects.
  • increased quality of projects (depth of questions).
  • increased positive attitudes towards Genius Hour.

– motivation

  • increased perseverance throughout the process.
  • increased impact of projects (in terms of a positive influences unto others).



Through NoTosh resources and support with the work conducted at the CEOM leadership days and team based days, several deliberate actions were introduced to the Genius Hour program:

Immersion / synthesis:

  • Viewed St. Francis of Xavier Primary School’s (Box Hill) Genius Hour presentations on Google Hangouts
  • Generated ideas using “100 ideas in 10 minutes” and evaluated them
  • Categorised questions as “Googleable vs Non-Googleable” using a filter
  • Presented provocations from the Google Science Fair and example of IBM’s Watson Super Computer
  • Developed questions using the Complex Questions Matrix
  • Gave the opportunity to a few students to work with another school on a joint Genius Hour project effort. Students at St. Francis in Box Hill who are also doing Genius Hour were able to work with students from St. Mark’s using the Google Apps platform



  • Communicated progress of projects on the Year 5 and 6 blog
  • Gave opportunities for feedback (kind, specific, useful) in small groups at various stages


Exposition / Presentation:

  • Uploaded all projects to the Year 5 and 6 blog.
  • Shared learning (10 groups) on Google Hangouts to an estimated audience of 300. Participants answered questions from viewers outside of the St. Mark’s Community.

These actions can also be viewed via this Thing Link.

As a third and fourth generation of the Genius Hour program, a lot of improvements have been observed anecdotally:

Quality and depth of projects – When comparing the sets of questions and projects against previous iterations of Genius Hour, students have been far more creative, original and inquisitive in their research. The deliberate teaching of a “Non-Googleable” question to this part has been instrumental, as has been the high bar and expectation for students for their projects to be meaningful.

Perseverance and engagement in students – In this iteration of Genius Hour, the teachers have observed increased determination and perseverance. As a long-term activity, students in the past have become disinterested or “lost” with their projects. There has also been increased enthusiasm and excitement for the times in which students are given specific time to work on their projects at school.

Ownership and collaboration amongst peers – A problem with Genius Hour in the past has been with medium to large sized groups, which can be dominated by a few students, or have timid students reluctant to participate. There has been a lot more shared ownership of the projects, leading to less “bystanding” and more active participation.


As part of our evaluation, we developed a survey to ascertain the attitudes and behaviours towards Genius Hour. 103 responses were collected out of 126 students. Students were asked to what extent they were enjoying Genius Hour this term, and then to respond by explaining their answer:

 gh feedback 1

low responses

medium responses

high responses

“Well this year it is different and so the question is harder to make so did not get to do a topic that I was interested in”

“I like it a little because last year they got to do it on whatever they want they could even make a game”

“I love working with other people but my group members muck around and we never get our work done”

“I’m enjoying the freedom of doing whatever you like but I not enjoying it because I’m falling behind, so to fix that problem you should give us more time.”

“We can use our own creative talents and we can make it our own project. Also we can do it with who ever we like and be fun and creative with it. Plus it is easier to learn what you’re interested in!”

“I like doing Genius Hour because I take more control of my learning and I like doing Genius Hour because it challenges me.”

Students were then asked to rank their agreement on the following statements:

Genius Hour makes me happy Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 2%

Neither Agree or Disagree 20%

Agree 52%

Strongly Agree 25%

Genius Hours inspires me to try something new Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 1%

Neither Agree or Disagree 9%

Agree 57%

Strongly Agree 33%

Genius Hour challenges my thinking Strongly Disagree 1%

Disagree 1%

Neither Agree or Disagree 15%

Agree 52%

Strongly Agree 31%

I feel energised during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 5%

Neither Agree or Disagree 32%

Agree 43%

Strongly Agree 20%

Doing Genius Hour is useful for me Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 3%

Neither Agree or Disagree 25%

Agree 52%

Strongly Agree 19%

I am bored during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 41%

Disagree 44%

Neither Agree or Disagree 13%

Agree 2%

Strongly Agree 2%

Genius Hour is interesting for me Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 0%

Neither Agree or Disagree 14%

Agree 52%

Strongly Agree 34%

I want to do well during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 0%

Neither Agree or Disagree 6%

Agree 36%

Strongly Agree 58%

I care about my work and efforts during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 0%

Neither Agree or Disagree 6%

Agree 41%

Strongly Agree 53%

I am “in the zone” during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 2%

Disagree 3%

Neither Agree or Disagree 41%

Agree 41%

Strongly Agree 14%

I use my time effectively during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 3%

Neither Agree or Disagree 19%

Agree 57%

Strongly Agree 20%

We also collected data from teachers in other year levels on the Open Expo day, as we thought it might be useful to seek from teachers external and independent to the year level:


“There was a wide range of projects that reflected the children’s interests and ability.  The children that I spoke to were able to talk about the reason why they chose their particular area so I was able to see the purpose behind it. I enjoyed looking at the journey, not just the finished product.  I also noticed that for some students the journey will continue.

No matter how big or small the project was, all students were very proud to showcase their work and get feedback from their family, peers and teachers.”

“What an incredible celebration of creativity and imagination! The students appeared excited by their chosen field and proud of their accomplishments. They seemed to be more willing and able, this year, to discuss their work with depth and clarity. I was very impressed by the students’ use of trial and feedback to test and refine their work before showcasing it.”

“I was very impressed with the level of research and how well some students explained their research topic. The students were very engaged and very enthusiastic to show off their designs and outcomes.”

“A brilliant Genius Expo that showed imagination has no limit. It was a privilege to witness the journey (struggles, failures, successes. breakthroughs, frustrations…) and to experience the destinations. Not only was the learning and skills that were gained evident, self esteem of all the participants oozed from their presentation sites regardless of whether they had achieved their goal. Visible learning in action! Strong, focused leadership! And the Google Hang-out…so cool! Hope all of our school got to see it.”

“The time and effort the students put in was evident in the depth of their work. There was a genuine knowledge and passion coming from the kids about their chosen topics. It was very clear the children had control over the development of their projects and it was great to see a wide range of topics and interests investigated. No two projects were the same. I think it agave our 3/4’s something to aspire to, they came back inspired, with open eyes excited to tackle their own inquiry.”

Whilst there have been some positive gains in light of the teacher and student data, we feel there is still room for improvement.

 One of the key principles of Genius Hour is for students to make a meaningful impact on their wider community. Whilst some students appear to have the correct intention and motivations, we feel that on the whole students were not following through with their impact. After designing a graphic to assist students to reflect on their intended impact, it was clear that most students genuinely wanted to have a reach far beyond what they achieved but required assistance to do this.

Moreover, as highlighted by the student survey, they are some negative feelings towards Genius Hour. We feel that this could be a barrier to engagement and motivation if we are not effective in communicating the process or ideas behind Genius Hour for all students.

Design Thinking is a relatively new process and concept for the team but it has certainly made an impact. From a teacher standpoint, it has promoted critical and creative thinking that has improved the quality of the inquiry process.

Further resources

Term 2 Projects

Term 2 Hangout

Term 4 Projects

Term 4 Hangout

What do students at St. Mark’s think about Genius Hour?