Visible Thinking and A Private Universe

I’ve been wanting to blog about a Visible Thinking workshop that I attended a while ago. The workshop began by showing this video (circa 1987) called A Private Universe: Misconceptions That Block Learning. In the clip, Harvard graduates are asked a seemingly simple question – What causes the seasons? You’ll be surprised by the responses.

NOTE: You can also watch the full video here:

The video shows the strength of “private theories” that students construct. We all know that in order to conserve energy, our brains attach new information to previous schemata.  Our brains change seemingly small parts of received information in order for it to connect to prior knowledge as this is easier than creating a whole new schema. This explains why we all have slightly morphed ideas about even factual information.

What does this mean for learning (and teaching)? How does this link to Visible Thinking?

It is vital for students to become aware of their own schemata on any given topic. Naturally, by discussing currently held theories, the teacher and the learning community can direct the lesson so that everyone develops a more accurate understanding of the content.

Here are some examples of Visible Thinking routines that can assist the learning community in developing a shared understanding of a concept:

(see for more in depth instruction on these routines)

By really asking our students (and ourselves) to critically analyse current understandings, we develop a learning community in the true sense where any idea can be questioned, examined and proved (or disproved). That’s a learning community that I want to be a part of!

‘To raise new questions, new problems, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and makes real advances’
Albert Einstein


Hour of Code – Why I Did It and Why You (and your students) Need To

I’m assuming that if you missed Hour of Code, you are living in the middle of nowhere with no internet access… possibly, you are living on the moon. Hour of Code was an initiative by to help students understand code.
Our students don’t know what the Internet is. Fact.
I still remember when I learned that the Internet was made up of ones and nones. This was a HUGE revelation to me – Prior to this, I had not even thought about how the Internet worked or what it was. How many of our students don’t even know how the Internet works? To a certain extent, none of our students really get this. Heck – I still don’t really even get it.
Remember when computing in schools was newish… in the early 90s and we all learned Logo? Logo is/was the building blocks of coding. Little did we know it but we were learning to code.
The website was a range of activities to help your students from a very basic level of coding to an advanced level of coding.
Perhaps, you might even consider making coding practice part of your students’ weekly routine.

A New Attitude to National Testing – Part 2

In my last post, I pontificated about the need for teachers (me) to adjust their attitude towards National Testing. Here are a few ideas about how to make these tests more interesting and more fun.


  • Timed National-Testing style questions (like the one below): One per day, complete in under a minute, linked to individual targets for accuracy and speed.

NAPLAN question 1

  • Intersperse these with a joke-style question: Once a week, still contributes to individual target.
How many sheep were in Farmer Bob’s top field on Tuesday?
  • Have timed competitions for colouring in the identifier dots.


  • Complete a timed National Testing style assessment with a not-so-serious topic. For example, rather than writing an exposition about why students should wear hats in the playground, an exposition could be written about  the following:
  1. Why my teacher should never wear drop-crotch pants.
  2. Ninja Turtles smash Transformers every time and here’s why.
  3. Children should not give themselves haircuts.
  • Students could even choose their own topics. Revolutionary.


Why not create an IBL in which students can design and develop their own National Test that assesses the skills required for their age/stage group but is based on something they’re interested in? This could be a fun homework project, an extension project or an ongoing project for Integrated Studies.

Hopefully, that’s started your brain thinking about how to make National Testing taste more like chocolate cake than cough medicine.


A New Attitude Towards National Testing, Part 1

How could this be fun?

Lately, I’ve been pondering the teacher and student plight in regards to National Testing. There is no doubt that National Testing is here to stay in most countries, at least in the short term. Currently, my approach to National Testing has been to prepare my students by giving some practice with these types of tests with pre/post cursory comment of “This is just one test on one day that doesn’t actually measure everything you can do.”
We make such comments in the hope it will take some of the pressure off our students, but what is it really doing?

We know very well that the teacher’s attitude affects nearly everything in the classroom. Perhaps our attitude to these types of tests actually contributes to how well (or poorly) students attain. Perhaps our natural and justified disdain for National Testing affects the overall outcomes.

 Now, I’m definitely not condoning National Testing nor do I believe it is able to truly measure student achievement effectively. Nevertheless, I want my students to do well in National Testing. It’s healthy for them to become aware of benchmarks as they will, unfortunately, be measured by benchmark standards in the years to come.  Additionally, most parents place weight on National Testing and a student’s ability to do well in these types of tests can help parents to ‘breathe easy’ (Why parents place so much emphasis on these tests is beyond me – that’s a whole new article in itself!).

Thus, I’m going to set myself a new goal this year. I’m going to attempt a National Testing attitude adjustment. I’m not going to ignore it nor am I going to make it the be-all-and-end-all. I’m going to try to make it fun.
This  goal is perhaps too large, especially as we all know that, more often than not, the more we try to make things cool or fun or interesting, the less they actually are. Annoying. This is, obviously, a trial and error based goal which will require a number of important prerequisites in the classroom:

1. A supportive and communicative teacher-student relationship (Jennings & Greenberg, 2012)
2. A play-like competitive classroom environment where stakes are high in terms of the class’ culture (Black and William, 2010)
3. Reflective learning practice based on improving speed and accuracy (Zubizarreta, 2009)

(Note: ‘Curiosity’ would normally be in the list but National Testing forbids it 😉

The pupil labeled hopeless may react in quick and lively fashion when the thing-in-hand seems to him worth while, as some out-of-school sport or social affair. Indeed, the school subject might move him, were it set in a different context and treated by a different method.
Dewey, 1910

Check out my next article for some practical ways to make National Testing fun.