Three Reasons We All Need To Have A Amateur Mindset

Amateurs, on the other hand, make mistakes often and freely; undeterred and focussed on the ever-elusive prize ahead.


I’ve been thinking a lot about amateurs of late… as I’m about to become one again. Just take a moment to reflect on the last time you were a novice. Was it last year? Five years ago? Twenty years ago?

Back at school, we were used to being the amateur but, especially as teachers, we tend to be more comfortable in the “expert” phase of our life seasons.

I’ve had quite a number of careers – outdoor adventure leader, teacher, salesperson, fitness instructor, TV presenter and now… consultant AND mother. That’s a lot of new stuff to learn. But, why should we bother being a novice again? Why shouldn’t I rest on my laurels after all of the effort I’ve gone to becoming an expert in my field?

  1. Amateurs Prioritise Growth (Eckert, 2016)

In his book, The Novice Advantage, Eckert categorises educational novices into 3 distinct characters:

  • The Beginning Novice – one who is inexperienced yet enthusiastic
  • The Experienced Novice – one who is experienced yet still passionate about learning new things
  • The Perpetual Novice – one who continually challenges oneself to move out of his/her comfort zone

Where do you fit in this list? There is, however, important aspects that these different archetypes have in common – they continue to develop as a learner through rising above setbacks, continuing to be curious and innovating. The novice understands that they will never “get there”… because “there” doesn’t exist.

2. Amateurs Are More Motivated 

Have you ever noticed how amateurs are curious? Our 4 year-old wants to know the answer to any and every question. In fact, toddlers ask around 400 questions per day.


When I was beginning my career in the TV industry, I wanted to know everything. I read ratings reports and newspaper articles on new programs that were being developed. I discovered producers and uncovered their contact details. I watched advertisements and quiz shows with a new awareness. I read autobiographies of television personalities to discover their secrets. I even drove 8 hours every Saturday for a term, whilst working full-time, to nurture my presenting skills.

You see, amateurs tend to try anything and everything with audacious disregard for time and space (Merredin, 2012). Amateurs understand that they need to keep motivated in order to learn more… that they haven’t (and may never… hopefully never, reach a pinnacle). Because they often treat their work like a hobby rather than a “job”, they’ll happily continue to craft their skills for hours/days/months on end like a kid learning to ride a bike. It’s astonishing how amateurs find “extra” time to hone their skills.

3. Amateurs Make More Mistakes

…and thus, continue to have a Growth Mindset about their failings. Amateurs understand that mistakes are part of the learning process and they are less attached to perfection. Dweck (2014) calls this the “Power of Not Yet”. Ever notice how perfectionists find change difficult? They don’t want to take risks because they’re afraid to make mistakes… Perhaps, mistakes may damage their professionalism or even their profession. Amateurs, on the other hand, make mistakes often and freely; undeterred and focussed on the ever-elusive prize ahead. They allow mistakes to make them stronger rather than be damaged by them.

May I encourage you… (not actually a question #justsaying) Find something in 2017 in which you can be an amateur  – or, maybe, just make that your attitude.

Scavenger Hunts with Google


Today I tried something quite new (what a surprise!) and it was also quite complex. After reading Stephanie Perretta’s blog about Creating Self-Checking Scavenger Hunts with Google, I gave it a go myself. Stephanie has set up the resources for a first-timer so beautifully – thanks, Stephanie. Her instructions are so detailed that, for once, I had to read through something in a systematic way in order to accurately replicate the process.

Since we’re studying the Order of Operations (AKA BIDMAS, BODMAS, PEDMAS, BIMDAS etc.) and it’s a fairly linear process, I decided to create my scavenger hunt around this topic. I also wanted to add more than YouTube clips for remediation, too – this required some trouble shooting as I also wanted to use PlayPosit and Brainpop.

QR treasure hunt 2
A student completing a Brainpop PEDMAS game.

Setting it up was quite a process and, for once, I knew I actually had to test it myself as there were so many variables in play. Luckily, I did as there were a few aspects that didn’t quite “add up”.

However, not everything went exactly to plan but I’m a life-long learner with a growth mindset. Thus, I reflect on my experiences and work out how I can improve them next time;)


I set the QR codes in place the afternoon before –  ready for our lesson after recess on the following day. Then, at about 2.45pm the day before, a student came up to me saying “I found this QR code on the ground.” Annoying. I then had to search through the classroom to find where it may have been missing from.


I had prepped the students about the scavenger hunt just prior to the session. After recess, the first thing I did was provide students with a rubric and ask them to self-assess their knowledge of each aspect so far. I then asked the students to add a Chrome extension – The QR Code Extension – via an announcement on our Google Classroom page. Following this, students were free to scan in the QR code (strategically placed on the back of the rubric) and complete the first quiz.

QR treasure hunt
A student scanning a QR Code to go to the next quiz.

Here’s where things got a bit crazy. I didn’t consider that from that point at least half the class would be going to one site (the next question) and the rest would be going to the second site (the remediation for Q1). This had many students waiting around and also resulted in QR codes going missing.

We troubled-shot (?) through this quite quickly though and then we were off. There were a couple of other speed-humps though that I’ll navigate more carefully next time:

  1. Students neglected to actually press ‘Submit’ and therefore, they got confused and just started following friends around.
  2. Students neglected to return QR codes to their hiding place which meant that QR codes went missing.
  3. Some students didn’t watch the remediation videos which meant that they just re-did the final quiz until they finally chose the correct option rather than learning how to do it accurately.
  4. I neglected to mention that PEDMAS, BODMAS and BIDMAS are all the same thing which confused students.
QR treasure hunt3
Students remediating with Khan Academy clips.


I’m going to start our Maths session explicitly teaching BIDMAS (order of operations). Then students will pick-up where they left off in the scavenger hunt.

On Wednesday, we’ll debrief the whole process in our class meeting so we can make it better for everyone next time.

Thanks again, Stephanie Perretta, who inspired me to think outside the box.

Implementing SOLE for the First Time

Yesterday, it was my first day on a new Year 6 class. Thus, as is my usual modus operandi, I decided to try something new. I decided to combine two newly discovered learning tools; Google Advanced Power Search and SOLE.

Google Advanced Power Search is difficult to find for a reason; it’s built so that people can’t google answers within the site. Developed by Google, it’s a research course that helps participants think laterally when searching for information as well as check sources. Participants are provided with a video which asks them to research several questions that are not easily ‘googlable’.

I wanted to use this tool to enhance collaboration and help my students to think outside the box. You can find the example question, strategies for research, the example solution and further questions here.

The other learning tool that I was keen to try was SOLE. SOLE is an “unprotocol” developed by Sugatra Mitra from his ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiment. Basically, students get together in groups of 3 or 4 around one screen in order to research about a curious question. Each group then presents their findings to the whole group.

I decided to combine the two tools together. I grouped students randomly into groups of 4 ensuring a mix of gender. I assigned a group leader and encouraged the leader to assign roles to their members. I also told the students that they would be evaluating their group at the end.

I used the diagram below for timings which I found here.


Recommended SOLE Timings.
Recommended SOLE Timings.

The groups worked well together other than a few moments of off-task working… perhaps to be expected on the first day back from holidays. The hardest part was for the students to persevere through the task without calling upon me for assistance… and for me not to help them.

After groups presented their findings, I asked students to evaluate their group’s cooperative skills using cards that I downloaded from Plickers.

I now plan to conduct one of these style sessions each week. I’ll let you know the results.

The Case of the Missing Glue Sticks – Part 3

I had to be a bit more organised for Day #3 of our mystery. My students needed to use the Aurasma augmented reality app to access the next clue so I ensured that I teed-up the download with our Head of IT the day before.

The new clue looked like this (and was found by the first child in the door on Wednesday morning):

Clue #3
Clue #3

The note was accompanied by the following Aurasma image (otherwise known as an ‘Aura’) that links to a Bon Jovi song. This was a tricky clue for students so I directed them to look on their iPads for an app that looked like a big A. Eventually, I guided them to use Aurasma to scan over the image below.

Bon Jovi Aura

To be honest, the song had a tenuous link to the missing glue sticks, but it was still cool to see how students creatively linked it to the overall mystery in their writing.

After the students had finished writing about Day 3’s clues, we had our first attempt at pair feedback using a Visible Thinking routine. Students completed the following statements in relation to each other’s writing –

  • I like how you…
  • Even better if…

As we’d previously viewed Austin’s Butterfly together, students had a bit of direction as to what made helpful feedback. It was heartening to see how invested students were in writing well and in helping each other to write well.

Tomorrow’s clue would focus on accuracy of detail and reporting like a detective.

Student Motivation 101

“He who does not move, does not notice his chains.” Rosa Luxemburg

This morning, I was listening to a TED podcast on the Seven Deadly Sins. When I was recalling this podcast, I found it difficult to recall what the 7 deadly sins actually are – wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. One segment of this podcast suggested that, interestingly, other than sloth (obviously), each of these “sins” are actually high motivators for humans. I consider that theory to have some, albeit sad, truth to it. However, I don’t believe those are the only things that motivate people.

You’ve probably come across the terms ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ motivation before. Intrinsic motivation arises by an individual’s desire to be gratified from simply completing the task (ie. feeling a sense of achievement through increasing the distance of your run each week) and is more effective and long-lasting. Whereas, Extrinsic motivation is based on external rewards, such as, trophies and badges (ie. being motivated to run further in order to lose weight).

My question at this point is obvious – how do I increase the intrinsic motivation for my students?

With the current focus on “leveling up” and badges in education, I find it interesting to note that when external rewards are offered for an activity that one already finds intrinsically motivating, motivation is actually reduced (see overjustification effect).

According to Malone and Lepper (1987), there are five factors that increase intrinsic motivation:

1. Challenge – students need to pursue goals that have meaning to them and in which they can receive feedback on their performance.

2. Curiosity – this is two-fold: sensory and cognitive curiosity.

3. Control – students want some control over their environment and their learning.

4. Cooperation vs Competition – there needs to be opportunities for both of these factors in learning.

5. Recognition – when we can recognise people’s efforts, they are more likely to increase their internal motivation (which could be construed as Extrinsic motivation).

I intend to spend my next 5 blog entries drilling down further into how these factors apply in modern learning environments.

But in the meantime, how do you use these factors in the learning situations that you create?

Skype and the Wider World

The world is an increasingly smaller place. Yet, the more I explore it, the larger it seems to be. As our world gets larger, it’s sometimes difficult to know our part in it. What do I have to contribute? How can my gifts help others? I am constantly confronted by the need to help my students know what’s going on in the world, wonder about it, recognise the similarities and celebrate our differences.

Earlier this year, we shared a video story with our 5th/6th graders about a student their age living in Syria. It showed his desperation to attend school and his frustration that the current situation stops him from getting the education he deserves.

Here is the story from ABC’s Foreign Correspondent:

Ibrahim’s War

After watching this documentary, our students desperately wanted to find out more. They wanted to help Ibrahim. “Perhaps we could send him some books…” mused one student. “Does he have access to the Internet?” they asked. (NOTE: We did attempt to contact Ibrahim through Foreign Correspondent but it was not to be).

This got me thinking about the technology at our finger tips. Skype is a fantastic tool for connecting with others. Naturally, it lends itself to connecting classrooms as well. I went to a Teach Meet in a couple of months ago where I listened to a PLN colleague share how he skyped a class in Turkey whilst his class were learning about WW1 and Gallipoli. How about that for adding in a real-world connection. There’s a lesson those students will never forget!

Heard of Mystery Skype? This is an initiative by Skype Education in which classes can Skype each other and by a series of questions, establish the classes location (well, that’s just step 1). The learning from this could be endless.

Make 2014 the year for spreading tolerance, understanding and acceptance.

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