The Plastic Brain


Soil Liquefaction

Soil liquefaction occurs during earthquakes, causing a quicksand-like bog which can topple buildings and swallow cars.

Liquefaction occurred during the recent Christchurch earthquake

Videos of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake liquefaction can be found here (during) and here (aftermath).

I got the idea for a soil liquefaction demonstration from the brilliant ASTA resources for the Year 9 plate tectonics unit. The instructions for the demonstration are in Lesson 4 on Earthquakes.

It worked very well. There are before and after shots below, and then a video.

IMG_1218b IMG_1220

Left: Before the earthquake. The building stands tall. Right: The building has collapsed, and is half submerged.


Notes on “New Pedagogies for Deep Learning” (Part 1)

I have been reading a white paper written by Michael Fullan and Maria Langworthy as part of what is termed a “global partnership.” Details on the project can be found here (, and the white paper istelf canbe found here.

It is a very well written and researched exploration of current challenges in education. More importantly, it proposes a way forward. The approach is summarised below:

The New Pedagogies for Deep Learning project takes as its focal point the implementation of deep learning goals enabled by new pedagogies and accelerated by technology.

The Place of Technology

Often, in the race to adopt new technologies, the cart be put before the horse. What I like about this approach is that the goals come first, they are supported by new pedagogies and the technology is not even required. However, it does serve a very important role in allowing the process to be accelerated.

Cultural Coherence

Another theme which runs through the paper is that of collaboration and stakeholders. Policy-makers, schools and industry partners are put together, and teachers and students are seen as the key drivers of change, who need support from visionary and cohesive relationships. This notion encapsulated by the term cultural coherence, which becomes the remit of educational leadership.

It is our belief, based on working through successful system-level transformations around the world, that leadership can best address the contingencies of change efforts through serving first as the sustained, focused voice of realignment towards new goals. Leadership next serves as a partner with schools and teachers, together bringing in new measures, resources and processes — all clearly aligned to the new goals. It may sound like a subtle distinction, but effective and sustainable change happens when there is a consensus among all stakeholders that the new goals are a moral imperative. When there is this kind of system-wide shared purpose, collective will becomes the core driver, and change becomes much easier than previously thought. Moreover, the new pedagogies and related technologies are intrinsically engaging so that participants are motivated to go deeper, and do more.

Fostering a Positive Attitude to Change

Okay – so once we have our “moral imperative”,how can we translate that into real change?

Teacher activators along with students in the partnership will collaborate to construct — or deconstruct as the case may be — richer understandings of what the new roles for teachers look like in practice. The partnership’s initial thinking suggests three new roles to investigate:

1. The teacher as designer of powerful learning experiences

2. The teacher as a source of human, social and decisional capital in the learning experience

3. Teachers as partners in learning with students, accelerated by technology

I am particularly drawn to the concept of teachers as designers of learning. I recently moved offices to join the Technology and Design teachers. In doing so, I learned a little of the design cycle, used as the basis of their teaching. I also saw first-hand how students respond to a “design brief” compared to a standard summative assessment. There is a clear distinction in students’ minds between the creative, physical, concrete tasks in Design and Tech, and the dispassionate, abstract, intellectual of Science and Maths. Yet, it need not be so. Learning from my Tech colleagues, I am currently attempting to bring concepts from their world into my classrooms. By that, I do not mean literally drawing or making physical objects. Instead I mean actions such as:

  • discussing the notion that mathematical functions are entities which have been designed for a purpose and constructed to achieve goals and outcomes

  • allowing students to creatively explore not only what experiment they might do, but how they will do it.

  • introducing the concepts of mastery and craftsmanship, refining and improving techniques.

Once the teacher and students can understand and appreciate this design thinking, then the teacher can become a meta-designer, who uses the design cycle when developing and refining learning experiences.

Teachers must know where their students are on their individual learning continuums, and be able to identify success criteria that push forward students’ knowledge and skill mastery at progressive stages of that continuum.

This way of thinking allows the teacher themselves to be more creative. (I’ve always been told that teaching is a creative profession, and it is one of the aspects of the job I enjoy the most)

Teacher as designer also calls upon teachers to be designers of knowledge-based products: the learning activity is the product. This creative responsibility distinguishes new pedagogies from the primary roles of teachers as delivering content knowledge. Digital content and learning resources have the potential to fulfill much of the “content delivery” requirements of teaching, allowing teachers to focus more naturally on creating compelling and personally relevant learning experiences that engage their particular students.

Student-Teacher Partnerships

Points 2. and 3. above, which are on the new roles of teachers, are also worth detailed reading. They serve to guide the transition from teachers as repositories of knowledge to teachers as learning partners with students. As with all partnerships, relationships are the key :

Learning is rooted in relationships, and supportive relationships can unleash the potential of every student…The future of teaching may ultimately center in deeper relationships built between teachers and students, developed through creative, collaborative, socially connected and relevant learning experiences…

…As Laurillard has noted, the investment in technology has been largely a matter of acquisition — buy, buy, buy — not a matter of gearing technology to deepen learning. Technology in education has largely sought to deliver the same kind of content knowledge and basic skill mastery that were the predominant roles of 20 th Century teachers. It is not surprising that many such investments have not significantly changed learning outcomes.

So What is Deep Learning?

If Deep Learning is the goal, then it is clearly important to have a common understanding of what this means. The authors offer a description below, which aligns closely to the concepts of project-based learning and authentic tasks.

They cease to be receivers of content and instead become activators of their own learning, co-creators, and connected change agents. Students doing these things are doing work that is similar to the kind of work they would do in high quality future work. In fact, new research shows that the more individuals are exposed to these types of “real world problem-solving” experiences in their formal learning experiences, the higher their quality of work later in life (Gallup, 2013).

A lot of what follows looks at preparing students for the knowledge economies of the future. When one considers to sheer volume of student work around the world (both within school and without), it seems obvious to tap into that resources for improved learning and societal benefits. Students are innovative, curious and often very talented within their areas of passion. Work they produce could be of real value, if only they were given authentic opportunities to share their intellectual products with real audiences, not just their teachers. Technology is certainly able to facilitate this type of connected learning.

Connected learning [is] learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity. Connected learning is realized when a young person pursues a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career possibilities, or civic engagement. (Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, 2013)

Obviously, not every year level, and not every student, will be ready to launch their ideas into the world at the same time. It seems as though a workable model here would be start students on theoretical (but real-world based) projects for early years, and gradually transition towards truly “socially embedded” learning.

This takes us up to page 21 of 37. Part two will contain notes on the latter sections.



APST “Illustrating Practice” Workshop 2

Today’s session focussed on “Annotating Evidence”, and was introduced by Belinda Radcliff from the Performance Standards and Certification Team at DECD.

As with last session, Belinda did a great acknowledgement of country, including reference to the Recognise movement, which is well worth checking out.

After a brief meet and greet, we viewed an animated summary of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. (link to the longer version) in order to reacquaint ourselves with the standards.

Language of the Standards

The bulk of the workshop focussed on unpacking the language of the standards. The “lexical patterns” are quite revealing of the differentiation amongst the career stages. The table below shows the frequency of certain phrases within the standards.


Quite clearly ‘supporting colleagues’ and ‘working with colleagues’ are a key parts of being a HA teacher, but are not explicitly mentioned at the proficient level.

We then worked in pairs to examine the increased syntactical complexity across the career stages within one focus area.


You can see simply from the length, but also the complexity, that the demands are increasing.

Personally, I found the exercises and discussion relating to deconstructing the Descriptors to be very useful. It allowed me to unpack their content, and gave me insight into the evidence which would be required to meet the standards which my partner and I had examined.

Using “Illustrations of Practice” Videos to Understand the Standards

In the final segment, we watched and discussed a series of four Illustrations of Practice from the AISTL website which looked at Focus Area 2.1 (Know the Content and How to Teach It) at Graduate, Proficient, HA and Lead level.

It was evident from the videos, working along with the Descriptors, how each of the teachers showed increasing competency for that focus area, and how the requirements for each career stage differ.

Annotating Evidence?

In the end, we ran out of time before getting into the details of annotating evidence. Quite convenient for most of us, who needed a little more time on our homework anyway – developing an evidence set to annotate.

We should be covering that in the last and final session in two weeks. Watch this space.

[Link to Workshop 1]

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Rolling (Personal) National Science Week Coverage

It’s National Science Week!

For me, these have passed fairly quietly in the past, to be honest. However, one looks like being the biggest yet.

On the itinerary is:

Science Alive

Australia’s largest science expo event with spectacular science, animal and magic shows and a huge range of hands-on fun for all ages.

When: Saturday, August 10 2013 till Sunday, August 11 2013. 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Where: Goyder Pavilion
Adelaide Showground, Goodwood Road, Wayville, SA, 5034
What: Hands-on activityShow
Theme: Archaeology and antiquity, Human body and movement, Energy and transport, Environment and nature, Health and medical, Space and astronomy, Innovation and technology

[UPDATE] I missed out this year, but my son went with a friend and his parents. By all accounts it was a great day, both boys returning with grins from ear to ear. The highlight of the day was “talking like a dalek”.

Once again, the event was packed across both days. Seems like the people of Adelaide just can’t get enough science. Perhaps the popularity would be enough to prompt a sister event in six months’ time? (Hint, hint)

Southern Schools Science Expo

Southern region high school will be showcasing their STEM programs to primary students. This event is organised as part of the Advanced Technology Project (supported by the Defense Materiel Organisation)

When: Tuesday, August 13 2013
Where: Marion Leisure and Fitness Centre
What: Demonstrations and hands-on activities

[UPDATE] Great day! ASMS won the People’s Choice Award for “Building a Space Station”. Blackwood High School won the Expert Judges’ Award for “Quadcopters” – but, as they say in the classics, at the end of the day “SCIENCE WAS THE REAL WINNER”

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Lunchtime Science

As part of National Science Week our science teachers are providing exciting science demonstrations to students during lunch time.

From our student bulletin:

NATIONAL SCIENCE WEEK: Happy National Science Week! To celebrate we will be hosting a number of lunchtime activities that showcase the wonder and beauty of SCIENCE! Activities that will be running are:
Wednesday- lunchtime 1pm in Psychology Lab– We have a real life scientist (yes they do exist and some actually appear quite normal)- Professor John Long from Flinders University who will give a presentation on the vast array of careers in science and where science can take you. If you are even slightly contemplating this pathway in your future life then this is the presentation for you!
Thursday-lunchtime 1pm in Chemistry Lab- SPECTACULAR CHEMICAL REACTIONS- Come and see and marvel at the magic of Chemistry and how simply combining 2 substances can result in something quite SPECTACULAR.
Friday- lunchtime 1pm in Chemistry Lab- ELEPHANT’S TOOTHPASTE- When was the last time you brushed your pet Elephant’s teeth? Sounds like its well overdue! Come and make Elephant’s toothpaste and ensure your elephant gets the pearly whites it deserves! More importantly find out the answer to the age old question “why is it so?” 
Look forward to seeing you all there!

[UPDATE] Photos from our lunchtime science series below:

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Science Excellence Awards

This is the highlight of my National Science Week; partly because it should be a great night to celebrate science, by mostly because I have been chosen as a finalist in the Early Career STEM Educator of the Year  (School Teaching) category. You can vote for me in the People’s Choice Awards, though at this stage the winner seems to be a easy to pick.

When: Friday, August 16 2013
Where: Adelaide Town Hall, Auditorium
What: Awards for South Australian Scientist of the Year, as well as other categories.


Finalist award

[UPDATE] Well they really did save the best for last. What an amazing evening.  Highlights for me included the keynote address by Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt, and the chance to talk to professionals from industry, research and education who all have a passion for promoting science.

I left with a very positive feeling towards the future of science in South Australia. A showcase like that really brings home how many fantastic researchers we have in this state. Furthermore, we have many high-tech industries wanting to support science, and providing great opportunities for graduates. Lastly, my fellow category finalists, especially the winners, gave everyone confidence that our new generation of scientists are in good hands. Although we were in the minority, the science educators were certainly made to feel welcome. One of the biggest spontaneous rounds of applause was when Jeremy LeCornu mentioned in his acceptance speech that science educators do not often receive this kind of recognition – and the audience clapped loudly in an attempt to redress the balance.

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Warriparinga Wetlands Excursion

Excursions are always difficult.

Payments, consent forms, chasing up students, cancellations, rescheduling, transport concerns, weather concerns: I had it all. Just before we left, I reached that point where I swore I’d never do it again.

And yet, as soon as we arrived at Warriparinga all of the strife was soon forgotten. The place is an oasis of calm, just metres from one of Adelaide’s busiest roads. It is home to the Living Kaurna Cultural Centre, through whom I had arranged the excursion.

This is what I wrote for the school newsletter:


Dr Tinsley

My Year 9 class and I were lucky to visit the Warriparinga Wetlands during Week 3. The site is home to the Living Kaurna Cultural Centre, who arranged a tour for us, led by Jamie, a Kaurna and Narangga man.

Warriparinga is culturally important, as is marks the start of the Tjilbruke Dreaming trail. As Jamie led our class around the wetlands he shared the significance of the area, and described the many uses of the local flora and fauna. Students recorded their learning experiences:

“I learned about the many ways that plants were used. They could be used for medicine, food, weaving and many other things.”

“I learned how strong the connection with themselves and the land that they live on. They had learned all about the survival techniques that the plants could give them.”

“They are very connected to the land. And even though they were forced to participate in English customs, their traditions survived and are living on.”

At the end of the tour, Jamie graciously provided us with a lesson and a recital using the didgeridoo. It was a powerful and moving performance, which brought together our scientific and cultural learning.

The excursion formed the centrepiece of my “Communities and Ecosystems” unit for the Australian Curriculum, which forms part of the Biological Sciences strand.

Ecosystems consist of communities of interdependent organisms and abiotic components of the environment; matter and energy flow through these systems (ACSSU175).

This unit provides an ideal opportunity to bring in the Cross-curriculum Priority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures. If you click the previous link, you’ll see that this Priority is broken down into a number of Organising Ideas, covering Country,/Place, Culture and People. By introducing students the concept of Aboriginal Nations (see this map), discussing land management practices (eg firestick farming), going on the excursion and debriefing afterwards about what we learned, I was able to discuss many of these organising ideas with my class.

I would strongly recommend to all Yr 9 science teachers to infuse units on ecosystems with an discussion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Furthermore, if you are in the Southern Adelaide region, be sure to visit Warriparinga.