Card and Board Games in a Digital World

I have many fond memories of growing up learning and playing card and board games.

Simple card games such as Snap, UNO and Switch were routinely played amongst the family, with each member claiming to be the ‘king’ player – the unbeatable one. No one never admitted to playing for sheep stations or ‘champion of the universe,’ but no one liked losing either, especially when personal pride was at stake. There was much banter around the kitchen table, each player trying to outwit and out-fox their family opponent. Of course cheating never happened (unless you were caught).

These simple games progressed to the more challenging and interesting ones. Canasta, Bridge, Rummy and 500 – brought about a whole new level of intrigue and game-play. Through my formative years I was introduced to Euchre, Poker, Blackjack – my first taste of gambling. Coffee jars / tins, full of loose change were taken to mates’ houses in anticipation of doubling your money. I lost more than I won.

And then there were the board games, such as – Scrabble, Cluedo, Yahtzee, The Game of Life, Pictionary and Monopoly. These were played regularly – so much so that to this day I can still recall all of the properties and prices on the Monopoly board. I don’t think I’m alone in doing this. Deccy (son) – I know you can do this with the Pokemon edition 🙂

My most treasured experience was learning to play Mahjong with my father who served in the Australian Navy during the Korean War years. He brought back a hand-painted bone Mahjong set with each tile telling its own story.

What did I learn from playing card and board games? Well where do I start – I learnt how to:

  • be a good winner/loser – no dummy spitting
  • be patient – especially if there was a newcomer learning the rules
  • to take turns
  • persist – even when the chips were down
  • problem solve – use different strategies when some weren’t working
  • read / write / count – invaluable literacy / numeracy skills
  • communicate – use the language of the game – snap, pick-up, kitty ..
  • collaborate – team up with older brother attempting to beat our parents

Most of all we had fun – our family was together. They were happy days.

Fast-forward to 2011. The majority of these games still exist almost in identical form – you can buy them off the shelf in any department store.

What’s really cool though is that most of these classic card and board games also exist in the digital world. Over the last few years, I have re-energised my love of these games where I can play them anywhere and anytime.  I’m starting to build up a growing library of games for my iPhone, iPad and Macbook Pro as well as playing online. I still use all of the skills listed above, albeit in a different form factor. Here are a few favourites.

iPhone / iPod Touch / iPad – MahjongUnoMonopolyScrabbleThe Game of Life,

Online – Online Board Games

For me though – nothing beats sitting around the kitchen table playing games with family and friends; exchanging real counters, real tokens, real cards and fake money. The digital and virtual world just brings along a whole new dimension of game-play for classic card and board games – one that can co-exist alongside it’s real world counterpart.

Digital game-play does however bring with it one thing that can not be achieved sitting around the kitchen table – that is, the ability to play with and against people from all over the world – where perhaps I can now truly compete for the title of ‘champion of the universe.’

Before they were famous.

Most of us are well aware of the ongoing public scrutiny that teachers face, especially through the media. What once was a dignified, respected, trusted and noble profession seems now to be widely regarded as a common-place public service occupation. Over many years as a dedicated teacher/leader I’ve come to the conclusion that the teaching profession is typecast by the media as society’s whipping post.

Who would want to be an teacher anyway?

Obviously not the prospective entrants for Channel 7s The X Factor, judging from the latest promotional ‘before they were famous’ video.’

Here is once again, another subtle dig at teachers – along the ‘who would want to be a teacher’ theme that we have become all too familiar with.

The video begins with a ‘before we knew them’ title – followed by snapshots of famous artists tagged with their previous work / occupation:

  • Sting – the school teacher
  • Elvis Presley – the truck driver
  • Cindi Lauper – the sales clerk
  • Mick Jagger – porter
  • Rod Stewart – grave digger
  • Willie Nelson – door-to-door salesman
  • Madonna – dunkin donuts attendant
  • Elvis Costello – computer programmer

The snapshots close with the phrase – ‘someone gave them a helping hand.’

This is all played to the background music of ‘Happy’ by Leona Lewis.

Someone once told me that you have to choose
What you win or lose, you can’t have everything
Don’t you take chances, you might feel the pain
Don’t you love in vain ’cause love won’t set you free
I could stand by the side and watch this life pass me by
So unhappy, but safe as could be

So what if it hurts me?
So what if I break down?
So what if this world just throws me off the edge
My feet run out of ground?

I gotta find my place, I wanna hear my sound
Don’t care about all the pain in front of me
‘Cause I’m just trying to be happy, ya
Just wanna be happy, ya

Call me sensitive, call me what you want, but to be honest I’m getting tired of the glorification and reverence given to music artists at the expense of the more humbling vocations such as those listed above.

So someone gave Sting a helping hand and saved him from the despair of being a school teacher. Turn it up!

More than ever before, the teaching profession needs an injection of positivity and advocacy through all forms of media as a ‘great profession.’

Young people finishing their formal years of schooling need to see teaching as an attractive career choice. We need to change the prevailing thinking and perceptions by young people of teaching from being an uninviting profession (as evidenced by a university study) to one that is appealing and held in high regard.

Every now and then though, it is refreshing to hear good news media stories like South Australian teacher Toby Moulton who quit being a contestant on “Australian Idol” so he could focus on his teaching career.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to watch a reality TV show and hear the stories of those who have aspired to and become teachers.

I wonder how many would stand up, take centre stage and enter – ‘Who’s got what it takes to be a teacher?’

Evidence Based Teaching – Feedback

Over the last few years there has been increasing evidence from leading educational researchers about what constitutes quality teaching. John Hattie has led the way with research telling us that the greatest “teacher influences’ on student learning includes quality feedback, instructional quality and remediation.

The greatest ‘teacher influence’ of quality feedback interests me the most.

In simplest terms, this means telling students what they have done successfully and what they need to do to improve against explicit assessment criteria. Furthermore, Hattie believes that students should receive feedback on the learning processes used to complete a task, and on their ability to self-regulate their own learning. In effect, this implies that formative assessment (feedback given throughout the process of learning rather than summative (at the end) has a greater capacity to student achievement.

If we now have this evidence, which I’m sure many a quality teacher would attest to, why is there still such a strong focus on summative assessment?

In reading through Geoff Petty’s website, I was interested to find the research of Black and Wilian who spent four years studying research into feedback. As with Hattie, they concluded that providing feedback throughout the process of learning had a huge effect on the quality of learning. Their  findings suggest that feedback should include – Medals, Missions and Clear Goals.

Medals – specific information about what a student has done well – eg ‘your use of adjectives help describe the main character’

Missions – specific information about what the student needs to do to improve, correct or work on – eg ‘you need to use capital letters for the names of characters’

Clear Goals – the medals and missions need to be given in relation to clear, explicit goals / assessment criteria.

While this all sounds like common sense,  to what extent is this practice common-place in classrooms? How much emphasis is placed on teachers giving timely and explicit feedback? In what areas of study is this level of feedback mostly given – maths, english, …. other ??

To find out more visit Geoff Petty’s site which provides a comprehensive set of tools / references encapsulating the main elements giving feedback and other aspects of evidence base teaching.

ACEC – from the outside looking in.

How much rich learning can one get crammed into a few days without actually (physically) attending a conference / workshop?


Thanks to Twitter and my PLN, accessed mostly via my iPhone, I’ve had the most engaging day of learning, reading through a vast collection of tweets and blog posts from a host of engaging and forward thinking educators attending the annual Australian Council for Computers in Education (ACEC) conference in Melbourne.

In between a holiday landscaping project and travelling to and from dental / physio appointments, I’ve stay attuned to the running dialogue of presenters and conference attendees such as: @pryorcommitment @Brett_Moller @betchaboy @jangreen31 @SimonBorgert @ackygirl @lordfolland @ceosandhurst @pam_thompson @mdanonbaird @garystager @adambrice @jjash @jennyluca – to name but a few!

A clear and constant message has resonated for me – which is best summarised by the words of keynote speaker Alan November,

‘it’s not the technology itself that it is important; it’s the way we use it.’

The way I used technology enabled me to join ‘from the outside looking in’ – a true example of self-directed anywhere, anytime learning.

I have so far managed to grab a few new ideas from innovative educators as well as gaining deeper insights into the world of successful teaching and learning – infused and leveraged by technology.

I wish this learning scenario was more commonplace for educators and students.

Therein lies the challenge!

iPad – a gift to reconnect my parents!

In an increasingly connected world there many folk in their golden years who are becoming increasingly disconnected.

My parents who are well into their golden years (mother 78 and father 80) have become confused and intimidated with technology. They have a big TV screen, DVD player / recorder, pay TV (and box), three remotes and a netbook running Windows XP with wireless access. Despite this access and connectivity, and ongoing support from their sons and grandchildren, they just haven’t developed into autonomous users of technology. They are highly dependent on so-called technicians to come in and fix their pay TV connections and update their netbook with the latest anti-spyware / malware / virus software, just in order to watch a re-run of Gilligan’s Island or send / receive the most basic of emails. Then, I am asked to come in and translate the technical version into one that’s in plain English. For the love of my parents, I’ll continue to spend countless hours attempting to explain how it all works, even though it’s to no avail.

They have now switched off. In their old world, they feel less frustrated and worry less about having to master and use technology. I reckon that’s a real pity, when my father could spend time re-navigating his Korean War naval voyages through the magic of Google Earth and chatting with long lost friends of a bygone era, whilst,  my mother could collaborate with skilled and like-mined embroiderers through the plethora of online craft communities. This is just skimming the surface in what men and women of their generation could be engaging with. Yet they remain, as the social technographics age profiles suggest – inactives (Forrester Research).

So what can change this?


I have read countless articles / blog posts / tweets arguing  the pros and cons of the iPad. Being the eternal optimist, I look for what a new device can do rather than what it can’t or should do. Having seen the promotional video several times and exploring the potential of the iPad, I for one will be going around to my parent’s home in a few months (impending Australian release) with a gift.

Only time will tell whether the iPad will reconnect and re-engage my parents with the world as it exists today.

The glass is always half-full!

ICT Budgets- never enough $$$

I’m in the process of finalising our ICT budget for 2010 and am interested to know how others are managing. I am conscious that school’s are in a constant state of playing catch-up, not to have the latest and greatest gadgetry, but just to have a stable network with working and accessible technologies for learning. The financial demands to meet recommended computer to student ratios are huge.

Over the last few years, we have invested much money into our infrastructure – both wired and wireless networks. This has been crucial in ensuring each learning space / classroom has sufficient connectivity in the short and longer term.

Developing our network to have dual-platform capabilities has meant the acquisition of the necessary Mac and Win servers (AD integration). This has also included buying in the specialist engineering time to make this all happen successfully. Students work on iMacs and Macbooks accessing both Mac and Windows via a Bootcamp partition. All teachers are administrators to a Macbook with virtual access to Windows via Parallels.

Love them or hate them, Interactive Whiteboards  (Promethean Activboard) are a main feature of each classroom. For equity reasons, it has been important for us to complete this rollout across the school this year. For many teachers, the inclusion of an IWB in their classroom, coupled with a Macbook, has brought positive a mind shift in working with and learning new technologies. Teachers are increasingly aware of the need to transform their practice to a more constructivist one using 21st century / web 2.0 technologies. The wheel is slowly turning!

As many of you would know, there are all the hidden and sometimes forgotten costs including: annual software upgrades, licensing agreements, consumables, internet usage – just to name a few. Then there are the costs of printers, cameras (still. video, Flip style), iPods, scanners, microscopes, wireless keyboards, mice and so on.

I won’t even bother to elaborate on the critical costs of specialist technical support and professional learning.

I realise and understand that contextual influences impact on decision-making and forward planning, especially in preparing and managing ICT budgets. Every school is different, yet the same. Aren’t we all in this for the same purpose – learning?

We are doing OK, but there never seems to be enough money.

How are you doing?  What investment is your school making?

Australia Day Awards – The Missing Educator

The 2010 Australia Day Honours List contains a long list of worthy recipients, all of whom (I’m sure) have made a significant difference and impact to their respective communities – and of course, should be nationally and formally recognised.

As per usual the Honours List contains a list of well and not so well-known folk from all walks of life – sports, science, entertainment, medicine, politics, defence and so on.

The specific nomination process involves members of the public, or a community group, to  nominate individuals for one of the various awards. I wonder how many school communities have ever considered nominating a retiring or outstanding educator / teacher, who has made a significant contribution to the lives of young people and to the education profession. My guess is that this would be a rarity.

In searching through this year’s honour list the number of educators receiving awards appears to be thin on the ground. With the increasing public scrutiny of one of the noblest professions, there seems to be a decrease in public gratitude for educators. I reckon you could only count on one hand the number of good-news educator stories from the past year that made front page news.

In searching through the recipients of the Australian of the Year (since 1960) – surprise, surprise, not one person being honoured for their service to education. Plenty of scientists, doctors, sports stars and entertainers though.

As we commence another school year, perhaps it’s worth taking time to reflect upon, recognise and celebrate your own service to Australian education. You never know – in 365 days from now, you just might receive a call from the Governor-General.

Expect the Unexpected

Since returning from leave only two weeks ago after chilling out with my family on the mid-north coast of NSW, my work life as a Deputy Principal of a large southern suburbs primary school (600 students) in Adelaide has returned to what I would call – somewhat normal.

So what’s normal?

Normal day to day work and life as a Deputy Principal can only be described as – ‘Expect the Unexpected.’

Here’s the run-down over the last fortnight, planned and unplanned, in no apparent order:

  • Following up and managing a complaint where a student had created a Facebook group to say unsavoury things about his teacher. Parent very supportive in follow up actions. Tick.
  • Supporting a Year 2 teacher with a challenging student – young dedicated passionate graduate teacher doing some great work here to support and bring about behavioural change
  • Internet down – router spat the chewie – on the phone to customer support – had to reboot this and that, including Telstra NTU – trying to explain to teachers the reason the internet’s down when they really needed it.
  • Keeping a watchful eye on the weather channel and clock during recess and lunch breaks to enforce our hot weather procedures – has been a feral all week with daily midday temperatures hovering around 40 degrees celsius
  • Rescuing a young student from a locked toilet cubicle. Had to kick the door in. Karate kid would have been impressed.
  • Co-presenting with Principal at Regional Leaders Day – over 500 leaders – re our school’s  21st century learning / professional learning communities initiatives
  • Coordinating our the next phase of our Tech/ IWB roll-out. Only 4 classes to fit-out in early 2010 with Promethean Board / Ultra-Short Throw Projector and Macbook (dual-platform) package – wireless keyboard, mouse etc
  • Planning (playing with) for use of Mac OS X Server tools – wiki server, podcast producer etc
  • Working with the Principal to coordinate the next stage of our Building the Education Revolution  (BER) project – just a cool $3 million dollars
  • Completing the final scope of works for our Environmental Learning Centre – veggie garden complex
  • Compiling a heap of documentation for our Annual General Meeting – Sports Report, Wellbeing Report etc
  • Reviewing and updating our school oval’s health regime with our groundsman in light of existing watering restrictions
  • Coordinating rosters / timetables for camp week, when half the school is away on camp – Year 7s to Canberra
  • Meeting with Facilities Manager and school bursar on a myriad of facilities issues
  • Networking and supporting colleagues from local schools re ICT related issues
  • Rebuilding the school website for a launch in 2010 – with ICT tech support – using Joomla
  • Speaking at junior primary assembly – presenting awards in a packed hall of parents and students
  • Preparing ICT budget for 2010 – 1 to 1 looks close – need to focus extra attention on planning for this in 2010
  • Providing PD for teachers in preparing / creating end of year multi-media productions
  • Working with small group of Year 7 students preparing Graduation DVD
  • Conducting school open tours for prospective families – all 25 of them
  • Coordinating transition for next intake of reception students for 2010
  • Working with Year 6/7 student leadership team to coordinate and prepare for up and coming Gala Day – day of student enterprise
  • Preparing for whole school community celebration night in a few weeks – with specialist music teacher
  • Working through school photo day
  • Releasing teachers for special education meetings with psychologists and support staff
  • Preparing for and coordinating ‘Thank You Coaches and Managers Evening’ to acknowledge the efforts and commitment of our parent volunteers
  • Helping a neighbouring colleague and loaning them a heap of sports gear for their sports day
  • Updating our Bushfire Action Plan in accordance with new regulations
  • Redesigning templates for Inquiry Learning / Integrated Unit Plans on wiki
  • Attending Governing Council meeting

And the list goes on.

A typical fortnight ……………….. so glad I love my job.

Melted cassette tapes

My work life is centred around an incredible amount of media consumption, particularly the reading and viewing type, that it can be easy to neglect other forms of absorbing information – whether for work or pleasure.

So the last month on leave touring the eastern states with family in tow, allowed me the opportunity to re-engage with one of my favourite past-times – listening to music and audio. I really enjoy driving long distances and (aside from important family conversation) listening to music both old and new, comedy albums and catching up on those ‘banked up’ podcasts (esp edtechcrew).

Having spent a significant amount of time over the years travelling the countryside – the car music player has been a close companion, which has evolved in amazing ways.

In my early travelling days (mid-80s) I owned a beige coloured Datsun 200B and installed, which was at the time, a pretty flash car stereo system. For those who care to remember, I can fondly recall the constant inserting and ejecting of cassette tapes, fast forwarding and rewinding to favourite tracks, which became so worn that the tape would loosen from the spool and become a tangled mess. Tapes were not strategically kept throughout the car and could be  found in myriad of places from the glove box to the centre console, whilst others melted and became lost hidden somewhere with lost coins under the driver’s seat. I still have 100 or so tapes that are quietly gathering dust stored in shoeboxes in the back shed.

This last road-trip though, was a far cry from those halcyon days. This time around, preparation involved downloading and organising music / audio into playlists and then syncing to my iPhone as well as the wife’s /  kids’ iPod shuffles. What a difference from just over 20 years ago.

As Graham Wegner had recently undertaken, I spent some time prior to the trip to check out some online music. I redeemed some freebie iTunes cards and downloaded a heap of fantastic tunes from favourite and new artists.

The most airplay on our trip, and also at the request of the kids, was given to an album by Mick Thomas & The Sure Thing – ‘Spin Spin Spin’. Being a long time fan of Thomas’s work (esp of Wedding Parties Anything days) we sang along to some beautiful ballads and songs about everyday life. Have a listen to ‘As You Lay Sleeping’ – Thomas with Felicity Urquhart – one of the album’s highlights.

Unlike the worn out and now unused melted plastic cassette tapes of a bygone era, there’s a growing list of  ‘old and new’ mp3s eagerly waiting for a little bit of air-time on our next long road trip – Coffin Bay, January 2010. I can’t wait!