Student Robotic Project by Stephen and Lachlan – Yr10 – Oberon High School

Our Robotic Project

For our Year 10 Computer Programming project at our school we were given the chance to work with Arduino microcontrollers.

My project partner Lachlan and I decided to make a remote controlled DC motor robot.

The components that we used were the Arduino board, the Ardafruit Motorshield, a Freetronics Bluetooth shield, and two 9V Lego motors.

There was no instruction manual for this, so we had to find all of the code to make this work from the internet. The code was not in one single place, so we needed to put different parts of code together to make this work.

We built a small vehicle using Lego blocks and started to play around with the basic Ardafruit Motorshield code to see what we could get it to do.

It was easy to get it to go forward and back, but getting it to go left and right was a bit more difficult. Working out how to power the board and shield off one battery was also tricky until we discovered that we could use the ‘Vin’ jumper on the motor shield.

Our teacher Mr Vinton was also a member of our team and helped us by providing all of the resources and by printing off all of the code and asking us if we knew what each part did and how we thought it might go together.

Setting up the Bluetooth was the trickiest because our school’s Windows 7/8 computers didn’t enable Bluetooth serial ports. With a lot of trial and error we finally got it to work by using a Windows 8 laptop (standard operating system).

We used the Orionrobots Processing code to drive the robot from a PC and we used Bluetooth Controller to drive it from an Android tablet

The code that we used is below:

The Adafruit MotorShield code from ArdaFruit:

To communicate via the serial port to the bluetooth shield we used this code from © 2015 OrionRobots and we changed it to suit the Ardafruit MotorShield. Below is the original code:

At the top of the code we also included the standard code for communication to the serial port via BlueTooth

And we defined the key commands with code manipulated from © 2015 OrionRobots

To communicate with the serial port on the computer which was used to key the commands to the Arduino robot we used the ‘Processing’ code from © 2015 OrionRobots

Our finished Arduino code for our BlueTooth controlled Ardafruit MotorShield Arduino robot looked like this:

The ‘header’ section of code:

The ‘setup’ section of the code uses the Ardafruit MotorShield code parts, but we needed to do quite a bit of tweaking to get it right.

You will need to make sure that your motor connections are the right way around to get the motors running the right directions (this needs trial and error testing).

The ‘loop’ section of the code was manipulated from the original Orionrobots code

Our robot code can be found here:

And the video of the robot in action can be found here:

The original Orion Robot code can be found here:

All the code – for each of the stages, and the final stage of this tutorial can be viewed at Github | dannystaple | orion-explorer-arrow-control.

The Ardafruit tutorial PDF for the Ardafruit MotorShield V2 can be found here:

Documentation on how to set attach the Freetronics BlueTooth shield to your computer so that you can communicate via ‘serial over BlueTooth’ can be found here:

The Story – Part Two – Why a Blog?

When Albert Einstien wrote up his theory of relativity on the blackboard, it wasn’t the blackboard that made the magic; when Frank Darabont created The Shawshank Redemption from the Stephen King novella, the cinematography, and acting were brilliant, but it was the story that won us over, just as it did with Schindler’s List. When children excitedly buy their first copy of Harry Potter, they are not buying the words on the page, they are buying the story.

In all of these cases the story itself is the most magic part, not the medium which carries the story. As one great story teller (Muriel Rukeyser) wrote “The Universe is made of stories, not atoms”. Jonathan Gottschall, the author of ‘The Story Telling Animal’ remarked “Human beings live their lives inside a storm of stories”. This ‘storm of Stories’ has been wildly brewing since the development of the World Wide Web to become an overwhelming hurricane of stories, in the vortex of which, everyone is a story teller, and everyone is a hungry consumer of ‘news’.

(Part One of this blog post can be found here)

This new ‘carriage of cognizance’ allows anyone a voice, and it has given a voice to many great young minds such as Tavi Genivson, Gloson Teh, Stephen Yellin , Sher Bano, andJulie Zeilinger. The world has been tuning in to the stories of these ‘kids’ since most of them were age 17 or less, and there are many more like these who are right now sharing their stories in an attempt to be heard. But with so many kids itching to tell their stories to each other online, why then is this story chatter so quite in our schools? – so deathly silent that you can hear the crickets chirping. Are there students in our schools who have a strong active voice in their communities, but who have muffled voices within their school? If so, why is this happening, and how can we change it? If it is so easy for kids like Tavi Genivson and Julie Zellinger to raise their voices outside of their schools, then why are they not able to sing their beautiful song within the school’s walls? Have we caged our songbirds, so that they do not wish to sing? Freedom is the ink in the pen of the expression of ideas, but have our schools have restricted that ink, so that it no longer flows?

Our students have become expert bloggers and micro-bloggers; they are writing and expressing ideas more than any previous generation and yet our schools choose to remain oblivious to this, and in many cases they even seek to crush the tools of expression. The practices and conventions within the real world should be reflected within our schools, however, in many if not most schools, this is not the case. If we give our students an opportunity to air their voice within their classes and school community then this will better shape their practices for when they begin to do this in the real world, helping them to become better global contributors of knowledge. ​

In search of a tool that would best represent ‘human voice’ for the purpose of online storytelling, you couldn’t ask for anything better than the medium of video, however, not everyone is happy to be a video star, and besides, producing good quality video can be difficult, time consuming, and the process can sometimes convolute the message. If we look to how the real world is presently telling its stories we see that most of our news (International, local, and social) is being told using a humble ‘web-log’ – a ‘blog’.

Blogs or ‘Weblogs’ are not new technology. Blogs evolved from personal online diary accounts in the 1990s The humble early days of blogging soon gave way to a steep rise of popularity once people realised the blog’s potential to convey up-to-date news.

These days there is probably not a website worth visiting that does not contain a blog, however, in spite of a wealth of evidence which suggests that blogs improve learning outcomes, adoption of this technology in education has been slow and sporadic – Only some teachers and fewer students are using them.

So if blogs are used so extensively to convey news and information in the real world then why has the education sector been so slow to adopt this technology for learning? Perhaps whilst everybody in education is looking for the eLearning ‘next big thing’, they are forgetting that simple technology can often be the most effective; or perhaps the education sector is stuck in the paradigm of needing to place the learning into neat quiet little boxes.

One thing is certain: The world now sources the majority of its information via blogs and micro blog news feeds, so in education the question should not be “Why a blog?” The question should be “Why not?”

Below are some reasons why a blog is one of my favourite elearning tools:

I blog therefore I am– Formation of the self

The who’s who of the world (Bill Gates is a big blogger) all blog, and most of them micro-blog (Twitter and Facebook) about things that they have written in their blog, so I guess that means they are blogging their blog, or that they are blog bloggers. Many writers have come to find their voice via their online blog posts; some of these people were famous to begin, whereas some became known to the world through the ideas which they shared. Most of our online news now comes via blog posts: News.com The ABC etc. The big education sites such as NASA are now composed in blog format. Students obtain a lot of their home hobby learning information from online blogs such as MineCraft and IGN (International Gaming Network), and use blogs and micro blogs for information related to their social networks such as Tumbler and online magazines such as Rookie Most students, teachers, people, interact with blogs almost every day without realising it, because blogs are so common on the web that they have become intrinsic to the web browsing experience. What is noticed however, is the timeous nature of the information presented and the appeal of the story which the blog accommodates.

Smooth as Silk– Perfectly simple

Sometimes the simplest tools are the best. The humble blog does not have the bells and whistles of the ‘latest thing’, but it is very efficient and reliable. Most of the contemporary blogging platforms allow you to input your information in a ‘Word’ style editor, and some even let you blog straight from word or email posts from Outlook. Many of these modern blog platforms such as SharePoint 2013 on the Office 365 allow you to embed video and other code to provide a rich and engaging experience for the reader. This is a perfect situation for those who have grown up using MS Word and are therefore reluctant to move away from it, because the tools are the same with the Office 365 blog (SharePoint) because it is built on the same technology. The ability of the blog to blend both familiar technology and embedded code means that you can produce highly engaging posts that easily connect your readers to the resources they need. Here is a very simple blog that shows how easy it can be to get your message across using a mixture of different media: (everyone loves chocolate).

Location, location, location – Easy to find, again, and again, and again

They say that location is everything in real-estate, and this is also true as far as the real-estate of information. If your audience can’t find your story, then your story will go untold, so it pays to put your story in a place where you know that it will be easily found. This is one of the things that a blog does best, and it is one of the reasons why blogs are used by news companies. Once you have established your blog’s location with your audience you don’t need to worry about redirecting them to your new information, because the blog facilitates a continual flow of new information within the same ‘piece of real-estate’, meaning that your ‘stuff’ might change, but your students will know exactly where it is.

[X] is the new black – always up to date

Because the blog developed from a ‘diary’ format, each post on a blog is date/time stamped, allowing the reader to know exactly when each post was written, and therefore whether or not it is ‘yesterday’s news’. This feature is very handy when searching for information on the web, because it lets you establish if the information is current or old. Within a learning context it allows students who have missed classes to know exactly which posts are relevant to the days they have missed – meaning that you ‘the teacher’ don’t have to explain the lesson over and over.

The Great Re-Animator – easy re-blogging

Blogs are constructed to allow you to choose how the information is presented on the ‘Wall’ or ‘Homepage’. Most people choose to have their posts present in order of ‘newest to the top’ which makes more sense, as you want the newest news at the top, not the oldest news. In the world of news you wouldn’t have many occasions where you would want to retell a news story (although some have done the rounds for years), however, in education teachers are often reusing content over and over for subject lessons in subsequent years. A blog can come in very handy in this situation because posts on a blog can be easily re-edited and then re-posted at a new date, meaning that you can give your old lesson a good ‘cut and polish’ and then move it to the top of the line. If there is one reason which tempts you to get into blogging it should be this, because this is a big time saver.

Once Upon a Time – Want to win your audience? – Tell them a good story!

As mentioned in ‘Part One​‘ of this blog post, the ‘story’ is fundamentally important in learning, and the blog is a perfect tool to support this story. The format of the modern blog allows the author to include just about any form of media that they need to make their story engaging to their audience; and the proof of this lies in the ‘hurricane’ of stories that have been consumed from blogs within the Weblog’s short history. In the case of the class blog, your story is formed in part by the ‘learning intention’, so the better this is presented the higher your students’ chance of success. Here is a good example of how a blog can be used to tell a story in both words and pictures:

Paragon of the Paragraph – Promotion of reading, writing, and teacher modelled writing

Because the blog’s main content is in ‘written’ format, it is the perfect tool to help support student writing and it provides a stage for the teacher to demonstrate good writing within their subject area. We should not assume that our students automatically know how to write within the genres for each subject area, and we should not assume that this writing will be taught by the English teachers. It is the responsibility of every teacher to teach the writing for their subject area, and role modelling of this writing by the teacher forms a big part of this instruction.

The blog is the perfect tool to support writing improvement using the following strategies:


QuickWriting is a very efficient and effective way to get students into the habit of writing. QuickWrites are short, specific pieces of writing in which the focus is the recording of ideas rather than spelling or grammar. When the teacher QuickWrites with the students it provides the opportunity for the teacher to share how he/she constructs word combinations, sentences and paragraphs to communicate ideas. The sharing and deconstruction of these QuickWrites can be a powerful tool in the learning of writing structures.


Write-to-share is where the teacher writes as a writer and shares their writing with the community. This may be in the form of a blog, article, review, or book. This form of writing lets the students see the role of writing, and see who writes. It provides a greater context for the purpose of writing and can encourage students to see themselves as writers. This form of writing also provides the opportunity for the teacher to share his/her thoughts and the challenges encountered over the whole writing process, and can also allow a chance for the teacher to deconstruct his/her writing with the students and discuss language structures.

These ideas were sourced from: Welcome to Writer’s Workshop – Steve Peha

The Real Deal – Authentic audience

Most of the exchanges of student writing and work which take place within a school are exchanges between student and teacher, followed by feedback from teacher to student. Rarely is this work seen by the other students in the class, or by anyone else in the school community, except in the case where exemplary work has been selected for the specific purpose of showcasing. Education experts such as Regie Routman argue that a student needs to write for an authentic audience in order to build robust writing skills, and that the act of writing to an authentic audience enriches the experience for the writer and therefore inspires and encourages this writer to further their writing.

It is fairly obvious to see that the act of writing to an audience of your peers prompts you to spend more time on the ‘polish’ and encourages you to be more careful when writing your ideas. In a controlled and safe environment, students feel safe to write and share their ideas with others in their class, and they feel free to express their opinions and embrace mistakes as part of the process. A blog platform such as the blog in the Office 365 SharePoint sites allows the teacher to set up a safe and controlled environment where the students can practise their writing of ideas to a real audience in an interactive setting, and they can receive feedback from their peers. The blog available on the Office 365 (SharePoint) is a perfect training platform for the real world because here the teacher can have full control over exactly who can ‘post’ and who can ‘comment’. This environment allows for the gradual building of student responsibly and the discussion of what it means to be a ‘Global Digital Citizen’.

Strut Your Stuff – Student portfolios

The media rich format of the blog accommodates the presentation of multifaceted information, which is perfect for the presentation of learning portfolios. The student might have as part of their learning portfolio some written pieces in blog posts or document libraries, some video recordings, some images, and maybe even sound recordings. These can all be presented from the one blog post by way of links and embedded content, meaning that the student needs only to present the one post to showcase their entire learning portfolio.

Because Individuals Have Individual Needs – differentiation

Category tags on a blog allow you to tag each post with specific tags which relate to the content of the blog post, allowing your audience to find what they need. This feature enables easy and efficient filtering of the information within your blog, however, this feature can also be tweaked to allow you to personalise and ‘target’ individual students or groups within your class. Rather than creating subject specific tags for your blog’s categories, you could instead use the names of each student or student groups in your class, thus allowing you to tag specific students as the ‘category’ for specific posts. In this way you can tailor and deliver information to the right target groups within your classes to ensure learning differentiation.

Through Others We Become Ourselves – Social collaborative learning

If you have recently learnt something new you will have no doubt sourced some of this learning from an online community resource. One of the greatest things that the World Wide Web has done for us is provide a platform where we can all share our knowledge to create a World Wide Knowledge Bank. Our knowledge about ourselves and the world is broadened by our interaction with the ideas of others, and it is this same process of learning that we should see established in our schools, however, our schools have been reluctant to let go of their traditional ‘19th century model of learning‘ which has severely impeded progress in this area.

A quote from one of my previous blog posts should best sum this up:

“I don’t want to get bogged down in theory here but I will say that we should have moved a long way forward, driven by the ideas of Vygotski (1978) and Bandura (1977) to a place where the social side of learning is firmly embedded in every classroom learning experience, and yet we still have the situation where documents are passed from teacher to student, and then back from student to teacher. At best in this situation the student receives written or verbal feedback and in rare cases exemplary work is made visible to the class. In this case the social learning experience is restricted to an exchange between the teacher and student, meaning that the rest of the class has missed out on the opportunity to contribute and learn from the success or mistakes of others.

With our eLearning management we must not fall into the trap of using a 21st century tool to deliver 19th century learning and teaching methods. The education sector has a habit of adopting new technologies to deliver ‘the same old thing’ (Spector 2006). If we want to encourage our students to engage in sharing and discussion about their work then we will have to look at established conventions that may prevent this; conventions that we might have set up.”

A class blog that is utilised by both the teacher and the students can help resolve the issue mentioned above by making the learning visible to all participants in the learning, and therefore the learning outcomes are shaped by the collective knowledge of all of these participants rather than from only the perspective of the teacher and individual student.

If you want your story to be heard – Make it engaging, make it clear, make it accessible, make it relivable – Think about putting it in a blog!


Another blog post about blogging –

Welcome to Writer’s Workshop – Steve Peha

Vygotsky, L.S. – “Mind in Society”- Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press – 1978

Bandura, AlBert – “Social Learning Theory” – Stanford University – 1977

Routman, Regie – 2014 Read, Write, Lead: Breakthrough Strategies for Schoolwide Literacy Success. Assn For Supervision & Curriculum.

The Importance of the Story – Why a blog – Part 1

In my prior life before becoming a teacher, and before the days of ‘Master Chef’, I worked as a chef in a busy restaurant on the coast. Most of my days were made up of early starts and late finishes – the dreaded ‘split shifts’. I had a very young son at the time (2 – 3 years old), and I lived with our extended family: my mother-in-law and sister-in-law (who was about 11 years old at the time).

It was an exciting time for me being a father of a young child, and as any parent knows, the first years of a child’s life are full of many milestone moments which are priceless to witness.

Well as you can well imagine, being a chef working split shifts meant that I did indeed miss many of those moments. I would wake up early and head off to work long before anyone else in the house had risen, and arrive home long after the family had gone off to bed; to be greeted by only the remnants of the day’s activities which compounded the feeling that I had missed out on something special.

This was in the early 1990s, which was just before the internet became easily available to households, long before the days of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. Yes, these were the days before everyone’s private lives were plastered over the internet, and so it wasn’t easy to catch those lost moments.

It was at this same that I acquired my first computer, an Apple Centris 610. In these days word processing on a computer was a novelty, so I managed to set up a mutually beneficial system with my sister-in-law. I taught her how to use the computer and Microsoft Word, and in return she typed up a dairy entry each day which outlined the family’s activities for the day. My sister-in-law became a better writer, and I was able to get a glimpse of some of the wonderful things that my young son had been up to during the day. Although I was still missing out on these events, these diary entries helped to keep me connected with my family.

Immediately each nigh upon my return home after a long day at work I would eagerly read about the events that had happened during the day. Although exhausted by the day’s work, I was totally engaged, because I had a burning curiosity to know what had taken place during the day. This was important news to me, and so it had me hooked. News is big news, especially when its personalised, and the better the story the more likely you will be hooked in to reading it, which is hopefully how I have managed to hold your attention up until this point.

So where am I heading with this story? Well, it is not so much the actual story here, but rather the story itself and the way it is told.

The story, and particular parts of the story such as the ‘touchy-feely’ bits can help you to focus your attention and commit information to memory. Sounds like science fiction right? But it is actually science fact. There is now significant research which shows that specific components of stories can actually trigger the release of specific hormone chemicals which in turn affect our behaviour and memory. These studies illustrate that our brains ‘lights-up’ with a story just as it would if we were experiencing the real thing. Chip and Dan Heath phrased this so aptly in their book ‘Made to Stick’ suggesting that stories are “flight simulators for the brain”.

This experiment by Dr. Paul Zak demonstrates how parts of the brain respond to specific parts of a story, and what happens when this triggers the release of hormone chemicals into the bloodstream.

Empathy, Neurochemistry, and the Dramatic Arc: Paul Zak at the Future of StoryTelling 2012

And this study by NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicineexplains how the release of oxytocin into the bloodstream can help to dampen ‘background noise’ and increase brain function.

“Oxytocin has a remarkable effect on the passage of information through the brain,” says Richard W. Tsien, DPhil, the Druckenmiller Professor of Neuroscience and director of the Neuroscience Institute at NYU Langone Medical Center. “It not only quiets background activity, but also increases the accuracy of stimulated impulse firing. Our experiments show how the activity of brain circuits can be sharpened, and hint at how this re-tuning of brain circuits might go awry in conditions like autism.”

Daniel Willingham the author of ‘Why students don’t like school’ suggests that psychologists regard stories as “psychologically privileged” because the brain treats them in a superior way to other types of information.

Willingham points to a study in which 209 7th and 8th grade students were tested on texts about Marie Curie and Galileo using two different information delivery methods – One in a standard text book format and one in story format. The students’ comprehension and memory was tested immediately after reading the material and then one week later with the results showing a clear positive result for the story method.

These are difference scores, so taller bars reflect a greater advantage for the narrative version. The advantage of the story over expository was significant in all conditions except the Curie passage at the short delay.

So if we can tap into Fraytag’s Pyramid (Dramatic Arc) then we will have a narrative which can potentially bring about an acute focus of attention at the start (release of cortisol) followed at the climax and conclusion by a release of oxytocin to help cement the memory of the learning.

Willingham suggests that for teachers to incorporate the story format into their teaching it may be easier for them to think of the narrative as more than just a story about an individual or group of people, but instead to look at it in a more abstract way:

A conflict (or problem to be solved) The complications (steps, sequences, data, parts of the puzzle) The resolution (the answer to the question)

This should provide teachers with more flexibility in the application to the learning and it fits nicely into the learning intention narrative:​

Condition Action Verb Standard
The conditions under which the student will perform the task A description of what the student will be able to do The criteria for evaluating student performance

Curiosity and Powerful Learning / David Hopkins, Wayne Craig ; Oli Knight (contributor). Mcrel (Page 18)

It is important to note here that in order to increase curiosity the story shouldn’t give everything away all at once. Good stories always hold you in suspense as to what might happen next, and allow you to develop questions and deeper reflection on the possible outcomes of the story.

The Kahn Academy who are noted for their engaging easy to follow instructional videos on a range of complex topics provides us with this good example of how this concept can be used to engage students in the learning of the very dry topic of Algebra and Linear Equations.

Trolls, Tolls, and Systems of Equations

In this first video in this series we meet a troll who won’t let us cross a bridge to save the princess or prince unless we solve a riddle which requires us to understand the concept of variables and how to solve a system of algebraic equations.

Let’s have a look at the narrative:

Fraytag’s Pyramid Exposition Rising Action – Climax- Falling Action Dénouement (Resolution)
Willingham’s model A conflict (or problem to be solved) The complications (steps, sequences, data, parts of the puzzle) The ‘light-bulb’ moment. The resolution (the answer to the question)
Kahn Academy Algebra Lesson The Troll won’t allow us to cross the bridge unless we can solve the riddle of how many $5 and $10 notes he has We know how much money he has ($5,500) and we know that he has 900 bills in total.So if we are shown the steps and formula then we can begin to solve this riddle. Plotting the information on the graph and application of the steps provide the answer to this riddle – The Troll has 700 $5 bills and 200 $10 bills
Learning Intention Components(Hopkins, Craig, Knight – Curiosity and Powerful Learning – 2nd edition).​ Condition Action Verb Standard
The conflict or problem which sets up the conditions for the learning The components, elements, information, variables, parameters, etc. which will provide the outline of what must be done and how it might be done. The desired solution or resolution which provides the success criteria for the learning intention.
Learning Intention When presented with a system of equations which includes two variables. The student will be able to use the available data to determine a method of solution, and devise a formula and action plan. The successful solution will be the accurate plotting of this information on a graph which will lead to the solution of the problem.

So as we can see in the above example the story can be simplified and wrapped around the learning intention so that the story carries the learning intention in a narrative format; and as long as this narrative still follows Willingham’s formula above (Conflict-Complication-Resolution), the story should still have the same effect on the brain.

Did my opening story for this blog post follow this pattern? Yes, it gave the initial conflict or problem (I wasn’t home to witness my son’s milestone events), followed by the associated complications, and finally the resolution (A daily diary entry written by my sister-in-law); and by making it a personal story I was drawing you in further to help ensure a release of cortisol and oxytocin in your brain.

Now getting on to the part about ‘blogging’. In the same way that I wasn’t present at the time when these events were being recorded about my young son, I am also not able to be present to tell this story to you in person; and there will be many times when you will not be able to be present to tell your story in person to your students – a child turns up late, you are ill, students revisiting the lesson, etc. So to harness the power of the story for your classes it makes sense to have a tool that can adequately record and replay your story. A video post would be the best answer, but not everyone loves being in front of the camera, and producing high grade video posts is a bit of an art form. So which tool is best suited to this task?

I have chosen to tell my personal story to you by using this blog.

I chose to use a blog for this task for several reasons, but one of the main reasons was that the information I needed to share with you was complex, and the best way to share complex information is through writing; and the ‘blog’ does writing very well indeed.

The structures and format of blogs can allow for a rich user experience by embedded images, sound, video, and hyperlinks. A good blog post would have a mixture of media to enhance the ‘audience’ experience for the reader and to convey your own story in the most impressing way.

Read Part Two of this blog post here to find out why a blog is such a useful and versatile tool for the telling of your classroom narrative.


Heath, Chip and Dan (2007) Random House Publishing – ISBN 13: 978-1-4000-6428-1

Empathy, Neurochemistry, and the Dramatic Arc: Paul Zak at the Future of StoryTelling 2012

Willingham, Dan (2009) – Why Great Teachers are Story Tellers – Why Don’t Students Like School

Hopkins, David; Craig, Wayne; and Knight, Oli (2015) – Curiosity and Powerful Learning – McRel – National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry – 9780994265319

How a college dropout came to be a teacher of the world.

One of my favourite Youtubers, and someone that I have learnt a lot from is a young man called Bucky Roberts.

Bucky dropped out of college, because he found that it wasn’t for him; most likely because this way of learning did not allow him to pursue his insatiable curiosity.

After dropping out of college he became interested in computers and started to read a lot from books about the topics that interested him. During his quest for more information he realised that Youtube videos were a great learning resource that allowed him to learn faster, and this gave him the idea that he could also teach others what he knew by using this platform.

His video channel ‘The New Boston’ now has almost 4,000 videos, over 870 thousand subscribers, and over 2 million views. He is the boy who dropped out of school who now teaches the world.

I soon realized that these videos were something more than just another cat video on YouTube. They were a gateway to a higher education, for free. While Universities and Corporations were charging like crazy for people to receive an education, people could come and watch my videos and get the same information for no cost at all. I decided that this is the way it would be. An education should be free for everyone who desires one. It should not be a business. And quickly, that became my goal. (quotation source:

Bucky has a very engaging and relaxed way of communicating complex concepts, so I often use his computer science videos to help my students grasp programming concepts. He has just launched a new collaborative website which houses all of his video content and other related videos on topic areas such as Computer Science, Science, Maths, etc. You may find something useful here for your classes.

One of the things that makes Bucky stand out, and one of the motivators that has allowed him to be such a productive learner is that he never stops asking himself questions. The question below is typical of one of his questions:

Does the Universe have memory?

This picture represents a single point in time. We know that the very next moment this baby will either:

· a) continue to travel up (if it has just been thrown)

· b) travel down (if it was already on the way down)

From this one picture alone, there is no way that we can tell which is going to happen. However, if we had another picture from before, then we would be able to calculate not only which direction the baby was traveling but also how far. I guess my question is this: How are objects in the Universe able to travel along such a predictable path without any knowledge of their previous location?

Bucky’s story is one that should point out to us that not everyone will fit into the traditional mould of education, and perhaps that the student who has most trouble staying in their seat may have the potential to become your most productive learner – given the right learning conditions.

This is why we need to keep asking ourselves the questions:

Are there any curiosity blockers in place in my learning environments?

How can I best fuel this student’s curiosity on this learning topic?

How can I encourage my students to ask more questions?

How does the learning within my classroom relate to the way my students learn at home?

Remember the main curiosity blockers.

If we can collectively find answers to these questions then we will be well on the road towards developing a ‘curiosity’ centred learning environment.

Information sources:

Writing on the iPad

This may help to alleviate some fears and clear up some misconceptions, and it puts forward an idea that combines three of the top priorities into one:

Writing – eLearning – Curiosity

There are probably many of us that have had real concerns about the future of ‘writing’ in light of technology changes; this concern has good reason, because the act of handwriting has served us well for thousands of years. The act of writing seems to come so naturally to us from when, as infants we are first able to hold a crayon.

J.R.R. Tolkien put it so aptly when he wrote:

A pen is to me as a beak is to a hen.

Some may say that he wrote at a time when there wasn’t much choice, but I wonder if given the choice, would he still have chosen the pen? Something tells me that he would have.

Even writers who have had their choice of technology have still opted for the pen:

If I could write directly on a typewriter or a computer, I would do it. But keyboards have always intimidated me. I’ve never been able to think clearly with my fingers in that position. A pen is a much more primitive instrument. You feel that the words are coming out of your body and then you dig the words into the page.

Paul Auster

Many writers love the immediacy of the pen and their connection with it:

It’s called a pen. It’s like a printer, hooked straight to my brain.

Dale Dauten

And thanks to technology advancements that have allowed insights into the working of the brain, we can now see that there is indeed a connection between the movements of the hand, the act of writing (mental sequencing of letters, words, sentences) and thinking.

We are somehow wired to engage thinking with the hand

Dr. Virginia Berninger

Being an artist I have always understood the connection between the actions of the hand and thinking, and the role that the formation of 2D shapes has plays in the construction of understanding and memory.

The relationship between the artist and computer has been a rollercoaster ride of delight and frustration, because of the endless possibilities presented by new technologies and the restrictions that need to be overcome.

Back in 2008 when I first started using Microsoft OneNote with some of my classes I realized the potential of this piece of software to enhance and capture student learning. Back then the desktop software worked a treat, but real-time collaboration, although possible, was tricky and problematic.

It wasn’t until 2012 when I started using Office 365 with my classes that the true power of this software become fully realized for its collaboration and connectivity potential, however, there was still one big problem: The process of note taking, annotation (great video on annotation here), and sketching of ideas was much easier to do via the act of handwriting and drawing rather than via a keyboard and mouse.

I envied the progress made by Travis Smith at Frankston High School and their use of expensive Toshiba touch screen tablet PCs and I hoped that Moore’s Law would kick in quickly to bring the cost of touch screen and flash memory technology down to affordable levels – but here in 2015 Moore’s Law hasn’t quite done its job.

iPads were an obvious choice for those who wanted relatively cheap solution to touch screen technology, however, the writing experience with handwriting and typing is far from perfect, and could easily be described as downright annoying.

Luckily the more open cross-platform development frameworks over the past few years have allowed for a scenario where companies like Microsoft are able to freely create apps for devices like the iPad; and more recently these apps have started to evolve to a point where they are finally bringing about an equalization of technology where any device will soon ensure the same user experience (meaning that the process will be the same on any device).

I have used the OneNote app on the iPad over the past few years, but each update was matched with disappointment at the user experience of this app not matching the desktop version, until the latest release in February of this year.

This latest release of OneNote for the iPad has several new features including the much anticipated ‘Draw’ toolset, which now makes it so much easier for students to take handwritten notes, annotate (great video on annotation here), and sketch ideas.

I have fully tested this app out over the past month, and I am very satisfied and excited about the results so far. I am calling this app the Game Changer for the iPad because I believe that combined with the connectivity allowed by the Office 365 this app will help transform the iPad into a very handy learning tracking tool that will now enable the inclusion of handwriting.

So in terms of the three priorities: Writing, eLearning, Curiosity

The writing and eLearning have been covered, but what about the curiosity?

The great thing about this app being connected to the Office 365 means that the connections are ‘live’ which in layman’s terms means that every connected person has each other’s work the moment it is done, therefore, when a student creates a piece of work the teacher instantly has it; when a teacher corrects a piece of work the student immediately has this feedback.

Because this is so immediate it means that the momentum of learning is not lost, and curiosity can be fuelled by the right questions prompted within the teacher’s feedback to each student.

I have produced a brief run through of this app in a video – click here

And here is a link to a previous video where I discuss the link to the Office 365 and OneNote Class Notebook creator.

On March 25th of this year Microsoft announced that it has now made available all of its Office software free to all Australian students and staff, so that means that each and every student and teacher now has access to this software on any device (Android and Windows due to arrive in April).

If you want to see the full video of Dr. Virginia Berninger discussing the importance of handwriting here it is:

Other related links:

‘My First Sway’ – Microsoft’s new online presentation web tool – New from Microsoft – Students will love this because they can access images from their social networks (Social side may not work on school’s network).

How Handwriting Trains the Brain

What the best education systems are doing right – TED

Handwriting in OneNote for iPad and OCR everywhere – Microsoft

Are you curious?

“I roamed the countryside searching for answers to things I did not understand. Why shells existed on the tops of mountains along with the imprints of coral and plants and seaweed usually found in the sea. Why the thunder lasts a longer time than that which causes it, and why immediately on its creation the lightning becomes visible to the eye while thunder requires time to travel. How the various circles of water form around the spot which has been struck by a stone, and why a bird sustains itself in the air. These questions and other strange phenomena engage my thought throughout my life.” –

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

It is fair to say that Leonardo da Vinci was one of the greatest minds in our history. His thinking was well ahead of its time and spawned many advances in science, art, and technology. Da Vinci had a burning curiosity to understand how things worked. Through trial and error he applied a high degree of critical thinking to understand and appreciate his observations of the world around him. (How to think like Leonardo da Vinci).

Curiosity may be defined as a desire to know, to see, or to experience that motivates exploratory behaviour directed towards the acquisition of new information (Litman 2005). Curiosity is defined as: A strong desire to know or learn something – Oxford Dictionary

In the case of Leonardo da Vinci this curiosity was a burning hunger to find the answer to all of the questions that perplexed him, and unlike most people this hunger stayed with him until the end of his life.

Was Leonardo da Vinci a freak of nature or can developing a curious mind help you to think the way he did?

Was it curiosity which killed the cat? – The curious child

How Many Questions Do Children Ask In A Day?

“If a child stays curious then he will continue to explore and discover”

Dr. Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D

Do we not ask as many questions as adults because we know more about the world, and therefore do not need to ask as many questions, or is it that we don’t maintain our curiosity because “life” gets in the way, and the obstacles of life lead us along the common path of life, to do ‘what is expected’?

Do we not ask as many questions because we are taught not to? Is it just easier for most to walk along the already worn path?

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I took the road less travelled”

I think we all need a pep talk – ‘Robert Frost’ by Kid President

Robby Novak (Kid President) – Obviously Robby is a boy who exercises his curiosity; he thinks about the world and how it could be a better place. He talks about following one’s dreams, not giving up, and not following along the same ‘boring’ path, but instead taking ‘the road less travelled’.

What are the blockers of curiosity? According to Dr Bruce Perry there are three common ways adults restrict or crush children’s natural curiosity: 1) fear, 2) disapproval and 3) absence.


“You’ll never come up with anything original — if you’re not prepared to be wrong.”

– Sir Ken Robinson

“Fear kills curiosity”. Children lose their curiosity and like for novelty when their environment is unsafe or chaotic. In these situations children tend to play it safe – staying within comfort zones, and are reluctant to explore. “Children impacted by war, natural disasters, family distress, or violence all have their curiosity crushed”.


“Don’t touch. Don’t climb. Don’t yell. Don’t take that apart. Don’t get dirty. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.”

Children sense and respond to our fears, biases, and attitudes. If we convey a sense of disgust at the mud on their shoes and the slime on their hands, their discovery of tadpoles will be diminished.


“No, use the method of the grandmother……… Well, what you’ve got to do is stand behind them and admire them all the time. Just say to them, ‘That’s cool. That’s fantastic. What is that? Can you do that again? Can you show me some more?”

Sugata Mitra: The child-driven education

The presence of a caring, invested adult provides two things essential for optimal exploration: 1) a sense of safety from which to set out to discover new things and 2) the capacity to share the discovery and, thereby, get the pleasure and reinforcement from that discovery.

Studies of children in the learning environment have shown a positive correlation between consistent feedback and increased curiosity (Loewenstein 1994). Goodwin (2014) cites a 1976 study (Moore & Bulbulian) in which 40 pre-schoolers were more apt to be curious and explore their surrounding when in the presence of a friendly and supportive adult, and less inclined to do so when in the company of a critical and aloof adult, and Robinson (2006) states that children will take a chance if they are not frightened of being wrong.

Decline in curiosity and creative thinking

There is a positive link between curiosity and creativity (Vidler, 1977 cited by Piccone 1999), and like with Leonardo da Vinci the more creative a person is the more they are able to think up original questions, and in turn the desire to find answers and solutions to these questions drives further curiosity. Südhof (2014) goes as far to suggest that the best predictor of a person’s success is how “innately curious” they are. Hoffman (1998 cited by Piccone 1999) identifies curiosity as a major motivator of great accomplishments, reporting intellectual curiosity as the highest rated motivating factor for doctors since the 1920’s. Von Srumm et al (2012) suggests that curiosity predicts academic performance and that a “hungry mind” is a core determinant of individual differences in academic achievement. Goodwin (2014) further supports this with the research of Rain, Renolds, Venables, & Mednick (2002) in which a longitudinal study of 1,795 (11 year old) children indicated that the ‘more curious’ children scored on average 12 points higher on IQ tests that those who demonstrated ‘low curiosity’ traits.

Evidence suggests that children lose more of their curiosity the longer they stay in school (Englehard & Monsaas 1988 cited by Goodwin 2014). Kim (2011) cites the research of Gardner,(1982); Axtell, (1966); Kang,(1989); Marcon, (1995); Nash, (1974); Timmel, (2001); Torrance, (1977); Williams, (1976) which show that there is a drop in both curiosity and creativity when students start to learn socialization and conformity as part of their schooling, suggesting that the conventions of “how to behave” may be responsible in part for reducing, and perhaps even killing off these traits. She points out that there has also been a continual decline of the creative thinking of Americans since the 1990’s.

……and although curiosity may have killed the cat, there is evidence to suggest that being curious can extend your life (Swan, 1996)

“In school, we’re rewarded for having the answer, not for asking a good question,… Have the kids stopped asking questions because they’ve lost interest? Or have they lost interest because the rote answers-driven school system doesn’t allow them to ask enough questions?”

– Warren Berger – author of A More Beautiful Question

Are the conventions of our education system, our institutions, our social structures killing our curiosity?

Does convention kill curiosity? · For example, does the established convention of a student needing to seek a teacher’s permission to ask a question kill the desire to ask questions?

Have we become question killers?

Can we train ourselves and others to become more curious?

Research on the study of CQ – Curiosity Quotient suggests that we can (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2014).

What is the reward for a curious mind?

“There’s this basic circuit in the brain that energizes people to go out and get things that are intrinsically rewarding,..This circuit lights up when we get money, or candy. It also lights up when we’re curious…When the circuit is activated, our brains release a chemical called dopamine, which gives us a high. The dopamine also seems to play a role in enhancing the connections between cells that are involved in learning.”

– Professor Charan Ranganath as quoted by Singh 2014

The reward for a curious mind is: knowing

It’s worth noting that expecting feedback is enough to stimulate the caudate – that part of the brain involved in reward anticipation. The evidence from these brain studies fits the ‘information gap’ model of curiosity which holds that: − curiosity is linked with anticipating new knowledge, and new knowledge can act as a reward.

To recap, it appears that curiosity: · is linked with the reward value of knowledge · supports learning from new information · links memory with reward anticipation · helps to consolidate new information in memory

Excerpt from: Curiouser and Courioser – John Munro 2014, P. 8

Wayne Craig former director of the Department and Early Childhood Development Victoria (currently an education consultant with McREL) and Dr John Munro, Associate Professor and Head of Studies in Exceptional Learning and Gifted Education in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education (University of Melbourne) collaborated to build knowledge for the text ‘Curiouser and Curiouser’ which encompasses the analogy of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and outlines the implications for teachers in the maintenance of ‘learning curiosity’.

What does this mean for teachers?

Beswick’s model of curiosity engages all the implications for teaching listed on page 7. In particular, the following implications assist in resolving conceptual conflict:

  • Teach students how to use what they know when they encounter unfamiliar information
  • Teach students to meet challenges by framing goals that focus on trying to understand or know more
  • Teach a willingness to resolve challenges by taking a risk
  • Teach students how to ask questions about topics that are linked with their learning goals
  • Teach students how to draw in new knowledge and understanding by asking questions.

Excerpt from: Curiouser and Courioser – John Munro 2014, P. 9

Importantly: Make it easy for your students to ask questions, provide feedback, and help them to know that mistakes are an expected part of the process.

The Good Lesson

Curiosity was the main objective in the Northern Metropolitan Region School Improvement Strategy – Curiosity and Powerful Learning. This booklet outlined a learning structure that was modelled at Hume Central Secondary College – The Explicit Instructional Model. This model of instruction was informed by the research of Prof. John Hattie, incorporating the key instructional elements which produce the greatest ‘effect size’ and promote/nurture curiosity. Elements such as the ‘Hook’, ‘Learning Intention’, and effective ‘Feedback’ have worked well to help promote and nurture learning curiosity in my school.

What approach have you taken in your school?

What has worked best for you?

What has been the reaction of your staff – did it require a significant culture shift?


Goodwin, Bryan(2014) – Research Says / Curiosity Is Fleeting, but Teachable, September 2014 | Volume 72 | Number 1 Motivation Matters Pages 73-74,-but-Teachable.aspx

Loewenstein, George (1994) – The Psychology of Curiosity: A Review and Reinterpretation, Psychological Bulletin, Volume 116. No. 1 P75-98,

Piccone, Jason (1999) – Curiosity and Exploration, California State University, Northridge

Dakka, Angelique (2015) – Nobel laureates talk about their research, energy availability

Kim, Kyung Hee (2011) – The Creativity Crisis: The Decrease in Creative Thinking Scores on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, CREATIVITY RESEARCH JOURNAL, 23(4), 285–295

Robertson, Ian (2014) – Cognitive Reserve and Alzheimer’s Disease, Trinity College Dublin Institute of Neuroscience

Litman, Jordan A (2005) – Curiosity and the pleasures of learning: Wanting and liking new information – COGNITION AND EMOTION 2005, 19 (6), 793-814

Von Stumm, Sophie; Hell, Benedikt; and Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas (2011) – The Hungry Mind: Intellectual Curiosity Is the Third Pillar of Academic Performance

Berger, Warren (2011) – Why do kids ask so many questions—and why do they stop?

Singh, Maanvi (2014) – Curiosity: It Helps Us Learn, But Why? HOW LEARNING HAPPENS – NPR ED

Chamorro-Premuzic , Tomas, Dr (2014) – Curiosity Is as Important as Intelligence –Harvard Business Review –

Munro, John, 2014 – Curiouser and Courioser

What would happen if….

The greatest words that a teacher can hear uttered in their class are: “What would happen if…”

These simple words show the beginnings of an expansive complexity of processes taking place in a brain that is questioning what it is processing, and is hungry for more.

The moment that these words are uttered you know that the brain has already started to process the initial information and make new connections; the fireworks of up to 100 trillion synapses have started, and, for that moment at least, you know that this student is hooked.

Meet 17-year-old Queensland Apprentice Diesel Fitter, Jonah Scott from Cecil Plains QLD.

“I got my first telescope when I was 15. I took it outside and thought I’d look at all the brightest stars I could see. I focused on one star and I couldn’t quite make out why it was different. All the other stars were dots, but it wasn’t……..and then it dawned on me that the reason it wasn’t a dot was it had rings around it.

It was the planet Saturn.

I never knew that I could see Saturn’s rings with my own eyes.

I ran into mum and had to get her to come and have a look, and ever since then I’ve been looking up to see what else I could find.”

Gallery: Jonah Scott space gallery

Jonah is acutely aware of his environment and has a passionate curiosity that drives him to use his talents to aid discovery.

He simply asks himself “what if I did this…”, “how could I do that….”, “What would happen if…”, and then he commits himself towards finding the answers.

This type of learning is powered by self-generated questioning inspired by a singular point of wonder – a ‘hook’ which grabs the attention of the mind, and prompts the first question.

As the teacher, what can we do in our classrooms to provide the best catalyst for this type of ‘curious learning’?


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