Last year was my first genuine attempt at e-learning. There were many successes as well as many things that could have been done better. The key lesson for me was preparation. I felt that had I been more prepared at the beginning for the e-learning that happened in my class, then students would have achieved greater success. E-learning took on a life of its own. It grew at a pace that I was not comfortable with, mainly because it lacked proper establishment - the setting of routines, rules and "fallback" options in cases of disaster. However, in 2012, I am not prepared to make those mistakes again.

This year I am teaching at a new school, St Paul's College, Grey Lynn in a diverse group of boys who come in from all parts of Auckland. We are operating in a brand new learning environment. Tables, not desks; 40+inch Full HD TV and six desktops have already been provided and students have access to two laptops. At home, all but one boy has access to broadband internet. Several boys have smartphones and laptops of their own. So, from an equipment perspective, we are off to a good start. Within the classroom is a space that can be closed off from the rest of the room. In my mind, STUDIO! STUDIO! STUDIO!

Perhaps the biggest change, has been one of culture. I have moved from being a senior department teacher at a contributing school, to a Year 7 teacher in a school that goes from Years 7 to 13. So, around me I have a massive pool of young men who are IT natives; who are enthusiastic in supporting the learning of the younger learners; and can already do some amazing things with digital equipment.

So, from Utopia to reality... I have everything I need to make e-learning successful. But it will not happen properly until the foundation is set. I spent most of the last two weeks working on expectations and setting protocols within the classroom around e-learning. The boys are responsive and understand the need for these. e-learning is going to happen this year and it is going to be done well.


Panorama of our Class

It is always interesting to see how people react to change. For some, change is a period of disequilibrium as they adjust to the new. For others, the transition is smooth as they leave from a place that was unsuitable for their needs and enter a place that is really their niche. This has been my observation of our class over the past two weeks.

The first few days were spent with large chunks of time to allow students the opportunity to explore Edubuntu. Most found the interface easy to use and could transfer their knowledge of Windows and apply it to Edubuntu. As the students explored, games were found first, followed by educational (drill) games. Finally, the various applications were explored. Most students are now using Edubuntu with a high level of proficiency.

Most of us (including myself) are not using desks, other than than the desks around the three desktop pods we have. The lounge area and library area appear to be the most popular. Initially, the lounge area was being used by many as a "hang out area". There is now a visible and genuine shift towards this area as a work area.
Two of our collaborative work spaces.
Library and Research Area

I have noticed an increase in levels of student engagement. However, three or four students are not engaging and are using the resources and spaces to do tasks unrelated to what is expected. This is of concern and I am considering ways to deal with this.

Currently, we are working on a Te Reo Maori resource video. This involves filming in front of the green-screen and talking about the weather in Te Reo. Then overlaying the conversation onto videos of different types of weather. For most, this has really captured our imagination and has generated a lot of discussion around how we use this technology to present our ideas.
Creating a video presentation using the FlipCam and green-screen.

Overall, I am pleased with the impact the change in our learning environment has had. It is all very new for all of us. As mentioned above, there are concerns that will need to be managed directly with individuals.


I have spent a good part of the holidays setting up our classroom. I have tried to put the focus on different types of spaces. Some ‍‍‍‍‍‍key changes‍‍‍‍‍‍ the children will come across are:

  • Students no longer have individual desks. Rather, desks have been put together that allow for individual and collaborative work.

  • There is now a large area of floor in the middle of the classroom. This allows for students to stretch out and perform. There is also a green-screen back drop available for chroma-key photography and video. The lighting will be coming next week.

  • The library/research area has a DVD player and 14" TV.
  • The teacher's desk has gone and is now a workbench for Science and Technology projects.
  • The Lounge. An area consisting of two couches and a coffee table. Here, the students can think, plan and collaborate in a more comfortable environment.

My aim with these spaces is to see the students utilise them as they see fit. I don't want to see the children restrict themselves to one area of the classroom. It would be more preferable for them to assess the task they are doing and decide which space suits them for that activity.

At the moment, the spaces are rather generic, but I am hoping that they become more specialised as Term Three moves along.

The students will also come across a whole new operating system on their computers - Edubuntu. This is a Linux based operating system. Edubuntu comes with a stack of educational packages including


  • LibreOffice - an open-source alternative to MS Office
  • The Gimp - a powerful graphics editor. For all intents and purpose the open-source Photoshop.
  • Tux Paint, Tuxtype and Tux maths as well as hundreds of other applications.
  • i-Talc which allows the teacher to monitor what the children are doing on their computers and even run lessons.
i-TALC Interface

Sadly, I cannot convert my TELA Laptop to Edubuntu, but I can still run it through a flashdrive and have full functionality.

Edubuntu is free and open-source as are the software packages that come with it.‍‍‍‍‍‍ For those that are interested‍‍‍‍‍‍, I will keep you up to date with how it is going.

Edubuntu Desktop


Perhaps the first e-learning project for us this year came from the earthquake in Christchurch. News had started to filter through during our lunchtime of the devastation that had hit Christchurch. Straight after lunch, we went to the library and began to watch the live news coverage on TV One and TV Three. We did this for about half an hour. Afterwards we went back to class and began a discussion. Some of us were monitoring the latest news coming through on the Internet. As our discussion went along, the children came up with more and more questions.

The following day, we resumed our discussions, formalising some of the questions that were asked the day before. By this time, videos were becoming available on Youtube and eyewitness recounts were more widely available. Most of the morning was spent reading, researching and watching. We made and shared presentations. Some were made on PowerPoint, others on Paper. One of the questions that came up was "What would happen if an earthquake hit Mayfield School?" We discussed this at some length and decided to represent our vision of it may look like.

We played around with our FlipCam to create the effects and had a lot of fun messing up the classroom. The kids cleaned up, going into their lunchtime. Several made the point during the cleanup that people in Christchurch would be doing the same thing - cleaning up after the earthquake.

The experience had ‍‍‍‍‍‍quite an effect‍‍‍‍‍‍ on the class, the events in Christchurch became more real. We wanted to do something tangible to help out. Some of us wrote cards and letters to schoolchildren in Canterbury; while others began the process of arranging a sausage sizzle to raise funds.

After enlisting the help of our DP, caretaker and BOT chairperson, we set about organising the sausage sizzle. We did almost everything, sending out newsletters, ordering sausages, drinks and bread, taking and preparing orders from other students and promoting the event within the local community. In all, we turned over nearly $1,200 and raised close to $800 for the Salvation Army and their work with victims of the Earthquake.

Even now, the earthquake plays a big role in our class. We have downloaded the "NZ Quakes" app for the iPad. This provides details of every earthquake that hits New Zealand. A group of students use this daily, recording where and when earthquakes happen. They have created a map and pin the details to the wall, as well as, sharing information with the rest of us.


My name is James Cullen and I am a Year 6 teacher at Mayfield School in Otara. I have been teaching for about four years and have really been waiting for the oppportunity to begin a real e-learning journey with the other members of our class.

We are fortunate in that we have inherited some rather decrepit ex-TELA laptops and that for some reason Woosh works really well in Otara - so effectively we have our own mini network outside of the school's. These form the basis of our e-learning toolbox. One of the most satisfying aspects of these computers is that we are rebuilding our own computers from a mixture of parts. Quite often we have no idea of what we are doing, but after a bit of research, a lot of toil and with some luck thrown in the computers seem to gain a new lease of life.

We are beginning a new stage in the journey by moving into Ubuntu - a Linux based operating system.

Outside of the laptops, we have a number of other tools including Flip Cams, an iPad, still cameras and video cameras. I ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍hope to share some of our work here‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ over the coming months.

Kind regards