Education Matters - News impacting schools, teachers and students

EduTECH 2016: STEM and girls

After 20 years working in the IT industry as a consultant across many projects from design, development and implementation of large systems, and as a program and process manager, Susan Bowler decided to study teaching and naturally gravitated towards a specialisation in technology, along with maths and science.

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Exploring Aboriginal histories and cultures through Cool Burning

Approximately 23% of the Australian mainland is covered in tropical savanna. Australia’s tropical savanna is made up of about 1.9 million square kilometres of dense grass and scattered trees that stretch across Northern Australia from Broome to Townsville. Each year in the late dry season, hot bushfires sweep through a large proportion of this area causing significant damage. These burns destroy everything in their path, including natural habitats and farmland.

For tens of thousands of years, Indigenous Australians have actively managed the savanna using cool burning techniques. Their knowledge of the seasons and local conditions have enabled them to manage the land through the effective use of fire. Traditional Aboriginal methods of managing Country through early dry season cool burning has been shown to dramatically reduce the incidence and intensity of hot fires later in the dry season. Cool burning reduces the amount of damage done by hot fires to ecosystems by promoting new plant growth and clearing natural waste materials.

Through collaboration with scientists and policymakers, Indigenous land managers are breaking new ground. Hot fires in Australia’s tropical savanna contribute one to three percent of our country’s greenhouse gas emissions each year. Using cool burning techniques, Indigenous land managers are generating a local-term economy for their community through carbon credits. Projects that earn carbon credits are providing employment for young Aboriginal people, empowering them to remain on their traditional land. Renewed traditional management practices are also inspiring them to learn more about their heritage and has given them greater respect for their Elders.

Indigenous land management is a great way for integrating ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures’ and ‘Sustainability’ into the Australian Curriculum. Cool Australia, in partnership with the Nature Conservancy, has created Cool Burning. Over 12,000 teachers have used the Cool Burning resources since their launch, resulting in over a quarter of a million students participating in learning activities about the importance about caring for Country.

This series of primary and secondary teaching and learning resources have been mapped to the content descriptors of the Australian Curriculum. The free-to-access lesson plans, student worksheets and digital libraries celebrate the success of Indigenous land management programs, while providing teachers with classroom-ready material that helps students explore our shared histories, cultures and achievements.

Central to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity and culture is the sharing of knowledge and world views through oral communication. The Cool Burning teaching resources contain rich video content of Indigenous rangers telling their story. Students can watch John Daly, an Indigenous ranger from Fish River, telling his personal story. Daly explains why he cares for Country and the benefits of using Cool Burning.

Cool Burning provides opportunities for teachers to enrich their curriculum and for students to deepen their knowledge of Australia by engaging with the world’s oldest continuously living cultures.

Cool Australia also provides an online professional development to support primary and secondary teachers with using the Cool Burning resources. The workshop is facilitated by an award-winning educator, provides additional content and the ability to chat with other teachers from across Australia. It is also accredited for teacher PD hours with each state and territory.

Primary Curriculum –
Secondary Curriculum –
Professional Development –

By Thea Nicholas and Kirsty Costa

Cool Australia is an award-winning, not-for-profit organisation that provides educators and teachers with resources to help young people learn for life. Many thanks to the Nature Conservancy, Fish River Station and photographer Peter McConchie for supporting this project.

Educational gaming pioneer to visit Australia

A passionate advocate for virtual worlds and gaming in education, US-based teacher Peggy Sheehy inspires educational professionals worldwide through her use of the classroom tools for the new generation.

An 18-year veteran, the educational gaming pioneer’s foray into technology education began when he daughter encouraged her, with her students, to open boxes of Dell computers that had been stored in the back of her classroom for months. Soon after Sheehy began an educational technology Master’s Degree and would teacher her third-graders what she learnt in her classes the night before.

“My students weren’t in anyway afraid or inhibited [by the computers],” Sheehy recalled. “Watching my students I went, ‘I need to learn more about this.’ By the end of my first year of teaching all of my students had their own digital portfolio built in Netscape Composer and their own website.”

Sheehy was soon labelled a ‘tech genius’ in her district and had teachers knocking down her door wanting to learn more about her use of technology in the classroom.

“I learned right from the get-go that things are received much more readily from teachers – especially reticent teachers or teachers who are a bit more technophobic – if they see an example from a colleague rather than having it shoved down their throat by administration,” Sheehy said. “Teachers need to take gentle baby steps at the beginning and build up their confidence.”

From there Peggy was made a district technology trainer and was given the ability to experiment and introduce a lot of brand new technologies, where eventually the educational use of online virtual world Second Life came into the picture.

“The video games are very often the avenue for a child to gain the confidence and the social skills, where they don’t feel inept and they don’t feel out of place, and I’ve seen those skills carry over into the real world and I think that transfer is really important,” she said.

Although Sheehy believes schools could do more to work towards meaningful integration of technology in the curriculum, she can see creative pockets of learning taking place in amongst the extreme focus on high-stakes testing in schools.

“Right now there are a lot of schools and a lot of teachers that are literally teaching to the test,” she said. “They’ve bought common-core curriculum packages and they are literally scripted – that’s terrifying because that’s going to suck all the joy of learning away from the kids.

“However, change is in the air because in the US teachers have had enough, parents have had enough and kids have certainly had enough.”

Sheehy will travel to Australia next month for the annual FutureSchools EXPO to showcase educational gaming, what works in her classroom and why it’s important.

“Educational gaming has come a long way… More and more teachers are acknowledging that they can do it,” she said. “The students are turning around and saying, ‘Finally you’re teaching me with the tools of my generation.’

“Quieter students are gaining confidence through leadership roles online then carrying it over into the physical offline world.

“Social and emotional skills are really taught in these virtual worlds.

“When a student functions as an avatar all of a sudden they have the freedom to let go of the shackles of ‘I’m not good at maths’ or any of those things, and they can let go of that.”

Peggy Sheehy will be presenting a Masterclass at the National FutureSchools EXPO – an annual 2-day event which runs from 2nd to 4th March 2016 at Australian Technology Park, Sydney. It is the sister-event of EduTECH (Australia and Asia Pacific’s largest education event). It consists of one central exhibition and five parallel conferences designed to tackle five specific areas of the future school:

  • Future Leadership
  • Young Learning
  • Special Needs
  • Teaching about and using emerging technologies
  • STEM, coding, robotics and the new digital curriculum


Step 8 in digital marketing success: Search engine exposure for your school

In this article, we’ll discuss how to do our best to gain search engine exposure for your school website, and cover what search engines are looking for, and what this mysterious search engine optimisation is all about. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to read the first seven parts of this series: step 1, step 2, step 3, step 4, step 5, step 6 and step 7.

Putting up signposts to help being found

Search engines – we all use them, but how do they really work, and how do you get your school website found? We’ll discuss this in layman terms, and give you some great ideas on how to start the process.

How do search engines work?

Search engine such as Google, Bing and Yahoo work primarily in similar ways. They ‘crawl’ websites, find links to new resources, crawl those and take a copy of all the pages they find. Then, when you do a search for a phrase, they match this phrase or word with what they have crawled, and determine through different algorithms what sites are best to display in results.

Pretty neat for something that happens in milliseconds, isn’t it?

Search engines ‘tweak’ the different weights they give on different parts of their calculations all the time. Back in the 1990s, if you had ‘Western Australia’ written more than your competitors; your website was likely to appear above theirs in results.

Nowadays, they look for many elements, such as content, where the content sits (such as page titles, bold, italics, etc.), the domain name, where the website is hosted and how many other websites link to it.

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) in a nutshell

SEO or search engine optimisation, also known in English as ‘how to get ranked better in search engines’ is a science all of its own. Typically, it is broken down by two key areas; on-site, which is what we do on your website to improve your ranking, and off-site, being what you can do elsewhere to improve your ranking.

The best ways to improve your ranking

All our little technical tricks aside, the best way to get ranked well is to have a great content that is keyword rich. We say ‘content is king’ for this very reason. As mentioned in the last chapter, keyword rich text can make all the difference.

There are plenty of other tips, such as naming pages individually and keyword rich (so, a page about school uniforms in Perth shouldn’t be called ‘Products’, it should be called ‘Perth school uniforms’ for example) and using good heading structure. You should give all of your images ALT tags, and ensure links to other pages aren’t called ‘click here’, but are actually meaningful, such as ‘Download our prospectus’.

Measuring your search engine ranking

There are a multitude of tools out there to measure your ranking on search engines, some paid and some free. An easy way to see what is actually bringing you traffic is to look in yout traffic statistics program for ‘referrer’ details – you may see that Google has brought you 219 visitors last month for ‘School Mount Lawley’; that’s great, but what if you are trying to be ranked for ‘School Adelaide’ instead?

TIP: You can get free email alerts when your school is mentioned on the web, or even your competitors. Sign up to Google Alerts at and you can choose frequency of alerts and the keywords you’ll monitor.

A warning about SEO companies

Be careful of companies who approach you and promise ‘page one results’ or other similar unbelievable claims. It’s likely they can’t, and it’s certainly unethical to suggest they could.

Google states three great warnings on this page;

  1. Be wary of SEO firms and web consultants or agencies that send you email out of the blue.
  2. No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.
  3. Be careful if a company is secretive or won’t clearly explain what they intend to do.

What does Google suggest?

A great place to start understanding more about search engine optimisation is to read Google’s own Webmaster Guidelines. Another great document is Google’s own 32 page PDF, Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide. Download it and take a read; you can then hear it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.


We’ve explained what search engine optimisation is, and given you some helpful tips on what to do on your own school website, as well as what to look out for if engaging an SEO services company.


Miles Burke is an Author, Public Speaker and Managing Director of Perth-based digital agency, Bam Creative. His team has created websites and digital marketing campaigns for dozens of schools, and their work has been featured in the media, won plenty of awards and most of all, helped schools demystify the digital marketing space to attract enrolments and better communicate to their communities.


Labor promises to fully fund Gonski

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has brought school funding to the fore of Labour’s election campaign by committing to fully fund the Gonski reforms in a package that will cost $4.5 billion over school years 2018 and 2019 and a total of $37.3 billion a decade.

The Coalition has so far only committed to fund four years of Gonski, not the full six years. Labour has also promised to reverse the $30 billion reduction to school funding over the next decade revealed by the Coalition in its 2014 budget.

Entitled Your Child. Our Future, Labor’s education plan has set key benchmarks that indicate by 2020 it will ensure 95 per cent Year 12 (or equivalent) completion and by 2025 Australia will return to the top 5 countries in reading, maths and science.

Despite admitting there are some instances around the country where the implementation of Gonski funding has improved outcomes in schools, Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the government does not believe increased funding automatically improves educational and student outcomes. The government has refused to commit to the final two years of Gonski funding.

“So what we need to focus on, and what the Turnbull Government has been focussing on, are the things that matter in relation to improving student performance: the right curriculum in schools, the best quality in our teachers, the engagement of parents, [and] the autonomy of school communities to be able to set a course that’s relevant to their school,” Birmingham said.

“The opportunity to create the right type of environment to meet the innovation challenges of the future, to create an entrepreneurial spirit, to ensure people are studying science and maths and technology and engineering – skills that will equip them for the future – these are the things we should focus on first. And in those areas that we know will actually make a difference to student outcomes and school performance, you then make funding decisions as to how you support them.”

Federal President of the Australian Education Union (AEU), Correna Haythorpe, welcomed Labor’s plan and said Gonski funding is the only way to ensure all children have a chance to make the most of their potential.

“The education of our children is too important to be a partisan political issue,” she said. “We need [Prime Minister] Malcolm Turnbull to back the full Gonski, not just stick to [Former Prime Minister] Tony Abbott’s policy of ending needs-based funding after 2017 and cutting real funding to schools.

“Minister Birmingham needs to recognise that Gonski is delivering results in the States where funding is going straight to schools. He and Malcolm Turnbull have a stark choice – do they continue investing in programs that are helping students, or do they abandon them?”