A blog about teaching and learning in a maths classroom.

A digital education revolution?

Wednesday, 01 April 2009 | 9 Comments

I have watched with interest the Digital Education Revolution proposed by the Australia Government. Issues of cost seem to have been resolved and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the NSW DET is pushing a one laptop fits all model (although I think it’s flawed). I’ve read the tender for the “DET Learning Device” and have even dissected it with my computing class. But today, 1st April – fitting really – a significant step to realisation has been taken with the announcement of the hardware and software to be supplied.

All along I have had concerns about this roll-out.

Professional Learning

The Premier in his announcement notes,

Secondary teachers will begin receiving laptops during Term 2, 2009 to coincide with their professional learning programs.
Students and teachers will be using the same technology, and we’re giving our teachers a head start to familiarise themselves with the technology before it hits the classroom.

In a normal term there are about 4 hours set aside for professional learning (basically staff meetings). I have to assume this is the time that will be used for “professional learning programs”, as the Government cannot afford to give 25 000 teachers even a day off for training. This will not be adequate to equip teachers to deal with this massively disruptive change. Do not read me saying that there should not be change, of course there should, but the timing of this roll-out seems to be about State and Federal Government’s wasting time discussing funding and now pushing a change through to appease voters.


Reading the original tender, the focus was clearly on a hardware device. Statements about the suitability of the device for learning were generic. So, I have tried to get answers from the DET CIO, Stephen Wilson and from the Laptops 4 Learning section of DET as to the software included with this device for Mathematics. Some examples I included were:

  • The use of dynamic geometry software, is a part of the Mathematics Stage 5 syllabus. A lot of resources have been developed for the free application Wingeom. Other schools have developed resources for paid versions. What dynamic geometry software will be installed on these machines?
  • Will the machine include specific graphing software, for the graphing of linear and non-linear functions?
  • Will the machine include a scientific calculator (preferably better than the one built-in to Windows)?
  • If machines are not bundled with specific mathematics learning applications, what budget is being allocated to allow schools to purchase software?

I have been advised to wait to see what the tender delivers. Reading the announcement today, it delivers no specific mathematics applications. Not even Microsoft Math despite bundling the Office suite. It seems that education today according to Mr Rees is about the ability to “create videos, edit photos and make presentations for class assignments and projects.” Sure, great things, but our students need more.

The reality of a day-long computer

Under Part 1: MANDATORY Requirements, the DET Tender states: “The device must provide a minimum of 6 hours of typical operation on a single battery charge”. This always struck me as not possible from a device currently on the market.

The device chosen, the Lenovo IdeaPad S10e lists in it’s specifications “Battery-life 6-cell: up to 5.0 hr” and any purchaser of a laptop knows that number is optimistic at best. And I think that the DET know this. The announcement today notes “extended battery life”... hmmm…

Ability to deliver

My school is still waiting for toilet upgrades, long promised. Carpeted classrooms, promised, but we don’t really want.
Personally, I’m just waiting for a VGA cable to connect my laptop to my projector (it’s been about 6 weeks now). I’ll end up buying other cables myself, because I can’t wait any longer.

Can the DET deliver? Track record suggests not.

I’m concerned because I can see ahead a massive challenge to teachers (a good thing), with a lack of support (bad), tools that are not up to the task (read battery life, software), continued frustrations with a knobbled internet and a Government pinning the blame back on teachers because they’ve given us this shiny technology so why aren’t students more engaged and achieving higher exam results?

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Debra on  02 April 09  at  03:10 AM #
What freeware/shareware software would you like to see on these machines? I am a fellow maths teacher and would like to get a headstart on using these laptops in class.


Simon Job on  03 April 09  at  08:37 AM #
Hi Debra, given that Year 9 will be the first year to get these, like you - I'm thinking to Term 3 with Year 9 and what topics we teach. As to software, For dynamic geometry, I like "Wingeom": and Rick Parris now makes a version that uses Australian language like "interval" rather than "line segment" (or whatever it was). But, I think "GeoGebra": is probably the way to go - doesn't even need to be installed on the machine. I really haven't gotten up to speed with it yet though. A Graph application like: "Graph": Whilst this can be done with some online apps now, I just don't want to rely on another piece of technology (i.e. the internet) in my classroom. There will be enough things to go wrong without relying on the internet for learning tools. I don't really have any other open source/freeware apps to suggest. I'd really like to see a nice mathematical drawing application that was simple. E.g. to just draw a simple right-angled triangle. The "Efofex software": (not free) is very nice, but not really for students - it gives away too much information. Some sort of mathematical writing app would be nice too, but I'm not aware of a free one. I've got a fair few maths applications "bookmarked":, probably time to wander through those and check out what would go nice on these laptops.
Tim on  05 April 09  at  12:35 PM #
There is "another program to upgrade school infrastructure": . I wonder how many times money can be allocated to the same project before it is actually built.


Simon Job on  05 April 09  at  10:33 PM #
Through which, excitedly, my school got "some funding": This is purely stimulus, if it even does that - because looking at the list, many non-Government schools are getting funding for things that wouldn't even be on our priority list, i.e. there is no equality about it. You're right about stuff being actually built though. We're still waiting for toilet block upgrades that we were told about middle of last year, and then again by the premier in December last year.
Jon Ingram on  06 April 09  at  11:17 AM #
It's very interesting to read about digital teaching initiatives in other countries (I'm in the UK). It sounds like the Australian initiative will go the same way as our digital classroom initiative -- a lot of money pushed at schools without properly considering the pedagogic purpose of the technology. The UK government has had a major push in the last 5 years to get Interactive Whiteboards into every classroom, even when the teachers don't want them, and even when there are no computers around to drive them!
Michael Borcherds on  09 June 09  at  04:38 PM #
If you want a version of GeoGebra with Australian specific terminology (eg interval instead of line segment) get in touch: [url=][/url] If you don't ask, we won't add it 😊 ps GeoGebra 3.2 is now out with a Spreadsheet and animation


Simon on  20 June 09  at  04:27 AM #
Thanks Michael for the idea. I'll talk to a Curriculum Support person about making this happen.
Michael Borcherds on  26 June 09  at  08:28 AM #
GeoGebra is online now with an "English (Australia)" option: [url=][/url] (you may need to run it a few times before it updates)


Simon on  26 June 09  at  08:35 AM #
Nice. Thanks Michael.

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Simon Job — eleventh year of teaching maths in a public high school in Western Sydney, Australia.
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