Moonshots In Education

Book Review – Moonshots In Education: Hit Or Miss?

‘Moonshots in Education: Launching Blended Learning in the Classroom’

Blended learning approaches have been around for a long time. In fact when I started teaching nearly 20 years ago, I used blended learning approaches in my classes. Instinctively it felt like the right thing to do, and it really did make a difference to student engagement. So, when I heard about this new book by Esther Wojcicki and Lance Izumi, I was really interested to see what they had to say.

Who would this book appeal to?

Educators who have yet to start the online and digital learning in the classroom. For those who are already on the journey or who have been using digital tools regularly, this book will appeal less.

So what’s the book about?

This book is a practical guide to implementing blended learning approaches within the curriculum. It starts with why blended learning should be implemented, case studies showing where it’s worked well and finally an overview of digital education around the world.

What I like about it

There is a lot to like about this book, but here are my top three:

  1. This book is about action. It gives educators case studies, tools and advice on how to get started straight away.
  2. The research skills chapter. Often this is something that is not taught properly, or at all. The chapter was written by a credible expert, Daniel Russell, research scientist at Google, and offers a tonne of resources and practical advice.
  3. An explanation of the different approaches to blended learning. This is important mostly because there is a commonly held myth that all students need a personal computer in a blended learning environment.
What I don’t like about it

Although I really did like this book, there were three things that really bothered me:

It seemed like the book was a ‘love in’ for Palo Alto. Yes, they are doing great things there, but let’s be honest, they are living in a bubble. I’m not saying that Wojcicki isn’t inspirational, heck, I’d love to meet her. But it seems like once again, we are reading another book written from someone who does something innovative in Silicon Valley. There are tonnes of practitioners all around the world who have been using this approach successfully for a long time, so why haven’t we heard from them? 

More case studies from more challenging educational environments, I believe, would really appeal to educators reading this book. At the moment, I’m reading Sir Ken Robinson’s Creative Schools: Revolutionising Education from the Ground Up, and what I like about it so far is the different types of schools that he showcases. There is a reference in Moonshot to a free online PDF which is worth downloading, and this has examples of exemplar schools using blended learning approaches.

The final criticism I have is with the introduction penned by actor James Franco. In his attempt to pay homage to a teacher who clearly inspired him, his endeavour to be self deprecating fell flat, and the cringy description of his ex-teacher; which included her being described as once having been a swimwear model flabbergasted me.

Key Takeaways
  • The different ways that blended learning can manifest itself in a learning environment.
  • The case for personalised and digital learning approaches in the classroom.
  • The discussion and acknowledgement of the important place mobile phones play in education.
Top 3 Practical Applications:
  • Trial and Error. Educators know their students. Trying one thing at a time, to see what works best will help educators decide how they will approach it. Not everything that is recommended in the book will work for everyone; at least for now anyway.
  • Use the book’s resources. There are more than you’ll ever need.
  • Get students involved. It’s likely that they’ll know more about digital tools than you. Think about how you can use their knowledge to engage and motivate them within the context of a blended learning classroom environment.

The MakeMatic Rating System

5 Educational Kids Shows On Netflix

I was recently writing a series of scripts here at MakeMatic on computer code.
It’s a tricky subject to tell a visual story around and, I admit, I found it difficult at times.
Yet inspiration came from an unlikely source – gangsta rap legend Snoop Dogg.
There we were, my 4-year-old son Patrick and I, casually watching Netflix on a Saturday morning when up popped Snoop in the form of an Operating System.
The show was StoryBots, a multi-award-winning Netflix original series billed as a “digital learning programme for elementary-age children”.
StoryBots sees a cast of animated characters learn new things from A list celebrities in character, and the opening episode of season two was entitled “How Do Computers Work?”
It featured Snoop explaining input, output and processing – exactly the concepts I was struggling with at work!
It got me thinking: what other educational kids shows are great for kids and adults?
Here’s a list of my favourite five currently available on Netflix UK.


No subject is too complex, nor too random, for the StoryBots and their celebrity friends to tackle. “Why Can’t I Eat Dessert All The Time?” “How Does Night Happen?” “How Do Ears Hear?” Questions posed by kids are answered each episode and it’s great fun watching the likes of Hollywood actor Edward Norton and comedian Wanda Sykes channel their inner educators. As far as educational entertainment goes, it doesn’t get much better.


“Who says the world works the way grown-ups think it should?” Co-created by composer and multi-instrumentalist Scott Langley, Kazoops follows the adventures of Monty and his pet pig Jimmy Jones. Built around songs that expertly challenge preconceptions and teach Monty about the world around him while introducing viewers to a variety of musical influences from cultures around the world, Kazoops is the perfect series for preschoolers.


This live action programme is aimed at kids aged 5-8. It follows a multi-ethnic group of child detectives, the Odd Squad, as they solve problems in their community using math and basic reasoning. Episodes include “Negative Town” and “Flawed Squad” and are aimed primarily at preschool and elementary-level audience members. The programme also features a large supporting cast of characters, making it immersive for viewers as well as educational.


Based on Francesca Simon’s widely popular children’s books, this show is now banned in the Henry household – the annoying incidental music would try anyone’s patience – but served its purpose in helping us to teach our own little Henry about right and wrong. The eponymous protagonist tugs everyone’s chain with his constant pranks and bullying but it’s satisfying for parents, and educational for kids, each time he receives his inevitable comeuppance.


Originally broadcast on the BBC’s Cbeebies channel, this 2D animation is beautiful to look at and wonderfully narrated by comic acter Alexander Armstrong. The loveable pooch at the centre of proceedings wins Boy Scout-style badges each time he learns about something new – how to be careful, what scarecrows do, why first aid is important et cetera – and, along with his gang of furry friends, constantly has the Henry household in fits of laughter. Any animation that punctuates a chicken laying an egg with a fart noise gets five out of five in our book.


Using Video For Professional Development – Why Size Matters

The pedagogical benefits of using video in education

There’s much discussion in education about the efficacy of using videos to enhance learning. With the use of videos seemingly everywhere in the digital world, is it a medium that educators should be using to complement their own professional development? Numerous studies, including several meta-analyses, confirm the effectiveness of videos to enhance learning.

But what are the video features that educators should look out for when using this medium for their own learning, or as a tool in the classroom to enhance learning effectiveness?

Short and Sweet

Short videos are more engaging than long ones. One study analysed 6.9 million video watching sessions. Those under 6 minutes were watched all the way through nearly 100% of the time. The researcher concluded that videos longer than 6 – 9 minutes in an educational setting are likely to be a wasted effort.

Cognitive Load Considerations

Videos with too much information and too many learning outcomes are ineffective. Less is more. Additionally, if the information is chunked or segmented, it’s easier to digest.

Active Learning

Videos that get viewers actively participating with the material through the use of interactive elements, questions and calls to action increase engagement.

The Personalisation Principle

A formal tone is less effective than a conversational one. Conversational tones are seen as more authentic, and it’s authenticity that’s engaging and will keep people watching and aid learning.

Rate of Speech

Videos where the presenter or voice-over artist speaks relatively quickly and with enthusiasm increase viewer engagement

Flipping the Classroom

Flipped classroom learning is more effective when the pre-class activities include video.

What This Means For Educators

So if educators are serious about their own professional development, or the engagement and motivation of their learners, understanding what works and doesn’t work with this medium is imperative.
Remember, videos that are engaging and aid learning:

– Are less than 6 minutes in length

– Consider cognitive load

– Encourage active learning

– Are conversational and authentic

Contact Tara on Twitter: @TaraWalshNinja

*In the research for this blog, more journal papers were consulted than are referenced. If you’d like a full reference list, please contact the author.

Everyone is talking about bite-sized learning. Does it actually work? (Part 2)

In the previous blog post I talked about what empirical research tells us about the effectiveness of bite-sized learning. In this article I’ll look at what the critics have to say and how you can apply bite-sized principles in the classroom, or in your own professional development.
Now it’s time to hear from the critics …

The critics have said many things about bite-sized learning. In summary, critics have said it’s a cheapskate fad to cut time, reduce training budgets, is often delivered badly, lacks context and very few studies have evaluated its effectiveness.
Whilst in some contexts the criticisms above are valid; a bite-sized approach to professional development and teaching can aid motivation, engagement and retention. Although bite-size learning is less effective when learning complex skills, processes, or behaviours, that doesn’t mean that bite-sized approaches can’t be used as a part of that learning.

So, where do you start?

When looking at bite-sized learning we need to start by looking at where it has worked, and replicate the approach in our context. Where does it work best?

Bite-sized learning works best when it’s used with other learning in a blended approach, and when learners have autonomy over what they are learning.
Over to you

Whether you engage in bite-sized learning as part of your own professional learning journey, or you embrace bite-sized learning principles into your teaching practice, what’s important to remember are the following:

  1. Bite-sized learning needs rigorous planning. It’s not about cutting up a module into bits and pieces and delivering it that way. It’s about clear ideas and concepts explained in easily digestible chunks.
  2. Bite-sized learning experiences can take many forms, including: videos, articles, infographics, activities,  games or microblogging.
  3. A blended learning approach is the best way to implement bite-sized learning design into your classroom. Blended approaches work best for professional development too.
Bite-sized Learning Uncovered: Microblogging

Have you ever considered using microblogging platforms like Yammer, Slack or Twitter in your classroom or for professional development?

Here’s how one company used microblogging …

A multinational organisation in the ICT sector used Yammer as the platform to deliver bite-sized learning units from subject matter and knowledge experts to those within their organisation. They found success in using it to disseminate information to all departments to ensure they are on the same page.  

Are you on Twitter?

Twitter is my favourite micro-blogging site for professional development. Now, I’m not going to lie, I avoided Twitter like the plague until about 6 weeks ago. Now I’m on it, I wish it hadn’t taken me so long! I’d read a lot of bad press about it, and yes, if you follow certain individuals you will definitely see things you wish you hadn’t. But you can make choices about what you want to see and who you want to engage with. Not only have I increased my professional network, all around the world, I have been introduced to such a lot of really useful bite-sized resources, many of which I have shared via Twitter and to my other networks as well. What’s not to like about that?
Not sure how to get started on Twitter? Watch this video and you’ll be as hooked on Twitter as I am.

Tara Walsh – Senior Learning Designer

Connect with Tara on Twitter:@TaraWalshNinja 

Everyone is talking about bite-sized learning. Does it actually work? (Part 1)

Everyone in the education and professional learning space seems to have jumped on the bite-sized bandwagon. But is bite-sized learning a fad, or does it have have teeth?
Let’s start with the basics.

What does bite-sized learning actually mean?

In a nutshell, it’s learning that is delivered in bite-sized pieces.  Bite-sized learning is easy to consume and takes many forms. For example, watching a video, can be considered bite-sized if it aims to achieve specific objectives and outcomes, and manages to achieve this in a short amount of time.

Better knowledge retention. How?

Bite-sized learning approaches use what cognitive psychologists call chunking to aid retention. This is a strategy of breaking down information into chunks (bite-sized) pieces so that the brain can easily digest it. In fact, we use chunking everyday. Do you remember how you learned your telephone number? You probably used chunking to do it.
Chunking uses what we know about our brains memory and exploits it. The brain can only digest 7 plus or minus 2 pieces of information at any one time in the short term memory. That means that if it’s not transferred to the long term memory, it disappears, never to return again.

But does it work?

Now if you scroll the internet you’ll see a myriad of articles extolling the virtues of the bite-sized phenomenon, but most, and I have to stress this, most of what you read is opinion and does not in any way reference empirical research. Sometimes the articles refer to some study conducted by a consultant, and of course the sample sizes and methodology are never explained. I’m not saying such research doesn’t have its place, but I’m only interested in empirical peer reviewed studies and research conducted by professional organisations like the CIPD or a relevant government body.
The first thing that you need to know is that there isn’t a plethora of studies that have been conducted. Given that bite-sized learning is a new trend, this is not surprising.
The other thing to note is that most of the learning in this area refers to micro-learning, which for the purposes of this blog article we will lump together with bite-sized learning. Why? Because the terms are often used interchangeably, and have similar objectives. I’ll look at the differences between the two in a future post.

Here’s what the research says:

Bite-sized learning:

Caveat emptor

The studies that have been linked to the points above are only a handful of the studies that have been conducted.* 
However, despite the small body of research, bite-sized learning approaches can work.

Join the conversation

How have you used bite-sized learning for your own professional development or in the classroom? Share what you’ve done on the blog thread @MakeMatic

In the next post, I’ll share with what the critics have to say about bite-sized learning. I’ll also give you some practical tips and tricks to enhance your classroom practice, and advice on ways bite-size learning can enhance your professional learning.
About the Author
Tara Walsh is the senior learning designer at MakeMatic. She’s been working in secondary, tertiary and learning and development for nearly 20 years and is passionate about dispelling myths about professional development trends. She’s also addicted to coffee, is a crazy cat lady and ninja in her spare time.

Connect with Tara on Twitter:@TaraWalshNinja or LInkedIn
*In the research for this blog, more journal papers were consulted than are referenced. If you’d like a full reference list, please contact the author.

Emile Cohl: The Father of the Animated Cartoon

A little bit of animation history from our graphics intern, Rosie!

Émile Cohl was a French cartoonist and animator and is often referred to as “the father of the animated cartoon.” It is said that in 1907 the 50 year old Cohl was walking down the street and spotted a poster for a movie that had clearly been stolen from one of his comic strips. He confronted the manager of the offending studio (Gaumont) and Cohl was hired on the spot as a scenarist, (a person who produces one page story ideas for a movie). It was here Cohl created “Fantasmagorie” between February and May of 1907. Fantasmagoie is considered to be the first fully animated film ever made.
To create the animation, Cohl placed each drawing on an illuminated glass plate and traced the next drawing, reflecting the variations necessary to show movement. Once he had completed this process he had roughly 700 drawings. As chalkboard caricaturists were a common vaudeville attraction during this time, Cohl created the illusion that the characters were drawn on chalkboard. Cohl achieved this by filming black lines on paper and printing them in negative.
Video Link

VR Game Takes on Dementia

Scientists have developed a virtual reality game as part of one of the world’s largest dementia research experiments.
The game is designed to test the first thing to deteriorate with dementia – the ability to navigate. It was originally a smartphone app which was downloaded and played by 3 million people.

The move to a VR game should help scientists to investigate dementia in greater detail, with the goal being a new and quicker way of diagnosing the disease.
In the game, entitled “Sea Hero Quest”, the player captains a boat, navigating their way through complex waterways, desert island, icy oceans and even feeding hot dog loving sea monsters. Anonymous gameplay data will be collected and later assessed by neuroscientists.
Around 850,000 people are already living with various forms of dementia in the UK, and this figure is expected to hit 2 million by 2051. Many people will have had the disease for more than a decade before their symptoms appear. So early detection is vital; it’s widely accepted that future treatments will work only if doctors can diagnose patients long before the symptoms start to appear.
Sea Hero Quest is one of a growing list of examples of games being used to address “real world” problems. For educators, it might prompt ideas about using gameplay as the basis for engaging project / problem-based learning experiences.
Source :

Are We Preparing Students for Jobs That Won't Exist Anymore?

According to this video from The Economist, only 0.7% of the worlds’ industrial workforce are robots. And that 0.7% is dominated by two industries: automotive and industrial manufacturing. The figure is probably less than many people think.
But, it is going to grow. And it’s not just the “robots” that we need be thinking about – automation through AI (basically, machines learning how to do new jobs by being given lots of examples to learn from) is likely to result in as big a change, if not bigger, to how we work.
If you want a few sleepless nights, the BBC has a 2-part series on The Secrets of Silicon Valley. The most memorable bits of Part 1 are largely about how rapid technological change could / will disrupt society. If you can’t access the video, the presenter wrote a piece for Mashable that’s worth a few minutes of your time.

Antonio is worried about where modern technology – especially the twin forces of automation and artificial intelligence – is taking us. He thinks it’s developing much faster than people outside Silicon Valley realize, and we’re on the cusp of another industrial revolution that will rip through the economy and destroy millions of jobs.
“Every time I meet someone from outside Silicon Valley – a normy – I can think of 10 companies that are working madly to put that person out of a job.”
Antonio estimates that within 30 years, half of us will be jobless. “Things could get ugly,” he told me. “It’s very scary, I think we could have some very dark days ahead of us.”

Whether you consider this alarmist or not, we’d be crazy to think that the “twin forces” of automation and AI won’t have a huge effect on how we live and work.
Just a few years ago, driverless cars seemed futuristic. Now they are routinely being tested on our streets. We’ll be buying them before 2020. The Obama administration forecast 3 million driving jobs would be lost to automation; that could easily be an underestimate as 17% of the US workforce drive for a living. That’s over 20M people. And industries like medicine, law and finance are not immune; AI is making in-roads here too.
We’ve long made the point that educators are preparing young people for jobs that don’t exist yet. This has never been more true. But the pace of technological change is accelerating and we need to start asking some tough questions about whether our education systems are up to the task.
In other words, are we preparing young people for jobs that won’t exist anymore?

Five Takeaways on Facebook, Video and the Future of Content

“The best way to tell stories in this world — where so much information is coming at us — actually is video. It commands so much information in a much quicker period so actually the trend helps us digest more of the information in a quicker way.” Nicola Mendelsohn, VP EMEA, FacebookRead More

Making Maker Ed Work for Teachers

One of the keynote speakers at this year’s SxSWedu was Ayah Bdeir, founder of Littlebits – electronic building blocks that snap together using magnets, making for ‘foolproof inventing’. At the event they launched the STEAM Student set (see video above) – a kit designed for both self-directed and classroom learning.

What really makes the kit standout is the huge amount of supporting content and resources they’ve developed for the pack including; a 120+ page teacher guide, well-designed invention challenges, worksheets for young people to track their efforts and guidelines that link to NGSS Engineering Design standards and the Common Core.

This is exactly what I was talking about in my recent post – the need to make new creative technologies work for teachers rather than simply relying on superstar educators to figure it all out for themselves.

In an article she wrote for Edsurge at the end of last year, Ayah wrote:

“…it’s time for maker ed to move into the mainstream. Making should not be relegated to the times spent outside of class, e.g. lunch or after school. Nor should it only flourish in private schools, which don’t have to teach to standards. We need to work to show how making is a rigorous process that leads to valuable new technologies, products and experiences. Specifically, we need to tie maker projects to standards-based curriculum and show clearly the kinds of knowledge, skills and practices students learn as part of making.

What we’re not talking about here is squeezing making into a curriculum where it doesn’t fit. This is about articulating where it does fit and making that clear to educators. We need to understand that educators have a job to do and a large part of that is addressing the standards that have been set out. Once you get that, it’s not a massive leap to start creating the kind of companion resources that teachers need to make their lives easier.

If we really want to move maker technologies (and all the other exciting tools we can think of) into the heart of education, the very least we can do is help write the teachers’ edition.

Seven Things We Learned at SxSWedu

A photo posted by @makematichq on

Last week we had the pleasure of presenting a session at SxSWedu in Austin. If you haven’t encountered SxSWedu yet, it’s a 4-day conference-slash-festival focused on innovation in education.

As a spin-off from the much larger SxSW Interactive / Music / Film festival there’s an obvious technology slant to proceedings. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that there was a lot of maker hardware, online learning platforms and educational gaming on show. Lots of it. So much in fact that one thing became really clear.

A lot of what’s innovative in education right now, was not built for education to begin with.

MakerBot ran a session on maker tools facilitating an entrepreneurial mindset; Minecraft was showcased as an education tool; VR, AR and 360 video demos abounded and YouTube educators talked about viral content. None of these technologies were developed explicitly for education but they’re finding a home there.

So what can we take from this?

  1. We don’t yet have the Teacher’s Edition
    New tools are great, but how they get used in the classroom setting is still a work in progress. There is a huge amount to do both in terms of professional development for educators and developing content. Without these things we are overly reliant on a small number of early-adopter educators. They should be celebrated – but without the “Teacher’s Edition” (lesson plans, curriculum maps, worksheets, tutorials etc…) we will struggle to move beyond these superstars. This is an easy fix.
  2. Good educators are seeking creative tools
    In most cases, these kinds of tools are finding their way into schools through individual teachers with a gut instinct about their potential. This is encouraging a second generation of similar tools which have been crafted with education in mind – Kano, LittleBits, SAM Labs. Both are being driven by a desire to teach new skills and an effort to put the fun and engagement (that tools like gaming can offer) to use.
  3. Formal education isn’t the only kind
    When we talk education our minds frequently go straight to schools. But people learn in lots of different environments, both formal and informal. The jury is still out as to whether these new tools will find their best education use inside the classroom, in the home or somewhere else altogether.
  4. “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
    Access is a problem. Not every school can afford these tools. Mass adoption will require some combination of free/cheaper alternatives, open-source options, increased school budgets, corporate sponsorship etc etc etc. It’s a problem that compounds diversity issues in many industries. This should be a problem everyone is focused on.
  5. We have to avoid the tendency to “curriculumise” cool tools
    We run a risk when we try too hard to map the use of tools to existing, standardised curriculum. Games-based learning shouldn’t loose the game. Maker technologies need to leave room for creativity. Coding in the classroom needs to focus on making new things. It’s understandable that we aim to connect new tech to what we already need to teach (try finding space and budget for new subjects) but where these tools work, they work because they are engaging. We can’t lose that.
  6. It links to Project-based Learning
    The best examples we had creative tools playing a role inside a wider project-based learning (PBL) activity. PBL lends itself to all sorts of “21st century skills”, portfolio development and more relevant work-like experiences. All good stuff in our book.
  7. The structures aren’t there yet
    It was really exciting to see so many innovative educators and companies, truly passionate about using new tools to help young people learn and flex their creativity. But the frustrations were clear. A lot of time was spent talking about barriers – barriers to procurement, budget concerns, CPD issues, even seemingly simple things like getting time in a computer lab for non-computer classes.

Based on SxSWedu at least, we’re not struggling for ideas – and they’re coming from media, tech and the arts. And that’s a large part of the problem; because these ideas and tools coming from the outside in, the structures aren’t there to support them yet.

There’s little doubt that given sufficient time, these barriers will get addressed from inside formal education. Unfortunately that will take more time than it should, which is fundamentally unfair to kids going to school tomorrow morning.

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