Airbnb, Google Docs, TripAdvisor and the ‘Grand Tour’

I’m taking my first ever stint of Long Service Leave this year – it’s been a long time coming.

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The family and I are heading off to Europe and the UK for the Grand Tour in the coming months. A full month away from work and school commitments in the close immediate vicinity of one another is either going to make or break us! I’m hoping for the former but assume we will encounter some close to breaking moments along the way too. Let’s face it, we’re a normal family, and normal families aren’t perfect. :)

I’ve only had a week off during this school holiday break (I no longer get regular school holidays) and I’ve spent time planning the trip. It’s been a really interesting experience on many levels.

Level 1:

I’ve realised that this is the kind of thing normal people do. (Normal people who’ve worked for a long time and have access to Long Service Leave)

They plan their lives. They devote time to something other than their work. They don’t focus on trying to keep abreast of change and what it means for education.

Hmmnnn… quite the revelation. Will have to ponder on that more in the months to come.

Level 2:

I’ve also been booking accommodation through Airbnb, and it’s been quite the positive experience. For those of you unfamiliar with the service, airbnb is a site that enables you to book accommodation from people who offer rooms, apartments and even whole houses up for rent.

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I registered on the site so that I could make bookings and they are pretty thorough in their review of who you are. I needed to provide verification of identity by providing my mobile number, my driver’s licence details (photo evidence) and linking to my Google+ account so you can bet I was checking that this was a https site. For many people out there who remain sceptical of the Internet, this would be a turn off. I accept that a site like this needs to ensure the people using it to make bookings are who they say they are, but my level of comfort using the Internet is different to many people’s comfort levels.

You can select a city and browse for accommodation options at the price point you nominate. When you find something you like you put a request through to the owner explaining traveller details and they decide whether or not to allow you to book their accommodation. Once approved, you begin a dialogue with the owner about the booking. I’ve made four different bookings thus far, and each time approval has come in from the apartment owners in under two hours.

You have access to a dashboard that outlines your trip details, your inbox (for communication with the home owners) your profile and account details. I’ve downloaded the App to my Nexus 7 and it’s a clean mobile interface providing the same detail. I was able to swipe through pics of the apartments we’ve rented to show my friend Helen the other day while we had a coffee. Nice.

The really nice thing is the dialogue with the owners. This is personalisation of the travel experience. Another disruptive innovation that will turn the already fractured travel industry on its head. Interestingly, I feel more connected to the Airbnb accommodation than I do to the hotel accommodation we have booked on this trip. The hotel booking experience seems clinical, compared to the Airbnb experience that feels like you’ve begun a conversation.

Price wise, the deals seem pretty good. I’ve managed to secure what looks like really lovely apartment accommodation options in city centres where hotel pricing was out of range for our budget. We have access to cooking facilities, washing machines and clothes dryers  – things that will assist us in keeping costs down – important when it’s a family of four travelling!

Level 3:

Planning a trip like this and doing it all yourself is time consuming. I needed the week off to get my head around it all.

I set up a Google Doc with a table of three columns with the headings ‘Date/Location’, ‘Where we are staying’, ‘Where we are going’. As I make bookings, I add all the details to this Doc so that it becomes our go to itinerary. I’m including the cost of everything and I’ve now transferred those details to a spreadsheet so I can tally accommodation, train/car hire and sightseeing costs. I’ll have my Nexus 7 with me as we travel and I’ll be accessing the Doc through the Google Docs app (and yes, it will be printed out as a hard copy too for emergency access if I’m out of power on the Nexus).

I find myself constantly checking dates and referring back to the itinerary Doc verifying that everything is in sync. Heaven help me if I’ve mucked something up because it’s going to mess up everything if I have! I did book access to the Eiffel Tower on the wrong date after refreshing the booking page and not realising the date had changed. The official booking site won’t provide me with a refund, so, if you know of someone travelling in Paris on Sunday July 20th 2014 (next weekend) then get them to contact me and I’ll send them four Lift entrance tickets with access to the 2nd floor of the Eiffel Tower at no charge. :)   (Reading the site suggests they may ask for proof of identity – maybe if I provided a cover letter explaining the situation they would let be be used by someone else? Sure hope so.)

Thinking of using Google’s Tour Builder as well to map the trip out and share it with family and friends so they can follow where we are on certain dates. Will be fun to have a play with that if I can find the time.

Level 4:

TripAdvisor is my friend. :)

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It really is. I need to know what I’m thinking of doing is the right option, and more often than not there is a forum thread on TripAdvisor dealing with exactly my query. I quite simply love you 10% of the population who make the effort to help other travellers out with your reviews and honesty. You’re enacting the true ideals of the Internet, making a place of relevance for the population of the world.

Note to self: Do the same on your return. Add to forums. Create a thread if necessary.


So there you have it. Am I looking forward to this trip? You betcha. Can’t wait.

Europe and the UK, brace yourself. The Luca family is heading in your direction sometime soon.




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School’s out Friday

It’s been awhile since I’ve shared a Rives‘ video on School’s out Friday. He is a master of the art of storytelling, and this tale is no exception. Take note of the use of music to help create mood. It’s given me an idea for the Spoken Word Poetry PBL task coming up for my students. Maybe they could create a soundtrack to accompany their poems? Hmmnnn…think I’ll float that past them when we return to school…

Seriously cold, chilly and grey in Melbourne at the moment. Zero chance of finding any sun tomorrow. Hibernation seems to be the only option! Hope the forecast looks better wherever you may reside. :)


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Powerful Learning – Conference at Toorak College July 21st/22nd

On the 21st and 22nd of July, Toorak College will be hosting ‘Powerful Learning‘ a conference that promises to be an exciting two days packed with a plethora of speakers with great ideas to share. We love to see you check out the program and consider registering for what will be a terrific professional development opportunity.

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Professor Guy Claxton will be opening and closing the conference, talking about Building Learning Power: What it means to create powerful learners.

Dr. Gerry White (Principal Research Fellow,  Teaching Learning and Transitions at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) ) will be keynoting about ‘The future of digital technologies in teaching and learning’.

Dr. Suzy Green will be keynoting about ‘Positive Education in Australia: creating flourishing students, staff and schools.’

Sarah Martin, Principal of Stonefield’s School in New Zealand, will be keynoting about ‘Accelerating Learning: What are the keys to success?’

Professor Mark Rose will be keynoting about Indigenous perspectives in education today.

Fay Jackson will be providing a closing keynote on day one entitled ‘Laughter, Tears and Honesty: Dealing with Mental Health the Best Way We Can. Oh and More Laughter’.

I’m also delivering a keynote. Once again, I’ve set myself a hard task. Here’s the abstract:

A vision for the future…maybe?
What might the teaching profession look like 15 years from now? How will technological changes and new forms of communication shape our schools and the way we teach? What could our classrooms look like and what might we need to think about to prepare for such a future?

Wish me luck on that one!

The full program can be downloaded here. 

There are other wonderful presenters in the workshop sessions including my friends Britt Gow, Glenn McMahon, John Pearce, Helen Stower and Kathryn Schravemade.

Hope to see you there!!



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Technology in the classroom – interview with the ABC

Early Saturday morning (and when I say early, I mean really early – 4.10am!!) I was interviewed for the ABC Overnights program about Technology in the classroom.

It was an interesting 45 minutes spent with Sally Knight discussing all manner of things related to how classrooms and student learning environments have changed with the introduction of computers. If you’re interested in listening to how it all went, take a listen via the player below.

Surprisingly, two people I know have contacted me to say they heard me speaking on the radio. Fascinating that people are tuned in at that time of the morning!

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EduTECH 2014

Well, this was my first visit to sunny (and very warm for this time of year!) Brisbane for the EduTECH National Congress. Who wouldn’t be excited to have been asked to present when you’re sharing the space with the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Conrad Wolfram and Sugata Mitra?

I was excited, but I have to say nervous too, especially when I discovered after registering on the afternoon before the event that I was presenting in the Great Hall. Honestly, I hadn’t looked at the program all that closely other than to know the time I was presenting, so it was rather daunting to discover that my session was in a venue larger than any stage I’d presented on in the past.

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My Keynote was “Digital Literacy: guiding students (and teachers) to develop their 21st century skills.” I tried very hard to take much of my own experience and apply it to this presentation. For years I was focused on my own classroom and as Head of Library, at the knowledge base of the classrooms I was able to influence. In my position now as Director of ICT and eLearning, it’s my job to make possible large scale change across the school campus.

It’s a different proposition, because in a position like this you make decisions about the operation of the school network and the platforms that are used. I do a lot of reading to support my understanding of change and what is needed to make meaningful impact, and Michael Fullan’s Stratopshere had a passage that had staying power for me.

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Over the last 18 months, I’ve had this at the forefront of my thinking. It’s relatively easy to get the early adopters accepting new platforms and running with them, but a much harder proposition to get the late majority and laggards coming with you. You need to try to fulfill Michael’s criteria and think hard about what you need to do to make technology available so that it sits in the background making things possible, but not being a learning outcome in itself. As I said in the presentation, technology should not be an event in the classroom, it should act as a facilitator for effective learning outcomes.

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*Thanks Bill Ferriter for your wonderful CC slides – used a few in this presentation! Mentioned you too. :)

My presentation is available to view in my wiki, you just need to sign in with an email to gain access. I’ll let you take a look and make your own judgement about it’s effectiveness. I was overwhelmed from the response it got on Twitter – I couldn’t keep up with the stream in the 30- 45 minutes after I left the stage. To be honest, it was validating. So much of the time I’ve voluntarily invested in networks was represented in that presentation. It felt like a hell of a lot of thinking and hard work had paid off.

Having the opportunity to see Sir Ken Robinson speak in person was without doubt a highlight for everyone who attended. He presents with such finesse, integrating important messages about the state of education in a world where testing regimes seem to dominate education systems worldwide, with carefully placed humorous interludes that win the audience over with their natural charm. He is the kind of speaker you could listen to all day. Ahh, to perfect that technique… And take a look at this video he showed of the Landfill Harmonic Orchestra as an example of creativity in circumstances where you might think it wouldn’t flourish. I dare you not to tear up…

I attended the conference dinner where we were once again entertained and enlightened by Sir Ken. And yes, I behaved like an edu-groupie and managed to get a photo taken with him. No longer a lame claim to fame!

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I was very impressed with Conrad Wolfram speaking about the need to transform Maths education and acknowledge the relevance of Computational Mathematics in schools today. Here are some of my tweets from the session:

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If you’ve never visited the Wolfram Alpha site, you must take a visit. Then take a look at Conrad’s site where he makes the case for change to the way we teach Maths today (see video below – appears on this site). I’m not a Maths teacher, but I have a son finding it very difficult to access the Math curriculum as it stands now. Conrad’s ideas sound like Project Based Learning (PBL) for Maths, and it makes sense to me.

I thought Greg Whitby had some practical and important things to say about making change happen as did Matt Richards who didn’t hold back when presenting to IT Managers about moving your school into the cloud computing space. Judy O’Connell has a wealth of knowledge and did a great job informing the audience about what is necessary to prepare for the impact of Web 3.0. Visit Judy’s blog where her presentation is embedded for viewing.

What is always a highlight for a conference of this size is the opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones (who are most often people you’ve met on Twitter but need a conference like this for a face to face meeting.) I loved seeing Sue Waters, Annabel Astbury, Helen Bremer, Joyce Valenza, Judy O’Connell, Judith Way, Graham Wegner, Matt Richards, Meredith Ebbs  and Matt Esterman again, and was thrilled to get the opportunity to meet Paul Luke, Leigh Murphy and Corinne Campbell for the first time. Leigh Murphy interviewed me after my session for the Scootle Community and you can see it below. (my interview is towards the end)

Special mention needs to go to Matt Esterman who got the ball rolling for Teachmeet presentations that happened at four different times in the main Trade Hall where an area had been set aside for them. It was wonderful to see classroom practitioners sharing their practice with conference participants and opening their eyes to the vibrant education community being forged in informal networks throughout Australia today.

Thank you to the organisers of the event for bringing together such an interesting array of speakers and for managing to draw such large numbers to an event about educational technology. Thanks also for giving me an opportunity to air my thinking. Like I said, a validating experience.




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School’s out Friday

It’s been a HUGE week for me, but not nearly as huge as the week that John Green has had with the release today of ‘The Fault in our Stars‘ worldwide.

I find John absolutely fascinating. He’s not only fascinating, he’s entirely relevant to the subject I teach, ‘Language of our Times’. This Year 9 elective is designed to help students understand the nature of communication in today’s world. My students are currently completing a task that required them to work collaboratively to research John’s use of social media channels to grow his audience. The second part of the task then required them to individually produce a feature article about John’s methods that could appear in a digital newspaper. They need to think about the headline, lead and the structure of the paragraphs to follow. As they write, they needed to hyperlink to relevant content and find suitable pictures and YouTube videos that would complement the written text.

What I’ve seen them produce so far has been fantastic. I’m pretty blown away by the skills some of them have to write with the kind of conversational tone that works well in a feature article where your subject matter is someone who uses the Internet to good effect like John Green does.

Why was my week huge? Well, I presented at EduTECH in Brisbane. I’ll write a post over the weekend that explores what happened there. I’ll leave you with this though.

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Yep, it was huge. Not sure I’ll ever see my name trending ahead of Tony Abbott again. ;)

Enjoy the weekend. I intend to. :)


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School’s out Friday

If you share a house with a dog and a cat, then I’m pretty sure you’re going to be able to relate to what’s going on here in this collection of clips.

Cats have a way of dominating their surrounds. As I type, one of our cats is banging on wooden blinds in an attempt to rouse me to tend to whatever need she currently has  – more than likely a trip to the food bowl for a refill. She wakes me pretty much every night using the same method. My husband and I don’t think we’ve have had an uninterrupted night’s sleep in our home over the last eighteen years. (when you take children into account too!)

I’m heading to Brisbane on Monday for the EduTECH Conference where I’ll presenting on Tuesday afternoon. Two nights of uninterrupted sleep – ahhhh, the sheer bliss of it all.

Enjoy the weekend ahead, Get some uninterrupted sleep if you’re lucky. :)



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