Monthly Archives: September 2010

An observation

I’m on school holidays at the moment, and loving every minute of it I don’t mind saying. It’s a time to catch up on things, like appointments for your kids that you can’t schedule in school term time because you’re working and are committed to the work you do, and you feel guilty if you take a day off to do something like visit the dentist. So instead, you pack your holiday breaks full of appointments like this, and your kids appreciate the fact that you care for them. : )

(For the record, I just have to admit that this backfired for me when I booked an appointment for my daughter, only to have the dental clinic claim no knowledge of this  so I have had to schedule an in term appointment- at the end of a school day – of course!)

I was at one such dental appointment with my son the other day, and found myself struck by the changing nature of dental practice. The dental assistant was recording the state of my son’s teeth via a computer program, and the dental tools were all hygienically sealed before they were used. Most of what needed to be done was preventative work; seals on teeth and the like, things that were unheard of in my youth when I was subject to amalgam filling after amalgam filling, and root canal treatment. It was pretty obvious that the dental profession has moved a long way in recent years.

While I sat there and took it in, I thought about resistance to change many of us encounter in education. Can other professions resist change as much as some educators do? I’ve heard the following stated many times before, but it’s so true. We wouldn’t tolerate the people looking after our health to not be up to date with current thinking, so why do we tolerate educators not being up to speed with current ideas about educational practice?

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Blogging with students

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post called ‘Blogs for Classroom use‘. At the time, I’d recently started blogging and I was in the super enthusiastic stage. Evangelic really, convinced that everyone should be doing what I was doing because it was so exciting and I was learning so much.

At the time of that post, I was presenting a session to my staff, focusing on the connections that could be made for students on a global basis. Here’s a little of what I wrote at the time;

Now, you may ask, how does this relate to blogs for classroom use? Well,  the connections I am making through this blog have made me realise that we do now have the ability to offer our students the experience of connecting with others in different parts of the world. I see the kick my own students are getting out of seeing my cluster map grow and wonder why can’t we offer them the same experience. It’s possible now to have our students act as true global citizens and have a voice in this world. If I can do it in the space of six weeks why can’t they. Many of our students already have an online presence in the form of a myspace or facebook page and  are aware of how to use technology as a social tool. We now need to harness this same technology for educational purposes.

My thinking has never changed about the need to harness this technology for learning purposes. What did change along the way was my experiences with students. In the early days, I set up a class blog with my Year 7’s, with pages for each student, but they really weren’t interested. They liked the home page blog, but they didn’t want to work on their own pages. Over the last two years, I’ve suggested to students who seem to me to be prime candidates as bloggers, the idea that they should be blogging, but they haven’t been interested. Over time, I’ve come to think this is because the lives of teenagers is just jam packed. They have school commitments, family commitments, sport commitments, too many commitments! Expecting them to devote time to a blog, despite the fact that it could potentially be their springboard to something else, is to some extent asking too much of them. I also think that blogging is a bit of an art form of itself; it requires dedication, commitment, drive. Not everyone is a blogger.

So where am I at with my thinking now? Interestingly, contemplating the idea that next year, I just might be suggesting to my students that blogging is something they should seriously think of doing. So why the change?

I’ve been listening to my Year 9 students this year as they grapple with essay writing. I’ve been very impressed with their development of skills over the course of the year, but I think they need more time perfecting their writing skills. If they were writing a blog, and not a blog about random stuff, but a blog focused on something they are interested in and can articulate well, then I’m figuring this is going to prove beneficial for them when it comes to the expectations of the English curriculum. Often, they just need more time to write, to figure out how you structure something that sounds interesting to others, how you write a carefully structured paragraph that’s not too long so that people get bored, how you say it in a word count that isn’t going to tax a reader’s concentration span.

A couple of my current students have been asking me about my blog, and talking of setting up their own so that they can spend time focused on writing. So my current thinking is this. Next school year, I’m going to suggest to my students that writing a blog about a subject matter of interest to them is going to be beneficial for their writing expertise. I’m going to make it optional, not compulsary, and I’m going to help them understand how you write effectively to attract audience. It may well be that I have to run classes outside of regular class to impart these understandings, but that’s fine by me.  It may well be that no-one wants to be involved! We’ll see how it goes.

Over the last term I’ve been running a blogging class for one 60 minute session a week with some Yr 8 students. It’s another factor in my changing mindset. The class only had three students, and two of them have really shown me what can be achieved when young students set their minds to something that means something to them. If you have some time, and feel like sharing some comment love to two aspiring young bloggers, take a look at Liv to Dance and Sing a Song.  Both of these students have demonstrated very quickly an understanding of how blogs work and how you write to gain an audience. They adopted so quickly and I could see their skills growing from week to week. Both of them are writing about what they are passionate about. This is so important. All too often in our school systems we have students who explore their passions outside of school, because school doesn’t cover what interests them in the  curriculum we offer. I’m pleased we were able to offer these students the opportunity to invest time writing about their passion, even if only for a short time. The class has finished, but both tell me they are committed and will keep writing. I will definitely continue to follow their progress.

If you have students who want to improve their writing skills and make meaningful connections along the way, encourage them to blog. I suppose what we need in schools are teachers who understand how blogs work, so that they can impart this understanding to the students. Once again, it’s a human capital question. Do our schools today have the human capital to assist our students with new methods of communication?

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School’s out Friday

Garr Reynolds shared this on Twitter this afternoon, calling it a kick-ass visualisation of a simple metaphor, ah, sort of…

What do you think? Is it amusing, distasteful, ridiculous? My 11 yr old thought it was pretty funny.

It’s made me think of something to do with my English class. Perhaps we could make visualisations of metaphors? Sounds challenging, but something of interest for us all.

I can’t tell you how different I feel now that I’ve been on holidays for a week. Relaxed, rested, and so enjoying a lack of any routine. I don’t think I’d have any trouble managing to fill my days if I wasn’t at work for most of them, I can tell you that!!

AFL Grand Final here in Melbourne tomorrow. That means BBQ for lunch, catching up with friends and family, and eyes glued to the screen for the afternoon. My money’s on St. Kilda. God help us all if the Magpies (Collingwood) win; their supporters will be basking in it for the next 12 months if they do!

Have a great weekend. Hope the sun is shining wherever you are. : )

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Keeping in touch, the Words with Friends way.

I do love my iPhone. It’s changed the way I interact with the Web. I like the fact that I can easily check my work email and personal gmail accounts easily, and I can check in with Twitter via either the Tweetdeck or Twitter app. I can do a quick web search easily via my Google app (I prefer that to Safari) and I can check into this blog via the WordPress app. The Google Maps app has proved invaluable as I try and find my way around locations. Even though it’s slightly disconcerting knowing the satellites are tracking my every move, knowing that the blue circle has me heading in the right direction has given me peace of mind on many occasions. I can even check the developments happening with the Australian Curriculum via the new app released from ACARA. Sometimes I read downloads from Amazon using the Kindle app, and the other night I was watching the latest TED Talks when I was having trouble sleeping.

What I’m loving at the moment is an app called Words with Friends, which is a game of scrabble that can be played by people who’ve signed up to the site. It was introduced to me the other week by my friend Melanie who lives in New York. We had known each other online through our association with the international PLP cohort, and met when I was in New York in January this year. We shared some very fun times together and have remained in contact via Twitter and email. Melanie suggested that I download the Words with Friends app so that we could engage in a game of scrabble. Simple idea, but a lovely one. Because of our time zone difference, it’s not played at a frenetic pace, just once a day, but we can send messages to one another and know that we are doing something together, despite the physical distance that separates us.

I’m happy to let you know that Melanie is trouncing me right now, but I’m enjoying trying to figure out how to play my letters in the most strategic way possible. My competitive spirit and sheer desperation led to me search on Google for ‘scrabble help’. I discovered ‘Win every game‘, and it’s helped me score 40 points for my last move! Pssst… don’t tell Melanie!!

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Flow – the outcome

Last week I wrote about ‘Flow‘ and how I had observed one of my students drive her own learning in this state. My student is Laine, and she has very kindly allowed me to publish the outcome of her state of flow.

To remind you, the task was to use a picture depicting a war situation and to write a poetry piece about it. Laine selected an iconic image, one that many of you would be familiar with. The picture of the Viet Cong prisoner being executed by the chief of Vietnam’s national police. She researched the background to this photo and produced the following poem;

(This is a flickr picture labelled for commercial reuse – an illustration of the image Laine was using as stimulas. Visit the flickr page where the illustrator provides quite a bit of the background that Laine unearthed. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t using this page when she was searching for information)

Points a gun to his face

Small and barefooted man dressed in a plaid shirt;

Hands tied behind his back, unsure of what will happen next,

What is he most afraid of?

What he had become.

He was now situated in front of me because of what he did;

Responsible for thirty-four bound and shot bodies of police and their relatives.

This is what he had become, a savage act caused by a war.

Tough and commanding general, tempered but educated;

He is the personification of America’s hidden hand and dirty involvement in the swamp.

What is he most afraid of?

What he had become.

He held a gun to another’s head, and pulled the trigger,

He walked away knowing that warm blood was now gushing onto the street.

This is what he had become, a man who is judged by a photograph.

A press photographer, unintentionally standing in these streets,

Standing with my camera, I witness a prisoner being dragged by two soldiers.

What am I most afraid of?

What I had become.

A man entered my viewfinder; pulled a pistol out of his holster, raised it and fired,

I stand shaken, five-feet from where the now lifeless body is laying.

This is what I had become, a killer; I killed the general with my photograph.

Her poem is the obvious result of the research Laine conducted; self driven research motivated by a desire to understand.

Can I say I had anything to do with this outcome? Only that I allowed her the room to explore in order to reach an outcome like this. Maybe that’s the lesson here. We need to give our students the room to take their learning where they need to take it. In order to do this, we need to have flexibility as classroom teachers and we need to not let curriculum demands dictate moments where creativity should reign.

Laine’s creativity extends beyond the English classroom. She’s a photographer, and an exceptional one at that in my estimation. Check out her Tumbler blog and appreciate her talent.

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Crowd accelerated innovation – time to step up.

All teachers should watch Chris Anderson (the guy who heads up TED ideas worth spreading) talk about crowd accelerated innovation, and the impact this IS having and WILL HAVE on how people educate themselves through web based mediums like online video. At one point in the video Chris talks of how TED presenters like Jill Bolte Taylor really raised the bar with her TED talk, literally forcing others to step up. Will it be online video education providers like Salman Khan who do the same for education?

Methinks it’s time to step up.

I’m figuring those of you reading this now are a few rungs up the ladder already. It’s time to introduce a few people who are at the bottom of their ladder of understanding to 18.53 minutes of Chris Anderson speaking to them, and we just might see them take the first step.

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School’s out Friday

Nothing like a good flash mob to lift your spirits, get you moving and bring a smile to your dial. This flash mob came together in Rome and were promoting a new season of the US show ‘Glee‘.

I’m feeling a sense of glee tonight. I suspect there are plenty of Victorian educators feeling the same way.  It’s end of term time here in Victoria, and it’s been a long, cold, packed to the rafters term three. I’m so looking forward to some downtime and a few sleep ins. Maybe I can get rid of those black rings under my eyes over the next fortnight!

If you’re looking for something else to bring a little mirth to your life, check out the range of demotivators posters on offer from Despair, Inc : – ( .Thanks Adrian Bruce for sending out the link on Twitter this afternoon. I was chuckling for quite some time looking through the range.

Have a great weekend. Sleep in. : )

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