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No regrets

Matthew O’Reilly’s TED talk makes me ponder as I sit in an apartment in London after another day treading the pavements abroad.

My husband and I planned this overseas trip that is almost coming to an end always with our children front and centre. We wanted them to have opportunities to see other cultures, to live as others live, to gain an understanding of world history and our place in it. There’s little doubt it’s done that, and so much more.

My fondest memories are of the time we have spent as a family. Not just the happy and tranquil moments, but the times when we’ve been squabbling on the streets as we find ourselves aimlessly lost, or the times when we walk through yet another subway station and hit another infernal passage of stairs. The best times have been when my children have put their arms around my shoulder and waist and walked with me down cobbled streets sharing the moment.

I always worry that I work too hard, or commit too much time to others and not the ones closest to me. This trip has been special. I’ve taken myself away from everything that is a distraction and committed to family. I don’t think I’ll be living a life with regrets.

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School’s out Friday

I’m laying odds that the people at Head Office of IKEA in Sweden are looking very closely at their Singapore division and wondering what kind of Christmas bonus they can offer them this year. The ‘BookBook’ video, uploaded to YouTube by IKEA Singapore, has racked up over 10 million views in a week  – a pretty clever marketing ploy by anyone’s standards. Send up your product in a parody of an Apple ad and watch it go viral. Just what I need for impetus for my ‘Language of our Times’ class next term, when we begin our Project Based Learning task exploring ‘What makes an idea go viral?’

Speaking of Apple, their latest video, ‘Perspective’, shown at their Keynote launch this week, is another signature Apple piece appealing to their tribe of followers.  Take a look.

Over 600,000 views in three days. Another good one for my students to analyse.

I’m currently in Munich, where I’ve spent the last three days after visiting Italy for a week. In my last post I spoke of my poor footwear choices leading to some pretty difficult days limping through the streets of Florence and Venice. I’m pleased to report Munich has been much kinder on my feet. It’s a very flat terrain here, and we’ve slowed down our pace out of sheer necessity. We were exhausted after the heady pace of four cities in 7 days – Rome, Florence, Pisa and Venice. Today, after reading some travel blogs about the best footwear for traipsing through Europe, I purchased some Geox walking shoes that I’m hoping will see me right through the next few days in Frankfurt and Bad Kreuznach and then onto Paris and  London in the coming weeks.

I will try to write here about some of our experiences – we’ve had an amazing time already. Yesterday we visited Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site and that experience deserves a post of its own. I’ve read so much about the Holocaust, but nothing really prepares you for walking the grounds and listening to a guide take you through the experiences of the people who were subjected to that cruel fate. It’s an experience everyone should have – as I walked through, it struck me that it is something that could feature as a Google Tour – that way students all over the world could have that experience and hopefully understand why the International Memorial there has the words, ‘Never again’ written in six languages.

Our hectic pace continues tomorrow, My husband and son are off the Bayern Munich vs Stuttgart game in the afternoon, then we board a train for Frankfurt in the evening, arriving there close to midnight and hoping that the accommodation I’ve booked doesn’t fall through!

I hope your weekend sees you finding time to relax and take in some sun. Enjoy whatever comes your way. :)

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Why shoe choice matters…

I’ve travelled a lot over the past six years, so you think I’d be well prepared in terms of footwear choices for long days of walking around big cities.

Not this time.

Six days in (two of which were confined to the inside of airports and plane interiors) and my feet are letting me down. More to the point, my choice of footwear is letting me down. Rome and Florence, you’ve made a mess of me, and it’s just the start of a month of travel through Europe and London.

I’d post a picture of my feet, but quite honestly, I don’t want to scare you. There are abrasions and potential blisters forming in multiple locations. Yesterday, in a moment of sheer desperation in Pisa, I purchased a pair of sandals similar to Birkenstocks but obviously nowhere near their quality because they’ve just added to the pain. Not only that, they are what I’d classify as beyond ugly.

Did I pack my tried and tested walking shoes that have stood the test of the Great Wall of China and a previous trip to Italy?

No, of course I didn’t. More. fool. me.

Am I taking notice of the gorgeous sights as I limp through the streets of Florence?

No. My eyes gravitate down, looking enviously at the feet of travellers who seem to be gliding through the streets, propelled forward on the soles of shoes that cushion heels and don’t issue shards of pain with every footfall.

Heading to Venice tomorrow. Wish me luck. No doubt I’ll be looking for the perfect shoe, not the Murano glass. Unless of course, some glassblower on the island of Murano has perfected a glass slipper that can guarantee blister free travel through Europe. Then I’d be interested.

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School’s out Friday

Over the past few years our Toorak College School Prefects have been presenting at School Assembly about adherence to uniform requirements. This year’s presentation was a stand out. You’ve gotta love it when the Head Girl and Deputy Head Girl (Tilly and Sarah) take some creative licence to Iggy Azelea’s ‘Fancy’ and deliver a message about school uniform that had every students’ attention. It had mine too. I love it when I see these girls demonstrate their talent and creativity in such an entertaining fashion. I love it even more that the school has posted it on our YouTube channel and it’s had over 1400 views to date. Watch and share it around. :)

Highlight of my week: Having Rolfe Kolbe from Newington College visit me on Wednesday at school so we could finally meet face to face and chew the fat. You were a breath of fresh air Rolfe; talking to a like mind always injects me with the energy I need to forge on.

Second highlight of my week: A group of students from my class who performed their Spoken Word poem today.

Blew. my. mind.

Hoping to film these next week when all groups share them publicly at the Book Week Poetry Slam event we are holding at school and then share them here.  The commitment to the task the groups are demonstrating has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had this year.

Lowlight of the week: Being sick with a shocking head cold Monday and Tuesday.

Second lowlight of the week: Hearing news of the rumbling Bardarbunga volcano in Iceland that remains poised to erupt according to news sources. If it does, it’s likely that air travel to Europe will be off limits. Given that my family and I are due to board a plane to Europe a week or so from now, I’m feeling pretty edgy about this.

Ah well, you take life as it comes. What will be, will be. I do know that tomorrow will be 21 glorious degrees here in Melbourne. Blue skies and warm rays always make me smile. Have a great weekend. May the sun shine on you. :)

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School’s out Friday

You know, there’s a strong likelihood that his has featured here as a School’s out Friday video before, but I’m too tired to search the annals and check. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. I think it’s worthy of a laugh or two. I could make a video like this about VGA cables, but that’s a long story…let’s just say change is challenging.

It’s been a tough old week. I’ve had to say goodbye to my dear dog, Bella, She wasn’t always my dog, but the last six years she spent with me and my family were special. She was very much loved. She was a kind soul, gentle and loving. She smiled, genuine smiles that greeted me when I came home from work. Our home feels empty without her in it. I know we will adjust, but right now, my heart aches.

The weather bodes well for Melbourne tomorrow after weeks of bitter cold. I will sit in my backyard, soak up the warming sun rays and remember Bella. Faithful friends remain with you, never forgotten. Find some sun, wherever you are, and appreciate the things that matter.

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‘Language of our Times’ – my opportunity to teach content and skills that I think matter

I teach this wonderful elective at Year 9 called ‘Language of our Times’. It’s wonderful, because I’ve had the freedom to create the curriculum. The premise behind the subject is that we are studying how we communicate in today’s world. So far this year my students have explored the art of presenting well by creating Pecha Kucha presentations (and been supported by the generous Garr Reynolds in the process) and have looked at the way John Green uses social media platforms to grow his audience and support his career as an author.

I thought that sharing a task I set my class to do might be helpful to people out there who are teaching English and perhaps thinking about how they might incorporate something that recognises what might be required if you are intending to write in online spaces.

THE TASK!

Write a Feature Article for an Online Newspaper.

Your focus: John Green and the methods he employs to build his audience.

But first….you need to do some research.

I have created a page in iVE  (our LMS) with links to articles about John Green and online videos where John is discussing his life (amongst other things). To do all of this reading and viewing is very time consuming but necessary if you are going to understand your subject matter in depth.

So….you are going to pool your talent and work in groups to do the research. In your group you will need to divvy up the reading and viewing. I would like you to create a shared Google Doc (that you file in the Language of our Times folder in your Google Drive) where you will be identifying what source you have read and writing notes that are visible to all in the group to ensure you come to a shared understanding of John Green and all he does.

Writing the feature article – transmedia article (text, pictures and video)

Necessary elements:

Effective Headline

An inviting lead that draws the reader into the article

Hyperlinks to source material

An embedded video

Suitable pictures that complement the text

References to experts, use of quotes to support claims being made.

A well structured piece of writing that follows conventions for online newspaper publishing (we’ll be looking at exemplar models in class to assist your understanding of what this looks like)

An effective conclusion.

Minimum word length: 750 words

The students did require exemplar models to gain an understanding of the structure of an online news article. While we we working on this task, John Green was heavily involved on promotion for the film of ‘The Fault in our Stars’, so there was plenty to provide as models, like this one here. They really needed to see what a good lead looked like and the nature of writing for online audiences where the paragraphs are often very short and sometimes even just one line.

Quite a bit like blogging really.

I think this is so important to teach our young people. Schools (particularly English classes) tend to get tied up in the mire of the five paragraph essay, when in real life, no one in their right mind is ever going to stick to such a pre-determined structure. Well, not me, anyway.

Demonstrating how to hyperlink text is a skill that often needs to be taught. I’ve written about this in the past. When I went through this with the students, I could hear the ‘aaahhhs’ around the room as they discovered the mystery of  hyperlinked text. Who, I ask, is teaching this skill, and how many teachers out there even know how to do it? I’ve shown plenty in my time. Surely this is something that is a fundamental skill in today’s day and age?

I had the students write their article in Google Docs so that I could give them feedback through Hapara Teacher Dashboard (another post I need to write!). This enables me to shoot into their Docs quickly and makes the feedback loop between them and me really fast. One of the features lacking in Google Docs at the moment is the ability to embed a video so the students had to take screenshots of a YouTube video and provide the link.

I do have to say, the quality of the work submitted was pretty high. I was genuinely blown away by the headlines and leads the students came up with. One student had five different headlines written in the planning stages and all surpassed many I had seen in the exemplars we had looked at.

I’ve asked one of my students, Emma, if I could share her piece here. She’s agreed, so take a read yourself and see if you think this piece is as good as I think it is. I’m pretty darn impressed that a Year 9 student is capable of producing a piece at at this standard.

 

John Green, the Internet Community Puppeteer

 

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                                                                                                                                                                         John Green

If you are one of the small minorities that aren’t familiar with the name ‘John Green’, you won’t remain that way for long. From humble beginnings, this Indiana-based author has become one of the most successful people on the Internet. Using his large fan base “Nerd fighters” he has made his way to become a young adult bestseller novelist, a famous YouTuber and earned his place on the Time’s list of the most 100 influential people in the world.

As the internet continues to be of larger importance in modern day society, more and more time is being spent in this virtual space. John Green suggested humorously that we should “Just move to the Internet, its great [there]. We get to live inside where the weather is always awesome.” But this is becoming increasingly true, especially amongst the younger generations. John Green has managed to become very influential online, hence reaching out to a larger audience than ever possible before the 21th century. A single “tweet” on his twitter recommending a book can cause the sales to boom the same day. Critics have dubbed this phenomenon the “John Green Bump”.

But how did he become so influential?

His road to fame probably began during project “Brotherhood 2.0”; one of the first vital points in John Green’s Internet take over. In 2007 he and his brother Hank agreed to only communicate through YouTube as a medium. From January the 1 until the 31st of December, the two brothers took turns uploading videos to their YouTube channel, “VlogBrothers” every weekday.  The videos had varied content. It usually had the brothers talking about their lives and things that genuinely matter to them while lacing in jokes and trying to make each other laugh. From this project they not only entertained each other but also a large audience that was later dubbed “Nerdfighters”. Currently this channel has over 2 million subscribers alone.

The Nerdfighters are supposedly “made up of awesome”. They are John Green’s loyal army of extremely active fans (some who are well known youtubers themselves). John Green enjoys being a self-proclaimed nerd, “…because nerds like us are allowed to be ironically enthusiastic about stuff… Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-and-down-in-the chair-can’t-control-yourself love it.” And John Green’s ever-abundant Nerdfighters do exactly that. They nerd over and love everything to do with John Green: his merchandise, his books, his videos, his words and him. As a result their influence in the online space is of colossal proportions due to their sheer enormity. They promote John Green and what he does, further spreading his influence amongst the online community, for free.

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                                                                                                                                                                            John Green at a fan meeting

 As well as managing the “Vlogbrothers” channel, John Green also produces “CrashCourse,” an educational YouTube channel, where he educates his audience in 12 minutes about world history, psychology, biology, ecology, literature and chemistry. Using humour and entertaining visuals, he makes his lessons more fun and educational. These 12-minute clips are easy to fit within classes or study periods and making them a convenient tool for teachers. His indirect presence further expands his audience as he is introduced to a younger generation of consumers through the internet-savvy teachers.

John Green also puts his dominance on the web to good use for the less fortunate. Using his extensive Internet presence he created “ProjectforAwesome”, (also known as P4A) an event that occurs for two days (traditionally Dec 18-19) annually where YouTubers raise money for a charity of their choice by promoting it to their audience. In 2013 they successfully raised $869,171. That is almost double the amount they raised the year previously, suggesting that his audience has grown considerably larger in just a year.

As an author, John Green wrote the young-adult best sellers, “Looking for Alaska”, “Paper Towns” and the immensely popular “The Fault in Our Stars (TFiOS)” which has been converted into a major feature film adaptation. This tearjerker is rare amongst young adult fiction because it is a cancer book, where the main protagonist is a cancer patient. The book received highly positive reviews with critics such as the New York Times describing the book as “”a blend of melancholy, sweet, philosophical and funny” and that it “stays the course of tragic realism”. Upon release of the book, it stayed as number one bestseller list for 44 weeks and had 150,000 pre-orders (which John Green kindly hand signed each copy diligently).

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                                                                                                                      John Green’s bestseller, “Fault in Our Stars”

But what has made John and his works so successful?

 The answer probably comes down to a combination of free, his endorsements, thanks to his fan base, and the fact that people generally really like it. The proof? Well, the average rating is 4.52 out of five, on goodreads.com, which is very high in comparison to most books (e.g. “Perks of Being a Wallflower” average rating is 4.2). The book was also voted as one of the winners of Goodreads choice Awards 2012 and the winner of Children’s Choice Book Awards for Teen Book of the Year. The readers obviously also seemed to have liked it enough to recommend it to their friends and family. John Green suspects that another factor leading to the books success is the fact that his “readers are evangelists.”

The people who read his books tend to be incredibly devoted fans who want to convert everyone they possibly can into Nerdfighters or at least, a fan of TFiOS, filling up posts and comments with fan art, gifs quoting the novel and screaming pleas for people to read the book. John Green could not ask for a better audience.

Such an audience isn’t to be taken for granted. John Green puts a lot of effort into connecting with his fans. He asks them for their opinion and seems generally curious. He somehow miraculously manages and is active on a vast variety of social media platforms including YouTube, Twitter, tumblr, Facebook, Goodreads, subbable (a sharing platform which he and his brother Hank founded), his own blog and instagram. He sends out surveys to gather data do that he can shape his activities to suit his audience and gauge which social media platform seem to attract the most visitors and how they found out about him in the first place. He calls this survey, “Nerdfighteria Census”. He also arranges fan-meet ups and gatherings so that he can meet his fans and help them to feel closer as a community.

 His audience is attracted to his humble, likeable and witty personality, making him an idealistic role model. He believes in self-acceptance, accepting other people and fighting for the right to be who you want to be. He “… tr[ies] to live life so that [he] can live with [him]self.”

 Watch a video from his youtube channel Vlogbrothers, “What To Do With Your Life”:

 John Green has set a high standard for role models everywhere. His presence on the Internet, as vast and extensive as it is, is not just beneficial for him. It is also beneficial to a lot of people who are influenced by him, those who would like to aspire to become someone like him and also to become someone like themselves. Marketers and authors who wish to promote themselves should also look to John Green for his good use of social media platforms and connecting with his fans. John Green is also looked up to by those who can relate to him and just want to also remind each other DFTBA (Don’t forget to be awesome); borrowing John Green’s catchphrase as both a greeting, farewell and encouragement.

I was impressed. I hope you were too.

What did I do wrong?

I didn’t get my students to create a bibliography and properly cite the sources they had used. Massive oversight being a Teacher-Librarian by trade and all. Something I will need to rectify next time.

I wish I could share all of my student’s work. The time they invested into this task was impressive and I’m sure they learnt skills that might not be being covered elsewhere. I’m loving the opportunity to explore interesting curriculum and teach my students skills and content that I think are important in today’s world.

 

 

 

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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.

Screenshot 2014-07-14 12.23.48

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.

Screenshot 2014-07-14 12.16.25

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. :)

Screenshot 2014-07-14 12.20.52

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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