Tag Archives: Garr Reynolds

‘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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How do you prepare for a TEDx talk?

Last month, I delivered a talk at TEDxMelbourne: Education Leadership. It should be online in the next week or two at the TEDxMelbourne YouTube channel, so you can make your mind up then as to what you think about it. I haven’t spoken about it at length here, but I thought it might be an interesting exercise to analyse the process I went through  putting a talk like that together. It may help anyone who is asked to do something similar.

Find your story

First up, there are time restrictions on your talk. The premise of a TEDx talk is to present an idea worth spreading in 18 minutes or less. I’ve watched my fair share of TED talks and know that the ones that grab my attention are often those that have a thread of a story running through them. When I first started presenting, I found the work of Garr Reynolds invaluable. Garr speaks often of the need to tell a story when you are presenting and I try my best to do that using techniques he recommends for slides that accompany my talks. So, I knew I needed a story thread that could run through my talk and bind it together.

Getting your ideas down

Once I had my idea, I then needed to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard to be more accurate. I use Evernote for most of my notetaking now, so I set up a folder and started jotting down ideas as they came to me. I’m not sure if this is true for everyone who delivers a talk like this, but for me, it occupied much of my available thinking time in the weeks leading up to it. My thinking time is often restricted to moments of solitude, and they are not all that frequent in my busy life. Some of my best ideas come to me while getting ready for work in the morning, when everyone else is asleep and there’s nothing that can distract me. I had to take to having my iPad or phone close by at all times so that I could jot down lines on the fly. Some of the key ideas came while I was standing under a hot shower; I’d have to repeat them over until I could grab the iPad and record them for posterity.

Understanding the format

I’m used to using a slide deck to guide my presentations. I don’t use notes when I present; I have my ideas running through my head and the impetus for the next idea is prompted by the next slide in the deck. I’m used to presentations of an hour or so in length, and know that I have room to ad lib or embellish, or speed the presentation along if I’m running out of time. A TEDx talk is very different given the time restrictions. I was also pretty conscious that it was going to be filmed and I didn’t want my speech to be sloppy or to fall into habits that I know I have when I’m speaking in front of a group. I tend to say, ‘you know’ and sometimes lazily abbreviate words eg: say ‘gonna’ instead of ‘going to’. I’d reconciled that notes weren’t going to suffice; I was going to need to write this out as a speech.

Find ‘airplane mode’ (Literally!)

My dilemma was finding time to write. In the lead up to this talk, I had an ISTE presentation and a Keynote to prepare, as well as marking and end of semester reports to write. I resolved that the fourteen hour flight to Los Angeles was going to be writing time for this talk. I needed to go into airplane mode where no other distractions were going to interfere with the writing process. It worked. I wrote the bulk of the talk on my iPad on the flight over inside the Evernote app. I found myself dozing on the flight and dreaming my way through the talk. On more than one occasion, lines that I used on the final talk were ones that came to me in my sleep; I’d wake and scramble for the iPad, getting them down before they disappeared from consciousness. The flight home gave me an opportunity to look at it closely again, and I polished it further and added new paragraphs on that journey home.

Hear your voice

Once home, I decided I needed to record myself speaking the talk to time it and see how I went with the 18 minute limit. I used SoundCloud to do this, and shared the track with Jon Yeo and Hamish Curry who were mentoring me for this talk. Their feedback was invaluable, and led to me refining the talk further.

The Hardest Part – relying on memory

When I was happy with how it looked, it came time to commit it to memory.

The hard part.

I haven’t had to memorise content that has a time limit restriction for a very long time, and I struggled trying to to do this. I’d read it over and over, but it just wasn’t coming naturally to me. One night in the week preceding the talk, I had a minor breakdown and told my family I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it. It was that breakdown that was the catalyst for finding a way through. I pulled myself together, took the speech in hand and wrote it out in point form. I condensed 3000 or so words down into key ideas and lines and started to rely on these to prompt my memory to fill the gaps. This was a major breakthrough – finally it was coming together.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

An intense rehearsal stage followed. My lounge room became my venue and the blank television screen was my audience. My family found it quite amusing listening to me speak animatedly to no-one for hours on end. I used the stopwatch on my phone to record the length of the talk, but every run through was different. I never delivered the same talk twice. Sometimes I’d be over 18 minutes, and sometimes I’d be under. After a couple of days of this, I had to accept that I might not stay within the 18 minute limit and that I was more than likely to run over. What I came to realise was that, in my mind, it was more important that I impart my message and not get hung up on 30 seconds here or there.

You might need a crutch

The day prior to the talk I realised that I was going to need some palm cards with me as a bit of a crutch to help me on the night. I made four small cards that fit into my palm and I wrote key words for each part of the talk to help prompt me if I stumbled. It gave me peace of mind, and at that stage, I needed it!

The realities of the stage

One of the things I rely on when doing any form of public speaking, be it in a classroom or at a venue, is making a connection with an audience and feeding off their reaction to your words. Not everyone is always with you, but there’s usually some kind of body language from someone that’s encouraging and helps you give out the energy needed. I’d forgotten about the lighting that’s required when you’re being filmed and found myself on stage with spotlights glaring from the sides and an audience of shadowy heads in front of me. I couldn’t for the life of me make out a face and see how the audience were reacting to my words. I could hear laughter at appropriate moments, but couldn’t detect if there were any nodding heads or knowing smiles. It was like I was standing in my loungeroom talking to the blank television!

Lessons learned

You can be the judge of the success or failure of the talk when it becomes available. I’ve come out of the experience very thankful for having been given the opportunity. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but one of the most rewarding too. I have new found respect for anyone who has done a TED or TEDx talk, and for those students out there whom we ask to perform oral presentations in our English classes on a regular basis. One of the really cool features of the night was the inclusion of Lynne Cazaly, an artist who drew our talks in graphic form as we spoke. Her work is such a wonderful representation of what was imparted.

True Blue Production, who volunteered their services to film on the night, have done a great job of a backstage video of the event. Take a look below.

Special thanks from me go to Hamish Curry and Jon Yeo. Thanks for the great mentoring and the opportunity. I am very grateful.

 

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Garr’s TEDxTokyo talk – Lessons from the bamboo

Garr Reynolds has been inspiring me for over three years. I even flew to Sydney nearly 3 years ago now to hear him speak. His ideas about presentation techniques have influenced how I deliver presentations to groups. I think he’s made me a much more able presenter, and I suspect an audience or two who have appreciated an interesting slide deck have been unconsciously thankful to him.

I’ve also experienced Garr’s generosity. Last year I was one of the teachers at my school responsible for a camp experience called Creative Communication. Garr very generously gave of his time to talk to my students about what they should know about presenting their work effectively and preparing for a new world of work. They were so impressed with the time he gave to them, and I was impressed that this world class presenter talked to my students for over 30 minutes for nought! We did send him Tim Tams, and they’re worth their weight in gold. : )

Garr is heavily influenced by Japanese culture, and his TEDx Tokyo talk is deeply rooted in the lessons he has learnt from living there for many years. You must watch the presentation, but you can see the lessons from bamboo Garr refers to below. Apply them to your life, to the way you conduct yourself at work, amongst friends, in relationships. I’m sure they will speak to you the same way they speak to me.

What looks weak is strong

Bend, but don’t break

Deeply rooted, yet flexible

Slow down your busy mind

Be always ready

Find wisdom in emptiness

Commit yourself to growth and renewal

Express your usefulness through simplicity

Unleash your power to spring back

Flexibility, Adaptability, Resilience – the lessons from bamboo.

Thanks Garr. Another great lesson. So happy to continue learning from you.

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School’s out Friday

I used to love watching ‘The Two Ronnies‘ in the 1970’s and 80’s. Ronnie Barker passed away in 2005, and I didn’t know Ronnie Corbett was still performing. He’s 80 now, and has been involved in ‘The One Ronnie‘, where he has joined up with leading British comedians for the BBC.  As can be seen from the video above, he’s lost none of his classic timing and delivery.

If you want to see something truly joyous, and you’d be one of the few who hasn’t, visit Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen blog and read his post, ‘The power of a voice, hope and second chances‘. I’d considered using Ted Williams’ story as the basis for School’s out Friday this week, but Garr  has done a wonderful job articulating why his story is so inspiring for us all that you should visit there instead. If you’re perplexed as to who Ted Williams is, then the following video will introduce you to this tale. Watch that and then visit Garr’s blog to see how the story unfolded.

Ted Williams’ story should make us all reconsider how we view the anonymous people who frequent the sidewalks of our towns. Everyone has a story, and perhaps we need to know those stories before we make value judgments about the lives of others.

Have a great weekend. Enjoy life. : )

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Learning happens

I’ve spent the last eight school days participating in a ‘camp’ program at my school called Creative Communication. I’ve had the pleasure of working with 21 very special girls who have all made an effort to extend their thinking and contemplate how we communicate in today’s world. They’ve been exposed to actors like Brian Nankervis (or Raymond J Bartholomuez to those of you who remember one of his stage names) and playright Joanna Murray Smith (a former old girl from Toorak College). They’ve listened to me rabbit on about social media and how it can make a difference to their lives, and we’ve skyped with Karl Fisch to discuss the origins of ‘Did you know? – Shift happens‘, and Garr Reynolds, who helped them to understand the value of communicating effectively when presenting your ideas. (I may elaborate on Karl and Garr’s sessions over the weekend). It’s been full on, and culminated in them working on a project idea that would reflect some of their thinking.

The above video, made by Kate, was a link featured in Passionfruit, a magazine published by one group using ISSUU.

I hope you visit their publication, and appreciate that they got this together in just over a day. They were originally thinking of doing a print publication, but decided to go with an online version knowing that it had the potential to reach an audience much wider in scope than just the school community. Another group produced a great video about the effect of technology on student lives, and will be posting to YouTube. I’ll definitely feature it here when it goes up. Others started blogs about things they are passionate about, and most said they think they will try and sustain them.

I do hope that this experience has helped them to understand the significance of sharing their work publicly. Yesterday we watched Chris Anderson discuss Crowd Accelerated Innovation in his TED Talk, and I tried very hard to get them to understand that these ideas apply to them. They don’t have to wait until they finish their university degree to get themselves noticed. As Garr Reynolds told them, we can all make a dent in the universe if we go about it the right way.

(By the way,  thanks to Derek Wenmoth, I’ve just been scanning the latest Horizon Report focused on Australia and New Zealand. Reading this confirms my belief that helping my students understand the value of sharing their work in online spaces, and making connections with experts and others interested in their passions, is what I need to to be doing. Stuffing content down their throats might help them pass an exam, but it won’t teach them the skills they need to be successful in today’s world.)

Thanks girls, it was a pleasure sharing this time with you. Hope you felt the same way. : )

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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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Intrinsic motivation – the new killer app in all of us

For quite some time I’ve been marvelling at the ability of intrinsic motivation to produce great results.  I watched my students last year make a concert happen in six weeks when we joined Project Global Cooling and we had a set time frame to work towards. It wasn’t part of the curriculum, it wasn’t assessed, and yet they worked themselves into the ground to pull it off  because they believed in what they were doing. I saw a similar thing happen this year with the Sleepout 4 Schools initiative our Yr 9 students ran.

I’ve experienced it first hand. Writing this blog is fuelled by intrinsic motivation. I don’t get paid for it, I don’t even know who is reading it half the time, and yet I plough on because there is personal satisfaction in doing it. I’m intrinsically motivated and there is no doubt my workplace is at an advantage because of this. I take what I learn back there.  

Dan Pink presented a TED talk in July talking about the results that businesses can achieve when workers are intrinsically motivated. It’s fascinating and will form the basis of a new book he is releasing in December this year.  Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. Garr Reynolds has written a post about this  – it led me to Dan’s TED talk.

Unfortunately the ROWE (results only work environment) idea that Dan refers to isn’t going to apply to teaching anytime soon. I’d love to see Google’s approach applied though in school settings. Right now I need the 20% ‘Google time’ to discover new ideas that can be applied to education.  If I were still paid my wage, but given the equivalent of a day to mine my personal learning network for ideas applicable to teaching and learning, then I think that’s a good investment made. This constant working 24/7 approach is wearing thin but intrinsic motivation keeps me going!

Watch. Learn. Find your intrinsic motivation.

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