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.

Creating climates of possibility

This is Sir Ken Robinson’s latest TED talk. Ken’s ability to convey powerful ideas with smatterings of humour really does make him the consummate speaker. It’s worth investing 19 or so minutes listening to his message that is directed at the US system but has relevance to education professionals everywhere.

I couldn’t help but think as I watched that Ken might be impressed with Jeff Bliss, a student from Duncanville High School in Texas. Jeff’s classroom outburst was recorded (unbeknownst to Jeff) by another student on their phone and posted to YouTube, where it has gone viral with over 2.9 million views after just three days online. While I don’t subscribe to posting video without the consent of all parties, and I think the administration of Duncanville High School must be enacting some serious damage control and checking if they have a signed Responsible Use Policy to refer to, Jeff’s words spoke to my heart. See if they speak to your heart too.

Sir Ken concludes his talk by saying that we need to create climates of possibility in our schools. Both what and how we teach need to be the seeds that make possibility grow and flourish for our students. I don’t know if Jeff has ever seen a Ken Robinson talk, but his words make it clear that he subscribes to this thinking too. For once, I encourage you to read the comments on the YouTube video featuring Jeff. While you’ll encounter some trolling behaviour, much of what is said supports Jeff’s outburst and many comments seem to come from young people present in school systems today. It’s worth it to watch an interview conducted with Jeff after the video began spreading – he has an interesting perspective to share.

What this video certainly does teach us is that social media can have far reaching implications for teachers, especially if they are filmed unknowingly in their classrooms. The teacher in question has been publicly shamed here and apparently has been put on administrative leave. We haven’t had an opportunity to hear her perspective yet and we may never hear it. It goes without saying that we do need to have Responsible Use Policies within our schools that are read and hopefully respected by our student populations. It doesn’t mean they’ll be adhered to, but they do give us opportunities to discuss with our students the moral and ethical considerations they should bring to their use of devices with recording ability and social media.

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.


Freedom vs Control – important lessons to be learned

Cyber crime expect Mikko Hypponen delivered a talk at the TEDxBrussels event that has made it this week onto the TED site. If you’re at all interested in conversations surrounding privacy in this digital age, then it’s 10 minutes well invested.

As teachers, we need to understand the implications of our use of the Internet and we should be helping our students understand it too. Mikko makes the comment in this talk that he believes you are more likely to become a victim of crime in the online world than in the real world. How many of us think about whether or not trojan viruses have infected our computers after visiting a site? Do we ever think that our keystrokes may be being monitored by a criminal hoping to gain password or credit card details?

How many people have any understanding of what a https site is in the first place and how you know if a site has an extended validation certificate? If you’re unclear, head over to “20 Things I Learned about Browsers and the Web“, a really helpful guide written in easy to understand language that won’t befuddle you. It was published by the Google Chrome team in 2010, and is a very handy reference point for anyone wanting to know more about the code, browsers, security risks, and a myriad of other eye opening details about how the Web works. I teach a Yr 7 Information Technology class and I’ve found it very helpful to support my understanding, and the understanding of the students I teach.

Mikko identifies three types of online attacks threatening our privacy and data. Criminals, looking for avenues to steal our money, hacktivists, (groups like Anonymous) who hack as means of protesting, and Nation States, who are apparently willingly infecting suspected citizens computers in order to collect information about them. Worrying, huh? I think so, and I believe it’s important that we as teachers impart this kind of information to our students. We need informed citizens who are capable of making decisions and defending their rights.

Mikko ends his talk stating the issue at hand is ‘Freedom vs Control’, and speculates whether we will spend the next 50 years wondering if we are able to trust our Governments. He’s got me thinking, I can tell you. I bet your students would find it fascinating too. We need to find avenues in our curriculums today to teach these important understandings that have implications for all of us.

Teaching design for change – great ideas from Emily Pilloton

Emily Pilloton delivers an inspiring TED talk that is worth the 16 minutes you need to invest to hear her message. People who give of themselves to assist those in communities where there is real need are special. Emily and her partner, Matthew Miller, have relocated to Bertie County in North Carolina and are trying to reinvigorate the community by using design principles to transform the learning opportunities of students. Their hope is that the student led projects that emanate from this will help bring the community together and provide benefits for all. They are committed; both of them have recently studied and received teaching certification so that they can teach their design-build class called Studio H. Emily has written a post worth reading on Design Mind that expands on some of the ideas she discusses in the above TED talk.

Their idea is reminiscent of Project Based Learning principles and requires students to be immersed in what they’re doing for three hours a day. They are rethinking education to meet the needs of the community they live in and care about.

Lessons here for us all.

Knowing thyself

Gary Wolf suggests here that in order to operate effectively in the world you have to know yourself well. I think I know myself pretty well, but I’m not sure I want to know all this about myself. At this stage, I’m not all that interested in tracking every heartbeat, oxygen level, sleep pattern or footstep I take. If I did, I think it would only serve to raise my anxiety levels. I might think I was poised to leave this mortal coil earlier than I anticipate!

But if you do know an app that checks your blood pressure easily, send me the details. My doctor will thank you for it!