Dinner with John and Jan

I was really fortunate Tuesday night to catch up with John Connell and his lovely wife Jan who were visiting Australia with Cisco, the company John works for. His job is Education Business Development Manager for the Emerging Markets – covering South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Middle East, Eastern Europe and Russia. John has been an encouraging mentor for me as I’ve traversed the edublogosphere. I first met John at the ASLA conference in Adelaide last year where I presented about Digital Storytelling. John was a keynote speaker along with Stephen Abrams. Both spoke about the need to transform education in response to our changing technological landscape and both mentioned that they wrote blogs. I spoke to John in the tea break and told him of my desire to get involved in the transformation and he told me that he could see that I would. An empowering statement from him that helped put the fire in my belly to get involved. I started reading his and Stephen’s blogs (along with Will Richardson’s) and started my exponential learning curve that has led to this blog and all that has come with it.

John has been a reader of my blog and has made the encouraging comment or two along the way. These have certainly inspired me as I hold him in high esteem. John’s blog is insightful and he ponders the difficult questions that arise as we all tread carefully through new territory. When he knew he was visiting Melbourne he emailed to ask if we could meet up. I was thrilled. Those of you who operate in this online world will know that it’s exciting to meet someone face to face who you know only through their words. As it turns out, I crashed a dinner that was already organised – John was obliging enough to ask if I could attend! 

I had a lovely time meeting John and Jan and am very pleased to report that we had a lot to talk about and not all of it was centred around blogging and education. It really is wonderful when you meet someone and you find that they are just like you sensed them to be from their online presence.

Thanks John and Jan. Hope to meet up with you again some day.

Need to get info to parents overseas – try Skype!

Tonight we had a parent information evening for our Yr 9 and 10 students. A parent was not in the country and wanted to listen to the presentation. I decided to have a go at using ustream or mogulus (I have channels on both) to stream the presentation. I was going to direct the parent to the URL so that he could tune in. Tried to set things up this afternoon and discovered school filters were preventing me from doing so. Grrrrr – filters are such a pain.

So, what to next. Rang the parent to see if he was on Skype. He was. I added him as a contact, he added me and I arranged to ring him later in the evening. Rocked up at the info night with my webcam and made the call. He could hear and see the presentation.  Winners all round I figure. Great for the parent who wants to be involved in his child’s life despite distance. Great for the school – it’s probably won a few brownie points in a PR sense for facilitating this for the parent. Great all round. This is one way schools with international students can help to have their parent body feel more connected to the lives of their children while they are boarding.  

This is the way of the future. We can communicate via a variety of means. It’s not difficult and can make a marked difference to the experiences of many. People just have to think outside the square a bit until this type of communication becomes standard practice across the board. I’m sure this is how business operates now -schools are going to have to follow the lead.

Write rhymes – students of English rejoice!

Do you remember when you were at school and you were given the task of writing a poem that rhymed? Do you remember the agony of not being able to find the word you needed? Well, students in the 21st century need worry no more thanks to Write Rhymes, a handy new tool that will find the rhyming word you need in your hour of need.  

All you need to do is type in the text you’ve come up with, press alt and click on the word that you need rhymed. Write rhymes will come up with alternatives for you to consider. Dead simple. Yet another reason why we as educators need to come up with high order thinking tasks that are going to extend our students thinking. Tools are becoming available to do the thinking for our students.  They will find them. We need to be rethinking our classroom practice to foster thinking tasks that require more than highlighting a word and having the answer magically appear! There’s the challenge; we must rise to it.  

That’s not to say I won’t be using Write Rhymes as a tool in my classroom this year. Teaching our students how to find these time saving devices is another skill entirely. To improve their digital literacy skills they need to be taught how to find tools that will make their lives easier -that’s smart too. As my husband always says to me, ‘You have to work smarter, not harder Jen.’ Advice I don’t always manage I have to admit, but an essential digital literacy skill that our students should be learning as we move into the 21st Century.

Tribute to Randy Pausch.

Randy Pausch passed away today . He’s the 47 yr old college professor who delivered a last lecture titled ‘Really achieving your childhood dreams’ at Carnegie Mellon when he discovered that he had pancreatic cancer with a terminal prognosis. He delivered the lecture in response to what was a hypothetical question  “What wisdom would you try to impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?” Unfortunately for Randy, he knew the question was not hypothetical for him.

Randy has said in many interviews, and in the lecture itself, that he wrote it for his three young children who are 2, 4 and 6.  If there’s one thing you get from listening to Randy speak it’s the understanding that we need to remember what’s really important in our lives. We can get tied up in the problems surrounding us and the busy pace of our lives and we need to make sure we make the time for the people who matter. Just last week my son wanted me to accompany him on an excursion with his school. I said I couldn’t because I was too busy at work. He was disappointed. Today I’m thinking that I should have taken a day off and shared that experience with my 9 yr old son. I can’t get that time back now. Is my workplace going to fall apart if I’m not there for a day?  No, it’s not. 

Barbara Locke,  a Search Analyst at Searchme has created this stack as a tribute to Randy Pausch. Take some time out to watch, listen and reflect.

School’s out Friday

Yes, it’s time for School’s out Friday. Thought I’d check out what ImprovEverywhere have been up to. This is them making the day of a little league baseball team, by turning their game into a major league event. The players, coaches and parents were in the dark about what had been planned for the day. I love it when the Goodyear blimp comes into view.  What a great day for those kids! Like one of the coaches says, the rest of the season was going to be a letdown after this. Love it.    

Enjoy your weekend.

Rising Generations impress.

Today I was fortunate to attend a leadership afternoon with our Yr Seven students. It was run by a not for profit organisation called Rising Generations. Their CEO, 25 yr old Bec Heinrich and her colleague, Bec Donders, kept our Yr 7 cohort totally engaged for three hours with a variety of team building activities. It was an inspirational afternoon and far exceeded the expectations of my students who had envisaged an afternoon of being spoken (lectured!) to.

Bothe Becs were very impressive. Holding a large audience’s attention for a long period is a hard call in anyone’s book, and they did it with apparant ease. On their website they say they are committed to;

  • Developing leaders who actualise their own potential to serve others and make a difference in their school and community
  • Building vibrant and positive school and work communities
  • Encouraging and empowering Australia’s young people!
  • These ideals fit very well with the guiding values of Learning, Courage, Integrity, Excellence and Leadership through Service that are the cornerstone of Toorak College, the school I work at.  These ideas are important ones to impress upon our young people, and in my experience (and opinion!), this next generation are caring, committed and concerned about the world they live in. I wish some media organisation were present this afternoon to hear our next generation express their feelings so articulately and recognise the need to listen to, respect and be inclusive of one another.  

    They finished the afternoon by showing a clip from ‘Pay it forward’ and setting our students the challenge to each perform three acts of random kindness before the end of this week. Over the last two days these fabulous presenters spoke to four year levels. All going well, over a 1000 acts of kindness should be played out by Friday afternoon. Should be a good couple of days!

    Searchme a winner with students.

    (I added the arrows in the above screenshot!)

    Today I was teaching our Yr 7 students about researching effectively. We were exploring keywords for search and I showed them Searchme. I wanted them to see how they could use Searchme’s stacks to collect webpages and keep a record of the websites they find useful for their investigative research.

    These students had seen Searchme and Viewzi when I introduced them to these new search engines a couple of weeks ago.  As I was moving around the room one of them told me she uses Searchme as her default search engine now. The real magic happened when I demonstrated how you save the pages to a stack that you have created. They were won over in that instant. They spent the rest of the lesson dragging relevant pages to stacks they had created. They all were drawn in by the fact that you have the page loaded and can see your search results as a page view. You can start to make assessment as to whether or not the resource might be relevant. They got the idea really quickly that stacks were a means of collating your research so that you could go back and peruse in depth when you were ready to tackle questions that needed addressing. A couple of them made mention that this would help in making sure that the bibliographic data you needed was accessible -they did note that they should be collecting this along the way and should not leave the construction of a bibliography until the last minute! All of them thought it was very cool that you could save videos and images to your stacks as well as standard webpages.

    I was using Google last night to collate links for a wiki page I was putting together for our study of ‘Little Women’. I wanted my students to get some grasp of the period and was searching for Amercian Civil War links. Google wasn’t returning what I was looking for so I turned to Mahalo. Surprisingly the page for American Civil War has not been fully fleshed out -I was surprised anyway. I went to Searchme thinking the returns would be so so but was pleasantly surprised. I found myself loving the full page view and being able to flick through results so easily. Within minutes I’d found what I was looking for at appropriate levels of understanding for my students and my wiki links were completed.   

    Have to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results from Searchme. I keep expecting mediocre results but am finding relevant pages appearing. The speed at which I can assess a resource is a real winner for me and I’m guessing it’s going to be for my students as well. I’ll be very interested to watch their adoption of these new alternatives to traditional search.