Kyolo – make your photos interesting

I made this using Kyolo – a very cool and easy application that allows you to put speech bubbles on pictures you upload. Exceptionally easy -will be great for students to use.

This, as some of you might remember, is the beautiful Bella. Bella is my friend’s dog and we are looking after her while she is teaching overseas. She is a real sweetheart and has totally ingratiated herself into our household. This is the dog who started off sleeping in the garage (with a nightlight mind you!) and now enjoys the run of the house and any couch that’s going spare! She absolutely loves food -hence the weight gain, so an exercise plan and restricted diet is in order. So hard when she salivates in the kitchen and drools when you’re making a meal. We all love her to pieces and can’t resist the plaintive expression from those sad puppy dog eyes, BUT, we will have to be strong for her best interests!!

Have a go at Kyolo -lots of fun and I’m sure our students will find uses for it to enhance their project work.

Blogging 101 – 6 months in

Today it’s been exactly six months (and one day I’ve just realised!) since I started writing this blog. What have I learnt??

You can reach out and share knowledge with the world. A surprise to me really – I did think this was going to be a resource for my school but it’s become much more than this.

It can be hard work writing a blog and sourcing ideas for posts. I’m going to go back on my initial declaration that I was aiming to write a post a day. There really is no need to post so frequently. If I find something interesting to share I will do so. but I’m not going to work myself into the ground when there is so much to balance in this life.  What has been interesting is that there is such a body of work in this blog that I’m finding it gets hits even on days when I haven’t posted.

There are amazing educators out there willing to encourage and foster the growth of new voices in the edublogosphere. Thank you to everyone who has read my posts, posted a comment or subscribed to this blog. Your readership has renewed my connection to education and made me realise there are enormous possibilities for the future.

 It doesn’t matter if you don’t know everything about how a blog works before you start writing one. When I started I really had no idea what I was doing. I’ve learnt on the job so to speak. You will too.

I’m lousy at widgets. For some reason I struggle to embed the code properly and nothing works like it should. I’ve tried to put some interesting widgets in my sidebar but it never works. I need help!!

We are a connected world now. I’ve been able to have my students get involved in projects that have happened because I am writing this blog. There are so many possibilities for our students to experience a connection with other students and educators around the world if you bother to make the effort to forge these links. All it takes is effort and a desire to make your classroom more interesting for the students you teach. 

Writing in a hypertext environment brings people to you. I can’t believe some of the people and organisations who have noticed me as a result of linking to them. Amazing what is possible really. Makes me want this for my students too. 

Twitter is a natural extension of blogging. If you’re writing a blog (and even if you’re not) you should be interacting with your network via Twitter. It connects you in ways you never thought possible. I’m indebted to Clay Burell who guided me through Twitter and enabled me to form a network overnight by doing a shout out for me.  

You can establish a voice in the edublogosphere and be heard. It comes from posting and from contributing to the conversations by taking the time to comment on other people’s blogs. Comments matter. They do to me anyway. You can see your stats tick over, but the return you get from reading a comment someone has taken the time to write about a post you wrote is very empowering and keeps you going.

It’s all about having a go – a great Australian phrase that I think sums up my effort thus far. I’ve been having a go and will continue to do so. Let’s see what the next six months brings with it.

Thanks for visiting. I appreciate it.

School’s out Friday

Time for another School’s out Friday post. It’s back to work next Monday for me and many other Victorian teachers. School’s been out for a little while for me now so I’ll have to try and get my groove back!

This is Lucas Cruickshank  acting as Fred, his 6 yr old anger management issues character. He’s made about 17 videos for YouTube featuring Fred and had over 45 million views. 45 MILLION! Mind boggling stuff. This video alone has had 4,096,153 views. He sounds like Spongebob Squarepants to me and is equally annoying, but he obviously holds appeal for an audience of what I assume must be a teen or younger audience. If this is what holds their attention then no wonder some of them aren’t interested in the academic content offered in our schools today!  

Have a great weekend. (Enjoy Monday!)

Debatepedia – a resource worth looking at.

Someone sent the link through for Debatepedia on Twitter last week. I can’t remember who it was and that’s a shame because I would like to give them credit for alerting me to this resource. Debatepedia is like Wikipedia – a wiki based resource for debate topics. This is what is written on their main page:

Debatepedia is a wiki encyclopedia of pro and con arguments and quotations in important public debates from around the world. It is considered “the Wikipedia of debate”, helping the world centralize arguments and quotations found in millions of different articles, essays, and books into a single encyclopedia, so that citizens can better understand important public debates and make informed choices. Join this cause and community and become an editor of the site. Your efforts will improve your own thinking and have a major impact on the way thousands of other citizens draw conclusions. Debatepedia is endorsed by the United States’ National Forensic League 

It is an interesting resource and one that I think teachers and students in Secondary schools will find useful. A category browser is listed on the main page and you can explore these to see if a topic has been covered. Some topics have received a lot of attention and have quite a bit of detail in the pros and cons but others require more fleshing out. I looked up Environment and Animal welfare and checked out the page for Kangaroo Culling (obviously a topic Australian in nature and something I could look at objectively). I liked the fact that this appeared at the top of the entry;

Editing tasks you can help with:

  • The “costs” section of this article needs development.
  • More articles against culling should be presented in the pro/con resources section and arguments and quotations should be drawn from them.  

  Nice to see some recognition of areas needing improvement. In terms of information presented in the pros and cons you get a good rundown of the subtopics of the debate question but some of the information is a bit simplistic in terms of explanation. I would have liked to see more links included to allow students to follow these to verify information. Nonetheless, it would be a useful starting point for students to help them gain some understanding of a topic and introduce them to ideas they might choose to research further.

Like Wikipedia, this is a resource that will require explanation for our students. When I discuss Wikipedia with students I explain how the pages are created and ask students to cross reference information with other sources to verify what they have read. This to me is good research practise for any research activity. Some of the facts about Debatepedea are outlined on their main page;

Facts about Debatepedia
  • A wiki just like Wikipedia where anyone can edit and document debates, arguments, evidence, quotes, studies and more.
  • 7,134 articles. Debate pages, argument pages (for supporting evidence in the form of quotes, studies, links…), encyclopedia pages, team pages, and organization pages.
  • Over 450 existing, well-developed pro/con debate articles from IDEA’s famous Debatabase, written by expert debaters and professionals over the past 7 years (now you can edit them).
  • A growing community of 2,207 registered users.ain page;

It’s supported by the International Debate Education Association  (another resource I was not aware of!) and there are ample opportunities for people to get involved in helping to create pages. For senior students this could be an interesting exercise in helping them to understand how wikis function and to see how they can become creators of content. I read an article today about a professor from the University of British Columbia who had his students write entries on Wikipedia in the hope that their work would be of such high quality that their article would be granted feature article status on Wikipedia. To me, that represents an authentic learning task and is an idea worth exploring.    

I like Debatepedia and the ideas behind it, just as I like Wikipedia as a resource for our students. Provided our students are educated about how these resources are put together and they cross reference appropriately I see no harm in using them in our classrooms. I find myself using Wikipedia more and more as the quality of the pages improve with time.

The friend, the presenter, the bridge and the blogger!

Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I was excited about visiting Sydney to see Garr Reynolds present his ideas about presentation techniques. Well, that visit was this last weekend and I wanted to give you a rundown about the great opportunity it was and the fact that it led to other wonderful experiences.

The friend.

First things first. I have to thank my great friend Helen who was kind enough to accompany me on the trip. Helen has been a close friend of mine for many years now; she knows me well and is a tremendous support to me. She always knows when I am in need of support and has been a rock. I’m deeply grateful to her for agreeing to join me. We had a wonderful time together. Really good friends are hard to find; Helen, please know how much I value you.

The presenter.

Garr Reynolds was presenting at the Wesley Conference Centre in Pitt Street. Step Two designs had organised the presentation and I was very keen to attend. I’ve been reading Garr’s Presentation Zen blog and have watched his Authors at Google talk. His ideas make sense to me and I’ve tried to apply them to presentations I’ve made. I wanted to see if he had more to share in a ‘live’ presentation.

The conference room was packed. A sold out presentation. Garr looked relaxed and was an at ease presenter. Exactly the kind of message he sends out about how to present effectively. Early in the presentation he showed a slide with pictures of people reading his book ‘Presentation Zen’ in different locations. A woman from the audience yelled out ‘that’s me’ and Garr asked ‘Are you the teacher?’ She replied, ‘no’ and I piped up, ‘I’m the teacher’. Garr said, ‘Is that you Jenny?’ I couldn’t believe he had remembered who I was! What a moment for a low profile blogger like me. He had us talk to other conference participants on a couple of occasions and each time people started the conversations with, ‘So you’re the teacher…’ The audience seemed to be more the corporate set – I think I was probably the only secondary school teacher there! 

What were the things I took away with me from Garr’s presentation? The idea that story is central to any presentation; story connects you to your audience and will help hold their attention. Eliminate wherever possible too much text on slides – don’t follow the templates provided in PowerPoint as a guide. Probably the strongest message was to follow doh – meaning ‘the way’ and not the Homer Simpson variety of d’oh. Garr’s doh is to follow these three principles for presentation;




Take a look at any presentation Garr has made and these principles are obvious. I need to take note of restraint- was too tempted by the cool transitions in SlideRocket and used them too frequently. Will take note of this advice for future presentations.  

Garr spoke of books he’s read that have had influence on his ideas. These included ‘The McKinsey Mind’‘Rules for Revolutionaries’ by Guy Kawasaki, ‘Word of Mouth Marketing’ by Andy Sernowitz, ‘Multi Media Learning’ by Richard E Mayer, ‘Brain Rules’ by Dr. John Medina and ‘Made to Stick’ by Chip and Dan Heath. Brain Rules is sitting on my bedside table as we speak and I must get to the Heath Bros. book -that’s the second or third reference I’ve heard of late to that book- a sign I should be reading it!   

Garr was kind enough to speak with me at the end of the event and was obliging enough to have a photo taken with me. I was very pleased that I had made the effort to get to Sydney to hear him speak. Even though you can glean a vast amount of info from the Web, nothing beats human face to face interaction.

The Bridge

My last visit to Sydney was seven years ago with another good friend. She chose to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge while we were there, but I didn’t do it. I was scared of heights and felt it was something I wouldn’t be able to do. This time I decided to have a go at it. My Mum encouraged me; she felt I’d get something from it that I need at the moment. I’m still scared of heights, but I did some pretty serious climbing up a very steep mountain in China last year and thought I’d be able to do it. So I plucked up the resolve and booked myself in for a bridge climb.

I had an 8.55 booking so set off from the hotel at 8.20 to walk to Cumberland Street at the base of the bridge. I must have walked at least a kilometre when I realised I was heading in the wrong direction! Thank goodness for the constant supply of Sydney buses – got to Circular Quay and ran to Cumberland Street – a sight in itself! Was puffed and anxious when I got there. 10 of us had lined up for the 8.55 climb – families and couples and another solo traveller – a lovely lady named Sheila – we encouraged one another. It takes an age to get ready for a climb; you have to gear up in all manner of things and everything needs to be attached to you – there can be no possibility of anything falling off that bridge.  You do some preliminary training! and then set off. You’re tethered at all times so there’s no possibilty of stubling over the edge.

What an amazing experience. I didn’t suffer any effects of vertigo like I thought I would. I felt pretty safe and just loved taking in the incredible views. It was a perfect winter’s day -blue sky and not a hint of wind. Ed, our guide for the climb, told us that they climb even in high winds. Can’t say I’d be too keen on getting up there in conditions like that. It was an empowering experience and I’m proud of myself for having a go at something that I didn’t think I could do.

The blogger.     

To cap off a great day we met up with Chris Betcher in the afternoon. I first heard Chris talking in one of Jeff Utecht’s SOS podcasts, and I was impressed with his depth of knowledge. I kept seeing betchaboy appear on Twitter and in blog comments so checked out his blog. It became pretty evident that this was a guy who knew what he was talking about. Chris has been participating in the Oz/NZ educators flash meetings and we’ve had an opportunity to see and hear one another via that medium. We made some tentative plans to catch up and I’m so glad that Chris took some time out to catch up.

We met on George Street. I was betting that Chris would be wearing a long sleeved white T-Shirt and jeans. Wrong. Black short sleeved T-Shirt and camoflague pants! Always hard to identify someone when you haven’t met them face to face before but Chris was easily spotted. He looked like he does in our flash meetings and was tall as I had assumed he would be. The conversation flowed naturally from the start. At Chris’ suggestion we went to the Apple store to check things out. Chris and I were heavily engaged in conversation and it was up to Helen to do the shopping!

We moved on to a coffee shop and discussed all myriad of techhy bloggy things! I had a great time; it’s wonderful being able to share ideas with someone who ‘gets’ the things I go on about. My friends are fantastic and tolerant, but I think they get a bit bored when I start talking widgets and wikis. Chris has a wealth of knowledge and such enthusiasm; the time flew too fast. He’s coming to Melbourne in August for a IWB conference so a catch up is essential.

What a wonderful three and and half days Helen and I shared. Offline for most of it, but online in terms of connections to the world we live in.  


Sydney jaunt!

Just a quick post to let you know I’m still around. I’ve been enjoying a break in Sydney which I’ll provide more detail about when I get home and have more time to let you know about Garr Reynold’s presentation last Friday.

Just had to include this image of the divine dessert I just had at Max Brenner’s chocolate bar. A great way to finish an evening out!

Oh, and did I mention that I climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge today? Even have photos to prove it.

Keep posted!

School’s out Friday

Yes, I am aware it is Thusday and not yet Friday. Tomorrow I’m flying to Sydney to see Garr Reynold’s, of Presentation Zen fame, present about effective presentations. I’m so excited, particularly so because I’ve extended my stay until over the weekend and am going with one of my closest friends. I am taking my laptop, but I’m not intending to post (much). I’m looking forward to the no doubt exhilarating presentation and a relaxing break in the wonderful city that is Sydney.

Thought you’d enjoy this presentation from Mark Gungor about the differences between men’s and women’s brains. If only I’d known this years ago; could have quelled many a marital dispute along the way! 

Hope you have a great weekend (when it finally arrives!)


Eyes Wide Open – bloggers to watch.

One of the good things about being on school holidays has been having some time to explore links that take me to blogs I haven’t had a chance to discover due to the demands on time when working.  There are two in particular that have caught my eye for different reasons.

First discovery came from a tweet from Alec Couras. He was highlighting the vimeo reflection from Dan Meyer, a maths teacher from California who is five years into the teaching profession. I loved his reflection; it’s one of a series of ten he is making and I intend to watch each one. He is a refreshing voice; a young teacher with ideas and someone who is not afraid to challenge the thoughts and opinions of ‘names’ in the edublogosphere. I had been wondering where the young teachers were in the blogging community; following Dan is going to lead me in the direction of them I’m sure.

dy/av : 002 : the next-gen lecturer from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

The other interesting blogger for very different reasons is Matthew K. Tabor   He writes this about himself on the front page of his blog;

Matthew’s background includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, consulting and government. He consults on graduate/professional school admissions, academic media and educates privately. He writes out of Cooperstown, New York.

What drew me to this blog was a post he has written about why he didn’t attend the NECC conference in Texas titled, A Bit More Education Techno-Twaddle; Why I Avoid NECC, 2008 Edition. This is his take on edubloggercon;

The EduBloggerCon is a tiny part of NECC – I understand that, as some sessions are more sensible than others – but the sheer lack of intellectual diversity [a statement which will undoubtedly be criticized as inaccurate], the techno-fandom, the 100% Process/0% Content split will keep me away. If I wanted to sit on the floor with a notebook, I’d go to a Halo 3 LAN party. At least those have HotPockets and Mountain Dew.

His sentiments marry with the opening keynote from the conference; the need to have a devil’s advocate to help stem the echo chamber effect of listening to like minds. That’s one of the reasons I’m subscribing to his feed; I feel the need to listen to the devil’s advocates. They will stretch my thinking and help shape my thoughts about the use of technology to support learning. The comment thread to this post is very interesting. This was my contribution;

I’m very interested in reading you often now that I’ve discovered you through this post. I’m new to the edublogger world but have been energised and excited through my involvement. I’m more excited about the possibilities for education now than I have been for many years. I was feeling stale but now look at things with fresh eyes. I don’t consider myself a tech geek, far from it, but I do think our teaching can benefit from the experiences technology can enable in our classrooms. My focus remains strongly on how the learning of my students can improve as a result of using technology- I’m not such a zealot that I think it’s the be all and end all of everything that can be achieved in classrooms. I am concerned about the echo chamber effect of working in these networks and welcome the opportunity to read you and others who will challenge my thinking.

We all need to read widely and explore varying opinions – these are the skill sets we expect from our students when they examine a topic of interest. We expect them to have investigated all angles before coming to a conclusion. Good practice that we need to model too.




NECC – it’s all about conversation (even at 1.00am!)

Last night I wasn’t going to tune in to the NECC buzz. I was tired and knew I was taking to my kids out in the morning to meet up with friends. But a tweet from Will Richardson alerted me to a ustream of Konrad Glogawski’s session about blogging communities and I couldn’t resist tuning in.

While it was exciting being able to see and hear Konrad’s presentation – I still marvel at just what is possible these days! – what was most exciting was the vigorous and thought provoking discussion in the ustream chat. Follow this link to check it out. It was wonderful being able to share ideas with educators from all over the globe. Teacherman 79 has written a post about the experience. Thanks very much Will for enabling this opportunity for those of us not in attendance.  

Interestingly enough, I’ve read a post by Chris Betcher (Betchaboy) tonight that has made me think – always a good thing! It’s called Going Live vs Doing Life and I find myself agreeing with Chris’ sentiments. The gist of what he is saying is that perhaps we need to be thinking about immersing ourselves and appreciating the real life experiences we are having rather than focusing on how we disseminate the experience to the world. Probably best to block quote from Chris’ post;

I could be completely wrong, and maybe some of the Twitterers will leave a comment about how they deal with the whole mobile tweeting thing, but I always find that in order to tweet about what I’m doing I have to mentally stop doing it. To me, it’s more than just multitasking, it’s about mental timeslicing and taking your attention off the here-and-now of what’s actually taking place around you in order to tell the Twitterverse about what’s going on around you. This is not meant to be a criticism, and I’m glad that people do it so that others who wish they were there can get an insight into what’s going on, but I hope that folks find the balancing point between actually living the event and spending all their energy helping the event “go live”.

I know that I find it hard to do the mental timeslicing that Chris refers to. Even last night when I was participating in the discussion I had to focus on what I wanted to say and lost some of the thread of Konrad’s presentation and even the chat. I think John Medina talks about the difficulties of trying to multitask in his book Brain Rules. I have a copy of it but haven’t found the time to read it (surprise, surprise, seeing as I’ve been up till all hours of late!!) – I must make this a priority!

Regardless, I’m very thankful to everyone in Texas at the moment who are making genuine efforts to share knowledge through this community. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- this is without doubt the best staffroom I’ve ever been a part of!