Re-focus is on the agenda.

Frances Manning writes two very good blogs. Yes, two! I’m flat out managing one. HFS conversations and Personal Thoughts about Learning. She posted this video on her personal thoughts blog and titled it Re-focus.

I watched it and it connected with me. I long for the down time right now. I’ve just finished up with reports, an inquiry week that included an overnight stay in the city, and the downright business of life. And all on the back of 18 days in China recently. I’ve hardly blogged and I feel a bit out of the loop with things. Holidays are on the horizon. I hope to get back to good form and start my thinking happening again.

Re-focus is on my agenda!  (As is updating my blogroll – I’ve discovered so many great blogs this year and haven’t had time to reflect this in the blogroll. That will be rectified in the next couple of weeks – stay tuned.)

Networked Student – Wendy Drexler has helped us out.

Wendy Drexler has created this very useful video explaining how students can benefit from operating and learning in a connected environment. She has very cleverly borrowed from the film techniques employed by Lee and Sachi Lefever to create a very effective means of explaining what many of us try to convey to colleagues every day. She produced it as a response to questions posed by George Siemans for the Connectivism course he and Stephen Downes have been offering online.

  1. What is the quality of my learning networks: diversity, depth, how connected am I?
  2. How has this course influence my view of the process of learning (assuming, of course, that it has)?
  3. What types of questions are still outstanding?
  4. How can you incorporate connectivist principles in your design and delivery of learning?

Questions 2 and 4 are addressed in the video above. The presented scenario is definitely not a complete picture of connectivism. I think it’s a good start for a k12 classroom. I view the work with my students as networked learning incubation.

Wendy, I think your use of the word ‘good’ needs to be replaced with the word ‘great’. It’s an excellent means of transferring what so many of us think. I love the fact that it was her 15 yr old son who helped her out with the artwork and provided the narration. Great work both of you.

I had aspirations to participate in this course but just haven’t been able to find the time. Thanks Wendy for sharing with us and encouraging us to share it with others. True Connectivism at work.

School’s out Friday

That’s it.    I’m never complaining again.    Imagine having to do this everyday when you went to work!!

He does have some incredible skill. It reminds me of my recent time in China. One of the things I liked to do was to watch the people riding bikes with the most unbelievable loads attached. Made you very thankful for the life you lead.

Thanks to Paul (a parent from the school I teach at) for alerting me to this video. 

I think I am almost free of reports! Should mean a good weekend ahead. Enjoy yours.

World Teachers Every Day – apparently I’m one!

Recently I entered a competition offered by the Victorian Institute of Teaching. It was in honour of World Teacher’s Day and they were asking teachers to put together a 3 minute video telling your ‘world teacher’ story.  I wouldn’t have even known about it if not for Ranjith Dedawalige, Head of Internationalism at my school, who encouraged me to get an entry in. I was pressed for time. He told me about it the week before I left for China and I had a million things to do.  Another issue was that Windows MovieMaker wasn’t working on my computer. It all felt too hard. The other thing was that I’m not used to doing something where you blatantly self promote yourself. I know you’re probably looking at this blog and thinking ‘Well what do you think this is all about’, and maybe you’re right. I think of the blog differently; it’s a means of sharing rather than saying ‘look at me’ from my perspective.

My husband, who has been an amazing support to me, encouraged me to get moving. I downloaded a trial version of Sony Vegas and started grabbing screenshots (using Jing) of things I’d been involved with over the course of this year. My husband recorded the opening and closing video with a Flip camera and I started putting it together.  I have to say I was pretty impressed with Sony Vegas – very easy to use and no crashing problems like I’d been experiencing with MovieMaker. Once again I had problems with the Flip camera files. I had audio but no picture. I uploaded the files to YouTube, converted them with keepvid and put them into Sony Vegas again. They worked! 

The finished product was burnt to a DVD (with my husband’s help once again) and sent off. This morning I got a phone call to say I’d won the competition. The prize is a $5000 PD package, including $3000 to support further professional development from Pdi and $2000 to support travel and accommodation from Victoria Teachers Credit Union.

That’s exciting. Just taking it all in right now. I have to say it’s pretty good getting some recognition. This has been an amazingly busy year and as it nears its end I’m feeling tired. That might have something to do with a weekend dedicated to marking and report writing!

School’s out Friday

I loved Star Wars when I was a kid. I will never forget being 13, sitting in a cinema and seeing that Star Cruiser pan across the screen. It was truly an amazing special effect at the time. I was hooked and returned to the cinema on a further two occasions to take my fill of Luke Skywalker‘s story. Part of the special experience that was Star Wars was John William’s soundtrack. I even purchased the album. I lived Star Wars for a period of my early adolescence!

That’s why I love this a capella effort. It’s a tribute to Star Wars and to John Williams. Another thing I enjoyed growing up in this era were the musical soundtracks John Williams created for classic films like ‘Jaws’, ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind‘ and ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark‘. They all feature here. Clever lad who created this. I think he may have breached copyright somewhere because his original upload to YouTube is no longer available for viewing. I had to revert to someone else’s upload of his work.  I found it after someone put out a tweet about it on Twitter earlier this week. Sorry, I can’t remember who it was to give them credit.   

I face a weekend full of correction and report writing. Lucky me. Hope you are doing something great. I’ll be thinking of you!   

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The Future of Libraries.

John Connell has written an excellent post about Cloud computing and the future of education and the web. He muses;

Since 2002, I have been boring anyone willing to listen to me that this would be the case one day – and the core idea behind Glow in Scotland is based on this fundamental premise – that the world of knowledge is shifting inexorably onto the Web.

John has written a very interesting and thought provoking post. I urge you to visit his blog and read it.

I posted a comment because the post spoke to thoughts I have been mulling over regarding the future of libraries. Here’s what I said;

I have been grappling with this idea for some time now and you have articulated what I have been trying to put together in my mind. I’ve been trying to picture the future of libraries. If knowledge is everywhere and accessible to everyone then what is the point of some central location. There isn’t one. What the point of libraries will be, I think, is as a meeting place for humanity to share ideas. A bit like Ancient Greece where the Sophists would meet up together to share ideas. What keeps coming to me with all of this change is that we still need human interaction and the formation of meaningful relationships to sustain us. I feel that I have found a friend in you John through this PLN, but meeting you probably cemented the friendship. I look at the school library I run and what is happening with the students at my school. Their reliance on print material has lessened greatly with their shift to the web. We may as well ditch non-fiction altogether. And yet our Library is thriving. Why? A welcoming environment. We have couches, cushions, kids can eat in there and use their phones and listen to ipods. We listen to them and we like them. We don’t force feed them books but they like the connectedness they feel there. The knowledge will be everywhere and easily accessible, but the need for human connection will be constant.

John’s post was speaking to eduation as a whole rather than the specific nature of Libraries, but I think we can draw parallels. There will still be a need for schools and teachers. I don’t think we will become obsolete. I do think the nature of learning will change; we will need to encourage and foster self directed learners and this is what I see the function of teachers will be in the future. We will need to guide and mentor our students; explicit teaching of some skills will still be necessary, but empowering our students with the ability to discover and learn off their own steam will be the essential life skills. What will be a vital role of schools and teachers will be what has been vital all along. The space where students can form relationships, the space where they can articulate ideas and glean advice and encouragement, the space where the human network forms and where they can find ways to make it grow.  

I’d love to know what others think. Is this the future, has it always been this way, or is the future something else altogether?   


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RefSeek – what is the future for subscription databases?

I was finally doing a bit of reading via my Google Reader, when I came across RefSeek, written up by Jane Hart on her very handy blog.

 Ref Seek is a website for students and researchers that accesses articles from web pages, books, encyclopedias, journals, and newspapers. The idea behind the site is to make academic information easily accessible to everyone. I did a couple of searches on topics for Australian audiences (Ned Kelly and Kevin Rudd) and it didn’t come up with really brilliant results, but it did source a couple of more specialised sites that were useful. Below is a screenshot of what you see when you click on directory at the top right hand side of the screen.


Click on the links to the available sources of information and you will get an idea of the types of resources they are searching.  Below is a screenshot of some of the encylopedias used in the searches conducted.


RefSeek is an interesting alternative for our students and makes me think about what the future may hold. I’m wondering how long subscription databases will continue as resources that schools pay for. Will they eventually become free resources and rely on advertising to generate income? At my school we subscribe to databases like eLibrary, World Book and Newsbank. We’ve made decisions in the last year to cut some of our subscriptions because we didn’t feel usage warranted the outlay of money required to sustain them. As we see the net evolve and semantic search engines like Mahalo generate pages of rich relevant results, we may see subscription database services feel the pinch. Already Brittanica offers bloggers access to widgets that can be embedded allowing your readers full access to articles on topics you write about. I have a feeling that we will see scholarly articles become more accessible as knowledge becomes more widely available.

Maybe I’m wrong. I’d be interested in hearing what others think.    

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How do I learn best?

I’m trying to get back into the swing of things now that I’m back from 3 weeks away from my networked existence. I did have a few opportunities to dip into the pool, but they were very quick forays into the shallow end. No deep immersion. Have to jump back in without checking if the water is warm.

Part of the dive back in is getting myself immersed in the ning site that supports the Powerful Learning Practice cohort my school is part of. I feel remiss for not fulfilling my end of the deal, but it was just too hard trying to update the blog for parents with the little time for the internet that we had when we had retired to our rooms (or Starbucks during the day!).

One of the forum discussions has asked us to think back to our best and worst teachers and think about how we learn best. Here is the reply I posted;

My best teachers. Mr. Peterson, Mr. Maughan and Mrs. Underwood. All were chalk and talk teachers for the most part, but they took an interest in me and made me feel that my opinions were valued.

Worst Teachers. Can’t remember their names. They were paycheque teachers who didn’t care for my opinions and didn’t make me feel involved in the subject matter.

How do I learn best. Connection, connection, connection. For me, learning is about relationship building. If I feel that someone is interested in my thoughts and want to encourage me in my learning I will go the extra mile for them. That’s been my experience as a teacher also. I invest time in finding out about the kids I teach; I think it makes a difference. If they know that I care they will do more for me. I’m convinced of that.

How do I learn outside of school now? I take the initiative and search the web for answers. I use my connections, connections, connections. My friends in this online world are the best sharers I’ve ever met.

I liked reflecting on my learning experiences. I still think that taking an interest in the kids you teach is the most powerful thing you can do as a teacher. You don’t need technology to help you with that. You need an open personality and a desire to make a meaningful difference. What I find exciting about teaching now is that I know how to make more meaningful connections for my students with teachers and potentially other students, who have open personalities and a desire to make a meaningful difference. Opening my students minds to the world by connecting with people rather than words on a page is a pretty exciting possibility. This is all about human interaction.

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School’s out Friday

Well, I’m finally home from my 18 day tour of China with the students from my school. Another great experience. Not only great because I had the opportunity to immerse myself in another culture, but great because I had the opportunity to see the students in a different light. When you essentially live with one another for an extended period of time, you forge lasting links. That’s special and something that I value.

One of the linking experiences we had in China was our shared amusement over signage. Despite the best efforts of the English Language teacher in the above video in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese just can’t seem to get it entirely right at times. Now don’t get me wrong, I have a deep respect for the Chinese people. They are friendly, engaging people who work very hard in trying conditions. You would think, however,  that there were some fluent, english speaking people in the country who could vet the signs before they were displayed prominently or etched into concrete. One of our students took nearly 2000 photos. There would have to be 100 or so that are signs displaying English translation that cause much mirth.

My amusement was heightened because I was reading David Sedaris’ latest compilation of essays throughout the trip, ‘When You Are Engulfed In Flames‘.  If you’ve never read anything by David Sedaris then you really need to treat yourself and get a hold of one of his books. He writes about the ordinary and not so ordinary things in life and his observations are often laugh out loud funny. In this book he describes his experiences in Japan and he makes comment about English signage there. Very close to our observations I may add as we would pass yet another highway sign reading ‘Do not follow clowsly other drivers’.

Have a great weekend. Recovery is on my agenda before the start of the next week and my return to the demands of classes, correction and running the Library.   

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Our Great Wall adventure

Our journey to the Great Wall began with a two and a half hr drive out to Simitai. We checked into our hotel, had lunch and then prepared ourselves for our walk up the very steep mountainous part of the wall that we could see from our lodgings. Even the walk to get on the wall is quite a climb and we were peeling off the layers at an early stage.

Yes, it was very steep and quite an effort. The girls handled it really well. We walked uphill for near on two hours to the point of the wall where you can go no further due to disrepair. Coming down took about an hour – it’s quite difficult on the descent due to some of the very steep inclines. We all collapsed for an hour or so and then had dinner. A surprise awaited one of the girls; a lavish birthday cake organised through our trusty guide, Olive. She was thrilled. Even better was the after party in one of the rooms. The girls kindly asked us to attend and we shook up the dance floor!! (sort of, in an older woman kind of way). It was lovely of them to include us in the festivities. Our student had a birthday worthy of rememberance.

We awoke to the sound of knocking on our door and news that two of the girls had fallen foul of the dreaded lergy. They weren’t up to the hike so I stayed back while the girls went with our other staff member and guide to Jinshanglang where they began the hike back to Simitai. I’d told everybody that I had found that an easier hike last year but my recollection must have been awry. They all came back saying it was much harder.

We weren’t happy with the girls staying at Simitai while there was illness in the group so we arranged to return to Beijing and the hotel we have been staying at. The girls were very happy about that, particularly in light of the wonderful buffet breakfast they know will be on offer tomorrow morning. Tomorrow we spend the morning at the Summer Palace and then we hit the Silk Market in the afternoon. THAT is causing considerable excitement to say the least!

Nearly at the end of our journey through China. Mark Spahr asked on Twitter if I could comment about what is blocked in China. I haven’t had a lot of time for internet surfing, but I have noticed I can’t access PB Wiki and all wordpress blogs. You don’t get any message saying they are blocked for any particular reason, just the ‘internet explorer cannot open this page’ routine. Some hotels have had free wireless access, some have no access at all and this hotel has cable access that is very pricey by Chinese standards. It is also an incredibly slow connection despite the cable. Mobile phone technology is everywhere here. I was receiving messages on the Great Wall as I have done on every part of the journey. I even received a message from my son’s teacher while we were hiking in the Rice Terrace fields to inform me about some poor behaviour on his part. I had to explain to her that I was on a hike in ChinaI I’ve been writing a blog for the families from my school while I am here. I’m using blogger on the advice of Jane Lowe who informed me it wasn’t blocked in China. It’s been great. The parents are commenting and have all expressed how much they appreciate the feedback in this asynchronous form. It’s a public blog. I’m hoping it will have an impact at school level in helping people to understand that this technology can be very useful for communication purposes and that it doesn’t represent the perceived danger some assume with its public nature. Before leaving I contacted all of the parents and checked that they were comfortable with their daughter’s image being on the Web. There was unanimous support. Having the mini PC has been a bonus purely for the ease of carting it around. It fits in my son’s pencil case! Gotta sign off and get some sleep in preparation for the big day tomorrow. Have to say I am looking forward to going home. 18 days is a long time away from family. My son said to me on a skype call that it felt like I’d been away for a year. He’s 9, and it would feel like that to him. Time to get home for some much needed hugs.

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