Responsibility – Barack’s message for us all.

Barack Obama addressed the students of America yesterday as they returned for the start of their school year. His message was about responsibility. The responsibility students have to their own learning, to themselves.

Today in my Yr 9 English class we watched part of Obama’s speech and looked at some of the text. I asked my students if they thought it should have been required viewing in all American classrooms. Pretty much all of them thought yes. They were very surprised to hear that there were some American schools that did not allow the broadcast to be shown. Take a look at some of the comments posted on the YouTube video from students about that.

Our discussion then moved to why some schools would hold that position. They talked about political influence, party politics and propaganda. We also talked about the effectiveness of Brarack Obama’s delivery and the genuineness some felt was evident in his speech. It was all very appropriate for an English class, but more importantly it was vital for them as citizens of our world. Quite a bit of our discussion focused on the importance of being well informed about world events. Which of course, brought us back to Obama’s speech and his message about responsibility for your own learning.

If you haven’t seen the video, take the time to watch it. Personally, I thought the message was an important one. It was about resilience and making the most of opportunities presented to you. A message that crosses borders and is as valid in this country as it is in the United States.

Guest post: Liana’s making Wikis (with the help of Year 7)

You know that feeling when you think things aren’t happening, but then all of a sudden you realise that your efforts are starting to pay dividends? Well, that’s what’s happening at my school (Toorak College) now. I feel like we are making inroads. Kids are using Nings and Wikis and it’s becoming the norm. There isn’t the questioning that used to come with the introduction of new ideas. Teachers are starting to take on board what I’ve been rabbiting on about and they are seeing how effective the learning can be using collaborative tools.

Liana Gooch teaches at my school and was part of our PLP group. Here is her guest post. Take it away Liana!

Coming from a country in which bush fires do not feature as a significant hazard as they do in Australia, the events of February 7th 2009 have left an indelible mark on the memories of myself and my students.  It was extremely heart breaking to view the images of destruction and loss experienced by those people involved in the Victorian Bushfires. As well as the human cost, it is also essential to consider the havoc wrecked upon nature. A lot of creatures were helpless to escape the fury of the flames and many that did manage to survive have suffered immense injury. 

When it came to consider a unit of study related to endangered species with my year 7 Humanities class, I was determined to create a research unit that was not only compelling but also relevant. Students would usually choose to explore overseas endangered species but coverage of the Victorian Bushfires’ impact upon many already endangered species alerted me to taking a more local focus. In the back of my mind I also was concerned about the potential lack of knowledge regarding their own state’s endangered species. My suspicions were confirmed when I surveyed the class about identifying the state’s animal symbol, the highly endangered Leadbeater Possum – only one student was able to identify it. Thus, the inquiry ‘ How can we protect our backyard?’ emerged. 

Another focus of this inquiry project would be to expose students to a range of technological tools that would be easily transferrable across their range of subjects. Working with Jenny Luca and Megan Davies, we decided that a wikispace would be an ideal medium for students to post and convey their research to the rest of the world. While the students knew I would be assessing their page, they knew that this inquiry was going to have to be authentic due to the wikispace being open to the public. Students were taught how to manipulate many of the tools available on the wikispace and a lot was learnt through the process by trial and error. As students were working collaboratively it made sense to use Google Docs which allowed students to simultaneously work and edit a written piece together on different computers. It also eliminated the age old problem of when students are absent and have the written piece with them thus hindering a group’s progress. This tool proved invaluable and it has been exciting to observe students use this tool for other projects since this inquiry.  Jenny also taught the students about a range of websites where students would be able to use copyright free images for their pages. Another skill gained was the ability to write comments using the pins of Google Maps. One student produced her own clip of a journey through the affected Kingslake area and used voice thread to create her own commentary.  Students found the application of technology to be an effective tool which made the learning process a lot more interesting. ‘It is a lot of fun and instead of being boring the work was challenging and interesting so it made it a lot easier to work. It is a great way to become more familiar with internet tools and skills.’ (Hayley) 

 I wanted students to actively engage with concepts we had explored earlier in the unit related to sustainability. Students were initially exposed to Dr Seuss tale of The Lorax’ which made many of the complex components of sustainability easily attainable. A reflective component of their inquiry which would test their understanding of some of the big ideas would require them to reflect upon how the Lorax would perceive and comment upon the causes and effects of the Bushfires as well as  the ensuing actions to reduce their impact.  Following through the list of aspects to be explored students would be able to explore a range of both primary and secondary resources ranging from newspaper clips, you tube videos, podcasts from experts and contact with applicable organisations. Students constructed questions to inquire about the actions taken by their selected organisation’s actions to assist with affected animals. Many students were extremely excited about receiving information directly from organisations especially when a lot of the information could not be directly found in the range of resources available online or otherwise. 

The inquiry took about three weeks in total during which time students were completed engaged and engrossed in their research. There were several occasions when it was actually difficult to get the students to stop working! It took considerable time to do my initial research and creation of the inquiry assignment. I also had to learn some of the new technological tools before I could launch the project, however the benefits of undertaking a project with which many of the students were so connected were immense. Their understanding of endangered species in their own backyard and the critical role that humans play has been significant. ‘it shows that we have to be aware of sustainable development and reducing our resources for the future. The Victorian Bushfires has decreased the amount of trees, land, homes and animals, and that reduces many resources for the future.’ ‘This project has made me think about animals in a completely different way then I had before.’ Rather than just producing an assignment which would only be viewed by the teacher, themselves and family, Students were courageous as they gallantly rose to the challenge of creating commentary which was up to scrutiny by the public.  It was also extremely encouraging to hear students comment about taking social action as a result of this project. One student has become involved in adopting a koala and to date, our class are considering fund raising to either help adopt an endangered animal or contribute to a wildlife fund. Another student is starting to consider a career path related to the care of injured animals. To me, this is what learning that is inspiring should be all about – making authentic, meaningful and relevant links to the world around us.

Well done Liana and well done Year 7. You’ve created a rich resource for others to use and you’ve learnt some new skills in the process. Make sure you visit their wiki.

School’s out Friday

In case you missed it, it was Michael Jackson’s birthday on the 29th of August, and the flash mobs were out to celebrate the occasion. This mob was in Seattle at Pioneer Square and the Pike Place Market. Same routine at different times of the day. If you haven’t noticed, I just love a good flash mob occasion. Must get involved in one myself one day!

Have a great weekend.  Happy Father’s Day to you all you Dads celebrating here in Australia this Sunday.

Have I told you lately how I love YouTube…

Have I? Maybe I have, but it’s worth repeating!  

I’ve been reading blog posts from Australian bloggers who are part of the Government rollout of  the Digital Revolution, and about to find themselves in 1:1 classroom environments. I’m getting the message that there are a number of teachers out there pretty daunted by this prospect. Teachers with little idea of how you utilise the technology around you in your classroom environment.

I can’t imagine teaching in a school without laptops now. Today’s English class was an example of how YouTube has made an impact on my practice.

Prior to the class I uploaded a YouTube video to the class Ning and a link to another video that wouldn’t allow embedding. We are studying poetry and both were different readings of Wilfred Owen’s Dulce Et Decorum Est. I wanted my students to appreciate the difference to your understanding and interpretion of a poem when it is read with feeling. The visuals in both videos were very different and that was also part of our discussion.

I’d also begun a discussion in the Ning entitled, ‘Are the song lyrics of today the poetry of our time?’ That led to us looking at Paul Kelly and Kevin Carmody’s ‘From little things, big things grow’. The girls found the lyrics online and one of them loaded them into the Ning so that they could follow them while we watched the YouTube video. This led to a discussion of why this song was penned and its importance in allowing us to understand the plight of the Aboriginal people in Australia. This then led to a discussion of the impending National Curriculum and the focus on an understanding of the history of our country.

We discussed ballads and the students made reference to the poetry of Henry Lawson and A.B. Paterson. I recalled how effective ‘The Highwayman’ by Alfred Noyes is as a story in verse. We did a hunt through YouTube and found various versions available but ran out of time to look at one full length.  The video below is what we will start with in class tomorrow.

The point of all this is that this lesson could have been delivered without technology, but it made all the difference being able to utilise YouTube and our Ning environment. I’m lucky in that my school has a good internet connection, has an open rather than block attitude, and streaming of YouTube videos is fast.  

I really enjoyed today’s lesson, and I told the kids this at the end of it. Hopefully they did too. Hopefully, teachers launching themselves into 1:1 classroom environments will soon realise the possibilities that exist when you can  make use of the wonderful content on sites like YouTube. I know that I don’t want to go back to the flat photocopied reams of paper approach that was the way I taught in the past. There was nothing wrong with my teaching then, but I really do believe it is a whole lot more interesting now.