School’s out Friday

School might be out this evening for most of us, but for the politicians of Australia, it’s nose to the grindstone 24/7 for the next 3 weeks. It’s election time here. We’re in the midst of a hard fought political stoush here in Australia, with some touting it as the dullest campaign ever. For the first time ever we have female leader of the Labor Party, Julia Gillard, and she’s battling criticism over the size of her earlobes, her dress sense, and what did or did not transpire in the party room when she challenged Kevin Rudd for leadership of the party. A political heavyweight, journalist Laurie Oakes, has really targeted her throughout this campaign, so much so that I think he’s starting to win Julia the vote of more than a few women out there who see it as a vendetta against her.

In terms of advertising, it’s been pretty dull. Perhaps both parties need to adopt these adverts, developed for the ABC program, ‘The Gruen Nation‘. I particularly like the Julia Gillard one, and the idea of a nightly forum answering the questions of the people. I think they’re onto a winner there! I didn’t see the actual program, but my friend Helen recommend that I try and locate these for School’s out Friday as we enjoyed a meal together tonight. We were both speculating how useful these would be in our classrooms as we try and convey to our students the impact the media has on our lives.

So while the pollies slog it out on the hustings, I’ll be slogging it out at the gym and the grocery store, and then I might do battle with the washing machine. There was a time in my life when I contemplated entering the world of politics, but right now, I think I’m content with my small scale domestic duty conflicts. After seeing what Julia has had to endure, I doubt my self esteem would survive the intense scrutiny of a politician’s life today.

Make the most of your weekend. They seem to go by pretty fast these days. At least we’ll all probably be nabbing a few more hours sleep than Julia and Tony will.  : )

Nurturing their Digital Footprint – lessons for Year 12

As part of our continued push to acknowledge the importance of Cybersafety instruction at my school, today I delivered a presentation to our Yr 12 students about how they can nurture their digital profile. Just a month or so ago, we delivered presentations to our Yr 10 and 11 students about much the same thing, but on this occasion, we created an entirely new presentation. There was a need to. Facebook privacy settings had changed, and this group are on the verge of adulthood. Very soon they will be moving into tertiary education or the paid workforce.

Quite a bit of material used in the presentation came from Jefferey Rosen’s excellent article in the New York Times, ‘The Web Means the End of Forgetting‘. I’d highly recommend that you take up the free subscription offer from the New York Times to gain access to this fine piece. It certainly helped to pull together a presentation that I think had meaning for the students present. In fact, I received an email 15 minutes after the presentation had ended from one of the students. Here’s what she had to say;

Hi Mrs Luca J
Just wanted to say I thought your lecture this afternoon was fantastic.
Walking out of the lecture theatre,  everyone was talking about their (sic) going straight home to change their facebook settings!
So yes, thanks for an interesting lecture,

It’s not often you get positive feedback like this. It certainly made me feel like the effort required to put the presentation together was worth it. If you’d like to view it, go to the wikispaces site I maintain.

Helping our students to understand the importance of a positive digital profile is ongoing work for us. I firmly believe that probably the best way to enable our students to appreciate its importance is to encourage them to publish their work online, so that they can be building the profile that will be of most benefit to them in the long run. As Seth Godin said;

“Everything you do now ends up in your permanent record. The best plan is to overload Google with a long tail of good stuff and to always act as if you’re on Candid Camera, because you are.”

I have my students working with new technologies and encourage them to publish the good stuff. The hard thing is convincing others that this is something we should be working towards in our schools. They deserve to know how they can make the best of the Web and themselves in the process.

(*Frustratingly, once again, the Sliderocket presentation will not embed into this post.)

School’s out Friday

One of the things I have to do this weekend is prepare a presentation for our Year 12 students about how they nurture their social resume. It’s pretty important stuff for those 17 and 18 year olds. (Hopefully they’ll see it from the same perspective!) They’re on the verge of adulthood and about to undertake tertiary education or a foray into the world of work. We prepared a presentation for our Year 10 and 11 students last term, but already we need to update it. We were dealing with Facebook privacy settings prior to their recent changes, so some new screenshots will be in order so that we’re up to date with what’s happening.

I’m thinking that using this parody of an apology from ‘Mark Zuckerberg’ will help to get the message across. I’ll also be using detail from a New York Times article from Jeffery Rosen that was published this week. ‘The Web Means the End of Forgetting’, is 8 pages of very informative reading about the state of the internet and privacy today. Read it if you can. (You will have to register with the New York Times – for free – to gain full access to the article).

But first, a sleep in. My eyes are closing as I type this. I really need a good night’s sleep. Soemone said to me this week,  “It feels like Week Five, not Week Two.” I totally agree.

I hope you have something exciting planned for the weekend ahead. Can’t say there’s anything spectacular on my horizon, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy it nonetheless.

Have fun!

“It’s what we know.” Helping our students understand Google Search

Most of my teaching career has been as a classroom teacher. I began working as a Teacher-Librarian, but after a few years, the lure of the classroom won me over. I really love the ownership that comes from teaching a class; those kids are your audience, and if it works, it’s because you’ve made it work. It’s a bit like being your own boss. I moved back to a library setting when the internet was just showing its promise. I was excited; knowledge was moving into new spaces and I saw that as something that would reinvigorate the profession. Finding knowledge in new environments is a challenge and not something that necessarily comes easily. Digital Literacy understanding needs instruction. Becoming a critical thinker and searcher is not necessarily intuitive.

The difficult thing for any Teacher Librarian is getting access to classes so that we can work with students and teachers to assist them with Digital Literacy understandings.  Not every teacher out there is comfortable working in a team teaching environment. I really do think there are plenty of teachers out there who are fearful of criticism and unwilling to open their classrooms for others to observe, let alone work with them.

The ideal way to impart understanding is in the context of a course of study. Just in time learning does work. Unfortunately, getting opportunities to work directly with students as they research doesn’t always happen for Teacher Librarians, and sometimes you just have to grab the opportunities that come your way. I’m not sure about you, but when I talk with students and observe the way they navigate the Web, most of them default to Google as their search tool. We had the opportunity to work with all of our Year Seven students last week, so we decided to focus on how they could become more adept at using Google.

We started with this video, featuring Matt Cutts from Google explaining how the search engine works;

It had their attention with its animations and subtitles that helped them follow the explanation provided by Matt. We then went onto demonstrate the new features of the Google search results page using the left hand side bar. Many of them had not yet twigged it was even there! If you’re not up with recent changes, take a look at the following slideshare presentation by Conectica;

Using Google search tips sourced from Dumb little man, we wound up our discussion about Google. Our discussion then moved into ‘What other search engines can you use?’ It was very interesting to hear students offer Safari and Firefox as search engines. The discussion moved into an explanation of the difference between a browser and a search engine. Sometimes you forget to start with some basic understandings; often, I think, we’re guilty of assuming our students have knowledge, when in fact, things need to be spelled out or introduced to them.

I know, some of you out there will be beseeching me right now and saying that this kind of teaching needs to be embedded in what is happening in the classrooms, and you’re right. It should. But sometimes you need to explicitly teach something. I see no harm in direct instruction, as long as it’s part of your toolkit and you vary your teaching methods to suit circumstances and what your learning intention is for your students. Even the teachers who were present in the session came out telling me they had learned something. To wind up the session, we introduced the students to SweetSearch -a search engine for students.  Mark Moran, from Finding Dulcinea – Librarian of the Internet, has helped develop this search engine. It “searches only the 35,000 Web sites that our staff of research experts and librarians and teachers have evaluated and approved when creating the content on findingDulcinea”

When we asked our students why they primarily use Google, one student said, “It’s what we know.” How true. You use what you know. Hopefully our session helped them to understand how they can use what they know better, and maybe it’s opened their eyes to what they don’t know. That just might make them realise that the Teacher-Librarians are in command of a fair bit of practical knowledge that will help them to find their way around the Web. I hope so.

School’s out Friday

You’re probably one of the nine and a half million people who’ve seen this parody of the BP Oil Spill disaster. I used it with my students this week (and yes, I muted the last words from ‘Kevin Costner’) and they found it very funny. But not only that, after watching it, they were able to articulate their understanding of the real life crisis that’s been unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico over the last three months. It was a great way of beginning a lesson with a giggle, but then moving into complex discussion and analysis of a world event. Thank goodness, news reports today indicate that their efforts to cap the leaking pipe have been successful (at this stage, anyway!).

Working with my students has helped lift the heavy feeling I was experiencing on Monday. First lesson of Year 9 saw one of my students begin the lesson saying very loudly and enthusiastically,

“Mrs. Luca. Great book!”

as she held aloft her copy of ‘The Running Man‘. Plenty of others then joined in to echo her sentiments. How wonderful to hear students say this was the best book they’d read that had been set as a class text. Better still, 90% of them had done as I asked and read it over the school holidays in preparation for this term’s unit of study in English. (The other 10% were well on their way to completion). If that doesn’t help lighten a teacher’s load, then I don’t know what does! I’m very lucky; I teach wonderful kids.

I’ve been on a bit of a health kick this week, so I actually feel pretty good heading into the weekend. Not a skerrick of chocolate or sliver of a potato chip have crossed my lips! Amazing, considering both are my worst vices. I even clocked up 3km on the treadmill tonight. I hope you’re feeling energised and can make the most of the the time we get for family and friends.

Have a great weekend. : )

Day one, term three – that heavy feeling is back

Last week, I took a bit of time out and laid off the social networking. In fact, I don’t think it’s social networking at all, I think it’s professional networking. Let’s face it, would I be doing this if I worked as a landscape gardener? Maybe I would, but I’m not entirely sure about that.

I felt good about things while I was having the downtime; I was on school holidays and enjoying time spent with my kids. That heavy feeling left me for awhile, and I was a better person for it.You know, someone who was relaxed and smiled and read a paper book.

Today, the heavy feeling is back. First day of term three, and I feel a tad overwhelmed already. Not for any particular reason, just because I know what lies ahead. All of the expectations and stresses associated with the teaching profession. When you’re a teacher, I think there’s always that feeling that there’s something more that needs to be done. You don’t leave your job at the door; it’s with you, niggling away, telling you that you should be looking for better resources, or updating that wiki, or re-reading that text, or forward planning to ensure the service you deliver is top notch. It sits on your shoulders and doesn’t allow for full freedom of movement.

Pretty grim, huh. Makes you wonder why we do it.

I’ll tell you why. It’s because, despite the weight, there are some pretty wonderful things that can happen when you have the privilege of working with young people. They can make your day with a smile, a kind word, an expression of appreciation, and especially when they share a moment from their lives with you. That’s why we do what we do, and when the kids from my school return to classes on Wednesday, it’ll all come flooding back to me why I choose to work at a job that doesn’t end when I walk out the door at the end of a day.

The rewards are there, but it’s not easy. I kid you not, I think I’m working harder now than I ever did, and I hear the same story from plenty of other teachers out there. I don’t quite know how our profession is going to address this. We need good teachers, really good teachers, who can inspire and motivate the next generation. We don’t need burnt out teachers who leave the profession, because that job that leaves itself at the door is a far greater temptation than the one that’s sitting on your shoulders and weighing you down.

OK – day one rant is over. Sorry for laying that one on you. Just needed to get it off my chest.

Thanks for listening. I feel better. : )

School’s out Friday

My school is steeped in tradition. I like it. A lot.

Surprisingly, really.

It’s surprising to me, anyway, because I didn’t attend a private school when I was a kid. I went to a high school in a lower demographic area and then went on to teach at that same school for well over a decade all up, give or take a few years out when I had my kids and taught at a couple of other schools. The school was not steeped in tradition, but it was a supportive community for the students and the teachers there were a unified group. Sadly, the original school no longer exists. A victim of the Kennett years of Government here in Victoria, when forced amalgamations saw some very good schools go by the wayside. I was a staunch supporter of public education, and still am. I swore I would never teach at a private school, but here I am, doing just that and feeling very connected to the community I belong to. I no longer beat myself up about this; I know very well that I wouldn’t be doing the things I’m doing now had I not made this career change. I’m very grateful that I work in a school that supports my professional development and allows me to explore new ways of doing things.

But back to tradition. House activities are high on the agenda at my school and one of these is House Music. In house groups, the students all sing a set song, and then they have Madrigal performances when smaller groups represent their house and sing a song of their choice. This year, one of the groups sang Fleetwood Mac’sLandslide‘. It was simply beautiful. I was immersed in the moment as they sang and haven’t been able to let the song go ever since. On days like that, I can feel the school’s traditions wafting over me. And I like it. A lot.

I don’t know why, but the song has been with me today. So I thought I’d share it with you too. I hope you enjoy it.

Have a great weekend. School resumes here on Monday, so I intend to make the most of the time left before the engine starts up again.