Telling it like it is, the Matt Damon way.

I’ve always liked Matt Damon. I don’t know him personally, obviously, him being a major Hollywood actor and all, but I’ve always liked what I saw as a no nonsense approach to stardom every time I saw him interviewed.

Today, I like him even more. Today, he made a special trip to Washington DC, to address a rally of teachers protesting near the White House about the regimen of standardised testing that seems to fuel the North American system of education. A system that Australian political honchos appear to want to emulate as we churn out NAPLAN tests every year, and look to introduce an Australian Curriculum in 2013 that suggests the inclusion of increased testing to “validate” that everyone is on the same page.

Take a read of Matt’s considered words, and see if you agree that this is a man who is making a whole lot of sense and who is probably speaking for the majority of citizens out there. (Apologies if there is some clause somewhere not allowing me to publish his speech in full. I’m pretty sure Matt won’t mind.)

“I flew overnight from Vancouver to be with you today. I landed in New York a few hours ago and caught a flight down here because I needed to tell you all in person that I think you’re awesome.

I was raised by a teacher. My mother is a professor of early childhood education. And from the time I went to kindergarten through my senior year in high school, I went to public schools. I wouldn’t trade that education and experience for anything.

I had incredible teachers. As I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself — my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity — all come from how I was parented and taught.

And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success — none of these qualities that make me who I am … can be tested.

I said before that I had incredible teachers. And that’s true. But it’s more than that. My teachers were EMPOWERED to teach me. Their time wasn’t taken up with a bunch of test prep — this silly drill and kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn’t promote real learning. No, my teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that classroom like an individual puzzle. They took so much care in figuring out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us. They were empowered to unlock our potential. They were allowed to be teachers.

Now don’t get me wrong. I did have a brush with standardized tests at one point. I remember because my mom went to the principal’s office and said, ‘My kid ain’t taking that. It’s stupid, it won’t tell you anything and it’ll just make him nervous.’ That was in the ’70s when you could talk like that.

I shudder to think that these tests are being used today to control where funding goes.

I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.

I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. I do know that.

This has been a horrible decade for teachers. I can’t imagine how demoralized you must feel. But I came here today to deliver an important message to you: As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up. And I’m not alone. There are millions of people just like me.

So the next time you’re feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated, or at the end of your rope; the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself called “overpaid;” the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policy that’s been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything. … Please know that there are millions of us behind you. You have an army of regular people standing right behind you, and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt. We love you, we thank you and we will always have your back.”

*Update – here’s the video of the speech. Thanks Neil Winton for tweeting the link.

Today, I was reminded of the important place teachers hold in student’s lives. I heard a voice say, “Hi Mrs. Luca, remember, me, Kirrily?” I did remember her, last name and all. Kirrily was a student I taught in my second year out of teacher’s college, 22 years ago. She was the lead in the school play I directed that year, and today she remembered the time we spent together. She introduced me to her son, and proudly told me the approach she takes to parenting her children, and she said it probably had something to do with the good teaching she received at school. No doubt it has a lot to do with the good parenting she received too, but it made me stop and think about the impact we have on young people’s lives. Kirrily is 38 now, but she remembered me fondly, as did I, her.

Thank you Matt Damon. Your words have meaning not only in your country, but in countries elsewhere too. Our political power players need reminding of the prescient need for our children to be creative, to love learning, to be curious, to be passionate about what excites them. Shading in yet another bubble on an out of context test paper, and prepping for weeks in advance to ensure they get it right so that a school looks the goods on the My School site, is not going to produce the citizens this country needs.

School’s out Friday

I’ve just returned home from a trivia night at my son’s school, where my table performed pretty well. I love a good trivia night-  it’s the information junkie within me who enjoys the challenge of a random question or two thrown my way. On one round we missed out on full points by half a point because I couldn’t for the life of me remember the name of the band who sang ‘Jump‘, the video featured above. I managed to drag out of the recesses of my brain the lead singer’s name, David Lee Roth, but Van Halen eluded me. It frustrated me no end when Van Halen came to me just as they were about to announce the correct answer! It was loads of fun anyway, just the thing for someone like me who has hoarded tonnes of trivial information away in my brain cells, with their only real function being the perfect fodder for such a thing as a trivia night.

Hopefully this weekend will see me get a couple of posts up here. I’ve lost my blogging mojo of late, and really need to get it back. I’ve got plenty to say, but I’m finding the writing process stalling on me, and for the first time ever, I have half finished draft posts awaiting completion. I still feel like I’ve got plenty to say, but I just don’t seem to have the motivation to get fingers to keyboard. I’m going to try and push myself this weekend to get those draft posts published.

Wish me luck! Enjoy whatever comes your way this weekend. Hope it involves sunshine and a good cuppa (or maybe a glass of the good stuff).  : )

School’s out Friday

I’ve returned from a really wonderful holiday in Port Douglas with my family. We had the opportunity to visit the Great Barrier Reef where we snorkeled amongst the coral and fascinating sea life. I didn’t encounter any creatures quite like those featured in the video above, but I did see a truly marvellous array of colourful sea life, all basking in their own private world and probably none too thrilled about the intrusion of human forms into that idyllic space.

At this time of year, humpback whales are migrating along the coast of Far North Queensland, and we were hoping we would have the opportunity to see one. On the boat ride out to the reef, I thought I saw a large shape in the water further out, and they stopped the boat trying to spot it. Rather embarrassingly, there was nothing there. On the way back I thought I saw another shape in the water, and once again, other passengers were fixated on the spot, until we were informed by the crew that it was a reef with waves washing over it. Yet another embarrassing moment! After this, I gave up on the whale spotting, figuring there would be no encounters for us.

Literally no more than 10 minutes later, the boat pulled up and we were in the midst of a pod of humpbacks who were rising out of the water and giving us all an opportunity to marvel at their size, especially their magnificent tails as they arced down into the depths. At one stage, we were privy to 8 or so dolphins rising in unison through the waves, and then a humpback rose alongside them right next to our boat. My son was lucky enough to capture a really clear sight of the barnacles and scratches on its skin. It was a display of nature at its finest, and it was truly humbling to be there to witness it. There was this feeling of camaraderie amongst those of us viewing these whales; I think there was a collective feeling of exuberance, but also a sense that we were privileged to be in the company of such creatures. It certainly made an already wonderful day even more memorable!

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and it’s the end of my school holiday break. I can’t complain, because I am fortunate to teach in a school that gives us a three week break at this time of the year. I feel refreshed and invigorated, ready to meet the demands of term three.

I hope you’re ready to meet the demands of your weekend, and truly hope that it brings mirth and merriment for you. Enjoy!

School’s out Friday

I’m in Port Douglas, having a much needed break with my family, so this will be a short and sweet School’s out Friday post. I’m sure you’ll be amazed to hear that I have been offline for much of the last three days, and I’ve loved every minute of it. Life does continue unplugged, and I’m enjoying the less frenetic pace of life where my biggest decision surrounds where we will eat dinner.

I have to thank my parents, in-laws, and great friend Helen, who are looking after our much loved animals and ensuring we cam travel knowing they are being cared for. My son has quizzed me every day wanting me to ring to see how they are faring. When you love your animals, travel can be stressful if you think they are not being properly cared for. I know ours are, and am so grateful to the people who help us have that peace of mind.

I’m not sure if this video will embed because I’m relying on my iPad to get this post written, so please forgive me if it doesn’t. I’m sure you’ll forgive Noni Hazelhurst too, as she reads Adam Mansbach’s “Go the #%$# to sleep’. If you’re a parent, I think you’ll relate. I’m grateful my kids are past this point!

I’ll be enjoying the rest of my stay in Port Douglas, and I’ll be offline for most of it. I hope the weekend ahead is a good one for you.


School’s out Friday

George Couras sent our a tweet this week to this Google Chrome video. It’s the embodiment of what the Web allows; the crowdsourcing of material inspired by someone who has the ability to inspire and motivate people to create content. In this case it’s Lady Gaga, someone who understands that you don’t need record companies to spend millions of dollars promoting your material now. If you’re smart, you engage your audience, you talk to them through channels of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and you make them feel like they matter to you. Your fans feel like they have a personal connection to you, and they promote your product and make you a superstar in the process. Lady Gaga gets this. So does Justin Beiber, and from the Black Eyed Peas. If you’re an aspiring musician, you better start understanding how social media works, because if you’re going to make it big, you need to find and talk to your audience, and get them to do the promotion that record companies did in the past.

How clever of Google to link with Lady Gaga to promote their products. They are a company working very hard right now to crowdsource users to promote Google+, their new social network going up against the monolith that is Facebook. I wrote a post earlier this week talking of how I don’t think I can manage another social network. It took all of two days for me to succumb to the lure of Google+.

Pathetic, isn’t it.

I still don’t think there is room in my life for another social network, but I have to say there are some things about Google+ that I do like. The circles feature, where you group people into categories, is something I like. You can post content in your stream to specific circles and I like the perceived element of control that appears to come with that. I tried out Google Hangouts with a group including Joyce Valenza, Judy O’Connell, Cathy Jo Nelson, Linda Nitsche, Rob Darrow and Chris Betcher the other morning(see screenshot below). It worked really seamlessly. We could all see and hear one another – there was very little lag and you could conduct a conversation just like you were hanging out with this group in any social setting. No-one had to pick up the microphone like you do in Elluminate; it was a much more natural experience. There are so many possibilities here for education. If you can create circles for specific groups of students, you eliminate the problems that come with sharing content across all of your social groupings. Can you imagine end of year revision before VCE exams taking place in a Google hangout? I can. At the moment, there is no ability to upload a presentation or share a screen, and it’s limited to 10 people. If they work on it though, this presents a real challenge to a company like Blackboard that recently acquired Elluminate.

Thank goodness Google released Google+ while we are on school holidays here in Australia. It’s given me a bit of room to play. Next Wednesday, I leave for Port Douglas with my family on a much needed holiday. While I have no doubt I will check into my networks, I intend to do the right thing by my husband and kids and focus on them. There may not even be a School’s out Friday posting next week!

(And just for a bit of sheer indulgence, take a look at Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera singing ‘Moves like Jagger’, my favourite song right now.)

Have a great weekend. I’ll try not to play too much with Google+!

Creative Commons help from New Zealand

Our close neighbours from New Zealand have been busy producing some fine resources to help us all teach the fundamental understandings of how Creative Commons licenses work.

This terrific little video
was made by Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand, with support from InternetNZ, and is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 New Zealand licence. It’s a project of the Royal Society of New Zealand and was produced by Mohawk Media. I’ll definitely be using it with classes to help them understand why we should be thinking about Creative Commons licensing of work we use and produce. It’s a damn sight better than me barking on!

Creative Commons Kiwi from CreativeCommons AotearoaNZ on Vimeo.

Another very handy resource comes from Derek Wenmoth, CORE Education’s Director of eLearning. (You’ll have to visit the link; it won’t embed here) Derek had the opportunity to interview Lawrence Lessig, one of the founders of the Creative Commons organisation. Lawrence explains why educators and students should be thinking about usage rights and mentions how search engines like Google and Bing don’t make it easy to search for Creative Commons material. It’s one of my most vocal criticisms of those search engines too – surely the option to find CC material should be accessible from their front pages, and not hidden in advanced search options.

Thanks very much to our friends from New Zealand for providing us with resources we can use in our programs.

HTML and CSS from the beginning – Week 3 & 4 reflection (and public failure!)

A graphical despiction of a very simple html d...
Image via Wikipedia

Have you ever declared something in a public place and then lived to regret you ever said it?

I’m sure plenty of you have, so you’ll be able to empathise with me as I declare here and now that I have failed spectacularly at the P2PU course I enrolled in.

So, what went wrong?

I think I overestimated my ability to commit time to learning something that is totally new to me and requires so much concentration. I find it hard enough committing time to writing here when I’m working full time and trying to do my best by my workplace and my family. Taking on a whole new set of tasks just kept falling by the wayside.

I was also completely overwhelmed by the discussions taking place in the Google site that was set up to support the project. It seems like most of the regular contributors were already Web developers whose skill set far surpassed mine. Many were already talking about CSS in the early stages when we were learning basic HTML. I felt intimidated and just kept out of discussions because, quite frankly, I had nothing of value to add.

When I did express my failure within the group, Jamie Curle, the course organiser, was very supportive and encouraged me to take things at my own speed. I felt supported, and want to thank Jamie for that.

I did learn quite a lot throughout the process, but more about me and how I prefer to learn and less about code! There were no webinars supporting this course, and I felt like a committed time where I had to sit down and devote myself to taking information in would have been helpful for me. Really early on I was struggling with some basic questions I needed answered, but they seemed so lame I didn’t want to ask them in the google site because I was watching threads that were way above my level of understanding. I needed a reference point where terms were explained, but really, I could have sourced this myself.

This is probably one of the first times I have been intimidated by course content, and I took the tack of ‘push it to the back of the list of things to do’ rather than meeting it head on. I’ve watched students take this course of action over my many years of teaching, but now I feel like I truly understand why they do so. It’s not a good feeling being out of your depth. This experience will certainly help me to have greater empathy with students encountering difficulties, and hopefully I’ll be more open to varying the ways I deliver instruction.

Today Jamie announced that the course is ending before the CSS part begins, because he is having difficulty managing the preparation and follow up needed for the course, along with the demands his own design business.  For me, a relief, for others, disappointing. I totally understand where Jamie is coming from. There comes a time when you need to look after yourself and your own mental health. I have over-committed myself in recent years, and this year made a determined effort to pull back a bit. I think it’s made a difference to my interactions with those closest to me and that’s important. Hopefully Jamie will feel that his decision has been a positive one for him personally.

So there you have it, public failure I am.

But that’s OK. I’ll live on to see another day, and maybe one day the opportunity will arise where I can immerse myself totally in understanding the basics of coding. In the meantime, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for an intensive workshop in some exotic location somewhere warm!

How many networks can a regular person maintain?

I think I fall into the category of regular person.

Married, two kids, full time job.

So, as a regular person, just how many social networks can I maintain?

In my case, not many. In fact, I’d say I can only really manage one effectively.

At the moment, the network I maintain is Twitter. Aside from this blog, it’s where I share my thinking and try and spread what I learn to others. It’s where I learn from others. It’s where I spend quite a bit of time, much to the chagrin of my family on more than the odd occasion. And it’s not what I’d describe as a social network, I use it for professional learning. (but really, the lines are blurring there – professional is becoming social. Let’s face it, I spend quite a bit of time there.)

So, when Google announced their new social network, Google+, I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down with excitement. When Google Buzz was announced, I was super keen to get on the bus. But the gloss of the new has worn off. I don’t have a Google+ invite, and nor do I want one just yet. I’m happy for everyone else to figure out how it works (thanks Doug Peterson : )), and save me all the time and commitment I’d need to put into working out the kinks. If I find a large number of my network moving to the space, then I expect I’ll move there too. It’s the nature of networks; you move to where the people you interact with are.

I don’t know how I’ll manage if Twitter and Google+ co-exist and they both are significant. I really can’t afford to spend any more time online. If I do, then I think my husband will seriously consider shutting down internet access to our home. If they integrate, then I stand a chance.

What about you? Are you able to successfully maintain more than one social/professional network? Did Google+ fill you with elation, or dread?

School’s out Friday

Improveverywhere’s latest mission took place on June 27th and was located in Bryant Park, New York City. It looks like a lovely day there. My experience of Bryant Park was in the dead of winter, just as they were disassembling a portable ice rink! It was freezing cold; nothing like the delights of summer on show in their latest video.

It certainly is a genuine School’s out Friday this week. Victorian school holidays have just begun, and I am fortunate enough to be looking in the eye of three weeks of holiday bliss ahead of me. One of those weeks will see my family venture to Port Douglas, a lovely holiday location in the state of Queensland, closer to the equator and warm at this time of year. Cannot wait to soak in some sunshine and feel warmth in my bones!

So, the weekend ahead will be relished, deep in the knowledge that I can sleep in Monday morning too!

Enjoy your weekend. Hope it’s a good one. : )