Something old, something new…

There are changes happening in my life. For those of you who jump to conclusions, yes, I do suspect that I’m approaching the dawn of menopause, but that’s not the change I’m talking about here.

The something old is that I’m not changing schools – I’m still going to be at Toorak College.

The something new is that I am changing jobs at Toorak College in 2013. Starting next school year, I’ll be taking on the position of Director of ICT and eLearning. This is a new position at our school, one that will embrace and help to realise our school vision and mission statements.


Achieving excellence, inspiring future lives.


We lead excellence in education and provide innovative learning opportunities for individuals, to strive to achieve their ambitions in a connected, welcoming environment.

While I am genuinely sad to be leaving my position as Head of Information Services, nothing will change the fact that I am, and always will be, a Teacher-Librarian. I will be taking all of my skills as an information professional to this new position, and the Library at Toorak College will continue to be a driving force implementing change and the integration of new ways of utilising the Web as a powerful tool for connection and learning purposes.

I am very excited to have the opportunity to lead change in what is an Executive level position at my school. Not only that, I am very proud of all that I have done as a self directed learner to have the skill set to take this position on. The following tweet that found its way into my Twitter stream today embodies my story, and what I hope I will be able to do for the staff at my school.

I have only been at this game seriously for the last five years. But what a five years they’ve been. I’ve got a pretty steep learning curve ahead of me I know, but I feel well rehearsed in the learning stakes to take the challenge on.

School’s out Friday

As part of the the follow up to the Project Based Learning task my Year 10 class have just completed, we reviewed the identified 10 skills for the future workplace as identified in the Future Work Skills- 2020 report. In the course of our discussion, we talked about the use of robot seals in Nursing Homes in Japan and the possible impact robot technology would have on jobs that are currently performed by human beings right now. Tonight I came across the video featured above on Reddit. It’s further proof that robot technology is powering along and will have an impact on the way we live our lives. After a big week at work, I wouldn’t mind a few Swarm Robots cooperating with an AR Drone to perform some household tasks for me and free my weekends up for the finer things in life!

Early to bed for me. I stayed up very late last night writing a post for the ABC Splash site and my eyes can take no more.

Enjoy your weekend. Find some sun. Maybe some good wine too. I’m hoping to. ūüôā

School’s out Friday

I’m not interested in Felix Baumgartner‘s sponsorship deal with RedBull, but I am interested in what it is that possesses someone to ascend to a height of of 39,045 meters (128,100 feet) in 3 hours in a helium-filled balloon, and then willingly jump out of the craft to freefall for as long as you possibly can until opening your parachute.

I’m also interested in who the people are who wait for events like this so they can then recreate them in Lego, and post the video on YouTube only hours after the moment has passed. What I do know is, these are people with far more time on their hands than me!

I’ve been home now an hour or so after our school’s Speech Night recognising academic achievement over the school year. It was a wonderful evening and a true celebration of the community that makes up a school. I always feel so fortunate to be in a position where I can share in the lives of young people. I’m pretty sure that for many teachers, we feel positive about the future knowing that these people we teach are going to be helping to shape it.

Time for sleep methinks. Here’s hoping for a sunny day over the weekend, one where I can warm my bones and renew my energy levels. Here’s hoping the same holds true for you, wherever you reside. ūüôā

Managing your digital footprint with Year 8

Last Thursday I ran a session with our Yr 8 cohort to cover some aspects of what is required to be a mindful digital citizen and take responsibility for managing your digital footprint. We started with a video I featured on School’s out Friday a week or so ago.

It’s an attention grabber, that’s for sure. I like to use video to start a session; it pulls their attention in and helps get the students focused. A hand was raised immediately following with a student asking was all of this information obtainable through Facebook. I’ve found that students tend to think about what they are sharing in spaces like Facebook, but they aren’t so conscious of the dangers of sharing details across sites that are not http secure. I asked how many of them know what https means and if they are conscious of this when they are purchasing items online. Three hands were raised, and two of those belonged to teachers in the room!! If you’re not sure what it is, here’s part of the description from the Wikipedia page about it.

In its popular deployment on the internet, HTTPS provides authentication of the web site and associated web server that one is communicating with, which protects against Man-in-the-middle attacks. Additionally, it provides bidirectional encryption of communications between a client and server, which protects against eavesdropping and tampering with and/or forging the contents of the communication.[1] In practice, this provides a reasonable guarantee that one is communicating with precisely the web site that one intended to communicate with (as opposed to an impostor), as well as ensuring that the contents of communications between the user and site cannot be read or forged by any third party.

This was news to the vast majority of students in the room and had many of them very concerned about their use of sites where they purchase clothes and shoes. I shared with them the story of my daughter requesting a pair of shoes from a site, and me saying ‘no way’ because it was a http site and not https. Many of them were on their way home that evening ready to check the sites they’ve been using. Once again, the experience had me wondering just what proportion of our populations have any idea about things like this, and if they don’t, who is going to be helping them to understand it. We need to be covering information like this, just as much as we do informing our students about the dangers of oversharing pictures and personal information.

I had the students working in groups using old fashioned poster paper and textas to write their definition of, ‘What is a digital footprint’ and tips they would give to others to manage it effectively. They shared what they’d written in a discussion and I was pleasantly pleased to hear them articulate some of the messages we have been reinforcing with our use of student blogs throughout the school. We used the following CommonSenseMedia video to help cement what they’d been sharing. It was perfect for a Year 8 audience.

Following this, we looked at the following video from Thinkuknow UK. It’s a bit more heavy handed in its message, but these are important lessons for kids who are heading towards fifteen. I heard many students saying ‘this is creepy’ but they were taking this message in and I’m sure it had them thinking.

At the end of the session I reinforced with them they we were not discouraging their use of social media. It’s a reality of the world we live in and if our students use it mindfully it can be a very positive element in their lives. To finish the session, I took them through Google Alerts and encouraged them to set one up for their name so that they could try to monitor new content that was appearing in the Google Search engine under their name. Of course, it’s not so effective for students with relatively common names, but it’s a handy thing to know about and they can use it to track research topics for projects they are doing as well.

Sessions like this are important for the kids we teach. Thank goodness we have some really fabulous organisations around the world making useful videos to help us deliver the message.



School’s out Friday

Been struggling to find a video for this week. I found this one on the ‘Best ads on TV’ site, and I watched six others before settling on this. I do like the Snickers Ads, and we’ve even entertained the idea of having some Snickers on hand in our school library so we can hand them to kids when they’re just not feeling themselves on any particular day. (Note – this idea was from Natalie, our wonderful library technician – she’s full of great ideas!) Libraries tend to be places where kids come and share things about themselves that aren’t necessarily related to curriculum. It’s vitally important that they interact with people who are kind and have a listening ear – having a snickers on hand can’t be a bad thing either!

We all have days like this. I’m having one today. There’s an important task I need to get done, and I’m struggling finding a way in to it. It’s causing me unnecessary anxiety – I’ve got that tense feeling in my chest and it’s uncomfortable. Hopefully I can get through the mental block I’m experiencing and get it completed. I really would like to enjoy this last weekend before a return to work on Monday. Maybe I just need a Snickers!

Enjoy your weekend. I will once I get this task completed! ūüôā

Project Based Learning – giving it a go in an English Classroom

I’ve been reading about¬†Project Based Learning¬†for some time now, and struggled trying to find a way to integrate this kind of pedagogy into my regular classroom practice. I think I do a fairly good job of challenging my students and getting them to think beyond the obvious, but my English classes do tend to follow what would be perceived as traditional structure.

This last term we studied Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. We did make a decision early on to plan the unit using the principles of¬†Understanding by Design, and this meant we had a driving question to help us focus. Our question was, ‘What drives the choices we make?’ ¬†It took us some time to get to this question in one of our planning sessions, but I’m so glad we went to the effort of doing this. I referred to this constantly throughout our study and it really helped the students to think carefully about the motivations of ¬†the characters and the circumstances surrounding the tragic outcome of the play. I’m not ashamed of saying that my instruction involved some fairly explicit teaching in that we examined the text thoroughly and focused on key scenes. Our classroom was full of spirited discussion and some moments where we employed drama techniques, but our intent was to understand the complexities of the play in order to respond effectively in a text response essay at the completion of our study. That my students did, and quite impressively I might add.

For the last two weeks of term, we’d decided that we would try and have them do something creative in response to Romeo and Juliet, and have them work on a multimodal task as per the requirements of¬†Australian Curriculum. Specifically, we were looking at the following content descriptions and achievement standard:


Interacting with others:

Identify and explore the purposes and effects of different text structures and language features of spoken texts, and use this knowledge to create purposeful texts that inform, persuade and engage (ACELY1750)

Elaborations: ·  applying knowledge of spoken, visual, auditory, technical and multimodal resources (for example sound and silence, camera shot types, lighting and colour) in conjunction with verbal resources for varying purposes and contexts

  • selecting subject matter and language to position readers to accept representations of people, events, ideas and information

Plan, rehearse and deliver presentations, selecting and sequencing appropriate content and multimodal elements to influence a course of action (ACELY1751)

Elaborations: using assumptions about listeners, viewers and readers to try to position them to accept a particular point of view

Create texts:

Use a range of software, including word processing programs, confidently, flexibly and imaginatively to create, edit and publish texts, considering the identified purpose and the characteristics of the user (ACELY1776)

Elaborations: designing a webpage that combines navigation, text, sound and moving and still images for a specific audience

Create sustained texts, including texts that combine specific digital or media content, for imaginative, informative, or persuasive purposes that reflect upon challenging and complex issues (ACELY1756)

Elaborations: creating spoken, written and multimodal texts that compel readers to empathise with the ideas and emotions expressed or implied.

Achievement standard:¬†Students¬†create¬†a wide range of¬†texts¬†to articulate complex ideas. They make presentations and contribute actively to class and group discussions, building on others’ ideas, solving problems, justifying opinions and developing and expanding arguments.

Now, our usual course of action would have been to develop a task and have the kids make some choices about what presentation method they would use to explore it, and our focus in terms of assessment would have been on the outcome. I’m sure we’ve all been there. You have your students working in groups, but invariably there is one group member who either chooses to do the bulk of the work because they want to achieve a good result and can’t bear to have the rest of the group let them down, or someone gets left to carry the can for members who slack off. In these kinds of instances I have marked group members differently, but it is sometimes difficult to ascertain who has done what, particularly if they’re working in friendship groups and they don’t want to fracture the relationship so they cover for the group members who aren’t really pulling their weight.

My reading in relation to Project Based Learning told me there was another way, so I did what comes naturally to me and I suggested to the other team members that we try something different with this and give PBL a go. For those of you with no concept of PBL, here’s some information from the Buck Institute site that outlines¬†features of a PBL unit:

A ‚ÄúMain Course‚ÄĚ project:

  • is intended to teach significant content.
  • requires critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication.
  • requires inquiry as part of the process of learning and creating something new.
  • is organized around an open-ended Driving Question.
  • creates a need to know essential content and skills.
  • allows some degree of student voice and choice.
  • includes processes for revision and reflection.
  • involves a public audience.

These points are elaborated here РI suggest you take a look.

For the other teachers I was working with this was their first exposure to the ideas surrounding PBL, so we spent one of our planning sessions with me sending them links to the writings of¬†Bianca Hewes, an English teacher in Sydney who uses PBL extensively in her classroom, and to the¬†Buck Institute site, where once you’ve registered (it’s free), you gain access to a range of curriculum resources to help guide you through the process. After we’d looked at the¬†collaboration and presentation rubrics, we could see that this was a far better approach than the usual multimodal task. The reality for us was that this was going to be an assessment task, only this time what we’d be doing is assessing collaborative skills and the process that leads to the outcome; a far better way of measuring student input and one that ensured we could assess students based on their contribution.

A good PBL task has a ‘hook’ lesson to get the kids motivated. We knew we needed to convince our students that what they were going to be doing was of benefit to them, so we focused on a report called ‘Future Work Skills – 2020‘,¬†that was published at the end of of 2011 by the Institute for the Future for the University of Phoenix Research Institute. I suggest you take a read of the report. The¬†following visual¬†(perhaps a little difficult to read here) is a representation of the ideas contained in the report.

I think it was really useful using this with our students. It certainly got them thinking and provoked some spirited discussion. It’s also something I intend to revisit with them at the end of this task so we can evaluate what key skills we’ve addressed throughout the course of our PBL task.

Our driving question came into good use once again, and became the basis for the task. Here’s what we used with our students to help them get a handle on what they were going to be doing:

We have just finished our study of William Shakespeare‚Äôs ‚ÄėRomeo and Juliet‚Äô. While we were investigating the play, we used the following driving question to frame some of our discussion:

What drives the choices we make?

Working in groups, you are going to be creating some form of multimodal response to this driving question. You can use some of the ideas presented from ‚ÄėRomeo and Juliet‚Äô to frame your project, or you can take your project in a direction decided upon by members of your group.

Because we are studying English, we would like to see you incorporating writing, speaking and visual components to your task. Think about the following essential questions to help you develop a creative artifact:

‚ÄėA choice made today, will affect our lives tomorrow.‚Äô

‚ÄėWhat are the consequences of choosing wisely, or unwisely?‚Äô

 To help get you and your group started, use this thinking routine to start generating some ideas:

  1. What do you think you know about this topic?
  2. What questions or puzzles do you have?
  3. How can you explore this topic?

Think about the skill set of the members of your group. How can the differing skills members of your group have help you develop an artifact from your investigation?

Our next three weeks of classes will be structured like this:

Week 1 ‚Äď Investigation

Week 2 ‚Äď Process

Week 3 ‚Äď Presentation

We will be looking very closely at developing in you what are considered 21st century skills:

critical & creative thinking, collaboration, self monitoring and self direction, leadership and project management skills.

I was concerned about grouping the students. Should we let them choose, or choose for them. After asking my Twitter network, it became clear that making the decision about groupings ourselves was going to be the way to go. This way, they’d be assured of having to work collaboratively with people outside of the normal social groupings they gravitate to. I decided to make groups of three, and this has worked very well.

Giving the students the task as outlined above was an interesting exercise. They were already sitting in their groups and watching their approaches to what they’d been presented with was eye opening. Some groups settled down to proactive discussion immediately, while others floundered with the lack of parameters surrounding the task. This is where you as a teacher really need to be on your game. This was definitely not a time to be watching events unfold. It was a time to be circulating, checking in, watching for cues that some weren’t comfortable. The¬†thinking routine¬†helped some groups focus, but other groups had students who were expressing agitation at the open nature of the task.¬†These students in particular needed reassurance and reminding that this was something they needed to be shaping -they needed to be thinking about the course they could take and engaging in discourse to help ideas form.

The formation of ideas for each group’s PBL task extended into a second lesson the following day. One of my students entered the room visibly unhappy about the task. She was one of the most capable students, but was finding this a real struggle. I was concerned, but 10 minutes into the lesson I looked over to that group and was amazed to see smiles and animated discussion taking place. I moved over and asked what had transpired to change the mood. “We’ve got an idea!”, was the reply, and they were excitedly tossing around what they might do to make their idea a reality. To focus this session, I used the¬†‘Compass Points’ thinking routine¬† from the¬†Visible Thinking site¬†for examining propositions.

  1. E = Excited
    What excites you about this idea or proposition? What’s the upside?
  2. W = Worrisome 
    What do you find worrisome about this idea or proposition? What’s the downside?
  3. N = Need to Know
    What else do you need to know or find out about this idea or proposition? What additional information would help you to evaluate things?
  4. S = Stance or Suggestion for Moving Forward
    What is your current stance or opinion on the idea or proposition? How might you move forward in your evaluation of this idea or proposition?

I was doing a lot of circulating at this stage and monitoring progress. Two groups were working well, but were struggling to come up with a concrete idea. I asked if it would help if they heard from other groups about what their ideas were, and they were really interested in doing this. So a sharing session ensued and this helped these groups get a handle on the direction others were taking and seeded ideas for their own approach. One group needed more direction, and I sat down with them and talked through what the strengths of the participants were. This helped them narrow an idea down to something that drew from these skill sets.

What was reassuring during these sessions was hearing some students express excitement about what they doing. One group in particular who formulated their idea really early, were just buzzing with the possibilities of what they would do and what the outcomes might be. One of these students was someone who had seemed tuned out during our exploration of Romeo and Juliet, and yet here she was now, animated and driving discussion. One of the most powerful things this experience has shown me is the way some students power the group, and quite often, they’ve been students who have not necessarily been the shining lights in other classroom tasks. I’m getting insights into students that I wouldn’t have gleaned unless we were doing a task designed this way.

Now, where’s the technology in all this you may ask? It’s sitting right alongside and working as an enabler and facilitator. We’re using¬†Edmodo¬†as our virtual collaborative sharing space. All the students have joined the group I’ve created using the group code you get when you create one, and I’ve created small groups within this group to help them discuss ideas outside of class time. When you’re the teacher, you automatically become a member of each group when they’re formed and the space is visible only to members of that group. ¬†I’ve made the students aware that I’ll be watching these group spaces carefully as it’s another sign of their collaborative efforts and will help with the assessment end of things. Again, it’s been interesting seeing who is sharing in these spaces and how the groups are using them for communication. One group is using a Google Doc for collaborative purposes and has it linked to their group. Their honesty is apparent in their reflections – for the most part, they’re certainly not afraid of acknowledging both their strengths and weaknesses.

As a teacher, I’ve been working hard. This is no ‘sit back and let it all unfold before your eyes’ kind of activity. This is constant checking, questioning, supporting, encouraging, monitoring kind of work. My energy levels need to be high so that I can keep their energy levels high. For the last two weeks of term as we worked on the investigation and process phase, I was chasing links in my Twitter stream and finding ways to connect them to our driving question, and was pouring over YouTube videos looking for examples of collaboration to help get across to them the importance of a group working as a team. Here’s one we looked at that really got us talking.

What’s been incredibly encouraging is the spoken feedback I’m getting from students. I’ve heard some say they are enjoying the challenge of thinking, of directing their own learning, of working with people they don’t normally mix with. One student stayed back after class to tell me how much she was enjoying learning this way and that she’d never thought it would be possible to work like this in an English classroom. Many are excited about their ideas and are genuinely interested in seeing them come to fruition and sharing their artifact with others. Most of them have structured manageable tasks, but some have been ambitious. I’ve made a point of saying to them repeatedly that it’s the collaborative work and process that is important here, and if what they come up with falls short of their plans due to time restraints, it’s still possible to do very well on this task if they have done what is expected from them. As teachers, we decided to weight collaboration most heavily for their assessment and the students know this. They’ve been provided with the assessment breakdown so they know what they are working towards.

And that brings me to what I think is probably the most important element of this PBL task. Our classroom climate and their level of trust in me. I work incredibly hard in my classes to establish a respectful classroom climate where sharing is encouraged. I try to take an interest in my students and develop positive relationships with every one of them. This doesn’t mean I’m a pushover – far from it. I have high standards and expect all of them to work to their best of their ability, and I’ll ride them if they falter in this. My feeling is that there is trust in our classroom. They know I’m working hard for them and they trust me to make the right call in relation to their performance. If we didn’t have this, I’m not sure I’d be feeling so positive about this task, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be either.

It’s not over. We’ve had the school holiday break happening now and some of the groups are in the process of creating their videos, testing their theories, writing their blog posts, making their books, interviewing their subjects and whatever other method of capture for their ideas they’ve come up with. When we return, it’s to a lesson where they can come together as a team again to plan their presentation that will take place in the first week back. We’ve asked them to think about audience, and have suggested they invite people in to view their presentations to meet the requirement of having a public audience. I’m not sure if this is going to happen for all groups, but we have organised for a combined session where the Yr 10 cohort will come together as a group and each small group can showcase something from their task they’d like to share with everyone. I am very much looking forward to seeing their completed tasks – spending time with them all in their investigation and process stages has me excited about the possibilities of what sharing will take place in the presentation phase.

From my perspective, this has been one of the most rewarding activities I’ve been involved in this year. I’m invested in it and can feel that passion for what I do apparent when I’m interacting with the students. I’m not sure if what we’ve done is entirely true to PBL, but I do know we’ve done our level best to understand the process and try and make it happen. It’s exciting and it’s meeting some of the achievement standards of the¬†Australian Curriculum for Yr 10 English¬†as well as quite a few of the elements of the General Capabilities. Once again, my thanks go to¬†Bianca Hewes¬†for being such an inspiration and for helping me to see how PBL can fit into the structure of our curriculum. I’ll keep you posted as to what transpires when I return to school next week.