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.

Participatory learning – the Ning steps up a notch.

I read a very interesting report earlier this week that I mentioned in one of my last posts. It was called ‘The Future of Learning Institutions in the Digital Age’. It is  an interesting read and even though it is primarily focused on higher education, it has parallels with the work we do with students at secondary level.

This paragraph rang true for me;

Every university in the global north, of course, is spending large sums of money revamping its technology offerings, creating great wired spaces where all forms of media can be accessed from the classroom. But how many have actually rethought the modes of organization, the structures of knowledge, and the relationships between and among groups of students, faculty, and others across campus or around the world? That larger challenge—to harness and focus the participatory learning methods in which our students are so accomplished—is only now beginning to be introduced and typically in relatively rare and isolated formats.

It made me think of the Digital Revolution rollout of netbook computers and infrastructure happening now. While creating technology rich environments is important in today’s world, supporting them with teacher professional development to make the most of participatory learning opportunities is vital. I’m not convinced that that part of the process has been thought through.

Which brings me to our Yr 9 Ning. This platform came out of our participation in Professional Development (Powerful Learning Practice). For us,  it’s been a great week in our Year 9 Ning. Participatory learning has certainly been at a premium.

I’ve mentioned in recent times our study of Michael Gerard Bauer’s ‘The Running Man’ and our visit from Vietnam veteran Barry Heard. Well, last weekend both Michael and Barry  joined our Ning and they have been responding to reflections and questions posed by our students.  

It’s been a great learning experience for all of us. Both Barry and Michael have been very generous with their time, and have, I think, surprised our students with their presence.  The day after Michael and Barry started contributing we opened our class with a visit to the Ning. The look on some of the students’ faces was priceless. They really didn’t think that we would have real life authors make an appearance! Some of them felt a little intimidated when it came to posting a question. They were worried their question would seem trivial or unimportant and not worthy as a result. One of the ways we overcame this was to have us brainstorm a list of questions and have one student post them on behalf of the group.

Barry left a comment for every student who had posted a comment in one of the forum topics that had been posted after his talk. Each was a personalised response. I know how busy Barry is and want to publicly thank him for his efforts.  

Michael has visited frequently over the week and I want to publicly thank him too. He was posting comments from an internet cafe in Adelaide and let the girls know this in his comments. (He was there last week visiting schools.) Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday he was in the Ning helping us out with our understanding. He visited again on Saturday and even uploaded a picture of the visual he made reference to in the novel when Tom Leyton had a picture of Frankenstein pinned on his wall. I’ve been overwhelmed by his efforts. Perhaps the best way to give you an indication of the quality of this interaction is to show you a student comment and Michael’s reply (I hope Michael is OK with this!);

Hi Michael,
My name is *****and I must say I really enjoyed reading your book. Most school books don’t feel like actual stories that you can really get into, because you just know that you have to read it for school. However, your book was wonderful!

When I was reading it, I forgot that I had to read it for school and I kept picking it up because I wanted to, not because I had to. Thankyou so much for that.
I’ve also been reading your replies to other girls and you have answered sooo many of my questions and I’m so thankful. Like ***** said, you’ve really helped us to understand the book so much more.

A question for you, I think I better ask you one to keep the ‘flow of the ning’ going. I know it’s a bit off the topic of ‘The Running Man’ but anyway…

When you’re writing, do you see the story in your mind, like it’s already a book that you’re reading yourself?
I love writing fictional stories and while I write I see, almost like little clips from a movie of my story, in my mind.
I’m just curious to see, if it’s something you do too, or maybe it’s just my weird mind!


P.S. I did spot the ‘Leighton’ in the story. My friend and I came across it and we had a little giggle 🙂  

Michael’s reply;

Hi *****

Thanks you so much for those lovely comments. I am so glad you enjoyed the book.
That’s a great question about ‘seeing the story in your mind’. I think you and I are exactly the same when we write. I have used the same description you did of writing being like seeing part of a movie. Often I ‘replay’ a scene over and over in my mind until something makes it click on to the next scene. When I write I imagine what I’m trying to describe as a movie scene with certain camera angles, close ups etc. I’ve always said that I don’t feel so much like I’m creating something from nothing when I write or making it up but that I’m uncovering or discovering something that already exists somewhere – like the story is real and my job is to find it or see it. So no, I definitely don’t think it’s just your weird mind! (Of course it could be that we both have weird minds!)

Some people thought that different spelling of Leighton/Leyton was there on purpose. They thought it might have been symbolic or something. Nope, just a typo!

I think you can see the high level of interest from both student and author here.  

I read an article entitled ‘A book is a place’, by Bob Stein that appeared in ‘The Age’ newspaper here in Melbourne. In it, the writer speculated about the changing nature of the book and the resultant changes for authors as the book evolves in a participatory culture. Here is some of Bob’s thinking;

I was now thinking of a book as a place – a place where readers, and sometimes authors, congregate. Along with that came the realisation that this new formulation required a wholesale re-thinking of the roles of different players.

And this;

Essentially, authors are about to learn what musicians have grasped during the past 10 years – that they get paid to show up. For musicians, this means live performances account for an increasingly significant percentage of their income in contrast to ever-shrinking royalties from sales. With books, as we redefine content to include the conversation that grows up around the text, the author will increasingly be expected to be part of that ongoing conversation and, of course, expect to be paid for that effort.

What’s been happening in our Ning this week is part of this evolutionary process. Both Michael and Barry have been very obliging to experiment with the medium. Right now, this is a rarity. Not all that many schools (I don’t think!) would be exploring this kind of interaction using a platform like Ning. But this will change and so will the way authors respond to such requests. This potentially will become something controlled by agents with financial incentive for the authors.

Right now, I, and the students at my school, are incredibly grateful to two very committed and interested authors , who were willing to push the boundaries and engage with their audience via our Ning platform. Michael and Barry, you are true gentlemen!

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Students are doing it for themselves.

(sing the title to the Pointer Sister’s tune!)

I haven’t updated of late about the Year 9 Ning running across our four classrooms at Toorak College. Mostly that’s because life has been crazy for me and I haven’t had time to feed it to the extent that it needs in order for it to be a rich environment. One of the things I’ve learnt is that a Ning needs a leader to constantly drive momentum. It can’t survive with just a leader, the community needs to be plugging away too, but leadership is an essential component.

I wondered how things would go now that we are on school holidays. My prediction was that it would be quiet. We’ve been focused on assessment and end of term careers week and we didn’t get class time to prompt student involvement.  I figured this would translate into next to no activity.

Well, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. To start with, a fellow teacher uploaded a discussion about ‘Mid year holiday English fun’ and asked the students to reply to this;

What will you be up to during the winter break that is related to English?

* I’ll be curling up in front of the heater with a cat on my feet, cocoa with marshmallows in one hand, and a book in the other.
* I’ll also be visiting my local library to check out their new books
* I’m going to write in my diary
* I might go to see a play or a comedy show
* I’ll certainly be watching lots of movies!    

And yes, kids have been replying.

And then today, I got this email from one of my students;

My dad sent this to me and it is english related… i have also put it on the ning.

Now this is a student who was not particularly interested in the Ning at the start of the year. Here’ s what she posted as a discussion;

UP. A little word with a lot of meaning.



Lovers of the English language might enjoy this. It is yet another example of why people learning English have trouble with the language. Learning the nuances of English makes it a difficult language. (But then, that’s probably true of many languages.)

There is a two-letter word in English that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that word is ‘UP.’ It is listed in the dictionary as being used as an [adv], [prep], [adj], [n] or [v].

It’s easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP?
At a meeting, why does a topic come UP ? Why do we speak UP, and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report? We call UP our friends and we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver, we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car.
At other times the little word has a real special meaning. People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses.

To be dressed is one thing but to be dressed UP is special.

And this up is confusing:
A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP.

We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night. We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP !

To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP , look the word UP in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4 of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions

If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don’t give UP,you may wind UP with a hundred or more.

When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP . When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP. When it rains, it wets UP the earth. When it does not rain for awhile, things dry UP.

One could go on & on, but I’ll wrap it UP , for now …….my time is UP , so time to shut UP!

Oh….one more thing:
What is the first thing you do in the morning & the last thing you do at night?

U P 

Well, it’s made my day. It made me smile and it made me realise that the kids are connecting with this forum. The fact that a student who was disinterested in the beginning, now makes the connection between something her Dad sends her and the learning environment we have created at school is pretty darned impressive in my opinion.

I’m feeling UP about the Ning right now. Let’s see if the Ning can remain UP at the forefront of my students’ minds over a three week break.

Is Zac Efron Leonard Whiting’s love child?

Cover of "Romeo & Juliet"
Cover of Romeo & Juliet

Honestly, I’ve no idea, but the girls at my school are wondering.

This term we’re studying Romeo and Juliet in Yr 9 English. We’ve been sharing our thoughts about the play on our shared Ning and have watched the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli version of the play in class to help with our understanding. There’s no doubt tackling Shakespeare’s language is difficult when you first confront it; we have to be mindful that it is a play meant to be performed, not read.   

An observation we’ve made (and I have to admit I was the first to raise it with my class!) is the uncanny resemblance Zac Efron has to Leonard Whiting who plays Romeo in the 1968 film.  

I’ve been out to dinner tonight and took a look at the Ning when I got home to see if there was any activity I needed to follow up. What I discovered was a forum post that’s been added by the students, Leonard Whiting (Romeo) vs Zac Efron.  They’ve posed this question for consideration;

Were these two separated at birth? (Or father and son?)

and added attachments with pictures of Leonard and Zac.  So far seven students have replied. My favourite is this;

Totally, Leonard could be Zac’s Father…

and do you think that Romeo and Juliet and High School musical are related?

Now, some might say this isn’t the kind of discussion topic noteworthy of inclusion. I couldn’t disagree more. For a start, it was a discussion initiated by the students around something that has sprung from what we are doing at school. This isn’t the first time this has happened. The students are adding their own forum topics quite regularly.  What it is, is a demonstration of the community that has formed around this Ning. The students are using it as a focus point for discussion; they are relaxed in the space and feel at ease sharing their opinions.    

I love it. It’s confirmed for me once again why a participatory learning culture is important; we are human beings who need to interact, we don’t need to work in isolation and many of us don’t want to. Why should our classrooms operate as islands when we can form archipelagoes?   

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Stephen Downes – learning is distributed

I saw Stephen Downes present on Monday afternoon at Wesley College here in Melbourne. As I anticipated, it was an interesting and informative presentation focused on the importance of recognising that learning has become distributed. The message was that learning consists of interacting in communities of practice; we want students to engage with learning communities from an early age so they know how to navigate them, giving them the ability to take charge of their learning. 

You’ll get no argument from me in regards to that message. My engagement in these networks has led to enormous personal and professional growth. The challenge that exists is how to convince other teachers to join the show and then how we transfer this to the students we teach. I feel like I’m working towards the realisation of this for my students in as much as I’m testing out the formation of an internal learning community with our Yr 9 Ning. The sheer fact that I recognise that I need to find ways to extend the reach of my students by having them write in a hypertext environment puts me one step ahead of most I’d think.  I still have to work towards the realisation of that.

 I asked Stephen, “How do we scale teacher involvement”. His reply was model and demonstrate. I’m not entirely sure that the audience on Monday night were ready for the message. Stephen spoke about the formation of learning networks from an intellectual standpoint and I’m not sure that the audience came away realising that he was talking about the formation of human connections and not computer hardware connections. Perhaps modelling and demonstrating what one of these networks looks like would have been a wise move to get the audience understanding where he was coming from.

It was Stephen’s birthday and thanks to a Twitter connection I managed to go the dinner after the talk. At the end of the evening one of the people there asked me if I’d managed to get my work done during the presentation as I’d had my laptop out. When I explained that I’d been sending out tweets via Twitter about the presentation she was amazed. It brought home to me how many people really have little idea of these means of communication and just how much work needs to be done to help people gain an understanding of learning communities and the power of sharing ideas and insights.

Model and demonstrate. Let’s all remember that message and keep at it!

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So, how’s that ning going?

Some of you who have been reading here would be aware that I started a ning for the Year 9 English students at my school. When I started I told you I’d be checking in every now and then with a progress report.

So, here goes.

All told I’m pretty happy with the progress. Very nearly the entire year level is signed up; we’ve had hiccups with one class but they should be resolved next week. The students don’t all contribute, but we have some active users and some of them have continued to start forum topics with no prompting from staff members. 

One of the most popular forum topics relates to the novel Twilight. One of our teachers started it and it’s been popular with a wide range of students. It’s certainly been a means of forming the community. I like the fact that the students can see that we as staff can relate to their reading interests.

Certainly the staff involved have adopted it and are embedding it into their practice. When we meet as a team we discuss how we can use the ning to support our learning outcomes. In the coming weeks we intend to upload our issues topics as forum discussions and will encourage our students to post their opinions. We can see that this will offer students access to opposing points of view and will probably assist those students who are struggling with ideas.

Having YouTube videos easily accessible in the ning has been wonderful for just in time teaching moments. When we were discussing teenage pregnancy (a feature of our novel study of Bye, Beautiful)  I was able to flick into the videos page in the ning and show relevant videos that demonstrated the thinking of 1960’s Australia. I’ve been locating some music video clips that relate to Romeo and Juliet in preparation for our text study next term. You can see how many views each video has had which is useful in tracking student use of the ning. It’s clear that students have accessed these videos out of class time which is really pleasing.

The students like the fact that they have their own pages and can change their profiles. Latest activity in the ning often indicates they are leaving one another messages or updating their profile. I like the fact that you can open a student’s page and see where they have made input into the ning. I’m figuring this is going to be useful to use in parent conferences.

Just having an opportunity to read some of their reflections from across classrooms is very powerful. The fact that I can comment of the reflection of a student I don’t teach is wonderful I think. I’m able to support my colleagues and that student to understand that teaching can be available to you from others in spaces like this; you aren’t restricted to the one classroom, one teacher notion that pervades most school systems.

Certainly the flurry of activity that was evident in the early stages has slowed down. You have to work a ning. You need to be adding new content all the time to keep it fresh. But I think we’ve seen adoption. In the last couple of weeks I’ve heard the word ning used at a school assembly and the Principal referred to it in his newsletter item for our school community. How many schools out there would be using this term – not a whole lot I’m betting.

I presented our Yr 9 ning to our English faculty this week and was excited today to hear today that our Yr 12 teachers have started a ning for their English students. A staff member told me how impressed they were with what was happening at Yr 9 and how they thought the discussions that can be generated in  ning would be helpful for the students. I was thrilled -this was exactly the message I was hoping to convey in my presentation. The fact that adoption is spreading is testament to our involvement in PLP (Powerful Learning Practice). I truly believe we would not be making the leaps that we are without the impetus this program provides.

I’m hopeful that we are going to have one of our PLP cohort schools involved in our ning. The school is a boy’s school from the United States and we have invited them to join our ning to engage in forum discussions with our girls. This is a means of bringing male voice into our school – we are an all girl’s school, and while I believe there are advantages to single sex education, I do think exposure to  a male viewpoint is important.  Having them join the ning will be a means of addressing this issue for both of our schools. The girls are certainly excited about this possibility so I hope it pans out for us.      

Do I think it’s been worth implementing?

Absolutely. No question. And I think my students would agree. I do feel a real sense of community, a feeling that we are in this together and we are there to help to one another out. There’s no doubt it’s not the forum for everyone, but it certainly is a powerful tool and one that I feel is worth the investment of time.

Australian Screen – great resource

I looked at Australian Screen a year or so ago but didn’t explore it fully. This week we’ve been searching for material to support our text study of Bye Beautiful. We’ve been uploading videos to our Yr 9  Ning chronicling life in 1960’s Australia to help our students contextualise what it is they are reading.

Megan, who I work closely with, visited Australian Screen and located some fantastic  short clips about the shame of teenage pregnancy in the 1960’s. They’ve been cropped from documentaries and are perfect for what we need. We’re not interested in a 30 min documentary, we want a short grab that can pique interest and spark discussion. The clips we’ve been using are downloadable as MP4 files and can be uploaded into our Ning site from our computers.  Here’s one of them depicting societal attitudes of the time.  

They have an Education section. Below is a screenshot to give you some idea of the resources you can locate.


Here is what they say on their home page about their site;

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

australianscreen is a look at the Australian film and television industry, from its earliest days to the present.

You can view clips from Australian feature films, documentaries, TV programs, shorts, home movies, newsreels, advertisements, other historical footage, and sponsored films produced over the last 100 years, with curators’ notes and other information about each title. The site currently contains clips from over 1,000 titles and is constantly being added to.

You can also visit our education page for educational content provided by The Le@rning Federation. All clips with teachers’ notes are marked by the e symbol.

*And just a update on progress with the Ning. All is going very well. Students are participating in forum discussions and have even added some themselves. It’s very early days but we are finding that it is becoming an excellent means of locating and storing resources to support curriculum. A mini LMS – very useful. I have had to have a discussion about appropriate use of the site for our purpose. They were engaging in the send a ‘Hi there ha  ha ha’ type messages back and forth while in class. A quick discussion about the fact that this in not their facebook or myspace site was employed at that stage. We do need to form community, but a learning community, not       I’ll keep you updated.