Resources

Back in 2000 I attended a three day Discovery School program that was a key part of my journey into educational ICT. One of the tools referred to was the Software Pyramid, created by Victorian teacher Graeme Oswin which was a guide for schools to ensure that their software dollars were spent critically.

Well, a few months back this pyramid concept came up again in a conversation with Ann, my principal, as we talked through the relative merits of teacher software preferences. But the educational technology has moved a long way since this concept was first drawn up and we both wondered if there might not be a more modern equivalent out on the web that might inform in a similar manner.

It didn't take long for this diagram to surface via Google, and thanks to the Metiri Group, we now have a new blueprint with which to guide our staff. Certainly, those edubloggers with misgivings about the absolute plethora of Web 2.0 applications spawning in cyberspace, can see how the latest and greatest tools measure up as learning implements.

In my experience, teachers love free stuff.

Tonight after school, my co-planning partner (Maria, the teacher next door) and I scored well on the free stuff factor. We had signed up for a free workshop for primary school teachers on Coastal Biodiversity held as part of the Geography Teacher's Association Conference. We thought that we'd get some relevant information and teaching ideas to tie in with our inquiry unit "Can We Really Make A Difference?" that is using the Port River dolphins as a way to cover parts of our Science and SOSE (Studies Of Society & Environment) curriculum. In fact, we were almost considering not turning up as we've been pretty busy and have a whole day double class excursion on the go for tomorrow.

But we went.

What did we get?

  • A conference goodie bag for no cost that included a couple of sports drink bottles (great for the boys), a coffee mug (teachers can never have enough of these), nice pens, extra stationery, dolphin stickers etc.
  • A presentation from Shanelle Palmer, Environmental Education Officer for the Department of Environment and Heritage.
  • An excellent draft curriculum pack dealing with the South Australian marine environment that links in beautifully with the way my school delivers learning - tuning in activities, web resources etc.
  • Other freebies like environmental posters, eco-icon postcards, a jigsaw puzzle and ....
  • ... we got to meet Gavin.

Who's Gavin?

Gavin is a leafy sea dragon, a unique species of sea creature only found here in South Australia. The leafy sea dragon is our official marine emblem. Gavin is the star of an animated film that teaches students (and others) about the marine diversity of this state in an entertaining but informative way. Gavin travels from his home under the jetty at Rapid Bay and travels through the eight identified marine coastal regions, meeting the identified eco-icons along the way. We got to see the film and take our own copy of the DVD with us.

Image screengrab for fair use review purposes.

Real leafy sea dragon image courtesy of SouthOz - http://www.flickr.com/photos/southoz/237624479/

I think Gavin could be very useful in my classroom.

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ictfolder.jpgHolidays are a good time to potter around and do some cleaning and tidying up. When I left my previous school I put all of my paper teaching resources into a series of white three ring folders. I had one for English, one for Maths, one for Health and so on. Some have been used occasionally and others have barely been opened. One that I thought I would use constantly in my current role was my ICT folder, which is a real repository of all of the factors that led me down this current pathway. But not surprisingly, I have barely used it and it would be well over three years since it saw the light of day.

I found it this afternoon in the garage, covered in a thin layer of dust. So I opened it up, interested to see if any of the contents had any relevance whatsoever to me.

The first thing I found was a course booklet for Basic Flash 5 Animation. I remember sitting in that course feeling totally lost - I had a real taste of the frustration felt by my students over the year when I've introduced a complex topic or concept. So much technical know-how required just to make a simple animation - what use would this be in a primary classroom? No wonder I haven't looked at it since.

There were a number of print outs of flow charts and mind maps - relics from interviews and strategic planning. I have digital copies somewhere. I found a workshop paper (not by me) titled "Developing Electronic and Digital Texts using PowerPoint or SlideShow Presentations" circa 1998. Sadly, many teachers still think that this is where technology in the classroom starts and ends. Why am I still hanging onto this paper nearly ten years later?

There's a 2001 newsletter about the Microsoft Agreement that anchors our whole education system to the MS Office suite - I have heard from a senior person that Open Office is a real possibility if the department goes down the ultraportable laptop route. But, at the moment the MS Agreement deathgrip still holds sway and only innovative educators like Peter Ruwoldt and Jason Plunkett have developed viable FOSS solutions for their students. But I digress.

What else can I find?

- a 2000 guide to using CoolEdit (who needs it when Audacity is around)

- the original Tangara Consortium R-9 Learning Technologies Continuum (we use the latest version at my school as a guide, but these things date faster than Moore's law)

- a Creating Webquests (remember them?) certificate and the obligatory Tom March template

- a whole stack of Jamie McKenzie website printouts (he was my ultimate guru around the 2000/01 mark - what's he doing these days besides giving Marc Prensky some stick?)

Ah, but there is some gold in the old folder. I find my handouts from two highly influential courses that I've been lucky enough to be involved with - "Discovery School" @ Grange Schools and a Quality Teacher Program titled "Designing and Applying Learning With New Technologies". There's stacks in both of these collections on Higher Order Thinking, question matrices, Bloom's Taxonomy, what is powerful learning, structured controversies and a stack of other pedagogical tools and resources that if anything have even more value to me in today's learning environment. What is now dated and valueless is the software how-to guides.

Maybe, I'll chuck the crud into the recycling bin and put the good stuff into a new folder. Maybe I'll title it "Learning" and put this idea that you can capture ICT/elearning/Learning Technologies/edtech/whatever on paper and keep it in a folder to bed.
Now to sort what to put on my new USB stick....

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In my opinion, one of the easiest entry points for teachers into Web 2.0 is to start a social bookmarking account. Getting them to really grasp the power of this tool is more challenging. Most teachers like to collect useful websites even if they're not web-savvy enthusiasts and the methods employed to keep track of them can range from emailing links back to themselves, creating hotlists in Word to relying on browser Bookmarks or Favorites. These lists usually aren't very big because they have to be kept manageable.

There are management issues with these methods. How do you search piles of emails (unless it's GMail!) for that elusive link? Do you start a new document each time for a new hotlist category? What happens when the computer you host your Favorites on crashes and you lose the lot? (And if it's a Windows machine, it's a matter of when, not if!) So when I talk about a better way, most teachers are all ears.

I like to recommend del.icio.us. It's simple, very powerful when harnessed correctly and where the biggest community of users can be found. As I've blogged before, there isn't a whole heap of help guides and resources with an educational bent - what I have found is usually of very high quality. So, getting teachers to sign up, installing the browser buttons and adding a few sites is not too hard. Getting them to understand tagging is harder - people want to try and follow set rules for this. They try to apply subject areas, age levels, strands and they want everyone else to be following the same rules as well. Then I explain how tagging enables you to control subsets of sites through a unique tag and they see how sites can be pre-tagged for easy retrieval for a unit of work, a particular lesson or PD session. For example when I co-presented with Yvonne Murtagh at CEGSA, we used the tag kooltools07 to group all of the sites we wanted to share. By inviting others to contribute, this list continues to grow. (Thanks, Jim Sprialis!) For the school's Open Night, I used the tag opennight and amazed parents when I could so easily pull up web resources to match curriculum areas. So, it takes a bit before the strengths of folksonomy becomes apparent to the newer user.

Some are still uncomfortable about the open nature of del.icio.us.

"You mean anyone else can see what I'm bookmarking? I'm not sure I like that."

Once I remind them that it's only listing websites, not airing dirty laundry or trade secrets, they relax. When I tell them that the openness is vital to gaining some traction and saving some time, they are less apprehensive. I show them how to find other people's bookmarks, how scanning their tags gives you a feel for their relevancy to what you're interested in and then save items of interest back to their own account. Adding names to create their own network is a harder sell but having a constant flow of handpicked sites from trusted professionals worldwide is a smart, efficient way to operate. Sometimes, the only way is to demonstrate and even then you run the risk of moving too fast, too soon and being written off as a smart-aleck.

But I've seen a real willingness from my staff to get on board with social bookmarking. Some are using it a lot and others have the mindset of "I know I should but I keep forgetting" or "I still like using Favorites." But there's almost enough of a groundswell to support the wider sharing of sites and resources suitable for our Interactive Whiteboard program. So when all of our staff have each other listed on their del.icio.us network, whatever gem is discovered by one staff member is discovered for all.

Update: There's always more than one side to the story and I recommend you check out the comments to this post to get more quality insight into the subversive and innovative use of del.icio.us.

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I was asked by Terry Freedman last year during one of the K-12 Online Conference Fireside Chats about contributing to the next edition of "Coming Of Age." While a bit daunted by the high level of contributions by other edtech luminaries, Terry convinced me by pointing out that he had no contributors from Australia. I had summer holidays coming up and thought that an untapped topic was the use of StartPages in education and started work on a short contribution. Well, good intentions and all, the article got three quarters written and then left until a reminder e-mail from Terry asking for a bio and pic for the book prompted me to complete the article by the end of February. It's not an epic by any stretch of the imagination but some educators may find it useful, especially after my 15 minute presentation at the Web2 Showcase that got some useful feedback. I wasn't sure if anything was allowed to be pre-published via my blog but after finding this preview of his own contribution by Darren Kuropatwa, I thought I'd post it here and see if it can be improved or critiqued.

_______________________________________________________________

Coming Of Age 2

Personalising The Web - Using StartPages

By Graham Wegner


Brief overview of article

This article explores the potential value in using RSS based StartPages in education. There is a brief exploration of RSS as the technology that fuels the StartPage concept and how RSS can be harnessed for educational purposes. The various functions and interface of typical StartPages are described along with their possible educational applications for teachers and their classrooms.

What is RSS?
One of the most significant technologies to emerge from Web 2.0 (otherwise known as the Read/Write Web) is Rich Site Summary or Real Simple Syndication, commonly known as RSS. This is a background technology that creates content feeds from websites and allows for the aggregation of these feeds in new locations and to be customised by the reader. This means I can "subscribe" to multiple sources of information and have it collected for me in a central spot like a feedreader or an online news reader. These sources of information could range from blog posts to Flickr photo feeds to social bookmarking service updates. Without getting too technical, there are several formats of RSS but they are all utilised in the same way. A
site that displays the rssrsssymbol.jpg feed symbol is advertising that capability and subscribing to that source just means right mouse clicking (for PC users) and selecting Copy Link Location or Copy Shortcut, depending on your choice of web browser. If you paste that into your choice of aggregator, new content will then pushed out to you whenever the source updates.

How can educators harness RSS?
There are many applications, both desktop and web based, that utilise RSS in ways useful to educators. A lot of educators will use an aggregator (Bloglines is a popular example) to keep track of education and technology blogs as part of their professional reading. If a teacher has a class of students working on blogs or wikis, then subscribing to all of their feeds using an application like SuprGlu keeps track of all current changes in one spot and at one web address. If part of the curriculum requires focussing on a particular topic or concept, then subscribing to regularly updated RSS feeds allows the teacher and the students to access the very latest developments, news or research. Using tools like Flickr, BubbleShare, YouTube and blip.tv, students can utilise multimedia content as an important part of their learning. But what is the best way to tab into and access RSS distributed information?

More than a feedreader - introducing the StartPage.
There are a number of exciting web applications utilising RSS technology exceptionally well that fit into a category known as Personal Homepages or Start Pages. So, what is a StartPage? A StartPage is a self-constructed webpage that uses small feed boxes or modules that can house weblinks, photo feeds, breaking news, search engines and social bookmarking links. The user has full control over the positioning of each module using drag'n'drop customisation. Generally, access is free and just requires a valid e-mail address to create an account. More than one page can be set up on the one site, using titled tabs at the top of the StartPage to navigate. A StartPage can become a "one stop shop" that many teachers can use to manage their use of the internet especially as they explore and use more of the really useful Web 2.0 tools that continue to emerge on a regular basis.

I have tried out a number of the StartPages available online to test out their various interfaces and capabilities. (http://gwegner.edublogs.org/2006/09/16/startpages-a-quick-comparison/) When looking at the merits of a good StartPage, I am looking for several features. There should be access to my webmail, telling me when new e-mails arrive. It should be easy to set up RSS feeds not only of blogs, social bookmarking sites and news services, but for using RSS search engines for key terms and words. There should be an extensive library of “widgets” that can range from clocks, personalised maps and video feeds to sticky notes, instant messaging and daily cartoons! Another really handy feature that is desirable for classroom use is the ability to make the StartPage public, which is essential if you want to set one up for your students to use. Finally, a healthy community of users associated with your chosen StartPage is essential to ensure the long term future of your customized pages, and allows for developers to add more creative and innovative “widgets” and “modules” for your use. For starters, I would recommend looking at PageFlakes, Netvibes, Protopage or WebWag. There are many others that I have yet to have a play with – a comprehensive list can be found at the 3spots blog.

Using StartPages in Education.
So, how can educators make use of this interesting new tool? Well, it is a handy way of gluing web based feeds together on a common theme. A teacher might have a topic or focus that their class needs to work on and the StartPage becomes the platform to organize a lot of relevant online content that the students can access. By using RSS based web searches, current news items and other web based updated resources will come to the StartPage cutting down on a lot of the searching and scouring that would normally be required. Images that can be used for assignments or as discussion starters can be accessed using the Flickr modules. Various widgets can be utilized to beam in current information about weather, world stock market prices, country information – the sky is the limit for how this information can be utlitised when it is gathered in the StartPage portal. One StartPage developer, PageFlakes, has even designed education templates for use within their pages that help students organise their own online portal. If your classroom has an Interactive Whiteboard or regular access to a data projector, then this technology means your class can build, customise and display a web based portal that reflects the needs and priorities of their learning. Imagine using this technology for collaboration with another school across the other side of the globe, with the latest news from your home town, photos from the local community regularly updating and feeds from student blogs populating the page to give them a real feel for life in your part of the world!

For my own personal use, I have used a StartPage as a professional starting point for my daily web explorations. Vital web addresses are bookmarked ready for use, topics of current interest are being tracked via RSS searches and my most important sites feeds provide me with the latest blog post or podcast without heading off to a dedicated RSS reader. At a glance, I can check what resources are being bookmarked by my del.icio.us Network and click to check anything of interest. All links open in a new browser window or tab so that I can leave that open but go back to the StartPage for another purpose. The StartPage can be a dynamic way to get reluctant teachers online. They might be reluctant to have a blog or contribute to a wiki, but being able to customise an online page with their own choice of important links and resources is an appealing and less threatening way to use the internet for their professional learning. There is also potential for use as an e-portfolio platform as feed boxes can lead off to archived artifacts in a web storage account, links can be posted to articles and professional development, a photo stream illustrating aspects of their work can be embedded and online documents of importance can be accessed from within the StartPage environment.

StartPages are a very handy way of "tying it all together" on the web. As more and more educators delve into Web 2.0 tools and realise their potential in the classroom, there will be a desire and need to make it manageable and sustainable. A StartPage offers flexibility, compability with a huge range of tools, and will help teachers and students alike as they tap into the potential of the internet.

 

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Ever since I delved into educational blogging, a strong supporter of my efforts has been Jo McLeay, a secondary English teacher from Melbourne. She has a great name for her blog, "The Open Classroom." It's a great title because it evokes images of transparency and free dialogue. I'm pretty sure that's what Jo strives for and it brings me to the point that in order to have an open classroom in today's existing school paradigm, I would assume it would need to be led by an open educator.

What's an open educator?

It could be interpreted in several different ways but I'd want to consider this concept in the context of the digital age. For me, an open educator is someone prepared to share their practice, their resources and ideas, locally and globally, to known colleagues and unknown peers. In short, they are committed to an open professional existence.

At my school, structures like co-planning partners and learning teams are all designed to foster the openness and transparency required to move whole school practice forward. There are barriers in that sort of collaboration as not all teachers' mindsets lend themselves to teamwork or the pursuit of common goals. Sharing of resources and professional practices voluntarily outside of these group structures can be a sporadic, incidental or scarce occurrence. An example of this came in a conversation I had with a ICT coordinator at a local high school who had been trialling an expansive Learner Management System where teachers could post whole courses online and house their resources in an environment where sharing was as simple as providing an open folder for others to peruse. He said that teachers were loathe to put much up because they didn't want others "stealing'' their "intellectual property." I can think back to the many primary school teachers who guarded their precious resource folders jealously for the same reasons. In my opinion, being open doesn't come naturally to the average teacher - it takes a conscious choice to do so.

Many of the students we teach are used to being open, especially online - sometimes we (the generation before) think that they are being much too open - and are used to be under surveillance via mobile phones, computer histories and security cameras. Being open is not an issue for them and if the oldies don't understand what's going on and aren't savvy enough to check out the online spaces where the information is displayed, well, that's a bit of a bonus for the kids. And at a certain age, students feel that they have a strong grip on dictating how their open web presence can be displayed or portrayed. I think it's actually a hard sell talking cybersafety to anyone over the age of twelve because a large proportion of these students have already established their online identity and have chatted and Piczoed and MySpaced large slabs of their life and the details involved onto the web. I can sell my tales of caution and care to my slightly younger class because at best, they've only dabbled with some of the technology and are more willing to listen to and consider the risks involved. Photos, profiles, friends' lists, detailed angst - it's easily found and it's a real cultural shift that a lot of educators are struggling to fathom, let alone deal with.

Here's what we do know. There are risks involved in being online. There are risks in being open. There are risks in being open online.

But the open online educator has a greater chance of being a powerful role model for positive, constructive use of the web by students than the closed offline educator. Because where does the latter get their direction? By using a step by step lesson plan from NetAlert? If I'm planning a unit of work based on responsible use of the internet, do I rely solely on one site that I've been recommended? What about multiple points of view? If I'm an open educator who has online presence I can easily gain those alternative perspectives by leveraging my network, using resources other open colleagues have left to be shared via their del.icio.us tags, their wikis, their YouTube videos. Before too long, I have the necessary digital resources to enable my class to cover the topic and its associated issues effectively.

Open educators also work smarter. By making their content and resources open to be shared by others, they can access other teachers' content and resources in return. The wheel doesn't get reinvented in every classroom - a re-mix culture between open educators can emerge where you can take, add, alter and re-share flexible resources around the globe. The closed educator misses out on that.

I'm guessing that if you are reading this, you already are well qualified as an open educator. The problem is - what do we do about the rest of our profession?

Attribution: Image: 'share' by dmihnea
www.flickr.com/photos/15282287@N00/336733100

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For the past four weeks I've been teaching the old fashioned way with the minimal use of technology in the classroom. I have had the ACTIVboard, of course, and the challenge this year has been to get the students using the board as much as possible. But the computer room and the two classroom PC "dinosaurs" have been off limits as we're had a new server installed for the school. This has meant no logons, no print accounts and no network access for the kids as our two on-site technical staff gradually get the new system off the ground, save critical files and programs from the old server and configure everything properly to avoid future disruptions. I've managed to start up the class blog and today one of my Year Sixes completed the first student composed post for 2007. Next week, when we first get to go to the Computing Room, the students will be perusing other student and class blog sites to gain a better feel for what it all entails. We'll be able to start on the digital aspects of our Identity cross-curricular unit involving the creation of digital stories detailing the ten most important Milestones of each student's life so far. There will hopefully be an opportunity to compare National Identity via wiki with another class on another spot or the globe (thanks for the opportunity, Tom) and a foray into individual student blogging. With their own logons, students will be able to use the option of publishing their work again and to utilise the computers as they research their Personal Projects. With my guidance, they will be able to improve their information literacy skills and..... anyway, now we can get started.

It just goes to show that my digital classroom  has a long way to go in terms of providing access and still operates in a traditional paper based way at present. It's not quite the classroom without Google, as the IWB allows me and the class to pull in digital resources for whole class use and group work. I'm hoping that our middle school wireless laptop program that is planned for later in the year will be able to make a difference in this regard. With this in mind, I had a look at another local school on Wednesday to see how to set up the wireless points, and other implementation issues firsthand. I see other bloggers' classrooms with their pods of computers in their room and I hope that having even a half class set of laptops shared across four classes will provide computing access not possible previously. With these resources available in a planned timetable, the students will be able to use the laptops for all sorts of cross-curricular purposes. And because all of the MYLU teachers have had a bit of experience with their own laptops with the ACTIVboards , they will find setting up and using the laptops with students to be easier and less hassle than a PDA program (although I'd love to be a pilot class if any Australian organisation have a class set of Pocket PC's they want to give to a good home).

But for now, I'll get ready and plan for our first official Computing Room timeslot on Tuesday.

Attribution: Image: 'laptop interfaces' by fluke42 www.flickr.com/photos/30488984@N00/136335936

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deliciousgw.jpg

I've been scouring the web trying to find some teacher friendly resources to help my staff colleagues get into using del.icio.us. Why del.icio.us? Well, there are a host of social networking sites out there and some of them have more innovative features and more elegant graphical interfaces than del.icio.us, but no one has a bigger user base and for educators, that is a big attraction. I held an hour workshop on Monday after school and went through some of the basics in an effort to get the staff using online bookmarking as a way of tracking their growing base of useful websites. After all, I have heard the cry of "My Bookmarks are gone!" quite a few times already.

Here's what I found.

David Muir's excellent PDF Guide - Simply Del.icio.us. (Published in 2005 so is missing information about some of the latest features like the network and subscriptions but is very teacher friendly for those who are not overly web savvy.)

John Pederson's Using Del.icio.us in Education. (Saved as a Google document, but it's probably aimed a little bit higher than the average classroom teacher - more a guide for the early adopter IMHO.)

Quentin D'Souza's Social bookmarking tools part of his wiki (covers a broader area than just del.icio.us, but led me to the next find.)

Andrew Brown's brilliant screencast (basically covers everything I tried to get in my workshop in under two and a half minutes.)

Are there any other gems out there with "teacher-friendly" stamped all over them?

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I used this handy tool today with my class as part of our unit of work on Identity. The students had a thumbnail sheet of their classmates that they could cut out and arrange on the graphic. But... the catch was that they had to justify the specific placement of each student pic by recording something that the two linked students had in common. And every connection made on the graphic had to be justified in this way so every picture had to be thoughtfully placed. The kids worked on this for half an hour this afternoon and barely scratched the surface - with a lot of kids seeking each other out to work out points of commonality.

"Do you barrack for Port Power or the Crows?"

" What month were you born in?"

"What's your middle name?"

"What's your favourite X-Box game?"

You get the idea. How did I get this activity? Well, in true digital viral form, the graphic came from Chris Harbeck in Winnipeg, Canada, who created it on Gliffy after listening to a Bernie Dodge presentation podcast, listened to and recorded by Wesley Fryer from Oklahoma, USA. Chris picked up the idea very quickly and applied his take on the "Glass Bead Game" mentioned in the presentation. Maybe I was initially resistant to this global virus but eventually the idea has taken seed here in Adelaide, Australia.

Just how easy it is to lay my hands on ideas and communicate with those people who create and put these ideas into action half a world away still blows my mind.

2 Comments

I know that regular readers of this blog are probably sick of hearing about my presentation for the K-12 Online Conference but seeing Bloglines dropped edublogs.org RSS feeds for several weeks and I've unable to post for several days, this may be news so I am publishing my blurb and links here for anyone interested to check out.

Bio
Graham is an ICT Coordinator in a primary school in suburban Adelaide with a focus on inquiry based learning and interactive whiteboards. He sees that information literacy and Web 2.0 technologies go hand in hand and will have a significant impact on his role. As well as working with students who are comfortable in the digital world, his role also involves helping his colleagues come on board with the effective use of technology for learning in the classroom.

Description
The changing information landscape of the 21st Century demands that our students develop new skills of information literacy and become knowledge producers as an integral component of their learning. But what of the professionals charged with these students’ education? Can they be convinced of the need for personal change to keep pace with their students’ world? Are they even aware of the exponential changes taking place? How would they get started in their classrooms? This online presentation will explore some of the barriers faced by educators seeking to improve and influence their colleagues’ perceptions of the internet, and Web 2.0 in particular, as a vehicle for learning. It will pull together various resources that could be useful as starting points for discussion and explore some of the concerns and trepidations of average teachers struggling already with a heavy workload. This presentation will use a wiki as its base and seek to leverage the online Conference participants to help create some possible answers and resources for those of us who recognize the need for our colleagues to be at our sides, providing best practice for our digital age students.

Presentation
http://k12online.wm.edu/k12wegner.WMV
http://k12online.wm.edu/wegnerk12.mp4

Supporting Links
http://k12ntlb.wikispaces.com/

Add Mike Seyfang's mp3 audio only adaptation here as well.