I've blogged before about how fantastic the setup is here at edublogs and how James has given the education community a great place to host their blogs without the technical hitches. However, there are hitches and he has to shoulder them off his own bat - new server upgrades, hosting services etc. He even has to help out plebs who want their own personal theme but can't get the tagline or links menus to display properly (thanks heaps, James). So, when he sent out the latest edublogs newsletter where he ponders how to fund this project that keeps outgrowing itself, I think we (edublogs bloggers) all need to publicise that this is a great opportunity for a sponsor who wants to be involved in education and be Web 2.0 relevant as well. I quote from the newsletter:
Essentially we are going to need a dedicated server very very soon as in the first place we are running out of bandwidth / space and in the second I figure we will all be happier with better performance (especially around backups). The problem is, however, that it costs.
He offers solutions as well:
* Plain old simple advertising as a supporter of edublogs.org
* Inclusion (and write up) in the edublogs.org newsletter
* Inclusion in the backend of each blog (this can be done in a number of ways)
* Partnership in offering edublogs.org users tools and services
Now if anyone who reads this humble blog sees this as the best opportunity of this financial year, then contact the man himself. The edublogosphere will be a better place for it.
Today was the first official day of the 2006 school year and I greeted my new class along with my tandem teaching offsider, Nat. Because my coordinator role has been boosted in its time commitment throughout our school, I am teaching two and a half days of the possible five in this classroom. And in Nat, it is the first time since I came to this school that I have had the same tandem teaching partner from one year to the next. That's a good thing because we get along well and are both willing to negotiate the job of carving up the curriculum. The boss agreed to have both of us start off with the class today, both from a good PR point of view (parents need to be assured that a shared class is not an inferior option) and to give the students a clear consistent picture of our expectations. This afternoon, when the kids were off at their first Science lesson for the year, we started to try and construct our English curriculum plan for the term. It wasn't easy. Two educators trying to create a unified approach means that we both kept trying to be considerate of each other's ideas. Here's the rub - a solo full time teacher decides totally (or in consultation with their students if they are of a constructivist bent) what and how the curriculum is delivered. To be a successful tandem teacher, you have to be prepared to negotiate, give way on some ideas that you hold dear and work a lot harder on classroom planning than most people would realise. However, the upside for me is seeing that there is more going on around my school beyond my classroom "container" and the kids get the expertise of two teachers.
That's it - time for a rest from exclusively reflective posts for a while. Time to interact with others and crank up the conversation.
Thanks to James Farmer and his super-administrator skills, this blog has its own customised theme. Pretty cool, eh? Well, there are a few bugs to be ironed out like the tagline in the header and the links that go nowhere but James has given me solutions to work on to fix them up. Now I know nothing about php or css so it was a lot of logical guesswork to even insert my own header image (the Photoshop editing of the image was way easier) and my dreams of my own hosted webspace have been tempered by reality. I'm on a good thing here at edublogs. I did really like my first theme, Green Marinee, but it wasn't really mine. And seeing it couldn't be edited easily to include a personal header image, I went looking through the web for an attractive, adaptable theme. I found Blue Horizon which was a redesign by Kaushal Sheth. Even though his orginal header was extremely attractive, I thought I could find something more me. I hunted through my archive of digital photos from class camps dating back to 1998 but they were all too small pixel wise to be suitable so I ended up adapting an image featuring your truly presenting about, you guessed it, interactive whiteboards. It might scare a few people away but it's like putting up an old photo in a new office - it denotes ownership and the fact, I want this edublogging adventure to continue.
Cheers to Kevin Perkins from who tipped me off to the fact that their service, Skweezer accepts RSS feeds and reformats them for the small screen. I still have yet to work out how to set Mobile Favorites in Explorer to update it for me automatically because going to each individual blog's Skweezed page and re-doing Create A Mobile Favorite is rather defeating the purpose of saving time by offloading to my IPAQ for offline viewing. I know Skweezer will keep a list of Favorites for me on their site and they will always have the latest version of a feed but what trips me up is setting the list up once in Mobile favorites does not guarantee that Explorer will "harvest" the Skweezer mobile pages and sync them for me automatically. Maybe I just need to save my pennies for a wi-fi IPAQ. I know Leigh is in love with his.
Interestingly, maybe because I'm just not that bright, I didn't connect Kevin to his company straightaway and I did a Google search to see where he was mailing from. It wasn't until I stumbled on this link, that I realised he was from Skweezer, and his company have been copping some flak from bloggers who were unhappy with their pages being re-formatted, losing their Google ads and having Skweezer's advertising partners featured instead. There were a batch of complaints following this post where bloggers complained of lost revenue due to decreased traffic and their intellectual property being hijacked (their words, not mine). I have to admit, I had noticed advertising but I didn't really care because of the great job Skweezer did of making blogs readable offline. And tonight when I tested Kevin's tip and loaded my own feed in, there were no ads at all. So, Kevin and Skweezer, I think your service is great, I appreciate the advice and maybe these bloggers should be contacting you to strike up a deal and being proactive with their income stream instead of reactionary.
Ran a successful training day today on our IWB program that looked to provide time and training for three distinct groups on our staff - (1) teachers who currently have an ActivBoard in their classroom [mentors] (2) teachers who have been advised an ActivBoard will be installed in the early stages of 2006 [proteges] and (3) other staff who aren't ready to make the plunge yet but want to be kept in the loop. So it was a challenge trying to design a program that gave a bit to everyone. I went with a quick mini-keynote style presentation at the start outlining our IWB journey so far. Link to ppt presentation here. I then wanted staff to start getting their mindset around where education is going and what impact technology is having on themselves and their students as learners. Another simple ppt file shown to support this.
The mentors and proteges spent time working together and then I introduced del.icio.us to the whole group as a collaborative way of building a communal digital library. Interesting that even after I explained the concept of social bookmarking, someone asked if they could make their account private. Got to love what del.icio.us calls it - antisocial! Maybe someone who wants that privacy factor would be better off sticking to backflip.
After lunch, I spent some time with the proteges giving them a taste of constructing a mock lesson in ActivStudio which they then presented back to their mentors. Great day - got positive feedback from a number of staff. I was glad it hit the mark and maybe my presentation skills are getting better. Or maybe it's because I got away from the "sage on the stage" routine and truly was a "guide on the side" for the best part of the day after using my initial presentations to set the scene. Cool. Back to the real start of the school year tomorrow.
Here in lonely ol' Adelaide, the edublogger is a bit of a lonely breed. So then when I have an opportunity to meet with a couple of fellow South Aussie educators who share the same excitement about the potential of blogging and other emerging technologies, it is an opportunity not to be missed. The instigator in this case was Al Upton, one of the most innovative primary classroom teachers going around. He has done some amazing work with his classes otherwise known as the Mini Legends but has had to rebuild his class blog and other components formerly hosted by Schoolblogs into a new cost-free, filter resistant host at WordPress. He's also a LTI Coach and while very savvy at successful integration of "just-in-time" technology learning, he is only recently entering the edublogger conversation. He was holding a training session on a software called LAN School which he uses in his classroom and suggested there should be a f2f following that session of known South Aussie edubloggers. So Al emailed Bill Kerr, Peter Ruwoldt, Jason Plunkett and yours truly (not much gender balance ,hey?) to see if anyone could make it and have a bit of a chinwag.
Well, LAN School was pretty good - certainly better value than Cool School (even if I'd be a perfect candidate) and I'll be seeing if I can find the $$$ to fund it for our computer room, at least. There was one other keen participant, Sue from Port Noarlunga Primary School and she stayed around to find out a bit more about the potential of classroom blogging. As it turned out, only Bill Kerr could make it and it was a real pleasure to meet an educator whose blog I read regularly and have even left a comment or two on. Al knows him pretty well through his involvement in GameMaker but we tossed around a few ideas and conversations centred around a few main issues common to all of us.
The issue was raised about internet filters at our sites and its subsequent effect on the uptake of new web tools and getting both teacher and students involved in the Communication aspect of ICT. Both Bill and Al have contributed to nonscholae.org with their thoughts but I have to admit that anything I could come up with has already been said better by others. But we all agreed that the current filter mechanism is clumsy, reactive and not meeting the needs of education. There are so many barriers to change on this issue including the fear of litigation from angry parents.
We also tossed around ideas about getting other teachers on board and start our own South Australian edublogging community. To me, other educators are the ideal starting point. If more teachers come on board, then there is more automatic pressure to bring on the decision makers to provide appropriate web filtering for the use of these 21st century learnirg and collaborating tools. Unfortunately, I had to bail at 1pm for another appointment, so I don't know what the others wanted to do from here. But it was excellent to talk f2f with bloggers who've been bitten by the same bug. Blogging is still the best professional development I've ever done.
Junk mail flows through our mailbox daily and unless it's OfficeWorks or Dick Smith Electronics, I leave the other members of the household to it. But when a pamphlet slips in bearing the title, "Investing In Our Schools", well, it was worth a second glance. It was from our local Federal Senator who I doubt was the actual author as it was a rehash of federal policy that's been heavily promoted in the media. And what it says raises my hackles both as an educator and a parent. Get this:
The Howard Government is getting on with the job by delivering practical assistance to boost education and provide the best opportunities for Australian students. These include:
· Ensuring that, as a condition of funding, schools will provide parents with Plain English student report cards. This will mean a return to the "A", "B", "C", "D","E" style of reporting and an end to meaningless, jargon-filled report cards.
· Higher standards and greater consistency in schooling. There will be a common starting age for schooling across Australia by 2010 and greater consistency in curriculum, common national testing and standards in literacy, numeracy and other key subject areas.
There were three other dot points with other promises and commitments and implications, but these two were enough to raise my temperature on an already scorching day. The first dot point was an oxymoronic statement as I cannot think how an A, B.....E report is in any way meaningful. How do we, as teachers, calculate these magical grades? Do we divide the class into fifths and allocate accordingly? Is it based on more of these fantastic standards based tests that are alluded to in dot point two? So many US edubloggers that I read talk about how these tests are forcing them into a "teach to the test" mentality and the millstone is slowly squashing the joy and dare I say it, the professional judgement out of teaching. Is that where Australian education is headed? And what does a B in Science actually mean? That 20 per cent of the class are better at Science than your child but that he or she is better than the other 60 per cent? I suppose the format is geared towards familiarity for parents - I certainly remember my reports from high school, but it is hardly relevant or appropriate for our state education system where we have a constructivist curriculum framework. When we need to work towards a rapidly approaching future and we need to inform students about the skills they'll need to constantly reinvent themselves, then these "blast from the past" ideas don't cut it.
This sort of stuff is so off the mark, it is scary. Maybe, Will's pointer to the Houston schools system is a sign of things to come in Aussie schools. Time for more pyramid flattening.
Just typing/transcribing a post here on my IPAQ as my two sons splash around in their canopied "swimming pool" on a typically warm January day. As usual, the younger is antagonising the older so I'm regularly interrupting my thoughts with reminders about behaving sensibly in the water. There isn't much left of my summer holidays, just this week and then next week, it'll be getting stuff ready at school for the return of the students and the start of their new school year.
We took the boys to see Chicken Little at the cinemas which they both thoroughly enjoyed. (Well, the younger one got a bit antsy about two thirds of the way through, he is only two and a half but it was a good excuse for a family outing.) Now during this break they've consumed a few Disney and Dreamworks offerings and I am still amazed at the incredible computer generated animation that is used. I am certainly not one of those people who will reminsce about the good ol' days of children's entertainment because those days are happening now. The way fantastic worlds and characters can be presented via this advanced animation means creators are only limited by their imagination, not by the technology or the budget. So how is this post relevant? Well, companies like Disney have become masters of cultural remix where they reinvent age old stories in a new digital format. Last year, my class did some media comparisons of the Dr.Seuss classic "The Cat In The Hat" where they critiqued the original book, the 1970's cartoon version (co-produced by Theodor Giesel himself) and the 2003 movie edition. So, the final verdict from the students? The book will always be great, the cartoon was boring, dated and didn't stick to the original storyline, but the movie got the thumbs up for all round entertainment value and being contemporary. I'm sure the special effects that brought the fish in the bowl to life had something to with that.
It sometimes takes me a while to work my way through the numerous posts from my assembled Bloglines bloggers, but it is worth reading through as many as possible because someone else somewhere will be posting something that strikes a chord in me. Today, it's The Bionic Teacher and his thoughts on his own technological expertise and how that relates to his role and what he reads about others doing all across the edublogosphere.
I read about all the great things people are doing and am amazed by the depth of knowledge that so many people have. I’m amazed by how they are able to put so much into practice. It really impresses me. These are amazing people doing amazing things. How is this a negative? It easy at times to get frustrated and feel I’m not performing up to par. It isn’t too hard to feel inferior at times considering what people are doing. I try to use it as motivation and that works the majority of the time but at others I just shake my head and wonder where people find the time to learn and do all these amazing things. It makes me feel lazy as I haven’t put out a podcast, learned any real programing languages (must learn something), or done any of a number of other things I want to do (seems like I need to come up with some new goals).
I couldn't agree more. I'm in awe of people like John Pederson and D'Arcy Norman who can customise and put together fantastic blogs with all of the bells and whistles. I want to get blogs in my classroom like Anne Davis and Bud Hunt but I'm unsure of where to start and to make sure that all the bases are covered. I would love to have the confidence and the tech-savviness of Steve Dembo and Paul Allison with their podcasting. The great thing is that of these educators are prepared to share their talents with the rest of us edtech pretenders. But to put things into perspective, this time last year I didn't even understand fully what a blog was and then in August, the whole world opened up. And as The Bionic Teacher is aware, there is still a huge percentage of educators for whom this world, this social software Web 2.0 Read/Write world still is unknown or simply not yet relevant.
Update: James informs me via e-mail that bells'n'whistles for edublogs are on their way. That will be very cool.