Monthly Archives: March 2006

I signed up for a CoComment account a while back because I thought it would be a great way to track conversations arising from comments I've placed around the blogosphere. I like to think that I give comments a fair bit in a wide variety of locations and I'm a strong believer that it is required etiquette to do so. For a while I tried D'Arcy's idea of tagging my comments to my account under the tag blogcomment to see where I'd left my mark on the web. I will still occasionally do an update there because CoComment doesn't appear to be retrospective I can't go back and save any previous comments. I can only be disciplined and start from today and remember to hit the CoComment bookmarklet before I post the comment. My other problem is that I switch around computers at work a lot as part of my role and I am very opportunistic when I do so. I might see a post on the staff room computer when I check Bloglines and comment straightaway, I could be on the classroom laptop or any number of machines in the computing room throughout the day. Maybe when I get my new work laptop, I might get away with a bookmarklet there and here at home on the desktop but my commenting habits just might get in the way of using this cool new tool properly. Shame - a whole overview of where I am involved in blog conversations would be excellent.


We had a learning team meeting last night after school to focus on aspects of the new common reporting format and to start initial planning for our Middle Schooling Conference Workshop in August. As we tossed ideas around, we concluded that in this case, we'd better start with our audience in mind and think about what someone attending our presentation would expect to see. I showed the group the questions I had posted to the wiki with the final suggestion that they be the starting point for a team brainstorm at our next negotiated meeting. If we keep nudging this one along, then we should have something that really reflects the possible positive implementation of IWB's in the middle school classroom. Bear in mind that my intrepid team have no big conference presentation experience to speak of (my limited experience has been on a much smaller scale) but what they bring to the table is a unique perspective grounded in the (digital) chalkface of day to day classroom practice and an appeal to the primary school sector based conference attendees.

Last night after tea, I started to reflect on my own involvement with middle school students and how this concept of "middle school " started to take shape. When I first taught 11-13 year olds in Port Augusta in the early 90's, they were just primary school kids who just happened to be the oldest in the school. Sure there were plenty of comments like, "Those kids are ready for high school already." But nothing was really done about it - these kids who were restless, unfocussed, in each other's face.

Initially, when I moved to the big city lights of Adelaide, I went back to the younger grades before I ended up with upper primary classes in the late 9O's.My own middle school "philosophy", for want of a better word, has been heavily influenced by my great teaching friend, Lindsay. I team taught alongside of him from 1997 - 2002 with what we started to term "middle school classes". Now the original concept of middle schools comes from a North American perspective but the Australian curriculum and our schools set up of primary and secondary campuses has meant a complete rethink of how it was to be implemented here. A significant document, the Junior Secondary Review was released in the mid 1990's and South Australian schools moved to implement its findings. However, this often meant that primary schools tried to mimic high school timetabling structures with pastoral home groups, lesson rotations and special uniforms. It wasn't really a new approach but involvement with a cluster group in 2000/2001 started to confirm my beliefs that to be relevant to these kids approaching and entering adolescence was something much more learner centred, rather then just moving kids around or creating ability and gender groupings in subjects like Maths and Phys Ed. So Lindsay and I continued to make Resource Based Learning as a methodological platform and my own interest in the potential of ICT to enable middle school students more scope in managing their own learning continued to increase. Getting our kids involved in student leadership, participation in school based community service and working on "enterprise" based projects meant they were being catered for in challenging and engaging ways. The whole class environment was still important with relationships with their own teachers crucial at a time where self confidence and consciousness is in a fragile state. Not all teachers "got" the message about what we were trying with our kids and thought that if they appealed to the kids, sought credibility by being their "mate" and catering for what was perceived to be popular, cool or hip. Some even mocked us behind our backs. But at places like the Middle Schools Cluster or when I attended Discovery School - Learning Technologies at Grange Primary School, I saw, met and conversed with educators on the same wavelength. They too were committed to improving outcomes for their middle school charges and gradually the middle school kids in high schools started to reap the benefits of the new philosophy. Home groups were given core teachers who provided more face to face contact in the mold of the upper primary teacher.

So, my own middle school approach has evolved and solidified over the past nine years. Moving to a new school meant having to challenge and rethink my approach especially in the context of being a tandem teacher and sharing a class with teachers with a different world and education view to my own. So, in my own view, what is a middle school approach?

  • building a relationship with individual students who are forging their own personal identity
  • giving students open ended tasks that cater for the wide range of abilities and skill sets
  • making learning purposeful through problem solving and involvement in innovative curricular opportunities
  • basing content around students' own interests in their own rapidly evolving future
  • involving students in decision making that is real, involvement in school based community service and actively promoting leadership opportunities in both arenas.

I could go on and on (but won't) and it will be a challenge to continually revisit middle school students' needs, particularly as more and more of the tech-savvy, always connected Net generation makes its way through the Australian education system.

Just a real quickie to say that our class blog Learning Area 21 is now starting to gain momentum with quite a few posts from kids about our recent camp with quite a few offering each other encouragement via the comments. They're still learning - they often refer to a post as a "cool blog!!!!!" but it is bringing out the writers. Even the not so keen writers like the fact that being brief can be good. Like this post.....

This post's title refers to a slogan from a non-alcoholic drink called Clayton's, on sale in Australia quite a few years ago that was marketed as "the drink you have when you are not having a drink". So in Aussie vernacular, a Clayton's is anything that isn't quite genuine, not quite what it looks like, that doesn't quite fit the normal expectation. So, this post is lacking a cohesive theme and is a few ideas cobbled together I want to get online. It's a bit of a Clayton's.

I've been tossing a few ideas around in my mind over the past week or two in relation to spreading the word about blogging and the benefits that it can bring. I'd already flagged this idea earlier arising from a conversation during a break during the Prensky seminar with Bill Kerr and Al Upton, and hinted at in a comment to Darren Kuropatwa's A Difference. So, hopefully, this trio will be putting on a presentation at the annual CEGSA conference that should spread the good word about blogging and its potential for education.

I was heartened by a reaction to my blogging efforts on Thursday at the first preliminary meeting for our IWB research partnership with Flinders University. I have had the feeling that my blogging talk around the staff room was being viewed as being a bit lightweight and bit pointless based on some comments and jokes from my colleagues. But our contact from the Uni (who also warned against putting my colleagues' own exploits online unless I have sought their permission because it could be construed as being pushy and intimidatory) saw my documentation of our IWB program on our Activboarding blog as being a really powerful way of recording the journey of our school's foray. I just have to be encouraging, not disparaging, of other teachers and think of myself as blogging on their behalf. I suppose that's why my own blog is really important as my own professional outlet - and why I tend to write on Activboarding in a more general, almost detached style.

So, with a gentler approach to my colleagues in mind, I will point interested parties towards my learning team's new wiki. We are starting to get our ideas together for our presentation for the Middle Schooling Conference and I thought that we could gather all our bits and pieces there in one spot where we could all contribute and watch it grow. It could also potentially be a great resource for anyone who chooses to attend or hear our story when it is all complete. Drop by, because starting with the end in mind, I've drafted some questions we need to consider before putting our presentation together. If you were coming to see a presentation titled Engaging The Digital Native – Use Of New Technologies In The Middle School Classroom, what would you expect to see?

So, I haven't quite been suffering from blogger's block - more like blogger's hesitation. I've started two posts that have been deleted. One bit the dust because it was a bit too political in nature and I don't want to take a position I can't back away from if I get shown to be lacking in my research and the other just was pathetic and just creating a post for the sake of it. Part of the reason is trying to keep up with the reading pouring out of my Bloglines. So, I've spent a fair bit of time commenting on other blogs during the week because that was easier than trying to craft something of my own. And every time I thought here's someone's great post that I could highlight and reflect on, someone else had beaten me to it. Leigh's great post on being the new kid in town hit a nerve but by the time I was ready to blog about it, Miguel had already responded. I settled for a comment instead.

Update: Bill is unavailable for the presentation (but gives it his blessing), so hopefully Al is still on. Watch this space.

I've been a big fan of Doug Johnson since Will Richardson's reference to him in the comments of one of his posts. Now, Doug is a very experienced educator, author of several books and maintains a comprehensive website consisting of his collective resources, experiences and wisdom. One thing that really resonated with me listening to Marc Prensky was his comment that educators needed to get all of their good stuff online to share with others so as the pace of change continues to accelerate, we don't spend all of our time re-inventing the wheel. Well, Doug is an excellent role model to aspire to because all of his good stuff is on his site. It's all there - models he's developed, courses he's designed and articles he's written for professional publications. And he's been doing for quite a few more years than this Web 2.0 thing's been around and way longer than this blogger who sometimes gets false accolades for what he does. Interestingly though, he has become just as well known for his blogging as his other exploits as he pointed in a post late last year.

At the TIES conference on Sunday, I had a woman come up and ask me, "Are you the Blue Skunk guy?" 15 years of writing for print publication and now my claim to fame rests with this goofy blog written for just a few months. There must be a message in this somewhere.

I'll tell you all another thing for free - Doug has the best blogger's etiquette going around. Leave a comment on his blog and he will always e-mail you back with a note saying thanks and an observation on your comment. It makes me feel a bit guilty because I will sometimes respond to a comment by adding another but that's assuming they will come back to check. Once or twice I've e-mailed a thank you especially if I haven't seen the commenter before or I'm unfamiliar with their own blog and sadly, I take the rest for granted. Not Doug.
Now one of the reasons I'm bringing all of this up is that I'm waiting for my delivery of several books that have been widely quoted around the edublogosphere. In particular I am keen to read Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat because it is constantly referenced. (I know, Aussie behind the rest of the world but why pay A$50 for a book when I can pay US$13 and bundle it up with a few others.) Doug used this reference in a recent post and that's what got me thinking about improving the static pages in Teaching Generation Z. So I left a comment and Doug e-mailed me a response. In that response he referred to the future of blogs and I wondered to myself what are the advantages of maintaining a blog compared to an in-depth site full of your own "other stuff." To me, it's this: I could read all of Doug's articles, pdf's, columns etc. and get a lot out of it or I can correspond with the man directly through his blog, maintain a conversation, challenge his and my own thinking. As good as the rest of his site is (and it is exceptional) it can't compete with the connectedness (Will Richardson expression - Creatively Commons licensed, I hope) that the Blue Skunk Blog can give. However, if you are reading this and have never heard of Doug Johnson (hard to believe), do yourself a favour, click on the links and enjoy the best of both worlds.

For a while, my Bloglines account has steadily built up when I've been busy and then it's a case of reading to catch up. Some of the bloggers I subscribe to pour out an enormous amount of content. I sometimes like to think of them as superbloggers. They post daily at the least and can post in the double figures on occasion. They read widely which is where a lot of the content comes from and that in turn gives me extra leads to follow. At one stage I had over ninety unread posts from Christian Long's think:lab and I valiantly tried to plough through it all because the high quality of information but I had to move on. I've still got one saved in Bloglines that I think is excellent and I'd love to expand on it properly sometime in the future. For readers who are unfamiliar with Christian's work, it has a focus on school design and he has the most complete set of links to online journals, e-zines and quality edubloggers going around. He blogs broadly across the whole spectrum of education - I am just amazed by how much he pumps out.
Must Read Post: Surviving Year One in the Classroom without Sabotaging the Future

Another super blogger who contributes widely in a variety of settings is Miguel Guhlin from Mousing Around. I have to admit - it took me a little while to appreciate his work but now I'm a big fan. I like his tangential style (probably because it strikes a chord) and two recent posts have been amongst my favourites. But it's hard to keep up with all of his posts and that doesn't account for all of his podcasts as well.
Must Read Post:Does blogging lead to people quitting?

I'll just highlight one more edublogger that should be in your feedreader - if you can handle the pace - and that's Autono Blogger's Marco Polo. A self described compulsive diarist, I counted 10 posts in one day recently.
Must Read Post:The Inevitable Personal Learning Environment Post at incorporated subversion

You know those days when you wish one of your favourite bloggers would post, it's been too long, you're longing for their insight - well, slot a superblogger into your Bloglines and you'll never have one of those days.

Doug's recent post, Resources for Copyright Literacy, was very timely. How to effectively teach kids about the issues of intellectual property and the concept of copyright has been hampered by my practical ignorance in this area. I've always known that copying slabs of other people's written content was both morally and legally wrong but in the past, I always figured that unless the words "copyright", "all rights reserved" or © appeared, then that work was fair game to be used however one pleased. I actually thought to be protected by copyright, that it had to be stated up front or you had no rights at all. So, after checking out Doug' links, I now have a great set of resources to use with my students. I also received a complimentary copy of The Education Technology Guide at last week's Marc Prensky's seminar. It contained an article by Gibb Owen, a Sydney based solicitor titled What is "Intellectual Property" and "Industrial Property"? This helped to make things really clear to me including a pretty good definition of "fair use". In the spirit of fair use (ie. I'm reviewing his article), some segments are worth quoting.

It would be wise for a teacher to always create and develop copyright works and / or inventions away from the place of employment using only his own time, resources or capital So that there is a clear division between the activities of a teacher as an employee and his activities as a private person.

My take on this - don't blog on school time or DECS [insert employer of your our choice here] could claim intellectual ownership! Seriously, the idea of separating what is part of your work and what you want to develop to be used beyond that in a wider sense is a good one. E-portfolios and presentations developed for conferences or workshops spring to mind.
And I like this definition:

Intellectual property is property that is created and held in the mind but most likely expressed in a material form.

So now my understanding is that Creative Commons is an elective softening of the rights you automatically get as part of copyright. So this blog was automatically protected by copyright before I put my Creative Commons licence on the site. Which is a world away from some of my teaching colleagues who encourage kids to use images without any form of citation, who believe if there's no copyright symbol or statement then it is open slather. (Admittedly, I was just as ignorant not so long ago.) And I can understand why teachers turn a blind eye to the breaching of copyright - the concept is hard to explain to younger students, all the good quality images are © and it's so hard to find public domain images, we're only using for educational purposes not commercial. There's also a bit of a culture in Australian schools that "copying is OK". There's been many a page copied out of books designed to be sold as separate student workbooks and a handy page on a bookseller's display ends up on the photocopier at recess time and in a teacher's resource collection by lunch. A fellow coordinator who writes textbooks for an educational publisher says he regularly receives royalty payments from honest New Zealand but the income from an much more populous Australian market is negligible. So, just like so many issues facing us in this age of easy access to resources, we need to inform and educate our educators before they can be expected to pass on these important concepts and issues surrounding "intellectual property."

Late last year, I compiled an abstract on the last day of term on behalf of our Middle Years Learning Unit team (MYLU for short) for the Third International Middle Years of Schooling Conference being held here in Adelaide in August and yesterday, I found out that we've been accepted to present! The e-mail started off as follows:

The conference organising committee is pleased to advise that your abstract "Engaging The Digital Native - Use Of New Technologies In The Middle School Classroom." has been accepted for a concurrent paper presentation at the Third International Middle Years of Schooling conference 5 - 7th August 2006.

How cool is that? The title indicates a fair bit of Prensky influence (some people at work think that judging by the amount of times I've mentioned his name, he must be a hero of mine) but it reflects a metaphor that has had heads nodding in agreement about how to cater for this current generation of Aussie middle school kids. I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be more work to this than meets the eye, but it should be great to present at such a big conference. I know that Nat, my tandem teacher, is a bit nervous about the prospect and was a bit jumpy when I suggested that she be the lead speaker! Watch this space as we get our act together and tell of our story (yes, IWBs will be mentioned, sorry!)