Monthly Archives: May 2008

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 -

I think Gavin could be very useful in my classroom.


For anyone who may be interested, I held a Parent Evening at my school to explain our Upper Primary student blogging program and to share some information in general about using social media in primary school classrooms. The evening attracted a small number of dedicated parents and was very successful. I also had the support of about nine staff members. I didn't record the presentation as it was more of a free flowing exchange of information - there were references to specific kids and other aspects of the school not suitable for a generalised audience. However, some educators on my network were asking if I would share my slidedeck - so here it is for what it's worth out of context. I've altered some of my own photographs of students to mask identity and done some other scribbling on some of the slides to be pro-actively protective. I'll share the link to my Google doc notes to help add the content of my talk to the slides. I'm more than happy to field any questions in my comments.


I've had this post sitting in draft form for several months now after I commented on a post from Sylvia Martinez on the concept of teachers as researchers. Sylvia's thoughts have risen to the top again in the context of yesterday's meeting of the four schools and university partners selected for a three year Learning Technologies research project. I was part of the team that successfully applied for our school's involvement in a project that partner university research expertise with regular classroom teachers in a bid to explore the overarching question "What does 21st Century learning look like?" Now 21st Century Learning is a phrase that is bandied around by educators, visionaries and systems so much that it is fast becoming yet another trendy buzz phrase that is an assumed understanding that no-one can actually define. So the fact that DECS (our state education system) is keen to actually explore what it might mean for schools and students here in South Australia is a good move to move that terminology from the realm of rhetoric to the definition of actual good practice that is scalable across a large public school system. But it is the casting of teachers in the role of researchers that is of interest to me here.

Here's what I wrote on Sylvia's post:

I would say from my casual observations from within the system here in South Australia, not many teachers would view themselves as researchers. Part of it is that notion of academia - experts and researchers with doctorates do their detached research from afar and then teachers read their latest findings in books and journals or reserve spots at professional development seminars and sessions to find out what the research says should be happening in their classrooms. The other part that comes into play is that often research is a place where the boundaries are pushed or new territory is explored - many teachers are very wary of labelling their pedagogy as being part of personal action research - to some, they are quite afraid of being labelled experimental by leaders, parents or their peers. And who wants their child in a classroom where they could labelled guinea pigs following some teacher's wacky passions? For many, the safe route is to follow what is touted as good common practice and not go out too far out alone on a limb. It's a shame that teachers are not resourced better and actively supported to conduct classroom based research - the chalkface experience is too often over-ridden and disregarded by the higher powers that be.

I know my own doubts about perceiving myself as a teacher/researcher have a lot to with doubting that I have enough method and trust in my observations. I know that many of us subscribe to a research methodology described once by Will Richardson as "throwing ideas against a wall and seeing if it sticks". Sometimes, in a time poor occupation, that's as good as we can do.

The other factor that comes into play is how much teachers understand the learning theories that underpin the way they operate with their students. South Australian teachers have been told often that our curriculum framework (SACSA) is based on constructivist principles. Apart from Bill Kerr (who certainly knows his learning theories) I very rarely encounter teachers who can articulate their own understanding of the learning theory they subscribe to. I would include myself in that uncertain category most of the time but blogging has helped me to be more conscious of learning theory and the role it should play in defining professional practice. (I had never heard of constructionism until I crossed paths with Bill and Leigh Blackall.) I have heard Dr. Trudy Sweeney (part of this Learning Technologies grant) on more than one occasion citing research that states that often teachers' beliefs are not accurately reflected in their practice. So, it means that even if you manage to change the beliefs of a teacher, it does not necessarily mean that the teacher's practice will change. And conversely, a teacher's practice can change without any shift in their beliefs.

I like what Sylvia says about educators who choose to blog their ideas and learning:

If you are blogging about your own practice as a classroom teacher, you are already a teacher-researcher. By sharing your voice with the world, you formalize what you know and reflect on your own practices with a “tomorrow mind” that will benefit not only your own students, but also others around the world.

No one is better placed than the teacher to see if learning theories involving students hold water. "Scientific research"as a term is often misused to push certain points of view as Doug Noon highlighted a little while back. I think this is a great chance for our school to benefit from university expertise and I'm hoping that empowered teachers who value their hands on experiences and observations and can connect the dots to the theory is one of the primary outcomes.


I know that many are raving that diigo trumps with its ultra-bookmarking and extra bags of tricks. But for many teachers I work with, is an ideal starting spot for them in the world of social software subverted for educational purposes. It's simple but powerful. Too many bells and whistles just scare nervous teachers away.

We've been trying to build a collegial network of users and I'm pushing the line that sharing favourite sites and links is much easier this way in preference to the email out to all staff with the "Have you seen this?" tagline. We've started using unique tags to tie all of the web links for our inquiry units together but some teachers' eyes still glaze over when we mention phrases like "common tags", "adding fans to your network" and "bundling tags."

Some are uneasy about the public nature of the service.

"It's only websites," supporters say.

But as my colleague and friend, Alex Hayes, has pointed out, a long term or active user of does lay out their entire digital learning history for the world to access.

But the interest is building. Our switched on teacher-librarian has been pushing the social bookmarking barrow enthusiastically and gradually more and more teachers who want to use the internet as a regular part of their learning program are realising that it is impossible to manage 300 + bookmarks in Favorites! But it is weird that a service like which has been around since 2003 is already viewed by many edubloggers as old skool when the vast bulk of teachers are only just becoming aware of the power of this simple but highly effective tool.


My theme for my ten minute audio at last Friday's Learning In The 21st Century roundtable discussion was about protecting teacher innovation and how student learning can extend beyond the classroom. I managed to get myself to educationau headquarters on Fullarton Road shortly after 2 pm and got to be involved in the last two hours of discussion which was centered around the development of a starting framework of what Teaching And Learning Online means in an Australian context. I tried to catch up and plug in on what had transpired in the previous five hours while the other participants were tiring after an intense day. My impressions of our facilitator Joan Russell, an eminent South Australian in the field of Science, were first rate. She set the tone for working through the issues in a timely and open manner keeping all participants on track whilst respecting their various points of view. I wish that I could have been there for the whole day but Mike Seyfang recorded all of the relevant presentations and conversations in due course I will be able to listen to all of the audio and be well briefed.

It is great to see that Al Upton has restarted blogging with his class under a framework of guidelines developed in consultation with his principal. If you visit his blog, you will notice that the Notice For Closure page has been archived under a tab and you will know be able to re-directed to his new miniLegends blog. Al has kickstarted so much of this conversation that we had to have here in Australia and it is only through boundary pushing innovators like him can we discover what is truly best for those learners under our care.

That's why innovation is something precious to be guarded within our schools. Without the innovative educators, we would be always camped at the safe no-risk end of learning - innovators are the ones who open up new possibilities and create new entry points for others to follow through. But the concept of "duty of care" is a real one that K-12 educators must deal with. Whenever you invite someone to interact with your learners the potential and expected benefits must carefully weighed against the potential risks. While a lot of American research is cited that dispels a lot of the myths surrounding use of the internet, there is precious little that carries similar weight in an Australian context. So do Aussie educators assume that the North American findings are directly transferable or do we proceed with caution and push for more research to be carried out with our own population?

"Duty of care" assumes that the students under my care will be cared for and not exposed to any risks that a parent or caregiver would consider unreasonable. In the case of using the web, that parental point of view could swing from parents who use heavy filtering, perhaps have deliberately chosen to not to get web access at home to the parents for whom the web is a big mystery and they don't give much thought to where in cyberspace their children might be because their awareness levels are just so far behind.They just don't know.

Peter Simmonds, our DECS Learning Technologies Projects manager was an all day attendee on that Friday and he used the Outdoor Education analogy to good effect. To paraphrase his words, outdoor education could potentially be a very risky undertaking (think rock climbing and kayaking as two examples) but the educators involved have developed such well developed protocols and guidelines that the risks have been diminished to their very slightest and are now considered to be safe activities for students to be involved in. Teaching and learning online activities also would benefit from the development of protocols and guidelines that would turn the use of blogs and other online tools into a safe, highly valuable and essential learning practice. Doing so without this happening is like trusting your ropes will hold you down the rockface because of your experience rather than taking the time to check and ensure that the activity will not end in disaster due to human oversight or negligence.

The framework under development and started on May 2 by the gathered group of volunteers is a positive step in the right direction for Australian education.


Multiliteracies –Teaching The Consumption and Production of Multimodal Texts

Dr. Geoff Bull and Dr. Michelle Anstey

Session One

Teaching The Consumption and Production of Multimodal Texts.

What is a multimodal text? Goes beyond just straight print text, can be interactive, linear and non-linear. All texts have values and the reader is an active constructor of meaning from the text. (This is an interesting point as students move more into construction of texts for wider audiences beyond their classroom. Are they aware enough of the different ways the words and images they choose will be interpreted?)

Written paper texts are generally consumed in a linear fashion, but digital text can be very non-linear. Even television can be non-linear and interactive (i.e. reality television) where you can use SMS and web voting to influence and change the direction of the text. Processing a text means drawing on the experience of other texts. Texts incorporate a variety of semiotic systems – decision making can be influenced by preferences. Both digital and non-digital formats of a text are produced these days. Design and aesthetics of a text target specific cultural groups.

When presenting a text to students, decide what you want the students to know and be able to do? We were shown two multi-modal texts and had to consider the contexts – which they were published. Two images shown from the Iraq war – one from early in the war and a later one. Our group discussed the difference between the two and came up with many different possible interpretations. A photographic technique is the use of the Y-vector to attract attention to a specific part of the photograph. (“Punch Into Iraq” – The Australian March 2003 and The Australian July 2007.)

Texts are becoming more screenlike. Showed an example “The Penguin Book: Birds In Suits.” Layout offers a number of starting points and boxed in texts mean shorter, simpler sentences. The traditional ways of decoding a text do not always apply to more screen like texts. Previewing, skimming and scanning are skills that involve eye movement on a text. Look at a similar topic using various texts and work though with your students how to make meaning and navigate the information.

Jakob Nielsen - You have 30 seconds to grab your reader’s attention. Looked at the changes of the National Geographic front page from 2003 to 2008. Changed so that signal to noise ratio had improved.

Obvious statement – start with a purpose then choose the technology or tool to suit.

Session Two

Consuming and Producing Still Images

What is your literacy identity? Use of prior experience with text, knowledge, cultural knowledge and experiences, social knowledge and experiences, and technological knowledge and experiences. Break away from “doing school” and re1ate to the “life world.” Showed “Anzac Day - Simpson And His Donkey” cartoon for the Australian April 26, 2001. Showed KIA ad showing a van with a sign “New To Country, will Work For Less.” What reaction do you have and what trigger that reaction? Having the skills to understand a mobile phone contract or to undertake a rental agreement – who has the power and to clarify - this is using critical literacy. Advertising texts is a good place to start but you can move onto other forms of texts - scientific texts cited as an example where one scientist was presented in their work environment in their lab coat etc. while the other was interviewed in the street with opposing points of view. Who appeared to be more authorative ?

Why study still images? We get so much information today via visual images that we run the risk of taking them (and what they mean) for granted. What role do images play in a text? A few examples - a pulp mill leaflet from Tasmania with an open ended question, a Donna Hay recipe book showing toffee apples and a magazine article showing a hand drawn map of the Huon Valley.

Color is used in images – harmonious colours and contrasting colours used to evoke feelings or to draw attention. Plan a colour script for a piece of writing – examples cited were Pixar movies and children’s picture books (The Lorax came to my mind as a good example. Another planned example of color combination I came up with were the Miami Dolphins NFL team whose team colors are Coral and aqua - the colours and the names match the image.)

Showed through a number examples of children's picture books where images and how they are presented are really important to the story being told. One example was "Black and White" by David Macaulay. The front cover consists of four separate images that present images in different ways using different colours and styles presenting a significant challenge for the reader to decode. We were also shown the book ''Fox" by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks where the text was designed to match in with the illustrations.

Session Three

Moving Images

Hidden agenda aim of the session was to ensure that we never view a moving image in the same way again! How do we get meaning from “moving visual”? Are we always conscious about how we gain meaning? Use codes and conventions to do so. Gave an example of how a group of friends may see a movie together, but discussion will show that they viewed it in many different ways. Use grabs of video from what the students themselves watch advertisements, soap operas etc. in 5-30 second segments. Does not contravene copyright of material – as it is covered under “fair use”.

Talked about male and female ads and the various choices made by advertisers to differentiate with choices of colour, music and pace. Looked at camera angles in covering men’s and women’s sport and how it changed over time. Can be an interesting study when viewing the Olympics. “Literacy by stealth” assists boys who are literacy-reluctant. Trend, emerges from research that a lot of student learning comes from moving image, up to 25%. This has implications for texts presented in the classroom. If teachers do not include “moving image” as part of their teaching, they will become increasingly irrelevant (as well as not doing their job.) Use the extras sections of DVD to look at storyboards (excellent reason to use tools like Comic Life). It is important to explicitly teach the metalanguage. Big and little, zoom in and out then become characterisation and context.

There was considerable time spent in the deconstruction of the short film “Star” directed by Guy Ritchie, and the making of “Walking With Dinosaurs.” Geoff paused and talked us through the different codes and conventions of the what we were seeing, hearing in terms of soundtrack and also dialogue.

Moving Images blur the lines between fiction and non–fiction. Walking With Dinosaurs is an example of fictionalising facts - a story is created to demonstrate what scientists have learned and determined from their research. Presents issues about authenticity – how do we determine it and identify it? Talked about the role that virtual worlds, (Second Life) have in disturbing the paradigm about what is real life.

Overall, a very good day that confirmed many of the practices that occur in my room in terms of using digital content to teach specific concepts and cater for the multi-literate learners in my classroom. It also highlighted the usefulness of an Interactive Whiteboard in the classroom and provided many useful explanations of how texts are constructed to use in discussion and analysis with my students. I still would like to have had wireless to look stuff up as we went along - it is very much a preferred learning style of mine and in line with the whole multi-literate point of view. Text is still important but the ability to decode and make sense of the other text forms is a crucial part of being literate today. I wonder if digital literacy can be construed as something else or just the digitisation of the three forms of written text, still images and moving images? There has to be more to that as this [multiliteracies as covered today] mainly deals with the consumption angle while the creation would bring other things to consider. Something more to tease out at a later time - or perhaps my readers would like to kickstart with their points of view.