Monthly Archives: November 2008

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This could be further proof that my blogging muse is still out somewhere wandering around the Nullarbor but a tweet yesterday from Josie Fraser led me to Twitter Grader. It seems that according to this particular service I'm the current number three of the Adelaide Twitter Elite! You get this nifty badge as well.

This can't be based on my tweeting which is even more sporadic than my blogging. 



I don't have candidates for all of the categories in the 2008 Edublog Awards and the ones I do want to nominate are all voices I think need more attention paid to them even if they may not be obvious to some of my readers. (Except for Dan Meyer - he gets more attention than even he knows what to do with but the video series was such a unique concept that I couldn't go past.) This only involves going into my Google Reader and seeing what catches my eye. Here goes:

Best individual blog: Dean Groom (I know he's changed his blog title about three times over the past year but you can't go past his sheer intensity, his on-the-ball observations, practical application of theory and just general food for thought. Dean has also really churned out some content in 2008, all of it worth reading and re-reading.)

Best new blog: Tomaz Lasic's Human (I love the fact Tomaz blogs from a similar place to me, the classroom. Another Aussie with posts to make you think.)

Most influential blog post: Order For Closure - Al Upton & The MiniLegends (What other post gathered 271 posts and created such a ripple in the edublogosphere this year.)

Best teacher blog: ken rodoff's the why of it all (Just the most insightful and most cleverest edublogger in my reader - just imagine Michael Leunig as an edublogger.)

Best educational use of video/visual: Dan Meyer's dy/av series (I've watched these over and over again. Even made my staff watch a couple to get their grey matter ticking.)

Out of 123 subscriptions, there are many award worthy blogs not mentioned above. But them's the ones I'd like to see with an Eddies badge in their sidebar.

Last Friday.

Ann, my principal and I attended a DECS Learning Technologies Project meeting with our partner schools with the goals of updating each site's progress and making plans for the next stages. This is part of a joint three year project exploring the role that technology can play in schools and progressive learning programs. The phrase "21st Century learning" is in the mix as well, but the good news is that all four sites and our university research partners are trying to define that phrase in terms of what that means for South Australian K-12 public schools. We definitely don't need another buzz phrase where everyone sagely nods their head whenever it is heard.

Each school has some funding (not a lot) and has university personnel to help explore their identified research questions. I won't mention my school's specific questions in this forum except to say that our focus is squarely upon a whole school approach towards inquiry learning and supporting teachers to move their pedagogy towards effective implementation of that approach. Technologies are being viewed as necessary tools to improve teacher practice and consequently our students' learning. For example, we are looking at how the use of interactive whiteboards and wireless laptops can be used to broaden student learning within this context.

My school was first to present to the collective group. I led out with the presentation with Ann, my principal fleshing some of the details along the way. I talked through our inquiry scope and sequence, our Interactive Whiteboard Users self assessment against Dr. Trudy Sweeney's IWB Framework and the results of our student learning technology survey. We then heard from the other schools (Ferryden Park Primary, Streaky Bay Area and Glenunga International School) who detailed their progress on their own identified priorities. Glenunga had actually completed an extensive student survey constructed by their university partners that was synthesized by a group including student leaders who then presented their findings in summary format to the school's teaching staff. The students who attended our meeting talked about the daunting task of telling their teachers about what they collectively believed were the attributes of an excellent teacher. The other enduring phrase was from their principal talking about the metal image she has of seeing students "unplugging" as they walk in through the school gates - ipod ear buds out, mobile phones off - it is a scene she hopes to see change over the course of the three year project.

So that was a good Friday, celebrating the way forward, putting the pieces together for a replicable way forward for public schools in this state.

Fast forward to today. 

This Friday.

Today and the latter half of yesterday were somewhat chaotic. It could even described as a debacle

My teachers' union and the State Government are at loggerheads over a pay and conditions agreement where.. quite frankly, there doesn't seem to be much agreement going on. I'm not a particularly militant unionist but I've been willing to support the calls for industrial action in a bid to keep our employment conditions on a par with other teachers Australia wide. Victorian teachers also had a long and bitter struggle but won concessions that were worthwhile after 18 months. Western Australian teachers recently gained a three year deal of 24 % and statistically, South Australia is on the bottom of the rung. Both the above mentioned states will have classroom teachers earning more than I will in my junior leadership role of coordinator. What am I saying here? Not much except that having an industrial commission order a stop to a strike less than a day before it is due has created bad feelings in all parts of the community where no parties - the teachers' union, the government or even the independent umpire (the commission) have come out looking like losers eagerly pointing the fingers at each other.

All this talk about performance pay and flexible funding for a 21st century education system seem pretty hollow words when agreement about basic funding for an education system is so hard to reach. 

Digital technology did play its part though. I received an email from my principal forwarding a DECs message warning that a commission order could be imminent and to stay posted for further developments. I arrived home where my wife said that she had seen a television report saying that the union had been ordered to call off their strike action or face sanctions. This was about 5 pm - I scoured the web for updates and kept an eye on my inbox for an update. Finally at around 9 pm my phone buzzed with a text message from my union saying that the strike was off, report to work as usual. I emailed my colleagues and then went to work planning lessons for the day. I even had two students email me asking if school would be on so I sent them messages to let them know.

But, in the morning, only eight of my thirty students fronted for school. Despite what the Australian said, chaos was not avoided. The whole debacle gave most parents little or no time to change plans - I don't blame them for being fed up with the unpredictability of the whole situation. I did not even send my own kids to school - it was going to be too hard. 

Definitely not a Friday to be repeated any time soon.


I still read Will Richardson every time he posts but I find going onto his blog to comment a somewhat disheartening affair. It seems every time I have something to say on a topic on his mind, a swarm of other commenters descend and say everything I was going to say and then some more. Maybe I'm being selfish but being number 56 in a comment avalanche does not hold much appeal.

It happened Sunday when I read Will's post Get.Off.Paper. What a great post! I had insightful, original witty observations just ready for the comment queue. Maybe this time the comment pile up might be in the teens ... but nope, 47 others had yet again beaten me to the punch. So I did what any frustrated edublogger would - bleat out my frustrations (politely) on twitter. 

Dean Shareski gave me some welcome advice back but sadly, my moment of inspiration had gone. (They don't come along very often.) But I did come up with one use for paper (the topic of Will's post) that I hope won't be replaced by digital technology anytime soon. See below for my 5 year old son's effective use of this extremely popular medium.

Hopefully, I can briefly speak to Will himself about a few things in March when our paths cross here in my home town for a conference where he is the featured speaker. I'm looking forward to that opportunity as a local presenter- the BlogFather has always been generous with his time and ideas. Many of us C-listers get excited when comments for a post hit double figures but for an A-list edublogger like Will, it must take a certain amount of energy and commitment to keep track of the traffic his blog generates. And no, you wouldn't want all that on paper.


My youngest son loves this commercial at the moment.

So, I hunted it up on YouTube a few weeks back to show him using the keywords "cadbury gorilla" and besides finding out that it was a British ad that was over a year old, more than several enterprising individuals had remixed the drumming gorilla in innovative and entertaining ways. One version involving a Bonnie Tyler classic even then became an official alternative!

Here's one I really liked - great for anyone who has fond memories of the eighties.

And this one was also excellent.

Any other Cadbury Gorilla fans out there?


My mobile went off mid-afternoon in the classroom on Tuesday and instead of ignoring it as I usually do when teaching, I decided to see who would be calling me at this time of day. It happened to be Jane, an Assistant Principal from another local school. I had planned a launch with her of a Western Suburbs Promethean IWB Users Hubgroup using her school as the initial venue. We had "persuaded" a number of staff to present to others on topics like creating a basic flipchart, using the ActivStudio library effectively, using the IWB for inquiry learning and I had even planned to ride my old hobby horse on the use of social bookmarking sites in the classroom. 

However, Jane had some bad news.

"Graham, we've got a bit of a problem."

"What's that?"

"Well, a workman here has accidentally cut through the ASDL cable leading into the school .... so there's no internet available for this afternoon's event."


There went my session straightaway. There's not a lot of value in presenting and showing a site like if you can't actually access it. I did a quick check around with my fellow presenters to alert them of the problem and two who were targetting beginning users said that they would be fine without it, although it would make demonstrating how to do embed a web link somewhat difficult. Anyway, we went ahead - my session was cancelled which was fine because I at least had a handout pointing to places on the web where teachers who were still to grapple with the extensive use of the internet on their interactive whiteboards could still learn at their own pace, but the others who had teachers interested in their sessions had to modify their approach. Fortunately, the internet connection was restored at about 4.30 pm and Maria, my co-planning buddy could point some of the attendees in her session to her class blog and to some of the key websites used in our inquiry unit.

But it really brought the point home that I (and many of my colleagues at my school) really depend on access to the internet as a crucial part of our teaching and learning program. No web access means I can't just flick to a website as required when classroom discussion takes things that way. No web access means that the interactive websites I have tagged in delicious that help to demonstrate a key concept in mathematics are out of reach. Heck, I even plan my weekly program in pbwiki just so I can access it anywhere, anytime. As long as that time isn't web-free time.

My class use the web constantly whenever they have computer access. They have blogs, they search for information (not aimlessly as I have formally taught them to be savvy searchers, although that is still no guarantee that they won't revert to old habits!) they access images to re-use and they communicate digitally with others. 

I've partially listened to Stephen Downes' presentation "Integrating the Internet Into the Classroom" but I haven't got to the bit yet where he encounters some dissent from teachers in the audience. I'm interested in their point of view because I'm pretty sure that I don't want to wind the clock back to my pre-internet practice, and I'd like to hear of they have specific roles that preclude the use of the web, whether they find it too difficult or they just haven't gone to that point of no return where I think I am now. I have read some where (but can't recall exactly) that technology is embedded in the classroom when the teacher and the students cannot function as planned without it. I know that on the very rare occasion that our school internet is down, there are howls of disappointment from staff who "need" the connection to the world beyond their classroom. 

I truly believe that the use of the internet in my classroom prevents me from being the total topic or content expert (I usually have some base line general knowledge) - my expertise then must be in the form of empowering my students in being able to navigate the deluge of available information (where my original knowledge can be challenged and altered in the role of modeller/learner), being able to make sense of it and then being able to create their own knowledge from that. In our recent Australian Identity work in our student blogs, the ability that commenters have to point my students to valuable information via links widens that personal knowledge. That is simply not possible to the same extent in the internet free classroom.

Attribution: Image: 'internet down 🙁'


My students' blogs have experienced a flurry of comment activity since we returned from camp last week, with generous support from educators from all around the world. This has meant a real learning curve for my class in terms of being more diligent about checking for feedback, learning to be clearer in their own writing and beginning to learn how to facilitate written conversation with the adults who have offered encouragement and challenge in equal measures. Some of my marginally semi-motivated writers have become very enthused and engaged in their own digital writing now that they know people other than their classmates and their teacher are reading. The unwritten social expectations about who is a good writer amongst their peers and most likely to attract comments has also been turned on their head. Quieter, less academic, less disciplined students have received significantly more comments than some of the students used to their work being noticed.

But good writing has been recognised. One of my students has even been mentioned as motivation in a Chris Harbeck blog post. (You should have seen the quiet smile of pride on this normally reserved and self-conscious student's face!) From a teacher's perspective, it now really becomes a process of letting go and seeing how they build on their original lists, seeing how they respond to the challenges others give to them in the comments. I wrote about this very promising start in my beginning of term newsletter in an article I'd like to share here. I've added in links where needed and changed student identities back to their online nicknames.

One of the benefits of safely using online technology like blogs is the ability to learn from beyond the classroom. With our new inquiry topic and the class developing into a very good learning community, I felt the time was right to invite other teachers from my own online network in to assist with the class’s learning.

All students have been publishing an initial post titled “ What’s Unique About Being Australian?” where they created a list of ten things they felt were uniquely Australian. Some students added links to specific websites, some added relevant images and others added their own written descriptions.

Then, I promoted their posts on our classroom blog, my own professional learning blog and directed interested educators to add their comments. They were asked to have a read and leave them some observation or feedback about the students’ choices. I noticed a few comments coming into my moderation mailbox Tuesday afternoon before we left for our camp and this was quite exciting for the students.

One of the first students to publish was Alex008 and she received a comment from Canadian Maths teacher, Chris Harbeck who asked what Milo was. The very next day, a student in his class brought a can of Milo and Chris posted a photo of himself with the can onto Flickr and e-mailed me the link to share with the class. As well as making the connection of an unknown name in the comment to a real person with a real face and a real classroom on the other side of the world, it showed the students that their unique Australian point of view does need careful explanation in their own writing.

When I returned from camp, I had over 60 comments to approve from all over the world from educators (some classroom teachers, a few university staff and a couple of retired teachers) all adding in comments about the Top 10 lists, asking questions, making comparisons and pushing the students’ thinking.

Here are several examples:

“Hi Danni from Chardon, Ohio, USA,
I enjoyed your list and the links with explanations!
I have two questions about vegemite. Do you eat it often and do you like it? Is it a spread used mostly by itself or as an addition to complement the taste of other foods?”

Lani Hall, retired teacher.

“Although I live in New York State [out in the country, a few hours from New York City], I admire John Howard and I’m glad to see him on your list. Australia should be proud that he’s a part of your recent history.
I would have liked to have seen him continue, but I’m glad that he has more time to go about and talk to people all over the world about the issues facing Australia and the United States.”

Matthew K. Tabor, education consultant.

“What an awesome list, you have obviously worked very hard on this project. I’m not too sure that I’d like Kangaroo pies either, I think kangaroos are too cute to eat. I teach 10 year olds over in Auckland, New Zealand. I just had one thought though, ANZAC stands for Australian New Zealand Army Corps - so does that make ANZACs uniquely Australian or unique to Australia AND New Zealand? What do you think?”
Kirstin McGhie, classroom teacher.

And some students have really taken to responding respectfully in their own comments to improve their learning.

Anast responded to her commenters in the following way.
"@Chris Harbeck: Anzac biscuits are tasty but sometimes a bit sweet. Hear (sic) is a website for the recipe of Anzac Biscuits: Your (sic) not the only one who likes chocolate, I LOVE chocolate (but I’m not fat)Yes, In Australia, we do have chocolate chips- I wish I could just get a spoon and eat them out of the packet and a golden wattle is a type of golden/yellow flower. Thanks for leaving a comment on my friends and my blog- do it again sometime!”

She is also planning to modify her list based on the feedback she has received so far, using the internet for learning beyond the four walls of our classroom.

My apologies if I have mis-described any commenter's job description. Our next task is to look at the cultural characteristics of Australians without resorting to stereotypes - and once again, using the viewpoint of others from outside of our classroom will be invaluable. I'll keep you all posted.