Monthly Archives: October 2010


After school, Wednesday, in our staff meeting time, I finally stepped up and talked about the idea of Sharing using digital tools for the first time. I mean it's not the first time I've talked about using Delicious or any other social media tool, but it is the first time I've couched the whole thing around the premise of sharing, and the possibilities that sharing with a wider network of educators than just the ones at your site might open up. I've shied away from really talking in a formal way to my colleagues about networked learning - a mixture of not wanting to push my own potential zealotry and a worry that most won't have a clue what I'm talking about anyway. It's hard to get the message just right so that they can see that this is a way that regular classroom teachers can go, because after all, it is the techhead, laptop loving freak pushing the ideas. If they could just sit here in this spot and see the potential stretch out in front of them like I can ...

I chose to show the first seven minutes of Dean Shareski's opening keynote video for the K12 Online Conference, which has stoked the fires of inquiring debate in a number of places across the web. I will chat to a few colleagues tomorrow and see what they got out of it. My worry is that not that they won't see value in this form of sharing, but that they will see it as something beyond them, beyond what time will allow for them, beyond what their capabilities are as an online navigator.

What I struggle with as well is this notion of self-directed learning as a professional. I believe that participation in networked learning is ideally suited for this - tools like Twitter are subverted for educational sharing. But Twitter is mainly about sharing stuff that other people have created or found, and Delicious is the same. Neither ask the participant to put themselves "out there" like writing a blog post or adding content to a wiki or even posting a reply to a forum. So, why is that so many teachers find the use of social media for sharing to be such a step that they are unwilling to take? I find it hard to imagine their reluctance and need to be shown because I (like the majority of edubloggers I assume) have learnt how to use and manipulate social media through active participation. Workshops and PD sessions on how to use Google Reader and Delicious seem to run counter to the whole point of self directed learning through technology.

Also I feel that for a practice to stick, to become habitual, the desire to explore further must come from within. Maybe some teachers will never grasp the concept of online networked learning for their own professional improvement ... but I have at least raised their awareness of what it is out there if they choose to look beyond their own self imposed boundaries.

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A few weeks ago, the State treasurer, Kevin Foley, revealed the 2011 State budget wielding a tempered axe according to many analysts. Every Government department has had to do some belt tightening, including Education. Following the dismantlement of our educational technology flagship Technology School Of The Future, the Learning Technologies section of DECS retreated to the Flinders Street headquarters running reduced but important initiatives like the eTeacher programs, Masterclasses, ICT Coaches just to name a few. But at the end of 2010, it will all be gone. Cut to meet the budgetary goals. The elearning balloon is well and truly deflated.

Now, that could be interpreted in either of two ways. Either, South Australian teachers are so skilled and advanced in their use of technology for learning that we no longer need any departmental support or the Government just doesn't see it as important. I suspect the latter. Contrast this to the forward thinking initiatives going on over the border in Victoria.

Then today I received this in my pigeonhole at work - a gift from our Premier. It reflects where he thinks our educational priorities lie. A paper based token for my efforts. I should feel flattered but instead I feel a little insulted.


musicgraphThis is a graph created by our two Year Seven classes as part of our inquiry unit "What Are You Listening To?" The graph was the result of an exercise that asked the students the question "How do songs get onto your playlist?" Before the results came in, my offsider Kim and I hypothesized that kids today would barely listen to the radio and would lean more on their social networks to find and enjoy new music. Well, the results tell us that for our particular cohort, the radio still holds some power and influence.  Just in case, your eyes are struggling to make out the results, both the radio and recommendations from friends are the two most common ways of discovering new music, closely followed by the internet. Students also had to create a flowchart that showed the pathway of discovering and adding a new song to their collection. If I get permission, I might share some of their work here.


This week's maths focus was planned to be on time zones and I sat there on Sunday evening looking around for some web resources to help convey those concepts to my Year Seven class. For some reason, as I stared at the time zone map from, my mind wandered back to a conversation I'd had with a colleague about my favourite reality TV show Survivor. (Everyone has a weakness - cigarettes, gambling, golf, chocolate .... Survivor!) Sensing that maybe I was a reality television fan, she had also asked if I watched the show The Amazing Race. I've only watched the show on the odd occasion but her suggestion bobbed back into my mind as I pondered a hook, a reason for students to be exploring the concepts and the mathematics behind the world's time zones.

So, in my typical style, I started designing a challenge that would blend time zone differences, travel times and choices that involved time calculation. I started by finding an easy to read Episode Guide site where each season had each episode neatly summarised in a paragraph. I decided that the focus would be just on moving around the world and gave Season One a try as a test run. The first episode had the contestants starting in New York and flying to Johannesburg in South Africa, so I used Fare Compare to find flights starting today that would fit the bill. Even though money isn't a focus at the moment in our Mathematics, I figured it wouldn't hurt to add the ticket costs along the way as well. I also thought that getting the kids to use Powerpoint as a tool would be an easy way to standardise everything, making each slide a leg of the challenge. amazingslide1

So, part of this Amazing Race is work out the best choices to get from one destination as outlined by that particular season to the next. You can see that my earliest choice for a flight was an 11.15 am flight from JFK (I know that this isn't quite how the show works but this provides the decision making element). I recorded that plus the GMT zone, the ticket costs (Fare Compare automatically converted the costs into Aussie dollars but if I used another site or a particular airline site, then there is always the handy XE Currency Converter site) the time spent travelling including time spent on stopovers, the arrival local time with a converted time for the originating time zone. That would be plenty for the students to play around with.

So, the students are in teams of two or three and are aiming to cover at least two legs per day. After each leg, the team must program in an overnight stay before hunting for the next flight to the next destination. This may turn out to be too ambitious on my part but some teams covered three legs in today's hour. There are two "prizes" on offer - one for the first team to get through the designated season with correct calculations by week's end, and a second for the team that makes the best choices and solves the season in the least fictional time.

In general, the kids really got into the task although a number needed help in navigating the complex Fare Compare site. The tendency was to punch the two destinations in and take the top result. With the premium being on saving time not money, students had to be shown how to sort the results to give the shortest flight times and make better choices. After all, no one wants to spend ten hours in one airport and seventeen in another before arriving at the required city 37 hours after departure just to get a bargain basement fare when a direct flight will get one there in under fourteen! We'll see how it goes.


(This post is written with my parent hat on after enjoying two weeks of time with my family.)

I've seen this slogan before on kids' t-shirts but for some reason, the kid wearing it on the playground down at our local shopping precinct stuck in my mind. It's funny that at times, my wife and I feel like the parents who are out of sync with most other kids we see out and about. We insist that our boys wait their turn in line, use manners and eye contact when talking to others and watch where they are walking in relation to other people's personal space when out in public. On Saturday, we went to a birthday party for a family friend. Their son was turning seven and had his party at our local bowling centre. We arrived and insisted that both our boys stood with us while the bowling shoes were sorted out. No problem, except every other kid in the place was tearing around the place, running through other people's games, near missing the staff while their parents chatted obliviously. I can see Josh looking at me with his unspoken words ringing in my ears, "How come they get to run around wherever they like while I have to stand here doing what you think is the right thing?"

Actually, I want my kids to realise that life isn't just about them - that it is important to think about others. There is a difference between being true to yourself and wanting to have freedom for one self and allowing others to do the same, and having your own self motivated actions coming at the expense of others at hand. This is not a criticism of youth today but rather an observation of how many parents are telling their own kids in an unspoken way via their actions that they are indeed the centre of the universe, that yes, they do have the right to barge to the front of the queue, that their child is owed an apology if someone accidentally gets in their way and their child should get everything that their parent felt they missed out on as a child.

Another quick story - over the last two years, I had the privilege of teaching a student with impeccable manners. Every morning I got a genuine, warm greeting and I was thanked for small things that I did as a matter of course in the classroom. We (my tandem teacher and I) mentioned this to the student's parents at interview time and the father made an interesting observation. He appreciated the fact that we were complimenting his child but in his opinion, felt it was sad that we were doing so because it made it feel like good manners and graciousness were exceptional things, rather than being commonplace and just part of the way people treat each other.

So seeing "It's All About Me" on a T-shirt is either an ironic observation of the way society is operating these days or a motto to be adopted by kids today at the encouragement of their parents. There is a difference between catering for your child's needs and pandering to their wants.