Monthly Archives: January 2011

Tomorrow is the start of the new school year here in South Australia. I'm starting my ninth year at my school and this year will be the main teacher for a class of thirty Year Sixes and Sevens - kids who start the year as 11 and 12 year olds. Composite classes like this are very common in our education system and present additional challenges for teaching and guiding an already wide spread of skills and abilities. Technology helps in meeting that challenge.

I'm usually quite nervous about the first day. This is despite the fact that I am a well established teacher within our school and I have crossed most of these kids' paths numerous times in preceding years in my role as the school's Learning Technologies Coordinator. The old adage of "you only get one chance to make a first impression" is a pretty true one. And the cool part is that we're starting the year in our new building, one of four classes that will work together over the course of the year. I'm lucky to be part of a good team. There are six of us who make up the team and we work hard to provide learning for our students that meets our school's priorities, caters for their needs as emerging adolescents and enables them to take ownership for their own achievements and learning.

One anecdote that I'm quite proud of (and that I'm sharing with you before I've even told my team mates) is a comment that my principal made last year when we were both at a meeting winding up our involvement in a departmental research project. A senior person (who will remain unidentified) was lamenting the state of many schools and was espousing many of the things I've often read on some leading edubloggers' blogs. My boss just shook her head and turned to me and whispered in an (paraphrased) aside, "I'm sick of hearing people like this who haven't been in schools for years telling us that school is no longer relevant any more. She needs to come and look at how engaged our upper primary students are before she makes such sweeping generalisations."

To make a team work well, it starts with an openness and a willingness to share. We use a wiki to do this. Using the wiki isn't the amazing part but the sharing and cross-pollination that occurs because of it is. I decided to dump paper based classroom and curriculum planning back in 2008 in favour of the digital and persuaded my classroom neighbour Maria, and my tandem partner, Kim to join in on the fun in 2009. What we found was that we could clearly see how each other planned to cover specific content and concepts, we could poach ideas and resources from each other and as a result, our two classrooms became more consistent in nature. Parents could see that the two classes were in unison and that all of the teachers were on the same page. We used the wiki to create new initiatives and used an embedded chat box to thrash out many issues and clarify directions on many a night. A wiki doesn't do this - it takes committed educators willing to be more open with each other - but the technology overcame the obstacles of needing to be face to face and simplified the hit-and-miss method of emailing documents for incremental collaboration. By the way, the wiki is private. We're practising being more open - but just with each other.

So, I've posted up my schedule for tomorrow, including links to the Getting To Know You activity and a Vimeo video I'm using as a writing prompt. The others can see where I'm going and I can see how they plan to start the year with their classes. My new partner is newer to this methodology as Kim has increased time to take on her own class and I have less Coordinator time for 2011 necessitating a change in our team structure. Now we operate and plan as a four class team where innovation isn't something that just one class gets because of the teacher in front of them. My next challenge is to work what how Edmodo can add to this mix.

Via ReadWriteWeb, news of a service called Qwiki that "combines speech-to-text and assembled multi-media to create little slideshows based on Wikipedia entries".

Although like Animoto, all of the heavy lifting is done for you, this tool has some potential in the classroom. There's all sorts of talk around the need for primary school students to have "digital literacy" skills and be able to extract meaning from more than just text, and I could see Qwiki as a way of introducing a topic, analysis of a concept, making reading Wikipedia more engaging, assisting kids with reading difficulties and looking at how the actual Qwiki could be improved to effectively communicate about its topic.

For example, I did a quick search for Australia Day.

When it finishes, it shows a number of related Qwiki shows that can help add context to the original, like the Day Of Mourning or even why Geoffrey Blainey's point of view was quoted. While this tool should not substitute effective research, I think that students would find it a useful starting point for topical research within a number of curriculum areas.

Qwiki also has a process for improvement and users can add suggestions for better images, relevant YouTube footage or even the correct pronunciation of key words. (Even Oprah Winfrey managed the correct pronunciation for Melbourne the other night - Mel-bn, not Mel-born.) Student discussion around these points can be a useful part of analysing the role of imagery and audio in conveying information. I'll be trying it out at some stage and I'll post some reflections here when I do.


I've felt the urge to blog here over the past few months slipping away. It's not that I'm not online - I am, probably excessively so - but I've been drifting through other people's blogs, following little side alleys and having no particular purpose in mind. I can't blame being busy, as Brian Crosby can. I can sympathise with Leigh Blackall to some degree as he considers the focus of his online priorities as well. I don't just want to write about anything ... so consequently, I haven't been writing anything worthwhile of late.

I also find that what Kelly Christopherson wrote late last year to be very poignant.

From my experience, if you can sum up your contributions to the school and learning in quaint little anecdotes, little stories about touching tales and quips about snippets of days, then you really don’t get it. See, for the most part, I can’t share what happens in my days because it’s confidential, too difficult to describe and, really, there’s no quaint way to tell the story.

Yet I find what someone like John Spencer can recount as being valuable in my experiences as an educator. I wouldn't call his posts quaint though - but I do share Kelly's issue in that recounting my own anecdotes directly from my immediate worklife is fraught with issues because some people are reading who have too much context and the intent gets overwhelmed by their insider or close community perspective.

So, I've let things drift. Then thanks to John the other day, I found the perfect song to describe my current malaise. Enjoy.

Thanks again, to Stephen Downes, who points to a Guardian article on the future where this passage confirms what I was talking about in the last post:

The open web created by idealist geeks, hippies and academics, who believed in the free and generative flow of knowledge, is being overrun by a web that is safer, more controlled and commercial, created by problem-solving pragmatists.

These are the pragmatists who would be happy to see RSS die before the casual web user becomes aware enough to see its worth. (Another link from Stephen's Daily Newsletter.)

Following a tangential thought after reading this Stephen Downes' post in OLDaily.

I'm not much of a futurist but I certainly wonder about the impact of the corporatised  internet within the next decade on people like myself who have found a niche on the open web. The uncertainty surrounding delicious is certainly a indication that learners need to be nimble and adaptable in order to keep their free ranging options open. I can see a future where teachers who haven't started blogging and sharing resources won't need to bother because self hosting and options like Edublogs will be too difficult to access, audience too difficult to find and networks too hidden behind service barriers. Facebook and Twitter will set the blueprint for short drips of information, inane games and "Likes" that strip meaningful connection back to quick wordbites and image overload.

Net neutrality is a big deal. We may look back at the Web 2.0 phenomenon as an exciting period where anyone could publish to the web while still maintaining control and integrity. It may be that if I have say, Bigpond, as my internet provider, I can only get the Bigpond filtered and ratified web. More open independent ISPs may become niche expensive services as the mass population weaned onto a diet of of Apple and Android apps, or social media one stop shops find that cheap, corporation sponsored internet is all they know or care about. Where one can actually find an authoring or sharing site, one will need to sign over all intellectual property rights to the megawebcorporation overlord before one can even say "Hello World." All of this digital citizenry stuff could well be beyond the skill set of the average educator. Don't worry, Google will provide a set of online lesson plans for us to follow and then the kids can add another sponsored widget onto their online portal.

We can only hope that human ingenuity will prevail over the insatiable need for profit. Facebook has a powerful grip for now, but as soon as users decide that another service is newer, shinier and cooler, then that particular walled garden will need to re-invent itself (like MySpace) or face irrelevance as the users flock to the new service. But the trend towards capturing audience for the benefit of advertisers is now everyday with the public so used to social media games, getting free virtual dollars for favouriting consumer products and connecting to vague acquaintances. The KMarts and Targets of the world try to cater for everything a consumer would need in one place - there is a huge possibility that the online world will adopt the worst aspects of the offline, face to face world where giant corporations control far more than they should. I'd like an internet that is more like a countryside dotted with quaint, unique little hamlets and villages than an internet with a few major cities and miles of soulless freeway.