Following from D'Arcy Norman's posts on What Pre-1985 Video Character Am I? and Bruce Effing Boxleitner? where he finds out what fictional character he would be in these worlds, comes a new (well, new to me) alternative where one can create a cartoon character based on yourself. Some students in my class showed me this site South Park Studio where they were creating likenesses of themselves and their friends for the Yearbook CD-ROM. Now, I've been a bit precious towards D'Arcy on his blog following his post on Microsoft Live - Designed by Fisher Price so I hope this shows I can be a little bit politically incorrect (in a nerdy sort of way). Compare this image to the one on About Graham Wegner and see if you can spot any differences. 

 SP Graham

Well, the school's Governing Council has given the go-ahead for the purchase of and installation of six more ActivBoards in our classrooms to go with the six that were installed in August. I presented the plans to my colleagues a few weks back and stated that we (the ICT committee and leadership) were after expressions of interest for the next rollout and that attendance at a Professional Development session would be the way to go. So, that ball is in my court but I have extremely busy and found it hard to put together the sort of information session I might have liked to - sort of a mini-keynote that explained the basics and let people know what they were in for. I started a Powerpointesque flipchart presentation to cover what I thought all the essentials might be - hooking things up, using the tools, planning the first lessons but then I thought, "How will I know that all of this is hitting the mark?"
Then it was obvious, turn the direction over to the stakeholders! I thought back to my presentation to the School Council where I just showed the council members "stuff they wanted to know" and the overwhelmingly positive feedback I got back as a result. Now I'd hope that teachers would be a bit more critical than parents and not be as swayed by the wow factor but why not let drive my session. That's not me copping out as I still have to demonstrate, answer the questions, make notes for future reference but this way, the group are guaranteed to walk away satisfied that they got something personally worthwhile out of the hour. So I've designed a quick and simple Word document (could have easily been done in Open Office as well) that can be downloaded here to view.

It gives them space to identify 5 things they want to know (How do you save a flipchart? How do you add backgrounds? How do you create counters for a game?) and then I use the IWB to log their answers in a mind map, drag them into broadish categories and go from there. I then demonstrate the board's possibilities all while sorting the participants' needs. I think I'm on the right track - I'll post tomorrow night on the outcome.

The first six ActivBoards are humming along as well as can be expected with our pioneering bunch from ActivBoarding. Although I still moan regularly about the fact that 95% of the posts there come from me, I have got my boss to check out educational blogging and she even contributed a post. I think I have a solution to try and get them on the blogging train and encourage other staff members to give it a go. In my role here, I offer Training and Development sessions for staff that counts towards their T&D hours for the year. (Here in South Australia, we need to complete 37 and a half verified hours of T&D every year - then the Government gives us the final week of the year off before Christmas, bringing us into line with the rest of Australia. Adelaide is sometimes referred to as the "sleepy hollow" of the country.) I've shown teachers how to design webpages, how to operate a thumbdrive or use a scanner (don't laugh) or even how to use attachments in e-mail. So, maybe the go is to run a course on Blogs 101, get them reading blogs via a preset Bloglines account (original idea, Steve Dembo), set up their own account (Blogger is good, but hey, you can't go past edublogs, I say!) and show them the basics of posting, comments etc. Then give them an hour every week on a Tuesday afternoon where they can come in, read their feeds, post to their blog, play with some of the other tools - Technorati, deli.cio.us, Furl, plus others that will have evolved by then and they accumulate hours of official T&D towards the required 37 and a half. I would have no idea how much time I've committed to developing my blogging skills and knowledge - it would be a lot by my own choice. But the big argument thrown in my face is that there isn't enough time to do this. Well, if I provide the time to get my colleagues started, there goes that excuse.
Well, I've strayed completely from my original intent for this post but it was to mention that the school is doubling its IWB quota and I am holding a workshop for interested staff next week to groom the next prospective IWB users. I've been developing a flipchart presentation (similar to Powerpoint, but with interactive components) that I might post a link to here when it is ready. It covers the starting points as I've already covered the pedagogical reasons at staff meeting a fortnight back. There are some very keen teachers, some who think they might be interested, a few from another private school dropping by to check it out and one very brave teacher who is not technologically confident at all who wants to come to find out what it all involves, even if in her words, she would be "daunted by it all." So, what you want to know before you had one of these exciting tools installed in your classroom? I hope I hit the right notes with this.
Current staff member using ActivBoard

One of the great aspects of blogs is that your content is published to a potential worldwide audience. However when you start off in a purposeful blog, you realise that it could take a while before anyone else seeks to interact with you. Now that's not a bad thing because if you start off blogging for yourself, the topics will be genuine and help you to find your voice. As time goes on, the interactivity and the connections to other people become important to connect your work to what you read about in your Bloglines feeds. Now my blog doesn't attract a lot of comments so I can tell you that all that do are treated like gold. First, it's proof that someone is reading my work and secondly, maybe my blog has contributed to their learning and then their comments definitely contribute to mine!

So a recent post of mine, Finding Time To Blog, prompted Canadian educator James Matthew to leave a comment and to "rip and remix" my post in his own blog Palimpsest redux.

I just stumbled onto a post by Graham over at Teaching Generation Z that suggests this problem of getting peers to buy into the importance of teaching (or even implementing in their own practice) the use of social software:

Now I can't afford to be snobby to anyone so I commented on his remix.

James, thank you for the comments re: Finding Time To Blog. I have to say I don't feel like a veteran teacher especially here down under where the average age of a teacher in South Australia is 50 years old. I have been involved in ICT technologies for most of my teaching career and have always looked for the bleeding edge even if I've never quite been there ......

And here's where comments can become a conversation because Matthew then replied to my comment. With this new way of weaving learning strands together I have a few choices - (i) leave another comment that answers some of the questions and issues he raises or (ii) do a remix of my own to show how the pieces can fit together. Here's a key point from Matthew's reply comment:

I think the biggest effect blogging has had on me is that it fuels my appetite for learning…I read a lot more now, because I want to have something to say. If this is the only benefit I ever see, then that is great, but I see the potential for so much more.

I couldn't agree more. I still haven't moved past blogging for personal learning but I definitely want it to be part of my classroom practice in 2006. There are only six weeks left in the Aussie school year so my focus is to keep improving my craft here and try to drag a few of my teaching colleagues along for the ride. So, Matthew, if you're reading this, watch this blog for developments. Anyone else, join the conversation and point me towards more learning opportunities.

Tonight was an open evening at my school as part of a celebratory week - Multicultural Week - and classrooms were on show to parents and students to wander through and check out. Every class have been studying different countries and cultures and was expected to showcase their learning in some way. Now the class I share have made the USA our focus (a cultural melting pot like Australia!) and my class have spent the best part of a term, researching and creating Powerpoint slideshows. Besides highlighting the need for improved information literacy skills with my students (the topic for a future post) the kids had produced some very creative digital products. The plan was to use the class interactive whiteboard to show this to the parents. I created a webpage map in FrontPage that had the kids' names hot spotted to link to the Powerpoints. So all the kids had to do was bring in their parents, pick up the interactive pen, click on their name and launch the slideshow. They controlled the flow of the presentation, they spoke clearly about their learning and explained their choice of graphics etc. Although the parents were clearly impressed by the bells and whistles and my critical eye kept looking for improved factual accuracy (keep in mind that these are 11 and 12 year olds), it struck me that the key ingredient to the success, of the IWB is ownership. My class talk about the room's IWB as their board - it's theirs to use, they invite their parents to be a part of it and other students from other classes can use it but it is still their board. That was confirmed in one of my Maths group lessons when a child from another class who had just used the IWB to solve a maths concept said, "I wish we had one of these in my classroom."
See what I mean about ownership - it's theirs so it's important and they want to use it, it is engaging, they demonstrate mastery, they are collaborative with classmates using it (we all have a share in this, y'know) and we can view each other's work on it and our teacher customises things for us and we can show things that are important to us and that whole little learning community thing starts to really buzz along.
And it doesn't stop with the kids, either. One of the reasons staff are working hard to master this tool and take on the steep learning curve is the sense of ownership that comes with the IWB.

"My room has a board."
"When my kids were using our board the other day..."
Here giving the teachers a laptop (or a half share in a laptop in my and my tandem teaching partner's case - we have to share!) also increases the ownership factor - I have a big stake in this because it is mine. I can develop my lessons and ideas in my home on my laptop on my time.
Maybe I'll convince Will yet! Having said that, I do believe that IWB ownership could well be a primary school (read elementary if you are North American) phenomenom because of the one room/ one class structure where the bulk of lessons take place in the one venue with the one consistent teacher (or tandem combination). More to come....

ActivBoard Maths

Just a quick capture from my Maths lesson this morning. Kids were struggling with how to set out percentage problems in their exercise books so I created a replica of how to do it on the IWB. Kids then worked through the problem themselves on the board and used the attached calculator as well to check the final answer. This assists greatly in getting the message across that Maths isn't just about the answer but demonstrating and understanding the process - all annotations are by two students in the class demonstrating to the others. Note the virtual ruler as well at the top - a manipulative to show proper setting out. With this tool, the class reaches a common understanding of expectations.

It's been a few days since I last blogged and I've been wanting to get a few ideas that have been buzzing around in my head onto Teaching Generation Z. One issue that keeps coming back to my brain is how hard it is to sell the concept of blogging to fellow staff members. The members of the ActivBoarding blog have seen first hand the potential of using blogging as a reflective tool, a place to link resources for common use, a way of sharing experiences as they happen - our own little learning community. However, ninety per cent of the contributions come from me. I don't mind taking the lead here for my staff but somehow they haven't quite got the bug to get on board. I get a lot of comments like:

"I must get into this blogging soon."

"Where do you find the time?"

(And the reply,''You make the time if it is important to you." doesn't go down too well.)

"I've got too many things on at the moment. I'll make a start when things calm down a bit."

So, how do I get the message across that you need to wrap this all up with what you do to make it really work. It's not an extra on top of everything - well, maybe it is but I reckon the old adage of good things being worth working for are true. Maybe I'm expecting too much. Maybe I've started the wrong way around. Steve, from Teach 42, suggests starting teachers off with Bloglines with pre-chosen blogs in place.

" I’d even recommend setting up a group of great blogs, both educational and non-educational (I love getting Dilbert in Bloglines), and importing them into Bloglines for their teachers. Make it so all they have to do is go there, get their information and leave. Make it as simple as possible for them until they have their feet wet, see the value in it and have a desire to learn more."

Maybe I'm just not ready to be dispensing advice on how to create the time to get involved in blogging. I just know I am embarking on the greatest professional development of 18 years teaching and sometimes feel like I'm arriving well after the party has started. But for the sake of our students, teachers have to get involved in the regular use of new technologies and connect to others to experience the wealth of collective learning opportunities. I know that one can blog on any topic but for educators, this is the ultimate way to get a world perspective. I think I will have to try and lead by example, maintain this blog to the highest standard I am capable of, comment regularly on other blogs' posts of relevance (see Blogmenting - a great post from Alan Levine), continue to service my little Interactive Whiteboard community on their blog (surely someone else will post other than me!) and talk up blogging in the staffroom, at district meetings and everywhere else that I can. As Jo McLeay recently commented:

"I would love to get more Aussie teachers using blogs just so I have more people to learn from and with, and because I think it is an interesting thing to do. It is true that we are on a journey and there are things we need to figure out, but we can figure them out together."

My thinking has been challenged. More and more I am realising that I need to have my thoughts in order as the official spokesperson for my school's foray in the world of IWB's. In the last two posts I have reported on a point of view that I had not previously considered.

There's nothing a IWB can do that a networked internet ready computer and a decent data projector can't already do.

My immediate response was instant disagreement. I expressed this in my prior post where I "tried" to set Will from Weblogg-ed straight on the value of an IWB. Will responded with a comment on this blog - see here - providing me with a chance to convince him otherwise. I now realise that I was misguided in the way I tried to demonstrate the value of a IWB. I need to talk about and show the unique learning experiences that an ActivBoard or a SmartBoard can offer that can't be replicated by other technology. No one needs to be told how they can do the same things as a Tablet PC. So, thanks to Will, Wendy and any other technology savvy educator who is still waiting to be shown the real value of an IWB, you're made me re-examine my own viewpoint and determine to present real reasons and clear thoughts about why interactive whiteboards are worthy additions to the 21st century classroom. I'm not ready to do that yet in this blog - I need to think, I need to talk to my colleagues, I need to re-visit the research, I need input from like-minded bloggers. Watch this space.

One of my very favourite weblogs is Weblogg-Ed, more than capably written by the blog-vangelist himself, Will Richardson. I love his style of writing, his topics are always of interest and he has opened my brain to a lot of wonderful possibilities in the area of technology. Now, I'm paying my respects here, in the blogging community I've been around for about five minutes and Will is, as the title suggests, an absolute pioneer in the educational Web 2.O world. But why is that a small throwaway line in one of his more recent posts has been sticking in my craw, a little voice has been saying to me, "That's not quite right. You really have to disagree with that. You should post a reply and set him straight." Yeah, right! If Will ever read this (I don't think this blog would cross his rss radar) he would no doubt clarify his thoughts and I would saying, "Oh, is that what you meant? I'm really, really sorry. My humble apologies." After all, he's the one with over 1700 subscribers in Bloglines and I have 1 (I think it's me - how sad!) But it's still bugging me. Here's my issue - however petty it may seem. Will posted recently on his Tablet PC program at his school and was describing the various successes of his teachers.

I know that we are extremely fortunate to be able to test this model (Tablet PC, wireless Internet access, wireless ceiling mounted LCD projectors), and we're hoping to expand it to most if not all faculty next year should things continue to go well. The creativity that inking allows, the "never have your back to the students" mobility that wireless connectivity allows, the abilty to save and share the work you do on the tablet, and the hand-off-ability of giving it to students to show their work renders a lot of other technologies (i.e Smart Boards) pretty irrelevant. It's been a treat to watch.

One of my roles at my school is the implementation of an interactive whiteboard program. While appreciating the value of the Tablet PC program and wishing we had the dough to fund that across my school, I didn't like the dismissal, if you like, of the possibilities that IWB's offer up to schools. I am excited, as are many of my blogging colleagues (BLOG-EFL, The Open Classroom) to name just a couple, by the fact that so many of the things that Will champions throughout his blog are ideal for the IWB situation. Modelling information literacy, a class rss feed, Google Earth - the list could go on and on. Now there are many factors that differ between an American high school setting and an Aussie primary school setting that could be contextual in that statement. At my school, we don't have access to our computing room a whole lot - one room has to service 18 classes in a week as well as play host to a Problem Based Learning program. The PC's in the general classrooms are only in pairs and we are chock-o-block full of kids for our site with no spare rooms to create pods or other suites of computers. So, the IWB is the way to ensure that eventually, kids at my school have access to relevant technology in their room every day all day. Teachers' skills will have to improve through the use of these things and I just love getting the kids to use it to get involved and engaged. So, no offence, Will - I had to get this off my e-learning chest. Odds are I'm overreacting and someone needs to tell me to get a life!

I've really enjoyed this holiday break - great chance to spend time with the family, get a few odd jobs done around the house and play a few rounds of golf. However, it got to Friday and it was time to re- engage for the term ahead and do some planning ready for Monday. Determined to lead from the front, I spent a stack of time on the computer creating flipcharts in ActivStudio to run on the ActivBoard. Following on from last term, I prepared Daily Mental for my Maths group. I used consumer feedback from the class and posed the problems in a lime green font on a black background. I'm not so sure but if gets all eyes in the right direction, it is irrelevant. Then I launched into what was going to be my masterpiece of flipcharting, right out there on the bleeding edge - an introduction to graphing and interpretation of graphs. The idea was pose the question for the class, "What is a graph?" and hit a link to Answers.com that would reveal definitions. Well, as anyone used to native Microsoft products knows, if you want to create a hyperlink to an image, you right click and choose Create Hyperlink and then enter (or paste) the URL that the image will link to. But, in ActivStudio, images are manipulatives unless set as a Link Object. So that's something new to get used to until I look though the training manual and find the definitive solution.

Anyway. Got over that hurdle, and got stuck into the flipchart, searching the web, finding images to demonstrate the various types of graphs (bar, pie, line, picture), sticking them into the different pages, typing in text and thinking that I'm doing a great job. However, today, it entered my mind that if I wanted to find these sites again, I couldn't. If one of the kids in my class wanted more information re: the context of a particular graph, I couldn't give even go to the website for more information. And how can my students grasp the importance of citing your sources if I'm treating the internet as some kind of free supermarket? Modelling appropriate ways of accessing online resources (critical information literacy) is something these boards have the potential to do really well. I'll take more care in future.