Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Blogging Journey

At our Broken Bay Secondary Teacher librarian's Forum last week I did a presentation of my own blogging journey with a view to introducing those less familiar with some of the rhyme and reason for using blogs in schools and particularly school libraries.

Latest Links - Originally "Library News", this blog was started in May 2004 as a solution to getting links up or edited at short notice. It has proven its worth many times and has on occasion been up to pathfinder level, as well as being a great learning environment for me and Anne Cowper at Patrician Brothers who took it on when I left. Probably near retirement (the blog, not us) as the school now has a system wide content management solution rolling out.

Attended "WEBLOGS and School Libraries" session at NSW State Library Infocus workshop day in October 2004, presented by Dr Anne Clyde. Always ahead of the game, Anne encouraged us to explore the value of blogs for librarians.

Book Bites - Started in April 2006, the purpose of this blog was to publish book reviews. For the first year most of the reviews were mine, although we did get some student reviews. We had started a "Book Log" in 2004 where the boys could write quick recommendations or suggestions, or longer reviews, and some of these found their way onto the blog. Over the first half of 2007 we started using it to record stats for our internally run Readers' Challenge. This includes a book roll. Instead of giving the boys a list of books to read from we made a list based on their choices. Having worked off lists for three years of challenges we felt very comfortable "letting them loose" to choose their own books. The list is a vindication of this decision, I think. English Teacher Kathy Plumridge brought her Year 7 class in to play with Book Bites late in Term 1 and they started submitting reviews which continued to come throughout Term 2. Getting teachers involved is the key to student involvement, but can be difficult to introduce to an already crowded schedule.

Smart Learning - This is the blog you are reading right now, which somehow was forgotten when I put together the presentation last Thursday. It has had a varied career, starting as a vehicle for a group research project in Parramatta Diocese last year. But group members are fairly shy, and even when it was rejigged for an AGQTP project later in the year with a cross-over group I couldn't get others to post. We had a bit of discussion going and some of these people have gone on to their own projects, so hopefully it was a useful learning experience. Whilst it isn't being regularly updated I have been using it to take occasional stock since moving to my new school and Diocese in April '07.

Bibliosphere News - In May 2006 Judy O'Connell at Parramatta Catholic Education started this blog - then called BibBlog News -as a new way to keep up with local and wider library news and developments of interest. Within the month she was publishing pieces from library staff in Parramatta Diocese and soon invited us to become contributors to the blog. I started contributing in November, and several other TLs also started to write occasional pieces. Now mid 2007 sees contributors from Broken Bay and Lismore Diocese as well, as Judy seeks to widen the scope. [Judy's own blog, HeyJude, is worth keeping up with - but beware, it is turbocharged.]

Evidence - This was a play with a personal reading record and has proven to be just that bridge too far. Probably should be deleted soon. Does anyone ever delete blogs? Did give me the chance to play with a Wordpress style blog, as had only used Blogger before.

Since starting at St. Paul's in April this year I have started a book review site, Shelf Tales (can't live long without one) and also a class blog for my Year 7 English class called Seven Magic. Both are in early stages. The first is a Wordpress blog and I am liking having the option of some topic pages as well as the rolling posts which are the typical blog style. The Seven's blog is a learning experience. They are not a very tech savvy group and need some prompting, although a few are keen.

Finally, when it comes to keeping up with reading blogs - or just keeping your own in one spot - there is a need for an aggregator. I use Bloglines although there are others out there if you want to investigate. I also experimented with Pageflakes for the presentation and think this has a nice look, especially for a small to moderate collection. both of these are free and easy to get going on. Combined with Delicious, which we had a session about from Geoff McIver from St Peter's Tuggerah, you'll never be lost for ways to stay in touch with matters library and world.

What we need next for the group (I would suggest) is a proper blogging workshop to get going for those new to the concept and to share ideas for those already playing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Coming up for air

Nearly a month later and I'm coming up for air. Have been getting to know my class better and realising again - after so long away from the classroom - how precious those class minutes are. Have lost lessons to a sports carnival, art excursion, numeracy test, maths comp - to name a few. All worthy causes, but...

I have been having fun with our class management system, CastNet. A couple of expert users at school shared what they were doing with their class pages and gave me a basic intro to making a page. After a few false starts I got going with year seven. Terrific for practical things like putting up copies of handouts so there are no excuses for lost work. I also scanned in a short article to practice notetaking and some links to start research. The best thing, though, is a class gallery where I scanned pictures they did relating to our novel. It was a great way to showcase the work and to compare the different approaches taken. Some really nice work there. The best few have just gone up on our new class blog: Seven Magic.

The blog is going along slowly with my aim at present to get everyone to post a comment. These are quite mixed in quality but very much an educational thing as the boys learn the "how" bit. I'm planning some guidelines for posting as we look at what works best. They are also supposed to send me an email and these are coming slowly. The gaps between lessons work against this, but we'll keep on.

Now, I've had to do all this without the benefit of an interactive whiteboard which has been awkward for me. I do have access to a laptop, a digital projector in each room I use, a library with 15 computers and a choice of two computer rooms with different set ups. But I really miss the intimacy of the IWB. Can't think of a better word for it. You can get upfront and personal with the screen, modelling just what you want the kids to do in a very concrete and closeup way. And I can't tell you how much I wanted to have a digital pen to write over, around and highlight text when teaching notetaking. So much stronger than a cursor. I even considered getting one of those annoying cursors the kids love to attract more attention. What I did instead was use a Word doc and typed up on screen.

I need to get SmartNotebook on my computer at work, as I could use some of the write-on features, although with less fluency than on the board. [Note to self!]

The photo, since you asked, shows the correct way to do a walkathon - Manly style! (Pity my checkpoint was outside a block of flats well behind the houses in this picture.)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Cooperative Learning in the Classroom

I started a new job this week and whilst it is a teacher librarian position I do have a Year 7 English class. We have four periods a week and have met twice already. I was very keen to try my newfound cooperative learning strategies in this microcosm, so how did it go?

Firstly, I assumed the room would be a problem and it truly is. Three long rows of desks facing a whiteboard. The room apparently doubles as a storeroom for another subject area, so the perimeters are clogged with piles of books and papers. There's a lecturn and various other objects inconveniently placed. The teacher whilst standing out in front of the class has a beautiful view of Sydney Harbour. Ahhh! But the kids are almost in shade. There is a digital projector and screen on one of the side walls. So not all bad.

I worked hard during the first lesson on the signal for quiet. I'm still working on this one. I am not achieving the goal to talk less (I mean teacher talking less). Had a few challenging behaviours. Didn't handle them well.

Next lesson thought I'd do a classbuilding activity and worked on Mix, Pair, Share. I had posed a mysterious question for them that is serving for this week's homework, and pairs shared their ideas for the answer. The question involves finding what links a famous person (Princess Diana) and the novel we are reading this term (Little Brother by Allan Baillie). This took longer than it should (some extra time getting the process right and dealing with a difficult customer). Had got back to sitting down and I had put the headings up to reveal everyone's ideas when...ding!...shortened period for special event later in the day. My timing was off. Being optimistic we could see this as a cliffhanger ending.

I think the major challenges I am having here are timing and furniture. Cannot discount that my class mangement skills are rusty. But am I up to moving furniture at the beginning and ending of each lesson? We'll see.

About the question....proving interesting as I have found more than I first knew that links the two.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cooperative Learning – Kagan Workshops

This workshop in Sydney on 12th April was an invigorating day spent working in practical terms on concepts and structures for implementing cooperative learning across primary and secondary classes. Laurie Kagan capably managed a large group of teachers through the day. Many school groups were there including several who have cooperative learning structures embedded in their school routines.

Several Parramatta Peelers (and Parramatta Diocese schools generally) were in attendance and certainly the
Kagan philosophy fits right in alongside PEEL.

So what’s all the fuss? Lets look at the guiding concepts first:

TEAMS – There are lots of ways of forming teams but the basis of most of what we did on this day relates to heterogeneous teams of (ideally) four students. A mix of abilities, gender and ethnicity means some care is taken in getting teams right, and teams are not expected to stay the same all year. Five to six weeks is suggested as an ideal time.

WILL – Now, you can’t just tell kids to cooperate and go away. The Kagan way is based on regular classbuilding and team building activities which make the classroom a social and accepting place.

MANAGEMANT – Cooperative learning places demands on the traditional classroom and things may look chaotic at times. So good management is as essential as ever.

SKILLS – A host of social skills are needed for cooperative learning to work, and these will never go astray in or out of class. Teamwork skills include: listening carefully, waiting patiently, taking turns, reaching consensus, resolving conflicts, asking for and offering help. These skills are embedded in the structures used.

BASIC PRINCIPLES – Positive interdependence, Individual accountability, Equal participation and Simultaneous interaction join to form the backbone of the cooperative classroom. (Think PIES)

STRUCTURES – There are over a hundred structures defined in the Kagan material, but starting small is the best advice. Timed Pair Share, RallyCoach, Find My rule are just a few. You probably have your own favourites if you already foster cooperative work with kids. Structures are planned through lessons to enhance content and cluster learning. The Kagan structures are sure to offer you something new.

Probably the most enlightening idea of the day for me (and it was a day full of enlightenment) was the principle of simultaneous interaction. It is so easy to plan to speak for a few minutes and realise too late that you’ve gone on and the kids are zoning out, however relevant the content.

Learning to shorten your teaching time and crossing to kids asking each other questions, checking each others’ understandings, and remembering to praise your partner or team mates means that kids are actively engaged through the lesson, and can avoid that one kid who always answers your questions, and the twenty something who are happy to let him. This is something I know can improve my teaching.

Now, I admit that I did refer to some materials I bought at the workshop to write the above (although the handout we received on the day was an excellent and interactive one). To have a look at books, smartcards (handy summary cards) and posters take a look at
Kagan Products available in Australia through Hawker Brownlow.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Applying the Geographer's Skills

At Where on Earth…? You don’t have Carmen Santiago (or that annoying travel agent of hers) to help you solve these mysteries. Take a Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) image from NASA and see if you can identify the location. Each of these quizzes has clues for you and there are links to other resources, although a good atlas is a great way to start. Begin at Number 1 of the 23 as they seem to get a bit more complicated as they go on, or seek out some with specific relevance to your program. Although the time has passed for sending in your answers you can check the correct ones and read about how others have solved the task. The spectacular images are perfect for displaying with a digital projector and interactive whiteboard and lend themselves to class discussion of geographic features and application of skills.

"These puzzles are designed to inspire understanding of the physical, biological and human processes that influence our home planet and cover topics from archaeology to Zoology." From Where on Earth homepage.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Periodic Table of Visualisation

If it is ever true that the medium is the message, then here is a great example. The Periodic Table of Visualization Methods is a very carefully constructed model which classifies a hundred different graphic methods. From the linked page hover to see a popup example of each. Although constructed with a very specific purpose - a cross discipline academic course in visualisation methods for management - this table is an excellent way to show good examples in context, and to extend your repertoire.

In an explanatory article about the project the authors describe it as not so much "a close adaptation of the periodic table of chemical elements. It is rather a functional, metaphoric homage to it." Read the article to see just how much thought went into classifying the material contained in this model.
"Towards A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods for Management" (PDF) Lengler R., Eppler M. (2007). Towards A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods for Management. IASTED Proceedings of the Conference on Graphics and Visualization in Engineering (GVE 2007), Clearwater, Florida, USA. (Page 5)

For some more fun using the Periodic Table and its elements see:
The Periodic Table of Comic Books
A flash animation of Tom Lehrer's song The Elements

Friday, December 08, 2006

Getting Geographical

The latest podcast from The Virtual Staffroom is a must for all geographers. In Episode 6: A Bird's Eye View Chris Betcher interviews Luc Zwartjes from Belgium. Luc teaches geography and also technology for teachers. He uses geographical information systems (GIS) with his students and explains some of the fascinating possibilities. Interesting insights about the difference between the way kids and adults relate to technology, and hence learn.

Chris has added some relevant links as well, including a very interesting opportunity for schools to obtain two free licences to Google Earth Pro.