Thursday, April 26, 2007

On the way to China

I have stopped here in Hong Kong for a few hours to wait for connecting flight to Guangzhou and thought I'd keep in touch with my online world. And how important that's become to me just recently. I think it's Twitter that's done it. It's so lovely to hear what Judy O'Connell is up to as well as hearing how Vicki Davis has celebrated her birthday and what everyone else is doing. The travel, the work, the fun, the family life, the frustrations, the conferences, it's all there, a slice of many lives. I'm really looking forward to spending a long weekend with other educators at the workshop I am attending, talking about what makes learning come alive, people from all over the Asia Pacific region, people who have the students at the centre of the educational experience. I want to process it a bit as it happens so I want to record my reflections in the hope of posting them as podcasts and perhaps interview some teachers if that happens to work out as well. I am inspired by others who have done similar things, so we'll see how we go. Till next time.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Happy Birthday William!

Today is William Shakespeare's 443rd birthday (as near as we can tell; there is a record of his baptism on the 26th April so his birth was assumed to be a few days ealier.) At our school we are celebrating - after all three year levels are studying one of his plays. Year 10s are doing Romeo and Juliet, Year 11s are doing Macbeth and Year 12 are doing Hamlet. Our celebration is a student and staff writing competition. We have assembled approximately 40 quotes and the challenge is to write a creative piece to “seamlessly” incorporate these quotations (or PARTS of quotes) into their own original story. From the "entry form": For the competition the criteria for judging will be: the number of quotations incorporated, the seamlessness of their incorporation, the quality of the original piece of writing, and evidence of wit and wordplay in the writing. The piece must have an original title, should not be more than 1000 words. It may be poetry, prose, song or script or be a narrative piece, an informative piece such as a newspaper report etc, the more creative the better. There will be separate competitions for students in years 7 and 8, years 9 and 10, years 11 and 12 and staff. Prizes will be awarded. And to top it all off, any piece which meets the criteria may be submitted to the regular classroom teacher for inclusion in their writing folio requirements for the term. (Year 12 students can use it as a practice piece for a SAC) It will be assessed and counted as a regular work requirement.

I am really looking forward to see what we get. I have included the list of quotes we gave them here. So all of you Shakespearophiles: Happy Shakespeare Day!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I’ve often taken Elizabeth Bennett shopping

This is a quote from an English meeting we had at school tonight, admittedly late in the afternoon, the second after-school meeting for the day. But strangely this was a meeting that nobody was in a hurry to leave. After a quick run through of basic administrative and organizational things we started the best part of the meeting, the sharing of what had gone well in the two days of classes we had had since we came back to school. Peter started us off with his take on an idea originated by another colleague. He wanted to start with new working groups for second term with his Year 7s. Students were randomly assigned to groups of four by being given a number as they came into class. Some weren’t happy at the change and there were some mutterings. But no matter, the best was still to come. Peter had organised seven stations around the classroom, each with a different Area of Interaction (using concepts of the Middle Years Program of the International Baccalaureate Organisation). These are Approaches to Learning, Homo Faber (or what we create as a society, both negative and positive), Community and Service, the Environment, and Health and Social Education. He added two principles: Intercultural Awareness and Communication and had his five stations. He had information about what all these terms meant at the stations and a blank sheet of paper at each spot. In their new groups students then spent 2 to 3 minutes at each station and discussed what they had done on their holidays and how it related to the theme of the station they were at. One person in each group was designated scribe but after they got going, most of the students wrote things on the sheets. As they went round from spot to spot, they could see the paper filling up with the previous students’ ideas. At the last station the students looked at all the ideas on their page and decided which two best fitted the theme of their station before a plenary discussion. Some of the things the students talked about included learning another language, making a letter box, surfing the internet, and hanging with friends. But the delight was in discussing the activity within a framework of learning and creating. Peter wanted an activity that was collaborative, involved movement and cooperation and he was very pleased with the results. The new groups got to know each a bit better, and the ice was broken with some great discussion following.
After Peter recounted his experience we discussed how it could be adapted to any subject, topic and age group. It was simply necessary to have seven (or the number of groups in the class) ideas to discuss, seven characters in a play, seven issues, seven language or grammar concepts were some of the ideas we came up with. Really a great idea, I thought and one I want to try. The meeting continued with plenty of other great ideas that will no doubt be the subject of another post. But I wanted to write this to help me remember, as well as to share.
And the quote I started with? That came about from a discussion of the use of character profiles to inspire some creative writing. It starts with the idea of “what if?” What if Elizabeth Bennett lived in our time? What would she like to wear, buy, eat, have? What kind of car would Mr. Collins drive? And so on. I’m sure you get the idea. Next time I will write about the other ideas which involve introducing students to Shakespeare, as well other ideas for creative writing, managing whole class discussion, and writing about texts.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Planting Seeds

Yesterday, our school had a Professional Development Day to start off the term. It was about Restorative Practices and led by a mediator and educator, Pat Marshall. She spoke about ways we can approach conflict with students and parents in a way that enhances relationships in the long term. Pat started out by reminding us that as educators we are people of influence, able to build up and also able to pull down. Of course this was not new to us. It’s what educators are crucially aware of. In the environment where the Australian government is talking about merit based pay for teachers based on students’ results, it seems all the more important to remember that we cannot always know what influence we have had for good unless we are incredible lucky. And because the session with Pat brought about the event that I am about to write on I am grateful to her. In the spirit of the “Sunscreen Song” which advises graduates of ’97 to “Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults,” I was very pleased to have a colleague come up to me, one who was coincidently the mother of one of my former students. She told me that her daughter, now doing Graphic Design at Monash Uni, was engaged in a project to design a DVD cover for a modern film of Macbeth. As she was doing this she remembered her study of Macbeth in my class some years before. And she told her mother what warm feelings she still had about her experience. How lucky was I to hear about this. So much of our work is in planting seeds.

And a few more seeds were planted today with my year sevens who have started to blog for the first time. If you would like go over a visit them here, and leave a comment or two. They (and I) will appreciate it very much. My thanks must also go to the talented and committed James Farmer who has set up Edublogs which teachers can use for free. Students really like the interface and what they can do with it. James also has Edublogs Premium which is a service that comes at a charge. I am using Edublogs Premium for my Year 9 blogs to try it out. So far I really like it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Stasiland and The Lives of Others

After having watched The Lives of Others a few weeks ago I was finally moved to start reading a book by an author whom I had heard speaking at a VATE conference some time ago (2004). Her name is Anna Funder and the book is Stasiland. I did like the film which was fiction but was perturbed by the way women were portrayed in the film. It was not a film about women but the one female character seemed to be there simply as a cipher or a stereotype. For this reason it failed to be a fully satisfying experience. Now in reading Anna Funder’s book, a portrayal of an investigation she had done among the lives of various people who had lived in the German Democratic Republic before the fall of the Berlin Wall I felt that I had heard another perspective, another account of this history. The two different narratives sit very well together and would make an excellent combination to study together in the senior years of school. (The film appears to have an R rating outside of Australia, although I didn’t think it was that bad) Both stories have a sense of hope, are a source of inspiration, make us think about the “the dearest freshness deep down things” as Gerald Manley Hopkins says, what it means to be human in this world, where evil and goodness exist side by side.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A peaceful holiday and blogging students

Just spent a few days at Robe. In the off season, Robe is a sleepy old historic fishing village in South Australia. It has a special place in my memory as Bob and I spent part of our honeymoon there 25 years ago. So we went back these holidays. This photo is from the balcony of our apartment overlooking the boat haven. The photo recreates the sense of peace there was in Robe. I have never been there when it gets busy but I am told it is frenetic. The photo also shows the beautiful weather we had while we were away. I guess this memory will be very important for me as we launch into second term at school. I am looking forward to introducing digital citizenship to my Year 7s this term as they start blogging in the next few weeks. I'll put up the link when we get going.

I would also love to have some students to interact with my Year 9s as they blog. You can see that class blog and all the students in the blogroll at The Future of Learning. If you are an educator who blogs maybe you could pass this message on.
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Friday, April 13, 2007

Cybercompliments on the Horizon Project

Today, being a Friday in April is Cybercompliment Day, and I want to thank the bloggers that I have met in the last nearly two years of this excellent adventure. In particular I want to thank Vicki Davis and Horizon Project. Like the Flat Classroom Project this involves students, this time 60 students in five countries, working together to look into the future of education based upon the Horizon Project Report 2007 Edition by the New Media Consortium and Educause (pdf). They will be “researching the trends AND experiencing the trends in this form of wiki-centric, web 2 enabled scholarship.” I congratulate these two bloggers especially, because I know how much work they put into the first project and how much they have learnt from the experience. Instead of just sitting back now though, they have envisioned an even bigger project that will truly contribute to the knowledge of the digital world and the future of education. As one of the participants in the Flat Classroom project I know also how much I learnt from the experience and I am glad to be involved in this one. As always, it is not the technology but the collaboration, and not the number of participants but the fact that it is global in its reach. I also want to thank Jen Wagner for initiating the Cybercompliment Days which are stirring the air a bit in Technorati. A bit of civility adds to the joy of learning, I think.
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Monday, April 02, 2007

Whatever next?

I don't quite know why but I'm really loving Twitter. It's great when you have some friends to follow and is a good thing to discover in the holidays when there's a bit of time spare. From Scott Lockman I found the Newbie's Guide to Twitter. I joined after Graham posted about it and am thrilled to meet local twitterers like Warrick as well. If you want to join me I can be found here.