Thursday, December 31, 2009

What a year of learning

I was reading Facebook as I so often do; it is one of the places I get my inspiration from (Hi to all you FB buddies out there) and there in front of me was a status update that just about blew me away. I am not surprised when I learn from students. This is what one of my former students had to say

Dear 2009, you've taken me on a rollercoaster of rides. I regret nothing i've done this year and I will treasure the memories i've had, and the amazing people that have made this year memorable for me. I've learnt so much this year, and have changed as a person as a result.

I could not have said it better. Thank you, Miss 18.

Happy New Year to all!

Image attribution: Image: 'rain of fire'

Monday, December 07, 2009

The VATE Conference 09: Monday

Lots of laughter, learning and great food, not to mention the buzz of conversation at the VATE Conference today. I have been on two conference event planning teams that happened within two weeks of one another and I have certainly learned a lot. I was helping out in the presenters room for much of the day so I felt I got an overall sense of what happened in the sessions without attending many. Just one in fact. But that one was thought-provoking and presented in a pedagogically interesting way. And I missed being a classroom teacher so much! There are other times that I miss it as well and I'm sure there's another blog post in there somewhere, but that's for another day. The session I went to was called Making Thinking Visible and it was by Nathan Armstrong my fellow co-convenor on the Conference team. In the presenters room, I met up with teachers going off to their presentations and then coming back, often buzzed. When I spoke to them they wanted to keep talking. It was easy to get a sense of the energy that had been generated in the presentation. Two in particular stood out for me. Julie Mitchell's presentation on Using values education resources in English. She had been sharing this resource on Values Education and I will definitely explore that more; and the other was The Global Education Project. I would love more people to be tweeting the conference but maybe they will after my session tomorrow on The power of the online professional learning network :)
cross posted at

Monday, October 26, 2009

Great collaborative podcast

Loving listening to the Spark podcast out of Canada. It is hosted by the mellifluous Nora Young, and she makes it engaging and inclusive. The website describes it as a "blog, radio show, podcast and an ongoing conversation about technology and culture. Spark is an online collaboration." She invites listeners to "leave your thoughts, stories, and ideas here, and together we'll make a radio show." I first heard about it on another podcast (I think it was the Edtech Posse) and after I gave it a listen I was hooked. Through this podcast I have learned about all sorts of things like spin gardening, "a do-it-yourself vegetable food production system that enables you to grow a steady and dependable supply of vegetables", open and accessible government data and what we can do with it, why we use a qwerty keyboard and so many other interesting things about society and design. I look forward to the weekly shows and have listened to most of the back episodes as well. It is very refreshing. Also love the various shows that come out of the Edtech Talk group, especially Edtech Weekly. Hi Jennifer, John, Dave and Jeff! Do you have some favourite podcasts that make your life better too?

Image attribution: Image: 'blip blip blip'

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I love my new job

There is a lot of pleasure to be had in my new job as Professional Learning Officer for VITTA. I have been there for a bit over 2 months now and it's really been a steep learning curve for me. The job has a lot of variety: writing a course for a new 13 week Certificate in Emerging Technologies to be offered next year (more details when they are available), editing Infonet, the quarterly Journal of VITTA, planning teacher professional development that we will be offering for teachers next year, preparing for the amazing 3 day conference we will be holding in November, and even giving the odd presentation to groups of teachers. Last week I presented to a group of teachers from the Victorian Association for Gifted and Talented Children on Opening the Doors to Contemporary Learning which was very well received. VITTA is working with VAGTC to set up a community for teachers who have high ability students in their classes, and so many teachers do. The community is on the edulists site as so many special interest groups of teachers are, and I hope many teachers from this group will also join twitter. Marie and Penny are already on, and Cath has just joined. I love these communities starting and teachers being on a journey of discovery.

In my presentation I defined twitter as one of the ways of contemporary learning: "a community of like minded educators sharing what they’re learning in real time on a daily basis", and it felt great to be able to say this with confidence from my own experience, in contrast to the stereotypical view of twitter in the media. I don't know where I would be without twitter. I am looking forward to giving more presentations as and when the opportunity arises, and contributing to the learning of teachers. It is a joy to work in a small office of such great colleagues and I especially like working part time. With the rest of my time I am, of course, keeping up with my organic vegie garden, making compost, growing herbs and tending to my chooks and worm farm. Who would have ever thought that life could change so much and that something I thought was a negative, giving up full time work in the classroom, could turn out so positive? It just goes to show you never really know what is around the corner.

Image attribution: Image: 'I've reached the end of the world'

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

ICT and Careers Expo Experiences

On Saturday I went to the ICT and Careers Expo put on by VITTA, “an event designed to present diverse career opportunities in ICT to school leavers.” As usual at this type of event there were many exhibitors and workshops to help students make up their minds about future careers and showing them how ICT is involved in many careers. There were two sessions that I would like to highlight here as I learnt much from them and enjoyed them also.

One of the sessions, and there were many to choose from in each time slot, was called “Want to make a difference? Find out how using Twitter and Facebook can create a better world”, a title that called out to me as soon as I saw it. It was put on by Jasmin Tragas from IBM where she works in marketing and communications. Jasmin is interested in “creative ways to use social media for positive change, most recently raising funds and awareness for a $10,000 Opportunity International Australia women’s microfinance program in the Philippines” The talk was made interesting both by its structure and its content – It was structured by the alphabet and she spoke about people who were making efforts to make a positive difference in the world. Nearly everything and everyone she spoke about were new to me and I was again amazed at how wide this network is after just passing my 4th anniversary on this blog. The learning continues and gets deeper and more interesting and it is of course the people you meet that make it so. I encourage you to have a look at Jasmin’s work.

One of the people she spoke about was Amy Jussel of Shaping Youth, a forum about media and marketing’s influence on kids, always an interesting topic. Another was Phaedra Boinodiris of Serious Games Ning. Serious Games (SGs) or persuasive games are computer and video games used as persuasion technology or educational technology. From the ning: “The games are intended to provide an engaging, self-reinforcing context in which to motivate and educate the players. Other purposes for such games include marketing and advertisement. The largest users of SGs are the US government and medical professionals.” This is something I waant to find out more about.

Another interesting person was Daphne Nederhorst who “had the unique opportunity to visit communities in the most poverty stricken areas of the world.” She “was deeply touched with the problems in these areas while being mesmerized with the strength of the local people to find solutions to their local challenges” and her desire to create a better world led her to initiate SAWA which “uses media tools to empowering unsung grassroots leaders in the world's 50 poorest countries that have found innovative solutions to end extreme poverty.”

Another session that will definitely have ongoing effects on me was the session by Alastair MacGibbon of the Surete Group. He spoke on “safety and security of students, parents and teachers in a wired world: achieving an online civil society.” It was such a breath of fresh air to hear Alastair speak, and in such contrast to people like those who spread fear and gloom as mentioned in this blog post by Tania Sheko. Alastair is most interested in education and speaks about the internet as a reflection of society as a whole. Just as there are dangers in the offline world that we teach our children/students to negotiate so there are dangers in the online world and these must be part of the discussion rather than the banning and filtering that so many political voices seem to suggest are the way to go. It was great to be a part of this day. The day the culmination of a week of activities and I was also involved in the Industry Bus Tour which I will write about in another post.

Image attribution: Teleport tunnel! by Orsorama

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Life Changes

For the last few months I have had some significant changes in my life. At the start of 2009 I started my new job at a new school and within a few days of starting my 17 year old son had a severe head injury which resulted in a brain operation, a stay in Intensive Care at Monash Hospital (a great place to end up if you are in the position of needing Intensive Care) and some time in the ordinary ward, as well as starting Year 12 a month after school started. It was stressful for the whole family, as he couldn’t be left on his own for the first two weeks at home. After a term and a half of struggling with my job in this situation I decided to resign from my new job (I started teaching in 1978) and put my time where it was really needed. Kieran had started to go to school half time and needed lots of support at home to make this happen. I have now been at home for two and half months and half very much enjoyed concentrating on one thing rather than juggling the many things that come with being a teacher. I’ve been gardening, making compost, cooking meals from scratch and looking for specials in the supermarket. I felt so lucky that my husband was in work and could support us on his income.

But now there is another change. Before I had even thought of what I would do in the future if I wasn’t a teacher in the classroom, I heard about a job opportunity where I could engage deeply with ICT in education part time. So I went for the job and will be starting in two weeks time. I will be working as a Project Officer in the office of the Victorian Information Technology Teachers Association “a non-profit organisation supporting information and communication technology teachers at primary schools, secondary colleges and universities and other tertiary education institutions in Victoria, Australia.” This past week has been ICT week and VITTA is working closely with both the Victorian Government and the Australian Computer Society in promoting excellence in ICT education and ICT career pathways. I was fortunate to go to the Bus Tour and the ICT & Careers Expo. But that is a topic for my next blog post

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Interview with Jenny Luca

Visit Working together 2 make a difference

I have just been listening to Jenny Luca being interviewed on the Wicked Decent Learning podcast. It is a very inspiring listen. Among other things Jenny explained about the ning she has set up to "detail the efforts of educators and their students who are doing their bit to think outside of themselves and raise funds for worthy causes. We encourage you to join this space, create a new page for your school and start detailing what you and your students are aiming to do to help others less fortunate than yourselves. Chart your progress on your page and we'll see what we can achieve by working together to make a difference." I have joined and I am looking forward to sharing it with my school.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Literacy for all

I was lucky enough to go to a workshop on "Comprehension for All" yesterday led by Diane Snowball and Faye Bolton put on by Australian Literacy Educators' Association (Victoria). The strategies that Diane and Faye showed us and that they recommend teachers to teach to the students are:

1. Predicting/prior knowledge use

2. Answering and forming questions

3. Thinking aloud about reading

4. Using text structures and features

5. Visualizing and creating visual representations

6. Summarising

We went through the methods of teaching these strategies and heard about the importance of using the language with students. I thought it was a worthwhile workshop to attend and allowed me the time to stop and reflect on what I am doing in the classroom when students plaintively say, "But I don't GET it, Miss."

There is a set of CDs available with film clips of classrooms where the teaching is being done in this way and I thought it would be helpful to view these so I ordered a copy of the Years 6 to 9 CD.

I would like to finish with a quote from Diane: "Research has shown that comprehension instruction can improve the reading comprehension of all readers, even beginning readers and struggling older readers. It will help your students to understand, remember and communicate with others about what they read. Most importantly, it will help your students want to read more!" And that's what I would like for my students.

Image attribution: 'CompCommDay2'

Monday, March 09, 2009

Amazing Siftables

I found this Ted Talks video via the Edtech Crew and Mr Robbo who was interviewed in the last podcast. (Mr Robbo is a 2nd year teacher who uses blogging in his teaching of PE). I was blown away and will be showing it to my students this week. Hope you like it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Getting started in ICT: a presentation by Rachel Boyd

Love this slideshare by Rachel Boyd. The abstract for this session said: "Are you overwhelmed by the spectrum of choice in Web2 and ICT? This "taster" session will examine how to pick the cream from the crop of the field of Web2 and choose what will best support learning for your students. Great for beginners, we will also look at practical ideas for the management and implementation of ICT in your classroom." Thanks to Amanda Marrinan for the heads up.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Keen student bloggers

I have just started the year 8s blogging and they are in the very early stages, still making mistakes, giving away too much personal information, using copyright images without permission and writing their posts without making sure their potentially global audience will understand their idiosyncratic spelling and slang references. Soon this will improve and then I will link to the blog and hopefully facilitate some global connections. But one student has really got it. I got a comment today on the class blog:
"To Mrs Mcleay,
Did you hear about the 2009 Student Blogging Challenge on this website. It looked interesting and I was wondering what it was? It looked like we could maybe try and look into it for a challenge."

I was so happy that one of my students had found this site and made a comment encouraging our class to get involved. It is a great idea and I am looking forward to getting us started. This is some information about the challenge: "The challenge begins in March 2009 and continues to May 2009. Weekly challenges are posted here on this class blog. Students can complete as many as they wish to try. Please fill in the google form below if you wish to register either your own class blog or if students wish to register their own individual blog."

Monday, March 02, 2009

What has the first month been like?

In this post I am going to do what I often ask my students to do - step back and reflect on some amount of learning they have been involved in. As you may remember (have to review - it was a while ago) I started a new school after having a term of Long Service Leave (I guess it might be called a sabbatical in some places). It turned out to be a lot easier than I supposed getting back into teaching after such a long break. Only once did I feel a sense of relentlessness at the pace of life at school. But that was soon over. I am remembering peoples names better than I expected as well. Coming from a school where we had four periods a day of 75 minutes each, I found the new school's seven periods of 43 minutes each to be strange. But it has a certain rhythm to it, and of course, you see the students more frequently. Maybe that's why remembering names is easier. I am teaching Geography now, which I haven't taught for over ten years and I am enjoying the discipline. I love this video which I found through Jess McCulloch on the same topic that we are exploring in Year 8 Geography the diversity of Asia and the challenging of stereotypes. I am loving the energy and life of the Year 8 Homegroup I have (who I teach for English and Religious Education as well). We are getting into blogging and literature circles, and I am sure I will be reflecting on those activities when we are a bit more into them.

Some of you may know that I have been challenged with my family life with the serious accident of my 17 year old son Kieran. He was just about to start Year 12, and was newly appointed vice captain of the Under 18s Victorian state gridiron team. These things have had to be put on hold while he has recovered from a subdural haematoma and three broken vertebrae. Luckily, it looks like there is no permanent damage, but he will be doing his year 12 over two years as he can only go to school part time starting from tomorrow. He fully realises how lucky he is, but there are some things that he will not be able to resumes for several months (such as driving - he was an exemplary learner driver, and contact sports).

Another thing that I have enjoyed more than I ever thought I would has been the twitter 365 photo challenge and the 2009 365 flickr photo project. Here are some tips if you are participating as well. I am blogging about these here. It is such a great record of the daily ups and down of life, and a challenge to look deeper at my life and see a story in it. After the somewhat rocky beginning to my 2009, I am looking forward to the rest of it, and starting to fee more confident in my new role at my new school. One of the best things was that I was called up by the Head of school and given the additional title of coordinator of ICT pedagogy. It was a great boost indeed to my feeling of belonging at the school.

Land use on the way to work

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Circle Time

Today, all teachers at my new school had a PD (Professional Development) day on an approach we will be using as a whole school, Circle Time. Wellbeing Australia defines circle time as “a democratic and creative approach used to consider a wide range of issues affecting the whole school community. The strength of circles is that they address values, attitudes and skills within a structured, safe and supportive framework.”

The PD was facilitated by Sue Roffey and it was great not to be talked at and endure death by powerpoint on such a hot day. Sue encouraged us to get involved and the workshop was experiential. It had two purposes that I could see: increasing our knowledge about circle time and our confidence in using this pedagogy, and to build up the staff as a team, given that the staff numbers this year have more than doubled to 26 teachers. A bit of research turned up the following info about Sue: “Dr Sue Roffey is an educational psychologist and academic at the University of Western Sydney. She's spent many years teaching children with learning difficulties, and now believes that children's emotional literacy, that is, their understanding of themselves and how they relate to others, is a crucial but sometimes neglected part of their education.”

Sue herself describes circle time thus: “Circle Time is a structured framework for social and emotional learning and promoting a positive class ethos. This means it has powerful potential to reduce bullying, increase resilience, explore values and improve communication skills. It deals with serious and important issues such as understanding feelings and reducing prejudice in a way which is highly motivating for students.” There are always three rules for a circle time meeting: everyone must listen to the person who is speaking to the group, no put downs, and everyone has the right to “pass” if they do not wish to or cannot respond to a question. It is mostly about inclusion and about respect. Sue has a number of publications that I will be following up.

At first glance it seems as though it is especially suitable for primary schools, but after seeing how well it worked for us as a group of adults, I will have no hesitation in using this technique in secondary classes. I have a year 8 homegroup this year and I am so looking forward to getting to know them. I will spend a bit of time tomorrow decorating my homegroup room ready to welcome the students on Monday.

For those who have not seen my 365 challenge photos, I thought I’d put two of them here: My colleague, office mate and fellow English teacher, Mel, and a glimpse of my desk in our brand new building. The value of today for me as a new staff member was that it helped me and the many other new teachers get to know more about each other and about the values of the school. I will report back on the experience of using this pedagogy as time goes on. It is anticipated that we will be doing it once a week for about twenty minutes with the students in our homegroups, so I should something to report soon.

Work colleagues

My bit of the office

Monday, January 26, 2009

Before school goes back

I have been so fortunate to have a four month break from teaching by taking one term of long service leave that led into the long summer holidays. Looking back I know I really needed the break. I learnt so much during my time off, through my PLN, but the main thing has been the time to indulge in activities that add balance to my life. Being able to go to the gym more often, starting to go bushwalking and since January 1, the participation in the 365 photo project have been so important. My participation in the project was inspired by Bud Hunt and Dean Shareski, who talked about “seeing mindfully” and “I know I shoot way better photos, look for great lighting, interesting angles and simply appreciate the world around me”. I see that happening to me too.
I have started a blog, 365 Countdown, to record this.

I spent heaps of time cleaning up after years of ignoring the state of my house and not realizing how important it is to my mental wellbeing to have a clean and tidy house. I have loved getting to know about Flylady as a way of approaching managing my house and seeing how important it is not to let work get in the way of this. I know that in setting goals and ideals we often try to be really idealistic, and my children look at the clean house and the menu for the week posted on the fridge and knowingly say to each other “it won’t last”, but I feel I’m in a much better place than I have been in the past, whatever happens.

Last night I was fortunate enough to listen to a few sessions of Educon 21 and heard a discussion moderated by Chris Lehmann on “Building Systems And Structures Around What You Believe”
. The description of the session is: “The myth of the single teacher, bucking the odds to be that one great teacher in a school may make for a great Hollywood movie, but it rarely -- if ever -- leads to lasting, effective change. We must examine the manner in which our schools and classrooms are set up so that the greatest number of students, teachers and even principals can thrive and learn and feel valued. This session is focused on looking at institutional change, so that attendees can explore what they value and then examine the systems in their districts, schools and classrooms that must change to reflect those values.” Chris asked: What are the values you would want to be embedded in your classroom and/or school? The collated responses are here.

It made me realize that as part of a new school (only two years old) I will have a chance to have some influence on what the values might be for the school. One of the gifts I take away from my previous school is the knowledge of the Learner profile of the International Baccalaureate Organisation. This learner profile “provides a long-term vision of education. It is a set of ideals that can inspire, motivate and focus the work of schools and teachers, uniting them in a common purpose.”
The Learner Profile states that IB learners strive to be:
  • Inquirers
  • Knowledgeable
  • Thinkers
  • Communicators
  • Principled
  • Open-minded
  • Caring
  • Risk-takers
  • Balanced
  • Reflective
I think this is a great description of the values that I would like to see embedded in my classroom and hopefully the school. I must say that I am looking forward immensely to starting at my new school and to continuing my learning journey with my PLN on twitter, plurk and flickr to name a few. I am looking forward to a return visit to NECC in Washington DC in June. I am so grateful for so many opportunities, and look forward to a great 2009.

Image credit: 'Tree toss1'

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Seven things you don't need to know about me.

I previously wrote on the 5 things you don't know about me. Recently I was tagged by Lee Mowbray and Sue Tapp, so here goes. Here are my 7 things:
  1. I am in a bushwalking club that I have resisted joining for four years. Husband has asked me every time and finally I have agreed. I do love bushwalking.
  2. I have a cat, called Muffin. I would love to have a dog as well, but am worried about the commitment
  3. In my recent cleanup I gave 40 bags of books I no longer needed to the op shop. They were books from all phases of my life, early parenting, feminism, theology, science teaching, herb gardening, extreme cookery. I kept all the literary books and some of my favourites in the other categories
  4. My daughter moved out of home recently and left behind her distillery for making mead. I am going to get rid of it.
  5. I was born with polydactyly. Two of my children have it as well. My extra fingers were completely normal and functioning (removed by surgery when I was 6 weeks old) but my children had fingers that were attached to their hands by skin. They did not have to have surgery to remove them.
  6. I couldn’t speak English till I was five. My first language was Dutch. I have lost this language now, as I didn’t speak it regularly. I can still understand and read it though, and often my mother speaks to me in Dutch and I answer in English
  7. I go to the gym nearly every day and have a personal trainer. I am hoping to see some good results for all this investment in my time.
Bob on our recent walk in Sassafras

Thursday, January 01, 2009

English Teaching Resources

One of the resources I will be making a lot of use of in 2009 is the English Companion Ning set up by Jim Burke. It is a very lively community for English/Language Arts teachers; subtitled "Where English teachers meet to help each other". I was immediately attracted to it. There are many groups including Teaching Writing, Literature Circles and New Teachers. Jim is a careful and gentle nurturer of the various communities and I am learning heaps by being here. A great discussion has been started by Tracie Weisz on "Thinking about how we understand narrative." She refers to another blog post by Ira Socol who says about this topic that we need to teach the "understand(ing) that everyone who tells a story is telling that story from a point of view and for a reason." I think that Tracie is really asking the question: what is the truth to be found in fiction and how do we teach students that there is truth in fiction and that non fiction also needs to be read critically. This made me think about how I will approach my new students to find out what they already know, and how to teach them about this subtlety and critical facility with text.

Another post that got me thinking about my job as English and Literacy Coordinator in my new school is this one by Bud Hunt about writing in the age of connected media and who asks us to: "join (him) in some time spent writing, thinking, and talking about how writing remains so essential to learning and how technology, specifically the read/write web, assists us in fulfilling the promises and opportunities of strong writing communities and might be altering our societal reading, writing, and thinking paradigms." Read it and see what you think.

I have also been delighted to find the English teachers group on Diigo "a group to share sites that will help teachers TRANSFORM their (English) teaching so that students will have creative and engaging learning opportunities", and where there are also lots of ideas and resources to inspire our teaching of English for 2009. Of course having the website or resource to help us is only part of the picture but it is a start. I am looking forward to working with students again after such a long break.