Monday, February 25, 2008

The Open Classroom

Get your own TokBox at

Another twitter collaboration across the Tasman

NZChrissy tells us about TokBox this morning and by tonight we're testing it out - not Chrissy when I was on, but Simon Brown from Queensland (aka Skytrystjoy on Twitter, Dean Groom from Sydney, Joyce (aka catpyjamasnz from New Zealand, Sue Tap (aka sujokat) and me from Melbourne and Amanda S (aka heymilly) from New Zealand. It was fun trying out different settings, working out what happened when you clicked this or that button and as Dean said: "that was different - random strangers on the video call - thanks, good fun". It's all learning and I like it. Thanks for getting that together, Sue! Here is a photo that Simon took at some stage during the experimentation. Thanks Simon. Nice to see you, nice to see you all.

Fast Meeting and English Cafe

On Saturday I went to a VATE Review Day which is for Council and Committee members as well as other interested members. I was there in my new role as member of the PD committee, and also to learn something new, which I did.

The morning was run by David Pointon and Deb Dalziel of
FAST Meetings. This company helps coporate and not for profit groups to make the best of their f2f meeting times and helps them plan their conferences. From the company's website: "increase the effectiveness of your meetings and get things done more quickly through engagement and alignment of others. FAST Meetings specialises in meeting productivity and meeting effectiveness." David also points out that "demands on people outside the meeting room have heightened their needs for faster decision making, higher participation, and increased alignment across a wider range of stakeholders." You can tell straightaway that this would be something right up my alley.

Because of my accelerated learning over the last two years using all sorts of non f2f meeting software such as Flashmeeting, Elluminate, Skype, Ustream, Google Presentations and Twitter, I really value the place of face to face meetings. They are precious, costly to arrange (just calculate time in meetings by salary cost by people in the organisation) and potentially able to harness a passion and energy of participants that they should not be wasted in information giving only. They need to harness the voices and gifts of the participants. This can even happen though possibly not so well with technology assisted meetings. When we think of meetings in the workplace they are often anything but energising (oh not another meeting!). I spent an enjoyable morning looking at methods to get the most out of our valuable f2f time.

I learnt about Cafe, Open Dialogue, and a station exercise called Art Gallery. I was thinking that some of these activities would be great for classrooms and I put English Cafe (similar to a Jigsaw Activity) into action this morning with the Year 7s. This activity consisted of five teams of five students with five discussion questions one per group. Each group has a host who takes down notes. These were the questions I asked my Year 7s (they had to do with Millie and the Night Heron by Catherine Bateson. If you havent read the book they may not make sense) .
  • When and how should a parent talk to their children? Mr. Lawrence confessed to Millie that he is having trouble talking to his kids. What sort of questions should they ask
  • What are some of the 12 steps you could give to any parent to raise a successful teenager? Brendan Trotter gave Kate a book called “Twelve Steps for Raising Successful Teens.” (p.36). (See also p. 74)
  • What is your definition of high self-esteem? In Chapter Seven Millie and her new friends, Rachel, Helen and Sarah, talk about self-esteem. They think that being able to perform means you have high self-esteem. They define high self-esteem as feeling good about yourself (p. 71).Can you always feel good about yourself?
  • Can you learn how to make friends? Millie makes some new friends and the girls talk about things they can learn to do, like self-esteem. Why/ why not? Explain to next year’s new year sevens, how to make new friends.
  • What is it about change that scares us? Millie doesn’t want to change schools or move: “‘What about me?’ I wailed? p.17

The students spent three minutes discussing, then all students except the host moved to different tables. The host told the new group at the table what had happened and then passed the role of host to another student in the group. This was repeated till all the students had a chance to discuss all the questions. It took about 25 minutes and I asked for feedback at the end. This is some of what they said:

"It was fun, sharing ideas"; "I was surprised at how many different opinionions there were"; "we laughed a lot"; "better than normal classes"; "It was interesting hearing other students' stories"; "Everyone got a chance to share their opinion."

And I guess you want to know what they said about how parents should talk to their children? There answers will be on the Year 7 blog in the next few days, but here is a taster: "Questions should not be boring"; Speak in a calm voice"; smile and don't press for answers"; don't become an angry alligator"; "any plans for today?"; "ask relevant questions"; "make sure you're in private when asking embarrassing questions". You can't say you didn't know!


Having just been invited by NZChrissy to join TokBox I thought I'd give it a go. So I did. It looks fun and as aways the more the merrier. Have a listen to what Lauren from TokBox has to say here. You can "hear and see friends and family right now through video chatting, say a quick hello to friends with a video message, or invite a group pf people to chat face to face. " I can see some possibilities for PD among regional groups here, as well as fun and networking.

Something that is also for fun and educational (I am learning where the states are in the USA in more detail now) is My Tweet Map, which I love. It shows where your friends' tweets are coming from on a map in real time. Thanks to Sue Tapp for letting me know about that.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Blogging in class in 2008

We have certainly hit the ground running at school in classrooms this year. And this year there seems to be a different vibe around blogging. It has taken off faster, the students are more apt to help each other, especially the ones I had in year 7 who are now in year 8 (there are four of them) and also I think because I have made blogging optional this year. I brought in a stack of exercise books and said that they can write in either format, and if they write in a book I will comment on their entries. The topics of writing and the opportunities of writing will be the same. But it does not have to be online. Two students in one class and three in the other have chosen to go this way, and I am glad I offered the choice. I think the quality of writing is better also, as is the ability to be reflective. It may also be because of the different platform that I have gone for this year as a result of a tweet on by Sue Tapp (@sujokat on Twitter) Here are some examples from Year 8.

Reflective writing by Nikki:
"I am really suprised how much i am enjoying this book. In class we have been discussing the book and i realise how much I don't take in when reading by myself. I thought to myself when we began the novel, 'great just another boring historical war book'. But i am actually really enjoying the book. I think it is written really well, including humour and serious parts, also it gives you an idea about the environment of living in the war. I haven't finished it yet but when i do I will write again."

A budding literature student, Julia: "The book is based on how a poor, shy evacuee who has being treated harshly eases himself into a completely new environment and flourishes in the care of gruff old Mr Tom (Oakely). It is set in a country town in England when World War II is announced. I think it's a good book because it does not provide too much detail and information and leaves the reader to guess and picture the characters from both the author's and the reader's point of view. "

And a rueful blog entry from one student who shall remain nameless: "I suggest to people out there when the teacher says read chapter 1-6 actually read them cause when you do something on it in class you look stupid not knowing the answers!!!!"

This last is because of a quiz that I set up on the IWB on the novel Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian and had the students answer using the student response system Activote. Most thought it was a good way to see if the students had been reading without using pen and paper. Our statistics showed that 88% were up to the chapter they had been assigned. Is that good?

Our Year 7 blogs can be found here. There is lots to explore and read from this very lively class. But for now I would like to highlight one blogger, Hannah, whose post that she wrote on her own, responding to a lesson we had on favourite words, made me very happy. Read it and help her grow her list of the "coolest words ever".

And on a completely different topic. After listening to the live webcast of the Seedlings Snow Day episode which just happened to be streaming when I was online I had a think about being available to my students online. Last year, following a post by Clarence Fisher where he talked about helping students with homework via msn or something like it, I had established an MSN presence with students in my class where I said I would be available to talk to them during the time they woud be doing homework a couple of times a week. Not many of them took it up but some did and were very grateful. No one abused the privilege and I thought I would offer it again this year. But Bob Sprankle Cheryl Oakes, Kern Kelly and Alice Barr in their discussions made me think again. However I thought I would just go on line again before deciding. I was amazed. It waas students from last year who had left the school that gave me a shout out and talked about their new school and the work they were doing. One wanted me to see her poem that she had done for her new teacher. I was thrilled. I think I will go ahead and have "virtual office hours" again this year. Of course I have self imposed guidelines. I will never initiate a conversation or add anyone without them approaching me. I do not want to abuse any power or status that I have by virtue of my position as teacher. I will not discuss anything other than school work. And I always have the power to not be available. But the positive experiences that I have had have made me more likely to try it again this year. It is one of the many issues that we as teachers need to nut out ethically and legally as this new technology enables more opportunities to interact, to learn, and even to teach and guide.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

1001 Flat World Tales

Just getting my Year 7s started on a global collaboration project: the 1001 Flat World Tales. This project was begun by Clay Burell last year and sounded lots of fun so this year I thought I would invite my students to participate. This is some information from the Flat World Tales blog:
The 1001 Flat World Tales Writing Project is a creative writing workshop made up of schools around the world, connected by one wiki. This blog will be the home to the award-winning stories from each group of schools that participate in the workshop, different topics, different grade-levels, different cultures, brought together by the power of stories.So, enjoy the tales, click around, meet the authors — and check out their blogs!
There are four schools participating from the US and Canada so it should be lots of fun as well as creative, and not to mention giving the students practice in collaborating and writing. The wiki says it well:
This project takes the traditional language arts "Writing Workshop" into the 21st Century in three easy (but radical) ways:
    1. It replaces pencil and paper (or MS Word) drafting, revising, and peer editing with a better (and simpler) writing tool: a wiki;
    2. It expands the options for peer response and peer editing beyond the walls of your classroom--and your clock, city, nation, and culture--by enabling peer feedback, editing, and connection with students from around the world;
    3. It replaces the "authentic" publishing of the 20th century classroom--hallways, newsletters, literary journals, etc--with authentic publishing in the 1001 Flat World Tales "blook": a potentially endless series of stories from students around the world, inter-linked on individual student blogs.
There is information on online safety and digital etiquette, as well as a hall of fame to recognise great writing . It is a well thought out project with potentially great educational benefits. It is a privilege to be able to be involved.

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