June 4

10 minutes ahead

Oh, the orbital language of ‘21st century skills’ and ‘leadership’.

If you are an educator keen on using technology and wanting others to join you and benefit from it, don’t try to get them to move into “21st century” – just get them to move 10 minutes ahead to the point where they have just learned something simple and useful that will work in their class.

Use the gamers approach to learning – easy entry, easy win then level up and try again. Move them as a colleague, with empathy (“walk in their shoes”) not sympathy (“oh, you poor thing”).

Dean Groom tells it better – thanks mate for this gem. You can tell it below.

(A short blog post never felt better)

May 20

You Yankee bastard

home_syd_1966

A few days ago, Phyllis Zimbler Miller, LA-based author of the novel Mrs Lieutenant about the lives of wives of officers in Vietnam War contacted me (via Twitter via Daniel Needlestone from UK!) and expressed interest in the We Remember Vietnam War project I am running with my Year 10 class. She asked me to write a guest post on her blog for her mostly US audience to raise awareness not only about our project but about the involvement of Australians in Vietnam. Here is what I wrote…I hope I got the start right?

You Yankee bastard

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May 9

Just do it

octopus arm
This Thursday I had the privilege of hearing one of my dearest and friendliest, uber-connected locals Sue Waters giving a keynote on PLN at the EDNA workshop. Great stuff – she managed to bamboozle the audience and have them eating out of her hands at the same time! After her gig we shared a quiet half an hour and the word got onto people who just talk and ponder about change instead of getting their hands dirty. Right on!

Here is my “getting hands dirty” bit, the reason you hear about it is because I am asking for your help and your digital-to-flesh tentacles.

This term, my Year 10 Society & Environment class is looking at Vietnam War as a broad topic. After quite a bit of discussion, brainstorming and even arguments with and among the 22-strong, very ‘mixed ability’ (love a nasty euphemism, don’t you?) class, we thought it would be a good idea to do something that would actually matter beyond “a grade, a tick, and a move on”. So we got ourselves into the national ANZAC School Awards competition. Of course, it wouldn’t be Mr Lasic who planted the idea that we may want to gun for the ‘best use of technology’ category would it 🙂

The class lapped up the challenge. I have NEVER seen them this motivated, keen and engaged. As I write this, I have kids, some of whom who don’t have computers at home (that’s right, call them digital native hey?) going to public library or staying at home to fool around and research the background info CD I had provided. Curious about what we are doing? Here is the link, all explained there – http://weremember.wikispaces.com/

So what is it that we need help with? Put simply, we are creating a digital mash-up map in Google Earth with personal stories about the time of Vietnam War – a mix of primary and secondary source historical data.

If you remember the period and/or if you know someone who lived in that period (particularly in Australia or Vietnam) or know a ‘connector’ who knows others – we would love it if you could tell us one positive and one negative experience related about the (time of and after) Vietnam War.

How?

Go straight to the simple form (full link, you can copy if you like)

http://spreadsheets.google.com/viewform?formkey=cjVfSVJfOTQ2cnd0dGJCY1FEV0NBbEE6MA

OR email the class at weremember09@gmail.com

OR leave a comment below

Now here comes the tentacles part…!

Please pass the message/link to project on in a true Web 2.0 manner (but avoid spam of course) – blog, Twitter, wiki, email. Let’s not forget the old phone and face-to-face either here…

We have already had a few people responding – Roger Pryor (he has already blogged it!), “cpaterso” (a reciprocal Twitter follower and a generous teacher from Sydney whose full name I don’t even know yet (!) and he has already provided some hugely useful personal contacts and suggestions), to name just a couple… within the first ‘public’ day.

This isn’t the first time I am asking for such a thing I know (thank you Charlie Roy, you are a superstar!). Hopefully, I have or (will have) clocked up enough good karma to see the human web in action and show what people can do with technology these days so it matters. So…just do it!

A big please and an even bigger thank you all from me and my bunch of 14-year olds.

March 18

One sentence

Good news travels fast. ‘Sticky’ ideas even faster.

In her recent comments, fellow teacher and moodler Mary Cooch (known also as @moodlefairy) mentioned how the staff at their school spend a couple of minutes of their weekly meetings talking about their use of Moodle in the classroom. I loved the idea and in the brief email exchange that followed hinted that I will try to use it here at our school too.

This afternoon, I had a cryptic staff meeting agenda item called ‘Share’.

When I got my turn to speak, I simply asked:

‘Could you please share ONE thing or strategy you have found Moodle useful for in your classroom.”

Silence. Tick, tock, tick, tock – 15 seconds.

Then it opened. What followed was just about the best 8 minutes of my three years at this school – 10 short stories, 10 people, 10 different uses, 10 different skill levels. Genuine, specific, relevant, encouraging … and more we haven’t heard because of the crammed agenda.

As I write this, an email popped into my inbox from a colleague Aaron. This is the last sentence from it:

“What took place in today’s staff meeting is exceptionally rare, so from one colleague to another, well done”

I find myself happy and sad at the same time.

Sad? Because, as Aaron says, it is exceptionally rare. Making such things standard practice won’t change a few staff meetings – it will change the profession we are in.

March 14

Can you teach me Moodle?

Thumb

This afternoon a staff member walked up to me and said: “Tomaz, I have been meaning to see you about Moodle. You really need to teach me about how to use it.”

This of course is music to my ears as the resident moodler. But then I returned what is now becoming a standard line and a sure tickler: “I couldn’t possibly!”

She stood there stunned but polite. Huh, did I get her attention.

I did continue:”I would love to have a chat with you about Moodle and show you around but first – have a look in our Sandpit what Moodle is [the “Moodle explained with Lego” clip] and then the sort of things you can do with it [the ‘How can Moodle change a school] clip(s)]. This will give you a broad idea about Moodle before starting to poke around. When done, come up to me with a classroom problem and we’ll solve it together, step by step. How does that sound to you?”

“See you on Monday at the workshop!” was the immediate and enthusiastic reply.

Too often we approach teaching of things like software applications with a “these are the features, click here, click there…” and then leave it to people’s imagination how they are going to use it. Doing so, we tend to break one of the most important rules of communication – we make it about the software not about the people. We own the information, they merely borrow it.

By turning things around and solving a real-life classroom scenario, challenge, problem, idea people suddenly own the solution. They recognise themselves in the picture – “Hey, that’s me”!

Teachers are a very pragmatic lot and love to borrow good stuff. Give’em a good one in Moodle and they will come! If a science teacher has a great solution using Moodle for a problem or idea her class and say, an English teacher sees it and ‘gets it’ – you can bet the English teacher will at least try or ask how to go about it. And coming from a colleague and a fellow ‘struggler’ is a much more powerful thing than coming from the school’s main Moodle peddler like me. The bigger the struggler the more potent the message, even at the subconscious level (“If she can do that I reckon I can do that too!”).

‘Classroom solutions (with software)’ versus ‘Software solutions (in classroom)’. I know which one a regular chalkie would go for and why. Do you?

March 7

What is a Zoodle? Moodle at the zoo

Orangutan

Cool morning, sunny +26 C day and the fantastic Perth Zoo were our playground yesterday for a bunch of our Year 9 classes. The excursion is a centrepiece of the term looking at endangered species of SE Asia and particularly Indonesia.

Sadly, not all students came along for various reasons. We wanted to make the occasion memorable beyond a paper worksheet, give students a chance to show what they got out of the day and, importantly, share the day and its (in)sights with students who stayed back at school. Luckily, Mr Lasic was on hand with his laptop, Bluetooth and Moodle – what a nerd!

We encouraged students to take pictures and clips with their mobile phones and cameras throughout the day (considering of course other zoo visitors and rules on using imaging equipment). At the end of the day, we asked the kids to pair up and take a 30 – 60 sec ‘interview’ of their buddy answering the question: “What have I learnt at the zoo today?”

On the bus driving back to school, students sent me their videos and images from mobile phone via Bluetooth. Within 5 minutes about 15 clips and 30 images effortlessly landed in my inbox. But wait – there’s more… For kids who had taken shots with their digital camera, I have opened a picture gallery (a handy preset in Database activity) for them to upload their shots from home. They have started trickling in since.

A video database will have the kids’ video clips plus a recording of an excellent presentation given to us by the zoo’s education staff – all on Moodle of course.

All of these will be made so students can download them, edit and/or mash them up (the more advanced users will), comment on entries and rate them. I think a blog post on “Why and how should I care about endangered species” for each student should be a pretty sound assessment piece with kids constructing it using their own or their peers’ materials rather than a copy/paste job off zoo’s website.

One student asked me: “If we put zoo stuff on Moodle does that make it a Zoodle?”

Epilogue:

This morning I looked at the draft school policy on mobile phones, Mp3, cameras and other ‘gadgets’ as lots of people like to bundle’em up. It makes me want to look for another job straight away – I’ll spare you the rant.

March 5

Using Moodle Glossary to stop spoonfeeding students

red spoon

I am getting a little tired of ‘spoon-feeding’ and doing the heavy lifting for my students.

So, in a fine constructivist tradition, here is a little activity I have just pulled off in my Philosophy and Ethics class using Moodle’s Glossary activity to get them thinking.

I got students into groups of three, one is the official scribe. In groups they discuss and come up with a definition/ explanation of their allocated concept. They must use examples to demonstrate their understanding of the concept (eg. ‘reason’, ‘valid argument’, ‘inference’…). The scribe enters the definition into the course glossary I had set up. Apart from text, students can add pictures, graphics, even embed videos to support their explanation using the Glossary’s HTML editor.

Students can edit entries at any time (maybe tonight from home, I remain hopeful 😀. They can comment on entries (“I think your starting premise is probably wrong so your final argument falls apart…” kinda thing). Students can also rate each other’s entries.

The idea is that the students throughout the year add and keep improving definitions of key concepts we use in class in a way that makes sense to them.

The rule is “if you can’t explain it to a friend sitting next to you it does not get published” (no copy/paste from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy here)

Thank you Moodle. Love teaching!

October 9

Top 5 myths about teaching with Moodle

5 MythsIf you are trying to introduce Moodle to teachers or staff at your school or a similar organisation, you have or you will probably hear at least some, if not all, of the five statements below in some shape of form. I deliberately called these ‘myths’ because they simply do not stack up when compared not only to my own experience and that of my colleagues at our school, but to the experience of literally millions of teachers around the world using Moodle in their daily work.

These five myths deal exclusively with teaching and learning with Moodle. I have distilled these after experiences at our school and reading about experiences of fellow Moodlers over the last year or so. For more myths about the technical aspects of Moodle (Top 10) you can visit the Moodle forums at Moodle.org.

So, here are my top five … with replies.

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September 12

Rita’s story

//farm4.static.flickr.com/3026/2848788126_0b9dc2fea1.jpg?v=0No, nothing to do with the book with the same name but there are, if unintended, similarities.

My teaching story has been inexorably linked with one colleague – Rita. Ever since she supervised me on my first teaching practicum many years ago our paths have managed to cross in different locations. Over the last three and a half years, we have shared a desk, made each other coffee, covered each other’s classes, team-taught on several occasions, laughed and cared about each other. With her grace, wisdom and impeccable respectfulness, Rita has helped me better understand and deal with students we teach. In return, I have helped her with a gentle lead into the crazy, hyper world of instructional technology.

Rita has been teaching mostly History and Society & Environment (old Social Studies) for 25 years across many public schools, first in Germany then in Australia. When I rang her tonight to ask for her permission to write about our conversation this afternoon she asked me not to disclose her age, but laughingly agreed to my ‘diplomatic’ description of her as “closer to retirement than to her first day in class”.

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September 5

An analogue meal with kindred digital educators

connectA couple of days ago I attended a dinner with a world-renowned educator and presenter Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, her family, and a few fellow Perth bloggers and ed-tech enthusiasts. The company included a famous chocoholic and THE Edublogger Sue Waters, whom I met personally for the first time, Jean Anning, Jane Lowe and Paul Reid. The evening was very enjoyable and sprinkled with a wonderful dose of fun-spirited Aussie/American bashing and ‘war stories’ – all in all, we hit it off well (I am just not sure how much Sheryl’s family members enjoyed our passionate and often noisy rants, complaints and (mutual) inspirations).

I was particularly pleased and in many ways reassured to hear Sheryl’s passion to push for greater use of ICT and particularly the Web 2.0 (for lack of better word) tools with ‘tough’ schools and kids like ours (see my previous, cathartic post for details – thank you good people for your comments). And as we started getting into the thick of discussion, we recognised that not only the group of people present, but a wider community of bloggers, ed-tech educators etc. (you know the labels…) is vulnerable to the ‘echo chamber’ effect. We all pretty much agree on many things, we fuel each other’s passion, we share and exchange ideas, in short – we ‘get it’. That’s all good but we act mostly in our own individual spaces, despite creation of large (inter)national networks, so easily afforded by the tools whose usefulness and transformative power we try to unveil to others. We are doing great things but without generating the amount of synergy that would make powers-that-be stand up and go beyond, in the words of Seymour Papert (thank you for correction Bryn) ‘strapping a jet engine [of technology] on a horse and cart [of 18th century model of education]’.

Why is that? Continue reading