DNA: the secret of life & Baboons on the prowl

And now for something completely different – YouTube is such an amazing source of fascinating videos.

The first is a truly amazing video that shows how DNA copies itself. It is from a PBS program entitled “DNA The Secret of Life”.

The second is video of an incident a week or so ago. The still pictures in the paper caused a lot of laughter with my students. Now we can get the video.

Visitors to a UK safari park are being warned to look after their luggage, after a pack of baboons learnt how to open car rooftop boxes.

Clever little baboons have robbed quite a few holidaymakers of their belongings but I am not sure why you would want to take luggage into a safari park.

Twitter study

Uploaded to Flickr by Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Uploaded to Flickr by Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Why do we use twitter? I had a couple of conversations with students about Twitter over the last week. We (at least I) discussed how it could be a useful tool. “Tool” being the operative word – the old saying “A tool is only as good as the person using it” – seems to be in play here. I agreed with them that it could be a useless self-aggrandising tool but it could also be much more.

I know that there people who have to decide what to do about social media  such as  Twitter, especially when it might be an important commercial decision.  In schools, is it a useful and safe tool for students to use. I talked about some of the uses that I had noticed and now there is some data. TNS and The Conference Board have just completed a study investigating this  newsworthy Web2.0 tool.  

Whilst there are good number of us who use it to keep in touch with friends the breakdown looks like this:

  • 41.4% use it to keep in touch with friends
  • 29.1% used it to update their status,
  • 25.8% to find news and stay updated
  • 21.7% for work purposes
  • and 9.4% for research. 

School educational uses (and I have posted about some of them in this blog) do not seem to have been incorporated into this marketing study. Of course there is some overlap in the results but it is interesting that non-social uses are in the majority. The self-promotion and headline grabbing uses that have have dominated in the news media and been responsible for the contempt shown for this this tool appear to be wrong. It is still in its very early days but education and information seems to be a very big part of the way it is going.

Connecting our students to Reading

I like reading, which is just as well in the job I do. I like to encourage our boys to read. I have always preferred the longer novel but I use all sorts of things to get the boys to read. They must read because the written word is still a major form of communication. Whether it is reading for meaning, information or reading for the sake of the story, they must learn to get a handle on it. They cannot be classed as literate if they cannot read adequately and success is always equated with being literate.

Nowadays we have new mediums to reach children and encourage them to read, new stories or the old classics. A lot of these books are available free on-line. We have podcasts, e-books , graphic novels telling stories in alternative ways. We can get many of the classics on-line and there are now those who publish directly into the digital environment. We have sites hosting an author who, mirroring the old style serialisation (eg Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock  Holmes stories) and writing their story in installments on that site. Others, like the SLV’s Insideadog site has, in some instances, offered young people the chance to become even more involved by encouraging them to make suggestions for new story-lines in these serials. 

Today we have so many ways to offer people a chance to feel the power of a story, to connect to a narrative. In schools, if we cannot get many of our young people to connect with the story, then we are not really trying. If we want to help them with their literacy skills we must help them make the connections.

I have been creating a list in Diigo called books and alternatives and have also put a few together, in a sharetabs group, called Engaging with books. These are just some of the many and varied sites that I am sharing with colleagues, trying to encourage them to use a variety of approaches to engage our young people. My ideal is to have them so engaged in their work that they don’t even notice the bell for the end of the period. It has happened before, albeit rarely, and it is magnificent

 I have mentioned “literacy”  and the meaning of that word has/is changing too. There are many different types of literacy spoken about in the educational arena. It is the amazing technological advances in the past couple of decades has lead to these changes in the definition of literacy.

The OECD PISA has three literacy definitions,  reading, science and mathematics. The first definition is: Reading literacy is the ability to understand, use, and reflect on written texts, in order to achieve ones goals, to develop one’s knowledge and potential, and to participate in society.

The UNESCO definition of literacy: “Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society.”  

If we want to help our young people achieve a high level of literacy, we need a high level of engagement and a willingness to embrace a variety of ways to achieve this. 

PLP final reflections

Today we signed off on the PLP program and had our last Elluminate session. It has been an amazing past 15 months. Three of our team began the journey by taking part in the SLAV Web2.0 program. Here we had a few months to learn about the some of the different technologies that were becoming available to us. We were given the permission the take time to “play” with variousWeb2.0tools and consider how they might used to improve upon the learning opportunities we offer the students in out classrooms/schools.


Uploaded by McLeod


The offer to be part of the PLP program came after a few of us at WFC had taken part in this SLAV Web2.0 PD program. We had been introduced to some of these powerful tools and had begun to investigate how they might be best used in an educational setting but we were still trying to work out to best put our ideas into practice. Jenny Luca, upon reading Tania Sheko’s blog, contacted her and suggested that our school might like to be part of an Australian cohort.

From there on in it has been an amazing ride. There wasn’t a lot of time to prepare a proposal to take to our principal but we were very excited by the potential of the Powerful Learning Program being offered to us and we realised that our school could benefit from such exposure to 21st century educational thinking. After explaining the proposal (and working out about the financing) he approved our participation. There were a few more discussions as we put forward a case for the teacher librarians being part of the program. There was an idea that it would be better for full-time classroom teachers to take part and it was suggested the T/Ls could observe and assist when needed. I remember arguing about our unique place in the school, that we were truly cross-curricular as well as working with staff and students from all year levels. It was finally agreed that we could be part of our school’s team.

Things moved quickly and in no time we were enjoying our first face-to-face meeting with the Australian cohort at Toorak College shortly afterwards. On one hand it seems like yesterday that we met up for that first time and discussed the program but a lot has happened since that meeting. 

Trying to go back to the beginning and reflecting on the reasons I initially wanted to be part of the program I came up with the following reasons for my enthusiasm. I was interested in exploring all sorts of ways the use the technologies available:

  • to assist students with their learning
  • to help students make sense of the multi-literacy world that they are part of
  • to assist students make sense of, and sort through, the amazing amount of information available to them, in the most appropriate manner for them.

I saw the digital tools offering me a wide variety of options that would assist me in allowing students to learn in the most appropriate/best way for them. This did not necessarily mean that it was going to be the best, most comfortable, way for me but that was not the issue. The PLP offered me a way of learning and sharing ideas about technologies (digital tools) in an educational setting.

The Program went on to meet my interests and more. The access and connections we had to not only the theories, ideas but practical advice from not only the Australian cohort members but also the US school teams was such an amazing

The different Web2.0 tools that we used to connect to, communicate and collaborate helped me gain a better understanding of the tools but they also broadened my outlook and ideas. Although I had started to read blogs and write one myself, I had never really bothered with Twitter but it has become such a useful tool, one that offers a quick way to inform and keep informed. I had touched on wikis but the wikis I was introduced to, whilst being part of the PLP, have been a revelation, as has the willingness of so many educators to share their experiences and advice.

Nings have become a useful resource and I have become a co-administrator of one and a member of a number of others. The social bookmarking, using Delicious was a great way of finding and sharing useful sites and since then Diigohas become my bookmarking site of choice. It links to Delicious but also allows you to be part of interest groups and to leave note and comments on text. I may not have found or started using Diigo without the encouragement of PLP members. I have put links to many of the tools (blogs, wikis, nings etc.) as well as My Flickr and Vodpod, LibraryThing, all those  things I like to use/read in my sidebars. 

The willingness of other educators has to communicate and collaborate has made me much more aware about leaving comments and acknowledgements when I find interesting information shared with me. So the collaboration and communication parts of 21stcentury learning has been an enormous part of my time in the PLP program. I cannot imagine a time in the future where I will not be online, sharing information, ideas and generally collaborating with others. My PLN is now so much larger than it was before the PLP program and is my source of inspiration, my support network and a community that continues to challenge me to keep learning and growing. 

The most amazing collaboration tool that we were introduced to must be Elluminate.I was quite nervous about my first session, not knowing how it worked and what it offered but what a fantastic opportunity it offered to us. The discussions, led by Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum Beach, were thought- provoking and the energy coming from the comments (verbal and written) and conversations shared between the participants was truly exciting. Elluminate offers a very powerful option, with the presenters having the option to showcase many different presentations. The fact that all of the sessions can be recorded, allows participants to revisit the any of them whenever they want to, makes it a tool that create the opportunity for reflection and deep understanding.

21stcentury learning also has a creative component. The blogs, wikis, Nings offer users the opportunity for sharing/publishing creative thinking and a platform to showcase innovative approaches to subjects/topics. This id the higher order thinking that we want our students to be involved in.

All of these tools are being investigated and used in all sorts of ways with students. Indeed I have blogged about the use (and usefulness) of a number of them. The members of the Whitefriars team have used various digital resources to engage students in their own learning. The students I have worked with responded well when challenged to try new ways to approach some traditional tasks. Their reflections and comments have been very positive. They rose to the challenges and produced some innovative and excellent resources. The worry (of some teachers) that the technology would be distracting did not come to fruition. When they were given a framework, a certain amount of choice in their approach, and help and guidance when required, the students simply became engrossed in what they were doing. An authentic feel, from knowing that their work was going to be shared with other students and beyond their own classroom situation, seemed to make them take a more responsible approach to their learning and they set their standards high. Seeing the teachers I worked with excited by the work the students were doing, and the students responding so well to their tasks, was the best part of the program. It was very affirming. The way the students (and their teachers) worked together was the most rewarding aspect of the journey.

More disappointing was the time that we realised that we could not participate in Elluminate sessions when we were at school but rather had to use our own mobile broadband or our internet at home. This also means that we cannot use this fantastic tool to link our students into real-time tutorials/discussions in the wider world. Skype is also unavailable to us at our school for other real-time connections. I have read about so many interesting projects conducted in other schools using these tools and it is disappointing that, at the moment, we cannot. There have been times when Nings could not be accessed and used properly by the students.

There are also some different ideas amongst staff about whether or not to use the internal (Sharepoint) options or to use the external web2.0 tools. One of the things that must be developed is a common approach to all the technologies available.

I have to the strong belief we need to develop very clear pathways and guidelines for teachers who want to participate in some of the newer and more innovative digital projects. We need to make it easy for people who want to try new/different approaches with their classes. It automatically follows that the infrastructure needs to be able to support their endeavours.


Control uploaded by Shareski

Other challenging times have come when teachers have not been open to hearing about new approaches, let alone try them. I tried not to be disappointed when my colleagues didn’t share my enthusiasm. I am always very aware that we all have different skills and interests, but there are many options that require little technical skill but offer very powerful learning opportunities. I try not to sound like an evangelist to these staff but I believe our focus should always be on how best to help our students learn and, if technology gives more students a greater range of alternative ways to learn and demonstrate that learning, then I believe that is what we, as educators, need to respond to the challenge. I wrote a post a while ago when I was reflecting on what teachers want from technolgy and what makes “good” technology. When I look around many schools don’t meet the requirements I came up with, making it harder to convince them to take it on board. Will Richardson made a comment that too much PD for educators is about teaching and not about them learning (which was the opposite of the previously mentioned SLAV program). They are out of practice when it comes to learning, especially new and different ideas. Some this means more consideration of the PD offered and taken up by our teachers. 

So, reflecting on the reasons I wanted to be part of the PLP program, I must say that it has opened my mind up to the tremendous opportunities we have to assist our students to develop their learning skills. It has reinforced that we all need to keep our minds open and be willing to constantly further our education and be challenged and not become too comfortable. Now that it is over it is a bit like the feeling you have when holidays or some celebration has finished. There is a feeling that what now but the community we have built up is still there and there are new challenges and projects already in the wings. We have been given the confidence to “get out there”, take part in the new world and, most of all, none of this ever has to be done in isolation, that there are plenty of people “out there” willing to join us on our journey. It is only the beginning!

Our reflections (put together on this blog by Tania Sheko and Marie Salinger) are here.

A slide set I like that looks at web2.0

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Useful Links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.