Tag Archives: English

Our students were told to get lost – online

Yes, it’s true, our blogging boys were told by Nick to ‘get lost’

Have you ever had the pleasure of being lost? Not just a bit disoriented, but utterly, irredeemably confounded?

The excitement of not knowing what’s literally around the corner mingles with the terrifying possibility of never finding your way back home and the result is the humbling revelation that you’re not the centre of the universe after all; your known world is a tiny speck on the edge of a vast and beckoning globe. Bliss!

I’m amused by the esoteric nature of the student tasks, and how well they’ve embraced each new challenge, putting in their heart and soul in most cases. I don’t think they’ve ever been told to ‘get lost’ online, never been asked to think about and document the randomness of online browsing, to think about how it made them feel. One of the students commented at the end of his post –

Meh. By far the weirdest task so far –

but on the whole, students have good-naturedly played along and produced writing which was well worth reading.

Nathan is an example of this:

I soon ended up at the New York Public Library which was pretty bizarre considering that I started off with moths.

However, it wasnt the outcome of my research that left me spellbound. It was how I felt. I was reading article after article that I soon lost track of time. I was so engaged with these articles that I became lost.

The beauty of getting lost online is no matter how hard you try, you may never be able to retrace each individual step of getting lost. Each time you get lost online, its always a different story; always something new.

This task has inspired me to learn in a more positive light, that the online world has more power and is more influential than we know!  

Lachie was quite enthusiastic about the whole thing:

This task has inspired me to play endless hours of the wikipedia game to satisfy my now addicted curiosity of being lost. So goodbye satnavs and goodbye readers as hours of drooling over my keyboard tirelessly playing the wikipedia game await me!

Andrew did a lot of thinking and reflecting, coming to an honest conclusion about the task of documenting the process of getting lost online –

But, this gets me thinking. If getting something that you do conciously, to become something you do subconciously, is it harder the other way around?
Immeasureable amounts of information are processed subconciously. Can we get something we do subconciously, to become something we do consciously?

I honestly have no idea.

Fantastic! Questions leading to more questions – surely this is the beginning of a healthy thinking habit.

Richard started searching ‘purple’ and got lost on the way through the wrong meaning of ‘shade’, coming across an article about ‘umbrellas used about a Bulgarian who was killied by a dose of ricin injected by a modified umbrella.’ to secret police, methods of torture and finally thought experiments and Schroedinger’s cat.

I only just realised that I was well and truly lost online, here I was reading about some wierd paradox that I have absolutely no IDEA how I ended up here. So I guess curiosity takes over the feeling of being lost online. This activity took over an hour, but it was totall worth it and I have learned a lot more about the world. Looking back on this task, I am amazed and perplexed how I started from a simple colour, purple, to a brain-frying paradox.
It must be so much more satisfying to receive a comment from your class mate than your teacher, wouldn’t you think?
On first impression, the chain of links that you followed seems rather strange, but when I read your reasoning , I felt that the process by which you got to Schrodinger’s Cat was perfectly logical and quite coherent, which surprised me as the human thought process can be quite difficult to comprehend at all. It is testament to your very well-written and highly enjoyable writing style that people will be able to read this article and connect with it.P.S. Nice one on the Schrodinger’s Cat paradox. Have you heard about Wigner’s Friend. Read it, you’ll find it quite interesting.
It’s clear when comparing first posts with those recently written that students have moved away from the kind of formal writing they consider appropriate for submission to their teacher. They’ve relaxed and become quite comfortable with writing using their own voice. They are no longer writing for the teacher in a prescriptive manner; they are writing for their peer audience, and also for their wider audience. Most of them are openly enjoying the writing task, despite the ‘weirdness’, and occasionally a student expresses criticism at what he perceives to be a meaningless task. We noticed definite cynicism expressed by a particular student recently, but, as Nick says, ‘the positive spin on …’s post is that he is thinking about his mind, and forming opinions about productive ways to use it.’
This is why we both feel the blogging experience has been valuable – students are thinking. They are thinking about the world, knowledge, themselves and about thinking itself. Their writing comes from real perceptions and is aimed at real people. And more than that, they’re sharing their thoughts with class mates and the wider world.

Open minds welcome – Year 9s begin blogging

I’ve noticed that Melbourne High School has two mottos. One is ‘honour the work’ and the other, perhaps more recent, is ‘more than just marks’. The school is a hub of co-curricular activity which attests to that. And yet, not surprisingly for a selective school full of bright and competitive boys, the focus is largely on attaining high marks and, in particular, a high ATAR in VCE. There’s nothing wrong with that if it doesn’t interfere with what matters more – the development of a love of learning, a thirst for understanding and thinking.

When English teacher, Nicholas Fairlie, and I put our heads together in the hope of doing something different with Nick’s two Year 9 classes, we decided to try out Posterous as a blogging platform. Nick found the perfect quote by Thomas Mann to introduce the point of blogging, a quote which so beautifully expresses the reflective aspect of blogging.

Keeping a Diary

“I love this process by which each passing day is captured, not only its impressions, but also, at least by suggestion, its intellectual direction and content as well, less for the purpose of rereading and remembering than for taking stock, reviewing, maintaining awareness, achieving perspective.”

(Thomas Mann, Thomas Mann: Diaries 1918-1939)

Nick had the boys spell-bound as he introduced the project –

And so, boys, this is why we’re blogging. Not for the rightness or wrongness of our ideas, but for the having of the ideas and shaping them fit for the page. These pages will celebrate and affirm thinking: bold thinking, creative thinking, subtle and robust thinking. What goes here is valuable because it is the product of our minds and because of that will be respected by us all.

Without making a big deal of it, Nick spoke to the boys about responsible and respectful behaviour, pointing them to the guidelines:

5. Nice as it is to read encouraging comments, such as “well done” and “good job”, try to give some more feedback than this. Work on building a dialogue.
6. Keep track of what has been said by others before, and then try to provide some new viewpoints. You can also ask thoughtful questions, as there may be new and unfamiliar cultural references in other students’ photos and commentary.

Past experience has taught me that rich commenting is an art which has to be taught. So much learning takes place without much effort though – writing not just for your teacher and a mark, but for a peer audience and a potentially global readership, will open up the scope for authentic discussions and social learning.

And so we have made a start. Two classes of Year 9 boys have created their own blogs and personalised them (as they all naturally want to do), and these blogs have been linked on the front page of Nick’s blog. They have written their first blog post on a topic which has yielded some mature and thoughtful responses (to ‘We are what we know’). It was exciting to read such interesting responses to an open and abstract topic which may have intimidated much older students – a rich start to something that promises to truly be “taking stock, reviewing, maintaining awareness, achieving perspective.”

After sending out a tweet and Facebook status to promote the blogs and encourage commenting, we sat back and waited for readers to bite. My generous network jumped in immediately with responses to encourage and challenge the students in their thinking. My online colleague, Sinnika Laakio-Whybrow, from Finland, was amongst these and will no doubt impress upon the boys that their writing attracts a global audience, and that it’s just as easy to have a discussion with someone on the other side of the planet than with someone interstate.

sinikkalw responded:

I would go along with your reasoning that most of us don’t really know who we are or what exactly we know. But why is that perfectly fine with you? Wouldn’t we all be better off if everybody knew a bit more about themselves and what they know?

1 day agoAndrew Poxleitner responded:

Andrew Poxleitner
I would agree that if people knew more about themselves than they do right now, not only would they benefit, but the contributions to society would also be invaluable.Perchance I was a bit vague on this, in the post, but we also have to question ourselves on how to do so. How do we find about ourselves? I believe, at least, I’m in the dark in regards to who I am, and how to figure out who I am.
Therefore, I’m perfectly fine with the fact that maybe not many people know who they really are, because from the very start of the discovery, it’d be like picking needles out of a haystack.
Being realistic, not everyone can figure out who they are, and that’s a fact. Well, at least to me it is.

1 day agosinikkalw responded:

Technology truly is amazing, here I am on the other side of the world having a “discussion” with you!In hindsight, and with life experience, I can assure you that teenage is the very time when you really start on the lifelong journey of “finding yourself” and becoming your own independent individual. What seems like needles in a haystack to you now, will become clearer and clearer to you as years go by. If there was a reliable method of “finding your true self” that worked for everyone, I’m sure we’d know about it. The beauty of life is the journey, the process, the gradual deepening of our understanding, the willingness and openness to find out. Because not everybody can figure it out, doesn’t mean that you can’t, does it?
I’m grateful to be collaborating with a teacher who has a focus on the deep learning beyond marks, one who is excited about the possibilities of social learning and willing to take the small and larger risks associated with such a project. Our clustrmap already shows over 80 visitors from different parts of the world. Nick has been in touch over the weekend and is cooking up a meaty follow-up for the boys.
This is going to be so good. Here is the link to Yr 9 English MHS blog. Please come in to read the blogs which are linked on the right hand side of the blog. We would love you to leave a comment and add to our rich conversation.

Libguides, Pinterest and other online stuff

Well, I have to write a post mainly because the vibrating gif is driving me crazy and I feel the need to push it down. What’s happening that I don’t use the blog to reflect any more? Perhaps this is not my reflective phase. Yes, that’s it. I’ve been quite satisfied creating resources and getting to know staff members at my relatively new school. And I have to admit to an obsession – pictures! I can’t stop looking at and saving gorgeous pictures from Flickr and other parts of the web (my groaning Google Reader). Just this week I finally decided to give Pinterest a go. The account has been sitting there for a while – can’t remember exactly how long – and I suppose I’ve been frantically trying to keep up with other things, not least Scoop.it which has taken off in a big way. Also because so many Pinteresters are dominating the place with food and wedding photos. Lovely. But not for me at the moment thanks. Just to give it a go, I created a couple of boards and threw in my YA book trailers as well as some books covers. Yes, not bad, looks great and neatly organised at a glance without having to scroll down too much. Well, woah! Now I have too many boards and possibly Pinterest OCD. Please help me.

Libguides have still got me burning the candle at both ends. Some of my colleagues tell me a don’t have a life. Hmm… (I have a life *she says weakly*) Some of you may understand the obsessive finding/saving/sharing/creating cycle and I blame my PLN for giving me so much of the good stuff. I love my job (have I said that before?) I love finding the good stuff for teachers and students. It’s  like being a conjurer – pulling wonderful and unexpected things from a hat. Reader, if you’re a teacher librarian, please support me here. Don’t you feel the same way?

So, to finish off the post (so that I can keep playing with pictures – it’s a bit like swap cards from my youth), I will share the things I’ve been doing. Some of these you already know but, hang on, I’ve been adding…

Pinterest first:

Book trailers board 

Art Inspiration board (from my Art Does Matter blog)

There are more but I’ve only just started them. The illuminated manuscripts have got me salivating and I will be continuing my obsession until I have a full board.


Even though it’s called Competition Writing, this resource supports any kind of writing and so is useful to students and teachers of English.

I am responsible for the weekly weblink of interest for the school newsletter, and this week I shared the link to my Digital Citizenship pages (4) into which I added two excellent articles by well-known and respected Australian educators, Chris Betcher (Have you googled yourself lately?) and Jenny Luca (5 reasons why our students are writing blogs and creating e-portfolios). These are under ‘Your digital footprint’ tab which is my favourite section of the resource because it explains the importance of helping students create a positive and responsible digital identity. Don’t go on about the dangers of the internet without balancing this out with a clear and positive direction for digital citizenship. Teachers are still telling me they prefer the things of their time to what kids are using today. Not even kids, what about businesses. Mobile technologies and social media have been taken up by businesses but sadly schools are still pulling back. And I say, that’s all very well but it’s not about you. It’s not about me either, it’s about preparing our students for their future.

I’ve also added things to the Debating LibGuide. This is good for persuasive writing and orals. Take a look.

Of course it’s not secret that I have a particular interest in visual arts. Here’s the link to these guides and don’t forget to look for drop-down arrows.

The French language guides have been growing too.

At the moment we are all taking the wider reading classes for the year 9s. I developed a couple of guides for this. My aim is to help students find different ways of finding what to read by using libraries and social media such as Good Reads – to mention a couple. I threw a whole bunch of book trailers into this page; I hope you find it useful. Please let me know what’s missing.

Well, it’s getting late so I won’t go on. For a change.

Collaborate with an artist to write an online story – Storybird

This has been cross-posted from Storyteller.

Thanks to Judith @brightideasblog for the Storybird tip.

Storybird is a very easy way of creating an e-story using picture sets shared by various artists. It’s easy and it’s cool.

This would be an enjoyable writing exercise in the English, LOTE or ESL classroom.

Once you have an account, you can browse existing stories or just click createand write your own.

I whipped one up in a matter of minutes (so it’s not great) but it looks good! You can read my story here. Once you choose an artist, you just drag the pictures you like onto your page, then keep creating (or deleting) pages until you’ve finished.

You can write your own story or collaborate with a friend.

If you scroll down this page, you can search images by theme.

I like the way you can use somebody’s shared art. The artist I chose is Dwell Deep (Sam) and you can read a little about her here. She has a website and a blog. It’s a good feeling to have created a story in collaboration with an artist.

What would happen if maths and language arts teachers swapped jobs?


Art21 blog has given me an interesting idea in their latest post:

Last year the Guardian asked its sports and art writers to swap pieces for a day. Tennis correspondent Steve Bierley reviewed a Louise Bourgeois (Season 1) exhibition, which Bob and Roberta Smith fell in love with and subsequently made into a text-based painting.


But how can we translate that into the school environment? I mean, the idea is something I’ve been playing with for a while – wouldn’t it be good if school didn’t separate learning into subjects?

Life isn’t like that, so why….?

In my job as teacher librarian I write a blog to encourage reading – I’ve mentioned it before – well, it’s not only about reading but all that goes with it. Thinking, discussing, idea-broadening, understanding – you know what I mean. Ideally, I’d love for the blog to create a reading (thinking, etc.) community, one that links people within the school through interests and discussion, but also links the school community with the wider community. I’ve also spoken about this before. Yes, I have so far included a couple of book recommendations/reviews by teachers who aren’t librarians. This is good, this gives the students the idea that people outside of the library read and enjoy reading. But …. they’re English teachers.

What I would really love is if sports teachers wrote about their reading. Yes, sports teachers. Maths teachers. Legal studies teachers.

So what kind of swap could I do? Do you think it would be easier for the maths/science teachers to talk books than the other way around? At first I thought yes. What’s left of my own maths/science knowledge, the little I gained in secondary school? I wouldn’t really like to go there. But then I remembered Sean Nash. He blends Science with the Arts. I was overwhelmed by his approach when I first discovered Sean’s blog, and I continue to be overwhelmed because it’s so inspiring, and I don’t see many educators do it.

Sean’s wife, Erin, shares his way of looking at a blended curriculum. Have a read of Erin’s profile on Sean’s biology ning where she says:

The best thing about the study of biology is:
The opportunity it provides for invoking curiosity and questioning in students and instructors alike. There are so many interesting topics in Biology that, ultimately, bring about questions that just aren’t currently answerable, and this provides so many awesome possibilities for critical thought and analysis. I could have taught English or Biology, and I was drawn to science because of that one big question, “WHY?”

 Isn’t this also the point of literature? The WHY and WHAT IF?  What if a character lived in a particular time/situation? How would that character live out his/her life? And WHAT IF this complication arose? WHY would he/she act in that way/make those choices? Personal choices, ethical choices, any choices.

I frequently reflect on what I’m trying to achieve in writing the fiction blog. Why is it important to stretch students’ – and for that matter, teachers’ – concept of what a reader is like, why we read, why books grab our attention, how books and films get our reactions and lead us into discussion or debate. It’s not a library thing, it’s not an English thing – and yet, it is literacy. The kind of literacy that is important for all of us across disciplines and beyond school. Sean Nash sums it up excellently when he talks about the connection between science and literacy in his comment to my post:

Science and literacy had certainly better go together. We are in a heap of trouble as a species as it is. We can’t afford to continue to create a scientifically-illiterate populace. Where science and literacy are separate, science is but mystery and mythology to even our brightest.

Flickr – take a closer look

I use Flickr to upload my photos, when I need images, and to share photos and the stories behind these photos in groups.

Today I went for a walk around other parts of Flickr. Here’s what I saw.

I scrolled down to the bottom of the Flickr homepage and clicked on ‘Explore’. Here’s what I found.

This photo is from M_Jose’s photostream, and comes with a caption:

Sometimes (always), we “need” (no must) to stop and look inside (it is an option not an obligation)

Flickr explains the ‘explore’ option:

Flickr labs have been hard at work creating a way to show you some of the most awesome content on Flickr.

We like to call it interestingness.

What’s ‘interestingness’?

There are lots of elements that make something ‘interesting’ (or not) on Flickr. Where the clickthroughs are coming from; who comments on it and when; who marks it as a favorite; its tags and many more things which are constantly changing. Interestingness changes over time, as more and more fantastic content and stories are added to Flickr.

To explore, you can choose a month of selected flickr photos; here’s an example:


When you click on one of these photos, you get to see more interesting photos for this day



You can also explore many geo-tagged photos, for example, I chose Manchu Pichu, Peru


I picked Machu Picchu terraces from Stut’s photostream

An amazing photo of extraordinary detail. The rest of the photostream turned out to be just as impressive. Some people are very talented, not to mention lucky to be able to travel.

There are tutorials on how to explore, how to geotag your own photostream, or you can do a location search on geotagged photos.

Why not explore the map of the world? I entered ‘mosaic’ in the search box of the map of the world and got this


Great find for art classes! There were so many interesting results. Here’s one of them:

It’s from Nir Toba’s photostream. Fascinating to read about the photo.

All the photos in one layout.
It took about 15 hours, in 2 sessions, and every letter had about
30-50 takes until i got i right (and lot’s of gasoline!).

This is a part of my portfolio for graphic design school,
& if you we’re wondering: yes, these are real photos, not photoshop… 🙂

I also looked at the church of St George, Oplenac, Serbia by Katarina 2353

Interesting to note that the photo belongs to several photo sets that are also worth exploring (it never stops!): Serbia(Belgrade), religion and mythology, Balkans, and architecture. I love the information that’s included with the photo:

The church of St. George and the mausoleum of the Karađorđević dynasty was built at the top of Mali Oplenac (Little Oplenac). King Petar I decided to build a church and a mausoleum for both his ancestors and descendants to fulfil a wish of his parents buried in Vienna.
The church is covered with white marble from nearby Venčac mine. Interior is covered in mosaics, with more than 6 million pieces.

What’s also interesting is the interpretation of ‘mosaic’. This lends itself easily to various possibilities in art or English lessons. Compare the previous images for ‘mosaic’ to this one by Lucy Nieto

This belongs to a set ‘mosaicos de fotos’ which is an amazing page of colour and design


Here’s yet another interpretation of ‘mosaic’ by Katarina 2353

I could go on forever, but the trouble with that would be that forever is a very long time. And the Flickr site is always changing. Every time I reload a page, a different photo is showing. I think the post is getting too long, so I’ll hurry up my last observations. Other ways of exploring include popular tags, flickr blog, most recent uploads, and more. The camera finder  page checks out the most popular brands of cameras used.


Why not look at the sitemap to get a comprehensive view of what’s out there. I know that I haven’t explored every aspect of Flickr, but I’m tired now, so I’ll leave the rest of the exploration to you.

Don’t forget to let me know what you find.

Words come to life in Wordia


I love the idea of a dictionary created by many people, but Wordia is more than that. It’s a media dictionary created by people sharing their own videos. It’s people talking on video about a word that they’ve chosen. So it’s much more than a definition. Watch Oscar Puppet’s video defining the word ‘buncombe’ and you’ll see that it’s just as much about the person (or character) behind the chosen word – it’s a word definition with personality.

What else is Wordia?

It’s a community of people who, for one reason or another, care about a word enough to spend time making a short film to explain their chosen word.


You, too, could join this collection of people who make this media dictionary. This is what you have to do:


 Wordia is in beta and is far from comprehensive. There’s something good about a brilliant, new idea in the making, especially when anyone is invited to contribute.

I got sick of searching for words that weren’t there so I browsed using the ‘words’ tab. There’s a list of ‘best words’ and that’s how I came across the definition for ‘fermata’. Very entertaining.

Wordia has it all. Aside from the obligatory dictionary definitions on the page, the list of synonyms, you also get comments from people, making Wordia not so much a dictionary as a linguistic peopleonary.

There are many ideas for the English classroom here. Apart from the kids watching or making their own Wordia clip, you could discuss which videos work best and why, or how the video presentations could be improved, or you could get the kids to choose 5 words they didn’t previously know, or 5 words that sound the most ridiculous, or 5 legal words, 5 words associated with emotions, etc. You get my drift.

Have a look for yourselves and tell me what you think.


Animate your language lessons

This is a nifty little application I can imagine would make language learning fun.

Joe Dale (October 11) put me onto the Animate application for language learning on Jose Picardo’s blog

In the About section of his blog, Box of Tricks, Jose Picardo explains the role of technology in student learning:

Technology has been demonstrated to be a powerful motivator, helping to increase confidence and thereby encourage learning. Technology catalyses pupils’ interest, helping to establish an atmosphere conducive to learning and achieving.

Knowing how to make the most of the available technology is an essential skill for teachers to acquire in an age where pupils’ learning expectations are changing radically. Technology ensures that education remains relevant in our students’ increasingly digital lives.

Box of Tricks is full of great ideas for language teachers. Apart from ‘Animate your homework’ some of the many ideas include:

Using Animoto to promote speaking;
Podcasting in 5 easy steps;
Assessing with video: giving students control;
Edmodo: microblogging for the classroom;
Seeqpod: the easy way to take music to your classroom or blog;
Top 5 tips for creating resources for the interactive whiteboard;
Top 10 tips for using technology in your classroom;
Using Voki and a blog in a sequence of 3 lessons;
Wordle: using word clouds in a lesson;
Free comicstrip-creating website …. and much more!

Another great blog for language teachers is Nik Peachy’s Learning technology teacher development blog. Just have a look at his topics in the right-hand navigation. You’ll find exactly what you need for enjoyable and engaging language learning lessons, whether it’s a 5 minute fix or a new application you can add to your repertoire.

If you’re a language teacher and you think that you can’t use much technology in your lessons, think again!