Hello, anybody out there? Writing for someone

Somehow I managed to create a visual presentation in the period before coming into a Year 9 English class to talk to the boys about blogging. My focus was on the motivation for writing and the reason why you would want to write a blog. I wanted the students to think about people writing from earliest times, what motivated people to write so that others would read. Whether it’s the love message scratched onto a tree or the messages on the back of a toilet door – or on Facebook – people seem to want others to read what they have to say. I told the boys that when I was their age, in order to have your writing in print, you had to either be super talented or important, or perhaps succeed in having your letter to the editor make the local paper. Not so anymore – we can all be published online and enjoy the satisfaction of audience participation through comments.

I’m sharing the visual part of this lesson in case anyone else finds it useful.

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Google Image Search revealed (and a dilemma)

This week I created a presentation for Yr 8 Indonesian students who were in the process of researching and collecting images for their Indonesian Island project. Most of them were creating a Photostory or similar in Video Studio, and this was a good opportunity for a Google Search show and tell. Although googling is something students do naturally and frequently, experience tells me that most wouldn’t have lingered on the search page long enough to check out the options in the left hand navigation.

I put this presentation together very quickly and used ‘Sumatra’ as the keyword demonstrating the different possibilities for website and image search. Here is the link.

The screenshots I included as examples of different searches made it clear that Google offers much more than the basic search. Compare what you would see if you did a basic Google image search (shown below)

I do feel somewhat torn between getting excited about undiscovered aspects of Google Image Search and the fact that the images are not searchable by Creative Commons licence. I wonder if Google would surrender to pressure and provide free-to-use images along with their search options. Judy O’Connell has written about this issue in her excellent post, Stop turning a blind eye! Media literacy in action.

So, although I still showed students the wonders of Google searching, I did introduce the issue of Copyright and ethical use of others’ information and images to the boys, and showed them Google’s Advanced Search using the ‘labeled for reuse’ option.


Although my conscience was barely appeased, I continued with the presentation, starting with the colour options. Green, for example, for ‘Sumatra’ –


Here’s an opportunity to engage students in a discussion about why a certain search option would be helpful. Why would we want to use a ‘face’ search? Perhaps if we searched for a person whose name retrieved irrelevant results, then ‘face’ would push photos of people to the top. The ‘orange’ search pushed a whole new range of results which you might not have seen otherwise. In terms of colour design, this option is brilliant too. The black-and-white and photo options often retrieve older photos, so again, the results are different, possibly useful for a historical perspective. The line drawing option looks good for primary level.

One of the best image search options, in my opinion, is Google’s Sites with Images search. I’m sure students overlook this one, and it makes such a difference to the way you can use results. You have a clear window into which websites these images are coming from so you can evaluate the website before you click on the images. This is another important aspect of search which is worth teaching because it involves the thinking and evaluation process.

How much easier is it to sort through image results when they are categorised for you! Searching by subject is just as good –

And finding similar images couldn’t be easier – just hover over an image to find similar images or more sizes.

The LIFE photo archive hosted by Google  is a wonderful collection of “newly-digitized images which includes photos and etchings produced and owned by LIFE dating all the way back to the 1750s. Only a very small percentage of these images have ever been published. The rest have been sitting in dusty archives in the form of negatives, slides, glass plates, etchings, and prints.” A fantastic opportunity to find images you wouldn’t normally see, and excellent for history.

At this point I left the Google Image Search and featured a few of my favourite Google search options, starting with Wonderwheel. For students who interpret results better when presented in a visual way (that includes me), Wonderwheel is the way to go. It’s the brainstorming search option, providing you with different aspects of the original keyword. You simply click through all the suggested keywords to get to the precise one you need.


Wonderwheel even reminds you of aspects you may have overlooked.

For latest news and current results Past 24 hours search is brilliant –

I also pointed out to students the Reading Level search option which divided results into Basic, Intermediate and Advanced. The basic search results shouldn’t be overlooked by secondary students. I explained to the class that if they wanted a quick overview of their topic, the basic search result was very useful.

One of the most impressive of the searches is Google Timeline Search. Here you get a graphic representation of results for your keyword over time. If you see a peaking of results in a particular year, your curiosity will have you clicking and drilling down until you have zoomed into the results for that period of time. So much fun.

Finally I took the students into the Google Labs where creative play turns to new and exciting options, and showed them Google Squared Labs.

For easy reading and overview of facts and figures, Google Squared Labs does a great job of presenting the information in spreadsheet style. Although I haven’t had success with all my searches, it’s definitely worth trying for factual results.

Finally, I showed the students a few of my favourite visual search options, including Tag Galaxy (which never fails to impress),  Behold which finds free-to-use images, and Spell with Flickr for headings. Of course, there are so many more options for image search, even for Creative Commons images, and some of them are here.

Twitter conversion

“Watching from the outside, Twitter is like the dumbest thing you’ve heard of: “Why would anyone want to tell others what they are doing in 140 characters?”

And yet to dismiss Twitter is a mistake because it’s an incredibly powerful tool for your personal learning and connecting with others.”

(Sue Waters, http://suewaters.wikispaces.com/twitter, @suewaters)

Since I have a Twitter presentation to staff coming up, I thought I’d collect my thoughts about Twitter in a blog post. I’m not aiming to write a comprehensive guide to Twitter, just in case you’re wondering. Other people have done that.

Twitter is a community you build like any other community. You can’t tweet into a vacuous space and expect a response. Twitter is a conversation, a sharing of ideas, information and resources, which can only happen if you develop relationships with other people on Twitter. Follow people you know on Twitter, people who share your professional interests if you’re on Twitter for that reason. Then have a look at who they’re following; follow some of those people, and start joining in the conversation, sharing what you think/write/know/want to know. You will come across other people in these conversations, and you will want to follow them too. Before you know it, you will have a sizeable Twitter community.

When you start – prepare to feel confused, invisible and frustrated. Until you build your network – and that takes time – you will feel that Twitter is a waste of time. You will say to yourself, I tried, nobody answered, I don’t have the time to spend following people, commenting and retweeting. This is very much part of the initial process, unfortunately. But hang in there and all will be revealed! It’s very much worth it, Twitter is a lifeline to many people. I don’t know what I would do without Twitter.

How many people should you follow? there are no hard and fast rules here, it’s really about personal preference. Some people say they prefer to limit the number to keep it manageable. True, but with lists you can easily control a large network. I like to remain broad, and every day I find people I can’t resist following. As soon as I follow them, I add them to a list so that their tweets don’t drown in the gush of tweets in the general column. As teacher librarian, I resource the curriculum, and so my scope is broad. I have lists for most areas of the curriculum. Tweetdeck is good for displaying these lists in columns. You can also follow a particular person and their Twitter conversations if you like.

Even the lists can get out of  hand. Currently I’m having a serious talk with myself about getting my act together and weeding out all my Tweetdeck columns. I’m very greedy, but this kind of greed comes back to bite you. You have to let go. You can’t keep up with all the conversations, no you cannot.

Of course, don’t focus on getting followers just for the sake of it. Your network has to be real, and the connections you make have to be real. Even in 160 characters people can tell if you are genuine or not. How you develop your relationships is vital to the quality of networking you will have.

It’s good to expand your twitter network to include people outside your workplace, your city and even country, to have the advantage of an international breadth, but it’s also important to maintain connections with people closer to home, and to have face to face contact with these people whenever possible. Just when you think you are happy with an exclusively online community, a face-to-face meetup will remind you that you still need to see somebody’s face. In  the flesh.

Like any society, Twitter has developed its own set of rules and etiquette. This has evolved naturally as these things do in any society. There is good behaviour and there is annoying behaviour, and although we’ve all been there with initial overtweeting on days when we’re passionate about something every 2 minutes and just have to share it, we should probably reign ourselves in to stop losing followers.

What you can and should do: share finds/posts/questions; retweet the good stuff; retweet to support your friends; encourage and thank; respond to requests for help and support.

What you should avoid doing: just retweeting without sharing anything that you’ve found, riding on the backs of people; tweeting every 2 minutes unless you’re tweeting at a conference; and here’s a good one –

Avoid Banal Food Updates
Unless you narrowly avoided death by eating a puffer fish, nobody really wants to know about what you
are eating today. If you ate at a cool restaurant and want to recommend it, that is fine. Dissecting what
you had for lunch if you just went to McDonalds is not. Just ask yourself if this is interesting to your
followers – if the answer is “yes”, then it’s OK to tweet.


Don’t underestimate the bio:

There’s a lot you can learn about a person from their bio (160characters) and link (to blog or whatever), and by looking at the top 6 or so tweets in their profile.

The bio challenges you to compose something short, sharp and very you. I’ve changed my bio a couple of times – every time I read it and feel embarrassed, or if I discover something more vital to include. I think there’s a skill to writing the perfect bio but I haven’t discovered it yet.

It’s a good idea to have an online presence, eg a blog or wiki, Flickr profile, for people who want to check you out. Your blog displays your interests, areas of expertise, your personality, your work. If you’re on Twitter with no link to anything else about you online, you’re really not giving people much of an insight into who you are. If you don’t have a blog, try a wiki, Flickr, Linkedin, or something like that.

One of the great things about Twitter is using hashtags during a conference. I concentrate better on a keynote when tweeting this way. People appreciate it, and it’s a great way to discover who is present at the conference, and have a quick hello chat. Even if you’re not able to attend, you can participate and have a window into the conference by following people’s tweets with the conference hashtag. I feel less envious of people at international conferences when I take part online.

Hashtags are great when you follow what people are saying during extraordinary events, eg floods/fires/hurricanes; elections; royal weddings; Eurovision, etc. Just be careful – although people will sometimes get information and photos out before official news (because they happen to be on site), it’s unconfirmed information, and people will retweet unconfirmed tweets, suddenly that tweet has been retweeted hundreds of times which makes it look convincing when it may not be true.

Okay, so I haven’t covered everything – I could talk about #followfriday, about the convenience of mobile Twitter, but then the post would be ridiculously long. Take a look at Sue Waters’ comprehensive guide (@suewaters). Have a go, take the time to make it meaningful, then come back and tell me what you think.

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Mobile learning with no limits @VITTA

The Victorian Information Technology Teacher’s Association‘s Mini Conference, A contemporary learning series: mobile learning with no limits, was held last Friday at Ringwood Secondary College, and focused on 1:1 devices, how they could be used effectively in the classroom, and how they were relevant to the Australian Curriculum. The principal of Ringwood Secondary College, Michael Phillips, Outstanding School Leadership Award Winner, delivered the keynote plenary, Synch and Swim, which centred on the theme of Leadership for Learning that keeps ahead of the wave.

Disruptive technological change is rapidly shifting the balance between traditional models of teaching and learning and those that are more blended. The factory model of learning has finally closed for business.

Directions for learning are limitless as:
• distributive technologies allow 1-to-many;
• collaborative technologies encourage many-to-many;
• personalised learning is possible through 1-to-1;and
• distributive feedback technologies promote 1-to-many or many-to-many.

All of this is possible now in every classroom in every school.

Michael’s speech was a powerful message for educators and educational leaders to stop talking about 21st century teaching and learning as if it was set in the future, and accept that the future is here and requires a radical shift in teaching practice. When Michael said, “The factory model of learning has finally closed for business”, I felt like applauding and crying simultaneously, knowing that many schools were still in denial of this fact. Still, the conference participants were testament to the willingness to listen and learn, perhaps to embrace change.

Concurrent sessions are slightly frustrating because you can’t be in more than one place at the same time. The first session I attended was run by Roland Gesthuizen, a fellow Google Certified Teacher whose long experience in presenting enabled him to lead a relaxed but dynamic session which drew participants into discussion. One of Roland’s interesting observations was that the iPad was a microwave – it’s not the same as a laptop,it doesn’t do everything, but what it does, it does well and fast. After a fertile discussion, Roland demonstrated how he used Google apps such as Moderator in his teaching, and gave a quick overview of his experience in Sydney at the Google Teacher Academy.

I enjoyed presentations by Kevork Krozian and Clare Rafferty, both from Ringwood Secondary College. I think that Ringwood S.C. would be an exciting place to teach and learn. Some sessions I missed unfortunately, including Cecilie Murray‘s 2 talks which were full to bursting, and Jenny Ashby‘s session which ran at the same time as mine. Jenny and I presented at what Jenny referred to on Twitter as ‘graveyard shift’, the last session of the day. Despite the hour, I was impressed by the attentive audience I had in my room, and grateful for the positive feedback at the end of the session. I was also privileged to have SLAV’s executive officer Catherine Ryan and VITTA’s Jo McLeay join my session. Thankyou for your support and kind words especially as I was reluctant to present – not a fan of public speaking, so much more comfortable writing a blog post. I must say, though, that I ended up enjoying the experience.

If you are interested in having a look at my iPad/iPhone apps showcase – a spectrum of apps strewn across the curriculum – you can see it as a slideshow here. After so many hours of research I’m thrilled if anyone finds my resource useful.

And it’s always fantastic to see people you know at conferences. Happily, I had the pleasure of seeing Jenny Luca (and being introduced to Megan – hope to God I’ve remembered your name correctly) and John Pearce again. The online network is brilliant for maintaining the conversation but face to face is still the best.