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Teachers are people!

It’s hard to believe, but the first term (which translates as the first half of Semester 1) of the 2015 school year has already been and gone!   Like my other Australian teaching colleagues, I’m enjoying a little respite with a two week vacation before heading back to school, books and work.

It’s most probably a reflection of my age, that this cartoon, which I came across last year when I was ambling around the web, made me giggle, reminisce and reflect – all at once.  This 1952 Disney short follows Goofy’s attempts to teach, and control, his students.   It’s an old-school cartoon slapstick focusing on old school education, with apples for the teacher, kids using catapults and lots of pointing at maps of the world.

Education sure has moved a long way since we were in school. Yes indeed, as said at the start of the video, teachers must be fair, understanding, honest and intelligent. But we all know that the demands today are so much more than this.

So, even now, when we are taking a break, thoughts continue to swill around:

  • How can we do it better?
  • How can we create more enthusiasm with what we do?
  • How can we ensure that we retain our relevancy in the classroom?

The questions keep coming – don’t they?

Earlier this year I read a great post via my LinkedIn account, a post by James Shea: Facebook and the e-lephant in the room – are you still their teacher?  (January 15, 2015) With a rare clarity, Shea describes the very real situation which all teachers face repeatedly: our students are using apps and web tools that we’ve yet to master.

What you do need to know is that students are using the latest technology to tap into more knowledgeable others: whether that more knowledgeable other is an app, a website or a learning community. Once you realise this you can encourage your students to better evaluate the learning they are getting from this technological more knowledgeable other. You can flip the classroom and get students inspired to use their technology to enhance your lessons, not hinder them.”

How confident are we to let our students enhance what we do in the classroom?  How confident are we to work together with our students, calling on their skills to enhance the lessons we present?

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about my disappointment with colleagues who shied away from participating in a TodaysMeet backchannel room created by the presenter at a conference I attended.

And then just a few days later, I came across an article which came up with 2o useful ways to use TodaysMeet in schools which has some really great ideas.

TodaysMeet is an awesome, easy to use tool!TodaysMeet

Go to the website, create a name for your room (no spaces or punctuation) and select how long you want the room to be kept online – an hour, a day, a week, a month or a year – then open the room.  Reassure students/staff that at the end of this time, the posts entered and the entire room disappears from the web – it cannot be revisited or relocated.  Remind  participants (veterans of newbies) that they can write no more than 140 characters.  Decide in advance if participants are to put their own names/initials or whether they can be anonymous.  Remember to tell them of your requirement.  Share the TodaysMeet room address with participants – and away you go!!

That’s all there is to it.  Pretty simple!

Keen to give it a go one day, I thought I’d think out loud and consider how some of the ideas suggested in this article could be applied in either my school library or among staff at a staff meeting.   So here goes:

Using TodaysMeet in a School Library:

  1. Have a conversation: Having students share their thoughts about books read is one of the regular activities that occur in library sessions.  Having them record their thoughts about a book read and then having others who have read the same book share their thoughts, may be a different way of approaching this well spun activity.  With multiple participants being able to participate at the one time, increased participation by more students, particularly the shy ones, would be possible.
  2. Share links: Students could be asked to locate a range of different links to share with each other:  book reviews; author and publisher pages, fandoms, book vlogs, graphics, book covers and more to create a sharpened focus and awareness.  Allowing students time to explore these links could be part and parcel of the session.
  3. Ask questions: Encouraging students to write questions about information and/or opinions being shared orally by one or more students is a great way to develop analytical skills.
  4. Give examples: Inspiring students to read widely is often achieved by the teacher librarian spruiking books they have read.  By having students respond in writing about how the book’s context or story relates to them can be a powerful way of creating a connection and boosting interest. This kind of activity allows greater participation than the traditional classroom approach of ‘talk/share in a circle’.
  5. Create rotating stories: Have each student add a sentence to an ongoing story.  Check the increasing interest level as the story progresses around the room.  If the class is large – break it up into two or more groups to allow for increased active participation.
  6. Hold online office hours: Circulate the url of a TodaysMeet room and post ‘office hours’ which can be used by students to seek assistance, ask questions, share information or just clarify uncertainties.  Don’t forget to also give a start date and an end date of the availability of the room.
  7. Connect with other classrooms: An online forum enables a conversation to move beyond the four walls of a classroom.   Line up classes in other schools both locally and globally and have them participate in a conversation about a set topic.
  8. Connect with experts: Contact the author of a popular book and see whether they will agree to make themselves available to join the TodaysMeet at a certain hour/day, then just sit back and watch the conversation flow!
  9. Host a contest: Competitions with immediate rewards are a great way to ensure involvement.  The sky is the limit on this kind of activity!  Instructing students to enter their response onto TodaysMeet after the count of three is bound to be a winner!
  10. Facilitate group projects: Students tackling a group project could use a chat room created in TodaysMeet as the place to share links, resources, interesting articles, graphics, videos and ideas.  Instructed by the teacher in advance that the recorded conversation would be an assessable part of the completed project would inject inspiration for all members of the group to participate.

Using TodaysMeet at a Staff Meeting:

  1. Have a conversation: Give teachers a real life opportunity to become familiar with the value of engaging in backchannel conversation during a workshop or conference presentations by creating a TodaysMeet room at either a staff meeting of for sessions held in an onsite Curriculum Day. Learning by doing is as powerful for teachers as it is for our students!
  2. Share links: So often when we attend staff presentations, mention is made by the presenter of different tools, websites and links.  Sometimes details of where to find more information is given by the presenter, but often it is not.  TodaysMeet allows teachers present to immediately share their knowledge with other teachers attending.  At the end of the presentation, a valuable record of notes, thoughts, ideas and links shared can be copied and kept for later review by participants.
  3. Ask questions: Being able to pose questions on the spot and have other participants respond is a great way to question without interrupting the thread of the presenter.  If style of presentation involves a group activity or discussion, the presenter can read through the TodaysMeet chat and respond to specific questions when the presentation resumes.
  4. Give examples: For those sessions requiring participants to reflect on a situation created/described by the presenter, TodaysMeet offers a great way to record thoughts and examples given.  Often ideas given by one can trigger the thoughts of another.  Ideas teased out in this way can leave the group with a valuable set of notes on which they can individually reflect.
  5. Take a poll: Some school issues need a quick resolution. Being able to see opinion of all staff on a couple of choices given is valuable.  If desired anonymity can be introduced.
  6. Discuss an event: There seem to be a never ending range of issues that arise in staff meetings.  From procedure to practice, the opinions of staff are often heatedly shared. What better way to ensure that everyone has their say than to have them jot their thoughts in a 140 character statement!  Discussion of school events, the logistics and concerns of the event can also be discussed and shared in this space.
  7. Hold online office hours: Being able to discuss or give feedback about a burning issue can easily be put in place on TodaysMeet by having teachers anonymously enter their comments.  Posting comments in a respectful manner goes without saying.  Lending some ‘punch’ to the comments posted could be achieved by having the focus topic created and posted by the Principal or others from the school’s administration.
  8. Connect with experts: Inviting a local or global expert on a certain topic would give teachers a real feel of the power of a virtual classroom.  Use Twitter to locate the volunteer expert.  It may come as a surprise how willing world experts can be!
  9. Create a club/team communications site:  A TodaysMeet room can be created for a day, a week, a month or a year.   Use it as a place to publicize subject or campus meetings.  Use it to connect with parents about the upcoming swimming carnival.  Use it to post updates on time, venue, provisions or just anything that relates to the event.  And as suggested in the article that has inspired this blog post this approach could “Save yourself tons of phone calls or text messages if everyone checks the group TodaysMeet site.”
  10. Have asynchronous staff/committee meetings: TodaysMeet can break down the need for a set staff meeting at a given time on a specific day of the week.  A virtual space liberates teachers, allowing them to participate in a discussion about a specific topic over a set period of time – a day or a week.

TodaysMeet is a vibrant and versatile tool which can be used in both the classroom and the staffroom.  By actively engaging with the tool, students and teachers alike will develop improved skills engaging online and in the process will gain confidence in both using the tool and in themselves.

Let me know how you are using this tool in your school.

By the time you’re reading this, the much anticipated smart Apple Smartwatch will have been announced.  Although there have been lots of leaks along the way which may have dampened the recent announcement, the range and ability of Apple’s new ‘baby’ is bound to be a serious player revolutionizing the market place.

But …..

I’ve just been looking at Pebble Time – described by it’s publicists as ‘an awesome smartwatch’ –  which has been crowdfunding for just on a week to enable it’s launch onto the market place.   As I write, more than 66,000 people worldwide have pledged close to $17,000,000.  No doubt those figures will have increased significantly by the time this post is published.

Take a look for yourself at Pebble Time and judge for yourself.

Check out a later announcement of Pebble Time Steel too.

Then have a read of the specs on Kickstarter - and if you are keen to own a Pebble Time Smartwatch be quick – there’s only just over a week to go to make your pledge!

But ….. back to the Apple Watch ….. it’s announcement was less than a week ago and still, the hype hasn’t abated.  True to Apple form, it looks awesome!   Skip to 5.20 minutes into this short presentation about the Apple Watch given by CEO Tim Cook this week:

I feel kind of sad to be asking the same question again and again, but after nearly five years of being hooked on all things digital, I still find myself questioning

Are teachers in your school ‘hooked’ yet?

It is easy for those of us blogging, tweeting, exploring, sharing and learning online to think that this is the norm, but sadly the ‘real world’ out there says otherwise.

Having attended and presented at a number of conferences over the last couple of years, I guess I’ve become accustomed to virtually all those attending to open up their laptops, tablets or smartphones to either take notes or participate in backchannel sharing that is nowadays common to conferences.  Most often those attending conference presentations simultaneously attend while surfing the net to explore information shared at the session – a very powerful way to embed learning as it happens.

Attending a conference last year, my naivety about this reality resulted in what I can only describe as a total culture shock!  It was beyond my belief to see a bunch of teachers attend conference presentations without the technology to which I’ve become accustomed.  While I could accept that not everyone is aware of the incredibly valuable TodaysMeet backchannel chat room, a free, dynamic and easy to platform in which a plethora of ideas and thoughts can be shared, I was thrown when I saw only two of a room full of conference delegates armed with a tablet and smartphone – and neither were game to jump in and participate in the chat room set up by the presenter.

Ugh!  Will educators on mass ever bite the bullet and get on board?!

Thoughts around this issue have been floating around in my mind for a very long time.  I was pleased when Pearson contacted me late last year asking permission to republish an edited version of a blog post – Fine tuning the professional learning of our teachers – I had recently published.  The article: Developing a love of learning in teachers has now been published in both the Pearson quarterly Always Learning and can be seen as a pdf version (pages 6-7) as well as on the Pearson Newsroom Blog.

I feel privileged to have my thoughts added to the body of thinking which aims to develop teachers’ lifelong learning which in turn will strengthen the teaching profession.

I blogged about Thomas Suarez back in November 2011 – Take the plunge and learn from our students! There’s heaps to be gained!! – not long after he presented a very impressive TEDx Talk in which he mounted a rather convincing case that students had much to teach educators.

So when I was doing a bit of reading about about the application and development of 3D printers recently, I was impressed to learn that Thomas Suarez has shifted his focus from the development of apps, which was his passion back in 2011, to that of 3D printers.  Never shy to take on a challenge, an article in Inhabitat – A 15-Year-Old is Developing a 3D Printer That’s 10 Times Faster Than Anything on the Market! (July 2014) – details how Suarez is now aiming to develop a 3D printer which is 10 times faster than current 3D printers!

A pretty impressive promo can be seen on Soarez’ company website CarrotCorp where details about the ORB 3D Printer are shared.  If you’re impatient to see more details which will no doubt be revealed in the crowdfunding video soon to be released, have a look at this short promo which was launched last July:

Although I cannot comment on the veracity of these claims or the details mentioned by Soarez in his search to revolutionize this technology, I’m very impressed by the many groundbreaking applications of 3D printers.

Reading about the good that comes of this technology is nothing short of inspirational!

Enabling The Future is a global network of passionate volunteers using 3D printing to help others.  The help given is very tangible: volunteers worldwide who have 3D printers volunteer their time to use their machines to help print and assemble free 3D printed prosthetic devices for those in need.  Begun in 2013, this community consisted of about 300 people who owned 3D printers or who had design skills to share.  A year and a half later, this community has grown to over 1000 recipients and 3000 registered volunteers who span the world.  It is inspring to read on their webpage that:

We have over 30 middle and high schools who are currently printing hands for recipients and groups of students and scout troops who are spending their weekends building hands for children they will never meet.”

It’s impossible to see this video and not be moved to action:

Encouraging students in Australian schools to participate in this initiative would be awesome!

Picking up a Dorling Kindersley (DK) book is a bit like going down memory lane for me!

The look and feel of DK books reminds me of my earliest teaching days when I would grasp at anything that would bring language alive for the Deaf students with whom I was working.  The incredibly elegant illustrations and the detailed visual explanations of how things work and the beautifully illustrated intricate fold out pages on many of the DK books would engage and inspire learning in a magical and easy way.

So when a friend (thanks Mif!) shared a link to a beta version of the

DK findout!

website,, I felt like I’d found a friend and couldn’t wait to get reacquainted!

While DK tells parents having a look around that they are “building a safe place online to see, learn, and explore almost everything.” DK outlines its aims for educators as follows:

We’re creating the ultimate teaching tool for you and your students. DK Findout! will feature:

  • Easy-to-access, authoritative DK content
  • Subject-based, curriculum-linked articles to support classroom learning and teaching
  • Up-to-date resources and ideas for projects and homework

Check it out ….. it looks awesome!

Ever had that feeling that you’re being watched or that someone is listening into your conversations?

The reality is that you are being watched or at least your online behaviour is being monitored and recorded!  Almost everything we do online is being tracked whether we are aware of it or not.  And I must admit it’s kind of spooky!

Just the other day, I received an email – yes on Gmail – from a friend who sent me to a link about a cool travel itinerary.  Fiddling on my iPhone while waiting to meet a friend at a cafe, I opened the link but had no time to read further.  Forgetting about this incident, much later that day, I opened Facebook on my laptop.  For an instant I was blown away to see Facebook suggesting I ‘like’ the very company for which my friend had emailed me a link – a company I had never previously heard of!

How these connections are established remain a mystery to most of us.  It’s impossible to not think though that this is a total breach of privacy.  Then again … well … how many of us have read the fine print of those ‘agreement policies’ that pop up during the installation process.   How many of us check all the security settings, let alone fully understand them.

So when I read about the controversy sparked by Samsung later in the week, I must admit I wasn’t all that surprised:

Samsung has caused controversy with the revelation its voice-recognition system enables internet TVs to collect sounds and send them to a third party, including any sensitive information you might happen to talk about in front of the box.”  (The Age: Tim Biggs, February 10, 2015)

Work colleagues were mortified at the thought that what they said in their lounge rooms in front of the TV could be ‘listened to’.  What most of us don’t realize though is that many of the devices we use on a daily basis increasingly require us to submit data to enable the device to work.  Listing some of these frightening realities, Biggs outlined how smartphones, video game consoles, coffee machines and air-conditioners, to name but a few of the devices we have around us in our homes and in our daily lives, were regularly and constantly collecting data about us, our habits and our preferences.  Stop for a moment and have a read – it’s quite enlightening!

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has heard friends steadfastly refusing to create Gmail or Google accounts or shy away from Facebook and other ‘out to get you’ social media platforms or refuse to enter any form of identifying details that could lead to being tracked or monitored.

Listening to the impassioned and powerful voice of Andrew Keen in a Big Think video: Google Should Charge for Its Services left me with much food for thought.

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