Really Expanding our Learning Horizons

The Expanding Learning Horizons (ELH) Conference is over for another year and I am left, once again, feeling lost and flat now that I am back in the real world of work and daily minutiae.  I miss the connection with like-minded educators and the stimulating conversations that accompany such connections.  However, I am also mindful of the need for all of us to keep connecting outside the conference if we truly want to keep expanding our learning horizons.

Expanding and Learning are action words.

Maintaining an online personal learning network (PLN) is one of the most important professional development activities I undertake in any year.  I can structure a learning path to suit my own context and needs without leaving home.  I can connect with others who share similar contexts and really learn from them.  It takes time but it also saves time.  Imagine how long it would have taken me to find, research and review six quality educator blogs or wikis on my own without the help of my PLN?  Using my connections on Plurk saved me hours.

Using Plurk to find quality blogs and wikis

Using Plurk to find quality blogs and wikis

Exploring and Sharing are ALSO action words

My PLN also supported my ELH Discovery workshop: Exploring Web 2.0 Teaching Ideas by providing feedback on the wiki I designed to support the session.  Many also indicated their intention to share the wiki with colleagues in the U.S.  Hopefully it will continue to be of use to educators for some time.

The networking during ELH took many forms: Twitter (See #ELH09 for our collection of Tweets); Ning; Facebook and various wikis: elhwikimania and my own Exploring Web 2.0 Teaching Ideas.  However, such mediums are only starting points for exploration and expansion of learning horizons.  It is ongoing connection and reflection, educators sharing ideas and learning together, that will make the most difference in the long term.  Maintaining the passion, learning and enthusiasm of ELH will be the real challenge for all of us over the next year!

Exploring Web 2.0 Teaching Ideas

Exploring Web 2.0 Teaching Ideas

Reading Fiction in a Web 2.0 world. An experiment.

Web 2.0 has changed the way we do so many things.

So I wonder if it is possible to sustain a piece of fiction using only Web 2.0 tools…a story told through blogs, wikis and other tools.  Not your usual piece of digital storytelling – I’m thinking major pieces of fiction, possibly serialised, that follow the thoughts and events of characters across a range of formats.  The ‘un-novel’ might use a combination of materials such as youtube clips, blog entries, Nings, podcasts, twitter and the like, to track characters and expose their inner thoughts.

I believe this type of fiction has a lot of potential.  I see teachers of the future introducing Web 2 ‘Story Quests’ or ‘un-novels’ to launch students on a narrative journey with a real difference.  I see students learning to piece together the elements of a narrative from visual, audio and written cues.

I like it.

It could be like a treasure hunt (The ‘treasure’ being the story itself!)

It might even be fun.

There is already a lot of fiction online.  However, it tends to be the same traditional format as offline fiction… youtube instead of movies, and ebooks and ezines instead of books and magazines.  The ‘un-novel’ is different, it crosses several mediums, and with so much happening online these days stories should be different.
Some of the online work that ‘almost’ qualifies as the ‘un-novel’ is listed below but I would love to hear of any others:

•    Inanimate Alice
•    We Tell Stories

However, I decided to experiment with this idea on my own.  My ‘un-novel’ begins with a blog post and a central character with no idea what she has just revealed about herself and her family…let me know what you think.  Can you guess what happens?  Can you guess this girl’s name?  Are you intrigued…or just bored by the whole idea?

Check out the Shakespeare’s Girl shakespearegirlblogblog:

Maintaining a passion for words…

Why is it that so many students seem to have lost the desire to play with words and language?  I used to love English lessons based around word games and language puzzles.  It was fun for me.  Unfortunately, it seems to be a different story today…often such activities are viewed as tedious, boring or ‘too hard’.

In an attempt to ignite my students’ passion for words I explored the internet to find a few ‘learning gems’…

Wordsense: one of the best around in my humble opinion.


Anagramania: Guess the anagram before the time runs out!


Crickler Crossword: A new type of word puzzle!

Crickler Puzzle

Frank’s Panic Puzzle:

Frank\'s panic puzzle

Word puzzles available from Addicting Games:

Addicting Games

Vocab Sushi: Building a better vocabulary

Vocab sushi

Messing with ideas and words: Plinky prompts
Plinky writing prompts

It also occurred to me that students might find it fun to create their own word games using classtools:

A year is a long time in Web 2.0 (OR… Cue singing, “Happy blog birthday to me”)

My Web 2.0 journey began exactly a year ago, inspired by a few questions at a professional development activity and fuelled by my own desire to understand ‘what all the fuss was about.’

As a way of celebrating this milestone I thought I’d revisit the key discoveries of the past year.  My journey was an informal one, with many paths and many lingering visits along the way.  This blog was my starting point.

One of the first things I did after starting this blog was to explore the amazing array of quality blogs out there.  Many inspired me to develop and maintain the best quality blog I could with my limited talent and experience.

CogDogBlog by Alan Levine proved an excellent starting point.  From there I found the wiki and a list of story tools which fuelled my journey for weeks. I used many of them in my early blog entries and still love the simplicity of tools such as toondoo, slideshare and animoto.

Teacher-Librarian blogs:

As a qualified teacher-librarian I was keen to learn what I could from the online experts in the field.  One of the first gems I found was an Edublogs award winner, A Library by Any Other Name.  I learned about the 23Things Web 2.0 activitiy via this blog and followed it to learn more on my own.

This blog also led to another Edublogs winner, this time a fellow Australian, Judy O’Connell, who maintains the Hey Jude blog.  Judy seems to have an amazing capacity for ‘thinking outside the square’ and has steered me in the direction of many new online connections and blogs, including Dean Shareski’s blog and, one of my all time favourites: Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day.

The PLN:

The blogosphere is the sort of place where each new connection leads somewhere else: Twitter, Plurk, Ning, Diigo groups, Second Life etc.  It got to the point where I was signing up for something new each day.  It was several months before I realised I actually had a PLN of my own, a discovery which immediately led to a blog post…an event which in itself demonstrated how completely I had become immersed in the Web 2.0 world.  Something had happened…suddenly I needed to share my discoveries with other educators, suddenly I felt responsible for helping others learn.  More importantly, I began to see the real potential of the connections I’d made and began to change the way I approached my job and my teaching.

The Shape of Learning: One Size Does Not Fit All

The best part of my learning journey is the way I have been able to shape it with my own interests and needs.  Surely, this is the most effective type of learning?  The blogs I turn to have changed, the tools I race to sign up for are slightly different from last year’s offerings.  My new best tools include:

pageflakes, which I used to build an Earth 2.0 webquest;

wetpaint wikis which I use to host a wiki for my Year 11 English students called English @ 11. While they are still getting their heads around this new tool they are also learning a lot.

I’ve also rediscovered the potential of flickr, particularly photographs usable via creative commons licensing.  Other tools which complement flickr are available via Big Huge Labs

My new favourite blogs are

The English Blog: for its cutting edge articles and tools

The Best Article Every Day: for fun and great resources

Free Technology for Teachers: for its outstanding resources

Jane’s e-learning pick of the Day: excellent tools

A Geeky Mother’s Blog: excellent writing, great discussion

The Open Classroom: because I’ve met Jo and love to read her thoughts

and ICT in my Classroom: for ICT ideas and activities in a real classroom.

A meme for educational change.

Thanks to Elizabeth Koh who tagged me for this meme which was started by TJ:

“List FIVE changes you would like to see in the educational system. Your responses should represent your perspective and your passion for learning and students…tag the following people…from a variety of perspectives. If you have been tagged, tag as many people as you choose, but try for a variety.”

Real life learning is about passionate engagement and lifelong curiosity. I would like to see the education system change to reflect this.  Students need to be provided with more opportunities to explore personal passions and learn about the things that are important to them.  They need to learn that learning itself is actually fun!

Avoid ‘Ivory tower’ type decision-making by ensuring decisions which impact on schools are based on what’s actually happening in schools.  It is too easy to make far-reaching decisions in an office far removed from an actual student, teacher or class.  Administrators and Principals need to understand what is happening out there.  Educational vision needs to be shared.

Increase funding to libraries and work to raise the status of libraries and teacher-librarians.  Libraries are central to learning and can have a huge impact on student learning outcomes in any school area.  The research to support this is overwhelming yet so many people still don’t get it…

Encourage teachers to work together, share resources and ideas, and give them time to talk to each other.  If we work together we will, ultimately, save time and energy to the benefit of our students and families.  We will also be working towards improving the status of teachers and teaching.   Education-based PLN’s are global and achieving wonderful things daily.

Measure real student achievement through authentic assessment and decrease the status of exams as an indicator of achievement.  Students are so much more than their exam grades!

I would like to tag the following people:



@Hershey Thorp



However, I would also encourage anyone with an opinion on this important issue to share their viewpoint

“Not another wiki..!”

“Not another wiki” was a comment I heard recently while listening to a group of inspiring educators on Plurk Radio.  It was delivered in a tone which suggested this person had ‘done’ wikis ‘to death’ and was ready to move on.  It brought home to me the diverse range of skill, understanding and experience ‘out there’ amongst educators.

My reality is quite different.  Most of my colleagues have never created a wiki.  I’m sure there are many other teachers out there who don’t really have an understanding of wikis beyond wikipedia and have never really thought about classroom applications because they don’t really ‘get it.’

The power of the wiki

I think wikis have huge potential in the classroom.  They are fantastic tools for sharing information and building knowledge.  They are also versatile presentation vehicles.  Indeed,  the list of things I have learned from my current wiki experiment grows daily and highlights the learning possibilities for students.

What I have learned…(so far)

  • How to embed a webpage into a wiki:  Thanks to the Getting Tricky With Wikis wiki!  This makes web pages more accessible and user-friendly, both important considerations for students.
  • How to access and use databases such as Press Display to facilitate students’ learning.  Many large local libraries probably subscribe to this database.  Mine does (CCLC) but you have to be a member to access it.  I used this to add a newspaper article, including tasks, to my wiki.
  • How to use Glogster to build the Useful Online Resources page in my wiki.  This provided a vibrant, visually appealling vehicle to highlight learning tools available to students.  (I can’t draw so this sort of creativity is really important to me.)
  • Read Write Think provides an excellent array of graphic organizers.
  • Internet Archive is an excellent resource for educators.  I found some useful public domain audio books here and added them to my wiki so that students can access them for our theme study, ‘Future Worlds’
  • The State Library of Victoria’s, Ergo site is an amazing resource that is going to prove very useful over the years.  A visit to the essay writing skills page is a must for teachers and students everywhere.
  • How to embed an audio file into a wiki:  This proved to be the trickiest!  Thanks to a twitterer I discovered Divshare and worked out how to do the embedding myself (with a little help from an edublogger post, of course!).

Now, that’s a lot of learning for one little wiki!  Hopefully, my students will gain as much from their own wiki experience in the 2009 school year.

I would love to hear from others with positive wiki experiences.  Please share a link.

Useful Online Resources using Glogster

Earth 2.0: A webquest with a difference!

Just a quick post to share my webquest project with you all…

Earth 2.0:  Is it possible to create a completely sustainable planet?

The best bits about my work on this project:

1. Pageflakes: Using pageflakes as the Webquest Headquarters was a stroke of genius (If I do say so myself!!!) Pageflakes is a great tool for educators: it is flexible, easy to use, vibrant in appearance and the range of widgets available is outstanding!

2. Teamwork: I worked with a colleague to produce this webquest and had far too much fun as a result, mainly because we were able to laugh at ourselves during several ‘manic’ Earth 2.0 moments.  We could have kept going but we had to stop to meet the competition deadline!  (Mark is already talking about our next project.)

An interesting note:  Neither of us had time to take on this projectif you’re an educator there is never enough time! How did it happen then?  We became passionate about the learning, the project and the notion of Earth 2.0.  Discussions led to action; engagement in the task led to refinement and development of ideas and activities. In short, the project became fun for us.  We reacted the way we want our students to react to a new learning task.  There’s a lesson in that for everyone.

3. Local and Global Feedback: We gained valuable insights into the project by asking our students to review it for us.  They thought it would be improved by games so we added games!  I used Classtools, one of my favourites, to put together some simple games based on the sustainability theme and also added the Planet Green Game.  I then asked my PLN via Plurk and Twitter for objective advice.  My  Plurk buddies provided me with some excellent feedback that I acted on straight away. The Plurk eduverse is really something else…I highly recommend you become part of it!

4. Web 2.0:  The possibilities are endless!  2.0 tools help make learning fun and provide teachers with ways to actively engage and challenge students.  In addition to the suite of tools available on Pageflakes we also found wetpaint wiki simple to use and loved our voki characters.  I used Big Huge Labs to create the Earth 2.0 trading cards and EduPic, graphical resources for educators, for the images.

Is it possible to create a completely sustainable planet?

‘PLN Reflections’: sharing ideas and building relationships

Inspired by the amazing ideas and thinking generated at the recent ELH conference I decided to ‘experiment’ with my PLN and begin a collaborative slideshow. (They’re a lively bunch ready for any challenge!)

I wanted to build something for my work colleagues to illustrate the power of the group and show the potential for us all to save time and energy when we work together. At the same time I wanted to encourage reflective thought and build something members of my PLN could also share with colleagues as appropriate.

PLN Power:

The ‘PLN Reflections’ slideshow below is the result of my experiment. It’s powerful stuff; creative and inspirational. Achieved in a matter of days, across several time zones and without any drama, it is a small taste of what can be done. However, the best part is not the slideshow itself but the interactions and enthusiasm that occurred behind the scenes, particular in plurk. I’m already hatching plans for a ‘We are the Children’ equivalent…watch this space!

‘Ah Ha’ Moments and what to do with them…

I recently had an epiphany…the ‘sudden intuitive leap of understanding’ kind NOT the ‘manifestation of divine being’ kind. (In case you were wondering!)

I was at a conference being totally inspired by the thinking and ideas I heard there. (Expanding Learning Horizons in Lorne) Lots of inspiration, lots of great thinking, lots of new tools, lots (and lots) of talk! (Particularly impressed with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and encourage all to check out her wiki)

As I pondered people’s willingness to share their ideas and material with us I considered my own workplace and the many other snippets, experiences and ideas I’ve collected on my own learning journey. That’s when I had my ‘Ah Ha’ moment and everything fell into place:

Essential truths about educational change:

  • Education needs to change with the times (Der!)
  • Change is not about adopting the latest and greatest tools it is about passion and reflective practice.

  • Organizational culture is real and needs to be acknowledged and dealt with for real change to occur in schools.Mindsets do need to change and this is not always easy
  • Teachers need to work in teams to build professional learning communities. These shared experiences will help to bring about change.

  • Teachers must build a Professional Learning Network: such groups inspire, encourage and focus thinking.
  • Professional Relationships are important.

  • Teachers need to share their ideas and materials. Professional dialogue needs to be open and reflective.
  • Teacher’s teaching is very personal and important to them and this is why change can be difficult.
  • Best practice is not a ‘one size fits all’ model: best practice is really what’s best for your students and your school.
  • It is important to highlight and build on strengths and positives rather than focus on the negatives and what is not being done.
  • Learning new tools, working within teams, building meaningful curriculum and assessment, reflecting on teaching and learning, adopting new strategies more appropriate to 21st Century learners (etc, etc) is not ‘more work’; it is our work!

  • ‘Change by Stealth’ has its place and can be used to change practice and, ultimately, thinking.
  • It’s all about passion and vision!

Now what?

Time to actually do something!!!

Connect with a colleague; Start a blog or reflective journal to build skills and understanding; Suggest an innovative program at your school; Form a team; Challenge thinking; Start to build a professional learning network; Share material with a colleague (even when you don’t expect anything in return); Publish your stuff on a wiki and invite others to share; Do something differently and, Consider the possibilities…

Where\'s the passion?

Wordle is the Word

The visual power of words:

Wordle is a cool little tool that makes word clouds from writing or web pages ‘fed’ to it. It is a great way to discover a focus in any piece of writing. The words used most often are larger so it is easy to determine which words, ideas and concepts are important. My blog wordle:

Wordle Analysis:

Analysing text via word clouds might be a useful tool for students compiling a resume, essay or poetry. It instantly reveals central points and might also show overused words that can make writing dull and flat.

I was happy to see that my ‘Learning Gems’ blog focuses on ‘learning’ and ‘students’ but surprised to see how often I’d mentioned Ning. I must enjoy the collaborative and social nature of learning a lot without realising it!

Wordle poetry

Wordle also lends itself to the quick easy creation of visually appealing poetry and other creative writing. My wordle poem on spring captures many of my thoughts on my favourite season: