Melissa Giddins

Exploring technology and literacy in education.

New job, new location, new life

I have decided to keep working and posting on this blog, despite the almost 12 month abandonment of it during 2011. A new position as a Literacy Consultant sees me in a non-school based position which, while it no longer gives me a class of students to experiment with, does give me access to many schools and their challenges and adventures, a rich vein of information and ideas to be mined and shared.

Things have changed a lot since I started this blog in 2009. Some tools are still great, some have fallen by the wayside. Here’s a summary, that kind of includes my New Year’s Educational Technology Resolutions!

1. The delicious account that I started to keep track of all the new websites for educational use just became a pain and I stopped using it, so I tried creating a wiki as a place to store the information. This also was not as effective as I would have liked, as my ideas about my staff contributing to it came to nothing as no-one ever did but me. I am going to take a stab at Diigo, as Darcy Moore used it to replace his delicious account and I will spend some time this term trying to relocate everything from delicious and the wiki to diigo. Will let you know how that goes!

2. Yammer. I loved it and used it all the time – alas, no more. The Department, in its infinite wisdom, created something else for us to use instead and I have not logged onto it once yet. Therefore sometime this term I will make time to check out the Department’s version and see if it works for me.

3. Ning. I created a Ning, loved the concept of it and then they wanted to charge me money to host it. Bye to my Ning page.

4. Twitter. Loved it, love it, and have been hopeless at using it for 12 months. Will attempt to dive back in the twitter stream in 2012 also.

5. Google reader is an essential part of my life, particularly now that I have apps on both my iPhone and iPad to enable me to read posts anywhere, anytime.

6. EDMODO!! I love this site more and more each passing year.  I highly recommend it. There is a great professional development group on there as well now called Oz Edmodo that share fantastic resources and provide great feedback.

7. Just bought an iPad. It is revolutionising my world, and I’m wondering why I held off for so long. I’m going to explore new apps and applications for education. Can’t wait!

8. Facebook – now a part of my daily life, but rarely used for work, I have kept that one for my personal life 🙂

And the biggest resolution for the year: blog more often. It is a great way to reflect, clarify thoughts and ask myself hard questions.

Lots more to say, but I shall save it for a series of regular blog posts. Coming right up!

January 23, 2012 Posted by | blogging, edmodo, twitter | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fake Facebook

Thanks to Bianca Hewes for these two great resources received via Edmodo!

Love it or hate it, Facebook is in our students’ lives. We have seen cyberbullying and now with the introduction of mobile phones that can browse the web, it doesn’t matter anymore that Facebook is blocked at school – the kids can still access it at school now via their phones and so it is still a large part of most of their lives 24/7.

So why fight it? Here is a great site:  that allows you to create a fake Facebook wall and use it for good instead of for evil!

One of my teachers is going to use it with a Year 9 class as part of a poetry unit of work – creating a facebook wall for the composer, such as Samuel Coleridge, where they have to research the composer to add the information to the facebook wall.

Another great “fake” option is the fake iPhone text site: which allows you to create fake texts! An opportunity to use the evil of text messaging in class for a good purpose.

Should be a fun and engaging activity, however you use it, that catches the students in their world and their interests. Would love to hear from people who have tried it with ideas about ways to utilise these resources!

March 14, 2011 Posted by | Web 2.0 tools | | Leave a comment

Drowning not Waving

The last six months of 2010, my focus was wrenched dramatically away from all extracurricular activity, including posting on my own blog, participating in twitter chat and presenting at various conferences. Instead, my focus was narrowed to student results. Specifically, how to achieve more Band 6 results in the HSC in our English courses, most particularly in Advanced English.  I underwent an executive development project specifically looking at this, from an action research perspective.

Then, on a personal level, I became a foster mother for the first time in November, which impacted rather forcefully on my spare time, in fact, making spare time non-existent. 

The next thing I know, a new year has begun and a new term is well underway. My foster daughter left my care last week and with the initial flurry of work setting up the school year, somehow it is March by the time I raise my head and notice the world at large.

My focus is still on raising results and growing depth of expertise in myself and my faculty, which is where a lot of my time is still going. However, a few interesting things have happened.

I have a Year 10 and Year 11 class this year that have laptops in the classroom.  It took me two weeks to remember to tell both classes to set up their OneNote notebooks with our template.  At this point I realised that for the first time at the beginning of the year I had not worked with my faculty on evaluating and adapting the templates for a new year.  I had not reminded them to set up the OneNote notebooks for Year 10, as I had the last two years, and I had not provided the usual resources on how to do this.

This was interesting in that a lot of the teachers went ahead and did it anyway, using last year’s resources and simply adapting as they went. A few teachers just began their year happily ignoring the fact that they were supposed to be incorporating technology into their teaching and learning, and that students had laptops in their bags that were going unused. 

It was interesting standing back and realising that even some of our most technological-resistant teachers had been merrily integrating technology as a standard part of their lessons – only eighteen months from the initial introduction of laptops into classrooms, and I was watching it become a more “normal” part of everyday teaching and learning.

I can also say though, that without me driving it, there is definitely less integration of technology in most classrooms. Clearly a leader is required to keep momentum rolling and give new ideas and inspiration. I wholeheartedly feel that I have dropped the technology ball so far this year.

Last year, I was speaking about 2011 and how interesting it would be when we try to teach a senior curriculum with the first lot of students with laptops in the classroom.  I have prepared resources, spoken at conferences about it and generally been both enthused and apprehensive about the opportunities and challenges that this will engender.

And then, I started teaching Year 11 – we had redesigned the program at the end of 2010 and I was very gung-ho to get into it and trial the new first term. And I completely ignored the laptops. I forgot about them. I didn’t plan for them and as a result, didn’t incorporate them. Me, the “guru” of integrating technology, failed to integrate it at all.  To cap it all off, a student in one of my classes asked me if we were ever going to use the IWB in my room.  No-one has ever asked me that before, usually because it is constantly on. But the IWB has been dark all year so far. A cursory 15 minutes spent with Year 10 and Year 11 telling them to set up their OneNote notebooks is about the extent of it.

Ok perhaps I am being a tad harsh on myself, I did get podcasts, websites and other resources onto Moodle for all my classes, and we are still very busy communicating via Edmodo, which is still working extremely well after four years of utilisation with different classes. I have also continued to pass resources on to my faculty, and populate my virtual staffroom with appropriate resources.  There is no doubt though that I am NOT doing a good job at integrating technology in my senior class and, in fact, I am pretty much teaching it as though the laptops don’t exist.  This, of course, needs to change!

My plan is to take some time in the school holidays at the end of this term, to focus on planning technology integration then I will  just wipe the slate clean and start Term 2 as if it is the beginning of the school year (when it comes to the integration of technology that is).

Now, instead of being ashamed of my lack of technology use, I am again enthused about using some time to plan and then get it all rolling again.  The ideas that were bubbling last year are now solidifying into practical activities and uses. I am looking forward now to picking up the ball and running with it – after all, it is my job as an educational leader to lead the way, to try things first, to model and hopefully to inspire.

 Why even write this post? Because I think that we all need reminding every now and then that we are human, we cannot do everything all the time, and that sometimes our personal life is worth more of our attention.

I hope to chronicle more of my adventures as I try integrating technology in my senior classes and I look forward to this new adventure. After all, a change is as good as a holiday, right?

March 14, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Going “global” with website of the week

As the coordinator of the Digital Education Revolution in my school, I have been thinking about what professional development and leadership of technology looks like, as can be seen from my last post. For the Staff Development Day in Term 3, I will be exploring how to ensure that Quality Teaching is happening in a Virtual Learning Environment. Across Term 3, I will be running the Lunch and Learn series (as described in a previous post) however, there is one more piece to the emerging puzzle now.  I have decided to create a weekly eNewsletter for DER and in this newsletter to have a “website of the week” for each faculty. This information will then be stored in an “umbrella” Moodle category called Digital Education, which contains three courses: Website of the Week, Resources and Professional Development. This will mean that I can first disseminate the information via email to all staff and then allow the information to be available in a common place where teachers can access it when they are ready.

In a previous post I have talked about how successful the Website of the Week has been with my faculty, however, the success was also due to then showing that website at a faculty meeting and showing how it had been used with a class. So I am not entirely sure how well just providing a website of the week for the school will work.

We are going to try a SpeedGeeking session in the Staff Development Days at the end of the year, and hopefully, some of the teachers that have explored the information I will send out across this semester, will become involved as presenters.

As with everything, this is another strategy I am trying. It may fail, it may succeed, but I would rather try and fail than do nothing at all. I will do a post towards the end of the term reflecting on this whole process: lunch and learns, weekly eNewsletter, a school wide website of the week, the Moodle courses, the SDD presentations and the SpeedGeeking sessions. Wish me luck!

June 28, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Professional Development in Schools

Professional development at school is something that I have been considering a lot lately. I am called upon to professionally develop my faculty as a Head Teacher, I have been asked to speak at various professional development conferences and workshops across the last couple of years and have attended quite a few myself. Lately I am plagued with thoughts about what makes for effective PD in technology. I have read these blog posts recently which really brought some ideas to the forefront:

Professional Development and the Modern Teacher tells the story of some successful and unsuccessful PD for a staff member and offers some advice for PD for the modern teacher, including utilising the KISS principle, making time for reflection and more importantly, making time for play:

Everyone needs some time to let loose and play. The fact is, often, in PD there is not enough time for play. Time isn’t taken for play. There is usually some time to mimic but not really play. Teachers who are learning new tech skills as part of PD desire more time to just get in and play. Not during the actual PD but afterwards. Teachers need to have time to go back to their classrooms and get their hands dirty. But they need that support of the trainer. We have to be available and offer follow-ups and 1-on-1’s. We can’t send our teachers back to the classroom with some new skill and not check on them or simply follow-up. Would we do that to our kids? Doubt it. Why do that with teachers.

Over and over again, we seem to use old methods of information transmission and this is not overly successful.  Teaching technology and its integration into education comes with a requirement for “play and make” time in order for teachers to be able to integrate the technology fairly quickly (or at all!) after the PD, and this just does not seem to get built into the professional learning time allocated to staff. Listening to staff after PD, their number one complaint is about not getting time to play and make stuff with what they just learned and their number one comment is that they are going to go away and play with it.  What if we embedded play into our PD? While the PD would take longer, maybe it would result in a more successful takeup?

This next blog post: The Way of the Workshop explores the nature of the workshop in education and implemented some new ideas which worked successfully, including cohort groupings that led to a shared experience, application of learning to create a product, breakout sessions and time to talk. This post showed me examples of how to put the idea of “play” into professional development. In the final thoughts section, there are some gems for all of us, but in particular these five jumped out at me:

  • Make sure the project is based on something that can actually be used in the classroom (not just an excuse to try new tools) following a sound curriculum planning process.
  • Continue to utilize a variety of presentation styles and media formats (some direct presenting is good, some videos are good, some hands-on is good – mix and match throughout the workshop).
  • Model, model, model – if you say something works well in the classroom, do it in the workshop just the way you would in the classroom.
  • Plan for sharing time, but make sure it’s in small groups to keep the environment safe, rather than in front of everyone.
  • Make sure workshops are voluntary, if not, make sure they’re during the regular work day.
  • The same blogger, Kim Cofino, also blogged about SpeedGeeking:

    Basically, SpeedGeeking is just like Speed Dating – a way to quickly introduce people to a wide variety of new ideas in a short amount of time. We decided to have 12 four-minute SpeedGeeking sessions split into 2 groups (one group has six sessions, the other group has the other six sessions). This way, we could make the most of our limited time, enable as many teachers to share their successful experiences as possible, keep the group sizes limited, and ensure that not every teacher saw the exact same sessions (so they are encouraged to keep talking about what they saw after the meeting).

    The sessions were run by teachers who are currently working with the software and were able to directly link the technology to education. Afterwards, teachers shared about what sparked their interest. This is a fascinating way to share a large number of ideas quickly, enabling teachers to be exposed to ideas and then choose which ones they would be interested in learning more about.

    I also read Bianca’s Blog post about what she has been doing at her school for some DER teacher development and stole her idea (see my previous post) to put together a “lunch and learn” program of my own. In some ways, though, this feels like more of the same old transmission model as there won’t really be time in a lunch break to both teach and play for long. Bianca has added in sharing and discussion sessions and I had some great comments on the post with other suggestions. At a recent HT Conference some colleagues and I were talking about the “ideal” conference: a keynote speaker for inspiration, some workshops for learning then an afternoon to play, discuss, share – with “experts” around to help out.

    As the DER leader at my school for at least one more term, I am asking myself how I can be a leader of DER and not just a manager. So far, I have smoothly managed roll out and now the stocktake process is underway. But is that enough? That is only good management and there is more to leadership than that. So now I am asking myself, what can I do to lead the integration of technology in the school? I have been avidly following the 31 Days to be a better Educational Technology Leader series of blog posts by Terry Freedman and loving the combination of practical suggestions and philosophical discussion.

    I have decided to discuss all this information with my principal so I have printed out the relevant blog posts for use in our discussion. I am going to be tabling the “lunch and learn” idea, Darcy’s great Cool Online Tools for students which I would like to teach to Year 10 at the end of 2010 but also to the teachers – most of whom do not know about these tools either, and what all this looks like at our school for the next three Staff Development Days this year.  I have lots of ideas, but I really want to discuss them rather than just think about them now. Most importantly, will be answering the question how do we incorporate Quality Teaching into our Virtual Learning Environment? (Moodle) or How do we do QT in our VLE? More on this next week after I have that conversation with the principal!

    June 15, 2010 Posted by | Digital Education Revolution (DER) | , | 5 Comments

    Stealing an idea: Lunch and Learn

    A fellow English teacher and DER leader (and very cool person) Bianca Hewes recently blogged about something that she has been doing successfully at her school called “Lunch and Learn”. You can read the full account of her actions here on her blog. I have decided to “borrow” her idea and set up something similar at my school during Term 3.  I will call them Friday Lunch and Learns, with the idea being that you learn something on Friday, play with it across the weekend and use it the following week.  I will be promoting what is on each week and teachers can choose to come along, eat lunch and learn something each week.  Here is my proposed list of topics:

    Friday Lunch and Learns – learn on Friday, play on weekend, use on Monday.

    Term 3

    1. Edmodo – increasing student communication via the web.
    2. Creating your Professional/Personal Learning Network (PLN): how to join the DET conversation on Yammer, RSS feeds and setting up Google Reader, reading blogs and who to follow, joining the educational discussion on Twitter.
    3. OneNote – how students can hand in work that is created in OneNote, and how you can mark it using Adobe Acrobat Pro Extended.
    4. BlogEd – how to set up a class blog and why you would want to.
    5. Creative Commons and DET Resources – copyright-free images and where to find them; how to check if a site is unblocked and how to access curriculum resources via TaLE and Curriculum Support.
    6. Digitally marking student work – how to do this in Word 2007, OneNote 2007 and Adobe Acrobat Pro Extended.
    7. Podcasting – how to use Audacity to create simple podcasts for your students and how students can create their own to use as a lesson activity or study aids (and how to put podcasts onto Moodle for dissemination to students).
    8. Glogster and Prezi – creating online posters and visual representations with Glogster and using Prezi, an online presentation tool that is non-linear, as an alternative to PowerPoint.
    9. Wordle, Lino It and Wallwisher – Wordle creates word clouds from text and Wallwisher and Lino It allow you to create a canvas for collaborative discussion via use of digital sticky notes.

     Term 4:

    1. OneNote Refresher – a refresher on the things that you can do in OneNote besides typing notes. How to send items to OneNote from other programs and utilising clipping.
    2. OneNote Bells and Whistles – recording audio and digital and how to utilise tags.
    3. OneNote – SHARED – how to create a single OneNote section that the whole class can use at the same time and then have saved on their individual hard drives as a record.
    4. Creating a digital portfolio using Adobe Pro Extended.
    5. Delicious and Diigo – social bookmarking and how to utilise it in a classroom.

    I am going to run this idea past the principal tomorrow and see what she thinks about it, get approval for this adventure and start preparing for it and promoting it in the following week (if it gets approved!). As such, I would love some feedback! Anything that you think I should add/remove? I have four weeks in Term 4 that I haven’t filled yet and can reshuffle some things around. Every suggestion helps!

    June 14, 2010 Posted by | Digital Education Revolution (DER) | , | 7 Comments

    OneNote – A Practical Tip

    We started using OneNote with our Year 9 English classes in 2009 and continued with the process as they moved into Year 10 in 2010. Our Year 9 students that have just received their laptops have now also begun the process of using OneNote as their English book. (Please see my previous post for how we set up the OneNote notebooks as templates for the entire cohorts.) This has been going swimmingly, and apart from spelling tests and in-class writing tasks, we have rarely used their exercise book since.

    This led us to a unique challenge though. We collect student books once per term to check on their work, mark work and give feedback as to progress, etc.  How do we do this now their books are in OneNote? Thinking I was clever, I worked out how to save their notebook as a single file package and we had students save their notebooks and submit it this way.  BIG MISTAKE. When you open a single file package, OneNote automatically saves it as part of your library of notebooks on your hard drive. Now let’s do some maths: 4 classes of 30 students = 120, multiply that by 4 terms and there are 480 notebooks now on your hard drive with it being difficult to tell which is the latest submission. A minor nightmare to be sure.

    The good news is that there is a solution! Do NOT have them save their notebooks as a single file package.  Instead, from the File menu, have them choose Publish as a PDF. Within this option they can choose to save the current page, section or whole notebook.  They can send the PDF to their teacher via whatever the preferred method is: email, Edmodo, Moodle, etc.

    This has worked wonderfully! Not only does a PDF compress the information so that it doesn’t take up as much room on your hard drive, it also opens as a PDF and not as a OneNote notebook.  This is also useful for teachers that do not have OneNote at home – marking is still possible as they can open the PDF.  Also, for those of us that have Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro Extended, you can then add sticky notes to the submitted work and make comments, prior to sending it back to the students.

    A practical tip within this process: get students to make the file name their full name and the date submitted e.g. John Smith 110610. This way you can easily see which is the latest version and to whom it belongs.

    June 13, 2010 Posted by | Digital Education Revolution (DER), OneNote | , , | 2 Comments

    Interesting Ways to Use Technology in the Classroom

    I stumbled upon a new site while reading through updates from Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day blog today and couldn’t resist sharing this great new resource. Tom Barrett’s blog: Inspire, Connect, Engage, Create is a rich resource of educational ideas and examples. One of the pages on his blog has collated a series of posts entitled “Interesting Ways to Use…” and this is a veritable gold mine! He has collated ideas from different educators about how they utilise various technologies within the classroom, with examples often pictured. There are 23 different tools explored, including Prezi, Wallwisher, VoiceThread, Wordle, using wikis and many more. Not all of the “interesting ways” posts are technology related – there are several on other topics including: “Interesting Ways to Support Spelling in the Classroom” and “Interesting Ways to Support Writing in the Classroom”, both of which obviously caught my eye as an English teacher.

    If you are looking for ideas about how to use some of these fabulous Web 2.0 tools, I highly recommend checking out the “Interesting Ways” page for some great ideas and examples.

    June 6, 2010 Posted by | Digital Education Revolution (DER), Laptops 4 Learning, Web 2.0 tools | , , | Leave a comment

    Website of the Week

    I am often faced with the dilemma of how to control the flow of technology information to my staff so that they are not swept away in a flood of new websites, tools and ideas but rather can receive enough information to stay informed, at a pace where they can absorb the information. My first step in this direction has been the implementation this term of the “website of the week”.  The idea is that I put one new website on our Moodle Virtual Staffroom every week and showcase that website at the faculty meeting.  So far this appears to be working. Teachers can access the information when they are ready and utilise it when it is appropriate, while being aware that the technology exists.

    The websites that I choose are not in any kind of priority order but rather are things that are relevant to my faculty at the time. I must also add that within my faculty are teachers of English, Italian, Drama, Dance and Film so that makes a broader audience to target with the websites.

    The websites of the week so far are as follows:

    • Week 1: Movieclips – over 12,000 movieclips to use.
    • Week 2: Glogster – create posters online
    • Week 3: Wallwisher – online collaborative space
    • Week 4: AudioBoo – a mobile and web platform that allows you to effortlessly record and upload audio.
    • Week 5: DERNSW Tutorials – Brad Bennet’s fabulous site of tutorials to help teachers with the DERNSW laptops
    • Week 6: Wordle – make a word cloud.
    • Week 7: Reading Rewards – a website to encourage reading and offer incentives for pages read.
    • Week 8: Lino It – create a canvas of online multimedia sticky notes (similar to Wallwisher).
    • Week 9: Prezi – a fantastic non-linear presentation tool

    I am a week ahead of myself at the moment as we are only just going into Week 8, but I realised that I had not yet showcased Prezi, so put it up a week early so that I would not forget!

    For the Wordle week, I gave them a ready made example, showed them how I had used it with a class and three other teachers have now used wordle within their classes.

    Overall, so far this experiment is working as a way to disseminate a trickle rather than a flood, of useful information in a timely manner. My next thought is to have “play time” in some faculty meetings, where I give them four or five similar web tools and they play and explore. Then they brainstorm usages, evaluate usefulness and decide which is their preferred tool.  I’ll let you know how that goes!

    June 6, 2010 Posted by | Digital Education Revolution (DER), Laptops 4 Learning, Web 2.0 tools | | 4 Comments

    Free Technology for Teachers

    I am often asked how I encounter new sites and great learning tools on the web. The first answer was always “on Twitter!” where my PLN feeds me daily new ideas and links. However lately that answer has expanded to include the blogs that I am reading.  One of the blogs that I read is called “Free Technology for Teachers” and is exactly that. Every day a new website or tool is showcased but more than that, a section is added called “Applications for Education” where recommendations are made for possible uses of the technology within education.

    On this blog, I am constantly amazed by the incredible flow of new ideas and tools. I highly recommend that you subscribe to this blog, either through the RSS feed or via email, and receive a constant stream of new ideas yourself!

    June 6, 2010 Posted by | Digital Education Revolution (DER), Laptops 4 Learning, PLN, Web 2.0 tools | , , , | Leave a comment