Melissa Giddins

Exploring technology and literacy in education.

Interesting and useful websites

A great place to start when integrating technology is on the world wide web, where there are plenty of ready-made resources. Knowing where to find them all is another thing again though, so I will regularly post useful links to websites that can help.  If you want to see the full list at any time, go to my delicious account:

1. Teacher Tube: A great resource for videos posted by teachers and students is Teacher Tube: – it is accessible through the DET portal and is like an educational version of YouTube.

2. Free Rice is a vocabulary and grammar game online that has the added bonus of feeding the world’s hungry through the United Nations Food Program, every time a student gets an answer right. Students love it, and it has the ability to change the subject to languages, art, geography, mathematics, etc so it allows variety.

3. InPics: is a great tutorial site that gives instructions for how to use various software including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc using screen pictures and simple language.  A great way to learn more yourself and to use to direct students to so that you don’t have to be the expert and answer all the questions relating to how to use software.

4. Edublogs: this is a great site for creating student blogs. Students can access it through the DET portal and until the DET provides us with a blogging platform (and possibly beyond that!) this is my recommended site for students to create blogs.

 5. Celtx: – free software for writing scripts – FANTASTIC. Download it to your computer and you can then use it when you are offline – excellent free resource for writing scripts of all different types.

6. Audacity: – free software that you can download and use offline. Excellent recording software that makes creating podcasts easy.

And now for some fun ones:

7. Improv Everywhere: – a great drama company that does improvisation in public places and records it on video. The site contains videos of their improv adventures – and it is accessible through the DET portal.

8. Cue Prompter: – this site turns your monitor into a teleprompter. You paste it in your text and press go and voila! Your monitor is a teleprompter.

9. Shakespeare’s Insults: – a fun site that allows you to create your own Shakesperean insults.

10. Macbeth Rap Video: – fantastic rap video telling the story of Macbeth.


May 19, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments

Laptops 4 Learning – Day 2 Reflections

A week after the event, having recovered from a nasty bout of gastro flu thingy (technical term), I find myself unable to let go of the forum and move on to talking about something else yet.  The second day of the forum the format was changed so that we all had the majority of the day in our KLA groups.  This was an incredibly valuable experience. We started by hammering out a rationale which really forced us to look at what we wanted to achieve and why we were doing it. We worked with the syllabus to look at how working with laptops in English would help us to meet the syllabus outcomes: better, easier, faster and with more student engagement. It was really important to do this from a syllabus perspective focussed on meeting the syllabus outcomes, and looking at the laptops from the perspective of how they could help us meet outcomes kept the discussion real and focussed on the business of the classroom.

Next we looked at what our role in this would be – okay so we were at the forefront of this thing, but what did that mean, and how could we help the average teacher in the average classroom.  Obviously, units of work that could be picked up and run with by a teacher were a priority.   I must admit to pushing my idea about how hard it is for teachers to imagine different ways to use technology in the classroom when they are unfamiliar with it. As a group we looked at the idea of a ‘technology toolbox’ that explained the ‘how-to’ of various technologies. We took that a step further and thought that coming up with a toolbox of individual activities was just as useful to teachers as full units of work.  I talked about the fact that when those laptops hit schools in Term 3, a lot of teachers will be ‘wounded’ by the process and what we need is triage. Treat the worst wounded first with bandaging then there will be time for surgery once the patient is stabilised.  What I mean by this is that a whole lot of teachers will need activities that can be slotted into existing units of work, they will need ideas that they can pick up and use immediately and will need to have a source of information for classroom management tips and troubleshooting ideas.  The surgery then is the professional development that each school will do for their teachers across the next year(s). When we hit Term 4 schools can plan to include the lovely units of work that will be created by the L4L group into the program for 2010, however we have to be aware that in order to meet all syllabus outcomes for a year or Stage, schools may not be flexible enough in their programs to start using the units of work immediately.  This means that teachers will need help that is more immediate and more flexible. Hence, the idea for triage, for activities that can be used in a variety of ways – we give you the activity, the resource you need to use, the syllabus outcomes it meets and then provide a model of the activity.

So now the hard work begins. We are creating units of work, individual activities and looking at resources that should go into the technology toolbox.  And we have to have it all done by the end of Term 2. There are eight of us, three of us still trying to do normal school at the same time, and all of us feeling the pressure to get things ready in time. Good resources that are useful and helpful and will serve teachers well, both in the initial roll-out phase and then on a more long-term basis is our goal.

So if any of you out there have any ideas for learning activities using technology (both offline and online) and would like to throw them our way, please feel free to add them!

May 17, 2009 Posted by | Laptops 4 Learning | 1 Comment

Laptops 4 Learning – Photos

Thought I would add something a little more light-hearted and fun about the Laptops 4 Learning project – here are some photos of the Lenovo laptop.  One thing that is difficult to appreciate is how tiny it really is, so we made an effort to try and put items in the photos that would help scale it for you.

600ml water bottle and pen included to help you see the small size of the laptop

600ml water bottle and pen included to help you see the small size of the laptop


The Lenovo S10e next to an IBM Thinkpad

The Lenovo S10e next to an IBM Thinkpad

The keys are full size and typing is easy.

The keys are full size and typing is easy.

May 8, 2009 Posted by | Laptops 4 Learning | | 1 Comment

Laptops 4 Learning Forum – Day 1 Reflections

The Laptops 4 Learning Forum was a two-day event with representatives from each KLA and was attended by students, teachers, head teachers, deputy principals, principals, curriculum directorate and CLI. On the first day we had sessions by Ken Olah introducing the forum, Trevor Fletcher with an opening address and Leslie Loble discussing innovation.  Then we watched a video of Sherry Goodvin, the Director of Secondary Education in Kansas, talking about their laptop program, and then spoke with her live in a teleconference. Ken Olah then facilitated a panel discussion with students, teachers and members of the Laptops 4 Learning project.  After morning tea we had a look at the laptop for ourselves and participated in or observed a classroom simulation of teaching a lesson using laptops. Following another presentation from a teacher who is already using laptops at her school, we then spent time in KLA teams planning for our project.

Some reflections on Day 1:

  • They use the laptops quite differently in Kansas, though some elements remain the same. Sherry Goodvin from Kansas spoke about a few interesting concepts they used which I feel we could easily reuse:
    • ‘Instructional Coaches’ – a small group of teachers are trained in the software applications and become ‘instructional coaches’ for the rest of the staff.  This is a very efficient way of distributing knowledge throughout a school, particularly if there is one from each KLA, putting one ‘expert’ into each faculty staffroom.
    • ‘Professional Learning Communities’ – KLA groups, expert teacher groups, etc formed professional learning communities for training, learning, teaching, collaboration and sharing of ideas, successes and failures.
    • LOTI: Levels of Technology Integration – this was the name of their self-evaluation survey, and the results of this survey fed into their professional development plan (personal learning plan) for each teacher. Now we have the CLAS online survey that does a similar thing, and there is also the Using ICT Skills Framework which you can use to evaluate the phase you are currently in. I think it is imperative that teachers take the time to evaluate where they are at, and to plot a learning course for ICT integration.
    • IPI: Instructional Practices Inventory – this was where they surveyed the students and focussed on student engagement, including observing lessons, etc in order to get a picture of the range of pedagogies being used in your classroom, while you were incorporating/integrating the ICT.
  •  The idea was floated that it will be ever more important to have our own Personal Learning Networks (PLN) in order to survive in our Connected Learning Environment (CLE).  The more we can connect with each other on this journey, the easier we will find the process. We – that is the average teacher in the average classroom – need to connect with other people: people who are ahead of them in the journey or following behind them on their journey, and it is desperately important that we share resources, experiences and ideas.  If we are alone, we will have to create our own resources, come up with our own ideas and only learn from our own experiences. The more people you can connect with, the easier the journey will be – five people’s worth of resources, experiences and ideas make it five times easier and faster to integrate the ICT – so keep adding people until the process is easy and quick – ideas at your fingertips, people to share with, lessons created and ready to use.
  • The laptops will make it easier to differentiate instruction and to facilitate student engagement. I have to agree with this idea – I want to put it in bold, underline it and make it flash, I think it is that important! We also have the ability to allow students to work at their own pace, not waiting for the rest of the class – student self-direction, student self-regulation – these are very good things.
  • There were concerns with classroom management issues, and one of the comments that were made is that a focus on digital citizenship and etiquette will help to create good behaviour with positive reinforcement as well as assist them in the world outside of the classroom. To quote Sherry Goodwin: ‘Classroom management is handled through a focus on digital citizenship and etiquette’. I really want to make sure that we have this idea incorporated at the beginning of the process – we teach them values, citizenship and how to participate socially and appropriately in the face-to-face world, we should also be teaching them the same for the digital world they are about to have in their laps at school.

Without a doubt, there are many more things to say, but I shall leave you with those to ponder first.  More posts to come on the Laptops 4 Learning Project, that’s for sure.

May 8, 2009 Posted by | Laptops 4 Learning | | 2 Comments

Laptops 4 Learning Project

I have spent today at the Laptops For Learning Forum and will spend tomorrow there as well.  Apart from being slightly in awe of the people I am working with, I have found myself engaging productively and mostly intelligently (I hope!) with some fascinating discussions regarding technology in schools. It has become imperative to have these discussions now – the laptops are arriving in Term 3 and the average teacher out there is not prepared for that.

If you are a DET teacher and you have no idea what I am talking about, or want more information, log on to the DET staff portal, click on the tab entitled My Websites and then scroll down the list of DET intranet sites – you will find Laptops For Learning.  Click on that link and you will find the specifications (and photos!) of the new laptops including what software they will come with.  You will also find the bulletins and the latest information about the rollouts.

I will have much more to say on my time spent at this forum later but for now I just want to focus on two things.

1. We need to get ready NOW. Schools need to be thinking about how they will handle professional development, which teachers will lead the way, ideas for using the laptops in lessons at school, physical space and how the laptops are integrated into the spaces we have,  and classroom management with laptops. Whether it be the executive, the technology committee, the principal, a focus group or simply a group of enthusiastic teachers, there needs to be a group that is planning, preparing and learning, getting ready for what is coming.  It is too late to start after the laptops are in your school – they will sit in a storeroom and that will not work for anyone. My big message in this point: START NOW.

2. Don’t be afraid to try. Fear and doubt are natural when we are trying new things, but we should not let them stop us from trying – just take fear and doubt along for the ride with you.  The smallest steps we take in the beginning are enough. No-one is asking you to become an expert overnight. What we are asking is that you start somewhere, try something – whether it works or fails. No-one is asking you to get it right the first time (or even the next seven times!), we are asking you to try – sometimes you will fail, sometimes you will succeed – and if you share your experiences (the good, the bad and the ugly) then others can learn and grow, and you can learn from others’ experiences also. It was mentioned today that we don’t want teachers to have to try and recreate teaching content that already exists – no reinventing the wheel necessary.  Rather, the focus is on: recycle, reuse, navigate, negotiate, manipulate, collaborate.

Yes, it will be scary when you walk into your Year 9 class and they all have laptops – they may be off task using them before you even give an instruction. Remember though – good pedagogy is what is needed, the technology is simply a great tool that allows us to reach our digital natives and to be more engaging, collaborative and creative in a classroom environment and beyond. The English Syllabus is full of outcomes that can be more easily met when the students have a laptop each. These tools that are coming: the laptops and the software on them, will enable us to really engage with what the syllabus is asking of us, in a way that students understand and can apply in their world at home – we will make their learning more relevant to their life, their world, their future.

Take heart, have courage, fire up. Great change is coming. It will be exciting, challenging, fun, inspiring, engaging, hard work, rewarding and ultimately easier than anyone expects. Time will pass and you will look back on the days when you worried about the laptops coming, and laugh about how ironic it is that now you are frustrated that not every class has them.

May 6, 2009 Posted by | Laptops 4 Learning | 6 Comments