Melissa Giddins

Exploring technology and literacy in education.

DER – First presentation to staff

The first laptops are slowly being allocated, commissioned and distributed to staff this week. The first two have arrived in my faculty and I decided it was timely to present to my staff before they all receive them. I made a simple PowerPoint presentation that detailed the basic information about the Phases of the project and what comes on the laptop.  Then, I spent some time showing my faculty what Office 2007 looks like and a few tips for navigating and customising.

I encouraged my staff to ‘own’ the laptops and customise the desktops etc so that they reflect the personality, likes and dislikes of each person. I think this is an important part of the process of using them – we need to acknowledge that they are a tool in our toolbox and really claim ownership of them. Perhaps having their own theme choice, photos and music on the laptops will start to make them feel more like using them regularly, and not waiting for someone to tell them what to do with the laptops.

I gave each of my faculty members a 4Gb USB drive – on this USB drive, I have placed resources for teaching and learning – 1Gb’s worth. I spent some time in the session showing them what was on the drive and discussing briefly some ideas for using the laptops in the classroom.

Then, we talked reality. I told them all the things we can’t do with the laptops, all the things we can and most importantly, the reality of what is expected of them next term.  Once Year 9 receive those laptops we are expected to teach with them – immediately. So prepare now, or it will be upon you, ready or not.  I bluntly told my staff that I expect an initial usage of every second lesson on average. High expectations, but I even added that in the first weeks we should aim for every lesson. Not the whole lesson, but that the laptops have a presence in our lesson at some point.

Needless to say I have pushed the envelope a little, but I went further still. I told them that the money had been spent and that while there will always be room for the occasional whinge or venting session, we need to embrace the revolution and do what we can to make it a success.  I told them that things will go wrong, no doubt Term 3 will be chaotic with ‘I forgot to charge it’, ‘I left it at home’, ‘I lost my work/didn’t save/comp crashed, etc’ and the ever-present ‘I can’t remember my password’. Nonetheless, we need to retain our positivity, get excited about the possibilities for teaching and learning and ‘damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead’!

And finally, a gentle reminder to my faculty that this is just a tool. Good teaching is still needed, bad teaching will make the program fail more than not knowing much about technology.

Some of my faculty are now in shock, some are excited and some are struggling not to be negative. We have already made plans for a brainstorming session at next week’s faculty meeting and for regular ‘sharing sessions’ in each meeting next term so that each success is shared and multiplied in other classes. 

I am determined to do everything in my power to lead my faculty to success in this new adventure we are embarking on and, so far, they seem willing to follow where I am leading them. Good people, every one of them.


June 30, 2009 Posted by | Digital Education Revolution (DER), Laptops 4 Learning | , | 11 Comments

DER Laptops for Teachers

On Thursday of last week, the phase one rollout of laptops for teachers arrived in our school – 24 of them – enough for approximately 30% of our teaching staff.  At lunch time on Thursday our school’s DER Team met with the principal to discuss allocation of them. As always, our principal had a well-thought out plan and there was no need for wrangling, angling or pushing biased agendas, instead we had a great discussion with some negotiations that worked for the team, and hopefully will be appreciated by the staff as a whole. I have read Stu Hasic’s post ( on his opinion of which teachers should get laptops and his suggestions for making the decision and the great discussion that post engendered (you can read it in the comments of his post). If your school has not yet made the decision as to staff allocation, I highly recommend reading his post.

Beyond that, let me say that my faculty (English) is going to be a ‘lighthouse’ faculty – pioneers if you will – leading the way forward into a teaching world with laptops.  As the Head Teacher of English then I now have a bigger responsibility to be a learning leader – to be positive in my approach, enthusiastic in my support and generous in my provision of ideas and resources. I am spending some time over the next two days preparing a one-hour professional development session for Tuesday afternoon that will cover the following with my staff:

  1. Where the DER is up to – timelines, philosophy, etc – including Stu Hasic’s line that ‘the money has already been spent’ so let’s stop arguing about whether they are a good thing or whether they will work, and let’s concentrate on making it a success.
  2. Quick familiarisation with Office 2007 – how it is different to 2003, where to find things, and more importantly, online tutorials so that you have somewhere to go to find things out when I am not there to ask.
  3. Resources, resources, resources: provision of learning activities ideas, websites for information, interaction and collaboration, etc.
  4. Importance of creating PLN (personal learning network) and of then sharing the information you receive.
  5. Discussion regarding Moodle and how that will come together with the laptops.
  6. Plan for regular sessions that address staff needs in regards to teaching with laptops.

Once I have created this session I will publish it to help any other teachers or Head Teachers who will also be introducing these ideas about the laptops to their staff over the next few weeks. I will also publish the results and reactions to the meeting on Tuesday afternoon. Who knows, maybe my faculty will post comments about it when I do!

June 28, 2009 Posted by | Digital Education Revolution (DER), Laptops 4 Learning | , | 10 Comments

New Technologies, New Stories/DER Unit of Work

I created a unit of work for Stage 5 English for the project New Technologies, New Stories – this project has now been absorbed into the Laptops for Learning project, now called the Digital Education Revolution or DER for short. (Anyone else confused yet?) The original concept behind New Technologies, New Stories was to ask the question: how can technology be a tool to improve students’ ability to write a narrative? So, working on this premise, I came up with the following unit of work.

The unit of work is called: Digital Diegesis and the concept is to create an imaginary world on a wiki, using blogs to write a story in instalments with a focus on editing and rewriting for improvement.

Rationale: Students research the conventions of genres in order to focus on one specific genre. Students work in groups to create an imaginary world set in a particular genre. The imaginary world is put together using a wiki to allow students to work collaboratively and give feedback on the work being completed. Once the skeleton outline of the world has begun to take shape, students set up an individual blog and begin to complete writing exercises set within their genre, in order to practice using the conventions of the genre. Each student must write creatively on their blog and comment regularly on other students’ blogs, with a focus on editing. Students re-post previous pieces of writing following feedback (comments) from their teacher and peers, learning the process of drafting, editing and rewriting. The culmination of the unit is the assessment task where students write a narrative that is set in the world they have created on the wiki, writing within the specific conventions of the specified genre, bearing in mind the feedback they have previously received through their process of drafting, feedback and editing on their blog.

 This unit begins by allowing students to identify and describe the recurring features of particular genres, focusing on their story lines, iconography, value systems and techniques and ends with students composing texts by complying with, adapting or subverting the conventions of form, genre and ideology.  Students learn the value of collaboration by working within a small group, taking on specific roles in order to collaboratively create an imaginary world, and learn to write descriptively about the setting of a narrative. The student blogs allow students to learn the value of the editing process and for students to give, receive and use peer feedback as an integral part of the writing process. Writing on the wiki to create the world and writing on their blogs to practise the art and craft of writing lays the foundation for their final piece of writing which brings together the students’ knowledge of genre and descriptive writing, their experience of the editing process in a narrative set in the imaginary world they created on their group’s wiki.

The whole unit of work will be available on the Curriculum Support website next term (Term 3) so I won’t go into any further detail about the unit – I wanted to give you an update as to how the teaching of the unit went.

First hurdle: Every student needs to know their email address in order to get access to blogs and wikis – a surprising number didn’t, and all students bar one gave me a hotmail address or a home address, not knowing their DET email address. Hot Tip #1: Before starting a unit that has online components, get email addresses organised first.  The laptops in Year 9 should help with this because they will have to log on each day using it, but it is still a valid tip for all other years.

Hurdle #2: I did this within a genre study unit of work on our program, so obviously had a set number of outcomes to meet and had to skew my original intentions to add those elements in.  Having said that, it worked really well, and proved that the unit I had created was fairly flexible. 

Hurdle#3: I was off sick for the first week of this unit and so lost a week of teaching time, however, we seem to have caught most of that up, though it will be a race to have everything completed by the end of term.

Hurdle#4: The school’s computer network got a virus and we had dodgy or no computers for two weeks. This meant we were back to pen and paper and doing an old-fashioned (nothing wrong with it) unit of work on narrative for a while. Hot Tip #2: Have a back up plan for when the computers are unavailable due to rooms being booked out, servers going down, viruses, etc. A happy surprise though was the number of students that started loading their world up on their wikis at home, without waiting for us to do it at school.

Hurdle#5: The week we started to do this, the DET blocked Edublogs for students, and despite my request, refused to unblock their wikis. So now the students don’t actually have access to wikis or blogs at school. *sigh* Thankfully our school is in the process of setting up Moodle so I can see a future where this will work.  Hot Tip#3: Set everything up for students anyway, blocked or unblocked, and they can work on it at home (which they do, much to my surprise) and at school one group at a time can work under the eagle eye of the teacher on the teacher login (where it is NOT blocked) to ensure that the content is appropriate and meets with DET guidelines on submission of work, while the rest of the class works with pen and paper – on the bright side it means you only need one computer in the classroom that is connected to the net and therefore avoid dramas with trying to schedule time in a computer lab.  As an alternative, in the computer lab, the other students can be preparing their work in Word and then copy and paste it into their wikis and blogs when it is their turn on the ‘teacher’ computer.

The bottom line is that lots of things went wrong and there were lots of challenges to the forward progress of the unit, however, despite all that, the students enjoyed the unit, learned a great deal about both narratives and technology, and are now in the process of producing some great narratives.  None of the students had seen a wiki before and only a few had heard about blogs so a whole new online world was opened up to them.  They learned how to work collaboratively and how to share their work and talk to each other about their writing in a constructive way. The class is a VERY mixed ability class and it has been a great unit to do with both the bright students and the ones that struggle with their literacy. I would do this unit again and again with fine-tuning each time, hurdles and all, as it brought engagement, learning, fun and earnest effort from a group of students that were hard work initially especially when it came to them listening at all in the first weeks.

Overall, thumbs up.

June 28, 2009 Posted by | blogging, Laptops 4 Learning, New Technologies New Stories, Wikis | , , , , | 2 Comments

Laptops 4 Learning Project – Progress

Time has flown away as it always does in Term 2, with marking, reports, etc. Progress has been made, however, on the resources I am creating for the L4L project.  I guess here is also as good a place as any to mention that the L4L project is now known as part of the Digital Education Revolution (DER) and the L4L badge will slowly disappear.

I have created seven learning activities in addition to a unit of work at this stage. The seven learning activities are very briefly explained as follows:

1. Annotated Bibliography – Students create an annotated bibliography to capture resources for a variety of purposes. Students can record their bibliography using a social bookmarking site such as Delicious. Purposes can include:

  • Exploring a theme or area of study
  • Finding appropriations of a particular work
  • Tracking and explaining the treatment of a common theme or idea in a range of texts
  • Identifying and describing similarities and differences between and among texts.

2. Flow Charts – Students use the Smart Art function of Microsoft Word 2007 to create flow charts for character relationships, event sequencing, etc. Students can create flowcharts based on existing texts they have read or as preparation for a story they are writing themselves.

3. Performance Poetry – Students experiment with different ways of speaking a poem and analyse the effect this has on the meaning for the responder.  Students record their experiments using Audacity or a webcam. Students can experiment in a number of ways:

  • changing the emphasis on particular words
  • reading with different emotional tones: angry, sad, joyful, etc
  • reading at different speeds or in a variety of rhythms
  • emphasising pauses and exaggerating tones and sound devices

 Students then listen or watch their performance on their laptop and analyse the effect the changes have on the meaning being shaped for the responder.  Students can then record their analysis in writing on Word, as a recorded audio file or as a video diary and email to the teacher.

4. Show Not Tell – Students identify parts of a narrative text that ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’ about the character, setting, background, plot, etc. Students use the Microsoft Word program to highlight these parts and then write their own paragraphs that explore the art of ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’.

5. Student Podcasting – Students create a session from a radio show and record it as a podcast. Students use the session to interview the author and/or characters from a novel. They must incorporate appropriate music and/or sound effects and conduct the interview in a manner appropriate to purpose, audience and context.

6. Video Diaries – students use the webcam built in to their laptops to create a video diary (like those seen in various reality television shows). Regular entries are recorded in the diary over a period of time. Students make diary entries in response to stimulus questions provided by the teacher. Teachers should decide the minimum and maximum length of the diary entries (for example 1 – 3 minutes), how many diary entries are required for the series to be completed (for example, 3 – 5) and what content they are expecting from the diary entries. Suggestions for content:

  • students use the video diary as a journal to record their growing understanding of an Area of Study concept
  • Students record video entries that answer a stimulus question set by the teacher, exploring their personal response to a text and how it reflects their own context, the values expressed and their own values, and the relationship of the content and ideas of the text to the world beyond the text.
  • students explore the text from different reading positions, with a diary entry for each position.
  • students explore similarities and differences in texts, using the diary entries to investigate and create connections between texts.

7. Video diaries as character – same as previous with different suggestions for content:

  • Students simply speak as though they are the character at various points in the novel or play. The points can be designated by the teacher or left up to the student to choose.
  • students record video entries that answer a stimulus question set by the teacher, answering as the character.
  • a single diary entry can be made from the character’s perspective at the end of the novel or play, an extended response that could incorporate the ‘next chapter/scene’ or be a ‘summary’ of the feelings the character has experienced durin the course of the novel or play.

I will do another post discussing the unit of work, and how that unit is going teaching it to my Year 10 English class.

The first drafts of the learning activities have been submitted and I am currently working on polishing after feedback. The complete learning activities and units of work will be available online on the Curriculum Support website in Term 3.  Will post the link on the blog when all the units and learning activities are published. In the meantime, take any ideas you wish!


June 16, 2009 Posted by | Laptops 4 Learning | | 3 Comments