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

Blogs – Who to Follow?

I have recently been expanding exponentially the number of blogs that I subscribe to and it is all through an interesting “pay it forward” type movement running through some blogs. They are essentially creating a blog post that lists all the blogs they recommend that you follow! This is a great source of new and interesting bloggers to check out, so as a result, I have listed a few of the posts from these bloggers where they recommend other blogs, just to get you started.

Firstly, most of the original blogs that I followed are on my blog roll here on this blog, so feel free to click away on those as a starting point.

Here are links to the blog recommendation posts that I have found thus far:

  1. http://edutechintegration.blogspot.com/2010/05/must-see-monday-pay-it-forward-and-pass.html
  2. http://thenerdyteacher.blogspot.com/2010/05/passing-on-lovetechno.html
  3. http://sharpsav.com/blog/blog-awards.html
  4. http://interactivecontentcorner.com/2010/05/07/follow-friday-these-blogs%E2%80%A6pass-it-on/
  5. http://2sparkley.edublogs.org/2010/05/08/thank-you-follow-friday-award/
  6. http://prettyfreaky.blogspot.com/2010/05/blog-awards-recognizing-fellow-bloggers.html
  7. http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2010/05/what-i-read-first-or-rss.html
  8. http://educationstormfront.wordpress.com/2010/05/17/pass-it-on/
  9. http://ilearntechnology.com/?p=2403
  10. http://carlanderson.blogspot.com/2010/05/pass-it-on.html

These blogs each give another five to ten blogs that they recommend you follow, and while there is a little bit of overlap, overall this will be an excellent start on your journey reading educational and inspirational blog posts from some innovative teachers out there.

Also, clicking back through the links of recommended blogs you may find many more lists and blogs, so follow the trail! And if anyone else spots a blog with this series of links I would love for you to post their link in the comments here.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | blogging, PLN, Social Networking | , , | Leave a comment

RSS Feeds

As a beginner to the integration of technology, I was introduced to the idea of blogging, but it was only when I started really using Twitter that I was exposed to a great variety of educators who were blogging out there in the world. For a long time, I just waited until I received individual blog posts on twitter and then I went to that link and read the post. I found a few blogs that I wanted to read on a regular basis so I bookmarked their sites and checked them every now and then to see if they had written anything new.  A few times, I tried to work out this whole “RSS thing” but didn’t have the time to look into it and work out how to use it.

Silly me.

Let me tell you how to make life simple when it comes to blog posts. Firstly, an RSS feed is simply a notification to you when someone on a blog you follow publishes a new post (I am sure there is a much more technical explanation than that but it will do for the moment!).

Step 1: You need a reader – some place where all those rss feeds can go so you get the notification of a new post. Now Outlook will do it, but I wanted something web-based. I tried Google Reader and have never looked back.

Step 2: I googled “Google reader”, signed up for an account and then all I had to do was copy and paste in the URLs for the blogs I wanted to follow. Easy.

Step 3: Now I just visit Google reader on a daily basis and read the latest posts on my favourite blogs.

Being in love with my iPhone, I also got the Google Reader app and now happily sit reading the latest posts anywhere I happen to be 🙂 Like yesterday at the Car wash cafe!

Don’t do what I did and “worry about that bit later” – start with it, with the very first blog you read, and life will be much simpler.  A small warning though, when you first do this it will add all the current posts that you have not read, which can be a large number, depending on the amount of blogs you subscribe to, and this may feel a bit overwhelming at first. My advice is to take your time to work through them as eventually you will only receive a manageable number per day and if you make a few minutes each day to check the reader and read the latest posts you will discover that it is very easy to keep up.

The other question that I get asked by many teachers just starting their technological journey is about who to follow. One thing that I discovered early on, is that you only need a few blogs to get you started, as inevitably, the blog owners will refer to other blogs that they follow and then the number of blogs you read and follow will expand rapidly.  Who do I recommend to follow? That’s a whole other blog post! For now though, start with the links on my blogroll.

May 14, 2010 Posted by | blogging | , , | 1 Comment

Personal Learning Networks (PLNs)

As part of the Staff Development Day today, kicking off Term 3, I presented a session on Web 2.0 and what that means for education.  The session started by exploring what Web 2.0 is and, in conjunction, what Education 2.0 might be as a theory. After some philosophical discussions about 21st century learners and what that means for us as teachers, we launched into some practical aspects talking about blogs, wikis, edmodo, nings, google docs and delicious. We finished with the idea that a Personal Learning Network (PLN) is no longer just important – it is now becoming imperative.

A PLN is a network of people that you can learn from, share with and together do all those great ‘c’ words: create, collaborate, communicate, contribute. It can be a bit daunting to know where to start to create a PLN for yourself, so I thought I would do a quick post on getting started with a PLN for you.

1. Twitter – much as some people shudder at the very idea of Twitter, it has provided me with valuable resources, web links and information that has led to more personal professional development in six months than I had ever imagined possible. If you want to get started with twitter, go to http://www.twitter.com and then sign up and create an account. Once you have an account do a search for me: melissagiddins and follow me! Darcy Moore has a great page on his blog recommending Australian educators to follow on Twitter: http://darcymoore.net/2009/05/02/australian-educators-to-follow-on-twitter/ and the comments to that post also have further suggestions.

2. Read blogs, and post comments in response. There are a large number of Australian and international educators out there with blogs that can radically increase the amount of information at your fingertips. Two to start you off: Darcy Moore: http://darcymoore.wordpress.com and Kelli McGraw: http://kellimcgraw.wordpress.com

3. Join, or start, a ning. A ning is a social networking site that allows you to form a community. The site offers you the ability to have discussion forums, blogs, upload photos, videos, create profiles and invite others to join the community. Go to http://www.ning.com to get started.  I have created a ning for English teachers across NSW to discuss the utilisation of laptops in classrooms: http://englishwithlaptops.ning.com and you are more than welcome to join the discussion – email me (use the DET address, just search for Melissa Giddins) to request an invitation – it is an ‘invitation only’ site, so you will need an invitation to join us.

4. Join a listserv. A listserv, put simply, is an automatic mailing list server, that broadcasts a message out to all email addresses on the list at once. I am currently part of the Hunter Region listserv, though I am not in the Hunter Region, and am enjoying the professional dialogue amongst the teachers. If you would like to join us, go to: http://eduleader.org/mailman/listinfo/grapevine_eduleader.org. The list is run by Roger Pryor, the School Education Director for the Hunter Region.

5. Email – ask and share! Communication via email and sms allows people to read and respond at their leisure. Searching the DET emails to get in contact with others is also acceptable. Skype, MSN, Facebook, Video conferencing… the list is large and its easy to begin.

The important  message here is not what medium you use, but that you begin the process of creating your own network of people that will inspire you, motivate you and provide you with valuable resources and learning.

July 27, 2009 Posted by | blogging, delicious, Digital Education Revolution (DER), Laptops 4 Learning, PLN, Social Networking | , , , | 5 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

Recommended blogs

It can be confusing when you first enter the world of blogging to find other blogs to look at and read regularly. I would like to make a few recommendations of blogs that I find informative and enjoyable to read.

Darcy Moore’s Blog: http://darcymoore.wordpress.com/

Kelli McGraw’s Blog: http://kellimcgraw.wordpress.com

David Warlick’s Blog: http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/

Ewan McIntosh’s Blog: http://edu.blogs.com/

Tony Ryan’s Blog: http://tonyryan.edublogs.org/

There are many more and no doubt you will find some of your own (and I would love to be referred to those blogs) but this can be a beginning for those wondering where to start.

Happy reading!

April 19, 2009 Posted by | blogging | , | 2 Comments