Melissa Giddins

Exploring technology and literacy in education.

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

New tool: Prezi.Com

A success story for you.

I wanted to give my students an opportunity to use their laptops to synthesise information from a brainstorm and wanted to get them to learn a new skill for something relatively easy so that we could utilise the tool for something more difficult later. I chose Prezi as the tool that we would learn. Prezi.Com creates a presentation that is very different to the linear nature of PowerPoint and gives students the opportunity to think more about visual techniques including reading paths and hierarchies of importance.

The lesson went very well and being such a positive experience, I decided that it was a tool that was going on my list of good ideas and useful tools. Here is the process we followed:

  1. I created a Prezi (prior to the lesson) and showed it to the students so that they had a demonstration of a possible end product.
  2. On the Interactive White Board (IWB) we went to the Prezi.Com website and I showed the students the first two YouTube videos available under the Learn tab on the website.
  3. Students then signed up and created an account of their own and began creating Prezis – it took only a few minutes to sign up.
  4. Students worked on their prezis and once satisfied with the finished product, gave the link to me and it was posted on our Moodle page so that everyone could look at each other’s work.

Here are two examples of the students’ finished products:

Some tips for the new user:

  1. Students will have to sign up and create an account before they can use it. The good news is that there is no requirement to activate the account through the email address prior to being able to use Prezi, which means they create their account and can then start creating a Prezi immediately, and they don’t need to worry about using their DET email account or being able to access their email at school.
  2. The first two YouTube videos under the Learn tab on the website are very useful to show to the class. The first one you may even want to show twice, depending on the age of the class and their overall “savvy” factor.
  3. When they begin to create their first prezi, the first YouTube video begins to play and it needs to be closed (with the big red X in the top right corner of the video) before students can start creating their prezi. On the DERNSW laptops getting to that big red X can be difficult.  You will need to close two or three of the toolbars at the top – look for a little “x” on the far left of the toolbar and click on it, then when the dialogue box comes up, click on”Disable”. That may be enough for some laptops, but for others I had to autohide the toolbar at the bottom of the screen as well in order to see the X so that we could close the video and students could start working on their prezi. To autohide the toolbar at the bottom of the screen, right click on the toolbar, choose Properties and from the options tick Autohide.
  4. Getting the URL from the students for their prezi was a little tricky as they were wanting to copy and paste the URL from the top of the page. This is the WRONG one! The student should go into My Account and click on their presentation. On the bottom right hand side of the dialogue box that opens there is a URL written there with the words COPY LINK written next to it. If you click on the copy link button it acts like you have highlighted the link and clicked copy, now you can choose paste in either an email, onto a word page, etc and the link will be pasted there. I had students paste the link into Edmodo and I copied it into our Moodle page from there.

Following my experience I would also make the following recommendations:

  1. Take the time to either create a model or find one on Prezi.Com to show the students. It helps them to understand what it can do and what you want.
  2. Allow plenty of time to show the YouTube videos, have them sign up, deal with any difficulties such as the toolbars needing to be closed, etc before they actually start creating the prezi. I allowed two lessons in total (50 minutes each lesson) and there were still some students that didn’t quite finish and will be completing them for homework across this week. I have a fairly savvy class and the prezi was only simple that they were required to make, so you may need to allow more time than this.

Prezi.Com was a success with my Year 10 English class and I shall be using it again with other classes I am sure.

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Digital Education Revolution (DER), Laptops 4 Learning, Web 2.0 tools | , , | Leave a comment

Learning from Failure

I had a reminder again today about how important it is to be flexible as a teacher. I would like to add to that and mention how important it is to be flexible when planning to use technology in your lessons. Let me tell you a tale.

As you can see from my previous post, I had an idea and sought advice as to how to implement my idea. It was simple.

The Idea:

My class would collaborate, discussing themes from a text they had just studied (Twelfth Night), looking at key ideas and which of these could be seen as Universal Themes, relevant to a modern audience, brainstorming to create an entire list to work with.  They would then look at the idea of appropriation, defining the term, and exploring how they could utilise the universal themes to create an appropriation of Twelfth Night.

The Plan:

The brainstorming process would take place digitally, to save time. Usually I would have everyone grab eight or so different textas and write all over the whiteboard with the students then copying down the results in their books afterwards. Considering this is a Year 10 class and they all have DER laptops I decided to find a way to brainstorm and record results digitally, saving time and utilising their laptops.

First idea was to use Google Docs – blocked. Wallwisher – blocked, but you can have it unblocked for a specific closed version but I did not have time to set that up. I looked at a few other programs and then found one called PrimaryPad through a blog called Free Technology for Teachers. Primary Pad did exactly what I wanted and it wasn’t blocked. I set one up, tested it, everything worked, so I put the link for our PrimaryPad discussion onto our Moodle page ready for the students. Then, knowing how things sometimes don’t go as planned, I created a wiki on our Moodle as a backup in case the Primary Pad thingy didn’t work, and placed that on their moodle page too.

Next step in the plan was to have students create a presentation with Prezi.Com to synthesise their ideas. I created a quick prezi myself as a demonstration and then placed the link for the demonstration and on their moodle page.

The Reality:

One student didn’t have her laptop as it was in for repair and there were none left in the pool to replace it, one student’s laptop just would NOT connect to the internet, one student’s trackpad/mouse wouldn’t work. Well, only 3 not working right out of 28 ain’t bad.

Primary Pad kept disconnecting from their server with a “server synchronisation” error. After five minutes or so of countless attempts by all in the class, I figured this was a compatibility issue with the DET server and all its numerous layers of permissions. So we went to Plan B. We opened the moodle wiki, only to discover that only one person could have the edit page function open at a time. Kind of defeats the purpose of a wiki in my mind and definitely did not meet our needs, but nothing I could do about it at the time. Plan C – we got textas and brainstormed on the whiteboard and then the students copied the information into their OneNote notebooks. They have a section for Appropriation in their OneNote notebooks for English so I told them to just use that – please take note that thinking on one’s feet does not always allow one to be creative (they had mindmapping software on their laptop for goodness’ sake and I didn’t get them to use it!).

Part two went well! My prezi loaded and played for them. I played the YouTube demonstration/instruction videos to the class, they went to the site, signed up and started creating! I did have to go around to at least half the class and close tool bars and autohide tool bars in order for students to be able to see the X at the top right hand of the movie that kept trying to play over top of their first prezi. Once we had taken care of that though, we were all systems go.

Lessons learned:

  1. Just because the DET internet filter says that something is “allow” doesn’t mean it will work. Check it first. At school.
  2. Your definition of a wiki and someone else’s definition of a wiki may not be the same thing. Also known as “one wiki is not always the same as another”. Now I couldn’t really check this one by myself because it needed more than one person logged in to check it, but I could have checked it utilising another member of staff, had I done this preparation at school and not at home. So, check it first and start preparation earlier.
  3. Have a backup plan for your backup plan.

In future:

  • I am going to try to create a shared OneNote page for a “brainstorm and record” activity. As you can’t set one up from a DER laptop, this means setting one up from the staffroom ahead of time, ready for the class to use.
  • I would also like to have a go with Wallwisher so will try setting one of those up in advance and having it unblocked.
  • The students have Freemind on their laptops so I could get them to create a mindmap rather than just typing results of verbal brainstorm into OneNote.

On the bright side, the students REALLY enjoyed using and overwhelmingly said it was more interesting than using PowerPoint, was fun to use, made them think about more elements of visual literacy than using PowerPoint and they learned how to use it quickly and with little fuss or teacher instruction required.

Moral to the story? Learn from everything, failure included, and above all – be flexible!

May 17, 2010 Posted by | Digital Education Revolution (DER), Laptops 4 Learning, Moodle | , , , | 7 Comments

Rolled out and rolling on

Our rollout in 2009 of the DER laptops was successful. Our rollout for the Year 9 laptops in 2010 is going to run on a similar model, because it was so successful.

The model we used that worked is as follows:

Step 1: Prior to the arrival of the laptops in the school, we do the following:

  • Send an email to all Year 9 students. Year 9 students were then sent to the library one class at a time, logged into their DET portal and sent a reply email. We then had a list of students that knew their DET portal login and were ready for laptop allocation. Those who could not access their email and respond were immediately sent to the TSO (located in the library) and had their log on glitches fixed on the spot.  By the end of two weeks, every student in Year 9 was ready for laptop allocation. We have just done this for the second time across the last two weeks in preparation for the second rollout. This step has proved efficient, productive and very worthwhile.  In discussions with our TSO he mentioned that one of the biggest problems other schools have encountered in their rollout is students not knowing their DET log in and holding up the allocation process. 
  • Staff help with the software on the laptops. We decided that OneNote would be utilised across the school as a way in to using technology in the classrooms on a regular basis, particularly as we only got wireless a few weeks ago and so we were looking for a solution that would work offline. OneNote was the answer. Staff training on OneNote took place several times across Terms 3 and 4 in 2009. Templates were created for each KLA as a starting point for OneNote.

Step 2: The obligatory Parent Information Evening. Laptop User Charters were sent out ahead of time and collected on the night. Parents were informed about specs, usage, schedule and cyberbullying.

Step 3: Student information sessions. We put all of Year 9 in a room one period per day for 3 days. We taught the following:

  • Session 1:Windows 7 orientation, file naming protocols, saving in MyLocker
  • Session 2: Cyberbullying
  • Session 3: Introduction to OneNote.

Step 4: Students receive laptops.

Step 5: All KLAs get students to create their OneNote template in the first lesson they have with laptops in the classroom.

The next lot of laptops arrive in the school in Week 3 next term.  We are on track, things are running smoothly. Rolling on!

March 31, 2010 Posted by | Digital Education Revolution (DER), Laptops 4 Learning | , , , | Leave a comment

Ready or Not…Here the laptops come…

I have been so busy doing the Digital Education Revolution lately that there has been precious little time to communicate about it! I have not blogged in more than a month, nor have I even had time to participate in Twitter. On the bright side, the holidays are coming and with them two whole weeks of thinking, planning and communicating time.

As it has been a while since my last blog post, this post is intended as a catch-up as to what I have been up to and hopefully those experiences may help others in the NSWDER.

The reality for most teachers is that the NSWDER has had the effect of a bulldozer, sweeping through existing plans, programs and time. There has been some excitement amongst the teachers at my school but also some resentment, anger and frustration at the sudden expectations with little time to prepare and not all teachers having access to the software the students will have on their laptops. A lot of teachers felt that without having one of the laptops themselves they were very hampered in their ability to prepare for teaching classes with laptops.

We started the process with a whole staff meeting where we asked four questions in faculty groupings: What are your concerns with laptops in classrooms? What are your ideas for overcoming these issues? What do you see as the benefits of laptops in classrooms? How can we prepare for the arrival of the laptops?  After collating the results of the discussions, a few things became apparent so we moved quickly to implement strategies to address these needs.  Firstly, there was a lack of information and understanding amongst the staff about the policies and procedures concerning the laptops, both at DET and school level. Secondly, there were lots of questions about the laptops themselves.

Accordingly, we planned an extended staff meeting where we ran two sessions: the first was an information session where we outlined the policies and procedures and the second was a session about the laptops: what software was on them, what they could and couldn’t do and ideas for using OneNote as the student workbook in all subjects.  Following these sessions we offered a HOT (Hands On Training) Afternoon which I ran from 4pm – 6pm.

The HOT afternoon spent the first hour teaching the basics of OneNote and then an hour introducing some ideas for what students can do with some of the other software.  In the second hour we looked at how to give feedback on work electronically in Word 2007 using the Review tools, creating digital portfolios in Adobe Acrobat Pro and creating quizzes in Adobe Captivate. The focus of the afternoon was clearly on what students could do with their software rather than on teachers creating resources for students, as that can be problematic in terms of the distribution of that resource for us at the moment.

Informal feedback from the afternoon has been positive, with teachers now understanding more about the roll out, the policies, the laptops and more importantly, now having some further ideas for teaching with laptops in the classroom. The results from the evaluation sheet will be interesting to receive a bigger picture as to the success of the afternoon. On a personal note, it was so exciting to see over 50 teachers enthusiastic and positive while learning new skills and brimming with new ideas and knowledge. I am proud to be associated with such incredible people who can put aside their feelings and embrace learning in such a positive manner. It was awesome and amazing.

What next? Our student laptop delivery is scheduled in Week 2 of next term. We have planned information sessions each day for the Year 9 students in the first week of term. The sessions will cover: school policies and procedures, cyberbullying, orientation to the laptop, introduction to OneNote and file naming protocols, folders, storage, etc. I am thinking about offering more HOT afternoons for staff but on a smaller scale – the sessions will run after school for an hour once a week during Term 4. They will be practical sessions allowing teachers to learn software and then have time to play with it and come up with ideas for teaching with it. The third ‘next step’ is looking at ensuring that quality teaching/good pedagogy is going on in classrooms with laptops.

Right now, as a Head Teacher, I am continuing to ask the questions:  what can I do to support and encourage my staff in their preparations? How do I make sure my faculty are ready for the first ten days of laptops in the classroom?  From there, I am thinking about reviewing our programs to more explicitly incorporate the laptop use in Years 9 and 10 in 2010 so that there are ideas and guidelines built into the programs. Our faculty will spend some time exploring that in those last two Staff Development Days this year.

I would love to hear about what other schools are doing (have done) in their preparations for the imminent arrival of student laptops in Year 9 classrooms.

September 29, 2009 Posted by | Digital Education Revolution (DER), Laptops 4 Learning | , , | 10 Comments

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 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: 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: and Kelli McGraw:

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 to get started.  I have created a ning for English teachers across NSW to discuss the utilisation of laptops in classrooms: 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: 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

DERNSW – Resources now available!

After an intense term of work, the resources we have been creating as part of the DER NSW project are now online at the Curriculum Support website and available for all to use. There are great resources there for all KLAs and I encourage everyone to go and check them out:

Even if you only use them as a starting point, or a stimulus for other ideas, you will find the resources useful. These resources specifically address teaching and learning with laptops in the classroom and I am sure that the Curriculum Support folks will continue to build the resources located there as time goes on.

On a personal note: Prue Greene, Stephen Plummer and Michael Murray did a fantastic job editing and polishing our draft efforts into the gorgeous lesson ideas that you see on the website. I wanted to thank them and acknowledge them publicly: job extremely well done!

July 27, 2009 Posted by | Digital Education Revolution (DER), Laptops 4 Learning | , , | Leave a comment

DERNSW – Progress Update on the Project

We are almost at the end of the project now that has had us designing learning activities and resources for our various KLAs.  Needless to say, I have been designing activities for English. A previous post detailed the first seven lesson activities that I created: and now this post will detail the latest activities I have created (and they will possibly be the last for this project).

1. Reflective Journals:  Students use Word to reflect on their learning, in a series of reflective journal entries. The journal entries are made in relation to stimulus provided by the teacher, such as a question for the day, a thinking tool such as a PMI, or a standard response about what the student has learned that day. In order to keep the journal entries thoughtful, critical, detailed and thorough, students should be encouraged to share their journal entries with the class on a regular basis. This can be done through a blog or using a program like OneNote. Alternatives to written reflective journals include recorded audio files and video diaries.

2. Reading Perspectives: Students respond to a set text from varying reading perspectives, including their own, and explore the impact of context, dominant and resistant readings, and varying the perspective through which they view the text. Students use OneNote to hold all the information pertaining to their exploration of the text from various perspectives.

3. Video Glossary: Students use their webcam to record definitions of words including examples and elaborations. Students can use words from a glossary of English terms to be learned, such as poetry techniques, HSC glossary, etc. Videos can then be uploaded to a website such as Wordia for students to use for study purposes or placed into a OneNote notebook for further individual reference.

4. Visual Literacy: Students choose an image, either online or from the clipart gallery, that appeals to them for whatever reason. Students then analyse the image and explore why it was appealing to them personally, recording their analysis in writing or audio commentary, using OneNote.

5. Visual Adaptation: Students choose an image either from the internet, a clip art gallery or a range of images chosen by the teacher. Students analyse the image, using the terminology of visual literacy, and explore their own personal response to the image. Students then manipulate the image using Adobe Photoshop and then re-analyse the image and discuss what effect their manipulation had on their response to the image. Students can collate all their images and analyses in OneNote.

6. Visual Stimulus: Students choose an image, either online or from the clipart gallery, that appeals to them for whatever reason. Alternatively, the teacher provides a single image, or range of images, for the class. The image is then used as stimulus for a piece of creative writing which is completed using Word or OneNote, or presented using PowerPoint or in movie form using Adobe Premier.

Now it will be immediately apparent that I am not reinventing the wheel, merely translating what a lot of us already do into a more digital environment.  I have tried to make all the activities in this lot be “offline” activities as it will be quite some time before all our classrooms have their wireless access points, from my understanding of the technical difficulties involved in schools not having spare fibre optic pairs (or some such thing).

All learning activities with full details including syllabus outcomes, sequential lesson steps, resources and extension ideas will be published on the Curriculum Support website in Term 3.

July 3, 2009 Posted by | Digital Education Revolution (DER), Laptops 4 Learning | , | 1 Comment