Melissa Giddins

Exploring technology and literacy in education.

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

Remembering the beginning

There is no doubt that no matter how well you think you have taught something, people will be at different points in their learning and understanding. This is true for both students and teachers. A group of teachers can sit through the same professional development and walk out with different information and ideas. The video below was shown to our executive group when we were talking about leadership, to remind us that our staff are sometimes several steps behind where we think they are, and patience is not only a virtue, but required. I showed this to my faculty in our faculty meeting today and while it served its purpose as a little light relief, the point was to remind my staff that not only can we feel like this (and do this) but so too do our students. Not every student in the classroom is digitally competent, and we the teacher become the helpdesk.

May 18, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

DER – Sharing the load

After having a few conversations with various people, including Kelli McGraw, the need for one central place for English teachers to share ideas became fairly apparent. I also feel that the need is immediate. Therefore, I have taken the step of setting up a Ning for English teachers to share their ideas, successes and resources for teaching with laptops in an English classroom.  Access to the Ning requires an invitation: please send an email to my DET email address (search my name (Melissa Giddins) on DET email and you will find it) and let me know what school you are from (just for statistical purposes) and I will send you out an invite within 24 hours.

I think it is really important that we do not ‘reinvent the wheel’ in every school, but that we share ideas and benefit from the knowledge that is already out there, and the new knowledge that we will be creating in our classrooms everyday. You may never have joined a social network before, you may not even have a clue what I am talking about – I encourage you to be brave, send me an email and join the network. We will learn, share and laugh together as we embark on this new adventure.

What is a Ning? http://www.ning.com is a social networking site where you sign up and create a social network.  Here is a video from YouTube, the first 1.5 minutes explains what Ning is all about, then the rest is a quick tutorial. Watch the first minute if you are short on time, to understand the concept.

July 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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: http://www.delicious.com/melissagiddins.

1. Teacher Tube: A great resource for videos posted by teachers and students is Teacher Tube: http://www.teachertube.com – 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. http://www.freerice.com Students love it, and it has the ability to change the subject to languages, art, geography, mathematics, etc so it allows variety.

3. InPics: http://inpics.net 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: http://www.edublogs.org 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: http://www.celtx.com – 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: http://audacity.sourceforge.net – 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: http://www.improveverywhere.com – 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: http://www.cueprompter.com – 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: http://www.petelevin.com/shakespeare.htm – a fun site that allows you to create your own Shakesperean insults.

10. Macbeth Rap Video: http://www.flocabulary.com/macbeth.html – fantastic rap video telling the story of Macbeth.

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

Teaching Skills for the 21st Century

I was directed to this blog: http://www.tommarch.com/ozblog/skills-checklist/ through a tweet I received today and I am SO impressed by it that I immediately decided to add the link to my blog. The post on the blog: Bright Ideas for Education by Tom March, is a checklist of teaching skills for the 21st Century classroom and is very comprehensive.  I suggest that all teachers go to this site and complete the checklist for themselves, leaving a comment on the site.  I am going to reproduce this checklist for my faculty as it is a great resource for not only tracking current skill levels but also for providing a guide as to what to learn next.

I will report further on my faculty’s reaction to the checklist, and my own results when tracked against the list.

As part of the comments for the above blog post Tom March directed me to other work done in this area: http://henricostaffdev.org/wiki/index.php?title=TIPC – this is the Teaching Innovation Progression Chart and is also a fascinating tool for tracking and guiding a professional learning journey.

April 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Teachers and Technology

The big question seems to be: how do we get teachers using technology in the classroom? My answer: get them using technology fullstop. I think that teachers who are not users of technology at home or in their workplace, not only lack the confidence to begin in front of a teenage audience (most of whom are more proficient with technology than the teacher) but also lack the ability to imagine ways to use it. Using different pieces of technology on a regular basis allows your mind to soar beyond the mechanics of it and into that creative and innovative place where fun, deep learning happens.

I am incensed that the government is giving laptops to students before teachers – how are the teachers supposed to build proficiency and get creative with how to use laptops in the classroom if they can’t get access to a laptop or computer of their own?

My brilliant brainwave for how to encourage the use of blogs and wikis in the classroom is deceptively simple: I have created a wiki for the programs for my faculty.  This will allow us to work collaboratively, will allow the teachers to get used to using a wiki as part of their working world, and give them space to imagine how to use it in the classroom while receiving resources and instruction. This blog is also part of the plan, as I hope to encourage my faculty to commence writing their own blogs, or at the very least, commenting on mine.

So now I have one week left of holidays to put my plan into action – I need to flesh out the wiki and have it ready for fun-filled wiki adventuring on our Staff Development Day.

More thoughts on teachers and technology – encourage them to join twitter, communicate by email, start a blog of their own and go searching through the videos on teacher tube (http://www.teachertube.com). None of these things are solely about using technology in the classroom – but all of them lead there.

P.S. If you’re wondering what the heck a wiki is, then go to http://www.teachertube.com and type wiki into the search bar. There you will find some fantastic videos that will explain quite simply what a wiki is all about, as well as some examples of wikis at use in the classroom. As a first look, I recommend two videos: one called ‘What is a PBWiki?’ and “Wikis in Plain English’. (I would embed them in this post if I could make the darn thing work! lol)

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 3 Comments

Searching WordPress for Twitter in the Classroom

I was reading a post at the wordpress blog about how to search on wordpress – very useful information! They have updated their search engine so that when you search on wordpress you get the very latest posts on that topic as the first listed on the search results. Wanting to test this fabulous idea, I typed “twitter in the classroom” into the search engine, and lo and behold, my post was at the top of the search results! While there however, I found some great other posts on using Twitter in the classroom:

http://carfamily.wordpress.com/2009/03/22/twitter-in-the-classroom/

http://4rxt.wordpress.com/2009/04/11/information-on-using-twitter-in-education-and-business/

http://castingoutnines.wordpress.com/2008/03/01/twitter-in-the-classroom/

The amount of information that is at your fingertips through these searches is truly amazing. You need never reinvent the wheel or try anything alone ever again! Just search it on wordpress, twitter and google and you will find yourself flooded with information (in all likelihood, way too much).  Finding the time to do the research about what others have done before you is the real trick!

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Website Search

I am constantly finding new websites that are useful – whether that be useful in the classroom, for my own professional development, resources for teaching or just plain entertaining. To keep track of them I use del.icio.us – so now you too can see the sites that I am finding. Go to: http://www.delicious.com/melissagiddins. I am going to try to keep it updated regularly, so if you check back occasionally you should see growth with new sites for you to check out for yourself.

April 19, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

A beginning

‘The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.  In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Rhannon Hills.  The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.’ – Robert Jordan, ‘Crossroads of Twilight’.

That quotation is at the start of every book in The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, though the wind begins in a different place each time, and I love the repetition of the paragraph, emphasising the cyclic nature of time. It makes beginnings less daunting somehow, by thinking they are just picking up at some point in a cycle rather than being the intrepid start of something.

It is the school holidays at the end of Term 1, and I am using this time to begin again at blogging. I tried this once before but got lost in self-consciousness and a veritable drought of thought. This new beginning, on a new blog, will hopefully be useful not only as a place to order my own thoughts, but perhaps those who read this blog may be able to learn from my experiences and experiments.  Either way, it gives me a chance to talk about my journey, the good, bad and the ugly, without boring to death those who are simply not interested!

So cheers! Here’s to a beginning.

April 19, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment