Melissa Giddins

Exploring technology and literacy in education.

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!

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June 6, 2010 Posted by | Digital Education Revolution (DER), Laptops 4 Learning, PLN, Web 2.0 tools | , , , | Leave a comment

PLN in Action

I spend a lot of time talking to teachers at the beginning of their journey into the integration of technology and I promote the idea of a PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network) to each and every one of them. As part of this I recommend getting on Twitter and following educators there. On Twitter, there is a constant flow of information and you can partake in more professional development in an hour on Twitter than you could at a full day workshop, both from the accumulation of resources and practical suggestions, and from the philosophical discussions.  Beyond that though is the ability to ask a question and receive suggestions, ideas and alternative resources. To illustrate this for all the newbies out there, let me show you an example of what happened yesterday.

I posted on Twitter that I was going to be using Google Docs with my students for the first time on Monday and that the principal would be watching, did anyone have any suggestions? hints? tips? Firstly, it got Retweeted by @sandynay to reach a wider audience than just the people who follow me:

 sandynay RT @melissagiddins: Going to use Google Docs for the first time with kids on Monday, with principal watching! Any hints? tips?

Then the responses started rolling in:

After receiving these, I put out a message saying that Google Docs was blocked, so maybe I would try wallwisher and did anyone have any tips or suggestions about that? The responses continued to roll in:

I then sent a tweet back explaining that the students would be brainstorming ideas and that normally I would just have the students write all their answers on the whiteboard but then they have to copy it into their books so I was looking for a digital solution to cut down time. The responses continued:

As you can see, this is now a flood of information, suggestions and alternative resources. I then said that I had forgotten how to do a filter check to see if students had access to a website. Two instant responses:

Then I checked out Nota that Pip had suggested, and asked whether I should create a private version rather than a public version.

I felt like I had received plenty of info and suggestions and said thanks to all those who had participated in the conversation. The responses, however, just kept rolling in, long after I had gone offline, and were waiting for me when I returned:

Not bad for a Saturday morning. I had access to numerable suggestions and resources, philosophical advice, past experiences and all of it answered when I needed an answer – on Saturday when I was doing the preparation, not on Monday when maybe I could make phone calls. For the record, here are the statistics:

  • 49 responses in total
  • 5 links to other websites with lists of alternative tools
  • When Google Docs was clearly unavailable the following suggestions were made: wallwisher, Nota, Lino-It, Sticky Notes, Wikis, IWBs, Moodle wikis, bubbl.us, Freemind and Moodle 2 wikis.

Really, people, that is incredible. Why be on Twitter? Why have a PLN? If this doesn’t demonstrate a practical application for both, then I don’t know what will convince you!

May 16, 2010 Posted by | PLN | , | 1 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

Out of the flow

In a small departure from my usual type of post, I am going to add a personal reflection on a recent difficult period in my life. I began 2009 fired up and with much gusto. New school, new city, new opportunities. I grabbed everything with both hands, had many ideas and did all that came my way. By the end of the year I was stressed beyond belief. Burnt out? Quite possibly. I stopped engaging with the world outside of my job as I hunkered down in an effort to survive. I stopped tweeting, stopped blogging, stopped emailing and even stopped calling my friends. I didn’t really know how to describe what was going on for me and every minute on the phone was another minute that I got further behind in my work so it was just easier to isolate myself. In the January 2010 school holidays I made a concerted effort to recover, spending three weeks resting and building up my resilience again, a week reconnecting with all my friends and a week preparing for the new school year. I was excited, energised and enthusiastic about teaching and learning in 2010.

The first week of school was awesome. I felt like my old self again and was really looking forward to the term. That weekend I fell down, put my arms out to break my fall, and broke my elbow. My left arm went into a cast from the knuckles of my fingers to just under my armpit and my right hand and wrist were bandaged up to immobilise them completely. The right hand and wrist were immobilsed for three weeks and it took five or so weeks after that for all the pain to leave that hand, the left arm was in the cast for the rest of the term (10 weeks). The cast came off in the holidays and here and now, five weeks after the cast came off, I can finally type with two hands again. I have physio twice a week, can almost straighten my elbow and can now turn my hand over palm up with only a little pain.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I would like to talk about the impact of it. I did not realise how much I relied on being a two-handed individual to do my life. Never mind all the practical aspects, which were tediously difficult, there were others just as frustrating. Only being able to type with one hand was crippling in every sense of the word. I could only really use a mouse with any degree of proficiency and had to even ask someone to open the lid of my laptop for me as I was not able to open it one-handed. My iPhone came into its own during this time. I typed with one hand but found it so time-consuming that I once again stopped really communicating via text with anyone. Lots of phone calls now but very little interaction with technology. Twitter became frustrating as I would see great things that I wanted to talk about and add to Delicious or email to my staff or blog about and yet it caused me too much physical pain to do so.  As a result, I once again took myself out of the flow.

Now that I am back on deck with two hands that almost work the way they used to, I am discovering that not only does the pace of technology move with unrelenting speed but so too does the Twitter stream.  I am out of touch, on the edge of the flow instead of within it, and I find that my PLN are now talking to other people who don’t even know who I am, nor that I used to be in the flow.

I am uncharacteristically hesitant to jump in, self-conscious about tweeting and feeling that perhaps I no longer have anything relevant to blog about. From this, however, I have GOOD NEWS.

It has reminded me of how it feels to be a newbie ( a noob!), how all those teachers that I am encouraging to join Twitter and to blog, etc must feel as they venture forth into the unknown. It has reminded me of why I started my blog in the first place. It was so that all those teachers new to technology integration had a place to go to find out the basic, starting information.

My experience has led me to a greater sense of purpose in my blogging, a greater understanding of those who deal with physical handicap, hardship and inconveniences on a daily basis, and a better balance in my work and home life. I have learned to take the time to nurture my health, both mental and physical. I have learned that it is ok to say “no”, to sometimes miss out on things and to be out of the flow occasionally.

May 14, 2010 Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | , , | 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