Monthly Archives: August 2008

Reading Victoria

Reading Victoria is a program for adults run by the State Library of Victoria which encourages reading as a creative activity, expands choice and promotes interaction amongst readers. That’s what the website says, and I’m thinking – here are three essential aspects of reading that would work as a point of departure for reading promtion in schools. Creativity, choice and social interaction – all good reasons to get stuck into a book.

One of the offerings is ‘The Bedside Books Club’, a quarterly book club throwing open discussion of ‘the great, the awful, the perpetually unfinished and the can’t-wait-to-start books’. These categories are tantalising – the invitation reads ‘Have you ever wondered what books other people have on their bedside table?’ Can anyone think of other categories? I think the quarterly get-togethers, where everyone brings a book they’d like to suggest in light of the topic, would work well with teachers or even parents, and could be a way of fostering a reading culture within the school. Featured in the meetings are such delights as an author talk (Alex Miller – Journey to the Stone Country, 2003 Miles Franklin Award winner); a presentation by Mark Rubbo, Managing Director of Readings, about ‘What’s Hot in the Shop’; and guest reader, Genevieve Tucker, author of the blog, reeling and writhing. This sounds great, and we can still all go to it on Tuesday 14 October, 6-7.30pm at Mr Tulk cafe, State Library of Victoria. Wouldn’t mind going there myself.

The 2007 Summer Read is a compilation of readers’ top 5 books out of a shortlist of 20 recently published Victorian books. Discussion and voting is over, but the book information is still up. We really do live in a literature-rich state, when you consider the number of novels, short stories and non-fiction titles which are set in Victoria or are by Victorian authors. What a great promotion and idea to take away for school reading programs.

The Summer Reading blog treats readers to blogging by shortlisted Victorian authors. I intend to set aside time for this! It’s a treat being privy to the thoughts of such interesting people on a variety of topics and literature. Recent bloggers include Dorothy Porter, Paul Mitchell, who talks about how he became a writer. Craig Sherborne, author of Hoi Polloi, raises an interesting point about blogs: ‘They are quasi diaries and memoirs that may one day, soon enough given their popularity and conversational nature, replace books as the means for publishing autobiographical narrative; and their readers can be in constant communication with each other.’ There are others but I haven’t scrolled down any further yet. The blog also features reviews and opinions posted by the community of readers.

Celebrity Victorian readers also share their thoughts on their favourite books. Find out who reads in the bath, who reads in the Botanical Gardens, and who reads in their mother’s apricot tree. Where do you read?

We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to take part in Reading Victoria, and I think that some of these ideas would work well in promoting a reading culture in our schools.

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Morphing montages

Cruising through one of my favourite blogs, the ABC’s Articulate, I came across a clever film by US video artist, Philip Scott Johnson, who creates morphing montages. How long did it take to make this film of 500 years of women in art?

If you’re thinking of researching all the paintings used in the video, save yourself the trouble, someone else has already accomplished that. You can even link to where those artworks live. Phillip’s video has been nominated as ‘Most Creative Video; 2007 YouTube Awards’! An example of creative technology, in my opinion. somehow, after watching the video, it’s even more interesting to look up the background of each artwork. I tried to guess them; it’s fun.

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21st century learning

‘Our students are changing … but schools are not.’
This is a leitmotif of a professional development program, Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) run by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson, which will run in Australia soon, and in which our school has the privilege of participating.

As stated on the PLP website, ‘Powerful Learning Practice offers a unique opportunity for educators to participate in a long-term, job-embedded professional development program that immerses them in 21st Century learning environments. The PLP model is currently enabling hundreds of educators around the country to experience the transformative potential of social Web tools to build global learning communities and re-envision their own personal learning practice’.

As a result of our participation in the Web2.0 program through School Library Association of Victoria, we were invited by Jenny Luca, who is organising the Australian contingent of the 100 educator-strong global cohort , to join the 7 or 8 Australian teams of 5 educators per school. We almost jumped for joy, but remembered our respectable standing and did some mental leaps instead. After all, how long had we been passionate about transformative learning environments, recognising the potential of emerging web technologies in engaging students and creating global learning communities? And how difficult it is to create a voice that is heard above the clatter of the old school machine? How helpless and ineffective we often feel, like door-to-door evangelists in our own schools, with the door being slammed in our faces, people telling us they have their own god, or that they have no time to listen. At best, we’ve ‘converted’ small, isolate pockets of educators but not had any significant effect on the school community.

Now we have the opportunity to take part in a program based on a highly successful pilot carried out in Alabama and supported by internationally recognised practitioners of 21st century learning technologies. Not only has this given us the opportunity to formulate our thoughts in a proposal to the principal class, but it has also created interest from staff, led to conversations where we have had to explain and justify the cause, and opened up planning for a collaborative team. Suddenly we had something that was worth doing across the school, that was supported both from the top and the bottom. We weren’t isolated any more!

Two of us were able to attend the initial talk by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach at Toorak College this afternoon. I was excited to meet Jenny and Sheryl, and they were as passionate and inspiring as I had expected. Sheryl was amazing – stepping off the plane and straight into the talk, her body clock still at 3am, and engaging the audience with her passion and ideas. I asked her how she managed to deliver an hour-long talk after travelling halfway across the world, and she said that her tiredness was evident in her slower than usual speech, which, for us in Australia, was a comfortable speed to follow.

I thought I’d mention some of the things that stood out for me as I listened to Sheryl’s presentation. Firstly, she emphasised that 21st century learning, although based on technologies, was primarily a human network. These technologies enable global connections and wisdom of the crowd. Sheryl gave the example of Twitter as a means of finding the best information about buying a new car. I suppose it’s an extension of the network of friends and colleagues people turn to when looking for a good car, or finding a good plumber, only the global aspect facilitates expert knowledge more effectively. In a fast-changing world, where the information today will be outdated tomorrow, rather than teach memorisation of content from a single text, we need to teach students how to work collaboratively. As Sheryl said, ‘don’t think computers, think innovation’. Our students need to be able to be productive, self-directed and effective communicators, understanding digital communications, and not be overwhelmed by the fast pace of change in their lives. It’s not about the tools, the technology, but about learning.

Sheryl challenged us about the relevance of school education, and spoke about the low percentage of students who thought that what they had learned at school would be relevant to their future lives. She spoke about the learning that takes place outside of school within the networking communities of young people. We saw Darren Draper’s film that asked educators if they had been paying attention to students in their classes, if they had been watching them or listening to them, and challenged educators to use the technologies that these students loved in order to teach and engage them.

What inspired me, towards the end of the talk, was Sheryl’s prediction that members of the PLP cohort would eventually have the courage to be bold and challenge the status quo. How true, that, in order to inspire change, we have to model it. As Sheryl said, ‘you can’t give away what you do not own’. I’m ready to share what I’ve learned. I’m not learning to keep. It isn’t much, and so I’m also ready to keep learning. We need to keep up with the pace of change. We hope to help diminish the digital divide – between those who know how to collaborate digitally, as the world shrinks through global connections, and those who don’t. Our job is to prepare students to be responsible, global citizens. We need a change in pedagogy, playing to students’ strengths instead of their weaknesses (ie. what they don’t know, what they’re not good at). We need to cater for different learning styles. We must become 21st century educators. These are the main ideas from Sheryl’s deep-reaching talk today.

What I’d like to say to teachers is what I read on Darren Draper’s excellent blog, when he talked about Kevin Honeycutt and one of his ‘favorite quotes regarding teachers and our relationship to our students: “We’ve got to be willing to play where they play… even if we don’t feel comfortable.” ‘

I’m looking forward to an enriching, collaborative, global PLP experience.

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Is school bad for kids?

Further to my recent post about open assessment tasks and true learning, you may want to have a look at Clay Burell’s posts on his blog Beyond School. I suppose I’m late to discover Clay but I figure others will be able to share my new discovery. Here’s what he says in his post entitled ‘Beyond school’ : on the death of genius for the sake of college’ (he’s talking about young people’s time being taken over by ‘education’:
‘I mean the ones who are so over-scheduled with schoolwork, homework, SAT test-prep cram schools, and all the other madness that keeps them focused on memorizing the data and pounding out the grunt-work, one assignment and one GPA-increment at a time, year in and year out – from what, grade 9? Or is that too late to begin worrying these days? – that they rarely have time to pull back and reflect on anything at all’.

I can’t help thinking back to my primary school years; for some reason memories of those days keep coming back as a kind of lost paradise, and what stands out is the time spent in idleness. And during that idleness, whether it be walking home from school in the slowest way possible, or sitting in a tree, creating a cubby house – a long-lost sense of freedom full of possibilities, ideas and dreams is evoked. So much time to reflect, time that is taken up now as an adult with adult responsibilities, and sadly, for many young children, this is also the case. By the time they’re in secondary school, the freedom is gone, the dreams taken over by instruction, the self-initiated learning through curiosity replaced by delivery of prescribed content during the school day, and fulfilment of prescribed homework tasks at home.

We would do well to remember that our students were awake to the wonders of the world as very young children – not knowledgeable wondering, but eager to experience, keen to ask questions. But do we, as teachers, ask young people what they’re interested in, or do we make their learning relevant to their world? Do we give them time to reflect? Is reflection valued?

Clay Burell, some time ago (not sure when), set up Students 2.0 to give young people a voice. In the ‘About’ section of the blog, he talks about the past paradigm of schools being effective for the times, but not so any more:

‘For decades, students have been stuck in classrooms, behind desks, being told how and what to learn… However, we have now entered a new age: an age where thinking is more important than knowing, where thoughts out-do the facts. Borders are melting away; project teams collaborate across the globe and intelligence is being continually redefined. The world’s information is at our fingertips and anybody can publish their thoughts for virtually no cost… Everywhere, we see changes: with how business operates, how people interact and how success is accomplished. There is unfortunately one place that remains unchanged, the place that could benefit most from the changes we see today… the classroom.’ He then explains the purpose of the blog: ‘This blog is an attempt to give students a voice in where the future of education is headed.’

I looked up some of the individual blogs of the students involved; it’s great to read what they have to say, their ideas, etc. Here are some of them:
Two penguins and a typewriter
Love and logic
The bass player’s blog
Betaphor

Newly ancient
(archived)

Another thing I’d like to get off my chest:
if we as educators are working towards integrating Web 2.0 tools in order to engage students and create authentic learning, then we drop all that at year 11 because we have to focus on preparing students to regurgitate prescribed curriculum content so that they can get the highest scores and get into university, etc. then it’s crazy. Surely we need a bigger change. Surely this is a mindset change. Otherwise, we’re doing a little Web 2.0 here and there, then we say, hang on, we just have to go back for a bit; this is really important. Just doesn’t make sense.
Does anybody see a bigger change to the whole system in the near future? Is this really going to happen unless we change our assessment criteria?

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Filed under Education, Teacher librarians, Web 2.0

I blog, you blog …

What’s the linguistic deal with new words, such as ‘blog’, ‘wiki’, ‘twitter’?
Do they get conjugated? I blog, you blog, he/she/it blogs, we blog, you (formal/plural) blog, they blog
Future tense: I will twitter
Subjunctive: If I were wikid, I’d ….
Conditional tense: If I twitter hard, I will …
Imperative: Twitter more!
Are they declined? Do they have a gender?
Can we use them as a past participle? I have blogged; she has twittered
as a negative? unblogged; misblog
as an adjective? blogging; twittery
as an adverb? wikilly; twittly
profanity? blognation!
derivatives? blogophobe; wikimania; twitteration
And are they translated into other languages or just ‘borrowed’?

Please add your own Web 2.0 grammar suggestions and we may end up with a dictionary.

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Who says you can’t get a camel through the eye of a needle?

who says you can\'t get a camel through the eye of a needle

who says you can't get a camel through the eye of a needle

I found this amazing microminiature work of art on the blog, Uncertain times.
This is the astonishing work of Nikolai Aldunin.

You can’t help thinking, as one commenter observed, it’s really a big world full of many wonders. I’m wondering, as I trawl through so many examples of creativity, thanks to internet exposure – are these people creative because of their education or despite it?

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Japan Media Arts Festival: Ryukyudisko’s “Nice Day”

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I’m having trouble embedding the video; maybe I’ll figure it out later

I discovered a brilliant film in Frames per second in a post by Emru Townsend. Ryukyudisko’s “Nice day” was a stand-out in the 2007 Japan Media Arts Festival’s Entertainment Division. I can see why. This film begs multiple viewing. This is what Emru Townsend had to say:

‘The entire video is a progression of still photographs starting somewhere in the 1970s, with a couple getting busy under the covers and producing a young boy. We watch him get older, get a job, and then he hits the clubs and meets a girl–and the whole starts going into reverse, as we go back into the girl’s history. However, we find ourselves going back even farther than her parents …’

It’s staggering when you think about the time it would take to orchestrate such a skillful and dynamic progression of images. It makes you think about the power of storytelling, and the possibilities within visual media without speech or text. I think the inclusion of speech or text would have weakened the impact of the film.

I’m thinking of the way students could be inspired to create their own story using a similar stills technique. There is much to discuss here. Movement forwards and backwards in time is an interesting concept in the visual form. The speed of the film is not only a solution to the practical problem of covering more storyline, but creates a perspective that is very large, one you would normally not have, by whizzing through the characters’ lives, not dwelling on one thing more than another. I love how the intertwining of lives occurs, with the movement back and forth in time, almost like the tangling and untangling of string.

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