Monthly Archives: May 2009

John Green at the State Library of Victoria

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Amazed is how I would describe how I felt at today’s author talk. I kept thinking, the response from the audience is more like what you would expect for a rock star or a popular comedian.  John Green, author of YA books such as Looking for Alaska and Paper towns,  bounded into the Village Roadshow Theatrette at the State Library with the energy and enthusiasm that his online followers would know, and was greeted by an impressive and prolonged cheering.

And this is where he is perhaps more like the rock star, or at least the comedian, because John Green doesn’t just write books, he relates to his readers as a person, and he does this through a number of online exploits – a blog and videos, amongst other things.

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As a teacher librarian, I’m always thinking about how to engage students in reading, so I started writing a blog which would hopefully seem less like an academic, teachery (just made up the word – still fresh from John Green’s way of talking) thing, and more like something from popular culture that young people would read. When using the blog to talk to students about what’s worth reading and why, the best thing has been the availability of John Green’s nerdfighters.com videos on his Vlogbrothers YouTube channel. They’re very funny, extremely entertaining, quirky, witty and intelligent. Very popular was the video where he filmed himself carrying out a challenge to climb onto a table. John is incredibly afraid of heights, and Justine Larbalestier had dared him (publicly) to stand up on a table for money that would go to a charity of his choice. He did this at home and filmed himself. Now that’s putting yourself out there. And this is, in my opinion, John’s secret. He puts himself out there – through his blog, ning, videos, etc. He doesn’t present an author persona, he actually extends what he writes about by having discussions with his readers about what he thinks, what he believes, and why he does that. And it helps, of course, to be so dynamic, so genial, and so funny.

As a last-minute thing, I asked my 15 year old son if he wanted to come with me. I was really expecting most of the audience to be made up of librarians, so it was surprising to see that most were adolescents.

Today is food for thought. I’d like to incorporate more of what John Green does on my reading blog. He brings to authors a fresh, personal face, not the usual brief biography readers usually get.

Here’s what he says about what makes a good book. My camera isn’t flash, so you’ll have to excuse the poor quality. John says that a book doesn’t belong to the writer, it belongs to the reader. The reader decides the value. He says it’s a good book, in his opinion, if it makes him think, wonder about, and feel; if it has emotional complexity; if it makes him re-examine the map he’s drawn of his world. Good books, he says, have real and lasting value.

What I think makes John Green a successful writer, is that he doesn’t underestimate his readers’ intelligence and maturity. He says that you can’t write a book that is too smart or complex for teenagers, because they are capable of reading critically and thoughtfully. He gives the example of the popularity of The book thief, by Markus Zusak , which maintains high sales.

I’m happy that I managed to get a ticket to the second of two sold-out meetings with John Green in Melbourne. There were many people in the audience from outside of Melbourne, one even who had travelled from New Zealand. John seemed sincerely thrilled that so many had come to see him.

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My son isn’t an avid reader, but he wanted to buy Paper towns after hearing John talk about the book, and not only the book, but his thoughts and ideas that went into the book. We bought the book, and when Maxim went to get it signed, John made him laugh by saying that he wanted to trade names with him. Good on you, John, for doing such a great job in relating to young people in such a real way.

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If you’re interested, have a look at John’s ning, and the videos that he and his brother, Hank, regularly create.

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Tweeting from space – NASA on Twitter

 

 Some time ago, when talking about Twitter, I mentioned an astronaut using Twitter to share his journey to space – @Astro_mike, or Mike Massimino, a NASA astronaut, mission specialist for STS-125. You can see Mike along with the rest of the team on the NASA website.   Receiving real-time tweets as he prepared for launch, as he described his experiences in space, and in his readjustment to gravity on earth, he offered a unique perspective, much different to a newspaper article or even interview.

Although not as thrilling as the real-time follow, I decided to share selected tweets throughout his journey. Since the latest tweet is on top, you’ll have to start at the bottom.

  Finished a physical exam with the doctors, all is good, I am cleared to resume driving a car, flying, and light exercise3:34 AM May 28th from TwitterBerry

Going to our crew return ceremony, watch it live at 4PM central at www.ustream.tv/nasa2explore6:34 AM May 27th from TwitterBerry

Woke up with slightly sore back and lower legs, my muscles are re-adjusting to gravity11:24 PM May 26th from web

Getting re-adjusted to gravity, let go of a small bag of groceries and must have expected it to float, luckily no damage1:26 PM May 26th from web

On day 12 on a night pass over India I say 2 shooting stars entering the atmosphere below me, streaks of light below, I made 2 wishes11:41 PM May 25th from web

favorite moment on last full day was night pass over Australia with thunderstorms and city lights below and universe above, a heavenly view11:37 PM May 25th from web

Could not land for 2 days so spent most time looking out windows – this was a gift – listening to music looking at Earth and stars for hours11:34 PM May 25th from web

From orbit: got a call from President Obama, it was a great event for our crew and very thoughtful of the President11:49 PM May 21st from web

From orbit: Just saw Orion’s nebula in the night sky – the sights make all the hard work and risk worthwhile for me7:35 AM May 21st from web

From orbit: Night pass over Australia, the city lights give stunning signs of life on our planet within the darkness of nighttime7:34 AM May 21st from web

From orbit: Just a video conference with my family, it was great to see them7:33 AM May 21st from web

From orbit: As I closed my eyes to sleep last night I thought “these eyes have seen some beautiful sights today”12:39 AM May 21st from web

From orbit: Flying over the Pacific Ocean at night there were some thunder storms, it is so cool to see lightning go off below the clouds10:33 PM May 20th from web

From orbit: The stars at night in space do not twinkle, they look like perfect points of light and I can clearly see the milky way galaxy10:33 PM May 20th from web

From orbit: Viewing the Earth is a study of contrasts, beautiful colors of the planet, thin blue line of atmosphere, pure blackness of space8:08 AM May 20th from web

From orbit: We see 16 sunrises and sunsets in 24 hrs, each one spectacular as the sun lights up the atmosphere in a spectrum of colors8:06 AM May 20th from web

From orbit: The Earth is so beautiful, it is like looking into paradise8:04 AM May 20th from web

From orbit: Getting ready for bed, sleeping in space is cool, tie down your sleeping bag and float inside of it, very relaxing6:27 PM May 19th from web

From orbit: Eating chocolates in space, floating then in front of me then floating and eating them like I am a fish6:26 PM May 19th from web

From orbit: At the end of my spacewalk, I had time to just look at the Earth, the most awesome sight my eyes have seen, undescribable10:43 PM May 18th from web

From orbit: Getting more accustomed to living in space today and getting ready for our big rendezvous with hubble12:16 AM May 14th from web

I’m going to put my spacesuit on, next stop: Earth Orbit!!11:11 PM May 11th from TwitterBerry

Final check with the doctors, getting ready for breakfast. We launch today!!8:52 PM May 11th from TwitterBerry

I’ll tweet when I can from orbit, but it might not be much, follow us after the launch 24/7 on NASA TV, www.nasa.gov/ntv and NASA twitter9:59 AM May 11th from web

Just got up, met with the doctors for a routine checkup, now will start a final review of the spacewalks with my crew – 2 DAYS FROM LAUNCH8:34 PM May 9th from web

Just finished dinner with my crew and our spouses, this is our first night in quarantine in florida after 5 quarantine days in houston10:26 AM May 9th from TwitterBerry

I don’t know about you, but I got enormous satisfaction out of the succinct, personal tweeting by @Astro_Mike.

 You can read Mike’s journal on the NASA site. You can also read the crew profiles and interviews on the site.

I think it would be a unique way to teach about space, don’t you? Do you know any other real-time Twitter-documented journeys that could be used for learning?

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Hitler freaks out over Comic Sans

With the recent public antipathy towards the font Comic Sans, I thought I’d share this video which made me laugh

If you’re still in the mood for a laugh, you may want to check out Hitler has Vista problems.

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Teach the child

Today I read Steve Shann’s recent blog post which I won’t try and fail to summarise.  I welcomed the introspective, quiet depth of his post. After my recent focus on the promotion of technology – always as a way to enhance learning and teaching – Steve’s anecdotal reflection led me back to the business of teaching young people, which is always about relating to them, and understanding them, awakening their understanding and wonderment. Sometimes we might get lost in perfecting rubrics, we might get stuck on assessment, ticking off technology skills – and then I always feel like something isn’t right, until I come back to what is essential – the kids.

In his post, Steve mentions how he feels about

some of what goes on in our classrooms, with children being made to perform unchildlike tasks, often to please a teacher, parroting back information for which they can see no use and to which they feel no connection.

Then he shows this video

I don’t know about you, but this was one of the most powerful things I’ve seen in a while.  Steve wrote:

I found it deeply moving. As I watched those little faces live the song, I was catapulted back in time over 55 years ago when, as a very young child, the world was a place of heart-quickening wonder.

It’s good to see something like that and be reminded that we are teaching young people, not curriculum, not to the test or the marks. I’d like to believe that if we hold onto that, and when we inspire learning in our students, that they’ll follow through with the rest.

Steve’s post was about much more than this, and I recommend you read the whole thing.

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Power of the network

The last couple of days have been very interesting. I’d like to share what I have learned since I shared on this blog a discussion about favouring an external blog to an internal one.

Above all, I learned that I could depend on the people in my network. Who are these people? Some of them I’ve met face to face; some I’ve come to know through my involvement in online networks; a few I’ve only just met in the course of this blog issue.

Amazingly,  over 200 people read my last blog post. Much as I’d like to convince you otherwise, I don’t normally record such a readership. How did I receive such a response?

After writing out my response to the Computer Systems Manager, then posting this with my response to him, I sent a link to the post out on Twitter, asking for people to enter into the discussion. I wanted to generate discussion, and to collect people’s views and perspectives. Discussion is a healthy and powerful thing. It’s a good idea to find out what others think even if they don’t agree with you, and in some cases, particularly when they don’t agree with you, since it pushes your thinking.

Apart from clarifying my own thinking with regard to the value of Web 2.0 technologies and their role in learning and teaching, in writing out this issue I gained valuable insights from others using the Web 2.0 platforms. Herein lies the power of these technologies – not in the technology itself, but in the powerful connections with people, people with unique backgrounds, experiences, qualifications, talents, and ideas.

The people who commented my post were educators or involved in education in some way. They responded quickly, and they came from around Australia (Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and Perth) and overseas (Hong Kong and USA).  Click on their names next to the comments and read their profiles and their blogs to make their acquaintance.

My online networks are full of professionals whose reading and links, ideas and talents, I follow. If I need an idea, advice, professional reading, teaching material, and more, I go to this network. And I try to be helpful in return. Anyone who has experienced the collective wisdom of online networks will tell you the same. It is not about the technology.

Our students will go into the world needing support and continued learning. If we help them understand and navigate appropriate networks, we will be laying the foundations for support systems. We should allow them to learn within supervised online environments, teaching them how to write and interact appropriately and in a safe way, to share ideas and solve problems with relevant groups of people, etc.

As educators, our view of what is essential for student learning needs to change. Our students’ world will be fast-paced and changeable, requiring adaptability and resourcefulness. Our students will need to know how to find what they need, and who to trust. They will hopefully be able to discern who to follow and how to behave.

Change is never easy. One of my mentors, and co-founder (with Will Richardson) of the Powerful Learning Practice model, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, has just written a blog post about change, which she prefaces with the following quotations:

 “It’s not that some people have willpower and some don’t. It’s that some people are ready to change and others are not.”  James Gordon, M.D.

“Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.” King Whitney Jr.

Sheryl uses the metaphor of her recent house renovation to deconstruct the journey towards building change, towards the creation of something new. She documents this process insightfully, and I recommend you read the entire post.   I thought I’d pull out some of the phrases that resonated with me in Sheryl’s post.  She talked about the challenge of

keeping the momentum and the dream of the transformation alive

She also said:

There are times I wanted to throw in the towel and thought as outdated as the home was at least there was peace and comfort.

 things will look worse before they get better

Fear is a big part of it too

Trust is another issue. Do the experts I have hired to make these changes a reality have the know how and wisdom to make it all happen

I’d like to end my post with another one of Sheryl’s quotes:

 For change to take hold and redefine people and the places they live and grow there needs to be a time of inquiry, reflection, and visioning.

I’m grateful that I have people with whom to share my inquiry, reflection and visioning.

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Filed under 21st century learning, blogging, debate, learning, network literacy, networking, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0, writing

School library blog – stay in or go out?

Recently I’ve moved my school library book review blog from an internal one within the school intranet (Sharepoint) to an external WordPress one. Just today I received an email from our Computer Systems Manager:

Do you realise that by using the WordPress site, you are denying most of our students easy access to your work. Sure, a few students might check it out in the Library at lunchtime but by the time most students get home, other priorities will have come to the fore. So, why not place your blog in the public section of the College Intranet? There you will get the best of both worlds, public access and, immediate and unhindered student access.

I should explain that we are a laptop school, but that internet access has to be booked by teachers, and is otherwise accessible to students before school, at recess and at lunchtime.

It was difficult to answer this email without writing a thesis! This is the best I could do:

 In answering your email, I started thinking about the meaning of ‘Sharepoint’ – a place where the school shares resources, information, etc.  Sharepoint’s  centralised, sharing facility is a powerful way to synchronise and share resources and activity in the school.  Yes, I did realise that by transferring my fiction blog to WordPress, students wouldn’t be able to access it during class times. I made the decision to move after using Sharepoint for almost a year, and I didn’t make that decision lightly, but based on important considerations.

 Funnily enough, the sharing within Sharepoint was limiting what I wanted to achieve with the blog. Sharepoint is an excellent school-based resource, but it didn’t meet our needs entirely. Firstly, there were restrictions, such as the fact that I couldn’t link to specific posts, so that when I posted more than one post, I couldn’t link to a specific one which had been pushed down by others.  I also couldn’t embed videos. Book and film trailers are popular with students, and often lead them to reading and discussing books.

 Access during classtimes did not increase readership, and I can only estimate this through anecdotal evidence with the Sharepoint blog, because, unlike WordPress, it doesn’t provide me with valuable data on readership.  As you say, students can only access the blog during lunchtime and recess, but they wouldn’t be able to read it in class anyway, unless given permission by the teacher, or when the teacher specifically books the internet. Since the move to WordPress, I’ve actually had an increasing number of emails from staff who prefer the appearance and options within WordPress, and following from their interest, I’ve been booked into classes  to introduce the blog and talk about books.  The blog is not generally something students are reading, unless I set a challenge or competition, but teachers who realise its potential are beginning to use it as an interactive medium for students.  

 Author visits are expensive, and so I find that embedding videos of author interviews  allows students to ‘get to know’ authors as real people, people they can relate to. When I show students the blog and give them time to browse, they inevitably veer towards the videos – not surprising considering their preference for media. We do what works in encouraging students to appreciate books and authors, and we must do what works best in engaging students in learning.  When students use Web 2.0 technologies, they are also learning netiquette – an important skill considering the dominance of technology in their future lives of work.

 The sharing aspect is the most important feature of external blogs . Just as teacher librarians and librarians encourage students to join local and larger libraries, so do we strive to share our reviews and comments with students and teachers in other schools, even in other countries. Every comment received is emailed to me for moderation before it is published.  I write the fiction blog for the whole school community, and I hope to extend our community to include other schools. We benefit from this interaction, and it enriches our discussion. Currently I’m compiling a list of excellent reading blogs of interest to both staff and students, which will be added to the blog as widgets.

 The work we do with Web 2.0 technologies at Whitefriars can be shared with others, and I find this enriching. I share, and I receive tenfold if not more. The School Library Association of Victoria blog, Bright Ideas, features what schools in Victoria are doing online, and our school has a positive profile throughout the state already, through its educational projects in wikis, blogs and nings.

 There are many more reasons for our choice to go with the WordPress blog, but it’s important to note that it is based on our commitment to Web 2.0 technologies rooted in the latest pedagogy. We are not ignoring Sharepoint, we are just selecting the best application for our needs.  As with any technology, it must be rooted in best pedagogical practice. Choice of online space should also be dictated by student learning within the context of the school’s mission statement. If we educate our young men ‘to take their place in society as valued individuals’, then  learning should take place not only in the classroom, but within the context of broader society. This, then, is the most appropriate context for blogs.

 I apologize for the wordy reply, but I thought it was important to give you a detailed answer. In conclusion, let me suggest you look at the Global Teacher website where you will find lists of school library blogs (under ‘Bookrooms’), school blogs and teacher blogs.

I appreciate the opportunity to define my reasons for external blogs in education, and also to receive excellent advice from my professional network. Just as you would ask friends for advice, so I ask my Twitter network for opinions and ideas. In a short space of time, seven people offered support for the use of external blogs. One even provided me with a  link to the exact webpage where I could find my school’s mission statement! (Thanks, Marita)

Here are some of the points raised in Twitter supporting Web 2.0 applications:

  • a global audience is important
  • so students can have input from a wider audience – authors, scientists, explorers – who knows who else can assist their learning
  • develop netiquette
  • students can see their work published.
  • Can share work with parents, grandparents.
  • Can make networks.
  • Show people they can use ICT.
  • schools should have policies that have been thoughtfully crafted by all stakeholders
  • online policies should be consistent with the Vision and Mission Statements of the school

I’m really interested in hearing your views on this subject. How would you answer this email? What approach would you take? I’m wondering if my answer is too heavy-handed. What do you think?

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16 habits of highly creative people

Most people would deny being creative. Have you noticed that? People who display obvious creativity, but who say, ‘Who me? I’m not creative!’  It’s the strange fallacy that in order to be creative you have to be good at drawing or play an instrument like a prodigy.

Ken Robinson talks about creativity. I’ve written previously about his TED talk and his book, The element. He has also written a paper entitled Creativity in the classroom, innovation in the workplace. in response to the following question:

What should be the role of business and industry in the education of today’s youth, and what strategies can realistically be put in place by business now to foster innovation on the widest possible range of platforms?

Ken begins by saying the following:

Businesses everywhere have to compete in a world that’s changing faster than ever. To keep pace they need people who can consistently generate new ideas and adapt to constant change. Many companies say it’s getting harder to find these people. One of the major reasons is education. All over the world, formal education systematically suppresses creative thinking and flexibility. National strategies to raise standards in education are making matters worse because they’re rooted in an old model of economic development and a narrow view of intelligence. For economic, cultural and political reasons, creativity should be promoted systematically at all levels of education, alongside literacy and numeracy.

According to Ken, the problem in the workplace is not a shortage of graduates, but something entirely different:

Companies now face an unusual crisis in graduate recruitment. It’s not that there aren’t enough graduates to go around, it’s that too many of them can’t communicate, work in teams or think creatively.

 Shalu Wasu, a Singapore-based trainer and consultant,  conducts open programs on Creativity and Innovation and Blogging for Business at NUS extension. He offers 16 habits of highly creative people on the Tickled by life website.

1. Creative people are full of curiosity.

2. Creative people are problem-friendly.

3. Creative people value their ideas.

4. Creative people embrace challenges.

5. Creative people are full of enthusiasm.

6. Creative people are persistent.

7. Creative people are perennially dissatisfied.

8. Creative people are optimists.

9. Creative people make positive Judgment.

10. Creative people go for the big kill.

11. Creative people are prepared to stick it out.

12. Creative people do not fall in love with an idea.

13. Creative people recognize the environment in which they are most creative.

14. Creative people are good at reframing any situation.

15. Creative people are friends with the unexpected.

 16. Creative people are not afraid of failures.

Read the full article here.

If, as Ken Robinson says, creativity will be most sought after in work of our students’ future, then what implications does this have for education? Are the above habits of creative people skills that are teachable? One thing that is certain is that none of the habits are tied to measurable content, which is the weight of our present curriculum. Obviously, knowledge of content is necessary for any profession, but it may not be enough to succeed. If you want to be a driving force in any job, you may have to acquire some of the creative habits.

I like #14: Creative people are good at reframing any situation

Reframes are a different way of looking at things. Being able to reframe experiences and situations is a very powerful skill.

Reframing allows you to look at a situation from a different angle. It is like another camera angle in a football match. And a different view has the power to change your entire perception of the situation.

Reframing can breathe new life into dead situations. It can motivate demoralized teams. It helps you to spot opportunities that you would have otherwise missed.

If looking at things from different perspectives is an aspect of creativity, then in order to develop creativity in students, the method of teaching should allow for these different perspectives. There are teachers of English, Mathematics, Science, and other subjects, whose teaching is based on encouraging different perspectives. Do they realise how important this is? Or do they do it simply because it’s the way they think? Think on, we need more teachers like these!

 How would you design a curriculum that developed these habits of creativity?

I’ll finish this post with the quote at the conclusion of Ken Robinson’s paper:

It’s often said that education is the key to the future. It is. But a key can be turned in two directions. Turn it one way and you lock resources away: turn it another and you release them. In education as in business, it’s no longer enough to read, write and calculate. We won’t survive the future simply by doing better what we have done in the past. In the future, we must learn to be creative.

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Filed under 21st century learning, creativity, Education, teaching