Monthly Archives: August 2009

Pictures take me back to the story

Who doesn’t love illustrations? That’s a rhetorical question. I doubt that anybody would take offense to illustrations being interspersed amongst the text of a story.

The Guardian treats its readers to a taste of a new series of recently  illustrated children’s classics.

Walkers have put together some of the world’s greatest children’s literature with the best contemporary illustrators to create a beautiful and accessible collection of classics for a new generation. Here we gather together images from the first five titles in the Walker Illustrated Classics series.

Even if you’ve read these classics, the illustrations may entice you to have another look. For me, the fresh visual interpretation is even more enticing considering how well worn these stories are.  I’m curious as to how an illustator can create a new perspective when so many have done the same and so successfully. And of course, who can resist discovering the work of ‘the best contemporary illustrators’? The Guardian gives us a taste of the first 5 titles in the series accompanied by the illustrators’ reflections – a sure hook to wanting to see the rest.

Paul Howard illustrated Classic poetry and reveals his initial apprehension:

The idea of illustrating classic poetry terrified me at first – I can’t remember jokes let alone poems from my school days and consequently think of myself as a ‘poetus ignoramus’. To my great surprise this worked in my favour and I found myself embarking on a fantastic voyage of discovery.

Childrens-Illustration-poetry

Howard’s personal challenge to tackle poetry could be an inspiration for the current reading generation for whom poetry has become largely engimatic.

When I was battling to understand some of the poems, Michael Rosen would read them to me aloud. Listening to him was like clearing a misty window and letting the sun pour in.

Helen Oxenbury’s unmistakable style brings a contemporary realism to Alice in Wonderland.

I admire Tenniel’s original illustrations enormously, but I find his typically Victorian style rather stiff …

Childrens-Illustration-Alice

Inga Moore’s reflection provides a fascinating honesty:

The Secret Garden is one of the greatest books for children of all time and it took me a long while to pluck up the courage to illustrate it. What made me think I could do it justice? I knew a merely decorative approach wouldn’t do for a work with such depth of meaning so I decided to bring out as much of its meaning as I could in my pictures, carefully placing them next to the words they illustrated in the hope that the two together would make a more vivid whole …

I love the atmosphere of this picture, and the attention to detail (notice the tiny red bird high in the tree).

Childrens-Illustration-secretgarden

Nicola Bayley combines contemporary realism with the exotic in her interpretation of  Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle book.

For me, illustrating a classic is treading a fine line between authenticity and beauty.

Childrens-Illustration-Junglebook

Chris Riddell brings his own style to the classic Don Quixote:

Very early on I decided not to be daunted by the size of the book and to approach light-heartedly, in an attempt to reflect the satire and humour in the work. Don Quixote is a great big book that satires great big books, an epic romance that pokes fun at epic romances. I looked at the paintings of Velázquez, and used costumes and settings from his great Royal portraits to give the illustrations a 17th-century feel, but I also wanted a fantasy feel to the illustrations, so the giants and monsters came out of my imagination …

Childrens-Illustration-DonQuixote

In light of Anne Fine’s recent outspokenness about the grimness of contemporary Young Adult fiction, Walker’s collection of contemporary illustators’ re-envisioning of well loved classics, may be just what we need. As much as I love the honesty and power of modern fiction for young people, I don’t mind revisiting my old fantasy haunts, entering the rich, illustrated world which has always been such a tantalising, albeit temporary, escape from the everyday. If, as children, we fed our imagination and creativity with favourite illustations of fantastic tales,  why shouldn’t we revisit now and then to take nourishment?

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Filed under art, Children's books, creativity, Literature, poetry, reading

The story of the button demonstrates the power of social networking

Looking through my Flickr contacts’ photostreams, I noticed some photos of a button. Intrigued, I read a lengthy explanation, a short, true story, which I wanted to share. This is bigsumo‘s story.

A man sent an email via Facebook on a Monday morning in August. He was not sure if the email was being sent to the right people. He mentioned that whilst mowing his lawn in Corinda, Brisbane he uncovered a button. He notice some writing imprinted into the button. He decided out of curiosity to google it. He discovered that ‘TJ Moles Charters Towers’ referred to a man who was a tailor in Charters Towers. This was obviously his branded button to advertise his wares.

The man also discovered an old forum request on the family history site Rootsweb, from a couple looking for information on this person. Unfortunately, their listed email was no longer valid. He tried searching Facebook and discovered some names matching the description and within the hour sent a querying email looking for a connection.

An hour later that email from Facebook was answered by me. My wife and I were the couple looking for information on TJ Moles as he was the father of our adopted grandmother (that’s a whole other story) who herself was born in 1898 in Charters Towers.

I responded with great suprise at such an out of left field email. I explained our connection to the button’s owner and was very greatful to take him up on his offer to mail the button to us on the Sunshine Coast. To which he replied that he would pop it in the post on his way to work. The next day, Tuesday I was suprised to see, delivered to me at work, an envelope containing a button stamped with TJ Moles Charters Towers.

This button has travel long, somehow winding its way from north Queensland to Brisbane to be found late in 2009. It potentially started it journey somewhere between 1880 – 1940 (when TJ Moles passed away) when he ran his tailor shop (best guess).

More amazing is the very fast journey this button has been on in the last 24 hours, thanks to google and social networking! This button, though small is our only physical connection with our adopted family from that time. It’ll take pride of place in our family history collection!

What a great story! How else could you have discovered the button’s story without the online connections and collaboration? Another example of the power of Flickr.

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Eric Gjerde – Origami tessellations

twist

Still continuously amazed at what I find on Flickr. I used to think it was where people shared photos of their family, sunsets and the such, but I realise that its potential is far greater. It’s such a rich store of images, ideas, creativity.

Today I’m not feeling well, and so I’ve been living on the couch. No concentration for reading so I thought I’d browse flickr images.

Every discovery is like Christmas. Eric Gjarde is my discovery for today. On his Flickr profile, Eric describes himself as a geek.

I’m a massive geek. As with most geeks, I’m fascinated by all things technological; it’s what I do for a living, as well as a hobby (and obsession?)

What I really respect Eric for (apart from his awesome folding skills) is his willingness to share his knowledge and creativity about his specialty.

So while I enjoy folding all kinds of things, I’ve just been posting items which I have created myself. all of the items I post to flickr are independently created/invented/dreamed up by me, unless otherwise stated.

It’s a big deal for me, as I really dislike the lack of information sharing in the origami world- I want to bring some of the open-source style sharing to them, preferably via the Creative Commons licensing ideals. I’ve made some headway on that front by releasing diagrams and crease patterns under a CC license, available on my website – it’s located at www.origamitessellations.com.

Looking through Eric’s Flickr profile, I found the Flickr groups he has joined. Always good to see what else people are following.

Take a look at what Eric does when he’s not folding paper – it’s a mosaic film.

His origami sets are extensive and brilliant.

origamisets

Browsing through Eric’s other, non-origami, sets, I came across his mosaic set. If you have a look, you’ll be impressed with his mosaic tile photos. One of the best things about flickr is the possibility for conversation. And so, following this mosaic set, Eric answers questions about how he was able to make the mosaics, and offers links to further information. Fantastic.

mosaicphotoclose

Still discovering, and this time Eric’s comments led me to The digital library for the decorative arts and material culture. Anyone interested in the history of design and ornament for different cultures will love this.

Who said Flickr was just a bunch of pictures? I’m going to try and showcase Flickr and its educational uses at school.

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Why brainstorming is ineffective and how to fix it

ideas

Photo credit: khoraxis

Psychblog has posted a controversial article entitled  Brainstorming reloaded which claims that brainstorming doesn’t work after all. Brainstorming, as a method of pooling the group’s ideas, has been around for a long time. I know that Australian teacher librarians, at least, still promote it as a starting point for research, and subject teachers are also using it as a springboard to discussion within a topic.

Brainstorming certainly looks like a great way of dealing with some of the problems associated with decision-making and creativity in groups, such as groupthink and people’s failure to share information effectively. By suspending evaluation, encouraging a relaxed atmosphere and quantity over quality, the brainstorming session is supposed to foster creativity.

But the article goes on to undermine the effectiveness of brainstorming:

But now we know that brainstorming doesn’t actually work that well. Experiment after experiment has shown that people in brainstorming sessions produce fewer and lower quality ideas than those working alone (Furnham, 2000). Here’s why:

  1. Social loafing: people slack off to a frightening degree in certain types of group situations like brainstorming.
  2. Evaluation apprehension: although evaluation isn’t allowed in a traditional brainstorming session, everyone knows others are scrutinising their input.
  3. Production blocking: while one person is talking the others have to wait. They then forget or dismiss their ideas, which consequently never see the light of day.

The article suggests that brainstorming be conducted online in order to achieve higher quality results:

In this research brainstormers typed in their ideas to a computer which also displayed other people’s ideas at the same time. This rather neatly gets around the social loafing and production blocking problems.

The conclusion of the psychological literature, therefore, is that people should be encouraged to generate ideas on their own and meetings should be used to evaluate these ideas.

I’m not sure what you might think about this, but something doesn’t sit right with me. It sounds like a good idea to simultaneously generate ideas online – I like the idea of all the contributions being visible real-time – but I think the classroom has its own group dynamics. Perhaps this research is more relevant to business. I think that there is a group dynamics and sense of trust which has hopefully been created by the classroom teacher. I’m not sure if secondary students are too critical of their peers’ suggestions in the brainstorming process.

Even if you set up the individual and simultaneous online brainstorming, wouldn’t students be threatened by the competitiveness of generating as many ideas as their peers? This may not be obvious online, but they could easily tell if others are typing in suggestions or just sitting there. You would also have the problem of those who think quickly getting in first with ideas that others may have come to later. Altogether, I think you’d have the same problems. At least with the teacher mediating an oral brainstorming session, he/she would be aware of those needing encouragement to contribute.

However, I do like the idea of an online brainstorming tool which allows every student’s contribution to be seen. Online brainstorming tools like bubbl.us are good, but are not a collaborative tool. Collaborative online brainstorming sounds like a solution to the isolation of a regular online tool. The article points out the importance of the group in the activity:

Why not just send people off individually to generate ideas if this is more efficient? The answer is because of its ability to build consensus by giving participants the feeling of involvement in the process. People who have participated in the creative stage are likely to be more motivated to carry out the group’s decision.

What do you think? What are your experiences with brainstorming? Your thoughts about the effectiveness of brainstorming, either as part of classroom discussion with the teacher writing down the group’s ideas on the board, or students using applications like Inspiration or bubbl.us

Am I missing something or is there a collaborative online brainstorming tool which I should be using?

 And what is your reaction to the last line of the article?

Groups aren’t where ideas are born, but where they come to sink or swim.

 

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Filed under 21st century learning, Education, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary

Just found a quotation supported by an image in the group Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary through a tweet by Darren Kuropatwa (@dkuropatwa). Love the group. A rich store of inspirational images and graphics, which can be used either for a presentation or to spark conversation and ideas, or even as a poster.

seeingthings

The photo was uploaded by flickr member colemama

global

No wallmaps or globes was uploaded by Scott McLeod and genemac110. I’ve been finding Flickr to be much more than a collection of images. This group is an example of the rich resources which can be collaboratively shared. The more I browse Flickr, the more surprising groups and sets I come across. Images are sometimes supplemented by information, links and, as in this case, heated discussion through a link to Scott’s blog.

flickrpool

I’m going to add some recent Flickr finds:

Art:21 connected to Art:21 PBS.

Smarthistory flickr group

Please help us make art more accessible.
The Smarthistory flickr group gathers pictures of artworks on location to enrich the information on smarthistory.org. Smarthistory is a multi-media website that serves as an enhancement or replacement for the traditional art history textbook.

Look at www.smarthistory.org/Red-Studio.html for an example.

Vintage dictionary and encyclopedia pages

Vintage science illustrations

I’m finding the extraordinary in the ordinary online on a daily basis, and the reason for this possibility is the sharing of images and information which I wouldn’t otherwise come across. It’s just a matter of finding the time to browse this incredible, growing resource, and also the time to put into practice the ideas for education that spring from this.

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The art of storytelling

Another serendipitous adventure. Here’s how a day off turns a morning into a virtual rabbit hole.  A notification of a new Twitter follower @lazicdusan led me to a tantalising feed focussing on the Arts. I wanted to share one of the resources I found while putting them onto my art wiki. Above is a video called Six Word Memoirs by Teens  on the SMITH blog which celebrates storytelling. Here’s the background:

A year ago we launched SMITHTeens, as Rachel blogged about last August. We launched the site as a simple way to collect six-word memoirs for a book of six-worders by teens. Then we got out of the way. What happened next? The teens blew us away. From the heart (”I am in a love pentagon”) to the body (”Bulimia was only cramping my style”) to the home (”We’re the family you gossip about’) to the unexpected paths life can take (”Seventeen, Pregnant. He’s off to Iraq”), teens have told us so much about themselves in so few words.

Here’s an idea for the English or Art classrooms. I might even take on the challenge for the second year of my photo challenge.

I also found Sites we love: Significant objects.

Every item you’ve ever come across has a story. These objects clutter our shelves, closets, garages and lives…

The premise of their project, Significant Objects, is to take thrifted items and pair them with a writer to give it a new value in the form of a short story.

I’m tempted to bring the odd objects that we’ve collected over the years into the English or Art classroom and see what storytelling these could spark. What about if students were asked to bring in an object or two, so these could be put into a communal box?

You might like to check out the Flickr pool for significant objects – a ready-made list of objects for story starters.

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How do you explain a ning without sounding silly?

This is cross posted from my other blog, English@wfc

 ningvideos

Following our school’s involvement in Powerful Learning Practice, our team has been asked to present to the whole staff next Monday. Maria and I will be talking about the ning in our English classes. We decided to present collaboratively, with Maria doing most of the talking and me driving the ning tour. Our idea was that teachers would find the ning more relevant and convincing if a classroom teacher presented. Sadly, I think that they would be less likely to listen if a teacher librarian was presenting, because we’re associated with the library (which means we’re seen as chained to the library circulation desk and focus on books).   Today we got together to decide how we were going to proceed.

The most difficult thing is deciding what is essential – we don’t have more than 10 minutes or so. We don’t want to overwhelm everyone but if we don’t present in some detail, it won’t make much sense to anyone.

For me, the essential part of the ning in supporting the English curriculum has not been the technology, but the possibilities for discussion and interactions. Within online discussions, every student gets an equal chance to participate in discussion at his own pace. The authentic audience and connections with others form a community of learners. Instead of responding to the teacher, students interact with each other; their learning is social. Although it’s not exactly Facebook, the ning has provided a Facebook-like platform for classroom learning.

What we’d like to stress is that the teaching is more important than ever. Yes, the ning is technology, but that’s not the focus. The ning is not some technical textbook with multiple choice questions and answers making the teacher redundant. Scaffolding the learning process is even more vital than ever to ensure rich discussion and push students’ thinking towards  critical and reflective responses.

During our planning session,  Maria and I focused on identifying the way the ning enhanced teaching and learning beyond traditional teaching methods.  We anticipated teachers wanting to hear why they should tackle the technology, what was special about the ning. That’s a fair enough question: there’s no point in using technology for its own sake. So let’s see…  Well, as I’ve already said, there’s the authentic, peer audience, and the interaction within that, and secondly, there’s the threaded discussion. When students are asked to write down their thoughts in class, it’s normally just the teacher who collects and reads them. Perhaps a few might be read out in class. The ning provides the transparency for all students to read everyone’s contributions, but also to reply to a specific one. Students can read every other student’s ideas, and respond to any of these.

Apart from the connection to the other students in the class, our class was joined by The Kings’ School boys in Parramatta. The ning has also provided an opportunity to bring in an expert, in our case,  our book’s author, Allan Baillie, who was able to answer specific questions of each boy individually. We provided authentic, engaging learning. The boys got a kick out of having their questions answered by the man himself.

I also love the simple fact that the ning contains everything so neatly – from a teacher’s point of view, assessment is made easy because everything that has been written is easy to find. I imagine it will be easy to see development in the boys’ writing as the year goes on.

Using videos to spark discussion has never been so easy. I embed videos when I come across them (handy for on-the-spot activities), and all the discussion following the viewing is neatly recorded underneath. Students regularly practise literacy without even realising. Somehow they think that discussion of a video isn’t real work. Videos are great for visual literacy -something I’ve noticed doesn’t come easily to young people regardless of what is said about the internet generation. They need lots of practice ‘reading’ visual clues, following visual narrative and interpreting and critically analysing visual messages. Of course, audio is also important, and our class has also enjoyed videos with music.

We plan to show teachers the variety of resources that can be included in the ning. Our videos cover many subjects – even grammar, information literacy (eg. evaluation of websites) and responsible online behaviour. I’ve started embedding TED talks which I think will be suitable for this age group. I’ll be looking to include more TED talks because they’re so inspiring.

I hope our presentation will demystify the ning and similar technology and open up practical suggestions for the use of such technology in the classroom. As long as the internet connection works! Keep our fingers crossed.

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Filed under 21st century learning, learning, network literacy, teaching, technology, Web 2.0, writing