Ulearn13 – a reflection

images from Ulearn13

Another whirlwind three days of stimulation, learning, exploration, interaction, meeting new people, meeting up with old friends, putting faces to twitter handles, sharing ideas and having fun.

This is my fourth Ulearn and I think I an finally getting the hang of it! My first was in Rotorua, the sole representative from my school, and I had never been to such a big conference before.  I was lost figuratively and literally, I knew not a soul and felt quite daunted by booking breakouts, making notes, finding my way around, plucking up courage to speak to people, I really felt like the new kid on the block.  But I was so inspired by the speakers at the keynotes and in the breakouts I went to and went back home with my head full to bursting with ideas.  It took me weeks to process my detailed notes!

In subsequent years I have managed to persuade colleagues to come along too and this year I was one of eight delegates from my school.  The opportunities for sharing what we have learned is going to be huge.

I have always avidly taken notes at every session I have attended. Sometimes I have then diligently transcribed them and created reports that nobody reads. I have blogged about sessions that have particularly inspired me and shared Google docs with colleagues.  Feedback to staff at school has been ad hoc, mainly through the conversations I have with members of my department and others as I support them using technology and during interval and lunch time but also more recently through or PD sessions that this year are focused on blended learning.

This year I decided that I was not going to frantically scribble notes but instead join the rich seam of twitter interactions and use the comments and conversations that ensue to reflect on the sessions.  It was energising!  The key messages were tweeted and re-tweeted, quoted and referenced and have since been Storified or blogged, and tweeted out again for further comment and reflection.  More people were tweeting than ever before and the depth of comments and interactions is getting better and better.  There are still the soundbites but if you can keep up – and I have to confess that I struggle – the replies, favourites and retweets tell a really rich story.  graphic of top tweeters after the first 24 hours at Ulearn13

But the most exciting thing about this year is that I was awarded an e-fellowship. I have to confess that this dominated my experience of this year’s conference.  Wednesday was spent trying not to let the secret out to friends and colleagues whilst bursting with excitement and anticipation on the inside!   On Thursday morning I had to avoid arrangements to meet up with colleagues as we (the e-fellows) were to meet at 8.30am to get instructions about the “announcement”, and Mark Pesce’s excellent keynote was spent in a whirl of congratulatory tweets after we were presented on stage prior to his speech.   I was amazed at how many people came over to me to congratulate me, I had not quite realised how many people I knew or who knew me. Isn’t it strange that you think that people don’t know who you are even though you know that you recognise others.  I tend to think that they are more well known than me and that I am just, well, me!

The next challenge was my own presentation on Friday morning. My first time presenting and on the morning after the night before! “All that glitters” was not really glittering in our presentation room as some delegates wandered in looking decidedly ragged!  The conference dinner was fantastic, the music was great, we danced until our feet were sore and sang until we had no voices – well, some people did. I confess that I reluctantly left at 11pm but not before a good dancing session.

ulearn13 conference dinner delegates - theme "all that glitters"

So, I will share more notes and reflections of the sessions I attended but for a start here is my storified version of Dame Anne Salmond’s closing keynote. It was an inspiring, thought provoking speech that encapsulated many of the themes and ideas of the conference. It is just a shame that so many had to leave to catch planes before they could hear it.  And for those who couldn’t be bothered to stay, you really missed out.


…and the take away from the conference – lifelong learning.   I want this tee-shirt!


tee shirt with words "I'll stop learning when I'm dead. ....maybe"


Boys and writing

In a bid to get my youngest son to be more motivated with his writing homework I decided to try out a couple of tools. He is happy to sit at his computer and play games and he hates writing with a vengeance. His older brother is the same and I feel that we have let him down somewhat by not helping him to find another way to approach someting that he hates. He struggled through his examination English not because he can’t understand the concepts or argue his case but because he doesn’t like writing. It has been the case for both of them since they were little and consistent comments from teachers “He has loads of ideas in class that he articulates beautifully but as soon as he is asked to write them down, I get a few short sentences with no development”.  They just don’t like writing and find essay writing for any subjects a chore. Unfortunately the whole examination system at the moment is predicated on writing so we need to do something to help. I am sure that we will not be able to get either of them to atually enjoy writing, but if we can offer different approaches to make it more bearable for our youngest then maybe that will help avoid the stress in the house every time there is written homework to do!

Tools to help
I have used 5 card flickr with my classes at school as a stimulus for writing in French and found that the random nature of the images allows for imagination and creativity and leads to some fascinating stories. At uLearn at the beginning of October I was at a breakout with Kevin Honeycutt who talked about the power of publication to motivate students to write – the rise in self-esteem and pride when something a kid has written is published and handed to them.  He uses Lulu.com as his book publishing tool. Reading Interface magazine last week I saw a snippet about an app called CBB (creative book builder) and decided that it would be interesting to see how they work.

Working together
So, my son came home this week with some homework; he had to write a story or poem that he could read out to his class that would be a minimum of 2 minutes long and not more than 3 minutes – on any topic. The usual avoidance tactics started, the arguments why he could do it later, “I’ll just do….first”, he even decided he needed to shower!  A couple of weeks ago we had had a session prompted by him when he had come home from school saying that he was way behind some other kids in his class with some writing they were doing because he couldn’ t think of what to write about and,  when he did have an idea, he didnt know how to write it down “in order”.  At that point we sat down and used a grid system with headings; who, what, why, how, where, when, problem, solution, outcome and then looked at some of his early childhood storybooks to see if we could identify all those elements. We ended up having a real trip down Memory Lane and a lovely time sitting reading stories to each other. It is easy to forget that thirteen year olds are still children – on that awkward cusp where they belong to no real group, neither teenagers, children or adults – and sitting down with him, curled up on the sofa reading together was a reminder to me that he is still a little boy.  But, I digress….

Using the tools
So, 5 card flickr; he chose his five pictures from the sets of five randomly generated photographs from flickr and then using Google Docs to craft his work, inserted the five pictures and a table for the grid.  I was doing my own work on the computer at his side and after few questions and a couple of prompts to keep at it, I sort of forgot he was there, he was so quiet. I looked to my side to see a boy engrossed, concentrating and tapping away at the keys.  About fifteen minutes later he sat up, pushed his chair back and announced he was finished. I glanced across at his screen to see a whole page of typing. He asked if he could go on his game and so I said that that was fine as soon as he had shared the google doc with me so that I could look at it and comment later.
When I looked at the document a few minutes later, intrigued to see what he had written, I was amazed. A story with lots of action and ideas, all the elements we had talked about but hardly any punctuation apart from the odd full stop!  It was as if the ideas had just come flooding out without time for him to breathe and they had just been regurgutated on to the page! This is where Google Docs comes into its own; I made a couple of comments, praising the story and the ideas, asked some questions for clarification and suggested that he re-read it and added some punctuation.
Now, I could have stopped him playing his game to talk to him (which is what I would normally do, being a bit of a control freak)  but I didn’t. Why? Because, I think he had already worked quite hard and was feeling pleased with himself that he had written the story, now he was rewarding himself! He was already in another world and would have been resistant to coming back to the real one at that stage. So, I left him. But curiosity about what I thought got the better of him and the prompt of an email informing him that somebody had commented on his document made him open it up again and have a look. That was when I talked to him and we worked through the revisions together. Once he had finished his story he printed it out ready to take to school the next day. He was pleased, I was pleased – finally a writing homework done with relatively little grief!

But where does the ebook come into this? Well, I was keen to try out CBB to see how it worked and decided to trial it using Aonghas’ story. I won’t go into the details of how it works except to say that it is not intuitive but I managed to do enough to produce a book which now resides in my elibrary on my Galaxy.  What did Aonghas think? Well he was quite impressed but not as over the moon as Kevin Honeycutt suggested his students were. But then he uses lulu.com which is a way of creating and publishing books taht people then pay for.  This morning, I used the same story to create a book using lulu.com. Aonghas’ book is now listed on a website and you can pay the princely sum of 99c to buy it to download. He is away at Scout camp just now but I am looking forward to seeing whether when he sees that his book is actually for sale will have a different effect on him. The power of money might be the difference!

ulearn Christchurch Day 1

I am sitting in my hotel room in the Novotel, Christchurch in Cathedral Square…blah, blah, blah…!  You don’t want to know that really, do you?  Well I’m telling you anyway.  We are into our third consecutive sunny day, it is a little chillier down south than it was in Hamilton, but out of the wind the sun is still warm and it is a welcome change to have some warmth on my back after a couple of unseasonably wet months.  I am here in Christchurch to attend the uLearn conference – a conference dedicated to blending pedagogy and technology, to making the most of the technological opportunities available to us as educationalists and a chance to see how it can be used best to help our students learn more effectively.  I am looking forward to being inspired, but also a little apprehensive that I will also come away with my head spinning and thinking how on earth I can incorporate all the wonderful ideas into a busy teaching schedule.   First of all need to work out how I can get some free or at least cheaper internet access – $30 for 24 hours here in the Novotel – seems a bit pricey!  Might have to go downstairs and fight for the public computers!

Back from dinner – Sticky Fingers – twice in one day but good food and a pleasant place to be.  I managed to get at least my daily quota of iron from a dozen mussels in a white wine creamy sauce and a side dish of asparagus – delicious.  Spent the last couple of hours sorting out the videos I took of the girls discussing zoos, singing “Ah les crocodiles” and selling their houses – some great stuff from them, just need to upload them to Dionet now!  Interrupted in my flow by “un tremblement de terre”!  Very weird feeling, text from Nigel to say it was 5.2 on the Richter scale – lasted a few seconds but the hotel is still standing!