Are you a Connected Educator?

Last week as part of the CLA webinar series we met up with 5 school leaders who chatted about why being connected provides them with such powerful professional learning.

Here is the Wakelet of the twitter back channel. Why not have a listen to the Webinar on the VLN and join in the conversation by posting your comments and answers to the questions posed to our panellists?

  • koru - unfurling frond of fernWhat does a “connected leader” look like?
  • How would you encourage a reluctant teacher/ leader to get connected?
  • In your role as a connected leader, what do you do to support/model/advocate/facilitate e-learning?
  • What attributes do you think you need most, to make this role successful?
  • As ‘time poor” senior leader, “What’s in it for me”

#28daysofwriting Day 8: A new type of learner

I signed up to a MOOC three weeks ago.  Completely mad given the timing but it sounded interesting.  It is my third MOOC and the second in just 4 months.  My first one in January 2013 Elearning and Digital Cultures (EdcMooc) through Coursera and Edinburgh University was an amazing experience.  One of the most powerful things were the online discussions and the Twitter Chats. These were something completely new for me and completely re-energised my learning.  I love the immediacy of them and the variety of comments from people all over the world with different perspectives.  I am still in contact with some of the other participants of EdcMooc who I made contact with through the Twitter stream.  We formed a Goodreads book club and have a Twitter chat each month to discuss the book that we vote on and read.

collage of photos to offer an image that shows balance.  A man on a bike balancing cleaning materials with social media icons around and the words edcmooc and Finding the BalanceIt took me nearly another two years before joining another MOOC.  Partly because of lack of time, partly because the topics didn’t really inspire me and partly because I had had such a good experience with EdcMooc that I was worried that another MOOC wouldn’t live up to it.

In November, I signed up to Understanding Language, a MOOC delivered by the University of Southampton through FutureLearn.   It was an ambitious task given that it was at the end of the term, Year 10 fell in the middle of it and then I was heading off to Costa Rica.  Would I manage to complete it?  The great thing about MOOCs is that you can do what you can.  You take from them what you can.  They are free.  I enjoyed the discussions in the forums.  People from all walks of life contributing, responding, offering their points of view based on their experience in response to the videos and articles.  I was disappointed, though, in the lack of interaction via social media which had so energised me in the EdcMooc.

This month, I am just about keeping up with eLearning Ecologies, another Coursera MOOC but this time delivered through the University of Illinois.  Again, the forum discussions are the most thought provoking.  One of the discussions following the videos and articles offered last week was about “Creating a New Type of Learner”.  The discussion here was about the affordances of technology to offer new ways of learning.

classroom with students taking photos of work on the board.I absolutely agree that we, as educators, are creating a new type of learner. Well, not just us, but society. However, personality and disposition have a lot to do with how those students develop. Some of my students jump at the chance to use technology; they are photographing notes off the board or mind maps we create in groups and uploading them to eportfolios; my inbox is full of messages and google docs being shared with me and they are responding to feedback with questions at all times of day and night.

Others, though, are completely overwhelmed; they struggle with learning independently, with having to find their way around the learning spaces I provide for them. Whilst they are bright, intelligent girls they prefer to be given the information so that they can learn it and regurgitate it. My hope is that I am providing them with a framework to be resilient learners, to navigate territory they are unsure of, but sometimes it is a battle. A battle which is not always helped by parents who say, “But that is how she learns. She needs written notes. Why can’t you just give her them?”

However, someone touched on the solution in one of the posts in the discussion.  We need to encourage change with the youngest students. They are the ones who have really grown up with a device in their hands.  But I believe that teachers too are important. They need to have the confidence and the conviction to adopt new ways of teaching and learning. Their disposition is just as important as the students. We cannot force change on either our learners or our students, we simply have to sow seed, nurture and reap the harvest.

Teachers of every generation have had to fight for change. This revolution is just a little faster, I think.

The wheels keep on turning…

chapel windowWell, it’s been a busy few weeks – did we have any school holidays? I seem to have a few minutes spare, but that is probably because I have forgotten what it is I am supposed to be doing.  Never mind, I thought I would sit down and gather my thoughts and reflect on what we have done in the first two weeks of term.

Reports, reports, reports. But of course, you need to mark work before you can write the reports because there has to be an assessment grade for each subject on the report. That was my holiday. (Oh, woe is me! No, really I had plenty of time to relax and spend time with family too.) Then once the reports are written, for form teachers comes the mixed blessing of proof reading reports. I say mixed bag because I really enjoy reading how the students in my form class are getting on in their different subjects. I teach my form class for English but I also teach some of them for Spanish. It is always fascinating to see how they respond to other subjects and other teachers. I start to see a whole person and not just the part that learns in my lessons. On the other hand, there is the tedium of checking for spelling errors, missed or extra commas, spaces, capital letters….. adherence to the Report Style Manual is absolute! However, that is a job that I can now put behind me until late November when the second round of reports is due!

Just a thought, a seedling sown by this article in The Guardian, what if we were limited to a twitter style report – 140 characters to succinctly get our messages about student learning to parents?  This could be via social media on a more regular basis than the once a year workload nightmare of industrial age reports.  This ongoing conversation could be supported by face to face meetings by request rather than at a “one date fits all, five minute speed dating” Parents’ Evening?

I love starting a new term, my students refreshed and curious to learn, new topics, new language, fresh ideas and raring to go.  This term we are studying “Hugo” in English and, despite never having taught a film study before, I am really enjoying it.  The wealth of materials on the internet provided me with a treasure trove of ideas during the holidays.  My family did get a little bored with watching Hugo over and over again, and me pausing the film for key scenes and to analyse the lighting, camera shots, music – is it dietic or non-dietic sound?  What are the connotations of the costumes, the soundtrack, the scene? My students are loving it so it was time well-spent and I feel like I have an inkling of what I am talking about!

Spanish classes are ramping up too – the seniors are focused on NCEA portfolio building, realising finally that some sense of urgency is required, and starting to connect the language they have learned over the last two years and joining the dots.  They know more than they think they know but how do I encourage them to realise that and have more confidence to speak?  The fear of not gaining Excellence is a huge inhibitor in language learning, and definitely a problem in a high stakes assessment system. Any suggestions as to how to overcome that barrier would be heartily welcome?


Blogging Meme

So here goes – thanks to @mjbuckland for tagging me in his post – I am a little late putting fingers to keyboard as I was away on holiday when he tweeted and am feeling a little out of the loop as internet connection was flaky at the various campsites and beaches around Northland.  However, back in my summer office now and avoiding unpacking the car and doing boring stuff like washing and sorting out smelly camping gear! 

The blogging task includes:
  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  • List 11 bloggers.
  • Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated.  Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

So the easy part is done, thanks again @mjbuckland!

11 Random facts about me

  1. I arrived from the Yorkshire Dales with my husband and two beautiful sons just about exactly 6 years ago today to settle in NZ.
  2. I was born in Leeds, England, the eldest daughter of four girls and generally took the role as honorary boy of the family (I worked out that Dad desperately wanted someone to share his remote controlled planes, trains, yachts and other toys and I got more attention that way!)
  3. I studied French, German and Politics at Leeds Polytechnic too many moons ago than I care to remember!
  4. I spent a year studying in Paris at the Institut d”Etudes Politiques alongside future French politicians and understood not a word of what was said in lectures (far too fast and esoteric for me!)
  5. I discovered the wonderful, amazing world beneath our feet when a friend dared me to go caving and spent the next 20 years exploring underground in several countries but mainly in my beloved Yorkshire Dales.
  6. The Yorkshire Dales are probably the one thing I really miss about the UK (apart from my sisters, but that goes without saying)
  7. I love languages, the roots of words, where languages come from and absolutely believe that languages are the soul of our identities, our culture and who we are.  We must not let minority languages die out.
  8. Chocolate (especially dark) and red wine (especially Rioja) are indispensable to my existence.
  9. I cannot manage to go out anywhere without being able to take photos – I love looking at the world through a lens and seeing the different perspectives and angles.
  10. I was the first (and possibly still, the only) female Underground Controller in the Cave Rescue Organisation in the Yorkshire Dales (had to step down when my pregnant belly would no longer fit in my caving suit!)
  11. My favourite place is on the top of a mountain, looking down on the ocean with the sun and breeze in my face. However, being deep underground in the complete silence and darkness just listening and contemplating comes a pretty close second.

My answers to Mark’s questions

1. What motivated you to become a teacher?

I was lucky to have several inspirational teachers when I was at primary school. My French teacher, Miss Francis, who was young and trendy and pretty and very excited about the French language, and my PE teacher, Mr Biscombe, who recognised something in everyone that they could do and encouraged us all to try our best.  They ended up getting married which I thought was so romantic!  I don’t think they directly inspired me to be a teacher but they inspired my love of languages and sport and provided me with avenues for developing expertise and passion that led me into teaching.  By the time I was 16 I was a gymnastics coach and then spent the next ten years coaching gymnastics.  I think I realised then that I enjoyed passing on to others the joy of something that I was passionate about.

2. If you could invite anybody to dinner, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Ooh, a difficult one! When I was younger I would have loved to have met and talked to one of my gymnastics heroes, Olga Corbett or Elvira Saudi. I had to content myself with biographies to find out about their lives. In my twenties and thirties I would definitely have said Norbert Casteret, a famous French speleologist, who did some amazing daredevil explorations with minimal equipment into extreme caves in the early 1900s. Nowadays, I might invite some of my past students who seem to be doing interesting things (Facebook is a wonderful thing! ). Having them all there would make for a lively dinner party and some eclectic conversation.

3. What fictional character are you most like, or do you most relate to?

I used to love Anne of Green Gables , mainly because she was called Anne. I loved the scraps she got into and her sense of fun, honesty and fair play. I have never had the confidence to be quite as forthright as she was portrayed but always wish I was!

4. Where does the tomato sauce live – cupboard or fridge?

Rarely use it but it lives in the pantry.

5. What would be the first thing you would do as the new Prime Minister of NZ?

Abolish standardised testing in schools! Don’t get me started, but it was tried in the UK and has been abandoned because it didn’t work! As a secondary school teacher we witnessed whole cohorts of children coming through who, as a result of SATs, were too scared to try anything new in case they failed. They only really tried if what they were asked to do was going to be tested and reported on.  The weaker students had already given up on learning because they saw themselves as failures and motivating them became even more difficult.  I know that this is possibly true even when regular standards testing does not occur but it was particularly noticeable to us at the time.

6. What has been the coolest thing you have ever done in/with your class?

I guess this answer leads on from the previous question… I had a lower ability yr 9 French class made up mainly of boys (for the third year in a row).  They had already done two years of French, hated it, they could see no point in it and had reached as far as they could as far as they could see.  I sought permission to abandon the national curriculum for this group and set forth on an inquiry based program that involved researching, planning and creating a French themed garden in the school grounds.  We had a great year, the boys were keen to find out more, they enjoyed planning, budgeting, buying plants, preparing the ground, digging, and planting.  They painted a mural in the classroom of their journey, they videoed and took photos and they wrote about what they did and learned.  They saw that the French that they learned was of some use, especially when they talked to the Foreman on the building site at school to ask him about the tools they might need, and found out that he spoke fluent French because he had worked on a building site in France.  That was a real ahaa moment for them! We had our ups and downs but some of those boys learned that it was fun to learn!

7. Crosswords or Sudokus? Both! Especially cryptic crosswords!

8. If you could be a professional athlete, which sport would you play? Why?

My son says football because it’s really fun and you get paid a lot! As a teenager I would have said gymnastics although there is no money in gymnastics.  I am not sure that I would want to be a professional athlete any more, I love sport but for relaxation and socialising.  However, I could quite happily be a professional travel photographer…. or maybe I could combine travel and gymnastics and be a circus performer!

9. What is one thing you want your students to remember about a year in your class?

That learning is fun, that success in exams is not the only measure of learning.

10. Uniforms or Mufti? Why?

Now there’s a can of worms! I like the idea of Mufti – individuality of expression, lack of conformity etc.  As a school child I wore a uniform and had a love-hate relationship with it.  Proud that it identified me with my school and peers but resentful of it’s “ugliness” and “sameness”.  We constantly sought ways to individualise it and “fashions” came and went with regard to skirt length and the ways to tie a tie!  As a teacher I have been resentful about starting every lesson checking uniform and having negative conversations with students about uniforms rather than being able to get on with teaching and learning.  But a uniform does seem to engender a collective sense of belonging and being part of a whole community.  As a parent the initial cost of a uniform is mind blowing but where schools have good quality suppliers, even boys find it difficult to destroy their uniforms and in the long term they are cheaper than Mufti!

11. Choose a verb, a noun, and an adjective to describe you.

14 yr old son says bossy, husband says pucker (I pucker my lips when concentrating and he is always reminding me not to – probably doing it now!), or run (everywhere – always in a hurry).  I am struggling with this question …. stubborn, determined, impatient, positive – they are all adjectives.  The linguist in me says that you can’t use nouns and verbs to describe someone so I’ll stick to adjectives!

I will be tagging @RowanTaigel, @Gaylharr, @anitsirk, @AmyMMcCauley, @essigna, @sorotki, @kirstie_C, @chrisswift, @AnneSturgess2, @gcouros, @traceymorgan

Now for the really difficult part – 11 questions of my own… starting with the deep and meaningful…

  1. Red wine or white wine?  Or beer?
  2. Pure unadulterated coffee or with white fluffy stuff in it?
  3. Milk chocolate or dark chocolate?
  4. What or where is your favourite place? Why?
  5. How far back can you trace your family tree? Where do your ancestors come from?
  6. If you could choose a moment in time to live in, when would it be? Why?
  7. What is your favourite song/piece of music? Why?
  8. What are the top 5 things on your bucket list?
  9. Which political or historical figure (living or dead) do you most respect/admire? Why?
  10. Which genre of art do you like best?
  11. What emotions do these three images stir in you?
    1. View of a city from the roof top of a high building.  The sky is blue, it is a beautiful day. The buidlings are a mixture of tall modern sky scrapers and old, more traditional buildings with red roofs.






painting of caver crawling on hands and knees in a low cave passage

teenage boy wearing track pants and black tee shirt walking up a hill.  A man is behind him lower down the slope.  In the background are forested hills.  The sky is blue and the ocean is on the horizon.

Creating ebooks

11244554575_66047f6e93_bFunny how plans for a day change. The day started sunny and bright so I thought it would be good to get out and tame the weeds that are burgeoning after some wet and warn weather. Dropped number 2 son off at hockey, walked round the lake, had a coffee, picked him up, came home all ready for the garden……and the heavens opened!
Opened up tablet (to avoid the dishes, and the hoovering and any other household jobs that need doing but are simply not appealing) and started playing with the photos I had taken this morning, thinking I would create a visual representation of my walk. I ended up clicking on Creative Book Builder to see if that would be useful and found a book that I had started making a few months back. That was it, the sun is now out and I could go go back in the garden but that hiatus in the day led me down a completely different path and a journey of discovery fraught with frustration. Thanks to @Allanahk who gave me some advice after I tweeted for help, @1MvdS for moral support and @easegill who is always on hand to help, I have a reasonably successful outcome.

So, I decided to finish my book – a Spanish reader for my beginner students with simple sentences and some explanation of the present tense and how to use adjectives.   That was the easy part.  Creative Book Builder is quite a straightforward, free app for both Apple and Android.  Easy to use, you can add images, text, weblinks,  and it seems that the latest version also allows you to record your voice.   Maybe that will have to be an experiment for next weekend!  Sounds promising though, especially for language teaching.

Having created my book, I opened it up in ebook which is the app I have on my Android tablet that Creative Book Builder uses to publish to.  For some reason, when I go to share or publish it doesn’t allow me to use my Kindle App.  That will have to be another investigation.   The ebook reader has quite a nice interface; the pages virtually turn in a stylised sort of way which is quite appealing and the font and layout is clear.  The images are also clear although I realise that I need to prepare photos before hand so that they are of similar size.  If they are too large the text scrolls over to the next page and no longer  matches the picture.

So far, so good.  Now I wanted to be able to share the book with my students.  We use Google Drive and so I was pleased to see that I could publish and share to Drive directly from CBB.

That was when I tweeted the link to share my book and find out if others could read it.  Alas, it was not to be so simple!


The file that downloaded from Drive didn’t seem to have a file extension and couldn’t be opened.


Nigel and I then turned to Google for answers; I tried Magicscroll first, it looked promising but still couldn’t read the file Drive downloaded.  We tried adding the epub extension, that didn’t work.  Allanah suggested sharing to Dropbox,  I had already shared to Evernote but hadn’t tried downloading the file from there yet.  Nigel and Allanah both suggested Calibre which is  “a free and open source e-book library management application”.


Meanwhile, I was doing some googling of my own and found the CBB blog which suggests using Readium which is a Chrome extension that can read epub files.   Easy to install and opens the files from Drive and Evernote and Dropbox easily.  The formatting needs some tweaking, setting the options to double page renders the pages better although the images and text are still a little out.


In the course of my investigations I tried downloading another epub file which required me spending the princely sum of $3 to pay for a Lee Child short story.  I wanted to test out Readium and Calibre which I had also downloaded.  Unfortunately, to download the book I had paid for, I had to install Adobe Digital Editions!  Fortunately, it is free and it now means I have another programme capable of reading epub files on my PC!   The Spanish Reader opens up well in there as well.  Similar glitches in terms of format rendering as in Readium but I think that is more down to the way that I have created the book than the readers themselves.   I just need more practice!

Anyway here is the link to my ebook. It is in Google Drive so you will have to download it and use an ereader to read it. I welcome any comments regarding what ereader you use and how useful any of them are. Please excuse the grammatical mistakes – I have already spotted two since publishing!

Now I just need to work out how I can share it on a webpage so that I can add it to our class Google Site, and also see if I can get Readium added on to the school Chrome Browsers as a standard extension!

Ulearn13 – catching up

claudelandsA week back at school and the stimulating discussions, interactions and keynotes at Ulearn13 at Claudelands, Hamilton, seem to have faded into the dim, distant past.  My head is still in a state of confusion; the demands of what I need to do at work at odds with wanting to get to grips with the seeds of ideas sown at Ulearn and in the interactions since then on Social Media.  I wake up at night after dreams in which I am not really sure what is real and what is make-believe!

Anyway, as I am the world’s best procrastinator, instead of writing my reports or processing all the data from the medical forms for Year 10 camp that looms in Week 7, I have spent today in the garden, at the Hockey Club AGM and presentation (my youngest gained an award and I ended up on the committee – what is it about my hand that seems to have a mind of it’s own!?) exploring BlendSpace and other tools I found out about at Ulearn13 and thinking about how I could use them to help me synthesise my thoughts.

One of the sessions I went to at Ulearn13 was “10 tips to socialise sustainability of elearning” which was facilitated by Megan Iemma and David Kinane.  It was affirming to realise that I already knew and used most of the tools that they talked about but I was pleased that I also learned of some new ones.

image of Blendspace - digital presentation

A colleague had decided not to go to Ulearn this year as she has been before and felt that she wouldn’t learn anything new and that someone who hadn’t been before would benefit more from being able to go.  Another who was very excited at her first conference last year realised that she needed to pick her sessions more carefully in future as this year she ended up attending similar sessions to 2012, and she has come so far in her own learning that she was ahead of many of the other attendees.   My perspective is that there is always something new to learn, the conversations that you have are invaluable and the opportunity to share and to learn is infinite.  However, I am also aware that the cost to schools to send teachers to conferences such as this is huge.  This year we were lucky as there were no accommodation costs as Ulearn13 was here in Hamilton and so we could send 8 teachers.

Picking breakouts is a fine art and I think there is an evolution.  The first year everything is new and you are so overwhelmed by the choice that there is an element of potluck.  Having said that the descriptions now are more specific and it is easier to filter the different sectors.  I know that in my first year I ended up at some very specific Primary sessions at which I found little that I could adapt to Secondary.  Nevertheless, it is always interesting to know what is happening in early years, after all they are our future students.

In subsequent years, when you understand the system better, you can be more judicious in your choices.  I can now recognise speakers’ names, identify sectors and spot themes.  I also don’t feel obliged to book every breakout – the interactions in the Social Media space and in the Trade Hall are just as valuable as the Breakouts, Spotlights and  Research Papers. The Twitter chat backed up with blogs and reviews and videos of Keynotes and presentations on Slideshare and websites allow more people  to “virtually” attend conferences, but nothing really beats the face to face interactions, connections, and shared experiences.

I have also had a play with Martin Hawksey’s TagsExplorer which I encountered whilst I was doing my MOOC in January.  The visual display of tweets is fascinating and so I decided to create one for the EdchatNZ last Thursday evening.  It took me a while but I eventually got there ( just not good at following instructions!)  It only picks up tweets within 7 days so when I tried to do one for Ulearn13 it only aggregated the tweets from Friday onwards.  Interesting to note though the level of interaction over the weekend following the conference.

image showing tweets

So, where to now? I am still processing ideas, still following tweets, trying to keep up with schoolwork, wondering how to maintain my focus on the day to day stuff and keep my thoughts from flying away and being lost somewhere in my hyperactive brain so that when the holidays come, I can retrieve them.  Watch this space!