A “hit” of feedback

Over at the professional teacher-librarian listservs, OZTL_Net and nswtl, it is customary to post a “hit” of useful feedback to the list when people have elected to send private emails in response to a post. The information is anonymous, in that it’s from private emails, and a hit can save the cluttering up of the actual listserv traffic with lots of “me too” and “well done” posts. A hit also collects useful snippets of information in the one place.

A few days ago, I posted the URL of this blog to both OZTL_Net and nswtl and the emails started coming in immediately. Many thanks for the great feedback, everyone. Some readers responded in the Comments section of the blog itself, but I wanted to share some of the other messages that have come through to me by email.

What is really exciting (and important) is that I’ve already inspired others to take immediate action to plan for using Web 2.0 tools with their classes this year. Blogs! Blog comments! Wikis! Memes! Book raps

As I said last year – on the second occasion I heard about the place of wikis and blogs in education – if I don’t attempt it now, I might never feel “ready”. There’s something to be said about learning along with the students.

* “Good on you Ian. I’ll be reading. I’ve just started writing one too… Good luck on the blogging journey!”

* “I checked out your blog cos I had a spare mo and liked your 10 questions so much I thought I’d have to ask if I can use them blatantly for the book discussion group that I have to set up as an extracurricular activity. I’ll share the blog too but thought I might set up something similar or get the students to do it on our school intranet.”

* “Very impressive, Ian”

* “I checked out your Wiki with the kindy kids. Loved it! Love to try it this year… The stories are great by the way. I’ve set up a Wiki with pbwiki and so am one quarter of the way there.”

* “FABULOUS!!! I can only aspire to bloggin’ at present but I take heart from your bold step”.

“Looks great – very inspiring.”

Thanks everyone! See you here in the blogosphere sometime.

The savvy searchers

Last year, when the Stage 2 (Year 1 and 2) students were participating in the READiscover Book Rap, instead of simply bookmarking the site, I decided to model finding the site each time on Google, to see if the students would build confidence and find the site at home on their own computers.

Each lesson, a selected student typed in the phrase “Raps and Book Raps” – within the inverted commas – into the Google search engine. (I already knew this to be the exact title of the desired web page that would lead us to the correct Rap; it can now be found at the link Raps archive.)

Previous tests of this search, before the students arrived for their lesson, had confirmed that the web page did always come up as the first choice. However, I also wanted to demonstrate to the students what happens without the inverted commas being in place when searching: we received back a list of 3,100,000 possible hits! Putting the inverted commas back into place, we reduced that possible hit count to just 5,550. The students were very surprised.

The modelling worked. Students came in at lunchtimes to demonstrate to friends how they performed the search with inverted commas in place, and numerous students reported that they’d located the web page for their parents at home.

During their Rap Wrap Up message – brainstormed during a Circle Time activity – Stage 2 students asked to add to their post to the other schools:

“Our skills and insights:
* Inverted commas can help you search better on Google.”

I’m still smiling. And more convinced than ever by the power of modelled behaviour.

It’s about time

The theme of today was definitely… time.

1. All morning, getting ready for work today, I was racking my brain to remember how to generate the calendar in OASIS Library. A chore I haven’t had to do since early 1997. I knew I’d remember when the time came to do it – and I did – but there still some moments of self-doubt.

2. The school day commenced with a staff meeting in the library. Naturally, when I happened to glance up at the clock, it was totally wrong. The battery had run flat during the vacation. I saw quite a few colleagues do double takes of their own.

3. It finally became really obvious that, as of today, I still hadn’t set the time stamp preferences properly here on Edublogs. It didn’t matter too much last week; when on holidays, every day blurs into the other. My attempts to get it adjusted this afternoon caused today’s comment writers some confusion. (My penpal in the USA, a fellow science fiction fan is always impressed when she gets my emails with tomorrow’s date on them. I just say to her, “See? Time travel really is possible!”) Hey everyone, thanks so much for the comments and emails! I hope I find the time to post something useful/interesting/exciting every day.

4. It’s actually a blessing that I can’t seem to find any way to change the dates on already-posted blog entries and comments on Edublogs. I once found a way to do it on my other blog page at Blogger – and now that I can post-date articles there – I no longer rush to post before midnight. Then I get lazy and forget to post at all.

5. Whew! I had put the draft Term One library timetable in a safe place last year. I found it, too.

6. I just realised how Tardis-like this blog’s About page picture appears. Spooky!

7. Time to get back to work on preparations for tomorrow.

8. You know, I do have an actual Tardis image around here somewhere…


First day back – testing 1, 2, 3

First day of term, and time to check if I can upload posts to Edublogs from here. Not that I’m planning on doing too many posts from the work computers but if I ever need to link across to or from something on the school web site or wiki, or if I wish to set up class group blog sites in 2008, then it’s good to know it’ll work.

Other blog sites are usually blocked from use as being “social networking”, but Edublogs are designed for use at educational institutions.

ICT and Web 2.0, here we come!

(And speaking of time, today’s actually the 29th January in Australia, so now I need to adjust the timer settings on the blog… The learning curve is steep, but we’ll get there.)

The bookish meme

1. One book you have read more than once:

Like my friend, Andrew, who originally sent me the template for this meme for bloggers, I’m a hoarder when it comes to books. Wasting time on the Internet these days has definitely cut into the time I might have spent re-reading old favourites, and I do lots of reading of picture books and short novels for work/school, but I would have to choose: 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.

In the 1980s, an actress of my acquaintance, Elaine Lee, was appearing in the play version of 84 Charing Cross Road, opposite Judi Farr and the late Leonard Teale. To my horror, the season was completely sold out. They had just added one more performance by public demand (whew!) but, while I was waiting for the big day, I picked up the book out of curiosity – and was immediately hooked. It’s the true story, told in letters, of a feisty New York woman who loves English literature (and the mystique of leatherbound second hand books), and her pithy correspondence – almost love affair – with the canny manager of a London antiquarian bookstore. I just love the way the personalities of both main characters permeate their letters, and to see the evolution of their deepening friendship and mutual respect over many years, and the positive effects a single deep friendship can have on others. One also gets a taste of life in both cities: while stoic Londoners soldiered on under post-war food rationing, hectic New Yorkers’ career paths, dental health and rental crises was preventing the following of dreams. Inspiring!

The feature film version with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins is excellent, too, as is an audio version featuring Miriam Karlan and Frank Finlay. The movie’s soundtrack album is also a firm favourite. When I finally got to see Elaine in the play, the curtain call bows by the cast were real tear-jerkers. An amazing theatrical experience.

After reading 84 Charing Cross Road (which included the sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street), I was recommended the hilarious Underfoot in showbusiness, also by Helene Hanff, which details her frustrating quest to become a playwright. I then found Apple of my eye on my own, ironically just a few weeks after visiting New York for the first time. That one has Hanff and her friend, the aptly-named Patsy, exploring New York as if they were tourists. They made me want to go back immediately and see everything I’d missed. I eventually found a rare, second hand hardcover version of Apple of my eye (the one with all the photographs), on my next visit to New York. There’s this wonderful three-storey second hand bookstore in Greenwich Village, where every book is alphabetised and categorised.

2. One book you would want on a desert island:

Mmmmm. The omnibus edition of The lord of the rings by JRR Tolkien. It supports endless re-reading, and I would love the luxury of time to read it again after all the fun of seeing the three movies. (I loved seeing Sawyer reading Watership Down as his book of choice or, rather, the default book for a desert island, on TV’s “Lost” recently. But it’s not long enough for an extended stay.) Coincidentally, the one book Helene Hanff absolutely hated when she had to critique it, as part of her job evaluating books in Underfoot in showbusiness, was… The lord of the rings.

3. One book that made you laugh:

Mmmm. I love the humour of Peter David, comic book writer and “Star Trek” novelist, who’s extended his talents into several series of very funny, very punny, medieval/fantasy books, particularly his Sir Apropos of Nothing trilogy. See also The Woad to Wuin and Tong lashing. (I also love collections of newspaper comic strips of the 80s and 90s, such as “Bloom County”, “Calvin and Hobbes”, “The Far Side” and “Robotman”. They often give me a good belly laugh.)

4. One book that made you cry:

The ultimate time travel novel, The man who folded himself by David Gerrold. A young man inherits a strange time travel belt and turns his life upside down as its power tempts and/or corrupts him. It’s a real coming-of-age novel, so as a then-stereotypical science fiction fan in my early 20s, this one really hit home at times. It certainly adds layers of complexity to all those science fiction shows that so carelessly flirt with time travel.

David, of course, is also the creator of “tribbles”, those little prolific fuzzballs from “Star Trek”. I’ve bought every novel David has written (and have read most of them), and he always takes his readers on an informative journey.

5. One book you wish you had written:

My unpublished social history on Aussie TV. Sadly, after several close calls, the Australian literary market was unable to embrace my proposed manuscript as a commercial venture. (Maybe I should reconfigure it as a doctoral thesis?) The book would have contained behind-the-scenes gossip, previously untold anecdotes and celebrity interviews. Sigh…

6. One book you wish had never been written:

Worst “Star Trek” novel ever: Deep Space Nine: The Laertian Gamble by Robert Sheckley. I was shocked to realize the recently-departed Scheckley was a highly respected science fiction writer. This book was just turgid, turgid, turgid. I’ve read lots of “Star Trek”, and this was just hard work to even keep turning the pages. Ick.

7. One book you are currently reading:

Warpath by David Mack. It’s a gripping instalment of the “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” post-series adventures. I fell behind on my “Star Trek” reading, and it’s been next to impossible to avoid reading online “spoilers” for this book. (Ditto the final Harry Potter book!)

8. One book you have been meaning to read:

Mmmm. I’ve bought all of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next (and Jack Spratt) science fantasy novels as they’ve come out in mass market paperback. He was signing in Galaxy Bookshop one night – and anyone who owns a pet dodo (The Eyre affair) and gets Lost in a good book, or even The well of lost plots, sounds like someone I want to read about. The covers and blurbs are so compelling, I hope I do enjoy them when I finally get the chance.

9. One book that changed your life:

Star Trek: the motion picture by Gene Roddenberry. I knew “Star Trek” from the animated series of the 70s, and pre-publicity about the making of the first feature film to revive the 60s TV show. Picking up this novelization in a supermarket checkout queue (and reading it before seeing the movie) turned me into a “Star Trek” fan and opened so many new doors over the past three decades.

10. Favourite Australian children’s book:

From my own childhood – very nostalgic, and probably nothing that would appeal to most children today – Cole’s funny picture book. Two volumes have been around for A Very Long Time, and the third (edited by E.W. Cole’s grandson) almost as long. I’ve taken this book to several Premier’s Reading Challenge events. My Volume 1 is inscribed by my paternal grandfather on my sixth birthday, and he made a point in helping me to build an appreciation for this scrapbook of the Victorian Era. It’s incredibly-densely packed with text, and fine-lined engravings of days-gone-by. It has poems, stories, riddles, jokes, picture puzzles, codes from the days when television and X-boxes weren’t even figments in their inventors’ imaginations.

You are hereby invited to respond, and tell us your 10.

Happy little Vegemites

Last year, in my capacity as teacher-librarian – and the school’s Possum magic Book Rap coordinator – I was invited to observe our ESL (English as a Second Language) Stage 3 students making Vegemite sandwiches with their ESL teacher.

I’d been encouraging the teacher to immerse herself and her students into the book rap, which they did – even though it was aimed at Stage 1 (Years 1 & 2) students. Their food preparation activity was the practical aspect of a lesson about writing procedures, in this case a recipe. it was also the culminating activity of the students’ work on the actual book rap. In the Mem Fox & Julie Vivas picture book, Hush the little, invisible possum was able to again turn (and stay) visible by eating Vegemite sandwiches, pavlova and lamingtons on her birthday.

There were plenty of laughs to be had as these ten- to twelve-year-old students grappled with the uniqueness that is Vegemite – not to mention their admirable manipulation of the English language – when their Australian experiences are so limited. I mean, it’s hard enough to explain to Australian-born students why “knife” starts with a “k”, let alone informing newly-arrived students that this dark-coloured, salty, mysterious, yeast extract is a favourite food of many Australian children, and that it’s a by-product of the great Aussie beer-brewing process.

The ESL students were already demonstrating keen Australian senses of humour. After being told that the steps of a procedure always begin with a verb, one student rejected Step 4, “Eat Vegemite sandwich”, in favour of her own Step 4: “Put Vegemite sandwich in bin.”

(That’s “trash” for any North Americans reading this blog, by the way.) My friends and I have been known to foist Vegemite upon unsuspecting US visitors Down Under. Their usual response is, “It looks like axle grease” – and US science fiction author, David Gerrold, once accused an Australian convention audience, “… and I believe you feed this to young children?”

The students at school did survive their Vegemite experience last year, but only just. One had previously boasted he “ate all foods”, but even he had found one to cross off his list. I explained to the students that I would be accepting their invitation to turn up to the lesson the next week, when they are planning to follow a procedure for making lamingtons! (I hate lamingtons! I’ve often postulated that my mother was once frightened by a rogue coconut while I was in the womb.)

In a few weeks, the new Stage 1 book rap (on the picture book Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge) will, hopefully, have some unique new features. At least, that’s what we’re planning. Oh yes, school is back for a new year on Tuesday. How time flies…

Kindergarten weaves a wiki

Zebra with spots

Last November, I bit the bullet and leaped into the next era of ICT (information communications technology) and taught a dozen Kindergarten students (and myself, slightly one step ahead) how to design a wiki.Now, I’ve dabbled in adding and editing an existing wiki (eg. Wikipedia, Star Trek Memory Alpha and Memory Beta, etc), but this time I had to work out how to design one, and how to help the students to build up a narrative (in fable form, complete with a motto) – and post it to the wiki. Welcome, students, to the world of Web 2.0!

We’d already spent a few weeks researching and modelling the nature of fables (The hare and the tortoise, The fox and the grapes, et al) and normally I’d have done a group construction of a narrative on butcher’s paper, and edited it with a felt pen. Instead, we used a free wiki service – at pbwiki.com (Peanut butter wiki) and, within a few moments of launch of our first fable, our fledgling wiki web pages were being looked at by two different Internet surfers in California, USA. Amazing!

Young students are simply not scared to (literally) push that newest button in modern technology. The next day we had visitors from several parts of Europe, more Californians, interstate Australians and even “a visitor from parts unknown”, according to pbwiki.

A week later, Selwa Anthony, Australian literary agent extraordinaire, held her annual all-day seminar and gala dinner for her ever-growing network of amazing authors. Once again at the Novatel Hotel in Brighton-le-Sands, Succeed – It’s Great in 2008 was as stimulating as the first one I attended (way back in November 1993, Succeed Some More in ’94.) The seminars take their title from a little self-help book, Succeed with me, which Selwa once wrote with Jimmy Thomson – and it’s now available in audio by Bolinda Audio; we received a freebie in our goodie bag upon arrival!

Despite the fact that, so far, I haven’t earned Selwa any percentages, she keeps inviting me back. These seminars have certainly directed me into numerous opportunities over the years but so far nothing commercial enough that would earn Selwa her percentage. Yet. Selwa continues to have faith in me, but I always feel quite humble in the talented company of Selwa’s network.

Anyway, the first speaker was a no-show. So compere, Mark Macleod, offered up what he called “one-minute spots”, over the course of the day, to anyone wanting to share something special to the rest of the network. A few people availed themselves of the opportunity and, in the morning tea break, I was boasting to friend and author/journalist Sue Williams about my Kindergarten students’ recent work writing fables on the World Wide Web via a wiki.

Sue’s eyes lit up and she said, “Go and tell Mark you’ll do a one minute spot!”

The next thing I knew, I was sharing my young students’ work – from memory! – with the likes of Tara Moss, Kim Wilkins, Ian Irvine, new children’s author Amanda Holohan, and so many other Australian literary luminaries. It was a highly energizing experience, and it made sooooooo twitchy to get to the keyboard and write about the students’ (and my) successes. Maybe there’ll be a chance for a much longer session at the next seminar?

Check out the final drafts of the students’ wiki fables and accompanying artwork at: http://penrithpslibrary.pbwiki.com/.


I’ll be right on it!

Thank you for dropping by. You have been “booked in”. This blog will cover many aspects of teacher-librarianship in a primary (elementary) school in New South Wales, Australia.

Last year, I was told by a few teacher-librarian colleagues that although I hadn’t made that many posts to the TL listservs, what I did post was memorable – because of my positive and practical take on professional matters.

I guess I’ve always been a “glass half full” kind of guy. To celebrate the many little successes that we teacher-librarians have – every day of our careers – and to present an example of a functional, practical, professional web log to other members of staff here at school, I’ve decided to set up a new home in cyberspace – or is that the blogsphere?

The great thing about Edublogs is that they can be readily accessed, and uploaded to, from NSW DET computers, so I’m also hoping to get class groups blogging from the school library in 2008.

I hope you will join me on the next stage of my learning journey.

Regards, Ian McLean