Punctuation is a killer!

Book Week is fast approaching!

Yesterday, I was discussing some of the CBCA shortlisted books with Stage 2 classes, and we turned our attention to “Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie letter” (Black Dog Books), which is edited by Carole Wilkinson.

Now, the Stage 3 students became very aware of the Kelly Gang last term, thanks to their “Gold!” unit in HSIE, and our library focus on bushrangers. I wasn’t expecting Stage 2 students to have much of an awareness about Ned.

A student in one class was asked what he knew about Ned Kelly the bushranger. I was fully expecting something to do with metal helmets, or robbing people, or maybe a connection to the late Heath Ledger (whose “Ned Kelly” movie was mentioned in recent obituaries for the Australian actor.)

“Ned Kelly had a lot of headaches. I saw him on the Nurofen ads on TV.” (Sure enough, I saw the commercial myself last night! Nurofen is a prominent pain medication.)

I read Carole Wilkinson’s introduction to “Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie letter” to another class and we discussed her mention of Ned’s rambling style as he narrated the long letter to gang member, Joe Byrne, and how Wilkinson had to correct Byrne’s spelling errors and missing punctuation.

“What is wrong with having no punctuation?” I asked.

“Full stops tell you when to take a breath,” someone suggested.

“Is that how Ned Kelly killed people?” another student piped up.


“Is that how he killed people? By making people read all those sentences without taking a breath?

A fishy story

Sometimes I think it would be great to have a fish tank in the school library where I work. Fish tanks are so… calming. Well, that’s the theory. Usually, I manage to talk myself out of such a whimsy.

I had a large aquarium in my old library. The principal bought it, on a whim, from a casual relief janitor – and it functioned quite adequately for about a year. The students loved searching for the little “Where’s Wally?” toy (in his swimming ring, snorkle and goggles) which decorated the bottom of the tank. (That’s “Where’s Waldo?” for my US readers.)

We eventually lost the last of our first batch of goldfish, so I cleaned out the tank one Friday and had the new water circulating all weekend, ready to buy more fish.

Of course, when we came in on the Monday morning the tank was bone dry: the water had leaked through a faulty seam (weakened during my strenuous cleaning?), and saturated the carpet! We had a special event (visiting children’s author, Libby Gleeson) occurring in the library later in the week and we had to hire special air blowers to dry out the carpet in time. What a mess!

One six-week holiday, I put in a four-week food block to keep the fish happy for the time we’d be away from school. Someone said, “But what happens when the fish get hungry in the fifth week?”

I joked that “Of course, Survival of the Fittest” would be played out – and boy, did I feel bad when one poor goggle-eyed black moor got skeletonised.

Newspaper clipping generator: Extra! Extra!

Last term, I worked with Stage 3 students (four Year 5 & 6 classes) on a WebQuest about bushrangers, to complement the work they were doing in class: the Human Society & Its Environment unit, “Gold!”

I started by asking their teachers which elements of the unit, in past years, had been the most difficult to cover in class. Since a lot of home class time was devoted to an engrossing simulation game, the part they felt was suddenly sprung upon the students was the imminent arrival of a “bushranger” (secretly invited teacher or executive staff member), who “robs” the students (who until that point are often reluctant to “bank”). Depending on the whim of the “guest bushranger”, many of the students end up losing a lot of “money”, “gold” and (sometimes) even their gold-seeking equipment in the game.

I ended up creating my own “guided enquiry” WebQuest because existing ones on the Internet encouraged the students to assume the role of a bushranger. (Is it a good idea to have students play lawbreakers / robbers / murderers?) When I came across a fascinating little website called Newspaper clipping generator, I realised that a more positive angle was to have the students be newspaper journalists for a goldrush-era colonial newspaper.

After the preliminary activities, the students worked in small groups to complete a facts matrix using Internet and book resources. During their weekly library sessions, we also focused on the limited photographic and printing technologies and facilities of colonial times, and the need for text-based physical descriptions of their selected bushranger(s).

The presentation format was not announced until all research was completed. Explicit teaching, at point of need, also included deconstruction of effective newspaper headlines and colonial-era “Wanted” posters, discussion of how to select a suitable date for an article, and a focus on colonial newspaper journalistic styles and language (including terms which are not “politically correct” in 2008).

The students’ newspaper clippings about their chosen “notorious” bushrangers are at:

Gold nuggetPre- and post-tests were done to establish how well these WebQuest activities improved the students’ learning. Just watching the confidence of the students as they completed their post-tests told me that the unit of work had been very successful. I shall report further on my findings soon.

Afterthoughts: Ruth Buchanan did a great post over at Skerricks about books versus virtual resources in student research. I mentioned in my comment to her post that our “Gold!” research saw a similar phenomenon to hers, but with our Stage 3 students. With very limited time to complete the task over several weeks, I’d set up lots of “bushrangers research” Internet links from a central online locale, and showed the students which links I thought might be more useful, but many happily scampered off to see what “real books” we also had on the topic.

The biggest problem we found was one link off a WebQuest page: the link was to previous student research from another school (and from several years ago), and the accuracy of that information varied from student to student, even though their final products closely resembled webpages uploaded by so-called “professional” Australian historians.

Similarly, the work we‘ve now uploaded (to the Gold Quest blog we shared with Caddies Creek PS) – to give all the students the chance to share their findings online – is not necessarily 100% accurate.

The whole exercise has also reminded me how much work is involved for an editor to check historical facts in books and websites. I can’t possibly go through every student author’s sources and confirm every detail. To a certain extent, a “chief editor” and publisher must trust an author’s research strategies (and literary licence to express facts in valid ways).

More learning, growing and achieving

Unlike the last conference I was asked to speak at, I went into today’s events without that heavy weight of responsibility and impending disaster. I mean, if I could fill an hour on my own last time, how much easier would it be this time? We knew our material back-to-front, if necessary. The most difficult aspect would surely be, what bits do I leave out?

My co-presenter, Cath Keane, had prepared eleven of our PowerPoint pages, I’d added my own hyperlinks to the twelfth and last slide, and we only had 50 minutes or so to fill anyway. We also had plenty of time before our session, “Young rappers”, to play on the interactive whiteboard (IWB), test our hyperlinks and cache all our web pages that we were planning to visit. We also knew in advance that we had about twenty people signed up to hear our talk. Everything worked in the rehearsal and off we went to the first keynote event of Day 2 of this Early Years Conference.

Clinical psychologist, Lyn Worsley, presented her fascinating session on “The resilience doughnut: the secret of strong kids” and, while she probably didn’t say anything terribly new, especially to a ballroom filled with teachers who already had solid backgrounds in early childhood education, the strength of her approach was the clear answer of “where to know?” that one could glean after having used her clever, simple analytical tool for gauging the resilience of a particular student. Wonderful!

Before we knew it, Cath and I were deep into our presentation on book raps, blogs, wikis and Circle Time. Our only hitch was that our computer connection, which had worked so perfectly in rehearsal, had been lost for the presentation. A tech person came in and got us back online most efficiently, but our live connection to the Wilfrid rap blog (on Edublogs) was no longer working. Luckily, our PowerPoint had lots of frame grabs from the site, and the links to the Departmental website and my school’s wiki pages were still viable, so we carried on regardless. We finished off with a reading of my Kinder students’ “Zebra with spots” fable of 2007, and a walk-through of selected pages from my school’s wiki pages. I hope our presentation has encouraged more schools to start dabbling in wikis and blogs.

It all seemed to go very well, but a highlight for me was that two attendees hung back at the end to (re)introduce themselves. It was none other than Warren and Kathy, two of my colleagues from my teachers college days! They’d noticed each other in the audience of my workshop session – I’m not sure at what point they realised that I was also from the same year – but morning tea turned out to be a mini-reunion of the Class of ’79 of the Guild Teachers College. We swapped anecdotes about the good ol’ days and pocket histories of our lives. It was the first time we’d seen each other since Graduation Day in 1980 – very exciting, and great to know that they are doing so well in their own teaching careers. (I can see a bigger reunion coming up in the next few months! I hope.)

Next up was Peter Gould, Manager, Mathematics at NSW DET – and one of the people I worked with on numerous occasions back in my Scan editor days. Peter’s keynote was “From ABC to 123: what counts in early numeracy” and – despite some frustrating glitches with the movie clip elements of his presentation – it was an invaluable reminder of the essential differences in the ways young children learn to be numerate as opposed to literate.

After lunch, I attended two more workshops, both of which (again) ably demonstrated the amazing array of teaching and learning strategies that interactive whiteboards are bringing to classrooms in the 21st century. I guess that’s the main thing I’m taking from this conference: that most of today’s students are already citizens of the digital world of Web 2.0. The sooner their teachers and parents play catch-up the better. Every presentation I went to was using IWBs as part of their presentation – even my presentation, and today was the first time I’d actually been able to use one! Knowing that a little knowledge is dangerous, I can’t wait to get my hands on an IWB as part of my school library’s facilities and let my imagination run wild. Or wilder.

This conference left its delegates with so much food for thought (and delicious food for the body – the Novotel, Brighton-le-Lands always does well in that regard), great ideas we can start using on Monday (first day back of Term Three), and some wonderful memories of networking with colleagues, old and new. Synthesising all the learning into our daily lives will take time, but I’m glad I gave up two days of my vacation to absorb it all. I’m also grateful for the very handsome, gold-embossed “Presenter” pens, which Cath and I received for doing our workshop.

Roll on Term Three…

Learning, Growing, Achieving in the Early Years, Day 1

I knew there was a reason I didn’t book my overseas vacation for this break, but I wasn’t sure exactly why… until I realised that it would have been because I’d already committed to speak at a workshop at the 2008 Early Years Conference: Learning, Growing, Achieving, presented by NSW DET. Day 1 was held today, but my talk session – co-presented with current Scan editor, Cath Keane, isn’t until tomorrow.

Cath has put together a PowerPoint presentation about our recent ventures into the world of Web 2.0 – online book raps for Stage 1, and related blogs and wikis, and I’ll also be talking about my school wiki pages, using some of the material I prepared (on fable writing for Early Stage 1) for the School libraries leading learning conference I did earlier this year. My conference notes are still online, revamped a little to incorporate some recent reflections. Since that last conference, I’ve also worked on some other relevent projects: a wiki page for the Arthur Simultaneous Reading event and some great Nursery Rhyme matrices, which I used in Term One this year with Early Stage 1 and Stage 1 classes.

Today there were some excellent and thought-provoking keynote speeches from Professor Scott Paris, of University of Michigan, (“Teaching and assessing comprehension right from the start”) and Tracey Simpson (“Honest talk, shared language: connectedness for success in the early years”). Both keynotes emphasised the importance of teachers making full use of evidence-based practice, both reading the results of others’ research, and using one’s own to inform future teaching. I enjoyed these sessions, took lots of notes – which I promise to synthesis and report back about.

And sorry, Judy – of HeyJude blog – I still take my notes on paper. With a pen. The old-fashioned way. Again. 😉 (Although the money I saved not going to the USA could go towards an Apple laptop? Maaaybe.) At another recent conference, Judy had challenged attendees at that conference why no one in the audience was using their mobile (to send off live still images of the speakers direct to their blogs), or Twittering as the speeches were unfurling, or sending a live feed of the conference to overseas locations.

As I await my school’s first interactive whiteboard (IWB), it was interesting to note that many (most?) workshop presenters are now using them as standard equipment. I attended excellent and flashy sessions on “Student learning in a digital age” and “COGs: raising the bar in the early years”. In the main room, there was also a “Regional showcase” of the Best Start assessment tools project from the Sydney Region.

In summing up the regional showcase, Rob Randall reminded us of an excellent earlier quote and many people jotted this down as one of their last comments on their notepads. The new emphasis for the schools involved in Best Start has become “… shorter teaching episodes with fluid groups of students”.

Not an entirely new thought for me, coming from plenty of experience in PSP (Priority Schools Program) schools, but no doubt quite a new concept for others.

Tomorrow – Day 2! Wish me luck!

Access and equity: blog post inspires blog post!

My recent post about my colour blindness, over on my other blog, has inspired Craig Thomler‘s latest post on eGov au.

Craig asks, “Do government communications discriminate against – or for – the visually impaired?” He continues, “Despite the requirement for government in Australia to ensure our websites are accessible, I worry both that we do not do enough, and that we do too much, in this area.”

The Curriculum Directorate colleague (at Ryde State Office of the NSW Department of Education & Training), mentioned in my initial post, did spread the word about my “condition” – with my permission, of course – and I became an unofficial colour evaluation guinea pig for several Units’ web page revamps for the Departmental website while I was there. It was fun, and fascinating.

Mind you, while I was able to help them with specifications to aid my red/green colour blindness, there are other types. Where does all the beta testing end? 😉 I know we tried to address numerous aspects of accessibility for the “Scan” and School Libraries web pages while I was there, and our tweaking of the book rap blogs and wikis have been ongoing. But it seems there’s always so much more you can do to make a site more accessible and equitable.

That web composers are open to suggestions (and complaints) from people trying to use their site, is of paramount importance. For example, as pretty as Flash animations may be, to use only such a visual on the front page of a site can mean that people using old browsers or computers can’t even progress to the page with contact details to lodge a complaint! (I’ve been there before!)

Thanks for the link to my blog post, Craig!

Worn out, but holidays are here now!

Mmmm. For some reason, I can never work out how to change the posting dates on this particular blog. must be in my preferences somewhere. On other Edublogs I administer, the date changing facilitator thingie is just sitting there…

I was feeling quite ragged last week. It was a long and eventful term at school/work – but on the other hand the weeks were just flying by. Every (usually) spare spot on my timetable has been used to let as many Stage 3 (Years 5 & 6) students as possible participate in the Identity: Sharing our stories rap, not to mention any other spare second, and many late nights, helping to moderate the incoming messages, and solving a few tech problems.

The rap has used print and online interviews with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, and the ten groups of students, who’ve worked on the rap for the last seven weeks – brainstorming group responses to set questions, which are then shared with other school groups via a blog – have gotten so much out of the experience, it’s all been well worthwhile.

Last Tuesday, I was supposed to be presenting our work to any interested parents, while their children attended the school disco. Unfortunately, I had no takers and I was left sitting upstairs with a whole bank of computers set to the rap, and no audience. (Last term we had a good roll up for a similar presentation on the Wilfrid book rap.)

No matter. On the Friday it was our annual NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander Day of Celebration) Assembly at school, and I did a presentation there of some of the highlights of the students’ work. Most of the Aboriginal students (all of whom have been doing the rap), were working on the NAIDOC Assembly, but I was able to target one Year 5 boy, who’d been reluctant to be involved with the main rehearsals, to be my special helper, even if was holding some flashcards for me. (In the end he even said, “Are you going to introduce me? Are you going to say my name?)

Incidentally, it’s been a while since I’ve been to inner-city Glebe – but I wanted to gather up some reasonably priced Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander children’s books for presentations at the assembly, and past experience had told me that Gleebooks is usually the best port of call for these items. In went in a few saturdays ago and the staff were so helpful – at one point I had three staff members scurrying around at my whim – and any chance to wander through their children’s and second hand collections is a pleasure. Thanks Gleebooks!

I must admit to feeling a little put out the morning after the no-show of parents when suddenly one of my student helpers in the library slipped me an impromptu note, artfully decorated in glitter glue of many hues: “Thank you Mr McLean for all your herd (sic) work.” She stressed that the note was created by her, but was from all ten of my library monitors. It left me grinning all day, despite my weariness.

We all need those little moments, eh?

Web 2.0 for happy rapping

On a professional listserv, a question was raised about book raps using Web 2.0 technology rather than the traditional email listserv…

Some of this is covered in previous blog entries here, but here’s a summary I prepared:

The School Libraries and Information Literacy Unit (NSW DET) trialled the use of Edublogs this year. We re-ran a previous book rap – on Mem Fox’s Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge – in Term One for Stage 1 students, using a blog format to set out the rap points and discussion, and it was excellent! (Just be careful choosing your “theme” or “template” because not all “posts” and “pages” permit people to “comment”. It can be a tricky combination between setting your preferences and simply choosing the best “theme” for the job.)

We had schools all over in Australia in that, and even one from Vietnam.

In Term Two, we ran an Identity: Sharing our Stories rap for Stage 3 and 4, and this focused on Aboriginal perspectives. Again, the blog format was very efficient.

Both raps have also featured a Gallery of artwork. For “Wilfrid”, I – as a coordinator – set up a wiki page of “bonus” activities (with PB Wiki) and these also were well received. A worthy experiment, and I can’t see us going back to clunky listservs. I’m not sure that a wiki would be as efficient if used for the blog proper. It seems to be that schools could accidentally interfere with the layout too much on a wiki.

The disadvantages of a listserv format are that: only subscribers get to share in the rap; you can’t edit inappropriate material once it’s been sent out by the server; late starters to the rap miss all the previous work (unless the list owner resends it all); and if you wish to preserve the rap’s content (as NSW DET have done on the Departmental website) you have to set up an online archive.

The good thing about Edublogs (over regular WordPress and Blogger) is that it’s possible to upload from a NSW DET computer. Further, School Libraries and Information Literacy Unit put in requests to ensure that our rap blog pages would be accessible under the appropriate student passwords (so they could view the previous comments), even though responses are still made by a group of students working with a teacher. At my school, we also promoted the rap blog URLs in our newsletter, and many students reported showing their class’s work to parents from home!

We’ve also been able to have the Teacher questions visible to all. Previously these were on a private Teacher listserv, and only visible to teacher subscribers, but many great ideas and shortcuts/success where never seen again beyond that rap.

I’m not aware that NSW DET has *any* fully-supported, freely-accessible “internal software” for students communicating with other groups of students. Yet. Certain schools have trialled various things over the years, such as Stu Hasic’s Eduweb(?), but as far as I know that operates within certain schools on their intranets only, and can’t go beyond each school, let alone other NSW or interstate schools.