Sharing with wider community at TeachMeet @MHS / Focus #1 and #2

Standards: 6.1; 6.2; 6.3; 6.4; 7.1; 7.4

(This has been reposted from my other blog.)

These kinds of professional meetings are invaluable. Apart from the fact that it’s free and so you can attend many throughout the year. I love the format which consists of voluntary talks/presentations of either 3 or 7 minutes, so easy to keep focusing. Sometimes long keynotes can be difficult to digest (although they can be good  – but they can also be not so good). TeachMeets are informal so the short presentation lends itself to discussion – therefore it’s more interactive than most formal PDs. The range of educational settings is great to broaden your perspective – and so we can learn so much from primary and museum settings, from elearning and tertiary people. The emphasis is most certainly on getting to know people and also in connecting with them through social media so that the PD value is extended and they possibly become part of your network.

I always blog about things and so I aim to capture information which might be useful to others – whether they are in my own school or anywhere else. I like using the blog for reflection and evaluation, and for re-reading later.

As teacher librarian whose focus is constantly cross-curricular, I never waste any morsel of information, knowledge, resource or expertise. Everything is carefully curated in my archival system – either in Diigo, Pinterest, Pocket, or similar so that I can locate it when someone needs it, or when I want to create a resource for teachers or students.

Last Saturday we hosted a TeachMeet in the school library. A TeachMeet is an informal gathering of people working in the education sector coming together to share ideas and expertise. It’s a great way to hear about what educators are doing in the primary, secondary, tertiary and public (eg museums) sectors. TeachMeets happen all over the world and meetings are held wherever people are happy to host. The format is simple – you can turn up or you can volunteer to present for either 3 or 7 minutes. There is usually a break for refreshments halfway through and it’s also customary for the hosts to suggest a nearby venue for drinks or dinner after the Meet. And it’s free!

Using bots to teach kids coding (Steve Brophy)

You can see in the wiki that we had a decent number of people attending, from a range of educational backgrounds. I always find that, as a secondary school educator, I learn so much from the primary teachers, from e-learning leaders, from people who work in public libraries and museums. And since the sharing sessions are so short, there is time for what’s most important – the conversations. Many people are also on social media so it’s a good chance to keep in touch later on Twitter or through their blogs, for example.

Order of presentations (see TeachMeet link for shared presentations):

Steve Brophy @stevebrophy Ivanhoe Grammar School K-12: Paper and programming

Bernadette Mercieca @bernm9  Xavier College E-Learning coord/teacher: What are we doing to help early career teachers flourish?

Eleni Kyritsis @misskyritsis Firbank Grammar School: Student Inquiry

Jan Molloy @janpcim Immigration Museum P-tertiary:   #AskACurator Sept 16 Getting involved

Catherine Morton @gorokegirl Melbourne High School Teacher Librarian and Fiona Matthews Whitefriars College Lead Coach – Learning, Teaching and Technology : One Conversation at a Time: Peer Coaching

Kim Yeomans @kimyeo St Martin of Tours primary TL: Connecting with authors via Twitter.

Tania Sheko @taniatorikova Melbourne High School How to really get to know people online.

Mel Cashen @melcashen Princes Hill: My reflection from camp

Kristy Wood @Kristy_M_Wood Primary teacher K-6: Teacher wellbeing

If you are interested in learning more about the presentations – since you can’t really get much from the titles – I would encourage you to go to the wiki where some people have already shared links to their presentations next to their names in the program. I’m sure there will be more shared later so check in again.

When I wrote a blog post about my talk – how to really get to know people online – I shared it on Twitter with a few people whom I’d met in an online course (MOOC), Rhizo15. These were people I had mentioned in my post. The morning before the TeachMeet I noticed some feedback from these people (none of them in Australia) which I was able to quickly add to my slide presentation. It was a lovely example of how these relationships continue to evolve long after the course (MOOC) has finished. After the TeachMeet I noticed Kevin Hodgson had even created a comic for us – very special.

The best way to see some of the ideas and passion shared on this day is to look through the Storify below which captures some of the tweets and photos on Twitter.

[View the story “TeachMeet @MHS” on Storify]


Presentation at Teachmeet we hosted @MHS/ Focus #2

Standards: 6.1; 6.2; 6.3; 6.4; 7.1; 7.4

(This post was written as a transcript of a short presentation I gave at a Melbourne TeachMeet at Melbourne High School 12 September 2015).

How do you really get to know people in an online course? Ask a child! What would a child do? A child would play.

And so we did in Rhizo15, the connected MOOC. It was new to me and I loved every minute.

I wanted to be playful so I wrote a play. In response to the weekly prompt: “Learning subjectives: designing for when you don’t know where you’re going.”

I was unsure about how people would feel about the play – and if they would read it at all – so I was surprised when I received lots of positive comments (blog comments don’t always happen for me) and Terry Elliott suggested we make it into a radio play. Simon Ensor added the comment: “I second Terry. I’m in for rhizoradio or other play. Do we have to do casting for the role of Mr X or do we crowdcast?”

I felt encouraged and sent out an invitation to a Google Doc so we could write the play collaboratively.

Hello there. My name is Tania Sheko. Thanks for responding so positively to this short piece of fiction/non-fiction. I’m taking up the suggestion to create something for #rhizoradio (suggested by Terry Elliott and seconded by Simon Ensor) and other suggestions to do a collaborative rewrite eg include a larger cast so we can actually (somehow) create a podcast for #rhizoradio (which is going to be a thing I think). Hope you can join me here!

But how would we bring everyone together to produce the radio play/podcast?

Maha (from Cairo) was thinking about a live reading:

It’s near impossible to organize across timezones but if you sleep really late and I wake really early we might catch the ppl in the US 😉 or the opposite, if u wake really early and I sleep really late we can make it at a good time for everyone. Usually around 10pm my time that’s 2pm EDT and I think early-ish morning for you?

In the end we decided to record our own parts on SoundCloud and send the file to Kevin Hodgson who generously took the time to put it all together.

Other things also happened – you can’t keep up with the rhizome. Actually, so much happened while I was sleeping last night:

Autumm Caines created a really neat video promo.

Autumm used the image created by Angela Brown in Pulp-O-Mizer.

Kevin Hodgson used Thinglink for his promo.

Sarah Honeychurch had fun remixing a popular Christmas tune for her promo.

Here’s the final version of the play (although I wouldn’t be surprised if the Google doc version continues to evolve).

My original story, Mr X loses his battle for objectivity, has been stormed, hacked and now exists as an evolved creation belonging to those playing and learning in the rhizome (#rhizo15). It is no longer mine and that’s a fantastic thing, something I’m excited about. Thank you, everyone, for the experience – in particular to Kevin for putting together the audio files – but also to those contributing voices, to the voices in the chat comments for the evolving Google doc, to those on Twitter and other social media platforms, to the creative people designing promos, and anyone else I’ve forgotten.  I know it sounds as if I’m accepting an Oscar (haha) but I really do want to thank all of you for the fun we’ve had together.

#Rhizoradio presents a radio play courtesy of the #rhizo15 community:

A Multitude of Voices

(aka) Mr X loses his battle for objectivity ( original unevolved title fromthe original story)

Was this a success in educational terms? We had fun!

Maha: it was some of the BEST fun I ever had… wish I could find a way to encourage my students to do something like this of their own initiative, but that’s not thinking rhizomatically… so I should think of how to create an environment that encourages the spirit of this kind of thing and see what emerges from their work!!!

We unpacked rhizomatic learning collaboratively and creatively. We got to know each other through play. We were amazed by each other – as each person initiated ideas and created things because they were inspired to do so. We keep in touch – in subsequent MOOCs, through hashtag conversations on Twitter. We reach out to each other with questions and challenges. We jump in when we see requests for collaboration and opportunities to do things together. I learned about different tech tools but more importantly why and how to use them. I added their blogs to my Inoreader, so I could keep reading them, I followed them on Twitter and made sure I added a Tweetdeck column to see what they were saying/doing, I explored what else they did online eg Soundcloud, Slideshare, Google +, in Facebook groups, and wherever else they were.

Don’t tell me that you can’t form friendships online.

After the presentations when we had the opportunity to chat at the pub (which is where all the great conversation takes place) someone said to me that they were expecting me to talk about risk when showing them how I shared my play, not knowing how people would respond. I could definitely have talked about risk and so many other things but the 7 minutes didn’t allow it.  Risk is part of play and creativity – you never know if what you share will be taken up, ignored or worse! What’s important in this situation is trust – trust that you know the people in your community well enough to be able to go out on a limb. That’s the difference between network and community in my opinion. Rhizo15 was (and still is) a community in which you got to know people well enough that you were able to take risks and be supported. In my case, my experimentation with the play as a way of playfully addressing the ‘learning subjectives’ was not only appreciated by people but they came in and played with me further. We remixed the play together and did so many other things that were creative and allowed people to bring their understanding and expertise to what is actually a serious academic context. Through play we achieved something we could not have done if we were just writing out our thoughts in a traditional way. I think there’s a lot more I could explore here about play, and that will have to wait.

Peer observation – Triad (Amanda Carroll/year 10 English)

Standards: 1.5; 2.6; 3.2; 4.5; 6.1; 6.2; 6.3; 6.4

Today I had the opportunity to work with Amanda Carroll’s year 10D English class. They have been thinking about the theme of evil within the Hearts of Darkness unit and have discussed and annotated a selection of poetry on the theme of evil.

Here is my issue with the one-off lessons we (teacher librarians) do for things like this PD requirement or in our general situation:

I haven’t been present during all the thinking and discussion that has taken place prior to this lesson. I would have liked to have been part of that learning process, to develop a rapport with the students, and to learn alongside them.

The one-off lesson is limited; its purpose is didactic – to teach a discrete skill or technique. It is not an integrated kind of teaching. I didn’t know many of the boys so I wasn’t able to address them by name. I could only hope that my one-off lesson works for the short time they have my attention.

It didn’t.

Although I had come in before school to set up the technology so that I could demonstrate things on the screen, the computer was situated on a low table facing the front. As you can imagine, as I’m navigating from tab to tab, opening up links online, I’m seated and with my back to the students. That’s no way to teach. I tried rotating the computer but the wires restricted this, and the table is so low that I can’t stand and use the mouse.

There was no way I could maintain the students’ interest with barely any eye contact and with my focus on the computer. My confidence was affected and I knew I was struggling to keep the boys engaged. Don’t get me wrong – they were great and mostly attentive but I was aware that I was focused more on what I was doing on the computer while swivelling back and forth, than I was on developing the thinking behind the activity.

I knew Amanda was not only concerned with the technology tool, I knew she wanted to unpack the concept of evil, for the students to relate back to poems they had studied (which I hadn’t read), for the search for images, quotes, websites and videos to be following the critical thinking beyond the search term, ‘evil’, to dig deeper and encompass aspects and synonyms they had been thinking about in previous lessons. To be honest I didn’t feel I’d been able to do this part properly because of my technical issues.

I realise now that I should have taken notice of my instincts and not tried to also talk about the new feature for research within Google Docs, to talk also about the search engine, Athenir, which unpacks the search term and gives a visual representation for the different aspects of the term. But when you only have one chance to share things with a class, it’s very difficult not to take the opportunity. And so I also showed students the online resources I had curated for ‘Hearts of Darkness’ in a Pinterest board which was linked from the library website. So that meant that I was trying to tell students about too many things at once. Not telling them would also not work.

If this was my class I wouldn’t have to try to cram too much into one lesson. But for a teacher librarian, who has to fight, cajole, beg teachers that she has something of value to add to the students’ learning, it’s more likely to be a short stint and less than the length of one lesson.

The other issue is that it can only be a didactic lesson which is not the ideal way for learning to occur. It’s frustrating because I’m aware that this kind of lesson doesn’t work very well but I’m often forced to work within these confines. It would be more valuable to work with students individually or in small groups as they learn to research their terms and think about the point of using something like Thinglink than stand at the front (sit at the front with my back to them in my case) and give instructions. I’m aware that this is the lowest form of teaching even when it does work.

So although I’ve been negative so far – and it’s probably because I really want to be successful in enriching the learning that’s already taking place in Amanda’s class (and any others I come into), the students were doing fine with the task. I walked around and saw the range of images they had chosen to pin their links to, and would have like the opportunity to ask them why they had chosen these images. As Amanda kept reminding them, they need to think more specifically about what or who represented evil to ensure that their images were specific to their individual perception.

And now my observation of Amanda’s part in the class:

It was evident  that she knew her class well, and that she was in the middle of a unit of work she had thought about and carefully orchestrated. She was clear in her summary of where the students should have been by that stage, she was clear in her projection of what students were to attain by the end of the lesson and for homework.  Amanda reminded them repeatedly about the thinking behind their search and their selection of image onto which they would pin their chosen images/quotes/videos, etc. She was confident, approachable, helpful and succinct. She checked that her students were keeping up on their screens by asking randomly selected students to read sections out loud.

My observation is short but I would appreciate the opportunity to be in Amanda’s class over a period of time to see how she unpacks units of work, how she engages her students, how she fosters a love for literature and ideas, how she creates a rich learning environment. Today I saw some of this.

My lesson  plan and links are here.

Here is Amanda’s observation of my teaching of her class:

Professional Observation:  Tania Sheko

Date: 8 September 2015

Observer: Amanda Carroll

Class: Year 10D English

Lesson Focus: to use thinglink  to engage students in exploring the significance of a quotation about the nature of evil by enabling effective research methods and the organising of resources in different forms (video, sound, images, text, websites) into a cohesive, interactive thinglink.

Location: T10

Students involved: 26

Professional Focus:

  • to be an integral part of the teaching and learning in the English classroom
  • to enable a means of differentiation through providing opportunities for students think deeply and make connections between their learning.

Tania had organised her work station and presentation prior to this lesson so that there was no time wasted accessing the material for the lesson.  I know, speaking with her afterwards, that she felt that the position of the teacher computer at the front of the classroom facing the board meant that both operating the presentation and addressing the students directly was very difficult and stressful but none of this was apparent in her delivery which was clear and succinct.  Observing the lesson, however, all students were engaged and focussed on the presentation, which include clips and examples of the ways thinglink could be used.  The students were particularly impressed with the cycling example and vocalised their approval.  Tania’s presentation also included Athenir search engine which students could use as an alternative to Google when trying to identify related material on the internet and the Pinterest board that is another way of organising information. 

After initially providing the students with a series of examples, Tania went on to add to a model thinglink – an image to which ‘hotspots’ are added with links to a variety of media – which she had prepared prior to the lesson on the topic of evil.  This demonstrated the stages and steps involved in constructing an interactive thinglink image.  Students had the opportunity to comment and contribute to the demonstration.  They then got to work on their own thinglink which took a quotation about evil then linked it to a range of resources which illuminate the idea in the quotation of their choice.  Students were focussed logging in to thinglink and began to select their images and link their materials.  Student began the construction of their thinglinks with the ultimate aim for them to be uploaded to their blogs.  Tania circulated the room attending to individuals’ needs – assisting them both with the material relevant to the Hearts of Darkness unit and the thinglink user experience.  The class ended with a follow-up session scheduled for the library.


Questions for reflection:

  • How can students’ creativity be supported and encouraged to take them beyond the first results of a google image search (ie plugging in ‘evil’ and then taking the first image that appears)?
  • What kind of support is required from the IT department to enable students to readily access the technology in the classroom environment and how can the technology problems be anticipated/avoided since some of these are particular to individual students?


Reflection on the learning process in a makerspace / Focus #2

Standards: 1.1; 1.5; 4.1

The humble beginnings of our makerspace in the library – a collaborative effort between Steve Draper, Evan Watkins, Pam Saunders and me – have got me thinking about alternative learning spaces other than the traditional classroom, eg student-driven learning, passion-driven learning and hands-on, collaborative learning. 

Much has been written about the importance of tinkering (eg here and here), play and unstructured learning which takes problem-solving, collaborative learning and risk-taking into an unthreatening space. Although we obviously can’t throw out what we do in the classroom in favour of hands-on, unstructured activity, I’m still convinced that a conversation about this kind of learning will be valuable. Of course, students in the visual and performing arts do it all the time. And don’t get me started on that; we should try to understand the value of the Arts for the playing out of the learning process, and not just look at it with the career as end point. 

In terms of differentiation a hands-on activity allows for thinking and problem-solving which is missing from abstract and textual learning. Here we have self-paced, individual or collaborative learning based on trial and error, intrinsically driven and self-correcting. All of these things, including peer learning, take place without the guidance of an instructor (apart from the manual which is optional) and without the limitations of prescribed outcomes.   

Updating the makerspace activity. LittleBits have brought different groups of students throughout the day. We could do without the little horn but never mind.

The conversation coming from a group of students tinkering away is an interesting one. I’ve been thinking about the difference between this space and its offered activities and the traditional classroom. The boxes of bits and pieces catches the attention of passing students who might come and see what it’s about. You can almost hear the cogs whirring in the brain as fingers turn bits around to make sense of how each bit works. A relaxed conversation follows, with questioning and ‘what ifs’ going in any direction, free from the confines of predetermined outcomes. The students own the activity. They choose how they stay, whether or not they read the manual.

Experimentation does not involve high-stakes risks. Right and wrong hold no judgement; it’s just a matter of trying a different way if it doesn’t work the first time. And there’s always someone to ask if you’re stuck.

There’s an element of mindfulness here; the activity relaxes as it engages. I observe a a quiet focus on the task and a sense of wellbeing/happiness being in the moment. There is also potential to bring together students who have not come together before. And most of all it’s a happy space.

Can we envision this kind of space for a classroom?

Educators across contexts (EdContexts) – Google Hangout Conversations /Focus#1

Standards: 1.2; 1/3/ 4.1/ 6.1; 6.2; 6.3/ 7.4

I was invited by Maha Bali to be on the panel of an EdContexts Google hangout. Looking at the qualifications and experience of the other people on the panel I was initially intimidated but decided to do it anyway. Growth mindset! An opportunity to join a diverse group of people on the topic of contexts in learning. I believe everyone had a unique perspective on the broad topic. It’s a very different experience joining in a conversation in a webinar, keeping up with what’s being said and being put on the spot to speak (at which point you’re talking into a space you know is inhabited by the listening panel although you can’t see them). I’m so much more comfortable with writing – having the time to compose your thoughts, deleting what doesn’t come up to scratch, not exposing anything about your physical self. 

I believe this is part of the digital experience offered our students. We are still so text-centric at school; we should be allowing our students different digital platforms for communication and expression. These are the literacies we should be developing for ourselves in order to be in the position to open up new  possibilities to our students. 

Educators across contexts (EdContexts) – Google Hangout Conversations. (Link to blog post)

Thanks to Maha Bali for inviting me to take part in a webinar conversation about connected learning and contexts. Maha is one of my first MOOC friends when I jumped in last year, and she is the most generous and wide-reaching person.  It was great to meet everyone and chat about contexts in learning – just scratch the surface really –  great to meet new people, and talk to people I’ve known from online networks face to face (so to speak) for the first time eg Maha, Simon and Tanya (who’s from Sydney). Together we represented many contexts across geographical, cultural, linguistic and professional borders.

Of course, all participants are part of connected learning networks which can be discovered through their links below:

  • Maha Bali (host) – Associate Professor of Practice at the Center for Learning & Teaching at the American University in Cairo (AUC), located in Cairo, Egypt
  • Shyam Sharma (host) – Assistant Professor of writing and rhetoric at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, NY
  • Asao B. Inoue – Director of University Writing, Associate Professor, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington-Tacoma
  • Tanya Lau – eLearning Instructional Designer from Sydney, Australia
  • Tania Sheko – Teacher Librarian at a 9-12 secondary boys’ school in Melbourne, Australia
  • Simon Ensor – English teacher at the Université Blaise Pascal Clermont Ferrand in France

Lenandlar Singh was unfortunately unable to attend. His list of conference papers indicate he would have been a fantastic addition to the conversation.

Shyam and Maha were hosting and did a great job despite technical issues and Maha’s daughter waking, and thanks to  Liana for her excellent support as we all connected to the hangout. I know Terry Elliott was watching and tweeting and I know that others were too, asking questions in the #clmooc and #connectedlearning Twitter spaces.

The video and storify (summary of related tweets) is available on theConnected Learning website as well as additional links and resources shared by participants.

I discovered that one of our French teachers comes from where Simon is located – Clermont Ferrand. She is very excited about that and would like to make contact with him. We are thinking it would be fun to connect our students in way similar to the way he already does through CLAVIER.

In defence of the virtual conference: PD every day and immersion in online community/ Focus #1

Standards: 1.1; 1.2; 1.3; 1.5; 1.6/ 2.1; 2.2; 2.3; 2.4; 2.5; 2.6/ 3.1; 3.2; 3.3; 3.4; 3.6/ 4.1; 4.2; 4.5/ 5.1/ 6.1; 6.2; 6.3; 6.4/ 7.1; 7.4

Since most of my professional development lately has taken place online, the reflection in this post is a solid attempt to unpack the value of online conferences and courses.  Connecting to people whose areas of expertise lie in education and across different disciplines is the most effective way for me, as a teacher librarian, to stay in conversation with these people, follow their writings in their blogs, join with them in social media groups on Google +, Facebook groups, Twitter, etc., and reap the benefits of this distributed knowledge and expertise.  My aim is to provide resources and platforms which address the needs of students from diverse linguistic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as those with learning disabilities and with diverse learning needs. These are some of the virtual communities I am currently involved in and from which I create resources to support teachers and students:

  • on Google +: CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC), etc 

These are the ways I save/curate the knowledge and resources as a result of my interaction with these communities:

For Studio Art, Visual Communication and Design, Photography for head of Arts, I share with Mihaela and her staff:

  • when resources/information is requested
  • I initiate sharing the resources if I believe they are relevant/useful to programs

I share in the following formats:

For English teachers, eg Amanda Carroll: blogging with her year 10 class through the teacher’s blog, The Great Writing Experiment, onto which student blogs are linked;

Conversations and email exchanges with Chris Bush: I wrote blog posts in the library blog about his Peardeck class as well as his involvement in IDAHOT Day to promote tolerance and respect, and promoted these posts to my networks, showcasing what we do at MHS to local and global communities, extending the generosity of ideas to other teacher librarians and schools, and receiving positive feedback, sometimes with additional ideas.

Liaison with Helene Malavieille: During the course of regular meetings with Helene, I create French resources in the French libguides. The collaboration informs me in my curation, making the resources relevant and targeted.

Collaboration with Mark Kaderle and Ken Ong for Study Skills: I attended their session for  year 11 students and talked to them about making the Study Skills libguides more relevant, editing out what was unnecessary and adding Ken’s mindfulness resources and additional minfulness resources I had found.

Following this, we were approached by Ross Pritchard and David Veale about running study skills sessions for year 9 and 10 students. I continue to develop the study skills libguide to support our bi-weekly study skills sessions after school.

Working with Pelissa Tsilimidos and Lynne Hamilton to help them with their powerpoint presentation to staff about Gifted and Talented learning. I shared with them my free image resources and selection of alternative platforms to powerpoint eg Haiku Deck. We talked about Creative Commons options and how to create effective presentations which were not text-heavy.

Working with Steve Bowler to help him set up a WordPress blog: Steve and I had talked about blogs during the swimming sports. This was my first liaison with a music teacher so I was pleased to help him create a blog and show him how to post. I was happy to promote his blog to my networks and our staff.

With Libby and Ross and their year 10 cohort : I create study skills resources in Libguides for students, providing for differentiation.

What I find in my social media networks feeds directly into what I share with teachers and students, eg in Google Docs, Pinterest collections, Diigo collections, etc.  Everything is bookmarked for easy access and sharing with others, or for my own use in blog posts, displays or curricular resources online. 

PLN, unconference or virtual learning?  Maha Bali’s excellent article entitled Living the Unconference Life – a Form of Praxis?  has me nodding and highlighting like a crazy woman. In fact I may as well jump straight into the disclaimer that I’ll be quoting her extensively in this post while I tease out some of my own experiences in unconference-like practices. What are the differences between traditional conferences and less structured, more informal opportunities for professional development – unconferences? What might we get from a traditional conference?  Maha mentions “gaining visibility through presenting or discussing our work, receiving feedback, meeting people outside of conference sessions and jotting down contact details for further contact.” But, as she says, once the conference is over, that’s basically the end of it. Whereas unconferences are “all about connectivism, and I’m going to suggest this lifestyle is a form of praxis. A form of praxis. Maha said it, and I’ve also been more and more convinced about this, but more from me later. Maha identifies some of the special things about unconferences:

  • the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the speakers you admire and would not normally get a chance to talk to
  • a chance for everyone to feel like they can contribute to everyone else’s learning
  • a chance for people to set their own agenda
  • a chance for people to take that agenda where they wish
  • break-down of the traditional conference hierarchy
  • a chance to encourage the agency of participants without the feeling they will be evaluated (in the same way as contributing by submitting a paper and running a session)

Maha mixes everything up.  And why not if it improves learning experiences? She talks about the time she implemented an unconference in a formal workshop within a conference and in a faculty development event and observed the following:

  • the energy in the room soars
  • people feel they can share their learning in a relatively egalitarian atmosphere
  • everyone is learning from everyone else about topics they are interested in
  • people are creating their own agenda instead of following someone else’s
  • it’s high impact learning in a very short time frame

So what does it mean to live the unconference life? Maha identifies social media and connectivist MOOCs as central to this kind of life. The PLN (personal learning network) is another way of doing similar things –  seeing what the people you are connected to are discussing, jumping into their hashtagged conversations, following conferences on Twitter, reading what they’ve shared about conferences in their blogs. This is the kind of learning which has, for years now, directed my learning and nourished my need to connect to people interested in ongoing conversations, and I am one of so many others. Unlike conferences, this kind of learning is continuous and through it we get to know people better over time. It gives us the opportunity to build our understanding of things with people, it exposes us to the diversity of their thoughts and expands our own knowledge. Maha and I have something in common. We want to be involved in so many conferences but are geographically disadvantaged – she’s in Cairo, Egypt, I’m in Melbourne, Australia. Maha also has a young child but this doesn’t stop her from being arguably the most engaged person in the conference/MOOC world. She’s there in the hashtagged Twitter discussions, in the Google Hangouts, in the Facebook groups, and recently she took her involvement to a new level by experiencing conferences virtually through a buddy.  Alan Levine also wrote a great post about the conference buddy experience. I do attend local conferences and live events, I love getting out and seeing other schools and school libraries, and talking to people about what they do. But on a daily basis my PLN and unconferencing life feeds my personal and professional need to learn and keep learning from people. Like Maha has stated, so much of value feeds directly into my practice as a teacher librarian. It feeds, it stimulates, expands, challenges and keeps on doing these things daily. You might say I can’t live without it – couldn’t imagine living without it. Is it just an internal thing? I don’t believe it is. Maha realises the same thing:

But I realized something. Praxis is about the thoughtful, reflective action that we take, not just the action. And I realized something really important: we take action  every day in our lives. But it may not be thoughtful or reflective. And here’s what connectivist MOOCs and engaging with other educators on social media has done for me: it has made me constantly reflective. People often talk about social media as a form of information overload, as hyper alertness, as attention deficit, and it gets described as if it’s a superficial kind of engagement.  This has not been my experience. When we engage with social media in thoughtful ways, when we interact with others with similar interests, and open our minds to engaging with each other’s ideas and practice deeply, we’re helping make our day-to-day action a form of praxis, because we are constantly reflecting on it with others.

I looked up praxis on Wikipedia for a quick summary: Praxis is the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realised. “Praxis” may also refer to the act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practicing ideas. This has been a recurrent topic in the field of philosophy, discussed in the writings ofPlato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx, Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, Paulo Freire, Ludwig von Mises, and many others. I agree with Maha that this constant engagement and reflection makes us lifelong learners in the truest sense and that my life, too, has become one continuous and wonderful unconference. I suppose that this kind of learning started with the creation of my blog, Brave New World, in May of 2008, and my leap onto Twitter even before November of 2009 (as stated in my Twitter profile) because I somehow managed to delete my entire Twitter account the first time around and had to start again from scratch. I don’t think I could list all the hashtags I’ve followed on Twitter, but some of the most important ones are associated with communities of people I want to keep learning from and with, for example, #vicpln (started by Judith Way for a specific course and still going strong as a local community hashtag), #austl, #tlchat (both library-related communities). More recently I’ve expanded my online networks to include people taking part in MOOCs such as #ccourses, #moocmooc and #rhizo15. So my questions is: How do I show this kind of learning and praxis to my colleagues, to the teachers at my school? It still feels like I’m living a secret life or at least that it’s the invisible alternative life. How do I show others – without being intrusive or condescending (this is great, I know what I’m talking about) that it’s easy to connect to people and events online and that this world is just as real as the external world of work? In fact, in many cases I know more about  people I’m connected to  online than I do of staff at my own school. How do we change our behaviours in a system that doesn’t change?

Writing prompts support blog for teachers and students/ Focus #1

Standards: 1.5; 2.6; 3.4; 4.1; 4.5; 6.3

English @MHS was created as a support blog for Nick Fairlie’s blogging class last year. It was embedded in his ‘mothership’ blog as a space with further options for student writing. The idea was to add to Nick’s prompts all sorts of other options which were thematically linked and which used different kinds of media. Our intention was to differentiate the writing task in this way.

Now that this project is over, I would like to keep adding writing/response prompts if other teachers find this useful, either to supplement their blog post prompts (for example, Amanda Carroll’s blogging class) or just as a lucky dip for a rainy day. I emailed a few English teachers about this and received a positive response from some so I will continue posting and alerting them of new content. The prompts consciously extend and challenge students’ thinking by using images and videos to contrast with the usual textual prompts.

Professional Standards: 1.1; 1.5   The blog post prompts are created so that teachers can select from a flexible and effective repertoire of teaching strategies. Teachers use the prompts in flexible ways, eg selecting open ended or multi-dimensional prompts to challenge students’ thinking and writing, extending students with more challenging prompts or allowing students to choose. Prompts are constructed as starting points for teachers who will adapt prompts and vary teaching strategies to differentiate writing tasks. Prompts vary the combination of text, image and video, as well as encouraging differentiated responses eg prose, persuasive text, poetry, etc.

2.1 Writing is improved and writing fluency is developed through frequent writing practice. A comprehensive range of prompts can be used flexibly by the teacher at point of need. Students are engaged when given a wide variety of options and genres.

2.2  The blog format enables an ongoing selection of writing prompts enhanced by a choice of media, eg images, videos, slideshows, animations, gifs, etc. Additional information can be embedded in hyperlinks. It’s a more interactive, attractive, flexible and differentiated program for writing.

2.5/2.6 Using the blog as an alternate source of teaching ideas for student writing, I am able to create a comprehensive variety of writing prompts independently from the teacher after initial and frequent consultation. The blog is created as a support to the teacher. Digital literacies are embedded in the blog prompts, and these complement and enhance existing literacies (ie. reading, writing, thinking, creating.