So I’ve launched my new blog site: re-education.net with help from colleagues at work and students who I teach who are all champing at the bit to “sell” me photos that I can decorate my site with.

 

Now I’ve made my first discovery in stepping out of the wordpress.com roost… any post, even when I put tags and categories will not appear in the WordPress reader…

 

A depressed man sitting on a bench

Epic… fail? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyway, I’ve decided to celebrate this discovery by… starting another wordpress.com website, which aims to capture a-post-a-day for the 7 months I’m on long service leave… I’ll launch that on Saturday (Sydney, Australia time)…

 

Happy days…

 

Well, not much in terms of blogging for the last month, but lots of change within the realm. I’ve (finally) launched my own blog url… re-education.net (or cliveparkin.com if you come from a different direction), giving me the chance to have a decent domain name, my own (purchased) theme that I can fiddle around with and all that comes with all of the switch to wordpress.org

Road sign merging

Road sign merging (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This includes having little to no idea about how everything works. I love my new theme, but saying that there is a difference between the schmick looking preview on themeforest and what currently exists on my own url is stating the obvious. First lesson… wondering what was needed with png images that would ‘fit’ the screen the best way. I still have some way to go. Haven’t worked out how to do my title banner yet. There is a great series of (silent… I think it comes from Vietnam) YouTube clips that show a moving cursor doing a whole range of changes. A great resource, but it will take some time to ‘decode’ for a relative newbie like me. Looks like the next few weeks will see some tinkering.

Next up, it looks like I’m going to get a lot of spam. Amusing in a way, since I’ve not even posted on that site yet, but offers of how to x-ruple my internet traffic have been coming in… they always seem to pop in about 12:15am my time… not sure what that signifies. It looks like WordPress.com managed to block a lot of this crud. Mind you, I was getting a lot of stuff from Project AWOL beforehand.

Anyway, for the next few posts, I am going to straddle the two sites. I’ll keep this site going for a while – to flag with my small band of loyal retainers where my destination is, while also setting up the new site. Bear with me while I get the layout organised… it is going to take some time.

Thanks for your patience.

Reader Safety Notice: NO show spoilers appear in this Post

I’ve just finished Season Three of Breaking Bad. This might seem like ancient history for some, but I’m trying to eke out my addictions. As a result, I’ve now switched to watch the final season of Dexter. As each episode is complete, I’m acutely aware that the end is becoming ever more nigh for this show.

Breaking Bad - Adventure Time

Breaking Bad – Adventure Time (Photo credit: B_Zedan)

Around me I have colleagues and students who are just finishing Breaking Bad and are aghast that I’m not doing likewise. One friend has gone from “no” to “whoa” in the space of a two week school holiday timeframe. All of Breaking Bad in two weeks?! Now I’m agog.

While all this is going on, I’ve become aware of how our viewing habits have changed. I say “our” as I’m wondering how many of the following applies to you. Do any of the following sound familiar?

  • Impatient at waiting for a show to come – week to week feels forever. I’d rather wait until I have the whole lot in my hands before starting viewing, rather than come to an abrupt halt at the end of the ep and have to wait a week for the next instalment.
  • We have lost our viewing discourse, as we are all on separate paths. The days of discussing an episode the day after are gone.
  • As a result of our viewing “alone”, we have to feel around, perhaps using careful euphemisms, to determine where we are up to in relation to others, even if across seasons.
  • I’m living in the moment, thus I’m ready to discuss the revelation of the previous episode, but often struggle to recall events for those playing ‘catch up’. By the time that someone has reached a cracker moment in a given episode, I’m struggling to recall the critical details of the episode.
  • Shows are like wine. One more glass before bed? We look forward to anticipate what time the next episode will end. Is that too late? What about if I bypass the opening credits and the “previously on…” (insert your show of preference here). Suddenly my wife is advocating a four show stint of Downton Abbey that will see our going to bed at 1:50am.
  • Suddenly, hearing the HBO white static at the start of a prospective show is an invitation to viewing nirvana.
  • I’ve started to notice (read “guess”) that each series is now following its own kind of arc – a bit like how you might have Joseph Campbell’s/Chris Vogler’s perspectives of the hero’s journey. Is it the case that a season of twelve episodes will describe a similar kind of arc as that of a quest movie (The Matrix is an example that comes to mind).

So as I finish this post, I’m about to watch the fourth episode for Dexter… and who knows, maybe the fifth… I just don’t want to run out too quickly…

Everyone will be familiar with the process of looking up material and, quite likely, the use of inverted commas (“”) around phrases for sourcing specific phrases.

Image request icon.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, there is even more functionality within this iconic search engine, so much so that there are probably tips below that you’ve not encountered before. So, if you want to get far more precise results when you are searching, rather than the “About 889,000,000 results (0.34 seconds)” that came up when I put the word searching by itself into Google, try some of the strategies listed below.

Google Search Tips

1. Exact phrase search

Search multiple words as one phrase using inverted commas “   “

Example: “climate change”

Tip: Only use this if you’re looking for an exact phrase because it will exclude other results which may still be useful eg sites that include the phrase changes in climate

Tip: great for finding song lyrics

2. Search for words near other words

To find results that have words or phrases that are near each other, use the ‘AROUND’ operator

Example: climate AROUND(3) change

will find results which have the words climate and change within three words of each other

Tip: Change the number in the brackets to increase or reduce the number of words that the words or phrases are found within each other

3. Exclude words

If you’re doing a search for mullet but want to exclude results that include the term hair, use the minus (-) sign in front of the term you wish to exclude

Example: mullet -hair

Tip: You can also use the minus (-) operator to exclude results from specific websites

eg: bushfire -site:wikipedia.org

Note: searching wikipedia is still great for springboarding to other sites, or getting background info, so excluding results from wikipedia may or may not be useful depending on context

4. Search for either word

To search for results that have one of several words, use the ‘OR’ operator

Example: world cup location 2014 OR 2018

5. Search for synonyms

To search for similar words use the tilde (~) operator

Example:

“Catch 22” ~critique

Tip: (In other research databases, not Google)

To expand your search to find related words that have a common root word, use the * symbol to find word ending variations eg: ideolog*

will find ideology, ideologies, ideologue etc

6. Site specific search

To search for results within a particular site, use the ‘site: ‘ modifier

Example:

“black and white” site:newington.nsw.edu.au

will find all results that have the phrase “black and white” on Newington websites.

Tip: Also great for searching at the domain level

eg .edu or .org

Tip: An excellent way to find government documents

eg: unemployment site:gov.au

7. File type search

To search for specific file types, use the ‘filetype: ’ modifier

Example:

“digital citizenship” filetype:ppt

8. Search for ranges

To find results within a range of years use two full stops with no spaces (..)

Example:

earthquakes 2000..2013

Tip: Use only one number plus two full stops to indicate an upper or a lower range

AFL grand final winners 2000.. (AFL grand final winners from 2000 on)

Australian prime ministers ..1960  (Australian prime ministers up to 1960)

9. Search for definitions

Use the ‘define: ’ operator

Example:

define:discombobulate

Tip: if the word is unusual enough, just typing the word in the search box is sufficient to bring up the definition as the first result

10. Search by reading level

To find results that are sorted by reading level, click on ‘Search tools’ then under ‘All results’ select ‘Reading level’

11. Search for graphs of maths formulas

Type in the formula in the Google search box

Example:

y=x^2+1

Tip: The caret (^) symbol denotes an exponential ie y=x²+1

12. Currency conversion

Use the [currency 1] in [currency 2] operator

Example:

20AUD in USD

Tip: Do a variety of conversions in Google eg speed, length, temperature.

For a full list of conversions supported: goo.gl/clHilb

13. Search for high resolution images

Use Google Image search, click on ‘Search tools’ and then ‘Size’

Tip: The larger the size/resolution, the better it will look when printed

14. Search for Creative Commons licensed material

Use Google Image search, click on settings (cog), scroll to ‘Usage rights’ field

Tip: Double check the license before use

Alternatively, use the Creative Commons search: http://search.creativecommons.org/

My reason for writing this is to highlight how PLANE, the online Professional Learning Program for teachers, has been affected as a viable Online Learning Community (OLC) and to draw attention to those who might be unaware of this.

PLANE's landing page

PLANE’s landing page

For the uninitiated, PLANE stands for Pathways for Learning, Anywhere anytime – A Network for Educators. It offers a series of resources and professional learning in ICT for teachers. Learning comes in the form of short skill snacks that take a matter of minutes, to lengthier and more involved quests and courses. There are forum boards, a twitter feed, an activity stream, a virtual world based on Second Life to name but a small number of interactive content. Overarching all of this is the user’s Passport, which sees you accrue points as you journey about the site and take part in a range of activities. Simply, it is an engaging form of stamp or badge collecting. Here is a shot of my Dashboard from late August 2013:

I first came to PLANE earlier this year, during my first trimester of a Masters of Education, specialising in eLearning. A colleague had made a passing mention that I should check it out, and having signed up, I spent about an hour having a click around at this enticing site. This was in March and, having made a comment about it on a Forum panel to my university cohort, my subject lecturer mentioned in a Reply post that it was worth a look, but perhaps after the looming assignment had been completed.

As a result, I did not get back to have a look at PLANE until several months later, in July. It seems that, during this time, substantial changes were taking place that would see this OLC in a very different realm. The first thing I noticed was that the Twitter login seemed broken, so having sent an email from within itself (having managed to connect ‘again’ via Facebook), I heard nothing back from Admin. Later I managed to locate a comment to this effect – and that the Twitter Login would soon be fixed; as yet it hasn’t.

Having logged on, one arrives at the News Page. Here the warning bells start to ring. Firstly there is the current statement, that has been up for many weeks now:

PLANE will cease to validate professional learning or issue certificates for completion of PLANE courses after Friday 27 September 2013. Any registered PLANE professional development completed before 27 September will remain on a teacher’s Institute of Teachers record for the purposes of maintaining accreditation. PLANE will continue to offer the current range of professional learning experiences. Teachers will be able to use this professional learning as Teacher Identified Professional Development only, which is logged by the teacher on the NSW Institute of Teachers website and validated by the school principal or their delegate. Teachers can export evidence pages from PLANE as a standalone HTML website to show their school principal or delegate to have the learning validated on the NSW Institute of Teachers website. For more information regarding Teacher Identified Professional Development, please go to http://www.nswteachers.nsw.edu.au/.

Adding to this concern, the Twitter Feed (#planePL) seems stagnant, with no content from PLANE itself since late June and the Educator spotlight has remained the same during this time (this might be intended). By a sad contrast, the Activity Stream that occupies the right of the screen is scrolling continuously. A quick glance indicates that, for the most part, those “scoring” the achievements are probably new to the site, based on the types of activities that they are being credited with.

Going further and exploring the site in detail only appears to confirm one’s concerns. The events calendar has nothing coming up (the last event was June), the Virtual World is empty when I’ve visited, apart from the three virtual characters at Boot Camp (again, with no events scheduled), the Ask an Expert is similarly stalled in June. Other areas such as the Groups (which boasts a striking 162 groups) reflects stagnation through the lack of activity in Forum posts and outdated page information. One area which seems to buck the trend is the Share Club, where participants have managed to keep the content up-to-date.

In trying to study PLANE for my university assignment as an Online Learning Community, I attempted to do some research as to its status. My Google skills might not be the best, but even I found it difficult to find much in terms of what was going on. What I did manage to locate, in a Forum post inside of the site, was a Google Doc that raised worries about the future of the PLANE website and ongoing viability. Additionally, it highlights particular concern about the loss of accreditation for new scheme teachers, which PLANE offered. There were a number of other concerns raised in a detailed and thoughtfully constructed letter.

The pertinent parts to the response is printed below.

As part of my Masters coursework, participants are asked to take part in Forum Discussions. One exercise asked students to explore the for/against of the statement If you build it, they will come. In writing this post, this seems apt. Perhaps more pertinently is that “they” might well come, but will they stay, or even come back? Are they expected to take on the maintenance of the site thereafter?

It would be nice to know if this last observation is the case. Perhaps this might go some way to helping maintain and foster PLANE’s base. I understand that many of the “pilots” who helped administer the site have gone and that it resembles more of an empty shell today. A lot of money has been put into this and it would be unconscionable to see this drift,  rudderless, towards oblivion.

In closing, take a look at this photo. It is from PLANE’s Facebook page (also with last post in June). For me it captures everything PLANE can and should stand for – the energy of a range of dedicated practitioners who have come together to create a fantastic OLC. Please feel free to forward and disseminate this post in your own social and educative circles. Perhaps it can be steered to a more appropriate course for all users.

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.15.26 PM

A post about rejuvenation…

I’m one term shy of my long-service leave and have been taking the moment to reflect forwards… should that be proflect? Without ever intending the flow of events, thanks to a range of circumstances, I managed to move from school to university to a teaching job before I’d graduated from university. At the end of nine years, I changed schools and in doing, missed the first chance for long service leave that I might have earned. At the time, the challenge of starting a new job meant that I probably didn’t need the break.

Now, nearly eleven years later from that switch, I’ve decided that a break is probably a good thing. I’m one term shy of 80 terms and aside from the regular school holidays, have moved from term to term in succession. So, I have been taking the time to enjoy the looking forward and the need for time down, which I’ve decided to take over two school terms. And while I don’t want to plan too much, I thought a bit of proflection, in thinking about how I should spend the time, mightn’t be a bad thing.  I’ve got my Masters of Ed on the go, so a couple of units there are factored in and I’ll mostly be around as the kids will still be at school. We might look to go on a holiday, perhaps to Fiji. But I’m enjoying the daydream of what else I might (loosely) occupy my time with. Here is the current list:

  • Might try to build in a bit of exercise – bike riding, swimming, maybe even a bit of running. Something 2-3 times a week would be great.
  • An art class – pen and ink is something that I’d like to have a go at.
  • Or maybe work on trying to crack cryptic crosswords… at last.
  • Some regular piano time
  • Maybe a bit of writing
  • Not re-reading school text books that I’m teaching…

    setting up for a different sort of routine

    setting up for a different sort of routine

The last one leads on to my aim of reading (more or less), one book per week. Being ‘off’ from mid December till mid July means a goodly number of books. Books that I have often overlooked in lieu of school texts or waiting for a time to enjoy them fully. Which is now…

The list, only in its infancy, might include:

  • Catch 22
  • Margaret Atwood (generally)
  • Michael Ondaatje (likewise)
  • Cormac McCarthy - No Country For Old Men
  • A Russian novel… not sure which… not even sure I’d want to do this! Perhaps Crime and Punishment?
  • More of Peter Carey, more of Tim Winton, more of George Orwell
  • Maybe some novels I ought to read again… Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying which I read in 1990, comes to mind
  • Maybe a run of a literary award… like my gaps in Booker Prize winners
  • A poem a day
  • More non-fiction. Probably some history.
  • Possibly a little literary sugar, in the form of the odd “page turner” or two, to balance out the literary “vegetables”

As mentioned, this is just a general musing as I write this post. I haven’t even visited the books that sit patiently in our spare bedroom! Feel free to let me know of anything that you think would be worthy of factoring in for the proflection, whether it be reading or recreational!

There is no doubt that the ability to work in a group is a highly valuable skill that will be called upon in later life. How then do we best prepare students for this in a post school environment?

This idea was piqued recently with the intersection of two events. The first was a series of workshops looking at Visible Thinking, stemming out of Harvard’s Project Zero. Put simply, how do teachers know that content covered in class has been absorbed by students. The old concept of a teacher delivering a chalk-and-talk-class where you could hear the proverbial pin drop is a good example. While the content may have been covered and the teacher feels it all went well, how much has been taken in my students?

Photo by Susan Sermoneta

Photo by Susan Sermoneta

The second event was the marking of a Reflection assessment by Year 8 students of a group task that culminated in a class performance of a scene from a play. Having marked a similar task, a year earlier, the similarities in the responses were striking, despite the year’s gap between the two tasks.  The content covered was dynamically different – from a contemporary play in Year 7 to an excerpt from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and this was reflected in the different ideas about the text and how to approach the task. However, the accounts of the processes of working in the groups were quite similar. This led to the thought; why not look to develop a hierarchy of group skills?

Students are put in groups from a young age. Socially, they seek out friendships from the first days of schooling, if not beforehand. The idea that you will be put into a group of or get yourselves into groups of X is commonplace. From here teachers often ask how the process is going, based on the task at hand of the shared goal or goals that the group has. Individuals may well be asked to reflect on how it felt working in a group, including what barriers were faced (individually or as a group), approaches that were used in an attempt to overcome the barrier, as well as how one felt about the experience looking back on the task.

But what is done about group skills beyond this? I have worked with students on Outward Bound courses where Bruce Tuckman‘s Stages of Group Development was in play. Here teams will go through a series of steps (Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing) as they work through a shared task. At the time, this approach seemed novel to the students, who often found amusement in being ‘stuck’ in the Storming stage as they vented their exasperation to the wild when a tent stubbornly refused to be assembled in the face of driving rain.

As an initial response this post seeks to posit this idea as a precursor to future discussion. Group skills are envisioned in a similar light to Tuckman’s work. This would see an element in group work where students are able to directly develop group skills and look to reflect on the process. Then, a critique of a variety of group approaches could be considered as part of a learning tool. The aim of a future post will be to explore and promote some group skill possibilities, along with ways of assessing their use. In the meantime, suggestions or experiences that have worked in the classroom are most welcome.