Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

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.

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(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/

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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.

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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.

The development in student-centred learning is certainly gaining pace in the last few years. Each day, further strategies utilising BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies are highlighted, classes are flipped (where students are able to view and review brief videos created by teachers at home) and the role of the teacher continues to be refined. Certainly, the concept of the teacher as the authoritative dispenser of information via chalk and talk is being challenged.

In light of this, what developments are there with the process of interviewing teachers for positions? Currently, it is not uncommon for prospective teachers to be asked to teach a lesson or take a class. It’s not something that I’ve had to do, but I’ve often wondered about this. Does it lead to the potential for a “crackerjack” lesson to be delivered by a candidate – perhaps the best that they can do? Or is it designed more to weed out those who might handle the interview itself successfully enough, but give little indication of the fact that they would be flounder if put in front of a more ‘colourful’ Year 9 class? Certainly it has probably had its value over time and, as a general litmus test, one can determine a degree of rapport (or not) between a teacher and a group of students.

So, do schools need to visit how they interview teachers? If we are looking at dynamic and innovative ways of interacting with students and delivering content, does this stand at odds with more traditional methods of demonstrating your classroom credentials? Perhaps the criteria need to be considered as part of the application process, looking at a wider range of skills such as:

  • examples of a teacher’s ICT skill base and how this directly correlates to classroom activities
  • a teacher’s ability to facilitate and mentor, rather than be the arbiter of instruction
  • a demonstration of a teacher’s connection to the need for lifelong learners in society (and with the ability to be taught by the students as well)
  • the place of content and creation in the classroom
  • the need to teach the value (or otherwise) of the ICT tools as part of the learning process

Would love to hear about “different” experiences in the selection process that you have witnessed or experienced.

I’m in the middle of reading George R.R. Martin’s (first thought… why the need for two ‘R’s!) Game of Thrones at the moment. I’ve seen to the end of the second season of the show and am hoping to get ahead of my reading in the novels before watching any more. My main reason stems from my reading of this first book – it reads very much like it views, as if the producers of the TV version decided that they would do a scene by scene replication of the book. As a result, I feel a bit like I did as a boy, reading the film ‘novelisations’ of the Star Wars series, such as The Empire Strikes Back, which I recall getting via my school’s Lucky Book Club affiliation, replete with glossy photos in the centre of the book. The book felt very convenient as it faithfully plodded through the action that we saw on screen. There wasn’t a lot of flavour… or imagination.

Not that I am suggesting that this is the case with Martin’s epic – it obviously predates the show. It’s just that I can’t really tell. I’m not reading it particularly quickly, but I find it hard to clear my head from the action that I have seen on screen, as I read. I’ve heard that the second series starts to deviate from the book and look forward to seeing the evidence of this when I get to the second book – and as mentioned, moving on to the third before I catch up on “that” season. It reminds me a little of my reading of the Harry Potter series. I had my ‘own’ Harry Potter in my imagination before the movies came along, but I can’t recall him now. He (and other characters) have been well and truly replaced by Daniel Radcliffe et al. I find it sad that I can’t get that imagination version back… and probably never will.

So back to the title of my post… I love literary page turners. Those books that you are almost apologetic about reading. In Australia (and perhaps more broadly internationally now) we have Matthew Reilly. 25 words or less for the uninitiated: super hero defies (multiple) deaths from super villains and overuse of exclamation points while solving international mysteries!!! (more or less)

The boys I have taught over the years have loved Reilly’s work and when asking my opinion of it, have been surprised by the fact that I haven’t jumped on board more enthusiastically. It is a certain guilty pleasure and I enjoy it every now and then, while I am consuming the work. But like eating the fairy floss/cotton candy (love the international use of alliteration to describe spun sugar!), one feels strangely unsatisfied (read ill) sometime after completing the work.

Not like some of those authors who present works that are more like a fine dining degustation dinner. Writers like Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, or even the short stories of Alastair McLeod. You might not want to have this level of readership every day, but when you sit down, one can feel sated with the beauty of the words… how they are chosen and placed on the page, in a short period of time.

For now it is George and I am on page 461 of 780 (before we get to the House history stuff). So it is Friday night and, for now, I’m still at sideshow alley and the junk food abounds… and I’m happy to give in to it for the time being.20130816-213642.jpg

The school I teach at, as part of its 150 year anniversary celebrations, has been hosting our brother school from Tonga. This is an interesting story in itself, as this College was founded by the same “first” headmaster, only 3 years later, in 1866. 

We have 90 boys and staff staying with our boys and staff, as billets. It has been an inspiring and often humbling experience. Those we are hosting come from a situation of limited means, yet their spirit and ability to give makes us look like minnows by comparison. In our chapel on Sunday evening, we were blown away by the performances of their choir and brass band, respectively and together. At the time, our Headmaster made an astute observation; despite our financial and technological strength, we are the ones who receive the greater benefit from our mutual relationship. Why might this be surprising, when we aim to support them with educational and financial aid each year?

Simply, it amounts to the idea that those who have least to give, often have the most to offer and the greatest generosity to boot. From my perspective, it highlights the power of service. Another, former, headmaster of mine, took pains to explain to the students that to be a leader in a school does not equate as the one who gives all the orders. Instead, a true leader is demonstrating their ability and capacity to serve. This observation struck me at the time and came back into view with the current visit from our Tongan friends.

While it is commendable for our community to make donations that support charities, the greater recognition for us comes from when we give of our time. There are occasions when I feel that (and this is not meant to be a nasty thought by any means), it is simpler for us to make a monetary donation and, perhaps, in doing so, salve our conscience from larger concerns. By contrast, I have appreciated the accounts from our students and staff who, when visiting Tonga, have been met with a people who give up their own residences to house us, who stay up the whole night preparing banquets and cutting down the trees to ensure that there is sufficient firewood for the feast to take place. Their love of God, of community and generosity is a lesson to all at my school. I reiterate that it has been a humbling experience.

I sometimes get asked whether, being an English teacher means that I want students to be able to learn how to read and write (put a little simplistically). I tend to observe that, for me, I would rather that I encourage students to have the ability to actively question the world around them, than they have a set of rote learnt answers. Additionally, I would like my students, to have that wider world view – one that recognises the need of others and how best to further those aims. I hope that the lessons of this week will have a lasting effect, long after our Tongan brothers have returned to their homeland.