Posts Tagged ‘Education’

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

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


“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


“black and white”

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

7. File type search

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


“digital citizenship” filetype:ppt

8. Search for ranges

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


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



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



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

12. Currency conversion

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


20AUD in USD

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

For a full list of conversions supported:

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:

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

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

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.

Starting out as a new teacher, you might well be asked to take on a Year 12 (or senior) class. On the basis that you have the necessary class skills in hand and know your curriculum, what might be the first fly in the ointment for your new teaching career?

English: A special education teacher assists o...

Teacher skills often extend beyond the class room (Photo credit: Wikipedia).

The chances are, you might well have a parent/teacher evening, or a set of reports to complete before the end of Term 1. Yet, as far as I can tell, most university training does not focus on either of these skills.
In my case, it was comparatively unremarkable. I was not quite 23 and the oldest student was already 18. Admittedly, it was nearly 20 years ago and the night went smoothly enough. Apart from the drunk parent and the couple going through an acrimonious divorce that played out before me. Nothing directed at me personally, but this isn’t really the issue. It was more the sense that I felt like I was winging it, on some sense of what was expected.
Talking to colleagues recently, it seems little has changed. I acknowledge that my survey is hardly extensive. However, it does take in experience from the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia, over the course of the last decade in particular. Even now, I have a prac student about to start an internship – no experience of parent/teacher nights or reports has been provided by the university. Perhaps fortuitously, she will be able to sit in on our scheduled night, and so will gain some experience before going live as a newly employed teacher, on her own.

With reports, it might be a little easier. The chance to look at a set of earlier reports from a colleague, or to have them looked over beforehand certainly exists. But why not take it back a step and look at what reporting ought to entail? A clear understanding of the student, certainly, but what beyond this? Results? Pedagogy? Curriculum goals? What is best avoided?

As for the parent/teacher interview, why not have a practice run, in addition to any school practicum that a trainee teacher might undertake. Having a number of scenario interviews, with unknown adults, provides scope for direction and reflection. Medical students undergo a variation of this in order to both direct their diagnostic skills and ‘bedside’ manner. Surely this is as pertinent in a

I recognise the need for universities to adapt to new teaching methodologies in light of the changing world of ICT. However, these basic skills seem to have been overlooked in the past and continue to do so in the present. Despite other developments, such as the changing realm of ICT, surely teachers will need to be able to write reports and meet with parents for the foreseeable future.

If you have seen programs where these skills are incorporated, I would love to hear about it.

Ever Googled yourself? Screen Shot 2013-04-04 at 1.29.42 PM Of course you have… perhaps the question should be more specific: Have you ever Googled yourself and, by using various search tools and terms, discovered more than might pop up on the first screen of 10 items? Recently I had some Year 9 students in my mentor (tutor) group do just this. Their reactions were amusing and revealing; thinking that they knew all this, then discovering how far the rabbit hole went. Rather than coming in on the well-honed negative of “anything bad you do online will be online for life”, I came at it on a different tack. Why not see it in a positive light. Rather than warning about “screwing up on FB”, promote it as a way of setting up your digital identity. On the basis that future employers (and possibly partners?) can and will check you out, why not develop your digital character? Here are three areas and methods to help students see how far their digital footprints go:- –

  • start with the basics: if in a different country to the United States, use the country suffix in the search (e.g. for, if a number of people share your name, use minus (-) to help remove them from the search, particularly if you can identify where they are (such as a State/County/Province or suburb), if it is different from you. Use inverted commas for some or all of the terms.
  • put in past connections: one student discovered that, because he played representative water polo, there were competition results from five years ago that contained his name. He was ten at the time. What hobbies, sporting groups, memberships, clubs and the like do your students have now (or have had in the past)?
  • click on images: there might not be much here worth promoting, as opposed to the likely avalanche of Facebook photos. Maybe look to suggest that developing 2-3 images as profile images (or even fewer) is a good idea. This way the ‘best side’ of you will be the one to come up at the top of the search, because how frequently it has been linked and posted to in the internet.

Then, of course, it becomes a question of setting the students up for the future. In my case, they have between 5-10 years, depending on study choices and opportunities. What this means is that there is time to develop your digital profile. I have students doing community service, volunteering with sporting groups, undertaking their Duke of Edinburgh bronze medallion courses, doing work experience. All of it counts, and, most likely, all of it will be visible for future employers and the like. Encourage the students to find ways of celebrating positive achievements, appropriately and in the right forum, online. Isn’t that a better way of looking at building students’ connections with the internet, rather than trying to fix a problem after the social disaster has occurred?

I thought for a bit about the image that I’ve used here – whether I should avoid using “me” as the example – and realised this is exactly what I’m talking about – if you’d wanted to find this out about me, Google can give you the information is 0.21 seconds. And I’m pretty happy with how my digital self appears…

Was there an unlikely skill or area at school that ended up serving you so well later on in life?

There was some media exploration of the declining numbers of girls studying mathematics as senior students this week (in Australia). I’ve provided a link to one of the articles, in the Sydney Morning Herald here. This post isn’t looking to explore this topic per se, but the topic did get me thinking more broadly about the subjects you study at school, and their relevance to your future. We have all wondered about that subject just making up the numbers so that we are eligible for the final qualification. Tales in the days of old of a bonfire of notes post exam for that much maligned subject that you somehow ended up taking, have been around for years. But what about things that aren’t even subjects, that end up helping you beyond expectation?

Students often ask me if I always wanted to become a teacher and are surprised when I say “no”. I was always good at English but it was rarely my strongest subject in terms of results. My mother was a teacher, as was, for some time, my paternal grandfather. When asked what I was going to study at uni and I responded “Arts”, it usually elicited an “Oh… so you want to me a teacher!”, which I seemed to rail against. But, I got to the end of my Arts degree, then an Honours year and hit a wall. What now?


Lectern (Photo credit: Timmargh)

Mum suggested I look at a Dip Ed. At the time I was hoping to become the next big Australian playwright and having the chance to do a bit of part time teaching seemed like a good way to support the ‘craft’. The same year I was doing the NIDA Playwrights’ Course. With three months of the Dip Ed to go, I’d decided it might be good to get the C.V. in order, apply for a few jobs for experience and without quite knowing how, wound up with a one-year position for someone on maternity leave. That one-year ended up lasting me for nine, before I switched schools.

So back to the question at the top – and my answer to the students – the unlikely skill set that best helped me with where I am now? It would come down to two things. The first was Debating. I took it up in Year 9 and can recall the first topic “That there is too much violence on the news”. I was first speaker and can still recall the sheer terror of talking ‘unscripted’, with my mouth drying up to make this uncomfortable smacking sound as I tried to pronounce words and make them into something approaching a coherent sentence for an eternity of minutes. But over the next three years, unwittingly, it taught me how to breathe, how to think, how to pace myself and, perhaps most important of all, how to speak in front of large numbers of people without gabbling-like-I-used-to-do-when-slightly-nervous-and-excited-in-equal-measure!

The second stemmed out of English, out of my love of writing. It was joining the Drama Society at University and along with watching and being involved with plays, discovering that I wasn’t bad at writing them. Out of that came my ability to enter a Diploma of Education in English and Drama, without my having formally studied Drama. Out of that came the chance to study for a year at NIDA. Out of that came the chance for me to get an interview for my first job as a teacher… one that I got. And, perhaps most happily, out of that came the chance, with my first play touring to a University Theatre Festival interstate, to meet the girl who would end up becoming my wife 9 years later.

So this post probably has more in common with Ken Robinson on Creativity than a call for more students (of either gender) to study mathematics. But it’s nice to think that I can tell my children that, thanks to the Arts, I was able to meet your mother and ultimately, to be able to have you.

I’d love to hear about those unlikely or serendipitous moments from your education that perhaps had a greater sway on your life than you could possibly envisage.