From the category archives:

Technology

Before we get into the next installment, I want you to go to AC: Science and have a little play, if you haven’t already. One of the things I love about this curriculum has nothing to do with the pedagogy or science and everything to do with the presentation. Those little symbols up the top that look like an optometrist’s test let you decide whether the year levels go down the page horizontally or across vertically. You can choose which year level to look at. You can choose whether you see the achievement standards, the content descriptors or the whole shebang. You can even choose to see the links to the cross-curriculum priorities and general capabilities in there. Or not. It’s the first document I’ve seen anywhere, not just in education, that really takes advantage of the fact that the web is not linear.

And that makes it a joy to use. I spent today writing advice on multi-level classes. Nothing can do everything right and this is the bit that the AC: Science does horribly. That’s not to say I can think of a better way right now and 9 hours of solid work may have hammered out a compromise, but it’s ugly. At least while I was writing it I could arrange the years vertically and clear everything else away to compare the achievement standards right next to each other. Then add in the content descriptors to see if it still worked. When I was writing an exemplar for a year 2 program I could just look at the specific standards, descriptors and elaborations for year 2. This is a complete change in the way we can use this document, far more useful and flexible than any book we’ve been given in the past. And that makes it a pretty darn good metaphor for the AC: Science itself, because this curriculum is not only based on the latest thinking and research, it completely re-writes the goal of teaching science and therefore the way we teach it.

One of the big concerns at #onsci was where is the science for general life? The answer is right there. Throughout the entire curriculum in every single class.

In the past science education was aimed at producing future scientists. There was some nice fiction that every student in our classes could be going on to become a scientist, so that was what we had to prepare them for. This has changed.

Now, our goal is to produce scientifically literate future citizens. There is national and international acknowledgement that not everyone is going to become a scientist, but everyone needs to be able to grapple with the big issues facing us as a global society, which means being able to understand how science works and how it affects our lives even if you aren’t specialising for a career.

AC graphic

Click for full size

This is one way of representing AC: Science. It’s actually much more complicated, and I will love forever anyone who manages to design a graphic for the rest of it. I’m thinking of multiple paths to the same destination and weaving. But this bit’s fairly reasonable.

The Achievement Standard is the most important part. If you’re a non-teacher forget the content descriptors. I know they take up lots of room and look important, but they are just suggestions of how to meet the standard. Suggestions you need a darn good reason signed off in triplicate to ignore, but ‘the order and detail in which the content descriptions are organised into teaching/learning programs are decisions to be made by the teacher.’ The achievement standard, on the other hand, is the bit that we expect every Australian child to have the opportunity to achieve.

Below the achievement standard are the most important strands that contribute to it. And front and centre you can see ‘Science as a Human Endeavour,’ which is the fancy name for science for real life. And right there next to it is ‘Science Inquiry Skills.’ No longer are they tucked away in a corner as something along the lines of ‘Working Scientifically,’ they make up fully two thirds of the curriculum and the achievement standard. Biology? Chemistry? Physics? They’re the ones tucked away, down below in the sub-strand level. They’re still important – knowledge is an important element of scientific literacy – but they are in many ways just the context for learning about scientific ways of thinking and doing.

Now let’s look at an actual achievement standard so you can see what I mean. They all follow the same pattern, so I picked one in the middle.

By the end of Year 5, students classify substances according to their observable properties and behaviours. They explain everyday phenomena associated with the transfer of light. They describe the key features of our solar system. They analyse how the form of living things enables them to function in their environments. Students discuss how scientific developments have affected people’s lives and how science knowledge develops from many people’s contributions.

Students follow instructions to pose questions for investigation, predict what might happen when variables are changed, and plan investigation methods. They use equipment in ways that are safe and improve the accuracy of their observations. Students construct tables and graphs to organise data and identify patterns. They use patterns in their data to suggest explanations and refer to data when they report findings. They describe ways to improve the fairness of their methods and communicate their ideas, methods and findings using a range of text types.

That entire second paragraph is all about the Science Inquiry Skills, the doing of science. In the first paragraph, we have a sentence on chemistry, a sentence on energy, a sentence on the solar system and a sentence on biology. Then we finish with a longer sentence about science as a part of daily life and how we got to where we are.

Facts and pracs are no longer an option. In order for students to pass science, in order for them to be able to do the things that we have decided are important for all Australian children, investigation of real-world questions important to the students themselves is not the jam you get to if you are lucky, but the absolute bread and butter.

But wait! There’s more! In part three we’ll meet the Overarching Ideas.

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Literacy

It’s holidays, and the girls (almost 4 and 6) are miserable with a cold. So they asked if they could work on their book. They are snuggled together in my bed:

  • Using a book (Animalia) to get ideas for each letter.
  • 6 yr old is telling 4 yr old how to type the words into Neon Image Search on the iPad,
    • Making reasonable guesses on spelling with phonetics and environmental clues, then self-checking if they don’t get the expected pictures coming up.
    •  Choose one together and save it. duckling
  • Last time I used Fancy Pages to put the letters in, I’ll see if they want to have a go this time. Lion
  • Then they use WordFoto to choose a picture,
    • Come up with a sight word list for that letter and take turns typing them in
    • Take turns setting the style. horse

And there is their very own set of letter posters to put up around the place. It didn’t last that long, but they work on it a little at a time and move on while they are still happy.

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WordFoto

Another app I love. It’s designed for iPhone but works on iPad and I think some iPods too. It’s very simple, but beautiful things can be done.

All you do is open a picture in the app and choose or add a set of words. Then you get the fun bit, changing fonts, styles and colours. This is the bit where kids could waste a whole lot of time playing, but no more than they do with other visual media like paint or posters.

I made these examples using a combination of apps on my iPad:

Above, I used Image Search to find the apple and Fancy Pages to put it together with the text before putting it into WordFoto with simple sight words – A, and, an, apple.

five
Used Image Search to find the 5 picture then text, numeral, arithmetic and counters representing 5.

animal cell
A more complicated attempt, I used MediaSlate to draw the cell and Fancy Pages to label it before using the parts as my word set. I don’t actually think this would be a good classroom use – the text doesn’t really add anything to the diagram.

Mining ConsMining Pros
Again, used Image Search then straight into WordFoto.

So I have a series of pretty pictures and had a fun time. Is it useful or a time waster? I think useful – primates are, after all, visual creatures and the picture being a thousand words. I think it can let kids who can’t write well-reasoned essays explore emotional and analytical ideas. It can be a stimulus, a mnemonic or a fun way to begin and end a unit. A way of getting kids to use and practice words and tie them to something concrete rather than a list in a book.

Quick ideas for uses (and this is after a couple of days playing, I’m sure there are so many more):

  • Early readers building a word bank.
  • Encouraging use of adjectives and rich description eg developing characters or settings.
  • Vocab posters for a unit.
  • Understanding numbers – this does not not not not mean counting!
  • Remembering formulae and units in different forms.
  • Looking at pros and cons for things like Science in Society or SOSE.
  • Emotional response or exploration.
  • Summary of a business or enterprise – taglines or mottos.
  • Taking a position in an argument with brief reasons.
Can you think of more?

 

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Because right now, we don’t. In fact most of us are still trying to work out what literacy in the information age actually is, let alone practice it or especially teach it.

The first step is to accept that this is truly a different world to the one you grew up in. It’s not just like it was but with better phones. We have the collective brain, early tricorders and skycars are under development. We have the ADHD attention span. Most important, for this discussion, we have independent mass publishing.

When you were a kid and wanted to know something you read it in a book or asked someone. There were occasional oddball books like Von Daniken, but generally they were pretty safe, in fact conservative. This is because books are a big investment for publishers so they are screened and vetted carefully. Then they have to be marketed, and the extreme fringe is, by definition, tiny. So it’s not worthwhile targetting them as your audience. As a further filter, you either had to shell out money for a book or get it from the library. Money is a great way of ensuring people think carefully about what they are reading, and public libraries have guidelines. That adds up to a lot of editorial layers making sure the book is reliable.

Asking someone could be more unreliable, especially because we are inherently more likely to trust people we know well enough to ask. But while in the past that could lead to pockets or lineages of ‘weird beliefs,’ it couldn’t usually spread far or fast, because you simply can’t reach that many people.

For me, the biggest effect of the Internet is the democratisation of information. I get my news through Twitter and learn from blogs. And I don’t mean the big commercial ones, why not keep an eye on my old field by following John Hawks? For educators, think of Teacher Tom or Dy/Dan out of hundreds of useful edublogs. And there’s the rub. How do you know which ones are useful?

Anyone can set up a blog. Design is getting easier, especially with so many themes already out there you don’t need to go for a premium or custom job to get something that looks professional. Hosting is everywhere and domains are incredibly cheap. For a hundred dollars, maybe two, you can look like a trustworthy professional organisation rather than a crackpot working alone in a grungy flat. And as yet there is no way for readers to check up on you, except by looking at the quality of your information and making their minds up for themselves. Which is easy if you already know something about the field, very hard if you don’t.

Which brings us back to those poor people looking for information.

Cue critical literacy

There are all sorts of skills that go into it to do with comprehension and spotting logical errors or inconsistencies. But one of the first things to ask yourself is

“Why should I trust this person?”

What clues are there, before you even listen or read, that tell you this person has good information –

  • Are they publicly backed by an organisation such as a university or government department that would have checked it for you?
  • Do they have relevant qualifications openly displayed?
  • Is there an easy way to contact them and ask questions and do you get answers?
  • Do they link or direct you to other reputable sites that have that information?
  • Do they back up their statements with evidence or is it all their opinion (rather like this post)? And what is the quality of their evidence?
  • Can you find out how they have dealt with or answered people who disagree with them?
  • Are they urging you to do something, and who will directly benefit from that?

Try it –

I’ll do this blog for you, shall I?

  • No, it’s a private blog.
  • Yes, see that ‘About‘ tab up the top?
  • Yes, contact tab off to the left and open comments. You can see answers on some of the comments.
  • Yes, lots of links off to the right and within posts. However you would have to check if they are reputable, there are no universities or education departments.
  • Mostly opinion, it’s a reflective blog after all!
  • It’s a fairly limited blog. You could follow the links to Science@home, which I’ve mentioned in the About page has been going much longer. It has some controversial posts, but you would have to look around a bit to find them. So while it’s not impossible, it would require some digging.
  • Not really. Be what I consider a better teacher? Your students would be the ones to benefit, and they’re almost certainly not my kids!
So it’s relatively reliable with some caveats – it’s designed to clarify and record my thinking and make you think, not give you facts.
Try it on another site the next time you are looking things up, it can be a very interesting exercise.

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Google +

Google plus is the new kid on the social media block and it’s growing explosively. However numbers of users only tells a small part of the story, as many of those users only joined up to check it out. Even the ones who like it are still fitting it into their routine and finding a place for it.

This is a good thing for teachers, because the exploration is throwing up all sorts of interesting ideas on ways to use it. And of course I’m going to add my suggestions to the clamour.

For me, Google + seems like a cross between Twitter and an old fashioned forum. Of course there is a bit of Facebook thrown in, but I’ve never used Facebook professionally. Overall I think it’s going to be great in the NT, because I think anything that makes it easier for teachers to connect and network with each other is a good thing.

Advantages

–  Like Twitter, you can follow anyone you want without being approved. The caveat is that they need to be on it, and I’ve been a bit shocked at the number of people who either don’t have Google accounts or aren’t searchable. Doesn’t everyone these days have YouTube or Blogger or iGoogle or Gmail or Google Docs or Google Reader or Picasa or something? We keep being told that half the world has jumped onto Google +, so where is everyone I know? Weird.

–  If someone is following you but you aren’t following them, there is an ‘Incoming’ stream you can check them out with. Watch for a while and decide if you want to follow them back.

–  You can group people into Circles, but the advantage is actually that you can easily decide which circles to share with for every update. It would be quite easy to isolate yourself if you did it all the time, but occasionally being able to direct something to only specific people might stop you from boring everyone with the irrelevant bits. Especially useful if you mix family and business.
The ability to use webcams for a video conference with 10 people. Outside of a professional setting, that’s amazing. It also lets you watch a YouTube video together, which opens up real possibilities.

–  It encourages long form comments – none of this rubbish hitting enter and your comment has posted!

–  It has its own personalised search engine attached. Naturally, this is Google.

Disadvantages

–  Supposedly real names only (although I do follow a couple of people using ‘nyms). While you do have control over who can see what in your profile, swapping between pseudonyms and names is making it difficult to match everyone up and leading to people having multiple online identities. Wouldn’t it be nice to just be one person? It’s a bit simplistic to say we should all just use our real names, there are good arguments for separating online and offline identities. At the same time there are good arguments against anonymity, so it would be really nice if we could all have one handle that follows us around but has some level of separation from the people we meet down at the shops and work with.

–  You can group people into Circles, but the disadvantage is that you can accidentally compartmentalise yourself very badly. I’ve picked up ideas from all over the place, I’d hate to miss out on something because someone put me in the ‘Mummy’ circle rather than ‘Science’ or ‘Education’ circles. And yes, you can put people in multiple circles. It’s more a mindset – be aware if you are starting to exclude people.

Personally

I’m excited about Google +, I think it’s going to really add something to professional connections online. I love Twitter, it lets me skim a huge amount of information and dip in and out. I am suspicious of Facebook – it’s advertiser friendly rather than user friendly and has so many changes and general weirdnesses. Google + has the ease of use of Twitter but more scope – hopefully you can check out this conversation on the subject.

It’s early, but I think I’m going to keep using Twitter for news, information and connection. My Facebook page will continue to be big for Science@home because my audience of parents tend to be on Facebook. But Google + will be my education professional connection, where I can discuss and get into things.

Suggestions

First and most obvious: Join up! I don’t know if it was because I had a Google account already or because the invitations thing has finished, but I didn’t need one. If you do, here you go. Then play around with it, find people, look what other people are doing with it. After that I have random ideas in no particular order:

  • Use Hangouts to set up a time and video conference with teachers in other schools.
  • Set up a Circle along the lines of “Remote Schools Chat” and organise when you are all available. Then use the exclusive posting function or the threaded replies to have a chat similar to Twitter chats but with much more detail and ability to expand.
  • Get your students on, there are both iPhone and Android apps, and have a student circle for communication and discussion.

Useful Links

Lots of people are thinking about how to use Google +:

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Part three of my list on why Territory (and other) teachers need to use Social Media. Seeing part of my aim is to get more Territory teachers using social media I’m going to keep talking about communities, because that’s where a lot of kids in the Territory live. And when you are isolated in a two teacher school, it often feels like you’re too small to matter and there’s nothing out there just for you. You always have to adapt the ideas you find to make them work in your circumstances, nothing is ever straight out of the book. All of these ideas will work anywhere, but just for once isolated teachers can feel special and remembered.

Twitter

140 characters is all you have to do to be able to Tweet. The essence of Twitter is short, sharp chunks that show kids you don’t need enormous slabs of text to learn. Reading and writing are manageable and engaging because they get an instant result, not one after several sessions of planning, drafting and finally a good copy.

Twitter is about spreading information and ideas. Most Twitter users have hundreds or even thousands of followers, and if you use hashtags it is even broader. So you can use Twitter for connecting you to a very wide audience without extra work.

Planning

Most Territory kids have low literacy levels, which makes pictures a great stimulus to start a lesson. In fact they’re great for all sorts of kids, because it’s something new they have to think about and analyse. Different people see different things in pictures depending on their backgrounds and experiences, which leads to a rich class discussion. But it can be difficult if the reactions you get are completely unexpected. So put it out there and ask.

?

"I want to use this as a stimulus image for Year 7 science, what do you think when you see it?"

Twitter shares images through services like TwitPic, yfrog, imgur and Instagram, as well as videos, links and of course text. It makes it very easy to broadcast your idea and ask opinions.

Experts

Twitter gives you unprecedented access to professionals and therefore experts. Want to contact a published children’s author? A poet? A science journalist? A historian/geographer/economist/lawyer/chef/photographer/you name it? Chances are there is one on Twitter. Living in a remote community drastically restricts the range of people you have direct access to, but Twitter opens it up again.

You can use it as a simple tool to find people then email them,

“Please RT! Looking for an Australian biogeography expert for school questions.”

Twitter users tend to be helpful little souls, especially when asked politely and for a good cause such as school. The RT stands for ‘re-tweet’ and it’s when someone repeats your tweet to their own followers. With a few re-tweets a message may get in front of many thousands of people, and thousands of heads are way better than one.

Or you could get really daring and set up a Twitter chat with your experts. Imagine if you found half a dozen sportspeople who were willing to be available on Twitter during your class time? Tweets are only 140 characters, so you can do a prepatory lesson of writing questions as tweets. Then during your scheduled time your students tweet their questions to your experts and get the answers. How much collaboration, how much literacy, how much analysis afterwards would you get out of that?

The world is a big place

And a community is tiny. An ongoing problem in communities is helping kids to realise just how big the world is and how different other countries are. So back to those helpful Tweeps who get a kick out of helping little kids:

“Please answer and RT for our class – What’s your weather like today?”

“What time is it where you are?”

“Where are you – town, state, country?”

“What do you do after school?”

“How much does a loaf of bread cost you?”

What more would you like to know? Putting out a single tweet then collecting all the answers could be the basis for several lessons worth of research into different cultures, climates and countries.

Current Events

How sad is this – I get all my news from Twitter. Revolutions, political commentary, the US debt shenanigans, riots, earthquakes and celebrity deaths all make their way to Twitter faster and with more angles, commentary and opinions than traditional news outlets. By keeping an eye on Twitter you can learn about world news even from the middle of nowhere, and the richness lets you do all sorts of things with it:

  • Compare two different news sources to see if they present the story differently.
  • Track a breaking story, such as an earthquake, over time and see how it changes.
  • Investigate the difference between factual writing and opinion.
  • Compare different opinions and see how people support their argument.

Quotes

Quotes are a powerful way to sample and illustrate opinion and connect with people. If they know they are being quoted, most people try to say something significant and 140 characters makes you choose with care. This can lead to powerful and thoughtful language. You can ask people at large for their thoughts and feelings, but don’t forget you can also target specific people.

@KRuddMP @JuliaGillard What is your opinion on Sorry Day?

What other ideas do you have to use Twitter for your classes?

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Twitter Links

This is the second of my expansions on the theme of why teachers need to be on Social Media.

In the first post I talked about creating a professional learning network (PLN), your own personal staffroom table to chat around. One of the ways you can use your PLN is to find good resources. The Internet has millions of pages, today’s problem has changed from finding information to evaluating it.

In the past, for something to make it into a book required several layers of editing and review. That winnowed out a lot of the information or products that didn’t have something substantial behind them. The Internet has opened publishing and marketing to anyone. This is good when useful tools that wouldn’t have been commercially viable in the past now have a platform, but the sheer amount of choice can make it hard to decide.

This is where your PLN and social media network come in. Teachers are collaborative little souls, when we find something that works we like to share it. We love comparing – solids, liquids and gases? I like to teach it this way, how about you? Digital cameras? I got the kids to do that.

The good tools, that teachers have used and modified and found more uses for than the inventors contemplated, are being passed around using blogs and twitter. Blogs, because everyone loves a good list. It’s easy to write, easy to read, and an irresistible title to draw the audience in. Who isn’t going to open 100 Uses for Digital Cameras?

And Twitter because it is the perfect medium for spreading links around. Because it is short people are skimming it, and with your own followers and re-tweets (list posts are especially well re-tweeted) your link can quickly get in front of thousands of people. So as an interested reader, following on Twitter means you get to see what other teachers are writing, and what they think is good enough to pass on to their own followers.

That equals a brilliant peer review system that finds, tests and collates all sorts of useful teaching tools. And here are just a few examples:

And that’s just a selection of the links that have come through my Twitter stream lately. It’s also where I found most of the links to the right ->, which are the blogs I think are worth reading.  And I’m adding to the conversation, whenever I publish something here it goes to my Twitter, including my (many!) suggestions and reviews.

Are there some tools in there you could use? Shouldn’t you be on Twitter?

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Images and Fancy Pages apps

As I start playing with the newer technology in the classroom I’ll review it so other teachers can see how I’m using it and how it went. I’m a bit of a believer in diving in and seeing what happens! This is an unsponsored post, in other words I found the apps and bought them myself. But I’m glad to start with such a positive review, both apps worked extremely well and I’ll definitely be using them again.

The Task:

I wanted my students to create electronic posters for an assignment, along the lines of Glogster or Nota. I know Glogster is extremely popular, I actually prefer Nota because it has a built-in Flickr search that finds open copyright pictures for you. This avoids any hassles with having to search for images and save them or upload them and means the entire project can be done in one platform. Unfortunately, both rely on Flash so won’t work on the iPad.

I have access to laptops, but I specifically wanted to work with iPads with this particular class. They have very low tolerance for waiting and treat the laptops terribly, they will disappear onto music or games sites as soon as you aren’t looking directly at them, and it’s difficult to use the laptops without mice. I think the touch interface will be much more successful, and I was after an extremely simple app that I don’t have to spend half my time helping them do the mechanics.

Neon Image Search

This app is not only free it did exactly what I wanted, which is search for images on the internet. Type in what you want and within seconds there is a page full of decent sized thumbnails. Click on one you are interested in and it gives you the enlarged version and tells you the website it comes from. Click on the little + button and you have an option of going to the web page, emailing the picture or saving it onto the iPad, then back to searching again.

The only thing I would ask for would be a copyright restriction or notification. You can get the webpage to reference them and for in-class usage it’s not really an issue, but it’s always a good thing to be teaching kids about. Another potential issue is that there are no age restrictions so it’s possible you’ll get adult content. However I’m a believer in teaching kids how to be safe rather than putting up fences, so that’s not something that worries me personally.

From my use so far, this is pretty close to perfect for any class regularly making electronic presentations or documents. I would call this a must-have app for schools setting up iPads.

Fancy Pages

This is a very simple document maker from TopLineSoft Systems which cost about $4, so not going to break the budget. You can create as many pages as you want in a document, add backgrounds, drawings, text or images from your saved photos, which is where Image Search comes in. The students used it first and saved what they wanted, then could put them into Fancy Pages without any messing around finding where they are saved or copying and pasting.

Everything can be dragged around and resized easily and there are a huge range of fonts available. All the controls are fairly intuitive, all I really had to do was show students how to get started and they were off, a nice change from having to help them change the font size again on the computer. It took a little bit of searching to find the rotate command, which is pretty good overall. We got several posters finished in one class, something that would have been very difficult using the computers.

When finished we saved them and emailed them to the students’ accounts, now we have the option of showing them on the interactive whiteboard for a presentation or pasting them onto an A3 document and printing out a lovely coloured poster. I’m sure there are ways of doing both of those through apps, but we’ve only had the iPads a couple of weeks.

The only suggestion I would make so far is that there are no examples for font size, you have to do it by trial and error. Which isn’t really a big deal when you get an idea of the sizes but would speed things up when you are first using it.

Once again I would highly recommend this app as a simple way of starting to make documents on iPads. There isn’t too much for students to have to learn and they can start producing ‘fancy pages’ straight away.

And as a bonus, I used the same two apps with my 5 year old daughter at home, and she’s happily creating a poster about the book her class has just read.

poster

One of the posters they created in class.

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Post image for Creating a PLN, aka Getting on to Twitter and Blogs

So much for last week, life sort of got in the way. I’m going to do a series where I break down my original list of reasons Territory teachers need to use social media and talk about them all individually, so I’ll start at the very beginning.

It lets you form a Professional Learning Network, generally abbreviated to PLN

This is just the new and fancy term for talking, reflecting and sharing resources. It happens around the staff room table or in the faculty office, where teachers share ideas or commiserate on failures, rave about the amazing book/DVD/app they’ve just found and ask how on earth they are going to deal with that difficult class. What’s that? Remote schools don’t have those networks? You’re right, it is difficult when there are only 2 or 3 of you, it’s easy to get trapped in the situation and need new ideas. And that is where your electronic network comes to the rescue, because it is limitless and portable.

Two of the places teachers tend to hang out online are blogs and Twitter. There are also Nings, which is just another type of online community. I’ve never really got into them but they might work for you. One of the reasons I like blogs and Twitter is they are easy to dip in and out of, more like a library or group of specialists rather than the work that goes into friendships and Nings. If you prefer friendships, check out Nings and let me know which ones you like.

Blogs

Blogs are easy to start with, giving you maximum information for minimal engagement. You can see a whole list of them in my sidebar split into different categories, and that button about the edublogs directory? Yep, it will take you to a whole directory of blogs on education. There are several very big ones, both Teach Paperless and Teacher Tom have won awards.

Choose one and click through, read a few posts and see if it suits your style. If you like it, subscribe so you’ll get all the posts. Don’t know how to subscribe? There are two lovely buttons to look for, most blogs have them fairly prominently. They may not look exactly like these, there are all sorts of pretty variations. And if they really don’t have something like this, your browser probably does.

Which you use is a personal choice – I like email because it’s delivered to me and I only have to open one thing in the morning. Others prefer a RSS reader (such as Google reader) because it doesn’t clutter their inbox. If you have Google set as your homepage you can add them on that as well. It’s just a way of bringing the blog to you, rather than you having to go to the blog. Then sit back, read the posts and ponder.

At some point there’ll be something you want to say, which is when you jump in and comment. That’s the really exciting thing about blogs, both for the blogger and the reader, because that’s when you can get conversations happening. As a blogger it tells you that you aren’t howling into the wilderness, and as a reader it adds another point of view and allows you to ask questions. This is the staff room table, for those of us who don’t have one.

And when you comment, you get to leave your URL if you have one, which can link to your own blog. Or other commenters have left their URL and you can click on it and check them out. That’s how you find new blogs, by checking out the ones the original blogger recommends or by following interesting comments.

Some people are beginning to say that readers aren’t useful anymore, and in some ways I agree with them. The main reason is that the interesting URLs get passed around in other ways, especially on Twitter.

Twitter

Twitter was designed for mobile phones, hence the 140-character limit. Which means it is perfect for sharing links and passing them around. You sign up at Twitter and choose yourself a username, don’t be too long so you don’t use up too many characters.

Then you need to find people to follow. I’m ScienceMum, and if you are in the Northern Territory this list by Monica Hilse is a good place to start. Once again, you talk to people and read what they are talking about. If they are talking to someone interesting, follow them too. The trick is to not follow too many people at once – if you are following a couple of hundred people and no-one is following you, you look like a spammer.

You need to stick with Twitter for a bit, when you are only following a few people it can be a long time between tweets. I’ve heard that the sweet spot is following 50-100 people, enough so you see some decent conversations. And join in! Too many people see Twitter as a broadcast medium where they can shout quotes or links, but the full benefits are when you use it as a conversation and build up relationships. If you want to have a network of people you can ask questions and bounce ideas off, you also need to answer questions and be willing to be bounced on.

I find the best way to use Twitter is through one of the clients, rather than the Twitter website itself. Tweetdeck is a good one, there is also a list here of the most popular. The beauty of them is you can set up all sorts of groups for the people you follow. Given my diverse interests, I have groups like Friends, Parents, Business, Science, Education and Shops. It makes it easy to skim across and see if there are any interesting conversations going on.

And honestly? I don’t think I can say it better than this – If you were on Twitter … (see what you find when you follow blogs?)

Isolation is one of the hardest things the Territory throws at us, both personal and professional. Cars and planes started shrinking the world, now online technologies are finishing the job. Today, no matter where you are you can create your own staff room table to laugh around.

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Post image for 13 Reasons Territory Teachers Need to Use Social Media

For Teachers:

  1. Twitter lets you form a professional learning network (PLN) by connecting with teachers all across the globe. With literally thousands to choose from, there are definitely some with the same interests or problems as you.
  2. You can not only find out about lots of tools but also have them reviewed by other teachers who are using them right now in the classroom. How about links on using Wordle for improving writing? 100 uses for digital cameras? iPads? All found through social media (specifically Twitter).
  3. Try out lessons” by presenting your focus material online and see what reactions you get and how well it would work. Then you can reflect on the feedback.
  4. Now that interactive whiteboards are becoming more common you can integrate links directly into your lessons with no searching or fumbling. If you ask your PLN there is sure to be someone who can give you a great resource to use, complete with a review and suggestions.
  5. The Territory (and many other places) are isolated. It’s one of the hardest things to deal with, both personally and professionally. Social media, including Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, Flickr, Fora and Nings let you make connections and friends no matter where you are. I’ve lived and had small children in three Territory communities, but I have lots of close online friends. I’ve even met some of them 😉
  6. It may not be as quick, but even community kids are getting connected with social media. The days when none of them had a computer are gone – they have phones or games with internet connections. But they aren’t necessarily going to learn about the new world any better than being surrounded by books will magically teach them to read. To help them get the most out of it, teachers need to be there too.
  7. For Students

  8. It gives them a genuine audience for writing if other people are reading their blogs or tweets, even if it is mainly their class members (and you haven’t connected to another community) that’s still more people than they normally have reading their work.
  9. Online, either using Google Docs, blogs or YouTube is a great way to encourage collaboration. You can even collaborate with other communities by sharing work and commenting, and when kids are away the other collaborators can keep working.
  10. It’s more common to have mobile phones, playstations or cable television at home, so it’s more familiar and less threatening than large pieces of blank white paper. The small screens are much easier to fill and less intimidating.
  11. It gives a genuine reason for writing and reading if they are being shared, and there is a tangible product at the end that can be easily stored and shared without getting lost. Media like Twitter with a strict character limit means they don’t have to write or read a lot, and they can concentrate on understanding and expressing one idea.
  12. It makes it easy for kids to proof and edit their work,on a blog it is easy to read someone else’s work and comment on it to help them improve it.
  13. Social media lends itself to scaffolding longer writing because it can be done in small chunks then put together.
  14. Social media are perfect for using visual media like graphics, photos and videos. These are very helpful for students with low literacy skills to demonstrate their understanding of complex ideas.

Do you have any other ideas? I’m starting to expand on each of these points in a series of posts, I’ll add in the links as I go.

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