Archive for September, 2008

Cool tools for schools wiki

click, click, click…

After reading my blog comments I clicked through to Lee Mowbray’s Twitter account, then through to her shared blog Stepping Stones for teachers, and from there I found a link to a wikispace called Cool Tools for Schools.

The Cool tools for schools wiki stores information about a wide range of useful web-based tools, sorted by category (video tools, writing tools, image tools, quiz and poll tools etc.)

I love expanding my professional learning network!  Thanks Lee 🙂

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Do YOU know how to get a website unblocked?

ED: 19th March, 2012 – the information contained in this post may no longer be relevant. See visitor comments at the end relating to changes under the new ‘DEC’.

A recent post by Will Richardson, Filter Fun, got me thinking again about the situation with the (highly sensitive) web filter in my DET school.

I wonder – if only more teachers were proactive about applying for blocked websites to be UNBLOCKED, would the filter crew start to get a sense of how much they have (unnecessarily) blocked?  If they were hit with as many UNBLOCK requests as we are hit by ‘Blocked Site’ pages, would they be a little more careful about blocking potentially useful sites?

This term has been a constant struggle for me – teaching video games as a text in the English classroom required students to use internet searches for information and images relating to video games, game characters and game consoles.

At every turn we were blocked by the web filter.  Reason?  The sites we wanted to look at fell under the “Games” category.

Well…yeah.  Of course they did!  We were researching ‘games’!

I have to admit that, for my part, I did not apply at any stage this term to have a website UNBLOCKED.  Doing this is a pretty easy process if you are in a NSW DET school:

  1. Log on to the Portal
  2. Choose the ‘My applications’ tab
  3. Click on ‘Account Administration’ from the list below
  4. Choose ‘Web Filter Check’ and fill in the forms as instructed.

In my defense, however, I musy explain that the research work that we were doing required the students to search the web independently, which meant the focus was not on websites that I had found and unblocked for them.  As the unblocking process is not instant, it is of little help for teachers and students in the middle of a pre-booked lesson on the library computers!

If you are working within the NSW DET filter, here are some instructions for applying for a website to be unblocked that I made for my faculty.  Let me know if I got anything wrong – otherwise, spread the word that sites CAN BE UNBLOCKED!

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Screen Australia Digital Resources – Belonging

For those who are hunting around for resources to use next term with the new HSC Area of Study ‘Belonging’, you might want to head over to the Screen Australia Digital Learning resource finder.  If you search for ‘Belonging’ you will find a number of film clips relating to the concept of Belonging.

Each clip also has a short set of classroom activities written by members of the English Teachers’ Association (including yours truly!) to get you started with your lessons on Belonging 😉

My favourite is the story of Cuc Lam’s Suitcase.  It will be an especially relevant text to model with students studying The Joy Luck Club – I also used it this year, as it sat really well with Skrzynecki’s poetry for ‘the Journey’.

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NSW syllabus gets some good press!

Thank you David Dale, for your refreshing column in this week’s Who We Are column in the Sun Herald “Better living through English”.

Dale describes his reading of the NSW 7-10 English syllabus, and finds “that it doesn’t just give students tools for communicating clearly in adult life, but it actually wants to turn them into decent people.”  He also was surprised to find such a high level of rigour in the syllabus, observing that in contrast: “In my day, the teacher was happy if you left school able to quote a bit of Shakespeare and tell the difference between a metaphor and a simile.”

One element that Dale praised especially was the fact that English is “not just about books any more. The syllabus uses the word ‘text’ to cover movies, TV shows, articles, books, plays and even video games.”

This column made such a nice change from the usual (misinformed) bile that we see from the likes of Donnelly and Devine.  Nice to start the teaching break on a positive note…it sure has been awhile!

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Goodbye Year 12

I had my last class today with my HSC English class – the first HSC class I have ever taught, so they are a very special group for me.  It was a pretty emotional day (have to admit having a bit of a cry when the bell went, but the dears came and gave me a big group hug which was really very nice of them!)

This is an especially refelctive day for me, not only because they are my first HSC group, but also because it has been ten years since I finished high school myself…this feels like an important milestone.  To top it all off, I teach at my old high school, so today really was a trip down memory lane!

So much has happened since I finished high school…people are married (and divorced), some with kids and/or step kids; some people now live and work overseas; some people have drifted apart while others have stayed friends all this time.  People have bought houses (some have already sold and rebought), or are saving up to get into the property market, while some are renting (not sure if anyone still lives at home – bound to be some!).  Some have struggled (and some continue to struggle) with substance abuse and addiction.  Many have experienced problems with mental health at some point.  Some went to uni (and some left uni) while others took different paths.  One or two have died.

Ten years ago I would have known that all this was going to happen – of course it was all bound to happen – but I could not have imagined what it would feel like to be on the other side.  Nothing can really prepare a person, I think, for the constant pressure of adulthood.  But the other side of that coin is the independence that comes with adulthood, and for some that is the bigger surprise.

I wonder how “my” students will fare over the next ten years?  What joys (and sorrows) will they know?  And I also wonder…will anything I have taught them in English help them to get through life?


Learning to Change – Changing to Learn

I love this short (5 min) video by the Consortium for School Networking (COSN).  A range of ‘big wigs’ give their two cents worth on why schools need to become more ICT intensive – The following arguments especially appealed to me:

  • Students have a more stimulating and richer environment outside of school (how sad)
  • Kids are now very rich content developers and communicators, but we are not utilising their skills – instead we BAN everything from school which might ‘distract’ students from the learning we have designed for them
  • There is a need to defy the industrial narrative of control and order that positions students as factory workers, which maintains a stranglehold on the majority of schools and classrooms
  • Every turned off device is potentially a turned off child.

As Stephen Heppell says in the video, it may be the death of education, but is it the dawn of learning…and that is exciting indeed.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Learning to Change – Changing to Learn“, posted with vodpod



Internet Filtering

A video that talks about the current problems with school internet filtering:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Internet Filtering“, posted with vodpod

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Miranda Devine is a Hack

Miranda Devine writes in the SMH today that English teachers have lost the plot, and criticises the English Teachers’ Association for hating books, plays and poems, and language in general really.

Hmmm.  I wonder, what is more likely…

  • That English teachers hate books, OR that they think students need to know how to understand and create spoken and visual language as well?
  • That English teachers hate books, OR that they LOVE books, as well as films, poems, webpages, plays and TV shows?
  • That English teachers hate Australian books, OR that they LOVE Australian books…AND films, poems, webpages, plays and TV shows!?
  • That English teachers don’t want students to read books anymore, OR that they LOVE it when students read books, but don’t want politicians and journalists dictating when and where books are used in their teaching program?

Devine quotes author Sophie Masson, who believes that English teachers have a “subconscious hate and envy of writers” – this is of course why we all hate books, and are hell-bent on destroying LIT-RIT-YOOR for students today.

Masson is also quoted (as speaking on behalf of all English teachers), because some teachers have told her at writing workshops that the HSC is too hard.  Devine describes with horror that “there is a huge burden on [teachers] to comply with curriculum rules and what has to be accomplished in a year.”  Well, yes.  I agree – but this has less to do with having to teach ‘theory’, and more to do with what we are forced to cram into the HSC year because politicians insist on setting the bar so high to protect the reputation of NSW’s ‘world class curriculum’!  If parents want an easier HSC, they need to tell the politicians…they will get my support, but Devine is likely to slam them in the SMH for want to ‘dumb down’ they syllabus…

Speaking of dumbing down, Devine also quotes her mate Big Kev Donnolly, who along with Devine perhaps has a subconscious hate and envy of good English teachers who sees any attempt to teach spoken or visual language as “social activism”.  At what point will the Sydney Morning Herald stop giving air to journos that are so out of touch??

If the English curriculum only covered written language – books, poems and plays – it would be a very disengaging subject indeed, not to mention totally irrelevant in our contemporary world.  Miranda Devine is of the opinion that ‘words are words’ whether in a book or on a screen.  How utterly ignorant. If Miranda Devine is serious about encouraging a love of language (as I truly believe she is, in her own misguided way) she would be better off getting behind English teachers who want to teach MORE language forms, not LESS.

The ETA’s response to the Board of Studies’ proposal to ‘Strengthen Australian Literature’ actually argues the following:

  • ETA members do not believe that there is any need to impose further restrictions on professional choice and judgement than those that are already in English syllabuses.
  • ETA members believe that any definition of ‘Australian’ needs to see Australia in a global context , and to take account of Indigenous and multicultural perspectives.
  • ETA members feel strongly that a definition of literature with a restriction to the print medium is imprudent, reductive, short-sighted and, most importantly, undermines the integrity of current English syllabuses.
  • ETA members believe that the amendments to the K-6 English syllabus do not provide the richness of direction required for non-specialist English teachers particularly in the areas of what could constitute literature and the kinds of creative responses it may inspire. They also think that teacher professionalism needs to be acknowledged by specifying their involvement in the development of recommended text lists.
  • Members are particularly concerned at the narrowing of the definition of literature in the syllabus [to mean only print texts – books, poems and plays] and believe that strengthening the inclusions in the syllabus restricts the capacity of teachers to effectively support weaker students.

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Bladerunner Screenshots

Here is a slideshow of screenshots from the Bladerunner: The Director’s Cut (1992) directed by Ridley Scott.

Please feel free to use it in class and pass it on to other teachers and students.  It’s only a selection of shots, but may be very welcome in this revision period before the HSC 🙂

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the Tree of Lost and Found

The Tree of Lost and Found : another great project by The Red Room Company!

The Tree of Lost and Found is a collection of created and found poetry, created by students from Newtown Public School.  The poems have been tied to the ‘tree of lost and found’, and will be on display in Newtown until late Septemner, when it will be moved to the foyer of the Carriageworks.

Until then you can visit it and add your own poem!


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