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If there was one recurring thread (I typed ‘threat’ subliminally just then and it didn’t auto-correct!) at the first day of the K-12 National Curriculum Conference today, it might have been the idea of data, analytics and ‘using evidence’ to inform teaching and learning.

‘There are two things we all agree with’, said Professor Brian Caldwell, it’s the idea of an Australian curriculum, and the idea of national testing, of some kind.

Systems: universal, national, local, like the idea of data. ‘We’re not just wasting our money here. Look. You’re not doing it right…’ Data to drive improvement, data to drive reform, data to drive teachers out of the profession. ‘PISA has become an article of faith for policy makers …’ someone said. There was lots of talk of data analysis, of acronyms like PISA, NAPLAN, ACER, VCAA, ISQ, GKR, PAT, EBO, PATT … and on it went.

Everyone wants a dashboard, and they want it now. Not as much talk about how we might deal with all that data once we have it, or how that might drive … well, even more data.

There were some refreshing asides, talk about creativity, problem-solving, the value of learning for its own sake and not as an atom in a productivity machine, but data. Everywhere data.

Most of the presentations are on Slideshare HERE

[Vette Dashboard by Wayne Silver, on Flickr – https://flic.kr/p/8rhcNg ]

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This week I was finishing up my planning for a unit of work in Literature loosely called ‘Views and Values’ and focusing, in this case, on the poetry of Adrienne Rich and the kinds of viewpoints about the world, as well as the underpinning values that emerge, in her work.

Rich is an American poet with strong feministic beliefs so, besides being an excellent poet, she’s ideally placed in this aspect of the course. Students need to work with the poetry but also unpack and analyse the way the author critiques society. It’s challenging, but also really interesting.

This is a senior Literature class, mostly of self-motivated students who are interested in the material and want to be there. It’s a privilege and makes teaching a pleasure. My teaching in this subject involves a lot of talk: discussion, student presentations, me talking (sometimes too much), students talking (in groups, pairs, or whole class) reading aloud, annotating, summarising, synthesising, analysing, coming to judgement and personal evaluation. Developing a reading, by talking it through, is the key I say.

But it’s not talk and chalk, but talk and tek, for me in my teaching these days. Quite a while ago now I pretty much stopped using the analog whiteboard altogether and projected the notes and discussion points on a screen via data projector; firstly using PowerPoint as the preferred note-taking tool, and then, as screen resolution improved to Word, and finally OneNote. Where is is today.

OneNote is a wonderful tool for organising and capturing note and research, but I find it also worked really well to organise the notes (and teaching) for a course. I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but my Literature OneNote notebook has a section for each text and pretty much a page for each lesson. It structures itself wonderfully as the lessons unfold. Students would have their OneNote notebook too, and I’d generally email them a OneNote page for homework, or with material to read. Moving notes around from email into OneNote is a bit of a pain, but it was still worth it.

This year, a lot of that approach changed as we’ve been trialling Office 265 and OneDrive. The game-changer here is the possibilities in OneNote Notebook Creator; a tool that takes a lot of the hassle out of setting up and maintaining OneNote as a learning tool, and adds some powerful features that simply weren’t possible or were really tricky to do before: a collaboration space and a personal shared notebook space with each student. You can read about the features on the Microsoft site, but I’ve used OneNote this year for course content delivery, for collaboration spaces for student groups, for a space for students to submit work for feedback and lots more. Its the main teaching tool I use.

Along with that, I’ve got a couple of standard technology tools I use and like. I like Padlet for online brainstorming, and use Schoology, thought not as much as last year, mainly for its assessment and feddback and assignment/homework completion qualities. I put student results up there so students are able to get their results online rather than wait and get the results in class in that social context. I also have used Office Mix to jazz up PowerPoints with audio and video, Office Sway a new tool for delivering information; you can see a Sway on an Adrienne Rich I put together HERE. (However, I’m thinking that the main use of Sway might be in students presenting their own findings and in their presentations, and use Diigo, online bookmarking to set up lists like Resources on Adrienne Rich, to supplement the classroom work and resources.

Funny, that after I’ve been so critical of Windows and the operating system and the Office tools, and am such a fan of the Apple ecosytem that the principle tools I find myself working and teaching with in 2015 are from Microsoft.

OneNote Notebook Creator

So, I finally got my hands on OneNote Notebook creator as part of the trial group at my school, thanks to the support from the computer team who’v set it up. They set the Sharepoint site up and I ran the Notebook creator tool, setting up three distinct spaces in the OneNote notebook as outlined below.  I set up the student private notebooks with tabs for the key texts (Amadeus, Antony and Cleopatra etc…) a content library, which is the resources I’ve been sharing so far by email, and the collaborative space,which I’m probably most excited about.

Each Class Notebook is organized into three areas:

Student Notebooks
A private notebook shared between the teacher and each individual student.
Teachers can read and write to all student notebooks
Students cannot see other private section groups outside their own

Content Library
A read-only notebook where teachers can share handouts with students.
Students can only read — i.e. pull from — the Content Library. They cannot edit.
Teachers can read and write to the Content Library

Collaboration Space
A notebook for everyone in your class to share, organize, and collaborate.
Everyone can read and write to the Collaboration Space

I’ve been using OneNote as a teaching tool for years now, and this is the biggest break-through yet I think. As one teacher, from the USA, I was speaking to yesterday said, this is a ‘game changer’.

I’ll be sharing what happens. Meanwhile, here’s a video overview:

My top Apps for 2014

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Inspired by several lists of apps I’ve seen lately, like this one by Alex Brooks from World of Apple, I thought I’d share my own top apps for 2014.

I use an iPhone and a couple of iPads daily, along with my iMac, Mac Mini and Le Novo Yoga, my work laptop, but for this list I’m sticking to the iOS apps and not differentiating between the iPhone and the iPad.

The best indication of how important an app is for me is where I store it. My most used apps are on the home screen and page 2 is all folders. My most used, most used apps are on docked at the bottom of the home screen. So, here goes.

On the dock

Fantastical

My favourite calendar app, esp. as it works so well with Outlook, which is what I use at work, so that is my primary calendar. When I was on leave this year I went back to Google Calendar for a while, and at that time I used the Sunrise calendar app, which is also nice. But Fantastical looks great and has rep,aced Agenda as my default calendar app.

Mailbox

I use gmail for my personal email and, while their new Inbox is pretty good, Mailbox makes it super easy to process emails and move them into action, waiting for, archive or just trash. I can process my email really quickly and its replaced Airmail on my Mac as well.

Mail

Okay, the standard email app, which I use to look at the Outlook email from work. Nothing fancy, but it works.

Wunderlist

I paid big $$ for Things on the IPad, iPhone and Mac, but gee it was slow to update for iOS 7 and it never had a Windows version at all. So, I was using it for home tasks and Outlook tasks for work tasks, and splitting into separate systems isn’t wise (I read the Getting Things Done book a few years ago and it changed the way I work). Wu der list is free, works on anything and,while not quite as full featured as Things, works really well.

Safari

I use Chrome pretty much everywhere but on iOS Safari just seems better and smoother.

Settings

Not really an app, but I’m fiddling around with settings so much that I keep it in the dock.

Also, on the front page …

(Note: alphabetical!)

Daedalus

My favourite writing app on IOS, mainly because it syncs so nicely with Ulysses on the Mac. I use it for writing on the go, for poetry mainly. Apparently, a full-blown IOS version of Ulysses is in the works for 2015.

Day One

My favourite diary/journalling app. It adds weather, location, and you can add a photo (or use HTML to embed) It can publish to a web page, but I use it for my own private use. I even got my old MS Word journal out from years ago and added those entries to the appropriate dates.

Drafts

My second favourite writing app, especially for quick notes that are going to end up somewhere else. You open it and you get a blank screen to type on and it has an enormous range of export options.

Evernote

The old workhorse for remembering ‘stuff’. From the modem router setup notes to recipes, gardening notes, poetry ideas, travel ideas, teaching ideas, photo tips and tricks for Lightroom, all go in here. I started using this in 2007 I think! and I’m approaching 5000 notes that are available on all platforms

Flickr

My photo app of choice. Flickr has improved a lot in the last 12 months and the new (long-awaited) IOS apps look great.

InfinitGallery

Since Instagram still hasn’t got an iPad app, I use InfinitGallery to look at Instagram on the iPad and the original app on the iPhone.

Mr Reeder

Video killed the radio star, and Twitter has just about killed off RSS, but if you just want to get an update whenever a webpage or blog is updated, then RSS is great. I was worried when Google Reader died, but Feedly has done a great job of taking up that feed aggregation thing and Mr Reeder provides a nicer interface for reading them.

Newstand

I read The Age on the iPad in Newstand.

Pocket

Any web page, or article of interest that I want to read later, I sent to Pocket. They look great, and are available offline, so when you get on that plane trip your own interesting little magazine is there and ready to go. Replaced Delicious for me a couple of years ago now.

Simplenote

I’m a long time fan of this simple note taking syncing thing. It’s the ‘works on all platforms’ thing that always sways me.

Tweetbot

My favourite way to read Twitter.

WeatherAU

The best app for Australian weather by a long way

Yahoo Weather

Visually very nice. I put in places I want to go and travel to, like Kyoto and nice pictures come up.

Zite

Not sure how long this will last since Flipboard bought it (I think) but still works really well to find articles you’re interested in. Better than Flipboard, which is based on the provider or publisher model, this reverses that model and goes out and looks for the interests you’ve specified.

(I haven’t mentioned Photos, Reminders and Calendar, which are also on my home page)

Page 2

Here, I’ve just got folders, and they are …

Apple

All the standard Apple apps, most of which I don’t use.

Entertainment

Highlights here are TuneinRadio and some TV catchup apps. TuneinRadio has added silly features like the need to create an account,but it’s still the best radio app I know.

Google

Chrome, Docs, Drive, Gmail, Google+, Sheets, all work well. All somehow unlovely too!

Music

My Cleartune guitar tuner, Pandora and Spotify. Could this be the year I get into subscription music?

News

ABC, Flipboard, Guardian and the surprisingly good MSN News

Office 365

Microsoft has been late to the party but they’re keen now. I’ve talked a lot about how much I like OneNote but I’ve got OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, PowerPoint and Word here too, as well as Lync for messaging within the work environment.

Photography

The highlights here are Lightroom, which syncs well with the desktop model (I’ve bough the annual subscription to that and Photoshop) and VSCO Cam, still the coolest photo filters of all.

Productivity

Workhorses, like Dropbox, Documents, GoodReader and a couple of mind-mapping tools in popplet and SimpleMind+

Reading

GoodReads for sharing my reading and the Kindle app of course.

Reference

The Shorter Oxford Dictionary and Wikipanion, for nicer reading of Wikipedia

Travel

The map apps, and Tripit and TripAdvisor

Utilities

Things that make other things work well. Like third-party keyboards Fleksy SwiftKey and Swype, Feedly, LastPass, and TextExpander

Writing

Okay, I’m a sucker for writing apps like 1Writer, Byword, Editorial and iA Writer, but I keep coming back to Daedalus.

Video

YouTube and Vimeo of course, abut also StreamToMe for streaming video in a range of formats to the iPad or IPhone, and Plex, which I use to stream movies to the Apple TV.

Finally, I’ve started using WunderStation for its great local weather options, which are crowd-sourced from thousands of private weather stations around the world. There’s one just down the road from me and I really appreciate being able to see the real local weather.

Here’s how it all looks:

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It will be interesting to see how different these look by the end of 2015. Late late year, I poste on The Tools I Use, about the tools I use on the desktop. Maybe I should alternate between the PC and IOS year by year. Let me know if there’s something great that I’ve missed.

Microsoft Sway

amadeus

So, it’s only January 3rd but it’s too hot to go outside so I am having a look at some new online tools, trying to figure out the best way to work with my students in Year 12 Literature this year.

I’ll certainly continue to make OneNote the basis of the notes, and am looking forward to the new OneNote Notebook Creator and the possibilities of Office 365 which we’re introducing this year, but will I continue to use Schoology and what else could I be bringing to the classroom?

One new tool I saw is Microsoft Sway, which claims to be a bit of a cross between PowerPoint and other tools like Prezi (Prezi makes me a little dizzy!)

Still in development, I played around with using Sway to introduce the task conditions for the first text, Amadeus by Peter Shaffer. It allows you to create a ‘storyline’ of images, text and share that via a weblink which is scrollable and looks pretty good. More features are coming.

You can see the result HERE (I don’t think you can embed it yet) Looks pretty interesting. Here’s the promotional video from Microsoft:

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,800 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Cool tools: Diigo

One of the quiet achievers in my online working is Diigo which, in its simplest form, is an online bookmarking tool, but has powerful features including tagging and ‘lists’ and even annotations, which allow you to keep track of web pages you want to remember for later in much more powerful ways than the traditional ‘bookmarks’.

I’ve been using Diigo for a few years now, ever since I gave up on ‘Delicious’, which was an earlier entry in this style of tool. I’ve now got nearly four thousand links added to Diigo and I never use the built in bookmarking tool that comes with Chrome or IE, which means I never lose my bookmarks or favorites when I change computers either. I can log into my Diigo account from any computer and see my ‘Library’ there, all ready to go.

I’ve used Diigo lists and tags in my teaching too. As I add things to my library (with the handy little browser tool) I tag them, or add them to a list. And it’s simple to email that list to my class. For example, when I was reading up and researching prior to teaching Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway to Year 12 a couple of years ago, I tagged anything I found ‘woolf’. Then, I could just search that tag, and send the class a handy URL with them all in a list, like this: WOOLF

Now, I see that Diigo is replacing lists with an ‘outliner’ tool, which I’m looking forward to exploring. (see introduction to that feature below)

Diigo is a free tool, but has a premium model too which allows you to work more with images and PDFs. One of the essential cool tools for me.

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