Communicating, Collaborating, Creating: Online Professional Learning Networks

This is the presentation that I prepared for VATE08, the annual state conference for the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English. It was a great experience, both in the preparation and presentation.

Ways to use Wordle

A couple of months ago, my network of teachers went a little bit nuts over a new web2.0 application called Wordle. I blogged about it, as did many others. Andrew made me want to revisit Wordle by asking the following question on Twitter:

So, educators, I am interested to know how you have used Wordle in your classrooms or as part of your work. I must favour visual learning, as I find visualisation tools such as Wordle, as well as SearchMe, Search Cube, Tag Galaxy and Many Eyes very useful. If they suit me as a learner, they must suit some of my students as well.

I’ll acknowledge the flipside of my argument and point you to Dy/Dan’s post on Wordle as nothing more than eye-candy and time-filler. Maybe it is no more than engagement-on-the-cheap, but if it works, why discount it? You can decide for yourself.

Here are some ways that I have utilised Wordle:

For curriculum planning

My team of year 8 English teachers were working to link assessment of our unit on persuasive writing to the Victorian Essential Learning Standards. Here is a Wordle of the VELS for Writing at level 5

For data analysis

As part of our review and planning process, we decided to survey staff about the year 8 program. The survey was conducted using Google Docs, and I set it up to ask a range of closed and open-ended responses. I fed the verbatim responses to the qualitative questions into Wordle to generate a picture of common ideas. This one was “What can be done to improve curriculum at year 8?”

For student reflection

I asked my students to think about the concepts, texts and ideas they had learnt about in English during semester one. I asked them to type this into word, and to type each word more often if they thought it was a main or important topic. When they pasted this into Wordle, this gave me a picture of what stood out to them in their learning. Demon2Diva posted hers on her blog.

For discussing a text in English

Novels that are out of copyright can be freely downloaded from Project Gutenberg. Anyone can then cut and paste an entire novel into Wordle, which will produce a visualisation of the words used most frequently throughout the text. I have reformatted the Wordle on George Orwell’s 1984:

For students to edit their own writing

Students can cut and paste a draft of their own creative or other writing into Wordle as a means of visualising whether they are over-using certain words or phrases. This might help them avoid cliches and search for new vocabulary to express their ideas.

For study summaries

Most commercial textbooks now come with a CD-Rom, many of which include an electronic version of the text. My husband, who is a chemistry teacher, suggested that his students could cut and paste an entire chapter, on say, chromatography, and produce a study summary Wordle. Words used most frequently would appear the largest, students would then know these are ones they should know about.

I used this technique with students to revise their VCE English text ‘In the Lake of the Woods’. Because they didn’t have an electronic version, they had to generate the word list themselves, which was a useful revision exercise in itself (defining which characters were more relatively important than others and so forth). This is one of their study summaries:

For learning a language

This idea generated from a discussion with a LOTE – Japanese teacher at my school. Currently, Wordle doesn’t seem to be multi-lingual, in that it does not render Japanese (or other language) characters. However, it could be used to produce a list of verbs in the original language in a visually appealing format, or, you could produce a Wordle of vocabulary words in a language using the roman alphabet and turn it into a matching game. I’m no language expert, but here’s one I did on the days of the week in French:

For highlighting your skills

A friend was applying for a job and was asked in the Key Selection Criteria to refer to his ability to integrate ICT into the curriculum. He wrote about using web2.0 tools like Wordle, but the also cut and pasted his overall response to the Key Selection Criteria into Wordle as a visual accompaniment to his application. He got the job.

And if you’re still not convinced on Wordle, then check out Clay Burell’s post on Vocab-Profiler, or “Wordle with teeth’ as he described it.

For me it’s not so much about the pretty picture, but the thinking it facilitates. As acknowledged elsewhere, the quality of the output is directly proportional to the quality of the input, and the thinking doesn’t stop when you click ‘create’.

So how have you been using Wordle?

Learning Networks

Later in the year, I will be presenting on the topic of Professional Learning Networks at VATE08, the annual state conference for the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English.  Bookings have just commenced on their website for what looks to be an excellent, revamped conference.

The title of my presentation is “Communicating, Collaborating, Creating: Online Professional Learning Networks”, and this is an extract explaining the content of the workshop:

This presentation will explore the growth of online professional learning networks, generating organically within a web 2.0 context. Like social networks, online professional learning networks allow educators to connect, communicate, collaborate and create. Through these networks, teachers receive ‘just in time’ PD, acquire 21st Centrury digital literacy, reflect and share through blogging and microblogging, and translate their personal learning to the ‘digital natives’ in their classrooms. Attendees will see examples and receive coaching to get started.

This topic has generated quite a bit of reflection and thought within the blogging and microblogging community of educators, many of whom use Twitter as a means of communication.  Sue Waters has called for participants in her survey on Professional Learning Networks to help us better understand the ways that educators use and benefit from these online networks, and I’d encourage you to contribute to her survey if you can.  I’d certainly be interested in her findings in relation to my presentation.

I’m currently considering how I will supplement my presentation with the multitude of online resources I have gathered.  I’ve considered building a wiki, as I have seen many others do in support of presentations, but I am leaning more towards using my personal portfolio website as a repository for the presentation materials.  More to come.

6 word stories

I have been reflecting lately on storytelling, particularly visual formats, my thinking spurred by the Multiliteracies PD that I attended last week and hope to blog about more extensively soon. One of the benefits of maintaining an online personal learning network is the ‘aha’ of realising that you are totally on the same page as other educators.

The irrepressible Lauren O’Grady is running a project that several Oz/NZ educators and others are becoming involved in, “6words”. Lauren has set up a the 6words wiki which explains the purpose and scope of the project. What inspires me about is is the possibility that it may create some very powerful dialogues between teachers and students. The simplicity of distilling an idea into 6 words makes it an easy win for teachers and students alike.

Here’s my first, and I imagine there will be more to come.

Original Image from Flickr user tyggy under Creative Commons

Wordle for text study

Much has been posted lately about the Wordle tool, which allows users to convert any piece of text into a word cloud, with the most frequently occuring words shown largest. Warrick speculated on his blog about the capacity of Wordle, could you paste a WHOLE BOOK into it?

The answer, happily, is yes. Here’s my Wordle word cloud of George Orwell’s 1984. I sourced the free e-book from Project Gutenberg, cut and pasted, waited about 30 seconds, and there it was.

Although Wordle seemed to be the next big thing, I didn’t see the benefit until now. So long as you can source an e-book version of the text you want to see, this could be used to introduce any text to a group of students, and to highlight in discussion what the most significant aspects of the text are.

One simple example: look at 1984 – how many of the larger words refer to the body? I see face, mind, hand eyes, voice, man. This could be used to highlight how Big Brother’s tactics lead to bodily control.

I will definitely be using this with my students. I just need to track down an e-book of In the Lake of the Woods, which my Year 12 students are starting now.

The Game

The Game

Originally uploaded by soulcradler

The concept:

a. Type your answer to each of the questions below into Flickr Search.
b. Using only the first page, pick an image.
c. Copy and paste each of the URLs for the images into fd’s mosaic maker.

The Questions:

1. What is your first name?
2. What is your favorite food?
3. What high school did you go to?
4. What is your favorite color?
5. Who is your celebrity crush?
6. Favorite drink?
7. Dream vacation?
8. Favorite dessert?
9. What you want to be when you grow up?
10. What do you love most in life?
11. One Word to describe you.
12. Your flickr name

I found this great mashup via Pea Soup, and thought it was a great opportunity to experiment with Flickr’s mosaic maker. I’m sure that students would enjoy using this process to respond to a series of questions or to accompany a piece of writing.

You can play too!

Surveying the possibilities

This week my Year 8 class commenced a unit on poetry, starting with a survey that I constructed using Google Docs. Now that we’re done with it you may want to complete it yourself, using the form I have embedded below (another cool new feature from Google Docs). I was able to export the data easily into Excel, create pivot table reports, and generate graphs of the closed questions, which we then discussed in class.

It was a great experience to use Google Docs for this purpose, and certainly saved a lot of my time in collating the results. Another great outcome was the opportunity to highlight the utility of web 2.0 applications at school. Currently Google and Google applications are blocked at my school’s junior campus, which means that students until year 9 cannot usually access these resources. In order to get access, I spoke to my school’s Resource Centre Co-Ordinator, who removed browsing restrictions for that single period. In seeking this, I was able to show the form and the way it collated results, and the potential applications of this web 2.0 technology were well appreciated.

Incidentally, one of my students realised that he had open access

“Does this mean we can access Google?!”

This was evidently a rare treat. I watched over his shoulder, worried about what he was going to do with his new-found freedom. He proceeded to open a Google search page and Google himself. Perhaps our Google restriction is a little heavy-handed: what do you think?

Music and Politics

I have started thinking about this topic as Jabiz is exploring the topic on his new ‘Intrepid Classroom’. See the blog here, and the Ning here. Check out the conversations that have been happening there, it will be worth your while. Music and politics is a topic I’ve always been engaged in, in fact, my music listening is political. I don’t see much of a distinction or difference.

So I thought I’d take you through a couple of musicopolitical connections that I have been pondering lately. First of all, the title of this post comes from the Disposable Heroes of Hiphopcrisy song of the same name. The Disposable Heroes are a previous incarnation of Michael Franti and some members of Spearhead. If you haven’t yet discovered their music, you need to do so here.

Today in class, we continued our work on political cartoons. The students are really into it, and I’ve spent more time on the topic than I originally intended. We started off by talking about stereotypes, and how these are used in caricature. Some of the stereotypes that they came up with included bogans, emos, yobboes, migrants and blondes. This is pretty easy for secondary students to do, their social lives are sometimes dictated by stereotypes. We then talked about the features of politicians that are exaggerated for caricature, including Kevin Rudd’s spectacles, Julia Gillard’s nose, John Howard’s eyebrows, and of course, Peter Garrett’s head.

National Museum of Australia – Seen to be green

Some of the cartoons that we were looking at today were satirising the Australian Labor MP Peter Garrett, previously the lead singer of the Australian band Midnight Oil. Many claim that by becoming involved in party politics he sold out on his old ideals (Many Oils lyrics were about indigenous rights, uranium mining, environmentalism, etc). Very interesting discussions here – is music politically involved? Is it party-political?

Some of the students needed Peter Garrett put in context – they knew him as a Labor MP, but hadn’t heard Midnight Oil’s music, and weren’t aware of his role immediately before entering politics as President of the Australian Conservation Foundation. So, recognising the teachable moment, I fired up my laptop and portable speakers, and we listened to ‘Beds Are Burning’ and ‘Power and the Passion’.

Still on the theme of music and politics, Number 2 on our ARIA charts last week was a remix of Paul Kelly & Kev Carmody’s song ‘From Little Things, Big Things Grow’, performed by the Get Up Mob, re-released to acknowledge the Australian government’s apology to the Stolen Generation of indigenous peoples. It gives me shivers.

I think that now, as I am about to move with this class from political cartoons and persuasive language into a unit on poetry, I can see a convergence emerging. Other political artists that I enjoy include Ani DiFranco, John Butler Trio, Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine. ‘Do yourself a favour’ and check them out. One of my students also mentioned Green Day as political. Note that note all of those artists’ lyrics are ‘student appropriate’.Happy listening!

Blogged with the Flock Browser