Toolbox: e5 iPad Apps

Next year the Year 7s at our school will be bringing their iPads to school. This is part of the plan to answer the Big Question presented to our teachers at the end of 2011 —

How does Vermont Secondary College better prepare its student and teachers to meet the challenges of the 21st Century?

The Year 7 iPad Program is also meant to significantly reduce the number of text books purchased by families as well as offer additional organisational options and creative tools to staff and students.

As a teacher librarian it is my role to evaluate and recommend resources of any sort to support high quality teaching and learning.  So I began to read blogs about apps for education, I listened to individual recommendations, I  uploaded and trialled hundreds of apps over the year but only passed on a handful to specific teachers. I began to question the quality of educational apps available (most seemed like gimicks, games or had limited use). Were we expecting too much too soon? I decided I needed to use a different approach.

I’ve followed Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano of  Langwitches Blog fame for several years and found her charts:

to be exremely clear and easy to use. It got me thinking …

The Victorian DEECD (Dept of Education and Early Childhood Development) recently introduced its e5 Instructional Model into schools and VSC has been trialling it for the past 12 months. My question became: How could I support teachers to implement the e5 Instructional Model via the iPad Program? Was it possible to create a chart that would be  easy to use and  could provide apps suitable for each of the facets of e5? I decided to take the DEECD up on their invitation to:

…  engage with the e5 Instructional Model as a framework for defining what high quality instruction looks like in the Victorian government education system.

And here is what I’ve come up with —

 As I worked through the model applying it to the apps I trialled, I had several things in mind:

  • to look for apps that were not specific to Key Learning Areas (not always possible)
  • to choose apps that could support teachers, students or both (not just students)
  • cost should be minimal
  • check the terms and conditions (especially with regard to age restrictions and ownership of uploaded work)

I found that:

  • many apps suited more than one of the facets of the e5 Model
  • there were many suitable high quality apps not listed in the educational section of  the iTunes Store
  • the apps I trialled and found suitable for the Engage facet of e5 tended to be subject specific so I sampled from different learning areas and included them

To make this chart more accessible I’ve turned it into a pdf file, you can click here to download. Any comments or constructive feedback would be greatly appreciated. I’ll blog again when I get some feedback from the teachers at the high school.

Our 21st Century Destiny

Maybe you have to be a librarian to get excited about the Library management system but I hope not! Especially when it comes to the Destiny Quest feature of Follett’s LMS that we  launched a couple of weeks ago at school. It’s so slick and user-friendly that I’m hoping the whole school will be kicking into high gear over it.

What does Destiny Quest do?

Well it will took our catalogue from this:

Regular Destiny page at log-in

To this!

 Destiny Quest Homepage

Destiny Quest Homepage

This is a little pet project I had at the end of last year that was on a back burner until our IT team had time to upgrade the system (sadly we were behind about 5 versions).

So now searching looks more appealing and much easier to read. But wait there’s more! You can also:

  • customize the look of your page
  • write reviews
  • friend people and recommend books/websites
  • place holds on books
  • check your overdues
  • make wishlists
  • make resource lists
  • check your reading history
  • see what’s new to the library collection

And to really pull the library into the 21st Century ….

  • a smart phone app that connects to your library (go to iTunes store or Android Marketplace)
  • an iPad app that connects to your library.

Our school is beginning a one-to-one iPad program next year (incoming Year 7s); this wonderful Library Management System will mean that we remain front and centre – students will be required to install the library app as part of their suite of apps and we’ll be showing them how to use it as part of their Library orientation.

What more can I say except …


FYI: on Growing Personal Learning Environments

Photo courtesy Balanced Crafts on Flickr

The latest issue of FYI recently arrived in the post.  Yay! FYI is the quarterly journal of SLAV (School Library Association of Victoria). This is the issue that focussed on Learning Communities and featured the article I wrote last year about Personal Learning Environments for students. We concentrated on Year 9’s last year as part of their Pathways and Careers program but the groups delegated to me were so large (75-90 students) it was difficult to assist everyone properly and caused some lag issues with the site and our internet system at school.

I’ll be focussing this year on helping the Learning Enhancement students set up their PLEs. I think teaching one class at a time will mean that I can give much better support. PLE’s are really a two-part job: 1) Get the site set up; 2) develop the learning environment. Nothing new there – its alway learn the tool then use the tool.

Here’s the article below for those who can’t access the journal —

Growing Personal Learning Environments

At the end of 2010, I reached a cherished goal; the completion of my Masters degree in Teacher Librarianship. In 2011, I changed schools and what a change it was! After 10 years, I moved from a very small, independent primary school to a 1200+ government secondary college – all part of a plan to stretch my professional wings.

Sound scary?

It could have been but it wasn’t really. That’s because I didn’t do it alone; I had my ‘net’ with me. Or should I say my Personal Learning Network. The resources (human and literature-based) I’d been cultivating to support my learning helped me to swiftly engage with my new school community. As I found myself drawing on my PLN to help me in my new role, it set me to wondering about the students’ networks. How well do they use theirs? Are they even aware they have one? What can I do to help them make better use of their learning community and grow their learning networks? One day (via a blog I subscribe to) I came across a video of a Year 7 student in America demonstrating how her PLE works. After researching to learn more, I knew I’d found an avenue.

What is a PLE?

We all have favourite tools, websites, and people we trust to help us learn. We may access videos and podcasts as we carry out research; write blogs or reply to posts as we get involved in pursuing our passions. But bookmarking everything can become unruly and jumping from Facebook to forums to keep up with topics and groups can result in ‘info-whelm’. A Personal Learning Environment or PLE is a way for students to grow, curate and organize their learning. PLEs are online environments; they are individualised, learner-created and learner-directed. The platforms most widely used to create PLEs are social dashboard sites such as iGoogle, Netvibes and Symbaloo.

How are we using PLEs?

After reading more about PLEs, I evaluated a few dashboard sites. I chose Netvibes based on user-friendliness, visual appeal, physical layout, flexibility of features, and the fact that it has an active help forum. When I approached our Head of Library about introducing PLEs to students, I’d already set up a sample PLE to demonstrate ( She saw the value in it and took the idea to the school administration. The idea was approved and time provided in the schedule to introduce PLEs to the students and teachers. We originally envisaged working with students at the end of Year 10 so they would have a PLE for their VCE studies, but the school’s Pathways & Transitions team became interested in the project. We now introduce PLEs to the Year 9’s at the end of Term 4 and help them incorporate their Pathways Planning into the PLE as well as their regular learning areas and subjects. We built a Wikispaces site ( to introduce learners to the concept and purpose of a PLE and to guide them through the set-up process on Netvibes. We were given a session with each of the Year 9 groups so students had time to work through the wiki, ask questions and receive guidance from the TLs. Teachers contributed website suggestions for different subjects to get the PLEs started and we demonstrated RSS feeds and Twitter #topic searches during the session. We encouraged teachers to set up Netvibe sites too so students could follow them (as well as each other) in order to connect, collaborate and share resources. We are looking forward to evaluating the success of the PLEs at the end of the year with a short user survey.

What are the benefits?

A PLE is not an assignment or something teachers need to check up on or assess. A PLE is a way of putting control, choice and responsibility back into the hands of the learner, helping them to become more independent. PLEs are set up according to each student’s learning needs, styles and preferences. The social aspect of PLEs can offer a way to create and/or strengthen connections within the school community. They offer a consistent connection to resources from home, from school and via mobile access. They encourage collaboration and sharing of resources as well as reaching out to the wider community with possibilities such as Twitter and Skype. Research is also suggesting that such learning environments encourage the integration of formal and informal learning (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009). This in turn promotes a positive attitude toward learning and develops lifelong skills.


I am excited with this new opportunity to support our learning community, but I’ve tried to imagine the pitfalls too. A student might set a PLE up then choose not to use it. However, they will have increased their awareness of new resources and possibilities available to help them learn in the future. I can also imagine students adding sites to their PLE that are not relevant to their studies: games, chat and other distractions. Filters will block most of them at school but stepping back, these are study skills topics ripe for discussion: myths of multi-tasking, effective time management strategies and goal setting. Problems can be opportunities! The giving and getting of support for everyone is the essence of learning communities. Demands on students and teachers are increasing so we all end up time-poor and overwhelmed by information possibilities. A PLE can offer students a Web 2.0 way to control and organize their learning lives just like they do their social lives. It can help build skills, connections and habits that will last a life-time. Win-win!

Reference Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2009). 21st Century learning environments. Retrieved from

Getting to Know Search Engines – A Useful Guidebook

Photo Courtesy: fotologic on Flickr Creative Commons:

Photo Courtesy: fotologic on Flickr Creative Commons:

Just like any other journey it is always helpful to have a guidebook to consult. It makes things that little bit more pleasant to have some information from someone who’s been there ahead of you and knows a bit about what it’s like.

So I was pleased to come across this wonderful and concise Guidebook to Internet Searching.Everything is explained in laymans’ terms and in highly readable format.

The Introduction covers the basics of search commands then covers the big search engines before going into specific types of searches including: people, products, images, videos and several others including one I’d never thought of before – real time searches which picks up on ‘buzz’ as it happens online!

Each section has screen shots, explains how the search engines work, advantages, tips and often has links to articles that explain further.

A great guide to dip into when you’d like to try something new.

And as an aside and a word of caution: I read about it on MakeUseOfGuides on — before you click on the link be prepared to re-surface hours later — it’s one of those fascinating sites!

Getting to know Search Engines – Yahoo!7

Our ETL501 subject guide suggests:

As the school’s information professional, the TL is often seen as the school’s ‘Internet expert’. (Herring, 2008, p. 14)

and asks us to increase our knowledge of search engines so I thought I’d blog my way through some of them to get to know them better. I am probably as guilty as the next person of being highly dependent on Google to conduct searches because it is familiar and ‘comfortable’.

Our course wants us to evaluate the effectiveness of the search engines and recommends:

An effective search strategy is one that is based on the purpose and the need of the searcher. (Herring, 2004, p.31) (italics are mine)

but I’ll get to serious evaluation later. First I think I need to get to know the features of each search engine and the ‘feel’ of them before I can make judgements.

I’m starting with the single search engines then I’ll move to the meta search engines. First off the mark is Yahoo!7 – the Australian version of Yahoo!

When I first opened it, I felt like I was looking at a cross between a shopping centre and a celeb gossip magazine. That’s why I’d always avoided it in the past and never recommended it to students. But I entered my trial keywords (global warming) and hit enter.

At the top of the results page I’m offered the option of searching: 1/ the Web; 2/Australia; 3/ New Zealand so that’s a plus – students can narrow down the results to obtain relevant information for our area. The result page also offered lots of search suggestions under:

Also try:

  • global warming australia
  • causes of global warming
  • effects of global warming
  • global warming articles
  • al gore global warming

When I hit ‘more’ it also offered concept categories to explore, all relevant to global warming. Eg.

  • Climate Change
  • greenhouse gases
  • the greenhouse effect
  • carbon dioxide
  • fossil fuels
  • emissions
  • atmosphere
  • Methane

Very handy for students as well.

The original search brought up 229,000,000 hits and after this figure at the top of the page I noticed their ‘about this page’ hyperlink so I clicked it. More useful info!

On the ‘About” page I found out there is an ad-free, dedicated Yahoo! search start page. Nothing on it but the search box and logo. I also learned that Yahoo! has lots more web search options than I’d realised (click on “More>>” just above the search box). Many are the same as Google (news, images, maps), others of interest were:

  • directory – which is a subject-based and human-edited website guide (Google also has this feature, you just never hear of it). Using this feature and my keywords, my search resulted in 2,178 sites, all of much higher quality (authority-wise). The results also indicate categories (eg. Category: Global Warming > Opposing Views, Category: Columns and Columnists)
  • local – a guide to local businesses (didn’t bring up any results for ‘global warming’ but could be of use for other searches)
  • Answers – where you can ask real people, real questions (who these people are who answer, of course, is an issue but they may offer new directions for a student). Answers submitted can be rated according to usefulness by users.

Lastly, I discovered Yahoo! has a service they call ShortCuts (both Service Shortcuts and Open Shortcuts). If there is a relevant Service shortcut to your search, a small note will appear up at the top of your results page (eg. calculator, time zone, weather, etc). Open shortcuts will search favourite sites or start an Internet application. There are already many default shortcuts (eg. !movies, !mysp =, !wiki = wikipedia) or you can create and set your own by following the instructions at the hyperlink involved.

I’m really glad I took the time to explore this search engine. I’m now going to include the Yahoo! directory search into my repertoire of assistance and onto the school’s Project Hotspots page.