Operation Lift Up Thine Eyes

Photo courtesy: elenahneshcuetphotography on Flickr CC

Shhhh, don’t tell anyone but I’m on a secret mission at my school. Libraries have always been a place of sanctuary for those who find the social culture overwhelming or less than friendly. I’ve decided to take that role one step further and become proactive rather than just offer a haven. My secret mission is to find ways to boost  the growth of that positive culture of support learning communities are meant to have. I want to try and shift general student culture a little from the teen gossip/judgement/exclusion/bullying that is a  growing global trend. I want to try and move kids closer to a culture of acceptance/self-confidence/assistance/inspiration. I’m convinced the library can play a central role so I have several small operations I’m launching from our corner of the school.


43 things is a social media site all about setting goals and supporting others to meet their goals. Participants are able to blog about their progress, give and receive ‘cheers’ for their progress, comment to encourage others and share tips on how they’ve succeeded in reaching a goal. On Thursday I introduced 43 Things to one of the classes I teach in Library. Last week I had them think about some goals for their wide reading. On Thursday they set up accounts, typed in their goals and blogged about why the goal/s they set were worthwhile to them. Being the social media savvy bunch that they are, they also quickly found each other on the site, subscribed to each other and ‘cheers’ and positive comments flew back and forth. The classroom teacher and I are ‘following’ them too to monitor appropriate online behaviour and to offer our positive encouragement. So far it’s been very successful.

OPERATION: TED Talks Thursdays

I’ve started a school account for TED Talks and am compiling a play list for TED Talks Thursdays. Starting on March 22 we will be showing a single TT on a fortnightly basis in the library on the big screen. I want to amaze, amuse and inspire the kids; I want them to think about possibilities and get a glimpse of the people out there in the real world making a difference. TED Talkers are truly passionate, often wonderfully geeky (that’s a compliment) or unique and they make our world so much better. Excellent examples of why we should value uniqueness and accept others for who they are.

OPERATION: Poster Plaster

There are a heap of great motivational posters out there that go waaaaay beyond those fuzzy waterfall photos with syrup-y sayings under them (guaranteed not to grab any kids attention never mind consideration). I’ve been busily collecting samples on my Pinterest board and am hunting up places to purchase or recreate where possible. Here’s a link for the place to purchase the Holstee Manifesto and the Cult of Done Manifesto. I want to put some of these high impact posters up around the library and around the school.

There are a couple of other plans rolling around the back of my mind but these are my current plans. I think they fit in beautifully with our school motto — “Lift Up Thine Eyes” and I’m looking forward to observing and noting any effects they may have at school. I’ll let you know how it all goes.

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 (http://www.netvibes.com/bottomdrawer/). 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 (http://vsc-ple.wikispaces.com/) 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 http://www.p21.org/tools-and-resources/publications/600

Get eSmart-vsc — 2011 in Review

One of the projects I initiated and worked on for the year was our school’s digital citizenship website. At the end of the year WordPress sent out a very neat stats review presented in a very user-friendly way. You can see the report by clicking on the image above or the link:     http://getesmart-vsc.com/2011/annual-report/

It was not only fun to watch and informative but got me thinking about ways to improve the readership in 2012.

During Term 4, I worked out that we could insert an RSS feed into the school’s Moodle site that would run in the sidebar and have clickable links to the posts. That made it more visible to the in-school community, but as we tweaked the feed on the Moodle site just before holidays I have yet to see if it will boost readership.

Our subscription rate is low and that is what I really hope to boost. Not only is the rate low but half of the subscribers are from outside the school community. So next year I plan to:

  • post a bulletin on our school eWorkspace each time a new post comes out, using a one sentence hook or question as well as inviting people to subscribe to it.
  • have the library team introduce the site to all the new year 7 groups and encourage them to subscribe during their orientation.
  • email the H of D’s and Principals each time a post comes out inviting them to read it and subscribe. They had been invited to subscribe last year but none took up the invite. Advertise, advertise!
  • use more tagging of keywords in my blog posts for better search results. I’ve been slack about doing this.
  • share the posts out to my PLN to increase interest in that area too.

Gee, these almost look like New Years resolutions, but we won’t call them that, we’ll call them goals.




Plan B: Breaking-out the video clips for Book Club

Early Week 4, Term 1

I’m not sure if they were just being nice to the ‘new girl’ but I’ve really lucked out – I get to run lunchtime Book Club at my new school!

Last week 30 or so enthusiastic readers and web addicts showed up and we talked about what the ‘veterans’ had done in Book Club last year and what they’d like to try this year.  They are really keen to go to the movies again this year to watch a favourite novel-turned-into-movie.

With that suggestion under my belt and the knowledge that the Head of  Library had a new big screen installed at the end of last year so we could promote all things library, it seems a very logical step to get into Book Trailers – both watching and creating.

There is certainly no shortage of information out there regarding the making of book trailers for teachers/schools (future post) but I wanted to start my club (well two clubs now! Junior/Senior) looking at proper professional trailers and deciding what makes the good ones work then moving on to view student creations before having a go at creating some ourselves.

Black skid marks on yellow rubber

Screeching to a halt

Most publishers now have their own trailer channels on You Tube, what a great idea! But I don’t need to explain that the sites most people use everyday; Flickr, YouTube etc. are  blocked by public school departments. I’m a solutions kind of girl so am skipping over that discussion to begin my quest to find a way for Book Club to access some of the Book Trailers I’d really like them to see.

Our school uses Moodle as its LMS (learning management system) and it automatically blocks links from YouTube. Once I have a bit more time I intend to learn how to embed video onto Moodle – I read through the material last night but it’s a bit complicated and I want Book Club to watch them this week if possible.

Plan A: I thought about loading up some good examples onto VodPod but found on experimentation that it too is blocked because it is a video site.

Plan B: A couple of weeks ago, I read a post on Richard Byrne’s blog Free Technology for Teachers about Vu Safe. As he describes it:

VuSafe offers a password protected environment in which you can post videos for your students to watch without exposing them to the comments, advertisements, and automatically generated related videos found on YouTube.

When you get to the sign-up page – take note! Only your school administrator can do this. Once a school is signed up then the teachers can populate it with the clips they want and organize them for classes.  I’ve just shot off an email request to our eLearning Coordinator.

Plan C anyone??

UPDATE: March 26th

The IT powers-that-be have listened to staff and consented to unblock the YouTube site, so while we still can’t put YouTube links on Moodle, we can directly access anything we need from YouTube, hooray!

Outcomes and Solution Criteria: reflecting on meeting 5

Having defined a rather complex problem so well last meeting, the decision making working party was ready to tackle what turned out to be an even more difficult part of the problem definition stage: stating the outcomes.

Stating the outcomes answers the question:

How will we know when the problem is solved?

This question and the discussion seemed to drag the group straight back into jumping to solutions. It was very difficult to steer them to think/visualize how ‘it’ would be once the problem no longer existed.  The group did agree that the outcomes should be measurable otherwise it is too difficult to tell if there is an impovement trend or just ‘hiccups’ that look good but are not sustained. Some suggestions were made but at one point, the group became so bogged in trying to avoid solutions but find outcomes I suggested perhaps we break and look at solution criteria for a moment.  At this point I am undecided at to whether it was a good idea to move forward then back. At first it seemed to confuse the group more. Some members couldn’t understand the difference between outcomes and solution criteria. But once I gave them examples from the book and the parents with experience in using similar methods in business further elaborated, they were set to give suggestions of solution criteria a go. The group also agreed that these should be quantifiable wherever possible.

We once again generated cards,  this time one side had the statement:

“To improve ***** , the solution must ___”

and on the other was:

To improve *****, the solution should ___”

The group worked on the cards individually so members each had an equal voice. Time was running out so I collected them and grouped them in the minutes I sent out after the meeting. We briefly returned to the outcomes for review and people seemed happier with what they had written but no consensus was reached at that point.

Photo: Logical outcome  from http://www.flickr.com/photos/commandments/2128889805/