Fantastic Find: grammarly.com

So I have been very fortunate this past couple of months to have increased my readership. Thank you. I am very glad to have people reading the blog and finding it useful. It is even better when people comment and leave feedback about the blog.

In saying that, with an increased readership comes an increase in spam comments but also negative comments too. I should not say “negative”. I should say “constructively critical”. I have approved most of them because I think they are necessary. They remind me that my work still needs improvement and that I need to refine my writing and publishing processes. It demonstrates that my readers are important and that I value their contribution to my blog, which is true.

As you may have guessed, I have found that the negative comments seem to appear when it comes to my grammar.

I was not schooled in grammar can you believe. I was of the generation where learning what a “clause” and a “present participle” are (say, what?) was non existent.

The quality of the blog is important to me. So recently I have been making sure that my posts have been of top notch quality. I have been using a new website I found called grammarly.com

It is an automated proofreader and grammar coach. You do have to sign up and pay but in saying that the service is quite reasonably priced, and the website is easy to navigate. The explanations are also easy to understand. I imagine this is because English is my first language and I converse and hear it daily so the rules make sense. They offer you a free 7 day trial before you pay your subscription fee.

I found that using grammarly.com made me focus on my writing a lot more and be more considerate when editing my work. These are valuable skills we want to ensure our students have.

Most of my students were not schooled in grammar either. So I think this would be a worthwhile website to encourage kids to use when they are working on assignments. It is another pair of eyes, and it does not just make the corrections without first explaining why you need to change them. You do have to save your documents in Microsoft Word and upload them which I did find a little bit cumbersome when I’m already using a blogging interface. However, if you are blogging with students or doing some other writing that will require publishing, this is a worthwhile tool in which to invest.

Does my writing sound/read differently? It has been edited with grammarly.com. Comments (good and “critical”) are always appreciated.

Photo Credit: jDevaun via Compfight cc

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4 Theatre Podcasts You Should Check Out

I’ve always been a bit hot and cold when it comes to podcasts. Sometimes I’m all for them and other times I’m not. I think this is because there are so many out there and you can’t be sure on the quality and I guess, in the past, some have let me down. There are so many, on every conceivable topic so it’s hard to narrow down exactly what it is you are looking for. I feel overwhelmed every time I hit the i-Tunes store!

I recently had the opportunity to be a part of the Edreach Network’s TheatreCast program with @edtech4theatre and @msfilas. It was a fantastic professional development opportunity. I finally got my act together and got a webcam and headset so that I could use Google+ Hangouts properly. It was also really nice to finally connect in real time (if still virtual) with some of the contacts I’ve made through my Twitter PLN. In listening to their podcast, I could hear the passion and the struggles that these teachers from the other side of the world were feeling just like me. It was nice to be able to share conversation with them even though we are thousands of miles away. I now subscribe to the podcast and enjoy listening to it in my car on the way to work.

In recording this podcast, it really prompted me to find out what other podcasts are out there that could be useful in our classrooms and you know what? It was tricky. Particularly finding ones about theatre and theatre education that were of repute and quality. So to fill out my list I’ve had to think laterally(??) about how some of my favourite, quality podcasts could be used in the classroom. As they say though, where there is a will there is a way, so if you find something that works, go for it!

1. National Theatre

These podcasts, seriously, are probably the best out there for drama teachers. They are resources you can actually use with your students. They have collections on acting, voice, costume, playwriting, theatrical styles and their various productions that they’ve put on over the years. From such a credible, respectable theatre, I’ll say it again, these podcasts are an invaluable resource. Search for “National Theatre” at the i-Tunes store.

2.Ted Talks

You’ve seen the videos, well now you can get the audio as well. There are talks on everything and The Arts is not forgotten. I’ve mentioned some of the clips before in a previous post. These could be used as stimulus, extension work or discussion. Or maybe just a little inspiration for your commute to and from work perhaps? Search for “Ted Talks Audio” in the i-Tunes library.

3. This American Life

I love these podcasts because of the topics that they talk about. It promotes discussion and thought. I really think you could use some of these as stimulus for playbuilding and devising. Search for “This American Life” in the i-Tunes library.

4. Edreach – TheatreCast

Edreach is a database full of podcasts, videos and posts from all areas of education. It provides passionate and outspoken innovators in education an outlet with which to express their highly innovative ideas for education. It’s great to know drama, theatre and the Arts is being covered by Danielle and Nick. Search for “Edreach” or “TheatreCast” in the i-Tunes library. You can check out the You-Tube link to the podcast I was involved in below:

Are there any podcasts that you swear by? Share them in the comments.

Photo Credit: zoomar via Compfight cc

Creating Creative Connections

To be honest I don’t recall how it all began.

In the holidays I tweeted about how excited I was to be using Skype for the first time. I posted about my first Skype chat here.

I’d been thinking of using it for some time personally with the big picture intention of getting it into my classroom, my student’s would be using it and would be connecting with schools overseas.

I posted my story about Mazz and her theatre project in Ecuador on Twitter and @LMSDrama responded with some encouraging feedback about the post. It was from there that we got into a conversation about my ideas for connecting classrooms through Skype and blogging.

@LMSDrama said, “Have you ever tried Google + Hangouts?” I hadn’t. I’d signed up for Google + when I was invited by a colleague at school, had a bit of a play on the site and kind of left it alone. I felt like I was drowning in social media and I wouldn’t be able to keep up with it all.

It was the holidays and I had some time up my sleeve so I decided to experiement. It was trial and error and my out of date hardware let me down so we ended up using Skype but I think we’ve landed on something pretty exciting.

So far we’ve had two “Hangouts” on Skype. First it was just the two of us. Then we had to try to invite a colleague along to join us at our next chat. We sorted out the timezone differences and amazingly we conduct the chat on two different days. Our initial session was a half hour “get to know you chat” and we decided at our second session to bring some questions or ideas to discuss.

This week we had our second session. We have decided to:

  • Create a monthly Drama “Hangout” using Google + to talk about issues and ideas in Drama.
  • Create a Drama Teacher’s Edmodo Group to help us facilitate our “Hangouts” and other resources.
  • Connect our schools using our class blogs, videoconferencing and Skype.

Pretty amazing, huh? It’s amazing what can happen when you have enthusiastic people willing to drive a new initiative in your school.

The night before I had tweeted out of desperation, for someone who would be willing to join me for the chat. @KerriDrama, who I had already been in contact with about joining class blogs, let me know she was keen. Then @Theatresaurus got involved too. Within the space of about half an hour our chat group had doubled.

Now we are awaiting our next chat and hope that we can encourage more of you wonderful Drama Teachers out there to join us.

So if you’re keen, we will be conduting our next Drama Chat on:

Tuesday 15th May, 6am Australian Eastern Standard Time

If you want to check what time that will be for you, head on over to this site.

NB: Google Hangouts can only host nine users at one time. If we get more than that we will resend amended details.

 Leave us a comment to let us know if you would like to join us and I will contact you with the details. Email is easy, Twitter is even easier.

If you are a Twitter user, be sure to use the hashtag #dramateachers or #tweatre at the end of your tweets so we can keep track of all your drama goodness.

Hopefully we will see you at our next chat.

Image Credit: εntropy ≥ mεmory . crεatıvıty ², jef safi, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Daring to Share Our Dramatics Online

I’ve blogged about my foray into student blogging before (here and here). It was a mild success for me last year with more than half the class creating their own personal online logbooks or “blogbooks” as I now call them. They weren’t diligently maintained however. Nor was the class blog that was linked to them.

With a little reflection and a redefined direction I am relaunching the class blog this term with a new plan of attack for how to post on the class blog and the expectations for the student blogs.

The class blog will be simplified. I think initially I had huge, grandiose ideas in my head thinking that there would be a mammoth amount of work required to maintain it. In reality though, blogs grow naturally, so however small or simply they begin, they will flourish and change with time. So in the end, it really doesn’t matter what I start with. It’s a blank canvas that needs paintaing.

I knew that it was about sharing our work in drama class with the intention of connecting with other classes. That is what I have done. Both Year 10 and Year 12 are in the process of devising their Group Performance. We will share photos and stories from our lessons. The school community have been informed about it through our school newsletter and I will let them know through our school Facebook page as well. I will also encourage my own Twitter followers to head on over, have a look and comment.

The individual blogbooks will represent each individual’s participation in the group project. What scenes and ideas they have had, what problems they have encountered and how they solved them, all the while thinking about their digital citizenship and their need to remember that their blog is public and has the intention of informing and assisting others with their understanding of Drama.

So. Drumroll please. May I present…

St Clair High Drama: Daring to Share Our Dramatics Online

Head on over and write us a welcome comment!

Image Credit: The Endeavour Lifts Off, Stuck in Customs, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Using Google Docs in Drama

I recently started a project based learning project with @malynmawby. If you don’t follow her you must! She is a fabulous educator with lots of great ideas. Visit her Love2Learn blog.

One idea or tool rather that Malyn introduced me to was Google Docs. This is seriously THE BEST web tool I have come across in ages.

Essentially Google Docs is one core document (this could be anything from a Word document to an Excel spreadsheet) that can be accessed and edited by more than one personat the same time via the web obviously.

Why, you ask, is it the best web tool in ages? Because I think it is absolutely perfect for any kind of collaborative script building in Drama and it’s such a simple way to incorporate ICT into Drama lessons. It’s like every Drama Teacher’s scriptwriting nightmares have all been cured at once!

When I was working on my PBL project with Malyn I was totally tripped out by the fact that I could see her typing onto the document whilst I watched on my screen. Likewise for her I’m sure. Malyn had set up the document and allocated sharing and ownership rights. This feature allows you to control who views and edits the document.

What I also liked was the comments function. Malyn had left me little “virtual post-it notes” on the side of the document that I could reply to when I had made the adjustments in the document which made it easy for Malyn to reference exactly where I had made changes and how I had addressed her initial notes. We didn’t have to be online at the same time to work on it but it’s pretty cool when you are!

Anyway, throughout the whole experience I just had visions of lots of little playwrights in my Drama class collaborating on their DER laptops, all their little ideas planting roots into the ground to make a big strong tree 🙂 They were all working on one version of the document that could either then be emailed as a final copy to me, posted on Edmodo and even, if they so desired included me in the sharing and viewing rights so I could see what they were all doing, add suggestions and offer advice.

I’ve included the YouTube instructional clip and simply encourage you to visit Google Docs yourself and have a play or introduce it into your Faculty because I think it has enormous potential not just for student’s but teachers also (programming anyone?)

Note: I’ve since heard that Google Docs is blocked to student’s on the DER laptops. If you are keen to experiment with this tool in your classroom I strongly urge you to contact Tech Support to get it unblocked.

Image Credit: Knots of Time / Sabrina Mae / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Simple Ways to Integrate ICT and the Drama Logbook

The use of technology in Drama is a tricky one in my opinion. When you think of technology in Drama most people think, “oh, using a video camera.”

Drama is all about the making and performing of a work and especially in class, you become so caught up in the “doing” that you miss the “reflecting” part. Or the “documenting of the process” part. My kids are reluctant to write anything at the best of times and it has still been challenging getting them to write using their laptops but it is because of them that they are a little less reluctant to write 🙂

The NSW syllabus like many others, has three key areas: making, performing, appreciating. The logbook has been an essential part of the “appreciating” section of the syllabus for years. It is vital during the HSC in which student’s must show their process in creating their group performance work and their individual project.

Now, I’m really going to put my opinions out there and say that I am certain that in a few years, the logbook will become digital. Just like the written exam. Not just in Drama. I’m sure in many other subjects as well.

I think this opens up enormous possibilities for the Drama logbook and how dynamic and interesting it could be in showing the theatre making process.

As such, as teachers it is not only our responsibility to be integrating technology in our lessons but making it meaningful and a tool for preparing them for the HSC and the effective documentation of process in a logbook.

So, here are a couple of suggestions to get you started in turning the logbook digital:

1.Type in Microsoft Word: It’s basic and it’s boring but it’s also familiar. I’ll probably be crucified for suggesting this but if you’re apprehensive about getting your student’s to create a digital logbook start with something that most of us these days actually knows how to use. It’s tried and tested and it’s a good way to get student’s into the habit of writing their thoughts on screen rather than paper. Trust me, they’ll be just as apprehensive. They’ve been taught for years to write everything with a pen and paper. This will be weird for them.

2. Use OneNote: This is another really simple start to creating a digital logbook with a few cool features. Most of the DER laptops have OneNote. It is like a paper ring binder sans the paper. It has tabs to organise your work, an endless page and an automatic saving function. You can copy and paste images into notebook and it copies the source link with it. You can also freely move things around your page. Here’s a really brief intro to it:

3. Start a Blog: This is my latest favourite.The great thing about a blog is that it is like a personalised web page. Student’s can customise them, connect with student’s from around the world, embed video, links, sound clips, photographs (all of which are technology in themselves). They’re dynamic and they broaden the scope of their work. They are public pages so it is a great way to teach student’s about digital citizenship, the appropriate use of language, editing and spelling. Here is an example of one from one of my student’s. I provide student’s with a very structured template with which to base each of their entries on. Starting off with a class blog first might also be a great way to take a dip into technology.

4. Create a Digital Portfolio: This is a great idea for mini-assignments as well but you could get student’s to create an interactive Powerpoint that includes links, video, sound clips and photos for each week of their project. Have them create a slide that looks at the problems they faced in their group and how they solved each problem. Make sure student’s submit everything (video etc.) to you in one folder. Missing parts means the portfolio’s interactive bits won’t work.

Finally, it’s important to remember that these are just some simple ways to move away from the traditional book and pen scenario. Some people can be really turned off by technology because they think it is all bells and whistles and the truth is it is. Another thing I’ll probably be crucified for.

I think some teacher’s feel they are becoming redundant because the teaching is being done by technology. This is when I would say that is, absolutely, 100% not true. Student’s will not know how to write well and skillfully without your guidance. They way student’s create their blogs, portfolios or whatever is dependent on what you show them is the best way to do it. You are still the most important tool in creating critically reflective, appreciative writing in Drama. Don’t forget that 😉

Have you tried anything that is working well in your class? Please share them in the comments.

Image Credits:Moleskine Retro PDA Part1 / Stephen Ticehurst / CC BY-NC 2.0

My Journey with Student Blogging: An Update

Back in March I introduced student blogging to my Year 9 Drama class. I dived right in having each student create their own individual student blog which was connected to a class blog.

The other day a very kind reader of my blog asked me how my class blogging was going and what my thoughts were on using it in the Drama classroom. I had been meaning to update on this for some time so having interested readers push me along in this pursuit was great!

Here is the class blog page.

As you can see, I’ve added absolutely zilch to it since starting it. That was my responsibility and my fault and I have some thoughts on that further on.

However, some student drama blogs that I think are well worth taking a look at from my class include:

On the downside though, only these four of the eleven students in my class have really taken to blogging and have been updating it regularly. Three of my student’s haven’t added their link to the class blog page at all. Student’s were just not contributing to their own blog nor commenting on their peers.

This really surprised me. I really thought the kids would want to engage with their laptops and create a blog.

So why, were they just not getting into blogging?

Most of them did not know what a blog was nor did they have the patience to set one up thus making them very frustrated and hence giving up on the idea all together (thus why many of them are not regularly updated or are non-existent).

This classroom moment did re-affirm for me this idea I have that technology is really not that scary and children don’t necessarily know more than us about technology. Their fear of trying something new online was just as obvious as that of any adult using a computer for the first time. Student’s may be surrounded by technology but they really don’t know the breadth and depth of it nor do they really use any more than a couple of web tools on a daily basis. I guess this is obvious to many of you who have been engaging with web tools and web based learning for a long time but I’m still new to this revelation.

In reflecting further on this I really shouldn’t have delved straight into individual student blogging. Spending time reading other blogs and simply commenting is the best way to go. I should have also done my part in keeping the central drama blog up to date along with the kids.

Time is something I do feel pressured by and I do find critical reflection and appreciation in drama can get lost by the wayside when you are dealing with student’s who have behaviour problems, learning difficulties or simply do not like having to write.

What I have learnt though and I what I need to get better at, is really sticking to keeping the last 15-20 minutes of a lesson (mine are 75mins so adjust accordingly) for writing activities. Unfortunately, getting student’s to do this kind of reflective work at home is not an option at my school. If you can do it though, go for it. It is ideal because then you really can concentrate on practical activities. Getting into habits, such as writing for the last part of the lesson,  is a basic teaching rule and one that I think can be forgotten in Drama classrooms because of the practical nature of our subject.

The way the student’s have completed their “blog logs” for drama is based on a template I gave them which I will share in another post.

For web tools and ICT to work in the Drama classroom, I believe teachers need to allocate appropriate amounts of time to appreciation, critical study and simply writing to ensure student’s are getting into effective habits that will assist them to process the thoughts and experiences of the practical classroom and then to eventually share that with the world of the Internet.