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

Teachers, Are You Being Mindful?

As a teacher, how well do you look after yourself?

I’ve mentioned before how much of an advocate for teacher wellbeing I am.

Teaching is a demanding job. One filled with passionate individuals who often overlook themselves in order to support their students and deliver awesome lessons.

I’ve wanted to mention a great initiative started by some teachers on Twitter for some time now. An initiative to encourage us as teachers to take time and be accountable for taking that time to look after ourselves.

It’s a simple Twitter hashtag: #teachfit. Not sure what a hashtag is? Click here.

#teachfit is a place where teachers can check in and let the group know how they are going with their fitness goals and more often than not, get some encouraging feedback for their efforts. People have shared inspirational and motivational quotes, articles, exercise apps, recipes. We’ve had our encouragement Storify – ed.

The #teachfit hashtag has been building momentum since January when I was looking for ways to get motivated to do more exercise before heading full on into a day of teaching. I wanted to become more mindful of all my habits: eating, exercise, emotional reactions. A core group of us @Madiganda, @torkee and @shhartley worked together initially to encourage each other to meet our fitness goals and from there it grew.

Now it has a nice little core (excuse the pun) group of followers who check in as often as they can. Almost 30.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could keep expanding the group?

My purpose for writing this today is not only to make you aware of the power of a PLN in helping you to achieve professional and personal goals but to also take the time to acknowledge the efforts of my fellow Teach-fitters and their efforts over the past six months and to ask you, how well do you look after yourself as a teacher? Are you mindful of your health each day? If so, that is fantastic. If not, how can we help?

Photo Credit: James Jordan via Compfight cc

Drama, Technology & You – A Presentation

If you haven’t ventured to a TeachMeet and you live in Sydney I really recommend you get along to one. It’s a really positive place for teachers to share ideas about teaching.

This week I presented my first 2 minute micro presentation and I improvised the whole thing! (hooray for leaving things at school!).

Basically, I was looking at the idea of role play as a way of teaching kids about empathy and that drama can be done in any classroom.

2 minutes isn’t a lot of time though.

For those of you that I had the pleasure of meeting at TeachMeet, here is the presentation that would’ve been minus my improvising ;-).

Feel free to share these quick lesson suggestions with your colleagues.

Jack Charles vs The Crown – A Review

Are you one of those people that never wins anything? You know, you enter a competition to win a holiday to Fiji and 10,000 other people enter, you’ve referred five friends, clogging their inboxes with spam when the probability of you actually winning anything is probably…oh, almost a slim to none chance? Or you run a small raffle amongst the staff at your school for a bottle of wine and still nothing?

I hear ya. That is me all over. Ms, I-Never-Have-Any-Luck.

BUT-

I am a firm believer in, “you’ve got to be in it to win it” so I enter everything regardless and drag everyone’s e-mail accounts through the ringer.

Lucky for me, it finally paid off with me scoring two complimentary tickets to Belvoir St Theatre’s new play Jack Charles vs The Crown!

Not knowing anything about the play, I had no expectations heading into it. The play opened with a long video sequence, projected onto a set resembling a potter’s workshop. On stage was Jack Charles, turning a wheel and making a small clay pot. The images in the footage were shocking. A slightly younger Jack Charles, injecting himself with drugs. Calm and collected his expression never changes. Not before, not during, not after.

From here the story progresses into a one man monologue, told by Jack about his life. From his time at the mission home, his becoming acquainted with his Aboriginal heritage and his spiral into drugs and addiction which led to a life of crime and a cycle of gaol time.

Jack Charles is likeable as he tells us of his life. At times it is difficult to understand him whether muffled by his beard or his speech just naturally slurred . His musical interludes where he sings, accompanied by a three piece band on stage, breaks and links his story into its various chronological parts.His skills as a potter manifest very well on stage. Much of his storytelling seemed repetitive. I’m not sure whether that was intended by both Charles and John Romeril, the writer’s of the play. It gave me the impression that they were wanting to impress this idea of reptition and the cyclical nature of the indigenous people’s lives during the 70’s, making the final scene, where Jack is speaking to the parole board, even more poignant.

Jack Charles vs The Crown is, on one level, a reminder of the effects of the Stolen Generation but even more universally the ability of the human spirit to be resilient and overcome hardship. Jack’s ability to finally convince the parole board and make a life for himself that is uniquely his, independent and drug free, is uplifting.

This play is an excellent example of Contemporary Australian Theatre Practice and combines some of that with Verbatim Theatre. The use of technologies such as video and musicians on stage adds a new dimension to the modern theatre landscape. The fact that Charles talks directly to us, the audience for the entire piece is something unique about the way theatre is changing and progressing. It’s direct and in your face without being pushy or preachy. At no more than 90 minutes in length, these new types of plays are engaging with our shorter attention spans and getting straight to the point without missing out on capturing themes and issues relevant to Australians and the wider theatre going audience.

Image Credits:

Crown Jewels II, Stephen B Whatley, Licensed under Creative Commons

Fantastic Find: How to Keep All Those Great YouTube Clips!

The classroom environment has certainly changed now that technology is ever present in our lives. The relationship between the teacher and the student is such a different one now. The shift in a lesson between teacher as leader and student as leader is always changing. Especially when using technology.

What amazes me is the wealth of knowledge students have about what is available on the Internet to make things easier for us. I’m not that old but I don’t have a lot of time to sit around on the Internet and look for resources. Thanks to the Edublogs Kick Start Your Blogging Challenge I’ve recently discovered ways of gathering a lot of resources in a few simple locations so I’m keeping up to date with things a lot better. Things like Twitter and Google Reader and Email Subscriptions. I recently had an experience where I felt like I was the student and I’m all the better for it.

I’d been struggling to get my YouTube clips to play because I couldn’t update Adobe Flash Player. The DER laptops we have been given do not allow us to update to the latest Flash Player software (the issues with this I could save for another post!)  I told my students this and one of them promptly piped up with a website suggestion, took over downloading it for me and then watched over my shoulder as I showed him how to download a second video in the way that he had taught me!

The gem of a website one of my little darlings showed me this week was a website called KeepVid.com

Simply copy and paste the URL of the video you wish to download, select the file type (preferably MP4 according to my star pupil) and ta-da! It downloads it, saving it wherever you’ve requested it to be saved. I now have a permanent folder full of YouTube resources that I can use over and over again without ever having to go onto the site! Easy.

Have you had a student-teacher moment in reverse? Share in the comments below.

Jack Black – God of Teaching?

Even Jack Black struggled with the blackboard.

Most of  us remember School of Rock. Jack Black as the wanna be rock star who poses as a substitute teacher at an expensive private school who turns the class into a rock band. What’s interesting, is how he does it. It’s not all about the blackboard and taking copious amounts of notes. The kids are familiar with this but once they discover that they can use their talents in a way that helps to contribute to the rock band their energy and engagement changes and grows. I’m sure there are a few computers in there somewhere.

School of Rock is a great example of what can be achieved away from the whiteboard or blackboard (for those who may still be using them which I know there are some). The scary thing for us as teachers is that technology is moving at a speed faster than any of us could have imagined.

I’m 27 and even I feel behind and I’ve been growing up around computers since I was about 8 years old.

It’s scary because with all our job responsibilites and expectations, our families, having some sort of work/life balance, kids complaining about how “boring” English is or Science is preferring instead to send a text to the hot guy on the other side of the room from underneath the desk, technology can sometimes be left in the “too hard” basket when trying to integrate it into our teaching and learning programs. It is now the common divide between teachers and students and we have to face up to it.

Thankfully there are really creative and innovative teachers out there who are motivating and pushing the use of technology in the classroom and making it accessible for teachers to learn and manage on their own. Things like the Edublogs Teacher’s Challenge. This needs to happen far more regularly in all schools.
A teaching tool that I would like to share and recommend is Edmodo. It is a secure, social learning network for teacher’s and students. It is a “safe” Facebook if you like. Many teachers are confined by government or regional policy. Particularly to do with this issue of social networking, its use in schools and the safety of students on the Internet whilst doing this. Edmodo offers an opportunity for social networking to happen within a school that is closely monitored by staff.
Some of its advantages include:
  • Creating a specific class or interest group and “wall” that you can then post information to.
  • Using the “wall” to post polls, assignments, notices, alerts.
  • A calendar feature to help students keep track of when assignments are due. If they are part of more than one group they can see all their assignment due dates.
  • A grade book feature where you can keep track of students results and they can also see what they have achieved.
  • A library to keep track of links and documents that you post to your “wall.”

Some suggestions for ways the pages could be used include specific class work/discussions, faculty groups, sports teams or other extra-curricular activities, whole year groups and parent contact.

Most importantly, you are interacting with the kids in a way that is accessible and familiar to them.

So, as teachers we can either choose to let technology rule us or we can choose to rule with technology. We know our stuff. We know what to teach and how to teach it well. Challenge yourself to mix it up a bit. To do something a bit different. See what happens. You might surprise yourself. Least of all the kids themselves.

This post is part of  Kick Start Your Blogging Activity 2. We were required to post on one of several topics and I chose a review of a technology learning tool.