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

The Websites & WebTools Every Drama Teacher Needs to Use in 2012

2011 was a huge learning curve for me in terms of networking and improving my teaching practice through the use of social media and blogging.

The resources and websites I have discovered as a result of all of this has been incredible. So that is why I’ve compiled a list of some of the cool things I’ve found out in the world of the Internet thanks to the kindness of others who have been willing to share what they know. You may like to try some of these with your classes this year. Some are useful for Drama others you may find beneficial to another colleague in your school.

So delve deep, jump in and see how much fun you and your student’s can have with some of these tools this year.

Websites

Ted Talks – Over 900 talks in a number of different languages from people wanting to spread ideas. Totally worth a look. I’ve blogged about TED here.

Goodreads – Social media for booklovers. A place to update your friends on what you’re reading and what you thought of it. Has potential in the classroom me thinks. I’ve blogged about Goodreads here.

Google Docs – Communal documents accesible from any computer, anywhere, anytime. Did someone say scriptwriting? Or class playbuilding? I’ve blogged about Google docs here.

Open Attribute – An easy add on to make sure you are accurately acknowleding Creative Commons sources. I’ve blogged about it here.

Compfight – A huge database containing great Creative Commons images. Links directly with Open Attirbute.

AustralianPlays.org – Find every play you need for class here.

KeepVid.com – Download and save any YouTube or other film clip you find on the net. Great if you’re stuck for Internet connection. I’ve blogged about it here.

School Tube – Share what’s going on at your school here. A great alternative to YouTube. I’ve blogged about it here.

Shows for Schools – A fantastic database to help you find the right show to perform or see with your kids.

Drama Matters –  A new blog that looks at the direction of Arts Education in Australia and abroad.

Technology & Arts Education Wiki – Great links and ideas for teaching drama. Join wikispaces to contribute.

The Arts – NSW Curriculum and Learning Innovation Centre – NSW teachers would be well versed in this site but I highly recommend it to any interstate and overseas teachers.

National Theatre i-Tunes Podcasts – A fantastic selection of podcasts all about making theatre from one of the world’s most well respected theatre companies. Now also available on iTunesU.

The Drama Teacher’s Wiki – A collection of drama games compiled by drama teachers. Join wikispaces to contribute.

WebTools

Fakebook – Create imaginary profile pages for the characters you are studying.

Class Dojo – Manage your classes with the help of technology.

Edmodo – A communication platform similar to Facebook. Add assignments, links and clips. Join communities.

Animoto – A video slideshow maker with music.

Popplet – A brainstorming tool.

qwiki – Search it to find quick answers to quick questions.

Storybird – Create short stories with students and find the artwork to match. Just beautiful.

Vimeo – A video sharing site.

Slideshare – A powerpoint sharing site.

Scoop It – Create your own digital magazine. Way cool.

Vistaprint – Cheap teacher tools at your fingertips.

EduTeacher – A database to find more web resources and tools if you haven’t already.

Khan Academy – Lots of great clips for maths and science teachers here. I’ve blogged about it here.

Prezi – A funky way to create presentations.

Got any more web tools or resources that you would love to share? Comments appreciated.

Image Credit: seventh sense / woodleywonderworks / CC BY 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

Lesson Lovenotes: Teaching Theatre History

This year I have Year 11 Drama. This term we are learning about theatrical traditions and performance styles.

I personally think it’s a good unit to start with because you can dabble 🙂 Dabble and play. Dabble in a range of different styles of performance. This works well because students can get a taste of the possibilities in Drama. Especially considering a good portion of students may not have taken Drama as an elective in Year 9-10 so it is all very new to them.

It’s often eye opening because the styles that can be explored are some of the weirdest! In the students eyes they often think acting is very much film and TV based with that very neutral, I’ve-barely-moved-my-eyebrows kind of look. A lot of posing basically. This unit really provides teachers with a platform to really get their kids working with their entire body as a form of expression.

I personally choose to look at DADA performance art and then move into the Theatre of Absurd. The ideas are very left of centre for the students. They start to think in an abstract way and they get to play and feel silly and find enjoyment and ownership in that at the same time. It builds confidence and creates a positive learning environment.

To provide some context for these theatrical traditions and performance styles I always run a theory lesson whereby we look at the development of theatre through time and how it has been influenced by politics, religion and popular culture.

I recently did a very general Google search and found a fantastic Interactive Theatre History Timeline at the Glencoe Online Learning Centre.

We were working in the library and I used the lesson as an opportunity to also introduce the students to the Year 11 Drama group that I had created in Edmodo. I have written about Edmodo before here. I uploaded a worksheet I created to Edmodo and got the kids to download it and save it onto their home directories. In doing this they could then edit and save their own material, save it to USB, email it to themselves etc.

Students had to work through the sheet, which I had broken up into particular theatrical time periods and add dates and significant theatrical events as well as any corresponding world events that were considered important and relevant in that time period.

I then got the students to compare what they saw happening in the world perspectives column with the actual theatrical event and to see if either were influencing each other.

To develop this exercise further you could then ask students to choose a particular time period or theatrical event of interest or allocate ones yourself and get the students to research them further.

Was this love note helpful? What suggestions do you have for teaching theatrical traditions and performance styles?

This is a new section of my blog where I will share some of the resources I have been using to teach with in my classroom. I like the idea of calling it a “lovenote” because it’s being sent with teacher love!…and it’s not too long of a post.

To create the screen shot above I used the Snipping Tool and added the text using MS Paint.

Image Credits:

Busra Theatre, by Hovic, Attribution – NonCommercial-No Derivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Reflecting on the Edublogs Teacher Challenge

This week many beginner bloggers, including myself, finished up our 30 day challenge to set up a blog, connect with others and to keep it going.

I wanted to use this final challenge as an opportunity to reflect on all that I have learnt over the last 30 days and look forward to my next challenge.

This challenge was everything that I needed. In my first post as part of the challenge I commented on how I set up this blog over a year ago and it just sat here never being used. I know now why that was.

I needed someone to show me how best to set up the blog and get it working for me in a way that could potentially gain me contacts and readership.

I needed a teacher. Oh, the irony of it all.

This challenge has made me aware that I didn’t realise how limitless the Internet is in being able to provide support and how I did in fact have a network of educators and help right there in front of me but I didn’t know where to look or how to harness what I found in order to get what I needed.

For years, I have been struggling as a teacher, feeling quite alone and often needing help but too afraid to ask for it for fear of being looked at as incompetent. I now feel a sense of encouragement and I feel a sense of relief that I think I have finally found a voice within myself as well as a growing network of educators to support me.  I also feel quite silly because I never thought to look out in the universe in the way we have as part of this challenge. Especially considering I’m a Generation-Y-er. Isn’t that a given for us? Go to the computer first for answers?

I’m also reminded how my students must feel sometimes. I really did feel like I was walking in their shoes for the first time in many years.

Much of what I have learnt I am glad I can now share with my colleagues at school and also with my students. Some of these things that I have found invaluable include: how to effectively set up a blog, how to write good, engaging posts, reading posts through Google Reader, the importance of comments and commenting, the difference between pages and posts, digital identity, different types of web browsers (like Firefox not just IE8!) creating an RSS feed and using Feedburner, image use and creative commons as well as embedding other media, categories and tags and building readership through Twitter.

Most important of all has been and will continue to be the sharing of ideas, thoughts, opinions, successes and failures and the learning that we have gained from it. Also, that those opinions are valued and appreciated by the blog author and their community.

One of the reasons I like being a teacher is because I think teachers as people are very giving, positive, supportive people. I’ve met many teachers who, even if they absolutely hate their job, they will still offer you some advice, resources, an ear to listen to your woes etc.

For me now, the challenge is to continue posting. At least twice a week. That’s the plan anyway. My fear when I originally started the blog was that I didn’t have confidence to express my opinion. I didn’t feel like I deserved to have a voice because what did I know? I was only a beginning teacher. Now, I feel just a little more confident. Confident in the knowledge that it is OK for beginning teachers to have a voice. The blog has a focus, a purpose. My opinions, thoughts and ideas may not be something that everyone agrees with but I’m glad people respect this space and want to help me gain a better understanding of the things I don’t know.

Thanks to Sue Waters and her team at Edublogs for sharing their knowledge with me, us. To those new and experienced bloggers from the Challenge who have visited my blog over the past month, thank you and please, come again 😉

What has your Teacher Challenge experience been like? If you didn’t participate, what do you think of being offered free online professional development for teachers? Leave a comment below.

Image Credits:

15-06-10 Lets Go I Want To Go All The Way To The Horizon ~ Explored Front Page :), by Bethan, Attribution – NonCommercial-No Derivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In Bed with Media

It’s late on Friday night. I’m in bed. I have just survived the first day back at school for teachers and I’m exhausted from:

a) having to wake up before the sun does,

b) dealing with the abhorration that is starting my working week on a Friday and

c) listening intently to an avalanche of information about the expectations for the new school year.

I’m also thinking:

a) did the holidays even happen? and

b) when am I going to find time to complete  the Edublogs Kick Start Activity 6 – Embedding Media whilst attempting to apartment-hunt, do my laundry and grocery shop for the week?

I’m staring at my laptop across the dim room thinking, “Maybe I could just bring it into bed with me and I can be cosy and comfortable and do my activity that way…”

I’m sure many of you are feeling similarly conflicted about how to manage your working schedule with that of families and other commitments. For me, it is something I’m quite eagerly in search of. Ways in which we can manage our lives and keep our minds calm. At the above thought I promptly said to myself, “Are you mad? Why do I even have my laptop in the room?” One thing I certainly would never do is bring my laptop into bed with me. However, the temptation is there. Some of you, unlike me, may have happily taken your laptop to bed with you. You may even think I’m barking mad because I’m not doing it more often. Enjoying a wild romp in bed with media and technology.

Lying there, staring into the blackness, trying to calm my mind after the days chaos, this laptop temptation did also make me consider how our students may also feel. Particularly at the beginning of a new school year (think Year 7’s) or around exam time . Many of our students are under similar pressures. Often these expectations can be trying to maintain good academic grades as well as play a team sport, learn a musical instrument, maybe maintain a part-time job, have some sort of social life (OK, a rather large social life) oh and then, maybe eat and at the very least sleep for at least 8 hours a day.

Both us as teachers and our students are making choices on what to prioritise in our lives and technology is certainly making the maintenance of our social lives a little easier, but it can become unhealthy. Students seem to be saturated by the availability and ease of technology and the need to use it and consume it at all hours of the day which in turn is affecting their physical social contact and contact of any other kind that requires them to leave their computer screens.

I’m not suggesting for a second that blogging or any other use of the computer is anti-social or detrimental to your health. Quite the contrary. I believe it is tremendously rewarding and enjoyable to connect to people through common interests. I wouldn’t be doing this Challenge if I didn’t think so. Similarly, it is OK to chat to your mates on Facebook or tweet an update about that cute guy on your favourite TV show. I’m not advocating for anything in particular other than balance. I’m not here to discuss cybersafety.

I guess I just wanted to make this post not only about the media I have embedded into it but to remember that as teachers I feel we also have a responsibility to ensure our students are maintaining a balanced lifestyle with plenty of sleep, healthy eating and drinking, safe social habits online and when in physical human contact with others. I can’t really believe I have to distinguish the two!

The above video just reminds me that it is important for us as teachers to model the enthusiasm we feel when we meet up with friends, read a new book, go for a walk or discover something new. For us to encourage parents to ensure mobile phones and laptops stay out of their bedroom, that they talk with their kids about their day, not feeling like technology is alienating them from their son/daughter, that it is OK to embrace it and use it but to also  just connect with them daily, face to face and to really listen, share and care.

In reviewing the tools I have used for embedding, YouTube was very simple and easy to embed. I became confused between Wallwisher and Answer Garden because I thought Answer Garden didn’t allow anyone to add a suggestion and was simply a picture of suggestions made during a class and uploaded to Flickr. Alas, I was wrong and inserted a Wallwisher thinking this was the case but I think I’ll try Answer Garden in the future. The difficulty I had was inserting a poll. I think it would’ve worked better in the side bar above the links rather than in a post but I wasn’t sure how to do this and embedding the code into the theme page confused me. Does anyone know how to do this and would like to share?

Also, in what ways do you ensure your students are maintaing balance? What strategies do you have on a whole-school level? Do you feel we do enough as classroom teachers? Is it our responsibility at all? Share your thoughts in the comments or add to my Wallwisher.

http://www.wallwisher.com/embed/balancestrategies

Image Credits:

Photo “Basking in the Glow” by pmarkham under the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Video: “Is Technology Weakening Relationships?” by MsAshbrown, 2/9/2009.

My Relationship with Images

This is me. This is me all last week. This is me trying to do Edublogs Teacher’s Challenge Kick Start Activity 4 and Kick Start Activity 5.

As you can see from the picture above, Images and I are just not friends. We have this delicate relationship. Images likes to be moody, temperamental, difficult and just down right stubborn. Images doesn’t listen. Images doesn’t hear my needs preferring instead to do what it wants. My relationship with Images has become quite torn. We’re at crossroads. Do we continue down the path of stress, anxiety, loss of sanity or do I make a break and run?

I prefer the latter, simply because I’ve vowed this year to get confident with Web 2.0 tools and to become a much more active Blogger. My relationship with Images is just one hurdle in this new challenge.

Learning about RSS and creating my Avatar last week was tough. Task 4 has been the hardest for me so far and I really didn’t think it would be at all. It was fiddle-y and draining. I knew vaguely what RSS was but had never really used it because I really hadn’t read that many blogs until I started doing this challenge. I’m still learning all the functions of Google Reader but it seems, so far, to be a good platform in which to read everything. It keeps everything in the one place. It will certainly make it easier. Visiting one site instead of all your favourite sites is a real plus.

Choosing the blogs to put into my reader has been exhausting. I looked through all of them on the Edublogs Award site (and I literally mean every. single. one.) and was totally amazed at the quality of the blogs. I am enjoying reading them and discovering more and more blogs as the days go on. The Discussion Question asked us how we thought RSS could be used with students. At the time, I really wasn’t sure because it was all very new to me. Now though, having had some time to think about it, I think it could be a fabulous way to encourage students to read. As a Drama/English teacher, using blogs would not only allow students to connect with each other but they would be reading things that are of interest to them whilst at the same time learning about language functions.

The thing I found hardest was creating my Avatar! I’ve used pictures of favourite musicals for years which I feel is representative of my interests in some ways but when I read Sue’s tips about creating a “positive digital identity”, something that identifies you online, I stopped and really thought about it. Did my avatar really represent me? I tried Mr Picassohead and it frustrated the hell out of me. I’m no Picasso that’s for sure. Then I remembered creating a Simpson’s avatar a while back so I went back there and tried again. I wanted something that captured my black frizzy hair and I think The Simpsons avatar doesn’t do too badly. I’m not even that huge a fan of The Simpsons but I guess I just felt it captured me best. I struggled so much with the saving and cropping in MSPaint and even though I changed it to 97×97 pixels it still seems a bit grainy to me.

That’s another thing I’ve noticed with this week’s challenge about enhancing posts with images. The graininess of images. I mucked around in Picture Manager resizing my photos and mucking around with effects only to find that the picture wasn’t particularly clear and rather small. Perhaps it was just the photo I had chosen but I can’t say I liked my effort.

I’ve included my crappy looking photos to show you that this has all been a process that I am still ironing out all the kinks to.

I didn’t know Creative Commons existed so that has been really interesting to learn about. I have struggled however with trying to insert images from Creative Commons into my posts using the right click “Copy Image URL” function. Thus, Images and I not being on the best of terms with each other at the moment. I think there might be another woman – the computer operating system. I have no proof yet though*.

Looking at the sites available to create your own images has been such an eye opener because I really didn’t know so much fun stuff was available. Hopefully, as a result of my blog being an enormous success, this will be me this year:

All in all a tough challenge but I learnt a whole heap. I’m glad there are sites out there like Creative Commons that make it easier for us to access images for our blogs without breaching copyright. I think it’s an excellent resource in itself to teach students about plaigiarism and the need to acknowledge other’s work. I don’t know if I’m that keen to put my own images into blog posts just yet.

Images and I need to take some time to heal and work on moving forward.

*Sue has since confirmed for me that is was “another woman” stuffing up my ability to use Creative Commons images. I have since learnt about Firefox. Who knew that you didn’t have to use IE to browse the web? Not me, that’s for sure.

Image 1: Photo by pollyalida licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Image 2: Created in Crappy Graphs @ http://crappygraphs.com

Image 3: “Karla O” avatar created @ http://www.simpsonsmovie.com/main.html?cid=us

Image 4: “My Name In Lights”. Copyright Karla O. 2011.

Image 5: Fake TIME Magazine Cover, Created @ http://www.fakemagazinecover.com