Monday, July 31, 2006

I go... I come back

I've been away on holiday but got back a few days ago. The my last blog entry (ICT: The C is for Creativity) was actually posted from a hotel in Munich. The eye-watering charge made by the hotel of €4.50 for half an hour of Internet connection is the main reason there was no picture with that entry! It's also the reason why I have not replied to any of your comments recently. I'll try to make some sensible comments in the next few days.

We had a great time in Germany where we spent a few days in Munich followed by a week in Oberstaufen (South Bavaria) before heading back for a few more days in Munich.

At Kempten,
originally uploaded by David Muir
The Muirs don't do well on lying about the beach type holidays so most days were spent visiting places and doing stuff. As evidence - a picture of me in Kempten.

We went to Kempten... but it was closed!

Well, all the museums were closed because it was Monday! However, I wanted to show my friend Antoninus Pius that I had at least made the effort to go to the Roman Archaeological Park.

A few more pictures of our adventures can be found on my Flickr account.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

ICT: The C is for Creativity

I was listening to a recording of a sermon in the car the other day. Among other things, the preacher was talking about Jesus' teaching methods. (I suppose the teacher trainer in me couldn't help but pay more attention to that section!) For example, he pointed out how often Jesus used questions to challenge people's thinking and even in answer to questions he was asked. The part that really made me take notice though was when the preacher said that teaching was a creative process.

Now, I knew that already, but you know how sometimes just hearing somebody say something out loud makes you go, "Yes! That's right." ICT works best when students and teachers are given time to explore and play - to be creative - especially when using read/write web tools like blogs. I have some concerns however, that the teaching of ICT is sometimes far from creative. For example, it worries me that teachers can end up just following an ICT pack where everything is reduced to ticking check boxes.

How long will it be before tools like blogs find their way into Authority approved ICT pack? I can see it now... "Create three line blog post" - Tick. "Add comment to at least two posts." - Tick. "Stifle all creativity." - Tick, tick, tick... boom!

Please tell me this hasn't happened already and that I'm just being an old cynic. :-)

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

ICT: The C is for Conversation

I am way behind in my podcast listening. I mean waaaay behind! I usually listen when I'm taking the dogs on their final walk of the night. This works well in the dark of the Autumn and Winter nights when I have my hood up and my head down against the damp, driech drizzle that characterises Scottish weather for roughly ten months of the year! The headphone go in, the head goes down and off I go into the dark and stormy night. However, with the recent good weather and light nights, I've spent less time listening to podcasts and more time listening to the world around.

As a result, I have only just heard David Warlick's Connected Learning podcast from the 7th of March - Episode 56 titled "Rights and wrongs on the Information Highway. (David's archives seem to be broken at the moment, but if it gets fixed, you may be able to find this podcast at the Connected Learning Podcast site. David posted the link in a comment on this post and I've now linked it to the title of the podcast.) I thoroughly enjoyed this podcast and learned some good stuff from it. However, one of the things I learned was not connected to the topic being discussed. Rather I learned from the way David did things.

I'm not sure if he was asked to give a keynote,a workshop, a presentation or what, but what he actually did was have a conversation with the people in the room. Perhaps they went there to hear David speak, perhaps they went to be told what to do with technology, but what they ended up doing was having a conversation with him. Brilliant!

The conversation was very skilfully guided and developed by David. He picked up and expanded some points, he let others go. Sometimes he went with the flow but sometimes he channelled the flow in a particular direction. When necessary he stopped one discussion topic and moved things on into new areas. He didn't talk at people - he talked with them. And even better, he recorded the conversation and turned it into a podcast. I'll say it again... Brilliant!

I've thought before about blogging as a conversation, but the way David handled this session reminded me that all learning and teaching should be about conversations. Perhaps that's not easy to do in the large lecture settings where I sometimes find myself, but I'm inspired to try and make more space for conversation in all my teaching sessions.

Whether I'm able to do it, or how quickly I fall back into that old Scottish educational stand by - "I telt ye, I telt ye!" - remains to be seen. :-)

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Getting to know you... with Flickr

{This is a duplicate of an earlier post. See Too smart for my own good for an explanation.}

Last year I was visiting a student and the conversation went something like this (names have been changed to protect the guilty):

Me: Peter did something like that, you should ask him for his worksheet.
Student: Who?
Me: Peter... you know, one of the twins.
Student: Twins? Are there twins in the class?
Me: Yes! They are identical. How could you not have noticed?
Student: Identical twins? Are you sure?

...And so it went on. I couldn't believe she hadn't noticed there were identical twins in the class. Not only did she not know - when she asked her friends, they hadn't noticed either. There were about thirty-six students in the class and they only came together in that particular grouping for about sixteen weeks out of a thirty-six week course. They didn't know each other! I had made the effort to get to know all of them, but forgot to give them the time and opportunity to get to know each other. Silly me! I had the same problem with a Personal and Social Education class the first time I taught one back when I was a real teacher but I clearly didn't learn the lesson.

David Muir
David Muir,
originally uploaded by DavidDMuir.
Therefore, this year I thought we should make a deliberate effort to help the students get to know each other. One of the ideas we used was to set up a private Flickr group, post everyone's photos to it and invite the students to add their comments. To start the ball rolling, I posted and answered four questions on my own photo. The questions were:
  1. The last film I watched in the cinema;
  2. The last CD/piece of music I bought;
  3. Favourite TV programme;
  4. Favourite website.
I finished by saying, "Analysis of my warped personality based on this revealing list is awaited with anticipation." I also asked them to answer the same four questions on their own photos This seemed to work fairly well. Follow the link on the photo to see what I said and how the students responded. (The rest of the class photos are still in a private group.)

I like the way Flickr allows you to set up private groups. I created the group and then invited the students to join. Only the people I invited to the group can see the photos and make/read comments. I thought that it was important that this type of exercise takes place in private- just the class group. (Which is why I made my picture public only after getting the permission of the people who had left comments.)

As I said, this seemed to work well. Could this work with classes in schools? (Assuming of course that the photo sharing sites are not blocked in the school by your Authority!) Could you adapt it for getting to know other people? For example, at the start of a joint project with pupils from another school? Or children involved in an exchange visit? Or a "People that help us" project (lollipop person, classroom assistant, librarian, ...)? Do you get the picture? :-) Please leave a comment with other ideas, or describe your own getting to know you ideas if you've done this kind of thing already.

We have continued to use Flickr throughout the year and, if you are interested, I could make some more posts on classroom/educational uses of photo sharing websites. Do you want to see more?

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I only recently noticed that there is an option in Flickr to display your most popular photographs according to how interesting Flickr thinks they are. Apparently my most interesting photograph is the one of Darth Tater. Second is a picture of a classroom (for reasons that are not entirely clear). However, the third most interesting picture in my collection is a photo of one of the students. I asked his permission to show you the screenshot here because the line underneath the photo's name amused me.

Nobody counts Colin McAlpine as a favoriteIt says, "Nobody counts Colin McAlpine as a favorite". Harsh but fair? You be the judge. :-)

Flickr: Note this!

{This is a duplicate of an earlier post. See Too smart for my own good for an explanation.}

This is the second of what I hope will be an irregular series of posts on using photosharing websites in the classroom. (The first post was Getting to know you... with Flickr.) This time I want to focus on the notes feature provided by Flickr. Notes specify a rectangular area of a picture to which you attach some text. When the pointer is on the rectangle, you see the text. If the pointer is on the picture, but not on a note, you see where all the rectangles are. If the pointer is not on the picture, you see it without any indication of where the notes are so that you can enjoy the picture without visual interruptions.

Computer Room
Computer Room,
originally uploaded by DavidDMuir.
This is probably better felt than telt as we say in Scotland. (Stop me and ask for a translation if you are stumped by the Scots language.) Follow the link to the picture of the Computer room and have a look at the comments under the picture, but especially take the time to look at the notes on the picture itself.

The picture of one of our computing labs. It was posted as an example of an exercise we wanted the students to try on their first school placement. We wanted them to think about the layout of the computer lab in the school and to think about alternative layouts. We wanted them to consider what was good about the organisation of the room and what could make it better? We asked each student to take a picture of a lab and post it with some comments. The other students were then asked to add further comments and questions, but in particular we asked them to leave notes on the picture itself.

The notes feature allows very specific parts of the picture to be highlighted and allows concise, but targeted, comments to be made. In the sample picture shown above, I created all the notes, but in the students' pictures they left notes on each other's photos to ask questions or make observations. I even started a spot the John Walsh book game (like spot the ball, but with the semi-ubiquitous Walsh book). The exercise seemed to work well and interesting and inciteful notes were added to the pictures posted.

Once again, it seemed wise to use a private Flickr group and strict guidelines were given about how to go about this exercise. Guidance included the instructions that there should be no pupils in the picture of the classroom and that the school should not be named or identifiable in any way. Also, they were to seek the permission of the teacher in charge of Computing, explaining what they were going to do, before taking any pictures.

I got the idea from Beth's Art class. I loved the way the students were sharing what they learned about the picture and the symbolism. {Rats! She has just uploaded a new painting and, as yet, there are no notes or comments. I guess a new class is starting soon, so hopefully notes will start to appear in the near future. Update: The new, uncommented picture is still there, but the old picture of "Central panel of the Merode Altarpiece by Campin", complete with notes and comments, is back!} There must be loads of uses for on-picture notes in the classroom. What about a student science project - take a picture of the experiment and add notes. Or take a picture of a student's craft work - other pupils can leave notes with questions about technique or their understanding of the work. Or a photo from a school trip of a public building or monument. Or a local area study. Or a picture of classroom wall display. Or... Do you get the picture? :-)

As before, I'd love to hear about ideas, or see more examples of this in action. Please leave a comment to let me know what you think.

P.S. Ewan has just posted a picture of some Vikings and used it in a workshop session at a Modern Language in the Primary School Conference. He used it as an example of adding notes to a picture.

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Free to use... with Flickr

{This is a duplicate of an earlier post. See Too smart for my own good for an explanation.}

I'm not sure if this is really a part of my irregular series on educational uses of Flickr. It's certainly not the next post I intended to make but it is about Flickr and educational stuff, so I guess it must be the third in the series. :-) I was talking to some secondary school teachers yesterday about Flickr (among other things) and it was their reaction to something I said that prompted this post.

I was being enthusiastic (also known as ranting) about the educational potential of Flickr notes (see a previous post). I was demonstrating different uses of notes: teacher drawing attention to an aspect of an image; teacher giving a clickable link to further information; teacher asking a question; pupils sharing something they've noticed or learned; pupils asking questions; pupils highlighting areas of danger in a photograph; etc. I also talked about geotagging (which is what I meant to talk about next and will feature in a blog post soon) but that's not what made them sit up and take note either.

When I mentioned that all the pictures in my presentation had come from Flickr and that they were copyright free -- that's when they sat up and took notice!

originally uploaded by bhell13.
Now, before I go any further, I know that it is not accurate to say that Flickr photographs are "copyright free". However, many are made available under Creative Commons Licences and if people have not heard of Creative Commons, I find it easier to say, "copyright free" and then, once I have their attention, explain what Creative Commons actually means. :-)

I hope I didn't give the impression that all the photographs on Flickr have a Creative Commons licence (I was pushed for time) but a phenomenal number do! The Flickr Creative Commons page describes four different aspects of the licence that can be applied to Flickr photos. Perhaps the simplest is the Attribution Licence. This means the photographer will:
let others copy, distribute, display, and perform [the photographer's] copyrighted work - and derivative works based upon it - but only if they give [the photographer] credit.
At the time of writing there are over one and a half million photos under an Attribution Licence! However, the largest number of photographs (almost 4.7 million) are available under an Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivs Licence. Roughly speaking, this means you can use a photograph as long as you give the photographer credit, do not sell it or use it to make money, and do not alter it in any way.

If you go to a Flickr Creative Commons Licence page, (e.g. the Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivs Licence page) you can search for photographs with that particular licence. Brilliant!
originally uploaded by 4blueeyes.
I love Flickr Creative Commons searches. When I want an image to illustrate a blog post or a presentation, it has rarely let me down. I like that you can enter fairly abstract terms and find good, concrete, visual illustrations. For example, in a previous post I wanted an image that said, "help". In the end I went for a photograph of a help key, but I was very tempted to use this image of Alec.

So, why not give Flickr Creative Commons pictures a try the next time you want an image for a worksheet, or to use as a stimulus for creative writing, or to support a discussion task, or to illustrate a point, or...? You get the picture? :-)

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Monday, July 10, 2006

EdCompCast - what's that?

In a fit of enthusiasm, I managed three EdCompBlog podcasts and had planned a semi-regular series. I even recorded some stuff with students for EdCompCast number four, but just never seemed to get the time to edit it together.

Originally uploaded by
As part of my pre-summer break tidy up, I decided I'd better do something with the stuff I'd recorded and was ashamed to discover how old it was. The last time I published a podcast was December 2005 and I think I recorded this interview towards the end of January 2006! Oops!

Anyway, for what it's worth, here are the thoughts of two of the students from just before they went out on their second school placement.

EdCompCast 4

I edited out the second half of the interview which includes stuff from another student. It is about how he hoped to do something about blogs with his pupils while on placement. I'll try to put that into EdCompCast number 5 some time in August to clear the decks for what will hopefully be a more regular podcast service next session.

I hope you find this interview interesting despite it being so late... if nothing else, it has the virtue of being short!

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P.S. In the podcast we talk about, "Lesley of the pink blog fame". The pink blog is of course To Probation and Beyond. We also talk about the computer lab Flickr exercise we did. You can see the sample picture I posted and read about what we did in Flickr: Note this! Finally, I have added some javascript courtesy of called Play Tagger which allows you to play the mp3 file from within my blog. Should have explained all that in the first place, but better late than never, eh? :-)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A pirate's life for me!

Pirate cat
Originally uploaded by gadgetgirl.
I fear that the three Muir daughter's interest in Johnny Depp verges on idolatry, but nonetheless, the Muir family went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest today. For some time, our favourite pirate joke has been:

Why are pirates called pirates?

They just aaarrrr!

However in a flash of inspiration, perhaps prompted by the film, daughter number three came up with:

What is a pirate's favourite country?


This then started a flurry of nonsense. The best (and trust me, these are the best!) are reproduced below for your edification and enjoyment... well they are definately reproduced below. :-)

What is a pirate's favourite shop?


Where do pirate penguins live?

The Antaaarrrrtic.

What do pirates drive?

Caaarrrs (and aaarrrrticulated lorries).

What do you call a large cohort of pirates?

Avast aaarrrrmy.

How do pirates speak?

They use the venaculaaarrrr.

Where do pirates go for fun?

The aaarrrrcade.

Who is a pirate's favourite Star Wars character?

Queen Aaarrrrmidala.

Well, it amused us. :-) Feel free to add some of your own.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

ScotEdublogs is proud to announce the arrival of...

{Note: This entry was not properly indexed by Technorati. Their hepdesk people suggested changing the post date to try and fool Technorati into re-indexing it. If it also fools your aggregator - sorry.}
ScotEdublogs is proud to announce the arrival of... a brand new red and blue logo.


The logo arrived after a short but interesting labour and her parents have decided to call her TeachMeet06.

The really exciting part of this new arrival is that you can have a hand in her development. Just go to the TeachMeet wiki page and see what you can do to help. For more distant relatives, who want follow her progress, don't get agrevated - read the aggregation instead!

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Getting ratty with Technorati :-)

Technorati badges
Technorati Schwag
Originally uploaded by manu!.
{Note: This entry was not properly indexed by Technorati. Their hepdesk people suggested changing the post date to try and fool Technorati into re-indexing it. If it also fools your aggregator - sorry.}
When it comes to Technorati, I swing from delight to despair.

Delight because it is a stunningly useful service. It is a great way to track who is talking about what. I even find it helpful when trying to remember what I have written about as I often I find myself using my own Technorati search box that I recently added to the sidebar of this page. When it works I love it!

Despair because I find it a little flaky when it comes to recognising my some of my posts.I have had this problem intermittently ever since I started using Technorati tags and have never had a satisfactory explanation. Is it me? Is it Blogger? Is it Technorati? Is it some bizarre combination of factors? Or is it none of the above?

I have emailed their technical help in the past, but although on one occasion they fixed it and the pages were eventually listed, I never found out why the problem arose in the first place. Most recently, my ScotEdublogs is proud to announce the arrival of... post was ignored by Technorati.

Another thing I found problems with was when I went back and add a new tag to post that Technorati had already found and listed. (Specifically, I added the EduFlickr tag to Flickr: Note this! and Getting to know you... with Flickr.) However, although one of these post can still be found by searching for one of the original tags, I can't find any way to make Technorati add the new tag to its entry for these old posts. I've tried pinging directly and through Ping-o-matic but it didn't seem to help.

I have emailed their technical support again, but if anyone else can offer support, advice or explanation, I'd be very grateful.

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