My head is in the clouds with Wordle!

Words I Live By

One of a long, long list of positives that came out of the 2008 Knowledge Bank Online Conference was that I was introduced to Wordle. The Wordle site describes it as “a tool for generating word clouds from text that you provide”. For those who may not be familiar with the term “word cloud”, greater prominence is given to words that appear more frequently in the source text. The Wordle site allows you to enter your own text, a URL or even a delicious username to generate your word cloud. Word clouds can then easily be added to the Gallery, generating its own URL. It is one of the few sites that doesn’t require you to sign up for an account! You can also easily print your Wordle or use a screen grab tool to save your word cloud to import to another application.

Initially, I was attracted to Wordle because of the tools available to customize your word cloud. The site gives you the ability to alter the font, colour and even direction of the words. It wasn’t until after I created my first Wordle that I realised that there was much more to this tool!

After posting a link to the site on our school’s twitter page, I started to receive some wonderful ideas, especially from the Director of Early Learning Centre, the wonderful Lisa!

I thought the use of VoiceThread might be a nice way to not only share a few simple Wordles with my colleagues but, more importantly, to get them to share the way they are using Wordle. I would love to hear about your ideas, so please feel free to add to our VoiceThread below or click here.  If you do not have a VoiceThread account, please post a comment. 🙂

For me in my role as Staff ICT Trainer, I enjoy using Wordle to enhance presentations and give staff a “snap shot” of a particular topic. Wordle is yet another example of a simple yet highly effective tool that is only limited by our imaginations!


 

“…Kids have souls too that need nurturing, no matter how resistant or damaged they may be”

Quote by Karl Menninger

When Jim Stynes was asked about his school days in the June 2008 issue of iteach, the newsletter of the Victorian Institute of Teaching in Australia, he was asked the following question:
“What contributions do teachers make to society?” Stynes replied,
“Many help shape the minds and souls of our greatest students and prepare them for the challenges ahead. Unfortunately, some still don’t recognise that kids have souls too that need nurturing, no matter how resistant or damaged they may be.”

Reading this made me think of an article I had read earlier by The Revd Dr Timothy Gaden (Dean of the Theological School & College Chaplain, Trinity College, University of Melbourne) after he gave a presentation at my school. I was unable to see his presentation but was told that it was a “hot topic that had generated a great deal of spirited discussion”. Tim spoke about “the education of the whole person” and how, as teachers, we need to be mindful of the powerful role we play in nurturing our students. As it is something that I am quite passionate about, I eagerly read Tim’s article passed onto me by our School Chaplain. I am very grateful to Tim for allowing me to share his article and write about it in this blog.

Tim began his article by describing the teachers that left a lasting impression on him.

“I hardly remember anything that they taught me, but I remember them. And you will have your own memories of teachers who taught you. It is unlikely that you, any more than I, remember them because of what they taught. I bet that you remember them for how they taught, for who they were as people.”

He then quoted American Psychologist, Karl Menninger, “What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches.” (How I love this quote!)

I had not even reached the end of the first page, yet what I was reading was having a huge impact. I was thinking to myself, “Yes, I bet it was a spirited discussion!”

He spoke of teachers going to class, himself included, with a “big, fat syringe” of content that needs to be taught in order to cover the curriculum so that students can achieve good exam results.

If you are unable to read his 4.25 pages of brilliance, I would encourage you to think about where you fit in. Are you a teacher who is a mentor, who nurtures the learner? Or are you under pressure to focus on the content? Maybe you are a balance between the two? At this year’s ICTEV Conference, Tasmanian Educator, Margaret Meijers, said in her keynote address, “Teachers are still clinging on trying to be the experts.”

So what does all of this have to do with ICT in Education? To me, ICT provides the perfect opportunity to empty that “big, fat syringe” of content in exciting and engaging ways for our students. However, there are some instances where the right tools will also provide us with the opportunity to “educate the whole person” and connect on a level that can often not be achieved via traditional means.

I have seen a perfect example of this with Andrew Douch, a Biology teacher who has an amazing rapport with his students with an incredible ability to connect with them. Of course, in Andrew’s case, being a warm and friendly person certainly helps! However, his use of emerging technologies has helped him to connect with his students in a very special way. You only need to look at Andrew’s facebook page and read the endless posts from past and present students to see that he is admired by many.

I think at times we completely underestimate the impact we have on our students. Our influence may not become apparent for many, many years to come. And what an incredible vocation it is, to have the opportunity to shape people’s lives.

Quote by Bertrand Russell

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Will I strike gold today? Education Expo 2008

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My Director of ICT often talks about attending Professional Development and Conferences and finding the “gold nugget” – that one special thing that you can take away with you. The Education Expo is held each year in Sydney and is a free community event showcasing all-things education and with a focus on eLearning. I had never attended the Education Expo before so was very keen to see what it was all about.
There is something quite appealing about a short visit to a busy city like Sydney. Maybe because my new home is so different! Could this expo really be as big as they say? And will I find a “gold nugget” today? Yes and yes!
The first thing that caught my attention was the huge Mathletics display. It was certainly a very clever setup. A number of computers for children to compete against each other using the program with LCD screens displaying the participants’ results. As I walked back-and-forth throughout the morning, the Mathletics area was constantly buzzing with activity. There is certainly no doubt that students love this concept.
The makers of Mathletics have now introduced Spellodrome, the same type of concept for Spelling. It looked promising but I had not struck gold – yet.
I met the friendly crew at the Australian Defence Forces stand who were very keen to hear about our Aviation Program. Roger Barrow has run ‘Ad Astra Aviation’ as part of our withdrawal enrichment program for gifted and talented students in Years 7, 8 and 9. Upon hearing this, the officer was only too happy to give me a generous handful of materials including free flight simulator DVDs. There are many fabulous resources available from the Australian Defence Force Academy and officers will also visit schools to give career talks.
I was very impressed with a financial literacy program called Kids Money. I spoke to Greg Smith, the program’s creator, financial advisor and writer for Woman’s Day. I believe that teaching our children financial literacy from a young age is something that we overlook as parents and something that is sadly lacking in our curriculum. Yes, we cover ‘Money’ in our Maths curriculum, but do we teach our students financial literacy? The only program that I know of is ‘Earn & Learn’. I wonder if there are other Primary School teachers including finacial literacy in their curriculum?
The program makes use of a variety of resources such as:
> A cleverly designed money box that will make you immediately realise that the days of one cute piggybank are gone!
> CD with spread sheet software designed to help children keep track of their money
> Picture story books with appealing characters and stories to illustrate and teach different aspects of financial literacy
> Colouring book
> Web site with supporting activities
I purchased the items for my own daughter and am keen to see her response. I can also see great possibilities to include this type of program in our primary curriculum. But how can we introduce it? I have one enthusiastic staff member who has used ‘Earn & Learn’ and the ‘Cash Flow for Kids’ game with his students at previous schools. Perhaps this program could be introduced as part of a Special Curriculum Project at our school? A Special Curriculum Project allows a teacher to submit a curriculum idea that is supported through funding for equipment, resources, professional development and time. The teacher presents his/her progress throughout the year to the school’s Curriculum Committee. I am hoping that a Special Curriculum Project could be the “kick start” that is needed to introduce something like Kids Money to our students.
So, was Kids Money the “gold nugget”? Yes, the first one, that is. Soon after I found my second…
Having recently purchased an Eee PC that runs on the Linux Operating System, I was excited to see a Linux stand at the Education Expo. The Linux folk are definitely not your usual Computer Geeks (and I use that term as a compliment). I love the Linux philosophy, maybe because it is basically one of “sharing”. They are so passionate about software development and about encouraging students to explore the possibilities outside Windows. As an ICT educator, I believe that it is part of my role to make students aware of and, if possible, give them experience with Windows, Mac and Linux Operating Systems. That was one aspect of being a primary ICT specialist that I really enjoyed – giving students a taste of different aspects of ICT.
At the Linux stand I met the lovely Melissa, who introduced me to the One Laptop Per Child computer. A nice, compact computer running on Linux, although I’m not sure about the rubber keyboard. That might take some getting used to! Apparently it retails for around $300 – a great buy.
However, what really impressed me was the Optimate PC by Optima. Apparently it retails for around $400 and, in my opinion, will definitely give the Eee PC a run for its money! It runs on Windows XP and not only appears to be very robust, but weighs less than 1.5kg. If I hadn’t have just purchased an Eee PC, I would definitely be looking more closely into the Opimate PC.
Finally, I was also able to pick up a CD featuring open source educational software that runs on both Linux and Windows. I will be exploring this further to see what can be added to our school network image in the future.
So yes, I did find a “gold nugget” – a couple of them in fact! Not only was I treated to a bit of “time out” in Sydney but also to a great Education Expo!

I have just come across information about The Education Show to be held at Caulfield Racecourse in Melbourne on Friday 8th and Saturday 9th August. This is another exciting free event that not only features an expo but free seminars for educators as well.