Tag Archives: students

Great Podcasts for Education

Early this year my car radio decided to quit and I haven’t had chance to fix it yet. Given I work an hour away from home, this could make for some very long and boring commutes to and from school. Luckily there are a whole range of interesting and informative podcasts that I’ve managed to track down, and I thought I’d start to compile a list of suitable educational ones here on this blog.

Are there any educational podcasts that you love? I’d like to keep expanding on this list so please let me know!


Blogging and your online profile

Question: If you were to do a Google search on your own name, what would appear on the results page?

I ask this for a reason, not simply because I want people to satisfy their inner narcissists. Through the rapid increase in social media, people’s lives have become more and more public. As a result of this, it has become increasingly common over the past decade for potential employers to “google” the names of applicants to their organisation. Decisions can be made about that applicant and their suitability for the company based on what the search engine digs up about them.

Scary, right?

Maybe. But maybe it also presents an opportunity for individuals to take control of their online reputations in a powerful way. As educators, we spend so much time teaching students about their own digital footprints and online reputations, but is everybody also walking the talk?

Our digital profiles can paint a picture of us as individuals and as professionals in one of three ways:

1. Over-sharers of personal information who should review the privacy settings of our personal (insert name of relevant social networking site here) page.

2. Technology-savvy professionals who use social media, blogging and other tools effectively to network, collaborate, share ideas, and create.

3. Or…non-existent (at least according to cyberspace).

Personally, in a professional world so driven by local and global connections, I know which I would prefer….

Today I presented two short workshops to staff at our school about the place of blogging in education. I started by explaining how I began my ed-tech journey, which has been discussed in a previous post on this blog, and then launched into the question: WHY BLOG?

In researching this presentation, I came across many reasons that people blog professionally and academically:

– facilitate reflection on learning (for students and teachers)
– record professional development
– promote collaboration
-connect with others locally and globally
– writing practice for students
– share ideas and resources
– authentic audience
– share class news
– a digital display of learning

I have posted the link to the Prezi for my whole presentation below, but there are a couple of points I wanted to focus on in particular here.

The Australian Curriculum is now upon us and has been for some time for English, Maths, History and Science. In my opinion, it seems to call for greater metacognition and reflection on learning than we have seen formalised in curriculum documents prior to now. It also recognises through the General Capabilities and the Cross-curricular Priorities the increasingly connected world our students (and our teachers!) exist in. The public but moderated realm of the educational blog means that students can connect with an  authentic audience, engage in discussion and productive critique, share ideas and connect with others locally and globally – all the while continually learning, unlearning and relearning in an authentic manner as the AC proposes they need to be able to do. Of course, the achievement standards will be met in different ways in different subject areas, so it is open for collaboration and negotiation between teachers and students to set the parameters and expectations. These blogs are also the beginning of a personal profile that students can present to future employers as evidence of a vast range of skills needed for the workforce of today and the future.

In regards to educators, blogging is a fantastic way to engage with and reflect on professional learning, connecting with others from outside of one’s usual group of colleagues. These reflections and new knowledge can then be shared through professional networks on social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Linked In. Also, with the AITSL National Professional Standards for Teachers now in many educators’ minds, it is a great time to recognise where educational blogging helps teachers to meet these standards. Not only is a blog a great record of professional learning required for re-registration, but it specifically ticks the boxes a number of the standards. Take the highly accomplished teacher standards for example. A professional blog goes a long way to achieving the requirements for the following:

2.6 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) – Model high-level teaching knowledge and skills and work with colleagues to use current ICT to improve their teaching practice and make content relevant and meaningful.

4.5 Use ICT safely, responsibly and ethically – Model and support colleagues to develop strategies to promote the safe, responsible and ethical use of ICT in learning and teaching.

6.2 Engage in professional learning and improve practice – Plan for professional learning by accessing and critiquing relevant research, engage in high quality targeted opportunities to improve practice and offer quality placements for pre-service teachers where applicable.

6.3 Engage with colleagues and improve practice – Initiate and engage in professional discussion with colleagues in a range of forums to evaluate practice directed at improving professional knowledge and practice, and the educational outcomes of students.

So, I want to finish with the question: the next time someone “Googles” your name, what will they find? And what do you want them to see? Over-shares of your private life, the internet’s equivalent of white noise, or a connected professional who engages in life-long learning and development with colleagues from across the country and world?

Full Prezi: http://prezi.com/x6riavwg9tkn/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0share

Creative Catastrophe – reflections on a digital unit for Year 8

Over the past few weeks a colleague and I have been working on a collaborative project with our Year 8 English classes that involved teaching persuasive language through a topic on copyright, plagiarism and Creative Commons.

We perceived a need among our students to develop their understanding of what it actually means to create their own original piece of work, and what the limitations are on their use of other people’s ideas and works for their own purposes. The idea for the unit lent itself brilliantly to teaching about digital citizenship and what their rights and responsibilities are as both consumers and creators of content in both the digital and the physical world.

After hearing Selena Woodward speak at the South Australian English Teachers Association conference in May of this year, we were excited and inspired to begin the project. And so were our students when we explained it to them – it’s main selling point for  them being that they got to create a video at the end.

I have made videos with classes before. I should have known how exhausting it would be. I was so excited about the concept that I forgot.

We started by posing the following question to the students in the form of a video stimulus: “What can we do to draw upon other people’s work but avoid plagiarism?” We then went through a process of building persuasive language skills and understanding of copyright laws and Creative Commons. Students used this learning to work in groups and create a persuasive video response to the original problem that had been posed to them.

Some of the challenges of this somewhat-inquiry based project included the anxiety of relinquishing some control to the students in terms of where they went with their suggested solutions to the problem and how their product developed. Yet this was also an opportunity in that the onus was on them to work together effectively and solve problems, hence helping to build the resilience I am aiming for with my class. There was also the challenge of getting students out of their comfort zones. Many of them have used Windows Movie Maker before, but they were reluctant to try new programs such as Powtoon or other animation based software. And then there was the degree of trust in the students required to do the right thing as they moved around the school to film.

There were many opportunities though, which outweighed the challenges. It was great to see students who wouldn’t normally work together so enthusiastic about their shared ideas and work. Unlike the last time I had students create videos, this task was far more structured in terms of a step-by-step process and the language structures students were required to use. The accessibility of students’ smartphones and tablets also made  the facilitation of the filming and editing much easier as they simply had to plug in and go, rather than sharing the school’s limited video cameras among many groups.

Click here to see the students’ reflections on the project and some of the final products. To be honest, they were a little more amateurish than I had envisioned. But when I think about it, they are Year 8s, and the concepts they are talking about are actually quite complex. So I’m very proud. We may need to work on some editing skills though…

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Creative Catastrophe – reflections on a digital unit for Year 8 by Melissa Phillips is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at 8 Faulkner’s Class Blog.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://melissasphillips.wordpress.com/about/.

Pressed for time…

After an email from a parent tonight, I was left in a bit of a pensive mood. I reflected on the fact that teaching is one of the few professions where there is an unwritten expectation from some people that we fix the problems of all of our clients, 30 young people at a time in a 45 – 90 minute time slot, as well as helping them learn skills and content. That’s a tough ask, and made me feel a bit disheartened. Then I did the maths.

As a secondary school teacher, I teach approximately 150 kids across 7 classes. Let’s say I’m in the classroom for 5 hours a day. That’s 300 minutes of face to face time. Now, I usually see about 90 of those kids per day on average. Divide 300 minutes by 90 and mathematically speaking, each student should get 3.33 minutes of time with me per day. Oh, but then subtract the time I spend instructing, talking to the class, dealing with behavioural issues, supporting the students who are struggling the most. Time is whittled down until some kids don’t get any one on one time at all.

This disheartened me even more. Until I let the maths go and thought about it from a social/emotional perspective.

This is the reality of secondary teaching, but the kids cope. They may not all get equal one on one time with us (as much as they are entitled to, in my opinion) but that doesn’t mean they’re not watching us, learning from and with us and engaging with us. It doesn’t mean we’re not helping them in one way or another just because we don’t spend 3.33 minutes standing by their desk, just for them. Hopefully they develop the capacity to become the independent but connected problem solvers they need to be out in the big wide world. Because it’s not the teachers who need to solve the kids’ problems – but we CAN help them with the skills to find solutions.

So to get back to my opening point: no, teachers cannot fix all of the problems that kids face. As much as we’d love to, there’s not enough time in the day. But what we do manage to achieve in that average of less than 3 minutes per kid per day – knowing them, caring for them, nursing them – is pretty darn amazing and something we can be proud of!

Helping children to cope with the inexplicable

Part of the partnership between educators and parents involves helping children develop their understanding of themselves and their relationship with the world they live in. It’s a big task but I think overall teachers and parents as a collective group do a darn good job of it. Between the exploration of amazing scientific phenomenon, learning and playing with languages, engaging in many artistic pursuits, exploring spirituality (in some cases) and all of the rich opportunities that learning in its various forms presents, children have the chance  to begin to develop an incredible awareness of their world.

But how do we help them to understand what is seemingly inexplicable, even to adults?

This morning we woke up to the horrific news of the Boston Marathon bombings. Images of smoking buildings, terrified and bloody people, and a blood-stained street flashed across our television, computer and mobile device screens all day. They will continue to do so for days and weeks to come as the fall out continues.

On social media there has been an outpouring of grief, condolences, prayers and expressions of disbelief from across the world. Just like the recent Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, there has been coverage in such a way that did not even exist on September 11, 2001.

Meanwhile in Iraq, 50 people have been killed and 300 injured in 30 bomb explosions in the past 24 hours. Of course, the coverage of this has paled in comparison to that of the events in the United States. Perhaps this is because Iraq seems so distant and different from our home compared to the USA – the streets of Boston could have been the streets of a city here in Australia. But it is still horrific violence.

Whether in Iraq or in Boston, there are only two words that go some way to explaining such events. They are words that are used far too flippantly in our day-to-day language but that also carry with them a certain ambiguity that prevents being able to fully understand them.

Hatred and evil.

So how do we even begin to understand or cope with this? And how do we help our students and children to do so?

We focus on the love and the good in the world.

We remind ourselves and them that, as comedian Patton Oswalt wrote in response to today’s events, “good will always outnumber evil.”

We help them to see that even in the most horrific of situations, “you will always find people who are helping.” (Fred Rogers)

We give them  time to talk and to ask questions. And we are honest in our responses.

We make sure they know that they are loved completely and unconditionally. Our young people are growing up in a world and time characterised by an incredible uncertainty. We need them to have a sense of safety and security both emotionally and physically in order to endure the uncertainties of life.

And in our incredibly busy lives, we take the time to be grateful for our own lives and for our loved ones. Because that love is what matters the most in life. And hatred and evil may hurt us, but they can’t put an end to love.

Love conquers all.



What my students have taught me so far…

The last day of school for the year. It’s one that I look forward to with great anticipation from about two weeks into Term Four. Yet inevitably, every time it arrives, I feel a sense of sadness that I have to say goodbye to the students that I have just spent the whole year getting to know as a wonderful group of individuals. This year was particularly sad for me because I caught a nasty bug on last-day-of-the-year eve, and so was unable to go to work to farewell and congratulate a class that has achieved so much, both as a group and individually throughout the year.

Nevertheless, this is always a time of reflection for me and I realise that whilst I have just spent the year being ‘their teacher’, they have also been ‘my teachers.’ And they have taught me things over the past three years that can never be planned for in a lesson plan. Below are just a few:

1. The importance of routine and consistent expectations. For and of both them and me.

2. As much as I try, I may never be able to understand or fix the problems they face outside of school which affect their learning. I can focus on making school a safe place for them where they feel respected and valued.

3. Whilst they may not always show it, teenagers do appreciate their teachers. Most of the time poor or rude behaviour is not personal but reflective of the young person’s own negative experiences and choices.

4. Take time out to be silly, have fun and just laugh with them. And be comfortable with laughing at yourself.

5. Be honest. At all times. With yourself and them.

What lessons have your students taught you? Please feel free to share via a comment if you wish.

I hope you all have a wonderful end to the school year.


Shaking off the end of year ‘funk’

It’s that time of term/year again. The end of year funk: the last two or three weeks of a busy term when energy levels are bottoming out but your list of things that must be achieved before the kids leave at 12.30 on that last day is growing exponentially by the minute. There are camps, swimming carnivals, socials, end of year masses, Year 7 transition days, alternative programs to keep students engaged in the last week of term, and don’t forget marking, marking, MORE marking and reports, reports, reports.

Schools are always busy, no matter the term, but maybe Term 4 feels different because we are exhausted from the three-term marathon we have already run. And what a marathon! We journey with our students through so many highs and lows, as well as our own highs and lows, that it’s no wonder we might start to feel like we’re fading.

But something always gets us through – maybe it’s our family, our colleagues, students or sheer commitment and determination. I think for me it’s a combination of all of the above. I am supported by a wonderful partner and family who allow me to talk things through but do not allow me to wallow in self-pity, colleagues who I can bounce ideas off of, discuss concerns and have a laugh or a cry with (I share an office with a wonderfully eclectic bunch of ladies who are like family. In fact they’ve probably seen me laugh and cry more in the last three years than my immediate family have!). Then there are my students – the ones I ultimately work for. I received a beautiful letter from one of those students whilst on camp last week and it reminded me that as much as my class is the source of many concerns and frustrations for me, they are also the cause of much joy and pride. And it is they who know teacher-me better than anyone else. They know how to make me laugh, how to press my buttons, and some of them (only some!) have seen me cry (human emotions from a teacher? Shock horror!)

And so I realise that, as much as it is my role to help get those kids over the line and send them off on Christmas holidays brimming with well-deserved pride in their achievements, they also journey with me (although they probably don’t know that) and get me across the line.

So for my Australian readers. whatever it is that helps you keep what’s left of your sanity and reach the light at the end of the tunnel, may your last 3 weeks of the school be the most successful and rewarding for you!

Bullies and bystanders

Sometimes I wish my mind would stop ticking over. Just. Stop. For an evening. Please!

That was my plan for tonight. A mindless evening on the couch. Having just returned from 3 fantastic days of Year 8 Camp with my gorgeous homeroom (who, as much I love them, I am now exceedingly glad to send home to their parents and have a reprieve from) I decided to indulge in a bath, a couple of glasses of the FABULOUS Wirra Wirra Church Block and some magazines. I went for Women’s Fitness and Marie Claire. Maybe, considering my goal, I should have chosen something trashier. Open the latest issue of Marie Claire to be drawn into a great feature called “A letter to my bully…” . The article included poignant letters from a number of medium to high profile Australian women (including Ruby Rose, Sarah Lloyde and Jesinta Campbell) to the bullies who had tormented them through their teenage years. Goodbye mindless evening – hello constant stream of thoughts.

Bullying is not a new issue. Not at all. But with the proliferation of technology and social media, perhaps it has become more noticeable and unrelenting because of the potential 24 hour access bullies now have to their victims.

On a personal note, I distinctly remember the bullying I, myself, endured during primary and high school. I remember the friend in Year 5 who all of a sudden turned against me and said nasty things to the other kids in my class behind my back and then to my face. As a kid who loved school, Mum knew something was wrong when I started getting upset about having to go. I was fortunate enough at that time to have a close group of friends from other classes that I coped after that friendship disintegrated. But things were different when I went to high school. Only one of my close friends went to the same school as me and she was in a different class and joined a different circle of friends. I still maintain some contact with her and another close primary school friend via Facebook – our friendship wasn’t broken but it is safe to say that our lives have taken different directions which has made it difficult to catch up regularly.

Beginning at a new school with a new class proved a huge challenge for me. I was one of those students who kept a very close circle of friends and did not venture far from them, and who immersed myself in my school work (as I said, I LOVED school, and still do!!). All of a sudden I had to find acceptance with a new group of people. I certainly developed friendships at the school but they were not close. And looking back at it now, I realise that the bullying started early on although I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, acknowledge it. The ‘alpha male’ of my class intimidated me into showing him my test answers. I was a very capable student and had quite a reasonable vocabulary for my age so snide comments were consistently directed my way about using ‘big words’ or being the teacher’s pet. And they were not said in a nice –  or friendly joke – kind of a way. Don’t get me wrong – I worked HARD for my grades – they were not achieved through any particular talent. When my parents wanted to transfer me to a different school half way through the year, I threw a tantrum because ‘all my friends’ were at the school. By the end of the year, when I had had my shoe laces tied together for one of those ‘friends” entertainment and had pencil sharpenings tipped through my hair, coupled with the humiliation of my music teacher attempting to pick them out for me (I seriously would have preferred he had left them there, just to spite the cruel boy who did it) I asked my parents to take me out. I know many kids endured and endure far worse things than I did, but I still distinctly remember the sick feeling in my stomach every time some of those classmates spoke to me or came near me, because instinct told me what was coming. I hate to imagine how other students feel. Every. Single. Day. I even remember the Deputy of the Middle School telling my parents that I, like most of the other students who transferred to the local Catholic school, would probably be back within six weeks. He didn’t know me at all and missed the mark. Completely. My parents withdrawing me and sending me elsewhere was the best decision they could have made for me.

Fortunately, mine is a good news story, and my new school, my new friends and the friends I did choose to keep from my old school (and who I still consider friends despite our very occasional contact) restored my faith in schools and people. Without doubt, bullying still occurred at the new school – I still have clear memories of my younger sister facing some pretty nasty bullies – but the way it was reported and dealt with was completely different and, most importantly, gave the victims voice. The pastoral care system ensured that teachers knew us as people first and students second, and it explicitly recognised (and enacted in its processes) that our emotional well-being and sense of personal safety was central to our learning. We were empowered to take a stand against bullying- something I did not feel I had as a student at my old school. The thing about the bullying we faced, however, was that it was mostly done face-to-face. Whilst we only graduated from high school in the mid-2000’s, social media had not yet taken off. Home was still a refuge from our bullies. Not so much anymore.

Now, as an educator it still absolutely baffles me how some students can treat each other the way that they do. Behaviours are learnt, or developed from somewhere. But where some of them come from I don’t think I will ever know. I find the negative way in which some girls treat their ‘friends’ incredibly confusing and difficult to deal with. For some reason females seem to have buried deep within ourselves  this frightening ability to destroy the souls of others through psychological abuse. I struggle to understand why girls and women (and I certainly do reprimand myself for this at times) can become so focused on pointing out the flaws and vulnerabilities of other females, rather than celebrating each others’ beauty and talents. Why do we, as a general group, sometimes develop this urge to ‘bring her down’?? And usually for a petty reason or no reason at all.

And girls are so underhanded in the way that they bully. Yes, studies say girls are becoming more physically aggressive, but I still find my girls, when they do bully, can be sneakier, crueler, and inflict more emotional scars than the boys. I would rather deal with two boys having it out with each other than two girls. I find boys are just so much more open about why they are doing what they are doing.

My last post was about empathy -about understanding others’ emotions and reacting in a way that helps them to develop a more positive outlook or take a more helpful course of action. I have been talking with my Year 8 key class about empathy and kindness and how we might demonstrate that in our day-to-day interactions. This was one focus of our camp over the last few days. This has strong connections to our discussions throughout the year about not being a bystander when bullying occurs. Someone who has empathy will take an active stand against bullying and defend the rights of the victims without forgetting (but not excusing!) what might cause the bullies to act the way they do. There are many campaigns empowering people to cease being a bystander, including a fantastic advertisement by the Catholic Education Office of Wollongong (click here to view on YouTube). Our students need to learn that it takes strength, courage and a sense of justice to combat the negativity of bullying, and that ultimately, it comes down to them working with teachers, parents and other adults in the community to ensure everybody’s well-being.

But even adults don’t seem to do this very well sometimes. Recently, ex-model and Australian television personality Charlotte Dawson admitted herself to hospital following abuse from Twitter trolls. Some adults callously commented that she should ‘suck it up’ because abuse comes with being a media personality. But does it? I don’t think  being the victim of school or workplace bullying comes in any contract that adults or youth might sign. So why should people, celebrity or not, have to just ‘put up with it’.

Like so many people, I still remember the faces of the students who bullied me. I now teach in the local area that I went to school in and, every now and then, I pass the people who tormented me in that first year at high school. We are all now in our mid-twenties and most of them don’t remember me. But I recognise them. And I will not forget how they made me feel. But they also serve as a reminder for me about how far I have come. I only hope that many others come out the other side of that darkness and feel the same way.

Food for thought

Food has its own language, I’m sure. Whilst never having been a particularly great cook, some of the most amazingly special moments I have shared with family and friends have been over food.

I also get a little bit excited every time Term 4 comes around because we finally cover the ‘Il Cibo’ (‘The Food’) unit in Year 9 Italian. I am a big believer in students understanding that there is more to culture and language than food. Going in to the kitchen also acts as somewhat of a reward for the hard work the students have put into the last couple of years. So, I wait equally as patiently as my students to get them cooking, and as a result, eating.

This week I took both of my Year 9 Italian classes into the kitchen and showed them how to make pasta from scratch. It never ceases to amaze me how this lesson always turns out to be a bonding session of sorts. Students who only ever seem to want to play games on their laptops during classes, would prefer not to participate in class discussion, and complain about how ‘old-school’ paper and pen are get so excited and engaged when faced with the simplest of ingredients and an ‘old-school’ recipe that people have followed for centuries!

I also learn so many things about the students from these activities. The nature of our LOTE timetabling means that I have a very limited amount of time with my Italian students, making the development of relationships quite challenging. But step into the kitchen and I find out about the challenging boy who works as a kitchen hand in a local winery and has an incredible passion for food and another boy who avoids any form of classwork and talks incessantly while I’m trying to teach, yet in the kitchen is the one telling everybody else to be quiet so he can concentrate on my demonstration.

Then there are the girls who work so quietly and gently in their groups, as concerned about getting their dough perfect as they are about their test scores. And then there’s the gratitude from the students who don’t often show gratitude for a carefully planned and strategically implemented lesson but who are the first to say thank you for such a task.

Given the busy nature of society these days, I do wonder how many of the students I teach actually sit down to a regular meal with their family. And how many spend time helping out in the kitchen learning how to make fresh, healthy food? Surely this is an equally important part of a child’s education, helping them to develop healthy habits, healthy relationships and a healthy sense of self? But in a time poor society, how much of a reality is this for many kids?

I am still in the very early years of my career as an educator, but already I know that I learn more from sharing these moments with my students than I ever do when we are in our normal classroom. And I can only hope that they learn more from me this way too.

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