PBL: Trying to create the product for the presentation

Thanks to the wonderful and patient Mr Ben Jones, I have almost conquered a beast of a task. Really, a task that should be given to my students. And maybe tomorrow I will.

The concluding product for my class’s last project was an anthology of stories dealing with the issue ‘resilience’. This anthology is to be converted into an eBook that is to be accessed by a QR Code. The QR Codes will be turned into Postcards (or something similar) and stickers. The dream is to have these out in the wider community for young people to ‘stumble’ upon and then through the power of technology, read the stories of resilience which will empower them to see the world in a more positive ‘life is OK’ kinda way. Well …that’s the dream.

I have been given steps from Ben Jones to achieve this goal. Problem is that I am (like I told Ben) a ‘front end of web brain’ which means I can basically click buttons and upload and download stuff. I do the best I can, but any task that requires too much thinking about file extensions et al makes me kinda nauseous.

So here’s what I’ve done so far in an attempt to get my students’ stories from a word doc to an .epub file that will open onto a mobile phone from a QR Code.

I uploaded the .docx a free word to .epub converter. I used both of these suggested by Ben:



Both worked well enough – the file converted fine. The problem was that my mac couldn’t read the file type and therefore would not allow me to save it anywhere once it was downloaded – annoying. I did find that using http://www.epubconverter.org/ did ultimately allow me to save to my desktop as you get the option to right click and ‘save as’.

The next step of course – once the collection of stories saved as a word .docx is converted to the .epub format – is to give it a unique URL that can be transformed into a QR code. I headed over to my blog (this one) which is a wordpress.com blog. I created a new post, clicked on ‘add media’ and ‘select files’ only to discover that it would not allow me to upload .epub files. Damn! So close!

I then went over to weebly.com to try my luck with uploading an .epub file to a webpage. Success! Only problem now is that I can’t work out how that .epub file has a unique url that can be turned into a QR code.

I guess that’s my next challenge. Actually … I think I’m going to try a wiki.

Wish me luck.

And yes, I know all of this learning should be coming from my students – next time they are in charge of sharing the final product. I am a bit of a control freak. Gotta let that go in this 21st century education thingy.


OK, so after much heartbreak and excitement and further heartbreak this is what I ended up doing.

WordPress.com and weebly.com weren’t doing it for me so I headed to the trusty wikispaces.com.

1. I created a new wiki (which isn’t essential – you can use an existing one) and created a new page.

2. I uploaded my .epub file to the page and clicked ‘save’.

3. Then I right clicked the .epub file and clicked ‘copy link location’.

4. I then headed to bitly and shortened the link.

5. I selected the option ‘info page+’.

6. I then clicked on the url underneath the image of the QR code.

Unfortunately the iPhone wouldn’t read the .epub file afterall of my heartache trying to use that format.

Another great twitter mate Warrick Mole told me that you need to upload the .epub files to a book store or similar before the phone can read them. SO what I had to do was save the stories as a PDF because iPhones can read them.

Basically I just went back and did the same steps as before but uploaded a PDF instead of an .epud file.

Guess what? IT WORKED!!

Here is the QR code for my Macbeth assessment: http://bit.ly/oKyv7j.qrcode

HAPPY TEACHER!! Kids are going to be stoked … oh … haven’t done the stories yet or planned my lesson for tomorrow. Oops!


Stop teaching!

Did I get your attention?


I know this is nothing new to those of you who read my blog, but I just wanna say it anyway.

Teachers too often think about themselves.

Well I know I’m a grand-old hypocrite because after all this blog is named after me and is pretty much all about me. Feel free to add your thoughts about my ever-expanding ego as a comment below.

Right now, I’m concerned with the fact that teachers are doing all of the learning and leaving students to be passive receivers. We here all of this talk about passive and active learners. We are told that active learning = doubleplus good and passive learning = doubleplus ungood.

And then we see all of the beautiful resources teachers make for their students.

We see videos.

We see powerpoints.

We see websites.

We see blogs.

We see podcasts.

We see apps for iPhones and iPads.

We see games.

We see worksheets.

Teachers are talented, creative, knowledgeable … they show their students this all of the time.

Students are talented, creative, knowledgeable … we don’t let students show this to us all of the time.

When the new curriculum hits our shores teachers will run to create new programs and resources or they will run to access new programs and resources created by other educators.

Why don’t we just let the students be the creators?

Student as teacher.


Re-discovering online ‘gems’ …

Tonight I am feeling excited about putting the finishing touches on a PBL-style activities matrix for Year 9 novel study. (Haha, mouthful – gotta love edu double-talk) I’ll try to continue this blog post using Orwell’s ‘clear prose style’ and avoid turning into a machine or a dummy!

This task is something that has been gestating in my heat-oppressed brain for many, many months … since I had the pleasure of visiting SCIL at the invitation of Shani Hartley. My job this year is to ensure that we have up-to-date programs for Year 9 English. Because these students are netbook kids I’m having a bit of fun with the task. Problem is that the programs must be accessible for teachers who are not familiar with technology in the classroom or who may resist using it. At SCIL they use a form of learning matrix (based on Blooms Taxonomy and Gardener’s Multiple Intelligences) that gives students the freedom to direct their own learning. It was great watching Year 5/6 students confidently directing their own learning based on their perceived ‘learning styles’ (something that has not surprisingly come under fire by a team of academics led by Hal Pashler, see here). My prac student last year used a form of this matrix with mixed success.

My matrix blends the 5 elements of fiction (plot, setting, characterisation, themes and writing style) and gaming elements (I think, I dunno cos I’m not a gamer so don’t feel confident with gamification … maybe soon) and ICT-based individual and small group tasks. The whole thing is to be completed by a small group of five students within a given period of time (no duh, huh? lol). There are 25 different tasks to complete – each task ranging earning the students between 2 and 10 points. (Aside – many of the tasks have been adapted from a great teacher book, Ignite Student Intellect and Imagination in English by Sandar L. Schurr and Kathy L. LaMorteĀ  (2009) ) Students get ‘completion’ points and ‘success’ points as well as possible ‘bonus’ points for presentation.

Here’s a look at the matrix:

My biggest challenge was creating rubrics for EACH one of the 25 tasks. That’s a LOT of effort – no one really wants to do that, huh? But I remembered a web tool I had been shown years ago – rubistar. It’s such a great tool, literally saving HOURS of time for teachers! And even better – it’s PERFECT for Project Based Learning where students often complete smaller investigations and products on their way to meeting a bigger challenge/answering an over-arching question. I am SO glad I typed rubistar into google tonight on a whim. Already I have created five really effective student and teacher friendly marking rubrics that will ensure my students know what is expected of them for each task to achieve maximum points.

Hoping that the teachers in my faculty like it and don’t think it’s just another example of ‘mental Bianca’! Oh, and even more importantly, I hope our students enjoy the tasks that have been created for them.

Project Based Learning … struggling …

Well I’m feeling as though I am officially ‘back’ at school for Term 2. Last week just wasn’t making me feel down about myself or my ability to teach well.

Today on the other hand …

The day started at a brisk 7.30am with a meet and greet with my new prac student (who is very lovely by the way and I hope to rope her into a guest blog post at some point) and then my double Year 11 class. The class was great – kids were funny, engaged and completed the tasks set for them. Showing Lauren (the prac student) around the school was a breeze as well – in fact, quite fun seeing a new teacher’s reaction to a playground full of students and a maze constructed from concrete and bricks.

Anyway, it wasn’t until the last period of the day that I really started to hit panic mode. My class are in the middle of doing (what I think) is an interesting, engaging and fun project – the students have to work in small groups to create a book trailer. These guys needed to persuade me to want to rush out and buy the book. They needed to draw on all they know about persuasive devices (you can guess what year group they are now, right?). I have included all of the elements that I ‘know’ are elements of a great task: the students could select the book they based the trailer on (they had just finished reading it for literature circles) as well as the other students they worked with, they could select the programs they used to make the trailer also. Tonnes of student-choice and flexibility. That’s what great tasks have, right? Each lesson I have given them a goal setting sheet to complete at the beginning of the lesson as well as a reflection sheet to complete at the end. (I hate that these are ‘sheets’ and not just jotting down goals etc on edmodo – but I accidentally copied too many from a non-netbook class and didn’t want to waste the paper. I hardly think that paper vs. electronic recording of goals/reflection is the root of my problems with the class, but I’m happy to be proven wrong! I would LOVE an online tool to help with the goal-setting/reflection I use in this PBL-style of teaching … but that’s for another post!)

So why have I now spent three lessons with students poorly planning, chatting off task and getting minimal work completed? I am frustrated by this group as being an extension class I would imagine the task would be engaging and something they could do well. I know it’s the group work element and I’m struggling to work out how to improve it. I was so excited about this task, thinking how it will help them improve their understanding of persuasion, audience and purpose as well as shaping meaning within a text. All I seem to have done for three lessons is cajole them along through humour and tactile, external rewards (of the sugary, sweet variety) to get them to make a small dent in the task.

I’m doing something wrong. Maybe I need to start smaller. Perhaps I have not given a strong enough scaffold for the task … I did show exemplars … I gave a rough marking criteria (perhaps this is my flaw, needs to be tighter/clearer/more explicit?) … the audience is even ‘real’ – as the book trailers will be uploaded to youtube with the one getting the most views the winner. The prize is respect. If I was 14 I’d find that cool. But, I’m not. I’m 31 and a complete geek. Hmmm …

Having my mini ‘I am doing it all wrong’ melt down in front of my new prac student isn’t very professional. But it was real. Do I get brownie points for that?

Can you point out what I’m doing wrong? I kinda feel like I better go back to chalk and talk with these guys … maybe they need to be thrown into the cave for a little while. But really, it’s not about me – it’s about them. Maybe they just don’t learn this way? Maybe constructing knowledge with their close peers isn’t their ‘style’? Help!

Reflection on collaborative work prompted by cleaning the toilet bowl …

Yup, I do my best thinking whilst I’m doing a mundane job – not that I want to in any way detract from people who take pride in their work as toilet cleaners, it does indeed take talent to master the perfect shine – and tonight is no exception. Hubby and I are doing a clean of the house before we head off to New Zealand with the boys for a couple of weeks. I’m assuming this is a pretty normal practice, cleaning the house you’re not going to live in for two weeks, or are we just batty? Either way, cleaning the toilet whilst Lee did the vacuuming prompted a reflection on team work.

Do you regularly incorporate team-work or collaborative learning into your teaching program? How often would students be expected to work cooperatively with one or more of their peers in your class? Do you actively encourage students to work with peers who are not considered ‘friends’ or with people who have a vastly different skill set?

The truth is that group work is often resisted by students when it is first introduced for a number of reasons. The main one would be the fear that their own success may be adversely impacted upon by members of their group. Students often don’t trust themselves to be able to stay on task when working with friends. They worry that not everyone will contribute equally to the project or task. Underlying these concerns is the awareness that success in school is a number. Success is measured by that number or percentage doled out by the teacher. Success is not marked by personal growth. It’s a shame that this is the case and that our students understand perfectly well how the ‘system’ of achievement in school works.

Working with my husband to clean the house tonight made me realise that working together to achieve a common goal forced us to unconsciously plan (he had to vacuum the spare room whilst I cleaned the ensuite, then he’d vacuum our bedroom and I’d move to the main bathroom), negotiate (vacuuming is less gross than toilets, but you have to do more rooms) and to chunk a large project (a clean house) into smaller, manageable tasks divided between the group members.

I hope my analogy hasn’t put you off your dinner – but I hope is HAS helped you to see how group work/collaborative learning enables our students to develop so many more real-world skills than independent work ever can.

So – how often do you include group work in your teaching program and is it there just for the sake of it, or do you include it in a meaningful way that ensures students are being assessed on their growth as young thinking citizens, and not just a finished product?

These guys worked together to create a human pyramid - awesome šŸ˜‰

Students as teachers

As you probably know, I’m a little bit interested in Project Based Learning at the moment and as such I have designed all of my programs using key elements of this pedagogy. There have been some serious challenges and some serious successes. In this post I am going to briefly outline an activity that I (hope) will turn out to be one of the success stories.

As all NSW high school teachers know, teaching Preliminary courses are tough to teach, simply because the model of motivation we have in the current system is ‘Succeed or Fail in the HSC’. A direct consequence of this model is student awareness of a task or work ‘counting’ – surely you’ve heard it ‘Does this count towards my HSC, Miss?’ Teacher’s answer – ‘Well, technically ‘no’, but the skills and knowledge you gain from this course will significantly contribute to the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the HSC course.’ What does this student hear? ‘No – this doesn’t count. Just sit there and stare out the window, turn your brain on again in three terms when it IS the HSC.’

And there is the conundrum – teacher see the relevance of the Prelim course (do they?) but the students don’t.

My Preliminary struggle this year is with Year 11 Standard English. I have a wonderful class of funny and friendly students who – for the most part – have never particularly enjoyed English for a variety of different reasons. We’re studying conflict, and as you might know from a previous post, our driving question for this unit is – What are the consequences of encountering conflict in our lives?

In class we have done a variety of different tasks from evaluating a poem and a short story, writing creative pieces and writing mini-essays. Not very inspired tasks but we’re getting there – just passing time getting to know one another and our individual/collective strengths and weaknesses. I introduced a PBL-style possibility (taking what we learn about the consequences of conflict and transforming it into a new text for a new audience – such as students at a local primary school) which we will put into practice in a week or two.

BUT a task that I devised as a means to give my students an ‘authentic audience’ for their analysis of a related text (they need a couple for our Area of Study) really got them thinking in new and creative ways – they were problem solving on their feet! I’m sure you’ve done this before, but if not I think you should! I divided my class in two (two largish groups of 9 students) and had them read, analyse and evaluate a text (picture book or feature article) and then transform this ‘knowledge’ into a lesson plan for the Advanced English class. Remember, my students are the ‘Standard’ class. This was a daunting task – I gave them 3 periods to prepare!

Long story short – my kids shone on the day! Both groups got a kick out of ‘teaching’ what they perceive to be the ‘smarter’ classes – and they HAD to learn themselves in order to be good teachers! It was so cool seeing them answer some rather tricky questions and confidently deliver their own analysis of the text they had studied. It was a proud day for me – and even better when one of my students said, ‘Wow, being a teacher is hard. But it’s kinda fun.’

Have you tried getting your students to be teachers for a day?

Float on …

It is 6.55 am and I am still sitting in my PJs trying to get my mind and body ready for the craziness that is teaching for another year. My tea is brewing, my clothes drying and my family quietly sleeping in their beds. The sun is beginning its slow daily climb above the ocean out my window. My limbs ache having only had four hours to recuperate from yesterday’s Big Day Out. At 31, I’m starting to feel the ill-effects of long days of standing in the sun, dancing to bands amidst a crowd of strangers.

I am dreading today. Well, maybe not today. Maybe Monday when the students resume. Today is just the teachers and a little time to panic quietly and alone in my classroom.

I’ve worked hard for the last two weeks of the school holidays – planning wonderfully rich education experiences for my students in all classes – except for one. Year 12 Advanced English. Why? Because I’m fearful. I fear the big 6 – and I’m not too proud to admit it. The pressure I feel to help my students achieve the ideal – the elusive Band 6 – has tensed my shoulders more than jumping around for an hour an a half whilst progressive rockers TOOL systematically dismantle my perception of reality.

I’ve been moaning with my head in my hands. Crying on the inside at my own lack of knowledge – my inability to teach well, to think critically or to teach thinking critically and independently. My failure to create/mould/shape great writers. It’s been making my heart beat too fast and it’s been upsetting my husband and my kids. This huge summative, state-wide assessment has made me depressed – and I haven’t even stepped foot in the classroom this year!

So I asked some of my ex-students if there was anything I did when I taught them that they liked – no compliment fishing either, just raw honesty I’d expect from these kids. So here’s a couple of words they said that helped me ‘about face my way of thinking’ (Fugazi lyric for those of you playing spot the music geek):

‘you made us think outside the box and come up with original and insightful ways of looking at texts, you challenged us’

‘You have such a gentle approach to your teaching and you are really switched on when you are teaching.’

‘You inspired with your own thoughts and assisted us in reading a text differently and building our skills at actually reading a text. So while you did so much for us in some parts, we were able to take it a step further.’

These comments have meant the world to me. It’s what I thought I couldn’t do – that I needed to take a course in how to do this. But I guess I did it just by liking my subject, my students … They’ve made me relax (and yes, I’m still tense and anxious a bit but hey, that’s my personality – can’t do much about that!) and I’ve decided just to get into the texts I’m teaching – get excited. Get out there!

One student gave me great advice: Get them to talk to each other.

So I’m going to … passion drives a quality lesson. From me, or from them, or from the text – or all three. So that’s my goal for 2011 – enjoy it, relax, float on … especially for my most mature kids. They need me to be there as a whole person. To be strong and model learning for life, not just a test.

PS: I am now going to be late for Day 1. Oh well …