Extreme Adventure!

PLN “journey” doesn’t seem the right word for these seven amazing units of professional development! Let’s try “extreme adventure” or “discovery expedition”!  I have been challenged in a big way but now that I have reached the summit I feel a real sense of achievement and have new vistas in sight!  Before this course I wasn’t sure about what I should be evaluating, what I should be trying to understand and master or how to approach the digital jungle – let alone how, what and why of bringing it to students.  Here is my animoto video

Here’s the Link to Screen cast It is a demonstration of how to use Evernote with Microsoft Outlook. Creating a screen cast is a real test of focus and concentration as you need to know what you are going to say and be very sure of all the steps before you start. I have already started thinking of all the ways I can use it in the Library.  My next screen cast will show Middle School students how to add books to the Premiers’ Reading Challenge.

Thank you very much to the PLN team for a great course and all the encouragement along the way.  Thanks also to those who have accompanied me to the summit!  Looking forward to ongoing sharing with you all!


Learning in a digital world

I don’t like to mix my personal and family life with my professional life.  While I have good relationships with my colleagues, students and their families, I don’t feel the need or desire to share my whole life with them.  Just as I don’t think it appropriate to have students listen in to my conversations in person or on the phone with others, I don’t wish to share my comments I might make or Facebook or twitter with them.  So, I have two facebook  and two twitter accounts.  After a thorough investigation of goodreads, I decided to start a private online book group involving teaching colleagues and year 7-12 students (who are members of a school book group in real time).  Goodreads, although social media is restricted to sharing thoughts and ideas about books and has a lot of educational potential, including setting up profile, issues regarding privacy and modelling appropriate online behaviour.

Jenny Luca’s blog was thought provoking and provided some links to some useful videos to use with Years 7 and 8 students.  The videos were engaging and positive in their approach.  They acknowledge the power and value of social media but teach students about online privacy, appropriate online behaviour and what to do if they don’t feel safe online.

After much thought and changing of mind I have selected the following as the five most important characteristics of effective learners:  creative, curious, focused, flexible and organised.

Creative – I use this adjective in reference to thinking and being open to different ways of approaching life.  Reading others’ writing online exposes you to new ideas and ways of thinking about things.  And of course if you use the word “creative” in a more artistic sense, there are a wealth of apps to express creatively:  photoshop, garageband, imovie, animoto, pic collage, Skitch – to name a few.

Curious – the internet is perfect for stimulating curiosity.  It is very easy to start researching one topic of interest and after many hours to wonder how you finished where you did! Searching like this though can lead to stress and frustration as an assignment or task hasn’t been completed.  And so to the next important characteristic of a good learner – focused!

Focused – I just googled apps to develop focus.  I was amazed to find there are apps called isolator, self control and pomodoro.  The latter app is based on the idea of working and staying focused for 25mins and taking a 5min break!  And I thought a pomodoro was something you would find in a salad!

Flexible – Collaborating with others using social networking is sure to enhance flexible thinking.  Digital technology presents learning in a variety of formats, enhancing students’ ability to learn regardless of their preferred learning style.

Organised – In a digital world, it is increasingly important to be organised.  Students need to learn how to set up their digital device so they can find apps, programs, files.  My school has an app that includes the student’s timetable and teachers enter homework.  As students complete tasks, they mark them off.  Parents wanting to support learning at home can check in on the app.  Apps such as inspirations that include a variety of templates are invaluable for organising ideas and planning essays and assignments and of course, there’s evernote!

And as for the future and how we might learn??  Where’s my crystal ball?  I am confident though if learners develop the above characteristics, they will adapt and enjoy the journey!

Searching, Finding and a “sweet’ surprise!

To evaluate the various search engines, I chose the topic, “First Contact”.  It is a part of the History curriculum for Year 4.  Overall, I have a preference for Google.  I typed first contact Australia in the search box.  In Google, there were no auto suggestions or knowledge graph but there were further suggestions at the bottom of the page.  These could be used to help students develop an understanding of keywords.  On the first page of results, there were three very reliable results including an Australian government website, an engaging, short, relevant utube video and a relevant educational website.  Refining the search according to reading level was particularly useful for this search. Bing produced some very satisfying results.  There was a list of related searches to the left.  This list included:  “first settlement of australia”, “discovery of australia”  and “Australian history”.  Exploring “first settlement of Australia” led to lots of relevant sites including http://gutenberg.net.au/earlysettle.html (primary sources).  The Duck duck go search was very disappointing with the first eight results irrelevant.  While looking at the suggested sites for lesson plans and curriculum to teach website evaluation I discovered Sweet Search a search engine for students.  This site was recommended on the Common Sense Media website.  Each search I conducted on a variety of topics from “first contact Australia” to “what does it mean to be human” produced some great results.  I have added a link to my chrome tool bar and will be certainly using it in the future.

Commonsense media lesson plans look great and seem engaging.  They are graded K-2, grades 3-5, grades 6-8 and grades 9-12.  Google also offer lesson plans on conducting searches and I plan to spend more time having a closer look at these.

The dangers of bread is a great hoax website to introduce evaluating websites with students.  Ken Orenic’s CRAP test is a useful acronym for students to learn.  I used it when evaluating this Amnesty International  article about indigenous rights in Australia.  I chose this site because this organisation is recognised for the work it does to promote human rights internationally.  CRAP test:  Currency – the article was written June, 2012 – it is current.  Reliability – the author’s point of view is made explicit and the author doesn’t try to create a balanced argument.  The article refers to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the “Closing the Gap” policies of the Australian government.  Authority – the website is created by a most reputable organisation.  There is no advertising on the site.  Purpose/Point of View – the purpose of the article was made very clear.  It would be interesting to discuss this website with students given that it makes no apology for a biased view point.  What might an opposing viewpoint be?  How could you access that point of view?  Where you could you find out the facts about how government money is distributed to Aboriginal people?

I have discovered the power of tags with evernote.  When creating a note, I try to think of the possible reasons I would need it again.   eg an incident involving a number of students, I create a tag with each student my House who was involved.  I also name the incident eg throwing stones on courts.  This is my first blog with tags!

Good Reads: “The right book in the right hands at the right time can change the world.”


This unit was a great opportunity to spend time discovering lots about a site that I wanted to share with my school community.  Being social media, I was nervous about recommending that students sign up. I have to admit that I haven’t read any of the privacy policies on sites I use – I just figure I don’t post anything that will later embarrass me, no matter who reads it so don’t worry.  However, despite best advice, students don’t always have this maturity and may post something they later regret.  I recently overheard a conversation between a group of year 7 students talking about “a conversation” that had taken place on one of these platforms (I think it was an imessage group).  One student commented that another’s comment shouldn’t have been made.  The girl who had made it said that it was ok and she would just remove it. The first girl said that may be the case but the original comment would still be on everyone else’s device! After my evaluation for this task, I have taken the plunge, set up a private book group and invited students and staff to join!
There was a massive amount of information about the site to read and as I still felt uncertain, I emailed a query regarding my desire to set up a book group for students.  After a couple of weeks, I received a reply that calmed my fears!  It was suggested that I set up a private group, students 13 years old or more could sign up (you aren’t actually asked your age when signing up) and anyone under the age of 18 should set their profile as “private”.
I have been a member of Good Reads for a year or two and found the site engaging.  Once you start entering books you have read, you receive recommendations about other titles you might enjoy.  You can set annual reading targets, create various lists or “bookshelves” of books you’ve read, want to read or are currently reading.  You can rate what you have read or make comments.  When you add a book you see comments and reviews by others, including your friends.  Good Reads accounts can be linked to your Facebook and/or twitter accounts.  If you write a review, you can elect to have it automatically linked to WordPress or Blogger blogs. You can follow authors and elect to receive an email if they have posted a blog.
There are lots of reasons I think Good Reads could add to students’ reading experience:  the  format is engaging,  exposure to what others write may enhance ability to write about books, there is a real audience for book reviews and comments,  students see other books that may interest them, it is a platform for connecting other readers with similar interests and it is not just a book group with peers but with like minds around the world. Good Reads makes reading a social pursuit, may make students feel more connected to others and part of a reading community – anytime they log on!
I recommend you logon, take the tour of the site and have a play!  I have spent a few hours doing just that and as you can see by my attempt a good reads widget – I am still learning!


I have to admit I am a bit addicted to Facebook!  I have a non-school account under my name Carmel Byrne and my own page Tara Hill Suri Alpaca Stud.  I use this account to optimise contact with family and friends (alpaca and non-alpaca) and we share links related to all things quirky and issues of interest such as refugees, sustainability.  These posts are restricted to people who are “friends”.  My Tara Hill Suri Alpaca Stud page is public and I only post here to promote my stud.  Everything I post to my promotions page is automatically sent to my Tara Hill Alpacas twitter account.  I get feedback from a Pages app on how many people have looked at my promotional posts and find this data very interesting.  I am a member of a couple of Facebook groups relating to alpacas and find the posts really interesting and very informative.

I opened a separate Facebook account to use professionally and have joined a couple of groups but I only look at it about once a week; just skimming down looking for anything that catches my eye. It is a bit frustrating that I can’t have 2 Facebook accounts on my chrome toolbar. I was rapt when I discovered that I could have my second twitter account there, making it a lot easier to dip in. I find twitter much more interesting than Facebook for professional reading relating to learning and literature while Facebook is much more engaging, interesting and informative for reading related to my alpaca business and for personal use. Both Facebook and twitter are blocked on our school network but as most students have facebook and twitter accounts I am sure that it won’t be long before the school uses both these media to communicate more effectively with families even if it just sending out a tweet or making a post with links to the latest school news and blogs on the school website.

Organising Information (or why I love Evernote!!)

Shared note from Evernote

Completing the Research Toolkit (VicPLN short course) last year led to dramatic change (and a wonderful improvement) to my work flow organisation.  My use of paper notes has decreased dramatically and when I need to find a document, email or website I can find it quickly and efficiently.  Most of the change is due to using Chrome and Evernote.

I only bookmark those sites I access very regularly and use the Evernote webclipper to save interesting things I find on the web.  My only difficulty with Chrome is that currently I need to access my library page on the College’s website through Internet Explorer if I want to make any changes.  The same is true if you want to add data to PRC website (you can not come in through Chrome).

And now to the best discovery of all!!  EVERNOTE!!!!!  I upgraded to Premium (about $30 a year) after just a few weeks and it is the best $30 I have spent!  Why do I love it so much??   Most importantly it is very easy to use – intuitive!  I can use and access it whether on my school laptop, my home computer, my iphone and my ipad.  I set up various folders to separate the various aspects of my life: School (with subfolders for my Library work, my Head of House work, PLN etc), Alpacas (for my alpaca farm, alpaca health, alpaca research reading etc) and personal/family.  I also add tags as I need to  eg a student’s name, a topic I am gathering resources on.  Each time I add something to Evernote, I use appropriate tags  and if I am using Windows, a folder.  Unfortunately, apple devices don’t seem to allow you to nominate an Evernote folder when saving (although you can see the folders you create on your windows device).  The tags though are very powerful and I no sooner type what I am searching for in the search tab and everything I have saved with that word in the tag appears.  Saving an email is very easy from Outlook as the Evernote tab is there so I can click and save.  When saving an email from my ipad, I simply forward the email to my evernote account.  Emails (or anything I save to Evernote) can be saved with more than one tag. This is really useful because (unlike with paper sharing or saving to folders in My Documents) you only save once and can retrieve when you enter either tag in the search box. One big advantage of the Premium version of Evernote is that when saving emails, you can choose to save any attachments.  Paper documents such as letters from parents, student statements etc, I scan and save to Evernote.  At last count I had 1081 documents saved.

Hope all that makes some sense, but am always happy to help and answer any questions if I am able (I am sure I am not using Evernote to full capacity yet).

I do have a Diigo account but am not using this as efficiently as I might.  It seems that I will improve my knowledge with this course.

Teaching students about appropriate workflow strategies is of huge importance and I believe it is often overlooked.  All students from Year 5 to Year 12 at my school have their own ipad and many of them are very poorly organised.  Although some subject teachers teach their students about creating folders many seem to assume that students are tech smart.  I take every opportunity I can to assist students with ipad organisation but I don’t have sufficient time with many of them.

My background

I am a full-time teacher librarian at Beaconhills College.  In addition to my teaching job, I am the co-owner of Tara Hill Suri Alpaca at The Gurdies in South West Gippsland. I get a real buzz when I switch  a non-reader on to books or ignite that spark of interest in learning something new! And then to come home to my beautiful farm and amazing animals!  I am truly blessed!

I have been teaching (and learning) for many years and in a range of settings – from Year One classroom teacher to VCE English, to Middle School Maths, to careers teacher, special education teacher, parent educator, FPS teacher and coach and now I think my favourite role – teacher librarian!  I now have the privilege of working with students from Prep to Year 12 across a range of disciplines and of course, working in teams with fellow teachers and with parents.  My teaching career began in the state system in NSW and has included service in primary and secondary schools in Victoria.  My current position is in an independent school.

My formal learning has included diplomas in primary teaching and counseling, special education and masters in ed degrees and a cert 4 in massage – what a mix!   I won’t bore you with all the informal learning.  From what I have read about my PLN colleagues, we have that passion for ongoing learning in common!  I like to keep up with YA and children’s lit but also read about agriculture,especially natural farming, heritage plants, natural medicine and anything alpaca!

I am developing some aptitude with web 2.0 tools.  I did the research toolkit course last year and am a devotee of evernote.  I was using it so much, I needed to upgrade to premium.  I save everything in there  and it is  always easy to find it!  I also use diigo to save links to what I want to read later or things I think might be useful.  Just downloaded Google Reader and I think it will be very useful.  Chrome is great. It’s a pity that some websites, including PRC and my college  don’t support it.  I use facebook (I have 2 accounts – personal and professional).  I also have a farm page. I am member of several facebook groups – education and alpaca – and learn a lot here.  Also have 2 twitter accounts – education and alpaca but I prefer facebook.    I learn a lot from my colleagues, I attend as much PD as I can and I have started attending local SLAV meetings.

This course will reinforce what I learnt in research skills last year and what I have learnt by playing.   I am sure I will also learn heaps of new things!   I just have to be patient when the  computer or ipad doesn’t behave itself!   I look forward also to all that I learn from this PLN community.