Category Archives: eplanks

No school today – or was there?

For the first time in my teaching history, school was cancelled due to impending dangers – high fire risk due to strong winds. It was Monday afternoon, and my double virtual classroom session in elluminate, Ping, with Ajax and the cellist, Rohan from the Melbourne Symphony orchestra had just completed the session. Each week, we logon on quicker, have fewer technical issues etc. Students are becoming accustomed to the routine. Rohan was a particularly vibrant demonstrator with a great sense of humour. I started to hear noise, and realised a student was humming along with the compostition he was playing.  The demonstration session was nearly finished when our principal walked in with a wad of yellow printed forms.

He quietly told me that this was a vital document, to be given to each student and that students MUST take it home and give to their parents, as there was no school tomorrow and possibly the next day. Students had their headphones on so did not hear those instructions. Joseph, our artist in residence, outlined to the students the practical element at the end of the first session. The bell rang and rather than disturb the class now, students continued on. Ten minutes into the lesson, an announcement asked for any students who had not been given a yellow form to come immediately to the office. 28 year 7 students proceed to go out the door, so I stopped them and gave them the sheet. Well, that did upset the class – or should I say, made them extremely happy. After 10 mins of settling them, they finally went back to composing their musical stories.

One boy came to me with his mobile phone and said he had just received a message from the police about high fire dangers! I had not heard of that either and asked how he got that, but he could not answer that either. Due to the late notification, there was no opportunity to catch up with my senior students to give them work to do at home.

Fierce duststorms

Fierce duststorms

Today started out quite pleasantly and in fact some light rain had fallen, but by mid morning, the wind picked up and blew gales around 100km/hour. Dust blew, trees fell down in our driveway and outdoor furniture started to fly. My mother in law who is 89 years old has never seen such dust storms in her life.  I had mulched my garden with newspaper and straw to keep the weeds down but that blew everywhere. See the movie clip of how it looked at home. By mid afternoon a fire had broken out 10 mins down the road, so our local fire tanker was called to fight the fire. Many trucks turned up and it was put out fairly quickly.

So….. today, a day of no school was to be a catch up day or so I thought. First I checked out twitter, which is blocked at school and read this tweet

ffoxworthWhiteffoxworth@murcha Glad you’re getting rain! Our school was closed today because it was supposed to snow, but it never did!

Then I noticed another tweet inviting interest persons to test out tiny chat. So, an interesting discussion ensued with American teachers as to how this could be used in the classroom.

However, as I was online for a good part of the day, I received skpye calls and chats from my global colleagues. Jeff Whipple was one, enquiring whether our school would be interested in participating in the 1001 tales for either the elementary of middle school. The amazing part is that  grade 5 classes in Qatar need partners. So, when I enquired further, I discovered that I had stayed with one of the teachers when at the flatclassroom conference and had met the other. It certainly is becoming a flat world. So finding our literacy teacher online, I asked whether she would be interested in being involved and she has agreed. Last year I organized it and was the contact person but as I do not teach primary year levels this year, the ownership is much better going to the classroom teacher.

In the afternoon, I settled down to catch up on emails etc, when I started to find my students emailing me, leaving comments on the ning and g-talking to me, wondering what they needed to do as they were missing out on class time at school. So, school was on after all. This is the fantastic nature of web2.0 tools, connectedness and an online environment. School can be 24/7/365.

Here are some  reactions from my twitter friends

WhiteRash KathWhiterashkath@murcha hi, Best use of technology!

My virtual classroom extends – Ping

An exciting virtual classroom and collaborative  project that will start on Monday Feb 9th at our school and in my class. Ajax MckKerral is organsing the project.

Year 7  students  and some grade 6 students from Casterton Secondary College, Heywood and District Secondary College and Hawkesdale P12 College will be involved in a six week online music project, Ping,  

Ping is the result of collaborative project between the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria, The Song Room, and Country Education Project. Generous support has been provided by the Helen MacPherson Smith Trust

The project

  • Focus – listening, arranging and organizing sounds
  • Staff and students involved, will create sound stories
  • 5 workshops. MSO (Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) will come in for about 4 of these workshops and discuss their instruments, including physics, history etc
  • MSO will record specific requested sounds for student use
  • Completed stories will comprise 5 tracks or more, convert to mp3 file, embed in the blog.

A blog has been set up for use by all staff with students and features

  • Links
  • Posts
  • Discussion forum- for both staff and student use for discussions, problem sharing and solving.

Requirements: Audacity beta version 1.3.7

So before we commence students need to

  • Register
  • Write a post
  • Learn how to make a comment

Work can be taken home and accessed from home.

Software used

·         Emails and usernames for all students

·         Students rmust register on the blog

·         Individual student PC access for elluminate meetings

·         Headsets with headphones and microphones or headphones and desktop microphone

Students will also require sufficient download and server space.

Ajax introduces ping to the staff involved

Ajax introduces ping to the staff involved




From the Land of Oz to Qatar

Waiting in the departure lounge, Melbourne

Waiting in the departure lounge, Melbourne

After months of involvement, preparation and communications, three students and I have finally arrived in Doha, Qatar. It has already been an amazing venture and we have only been here for 5 hours or so. Let me share some of our experiences through our senses.

I see….

  • Kuala Lumpur aiport at night time, where we had to be ferried by a train across the tarmac to the main airport terminal
  • The Hawkesdale College contingent asleep on the couches, for a hour or so, during a 5 hour stopover.
  • Our first glimpse of Qatar, through the dark of the early morning arrival.
  • Queues at the immigration desk to allow us entry to the country.
  • Taxi and limousine touts all wanting to take us to the education centre of Qatar
  • The beautiful white buildings of Qatar, and the never ending building sites, with numerous cranes rising above the city horizon.
  • The magnificent corniche, or water frontage, complete with wooden boats and modern ships
  • The massive education complex comprising schools, univerities, accommodation
  • the inspiring architecture and eye-catching spaciousness of the Qatar academy buildings
  • Julie Lindsay’s modern apartment  where we had  a shower to freshen up after our early arrival (5:30am)
  • The magnificent Qatar academy through a guided tour by Julie’s daughter

I hear…

  • groans from the girls  about having to find passports, boarding passes and having to unpack everything for security at each stopover and reconnection
  • louder groans from me on finding that my credit card has been blocked by my bank several hours before we depart Australia
  • the warm welcomes of the Qatari people everywhere we have been
  • taxi driver trying to find the Edcuation complex and address of Julie
  • the student throng of Qatar academy out in the corridors at lunchtime
  • the welcoming voices of Qatar academy staff and genuine interest taken in us.

I feel…..

  • excited about entering a country that is so different from ours 
  • even more excited about the days ahead and
  • a great sense of pride to be able to bring three students from our school in Australia and to be able to representn our country in this momentous flatclassroom conference.
  • jetlag setting in
  • rather disgruntled about my credit card (the only one I have) and still trying to sort through the solutions.

Where to find schools to connect with

A Russian student plays us the Spanish guitar
A Russian student plays us the Spanish guitar

Below follows a list of some sites that will allow teachers and educationalists to make connections for further collaboration including videoconferencing and global projects. It has been my experience that blogging  and/or global project partners often make great videoconference partners as there is an already established element of trust and confidence in each other. The students have already got to know each other and this gives an element of richness to the learning outcomes. However, many of the schools we have videoconferenced with, were new and some of the sites that were used are listed below. There are many websites and ning groups now and an online search will produce many more results. Timezone and language differences often prove to be challenges/barriers. Read “using skype in education ” for further information on successful skype linkups.

In 2008, these were some of the sites that were used for connecting to the globe:-

Classroom2.0 – with a membership list of over 17000, this is the first recommended stop.  “Long distance collaborations” and “e-learning and online teaching” groups are already established where valuable contacts can be made. Join the groups and watch out for the updates for these groups. New or established forums often appeal for connections for global projects and videoconferencing. A valuable contact for us came from a forum on classroom2.0 which actually  put our school on Russian TV with our linkups to the Russian school!!

Projects by Jen – from Jen Wagner, USA, focusing mainly on primary aged groups

Global education ning started by Lucy Barrow, USA,  where people actively seek out partners for global projects

Flatclassrooms  commenced by Julie Lindsay (The middle East)

Beyond the Walls – a French ning started by Vincent Mouspelet  (good for secondary groups, with a strong European support base)


Global School House

Twitter – a quick tweet will often bring up some willing partners.

A virtual gift - a toy reindeer from the USA

One of our favourite groups to collaborate with, is Collaborationnation with one of the students showing us a toy reindeer. (above)

Two new sites of interest

As I was about to publish this post, I checked out the edublogger and found that Sue Waters has added a page with a list of interested skype videoconference partners. This would be a great place to start with.

Another interesting site that has just gone online is Bringing us Together for student bloggers. (Blogging is my number one interest with web2.0)

Other sites suggested to me:-


Please add a comment and tell us where you have found your global connections for projects or videoconferencing.

A virtual school becomes evident

Jean Pennycook amongst her beloved penguins

Jean Pennycook amongst her beloved penguins

A penguin egg hatching

A penguin egg hatching

Today bore witness to the start of a virtual or web2.0 school. Jess McCulloch and I had teacher professional leave this year to lay the eplanks in web2.0 or virtual school. This would have to be one of the highlights of this project.

My valuable contact from Boston, Lorraine Leo connected us to Jean Pennycook, living in a tent, in Antarctica for a webcast. To ensure all went well, a backup date and time had been pre-arranged. Our primary teachers, (now there was a real purpose to use virtual classroom software, discoverE)  rather nervously entered the virtual classroom yesterday to test the sound and gain confidence in the use of the classroom. Three year 9 girls acted as the technicians (students became experts) and supported the staff. This procedure went well and full credit to the staff for their quick acceptance of this software as they had not been exposed to it before. It was agreed for management purposes that most classes remain in their own rooms and log on as their class name. However, prep/one/two were combined and the secondary students were combined in the library (years7-9)

This morning we held an early recess and logged everyone on to their discoverE  classrooms. One staff member who was absent yesterday was required to respond to Lorraine in Boston but came to me and said she had no idea how to talk or chat to her. Imagaine my surprise when at recess we were testing the sound with Lorraine and this teacher took over with utter confidence and performed the tests. After some internal gliches, we were so pleased to hear Jean Pennycook  online with perfect audio transmission. Jean talked about the penguins and her research with them. Lorraine and Jean had prepared a presentation of slides with some wonderful photos.

Reflecting back, the eplanks of a virtual school were in evidence by the following factors:-

  • students as experts (year 9 girls became the experts on sound checks, software management etc and worked with Lorraine in Boston)
  • teachers from Taiwan, Adelaide, Sth America, USA were in the classroom (global teachers)
  • several students were in their homes in the USA listening and particpating (global students)
  • Geoff the software developer from Perth was in there (virtual team involving all aspects of the linkup)
  • every class and student at Hawkesdale P12 College from 5 year olds through to 15 year olds – a broad age group whom Jean managed to keep captivated for more than 1 hour (virtual school)
  • the vast majority of our staff (including those who were not timetabled for this timeslot) were in one of the virtual classrooms.
  • each class was a virtual classroom with teachers confidently managing audio and chat questions.
  • The chat moved furiously and fast with lots of questions from all year levels. Time was allowed for our students and the global students to ask questions using the microphone.
  • Jean allowed self directed student learning to occur, in that she paused to answer the student questions, rather than always speak to the slides. The students had some great questions that not only related to the penguins but to her life and experiences in Antarctica etc (student directed learning)
  • Parents came in to our classrooms and also listened to the webcast (parents as partnerships).

A huge thank you to all concerned for this wonderful 21st century educational experience.

Listen to the recording of the webcast and read some of our other staff’ posts



Wednesday 3rd Dec

Present:- WS, GP, BG, JMcC, AM

Topics: blogging, approving comments, writing posts, digital moviemaking

Wednesday 21st November

Present: BG, AM

Topic: wikis and nings

WIWOW- Walk in walk Wednesday

Wednesday October 22nd

Present: GP, AMH, BG, TM, JM, AM

Topics of interest:

  • Using audacity to podcast
  • Learning how to use animoto (quick presentation online tool, combining images and music) for embedding into blogs and wikis
  • setting up and adding depth to nings and wikis
  • adding audio to slideshare

Walk In Walk Out Wednesday

There was active and strong interest amongst the participants tonight, 15th October.

Present: WS, GP, CW, AM and Sharon

Topics of Interest:-

  • blogging
  • online conferences and using elluminate
  • using a digital camera – how to take a photo, plug into computer, download, delete unwanted photos, delete photos from camera.
  • voicethread for podcasting of the Hawkesdale history trail. How to upload photos, add voice, add identities

Coffee, Blogs, Parents and Community

An interested group of parents and community members attended our first information session in the library. They represented both primary and secondary year levels throughout the school and included an interested grandmother who ‘wants to keep up to date’ for the sake of her grandchild.

After an introduction, Faye Matters, our librarian introduced our school page explaining and exploring the links, pages and widgets.  Marg Murnane, the Middle Years Co-odinator then ‘walked’ the group through the grade 6 class blogs, showing the pages including the homework page,  posts, global projects,and voicethreads etc To complete the session, I outlined the flatclassrooms project and ‘blogging across the cultures’ project which the year 9/10 students are working on.

It proved to be very rewarding, especially after the recent article “Crossing the digital divide” in “The Education Age” this week. Concerns on safety issues were voiced and great interest shown in the student work. The coffee mornings will continue and perhaps be rotated at different times and days to allow others to attend. It was interesting to note that flickr was a tool that they were keen to learn.

Quote for the day from a grade 2 parent “This is their world!”.

Coffee anyone!

The major stakeholders in a school, were identified as

  • students
  • staff
  • parents
  • school council and leadership
  • parents club

Parents…… a vital link in the educational chain!  A very successful evening session was held earlier in the year with parents, updates have followed in the community newsletters and encouragement given via notes and journal entries to become involved in the student blogs

However, having recently attended the Shanghai Learn2.008, I learnt from Kim Cofino that they were running a morning coffee session once a month for interested parents at their school in Bangkok (an activity we had often discussed running here.)

So, tomorrow, October 15th will be the first of a monthly session of meetings with parents and interested community members. It is hoped  that this will extend to sessions where parents can learn some of the exciting web2.0 tools and gain some understanding of their student’s potential online activity. This may lead to parent and community classes tutored possibly, by year 9 students. The concept fits in well with the goals of our middle year’s coordinator and our librarian, as our library is a community resource centre as well.