Hemingway – like the author, like the app

Hemingway is an easy to use editing site which helps make your writing simpler and more direct. Much like its namesake, author Ernest Hemingway, the site champions simple verbs, short sentences and no adverbs at all.

Cut and paste the text you want to edit into the website home page and hit the edit button to see your work highlighted in different colours. Yellow for hard to read, red for very hard to read, blue for adverbs, pink for complex verbs (with suggested simpler options) and green for passive phrases.

Although it can be frustrating when your best efforts don’t remove the highlighting, the app shows you what to look for when you’re editing. It would be a great tool to use with groups of students to model the editing process and how decisions about language can change the impact of your writing.

At this stage, the app doesn’t let you save and seems designed to gauge interest in a paid desktop app. But in the meantime, Hemingway is an interesting tool for writers at any level.

Bookemon – on-demand publishing

Bookemon is a service that allows you to easily create and publish books online and print high quality hard copies on demand. Bookemon has an edCenter that lets educators create a space where students can work on group and individual projects. One teacher librarian making the most of this online tool is Pam Rajapakse. Pam is the teacher librarian at Prairievale Public School, Bossley Park, NSW. In a school where the majority of students speak English as a second language, Pam is using this tool to engage students in literacy and reading. In this guest post, Pam shares her experiences with Bookemon.

Prairievale Public School (PPS) has just over 420 students and the majority have Assyrian heritage. English is a second language for over 90% of families. New arrivals are often enrolled at the school throughout the year. The socio economic level of the community is not the highest and hence the parents are challenged to prioritise needs and wants on a regular basis. So it’s not surprising that reading and writing are school priorities with comprehension skills targeted across stages.

In such an environment, my focus is to support children and teachers with work in the classroom. As research shows, there is a direct correlation between academic achievement and staff and student involvement with the school library.

Reading is one of the most important interventions in breaking through language barriers and children need to enjoy reading for them to read. If someone likes an activity, they are most likely to continue with it. The decision to Bookemon for publishing with students was based on this idea.

At the beginning of the year, I introduced the concepts of Five Ws to Stage 1 classes and continued to refer to this strategy when we engaged in reading and research activities during the year. The Bookemon publishing process started with students returning to the Five Ws, creating characters, settings and events based on a plot created by the class. We negotiated names, places, settings, changed characters and descriptions to suit the evolving plots, we laughed, debated and agreed to disagree on many things along the way. Every child in every class was allocated a page to illustrate and one child was selected to illustrate the front cover.

Illustrating the stories acted as a great leveller and a confidence builder – some were keen to draw, some were not whilst others did not want their work published. So it was essential to applaud and appreciate individual efforts by each and every child along the way as it proved that whilst not all of us are gifted with the paint brush, beauty really is in the eyes of the beholder. It was such a buzz towards the end of the process because teachers and students could see how the book was coming together and could not wait to see the finished product.

Read_A_Wolf_comes_to_Peaceful_Town___Storybook_Preview___Bookemon_com

While the students gained some insight into how a story is constructed and what’s involved in the process of publishing, I think what I value most was their increased appreciation of how language works. The process of combining words to form beautiful ideas and depicting what the words don’t tell you in their drawings has begun to build my students’ confidence and motivation to read.

I am hoping that these activities and the outcomes we’ve seen aren’t limited to the library space and teachers at PPS engage with similar ideas in their classrooms. Bookemon provided the perfect platform for the stories to be published. As a school, I have had to register and create an account, free of charge. Once I scanned and uploaded the illustrations, the formatting templates were very easy to navigate with the entire palette of editing tools ready at hand. I received the books I ordered in two weeks in very good condition, confirmed and posted from the US via ordinary post. I am hoping to repeat the activity with other stages gradually in the next year as many teachers have already expressed their interest. Teachers’ feedback on the program shows me activities like this in the library are making a positive impact on not only students, but teachers too.

Thank you, Pam, for sharing your learning and teaching with us. Visit Pam’s page on Bookemon to view more books written and illustrated by PPS students.

Text to speech – supporting online information access

There are a growing number of online tools to support students in need of literacy support. As part of a new series on web based literacy aids, this post from Catherine Hainstock talks about how text-to-speech programs can support students’ reading online.

Implementation of the Australian Curriculum  is in full swing across the nation and as a result schools are committing more resources towards their Literacy programs. The demands and opportunities for TL’s to support this literacy focus may vary, but as information specialists our core business is to ensure our students can effectively find and interact with information.

After giving a brief demonstration on advanced Google searching to our school’s Literacy Support teacher, I wondered about other ways to improve access to online information for students who may be struggling. Many of the mainstream tools students use for accessing information such as Google Search and Wikipedia do not support students with literacy needs as well as they could. There are a number of ways we can help improve this experience. First I turned my attention to browsers; I found they offered very different experiences and levels of assistance. Text-to-Speech support is available on most browsers (you can read about the options here). When I tried them I found:

  • Bing relies on Microsoft Window’s software being installed on your computer. The system was complicated and required a lot of reading to work out. The version we had installed on our computers used a very robotic voice
  • Firefox’s add-on Text to Voice app plays MP3’s of selected text so it’s very slow. Any words it doesn’t recognise, it spells out. Again it was a very robotic voice
  • Google’s Chrome Speak app (available from the Web Store) was easy to install and provided options for varying the rate, pitch and volume but once again the voice sounded very robotic
  • Once I added Google’s US English Female Text-to-speech voice extension to Chrome (available from the Web Store) and activated it in Chrome Speak’s options (found under Chrome Settings – Extensions – see image below), the voice offered pleasant web reading support.

It’s important to note different schools run different versions of software, different implementation programs and have preferred devices including mobile devices and BYOD programs. In mycase, I used desktop computers in a school library for testing. Every school is unique so it’s important to investigate and experiment with your own equipment.

Many schools in Victoria are also restricted to only one browser, usually Internet Explorer. As information specialists, it is vital that we recommend and push for technical decisions to be based on educational criteria, so explore browser tools and lobby for programs if you think they will benefit staff and students.

In the next instalment I’ll look at improving access via search engine tools and options.

Image credit: Chinese children in class with Australian kids at Carlton State School, H2002.199/1074,  State Library of Victoria Pictures Collection

 

Find inspiration on Pinterest

Pinterest is the perfect place to find and store inspirational images of cutting-edge library designs, quirky library posters, Book Week ideas, or the next library display, to name but a few. Pinterest is an online tool that allows you to collect and organise images by pinning (or bookmarking) them to virtual boards. Each pin also lets you know the original source of the image so you can find it again and others can too. This great social media platform gives you the chance to follow boards you like and create group boards to share ideas. You can organise your home feeds to receive images that suit your interests, such as school library design, library display etc.

Once you sign up to Pinterest, you’re guided through how to use it. The site asks what you’re interested in via the search bar. A search for ‘school library’ will prompt suggestions of ‘school library decorations’, ‘school library ideas’, ‘school library design’ and ‘school library activities’. You can search for individual pins or thematic boards and access your account on your iPad, mobile or any computer. There are so many images to interest and inspire your work in the library and beyond. There will often be a blurb explaining the pin, and sometimes a comment stream.

Have fun exploring and using Pinterest! It’s amazing how many interesting things you find that you would never have thought of before. Use other people’s pins, and feel comfortable sharing your own images. You never know what will inspire others.

Join us for a free webinar: History in the making

Th recording for this session is now available. Click on this link to view the session.

We’re pleased to announce that the first webinar in our new free PD series Digging Deeper is scheduled for next Wednesday, September the 11th at 4.00pm AEST. This  series is presented by staff from Museum Victoria and the State Library of Victoria, and will help you make the most of the amazing resources and collections available online.

The first webinar History in the making: Using multimedia to capture personal history will explore two of Museum Victoria’s websites for creating personal history. Jan Molloy (Immigration Museum) and Jonathan Shearer (Museum Victoria) will guide you through the Making History and Biggest Family Album sites. Then Linda Angeloni (State Library of Victoria) will give you some tips about planning, recording and editing video using free video making resources.

The webinar will be delivered in Blackboard Collaborate. If you’re not familiar with the software then visit our help page to get started.

Participants will receive a certificate of attendance, and the webinars have been designed to meet the AITSL and VIT professional teacher standards. You can register for the webinar on the State Library of Victoria website, or keep an eye out on our Twitter account as we will tweet the webinar link in the days before the event.

Image Credit: [Children playing] [picture] Ruth Hollick, ca. 1910, Source: State Library of Victoria

Capturing a living library

The Living Library is a new school program at the State Library of Victoria that makes use of Springpad, one of my favourite online tools. I’ve written about Springpad before as a fabulous personal library manager. It combines the searchability of Evernote with the visual interface of Pinterest, meaning it is perfect for a school program that challenges students to create a shared photographic record of their visit.

Armed with iPad minis, students first of all set off around all areas of the library and take photographs of people, places, text, pictures, and details. Students are encouraged to think about how their photographs can tell the story of how the library is being used, and already we’ve seen fantastic originality from the students who’ve taken part.  No editing or refining of pictures is done at this point- the brief is merely to capture as much of the experience as possible.

Then students return to a central point where they begin to think about the pictures that they’ve taken that best sum up their experience of the library. The pictures they select are all uploaded into the same notebook in a shared Springpad account (Springpad provides users with unlimited storage, but items must be smaller than 5mb). The photographs can also be given a title that hopefully adds to the story of the picture. We’ve been so impressed by the creativity of the students and some of the very clever titles they’ve made up.

The notebook is shared back with teachers after their visit, providing their class with a photographic record of their day. Hopefully it’s a useful resource for when students return to school. It could be used for recount writing, a digital storytelling presentation or a piece of creative writing inspired by the library.

So far Springpad has worked perfectly, despite the fact that often 30 students will be uploading photographs to the same account at the same time. If you’re thinking about making use of mobile technology to document a school excursion then Springpad is well worth considering, particularly as you can also add audio recordings to an item.  Best of all, Springpad notebooks are easy to share or embed on your blog, just as we’ve done below. So scroll down to have a look at some of our favourite pictures from the program so far.

What’s Technology For, Anyway?

In this guest post, Kristin Fontichiaro, Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan, School of Information highlights key ideas from her upcoming presentation at SLAV’s, Transliteracy, multiliteracy, makerspaces: how can I participate? on Friday, 16th August.

The other day, I heard a story. A parent of young children heard that the oldest children in the school – ages 9 and 10 – were going to be having an end-of-year technology celebration to which everyone in the building was invited.  Eager to hear what her kids would be experiencing in a few years, she dropped by. The students filed in front of the assembly and, without a word, held up an A4  printout of a presentation slide.

That was it.

The whole school had been pulled out of class to gaze at small pieces of paper dozens of feet away.

Ahem.

Now, I have no doubt that the educators behind that project had great intentions and worked hard. (Anyone who has ever tried to get an entire primary school class to print out a project without mixing up whose is whose knows what a feat it is that each kid actually ended up with anything.)

But how did a tool meant to serve as an illuminated backdrop for public speaking end up as a small paper rectangle held up by a silent child? How did a faculty make a decision that seeing these faraway papers merited pulling every other child out of class? What was this project supposed to accomplish?

It’s hard to know. Maybe the technology curriculum focuses on the acquisition of specific skills and behaviours (“the learner will print from software,” “the learner will format a presentation slide”). Maybe the educators were pressed for time. Maybe something else.

I would argue that the crux of the issue is this: there were not clear, aspirational expectations for how technology could transform, extend, and deepen student learning. I would bet that this faculty did not have a clear understanding of what it meant to teach and learn with technology and how to use technology as a game-changer. I have a hunch that the administration pushed for its staff to use technology without talking about how and why to use it.

I quote an extreme example, but (I fear) it probably resonated within the realm of possibility for you. In this madcap Web 2.0 world, where there are endless “creative” tools, just waiting for you to type in a few words and pick a template, how do we move the conversation from “teachers need to use technology, period,” to, “technology needs to transform the teaching and learning and take students further than they could go without technology.”

Next Friday, we’ll gather to talk about this phenomenon. We’ll look at a possible vocabulary and framework for planning and discussing student work, and we’ll draw inspiration from Alan Liu’s Transliteracies Project as we collaborate to articulate what it means to do robust “reading” and “writing” in multimedia. At the end of the day, we’ll dip quickly into two alternative ways to use technology with kids: digital badging to track learning in formal and informal spaces and the makerspace movement. Come roll up your sleeves and dig in with us!

Image credit : cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Brad Flickinger

Mining the treasures of Trove

It’s sometimes easy to forget how lucky we are to have so many digitised items freely available online. Institutions from around the world are making their collections open to people who could never have previously accessed these items. When this is combined with user uploaded content that is being added to sites like Flickr, the amount of digital content can almost become overwhelming.

Given this, it’s no surprise that educators see the importance of developing strong search skills in students. We’ve often written about choosing the right search term, filtering results and honing in on what we want. That’s great, but there are also some interesting ways to discover new items, or even items that we didn’t know existed. Here we’re going to take a quick look at three tools that tap into the incredible range of collections in the National Library of Australia’s Trove site. If you’re not familiar with Trove, prepare to spend the rest of your day there! It’s a unified search of items from many libraries across Australia, including books, newspapers, manuscripts, pictures and more.

Trove has a pretty familiar (yet very powerful) search feature. Make sure you go there and have a play. But for now, let’s look at three other tools that harness the amazingly open nature of the site. All of these tools are still quite experimental, so you may see some bugs or glitches, but they are well worth an explore.

The first of these is Trove Mosaic, built by Mitchell Whitelaw. This site lets you enter a search term and then displays a mosaic of images, which can be sorted by collections, titles or decade. Clicking on an item will take you to the record on the respective library’s website. It’s a brilliant way to explore the amazing digitised pictures available from across Australia.

Trove Mosaic displays images in a lovely sortable mosaic. Here we’ve sorted our search for ‘rabbits’ by decade.

The second tool for exploration of Trove is QueryPic  This tool  searches for terms within Trove’s digitised historical newspapers collection, and displays a graph showing the number of results for that term per year. You can add multiple terms and searches to a graph. In this way you can see the patterns of usage of a particular term over time. Clicking on a particular year in the graph will show you the related articles, and this then leads you directly to each digitised article.

QueryPic works on a similar principle to Google’s Ngram viewer, which searches and displays the usage of phrases in digitised books over time. Of course, it is important to remember that not every newspaper from the time has been digitised, but it’s definitely an interesting tool for analysing the frequency of phrases, like in our example below where use of the term ‘bushrangers’ peaks in the mid 19th century,  whilst use of the term ‘theft’ steadily rises.

Our search for theft (in red) and bushrangers (in blue) shows some interesting trends

The final site is a brand new tool built by the One Week, One Tool team. This team of coders are aiming to build a new tool each week, and one of their first projects is a seredipity site called Serenidip-o-matic. Paste in some text (such as a bibliography, essay, blurb) and then see what is returned based on keywords from your passage. The site searches sources like Flickr, Europeana & the Digital Public Library of America. It now also includes Trove (thanks to the work of Tim Sherratt at NLA). As you’d expect from a serendipity machine, results aren’t always completely relevant, but they are certainly interesting.

All of these sites show the possibilities presented by digital collections when they are built with open architecture. Trove’s open API means that tools can harvest the collection and present items in very different ways. We’re lucky to not only have such amazing collections, but also people who want to work with them to build these wonderful tools.

Using Postach.io to blog with Evernote

Whilst Evernote is an incredibly powerful organisational tool on its own, one of the most exciting aspects of the service is the way it connects with other tools. One such service is Postach.io, a new platform that lets you blog from your Evernote account. 

Use the ‘published’ tag in Evernote to publish your work

Postach.io works by connecting with your Evernote and creating a blog from your notes. You define which Evernote notebook it can access and notes will only be published on your blog once you tagged them ‘published’. You can also set notes to appear as pages rather than posts by tagging them with the tag ‘page’. If you want to unpublish you can just remove the tag or drag it out of your notebook.

Postach.io blogs come with a number of different themes and there are also options to modify a theme if you know how to code. The theme editor options aren’t as easy to use as the visual theme editors in Global2, Edublogs or WordPress, so if you can’t code you only have the option of prebuilt themes at this stage. I’d expect that as the Postach.io user base grows (the service is still in Beta at the moment) that more themes will be shared by users. 

Postach.io comes with a few built in themes and the source code can be edited to create your own theme

One of the advantages of Postach.io is that all of your blog content is stored in your Evernote account. We’ve seen the angst caused in recent times with the closure of online services like Posterous, so storing your data in a service like Evernote, which syncs back to your computer, reduces the risk of data loss. It also means you are investing less time and effort in a single platform- if Postach.io doesn’t suit your needs you just close down your account and take your data with you. Hopefully this signals a move towards more data portability between online tools.

One other advantage of Postach.io is the wide range of apps produced by Evernote. Evernote works well on almost any device, either through desktop software, web browser versions or mobile apps. All of the Evernote apps are free, so you don’t need to buy a specific app to get blogging on your mobile device. You could even use the Evernote email feature to create blog posts via email (which coincidentally was a much loved feature of Posterous).

The Postach.io developers recommend you create your blog entries in the web browser version of Evernote, as many of the formatting options are the same as traditional blogging software. We built a sample Postach.io blog and decided to test out some of the standard blogging tasks like formatting text, adding images and embedding media. This included trying to recreate some recent posts from Bright Ideas. Creating simple notes with bullet points, text formatting and images was all as easy as creating a new note in Evernote. Postach.io also coped quite well with embedding media from popular sites like YouTube, Flickr and Twitter (see our test post here). There seemed to be very little lag time between a note being updated in Evernote and the changes being reflected on the Postach.io site which is very promising. Comments can be enabled using the Disqus service and your blog avatar can be updated using Gravatar. Postach.io blogs also include RSS feeds and tagged posts.

Postach.io lets you embed media from popular sites like YouTube, Flickr and Twitter. Click on the picture to see our sample post.

Nevertheless, we did find some elements of Postach.io lacking in comparison to standard blogging platforms. There is less control over items like captions and alt text, and it obviously lacks some of the fabulous features of Edublogs and Global2 like student blog management. Postach.io also ran into problems when we tried to attach files to a note; the text of the note appeared as a post but the attachments were not added. I also found that not being able to see a preview of my post until it was published was quite limiting, so if you are someone who likes to triple check your posts before they are published then this might be a difficult adjustment to make.

But what Postach.io does represent is  an easy way to create simple blog posts very quickly. Postach.io harnesses the power of Evernote to simplify the blogging process and also shows the value of developers building services that work well with other apps.

It’s not a replacement for a fully featured blogging platform like Edublogs (particularly if using it in the classroom) and the service is still in beta so you can expect bugs and downtime. Despite some limitations, Postach.io could end up being a great way to introduce beginners to the concept of blogging or to create simple blogs with very little effort, particularly if you are already using Evernote.

Check out our Sample Postach.io blog and see how the notes originally appeared in Evernote.

New to Evernote? Have a look at our guide to organising yourself

 

All About Change: Raising Modern Learners

Raising Modern Learners (RML) News is a new go-to place if you believe in real educational change and want to stay informed, be part of the conversation and help educate your school community about issues in contemporary education. Raising Modern Learners was created early this year by two giants in the field of educational technology, Will Richardson (US) and Bruce Dixon (Australia). They were concerned that current school reforms largely missed the point when it comes to the changes necessary to meet students’ needs for success in modern society. They wanted to find a way to inform and shift conversations away from how to tweak traditional curriculum and get people talking about new literacies, skills, and dispositions.

We’re dedicated to helping parents (and educators) stay abreast of these changes in timely, thought-provoking, concise, and interactive ways, and to help them find ways to advocate for more modern, student-centred change in their schools that reflects the needs of [our]time.

The latest article entitled If High School Wasn’t Compulsory, Who Would Go? examines disengagement issues in school and has some intelligent conversation already clocked up in the comments. News articles come out fortnightly and can be accessed via the website or you can download the free iTunes app for either iPhone or iPad.

Image Credit: (c. 1935), Elton Fox instructing a student at the Fox-Morgan School of Commercial and Fine Art [photograph], State Library of Victoria Pictures Collection.