Introducing Storyville

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”— Dr. Seuss – I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

Watching a child learn to read is a fascinating thing. I remember watching my own two kids acquiring the skill of reading for themselves, and seeing what a remarkable difference it made once they were able to pick up any book they wanted, on any topic, and read it. I remember the joy of watching my kids devour literally hundreds and hundreds of books as they got older. It really is quite amazing. And that ability to read – not just for functional understanding of words, but with a fluent and genuine love of literature – opened up vast worlds of learning and imagination and curiosity for them.

I think most educated people understand the value, and importance of reading.

There is a substantial body of evidence to support the idea that reading TO children when they are young has a positive, long term effect on their development, not just in helping them develop as readers themselves, but in even more substantive ways across a whole lot of cognitive domains.

In fact, studies using fMRI have proven that children who are read to when young show a big difference even at the neurological level. One study by Dr John Hutton concluded that “Results showed that greater home reading exposure was strongly associated with activation of specific brain areas supporting semantic processing (the extraction of meaning from language). These areas are critical for oral language and later for reading.” 

There is a lot of research that all comes to basically the same conclusion – reading to your children when they are young is hugely important and the effects of it can be seen well into their teenage years. The effects can be seen on language acquisition, vocabulary development, imagination and inquisitiveness, reading fluency, listening skills, pronunciation, and so on.

The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research concluded that “Children four to five years old who are read to three to five times a week have the same reading ability as children six months older (who are read to only twice or less a week). Reading to children six to seven days a week puts them almost a year ahead of those who are not being read to. It was also found that reading to small children has a positive effect on the development of numeracy skills.”

Unfortunately, even though the benefits of reading to young children are so well documented (and it is such a simple and enjoyable thing to do with your kids!) there seems to be a obvious divide based on socioeconomics. Lower income families tend not to do it nearly as much as higher income families. Which is kind of sad, because if they did, the research suggests it could be the single most effective thing those families could do to help break the poverty cycle and give their children greater opportunities in the long term.

In fact, a 2012 a study titled Reading to young children: a head-start in life,  by G. Kalb and J.C. van Ours noted that children who get read to more frequently at age 4-5 achieve higher scores on the NAPLAN tests for both Reading and Numeracy in Year 3 (age 8 to 9).  These differences in reading and cognitive skills are not related to the child’s family background or home environment but are the direct result of how frequently they have been read to prior to starting school.” In short, reading to your kids makes a big difference, no matter what background they come from.

The good news is that reading to your kids when they are young is a pretty simple thing to do, and it seems there are more parents than ever making the time to read to their children. That’s awesome. The bad news is that even with the overwhelming evidence that reading to your child might be the single most important thing you can be doing to help them, still only about a half of all parents are actually doing it. (Depending on the study you look at, the figure varies from about 40% to 55%)

So parents, you want to do the best for your kids? Read to them! It’s that simple.

Meet Storyville

Knowing that reading to kids is incredibly important, and acknowledging that for many kids it does not happen nearly enough, let me introduce you to Storyville. Storyville is a project by the Equity Foundation, the professional development arm of Actors Equity, representing Australian actors. Their idea is brilliant and simple. Storyville aims to connect trained actors – many of whom have spare time during school hours – with classrooms around Australia, providing talented readers for children. These actors voluntarily go into schools and read to kids. That’s it. Simple. Brilliant.

Some of the things that trained actors learn to do really well is to play different characters, use their voice effectively, tell stories that engage an audience, and act! So who better to read to children than an actor?

I think it’s a brilliant idea. If you’d like your school to be part of it, and have a talented trained actor come and read to your kids, just fill out this form.

Hat tip to my daughter Kate, a trained actor herself and a graduate from WAAPA, for telling me about this project.

Announcing the 2017 Sydney Google Innovator Academy

Innovator Academy

Certified Innovator Sydney

Back in April 2011 I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the Google Teacher Academy held in Sydney, Australia.  As part of this first Australian cohort, I was so excited to be part of this amazing team of educators from around the world and we spent two days deeply immersed in all sorts of Google nerdiness mixed with teaching inspiration. It was at this event that I saw a Chromebook for the first time, played with Android for the first time, learned about a bunch of new Google tools that I wasn’t really aware of, and most importantly, met an astoundingly talented group of educators who shared brilliant ideas about pushing education forward. To say that this event had an impact on my life would be a huge understatement. Becoming a Google Certified Teacher (now know as a Google Certified Innovator) was not only highly relevant to my work at school, it also opened up opportunities to do work with EdTechTeam, travel the world presenting at Summits and workshops, and eventually lead to my current role as their Director of Professional Learning.  So when I say that the Google Teacher Academy changed my life, I’m not exaggerating at all.

So I’m excited to let you know that the Google Innovator Academy (what was previously called the Google Teacher Academy) has just been announced again for Sydney!  The program has morphed and changed over the years, becoming far less about just the tools and much more about developing moonshot thinking about some of education’s biggest challenges. The program asks you to consider ways in which you can truly impact your own educational context, to think big about it, and to work on a project to make a 10x difference. In the process, you get connected to a simply amazing group of innovative educators that can, and probably will, change your life too.

If you love what you do, if you want to push education forward, if you think you can make a difference, if you want to be challenged and inspired, if you want to connect some powerful tools with some powerful pedagogy, then you should think about applying for the Google Innovator Academy.

It’s an application process and there is some work to do in applying.  You need to fill out an application, make a video and do some work. There are limited places. Many apply, and only some are selected. But if that’s you, trust me, it can change your life.

Find out more, and apply, at https://edutrainingcenter.withgoogle.com/certification_innovator

  • May 9 – Applications open
  • June 26 – Application Deadline
  • August 16, 17, 18 – Innovator Academy held at Google Sydney

And good luck! Be awesome!

Watch Me Drive

There is an advertisement on TV at the moment for an Australian car insurance company that encourages drivers to download an app to their phone to find out who is “Australia’s Best Driver“.  Here’s the ad…

When you download and install the app it starts by asking you a few questions…  your name, gender, email address, home address, etc. Then it keeps track of your driving using GPS location, timestamps, speed tracking, etc for at least the next 300km. In fact, it even defaults to an autostart mode so that you don’t have to remember to turn it on. Every so often it will check in with you to make sure that you are in fact the driver of the trips it’s been tracking. Then it scores your driving style in an attempt to find out who is the best driver in Australia.

Think about it. As well as knowing exactly who you are, it knows how fast you’re driving, when you’re driving, where you’ve been, who was driving and how long for, and even what your phone was doing as you drove. And remember, it just starts tracking automatically every time you drive. Without you even needing to turn it on.

Over time, the data will show whether you speed or not, whether you drive long distances without taking a break, whether you accelerate and brake erratically, what times of day you drive, and of course whether you’re using your phone as you drive. This is not just Big Data.  This is highly personalised data about you as an individual.

But it’s just a game right? You’re encouraged to compete with your friends via social media, so that lots of people are playing the game with you, all submitting the intimate details of their driving history as well. Let’s see who’s the best driver. Plus you can earn badges. Yay! Badges! That’s what it’s about right?

I can’t believe anyone would voluntarily give all this data to an insurance company. I mean they say it’s to make you a safer driver. Yeah, sure, that’s totally the reason. Until you apply for insurance one day and you find they know a little bit more about your driving habits than you might’ve thought and your insurance premium reflects that knowledge. If you’re a good driver, maybe you’ll pay less for you insurance. And maybe you won’t. I know which one I’m betting on.

I like to think that I’m a pretty good driver, but even with the promise of a big cash prize, to voluntarily hand over that much personal driving history data to an insurance company seems absolutely crazy to me.

Thanks AAMI, but I’ll leave this little adventure to Neil, Gaz and Loretta Jones.

Featured CC BY-NC Image “The Sunset Storm, Brisbane Australia“, by Ben Ashmole on Flickr

Going Back To Basics Is Still Going Backwards

chris-pyneI’m not a big fan of Christopher Pyne. As far as I’m concerned, our new federal education minister has shown himself to be inept and completely out of his depth in his current portfolio. He continually implies that Australia’s teachers are less competent than they should be and that our students are not receiving a proper education.

The amount of political mudslinging every time he opens his mouth is just an embarrassment to any thinking person. In his interviews with that other redneck extremist lunatic, Alan Jones on 2GB, the two of them make complete asses of themselves as they bask in idiotic, inflammatory statements about Australian teachers.

The thing that really ticks me off about Pyne is this phrase he continually uses… “back to basics”.  In adopting this phrase he poo-poos “modern teaching methods” which he considers airy-fairy, and talks about how we need to get back to a direct instruction model where students listen to a teacher talk at them. He dismisses the idea of child-centred learning, and wants a return to a more didactic teacher-centric model.  And don’t even get me started on his ignorant judeo-Christian-centric view of history.

Christopher Pyne is a fool who knows nothing about teaching or learning.

When I hear a politician say they want to go “back to basics”, It usually means one of three things…

1. They actually have no idea how to move forward.  By going back to a previously known state, something that used to work in the past, they attempt to absolve themselves of the responsibility to move forward. If it worked for your parents, it must work for you too, right? By going “back to the basics”, whatever the hell that actually means, they don’t need to think of what a better future might look like. They don’t tackle the hard task of building a better tomorrow, they just hope that whatever we did yesterday will still work tomorrow.

2. They have no idea that the world has changed. Anyone who claims that going back to the way something worked in the past is a sustainable solution, simply does not understand how much the world has changed. By going “back to basics”, we go back to a pre-Internet, pre-hyperconnected, pre-Google, pre-Globalised world that looks very little like the world our children are actually growing up in today.

3. They have no idea what our kids actually need. Yes, literacy and numeracy are important, but it would be foolish to assume that the concept of “literacy” as it existed in the 1960s is sufficient in the 2010s. Of course we should produce students who can read and write and know their times tables (and we do, although to hear the way these politicians belittle educators you would think that not a single student can read).  There are other forms of literacy that matter as well, and I don’t want to see Australia go down the same path as our American friends who seem to have a school system which values the Three Rs and not much else, and in fact the insane focus on “the basics” has come at the detriment of so much else about learning that makes us human.

Pyne wants to quote PISA figures and all sorts of other statistics that are supposed to “prove” that Australian kids are going backwards. Continually improving our students ability to read, write and add up is important, but so is their ability to sing and dance and play and paint and draw. We need well rounded students who enjoy learning, who  discover what it means to be truly literate, not just with words and numbers but in all senses of the word.

Make no mistake, no matter how you look at it, going “back to basics” is still going backwards. Any fool can see that. Any fool except Christopher Pyne it seems.

Discussing the Australian Curriculum: Technologies draft

On Ozteachers the other day, we were informed that the Draft paper for the new Australian Curriculum: Technologies has been released for review and ACARA, the government body charged with overseeing its implementation, is looking for feedback during the consultation period.

Figuring that I should probably know more about this document than I currently do, I thought it might be a good idea to set up a Google+ Hangout On Air, and invite whoever wants to talk about it together for a discussion.  It was also a motivator to get me to actually read the document first!

Thank you to those that were able to join in, in particular Bruce Fuda, Jason Zagami, Roland Gesthuizen, Nicky Ringland, and Matt Wells, as well as several others who dropped in and out during the call like Tim Wicks, Maurice Pagnucco and MaryAnne Williams. There was also some good discussion taking place in the backchannel on Google+, so visit that too if you’re keen to read a bit more.

I’m still getting my head around the relationship between Google+ Events and Hangouts on Air.  I probably should have read this article first, but I’ll know better for next time.

Google Teacher Academy in Sydney

At the recent Google Apps for Education Summit held at MLC School in Sydney, details for the next Google Teacher Academy were announced. Rather appropriately, the next GTA will be held in Sydney on May 7/8 at the Google Offices in Pyrmont.

Full details and a link to the application form can be found at http://www.google.com.au/edu/teachers/google-teacher-academy.html

It’s a great couple of days and although it can certainly be a bit of a brain dump and information overload, you’ll have the opportunity to network with other passionate and dedicated educators, meet with some of the local Sydney Google staff, become a part of the very active Google Certified Teacher community, and join in some fun social events as well.

The event is open to people from all over the world… at the last Sydney GTA in 2011 we had participants from the US, Guam, France, Russia and other places. People come from far and wide to attend the GTA. Of course, I happen to think it would be nice to grow the local GCT community even more, so come on you Aussies and Kiwis, get your applications in by February 28.

I’m looking forward to meeting lots of you there!

Gutless Comments

About 5 years ago, there was an incident in Adelaide where a classroom blog and the South Australian Department of Education and Children’s Services had a bit of a falling out.  It was well documented at the time, so I’m not going to rehash it here, suffice to say that it was a bunfight at the time and as a result there was significant tension between the educational blogging community and the Powers That Be in South Australia.

Like many other bloggers, I expressed my thoughts on it at the time. I spoke to the person who was directly affected by the dispute, as well as a number of other people in the know. Eventually, everyone involved tried to take what they could learn from the situation and we all just moved on.  Life is too short to be dragged down by that stuff.

However, over the last few weeks I’ve had some idiot posting abusive comments on this blog expressing (quite forcefully) their opinions on that situation from 2007. They have been abusive and rude to me personally, bluntly telling me that I’m an idiot and I don’t know what I’m talking about, and calling me all sorts of insulting and derogatory names. No need for details, suffice to say that they are just generally being an ignorant asshole.

What really pisses me off about this is that the person in question -who calls themselves “pav” or “pavalot” – is too gutless to use their real name, real email address or real website. They have the temerity to leave abusive comments on my blog, and possibly other blogs too, without having the courage to identify themselves or further engage in a debate about their point of view.

Naturally, I pick these comments up immediately and mark them as the spam trash they are. Nobody cares about the point of view of some ignorant nob who doesn’t even have the courage or common decency to use their real name.

So, whoever you are, I’ll tell you want. I’m happy to slug it out with you in private. You really want to have an argument with me about some incident that happened 5 years ago? I think you should grow up, but hey, bring it on. But do it as yourself, rather than hide behind a made-up email address and non-existent website. You have zero credibility when you do that and I will just keep removing your insulting, ignorant and libelous comments and putting them in the trash where they belong.

PS: I’ve reported your IP address to Internode as well, along with the full digital headers of your transactions. I hope they nail you to the wall.