I’ve Been Chromed!

browsers

As Google Chrome comes of age (in beta at least) I have kicked Firefox to the kerb, an act that I thought may never happen, for 95% of my web experience. The only thing that is keeping the Fox in my life at all is the poor integration Chrome offers with Moodle which is my schools VLE of choice. More info on Chrome’s shortcomings with Moodle and how to get past them (unless you only run Apple products like me) can be found on “Changing The Game” a Moodle-oriented blog written by @iusher.

I’m not going to dwell on Internet Explorer, Opera and Safari for very long. It’s a simple matter of security + usability + reputation that turned me into a Firefox user in the first place. IE as has been widely written about is simply not secure enough. On top of this it is a Microsoft product so is automatically put in the do not use pile for me. While I consider myself to be something of a geek, Opera is one step too far as Browser’s go; in much the same way as Linux is in terms of operating systems. What did surprise me was the fact that I didn’t turn to Safari as my browser of choice. Having started life as a Windows user Firefox came more naturally into my web based experience – or in other words the Fox did a better job of marketing itself.

When I started using Firefox, its reputation was already well established as a stable and secure browser. Then “add-ons” were introduced there was no turning back. Firefox was simply awesome contributed significantly to my “geek” development. As I sought ways to make my web browsing experience better the Fox taught me about user scripts via Grease Monkey and how to edit its’ functionality itself. See this guide on how to speed up Firefox. What I ended up with and used for the past couple of years never considering alternatives was a very fast, very user friendly (due to add-ons), very consistent web browser.

However the Fox had its limits. There were so many add-ons that I would want to try them all out. But Firefox was not always up to the task. Install more than 10 add-ons and even with the tweaks that I had made to speed it up it became more like “Smokeyfox” than Firefox – the metaphorical smoke pouring out when it fired up or tried to load a page with a lot of info. The experience that many of the add-ons were supposed to offer became limited when they were all packed in together. I ended up stripping Firefox back in the end to just a few add-ons and scripts. This made the browsing faster but the experience less rich.

Chrome on the other hand is faster than Firefox even with “extensions” and scripts installed. I was sceptical at first but I (like a good geek) did several tests to see if the claims were true. And yes, they were! My take up of the browser was stalled though as functionality was limited in its initial release for Mac. Bookmark integration was not fully sorted and there were no extensions available. I bided my time and waited for the first stable release to really get to grips with it. I fell in love immediately because Chrome embraces the true aesthetics of Mac – clean simple design. Use Chrome for a few minutes and I fail to see how anyone could not like the simplicity of the interface, it is beautiful.

chrome in use

Look closely at the picture above. What you see is what I want to see. I have a variety of scripts and extensions installed but many remain invisible working from within the browser itself. There is no need for clunky menus and the tab positioning and functionality is great. Chromed Bird, Instachrome and Delicious all use pop-out windows that float in front of the browser when you click on them. Finally, the Omni-bar is truly great – search, history and my delicious bookmarks are all integrated into one space. This makes the use of the browser so much smoother and cleaner.

chromed bird

I am currently using the development channel, this enables me to not only use extensions but also to install scripts from sites such as Userscripts.org. Chrome extensions make the experience as rich as Firefox but they have almost no impact on operating speed. User scripts load directly in to Chrome without the need for an extension such as Grease Monkey. The installation process of all extra Chrome features is very smooth and there never a need to restart the browser. Below is a screen grab of just a few of the extensions/scripts that I have installed.

chrome extensions

Sites that I frequent load as fast with the extensions enabled as they do disabled, making the Chrome experience truly worthwhile. Whether a solution arrives through Chrome first or when Moodle 2.0 (Check out this brief tour here) is finally released I will kick Firefox to the kerb permanently. Until that day, the Fox will still play a small part in my life.

It will not be long though and the time will have come to say “goodbye old friend”.

Browser button image courtesy of Dekuwa on Flickr

#edread or “e-dread”?

edread

Maybe the key to getting a good discussion going on Twitter is picking the right hash tag? Perhaps others are misreading #edread as “e-dread” as Steve Gillott (@stevegillott) so comically put it.  #e-dread could be used as a hash tag to describe a student’s feelings about reading or even some teachers’ feelings about teaching! Whether the hash tag is clear or not, there has been more activity this week with some great ideas and resources shared.

Remember you can read all the tweets here and any and all resources, websites etc that have been shared have been compiled here.  Thanks to everyone that has contributed so far, please keep the tweets coming!

This weeks tweets:

#edread – An Update! (Spring Is In The Air)

blossom

The #edread discussion continues to blossom and has now (through some pro-activity) begun to bear fruit in school.  Not being one to wait for the discussion to have fully formed, I began sharing links and ideas that had been tweeted with my colleagues straight away.  I also shared a reading lesson that I had completed spontaneously the other week (read the blog post about it here).  Three other teacher followed my lead and did a similar lesson with their classes!

The outcome of the e-mails, sharing of links and ideas, and my constant chatter about reading resulted in a meeting between our Learning Research Centre manager (Andrea), a colleague (Jo) who has responsibility within English for Years 7 and 8 and I.  The purpose? To evaluate and improve the KS3 reading program and to look into ideas that can raise the profile of reading amongst KS4 students.

I came away from the meting truly inspired – both by the range of ideas that came out of it but also by the fact that a key component in this discussion had been the resources and ideas that had been shared by my Twitter PLN.  Crowdsourcing really is one of the most effective techniques to aid learning – Twitter simply makes it better by broadening the field.

From the meeting we have agreed to look in to / develop the following ideas:

For the last few years, at KS3, each class has had a weekly reading lesson. This year we introduced “shared reading” however I don’t feel that it was fully thought through.  The main problem being that the books we have to use have been around for some time and are not very appealing to our students.  Solution?  Andrea and Jo are going to research and compile a list of books that we could purchase (probably 6 copies of each) to use in reading lessons.  These are going to be new books, for different ability levels, by authors that are popular amongst 11-14 year olds; including graphic novels, comics, short stories, non-fiction texts and much more.  We agreed that “shared reading” was a good idea but that it would work better if we had more appealing texts and we could break the classes up into a wider range of groups.  I am sure that if we focus on variety and give the students more choice the shared reading experience will be far more effective.

This led on to a discussion about bringing the students into the LRC for their reading lessons.  As I mentioned earlier a few teachers have already followed my lead with this idea.  The English department used to do this regularly but it seems to have stopped happening.  Andrea the LRC manager wants it to become a more regular event (not just for English either).  We agreed that perhaps there should be a rota and that the students could be given a break from their “shared reading” lessons every 4/5 weeks by being brought into the LRC to explore the environment and to read whatever they want for pure pleasure.

As the meeting progressed I raised the idea of students “reviewing and recommending” books.  I suggested that recommendations or new-arrivals could be displayed on the computer screens when students log-in.  We also discussed setting up a LRC Blog so that Andrea could communicate with students and parents about what is happening in the LRC each term.  Students could review and recommend books on it and special events could be promoted.  This could be supported by more traditional methods like a notice board with reviews of books or recommendation slips stuck inside books by students when they return them after reading.

At KS4 Andrea suggested that we look at creating “reading lists” from curriculum areas.  This may work for KS4 students – if they have a passion for a subject they may choose to read more about it.  Wider reading is something that many of my KS5 students struggle with so introducing it at KS4 in an optional capacity may go someway to not only improving reading participation at KS4 but in turn help set expectations over reading at KS5.

We also discussed “Book Swap” which has already begun with Years 7 and 8 but I feel should be a school wide scheme.  I believe that if this is done right it can significantly raise the profile of reading around the school.  I am planning to do a “book-drive” to get teachers, parents and students to donate books to get the “Book Swap” off on the right foot.  I also wish for the “Book Swap” events to be organised by KS4/5 students – this will hopefully generate more interest if it is being promoted by students rather than just teachers.

The final idea that we discussed was “Drop everything and read” – the idea being that the whole school, at a designated time each week, literally drops whatever they are doing and read for 20 minutes.  Now, logistically this is the most challenging idea and the obvious answer (at my school) would be for this to happen during one an extended Tutor period.  However, I think it would have a much bigger profile and a more significant effect if it happened during lesson time.  The kids would be made to sit up and think about reading if in the middle of their Technology lesson they had to down their tools and pick up a book.  I will need to get my Principal on board with this one!  If anyone has any ideas about how I might convince her and the rest of the school to giving this a go please comment, e-mail me or tweet me @jamesmichie.  I think this has huge potential but will take some serious willpower to get it off the ground!

The meeting was really productive and affirmed my decision to put reading at the front of my blogging / Twitter agenda.  Maybe it’s the time of year – it did feel like spring this week and I really feel that the #edread discussion is beginning to take bloom.

Student involvement:

I have also now decided that I do want to get the students involved in the discussion.  I particularly want to hear from KS4 students – those who do read and those who don’t.  I want to understand what reading means and represents to them?  Why some have continued reading for pleasure?  And why other have not?  I am trying to decide between using an open forum on the VLE, using the “choice” module  again on the VLE or using Survey Monkey. I have decided against using Twitter as it would be difficult to get a representative response due to the fact that I have limited control over who is on Twitter and who is not.  I will therefore use a method that all students can access.

The latest #edread tweets:

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the discussion so far.  Remember you can see a full archive of the tweets here and there is a dedicated page here.Image by kittykatfish on Flickr.

Connecting With Parents Online

rubiks cube

Last night I delivered an online presentation to parents of Year 11 English/English Literature students.  50 parents were in the room as well as myself and a colleague from the English department.  We had numerous e-mails from parents who wanted to get in to the meeting but couldn’t due to the fact that we were over capacity.  While that is frustrating, it is also very exciting. The highest number of participants in previous online meetings had been a little under 40 – a new record for the school. We are going to look into the capacity issue so it can be resolved for future events as the Science and Maths departments are due to do similar meetings in the very near future!

Link to the Online Meeting. (Link removed at request of school SLT)

A little background on CCC and its use of online conferencing:

At my school we have been using Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro for some time; video conferencing having become “a part of what we do”.  Our most prolific use of Connect Pro can be found in our delivery of an “Online Games Design Course” that is attended by Creative Media Diploma students and any other students who have an interest in games design.  This is currently running on Thursday nights between 7:00 and 8:00.

The meetings are led by @rhadad who is a teacher/games designer from Chicago.  She beams in every Thursday at 7.00 along with a guest presenter (Moses Wolfenstien@camaxwell@gtrefry) to teach the students about  games design.

This was pioneered by @greghodgson and @hstower last year and is now set to become a yearly course.  I (@jamesmichie) have been supporting the delivery of the meetings this year along with @iusher who continues to be an invaluable resource to us, in all of our online endeavours – including the session with parents last night.

Right, back to last night’s meeting!

The parents were invited to attend the meeting in a multitude of ways: text message, e-mail, postcard – each one had a link to the meeting room and brief explanation of how it works – Connect Pro install a patch the first time you run it.  As far as I am aware the parents had no problems with this.  We also put a banner on the front of the school website as a reminder.

We received many e-mails in advance of the evening from parents who wanted to be there but had prior arrangements .  As I mentioned earlier, after the meeting we received numerous e-mails from parents who could not get in and many e-mails also from the parents that did get in for a copy of the PowerPoint presentation that I used to show useful ideas, web links, our VLE and an iPod touch app (Flashcard Touch).

The number of parents online (or who wanted to be online) is amazing.  It felt during the presentation and afterwards that there was a real buzz – which continued throughout today.  Most importantly the response demonstrate that parents want to be involved in their child’s education and they want to be informed. Below is the PowerPoint presentation I used in the meeting:


[Aside] I also learned that I need to find better lighting for future meetings – I look too much like some strange lurker in the dark!

In conclusion:

It was a great experience! The buzz throughout the day has been great.  Since I began writing this post I have had over 20 more requests for a link to either the presentation or for copies of the PowerPoint. The school switchboard has had a similar number.  Adding the total number of participants to the number of e-mails we received from people who could not get into the meeting, we could have had over 90 participants – which would have been a third of the year group!

As a colleague put it: “We do all this hard work throughout the year but it’s just 20 minutes on a Wednesday evening that could make the difference.”  Hopefully the “difference” will be seen in the students results this summer!

If you would like to know more about what we are doing with online conferencing you can e-mail me or tweet me @jamesmichie.

Image courtesy of Toni Blay on Flickr.

#edread – An Update! (1 Week & 3 Days Since The Discussion Began.)

cogsThis week I have learned that keeping a discussion going (even on Twitter) is not always easy, particularly when you are a busy teacher.  I must look into “automated reminders / retweeting” – I use “twitterfeed” to link my blog to Twitter.  There must be a service that could retweet an individual tweet each day to remind people in my PLN to contribute and to catch those people who perhaps missed the tweet the first time.  I tweet a lot so my tweets don’t hang around forever.  On the other hand I don’t want to send so many reminders that my entire PLN turn against me due to my incessant nagging!

I have also learned that there are not that many English teachers in my Twitter PLN.  This is perhaps because I spend a lot of time connecting with people whose primary interest is #edtech – which is my primary interest as well.  I used “wefollow” to find and add some more English teachers to my PLN.

After the great start made last week when I initially posted about the #edread project’s progress I have already shared some of the ideas and resources with my colleagues.  This week will be no different as several people have shared some interesting websites and resources since last Sunday.  Please read through the tweets below and click on the links.

Don’t forget that there is a full archive of #edread tweets here.  And there is a dedicated page here.

I think that I should get students involved in this discussion.  I have used Twitter in the classroom and know that it works.  Should I give them the hash tag and ask them to tweet? What are the implications?  Or should I use a different methodology – in class survey, through our school VLE or Survey Monkey?  Any thoughts or ideas about this would be  welcomed.  I believe that they are the most important voice in this discussion so they should be included!

Tweets since my last update:

I hope that if you are reading this you are finding it useful?  If you have not contributed yet please join the discussion and share your ideas via Twitter using the hash tag #edread.

Image courtesy of Jim Sneddon on Flickr.