Saturday, 30 May 2009

A visit to RM's Real Centre

The REAL Centre has been created to promote discussion and debate about how technology and furniture can support learning and as a space for experimentation for teachers, with or without their students and product developers. We are planning to do some Oxfordshire meetings here in the future, watch the Harnessing Technology newsletter to find out more!

The whole area is split into five learning zones, each equipped with tools and furniture to demonstrate versatility and total integration of ICT with learning and teaching.

1 - Communication Zone

The focus of this space is on developing communication skills with students of differing abilities including PMLD and sensory work. The whole area is built around the most up to date touch screens and height adjustable plasma screens (driven by infrared to match existing wheelchair technology), and had light beams, voice and modern switch activation. The idea is that instead of having a sensory room as we have in many of our special schools now, the whole building becomes an immersive, learning playground. It has height adjustable tables that can be placed in a horseshoe configuration with 45 degree tables that enables staff to engage directly with four students, so aiding concentration. It has multi-sensory seating allowing for positioning and integrated sensory activities. It has technologies that encourage students to communicate using the full range of senses we played with a computer driven totally by eye movements. This computer made social contact through e-mail so easy!

2 - Creative and Media

This area shows and example of how a classroom space can be re-organised for practical and creative activities. It has individual tables and chairs that can easily be cleared and stacked by students to create space for other activities. Six of us sat at a hexagonal arrangement of individual tables, we all had plenty of room but still actually took up very little space. The table and chair units can be moved to sit over the electrical boxes in the floor, so that power and cabling needed are already in the floor and the table unit is simple plugged in. This area includes a green screen video creating area with the pop-up background and cover providing as much or little exposure as required on the video clip. The green screen lens will fit any camera so it is quite versatile. We watched how a group of children had created an Amazon news report and placed themselves against a tropical backdrop showing the river and animals. The video and stop motion animation can be used across the curriculum to develop a creative and motivational approach to learning. There was also a music keyboard and headphones to create soundtracks for videos and podcasts, unfortunately this was Apple and Garage Band, most of our schools currently do not have access to Apple computers, it is a pity that nothing OC was added to the area. There was also an opportunity to create podcasts here.

3- Open Learning Area

This area demonstrates an open and flexible space that can be reconfigured to cater for a range of different activities to support project based and collaborative learning. There is a table where groups of students can work collaboratively on the same activity; this can be moved to anywhere there is an electrical box built into the floor. It has the most amazing new type of interactive board, built on an old but much improved technology – an e-beam! The board is a table with integrated ultra short throw projector, it can be raised or lowered by a simple winding mechanism, it also can be used as a vertical platform as well as flat table. The e-beam, fitted at one corner enables complete interactivity, the small laptop shelf remains in place at the same orientation so that the laptop can be left in place and connected while the board is changed to a table and visa versa. We could have stayed for hours studying Google maps – a whole group of us around the table looking at and discussing geographical images!
This area also had a mobile presentation and seating area with step seats used to create a pleasing support forum style debate, discussion and interaction horseshoe shaped arrangement. The back of the steps includes an internal resource storage which could have built in laptop charging facility. Once again it uses the project table as an interactive / projection screen and has the capability for using voting pads built in.
In the middle of the area is a Video diary room. This air conditioned pod can be as large or small as required featuring digital and video camera and audio. It is air conditioned and sound proofed, is constructed of clear panels as well as brightly coloured panels, it enables one to ones or group work. Pupils could do a quiet or noisy activity without interrupting the whole class. Teachers could do pupils briefings without having to worry about child protection issues they are very visible the whole time.

4 – The Da Vinci Studio

This area is a hub for practical, exploratory and creative activities that enables students to develop their expertise with hands on learning and problem solving. It is made up of a demonstration area that incorporates an interactive whiteboard and visualiser which can display objects in real time. The Teacher wall is very good, it is a standard IWB on the wall with cupboards built underneath, these have built in laptop charging facilities. To the left of the IWB there is a partition screen that one can pull out to form a partition wall but in this case it is also a projection screen. This areas has project tables for practical work that can easily re-configured, a range of LEGO® Education resources to support practical and problem solving learning incorporating machines, mechanisms and robotics and science resources including data loggers and microscopes listening activities that can be separate pod that incorporates data and audio activities or informal meetings video, mp3 recording devices.

5. Independent working area

This area gave ideas for equipment for students to work on their own or in groups. It had an oval sofa seating unit with integrated power. The orbital desks enable pupils to work alone or pull them up together for group working. The seats swivel so from anywhere in the room pupils can look at the teacher. As soon as the pupils sits at the desk the chair locks into place.

To find out more or arrange a visit contact RM :

Chinese Lessons in Second Life

As I popped in-world to pick something up the other day a friend invited me to a Chinese taster class. I went, purely out of interest, I am not likely to be trying to learn Chinese, but was fascinated by the introductory session. We managed to say a few words and started to learn about numbers. Using tones as part of a language is something completely new to me, but very interesting! The Chinese language includes four tones and the written language based on graphical stokes akin to paintings. There are thousands of graphical characters instead of just the two dozen or so letters of the Western alphabet, I can’t begin to imagine really trying to learn it J

Ling Teardrop led the session, I believe that the Chinese lessons are being run by Language Lab. At the end of it she took us all on a dragon boat ride – it was quite spectacular!

To find out more visit:

The Charter:

Ever wanted to learn Chinese but didn't have the time? Ever wanted to spend some time living and studying in China but can't fit it in to your busy life ? Our Learning procedure takes place in Second Life, a 3D virtual world. We have built tools and lessons for language learning, our study plans are designed to meet your specific Chinese learning goals.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

The 50 most significant moments of Internet history

An interesting read! 

As a teacher who feels she was there more or less at the beginning of the use of the WWW in education I read this article with a sense of nostalgia and great interest.

In 1995 I attended a local teacher training college session one evening after school as they were doing a demonstration of the World Wide Web and how it could be used in education. After a very shaky start, slow connection once we got on-line (it was probably all six computers linked through one phone line)  and then a quick look at what was de,onstrated as available for pupils at a primary schools I went away rather disappointed, back into school the next day and, "No there is nothing really there for us,"  I declared happily to the head and rest of the staff, and I decided that we should wait for a while before we would go that route. However, about three weeks before I had entered a competition and I was informed on that same day that I had won and which gave the school a modem and year’s ISP subscription along with 5 e-mail addresses.  Talk about timing :-)

So about three weeks later we had a telephone line directly into my classroom, I had a year to prove that we could not live without the internet and that it was an invaluable aid to learning and teaching before I lost my free subscription and the offer by the friend’s committee to fund the phone line. The first day it arrived I think it took me about three hours to get my first ever e-mail to colleagues in the county ICT Team (which within a very short time I became a member of and have been so ever since), I was really truly guessing their e-mail address having thought I had noted it at a few weeks earlier. I succeeded and… then what?

A few significant internet history events for me

It did take me most of the year to prove that we could not live without it – but two things – as much a surprise to me as the rest of the  staff helped. 

1. One member of staff had a daughter who was doing research for a presentation she needed to make as part of a college entry. She wanted to do the presentation on the newly recognised Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease but the library could not provide any information. Within a very short time on the wonderful very early Netscape we managed to find the original letters to the Lancet by the doctors who had identified it and all the information that there was available in the Lancet articles etc.  This immediacy of information access was a huge success with the rest of the staff, it amazed us all!

2. Shortly after there was a major earthquake in a foreign city where a member of staff’s son was teaching, it happened over night in our time and the teacher mum came into school very white, shaken and upset in the morning having no idea about whether her son was well or not. At morning break when I checked the e-mail there were a few words in a message – “Carol tell mum I am alright, communications bad, can’t contact her, e-mail seems to be working,” and it was! By the end of that day the staff were completely won over.

3. I had decided very early on that I needed to make the schools web site to share the children’s work with the rest of the world – and did – coding it myself :-) I spent hours – we did wonderful things! 

4. We took part in the Cat in the Hat round the world diary, kept a photographic diary of the tadpoles growing in the pond, made loads of work public, put audio recordings and video clips, on the web – I am sure no-one else could have been able to watch them – but thought at the time the whole world could see them.

5. We took part in a three country challenge and were among the winners, shared the writing of stories and poems with other schools, made books, all sort of web site on all sort of topics, some of which are still available on the way back machine. It was the most amazing time of change. 

6. The children had e-pals all over the worlds – many of the children – and we only had one internet link for all of 120 children :-&

It was a wonderful experience being there!

7. I remember Netscape and frames working, I think in horror of seeing how different browsers presented the pages I had spent hours making look perfect, in different ways. 
8. We used ICQ – I had forgotten that!

9. We used usenet for education news.

As I read the history – Google, bit torrents, You Tube,  iTunes, yahoo, Amazon, eBay, is hard to appreciate just how new these things are, I take them and more for granted now, they are totally part and parcel of life. Did I once own paper train timetables? 

Add to all that history the current blogs, wikis, Facebook, MSN and web sites like Wordle and current playthings:  Be Funky, &  Save the Words   and staples like Twitter, web link sharing sites like Delicious and Diigo, and e-books, it is just impossible to imagine life without it all.

On top of it all for me is the virtual environment of Second Life where I now teach, learn, converse with friends etc.,  nearly two years after joining I would not want to be without.

All of this change has taken place in such a short time, not quite 15 years as far as I can remember. What is going to happen and where will we be at the end of the next 15 years?

And – guess who still uses, among others, her very first e-mail address :-) though these days of course I channel a fair few different e-mail accounts all into the same inbox!

Saturday, 16 May 2009


E-safety Conference

The first big e-safety conference was run by the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board on May 5th 2009. There were presentations on the legal obligations arising from the use of the internet in schools, strategies for preventing and responding to cyber bullying, mobile phone bullying, grooming and resources for teaching pupils about cyber safety. My own workshops were based on grooming and policies. They were very well attended, so much so that for the policies session we took over the main conference hall instead of a break out room.
Two of my workshops were on Grooming – Do you know who you are talking to? When working on the internet the question of identity is key. Children often do not know who they are talking to. In My Second Life e-safety sessions Anna Sydenham (OU professor)  suggested making a poster for people to use when they are chatting to “friends” on the internet to help people decide whether a person they are talking to is really a friend, or, may in fact, not be.  I thought that was a brilliant idea and have since been canvassing – including the delegates of the e-safety conference – to decide on the list of questions.  I have done a couple of rough drafts of the poster and am compiling a list of questions. 

To be safe children and young people should talk to people that they have met in real life, then they are sure the conversation is safe but there are some key questions children could ask themselves to determine whether they are having a “safe” conversation or not
Have you met them in real life?
Is this someone you have encountered through school, a social group or sports club?
Would you be happy for your parents to ask them round for an evening?
If they ask to meet say okay I will bring my big brother (if asked say he is 21), if there is any question at all this is not a friend.

It is difficult to get this set of questions right, the reasoning behind these questions  – obviously we are all sure that someone we have met is real and have a clear picture of who they are. We all know of people, have seen them around, know they are in the same clubs, groups etc and so they are fairly easy to check up on given time so the second question addresses that group. The third question is a little different, we may be talking to people that we think are okay, but would we be slightly worried or ashamed if our parents or nearest and dearest were to meet them? If the answer is yes or not sure then there should be a question mark, a slight insecurity…. so should ring alarm bells. Finally if we are talking to someone who we think is a friend and they ask to meet – the safe answer, yes I will bring along my big brother, you should get on, he is twenty.  It could be my dad, mum, older cousin, older sister and her friend…. Whatever – but make it a group with responsible people in it. If there is the slightest negative response it is dangerous. 

If anyone can add to them or improve them please do :-)

Wordle: e-safety discussion

Friday, 15 May 2009

Time to catch up

After the most wonderful, stimulating Slanguages conference in Second Life last weekend where I enjoyed listening to various teaching experiences, particularly about a Virtual Tourism Course and Teacher training in Second Life  I have had a pretty manic week. It is time to try to catch up on a few bits :-)

The event last weekend was well attended and offered 39 sessions to 359 unique avatars visiting over the 24 hours.

There are a range of photographs offered on Flickr

The archive of slides and audio recordings will soon be available on

I was fortunate enough to be able to present a workshop – that was a bit mad but good fun, see the photos! Someone contacted me early in the week to see if I would do the session for them as they missed it, consequently I decided to change my maze in SL to a sound workshop for at least a few weeks!

Monday, 4 May 2009

The Greatest Discoveries on Earth

There is a really lovely build from Rezzable that has recently opened, at least in preview mode - King Tutankhamen.

Get in the balloon and look down on the Sudan and Egypt, see the Nile and the Red Sea or visit the tomb of King Tut, check his
Note from Rezzable:
This area has been developed over the last 12 months as part of our research into what is the best use of virtual world technology.

We believe that the online, 3D, immersive environment can be an amazing way to experience the ancient world. Explore time and place. See amazing details from stunning artefacts. Enjoy this unique experience with friends and archaeology experts.

As you teleport to the Virtual Kings you land in The Arrival area – Watch the ground and the sky around you, it gives the impression of being in space. This is where Audio-on-demand begins introducing a) Creation b) The Valley of the Kings c) King Tutankhamen and politics d) Geography and History. You start the journey of exploration by teleporting from here.

There are four "Must See" areas:

1) The Tomb Wall Paintings – You can walk down into the tomb that had been hidden from the world for over 3000 years before being discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. Study the wall paintings and the beautifully made artefacts in the Tomb. It does really look like the Valley of the Kings!

2) The Collection Gallery: The funerary shrines are wonderful, so detailed they could be the real things, you could easily imagine yourself in Cairo Museum! There were four gilded shrines nested one inside the other. The innermost of these covered a stone sarcophagus. Inside that were three coffins - the innermost being made of 110 kilograms of solid gold, inside that lay the pharaoh himself wearing the famous gold mask.

Make sure on your visit that you touch the coffin that rests in its own room! The coffin layers peel apart to show how they fit together. Touch a section again to enlarge and view the piece. It is impossible to get this clarity of visualisation from a visit to the museum. There is also more an audio-on-demand here explaining about the sarcophagus.

3) The Amarna area - Amarna was an Egyptian capital for a brief 30 years, built by the ‘heretic’ Pharaoh Akhenaten and abandoned shortly after his death (c. 1332 BCE). It was here that he pursued his vision of a society dedicated to the cult of one god, the power of the sun (the Aten). Located on the east bank of the Nile River, and according to the Amarna Project, Amarna remains the largest readily accessible living-site from ancient Egypt, as well as the first site to include depictions of daily life, thus providing a fuller understanding of what it was like to be an ancient Egyptian.
It looks so like the Nile Valley with date trees, papyrus reeds, temples etc. There are even hippopotamuses in the water - I never saw any of them when I was in Egypt, water buffalo was the most exotic I encountered - but I was not around 3000 years ago :-)

4) The Cosmic Gallery: Turn your music stream on and view the objects in a setting that invites boundless thinking about our place in the universe. This is just amazing, cam round to find the artefacts – all as items in space.

This build is really beautiful, I have already spent a lot of time there getting to know it :-)

Sunday, 3 May 2009

The Flipcam - again

I have had another go at using the Flipcam this weekend to record the bluebells in a local wood. It does not work brilliantly on Vista, I had to download new software but still the title and credit pages do not work properly splitting the words to the edges of the screen - so much so it is unreadable and I took them off this one! If I could use the video clips with other editing software I would like it much better but that seems to be impossible for some reason - though I am still trying to work out why.

It is undoubtedly an ideal little camera, cheap and easy to use with very good quality film at the end of the process.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Playing with Wordle - again :-)

I do love this little word pattern generating program :-) and have been trying out the tips from Thirty-one interesting ways to use Wordle in the Classroom. I tried using the right-clock to delete a term tip and it seemed to work perfectly -though someone has just Tweeted to say when you remove another one the original comes back - never noticed that one!!

The second tip that I wanted to try was to use ~ to link two search terms. I created a Wordle of my blog, but was then unable to link two words, for example Second and Life, I guess I would have to select as much of my blog as possible and paste it into notepad to be able to link words, then into Wordle. So - two example Wordles, one straight from the blog and one from a lesser section of the blog but with linked words!

Wordle: My day :-)

Wordle: My Day 2
I am sure that I have removed a whole load of words from this one without them returning though :-)