Writing a Real Book Makes a Difference

I have been lucky enough to work with our Grade 3s in the publishing phase of their informational book writing process. What an adventure!

Steve Kay (the Digital Literacy mentor) and I both hoped the team might consider creating digital books with iBooks Author, and were thrilled when all 7 classes got on board.

We set up a time to take all the teachers through some of the features, and they practised creating their own book, complete with sourcing Creative Commons images, and experimenting with widgets. This step was crucial, as it meant we had a real partnership when introducing iBooks Author to the students.

One of our aims was to help students make connections between the functions available on Pages and those on iBooks Author. We began by getting students in pairs (and later, groups) to identify the similarities and differences between the two programmes. This encouraged them to explore the menus and try different features before getting started. We shared these as a class.

Prior to this, with their class teacher, the students studied non-fiction informational texts and noted the features common in the genre, such as labelled diagrams, images and tables. They chose something they knew very well to write about. There was a diverse range of subjects selected – from Christianity to Minecraft – and everything in between!

Students wrote their drafts in a Google Docs template provided by their teacher. It was peer edited using the commenting function. Words to be included in the glossary were made bold, and images they thought they might look for were identified in a different colour on the side (see example below).

Once the text was ready, it was time to transfer it to iBooks Author, and add the features the students felt would help convey an understanding of their topic to their reader.

Students used Creative Commons Search to look for images to use in their books. Referencing the majority of these images was made extremely easy due to the use of Cogdog’s Flickr CC image bookmarklet (drag the blue button to your bookmarks bar and click to attribute from Flickr).

Building on our work with the design principles of CARP (Contrast, Alignment, Repetition & Proximity), students worked carefully to make sure their choice of colours fit their content, was easy to read, chose a font which matched their content, and considered the alignment of their text boxes etc. They were very mindful and deliberate in their choices.

One of the excellent features in iBooks Author for informational books is the interactive image widget. It allows you to zoom into parts of an image, and provide more details. Labelling the parts of a flower, then zooming in to each part and getting more information is one example of how this can work. This was very popular with the students.

In addition, some students chose to add 3D images, which they sourced from Sketchup’s 3D warehouse. The ability to get just about any 3D image (from Touch Rugby pitches to the latest Lamborghini) made this a popular option!

A Dad correctly guesses a review question

Many pupils used the review tool to create interactive quizzes to check for understanding of their content. Being able to use images and labeling diagrams in the reviews as well as typical multi-choice questions meant there was a lot of variety.

Students added glossary terms they identified in their draft writing, and it was lovely to see their definitions written in their own words.

Some chose to record their blurb as their intro media to the book, while others decided to create keynote files to add.

Once finished, students exported their finished books as .ibooks files, and uploaded them to Google Drive. This allowed for easy transfer to the iPads.

I loved watching their faces as they opened their books for the first time.

When reflecting on the process, the students I spoke to were unanimous about their enthusiasm for using iBooks Author as the platform for writing their book. They were able to articulate many reasons for this, however, one student summed it up nicely by saying:

“Google Docs is good for drafting, Pages is good for posters, but iBooks Author is best for books, because we’re supposed to be writing a book! This feels like a REAL book, but better, because we can add all the extra features for interactivity.”

A celebration followed, where students showed their completed books to their very impressed parents. The final piece in the puzzle is our growing list of published authors on the Write Now bookstore. Follow this link for examples of our published books. More will be added as they come to hand.

A huge thank you to the tireless Grade 3 teachers for all you have done in getting students to this stage.

Photography by Dave Caleb

Heartbleed Headaches & How to Make Them Go Away!

My favourite quote about passwords has always been:

Passwords are like underwear“Passwords are like underwear: we should not leave them lying around, and should change them regularly.” 
– Unknown

Most of us manage the first part quite nicely and keep our passwords hidden, however changing them regularly? That is another kettle of fish entirely!

I’m sure by now you will have heard of the Heartbleed Bug – a serious vulnerability in OpenSSL encryption, used by significant numbers of popular websites to protect data. This weakness can allow access to confidential data, including names, passwords and cookies. For more information about the Heartbleed Bug, please check out Heartbleed in a Nutshell.

This vulnerability has been active for over 2 years, making it incredibly likely you need to sit up and take this seriously!

Mashable produced a list of affected websites, so please check there for a more comprehensive overview, however many websites you use everyday are among those affected, including:

The thought of changing your passwords for all of your accounts is very overwhelming. Overwhelming, but necessary. As I was pondering possible password combinations, I saw a twitter post detailing a 50% sale on 1Password – a piece of software that can help you store, generate and protect your passwords, while you only have to remember (yep, you guessed it) 1Password!

I decided that in the interests of managing all of my passwords for various accounts, buying a license for 1Password was a sensible decision! It is also available for iOS, which helped seal the deal.

To get started on your Mac (or PC), you simply purchase the license, download 1Password and enter the license information. Their support website is helpful in getting set up.

Installing the 1Password browser extensions for Chrome, Safari & Firefox, made the next stage in getting set up a lot easier. For each of my accounts (e. g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.), I would change and save a new password. With the extensions installed, 1Password prompted me to see if I wanted to save this new password. Easy.

I also downloaded the 1Password app for iOS, and it was super simple to log in to my account and do a wifi sync, meaning I can now access all my 1Password information on all of my devices.

1Password offers a host of other features, including the ones outlined in the image below.  So far I have added extras like credit card and passport details. Really handy for when you want to do some online shopping, but don’t have your credit card on hand. Same goes for booking flights when your passport is at home…!

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 4.26.09 PM

Next on my list is to use Strong Password Generator to help me create sensible passwords. As I only have to remember ONE, I feel much less concerned about making a password too difficult.

Have you used a password management tool before? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Image Credits:
Underwear – by Keri-Lee Beasley (made with paper by 53)
Facebook, Flickr
All other icons freeware found at iconarchive.com

Getting a little Headspace

My mother calls it Active Mind. You know, when you can’t sleep because your brain is just ticking over with so much STUFF! The bills that need paying, friends that need helping, that thing you had forgotten that you had to do for work that needs to be done by tomorrow, reflecting on failures in parenting, or even pondering possible holiday destinations – all of these things can help keep sleep at bay. Nearly all the women in my family have suffered from this ‘affliction’, and we all joke about not being able to turn our brains off or being unable to wind down.

I am not really into fluffy stuff like meditation or “going to a happy place” or visiualisations or the like, but at the (relatively!) advanced age of 37, I am willing to give something new a good old college try in the name of research. I decided to do what any self-respecting Digital Literacy Coach would do – I turned to technology!

I know what you’re going to say… Technology with its screens and lights doesn’t sound like a logical choice, but stay with me!

Headspace AppA colleague (Nora) recommended an app called Headspace. “Keri-Lee!” she proclaimed, “Have I got an app for you! You have to try Headspace.”

I began downloading immediately, and then asked, “What does it do?”

“It’s a meditation app,” my colleague replied.

Well, that’s something different, I thought, and promptly forgot about it. However, the holidays rolled around, and I stumbled across it again. Why not give it a crack?

It was 5am. My son had just woken me up (apologetically, at least), and having settled him back to bed, I was wide awake and in need of more rest. Time to try this app. I watched the 3 or 4 short starter animations (which were very good, I thought), then lay back to listen to the actual meditation part – 10 minutes in total.

At the end of the first meditation, I actually went back to sleep. That is simply UNHEARD of for me. I felt very refreshed when I awoke, which was a definite bonus.

I was putting the kids to bed later that night, when it struck me I should try it with them too. How nice to think about potentially breaking the cycle of Active Mind with my daughter and son and teaching them the skills of quietening their minds! They were quite excited about getting to use the iPad close to bedtime (it’s the little things..!), and both seemed to enjoy it, though the soporific effects it had on me were somewhat lost on them.

StatisticsThe next morning, they both proudly announced they had slept longer than they usually do, by about 30 minutes. Well hey! That’s better than a kick in the head!

We have created a nice little routine now, where we have a story, then get them tucked up ready for their Headspace. We’ve just had day 3, and all seems to be well from their end of the house.

So to the nitty gritty. The app is free – for the first 10 days of meditations. You can choose to sign up monthly, annually, biannually or forever. I have chosen to get a yearly subscription, I am so enjoying the quiet time at night. It seems a reasonable price to pay for my sanity!

Another thing that drew me to the app was the whole design concept. The simplicity of the images and the colour scheme really appealed to me. Their website: getsomeheadspace.com is also well set out, with a straightforward design concept which really helped me. If the design was poor, it would have turned me off the app itself for sure.

The infographics it includes in the progress tab are simple, yet effective. I can see this will be an excellent app/site to show students learning about infographics and design.

Check the video below to see the first animation in the series, or download the Headspace app and get started!


Design Secrets Revealed

Design Secrets RevealedHave you ever been disappointed by the quality of student-produced posters? Do you want to make great posters yourself, but they always seem a little lacklustre?

If so, then my most recent (FREE) multi-touch book, Design Secrets Revealed, can help!

It will take you step-by-step through each design principle, and provide you with examples and suggestions to help guide the teaching process for your students.

I would love your feedback, so please let me know if you find it useful.


11 Answers – Part 2

As mentioned in my last post, I am overdue in completing DJ’s challenge, so here I go again. Are you sick of me yet?! HERE’S HOW IT WORKS:

  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  • List 11 bloggers.

As I have already tagged my bloggers, this will merely be a sharing session, where I answer DJ’s questions.

11 Random Facts About Myself

1. I am an amputee – I jammed my pinky finger in the door when I was six and it had to be removed.

2. Some people eat to live, but I live to eat. I love food and have a voracious appetite, despite my slender frame. I remember places by what I ate when I visited them.

3. I am born on my mother’s birthday, which I think is pretty special.

4. I love my adopted city of Singapore. I am definitely a city-girl at heart.

5. I hate sand. I hate that it gets everywhere, sticks to sunscreen and appears to be magnetically attracted to my children. Mercifully, my family don’t share this peculiarity, so they enjoy getting in and amongst it as much as the next person.

6. I devour books. I especially like young adult novels, but any fiction interests me.

7. Since being the unfortunate recipient of some heavy breathing-type phone pranks as a child, I don’t really like talking on the phone.

8. I am a very positive person, and find being around negativity very draining.

9. I love to travel and see new places. I am always thinking about where to go next.

10. My phone is my most important piece of equipment, and the thought of losing it fills me with dread! Being without wifi is also very hard for me. #firstworldproblems

11. My two kids bring me the most incredible joy (and definitely the most wrinkles).

Questions from DJ:

1. What is the best beach you have ever visited?

Tricky to answer (see number 5 above!). I have always dreamed of those crystal clear, blue waters you see in pictures online, however places like Bali were a huge disappointment, with plastic bags wrapping around my legs etc. I do hope to do some more travel and experience some more of the beauty of the ocean. I liked Lombok & the Gili Islands – I love snorkelling. I think my favourite beaches are the ones in NZ (most of them are pretty wild & fantastic), such as Athenree, where my parents have a bach. I also love beaches where you can dig for cockles or pipi or gather mussels (refer to number 2, above).

Beach 1

Waihi Beach, New Zealand

2. If you were stranded on a desert island and only had one music album what would it be?

Probably the Beatles Complete. Partly so I could sing along, partly because they spanned so many decades there are lots of different styles, but mostly because it reminds me of my family and growing up. My first ever ‘project’ as a very young child was on the Beatles.

3. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you “grew up”? What are you now?

I wanted to be a teacher from when I was about 12 years old. I studied Psychology at University, but mainly because I thought it sounded cool. I didn’t really know that much about it to be honest. However, I found it a little depressing (see number 8 above!), and the only thing I ever wanted to do was teach. So I did a post-graduate diploma of teaching, and never looked back.

Now I am a Digital Literacy Coach, which I think is simply the best job ever, because I get to work with teachers and students to help them use technology for learning. I have wonderful colleagues, both in person and those of you I have met online. How lucky am I?

4. What is your favourite app?

That’s a little like asking a parent to choose a favourite child, is it not? I will squeeze a few into this answer if I can.

Most used apps: Probably Facebook, Tweetbot & Instagram for keeping in touch with friends and family around the world.

Best food/travel app: FourSquare to find recommendations for great places to eat.

Best app for young kids: I think Minecraft is a wonderful creative and collaborative platform.

Most versatile educational app: HaikuDeck, which I have seen used by Grade 1 students, all the way up to presenters at conferences.

5. Beer, wine or other?

Champagne, Prosecco or anything bubbly. Bubbles make me happy! I do have a fondness for Jameson’s whiskey, I love a Port with my Dad, and a Gin & Tonic with my Mum. I like both red and white wine, and a cool lager on a hot day. In short, I am not fussy!

6. What is your “last supper”?

This is probably the hardest question for me to answer! There are just so many things I love to eat. My last supper would have to be taken in long Italian lunch style, so I could get through the following:

  • A charcuterie platter with all manner of delicious deli meats, including proscuitto & jamon iberico, washed down with a cool glass of Prosecco.
  • Burrata deliciousness.
  • Scallops (just like the ones at Open Door Policy in Singapore), Bluff oysters, lobster and crayfish, with some NZ Pinot Gris or Sav Blanc
  • Melt-in-the-mouth foie gras.
  • Chilli crab and black pepper crab, 2 of my favourite Singaporean specialties, with Tiger Beer.
  • NZ lamb with mint sauce, roast vegetables (kumara & parsnip essential), peas and gravy, with a NZ Pinot Noir
  • A perfectly cooked steak, with an Aussie Shiraz.
  • If I had any room left, I’d go for a raspberry and white chocolate creme brulee, some mango sticky rice and some fresh berries with cream.

What really “sucks” about education today?

The pace of change. The need for so much testing.

What is really awesome about education today?

Working with kids everyday. Exciting things ahead in terms of technology. Global collaboration possibilities. Incredible colleagues.

If you found $1000 tomorrow, what would you do/ buy right now?

If it was something for someone else, I would like to donate it to one of the service organisations that our school supports. If it were for me, I would like to buy a new phone, as the battery on my current one is d-y-i-n-g.

Where in the world would you like to travel?

Anywhere I haven’t already been! Next on my list is Canada, which we are planning on visiting in June/July this year. We have a number of Canadian friends who have been waxing lyrical about their beautiful country for YEARS, so we have to do it, if only to shut them up! Traveling is one of my favourite things to do, so I hope to get to some more places soon.

What is your favourite way to relax?

Either read a book or watch a movie, preferably with good food and good friends.

11 Answers – Part 1

Recently, I was kindly tagged in this ’11 Questions’ meme by Ian Guest. Once tagged, you are encouraged to answer 11 questions, then pose 11 further questions of 11  unsuspecting victims worthy recipients. As I have been somewhat AWOL on the blogosphere lately, I also owe DJ Thompson answers to his 11 Questions, so I will get to those in my next post! Best you get a cup of tea and make yourself comfortable…

The following are Ian’s questions. Read his full blog post here.

1. What teacher had the most influence on you and why?

Both of my parents are teachers, so I think I would have to name them as having the most influence on my life! My father is/was a Music teacher (can you ever really STOP being a teacher?), and my mother is currently a teacher of the deaf. While I could list endless things I learned from both Mum and Dad, in the interest of brevity, I will cut it down to one main thing: my parents are both learners and value learning.

I am the eldest of 3 girls, and there was a point when I was the least educated member of my family – Mum had M. Special Ed, Dad had a Doctorate, my middle sister was (is!) a Doctor and my youngest sister had an M. Business & Finance! I HAD to get an M. Ed just to keep up! They don’t just care about academic learning though, they are always learning new things, which is a fabulous model, especially for my children. I love the way my Dad teaches my kids the ukulele when we visit them at Christmas, and my Mum teaches them outdoorsy things like how to dig up potatoes. In turn, they are incredibly responsive when my two want to show them the hotel they built in Minecraft…


My lovely family at Christmas 2013

2. During your career, which student (without naming them!) most sticks in your mind and for what reason?

Upon reading this question, a number of faces flashed up in my mind. Some students really stick with you over the years, don’t they? Breaking the rules, I can’t choose just one. Here are some vignettes:

An 11 year old boy came to mind immediately. For some reason, we both kind of clicked. I got him, and he got me. He was a gentle soul, very bright, thoughtful, funny and kind. I used to have a post box in my class, and would encourage the class to write ‘letters’ to each other, and each Friday we’d deliver the mail. I know that I wrote to all my students, and I’m fairly certain they all wrote to me, however it is his letters that I remember the most. They made me feel like I was making a difference. I left for England midway through that year, and it was quite heartbreaking leaving that class and him in particular. He was the first to teach me about MSN Messenger, and I was fairly enthralled with technology from then on.

A 12 year old girl is another student I will always remember. She was mercilessly teased throughout her primary years for being quite different. She had closely cropped hair, a very deep voice, and had come out as gay early on. By the time she arrived at our middle school, teasing her was almost an expected norm. Although fiercely intelligent and an incredible writer, she didn’t understand the social mores of middle school. I would like to say I stamped out all the bullying – I certainly tried – though I suspect it never went away for long. I did my best to make her feel like she was not alone and that she had someone to talk to.

A 12 year old boy from South Africa was in that same class, and he had the highest emotional intelligence of any kid that age I have ever met. He was incredibly polite, having just arrived from a country where “Yes ma’am,” or “No sir,” was the norm. Very unlike most NZ students! I asked him once, why he never joined in with some others in teasing the girl above. He said, “I just don’t see the point in making her life any worse.” I wish more students felt the same way.

The best part for me, is being able to see these wonderful students grow up to be impressive young people. I am connected to each of these 3 via Facebook, and I am grateful I am able to still be a part of their lives, all these years hence.

3. What was your most abiding memory of school dinners?

This question made me laugh. We never had any! Not growing up! That’s not how NZ schools work. You bring a packed lunch every day, or buy something at the school canteen (IF your school had one).

However, when we worked at a boarding school in England, we had school dinners. Generally we thought they were pretty fantastic (they sure beat sandwiches), especially roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings. Worst thing: turkey twizzlers. Jamie Oliver would have kittens!

4. Two Harry Potter inspired questions now. If you had Harry’s cloak of invisibility, what educational event would you like to unobtrusively observe and why?

I think ISTE. It’s huge, which I find a bit intimidating, and I don’t know very much about it. All the more reason to go!

5. What aspect of education or the classroom would you most like to wave your wand over and why? Educatio revisiorum!

Urk. What to choose? Probably standardised testing, especially when having to handwrite exams. I see the insistence on handwritten tests/exams to be outdated and unfair. Students should have a choice.

6. For any historical figure of your choice, what might they have tweeted at a significant moment for them?


Kate Sheppard – Check her out!

7. What’s your favourite online video (for any reason) and why? (A link would be good)

So very many to choose from, but Miss Representation needs (and deserves!) a wider audience.

8. In Horizon report style, which technology-enabled educational activity is likely to be becoming more mainstream in 3-ish years?

Gaming. Hopefully games for change. I’d encourage all teachers to try out gaming (here’s a good place to start looking if you want to use games at school). It’s a lot of fun, and you can even learn a thing or two!

9. Which fictional character would you most like as a work colleague and why?

My work colleagues are pretty amazing, I have to say! Perhaps Hermione Granger, on account of her vast knowledge, and, let’s be honest – it’d be cool to have a wizard on your team.

10. What educational movement or initiative, currently in its infancy, will endure and why?

I hope the equivalent of Google’s 20% time: Passion Projects. I hope that students will be encouraged to delve deeply into their passion, and that it will be seen to be of value both for the students themselves, and the people with whom they share their passion.

11. Which educator (dead or alive, real or fictional, famous or not) would you most like to interview or enjoy the drink of your choice with and what would you be chatting about?

Dead Poets Society

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by jdxyw: http://flickr.com/photos/jdxyw/4887363555/

John Keating, the amazing teacher in Dead Poet’s Society, played by Robin Williams. It’s one of my favourite movies ever. I loved the way John Keating diverged from the text book and made poetry and other literature come alive for those boys. When they all stand on the desks and say, “Oh captain, my captain,” it gives me shivers every time! I’ve watched it countless times.

The bonus is, I wouldn’t say no to chatting with Robin Williams either, so this is kind of a 2 for 1 deal for me.

What would we be chatting about? If it were John Keating, poetry, books, pushing boundaries, connecting with students, fabulous plays… If it were Robin Williams, well, anything he wanted to! He’d have me laughing regardless, I’m sure.

Are you still with me?

If so, here are my 11 Questions:

  1. Who was your most memorable teacher, and why?
  2. Who is one of your educational mentors, and what makes them so special?
  3. Which song describes how you are feeling today? Add the youtube clip if possible :)
  4. What is your favourite restaurant/place to eat in the city in which you live, and why?
  5. Which video is *cracking you up right now? (*making you laugh) Give us the link!
  6. What is one thing you learned recently, that wouldn’t have been possible without technology? How did you learn it?
  7. Can you please snap a picture of one of your everyday views, and share the photo here?
  8. What is the next place you want to visit and why?
  9. Complete this sentence: Teaching is a wonderful profession because…
  10. Can you please list 5 of your favourite movies? Feel free to elaborate on why you like them. Or not!
  11. How do you unwind on a Friday after school?

Ok peeps, I’d love to hear from the people below (and anyone else who is brave enough). Please know I understand how busy you are, and that this may be too much right now. I hope it’s a bit of fun we can share. No. Pressure! Post a link to your post in the comments so we can track them easily.

  1. Nicki Hambleton @itsallaboutart
  2. Holly Fairbrother @MrsHollyEnglish
  3. Stephanie @traintheteacher
  4. Shruti Tewari @sbtewari
  5. Erin O’Rourke @eorourkeca
  6. Joe Sergi @pep073
  7. Louise Phinney @louisephinney
  8. Dave Caleb @davecaleb
  9. Uzay Ashton @uzayashton
  10. Mel Shurtz @melshurtz
  11. Megan Graff @megangraff