17 February 2017

Stop Blogger Redirecting to Country-Specific URLs

I set up my blog in Malaysia about five years ago; I moved to Singapore and maintained my blog. Most recently, I came to Qatar.

My Blog address, as stated in the settings of my Blogger dashboard is:

Google, however, redirects Blogger blogs to country-specific domains.

For instance, if you open blogspot.com in your web browser, it will change to blogspot.co.uk if you are accessing the blog from UK, or, as in my case, when I was in Singapore, I had the address mrshollyexploringlearning.blogspot.sg, and now I have mrshollyexploringlearning.blogspot.qa.

For the past two and half years in Qatar, and for the years I had my blog before moving here, this has not been an issue. Until today. 

I submitted my latest Masters assignment on my university VLE, and, as I often do, wrote a blog post about it. I was able to access my dashboard, write, edit and publish. I previewed my post and then, when ready, pressed publish. All this was fine.

As always, I wanted to Tweet out a link of my latest post to my online PLN. When I clicked on VIEW BLOG to navigate to the specific URL for my latest post, I found I was locked out. I kept getting the message:
I was on my iMac, so I checked on my MacBook Pro. Same. 
I got my husband to check on his MacBook Air. Same message. 
I checked on my iPhone. Same. Until I turned off WIFI and used cellular - then I had access. This made me think it was my actual IP.

I read up on a few articles - some suggested it was my proxy settings, I needed to reset my WIFI etc. None of these proved problematic. 

Eventually, wanting to test the IP theory, I went into my browser history and found a blog I had accessed yesterday. My hunch was confirmed: When I clicked the link and it opened in my omnibox, it initially displayed with the ending .qa and wouldn't open, briefly showing the same 'This site can't be reached' message, as above. Then, just as quickly, the ending changed to .com - and the blog opened!

I figured the problem may be the .qa because country-specific redirection is done to allow selective censorship – this allows to easy censorship or blocking of a blog post, or other entire blog site, in one country but still allow access to them in other geographic regions.

I knew people had been viewing my blog today, as I could see my stats from the new post I had just published and people had already been viewing it, even if I myself couldn't!

This confirmed my feeling that content removed due to a specific country’s law will only be removed from that country - meaning I wasn't able to see it here, but people outside of Qatar were still able to view it. 

I decided that my easiest course of action was to remove or disable the .qa ending. 

I found an easy way to do it through a little bit of code written by Amit Agarwal.

If you want to keep the .com ending for your Blogger account, wherever you might be in the world, follow these easy instructions:-

1) Navigate to your Blogger Dashboard and choose Template. 
2) Click the  “Edit HTML” button:

3) Click 'Edit Template':

4) After the tag, paste the following code:

5) Click 'Save Template'.

And you're done! My shortened URL: bit.ly/mrshollyblog still works too.

Being able to share my teaching experience with other educators globally and locally is very important to me. I don't know why my blog stopped being accessible, I do know that changing it from .qa to .com made it accessible again. 

Thanks to:
“Prevent Blogger from Redirecting Your Blogspot Blog to Country-Specific URLs.” How to Prevent Your Blogger Blog from Redirecting to Country Domains, 15 Sept. 2015, www.labnol.org/internet/prevent-blogger-country-redirection/21031/. Accessed 17 Feb. 2017.

Organisational Change: Innovations in Education

For part of this week's assignment, I had to read up on different management theories - which gave me flash backs to my PGDip in Management that I did last century, and thank goodness I got out of that dull quagmire - as well as models of innovation. This is all as research into how we can implement a successful training plan for teachers, which is the major focus and assignment for this semester.

As my Masters is in the use of technology, we are encouraged to try different tools - this week, I used Popplet, an interactive collaborative mind-mapping application.

Go to Organisational Change to see the Popplet.

8 February 2017

Making Connections in Texts

I had a fantastic two lessons with both my Grade 7s today; we were all excited and the light bulb moments popped everywhere!

We are currently studying the novel Skellig (Almond, 2000) and I have written before about using drama to bring to life their understanding of the opening and setting of the novel; now we have moved on to looking at understanding the allusions and symbols used, and how a deep knowledge heightens our appreciation of literature.

We learned about symbols and symbolism in the first unit of the year, and this unit builds upon that knowledge and moves into an understanding also of allusions. We explored the terms and then I assigned ten topics for research to either individual learners or pairs.

I created a blank presentation using a Carnival Slides template on Google Slides and then created a copy for each class. All information from each learner's research will be contained in the one presentation for that particular class.

To model the task requirements, I included definitions of the key terms in the layout style and formatting I wanted learners to adhere to in their presentation.

For example, the Symbolism definition shows that I want text and an image, and demonstrates how to use referencing to cite sources, which is also something we are working on in this unit.

The presentation also included the instructions for the task overall, which is repeated on each individual slide as well.

The next slide had a blank table showing all research topics, which I populated with student names in the class copies.

The following ten slides were for each assigned research team to complete with the required response to each question. As stated, each slide had a particular topic and question for each team and it repeated the task instructions to:
Include from your research to the above:-

- a small amount of interesting and important information to answer the question
- an interesting picture
- MLA references (use EasyBib)

Here is an example of a completed research slide for this topic:
Learners peer assessed each other as presentations were delivered AND made notes on a sheet called MAKING CONNECTIONS, as the Key Concept for this unit is Connections. After each topic, I gave them time to write and then we talked and shared our thoughts about possible connections both between topics and the topics and the novel as a whole.
Learners were buzzing and engaged as they began to see links and ideas forming between the research and their understanding of the novel so far.
It was a dynamic and informative, fun lesson where I learned lots both about the topics and what a great exercise this has been in helping build these essential connections in order for them to fully appreciate the themes of the novel - which is where this is going.
Next up in the unit is a practice essay on symbolism, a formative assignment that will prepare them to delve deeper into a summative piece that explores how literature uses symbols and allusions to create themes. I have found teaching theme a challenging concept, particularly in younger grade levels.
 I think this exercise would transfer well to higher grades and really helps them see how ideas in writing are interconnected and our appreciation of them helps us understand the purpose (a related concept in this unit) of a piece of literature.
View the whole of the unit on the It's a Kind of Magic website for this MYP Language and Literature unit.

Thanks to Mr Hutton and his English Site for the initial idea for this lesson.

7 February 2017

Reflecting on Professional Learning

A reflection on my thoughts around staff development and training comes along nicely on the coattails of a piece of research I conducted last year into the role technology professionals have in the school environment today, and where I see that role going in the future (see my post, Teacher Geeks). My research unequivocally states that “it is essential that educators remain current in content, pedagogy and technology practices and theory”, as we move towards empowering ALL teachers to be skilled in the effective use of technology in their classrooms, and away from discrete roles for tech coaches. For an inclusive community model cultivating “teaching geeks” (Guerin, 2016) to be a reality, constant training in relevant content, pedagogy and technology is essential, and schools (and educators) must be committed to providing time and space for effective professional learning opportunities.

Too often, I have learned what not to do when it comes to effective professional learning (PL) and training as an educator. Indeed, I find the majority of sessions classed as PL as misnomer. In one school I worked in, we were mandated to attend weekly ‘PL’ sessions after school. When I first saw these sessions, the learning junkie in me delighted at the thought of having an hour a week dedicated to my professional growth. It soon became apparent however, that these were thinly disguised meetings, where information - and little of it pertinent to actual teaching and learning - was to be disseminated AT us, with little offered in way of actual growth or learning. I am not sure if this was due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of what constitutes real PL or was simply in place as a tickbox exercise to suggest PL was taking place; whatever the reason, no PL, no growth, and no culture of learning was ever fostered. As a result, I found this school, and the majority of the long-serving members of staff, stagnant and very ‘behind the times’, manifestations of what Stanford University’s Professor of Education, Lee S Shulman, sees as the condition of “nostalgia”, where, held tightly onto, is the firm belief that:
whatever the educational problem, the way to combat it is by reinstating the ways through which [teachers] had been taught when they were the same age as their students (Shulman, 1999).
I find these teachers the most challenging and it is this resistance to change and inability or lack of desire to move forward as an educator that I want to learn to address in this module. As a sponge who soaks up every possible opportunity to learn and to grow, I find it very difficult when I come across educators who are ‘happy’ to teach the same topic, the same way, year in, year out. I cannot fathom how people who work in education, in a profession dedicated to learning, are so resistant to continual growth themselves. If the “first influence of new learning is not what teachers do pedagogically but the learning that’s already inside the learner” (Shulman, 1999), how do I reach those who think they do not need to go beyond what is already inside them?

Some of the most successful and fruitful PL I have attended, the sessions where I have come out buzzing with excitement and ideas, the ones where my status quo has been challenged, have been at conferences such as Google Summits and EdCamps. These events are hosted and presented by enthusiastic, passionate educators who want to share their experiences with others, and the energy at these events is evidence that truly learning is most “powerful when it becomes public and communal” (Shulman, 1999). A crucial factor could be that these events are generally ones where the educator chooses to attend - and I think this is at the heart of what makes any PL effective: personal choice. The biggest problem with PL is that is tends to be ‘blanket’ solutions; often school initiative-led, where we are given information and offered little in the way of psychological engagement. I accept that PL must be beneficial at school-level but choice should still be possible within the remit of institutional visions and authenticity is crucial for all involved.

To be successful, PL must be pertinent, relevant and engaging. One reason why I think Google Summits work so well, other than that people have opted to attend, is that there are multiple sessions offered synchronously and people are free to chose their own paths dependent on their own needs. I also believe that because the sessions are delivered by educators, they are examples of real world, ‘non-experts’ (teacher geeks) offering what they think they know as “community property” (Shulman, 1999). My most effective approach to training teachers has indeed been to show rather than to tell; Roosevelt’s adage that ‘no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care’ is never truer with hard-working, time-poor educators. ‘Unconferences’ allow educators to engage with actual teachers who have applied “old understandings to new experiences and ideas”, and who can, as a community wrestle with new ideas on the ‘outside’, before bringing them back inside and making them our own. Managing this in a school setting is more challenging but an area I would also like to explore in this unit, as many times, the staff room aside or corridor conversation can be then most meaningful opportunities; those little tidbits we often think are not important enough to make into a training session, or something we too often take for granted as it is embedded into our practice but maybe revolutionary for another. One way we are addressing this in my current school is to adopt the EdCamp unconference style, were a few of us agree to meet for an hour once a month and share tips, tricks and strategies. I want to be able to develop this into a forum that is non-threatening and an all-inclusive way to let teachers talk and question and experiment, without fear and without boundaries. I would also like to foster a culture of sharing, and most importantly reflecting.

One of the most successful PL programmes I have seen adopted in a school was one where there was personalised choice for topics; professional learning circles of like-minded educators were encouraged but meetings were determined by the group, not by the administration, and could be asynchronous. Evidence was through lesson study, action research, and reflections on blogs. Risk taking and experimentation was encouraged but the sharing of outcomes - positive or disastrous - was crucial. This is an area I would also like to work on and develop; I would like to listen to and evaluate the needs of the educators and the school to try to find a way to bridge the gap between the mission and vision of the school and the skills of the staff. I want to learn how to deal with those who are resistant, and cultivate a community where experimentation into new tools and ways of delivering teaching and learning is embraced in order to create a dynamic and constantly-evolving learning environment. I want to work towards developing a culture of risk taking, and life-long learning so that the ‘few’ become the ‘many’ with the goal that all educators in the school become teacher geeks

Guerin cited in "Facebook." Edutopia - 🙌 | Facebook. Web. 28 June 2016. .

Shulman, Lee S. "“Taking Learning Seriously”