Welcome to Planet Alice

Fans of the digital novel Inanimate Alice – and the number is growing rapidly – will be interested to hear of some new developments and more resources for teachers. The series was given a boost this week with the publication, in conjunction with new global education partners Promethean, of the third edition of Alice’s School Report which features a ringing endorsement from no less a figure than filmmaker, media expert and educational authority Lord David Puttnam:

“Here is a terrific reading-from-the-screen experience that talks the language of digitally literate educators. Kids will read this when they won’t read from books. It’s vivid moving imagery embracing some of the techniques used in both film and video-games. It’s authentic rich-media, yet it is a high-quality text that teachers can rely on. Surprisingly intimate, the feeling for the characters forms in your head, just like reading a book, surely more so for those whose prefer engagement with “born digital” material. Kids will love reading with Alice.”  David Puttnam

Read the full School Report here.

One welcome change to the new-look IA website is the addition of a Starter Activities Booklet on Episode 1 for teachers who are new to the story, while a host of extra materials can be found on the Promethean Planet website. No need to have or use a whiteboard to access the materials, simply open a free account and go to the User Group to find out how other teachers and kids have been engaging with Alice and taking her on their own adventures. If you are a teacher discovering Inanimate Alice for the first time, I suggest you watch and listen to the introduction from teacher-librarian and media specialist Laura Fleming, and if you are  introducing young people to Inanimate Alice for the first time, this film trailer is perfect for setting the scene. Perhaps after reading the series you could challenge them to make their own version. Find out how to make a film trailer here.

A National Treasure

Last week I paid a visit to the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, and I was reminded, not only of the important role Scotland  played in the creation of the modern world, but how fortunate we are to have access to one of the most important research libraries in Europe. I wonder though how many teachers are aware of the free resources which the NLS provides, both in the building and online. In the Learning Zone, teachers and pupils can explore a huge range of topics from the worlds of Literature, Geography, History, Politics, Exploration, Science and Technology. Free, downloadable resources are available, all of them specially designed to help learners interact with the library’s unique collections. The Ideas Factory provides advice on ‘Thinking Like a Writer’, shows young writers how stories are put together, and takes them through the process of storytelling step by step.

In 2006, the Library acquired the archive of the publishing house John Murray, one of the world’s great collections of literary manuscripts. Charles Darwin, Lord Byron, Jane Austen and David Livingstone are just four of the famous historical figures whose stories are brought to life through a combination of original correspondence and modern technology. Visitors to the exhibition can see a recreation of the fireplace in Albemarle Street where John Murray II famously burned the memoirs of Lord Byron, as well as the letter in which Darwin pitched the idea for On the Origin of Species (see also the John Murray Archive app for the iPhone).

Just as important to generations of Scots, the NLS is home to the only complete collection of Oor Wullie annuals. The famous DC Thomson comic strip character, who is 75 this year, has hardly changed since he first appeared in the Sunday Post on 8th March 1936 on the streets of Auchenshoogle, a fictional hybrid of Glasgow and Dundee, where the publishing house was based; the collection was completed as recently as 2010 when the library secured the only two books published in the war years, in 1940 and 1940 respectively, for the modest price of £4000.

Just as entertaining, and of huge cultural significance, is the Scottish Screen Archive, a wonderful record of the nation’s past depicted on film, and looked after by the National Library in its specially-adapted storage facility in Hillington near Glasgow. The archive preserves over a hundred years of history on film and video. A recent partnership project between the National Library, Creative Scotland and Learning and Teaching Scotland has already made over 15 hours worth of short clips  available to teachers via the Scotland on Screen website. Here, as well as simply watching the films, teachers and pupils are able to download, create and upload new material to Glow as films or moving image essays. The material has been selected and tagged for its relevance to the Scottish curriculum. If you haven’t seen it before, I recommend you go there now. It may be some time before you re-emerge. Have fun.

The Global Classroom

Kids in Jacksonville, Forida listening to The Literacy Adviser reading Treasure Island as part of World Read Aloud Day

Last month I used Skype to link up with a number of schools across the USA as part of World Read Aloud Day. It was a great success, and the beauty of it was –  it was so easy to organise, the technology was simple (even for me) and it was completely free. What more could you ask for? Many of us have been using Skype in our personal lives for some time now, but this week saw the launch of  Skype in the Classroom, a dedicated service for teachers around the world. Now teachers can add themselves to a global directory and connect with other teachers and classes, allowing them to work collaboratively on projects, share resources, or even just chat. It also makes it easier for schools to invite guest speakers or take part in virtual field trips. Teachers are able to search the directory by keyword, or explore it to find possible links by age, location or subject. The site also has a useful ‘Resources’ section, and a world map showing the distribution of teacher users by location. At the time of writing, over 7,000 teachers have already signed up but I suspect that number will increase massively as others realise the opportunities Skype in the Classroom opens up for introducing young people to other cultures and creating the global citizens of tomorrow.

How to find a project on Skype in the classroom from Skype in the classroom on Vimeo.

Discovering Dundee

As the Pope was making his way across Scotland yesterday from Edinburgh to Glasgow, I was journeying – slowly – in the opposite direction to the City of Discovery. The Dundee Contemporary Arts centre was the venue for my CPD session Reading Film:21st Century Literacy.

This presentation/seminar was an opportunity to trial some of the material I’ve been developing for Scottish Screen (now Creative Scotland) on using short films in the classroom, as well as being a taster for the upcoming Discovery Film Festival, Scotland’s international film festival for young audiences taking place in the city from the 16th of October until the 3rd of November.

The Festival brings together some of the best new films from around the world, and the Schools’ Programme provides special screenings, guest appearances, workshops and gala events.  An excellent collection of free classroom resources to use alongside some of the films is also available from the Discovery website. Last year almost 8,000 young people enjoyed the cinema experience, and if last night’s audience of dedicated teachers is anything to go by, the spirit of discovery is very much alive and well in Dundee.

50 Best Blogs for Literacy Teachers

I was surprised and delighted yesterday to be contacted by Samantha Miller of Online University Reviews in America, to tell me that The Literacy Adviser had been included in their 50 Best Blogs for Literacy Teachers. I’ve had a look at the other forty-nine and selected a few of them to give you a flavour of the exalted company which I am more than happy to be keeping. Blogging from outside the USA, which let’s face it is quite a big place, makes the inclusion on the list that bit more special.

Larry Ferlazzo’s Website of the Day : Every day, Larry Ferlazzo blogs websites of particular interest to the ESL, ELL, and EFL communities, making it an excellent and indispensible resource.

 PainInTheEnglish.com : This very delightful blog explores “the gray areas of the English language,” shedding light on the subjective, perpetually changing nature of human speech.

 Grammar Girl : Mignon Fogarty’s extremely popular blog and podcast at Quick and Dirty Tips answers extremely common grammar questions as well as those pertaining to some of the more esoteric corners of the language.

 Language Log : Teachers and students alike who harbour a love of grammar, the history of communication, phonetics, and other related topics simply must read over (and bookmark!) Language Log.

 The Grammarphobia Blog : Both the blog and the surrounding website make for an excellent reference for teachers and students alike who find themselves baffled by some of the oddities in the English language.

 The Punctuator! : With punctuation being one of the most confounding elements of any language for anyone, it pays to understand all the whats, whys, and hows behind the marks.

 Literacy is Priceless : Bon Education founder Anna Batchelder blends together her love of technology and teaching literacy to offer teachers an excellent, comprehensive resource on promoting reading and writing.

 huffenglish.com : Another blog on the intersection between technology and education, focusing its energy and resources on issues regarding how they apply to teaching English.

 Free Technology for Teachers : Although Free Technology for Teachers targets educators in most subjects, there is enough here to engage and interest those emphasizing literacy to warrant its inclusion on the list.

 The Elegant Variation : The Elegant Variation exists as one of the top literary criticism blogs on the web, helping visitors learn how to hone and apply their reading and comprehension skills

 A Year of Reading : Two seasoned veteran teachers – each with over 20 years of experience under their belts – blog about their thoughts regarding the children’s and young adult books they encounter along the way.

 The Book Bench : Indulge in The New Yorker’s highly literate look at the world of reading and writing and the ways in which it shapes society for better or for worse.

 Flashlight Worthy : Flashlight Worthy, though not structured like a traditional blog, fills a definite niche in the online literature community. Any parents, teachers, students, or bibliophiles looking for reads that fit their needs and wants can easily immerse themselves amongst the listings containing hundreds of specialized recommendations.

View the whole list of 50 here.

A blog is only as good as the extent of the networks you create of course, and this particular blog would be much poorer without the steady stream of ideas from those I follow on Twitter, and the blogs I look at on a regular basis, which are listed under the heading ‘Blogroll’ at the bottom of the right-hand panel.

Scotland on Screen

Having spent a fun-filled few days recently in the Scottish Screen Archive, watching everything from a  rare Chic Murray comedy drama to amateur footage of the funeral of Robert Burns’ granddaughter in Dumfries (attended incidentally by the then Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald) it was a great pleasure this week to see the Scotland on Screen website, which I had been helping to develop, nominated for an education award at the Learning on Screen Awards 2010.

Launched at last year’s Scottish Learning Festival, the site already has more than 15 hours of digitised clips, a figure which will more than double when the latest batch are tagged, prepared and uploaded. Each clip is between two and twenty minutes long, and comes with detailed introduction and production information. 

Collectively, the films represent much of Scotland’s cultural heritage of the past hundred years or so. Ranging from Oscar-winning documentaries to amateur footage of local gala days, from animated poems to public health films, there is something for every level and area of the curriculum.  Each clip is accompanied by a few starter questions for discussion, followed by suggested activities which can be further developed by the teacher. A selection of high quality, fully-developed ‘feature resources’ is available for those who wish to embark on a more in-depth study.

The films can be searched alphabetically, by date, topic or curriculum area. An additional A Day in the Homefeature, available only to educational users via GLOW, is that each film comes with a high-resolution film strip which allows subscribers to re-mix, edit and incorporate into multi-media presentations, or to create their own digital narratives!  It really is a first-class (free!) resource for teachers. Here’s hoping it gets the recognition it deserves at that awards ceremony.        

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        © National Library of Scotland