Spring Hill Young Writers Workshop 2011 / 2012


In 2011, four Brisbane teacher-librarians (two from boys’ schools and two from girls’ schools) put their heads together to explore the idea that shared writing is more enjoyable for students than writing on their own. From our initial discussions the Spring Hill Young Writers Workshop was developed – a writing experience made up of four events over four days, where groups of four students would create a shared storyline, setting and four characters. Each group member would then write a complete story from the perspective of one of the characters. The final group stories would be published as a book for each student to keep.

Why a collaborative story? 


– aids in problem finding as well as problem solving.
– aids in learning abstractions.
– aids in transfer and assimilation; it fosters interdisciplinary thinking.
– leads not only to sharper, more critical thinking (students must explain, defend, adapt), but to a deeper understanding of others.
– leads to higher achievement in general. . . .
– promotes excellence. In this regard, I am fond of quoting Hannah Arendt: ‘For excellence, the presence of others [collaboration] is always required.‘
– engages the whole student and encourages active learning; it combines reading, talking, writing, thinking; it provides practice in both synthetic and analytic skills.”

(Andrea Lunsford, “Collaboration, Control, and the Idea of a Writing Center.”  The Writing Center Journal, 1991 http://grammar.about.com/od/c/g/Collaborative-Writing.htm)

The tagline for our workshops was ‘Pushing the Boundaries,’ a fitting mantra because not only did we want the students to step out of their comfort zones, but the road that connects the four schools is also called Boundary Street.

Who participated?

We decided to target enthusiastic Year 8 writers, with each school selecting eight of their best narrative writers. This was done either by the student submitting a written application, or by the English teachers selecting the students to participate. (Year 8 was chosen because in Australia Years 7 and 9 are involved in preparation for the NAPLAN tests.)  Each group was made up of two girls and two boys, with one student from each school in each group, and author Brian Falkner was asked to work with the students over the four days. The initial three days occurred at the end of the term, and this gave the students time to complete their stories over the holiday break. The final session was held in the second week of the following term. Each event was held at a different school.

A shared wiki was set up using Wikispaces initially (replaced by PBWorks in 2012) where each group had a home page to develop their story, timeline and characters, but each student also had an individual page. Each person could read what the others in his/her group were writing; they could offer suggestions as well as ensuring they were including the correct events in the correct sequence. The teacher-librarians and author could also read each story as it progressed. Most students responded well to the chance the wiki gave them to communicate with others in their groups, and they posted comments on each others pages about different elements of their stories as they were writing them.

Format of the workshop

Event 1  – An introductory night for students and their parents, where the students met each other and the author, Brian Falkner. He talked about his own writing experiences, as well as the expected outcomes for the workshop. His relaxed manner and sense of humour put the group at ease and they went home keen to start writing.

Event 2 – A full day, made up of three sessions of brainstorming and writing, where the students learned about story structure and opening sentences, as well as developing their story-lines, settings and four characters.

Event 3 – A second full day where the students learned how to include dialogue, how to write descriptively using all their senses and how to write good conclusions. By the end of this day, many of the students had written a significant portion of their stories.

Event 4 – A final Presentation Night where parents were invited to share what their sons and daughters had written. Awards were presented for the best group story, the best individual story, the best opening line, the best conclusion, the funniest line etc. On the final night both the students and the parents were asked to complete a questionnaire, and their feedback was used to improve the workshop the following year. An Animoto video, created from photos of the first three events, was also shown on the night.

Brian was an outstanding author to work with, and the students responded incredibly well to his friendly manner and professional advice. Before the Presentation Night he read through each of the stories on the wiki and selected three qualifiers for each award. These were all put up on the night and then the winner of each category was announced.

In our initial year, not all groups ‘pushed the boundaries’, the students wrote very lengthy stories, the teacher librarians were sleep-deprived in their efforts to edit the stories, and some aspects of the Wikispaces wiki did not suit our needs – hence our change to PBWorks in 2012.  All of these aspects were addressed, and in 2012 the students produced some exciting group writing where all their stories matched, but were told from different characters’ perspectives.

Three additional changes we will implement in 2013 are:

1)  An extra after-school session one afternoon before the Presentation Night to give the students another face-to-face opportunity to meet and refine their group story details.

2)  Students will be involved in the publishing of their group books, rather than the teacher-librarians doing this. This will enable them to own their whole creative experience.  (The reason we made the books this year was because it was too hard to get the students back together again.)

3)  The e-learning teacher from one of the schools is keen to be involved and work with us next year, so with her help we may explore different ways we could incorporate ICTs into this collaborative learning experience.


Student feedback

The students found it challenging at first to work with complete strangers, and to learn to compromise on their ideas, however their comments showed that they thought the workshop had definitely improved their writing skills. They also gained from the collaborative experience.


  • “It was great working with the other writers. We share the same passion and I could really connect with them. I gained more knowledge from them.”
  • “I now know that there really are others like me, who enjoy writing as much as I do and who can write stories where I can go – That’s brilliant, why didn’t I think of that?”
  • “For the first time, writing has reached  the heights of a team sport for me, and compromise and negotiation can be both good and bad.”

2012 comments in response to the question: In your opinion, what was the best aspect of the workshop?

  • “In my opinion there were two good aspects. The first was being able to write a story free of stimulus and with support from both a group and a renowned author in relation to storyline ideas, how your story was going and if there were any changes. This provided a far more supportive environment than if you had to write it yourself.  The second was being able to meet other people from different schools that you most likely wouldn’t ever meet in your life. Overall this workshop improved my skills dramatically and helped me improve my writing from what it was before. ” (Tom)
  • “It was just being told “Go write a story”. Not “Go write a story about x and y”, but just being told to go and make something up, then write about it. Essentially, the freedom we were given. The most gratifying thing about writing with other students my age who enjoyed writing, was actually finding out that they existed.  Before this, I had never really met any other student who actually enjoyed writing.  Working with an experienced author taught me that, while running is good, you have to learn to walk first.  There’s a lot of planning involved, and you can’t just jump in and start writing.” (Josh)
  • “Working with an accomplished writer was very helpful as Brian taught us things such as structure and developing the story line, through the means of humorous stories.  I learnt that this opportunity is very rare because not many people would bring together four schools for the sake of a couple of days of writing, and I appreciate the effort the schools made and thoroughly enjoyed the workshop.  The best aspect of the workshop was meeting and working with an author and also working in a group to build a story.” (Jacob)
  • “The best aspect would definitely be the information that only an experienced author such as Brian could pass on. That type of information will definitely aid us in our school endeavours.  It was an interesting experience collaborating with other students who enjoyed writing as much as we did, as usually other students do not enjoy writing.  Working with them taught me some tricks and they were helpful during the editing stage.  Above all, it was a fun experience working with others and meeting some new people.” (Nipun)

The students unanimously agreed that it was a fabulous experience which they would definitely recommend to future participants.

Author feedback

“This would have been the best multi-day workshop with students that I have ever done. I felt it was a great success.” (Brian Falkner)

Links to documents used

The documents we used for the workshops can be found here:


Our 2011Animoto video can be found here:


The 2012 winning group’s published book:

Middle School Reading Olympics 2012


The combination of the National Year of Reading with the London Olympics  provided a golden opportunity for us to run a Reading Olympics competition for all our Middle School boys.  The boys were challenged to see who could read the most in the 8 weeks leading up to and during the London Olympics, and this was a perfect way to not only link reading with sport but to also reward a non-sporting achievement.

The 16 Middle School classes divided neatly into 4 sporting teams and 4 countries, and each boy was given a score-sheet based on his country and team.  Each 10 pages read represented one point, and medals were awarded according to how many points were earned – 2000, 3000 and 4000 for Years 6 and 7, and 3000, 4000 and 5000 for Year 8. The boys whole-heartedly rose to the challenge and we ended up awarding 111 individual medals – 55 gold, 23 silver and 33 bronze – while the overall winners of each sporting team and country received trophies. The most successful team was the Athletics team with 49 medals, the Australian team came second with 34 medals and the Cycling team placed third with 31 medals.

Individually, the winning students read 19137 pages, 13961 pages, 12813 pages, 12385 pages and 12008 pages.

During the 8 weeks of the competition, 1344 books were recorded as read; in reality this number would have been much higher because boys who were not in the competition were also reading. In all, it was a very enjoyable and highly successful competition promoting books, reading and literacy.

See our team lists and score sheets here:




Collaborative Creativity

originality-demotivational-poster-1286743744For the past two days I have been re-charged and re-focused at the annual QSITE conference, where the presenters looked at a variety of ways in which teachers can engage students with ICTs, while at the same time meeting the demands of the school curriculum.

The keynote speaker this morning was Paul Holland, one of the first wave of teachers to introduce microcomputers into, and design software for Australian schools. He went on to pursue a very successful career in management and is currently completing a doctorate in Creative Industries at QUT.

Paul spoke about creativity – how the very young have it, but how it is often stifled within our schools – yet we desperately need to develop a culture where collaborative creativity can flouish and be valued. Albert Einstein’s words are as true today as when he wrote them: “Imagination is more important than knowledge because knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” An ‘insatiable curiousity’ is also the first of 7 Da Vincian Principles espoused by Michael Gelb and yet,

  • at age 5 children have 80%+ originality
  • at age 10 children have 20%+ originality
  • adults in general have 2% originality

What is causing this loss of creativity in our society? According to Sir Ken Robinson, “if you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.” Children are not afraid to be wrong, however their creativity is squashed as they grow older and are moulded to conform to the demands of our education systems. (See his TED talk  Do Schools Kill Creativity?)

Paul suggested that what the world needs is great managers and leaders who are not only convergent thinkers, but divergent thinkers, who can elaborate and think of original ideas with fluency and speed. As well as this, creativity which changes some aspect of culture never resides in the mind of only one person.  A ‘generosity of sharing’ is critically important in our culture for creativity to flourish, and this requires:

  • Intellectual hunger
  • Often a trigger event or challenge  (eg Apollo 13 in desperate circumstances)
  • No fear of failure
  • Respect for others’ ideas
  • Mutual trust
  • Dialogue which puts different ideas in context
  • Shared language
  • An ability to suppress egos for the common goal

John Cleese once said, “I have always worked with a writing partner because I am convinced I get better ideas than when I work on my own.”  Steve Jobs worked with Steve Wozniak and together they formed a hugely successful team.

So then, what are the implications for schools?   Firstly, we need to actively foster an insatiable curiousity in our students and encourage them to question understandings that others consider obvious; to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty;  to desire to test knowledge and to be willing to make mistakes. Secondly, we need to design tasks and craft opportunities which will enable connectivity, cooperation and collaboration to flourish in a culture of imagination and originaltiy.

Image from demotivationalposters.org

QR Codes on Open Day

Boys downloading QR code reader Working on quiz Boys using phones

Back in March this year I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the M-Libraries conference which was held here in Brisbane. There I realised that university libraries and public libraries around the world are grappling with the need to reach their clients through mobile technology.  Why? According to Tony Kuesgen, Google’s head of technology in Australia and New Zealand, “More internet searches will be done on mobile phones than on desktop computers by 2013 as Australians increasingly embrace smart phones.”  Read more at: Smartphones ‘to overtake desktops for internet.”

I attended a session by Michelle Turner and Joanna Witt of Charles Darwin University Library, and was intrigued by a Library Treasure Hunt which they had made up (see below), using QR codes to gather statistics on how their physical and virtual library services were being used. I decided that this idea would be a good one to try out on Open Day, and last weekend I was able to put it to the test.

CDU Treasure Hunt - QR Codes

QR stands for Quick Response, and these square barcodes are a way of connecting the real world with the online world – of connecting users, with a minimum of clicks, to some type of information: a website, a text message, an SMS, a podcast, a phone number. After lots of reading and researching, I decided to use QR Stuff and, due to its simplicity yet versatility, I would highly recommend it. Because I ran out of time (and because I thought that connecting to the internet on a mobile phone might put some parents off) I simply linked each QR code to a text message – presumably stored on the QR Stuff website. You can change the colour of the barcodes with QR Stuff, and the website creates the barcode on the right of the screen as you type. Once you have finished, download and save it, or copy into your document.

Next, I looked for free QR code readers which could be quickly downloaded. Most readers scan the barcode as soon as you line up the red sqaure on the screen around the barcode.  My choice would be i-nigma, as it is very fast and clean, however some people chose to use BeeTagg instead – still a good choice because it’s free, but an extra click is required.

I set up 9 different clues around the Library, with each scanned code giving instructions for finding the next clue, and also asking a question which had to be answered. At each point the participants also had to collect a word, and then put them together in the right order to make  sentence about reading. It’s essential at this point to number your codes, to make them highly visible (I backed them with bright green paper), and to make sure the whole thing is working. I had some student volunteers go around and try it out to make sure all the codes were in the right order and made sense.

So that people without smart phones on Open Day did not feel disadvantaged, we ran a traditional pen and paper treasure hunt as well. The prize for each was chocolate, but the QR code hunt took a lot longer than the other treasure hunt, so that is something I would look at in future.

I found that people needed a bit of help to understand what they were required to do. Maybe my instructions were too brief, or maybe they just didn’t read them. Kids did very well as long as a parent was there to help them. This week we have left the instructions and entry forms out for our students: some have picked it up quickly, and others have struggled a bit with the concept.

For Open Day I created a QR Codes poster, a QR Codes brochure, a QR Codes table sign, a QR Codes entry form and a QR Codes clue sheet. If you are interested, feel free to download and modify any of these documents from the BGS Library page at Scribd.

One parent was very keen to learn how I had created the codes because he had seen them around and wanted to use them in his business.  A lot more businesses are using QR codes these days for advertisng their products, because the codes can instantly take people to their business website, email address, telephone number or message.

Benefits for the Library:  it’s good to be one step ahead of the boys!  We were also asked to showcase the use of technology in our department, and this was a good way to do that. We have experimented in the past with putting these codes on novels to link to an author’s website, but without a lot of uptake. I think it’s an idea worth pursuing though, especially when most students will soon carry a phone with them everywhere. I may start glueing them into the back of novels to quickly take the boys to more information about the book or the author, or to reviews written about the book. Another idea is to use them on our APA Referencing booklets to take students directly to the BibMe or EasyBib citation creation sites.

Other useful links:

http://www.launchsquad.com/blogs/whatsnew/2010/12/02/qr-codes-making-the-visceral-world-link-able/ –  What are QR Codes?

QR Treasure Hunt Generator –  Free online generator

QR Codes in Education – excellent PPT showing many ways QR codes can be used in the classroom





http://socialtimes.com/no-projector-use-qr-code-slideshare-to-share-a-presentation-on-smartphones_b73334 –  Using QR codes for presentation

Scanning a QR code QR code at Matthew Reilly's books

Angry Birds at School

I came across these Angry Birds websites last week and forwarded them on to our Head of Physics. She was very excited about them – anything to engage boys more with Physics – and said they had made her day.

The Physics of Angry Birds (Rhett Allain)

Angry Birds in the Physics Classroom (Frank Noschese/Michael Magnuson)

Introducing Projectile Motion Using Angry Birds (John Burke)

Angry Birds and Physics (Peter Kupfer)

So, what is it that makes Angry Birds (a game where you use a slingshot to shoot birds to destroy green pigs) successful in the classroom?  According to this  SmashApp post, there are a lot of things teachers could learn from Angry Birds to make their lessons more interesting, and to make learning more engaging:

  • Mix simplicity and challenge – just the right amounts at just the right time,
  • Allow trial and error learning, then reward with mastery,
  • Think visually – visualize everything.

Angry Birds and Books

(Image & information from:

Similarly, Josselin Perrus writes that Angry Birds, not generally considered a serious game, successfully meets the challenges of being both engaging and educational. It teaches mechanics – forces, acceleration, parabolas and centre of mass – while at the same time encouraging a player to learn from failure and become successful.

Libraries and Infographics

Library Infographic - OCLC 1

Library Infographic - OCLC 2

Thinking about how to create an eye-catching marketing tool, I went searching for infographics related to libraries and found the following three:

In this blog post Andy Moreton, a ‘technology librarian’, considers infographics “a method for presenting data in a more informative and entertaining fashion than just dumping the content into a table.” He goes on to say,  “libraries are notorious for presenting data to the public in ways that are neither informative nor entertaining…”

This is certainly a challenge, and I would love to create an infographic to visualise my Library report at the end of the year. However, I think the skill of  developing an effective infographic is to use less information rather than more and therefore infographics perhaps work best as a marketing tool, focussing on key data, rather than a reporting tool.

In the meantime, while I’m thinking about how to do it, I’ll have plenty of sites to work my way through at Kathy Scrock’s  Infographics as Creative Assessment.  Here she has put together an impressive list of links to:

The history of infographics

Examples of great infographics

Literacies and standards

How to create an infographic

Successful K-12 practices

Infographic collections and info

Infographic topics keywords

Using Infographics in the Classroom


Image from 100 Years of War Casualties

I was recently introduced to infographics by a colleague, and could immediately see their potential for engaging students in the classroom. Most of our students are visual learners, and what better way to encourage them to analyse an issue or topic, than to get them to visually depict that information as an infographic?

Put simply, infographics are detailed posters, either online or printed, showing visual relationships between data and statistics.  They allow the viewer to gain an overview of an issue or problem which would be difficult to achieve with text alone, and they can turn potentially boring information into eye-catching charts and posters.

Imagine using infographics in a Geography classroom to challenge students to portray social issues in a new light. Imagine the depth of thought students would have to put in to ‘see’ data in a new way and provoke others to respond to it – for example:

So how do you create an infographic?  These two sites give ideas for where to start, and Open Clip Art Library can be used for free images.

Some infographics are dense with information – Red Tape: The Government Grind,  and some are clear, simple and extremely effective –  Why do freeways come to a stop?
Other examples of infographics can be found at:

How you will die from drunk driving

Drunk Driving by Car Insurance Comparison.org

iPads in Education

iPad-OldSchool vs NewAge

Photo illustration by Dan Leitao/The Mirror

Last week I went to a great PD session on iPads organised by the School Library Association Brisbane sub-committee.

Judy Peacock, Learning and Study Support Coordinator at QUT Library, spoke about how she and her staff are using iPads in the QUT libraries to teach students how to plan, mind map, and organise their time and research. Dale Lopez, ICT Coordinator at Redlands College and Andrew Starke, Head of Library at TSS, also spoke about the implementation of iPads into their schools.

Now that iPads are becoming more common, many schools are choosing to select them for student use instead of laptops, and Redlands College has given one each to their Year 9 and 11 students (see the Redlands iPad Programme Portal), while Year 12 students at TSS are expected to borrow an iPad from the library at the start of the year.

At QUT, students can book a 25 minute session with one ot the Library staff members, and they find the iPad an ideal user-friendly device for easily showing students how to organise their time, notes, resources, group members and tasks.

Judy’s reccomended apps are:

Priority Matrix – organise your time with this ToDo list ($3.99)

iThoughtsHD – a mindmapping tool for iPads and iPhones ($12.99)

Popplet – for sorting and grouping ideas (free)

Evernote – capture everything in one cross-device platform (free)

Speak It – convert text to speech ($2.49)

Prezi – a different way to present (free)

Pocket Cloud – remote to your desktop from your iPad (free)


An iPad a day gives students an A!  http://fairfieldmirror.com/2010/02/03/an-ipad-a-day-gives-students-an-a/

Private school hands out 105 iPads to students  http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2010/09/private-school-hands-out-105-ipads-to-pupils/

Ushering iPads into the classroom  http://thejournal.com/articles/2010/10/13/ushering-ipad-into-the-classroom.aspx

Useful Websites

Victorian Education Dept http://www.ipadsforeducation.vic.edu.au/http://www.ipadsforeducation.vic.edu.au/support This has useful downloadable or PDF booklets for students and teachers.

Cybraryman’s iPad User Guide  http://www.cybraryman.com/ipad.html

Blog – Reihler Blog http://www.riehler.com/tag/ipad-apps/

Blog – Apps in Education http://appsineducation.blogspot.com/

YouTube  – using the ipad in the classroom – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFnWoEGWCVY

Ning – iPads in Education – http://ipadeducators.ning.com/

Wiki – Teach with Your iPad http://teachwithyouripad.wikispaces.com/

Free iPad Childrens’ ebooks – http://www.epubbud.com/

The best apps, accessories and tips for iPads – including entertainment, music

Web 2.0 for the Classroom – Wiki

Web 2.0 for the Classroom WikiI’ve just come across this website from my Google Alerts, and what a great find! http://web20fortheclassroom.wikispaces.com/

This is an online learning course, presented in a wiki, and developed by Sherri Miller, an Instructional Technology Resource Teacher for Gloucester County Public Schools.

There are 9 modules which you can work your way through at your own pace, investigating  some sites in depth, and exploring others as needed. It’s also a site you can recommend to teachers at your school if they are looking for ideas for integrating technology into their lessons.  The list of topics is below, but the Site Map gives the complete overview of all the pages.

What I particularly like about this wiki is that firstly Sherri gives examples of how the different web 2.0 tools can be used to enhance learning in the classroom, and secondly she lists her favourite tools/applications, giving you the option to try first the ones she has used and recommended.

Teacher girl computer

Image from http://web20fortheclassroom.wikispaces.com/

Creating Book Trailers using Flip Minos

flip-minoBack in May 2009, I wrote about using Flip video cameras in the classroom.  At the time, I was using a Flip Ultra, but my challenge recently has been to use Flip Mino cameras with Year 8 students to create book trailers, as we have 20 of these cameras at school.

The Mino is smaller than the Ultra, and very easy to slip into your pocket when travelling. It also can be recharged by plugging the USB port or cable into your computer, compared to replacing batteries in the Ultra. The screen is smaller, and the controls are touch rather than buttons, but this doesn’t seem to be a problem.

If you’d like more of a comparison of the two, take a look at these videos:   Flip Mino HD vs Flip Ultra HD and  Flip Ultra HD vs Flip Mino HD.

You can make quick book reviews using the FlipShare software which comes as part of  the Flip camera, but if you want to make a more sophisticated book trailer, you will probably want to take your Flip video and drop it into a program like Movie Maker or iMovie.  Videos taken by Flip cameras are in MP4 format which is supported by iMovie and QuickTime, and playable on iPods, iPhones and  iTunes, but unfortunately not by Windows Movie Maker XP which only recognises AVI and WMV files. For this reason, if you wish to import your video into Movie Maker you will first need to convert it using a free program like Any Video Converter or Zamzar.  If you have Windows 7.0, however, you probably already have  Windows Live Movie Maker (or you can download it here), and this very streamlined, updated version will accept MP4 files.  Just follow the instructions in this tutorial.

Below is a SlideShare presentation by Naomi Bates of  Northwest  High School in Texas, showing how to use Movie Maker and Animoto for creating book trailers.  (See some of her examples here)

Creating Book Trailers

Tutorials for Book Trailer Software

Using Movie Maker

Using a Flip Video Camera


Where to get free sounds and images

Image of Flip Mino from  http://www.gizmodiva.com/entry_images/0608/13/flip-mino.jpg