Author Archives: Ian Sellwood

Sorting the wheat from the chaff #LTT2013


I was really looking forward to this week. The obvious reason was because I am now on holiday for two weeks and will be able to catch up with friends, family and some well earned rest. But there was a far more interesting event for me this week. I attended the 2 day Learning Through Technology conference in Glasgow.

This event could not have come soon enough for me, partly because it ticks the rest of my CPD requirements, but mainly because I was looking for some help in sorting the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the use of technology in teaching. I am particularly guilty of dabbling with far too many different methods of bringing technology into my lessons. I don’t think I am alone in this and I hoped someone would talk some common sense this week and let me see the wood from the trees!

What with flip cams, twitter, edmodo, ubersense, coaches eye, phoster, evernote, wordfoto, dropbox, mini league, qr scanning, mindmaple and of course the essential pedagoo, pegeeks, iphys-ed, pescholar, and my weekly podcasts, my head is a blur!

Now, a lot of these new areas of my teaching week are very helpful and add a really enjoyable dimension to lessons, but where does it stop? One of said podcasts, the #physed podcast, recently discussed the balancing act between using technology and keeping the pupils active. Imagine a pupil struggling to keep their arm straight and score a consistent shot in basketball. Which is better, asking a pupil to film the shot with ubersense then discussing and offering feedback from the slow motion capture, or the teacher quickly going across and simply tucking the shooting elbow in to the body and letting the pupil get back to it. There is a time and a place for technology and sometimes the lines for me are blurred.

There were some fantastic presentations over the two days but it was the networking opportunities which really were the highlight for me. I came way from the event having met some fantastic practitioners and leaders in their own field. It was these conversations that helped the most and at the very least I now know almost every other school faces the same issues and together we can actually make a difference.

The introductory speaker, David Cameron, argued that we might be talking too much about technology and not enough about the learning which comes from its use. This made a lot of sense for me and I agreed with his opinion that we must avoid the novelty factor. Something which I am probably guilty of just now!

There seemed to be a lot of focus around which devices are best suited in school. Apple made a big appearance over the two days and I am already a convert to this system. This is not the issue for me though. Our school uses chromebooks which have made a big impact as well. My frustration is with the speed at which new tech and apps arrive but the polar opposite with which our working environment is being made future proof and allowing and trusting us as professionals to utilise all these exciting advancements safely. Our school is not far away from trialling filtered access wifi in a small area of the building. Once a suitable product and service is decided upon then it should be rolled out school wide. But even when or if we get this next step education budgets cannot keep up with always providing the “next big thing”.

There was a lot of very healthy debate about IT restrictions and opinion over buying, leasing and bring your own device options. An overwhelming number of the people attending were in favour of removal of all IT restrictions and investing time in the teaching of safe and sensible use of the Internet. Dr Alexander Allan, MSP, spoke about a vision and promise for equality for every pupil to access and learn with technology. This is something which is still a long way off when we heard from several different teachers in the final debate who spoke about such a wide range of restrictions in their regions. Why can there not be more trust in our ability to deliver learning with the aid of any technology we feel is applicable? There will be examples of schools a few miles apart separated by a county line who have completely different sets of rules and restrictions. How can that be fair to the children?

I came away from the conference with some useful contacts, advice and opinions. I look forward to the new Glow Plus. Jaye Richards-Hill spoke with a real sense of belief that this project will meet national requirements for a world leading learning environment. I have a sense of understanding about how I should use technology in my teaching. It is a support and should stimulate learning not constrain it. This also goes for my planning…..support not constrain.

There are some exciting projects using iPads which are both primary and secondary driven. This 1:1 pilot programme is already showing both the benefits and problems with purchasing a device for every child. I was really impressed with the pupils from Bellshill Academy, who delivered a session of their experiences with using iPads. The major question from this was how does it continue to roll out across the school?

I have some thoughts on this. We currently have the fantastic #pupilfriday and #pedagoofriday where pupils and staff are invited to take out their smartphone and share positive teaching experiences that week through a tweet. I think the next stage for me would be BYODfriday. Bring your own device day which encourages staff to create lessons which incorporate the use of smartphones, tablets or something similar. And for those who cannot access a device like this (which is a remarkably small number) there is always the option of partner work and school provided devices. I know in my subject the possibilities of using coaching apps, data recording functions and collaborative document creations are endless. It does need a robust wifi system but within the next 5 years what won’t?!

Allowing pupils to be given the freedom to use open access wifi on curricular tasks for a short period of time like our half day Fridays would give the school a chance to test the system, develop lessons and strategies of best use and instill a safe use policy for the pupils. This would then naturally give way to full use through the whole week which is surely where we will all end up in a few years time anyway?

So, did the conference help me sort the wheat from the chaff? Not directly, but it was never going to do that! What it did do was focus my thoughts into a more streamlined approach to using all the excellent resources out there just now. But the event was also much more than that. I thoroughly enjoyed the thoughts of Derek Robertson and the promoting of a culture of creation. Andrea Reid was a refreshing voice of reason from the perspective of a quality improvement officer. I even managed to create a fantastic link with Skill Development Scotland and my work within the fitness for work element in our S2 Careers block. I have added a few new names to my following list on Twitter and look forward to some interesting points of view in the coming months.

I feel much more at ease with what I am trying to do in my own teaching career with regards to technology and appreciate that with a more trustworthy system of access to the World Wide Web, we would all make much better progress. After all, as the Head teacher from Hawick High School said, why stop a teacher or pupil from accessing “bloody Culloden” in a history lesson when they can just pull out a mobile device and jump onto 3G within seconds?

I look forward to the day when we can move forward at a pace which is much more suited to the modern era, and I know for a fact my subject is more than ready to lead the way!

Collaborative learning at Preston Lodge

Thought I would put a quick post on how we are developing some great collaborative working between staff, S6 and S1 pupils at Preston Lodge High School. We have two hours a week dedicated to our S1 pupils experiencing some completely different challenges and learning experiences. We use the underlying philosophy of Curriculum for Excellence to create opportunities for our pupils to engage in quality learning out with the normal curriculum lessons.

Running in tandem with this programme are a cohort of our S6 pupils linked to each S1 group, with an emphasis on earning an award in Leadership. This is an elective course for them and it has proven very useful for my particular “PL Challenge”. I am delivering a combination of basic orienteering, geo-caching and teambuilding. I want the pupils to experience something new and to learn outside skills. My S6 pupils have been assisting with the map work and running basic orienteering competitions, but it is in the team building part of each double lesson that they are coming into their own.

As the weeks have gone on I have taken more and more of a back step and they have been delivering the challenges to the S1 group. Whilst their delivery skills are still raw they are starting to realise that they can simply affect the learning of their younger audience by the way they communicate with them and by the way they lead by example.

Last week they were given a challenge to deliver which included creating groups, setting out rules and time for team discussion for tactics. They worked with each group to plan the best way to complete the challenge and then oversaw the action. The S1 are happy to sit and discuss and now even argue their ideas to the S6 in a very engaging atmosphere. In turn the S6 are now starting to encourage each and every S1 pupil to become more engaged in the group task, allowing pupils to become leaders and then dealing with success and failure. All without the teacher having to interrupt….too often…!

As well as the group work the S6 also have to plan and deliver whole year group events to the S1 in the changeover week, allowing staff to plan and prepare materials for the following block. This is done with the aide of some senior staff but the majority of the effort is their own.

These bigger events are a real test of character and the skills they are gaining will definitely stand them in good stead in the future.

It is a work in progress but I for one have enjoyed the dual task of allowing the S1 pupils time in a challenge which gives them a platform to display completely different skills and the S6 an opportunity to build up some new skill sets of leadership and task management. The relationships and respect that is being created is only a good thing for the whole school and everyone gains something from it.

Nothing really ground breaking with this type of work but it is an example of good practice and it might ignite some ideas in other schools!