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xmasparty
#PedagooWonderland

0530 on a Saturday morning is difficult, cold and after another long night of the ashes, very miserable. However, I was off to a Pedagoo event, packed with exciting speakers, thoughtful teachers, inspiring individuals and I was pretty confident that my chosen Saturday CPD event was going to be brilliant. It was…

The first thing that blew me away (after registering with the very welcoming pupils of the school) was the amazing building. It was bright, clean, tidy and very much the type of modern building I come to expect when I go ‘somewhere nice’. Just as our children know when they are being shortchanged as regards use of windows XP on old PC’s, they know it when they walk into a dingy building which is in desperate need of a paint job. Michael Gove said that the building and environment of a school makes no difference. I drive past these buildings at Fettes and Stewart’s Melville on the way to my school every day. Clearly, environment makes a difference.

The other thing about the building I loved was the use of images of Joseph Swan children working, often with ideas about how they work, or slogans/quotations about respect, reading etc behind them. That is something I will try and create in the next couple of weeks if energies allow as it looks so good and inspires.

Whilst having my complimentary tea and danish pastry (which would contravene the bring your own tea and biscuits policy of many councils) I set about reading my welcome pack. I loved the Happy Mondays leaflet which contained loads of great, ready to use, ideas for enhancing and reinforcing learning in the classroom. The Happy Mondays reference is because the teachers at Joseph Swan receive and e-mail every Monday, with a new idea or resource in it from their SMT. I love that idea!

MY first session of the day was in the Reading Room (and what an amazing space that is…) with David Hodgson. David talked about how we learn and how we can use techniques in the classroom to help children learn and remember how they learned things. As a primary teacher I get asked lots of questions from the children and my most frequent answer to them is good question. I don’t believe in throwing the knowledge confetti about for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’m not convinced the children will remember it whilst they walk back to their desks and secondly I (or A.N.Other teacher) will not always be there for them when they have a question or want to learn something. The things we did in his session were all practical examples of an NLP approach, and I was so impressed I bought his book for my Kindle this morning. He used this pupil feelings graphic in his session too which I find a useful tool to have by my desk in the class room. Something David said which rang a bell was that we should ensure our children ‘Have a get out clause for children when they don’t learn’. This is vital, so often our children get way more stressed than we ever do about a wrong answer. We need them to take risks, get it wrong, change it and get it wrong again, smiling all the time! That is a successful learner right there.

The next session was with Rachel Orr who is HT at Holy Trinity Rosehill Her workshop was about developing writing through Primary Learning and specifically using Pie Corbett’s talk for writing work. I had worked on a Pie Corbett workshop for writing day before (January 2007??) and it was amazing. I’ve bought a few of his books and love his approach to writing. There is a lot of material on the internet too to supplement his written work. I also liked the punctuation sounds and actions which children are to use when they are talking and can then reinforce the assessment process in class. Rachel has used Pie’s work in two differing schools now and shared with us examples of the successes her young writers had, and these examples cal be seen on her school blogs. Rachel gave us a disk with loads of fantastic resources on, many her own work (the learning keys are a great idea!).

During lunch I met some great folk including @spiceweasel77 who is doing some brilliantly exciting things with his class!

After lunch it was on to Hywel Roberts session. Hywel spoke passionately and humourously about creating contexts in the curriculum, allowing the children to view the learning they are given through their own filters and engaging children in their learning. I made loads of notes during Hywel’s session and later tweeted many of them. Here’s the quotations I tweeted:

‘It’s our job to get the World thinking.’

‘We need to dig learning holes for our children to fall into.’

‘we are the people who make sense of the curriculum we are given. ‘

‘Have a what’s great 2 mins at the start of staff meetings’

‘we need to induct our kids into learning’

‘all of these things are just doing the job we’ve been asked to do. That we’re paid for. ‘

I’ve got Hywel’s book and it’s a great read. I need to do more of this in my classes. It’s great stuff. I was incredibly impressed with Hywel and the way he works in schools.

Finally, my last session was about using enquiry based learning in maths. Stephanie Thirtle took this session, she is a maths teacher at Joseph Swan. (I’d love The Girl to have her as a maths teacher, lessons would be so interesting!)
We did some enquiry based openers which really got us thinking and she talked about the approach of letting the children work things out for themselves, rather than an I teach then you do model. I love the work things out idea and think the way she’s bringing it to maths in a high school works really well. Much of the rationale for enquiry based learning was on her presentation and clearly showed examples of enquiry based learning which we could use as one-off lessons or develop for a maths topic. Such things investigating square numbers, straight line graphs using algebra, and one which P7 will be seeing soon – 12 Days of Christmas maths.
Her room displays were wonderful and I snapped many of them on my phone and you can see them here. I particularly liked that ways she put maths into context making it real for the children.
That chimed so well with the session from Hywel previously.

I came away with my head full of wonderful ideas and a bag full of goodies!
So, what next…well before Christmas I will make some posters of children and their ideas about learning to go up in school and I will also make some musical posters for the music room.

After Christmas I will take loads more of these ideas and run with them. It’ll be different, fun and learning will happen.

NationalModeration.co.uk – a new(ish) approach to assessment moderation

As requested by @fkelly , I’ve decided to throw a quick post together about www.nationalmoderation.co.uk – a service I created to allow Scottish teachers to share their own unit assessments for the new National Qualifications.

Essentially the creation of this website was spurred by one glaringly obvious reality – the unit assessments provided by the SQA are simply not up to scratch, and as a consequence everybody is creating their own material and hoping that it meets the standards. Ón the face of it, this may be no bad thing – if we create our own unit assessments then we can tailor them to our own courses and our own pupils, and surely that is good idea?

To give an example, I have consciously themed my entire National 5 English course around the concept of ‘Coping with Conflict’, selecting texts which can be woven together across the whole year (‘Spiritual Damage’, ‘War Photographer’, ‘The Man I Killed’ and ‘Bold Girls’) – now that I am no longer forced to use a few set NABs I have also created reading assessments which follow this theme, thus enhancing the pupils’ overall understanding of what we are studying this year (at least this is the idea).

Several months ago, however, I realised that if EVERYONE does the same thing then there will be hundreds – perhaps thousands – of unit assessments being created across the country and many of us will be replicating the work that colleagues are doing (or have already done). Frankly, we all work too hard as it is to be reinventing the wheel hundreds of times over, so a system for sharing material is essential.

Of course, Education Scotland and the SQA are providing something along these lines, but there are two reasons why I believe it would be helpful for a service which is independent of these bodies. Firstly, the websites of these organisations (especially Education Scotland) are – to be kind – not particularly user friendly, and I (like many others) don’t have the time or the willpower to fight my way through Glow to find material on a regular basis; secondly, I firmly believe that the only way for us to ever really become confident in the development and delivery of our own materials is for us to move beyond a dependence on official bodies to confirm that every little thing is up to scratch.

If – or, depending on your philosophical view of the amount of fluid in a glass, when – Curriculum for Excellence fulfills its potential it will be because of the incredible work of teachers, not Education Scotland, the SQA or the Education Secretary, and I hope that NationalModeration might play a small part in that development.

Basically, it works like this: teachers upload their unit assessments, other teachers moderate them by leaving comments, alterations are made as required and, eventually, gradually, standards become clearer and are met across the country.

At present the site only has English assessments but it would be great if other subjects could begin contributing materials as well (I’ll create however many subject specific pages are required in this instance). In order to sign up you must be teacher in a Scottish school (and verify this, usually by means of an official email address) – this means that the material can be kept secure, allowing us to continue to use it in our classes as our official unit assessments.

If you think that the site would be of any help to you as you continue to develop your approach to the new qualifications please do sign up – the more people are involved the more effective our approach will be.

A TERM WITH YEAR 9 – HOW CAN I SHOW MY STUDENTS HISTORY MATTERS?

Why is history in the curriculum?

I’m not being rude but it doesn’t actually help you in your daily life.”

To punish people.”

So if anyone asks you a question you could answer instead of saying I don’t know.”

(Quotations from students in Richard Harris and Tony Haydn, ‘Children’s Ideas about School History and why they matter’, pp. 45-46)

Not all student responses looked like this, but these individuals’ words exemplify a problem: although 70% of those questioned claimed history was useful, fewer than a third were able to articulate why.*

It is possible that the absence of a clear and developed understanding of why they are learning about the past, and about the discipline of history, is impacting negatively on pupil effort and attainment in history, and on take-up rates post-14.”

(Ibid., p. 48)

A few months ago, noting that motivation correlates with attainment and GCSE choices, I argued that demonstrating the relevance of history to students is important if they are to immerse themselves in learning and recognise the subject’s importance.  In that post, I mentioned having spent a year working on this problem with a Year 9 class.  This post describes and evaluates my actions and their reactions during our first term together, as I tried to persuade them that history matters.

Who better to explore this with than Year 9 (thirteen/fourteen year olds)?  In most schools this is their last year of compulsory history, so it is critical in cementing their understanding of the past.  Most students are pretty confident at the beginning of Year 9 whether or not they will choose to study history in their GCSEs; the majority conclude they will not (nationally, a third of students study History GCSE, figures replicated in my former school).  History is a hard sell: a large proportion of students see the subject as difficult and irrelevant to both everyday life and their future careers.  Moreover, Year 9 is the dip: equidistant from the bright-eyed enthusiasm of entry into a school in Year 7 and maximum pressure from school, parents and usually, students themselves, in Year 11.  Proving history matters is a challenging task in this context, but a vital one.

What did my class think of history?

I was teaching a mixed ability class; most of the students were new to me – if we can overlook a disastrous cover lesson I’d had with a third of the group the previous summer.  The head of year was characteristically upbeat, noting that “You’ve got a very bright class here” and saying less about their fairly unenviable behavioural reputation.  She did mention that a couple of parents had never heard anything good about their children and if I managed to ring home positively early, it would be worth my while.

At the end of our first lesson together, I asked students to answer: ‘How do you feel about history?  The picture below shows my summary of reasons why students said they didn’t like the subject:

Relevance2

Above all, they expressed the idea that it was ‘not useful’ or ‘irrelevant to my life’ and ‘boring,’ a word which came up more than any other.  Only four students had anything positive to say about the subject… it seemed pretty clear to me that embarking on the (pretty dry) prescribed course was unlikely to achieve anything.

There is sufficient evidence of school or departmental effect in the data to suggest that teachers can have an influence on pupils’ understanding of the purpose of school history.”

(Ibid., p. 47)

My goal was to teach students to love history and to recognise its profound importance to their lives…  but I believed this was something they had to realise for themselves.  So I began by asking:

What questions matter to you?

I began with the still on the right from from the Italian Job and asked students what questions they would wish to ask about this picture – they came up with a good range: What had happened?  Was the driver drunk?  And so on.

Italian Job

I then developed an idea from Teaching as a Subversive Activity and asked students to imagine that they were redesigning the school curriculum from scratch, without reference to tests or syllabuses.  What questions would they want answered in such a curriculum?  I was nervous at this point as to how well they would respond to the idea; results varied, this is a representative sample:

  • If you were in a fight with one of your friends and you seriously hurt them, and no one saw you, would you take them to hospital or leave and pretend nothing every happened?
  • How did music emerge as a global phenomenon?
  • Why is there school? Why do we need education?
  • Can you explain global warming?
  • Is there something you can’t live without?
  • What do you aspire to be in the future?
  • Would you give your life for people you care about?

I closed by returning to the list of questions about the bus and asked what did almost all of the questions refer to?  The idea I was trying to convey was that we have to look to the past for answers to every question except one (what happens next?) we can predict an answer to this based on all the other answers.

How can history help us answer the questions that matter to us?

I wanted students to see how a historical question can help answer a philosophical or ‘life’ question, so I began with an easy example: one student had asked ‘Is Arsenal rubbish?’ so I invited students to break this down into smaller questions (for example, how many goals did they score last season?)  They then extended this to formulate historical questions which helped answered some of their other (more interesting) questions.  I also offered them some of my own historical questions (ensuring there was at least one historical question linked with each philosophical question); examples which linked with the questions I listed above included:

  • Why did the Victorians let children not go to school?
  • What did Roman people think you couldn’t live without?
  • What did the Ancient Greeks think was the meaning of life?

Finally, students voted on the question which they most wanted to research.

I wrote to a friend after this lesson: “I’ve been reading their books and from the last lesson some of them did write stuff like – now I realise the past can help us understand other questions… so I think it can work.”  And as another friend said to me at the same time, my having promised to prove that history mattered and let them choose their question “You have to honour that!”  I was unsure where things were going, but it looked like the right direction.  So I prepared to help my students answer their question through history.

‘Are you a leader or a follower?’

This was my students’ chosen question, and it was a gift to a history teacher.  I designed a lesson which explored this question from a range of angles: looking at why so many people voted for the Nazis, what made leaders like Martin Luther King and Gandhi successful and, by my students’ request, how fashion trends spread.  I also asked a wonderful Year 13 Psychology student to visit the class and explain Stanley Milgram’s ‘Obedience to Authority’ electric shock experiments.  Students spent a lesson examining these different examples of leadership & following and at the end, I asked them whether they were leaders or followers based on what they’d learned.

Over the next two lessons, students created presentations on different aspects of what we had learned: how we had got this far, what history suggested made a leader and a follower, what we had decided about ourselves and the skills we had developed.  They then presented what they had done to the head of year (and I had it filmed as well).

Other ways of demonstrating relevance

Although the hardest bit of the ‘selling’ process was over, I devoted the rest of the term to continuing this push.  We looked at propaganda as a tool during World War I – and applied this knowledge to modern advertising.  We worked on essay-writing and persuasion – as a tool for history and for life.  And we studied the origins of the London riots (one of the highlights of this was Zelal popping into a police station, on her own initiative, to enquire into the racial disparities in arrest statistics).  At every point, I devoted time to the ‘so what’ question – underscoring the importance of what we were doing.

In the spring term I pushed the class to create far better work – which matched their interest in the subject, rewriting essays and seeing some great essays from some of my students.  In the summer I focused on sharing what we’d learned and organised a trip to a local primary school to teach them what we had been learning, in which every student had a role presenting, teaching or supporting Year 6 students.  Again, every topic we studied or skill we refined, I set time aside to consider why it mattered.

The results

Avowed beliefs: In January asked students to write postcards addressed to my Year 9s next year which summarised why history matters (as I explained, to save me the time of those new students misbehaving before they recognised why the subject mattered).  The noteworthy factor is that no one refused, no one said ‘I don’t know what to say.’  No one wrote nothing – so all of them had gained some impression that history was useful.*

Choosing History GCSE: When it came to their choices, seventeen students chose to study history and seven didn’t – a rate which was three times the school average.  I asked them to explain to me as best they could why they had chosen history; my summaries are below (some students made more than one relevant question):

CIMG6153

(Two students were absent on the day I asked this question, both of whom had chosen history).

And as to why they hadn’t…

CIMG6154

Academic results: I received some absolutely brilliant pieces of work – the highlight being the student who moved from apparently being on level 3 to level 7.  That said, a handful of students made no progress on paper- primarily because a cunning combination of absence, time in the school’s behaviour unit and avoidance of homework meant I barely saw any of their written work; that said, I should have done more to chase those individuals.

‘Prosocial behaviour’: This one’s harder to evidence, but students displayed better attitudes to learning and school more generally.  Firstly, I ceased calling for help from my head of department/form tutors/the head of year/school behaviour unit, because off-task behaviour was sufficiently limited, and relationships were good enough, that I could address this unaided.  This was a novel situation with me for an entire Year 9 class – every previous year we reached a point in the summer where one or two students had adopted such a consistently negative attitude (and had long since chosen not to study GCSE History) that they were removed entirely from history lessons.  More tentatively, I would argue that there was a power in students having a subject which they enjoyed, succeeded in, had a teacher to say something positive about them in parents’ evenings…  I don’t know what it counted for in their wider lives, but I do know that one parent claimed she dropped the phone when I rang to say her daughter was doing well (first positive call home ever).  The same student (who was a bit of a terror), came up to me near the end of my time at the school and said: ‘I don’t want you to leave.’  And then wandered off.  What does that count for in the great scheme of things?  I’m not sure: but I’d like to hope it was worth something

Evaluation

Focusing on persuading students history matters meant I spent a lot of time thinking about the purposes of my lessons and considering how best to communicate this with my students.  It led me to work in a more democratic way – a managed democracy, certainly, but one in which I gave my students genuine choices and was open with them about the rationale for what was on offer and the decisions I made.  The more I did this and they responded, the more I was happy to be open and honest about the problems I was facing or things I didn’t know how to do.  Clarity about purposes and honesty with them improved our relationships and meant that they better understood why they were doing what they were doing and so chose to buy into it.

My plans evolved as I worked.  Although there were some things I had in mind early on (like visiting a primary school) much was unplanned; there were many points at which I wasn’t clear about much beyond the next step.  I acted by instinct and – for the most part – it worked – but it was pretty terrifying at times and it’s not something I would recommend lightly.

Were I doing this again, I would insist on a higher standard of work and behaviour from the start.  At the time I though I was doing pretty well – I judge myself now against a school with higher non-negotiables.  The time to chase every child and every piece of work myself, together with another four Key Stage 3 classes, Year 10s, Year 11s, A-level coursework and the UCAS system simply wasn’t there (especially in a system which demanded assessment and data entry six times a year).  I’m in awe of those who can honestly do this and maintain their sanity.  I did throw my teddies out of the pram on one occasion and make the whole class rewrite an essay – and I got some very high quality writing from some students.  However…  I now feel that I could have done more than I did.

Did they learn enough?  Possibly not.  They learned a lot – but among other things I dropped some topics to provide enough time to do others well.  I told myself then that I’d done more of a favour by getting them to study history so they would keep learning.  I look at these things differently now and appreciate this better – more knowledge and understanding provides the secure basis for later success.  Could I have pushed them further?  When I visited the school again in October, many of them were struggling with their GCSEs.  Why?

I had a massive amount of latitude.  I was in an ‘Outstanding’ school, subject to only one lesson observation a year.  I don’t think anyone really knew what I was doing…  How acceptable is this?  Had I had to follow the curriculum to the letter, I’m sure I would have been faced by some fairly mutinous students all year.  And yet most schools do not provide this space for teachers.  What would I recommend to teachers who don’t have this latitude?  I think spending five minutes at the end of a lesson to discuss why the lesson just studied matters – how it links with our lives or the present day.  But there’s a broader question here: if teachers (and schools) don’t have freedom to innovate and experiment, how can they meet the needs of their students?  Equally, once they do have that freedom, what’s to keep their choices at least somewhere related to their straight and narrow.

Intervention in Year 9 is too late!  This worked, but it’s not the best way to do it.  If you are trying to convert students from a negative impression of the subject, it’s hard work doing this in a year.  It can be done, but this is not the most productive approach.  We need to work harder in Year 7 to ensure students love and appreciate history.

Nor does an approach like this substitute for effective behaviour management, on the part of the school and the teacher.  One of my struggles was getting all my students to try as hard as I’d have liked them to do on their written work – or indeed, any task needing sustained application.  Equally, classroom management alone is sufficient neither to ensure students’ best efforts nor to ensure students pursue your subject with genuine interest.

Much of what I did doesn’t diverge far from what we might teach anyway.  Everything I taught was on the syllabus, except the London Riots (and even that was just a tweak of the syllabus: we studied the crisis in Syria this year in Year 8, of which more anon).  What this approach does is reverses the agenda, or the direction I’m pursuing – beginning with students and moving to history, rather than treating history as thing to press onto students.  The best case is having seen an example like the one above, students recognise the links between what matters to them and what they learn and then formulate them independently: one of my students in Year 7 did this spontaneously last week for almost the first time ever.

Conclusion – would I do it again?

Curriculum time is precious at Key Stage 3, but investment in these inputs can make all the difference between desultory compliance on the part of pupils, and wholehearted and enthusiastic commitment to wanting to do history, to do well in it, and to do it for as long as possible.

(Ibid., p. 48)

Aspects of what I’ve described above still make me uncomfortable.  There are many things which I would change: for a start, I would demand far better written work from the beginning.  I would be less sanguine about playing fast and loose with the curriculum.  One particular thought-experiment I haven’t considered enough if how I would react as a head of department if one of my teachers did this without talking to me about it first (as I did).

On the other hand, I believe the fundamental approach is sound.  I went from having four students who had something positive to say about history at the start of the year, to having seventeen choose to keep studying the subject.  Moreover, irrespective of their choices, students experienced things of enduring value: persuasive essay writing, identifying and analysing propaganda and teaching primary school students.   This experience has shaped a unit themed around historical relevance with which I begin the Year 7 curriculum (and similar units for Years 8 and 9).  With each class, the approach I take is different (I may come back to this in future) but with all of the, the result should look something like this – three photos of Year 7 work from last half term:

CIMG6089 CIMG6079

CIMG6074

Notes

* It’s not entirely clear from Harris and Haydn’s published report how bad the picture is.  70% of their respondents said history was useful.  Of 1,500 comments about its usefulness, 658 were tautological ‘It’s on the curriculum because people need to learn it.’  Over 250 appeared to offer statements which demonstrated an understanding of the rationale as expressed by the National Curriculum.  Over 200 responses related to employment – although many (around 50) were phrased as though history would only be useful if you wished to be a history teacher/work in a museum.  The best guess possible from the article is that around 400 students, from a sample of 1,500 who commented, were able to articulate ‘valid’ purposes of school history.

* More tricksy psychology: asking people to persuade others of something makes them more likely to believe it themselves.  I knew by this stage I wasn’t going to be at the school next year, but I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise for my students.

Further reading

There doesn’t seem to be much written about this – please point me towards exciting things I’ve missed.

Richard Harris and Tony Haydn,‘Children’s Ideas about School History and why they matter,’ Teaching History, 132, September 2008 (paywall) although you can download the full report here.

Ben Walsh has an E-CPD unit at the History Association website on exactly this question – again, behind a paywall.

I write lots more at improvingteaching.co.uk and I’m on twitter as @HFletcherwood

My Journey to the Scottish Digital Leaders Network.

On Wednesday 25th September, I presented at the SLF teachmeet on the topic of the Scottish Digital Leaders Network. Here is that presentation

 

2 years ago I taught ICT across the school as RCCT cover…it nearly killed me. Not the ICT bit, I loved it for enabling children to do fantastic creative work, and powerpoints, the way they could discover things, share things and be enthused and curious about learning. Parts of it were like an advert for the teacher training agency.

What nearly killed me was the day to day problems which got in the way. Flash updates, word templates not working, no access to colour printers, flash updates, using IE 6, aspects of filtering, flash updates, java…you get the picture. It really got in the way of me extending the children’s learning in ICT. As part of my ICT role I spent two days at a NAACE conference in Crewe where I met some amazing people and was introduced to the idea of Digital Leaders.

 

Rather than me try to define a digital leader, I thought I’d share with you a child’s own view of the role, taken from an Edmodo post…on a Sunday afternoon.

Slide2

And then rather than get you to read loads more, made a quick wordle which highlights helping, technology, responsible, and for some reason curtain.

Slide3

Digital leaders are a group of children in school which help with ICT in loads of different ways. They have expertise in ICT, are responsible and are given positions with real influence and real responsibility in your school. They exist in every school.

Last year I decided to turn our ICT group at Uphall into a Digital Leaders group. Something I felt would go beyond an after school group and something where I wanted the children to have more of a leading role.

So, having decided to give digital leaders a go, we asked them to apply online and we interviewed them and selected our first 13 digital leaders.This interview and application process is an important part of the digital leaders ethos in my opinion. It helps create a standard and expectation for the children, parents and staff and it is a process our children took very seriously and were brilliant at. I was fortunate enough to have my headteacher involved in the process which added loads to the process.

 

Over the year they made videos, created a resource website to help replace education city’s maths games, taught numerous children how to do many things, helped install firefox, used webmaker tools and finally the P7′s wrote the interview questions for this year’s cohort. Much of this work we shared on our blog space.

Slide4

This was great, but what they desperately wanted was to meet other digital leaders, online and in real life for meetups and beyond…and I had some ideas I thought they could develop too!

Slide5Many of these ideas also involve taking digital leaders beyond our school and meeting up with similar groups.

So I thought I would try and set up the Scottish Digital Leaders Network. The network exists currently on Google + and we have an edmodo group. I am happy for the resources and network to reside anywhere where we can easily do the things we want to do, so we’re not tied to any medium. These are the things you’ll find there.

Slide6

One of the really exciting things going on this year is the badges for DL-ers from digital me. Digital me help young people gain skills and confidence through new technology and work alongside groups such as Nesta and Mozilla to develop young people’s skills. The badges look brilliant, and there you can view the prototype designs in the G+ group.

Slide7

What I would like you to do, is, having seen this, consider whether Digital Leaders is something you could start at your school. If it is please drop me an e-mail and I’ll organise you joining the network and hopefully we can support you and share ideas and solutions.

If it’s something you’re already doing under a different name, it would be great if you’d consider joining the network and making connections with people, I really think your children would enjoy the opportunities of working with other people.

Obviously, any questions please get in touch via e-mail, twitter or the comments below.

That was my presentation and slides and I’ve been really pleased with the feedback so far. There are a few hoops to go through to get into a google + group. You need a google account and you need to have activated your G+ account. I went for G+ as it offers webmeet capacity across the UK and beyond, which sadly Glow doesn’t yet and Skype calling seems unavailable in many schools.

The Edmodo group for Scottish Digital Leaders is here. You need to drop me an e-mail or DM for the code.

A Light That Never Goes Out
September 15, 2013
0

Cross-posted from http://justtryingtobebetter.net/

This may or may not have happened.

He handed me his first piece of writing homework and, of course, it was illegible. ‘I’m not good at writing’, he’d told me. We’d been working on lists: Things I lost by the time I was ten or Things I’d been given by the time I was ten. He wanted to tell me about his hamster. He’d stayed behind to tell me all about it: how he lost it in his garden and feels sad about it; how he’d look after it more if he still had it. I told him to write it all down at home.

Being ‘not good at writing’ wasn’t a surprise. The notes I’d been passed from the ASN team told me that. He would feel better if he was given a laptop to write his work, something his previous teacher echoed. He had great ideas but there’s no point in him writing it in his class book as you won’t be able to read it. Better to type it up. He’ll feel better about it and you won’t need to struggle to decipher his handwriting. And I thought to myself, ‘No. It’s time to stop this nonsense.’

He’s twelve and the most important thing he has learned so far in seven years of school is, ‘I’m not good at writing.’ And that’s not good enough, is it? We might dress that fact up by giving him a nice laptop to do his work. We might constantly remind him that his ideas are great and he can express himself very well at times. Perhaps that’s fine when you are twelve. His work nicely typed up, perhaps pinned on the class notice board. His teacher might tell the other pupils to read his work because it was one of the best in the class.

But what happens when he gets to fifteen, sixteen, twenty, twenty five? Who is there to tell him that his ideas are great; when he realises that his inability to write legibly will exclude him from any number of things that others can do? So when we condemn some children to a life of illiteracy because it is difficult – not for him, although it is, but for a system which can’t find the time to help him with his problems- we cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility when he enters society after he leaves us. ‘I’m not good at writing’ does not sound quite so cute from an adult who has been through twelve or thirteen of formal schooling, does it?

I spent perhaps five times as long deciphering his handwriting that night as anyone else’s in the class. I returned class books and explained the feedback process and that everyone had their own improvements to make. Then I sat down next to the boy who told me ‘I’m not good at writing’. I asked him why that was. He said it was something he’d never been able to do. I sat with him and looked him in the eye and told him that I would do everything I could for him to get better at writing. He wrote out one sentence in large rounded letters. He looked at me and smiled.

Remember, this may or may not have happened.

Kings, Nuns and Team Teaching.

Long Live the King! No, not a post about the Royal Infant. This is about the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and how he helped engage a less-than-motivated S4 English class. I’m an English teacher in Glasgow, but I’m a bit of a nomad at the moment. For various reasons I’ve no permanent base school, despite being a permanent teacher, and have been fortunate enough to work in a few different schools over the last couple of years. At the tail end of the summer term I secured a secondment for this session as a leader of learning for Glasgow, but the post wasn’t due to start until the 26th of August. In the meantime, the council placed me in Knightswood Secondary for a fortnight, as an extra body.

My remit was a bit of team teaching and a bit of development work, and one of the classes I was working with was a National 4 class in S4. From the first day I was in with them, they were hard work. Two or three disaffected characters made it nearly impossible for the rest of the class to benefit from the teaching, even with two teachers and a formidable PSA in attendance. I spent my first two periods sitting at a table with some of the worst offenders, doing my best to engage and focus them, which worked well with some, not so well with others.

As a department, it had been decided that National 4 would ‘shadow’ National 5, in that we would study a ‘set text’ from the same selection of authors used for N5 and Higher, picking a text relevant to the level. My partner teacher picked Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Elvis’s Twin Sister’, in which the poet imagines Elvis’s twin (who was male and died at birth) survived and was in fact female. The character is a nun in a convent, whose life both reflects her famous brother’s and is at the same time its opposite.

My partner introduced the background to the poem. So who’s heard of Elvis? A few hands went up. What do you know about him? He died on the toilet. He was fat. That’s pretty much it. So we put on a clip of a young Elvis, brimming with energy and charisma, singing blue suede shoes. They were hooked. They went away to research Elvis and his life, returning the next day to look more closely at the poem. We discussed the poem in detail, looking at clips of Madonna (whose quote –  ’Elvis is alive – and he’s female’, regarding K.D. Lang – is the poem’s epigraph) and some more of the King himself. We talked about the influence of his music, the enduring power of his legend, the significance of the poet making his sister a nun…the time passed in a flash.

Next day, I led the lesson for the first time, not sure how they would react – after all, my partner teacher had already had them for a year, and I was a random stranger who had plonked herself in their midst for a few lessons. I’d put together some textual analysis questions for the class, and this was going to be pretty old style – how were they going to react to me and the work? The answer is – brilliantly. The focus was total, and their buy-in excellent. We circulated as they worked to help, encourage and praise – and the praise was well-deserved. The more vocal elements of the class had gradually settled over the past few lessons, and this allowed the quieter kids to shine through, and dare to offer ideas and answers where before they would have stayed silent for fear of a spiky retort from the ‘bad’ kids. I looked around the room to see young people feeling good about their work, proud of their achievement, as they came up with answer after answer that was interesting, appropriate and original. I really hadn’t expected this, and their teacher and I were as delighted as we were surprised.

My final days with them saw us looking at report writing, asking them to take source materials about Elvis, extract the key details and present them in their own words. Next we had a bit of group discussion, with the groups given 8 possible paragraph topics on paper slips with some blank ones for their own ideas. The task was to order the topics into a suitable structure for a report on Elvis. I’d expected we’d be spending a lot of time focussing kids to the task and trying to encourage some of them to take part, but in fact everyone got involved straight away and the task was completed super fast. The class went away ready to get their final Elvis facts together and begin their reports the next week (although some had already begun and written a few sample paragraphs).

I was really sad to leave the class. After the first lesson or two, I was not looking forward to working with them for the two weeks, but things changed to quickly, and I’ve left them promising to send me their finished reports to see. My partner was, understandably, wary about having a strange person in teaching alongside her, but by the end of the time we were both so sad to see the end of the arrangement. I truly believe that the difference in the class was entirely down to there being two of us. We were able to share the work of teaching and motivating the kids, and keeping a lid on any dodgy behaviour. We were both able to plan and deliver resources according to our strengths, and if the arrangement had continued, we would have shared the load of assessment. I’ve done team teaching before, and that experience was one of the best in my career, and here yet again I’ve seen it having a huge effect on the learning and motivation of a class. It’s really unfair that we’re now having to change their dynamic once more, but there’s nothing to be done about that. If only there was the money in the system to build in an ‘extra’ teacher to each department, to let this kind of teamwork develop – where kids need this extra support to do their best, it really does offer an incredibly effective solution. However, with every penny being scrutinised and justified, it’s not likely to happen any time soon, more’s the pity.

As for Elvis, I suppose it’s testament to his enduring legacy that over three and a half decades since his death, he still appeals at least a little to Glasgow teenagers, and the poem was pretty perfect for National 4 – if anyone would like a copy of the textual analysis questions and report writing unit, drop me a tweet at @katiebarrowman

 

Digital Leaders @ Uphall Primary School.

A couple of Saturdays ago now, I presented at the brilliant #tmlovelibraries at Edinburgh Central Library.

My presentation/discussion was about using Digital Leaders, from set up to the end of their 1st year at Uphall Primary School.

Digital leaders are an idea I picked up at NAACE hothouse last year in Crewe. The idea was shared there by @shellibb, @chrismayoh and @largerama.

The basic idea is that you have a group of children who have a keen interest in computing in any form and who are happy to develop their interest and taken on responsibilites around the school which had previously been done by adults (or adult!). They will also get to review new pieces of software, try out some new apps in school, act as experts in the classroom, run CPD for teachers and other pupils, represent the school at digital events and teachmeets.

The recruitment of Digital Leaders (DL) at Uphall was by an initial online application using google forms . Once this had been completed we interviewed all of the applicants, giving them the questions prior to interview.

We decided to offer all of our interviewees the chance to be a digital leader, which meant our first group was 14 children from P4 up to P7. Some schools use P6 and P7 and let P7 lead the way, having cut their teeth in P6. I guess it’s up to the feeling of the teachers involved. I liked having the full range, and there has certainly been no time when the P4 child has been out of his depth…far from it.

Once selected we began holding our DL meetings. (Thursday afterschool). Initially I led the way with our meetings sharing some desktop apps and web based programs with them – things like screenr to make screencasts, wordpress for blogging and moved into Scratch and the mozilla webmaker tools. The children began to bring in their own devices and share their blogs, apps, creations etc with each other. The DL Thursday evenings soon had a good buzz! I encouraged the children to share their work on our own DL blog and on the Digital Leader Network Blog. The DL’s were excited by this and enjoyed using Edmodo groups to share ideas too.

As the year progressed the DL’s began to find the things that really interested them. The initial interest in blogging waned and a love of making movies and minecraft took over. I was happy for them to use their tools in the direction they wanted to go and much video was created and many, many minecraft worlds!

In the last few weeks I have felt there has been a return to wanting me to provide some stimulus for them to use, so we have gone back to mozilla’s webmaker tools (which have developed since we first used them) and done some work with them. Our final few weeks have been taken up with developing ideas for next years DLers, creating the interview questions, creating logos and posters for the DL interview process and some badges for ICT skills across the school. I’ve also taken the opportunity to discuss where the DL-ers might want to go next year.

I feel the meetups for the DL have been successful, with a mix of teacher led and child led activities and opportunity for children to spend their time and develop ideas as they wished to some extent.

Support in school is a key area for DL work (and should be a time and hassle saver for teachers and schools). Our DL’s have supported staff in many ways. Creating powerpoints for assembly, teaching teachers how to use certain apps on their iPads, having a go at podcasting, creating video for transitions events in school, setting up, operating and putting away AV equipment for assemblies and the like.

The digital leaders came up with a series of ideas for next year. These include interacting more with other digital leaders (which is why I’m trying to create a digital leader network for Scotland), speaking at more events, running a junior digital leaders group in school (p2 and p3).

Personally I have made a commitment to developing the digital leader in school and beyond as part of my Leadership course application for West Lothian Council’s course. As such I’ll be blogging more about the digital leaders role over the year and how the network develops. I will share those posts (if there is an interest) on this site, as well as my own.

If you wish to start your own digitial leader group, wish to contribute to the Scottish digital leaders network, or just want to to ask any more questions, feel free to get in touch.

Easy Openbadging

Last weekend, I took part in the Pedagoo event #tmlovelibraries. It was a fantastic day, and I learned loads. At the pub session afterwards, there was a sort of TeachMeet Unplugged event, similar in feel to the TeachMeet 365 events or, as Fearghal testified, to the very early TeachMeets themselves. Fearghal had asked us all to come with something we were prepared to share; as I have been doing a bit of work with OpenBadges and have been very impressed with them, I decided that this was what I was going to talk about.

Then I hit the problem. 2 minutes is not a very long time, particularly to talk about something you have been working on for months and have found out so much about. So, to keep things short, I decided to create an OpenBadge for all the participants of tmlovelibraries and then give it to them as a present. By claiming it, they could find out a bit about Openbadges themselves.

This idea seemed to work well in the keeping things short arena, as well as the engaging the audience area – the word ‘gift’ seemed to be the important one in achieving this! As Fearghal commented on the night, my talk also had the effect of taking his carefully honed structure and blasting it into a million pieces as people went scurrying to the internet to find their badge. The badge is shown below, together with its claim code for anyone who was there. To claim it, navigate to the badg.us site and insert the claim code ‘kapyua’ into the “Claim award from code” box. This will prompt you to either sign in to your Mozilla Backpack if you already have one, or sign up with an email address to create one before awarding you the tmlovelibraries – Participant badge, which you can then display on your blog, Facebook profile or Twitter feed.

In the impromptu break that followed my talk, I was talking to a few different people, and realised that there was a real appetite for finding out more about using OpenBadges. Quite a few people had looked at the concept themselves, before deciding that the project was too technical for them to use effectively. This, of course, is exactly the same decision I came to myself when I first started looking into digital badges. I had been impressed with the ease of creating badges for recognising various achievements on Edmodo, but had hoped for some way to display them in fronter, our school’s virtual learning environment. When I had approached the extremely helpful people at Edmodo asking if this was possible, they said that whilst they were happy for the badges to be displayed elsewhere, but it would need to be purely a case of copying them as an image and uploading them elsewhere.

I felt sure that there had to be a more efficient way of doing this, and went off doing a bit of digital badge research. It soon became clear that OpenBadges were exactly what I was looking for, but despite the fact that there were plentiful resources available for those with an ability to code, there was nothing I could find that was very user-friendly for a class teacher.

Until I chanced across the ForAllBadges site that is. Straight from the off, ForAllBadges allowed me to create an OpenBadge simply by uploading an image to the site and filling in the information fields to attach to it. Perfect for what I wanted. But ForAllBadges had far more to offer than I had been looking for. It gave me a whole badge-management system, allowing me to upload classes and add staff, create and issue badges and – most crucially given the age of my pupils – a way to display the badges earned without needing a Mozilla Backpack (currently, a Mozilla Backpack is only available to learners over the age of 13).

I soon had a pilot badge system up and running and a fronter page created with links to the pupil’s individual Trophy Rooms; here their badges could be seen through viewing their ForAllBadges badge journal. After an email exchange with the amazing people at ForAllBadges, the ability for the student to add a reflective comment to their badge journal was quickly added. This setup now allowed for a badge to be created, issued, displayed and reflected upon as well as having the advantage of being part of the OpenBadge system allowing a great degree of portability for the badges once the pupil reaches the age of 13 (or Mozilla update their terms & conditions to allow under 13s to have a Backpack with permission from their parent/carer – a change that is on the cards very soon I believe).

This was perfect for what I was looking to use it for in school, but perhaps a bit too complicated to use in ‘open play’. I had been thinking that OpenBadges could be a great way to document CPD activities such as TeachMeets or MOOCs for example, but how could an event organiser award a badge to someone whose details they didn’t know? Would they have to do all the data-inputting themselves? This sounded like a prohibitive amount of work.

Fortunately, a site that David Muir had pointed me towards had the answer. Badg.us allows a user to create badges very simply, and in much the same way as ForAllBadges. However, the badg.us site interfaces drectly with the Mozilla Backpack and Persona sign-in service, making it a far more user-friendly solution when you will be issuing badges to people from outwith your organisation or whose details you are unaware of in advance. It also lightens the administrative burden of issuing badges, as the onus is on the claimant to provide their details. The site allows you to set up reusable codes (like the one above) for large-scale issuing, or one-use codes when you are looking to target your badge claimants more precisely (I used this to create “Presenter” and “Organiser” badges for tmlovelibraries, printed up claim codes for these and gave them to Fearghal to distribute).

In my opinion, these tools make the whole process of creating and awarding badges far more accessible to the typical classroom practitioner; teachers who, much like myself and Fearghal, would previously have found the process too technical can use these services to gain the benefits of OpenBadges without having to become coding wizards. Other tools have been developed that can do a similar job – for instance, WPBadger and WPBadgeDisplay allow you to utilise WordPress blogs to issue and display badges whilst OpenBadges.me provides a very useful badge designer for either online use or as a WordPress plugin . Recently, the ForAllBadges site has joined together with its sister site ForAllRubrics, and you can set things up so that once a rubric has been com pleted, an OpenBadge can be awarded automatically. After some late-night Twitter conversations between myself and the founder of ForAllSystems, ForAllRubrics also has built-in links to the CfE Experiences & Outcomes. A very handy teacher toolkit!

So, now it begins to get exciting. The badges are no longer a concept. Now that a teacher – or a student? -  can create and award these badges, what might they do with them? I have a number of ideas that I’ll be trying in my school, and I know Fearghal had an inclination to use them as part of a programme he delivers at his school (this provoked a very interesting side discussion with David Gilmour about extrinsic/intrinsic motivation). I know that other organisations (including the Scout Association and – believe it or not – the SQA) have been looking at introducing them too.

What would you do with OpenBadges?

(this post can also be found on Iain’s blog (The H-Blog) at http://h-blog.me.uk/archives/435)

Analogies and metaphors to aid understanding…

Having been introduced to Hattie’s work on ‘effect sizes’ in the learning environment last year (http://www.learningandteaching.info/teaching/what_works.htm), I took it upon myself to investigate advanced organisers in my own practice. This is said to have an average effect size of 0.37, which in comparison to other methods is reasonably small. However, I opted to focus on the use of analogies and metaphors within my teaching practice, as personally I believe comprehension to be greater if a new subject is related to a familiar subject. Of course, many of us will naturally do this without a second thought, but I intended to consciously approach sessions with the intention of overtly using this method.

One example of this practice quite recently was when teaching the flow of blood around the cardiovascular system to a group of level 2 BTEC learners. I introduced the topic by asking the group to share their thoughts on the process of going to the gym – this involved eating food to give you fuel (collecting oxygen from lungs), travelling to the gym and going through the changing rooms (left side of the heart), working out and ‘burning’ the fuel (feeding the muscles with oxygen), travel back through the changing rooms (right side of heart) before travelling home (the lungs) to start the process again. Obviously when doing this, I did illustrate on the white board. I then made reference to the fact that the gym process is similar to the flow of blood…Following this, I gave the learners the opportunity to create their own analogies of the process. Working in groups they created some amazing ideas such as the process of topping up and using a mobile phone, travelling through the petrol station to name a few.

For the learners, this particular process taught alone can be very challenging, yet now they have their own analogies for the process, they are able to demonstrate a far greater understanding.

Any comments would be greatly appreciated!

Looking at clouds…

My class topic for this term is Weather, perfect for the crazy weather that we have had this year!

There are so many ways to teach about weather and I’ve found some great ideas for creating active and exciting learning experiences for my P1-3 class. The mention of experiments has them instantly gripped on what I am about to show them next and of course exploring outside helps them to realise that weather is all around us.

After much discussion about the different types of weather, what makes up our weather and building a bar chart to record the weather each day. We started to look at different types of weather in more depth.

One week we looked at clouds, an important part of our weather and as a child finding a cloud that looked like something real was always exciting. We started the lesson thinking about what clouds are made from and many children shared the experience of being on a plane and flying through clouds. Many also shared that they would love to float on a cloud.

Looking out of the window we could see that clouds are all different and this led to the 3 main types of clouds – cumulus, stratus and cirrus. We looked at photos of each cloud and discussed how they were different and what each cloud meant.

Looking at photos are great, especially with an IWB, but now was the time to look at the real thing.

 

Before I plan each topic I search through Pinterest and education sites to find ideas for my topic and it was on Pinterest that I found the idea for a cloud window.

The original idea is a pre made window with all the types of clouds, photos and names of each cloud creating a window for a child to look through. I loved this idea so thought about each child making their own cloud window with 4 strips of card. They then drew each cloud (sticking with the 3 main types) and wrote the name of each cloud.

With our cloud windows ready we headed outside to for some cloud spotting. Soon there was lots of voices telling me that they could see cumulus clouds and cirrus clouds. We moved all around outside the school and our location gives us the perfect view over the Firth of Forth for lots of cloud spotting.

My class loved this experience and has meant that they can all tell me the names of clouds and even if they can’t quite remember the Latin names, they can describe what each cloud looks like.

Our cloud windows are now a great reference tool and have been used to tally the types of clouds on different days. This has also started their learning about the Water Cycle and some experiments in trying to create clouds.