Monday, December 26, 2011

A learning resolution

Every child I have taught has been given the best teaching I can offer yet you denounce teachers like me as lazy and demand more.
How dare you.

Every child I have taught works to their potential but if they don’t happen to meet your ‘every child’s the same’ national targets you accuse them as failing.How dare you.

Every teacher I have worked with has shown strength in the face of media opposition, working tirelessly to ensure every child succeeds yet you accuse them of failing.How dare you.

Every school I have taught in has demonstrated a belief that every child is to be respected, valued as individuals no matter what their ‘level’ and has been given every opportunity to be a child yet you and your inspectorate victimise them, blame them and fail them.How dare you.

You are the cause of this. Your race to be the best in world league tables undermines the great work that thousands of educators do every day as you pursue results over learning.
You constantly berate rather than acknowledge and applaud the amazing work educators do.How dare you.

You consistently blame others for missed targets rather than accept your changes have been to blame.How dare you.

Who do you think you are? You do nothing to promote education. You promote enforced academia, rigour and discipline over creativity, collaboration and respect. You rush to shut schools to promote others that don’t need opening showing a complete disregard for those who have striven hard to make them happy places for learning.How dare you.

Happiness is not on your agenda, nor creativity, collaboration, community or vision. My resolution for the new year is quite straightforward. I will seek to stop this blight you cause at every opportunity. I will ensure my classroom continues to learn freely and happily. They will learn when they are ready not when your league tabled results nor inspectorate system says they should be. Because we are all different, we are not data, we are not numbers to be counted, we are not ticks on sheets, we are not comments, we are not driven by assessment, we are not comparisons.

We are all learners, we are learning to learn in our own ways, in our own time, whenever, wherever we wish. We will challenge ourselves, we will applaud each other. We shall not blame, tarnish, strike down failure but rise to it and flourish in the directions it will take our learning.

We are learners and we will learn because we want to.

This is a lost post found by using

Friday, December 23, 2011

YouTube for schools - Pass or fail?

Image courtesy of Alvimann 
There's quite a bit of debate going on surrounding Google's recent release YouTube for Schools and I just have to dip my toes in and make my own views known. Will it be good for schools? Or will it constrict access to a wealth of educational material not deemed educational? Pass of fail?

YouTube for schools is described as being 'comprehensive, school-appropriate, customisable and teacher-friendly' and after trying it out with my own school's Google Apps YouTube domain I have to say that it is all of those. The 'comprehensive' tag is what seems to be causing the most negativity. Why? The videos that form part of YouTube for Schools are selected, from the many millions available on YouTube, by Google and a select group of organisations such as Stanford, TED and the Khan Academy. This at first caused me some concern as it meant I could have access to a very limited form of YouTube video content deemed suitable by others. I've been fighting against such restrictions for the last 15 years of my teaching career and my initial reaction was not to sign up to something so limiting. Fail.

But I consider myself a teacher that tries out new technologies, for better or worse, so that others can learn from my adventures. Let's go back to the descriptive tags. 'School-appropriate' gives schools access to material they deem suitable which means any video a school thinks is educational can be added to that school's YouTube for Schools site. As a teacher or admin, you have access to the complete wealth of material that is available on YouTube which you can then decide for yourself whether it is school appropriate or not. YouTube for Schools requires signing up for a school account, the creation of one admin account and then changes having to be made in the school network configurations. Additional video content can then be added to a school playlist which can be accessed by all users within the school's YouTube site. Admins can also grant unrestricted access to any user in the school site. Pass.

Is YouTube for Schools nothing more than a walled garden? Not quite. It's a walled garden with a large gate. You can restrict content to a water shed of predefined videos which contain quite a few chalk and talk presentations. Not very inspiring at all. But the gate can be opened and you have access to any video you as the admin or staff deem appropriate. You will still be able to search for that one moment that perfectly enhances the learning in your classroom and then mark on the playlist for the school to access. Students will be able to access YouTube at school with no worries that they will view unsuitable material, especially important in Primary schools. Pass.
It's too early to say whether YouTube for Schools will be successful or not but it's definitely not the closed garden that is being suggested. I'm not passing or failing it, yet.

What do you think, pass or fail?

After going over this post I have reconsidered one particular option, 'admins can also grant unrestricted access to any user in the school site' in the school-appropriate description. As the school ICT coordinator/Lead Technology Teacher I would consider myself as the holder of the school admin account and use it to set up other teachers with additional features to add content they too deem suitable. However, what if the school admin account is held by a member of staff that doesn't want additional content to be added? What if the admin account is held by technical staff that wish to keep access to YouTube content locked down? That's one too many ifs for me and therefore is a big FAIL.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Set learning free in 100 words.

Image courtesy of Jamsheed

Throw away your planning and be the teacher you always should have been. Listen to your class, respond to what they need to push their learning forward. Assess their learning as you go, feedback to every learner. Try not to over-plan  forget the detail and be confident in changing direction as and where learning takes you. Let the learners control the learning, give them opportunities to decide what they want to learn. Give them control to set their own learning agenda even if it means they only do Maths all day. Take back learning in your classroom.

Set learning free.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cross curricular gamified learning

Over the next 2 weeks I will be using a collaborative working plan based on the story of Santa being lost as part of my gamified learning in the classroom. I started the plan using Google Docs and posted a link to it on Twitter, within half an hour the plan had grown to 5 pages of cross curricular ideas and activities. You can acces the doc and add your own ideas to the plan here.

To begin the week I used the following presentation. The first slide takes time to work out but my class got there after a few questions and answers. One thing you must try to do is to take a step back, do not rush in with answers. Let the learners find the solution, give them time. Let them finish their ideas and accept every idea as part of the solution because even incorrect answers will help find the correct one. I decided to put ( ) around the 2 numbers and that did the trick, immediately a lot of voices told me the numbers must be coordinates. So off they went to find were the coordinates would lead to. They found Santa was on Henderson Island part of the Pitcairn Islands , located in the South Pacific Ocean. It's very remote so Santa truly needed their help. The next slides let them think first about what items they would take from the list to help Santa survive. They had to discuss with each other why they would take certain items and I listened in to many interesting suggestions e.g. Santa really needs to take the chocolate because he can not only eat it, he can make a drink out of it so that's two out of one! Many of the children automatically wanted to build rafts but after looking closely at their Google Map they thought it might be better to sit tight on the island until help arrived.

Searching formed a huge part of the challenge, children had to use search strings to find specific information that could help them decide what to do to help Santa. Wikipedia articles were quickly scanned for important information and shared with the groups. Each group went off on different though flows to begin with and even after collaborating with each other, many stayed on their original courses with just a little variation. One group is convinced that Santa can survive a journey by raft to Pitcairn Island so tomorrow my additional challenge to them is working out how long that journey might take.

Towards the end of the morning one group hit on a fantastic idea. They had been using the Google Map to decide if using a raft would be a good idea but then hit on staying on the island until help arrived. Why? I asked. One girl in the group called me over to demonstrate how she had used Google Maps photo layers to discover that there were quite a few photos taken of the island by visitors on boats! She quickly came to the conclusion that the islands were actually not as remote as first thought and used another search online to discover visitpitcairn. It was an exciting moment as it was one area of Google maps that I had not shown to the class but obviously one learner had. She quickly demonstrated her skill to others and very soon everyone was using the photos plugin of Google Maps to view the photos themselves.

A mystery awaits
View more presentations from Kevin McLaughlin.

Every day I use the gamified approach I am more convinced it is a wonderful method of inspiring children's curiosity and develop their creative problem solving. With today's emphasis on assessments for learning, testing for league tables, 'playing the game' to stay off Ofsted's radar, gamifying your learning may be risky to some but it is certainly worth it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gamification - Rules of engagement

Image courtesy of Clarita

As part of the gamification of my classroom and the use of gaming techniques for learning I am using my blog as a base for my viewpoints on using it as part of my teaching style, collecting the viewpoint sof my class, observing their learning and how they work during the lessons and reflecting on the use of gaming techniques. I have been given a boost in using these techniques from my Head Teacher who has asked me to demonstrate them to other members of staff. I only have to look at the faces of engagement of my pupils to realise that something is working and to listent to the feedback from my teaching assistant who has enjoyed the past 4 days immensely.

Rules of engagement
  1. You must develop a strategy if you want to employ the use of gaming techniques in your own classroom teaching and learning. You can't just add game playing onto a lesson as an extra layer. Granted, using the winning of points as a motivator does work but winning points is only a small part of game play.
  2. You can use game play techniques as a one off lesson but be prepared to extend the time you give to that lesson as the children will demand you to let them complete it, just like they do when playing a real game.
  3. Try to develop a strong narrative around your plan, build a story involving characters that children can relate to. They love power struggles, mystery, adventure, thriller, action - just look at the game titles that are popular with your own class and create a story loosely based on one of those as an idea.
  4. Be prepared for everything to fall apart, for your class to struggle at first before getting it. You will also find this difficult as you have to let the learners learn for themselves as far as you can. Guide them, facilitate learning when required, ask open ended questions and stand back. It's difficult but an essential part in my opinion so the class can discover solutions themselves.
  5. Don't be afraid to include challenging questions and investigations, in fact the more challenging the better as I discovered when I had included a problem that encouraged the class to use digital time even though they had not been shown how to do so by myself.
  6. Do include levels of challenge that will engage all learners regardless of ability.
  7. Allow pupils to return to stages of the game to replay them if they feel they need more time. Just like real games, replaying offers the gamer a chance to refine their skills, practise and learn from their friends.
  8. Game play learning encourages cooperation, collaboration and noise, lots of noise. So let the class get on with it, they will be discussing the problems they are facing in the game. It's a pleasure to listen to.
  9. When writing your narrative based on your plans make sure you have a clear ending. Games have endings so your game play learning must also have one.
  10. Get into character when introducing the game to your class, play atmospheric music to build the excitement, if the class have avatars that they use for online work then use these as part of the game.
  11. Class avatars are incredibly useful during this type of work and can be used effectively as part of the point winning process.
  12. Points are important, design how many points each part of the game will have and stick to it. When the class reach a certain total reward them. I am using 50 points for effort, 100 points for completion, 100 additional points for group work. Further points are awarded for additional skills used during the game. My class target for this week is 20,000 points. They are currently on 18,520.

These are my own ideas for using this method of learning. They may change over the weeks ahead and most likely will improve as I discover more about the use of gamification in the classroom. I hope you can find them useful too.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gamification Day 2

Image courtesy of mconnors

Upon the advice of Alex Moseley, I thought about my "subjects, topics and learning objectives in game terms, rather than simply applying a layer on top". For today's Numeracy lesson I built up a strong narrative around the learning objective. I created a fictitious character, The Dangerous Spy, who was making his escape using his clever understanding of time. I broke the gamelearning into 3 stages, each having to be solved and demonstrated before moving onto the next stage and finally capturing the spy. And there was going to be a lesson observation by my Head Teacher too :-)
Stage 1
Children had to demonstrate they could read the time using o clock, quarter past, half past and quarter to. This was used as my review lesson to gauge understanding of basic time concepts. For the class it was their first chase after the missing spy. With every moment that passed the spy would be getting further away so the discussions around the room centred immediately on who was able to complete the first mission accurately. These children then used their expertise to teach others and demonstrate how to read the analogue clocks. All but 3 children completed this stage and they insisted on 'replaying the level' with me on the carpet.
Stage 2
Children now had to demonstrate they could read time to 5 minutes and had the option of writing their answers in digital format. I used digital format as an extra skill point and to my surprise, every learner tried to achieve it. This was all done with no IWB or whiteboard demonstration from me. Children who could do this appointed themselves group experts and advised their team players how to do it. My role became one of facilitating learners who found the stage difficult and I returned to my 'traditional' teaching role at these times. Four children found this stage challenging but enjoyed it as they wanted to catch the spy.
Stage 3
No one managed to get to this stage today and it has been left until tomorrow which left a dew children on the edge of their seats as they desperately wanted to complete the stage and catch the spy. The stage involved the use of real life skills - children would have to use the national rail website to find a train that would leave Leicester and arrive in London before 2pm on Saturday 26th November. Only by providing the times of departure, arrival and the journey length would the players be able to have completed the stage and face the final End of Level Boss - a question to test their overall understanding of reading from a timetable.
Points to note
I found a couple of children who found this work difficult and they had sat back in their groups to let the rest get on with the problem solving. Gamifying lessons or a series of lessons is a fantastic approach to enlivening lesson content and learning but I need to ensure that every child has access to the learning and does not feel left behind. Telling the time is a difficult concept and many children require many lessons to succeed, I have explained to my class that they can return to this stage of the game at any point in the week or coming weeks. The content, as it is, can be reused and 'played' again.

Positives to consider
Continued cooperation throughout the gameplay learning stages.
Discussions between learners demonstrated high levels of understanding and use of language to instruct others.
Learners were open to learn from others and not just me.
Learners felt more comfortable expressing their desire to replay the stage when their learning wasn't complete.

Final note
I am finding more and more that using this approach in class can not only benefit the learners but the teacher and your assistant (if you have one). My head teacher said the lesson was Good with outstanding points noting the 'creative problem solving' techniques the children used during the lesson and was impressed with their desire to learn. I am enjoying gamifying my lesson content more and more and I am now devising a block of learning that will involve a strong narrative, characters, sets, scenes - just like a game.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gamification begins

Image courtesy of Kakisky

I began using the techniques of gameplay as a learning style with my class today and it was a frantic, fast paced, period of learning. The buzz in the classroom was quite noticeable with another teaching assistant remarking at break how engaged the class were yet it was not all positive and that is to be expected with such a new approach.

Throughout these posts I will refer to gamification as gameplay learning (GPL) as that is the name my class have decided to call it.

I began the morning with a discussion about playing games. We created a list of gameplaying techniques that gamers use when playing games. I then got the class to help me create a learning in the classroom list that compared with the gameplay list. The similarities had the class in slight disbelief that gameplaying is tied to learning but they soon made the connections. At this point I played my introduction video (watch here) and they were literally sitting on the edge awaiting the rules of GPL. These rules are a first draft and will change.
To start I set the class one challenge in Numeracy - Can you tell the time to the minute using hands on a clock? This is taken from the UK National Curriculum objectives for Maths at Year 4 (age 8-9) and is an end of year target that children at this age have to achieve. No harm setting the first challenge very high I thought. The children got straight to the task immediately, focusing on the 'expert game players' for their lead. Any child could come to me for help, advice and explanations throughout the GPL challenge yet only a couple did so. What I saw amazed me, children who normally would not work together were engaged in the activity and helping each other with no issues at all. Every child was focused, every child was trying, every child was 'playing the learning game'. Throughout the challenge a group would ask me for the End of Game Boss level so they could prove their understanding. This was an essential part of the learning as I needed to know that each child in the group could solve the problem and show how they did it. To start with, only a few children in each group could show me confidently but by the end of the session every child in my class bar 2 could show a full understanding of the given challenge.

I was literally gobsmacked - it made me question my teaching style and whether I needed to improve. I loved it! Here were the learners in my class cooperating in teams to solve a given problem but at the same time demonstrate that each group player could do so independently. It wasn't all a complete success  as there were some learners who found the approach confusing and/or the work difficult. I soon returned to a more traditional teacher led approach with a small group of learners which quickly reduced in size to two children by the end of the session.

Tomorrow I have a lesson observation by my head teacher, I have described this approach to her and she is looking forward to it with an open mind. I have received a number of comments on Twitter and this blog which are helping me to clarify my thinking and develop my use of GPL throughout this week. I leave you with a few thoughts from my Game Playing Learners.

Until tomorrow gamers.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Gamification in the classroom

Image courtesy of kakisky

What is gamification of learning?
In it's basic form it is using the techniques behind gaming as a basis for classroom learning. Gaming involves problem solving, replaying parts of the game again and again until you get to the next level, finishing off an end of level adversary and can involve multiplayer opportunities where teams work together to solve the problems they face. As players progress through their games they collect power-ups, extra skills and always win points. A defeat encourages further gameplay until progress is made. Now imagine tying that into learning. Read more here.

How can it be connected to learning?
The gamification of a classroom requires a lot of thought and careful planning. It can't be just used without some thought given over to the process of using gaming techniques as a method of learning. If you visualise your termly plan as a game to play through then that will give you a start. Each subject you teach during the term could be a mission that has to be completed by the learners (players) and at the end of each mission the gamers/learners have to defeat an end of level boss to demonstrate their learning or work with a team member to help them progress through to the next mission. That's the general idea.
Over the next few weeks and then throughout the second school term I will be using these gaming techniques with my own class. Will it help to improve learning? Will it motivate my class, engage them? I'm willing to find out and I'm looking forward to the next few months ahead. I will post regular updates here on my blog and hope that it will help others to ascertain whether gamification of learning can be an effective form of engagement in your classroom.


Sunday, October 30, 2011


BYOD - Bring Your Own Device

Imagine a classroom with a wide array of laptops, mobile devices and handheld games consoles all at the fingertips of the learners to use during class time. What would be your immediate reaction to this scene? Honestly?
There has been quite a bit of discussion about this very idea among not just educators but those in industry too and there are those who champion it and those that vehemently oppose it. Yet the concept of 'Bring Your Own Device' (BYOD) really isn't all that new. For as long as there have been tools that could be used in the classroom for learning, learners have attempted to bring their own similar and at times comparatively better tools with them only to see them at first being confiscated, then banned, then allowed with parental consent and finally accepted as the norm.  From pens to rulers, pencil cases to calculators schools have taken objection to students bringing their own tools into classrooms usually due to poorly conceived arguments - who will be responsible? (the students will if the school has parents sign a letter of responsibility) some children have, some don't? (look at ways to provide those that don't, think can not can't) theft? (that will always happen, look at ways to safeguard against it). With time and commonsense schools have 'relented' allowing learners to bring their own tools into classroom but now learners are faced with a new, more technologically advanced challenge. At home many of them use laptops, netbooks and netbooks for their learning. These devices, in many circumstances, are more up to date and more powerful than the clunky, slow, under performing devices in their schools yet when the learners are at school the same devices are left at home. Schools cannot update their ever ageing equipment as fast as they would like due to cost and rapidly disappearing budgets yet they could have the potential of accessing more advanced tools if they would see some common sense and the vision to make it happen.
What do you think? Do you consider BYOD a way forward for schools?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Is fun disappearing from learning?

Image courtesy of Penywise

I've spent 20 years of my life in educational establishments as a learner and I'm currently on my 14th year as a teacher in them. During my learner years the most vivid learning experiences I recall centred around individual and group projects, themes, and fun. As a teacher in these establishments I can safely say my best teaching has occurred when I have not followed a curriculum, nor taught to achieve end of year targets but solely because the teaching was centred around the needs of the learners, project based and fun.
The word fun is quite important in my life as a learner and teacher. It has helped me and those around me to make sense of the world we live in, to understand the questions posed of us, to enrich our learning and teaching experiences. Learning does not require rigour as one politician would have us believe. Nor does it need pointless constant testing that only satisfy analysts and their league tables. Assessment is vitally important for the right reasons but somehow, education has fallen victim to a data driven standardisation of learning which uses assessment to victimise and blame. It is also being used to push forward a change in education that could, quite frankly, push learning back to an age of rigorous learning by rote.
Does fun still exist in learning and teaching today? Of course it does and quite rightly so. We must continue to keep fun in our teaching, to keep fun as part of the learning experience. We must never let the mindsets of the few in power think they can remove fun by insisting on rigour. We must remember why we became teachers and continue to breath life into our classrooms through engaging, inspiring and fun filled learning experiences.

For if the fun was ever removed, learning and teaching would become nothing more than a monotony.

N.B. Fun will never disappear from my classroom. Learning is too exciting to ever let that happen.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

20 time

image courtesy of bluescreen

When I attended the Google Teacher Academy in July 2010 I discovered that Google gives its workers '20 percent time' so that they can work on projects that they are passionate about. '20 percent time' has been used to develop Gmail, Google Talk, Adsense, Orkut and a few other features that would never have seen the light of day unless this philosophy existed within Google. And that got me thinking. In school, we spend almost all of the time teaching from a National Curriculum and making sure that the children in our class meet the targets of that curriculum. Some of us stick to it rigidly, some of us don't. So trying to fit in any additional learning that doesn't necessarily come from that curriculum should be difficult to manage. Shouldn't it? the use of '20 time' or any type of project based learning theme is a very effective part of the learning journey that children can make in your class.

There's no room on the timetable
My timetable is full. From Monday morning until Friday afternoon every hour is conceivably covered. I don't stick to it but I need to have one in place in case someone from outside the school comes in and wants to know what I should be doing at any time according to my timetable. I've always hated timetables, a rigid system that restricted my learning. On many occasions I would have preferred the lesson to continue as I was just 'getting into my stride'. I'm positive the same happens today to many children so I do not adhere to a timetable. But I'm digressing from the reason I'm writing this post. Using '20 time' with your own class shouldn't be difficult as long as you are not a rigid follower of timetables, even then it can be managed. It's just a matter of thinking outside the box.

So what is '20 time' in the classroom?
Well, I have interpreted it in the same way as Google have, I gave my class the opportunity to use any time they had available to them outside of National Curriculum learning as part of their '20 time' to explore their own learning passion. I left the children to come up with their own learning themes, a journey that they could take on their own or with others. I set some standards which are outlined below.
  • Your '20 time' can be done whenever you finish any other work you do in class
  • You must finish your usual work to your high standards
  • '20 time' cannot be spent doing nothing
  • Your '20 time' can involve just you or some of your friends but no more than 4 in one group unless you speak to me first
  • You have access to any equipment and material in class for your '20 time' project
  • You can continue '20 time' at home if you wish
My participation was to help children devise their ideas, ask guiding questions to help them develop their '20 time' project and offer advice throughout. I allowed the children to follow their own '20 time' ideas from start to finish.

How can you fit it in?
I looked at where I could use '20 time' with my class before I sat down to consider whether it would be of 'educational value'. That comes later. Could I fit it in? Of course I could. At the end of any lesson you will always have children who have finished before others in the class. This is the point that '20 time' slots in. Instead of giving early finishers extra work, additional sheets, further stretching activities (horrible!), why not use '20 time' then? It has worked for my class and it has been such a successful addition to the learning that happens in my class that I can't wait to begin it again with my next class.

Did it work? What were the outcomes?
  • Every single child was engaged throughout their '20 time' learning journey.
  • Every child wanted to continue their '20 time' during break and lunch times.
  • Every child remarked at the end of their '20 time' that it was the best thing they had ever done.
  • Every child said they wanted to do it again.
Going with that I'd say the use of '20 time' or any type of project based learning theme is a very effective part of the learning journey that children can make in your class.

And the best part of it? They inspired me with their passion for learning.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Switching off the interactive white board for good

IWB's have had their day. I personally can't see any future for them in classrooms and the sooner schools stop buying into them the sooner the money can be spent on better educationally interactive tools.
The hype surrounding these boards is what makes removing them from classrooms difficult. Many teachers will reel in shock if they were told that their IWB will be removed but if you ask them what they really use the board for, you will discover that it in general, they use it just like a normal white board except they can 'put the internet on it'. Occasionally you will meet those in teaching who use their boards as an interactive learning tool, creating content that engages their class. But this is not the norm. Most schools will have older IWB's which only allow one user at a time, if you want real interaction you need to upgrade the board and that costs a lot of money especially if you are looking to upgrade the whole school.
Training is also a cost factor - yes there are plenty of freely available videos that show you how to do everything you need to know but many teachers will not spend the time to watch them and most prefer face to face training. These sessions are fantastic and leave teachers feeling inspired but within a couple of months the training has been forgotten and many return to their original 'putting the internet on it' usage. And if you have Promethean boards then you also have the additional cost of replacing Interactive pens which have a habit of breaking quickly.

I asked my class what they thought about IWB's and this is what most of the responses were
  • Never get to use it
  • Boring waiting for a turn
  • Fun when a small group use it
And when asked if they could spend the money on a new IWB or something else EVERYONE said something else. What was the something else? A range of devices that could be used anywhere - netbooks, iPads, iPod Touch devices, Nintendo DS devices. My class reiterated that these devices allowed more interaction than an IWB and that is hard to disagree with. If I wanted to buy a fully interactive multi-touch multi-user IWB I would need approx £2000! For the same price I could buy one of the following:
  • 5 iPad (2nd generation) devices
  • 13 iPod Touch devices
  • 9 Netbook's
  • 21 Nintendo DS lite devices
  • A lot of Art material
  • Class sets of reading books
The IWB is a tool that has had it's day and it's time to take a bow. So long IWB, it's time to be switched off for good.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Apple Distinguished Educator

During the first weekend of this month I attended the Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) Event in London along with just over 80 other educators from all over Europe. We spent 3 days in the hands of representatives from Apple Education who led the event and other ADE’s who came to guide us and present their work and research to us so that we too could start our own journey as an ADE.

Being an ADE involves 4 primary roles – advocate, advisor, author and ambassador. Each is connected to our relationship with Apple and the devices we use in our teaching and learning.

Advocate – passionate users of Apple technologies and able to present to others how to use these tools in education
Advisor – feedback to Apple how these technologies influence education
Author – publish examples of work using Apple technologies for others to learn from and use
Ambassador – build global communities to “expand the walls of the classroom”

Expanding the walls of the classroom was a theme that resonated throughout the event and we were given opportunities to explore this, bouncing ideas off each other and creating the basis of a collaborative project that we will be working on over the next few months. I will be looking at how we can give a voice to the learner and bring the learner back to the forefront of what education is all about. I have already posted a ‘in30seconds’ tip about this which involves setting up a video diary space for children to feel comfortable to go into and leave a video comment of their learning throughout the day. Making this a global project is the challenge. There are other projects that I was interested in and one in particular which is very exciting (but I’ll leave that under wraps for now).

The 4 primary roles are roles that I have also considered bringing into my classroom. Children could choose a role that would best fit the skills they have, for example, in Technology I could have:
advocates are passionate about technology and can demonstrate its use to others
advisors share why technology works for them and how it can help others
authors publish their own content for others to use and learn from
ambassadors build the community in school using a website and share this to the world, looking for new ways to collaborate and expand the classroom.

The event was a fantastic opportunity to build on my own community of educators, share ideas and gain a better understanding of how others are using Apple technologies in their own environments and I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to attend.
Read more about being an ADE here

Saturday, March 19, 2011

An education that's alive

The ‘living bridges’ of Cherrapunji, North Eastern India are not built, they are grown. They take many centuries of careful guidance to grow in the desired direction. What is started by one member of a family may be finished by another many generations later. The bridge becomes stronger as it grows, some are over 500 years old, and they have been truly tested by rapids and floods with not so much as a scratch. The growing takes time, determination, a strength of character and a vision for its future.

Imagine an education with that sense of purpose.

Education today is not grown. It has already been built, upon a bedrock that the Romans left behind. But is the structure sound? Throughout the centuries, parts of it have been demolished to make way for new builds whilst older, established builds have been reinforced with scaffolding or even extended. But if you look carefully, this bridge has had various smaller bridges running parallel for many ages whose only purpose is to get an elite few to the other side as quickly and as unscathed as possible. The main bridge continues to be the only passage that the majority can use to get across. Their journeys have been the same for many, many years. Some get across whilst others just jump off. Their passage is littered with hurdles that make crossing it cumbersome: testing, standards, requirements, tables, thresholds. These only serve to disadvantage those that struggle along its path.
It’s time to demolish the bridge completely. All of it. We need to have a new sense of purpose. A bridge that grows through our education as we grow, that allows every individual to get to the other side with a sense of purpose. The present-past system of education is no longer useful. It’s tired and educators and learners are tired of it too. The life of this bridge is very close to crashing down and I want to be there when it does.

So what goes in its place?

We start from scratch. Just like the villager in Cherrapunji, we make a simple start but one that will lead to a wondrous end. We create an education system that encourages learning in the right direction not one that’s main purpose is to produce tables. We create one that involves the learner so that they may grow with it during their journey through it. It will not discriminate, nor will it seek to blame. A system that puts the learner first, not the politician seeking a page in history.

The living bridges start their long journeys by been encouraged to grow in one direction but their journeys blossom and are allowed to happen. At no time are they forced to grow quicker, nor are they expected to do so. It takes time for learners to grow in their learning but grow they shall and an education purpose that allows learners to achieve that growth is one that I would be privileged to take part in.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Learning Objectives

image courtesy of earl53

In a few weeks time I will be writing my own thoughts on the purpose of education for purpos/ed but before that I thought I might let you know where I stand with regards to education now.

The Learning Objective has been a bane in my teaching since I first heard of it back when I began teaching in 1997. I was enthusiastic and wanted to impress so followed the examples of others and went along with what was considered best practice. Three years went by and my enthusiasm had waned to the point of leaving teaching in the UK for teaching English in Venezuela then teaching in a primary school in Gran Canaria. I honed my skills there as we never had to follow best practice according to governmental guidelines but that of our own. It was a revelation and one which helped me become the better teacher I am today. It wasn't until I returned to the UK that I discovered the learning objective teaching and learning culture, and how pervasive it had become throughout the whole profession since I had left the UK.

Every lesson I taught had to have an LO on display so that the children would know what they were going to learn or would have learned by the end of the lesson. I was subjected to WILF and WALT but never really got to know them that well so avoided them at all costs. But the LO still reared it's insistent head, like a spot that would keep returning and I was obliged 'for the good of the school in case we get an inspection' to make sure I used it in every lesson.

What about the children in my class? 
What about the children in all our classes? 
What exactly does an LO achieve? 
Who are they aimed at? 

I posted a similar question on Twitter but I have yet to find an answer that satisfies why using LO's is educationally beneficial. So please do leave a comment if you feel you have the answer.
I have stopped using them. I write a title, I discuss what we intend to do, I use ideas from the children, we build our learning together and work from that. LO's narrow learning to a prescribed assessment focus, a one size fits all tick sheet. That's not the purpose of education in my mind. The purpose I propose is what I will discuss on 19th March on this blog.