Tag: learning (page 8 of 10)

More on Teaching as a Subversive Activity

As part of my ongoing research for my Ed.D. thesis on the concept of digital literacy and what it means to be ‘educated’ in the 21st century, I’ve been revisiting musings on the purpose of education.

One of my favourite education-related books of all time is Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity. Whilst some of the examples in the book are no longer so culturally relevant, the main thrust of it was so ahead of it’s time that today, nearly 40 years later, we’ve still not caught up!

Here’s my paraphrase of one of my favourite sections. It comes towards the middle of the book in a chapter entitled ‘New Teachers’. Postman and Weingartner set out to ‘put before you a list of proposals that attempt to change radically the nature of the existing school environment.’ (p.137):

1. Stop buying textbooks

I’m absolutely with Postman and Weingartner on this one. As they put it, ‘texts are not only boring but based on the assumption that knowledge exists prior to, independent of, and altogether outside of the learner.’ The authors were writing in 1969, before the Internet. How much more is this the case in 2008? Of course, as with most things discussed here, such a move would have to be done en masse – either whole-school in the case of an independent school or academy, or local authority-wide in the case of state schools.

2. Get teachers to ‘teach’ subjects other than those in which they are ‘specialists’

I like this one. I teach ICT, although I don’t particularly enjoy teaching it. I’ve also taught English and Geography in my four-and-a-bit years of teaching. My degree was in Philosophy and my MA in Modern History. I think it’s really important for teachers to see the ‘bigger picture’ and not develop a parochial attitude towards their subject.

Postman and Weingartner talk of ‘the desire of teachers to get something they think they know into the heads of people who don’t know it’ and how teachers teaching subjects other than their specialism would put a stop to this. I think there’s less of the lecturing and narrow-mindedness these days due to there being more of a focus on skills, but I still think things could be shaken up a bit.

3. Transfer all primary school teachers to secondary schools and vice-versa

This would be great! Not only would we get much more of an insight as to what goes on, but we’d get a chance to experiment with different approaches. I read the blogs of a few primary school teachers (including Tom Barrett’s) and my wife teaches part-time in a primary school. I have somewhat of an insight, but I’d love to have an opportunity to teach, say, Year 5 or Year 6 for a week. I think that’s all it would need to be to still be an eye-opener! :-p

4. Make every teacher who thinks they know their ‘subject’ well to write a book on it

Thankfully, I don’t think this is necessary in the 21st century. Those who feel like they need to force their opinions on others can just blog… ๐Ÿ˜‰

5. Dissolve ‘subjects’ and ‘courses’

Hmmm… not entirely sure about this one. I can see the reasoning behind it – it would potentially ‘free [teachers] to concentrate on their learners’. As I was reading recently, the lack of trust of teachers has led to a situation where anything that can’t easily be measured and assessed isn’t valued. That needs to stop in order for us to bring creativity back into the average classroom.

6. Limit the amount of words teachers are allowed to utter in declarative and interrogative sentences

Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I can see the point.

7. Prohibit teachers from asking any questions they already know the answers to

This would lead to a vastly different approach to teaching and learning. To use an awful phrase, the teacher moves from the ‘sage on the stage’ to the ‘guide on the side’. That is to say that the teacher wears his or her learning credentials and ability on their sleeve. With the type of (online) real-world publishing available these days, there’s no need for rote and stale learning.

8. Declare a moratorium on all tests and grades

Hallelujah! I’m forced to teach to the test. My GCSE History results were poor last year, therefore I’ve got to focus on exam skills, hammering home content as well week after week. At Key Stage 3 we have at least three tests per year for which I’ve got to prepare students. They’re very content-heavy and I see most classes for one 50-minute period per week, so I’m somewhat hide-bound.

Comment-only marking and fewer, lower-stakes tests would liberate me. I’d really start to enjoy my teaching again, seeing it as a learning journey with students. ๐Ÿ˜€

9. Require teachers to undergo some form of psychological counselling

At first this sounds like Postman and Weingartner having a dig at teachers. That’s actually not the case. I like to think of myself as a fairly reflective person, having studied Philosophy for most of my adult life. One does come across colleagues, however, who seem to have chosen teaching for all the wrong reasons, or have stress/relationship/other issues. As the authors put it, the purpose would be ‘to give teachers an opportunity to gain insight into themselves, particularly into the reasons they are teachers.’

10. Classify teachers according to their ability and make the lists public

Harsh! In the USA, some states pay teachers more based on the qualifications they hold. Independent schools in England certainly take it into account when employing people. Qualifications have only a tenuous relationship to ‘intellectual ability’ (whatever that is) but at least it shows a willingness to continue learning.

11. Require all teachers to take a test prepared by students

This is a great idea! It would mean that teachers would have to stay up-to-date (in some respects) with youth culture, which would in turn inform their teaching. ๐Ÿ™‚

12. Make all classes optional and withold teacher’s pay if no students choose to go to their classes

They do this, I believe, at the controversial Summerhill School. As with some of the other points above, it would require a whole different mindset and a debate on the purpose of education which we haven’t had for a long time. It could have the negative side of making teachers who pander to the whims and fancies of teenagers the most popular. However, if there are some sort of checks and balances, I suppose it could work…

13. Require teachers to take a one-year leave of absence every fourth year to work in a field other than education

Postman and Weingartner pour scorn on those who ‘simply move from one side of the desk (as students) to the other side (as teachers)’. Well, I’m one of them. I’d love to have experience in another field, but find it difficult to know where to look and feel it would damage my career (such as it is) were I to come back into teaching. Such a scheme would, as the authors state, ‘evidence, albeit shaky, that the teacher has been in contact with reality at some point in his life.’ Of course, one has to define what ‘reality’ is and I’m not so sure that the authors’ recommendations of ‘bartender, cab driver, garment worker, waiter’ are so relevant these days… :-p

14. Make teachers provide some sort of evidence that he or she has had a loving relationship with at least one other human being

Well… I can sort of see the point. But really?

15. Require all the graffiti found in schools to be reproduced on large paper and be hung in the school halls

These days, especially given the current fad for ‘student voice’, learners have lots of opportunities to voice their opinions. I don’t believe this particular suggestion would be helpful! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

16. Certain words and phrases should be prohibited

The authors suggest the following: teach, syllabus, covering ground, I.Q., makeup, test, disadvantaged, gifted, accelerated, enhancement, course, grade, score, human nature, dumb, college material, and administrative necessity.

I’d add the following: Ofsted, value-added, Fischer Family Trust, performance management, and residuals

CONCLUSION

I enjoyed going through this list again. My 3 recommendations from it:

  1. Allow more flexibility in teaching – primary teachers in secondary, and vice-versa. Teachers from one subject sitting in and team-teaching where appropriate in subjects where they are not ‘experts’.
  2. Create meaningful assessments, ones that don’t reward regurgitation and aren’t high-stakes.
  3. Stop schools’ reliance on textbooks. I’d plough the money into 1-to-1 netbook programmes for all students!

What are YOUR thoughts?

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Teacher as Game Show Host?

A couple of years I wrote a post exploring a metaphor of the Teacher as DJ. It was well-received and stemmed from the amount of music I use in an average lesson! Today, I came across another metaphor that ‘got at’ something central to my life in the classroom: the teacher as a gameshow host!

Joel at So You Want To Teach? (an excellent blog in many respects), wrote a post entitled Pacing: What Every Great Band Director Knows about the importance of transitions, engagement and procedures in the classroom. It struck a chord with me as I’ve been stressing these things to the student teacher currently in our department. You need to be smooth – and it pains me to see it when colleagues are otherwise.

Some of this comes through experience, but much has to be planned. I’m far from perfect, but if you’re starting off on the journey, here’s some tips:

Make everything look professional

Don’t give out badly-photocopied worksheets, use Powerpoints with awful, clashing colour-schemes, nor recycle folders to keep work in. Show some respect, get some respect back. The students in front of you are used to highly-polished media environment. Put some effort into your ‘stock lesson’ to make it better by seeking relevant help. My tip? Subscribe to blogs like Presentation Zen!

Focus on engagement

You can know your subject inside-out, use the best metaphors and diagrams you can muster, but if students aren’t engaged in your lesson, very little learning is going to take place. Play games with them that test their understanding of topics. I love, for example – and this is very relevant to this post – Game Show Presenter. Cheesy, but fun! Another favourite is Andrew Field’s marvellous ContentGenerator.net products, some of which are free. ๐Ÿ™‚

Develop a winning formula

Never let it be said that teachers shouldn’t mix up lessons a bit, but there needs to be a basis on which this can be done successfully. As I’ve mentioned above and many times previously, I use a lot of music in my lessons. For example, students enter the classroom to a theme tune (think: Rocky, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, etc.) and know to write down the date, title and lesson objective. I then take the register whilst slower writers catch-up and those finished consider what the lesson’s keywords might mean. It works for me!

During the lesson, I play a variety of music – for example the Countdown 30-seconds-left tune, to fun stuff like the Oompa Loompa songs, to a bit of Speed Garage (if they’re working too slowly) or the occasional Mashup. You can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears… ๐Ÿ˜‰

Work on your transitions

After a while, links between classroom activities come naturally. As a teacher you’re prepared to go off at somewhat of a tangent to explore an arising issue, then bring things back-on-track smoothly. But to begin with, this takes work! Anecdotes and interesting facts are really useful in this regard – as a History teacher I tend to glean these from Horrible Histories books and suchlike. The lesson should have an obvious progression toward meeting the objective that is clear to the student. Framing the title of lesson as a question works well in this regard.

If you’re a teacher, do you consider yourself to be like a gameshow host? a DJ? or something entirely different?

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Good teaching is good teaching.

I came across this video recently (thanks Ollie!) from Professor Daniel Willingham, Cognitive Scientist and Neuroscientist at the University of Virginia. He makes great use of YouTube to get across his points about the theory of ‘learning styles‘:

  1. They don’t exist.
  2. Good teaching is good teaching

If you’re a teacher, you need to spend 7 minutes of your life watching this:

I’ve no problem with people using learning styles as a way to get teachers to mix things up differently in the classroom. Where I have got issues is when teachers try to misuse data to define and pigeon-hole students into one dominant learning style. That’s got to be wrong…

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My way or the highway.

As I posted recently, although I’ve just begun my fifth year of teaching, last year’s GCSE results were my first set. They were rather disappointing and it made me question my methods somewhat. Back in the classroom with pupils today for the first time this academic year, however, has made me stick to my guns.

As Limp Bizkit famously sang (rapped/said/roared?):

I’m ‘a do things my way
It’s my way
My way, or the highway

That is to say that whilst I’m obviously going to try some of the modifications detailed in the aforementioned blog post, my fundamental teaching style and blended learning approach isn’t going to change; I’m still going to be introducing my students to educational technology new and old that I think will aid their learning. Thankfully, although there’s obviously analysis to do of my results and those of the department, my teaching methods haven’t been questioned at all.

It’s difficult. As the main earner for my family I have a responsibilty to my wife and son to make sure they can live in the manner to which they are accustomed. But I also have guiding principles. It’s easy to let the latter fall by the wayside in the face of adversity or pressure. Thankfully, the only pressure I’ve felt has been self-exerted. Reading the following passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson‘s essay Self-Reliance helped greatly:

Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it. Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? Every great man is a unique. The Scipionism of Scipio is precisely that part he could not borrow. Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare. Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much.

I’m not, of course, comparing myself to these luminaries, but I found this particular passage very inspiring in the last few days. It’s eased some of the self-imposed pressure to focus narrowly and exclusively on results. ๐Ÿ™‚

(Image credit: Ruta 12 by *L*u*z*a* @ Flickr)

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90% digital, or 12 ways my teaching ecosystem is evolving.

I’m looking forward to the new academic year. Having said that, I’m not hugely excited about the Web 2.0 tools I’ll be using next year – and I believe that’s a good thing. It shows that such tools have become part of my teaching ecosystem. As I read recently, “The music is not in the piano.” (i.e. it is but a tool, just like technology)

The only reason my teaching ecosystem isn’t 100% digital is because of outside influences: documents from colleagues and marking student books. It’s part of my aim for my E-Learning Staff Tutor position to put more digital tools in the hands of colleagues. I’ll be using the new elearnr site to help with that. ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I came across Top 100 Tools for Learning 2008. It’s made up of a large number of educators’ top 10 lists of elearning tools. I haven’t tried to stick to 10 in what follows – it’s just a list of what I’m going to be using (in order of what I’ll be using most!) ๐Ÿ˜€

1. Google Calendar

I’ve been using Google Calendar for a couple of years now for my day-to-day planning (see here and here). Although it takes around half an hour to enter your timetable initially, you can then set this to repeat until a certain date (i.e. the end of the academic year).

I use a ‘double-star system’ (see screenshot below). Before a lesson has been planned it has two asterisk after it. Removing one star means that I’ve entered the title and lesson objective (and homework, if applicable). Removing the second star means that the lesson is fully planned.

After the lesson, if there’s anything I need to remember for the next lesson with the class, I just add it to the comments section.

Obviously things like meetings, parents evenings can be entered ad-hoc. As you can access Google Calendar via mobile phone as well, it means I’ve got my day-to-day planning everywhere. ๐Ÿ™‚

2. Attendance/Homework checkers

I run a two-laptop classroom. I’ve got my school-provided laptop at the front of my classroom running the interactive whiteboard (a SMARTboard) and my netbook (an MSI Wind-like Advent 4211 now running Mac OSX) is for everything else.

Whilst I could use Google Spreadsheets for my attendance registers, there’s two reasons I don’t. First of all it just doesn’t update very quickly, being web-based. Second, I’ve got to have a register – even if Internet access goes down at school. So I use Microsoft Excel with some conditional formatting goodness that I blogged about ages ago.

3. Google Docs

I’d be the first to hold my hand up and say that I’m a last-minute planner. What I do in the next lesson with a class depends very much upon what happened in the previous. Students have different questions and things can go off at a tangent. That’s not to say I don’t medium-term plan, however!

For my medium-term planning I use Google Docs. Nothing fancy, just a table with columns for lesson title, objective and possible content. The great thing about this is that I don’t have to remember to back it up and I can drop in links to any online resources quickly and easily. I do about a half-term at a time, having worked out before how much I need to cover to get everything done within the year. :-p

4. Evernote

You’re not going to believe this but my school still doesn’t use email as the primary method of contact between members of staff. Hard to believe, I know! Consequently, I’m overwhelmed by a deluge of paper. To counteract this, I started taking a photograph of the documents using the camera in my Nokia N95. The trouble was that organizing these images was difficult and time-consuming. In the end, I just gave up.

Then I was invited to take part in the private beta for Evernote. This program is available cross-platform and is now out of beta, so it’s available to everyone. It takes the image you’ve taken and transferred to your laptop (e.g. via Bluetooth) and recognises the words – even when they’re hand-written! You can add tags to the photos and they’re automatically (securely) synced with your account on their server. That means they’re available wherever you’ve got an Internet connection.

Evernote’s a great system no matter what phone/digital camera/laptop combo you’ve got, but if you’ve got an iPhone, you really do need to download it from the App Store!

5. Google Presentations

Sometimes I feel a bit guilty for still using Powerpoint. After all, I’m training colleagues to use software such as SMART Notebook when I rarely use it myself. The truth is, Powerpoint is compatible, flexible, and has great clipart.

The problem comes when you want to get a Powerpoint online. Say that you’ve drawn on top of a diagram and want to make it accessible for students outside the classroom. In the past I’ve had to use OpenOffice to convert it into Flash, upload it to my website, and then create an HTML page in which to embed it.

Not any more. Now I just upload it to Google Docs and it’s transformed into a Google Presentation. This can then be easily embedded into a blog, wiki or website. Marvellous! ๐Ÿ™‚

6. Google Sites

I used a self-hosted installation of WordPress for a couple of years successfully at learning.mrbelshaw.co.uk. That’s the place I direct students to in order to access homework activities and resources to aid their learning. At the end of last academic year, however, I switched over to Google Sites. My version actually comes as part of Google Apps Education Edition, but there’s no advantage in this other than the ability to customise the domain name.

I’ve found it really useful and reliable. Because it’s hosted by Google, I’ve never experienced any downtime and, of course, it’s not blocked by the school network’s proxy. You can edit things in a straightforward, easy-to-use manner. The built-in navigation features make it simple for students to navigate. Embedding objects is easy – I could ask for any more! ๐Ÿ˜€

7. Twitter

I’m disappointed that Twitter, the micro social-networking service, has made the decision to stop the ability to receive SMS updates when you receive direct messages or replies. It means that I’m unlikely to use it with my GCSE students this time around.

To neglect to add it to my list, however, would be misleading. I’ll still be using it both in and out of school in a professional development capacity. I can’t imagine being connected only via blogs now (as in the early days of the edublogosphere). Twitter and other real-time tools make professional development fun!

8. Edublogs

With my last cohort of GCSE History students I installed WordPress Multi-User (WPMU) edition at mrbelshaw.co.uk. Whilst it worked fine and the students took to it well, the system took some configuring and was a bit of a nightmare when I transferred web hosting companies.

This year, I’m going to be using Edublogs. It, after all, is a giant installation of WPMU, but they host it for you, make hundreds of themes available and there’s added values with wiki and forum integration (to name but two). It should cut down on hassle. I track what students are up to via the RSS feed for the blog entries and comments. ๐Ÿ™‚

9. Google Earth

It’s fair to say that I use Google Earth a lot. In fact, when I had to teach Geography to a Year 8 Set 4 class last academic year, I think I used it every lesson! It’s also of great use in history as it’s so much more than a mapping application; the ‘layers’ and ability to create tours add huge amounts of value.

I’ll be using it next academic year, as I have in previous years, to plot the route of Hannibal’s march with elephants on Rome, doing a flyover tour of Engladn in 1066, building up the tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a lot more. I’ve shared some of the resources I’ve created for Google Earth over at the historyshareforum.

10. Simple English Wikipedia

Although I’ve threatened to do it a couple of times before, this academic year is going to be the time when I carry through my plan. I want students to be creators and contribute to the Internet. In Years 10 and 11 whilst they’re doing their GCSEs, I get them to blog. But what about in Key Stage 3?

I’m going to get them to add to the Simple English Wikipedia. This lesser-known sibling of Wikipedia is for children and foreign language students. Every page on the main Wikipedia site (potentially) has a similar page on the Simple version. The trouble is that the Simple version doesn’t have as much content – I want to rectify that by getting my students to edit that.

The main problem with this is that they can’t do it at school. I’m sure it the same with most educational institutions: our IP address is banned from editing do to ‘vandalism’ of Wikipedia by a minority of immature students. So, I’ll get them to do it at home and look at the revision history of the page for proof! I’ll let you know how it goes… :-p

11. bubbl.us

I’m a big fan of mindmaps. Although I’m not convinced that bubbl.us creates mindmaps in the true sense of the term they are, at least, very useful brainstorms. If you haven’t given online, collaborative mindmapping/brainstorming a try with your students, I’d suggest you try.

Due to a re-organization of the core subjects at our school, students only get to choose two options for GCSE. This has the knock-on effect of meaning they have 4 lessons to cover content that previously was covered easily in 3. I’m going to spend that fourth lesson with them in the library or an ICT suite blogging, brainstorming/mindmapping, and more…

12. Posterous

I came across Posterous during the summer holiday (see this post). You couldn’t really ask for a blogging service to be made much simpler. All you do is email post@nullposterous.com and it intelligently sorts out what you’ve sent (including attachments) and displays them appropriately. At last I can say to staff that if they know how to email they can set up their own class blog!

If you read my previous post on Posterous, you’ll see that I feel the killer feature will be themes. They’re adding features all the time, it being a new service, and if they add this ability before the start of the academic year (1st September for me) then I’ll seriously consider using them with students too. It might seem shallow, but I’ve found that teenagers like to create an identity online, and the ability to make their site different from their friend’s is important to them.

Finally, I’ll be charting my progress and adding resources to help colleagues as part of my E-Learning Staff Tutor role over at elearnr. Do visit there often and/or subscribe to the RSS feed. ๐Ÿ˜€

(Image credit: Personal Ecosystem by activeside @ Flickr)

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elearnr – new blog for a new role!

I’ve mentioned several times before that as of this coming academic year (2008/9), I shall be E-Learning Staff Tutor at my school. This involves me ‘raising the baseline’ of educational technology integration and helping staff blend technology with their exisiting pedagogies.

To that end, and to avoid giving this blog an unduly narrow focus, I’ve set up elearnr. I’ve advertised it as a place for ‘elearning links, resources and guides’, although it will grow and evolve as my new role takes shape.

Feel free to subscribe to the RSS feed here:

elearnr

Help me fill in the gaps.

I need your help.

As I’ve already mentioned several times here already, next year I’m going to have the role of E-learning Staff Tutor at my school. This involves having a reduced timetable and spending time raising what I would term the ‘digital literacy’ of the teachers in my school.

To do this, I need examples of folks within their discipline who are using educational technology and Web 2.0 tools successfully. Whilst I could point people towards/use the International Edubloggers directory, there’s the problems of a) not everyone (including me) is on there, and b) I don’t ‘know’ them – and therefore can’t introduce others to them. Plus, I much prefer recommendations! ๐Ÿ™‚

Below is a list of the subjects taught in my school.* Next to them I’ve filled in the names of those that teach that subject who I follow on Twitter. I may have missed some out if I’m not entirely sure what they teach or if they’re a consultant.

I’d like to leverage the ‘power of the network’ to fill in the blanks so I can expand my network and make it more ’rounded’. In turn, I hope this will become a valuable resource for those in similar positions to me! Individuals in italics have been suggested in the comments section.

If you’ve got an individual to add to the list, please give their name, location and blog/wiki/Twitter/whatever URL. ๐Ÿ˜€

If I’ve got something wrong – your name(!) or your subject, please let me know ASAP so I can change it. :-p

So they don’t feel left out, there’s a host of primary school teachers doing amazing things, such as Al Upton (Australia), Amanda Rogers (USA), Brian Crosby (USA), Clarence Fisher (Canada), Doug Noon (Alaska, USA), Graham Wegner (Australia), John Johnston (Scotland), Jo Rhys-Jones (England), Lisa Stevens (England), Mark Ahlness (USA), Mark Warner (England), Steve Kirkpatrick (England), Tom Barrett (England), Wendy Goodwin (USA). Even members of Senior Leadership Teams around the world blog! For example, Chris Lehmann (USA)

The edublogosphere is also full of those hard-to-define characters who have job titles/roles such as ‘E-Learning Director’, ‘Technology Specialist’, ‘Digital Curriculum Co-ordinator’, and so on. Don’t worry – I’ve got something for YOU coming in the near future! ๐Ÿ˜€

*There are some subjects taught in my school because it’s a specialist Engineering school that you don’t tend to find much elsewhere. These (Catering, Construction, Engineering) I’ve left out – but I very much welcome links if you can find them! ๐Ÿ™‚

(Image credit: Bullseye by raspberreh @ Flickr)

Update: RSS feeds from above blogs collated thanks to Grazr here: http://elearnr.edublogs.org/links/ ๐Ÿ™‚

I am Spart-arthus!

OK, so I’m not reallyArthus Erea‘ the poster boy of the Student 2.0 ‘movement’. I considered pretenting to be though. :-p Apparently he’s going to launch a new blog as ‘a teacher’:

Here’s 3 reasons I don’t think 14 15 (whoops!) year-olds have a full part to play in the edublogosphere:

  1. They haven’t had much life experience. In the same way that you wouldn’t appoint a newly-qualified teacher to run a school, teenagers haven’t got the experience to make fully informed comments on education. They only see one side of the picture.
  2. The transparency that we almost demand in the edublogosphere – even the simple ‘what’s your name and where do you come from’ – cannot be provided by these youngsters due to child protection issues. The edublogosphere therefore just becomes another anonymous forum to them.
  3. They tend to be ships without a rudder, speeding off in one direction and then another. Yes, they need interactions with more mature people to give them this ‘rudder’, but I would argue that they learn by imitation. The best place for this is offline – especially given point 2!

It’s not up to me who you follow on Twitter or whose blogs you read, but I see teenagers as having the same role in the edublogosphere as student councils do in schools. That is informing professionals.

Finally, I just find it all a bit unhealthy that we treat a 14 year-old as a fully paid-up member of adult discussions. It’s a bit like me interacting with students on Facebook, MySpace or Bebo. As a teacher, I just don’t do it.

I’d love to hear some proper justifications of why I should that aren’t platitudes or crowd-pleasing posturing… ๐Ÿ˜‰

Social Fabric

Torn SeatI’m becoming increasingly aware of the importance of schools as social fabric. Some cynics might call it my becoming more institutionalised, but I would disagree. There’s a reason why we can’t just break with what has gone before and radically alter schooling – witness the French and Russian revolutions, with radical changes such as 10-day weeks, equality of students and teachers, and attacks on the church.

No, I’m now a firm believer in evolution over revolution. That doesn’t mean that I’m happy to leave the profession at the end of my career pretty much in the state I found it. Not at all. Just because I’m focusing on evolution doesn’t mean it can’t be a speedy process. :-p

The reason for my change of heart is my family. Before I was a father I could afford to spend hours in the evening planning radically different lessons, putting together projects and writing proposals that would aid the rapid change of the focus of my school. Now, it’s my family I want to spend time with. Whilst teaching will never be ‘just a job’ to me, I very much more sharply demarcate time spent working towards education-related ends and that set aside for my family. Perhaps that’s why, on a poster which reproduces 19th century ‘rules for teachers’ in our staff room (put up for humorous effect) it says that women who marry will be dismissed instantly. Perhaps we need a profession of driven, single people?

But I think not. We need diversity in the profession. We need young people to come into contact with as many different types of people from different backgrounds as possible. Teachers, although they necessarily come from a smaller pool than that which reflects the world’s population, can still give students a taste of different perspectives. Instead, what we should be doing – which has been called for time and again – is give teachers more time and smaller class sizes so they can really make a difference. I’ve said this many times over the last few weeks, but it’s only since my Year 11s have left that I’ve had time to cope and keep up with the multitude of tasks I’m expected to perform in my daily life as a teacher. Given that ‘changing the educational landscape’ comes over and above that, there’s been some things that have suffered this year. Marking, especially of classwork, springs to mind immediately! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

So, to return to the beginning of this post, schools need to change. We all know that. But we need to bring along all stakeholders with us, not just leave them behind. To some extent this involves ‘digital literacy’ (the subject of my thesis), but mainly it involves demonstrating by example how we can do things differently. And to do that, we need time. I, for one, am going to be looking to the future when allocating my education-related time next academic year… ๐Ÿ˜€

Image credit: Seat by Ti.mo @ Flickr

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Help me write my job spec. for next year!


(The response I hope not to get come September…)

I’ve mentioned this in passing in a couple of blog posts previous to this one: from next academic year I shall be E-Learning Tutor at my school. This new post (solicited by me, it has to be said) involves me spending 50% of my time (15 periods of 50 mins) per week teaching History and a bit of ICT. The other 50% will count towards the E-Learning Tutor role.

I’ve a meeting next week with my Head to flesh out my actual role. He mentioned today that I’ll have to do some “mundane” stuff, but that I will be free to push a few aspects of my choosing and accelerate perhaps one thing I’m really interested in. As you can imagine, with my Ed.D. thesis exploring the ‘Digital Literacy’, that’s the latter taken care of. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m expecting the mudane activities I shall have to undertake to be things like:

  • Interactive Whiteboard training (the really basic aspects)
  • How to use the new VLE (Virtual Learning Environment)
  • Using the internal Microsoft Outlook web-based email system
  • Ways to use Powerpoint and other presentation tools in the classroom
  • How to transfer digital video from digital cameras/camcorders to staff laptops

Whereas what I really want to be pushing are things such as:

  • Creating a blog to make resources available outside the classroom (I’ve already run a couple of staff workshops on this, with some success)
  • Basic podcasting and digital storytelling for non-written assessment, leading to e-portfolios for students.
  • Communicating with other educators worldwide (i.e. getting staff initiated in the edublogosphere – perhaps through the K12 Online Conference?)
  • Giving staff the confidence to take students into the ICT suites more often to use the Internet as a publishing tool.
  • Transferring schemes of work and programmes of study into an electronic format (perhaps in a wiki-like format using Google Sites within Google Apps Team Edition or the new VLE?)

Some context to help you understand where we’re at: my school has a plethora of RM One machines, Interactive Whiteboards in almost every classroom, and relatively unrestricted access (we can access Twitter, del.icio.us, Google Video, etc. but not YouTube, Facebook or games websites, for example). There’s a real mix of what I would call ‘digital literacy’ amongst staff. We range from those, like me, who use educational technology in some way in every lesson, to those who only use their laptop to help them write reports, and who certainly haven’t turned on their Interactive Whiteboard yet… ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

What else should I be looking to include in my responsibilities? How should my success and impact be measured, given that it’s a 1-year trial role? Suggestions in the comments section please! :-p

Image credits: Hugh McLeod @ gapingvoid.com (top one censored by me…)

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