For the past three years I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to attend the Scottish Learning Festival. At the first one I attended in 2009 I was still Director of e-Learning at a large Academy in Northumberland but, even so, I was only grudgingly allowed to go. Thankfully, my enlightened boss in my current role (not directly related to schools) has allowed me to go for the past two years.
Unlike BETT, the Scottish Learning Festival is not primarily a trade show – although it does feature the largest example of the latter in Scotland. It’s first and foremost a vehicle for Education Scotland (previously three separate bodies) to showcase and share great educational practice. There are liberal helpings of both pupils and international delegates at the event, held at the SECC in Glasgow.
For the past five years there’s been a TeachMeet associated with the Scottish Learning Festival which, if I’m honest, has been my main reason for going. The things I’ve learned over the past couple of years at those TeachMeets eclipsed what I learned at the Learning Festival itself. That wasn’t the case this year. Why? OK, so the TeachMeet (the slickest and best-organised and sponsored I’ve attended) had less actual classroom practitioners presenting, but that wasn’t the reason. The reason was because of the sheer quality of the sessions I attended at the Scottish Learning Festival:
Slide to Unlock
In this session, Kate Farrell (@digitalkatie) demonstrated the revolutionary potential of the iPad for learners with disabilities. Her son has an undiagnosed condition meaning he cannot stand up or talk. The equipment that is usually used to help him communicate runs into thousands of pounds, but Kate has found apps for the iPad that improve upon that specialised system. She argued that these apps were equally good for younger learners (which interested me, having a 4 year-old and 8 month-old!)
Kate’s slides (with lots of useful ideas) can be found at http://slideshare.net/digitalkatie
Improving an entire school system
This keynote by Prof Ben Levin focused on the importance of not just focusing on individual schools or local authorities, but upon entire education systems. He made some persuasive arguments against giving schools more autonomy (in the sense of ‘doing what they like’) which he criticised England for doing with Free Schools and Academies. Central to his message was the issue of ‘alignment’ – of getting agreement from the public, from educators and from senior leaders on what is permissible within a given context.
What was missing, I felt, was any kind of notion that what is currently being assessed in schools can be subjected to critique. As I commented to a few people (and on Twitter) I wish I had as much conviction about something that Ben Levin has about the importance of data!
The Future is not what it was
I’m not very into ‘motivational’ keynote speakers, but Sir John Jones (whom I’d never heard of before this week, unlike Ben Levin) moved me to my feet to join in the standing ovation after his session. OK, so some of the stories he used may have been ‘borrowed’ or a composite. OK, so he talked in slogans some of the time, but his core message that ‘teaching cannot be separated from caring’ was powerful, relevant and timely. The man had such obvious passion and enthusiasm for helping young people (he was previously a Headteacher in Liverpool) that you couldn’t help be affected. Great stuff.
TeachMeet SLF (#TMSLF11)
I greatly enjoyed the format and fantastic organisation of the TeachMeet at this year’s Scottish Learning Festival. It was organised by others than the usual suspects and, primarily, by Primary teachers (hence the detail!) I signed up to do a two-minute presentation on the new Change MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) that started last week and, because it was mentioned in a presentation prior to mine, a bit about Purpos/ed as well.
This isn’t a criticism as such, but there weren’t many actual, real teachers talking about what they’ve been up to in the classroom recently at the TeachMeet. You can only work with what you’ve got, and those (few) that signed up to do a presentation were people like Joe Dale, John Johnston and Derek Robertson. They’re all fantastic educators, but they hardly need encouraging to do a presentation! I’d like to see more work behind-the-scenes to get teachers involved rather than being in the audience.
Another not-really-a-criticism was the slickness of the event. Sponsors were mentioned in between every presentation, the whole event was livestreamed, and the organisation was seamless. That’s all great, but I doubt any teacher in attendance for the first time would feel like they could go away and run a TeachMeet. Sometimes, a bit more of a ‘rustic’, haphazard approach works wonders.
After the TeachMeet there was a TeachEat where I got a chance to chat to the wonder that is Jen Deyenberg. Fresh from the Nokia Coast-to-Coast challenge (running, cycling, kayaking) she helped organise the TeachMeet and is going to organise Unplug’d Scotland next – after a successful similar event in her native Canada. Some people’s energy astounds me!
Breakfast with Derek Robertson
I met Derek Robertson in the lift on the way down to breakfast. He’s an internationally-renowned advocate of games-based learning (a term he told me is sometimes ‘unhelpful’) through his work with the Consolarium. We talked about all sorts of things and I got up from breakfast with a list of books and websites to look at hastily scribbled onto a napkin.
Educating for the Unknown
This was probably the best session I went to at the Scottish Learning Festival this year. It was based on the Teaching for Understanding framework which was the result of Gardner and Perkins’ work on Project Zero. The session was introduced by someone from Education Scotland who has been working with local authorities and teachers getting them to study towards a Harvard module on the TfU framework. This was followed by teachers who have put the TfU framework into practice, going through the four key ideas of:
1. Generative topics
2. Understanding goals
3. Performances of understanding
4. Ongoing assessment
It was obvious that the TfU framework works and that it’s transformed those teachers’ educational practice. Well worth looking at more closely.
BOULTS – Developing the potential to think and learn
Had I not been to the TfU session (see above) I would have probably thought this session was even better than ‘good’. As it was, although the ‘pick and mix’ approach to pedagogy involved such luminaries as De Bono, Bloom and Simister it was, by their own admission, quite difficult to implement. Still, delegates were given plenty of resources to go away with and read (which is always helpful)
In between these sessions I wandered around the trade show, drank coffee and talked to people. The Scottish Learning Festival is *exactly* what it should be: uplifting, pedagogically-sound and free at the point of entry for educators of all stripes. It almost makes me want to move my family to Scotland given the stark contrast with the English educational system. :-/