Last night I attended my fourth TeachMeet – TeachMeet North East 09 – having previously been to the last two at the BETT show and TeachMeet Midlands 09 last month. It was held at the wonderfully-refurbished Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. At the previous three TeachMeet’s I’ve presented either for 2 minutes or 7 minutes, but this time I decided to take a bit more of a back seat and be an ‘enthusiastic lurker’. 🙂
I met lots of people and came away with a few great ideas. These are the ones that stick in my mind:
Steve Bunce’s Neural Impulse Actuator
Without wanting to blow my own trumpet, usually things at TeachMeet I’ve either used in a different context or am planning to use. That is to say they’re ‘on my radar’. I was surprised and amazed, therefore, when Steve Bunce demonstrated a Neural Impulse Actuator last night. This takes the form of a band worn across the forehead that responds to muscle movements and brainwaves. Steve demonstrated fairly simple and straightforward applications using games and controlling bars.
Mark Clarkson’s Collaborative Tools
Prezi is a tool you either love or hate. It was used to great effect by Mark Clarkson in his 15 collaborative tools presentation. Lots of fantastic ideas in this presentation. Mark also created and co-authored an Etherpad document that took notes on everyone else’s presentations. 😀
Fergus Hegarty on ‘Real independent learning’
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of the enigmatic Mr Hegarty. He presented on a ‘needs must’ situation where he recently completely revamped his teaching of Sixth Form Chemistry due to a massive teacher shortage in his department.
He spent hours getting all of the admin sorted for the rest of the course, ‘chunking’ and labelling the material needed. Students then organized their own time and decided which work they had to do when he was present (e.g. practicals) and things they could do during ‘independent learning’ sessions. This gave Fergus time to spend with groups of different abilities. Such approaches engender exactly the skills that are needed in young people – I just hope he gets the results so he can feel vindicated in his pioneering work! :-p
If you’d like to view a replay of the TeachMeet, it was streamed live via FlashMeeting which created an archive of the event here (followed by an extension here)
The ICT Consultant for the Academy arranged for me to visit RM’s REAL Centre today. I didn’t know much about it beforehand, but when I mentioned it to others some were excited on my behalf whereas others mentioned that it ‘didn’t live up to the hype’. Given that I wasn’t aware of the hype (it was at BETT 2009) I went in fairly unbiased! 🙂
As you can see from the pictures above, the spaces were set out differently from standard classrooms. All together, it worked well and whilst walking around I was impressed. On reflection, however, given that no school’s likely to have all that’s in there, I started thinking about specifics. Here’s my takeaways:
21st century interactive whiteboard
Current interactive whiteboards tie teachers to the front of the classroom and perpetuate at 20th (19th?)-century model of teaching. That’s why I really liked the ‘horizontal [and vertical!] interactive and collaborative surface’ that was on display. It was a combination of three things, really:
A rotatable (fairly standard) adjustable project table
An ultra-short throw projector
A clip-on sensor to the table (surface) for the ‘interactive’ element
The great thing was that not only was the table rotatable and height-adjustable, but had wheels and a single plug so could be easily be moved around learning spaces. 😀
Although I’ve read about them before and seen videos, it was great to try out an eye-tracking device for myself. It took less than a minute to calibrate and get myself up-to-speed on what to do, and after that I was able to write sentences and get the computer to speak them back to me! The only downside was that, being a contact lens-wearer, my eyes felt a little dry afterward. Felt fairly futuristic, though, and potentially life-changing for some of the profoundly disabled students we’ll have at the Academy.
Inexpensive USB microscopes
I’m sure these have probably been around for ages, but it was my first experience with a USB microscope that was both robust and inexpensive (around £30). It fed real-time images to an Asus Eee PC via a USB connection, which could save them for future reference. With the netbook and small microscope, students are able to go outside and investigate things, come back and show what they’ve found. Loved it. :-p
I didn’t get a chance to check out how much these cost, but I think they’re a great idea. The photo above explains what I’m talking about: soundproof, circular ‘pods’ that allow for meetings, speaking and listening exercises, or some quiet study to take place.
I can see these being used in break-out spaces, in reception areas for meetings with parents – for a whole host of things, in fact. The great things was that, whilst they’re soundproof, they’re comfortable and have clear windows so teachers can see what is going on. A great idea.
Again, variations of the seating that was on display at the REAL Centre have been seen before, but it was good to see thought going into ergonomics. The seats, along with the tables, on offer could be stacked into a very small space to allow for drama-based activities. It was almost impossible to lean backwards on them such that the front legs came off the floor. You could, however, rock forwards slightly which was pleasing.
Some other seating featured an attached circular table. These moved together on wheels until sat on, whereupon they would lock in place. The swivel chair made for multiple configurations of separate work areas when students are working at computers. Well thought-out. 🙂
Apparently these have been around for ages and, indeed, I seem to remember the Politics department at the University of Sheffield using something similar when I took some modules there in my first year (1999!) However, when paired with a projector you begin to wonder whether an interactive whiteboard isn’t just an expensive luxury that perpetuates an outdated system. Having a visualizer makes examining sources, ‘real-life’ stuff and students’ work much easier and much more likely to happen.
Obviously there was more than just the above at the REAL Centre, but nothing I hadn’t really seen before. There was Lego Mindstorms stuff, a ‘teacher wall’ to provide space and cupboards around interactive whiteboards, flexible tiered seating areas, chroma key hardware, sensory equipment and a stop-motion animation studio, amongst other things. I’m a big fan of the touchscreen Asus Eee Tops that were on display there but, again, I’ve seen them before.
All in all, a worthwhile and enjoyable day. RM have asked for feedback for which I’m pointing them towards this blog post. I’d advise them either to put price tags on everything or give brochures with clear prices immediately after the tour. It became a bit annoying for me, and embarrassing for them, having to ask how much everything costs at every turn!
You could read about everything that’s in the RM REAL Centre online. You may even have come across half of it in the flesh, so to speak. But having time to be shown it all in one place and think about how it could transform teaching and learning is a powerful thing. I’d recommend that if you can, you go and have a look. 😀
Have you ever read an article or blog post that feels like it was written just for you? Hugh McLeod, he of ‘cartoons drawn on the back of business cards’ fame (like the one above) wrote a post just like that a few days ago. Entitled Good Ideas Have Lonely Childhoods, I urge you to go and read it in its entirety.
For obvious reasons, I’m not going to go into detail, but I’ve had to deal with two or three frustrating workplace situations recently. In one I lost my cool a bit as my interlocutor just didn’t seem to get it. Hugh’s post made me a bit more philosophical about it. He makes six very good points in his post, but the two that stand out for me are:
1. Good ideas have lonely childhoods
Given 20:20 hindsight, anyone can wise. There’s a quotation I put up on the walls of the History department at my school that reads, “A historian is a prophet in reverse”. It’s easy being the historian; what takes talent and effort is being the prophet.
Ideas have gestation periods. There’s a time and a place for them to be ‘born’, a time for them to be ‘nurtured’ and a time for them to reach maturity. Think of the green movement, for example. 20 years ago they were considered part of the lunatic fringe. Now, such ideas are mainstream and seen to be ‘the future’.
So we should expect some banging of heads against walls from time-to-time in frustration. Especially in schools – those most conservative of institutions.
2. Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships, that is why good ideas are always initially resisted
I’ve seen this on a cartoon by Hugh McLeod before, and it makes me smile. For someone to take on and accept other people’s ideas they must themselves be confident and secure in their own position. It’s obvious when this is not the case. Things become increasingly centralised and bureaucratic. It’s interesting that Google, for example, one of the world’s largest and most successful companies, has 20% time. This is, as you would imagine, one-fifth of an employee’s time which can be spent on projects they are especially interested and motivated to see succeed. The key is that these people are being trusted to have, organise and carry through ideas. That’s how successful innovation occurs. 😀
So, as Jenny Luca stated towards the end of her response to Hugh’s post, I’m going to keep plugging away. In fact, I liked her metaphor so much I’m going to finish with it:
I feel like I’m in the playground, sitting in the sandpit pretty much alone right now in terms of my thinking. Friends will come, they always do, they’re just hanging around the fringes of the sandpit. I need to draw a few more lines in the sand to attract a crowd. I’ll keep at it.
Thanks Hugh and Jenny!
(also love this discussion about whether that means that, conversely, lonely children have good ideas…)
Leon Cych over at the Flux blog points to a report which could be handy in the next stage of my thesis research. It’s by NESTA and entitled Hidden Innovation. Looking at six sectors including education, its main recommendations are that ‘the innovation that occurs in these sectors is often excluded from traditional measurements.’
Leon picks out a couple of interesting sections:
The education sector is notable for the extent of school-level innovation that does not reach a larger scale. Combating this will require more ‘D&R’, that is, more development-led experimentation by teachers that might lead to formal research work, rather than the other way around. For this to occur, such work needs to be better funded and supported, and schools and teachers need to be given incentives to engage in it.
Encouraging more innovation will require system-wide change that will only be achieved if re?ected in adjustments to existing accountability and inspection systems. These would need to develop to reflect the collaborative nature of innovation and the importance of locally-generated innovations as well as the implementation of top-down initiatives.
Finally! some recognition that all good things do not come from above; grassroots innovation is just as important, if not more important!