Looking for clues about the digital future of education...

... and trying to keep an open mind!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Teaching #betterEnglish

As the Summer holidays approach I usually feel in the mood for a bit of a revamp of my teaching strategy. I know that once the children have gone home my brain will stay in gear for a week or two before retuning to its more normal holiday snooze mode, and this Summer I'm going to use that time to take a look at something which has been bugging me for a while now: teaching #betterEnglish.
I think that the sensible first step will be to look at how successful jurisdictions across the globe manage to teach English better than we do in England. Once I've done that I'll see if I can distill any best practice and put that into some sort of programme that I'll be able to try out next year. If I can accompany the programme with some useful, trackable data then all the better.
As one example, in the USA they regularly use 'Sentence Combining' to stretch pupils' sentence construction techniques. Not rocket science, I know, but a good idea that I'll find easy to slip into my own planning.
So, there it is. My new project. Should be fun while it lasts. Oh, and if anyone wants to help me along on my journey you are more than welcome. Just comment this post or follow me on Twitter - @chezallen.
English is my native tongue. I must be able to teach it better!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

First week of Summer

I know some great people.
I'm not showing off. It's not because I'm gregarious, or funny or generous with my wealth. No. It's just because I use Twitter.
So many great ideas flash across my computer screen day after day that sometimes it is hard to stop myself from getting dizzy. Its half term now and, while I know I should be cracking on with reports, I just can't resist following up on some of the links I have saved over the last few busy weeks in school. Here, in no particular order, are the fruits of my Diigo bookmarks:
  • @dannynic blogs that Desmos is a new tool being honed as an online IWB programme. Looks still to be just in Flash right now (so no chance of using it with an iPad/projector setup) but there certainly seems to be room for an online programme which can perform on different IWBs.
  • Aurasma, the new augmented reality app for iOS4, is causing a lot of interest. While the BBC have largely dismissed it as a bit of advertising fluff, educationalists are brimming with ideas for how to use it. There are '4D' classroom displays where, when you point your iPad at a child's work, a video appears in its place with the pupil explaining how they made it (e.g. @xannov's blog). There are door labels, interactive worksheets, handwriting videos... the opportunities go on and on. Now all I need is an iPad2 and I'll be able to get to grips with it myself!
  • Edmodo, the facebook-styled Primary School site for organising classes and assignments, has added VocabularySpellingCity to its options. It is a fairly solid spelling tool, giving a variety of interactive ways to learn spellings. I might use it myself next year, if I can get over the american accents. As for Edmodo, I'm still running a trial of it with two girls in my school. It seems to be fine for teacher to pupil stuff, although we have noticed that there is no option for pupils to message each other except through the whole class.
  • Now these are cool. 100 Oxford Primary books are now free online as e-books. Gran and Kipper and all the rest are wonderfully presented. The story is read aloud clearly and there are simple activities too. I can see me using these as 'Big Books' on the IWB and as a 1-to-1 session for a child on a pc. Must tell my SENCO too!
  • The only thing wrong with the article 21 things that will be obsolete by 2010 by MindShift is the date. Make it 2012! A great read to show to Governors and SMT.
  • I did a straw poll of staff on my campus and no-one recognised a QR code. Teachers, ancillaries, marketing, they all drew a blank. Yet, with SmartPhones these seem like an easy win. Augmented Reality may still be a little rough and ready but QR codes are super fast and well worth embedding. Easy to make (copy and paste an url here), they can be added to displays to link to online work, put in the school brochure to make it instantly digital and added to worksheets to link to a discussion forum for the topic. The uses are vast, implementation is easy, and I think they tap into that part of the gadget owning psyche that likes to feel that their gizmo is actually useful and not just an expensive toy.
  • If you are reading this then you are almost certainly a fan of using social media in the classroom. This video, from the US, is a good example of using Twitter in the classroom.
  • A bit out-of-the-classroom this one, but if you are into marketing your school and getting the best out of Facebook then this is a great short blog on a few no-brainer things to remember.
  • Google have done StreetView, but in Art Galleries and Museums. What's not to like?
  • I wish I could find a way to justify doing this in school :o)
  • In Sunderland students organised and ran their own official TEDx event. Fairly impressive until you realise the students were IN YEARS 3 AND 4! Anyone else feel like they are getting left behind by these youngsters?
  • A favourite topic of mine, when the annual buying round rears its head, is why we bother buying IWBs any more. So nice to hear a well argued blog on the subject (from @kvnmcl). The comments give great balance to the argument too.
Sure, there's been more that has been passed my way, but no doubt you are the same. These are just a few gems from my lengthening list of favourites.
My major project right now (aside from the day job of planning, marking and reports of course!) is trying to understand what school will be like in the not-too-distant future. Social Media and the Digital Age mark a paradigm shift in education, and tinkering at the edges is not an option. I love this video of stone age man at the invention of the wheel, and this tongue-in-cheek blog about banning pens and pencils. If you take Ray Kurtzweil's slant, that "Mobile phones ... should be called gateways to human knowledge", then you are probably starting in the right place.
Still, that's another blog for another day.
Those class reports won't write themselves!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Twitter for Teachers Part 1

A short video outlining what Twitter is, why teachers might consider using it and how you go about joining.

Twitter for Teachers Part 2

A short video explaining how you can use Twitter once you have signed up.

Monday, 9 May 2011

#edbigcrowd - Tweeting around the World

Way too much has happened today for me to get my head around in one evening. My Twitter feed is fit to burst and I've still got to get my day job sorted for tomorrow. Still, too many people across the world have been so helpful today that I feel I need to at least give them an update. Here goes...

On Monday morning I was strolling to my school in Yorkshire (UK) contemplating the staff training session I was to deliver at that afternoon’s staff meeting. It was to be about Twitter. I’d been tweeting for about a month and had been impressed with how much good advice had come my way. Surely, I thought, Twitter was something from which my colleagues might benefit.

I’d made a prezi (I'll post this over the weekend) and was feeling fairly confident about the training session. Then I made a monumental step. Not realising quite what I was unleashing I fired off a quick tweet to the 141 people I followed.

Please help! Staff meeting tonight. I want to show colleagues how far a tweet can go in one school day #edbigcrowd PLEASE RT :o)

It was 7.29 am.

Six minutes later I was sitting at my desk with a cup of coffee, listening to the familiar sound of my classroom PC booting up and logging on. “Just check Twitter” I thought, “before sorting my lessons out.”

Twenty people had re-tweeted.

“Not bad,” I thought, and turned my mind to some photocopying.

Within an hour it was one of the top ten trending tweets in New Zealand. Minutes later it was trending in Sydney too. Before I finished teaching my first lesson my tweet was trending in London and Manchester. Another hour and it was into India.

By lunchtime I had a monster on my hands! People had had it retweeted to them several times. Twitterers I had never heard of were sending me data showing me how rapid the dispersal had been. Well-wishers were sending the tweet around and around the world.

Needless to say the point was well made in the staff training that afternoon. A well-meaning tweet sent out into a friendly community reached more people in a few hours than I could have ever hoped for had I used any other medium I could think of. Sure, I had not actually benefitted from the exercise, save from making a few hundred new followers, but the thought of quite how many people had been out there, willing to help my little message on its way, was quite intoxicating. I was giddy with the thought of what I had just done. What if I had really wanted help? How great would THAT have been?

As soon as I got home I went to my Twitter account and started replying to all the personal messages I’d received. Two hours later and I’d reached my status update limit and had to read through the remaining comments sad that I could not reply until my embargo was lifted.

So, what had the experiment taught me?

  1. People on Twitter are generally kind and open-minded, and happy to help out
  2. There is no other way to reach so many people so quickly
  3. Be careful when you ask for a retweet!
It is only Monday evening now and it has been a big day in my twittersphere. The #edbigcrowd feed is still overflowing like the bucket in the Sorcerer's Apprentice. I'm going to have to leave it alone and get on with my marking. When the weekend comes and I have managed to grasp the scale of what has happened here I'll blog with all the details.

Until then, thanks to EVERYONE who retweeted this message. Wherever you are (although I don't believe the person who said they were on Betelgeuse!)

Friday, 8 April 2011

Easter Holiday. Time to put my feet up?

Three weeks. A bit more actually, thanks to the Royal wedding. A list of household jobs to get stuck into. Well, they can wait. Straight on to Twitter and see what people are up to. Digital Leaders seems like a good idea, then there's BrainPopUK, and of course I need to design the new pupil VLE. Still, now I've fired off a few requests into the twittersphere I'm sure I can take the night off. Got the dough on for some pizza, onions softening in the pan... Maybe school can wait for another day :o)

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

iPad or not iPad?

Well, I've trialled an iPad for a week in my Junior Prep classes. I started off being very sceptical. It was neither ultra-portable (like my Desire HD) nor super powerful (like my MacBook Pro). I figured that if I had to carry something around then it needed to be able to do EVERYTHING, and if it couldn't sing and dance then it needed to be small enough to fit in my pocket.

Well, after a week of putting the iPad in the hands of my pupils, or carrying it with me while I worked the room, making notes as I went, I have to say I was fully convinced that the iPad was both portable ENOUGH, and powerful ENOUGH, to be worth a more thorough trial.

In September I hope to start a proper trial, and I will record my thoughts here. In the meantime I am preparing the way, listening to people who have tried this technology already: some with success, others with disappointment. Anything I find I'll pop up here.