Sunday 18 September 2011

Geoff Stead on mobile tech #TEDxLondon

Ubuntu is apparently not just an open source operating system, but it is actually a South African word. More precisely, it is a way of thinking. It's philosophy can be summarised by the sentence

"I am me because of us"

We are who we are today and our education and growth happens not alone, but with all of us together.

Geoff stated the painful truth that "mobile technology has landed but it has struggled to make an impact in education". Meanwhile back in his home country of South Africa, many schools do not even have computer suites. Whilst still working at his innovative company Tribal , Geoff collaborated with a fellow South African and founded a company called M-Ubuntu. It's aim was to take technology to South Africa and use it as a lever and tool for change. Not only could these students now read e-books on their mobile devices, but they also developed an app to test their knowledge on Biology! It sounds utopian and a little unrealistic right, well the proof is in the pudding and the image below is one of hundreds posted on the M-Ubuntu website showing mobile devices being used to their potential in a classroom.

The question that begs to be answered is, if Geoff can make this happen in South Africa, what are we waiting for back in the UK? We need to take mobile technology seriously too and embrace it as a lever and tool for change!

Geoff's talk closed by summarising his principles for Education Revolution:

  1. Tech is a tool (Use it to create)
  2. Be agile (Things will go wrong, but we will keep improving and learn from our mistakes)
  3. Let the learners help you (They know what's best for them)

Saturday 17 September 2011

GEEK alert. Dan Roberts #TEDxLondon

Dan Roberts opens his speech by stripping. Seriously, we talk about taking risks on the big stage; this guy strips and gives a big confession. His confession, he's a Geek. I love him already. He proclaims that "learning was his release, learning saved him". I could completely relate, growing up in a coal mining village of Bentley in Doncaster there was not a lot going on in the late 80's and early 90's. We used to ride the streets on our BMX's and hang out in parks getting "up to no good, started causing trouble in the neighbourhood"-if it sounds like the Intro to the Fresh Prince of Belair, it was kind of like that. Education definitely saved me.

Dan was an uber geek though, he was switched off by exercises from pages of his Maths book and from copying from the bored. I realise I have misspelt the word "board", but in this case, I think the typo is quite appropriate so I'll leave it in. Back to Dan, being a Geek he would pass time by making up his own little questions and passing them to friends. If you were educated in the 20th century, you will probably remember the classic Q: What is 8 x 6922251. The answer on the calculator when turned upside down was:

Classic. Learning that's fun!

Back to the present day, Dan reminds us that ICT is not just a tool for learning, but a whole new way of learning. His students at community school for example wanted to learn about free range chickens and farming. Dan, like most teachers come across this problem and told them that it was on the syllabus for next year (that was the truth). But the kids couldn't wait, they really wanted to learn about it now. Rather than resist it he did something quite revolutionary/innovative himself. He told the students to research the topic themselves and develop their own scheme of work and resources to teach the rest of the class. The kids went "all out" and possibly got a little carried away, saving some chickens from the local battery farm and releasing them into the school grounds. They then went and set up a webcam called "eggCam". They used their mobile phones to document and blog the process. In the end, they were asked to speak at conferences. One was in Indonesia, they didn't actually get to go to Indonesia unfortunately, but they did get to do a video conference from their local university. Unbeknown to them, this was broadcast live and watched by 30 million people! Now that's Education Revolution!

On to the next generation, Dan's own two-year old son is proficient with playing games and watching PoPat (Postman Pat) on his iPad. And when he goes to school, he will want to interact and use his iPad to learn, but may possibly be banned from doing so. Not letting a student use an iPad is the equivalent to not letting a 20th Century learner use a pen! Indeed, the biggest fear for education is that we have all this wonderful technology and we won't let our students use it. So we should educate students to use mobile learning devices responsibly and trust them to use them responsibly. Easier said than done? Well Dan also set up a website to help students, parents and teachers get their tech unblocked. It is aptly named: .

Dan's three closing thoughts:

School will be irrelevant unless we bridge the gap between how students live and learn outside of school and how they live and learn inside school.

These are exciting times for us all.

Remember, Geeks will rule the world!

The youth speak out at #TEDxLondon

Three teenage speakers would set the high standard for the Education Revolution. Following Sir Ken Robinson is never an easy task. But being a revolutionary thinker himself, 18-year old Adam Roberts was certainly up to the task. His talk was about asking questions and being critical. I've always been a fan of critical thinking so whilst I wasn't in need of converting, I was in need of someone to confirm what many of us believe in.

Students will frequently ask us "why do we need to know what we're learning about." And we better pre-empt these questions and have answers ready as students such as 14-year Old Georgia Allis Mills will certainly ask them. "Surely learning about things which we will never use in life is a waste of our time" she states. She goes on to say that "Schools will never catch up (because the world and technology is evolving so quickly), so why don't schools involve students in the development process?" Many good schools do, and they would be right to, as young people are at the forefront of education.

Sophie Bosworth, an 18 year old student working with the Ideas Foundation came on later and defined education as "The giving and receiving of systematic instruction". She would argue that this systematic instruction is what leads to systematic failure. It is the systematic nature of education that is the problem. When vocational education is seen as 2nd class to traditional subjects such as Maths, English and Science, we do not celebrate the equal talents of all students. Her work seeks to open up creative opportunities to people from poorer rural areas, many of whom would be forced through systematic instruction and many of whom would typically fail as a result.

Emily Cummins, an Inventor and another young speaker stated the blunt and obvious fact that the youth are the future, they teach their parents how to text, how to use e-mail, how to use a computer. They can teach schools and teachers a thing or two as well. Two things became increasingly obvious as the TEDxLondon conference went on. Firstly, young people (those we work with) know as much about Education Revolution as we do, what we need, who we need and how we can execute. Secondly, we need to involve the youth in our Education Revolution. We cannot go on our mission alone.

So yes, Adam we do need to change the way we assess children. Yes we do need to encourage them to ask more questions and be more critical in their thinking. Schools do need to stop saturating students with knowledge for university, which may ultimately fail them in life in the real world. And yes, Georgia, we do need to consider the global aspect of our education. We will come back to the prodigal inventor, Emily Cummins later. But for now, remember the purpose of education. Education needs to do justice to those being educated and the only way we can do that is by listening to them, listening to their questions and encouraging them to ask more questions. Maybe then, we will find the right answers.

"Creativity is a cycle, Pedal it"
Sophie Bosworth @TEDxLondon

Ken Robinson Intro from #TEDxLondon

Sir Ken Robinson's video's from 2006 and 2010 on are the most watched video's on the site with over 200,000,000 views. The event TEDxLondon was organised in response to his 2010 talk about the state of education and the need for an Education Revolution:

Ken started his 2011 talk by agreeing with politicians who state that we need to go "back to basics". However, the definition of "back to basics" was a reference to fundamental principles of education, not the common definition of "basic subjects" e.g. Literacy, Numeracy and Science.

Ken defined his three fundamental principles of education as:

  1. Economic (To ensure economic growth, development and sustainability)
  2. Cultural (To understand each other, as much of today's conflict is based on cultural misunderstanding)
  3. Personal (To relate to people as individuals, their hopes and challenges)
The root of this revolution is to PERSONALISE education, as opposed to standardising it (the latter strategy is currently being used simply as it is more convenient for testing and measurement). All of our students have unique talents and interests and by standardising education, we are limiting them and restraining them from the pursuit of their true interests.

In referencing Peter Brook's "The empty space", Ken went on to discuss how we should start with the 3 principles and personalised education and only add things if it actually improves the experience and learning. There is no need to throw in a load of other things if it does not improve the educational experience. Education revolution needs to be based on learning and by this we do not mean simply the content of the curriculum but rather the quality of learning.

Ken closed by stating four principles for the Education Revolution:
  1. Personalised learning (everyone has a unique story)
  2. Customised learning (for the specific environment, community, place and time)
  3. Diversity (Because human life is diverse)
  4. Partnerships (Between schools and other institutions such as museums, the local community, businesses)
These four principles will be required in order to meet the needs of the 21st Century. Marcus Davey (the host of TEDxLondon) went on to encourage us to make small steps in order to make a great leap forward.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

The power of the Tweak (and Tweet)

I used to plan lessons which I thought were awesome. I've since become a bit more modest and am a on a quest to further my modesty. Back to the first sentence...After creating these lessons, one of my colleagues would e-mail me back with changes and modifications he'd made to the lesson. It was his first year of teaching, so I felt slightly undermined, threatened and annoyed at this. How could he?! But he would continue, every week to send me "his version" of the lesson.

Later in the year, I started looking over his resources and couldn't believe how watertight the resources were and how he'd improved them. They were more-differentiated, simplified, streamlined, in fact they were awesome! For a while, I would send out my resources to the department and wait for him to essentially proof-read and improve the lesson. As the year wore on, I too started tweaking other people's lessons and sending them back improvements. Occasionally it would just be a spelling mistake, sometimes wording which I thought would confuse the students. It's amazing what a fresh pair of eyes can see and add, almost completing the other 20% in Pareto's 80/20 principle for you. Even just changing the starter or plenary and then re-uploading the modified lesson onto the network made a huge difference.

What I learnt from this is that these tweaks that we made would make all the difference to making an OK lesson become good and a good lesson become great. I cannot stress how vital this tinkering is. I think that in every department, you need to use people for their strengths (a bit like the upcoming film, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). You need someone who can plan the year and the lesson ideas, someone to tinker and improve, someone to organise the department and the resources and obviously we all need to deliver.

So the next time someone tweaks my lesson, I will swallow my pride and say thank you, knowing that the lesson has probably been greatly improved and may just change the learning experience of our students for the better.

Still not convinced? Watch this:

Tuesday 13 September 2011

How Ofsted will judge and grade you this year.

Another new year, another new set of Ofsted criteria. Well, in my mind that's not necessarily a bad thing as teaching and education have to evolve and keep up to speed with society.

In July, we had an Inset from an Ofsted inspector, who has been piloting the new criteria for inspections. The meeting was a bit bizarre to be honest, we were first given a set of the new criteria which had "confidential" written all over it. We were instructed that we couldn't take copies away with us, but the inspector didn't have any issues with us taking detailed notes. I think one colleague practically copied the confidential documents out by hand verbatim. It seemed a little pointless, but no doubt, if we get called up for an inspection, I know who I'll be visiting for extra notes!

Anyway here's the breakdown:

  • Key emphasis on Differentiation
  • Assessment For Learning still features heavily
  • Emphasis on the use of support staff in lessons

A more detailed overview

For observers, we should be observing based on agreed criteria and we should be commenting on what DID HAPPEN not what did not. Suggestions for future lessons, can come at the end.

Observers should be looking for challenging tasks that improve pupils' learning.
Teachers should ensure ALL pupils are challenged in the starter, main and plenary. Frequently, starters are used and half the pupils are clearly not challenged and gain nothing from the exercise. So differentiation from the outset is key. The observers should be trying to assess "is something new being learnt?".

Note to self, perhaps students can choose their own starters/questions based on colour-coded cards. So instead of asking a student a question, you ask them to pick out a card, either a basic, challenging or gold card. The gold being the hardest questions.

Constructive feedback should be given by teachers based on previous learning. Teachers should avoid "going back to the beginning" and always try to start pupils at the level where they left off last time.

Teachers should ensure students know how they can improve learning / move on. There is nothing new about this criteria.

There is an emphasis on progress for all and more interestingly, considering our recent discussions about "wellbeing"- Teachers enthuse , engage and motivate pupils so that they find learning is engrossing and enjoyable.

There should be a variety of activities for a variety of learning styles. Teachers were advised to not simply differentiate by learning outcomes.

The emphasis is on learning and progress, not on teacher activity.

There was a key addition of "how your lesson was used to improve literacy/numeracy in the subject".

Finally, there was a change in the language using the term "learning intentions" instead of "learning objectives".

It might seem like a load of the same, but I think there is a positive step in the mentioning of lessons being "engrossing and enjoyable". I think teaching and learning has to be fun, if it's box ticking for the sake of it, students probably aren't learning a great deal and are not really enjoying their learning experience. I think that part of the goal of addressing educational disadvantage is getting pupils to find their learning enjoyable and for them to want to learn and want to do well. It seems that Ofsted is taking a step in the right direction in recognising that lessons do need to be enjoyable.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

What I'll be trying on the first day back...

EDIT: I've updated my thoughts and whilst this post is still valid for the first day back, I should also include what I would do in my first week back: . Original post follows below, which is still worth reading if you teach Sixth Form/Juniors and Seniors in high school.

I will have a new Year 12 class.

First of all some icebreakers. I quite like, "Who am I" from this amazing resource bank:

I will pair this with the Smartie game, students take smarties as soon as they come in, they find out what they're about later. See above link for details.

We will probably then "Walk the line", a pledge from my days as a Southwestern student salesman mixed with a KIPP motto.

A ball of string is released from one side of the room, all that I ask is for the students to pledge two things which I believe will make the successful and happy. These two things are to "Work hard and be nice". If they can agree, they cross the line.

We then cut the string into roughly 15cm strips. They can tie this string around their wrist, bag, pencil case, wallet, whatever they wish. When the two years is over i.e. when it's the end of Year 13, if they have kept to the pledge, they should be still in school (i.e. not expelled, excluded, etc) and be successful and happy. If we were to tie the 20 strands of string back together, it should be the same length as Thurs Sept 8th 2011. It's the string that keeps them together, like climbers, they need to hold onto and support each other on their two year journey.

 We only have an hour, so after lunch, I have cut out some lyrics they can take one for their diary/planner/wallet from:

If we have time, we can do Gimme 10! (See first link) They can finish that for homework, adding their own photo.

In registration next week, we'll also be playing guess who? (See first link).

I'm excited and excited for them. A fresh start.

EDIT: I've updated my thoughts and whilst this post is still valid for the first day back, I should also include what I would do in my first week back:

Wednesday 31 August 2011

Why we should praise effort not ability

In response to @LearningSpy's post how to fix your attitude

Praising effort not ability is the most important strategy for me. In a system, where many schools still set by "current" ability, it's sometimes difficult for us to praise students when they're not doing quite as well as the top student in the top set as it were. It may even seem asthough you're faking it when you praise them for their effort. But if you take a step back and think about it another way.

Imagine you are an athlete, in fact imagine you're a pretty terrible one, so lets say Michael Johnson in 1990, Michael Jordan in 1975 or indeed any athlete in their early years. Michael Johnson failed to make his State trials, Michael Jordon did not make his High School starting line up. Shane Warne couldn't run fast, so he took up spin bowling. Their initial "ability" was poor, but they all became the best in their field because of their "efforts".

The moral of the story (for me to take on board) is to remember that every student is simply on a journey, they have not arrived, they never will as the tracks never end. They will just go far, how far depends on how much you reward their effort. Rewarding their effort is the fuel (motivation) for their journey! No matter how un-natural it seems and how different this strategy is to when you were educated-we must remember-PRAISE EFFORT!