Monday 14 May 2012

Response to a Manifesto for sustainable effective teaching.

As posted in the comments to the original manifesto:

All in all. It's not been easy. A manifesto is a great idea but really behaviours speak louder than words. I think it's been good to have as a guideline and it makes me more aware of myself and listening to my body etc. However, our profession is demanding, like most professionals (Doctors, Nurses, Accountants, Lawyers), we do have to put in the hours. We serve the public. Despite this, we also need to rest, we need to serve and reserve ourselves. Finding the balance is the greatest challenge, not necessarily just sticking rigidly to the manifesto.

Saturday 12 May 2012

I'm Possible

When Stephen Hawking was at Oxford University, he arrived late to a lecture. The lecturer had given out a set of incredibly difficult Physics questions. They were so difficult that two of his peers working together managed to solve only two of the questions. One of his peers, working alone managed only one of the questions.

As Hawking had arrived late to the lecture, her was unaware that his lecturer had told the class that these questions were "extremely challenging". When teased by his contemporaries and asked how many questions he had managed to complete he replied, "I only had enough time to complete the first ten..."

On a more trivial note, a friend of mine name Jo works at a law office. She's allergic to nuts which is a shame because once in a while their office host Ferrero Rocher eating competitions. The challenge is to see how many you can eat in a minute. Her colleague managed to eat 8 in a minute. They later found out that the world record is 7 in a minute. I would suggest that if somebody had told her colleague that the world record was 7, perhaps this would have set a glass ceiling for him and he would have stopped trying at 6? Side note: Unfortunately the experience was so nauseating that he's not willing to attempt the feat again!

The glass ceiling theory comes from an experiment with putting a flea in a jar. Fleas can jump/fly to any height. But if you put one in a jar with a see through lid on it, it will jump but keep hitting this glass ceiling. After a while, it will jump but not so high, so it does not hit the glass ceiling. Even if you take the lid off, it still thinks the lid is there so it stops jumping as high. How many times have you told someone or been told that something is impossible? If nobody tells us something is impossible or if we choose not to believe them. We can achieve anything we put our minds to. Here are some b-boy (breakdancing) moves which were once deemed impossible:

Kipup to handstand (Omega bomb)

Double elbow track

To close, I would like to leave you with a philosophy to live by and to pass on to others, your peers, students and friends:

"If you wan't to believe in something, believe in yourself."


Further evidence that we can do anything we set our minds to:

Footnote: Stephen Hawking's peers had been up all night working on the problems. Stephen Hawking went to bed early and only started on the morning of the next lecture.

Saturday 18 February 2012

#ICT500 Rethinking ICT

There is one key difference between ICT and most other subjects, the content and field of ICT is evolving much quicker than any other subject. The events leading up to WWII and the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan have happened and very little new information is going to be gleaned from these events, with the exception of new interviews and new case studies. These events which are core to History and Geography have happened and they are not changing, events do not evolve.

Contrast all other subjects and fields to ICT- forms of information are constantly evolving, five years ago, infographics were neither common, nor fashionable. Data visualization as a field did not exist. In terms of communication, VoIP and Microblogging were once used by a small minority during a time when text messages and e-mail were replacing office memo's. In terms of technology, a clear trend in the 90's was the shrinking of mobile devices-we all wanted something more compact, smaller, thinner. The use of mobile technology changed however when mobile access to the Internet meant people were quite happy with a larger device with a larger screen.

With so many changes, you would think that ICT as a school subject would have also evolved, kept up with these changes. Unfortunately, it hasn't. It apparently takes a few years for new Specifications to be approved and maybe for this reason, ICT remained focussed around (Microsoft) Office applications. There was no motivation to change, teachers were fairly content, students knew no better and accepted the system. The system however did not evolve-in 2001, when I did my GCSE, the only way of apparently demonstrating understanding was through printscreens and annotation. Despite screen capture software and free audio capture/editing software such as Audacity now prevalent, relatively little has changed in the way we assess work.

In rethinking ICT, we need to look at the real world. Not just an office environment using Microsoft Office. What do film studios, software companies, startups, mobile phone companies, game designers, web designers and network engineers actually use? What skills do they need? We need to work backwards from there. We need to respond by improving our curriculum so that it prepares our learners for the real working world.
We need to seek support from industries and we also need to teach a wider variety of technical skills alongside a wider variety of approaches and thinking skills. Learning skills is one thing, knowing how to approach a problem, knowing who you need in a team are other key skills. The importance of the team cannot be underestimated, very rarely do people in ICT work alone. Group projects would bring a more balanced and realistic dynamic. Students should be able to experience more streams/types of ICT and then choose which one(s) to pursue in more depth. A modular approach like A-level Maths is probably more suitable than a prescriptive one-size fits all approach.

Monday 13 February 2012

Will it get me more marks?

Frequently students may ask if an extension task or extra project will get them more marks or extra credit. Sometimes these extra projects do count towards their final grade, sometimes they do not. This project shows that creativity and freedom alone are big enough incentives for students to achieve. The reward is the number of compliments they receive from their peers!

In the first year of A-level media studies, students are asked to produce a music magazine, front cover, table of contents and double page spread. To push the students creatively, I asked them to create an advert to go inside the magazine, this was not on the exam specification and was for no extra credit or marks but was an opportunity for them to create something original using their own photography and image editing skills. Here are some of the results.

Thursday 29 December 2011

Things to try next year

I've been reading a lot about education in Finland and also based on my visit earlier this year to Sweden; I've decided on a few things I'll try in my teaching and learning with students next year.

1) Let students write their own test questions. Finnish students have fewer standardised tests, but teachers do regularly write their own. Perhaps students could also write their own? What better way to test your understanding of a topic than to write your own test questions for yourself and each other. This activity requires not only understanding but also enough knowledge in terms of subject/topic content to formulate an answer and in turn a suitable question.

2) Celebrating co-operation rather than competition between students.
According to Vygotsky, learning is a social collaborative activity. Students which are at a more advanced stage can help those at a less advanced stage in their learning so that the latter can progress to a higher level too. In students teaching a concept to their peers, the skill and understanding is also solidified further. This also applies to my learning and my work with my department, I will seek more co-operation and try to eliminate the competitive mindset that can sometimes settle in. In aiming for more co-operation in the classroom, perhaps I could reward this more through praise and other reward systems.

After thought: If learning is social, can our school VLE or existing social networks be used for social learning?

3) Fun consolidatory/exploratory/creative tasks for KS3 "homework".
Homework is not set until teenage years in Finland. I believe that some homework that is currently set lacks meaning and purpose and in turn it saps passion out of a subject. It should be fun and in the flipped classroom, perhaps it should feed into next lesson. Ideally, it should be set in such a way that students actually want to do the homework because of the pleasure that it brings. If homework is not fun/meaningful, I won't set it.

4) Enable students to find their passion and state why they enjoy this part of the subject.

I believe that school is about finding yourself, finding what you are good at and what you enjoy. In Finland this principle underlies all schooling from age 8-15. This can be applied to your individual subject, in my case ICT. What do students enjoy the most and why? This activity also enforces the notion that there is no right answer to the question. If you prefer spreadsheets and formula to graphic design in Photoshop, that's great. If you prefer using Photoshop over Movie Maker or Powerpoint, that's fine too.

Also worth reading:

Sunday 13 November 2011

Manifesto for sustainable effective teaching. #TMLondon

The final speaker at Teach Meet London was Kathryn Lovewell, a teacher whose story of her NQT year sounded like most of ours. She was an energetic, enthusiastic, "never say no" kind of teacher. Unfortunately, all did not end well and to put it lightly, this is a formula for inevitable stress and burnout. I know this (like many of you), because I've lived this same life and I haven't slowed down much since my NQT year, up until now.

A typical day involves waking up between 5am and 6.45am depending on how much work/pressure there is at school. I'll usually be in school between 6.45am and 8.00am. That's a huge window. I don't like rush hour traffic, whether I'm cycling or catching the bus, rush hour seems like a really inefficient time to travel. Like many teachers, I like to get in early, I can work undisturbed for a good hour and get a lot done. Or so it seems. Students this year have also started coming in at 7.15am, I'm not sure why, but I don't think it's healthy.

I usually leave school between 5.30pm and 7.30pm. On some occasions, I will leave at 4.30pm or 8.30pm. Here comes Kathryn's advice, set your working hours. Do what matters most to you, what will actually have the most impact on teaching and learning. The things that are "important". The rest can wait or be put off. After further lengthy discussion with some of my colleagues and my wife, I decided on the following Manifesto.
  1. I will only check e-mail between 7am and 7pm. 
  2. I will prioritise exam/coursework marking over non-coursework marking. 
  3. I will not take physical homework home. It can all be marked in school. Digital homework can be taken home on a memory stick. 
  4. I will go to sleep every working night before 11pm, this way I will get 7 hours sleep every night.
  5. I will have a caffeine/stimulant free life-No coffee, tea, pain killers just water. This way I can listen to my body.
  6. I will meditate at least 10 mins twice a day.
  7. Once a week, I will leave work by 4pm.
  8. I have yet to figure out exact working hours, but I will do a one week pilot, trying 10 hours a day at work (max). 90 mins at home a day (max).  With smaller time windows, I hope that I will procrastinate less, be more productive, more energetic and more rested. I will definitely get the important stuff done, as time is much more valuable now. I will also get to spend more time with my wife, who shows great compassion in tolerating my current work-life balance.
Like most teachers I love rules, those set out in my manifesto above will ensure I'm working to my strengths, by attepting to stick to these rules, I'll have a much more sustainable and effective teaching career. I wonder, what will you give up? How will your life change? It would be nice to hear other people's manifesto's. If life were like the film below, how would you live differently? Do you think life is much different to the film below?

Personally, I don't think life is very different. To quote a famous rapper (bonus points if you can name him):

"Time is the most important element in our lives that we can't afford to waste".

We need to work more efficiently, more effectively and more sustainably. Our bodies will tell us if we're not doing this through those tell-tale headaches, migraines, chest/back pains, skin complexion, quality of hair and general stress. I'm pretty certain that less stress leads to a longer life, a longer career and a happier life and career.

Thanks to Kathryn Lovewell and TeachMeet London for inspiring this post.

Monday 10 October 2011

Innovation comes from within

What an amazing speaker. Innovation from within. What is your breath/spirit/spark?

Is there a creative life in your students?

How can you find it?

Dr Peter Benson, may he Rest In Peace. Thank you for your contribution to our profession, I hope we can act on his passion, his breath, his spirit.


Saturday 8 October 2011

This advert with the original "Steve Jobs" voiceover was never aired.

His legacy will be remembered and may the likes of Jonathan Ive, David Kelley, Tim Brown and Steve Wozniak continue changing the technological landscape.