Tuesday 25 September 2012

How culture affects teaching, learning and attention spans

I haven't blogged for a while here as I recently moved away from the busy hustle and bustle of London to take up a teaching post in Seychelles. One thing became apparent very quickly, Seychelles is like 1970's Britain in many ways. You can read more about this on my Seychelles blog. In short:

1) People know their neighbours and say hello to everyone in the street
2) You have to do your grocery shopping in three different shops as there are no big supermarket chains
3) Everyone is less-distracted and less stressed-out.

What on earth has this got to do with learning? I was not alone in my search for sanity and serenity, I was joined by 5 other teachers from the UK. The first thing we all remarked on was the length of time Seychellois students could concentrate for. At the London school where I was teaching for 6 years, I would usually cap most learning tasks to 15 mins max. Even the main of a lesson would have plenty of mini-plenaries, not for OFSTED's sake (diagnostic marking, AFL etc), but purely because many students would lose focus otherwise. This was in an outstanding school by the way, where behaviour needed to be managed, but would never be regularly disruptive.

In Seychelles, students happily work for 20-30 mins on any given task; silent-reading for English,  intensive spreadsheet work or programming in ICT, writing up notes in response to a texts/sources in History. Students are much more willing to help each other too. There is a genuine sense of community and little sense of aggressive competition or ego. When asked to identify a series of logo's for a logo design lesson, half the class could not identify the Nike logo.

When an English teacher read out some famous blurbs from biographies such as Didier Drogba, Beyonce and Rihanna, the students were blank. They had vaguely heard of these celebrities, but were not at all concerned with keeping up-to-date with their gossip. Tom Cruise was recently sat in a cafĂ©  on the neighbouring island of La Digue. Nobody bothered him at all. Passers-by could not care less.

Another teacher also recently modelled world aid and economies using biscuits. Dividing students onto tables which represented different countries. Some countries had more biscuits to start with and others less. He asked them how they would feel if a country took asked to have a load of biscuits as they didn't have any but then that country never repaid them back. A student simply responded "That's OK, we don't mind". There were many other analogies done in that lesson such as population density and famine, but the students responded quite coldly. This lesson, when delivered in the UK was graded as "Outstanding". Perhaps the Seychellois students were not used to such innovative/creative teaching methods that we (have to) employ in the west to keep our students engaged. They have been used to reading text books and answering questions and so this is what they know and do well.

It is fair to say that local and national culture has a huge part to play on teaching and learning style. Seychellois students do not have the same stimuli as students in the UK/USA/Europe. They are not constantly playing with their phones, apps, twitter etc. They do not need constant stimulation through flashing lights. The amount of time spent on video games is quite low, the time spent outside playing volleyball, running, playing football is much greater. So in many cases, Seychelles is like 1970's Britain. But things are slowly changing. The country recently had fibre optic broadband laid down and some households are using USB Internet dongles. I wonder how long it will take before student's attention spans diminish from 30 mins to 3mins. Or whether it will happen at all. As the world flattens, I don't have an answer, but am happy to be teaching in a productive environment and will slowly phase in those crazy/create lessons. Teaching spreadsheets through dance may have to wait!

Sunday 9 September 2012

Wilson Miner-When we build

For anyone that wants to survive and thrive in the 21st century as a designer or user. This is essential viewing:

Via Carl Stratton and EmbedTree

Thursday 16 August 2012

My thoughts on A-Level grades falling #ResultsDay

I will start by saying our overall results remain excellent, 100% A-C at AS and 90% A-B at A2 for the subjects I teach (Media and ICT). I am neither bitter nor disappointed in my students. I am proud of what they have achieved. However, the bar has definitely been raised across our subjects and indeed all subjects. Exemplary students who would comfortably have achieved an A/A* based on past papers and our predictions did not and a lot of our coursework was moderated down for the first time in several years. We were previously an accredited centre and have taught the same coursework briefs/modules for 4 years. We spend several days moderating, so needless to say, our marking is generally accurate. This (negative) moderation of coursework also happened in the History Department. It appears this is an additional reason why the grades have dropped in addition to the exam boards simply raising the grade boundaries implicitly. 

Incidentally, I think universities have picked up on this and because so many students missed their offers yesterday, many of our students got in on clearing to AAB universities, despite missing by two grades in some cases.

It's quite interesting to hear Kevin Stannard's thoughts. I'm not at all surprised by this Conservative administration tweaking things to make a political point though. i.e. The usual farcical rhetoric of "Teachers are failing, ed reform is necessary, Ebac is important to raise standards, bring in a load of ex-military and bankers from the city etc to raise educational standards." The likelihood is results will go up next year and the Conservatives (mainly Gove, Gibb and Cameron) will claim it's because of their changes in ed policy. It's not, they've just fudged the stats (again).

This post was written in response to this article by William Stewart posted on the TES:

William Stewart
Decades of “grade inflation” ended this morning as the proportion of pupils achieving the highest A-level grades dropped for the first time in 21 years.
The A* grade, introduced in 2010, was awarded to 7.9 per cent of entries this year, compared with 8.2 per cent last year, breaking the now familiar narrative of ever-increasing results and accusations of dumbing down.
The proportion of A-level entries gaining grade A or above also fell, to 26.6 per cent, lower than the 2009 level. It is the first time that the proportion of A grades has gone down since 1991.
It is the first time that the proportion of A grades has gone down since 1991.
Exam boards say that the fall is explained by a “different cohort profile” from last year. The drop follows a levelling off last year, with 27.0 per cent of students achieving A and A* grades in both 2010 and 2011.
The shift has coincided with a greater emphasis from exams regulator Ofqual on pegging results to the performance of -previous years. TES also understands that in meetings this year the watchdog instructed exam boards to err on the conservative side when deciding in borderline cases where grade boundaries should be placed.
The overall percentage of A-level entries gaining an A*-E pass went up for the 30th successive year, with a slight increase to 98 per cent. But that news, alongside Ofqual’s denial that results have been “fixed”, is unlikely to allay the fears of some schools that pupils have been unfairly penalised.
Kevin Stannard, a former exam board official and director of learning at the Girls’ Day School Trust, which runs two academies and 24 independent schools, said that having a criterion-based exam system – which does not put a cap on the number of students allowed to achieve certain grades – leads to increasing numbers of pupils getting A/A* passes.
“Grade inflation is a systemic feature of criterion-based exams, so if there isn’t a record percentage of pupils getting top grades again this year, it suggests something quite disturbing: the system isn’t so much broken as corrupt,” he said.
“Someone will have decided to raise the bar, not by setting more difficult questions but simply by raising the boundary mark for particular grades.”

Thursday 9 August 2012

Stop meddling. We're medaling just fine #Olympics

Education has long been a political football. Politicians love meddling with the school system to no avail. This creates waves of instability and is not helpful to our profession at all.

The latest political football has been PE, Physical Education. Since the success of the GB team at the 2012 Olympics, politicians have been jumping up and down saying we need to change the school PE/sports program. Wait a minute, surely if we are doing so well, then our education system is doing something right. We don't need change do we? If something is clearly not broken- the most gold medals ever won by GB at an Olympic Games, why are we trying to fix it.

Source: www.Guardian.co.uk

Source: www.bbc.co.uk

Politicians love throwing time and money at a problem, or in this case, a pseudo-problem to try and win points with the public. The public, who are currently emotionally engrossed in supporting GB and thus any kind of sporting activity. I don't think there is a great deal wrong with school PE. At many schools it is compulsory up until age 16 and well-qualified teachers deliver with passion. Boris Johnson's suggestion that schools should have 2 hours a day of PE (like he enjoyed at Eton) is a farce. Current Olympic hurdler and former Etonian, Lawrence Clarke himself admitted that Going to Eton put him at a disadvantage. That's coming straight from the horse's mouth Boris!

lawrence clarke
Source: www.huffingtonpost.co.uk

Boris exercising his left-right left-right:

If funding gets mentioned at all in the coming weeks after the Olympics are all over, then it will be further confirmation that the PM and his Conservative Cronies really don't have a clue. Putting more money into school PE or Sports funding will do little for GB sports. Look at Grabarz who funded himself independently and James Ellington who auctioned himself off on Ebay to find a sponsor. What about Dujardin, the girl who did work experience at a stables before becoming the Olympic Dressage champion. The entrepreneurial spirit is strong in the UK and if sportsmen and women really want to compete and develop, they will find a way through sheer determination and innovation. Cash incentives will not make a greater sporting nation. Just look at the state of the English Premier League, where players on wages in excess of £100,000 a week disgrace themselves on a regular basis. Sleeping around, making racist remarks, being drunk and disorderly. Money does a lot of things, it doesn't make better sportsmen and women though.

Source: www1.skysports.com

If the message isn't clear, politicians who do not have a clue, please leave our education system alone so that there is stability. This way teachers can be left to teach without worrying about ticking the boxes and doing 2 hours of PE a day!

5 tutorials every media studies teacher and student should watch

Saturday 7 July 2012

Things good schools do

This is a bit of an experiment in collaborative writing. How it works is that you copy this entire post verbatim, and add one thing to the list below. If you put this on a blog, please tag this post with "goodschoolproject" if possible to make these posts easier to find later.

  1. Good schools focus on the learners, not the system.
  2. Good schools provide good training / CPD for their teachers

You are free to share and modify this post, but whomever you share it with must enjoy the same freedom.

via @davidwees 

Sunday 24 June 2012

Update on the DFE and Vital Consultation on ICT #GuardianCS

Peter Twining started his session by restating that the Disapplication of the current ICT Programmes of Study (POS) will begin in September 2012, with a new curriculum expected in September 2014. The DFE and Vital recognise that “Digital” changes everything, ever job, every discipline. For these reasons, change is necessary.

However, Michael Gove has been less than kind about ICT and its teachers, despite the fact that in primary schools, 2/3 of schools are judged good or outstanding based on the most recent OFSTED data (2008). At secondary, this drops to under ½ of all schools are good or outstanding. It seems that GCSE ICT is a disaster. The Royal Society went on to state that “Every child needs to be digitally literate by the end of compulsory education.” The Royal Society at no point mentions that “computer science” is compulsory, rather a combination of all the ICT strands, which are displayed in the image below.

Note that the three strands of ICT are defined as Computer Science, IT and Digtial Literacy. One of the reasons why computer science should not be delivered discretely as a compulsory is because there are simply not enough people to deliver it.

It is worth noting that the current QCDA was and still is just guidance and actually the POS has and always will remain open. Teacher have done and still can teach any of the three strands and still meet the QCDA guidance.

Disapplication (Sept 2012)
There was no guidance from Gove as to what we should now do, he referred to a WIKI curriculum, however much of this is incomplete. There are no success criteria or attainment targets in which to judge the success of teaching. Therefore, many schools will not deliver ICT, despite it being a legal requirement. Whilst it is true, that in a general school inspection, Ofsted will not inspect ICT; it is still unwise to completely drop ICT from your school’s curriculum. Come 2014, ICT will be a foundation subject and if school’s have discontinued ICT from their school, there will be a huge skills shortage in both staff and students. Please ensure that your students do not lose their entitlement to ICT, do not slow down or soft pedal.

New ICT Curriculum (Sept 2014)
Peter Twining strongly restated that the subject should not change its name. Simply because something is not working, changing the name will not change anything. We have worked hard to build the name of “ICT” in the UK. Previously, many countries around the world would only use the term “IT”, but now on Twitter and in all educational journals and books published in the UK, “ICT” is the common term for our subject.
In 2014, the curriculum will be much thinner as a foundation subject. It is likely that the POS will be 1 side of A4. Indeed the POS and the attainment targets will probably be merged, with no level descriptors. Peter predicts that Gove will not tell you what to do, he will merely set high level attainment goals.

As a discipline, we need a united voice to succeed, rather than disagreeing and pushing particular views. Peter said all parties need to unite under the same banner of “ICT”: CAS, NAACE, ITTE, #DigitalStudies . The worst case scenario of a fragmented voice would be a compromised curriculum which is agreed by all parties and their vested interests.

Peter also discussed following a model like science, where you would have a National Curriculum for KS1 to KS3, followed by discrete sciences at KS4 i.e. Bio, Chem, Phy. In ICT, we could follow the same structure, specialising in either IT, Comp Sci or Media Studies at KS4. Incidentally, creative arts (Photoshop, video editing, special effects, animation and compositing) would all fall into the media studies bracket and during this two year period, could be taught by Art teachers as well as ICT teachers with the skills.

Who will lead?
5xICT specialist schools
Teaching schools and the New Technology Advisory Board (NTAB)
The NTAB will steer and co-ordinate the curriculum in the next three years. Why? Because DFE will not  (be able to) do it.

Peter also revealed new features of the Vital website, including the evidence hub where research meets practice. Whilst there are some schools leading in shaping the future of ICT using:

Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD): Students bring their own device, register their MAC address and the they can use their device in school. This has been successfully deployed by Saltash .Net Community School

Bring Your Own Tech (BYOT): You can bring your own tech into school and it simply works.

Vital wanted to hear from more schools where such schemes are working. He urged people to sign up to Vital. Free codes will be distributed to all conference attendees in the near future. Teaching schools would also get a discount to Vital membership.

Closing word
Do not lose ICT capacity now, otherwise 2014 will be a shock
Computer Science is a specialism at KS4, it is not the be all and end all.

Agile Pedagogy with Miles Berry

Miles Berry leads ICT education at the University of Roehampton and is also the chair of NAACE. Miles is a real story teller and as such, it is almost impossible to make notes and reflect how truly awe-inspiring his talks are. He managed to introduce 3 big ideas in his talk which completely blew me away.

1)     Froebel’s blocks for education
2)     The role of the Pedagogue-the Greek Etymology of the word being “a slave who took a child to a place of learning”.
3)     3 ways of learning: Play, Reading manuals/tutorials, Talking/socialising
4)     The idea that the 6 ingredients for a good computer game could also be used for programming
5)     Code avengers-A website for kids to learn Javascript

I mean not to do Miles any further injustice in the way of diluting his message. So here is his actual presentation in full: