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.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Do something today

This brought tears of happiness and sorrow:

What will you do today?

Wednesday 28 September 2011

How Gove and Exam boards can help us embed Technology in education.

Michael Gove's office is due to respond to recommendations put forward by Naace on the topic of "Technology in Education". The key quotation from this response is that,

"the Government believes that the effective use of technology can support good teaching and help raise educational standards.  It is critical to effective learning in the 21st century."

I remember a colleague of mine informing me that the new specification of GCSE Business Communication Systems (also known as BCS) requires students to be able to compose a Tweet. I do not teach BCS, but this is indeed exciting. However, our school, like many does not currently allow the use of mainstream social media/virtual spaces such as Facebook or Twitter. There was once a block in our school on all blogs and Youtube, but as OCR Media Studies requires students to keep a blog, the ban on blogs was lifted. The ban on Youtube was also lifted as we discovered many educational videos on there, as did the students. Even SMT couldn't deny the educational value of Youtube.

In many schools, they still only use Microsoft Internet Explorer and refuse to install the more efficient and effective Google Chrome or Firefox. It is only when the Applied ICT A-level specification stipulated "testing websites in multiple browsers" that some schools have installed Google Chrome.

There is an obvious theme here, technology will be blocked unless the curriculum specifically states that it should be taught and used. I would ask the government and exam boards to put their money where their mouth is. If they really do want our students to be well-prepared for working in the 21st century, then I plea for them to explicitly state the use of virtual networks, mobile learning devices, Youtube/Vimeo and Twitter in their official policy documents and specifications.

It doesn't take much, a simple sentence such as "Students should upload their video production coursework to an online streaming video service". Most centres would know how to interpret that and will be able to pressure their service providers/headteachers/governors. At present, all our student coursework is uploaded on Youtube for the exam board to access. But it is the teachers that do the uploading as students do not have privileges to login and upload video. By restricting technology access and requiring teachers to bridge the gap and access blocked sites, tweets, videos, we are depriving students of that very basic pedagogical technique-learning by doing.

So the three steps that are required:

  1. The government and the exam boards take responsibility and lead our young learners into the 21st century by explicitly stating the use of mobile tech, social networking, social media and virtual networks. (All of these are in use in the real working world and our schools should reflect this)
  2. Schools develop watertight policies for the use of the aforementioned technologies which are specific to the school's learning environment and circumstance. Although sharing these policies would help others tweak and tweet them for mass benefit.
  3. Schools finally start preparing learners for the real world by reflecting the real world using real mobile technology, social networking, social media and virtual networks.
I praise those exam boards and subjects such as Media Studies and BCS, which despite often getting a lot of bad press for being soft subjects, have already got the ball rolling. They have innovated and adopted new technology early. Now we need more subjects and exam boards to follow! 

I dare you to be creative

Go on.
Click on this. And try and resist.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Why the UK needs Inventors, Innovators and Entrepreneurs

ost economies and GDP are founded on exports. Exports of certain tangible, physical products. Many developed countries do not have such exports, they rely on their financial sector. The past 8 years has shown us that we cannot rely solely on our financial sector, only 2 days ago did the markets slide; it was the biggest fall in share prices since 2008. This is a global issue, not just a national issue.

In the UK, we used to be renowned for producing high quality "physical" exports-coal, suits, shirts, stainless steel, cars. However due to lower labour costs in developing countries and also (ironically) due to a more-educated and service-orientated workforce, we no longer produce that many tangible exports. However, there is still one thing that we are good at and that is creative exports in the form of inventions, innovations, design and entrepreneurial ideas.

In terms of designers and inventors we have Paul Smith, Lee (Alexander) McQueen, Vivenne Westwood, Punch Drunk, Tim Brown (Ideo), Jonathan Ive (Apple), James Dyson, John Baird, Alexander Graham Bell, Isaac Newton, Norman Foster, Tim Berners Lee and many more.

Entrepreneurs we have: Richard Branson, Phillip Green, Duncan Bannatyne, Alan Sugar, Peter Jones, Duncan Cameron, Simon Nixon and many more.

Food for thought: How many of the aforementioned would have gained their English Baccalaureate at school (5 GCSE's at grades A-C including History/Geography and a language).

Our national creative heritage is long running and can be clearly seen in our popular culture and the TV show "Dragon's Den" which has been running for nine seasons and "exported" to 20 countries. Contestants have pitched some seriously ridiculous and useless products, however every episode there is usually an invention which makes you go "Wow" and at the same time think "I wish I had thought of that". It's almost in the British spirit to tinker and create. One of my favourite ideas is shown below:

However, whilst there is a spirit of creativity in the UK, our national education system is not doing our creative culture justice:

So what is the answer? Sir Ken Robinson would argue that we should find the best in our students and not force them to study a narrow range of subjects. Yes, Maths, English, Science are important. Music, Latin, History, Languages and Geography are also important, but they should not be forced upon students instead of other subjects which students actually enjoy. Without students studying Design and Technology, Art, Dance, Drama, Textiles, Computing at KS3, KS4 GCSE and KS5, students will not have the skillset, knowledge or quite simply the access to become designers, inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs.

I don't believe we need a national prescribed curriculum. Students should not be forced into studying any subject at GCSE (provided their literacy and numeracy is good enough for the workplace). They should simply study what they enjoy studying. Ultimately, most students know what subjects they like even at the age of 11 or 14, as long as they have had the opportunity to experience the subject in the first place. So the next time a student asks me if they should study my subject next year, I will answer them honestly. Do they enjoy the subject? Are they studying it because they think it will be easy, or because their parents or friends think it is a good idea? There are far too many students leaving school with C's and D's in subjects which they never wanted to study in the first place. Many did not choose applied/practical subjects for fear of being chastised by others for choosing an "easy subject". If there is one thing I know for sure, it is that getting an A-grade in Dance, Drama or ICT is no easier than getting an A-grade in Maths. They require different types of intelligence as Howard Gardner would put it and every student will have differing strengths which we need to nurture.

The UK Immigration department has a list of shortage occupations . If you your skillset is on the list and you wish to work in the UK, you can easily get a Tier 2 work permit as the UK does not have enough people with these skills. The list includes hydro geologists, dance choreographers and horse carers. However, we do not need more hydro geologists, dance choreographers or horse carers; we simply need more students doing what they enjoy doing.

We cannot single handedly change the system or national policies on a macro level, but we can have an impact on a micro level in our classrooms and conversations with students. We need to have an impact on a micro level. Our country and economy needs us to!

Sunday 18 September 2011

Ken Robinson's Outro from #TEDxLondon

Sir Ken opened by reminding us that we're living in revolutionary times. Behind these revolutions are two drivers.
  1. Population growth (We are nearing 7bn worldwide and set to reach 9bn in the future)
  2. Technology (It transforms everything we do)
And the key to our future according to the revolutionary Malcolm X, is education:
Education is our passport to the future,
for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today

HG Wells was also referenced by Sir Ken, "Civilisation is a race between education and catastrophe," he quoted and we need to ensure education catches up in this race and think about the basic purpose of education.

We also need to remember that this conversation is not happening in a vacuum, in fact there are many people working on the same problems, Twitter is a goldmine for #edchat discussions and sharing of best practice. The HeArt project in LA is another example which is leading the way in the future of alternative education. They have five principles designed to specifically address school dropout:
  1. Learning should be based on a personalised curriculum
  2. Teacher to student ratio is vital
  3. Group activity and collaboration should be encouraged
  4. We should seek to find the interests of the individual learners
  5. The need to shape the learning environment to suit the learners
Ken would go on to state that these principles are surely principles of all good education, not just alternative education. It is a shame that these ideas now belong at the fringe of educational thinking and they should be brought more into the centre.

Moving onto Technology, which was a common theme in all the talks. Technology needs to be integrated into learning. Technology on its own does not do much, but what you do with it can make all the difference. We need to prepare students for the future and mirroring what Guy Claxton said at a Keynote address earlier in the year , it is difficult for us to predict the future, so we will have to be resilient. Education after all is an art form, not just a delivery system. We will learn and master it through trial and error.

Ken's pledge was to "help shape the future in which we all want to live in".

There was not much more to say in this succinct outro, other than

"Let's start this revolution!" 

Emily Cummins Igniting creativity #TEDxLondon

If Malcolm Gladwell knew about Emily Cummins, she probably would have featured in his book Outliers. The story of success revolves around a couple of founding principles, namely 10,000 hours of purposeful practise and also opportunities. Let's talk about the latter to start with- at the age of four, Emily's grandfather entrusted her with a hammer in his workshop. Not a plastic hammer from the Early Learning Centre, we're talking a real hammer from the real world! From that day forth, she began her 10,000 hours of purposeful practise, crafting, sanding, drilling, sawing, CREATING.

She got to school and when she started her DT classes, she quickly became disenchanted and bored. The teachers had decided to start everyone off at the same level, learning about safety and how to use the tools. In their defense, this is a basic Health and Safety requirement. But apparently, this formulaic "everyone will learn at the same pace," age-based instead of stage-based learning continued for three years. She was tasked with making basic products such as a clock and these would/could only vary in the shape or colour of the plastic. It was not until her  GCSE project, that she could continue to pursue her real interests, not only as a DT student, but as an inventor. Taking on Ewan McIntosh's challenge at the tender age of 15, she found a real world problem and solved it.

The problem was that her other Grandfather had Arthritis and had difficulty squeezing toothpaste from the tube, so she invented, designed and produced a custom toothpaste dispenser:

The audience were stunned, but she hadn't finished yet, her grand finale was still to come. In the meantime, having captured the hearts and minds of the audience, Emily called on all teachers to share our fire, our passions (be it dance, computing, photography...) with our young people. To tap into the buckets of imagination and trust our students, in the same way her grandfather trusted her with a hammer at the age of four.

For all those students whose ambitions and interests have been ignored or switched off, we need to reignite that fire of creativity and help fan that flame as they pursue their interests.

But what's the most that they will possibly achieve, will they win a certificate in assembly that will be long forgotten about in a matter of weeks? No, they can go on to do great things. To illustrate this we'll go to Emily's A-level DT project, Emily decided that for her A-level coursework she would re-design the refrigerator. Yes, she was still only 18 years old at the time, but she was already thinking about sustainable energy. Her finished product which is documented on her website would produce the cool air desired but was also free from moisture. Oh and did we mention it did not require any electricity! Similar to the other great presenters before her, she was very humble and had the humility to recognise that due to the size of the cooler, it would not be suitable for use in developed countries, but could instead be made using basic materials in developing nations. So to answer the question at the start of this paragraph; an 18-year old girl managed to provide a refrigeration solution for developing countries.

If we give our students the same nurturing that Emily's grandfather gave her, the same opportunities and the same level of trust; I'm certain that the results will be equally astounding and unique.

Incidentally, not only is Emily a great inventor, but I would argue that she's an equally great orator. Her presentation inspired a room of 1000 teachers and leaders and I'm sure she will go on to inspire many more.

Pseudo problems are for Pseudo Worlds. We need Real Problems. Ewan McIntosh #TEDxLondon

There is something wrong with our education system. Namely, it is based on problem solving and problem based learning. The aspect that's wrong with this system is that it is generally based on Pseudo Problems. See below for examples:

As our young speakers questioned earlier, where is the relevance, meaning and purpose in these problems? What Ewan called for is problem finders. Not pseudo problem solvers. He challenged us all (including our students) to go out into the real world and find problems to solve as Pseudo problems are simply not relevant for the real world.

Ewan also mirrored Sir Ken's suggestion of more divergent thinking. Generating lots of ideas to start with (as also covered in Ian Gilbert's Essential Motivation in the Classroom) and then using convergent thinking to narrow down the solutions.

Ewan would also challenge the current status quo seen in many classrooms by saying that "Chilcren should be doing most of the learning and the hard work". Some have called this "Lazy Teaching", there are even books about this teaching strategy, where you make the students do the hard work and in turn, they learn more. This certainly worked for Dan Roberts' kids.

The world needs a generation of problem finders and in order to help Ewan make his pledge, I'll be joining him to "Engage 10,000 students in a problem finding curriculum".

The message is simple, go out in the real world, find a problem and solve it. The execution will be challenging and so will the solutions, but this will almost certainly result in powerful, meaningful and relevant learning experiences for everyone involved.

Ken Spours on the role of Politicians in Education and much more #TEDxLondon

Professor Ken Spours started his talk with a damning truth, that many of us have probably realised ourselves, but never found the words to express this truth so eloquently.

"Education is too important to be treated as a political football"

Ken's image of Tony Blair and Kevin Keegan said it all. He went on to highlight the cliche phrase that several PM's and politicians have used in the past decades, "I am passionate about education reform." It is their passion for using education as a political footaball, to enforce changes just so that they are seen as doing "something" that has lead to a lack of accumulated wisdom in our profession. This zigzagging of policy and turbulence it has created tires teachers and disempowers them. The audience's response to Ken's first five minutes was a mixture of nods, mutters of "yes" to unanimous applause at times.

Ken argued for an Education Revolution, but one based on moderation, deliberation and agreement. We need to slow down the party politics and actually look at the evidence which points to things that clearly work and things that clearly do not. In seeking agreement, we cannot agree about structures as this is the most contentious area. Instead, we should agree about our values.

Our values should revolve around two notions that:
  1. Everybody counts
  2. Everybody can be educated
Ken proposed a Law of Care, so that everybody who needs the most should get the most. Tackling educational disadvantage should be at the forefront of education. I would argue that the Teach First model has already shown how successful this can be in urban areas of England. But this needs to be at the heart of British education.

Ken's third enlightening proposal was a move away from "versus" and move towards "and". Not "Knowledge vs Skills" but "Knowledge and skills". We cannot have one without the other. He suggested balance rather than opposition and polarity. Calling on politicians, teachers, policy makers to, "Join us on the road away from versus and towards and".

Interestingly, he then included an analogy of Bruce from finding Nemo and explained that we needed to be more ecological in our thinking, more understanding of others. Ken went on to suggest a Hippocratic Oath, similar to those taken by Doctors. We are, after all professionals too. The hippocratic oath would embody our basic values at three levels:

  1. On a Micro ecological level (the learners)
  2. On a Meta level (Headteachers and governors) to ensue they dedicate their work to the whole area, not just their own school. He argued that this would solve much of the tension between free schools, faith schools, academies etc.
  3. On a Macro level, Politicians needed to show their power and authority, by giving power away to the schools and teachers, those on the front line. They know what is best, they're experiencing it first hand.
A passionate delivery from a professor who had not only critique, but also answers. This was one of the most refreshing talks of the day.

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!

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Why public service cuts do our children no justice

Prophetic words from Nick Clegg:

When the youth clubs are closed, what is there to do? Youths reflect a week before the riots. They were brewing, but many failed to see it and now still fail to admit it:

Read more about it here:

Monday 8 August 2011

Technology makes us better

Technology has been blamed for many things recently. But overall, I believe technology and social media is a force for good. Technology enabled the Arab Spring nations such as Egypt to co-ordinate their revolutions and also broadcast the institutional atrocities for the world to see and act on. Similarly, Wikileaks has enabled us to see the injustice that is taking place in conflict zones. It forces the government to take action and be better. It forces us to reflect, morally as well as professionally.

For teachers, we are able to network with the millions of teachers across the globe who are facing similar challenges, successes and learning points. We can share our findings, discuss solutions and take action, collaboratively. Examples of these collaborative efforts include: #edchat, #ukedchat, #RSCON3, and #140edu

For athletes, technology enables them to run faster, jump higher, be more efficient and effective in training and competition. The list of professions and uses goes on but there are also potential pitfalls or "traps":

  1. Over-reliance on technology
  2. Abuse of technology
  3. Technology as a silver bullet

Over-reliance on technology is not good. Examples include, becoming dependent on Spellcheck, SatNav, E-mail, Social Networking, Weather, Apps and any mobile technology. In some circumstances, these aforementioned technologies may not work or may be simply inappropriate. The classic empty battery syndrome and being lost in the middle of a city or even rural setting is a classic.

This reminds us that we should not abandon our traditional tools, techniques and technology and we should always have a backup/contingeny if our tech fails. In some scenarios e.g. courtrooms, airport security, using technology might be banned and occasionally, paper is still quicker and more effective.
Take marking for example, from experience, if you send a student electronic feedback, they generally act on it less effectively than say if you give them a printout with annotations scribbled all over their work. This "traditional" marking, feedback, formative assessment works more effectively. Don't ask me why, maybe it's because students can easily ignore or skim an e-mail, but when red or green pen is scrawled all over their work, they want to reprint it. They therefore improve it and then give you a new version.

Abuse of technology has been exemplified by the News of The World phone hacking scandal . To some extent, Wikileaks has also been accused of disclosing classified locations, which some terrorists could use as targets. The recent riots and looting in London was also coordinated using Blackberry Messenger and Twitter. However, on the other side of the coin, what's the best way to detect, prevent and address technology abuse? Using technology is the answer. I'm not a fan of an Orwellian State, but occasionally technology can be used to prevent further crime and abuse of technology.

The third and most important potential trap is seeing technology as a silver bullet. I am still not entirely convinced that iPad's belong in the classroom. Partly because, it still presents a rich-poor divide issue. There will inevitably be schools and students who cannot afford this technology and therefore access is unfair. Secondly, I still believe a lot of technology use is a gimic. Is it applicable to the real world or are we simply making teaching look good? What actual learning is going on? Yes, experiment and innovate, but do not become reliant on technology and do not believe that simply by investing money into new technology, all your problems will be solved. We still need students who can reference and read books, follow paper trails. There are millions of books un-digitised, holding a wealth of knowledge out there. Alongside, digital resources, these are extremely powerful tools for the future. On their own they can only take us so far, but integrating the old with the new and I believe our lives and learning will be greatly improved.

Monday 1 August 2011

Five things students say they want from education

5 Interactive Technology

4 Teacher Mentors

3 Innovation

2 Choice

1 Real World Application and Relevancy

Number One and Two will be my focuses for next year!

Via EschoolNews

Reform Symposium 3 #RSCON3 - An overview

The last 3 days was a blast, I kind of fell into RSCON3 accidentally, I noticed most of my educator friends on Twitter were posting the hashtag #RSCON3 quite excitedly. Being relatively new to Twitter, I had never heard of the Reform Symposium and I wasn't quite sure how it would work. To sum it up in a sentence,

"RSCON is a collaborative educational e-conference which transcends time zones, countries and subjects."

I started out on Day 2 by tuning in to Principal El's keynote speech and was immediately blown away. Here was a world class speaker, delivering 45 minutes of non-stop 24-carat educational gold. And I'm sat in my study listening in for free. In the meantime, 170+ educators from around the world are also chipping in, sharing links and setting Twitter on fire with the #RSCON3 tag. It was almost too much to keep up with and once the talks are uploaded to, I'm sure I'll be going back over a few of the talks that I missed.

Other highlights are presented on my previous posts (below), but it's worth noting 6 key themes which were covered in most talks:

  1. We need to be more free and flexible with the curriculum to ensure students can be creative
  2. We do not know what technology the future holds or indeed what the future looks like
  3. Both teacher and student learning is becoming more collaborative
  4. The more we share/retweet, the more we learn
  5. We need to prepare our students for failure and how to learn from failure as well as success
  6. Have fun-Teaching is the most exciting job in the world.

For the exceptional closing keynote by Steve Wheeler, there were over 200 proactive administrators and teachers tuning in from practically all the time zones across the globe. I begun to question how many world experts you can fit into such a conference. The answer? I'm not sure, but I think RSCON is probably more scalable than any other conference even (say) TED, given that there is no physical size constraint. So, that leaves it to us and all our peers/colleagues to make RSCON4 even bigger and better! Here's a hashtag to get us started #RSCON4.

Sunday 31 July 2011

Key learning from Steve Wheeler's Closing Keynote #rscon3

Thanks to Steve for an awesome talk, I've been following him on Twitter for a while, but his talk was one of the most enlightening and refreshing talks I've heard for a while. Alongside Principal EL and Guy Claxton, they would definitely go on my dream panel discussion!

Some highlights (Full slides at the bottom):

Some other nuggets:

For mobile learning policies and indeed any school policies, get parents on side first.

For mobile learning policy and AUP in new technologies, get students to help write the policy. They are intelligent and will have much better ideas than teachers and other adults

We all agree standardised testing needs to go. What can replace it? How about ipsative assessment-measuring against previous attainment.

We should blog, as it helps crystallize ideas.

Full slides below:

The concept of Web x.0 is blowing my mind right now!

For more gems, follow Steve on Twitter @TimBuckteeth His full details are also here:

Teaching spreadsheets through dance #rscon3 #ukedchat #edchat

In my second year of teaching, I went all out and in a moment of madness and creativity, decided I would teach my students spreadsheets, through dance:

I need to let go and go back to teaching without fear. Continue to innovate and create, just like I want my students to.

Teacher 2.0 by Steve Hargadon #rscon3 @stevehargadon

Thanks to Steve for an awesome talk at RSCON3. It was clear, concise and inspirational.

Here's a quick summary of the 6 steps to Teacher 2.0:

5 Tips


Saturday 30 July 2011

Reform Symposium 3 (Day 2/3) #RSCON3

What I learnt from RSCON3 

This is pretty much a summary of my Twitter activity @Lauwailap1


  • Ask students to show what they've learnt, but do not stipulate the medium. They can present back however they want, a 3 minute chat, presentation, video, dance etc
  • Give them freedom, but also give them structure
  • Innovation Day: Students choose their own project. Let students choose what they want to do and they will do it well.

Lisa Nielsen

Ask the Q: Are you better today than you were yesterday?

George Couros and Dr. Alec Couros: Why Schools Should Be Like a Family Restaurant

  • Create a warm and welcoming learning environment
  • Talk to every student you walk past, never ignore a student.
    • It's all about the relationships
  • In the family restaurant analogy: "Understand the customer"
  • Constantly re-assess the menu, i.e. constantly assess what you're doing.
  • Have fun
  • Let individuality shine through
  • Get out there and mingle-connect with peers, teachers

    Principal El

    • Never give up: Persistence overcomes resistance
    • Teamwork makes the Dreamwork
    • You (the teacher) are the one to make the difference
    • If the government can't get it right, we just run our own schools. We have to fight for our children and our schools.
    • Make sure students are not over-confident. Make sure they are still working hard. They must believe that they need to take responsibility. But they also need to know that when they fall, you will be there to pick them back up.
    • Tell students "You can be me, because I was once you"
    • Let students know that you can choose your behavior, but you cannot choose the consequences.
    • Excellent teachers move ordinary children to do extraordinary things
    • Flexibility=Creativity
    • We need to give up control so that students can grow
    • Failure will be a part of their life. Students must embrace failure, they should own failure. Pick up and move on.

    What Went Well This Year

    So this year was all about trying new things. I thought I'd blog about what worked really well and also things that we tried and didn't go so well and what we all learnt from this. To put things into context, I'll separate it out into Key Stages 3,4,5 for ICT and KS5 for Media.

    KS3 Independent Tasks

    The relationship with one Y8 class was kind of strained, poor behaviour, low motivation etc. So I asked my Y8 students what they wanted to learn about. This was partly inspired by the student democracy that I witnessed in Malmo Sweden. For both Y8 sets, I made a list (one is shown below):

    We covered one or more of these every lesson from May until the end of term. These took various forms, starters, plenaries, whole lessons, homework. It was great.

    This is the standard of some of the work that students produced independently:

    By independently, I literally mean, I never intervened at any point. The students were motivated as they felt that they had ownership in their own learning.

    Other highlights

    Instead of straight extension tasks, which are cool but have too much structure, I decided to have an open investigation. One investigation title and students chose how they responded to it. We had essays, presentations, documentaries, posters. It was awesome. One student actually created a computer game in Powerpoint. And then went on to teach the whole class how to make the game and everyone made a computer game in powerpoint:

    My HOD also started an animation competition, having taught Y9 how to animate in flash and movie maker last year, we just let them do their thing. And here is one of the entries:


    Another challenging year with the new Edexcel GCSE. By week 4, there were lots of demotivated students, who did not know what they were doing or where they were going. In order to keep them on their toes and engaged, for practically every lesson, we tried to find a WOW moment (something Villiers Park had spoken about). A jaw dropping moment in the lesson, be it a video, demo, piece of work which would make them go wow. It definitely kept them on track and interested. Here's an example of a WOW moment for our venues lesson, "when choosing a venue, don't judge a venue based on it's appearance as magic can occur at any time"

    Another thing I did was have "The conversation". Inspired by Ian Gilbert's awesome book Essential Motivation in the Classroom , we talked about "What's the point of ICT". It was a good honest conversation and helped our rapport a lot. I also had the talk about who they want to be and choosing between two extremes:

    The infographic above shows on one side of the spectrum, "Rock and Roll" i.e. doing whatever you wan't and probably having lots of fun, regardless of what your teacher or the exam board says. On the other side of the spectrum is "Obedient". The Times New Roman says it all, you do everything you are told and try to meet every point on the mark scheme. It's probably quite a boring and unenjoyable existence.

    The aim is to find a middle ground. If you're completely Rock and Roll, you probably won't do too well in your exams. If you're totally obedient, you might not enjoy your time at school much or be that creative, you'll be conventionally brilliant, but boring. As a student, you need to develop an appropriate level of scepticism and question your teacher and the syllabus. At the same time, you need to be aware of what you need to do to succeed. Finally, you have to have fun and enjoy yourself. Finding the balance is key.

    Inspired, some students did find the balance and flourished after this talk in May.


    More independent tasks. The brief was to create an advert for the inside of your music magazine:

    What didn't work

    1) I let groups choose who they work with for their A2 coursework. This needs moderating, as entire groups dropped off the course. I think, given that this is media production each group should have at least one "super organised" individual that keeps the rest of the group in check. Otherwise, as one student slips, it gives others the permission and excuse to slide away too. 

    2) Not moving students sooner in the seating plan. 3 students who I did move in the seating plan made a complete turnaround and made at least 3 grades improvement (E-grade to a B-grade). I think I need to be more assertive in separating groups that are not working, even if it means wasted time logging students out.

    3) Marking-I really need to get in to the habit of marking more regularly and sticking to marking deadlines that I set students.

    4) Asking students to do something, but not explaining why. e.g. Saving work in certain area's. Using a USB stick, using e-mail. I tend to explain design principles well, but felt that I didn't have the time to explain procedural/practical best practice. Next year, I will try to take time to explain things like Read Only, different network drives for saving work etc.

    What I will try next year

    Instead of simply decorating my room the way I like it (see below). I will instead ask students to bring in one item from home themselves which they think is relevant to ICT. They will need to stand up for 30 seconds and explain to their peers how their poster/item/hanging object is relevant to ICT. This will ensure that students get to decorate their own room and feel ownership of their room. Hopefully, they will bring in some positive posters too!