January 4

What Parents need to know about Videogames.

Many children are now settling down with new games consoles or new games following Christmas. For some parents this can be a whole new world, and a bit of a confusing one! After all video are big business – millions of pounds and thousands of employees. Here a few things to be aware of, and a few links that will guide you for further reading.

Surviving Mars

there is a massive variety of games… it is, after all, not just for kids!

The stats around who plays and what they play make for interesting reading. Average age; 35 – and 45% of US gamers are women.

Find out about the games, spend a bit of time exploring the store of the platform you are using. Lots of websites are out there for suggestions, and ask around for recommendations. Depending on the age of your children there are lots of multiplayer games and I recommend you set aside time to try and play yourself. Start with Lego, or Rayman! Good sites to check out include: this round up from CNET and co-optimus.com.

And… read the ratings! All games come with age ratings, it can be harder to see these on digital downloads so make yourself aware. For example a rating such as a PEGI 12 will mean there may be violence, usually against fantasy characters and mild swearing. A rating of PEGI 7 is not that different from a PEGI 3, but you may find some peril or mild fighting. You can find out more about the ratings here: https://videostandards.org.uk/RatingBoard/pegi-info.html#pegi-controls

you are always online, unless you specifically request not to be… parental controls need to be used.

This works also for mobile platforms such as the Switch and the PsVita and you need to ensure you are aware of these settings. Big games often require updates once bought, and for this the games console will want to be online. Create a master account, or parent account, on the console first as this will allow you to keep an eye on parental controls, report any issues and check any purchases. Don’t let your children create an account which doesn’t have their real age.

They can be more about the social side of things than the actual game.

Recent games, such as Fortnite, which is based on team battles often involve lots of talking, working together and general ‘hanging out’ – be aware of this and talk to your child about who they are talking to and how they ‘play’ together. Minecraft or Terraria also create virtual worlds which allow players to meet and to work together cooperatively. This is good social interaction, developing language and game skills and a good opportunity to take about esafety, be involved.

Limit screen time and have breaks!

There is some evidence that screen time at a young age should be limited, but there is little firm evidence for older children. Still, be vigilant as with anything, encourage breaks, such as you would have with TV and Film. Talk about what they are doing, especially if they seem to get angry at games. What do they enjoy about playing? Will they try a different kind of game instead of the same one over?

Finally enjoy them! There is a world of experience in games, and some which will definitely tax your problem solving skills as well as silly games which will encourage the whole family to have fun!


August 22

Can Ed Tech save our schools?

Spoiler: no!

Hinds calls for Ed Tech Revolution  in Schools 

Education Technology is something of a hobby of mine. Trying new things in the classroom is something I enjoy and, as the head of a small school that is isolated, utilising technology to the best of our ability has definitely saved us time and money. It is with some cautious optimism then that I read Hinds latest proclamation. Technology in the classroom can provide genuine educational experiences that bring to life curriculum areas – it does support good assessment practice and it can be used to provide targeted support to those children who may need it.  Then I read a bit more of his ideas and I really want to remind him of some key points… 

Education Technology companies are not the best placed to ‘bring tech’ to schools. You never start with the tool and create the problem to fit it. If there is a problem you have – then fine – but do not ask  ‘ed tech companies’ to look at how they can solve problems in the classroom. This way lies lots of wasted money – interactive whiteboards are probably the best example of this. There are definitely some fab examples of interactive whiteboard use up and down the country, but many would be fine as just a projector.

Technology does not automatically save on workload.  In fact school leaders should be reminded that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. This is the issue with electronic assessment systems, or online feedback ideas – often they work for one teacher who may need something, but for those teachers who had a system already they just add to the workload. Forcing all teachers or all schools to follow the same system will not save on time and will add to the very increasing list of training to do. In a school with problematic internet access then it will just slow down even more if a cloud based SIMS system is used. Schools that rush in with technology will suffer with teachers who are not confident and leaders who don’t have time to share their vision. 

New tech always cost money – regardless if the actual ‘product’ is super cheap or even free. Laptops need to be upgraded regularly – those desktops that still run on Windows XP need to be discarded safely – headphones disappear and get broken – licenses for anti virus need upgrading. Internet costs reviewing regularly and so on. You can never really on cheap IT solutions and schools do not have spare money sitting around to make these ‘solutions’ work. 

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve written about apps I’ve used in the class, I’m a fan of MOOCs and I regularly take part in online coaching, mentoring and training. There can be no doubt that edtech has made some real improvements to the availability and ease of use of education. But the Education Minister needs to be aware that his words will give sales reps up and down the country the freedom to push more yet unwanted rubbish onto schools. The answer to all of this of course is for the government to stop tinkering – to put their efforts into raising the funding schools receive at the base level rather than added extras and incentives. To allow those best placed to decide what to do with their resources and how to use technology. 

Of course, this whole announcement does not really come with any money, but it gives a message to tech companies that schools need something that do not. And it means that school leaders feel under pressure to be doing something with ‘edtech’.

 

April 10

Why I’m not sure about a women-only NPQH.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. I’m worried this will be a step backwards for equality and understanding – a short term gain that will only fuel the misunderstandings and lack of empathy.

There have been excellent articles written (see links below) which outline some of the key reasons. The need for role models and mentors is something I constantly struggle with, although I have had excellent role models from both genders during my career. I understand how tough it can be for women who never get that ‘tap on the shoulder’ – for women who are ignored. A need for a meeting of sympathetic mothers who are struggling with the same issues; like-minded discussions around childcare and empathy at work. Or, how a female only NPQH will develop confidence, will cover the same content but will offer more female role models.

I worry we are shooting ourselves in the foot. After all female leaders will be managing men, and prospective male leaders will be managing women. Issues such as childcare and managing time need to be discussed with both genders, preferably at the same time, so reactions and experiences can be shared. Conscious and unconscious bias need to be a part of leadership discussions for both genders – again in a surrounding where dialogue can be shared, can be monitored, ensured that both genders are heard. Prospective leaders need to know the impact of decisions and need to understand these issues – these are issues that need to be in the NPQH full stop, and it is here that efforts should be maintained. We risk the view that these issues become female issues – or that women won’t discuss them with male leaders and male staff. Leadership training, much like good PSHE provision in school, should offer space for these areas. Not close them off. If this pattern is followed would the result be single-gender cohorts for all?

Of course I’m not saying that mixed gender NPQH misses out these things – it may do, of course, which is an issue in itself. More than that however there may become a perception that a female only NPQH will do ‘more’ of these issues. We will create a female-only space that is discussing things that directly affect the men we lead and the boys we teach. Women will then be forced to choose – a course which seemingly supports and challenges these, or one which doesn’t?  The offering of female role models is also problematic to me – as experiences differ vastly from one person to the next – looking for a role model which reflects to closely your own experience is, I feel, a mistake. Inspiration is needed from everywhere and we all need to recognise the challenges; not just gender, but class, geography, family etc etc that we all experience. If you narrow your world view, you narrow how far you can go in it. My most empathetic and challenging mentor was male and I credit that ‘tap in the shoulder’ that nudged me forwards to a brilliant female Head Teacher. Likewise I have seen leaders of both genders belittle and devalue their staff.

Headteachers need the confidence to speak up, in front of anyone regardless of gender, this is true. It is also true that situations occur where women feel their opinion is not valued, where we have to support one another, echo others’ thoughts and generally ‘keep an eye out’ for one another. Whilst the WomenEd 10% braver mantra goes some way to developing this, developing leaders need to meet others who handle difficult conversations differently, regardless of gender. Learn from the experience of others. Leaders will always have to tackle difficulties and leadership training should help with this. For all candidates. It may be the case that male candidates need support with this or need support to recognise any unconscious bias they may themselves be displaying. It may that we need generic bias training for all leaders – including volunteers such as governors – but I don’t think a female only NPQH will help with these broader issues. It may indeed hinder the experience of those who only draw on female voices, missing the issues that men experience as they go through the process.

I am open to convincing though – and would love to hear others’ thoughts. I don’t think we can say that men can’t have an opinion, though I haven’t seen many. We need to build a professional qualification that is fit for the future rather than echoing current mistakes. Calling out those leadership course that don’t offer a range of empathetic voices.

Links:

TES Article

Hopeful Headteacher Blog

Julie Hunter – Why a Women Only NPQH

 

January 13

Why we ALL need to improve recruitment and retention.

A new education secretary era begins – and the advent of a new education secretary alllows us to take stock of where we are and, more importantly, where we want to be.

Recruitment and retention is a huge issue right now.

One that impacts on education at all levels, and crucially, one that threatens to get worse as we won’t feel the full lack of trainees for a couple of years. Many open letters have been written, conversations had and suggestions put forward – pay raises, less holiday, workload ‘promises’.

We now need to take some of the responsibility for this crisis –  Local Authorities and MATs and the culture that we have all created – whilst the argument that it is (or was) OFSTED driven still hangs around there is much that schools can do now to help turn the tide. We need to act braver, take responsibility for our own work choices and trust each other. As professionals.

Perpetuating Our Own Myths

Ofsted released their own ‘myths‘ documents and subsequent updates a couple of years ago now. They are attempting to ensure that they are not unduly adding to workload, or to the stress on teachers. This has seen some effectiveness – leadership teams in schools seem to be taking this on – rumbles throughout the system suggest that marking expectations, for example, are being reduced. ‘Wellbeing’ – possibly a fair bit of hype with this, but at least a conversation is taking place.

Trust is the key concept here.

For schools to effectively tackle workload leaders of all types need to stop double and triple checking everything done and intervene only when there is need. Schools where planning is handed in before teaching and in some places after once it is evaluated. Schools where marking is checked weekly, where book scrutiny demand a minimum amount of writing each week, where assessment data is decimalised and expected every half term.

Don’t get me wrong – we need standards and we need to strive for our pupils but we also need realism. We need to encourage open conversation so that teachers feel they can query school systems, can make suggestions and, most importantly, ask for help. This kind of culture comes from the top. Cutting staff meetings, reducing marking expectations, demanding data less frequently are all side effects of this culture, but they don’t necessarily create it. To create this culture you need to announce it – you need to actually tell teachers they are trusted. Book scrutiny, lesson observations, pupil interviews – whatever forms part of your strategic calendar all need to take place in an open manner – with teaching staff involved, not just closed door senior teams. Teachers need to be part of the system, not just be recipients of judgments.

What can change tomorrow:

– your next ‘judgement forming’ action needs to be open and shared with staff. Why are you doing it? What do you want to see? What are the criteria.. etc. Etc.

– senior staff: try just taking the class for a lesson or series of lessons, best way to learn about standards, expectations, behaviour routines etc.

– if there is an issue, and you are looking to rapidly improve standards give staff mentors that they can talk to. Don’t just give a list of things to improve and then a ‘we’ll be back in two weeks’. Give the reasons why changes will impact standards.

– regularly review policies such as your marking and teaching and learning with teaching staff. Try to get honest impact assessments – what does it mean for pupils? What does it mean for staff time? Etc. Etc. Does consistency mean consistency or does it  mean a couple of staff members working all hours and some staf members only  doing what they know will be looked at? Be honest!

– not use performance management to set data targets for class teachers. Data is, after all, a school wide product.

– don’t demand assessment data half termly. No need at all.

Again, all of these things rely on trust – and until we as a profession can honestly, and openly, talk about colleagues with a sense of professional trust rather than bickering and distrust.

January 1

Have you tried a MOOC?

When studying Education Technology a few years back MOOCS were just becoming commonplace – and like everything in the edu-tech space was being hailed by some as the technology that would transform education. (See various articles here).

If you haven’t heard MOOCS are Massive Online Open Courses – courses led by Universities (or similar), open to all for no cost and wholly online. There were notable courses that got the ball rolling – Medical courses from Harvard and a large scale artificial intelligence course at Stanford that attracted over 150,000 students back in 2009. Nowadays you can look at MOOCS in almost all areas of study – and for teachers it is rich pickings for CPD and subject specific courses.

The discussion rumbles on of course – we cannnot say that MOOCS have had the impact on education that we thought they might do – and there is no doubt big differences in the courses with quality, dropout rate and student satisfaction. The judgement of MOOCS also remains somewhat controversial. A course that attracts over 100,000 people from across the world will mean different things to different people and we cannot judge their success on drop out rates alone.

However there is something to be said for trying some of these courses for yourself. Take part in a short MOOC and you will be expected to take part in weekly activities (watching and commenting on a video say) – quizzes – peer feedback on comments and ‘essays’. You may be expected to watch interviews via video and then answer questions, or complete tasks using apps and upload results.

In the last few years I have taken part in three MOOCS – I studied coding for a school specific thing, a course with Newcastle Uni about Hadrian’s Wall (when I moved to it!) and more recently a brilliant one at Stansted about the Threat of Nuclear Terrorism. I heartily recommend trying them. The best MOOCS have some things in common of course –  and a good MOOC will have:

  • Weekly targets – expect some kind of interaction each week. Most MOOCS won’t be very long, and will expect a few hours of your time at least.
  • Interaction amongst those taking part and wih some of the course tutors (or facilitators) via a forum.
  • A mixture of media – interviews as well as video clips, graphics and text. Taking full advantage of the technology available.
  • Finishing certificate. I am a sucker for a ‘finish’ – and whether it is via percentage attendance, judging your writing via peer feedback or completion of quizzes the best MOOCS have worked out how to give you data driven feedback for your work.
  • They are ‘live’ – that is to say that they are not ‘at your own place’ but ongoing with deadlines.

If you’re looking for something a bit different for the new year – give one a go – I’ve already signed up for an astronomy course about habitable moons…

And, if you have tried one, let me know in the comments!

Further Reading:

What is a successful MOOC? -The Atlantic

List of MOOCS for teachers at Future Learn.

Moocs will Transform Higher Education – But Not How We Think – TImes Higher Ed

August 22

Digital 5 a Day!

This is a response to a post by Cliff Manning (@cliffmanning) regarding the Children’s Commissioner’s recent Digital 5 A Day campaign.

This campaign, in their own words aims to:

The Digital 5 A Day provides a simple framework that reflects the concerns of parents/ carers as well as children’s behaviours and needs. It can also act as a base for family agreements about internet and digital device use throughout both the holidays and term time.

Based on the NHS’s evidence-based ‘Five steps to better mental wellbeing’, the 5 A Day campaign gives children and parents easy to follow, practical steps to achieve a healthy and balanced digital diet.

And it makes complete sense – there is a need to give parents, and children, a different dialogue about being online that is not all about esafety and ‘nots’. There are lots of great resources out there for Parents who are worried (I wrote about them here) – but my experience, as a teacher, is that this focus can make pupils fearful about speaking out and, at the same time, Parents don’t ask for help if they need it as they feel they will be labelled. To have a campaign which focuses on the good technology can bring – and then uses that to bring families together can only be a good thing. Articles like this represent how it has been received. However, as is pointed out by by @cliffmanning:

The press headlines inevitably focused on ‘regulating screen time’ and rules — however the intention was to help young people develop a balanced, creative, empowered relationship with digital and devices.

What then, would support the young people develop this relationship?

I’m torn between the #digital5aday being too prescriptive and then not prescriptive enough.  The five elements are useful to guide thinking and will, with some, promote conversation amongst families. Themes that many schools will recognise and in fact teacher’s will talk about technology in such ways.  However, as I outline at the end of this piece, I do think that there other problems with a campaign like this.

Connect

Here parents are prompted to see the value in connecting with people. Parents are reminded to ‘keep a dialogue open’ (nothing new there then!).

With the support of parents children could be prompted to check in with a family member they don’t see very often? To message a friend and make them smile? For older children – can they support an older family member online? Can they look up their favourite author? Or TV personality – write them a short note? Author’s website can be a great source of activities such as writing competitions, or book-linked ideas.

Be Active

This prompt feels like it has been included just to make sure ‘screen time’ isn’t the only focus. But, let’s face it, using the internet as directory enquiries really isn’t that inspiring – these days it is the default. Asking them to research a place or local activity without using the internet would be a bigger challenge!

But – older children can challenge themselves to do something new – and then share it. Join a local group for their chosen activity? Find  a video of an inspirational achievement in their chosen sport? Can they learn something to help them improve their favourite acitivity?

Get Creative

This one is easy – and where children excel online. The danger is in mentioning specific games (which dates your publication immediately) – and you tube tutorials which parents of younger children may not let them access. Writing fan fiction is a great idea – especially as that can link to film and TV – not just games. But also signposting some game creation tools they can use something like Scratch -which would be a great joint venture with parents. Trying the Hour of Code – or asking children to contribute to a  blog post or to a writing competition. Sharing any creations would be ideal – designs using something like TinkerCad for example.

Give to Others

This is a really lovely inclusion which again many schools will recognise. Researching and linking to chosen charities would be nice here -and in the link to activity why not challenge yourself to do something to raise money for charity and set up (with parental help) – your fundraising page complete with charting your success via a blog?

Be Mindful

Another inclusion that feels little connection to the Digital 5 a Day. Good advice, of course, to switch off. Being mindful however is also about taking your time to really ‘be somewhere’ – and to give yourself completely to the activity you are doing. Whatever that may be.

The right campaign? 

I think one of the issues with a campaign like this is that it tries to be too many things at once. I know what they are trying to achieve – but I think we need to pick our audience more carefully. Children / teenagers may find this advice patronising, and many will just be unaware of it completely. It is important to note that children and teenagers who are tech savvy enough to be aware and involved with these activites don’t need ‘digital’ 5 a day – the digital is superfluous and unnecessary. It would be better to just appeal to the ‘5 holiday habits’ or some such. Parents may welcome these kind of prompts – but I suspect that the parents who are aware of this, and reading it, will already be aware of the many uses of the digital world. The digital divide is very real for families and if you want to get to those children who are just left unsupervised with a tablet and TV for hours on end I don’t think this will do it.

A Platform

Finally with a campaign like this why not go the whole hog and develop a kind of ‘challenge’ – digital badges such as the like seen at Makewav.es. Being totally serious about it, they could develop a sharing platform? Using existing social media to put everything in once place for parents to see. Using existing networks already like faceboook for local sports groups would also help young people see what is out there.