29 Jan

On collaboration….

It’s funny, this is the second week in a row that I had thought about my #weeklyblogchallenge17 only to have it changed at the last minute because of a conversation. This time I’m going to talk about how important it is to collaborate – to work together. Now, I have mentioned this before in the context of the classroom (see this post) – however current affairs, and the ubiquitous nature of social media means that I think it is even more important now to consider what can be done to improve our collaboration (system wide, and more personally).

System Challenge

At a meeting last week a colleague bemoaned the lack of training that was offered by the Local Authority for the new assessment structures and expectations. This (which could be the subject of  whole different blog) did not surprise me – as far as I knew I never expected anything from the LA. I had never known them offer much in the way of training. But yet the expectation was still there. The alternative of course, is that we organise ourselves. Challenge and confront one another with the aim of school wide, and therefore, system improvement.

And of course there are many school-wide improvements that can be supported with collaboration. Organising training; supporting staff members; developing cross school coaching models – many things that were once the way of the LA will now be supported by school collaborating with on another.

For some, this will mean a shift in thinking. Schools in areas may feel as though they are in competition with one another – old stories or old competitions may mean that trust has been lost.

Support

This for me is a key point of collaboration – and one which has become even more important in these last few years. Collaboration can share ideas, can sow the seeds for creativity and can ensure that mistakes are spotted and corrected. It can also offer a different side, can share a different opinion and can help a school leader find a different way.

Mutual support and searching for solutions is a one way that collaboration can be supportive. I’m all for more collaboration – so, what’s stopping us?

 

 

 

07 Jan

Could Alexa work for you?

Second blog for #WeeklyBlogChallenge17

Like many great ideas this blog was born of a comment on twitter by @pepsmccrea

I have a fascination with AI – albeit the kind of HAL AI – but still… Having yet to try Alexa at home, but surrounded by Bluetooth enabled devices and the internet I can’t wait to give it a go. In the meantime I’ve given myself some time to consider uses for this tech in schools.

It is worth mentioning first of all, that there will always be issues of privacy with an always on internet device in schools. This is something that will need to be seriously thought about, I’ve looked into it and I am unclear as to what exactly happens with the voice commands that are sent to the cloud. But – let’s imagine right now that the device is on or off – that it learns, but doesn’t save all recordings for years… (the ethic of this could be another post!) Also, learning from other voices would need to be in there.




Knowledge
Instantly you can see how children merely asking questions and receiving answers, facts and things may not be such a good idea… Alexa would need to have a kind of Socratic approach to answering. It cannnot be simply a high powered calculator. Ask Alexa should not just be the last thing on our ‘if you are stuck…’ list. No, Alexa will need to be a bit smarter – to learn to respond with pointers, hints and other ideas that the children could try first. Saying that however, there is much to be said for an oral account of eye-witness accounts from history, or a different explanation of fractions and decimals. Children will need to learn to listen carefully, and of course, to formualate their questions appropriately.

Integration
Some of the above issues could be solved by textbook/curricula providers having Alexa linked modules. This would mean that the children could actually say, ‘Alexa I’m stuck with Chapter two’ or ‘Alexa what does so and so mean in Question 3’. Linked with a smart board (or projector) and it could show videos or other resources. I’m imagining a virtual science experiment whereby videos from a service such as the BBC Schools, or Expresso might be genuinely useful. Google classroom links are obvious here – as this could also lead to children identifying themselves by username and getting personalised content. Again, I realise the technology is not quite there yet – but it is within reach.

Personalised Learning
This is the area that really makes me think we could see a game changer. I already find iPad apps and google classroom brilliant for SEN. An AI enabled device would be able to offer more resources and more ideas for children as mentioned above. Recording the initial teacher input, or reading aloud chapter from books. But also the formulating of questions, the dictation of ideas and the organising of their thoughts could be vitally supported by an AI enabled device. ‘Alexa record this…’ ‘Alexa read back what I just said’ A device which connected to a visualiser could, maybe, learn to read handwriting or support the child in editing. Or upload the images to google classroom and ping the teacher – link to an iPad and you have the pupil recording their words and then sharing with other apps. Again specific apps and providers could link with Alexa.

Admin
This is the most obvious area where teachers could be supported. Send to printer command; take the register; share school messages; share school calendar; check emails; read aloud lunch menus… If you use an electronic assistant at home you will realise how it could support your classroom. This is where most privacy issues will come in – you couldn’t really ask it to read aloud school emails if it then saves all the information on a server. Your school calendar probably shouldn’t be that detailed. But then… emails are similarly saved, and many schools already use google calendar or a similar device. One to think about definitely…

Realism

Again, I know there are many hurdles to this, I know that the internet connection will need to be faster than most schools currently access. There will be privacy issues, and parental worries. We will need to ensure strong, unbreakable firewalls. Other educational companies will need to get on board to make it genuinely useful…

But I think this is worth investigating – and if anyone wants to donate a few so I can get started….

Links

CNet Review

Donald Clark Blog – ideas and more link

02 Jan

2016/2017

One of the #nurture2017 post – and I thought it would be fitting to use my own site for this as my reflection from last year focuses on how I have stopped writing, stopped using blogs to reflect and share and to ask. Some of this is work – working late or being tired means I stop connecting with fellow educators in order to ‘protect’ my time. Yet it is these interactions which fuel my own interests. How to get back into the habit of that – rather than skimmming what people have written giving things a quick RT or a quick like?

This year I very much want to get back to that – and I want to take more time to read more of what is written online. This I not just about education which is why I have joined in with the #52books2017 on twitter and goodreads. All of my interests are slowly merging into one big ‘online’ experience! I have tried to temper this – I have taken up kickboxing which get me away from work at a decent time and actually learning something new. I already have pretty active weekends, and I regularly take my dog into work which means that I often take him out (with children as well!!) at break times.

In terms of managing my own time I am a master of frittering away free time doing several things at once, but not actually doing anything with any real concentration or achievement.

This will be the real challenge I feel! Do I want to set myself goals? Hmmm… I think I will enjoy goodreads – and reading more is something that will benefit. But, I think I’ll leave it at that. Let’s see if I can work on making the most out of the free time I have. A popular theme at the minute – no excuses!!

04 Dec

Are our classrooms more digital?

A few years ago my interest in educational technology was ignited with an article in the TES arguing that technology made absolutely no difference to schools whatsosever. At the time, a teacher just starting out, I was outraged that all of the ways in which tech made school life easier was just glossed over. Look at the accountancy side? The sharing of information, the access to to resources, the collaboration- then, in my eyes, getting bogged down in individual games or apps – or resources – was not the way to do it.

This debate is still rumbling on, and I still stand by my opinion. It was interesting then to read the recent debates about minecraft, about coding and, more recently, the article in the TES arguing that classrooms are becoming more ‘digital’.

Take this site, for example, some content on here is three, even four, years old. Yet the top hit pages remain consistently about iPads, tablets and reading. Google is beginning to gain ground, but it feels like we have leapt forwards only to then stand stock still where we landed.

My question then is this, are you using technology more than you used to? Does your classroom increasingly feel digital? Are you forced to use tech that you feel adds no value to your teaching?

I’m working on an article about my school, and it’s use of tech – in the meantime I would love to hear your thoughts.

15 Mar

Digital Literacy – getting the experience.

Following on from this post, we next look at how we actually integrate ‘digital literacy’.

As discussed, the skills of digital literacy are tough to pin down precisely, but we are able to think roughly about what skills, concepts and experience we want our pupils to experience. Ask yourself some key questions:

Does the school model effective use of social media?

Is there an esafety policy which incorporates pupil voice and has some pupil led elements?

Is it integrated into the curriculum, through computing led topics?

Do teachers model the skills they expect children to be able to use, for example searching, creating, using the internet safely?

Are there any whole school projects or activities which link effectively to Digital Literacy?

Let’s take three concepts and look at what we can practically do in schools.

Keeping Safe Online

Probably the easiest just because there are so many resources out there. As a school you need to ensure your staff are up to date with issues, build in regular training and share resources frequently. This site, from e-safety adviser is choc full of recent updates and a newsletter which can be shared with staff and parents alike. You can also use various dates in the year to highlight issues, such as Internet Safety Day.

In the classroom, e-safety needs to be covered regularly, I would advise a refresh with each new topic, especially if you asking the children to research and use the internet. Ensure children are happy with the language used to describe internet safety, who they can talk to and what happens (as a school) if something that they are uncomfortable with takes place. Key discussion questions, age appropiate, are helpful and can be a shared staff discussion. Displays, posters and regular discussion are key.

More information, and a year by year breakdown can be found here: Curriculum information here.

 

Communication

The concept of ‘communicating responsibly, competently, confidently and creatively’ is probably the hardest one to quantify. As a school this needs to be modelled, to pupils and parents. Teachers need to ensure they too are able to navigate this and mdoel these skills. Whilst you may not be ready for class blogging projects or whole school email just yet there are lots of ideas that can give pupils these experiences.

  • Simple commenting and sharing writing can be done a number of sites which don’t require whole school log in Lend Me Your Literacy, 100 Word Challenge. Other sites encourage the sharing of ideas and resources, such as the NRich Maths Site
  • It doesn’t always have to be about writing and commenting. Skype is the perfect example of communicating digitally, the education site is a great way of getting started.
  • Communciating within the school is also a good way of modelling skills. Beyond whole school projects such as Google Drive, or a VLE, you can also ask children to collaborate on shared projects in the classroom: Haiku Decks, Padlets, Scratch – all allow a class to register and then to share the outcomes.

 

Information

Accessing information online can be a minefield – and the lessons of old where resesarched and made notes need to be fine tuned to ensure that they fully understand what they are doing. Again, modelling this is key. From early on the teacher needs to be using search engines, looking at specific sites and modelling how to navigate the huge quantity of information which can be found.

This is very much linked to how networks and the internet work, which is a curriculum aim, and there are a number of resources out there. The BBC are currently putting lots of effort into this, and have some great resources. Building this into a fun topic is one of my next jobs…

Remember as well that it should not always be about ‘googling’ information. Finding different opinions, sharing what they find and examining different opinions are all key to this aspect of digital literacy. Using apps for informatiom finding, and digital books is also important – representing information in different ways!

 

Other resources:

Simon Haughton’s site is choc full of ideas and incredibly practical resources for all aspects of computing.

The Literacy Shed, and other Sheds! Perfect for digital media, inspiration and information.

 

28 Dec

Ubuntu in School – Part II

Putting Ubuntu on our old Windows XP computers was a way of trying to breathe new life into the machines – making them useable again. That post is here.

It has made machines accessible for internet based work – bur schools often need more than that. At the end of the term I think some questions need answering…

What did Linux do?

I put on most of the machines Linux Ubuntu – but it turned out that this was a little too power hungry for some of the machines. On the laptops it was fine, I downloaded and installed a few basic programmes – inlcuding this open whiteboard software, Open Sankore. On others we struggled, I tried a few very stripped down versions, including Puppy Linux and children’s versions such as Qimo and Sugar on a Stick. The computers worked very well with these, but they were older operating systemz and not easy to update. This meant that software we needed, such as up to date internet browsers were difficult to locate and install.

What can the machines used for?

Laptops with Ubuntu on can be used for most purposes – but as they were not connected to the school shared drives (we are moving over to Google Drive) – this limited the usefulness for some. However I envouraged the use as if it were a chromebook. An updated browser was therefore crucial. The educational suite, GCompris, was also on the machines, providing some basic educational based games.

What were the machines actually used for?

In practice, the machines have actually been used by children more than staff. The pupils find adapting to an unfamiliar operating system much easier and actually enjoy finding things to do. I put a choice of Linux OS on some machines and this may have been a mistake as it put people off experimenting. Easy access to the internet is key. The machines are in shared spaces currently and children will choose to use them.

What’s next?

Decisions need to be made – there are still lots of the XP machines around school!! The chromebooks have been more useful and so easy to pick up for pupils and teachers.

  • I’ve started using the Digital Leaders in school to review the use of the machines and share it with other children and teachers.
  • Time is a huge problem. Teachers need time to explore, and this year, with the huge amount of change is already proving a big challenge on inset and staff meetings.
  • I’m going to perservere – giving a new lease of life to these machines is very useful and I think pupils do need to experience other operating systems.