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Monday, February 27, 2006

Ditch the paper!

Tonight I was in Inveraray Primary for a twilight session on ‘Inspiration’ with all the teaching staff in the school. The reason behind this? The Head Teacher there is very keen to move to a more visual way of planning. When asked a few months ago if I could help them in this, I jumped at the chance. It is so encouraging to hear of a school being brave enough to ask the fundamental questions of why we plan in the first place. In case some of you have forgotten in amongst all the bureaucracy, we don’t plan for the sake of planning, or even to keep the Local Authority/HMIe happy – we plan so that we give structure and balance for our students learning. The less of a pointless paper-chase we can make this the better!

On reflection, I don’t think that ‘Inspiration’ (or any concept mapping for that matter) is the answer. What we need is an integrated database driven system that pre-populates data based on our outlining. Now if that could be fed from a personal learning planning and then in turn pre-populate a reporting system we would finally be making effective use of technology to plan, track, monitor and evaluate in education. What should I be more concerned about – that I know how to do this, but don’t have the time, or that we continue to hand out entirely unsystematic A4 documents that end up in huge ring binder folders on a teachers desk that on occasion a Head Teacher asks to look through? How can anyone effectively manage that?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Yet Another Government Initiative

I seems as though I have spent the last 7 days solid working on the Masterclass folios. Nicola (who I know reads this, but never comments) could confirm this, easily! I must say though, that this is small change in comparison to how much time some of them must have spent producing their folios.

Some people have been very critical of Masterclass, both locally and nationally. I wonder what they will make of this now public work of Masterclass. I also wonder what they thought Masterclass should achieve? The vast majority of Masterclass members are 1.0 FTE class committed teachers. Subtract this from the alleged 35 hour working week, and then remove the preparation, correction and marking time and what little is left (ha! – there’s some left?) can be spent encouraging others to make greater use of ICT?

I am amazed at how much time and effort some of our Masterclass members put into ‘championing’ the cause of ICT. I am bowled over by their commitment, and the sheer number of hours they put into helping others use ICT in the classroom. It’s amazing they can manage all this in a 35 hour working week. Hold on – that’s where I’m wrong. It’s nowhere near 35 hours.

We are all being taken advantage of. At first, we think we are doing people a favour, that helping out a little bit more is actually helping everyone. Wrong. All it tells our superiors is that we can do more, and are prepared to put ‘a little bit more in’. What happens next? Well, you seem quite able, so maybe you could do this as well? Eventually, you have so much to do, that you don’t really know where to begin, and the one thing you are meant to be doing has shifted slightly out of focus.

Add to this our over-politicised culture of ‘yet another government initiative’ we are moving further and further away from what should be our focus – educating children – not substantiating how we are educating children.

Until we realistically invest in promoting the use of ICT in the classroom, we will always rely on people’s good nature – and that just isn’t good enough. For starters, it’s not remotely systematic, let alone sustainable. The biggest change in use of ICT in the classroom is when a class teacher is given in-class support – fact. Twilight tuition is one of the least most effective methods of training – fact. How much more evidence of this do we need to collate?

Theoretically I could have stopped work this week on Wednesday at lunchtime. Maybe I should be taking some of my own medicine.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Is the pen truly mightier than the sword/finger?

Today I had a twilight session on Excel in John Logie Baird Primary school. Whilst waiting for folk to arrive I was ‘playing’ with the newly installed ACTIV Primary board. This is the first time I have really used one of the bigger boards in anger. Fantastic. There is something lovely about using a pen to control the board, but one slight problem is when you turn around to the class you are then looking into the projector lense. Maybe this is just because I am tall though, but a short throw projector would reduce this problem drastically. I must have enjoyed using it though, because I just continued with it for the rest of the twilight session.

Composing this blog at home however I am using a Bluetooth graphics tablet, so just as a recent blog was spoken, this one has actually been handwritten. £130 for a Wacom graphics tablet which provides the same interactivity and functionality as £1K worth of interactive board. As you are not constrained by the dimensions of the board, you can have your projector image as big as you can make it. Oh, and you can use it from anywhere in the classroom or even pass it around the pupils to use. AND it means you aren’t looking into the projector lense.

Progress isn’t always expensive you know.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Single track roads in the dark

One thing I dislike about Argyll in the winter is driving along single track roads in the dark. I don’t know whether it’s fear of the unknown, or fear of the speed of the locals coming towards you who know the roads so well, but there is something quite unsettling about the whole process.

I’d like to think that in life I’m not afraid of what’s around the next corner either.

Today I visited Tighnabruaich. This is meant to be one of the most beautiful parts of the world, but I’m sorry to say that I have yet to see it without rain! I have loaned the school a whiteboard and voting set that had previously been trialled in Maths classes in Hermitage Academy. Morag MacDonald is going to try out this new technology with her P1, 2, 3 class. It will be interesting to see if she concurs with Margaret Ferguson about the time it takes to prepare voting questions to use with pupils. Promethean inform me that they have loads of downloadable resources that should make this task much quicker.

Today was also a central in-service course on Inspiration. My thanks to Richard Biggart from Dunoon for taking this one for me. Sorry if I set the cat amongst the pigeons by saying how I would use Kidspiration! You know how you always think of the right thing to say after you have left the room? I should have told the group that Fife council, one of the biggest users of the software in Scotland do not use Kidspiration at all – they use Inspiration all the way down. Whilst I do like the Kidspiration interface, and am very happy with it as an introduction in the infant end of school, I worry about how much we ‘dumb-down’ technology. South of the border there are P6&7 making Flash movies. How would our 6’s and 7’s cope with that if all we show them is simple?

As a 17 year old on my second ever driving lesson, we went into a 60 mile an hour zone. My instructor sitting beside me exclaimed “Come on, they’re getting away from us!” – funny how some comments stick with you in life…

Monday, February 06, 2006

People get ready... there's a train a comin'

We aren’t ready.

3 days ago I let all our schools know that BBC jam was available online. I wondered if this was a good idea, as if everyone started using it, it could cause significant stress on our network bandwidth. Out of 93 emails, I have had 3 replies. Does that mean loads of people are now making use of great free interactive online learning resources? Probably not. I suspect most schools will have printed it off and stuck it in a staff ‘news’ folder. Some staff may get to read the printout. For most, it will be lost in amongst a million other similar A4 shaped treatises. Some even might get as far as writing down the URL. Even fewer might get around to finding a spare minute in their over documented, over-worked, day to type the URL into their browser. I hope they do.

Some will be shocked at the high quality of presentation, and the fact that this is free. Others will begin to think about how they can use these fantastic, rich resources in their teaching. Most (if not all!) will be crippled by how they have to document this for the ‘improvement’ agenda in our schools.

For those that don’t know, there are other ways of tracking pupil achievement than red pen and paper – it’s called technology. This doesn’t mean printing out A4 planners! A machine can deal with data far better than we can. If I were having to assess and collate forward plans and the teaching and learning process in school there wouldn’t be a bit of paper in sight. Even the oldest machines that we have in schools can run a simple database.

Incidentally, forwarding an email costs you nothing. In fact, it saves you time and money in printing. Oh, and the added advantage is you can simply click on a URL instead of having to write it down. My thanks to the schools that did pass the email on electronically to teaching staff – maybe you are ready?