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Friday, June 30, 2006

When the simplest ideas are often the best

This one comes courtesy of Peter Bissett of Luing Primary in Argyll & Bute.

Last night I attended a 'do' for Rosemary Ward in the Argyll Hotel in Inveraray. Rosemary will shortly be taking up her new post as Education Manager for the Gaelic Board in Scotland, so a number of folk from around the authority gathered together to celebrate her achievement, and to wish her well for the future. I for one will miss Rosemary - a true fountain of wisdom and I'll take this opportunity to apologise for the incredible number of times I must have interrupted her workflow with some inane office banter - she sits immediately behind me in Colgrain. I must say that when I found out that she was to occupy the desk behind me I had hoped my Gaelic would improve - but I think I am living proof that 'partial immersion' or 'language learning by osmosis' doesn't work. On the rare occasions that I thought my Gaelic was improving, I would soon realise that a particular conversation had more than it's fair share of English words in it. Anyway...

At one point in the evening I was having a chat with Peter Bissett, the Head Teacher of Luing Primary, who had recently discovered the wonderful property of 'Text to Speech' on a Mac. Greatly impressed by what this can do for those students and adults who have difficulty reading (or comprehending what they read) this is a real bonus. I hadn't really given it much thought before, but what a brillinat tool when you come to think about it - and such a simple thing! So here is today's tip of the day 'Text to Speech' in System preferences - you can then highlight any bit of text, press your chosen shortcut key and the computer will read it back to you.

For those of you that don't use a Mac, Peter also told me about the equivalent for a PC - 'www.naturalreaders.com' which is a free download that does pretty much the same thing. Couldn't help but notice the 'cost' version of the application also allows you to save the 'text to speech' as an MP3 - so no longer do you have an excuse for not having time to read a report! Food for thought though - how many times in education do we ask pupils to read something that is beyond their reading age - what is important - the content of the text, or the text itself? Having the audio file of the text could help as reinforcement?

As a total aside here - my Mac has been in Luss Primary School for about the last two months. I got it back the other day before the term ended - and it pains the 'PC User' in me to admit this, but I must say I missed it...

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Summer Time

Today is the last day of term before the summer recess for Argyll & Bute schools. Note the use of the word ‘schools’ there, and not just ‘Argyll & Bute’. Almost three years ago (is it really that long?!) when I took up this post, I gave up the ‘perk’ of school holidays, and joined the real world of annual leave and public holidays. People often asked ‘Do I not miss the holidays?’ – on days like today then my answer would be ‘Yes’ (as Nicola starts 6 weeks of hols today ;-( ), but on the whole I don’t miss the long holidays. I would often find myself slightly bored with such a long break from work, and to be honest, I really like working, so would quite often miss it during the summer break.

I completely understand the argument for the long holidays for teachers though. Anyone that thinks they are not worked hard should go and try it for a week! It is a very tiring profession, and for all the teachers out there that are reading this, then I hope you have a wonderful relaxing break, and return to work rejuvenated for the challenges that next session will bring.

The big question for some of you though is what happens for all of us sad workers when the schools are off? Well, work continues as normal, I’m afraid. Sure, the phones don’t ring as much, and the offices are largely quieter, but busier (if that doesn’t seem a contradiction in terms!) as people aren’t fleeing around all over the authority for school visits and meetings.

For me, the summer will bring the opportunity to focus on a number of projects and writing up of papers that have otherwise slipped during the term. Who knows, maybe even www.whereisab.co.uk will get its much needed face lift? The blogging will keep going though, so if you are infront of a computer over the holidays, please feel free to comment!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Deep Thought

Up until now Big Brother 2006 has been, let’s face it: mindless nonsense.

Today however, Glyn was set the challenge to find the answer to the ultimate question of ‘What is the meaning of life?’ Unsurprisingly, the conversation came around to ‘love’ being the answer. What a fabulous task!

It never ceases to amaze me how when faced with no access to literature, news, music or technology the conversation centres around the ‘cult of the self’ – Pete was in the diary room recently complaining that there wasn’t enough stimulating conversation in the house. Ironically, Big Brother actually presents the prospect of removal from the media pressures of the world that would put many people into a position to investigate worthwhile reflection and meditation. Odd then that none of the housemates seems to do this with their time. I am also surprised that they don't end up inventing more and more ingenious ways of wasting time, but why bother - when they can just talk about themselves!

It’s a good thing I am not in the house – I’d have been voted out in the first week for asking too many philosophical questions!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

how to...

The amount of times I get asked for advice to show people 'how to...' is incredible. To be able to put all those snippets of information rolling around inside my head online for all to access whenever they wanted really was the idea behind the 'Help & Training' site, which never got developed fully. There just isn't the time. We really should be trying to make the most of this connectivity and get it done though - after all, we are educators. (and for those of you that read this that think you aren't educators - we all are, the only difference is I'm paid exclusively for that!)

To read this morning then that Andy Watson has set up a brilliant resource for creating and using blogs in education was music to my ears. I know it is still a work in progress, but if creating an online 'how to' resource is like anything, it's like painting the Forth bridge.

So from now on, if someone asks me 'how to...' blog, then I'm sending them there. (Hope you don't mind Andy!)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Go Port Ellen!

Just a quick post to say that at the recent COSLA Awards, the SOLACE TEAM AWARD went to Argyll and Bute Council Community Services – Education for a project entitled ‘Brilliant Beginnings – A School and Community Working Together’. The school in question? Port Ellen Primary, Isle of Islay.

Congratulations to Violet and all the staff, pupils, parents and wider community of the school. Well deserved!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Collective responsibility

It is always great to meet with a group of people that share. That said, the group of educators that I am always most nervous about speaking with are the Principal Teachers of ICT. I suppose this stems from the fact that until very recently I have had no formal training in ICT, yet find myself working in this field. I also wonder how they feel as a group. In the past, they were undoubtedly on the receiving end of the 'new kit' when it appeared in school, but quite often now this is not the case, as Head Teachers or ICT coordinators spend on other subject areas first.

Today I visited the Computing Subject Development Day for Argyll & Bute. I spoke with the group about the SSDN before lunch, and in the afternoon we had a look at Breeze. Some of them had seen this before, but this was the first opportunity for them as a group to think about how they would use such a productivity tool. Their immediate reaction was to think about sharing. How could they as a group divide the workload to reap the maximum benefit? After a bit of discussion about the courses they taught, they settled on the common denominator of Standard Grade, and then set about deciding who would produce resources for which topic or unit. Fabulous - isn't it great when people work together? Over the next session, the collective ability of the computing staff in Argyll & Bute will be working to produce Breeze resources for the Standard Grade course. For those of you reading this that don't know about Breeze, Breeze is a Flash based Learning Management System that marks and tracks pupils progress through coursework. Click here to find out more.

On a similar note, the discussion around the SSDN raised an interesting point. All teachers will have access for the first time ever to all the other teachers of their subject. If I were teaching and about to settle down to create a resource, the first question I would be asking is "Has anybody got..." - if one of the 'S's in SSDN stood for 'Sharing', I think we would have a much better understanding of what this thing will achieve...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Me and my big mouth...

Took part in the the 'Inside Learning' podcast this evening with Matthew Boyle and Steve Rogers. This week was a 'News' week, so we talked over some of the stories that have made the educational press recently.

Matthew is usually quite quick getting the podcast online - you can download it from iTunes or directly from the website.

UPDATE: Ewan picked up this post and blogged about it. By Tuesday of this week, Matthew tells me the number of downloads has doubled the usual weekly amount. Another classic example of the 'Ewan effect'? (Ewan would probably say this is nothing to do with him, but all to do with readership, but you've got to be saying interesting things to get readership!)

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Collective Intelligence

It's great to see some joined-up-thinking on the web.

Stemming from a comment by Will Richardson -
And to be honest, this is all stemming from a bigger burr in my brain of late that has to do with the seeming randomness of all of the really great work that people in this community are starting to create. It’s just feeling like it’s all over the place, and that if we could in some way get our collective act together, we could start creating an incredibly valuable resource. I know it’s all about small pieces loosely joined, but wouldn’t it be great to point the newcomers to one spot that was a clearinghouse for all of this work? Not to mention the value it would have to us old timers in terms of bringing people in. I mean all of a sudden, it seems like everyone has a wiki, and most all of them have great intent and good content. But there’s also a lot of duplication of effort, and more importantly, dis-connection, at least that what it feels like to me.
From this, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach has started a wiki with a big aim -
This will be "The Book" of sorts. The go to repository of Educational Web 2.0 related tools, resources, experts and so on.
So please share this wiki with others. http://eduwikipedia.pbwiki.com Password = connected

This seems like a huge project, but isn't it time we started to really make the most out of connectivity and each stop reinventing the wheel?

Friday, June 16, 2006

A projector on a stick?

Off to Airth Castle today for the ‘Project X’ launch from Promethean. Convinced it was to be the ‘pen on a stick’ (or ‘wand’ as it is really referred to) concept, Maggie and I along with many colleagues from around Scotland were shown the new ‘ACTIVBoard+2’ package. None of this was new to us, as we had been taken into Promethean’s confidence in London in January, but it is great to see this project make it to production. It will be available in September 2006.

I’m often a little cynical about the ‘IWB revolution’. The vast majority of uses of an interactive whiteboard are not new, nor are they particularly good teaching practices. An IWB is a very expensive bit of kit, which for far too many users is little more than a ‘screen you touch’ to do exactly what you would normally use a computer for. In the worst cases, it is almost a direct replacement for the OHP, without any thought given to the communicative power of a networked computer.

It was something of a shame that the Head Teacher speaking today (Fraser Booth, of Carnoustie High School) did little to sell the concept of an IWB (as everything he showed could easily be done on a computer using only a projector). He regarded the deployment of IWBs into every classroom as the ‘evolution of technology’ in school. Following this logic, then this will evolve again – the IWB surely has a shelf-life. It may be flavour of the month at the moment, but within the next two years the $100 laptop will be a reality, and the capacity and functionality of mobile phones will have doubled again, making this a far more attractive and usable proposition for technology in the classroom than an IWB.

According to studies he has undertaken - 97% of his pupils have access to the internet at home - I would argue that this is exceptional - I am far more inclined to go with the findings of John Johnston (although I wish we were all in the fortunate position of Carnoustie!)

It’s not all doom and gloom though – I’d love all my Head Teachers to be so pro-active about the deployment of ICT – Fraser Booth really has bought into the concept of technology in class – his use of it may not be all that dynamic, but if the administrator gets the kit into the rooms, then let the teachers and students devise interesting and creative ways of using it!

Regarding the product – it really is a brilliant bit of kit. As I see it, there are four big issues with IWBs: 1. Installation – this negates almost any installation problems, as the system is practically self contained and hides any cables. 2. Shadowing – having a short throw projector practically eliminates the shadowing effects caused by standing in front of the projected beam. 3. Height adjustment – installing a board is always a compromise, but this system is height adjustable, so anyone can use it, and no need to recalibrate. 4. Maintenance – the added bonus of the height-adjustment means that the projector filter can be easily cleaned without having to stand on some ladders.

Also speaking today was Anne McLean of East Renfrewshire. I love Anne’s ‘no-nonsense’ approach to using ICT. I must remember her illustration when introducing teachers to IWBs she asks them to focus on a few things – “You’re going to see loads of things today, but if you leave knowing how to write, draw and rub out, then you can already replace what you presently do on a chalkboard”. She also promised to blog about today’s events – you can find it at ‘Curriculinks – the blog’ – (if she doesn’t, feel free to comment on her previous post asking where the new post is! ;-))

Any freebies? Well yes, as it happens. A usb stick with info about the product, and a stress ball. Make of that what you will. My one remaining question however is this – When are we getting Promethean t-shirts, Anne Latona? Microsoft gave us them!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Planning for September...

In case you don't check out the scotedublogs wiki on a regular basis (and shame on you - you really should!) then Ewan has already started plans for the next Scotedublogs meetup (or whatever it's to be called). To coincide with SETT, please get over to the wiki and join in the discussion and formulation of this event.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Full blown apps

Today's picture shows Flash 8 Professional running on the UMPC - full blown apps on a handheld device - how cool is that? (Sorry Ian, still rubbing it in! ;-)) For those of you with really keen eyes, the last post also showed a full blown app too - doesn't Word look different for v. 2007? I've signed up for beta testing of Office 07. First impressions - I really like the ribbon instead of the toolbars - it is surprisingly intuitive!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

My first day in an Ultra Mobile World!

Finally – a day in the office! It is great to get out and see what else is happening in the world, but it is equally great to get back and touch base – especially when there are certain things that can only be done from within the network. I had to sort out a couple of errors with the Mentor Pack online, which can only be done from within the schools network – it would be brilliant if I could ftp to local authority server space from anywhere, but that’s for another post.

Delivery this afternoon – I’m now an early adopter of a ‘Samsung Q1’ – the first UMPC to the commercial market in the UK. My first impression? – very cool. I really like the touch screen interface, and they have an extended battery option which would make this device go all day. It comes with an external keyboard in an organiser and I must say at this point I completely felt my age – give this same device to a kid and they would wonder why you bothered with an external keyboard – I however breathed a small sigh of relief at its’ familiarity. The picture for today shows the ‘dial keys’ the UMPC comes with – this is like learning how to ‘txt’ all over again!

This evening Nicola and I travelled to Kilmarnock for the PiE Film Festival ’06. I was the guest blogger for the evening. I wish I’d have told people before hand this was what I was doing! You can read what I had to say over on the PiE blog. What a fabulous event – how do you nominate people for New Year honours? Mark and the rest of the PiE team should be rightly proud – a brilliant evening which everyone enjoyed. If this is what you can do for a subject area with boundless enthusiasm, then we need to know how to tap into this. Do the Scottish Executive know about this – this truly is ‘excellence’. Reach for the Stars!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

You’re first – we started at ‘A’

Today we went to visit the RM offices in Bellshill and got to have ‘hands on’ with the SSDN portal – apparently we are the first authority outside of the pilots to see it. I am sworn to secrecy, so I can’t say too much about it – but I will say that having seen it, there are now certain elements that I am really excited about. I can’t wait to see how teachers and pupils work in the future with such increased levels of communication.

It did feel like we were being ‘nicely told off’ during the day though. There is so much pressure on everyone (SEED/RM/LAs) to have Implementation Plans in place due to the timescales of the SSDN. We are hard at work, honest! If the ‘early look’ was to hurry us on our path, then it definitely helped.