One question I like to ask a governing body is, “If I asked you what your key school development priorities are, would you be able to tell me?” It is surprising how many sheepish looks I get. Surely, this is the core business of governors. If I were to cut a governor in half, shouldn’t I see, like a stick of rock, the school development priorities writ large? I also often say, “If I were to read a sample of your committee and full meeting minutes and a headteacher’s report, I should be able to tell you what your priorities are, shouldn’t I? Because they will glow like golden threads won’t they?”
So how do we make sure we keep our eye on the ball and keep our focus on those crucial priorities? I’ve come across a few ideas and have some of my own.
There was one school where, when I asked that first question, they all reached for their wallets and purses and pulled out laminated cards with the School Development Plan (SDP) priorites on them. At my own school, we have a text box on our agendas with the SDP priorities within it – this ensures we are ever reminded of our key foci.
On a recent visit to Hightown JIN School where I’d done some work with governors, I was impressed by the clear, well-presented, visual display of the SDP in the headteacher’s office. Although this is obviously underpinned by a detailed action plan, I like the way it is all so easy to see and understand.
This got me thinking a bit more. Why not have a named governor responsible for monitoring each of the 4 sub-sections? Each of these sub-sections could have its own little ‘business card’ to reside in said governor’s wallet/purse. That governor could see themselves as an ‘ambassador’ for that aspect of the SDP. What would that ambassadorial role involve?
- Visits into school to directly monitor progress in that particular subsection. A visit that would include meeting with relevant staff for updates, being talked through any school-based files or paperwork, a look at any relevant data, a learning walk, checking against dated milestones etc.
- An awareness of any relevant policies.
- An awareness of milestones and dates coming up or being passed in the SDP and ensuring monitoring of such milestones.
- Asking timely and relevant questions in meetings that pertain to their particular sub-section.
- Asking themselves at the end of meetings if their area has been touched upon appropriately.
Of course, this wouldn’t mean that other governors would be absolved responsibility for monitoring the SDP, just that someone would have particular responsibility.
The other thing to add is that of course these principles apply equally to other aspects of governors’ monitoring role such as SEND, Safeguarding, and the curriculum. where governing bodies should identify named governors.
Have I missed anything? Have this made you think of anything? I’d love you to comment if so!
Some of you know that I’m currently the Chair of the Board of Management of an organisation called NAACE. NAACE is a national association whose members are those ‘…promoting learning with technology in a connected world’. Amongst other things, we have an award called The 3rd Millennium Learning Award, the aim of which is to enable schools to demonstrate how they are providing an education fit for the 21st Century. In the first instance, these schools produce a video with an intended audience of parents and the community that ‘…captures the essence of how the school has adopted new approaches to learning’. Videos can be found here: I urge you to watch a few, if only because they will inevitably paste a smile across your face (although they will also undoubtedly inspire you).
Recently, I was lucky enough to spend a day at the NAACE head office attending a meeting of 3rd Millennium Learning Guides (those members who are responsible for reviewing and assessing the submissions). One of the activities undertaken was a round-table ‘what are you seeing when you get into schools?’ activity. I have taken the liberty of summarising some of the comments* because I think they’re worthy of a wider audience. So, by way of an analogue Storify:
“I’m seeing some secondary schools who are beginning to feel they are being left behind.”
“Technology is raising the visibility of children’s learning.”
“I’ve seen a lovely example of Google Docs being used by a teacher to provide ‘mid-work’ marking.”
“Digital leaders working as ‘Subject’ leads, so they advocate for technology-enhanced learning with heads of department and promote the use of technology in given subjects.”
“OFSTED picking up on digital leadership (pupils leading learning).”
“I’m still seeing the same old mistakes made such as poorly-sited, unreachable IWBs.”
“In my experience, special schools always make the best use of technology.”
“Schools are waking up to transferable practice: ‘What would that look like at KS3?'”
“Schools working with others more, seeing what others are doing.”
“More inclusive practice, technology to facilitate performance (eg ipad band).”
“Investment based upon resources that will inspire children.”
“Embrace and encourage enterprise and the sharing of learning.”
“The development of technologies being used as Assessment for Learning tools – ‘assessment at your fingertips’.”
“Children created their own multi-media anti-bullying ebook, ‘Being a good friend’.”
“Impact can sometimes get lost amongst the ‘wow’.”
“I see real engagement, kids understanding the learning process and how technology enhances it. Kids and teachers actually.”
“The 3rd Millennium Learning tool gives them the vocabulary and signposts where to go next.”
“I encountered a 14 year old special school student with profound communication issues. Technology gave her the power to be a teenager.”
“Why did Barack Obama visit Mountpleasant School? They tweeted him.”
“A big investment in infrastructure ensures reliability and stops the (‘it doesn’t work’) excuses.”
“There has been a turning point in many of the schools I’ve been in.”
“See the ESTYN inspection report for Barry Island, references to digital learning throughout.”
“Technology has revolutionised the idea of publishing and audience.”
“I’ve seen technology raise aspirations.”
“Technology helps children take control of their own learning.”
“I saw a lovely example of an EYFS teacher using Twitter to engage parents.”
“It is not the ‘what’, but the ‘how and the why’.”
There was also one example cited that made my heart sink (not given as an example of great practice, but as where the same mistakes continue to be made). The example was of a school creating an ‘immersive’ learning space, presumably at great expense. Nothing especially wrong in that but we must remember to immerse children in learning, not in technology. I was put in mind of the wall of plasma screens I once saw back in BSF days… Sigh
Roger Broadie, whose brainchild is the award put it nicely when he said: “3rd Millennium Learning is about learning behaviours, not facts, facts, facts!”
So what’s going on for you? Do any of these soundbites resonate with you?
*I have not attributed these ‘quotes’ as they are not verbatim and I wouldn’t want to misrepresent anyone.
I am pleased and proud. I’ve helped make a thing that is good, a thing that people like, a thing that is useful and that makes the world better. What we’ve made is an event that brings together friends, strangers and their families and mixes them together in a different kind of way. And it works.
For those that weren’t there, #CampEd14 was an educational event which took place over a long weekend spent at a residential education centre (Cliffe House) in Yorkshire. Attendees were, on the whole, educators and their families. People mainly camped and many volunteered to run ‘sessions’ as diverse as extracting DNA from bananas to orienteering.
I know that other people are already taking care of the details of the event. I would like to reflect for a moment on what I think makes it a bit different and very special:
- The ‘gaps’: I have always said that whenever you go on a course, some training or a conference, it is the gaps in between where some of the best stuff happens; the coffee breaks, over lunch, in the bar. CampEd significantly widens those gaps. For me, this is exemplified by (amongst other things) the traditional CampEd walk. The walk lowers the pace yet further and gently moves people into meandering conversation to accompany their steps.
- The venue: I remember the moment when I realised Cliffe House was tailor made for CampEd. It was as if (as Will Ryan would say) a dam burst in my head. Each time I thought of something CampEdish, Cliffe House had the answer.
- The activities: What does an outstanding lesson look like? More’s the point, what does it ‘feel’ like? How many of us educators can say that we have been in an outstanding lesson as a learner recently? Anyone at #CampEd14 can truly say that they have.
- The people: Here we had a ‘conference’, a learning event that catered for attendees aged from a matter of months up to… well, quite a bit older… We also mixed a crowd of teachers/educators with their children and (in many cases) non-educator partners. ‘Exit interviews’ with these non-educators suggest that the event had certainly passed the ‘spousal’ test (as Bill Lord coined it) in that they would all recommend CampEd and attend again in future.Finally, special thanks to a couple of people: Bill, who has picked me up when I’ve been flagging and who will forever be my Twitter confidante and Tony Parkin who quietly but significantly supports in so many ways – although I would have preferred him to have chosen a time other than 7.00am for his philanthropic road-building efforts in the camp-site.
On 4th April, I delivered a keynote presentation to Kirklees’ outdoor learning conference, “I’m a kid, get me out of here”. My presentation was entitled ‘Digitally Outdoors’.
Now, I am a passionate advocate for the use of technology to enhance learning and this could well be described as ‘my thing’. However, I have more than one ‘thing’ and therein is something of a problem. In the past, when I’ve been out and about evangelising about technology for learning, I have been met by those educators whose arms are crossed and whose brows are furrowed and who are clearly looking at me like some sort of harbinger of doom. I know what they’re thinking. They are thinking:
“Listen to you! Don’t you know how important *REAL* paint is? Don’t you know that children need to *talk* to other *real* children? Don’t you know that children need to use paper and pens? *REAL* books? Listen to you with your talk of touch-screens and smart devices. Tut, tut tut – what has the world come to?”
I believe this thinking is unhelpful. I believe it is founded upon a polar, ‘either-or’ argument that does not reflect my educational philosophy. As I have said before, what we are after is a rich balance. Technology is a tool. So is a pencil, a book, paint, clay, a saw, a stick or a pebble. As educators, we have a range tools at our disposal to help maximise learning. Our job is to deploy tools in a way that we think fit in order to maximise learning potential, whether we’re talking about an ipad or a beach. This is how I started my keynote.
I owe so much to my network, to the wonderful, benevolent people I know both virtually and in real life. Many of the ideas in my presentation have come directly or indirectly via the following:
Vicki McCormick, Lou Bristow, Catherine Heppenstall, James Langley, Tim Rylands, David Mitchell, Alison Lydon and Juliet Robertson.
Firstly, the camera. This is probably the single most useful, versatile and potential-laden digital tool in your toolbox. As a simple recording and reporting back device in the hands of pupils or adults, it has so much to offer!
Get the kids to take close-up, ‘guess what’ pictures.
…or find pictures of patterns.
PicColllage is a great, free app that can aggregate images and combine them with some funky text for sharing or display. Get the kids out, sniffing around for interesting things with their cameras.
…such as green things, red things, soft things, hard things. Why not get them to make collages that we all have to guess what the theme is. Things beginning with ‘P’? Natural things?
Geocaching is an engaging way to involve people in focussed, motivating, learning activity. You can create your own treasure hunt using either GPS devices or (I gather) any device equipped with the Geocaching app.
Create your own geocaches to secret around your school grounds. Pop some interesting, topic-themed clues and goodies into them and away you go!
Runkeeper. Tim Rylands provided me with some wonderful slides. Thanks Tim!
Runkeeper is an app designed to track your activity, whether it is a run, a bike ride, a downhill ski or a walk. It tracks and records your location, route, average pace etc and presents the information in some lovely graphs and maps on the Runkeeper website. This gives us some real potential for learning activities, particularly in Maths. Tim had asked a group of children to use the app to see if they could ‘map’ an equilateral triangle on the school field. This one idea, leaves my mind boggling at all the further possibilities for geometry, let alone what else could be done with an app such as this. (Post script: Matthew Pearson has since directed me to these amazing examples of cyclist-produced ‘drawings’.)
QR (Quick Response) codes are another possible source of a ‘hunter-gatherer’ activity. They can be created easily; either via an app that reads the codes (such as QR reader) or via a website such as Kaywa. Codes can be created to link to text, or weblinks or even other files. A handy work-around for linking to *any* file is to store a file (video, image, document) in a cloud location such as Dropbox and then link the QR code to the online (Dropbox) file.
We have a new subject in the National Curriculum called Computing. Now, you might think that this means we need lots of kids sitting at computers, computing away like mad. In reality, there are loads of opportunities for analogue or ‘unplugged’ computing that can be done outdoors. I showed this video clip from the wonderful CS Unplugged people by way of illustration.
I’m sure that GPS trackers were never invented with education in mind. These devices can record their exact location and movement across the earth’s surface and provide said movements on an online map whilst also coming equipped with a useful magnet for attachment to the bottom of, say, a car. Suspicious spouses or private Investigators may be the intended market, but there are some excellent educational possibilities for such a device.
David Mitchell told me that he’d hidden one inside the Barnaby Bear teddy and set it off roaming the world in the hands of his pupils, only to review the journey later on an online map. Brilliant!
Why not bring the outdoors indoors? With these couple of tools (Ambient Mixer and Sound Sleeping), you can instantly create wonderful soundscapes to evoke amazing atmospheres. What a great stimulus for language and discussion. Just close your eyes. There is also an app.
Get yourself a cheap helmet cam and strap it to a welly, or a belt, or round a head. Go for a walk and then watch it back. How do the points of view differ? What was it like to be sitting on a welly splashing through the puddles and mud!?
I wanted to anticipate a couple of questions, but these actually arose early in my presentation. The biggy was about connectivity. Many of the ideas I’d talked about depended upon some sort of data connection to a device and, outside of school buildings, this can be a challenge. One thing that occurred to me was the possibility of teachers setting up their own (pocket-based) mobile phone hotspots using their 3G data. When I discussed this on Twitter, a few people came back saying, variously, that it could work, has worked for them but is dependent upon good phone signals, plenty of mobile data and battery life. More highly recommended were Mifi solutions.
So educational technology is definitely my ‘thing’ but one of my other ‘things’ is the outdoors, and where analogue and digital meet is where you can often find me.
If you have any ideas that you would like to add, I’d love to hear from you!
Friday 4th April saw a conference on outdoor learning run by Kirklees Learning Services. The conference was at Cliffe House, a residential, outdoor learning centre to which I had brought many a class of pupils and that will be host to CampEd14.There were keynote presentations by myself and Juliet Robertson. There were also some fabulous workshops.
Juliet’s keynote presentation was inspiring and grounded in countless case studies, research activities and practical examples, all illustrating the profound importance of learning outside the classroom. She described how for her as an educator, the outdoors evolved from being a ‘jolly nice thing’ to ‘an absolute need and necessity’. She made the point that zoos have a legal requirement to provide a certain amount of space to their primates: and yet, in comparison to that, we confine our young people in classrooms with a fraction of that space – and expect effective learning to happen. Juliet reminded us of the memorability or ‘stickiness’ that outdoor learning often has to it.
She also reassured us that risks are an essential part of outdoor learning and to not get overly hung up on risk as unrepresentative perceptions can easily become barriers (a point later reiterated by Kirklees’ adviser for outdoor learning). She cited, by way of example, the fact that there had been not a single death of a young person in the UK from berries or mushrooms in the last 60 years.
I like the simplicity of Juliet’s approach, epitomised by her emphasis on the importance of forming circles with learners and handing the learning over to them, “Form a circle, ask them to go off and find something interesting, return to the circle and then discuss.”
For me, one of the key messages was Juliet urging us to have a go, and take a chance and a couple of quotes summed that up nicely:
“Of course you go out on a limb. That’s where all the fruit is.” Mark Twain
“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Wayne Gretsky
Workshop 1 Maths from Sticks and Stones – Juliet Robertson
Juliet also ran a workshop throughout the day with an emphasis on mathematical development through the use of sticks and stones.
We warmed up in a circle, varying the formation and size of the circle as we went along (feet touching, elbows touching, sticks touching, shoulders touching). With a meter-long stick each, we worked on some simple counting games involving tapping our sticks, passing them, walking in different directions around the circle with ‘switch’ and ‘Fizz-buzz’ variations. We then moved into smaller groups where we were first introduced to Juliet’s bag of tricks – a variety of natural resources for maths such as pebbles with numbers and symbols, sticks of varying length and gauge, shorter sticks with coloured tips, rope etc. Importantly, she also has an old white sheet – invaluable if you want to ‘display’ a find or something interesting. The brief for the small groups was to simply ‘do something mathematically interesting’ with a resource-set. This is both challenging and empowering and I can see how the approach can really put the learning in the hands of the learners (as well as providing a perfect assessment for learning opportunity).
Groups were then able to see what others had done and share ideas. A final ‘plus, minus, interesting’ plenary rounded us off.
Workshop 2 Bushcraft
My second workshop was with Cliffe House centre manager, Rosie Taylor. Delegates used a range of tools to firstly prepare and set a fire (without matches) before whittling skewers for marsh-mallow toasting.
Rosie emphasised the importance of careful briefing and tool-talk prior to an activity that involved bow-saws and fire. Again, the risk-assessment watch-words here are ‘supervision’ and ‘common-sense’. “For a fire this size, you definitely wouldn’t want the children to use gloves, you’d want them feeling the danger for themselves.”
Fires were set in little mini-barbecue containers and lit with cotton wool and ‘sparkers’ (no matches or lighters!).
Finally, sticks were whittled using potato peelers (good quality, wooden handles recommended here) before skewering a well-deserved mallow!
Workshop 3 Story time
My lovely next door neighbour and Cliffe House teacher, Catherine Heppenstall, ran an enthralling session on story. We gathered in a willow grotto to first listen to Catherine as she held us rapt, wrapped (herself) in story-robe and seated on her teller’s throne. She told the story of the unfortunate farmer who came a cropper upon the third sneeze of his donkey! Snip-snap-snout! Her story was out.
Catherine reminded us of the importance of oral story telling (as opposed to ‘read’ stories); how the narrative can be fluid, flexible and responsive – the hero’s hair may be flame-red one day and raven-black another.
We all know the ingredients of a good story: a setting (in place and time), a character or two (with certain dispositions), a problem etc. How wonderful then to wander the woods and pluck these elements from the trees and bushes and thread them onto a ‘story-stick’ that would later be the concrete framework from which we would tell our own stories!
Workshop 4 Cob-ovens
The final workshop was facilitated by conference-organiser Andrew Heath-Beesley and would be best described as a project. Over the course of the day, delegates devoted themselves to the construction of a cob-oven atop an impressive pediment (formed of recycled bottles and clay). Clay was ‘mined’ (shovelled) from a rich source elsewhere on the Cliffe House estate and transported via wheel-barrow to the construction site.
Constructing a cob-oven is such a great cross-curricular activity. There is so much in it: collaboration, planning, design-technology, changing state (dobbing the wattle & dawb was a particularly consuming activity!), art & design. I could go on.
Keynote – Digitally Outdoors
I gave a keynote presentation about the use of technology in outdoor learning.
…What WB Yeats has to say about technology in the classroom
I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak at the CESI Conference at GMIT in Galway. With my roots in Sligo and my heart in educational technology, I decided that I would combine a couple of interests. My thinking was prompted a little by an idea I originally came across with John Davitt’s Learning Event Generator. Juxtaposing a couple of disparate ideas can really provoke the creative juices and I found the process of preparing my presentation challenging, stimulating and rewarding in equal measure.
I decided to scour Yeats’ work and glean any lines/quotations that might apply to some messages I could share about education technology. I found 10 good ones but kept a few back just in case.
There follows my slides with a brief explanation of the message I delivered alongside them.
Slide 1: The image is a GIF I created using the ‘Vintage TV’ option on the excellent ‘generator’ website, Photofunia I also include my name in the Google font (Google font generator) as a clue to how to pronounce my name (rhymes with Google).
Don’t dive in and use technologies without thought. Plan and consider carefully how you might squeeze the best out of the technologies in question. As Tim Rylands would say, ‘take your time’. This applies particularly to the use of computer games in the classroom.
Let’s take the specific example of Mario Kart Wii
For this slide, I used another generator. I made the point that the game itself is merely the stimulus, the hook from which huge amounts of learning can be hung. I drew upon the work of many ‘giants’ of games-based learning upon whose shoulders I stand: Derek Robertson (the ‘Daddy’ of GBL), Dawn Hallybone (post), Bill Lord (post) to name a few. The game is the distilled droplet of wonderfulness, tread softly with it and use it wisely. A single race in Mariokart might be all you need to stimulate a mass of activities from designing and making Karts to averages (lap-times) in Maths.
Us oldies may have senses that have been dulled somewhat by age. Young folks have senses that are sharp as knives. We must hand the lead to them sometimes so that they can use those sharper senses to perceive the magic that we may never have thought of. Like clay, paint and musical instruments, we all need an opportunity to just play and explore and perhaps discover the magic that is patiently waiting to be perceived. Let the pupils take control of the learning more often and watch them find the magic.
It would have been remiss of me to not include Yeats’ most famous (at least in educational circles) words. Here we see some fires being lit by technology – the result of a video trailer produced by the imovie app. The unbridled joy that technology-enhanced learning experiences can produce is plain to see. Let’s light fires and not fill buckets!
You could wait for ever for the perfect device. “I’ll not buy that tablet just yet because a better, faster, more capacious model is due out imminently.” No, let’s strike now and warm up the iron with wonderful experiences. Get stuck in, be brave, go out and do something! However, remember to also tread softly…
Yeats was clearly a fan of social media and realised the value of a network of benevolent, like-minded professionals. Friends (many, as yet, unmet) who are willing to share a great idea, advise and encourage others and engage in professional discussions. Twitter is just such a place for educators, populated with many friends you have not met yet.
We are truly blest by the simply astonishing time in which we live and work. Never have we had so many exciting tools for learning at our fingertips. We should rejoice at the possibilities that are presented and, if you like, laugh and sing!
Despite his passion for technology in education, Yeats also reminds us with a cautionary line or two that there are also some esafety considerations that should never be far from our minds and that, despite the wonder, there is also the possibility of encounters with ‘webs of sorrow’ when using technologies. Take every opportunity to deliver esafety messages whenever pupils are using small (or large) slate-coloured (or otherwise) things.
Where should we turn for leadership? From whence will our inspiration come? Who will plot our course? The image is from the previous evening’s Teachmeet and for me, illustrates that we are all captains, and the lead comes from no one person but of the collective, shared guidance and ideas that come through sessions like Teachmeets. Let’s inspire each other and plot the course ourselves. (Thanks to @clerktogovernor for sharing this particular quotation with me.)
And a final quote that I included just because I love it. It has nothing to do with educational technology though:
I believe in ‘the incredible expanding presentation’ so, had a slide ready in the event of an early finish. With the following, final slide I challenged attendees to undertake the same exercise that I had: to spend some time considering the following quotes and seeing how they might apply to approaches to educational technology. Delegates did not let me down, some great ideas were shared.