Friday, 22 March 2013


Sharing and caring

Many teachers have an altruistic edge and like to share good strategies, the emergence of blogs, social networks, Youtube/Teachertube, Twitter and a host of other online sharing opportunities the access to information about good practice has escalated exponentially. Students on BA LTT or BA LTR are encouraged to share from the first semester .Toby was a great student and took to blogging his journey through the BA. He did GTP while in his final year of undergraduate study - sharing and caring were high on his agenda, clicking the image below will take you to his blog.
Toby Adams Ultraversity graduate, Leigh Academy, Dartford.
I asked Toby about his sharing, some thoughts are copied below; as you will see it is possible for undergraduate students to provide information that is very much valued by others:
"The first thing that comes to mind is the patch I did in my first year of study. It was titled "The Purpose of Reflective Practice" and it was one of the first assignments I did in the 'alternative media' mind-set. I produced the documents as a video and uploaded it as a video on YouTube to share with the community for peer feedback. Unknowingly at the time, it has now gone on to have over 32,000 views and has also been picked up by a University in New Zealand and the video makes part of a course at UCOL School of Nursing in Palmerston North.
The video still receives regular attention at but is easily found as the first result when typing 'reflective practice' into YouTube and is the 5th result of 4,380,000 when typing the same phrase into Google!"

"In terms of what I am doing at the moment for my teaching practice, the best example has to be This is my teaching website that means I use no paper whatsoever with any of my students (200+), they cannot loose this, there are no passwords to forget or remember and the whole thing is hosted by Google so is about as bulletproof as you can get. It is core to my lessons and was noted recently in a lesson observation as an aspect of my practice that was 'beyond outstanding'.

Julian Keith Ultraversity graduate, currently studying GTP
Like Toby, Julian started a blog off during undergraduate study as a reflective learning journal. The blog is linked from the image, Julian still regualry posts updates about his learning experiences. 

In the first semester of the first year of study we encourage all students to explore blogs, Twitter, G+, Linkedin and a range of other sharing places. Some students are reluctant at first but when they realise they can control audience in many online places they start to experiment. We ask them to review the tools that are available, the potential uses, the potential impact of use. They are more than welcome to drop anything they try out if they wish. This initial experimentation does seem to help them overcome fear of technology and develop deeper understanding of why they should explore. Gavin is in his first year and started a learning journal blog for the course to sharing his progress with other students.

Things to do to help find out about how others are improving practice, sharing knowledge about learning, and being real nice people include:
TES live chats, Guardian discussions, Teachertube, TED talks.

Twitter is an essential portal for sharing and keeping up to date. In just 15 minutes of checking tweets on one day I found 47 links to resources that would be of value to teachers or aspiring teachers with an interest in technology.. These ranged from blog posts on the flipped classroom, use of iPads and other mobile technologies, links to subject specific resources, tips for success from teachers, school leaders and academics, insights into HE supported schools projects, discussions about curriculum changes, posts about raising attainment, school standards, school inspections, league tables, links to international projects and much more.
Some of the key Twitter accounts I follow are listed below:
@ultraversity @timbuckteeth @TES @tesResources @the_college
#5Minlessonplan    #sharinggoodpractice 

 There is a vast network out there - look in one good place and you will find many others - go hunting and share what you find - so it grows.

Learning outdoors

The outdoor classroom - Redefining the classroom
So there we were, the boys and I in a huge kayak paddling hither and thither just down the coast from Looe. They kept dipping into the water for a bit of snorkeling and landing on reefs exposed at low tide, then this happened.

I had left the only camera way back on the beach and had to abandon them for 20 mins to get it. The cormorant was still there when I got back but I did not dare get close enough to hand over a camera in case the kayak scared the bird away. It eventually stopped examining them, had a quick preen and slipped into the water, the boys followed it snorkelling along watching it searching for food underwater just a few feet away from them. They needed an underwater camera so they could be David Attenborough and Steve Backshall. You never know when great learning events will happen. Capturing such moments and then uploading them onto the interthingy somewhere for the whole world to see gives children a sense of being part of the world, to contribute to the wonder of it all, a chance to be a player rather than a spectator, researcher rather than child.

I had wonderful adventures when I was in infants school, back then we started the week with a drawing and few sentences about what we did at the weekend. One weekend I saw a snowy owl when we were trekking through a blizzard out near Allenheads in Northumberland. I was stumped as to how to show a virtually all white bird on a white landscape on a white page. Teacher was not impressed with my scrawl, she did not believe we had been out in such wild weather or seen red deer and a snowy owl, camera ownership was rare in those days so no definitive proof was available. I resented her disbelief and mistrust, still do 45 years later. Digital cameras are pervasive with many families owning several and having cameras in smartphones, tablets etc. technology can now provide records of events in a way that just was not possible in the old days.

Back in 1997 I had an early Apple digital camera and used it in school with year 4-6 children, they took pictures of their local beach, their local studies trips and the school and its surroundings and we put them all on a website. This simple change in the way they could record and share their world gave the pupils a reason to be motivated and proud, a way to gain respect from teacher, parents and the world.

Today many children have their own camera and phone and the click and share process is nothing special or innovative it is just what they do. For educators the use of technology outdoors can be a very valuable tool if used well. Even fairly young children love finding out about things and the idea they can contribute to proper research can be a powerful motivator towards developing interest in science.

Back in 2002 I was helping to run the Notschool project that was a fully online alternative to mainstream school for pupils for whom the education system did not cater well. We avoided the labels associated with school and the children were known as 'young researchers' the 'young' label was rapidly dropped and this really did change how the children viewed themselves. For many there was a significant impact on raising self esteem and they set out on the journey of finding out about the world with renewed enthusiasm. This same strategy is useful in outdoor learning events - "Today we are all going to be researchers..." is a good precedent to anything from a minibeast hunt around the school grounds to a hike through the woods or scouting along the local beach. Bringing mobile technologies with them on the adventure reinforces the purposeful searching ethos and can act as a hook to lure them into the outdoors. Apps like' iRecord ladybirds' can help them identify what they have found and enable sharing of useful information via a photo upload to iRecord. The information then becomes available to environmental research organisations. The Rogers mushrooms app is handy to identify which fungus they should never touch or which are absolutely safe to eat although I would never recommend teachers cooking up wild fungi for children even if they have considerable expertise.

Here is a selection of very tasty found fungi

Forest schools expert Sara Knight provided this insight into indoor/outdoor learning from a teacher:

I used an actualiser when the children found a (very) dead snake and wanted to identify it.  We captured it with the actualiser, which had two advantages: 
(1)    The smelly thing could then go back outside 
(2)    The image could be projected on one half of the white board while we search the internet for matches on the other half.  Lo and behold, it was a slow worm!" 
Nayland School  
 Involving children in real world research like this can develop interests and habits that last a lifetime.

Learning on the move - why was this one lagging behind? he had come to a halt and I went back down to see what was going on - an iPhone, a birding app, a maths app and a Skype chat with his mates had drawn him to a standstill.

Take a photo dad - what kind of spawn is this? Look it up now.

On school trips, even in school grounds children can benefit from mobile technologies - had we had our iPhone with us we could have done a search, identified the spawn, and added info to nature watch or iSpot sites. 

History is being made every day - recording a long term record of school and wider environment through capturing moments like the one shown above or mini-beast surveys, recording macro species, recording local events and people and adding them to a school blog or website can accumulate into a valuable resource. Think ahead 20 years to students who will be able to look back at the school history with a far richer insight that has ever been possible. Tell children about that aspect of what they are doing and they will be enthused and proud of their work. 

There are many things that can be done to encourage children to use technologies outdoors such as creating a QR code treasure hunt around the school grounds or  for older children using QR codes to create an enhanced orienteering trail where they scan at each point on the trail, visit a web site to uncover online clues that involve activities such as evidencing their presence by taking photos of specified features. School trips to heritage sites or activity centres can be opportunities for creating virtual field trips for other pupils or other schools if recorded and added to blogs or other public containers. Pupil as reporter can be a very inspiring concept. BBC are currently running a project on pupil news reporting: Even without the support of the BBC schools can still embrace this concept with pupils reporting back to peers via a space on the school VLE a page in the school magazine etc.

Celebration is a good incentive - making one off cards by recording outdoor sculptures:
This seaweed Christmas tree took about 45 mins to make, the photo was then decorated with digitally added tinsel and a star and converted into a fairly unique Christmas card.

Garden petals making a bright message.

This one took a long time and the maker was very proud of it.

What kind of house would you like to live in? 

What kind of pet would you like?

Wow look what I found...

...and look what I found.

What big shiny eyes its got.

It is very common for schools to ask children not to bring cameras or phones on outdoor activity trips, that is understandable as many mobile technologies are fragile and easily lost. The record of trips is often captured by teachers or adult staff. It would make sense for schools or activity centres to purchase robust technologies such as 'tough cameras' that are fairly shock and waterproof, then to put them in the hands of the children and stand well back. Giving children the tools they need to take on roles such as: researcher, reporter, investigator, artist or explorer can provide a sense of self importance and that can have a significant impact on motivation to learn. Memories are great but a digital camera provides a tangible record they can be proud of. If they know they will be able to add them to the school VLE or upload them to a website that can only add to the incentive to get outside and learn.

A changing landscape of words

A changing landscape of words

Mid 90s
Most common Middle Few
Can't, complicated, technical Can't, complicated, technical Can
Don't want to Would like to do more Intend to do more
Don't need to - little point Interesting Wonderful, essential, future
Floppy discs, Word Processing, Spreadsheets, Logo, BBC (computer), printer, IT, Programming

Most common Middle Few
Can do a little Can Can't, complicated, technical
Interesting Intend to do more Don't want to
Would like to do more Wonderful, essential, future Don't need to - little point
Floppy discs, Office, PowerPoint, Photos, Web-sites, e-mail, dialup, ISDN, printer, interactive, ICT suite

Most common Middle ground Least frequent
Confident Can do a fair bit Complicated, not sure
Useful, valuable, empowering Useful, valuable, enhance Uncertain
Very useful, essential for future Would like to do more Need to learn
iPad, Apps, IWB, Flipcam, Youtube, Google, blogging, Smart Phone, Twitter, Facebook, VLE, cameras, Raspberry Pie, speech to text, Mobile, Broadband, coding, pervasive technologies, flipped classroom.
75,000 Apple compatible Apps released in the last 6 months 800,000 available.

Adoption is progressing, fear and suspicion are fading, educators are adapting.
Even amongst the enthusiasts 'overwhelming' is becoming a key word.
Managing Complexity is becoming a key skill - knowing what to use and when to use it.

Friday, 1 March 2013

In the classroom

In the Classroom

"We use ICT throughout the school and throughout the curriculum, we don't have separate ICT lessons, it is absolutely vital that the children become familiar with ICT. The on screen phonics lessons are absolutely superb and we use ICT for reading to re-engage the less enthusiastic children."
Dan Jewell, year 3+4 teacher / ICT coordinator, St Neot Primary Feb 2013

Technology is pervasive in Dan's school - the library is the first room pupils enter. The weather station is situated where anyone can look at it in passing. 

 Over the recent phase of smartphone / tablet development evolution has been rapid and it has often been the family who provide learners with their first exposure to emerging technologies. Many children use smart mobile devices and/or cutting edge games technologies at home, school can look outdated if it can't match what is at home. The technologies in the room shown below are good, they are well maintained, treated with respect and used to very good effect in this primary school. Until fairly recently education providers were usually ahead of most households as far as access to new technologies goes. Funding is a major issue across the sector, however; iPads are on their way in this school and many others.

I had an interesting chat with a participant on the day who is going totally iPad in his school. They intend giving the children a lot of ownership over the devices; allowing them to choose which apps they install, put their own music on them - personalising them. That is a very important concept for children, if allowed they will decorate their books, their bags, their bedrooms and customise themselves to affiliate with groups and imprint individual identity. Through allowing ownership of objects of desire, such as mobile devices, the school shows respect for the children. A similar approach is being deployed at the essa academy, a discussion with the principle and director showed there to be significant interest, by both staff and pupils, about their new iPads for all approach.

I had an interesting chat with a participant on the day who is going totally iPad in his school. They intend giving the children a lot of ownership over the devices; allowing them to choose which apps they install, put their own music on them - personalise them. That is a very important concept for children, if allowed they will decorate their books, their bags, their bedrooms and customise themselves to affiliate with groups and imprint individual identity. Through allowing ownership of objects of desire, such as mobile devices, the school shows respect for the children. Personal ownership is also preferable to the communal use of some hardware such as headphones through which the dreaded nit can rapidly spread or some skin / ear conditions might be passed on. 

Interactive White Boards
These are a fairly common feature in classrooms, they are not always used well, however; things have moved on since the time I met a teacher who has drawn on the screen with a whiteboard marker and never wanted to go near technology again afterwards. Julian had some thoughts on IWB use:
"Most teachers tend to either shy away from using the IWB altogether (I know!) or they simply use it as a screen for their PowerPoint presentations.

…you can navigate freely within and around your presentation but also get the children to interact with it and then use their content to aid the learning of others. For example a child comes forward and writes their version of a calculation (possibly wrong and definitely the wrong size - usually too small). It is possible within Notebook to quickly group and enlarge their writing so that it is visible to all then as a class make and annotate corrections. Once complete this can all then be grouped and shrunk, dragged to the corner of the screen ready to be enlarged at the end for your plenary once you have finished the rest of your delivery. Genius - in my opinion.
PS. Death by PowerPoint is still alive and well within education."
Back to Dan at St Neot who is not just using the IWB for showing a PowerPoint...

"Who wants to read what it says about mosquitoes?"
Me me me sir.

I didn't notice the twitching and fiddling and shuffling that used to happen when teachers asked children who wanted to read out of the big book. I did notice enthusiasm, engagement, pride - all essential elements in a good learning event. Technology does not need to be all bells and whistles and flashy stuff - straightforward, interactive, well designed, fit for purpose - that's enough to give the teacher an edge on learning.

"Drag the labels into place; which one goes where?"

"What do you call a picture with labels? - That's right its a ''Diagram'... on goes the label."

Well designed interactivity can be a wonderful supplement. In the days where books dominated, the answers were often in the back of the book, sometimes upside down, it was hard not to read more than one. Today interactive quizzes provide affirmation of success, there is no chance of accidentally cheating, there is no rubbed or scribbled over wrong answer left on the work. There is a sense of autonomy - achieving for themselves on a little self directed excursion within the huge journey through a school day.

Laptop group supervised by TA, pupils on differentiated tasks. 

Even word processing documents generate a sense of pride, mistakes can be rectified leaving no scar, the end product is clean and professional looking; something to be proud of.

Elements of game design are evident in a lot of educational software. Affirmation of success, reward, positive supportive comments, encouragement to try again. Children become immersed in well built software just like an avid reader or film buff will enter a state of almost living in the fiction. They often enter into dialogue with the machine, this may be internal or external dialogue, sometimes little bursts of an extended internal dialogue escape into the real world. Whereas this man-machine chatter can appear pointless it is often a dialogue based on a feedback loop between the child's individual perception of what is to be done, the child's actions, their interpretation of the machine's response to their actions and a renewed perception of what needs to be done. I have noticed sometimes they talk to themselves and the machine in a removed voice, as if the dialogue was from a commentator watching the game. "Talking it out" with the machine is as natural to many children as talking their way through any problem internally or out loud with their friends.

This kind of engagement has many of the characteristics of 'flow' or being in an 'optimal learning state' as discussed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalzi in 'Flow the Psychology of Happiness' and other works. A lad in my class used to pass my friend and I every morning on the way to school, he always had a ball and was mumbling to himself something like: "Moore goes round the outside, he is set up beautifully...he strikes...its a goal.. the crowd go wild..."  He sometimes arrived in class elated having won 5-0, occasionally he would give himself a hard game and arrive quiet and thoughtful. Our fairly new chemistry teacher picked up on his dialogue one day when asking him to demonstrate an experiment: "Johnson comes up to the desk, has he got every thing he needs: yes he has, the tripod is up, the burner in place, we have ignition..." he responded to the dialogue with exaggerated expression, even went into slow motion action replay. Something big happened that day, teacher came into our world, we became a team of helpful and focused commentators, the teacher cheered, we cheered everybody won. Chemistry lessons were always fun something to look forward too, homework was not a chore we wanted it to be good because we liked the teacher. That is one of the key drivers to raising standerds - great teacher pupil interactions.

Today many of the young parents who volunteer to help out in schools then become teaching assistants, will have experienced fairly pervasive exposure to digital technologies in school from a young age. Many will have home computers and/or a smartphone, in theory they should be taking to technology in the classroom like ducks to water but many are fairly nervous themselves or are in settings where teachers are not confident. There is a huge difference between being the child interacting with a whiteboard and being the TA who sets up the whiteboard activity. We need teaching staff who have the time to feel that same excited spirit of inquiry that children experience, teachers who come out of a lesson filled up and full of joy. Standards are very important but under the current complex and micromanaged system there is a preoccupation with the detail of the curriculum, with meeting attainment criteria targets, with planning and record keeping, maintaining position in league tables etc. Learning is time-tabled and prescribed, there is insufficient time for the big wide learning adventures that technology can offer. 

 After many years of having to draw from a very mixed bag of learning platforms that included many offerings that were complex to set up and administrate, there are new offerings that are well designed at last. One thing I no longer hear in the classroom and rarely hear from any of my students is the 'virtual' word. Virtual Learning Environment - what a misnomer; learning online or onscreen is really real, as real as any reality really. Like many schools, St Neot are looking forward to getting their new learning platform up and running, the weather station will link into it, there will be provision for online homework, blogs and places where parents can see what the children are achieving. The school are not rushing ahead; these things are sometimes better done step by step, making sure each part works well before releasing the whole.

"That is something that we are learning to use and the moment I am thoroughly excited about it. so instead of 'research this then write it in your book', it will  be 'research this put it on your blog or your discussion page'." Dan Jewell

Work focused learning

This is the first of a set of Blog posts adapted from a presentation at the Inside Government School Standards event February 28 2013


ULTRAversity Project

Ultralab Learning Technology Research Anglia...versity

BA  Learning Technology Research

Fully Online - Work Focused Learning - Patchwork Media and Text

Applied problem solving - Reflective practice - Action inquiry - Creative use of technologies - Rich media portfolios.

In the final year the students have to plan, arrange and deliver a research dissemination event to a work based audience.

A few years ago one of our students, a TA in a fairly large school, Skyped me the day before she was due to deliver her dissemination event. She was shaky and in need of reassurance to say the least. As well as the nerves there was a deep conviction that this move well beyond her comfort zone was going to be a significant step on her learning journey and she was determined to face up to it.
The evening after the event she told me she had watched her Head teacher giving a presentation to senior staff just before she was due to give a presentation on her undergraduate work based research findings. He stood in front of a screen full of poorly punctuated words and read them off the screen with his back to the audience casting occasional glances at the audience.

She Trembled during the Head's presentation and as she walked up to give hers.

She was well prepared:
Detailed event planning in the previous semester.
Slides that conveyed simple but deep messages.
Images that reinforced the messages.
Audio that enhanced the messages.
Audience interaction to ensure the messages were understood.

She shone Senior management and other staff were all impressed.

Over the next few weeks her findings were taken on board and used to enhance school procedure.

She trained the head and other staff how to design / deliver good presentations.
This cascaded
                 enhanced staff meetings
                                             better classroom display
                                                                                improved lesson delivery
                                                                                                                  new school website.
A once timid TA changed her school and became a proud graduate.

That was a situation that happened in 2009. As I write this post we are at the same point in the curriculum; most students have done their dissemination presentation and are analyzing audience feedback and reflecting on the experience.

Emma, a current final year student posted to our online community today, as you can see from her informal summary below; the dissemination event included two other BA LTT students who are also working in the same location. Senior management were impressed and want to make more use of the presentations, Emma was also invited to work with a member of senior management to improve existing presentation material.

1) It was interesting that although using the same technology all 3 presentations were unique. From the slide styles and themes to the way we all presented.

2) The technology chosen was effective in sharing the information and X had the added bonus of having to revert to backup when the internet decided to not work. She was calm and was prepared for that eventuality and her presentation ran just as smooth as if all had been well.

3) Reading through the feedback forms but also speaking with the staff on the night was a real confidence boost. The head teacher would like all 3 of us to share our work with all the staff. She said it was a shame that more had not been there to see all of the work we had done but also that she felt all 3 presentations would have an impact on the workplace and individual if the school and staff saw fit to act on the research.

4) The feedback forms have highlighted things that I would not have probably thought of. A few staff members have commented that it has really made them think and has had a knock on effect within their current practice already. They have used it as a chance to reflect on what they have been doing and a deeper knowledge has impacted the way they work.

5) I found that doing the presentations on the same night was beneficial to me. Setting up together and feeding off of the reassurance from colleagues really helped with my nerves and we were able to build each others confidence with the presentations we were about to deliver.

6) I learnt a lot from my colleagues’ research and I enjoyed taking part in the feedback process for them. Their forms were good and gave good opportunities to reflect and really think about what I had heard and seen. Y’s use of feedback half way through worked really well and was an original idea that I have not seen before. X presented her research in the form of a quiz and I really enjoyed actively participating in the presentation. It has helped me to remember lots of the information she shared too.
Emma, March 2013.

Such experiences are an accolade to our course and to the developing skills of our undergraduates, it is clear that the work focused learning strategies we require our students to explore can be valuable tools to help TAs meet personal development targets and can provoke significant change within their workplaces by contributing to wider organisational learning.

One of those small world coincidences brought me to live in a little village nestled on the edge of Bodmin moor where I met Phil, a student who had graduated from BA LTR then gone on through PGCE to become the reception class teacher in the village school. St Neot school is doing well being rated outstanding and 2nd in Cornwall in the league tables. That was one of the things that drew us to the village. As tutors and students never meet during the course I had no idea what Phil looked like but I remembered talking to Phil years ago about various corners of Cornwall and it felt like meeting an old friend ...for the first time.

What did Phil have to say about the course? Quite a lot and all positive - here is a little snippet.

"Lots of hard work but it was brilliant, I found the PGCE so easy afterwards. On day 1 I felt a little worried about technology..."

Julian was another star student, he is now making his way through GTP, we had a chat via mail in Feb 2013:
"BA LTR has opened up a spirit of inquiry within the cohort and made individuals challenge their use of technology.
It is curiosity and a willingness to experiment that will lead to change. If teachers do not experiment with, or try and work with, technology then they will never ever get close to being in a position to grasp its fitness for purpose and therefore the potential to add value to learning using technology in and outside the classroom.
Training is an issue (a big one) but it also needs an inquiring mind to be continually evaluating and amending because otherwise we become stagnant once more."
What I hear from the chalkface, via people like Phil and Julian, is that technology skills are essential for every practitioner  in today's classroom.  To get the most out of technology teachers need the space and the confidence to experiment. They need to join their students on a learning adventure and not worry too much about failing. Failure is just another opportunity for learning; it is only a problem if it leads to giving up on the quest for success or improvement.

Training is a complex area, it is not unusual for some people to perceive that they need lots of training and others to complain about too much training. The phrases 'not user friendly' and 'help guide' have cased to pervade conversations; software and hardware usually comes with a help guide and there are usually associated forums discussing tech problems or interesting things that can be done. They should be the first starting point in many cases. As it moves towards more natural interfaces technology is becoming something that can be explored using deduction, intuition and other natural applied problem solving strategies. Even with very young children most manage to work out how to interact with tablets fairly quickly even if mostly left to construct their own understanding. Where a new complex technology is implemented, such as a school wide learning platform, there may well be a need for in house training to speed up adoption and the development of expertise.

Technology is not yet a magical solution to achieving raised standards of achievement, it is an inescapable, wonderful and complex part of future learning for every pupil and every teacher.