Saying goodbye…how one student changed me as a teacher

imageI’ll be honest, I’m writing this with tears in my eyes and often falling. I’m torn between feeling the need to write, and wondering if it is somehow inappropriate. I hope you’ll bear with me.

This morning a former student of mine named Elliott died from cancer. He was just 19. I taught him for four years and first met him when he was in Year 8 and I was starting my NQT year. He was in the bottom set. All boys. A sink group some say. They were difficult. Obviously I was new so would say that anyway, but there were some real characters known across the school. Elliott wasn’t one of those. He wasn’t a ‘naughty boy’. He faced massive challenges. His mum had suddenly died the year before. No dad either. He suffered from Neurofibromatosis and as a result was only partially sighted, had difficulties with writing and comprehension, and wasn’t always too steady on his feet. But…he always had a go. I don’t believe I ever heard him complain. He took life as it was, and just got on. Didn’t ask for special treatment or expect it.

Elliott changed me as a teacher, and probably didn’t ever realise quite how much. It was November of my NQT year and I was really struggling with this class. One day I remember blurting out something like ‘why won’t you all just give me a chance, I’m trying to help’ and his response will stay with me forever: ‘what’s the point of us getting to know you Miss, you’ll only leave us like everyone else does’. It cut me to the core. The sense of abandonment that a lot of the kids had. Either physical abandonment of people leaving (including a high turnover of staff I guess!) or perhaps apathetic abandonment – of teachers assuming these kids would never amount to anything anyway and so not pushing them or trying their best. It changed me. Made me realise I wanted to work where I was really needed. Wanted to give kids a chance. Wanted to not give up on them.

By February I had the class onside. They realised I wasn’t going anywhere. We had fun. We shared. I learned lots about their experiences too. We had good discussions. They weren’t angels but we made progress and they did well. They respected me and we had each other’s backs – they knew I would support them, and equally they supported me. I remember one time when a new lad joined the class who was quite violent. We got off to a bad start when he took offence at me asking him to not damage another child’s book and when he stormed out of the room he pushed me into the filing cabinets. The reaction of the rest of the boys was protectiveness of me, and Elliott stood there saying ‘you better apologise to Miss, she’s our Miss, and you’ll have to answer to us otherwise’! This from a lad with tumours growing in his fragile body bless him! (Obviously I did talk to them about threatening language but you get what I mean!)

One lad changed my attitude to teaching and my way of dealing with situations. I look for reasons more, try to find solutions (not excuses), I don’t give up straight away on what looks hopeless. He wasn’t a naughty lad, but he had an influence on them. The toughest kids respected him. And seeing the comments on the news and Facebook in memory of him today shows that he made a difference to a lot of people. One comment really tugged at me where Elliott had said he wished he had had a talent. Heartbreaking. He did. His talent was being Elliott, a brave young man who didn’t complain and just had a go despite everything. Can’t ask for a better talent than that. Thank you.

“The greatest battle is not physical but psychological. The demons telling us to give up when we push ourselves to the limit can never be silenced for good. They must always be answered by the quiet, the steady dignity that simply refuses to give in. Courage. We all suffer. Keep going.” (Graeme Fife)

GA conference 2015 materials #GAConf15

Well it’s been a long time coming but I’ve been a wee bit distracted with leading an Iceland trip and getting back to school mode! The Geography Association conference this year was ace. Really enjoyable. Thank you so much to all of you who came to my Revision Games workshop! I was truly surprised to have standing room only and flattered by the lovely comments you gave in feedback. I really hope that you can find one tiny thing that is useful and then take it and make your own.

Below is the presentation from the Revision Games session. If you download the file you can see in the comments box in powerpoint which explain each section.

I was also privileged to help with delivering a Discover the World workshop alongside Simon Ross sharing the website resources from Discover Geography . This excellent site shares teacher resources for Key Stage 3 – 5 for a range of locations including Iceland, Norway, Azores, etc. that have been created by teachers from experiences in the field and can be used before, during and after trips or as virtual fieldwork and just great case studies. I shared some materials from the website that had been created from a teacher inspection trip to the Azores, and just explained how I have modified and used these materials for myself in the classroom. If you want to have details on the different sites and what we saw in the Azores, then check through my posts from the visit in April 2014.

Finally, this year’s GA conference saw the first ever TeachMeet courtesy of David Rogers‘ badgering which was an epic success. Lucy Oxley and the GA team organised a fantastic event, and it was thanks to sponsorship from Discover the World. When we first stepped into the venue I got nervous – worried we wouldn’t pull it off, that nobody would come, that it was such a big room and I would muck up, all sorts! But it was so so good. The reason it was good? Purely down to the range of presenters in the room, the Twitterati interacting online (thanks to Rich Allaway for live streaming it), and the networking and rapport going on in the room itself. Particular credit has to go to Alan Parkinson for sharing some great ideas in a hilarious way (‘who is David Rogers anyway?’!) and to Paul Berry for closing the show in style. I had known Paul as a fairly quiet, unassuming, gentle kinda chap with a cheeky smile and penchant for vino…but he blew me away with his presentation at the end. Coming up to retirement in a few months he bounced all over the stage squawking blow-up parrots, throwing inflatable globes around, sharing all sorts of whacky and brilliant ideas, and showing that he is a brilliant educator. Loved it. All the other presentations were fantastic as well, and great to see new people who haven’t spoken before too – I merely mention Alan and Paul because they made me laugh so much. Epic evening so thank you all. David has a full run down of the event and the Google Hangout video archive on his blog here. Cannot wait for next year’s!

My own TeachMeet 6 minutes was based on a title thrown on me: ‘Bill Shakespeare was a Geographer’ and just has a few ideas with quotes from text for how to embed good old Bill and literacy in general into geography lessons. Ticks the boxes of ‘literacy in every lesson’ and ‘we are all teachers of English’ as well as just being good fun, useful, enlightening, and ultimately improving literacy and writing analysis which good geographers have to be able to do. If you want to know what I was rambling on about during each slide then look at the video on David’s blog, scroll to about 44mins and you’ll be able to hear some waffle.

All in all, GA Conf 2015 was great. Really enjoyable sessions attended and great to take part in. Roll on Derby 2016.

What’s the point of residential fieldtrips? Are they worth it?

I just got back from a field-trip to Iceland with forty students and my team of staff. It was epic. We were straight back into teaching and the new term today after arriving back at school at 10pm last night, but it was totally worth it.

This year is the ‘Year of Fieldwork’ but I still hear / see so many conversations that include ‘why bother’, ‘it’s too much hassle’, ‘my school won’t let me out’, ‘why should I organise it’, ‘it’s too risky’, and see conscientious teachers worrying about benefit vs cost and whether trips are worth the effort. Well, they are. End of. Because it’s not about the hassle, the paperwork, the emails to the British Council, the liaising with parents, the money collecting, the itinerary building, the bag packing, the passport checking. All of the minutiae isn’t worth focusing on. We say life is a journey, that destinations aren’t important, that learning is a process and that the end point isn’t always the actual achievement – well I think that fits to trips as well. Does it really matter whether every student has a better grasp of coastal processes or volcanism at the end, will the trip itself make them more successful at an exam? No, not in itself. Five days in Iceland doesn’t pass an exam, but it doesn’t half make a life changing difference to some students. Because what matters to the students themselves on a residential, and what they remember most, isn’t necessarily what we as teachers are focusing on. Are they bothered whether they stop for twenty or thirty minutes at a waterfall, or are they more concerned with whom they sit next to on the bus? I’ll be honest, I didn’t have forty students asking me deep and meaningful geographic questions every minute of the day – but I did have deep and meaningful conversations, and saw students having them for themselves.

So why bother with residentials? This was some of the feedback from the students last night that I overheard while they were updating our trip blog (www.geogdebens.wordpress.com if you’re interested):

“I really loved spending time with people I hadn’t known before, and finding out we had become good friends by the end”

“I was dead nervous before the flight as it was my first time flying. I was sitting next to a student I hadn’t met before and Miss. They kept talking to me and reassuring me, and making me laugh. Before I knew it I was confident, and I had a new friend. Now I just want to travel everywhere!”

“I loved every minute of the trip. The teachers were fun and I learned so much. But best was getting to know my friends in a whole new way, learning to look after ourselves.”

“I liked that the teachers gave us freedom and trusted us. We could make mistakes but knew that they were there to look after us and help if we needed it. I felt safe to try something. I’ve never crossed a river by hopping stones before, never been on a glacier. I was scared but now I’m confident.”

“I’ve never walked that far before, and when I first started up the glacier and up the waterfall I didn’t think I could make it. But I wanted to have a go, and Sir kept me going and chatting and distracted me from worrying. I realised I could do more than I thought and that fear had been holding me back. My mum was proud when I told her I did it.”

“The trip was epic. We nicknamed the teachers and it was good getting to know them in a different way. They helped us when we had an argument with people in our room and I learned to ignore the little things and not get so stressed.”

As teachers we might focus on what we want students to get out of a trip, in an academic sense maybe. Students will have different priorities. There might be a disconnect between our disparate aims unless we are careful. Of course this is natural to some extent, but no reason why we can’t cross over more.

What do students worry about / ask about most on trips? Easy: food and friendships! The most often asked questions were to do with who they could sit next to, who they shared a room with, what free time they got, what food they will have. The only tears we had were on the last night when a room key was hidden as a prank and this caused hurt feelings of ‘they don’t like me’ before being resolved and forgotten. Right up there alongside glamorous glacier hiking and Blue Lagoon bathing in the ‘what we enjoyed most’ category was the time spent with friends, the ‘girly chats before bed’, the walking and talking together, the food.

As far as I’m concerned, a residential trip is multi-purpose. I took mixed year 9 and 10s, all GCSE Geography students but a wide range of abilities and personalities and circumstances. I had some with serious health concerns, some child protection children, some first-time travellers, some world jet-setters, all sorts. It wasn’t a ‘clipboard-tastic’ trip. If someone has paid £850 and gone in their Easter holiday then I want them to enjoy themselves. The kids called it ‘learning by accident’, which I love. We had snowball fights, laughed at ourselves, told stories, shared experiences but also learned about waterfalls by being inside one, learned about waves by listening to them and watching them smash the shore, learned about glaciers by climbing on them. But on top of this we watched students blossom from being shy to being outgoing, learning how to hold conversations, learning independence, sorting their own problems (if you lose your room key, you try to sort it out first), dealing with fear, building relationships, becoming more well rounded young people.

Residentials also have a purpose for the staff involved. We bonded ourselves, having not all worked together before. The science NQT had some ‘in at the deep end’ learning experience (and can check of some standards in his folder!) – you could see his confidence clearly rise throughout, and his presence with students change both out there and now back in school. The non-teacher learned all sorts of subject knowledge and logistics planning. The member of SLT got to let their hair down and build relationships with teachers and students in a different way. The returning-to-work Geographer had some in depth hands-on CPD and came away buzzing.

On the last night meal we had speeches and awards. Our newly appointed Head Girl made a thank you speech to staff that made me well up. She thanked us all, but particularly made me well up by thanking me for the opportunity that they had never had before and for ‘making life better’ since I joined. This trip wasn’t about the geography, it was about the students. And as far as I’m concerned, it always will be. Why am I a teacher? For spine tingly, eyes-welling up moments like that. Was it worth the hassle of 6 months of planning? Hell yes. Staff happy, students happy. And when else do you get to be on a trampoline under the northern lights with a bunch of teenagers chatting about life?!

Happy birthday to me! (Or ‘On being grateful’)

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In case the title is too subtle, today is my birthday. 33 (gulp) years ago I came into the world, and the process nearly killed myself and my poor mum more than once. In a very traumatic labour I ended up without oxygen for quite some time and my parents were told I would have suffered trauma to my brain and highly unlikely I would develop ‘normally’. Mum was given the ultimatum of ‘get her out or you both die’ and then had me whisked away before she could even see me or hear any reassuring cries. I was in the baby special unit for a while and when my brother (age 7) first saw me all swaddled up, tubed, and in furry mittens for warmth his plea to dad was ‘I think it’s best we don’t worry mummy right now, but the baby has paws’.

The moral of the story? Just because something looks impossible, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And just because someone who is a specialist and highly qualified tells you something doesn’t mean they will be right. Mum defied the odds getting us to both survive, and somehow I turned out ok (I know Rogers and Lockyer will contest this :p ). My family says I was born and survived for a reason, and I look forward to finding that reason one day.

Ten years ago today I accepted a wedding proposal. It was romantic, the ring was the right amount of sparkly and pink, the right words were said. But it was the wrong decision.

The moral of the story? Just because something looks beautiful or because words are what you want to hear doesn’t mean it’s good. Take education: we may rant and rave that policies are unattractive and not what we want to hear, but does it really matter? We can change things to suit ourselves. No policy will ever sound good to everyone after all. They’re not beautifully crafted or wonderful words – that bit is down to us to make happen. And just because something was a bad decision doesn’t mean good can’t come from it – I wouldn’t have become a teacher if I hadn’t made that poor decision, wouldn’t have been trained by amazing people, and wouldn’t have met my best friends.image

So what about today? Today involved: pancakes, wine, awesome food, leopard print gifts (lol!), glass making flame-off, a fab personalised map, and furry cuddles.

Today I am grateful for the amazing family and friends I have. Who put up with me, excuse me being busy during term times, come to my aid when needed, help with sorting classrooms and kids books, talk through decisions with me and allow me to rant and vent, and who always encourage me. I saw almost all the people I love most throughout today and I just want to say thank you. I wouldn’t be who I am or doing what I do if it wasn’t for all of you. I hope I do the same for you all in some way at some time too. I don’t need much, and don’t expect presents, I am just grateful for time and lovely words.

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Message to my younger self…or what I wish I’d known

Jo_Darren_youngAnother part of the #28daysofwriting Staffrm challenge.

I’m sure we all have plenty of things we wish we had known when we are younger. And how much of the time do we then try and force (not always helpfully) that information on the students in our care? “You’ll regret this…. when you’re older”, or “when I was your age….”, or “I wish someone had said this to me when I was your age….”, etc. After all, what is the perk of getting older if it means we can’t pass on such wisdom as ‘don’t run with pointy objects’ to the next generation?!

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The first image was from a family climbing trip when I ‘earned’ my first climbing boots, and the second image from a friends’ teenage trip to Cornwall. Such innocent times. All that mattered was being outdoors, friends and family, pets, and food. So maybe things haven’t changed that much… ;-)

So, what would I have told myself in my youth? 

1) Relax. I went to an all girls’ grammar school. I was fortunate and had teachers I (mostly) liked but we were always under pressure to achieve and exceed. It was frowned upon to say that your ambition was to have a family, and you were schooled from day one to be career minded and ambitious. I didn’t really want that, I wanted simple things. We weren’t encouraged to spend time learning useful things like cooking as it was considered ‘sooooo anti-feminist’. You were seen as failing if you dropped a mark at any point, and guilt tripped for letting the team down. I didn’t learn to relax, and didn’t feel I had time to do other pursuits.

2) Learn a musical instrument. I always fancied the clarinet but we couldn’t really afford it and I wasn’t disciplined enough to teach myself. I did learn to play the piano, ish, but struggled with reading music as left it too late really. It’s a shame as I love music, and love singing, and my whole family are so musical.

3) Don’t fall so hard and fast. Don’t marry the first guy that asks ;-) Mum always said ‘more hast, less speed’ and she’s always right grrr.

4) Maintain a foreign language. I loved learning French and Spanish, but they fade so quick. Why is it that random Latin verbs still stick in my head but useful phrases in languages that still exist do not?!

5) Grow a thicker skin sooner. Risks are fun and exciting. You don’t have to laugh and pretend it’s all ok, admitting weaknesses is not itself a sign of weakness. People who admit they need help aren’t necessarily helpless.

One thing I do know. My teenage self would have laughed hysterically to find I’m a teacher. Who’s laughing now eh?! ;-)

Moments of Wonder: spine tingly times

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At school students in Key Stage 3 (just year 7 & 8 for us) have scheduled ‘project style homeworks’ in non-core subjects which are extended pieces of work designed to encourage more independence, pride and creativity. We can set optional homework at other times of course should we wish to, but the idea is to ease workload for staff and students so that what is produced is of much higher quality and takes more effort. Rather than setting something for the sake of it. I know there are always arguments and dilemmas about homework: what to set, when, how often, etc. . Personally I see no point in homework unless it has real purpose and you do something meaningful with it, so generally this means consolidating / testing what was done in class or preparing for the next lesson. But the project homeworks are different in a way. They are still meant to summarise learning, but are mainly for developing independent enquirimagey and celebrating learning. The projects are effort graded and rewarded with prizes and house points as well.

Today was hand-in day for Year 7. They have been studying Amazing Places and their project is one based on the excellent ‘How to be an Explorer of the World’ book which provides quirky interesting activities to do to encourage fieldwork, curiosity and seeing the world through different means. The three tasks were first chosen and developed by Sam Atkins and have tiers of Gold, Silver, Bronze to choose from for challenge. Kids can ‘pick’n’mix’ the challenges so long as they do something for each task: 1) distinctive features of a place, 2) your favourite street, 3) sound mapping that favourite street.

imageWhen we introduced the project I emphasised that we wanted students to just experience the outside, get curious, explore, and just have a go. The emphasis was on being unique and creative. Although I recommended certain presentation / submission styles if they wanted them I set the challenge that they each do something different from others. I think many would probably think the task is a bit mad and hippy but I just wanted to encourage children to have moments of exploration and spend time appreciating their environment and being creative, rather than always doing the same type of activity or it always having an ‘assessment’ element. Just doing something to be proud of and celebrate is enough at times.

So today was showcase day. And wow. Just wow. I was honestly blown away with the effort they had put in. Everything had a unique slant. They all wandered round interrogating each other about where they had been, why they chose that place, the unique features, and we just celebrated everything. I was buzzing. They were buzzing. They were so proud of their work. We had a giant board game, videos, miniature museums in a box, Lego models, even a Minecraft world of their local area. In every class I visited of my colleagues as well there was a real feeling of pride in what had been accomplished, and some truly impressive individual efforts. All credit to the team for encouraging the students so well. It was such a spine tingly day, just celebrating awesomeness. Good times.

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Performance Management – hammer down or enjoy the process?

Picture1We are mid-way through the academic year. Wahoooooooo! I’ll just pause a moment and let you check your calendars, synchronise watches, create a countdown (as if you haven’t already :-p), panic slightly about Year 11 time, and generally just breathe it in. (Please don’t gloat if you are in an independent school and only have about 10 weeks left before your 3 months holiday :-p

Today was my mid-way performance management review with my line manager. I’m always slightly apprehensive about such things because it’s difficult to know how others perceive both you as a person and your professional attributes and abilities. My line manager is very professional, thorough, and provided me with a lovely glowing review which I hadn’t expected (of course I’m dead easy to manage, perfect at my job, tick every box and therefore there was no other choice than to be so glowing…I jest).

Although I do feel competent (most days), and can be feisty about ‘doing the right thing’, I do crave that reassurance. Not in a ‘there there’ cotton wool kind of way. I also like to know how else to improve as this job is never a done deal (blessing or curse?). But as much as I enjoy freedom and it being assumed that I’m ‘transforming’ the department (with help from a great team of course but a work in progress) I do still have that little girl inside that needs to hear from someone else. I’m more of a carrot than stick person I suppose. Yet despite liking to hear positives, I also find it quite hard to accept. I tend to turn the compliment into a joke, or suggest something more needing to be done. Is this a teacher thing generally? I come across educators pretty often who are actually shy, praise-resistant, lacking confidence – and they (like me) maintain a professional facade the rest of the time, putting on our ‘game face’. I’ve often said that teaching is acting. In normal life (is there such a thing?) I don’t like making all the decisions, or being bossy, or having a plan. Our personas at school are maybe quite different to at home.

Anyway, this post wasn’t for self-congratulation but reflection about the process. We had PM twilight today and an activity akin to speed dating with pairs sharing targets, progress and ‘proud moments’ from their PM year so far. It wasn’t to be an embarrassment, but to be an honest reflection and mutual encouragement. It’s great to hear what others are doing! To see what collective aims we all have and how we fit into that whole school jigsaw. Performance management can, and should, be a celebration. Sure we are always going to have new targets, and the bar will keep rising, and we can always improve, but part of that process is celebrating what is going well. After all, isn’t that what we do with students? WWW/EBI? I remember one GCSE results day when Geog results had risen and I was feeling cheered but having a senior colleague immediately say ‘yes it’s ok, but it’s not where it should be’. Granted that was true, and we couldn’t be complacent, but there is a time to just enjoy the moment before stepping into the fray again. We needed to take some time to celebrate the progress so far, rather than immediately moving on to the next thing. It would be demoralising otherwise.

So take time, make PM positive.

5 Daily Essentials via staffrm.io

Over on staffrm there’s been a trend developing on ‘5 daily essentials’. The essentials that get us through the working day.

It sounds a bit like something from an advert doesn’t it? Reminded me of the old shampoo adverts and ‘what essentials do you take into the shower’. Anyway the topic made me think about what makes something essential. In normal life my essentials are the living breathing people (and animals ;-) of course) I love and whom I wish were around me more. I’m geographically separated from the most important people in my life and they are my essentials. And chocolate of course. And cake. And mountains and places to explore. Mmmm. I digress.

So what is essential in my classroom / school-bag?

1. Water. I drink a LOT of water in school. I’ve not yet grown up enough to drink tea or coffee, although mocha is making an appearance now. But at school it’s all about the water. Whatever our teaching style we spend a lot of time speaking, projecting, chatting. And we do (I hope) use the old grey matter quite a bit. The job is stressful. It’s busy. There are lots of minute or not so minute decisions to make every day, often with little warning and little time to consider. We may not get outside, have dry stale (and most likely child-germ filled) recycled air pumped round all day and plenty of kids sneezing. I notice immediately if I’m dehydrated. And as soon as I gulp that water down it’s like feeling a sponge in my brain get a shower. Plus I like to think I’m role modelling to students that water is important.

2. iPad. Other brands are available. I have the iPad mini for convenience. In a pink case, oh yeah. I use during meetings to flag up / record / make notes. I like Google Docs for sharing SoWs / booking resources / recording minutes with the team, OneDrive for sharing resources with kids (use Dropbox for staff), and Evernote for making notes – especially CPD. We have ‘ERIC’ (Everyone Reading In Class) time every afternoon and I’ll sit there with my tutor happily reading away (sometimes it’s the only time I get to!) from iBooks then chatting to the kids about their books. Then on the way home I’ve got in the habit of plugging in an Audible audiobook to unwind with. Currently Ludlum’s ‘The Icarus Agenda’.

3. Box of treats. Edible. For rewards or for cheering up the team. Amazing what a few sweets or chocolates can do for morale. This does need replenishing quite often!

4. Remote clicker. Maybe not essential but I do love it. Love the freedom it brings for me or anyone in my room to ‘step away from the desk’. It means I can be anywhere in the room, subtly intervening or helping out, or just sitting upon the lockers on the side referring to something out the window (I like to perch, I’m not an ‘centre stage’ person and don’t like standing out). Plus kids love it when they get to have a go.

5. Something on the wall to remind me why I do the job. Like this:

I could also add in there about shoes which I’m sure many would agree with. The sensible ones amongst you would think about comfort, durability, posture, reducing back stress, etc. I usually prioritise style. But then I’m a girl who used to be a retail manager. And I have a lot of shoes. But it’s actually something of a nice conversation starter with kids. So perhaps I could claim some sort of pedagogical slant….what do you think Rachel Orr? ;-)

‘Manglish’ – or putting the Maths & English in

This was written as part of the Staffrm #28daysofwriting and since I’ve been spending time writing posts on there every day it seems to make sense to add over them here! So here it is.

BeBo getting his reading on
BeBo getting his reading on

I remember at a previous school a few years ago when summer GCSE results dropped to floor level…and all eyes turned to the poor Maths department. Suddenly it was ‘them vs us’, they were the ones who had ‘let the school down’. Spotlight scrutiny was placed on them whilst others wandered round feeling slightly smug or perhaps a little self-righteous that ‘it wasn’t me’. My best friends were in that department, and I knew just how hard they were slogging to get kids to make progress. There were many contributing factors but largely they simply didn’t have the support needed: they needed the rest of the school to be a team. The following year results went up, but now others moaned about losing their curriculum time in order to increase Maths lessons. Then the next year it was English’s turn to have a drop. Different circumstances in some ways, but similar responses. The general vibe was still ‘how could they let this happen’ – as if the rest of us could have done better.

Schools still act in silos. Islands of separate identities with internalised strengths and weaknesses that keep themselves worlds apart. It’s all well and good having whole school numeracy and literacy policies, but until it becomes the everyday language of every teacher and until every one of us accepts responsibility for English and Maths results then really we are still just paying lip service. I say this as someone who has a love of literacy, and who is Numeracy coordinator (don’t ask how that happened, I have no idea). Teachers in my current school do have a good team ethos, and at last INSET we chose various training sessions to develop our own literacy or numeracy as it is important to keep ourselves up to speed not just in our own subject areas. But the key thing is consistency. Consistently using the right language (ideally same as in ‘official’ Maths and English classes), consistently making explicit to learners that ‘now we’re developing your literacy skills’, consistently using the same techniques (as a geographer it’s frustrating finding that Maths and Science use different methods for the same graph!), and consistently embedding Maths and English exercises within our curriculum – whatever subject.

I bought Lisa Jane Ashes ‘Manglish’ book today (admittedly when I first saw the title I thought it was a translation dictionary of ‘man English’ but let’s be honest, could such a thing really exist ;-) ?). I’ve only flicked through briefly so far but it’s the simple statement she asks us to ask ourselves that resonated: asking ‘where is the Maths (or English) in that?’ for any activity. We should do this every lesson! I’ve been observing my team this week and seen some great literacy and numeracy activities, but each time it needed to be made explicit to learners that ‘here comes the maths part’. Why are we shy about saying we are doing something normally found in another subject? Are we afraid children will accuse us of poaching lessons?! Isn’t it about time we showed learners that we, as professionals, can teach ANYTHING and EVERYTHING in our lessons? Time to raise the bar, to accept responsibility. At the end of the day: Manglish matters.

#BETT2015 Creative GCSE presentation

So this weekend I visited the BETT exhibition and TeachMeet. I haven’t been to #tmbett for a couple of years and had remembered it as being overwhelmingly big, impersonal and too rushed. Friday’s TM was, however, a good event. The atmosphere was buoyant and cheerful, there was jovial conversation between everyone there, the presentations were light but meaningful, and I even learned a few things from them. Huzzah! And of course @lisibo made some amazing cakes ;-) So thank you to the likes of Ian Addison and Dawn Hallybone for arranging it all.

On the Saturday I spent some time on the RM Stand with @ukedchat for a live chat with Andy Knill about our favourite apps in education, particularly in Geography and this will appear on the site later in the week. It’s always good to talk about what we use and how as it forces you to more critically evaluate the purpose of something. Do I use Twitter in the classroom for real benefit or because it is trendy? Are apps / sites / tech used wisely? Does what I do encourage engagement and achievement or is it just a gimmick? Having to rationalise and reason what I do and why is quite invigorating; a good reminder to myself if nothing else.

I also enjoyed some time on the Microsoft Education stand catching up with folks. Minecraft seemed to be the most popular part of the show with Ray Chambers doing a grand job explaining how he’s used it in class. This is something I’m starting to play around with myself. I can see the benefits of encouraging collaboration, and obviously learning coding, and have seen some very low ability children voluntarily create whole landscapes and then be able to talk about them and this lead to a greater depth of verbal and written literacy as a result. Something to consider anyway.

I was really honoured to be given the opportunity to present at BETT myself, in the Learn Live Secondary area. I was pretty nervous beforehand but had a lovely audience who smiled at appropriate moments and even forgave me when I threw the remote clicker around ;-)

Below is the presentation I shared, and a rough transcript of what it was about.

Slide 1 – Self explanatory!

Slide 2 – Just showing some of the main thoughts or concerns that teachers have been sharing about the new GCSEs. The focus of my talk was to hopefully encourage that there is still room to be creative, and that we as educators have a responsibility to be developing more skills in all students through any means, not just for the exams culture.

Slide 3 – Linking to Google Teacher Academy and the fact that no matter what country we came from, what phase we are, or what subject we teach, there is still a consistency that teachers (and students) are risk averse. We live in a bubble where we are aiming for a mysterious outside world that is reliant on getting certain grades, and while I’m not disputing this or down-playing it I believe that teachers have a responsibility to bend and break the frameworks in order to develop other skills. Tech is all well and good but at the end of the day students sit exams with a pen and paper. And passing a written test is all great but in the workplace you need to problem solve, collaborate, deal with failures. And being able to build relationships, communicate, play, is all part of growing up too. So (to quote David Rogers) we have a duty to subvert the statutory, in order to create what should be mandatory.

Slide 4 – We need to build time for messy learning in. It helps to break up the stress – for everyone concerned!

Slide 5 – BETT is full of shiny new electronic tech, but there is plenty of fun to be had with good old fashioned tech as well.

Slide 6-7 – Jigsaws. Blank ones available on eBay (other retailers also available!). Students can make revision mindmaps, diagrams, Q+A patterns and then play together. In one of my favourite examples I’ve seen a ‘jeopardy’ style jigsaw with the questions and answers mixed up.

Slide 8 – Snakes and Ladders. Decision making. Students have to create ‘chance’ or ‘event’ cards before hand, e.g. ‘earthquake strikes Haiti’ or ‘international aid sent to Japan’. When they land on a snake or a ladder they take one of the chance/event cards. If it is something positive then they can go up, if negative then they have to go down.

Slide 9 – Artefacts. Get hands on and messy! In Geography I’ve used bags of sediment from a river and keywords then students have to sort them into the correct order for a river profile. Or using food to make models, like coastal cake craft or model coral polyps. Getting hands on builds picture and muscle memory, helps to visualise, and makes abstract concepts more manageable.

Slide 10-11 – Scrabble. I’ve used in Geography and in my Numeracy intervention sessions. I was surprised at how much kids like it! Keyword building and points make prizes. Speed scrabble to make as many words as possible on a particular topic, e.g. hazards.

Slide 12-13 – Musical Chairs. I’ve mentioned these before at my TLAB session as a revision tool. Again this is just another method for Q+A but does work. Students take part in having to create the questions as well as the answers, and the musical but is just for fun but surprisingly makes them feel very under pressure.

Slide 14-15 – Paper Planes. Ever had a problem with these in school?! More often than not the most dangerous thing in the classroom for disruption is the humble pencil/pen and paper. But these can be harnessed. For example, a student writes a question or statement on a piece of paper, turns it into a paper plane and throws to someone else to ask it. Or the case study option: student answers a case study question in full then throws to three other students who in turn, with different colour pens, highlight ‘key words’, ‘place specific fact’, and ‘developed points’ before the last person gives a final score and a comment then returns it.

Slide 16-18. Keyword twister and Jenga. You can see these explained on another post here.

Slide 19 – Lego. Good for construction and for numeracy! I’ve used with making models of settlements or earthquake proof buildings, but also in numeracy. For example, you allocate different lego piece shapes or colours with a numeric value then students have 2 minutes to make the shape of an animal or a building, then at the end of the time have to calculate the value of their shape. Highest value wins.

Slide 20-21 – Board Games. Make your own version of classic games. The aim of Pointless is you ask questions on a topic and students have to get the most obscure answer possible (so if you ask the whole class then students who have unique answers will win) – the lowest points win. 5 Second Rule: literally a naming / stating game. You are given a category (e.g. name 3 river landforms) and have only 5 seconds to name all three. Articulate is a describing game based on key terms, definitions, case studies and similar to Taboo there are words you cannot say. And Charades is the same but acting out!

Slides 22-23 – Balloons. Students write questions on a balloon, blow it up (with a pump!) and throw to someone else to answer. Use soft felt pens so it doesn’t burst!

Slide 25-26 – Using OneDrive for collaborative revision. OneDrive is available as part of Office 365 or you can get a free Microsoft account to create documents online and store in the cloud. You can share these documents and collaborate live with others even if they do not have an Office account. In school, Year 10 and Year 11 have a shared folder with past papers, model answers, example lesson ppts and more importantly collaborative revision work. For example, year 10 were working on Settlement and at the end of the unit worked in groups to complete a OneNote notebook with different sections of the topic so that they can all share.

Slide 27-30 – Triptico. Has a free version or paid version. A web based app that can be downloaded and includes various tools from timers to photo selectors or quiz makers.

Slide 31 – Fotobabble. Available on any platform and web-based. Take a photo on a device, then record audio over the photo for up to a minute. Great for revision ‘speaking flash cards’. These can then be shared with others via email. Also good for virtual fieldwork!

Slide 32 – Photosynth. Another photo tool, this one from Microsoft and linked to Bing maps. You can stitch and create amazing 360 panoramas using a guided photo app, then when it is stitched you can zoom in and out of areas. Good for virtual fieldwork and as a prompt for revising landforms, places, processes, etc,.

Slide 33 – Minecraft. I’m only just starting to dabble with this. I’m not a coder or anything like that but students came to me a few weeks ago asking if they could use Minecraft for their homework. I said yes and they brought in a video tour of their landscape that was a real access-point to their own verbal literacy. They could articulate what they had created, the landforms and features, why they had chosen then. And they had collaborated to do this. The website minecraft.edu has various resources and tutorials available that other teachers have shared, and there is a programming book available from Microsoft Education via Partners in Learning. The minecraft.edu site has resources such as example worlds like the Tropical Rainforest challenge that guides students through challenges and concepts such as resource management, tribal conflict, land use, deforestation, etc,.

Slide 34-35. Microsoft Partners in Learning free tools reminder. Join the network and find free resources, software and case studies of what other teachers are trying.

Slide 36 – Google Forms. Use this tool to make simple quizzes, or get students to create them for each other. Really only takes minutes and share-able.

So there we go. Basically just different random ways of asking questions or knowledge checking, but it all helps to break up the normal routine. Plus having time constraints or ‘competitive pressure’ like that found in games situations helps with learning how to cope with exam pressure and stress. So, don’t be risk averse, just have a go. And if it doesn’t work? No matter, learn to fail and then get over it. Build some ‘bounce-back-ability’.

“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.” C.S.Lewis

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"I am still learning" (Michelangelo)

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