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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End of 2014 thoughts #nurture1415

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

So, the end of 2014 already? Well that went quickly! I don’t seem to be able to find my end of year post from last year, nor my start of year post this year, which is odd! But I can imagine the sorts of things I would have written. I don’t do New Year’s resolutions so I would have just written that I was hopeful for a positive year with a healthier family and that I would do a good job at work. I’m a simple enough girl, and have simple dreams. I know what I want to become, I just don’t know how to get there.

I’ve enjoyed reading the #nurture1415 posts that others have written. It’s inspiring to see the wonderful things that have happened in personal or professional lives, and challenging seeing the aspirations for 2015. One of my best friends gave me an empty jam jar last year at New Year (I know what you’re thinking, she wasn’t being cheap!). In fact we all had one in our group. The jar came with a challenge: to fill it with memories of things that made us laugh, smile, made us proud during 2014 which we would then all look back on at New Year in 2015. This friend has subsequently had a horrible year herself, and yet she still has things to put in that jar and I’m so proud of the way she has dealt with everything. I’ve loved sitting back and listening to my friends chatting when we get together, and hearing of their accomplishments – we’re getting so grown up nowadays and every one is making a difference in their own school and in their families. I’m so blessed to be part of this group of friends who have each other’s backs no matter what, and to have been born into an epic family who would do anything for each other.

So, what has 2014 involved?

I’m not following a particular format, sorry about that, but I’m a bit rebellious I suppose 😉 2014 had plenty of challenges, and saw the loss of loved ones too, but these are some of my highlights (in no particular order).

Running. Lol, did not think I’d be writing that! A year ago I decided to start running regularly. I’d been challenged / inspired by seeing the likes of David Rogers or Dai Barnes or other Twitter runners with their regular updates. I’d loved running as a child/teenager but only ever sprint distance. I still remember trying to keep up with my brother and him pulling me along when he would go running (I was very popular at my all girls secondary school when they realised my bro was the local runner ha!). I’d toyed with running on and off a few times over the years and have always been fit-ish and loved walking, but I didn’t think I had the mentality for anything long distance or the self-discipline and willpower to do more. Having been put down by my ex-husband for a few years it took me accidentally seeing one particular photo to finally drive me to take running seriously in order to get fitter, to de-stress, and to do something for me. I’d love to say I never looked back but I’ll admit I still struggle with it sometimes, and don’t go as far as I should but 2015 will see that improve. I started in January only being able to run for 3 minutes then walk a minute, then 3 minutes, then walk. This built up and then in June I completed my first ever race – a 10km Trailblazer race in Kent to raise money for MNDA. My cousin had died from this awful disease the year before, and I remember when I was part way round (on a stupidly hot day) thinking ‘I can’t do this’. Two things got me to the end: one was having loved ones at the finish line waiting for me (naughty stubborn dad that he is had to be held back by my sister from coming with me I think!), and the other was knowing that one year before my cousin Mark had been having his final journey and had fought the worst fight you can imagine. It humbled me and put my feet to the floor. In July I then completed the 10mile Race for Life to raise money for Cancer Research in honour of my dad (who is battling it heroically), and my Uncle Peter who had passed on earlier in the year. Reading everyone’s stories on their backs as we ran was inspiring, and the atmosphere with a minute’s silence was beautiful. I’ve carried on running throughout the year but injury and illness did stop one final race this year…so next year for more 🙂

Exploring the world. I love travelling. Always have. Probably why I’m a teacher really – so I can have holidays to go away in! This year I’ve been spoiled by the lovely people at Discover the World really. I took part in their first Teacher Tour Guide training cohort to become an Iceland tour leader for schools. This meant I got to spend a week in Iceland with some other great teachers in one of my favourite countries. I never get bored here and can’t wait to be involved with this more, and to go back with my school next Easter. I also spent 8 days in the Azores exploring the islands which was really interesting. Next time I’ll pack a better waterproof but it meant I got to climb my highest peak so far (Mount Pico) and make new friends. I also took a friend to ‘claim back’ Snowdonia as we both needed some excitement – which involved Europe’s fastest / longest zipwire and a giant layered trampoline suspended inside a quarry in the pitch black! Not to mention driving my Cupra into the most hilarious position up a mountain and then getting it back out…the less said about her navigational skills the better.Then the summer saw a ‘siblings and friends’ trip to the Cairngorms. Somewhere I had never been, but fell in love with. We had the most stunning weather, climbed beautiful mountains, played in rivers, went on silly rollercoasters, petted animals, played games, ate amazing food (thanks to my brother-in-law) and my brother and I will never be the same after freefall jumping off from some telegraph poles..brrr. While we were here we also took part in the MNDA Ice Bucket Challenge in memory of our cousin. We wanted to do it properly, so as a family stepped into a freezing cold mountain river, had bin barrels of ice thrown at us, and then threw ourselves into the river and floated downstream. It was great, for a good cause, and in the words of Mark himself – ‘not too shabby’.

Family & Friends. Where would I be without them? I certainly wouldn’t be the same person. Everyone I know has shaped me and moulded me. I was asking my mum this week whether I have become more cynical, and in 2015 I hope to get back more of my ‘pink and fluffy’ mentality. My family and friends are the rock I cling to and lean on. Mum inspires me every day as I’ve seen her passion for teaching, her selfless acts for others, her steadfast resilience, and her compassion. Dad inspires me with his grit, with how gracefully and patiently he fights (terminal) cancer and yet still only worries about others and not himself. Rachel inspires me with her ‘never say no’ attitude, with how generous she is for others, and her creativity (we are all also ever so slightly under the thumb but secretly love this). Jamie inspires me with his intelligence and patience, with how willing he is to put himself out for others, and I am grateful to have him as a brother in law. Darren inspires me with his exploring ways, his desire to help others, and how he always manages to know when someone is about to fall down the stairs in order to be there to catch them (literally). My extended family are also great, and we can’t wait to have Anuta join us back in the country too. And there’s always the faithful hound, BeBo, my lovely Border Collie. I’ve already mentioned my friends, but again I am very fortunate here. To have friends that are supportive but who also challenge me, and who push me to be better. Seeing their kids growing up is amazing as well, and I’m so happy for all those who had new little arrivals this year. I’m starting to feel old here when I realise that every one of my close friends is some combination (or all) of ‘partnered up’, with kids, with mortgages, with proper jobs, being published, winning awards….it’s great to see.

Professional stuff. This blog is a professional reflection blog really after all. I’m not big on self-promotion and feel pretty daft when I write things down, but there have been some cool professional moments this year. The big one is changing job really. I loved my time at Priory with the team, and all the changes that we put in place, and loved leading the department that I was proud of belonging to but it was time for something new. When I told the students I was leaving I was really touched with their disappointed responses, and had some lovely messages from them including an ‘Ode to a Geography Teacher’ poem that I will keep always. I’m proud of what we achieved there, and had some beautiful ‘spine tingly’ moments like children being on BBC News, or presenting at TeachMeets, or winning awards themselves, or some great results. Leaving one place after six years, and being promoted in a new school to oversee Hums and whole school Numeracy, has been pretty daunting. The long autumn term is now behind us, and it’s been a roller-coaster. It’s starting to feel more like home, and I do work with some lovely people. But I miss being part of the ‘A Team’ that once was as well. I think my new school has found me a bit more than they expected, but then they did hire me to ‘stir things up’ so it shouldn’t really be a surprise. I’m having to be thicker skinned than in the past, and fighting battles I didn’t expect. I’m excited about the future with introducing more fieldwork (Iceland 2015 here we come, expeditions, KS3 weekend fun, etc.), breaking the rules on BYOD and being a leading area in the use of tech (sorry in advance), changing mindsets (awful phrase), and seeing kids make the progress they deserve. Listening in on the parents’ evenings so far has been both uplifting and heartbreaking – uplifting to hear parent after parent, child after child saying ‘we like Geography now’ or ‘we’re learning so much now’, heartbreaking that for some this is coming at the end of the school career and is maybe too little too late. I don’t like injustice, and don’t like children getting a raw deal, so in 2015 we need to really nail this and turn the tide back.

I’ve been honoured to be asked to take part in leading different conferences this year, stepping out of the shadows a bit more perhaps. I’ve shared stories and ideas at TLAB, a Discover the World climate change conference, the RGS Expedition weekend, various TeachMeets and other things. It was lovely picking up the department’s GA ‘Centre of Excellence’ Quality Mark award for the team past and present, and was chuffed and surprised to have a few nominations for blog awards and things myself this year which was humbling. I spent the year working with the Prince’s Teaching Institute as a Lead Teacher which was very interesting and rewarding, and I look forward to the 2014_15 cohort too. I was very happy to be part of the Google Teacher Academy in October to become Google Certified and hope that in future Microsoft Partners in Learning might like me involved again here. And I’ve started co-writing a GCSE Geography textbook for the new specifications which is exciting, scary, tiring…you take your pick! Somehow it has been ten years since I graduated, and my life looks nothing like I thought it would back then but I seem to have fallen into a job that I love and that I’m good at so goes to show that long term plans aren’t all they’re cracked up to be 😉

So thoughts for 2015?

A lot has been written about resolutions, targets, ambitions, aspirations. There’s the #workloadchallenge or #wellbeing trend going around at the mo. I do need to challenge myself to improve my work-life balance, but I don’t want to do a half job either. The New Year’s Honours List had plenty of people named in there for ‘services to education’, and wouldn’t that be something exciting one day in the distant future eh? I just want to be on some child’s list for ‘having made a difference’. Simples. 

When you think about 2014, and look into the trends for the year, it’s quite interesting to see. Google has these topics in the Top searches globally: Ebola, Love, ALS/MND, Fracking, WW1 Anniversary. The biggest twitter trends have included #bringbackourgirls, #umbrellarevolution, #BlackLivesMatter, #RealLove,  and of course #Ebola. We are wired to be political, and it’s interesting how the biggest trends have been about love, saving lives, making a difference. As a teacher I hope to inspire children to ask questions, make good relationships, make a difference. I found the Google trend summary video quite uplifting:

And the Twitter Moments are also great to investigate: https://2014.twitter.com/moments when you have time. In the #yearoftheselfie what have been your best moments?

So I’ll just stick in some photos of the year that saw me start drinking ‘proper coffee’, run a race, explore new places, and enjoy the simple things in life of friends, family and walking the dog. Next year I hope to spend more time with those I love, and to be happy. I would like at this time next year to be able to look back on a job well done, and that I’ve made a difference in my school. I want to be a good friend, and maybe inspire others with what I do. I’m going to complete at least 5 races, and run 600miles in 2015. I’m going to see my dad kick cancer’s backside some more, and see my family healthy and happy. Ideally this will also include a wedding or two 😉 I’m looking forward to speaking at Bett and the GA conference, to writing the textbook and maybe something else, to working with the PTI some more, helping with TeachMeet Pompey and the first TeachMeet at the GA conference, leading my school’s first Iceland trip and revamping the department. And who knows what else!

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Starting to feel more like mine…display boards

So I’ve been in my new school for 11 weeks now. After being in the same school for 6 years since my NQT year it has come as quite a culture shock, and it takes a while to get used to new systems and simple things like your own room.

When I moved in there was a lot of clearing out to do following a very messy predecessor and a lot of waste: gutting the department to mark a fresh start for us all, and updating Humanities as a whole to make us a bit more cohesive. My amazing parents came in during August to help – well, my dad did sleep in the corner bless him while mum and I got busy with backing paper and trim! Things are gradually getting there and it’s lovely hearing from staff and kids about how different it feels purely because the ambiance is more positive; there is space, the tables have moved, the boards are exciting and have decent student work, and it’s clean! I’m hopeful that a quality environment will have a subliminal effect on kids as well, leading to quality work and a pride in their own presentation…we shall see!

Anyway, just thought I’d share a few of the displays either in Geography or in Hums.

We’re aiming for a strong cross-school, cross-curricular message regarding numeracy and literacy. This idea was borrowed from a Maths colleague @NatalieLoveMath who has a ‘mood board’ with mathematical symbols linking to literacy creatively. In the image is a

Vowel-less words
Vowel-less words

‘Vowel-less Geography Words’ display. Key terms have their vowels removed then kids have to try to guess what the words are. Within 10minutes of it going up on the wall I had students of all ages wanting to have a go. Definite conversation starter.

Command words with reminders of key geographical terms are around the walls and are constantly referred to, as are the ‘heavenly’ and ‘banned’ words to push for better quality

Command words
Command words

geographical literacy. These were borrowed from David Rogers at my past school and then just adapted to suit me.

Humanities corridor numeracy board
Humanities corridor numeracy board

In the Humanities corridor we have a numeracy board with ‘thunks’ and maths questions tied to either History, PPD or Geography thrown in. We also have a key word literacy wall.

Humanities corridor literacy corridor
Humanities corridor literacy corridor

Again, these are referred to and you do hear students discussing them as they wait for the start of lesson.

The PEEL (Point Evidence Explain Link) graphic is repeated around the department to refer to. It’s always amazing how students can recall doing ‘PEE’ type paragraph writing in subjects like History or English when you prompt them, but fail to see that literacy skills are essentially the same across all subjects and therefore require the same skills. So consistency helps.

PEEL explanation
PEEL explanation

Cheesy it might be, but it does seem to get across the idea that extended writing is meant to be a continuous developing process of becoming more complex.

Lastly we are being encouraged to employ SOLO taxonomy more across school, particularly with a view to ‘life after levels’ and possibly using just comments for KS3 to guide progression rather than a summative score. There are benefits to SOLO, although I dislike the language

Solo board
Solo board

used in classification (personally I find ‘unistructural’ a bit meaningless to a young person and also would make me feel quite bottom-of-the-ladder to be classed as), but as with all taxonomies / methods it is not the only tool to use. However I do like the simplicity of the progression, and that you can tally the skills to the stages quite easily and students seem to find the logos very visual and easier to understand. So the display wall is again there to refer to, so that if a child gives the classic gut reaction one idea answer you can simply point to the board and explain ‘currently your answer is only……….you need to be analyse in order to……….’ type conversation.

I also like pretty things so there may be quite a few butterlies around the walls, and some plants…good to have oxygen eh?!

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RGS #Explore2014 workshop

2014-11-16 09.57.49 2014-11-16 10.00.48 If you were part of the Education workshop today, or if you were not but are interested in information on getting fieldwork and expeditions into school, then here is a summary of what was shared by the panel.

Jamie Buchanon-Dunlop shared how you can use the online resources of Digital Explorer such as Skype conversations with real explorers and you can see his presentation on the website.

Mark Ilott shared how you can train and prepare for expeditions and field trips using your expertise and knowledge, and with help of his website www.training-expertise.co.uk

Josie Beynon from Roedean School shared the benefits and logistics of sharing your expedition and fieldwork using film and written journalism.

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Phil Avery of Bohunt Academy Trust shared how to build international links and share the benefit of expeditions with the school, and in particular how to sell it to senior leaders. He highlighted the importance of it being student led, and of students taking charge not only in the build up and planning to the trip, but also in the follow up back in school. And how the actual preparation, such as fund raising, can almost be more beneficial to their development and confidence long term than the trip itself.

I felt like a little bit of a fraud being invited since I’m not a ‘risky expedition’ leader, I’m a teacher, but I shared how you might build fieldwork into the curriculum and how you can benefit the whole school. Otherwise, you run the risk that you take 40 kids on a trip and it becomes a one off event, not sustainable or beneficial to the other 1000 back in school! So change your curriculum to build in fieldwork links, get students creating resources while you are away, have them lead lessons or assemblies on return, and use virtual fieldwork as well. So resources from Digital Explorer or Discover the World are awesome for this, e.g. Discover-Geography and use Google Connected Classrooms, create tours, use social media to connect to overseas scientists or charity workers. There are also various really useful fieldwork apps / sites to use (thank you to the Twitterati for your suggestions too!)

The links are within this PowerPoint.

And Jamie’s for D:E is here.

Thank you so much to everyone in the audience for some fantastic questions and discussion, and for the glowing feedback. Good luck and explore! Don’t forget we are all ‘citizen scientists’!

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Reflecting on #GTAUK 2014

Well I should have done this sooner, but as ever life has taken over! Google Teacher Academy #gtauk 2014 was two weeks ago, and was thoroughly enjoyable though equally challenging. Led by No Tosh and Ewan McIntosh the purpose of the event, as outlined in the previous post, was not to be a ‘tools training’ session but a ‘moonshot making’ hotpot of educators from all over the globe coming together to share ideas, delve deeply into problems, and try to find solutions. It was mind blowing in many ways!

In the first place I felt honoured to be selected for the event bearing in mind that I don’t feel I have proven myself yet or stepped out of any shadows or footsteps. In the build up I was admittedly pretty nervous – I’m never that good at meeting people for the first time and don’t naturally ‘talk the talk’ or spout pedagogy. I’m just average Jo 😉 But we were in very safe hands.

I should say that since we had to sign a non-disclosure agreement for this it might be one of those cases where ‘I can tell you, but then I’ll have to kill you’ kind of things…but I’m not going to be breaking any giant Google secrets for you, or explaining how you can break into the amazing cafeteria (the food was amazing by the way). Sorry about that!

Day 1 was introductions and getting briefed on what we were in for. We had the loan of a Samsung Chromebook for the two days which was a really enjoyable device to use – quick, clean, intuitive, and a good size screen and keyboard. Very tempted. Ewan and the mentors and Googlers made it clear from the outset that this was to be pedagogy focused, on solving real issues in schools not on tech. Which I liked. And that it was to lead to something sustainable and tangible, not just your typical CPD event where you go back to school and forget you ever attended. Which I also like.

We were introduced the No Tosh system of ‘design thinking’, akin to project management for problem solving and creation. In our teams we were coming up with issues that schools face that can lead to a ‘moonshoot’ – so not a simple issue, but something that can be broad in scope and require more ‘out of box thinking’ (not that we were allowed to use such cliches). The structure for guiding this design thinking was excellent, with delegates being guided through a series of steps from discussing education issues, whittling down to our ‘moonshot’, then coming up with as many ideas as physically possible and ‘ideation’ and then actually trying to create a prototype to share. Throughout all of this we had input from mentors, other GTA participants, Googlers and designers to give suggestions and share how this works in practise. You can see the whole process and structure in Ewan’s book and on the No Tosh website. We were challenged to not think small scale but to think 10x – that we should be aiming to change the world, and reminded that if we are dissatisfied with something then that should be our driving force to change it. Don’t just be the person who complains but never tries anything else.

We were reminded that although the tools used in daily life have changed leaps and bounds in the last 50 years, classrooms have not. Anything we do should be focused on empowering the student, the teacher and the school. Always keep your target audience in mind and do for greater good.

Day two saw us mostly working in groups to try to prototype our suggested solutions. My group was led by Dai Barnes (of the barefoot running fame) and was a good mix of educators from UK and USA, and across all phases and subjects. It was really interesting to see that despite their being a variety of schools represented in the arena when it came down to it there were only really three main issues that groups chose to tackle: those of risk, curiosity, and collaboration. Our team decided to work on this moonshot question:

“How might we build a culture of confidence where everyone embraces risk, uncertainty and fear, in order to develop courageous individuals?”

By this we meant that teachers often feel nervous or afraid of taking a risk and trying something different, for fear that if it goes wrong they may be judged, lose face, or not help students to make progress. SLT may not encourage risk taking for fear of results (which are, at the end of the day, the important thing!) taking a hit. And more and more I’m seeing students who are nervous of taking a risk, of being independent, of being curious, because they have been drilled for so long to think a certain way, to expect a certain result, to be given answers, and are feeling so pressured about results themselves that they are worried about failing. So how can we encourage a culture where failure is acceptable (even celebrated perhaps), and where we feel supported enough to embrace something new even if it might go wrong?

Our prototype as a group was essentially a website (or a school display if you were in a more analogue environment) that is for showcasing, suggesting and celebrating risk taking. This is all in progress and no doubt will change immensely, but we needed to come up with something that would be user friendly enough in most schools. So the idea is:

– website (or a risk box if going for non-digital) that has suggestions for ‘risks to take’ (think risk / chance cards like you get in board games) that are written by teachers and students that each can take, e.g. ‘no pens lesson’, ‘give your answers in a different language’, ‘don’t use the internet for 24hours’, ‘flip classroom’, etc,.

– website (or display board / life tv) then showcases examples of teachers and students having a go to celebrate. It can be tied into a reward system in school for students so they get house points for trying, whereas students can nominate a ‘teacher of the week’ or something to celebrate teachers who have tried something new.

– the website can connect classrooms globally, so you can see examples of what students and teachers are doing worldwide not just in your school

– tools like Hangouts/connected classrooms can be used to link schools up across the world to share their stories and celebrate trying something new

– create a RAG type app that suggests activities to do

– it can be run by digital leaders in school with teacher moderation if wanted

Anyway, as I said, it is a work in progress based on only a very very brief time of planning. Having said that, my headteacher is happy to trial this linked to our new school website in the next couple of months so even if it just encourages a bit more risk and curiosity in one school that is still something.

The whole two days were exhausting, but stimulating and exciting. We made good partnerships with others and got to work with people from across the world who were like-minded and all wanted to change the world. My takeaway from it? That we should replace fear, with curiosity. And that we should have a healthy disregard for the impossible. I hope I can keep that mindset going through the year.

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Looking ahead to Google Teacher Academy

So this week I am off to the Google Teacher Academy UK #gtauk for two days of educational geekery, sharing, learning and problem solving.

If you want to see my terribly cheesy and not brilliantly made application video it is here:

GTA application video

The event is being organised by Ewan Mcintosh of No Tosh and there is a focus on this being not a one-off event but a sustainable CPD opportunity where educators / technologists / innovators get together and try to thrash out some of the problems faced by teachers and learners in schools, to come up with solutions, and to then go back to our schools and trial these, adapt, improve and keep working with our teams and mentors.

I am excited and nervous in equal measure! I always find it hard meeting new people, and generally feel very inadequate when hearing stories of what other very innovative and inspiring people are doing. As I have only recently changed schools I feel it is difficult to share stories of success since I’ve not had an impact yet: other than ruffling some feathers and changing the decor of the rooms 🙂 But I’m hopeful that I will have something useful to say and something to share, and can’t wait to hear what people are up to worldwide when facing the same issues and same goals.

Part of the pre-work was a set of three immersion tasks, that required us to delve deeper and look carefully at our learning environment. We had to sketch out an area, interview others (staff/student/parent/other) about how they and we felt about the place (positive and negative), and create and ideas & bug list.

Being in a new school made me wonder whether the problems I have been experiencing are real or if it is just a case of getting to grips with a new vibe and way of doing things. Equally when you first start somewhere as a fresh pair of eyes perhaps it is easier to assess things and suggest change. The process of conversations with others has been really interesting, and not just in the school itself.

This lunchtime was a family meal back home in Kent. Parents and siblings (my brother-in-law is just another older brother) plus dogs having a good catch up. My family are awesome and I owe who I am and where I am to them. What is great is that nobody takes themselves too seriously, and that we are forever ribbing each other and making jokes – including the necessary black humour required when ‘telling off’ your dad for always getting ‘top marks’ when you find out his latest cancer check up shows his scores are tripling, and not in a good way. The conversation got onto what I’d be up to at GTA and we ended up having a real deep and meaningful chat about everyone’s experience at schools. Such variety. I consider all of us well educated, well rounded, full of the ‘right kind of stuff’, with good jobs and good relationships, and yet we all had such diverse and discordant experiences of school and education.

It was really eye opening. We talked about aspirations, commitment, resilience, bullying, results, pressure, ability, teachers, etc,. I hadn’t realised that one of us had been bullied badly and hated every moment of school, and when asked what could be done to improve the school experience they couldn’t think of a way to fix it short of being one-to-one with a teacher and no other students. This person being someone whom I look up to, who is a lifelong learner, very smart, very capable, and still collecting post-grad qualifications. The phrase that struck was that ‘going to school actually interfered with the learning process’. And this will be true of so many of our students. Anyone who is slightly different, who maybe wants to do better, who is considered smarter, maybe is less sporty or just doesn’t want to get involved in other social areas of young life. Fortunately this hasn’t stopped them from wanting to succeed and from wanting to learn – but this won’t be the case for many who lack that resilience.

So what can we do in schools to make them more appealing? To improve engagement in every aspect of youthful development? How can we ensure we are bringing out the best in every child in every way, and that we are not driven by the accountability and results machine to forget other ‘softer’ aspects that are equally if not more important?

So some questions I’ve had buzzing round this week following conversations with staff, family and friends, and students:

– How can we make education a fully social and interactive experience that benefits all?
– How do we ensure all kids are reading and writing at their appropriate age?
– How can you encourage independence, especially in able children, in those who want to succeed but are nervous of independent work in case they ‘get it wrong’?
– Is leadership more about intelligence or emotion?
– How do we raise kids to be entrepreneurs whilst still valuing education and nothing thinking ‘others became millionaires after leaving school with nothing’?
-How do we get kids to sleep, exercise, eat healthy and to explore the real outdoors, rather than being up til 3 on social media and computer games?
-Is endless access to information at your fingertips a good thing for young people? How can we ensure information consumption is productive and beneficial?
-How do we encourage independent learners in an atmosphere of worry that they must pass exams, where they have been cushioned at home and school and just want to be given the answers?
-How can we make the most of the hall at break times so that it’s not a venue of depression / nerves / fear associated with exams and assembly?
-How do we ensure technology is used for more than just consumption?
-How can we break the mindset (in students and in teachers) of ‘this is your target’ when it’s tied to accountability, and break that invisible ceiling of ambition / aspiration / ability?

Some pretty big questions in there! Certainly ones to grapple with. I’m hoping the next two days will give some food for thought and some strategies for some of these. Let’s break the ceiling, stop limiting ourselves and others, and have more #moonshot thinking.

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"I am still learning" (Michelangelo)