My Mission Statement!

Photo credit: Planet Minecraft

 

Firstly, I would like to apologize to one and all for this rant; and it is most definitely ‘a rant’. The crux of my rant will centre on this driving question:

‘Why do so many educators choose the easy path?’

I for one am certainly not innocent of having been short sighted or focused on the easier road.

In a previous life…

While I was a cog in the machine of the dull, mechanistic process of churning out uninspired children, I learned to do what was expected of me. My lessons were formulaic and unimaginative. I followed what was given to me. Why? Because people told me what to do. They told me that it was right to have a planning cycle which involved simple lessons lacking in engagement and dynamism. They encouraged me to concentrate on the end product rather than the process! The whole show was about me and my teaching. I had created a performance that was theatrical without the humour, entertainment or value. It was never about the children even if I thought it was at the time.

I was one dimensional. I only cared about getting it done in the allotted time given to me. My lessons didn’t test the students. The activities didn’t give the students the opportunity to demonstrate their creativity and depth. The lessons and activities were designed to be easy to prepare, resource and teach. They allowed me to teach at the surface of the ocean of understanding but never beyond!

Four years ago…

I finally emerged from the primordial pedagogical ooze and started to experiment with my teaching style; this was at the behest of my head teacher. She gave me the opportunity to move beyond the confines of the three point lesson (introduction – main activity – plenary). She offered me the chance to take part in the COETAIL course, and through this incredible experience I began to think and work in ways I never had before. I looked at things differently. I experimented with lessons, ideas, planning, technology and resources. I collaborated with others and actively worked to combine their ideas and my own so that my lessons were more interesting and challenging for the students – I wanted to empower the students to be true learners; and more importantly – rounded people!

I looked at different ways to improve my student’s understanding, enjoyment and engagement inside the classroom. I became more positive in what I did. I experimented and took chances. I actively sought out innovative teaching methods, content and approaches which would allow me to become a better educator.

I had become a different teacher.

I became interested in what I did and I wanted to change it so that the students in my class got to have a better education than I got; not that I got a bad one! But as I look back, it could have been so much better…

Now!

This is my mission statement! Just like Jerry Maguire.

I have seen what can be done when people are willing to change or adapt (even a little). It can bring about beautiful things. I have seen what can happen when people are willing to go that little bit extra to make an educational experience more real for the students. I have seen all this and yet…

So many teachers don’t want to change! So many teachers want to take the easy path! So many teachers want to skim the surface of the educational ocean. They simply want to exist as a teacher. After all, it’s only a job! Make sure you do everything that needs to be done in a day, then go home and relax. You deserve it after putting in a good 9 hours. Mark those books. Fill in those reports. Get those resources ready. Do just enough and everything will continue as before. The students will come in. The students will learn. And life will go on as it has since I was in school. Don’t change it if ain’t broken hey!

If you are a teacher, year leader, faculty leader, subject leader, assistant deputy headteacher, deputy headteacher, headteacher or principal and you are reading this then I want you to read the following questions and decide whether you really care enough:

  1. Do I enjoy what I do?
  2. Do I do everything that I can possibly do to help those around me to reach their full potential?
  3. Do I really believe that I am doing the right thing to get those students in my care to where they need to be (as students and people)?
  4. Am I willing (at times) to go above and beyond what is required of me?

In all honesty, I don’t know if I am correct to write and publish this post but sometimes you just need to put your thoughts down on digital pen and paper.

I see so many great things in teaching being performed by so many wonderful teachers; and it breaks my heart to know that if we were all a little more willing to get on board we might just make the world a better place for everyone!

NUMROS

Photo credit: Beastsofwar

It is a well-known established fact throughout the many-dimensional worlds of the multiverse that most really great discoveries are owed to one brief moment of inspiration. There’s a lot of spadework first, of course, but what clinches the whole thing is the sight of, say, a falling apple or a boiling kettle or the water slipping over the edge of the bath. Something goes click inside the observer’s head and then everything falls into place. The shape of DNA, it is popularly said, owes its discovery to the chance sight of a spiral staircase when the scientist’s mind was just at the right receptive temperature. Had he used the elevator, the whole science of genetics might have been a good deal different.

This is thought of as somehow wonderful. It isn’t. It is tragic. Little particles of inspiration sleet through the universe all the time traveling through the densest matter in the same way that a neutrino passes through a candyfloss haystack, and most of them miss – Terry Pratchett

However some of these inspiration particles actually hit home! Very occasionally, some of them actually hit the cerebral jackpot – the Texas tea of the neuron world – the black gold of the brain.

In my opinion, this is exactly what happened to me, when I thought up the idea for NUMROS.

Now, it is very likely that a game like this has been created many times before, in many different ways, in many different schools. But that doesn’t matter!

I have created something I am genuinely proud of. Before Numros, I had another idea; and I think it was a pretty good idea. The game was called Grammar Slam and it has proved to be quite successful in the classroom. There is no doubt that I will be using the game again and I am sure it will continue to be a hit with the children. But it isn’t Numros!

So, what is Numros?

Hmm…where to begin?

I guess I have to start with the game’s origins, which are rooted in my nerdy game playing past. Once upon a time, I was a fully-fledged follower of Games Workshop’s Warhammer franchise. If you aren’t sure what Warhammer is, then I will enlighten you. Warhammer is a table top war game played with dice and miniature figures. It is played between two or more players and is set in one of two imaginary realms; one realm is a fantasy realm similar to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth and the other is set in the far future where the galaxy is ruled by a God Emperor.

When I was younger, I adored collecting Warhammer books and figures, as well as playing the game. Even now, I still read many of the novels set in these imaginary worlds. I have also introduced many of my students to the different army books.

And so, that is where the inspiration for Numros came from.

How does the game work?

Well, Numros is also a tabletop war game. Like Warhammer it also includes miniature figures (only six for each side though), a dice (only one), rulers, turn taking and strategic planning.

I have included the game’s rules below.

What is the purpose of this game?

As you may be able to tell, the game is primarily designed to help children understand different mathematical concepts like algebra, BIDMAS and measurement. The game’s turn-based fantasy theme draws students in like a beehive draws bears towards a honeycombed prize. The children are immediately hooked by the fact that NUMROS is a game not a lesson. Another important factor is that the maths needed to play the game is incidental and unimportant to the player! The game’s other hooks include: the competition of battling opponents to be the ruler of Numros, the tactics and strategies needed to outwit an opponent, the diversity and potential narrative of the different fictional characters, the ability to work and collaborate with others in a team and the joy that victory brings in the various individual battles that take place in the game.

When I first introduced Numros to my students, I originally shared the rules via a Google Document. However, to really get them engaged, I used the Gold Fish bowl technique to demonstrate the game’s mechanics.

What was their response?

The reaction was beyond anything I could have imagined! It simply took my breath away. They loved it! The Teaching Assistant, who works alongside me, had the great idea of creating a Google survey to catalogue the children’s responses. You only have to read it to see just how much they enjoyed it. I can honestly say that I don’t think I have had many better feelings in my teaching career than I had the first day Numros was introduced to my class.

What’s next?

The next step is to introduce the game to my maths set and then to more children in Year 6. I have already shared the game with another class in my year group and the feedback was excellent.

I have also added a some one-off spells to the game based on feedback to the first game we played as a class. Again, I have included the new spells below.


But it gets better!

Without doubt though, the best part of the Numros experience is the way the children have taken the game and adapted it to fit their purpose. They have already started to add their own rules. One group decided that figures would switch sides rather than be removed if an opponent lost a battle. Another group decided to switch the playing area so it would be smaller. Many of the groups changed the number of turns from five to a different number; another group thought it would be better to play to the last figure standing. The introduction of spells was talked about and introduced in a highly innovative way by one creative soul. Then there was the issue of dice – why have a six sided dice when you could have a ten sided dice?

Children have videoed their games for posterity. One ambitious group decided to create a video tutorial to help others better understand the game.

During game play sessions, I have heard the terms ‘messing around’, ‘play testing’ and ‘trialling’ used to describe the concept of figuring the game out. I simply cannot explain or describe the shear amount of learning that has taken place over two hours of Numros game play.

The possibilities for this game are endless and I am already thinking of adapting the game to have an historical purpose. I haven’t decided just how to do this yet but I will find a way…

Session 1

Session 2

Teeth…Glorious Teeth!

Teeth? Hmmm…how do you make this topic interesting to children? As far as I am aware, the most interesting thing about teeth for children is the tooth fairy! So let’s be frank, the topic is dry – really dry! When we sat down, as a year group, to discuss this topic there was a definite feeling of apathy and very little enthusiasm from anybody to teach the topic. After studying our plan for the unit, it seemed like the plan included a series of lessons where we showed the children various PowerPoints related to teeth. We would then discuss these PowerPoints together in class and the lesson would finish with the children completing a series of worksheets (after all we need something for the books).

As I walked out of the meeting with an inner sense of dread at the thought of having to teach such an uninspiring set of lessons, I suddenly realised that I had the perfect opportunity to create something completely diiferent. I could create a new plan for the topic that would really allow the children to lead their learning. The new unit plan would combine collaboration, networking and group research into a project driven by the student’s own desires to ask questions they wanted to find the answers to. The plan would also provide the children with an opportunity to build on previous work that they had already done using search engines and Prezi.

 

Conclusions at this moment!

At this moment, we are currently halfway through session 5. The process has certainly been an interesting experience for both myself and the students. The first thing I would say is that the students have enjoyed the process and that they have developed a more thorough understanding of teeth and their importance to the body.

 

With regards to their ability to collaborate and work in teams, I would say that this is still very much a work in progress. Something that was particularly interesting was the fact that the initial use of Prezi to collaborate really seemed to excite them. However, what was also quite revealing, was they way this excitement soon turned to frustration as Prezi kept slowing down and losing connection. It was also interesting to see the feelings of frustration that some of the students had when other members of the group accidentally or intentionally changed their work on the different slides they had been working on.

Overall, I would definitely say that using the backwards approach of starting with an initial question was a success. This idea of having an initial question also led to the students creating some really excellent follow-up questions that they wanted to find the answers to. It was nice to see that these questions were well thought-out and displayed their growing ability to use HOTS to move beyond the initial questions and ideas they had been given.

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Key questions

However, although their follow-up questions were excellent, the student’s ability to get the best answers to their questions by researching them online was not as good as I thought it would be. In the future, I am definitely going to make more time to talk to the students about the questions we need to ask to find the best answers when carrying out research online.

So, where are we now?

Well I would say that the unit, up to this point, has been a success. However there is no doubt that this unit plan will need to be tweaked and modified for it to truly give the students an opportunity to become more collaborative, more connected and more integrated with their learning!

One Extra Thought!

Now at our school we don’t have a 1:1 electronic device program for any year group except Year Six; and they use iPads. One of the many new details that I have become more aware of, as I have begun to experiment with different programs and Apps, is the fact that students should have exposure to different hardware i.e. the students should be comfortable using tablets, laptops, chromebooks or desktops. Ultimately, this is a good thing as it allows the children to become more versatile in the choices they are making when deciding on the format or design a project should take.  I really wanted the students in my class to see that a tablet device could work alongside a laptop when it came to using programs like Blendspace or Prezi. However, I also wanted them to become more aware of the fact that there are differences between these devices. I really wanted them to think about the program or application they would be using and then make decisions about the type of device they were going to use.

So, what were the results of using laptops and iPads on the same project?

Well, towards the end of sessions three and four, I realised that they had started to make decisions about their preferred choice of device. One of the choices they made clear to me was that they were much happier using the Laptops when using Prezi. They explained to me that it was easier to collaborate online when using Prezi on a laptop as they could see exactly what the other people in their group were doing. However, they were also quick to mention that the iPads were often easier to use as they were more familiar; this meant that they felt more comfortable when they were working on their iPads in an individual capacity.

The Second School!

 

And from the depths of my limited and muddled mind was born an idea of the ‘Second School‘. I don’t know if this term has been used before but I think that it fits quite well with the central idea for my post this week.

First let me tell you the story of how and why I came to use the term ‘Second School’.

Well, it all started about a year and a half ago. I had almost completed the first term of my first year in my new Year Three team, and to be honest, I was finding it difficult! I was really struggling to find a stable platform for my teaching.

There were a number of factors for this. The first being that the  class I was teaching were the liveliest class I had ever taught; and by lively, I mean they had an almost god-like ability to bring chaos to every learning activity they were involved in. The second factor was the ability range of the children in the class; some of the children were so gifted that they were working three years beyond their year group’s ability range whereas there were other children who were working two years behind their age ability. And then there was a third and final factor which was my own lack of confidence and understanding with students at this age!

Well, as you can probably imagine, these different factors had a significant impact on my life! Firstly my teaching confidence sunk to the lowest point it had ever been at. I also had the constant feeling of pressure and stress at both work and home. As a result, I lost faith in all of the good practice and teaching that I had carefully and meticulously built up in my previous year group.

So what happened next?

Well, the obvious I guess, I decided that I had to do something about the situation I was in. So I began to form new connections within my year group and school. These opening connections gave me a very small taste of what was actually happening in the wider world of education; particularly in the area of Education-Technology.

One of these initial connections, as I have mentioned in a previous post, was an introduction to TWITTER and it’s power to act as a Personal Learning Network for teachers and students. The door was suddenly open for me to connect with other parts of the school. I was now able to find out what was happening with the school’s extra-curricular community, with the secondary school, with individual students and with other primary year groups.

As my class and I spent more time following Tweets and responding to them, I started to wonder whether I was making the most out of this social networking medium. The question I was asking myself was ‘How could I safely activate and capture my students interest whilst also providing a better learning platform for them?’

An interesting question! I decided to look for an answer to the question within our school’s Twitter feed. And that is when I started to notice the large number of videos, photos and links connected to the Year Six children’s work. I also noticed that the children in my class were extremely animated when providing feedback and comments to the Year Six’s work they were seeing on the twitter feed. But the biggest surprise came when I found out that a lot of the fantastic projects that we were seeing on Twitter were actually being completed outside of the school.

What are we doing to promote critical thinking, questioning, and constructive criticism during lessons? Help students use Social Media to Empower, Not just connect – Andrew Marcinek – Edutopia 

And so the penny finally dropped…I needed to find a way to provide my students with a second school! If you like-it was a way of allowing them to build upon their classroom learning outside of school hours. In essence they would carry on with their individual learning journeys in a learning environment that they had created for themselves. Now I am aware that many of you have probably been doing this for a long time but for me it was an incredible experience as I started on this path towards a second school! I found myself re-vitalised and re-energised with the whole concept and idea.

PLN as an Engine of Support – And this must be transferred to our students as they begin to connect regularly both inside and outside of school. As educators, we must model positive use of learning networks and groups, and give students the proper foundations in the effective use of social media.  Help students use Social Media to Empower, Not just connect – Andrew Marcinek – Edutopia

So what have I done?

One of the first things I did was to make the online communication more regular and reciprocal between the students and myself. I made more use of the school’s email network to ensure that students felt confident and willing to open-up an online dialogue with me. I also created a weekly online story-writing challenge for the children to participate in while encouraging them to email each other more often in order to foster a greater connectivity and class togetherness. And so the ‘Second School’ came into being!

How do I keep it going?

The key to maintaining and building their interest in this second school has been a combination of the following areas and ideas:

1. Challenge and Reward Projects – The children take part in weekly or fornightly email challenges. These have included: writing a poem based on a picture; taking a photograph that really makes people think; creating a science experiment to investigate how we could find the answer to a particular question. These challenges are all rewarded with a set number of Dojo Points for their individual Class Dojo accounts (I have noticed that the children more actively participate when there is an actual reward – just like adults do).

2. Sharing their work with others on our school Twitter feed – The students work is shared with others on the school Twitter feed. Other teachers and classes then respond to this shared learning by tweeting their own comments.

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An example of the Second School in action on Twitter!

3. Sharing with members of their own class – The children love sharing what they have done with their peers by reading stories, poems or science investigations they have created. They also enjoy explaining or teaching a new skill they have recently learnt to empower other children in the class to do the same.

I think that it is fair to say that the learning and creating they are carrying out in their second schools builds upon their learning in the classroom and, in most cases, improves on it! I know that there is a long way to go with this project but I think it is important for me to say that the second school has given me a new appreciation of what it means to be a teacher!

I want someone who has a sense of humor. I want someone who wants to learn, listen, and consistently share. I want someone who provokes my thinking. Help students use Social Media to Empower, Not just connect – Andrew Marcinek – Edutopia

Isn’t this what all students and teachers want?

How to avoid becoming a caveman!

In this day and age, how has it come to a point where we have children whose skills and understanding of the digital realm far outstrip the people they are supposed to be learning from?

I guess that the obvious answer to this question is that this has always been the case and that when we were younger we also began to access areas of understanding that our own parents never had access to. So what’s all the fuss about then? Hey, let’s just let the kids sort it out themselves and we will keep teaching them what we know works well for us. We will be safe, sticking with our tried and trusted methods, until the Earth finally turns cold and we are buried with our pencils, papers and wooden desks with a small inkwell in the corner!

Now this is exactly the sort of attitude that does nothing to help anyone-students or teachers! What we need to do, as educators and parents, is provide a learning platform that allows our children to become more proficient in the current digital realm. If you like, we need to become their guides on the journeys they will take through their time with us. I think this line from an article by Shane Gower on ‘living and learning with New Media’ sums it up nicely:

Teachers need to evolve to become Connectors or expert participants.

We have to become guides for our student’s journeys

How do we do this when the introduction of new technologies to help teachers guide students on their journeys has become a real issue for many educators though? Quite simply many teachers are unsure of how to use these new technologies and fear that they will have to rewrite their own internal teaching manuels in order to participate. Of course, not every educator feels this way!

There are many other educators who want to experiment and investigate the digital ‘New World’ and then adapt and implement what they find there. I have noticed that this educational fork in the learning highway is already starting to cause quite a dilemma for schools, teachers and parents. I have also become aware of the feelings of disatisfaction and irritation that many teachers have when confronted with the use of technology in the classroom. So what do we do when we have those who want to go forward yet we also have those who wish to remain stationary?

Well over the last year, I have done a great deal of soul-searching over this very question. On the one hand, my answer would very definitely be “Move forward and don’t look back!” But on the other hand, I also like a lot of what the children learn (and how they learn it) in my class, and I’m not sure that I want to give that up. Perhaps though, it could be said, that therein lies the beginnings of an answer to the question.

I think that there is definitely a case for using what we already have in our current units of work and lesson plans and tweaking them to get the best of both worlds. This seems to be the safest option and the course that many schools would logically move towards. In fact, this strategy could be likened to ‘dabbling’ and ‘doing old things in old ways’ as Marc Prensky mentions in his article on shaping tech for the classroom.

However will this strategy ultimately be the best cause of action for a school to take? Surely if you really want the students, your working with, to maximise their learning opportunities then you will have to take option four; which means ‘doing new things in new ways’. In my mind there is no doubt that option four would lead to more of an emphasis on digital tools being more fully integrated into a school’s curriculum. This in turn would lead to a larger focus on PBL.

Peer Based Learning-where learning is characterized by a context of reciprocity, where participants feel they can both produce and evaluate knowledge and culture-Living with new Media, The MacArthur Foundation, page 39

However, in order for us to give our children the best opportunities to learn, then we can’t let our own feelings about the digital realm and it’s new technologies get in the way of our responsibilities as educators. Those teachers who actively resist the new technologies and tools that are available to us are ultimately going to fall further and further out of touch with the realities of being a global citizen of the modern world. It is no good saying that I can make do with what I already have or that I don’t need to worry  about learning to operate a new application or program because the students don’t need to use it until later in life. NO! That is unfairly disadvantaging the students we are teaching. We are responsible for making sure that we understand which tools are the best for us to provide the best learning experience possible. We also have a responsibility to know how to use those tools in a way which benefits the students otherwise we will become no better than  cave dwellers trying to work out what the big round thing is for!

Is this where teaching could end up if we are not careful?

 

 

Out with the Old! In with the New!

Me  versus  Me

Date: This time last year (part 1)
At this time, I was still relatively new to my year group and was currently in the middle of my second term. Being part of a new year group, I was less willing to take risks with the structure of my lessons. Although, as a year group, we were adapting and changing the planning I wasn't really comfortable moving beyond the parameters of the planning that we had agreed on-TOO RISKY!

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Date: This year, current time (part 1)

Wehay! I am no longer new to my year group and feel more comfortable with the subjects I am teaching. I have also started the COETAIL course and feel more empowered to adapt and change the lessons that I teach. Ultimately, I feel more able to experiment with different technologies and teaching styles.

Date: This time last year (part 2)
I am teaching the first lesson of our Religious Education Unit on Sikhism. I decide to follow the lesson plan exactly. The first part of the lesson involves the children sitting together on the carpet and watching a PowerPoint of photographs showing different aspects of Sikh  life. The children then work in pairs to discuss what they have watched while deciding what questions they would like to find the answers to. Meanwhile, I act as the question coordinator for student feedback while the rest of the children listen to the responses of their peers-PLAY IT SAFE! MAKE SURE THE CHILDREN ASK THE QUESTIONS I WANT THEM TO ASK!

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Date: This year, current time (part 2)

Again, it is time to teach the first lesson of the RE unit but this time I am going to combine the lesson with a recent unit on ‘Staying Safe’. It may work! It may not! But I am going to have a go and see what happens. So, this time the children work on laptops with access to a locally networked version of the same PowerPoint. As before, they are creating different questions based on what they observe about Sikh life from the PowerPoint. They can choose to work individually, with partners or in groups-it is entirely up to them! I am still unsure about their ability to use Google Docs or Microsoft Word so I get them to write their questions in their books! STILL PLAYING IT SAFE, AS I AM NOT COMFORTABLE WITH USING GOOGLE DOCS IN CLASS YET!

Date: This time last year (part 3)
The Children go off to quietly write their questions in books. After they have finished, we come back to the carpet and share some more of the questions they have come up with. We then talk about some of the answers to the questions that they are interested in-to be honest I actually provide some of the answers, but not all, as I simply don't know most of the answers to the questions-MUST MAKE SURE THEY HAVE BEEN GIVEN SOME OF THE ANSWERS BECAUSE THEN I KNOW THEY HAVE LEARNED SOMETHING ABOUT SIKHISM!

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Date: This year, current time (part 3)

So, they have finished writing out their questions about the PowerPoint on Sikh life. Now I ask them if they would like to find some of the answers to their own questions. The class feedback suggests that they are keen to find the answers to the original questions they were interested in asking. So this is where we add our cross-curricular link to a previous safety lesson on search engines. The children are given a choice of four different search engines, that they have previously evaluated, to find the answers to their questions. As they attempt to use the search engines to find the answers to their questions they are also asked to think about the usefulness of each of the search engines they are using.

The children now switch to searching for the answers to their questions while also deciding which search engine is the safest, most appropriate and most effective. At the end of the lesson the children feedback any facts about Sikhism that they think their peers might be interested in as well as providing information on the functionality of the search engines they have used.

Has technology been effectively embedded within the curriculum?

For this reworked lesson, I would say that the answer has to be ‘Yes!’

I took a chance with this lesson and decided to combine technology with a flipped lesson approach. The use of the laptops to create questions worked quite well but I think it would have worked much better with some form of online or desktop word processor e.g. Google Docs or Microsoft Word. The only problem with this would have been the time factor; you see, my current class tend to take five times longer typing than they do writing.

It also has to be said that the cross curricular link with the ‘Safety unit’ worked really well and actually got many of the children thinking not only about the different facets of Sihkism but also the importance of using the right search engine.

What does this mean?

It means that technology can be embedded within any curriculum area; it may only be applied in a single lesson; it may become an integral part of the whole unit; it may be used as a homelearning task. The point is that it can be used on any level, and at any level, within any curriculum format. While looking at the NETS standards for students, I was pretty certain that the children had met the following standards:

1c.Use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues
3b.Locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media
3c. Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks
4c. Collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions
6b. Select and use applications effectively and productively

Remember- all you need are the resources and the willingness to take a chance!

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Of course you can always stack the deck:

 

The People Collector!

 

“Experience has long been considered the best teacher of knowledge. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. ‘I store my knowledge in my friends’ is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people.”

Karen Stephenson quote taken from Connectivism a learning theory for the digital age  

I couldn’t agree more! This quote should be used as a mantra for educators everywhere! When I first became a teacher, I found it hard to decide on a particular format for teaching. At the time, I thought this was an inherent weakness that would ultimately lead to me failing as a facilitator of learning. However, I now believe that this period of  trialling different teaching strategies is something that all teachers should be doing; not only at the start of their teaching journey but throughout their lives as an educator.

By storing and sharing knowledge with others, people begin to create a learning repostitory. This deposit box of shared information empowers them by allowing them to choose when, where or how they use and apply what they have learned from others. I remember a lecturer from my days as a trainee teacher explaining that teaching, using only your own experiences, was like turning up to an orchestra and trying to play all the instruments at the same time! If a teacher was to educate using only their own thoughts and ideas they might well succeed but I am guessing there would be more failure than success. By collecting and using other people’s knowledge we begin to build a better profile for our own lives in education; so here is my question-why shouldn’t this also be the case with the children we teach?

Do we gain knowledge through experiences? Is it innate (present at birth)? Do we acquire it through thinking and reasoning? Collectivism-A learning theory for the digital age-George Siemens

Although some knowledge may well be innate, I really don’t think that all knowledge is. I actually believe that knowledge is nurtured through the experience of sharing. In my own class of Year Three students, I would like to think that the children are growing their knowledge base by learning from those around them.

How are they collecting? Who are they collecting?

The people they are beginning to collect could be: their classmates-in the form of peer interactions in speaking and listening activities: it could come from carpet time when they are listening to a teacher’s first-hand experiences and ideas on a particular topic: it could also come from interacting with other children or teachers via email, TWITTER or some other digital medium. I really do believe that it is vitally important that children develop this habit of collecting other people in order to expand their knowledge base. I also think it is  important to be aware that all three of these collection methods are of equal status when it comes to students learning  to acquire and share knowledge.

As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses. Collectivism-A learning theory for the digital age-George Siemens

Although I previously mentioned that all three methods of collecting and sharing knowledge are equally important, I have to say that the one area that has pushed my students knowledge acquisition the furthest (in the shortest time) is the ability to share via a digital medium. And by digital sharing, I mean building an email community within the class, year group and school. I have included an example of an email conversation that I think highlights this third example of using a digital medium to share and acquire knowledge.

Neil Willis wrote: Ok guys, Two competitions to anybody checking their email. Competition one! Worth 4 Dojo points-Can anybody build a better snowman than this? 
imageCompetition two-worth six Dojo points. Write a fantastic poem about the snow. Good luck Mr Willis
D(A student from my class)wrote: When is the dead line?
Neil Willis wrote: Let’s say next Tuesday!
D wrote:Snow   Cold hands, numb nose. You might think my toes are froze. But, no. Boots of Justice.photo[2]
Neil Willis wrote: Fantastic! Very clever!

After I shared this poem with the rest of the class, many of them immediately started to talk about the reasons why they thought the poem was so effective and whether their own boots would in fact be boots of justice! So, by sharing this poem, they have collected another student’s experiences and added them to their depositories of knowledge. As mentioned in a previous post, we can use Jeff Utecht’s formula for networking to better demonstrate the connections being made:

Activity = Visibility = Connection opportunity

Or in this case

Connection opportunity = Activity = Visibility

Finally it has to be said that I am very much a people collector! I am happy to say that I have learned more about my job, my life and the world around me from my shared experiences with others than I have from any book, manuel or download. I can only hope that the students I have the good fortune to work with, will also learn to become  collectors and distributors of knowledge…

Courage to make connections!

Like any organism, a school needs to evolve in order to become a successful institution of education that provides students, parents and teachers with a positive learning experience. If schools remain stationary in their roles as places of education, then they risk becoming archaic institutions that serve no other purpose than becoming glorified creches for children and teenagers.

How does a school remain stationary in a world which has never been so dynamic? 

Well, I believe there are numerous reasons for this. It could be any of the following: a lack of vision from the school’s senior management: poor teaching and learning: an outdated curriculum that no longer challenges and engages the students: a lack of connectivity with the school’s parent community. In fairness, these are but a few of the many reasons for a school to fail.

So, what can I do about it?

Well, as a class teacher, I have  limited influence over many of the administrative issues facing the modern school. However, sometime ago, I came to realise that I did have the power to affect change at a classroom level. And so I gradually began to move away from the more structured safety of the curriculum we were teaching. Now let me be clear here-I didn’t instigate a one-man educational revolution and start teaching the children Zen Buddhist meditation techniques instead of maths. No, I just started to adapt and tweak the, already excellent, planning which had been in place since I had been at the school. However, I soon realised that I was starting to run out of ideas and that my creativity was becoming stifled due to a complete lack of ideas. In essence, I had nowhere to go to find ideas for new activities, lesson tasks and projects!

Is there anybody out there who can help me?

As it turned out, there were many like-minded individuals within my own school who were already creating and innovating on a scale I couldn’t even begin to think about (in fact some of these people are recent members of the COETAIL community and are the reason for my entry into the course). The problem was – “How do I approach these people for help?” And this is where I felt an almost empathic understanding of Jeff Utecht’s words regarding growing a PLN (Personal Learning Network).

Growing your network to the size you want is not very difficult, it is the self promotion part of the job that most people have issue with. Jeff Utecht-Reach

In all honesty I have never been the most confident of people. I  find it really difficult to promote my ideas and have always worried about the inevitable judgements that people make. However, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the school’s new Twitter feed by my year leader(a fellow COETAILER). She suggested that I join the school’s TWITTER community. So I decided to test the water!

And it has to be said, with regards to being a more active member of the school community, that it was the best thing I ever did! After creating a TWITTER account for my class I finally feel like I have a growing PLN within the school’s TWITTER community.

What is the next step?

Even though I have taken the first small step to creating a PLN, I am still terrified(as Jeff has written)of the following:

It’s much like opening the door to your classroom and having a “Anyone’s welcome sign”. Only now you are opening the door to your professional life online. Jeff Utecht-Reach

Personally, I find it very hard to imagine a more terrifying prospect than everybody being free to judge me! However, after joining the COETAIL course I am starting to realise that without taking the plunge and opening up a dialogue with other educators and teachers I too will become a part of the stationary school.

I would just like to add that I have no doubt that once I become even more connected and confident, and that may take some time, I do believe that my teaching practice will benefit greatly from the connections that are made.

Finally I leave you with my own small addition to Jeff’s formula for Network building:

Activity = Visibility = Connection opportunity = Many ideas = Creative curriculum = Engaged students = Positive learning environment = Everybody happy!