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!

I’d rather be a farmer!

Photo credit: Larry Cuban on school reform

From the ages of 17 to 22 years old, I spent numerous Christmas, Easter and Summer holidays working in a variety of factories. I have worked in furniture factories, crisp factories, video-packaging factories; I have even worked in slaughterhouses. During my time in these factories, I worked in various locations found inside most modern factories. These included the assembly line, the packaging zone, the storage bay, the canteen and the warehouse.

So..what did I learn from my time in factories?

I didn’t like them! In fact, I really didn’t like them!

Why?

I didn’t like them because I didn’t feel challenged. In fairness, it must be added that I was also extremely lazy when I was 17 to 22 years old.

Did I learn anything?

Yes. Absolutely!

Was it worthwhile learning?

Hmm…I definitely learned a variety of factory skills (life-skills?) i.e. how to correctly wrap plastic roll around a large cardboard box or how important it was to keep your knife sharp when you were slicing through a dead turkey.

Personally, I found the work unrewarding, repetitive and dull. I just didn’t gain any sense of satisfaction from the different jobs I was doing.

And now we are calling the current, and previous, 150 years of educational modus operandi ‘The Factory Model’. Wow! I mean from a personal and research point of view the term certainly seems to fit; and that my friends is worrying!

Ironically, the skills required by the game curriculum—problem identification, hypothesis testing, analysis, interpretation, and strategic thinking more closely align with the new economy than does the “factory” model of curriculum, which privileges following directions, mastering predefined objectives, performance on highly structured tasks, and intellectual obedience (Gee, Hull, and Lankshear 1996). In short, schools are designed around factory models of education, where the goal is to efficiently produce standardized learners and, most importantly, sort students into those groups and games are products of the new economy, where the goal is to think creatively with digital tools (Bowles and Gintis 1976; Lagemann 1989).  Changing the game – what happens when video games enter the classroom – Kurt Squire

There is no denying that factories are an essential part of the industrial world, but do I really want my children, and the children I teach, to be a part of this system?

I don’t know how many times I have seen educators use this animated video of Ken Robinson’s ‘Changing Educational Paradigms’ to espouse the virtues of the creative over the factory model of teaching and learning.

Yet no matter how many times the different groups of educational lecturers, teachers and administrators infuse the audience with Mr Robinson’s superb ideas and summaries, we always come back to the baseline – does it fit into the current school and curriculum-based system that we operate?

And the answer is most definitely ‘No’!

Is this where we leave it then? Again the answer is most definitely ‘No’!

I suggest that in today’s digitally flipped world we are being given more tools than ever to create farming zones within these rigid educational factories. Some of these tools include the flipped (or rotated classroom), Student led learning as well as Gamification and Game-based learning.

Right now, even if you had the ideal game—a more polished Civilization III or perhaps a Full Spectrum Scientist, it is not certain that such a game could even survive in today’s educational environment as our contemporary educational systems do not know how to sustain a curricular innovation built on the properties that make games compelling. Changing the game – what happens when video games enter the classroom – Kurt Squire

Game-based learning allows the factory to become a farm

Here is an example of how you can start to bring the rural creativity of farm-based learning into your factory. This Historical game is based on a previous game-based learning activity which I posted last year.

Can I also add that I trialled this lesson with my Year Three (Grade 2) students last year and that it worked like a dream. Reactions included intense dialogue which lasted into the break time and beyond, personal refection on their failure as an individual/group or class, the unfairness of the whole game and the difficultly of living in the Stone Age.

Game

Unit plan – Lesson 2

Weekly ‘End of level Boss’!

This week my end of level boss will be to introduce the game – Civilization Revolution for the iPad into pre-lesson time /break time and lunch time sessions.

Although all the students already have their own iPads, they don’t have this game on their devices so I will provide two pairs of pre-selected students with my own iPads and ask them to try and complete one game (over the course of a week) on intermediate level difficulty.

The reason for this – After reading the article Changing the game by Kurt Squire I am interested to see the reaction a more compact/child friendly version of the game might have on my own students. I aim to use a high achieving none-game playing pair of students and a lower achieving game-playing pair of students to test the game as future platform for Historical learning within the classroom/school.

Results of last week’s ‘End of level Boss’!

Overall, the students seemed to love the game.

However, the most interesting aspect of the students playing the game Nitrotype , was my introduction to another game – Dance Mat typing. If you are thinking of teaching ‘Touch Typing’ I would definitely recommend this as a possible game-based solution.

I want to work with you!

 

Photo credit: Pixabay
Photo credit: Pixabay

Does connectivism have a real shot at being a true learning theory?

Yes! Well…mainly yes!

As the new coordinator of primary history at our school (sorry if you have read any of my previous posts where I have mentioned this numerous times) I would argue that connectivism is now an essential part of a school’s structure. Let me begin with a few moans, then I will get onto the reasons why I think that certain aspects of connectivism are essential for a modern school.

I don’t know about you but I can’t begin to count the number of school training sessions where I am supposed to have been given a new skill, learning tool or pedagogical approach and then never used it; or have never been able to use it or have never had the time to use it. Of course this isn’t true of most training or INSET sessions. No! Credit where credit is due-most are very helpful and include speakers who provide you with a sense of drive and purpose!

Then there are planning sessions. During my time in education I have experienced all of the following while I have been part of a planning session: depression, enjoyment, frustration, happiness, boredom, apathy and jubilation. Generally, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoy planning sessions with my current year group; this is largely thanks to the great team I work with.

However, I am also aware that there are other teachers at my school whom I have never planned with and have always wanted to plan with. So I decided that I would create history planning groups where I could connect and plan with other teachers I don’t normally get the chance to plan alongside.

This term, I have taken three different plans from three different year groups and invited teachers from different year groups (YR to Y6) to help me deconstruct and improve each of the plans. And…the results have been promising; in fact they been extremely promising. I would actually say that the first of these planning meetings was probably the best planning session I have ever been a part of. The key to this meeting being such a success lay in the willingness of the different participants to share and trust each other with their ideas and knowledge. In essence they/we connected and shared our ideas, knowledge and concepts. This allowed us to develop completely new approaches to each of the lessons we had been adapting.

The management and marshalling of resources to achieve desired outcomes is a significant challenge. Realizing that complete knowledge cannot exist in the mind of one person requires a different approach to creating an overview of the situation. Diverse teams of varying viewpoints are a critical structure for completely exploring ideas. Innovation is also an additional challenge. Most of the revolutionary ideas of today at one time existed as a fringe element. An organizations ability to foster, nurture, and synthesize the impacts of varying views of information is critical to knowledge economy survival. Connectivism- a learning theory for the digital age 

I am sure that many of you already have these sort of planning approaches in operation at your current schools. At the schools I have worked at, the process for planning certain subject lesson plans has always fallen to either the year group or subject leader with little or no input from outside those two areas. However, through the connections the other teachers and I formed in these planning sessions we created a foundation for a new, improved plan to be born.

These are some of the key principles of connectivism (taken from Connectivism- a learning theory for the digital age ) which I think were essential to the planning process we undertook when revamping the historical plan we were working on:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.

I have included the plan we reconstructed because I honestly think it may well be the best history plan I have had the pleasure to work on. I would also like to conclude that whether or not you truly believe connectivism has a shot at being a learning theory – I certainly do! And I will continue to believe that it needs to be considered as an essential and integral part of a modern school’s learning environment!

 

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…