Vale a pena ficar de olho nesse blog!

“Vale a pena ficar de olho nesse blog!” or to those of us who speak English: “It’s worth taking a look at this blog!” Thank you to Jan Webb for including me in her list of 10 blogs that are worth taking a look at.

If you are included below and wish to take part in the project; simply copy the image from above and the title of this post. Make a new post on your own blog; including them, and your list of the 10 blogs you think others should take a look at.

Okay. On with my list:

Doug Belshaw is an inspiration to many of us who marvel at his insane levels of productivity! His blog is always insightful, always useful and being someone who loves clean aesthetic design, his blog is beautiful to look at/read. Doug and his blog were one of the final catalysts that led to me writing my own blog and I have tried to borrow some of those design aesthetics in putting together my blog.

Richard Byrne seems to be a man on a mission to catalogue and provide his PLN with an entire library of educational tools, apps, software and websites; keeping them innovating in the classroom until the end of time. He is the most prolific blogger in my Google Reader. Simply awesome!

Tom Barrett quickly became one of my heroes when I joined Twitter. He will retweet you, recommend you and help you get your PLN off the ground. His posts centre around educational technology posting about great apps and tools. However, as a leader in the edtech community, the true worth in Tom’s blog comes from his ideas and thoughts about edtech itself and the pedagogy involved. To see what I mean check out this post called “Whispering Change”.

James Clay‘s blog is another great edtech read, particularly his series of posts titled “100 ways to use a VLE”. As an avid user of my schools VLE (Moodle) I find these posts exceptionally useful whether they introduce a new idea, reinforce something I have already been doing or remind of something I had forgotten about. This brings me nicely to the next two blogs which are also Moodle related.

Ian Usher is Buckinghamshire’s eLearning co-ordinator and helped set up our VLE. He is a “Moodle” afficinadao and his blog tends to centre around this – exploring the use of Moodle across a series of schools which he has worked. He also blogs on other edtech related ideas, pedagogy and tools. And as an added bonus, if you subscribe to his blog feed you will also get regular updates from his delicious links.

Kristian Still is someone I have gotten to know recently; he, being directly involved in this years Moodle Moot. (You can read his guest posts featured on Moodle Monthly about the #mootuk10 here: Day 1 and here: Day 2) Kristain posts regularly on a wide variety of education related areas including edtech, leadership and 21st Century Learning – a topic that is if great personal interest to me as it has been at the forefront of my thinking and classroom practice for the last few years. His writing style serves him well, creating clear and informative posts with a personal conversational tone.

David Mitchell‘s blog is really interesting as he is simply not afraid to try out new and innovative ideas inside and outside of the classroom. Search back through the posts to see how he is getting on with using mobile technology in the classroom, Cover It Live, Voicethread for peer assessment, Twitter and class blogging amongst other things. Reading about his methodology and his sheer willingness to give it a go serves as a constant reminder that you must not stay stagnant as an educator. You must keep looking for ways to improve the learning for your students.

Dai Barnes writes on edtech, pedagogy and innovation. His posts are always stimulating and, like several of the other educators I have included in this list, he is leading the way in thinking about 21st Century Education. His blog is well structured to allow you to find information on key areas of interest including Moodle, eLearning and mobile technology.

Chickensaltash is a great educator who waxes lyrical on day to day learning, edtech and the 21st Century Classroom. His posts regularly end up in my Instapaper account to read later as the guy can write and write and write! Therefore, I often need to save them till I have more time to read them and digest the ideas within.

I have included the Instapaper Blog in this list as Instapaper is my favourite web app of all time. It is integral to both my web work flow and personal productivity. It was the second web app that I used Fluid to turn into a desktop based app and the excellent, regularly updated iPhone app has become my most used app on my iPod touch. You can read my post about creating desktop apps with Fluid (including Instapaper) here. Their recent posts have included many updates on the development of their iPad app which looks stunning…check out the pics in this post. If you love design simplicity like I do you will love the way this app looks!

And that’s it; 10 blogs I think you should take a look at. Please leave comments if you wish and as always you can contact me on Twitter @jamesmichie.

#edread – An Update! (Spring Is In The Air)

blossom

The #edread discussion continues to blossom and has now (through some pro-activity) begun to bear fruit in school.  Not being one to wait for the discussion to have fully formed, I began sharing links and ideas that had been tweeted with my colleagues straight away.  I also shared a reading lesson that I had completed spontaneously the other week (read the blog post about it here).  Three other teacher followed my lead and did a similar lesson with their classes!

The outcome of the e-mails, sharing of links and ideas, and my constant chatter about reading resulted in a meeting between our Learning Research Centre manager (Andrea), a colleague (Jo) who has responsibility within English for Years 7 and 8 and I.  The purpose? To evaluate and improve the KS3 reading program and to look into ideas that can raise the profile of reading amongst KS4 students.

I came away from the meting truly inspired – both by the range of ideas that came out of it but also by the fact that a key component in this discussion had been the resources and ideas that had been shared by my Twitter PLN.  Crowdsourcing really is one of the most effective techniques to aid learning – Twitter simply makes it better by broadening the field.

From the meeting we have agreed to look in to / develop the following ideas:

For the last few years, at KS3, each class has had a weekly reading lesson. This year we introduced “shared reading” however I don’t feel that it was fully thought through.  The main problem being that the books we have to use have been around for some time and are not very appealing to our students.  Solution?  Andrea and Jo are going to research and compile a list of books that we could purchase (probably 6 copies of each) to use in reading lessons.  These are going to be new books, for different ability levels, by authors that are popular amongst 11-14 year olds; including graphic novels, comics, short stories, non-fiction texts and much more.  We agreed that “shared reading” was a good idea but that it would work better if we had more appealing texts and we could break the classes up into a wider range of groups.  I am sure that if we focus on variety and give the students more choice the shared reading experience will be far more effective.

This led on to a discussion about bringing the students into the LRC for their reading lessons.  As I mentioned earlier a few teachers have already followed my lead with this idea.  The English department used to do this regularly but it seems to have stopped happening.  Andrea the LRC manager wants it to become a more regular event (not just for English either).  We agreed that perhaps there should be a rota and that the students could be given a break from their “shared reading” lessons every 4/5 weeks by being brought into the LRC to explore the environment and to read whatever they want for pure pleasure.

As the meeting progressed I raised the idea of students “reviewing and recommending” books.  I suggested that recommendations or new-arrivals could be displayed on the computer screens when students log-in.  We also discussed setting up a LRC Blog so that Andrea could communicate with students and parents about what is happening in the LRC each term.  Students could review and recommend books on it and special events could be promoted.  This could be supported by more traditional methods like a notice board with reviews of books or recommendation slips stuck inside books by students when they return them after reading.

At KS4 Andrea suggested that we look at creating “reading lists” from curriculum areas.  This may work for KS4 students – if they have a passion for a subject they may choose to read more about it.  Wider reading is something that many of my KS5 students struggle with so introducing it at KS4 in an optional capacity may go someway to not only improving reading participation at KS4 but in turn help set expectations over reading at KS5.

We also discussed “Book Swap” which has already begun with Years 7 and 8 but I feel should be a school wide scheme.  I believe that if this is done right it can significantly raise the profile of reading around the school.  I am planning to do a “book-drive” to get teachers, parents and students to donate books to get the “Book Swap” off on the right foot.  I also wish for the “Book Swap” events to be organised by KS4/5 students – this will hopefully generate more interest if it is being promoted by students rather than just teachers.

The final idea that we discussed was “Drop everything and read” – the idea being that the whole school, at a designated time each week, literally drops whatever they are doing and read for 20 minutes.  Now, logistically this is the most challenging idea and the obvious answer (at my school) would be for this to happen during one an extended Tutor period.  However, I think it would have a much bigger profile and a more significant effect if it happened during lesson time.  The kids would be made to sit up and think about reading if in the middle of their Technology lesson they had to down their tools and pick up a book.  I will need to get my Principal on board with this one!  If anyone has any ideas about how I might convince her and the rest of the school to giving this a go please comment, e-mail me or tweet me @jamesmichie.  I think this has huge potential but will take some serious willpower to get it off the ground!

The meeting was really productive and affirmed my decision to put reading at the front of my blogging / Twitter agenda.  Maybe it’s the time of year – it did feel like spring this week and I really feel that the #edread discussion is beginning to take bloom.

Student involvement:

I have also now decided that I do want to get the students involved in the discussion.  I particularly want to hear from KS4 students – those who do read and those who don’t.  I want to understand what reading means and represents to them?  Why some have continued reading for pleasure?  And why other have not?  I am trying to decide between using an open forum on the VLE, using the “choice” module  again on the VLE or using Survey Monkey. I have decided against using Twitter as it would be difficult to get a representative response due to the fact that I have limited control over who is on Twitter and who is not.  I will therefore use a method that all students can access.

The latest #edread tweets:

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the discussion so far.  Remember you can see a full archive of the tweets here and there is a dedicated page here.Image by kittykatfish on Flickr.

WordPress or Blogger?

WP or BL

Today’s post was going to focus on my first classroom and what it meant, having a classroom to call my own but I will save that for next week as I got a little sidetracked, moving my blog from WordPress to Blogger.

Yes, after just two posts I have moved my blog from WordPress to Blogger today.  I have been using Blogger since 2006, posting resources, links and ideas on my school media blog here.  It has served me well but I had been impressed by some fellow educators’ blogs on WordPress so I thought that I would give it a go.  However, sitting working on the blog today, attempting to edit the look and feel of it, I ended up being very frustrated.

The move from WordPress to Blogger is simply due to the fact that I do not wish, at this moment in time, to buy a domain for myself; my funds need to go elsewhere.  Furthermore, Blogger offers far more freedom and control over the look of my blog at no extra financial cost whereas WordPress wanted me to pay to edit the CSS features of my blog.  This made the move a no-brainer for me. I do not want to pay out money each month to make the blog look and work for me the way I want it to when Blogger will let me do this for free.  This is not to say that Blogger does not have its own limits but these are not so plentiful that I feel I need to use a service in which money needs to be exchanged to achieve my goals.

I hope that I have not confused too many people?  I will keep tweeting that I have moved over the next couple of days to get the word out!

A Very British Education.

A Study in Scarlet

Having turned 30 this past December I often find myself thinking about my brain, impressed by the fact that it keeps working; consuming more information all of the time.  This in turn gets me to thinking about my students brains and what my role is in helping to fill them, which brings me to the purpose of this post.  Once a week I am going to focus on a quote from literature to help illustrate a point or idea.

For the 1st of these posts I wish to direct you to chapter 2 from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel: A Study in Scarlet. Watson is amazed by both Holmes’ knowledge and his ignorance after discovering that he was unaware of the fact that the Earth rotates around the Sun. Holmes explains his apparent shortcomings quite wonderfully.

“You appear to be astonished,” he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.”

“To forget it!”

“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

“But the Solar System!” I protested.

“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently; “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

It is at this point that I turn to the title of my post.  It is clear that if Holmes were alive and kicking in the 21st Century he would be very pleased with the current system of British education – specifically the ‘narrowing’ or ‘specialising’ process (depending on how you view it) that takes place at 14, 16 and 18 years of age.  By the time a young person leaves university they will have surely emptied their “brain-attic” of any and all “useless facts”, keeping only the “useful ones” in pursuit of their chosen career.

However, I believe that both the great Sherlock Holmes and the current system of education in Britain are wrong.  Holmes’ usually exquisite reasoning has failed him.  In the 21st century it is unlikely that any person leaving education will have an exact understanding of what their future career may be.  Jobs change frequently and new ones are invented all of the time in a world that never stops moving, never stops adapting and evolving.  It is therefore, impossible to say that any one piece of information is “useless”. What may seem like a trivial nugget of knowledge may one day be a vital component of someone’s “brain-attic” helping them to complete a task or to forge ahead with their chosen career.

While I appreciate that some of you will disagree with me, I for one, am tired of hearing the following question come from a 15 year-old’s mouth: “What do I need to know this for? I don’t see why I need to be able to read Shakespeare in order to cut someone’s hair!”  For me this exemplifies the flaws in Holmes’ thinking.  While being able to read Shakespeare may not help the 15 year-old to cut hair after they leave school at 16 it will have taught them something about British heritage; it may help them two years later should they become dissatisfied with their chosen career and decide to go to college; and it might certainly be useful to them when they have their own 15 year-old who is reading Romeo & Juliet for the first time and they are asking mum or dad to sit down and read it with them.

Holmes may not be completely wrong though. There probably is some knowledge that will be useless to us no matter what but even the most benign facts such as the name of Katie Price’s current husband will be useful to someone: a journalist at the Sun newspaper perhaps, a celebrity blogger or a university professor who teaches their students Media Studies or Social Studies.

The fact of the mater is this: No information is “useless”!  The current system of education in Britain is telling young people that some information is more important than others, that some subjects are more valuable than others and that it is okay to ignore information, ideas and thoughts if they don’t bare some direct relationship to the subjects they are taking or the career path they have decided to follow.  This for me like Holmes’ explanation if his own ignorance is very problematic.

I personally feel let down by my own education – I was not fully prepared for the rigours of the working world and like so many learned just as much working as a part-time supervisor at Superdrug as I did studying for my degree.  I learned to use Maths properly on the job – having been allowed to give it up at sixteen.  My wife, an Arts History Major from the College of Charleston, SC, USA was still taking ‘Math’ classes while obtaining her degree – the application of number being actually quite important to the day to day running of a gallery or museum.  On the job I also learned to use Excel with real purpose rather than the laughable task used by many ICT teachers today – to plan a party on an Excel spreadsheet – who does that I ask you?  Who plans their parties using Excel? I don’t – a paper and pen usually suffices!

If I had been made to continue with a broader range of courses I have no doubt that I still would have made it to University but I may have had greater choice about what I wanted to do.  I may have retained more of that useful Maths that I struggled through at GCSE but only saw the true value of when as a University student I was promoted from Shop Assistant to Supervisor – a position that meant I had to balance the tills at the end of the day, squaring away the days takings. It was worth it for the pay rise that came with it but would have been easier if I had not been allowed (encouraged in fact) to let that “useless” Maths (like long division and percentages) be elbowed out of my “brain-attic”.

I am grateful to my time working in retail – it meant that I had the expertise to pass my QTS Skills test in Numeracy during my PGCE.  In fact as an English PGCE student this and the ICT test were the exams I feared the least.  I was more worried that my spelling or grammar would let me down on the Literacy test.  This ill feeling mainly being the product of not wanting to embarrass myself more than anything else.

The word count reads 1279 so I had better come to some sort of a conclusion!  A child’s brain is like an empty “attic” and it i my job to help fill it but not simply with Shakespeare, Browning and Miller; not simply to be able to analyse a quotation or dissect a scene from EastEnders but to teach them to question the status quo; to conduct primary and secondary research effectively; to understand the links between social media, geography, politics and class amongst many other connections that can be made between subjects, ideas and thoughts.  My students’ “brain-attics” have walls but they are pliable, expandable, not set by stone and mortar.  They are open to using technology to aid their learning but also to know when to put it down.  They appreciate, because I will them to, that Art is as valuable as English and History is as valuable as Maths.  And you know what their is enough room in their “brain-attics” to take it all in!

My concern is this!  What happens to my Year 10 students in 18 months time and they become A-Level students or they leave school.  Will their “brain-attics” keep being filled up?  Will they keep expanding their minds thirsting for knowledge or will they start to haemorrhage apparently “useless” information that they believe they don’t need any more because they “don’t do English no more, didn’t see the point of Shakespeare any way!”

Sherlock Holmes –  your reasoning is simply wrong!  While you don’t see why knowing that the Earth rotates around the Sun will help you right now you are ignorant of the fact that it might be helpful to you at a later date.  This is the problem and challenge that our young students face today being the recipients of “a very British Education.”