Your Own Technology Survey (YOTS)

Do you know what technology your pupils have access to at home?

  • Do they have internet enabled mobile devices?
  • Would they be willing, able and allowed to bring them into school every day?

If you are thinking about BYOD or BYOT then these are questions you need to know the answer to.

The Your Own Technology Survey (YOTS) is a tool to help schools better understand the technology available to students, and how that technology might be utilized to enhance education.

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What to do on a class blog

I’ve recently been asked by a number of teachers “what shall I do on my blog?” So this gives me an excuse to do list on a blog!

  1. Make a list! People love lists, pupils love lists, so make a list of something that is relevant to your class. But don’t make it too long (unlike this list!)
  2. Set a challenge. The main reason for using a blog with children is to help them learn and there are so many things you can learn through either writing a blog or reading and commenting on a blog. There are some really good challenges out there on the blogosphere already such as 5SC (Five Sentence Challenge) and 100WC (100 Word Challenge). It is very easy to set your own challenge, post a photo and ask the children to describe what is going on, or the story that might surround the photo. Give the first line or paragraph of a story and ask pupils to write the next page. Give the last line of the story ….
  3. Point your pupils at posts by other children on your blog or on other class blogs and encourage them to comment. It works best if they are give several positive, encouraging comments for each constructive criticism that they make. Suggest that they think about how they would feel if they received the comment that they have written.
  4. Celebrate your children’s work. It is so easy now to put a photo or video onto a blog, especially if you use a tablet such as an iPad with the WordPress app installed as I am using to write this post. Parents, grandparents from across the globe, friends and relatives love to see their children’s work online or to hear them reading their own work. And if you have a visitors map attached to your blog you have your next geography lesson sorted!
  5. Visit other blogs to get ideas. Blog dipping is a great way to see the best of what is happening on other school blogs.
  6. Join Quadblogging. Link your class blog to three other class blogs across the globe. You take it in turns to blog and to read and comment on other class blogs and this will give you loads of new ideas, give your pupils lots of opportunities to provide critical analysis of other work, and another geography lesson will be sorted!
  7. Perhaps the most important thing is to make the blog live, it needs regular input and feedback from yourself, the pupils and an audience out there. As David Mitchell says “A Blog needs an audience to keep it alive for your learners.” Sugata Mitra introduced the idea of the “Granny Cloud“, people “out there” who are encouraged to praise, comment, suggest and challenge via the blog. Why not build up your own community of cloud grannies to help keep your blog alive?

If you have other ideas do please add them as a comment!What to do on a class blog wordle

Hands up

hands-upBack in 2010 the BBC showed a short series called “The Classroom Experiment” where Professor Dylan Williams took over a year 8 class to test out some simple ideas that he believes could improve the quality of education. One of these ideas was to ban hands up when the teacher asks a question and instead choose students at random. To aid the fair and even selection of students he wrote their names onto lollipop sticks and picked them out at random.

thehatI was reminded of this programme today because my daughter, who is currently studying to be a teacher on a PGCE course, bought some lollipop sticks. And this triggered another memory, that of a free program called “The Hat” from Harmony Hollow Software which allows you to select students at random on the computer screen. It adds a slightly different dynamic to selecting students and also allows you to group students at random.

Obviously, if you have some difficult students you would have to be brave to use it to group students at random as Darren and Clive are bound to end up grouped together!

Anyway, I’ve found it to be quite a nifty and useful piece of software in the past. You can run it from a USB pen, you can load up different classes onto it, and you can use it to draw numbers or words rather than names. All in all, this software can provide that little bit of fun without distracting from the education process, it can fool students into blaming the machine rather than you and it allows you to try out the “no hands up” approach without lollipop sticks. If you try it out let me know what you think of it.

Power and social networking

In a recent article in Resurgence Fritjof Capra wrote:

To understand how power works in social networks, we need to distinguish between two kinds of power: power as domination of others, and power as empowerment of others. The most effective social organisation for power as domination is the traditional hierarchy, and power as empowerment is the network.

Social networking is about empowerment so should we not be using and teaching responsible use of social networking in our schools from an early age. In fact, with the movement of effective power from hierarchies to networked civil societies should we not only be teaching it but finding ways to practice it in our schools? Or are we already doing that? Your thoughts?

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Fifty things to do before you’re 11 3/4

50thingsOne of my first blog posts on this site was about how little contact children have with nature these days and the impact it can have on their health and wellbeing. Last night the Country File TV program on BBC referred to the National Trust’s campaign to encourage children to get out of doors, they have published a list of “Fifty things to do before you’re 11¾”, a quick Google this morning brought up the list on the CBBC Newsround site along with a video report and the site that the National Trust have set up for their campaign.

The list is quite exciting and the activities would lend themselves to all sorts of classroom activities as well including literacy and numeracy. I’m sure that with a little imagination teachers would be able to tick off some of their required boxes whilst the children are happily ticking off some of their 50 boxes!

Of course, one of the big questions is, which ones have you been able to tick off, either before you were 11¾ or since then?

Me, I’ve got a couple to do still – where’s my GPS?

Books or e-books, that is the question

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In Star Trek: The Next Generation Captain Jean-Luc Picard has a preference for paper books over digital books. Science fiction has now become science fact and we have access to small e-book readers such as the Kindle, and other tablets that we can read books on like the iPad that I am currently blogging from. The advantages of these devices does seem quite obvious to some of us – they are small, have long battery life, can carry huge numbers of books and documents including dictionaries, thesauri, text books and novels. It is easy to search for words or phrases and you can usually annotate your work. Added to that is the excitement and enthusiasm they can produce in students.

However, there is now some suggestion that Captain Picard may have something in his preference for paper based books. People who read paper may actually remember more! In an interesting blog post Maia Szalavitz suggests that there are issues in remembering not only what is in the book but also the names of characters. She concludes that "more studies will likely show what material is best suited for learning in a digital format, and what type of lessons best remain in traditional textbooks".

I wonder what Captain thingumabob would have to say?

Well Done! Blogging about your successes

David Mitchell, deputy head at Heathfield CPS in Bolton, found that of the children being sent to him, for every child sent for a positive reason there were 10 for negative reasons. In an attempt to change this he set up a “Well done – Show Mr Mitchell” blog. Pupils were told that the next time they were sent to him he wanted it to be for a good reason so that he could put them on the “Well Done” blog. The result? The “well done blog” has changed this around to one negative for every 10 positive!

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I’m a great fan of David Mitchell, also know as DeputyMitchell due to his Twitter tag. If you get the chance to hear him promote his kids at a conference or TeachMeet I think you will be inspired.

Building Relationships

I remember a colleague once saying that education was all about relationships. Relationships with pupils, with colleagues, with parents and of course with your own family.

Since I started reading more about sustainability and well being I have realised that another relationship that is very important is the one with your school building and grounds. The environment that you work and study in affects you in so many ways. Are you going to feel comfortable or study well if you sit in a draught, experience lots of distracting noise, if you are surrounded by drab walls, don’t have a nice view out of the window, sit in uncomfortable seats for hours, if you have too little space because of overcrowding, if things don’t work, if it is far too hot, or you are in a massive building where it feels like you are just a tiny little insect? Are you going to respect the school building and surroundings if nobody else seems to care about looking after them and there is litter everywhere, if the windows are falling out, the roof leaks and doors don’t shut properly? Will you be bothered about saving energy by switching off lights and closing doors if the windows don’t shut and the classrooms are uncomfortable due to excessive heat or cold?

Yet despite BSF and PFI, global warming and financial crises, Ofsted and Academy status we are still planning to build schools that depersonalise us and don’t encourage us to develop a good relationship with them.

I’ve seen how new buildings and carefully developed school grounds can make a huge impact on behaviour and motivation of staff and students and how they start to respect the school fabric in a way they didn’t in their older buildings. The buildings can become part of the learning process as well as part of the learning environment, they can inspire learning rather than distract. And if the staff and students are allowed to have a say in the design of their new working environment then even better. Why shouldn’t students be aware of the process of planning a school? Let them know that someone has decreed that each student is allowed a certain area of floor space and why the windows are the size they are. Let them make suggestions as to how their learning environment can be improved.

So all you architects and school planners out there, when you go to visit a school to look at how it might be rebuilt or extended, go and sit in the classroom for a day, talk to the students and staff and get a feel for how you can help them improve their relationship with their learning environment. And when you go back to your environmentally controlled, plant filled, light and airy office just think about the environments you are creating for our learners for the next 40-60 years.

Where does all our food waste go?

I’ve always been shocked at the amount of food that is wasted and the huge environmental impact food production has. We grow food and transport it all over the world, often flying it thousands of miles and then transporting it by road for hundreds of miles only to throw half of it away because it is the wrong shape, colour or past it’s “best by” date. We eventually get the food to the school, restaurant, hospital or home, prepare it and then leave some of it on the plate. Next it goes into a bin to be collected by bin lorries that transport it miles to dump it into land fill sites where it decomposes to produce methane and carbon dioxide – more greenhouse gases – and because it gets mixed in with all the other rubbish it is of no use to anyone.

I believe that it is important for us and our children to understand where our food comes from and the real cost of producing it. Many schools are already growing food so that their pupils realise that peas and tomatoes come from plants and not tins or packets from supermarkets.

But it is also important to understand where our food waste goes and the impact it has on the environment. Some schools have started compost heaps to dispose of vegetable waste but this usually deals with a small amount of the food waste produced by a school.

A company called Ridan was a finalist in the Devon Environment Business Initiative (DEBI) awards for its Ridan Composter, a carbon negative device that can turn food waste into useful compost that can be used in the school grounds. There is also a cash saving in the money saved on disposal costs and the opportunity to teach young people how food waste can become a valuable resource.

The Resurgence article that introduced me to the Ridan composter tells of a school that installed a Ridan composter and then had an assembly about it in which the children sang ‘I’ve got a brand new Ridan Composter’ to the tune of the Wurzels classic song!

The Ridan website also includes more information about composting. If your school is interested in installing a composter you may be eligble for a grant from organisations like Biffa.

Autumn leaves

Hawthorn Berry

The winds of the last few days are causing the leaves to start falling and even though it is only September it feels like Autumn is on its way. As I walk around my local patch the hawes are ripe on the hawthorn trees, beech mast litters the ground and rowan berries are a brilliant bright red. All around us are the seeds of the next generation.

Many children are totally unaware of this. They don’t see the trees and the berries because they don’t know to look, they spend most of their time indoors. Richard Louv coined the phrase “Nature Deficit Disorder” in his book “Last Child in the Woods” and he uses this phrase to describe the alleged trend that children are spending less time outdoors and are losing touch with nature and the seasons. There are many reasons suggested for this occurrence and Louv says that this has profound implications for the health of future generations and the health of the planet. Attention disorders, depression and obesity all get a mention.

There is an increasingly large movement of people who take this work seriously and are working to get children outside and actively learning. One way is to take children out to gather the seeds of the local trees, identify them using books, databases, websites or other people, and then to plant the seeds. Hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel and beech all make good hedges and would make a brilliant green corridor if you planted them around your school boundary. They would also disguise those horrible metal fences most schools have – those ones that make the school look more like an open prison!

Besides fallen leaves, a lot of twigs and branches have been brought down by the winds. Rather than clearing them up and binning them, why not make small piles around the school grounds as insect hotels. A quick google will bring up lots of suggestions as to how to build them and how to use them to teach children about wildlife and food chains.

And all of this will provide opportunities to teach numeracy, literacy, art, …. and all those other subjects, and to tick all those curriculum boxes.