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Digital Explorers … new ground? April 28, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Teaching Idea.
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Eight students arrived for our first Digital Explorers Club on Thursday lunchtime earlier this week; a small, but helpfully manageable number to start.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Gastev: http://flickr.com/photos/gastev/3600242127/

The thinking behind the Explorers Club is to address a number of issues that have been giving me pause for thought. Following an audit of ICT across our curriculum and a review of students’ experiences of ICT, it became apparent that opportunities to move beyond the bounds of the familiar are rare. For whatever reasons (and that could be a whole post on its own) the majority of students for the most part, play safe and stick to the familiar territory of Word, PowerPoint & Google, with a brave few experimenting with MovieMaker and more recently Prezi. The interesting thing is that they haven’t encountered MovieMaker or Prezi as part of the formal curriculum. Neither is covered in ICT lessons. What seems to have happened is that a more adventurous student or member of staff has used Moviemaker or Prezi (or has suggested its use) and that’s been the catalyst to pique the interest of some brave or adventurous souls who then went away and learned how to use and apply those applications themselves. It’s not for the faint-hearted – we still occasionally get students drop by the office saying their Moviemaker file won’t work and it inevitable transpires they weren’t aware that their composition hadn’t been rendered into the final movie. But that’s part of the learning process and an accepted part of being an early adopter. The interesting thing is that, having now been around for a while, creating movies is becoming almost accepted practice; it’s not unusual for students to ask if they can produce a movie to satisfy a particular task they’ve been set. Prezi, at least in school, only surfaced more recently, but it’s clear that it too is beginning to percolate more widely. Growth and expansion of new and alternative applications seem to be occurring organically from within the student body, rather than being mandated as part of what they have to learn. I find that intriguing.

Digital Explorers then is intended as a ‘seeding’ process through which applications less familiar to students (and staff) can be introduced. Clearly some will fall on stony ground, but others may pass over into the mainstream and over a period of time, students’ experiences become broader and richer.

The choice to name the club Explorers wasn’t taken lightly. I’ve heard it expressed on several occasions that we ‘spoonfeed’ the students too much and that they in turn come to rely heavily on being provided with a sense of direction by their teachers. My intention then is that Explorers Club will challenge that notion by offering activities in a different way to those encountered in the classroom, where suggested routes are offered, but the Explorers themselves choose and forge their path, using their companions for support. Each week my intention is to suggest a region (it could be creating an avatar, making an animation or recording a podcast), offer possible routes, then allow the Explorers to plough their own furrow, taking things as far as they choose and in the direction they choose. OK in fairness I ought to mention that I also have a hidden agenda and want to sprinkle in elements of safety and ethical use of ICT, but I think that’s fair … and definitely prudent!

My intention also is to keep as hands off as possible, so the tasks will be introduced using our learning platform together with Edmodo. The former means that the activities we undertake can be shared more widely since students unable to physically attend Digital Explorers for the F2F sessions can still participate. The latter offers another fresh environment for the students to explore and having its own app, perhaps a more efficient and timely way to communicate. I have some idea of possible areas for exploration, but hope to be guided by the interests of the Explorers. As they become more familiar and comfortable with the concept, the hope is that they will relish the opportunity for greater autonomy. With luck in two or three years I’ll be redundant as they become an independent, self-sustaining, self-regulating group with its own sense of purpose. Well OK, I can dream can’t I? Small acorns and all that.


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Iguanasan: http://flickr.com/photos/eulothg/4922211016/

As well as the quality, feel the WIDTH … August 21, 2011

Posted by IaninSheffield in Inspiration, Musings.
Tags: , , , , ,

For some while now I’ve felt that the ICT many students in school are exposed to, struggles to represent the ICT those students experience in their everyday lives, nor that with which they might need to become comfortable and facile as they move into higher education, work or adulthood. In school they seem to learn about and with the usual industry-standard applications, yet occupy a

Width warning

from ell brown on Flickr

world where Internet connectivity and mobile devices provide access to untold riches across a range of applications to support their work, learning and play. But our schemes of work (and the specifications which drive them?) seem to limit and restrict, rather than liberate. Given the formal nature of our assessment systems and the need to obtain nationally recognised qualifications, perhaps that’s hardly surprising.

I’ve been mulling over for some while now the means by which we might extend the range of ICT opportunities we provide for our learners. To offer chances beyond the formal system … which by its very nature struggles to respond to the rapidly developing environment that is ICT. But how?
There were certain factors which I felt were important to incorporate:

  • Participation by students should be voluntary.
  • It should work alongside and with our current ICT provision, yet not impact on the workload of the colleagues teaching it. Consequently this would likely need to be some form of supported self-study (with some element of self-evaluation?).
  • The areas covered should explore new tools and the new affordances they bring.
  • The architecture should be extensible in the sense that new ‘modules’ can be added as needed to further extend and enhance provision.
  • Tasks undertaken should link with other areas of the students’ studies, providing authentic opportunities to develop skills.
  • There may be lessons to learn from the principles of gaming, both in providing motivation to participate, degree of challenge and monitoring and rewarding progress.
  • The facility to develop communities of practice should be an integral aspect, so that students support (and assess?) each other.

Now let’s consider Jenny, a Y9 (14 yr old) student who has been set a homework task by a teacher. The class have been working on a group activity over the past few lessons and the teacher wants them to summarise and present their findings … they’re often asked to do this in different subjects. Sometimes they get a choice of which medium they use, digital or not and sometimes they’re told to do it in a certain way. Jenny can produce a PowerPoint presentation standing on her head; she’s been developing her skills since Y5. So have the rest of her group. But they always struggle when it come to dividing the labour; should they all work on different slides then bring them together. Or should they take different roles, someone collecting imagery, someone else writing the text and someone else editing it all together? What’s more, they’ve not yet mastered the techniques which the PP platform offers for team working and collaboration (well, that’s not in any of the schemes of work so they wouldn’t have). Perhaps there’s an alternative technology which might set their presentation apart from the others, or one which offers greater potential for collaboration, synchronous or otherwise.

It’s to provide support for this kind of situation that I want to work on. Provide an environment from which students can extend their learning of ICT skills beyond that which they normally encounter. Somewhere they might go to address a shortcoming they might have or even just out of interest and curiosity … or even maybe just for fun!

Lots of thinking still to do so any thoughts you have, do please drop them in the comments. Am I just being fanciful?

Is IT really necessary? September 18, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in Management, Resources.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A couple of years ago, a friend and Head of IT in another school asked my opinion of ICT as a discrete subject in KS3. He was under pressure to have it removed from the timetable and distributed within the rest of the curriculum. At the time I couldn’t provide a compelling argument either way, much to his chagrin. This topic has raised its head once more and I was wondering whether two years further on, the arguments have changed at all?

By IaninSheffield

Let’s take a step back for a moment and look at ICT in the primary phase. At our school (ages 4-18), ICT is taught across and is embedded the curriculum in KS1 & 2; there are no discrete ICT lessons. The philosophy is that ICT should be used when and where appropriate to support learning, thereby ensuring that it is used in authentic situations, rather than being studied in its own little box. At KS3 however, ICT gets its own ‘slot’ on the timetable and becomes a discrete entity. Here it is felt that it can be explored in greater depth, is as worthy of study as other KS3 subjects, that pupils need a solid grounding for study at GCSE and beyond (should they so choose) and that subject specialists are better placed to provide for those needs. I think I’d be right in saying that our ICT in the Juniors section is similar to that in the majority of primary schools (but am happy to be corrected) and similarly our KS3 provision to that in the majority of secondary schools.

In addition to the above points, there are other factors which come into play:

  • The expertise of the teachers in embedding ICT within the broader curriculum. Primary teachers are perhaps more adept and certainly more experienced at using thematic cross-curricular approaches. Colleagues in secondary are often keen to play to the strengths of their subject disciplines, leaving other elements to those who are more capable.
  • Literacy may be integral to English lessons, but it clearly cuts across all other subject areas too, demanding that all teachers address it when necessary. Similarly numeracy may arise predominantly from the study of Maths, but it too is a touchstone to which all subjects will refer at some time. How far then should skills associated with a particular subject need to surface elsewhere? How about ‘carteracy?’ Understanding the information that maps provide us with is crucial in Geography, but many other subjects refer to maps too; another cross-curricular skill, if not less explicit. So where does ICT sit? With the other ‘…eracies?’ Or at the same level as History, French etc?
  • Resourcing. ICT taught as a discrete subject demands greater resources, invariably in the form of ICT suites/labs. ICT covered across the curriculum may allow resources to be deployed in a more distributed way, perhaps meeting the needs of subject areas more effectively in their own environments. The former is more manageable, the latter more flexible.
  • Ownership. It is increasingly apparent that mobile devices of various flavours are becoming more commonplace in the pockets and bags of our students. Supported by more cloud-based applications, schools have the opportunity to consider a completely new model for surfacing ICT in lessons, one in which ownership of the devices (and the learning they support?) transfers to the hands of our students. How might/should this affect ICT within the curriculum? (The issue of equity of access is for another post perhaps?)
  • Apprenticeship. Some would argue that learning with and about ICT occurs daily and nightly as our students interact with one another to explore ways to ‘get things done.’ Purists (some ICT teachers?) might say that this only serves to get them into bad habits; formatting text rather than using styles, spaces instead of tabs, images ‘poached’ from the Internet rather than correctly referenced etc.
  • There is much concern at the moment about the decline in the numbers of students studying computing and the ramifications for the nation’s future economy. Do ICT and Computing actually require more emphasis on the curriculum?

So I’ve singularly failed to answer the question whether ICT should be entirely embedded or taught discretely. I’d be really interested therefore to hear your views, both ICT subject teachers and non-specialists, primary and secondary. What works for you? Which directions ought we perhaps to be moving? What issues have I missed? All musings much appreciated.

#TwitterBookRead September 1, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Inspiration, research.
Tags: , , , , ,

Well that proved a really interesting experiment . . . but did I gain anything from it?

Read a book

from bethan on Twitter

If you missed the tweets, yesterday I tried using Twitter to record my progress and any points of interest as I read a book – Curriculum 21 by Heidi Hayes Jacobs.  There’s a little more about it here.  I guess I wanted to find out whether it added anything to the process of reading, reading for academic purposes that is, as opposed to reading for pleasure.  Had I been reading the book sans Twitter, I’d have made notes as I went.  If you want to pick up the record of what took place, there’s a Twapper Keeper archive here, but because a few Tweets didn’t have the hashtag, I scanned back through the stream and pulled them into the document below:

View this document on Scribd

On the ‘upside’ then:

  1. 140 characters meant I had to really focus on the contents and structure of the ‘notes’ I was taking, so that they still carried meaning.
  2. The ‘chronology’ of the stream means the notes follow the order of the book.
  3. Having occasional comments from other tweeple challenged me to revisit some of my notes and rephrase them, or think more deeply about what I’d noted.
  4. It’s very encouraging when others are taking an interest in what you’re studying (a very important point methinks!)

On the ‘downside’:

  1. I perhaps wasn’t as prolific in my notetaking as I would normally have been, conscious of not wishing to pollute the Twitterstream too much with my ramblings (folks can get very tetchy!)
  2. Sometimes squeezed a little too hard to fit the message into 140 characters and consequently may have lost meaning.
  3. The ‘linear’ nature of the stream meant that cross-linking ideas and concepts wasn’t really possible; I’ll often take notes in the form of a mind map, if I think I can gain something.
  4. Although the stream is linear, some of the additional comments and follow-up replies come out of order.  This can make the archive a little hard to follow.

So weighing the balance of the above, the obvious question I guess is ‘what next?’  How (or should) I take it any further?  Well it’s a start and having done it once, repeating the process with another book would enable some of the wrinkles to be ironed out.  I certainly think I’d like to be on the receiving end; watching someone else take the lead and contributing as an observer.  With that in mind, earlier today John Pallister made a couple of interesting comments by way of follow up:

Tweets from John Pallister

Now there’s an idea!  If other people undertook the task when they’re reading, we could begin to form a library of summaries of interesting literature.  Better than simple summaries though because they would have the additional layer of comments from others who had joined in.  #TwitterBookRead as John termed it.  It’s a win-win-win endeavour surely:

  1. the reader is perhaps encouraged to think more carefully about the ‘notes’ s/he is making, in the same way creating a blog post often makes us think twice before hitting the keys
  2. collaborators/observers can dip in and out as they are able, enjoying the opportunity to contribute to the final product
  3. all get access to a swelling archive of summarised books, enabling them to make a more informed choice before parting with their hard-earned on the full version . . . or maybe find inspiration and pointers to books they might have otherwise missed.

Anyone up for taking this further?

And perhaps this doesn’t have to be restricted just to the edtech community in Twitter.  Surely there are potential benefits for our learners, whether they be students in higher ed or primary or secondary for that matter.  Working together to review/summarise/précis books or longer articles using the 140 character format could involve a host of different skills.  In a single activity, there are opportunities to work up through the levels in Bloom’s taxonomy, undertaking increasingly complex tasks, leading to a higher levels of understanding surely than just reading an article/book sitting at a desk or lounging on a couch?  Reading with a purpose surely?

Just needs fleshing out a little.  Anyone?

(Footnote:  If you want to see a much more elegant and thorough summary of the book itself, then check out this post from Silvia Tolisano (@langwitches) – it’s what inspired me to buy the book)

Maths Maps . . . but across the curriculum? December 22, 2009

Posted by IaninSheffield in Inspiration, Teaching Idea.
Tags: , , ,

I’m lucky to work in a school that’s a member of a wider partnership, a sisterhood, a community.  If there’s an issue I’m struggling with and no-one here who is in a position to help, I know I’ve colleagues in that wider network to whom I can turn.  Other colleagues here in school however, don’t recognise that they could do that too and bemoan the fact that they feel isolated . . . but then they haven’t

  • had the chance to meet other colleagues from our community in the same way I have
  • yet begun to establish a PLN to which they can turn.

When @tombarrett produced his first Maths Map (do check it out; Tom explains the principle so well) ) and invited his PLN to contribute, I wondered whether this might be a way to open links between colleagues in our partnership?  I began to envisage a project where I’d take interested colleagues here through the principles of setting up a Google Map along the same lines as Tom’s Maths Maps, but from any curriculum area.  Once they’ve initiated their map, they would then contact colleagues in sister schools and invite them to join (we have a global address list which should make that easy).

Now I know that some colleagues may struggle to see how they can get started i.e. they just can’t spot a topic that they can ‘ground’ (pardon pun!) in a map.  I had no problems in the area with which I’m most familiar and was able to initiate this Physics map on the topic of Energy Resources:

. . . but what about other topics in other curriculum areas?  Can anyone help?  What topic from your curriculum area could use a Google Map to provoke, stimulate or open a discussion and provide a backdrop for a Maths Map-like exercise?  If you have an idea and can spare a moment, could you pop it into this form and we’ll see where it goes.  (Will post a follow-up and feedback on how the project went, together links to any maps we create)


Thanks to @bevevans22 for a couple of great ideas:

BevEvan's ideas

Inspiration from @bevevans22

Castles & Digital storytelling