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21st Century Learners – Myth or Reality? April 26, 2015

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Teaching Idea.
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Earlier this week I was working with a colleague and her Year 6 group (10 year olds), introducing Google Maps – how to create your own customised map and add your own content. The group is shortly to visit Eyam on a field trip and we were exploring an alternative way to synthesise their learning from the trip, which has both a History and Geography focus. Rather than presenting the findings in a conventional way, using a customised map enables them to be rooted it in the geographical context from which they arose. Although familiar with Google docs, slides and sheets, creating a Google map constituted progression in their digital skills. This lesson then was about laying the foundational skills to enable them to work in the new environment, so the aims included creating a blank map, sharing it with their partner so both could edit, locating a specific point and adding a placemarker, editing the placemarker, adding text and an image, adding a line to represent a route from school to Eyam (then finding a shorter one). An extension task involved exporting the map to Google Earth and ‘flying’ along their route(s). If you’ve never used Google maps for anything other than searching for a place, then all of the above is likely to be quite new and (other than the notion of sharing) involves a different set of features than the ones commonly found in other applications. So in addition to teacher-led demonstrations of the tasks they were to undertake, I also produced a set of instructions to follow; a recipe book if you will. What happened next was quite interesting.

When the class began the activity (working in pairs), few bothered to refer to the instructions I provided and dived straight in, trying different parts of the available interface until they made headway. Those adopting the ‘trial and error’ method made faster progress than those following the instructions, up to the point where they got completely stuck then they floundered, trying to find the relevant point in the instructions (perhaps I need to rethink the way the instructions are compiled?). Once back on track, they raced ahead once more. They also made more mistakes, but seemed comfortable with that, happy to retry an attempt which had gone awry. Fascinating and delightful to see such resilience.

What intrigued and surprised me, though it probably shouldn’t have, was how different these ten-year-olds were when compared with the teacher groups with whom I often work. If I’d undertaken a similar activity with colleagues, I’m fairly sure (albeit anecdotally) that the proportions of those who begin with the instructions and those who would open with experimentation would be reversed. Which then begs the question, do young people these days approach a new task with more abandon than their older counterparts? Is this evidence for 21st Century Learners being somehow different i.e. that the digital era into which they were born is affecting their attitude? Or perhaps younger people are more experimental and happier to take risks, where time-poor teachers would rather adopt the low-risk strategy in order to ensure successful completion? If the two groups are not fundamentally different and all I’m seeing is age-related, developmental differences, I wonder where the transition from one approach to the other takes place and if it’s an incremental change, stretched out over time? As ten-year-olds, they’ve little experience of high-stakes testing; perhaps that’s the point when a trial-and-error approach becomes more of a liability and has to be dropped in favour of the safer, low-risk option? Sadly I don’t have the data to provide answers to these questions, but that one lesson prompted an awful lot of pondering!

Footnote. Two days later I was working with another class when a couple of students came by and said they couldn’t find the Google maps they had created last lesson. I couldn’t immediately leave the class I was supporting to help, but suggested they look in the instructions. They had; without joy. Fifteen minutes later when I could pop across to their class, they were all back on track, maps open and immersed in their activities. It transpired that my instructions had lapsed owing to the update to the new version of Google Maps. Although initially flummoxed, their ‘Try. Fail. Fail better.’ approach helped them to get up and running independently … and to be able to explain to me how my instructions needed amending!. I wonder if … more mature learners would have shown such persistence and adaptability?

In this TED Talk, Tim Harford talks about using a trial and error approach, which others discuss in more detail here.

‘Jockeying’ for position? November 29, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in Inspiration, Teaching Idea.
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cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by electricnerve: http://flickr.com/photos/electricnerve/1168546515/

Recently started reading “The World is Open” by Curtis Bonk which promises to stimulate my thought buds in several different ways. Barely through the first chapter (‘To Search and to Scan’) though, he mentioned in passing the notion of a ‘Google Jockey,’ a completely new term to me. A quick search (yes … with Google!) revealed it’s actually quite a well-know idea; Educause defines it as follows:

A Google jockey is a participant in a presentation or class who surfs the Internet for terms, ideas, Web sites, or resources mentioned by the presenter or related to the topic. The jockey’s searches are displayed simultaneously with the presentation, helping to clarify the main topic and extend learning opportunities.

It seems to me there are several advantages to using Google Jockeys in the classroom, but that there are three groups who benefit:

  1. The Jockey – able to practise and hone his/her Web searching skills whilst being able to take an alternative or sideways look at the topic and learning activities in class. They aren’t constrained to focus on the teacher and have the opportunity to follow what piques their interest in the area of study. They bring a new perspective, viewing the topic through their lenses … and perhaps inspiring other students to see things differently too.
  2. The rest of the class – provided with a bunch of supplementary support resources that they might not otherwise have had the chance to experience.
  3. The teacher, who, thanks to the efforts of the Jockey, is blessed with someone finding resources that they might be able to use with subsequent classes working through the same topic.

I guess that some teachers might feel that a parallel information channel could prove distracting; I suspect it would need practice to not only become comfortable with, but to make the most of those serendipitous teaching moments which bubble to the surface as a result of the Jockey’s meanderings. But if having a ‘live’ feed was too intimidating, perhaps devoting the plenary to an exploration of the finds with the while class might be more manageable? It would also be a shame if those finds were lost when the lesson has ended, so perhaps the Jockey could be adding their nuggets to a LiveBinder, ScoopIt or Popplet so that their peers can access them at a later time … perhaps to support their homework?

Now what if the role was actually commonplace in most lessons across the curriculum, or at least where appropriate? Through regular exposure, students would have the chance to sharpen their search skills as they learned from the searching and information mining of their fellow Jockeys. Think also of how much interesting material could accumulate in a relatively short time – clearly an opportunity for learning about managing and cataloguing/tagging information … maybe involve the school librarian if you’re fortunate to have one?

Still only just started thinking about the possibilities; you might already be using them or have a different slant, so please do chip in with a comment. My one reservation is the term, Jockey. Maybe it’s a cultural thing or maybe it needs to be that funky(?!) to be appealing … or maybe it just doesn’t matter. Anyone think of a different expression?

“Craft of the Classroom” – 40 tips to help you manage your classroom effectively June 17, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Reading, Teaching Idea.
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The Craft of the Classroom

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo by ianguest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/7388684206/

A number of years ago (unfortunately where n>30) as I was awaiting the start of my PGCE, I opted to read one of the pre-course texts. It left a lasting impression on me and despite being a slim volume, became my touchstone as I worked through teacher training and the first few years as a newly qualified teacher. Michael Marland’s “The Craft of the Classroom” provides advice on strategies, techniques and resources for managing a classroom. In some ways dated (e.g. use of the overhead projector), even in the 1993 reprint, the advice nevertheless remains in many ways timeless. The book isn’t about learning theories and pedagogy, progression and performance, assessment and reporting; it’s about how to manage delicate balance of interactions between the teacher, students, resources and the classroom environment itself.

I revisited the book recently following a tweet asking for educational books which made an impact on us. Unable to track down my original, for a few pence on Amazon I picked up a used copy and pulled out forty points, each of which is expanded in greater detail in the book – you could do worse than to pick up a copy for the teachers’ reading shelf in school … which is where mine will now reside.


  • Be yourself
  • Learn your students’ names … quickly!
  • Use ‘duty’ time positively and proactively.
  • Aim to develop relationships with your students over the course of weeks, not minutes
  • Get involved in extra-curricular activities
  • Be consistent in all you do.
  • Praise publicly (when appropriate), privately (when appropriate) and via significant others (form tutor, pastoral leader, parents)
  • Avoid confrontations
  • Use humour when opportunities arise naturally.

Classroom Environment

  • Ensure your classroom (or the one you have just used) is left clean and tidy.
  • Report (and follow up) maintenance issues early.
  • Use display areas imaginatively and keep them fresh.
  • Think carefully about the position of the teachers desk to maximse your ability to orchestrate the classroom.
  • Consider how students’ desks should be arranged (but be aware that others may use the room after you)
  • Where students sit should be decided by you … though different groups may require different approaches
  • Make a seating plan … and use it proactively.

Records & registers

Your markbook (which might be digital) should record:

  • The students for whom you are responsible
  • Their attendance and punctuality
  • The work they undertook
  • Comments/notes about your students

and will help you in many ways including:

  • keeping track of student progress
  • writing interim and summative reports
  • communicating with parents

Conventions and routines

  • Whenever possible, be in the room first and receive the class proactively
  • Use your greeting to set the tone of the lesson
  • Consider carefully how you will accommodate late arrivals
  • Have a starter activity that students can undertake to start the lesson meaningfully, whilst initial business is completed (register etc)
  • Develop an ‘oversight’ through which you maintain a general awareness of everything taking place, especially when you are notionally involved in a 1-2-1.
  • Plan the last five minutes of the lesson meticulously to ensure a businesslike and timely close.
  • Develop an efficient system for collecting in and handing out work. Use other students where possible. (Seating plans can be very useful here)
  • Be systematic in the issuing and collecting of resources.
  • Follow school procedures for allowing students out of the room during lesson time
  • If the noise level becomes inappropriate for the task, address it through individual students rather than general exhortations to the class.
  • As you circulate around the room talking with students/groups, be aware of your position and field of view.
  • Where group work is called for consider carefully the composition of the groups – different curriculum aims and different students will require different arrangements.

The teacher’s performance

  • Consider your appearance and image you portray.
  • If you need to speak to the whole class, ensure everyone listens and hears. If the everyone doesn’t need to hear, don’t say it.
  • Position yourself in the room wisely.
  • Don’t speak until you have everyone’s complete attention.
  • The old adage ‘Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you’ve told them’ still has much merit.
  • When delivering instructions, be clear and firm, but pleasant, ensuring the instructions are slanted positively i.e. ‘Do’ rather than ‘Don’t.’
  • Using a board (white, black or interactive) requires forethought – why, what, when and how and where you are in relation to it.

There are also sections on Questioning techniques and lesson planning, neither of which I could adequately do justice to in a short phrase … another reason to acquire your own copy perhaps?

Though Michael left us in 2008, he also left behind a ‘bible’ or as he describes it, a ‘Survival Guide.’

Data … in absentia December 4, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in Inspiration, Teaching Idea, Tools, Web 2.0.
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snow depth

How deep was your snow?

School has been closed for three days this week; quite an unusual situation for us.  I’m looking forward to exploring how much the technology we provide has ameliorated the potential loss of learning.  Initial figures from our VLE are encouraging, then there’s the Learning Platform and email traffic to consider … but that’s for a later post perhaps.  Inspired by a post from Tom Barrett, as I often am, and given the uniqueness of the situation, I wondered whether there would be any value in trying to capture a similar snapshot for our little community.

My first concern was that our students don’t necessarily have Google accounts as part of our provision, though they may of course have set up one independently of school.  In order to post on the map in the way Tom describes, I’d first need to guide them through creating an account – not impossible, but perhaps putting in place a barrier to a successful outcome.  So instead, I elected to make the data capture as simple as possible and use a Google form to collect the data.  Only two questions: depth of snow and postcode. I later wished I’d added a third field to capture some aspect of where within our school community the respondent was located – maybe year group or form perhaps. It might have provided a little information about who is likely to act on information presented in the following way.  I considered sending an email to all students, including a link to the form and explaining what we trying to do.  But then I thought it might be more interesting to embed the form in our learning platform home page and see how many students (and staff?) would take the trouble to undertake the task without prompting – another reason for keeping things as simple as possible.  It also meant I could provide the developing Google map together with the form.

You’ll by now have realised that my not so ‘cunning plan’ has a flaw. How does the data get from the spreadsheet behind the Google form into the map?  Well given the nature of the interlinking of Google Apps, I guess it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that data fom the two fields could be fed directly into a Google Map. Not beyond possibility maybe, but certainly beyond my meagre capabilities!  So the transfer was done manually, but this also meant I could ‘shift’ the locations slightly from those provided by entering the postcode into the map search box and thereby offer an extra layer of ‘privacy’ for respondents by providing a more general location for their data.  Locating the form within our learning platform also meant that incoming data could be restricted to our community; perhaps not quite in the spirit of global learning, but for our first tentative steps in crowd-sourcing data, a little more control is perhaps more reassuring.

Was it successful?  Well during the two days since the form was deployed, 75 students and/or staff posted data. I’m quite pleased with that, especially since there was neither fanfare nor publicity.  Is that it?  Although it was an interesting exercise in it’s own right, perhaps we can wring a little more learning from the data?

  • Maths: Plenty of opportunities to refer to the Data Handling elements within various specifications. In addition to manipulating the data, its veracity might be interrogated – to what extent is it likely to be reliable?
  • Geography: Are there any relationships between snow depth and location, terrain etc?
  • English: super idea posted as a comment on Tom’s post from Candace Shively
  • ICT: Data, information and databases – investigate this as a data collection method; strengths, weaknesses, errors etc.
  • Languages: for number practice, display the map large screen, click on a flake and pupils have to respond to “Quelle est la profondeur de la neige” for example.

It’ll be interesting to see where our little snow depth map turns up in lessons … and whether this type of exercise offers potential for future explorations.  Thanks again to Tom for lighting the spark.

Do we reeeeally need all that stuff? February 27, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in Inspiration, Management, Resources, Tools.
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In a given school year, how much ‘stuff’ does a student need to support their learning?  I’m thinking about books (both for writing and reading), equipment they find in their pencil cases, resources used in lessons (equipment used in Science, Music, Art, Geography etc etc), AV equipment and so on.

Well here’s a list, which I certainly wouldn’t claim to be exhaustive, together with some notional costs, taking into account that they wouldn’t necessarily need sole acess to all the items:

Table of costs

Grand total – about £300 . . . or twice the cost of an iPod Touch!

iPod Touch

iPod touch by Mike Rohde, on Flickr

Each of the items listed in the above table could be replaced by the device itself, or an App, a free App at that.  Now I couldn’t claim my knowledge of Apps is that extensive, so I’m sure you could think of other things which could be replaced (perhaps you might make any suggestions in a comment to this post).  We might also be able to find App alternatives for some of the full applications running on the PC?  And let’s not forget all the other free ebooks that an eReader App would provide access to.  It might even be worth . . . dare I say it? . . . buying a few Apps if needed.

So even if we took the computer out of the above list, the Touch would pay for itself in the first year.  Surely that’s a ‘no-brainer’ then?

Post Post:  Wouldn’t normally update a post, but become aware of another couple of apps which could replace physical devices and just had to include them.  There are a few apps which allow you to use the Touch as a remote input device (mouse, keyboard) or better yet, gyromouse or slate – these devices retail at approaching £100, so that’s quite a saving.  The real corker though is an app (iResponse) which turns theTouch into a response device (‘clicker’) . . . which means another £30 saved.  In other words, replacing the items in the list now buys us 3x Touchs!