Avoiding Ossificaton

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I learned how to use commas from my Geography teacher. His voice is still in my head: ‘Greatness Farm comma an arable farm comma lies on the fertile plain full stop’.
I attended a good grammar school in the 70s and wrote down the notes dictated to me from his old exercise book. I know he was still dictating those self same notes to first years when I left the school seven years later.

That teacher was caring, efficient and well-intentioned, but perhaps he had ossified; rather than having thirty years experience, he seemed to have had one, thirty times. I suppose that that is what I feared I might become.

@HuntingEnglish’s excellent piece on ‘Doing it all Again in September’ brought that home to me today. I remember the old teachers in the staff room in my first teaching post more than thirty years ago. They were good people, but there was an endemic cynicism to change. Simon Armitage’s line in November ‘We are almost those monsters’ flits distressingly thorough my mind as I catch myself saying ‘we’ve done this before, only we called it …’ Every so often I become a pioneer because I find an old skill back in fashion.

Teaching has become the political football kicked by the latest Minister keen to make a name before looking for promotion to a higher league. New ideas are introduced in the knowledge that they will be judged by action rather than the result in the rapidly changing world of British schooling. So as teachers, we sometime find ourselves writing material for a new course which we read in the newspapers is already scheduled to be replaced and the curriculum changed yet again.

There’s little danger of repeating the same experience many times, but there is a danger of becoming cynical to change and innovation and trying to do things better. But that cynicism can be resisted. Despite all that has happened, I think that these are exciting times to be in education. I have a growing sense of being in this with like-minded individuals who genuinely care about the students, about learning, about the future. Taking part in Edmodo 2012 last week – my first online conference – was a fantastic experience. It felt like taking a seat it largest classroom in the world, and it was a privilege to feel a part of a profession which spans the globe. It was the first time I have actually felt a part of the global community I hear so much about.

So in these last few years of teaching, I hope to be able to look again at what is important to my students and their learning. I think that technology can help achieve those goals. I don’t think it is everything, but I think it is a great tool that we must embrace. I want to be involved in that learning too. The last few months with my iPad and Twitter and Flipboard have had a huge impact on my thinking, and I want that journey to continue.

September is on its way. iPads are a possibility next year. I trailed Edmodo last term and liked the look of it and want to develop it with my English classes. I’m involved in an exciting course which combines three Humanities areas but keeps a focus on developing learning skills. Yes, I think I should be able to avoid ossification for another year at least.

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Life with an iPad – month 2

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The initial buzz of excitement has never quite left. I am aware of how my own routines are changing even though I am very much in the ‘see what it can do’ phase.

I’d imagined that I would be looking for apps to use that would teach something, but what I’m finding are apps which allow me to learn something.

The biggest game changer has been the accessibility the iPad brings. Having a device on me with continuous web access (save the drive to and from work) means that using it is part of everyday life and not an event. This is made possible by the battery life as I no longer have to ration myself or look for places where I can plug in. That seems a very small deal indeed, but the effects are marked.

I discovered Twitter and now the benefits of building a Personal Learning Network are apparent. Using Flipboard to view these is now what I do (with a cup of tea) when I get home instead of reading the newspaper. I’ve tried to build up a ‘follow’ list gradually rather than adding everyone I come across. The conventions of tweeting are still a bit of a mystery, although I found this guide by Brent Ozar something of a help. Most exciting was when I found that some people are kind enough to reply to questions or comments. The ‘small talk’ is a great reinforcer of the potential of collaboration. It still feels odd that there is no difference between someone being in Hull or New York or where-ever; the world really has become local. There is some exciting work going on with Flipping Classrooms, SOLO taxonomy and the whole business of how iPad might enhance learning.

Note making has been the next big area for me. It came as a surprise that there is something beyond the basic wordprocessor. ‘Pages’ looks fine and I’m sure this will replace Word for me, but this is just substitution. What I’ve found far more interesting is the use of Evernote and, more recently, Notability. Their ease of use, ability to organise notes and then their additional functionality with photograph, web clips is just fantastic. I found myself making quick notes on group presentations in class by adding and labelling photographs, writing comments and then emailing them to where I keep information. They are a useful record, and the students could make great use of the app in recording, reviewing and collating their notes. Is this the end of the exercise book? The search facility in Evernote is stunning – particularly when I found that I could photograph hand written notes and search even those.

Do we need to recommend one particular note-maker as a school, a department, a teacher … Or do we simply let students find what works for them? I’m increasingly drawn to the latter.

And finally, for this note at least, the apps for thinking and demonstrating learning: ‘Show Me’, ‘Eduacreations’ and ‘Explain Everything’. These could be so important both for instruction and for demonstration by both students and teachers. Educreations is simple to use and is great for ‘in the moment’, but Explain Everything has more versatility and offers several options for saving and distributing products. These are making me think much more about how we might create resources to help students and personalise their learning. If we are to consider the idea of Flipping – or even just simply putting support material into their hands, then the look like being cornerstones. Mind you, since seeing some of the resources on Cherwell’s YouTube channel I quite fancy going I to full scale tv production!

The most significant feature of the last month though his been how the technology has taken the back seat and learning is driving things along. These are exciting times in education, despite all that is coming from Gove, Ofsted and others (that’s a little reference to education in England, by the way – if you’re reading from elsewhere I’m sure it will be easy enough to insert your own!). I’m really glad to be around to take part in it.

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Explain Everything…first impressions.

There are quite a few apps around offering to act as mini-whiteboards/PowerPoint substitutes/presentational devices. For quick one-offs I like educreations for its simplicity, but for something a little more sophisticated which leaves you with various options of format for saving (and leaving you in ‘ownership’ of your products) ‘Explain Everything‘ seems to be a particularly good option.

As ever, I tried to overcomplicate things at first by trying to create something Pixar would produce, but then calmed down a bit. The usual functions you would expect: line drawing, typing, shapes, insert images, simple animation etc are there, along with voice recording. (My only dislike is being unable to disconnect the mic which seems to be leaving some clicks and buzzes on the sound track, but perhaps I’ll find a work round in due course).

Export is available in a variety of formats, and I look forward to use it as we try a little tentative ‘flipping’ of the classroom and for students to present their findings.

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Schedules and quick polls

Created using Skitch by Evernote.

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http://www.doodle.com/

I came across this really useful site when a friend used it to collect people’s menu choices for his birthday party. It looks great for finding good times to meet with people by giving a range of options and letting people show those they can meet. It can also be used for polls. The replies are collated into a table and an alert sent that a reply has been made. There’s even an opportunity to leave comments.

The basic version is free and there is an option to go ad-free in the premium edition.

It is so easy to use I can imagine my student using it to conduct quick surveys as well as it being great for me.

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Some good advice on introducing Twitter from syded

http://syded.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/twitter-in-education-barriers-and-possible-solutions/

(extract)

A number of solutions have been suggested to remove these barriers and are proving fruitful alongside our iPad trial:

  • Allow time for twitter professional development with any presentation immediately followed up with individual trouble-shooting and support
  • Create a ‘ring-fenced‘ twitter trial zone. In reality this is a number of protected twitter accounts that follow each other with no fear of external input
  • Provide staff with a mobile device with easy access to twitter
  • Publish case studies and evidence of twitter enhancing learning for students. Staffroom information gleaned from a twitter source is particularly useful
  • Interact with any new colleague on twitter to encourage repetition of ‘good practice’. Simply conducting a twitter chat can illustrate how easy the process can be
  • Encourage the following of hashtags to illustrate the variety of language used by members of the twitter community

The desire of twitter educators to introduce the medium to colleagues is fuelled by the very reason they are so keen on the medium. The collaborative nature of the twitter community directly complements the sharing of good practice within an establishment.

If I’m honest I hope we are successful in introducing as many colleagues as possible to twitter. Professional development doesn’t get much better?

…..

The ring fencing seems like a good first step and goes beyond my earlier post’s suggestion of some inconspicuous mutual following.

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Poetry Creator at a price?

From Evernote:

Poetry Creator at a price?

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 This ‘free’ app works like a set of fridge magnets. There was something similar on Teach it called Word Quarry(?) which allowed you to take words from any source and reassemble or create. So far so good. Apart from the fact that this app doesn’t seem to have that easy import features and instead offers to sell you words. For money. I think I’d rather pay once for an app than be offered bits to buy along the way!  I can’t quite see for which audience this is intended….

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Adding graphics to posts – this time using Skitch

Created using Skitch by Evernote.

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Being new to iPad, I’m having to think of how to add graphics and things to the Blog. I used to simply attach them. This is via Skitch, and is tagged using hashes in the subject line …. I hope.

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