Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Things I wish I'd known...

I came across The Daily Grind, a blog written by a recently qualified English teacher in the USA. His reflection on teaching and the classes he teaches make interesting reading and I've added a link to his blog in the Interesting Blogs section at the right-hand side of this page.

I was directed to his page because of the controversy he caused inadvertently when he made some unguarded comments on his blog. The section I chose to show my pre-service students was his post titled: Things they forgot to teach me in college. It's a really good list and I can relate to every one!

I would add one of my own. Carry everything with you - pencils, punishment exercise sheets, board pens, ... Everything that should be in the classroom you teach in, but that you will be unable to find when you really need them!

I have suggested to my students that they start their own teaching blogs and I think The Daily Grind gives an excellent model of a reflective practitioner: thinking carefully about what he is doing and engaging in discussions about education. I hope some of the PGDE students will get half as much out of blogging as Mr. McNamar seems to have got from writing the daily grind.

Tags: | |

Fame at last?

On the Internet, everyone should be famous for fifteen people!

It's taken a while, but according to Feedburner, I now have fifteen subscribers (24 May 2005).

My circulation statistics

Thank you for reading! smiley

Update: Spoke too soon! Today (25 May 2005) I am back down to 13 subscibers. Bah!

I wonder what I did to offend the two that left?smiley

Monday, May 23, 2005

Music Quiz

Spotted this on Stephen's DoggiesBreakfast blog. It looked like fun. I know this is off topic for my blog, but I'll make an educational observations in the passing to justify it to myself. Here's my go at the music quiz...

Amount of Music on my computer: Not a lot on my home machine - 917 MB. If I'm listening at home I'll tend to play the CD. At work it would be a different story. I like to listen to music while working but I don't like having loads of CDs in my office. There is some research that suggests children work better if music is playing in the classroom. I remain unconvinced although I know some schools do it. My experience of music in the classroom comes from end of term times when things tend to be more relaxed and off topic anyway. On these occasions, there was never any agreement on what we should listen to. Adolescents seem to either love or hate a piece of music. No matter what you played, a significant proportion of the class would hate it. At school I liked Rock music, especially Prog Rock. I couldn't like punk - it just wasn't possible! Thirty years later as I listen to The Clash I'm really sorry I wasn't more open in my musical tastes.

Led Zep III Album coverThe last CD I bought: A few weeks ago I bought four CDs in one of these 4 for £20 deals. I got Led Zeppelin III to replace a vinyl copy. (I've resisted buying CDs of stuff I have on record for ages, but CDs are just so much easier so I've recently started getting some well-loved stuff on CD too.)

Pink Moon album coverNick Drake - Pink Moon I heard Bob Harris play the title track on his radio show and I laughed at the repeated "Pink, pink, pink, pink, moon" bit. I thought it was brilliant in a slightly weird way. Having bought the CD and read a bit more about Nick Drake I think it's quite a sad track, but I still think it's brilliant in a slightly weird way. The rest of the album's good too.

The Last Broadcast album coverThird choice was Doves - The Last Broadcast I had heard their singles and thought the album was worth a try. It is a good album, but the singles are the stand out tracks for me.

Absolution album coverThe final choice was a bit of a stab in the dark. I got Muse - Absolution. I visit a website, last.fm, which plays music it thinks you will like based on what you have already played and what other people with similar musical tastes are listening to. It is a bit flaky and comes with up some bizarre choices at times, but one it threw up a couple of times was Muse. On the little I'd heard on last.fm I decided to get the CD and I'm really glad I did. Great noisy guitar stuff and good drumming. I really like this CD and will probably look to get some more Muse at some point in the future (although it will be a while before I can justify spending more on CDs).

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb album coverItem playing right now: U2 - City Of Blinding Lights from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb I'm never sure where Bono is on his spiritual journey. For a while it seemed clear he wasn't anywhere - it just seemed that he couldn't entirely escape his religious upbringing. (Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the rock star.) However, there's enough on this album to suggest that there may be more to it than that. For example, Vertigo seems to be about the temptations of being a rock star and his desire to stay faithful to God... but maybe I'm reading too much into it.

5 songs I listen to a lot: Well according to last.fm, my top fifty is dominated by Rush and Peter Gabriel... which is a good thing as far as I'm concerned.
Up album cover
  1. Peter Gabriel - Growing Up It took me a while to get into Up but the more I listen, the more I'm convinced it's his best yet... until his next... which on past record probably wont be for another ten years!

  2. Peter Gabriel - Digging in the Dirt Seriously dark and creepy!

  3. Rush - For What It's Worth Thirty years on and still the best Rock band in the world.

  4. Rush - Subdivisions Not my favourite from this album so I'm not sure why it is up there in my top five. If you want a good introduction to Rush, the Subdivisions album is not a bad place to start. It's a bit heavy on 80's style synths, but take the time to listen to the bass line and the drums and I dare you not to be impressed. If you are only willing to listen to one Rush song, try Analog Kid - you'll thank me for it.

  5. Feedback album cover
  6. Rush - Summertime Blues Another track from the Feedback EP of covers. A full on Rock version of a classic song.
Just in case you are interested, the first non-Rush/Gabriel track on my last.fm "Top Songs" list is U2 - Red Hill Mining Town

Five people to whom I'm passing the baton: I don't think I know five bloggers! Therefore, like Stephen, I'll wimp out. Anyone reading this is welcome to have a go.

As usual too long a post and not enough worth reading. I need to learn to
"Turn up the signal, wipe out the noise." - Peter Gabriel.
Tags: |

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Count on me...

Whenever I follow a link from a search result and get 404'ed I am struck by how transitory information is on the Internet - here to day and gone tomorrow. It is ironic that much of the information from the Information Age is inaccessible while writing from thousands of years ago is still being read and studied today. However, I was equally surprised when a web page that I created more than five years ago, and had more or less forgotten about myself, still seems to be getting hits.

A calculatorI created the Calculator Words page because of something I did for my wife. She was giving wee, cheap calculators to her SU group as a Christmas present and wanted something to, "make it more fun!", so I came up with the calculator words sheet. I was vaguely annoyed though that I couldn't remember the story we used to tell while doing a calculation that ended up with the answer spelling "ShELL" or possibly "ShELL.OIL" when you turned the calculator upside down. That was why I didn't just create a fun sheet for my wife, but wrote the web page as well. I hoped that somebody else out there on the Internet played the same daft games with their calculator but had a better memory than me. I did have a few people write to me with suggestions for words, some just emailed to say thank you, and somebody asked about a year later if I was doing another fun sheet for that Christmas (I didn't!), but nobody came up with the story I was looking for.

I still don't have that story, but out of the blue the other day, somebody sent me a different story! Brilliant! Unfortunately, the story carries a Parental Guidance certificate and I couldn't possibly repeat it here... OK, all I'll tell you is that it involves Dolly Parton and the answer on the calculator at the end of the story is 55378008! Invent your own schoolboy story if you must.

Since the Internet in general failed me, I thought I'd try the blogsphere. Anyone out there have any idea what I'm talking about? Of course modern calculators are much more sophisticated - my daughter showed me how she could enter her Math's teachers name and didn't even have to turn the calculator upside down. However, maybe somebody has retained the old craft skills.

Tags: |

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Where Different Works!

Radio 2 PresentersThe current advertising campaign for BBC Radio 2 has the tagline:
"Radio 2 - Where different works"
It highlights how all the different Radio 2 presenters and programmes come together to create a unique radio station with something for everyone. I was listening to it in my car tonight and my mind wandered to consider whether we could say:
"The classroom - Where different works."
There is perhaps more awareness now of the importance of differentiation (except at Jordanhill where we tell everyone else to do it, but resolutely refuse to practice what we preach) but what about in the computer lab?

In theory, the computer should be a great tool for helping to provide differentiation as it can (so the theory goes) give patient and appropriate support in a manner that suits the individual learner. Is that the reality? I suspect that often the answer is no. Why am I pessimistic? Partly because of the recent rush of primary schools installing computer labs so that the whole class can all do the same thing at the same time! Where different works!?

Is the idea of computers helping with differentiation a myth? Do we have good examples we can show of computers being used to meet the differing needs of individuals even in a whole class/one lab situation?

Can we show that computer labs are a place where different works?

Tags: |

Saturday, May 14, 2005

...and another thing!

A wee while ago I had a rant about Wikipedia in The truth is out there: trust no-one.Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent Well last week I went to see The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and it inspired me to re-read the books. (Film Review: Martin Freeman was great as Arthur Dent, Douglas Adams' jokes were mostly still there and the effects were good, but the film was... OK. Funny, worth seeing, but just OK.)

I was struck by a section from the introduction to the book:
In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitch Hiker's Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects.

First, it is slightly cheaper; and secondly it has the words DON'T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.
Substitute Wikipedia for Hitch Hikers Guide and you'd not be too far off the mark. However, I think Wikipedia could learn from the Guide's DON'T PANIC - a jigsaw globe is not half as reassuring!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The hole in the wall gang

I've been out and about visiting students on placement, so posts are even more irregular than usual (i.e. not so much irregular as non-existent).

Two boys using the hole in the wall computerI heard a brilliant documentary on BBC Radio 4 while traveling to a school the other day. It was called A Hole in the Wall. Currently there is a BBC Hole in the Wall website and it is available on Listen Again (although I don't know how long this link will stay active). There is also a link to the official Hole-In-The -Wall website.

The programme described what children, in out of the way Indian villages did when a modern, Internet connected, computer was made available to them in public kiosks. The documentary suggested that what they did was teach themselves how to use it. Did you spot the key word there? It was that they taught "themselves". No teachers or bossy grown-ups, they taught themselves. They managed this with little or no English and having never seen a computer before. The extract below and picture above are from the BBC site and will give you a flavour of what the project is about:
With the computer switched on, the children press all the keys and every mouse button.

But Sugata has noticed a pattern emerging after the first initial chaos.

"You find that the noise level begins to come down, and from somewhere a leader appears.

"Often his face is not visible in the crowd, but he is controlling the mouse because suddenly you see the mouse begin to move in an orderly fashion.

"And then suddenly a lot of children's voices will say 'Oh, that pointer can be moved!' And then you see the first click, which - believe it or not - happens within the first three minutes."
I would like to find out more about this project, but it made me think again about what we teach our children in schools. How much time do we spend teaching the mechanical button pushing skills, which if this project is right, children can pick up easily just through playing with a computer. In Scotland the curricular guidelines have a strand called Using the Technology. This suggests that most 7 year olds should be able to click a mouse, but that you have to wait until level B (achievable by most 8 year olds) before you can be taught to choose from a menu. Bizarre! Is it just in Scotland that we are daft like this - filling up an already crowded curriculum with stuff that pupils can do themselves?

Tags: | |

Monday, May 02, 2005

Differentiation: It's a dog's life!

We went to Glasgow University Veterinary Medical Association's Rodeo on Saturday. It was brilliant and we were sorry we didn't get there earlier. (We were too late to register Blue for any of the competitions or clearly he would have won the Dog judge would most like to take home class!)

A flyball boxOne of the events we saw was a flyball demonstration. (There's a fairly duff photo of it and some other pictures from the event on my Flickr account.) They used a British Flyball Association style box which is different from the ones I'd seen at Crufts. What impressed me was it has two holes - because your dog may be left or right handed! It hadn't occurred to me that dogs would have a preference like this. I thought it was brilliant. Doggie differentiation!

Dog getting ball from flyball box I've included a couple of photos in this post. The one with the (left-handed?) dog is from the Tayside Road Runners flyball team as I think they were the people doing the demonstration at the rodeo.

Tags: |