Monday, October 31, 2005

I wont do it and you can't make me!

I was too busy last week and failed to make some of the posts I had planned... maybe this week... One of the things I did do was to keep plugging away at the PGDE(S) students to try to get them to start blogs. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that blogs are a brilliant way for student teachers to reflect on their learning and their practice. However, so far I have mostly been met with polite indifference - you know, the kind of "That's nice dear", response you get from your auntie when she clearly doesn't understand what you are talking about.

originally uploaded by angelocesare.
One Geography student shared a bit of her paper based learning log with me, it was brilliant and I think it wouldbe great if she shared some of her reflection in a blog since this would open up the possibility of starting conversations with fellow students on the things she is currently recording in private. I'm still working on trying to convince her, but at the moment, she's not keen to make the jump from paper to blog.

Our students are about to go out on their first major teaching placement, so how do I move this forward without resorting to the big stick of making it assessable? ("Is this in the exam sir?") I'm assuming that some of you reading this are better at talking people into blogging than me. For example Ollie Bray got his student, Richard Ledingham, blogging about his experiences in school. (Are you reading this Ollie?) So my question is, how do I convince some students to start blogging?

How do I respond to these common reasons for not starting a blog?
  1. It's all about ego and self-publicity.
  2. I don't want to share personal stuff about myself online.
  3. It would take too much time.
Finally, once again, the question I asked already - what do I say to convince students to start blogging?

Over to you. What do I say to my students?

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

SETT: Who wants to be a millionaireinteractive teacher?

As SETT gets further and further away, I wonder about the value of my postings from the conference. However, since I'm still thinking through some of the things I saw and heard, I think it is still worth while writing some of my thoughts down in blog posts like this. This is a report on the third and final session I attended, but I may do one more post about SETT which will include things I saw at the exhibition.

The Do Interactive Voting Systems Enhance the Learning Process? session was presented by Rebecca Anderson from Davidson's Mains Primary School and Ollie Bray who was at Knox Academy but is now PT Geography at Dunbar Grammar School (I think). Ollie mentioned, almost in the passing, that he had a blog thereby bringing a new set of Scottish educational bloggers to my attention. I have been following his blog at Exc-el since and have especially enjoyed some of his postings on the LTScotland ICT weblog - particularly the ones on Interactive Whiteboards, for example the Map Symbols posting.

There are a number of interactive voting systems being pitched at education at the moment. If you have not seen them, they are a bit like the system used on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? for the "ask the audience" section. Pupils are asked questions and they make a response with the handset. Software captures pupils' responses and can display results in a variety of ways to the teacher and/or to the class.

Here is a brief summary of some of the things Rebecca and Ollie talked about. There is a podcast of their session available, but as before I'm typing this up from my notes to reflect the things that struck me at the time.

Interactive Voting Systems

Rebecca and Ollie described their action research project which looked at uses of the Quizdom system in their schools. Their main finding was that it made a huge difference to motivation. Children were attentive and excited - "It was seen as a game". {This chimes with something that Guy Claxton said at his keynote. He described an experiment where two classes were set the same task. One group was told it was work, the other group that they were going to play. Guess which group did the most "work"!}

Rebecca and Ollie saw interactive voting systems as being a good tool for formative assessment. Pupils saw the Qwizdom system as fun and enjoyed the instant feedback and the display of results so that they could learn from mistakes. And every child was involved in answering, not just those picked by the teacher.

They did acknowledge that it took time to build up the questions, but time can be saved due to a reduction in marking.

Ollie in particular pointed out that it does not have to be all or nothing. A mix of high tech and traditional methods is probably best. He referred to the Learning Disabilities Pride website where there is an online learning styles and multiple intelligences test which gives instant feedback on learning styles. Classes are made up of different pupils, with different learning styles and different strengths, so classes should benefit from a variety of approaches using a variety of learning and teaching styles.

Pupils can be asked set questions in class, but also it is easy to ask voting style questions. Also every class {or all of Ollie's classes?} were asked evaluation questions about the content and the presentation of the class at the end of the lesson. {Instant feedback on the teachers performance! I wonder ho long it will be before the HMI start doing this! :-)} Quizzes can also be based on numbers or on maps.

The results were that, in general, classes using the voting system did better than similar classes not using the system. Pupil response was, "I knew I could be tested at any time, so I worked harder." Some of the improvement could be down to the novelty value of the voting systems, however, a key aspect seemed to be that interactive voting systems encouraged dialogue.

Problems include the cost and current scarcity of such systems. Local youth units may have a interactive quiz system that can be borrowed - try accessing them through Young Scot. Some local authorities may also have the equipment. Ollie also had problems with the system sometimes being too slow to register all the votes. {We have a similar infra-red system here at Jordanhill from PRS. I found that if everyone tried to vote at the same time, the system seemed to jam up, but by setting the software to show only a few of the handset numbers at a time, everyone was able to cast their vote more effectively.}

The bottom line seemed to be that these systems have a very positive impact on learning and teaching in the classroom, but concern remains about the costs. Ollie and Rebecca were not sure that the benefits justified the high costs involved. However wireless technology is being built into more and more devices, so would it be possible to gain the benefits of an interactive voting system using mobile phones with Bluetooth or by using wirelessly networked laptops or tablets?

{I almost didn't go to this session as although I use our voting system occasionally I am not totally convinced it is always worth the effort. However, it is only fair to say that I have been pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastically our students reacted to the handsets and I am definitely less "lecturey" when I use them in a session. I very much enjoyed Rebecca and Ollie's session. I had some of my own feelings confirmed and learned some new stuff. What more could you want from a session?}

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Feed me SeymourFeedburner

I haven't published anything here for a while, but I've been tinkering with things behind the scenes: playing with Feedburner and tweaking my template (if you'll pardon the expression). I've made a number of changes, including stuff that most users wont even notice. One change in particular gives me a stupid amount of pleasure every time I see it, but I suspect most of you haven't even noticed! A Mars Bar is on offer as a prize to the first person to guess what change I'm talking about.

One change I made was to restore the Feedburner feed I broke when I tweaked it to encapsulate the podcast. (See If it wasn't broke, why did I fix it.) That means that if anybody has already subscribed to my podcast in iTunes (or whatever), they will need to unsubscribe and then subscribe to the new feed I created just for podcasts instead:

Subscribe to my podcast feed with this button

Since I'm still finding my way with this stuff, I'd be grateful if anyone could confirm that I've done it right and that both the old and the new feeds are still working. Calling the new feed EdCompCast seemed like a good idea at the time - I hope it is not too confusing. (See Ewan on confusing jargon!) At the moment, I have only produced the one, proof of concept, podcast (My first podcast) but I am meeting some students after the October "Study Week" and hope to produce a podcast on their experiences on the Induction Block placement within the next few weeks.

While I'm on the subject of podcasts, I noticed that the ubiquitous Mr McIntosh's school, Musselburgh Grammar, gets a mention in the podcast entry in the Wikipedia. It says (or at least on the 19 October 2005, it says):
Education. Musselburgh Grammar School, Scotland began podcasting foreign language audio revision and homework, possibly becoming the first school in Europe to launch a regular podcast.
Good stuff. Well done MGS Online.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Where in the world is Ollie Bray?

I went to Ollie Bray's session at SETT (which I hope to report on soon) and he mentioned he had a blog. So, since then, I have been following Ollie's blog - both his own and the posts he is making on the Learning Teaching Scotland blog.

I'm especially enjoying his recent posts on LTScotland about some of the things he is doing with ICT in his geography classes. He describes some fairly straightforward ways you can use the annotation feature of Interactive Whiteboards. A simple idea that is easily grasped, but an idea that lifts the whiteboard from being a display surface to being an interactive learning resource. I also liked Monday's post on sources of current, multimedia resources for use in school.

Not only is he a more prolific producer of blog entries than Ewan (and that's saying something!) but he has talked his student into starting a blog while on teaching practice. Richard Ledingham, a student from Edinburgh University, has gone a bit quiet since finishing his observation week, but I suspect Ollie will get him up and running again when he goes back for his main school placement.
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If it wasn't broke, why did I fix it?

I'm still mulling over my first podcast and wondering if I got it right. I learned a number of things. First of all, I learned that Garage Band is brilliant and that creating a sound file with it is un morceau de gateau as Ewan might say. :-) The creation of the sound file was easy.

Secondly, I learned that the next time I do this, I need to compress the sound file created a bit more so that it doesn't end up so huge!

originally uploaded by _kir.
Thirdly I learned a bit more about RSS - in particular how to get Blogger to talk to Feedburner to create a feed with audio enclosures. I had a bit of a problem at first, but discovered (after a lot of digging about in help files) that I had to set Blogger to feed the Full content of my posts rather than just the Short version.

OK, that's what I learned. There are, however, some other things that I think I now understand but may still have wrong. I'm hoping therefore that some of you podcasting techie-types reading this will be able to tell me if I'm talking rubbish.

When I set up my blog, I also set up a Feedburner feed because this was supposed to give greater flexibility in that its SmartFeed option can create "on the fly" ether an RSS feed or an Atom feed, whereas Blogger only provides Atom. I think I'm happy with that. Two different standards, the market hasn't decided yet which is the Betamax version, so Feedburner allows you to hedge your bets (not that I'm a gambling man you understand). However, enclosures only work with RSS (I think), so to get the podcast feed working (Feedburner calls the feed option SmartCast) I had to turn off SmartFeed which turns off my Feedburner Atom feed. Again, I think I'm OK with that, but here's what I'm still confused about: does that mean that some people who may have been subscribed to my Feedburner Atom feed will no longer be getting updates from my blog? If so, will they get some sort of error message or will it just look to them like I've stopped posting to my blog?

Further confusion is caused since I did not do what Feedburner told me to and did not edit my Blogger template to modify the auto discovery tags. As a result there are about a dozen people in Bloglines who subscribe to the Blogger Atom feed rather then to Feedburner's feed (and possibly more who use other aggregators). I'm guessing the Blogger feed people will be able to continue reading my blog as normal, but that they wont be able to take advantage of the enclosure feature and will have to click on the podcast link themselves. (No great disaster I suppose.)

However, as I thought about it, I wondered if I should have left the existing SmartFeed untouched. I suspect that what I should have done was burn a separate Podcast feed and allowed people the option of sticking with the old non-enclosured feed or switching to the new all sing, all dancing podcast feed?

So what do you think? Should I burn a new feed and restore the old one, or do I just allow the SmartFeed version of Feedburner to disappear?

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

My first Podcast

I've been wanting to try podcasting for some time, so here is my first ever podcast. Trust me, it's not worth listening to, but I wanted to see if I could get enclosures etc. to work. In this four minute podcast I talk about National Poetry day and read some poems.

I was inspired to have a go by the Guide to Podcasting published on the Digital Video in Education site. It's a good, fairly straightforward guide, but the proof of the pudding will be if this posting works. :-)

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

SETT: Can you speak Learnish?

Educating Powerful Learners - Guy Claxton - Keynote address

Another SETT report, and again I decided to do this from my memory and my notes rather than watching the video of Guy again first. (Since it is a keynote, this one is video streamed.)

The main message that I took from Guy's keynote can be summarised as: change a little, learn a lot. What he described were a number of simple, easy to implement ideas that he said could make a big difference to learning and teaching. He did however apologize for the low-tech nature of the ideas he was explaining - but it was good stuff so I don't see why he should apologize for talking about how to improve learning at the "Scottish Learning Festival".

Before I get into the report proper, I was queuing up to get into the Clyde Auditorium and found myself standing beside a chap I knew from the church I went to when we lived in Partick (about twenty years ago). He led the "Boys' Club" at the church and I was one of the other leaders. It was called the "Boys' Club", but one of the "boys" was two years older than me and one of the others was already married and divorced and used to offer me child-rearing advice. :-) So there I was, standing beside this chap who now works at the school where my brother-in-law is the head-teacher. Clearly the world of Scottish Education is a small world!

The person introducing the session told us that this keynote was the best attended so far. Certainly the auditorium seemed to be packed out.

originally uploaded by callumalden.
He started by talking about a plumbing problem he had. He worked away at it with a plunger - but the problem was at the drain outside, not at the sink inside. He was trying to fix the wrong end. This, he said, is what has happened in education - we've worked on the teaching end, but the problem is at the learning end. He went on to describe how discipline is a major concern and that it is the small, low level disruption that is the most wearing. One of the causes of this low-level off topic behaviour may be that the pupils don't know what to do and don't know what to do about it. He said that pupils would like to be challenged by interesting tasks.

One solution he suggested was that children should be learning to learn. He went on to describe an evolution in our understanding of learning to learn:
  1. tools and techniques;
  2. styles and conditions;
  3. teaching thinking;
  4. cultivating transferable learning dispositions.
Example of tools and techniques: mind maps. Children might be able to produce a mind map, but do they have a sense of how it can help them learn? Another example he gave was learning styles. These are often used to divide children as if a particular learning style wa, "bred in the bone". Instead of seeing them as a way of developing learners capacity, we have found another way of stuffing learners in a labeled box. Learning styles are best used to promote discussion and reflection in learners.

Research, he said, has shown that learning about learning has more impact than study skills. He also suggested that if teachers have a more elaborate understanding of learning, they will be better teachers.

A complaint that is often leveled is that learning to learn is just another thing that teachers have to do when they have so much to do already. He put up a cartoon of a teacher carrying a large number of drinks (that were labeled with various educational initiatives). The barmaid offers him a tray, but he rejects it saying, "Don't you think I have enough to carry?" The question he asked was, is learning to learn another thing to carry, or is it a tray? {I have used similar arguments in the past to say that ICT is not another thing to teach, but something that helps you deliver learning more effectively. The problem is that a tray doesn't take any time to master and it's usefulness is almost immediately obvious. The same cannot be said for ICT!}

The next thing he went on to talk about was building learning power. In this scheme, learning and the language of learning becomes highly prominent in the minds of teachers and pupils. Differences can be made with small low-risk changes in habits of language and behaviour. The point of studying is to flex pupils' learning muscles as much as it is to learn stuff. One example is "Nail point" which tries to break the habit of pupils calling out. "Miss, I've finished", where pupils see the point of the exercise was to finish it. With nail point, once finished, pupils work with each other to find a way to hammer the nail point home - "Hammer Time". Pupils not only devised effective extension material, but talked about learning. Performance improved!

He then gave the most interesting definition of intelligence I have ever heard. Piaget defined intelligence as:
Knowing what to do when you don't know what to do
Pupils have to learn about the "four Rs"!
  • Resilience-> Perseverance
  • Resourcefulness-> pupils asking questions
  • Reflective->meta language
  • Relationship->Collaboration
Teachers could create, "What can we do if we are stuck" posters - students generate ideas and continue to add to them through the year. Pupils have to learn to talk learnish! Do we talk learnish to the pupils? An example he gave was how we can help pupils learn to build up their ability to resist distraction? They can draw a line and use it as a self distraction indicator! Every few minutes they note where they are on this distraction index.
We need to be comfortable with uncertainty. Show our own learning - as a work in progress. {This is a technique I strongly recommend to student teachers of Computing - especially when teaching programming. The temptation is just to fix pupils' programs, but we need to learn to verbalise our thought processes when we debug programs to provide a model for our pupils.} We don't know what learners need to know, so we have to make them good finder-outers! ;-)

They don't need to know how to function in a life of tests they need to know how to function in the tests of life.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Research Blog: Bibliographies-R-Us

If you are doing any academic writing at all, you need to acquire and use bibliographic software. Trust me on this!

I enjoy doing the reading in preparation for academic writing. I enjoy gathering data and trying to make sense of it. And when I eventually get down to it, I even enjoy wrestling with the words to describe what I've done/found out/whatever! What drives me nutty, is creating and maintaining the bibliography. Have I included everything in my reference list that I've referenced in the body of the essay? Have I left in any references that I've deleted from the essay? Have I got the online journal reference format exactly right and how do I change it from APA style to MLA when somebody asks for a change? It's purely mechanical, but so boring and time consuming. It drives me to distraction... at least it did until I discovered Specsavers... er, until I discovered bibliographic referencing software.

Darcy Proposes
Darcy Proposes,
originally uploaded by Dizzy Girl.
I first came across a HyperCard stack that was really just a database for references about ten years ago, but it didn't help much with the layout and formatting of references. It gave me a flavour though of how software could help so that when I came across Endnote many years later, I knew it was just what I had been looking for. There are other similar programs, e.g. Ref Manager, and I tried a few of them but for me, Endnote did everything I wanted and more. It just suited the way I wanted to work. David Warlick's Citation Machine works well for individual references, but Endnote adds the ability to store a whole bunch of references in a single database, to change the reference format easily, a seamless integration with Word, a "cite while you write" feature, the ability to search online library catalogues and import the data directly into Endnote, and... oh read the website yourself and download the 30 day free trial. You wont regret it! (And no, I'm not on commission from Endnote!)

Ewan is currently posting chapters from his own research on his blog and seems to say that he is keeping his references in a Word document. It is not absolutely straightforward to move from Word into Endnote, but even at this late stage I would still say it was worth it.

The only thing that was a problem for me was that Endnote was only installed on my office machine, so if I was working in the library, or away from my usual machine, I had to carefully record all the reference details manually and then transfer them into Endnote later. At least, that's what I had to do before I discovered CiteULike! A wee while ago Ewan pointed me towards H2O and I thought it sounded promising, but I was a bit frustrated because it didn't store the information I needed in a format that made it easy to transfer to a formal bibliography. CiteULike however not only stores everything I need, but can pull it in automatically from most of the online journal services that I use (including Ingenta Connect whish is probably the one I use most often), I can tag stuff, I can see who else has stored a particular source and can subscribe to an RSS feed of their reference list and... It's like for academic papers! I've kept the best for last though. I can export my CiteULike references straight into Endnote. I only wish I'd discovered it sooner - 1200ish people had already bookmarked it in before me and some had found it as far back as November of 2004!

Still, better late than never. :-)

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Saturday, October 01, 2005

SETT: Ewan McIntosh - Young, gifted and blogged

There are loads of things I've been meaning to do a blog entry on but the promised reports from SETT have been hanging over me all week. I've decided to do turn about; starting with the first report from SETT.

I made the mistake on the Thursday morning of going into Jordanhill first. This meant that I arrived at SETT just in time to be five minutes late for Ewan's session on Using ICT as a means of supporting the gifted in language. (Sorry Ewan.) If you want to see how I got on with my new Palm keyboard, I have posted the unedited text file. Sections in curly brackets, {}, are my comments and thoughts triggered by what Ewan said. Most of the mistakes are down to my own poor typing rather than problems with the keyboard. The only problem coming from the keyboard is that only one key at a time can be pressed. To get capitals, you have to tap shift and then the letter you want capitalised. I kept forgetting and pressed the two at once - so often the first letter in a sentence is omitted!

I said in a previous post how scunnered I was to have missed the first day of SETT, but Lesley Duff replied to say that a podcast for most of the sessions would be released over the next few weeks, so you will be able to compare the notes I made at the time to what Ewan actually said! I chose however to type this up from my notes without listening again. Let me know if you think I've missed something or misinterpreted him in some way.

The recurring theme of Ewan's talk was "Raising the bar".

Firstly, Ewan described the aims of his action research as:
  • Increased motivation
  • Increased language acquisition and Information Literacy
  • Increased language retention
The first two (at least) are often claimed for the use of ICT generally. It was interesting to hear Ewan's thoughts on how this worked out in the teaching of Modern Languages in particular.

He claimed that already many (most?) children already have their own web pages. They are already communicating through the web. Certainly a report I saw from the London School of Economics suggests that 75% of 9-19 year olds have accessed the Internet from home and 84% are daily or weekly users. Ewan said that, "We are guided by interactions and experiences," so the question is how do schools build on the former experience of these digital natives?

Ewan then went on to ask how we define gifted? He said that it can't be determined by summative tests of knowledge; these, he suggested, merely set a bar, a limit on how high we expect the children to reach.

He went on to talk about an approach that was new to me - Freeman's Sports Approach: Children opt in to extra more demanding work. There is no entrance test. No summative entry test. No limit on the standard they can reach. I especially liked the "opting for more demanding work" bit! In an effort to make learning accessible to all, I think that sometimes we remove the challenge and therefore often remove the fun! Death by a thousand worksheets - and all the worksheets teach is how to follow instructions.

Motivation and learning. Ewan continued by talking about how tests may prove competence but can be very demoralising. Self and peer assessment however he says is empowering. Ewan uses a hundred point scale in his class - lose a point for every letter wrong - pupils mark each others work. He said that this allows pupils to think like an examiner - I liked that. A summative test limits what will be learned - back to his bar again!

Learning logs - pupils reflecting on what they have learned how to do. It also allows them to set own aims. Can be very vague, but information literacy means justifying your statements. Ewan gave a good example which I didn't write down about how a vague and woolly statement from a pupil actually shows some insight into the learning process - I'll need to listen to the podcast to hear again what he said. The learning logs idea was then linked to the next session of his talk: Social Technology. He described how this
  • shows intelligence linked to knowledge and manners
  • encourages conversation to construct knowledge
He described how in a blog, if you state a fact and give your interpretation, others can challenge and help you construct your knowledge because you need to justify and expand. Collaborative learning. Do weblog links to Freeman's Sports Approach? The web generally is passive - one way. It sets a limit on the bar. However weblogs create a social group. It creates and supports conversations. He said, "It's not about the cliques: it's about the comments". Who you are is less important than what you say. I've read Ewan saying things like this before on his blog (I think) but it was good to hear him explain and show us what he meant.

He closed his session with that last refuge of the scoundrel - statistics! {NB This section updated thanks to information direct from the horses mouth in a comment on this post from Ewan.} I may have mis-heard or mis-recorded some of these, but it was a powerful illustration of the audience that his pupils at Musselburgh Grammar have built up in a very short time. Musselburgh Grammar School Online had 160,000 page views in a school year (eight months), 8000 people subscribed to the podcasts and 400 comments were left (including comments from the head teacher) in the space of a seven day school trip abroad. Also, a five week project generated 380 posts from one of his classes. {I wonder how much writing a similar project would have produced, or how many people would have been involved in a school trip if blogging technology ad not been used?}

He closed by pointing out that the technology that allows this to happen is cheap even free in some cases. In using it, children learn the importance of behaving with responsibility. You can't just use others work. You have to back it up.

My closing thoughts: The technology is out there. As Ewan pointed out, MSN Spaces, largely populated by teenagers, experienced a 957%(?) growth in a year. Our children are already using it, even as we try to stop them doing so in our schools! (See for example one of my recent posts commenting on something David Warlick said.) Rather than trying to limit technology use, let's work to promote it and help children to use it responsibly.

Raise the bar? Or get rid of the bar altogether?

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