Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bank security - grumpy old man?

Serious question: Am I a grumpy old man?

Originally uploaded by CarbonNYC
Before you answer that, here is some context. Tonight, about 8:15pm I got a phone call from someone who said they were from my bank - lets call it the Abbey. The conversation went something like this...

Abbey: Hello. I'm from the Abbey and I'm phoning about an account you have with us.
Me: OK
Abbey: Before I go any further, can I ask you for some details to confirm your identity?
Me: Hang on. You've just cold called me, and I have to confirm who I am?
Abbey: It's Data Protection - I can't discuss your account until you have confirmed your personal details.
Me: Well, can I ask what it's about?
Abbey: No. As I said, Data Protection means I can't discuss your account with you until you have confirmed your identity.
Me: Are you trying to sell me something?
Abbey: No, I can assure you, this is not a sales call.
Me: is there a problem with my account then?
Abbey: I'm sorry, as I said, I cannot discuss your account until you confirm your identity.
Me: But you cold called me. You could be anyone. Surely you should be confirming your identity to me.
Abbey: I can give you a number if you would prefer to ring us.
Me: But you could give me any number. And what do I say when they ask me, "How can I help?" What do I tell them? "I don't know. You phoned me." Can you not give any indication as to what this call is about?
Abbey: I'm sorry, as I said, I cannot discuss your account until you confirm your identity.
Me: Grief! OK. What do you need to know?

At this point, and against my better judgement, I gave then my address and date of birth. Then she asked:

Abbey: And can you confirm your phone number?
Me: Sorry? This number that you just phoned a moment ago?
Abbey: Yes.
David: You want me to tell you the number of the phone, that you just rang, that I just answered, to confirm that I am me?
Abbey: Yes.
David: This is ridiculous! What is this call about?
Abbey: We're just going round in circles!

At this point we agreed that I would go into my local branch tomorrow and ask them why I was phoned tonight.

Was I right to be suspicious? In my defence, I would say that we are warned against identity theft by the banks themselves told to be careful with our personal details. Yet here is someone, claiming to be from a bank, but who could be anyone, asking for my personal details over the phone. Is it just me, or is that odd?

So, back to the original question. Am I a grumpy old man?

Monday, December 29, 2008

I knew it was a good idea...

I made a proposal that as part of the Scottish Government's Homecoming Scotland 2009 campaign someone should fund me while I investigate the effect of hearing the Glasgow born, and now internationally successful, Angus and Malcolm Young playing live with AC/DC at Hampden. For example, does it change the fans attitudes to the four capacities?

It seems like it wasn't such a daft idea after all since the day after I made my post, Christine Graham lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament: AC/DC - We Salute You

So now that MSPs are set to salute AC/DC, surely someone can find me some money to do important educational research at their Hampden gig!

Friday, December 26, 2008

How To Survive A Robot Uprising

I wasn't sure if I was going to blog during the Christmas holidays but a gift from a nephew contains information that must be shared. He gave me an extremely important manual: How To Survive A Robot Uprising.

*Take Me To Your Leader!*
Originally uploaded by -RobW-
As I walked about the Boxing Day sales I was aware of the number CCTV cameras. Thankfully, How To Survive A Robot Uprising told me how to fool gait recognition algorithms (pages 104-105). I thought I'd share the basics here:
  1. Do not attract attention
    Move with the crowd, move slowly, blend in!
  2. Wear clothing to mask your movements
    A trench coat, skirt or cape can make gait recognition more difficult.
  3. Exaggerate your walking style
    Change your walking style - hop, skip or put a stone in your shoe!
  4. Alter your stride
    Change the length of your stride.
  5. Never reveal your intentions through your gait
    If you need to sneak around - walk normally!
Hope this helps. Let me know if it saves your life. :-)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Fun on Friday #14: Christmas Critters

I could have gone for the obvious and told you about Elfyourself - but I suspect most of you already know about that. Critter Carols though may not be so well known:

Create Your OwnpetcentricOddcast Powered

I tried using a picture of me rather than Colin but, not surprisingly, it didn't work too well!

This is likely to be my last Fun on Friday until the new year but I suspect you'll be able to have fun without my prompting until then. :-)

Happy Christmas and a very Good New Year to you.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hazardous headbanging!

I remember when I was a pupil (a long time ago) a teacher tried to stop us headbanging. At the time we thought he was daft but perhaps he was right after all. I heard a report on the radio this morning that said: Head-banging causes banging headache. A report published in the British Medical Journal (and summarised in Scientific American) gives some medical evidence on the dangers of headbanging.

I have only ever edited one Wikipedia page but, inspired by this research, I have now made my second edit. :-)

Perhaps I should stop listening to my Merry Axemas and Merry Axemas vol. 2 CDs - it's too close to Christmas to risk neck injury. What I really want to know though is, how do you get to do research like this? The researchers state:
"We attended several hard rock and heavy metal concerts to find the most common style of head banging executed by audience members. The bands performing at these concerts included Motörhead, Mötley Crüe, Skid Row, The Hell City Glamours, L.A. Guns, Ozzy Osbourne, Winger, Ratt, Whitesnake, and W.A.S.P."
It appears that someone paid them to do research which involved them going to rock concerts. I could do that! Surely someone at Learning and Teaching Scotland would be willing to pay me to investigate the effect of Metallica on mental maths. As a working hypothesis, I would suggest that the fast, rhythmic quality of their music will have a positive effect on their fans ability to complete simple mental maths questions. To fully test this however, I would need to attend a concert to see if the distractions of the light show and slightly off-rhythm responses of fellow fans interferes with the test group's ability to answer questions quickly and accurately.

And surely the Scottish Government with their Homecoming Scotland 2009 campaign would be willing to fund me while I investigate the effect of hearing the Glasgow born, and now internationally successful, Angus and Malcolm Young playing live with AC/DC at Hampden. For example, does it change the fans attitudes to the four capacities:
  • successful learners
  • confident individuals
  • responsible citizens
  • effective contributors
It seems clear to me that we need to capture the data at the height of the euphoria caused by the concert and then follow the test subjects up a week later to see if their attitudes are different while simply listening to the music on headphones.

What do you think? Will I be able to get research money that will pay me to go to concerts, or at least buy my tickets?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Very belated Fun on Friday #13: Countdown

Somehow or other, time just slipped away from me last week, which is a shame because I had a topically appropriate Fun on Friday idea.

This Friday was the last episode of Countdown with Carol Vorderman and the site I wanted to share was this Countdown Game. It is a good simulation of the letters, numbers and conundrum rounds - complete with annoying countdown clock!

This would work well projected on a whiteboard/screen and would make a good end of term activity - fun and vaguely educational. :-)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Student learning blogs

I encourage students to use a blog to reflect on their development through their year at Jordanhill. A few have had a go and I have been given permission by two students (so far) to share their blogs with people who read my blog. They are almost at the end of their first teaching placement but I am sure they would still value any advice or comments:
At least leave a comment to let them know that someone other than me (and their mum) is reading. :-)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Fun on Friday #12: Go animate!

There are educational uses of this tool. For example, I've seen it used to teach both French and Maths. However, I've used it to tell a joke (for a very loose interpretation of the word "joke"):

{Credit where credit is due. I stole the joke from Katie Barrowman - I think!}

I like this tool but could do with a bit more information on how it all works. They clearly want to make this a child/school safe resource because when I initially tried to save my joke, was prevented from doing so and was told "Please avoid using bad word". This confused me more than a little. Eventually I worked out it was my description that was causing the problem. I initially typed: "This is what passes for humour amongst nerds. :-)" - can you spot the bad word? {Question to Mrs Blethers, and anyone else that wants to comment, should that be "amongst" or "among"?}

If you have a go - make sure you leave a comment here with a link to your creation. Have some fun this Friday... you know you want to.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

YouTube Symphony Orchestra

This is a brilliant idea. I hope my musical daughters are paying attention (because clearly they don't have enough to do already!).

See also the BBC news report and the YouTube Symphony Orchestra page for more details.

Let me know if you have a go. (Sorry Spookingdorf, there doesn't seem to be a ukulele part.)

Thanks to digitalmaverick and theokk for drawing this to my attention.

Monday, December 01, 2008

More from the creative BEds

I have already posted a couple of the podcasts our BEd Computers, Creativity and Education class produced. I thought I would post some video this time.

We had already spent some time over the proceeding weeks looking at the whys and wherefores of digital creativity, so I cut the introduction to the bone and went, more or less straight away, into a demonstration of I Can Animate. (A stunningly useful piece of software!) But I also did a "here's one I prepared earlier" with videos from schools, previous years' students as well as some demonstration movies to give students a flavour of what the package can produce.

We then split them into groups of three or four and gave them just over an hour to create/assemble models and sets, to film a short section of animation and to import it into iMovie to add sound effects and music.

Here's the films that Amy Linzi and Donna (I think) produced:

So what do you think? Do you have any advice for the students? What are the best educational uses of animation you have seen?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Fun on Friday #11: It's the most wonderful time of the year (allegedly)

I make it a rule (well, more of a guideline really) not to play any Christmas music until the 1st of December at the earliest. However, the other night Mark Pendleton boasted on Twitter that, "I actually have 2.5 days' worth of Christmas music! [on my iPod]". This sounded impressive but I knew I had a few Christmas CDs and was quietly confident I could match or beat him. But, as they say, pride comes before a fall. With only a few more tracks to add, it looks like I'll barely make 24 hours. :-( ...And this includes some tracks that appear on multiple albums but I ask you, is it possible to have too many copies of Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody - I think not!

However, a desire to get over the 24 hour mark led me to the topic for today's Fun on Friday. I wondered if there was any legal, free source of Christmas music on the Internet. The answer is, of course, yes!

The first free music I found was O Holiday Hits from (of all people) Oprah Winfrey. However these tracks are only available for 48 hours - so you'll have to be quick.

Next, I found a blog dedicated to free Christmas music called (surprisingly enough) Free Christmas Music. So far, there is only one entry for this year (the Oprah downloads) but most/all of last year's downloads are still available. For example, I liked the look of Beautiful and Unique Snowflakes and Tidings from Allison Crowe sounded interesting. (If you like Allison Crowe's music she has loads of free downlods on her website.)

The Free Christmas Music blog directed me to the Free Christmas Music customised Google search where, if you really want to, you can search for free cover versions of Last Christmas or anything else for that matter.

The Feels Like Christmas site also has some interesting Christmas songs. For example, from the current post, I have already downloaded:
  • Jars of Clay: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  • Sixpence None The Richer: Angels We Have Heard On High
  • Straight No Chaser: Hark The Herald Angels/Angels We Have Heard On High
Finally, I discovered that some tracks are available as free downloads from Last.fm. So far, the only Christmas song I've downloaded is Christmastime by Noah and the Whale.

I think I've made a good start. If the chap behind the Free Christmas Music blog comes up with as many good links as he did last year, I should make it over the 24 hour mark in time for Christmas. :-)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Support a Mo :-)

Movember - Sponsor Me
Stuart Meldrum has been been growing a moustache during the month of November. Not that unusual perhaps... except that he has been growing his mo during the month of Movember to raise money for Prostate Cancer Charity.

November is almost over and the tache is soon to be shaved off, so go and have a look at his efforts while you still can... and more importantly, send a donation.

Another podcast... and an explanation

There are some courses that I enjoy teaching, and the BEd 4 Computers, Creativity and Education class is one that I really enjoy. We talk about a whole bucket load of interesting stuff, for example: Telling Tales with Flickr.

Podcast Bear
Originally uploaded by blogefl
The classes tend to follow the same basic pattern. First we'll introduce the technology/tool and talk about it's value to education. In the podcasting class we talked about:
  • telling stories
  • giving children a voice
  • using the technology pupils use
  • giving children a (worldwide) audience
  • encouraging co-operation
  • supporting diverse learning styles
  • allowing pupils to receive feedback from a variety of sources
  • children staying on task and setting themselves high expectations
Then we let them hear some of the Radio Sandaig podcasts. {I think it's important to let theme hear pupil voices and pupil produced podcasts. In Higher Education, it seems people are pleased with themselves when they podcast an hour long lecture! I want students to see the pupils as creators, not just consumers of podcasts.} We also share my podcast related delicious links. {I think I need to categorise or prune that list. Too much stuff all mixed up together!}

This was followed by a brief demonstration of Garageband (about ten minutes) which left just over half an hour for them to produce their own podcast. They were divided into groups of two or three and assigned a topic at random from things we had already studied. {I used the Random Name Picker tool to assign topics - thanks to Ewan and TeachMeet for introducing me to this brilliant tool.}

I've already posted Cheryl and Gill's podcast in Podcast from BEd class. Here's another one, this time by Amy Linzi and Ailie. It is about delicious and the usefulness of online bookmarks:

Online Bookmarks

I especially like the sung version of the delicious URL at the end! What do you think? What advice should I give the students to help them improve their podcasts? What other podcasts should they listen to? Can you suggest ways they can use podcasts in their classes?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Podcast from BEd class

The BEd 4 Computers, Creativity and Education class created podcasts today. Here's one by Gill and Cheryl about Digital Video in the classroom.

Pretty good for only ten minutes tuition on GarageBand and 30 minutes to record.

Digital Video Podcast

Monday, November 24, 2008

Keep plugging - comment on article in the TES

An interesting TES article - Keep Plugging. (Thanks to cloudberrynine for drawing it to my attention.) Lots of interesting stuff in it and many useful quotes but, given some of my recent posts on mobile phone use in schools, this bit towards the end caught my eye:

95 per cent of 15-year-olds use a mobile phone.
Source: Ofcom, 2008

1 per cent of primary schools and 11 per cent of secondaries allow mobile phones in lessons.
Source: Becta, 2008

EduTwitter: What can I learn from Tweets?

I have mentioned before my ambivalence to Twitter as an educational tool (see for example Ask Twitter: Mobile phones in education). I tell people (assuming they bother to ask) that I am not convinced that Twitter is that useful a tool in schools. I really surprised myself therefore when I responded to a question by David Noble through his edonis project. Before I explain why I surprised myself, I think a brief digression to talk about the edonis project would be useful.

David Noble is currently working on an EdD with the University of Edinburgh. The focus of his thesis is: How are educators using the social web to develop their practice? One of the ways he is researching this is through the edonis project where edonis stands for "EDucator Online Impact Study". This three year project hopes to gather about 100 educators together in an onlinbe community to discuss issues, complete questionnairs and respond to questions on their use of the social web. I think this is an inspired idea. Rather than simply report on the social web in education, David has created an online community - to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Excellent idea. He has not yet hit the 100 mark, so if you haven't already signed up, it's not to late.

(*Update: David contacted me on Twitter (appropriately enough) to say that as well as the people signed up on Ning, he has over twenty people participating by email. I'd still contact him though if you are interested - he may need some "spares". :-) *)

I responded last week to his latest request for participation. He asked:
I'd like you to recall and give brief details about a recent example of online communication between you and at least one other person, which you feel led to some kind of learning for you (professional or otherwise). You may wish to indicate: the way you communicated; whether it was in 'real time' or not; and how you found the experience.
I was surprised to find myself responding as follows:
Most recent was the Twitter exchange on digital natives. Which hopefully write up soon. Before that, it was probably another set of Twitter exchanges connected to questions my students had asked.

The nature of Twitter means it is geared to giving fasts responses and brief messages. This means I got a decent amount of feedback in a very short space of time.

I found the experience interesting. I would still claim to be sceptical of the educational value of Twitter, yet some of the best sites I've visited recently have come from links sent on Twitter and a number of blog posts have been triggered by Twitter exchanges, e.g. Can you guess what it is yet?

I am puzzled therefore as to why I am not convinced about Twitter in schools. I'm still reluctant to recommend it to students... but I recommended it anyway, most recently in a recent lecture to PGDE(S) students. I guess that's just another indicator of how deeply confused I am. :-)
So, I'm not convinced of it's value in education but it has contributed to my own learning. I'm not convinced of it's value to students but I recommend it to my students anyway.

I think I need to think it out again!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Fun on Friday #10: Subtitles required

A short and sweet Fun on Friday this week. Add your own subtitles to Bollywood films.

Not only great fun but also a test of your creative writing.

Remember to share your efforts here if you have a go.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Telling Tales with Flickr

Took a class today on using Flickr in school. Thought the handout I used would (with minor alterations) give me a good reason to play with Scribd:

Telling Tales with Flickr

What do you think? Comments and suggestions welcome. ...And remember to let me know in a comment if you have a go at writing some Fliction.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fun on Friday #9: Say what you mean. Mean what you say.

After all the maths in the last couple of posts, I thought a language based Fun on Friday was in order. However, I should warn you that it may only be my status as a grumpy old man that makes me think the following is "fun"!

Just a couple current advertisements that amuse me. The first is a radio advertisement warning benefit thieves that the Department for Work and Pensions is "closing in" on them. The radio advert begins with:
"We're closing in on benefit thieves with hidden cameras."
Now there should be a comma in there I suspect but that's the way it sounds on the radio. I always wonder if benefit thieves who don't have hidden cameras are safe? It reminds me of the old Victor Borge routine about the need for phonetic punctuation:

The other advert that amuses me, is for a shampoo. (The name of the shampoo involves the words "shoulders" and "head" but I'm not going to give you any other hints as to its identity.) It is a classic example of marketing-speak. The commercial claims that their product will:
"Leave your scalp up to 100% flake free."
I've emphasised the bit I like. Thinks: "Wow! I'll need to buy that. I could be up to 100% flake free!" I could be 0% flake free and this advert would be true and I'm not sure I want to be 110% flake free! Is this more or less impressive than the adverts that claim: "No other product is [better|faster|more effective] than ours at doing [whatever]"? In other words, their product is about the same as everyone else's. And just to tip from amused old man into grumpy old man... Why do shampoos list their main ingredient as "Aqua"? How dumb do they think people are? I imagine they think shoppers will stand in supermarkets saying"Hey, I'm not paying all that money for this shampoo. The main ingredient is water! I'll get this one with aqua instead."

Do you have a favourite advert of the moment that amuses you in a way the creators didn't intend? Or do you have any other examples of fun misunderstandings?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More maths stuff

Perhaps this should have been an addition to the previous post...

I've continued to play with ASCIIMathML and I realise I should have given a warning but I've also discovered some cool stuff that you can do.

I should have warned you that ASCIIMathML should work no problem with Firefox (and possibly other browsers) but you need to download a program called mathplayer if you want to see the formulae in Internet Explorer (and possibly other browsers). Also, the ASCIIMathML page says:
The STIX fonts (beta) have finally been released (download and select STIXGeneral as default font in Firefox).
I've not found this to be necessary... but then I've not really pushed ASCIIMathML to try any particularly unusual symbols.

Now for some of the other stuff I discovered while I continued to play with this tool. I was pleasantly surprised to see that ASCIIMathML handles some of the graph drawing elements of LaTeX. For example:

`\begin{graph} width=300; height=200; xmin=-1; xmax=1; xscl=1; plot(x*sin(1/x)); \end{graph}`

I think that's pretty clever. :-)

Also, in the previous post, I mentioned a couple of programs that can export LaTex, but dgilmour sent me a Tweet that directed me to the Sitmo Equation Editor - a free, online tool that creates LaTeX code which you can copy and paste into your blog for ASCIIMathML to render. Excellent! Other useful pages I came across include the ASCIIMathML.js (ver 2.0): Syntax and List of Constants page (comprehensive but not particularly attractive) and the ASCIIMath Tutorial page (an stunningly useful tutorial that includes areas where you can type code and check straight away how it is rendered).

That's all for now. I don't know about you but I'm feeling a bit Mathed out now. I promise I'll try to stay away from maths for at least the next few weeks. :-)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Testing, testing, testing

{Note: I completely re-wrote this post once I got the ASCIIMathML version working. If you were here earlier, you may have found the not quite working version!}

I'm sure I did this last year when I was working with the Egyptian teachers... but if I did, I didn't write up how I did it on the blog and I had to work it out again. :-(

A maths student was wanting to show formulae in his blog but it has to be said that it is not easy to get the layout right - even for something as simple as a fraction:

$\frac{1}{2} + \frac{2}{3}$

If you want something more complicated, it is even more difficult:


Last year I found jsTeXrender which is a javascript program that does the business and YourEquations.com explains how to use it. It uses a script to turn LaTeX gobbledygook into properly formatted formulae. It is fairly painful to use as you have to switch into the script view of your blog editor and type in some fairly obscure LaTeX commands. There is just about enough information in the above websites to make it possible to add formulae to your blog but it is a bit of a struggle.

However, I have now found an easier way - use ASCIIMathML. This script understands LaTeX, so you can create very complex mathematical formulae if that is what you need to do. Just surround the LaTeX with dollar signs and ASCIIMathML should do the rest.

For example, type
\$\forall x \in X, \quad \exists y \leq \epsilon\$ to get
$\forall x \in X, \quad \exists y \leq \epsilon$
(Note that mathematical packages such as Mathematica and MathType can export in LaTeX format.)

However, ASCIIMathML's real strength is you can type a more or less readable text description of what you want and it will be rendered properly for you. Best of all, you do not have to switch to the script view to enter the formulae - just bracket the formulae with the grave accent, \` (not the apostrophe). For example:

For example, t
ype \`int_0^1f(x)dx\` to get:

Type \`sin^-1(x)\` to get:

Type \`d/dxf(x)=lim_(h->0)(f(x+h)-f(x))/h\` to get:

It was a bit tricky getting this working but the two sets of instructions I found most helpful were How to Post Math Equations in Blogger using ASCIIMathMIL and Equations in Blogger (and other HTML) Made Easy.

While looking for the jsTeXrender, I found a page on MathML which looked promising. I suspect that MathML is likely to be the most future proof solution, but I couldn't get it to work in Blogger at all! Help from scientific/mathematical bloggers who have already sussed this out would be greatly appreciated.

Critical Skills Workshop

{I attended a Critical Skills workshop last week which was led by one of my colleagues. These are my notes from the workshop with only minor edits of the live capture}

The Critical Skills programme started in New Hampshire in 1981. Teachers and business leaders go together and drew up a list of life skills and characteristics that they thought pupils would need. The ideas in the programme are not necessarily new but it provides a structured approach that uses variety of techniques and may help teachers to examine their practice and work in more pupil centred ways.

Skills identified by the programme include:
  • Problem Solving
  • Decision Making
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creative Thinking
  • Communication
  • Organisation
  • Management
  • Leadership
There is strong emphasis on problem solving and pupils centred activities ("...less teacher voice"). Community building is a key feature. The Critical Skills programme clearly fits in with other current developments such as Curriculum for Excellence, Assessment is for Learning, enterprise, creativity and citizenship, etc. (e.g. collaboration, listening to others...).

Putting it into practice: In the PGDE(S), Ashley Reid {the presenter of the workshop - DM} has worked much harder at community building and challenges than she would have otherwise. She has also used challenges to explore the areas students identify as more problematic. The challenges are worked on as small groups and then the results are shared. The hope is that students will take some of the ideas into their own teaching. For example, one challenge was to produce a Dummies guide to an aspect of the curriculum. {The Dummies Book Cover generator could be useful here - DM.}

We were then set a challenge to come up with a board game that will raise money for the university. :-) The board game was to focus on Curriculum for Excellence. The game has to highlight good practice already happening in Curriculum and Pedagogy classes. The purpose of the exercise was to encourage collaboration and we were expected to describe what our collaboration would look like and sound like. {These were written on post-its and collected in. The idea was to check at the end if we'd met our own criteria. However, we did not take this part entirely seriously and after playing with the jargon generator for a while we said we'd look like "...we were herding cats" and that we'd sound like "...academic guffaws!" - DM.} Different roles were defined for the group, e.g. facilitator, resource manager, quality checker and time-keeper.

{Our game started off as a cross between chess and Risk but got modified as we went along. The game board is divided into four quadrants, one for each of the CfE capacities. We wanted people to be able to repulse other players from their quadrant somehow but never worked out the mechanism for this. Where we ended up was that you would roll dice to land on challenge squares. Successful completion of a challenge gets you a Capacity Card (or a wedge for your playing piece). Crucially, to complete a Responsible Citizen challenge and an Effective Contributer challenge you have to work with one of the other players. There is competition because there is a winner but you cannot win without co-operating with fellow players. Example challenges were: Confident Individual - Talk for one minute on animal testing; Effective Contributer - Direct a blindfolded partner through a maze. Once you have all four types of Capacity Cards, you can storm Jargon Hall Towers at the centre of the board and win the game. - DM.}

The two groups produced two very similar board games {although ours was much better :-) - DM} and in the debrief we looked at what we said the groups would sound like and look like. Did we learn what colleagues were doing? Did we collaborate? Did we feel creative? How would we improve it? In our case perhaps there should have been more focus on the curricular content and less on creativity. {However, in the time available it was perhaps inevitable that we would concentrate on the game idea at the expense of the curriculum. For the workshop we spent about 20 minutes on an activity that would normally last 2-3 hours. - DM}

A screen full of references was displayed but the only one I got was Hillis, P. (2008). Authentic learning and multimedia in history education. Learning, Media and Technology, 33(2):87-99.

So, what do you think? Does anyone have experience of using the Critical Skills approach in the classroom?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Fun on Friday #8: Retro graphics

I'm a bit late again with my Fun on Friday but not because I was stuck for ideas. (I had two to choose from this week!) Lots of busyness at work and then a fireworks party at night.

So what's the fun this Friday? Well, a hint can be found in this Dilbert cartoon:


Fun though Dilbert is, he is just the introduction to the real fun:

Great fun, slightly easier to use than real etch-a-sketch (in my humble opinion) and doesn't suffer from the ghosting effect that you can see on an old Etch-a-Sketch. Surely,this is what the Internet was designed for!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

New students... old problems!

Just spent about an hour and a half chatting to students online. They are almost a week into their first full teaching placement and I think the chat can be summarised as follows:

    Amol asleep reading
    Originally uploaded by quinn.anya
  • Everyone is exhausted.
  • All are finding lesson preparation time consuming although different students have experienced different amounts of teaching on their own (from no periods on their own to six periods).
  • Views on differentiation range from "It's tricky" to "It's impossible".
  • There was concern about getting the information for their portfolio tasks.
  • Challenging.
  • Variable.
I think that's about it although there was nonsense and cheeky comments too. (Can't say who was responsible for most of the cheeky bits!)

Does the experience of this group of students match up to your own memories of starting as a teacher? Any sage words of advice... or failing that, cheeky comments?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Games 'to outsell' music, video in 2008

Thought this news report from the BBC was interesting:


Not just for the news that so many games (and games machines) are being sold (which should interest Derek at the Consolarium) but for the observation about music sales:
It is online sales of CDs and DVDs that have grown rapidly, rather than digital downloads, which still only account for around 4% of music and video sales.
This seems to imply they've combined music and video sales to get this statistic and I suspect that the market share of music may be higher than 4%.

I find it slightly comforting that people still want to buy a physical product. Certainly, I like the artwork, the lyrics, the details about who played what on which track etc. that you get with a CD but quite apart from that, I like having a physical copy of something I've paid for. In fact, I usually make a copy to CD of any music I have downloaded... when legally allowed to do so obviously. :-)

It may be that even homo zappiens would rather have a physical disc than an intangible mp3 file. For example, I was slightly surprised to discover this when I chatted to a teenager recently. He is a keen music fan, he plays in at least three bands, and has a fairly healthy music collection. I mentioned to him a site where you could legally download, for free, a load of music mp3s from a band I knew he liked. But he said, "Nah! I'd prefer to get the CDs." I suspect I am more mercenary than him. I prefer to have it on CD but if I can get it free or very cheap, then... :-)

I hope to say more on mp3 downloads in a future post. In the meantime, what do you think? Mp3 or CD? Leave a comment or answer the new poll I've just posted.

Now playing: Deep Purple - Strange Kind Of Woman
via FoxyTunes

P.S. I've just lost the game. :-(

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Cheaters never win and winners never cheat!

This article from the Guardian suggests that the old adage from the tile of this post may not be true:
...almost one in two Cambridge University students in a poll of 1,000 admitted to cheating in their studies.
One in two! Grief! Given that this is from a report by a consultancy firm called Plagiarism Advice, they may be asking a very broad definition of cheating and bigging up the problem... but one in two is worrying what ever definition of cheating you use. Perhaps most worrying of all though is the revelation that: "Law students were the most likely to plagiarise, with 62% saying they had broken university rules."

To me, this underlines the importance of exploring issues to do with internet literacy and responsible online citizenship at school level. I suspect we also need to look at how we assess students if the best essays come from jiggling around a bit with the order of stuff found in a Google search on the essay title.

So that's the aim; but how do we teach this sort of internet literacy? What should assessment look like in the Internet age?

P.S. Not sure why Facebook is named and shamed in the article's headline. Any suggestions?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Fun on Friday #7: Maths, Grammar and YouTube

I feel a bit of a cheat posting this as my Fun on Friday. I talk to my students about the importance of respecting copyright but here I am posting some YouTube videos that (I suspect) don't belong to the people who posted them. My excuse? They are funny and it is nearly midnight and I'm too tired to come up with anything else. {In the passing, can I say, I'm open to suggestions for future Fun on Friday postings!}

This post came about because a student in one of my classes invited his fellow students to post YouTube clips from their favourite movies. I decided to play too, so I had a think and came up with two black and white comedies and a cult sci-fi classic. (I suspect this says something about me. Feel free to offer psychological analysis.) For the record, the clips were from a Marx Brothers film, a Laurel and Hardy film and a very early John Carpenter film.

To salve my concious, the clip I'm featuring here is at least vaguely educational:

In general, I don't really like Abbott and Costello, but this clip could be used in a number of ways. You could use this clip in Maths, to teach place values, multiplication and division. In English, you can teach about the importance of commas:
Abbott: Didn't you go to school, stupid?
Costello: Yeah. And I came out the same way.
And of course, the exchange above should be the topic of an EdD thesis. :-)

What educational film clips can you suggest?

P.S. I found the Abbott and Costello clip via one that a student posted on his blog. He starts his first teaching placement on Monday and created this blog to use with pupils: Mr Schafer's Maths Lessons. I'm looking forward to seeing how it develops

P.P.S. There's good Computing and Philosophy stuff in the Carpenter clip.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ask Twitter 2: Information Overload

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a question I was asked and included some of the replies I got to the question when I shared it with my Twitter contacts (Ask Twitter: Mobile phones in education).

Information Overload
Originally uploaded by Monster.
Another question sent by text was: "Do you think the 'c' generation are at risk from communication overload?".

My response was:
I think we're all at risk... but as I said in the lecture, it is a risk we can't avoid. The children in school today have never known a time without the World Wide Web. The amount of information created every year is growing exponentially. That's the world they live in. The questions is therefore not "Are they at risk from information overload?" but rather, "How do we help them thrive in an information rich environment?" There are at least three responses: 1) Head in the sand 2) Headless chicken 3) Education I know which one I favour. :-)

A student added the following to my answer:

Perhaps the most important thing we can teach is how to apply sensible mental filters to the abundance of information out there. For instance, which sources are more likely to be reliable than others.

I thought I'd try Twitter again to get a wider range of views. Again, my comments and additions are shown in curly brakets.

derekrobertson @daviddmuir if the pseudo science brain people are correct they are only using 25% of their brains at the minute so plenty of capacity left!
{I suspect Derek was not being entirely serious. :-)}

islayian @davidDmuir According to Gardner in 5 minds for the future. Synthisizing is one of the most imortant skills we must develop 2:00 PM Oct 23rd

lynnehorn @DavidDMuir I'd like them to learn how to use all the communication things they have to learn as well as socialise 2:10 PM Oct 23rd

lynnehorn @DavidDMuir I think they need to know how to share that information appropriately in good ways,just started wikis to try and get them to 2:14 PM Oct 23rd
{Ah! The perils of the text limit in Twitter!}
lynnehorn @DavidDMuir to collaborate on homework tasks. 2:14 PM Oct 23rd

parslad @DavidDMuir To function efficiently in free market, one needs to expose oneself to the risk of overload, or pay someone to sift for them! 2:35 PM Oct 23rd

joecar @DavidDMuir easy to say yes but actually all this new info comes with filters bloglines google reader and you can still switch off

blethers @DavidDMuir ..Only if they succumb. Moderation in all things... And maybe it's part of education to make sure they handle it? 3:09 PM Oct 23rd

JConnell @DavidDMuir sorry David - got too many RSS feeds to read to be able to answer you ;-) 4:54 PM Oct 23rd
{It took me a while to get this... then I laughed out loud. Own up... how long did it take you?}
JConnell @ DavidDMuir ... seriously tho - teaching kids to filter intelligently is a massive issue 4:58 PM Oct 23rd

So, that's my reply and thoughts from Twitter. What do you think?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fun on Friday #6: I want to tell you a story

Two fun story telling links this week.

The first is a great invention from CogDogBlog - a Five Card Story site. A great idea for getting the creative juices going. The idea is simple, first, choose an image from five randomly presented photographs. After the first image is chosen, another five images are presented and you choose the next image. This is repeated until you have chosen five picture. Then, you write a story inspired by the five images. Simple and fun!

Here's one we wrote during a lecture where the students chose the images and suggested the story as we went along:

Click on the photo to go to the story page. I also had a couple of goes myself: If you want to get ahead... and Generation C.

One final neat feature is, if you tag a Flickr photo with 5cardflickr, it will be added to the pool of photos the five card story site draws from. Excellent!

The second story site was brought to my attention by Mr W. It is the National Novel Writing Month website. Again, a simple idea - write a novel in a month - but a difficult task. I'm not sure I'd cope with writing a novel in a year, never mind a month, but there are some fun ideas to inspire young writers. Like Neil, I especially like the Dare Machine.

So, have some fun writing something... And don't forget to share the results here. :-)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

School Rules

Last week I posted a discussion based around a question I'd been asked by a student: Ask Twitter: Mobile phones in education. I found the discussion both helpful and interesting. I was even vaguely hopeful about the possibilities for educational uses of mobile phones in school.

However a discussion this week with students brought me back to earth with a bump! We were talking about classroom management and the importance of establishing rules, so we talked about how well different rules had been enforced in their placement schools. It was not uncommon (in fact more or less universal) to have a no phone rule. However, one girl said that if a child was caught with a mobile phone, they were to be sent straight to the head teacher... will I say that again? To the head teacher... straight away... no messing about with warnings etc. (And I think I heard her right - it was just "caught with" not necessarily "using".)

Oh dear!

I understand that mobiles can be disruptive. I understand that they can be used for particularly nasty forms of bullying. I understand that there can be child protection issues. But is this really an appropriate or proportionate response? As a pupil I used to have a tin pencil box (from Helix) in my bag with various maths tools in it, including a set of compasses... With a very sharp point... A very dangerous sharp point... Significantly more dangerous (I would argue) than a mobile phone. I guess now, children are not allowed such dangerous objects but if a pupil was found to be carrying one, would he or she be sent to the head teacher? I suspect not.

I wonder what other offences result in you being sent straight to the head teacher? If you are caught with a knife, a gun, a weapon of mass destruction... or a mobile phone?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Edublogs bookclub: First questions... at last

I announced the Edublogs book club about two months ago and then had a worry about which book to read about a month later. No definitive book was picked but it is well past time to try and start a discussion. In the end, I've gone for Homo Zappiens - mainly because I've been too busy to start We Think: The Power of Mass Creativity. :-) I hope someone else has at least started this book, otherwise it's going to be a bit lonely here in the Edublogs book club.

193/366 Some light reading
Originally uploaded by
So, a couple of general observations first and then a some questions to (hopefully) get us started.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed with this book as it wasn't as good as I hoped. Some good quotes and some interesting ideas but at times it wasn't convincing... or at least, I wasn't convinced.

With that out the way, lets try a few questions to get us started. Feel free to tackle one, all or none of these questions. If you want to answer your own questions either here on on your own blog, feel free to do that too.
  1. Is there something deeply ironic in producing a book about homo zapiens? Google have a large(ish) preview of the book available in Google Books - would an electronic format make more sense than paper?
  2. There is supposed to be a website associated with the book but at time of writing it is off line. The message on the site says: "This site has been taken offline due to the busy time-schedule of the authors and their consequent inability to properly maintain this site". How disappointed were you about the missing site? Should the book be able to standalone without a website?
  3. How convinced were you by the statements in the author's acknowledgements that: "Silently, this generation has adopted technology and has developed new strategies for living and for learning. And those strategies differ so much from former generations that a complete new actor is marching into the arena of educational change." (p. 5)?
There you are, three questions to kick us off. More questions could follow if there is enough (any!) interest.

It's over to you.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fun on Friday #6: Post-its

I have come across creative uses of post-it notes before but this one takes the biscuit. It comes from the EepyBird people who did the Coke and Mentos thing a while back. (I wrote about it in Serious science experiment and Back Garden Experiment.) Watch the video below to see what they have done with post-it notes. (Or sticky notes as they seem to be obliged to all them - no sponsorship from 3M obviously!)

Brilliant! I love the way that once again, they have taken a sideways look at something that other people may have already noticed ("Hmm, these post-it notes behave a bit like a slinky!") and then taken it to the extreme!

Anything here you could do with a class? The sidewriting looks do-able and they are inviting people to post the results of their experiments. Have fun and let me know if you have a go.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ask Twitter: Mobile phones in education

I'm still getting my head round Twitter. On Twitter, the insignificant and the indispensable collide - sometimes in the same tweet. That's part of the reason I remain unsure about Twitter. I said recently that I was unconvinced about Twitter's value as a CPD tool but other Twitter users challenged me on this. So rather than just use Twitter for the insignificant I thought I would try something that was at least educationally interesting. :-)

Noo Possession
Originally uploaded by Saad.Akhtar
A student sent me a text with a question. I answered it but wondered if my Twitter contacts could hep me expand or develop my answer. The context was a session I delivered to PGDE(S) students on using mobile phones/technology in the classroom. (Started sort of the same as my SLF spot but went to broader issues than just gaming.) I invited the students to text questions and comments during the session and responded to some as I went along. However, I thought some questions deserved a more considered response.

One such question was:
Do u think it is right to use individual students mobile computing equipment in a comprehensive education system?
My response:
This is a good question and it is certainly something that should be considered carefully and checked with your Principle Teacher (at least) before you do anything that will cost pupils/parents money.

I would defend it on a couple of grounds:

1) We already use equipment provided by parents/pupils on a daily basis. At a trivial level - pens and pencils for example. However,a as a parent I know I also contribute directly in other ways. For example, a charge is made for ingredients in Home Economics, I pay for music lessons and supply PE kit. I don't in principle therefore have a problem with the concept.

2) The pupils have this kit already - I'm not suggesting they buy something new.

3) I suspect that a good few are on contracts with free minutes and free texts so it may not even cost them to send a text. (I'd be interested in an unscientific poll of your classes when you get back to school to see if this is correct.) Besides, there are ways of using their mobiles that don't cost anything. For example, I didn't have time to talk about Bluetooth.

However, it is something we need to think carefully about and I'd be interested in other opinions.
So, I asked for some other opinions from Twitter and my comments in {curly brackets} are copied below:

blethers @DavidDMuir ..did the questioner mean because they'd have to pay for some education? Perish the thought! 01:29 PM October 13, 2008

blethers @DavidDMuir ..I went to a school where you had to buy all your books. I don't have a problem - do the students?? 02:52 PM October 13, 2008

{I think Mrs Blethers is saying the same kind of thing I did - education is valuable and some costs have always been associated with learning and teaching even in the comprehensive system. As long as we make sure nobody misses out due to lack of funds, I too have no problem.}

jayerichards @DavidDMuir I think it would be very wrong not to use them - lets be creatively subversive in our classrooms ! 01:48 PM October 13, 2008

jayerichards @DavidDMuir that s of course, providing you don't use up all their credit! but for bluetooth, photo/video/ podcasting etc that's good.. 01:50 PM October 13, 2008

{Worth noting that I didn't share my response on Twitter, but Jaye has picked up another of my points - there are ways of using mobiles in class that don't cost anything (assuming you already have the equipment). Also, I liked her call to be "creatively subversive"!}

goodonskis @DavidDMuir It's okay, in my view, as long as we are not increasing inequalities amongst pupils 02:04 PM October 13, 2008

{An important point. In the same way that I made pencils available in my class for those that didn't have one, do we need to make mobiles available?}

parslad @DavidDMuir At Education Unbound in London last week, I said that comprehensive education may work against this kind of personalisation 02:53 PM October 13, 2008

parslad @DavidDMuir I mentioned: comprehensive ed, unchanging pedagogy, OECD-obsession, 'blocking', and 35-hour CPD as limits on personalisation 10:08 PM October 13, 2008

{Still not sure I understand this point. Is it that there are all sorts of structural problems that have to be overcome before mobile phones can be used effectively in schools and within the current system, those problems may never be overcome. And talking of structural issues...}

tarannau20 @DavidDMuir Yes, if the student wants 2 and is willing 2 take onboard skools security policies etc. I wonder whether teachers would like it? 09:57 PM October 13, 2008

{Two good points: 1) should it be compulsory or do we have to offer alternative way of doing it for some? 2) Policies will have to be developed and communicated to pupils as to what is and what isn't acceptable use.}

nwinton @DavidDMuir : I don't see why not. Not every pupil has access to a PC at home, but that doesn't stop us suggesting them for research. 10:03 PM October 13, 2008

{Perhaps the key word there is "suggesting". If we make it compulsory though... (see above).}

spookingdorf @DavidDMuir Yes, but student needs to abide by the AUP and be responsible for the equipment. Teachers need enlightening too, to allow use. 10:05 PM October 13, 2008

{It may be their own equipment but school use implies school rules - yes?}

digitalmaverick @DavidDMuir - I'd say whilst not DESIRABLE it is APPROPRIATE if its the ONLY way such a device is to be used in school 10:27 PM October 13, 2008

{Reading between the lines here... in an ideal world, schools would have all the equipment they need but in the real world it may be better to use equipment provided by the pupils live with current restrictions.}

If I've misrepresented your tweet, set me right with a comment.

So was Twitter an effective way to get feedback? Certainly, the number of responses in a short space of time was impressive. The brevity of Twitter messages is frustrating at times but each message added something to my reply and by pulling them together here, we have the opportunity to refine our answers and continue the conversation.

I'll invite the students to have a look. Hopefully the student who asked the question will chip in too.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fun on Friday #6: Paper Critters

Only eight votes so far in the current poll, but all positive so... a bit late this week but with 30 minutes to go, it is still officially Friday.

I thought I'd recommend something practical this week, so get out your scissors, your glue and your virtual pencils and make me a Paper Critter. I think my favourite is this Star Wars critter:

But the Sponge Bob is fun too.

If you create an original critter, leave a comment here to let us see your handiwork, or post a photo of any of the "colony" that you make up.

P.S. I created another Comicbrush comic. Has nobody else had a go (apart from Andy)?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Guitar Throwdown

I should start by saying that a Guitar Throwdown is not as bad,or potentially expensive, as it first sounds. (This is a quick post about another interesting educational use for YouTube I came across.)

Throwdown is used here in the sense of throwing down a challenge. The roots may be from the world of rap but I can't find a definition on the web, so I can't confirm this. I came across it in this guitar throwdown from Newton Faulkner:

Hows that for a challenge? Your music pupils could take on Newton in a guitar throwdown! OK, perhaps Netwon might be a bit too high a target for some... but what about inter-school throwdowns?

It doesn't have to be limited to guitars either. Other instruments could be used. (A recorder throwdown?) It doesn't even have to be music based. Why not have a poetry throwdown, or an art throwdown, or a mime throwdown... OK mime might not be a good idea but you get the drift. One school/pupil posts a video and issues the throwdown and others can respond in comments or in kind by posting their own video.

Even as I typed the above, I realised it doesn't even have to be limited to YouTube. It might be more sensible to use Flickr for an art throwdown or an ArtTrack throwdown. And I'd love to see Computing classes have a go at a Scratch throwdown.

What do you think? Anyone up for a throwdown?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

British Sign Language

I was looking for some video of people using British Sign Language for Sunday School and YouTube came up trumps.

The first one I looked at was a chap signing to Eleanor Rigby, I think the children's favourite was the sign language singers (however, not sure if this is BSL - can anyone confirm?) but my wife found this one today and it is now officially my favourite:

I am really impressed by the way he signs differently while portraying the different characters. I don't think I would have believed you could impersonate people's voices in sign language before seeing this!

I know YouTube is full of stuff and nonsense and contains some material that is clearly not appropriate in schools but every so often, you come across videos like these and see again its educational potential.

What do you think? Are you inspired to learn a new language or share what you already know?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Can you guess what it is yet?

My first go at an ArtTrack was less than successful! "What's an ArtTrack?" I hear you ask. Well, Andrew Brown and Tom Barrett got all in a Twitter after TeachMeet thanks to a throwaway comment in response to John Davitt talking about the Track Stick. This lead to an exchange of messages on Twitter:
@tombarrett - great meeting you too - when are we starting the trackstick/word challenge?
08:17 PM September 29, 2008 from twitterrific in reply to tombarrett

@tombarrett - could we start a site or flickr tag for them? They find out the new word and then tag their image of it?
08:30 PM September 29, 2008 from twitterrific in reply to tombarrett

@whereisab Flickr tagged images would be a good way to do it - I like that idea - I have just thought we could do Google Earth artwork !!!!
08:34 PM September 29, 2008 from web in reply to whereisab

@tombarrett - how cool would that be? Walkable art, or a spelling contest! :-)
08:36 PM September 29, 2008 from twitterrific in reply to tombarrett

@whereisab The playground is our canvas!! - I have a had a whole bunch of ideas for using them - can't wait to get one.
08:36 PM September 29, 2008 from web in reply to whereisab

@tombarrett - we need to make them social though - I love the idea of serendipituously finding others doing the same thing
08:38 PM September 29, 2008 from twitterrific in reply to tombarrett

@whereisab A spelling relay - lots of kids each spelling a word, TrackStick as baton !! :-D
08:40 PM September 29, 2008 from web in reply to whereisab
Somewhere along the way, Tom coined the name ArtTracks, Andrew wrote a blog post (Spelling that makes you move?) and Tom created a Flickr group (LearningTracks). It was fascinating watching it develop and it will be interesting to see what happens next.

However, while waiting, I decided to have a go myself. A special GPS no-prize is available to the first person to guess what it is I was trying to draw:

My first ArtTrack

It was a bit of a failure. However, I learned three things:
  1. My GPS unit is not stunningly accurate. (I especially like the point that shows I apparently jumped onto the Sir Henry Wood Building roof and then off again!)
  2. I think I'll get on better by choosing when to record the points myself rather than letting the software do it automaticaly.
  3. I'm going to have to go bigger, much bigger, or it's not going to work. :-)