The Teachmeet that never wasn’t

TMLogoILWLast week was the University of Edinburgh’s Innovative Learning Week (ILW). As part of  my contribution to the range of activities and events that make up this amazing opportunity for staff, learners and the wider community, I thought I’d run a Teachmeet. I was delighted when very quickly, I got some big names signed up to share a bit of good practice and ideas to inform and enthuse: Colin Webster of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (@co1inwebster); John Connell, the EdTech guru, creator of “I am Learner” and innovator behind the CommonLearn concept; and Ian Stuart, formerly @IslayIan, now on secondment to the Scottish Executive and an authority on 1-to-1.

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It was with some regret that I had to cancel the event, like many others, due to (I think) the large number of events and the impact on registrations. I decided that 20 wasn’t enough for a viable teachmeet in the context of the University, so called it off. By way of compensation, I switched the venue and the context to a pub in Leith, the Teuchters Landing.

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I don’t propose to detail the entire event: what is worth recording here is that it was a brilliant night, with some amazing stories, tech demonstrations, masterclasses, debate over current policy and the curriculum, great ideas and something very characteristic of almost every teachmeet I’ve ever been to – the “buzz” of having shared some truly refreshing perspectives. Some of the ideas I picked up included were Microsoft’s Physics Illustrator (which evidently has been around for years); information about the new BBC Bitesize for National 5 Physics and others; and the SQA’s unconference site on what education will look like in 2020 at http://education2020.wikispaces.com which outlines what Education 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 look like – “a bit of brick and a bit of click”.

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I’ll leave you with a little quote from Sharon Somerville, a Canadian teacher just back from teaching in the Falkland Islands. This struck a chord with me:

People don’t have problems, they have needs. Meet a need to enable them.

 

What will education look like in 2023?

Yesterday I attended the SELMAS Annual Conference at Stirling University. The tagline for the conference was, “What will education look like in 2023?” The day was chaired by Dr. Dee Torrance. These are my notes and thoughts from the conference and I should warn you, they are quite long, certainly for a blog post.

The event took the form of four keynotes spread across the day, with opportunity to network over coffee and lunch, followed by a (too) short panel discussion. The planned “group tasks” were ditched as minor technology gremlins conspired to eat the available time (is this the future?). We were also given a presentation by senior girls from Ross High on leadership and a “bonus” session from Terry Wrigley and Danny Murphy on Terry and John Smyth’s new book: Living on the Edge: Rethinking Poverty, Class and Schooling. The keynotes were at first sight eclectic but themes emerged from the four very distinct perspectives shared by our speakers: Donna Manson, Matthew Syed, Ollie Bray and Tommy Boyle. Continue reading

It’s Teachmeet, Jim, but…

…not as I know it.

This evening I attended Teachmeet Fife 2013 at the brand new (I almost wrote “brand spanking new” but thought better of it in light of current educational thinking on discipline) Auchmuty High School in Glenrothes, Fife. I knew the format of the evening was going to be a little different to previous teachmeets I have attended so was a little unsure, but I had some business to do at the school anyway, so signed myself up as a lurker.

The school building and facilities are absolutely beautiful. I was given a wee cook’s tour of the place and was impressed at the thinking in the design, the huge investment in new equipment and security, and the quality of the teaching environment the local authority have created in the school. I can’t deny I felt a little envious of my friend and guide, who was evidently appreciative of his good fortune to be teaching in such a school.

TMFThe teachmeet itself was kicked off by Gemma Sanderson, who also took the first presentation on “Using Twitter in the Classroom”. As with all three sessions I attended, this was not a workshop as billed, but rather a traditional direct-teaching presentation complete with slides and no interaction. Gemma’s presentation was interesting, as were all three sessions I attended, but I was more than a little disappointed to realise that this was a very standard CPD event and not what I have come to know as a Teachmeet™.

This was brought home to me sharply when I incurred “discipline” from Paul Murray when caught using my phone during his presentation. At a proper teachmeet, the use of backchannels and concurrent conversation, often over social media channels, is positively encouraged if not demanded. I was trying to do this as is the custom and practice.

It is unfortunate that for many delegates this evening, this was their first teachmeet and I fear they will have an unfair impression of what a teachmeet is. For me, although the presentations were mostly useful and interesting, the lack of the usual pace, dynamics and interactivity left me without the usual teachmeet buzz which often lasts for days and always has some impact on my practice.

Have I gained anything from this evening? Well, yes, of course. I was able to converse with friends and colleagues old and new, to reflect on the things I had heard and to consider how I ought to revise and adapt my own practice in light of these. I am grateful to Gemma and her team for organising the evening, to Auchmuty for hosting us and to BrainPop for sponsoring the event.

Scottish Learning Festival ’13, Day 2

I was lucky enough to be able to attend both days of the SLF this year. The focus on the second day for me was very much that of professional development for teachers.

gridThis began with a little reflection on the variability in the quality of CPD accessed by teachers. In my experience, this has ranged in two dimensions from very good to very bad and from relevant to irrelevant. I was thinking in particular of Wednesday night’s teachmeet, which, like all teachmeets I’ve attended, contained a range of talks and professional development which I would plot somewhere mid-to-right-of-centre on our grid, ranging between ±70% of the relevancy scale. The plot shown here is meant to be representative, not a specific critique of any presentation or session.

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Professor Petra Wend, Chair of the NIB

Petra Wend chaired a round table session with some of her colleagues on the National Implementation Board providing short stimulus talks: Graeme Logan, Susan Quinn and Glenn Rodger. Delegates, aided by table facilitators, debated several questions around the challenges faced by the NIB and came up with a number of key questions which expressed the consensus of the principal concerns of those present. The output of the round table will be published at the Teaching Scotland’s Future website. Whilst you’re clicking around, take a look some of these other places, too: firstly, the Aspiring Teachers site which includes a check of literacy and numeracy for those thinking about a career in teaching in Scotland. Are you up to the minimum standard to teach here?

Second, the Framework for Educational Leadership is of direct relevance to you as a teacher, even if you think that “leadership” is something that ambitious, unprincipled putative deputes are desperate to shove up your nose. We are all leaders of learning and the opportunities provided by CfE to break out of the silos that have traditionally bunkered our creativity are going to be realised when all teachers take on the mantle of true educational leadership in order to bring the best of opportunities to their students. Look out for the development and sharing of good examples, called for by delegates at the round table today. Get ready for the Scottish College for Educational Leadership, coming very soon. There’s a heads-up on Margery McMahon’s blog (I was at Margery’s table today).

Finally, is the GTCS Practitioner enquiry resource which will give you a heads up on the new expectations for all teachers to evaluate methods, ditching those that don’t work and replacing them with those that do, based upon evidence from action research in their own classrooms.

The last session I attended at the SLF this year was a good example of practitioner enquiry and professional update: Caroline Bayne and Pauline Gilhooley gave a fascinating presentation of Edinburgh’s model for professional development course called, “Enhancing Classroom Practice”, which follows a well-established model rooted in masters-level reading, critical thinking, practitioner enquiry and reflection. Broadly the model follows these steps in three phases of the course, which will not be unfamiliar to those who undertook the Chartered Teacher programme:

  • Literature review
  • Critical reading
  • Research methods
  • Changes to practice
  • Measurement of impact
  • Evaluation

Although the Edinburgh course does not as yet attract accreditation, it looks like it might be possible in the right partnership with a local university and I am sure that dialogue along these lines will have taken place.

I’ll wrap up my report of the second day of the SLF with a (remembered) quote, shared by Professor Wend in the round table this morning:

research shows that having better qualified teachers results in better learning experiences

Personally, I would rather this was stated as “better educated” teachers, but the point is well made. If you know what you’re doing, then what you do, you do better.

Scottish Learning Festival ’13, Day 1

sparseThe Scottish Learning Festival this year looks at first sight to be less than it once was. The exhibition space is significantly reduced and the footprint of the event on the SECC seems similarly diminished. Indeed, when I arrived at my usual time of a little before 8 to catch up with the “usual crowd”, they and the coffee culture bars were conspicuous in their absence.

Eventually, however, the buzz of teachers revelling in a day’s respite from the pressures of CfE, assessment, reporting, The Management, development and the NAR, soon filled the corridors of the venue. Estimates of four thousand delegates or more for this year seem optimistic but the registration desks were busy with people grabbing the opportunity to attend some of the many seminars and events running this year.

FeorleanBy the time I was shuffling into the Lomond for the Minister’s keynote, I had pressed the flesh with a good number of “the usual suspects” and was feeling good about coming through to the wild west for the day. The keynote itself was what it always is with Mike Russell – a stunning display of eloquent fast thinking, masterly deflection and a little more party political dogma than the delegates were comfortable with or entitled to. The presentation of the inaugural Robert Owen award seemed a little weird, with so many incredibly innovative educators in Scotland, as it was awarded to a fully-deserving-but-never-heard-of-in-Scotland educator from overseas who happened to be speaking at the conference this year. Doug Belshaw expressed the zeitgeist well.

It’s often a bit of a gamble when picking seminars to attend and I have once or twice been disappointed in the past. This year was no exception as the first session I attended was pitched as, “Science Challenges to Inspire and Motivate”. I forgave myself for thinking that this was going to be innovative and new. It wasn’t. It was no more than a badly-delivered sales pitch from an independent sector head of Chemistry who has set himself up a wee business on the side selling ideas remarkably similar to those found in other places, including the courses I teach at Edinburgh University.

In contrast, the afternoon session I attended on Developing early number concepts, delivered by Craig Lowther and Mandy Milton from Moray, was a high-quality and pragmatic session which itself used exemplary andragogy. This team shared some really rich ideas for developing number concepts in young children, including some highly effective and dirt-cheap resources, backed up by evidence of its efficacy and clear strategies for supporting teachers and parents. This was one of the best sessions I have seen in the past 6 years at the SLF.

CLA_20bigcolour72dpiAlthough the rest of the day was busy with meetings, touring the small exhibition, chatting to exhibitors and other delegates, the evening teachmeet event at the SQA was the butter icing in the cake of the day. The event was recorded and will be available to listen to over at edutalk.cc. There was the usual eclectic but nevertheless interesting mix of talks and round tables. I joined in with Frank Crawford‘s session on what makes a great teacher and really enjoyed the debate as we tried to identify what we, as educators, thought made a great one.

A number of us finished the day in a bar, eating and drinking, courtesy of the teachmeet sponsors CLA (thank you), who not only facilitated the event itself, but also contributed to the “common weal” by delivering a short talk on copyright and schools.

So, I’m sitting in the Key West cafe at the SECC as the place wakes up, having demanded coffee, pastries and a place to write well before opening time. I’ve been accommodated with all of these and the cheery people-centric demeanour of the staff here that is the characteristic of this curate’s egg of a country. For all that it’s a work in progress, I still believe that it offers the best place to work in education, in the world.

Forewarned…

… the US Embassy has sent this helpful message to all registered US Citizens in the UK:

“U.S. Embassy London informs U.S. citizens that planned demonstrations regarding the death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher will take place at various locations throughout London from April 13-17. The planned demonstrations have been widely reported in local media and U.S. citizens are encouraged to monitor local media for updates about these planned events.

There is no indication that the demonstrations will be violent. However, even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. You should avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.”

As if any US Citizen would be so rude as to join such nonsense.

Scottish Ballet

It’s been a while since I had the time to post here – I offer no excuses, merely to say that life has taken some interesting turns since the spring of 2012, all of which have conspired to keep me away from this channel. However…

© Scottish Ballet. From the Autumn 2012 Trailer at Vimeo.
Click the image to see the video.

Last night, unplanned until the day before, my partner and I grabbed an unexpected free night to see if tickets for the ballet were still available – they were. Delight at our good fortune became empathic disappointment for the company when we realised that the Festival Theatre was not a lot more than half full for Scottish Ballet’s Autumn Season 2012, a triple bill introduced in person by the new Artistic Director, Christopher Hampson. The audience were not diminished in their enthusiasm for the three works presented: Martin Lawrance’s Run For It, William Forsythe’s Workwithinwork and Hans van Manen’s 5 Tangos.

I’m no fan of the music of the first work, despite it being excellently played by the orchestra under Richard Honner. The dance, however, was outstandingly well executed and much as we shouldn’t have our favourites, I am always impressed by the humility and presence of Erik Cavallari. The second and third works were played to soundtrack: Forsythe’s piece was quirky and complex, with elements of good contemporary dance set against the more classical content to produce a fusion of styles. I didn’t catch the name of the  more muscular (oh, what is the politically correct way to say, “not as thin as the others”?) girl whose flicks and flourishes were nothing less than stunningly well executed. If I had been able to buy a programme – Scottish Ballet are experimenting with a digital-only version of the programme – I might have been able to give her a well-deserved namecheck here.

The final presentation of 5 Tangos was every bit as exciting as a tango should be, the costumes and music giving the dancers every excuse to play out this expressive and rhythmic work with passion and flourish.

Oh, lucky us, that we got the chance to see this impressive performance: if you can go to see it, you should. It’s on in Inverness and Aberdeen next week. Book it here.

A lecture in memory of Tom Conlon

This lecture might be interesting given the current debate around GLOW and the future of computing in CfE. From the flyer:

ICT in schools is at an historic choice point. We could continue to focus on the use of office products in business, etc, which students often find repetitive, boring and uninspiring. Or we could refocus on the principles of Computing and the skills of programming. The Curriculum for Excellence provides an opportunity to make this choice.

The lecture will be held in Thomson’s Land, Moray House School of Education, Edinburgh on 26th September at 5:30 pm. Professor Muff Calder, leader of the ICT Excellence Group, will give the welcome address before introducing Professor Alan Bundy, who will deliver the lecture. Details in the flyer (below).

Memorial Lecture Flyer

Scottish Ballet: A Streetcar Named Desire

It’s one of my life’s pleasures to set the daily disappointments of weak human performance in stark contrast with the excellent. Tonight, the excellence was the Scottish Ballet production “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh.

The production is the result of a collaboration between theatre director Nancy Meckler and choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ohoa which has produced one of the most stunning dance performances I have ever seen. The sets and costume design were clever and complex, working seamlessly with the Tennessee Williams’ storyline set in the 1930′s deep south of America.

The physical expression through the movement of the dancers was impressive: classically rooted with the slickest and most evocative of contemporary signatures. The company gave of its very best, each dancer competently focusing on the whole work instead of themselves: the selfless performance of each allowed the emotion of each sequence to reach the auditorium, where tears and gasps were extracted from the audience as Williams’ study of desire and despair was given its fullest expression.

If the visual presentation were not enough, the especially commissioned music of Peter Salem added a stunning dimension to the work of the choreographer. As a whole, the event was a masterpiece of excellence for all involved: from Erik Cavalleri‘s arrogant and passionate Stanley Kowalski to Claire Robertson‘s naive and eventually deranged Blanche DuBois; from Richard Honner’s expert presentation of Salem’s music to the company dancers and backstage crew who produced a flawless production upon which the grateful audience could build what will be, for me at least, one of the most memorable theatre experiences of my life.