SQA briefing event for ITE

Together with colleagues from teacher education institutions across the country, I attended a full day of workshops and briefings hosted by the SQA at the Glasgow Hilton. The event was opened by Teresa Moran, convenor of the Scottish Teacher Education Committee (STEC) whose short introduction showed the endemic blindness of many of our educational leaders to the significant independent sector and the important role they play in developing our teachers. In sketching the partnership of teacher education she, like others would throughout the day, mentioned only “Local Authority schools”. SQA and GTCS representatives use the same language consistently when talking about teacher development: it may be that their model only includes those who follow the teacher induction scheme (TIS, or one-year probation operated by LA schools) but this is only one way to achieve qualified teacher status in the Scottish system.

HMIE’s Elizabeth Morrison painted a picture of the support system that continues to be rolled out in support of curricular reform in Scotland. Key elements of this include:

  • The senior phase benchmarking tool, Insight. This is a tool for all teachers to use to inform their own practice and measure impact and performance. In responding to questions later in the day, Colin Sutherland, the government advisor on Insight, made it clear that giving ITEs access is not a priority and that when it is given, there would be a data anonymisation exercise to be done first.
  • The self-evaluation and inspection framework How Good Is Our School (HGIOS) version 4 is online in draft at the moment (although I can’t find it), to replace HGIOS 3 that was published in 2007.
  • The GLOW refresh of October 2014
  • Inspection Advice Notes are updated annually (2014-15 version here)

Similar questions were asked throughout the day by delegates about the access that ITEs have to key features of the support systems in place for teachers, such as GLOW, SQA Secure and Insight. Answers given were non-committal, going no further than “talk to somebody”. Personally, as an ITE tutor, I do have access to some of these through arrangements made by colleagues within Moray House.

Ronnie Summers of the SQA gave us a presentation that some delegates thought patronising, perhaps because it seemed to be targeted at people who have no idea what CfE is. One expects this, perhaps, if the intention is to provide a briefing on CfE, but there were a number of indications that the SQA assume that teachers – science teachers, specifically – don’t keep themselves up to date with developments in education. If this was gratuitous, then the suggestion that he made that “PGDEs don’t have pedagogical knowledge” deserved the hostile reaction it got from the delegates, forcing him to attempt a back-pedal, claiming “it isn’t a criticism.”

By the time we got to the coffee break it was clear that some delegates had decided to bail from the event and go and do something more productive. I took the opportunity to enjoy a professional conversation with some primary colleagues from schools in Fife who were there to share good practice case studies: I attended the secondary equivalent of this session which was frankly uplifting.

Two secondary head teachers shared how they are implementing CfE through highly appropriate curricular models that were well-crafted to meet the needs of their young people. This session was introduced by Fiona Robertson of Education Scotland who drew our attention to the emphasis being given to the importance of measuring the impact of curricular change. This is, to a casual observer of education, a no-brainer but lack of evaluation has characterised some initiatives in schools. Not so the two schools in the case study workshop: Karen Jarvis of Linlithgow Academy described her principled approach to curricular reform, founded on SHANARRI, the four capacities of CfE, the seven principles of curriculum design, the scope of the curriculum from BTC and the entitlements of the broad general education. Karen described her model in some detail including how learners progress within it, stressing strengths and some of the issues the school faces in the changes that have been made, and that will follow from the impact evaluations.

CHS

Steve Ross of Craigroyston CHS in Edinburgh followed with a description of a different model for a different context: one in which destinations of young people has been a concern for the local community. This model makes use of the extensive SQA vocational catalogue, local partnerships and the flexibility and commitment of teachers to cross discipline boundaries in order to deliver a rich and relevant curriculum that the children of this school can and do enjoy. Evidence of impact is clear: S4s making the transition to S5 have gone from about half the cohort to 86% in a year. Steve says that behaviour issues in the senior phase are almost non-existent – the young people clearly value the opportunities they are being given through this model. A key message for student teachers entering the workforce now is that you have to be prepared to be flexible: you can’t box yourself into your subject area and think that is acceptable. Personally, I find this encouraging: I brought a lot of experience in programming and project management to teaching and have often felt that it is not only of no interest to schools, it is about as welcome as a slideshow of “pictures of our grandchildren” at a dinner party. Finally, teachers who bring “something else” are being valued and asked to put it to good use.

There was a great question raised at the end of Steve’s presentation, which had focused, rightly in his context, on employment and destinations. The question was about the purposes of education: there had been evidence from a number of speakers that a belief is held that the purpose of education is to prepare children for employment destinations – and nothing else. Clearly, this goes against some very deeply held principles.

After a very nice lunch, those of us that remained were given presentations on Glow, Insight, and DSYW which told us about the national professional learning community, nothing new, and nothing, respectively.

The afternoon workshop was billed as, “New qualifications, assessment and quality assurance to support the senior phase of CfE”. It was given by John Allan and John Lewis of the SQA and was not really as advertised. There were group activities, the purpose of which was not at all evident. There was for me, absolutely none of the detail on assessment principles, frameworks, procedures or methods that I attended the conference to hear. Presenters and delegates seemed to lose patience with each other and neither really had much to share of value to the other.

The final talk was given to the handful of remaining delegates by Tom Hamilton of the GTCS who, like some of the other speakers today, seemed to have been given the wrong brief and spoke to a target audience that wasn’t us. Either that, or he, like others who spoke today, seems to hold the belief that ITEs had not yet started updating themselves and their courses in preparation for the launch of CfE.

The event was closed by Teresa Moran who, according to one delegate, encapsulated the tone of much of the day when she read, “have a safe journey home” from a piece of paper.

Was it a wasted day? Certainly not. I had the opportunity to speak with colleagues in the other ITEs, teachers and head teachers about the reality of how the new curriculum is being implemented in primary and secondary schools and how prospective teachers are being prepared for our Brave New World. I was significantly impressed and encouraged to have it re-affirmed that there are very many people who are dissident and principled enough that our young people are in good hands. I would have liked to have heard more of these people speak today.

Dunbar Science Club: Light

On Saturday 10th January, young scientists at the Dunbar Science Club learned about lenses and light. Physics graduates undertaking a PGDE (Professional Graduate Diploma in Education) at the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education ran sessions for children aged between 4 and 12.

The sessions began with an introduction to lenses and the question “Did you know that you carry around your own personal magnifying glass?” After looking at lenses and magnifying glasses, the children were guided through their own dissection of a real eye to find the lens inside. The Moray House teachers started the cut with a scalpel to allow the children to complete the opening of the eye using scissors. A gentle squeeze, and the aqueous humour popped out, bringing the lens out with it. Children proved that this is a real lens by reading printed material through it!

Time was very tight in the workshops but some of the children had the opportunity to make a pinhole camera using an empty Pringles tub. Lenses are used in lots of things including cameras but not all cameras need a lens. Early cameras work using just a pinhole: making a pinhole in the bottom of the tub allows light to enter which can be displayed on a screen made from greaseproof paper held onto the top of the tub by an elastic band. Children got to take their camera home.

 

Finally, the groups had the chance to look at the power of light and the importance of colour. Our young scientists were able to explain that darker colours absorb energy more than light colours. Using this knowledge, they could say that if a laser was unable to pop a yellow balloon, then we should draw a black patch on the balloon. Shining a laser on the patch should pop the balloon because of the extra energy absorbed. Using a special powerful laser (used by astronomers to show constellations in the night sky), this was tested and proved with a bang!

Acknowledgements

Great fun was had by all. Credit is due to the Dunbar Science Club – the volunteers who run this and the Dunbar SciFest do an amazing job bringing great science to the young people of the town. Special thanks to Moray House technical staff and the PGDE teachers who planned, resourced and delivered this session and a big thank you to the Edinburgh businesses that helped us out with some of the equipment we needed: the Dominion Cinema who provided the Pringles tubs; George Bowers Butcher in Stockbridge who gave us pig’s eyes; and Welch Fishmongers, Newhaven who gave us haddock eyes. This couldn’t have happened without your support.

Computing: how young is too young?

TCHow does a child open a door in the modern world? Children’s worlds are increasingly driven by algorithms. At what age are they able to understand these, and use their own? We need to consider how young children learn about computing:

  • Who has the responsibility and how do we support them?
  • What resources do we have and what else do we need?
  • When is too young, when is too late?

On Wednesday 12th November at 5.30pm, the University of Edinburgh will be hosting a forum in memory of Tom Conlon which will engage with these questions through expert perspective and interaction with participants.

You are invited to join us, either:

Dr Tom Conlon had a rare ability to make an impact in many diverse arenas. As a teacher, and as a lecturer at Moray House School of Education, his influence in the field of Information Technology is widely acknowledged. This forum commemorates Tom Conlon’s unique contribution by continuing to tackle relevant and important issues in education and computing.

For more information, visit www.children-and-technology.ed.ac.uk/tomconlonmemorial2014 or download the flyer here.

 

Backhander

Praise and appreciation are great motivators. It’s nice to be noticed and for your contributions to be valued. I got this in the mail:

whome

 

“Your sincere contributions and support makes this conference a great success”. I wasn’t there. Glad to have been of such service. I hope to make a similar contribution to the success of your conference this year.

 

Acts of Defiance in the Back Channel

Continuing an act of defiance by taking time out of my work schedule this week, I attended a second lecture by George Veletsianos at Edinburgh University, entitled “MOOCs, automation, artificial intelligence, and pedagogical agents”. This seminar was a special event put on by DICE – the Digital Cultures in Education research group.

The lecture and subsequent discussion was rich and well-informed, as there was a good range of expertise and engagement in the room and from the online participants accessing via the streaming feed. George’s lecture was stimulating and provocative: without overdoing the detail, he managed to tackle MOOCs as a socio-cultural phenomenon. He described the usual rationale for MOOCs of costs and the perceptions that drive their explosion onto the educational landscape but he also gave us new (to me) truths about their origin and the assumptions underpinning their popularity.

Moving on to the automation of teaching, George treated us to a quick history, again, touching the nerves of the implementation of human-computer interaction in education. There was much discussion of this with the final topic of pedagogical agents: perhaps misnamed “bots” in the debate that ensued in the question session and on the twitter back channel.

BqarSeVIcAEeBCg

I can’t do justice to the scope of the issues raised and picked over in today’s two-hour session, not least because of the richness of them. Also, perhaps, for fear of misrepresenting the nuances. I resorted to my comfort zone of scurrilous tweeting, suggesting first that rather than choosing a gender or cultural stereotype for my preferred pedagogical agent, I would choose Brian, the Family Guy dog. This got me followed by Peter Griffin. When I started another cartoon (above), Marshall Dozier outed me with a tweet.

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.

rp

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.

SD

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”.

SS

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 “What will education look like in 2023?”

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.

Petra
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.