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.

Readings

invictusSo, why am I publishing poetry readings? Simply because I was listening to BBC Radio 4’s Poetry Please and heard a rendering of Blake’s The Tyger that I thought – well, not very good. I love Blake’s verse and found myself shouting at the radio (I’m the kind of guy that shouts at inanimate objects) at the failure of the reader to make any real attempt to put a little passion into it. As is a common occurrence for a man with my over-inflated sense of his own capabilities, I thought I could do better.

So here are a few attempts to do better. Not being objective about how my own voice sounds to others, I wonder if they are any good. I’m not seeking flattery, but would appreciate your thoughts as to whether I should do any more, or stop now before I make other people shout at their computers.

If you don’t comment, don’t complain if I post more.

Beeswing: a brilliant critical literacy resource in the making

beeswing
(c) 2013 Jack King-Spooner
Used without permission but I hope he doesn’t mind

I stumbled across an incredible project yesterday whilst lobbing a few quid into the KickStarter kitty of the makers of The Seventh Guest 3: The Collector. I like T7G and its sister, the 11th Hour, because they are what I wish many more computer games were: things that help the player grow as a person instead of the vast majority of nasty, violent, dehumanising poison that infects the minds of so many young people.

The project I found is called Beeswing and is a creative development by Jack King-Spooner of a handcrafted role-playing game, without violence (or puzzles!), set in rural Scotland. Jack is creating “a world of intertwining stories” within a game setting using beautiful media such as watercolour pictures, graphite sketches and clay animation, all set to original music. From the kickstarter project page:

It is a story about the past, about community and childhood, attachment and growing up. Scottish folk tales, morally dubious parables, cloudy anecdotes and more contemporary stories of homelessness and immigration all combine to create a truly dynamic narrative.

This is lovely enough, but the thing that really caught my attention was the value in the dialogues within the stories: there is a depth to them that goes beyond what you might at first expect. Jack describes them as, “trues stories, blended with fiction”. I think this game will have potential to be of great value to teachers in developing connected thinking and critical literacy in children, and a capacity to see the world around them in much more richer terms. Here’s an example from the video on the kickstarter project page:

I like the scarecrow, I know what it means.
See the flowers in the field? The poppies and buttercups? Rare sight.
They mean there’s no pesticide in the fields.
No pesticide means insects.
Insects mean rooks and crows.
Rooks and crows mean scarecrows.
I like the scarecrow, I know what it means.

If you liked Inanimate Alice, you’re going to love this. Why not click the picture and go support Jack? You’ll get the game when it’s out next year and an opportunity to really develop the children you’re involved with. Hurry, there’s only a couple of weeks left.

Paloma Faith and the Guy Barker Orchestra

I’ve been a bit of a Paloma fan ever since I heard New York and yes, I have all her albums. I think I love her most when she acknowledges her influencers, who include Billie Holiday and Etta James. What a treat, then, to see her do just this tonight in her Symphonic Grace event with Guy Barker and his 42-piece orchestra, itself comprised of some utterly brilliant musicians, all of which have some serious credibility in film soundtracks and music leadership.

The first part of the concert had the orchestra rock the house with some proper 30’s jazz before giving the spotlight to two of Paloma’s gutsy backing singers: Naomi Miller not holding back in Preacher Man, and Sabrina Ramikie giving a soulful interpretation of Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s Natural Woman, one of my all-time favourite songs. The opening set finished, following a hat-tip to Holiday and James, with a 5-song orchestral medley of Paloma’s most famous pieces and a rapturous appreciation from the packed house.

IMG_2429Paloma’s presentation in front of the orchestra started with her acknowledgement that we were enjoying “real” music: her signature humility is what sets her apart from many artists. That she puts the orchestra and her girls totally to the fore before taking the stage is testament to her groundedness. That said, she wore the most stunning frock (she said she had dressed up as the newly-refurbished Usher Hall), which she worked to full effect whenever she got the chance, in instrumental breaks, or when setting the most appropriate pose-for-effect as motif when she was singing.

The main set itself was outstanding – up to the usual Paloma standard – but I can’t help feeling that there was a trick missed here. Paloma’s ability to fill with soul some of the greater blues, swing and jazz classics might have been shown off a little in front of this band? I can’t complain. Like I said, I love her, and if that means joining in with the jumping crowd as she satisfies their craving for her big numbers, then I’m not going to suffer it.

My enjoyment of the evening wasn’t even dented when I got to the head of the 20-minute queue to pay through the other nostril for three hours of parking, having emptied the first on a G&T and Bloody Mary at interval. These are the small impediments that normally keep me well away from the Usher Hall, but the opportunity to see Paloma Faith in another of her adventures was one I wasn’t going to miss. I’m beginning to think there’s no place I won’t go to get a chance to see her: I’ve seen her at the Corn Exchange (which makes the Asda next door look like architecture), the Glasgow O2 (it’s in Glasgow, enough said) and now Morningside’s Usher Hall. Next? Well, if she repeats her exclusive Vienna acoustic set anywhere I can reach, you can bet I’ll swallow all of my venue standards to be there. The dream gig? I guess it would be at Jools Holland’s Jam House, with the guv’nor in residence.

Code Hacks: WordPress WP-Filebase Pro

I updated my WordPress installations to 3.7 “Basie” this weekend and found that the file download stopped working for all users except admins. The files affected are those for which permissions are required (Subscriber and above).

I made a workaround to get it working for my physics teachers resource site at http://sptr.net. In classes/Item.php, within function CurUserCanAccess($for_tpl=false, $user = null), above the loop that checks user roles, you have to populate the roles array by calling get_role_caps(), thus:

...
if(empty($frs)) return true; // item is for everyone!
$user->get_role_caps();
foreach($user->roles as $ur) { // check user roles against item roles
 if(in_array($ur, $frs))
 return true;
 }
...

It looks like it’s working for now. I’ve posted the fix to the Plugin support forum.

Mavericks OSX 10.9 Update php fix

I updated to OSX 10.9 Mavericks this week, and as with all updates, it broke PHP. I run a local MAMP server for development purposes and it all works OK except that you have to re-enable PHP in the apache configuration file. I found a useful guide over at coolestguidesontheplanet.com which included these steps:

Open a terminal window and edit the httpd.conf file:

sudo nano /etc/apache2/httpd.conf

Uncomment this line:

LoadModule php5_module libexec/apache2/libphp5.so

Write out and save the file, then restart apache:

sudo apachectl restart

… and Robert’s your Mother’s Brother.