NickSpeller.ME

An edu-blog from Nick Speller in the UK

Learning Platforms – were they ahead of their time?

September1

The promise of Learning Platforms

My first introduction to a learning platform came way back in 2004/5 as far as I can remember. At that time I was a primary classroom teacher and we (all of the schools in the County) were presented with a Learning Platform and told that this was the future and we were expected to use it…

We were told it offered unparallelled opportunities for personalisation of learning, collaboration and anytime learning extending the learning well beyond the school day. We were presented with an empty box and some instructions…

Looking back

In hindsight (and isn’t that a great thing to have) I think they were ahead of their time, ahead of the technology and ahead of the connectivity. Looking back from here (more than ten years later) I wish I was being given that Learning Platform now…

In 2004 not all homes had a computer and certainly many didn’t have the internet. Now everyone has an online connected device, and in most cases children have their own. What could I do now with truly personalised learning and collaboration?

So the Learning Platform’s time has come but most have gone…

That could be blamed on the change of government and the sudden disappearance of the money for and obligation on schools to have a learning platform. It might have been the right decision for the majority then but some schools could see the Learning Platform benefit and stuck with it.

How could learning platforms work now?

At a time when children seem to be voraciously absorbing YouTube videos on anything and everything and play apps and are often left to entertain themselves it seems a shame that this ‘informal’ learning can’t be steered by something a little more formal.

Imagine a modern “Learning Platform where teachers ask children to blog about the things they find out about online? Why can’t teachers take the children’s interests and extrapolate these to help children to learn AROUND things that interest them? My girls (10 and 12) are interested in lots of things on YouTube, mainly around Minecraft currently but I know they have ‘learnt’ about hair care, hair styles, makeup and beauty tips and far more. Why can’t these ‘interests’ be harnessed to get them to reflect on their informal learning and to guide them towards learning other things through their own interests.

Today

We live in such a connected and accessible world why are most schools ignoring this and pressing on with teaching grammar!

Sometimes I wish I was back permanently at the ‘chalkface’, responsible and able to make decisions for my group of children. Would I be brave enough to grasp the nettle and truly personalise their learning?

Online Safety

February21

Another Safer Internet Day has been and gone and it’s boosted my ‘number of children trained’ (and number of adults) for CEOP via the think-you-know website considerably (boosting the number of children I’ve trained to over 3400).  

Having spent some time over the summer fully absorbing Ofsted’s new ‘Online Safety Standards’ (read more at  http://swgfl.org.uk/news/News/online-safety/Making-Sense-of-the-New-Online-Safety-Standards) I have incorporated chunks of that document plus the BBC Newsround research announced on Safer Internet Day into my presentations.  Whilst I was at it I have also been through all of my presentations and paperwork chasing away the remaining references to ‘e-safety’ to replace it with ‘Online Safety’ as recommended by Ofsted.  To be honest I was ahead of the game having adopted ‘Online Safety’ as the new name for ‘e-safety’ some years ago following conversations with 360 Safe assessors about how confusing the name e-safety was to parents!

There are a growing number of Oxfordshire schools engaging with the 360 Safe matrix and quite a few now actively working towards the 360 safe mark.  Many schools are also taking to heart the need to keep all staff updated on Online Safety issues with annual trainning and updates.

Board games and Computational Thinking

August30

Watching our children play board games collaboratively this afternoon I am struck by several things:

  • working with a partner collaberatively requires a high level of communication.  The children need to be able to have a vision of the algorithm they need to achieve their objective in the game and then they need to be able to effectively communicate this to their partner or team to persuade them that their solution and idea is the best one.
  • listening is difficult…
  • learning that other people might have a better idea than yours is something that everyone needs to be able to do!

Even playing simple board games in teams allows such levels of communication and persuasion that there seems to be greate value.

Linking back to computational thinking:

  • identifying patterns is a key to developing your strategy
  • creating an algorithm to achieve the progression you need in the game is key to winning the game
  • the aim of the game needs to be distilled through abstraction to get to win
  • to be successful you need to have an eye on the whole picture to develop a winning strategy BUT you will also need to decomose the whole aim into smaller achieveable parts to work towards a winning position…

Computational Thinking

August27

Having taught ‘Computing‘ for two years now I have taken some time during this summer to reflect on Computational Thinking.  Since September 2013 I have been telling Primary Teachers that the new Primary Computing Curriculum (England) was about ‘reprogramming’ pupils to help them think logically, to attack challenges in a logical way by decomposing them into manageable chunks.  This is a life skill and something with application across their lives and the whole curriculum from Maths to Science to Music…

I have been reading more about Computational Thinking over the summer.  I first really looked at  the phrase when it came up in Barefoot Computing from CAS.  That then made me take a look at Google’s Computational Thinking for Educators online course.  It’s a free course that will make you think a little more about Computational Thinking so if you are interested I would recommend it.

Computational Thinking involves some of the following:

Decomposition (I mentioned earlier) is about taking a large challenge or task and being able to identify sensible parts to break it up in to to tackle it in a logical manner.  This can apply to any physical or mental task from ‘writing a piece of music’ to ‘making a cupboard’ and of course will include ‘writing a computer game program’.

Pattern Recognition is about spotting patterns that can be used to help you work out solutions.  These could be patterns in data which would help you solve a problem like ‘what is causing this illness’ to patterns in a computer program so if you code that bit you can re-use that code again.

Abstraction is a confusing word which tends to make most Primary Teachers panic!.  It seems to be about discovering the principles which make the patterns happen.  Sometimes it is described as being about honing down what is going on to the bare bones. ‘get the little dots and avoid the ghosts’ = Pacman!

Algorithm is another confusing word.  Basically it’s the recipe that makes something happen.  Cooks use them to create their wonderful food, young pupils are taught them for ‘what to do when you first come into the classroom in the morning’ or ‘what we do now it’s dinner time’.  Algorithms are vital for programming.  If a programmer doesn’t understand exactly what the program should do they will not program it correctly.  In Pacman the player character needs to be able to move left, right, up and down but NOT through walls. Once you understand this little part of the program you can work out how to make it happen.

Computational Thinking is definitely a life skill, but it is also something that I believe not everyone will be able to embrace and be proficient in.  Having said that even if pupils just gain a little more insight into how to tackle something logically the benefit to society will be huge.

Taking time…

March25

One of the hardest things to do as a teacher is to take time.   Teaching is a time-pressured occupation where every second counts.  Particularly when it comes to Computing, or even embedding technology in every-day teaching and learning across the curriculum.  Too many schools and teachers rush into decisions and jump on to technologies without really understanding WHY they do or do not need them.

In bygone days there were Local Authority Advisors (I was one) who could take the time to step back from the technology and pressure, were not under any obligation to sell schools anything and who could take the time to summarise the pros and cons of the various technologies.  If schools were very lucky these advisors would also know the schools, staff and pupils well enough to make personalised recommendations based on their experience of the individual setting.  On the whole this has disappeared from most of the English education system. 

The loss is felt beyond just the schools.  Companies used to know that if they had a product they belived in they could send it to the local authority who would review it impartially and who would then recommend it to schools which it fitted.  This gave a route to market for the companies, and also a buffer to the schools.

There are some independent advisors who can still be employed by schools to give them impartial advice.  Some who work with specific schools on a regular basis and know the schools and what will and what won’t work for that specific school.  Schools also rely more on their own social networks, recommendations from other schools, colleagues, Twitter…

Despite this we still regularly experience schools who have bought often very expensive technology without really knowing WHY they needed it and WHAT it would do to enhance their teaching and learning.  

This isn’t a local phenomenon, there are well publicised high-profile cases where whole school districts in the US have done exactly this and then been lambasted for it in the media.  Surely this is putting the horse before the cart?

Every schools NEEDS to have a regularly updated technology plan (for want of a better term).  This plan needs to consider HOW the school sees its teaching and learning developing over the coming few years.  They need to understand how their use of technology should  develop over the next 3-5 years.  This plan WILL be out of date after 12 months and will need revising every year.  The plan needs to START with the educational outcomes that the school desires and NOT with the latest, best kit or what the neighbouring school has just purchased.  With the clear vision schools will understand what they want to achieve to then find the best way of achieving it.

If a school can explain their vision for HOW the piece of technology they want to purchase will enhance teaching and learning, explain how they are going to train staff and impliment it and how they expect the technologies use to develop over the next 3 years then there is a fair chance that technology will be used.  

Unfortunately schools don’t often take the time to do this.  They jump on some technology because someone else has it or someone recommended it.  They buy it, it’s put in cupboards, no training is given, it gathers dust…  because no-one takes the time to ask what do I want to achieve BEFORE asking how can I achieve it…

Technology is not the goal but a means to an end…

Staying safe online by being SMART

September18

It is a modern day life skill which no-one who uses technology can afford to be without.  The internet pervades all that we do, it underpins most of the 21st century technology in our homes and offices.

From smart phones that automatically back up your photos to the cloud (something that certain celebraties will wish didn’t actually happen now) to Central heating thermostats which you can control from your iPad.  Modern devices are increasingly interconnected via the web.

21st Century technology users need to be tech-savy!  They need skills to avoid making costly or embarrassing mistakes!

There are websites which give advice and support to children and their parents such as think-u-know from CEOP. There are podcasts such as security today and there are myriad blogs choked full of advice but a good dollop of common sense and healthy scepticism would make the journey through today’s technology a far safer one for many people.

Smart people follow the SMART rules!

 

S – SAFE – keep your personal information safe, don’t share it with people you don’t really know.

M – MEETING – if you plan to meet people you only know online get an adult you trust to help make the arrangements AND to go with you when you first meet.

A – ACCEPTING – think carefully before accepting attachments, opening links etc.  Nasty things can come in attachments or from rouge web links, even from people you know and trust.

R – RELIABLE – how reliable is that website, that person online?

T – TELL – the MOST important rule.  If anything makes you feel uncomfortable online then you must tell an adult you trust or talk to someone at Childine or click the Report Abuse button online.  If you have a friend that you believe is being bullied you must also tell someone!\

Find out more about the Smart Rules from Kidsmart

Download a poster for your classroom or home from HERE!

 

 

It’s been a while…

September15

This collection of blog posts have had several homes over the past few years, and I have blogged in ‘fits and starts’ for the past six or so years.

Like many people, I guess, I have tried to keep a diary on and off for the past thirty-plus years.  And like many people I have failed after a few days each time!   With modern technology I have apps that keep track of where I am and what I am doing (Saga) and an electronic diary (or four) that tell me what I should be doing every minute of the day, so maybe the diary is really dead for me.

I was recently reading the weekly e-newsletter from Doug Belshaw and he was reflecting on the time when he blogged daily and the benefits to him of doing so.  I don’t think for one minute that I am up to DAILY blogging, but it got me thinking about the old neglected blog (once at BuzzingEd and then at OWLT) and of the schools I have worked with and suggested Quad Blogging to.  Maybe it is time to dust off the keyboard and to blog once more!

So it got me thinking.  I need to revive the blogging habit and at least attempt to make it a weekly reflection on life, the universe and education if nothing else.

So, without further perambulation welcome to my new (and slightly more eclectic) blog at NickSpeller.ME

Preparing for Bett 2014?

January16

If you are looking for last minute tips before visiting Bett this year then please pop over to our BuzzingEd Podcast at buzzinged.org.uk  here you will find a newly-posted seven-minute preview podcast introducing Bett  2014 all created on the modest iPad!   The podcast episode features news, tips and links to further FREE resources and information.  If you have a few minutes to spare please visit buzzinged to take a listen!  From next week BuzzingEd will feature episodes focussing on some of the new technologies and ideas exhibited and discussed at Bett!

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Bett 2014

January15

Bett is nearly upon us.  If you have not yet registered you can do so for free at http://bettshow.com where you can also find out more about Bett.

Bett is celebrating it’s 30th year this year and has just announced that The Rt Hon Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, will officially open Bett 2014 on Wednesday 22 January 2014, with a presentation in the Bett Arena at 11am!    I won’t pass comment on whether that is something to celebrate and will encourage visitors or the opposite!

Terry Freedman (someone I have personally followed on Twitter and his blog/newsletters for sometime) has just published his updated 2014 guide to Bett – an invaluable guide for all potential visitors.  You can download your FREE copy from Terry’s site ICT In Education HERE and Terry is also running an online survey to guage Bett visitor’s reactions once you have visited Bett.

Once more Bett have published their FREE Android and iOS app which is a great guide especially useful for keeping an eye on speaker sessions.  I would highly recommend downloading it and using it to help plan your visit.

My advice would be to try and identify some speaker sessions to visit.  It helps break up your day and gives you a chance to sit down (so long as you arrive in time to bag a seat!).   I would also recommend perusing the list of exhibitors ahead of time to ensure you don’t miss anyone.  It will also help prevent you wandering blindly about wasting time!

As usual there are loads of refreshments available and last year my feelings were that these were cheaper and more plentiful (therefore with shorter queues) and offering a wider range of refreshments BUT as you are a captive audience bring plenty of money!

Enjoy Bett – maybe I’ll see you there!

Nick

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December Newsletter published

December22

We have just published the December (now re-titled Winter) electronic newsletter.  It is available as a PDF file and includes articles on the New Primary Computing Curriculum (including suggestions for progression) and also articles on the Oxfordshire CAS Hub’s next meeting, Safer Internet Day (11th Feb 2014) and also on the New Roamer…

To find out more visit the Newsletter Page

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