Why Innovate?

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A quick glimpse into the arena of education debate highlights just how disrupted children’s learning is in 2014. From changing curriculums, inspection madness and the implementation of new technology, this is a period of instability and concern. As a profession, teaching is driven by so many outside influences that it is easy to see why teachers often take to forums to voice their displeasure with this or that. We all know the only thing that matters is learning, yet I wonder how much precious time is wasted on the distractions?

Right now I could make a case for or against innovation in education. The need to consolidate, meet standards and react to government pressure, points to innovation being yet another distraction. Yet, in my opinion, this is the wrong way to look at our situation. I grow weary of the debate over pedagogy and teaching methods.  A teacher will look to provide as rounded an experience as possible for their students, given their context. Of course, the number of students seen per week will have an effect. Naturally there isn’t enough time to see every student on a 1:1 basis. So we all strive to teach to the best of our abilities. We are all learning every step of the way and we will make mistakes. So why do some educators worry about innovation?

To put my own situation in context, I currently work at the Stephen Perse Foundation, a school with exceptional results. It would be easy for the school to rest on its laurels and continue to do things as it always has. Yet it doesn’t. Led by its principal, Tricia Kelleher, the foundation seeks to innovate in order to enhance the learning process for all its children. An environment where 1:1 iPads are the norm and conversation is driven by  ‘the best possible conditions for learning’ the school will strive to innovate where appropriate.

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Take the current learning space development as one example. The library has been converted into the ‘Cabinets of Curiosity’. A place where the physical, digital and print worlds are brought together. Concerned about the instant connection to digital platforms, the school took the decision to create an innovative new space. Physical artefacts lead the individual to a digital resource that includes an iBook and video content about the display, adding layers of information. In turn this leads the learner to the books that are available from the shelves. The school seeks to engage the learner with an understanding that not everything should be viewed on a screen. Of course this also leads to an ever changing environment that is much more flexible than the library of old. Our next two exhibitions point towards the thinking behind the project:

Sherlock’s Clues: the physical exhibition will contain no text at all, consisting only of 6 object-clues  from the original stories and TV series (walking stick, fob-watch, top-hat, iphone etc), raised on plinths. An Aurasma-linked iBook will take students to the crime that the clue helped to solve. It will also encourage them to explore more complex topics such as deductive reasoning, media representations of Holmes and forensic science. One of the clues will be a written code that can be solved inside the book.’

World War I: A larger-scale exhibition that will spill out into the garden outside the cabinets. Again, the iBook will allow us to connect the two areas, and free us up from using too much textual interpretation in the space itself. This approach also encourages students to focus on the historical peculiarity, and material texture and detail, of the artefacts in front of them, before they are confronted with reams of explanation.’ (Digital curator – Ms K Joice)

The iPads and ‘Cabinets of Curiosity’ are an indication of what is available to us because of technological developments. The cabinets are a vision that has been realised by the iPad acting as a portal into a world that was much more difficult to access before. It would be wrong not to take advantage of these innovations.

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At this point it is worth mentioning that the debate around iPads in the classroom will continue for many years to come. I’m not here to extol the virtues of the device, suffice to say it was the right tool for the Stephen Perse Foundation two years ago and it doesn’t appear to affect grades, if that is your metric.  However, I would debate the argument that students are better off without some form of personalised technology in the classroom. Of course they are only a tool and the teacher is still the most important resource in a child’s education. But, denying individual access to resources and tailored content alongside video/audio feedback? I’m not sure anyone could defend the teacher/textbook model in that context.

Which brings me to the next stage of innovation. The development of a space twice the size of a ‘normal’ classroom that is informed by mobile technology. Flexible furniture, airplay enabled projection and collaborative areas allow teachers and students to adapt the learning environment. Coupled with our digital platforms, iTunes U, Google Drive and Edmodo this will allow teachers to mould the learning process with the typical barriers removed (photocopying, set classroom layouts etc). Take a look at Don Orth’s iLab as an example of the type of learning environment we are trying to provide:

To answer the question  ‘Why innovate?’ Because we can. If we aren’t using the tools available to us, then we aren’t developing the learning process. We would never seek to innovate for the sake of innovation, but now is the time to grasp the opportunities available.

Please do get in touch if you would like to discuss future plans or if you have similar projects in your school.

How do we prepare our children for tomorrow?

Our current education system is dominated by grades. A metric by which to compare and judge. We celebrate and justify in equal measure and our curriculum is driven by the outcome. Yet here at the Stephen Perse Foundation the ethos and vision isn’t controlled by the ‘grade’. The animation above serves to illustrate how important it is to put the child at the centre of all decision making and prepare them for the future.

To put the school in context, the average UCAS entrance score in 2013 was A*A*AA and the Stephen Perse Foundation is one of the Sunday Times‘ Schools of the Year. The Sixth Form College also achieved the highest points average in the world at 42.2/45 for the International Baccalaureate. However, the grades aren’t the be all and end all.

The importance of the animation is to convey that a school that ‘performs’ well in examinations does not believe they are the most important thing. An ethos and vision that is crucial to the future of its students is there for all to see. It is a positive example that decisions made in the best interests of the child can navigate through the murky world of examinations and analysis. I’m not for one moment implying that all schools don’t share the same values. Rather that schools who are constantly judged by Ofsted and held accountable to certain criteria will always concentrate on those areas.

For more information about the Stephen Perse Foundation – click here or contact @StephenPerse

Do let us know what you think about the animation, we would love to hear your views.

This Is A Great Time To Be A Teacher

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For the purposes of this blogpost the political football that is education has been ‘kicked’ to one side.

Choice. A frequently used word when talking about pedagogy in 2013. The options available to teachers and their learners are countless. The variation in a child’s school day should be applauded and the engagement with learning is an obvious consequence. This is a great time to be a teacher.

I’m convinced that the way I was taught in the 80’s and 90’s didn’t prepare me particularly well for 21st Century employment. This is not to lay blame at the door of my teachers. They were well equipped with the ‘tools of the trade’ at the time but lesson after lesson was largely filled with note taking. I do remember facts from my schooldays and I was well prepared for the exams. However, few aspects of my classroom learning helped with my post school days. I had very engaging teachers from a presentation point of view, but, on reflection, I don’t remember being challenged frequently. If I’m honest I learnt more from the non-examined areas of school life that allowed me to understand the importance of teamwork, leadership and collaboration.

The last three months of my own teaching career have cemented the opinion that pedagogy is shifting for the better. A change of schools has introduced me to the International Baccalaureate that is streets ahead of its A level counterpart. As well as its breadth and depth the Theory of Knowledge component challenges learners and teachers to think twice about the process in which they are involved. It is so important to our Foundation that every student takes the ToK course in the sixth form even if A levels are their chosen certificate. Indeed upon visiting a 2013 school leaver at Utrecht University it was interesting to note that she believed the ToK course was the most useful aspect of her sixth form learning.

At this point I should state I have moved past the debate of whether tablets or smartphones should be used in the classroom. A tool is just a tool. If you want students to write notes in lesson time and listen to the ‘story’ then a tablet isn’t necessarily worth considering. This is an excellent option for learning in some circumstances and should not be challenged for the sake of argument. However, because of the availability of tablets, we can now change the learning process and vary its components. Five years ago it was virtually impossible to expose learners to the wealth of resources we can now at the touch of a screen. Tablets allow the learner to record video evidence of their science experiment and more importantly their explanation. Tablets provide a platform for real time feedback from every learner. Tablets allow the learner to access multiple resources at their desk in the classroom where appropriate. Tablets allow the learner to collaborate with peers in the classroom, down the hall, across the country and the other side of the world…. you get the idea.

These options are available, where appropriate, in the learning process and are made possible by the technology. As a teacher it is my job to select the right time to use a tool and guide the learner. It has never been easier to challenge a group of students with various stimuli. I am grateful that the technology exists to remove the barriers to the lessons I have always wanted to teach but found impossible to put together. Even a simple back channel (using Twitter or Edmodo) allows students to have a voice where they otherwise might be shy or fearful of asking a simple question. A challenge that every teacher faces. (As an aside it is interesting that the technology that exists to connect our students is having a dramatic effect on teachers. The power of social media to engage, provoke debate and challenge opinion has led to a platform that can only benefit the profession.)

It is a great time to be a teacher because we have the tools available to us that provide increased scope for engagement, stimulation and creativity. It is a great time to be a teacher because there are qualifications available that challenge the exam factory ideal. It is a great time to be a teacher because we are so connected with information and each other that opportunity is presented daily.

It is a great time to be a teacher because we need to learn with our students.

 

Education – do examinations get in the way of learning?

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Talk about learning and educators will enthuse about creativity, discovery and development. Add the term examination or grades and the conversation takes a different slant. The post below from Tricia Kelleher (Principal of the Stephen Perse Foundation) skilfully highlights the importance of ‘space for development’ ahead of a ‘collection of grades’.

“Watch out for the sharks! The plank is for the bad pirates.” This snatch of conversation between two 3 year old children in our Pre-prep captures brilliantly their learning experience. Adults tend to equate learning to the amount of time children sit behind desks. The children I observed today were outside, creating a world of buccaneers, princesses and sword wielding heroes. I was even given a lesson in ballroom dancing by two little girls keen to share their skills with me.

Of course, the principle underlying the lesson was independent learning. The teachers had skilfully configured the spaces to support discovery and creativity. Each child was encouraged to explore the possibilities offered to them and “to play” – by play I mean problem solving, creativity, showing initiative. Essentially developing a positive learning disposition.

The year 2 children meanwhile were coming to the end of plan-do-review day and were reflecting on what they had learnt. They had complete freedom to design their own project. Sadly the pressure of time had prevented the completion of a model of Henry VIII, the painting of a cottage and the markings on an aeroplane. All the children had learnt an important lesson about time management and, as one boy observed, how much they enjoyed “collaboration” (his word).

This window into the world of young children’s learning was a timely reminder to me about the importance of providing space for children to develop. The national obsession with measuring progress places a premium on cognitive development which, whilst more easily measurable, is not about the whole child.

Interestingly, at the other end of the educational spectrum, the International Baccalaureate offers a sixth form programme which is about breadth both in terms of subject content and assessment. Students enjoy an intellectual challenge which stretches them and an assessment framework which requires more than performance in a terminal examination – group work, extended essay, presentations are an integral part of this programme. Intellectually coherent and clearly valuing so much more about the student, there is much to recommend the IB. The learning is embedded in this programme.

And then we have our national qualification. It strikes me as someone with responsibility for children aged 3-18 that our examination system almost gets in the way of learning. With national exams required to fulfil different purposes – measuring a school, value added, individual’s attainment – is it any wonder that the development of an individual can get lost in the exam conveyor belt? The current debate about standards in education has become subsumed by proposed changes to the national examination framework. In my view this is the wrong way round. Surely the big debate should be focused on learning and exams configured to capture what we truly value.

Yet I also know that we measure what we measure because we always have done it this way. The exam machine is grinding away and our children are destined to pass through it for better or worse. This is their passport to the future. As a school we are determined to add stamps to this passport – for us it is about the education of an individual and it is our responsibility to ensure this is about more than passing exams. A young person is surely more than a collection of grades; they are the future.

View the original post on Tricia Kelleher’s blog 

The Impact of New Technology in Schools – Results are in!

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I should state from the outset I’m not sure the impact of any new technology in the classroom will ever be truly measurable. It won’t be for the want of trying and there are a number of case studies trying to do just that. However, with that in mind, what conclusions can I draw from two years of iPad use in the classroom?

I have two areas that can be discussed anecdotally. The first is an A level class of 15 students who have spent the last two years studying PE using iPads. This group of students recorded the best results at A level in my ten years at the school. For those familiar with the way UK grades are measured the value-added average was + 17%. As well as using iPads for two years with this group I also introduced the concept of ‘flipped learning‘. Often the group were asked to view a keynote presentation that had been recorded to replace homework. That meant we had an opportunity in class to work through issues and lessons tended to take on more of a seminar feel.

I’m not about to start claiming the iPads are the only reason for this success. Similarly I don’t think the ‘flipped’ learning environment would be the only reason for the boys high achievement. The point is, the introduction of new technology and indeed the pedagogy that is developing, didn’t obstruct the boys learning and achievement. I firmly believe it enhanced the learning process but this is difficult to prove without a control group. If I was to compare it to the previous years set of results they are markedly higher, but there could be many different reasons for this.

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The second area of discussion comes from the Stephen Perse Foundation in Cambridge. The school has been 1:1 iPad for a year and they have just received a record breaking set of GCSE results. 74% A* or 94% A*/A is remarkable by any standard and again serves as an indicator to the positive impact of new technology in schools. I’m not suggesting that the iPads are the reason for the success. However, they clearly didn’t have a detrimental effect on the performance of the school at GCSE level.

So we have an entire GCSE cohort in a 1:1 iPad environment and a trial A level group who have both performed outstandingly well when compared to their predecessors – so what conclusions can I draw?

It is obvious that engagement with the learning is crucial. Top grades are very difficult to achieve without a firm understanding of the subject matter. I believe the new technology has enabled our learners to engage more readily with material and context. It certainly isn’t the only way to achieve the levels of engagement required, but I personally found it much easier to access with the new technology.

The real impact of new technology in school doesn’t have anything to do with grades. The fact that I was able to bring many different opportunities for learning into my classroom always felt right as we went through the process at A level. As you can see in the video above, at the Stephen Perse Foundation the GCSE cohort had many opportunities to express their learning. At a time when collaboration and communication skills are at the top of any employers desirable qualities, it is fitting we are seeing more of it in our classrooms.

As schools discuss the rights and wrongs of tablets in education I can only offer an opinion based on two years of usage and an interesting time deploying iPads in secondary schools. The opportunities they provide have led to a shift in my own teaching and this doesn’t appear to have had a negative effect on my students. It also felt right to adjust what I had been doing for 10 years and I’m certain I’m a better educator for it. Time will tell if this trend is seen across different groups, institutions and countries but I feel secure in the knowledge that, after two years with iPads . . . . . it wasn’t necessarily a bad decision!

The iPad Toolkit for Learning?

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THE STARTING POINT?

It is interesting to reflect how this simplification of iPad key tools has changed in a relatively short space of time. iWork suite aside, you could purchase the above apps for less than the cost of a textbook and have a model that could enhance learning with the right application.

For those educators who are using iPads in the classroom, the suggestions above will be nothing new. The hope is that other educators will not feel overwhelmed by the diagram and actually view a number of core apps as manageable for their own learning curve.

It must be said that there are a number of applications that I could happily add to the diagram that would be useful for the toolkit. For example, Showbie (a way of collecting, assessing and handing back student work) would certainly meet the requirements of many iPad learning environments. The point is that less than 15 apps can be a starting point for learning, with the substitution of applications based on the learner’s needs and educator’s requirements. I have had many conversations with educators who feel that the pedagogical shift and adaptation to the new technology can be intimidating. The diagram above serves to reduce that feeling and start a conversation moving forward with increased technology use in the classroom.

KEY CONSIDERATIONS

You will notice that Google Drive and Explain Everything are an integral part of the learning process. A centralised store with the ability to share folders and information is crucial for educators and students alike. Google Drive has been chosen as it allows 30GB of free storage for every user. You must be registered as a Google Apps For Education institution.

Explain Everything serves as a platform to enhance and demonstrate learning. It has been written about many times as the go-to app for education. However, it is only as good as the user. The educator can record screencasts, transform feedback and personalise learning with it. Students can demonstrate learning, collaborate, create and feedback as well as export their work to their required destination.

The rest of the tools have creation and collaboration at their core alongside the assessment for learning with feedback mechanisms. It is my intention to blog about these processes, as their use develops in our own 1:1 iPad environment and I welcome any input. Any of the apps recommended above are well worth looking into and are suggested after much discussion and debate.

(Incidentally, I am a firm believer that Augmented Reality will play a significant role in education. Consequently I am using Aurasma to enhance learning in the classroom. I would have included it in this toolkit but feel I need to explore its potential a little further. Needless to say, it is well worth looking into if you are fortunate enough to have the technology available).

-with thanks to Greg Hughes @deepexperience1

#ISTE13 – A Keynote Speech Worth Your Valuable Time

Adam Bellow – Keynote at ISTE 2013

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As I watched Adam’s keynote from the recent ISTE conference, it sparked many ideas for the forthcoming school year. Adam clearly speaks from the heart whilst conveying that education is changing and learning matters. Surely it would be wrong for us as educators not to embrace the tools at our disposal so we can decide what is appropriate for our students?

I urge you to watch Adam’s presentation and share your views. Not all the tools suggested are appropriate for every learner. However, we must continue to explore all avenues.