Awards

08Apr14

I got nominated by somebody (thank you, whoever you are) for the #ukedchat Favourite Educational Blog award. Which is nice.

But

It’s all very well being nominated. And I don’t mean to sound grumpy, especially when someone else is doing all the hard work. But it’s difficult to see… well… what the point is.

I love getting feedback on my blog, via twitter or (even better) as actual comments. It’s like when kids leave the classroom arguing about the ideas they’ve just been studying; you’ve made a difference and there’s no better feeling. I’ve recently started asking readers to take a moment to add comments via a Google form so I can build up evidence of any impact I have beyond my classroom. (Thank you so much to those who have done so.) So applause/thanks/suggestions are all welcome. So is coffee. Or used fivers.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but a nomination for something I’m never in a million years going to win doesn’t really make much difference. (And I should add, don’t deserve to win.) That’s the fault of how we see awards. Maybe we need to move on a little bit.

Popularity Contest Or Judged?

This award is a straight system: one email address, one vote. (I presume duplicate votes will be picked up anyway.) This means that popularity, or notoriety, will make as much a difference as quality. Putting a shortlist together, itself often based on popularity, has its own problems. Back in 2012 many of the originally nominated entries for the Education Blog Awards had every student or colleague in their school voting for them. That’s kind of missing the point. And if you’re getting people to judge it, who are they? How can you show that they’re both expert and unbiased?

Best at What?

What’s your favourite food? I like chocolate. And coffee. BBQ flavour doritos. Bacon sandwiches. Lemon mousse. Peanut butter biscotti. My own spaghetti bolognese (roasted peppers and a few spoonfuls or porridge oats make all the difference).

Like choosing a favourite book (impossible!) I’d find it hard to pick a favourite education blog. Categories would make it much easier; science teaching, teacher-led, class blog, education policy, sharing resources… how could I compare ideas from a colleague on practicals with reviews of political implications for teachers UK-wide?

There are loads of blogs on loads of possible topics. This means some excellent blogs will be missed because people can’t possibly have read them all, or in some cases have a meaningful opinion on them.

Formative, not Summative

What matters isn’t whether somebody likes what I write or share. What matters is the feedback I get on it. That helps me make it better. It picks up my typos, fixes broken links, gives better references or improved examples. And that means my students get a better education. If they listen, that is.

I don’t care whose blog is the ‘favourite’. I’m pretty sure it won’t be mine. But I do care about why people might choose to vote for me – and why they wouldn’t. I’ll always listen to criticism, and where possible respond. I might ignore the suggestions, but it’s my blog and my choice. But if I can do what I’m trying to do better, I’ll thank you and try to put it into place.

Constructive criticism and praise are the best ways to improve. Those are worthwhile. But a gold star is applause, not feedback. And is that award for a particular post? The last three? The response to comments? According to many views on performance management, I’m only as good as my last observed lesson. Does that mean my blog is only as good as my last post?

How about a project looking at what makes a blog worth reading, then people submitting their recommendations according to those categories? Votes only count if accompanied by comments, all of which are published afterwards. A list of the top five in each category, stripped of numbers of votes, practically writes its own article in the TES/Guardian.

Enlightened Altruism

Blogs aren’t in competition with each other. The whole point, as I see it – maybe you think differently – is to cooperate. When I write and you read, we both gain. And that’s true when you’re the writer and I’m the reader. So instead of voting for me – or as well as if you’re that committed – why not tell me, through a google form, how my blog has helped you.

 


So I tweeted…

…and then I got some replies. It wasn’t a survey. It wasn’t particularly scientific. But I did think it cast an interesting light on the variety of science teaching. The joy of Twitter is that I was able to check permission (and Yes, I agree it’s a public medium but it also seemed polite) and invite longer comments by email. I’ve not had any of those, completely understandable as everyone’s busy with the end of term rush, but here we go anyway.

I suspect mine needs little explanation. Surely we’ve all used ‘martian landers’ to get kids thinking about forces and parachutes? Lots of great videos as starters and many briefing sheets, like this one from TeachEngineering. Before introducing momentum as a term I get kids to consider how unstoppable moving objects are, as they find that language much more accessible. And giving them the two contradictory facts that beta particles are electrons and there are no electrons in the nucleus is always fun.

 

I wonder how @90_maz changed the teaching of the EM spectrum to suit different classes?

That is indeed varied! I always find classifying an interesting topic to teach but find myself getting bogged down in (fascinating) detail about bats and dolphins if I’m not careful.

The joys of behaviour management… trying to pay attention to potential issues without them feeling they have to play up/down to your expectations.

I find this a really useful approach, but would be a lot easier if I had wifi access or a webcam of some kind. Preparing three paragraphs in advance and asking students to identify strengths and weaknesses, and which belongs to the teacher, is often worthwhile. If I was brave enough I’d record audio of me talking myself through the problem so they can hear/see me ‘thinking out loud‘.

Another varied day – sometimes I wish I was immune to yr8. I’ve never taught the EMPA but would be really interested in viewpoints. Of course, it won’t be long before it all changes again; you might have seen the letter from SCORE on practical assessment, but I’ve not tracked down anything published by OfQual yet.

A great example of how teachers do extra work – effectively unpaid overtime – which is effectively invisible to the wider world. We’re all familiar with working in the evenings, weekends and through holidays, but how many of us have also worked while off sick or on maternity leave?

A really interesting snapshot and I’d value any further detail, from the above or anyone else.

 

 


Numbers Game

04Apr14

Now, before you groan, we’re not just going to ‘do’ maths. We’re going to use maths to solve a problem. Or at least define a possible problem. So don’t give up just yet, okay? And no, this isn’t about data tracking, important as that is.

Let’s imagine that a school has a half dozen members of SMT. Let’s presume they all have a keen interest in teaching and learning, keeping up with CPD in their subject and so on. They’re in a position of power/responsibility, and they want students to learn more and their grades to improve. All fair assumptions so far? (Stop sniggering at the back.)

Between government initiatives and their own ideas, let’s assume that each half term every member of this notional SMT has to try something new in their classrooms. I don’t just mean a different kind of starter, but trialling or testing something that might have a wider impact.

It might be the latest DfE-endorsed SPAG marking policy. It might be a new behaviour tracking system. It might be something they’ve picked up at ResearchEd or NorthernRocks. Whatever it is, it gets tried out and the member of staff reports back to their fellow senior colleagues. Let’s say only one in six of these changes – all intended to make a difference – are rolled out more generally. SMT meetings correctly minute that ideas a b and c have been rejected due to lack of impact, that d and e from the local authority can be done in a way that doesn’t affect classroom staff, and only idea f will be actioned by so and so.

Each member of SMT tries one idea at a time with their classes. If this takes an extra ten minutes per class over a fortnight timetable, that’s a rough average of an extra half-hour per half term per class. On a fifty percent timetable, that’s maybe five or six classes. This is perhaps 30 minutes extra per week, but the teacher can see the difference and believes, honestly, that the time is worth it. They are sincere. They might even be right.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

Six members of SMT. Over a year, each supervises one new intervention (in their management time, because this will end up being part of their TLR performance management). Oversight gets added to the school calendar, it’s listed in agendas and discussed in emails and INSET.

For a classroom teacher with a full timetable, each of these six initiatives adds an hour per week to their workload – but it’s cumulative. By the end of the year this would work out as six hours extra every week. It’s arrived gradually, and in many schools the cost is concealed by reduced timetables due to study leave and the post-exam lull. But in September…

Time is a limited resource. If we work hard – and I really think we do – then adding more jobs can only work in three ways:

  1. Do less of something else
  2. Do other things less well
  3. Take more work home

This last option – effectively invisible overtime – is often what happens.

An Alternative

Each term, based on my approximations above, there will be twelve proposed initiatives. It shouldn’t be too hard to work out what the impact would be for a few ‘generic’ staff members :

  • Mr Lower-School (mainly KS3, some KS4 teaching)
  • Ms Olderkids (Mainly KS4/5 teaching)
  • Mr P. Art-time
  • Mrs SM Tee with 30% timetable
  • etc

Now, it’s likely that these will show who is affected most. For example a colleague with mostly sixth form classes won’t necessarily appreciate the effect of mock exams. If each of 120 scripts (that’s the rough total of yr10 and yr11 papers I had to do) takes 10 minutes, that’s 20 hours – and that was the second set of mocks this year. On the other hand, I don’t teach much KS3 so a colleague who has lots of yr7 and yr8 classes will suffer much more from something changing our reporting system for them.

I hate to use reality TV as a model for schools, but there is perhaps something to be learned. Every new initiative is supposed to be examined for impact on workload anyway. So how about we make this assessment – which is done by SMT anyway – open to colleagues, with voting and comments from the people who will have to put them into practice?

Now, sometimes it’s not a question of whether we change something or not – it has to be done. But surely this will give more information about how and when we put a new demand into place? Listing existing interventions, and the time each of them takes, would also be interesting. Obviously marking loads, coursework deadlines etc vary between subjects. But at least we can then have the discussion about what will be removed to make time for the new approach. What are SMT prepared to sacrifice so that we can fit this latest demand into the zero-sum game of our time?

I’d be really interested in ideas and comments from colleagues who have been part of this process. Maybe I’m being unrealistic – maybe my numbers are miles off. But until I’m part of SMT (roughly a week after flying pigs are sighted over my school) it’s as close as I’ll get without your help.

If this post has been useful for you in school, please add to my ongoing testimonial via GoogleForm (as described in an earlier post).

 


A student doesn’t have a pen. You loan them a pen. Next lesson, the same student doesn’t have a pen. Now what?

Let’s assume – because I’m a professional teacher and, if you’re reading this, probably so are you – that we’re not talking about a student who (a) has specific needs making pen recall a problem or (b) a student whose family/carers can’t supply a pen. In each case of course it’s our job, as a school, to sort them out. Let’s ignore the students who usually manage it but, like everyone including me, sometimes forgets. No, this is a student who habitually fails to bring a pen to school.

This is a choice.

This student has learned that not having a pen somehow offers a benefit. Perhaps it means they can demand attention, trying to pick a fight at the start of a lesson. They can start conversations with classmates about borrowing a pen, reinforcing friendships or subtly exerting dominance. It means they can waste time and disrupt the starter. Maybe they’re doing this to avoid writing. It’s hard to know.

Of course their motivation is important, but in this case we also have a choice.

  1. Refuse and see them waste more time, complain that we “don’t value their learning,” and perhaps refuse to write.
  2. Give them a pen, without consequences.
  3. Give them a pen, with consequences.
All of these take time. Enforcing consequences takes more time, either within the lesson eg recording names or afterwards for short detentions (or both). This time is increased if we actually expect to get the pen back (in which case our colleagues will face the same dilemma).  Because this is not an ‘and’ situation. Like so many other examples in teaching, this is an ‘or’ situation. Doing this means less time to do something else. There is always a price to be paid, something the government forgets whenever they have a new initiative to promote.
This is learning time. Wasting learning time is not okay.
If a student says they care about their grades, but actually spends every evening on their XBox, then we can reasonably suggest they don’t care that much about their grades. If we say we care about learning, we have an obligation to spend time helping our students learn. Whether you favour group work or teaching from the front, ‘progressive’ or ‘didactic’ methods, inquiry-based or core knowledge, I think we can agree that learning takes time. Less time means less learning. This is not rocket science. (Rocket science is more fun.)Teaching is not just about our subject knowledge. Students come to school to learn about life. To be, for want of a better word, civilised. The same as we’re not born knowing how to use a knife or fork, we’re not born organised. If students learn that they will be provided with equipment that they could reasonably bring themselves, they are learning dependence. We are teaching them to be needy. We are effectively preventing them from becoming self-reliant. We are giving them an incentive not to be responsible for their own pens and, by extension, their own learning.

Of course having a pen doesn’t automatically make a student a good learner. But not having a pen definitely makes it more difficult. Compare this with the things we so often pick up on, such as uniform. Now, I’m not starting the argument about whether having a uniform at all, or a blazer, or whatever, makes a difference. But I think most teachers, asked whether they would prefer students to have a pen or a tie, wouldn’t see this as a difficult choice. So why do we make a lot more fuss about uniform than equipment?
Of course I address this within my classroom. Of course many students learn to bring basic equipment most of the time. There are many lines in the sand we could draw, but this has the benefit of being one most adults wouldn’t really argue with. Even most teenagers find it hard to justify once they’re away from an audience. But like so many other things in school, it needs a united front. I don’t really care about my colleagues’ policies on group work, homework schedules or underlining titles. But if they’re loaning pens out freely when I make a point about the problem, they’re making my life more difficult.

When I rule the world, schools will check equipment instead of uniform at the start of the day. In fact, imagine a school where uniform rules only apply to those kids who have gained three or more debits the previous week. If they want to wear their own clothes, they have to behave. Imagine what that would be like…


I’m a bad person.

This is not because I tell off students (although I do). It’s not because I told my son that revolving doors are powered by mice (and when he doubted me, pointed out that they squeak). It’s not even because I’ve been known to write really depressing poetry (for therapeutic reasons, and usually unshared).

It’s because two days after it was made available, I haven’t managed to watch Demo: The Movie.

I will, really I will. But at work I still don’t have speakers, making watching anything on my desktop an exercise in frustration and lip-reading. And at home I’ve been busy cooking, washing up, child-rearing and taking a mostly-dead mouse back outside, much to the disgust of the cat. So it is as yet unwatched, despite my certainty that it will be interesting, funny and well-produced. With luck it will be watched by me over the next couple of days, so I can (a) blog about it over the weekend and (b)contribute to the forthcoming #asechat. So watch this space. I’m sorry, Alom.

In this context, it seems a little cheeky that I’m the one asking for feedback. But I wanted to post about my latest hare-brained scheme idea, as suggested in my previous item. I’ve set up a google form, but this time it’s not for me. Instead, I’d invite any and all readers of my blog – and, I suppose, twitter feed – to take a moment to record what I’ve done that has helped them.

feedback

I’ll be including a link in every (non-political) post from now on. My hope is that instead of paying me, you’d be happy to document an ongoing portfolio of my impact outside my own classroom and school. A crowd-sourced testimonial, if you will. You don’t have to leave your name, just a few words about how what I did made a difference. If you’ve blogged about it, I’d love for you to include a link. Tweets are transient, comments on the posts are hard to collect together, but this would really help.

Blog Feedback via Google Form

Of course, if this post inspires you to add your own evidence-gathering Google Form to your site, and you link back here, the internet will quite possibly explode in a frenzy of recursion. So be careful.


It’s safe to say I’m not making money out of blogging. Not directly, anyway; it’s given me a chance to polish my writing, which has meant a few freelance opportunities, and I’ve been involved with resources and reviews. But if I was daft enough to compare the time spent with the financial outcome, it would be even worse than my hourly rate teaching. Which is depressing.
Fortunately, I do it for other reasons. I blog (and tweet) to get my own ideas straight. I share resources to help out colleagues, and because their comments help me make the resources better, or use them more effectively. It means I can complain or moan ‘virtually’ and avoid making the staffroom even more depressing and negative than it is already. Despite my black dog, I aim to make sure my posts are fairly positive, and the responses often make me feel better because I’ve helped someone else out. Selfish altruism, as it were.
I know there’s a lot of discussion about putting teaching content online and how it can be profitable – in terms of money, rather than reputation. Some teacher/bloggers have written books. (Maybe some day.) Some become consultants or providers of CPD (Probably not). There are already some ways to get paid for your resources, summarised in this recent post by @teachertoolkit.
I have issues with letting someone else make money from my work. Some websites charge for access, while others eg TES sell advertising based on how many people come to download the resources. I find it interesting that, for example, Guardian Education now have bloggers who don’t get paid but provide content that goes alongside that of their journalists. In my view this is unpaid freelancing and it’s a con. But that’s my view and YMMV. (I wonder how the journalists feel about being replaced by unpaid amateur writers, too…)
I’m not expecting to get paid. If you want to help out, then follow one of my Amazon links next time you shop, which means I get a teeny percentage. Last year this about balanced the cost of my domain fees for my other, slightly dormant site, studenttoolkit.co.uk. I suggested to Has Bean Coffee that it would be great if I could put a button on my site which would let people apply a nominal contribution, perhaps via PayPal, to help me with my coffee habit. They’re looking into it, which is quite cool. Ed Yong used to have a PayPal tips jar on his excellent blog. Charles Stross explains why he doesn’t have a tips jar and what you should do instead; Cory Doctorow has a similar viewpoint. If you really feel that I’ve helped you more than versa vice, then help the BHA give copies of a good book to UK school kids.
But what I really want is feedback.
“Feedback keeps me at my keyboard and off the streets. Trust me, you want that.”
.sig file from my fanfic days
Tell me on Twitter and comment on the original posts. Share your links. Tell me what was good. Tell me what sucked. I hope it doesn’t need to be said that I will never edit comments to change opinions (I reserve the right to correct spelling, because I’m me), nor remove your comment because of your opinions (unless you’re choosing not to listen, eg chiropractors).
These comments not only help me improve my practice (I used ‘reason’ rather than ‘because’ to make PRODME’ after a comment on my last post) but help me show that what I’m doing is helping colleagues. But I’d like to make it more formal.
Over the next few days, I’m going to put together a google form for feedback. I’ll include the link on each teaching post and prominently on my pages. This will let me build up a list of anyone who has found a resource useful, either with colleagues  or students. There will be the option to paste a link to your own post about it, if relevant.
This will take minutes, if that. It won’t cost you any money. And it will include all the evidence I could ever need about the impact I hopefully have outside my own school. If I’m going to use my blog as evidence of my teaching and a record of my CPD (which needs updating), then I might as well get my readers to build me a list of ‘as used in x school’ testimonials.
Thoughts?

My last post got rather more responses than I expected, which is great. Some of them challenged how I think about using this framework with students, which is even better. I still like it, and I’ll still use it, but it was pointed out that I didn’t make it clear that this was only one of the tools that help students with practicals. I’ve blogged about the different aims of practical work before, and probably will again, but check out articles by @alomshaha for far more eloquent words than mine.

Possible Aims of Practical Work

  • To enthuse – explosions and the wow factor
  • To model and practise technical skills
  • To collect data
  • To boost appreciation of difficulties with data such as random errors and so improve experimental design
  • To illustrate a scientific idea or principle clearly by removing distractions

As I’ve commented in the past, these are all useful aims as long as we are clear in our own minds why we are doing the practical. This might not be shared with students beforehand, but should be afterwards. (NB: I was marked down in a 30 minute observation because students failed to make ‘good progress’ during a practical. The observer had not appreciated that the point was for the kids to struggle and then, in later discussion, to share tactics and appreciate why the concept was hard to observe in school lab conditions.) Of course, we should also vary the kinds of practical work we do!

Responses to the post

Read the comments; my readers put it better than I could. For which many thanks; in a week when it feels like the only things I’ve achieved involve feeding the cats and a pike of marking as tall as my five year old, the feedback really helped. The only addition I’ll make is to quote @fnoschese:

I particularly like the second flowchart (IF/AND/THEN/THEREFORE), something I’ll be adapting over the weekend between decorating and getting another year closer to forty. Unfortunately I can’t copy it as an image so you’ll just have to follow the link.

My PBODME resources

This was originally going to be the only section of this post, but never mind. For your use and interest, hopefully:

  • pbodme as ppt (print slides for a quick display)
  • pbodme flowchart/student capability checklist as pdf

As ever, I’d value comments. Can I ask that if you have a useful link that you add a comment as well as tweeting me? I always worry I’m going to miss something, and that way it’s a proper conversation for everyone.

Also, a general appeal; if you use my materials, for general displays, CPD or with your own students, can you let me know? Always nice to point to wider impact of what I do, quite apart from giving me a nice warm glow. Feedback is the only thing us bloggers ask, after all…




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