Purpos/ed

I want to be irrelevant.

I mean, some of my students think I already am. I’m a teacher, after all – what could I possibly have to offer them? If I knew anything about the real world, they think – or sometimes say, in blunter language – I’d be in it, not at school.

I explain that they’re halfway there. I want them not to need me. I want to be irrelevant to their lives. I want them to move on. Because isn’t that what teaching is all about? I believed this when I started, and I’m only more convinced now I’m a parent as well as a more experienced educator. The whole point of me teaching my students (and my sons, too) is that some day they won’t need teaching any more.

I know they’ll not have learned everything I know. It’s not that it would be hard, but some of the lessons are ones that can’t be taught, only learned. They come from your own cock-ups, from over-sleeping when you meant to be up early, from failing to double-check you’d copied that file to your USB stick. They’re the memory that lingers after everyone else has forgotten, knowing that we could have done something better, or that staying up all night didn’t really make a difference in the long run.

It’s not just being able to ‘think like a scientist’. I mean, I want them to understand the beautiful simplicity, the elegance of the scientific method. I want them to question, to be sceptical, to test their ideas and improve their understanding. Like every teacher, a lot of what I teach them isn’t about my subject. They keep changing the names, but the idea of ‘key skills’ is something that’s in education to stay. And that’s good. I don’t expect my students to know absolutely everything; not that it’s especially challenging with the current syllabus… but I digress. Of course they need factual knowledge, but I want them to have skills too. I want them to be able to work as part of a team, and be creative, and to assess their own understanding, and all the other ‘Learning2Learn’ stuff that good teachers always did before it had a name. Mine did it. (Thanks, Mr Brock.) But the point of all of these things is that they’re learning how to be people, to be independent – to not need us as teachers.

Facts are easy. It’s not hard to impress a questioning student with facts when you’re a teacher with a reasonable memory. Real learning starts when a student listens to me when I say, “That’s a good question; I don’t know either. How are we going to figure it out?” At some point, one day in a lesson or one evening sat at home, I want all of my students to think the same thing. “I don’t need him.” Some will think it with a smile, and some with a snarl. But if they’re right, if between my teaching and their learning I really am irrelevant now…

…then I’ve done my job.

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Many educators are taking the time to write their own ideas about the purpose of education in around 500 words, inspired by Purpos/ed. This is my effort. Like all others involved, the point is to start a debate, not to talk to ourselves. Comments?

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MORSE Code for Revision at #tmm11

Yesterday I attended my first TeachMeet in Lutterworth. The colleagues at TeachMeetMidlands11 (#tmm11 on Twitter) have given me loads of ideas – which I plan to blog about in a few days when I’ve had a chance to think about them – and I was also brave/daft enough to give a presentation. I like the idea of a teachmeet as an ‘unconference’ where most attendees give either a 2 or 7 minute presentation as well as meeting and swapping ideas. Like many teachers I often find the informal parts of CPD the most useful ones, where teachers swap ideas or chat between ‘organised’ sessions. Sadly I couldn’t stay for the food but the afternoon was still well-spent. @oliverquinlan summarised each presentation on Posterous here and the whole thing was also livestreamed and saved (I strongly recommend the whole thing, but for reasons of vanity am also linking directly to my bit.) Thanks to @squiggle7 and @mikemcsharry for organising it.

Lessons I learned from my Presentation

  1. Double check that you’ve got the presentation on your memory stick – then put it in the cloud anyway.
  2. Put a clock where you can see it – I think I was rushing.
  3. Ask questions – I really should have been more interactive but think I was worrying about the timing.
  4. Give myself a longer lead time to make it easier to include pictures/videos of students’ work.

The MORSE Code for Revision

I’ve blogged about this before and effective learning and revision feature regularly in my posts. The presentation I gave (also downloadable below in case I’ve not set up SlideShare properly) is adapted from ones I’ve used with students and focuses on the many varied ways revision can be made more active, and so more effective. As always I’d really value any feedback and/or suggestions.

MORSE Code for revision as a ppt.

Printable Blanks

There are several of these elsewhere on the site (have a look at Cornell Notes for Revision or check out the printables category for all the ones I remembered to label) but here are a couple I produced this week. The idea is that students should be able to fill these in with the ideas covered in lessons. I suppose they might work well as plenaries too, perhaps partially completed by the teacher. I’d also suggest students could use them to test each other, as I did during ‘speed dating revision’.

  • Inspired by Mock The Week among other things, Answers And Questions (saved as pdf) reverses what students expect. Given a list of ideas, key words or examples they need to suggest one or more questions that result in those answers. Obviously there are many possibilities. To make it more challenging they should mix up the questions, at least two for each answer, and challenge a classmate to match them up correctly.
  • Concepts Cues Consequences (saved as pdf) is a variant of the Good/Bad/Interesting approach to ideas. Students not only suggest a few reminders for basic concepts (possibly while looking at markschemes or their notes) but then suggest a couple of real world uses or implications.
  • I like concept maps but it can be tricky to use the finished product for testing. I produced Quarters Revision (saved as pdf) as a way to guide a mind map so that one quarter can be covered easily and a student – the author or a classmate – can then try to reproduce/predict what is underneath.

What You Should Know About Memory4Teachers

This is a follow-up to my post in December about Memory4Teachers. Most of the important stuff will be repeated but feel free to check it out – for reasons that will become obvious, I’m making this a separate post rather than updating the old one.

Context

I signed up for a free memory stick over a year ago, like many other teachers (and possibly other people with a tenous link, or none at all, to teaching). It never arrived, but I did receive monthly emails advertising a range of special offers for all kinds of things from the company. I tried unsubscribing, tried emailing them, tried the contact form on their website. Nothing. In December, sparked by their most recent email – and the heartfelt desire to avoid a pile of marking as tall as my six-year-old – I wrote a blog post. I felt better but didn’t expect anyone to (a) read it or (b) do anything about it.

In January, with yet another unwanted email in my inbox, I did a little more. Having been frustrated with the lack of response from M4T I contacted one of the advertisers in the email and a ‘key partner’, The Royal Society of Chemistry to ask if they had the numbers I was after, and to say that I wasn’t sure what they knew about the other companies advertised alongside them in the monthly email. They replied saying they were more than a little surprised and would review their involvement.

So I contacted the rest of the key partners. More of this in a moment – because before I heard back from any of them, it turned out that by now the company wanted to speak to me too. Fancy that.

Contact

I was phoned at work by a representative. Now this was interesting as it became evident that he had read my twitter feed as well as the blog post. I’m guessing one of the key partners had contacted them to ask for clarification and included my details, which they had linked up with my workplace by using their database of teachers requesting a memory stick. I’m curious whether any of the people complaining on the online fora (quite a few posts on the TES, EduGeek here and here, MoneySavingExpert, and the History Teachers’ Discussion forum) have had a personal phone call. Maybe I’m special.

He wanted to ‘clear things up’. He assured me that the initiative was continuing and told me that around 250,000 memory sticks had been sent out (more on this figure later). He explained there were lots of testimonial letters on the website. This is true – if you consider 14 letters (edit 24th Feb: this was working but they now have removed the page from their site – shall try to track down a backup) , mostly acknowledging receipt of the memory sticks and dated Jan-March 2010, as a ‘lot’. He said that he wanted me to realise that if the key partners felt the scheme wasn’t effective, they could withdraw funding – and he quoted a figure of about £10 per memory stick. Now, I certainly appreciate that a free resource isn’t one to turn down. However, let’s put this in perspective. Memory4Teachers – a spin-off project, presumably profit-making, from an advertising agency – don’t want their advertisers getting scared off by bad press about a scheme that has promised them privileged access to teachers. This isn’t exactly a ‘public good’ case.

He did point out – and to be fair I totally agree with him on this – that people are much more likely to complain than praise. It is however interesting how few people on the electronic fora praise them, and of those that do some have been shown to be their employees posting under a false name (e.g. on Edugeek). I pointed out that I, like many others, hadn’t had a memory stick. He said they had been sent but there had been some problems with Royal Mail. (I checked, and the other teachers he named at my workplace hadn’t received the sticks either. Maybe the dog ate their homework.) He explained that of the original applications (over 2 million apparently) many didn’t seem to be teachers, so they had changed their procedure to require a work address and a teacher reference number. Again, this seems to me to be a completely fair point. Of course, as they clearly have our email addresses it would seem strange for this to delay thing.

Two points in the phone call were very interesting. He asked me to change the title of the blog post and to remove the image of one of their memory sticks in a ‘do not enter’ sign, as they didn’t feel that was reasonable. I said I’d look at the post in the light of what he’d told me. (I’ve since had a another email repeating the request, which I replied to very politely, saying the updated post would be up soon. I have tried very hard to be fair in both the title and the tone of this post.) He also asked if I produced resources for teachers, and mentioned that they were always looking for content that could be shared through the scheme.

Hmmm. Carrot and stick? No, that can’t possibly have been the impression that was intended.

Numbers

  • Over 2 million original applicants.
  • ‘Around’ 250,000 memory sticks sent out to date, apparently (costing £10 each to produce).
  • 750,000 is the number always mentioned in press releases and on their website.

£10 is a lot more than the cost price of a 4GB memory stick. Presumably the rest of the cost is because of the work M4T have been paid to do for their clients, the partners and key partners. Now, I’d love to know how many of those 250,000 have been ‘activated’ – a number which surely they know. They haven’t told me, although I have asked. They don’t say on their website when they plan to send out the next batch, although they have been available for collection at shows like BETT 2011. I’d love to know how many email addresses they send out the monthly ‘newsletter’ to. This would also give an idea of how many people are currently waiting for a memory stick – or have given up waiting and delete the emails as spam. I wonder how many people click through the links to the advertisers, thereby providing evidence of how effective the scheme is. I’d be very interested to know how much the partners pay to be included on the website, and if they pay extra to be included in the email. Presumably the partners each know how many ‘referrals’ they get via the scheme and are carefully considering whether the cost justifies the return of investment.

Expansion

It turns out that these days the family is much bigger and is called Memory4Media.

There are no numbers that I can find on the Memory4Students site, but to be fair, I can’t find any complaints in forums online saying they’re not arriving either. These memory sticks apparently include an MP3 player and are aimed at college and university students. A lot of the companies and groups mentioned are the same as seen on the Memory4Teachers website. I’d be very curious as to whether any students have signed up for one of these sticks, how long it took to arrive and if they get emails.

What’s even more interesting is that it seems two more ‘initiatives’ will be up and running ‘soon’: Memory4Medical and Memory4Architects. Now, if I was cynical, I’d ask if it was a coincidence that access to professionals by email would be a very valuable thing to sell to companies. Note that they don’t sell the email addresses directly – in fact it specifies on the websites that email addresses are never passed on to third parties. If I understand the business model correctly ‘partners’ provide adverts which are then forwarded. I’m intrigued about how the funding for these two projects is working. I’m currently hoping to get hold of figures that Memory4Media (and the original company, Memory4Teachers) have supplied to Companies House. As a teacher, rather than a financial journalist or other professional, I’ve no idea how much information is publically available. It would be interesting to know how much of the profits from the first project, if any, are being used to start up the new ones. Anyone know an easy way to find out?

If I were an advertiser or prospective ‘partner’ looking at the two new projects, I’d want to know what lessons have been learned from the original one. I’d want to know how many memory sticks would be sent out each month, or year. I’d want to know how long medical staff, or architects (or solicitors, or whatever the next project is aimed at) would be waiting for a memory stick while receiving emails that seem so much like spam. I’d want to know what other companies would be advertised alongside my own, and whether that apparent association would be flattering. I would of course contact the key partners of the first scheme to see what they thought of their ‘return on investment’.

And if I was Memory4Media, I would be very careful before doing anything that could be interpreted as bullying.

Appendices

In the interests of transparency, I’ve included the text of the messages I sent to the key partners. As I wrote above, some have replied, but I don’t feel it is fair to them to state which ones or describe their responses. Like anyone else, of course, they are welcome to comment below.

Original message to RSC:

I presume you get a copy of the email M4T send out to the teachers who have signed up. It might be worth you knowing:

1 the memory sticks never seem to arrive – it seems like a scam to get teachers’ email addresses.

2 the range of advertisers is, well, interesting. I don’t think you put the RSC in very good company.

I posted about this on my blog last month and receiving the latest email from them – which I, like many teachers, consider to be spam – reminded me of your involvement in what is, frankly, more than a little poor.

Mass email sent to all key partners:

Greetings

I’ve been having trouble getting any response from Memory4Teachers about their ‘initiative’ to give away USB sticks loaded with software, applications and other teaching materials for UK teachers. You are listed as one of their ‘key partners’ on their website, although it isn’t clear when it was last updated. I was wondering if I could get the answers to a couple of quick questions. Apologies if this has arrived in the wrong inbox!

1 Are you still actively involved (or financially supporting) M4T? Please note I am not seeking details, just if you are still actually working with them and if relevant in what way.

2 Do you know how many memory sticks have been ‘given away’ to date?

Many thanks for your time.