My Utility Belt

This was already planned as a response to Ian McDaid’s What’s In My Bag post, but I was prompted by a tweet from Cory @Doctorow about the wonderful Grid-It organiser. They’re great. Go and buy one.

So anyway, here’s the contents of my bag, about to be packed ready for my induction tomorrow into the Hall of Fame. I mean, Justice League. Okay, it’s actually into the Stimulating Physics Network, but that’s honestly nearly as good. Just with less lycra.

inmybag

 

Starting at the top left:

  • Moleskine 18 month planner, hacked with elastic to hold a pen (Leuchtturm1917 make one if you don’t have the bits handy) and with plastic tabs to save time. Hint: Stick a few post-its in the back for convenience.
  • Decent ballpoint which stays put and a keep-in-my-pocket Uniball fineliner. These are 5 for £4 in Tesco at the moment, go and buy some quick.
  • Pencil case, bought for me. Filled with, well, pens and stuff.
  • Elephant Wallet, basically some elastic sewn together to make a great minimalist wallet. Made to order, tiny in your pocket.
  • Earbuds for podcasts, music and blocking out the world when on a train. Cheap because I’m always losing the damn things.
  • Small notebook with detachable pages in a leather sleeve, bought on sale at a silly price from Waterstones. I am a bit of a stationery nerd.

The electronics:

  • Nexus 2013 edition, shiny gadget running Android. For once I was an early adopter with a Samsung Tab, but this is lighter and faster. And half the price of an iPad mini. Small enough to hold in one hand (great ebook reader) but has a big enough screen to make working possible.
  • It’s stored in a Cocoon Grid-It, basically a neoprene sleeve with loads of elastic across it. You can stick an amazing amount of stuff in there (currently: two sets of business cards, spare pen, painkillers, cables, book of stamps, coffee disloyalty cards, ruler, worked flint tool from 10k years ago, memory stick) and it all stays put.
  • To make the tablet a bit more practical, add a Bluetooth keyboard. There are loads about but it means you’ve got a kind of DIY netbook. I’m not linking to this because it’s acting up, but that’s possibly me.

So there we are – add in my phone (cheap android, tethers the tablet when needed, and what I used for the photo) and we’re done. All in a bag that I forgot to take a picture of, but it’s a rucksack because I have delusions of youth. Briefcases are for grown-ups and satchels are for schoolgirls in Enid Blyton books.

More posts coming soon, but I need to sort out what the rules are going to be for sharing resources on here. Hope everyone has had (or is about to have) a great start to the new school year.

 

Teaching With Evernote 2/2 The Software of Everything

If you already use Evernote and can already see how it might be useful in teaching, read on. If you’re less familiar, it means you didn’t read my previous post. Go now, I’ll wait.

Is everybody sitting comfortably?

Then I’ll begin

Evernote is a great way to organise resources and commentary on them. The note can include your thoughts about the lesson, while attached files contain a formal plan, printable resources, presentations, even audio files. What I find powerful is that everything for the lesson is in one place, and stays there. If – or more accurately, when – the specification changes again, you simply put a new contents page together, with links to your new running order of lessons.

Like so much in life, you get more out if you put more in. In the case of Evernote, this is literal; the more information you add to your notebooks, the more useful links you can make and the more material you have access to. I use it as an external memory for my brain, and these are some of the approaches which have helped me to make it work.

A note can have lots of Tags, and the tags can be put in ‘families’. So aqa has subtags P1, P2, ISA and so on. I could tag relevant lessons with the appropriate unit for another exam board too, and probably will in the future.

It’s really only recently that I’ve made the most of being able to have distinct Notebooks. A note can only be in one at a time, but you can move them freely. So a note might get moved from freelance to old projects when I finish a piece of work. I find that tags for lessons work better than notebooks, because the same resources might be helpful with two year groups.

You can set up custom searching very easily and saving these searches will make it easy to find what you need. This might be for recent notes, or a combination of tags, or either of two tags in a particular notebook. Along with creating your own contents pages (one of several ideas in this Lifehacker post) this means information is where you expect it to be with a minimum of fuss.

One Place For Everything…

I try to use bits and pieces of David Allen’s Getting Things Done; this is practically a religion in some parts of the internet, mainly those that spell colour without the u. (A simplified version is explained by ZenHabits here.) Some aspects aren’t useful for me, but I really like the idea of ubiquitous capture. Put simply, this means that if you’ll need something, anything,  later then you record it in one place. It might be a notebook – I’m a Moleskine fan myself, I must admit – but for many online things you need an electronic destination.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly by recording ideas and jobs as they come to mind you can stop worrying about them. Reducing those background thoughts reduces stress. Secondly, it means you can spend time going through everything in one go, when it’s convenient. Each item then gets deleted, finished, added to your jobs list, saved for later, turned into a reminder on your calendar… you get the idea.

A lot of notes will be saved for reference – addresses and dates for example. You won’t need them on a regular basis and you don’t need to do anything with them. But many of the others will need to be tagged #action, or merged with other notes as jobs lists for individual projects. How fast you make progress on these will be, if you’re anything like me, highly variable.

Churchill: "Action This Day"
Churchill: “Action This Day” from Lateral Works

 

…And Everything in Its Place

To make this easier I’m slowly turning everything I do into a ‘funnel’ for Evernote. Sometimes it’s as simple as making a note on my phone, or snapping a picture. If in doubt, these go to the default folder, Inbox. (This is actually _Inbox for me so it shows up at the top of the list, as explained in this productivity post.)

There are several ways to link with your browser so you can share directly, adjusting tags and destination notebook as you prefer. Often you can choose whether the whole page, a selection or just the address is saved. You will need admin rights so unfortunately this may not be practical on work machines.

evernote tips

Download the above flowchart as a .pdf

I use Gmail which means I can use labels and filters. These are rules which act, for example, on any email I label as ‘work’ by forwarding it to another account. Your Evernote account comes with a dedicated email address which leads to your notes.

For mailing lists which I know will produce work items, I can use a dedicated alias (eg yourname+work@gmail.com) which your filters can be set to recognise and forward without you ever seeing it. When you move workplace, the filter gets changed but you don’t have a dozen mailing lists to alter.

A final powerful tool is IFTTT (If This Then That) which links different online tools. A trigger in one account will cause a response leading to another. So if I add a star to one of the blog items in my RSS reader, IFTTT notices this and sends a copy to my Evernote. Because the categories are matched with my notebooks, it arrives already organised.

Actually Doing Stuff

Of course, organising everything is a waste of time if nothing happens. Going through the Inbox is when I finish small jobs, or start the bigger ones. Sometimes it’s about ticking off the next step in a process. My earlier post talked about how I’m using Evernote to save all the resources for each individual lesson. The lesson itself is planned back to front, starting with how I’ll evaluate the kids’ understanding of the ideas, then thinking how to engage them, then considering ways for us to explore the concepts. Regular readers will recognise these as shuffled steps in the 5/7Es process. Of course your own planning process will vary but can easily be converted into a template for comprehensive notes.

Fine Print
  1. All the above links for Evernote are referrals, which means if you use them to start your own account I get a free month of Premium access and extra upload space (as do you, FWIW). It doesn’t cost you anything extra but if you’d prefer not to, follow this unaffiliated link instead.
  2. As usual, if this post has helped your professional practice I’d appreciate a brief comment via this GoogleForm; you do not need to leave your name and there is no chance of a cash reward, but it’s good karma.

 

Teaching With Evernote 1/2 Getting Started

Then
I was really pleased with myself. Then it all went horribly wrong.
Those paired statements could apply to many aspects of my life, but most of them wouldn’t interest you. The time I’m thinking of, however, is definitely teaching related – and it sets the scene for today’s post.It was the summer term and we were putting the finishing touches on a new scheme of work, for the (then) latest GCSE science specification. The resources were done, possible homework was listed, everything. And so I decided to make life just a little easier for myself and colleagues by hotlinking the files to our master scheme in Publisher. One click, I reasoned, and everything we needed would appear as if by magic.

As If By Magic...
As If By Magic…

Original artwork by David McKee, from Aubergine Art&Framing

It took several hours, and for about a week it worked beautifully. Then our IT support migrated curriculum data between servers and every single link stopped working. Fortunately, I discovered this first thing in the morning so there were no students around to hear my frustration turning the air blue.

 

Now

I still think that writing a good scheme of work is only half the battle. You need to be able to find everything the next day, week or year. The way I organise my resources – and in fact my whole life – is Evernote, and it seems to me that it’s a good time to tell you about it (again – a lot of this will be developed from ideas in a previous post, the eighth E). Because right now in schools everywhere colleagues are looking at schemes of work knowing they need tidying up, but that as usual a new specification looming makes it feel like wasted time.

The Quick Version

  1. Sign up for Evernote.
  2. Type a few words about a lesson that’s part of your scheme.
  3. Add links to websites, YouTube etc.
  4. Attach lesson resources such as presentations, worksheets, homework, sample data…
  5. Add tags for the topic (eg P1heat) and year group (eg yr10).
  6. Repeat from step 1 as many times as you like.
What this makes is a huge dumping ground, in no particular order, of all the lessons you teach. The search bar checks in the notes as well as tags and titles, so finding what you’re looking for is easy. To be honest, if you’re not sure about what you’re reading I’d suggest trying this for a week then coming back to read the second half of this post.

Next Steps (in no particular order)
You can run Evernote from your web browser without too much hassle, but the real power of any cloud service is Sync. It won’t take long to install the desktop version, and there are mobile equivalents for each platform (although precise functions vary). All let you see your notes wherever you are, although you’ll need Premium access to open attached files when you’re offline.
You can create a ‘contents’ note with a numbered list. Right click on the first lesson in the topic, chose ‘copy note link to clipboard’ then paste it in to your list. Rinse and repeat. You can create as many of these as you like, linking to different mixtures of notes, and the links will keep working as long as that note exists. If the scheme changes, you don’t need to move files between directories – just create a new contents page, with a different order and any additional notes where needed.A note can have as many tags as you like. If you want to organise them in a non-overlapping way, create separate notebooks. I might use the tag blog on lots of different kinds of notes. Recipes, however, are all in one notebook of their own, away from Ed-research and Schemes.You can share a note – or a whole notebook – with a colleague – they don’t need to be using Evernote themselves. This is a really nice way to create a portfolio of lessons to show off. Alternatively, have your students set up their own accounts and save their work to notes that are shared with you. You have easy access to their portfolio, but for them nothing extra needs to happen once set up. They simply add completed pieces to their Ready for sharing notebook, which you can see.
I use the tag action to remind me that there something in a tag I need to change, fix or act on. I’ve saved a link to all notes with this tag: instant to do list. If you want to add a specific date, you can turn a note into a Reminder eg for exam dates or report deadlines.
Creating a Templates notebook might be a good way to keep ‘blank’ copies, effectively starting points, of all the things you know you’ll be producing. Most teachers have a preferred format for lesson planning (or their school does), meeting minutes, seating plans and so on. Put each of these in their own note, along with letterheads, an empty Powerpoint presentation with your preferred colours and fonts etc.
Summary
I find using Evernote this way helps me to keep my resources, lesson plans and everything else organised and available. Because the notes are editable, I’ll add any thoughts during the lesson so each plan is constantly evolving. If I need to change the attached resources, I’ll just add my thoughts and the action tag, then come back later. Over time it’s become part of how I organise pretty much everything, for work and home, and I’ll be blogging details of this in the vague near future. Please add comments or questions below and I’ll try and address them in that later post.
Fine Print
  1. All the above links for Evernote are referrals, which means if you use them to start your own account I get a free month of Premium access and extra upload space (as do you, FWIW). It doesn’t cost you anything extra but if you’d prefer not to, follow this unaffiliated link instead.
  2. As usual, if this post has helped your professional practice I’d appreciate a brief comment via this GoogleForm; you do not need to leave your name and there is no chance of a cash reward, but it’s good karma.

Numbers Game

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).

 

Time for a Moan

Does anyone else think it’s been a long month?
Apart from the weather (somewhere between miserable and dire), the lack of daylight and the inevitable comedown from Christmas, I’m feeling absolutely shattered at work. It would be fair to say that family issues of various kinds are also making life a little tricky, but that’s another story. I made the mistake today of listing what’s been happening in addition to a full teaching load.
  • new set of seating plans as I’ve moved rooms, plus displays etc
  • lesson observations for whole school on questioning.
  • whole school training on dyslexia (with the fatal words “learning modalities include visual, auditory and kinaesthetic”)
  • my own lesson observation for performance management
  • all staff being asked to break down class lists by gender, SEN, FSM etc and justifying/celebrating achievement for each category
  • deadline for assessment cycle data with effort grades for all classes
  • reports for year 9
  • parents’ evening for year 11
  • starting weekly afterschool revision classes
  • presentation to colleagues on homework and follow up email (see T&L posts, recent and forthcoming)
  • dept meeting to discuss the whole school focus this halfterm on planning
  • meeting for our peer-led, small group development – needs observations, discussions and recording of actions/targets
  • nominating students for specific target plans within subjects

And that’s all since we started back in January. Sometimes in our profession it feels like a relentless focus on all these tasks, promoting learning, means that we never get to make a good job of planning our actual teaching…

Normal service should be resumed soonish. In the mean time, please forgive the peace and quiet on Twitter and my slightly frazzled expression.

For interest:
#ukedchat survey
on why teachers leave the profession.

The Eighth E – Evernote

It’s that time of year again. Scheme of Work time. When we all pay for the sudden drop in teaching workload, now Years 11 and 13 have left, by updating and writing new schemes for future teaching. Sometimes the changes are small. Sometimes, often thanks to politicians who love to change things just for the hell of it, they’re huge. Either way, it’s a great chance to think again about what we’re trying to do in our lessons over the longer term.

For various reasons, as well as rewriting and updating some rather dusty schemes this year, I’m trying to be more organised about keeping my own copies. I’m moving towards a 5/7Es model (as explained by me here, @hrogerson here and NASA here). And I’m also converting the school Word templates into my own personalised Evernote variant. I thought it might be worth sharing.

Why 5/7Es?

I find this clear framework, with a huge variety of actual activities, really helps me to make sure kids are getting something useful out of the lessons. This is particularly true when adapting existing schemes, or fitting in with someone else’s ideas about ‘essential practicals’. (See @alomshaha‘s recent Guardian piece about using practical work effectively for a useful example of this problem.)

Start your planning with the last E – Evaluate. How will you know what/how students have learned? Begin the lesson by Engaging students and Eliciting current knowledge. Guide students in Exploring the main lesson concept, which you can then Explain before checking progress with Extension work – this might need further Elaboration.

Obviously there are other models of lesson planning, but I find this is not only useful for more detailed plans when required but also makes a great ‘looser’ structure for schemes of work. These need more freedom, but giving some ideas lets colleagues choose what suits them while still improving consistency. That’s the idea, anyway!

Why Evernote?

In short, this is a note-taking application which can automatically synchronize between desktop, browser and mobile versions. I’ve used it for a while and am finding it more and more useful as it becomes a dumping ground for pretty much everything I need to remember or refer back to. Until recently it’s been an external memory for my own brain, but I’m now starting to build in more structure. It’s helped that they’ve now added reminders, which takes the place of the EventNoted add-on I was using.

The easiest place to start is by choosing a few tags which will make it easy to find material. I started with work, books, recipes, next action, blog and inbox. You can link it with email your web browser (to ‘clip’ particular sections of pages) and even your RSS reader via services like IFTTT. This means anything I want to hold on to I can save to one virtual filing cabinet.

So now as I revamp our AS/A2 teaching, I’m producing one note for each section. I’m using one tag for each year group, although this may be added to with topic codes a the list grows. I’m moving towards a consistent structure of Specification, Outcomes, 5Es and Activities, with links, page references and attached files.

evernote screenshot

This last part is what makes Evernote so useful. You can attach worksheets, powerpoints, animations… pretty much everything you’ll need to teach the lesson.

You can also share what you’ve done with someone else, either by inviting a specific person or by creating a weblink. They can’t edit – for that you need the premium version – but they can see what you’ve been up to. This strikes me as a great way to share ideas between colleagues in a department. Here’s an example from AQA AS Physics.

Using Evernote this way would be an excellent substitute if you chose not to use the TESPro service (although of course without access to their privileged content). It also makes it easier to keep a ‘personal’ copy of school planning, so your tweaks won’t mess it up for colleagues.

Next?

I’m planning to produce outline plans in this way for each topic, as I teach; I’m currently working on an ISA sequence, for example. I want to experiment with producing templates using KustomNote so I can automate some of the planning layout. I also want to see about a ‘week to view’ layout, more like a traditional teacher planner, which would then link to the specific notes for each  lesson.

Of course, maybe you have better ideas or a smoother system – in which case I’d love to hear about it. Let me know what you think in the comments.

 

 

CPD Tracker v0.4

So, I’m looking at qualifying for RSci/CSciTeach. Which means I had to look at the CPD I’ve done over the past few years. Which is lots:

  • stuff in school
  • two teachmeets
  • 2012 ASE Conference
  • #SciTeachJC (often)
  • #asechat (sometimes)
  • #ukedchat (occasionally)
  • AQA stakeholder meeting
  • watching/listening to science stuff (Thank you, iPlayer)
  • reading science books
  • reading teaching books
  • and, you know, writing this blog.

The problem is, I’m not particular organised about it. I mean, I do it. I take notes on it, usually on Evernote. But I don’t keep track of it very well. So I started to think, why not use a spreadsheet?

  1. It’s boring.
  2. It’s slow.
  3. Running it out of the cloud is a pain at work.
  4. It’s not easily mobile.

Which is where Google Forms come in. This links quick questions to an automatically updated spreadsheet. Answer the questions in a tea break, and like magic, the CPD is listed. You can then edit the entry to add details, notes, or links to further information.

So here’s a draft version, tweaked after some suggestions from work colleagues and @ViciaScience (thanks, Richard!). I’ve put in a couple of sample lines, to show how it works. You can see the form here, and the spreadsheet here. I’m quite pleased with the standards section; simply tick the standards this CPD is relevant to and they’ll show up, colourcoded in the spreadsheet. (There’s a second sheet with a list of the standards.)

If you want to copy it, feel free – obviously you’ll need to have a Google account. It would be easy to produce a similar spreadsheet in Excel or whatever, but it wouldn’t have the form option.

To do:

  • it would be nice if the timestamp date was automatically added to the ‘date’ column’ if the question isn’t answered.
  • the comments don’t show when you print – should I have the data copied to another sheet for more detailed evidence?
  • It’s not properly formatted to print on A4.
  • A communal version, with a column for identifier (email address? staff code?) could be used to collate and share CPD ideas, with relevant links and reflection, between any chosen group of teachers, locally or virtually.
  • I’m playing with an NQT version, to show how they are collecting evidence to meet the standards – this will be blogged sooner rather than later. If there’s interest.

What else have I missed?