Modern Skills

When does asking for training become an excuse not to try something new?

I recently had an interesting discussion on Twitter with @GrahamBM about the use of technology in education. He’s probably best-known as the founder of Learning Without Frontiers. Also involved was @jackandraka, from his point of view of a student who has clearly been able to use what he has learned – presumably both inside the classroom and independently – to produce new innovations in cancer diagnosis.

It started when I butted in to his conversation with @gillpenny. Many of those responding to his comments seemed not to be teachers, and I wonder if the reality of coordinating (and to an extent controlling) thirty teenagers totally escaped some of them.

@grahambm @bobharrisonset they need time with device ahead of kids not to learn how to use but to familiarise in order to realise potential

— Gillian Penny (@gillpenny) December 8, 2012

.@bobharrisonset if teachers in the UK need training on how to use everyday 21st century appliances for learning they’re in wrong job

— Graham Brown-Martin

My argument is, I think – apologies if I’m putting words in her mouth! – similar to that of @gillpenny. In some respects whether teachers are familiar with tablets or not is irrelevant. Knowing how to do something is not the same as being able to best teach how to use it. I can kick a football around, albeit badly. Even if I were an expert player, that doesn’t necessarily mean I could referee a practice game while teaching a GCSE PE lesson. If you’re going to be responsible for them, first aid and risk assessment skills are needed. With computers, we as teachers will be held responsible if kids get into ‘trouble’ online. We need a certain level of practical trouble-shooting activity, to be able to sort out the settings when Johnny has set the language to Swedish, or what to do when the screen has mysteriously become reversed. We need to be able to fix all the varied problems that can be caused by students, deliberately or otherwise, which requires much greater familiarity than the average user. Because otherwise the lessons descend into chaos.

Secondly, the practicalities of teaching the skills involved with effective use of a mobile device are partially specific to that device. I love my tablet – a first generation Galaxy Tab. I use it at home, on the go and at school. Email, reading books and media sites, keeping up with blogs via RSS, producing and managing my own blog, saving ideas via Evernote and Pocket, playing games, Twitter including chats such as #SciTeachJC and #asechat… and I know there’s lots of applications I could add on. But those applications aren’t quite the same as those on an iPad. Or a more modern Android tablet. Or on a small-screen phone. Blackberry apps are different again. And the similarities can fool you just as much as the differences; Americans and Brits can really confuse each other talking about fags and pants, for example…

Of course we should be teaching students about using mobile devices effectively – but which mobile devices do we concentrate on? It’s reasonable for teachers to want the chance to know how they work in the classroom before we rely on them. Then we can focus on them as tools, as ways to apply the thinking and reasoning skills we really want to pass on. I want my kids to be able to use Google effectively, of course I do. But part of that – something I hope all teachers do, explicitly and implicitly – is teaching them to be sceptical about the results. I want them to consider the reliability of the sites they find, to check for bias, to look for opposing viewpoints. And this example brings me to my own classroom experience.

It’s a common claim that students these days are ‘digital natives’. It’s bollocks. It’s like someone claiming a hundred years ago that all ten year olds should intuitively be able to use libraries because they lived in the age of the printed word. Yes, every student from Foundation to Year 7 was born this century. So what? Not all of them have smartphones, and certainly not all of them can use them effectively in a learning context. Every student I have in secondary school can talk – admittedly not all in English – but that doesn’t mean they can present an argument to establish the truth of a proposition.

In my Year 10 Science class I have 32 bright students. The majority have smartphones, although we don’t allow them in school. (Don’t blame me, talk to the management.) We’re in a fairly affluent, aspirational area, a leafy suburb on the outskirts of a Midlands city. But it’s easy to assume too much about their use of mobile devices.

They don’t know what RSS feeds are, let alone how to use them to follow blogs that they’re interested in. They prefer to search using YouTube – great to know, but useless for complex data or meaningful research. They can share links with each other by FaceBook, but are much less confident collaborating on anything document-based such as GoogleDocs. Research is when they copy and paste from Wikipedia, or from one of the first five hits they get if they put the homework title into Google. They use Twitter instead of broadcast text messages, but don’t tend to share ideas or links. Basically, they’re using mobile devices the same way teenagers have always used technology; to talk to their friends, extend their social life through music and media, and look at porn. Sometimes, I suspect, simultaneously.

It’s great to use examples of teenagers who get more out of technology. @jackandraka and @nickdaloisio (the Summly inventor) are two examples shared by @GrahamBM, and I’d add @rhysmorgan to the list. But it’s important to recognise that these kids are outliers. They’re the exception, not the rule. Of course we, as teachers, need to be offering a range of experiences in our classrooms. But we can’t tailor every moment to every student, all at the same time. Expecting us to be able to manage a classroom with both ends of the spectrum, without practice and training with new resources, technology and approaches, is asking for trouble. It’s all very well to seek to ‘disrupt’ learning when you’re on the outside. In a classroom, sometimes all you can do is provide the basics – which are not always exciting, or enjoyable, or inspiring – and then provide opportunities for students to stretch themselves, with or without our guidance.

Personally, I’d love us to provde more teaching in using technology in a learning context. I’d love to see my students blogging their lessons, cross-referencing between subjects, sharing links live and tweeting throughout the lesson with insights or difficulties. I’d give every 11 year old in the country a Google Nexus 7 and a Gmail account, and see what happens. But don’t blame the teachers when things don’t go as planned.

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Collecting Evidence

As promised – and much faster than usual – here’s a modified version of my own CPD tracker. The idea of this is for teachers to keep track of evidence towards the Core Standards during their training or NQT year. I think it might be useful for those doing GTP as well as the PGCE route I took, and presumably for other approaches such as TeachFirst. Obviously, this isn’t official or endorsed by anyone, but it seems to me that it would make filling in paperwork much easier even if you can’t submit it as primary evidence.

How To Set It Up

  1. You’ll need a Google account. You may wish to set yourself up a ‘professional’ account (Mr.J.Smith.Sci@Google.com or whatever), especially if your current address is, shall we say, informal.
  2. ‘Save a Copy’ of the spreadsheet I’ve done to your new Google Drive and consider renaming it. Make sure it’s set to Private, not Shared, to start with.
  3. Have a look at the data entry (‘Form’, then ‘Go to Live Form’) to see how the prompts match the columns.
  4. Edit the column headers (and linked GoogleForm) if necessary.
  5. Save a link to the form on your mobile devices and desktop.

All of this should only take you a few minutes. You can add data to your spreadsheet directly, which may be useful for catching up with previous pieces of evidence. I think it’s easiest to edit them on a desktop, but this can be done less often. My main aim was to produce something which can be easily updated ‘on the go’, potentially by a variety of people, and then demonstrate a continuing record of progress towards the Standards.

How To Use

After any event – a seminar, discussion, observation, taught lesson etc – which shows your progress against the Standards (listed on a separate sheet), fill in the GoogleForm from whatever device is easiest. The prompt questions are to help you organise your responses to the event, consider how they match up to the Standards and plan further actions. In theory, all assignments should contribute to something; don’t neglect less formal situations like staff room discussions, reading a teaching magazine or catching up with professional blogs.

When you review your spreadsheet, choose a couple of areas to develop further. These might be those where you have less evidence (as shown by the highlighted Standards), or those where you have identified problems or weaknesses. Advice from mentors or colleagues will help you decide what to do, whether it’s about planning observations of particular staff members, talking about practicals with the lab techs or reading a recommended text or article.

Try to ensure that at least some of the rows include a link or reference to further evidence. This could be to the full lesson observation form, or to the university assignment, for example. A couple of ring binders, ideally different colours, will let you match up paper with electronic records quickly and easily. In addition, you may choose to record details in a linked blog or in EverNote, which allows you to access longer notes from anywhere if you paste a note URL into the GoogleForm.

I suppose there’s no reason why you have to be the one to fill in the form. If you email the link (to the form, not the spreadsheet itself) to your mentor they could fill it in after lesson observations or joint planning sessions. You might also choose to share the spreadsheet (I would recommend read only access) with your mentor, ITT Coordinator or University tutor. Try to stay in the habit of spending a bit of time every few days adding your thoughts. It’s a habit that is easy to forget once teaching a full timetable!

I’d value any comments from early-career colleagues, ITT Coordinators, NQT mentors and anyone else with particular interests in this area. My aim was to streamline the record keeping; we all want to spend more time on gaining skills and less on paperwork, after all! Hopefully this will help make life easier for all of us.

 

A Public Portfolio

Happy half-term to all my colleagues, near and far. Or if you’re back at work this week, I’ll try not to taunt you too much. But I’m off; reading lots of books, taking time over breakfast, playing with kids and kittens… oh, and blogging. About work.

There’s something wrong with this picture.

Anyway. I’ve been playing around with this idea for a bit and decided there’s no good reason to wait. As of now, my recent CPD record is available to anyone who cares, via GoogleDocs. I will see about adding in previous CPD, including big courses and stuff, but the whole point of this approach is to make it quick and easy to add reflection to a continuing portfolio. I can’t see any disadvantage with making it public, and several advantages:

  • if you want to see what’s caught my attention and interest, professionally, you can
  • my contemporary notes are also accessible, where I’ve put in the links
  • if anyone wants to headhunt me, they can see what I’ve been up to and I don’t have to update a pretty CV
  • when I get around to putting in my CSciTeach application, I can email the URL instead of filling in a form. #kidding #maybe

A couple of health warnings:

  • the primary purpose of the record is for my own reference; I make no guarantee about spelling, readability etc.
  • most original rows get added via GoogleForm on my phone, so it will obviously change as I regularly go back, add links or further reflection
  • if I specify any individuals or classes, then the names will already have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent
  • anything I don’t want to fit into a GoogleForm will be blogged, as ever

I’d welcome readers’ thoughts about this; am I breaking new ground or opening myself up to a world of trouble?

PS – an NQT/PGCE/GTP version of this form and spreadsheet will be appearing in the next day or so. Right now I have dinner to cook, kittens to play with and presents to wrap. I must NOT get these instructions mixed up…

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?

Not Continuing Physics?

I posted almost a fortnight ago about some data I’d like to collect about students who have chosen not to continue with Physics into sixth form. I got a few responses, which I’ve used to adjust the Google form. The questionnaire is now sorted (I hope) and I’d love to get as many responses as possible, so I’m inviting everyone to be involved. Unless there’s a good reason, I’ll close the form at the end of September. I’ve included a field for the institution postcode, so each school or sixth form should be able to get personalized data without messing around with different invitations or codes from me. The questionnaire is primarily aimed at students who:

  • have started AS courses after GCSEs.
  • achieved highly at GCSE, either in Core/Additional or separate Science courses.
  • haven’t started AS Physics.

I’m especially interested in those students who were capable, but chose other subjects. Attitudes to Physics for all students would of course be interesting, but it’s the ‘missed opportunities’ I’d like to know about – those students we wish had chosen ‘our’ subject. I know lots has been done on this before, but Google forms gives us as teachers the chance to collect data to use in our own schools and collate it all.

The link for the form is:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?hl=en_US&pli=1&formkey=dFJYS2FFS2ttdjVjUzUyZmFIaEFhelE6MQ#gid=0

I’d love for this to be shared with students starting AS courses this month. Please feel free to pass this on to colleagues or friends who teach, and I’ll be regularly flagging it up on Twitter. Drop me a line there or via email (teachingofscience@hotmail.co.uk) if you have any questions, suggestions or whatever. I’ll certainly blog about the results (if any) and it may become an article if any of the teaching magazines or journals are interested. Hopefully I’ll figure out some way to make the results searchable for individual institutions – make sure your students are entering the correct postcode.

Thanks for your interest, and in advance for your assistance!

Exit Questionnaire: Useful?

Last year, as part of the Action Research in Physics Project run through the Science Learning Centres, I collected data in my school about those who didn’t do Physics at AS. If this seems odd, think for a moment. If we ask those who did choose our subject, we’re only getting the success stories. Surely what we want to know is what put off everyone else. I was particularly interested in the high number who had achieved well at GCSE (getting A* in the separate Physics course) but had not chosen it as part of their AS timetable.

At my workplace, students are selected for triple science GCSE rather than choosing it themselves, which might account for some of them – they were bright students who achieved well in all or many of their subjects. And we have a lot of students doing Physics at AS, it’s not as if we’re in danger of losing classes. However, we do lag behind Biology and Chemistry. Boo. Hiss. I’m obviously not the first person to consider this, and I noticed some of the issues raised in, for example, the IOP Girls in Physics report. Numbers seem to be rising (32860 finished A2 last year, according to this Telegraph story which credits Brian Cox, or see this IOP press release for more detailed numbers.)

Scientists always like more data, and one school is hardly respresentative. So, I thought, why not collect more? If only there was some way to make this kind of quick survey available to colleagues in other schools, so that we could get a bigger sample. If only there was some way to automate and easily share the results, so that we could all learn from it…

At the risk of sounding like a Year 8 stuck on their homework, the answer is Google. A Google form, to be precise.

Obviously the results will be skewed, as I expect only students who have continued to their school 6th form will be pointed towards this, but the more data we can collect the better. Obviously the results will be open to all participants and I will also be blogging about them – it’s also possible that they will inform an article somewhere, perhaps SSR.

What I need to know is whether this is worth taking forward. I’ve put a draft Google form together, based on the paper version I used at my school last year. I have some questions to use, although obviously I’d be interested in any extra suggestions. I want to make this a fast questionnaire, not something students or teachers have to spend a lot of time on. My plan is to finalize the form in a week’s time, so the more feedback and suggestions I get in that time the better. I plan to post and tweet the link to the improved version on September 1st, and hope that as many colleagues as possible will get kids to fill it in. I’d also appreciate suggestions about how to get the word out to as many teachers as practical in a short space of time.

Anyone interested?