Monday, 25 November 2013
What has your expereince of CPD been in NI recently?
A lot of Northern Irish teachers have commented to me recently that they feel unsupported in the classroom. With the demise of the different Education and Library boards - the support for the common teacher is at its lowest ebb for many years. Teachers feel lonely and isolated. I write as a post primary teacher. I have not been to a proper Geography day in about 5 years - how are we to continue to share good practice? How are we to swop ideas and strategies if there is no facility for this? How are we to learn? How are struggling subject teachers getting support? How are we teaching and reflecting on the different changes within the education system? How are we preparing for changes at GCSE and A Level and who can we talk to for advice and support? How DO we support the failing teacher and the failing department?
These are all big questions within the NI education system right now. But how can we support teachers better? What is actually needed? What would a fit-for-purpose support packadge actually look like? What do you need? What do you want? Is the solution a NI training agency or should thinks be more regionally based?
A personal gripe of mine is the fact that in order for your pay to progress within the current system you have to become a collector of management points. The more management points that you collect the more this job/role will take you away from your core roll as a classroom teacher. We need to get better at rewarding good teachers. Does this mean that we want some sort of AST (Advances Skills teacher) scheme in NI? Will it get recognition? Can this be a different path towards leadership within NI? Do we think that an AST might actually have the right skills to be a Principal but using a different path?
For me, far too many young teachers aspire to leadership too quickly. We need to think about why this is the case. Is it because there is nothing else for them to aspire to? Where is our vision in education that good teachers are celebrated and acknowledged as skilled practitioners? Where is the support if you get appointed as a Head of Year - is there enough support for the pastoral dimension in schools? How do you get supported as a teacher in their second, third, fifth, seventh year of teaching? How do you hone your skills? Is PRSD enough? Is PRSD for for purpose?
How do you take control of your own CPD? What have you done to take control
A lot of educational commentators talk about the philosophical need for learners to have space to process// to think// to map out in their heads how things work and how they connect together. The problem often is that amongst the busy-ness that is school life with class changes// timetables// bells/ class changeovers// schedules// diaries etc - we often do not allow the sapce needed to make these connections.
Students need space and time to think. They need to be encouraged to reflect. The best question that any parent can ask their kids at the end of a long day of learning is . . .'what have you learned today?'
As teachers we need to learn the language for this. We need to learn how to set time aside within a lesson to allow students to connect this learning. We need to get them to model and then take things to the next step - how does this learning link to other things that I know? (how can this become a transferable skill?) How can I engage with this creatively? How can I make sure that this learming matters to me?
In our school we have encouraged teachers over the last many years to use the Alister Smith's Accelerated Learning cyle as a model for lesson planning and within this - the connection to past learning is important. But, we need more - we need to think a little more about the space that we create for this. How is this embedded into the culture and the pedagogy of the classroom?
Friday, 15 November 2013
I know, I know - its been a few days since I have written anything about the 'big change'. I thought I would let things bed in a bit to see what is going on before I spouted again. I know that some who read this are going to be starting to plan for and might even be on the cusp of the transformation process. I have to emphasise that this is purely from my perspective as someone who uses ICT in EVERY lesson. It is not the views of my school or maybe even anyone else at my school. This is me.
1. Printing: Yesterday I tweeted a picture of the first printed page to come out of my printer in 14 days. Yes - it took a whole 14 days after transformation to get a printed page out. This was a serious liability and still we have printers not on the network and areas where it is difficult to print. The global solution for the school is NOT fit for purpose. Plus - the paper cut system for monitoring the printing is just fully annoying. It just sits there. laughing at me as I use up pound upon pound. I still have a heap of things to print that have been backlogged.
2. Laptop docks: We would use a lot of laptops for staff and purchased docking stations for them to make it easier to use. Now these things are temperamental at the best of times but now nothing seems to work. The docks just don't seem to work with wit-fi. whoops there.
3. My old laptops for students: Before transformation I had 8 laptops in my room for coursework and portfolios. they were slow and clunky but they were loved, cared for and were mine. Right now, they still don't work - we are still trying to get a solution to get them connected and working again and because my techie guy has been running around like a blue-ended fly for the last 2 weeks - these are still waiting to be done.
4. My gripes with the new operation system. I hate Windows 7. That said, I know I would have despised Windows 8 more but 7 is rubbish. It is so clunky and generic. I hate the fact that I can't put my own software onto the computer. I can't even pin programmes to the task bar. This means that every time I want to open my Interactive WB software I have to go onto the apps package and reload this. It takes ages. (Ie 3 mins). Now - I move about al lot in my school from one room to the next and this means that I often have to move my laptop and it does not deal with changes well. It closes programmes and this means I have to us valuable teaching time waiting for programmes to load. I want this software on my computer. Its free. I have the licence. It came with my board. why do I have to load the software every single time.
5. I use sims a lot but I have been getting more error messages on sims than ever. It normally works ok if you reboot 3 times but lets face it - what teacher has time to reboot a computer 3 times every time you have an issue.
6. Taking your computer home. Don't. There is no point. All you can get is email and maybe internet if you know how to turn the proxy off. I took my computer home. Turned the proxy settings off and then could not get them turned back on again so my laptop refused to go online back in school again for a week. Nice. It would be nice to have a wee button to click to have an app to do this for us.
7. Software issues - I know there are still some software issues. They don't affect me greatly (to my knowledge anyway) BUT there are still some that need to be ironed out.
So, all said - I am now 2 weeks into transformation and I don't really see how this has improved access to teaching and learning. We still don't have any guest devices going. (Though, to be fair, I have a feeling this NOW might be more OUR end than anyone else) I still don't have my iPad on. I still have not got apple tv in and set up. The technology support just is not there right now. I have a better setup at home than in school. In fact, today I just turned my phone into a hotpot and used my iPad to tweet a picture on my 3G.
I'm a big fan of some of the stuff Capita have been doing and I know a lot of the guys in C2k - but guys, your communication before, during and STRAIGHT after transformation needs to be better. I don't just want you communicating with Principals and the tech geeks - get in to talk to the whole staff. Show them what they need to do. Demonstrate. Model. Inspire them with what you are leaving behind. Show us the potential of this new system you have been working on. Show us how our lives are going to be changed and help us to inspire the crabbity old 'saboteurs' who are more interested in the Readers Digest than ICT.
Teachers don't have time to wait for this. If a school is having problems - you need to drop everything and get it sorted. You need to send your managers in with clipboards (lets face it, your iPads prob won't work properly) to listen, to solve and to move heaven and earth to get things fixed. Transformation needs to be smooth. It needs to be seamless. You need to be like Father Christmas - no-one sees him but everyone knows when he's been because of the lovely presents he has left. Simple. Uncomplicated. Presents.
Its been 15 days since transformation and maybe we are getting there. Finally. But, is this fast enough?
Tuesday, 5 November 2013
In the interests of fairness, I thought I had better update my last post quickly as today for some reason things were working a lot better.
The new C2k/Capita transformation system is starting to bed down a bit more today. My laptop opened up relatively quickly and I got my emails open and sims even loaded (after a little software update). Powerpoint was working. My ActivInspire IWB software worked too. Most of the tools were doing what they should and I was even able to change the background to my screen to something a little more me.
I do like the updates to the Microsoft suite - as I have been using these at home on my mac for years packing up your laptop and taking it home is still an annoyance as the only thing you can get to work is the web browser for email and not much else works.
We still have a few issues - the main one is printers and the wifi hubs still are not working but hey, you can't have everything. I am getting used to it a bit more but I do still feel that there has been a real lack of communication - there should have been some sort of crib sheet to talk teachers through what they need to to do with their computers post transformation to get everything back and working - I expected my laptop to be ready to work but it has taken me 2 days of fiddling about to get things back the way I want them. Files are still missing. Its not perfect but seems faster and lighter than it used to be and thats got to be progress.
Over the half term break a team of crack Capita engineers rappelled into my school in order to give us the amazing C2k transformation package that would bring us into the 21st century. Its been a long time coming - especially as the meru wifi hubs have been sitting in our rooms now for 5 weeks with the lights flashing at us, almost willing us to pull out our iPads and to start trying to crack the code to let us get some internet connection.
We were very lucky to get the transformation over half term. I have NO idea how any school can possibly get this to work whilst school is still in session. On the last day of term all the teachers had to surrender their laptops and pile them up in an ICT room for decommissioning. I half expected a giant hole to be dug under the rugby pitch and a few cement mixers to be brought in.
Now - I am not the most technical of geeks - I like computers but I like what I can do with them and I'm not really that interested about what happens in under the bonnet - so I do nod a lot and pretend that I know what is going on. My ICT techie person - who we shall call Sammy (as that is his name) - told me about some of the issues that were going on during the install. But let me tell you about this morning . . . transformation was done . . .
8.30 Arrived at school and over to see Sammy to reclaim my modified laptop (thankfully my pimped up laptop with apple and google stickers made it easy to find my one)
8.45 Plugged computer in and turned on . . . . . . 30 mins later the new user login blue screen appeared
8.55 I'm on and impressed - its actually working . . . maybe this is going to work
9.00 An email from the VP - no timetable as SIMS is not working which means that we can;t do any cover for classes . . . . period 1 gets suspended and kids stay with form classes . . . ok
10.00 still no sims. Its gone. Disappeared. Lost. Word on the street is that we can't print either.
10.05 I am teaching and want a powerpoint - it takes 16 minutes to open
10.25 I am teaching and want to show something on my whiteboard - where is the software - I know where it is not?
12.15 I am teaching again - still no whiteboard software, no way to write on screen. My projector is now arguing with me and refusing to say hello to my laptop. My emails now aren't working and my school is logging me out every 5 mins. This is getting a tad frustrating.
12.25 My laptop reboots. I've had enough. I get a flip chart page out and tape it to my whiteboard. Its time to go back to the future . . . its 1995 again and I'm nearly off to find the old hand cranked banda machine . . . just in case
12. 45 My student informs me that the photocopier is not working. No printer. No photocopier - seriously are these kids expected to write or something?
3.20 No printers. No sims. I have found word and powerpoint. They are on a weird my apps page. The staff docs has disappeared too - much to the annoyance of the VP.
It was not the most smooth of days and is this is what transformation +1 looks like - then dear help those of you who are slated for 3 days . . we had 5 and this was the 6th with an engineer on site.
yes, there are always issues with a big upgrade like this . . .but it should be a bit smoother. Today I sat with no laptop most of the day and an email interface that Bill Gates would have problems trying to work out. Tomorrow will be better. Maybe I will be able to print all the stuff I need to print. Which is getting to be a bit of a queue - bet most of my printer credits will go on day 1.
On the plus side - we had almost 350 managed computers connected (though my 7 laptops in my room are now defunct which is a little annoying) and I do quite like the Windows 7 interface - though I am not convinced that I like the apps based approach and it is pretty hard to keep your email programme on at the same time as other things. I did also find most of the drivers for my laptop so that I could see my whiteboard software BUT for some reason this will only work in school and not at home.
I'm sure time will tell how robust the network is - my computer does feel faster but the proof of the pudding is with sims . . . will it work or not tomorrow morning?
Poor Sammy had me land on him at the end of school today with a post it with 6 questions about what works and what doesn't . . . then I found out that youtube was blocked again . . . seriously, again?
And I'm pleased to report that our wifi hubs are still not working . . . . . .
Saturday, 19 October 2013
I was looking through some stuff on re-urbanisation of Belfast and the Laganside development in Belfast and came across the most amazing quote from a 'Community representative' thanks to Ruth McAlister.
I particularly love the typically academic approach into the quote and then boom - it hits you . . . .
"One community representative reflected pragmatically as he attempted to evaluate the regeneration campaign of the Laganside Corporation. It is particularly noteworthy that the following comment relates to improvements in the physical environment, yet there is no mention of how successful the Corporation was in integrating local people into this process of change. This, of course, does raise questions regarding how much emphasis was dedicated to the social dimension of regeneration.
"The main problem for Laganside was [that] this area was frankly the arsehole of Belfast, with the old bus station and what have you. They have done a terrific job, they got the Hilton, they got BT, done up the train station and linked it across the river." (Community respondent C22)
Typical of someone from belfast to say it as it is .
There's a question that I get asked quite a lot.
"What online apps make a difference to me as a teacher?"
I pause and think about what I have been using recently. It changes. It depends on what I am trying to get done. It depends if I am making a movie on my laptop or creating a podcast or writing.
However, if I sit down and think about it there are 3 things that make a big difference
1. Google sites
Google is now the main background for my web site Thinkgeography - every time I think to myself - oooooh thats a good link I must put that on my site - I can reach for my laptop/ iPad/ iPhone and quickly create the link and put it onto my site. Its not software specific and I make changes on any device I have. Its also very easy to use - so most people dont even realise they have navigated to a google page . . .
Twitter has been a real revelation. I have separate accounts for the different things I am involved with in school and this allows me to make notifications or ‘tweets’ out to students. It is invaluable in telling them what they need for tomorrow, what is happening in my classroom, reminding about deadlines etc . . . It allows learning conversations and gives students an opportunity to speak to me and get more help – when they need it . . .
I use edmodo only with my year 13 and 14 Geography classes. It is a fantastic way to communicate and to get students to hand in work. It keeps the work organized and I can mark the work when I want and where I want. What’s not to love about that?
Together – these 3 apps make up my learning platform – they all have slightly different uses and that is why I love using them – it just gives me more opportunity to talk to, to communicate and to listen to my students. That, at the end of the day is what it is all about. I use apps like this to make tedious tasks that little bit easier. It is all about making a slightly better workflow so that next year . . . things are a little bit easier.