The Future?

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Alan Kay

As an educator, I believe that our sole purpose is to see how education can change the world. In the context of Sinek’s Golden Circle, this is my WHY. When we look at the world ‘now’ and consider the possibilities for the future, it is easy and understandable to be pessimistic. However, when I listen to, and read from, the likes of Mark Stevenson and John Hagel, I see plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Stevenson describes advancements in the world of science and technology that are seeing scientists in North Carolina, 3D printing working kidneys. We are hearing about technology that will enable us diagnose our illnesses on our smartphones and 3D print the appropriate medication in the comfort of our own homes. There are many more examples of these kinds of advancements and if you are interested, I highly recommend checking out Mark Stevenson.

My issue, is that when I look at what is happening in the world and the possibilities for the future… and then I look at what is happening in our schools… it is impossible not to notice the enormous void between the two. Moreover, those of us who acknowledge the void and the need for change often ask ‘how are we going to innovate and change education so that our children leave school ready to enter this ever changing, ever developing world?’ However, I believe that this is the wrong question to ask because I don’t believe that the goal of innovation is to change education, but to see how education can change the world. If we only ever think about innovating education, education will always be playing catch-up and will have little impact on influencing and inventing the world and the future.

When I think about the future of education… YES, it needs to be REAL and relevant. YES, children need to learn to filter information, analyse it and think critically about it. YES, we want children going home at the end of the day asking more, bigger and better questions than they went to school asking. BUT, most importantly (for me) – and Ron Berger sums this up perfectly – we want children at school to be contributing something to the world beyond their classrooms. In Berger’s Hierarchy of Audience, right at the top… BE OF SERVICE TO THE WORLD. For me, this should be the baseline, the foundations on which the future of education should be built… its purpose.

However, if we are to revolutionise education in this way, many barriers, obstacles and challenges stand in our way. Here are just two…

1. The system

Government policy, tests, Ofsted, targets etc…

2. People

By people, I mean us; the people who work in our schools. Educators, teachers, school leaders, support staff; our cultures, our comforts, our mindsets and our traditions.

So how can we overcome these?

Sinek says that there are two ways to influence people… you can manipulate them, or you can inspire them.

Here is the brilliant part! There are hundreds of examples throughout history where people have inspired others with BIG dreams. Those inspired people have gone on to change culture, which in turn has changed policy. Martin Luther didn’t  say ‘I have a plan’; he had a dream. His dream inspired others, the inspired changed cultures which in turn changed policy. Want to see how education can change the world? IT’S TIME TO DREAM BIG!

SOLE Part 2

In my last post SOLE Part 1 – I outlined the reason/purpose and methodology behind this study. This week, the sessions were delivered.

Here are the phases/year groups BIG questions and a selection of photographs from the week…

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It is possible that this weeks SOLE based Lesson Study has raised more questions than it has answered. However, one thing is certain; if SOLE is to be implemented/used effectively, it requires as much strategic planning and rigour as any other pedagogical method – such as CBL, PBL etc – to be successful.  We have witnessed incredible learning this week, including Foundation Stage children discussing and understanding scientific concepts from KS3 programmes of study. However, we have also encountered difficulties, particularly with regards to individuals’ collaborative skills and reading ability. This is where careful planning needs to take place; what skills do children need to possess to participate/be successful in a SOLE session? This is about developing skills and attitudes that children need to initiate their own learning.

Whether you agree, or disagree, with this…

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…or this…

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…surely, as a profession, we can agree that developing skills and attitudes that children need to initiate their own learning, is vital… can’t we?!

Add your ideas here – http://padlet.com/chris_edwards/SOLE

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SOLE Part 1

In April 2015, I had the pleasure of meeting Sugata Mitra. As part of the Eos International Conference, I was privileged to observe Sugata Mitra deliver a SOLE session at Harstholme Academy and listen to his keynote at the conference itself. Prior to this, I had also watched all of his TED Talks. Since then, I and other colleagues have experimented with SOLE sessions with our pupils. I have also, via Twitter, read numerous blog posts both for and against this method of learning. To be blunt, SOLE is a bit like Marmite; you either love it or you hate it. When it comes to SOLE, it is safe to say that educators have very strong opinions on both sides!

As a result, I decided to make SOLE the focus of our latest Lesson Study at school. For 2 years now, we have used Lesson Study (with great success) as a way of experimenting with and embedding new ideas and pedagogies.

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Before the study started, I asked staff to peruse the School in the Cloud website and I posed the following questions…

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Although we call what we do ‘Lesson Study’, we do not follow the process set out at http://lessonstudy.co.uk to the letter. At our school, teachers (in groups of 4-6) plan, deliver and evaluate a lesson. We conduct 3 studies per academic year and each study has a specific focus – e.g. Math through CBL or Writing through SOLE.

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Today, groups planned their SOLE sessions. In my next post (SOLE Part 2), I will share these sessions and attempt to answer MY BIG QUESTION… Are Self Organised Learning Environments an effective way of learning?

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Developing the use of new technologies to support teacher feedback and peer assessment

Last week I was invited to speak at CfBT’s Schools Working Together Conference. Here is the gist of what I shared…

Teacher Feedback
Effective feedback is vital if children are to make progress. For many years, teachers have given feedback in books through written comments. Whilst this has its’ place, I question how effective written feedback is, especially for younger children and those with low levels of reading ability. For this reason, I often provide verbal feedback and find this to be most effective. However, this raises two issues. Firstly, verbal feedback requires the teacher to provide this, to the individual child, during lesson time. How feasible is this considering many of us have 30 children in our class at any one time? Secondly, if feedback is given verbally, where is the ‘trail’ of feedback in a child’s book (learning journey) for the child and others (parents, SLT, OFSTED etc) to see?

To solve both issues, I have started to use SoundCloud and QR Codes. SoundCloud is an iPad app and cloud storage that enables me to record my verbal feedback (without the child being present) and store it as an audio file ‘in the cloud’. I then, using RedLaser, generate a QR code linked to the audio file’s URL in SoundCloud. I print it, stick it in the child’s book and then they scan it using a mobile device to listen to my feedback.

Peer Assessment
After the success of using SoundCloud and QR codes to provide effective teacher feedback, I then considered the possibilities of using this for peer assessment. Peer assessment raises the same issues as teacher feedback but also generates the issue of the ‘peer assessors’ ability to write or communicate their feedback effectively through written word. Children in my class, of all abilities, now provide peer assessment through the use of SoundCloud and QR codes. This has also proven to be most effective.

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Using technology to engage learners

This week, I was observed by my Headteacher. The focus for the observation was ‘Engagement and Progress’. I have 29 children in my class and 16 iPads. Here is an outline of what we did.

In order for the ‘engagement’ aspect of this lesson to work, I spent the first 2 hours of the day hidden in my cupboard. My LSA welcomed the class, took the register and started the day – the children had no idea where I was – I watched on a monitor from the confines of my hiding place. 9.30am arrived and my Headteacher entered my classroom to observe me unaware of where I was. “Have you seen Mr Edwards?” My LSA asked my Headteacher (my LSA knew where I was, of course). With this, I appeared on the IWB (using my iPad camera and airserverapp). I had hung a big white sheet behind me to disguise where I was. The children became very excited.

“2CE”, I said, “I got so excited about your work on the North Pole that I decided to go. However, I got lost, I think I’m somewhere in Greenland and I really need your help. I have to whisper as I can hear some animals near by. I don’t know what animals they have here, so if some of you could find out and email me a list, that would be great. Also, it’s really cold here. Could you email me a list of suitable warm clothes to wear please? There’s lots of snow here. I’ve heard of a shelter called an igloo but I have no idea what they look like or how to make one. If some of you could find out what an igloo looks like and then have a go at building one using materials around the classroom, that would be a big help. Perhaps you could video yourselves making it to help me out. Finally, I don’t actually know where Greenland is! Can you have a look on the maps app and email me a screen shot? I’d really appreciate your help all! Speak soon.”

With this, they were off! Within 5 minutes, I was receiving emails from my class with screenshots of maps. Within 10 minutes, the emails containing lists of arctic animals and warm clothing started arriving. It was working! I could see on my monitor that all children were engaged and were completing the ‘tasks’ with excitement. I could also see small groups of children collaborating to build igloos using lego, blocks and boxes. Every so often I would reappear to thank the children and display excellent examples of what individuals had emailed through.

To close the lesson, I appeared on the IWB to explain that a rescue helicopter had found me and was bringing me back to school. As the children went out for play, I emerged from the cupboard.

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Handheld Learning Conference 2012

Today, Thursday 11th October, I was given the opportunity to share with other teachers what happens in my classroom at The Handheld Learning Conference in Hull. Here is what I shared.

One thing that always seems to ring true, usually in hindsight, is that you should use the right tool for the job. The reasons are varied but usually amount to reducing the amount of effort to get a job done or ensuring you don’t damage your work (or yourself).

In fact, Abraham Lincoln said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

This, in essence, is what I want to talk about today: mobile devices as tools. I do not believe that they are a magic wand that will solve all of our problems. In fact, I am of the opinion that if they are introduced as some kind of ‘quick fix’ to somehow enhance teaching and learning, that they could end up having the opposite effect and could actually hinder good learning and progress. And so, it’s important to understand that I started by thinking about learning – the devices came after.

I love the TED app on my iPad. I can sit for hours browsing and watching inspirational talks. One of the first I watched was a talk by Sir Ken Robinson (the king of creativity) speaking about how he believes that our current education system is killing creativity. What made me think the most was when he said this: “Shakespeare was in someone’s class once, right?” And I thought wow! I have never considered who I may have in my class! I had never realised that in my class could be the next Steve Jobs, the next Prime Minister… What if there is a child in my class now who has the potential to cure cancer… When I started thinking in this way, it changed everything. It made me realise that the most important thing was ensuring that every individual child in my class, realised and reached their full potential.

To make things worse, with that in mind, when I evaluated the teaching and learning in my classroom, I realised that it was not fit for purpose. Regardless of the good observations, I couldn’t, hand on heart, say that the teaching and learning in my classroom inspired and enabled every individual to reach their full potential and develop their individual talents. So I changed it.

Forgive me for sharing this aspect but remember, teaching and learning first, tools second. What’s the point in having an axe if you don’t have a tree to cut down? So briefly, here I some of the things that I’ve done…

I scrapped whole class carpet time. I worked out that if children sit on the carpet for a 15min intro and plenary every lesson of every day from year 1 through to year 6, they will spend a total on 96 days (24hours) sitting in the carpet!
I asked the children what they wanted to learn about and how they wanted to learn it.
I completely changed the classroom layout. I scrapped set seating arrangements. I scrapped ability groups and therefore 4-way differentiation.
This is now my classroom layout. (See picture). It is based on a problem solving and development room at a company called Maya based in Pittsburgh. Children move freely around the area/zones. Differentiation is now 30-way, personalised to the needs, likes and talents of the individual. In essence, it’s personalised, project-based learning. This includes literacy and numeracy. Every child’s individual ability in these core areas are assessed and monitored daily, and individual targets are set and reviewed regularly on a 1:1 basis.
It’s messy… I’ve labelled it ‘messy learning’… But, I am confident that I now have a system in place that doesn’t kill creativity but rather encourages and engages children in learning. Most importantly I’m confident that we are developing an environment in which all children, supported by me (the facilitator), can begin to realise and reach their full potential.

So… Why iPads?

Well, this where ‘the right tool for the job’ becomes applicable. If I am expecting children to become responsible, enthusiastic consumers of knowledge, then 2 slow computers in the corner of the room are not fit for purpose. If am encouraging children to work collaboratively on creative projects, supporting them as they develop their artistic, musical and cinematic skills, then large, difficult to use, slow, fixed machines are not fit for purpose. If I am wanting to enable 21st century learners to reach their full potential and make a real difference in a 21st century world, driven by new technologies, then in my opinion, children need to be using and exploring the power of new technologies in a relevant way.

I’d like to finish by sharing my favourite use of the iPad… Blogging… The 16 iPads that I have in my classroom have really opened up a world of possibilities with regards to the sharing of learning and giving children’s work a wider audience. Children are now able to upload writing, pictures, videos etc to the class blog with the touch of a few buttons. Children can take a photo, using the iPad, describe what they have been learning to do and upload it for the world to see. Children do this during the school day and by the time they are collected by their parents, the parents can have seen what their children have been doing during the day and have a great discussion about it on the way home.

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