The Big Picture

On Thursday I presented a 7 minute skit at Teachmeet Tees on my Image Of The Week exercise.

Every week, in my tutorial (Citizenship / PSHE) lesson I show students a picture I’ve grabbed from the Boston Globe’s Big Picture site, get them to discuss it in pairs or small groups and then always ask them the same 5 questions:

  • What can you see in this picture?
    Not – what is happening / what’s the story – a much more literal approach
  • Where is it happening?
    What continent, what country, what city… what clues are there?
  • Who are the people in the picture?
    Citizens, refugees, civilians, soldiers, students, parents, children…
  • How do they feel?
    Happy, sad, scared, lonely, excited, nervous. relieved…
  • Is there anything we can / should do as a result?

At each stage I get a number of people to contribute ideas and always try to refrain from giving them any real feedback as to the accuracy of their suggestions.

The last question we rarely get to answer, as the students still don’t know what the real story is – but I like to think that it gets them wondering about their social responsibilities and what they could do to help others.

Finally, I explain what the current situation is. Grab a map and some information from places like Wikipedia and BBC News as well as the information that comes with the galleries at the Big Picture site.

We’ve looked at war zones, natural disasters, campaigns, protests, celebrations – all sorts of things. And we’ve discussed geography, politics, current affairs, language (just this week we had ‘ambiguous’ and ‘juxtaposition’), how to read  images for meaning, global citizenship, charity and much, much more.

It has helped to improve speaking and listening skills within the class, as well as social skills and turn taking. It’s also improved our relationship and on those occasions  where I’ve been too busy or forgotten to do this I get moans and complaints – so I’d call that a success.

In addition to the Big Picture website, I would also recommend checking out the Sacramento Bee’s Frame website and TotallyCoolPix for more top quality photo journalism..


Teachmeet Tees 11


Originally uploaded by ThomasLife

What better way is there of spending a wet and windy Thursday evening? More sandwiches than you can ever eat, an opportunity to play Kinect with Steve Bunce and getting on for a dozen short presentations by teachers sharing excellent ideas.

The atmosphere was cosy, the cupcakes inviting and the hosts (Steve Bunce and Simon Finch) genial.

I couldn’t possibly mention all of the presentations, but Alasdair Douglas‘ Angry Birds project, Martin Waller’s Growing Greener summary and Dominic McGladdery’s campaign to allow mobile devices to be used in the classroom were personal highlights.

Once more I find myself with some free CPD inspiring me to go out and try more things I don’t have time to implement (time when I should be writing up what I’m already doing, and thanks for the prod Dominic!).

Right then… when’s the next one?

Real Life Wallpaper

Downtown Poster Wall

Originally uploaded by Still Life emotion

Mike McSharry and Nick Jackson pointed out this excellent poster on the iPhone Family Tree and I’m in the process of decorating some of the corridors where students line up for ICT lessons.

It got me to thinking, not for the first time, why is it that infographics are always portrait oriented? I know that online vertical scrolling is always preferable to horizontal scrolling, but some nice, long infographics would make great wall coverings for corridors.

Coolinfographics and Tech King are great sources for infographics – but if anyone comes across any good landscape examples then please let me know!

TeachMeets FTW

Camel in waiting at TeachMeet at BETT 2010

Originally uploaded by Mr Ush

TeachMeets are great. If you’ve not been to one the idea is that a load of teachery types get together, usually on one evening, and do mini-presentations (limited to either micro [7 minutes] or nano [2 minutes] format) about classroom practice, pedagogy, ideas, etc.

It’s very informal, very good fun and (in my experience) simply the best CPD you can get. Almost all of my good ideas were blatantly nicked from others at a TeachMeet and as someone said in a TES forum post the other day, “Best CPD I get is by visiting other teachers and discussing anything they do”.

Most amazingly of all, there are 27 TeachMeets scheduled to run in the UK between now and the end of June. That’s 27 CPD events, attended by some of the BEST teachers I have had the pleasure to meet and they’re all free.

You can find out more about them and sign yourselves up to one at the TeachMeet wiki and there really is no excuse not to attend. If there isn’t one close enough, set one up!

The one in which Mark feels grumpy

In the last few days I’ve had several conversations about the use of programming software in schools. Scratch, Alice, Kodu, Logo, Starlogo, Gamemaker, Scratch BYOB, Greenfoot, BlueJ, IDLE… the list goes on.

A number of people have tried to convince me that I should drop Scratch for Scratch BYOB, drop Gamemaker for Starlogo, etc. Now I know these people (in a virtual sense, at least) and I know they are speaking from their own experiences and beliefs. I know they want what’s best for the pupils, the teachers, the future, etc. And I tried really hard not to get too defensive about my position. (And I’m really not aiming to offend them. Really.)

My position, as Head of Department, is to set out a curriculum that will help my students, as taught by my staff. That means that although one of my staff loves Alice, because a majority really don’t then we’re not going to include it. This doesn’t stop colleague A from using it as and where he sees fit, but the written Scheme of Work, resources, etc. for the department as a whole will not include Alice.

Likewise, I’ve tried Starlogo. We wrote a Scheme of Work, taught it, and it didn’t work. Maybe we should try again, maybe we should try harder. Well, one of my colleagues has spent a great deal of time getting into Gamemaker and writing a Scheme of Work. Under no circumstances am I going to turn around and tell him we’re not using it because someone on Twitter told me Starlogo would be better.

I’m also not convinced that there is a right way to introduce programming using these graphical tools. In fact I *am* certain that there isn’t one.

I got really grumpy a minute ago when I saw someone tweeting that Kodu “SHOULD replace Scratch in schools!”. I have several issues with this. First, our all-in-one PCs, our thin clients, our netbooks and our Macs all refuse to run it. We do have some PCs that will run it, but not enough for every pupil in a cohort. Secondly, WHY should Kodu replace Scratch? Nothing other than a link to the Kodu page was posted. I’ve seen Kodu, I’ve had someone from Microsoft demonstrate it for me. It looks lovely. I can see why someone might WANT to replace Scratch with this. I can see why someone COULD replace Scratch with this. I disagree strongly with the suggestion that we SHOULD.

Somebody asked me why I was considering a Scratch-based animation unit and not using Flash. This was a very fair question, and being made to question our decisions is a good thing. No-one was telling me I was wrong, they were just trying to get to grips with my point of view to see whether I had a point. In hindsight I think they were right and I think I’m going to run a couple of lessons in Scratch followed by a few more in Flash and then compare them. But at no point did anyone say that I SHOULD be using Flash.

To give another example, I am a *huge* fan of Moodle. Enormously so. I honestly don’t believe I have told anyone that they HAVE to use Moodle, or that they SHOULD use Moodle. I’ve told them that they COULD. I’ve told them that I will help. I’ve generally also told them about Edmodo in the next breath. Sometimes Frog. Sometimes a blog. Sometimes a wiki. I just don’t believe that telling people that they SHOULD do things is really the right way to go.

So there. I’m being a grump today. Harumph.


Image attribution: Grumpy #5 Originally uploaded by Dagza

TMNE10: Proper Scrabble

Context: Teachmeet Northeast took place on Thursday 9th December. Each day I’m blogging about one thing I learned at the event.

Darren Mead and Fergus Hegarty presented the final session of the evening and managed to cover two topics, both distinct and of vital importance. On the one hand we looked at Metacognitive Wrappers and on the other we discovered an awful lot about Pirate Lore.

This post is about the latter (more about the former in a later post).

The game of ‘proper Scrabble’ (best pronounced in a strong West Country accent) is apparently (allegedly) a Victorian parlour game involving nothing more than a bag of Scrabble tiles and the players’ wits and imagination.

The game is pretty simple. Get 4 players and site them in a circle. Each player takes turns taking a single tile and places it, face up, in the centre. As soon as a player (any player) spots a 3 letter word (or longer) they shout it out, grab the tiles and form the word in front of them. They then own this word. They can only do so, however, if they can link this word back to the subject in hand (e.g. ‘pirates would often use a keg for storing gunpowder’).

Play continues with each player drawing tiles out one at a time and forming new words.

It is also possible, of course, to steal words from other players. If another player had the word word (as in ‘a pirate was only as good as his word‘) and I saw the letter s I could nab both and say ‘a pirate would often use a sword as a weapon’. You can’t simply pluralise a word, though. you have to change the meaning in order to steal.

This, to me, is a great way to get the fun back into learning vocabulary – whether it be in MFL, Science or ICT. Students are forced to justify the use of their words and they will be ruthless in sticking to the rules should another player try something a little too tenuous.

The cheapest I’ve found the tiles is £8.50 per pack under the name Bananagrams from Amazon, but I shall be trawling the charity shops of Teesside in the hope that I’ll spot a pre-loved edition of Scrabble so that I can hoard enough tiles to build up a class set.

Image attribution: Let the Wookiee win ! Originally uploaded by Stéfan

TMNE10: Depressing your tongue

Context: Teachmeet Northeast took place on Thursday 9th December. Each day I’m blogging about one thing I learned at the event.

The excellent Dominic McGladdery presented a series of random ways to get pupils talking – some bits specifically aimed at MFL, but many that can be used in a variety of ways.

There were various kinds of dice and other equipment and the classic random name picker, but there were two particular ideas that I really liked.

One was to take your computerised random name generators and turn them into random QUESTION generators, and my favourite idea is to write students’ names on lolly sticks, put them in a mug and you have an instant, low maintenance, low tech random name generator to improve your questioning. And best of all, this way it’s easier to cheat.

Image attribution: Summer of 69 Originally uploaded by Caro’s Lines