Teachmeets are awesome


Originally uploaded by sunflowerdave (professional loungist)

This post is about Teachmeet North East 2012

As I said a post or two ago, we need to recognise (well, I need to reassure myself) that we can’t all do everything. And after a bit of a crappy first half of the week I wasn’t 100% certain I would pay my £12 rail fare and give up my Thursday evening to go up to Newcastle and talk shop for the evening, albeit in the function room of a really nice pub.

But, as with every Teachmeet I’ve ever been to, I’m really, really glad I did just that.

For those not familiar with the format, a load of teachers organise via a wiki to meet up somewhere for 3 hours or so, and a number of them agree to do either a short 7 minute talk, or an even shorter 2 minute talk on some aspect of classroom practice. A tool, a tip, a technique – anything at all.

It helps if you can get someone like Vital or Northern Grid to chip in a few quid to hire a room and provide some nibbles.

And what you get is a load of teachers who are startlingly passionate about education, and about learning, and about being better at what we do.

It takes a bit of nerve to stand up in front of other teachers, but actually it’s a very positive atmosphere. If the topic doesn’t interest you, it’s only 7 minutes. And in the many Teachmeets I’ve attended, I can count on one hand the topics that didn’t grab me. I have to take my socks off to count all the ideas I’ve nicked.

As one friend of mine said just last night, “This can’t be CPD. I enjoy it.” And he’s got a point. While I’ve taken positives from some of the INSET work in school and some of the courses I’ve been on, I’ve never had as much fun OR learned as much OR been inspired as much OR been as engaged as much as happens at Teachmeets.

Over the next week or so I’ll be commenting on a few of the specific presentations that have given me pause for thought, but for now, take this as a massive plug to find your nearest Teachmeet (there are loads of them) and get yourself some first rate CPD.

TMNE10: Metacognitive Wrappers

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

This is my final post in the series and, although I did miss one day, I don’t think I’ve done too bad.

Before and after ‘Proper Scrabble’ (see previous post for details) Darren Mead and Fergus Hegarty introduced us to the concept of a metacognitive wrapper. Now that sounds quite a heavy phrase, so lets break it down first.

Meta means ‘about’; Cognition means ‘the process of thought’. So metacognition is thinking about thinking. I understand this to be thinking about what we are learning and how we are learning it, in addition to doing the actual learning planned for that lesson / period of time / topic / etc.

In practice, we were presented with three questions before the activity. I’m afraid my memory has gotten the better of me and while there are a number of research papers on the subject I’m going to misremember / make up the three questions and say “What strategies in Scrabble might help you win?“, “What do you know about pirate lore?” and “How imaginative are you feeling?“.

We then played ‘Proper Scrabble’ (see previous post) and afterwards were asked three similar questions: “What new strategies did you develop?“, “How did your knowledge of pirate lore help you?” and “How important was it to use your imagination?” (I’m pretty sure most of these are fairly accurate, but I know I made the last one up).

What did it mean to me, in practice? It reminded me that the students will succeed far more if they reflect on their learning. Read my first post in the TMNE10 series and see Darren’s definition of learning (recap: it’s ‘change’). The point of having a pre-learning checkpoint and a post-learning checkpoint is to allow the students to recognise that change. To let them see that their thinking process is now slightly altered. To see that they have *learned* something, or to use the new lexicon of choice, so the students can measure their own progress.

I think this stuff is great, although I’ll be honest and say that it makes my head hurt a little. At least at first. I have no doubt it is worth persevering with though.

You can find more excellent stuff from Darren and Fergus at the Pedagogical Purposes blog.

Image attribution: queen of the elves Originally uploaded by @superamit

TMNE10: Answering questions

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

One of the most inspiring and most interactive presentations was about encouraging students to ask and answer questions. Half the room stood in a circle, facing out, and the other half stood in a larger circle, facing in. Each person had one person opposite and we were each given a card with a simple question (with no right / wrong answers) and 3 prompts.

One person asked the question (we had Christmas themed questions, e.g. what kind of food do you eat at Christmas?) and the opposite person tried to answer the question as best they could. Those with confidence can talk at length. Those who are less confident can be helped out with the prompts.

After the first round we were asked to tell each other how we felt about our role – either answering the question or about listening to the answer. As a listener in the first round I found it quite a responsibility to show that I was listening – nodding, making appropriate noises, etc.

Next everyone on the outside moved one place around the circle. This meant I had a new partner and a new question – but my neighbour had my previous question. This meant that while I was answering a question all of my own, I could hear how my neighbour was answering the question I had just been looking at.

The aim of the procedure is to encourage the quiet and the shy to practice speaking. It also forces everyone to think about how it feels to have to answer. As a teacher we’re not often put in this position – but students are on a daily, if not hourly, basis. I can see this being a great pastoral tool to use with my mixed ability form that has a range of students from the very talkative to the terminally shy. I can also see it being a useful revision exercise.

Hopefully I’ve one the description justice. Suffice to say it’s a good enough idea (IMO) that I’m planning to use it in my PSHE observation in January.

Image attribution: Why Originally uploaded by Tintin44 – Sylvain Masson

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: Objectivity

The Game

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

I didn’t catch the name of the presenter for this one, but we had a 2 minute nano presentation on learning objectives and the idea that we really do it back to front. My learning objectives are always written;

  • What:
  • How:
  • Why:

This, to me, has made sense. It’s not had the jargon factor with WILTS and other acronyms and it is simple to put together when planning a lesson.

It’s an interesting thought, though, that I might have it bass ackwards. I taught a lesson today in which I used the same headings but in reverse.

First, I considered WHY we were doing this lesson. Why had I built the lesson plan the way I had? What was the point? In this case it was because problem solving in a fun way leads us nicely into thinking about algorithms and how to program computers, but that’s almost incidental to the blog post.

Next, I wrote down HOW we were going to do it. By what mechanism. This answer was very similar to the ‘how’ had I written the objectives the other way around – by using a game called Light Bot 2.

Finally I wrote WHAT we were going to do – in this case solving problems using loops.

It took me a while to appreciate this way of thinking. It’s easy to simply write the objectives as normal and then flip them, but that kind of misses the point. The point is to think about WHY you’re doing the lesson. This lesson. Right now. That should be the fundamental crux of the lesson. You build the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ around that. If you start with the ‘what’ at the centre then you’re not teaching skills, you’re just completing an activity. Tail wagging the dog. You can pick your own cliché.

Equally I think this is important for the students. They will often turn up and ask ‘What are we doing today?’. Really they should be asking ‘Why are we doing this lesson?’ and only then trying to work out how to get there.

I think there’s a pretty strong argument in there. And I might try rewriting my objectives this way round for every lesson in the future.

Image attribution: The Game Originally uploaded by v@lentina

Teachmeet Northeast

Last night was my third Teachmeet, TMNE10-2. For those who haven’t come across the phenomenon that is Teachmeet, they are a simply fantastic event. Imagine teachers from all over the region that want to get together in their own time to share ideas, tips, stories, thoughts and more. Imagine that no-one is allowed more than 7 minutes. Imagine that you are discouraged from using PowerPoint. Imagine there are no tables in the room, certainly no desks, just comfy sofas. Imagine there is free food. And wine. Awesome.

I know how easy it is to get overloaded with brilliant ideas at Teachmeets, and trying to implement too much makes it difficult to succeed. I’ve tried taking a laptop and writing everything down – but you risk losing the moment – so this time I went with nothing but my wits and a cunning plan.

What plan? Three things. Aim to leave with 3 things. Darren Mead (@dkmead) describes any form of learning simple as ‘change’. So try to leave with 3 changes. That way I can take away what I think is most important to me and my classroom practice without drowning in the flood of ideas.

To quote one of my Year 10s… “Epic fail”.

There is no way on this Earth that I could leave let night’s Teachmeet with 3 changes. No way I could leave with 5, or even 10. There were jut so many great presentations from so many inspiring colleagues that I couldn’t help but to soak up much more than that. So the new plan? Every day (give or take) between now and the end of term I’m going to write 1 blog post about 1 change – whether it be some piece of knowledge, a new skill, growing confidence in my own knowledge or a loss of confidence in knowledge that might be false (did I get that right Darren?).

And that’s the first one…