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.

It’s OK to miss things


Originally uploaded by Kilgub

My best mate at school was a huge music fan. Dave had thousands of albums by bands I couldn’t even pronounce, let alone remember. He was always ready for the next big thing, spotting the likes of Pulp and many others long before the likes of you and me had come across them. I was fortunate to borrow a few CDs now and then – I distinctly remember him introducing me to Nirvana, and many other groups you’d likely never have heard of – but I was never really up on the whole music thing.

I always felt slightly envious of him – because he never missed anything. He knew exactly what was going on and always kept his finger on the bleeding edge (I do love a mixed metaphor).

In the years since then I’ve met lots of people like Dave. When I first started teaching I worked with Darren Smith, an early Moodle adopter who seemed to be very well up on where ICT in schools was going. When I first got into blogging it was all about Islay, and Islay Ian was my go-to guy for all things Web 2.0 and technology in the classroom. Once I got into Twitter it was the likes of Doug Belshaw who seemed to be the kind of person who knew exactly what was going on and somehow managed to keep lots of fingers in lots of pies, while still maintaining excellent classroom practice.

And as great as Darren, Ian and Doug are, they’re also pretty daunting as exemplars. Like my friend Dave, they seem to never miss a trick, to always be up on the next big thing and they can easily make the rest of us feel, if not inadequate, certainly less successful.

A couple of years ago my morning routine used to consist of reading through all of the overnight tweets in my timeline, lest I miss some key conversation or idea. Then going on to my RSS reader and seeing what was going on in the blogosphere. I couldn’t bear the thought that I would miss out on something.

Of course, that’s ridiculous. There are bound to be conversations I’m not part of, blog posts I don’t get to read and ideas that pass me by entirely. That’s as it’s always been and how it should be. It’s OK if I don’t hear about a piece of software before a colleague, or if someone in the staffroom is sharing a new online tool with me instead of the other way around. And it is important that I take time away from reading up on ideas and actually try using them in the classroom (that and eating, sleeping, spending time with my family…).

What brought this to my mind is the collection of tweets, blog posts and the Teachmeet livestream coming out of the NAACE conference over the last few days. I’m not really involved with NAACE, although I know many who are. And for a moment I felt guilty that I wasn’t spending my Saturday watching the Teachmeet being beamed out live. And that I hadn’t followed who was presenting what throughout the conference. But if it’s important or key, I know that some very good people will make sure it floats to the top. Because the good ideas do tend to do that, and those very good people are on the case.

And at the next Teachmeet, I’ll try to do the same. I’ve not been to one yet that hasn’t resulted in a number of blog posts and many tweets – and those who aren’t there might pick up on one thing or another. Or they might not. And we’ll all cope, because it’s OK to miss things. We’re only human, after all.

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?

Every Day Is A School Day

McMann Student Art, Attitude!!

Originally uploaded by JustUptown

I decided this morning to write down all of the CPD things I’ve done in the last few years. This was in part due to me seeing a load of job applications recently and remembering that you get asked that a lot on application forms, and partly I wondered just what I’ve done.

It turns out I’ve done 4 things every year since 2009. It’s a mixture of exam board courses (rare), presenting at conferences (at least one a year) and TeachMeets (often 2 a year).

As someone said to me recently, ‘Every Day Is A School Day’. A much better way of saying ‘You Learn Something Every Day’. By going out of my way to sign up for conferences, by attending TeachMeets, and by going out of my way to talk to teachers (be it the TES, Twitter, Facebook, even a wander down to the staffroom every now and again…) I do my best to make sure I’m learning stuff that’s *useful*.

And I’ve got 3 CPD events going on in just the next 3 weeks. Time to get my brain working… 😀

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!

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