Teachmeets are awesome

Pub

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.

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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

TMNE10: Sex and Drugs and Sausage Rolls

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

As well as the presentations at the Teachmeet, there was time for a discussion group and as tempted as I was to spend the evening getting irate about the white paper, Simon Finch was leading a discussion of eSafety and I thought this one might be interesting.

The following is based on my interpretation of what Simon discussed. It should not be taken as gospel and it is always possible there are misinterpretations on my part. It was an interesting discussion, although too short to really allow it to form a proper debate, and I’m going to find it quite difficult to add my tuppence worth.

Simon’s stance in the discussion was that teachers need to protect themselves. He gave an example of a teacher who allowed a pupil to use their laptop for research while it was connected to the whiteboard – resulting in inappropriate (though innocently discovered) images being shown to the class. I had my own example that involved searching for how to create a mask in GIMP – you can probably picture the results without needing to reach for Google.

My opinion is that this resulted in a useful discussion with my Year 8s about what to do when you find something inappropriate on the Internet – and the fact is that this will happen from time to time. For another example, if you’ve ever heard of Goldilocks then try googling Daddy Bear.

Simon had one suggestion and one question to help protect staff – keep an eSafety event book (much as you keep an accident book) to log any potential incidents and the question ‘should Internet searches appear on whiteboards?’.

Now keeping an eSafety log is possibly a sensible idea. With very obvious potential issues, having the evidence to hand should there be a complaint can only strengthen the position of the school in defending the actions of the teacher. What worries me is that every time a pupil comes across a proxy site, every time you do a Google Image Search or a Flickr Search and come across a picture of Megan Fox, etc., etc., etc. you might feel concerned enough to log the event. For me, this is moving from professional safeguarding to paranoia.

Of course there is a line somewhere and we need to temper the risks to staff with the risks to freedom. I do worry about the ‘thin end of the wedge’ and I also worry that if teachers can’t be trusted to be professional, to use their discretion and to be left in charge of pupils without the constant pressure to document any potential ‘event’ then why is teaching described as a ‘profession’. Ultimately an atmosphere of fear is created, or at least perpetuated.

In regards to the question of whether web searches should appear on a whiteboard then my answer is, simply, yes. As a teacher, particularly of ICT, I think that burying our heads in the sand, building a walled garden and taking great lengths to avoid the discussion is at best, missing the point and at worst, downright reckless.

Students will use search engines at home. Search engines that are nowhere near as heavily filtered as they are in school. They will find inappropriate language, inappropriate images and probably a whole host of things you neither could nor would want to imagine. Such is the nature of the Internet. Students need to be prepared for this. If you bring someone up in an environment where they have no access to fire and then they move into a house with an open fire and gas powered hobs then you would probably not be entirely surprised if they burnt the house down, or at least singed a tea towel or three. You need to teach people how to use these tools appropriately.

I’ve just done a search for ‘Mask GIMP’ and also ‘GIMP mask’. On my school laptop no less. There were some images that showed up at the top of the list – showing non-obscene images of men wearing masks. I could see from the titles of the web pages and the short blocks of text that some of the links referred to image editing and others were clearly not appropriate. I somehow managed to avoid clicking on any of the inappropriate links, but most of them looked like they were shops anyway, certainly no explicit sites on the first page.

Of course I wouldn’t aim to do this deliberately in front of kids, but the idea that I unplug the whiteboard every time I want to use Google seems overly paranoid to me.

On the other hand, perhaps I’m spoilt. My line manager would go to the wall for me. My Head would back me to the hilt. I know this, and I’ve seen evidence of it. Maybe that is giving me a false sense of security, but I just can’t bring myself to agree with Simon.

And that, for me, is the hard bit. I’ve spoken to Simon online a number of times. I know that his aim here is to protect children and to protect staff. I’m also sure that he sees the worst examples, that he knows how things can go when they go wrong. I just find it very hard to agree that going to the lengths he suggests is the right thing for ME to do.

I should point out that there were other topics we covered, albeit briefly. The idea that misuse of web access (e.g. use of proxy sites) should be tackled through the pastoral system rather than as an ICT issue was very apt. The principal that teachers should never give out their passwords to students is obvious, but I can’t honestly say I’ve never seen it happen.

Image attribution: warning extreme danger Originally uploaded by paul.klintworth

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 classtools.net 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