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First Experiences of AirHead

As I mentioned in my previous post, we’re very lucky to have Google Apps for Education hosted for us on edubuzz.org by our LA. It’s fab, however one issue with it is that there is no focal point for all the various tools. There’s no ‘homepage’ which aggregates all your various content and apps. This has frustrated me for a while, but I think it’s going to become a bigger issue in the future as we move towards open Wifi and bring your own device. I’ve therefore been keen to find a solution and when I heard about AirHead I thought we might just have found one.

Since the start of the session we’ve been working with AirHead to get it installed with edubuzz.org so that we could give it a try and we got it all sorted just before the Christmas hols. I was excited therefore this morning to get a class onto it – my S1 Science class. I thought it would be good to share some reflections on this first proper encounter of having students on AirHead…

  • Firstly I was surprised how readily they agreed with me that a lack of a ‘home’ was a problem. They agreed that it would be good to have a one-stop shop which gave you access to all of your online tools – both learning and social/personal.
  • They loved being able to create their own LaunchPads and customising the background etc. This was a big plus for them. I was amazed by how quickly they were creating their own tiles for their LaunchPads.
  • They were amazed at the ‘live’ nature of the FlightDecks. They liked being able to see their emails without having to open Gmail and having the school Daily Notices twitter feed right there also. The Calendar widget had them reaching for their phones and getting their school edubuzz accounts set up on them to help them manage their homeworks.
  • They also were very keen to begin using AirHead on their phones through the browser and liked that it synchronised with the desktop version. They were a bit frustrated with the way that if you try to scroll on a launchpad on your phone it has a tendency to rearrange the tiles instead.

Overall, they were remarkably enthused by AirHead, they felt it was solving a problem they already face and they were able to begin using it and making it their own very quickly and with minimal support and guidance from me.

Next week I’m planning on showing it to the rest of the staff and recruiting a team to begin trying it out to support learning and teaching.

Have you seen what’s Glowing?

Glow has taken a real knock over the last few years, and rightly so to be fair. It was a great idea that got a bit lost and left behind for various reasons that I think are now best left in the past. I still think though that there’s potential in the idea, if done well.

That’s why it’s such a shame that it has become almost impossible to have a positive conversation with fellow teachers in Scotland which mentions the dreaded ‘Glow’ word. It’s got a difficult legacy to overhaul. There’s an argument that they should’ve started the rethink with a name change, but I disagree. A change of name would achieve nothing and would be seen as a cynical ‘rebranding’. No, what Glow needs is not a new name but to become genuinely useful to teachers and their learners. And anyway, Glow is such a brilliant name for writing bad post titles for blogs about Glow!

Glow needs to intuitively solve problems in Scotland’s classrooms and then folk will begin to actually use it. In my opinion, they’re getting there.

So, what do I like about the ‘new’ Glow? Here’s just a few things…

  • Not only have they not changed the name, they haven’t even called it ‘new’ Glow, or Glow 2.0 or Glow365 or anything like that. It’s just Glow. There’s no big switch on date. There’s no great fanfare. They’re just quietly, and continuously, making it better.
  • The RM Unify system makes the whole user experience a lot better than what there was before. Logging in, changing your password and changing other people’s passwords is a whole lot easier and much more pleasant than before.
  • Office365 is really well integrated now and such a powerful tool. Full web-based Office functionality with cloud storage and huge potential for online collaboration between learners – be they school pupils or teachers. If we didn’t already have access to Google Apps through eduBuzz in East Lothian, I’d be all over this feature.
  • They’ve retained, and are improving, the WordPress blogs and Wiki functionality.
  • The public and purposeful approach they’re taking to sharing progress and engaging with schools. I think the new Glow Connect site is really nicely done. It’s attempting to be genuinely useful and doesn’t come across as primarily ‘marketing’ as some previous iterations have done.

Seriously folks, whatever your experience of Glow in the past, I think it’s time we all gave it a second chance. I know if I worked in a Local Authority which had limited access to web tools and cloud computing, I’d be giving it another look.

Own Learning

I love teaching. I really do. However, like many other teachers I yearn for other experiences and opportunities as well. I’ve been lucky so far in my career to have had a few interesting out-of-classroom experiences, but to be completely honest with you I’m not sure where the next one is going to come from. Over the past few years there have been a number of potential opportunities but for one reason or another none of them have actually come off or been quite right.

So, in the spirit of New Year resolutions, my plan for 2015 is to see if I can create my own opportunities. Can I generate work outside of my classroom, not to make enormous profits, but to allow me to be able to reduce my teaching commitment and yet still support my family? It’s an interesting question and I suppose I have to ask myself what do I have to offer? I’ve come up with a number of things…

  • I feel that I have a deep understanding of the potential for practitioner enquiry in teacher professional learning and am able to facilitate others in the process. I’ve already run collaborative enquiries and supported individuals through the enquiry process in my own school and now I’m beginning to support teachers from outwith my school through enquiries, which I could build upon further with others. I could therefore lead enquiries in other schools, support schools to develop their own enquiry programmes and even branch this out to wider support for schools’ professional learning programmes.
  • I have a real passion for the development of pedagogy, particularly in the areas of involving young people in the learning process and the meaningful integration of technology into learning. I could support school leaders and their staff to develop aspects of pedagogy and the use of technology in a number of ways ranging from consulting, to speaking or even coming in and working directly with groups of staff.
  • I could also do a huge variety of other pieces of work such as organising educational events or consulting on policy or projects for organisations working in the education sector.

In order to dip my toe in the water and see if anyone is willing to actually pay me for any of these services I’m taking the step of setting myself up as a sole trader. You can find out more on my new website: ownlearning.co.uk

To begin with, any work would be in addition to my full time teaching role, however if it works I’d be hoping to be able to adjust this in the future.

So, does any of this appeal to you or your school’s leadership team? If so, please get in touch. I’ve come up with some rates but obviously these will be negotiable while I’m setting up in return for feedback and references.

Happy New Year!

The Creative Profession

I love this video from The RSA. The idea that teaching is a creative profession dawned on me a few years ago, and this idea I think has influenced many of the decisions I’ve made since. In actual fact, I think it has come to dominate what my job now looks like…and I hope that it can inform the direction my career will take in the future.

The ironic thing is that I left school ‘knowing’ that I was not creative. Creativity to me then was interwound with ‘the arts’. My art lessons had taught me I was rubbish at art. My music lessons had taught me I was rubbish at music. My english lessons had taught me that I was rubbish at creative writing. This is despite me leaving primary school thinking I was good at all these things and, crucially, enjoying them.

Becoming, and more importably being, a teacher has gradually convinced me that I am indeed creative – as everyone is! If creativity is

the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness,

then we do this every time we sit down to plan a lesson, or write a course, surely? And yet, if we were asked to describe a creative profession, I wonder how long it would take us to include ourselves in this list? I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this, but this is actually the reason why I’ve stopped wearing a tie to work. If you ever visit a ‘creative’ workplace, no one wears a tie. Wearing a tie makes me feel distinctly uncreative, and so one day I decided not to wear one anymore. I know this is only a tiny thing, but it helps me.

Creativity underscores more aspects of my professional life than just what I wear however. In fact, I would argue that the things I’m most passionate about as an educator all relate to creativity…

  • I believe that my passion for developing approaches to involving learners in the learning process is a truly creative pedagogy. Not only in the sense that it changes the way I approach introducing a topic with a class, but it then changes the entire dynamic of the topic which follows. The learning becomes much more of a collaborative enterprise with the students become co-creators of the topic.
  • In my opinion, professional enquiry is a powerfully creative process. This is an actual mechanism by with teachers can work together to achieve what is envisioned in the second half of the video above. Enquiry, when done well, is a process which supports teachers to create and evaluate their own pedagogies…that’s why I love it so much.
  • I also think that the real power of technology lies in creating new ways of working, and new ways of learning. There is a tendency to introduce technologies in the classroom in such a way as to replicate what currently happens – but just move these practices online. There can be some, mainly financial, benefits to such an approach – but for me it fails to fully realise the real potential of technology to change the way we learn and teach.
  • Technology of course also has the potential to revolutionise the way we learn from each other as a profession. The creation of Pedagoo in all its various forms is obviously also a highly creative event which continues to this day.

Thinking of myself as a creative professional has therefore really revolutionised my career thus far…that’s why I’m beginning to wonder if I could somehow find a way of using my passion and experience to the benefit of others, and also somehow make this sharing with others a bigger part of my working week? It’s very early days, but I’ve mocked up a little webpage to try to see what this might look like: ownlearning.co.uk

So, what’s stopping me (as mentioned in a previous post!)…what I’m wondering is, would others value my experience enough to actually pay for my time to allow me to work with them and share it with them? My fear is that there wouldn’t be enough of a demand, however watching the video above makes me think that my experience as a creative professional could be highly valuable to others…?

I’m not really expecting anyone to answer this question here…it’s not really possible for any one person to anyway…but I would welcome your thoughts if you happen have any.

The Pedagoo Programme

I’ve just returned from a fantastic week at Columba 1400 with a group from my school. If you’re not familiar with Columba, they run a week long leadership programme at their beautiful centre on the Isle of Skye. You can find out more about what they do on their website.

We were there as a group of fourteen twelve to fourteen year olds and two teachers with an aim to come back and develop our school’s culture of respect and quality relationships. It really was an excellent week and I learned so much about my fellow participants and myself. I’m really looking forward to seeing where we take our experience when we return to school next week.

I could write much much more about my Columba experience, but I’ve done most of that in another format – the written journal you keep while you’re on the programme. The purpose of this post is more to consider an idea which came up during the week which I just can’t shake.

During one of the sessions I said something which has become a bit of stock phrase I come out with now and again. This is that if I were to win the lottery, I would love to create a charitable organisation called The Pedagoo Foundation. I raised this because I’ve always imagined that this Pedagoo Foundation could build a facility not dissimilar to Columba’s which would provide a space where we as teachers could run different sorts of professional learning and leadership programmes for our fellow teachers. It’s funny how much time we spend imagining how our lives would be if only we’d win the lottery. My wife has actually persuaded me to stop playing the lottery recently as she believes that it stops you creating your own dreams…this related closely to the response I received from a member of the Columba team when I shared this idea…

“what’s stopping you?”

I didn’t say anything at the time, but that question niggled me the rest of the week. Could we try this? We couldn’t do it the way I’d do it in my lottery dreams, but maybe we could do it another way? Perhaps we could try to get use of Columba’s facilities at a discounted rate and run a pilot version of the Pedagoo Programme at their centre…perhaps even with their support? Or perhaps we could develop the programme in a way that it could be run in a variety of different locations? Outdoor centres such as Firbush Field Centre leap to mind as a possibility?

One of the difficulties would be trying to find a funder to support this. Funders are willing to support programmes for young people, but my feeling is that teachers would be harder to find funding for. However, I would argue that the impact teachers can have on a school would be much longer lasting. I’m not arguing against programmes for young people, these are obviously crucial, but I’d argue that there is a case to be made for funding programmes for teachers also due to the potential sustainable effects for a large number of young people back in their schools over decades. At the very least, it’s worth trying.

What would a Pedagoo Programme do? I think we could be inspired by the sorts of values based approaches Columba have developed but with a focus on our own values. These could include…

  • Learning
  • Positivity
  • Growth
  • Sharing
  • Community
  • Creativity

That’s just an initial list I tried to come up with last week…obviously if we were to go for such a thing we’d need a team to get together to develop and deliver the pilot week-long progamme.

When approaching potential funders we could…

  • Ask for funding for the facilities, accommodation, catering, transport, admin and cover.
  • Ask for everything except cover and run it during holidays. Would teachers give up their holidays if everything else was free?
  • Ask for just the facilities & accommodation. Would teachers be willing to contribute themselves, or ask their schools to?

Obviously this is just the very beginnings of an idea…however I really think there’s something in it. Using the web and our one-day events to grow our community has been amazing so far, however I really think we could take what we have grown and push it further to help ourselves and others to be the best we can be for the benefit of our young people. Before proceeding any further however, I would very much welcome your thoughts.