What I’ve learned this week #4

I’ve had a good week. Found new ideas, absolutely loved the #ukedchat and the finishing touches to the S3/4 course are taking shape nicely. Things to remember and share from this week include:

1. Newspaper blackout poetry is not only a great random find – it is something I am having fun doing on newspapers left by others on trains! Austin Kleon is credited with starting, or at least popularising, this form of creativity and his website is well worth closer examination.

2. Mood boards – an idea picked up from Michael Mullin presentation last week – may be the missing piece of the puzzle in helping pupils analyse and design good multimedia applications. In previous years and iterations of our courses we placed little importance on research into fonts and colours (because they are not in the arrangements) but I feel that including a little extra detail will increase the enjoyment of the course as well as improve understanding of consistent user interface design. A related Web 2.0 resource Imagespark (http://www.imgspark.com) was another nice find this week. This application allows the creation of online mood boards using photographs which can be uploaded from your own computer. It could be very useful for collaborative mood board creation or for multi-location work. That said, the notepad application which comes with SmartTools is just as useful and files from this can be exported as PDF for posterity – something which Imagespark currently lacks.

3. I’ve turned the following experiences into positives by making them another two entries in my “management don’ts” list (I’m not a manager, this is my personal opinion):

  • DON’T call meetings to tell staff that you don’t know what is happening at the next meeting.

I hope I don’t need to tell you that – apart from highlighting your manager’s lack of confidence in their managers – these are completely unnecessary and a waste of your team’s creative talents! An e-mail or informal aside will suffice. If the time has to be filled productively, allow the team time to work on their delegated development tasks and reschedule for another time if there are agenda items team members want to discuss formally.

  • DON’T start meetings with the phrase “I don’t want anyone to worry about…” and then go on to explain what everyone has to worry about.

It will come as no surprise that this action will definitely cause people in your team to worry. If you don’t want them to worry, distract them with good news. If you want them to be informed about issues that may directly affect their job, tell it straight and be supportive – perhaps reminding your team of or introducing them to opportunities to reduce their workload.

4. Thanks to Roger Neilson (http://twitter.com/didactylos) for pointing out http://www.wix.com. Similar to Weebly, this site offers a great way of creating flash enabled web content. My only gripe is that it hides all HTML from the user so tweaking in code is impossible but as pupils can view the page source within a web browser I think it can be used as a template creator at the very least. I plan to use it with my S2 class to build their school tour website once they have decided on the colour scheme and tried out some prototypes.

Creative Digital Media Intermediate 1

Today I am in Dunblane for a workshop run by the SQA entitled “Skills for Work Creative Digital Media Support Network”. I am two hours early, mainly because trains from Stonehaven to Dunblane are infrequent, but also because of a popular religious icon visiting nearby. I wanted some peace and quiet to be honest although the slim chance of meeting the Pope on a train would have made good friend Gordon Bell chuckle no doubt.

Creative Digital Media appeals to me because I feel it provides more usable skills than the current Intermediate 1 Computing Studies. In fact, although we teach Computing Studies at S3/4 level, our combined hybrid bears an uncanny similarity. We teach Multimedia from January to July in S3 and this extended period (80 hours+) allows pupils time to deepen their knowledge of the subject area and become comfortable at either Intermediate 1 or 2, rather than be pushed through both units in single terms 12 months apart. The courses also share common ground in developing analysis, design and self-evaluation skills as pupils make their way through the creative process. However I am very interested in the idea of encouraging them to explore different design briefs – this suggests a greater affinity to the personal investigations undertaken by Art and Design students.

CDM also encourages workplace visits to see “work in progress… at different stages” so students “may see the various contributions from the range of industry disciplines.”

The course places particilar importance on suitable hardware and software being in place to allow pupils to participate fully “in a learning environment similar to that of a real digital media work place.” A difficult time to be approaching your headmaster about offering this course perhaps, but it shows a need for careful forward planning with regard to IT purchasing. Apple Macs are a creative industry standard yet few schools deliver courses using anything other than PCs – I feel this can hold pupils back, and stifling motivated, talented pupils is not why I became a teacher.

It allows direct transition to NCs in Digital Media Computing as well as providing a portfolio of work which was highlighted at June’s “Heriot Watt Look To The Future Conference” as one of the most important CV components for those looking for work in the Computing sector.

Although the introduction to the event itself failed to wow the participants (I was not the only one who found it disappointing that the morning presenters merely read out PowerPoints to a collective who wanted to see the point in teaching a creative digital media course!) it did allow for closer inspection of the NABs as well as provide fruitful networking time.

Andrew McArtney is a Creative Media teacher at Baldragon Academy, he has invented his own subject area and attracted 60 pupils to his S3 course this year: an increase of 300%. He has used his experience of radio broadcasting and contacts to create a school radio station funded through Fairer Scotland. The class host visits from Tay FM and Radio Scotland presenters and as well as running a community station the pupils share their knowledge with primary pupils. In addition to the radio station the pupils visited Pacific Quay in Glasgow to gain experience of video recording, script writing and interacting with the public. Find out more about the radio station at bbg1.co.uk.

The afternoon session was a highlight. Three mini presentations from 3 schools or colleges that had delivered the course during last session.

Michael Mullin, Stirling High delivered the course to 20 S5 pupils last session. 12 completed the course with 6 passes. He shared his ideas and experiences and recommended that practitioners use elements from Intermediate 1 Media Studies and Access 3 Music Technology to enrich the pupils’ experience. He noted that some of the terminology used in the course is also used in Intermediate 2/Higher Business Management, so some existing resources could improve pupil comprehension.

With regard to resources he found the provided DVD useful during the Access to Industry unit as well as YouTube for introducing pupils to radio shows (Little Britain, Mock the Week, etc.) and the idea of script writing and pre-recording material. Examining the difference between college and university prospectuses allows for discussion on publishing houses, design briefs for photographers, use of text. He also recommended using online job websites to help pupils learn about jobs available, salary and progression in the media sector.

Art and Design links again with the use of mood boards: pupils collect images that inspire them over a period of time, then start to pull them together noting colours that work well together, exploring fonts, generating ideas. Michael pointed out that these mood boards are also useful as evidence of filtering and making design decisions.

James Wilson & Matthew Kerr from Glasgow Metropolitan College described their partnership with East Renfrewshire Council to deliver the course to 14 S5 pupils from 7 secondaries in the area. This was possible due to the authority’s unique aligned timetable that meant that every school was able to sent pupils to take part in college courses at the same time – without this agreement and alignment it would have been unfeasible.

They worked with the OFCOM digital literacies network which they feel made course more successful. Pupils started by producing a video entitled “Getting to know the Met”. They had to interview staff, use video editing equipment and pull together a mini website before delivering the final product. They involved industry professionals where possible including visits to Pulse FM, a community radio station situated in the grounds of Barrhead High. Here pupils chose their favourite Christmas songs and were interviewed by the radio presenters about their best presents. The show was pre-recorded and broadcast later which gave them motivation to prepare and to behave responsibly.

The Glasgow Met organised a digital literacy event in March. The students were briefed to create a flash animation for the information website, and to construct an email invite to advertise the event. On the day of the event pupils were ushers and video recorded the event to reinforce technical and social skills.

The HMIE highlighted the Met’s achievements as an example of excellence, bringing together “soft creative skills and hard technology skills.”

In the future James and Matthew plan to link the class work with the Adult Education Awards in East Renfrewshire as well as forge an inter college link with HND Television students.

For those interested in running the course, James and Matthew highlighted some key points to consider:

  • Using a mini project to engage and excite at the beginning of the course
  • Timing is (as always) a major factor. They only had pupils for 2hrs per week and it was at times difficult to keep pupils on track due to prelims, exams, university open days, etc.
  • There was a lot of administrative paperwork in their first year. As the NABs have been rewritten this may be reduced as a result. They want to use blogs as evidence rather than paper.
  • Consider integrating the units. Last year Glasgow Met approached the course in a linear fashion. They are confident that it will be a more natural transition between units this year and as a result more productive.
  • Role play important to appreciate and reinforce personnel skills

Unfortunately I had to leave for my train at this point as the course was running a little over time but will add more details about the third demonstration when I receive links from the SQA.

I definitely see value in the course as a means of providing pupils with the necessary people and organisational skills for the world of work. The creative aspect also builds the all-important portfolio but I’m unsure if Computing has to be the subject to deliver this. There were English, Geography, Maths and Behavioural Support teachers – just at my table – who were all able to deliver this. I need to investigate the case studies and existing resources further before taking this to my line manager.

When things go wrong: Advice needed!

I start the week learning the hard way that no matter how much you plan, lessons do sometimes go wrong. A pupil’s personal possession was accidentally damaged during a outdoor Computing lesson by another pupil and this has resulted in a claim against the school. This is the first time that something like this has happened to me or to my immediate colleagues so I feel a bit isolated and unsure of what to do next.

Any advice? I don’t want to retreat back inside my classroom and teach using booklets for the rest of my career even though that would be the easiest option!

What I’ve learned this week #3

1. My PLN are a wonderful bunch of people – very supportive when in/not in a crisis (as I have been this week). Thank you!

2. I’ve been forced to get to grips with Adobe Illustrator on the Apple Mac as we urgently needed a fleece logo for a forthcoming school trip to Rome. The finished articles looked deceptively simple and were the outcome of a long chain of digital photography, Photoshop editing and conversion to a vector graphic through a great little website called Vector Magic.

3. I found out that SQA Skills for Work encourages a cross curricular, industry linked approach to learning and teaching. I left with a different mindset, but only after seeing the wonderful work that schools and colleges were producing and making contact with extremely talented teachers.

4. Entirely by chance I met my Computing teacher who still works at Portlethen Academy. He is working for the SQA on the new integrated Computing and Information Systems course and during a catch up on the train home asked if I’d considered applying to be on the Subject Working Group developing resources to order. While not the change of location I was looking for this is something to seriously consider if I want to reduce my daily commute in the long term.

5. There is nothing wrong in asking for help. When faced today (Friday) with an unbelievable resolution related to point 1 (as well as a complete lack of support from my SMT) I asked for it to be detailed in writing (which put them on back foot) and my union representative for help. Within 20 minutes not only had he resolved the situation he had forced a policy change to clearly inform teachers in an attempt to protect them from a similar situation in future.

What I’ve learned this week #2

This week I have:

Joined a curriculum sub group (or tribe?) to design the blueprint for the new Curriculum For Excellence S2 course at my school. I’m really looking forward to this, not least because I’ll be able to fight for more specialist computing skills to be included in the curriculum. I also want to find out more about what goes on in other subjects and identify areas where I can work with colleagues to deliver meaningful cross curricular content – if that’s what they want!

Learned that computing and information systems courses are going to be combined into a single subject: good for schools which only have staffing levels to support one or the other but bad news for schools that have a large number of senior pupils choosing both subjects at int 2, higher or advanced higher. The progress report for technologies states there is a clear downward trend in pupils taking Computing and Information Systems nationwide, so we are perhaps in the minority. Bottom line is that less classes undoubtedly means less staff so I’ll be following the developments on the SQA website closely.

Confirmed I’ll be in Dunblane on 16th September for the SQA course investigating Skills For Work Creative Digital Media (Int 1). Looked at the SQA site and found that some NABs are to be offered via the SQA GamesSpace site.

Worked on a few long overdue mix CDs for friends. I can class this as a form of work as it involves researching suitable websites for future multimedia classes. Fun work! I love making mix CDs (used to be tapes) but found it requires a good understanding of the person you want to make it for: their likes & dislikes, sense of humour, current mood and situation. If you don’t think it through and sculpt the mix cd to the listener it doesn’t work as well. It’s a bit like teaching, every pupil in every class needs handling differently and although it is a lot of work the dividends are undoubtedly worthy of the effort.

Used bubbl.us for the first time. Initially I was really impressed by the simple interface and trialled it with an S2 virtual school tour mindmap which I’d previously created on the smartboard. The plan was to organise this into an order of work with the class on Thursday but unfortunately the site was down all day. A real issue with web2.0 tools in the classroom is the potential for unexpected downtime. I’ll export the mindmaps as images if I use the site in future.

Observed a huge improvement in the submission of homework by all years. The secret seems to be something that isn’t secret at all: little and often with plenty of opportunity to receive support. This is forming part of a blog post on using GoogleDocs in the classroom, coming soon.

Observed that the department Google Site website is heavily used now. This is a real success story now from when it was introduced in February. Pupils can access homework tasks, smartboard notes, course notes, images and weblinks easily. Google Documents can be embedded into pages to allow surveys to feed changes to the site. The fact that pupils can access the same collection of information at home and school is something GLOW should be able to do, but can’t due to pomposity. I hope this can change in future so that home-brew solutions aren’t required.

Learned to take the odd night off and to switch off completely from thinking about work when I do. It feels good! Try it!

Passionate Educators: Fuel for the fire

Plans do not always pan out. An early start first thing on Monday morning should have given me plenty of time to work out an acceptible method of marking large numbers of GoogleDoc submissions; time to work on the plan for a Computing display in the access stairwell; time to organise plumbers, slaters and velux blind engineers (have I invented a new job title here?); and of course time for a coffee or two. These are not just items on my todo list, well ok maybe the DIY ones are, these are actions that demonstrate my passion for my subject and belief in my teaching methods – yep the coffee definitely has its place in my teaching methods! These passions are the reason I left for work 2 hours before the school day begins.

Its not to be. Instead I have time to spend in another way and place. I’m on a bus in Aberdeen, packed with train commuters unable to get further than the station due to a derailment. It is quiet, fairly comfortable, but I’m in no doubt the plan has to change. No point in becoming stressed over this, it is a minor inconvenience. I have gained unexpected time to write down my thoughts and for this I am grateful.

Later in the day my return journey has the potential to be just as chaotic but for the generosity of one businesswoman. She pays for a taxi to take a few of us into Aberdeen to make the train home. I get chatting to another passenger who happens to be in a GLOW group for lifelong learning. She loves using new technology and her office setup sounds like the kind of arrangement that teachers in the education sector would love: cloud servers, up to date software, everything interlinked and working well.

Her enthusiasm and passion for her work and for the use of new technology (she confided that she regularly harangued her technophobe daughter for initiating answerphone tennis when a text or email would be more suitable) inspired me. I love talking to people with a real passion for their work or for the education of their students, regardless of age. It makes me excited about my own work and lifts spirits when you’ve had a rough day. If there is no-one passionate to chat to, I usually listen to snippets of Tribes (Seth Godin). I finished listening to it last week but have kept it handy as his passion and positive attitude is as effective as an early morning coffee in waking up your brain and giving you the feeling that everything is possible.

Unsurprisingly other educators share this passion:

“Leading change tough so your attitude is of paramount importance. Do enough people CARE about education #dpconf10 #yam” (Darcy Moore @darcy1968)

“A teacher who is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about books makes all the diff. in the world. Passion is contagious. #engchat” (@thereadingzone)

“A good #teacher imparts information; a great teacher kindles the passion for learning” (Samadarshini @SamadarshiniOWA) view article at Oneworldacademy

Love this tweet from Umair Haque:

“Radical simplicity, generosity, and humility. Bigger purpose, passion, and perseverance. Want a revolution? Be the revolution.”

I’m not in a managerial position in school, I’m a classroom teacher with big ideas about how to change my subject for the better. I’ve been lucky enough to have the support of line managers to allow me a certain degree of freedom to experiment. However If I or my colleagues did not have passion for our work then nothing would change! There are lots of us out there so the support network is huge. You HAVE to care and have belief in what you are doing to invoke change. YOU have to be the revolution. Don’t wait for someone else to speak up.

I found this video on YouTube made by Jena Passaretti that echoes many of my own beliefs.

So I am thankful for the travel disruption. It gave me another opportunity to reflect and more life experience to share with my students. It gave me a chance to explore and find like-minded people passionate about their work. Despite the unexpected avenues my day has explored I wouldn’t want to change it: Certain types of teachers need stories, fuel to make lessons burn more brightly. My question is: are you one of those teachers and, if so, what ignites your passion?