The Four Winged Dinosaur

I have always been fascinated by dinosaurs. In fact I am one of millions who has. Somehow they have captured our imaginations. I used to say in the days when I taught in a “topic based” system that there were two certain topics that would be bound to capture the imaginations of the children… one was dinosaurs and the other was volcanoes.

But the days of making topic books and creating wonderful “topic webs” passed, as indeed did the age of the dinosaurs. Here in Britain we had QCA (The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority) proscribe what our children had to learn in technology, in science, in history and dinosaurs had disappeared.

A few days ago I received a Tweet with a link to something called “The Four Winged Dinosaur”. The very idea of a dinosaur with four wings really appealed to my imagination and so I followed the link.

The video above was a PBS production and I have to say that I found it fascinating. It explored the evidence of the find of a fossil of a four-winged ancient animal in China. Was this a dinosaur? How did it fly? Or was it a relative of the dinosaurs closer to the modern day crocodile?

We knew it had feathers as these were very clearly seen on the fossilised remains. The programme showed us a number of learned paleontologists arguing about their theories of what kind of animal this was and how it flew. Eventually they used one of the world’s leading wind tunnels to test the aerodynamics of four-winged flight.

As the programme continued I could see just how much learning could come from it. There was biology, physics, computer science, mathematics, design… all of these subjects inter-related and made real from being part of a fascinating investigation. There was collaboration by the scientists as well as argument that showed that there is often no definitive answer to what something is or how it works.

I would guarantee that children of all ages would get a lot from looking at the programme. I would not test them on what it found out… or who were the Professors involved. I would let them write, or draw or discuss and maybe investigate or research because there are so many possibilities that come from this  brilliantly filmed programme.

This shows the strength of real Project Based learning. It should come from the interests of the children and I can assure you that if they are really interested they will learn… and there is nothing quite as interesting to us humans as dinosaurs.

I will leave you with one fascinating idea that came from the programme..almost as a throw-away line. Did Tyrannosaurus Rex have feathers? Now there’s a concept to get the mental faculties working overtime!

Rachel Boyd: Leading the Way

As I have said on quite a few occasions it is Twitter that remains my most important source of information and contacts. A couple of days ago I found out that I had a new follower.

I always follow up my followers to see what they do and often I click on their linked website which can be a great source of information.

My new “friend”  was Rachel Boyd a Year 2 teacher from  Nelson, New Zealand. I followed the link on her website and came to this website: http://www.rachelboyd.com/

I clicked on the link and found myself immersed for the next hour or so in the world of an exemplary 21st century teacher  leader and her wonderful class of Year 2 children (aged 6 to 7) from Room 4 in  Waiuku Primary near Auckland, New Zealand.

I could go on and on about the excitement I felt in looking through this Wiki. As an e-portfolio of how to work creatively with children allowing them to learn using 21st century technology  it is simply outstanding.

Rachel has shown that you can work using the tools of the 21st century to allow children to really enhance their learning. She has not  kept her inspirational classroom to herself but has become a leader for technology in schools both in New Zealand and internationally, attending conferences and conducting CPD.

She has really led the way in showing just how much her young students are capable of doing if they are given the opportunity to use the technology. It made me think of just how much other children in primary classrooms throughout the world can be doing (and sharing and communicating) who will be returning to their schools for the new school year and will not have a fraction of the opportunities or excitement for learning that Rachel’s very fortunate children have.

I recently wrote a post about “How Not To Use Computers In Schools” : http://malbell.wordpress.com/2010/08/25/how-not-to-use-computers-in-schools/

In Rachel’s case we see a brilliant example of just how to use them. I feel that teachers would benefit from seeing her work online (there are some excellent videos showing the children’s work) and also using the links to other sources of information (I have been researching these for nearly two days now!)

One area where Rachel is really leading the way is in her use of class blogs. Her children run their own blogs and read other children’s work from all over the world. A really useful introduction to and an example of Room 4′s work can be see at http://www.youtube.com/user/byrachelboyd#p/a/u/1/whm3pxqkvB8

Another great example of her work can be seen in her class blog.. the latest entry contained the following information:

Today we visited a NASA website, it said that they were sending a new rover to Mars next year.

It is taking with it a special microchip with our names on it!

We went onto this website and filled out the form all by ourselves. Then it gave us a special number and made us a certificate of participation saying we were part of history!

We printed our certificates to take home. If you would like your name to go to Mars you can visit the same NASA website we went to here:
http://marsparticipate.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/participate/sendyourname/

Rachel had her certificate of participation from NASA on the blog:

As I think you can see from above..we have here an extraordinary 21st century teacher leader and I feel that we can all learn from her example.

I have a dream for education

47 Years ago today (28th August 1963) The Reverend Dr Martin Luther King made his famous and wonderful speech “I Have A Dream”  in Washington D.C. at a huge Civil Rights gathering.
I have always loved that speech and wondered if it could somehow act as a stimulus for children to express in writing their own dreams for the world. I thought I would start with myself and have penned the following lines about my dream for education in the future.
Maybe some of you might try this with your students on Monday… we should collect the results together in a massive e-folder for all the world to see!!

I have a dream
(with great respect and appreciation to the memory of Reverend Dr Martin Luther King  Jnr.,)

I have a dream today
I dream that schools will be about learning and not instruction
I dream of children able to follow their feelings and inclinations.. indeed their dreams
I dream of creativity in the classroom and collaboration
I dream about teachers and children learning together
I dream about the end of testing for the sake of testing
I dream about schools which do not divide by age, sex, class, creed, religion, sexual orientation  or skin colour
I dream of a school where children communicate with the world
I dream of all schools having equal access to resources
Equal chances for their children to become the people that they have the possibility to be
Of children who are happy and involved
Of an end to boredom and anger, frustration and despair
Of an end to children who see their education as a prison not a release for their minds and their potential
I have a dream that the kinds of things we expect for our children are considered the norm for all children throughout our world
And that the child who would have faced no school, or boredom and despair within his prison will be released to create the wonderful idea or invention that can help all of mankind
I have a dream today!

10 reasons we should allow mobile phones into schools

1. They are powerful tools
2. They are easy to use
3. The children do not need to be trained in their use they know it already…. they can show you!
4. They can be used for immediate access to information
5. If they take pictures or videos they can provide children with a means to get visual data immediately
6. They have a recording facility which will promote oracy in the classroom and can be used for podcasts or for incorporation into blogs
7. They have calculator facilities which will promote calculator use in investigation or just in ordinary day to day mathematics work
8. They have a messaging facility which comes in handy for communication  (in a disciplined way within the school day).
9. They have really good organisers that can provide information about dates, events and as reminders of when assignments, homework or coursework needs to be handed in and is a good life skill for the children to practise and learn to use effectively.
10. Media can be saved and used in groupwork (videos, music tracks)

These are just some of the things that most mobile phones can do today. If you look at the power of the iphone or the Android phones with their amazing Apps then you can extend this list almost endlessly.
I know there will be arguments against their use… that they can lead to bullying, that the children will spend all their time texting or playing games. All I can say is that the school sets the groundrules and the majority of children will obey them. Some will lose their valuable phones and some will have them stolen… some will bully others but that cannot be used as an excuse to cut every child off from a powerful tool that can really add to their learning and change the way that their school lets them learn.

Some schools have already made the bold step of allowing the phones in. I think in ten years time we will look back and ask what all the fuss was about and why we had all the discussion about something that will really help our children learn better.

How not to use computers in schools

How Not to Use Computers to Teach Kids from Gary Stager on Vimeo.

In 2007 at a conference in Bratislava in Slovakia, Dr Brian Harvey made the presentation that you can access in the link above.

There has been quite a lot of discussion about this lately as there have been some who have stated that the examples given by Dr Harvey are atypical of what is going on in ICT in schools today but I have to admit that watching his presentation most of it resonated with me as the kind of thing that I see all too often in schools that I go into.

I have been saying for a long time that many schools play with the idea of Information and Communications Technology (which is after all what ICT stands for). Many schools have still got the eponymous computer suites where children are marched in to use computers on a timetabled basis maybe once or twice a week.

I see a lot of children still doing Powerpoint presentations that Dr Harvey quite rightly says are all about the presentation and the whizzy effects and little about the content.

The Google search still tends to be about the children taking the first two or three links and then cutting and pasting the information. It is laughable the examples of information that Dr Harvey says the children got hold of and the way that it can lead to real misinformation!

The communicative power of modern technology is hardly used in many schools. Yes you can tell me about the exception schools that communicate with the world or at least one partner school in Italy or maybe China but I see little of this actually going on.

I still se too much use of the computer for old fashioned rote exercises and in particular I am concerned about the use of computers for Special Needs children as a means to go over boring and repetitive exercises in the morning (I have actually witnessed this in a school that I have been working in this last academic year). The children looked heartily bored of doing yet another phonic or spelling exercise.

The strange thing is that these bored children probably have exciting games that they play at home and by Year 5 they are almost certainly on Facebook and maybe using Twitter.

I think that we must seriously examine the points that Dr Harvey makes and realise that we need to really make some progress in getting effective use of the existing ICT equipment in school. We do not need rote software, hours spent on presentations that mean nothing and computers used only a timetabled basis.

We must think about really getting schools to the point of using their equipment as effectively as I have seen it used (sadly only on video not in my local schools) in some outstanding and forward thinking schools.

Letter to America

Dear Citizens of America,

I have always followed your country’s fortunes with great interest. I used to sit in my dark bedroom and listen to the great British born journalist Alistair Cooke broadcasting his weekly “Letter From America” so I thought I would return the compliment in this blog posting.

I am a child of the postwar generation of Great Britain who grew up with “I Love Lucy”, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and the wonderful “Bilko”. My family loved the Hollywood films and we were passionate Trekkies (Star Trek) and watched every episode many times over. I read Superman comics and chewed bubble gum. When I was seven years of age I became interested in politics for the first time and remember having a discussion in my primary school playground along the lines of “Kennedy or Nixon?”  Much to my later shame  I think I blurted out “Nixon”!

I have always had connections with the country in that my grandfather from the Ukraine joined his brother in coming to Britain whilst their youngest brother Max found his way to the “Golden Land” and eventually settled in Philadelphia P.A. (via New York City) where I still have a number of relatives. My father had family who settled in Chicago (all we knew was that one of them was shot in a raid in the days of Al Capone) and that his aunt Mamie came over for his wedding from Chicago and tried to take over the whole event and was never seen again! My uncle Jack (later called Joel) settled in San Jose California (Via Winnipeg Canada where he met his wife) and now lives in Las Vagas.

I read American literature as I was growing up (my favourite book of all time is “To Kill A Mockingbird”) and I followed the famous American playwrights like Eugene O’Neil, Arthur Miller and the wonderful Neil Simon. Like so many of my generation I became obsessed with the exploration of outer space and watched the Apollo flights up to and including the near disaster of Apollo 13 but have to be honest and admit (this is the first time I’ve done this publicly) that I actually went to bed on the famous night of the Apollo 11 Moon landing and missed the “One Small Step For Man….” speech by Neil Armstrong.

And yet I have never really  been there!  I have had “one small step” into Minnesota when visiting the Canadian/U.S. border whilst on holiday with my aunt in Winnipeg in 1972. Somehow I never got to see your huge and beautiful country. I have therefore been an observer from afar, as I still am. I have observed the violence of the sixties in protest to the war in Vietnam. I observed that decade as one that started in hope and then had J.F.K.’s assassination, followed by the assassinations of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and finished with the election of Richard Nixon. I have to admit that I somehow enjoyed the events of Watergate and the way that Nixon handled himself whilst in office (the expletive deleted will always be in my memory).

I did not really know a lot about your education system. I had of course heard about Harvard and Yale and knew that there was a number of great universities as well as some rather small and frankly poor colleges. I knew that there was a difference between your inner cities with their deprived communities and the suburbs who were far better off. I had seen films like “The Concrete Jungle” and knew that there were a number of brave teachers who spent their lives trying to teach disaffected children many of them from black and Latino families.

But I also knew that you were a country that had always taken a lead in science and technology. I remember phoning my wife’s cousin in Portland Oregon well over ten years ago and being amazed when he set up a three way conversation between us and also his mother who was living in Los Angeles, California. The U.S. always seemed to be light years ahead of us here in Britain. I just came to the opinion that whatever happened in terms of technological change would be led by the U.S. and that we’d get it here eventually.

I got into computers when they arrived and noticed that, although Tim Berners Lee was a fellow Brit, it was the U.S. that was making all the running in terms of the internet and its development. Apple and Microsoft became household words for us in Britain. Silicon Valley seemed to be the place where there was a hive of “geeks” who were inventing the future. Yours was truly a country of innovation and enterprise.

Your school system though did not really reflect this powerful enterprise and innovation. It was only recently when I have used the power of the internet and in particular social networking to make contacts with many American educators that I have begun to get a picture of your education system that is not a good one to the outside observer like me.

I have heard about “No Child Left Behind” which sounds wonderful, except that it seems to be producing exactly the opposite in terms of children from the inner cities’ life chances. I follow people like Diane Ravitch saying that the testing to destruction of your children is wrong. I hear about the teachers who are about to be fired because the state has no money and that the rest of the workforce has to watch their backs and produce “good results” if they are to keep their jobs!

There is though another side to all of this. There are your brilliant educators who I speak to all the time. There are shining examples of brilliant schools who are trying to push education in the direction that it needs to go to make it move into the 21st century. I am a supporter of a wonderful school in Iowa called Van Meter where visionary educators are introducing 1 to 1 laptops for every pupil and experimenting with virtual reality education as well as exploring social media and international communication.

I wonder therefore why I continue to read about the pressure that your President and Secretary of Education are putting on my colleagues in many of your schools. You have the technology (you mostly developed it!) you have the means and the leaders to develop your education system into one that will guide the rest of the world into the possibilities of a real 21st century education. I believe that you will help yourselves greatly if you follow these wonderful leaders and innovators and turn away from the path that you are presently taking… for the sake of your children and your future that we in Britain realise effects our future as well.

signed, in friendship and hope,

Malcolm Bellamy

My transformative moment in teaching

I have just come across an excellent series of videos where leading educators discuss the moments that transformed their teaching lives.This can be found at http://www.thedailyriff.com/2010/08/critical-transformations.php

The videos are touching, interesting and show reflective practitioners letting us in on the moments in their career that really made a difference to the way that they saw themselves as a teacher. I think that this would be a really good exercise for any of us to indulge in and therefore decided to add my own (although without the video accompaniment!).

I think that my transformative moment was when I was teaching the dreaded subject of fractions to my Year 6 (Grade 5) pupils in the Primary (Elementary) school that I taught in at the time. I thought I was a progressive sort of teacher and had tried my best to go through the usual textbook examples of how to get children to understand fractions. We had divided pieces of paper and I went through the mantra of “whatever you do to the top you do the bottom of the fraction”. The children smiled back at me and they tried their best.. until I decided to see the ones who couldn’t “get it” on a one-to-one basis (this was me being very progressive and understanding the child and trying to have a personal connection to them and explain it all so that they would certainly get it now.)

One of the people I saw was a girl who I will call Sarah (not her real name). She seemed somewhat nervous coming up to see me at my large teacher’s desk. She showed me her book with every fraction “sum” done wrong. I was just about to do my progressive 1 to 1 with her when she suddenly burst into tears and sobbed to me “I just don’t get it”.

This too me aback. I could see the power that we teachers have in these children’s lives and the way that we can make them feel inadequate and frankly stupid. I had not realised that I was contributing to this child’s negative mindset about her abilities in mathematics. It was after this that I decided that I needed to promote a positive self-image in the children I taught and that I was not here to make them cry or make them feel bad about themselves but to encourage them to learn in whatever way was best for them.

I am now a consultant in primary mathematics and have tried to pass on the ideas that we are not here to drill in techniques to my fellow teachers.We are about the promotion of learning and that means starting from the point of making children enjoy mathematics and understand its power to help them in their lives.

I wonder what your transformative moment was? I would be interested to read your comments.

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