Fighting the fear factor

Today has been an interesting day for me. I was invited to attend and contribute to an ICT Steering Group in the local authority where I work.

I have been complaining to whoever would listen for a long time that I do not see the sorts of things happening in schools that I have seen on video or read about on blogs. I have learnt so  much about the great things that are happening at schools all around the world that have embraced the potential of technology to allow children to learn and most importantly to gain essential skills that they will need for their future.

I started the day by following a Tweet from John Carver the Superintendent of The Van Meter Schools in Iowa, where I have developed a fruitful connection online discussing their wonderful 1:1 Laptop methods and their work in exploring virtual reality for their students. This was the Tweet:

johnccarver

@malcolmbellamy RT @shannonmmiller: More Than Just a Class…It’s a Revolution! By #vanmeterbpchs student @kKiiTtYy0x http://ow.ly/2M3MG

This was a post from a student Reanne Maskert who is  a part of a wonderful new venture which has linked a PLN class from Van Meter Iowa with a class in the Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School in Drexel Hill, Pa. The students have linked up using social media and the communications capability that programs such as Skype presents schools with. See http://thestudentplnconnect.blogspot.com/2010/09/start-of-something-greatconnecting.html

I find this venture really exciting and felt the need to make a comment on Reanne’s post which I found inspiring and so well written (proving the learning potential of blogging in schools and the motivation to write to communicate as can be seen in this instance).

I then travelled to the meeting of the Steering Committee and was so pleased to see that the real potential of ICT was at least being acknowledged. We all accepted that our schools need to move forward. I spoke about the opening up of our schools to social media. THere was sharp intake of breath and then we all discussed the need to underpin everything by a concentration on internet safety.

It was pointed out that Ofsted had recently come out with a report that stated that the best schools that they had seen in terms of ICT use were schools where social media and mobile technology had been embraced and the dangers of misuse and misinformation were tackled and pointed out by everyone.

I feel that we are still fearful of the dangers that social media can present… but we need to understand that we cannot ignore it… and that it also presents us with great opportunities for learning and communication that far outweigh the dangers.

I cam home to a Tweet that had a link to an article in Mashable (an excellent website that I always try and follow). The article was called “The Case For Social Media In Schools” I feel that this is an excellent article that argues the case for allowing web 2.0 into schools.

We must fight the fear factor if we are to move forward. I was pleased by the meeting I attended because there were some very wise and able people who had a good understanding of ICT and how much it can contribute to our children’s learning in the town where I work. But the fear factor was there and we may go too slowly and hesitantly because of it. At least we have made a start and hopefully there will be some changes for me to report in the next few months.

My argument against the longer school day

I have never understood the reasoning behind extending the school day or indeed the school year.

I think that it all comes down to the idea that quantity somehow will produce quality. But that isn’t the case. The end result of what we do in schools is supposed to be about children’s learning. Children do not learn in an arithmetic progression… they make progress that most agree is based on spurts of progress, some backward lurches and most of the time a steady plateau of what seems like no progress at all.

The extension of the school day will therefore not, in itself, produce the great lurch forward in learning. It may happen at 5 p.m. when the child would otherwise have been at home or in the park or in the streets or somewhere else… or the extra hour or two may just be seen as dead time… to be gone through because it has been designated that they need to be there… children do not learn to order or to time… it is not a thing that can be mapped out or graphed.

So why do it? We could just as easily make an argument that, if we knew what magic potion would lead to improved learning that we could actually decrease the school day because once the child has learnt the things that they are intended to learn they can just tick the box and smile and go home!

The answer lies in creating the right environment for learning and that means buildings and access to technology. It means teachers who are motivated and not under pressure to produce results like a magician pulling rabbits out of a hat.

We are in a time of change for the world as much as for education. The length of the school day will not produce magical results. The importance of education is quite rightly being seen as central to enabling schoolchildren to participate fully in the world of tomorrow. The debate is right but needs to be based on common sense not slogans. “Lengthening the school day” will not produce the answers… enabling  children to learn the skills they need for the flat world that they live in needs quality and not quantity.

In Praise of Sweetsearch

I have written in an earlier blog about how I did a search on 9/11 and the terrible events of that day on Google and also on Sweetsearch (see my post: Two Searches on 9/11 ).

I stated then that I found the Google search rather controversial in its main three links as against the excellent links to the Library of Congress and other sites that the Finding Dulcinea organisation, that runs Sweetsearch, had validated before they put up their search list.

Recently I did some more searches on Sweetsearch and found that they have changed their site to include the “Yolink” program which they work with. For those of you who do not know about Yolink, it is a powerful means of being able to see more extensive searches and allows students to search for key words or phrases in texts which come from searches. For more information I did a Sweetsearch on Yolink and came up with the following:

All search results pages on Sweetsearch are now automatically enhanced by Yolink.

Together Sweetsearch and Yolink utterly transform Web research for students

SweetSearch, enhanced by Yolink, enables students to review a long list of vetted links relevant to their task, and then save those results to a Google Doc (with the link included), EasyBib’s citation generator, or social bookmarking services.

I find this new way of searching powerful and most importantly, Finding Dulcinea have validated the information which Google does not.

I believe that this is a powerful means for children to get information, one that teachers can rely on because it will not mislead or misinform or involve aspects of a subject that express opinion clothed as fact.

I am aware that Google has entered our vocabulary as a verb and just a few hours ago, at a course I intended, I heard mature Consultants saying “I’ll just google it”. It will certainly be a really good day for education if I heard children say “I sweetsearched it and found…”

If you’ve never encountered Sweetsearch before go to http://www.sweetsearch.com/ it may well change your outlook on web searching and if you’re a teacher, it might well transform the material, means and relevance of searching for your students.

My Twitter Journey

Twitter is…

Starting with nothing

No friends

No followers

Thinking what do I write?

I will say that I’m in a mall

Waiting for my wife

Being bored

Is anyone out there?

Following TED

A direct message from Chris Anderson

A link

Find friends

Explore

Look for communities with like minds

So I follow

And wait

And friends come

sometimes only one

Maybe two

I join a PLN

I belong to a group

I discover #edchat

I listen, unable to know what to do

When do I Tweet?

I am confused

Then a breakthrough

I have something to say

I have someone to say it to

I communicate

They communicate

They follow me

My friends grow, my followers grow

I find Van Meter

I start to blog

I find #ukedchat

There is now a rich diet

Of links,

Of videos,

Of discussion

Of friends who retweet my blog post links

I get past 100 followers,

Then 200

Surely it will never reach 300

It now stands at around 650

I have Professors, teachers, salesmen, politicians, entertainers, acrobats and housewives

Who I follow

Who follow me

Every now and again I am blown away by a quote

I can even send pictures

I have made one podcast

This is the power of Twitter

I love it

I tell others

They look at me

You..a Tweeter! No

I don’t see the point in it

It’s for telling people where you are

What will I learn on Twitter?

Not forgetting the past

The world of technology and its potential to change education and open up a new world of possibilities for our children amazes me and inspires me. Two posts from excellent bloggers has reminded me though that we must not forget the good things that come from the past as we proceed into the wonderful world of our globally connected village school.

It also made me think about a great discussion that I took part in this week about Face to Face learning and e-learning in education which took place on #edchat on Twitter. As usual with these discussions there was a rich debate about the potential for an electronic classroom and there were those who said…hold on..we still need to have face-to-face. I found that I was very much in the latter camp as I believe that children need a social interaction with each other, they need to physically connect and also they need to touch and feel  and see others doing the same.

As a person fascinated by history I understand the need to make sure that,as we move forwards towards a brave new world, we do not forget the really good things that made us who we are and created the basis for what we will become.

I was pleased therefore that, within a few hours of each other, I read two excellent blog posts that brought to mind what I had been thinking about. That we must always learn from the past, take the good things that the past gives us and also not forget the validity and importance that these people and things have for us now.

The first posting was by Sarah Edson whose blog is called “Learning Off the Beaten Path”. I got the link to this posting from Mark Moran who is the CEO of the excellent organisation “Finding Dulcinea” and who I am pleased to say I follow on Twitter and am a friend of on Facebook. I get a lot of excellent links from Mark and try to follow up as many as I can.  Mark did a link to his “Finding Dulcinea Blog” with a recent entry on “The Importance of Great Educators, Again”  http://blog.findingdulcinea.com/2010/09/the-importance-of-great-educators-again.html

This blog post had links to a number of his recent entries on the blog including a brilliant video of a (then) twelve year old keynote speaker, Dalton Sherman, speaking at an Educational Conference in Dallas in 2008 as well as an interview with the wonderful and inspirational Maya Angelou, where she talked about her life and how her love for poetry got her to overcome her elected silence from the age of 8 to 12.

Notwithstanding the power and importance of these two links, it was the third link that was to lead me to Sarah Edson and her wonderful post “I Need You”  http://www.sarahedson.com/

This was a simply beautiful post. In it Sarah recalls the last days of her wonderful mother’s life. She shows us in the post just how much she learned from  her mother, including the ability to read and use sign language, which her mother had taught her because she believed in all forms of communication in order to get through to the children she taught.

I will not discuss the whole post here excepting to say that it is wonderfully written and moving and would be something that any one of us bloggers would be proud to have “penned”.

This last word “penned” conveniently leads me to the second blog post that I read just a few hours after being moved and inspired by Sarah’s post. I am a follower of a really excellent blogger by the name of Shelly Blake-Plock who writes a blog called “Teach Paperless”. Shelly’s posts are usually fascinating insights into the way that he uses technology to teach history and social studies. He is an excellent user of the technology and I would love to be in his class as I am sure I would learn so much.

His latest post though was a powerful one that actually showed how, after studying the genocide in Darfur and the civil war in the Sudan he got his students to actually get out their pens and put the old technology of pen to paper in order to write to their Senator about their feelings in respect of the atrocities they had looked at and what was being done about the aftermath now.

It was fascinating , coming from such a proponent of technology as Shelly that he had taken the time to allow the children to experience the feel of a pen and the personal touch of writing a letter to their senator. The post can be seen at: http://teachpaperless.blogspot.com/2010/09/sending-snail-mail-from-paperless.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+teachpaperless+%28TeachPaperless%29

Both of these posts remind us of the importance of not forgetting the past. There are great educators, like Sarah’s mother and great processes, such the skill of writing on a piece of paper and the development of your own distinctive handwriting style (indeed of calligraphy) that have shaped what we are today and need to be taken into the world of what we will become tomorrow.

Yes, we do need to celebrate the potential that technology gives us, but we must not rush into the fully electronic classroom at the expense of denying our children personal contact with inspiring adults, of the ability to manipulate materials,to act and jump and climb, to  paint and to dance with one another. If we do that we will have lessened our humanity and done a disservice to our children and their children.

Going for Victoria

I have seen all the discussion about the Oprah show and “Waiting For Superman”. It seems fascinating as seen from afar (I live in the U.K.)

Here in the U.K. we seem not to be waiting for a superhero but to be returning at a fast pace to our late and much admired Queen Victoria.

In these hard times, when so many people are afraid for their public sector jobs (myself included) we appear to feel that the only way forward in the twenty first century is to march backwards toward the nineteenth!

The answer to a world which has transformed into a flat globalised, instant-access global village is to compete against the likes of China and India by making sure that our children have a narrow curriculum dominated by rote learning and a knowledge of the good Kings and bad Queens (or is that the other way around?)

It seems laughable to me that places such as China have begun to transform their education systems from a strict, test-obsessed one to a more creative and collaborative one at just the time when my own country is going for Victoria and the U.S. is waiting for Superman to come back  by enticing him to return to a country that sacks teachers who have a tiny percentage drop in their test results!

The only people who are laughing are the Chinese and the Indians, as Professor Yong Zhao has so presciently stated in his blog, see: http://zhaolearning.com/2009/10/22/the-mismeasure-of-education-worthy-knowledge-in-the-age-of-globalization/

blog, see

They just don’t get it

I recently did a training session with a group of newly qualified teachers. I prepared my Prezi very carefully and decided that I was going to put an emphasis on networking and the setting up of self-support systems using social media and in particular the # communities that can be instantly set up using Twitter.

Now, I am 57 years of age, a highly experienced teacher who is self-taught in web 2.0 and has learnt many things as I have ventured into the strange and yet exciting world that social media has given us.

I now have just about 650 followers on Twitter, I regularly join the #edchat and #ukedchat forums and have picked up some excellent links to new sites and ideas from the discussions, notwithstanding the opportunity that it has given me to clarify my own position on many of the things that are discussed. I know where I stand on tests and testing, on Project Based Learning, on the need to introduce new technology into schools, to promote social interaction for students  on a local, national and international basis. I know that I want to see creativity encouraged and forming the basis of any curriculum and I want children to be educated in digital literacy as a key literacy for their future and ours.

Coming from this background I was surprised, to say the least when I found that the 14 NQT’s who I was working with in my training did not have any real views on any of these matters. They were particularly negative in respect of the power of social interaction and the ability to use Twitter (or Facebook) as a means to network with each other and support each other.

Last year, I tried to set up a self-support community for Year 4 (Grade 3) teachers who were attempting to develop their subject knowledge in primary mathematics. Only one teacher of the 23 teachers involved actually got involved! I was told that this was because they were very busy people who did not have the time to add an extra task to their overwhelming workload by taking time to communicate and support each other online. This seems strange to me as many of the people who I network with on my PLN, or Twitter, or Facebook are incredibly busy teachers, many of them deputy heads or headteachers and yet they not only find the time to take part in online discussions but also run really useful and successful blogs!

I remember one occasion a few months ago when a Twitter friend put out a request for links to sites on zoos as he was covering this with his class in the following week. With a few minutes he had received over twenty replies, all with good links that he was able to use with his class. (I was one of the respondents!)

I felt rather despondent therefore when I had finished my training. The part of my Prezi that related to Twitter as a powerful means to network went down like a lead balloon! I was the only Tweeter in the room. They just did not get it….they probably don’t get the power of web 2.0 and how it will eventually transform education.They are NQT’s at the start of what I hope will be a long and rewarding career. They are entering education at a time when there is a great conflict between the past and the present (with the past being in power on both sides of the Atlantic and selling us their Victorian dreams). In their career they will see China and perhaps India overtake the United States as a leading economic power. They will see more and more powerful computers and especially mobile devices and the introduction of new technology into the home, the workplace and eventually (kicking and screaming) into the classrooms that they will be teaching in.

I just wonder what the training colleges are getting up to that they do not see this reality or understand how important the issues that I have become involved in (like PBR and creativity and web 2.0) will effect these young teachers and the children  in their classes. All student teachers should be aware of the issues and how it will effect them in the future. I also feel that social networking will actually transform their teaching and their views of the issues… just look at how it has transformed my outlook and attitudes nearing the end of my career.

Believing in Dalton

Watch this video of a 12 year old child in Dallas Texas addressing a huge convention fearlessly and expressing his belief in himself and the importance of his teachers believing in him.

He tells us, quite correctly, that he can become anything that he wants to be if there is belief. He expresses the fact that he can succeed and so can everyone else from the schools of Dallas who sat wildly cheering him at that speech.

It is stirring, emotional and inspiring and it is delivered almost word perfect to a huge audience by a 12 year old boy.

I loved the part where he said to the teachers sitting in the audience that they don’t get a lot of pay but they do the most important job that there is because they are involved with giving children like Dalton the belief in themselves. But he made the proviso that the teachers and the administrators need to believe in themselves because if they don’t then the children won’t get the self belief that they need to become anything they want to be.

This video should be seen widely and I believe it will. It already has over 600,000 hits and the number will rise and rise… I wonder if any of them will be President Obama or Secretary of Education Arne Duncan… somehow I doubt it.

Stand By Me… the world singing on video

I just love the concept behind this video and the other videos from “Playing For Change” (see http://www.playingforchange.com/ )

This is the last in my mini series of posts about the power of video to transform the world (as per Chris Anderson’s ideas in his recent TED Global Talk that I wrote about on wp.me/sKfOP-1509 )

I believe that the communicative aspect of video can be sen here… we can truly have a song sung from artists all around the world at the same time and the result is truly inspiring.

To me this shows the potential of video as a communication resource. More and more children now communicate across their country and indeed across the world. I have discussed this in past posts as well. It seems to me that schools will not be able to ignore this aspect of new technology for too long. In the future I  expect that sites such as The Bloggers Cafe (see  my  post http://malbell.wordpress.com/2010/09/13/the-bloggers-cafe/) will be the norm not the exception.

I think that Chris is right…. video is the new technology that will promote learning in the 21st century. It is a cast back to our past as storytellers… it is reinvigorating the power and importance of the spoken word and it is also a specific literacy to itself which things like Flip Cameras is making it easier for children to learn and excel at… if you think that video is powerful now… you ain’t see nothing yet! There is a lot lot more powerful material for us yet to see and experience.

Being an outsider

I think that there is something to being an outsider looking in and shaking your head with amazement that people on the inside just don’t get it.

Throughout history there have been so many examples of people with a vision who see their idea of something really clearly but find massive opposition from the “status quo”.

Sometimes these people get to partly come in from the outside and gain a sort of acceptance. As they age they have their books or talks lauded by a minority with some influence within the “establishment” and they gain a sort of acceptance for their ideas… but often this is more about rewards.. the “gongs” for long service and the standing ovations from the influential followers at some university on the margins of mass culture. There may be politicians in the audience who rise to their feet and applaud but go back to their daytime job and ignore the change that the visionary stands for.

In education there are a number of these people. There always have been. They see a vision of children being able to learn in a free way, of abolishing the oppression of tests and examinations, of having the chance for children to use the power of modern technology to really communicate, collaborate and learn. They state that our schools are like factories and in some cases they go further and say that our schools are like prisons. That children are oppressed within many schools and learn senseless nonsense that means nothing to them so that, as adults, they will not be able to remember a huge percentage of the work they spent hours in classrooms being “force fed”.

Sometimes these people are able to start their own movements and maybe their own schools. They collect a small band of followers and then they have the lucky children who are able to be the beneficiaries of their ideas. There is a school that is run along project based lines, where children have free access to technology and are encouraged to cooperate and learn and solve problems because these are skills that they will need when they are older. In these schools creativity is encouraged. There is a place for the arts and for music of all sorts…. there is challenge that comes from producing something that works, that moves us, that can change the world and is not just the answer to a statutory test or exam.

But these schools are the minority. We know that they exist on the margins of the main system that produces the firing of teachers because they have had a percentage slip in their children’s test results over  a period of time. These schools may seem like beacons, lights in the darkness of a system where the daylight is fading fast and where many see a descent into medieval ignorance and darkness that does not allow facts to be questioned.

So, when I consider my own feelings as I continue my learning journey I have to examine the fact that more and more I am joining the outsiders, the people marginalised by the majority  who just don’t get at what I’m trying to say about education. Strangely I find that I am enjoying being in this position because for maybe the first time in a long and largely unremarkable career in education I have crystallised my own philosophy of education.

It is strange that the first book that I read when I was training to be a teacher was “How Children Fail” by John Holt. At the time I found myself stirred by what he had to say about schools being the problem and not the solution (which is why he himself became such a powerful proponent of the “homeschool” movement). He also said that most children go through their schooling with fear as the most powerful emotion… fear of failure and fear of the consequences of not “towing the party line” as to what constitutes the information that they should know.

In some ways Holt was the example that I had in mind when I talked about being an outsider at the start of this post. He managed to convince many academics of the power of his ideas, he became accepted in a strange sort of way.There were the talks and the standing ovations, there are probably many small schools which are run with a freedom of curriculum that stems from his writings. Overall though he did not change the world and if he were alive today would no doubt be fighting against the iniquities of the “Race To The Top” and would be seeing too many children going through the same old system that he so detested and railed against.

My own career following the reading of his book was very conventional. I worked in secondary and primary schools and became slowly disenchanted with the centralisation of the curriculum in my country the United Kingdom. I saw the way that League Tables were introduced along with Ofsted to make sure that schools were getting higher and higher results that successive governments could parade as the way that education was now progressing towards “world class” status.

The children though I saw as showing the same fear that Holt had highlighted in his book. I saw that the curriculum was narrowing and that the arts were disappearing in favour of hours spent on “numeracy” and “literacy”. I did not speak out because in many ways I did not have a forum to do so. This blog and blogging in general has given me that chance. I am able to express my ideas and know that maybe, a few people (probably of like mind) will read them and sometimes, comment.

I am now aware that I have joined the minority on the outside looking in, that the education world is changing very very slowly and at this time for the bad. I do not expect that this post will be seen by thousands. It will receive no awards or standing ovations. I have enjoyed writing it though because it crystallises my thoughts and my philosophy… this is where I stand (for good or bad). an outsider and proud of it.

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