Matt Damon speaks in support of teachers

This is not the best video you will ever see. If you’re a big fan of Matt Damon you will hardly see him at all as he stands on a stage seemingly miles away from you.

But put up with the shaky camera work and just listen to what he had to say at the “Save Our schools” rally yesterday in Washington D.C.

It appears that he is the son of an early childhood Professor who abhorred tests and stated to a teacher on one occasion that they would tell you nothing about Matt and would  probably make him very nervous!

I was quite moved by his final remarks in support of teachers… he is so right about the fact that there are literally millions of people out there who appreciate teachers and understand the fantastic job that they do in very difficult circumstances.

Well done Matt for your support and wise words. your mother (who introduced him by the way) must be very proud of you!

Try not to get too serious

Yes I know that education is a serious business. Here we are in the summer break and I am reading Tweets about colleagues going to conferences here there and everywhere. They are discussing the somber business of educating our children and indeed all our futures.

Now I am not getting at the subject matter of the conferences or the passion and earnestness of the delegates involved. I am 100% behind the serious business of the Teacher’s March about Education Reform in the U.S.A. and wish them all well.

But I believe that we must not forget something that is very very important in education…. humour. The ability to lighten things when it all gets to be a bit serious is something that would be valuable to any teacher.

I was recalling something that some of my pupils said to me a few years ago when they were reflecting on their time in my class… they said that I was funny and that lessons “were a laugh” (actually “were a larf” in the local accent as I have always taught in Essex, U.K.!)

This is not to say that I spent all my time telling them jokes and doing impressions ( though I did do a few), no, I just lightened up the day by trying to remember that it is not a matter of life and death. So Harry didn’t get fractions today well I can go home and commit ritual suicide or punish myself by watching that Swedish film that I recorded and that is supposed to be good for me.

Our children enjoy a relaxed, happy atmosphere at school, they like humour and they benefit from knowing that you can take and share a joke with them.

So, in the midst of all the heavy stuff about Web 2.0, innovation, standardisation, creativity, STEM, robotics, pedagogy, the digital divide and all the other things that we are all talking about in Reno, Nevada,  Montreal and Glasgow let us remember to take time to share a joke, laugh at ourselves a bit and remember that if we do this as often as possible in our classrooms our students will appreciate it.

The digital divide

I recently read a really good article called “A Tale of Two Countries” . The two countries were actually the same geographical space but were about people who lived completely different lives and had completely different outlooks.

The actual country is the U.S.A. and the writer, Jon Bischke, highlighted the boom that has taken place in Silicon Valley and the way that you would not have to travel too far to get to what he calls “unemployed America”.

Unemployed America is full of people who have lost jobs in industries that have closed down their factories which lie like forgotten monsters decaying and boarded up. They are not particularly qualified and more importantly they do not have access to the technology that is at the heart of the “boom” in the “Google”, “Twitter” “Apple”,  world.

Most importantly many of their children do not have access to the iPad or even laptops and go to schools where access to technology can vary from complete use (as in the great examples of 1 to 1 Laptop use by schools such as Van Meter in Iowa) to a cursory visit to the P.C.’s in the out-of-date Computer Lab perhaps once a week.

My worry is about the importance of the “Digital Divide” and the way that politicians do not seem to get the fact that access to technology is a necessity for our children not a luxury. The same people who will extol the use of “Facebook” and “Twitter” in their campaigns and talk in public about the importance of STEM education seem oblivious to the fact that a large investment of technology in schools and the ability of children to use this technology freely (i.e. with no blocks on programs such as YouTube) is an absolute necessity if a country is to compete for jobs in the future.

The factories like dormant, yes. This is because we have moved into a different economic era. Just as the old Woollen Mills closed down because of competition from cheaper production abroad, it is necessary for people to have a different set of skills to cope with a new economy.

The digital divide, as the article states, is also a social and emotional divide. It is about the ability to live any sort of decent life, the ability to dream about getting “out from under” and someday having your children and their children living a good life.

This problem is not just an American one, it is effecting every advanced industrial nation. Here in Britain where I live I see examples of the same thing that I have described in relation to the U.S.A. I really feel that politicians and business needs to look at the implications of a growing digital divide and what it would mean to the future stability of our democracies. Education does matter and it transforms and digital education is a key transformer for all our futures.

Avon Elementary School: Teach your children well

This video really was impressive. Here was a public (state) school that had been having some sort of exodus of children caused by under-achievement by its pupils.

So what did they do? Did they take the path of rote learning and test preparation? No…they introduced a creative, bi-lingual (Spanish/ English), problem solving curriculum which included a real life Jack Black type musician who teaches the children music through contemporary songs.

It is a joy to see the children enjoying their learning and achieving so well. It is wonderful to hear the positive comments of the parents who love the fact that their children are learning, enjoying and gaining fluency in another language. It is good to see teachers who are enjoying their teaching and feel a part of a very successful school.

There are so many good things about the Avon Elementary school approach and, as I stated in a comment in Google + where I first saw the video.. there is no mention throughout the video of the words “standardised tests”.

Much praise must go to Principal Melisa Rewold-Thuon, who gives an object-lesson on leadership and vision. I feel her message and this film should be seen more widely and have written this post in the hope that it might have a small part in promoting that aim.



Why fear the cloud?

Yesterday I tried to access Google Documents on my work computer and found that it was banned! I have, in the past tried to use Dropbox and found that this was banned also. My question is an obvious one why?

A second thought arising from this is “who makes the decisions about what is good or bad for me to use?”

This post originated by my reading of a really useful article called “The Top 5 Cloud Based Tools To Help You Get Organised“.

This article highlighted five apps that can make my life easier and allow me to access information from any computer anywhere.Sometimes, I find that I have to access a file that was originally placed on my hard-drive on my laptop. Last year I discovered “Dropbox” and have used this to store files that I later use for presentations. I have also found that I can use Dropbox as a useful storage of files that I may not need to use specifically but can come in handy when I am talking to teachers.

Until I read the article I didn’t even know that “Lastpass” existed… but what a great idea it is. I find that I have lots of passwords for so many different organisations that I belong to online that a secure place to list them and also access them whenever I want to is a blessing.

I use “Delicious” practically every day (interestingly it is not banned by my employers) and this allows me to keep up-to-date  with some excellent websites that I use in my work or may use in the future.

These cloud based programs are exactly what the article says, a means to better organise our lives. I wonder then what justification there can be in banning them. Why fear the cloud when it is there to help us? We should be allowing all forms of cloud programs into our offices and schools as they can help to make our lives easier.. and surely in these troubled times there’s nothing wrong with that!


Updating Bloom’s Taxonomy for the digital age

A few weeks ago I received a link to an excellent infographic called  “Google Tools To Support  Bloom’s revised Taxonomy” by Kathy Schrock.

This is an excellent way of getting you to think how the tools created by Google fit into the revised taxonomy with Google Search and G Mail coming into the first order of  remembering skills and  iGoogle, YouTube,  Google Documents and Picasa coming into the highest order, creating skills.

Today I received a  link to an excellent document by Andrew Churches which attempts to put the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy into the digital age.

It is really well written and has good explanations of the different skills in the Bloom’s hierarchy, relating these to the kind of skills that could and should be made available for students in the digital age that we have moved into.

An example can be seen here:

Applying and Digital Activities
Applying Possible activities
Using information, concepts and ideas in
another familiar situation (Using strategies,
concepts, principles and theories in new
Implementing, carrying out, using,
executing, doing, running, loading,
playing, operating, hacking, uploading,
sharing, editing.
Illustration (Corel, inkscape, GIMP, Paint,
online tools, Comic creation tools  – comic
life, historic tale construction kit, hyper
Simulation (Floor map, graphic tools,
google sketchup, Crocodile software
simulating science experiments, Global
conflict – Palestine )
Sculpture or Demonstration
(Presentation, graphics, screen capture,
audio and video conferencing)
Presentation – impress, Simple DTP
product, powerpoint, google presentation,
Zoho presentation, skype, interactive
whiteboard collaboration using etools, audio
and video conferencing
Interview (Word Processing, mind mapper,
podcast, vodcast, audacity, sound recorder,
collaboration using etools, skype)
Performance (Podcast, vodcast, film, audio
and video conferencing, VoIP, audio
recording, speech, Powerpoint Show,
collaboration using etools)
Editing – video and sound tools, Wiki
editing, Simple DTP product. Developing a
shared document
Playing – mmorpg’s online games,
simulations like Global Conflicts Palestine

This to me is the kind of discussion about the use of digital tools that teachers and administrators  should be reading, critiquing and adding to. It is surely not whether we use these tools any more but how we do so and how we can assess children’s progression in their use. This document is a powerful step forward in allowing us to formulate the essential skills that ought to underpin a 21st century education.

Well done to Andrew Churches.


The innovation of “Circles”: a reflection on Google +

I have just read a very good post in “Teach Paperless” by John T. Spencer which discussed what education could learn from Google +
I feel that it outlines very well the user friendliness of Google + and the way that it has learnt from the past mistakes of both Facebook and Twitter, particularly in regard to the creation of “Circles” which I believe is the masterstroke in allowing for the true use of social media.
For myself it has been the ability to extend and learn from my PLN that has been really useful. Yesterday I posted the following on +:
malcolm bellamy's profile photo

malcolm bellamy  –  Yesterday 23:01  –  Public
In defence of G+ following the BBC article:
I see the whole thing as a means to extend the learning process that I enjoy online. I am not seeking “friends” as such, but knowledge, leads, ideas and ways to navigate the ocean of information that is out there. The Circles allow me to keep my real “friends” in a tight network along with my family… my largest Circle is my PLN and I have learnt loads already from these people call them “friends” (In the “Facebook” way) or “acquaintances”…the denotation is really irrelevant.

The much-hyped arrival of the Google+ social networking site throws open the debate on the difference between friends and acquaintances.
  –  Comment  –  Share
In the end, I believe it is “Circles” that will be the real innovation of + and a way forward for social interaction on the net for us all.