Friday, 22 February 2013

Friday Reflection!

I've seen this before!

Twitter and the real world!

also on and twitter: @HOLC1

Half-term week in Suffolk and Essex.  Little call on my time from Cambridgeshire so have been working on the Haverhill Online Learning Community.  Have been confident enough in the content and where we are going to start to use the twitter account!  

Twitter does require a bit of effort as I have found over the years that I have had personal twitter accounts.  Finding people to follow is not a problem.  Getting people to follow and continue to follow is the challenge.  Choosing who you follow back when they have followed you is also a judgement call.  Have had this on Google+ Communities recently where obviously some people passionate in their interests  have invited me to some potentially dubious groups that at best conflict a little with the web presence I am trying to maintain.  Once it's out on the web, it's out or exposed so to speak!  Some of the invites are enough to scare the horses (old English saying)!

Gathering pace this week then, HOLC has tweeted a bit,  but not a lot?  In the #fridayreflection for HOLC I have described the meeting I attended yesterday organised by +Elaine Carr of Best of Haverhill at a local hotels' conference venue.  The value of meeting people such as the local mayor and other stakeholder groups will often only reveal themselves on these stages.  You cannot do it all online in a local community you have to meet face to face!  It also provides that personal connection that builds lasting local networks!  

MOOCs this week have seen Coursera become the largest online campus.  The numbers at 2.8 million are still relatively small compared to total populations of students in universities globally but it is massive grow than in just a year!  I struggle at the moment to find the time and inclination to enage with the MOOCs I have signed up for at present.  Work commitments and other interests such as HOLC are taking precedence.  The fact that I already have a Masters and I am not depending on future advancement  upon completing the course are other factors.  It will be interesting to see the measure of drop outs at the end of the first year from the people like myself who have joined out of curiosity to see how they work.  

Genuine figures of engagement of students who are using the MOOC to further their career as opposed to attending a full time residential campus course will be difficult at the measure in my opinion at the moment.  the question will be are they sustainable from a financial point of view?  Should they be sustainable from a financial point of view as a direct replacement for campus based instruction (or do I mean learning)?  Should they be considered as part of the role of providing access to universal education that Universities/Colleges have to satisfy in order to be allowed to grant degrees?

So my reflection for this week is can the MOOC stand on it's own or is it part of the blend of learning offered by Universities and Colleges for the benefit of society?

Next week getting back with the plan for spending more time on the OLC Google + Community that +Jeannie Crowley facilitates and trying to do some Python Programming on the Raspberry Pi



Thursday, 14 February 2013

Friday Reflection!

Winter's Final Blast!

A week of extremes, Monday wintry again and snow.  Thursday (today) and we have torrential rain,  flooding in places and 10C temperatures.   Daily commute for the last few weeks to Harlow over and done with.  an interesting experience from an educational point of view if not from the other side of the car windscreen as I travelled down a major M-way.

Academies are increasingly at the fore front of UK education.  They are the natural extension of Locally Managed Schools (LMS) and Grant Maintained Schools that were introduced as part of the 1988 Education Act.  This apparently formed the basis of the American Act of 2001 "No Child Left Behind".   The chief legacy of the English Act has been to remove schools as Academies from the control of the Local Authorities to a centralised funding model.  In other words the Department of Education now sets the funding level directly and stipulates what has to be taught.

In the wake of the launch of the new curriculum (as mentioned in last weeks blog) a period of change has been heralded again.  The National Curriculum for England and Wales was again a product of the 1988 Education Act.  Over the period since 1988 the complexity of the curriculum and the documentation has increased and decreased depending on the political wind blowing at the time. 

Teachers have had to wade through documentation and teaching resources with names such as National Frameworks and guidelines.   In the pursuit of standardisation that can be measured we have expended a lot of time and effort in the UK that other more "successful" OECD countries involved in PISA test have not. We do talk a lot about the UK's ability to compete in a global market based upon these tests.

In the 25 years since the introduction of the National Curriculum is it possible for us to have one defining document that states what we need to teach?  More importantly is it possible for us to come up with a measure of success that is understood with clarity in terms of Ofsted inspections?  Human cognitive processes have not evolved radically in 25 years.  The systems we are using to teach this generation compared to the last 25 years ago have changed.  

We could argue that the systems being used today are at fault when we become whimsical about a past educational success.   The comparisons being made are not like for like.  In 1988 it was only just coming into force that pupils had to stay until after their the 16+ exams (even this was muted as a title of that exam before GCSE emerged from the GCE and CSE qualifications).  Today we are talking again of pupils moving on from secondary school based education to UTC (University Technical Colleges) at the age of 14.  "School leaving age" or compulsory education and training is gradually rising to 18 in the next two years.  Having a National Curriculum to age 14 makes sense.  What happens after is still controversial in that GCSEs are being "reformed".  Whether this will lead to improvement in competence as opposed to league table positions is the big question.  We need to have more of a pass or fail test of competence in key skills such as Maths and English for the majority of pupils.  The academic requirements of A, B grades for college entry are a different arguement possibly from a certification of competence in skills that can be used in the workplace.  Should we even be considering that a measure at age 16 should dictate life pathways? 

As you have probably gathered from this blog I am having difficulty understanding which way the UK Education is going.   The key question is  if the current stirring of the educational cauldron will achieve the goal of providing UK's (or those in England and Wales) young adults and therefore future decision makers with the skills to make informed choices?  Or are we again becoming embroiled with how complex can we make the dream machine?  Or do we need to go back and sit under a tree and just listen and converse?  Did it work for the Ancient Greeks?  We do not know as they were not PISA tested against other countries, but we do know that their legacy of literature is still used.  Will we say that about the 1988 Education Act in a similar vein of contemplation?


Saturday, 9 February 2013

Friday Reflection!

UK Education changes!

+Philip Spalding

A major week for educational announcements!  The Ebacc that was is not to be (   The much needed re-establishment of confidence UK education qualifications took another twist as stakeholder groups had their input taken on board.  As usual there were claims of U-turns on policy.  This negative phrase goes back to the Mrs. Thatcher declaration the "Lady is not for turning".  Since this time reversals of thinking have become even more associated with failure rather than compromise.  We try to teach children in school is tolerance, considering the other persons point of view, weighing up evidence and making decisions based on a balanced view.

Parliament and politicians reinforce the idea that one individuals opinions are either wholly right or wholly wrong.  In a complex issue such as educational qualifications we have a lot of vested interests from subject experts to exam boards who publish their own textbooks to go with courses that wish to preserve the present system.  Understandable as they have been allowed to create the status quo.  The idea of market forces and demand moulding educational choices has faltered in the educational sphere under the influence  of league tables.  Innovative curricular are often shunned in schools as they take the safe route of following the materials that have all the information produced by a limited number of publishers and exam boards.  Selection of exam boards qualifications are often based on the perceived difficulty of the exam board.

A new curriculum was launched for State Schools.  Again the reporting on this issue shows the combative point scoring nature of British politics.  Academies can choose to write their own curriculum but with Ofsted judging against a fixed set criteria it would take a very brave new academy to risk being out of step. The system appears broken and needs fixing.  All parties should be working to a solution that will not be used just for one parliament. It needs to be allowed to run long enough to be effective in bringing about confidence in young people's skills.  The educational establishment needs to step back and be objective rather than protecting it's own position.  Pupils have an 11 year training period (two and a bit parliaments life times).  The effect of changes at year 5 will therefore not be seen for another 11 years by employers interested in recruiting a skilled workforce.  At the moment the pace of revision means that 16 year old pupils over a five year period can be sitting very different exams.  The GCSE is therefore not a very easy way to compare candidates for jobs and college places who span a range of interests. We have a conveyor belt of school, college jobs that rely on the same age group

The question has to be asked who are the GCSEs actually for, the schools or the pupils who have to enter the stage of their life.  Are they fit passports for a modern society?  Should basic qualifications in English, Maths and Sciences be sat at 16?  Why not 14? We used to test at this age.  The system was scrapped not so much because it did not give a good judgement of skills but because the system collapsed due to a marking fiasco.  With the growth of University Technical Colleges and apprenticeships the need for large Secondary schools delivering academic qualifications to the age of 16 is disappearing.  With the raising of the formal school leaving age to 17 this summer and 18 the following year makes the qualification sat at 16 as a test at school leaving age irrelevant.

The impact of e-learning has not been considered in the new curriculum other than introducing computing as a subject instead of ICT (Information Communication Technology).  As a former head of ICT (and Science first) I have always considered ICT to be a tool and not a subject.  To be simplistic presentation and communication tools such as PowerPoint and  Word should be taught and USED in English.  Spreadsheets taught and USED in Maths and Science.  Use of YouTube and social media taught and USED in Languages which to my thinking does include English (or Communication as it is now titled in some schools), for that matter we should use languages in other subjects as science as well.  Design and CAD packages used in Resistant Materials (this used to be woodwork and metal work) and design subjects.  Where computing will fit has not been stated.  In the EBacc it was to be the fourth science.   Should it be part of Maths?  Do we have the science teachers (who generally biologists in the UK) who can deliver coding in two languages, one of which is text based?  Are we going to have a Scratch and Python literate (Python is available for the Raspberry Pi) school population?   Are we going to have e-texts and BYOD (bring your own devices) for the classroom?  Can school networks cope with 950 or more Wi-Fi connected devices?  Does education have to involve all pupils being in a building at once if e-learning is embraced?

A fundamental question of education's future has been the overriding theme in the news.  My own little project of the Haverhill Online Learning Community (HOLC) has been gathering viewers locally this week with the Local History Week.  I have had a lot views of the timeline and some expression of interest, converting this into active members is again the challenge.  I have had a good meeting with the local MP, who is also Minister of Skills and can be seen pictured sitting next to Michael Gove in this article,  for advice and publicity.  Watch this space for further developments.  Next week  HOLC  is engaged in a little Urban Gardening  which will feature in the Blog   and on the Website.

I will also have to find some time to re-engage with all the Google+ Communities.  Full time teaching in Harlow for the past four weeks has been instructive on some levels for gathering pupil's opinions on use of Tablets and how they see the education they are receiving preparing them for later life.  However, there are not enough hours in the day looking forward to finishing this assignment next Thursday and working a bit closer to home! Have also to buy new devices this week, HP netbook and Kindle have all died!  Looking to go as much Linnux, Chrome and Android as possible, but will still need one windows based Laptop unfortunately.  Expensive times!

Friday, 1 February 2013

Friday reflection!

That Wow factor!

February has arrived!  The end of the month and how has 2013 been so far? Busy!  

The online learning experiences are coming thick and fast at the moment!  Almost too much as also trying to the day job!  Finding the right routine and the enthusiasm  to do the travelling is the essence and the key to succeeding in trying to leap those even minor buildings!

The Science Wow factor for the week from the net has been this from a maker site, the $5 projector .  Really simple idea great for teaching optics far more impact than traditional practicals for majority of children.  How great for awe and wonder in the phone culture!

A week of great changes for education announced in the UK with  the Ebacc causing most controversy.   In my opinion the sticking point with all this is the pre-occupation of using the word academic and non-academic to describe the educational outcomes of the different qualifications path.  The general view point is academic good, vocational bad (borrowing from George Orwell).  This may be due to the make up of the UK parliament being predominantly "middle class", although you probably cannot get more middle class in England than ex-army officers.  We do need to break the cultural link between the traditional stereotypes of "academic" and "non-academic" students being related to socio-economic groupings.  This has been more than a bit of millstone around the neck of the English education system ever since the first education act (and before) in 1870.  Universal education as opposed to mass education is still the debating point.  More recently who is paying for the education is also an issue.

Haverhill Online Learning Community (HOLC), OLC, Coursera Course and  other projects have been a little slow this week owing to the daily commitments of a drive to Harlow.  HOLC  has drawn the interest of the local MP (Member of Parliament) who is also a minister in the Department of Work.  Will have a chat with him next week one to one and see how it goes!

Have started the Cousera MOOC from Edinburgh University e-learning and digital cultures.  Have some videos to watch this morning and a hangout later today.  Will compare this to the edX  course which ton be honest was extremely time consuming as it is a full undergraduate module as if you were attending lectures etc!  Some good links to learning platforms which I will at some point share some if not all.

Full day of working own projects today including being trained online on the Blackboard LMS.  School I am working at the moment having a conference day.  All staff attending have been asked to have a twitter account up and running for collaborative interaction (how social this becomes when account "open" all the time and you can be expected to respond "out of hours" will be interesting to watch in the first few weeks) .  

Next week move onto local history with HOLC.  Have not proceeded as far as wanted to with the Telework Week but will revisit. 

So Cat at least will be happy to have me around all day at least!


Friday, 25 January 2013

Friday Reflection!

A British Way M-way on
a warm and sunny day!

Social Media use in the classroom!

A change of scene this week!  We had a snow day on Monday in East Anglia.  My normal haunt north of Cambridge during the week was shut down due to the icy conditions.  Instead I was asked if I would go to a new venue 40 odd (and if you have driven down a British M-way first thing in the morning very odd in most cases) miles down the M11 for the rest of the week. "Essex boy and girl" country, not really  since the stereo-type was invented by DJs and newscasters in closed little boxes called studios IMO!

The Essex school child is no different from the Cambridgeshire or Suffolk school child.   Only they have a little more brashness and over confidence from being close to London.  I did my teacher training in Clacton and Harwich, and taught at the school on the next junction up the motorway so have had experience of the Essex dialect before.

I walked into  the school and attended a briefing.  I was intrigued to hear they were promoting the use of twitter within lessons for "brainstorming" sessions.  Wordpress was also being promoted as a way of generating student participation and engagement.  Surprisingly given the age range Facebook Pages were also included.  Good idea to use social media as  a tool not sure about using unmoderated pages.  This might be an aspect fraught with pitfalls.  Google Apps for education is a better solution since a gated community is set up!

Pleased to hear that the use of QR codes for PE instruction was being tried.  The QR code via smartphone is linked to a "how to video" for gymnastics so pupils can self-teach or peer teach the movements.  This can also be accessed at home so meaningful PE homework can be set. Here is the sticking point with this, the access at home bit!  Not every pupil has access to the internet at home or the devices to view the content.  Peer pressure may result in either access to this or create a digital divide.    

Finally this week the National School Results Data has been published.  The floor target for all schools was to reach 40% of pupils achieving 5 good GCSEs at A-C grades (or equivalent eg BTEC) including Maths and English .  Below this floor target and an Inspector Calls, unlike the play you do know they have been and they do record what was said and they set targets. The overall achievement of pupils was 59% reaching the benchmark.  So more good results than bad!  The more important measure of Value Added, the progress they make since Key Stage 2, again glossed over by the media.  If the school has a score less than 1000 it means the pupils on average are making less than expected progress from the age of 11 to 16.  This is a better indication of fitness for purpose than first past the post measures. Take up of entry to the English Bacca and the success rates always a bit of a puzzle.  not sure what to make of it, or  that I have  a considered opinion for a blog.

Haverhill Online Learning Community is near the end of it's Hacktivate Nursery Rhyme week.  I could spend a lot of time on this and not go out to earn money on the day job.  However, the idea is to try to get the community to produce the projects.  Will keep trying to put as much as possible into the site.  Worked Monday on the content to include self-publishing.  Will work Saturday to add more content and start the Telework Week next week.  Will continue with the cyclical calendar programme so we revisit each project every eight to ten weeks.  Time Management becomes a factor especially after a hour commute down the M11 and a hour back.  The M11 must be one of the busiest routes into London!  

Was going to visit the BETT show in London next week but do not think I will have time as will still be going down M11 until at least Tuesday!  Busy week as starting a Coursera Course on Digital Education supplied by Edinburgh University.  Will see how this compares to the edX course I have been registered on supplied by Harvard University. I say registered as I have not touched the materials since beginning of December.  And that is the point with MOOCs, it is touching the materials. Not convinced yet that  it is always a  useful learning experience since tutorials and hangouts are asynchronous if you are in a different time zone!

Monday, 21 January 2013

An English School in 2020: a personal view!

Futurology and the English School!

Education in the UK is undergoing a great and rapid changes in emphasis and content at the moment.  We are essentially now four different systems operating in the UK controlled by a minister for each country that makes up the UK.  Even as far as exams are concerned already differences in experiences are to be found (English Grading in 2012 is an example).  Change is whistling through the core of what was the United Kingdom.

With changes of major proportions starting to happen  I am gong to focus on a personal  bit of crystal ball gazing.  A Futurology so to speak of change.  By 2020 the essential makeup of our school system will have been subjected to major pressures.  Some of these pressures I have bullet pointed below.

To try to summarise the school of 2020 is a challenge.  Education as you will see from the links above is having it's first major shake-up since the 1940s.  Most of the changes up to now have been cosmetic with the school building still main focus of the investment.  

Changing the role of education to the new societal demands will see the disappearance of traditional Secondary schools especially  as UTCs become established for vocational teaching.  Academic subjects will still be taught in secondary school for those choosing the the university route.  The English Bacca may replace GCSEs but will be an academic qualification competing against vocational qualifications.  The previous Labour Government's target of 50 % of pupils attending university will disappear from the argument.  Along with with a lot of UK Universities.   Possibly Universities will open their own schools whereby you join the University at 14, follow some classes with Undergraduates but continue to be taught formally English and Maths.  Mentoring schemes already in place could be easily be included in this scenario 

Control of schools will pass out of the hands of local authorities and rest with individual academies and  free schools.  How do you move your child about from one to the other if you are not satisfied? I can see the resurrection of the old conservative idea of giving everybody a voucher that can be spent they choose to spend where on their children's education.  This would appeal to the independent education sector.  As far as I am aware if you send your child to a non-state school you do not receive the money that would have spent in a State run school for your child's education.  In effect you are paying twice!

The rise of transport costs to reach school in rural areas may even see part time attendance at a school building and online teaching for the rest of the week.  The use of a full time educator or two per village for all ages could see a lot of use of old buildings such as Church Halls, which are essentially community owned come back into use regularly.   Blended education will become commonplace in preparation for Teleworking in later life.  School days could be extended to 10 hours for 3 days, since pupils generally are only in lessons for 5 hours a day Monday to Friday.  Flexible attendance could be a feature to maximise classroom occupancy.  The child minding aspect of schooling could become less of feature of modern education.  This will have to be accompanied with a greater input of communities minding their own children or setting up alternative provision for two days a week.  However, with more UTCs about would there be more disaffected youth on the street?

 Ensuring your child has a consistent education suited to their needs will I think spark a new job area.  Some online tutoring companies are already using the term education consultant for people that visit homes and clients to plan extra-curricular study.  With the complexity of choice available and the increasingly fewer years pupils spend in an institution Life Long Learning coaches could appear.  I am not suggesting careers teachers since these have largely disappeared or been deemed in effective. Whether these best run as  part of local social services,  a not for profit charity or a  run by a local school board or Online Learning Community remains to be seen?  The complexity of the system by 2012 will make monitoring progress a bit of a nightmare.   True, there will be less NEETS , but will there be skills needed to earn a living at the end of the maze?

These are my own opinions using a few selected articles from the BBC website.  Change is happening and how we adapt to it is still a little unclear.  Time to put the crystal ball away for a bit! 


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Are grades a true reflection of Individual Merit?

What you see in one time frame
 is not always
what is there in total!

Musing from a Google+ Post!

I was perusing the Google + posts and come across one from +Jeannie Crowley  who was sharing +Brendan Storming post about the article by +Afraj Gill .  I was intrigued how the Finnish school system has spread as an example of excellence and the sentiments behind the article.

We in the UK often hold up Finland as a great example. We talk about adopting the Finnish System of all through schools as the Holy Grail to school improvement.  However, we do not do the whole system we are possibly the most tested school system in Europe for both pupils, teachers and education providers (academies and local authorities).  

Grades are not the be and end all, we should be moving beyond the summative assessment approach and accolade awarding nature of present education.  Formative assessment,  (using the test to inform learning for the individual) application for assessing and individuals capacity to learn would ideally be greater.

n terms of capacity to learn I mean identifying areas that you are in need of greater understanding and remedying this learning gap.  In other words a two part exam one testing the initial knowledge and a second one some time in the future (1 month etc) after testing same knowledge and understanding.     

If the second takes place without any more formal teaching this gives the "striver" and dedicated learner encouragement to become a self-learner taking advantage of opportunities available to improve their understanding.  Give grades by all means of both tests, but emphasise the the improvement between the two tests and the capacity to close the learning and understanding gap.  Which is more important?

This could be a great use of Online Learning Communities for instructors/teachers/facilitators to be available so individual learners can become self-learners.  Also gives the individual control over the process.   The absence of teachers in critical phases of exam course, illness, socio-economic features of  individual students education would start to have less of an influence sinee you would be testing the innate capacity to improve IMO.  

In the UK we have a great skew towards more affluent areas producing the "best results" in league tables. On the one hand we have Ofsted drawing attention to poor standards in Primary schools
 based upon areas where socio-economic factors play a big part.  On the other hand they are criticising successful schools of coasting even though 100% of their pupils are achieving the standard
.  Focussing on the value added (where they start and where they finish) now being considered the key measure for schools in their effectiveness.  It is also argued that there is still a culture of "what can we do the kids from this background"

 (I used to teach in a school when the John Prescott Tables of deprivation for all 8554+ electoral wards were  produced. This was about 18 months into my time there and the school was in the bottom 10% of the country even though we were in Leafy Suffolk.  This still did not feature in any of our Ofsted reports as a factor in low attainment.  Bragging rights for me in this trying time of constant Her Majesty Inspectors visits,  Ofsted's bosses, was that I took the Science results as Head of Science and teaching 2/3 of the classes at Key Stage 2 from 42% before I started,  to 48% in my first year in charge then 74% Level 4 the following year.   Maths that same year was doing 29%, with all the help they had  from the local authority!   Glow of achievement moment over! )    

On a positive note, the  story of turning on the light of education has been achieved by one primary school,
 English is second language at 'best' primary
.  If only we could introduce the culture of education for improvement to the whole of England!