Nick Dennis's Blog

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Category: IB (page 1 of 2)

Beyond tokenism: teaching a diverse history in the post-14 curriculum

As we approach Black History Month in England, I thought it would be useful to share a piece I wrote for Teaching History earlier this year. When I wrote the article, I recall scanning the past issues of Teaching History and thinking about work that addressed similar issues. What was surprising is how little those pieces had been cited or apparently used by history teachers, especially based on the conversations at the Schools History Project conference this past summer.

Recent books published on education in England have made the case for consuming research from the sciences as a way to further the profession. I would like to add that we should be reading critical work from other disciplines as a way of challenging the conceptions we use in our lessons. The article came from my engagement with Michael Rothberg’s work on the Holocaust and memory in Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonisation. If you haven’t read it and you teach the Slave Trade and the Holocaust, you really should as it provides a framework for teaching connected narratives in our classrooms rather than competitive histories which seem to populate the media.

The recent Battle of the Somme memorial, We’re here because we’re here, denoted by the Twitter hashtag, #wearehere, provided an elegiac and physical reminder of the soldiers who lost their lives during the first day of the battle in 1916.[i]  Thousands of volunteers across the country donned historically accurate uniforms and walked, sat and lounged silently in train stations, shopping centres and other public areas, carrying cards bearing the details of the soldiers they represented. Their silence was only broken by their rendition of ‘we’re here because we’re here’ – a song sung by soldiers in the trenches – and the overall performance captured the attention and imagination of the public and the media.

Soldier sitting down next to commuters.

From the 14-18 NOW site ‘We’re here because we’re here’ https://becausewearehere.co.uk/we-are-here-gallery/395/

What was particularly striking – and heartening – about this portrayal was the diversity of the volunteers, a fact captured in the pictures on the memorial site. This was not a nod to political correctness on the part the organisers. The diversity of the soldiers represented in the project offered a more nuanced – and truthful – picture of history than the one often held up for memorial. Rather than focus on one example of difference, for instance the fascinating story of Walter Tull, the former footballer and first ‘black’ officer in the British army, the everyday nature of this portrayal avoided any sense of tokenism. Instead, it celebrated the complexity of our history, and showed that British history was (and is) also a global history. The #wearehere memorial proved the point laid out by David Olusoga in his book to accompany the recent excellent BBC series Black and British: A Forgotten History, that new and different stories can emerge when ‘black’ history is more than just a history of the ‘black’ experience.[ii] Seen in this way, the song ‘we’re here because we’re here’ comes to speak as much to the ever-constant role of ‘black’ and ethnic minorities in the fabric of Britain and British history as it does to the enduring memory of those who fought in the Great War.

Unfortunately, the capacity to address this diversity within England’s typical secondary school history curricula has been limited, with the material effects of this limitation seen in students from a black and minority ethnic background, as well as for white students. For the black students, uptake of England’s examination courses, from History GCSE and A-Level courses to undergraduate degrees remains low, and for the white students, their understanding of the rich tapestry of history is limited.[iii] Recent debates asking the question ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ often attribute the poor teaching of black history at school to a lack of historical knowledge and a narrow focus on topics such as the slave trade. This could be addressed by focusing on ‘Black History Month’ and by teaching units of black history, but this moves history teaching into the realms of tokenism and threatens to become an ‘add water and stir’ approach to teaching. Such an approach is particularly limiting in the post-14 phase where history becomes optional and is subject to examination specifications.  The syllabi provided by examination boards are prescribed, curriculum time is restricted and recent upheaval in examined courses have whittled down the capacity for history teachers to think beyond the subject being taught.

For Rothberg, collective memory of the past seemingly obeys the logic of scarcity, where memory of the Holocaust, for example, must crowd out the memory of African-American history in the public consciousness. The rendering of the public sphere as a scarce resource creates the conditions where the interactions of different collective memories battle one another in a zero-sum way for recognition and pre-eminence. Rothberg suggests that instead of this zero-sum game, we should consider memory as multidirectional and the public sphere a place where collective memories are not simply articulated, but are ‘subject [to] ongoing negotiation, cross-referencing, and borrowing’.[iv] Relating this to the history curriculum beyond the age of 14, it is not a zero-sum game between teaching the prescribed examination content and, to use the phrase from a recent book, ‘doing justice to history’.[v] Both can be done. History teaching, like collective memory, has an anachronistic quality, where the here and now, and the here and there, are brought together in a lesson or sequence of lessons. This powerful creativity allows the space to rethink and make complex the history that is taught in schools, and allows a more complex and challenging narrative to emerge.[vi]

This may sound easier to state on the page than to realise, yet the examples below will illustrate what is possible by deepening the knowledge already deployed by teachers in their lessons on the modern world.

‘The sugar at the bottom of the tea cup’: a wider appreciation of ‘Britishness’ during World War II

Writing in the early 1990s, the cultural theorist Stuart Hall remarked that people coming from the West Indies and other parts of the Empire had actually been in England for centuries – if only symbolically – and that those coming over were merely ‘coming home’. He characterised this by thinking of himself, and the people from Jamaica, as the ‘sugar at the bottom of the English cup of tea’ that was a quintessential aspect of British identity. Moreover, the ‘Britishness’ associated with tea also obscured the fact that it came from Sri Lanka and India, not Lancashire.[vii] The Home Front in World War II is usually seen as a cultural touchstone for Britishness, through the creation of the ‘Blitz Spirit’ and the war as a ‘People’s War’, where class and gender differences were united in their fight against Nazism. Investigations of the Home Front and the forging of the ‘Blitz Spirit’ are typically studied from the view of different economic classes but not from the Empire point of view. E. I. Ekpenyon was a former Headmaster in Nigeria who had come to study Law in London and served as an ARP warden. His account of his training and experience on the Home Front makes complex the notion of a ‘Blitz Spirit’ being created by an ethnically homogenous group of people.  He recounts that the people in his area were very friendly and called him “Uncle Sam”, and followed his instructions as he was a ‘man of colour’, which to the people in his district saw as a ‘lucky omen’.  Below is Ekpenyon’s account of an incident in his shelter where the mix of people in his shelter had led to tensions.[viii]

E. I. Ekpenyon, a former Headmaster in Nigeria who had come to study Law in London and served as an ARP warden, describes an incident in his shelter

Some of the shelterers told the others to go back to their own countries, and some tried to practise segregation. A spirit of friendliness and comradeship was lacking. If this spirit had continued it would, as certainly as the night follows the day, have led to riots.

So I told the people that the British Empire, which is also known as the British Commonwealth of Nations, is made up of peoples of many races. I said that though I am an air-raid warden in London, I am still an African. I also said that I am one of many peoples of other countries that make up the Empire.

Then I spoke of the three classes in the shelter – namely, His Majesty’s subjects, protected persons, and guests. These last were refugees from other countries. I said that this third group of people who were in the shelter, and who were not interned, were entitled to the protection of the Union Jack. I said that this being the case I would like to see a spirit of friendliness, co- operation, and comradeship prevail at this very trying time in the history of the Empire. I further warned my audience that if what I had said was not going to be practised, I would advise those who did not agree to seek shelter somewhere else. For to remain in the shelter and to behave in an unfriendly way would force me to report them, because they were trying to create disunity in the Empire. The people responded, and few left the shelter.

Ekpenyon’s story is a fascinating account of someone from the ‘colonies’ acting as the guardian, and enforcer of, ‘British values’ and the ‘Blitz Spirit’ at the heart of the empire. His story, rather than an additive or distraction, places him squarely within the narrative of the ‘People’s War’. Two films produced by the Ministry of Information in 1943 and 1944, Hello! West Indies and West Indies Calling also provide evidence of a complex narrative of ‘Britishness’ and the ‘People’s ’.[ix] Presented by Una Marson, the Jamaican feminist and writer who worked at the BBC during World War II, the films show a range of white and black British subjects supporting the war effort in Britain as military personnel, nurses, factory workers and lumberjacks.

These stories, and many others in texts like Stephen Bourne’s Mother Country, show that the Home Front and the ‘People’s War’ was more diverse and complex than has been previously rendered. These accounts – which have the potential to provide excellent, accessible source material for students – also move away from the ‘black’ British story which starts with the arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1948.[x] The ‘black’ presence in the ‘People’s War, like the diversity of the soldiers on the front, offer just one example of a history that preceded and anticipated our practiced narrative of migration and diversity.

The boy in the Nazi jumper

In current history examination courses offered in England at GCSE and A-Level, the study of Nazi Germany incorporates the treatment of minorities in terms of persecution and death camps. Yet the lives of Afro-Germans at the time provide a nuanced understanding of the Nazi regime and social life in Germany. Born in 1926 to a Liberian father and German mother, Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi experienced first-hand what the transition from Weimar to Nazi Germany was like and how his skin colour defined his experience and his existence. His book, Destined to Witness is remarkable not only because it details the changing social circumstances in Germany but his life in the USA after the war. He explains in detail life at school, his relationship with other people and the attraction of the Nazis to young people. He too was an unabashed Nazi supporter ‘because they put on the best shows with the best-looking uniforms, best sounding marching bands’, which unsurprisingly appealed to his developing sense of masculinity.[xi] When he finally got his hands on a Swastika, he asked the elderly lady who looked after him to sew it is on his jumper and led to the picture taken below in 1933.

Hans J Massaquoi with a Nazi Swastika on his jumper taken from the front cover of his book Destined to Witness

The image shown is incredibly powerful. I have used it in my classroom, along with other extracts from the book, in order to help students move from the ‘concrete to the conceptual’ in their understanding of the Nazi regime.[xii] The text also provides opportunities to challenge simple historical explanations about the interactions of minorities with the Nazis. In one incident, Massquoi recounts his encounter with an SS officer at the Department of Labour in 1940. Obviously concerned that his fate lay in the hands of the one of the Nazi elite, Herr von Vett, Massaquoi was surprised when von Vett winked at him and invited him to take a seat. After inspecting his school record and an axe that he had created, von Vett stated that Massaquoi could be of ‘great service to Germany one day’. Thinking that von Vett had lost his mind, Massaquoi listened as the SS officer reasoned that Germany would reclaim its African colonies at some point and would need technically trained Germans to lead an African workforce and Massaquoi would be ‘ideal for such an assignment’. Massaquoi was promised an apprenticeship with a first-rate firm and as he gave the Heil Hitler salute before turning to leave, Massaquoi was called back by von Vett. He asked, ‘Aren’t you going to shake my hand?’.  Massaquoi duly did and gained his interview for an apprenticeship soon after.[xiii]

Massaquoi is not the only example of Afro-Germans living during the Nazi regime. Louis Brody was an actor in several Nazi propaganda films and Hans Hauck fought in the Wehrmact. Their lives, as well as being fascinating, provide a more truthful narrative of life in Nazi Germany, and would enhance students’ understanding of the complex racial laws, stereotypes, and hypocrisies at work in Germany in the years leading up to and during the war.[xiv]

The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks

One popular and longstanding unit within England’s history GCSE courses is Medicine Through Time.[xv] Its huge sweep of chronology and thematic approach provides another opportunity to deploy a ‘multidirectional memory’ approach when considering the ethical, legal and social effects of technology on public healthcare in Britain. Although the name may not be familiar, it is highly likely that we have all benefitted medically in some way due to Henrietta Lacks. An African American born in the 1920s, Lacks became the unwitting donor of cells from a cancerous tumour. Prior to Lacks’ cells being harvested, human cells that were cultured in labs lasted only a few days. There was something different about Lacks’ cells. They seemed to thrive and grow in cell culture and the mass manufacturing of her cells led to innovations in cloning, drug development for cancer, polio and many other medical conditions. Lacks’ family received no profits from these advances to modern medicine, or indeed any healthcare in a country that often denied them basic rights.  Henrietta’s cells – taken without the dying woman’s knowledge or consent – were helping people in countries where she would have been barred because of the colour of her skin.[xvi] Understanding modern medicine without an appreciation of Henrietta Lacks produces a history that is reductive. Her story – told in an engaging and accessible way in Rebecca Skloot’s book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – also allows students to consider the ethics of the history they are studying, and enables them to see how one story can come into conversation, and indeed conflict, with another.

A black-and-white photo of Lacks smiling
By (archived link), Fair use, Link

The three stories briefly set out above are only a small introduction to the rich material available to teachers and students in the move towards diversifying the curriculum. Deliberately focussed on twentieth-century history, they are all easily linked to topics already studied in classrooms across the country, and fall within the existing subject knowledge of teachers. As I hope the stories demonstrate, a ‘multidirectional memory’ approach to teaching history can move us beyond a limiting method of seeing black history as separate, superficial and distracting  side-story from the ‘real’ history that needs to be taught at examination level.

References

[i] ‘We’re here because we’re here’ was a UK-wide event commissioned by 14-18 NOW as a memorial to mark the Battle of the Somme. Details about the memorial and additional images can be found at the following address: https://becausewearehere.co.uk/

[ii] Olusoga, D. (2016) Black and British: A Forgotten History, London: Macmillan, p.xxi

[iii] Lyndon, D. (2006) Integrating Black British History into the National Curriculum, Teaching History, 122, Rethinking History Edition, pp.37-43; Whitburn, R. and Yemoh, S. (2012) ‘Hidden histories and heroism: post-14 course on multi-cultural Britain since 1945’, Teaching History, 147, Curriculum Architecture Edition, pp.16-25; Harris, R., Burn, K. and Woolley, M. (2014) The Guided Reader to Teaching and Learning History, London: Routledge, see ‘Diversity’, p. 182; Gilborn, D. (2008) Racism and Education, Oxford: Routledge

[iv] Rothberg, M. (2009) Multidirectional Memory, Stanford: Stanford University Press, p.3

[v] Mohamud, A. and Whitburn, R. (2016) Doing Justice to History, London: UCL Institute of Education Press

[vi] Rothberg, op. cit.,p.5

[vii] Hall, S. (1991) ‘Old and New Identities’ in Anthony D. King (ed.) Culture, Globalization and the World-System, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p.48-49

[viii] http://westendatwar.org.uk/documents/E._Ita_Ekpenyon_download_version_.pdf

[ix] Hello! West Indies (1943) Directed by John Page, Great Britain, Ministry of Information/Paul Rotha Productions; West Indies Calling (1943) Directed by John Page, Great Britain, Ministry of Information/Paul Rotha Productions

[x] Bourne, S. (2010) Mother Country: Britain’s Black Community on the Home Front 1939-45, Gloucester: The History Press

[xi] Massaquoi, H-J. (2001) Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany, New York: Harper Perennial, p.41

[xii] Phillips, R. (2001) ‘Making history curious: Using Initial Stimulus Material (ISM) to promote enquiry, thinking and literacy’, Teaching History, 105, Talking History Edition, pp.19-25

[xiii] Massaquoi, op. cit., pp.198-199

[xiv] Lusane, C. (2002) Hitler’s Black Victims, London: Routledge, Campt, T.M. (2005) Other Germans, Ann Arbour: The University of Michigan Press

[xvi] Skloot, R. (2010) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, London: Pan Books

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Using new technologies to enhance teaching and learning in History

Using New Technologies book coverA brief update to publicise a book that I have contributed to and edited by Professor Terry Hadyn of UEA. Using New Technologies to Enhance Teaching and Learning in History (Routledge) is now available in paperback and a ebook friendly version will be available within the month.

I recall a few years ago being told by someone very prominent in the History teaching community that ‘ICT had been done’ and did not require any more thought. This book indicates that the judicious use of technology is still an issue to be grappled with especially as the thoughtful use of technology stems from careful thinking about subject knowledge, skills and literacy.

The ebook version will have links which will be constantly updated and may come with additional chapters. My contribution includes how iPads can be used to enhance History teaching and also the use of iBooks Author. I hope you find it useful and let me know if you have any questions.

Contents are below:

Professor Terry Hadyn What does it mean to be good at ICT as a history teacher and We Need to talk about PowerPoint),

Neal Watkin The history utility belt: getting learners to express themselves digitally

Ali Messer History Wikis

Arthur Chapman Using discussion forums to support historical learning

Dan Lyndon Using blogs and podcasts in the history classroom

Richard Jones-Nerzic Documentary film making in the history classroom

John Simkin Making the most of the Spartacus Educational website

Ben Walsh Signature pedagogies, assumptions and assassins: ICT and motivation in the history classroom

Johannes Ahrenfelt Immersive learning in the history classroom: how social media can help meet the expectations of a new generation of learners

Alf Wilkinson What can you do with an interactive whiteboard?

Nick Dennis and Doug Belshaw Tools for the tech savvy history teacher

Janos Blasszauer History webquests

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Conference Update #1

I love good news especially when I know others (as well as myself) will benefit. This weekend I had two good pieces of news which I am really pleased to relay.

The first piece is that Alistair Smith, author of Accelerated LearningLearning to Learn, the Secrets of Successful Schools and renowned trainer has agreed to speak at the Teaching, Learning & Assessment conference at Berkhamsted School on the 16th March 2013.

The second piece of good news is that Professor Bill Lucas, co-author (with Guy Claxton) of New Kinds of Smart, The Learning Powered School  and co-director of Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester has also agreed to speak.

With workshops run by outstanding teachers from across the country alongside distinctive and challenging key speakers, we believe that the conference will be a unique learning experience for attendees with lots of practical, effective ideas. Ticket prices and details about booking will appear on the blog and the Berkhamsted School website in October. What I can reveal is that the event price will be pleasing to everyone!

Places will be limited on the Saturday to make the workshops manageable so please bear this in mind when tickets are released. To enhance the weekend and to provide as much collaboration as possible, we will also be holding a TeachMeet on Friday 15th March which will be free to everyone. Further details will also be released in the next few months.

The response to the call for workshop proposals has been fantastic and we are still looking for more suggestions. If you would consider presenting a workshop or would like further information, please sign up to our Google Form on the original announcement post.

We look forward to seeing you on the 16th March! Stay tuned for further updates….

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How to use an iPad effectively in your classroom: #2 Feedback Support/Overviews with Attitude

Feedback on students’ work is, according to the research (John Hattie and Dylan Wiliam), the most effective way to raise achievement. Despite knowing this, we find it hard to give the necessary time to discuss in depth the strengths and areas for development due to perceived constraints (syllabus/curriculum coverage, behaviour management issues or lack of time). I remember a few years ago when I was struggling to find a way to incorporate feedback that an inspirational teacher (and good friend ) Iain Biddle at Presdales School pointed me in the right direction. Iain would set up a task and then use the lesson to meet every student for a few minutes to go through their work. His argument that the feedback was more important than the curriculum being covered for one lesson stuck with me and I soon adopted his idea with my own students but I always felt a little dissatisfied about the tasks I set as I felt that sometimes there was more emphasis on keeping the students busy rather than learning.

With my IB History class this term I have really worked hard to give effective feedback but I was at the point in my Scheme of Learning where I really needed to start the new topic of Mao’s consolidation of power in China 1949-57. I normally start a new topic by using an overview so students can gain a sense of the ‘Big Picture’ and lean heavily on the work of Ian Dawson. However, the overviews I employ demand heavy teacher involvement which means not being able to spend quality time giving the necessary feedback. I needed an alternative.

I had been toying with the idea of using ePub books for a while but needed to find the right time. ePub is an electronic book format that can be created using a number of applications including Apple’s Pages application and the results can be pretty stunning with audio, video and images embedded with the text. This seemed to be a good alternative in terms of giving the students information but I also wanted them to gain a sense of chronology. An ePub book by itself was not going to allow me to do this (apart from using a very drab timeline) but I returned to one tool that has been incredibly useful for teaching chronology: Beedocs’ Timeline 3D. What is impressive about the application is the ability to create timelines and embed multimedia into the timeline itself giving both a sense of chronology and knowledge. Having created a timeline with clips from a number of documentaries on China and audio clips by Professor Rana Mitter and Dr Patricia Thornton from the University of Oxford, I embedded the video file created by Timeline 3D into Pages. I added a few questions for the students to work on and made sure the video file was ‘inline’ with the text (necessary to do otherwise Pages cannot convert the document to ePub). I then copied the ePub file to the iPads and told the to bring their headphones in to the next lesson.

What followed was an example of the pedagogy driving the use of the device, not the other way round (or as I have started to say, the device is not the pedagogy). I handed the students the iPads, pointed out iBooks to them and told them to open the book and complete the work. The duly plugged in their headphones and set about gaining an overview of Mao’s China. Whilst they were watching/listening/reading, I spoke to each student individually about their essay using the following format:

  • I ask  how they felt the essay went (they usually fill in a self assessment form when they submit work).
  • I go through the aspects I really like
  • We then discuss specific things they could do to improve.

As I have come to expect, the students responded positively to the feedback but what was particularly interesting was what I noticed when I observed the students using the iPad:

  •  Students could pick up their learning where they left it after discussing their work and they did not feel disadvantaged by spending a few minutes in the corridor discussing their work;
  • The ability to ‘scrub’ through the clip and minimise the video within the ePub so they could see the questions allowed them to replay important points at their own speed and to reduce the friction between moving between the questions and the resource.

This may seem a pretty mundane lesson as essentially they were given some material and I spoke to them individually about their work. The result in the first instance was extremely positive; they were able to return the following lesson and relate the overview of events to the abstract discussion on Mao’s political ideology which I was very pleased about. As for the feedback, I am looking forward to the next essay as I now get drafts before the deadline with the feedback incorporated into the work. It may not be the most ‘showy’ use of an iPad, but it certainly was very effective in terms of learning.

 

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Check in – what have I been doing in the last two months?

I have been away from the blog and twitter for the last two months. What have I been doing?

Work

Being a senior leader in a school is always challenging in terms of extending your own capacity and helping others to do the same. This term has again provided many learning opportunities and victories in helping staff and students develop their potential. My International Baccalaureate class have devoured everything I have thrown at them in terms of 20th Century Chinese History and I feel happy about their position coming in to the mock exams. We have set up the new internal MIS system and instituted a new website and the mobile learning project is coming along.

Movember

With the support of many of you I have managed to raise over £300 for the Prostate Cancer Charity. I am humbled to think that a bit of face furniture can make a difference…

#edjournal

It is finally here and I am very pleased with the first issue. Editing takes a lot of effort (as I have learned!) but it has been worth reading every single word. James Michie has worked hard on the design and the support of the community on Twitter has been heartening. I look forward to reading/hearing about the reaction and we are already in the advanced stages of the second issue with a focus on mobile learning.

London History Network

I will be upfront and say how much I admire a woman who goes on national TV with ballons under her arms and shouts, ‘Good morning Year 7’. Esther Arnott, filmed for the teachers tv programme From Good to Outstanding and the woman with the ballons under her arms, let me in on her plan to create a network for History teachers in London. We now have the first London History Network meeting at the Department for Education on the 28th January. If you would like to sign up, please register your interest at the network website.

Orange

I have been negotiating with the mobile phone provider Orange for the better part of a year about a deal to provide mobile devices in the hands of staff, parents and students so that mobile learning can truly take off at Felsted and beyond. I am pleased to say that we have reached the final stage and the project should go live in January alongside Radley College and Haberdasher’s Aske’s Boys’ School. The parents and students are looking forward to the devices and I am very interested to see the effect of a lower entry price point in device standardisation.

Independent Schools Council

Somewhat to my surprise, I have been invited to be a member of the Independent Schools Council ICT Strategy group. Consisting of Headmasters/mistresses and ICT specialists from the different independent school associations, the group offers strategic advice relating to ICT to Heads, Governors, Bursars and other senior leaders at independent schools across the UK.

What is coming next?

I have been invited by the Faculty of Education, Cambridge to run a seminar on educational technology and RE teaching in January and then I am going to the Apple Education Leadership Summit in London. If you are coming to the latter event, it would be good to meet and exchange ideas. I have also agreed to write a A Level History textbook with a difference for the Schools History Project/Hodder if I can fit it in…

Image: lululemon athletica@ Flickr

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SCVNGR Reflections

I have been talking up the potential of SCVNGR since I first heard about it earlier this year as I thought it would provide a vehicle for games based learning at the school and beyond. Initially marketed as an electronic scavenger hunt, the direction and feel of the application was changed during the course of the year to incorporate social networking functionality similar to Foursquare. Even with this change in orientation, I believed that it would be possible to use the platform to implement a game based learning approach to historical trips/visits. Questions (or ‘challenges’) can be set and answered by typing specific answers, free form text, submitting a picture or scanning a QR Code. The experience today has made me reflect carefully on the further use of the tool with the students.

The use of SCVNGR in school today was meant to provide a fun activity for the boarders and also test the application in a relatively controlled environment. As I was building the ‘Trek’ (it used to be called a scvngr) I realised that one of the aspects of the earlier build has disappeared, namely the ability to display large images in the game and attach questions to it. The screenshot below shows the original implementation.

Scvngr Screen Shot

Old Scvngr image based question

However, the new version of the game only allows (as far as I can tell) thumbnail displays (as the screen shot below also shows).

Current SCVNGR question with image.

Continuing with the image theme, the students had some issues uploading to the game the pictures they had to taken in order to answer a challenge. It seems to be an iPhone issue (seemed to work on Android devices) and this severely dented the enjoyment of the students taking part.

Uh oh...

The short game today has made me think very carefully about the use of such software in a classroom based environment. I still believe that it has massive potential for learning outside the four walls of the classroom and could lead to a significant modification of task design to help learning. However, the platform needs to be developed to to able to meet the high expectations of the learners and staff, especially with image submission. I had intended to use it for the Apple Regional Training event at the school this week but I am undecided at the moment. If you are coming to the event, be prepared to test it out and let me know what you think.

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Travelling without maps (I)

World Map - 1689

‘We could roll up the map of the Cold War and travel without maps for a while’
E P Thompson on the possibility of social groups affecting the Cold War in 1982.

The academic year has finished and as you often do when things end, I started to think about my assumptions at the beginning of year. In some cases, I exceeded my expectations and in other areas I have been left with an uneasy gnawing feeling that only exists when things are left undone or have been completed poorly. Thinking about my role as Assistant Head in particular, I have come to realise that the plans I made were just guesses, contingent on a range of assumptions (succinctly and brutally put in Fried and Hansson’s ‘Rework’) that I was not really in control of despite my best efforts. Of course, there were variables I could control myself but my ‘map’ of how I thought the year was going to go did not lead me to plan for all the changes I was going to encounter. It is impossible to plan for everything but one thing I can do is to get better at preparing myself before I start. I have learned from experience that the best way to challenge and stimulate my own thinking is by seeing the excellence displayed by my peers. It was obvious that a journey around the country to see and experience excellence would help me create a more detailed ‘map’ for the coming academic year.

Source work at Diana Laffin's workshop

Source work at Diana Laffin's workshop

The first ‘stop’ on this journey is the Schools History Project conference in Leeds. This is a good place to start as it provides an amazing opportunity to see many History teachers and trainers at the top of their game in one place. One person I always try to see is Diana Laffin. Her work with her A Level History students always forces me to raise my expectations on what can be done with History in the 6th Form. This year was no exception and the source analysis activity she and Emma Kelley modelled using Enoch Powell’s speech was brilliant. They gave us the text of the speech but also said that an extra sentence/paragraph had been inserted and we needed to identify it. What this neat trick did was to force us to read the source a few times, getting a feel for the overall speech and looking for a specific phrase or wording which would betray the inserted text. This ‘surface’ and ‘deep’ reading worked brilliantly. They also asked us to annotate, in silence, the questions we would like to ask and any observations we wanted to make before we could discuss it as a group. Finally, we were instructed to make up a tabloid headline representing a particular point of view using a variety of sources, making the seemingly ‘dull’ topic of housing an engaging and ‘live’ topic. There are so many ways that their work could be deployed in my planning and I hope the students feel the benefit of Diana and Emma’s inspirational workshop.

Another stimulating experience was chairing the TeachMeet session with able assistance by John Heffernan, Sarah (Head of Classics at Felsted) and the brilliant ICT technicians at Trinity and All Saints. 39 people turned up to find out what other teachers were doing in their classroom and I was impressed and challenged by all the presentations. I would like to thank all the people who volunteered to present, Steve Bunce for booking the Flashmeeting and Doug Belshaw for keeping things running virtually. In addition, I also want to thank the sponsors: Beedocs, Vital, Heinemann and Toucan Computing. After the frenetic pace of the TeachMeet I had hoped for a rest but I readily volunteered to became a ‘common soldier’ in Parliament’s Army as part of Ian Dawson’s brilliant Saturday night extravaganza on the English Civil Wars in the North of England. Ian’s work is interesting as he has the knack of making the fiendishly complex easy to understand through active learning and this session was no different. The weekend was rounded off with a session delivered by Christine Counsell on Change and Continuity. What I loved about this session was Christine’s use of the Cambridge PGCE students’ work to illustrate her points and the understanding that her thinking on the issue was still developing. I was also struck by her use of Playdoh to get the delegates to represent key concepts in a visual way. This is a brilliant way to get the students to genuinely show their understanding of a concept even though it appears to be simply making shapes to represent a word.

Christine Counsell at the SHP conference.

Christine Counsell at the SHP conference.

Christine’s activity with the Playdoh resonated with most of what I had seen that weekend in terms of the role ‘play’ has in learning; being a journalist or a common soldier increased my enjoyment and understanding of the topic we were looking at. How could I thoughtfully use such activities to increase engagement but also develop ‘deep’ thinking to allow my students to see and touch the different textures of the stories within my lessons? A possible answer to this question was given by visiting Dawn Hallybone at Oakdale Junior School in East London. This was an unusual place for me as a secondary teacher but Dawn is well known in UK educational technology circles as an advocate and leading practitioner of Game Based Learning. Seeing her class ‘On Safari’ radically altered my perception on Game Based Learning and my own teaching. Using the Nintendo Wii game, ‘Wild Earth: African Safari’, Dawn’s class roamed around the virtual Serengeti national park taking ‘pictures’ and recording information meticulously about the animals they encountered. When they were given a task by the game to find an animal they did not know, Dawn directed a student to find out and they shared the information with the class (like the case of the Zorilla, which I had no idea about). Always mindful of the environmental impact of their exploration (due to the bar on the top of the interactive whiteboard), they continued to record information about the animals they encountered in their notebooks until the game clock had elapsed. From a secondary school point of view, the level of concentration displayed really impressed me and what happened next really made me rethink writing at secondary level. Without the use of a writing frame, the pupils in pairs (via Purplemash) began to produce fantastic descriptions of the animals they had seen, using the facts they had gleaned from being ‘On Safari’ in their notebooks. I realised in that moment that what I had just seen was a creative approach to knowledge acquisition augmented by the intrinsic motivation of the pupils within a context where saying ‘I don’t know’ was seen as a necessary and normal part of learning. Dawn did guide her class at times but they were merrily recording information and writing without much external pressure. For a secondary teacher, it was revelatory and I would like to thank Dawn and her class for sharing their learning with me.

Both the SHP conference and the visit to Dawn’s school made me challenge my ‘map’ of priorities for next year. I still have two more schools to visit this week but it has become clear that in order to renew my focus and deal with the rapid changes and demands, I need to roll up the map of my current way of thinking and travel without maps for a while.

Front and first image: Chuck ‘Caveman’ Coker @ Flickr.

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Visible learning and mobile devices


You can tell I’m on holiday due to the number of blog posts written and today’s is something I have been turning over for a while. I intend to write, by the end of the Easter break, a discussion document on hand-held learning for the school. What has occupied my thoughts over the last week or so is not the selection of devices or the examples of use but the principles behind it. For me, this is the most important feature of any approach to e-learning, as it sets out the framework for the use of the technology. This is a slight departure from some of the literature and on educational technology; ‘engagement’, ‘retention’, ‘relevancy’ and ‘preparation for employment’ are usually included as the drivers for use. In the UK this seems an especially problematic as hardware and learning is often combined into the category ‘ICT’ and the promised land of increased achievement does not seem to match the spending. This conflation, and the subsequent lack of clarity, creates an environment where people can easily dismiss technology as a useful tool for educators. This is where John Hattie’s work provides an interesting read. His book, ‘Visible Learning’, a synthesis of 800 educational research studies over the last 15 years, points to a number of research based elements that seem to improve student achievement. Here are just three examples:

1.The ability for students to set their own targets on pieces of work/term grades
2.Small group learning
3.Feedback

He suggests that if we are to become excellent educators, we should heed the ‘signposts’ his research identifies (which, if national figures are taken into account, we do not do). I find his argument persuasive because as a teacher, I want to do the best for my students and his work clearly shows some things work very well in raising performance. I also think the above would provide a clear steer on what the outcomes of the principles should look like, but not limit the ways they could be achieved. Within this ‘space’ of choice, hand-held devices would become another tool but with some very distinctive possibilities in terms of where the learning can take place and when.

For example, students could record their provisional target grades (by submitting an audio file or by filling in a simple text box) and this is stored in a management information system/learning platform/VLE. They and the teacher could refer to the provisional target before attempting the work and then deciding whether the target has been met before submitting (and after). The potential for substantive feedback in this example is obvious and the technology, rather than being the driving force, acts as the vehicle for learning. On a school visit, the use of an application like Scvngr to check comprehension (and giving feedback with hints) on an individual or group level would also facilitate learning in line with the principles.

In both of the examples, mobile devices, with their camera/video recorder features, GPS capability, data connections and rich applications create the possibility to be more thorough in recording and challenging learning beyond the four walls of the classroom than with paper. Notice that they are not the driving force – it is the (research driven) learning that is most visible.

The above is just my first attempt at working through some of the principles behind hand-held learning and I’m sure, after reading Clayton Christensen’s ‘Disrupting Class’, my thinking will be refined. Comments, as usual, are most welcome.

Image: sherrattsam@Flickr

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Breaking cover…

Climbing a wall

Nearly there...

Now that I am on my Easter break, I have a chance to catch up with everything I was supposed to have done during term time. One thing that I said I would do is write about my visit to Turkey with Doug Belshaw to give a presentation and two workshops. We were invited by the European Association of History Teachers (EUROCLIO) to give share our ideas on History teaching and ICT with Turkish History educators including university professors, textbook writers and teachers. We were very pleased to accept the invitation and saw it as an opportunity to build on the work started by Michael Riley in his workshop in January. The main thrust of our discussion was that ICT should support learning and should not be thought about in an ‘add ICT and stir’ approach. I think the opening presentation went really well with lots of questions at the end. As a result, we decided to change the focus of our workshop and although it was acceptable, we both felt that it was not as sharp as it could be. The second workshop was far better from our point of view (the smiling faces gave us some clue!) and we think the delegates got a lot from seeing the ‘theory’ of historical learning put into practice using technology. The presentation and accompanying notes and video (they are in Turkish) can be found here.

From a personal point of view, the real highlight was seeing the work carried out by the educators since January. Despite being relatively experienced, I still struggle with key concepts/skills when planning a lesson or sequence of lessons and it really was fantastic to see how much work the delegates had put in since the previous meeting. Some of the ideas needed just a little development to be outstanding and I came away with a few really good activities to try out in my lessons (there was one great time line activity I will definitely use next term). What was particularly engaging for me was that nearly every single conversation was based around learning and it caused me to reflect deeply about my own work. Sometimes being an Assistant Head doesn’t leave you much room for reflexive thinking about your own teaching but I certainly left Turkey with a renewed purpose. Doug and I have been invited to work with EUROCLIO again I am looking forward to it.

Since coming back from Turkey, historiography has weighed heavily on my mind. I teach 19th Century Chinese history at IB and have been looking around for different lines of thought on the downfall of the Qing Dynasty. I have many great quotes from different writers but as I was looking around, I found that unless I was in a university department, I could not gain access to the latest research in the areas I teach. Sure, I can provide quotes from Gray, Spence and Chesenaux et al but I personally have little sense of the debate about the Qing downfall in comparison to the debates about the place of the Nazis in German history or Mao’s role in China. It may be my lack of reading (I’m sure it is) but even with the topics I just mentioned, why is there no helpful place where it is all together in a clear format I can use with my students? I can see another project being formed… 🙂

iPhone 3GS times 2

Boxfresh Apples from Orange.

Finally, the school is looking at doing some really exciting things with mobile technology in the next few months. Orange and Apple are helping with the set up of a trial project and once we have consulted the students about what they think is useful, I hope we will have a clear steer about where we should be going. I have realised that discussions around innovative technology take time and demand very good planning and the views of the students are absolutely essential (and neatly links with my other responsibility at school). One thing I will recommend they look at is the work at ACU. They have been a great source of inspiration for me and some of their faculty have set up network to foster debate about mobile learning. I suggest you take a look to see how the debate breaks cover from the usual arguments about mobile learning…

Lead image by Sam Judson @ Flickr

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2010 – The Year of the Monolith?

iPod Touch

iPod Touch – 2010 style

After talking and thinking about how I would use mobile devices in the History classroom with a variety of people on Twitter and at Ed Tech Round Up, I decided to look at a few applications that may help me achieve my objectives. I always have in mind a number of questions when looking at technology/applications and the most important is whether I can do the same job without it (it keeps my inner geek instinct to use new tools without thinking about how useful they are in check).

One of the apps that has some impressive possibilities is Big Nerd Ranch’s eClicker and eClicker Host for the iPod Touch/iPhone. Louise Duncan plans on using it with her iPods (I recommend reading her blog if you are interested in using the iPod Touch in your classroom) and I can see why. Apart from its apparent ease of use and visual feedback is how it fits into Dylan Wiliam’s 2007 paper on good assessment in the classroom (thanks to Neal Watkin for passing this one to me). Essentially, Wiliam thinks good questions with multiple answers (without designating one correct answer) relays how much students understand and allows the teacher to adjust their teaching accordingly. For example, I may set a question on Women in Nazi Germany with five possible answers and the students have a minute to answer. All the choices may be correct but at different levels of the GCSE markscheme. So if the minimum target grade of the class is a ‘B’ but half give answers akin to a ‘C’ or ‘D’ grade I can then discuss this with the class and tease out the misunderstanding. It also allows the results of the sessions to be emailed for further analysis so decisions about the process in the classroom can be made.

Of course, this can be done using cards or mini-boards and the teacher checking visually and adjustments made during the lesson. What is really interesting is how the technology allows you to aggregate the information from the students in email form to be studied closely when more time is available for reflection, leading to a more thoughtful calibration of the teaching/learning process. Ideally, combining both the app and the cards/mini-boards would be a great way to check understanding in the classroom. I hope to explore the technological side of this in more detail over the coming year as well as looking at other ways to integrate mobile technologies into the classroom.

Image by nickhumphries @ Flickr

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