I mentioned earlier this year that I was slightly frustrated by talk about educational research in schools. So I decided to do something about it and applied to do a Masters at the University of Oxford. My original plan was to write about the research once it was completed, yet a wonderful opportunity to discuss some of the issues in relation to History teaching specifically has changed my mind. From November, I will be posting a monthly blog on the Schools History Project website based on the readings/tasks I have been set alongside questions about how the generic/specific educational research used throughout the course might be applicable to a History classroom. The purpose is not to tell you how to use the research but to engage in a conversation about what it might mean.
If you have any topics you would like to suggest in terms of discussion, please add them in the comments section below.
Having done a lot of work on CPD in schools since I took over the role at Berkhamsted, I have seen a recurring theme around quality of CPD available to educators at events that are by their very nature, broad in their appeal. As a History teacher, it is great to learn about wider educational concerns but it has little direct impact on my teaching. In the ‘Pedagogical Content Knowledge’ frame, my ‘pedagogical’ knowledge may increase yet I am not able to ‘practise like I play’. Thankfully, the Schools History Project’s national conference allows me to engage with some of the best thinking about effective History teaching over three days.
I have made no secret that the Schools History Project is a major influence on my intellectual and professional development with the Teaching, Learning and Assessment Conference held at Berkhamsted being the most visible manifestation. And as I sat in the auditorium with 289 other History educators (including delegates from Brazil, Malta, Japan, Singapore, South Africa, Germany), I wondered if other subject areas had events like this that covered all specifications (the conference is for all teachers of History and not tied to the SHP specifications).
The highlights for me included Don Cumming’s opening address and two workshops from Christine Counsell and Dale Banham. I have admired Don’s work from afar and whilst others may have sought to use social media to celebrate their work and views, Don has continued to work for the benefit of the students under his care and the History teaching community in the North of England. Deconstructing the view that there is an ‘island story’ by close examination of the curricula used in Scotland and England and the narratives they tell by omission. We talk of the Norman invading but not of the Norman Empire. We talk of English monarchs yet do not discuss the Angevin ‘Empire’. We talk of the Vikings but not of Cnut’s rule in Norway, Denmark and Sweden. In terms of stories about Scottish History, Don identifies the bias in the narrative where the ‘English’ are seen solely as ‘conquerors’ and how we repeat this bias in England by missing out the complexity in these events (this was developed by Ian Dawson’s brilliant role-play on the importance given to Bannockburn). It really was a great opening session and showed that even when he feels like Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets, he is saying the right things.
Christine Counsell‘s session addressed a number of issues I have wanted to blog about for a while yet did not have the reading, thinking or subtlety to compose. Christine started by suggesting that we are able to read a piece of text by Simon Schama not because of ‘literacy’ but because we have substantive knowledge and knowledge of ‘second-order’ concepts in History (such as change, continuity etc). Teaching the subject well demands that we address both. Or in other words, we need to plan with ‘fingertip knowledge’ in mind as well as ‘residual knowledge’. Christine also addressed the issue of ‘measuring’ historical progress through assessments and the work of her PGCE students and former trainees is outstanding. When people suggest that University training of teachers is universally poor, I point to the Cambridge History PGCE course.
My final highlight was Dale Banham’s workshop which was pragmatic to its core with a focus on improving written work. There were so many ideas and my two key takeaways are his consistent approach to using the Cornell method of note-taking for Sixth Formers and the use of graphical organisers to help essay planning. I will certainly be using these two ideas when term resumes. I suggest you check the Schools History Project website for further information on the resources showcased by Dale.
There were also some workshop/plenary sessions where I left with more questions than when I started. Denis Shemilt and Frances Blow’s idea of ‘Big History’ and the practical application of it by Dan Nuttall and Laura Goodyer seemed to me more of a diachronic (through time) view of History rather than a reconfigured ‘Big History’. I think I need to read more about ‘Historical Frameworks’ before I can reach a genuine conclusion.
Outside the workshops it was good to catch up with old friends and make some new ones. Thanks to Michael Riley, the SHP conference team and all the workshop leaders and plenary speakers. In a world of CPD without context, it is incredibly useful to ‘practise as we play’ before the new academic year in September.
There are two dozen platforms, Minkkinen explains, from each of which several different bus lines depart. Thereafter, for a kilometre or more, all the lines leaving from any one platform take the same route out of the city, making identical stops. “Each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer,” Minkkinen says. You pick a career direction – maybe you focus on making platinum prints of nudes – and set off. Three stops later, you’ve got a nascent body of work. “You take those three years of work on the nude to [a gallery], and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn.” Penn’s bus, it turns out, was on the same route. Annoyed to have been following someone else’s path, “you hop off the bus, grab a cab… and head straight back to the bus station, looking for another platform”. Three years later, something similar happens. “This goes on all your creative life: always showing new work, always being compared to others.” What’s the answer? “It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the fucking bus.”
What hooked me at the time, and still does, is its relevance to teaching by challenging what has become a maxim and revealing a proclivity towards the ‘new’ that can be detrimental to doing great work with students and colleagues. The precept it challenges is that feedback is useful. With the work of Hattie, Berger(and many others before) now becoming a normal part of discourse when discussing education and professional development for teachers, it seems that sometimes we forget to explain that it is the quality of the feedback that matters, especially in a world of RTs, ‘Likes’ and ‘Favourites’. The kind of feedback we wish for our students can be missed or in extreme cases replaced by these tiny affirmations. As useful and helpful as these comments may be in certain contexts, they can represent feedback of the most tenuous kind (I often think about the hopefuls in televised singing contests when they are faced with the unvarnished feedback that they are not as good as they have been led to believe by family/friends in their desire to be supportive). Consequently, emboldened by these recommendations, the blogs/writing/books/talks proliferate. For every instance of the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ there lurks the spectre of ‘groupthink’.
According to Burkeman, the second aspect the metaphor illustrates is our propensity to ‘fetishise originality’. In education, this may be a new turn of phrase, a new technology, a new blog post or even a new book. The cost of chasing these new ideas, essentially taking the taxi back to the station and taking another bus, means that you will delay your progress in becoming the great, effective educator you hope to be. I was reminded of the consequences of keeping to the same route when I saw the project Dale Banhamand Russell Hall are leading using Hattie’s work at the Schools History Project conference in July. Five years on after I was first introduced to the book by Dale, he is still grappling with the ideas to the benefit of his students and his school.
I was also reminded of deliberate and thoughtful work when the Head of Boys, Chris Nicholls, retired at the end of term. I’ve already written about him in a previous post and I don’t want to embarrass him any more although I think the picture below captures some of the depth of feeling the students had for him on his final day after 38 years at one school.
Goodbye, Mr Nicholls
I’m not suggesting that absorbing new ideas and ways of looking at things is wrong. They are vital for development and are essential for finding your own way yet they should be tempered by the realisation that there are no quick fixes or slogans that substantively lead to progress. Minkkinen writes:
The buses that move out of Helsinki stay on the same line but only for a while, maybe a kilometer or two. Then they begin to separate, each number heading off to its own unique destination. Bus 33 suddenly goes north, bus 19 southwest. For a time maybe 21 and 71 dovetail one another but soon they split off as well, Irving Penn is headed elsewhere. It’s the separation that makes all the difference, and once you start to see that difference in your work from the work you so admire (that’s why you chose that platform after all), it’s time to look for your breakthrough.
The journey to becoming a great educator is hard and can be frustrating. However, by following Minkkinen’s exhortation to ‘stay on the fucking bus’, working hard, being reflective and possessing the courage of your convictions, which motivated you to start the journey in the first place, you may just become the great teacher you hope to be.
With eight weeks to go, preparations for the first Teaching, Learning & Assessment conference at Berkhamsted on Saturday 16th March are going up a gear. Recruiting student leaders, organising workshop programme design, discussions with other organisations, and talking to workshop leaders has been part of the regular week of teaching, meetings, tours and Excel use. One standout moment was receiving an email from Ollie in Year 8 who has designed the conference logo. A final version will appear in the next few weeks but you can see Ollie’s drafts below:
Ollie is a fantastic artist and he was given the brief to design something to that would adequately represent the conference and his idea of what teachers should do. In explaining the choice of logo, Ollie wrote in an email to me, ‘The hand gives guidance to the growing plant, providing help to support the growth and development of the plant. As a metaphor, the hand represents the teacher and the plant the child.”
I think Ollie’s work captures the ideas behind the conference perfectly.
This leads me neatly to a post on Mark Anderson’s blog about TeachMeet Clevedon(Mark is leading a workshop at the conference). When planning the conference, my view was that it could never be a TeachMeet (there is one the night before) but would be more like the Schools History Project’s national History conference. Instead of History specialists from many schools gathering together to share their work, the conference in March will have teachers from a range of schools and subjects. It was also agreed that the conference would be a little different in other ways:
A Saturday was selected to make sure cover was not an issue either for workshop leaders or people who wanted to attend;
The price was to be as low as possible;
All money from ticket sales and sponsorship is going straight into the running of the conference;
Workshop leaders agreed to give up their time freely to present (similar to the SHP conference).
I am pleased to say that we have been able to keep to these ideas (even when it was tempting to deviate because it would have been easier).
In a similar fashion, the workshops also share the thoughtful approach:
Workshops will have a clear learning problem driving them. What drove the workshop leaders to make a change and what was the impact on learning?
The focus for the workshops will be on classroom practice, learning and making progress;
Workshops will be interactive with workshop leaders taking you through some of the activities so you can experience the idea yourself;
Workshop leaders will be upfront about the tech/resource costs;
Workshop leaders will provide key ‘takeaways’ from the sessions – either in terms of ideas/resources (hopefully both)!
A few workshop titles should illustrate the principles below:
Literacy & Accelerated Success in Modern Foreign Languages at A Level – Karen Morris, Assistant Head of Languages, Teacher of German and Ab-Initio Spanish, Queen Mary’s College, Basingstoke
Creating a high performance environment for learners: mind-set and behaviour determines the outcome – Alex Battinson, Head of PE and Deputy Housemaster, Hurstpierpoint College, Sussex
The IB’s Middle Years Programme: designing an English literature course with formative assessment at its core. – Dr David James, Director of IB, Wellington College, Bucks
Rebooting my teaching: Stealing ideas from primary schools and shaking up my secondary classroom – Dave Stacey, eLearning Coordinator and History Teacher, Olchfa School, Swansea
A finalised programme will be available in the next few weeks. We do hope you are able to join us. It promises to be a fun, stimulating (and principle driven) day!
‘People are motivated by good ideas tied to action; they are energized even more by pursuing action with others; they are spurred on still further by learning from their mistakes; and they are ultimately propelled by actions that make an impact’. p.7
For me, this neatly described the ongoing attraction of a conference in its 24th year; people are drawn to and spurred on by actions which make a difference in classroom across the country. The conference is unique as far as I know; classroom practitioners mingle with subject advisers, publishers, academics and trainers with the express purpose of improving historical understanding and buying into the key principles of the Schools History Project:
History should be meaningful
Historical enquiry should be the bedrock of learning
Studies should take the long view to enhance chronological understanding
Diversity in terms of content, approaches to study and peoples is important
Local history should play a key role in the historical education of young people
History should be fun and rigorous.
Everything that followed from Michael Riley’s opening address tied to the core principles which he outlined and not just limited to the workshops but also in the spaces in-between; the coffee areas, the dining hall and the pub. I was surprised and delighted with the new faces at the conference and there seems to be a growing shift in the age of attendees which bodes well for the continuation of what is possibly the longest serving curriculum development project in the world.
Dr Michael Riley – SHP Director
I presented two sessions and I thought the first one was poor by my usual standards. Everything I normally do before giving presentations I did not/was not able to do (I have a routine, like athletes do). As a result, I felt that is was middling at best. I then spent most of lunch and the Saturday afternoon/evening ironing out the technical/logistical issues. As a result, the second session on Sunday felt a lot better. One key learning takeaway for me? Make sure that all equipment is set up for me (especially when using around 50k worth of kit loaned by Apple) and if not possible, limit your ambition! I would like to thank Leonie and Mike at Apple for their help in arranging the iPads and Macbooks for the conference. We should all keep an eye out for some exciting things coming from English Heritage and the National Archives on the mobile learning front…
As usual, Don Cumming and Dan Lyndon‘s session showed the positive power of collaboration in the classroom and how it can be used to solve genuine historical issues. Their enthusiasm and deep understanding of learning left me lots of things to think about. Donald and Don’s campaign for Olaudah Equiano’s Blue Plaque is something I would urge you to get involved in. The only other session I was able to attend was the brilliantly practical workshop by Tim Jenner and Paul Nightingale on using sources. The argue that source skills should not be taught as a ‘bolt-on’ but should become familiar to students through I liked how they used the ‘splat’ game to get students to hit inferences created by the class/teacher. I loved their idea of cutting up a source and asking the students to recreate what they think it is and then at the end of the lesson, compare with the original. The example they used in the workshop was ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ with the images cut up. Our group created an image to conform to our expectations of ‘normal’ which seemed plausible. As the lesson progresses, the students are asked to move the images around to reflect the learning. I thought this was particularly powerful as it meant that students could then explain why the church appears upside down and in the sky due to the nature of the religious upheaval rather than just guess at it when they see the source for the first time. I will certainly be using their ideas in all my lessons next year.
The World Turned Upside Down – in pieces
A TeachMeet was also held this year and once again, I cannot thank the contributors enough (some did not know they were presenting until I twisted their arms when they walked into the room)! Feedback was great with attendees loving the rapid-fire nature of the presentations.
TeachMeet SHP12 attendees
The plenary sessions I attended were led by Richard McFahn and Neil Bates, Ben Walsh and Chris Culpin. I really enjoyed all of them, albeit for very different reasons. Richard and Neil’s session gave you pratical tips to take away and use, Ben (the ‘Silver Fox’ of History teaching – he sure is a handsome man!) left me laughing about the pressures we face as history teachers with some great clips to illustrate his points. This was my favourite as it showed how dangerous a very small amount of historical knowledge can be:
Saturday’s entertainment, as ever, was supplied by Ian Dawson. Making the point that Anglo-Saxon history is important (yet takes little time in the school curriculum), Ian showed us through militant Witans, jovial, shameless Vikings and an inspired King Alfred (played by Chris Culpin) that we really are missing a huge part of history when we leap from the Romans to the Normans (there was even a quick rendition of Monty Python’s ‘What have the Romans done for us?’ sketch).
Chris Culpin’s talk resonated with me as he is clearly focused on core purpose and principles and this was the running thread of the conference for me. It is clear that for over 40 years, the Schools History Project has worked hard at staying true to their principles and it was a challenge to me as I thought I may not be able to attend the conference next year due to the new role at Berkhamsted. I now think this was wrongheaded of me to even entertain this idea. Why would a senior leader in a school pass up the opportunity to see in action an educational organisation that operates so tightly and effectively within its principles and promotes high quality staff development?
As usual, it has taken me some time to process this year’s Schools History Project conference in all its glory. Held over a July weekend at Trinity and All Saints, Leeds, the conference is the premier event in the country for History teachers. Packed with workshops by innovative practitioners, I always walk away with ideas and challenges for the forthcoming year. My personal workshop highlight this year was seeing Johannes Ahrenfelt and Neal Watkin in action. Their session covered making the subject relevant to learners today but with a deep appreciation of pedagogy. I was particularly inspired by the work Neal is doing in school – more to come in a future post…
Neal Watkin at work
As always, I ended up missing some workshops due to scheduling and hearing the conversations about how great the workshops were did not make me feel any better! One interesting plenary session that I was able to see was the work of the Black and Asian Studies Association in conjunction with Dan Lyndon and Martin Spafford. The use of academic research in schools is so exciting and as we are rewriting our schemes of work/learning, I hope to get my hands on some of the showcased material.
I did not run a workshop this year but helped organise the second TeachMeet SHP edition at the conference. Last year we had around 30 delegates attend. We were given a much larger room this year and I was very pleased to see that the presenters drew a large crowd!
TeachMeet SHP edition
Once again, I must thank Don Cumming, Mark Stacey, Esther Arnott, Lesley Ann McDermott, Terry Haydn, Neal Watkin, Nichola Boughey, Sally Thorne and Julie Wright for giving such great presentations and putting up with me snapping away on my camera. I hope that for next year’s conference I will not have to twist the arms of people I know and I must give a special mention to Julie Wright for ‘walking the talk’ about a growth mindset and getting up and giving a presentation about Carol Dweck’s work in the context of the History classroom. I also need to thank Pearson for kindly providing sponsorship for the event and Michael Riley for having the wisdom to see what a TeachMeet could do despite my very poor explanation of the format. I believe that the forthcoming London History Network event in October will also have a TeachMeet session so if you would like to come along, please sign up on the website!
One of the best things about the conference is the collegiate atmosphere cemented by many a conversation and Ian Dawson’s saturday evening extravaganza. Unfortunately, not everyone can make it to Leeds so I was very pleased to hear that the ‘SHP Family’ will be making a day excursion to London on the 26th November to hold an event in the British Library. If you would like to come along and gain some of the best CPD ever, please check the SHP website, Twitter feed and Facebook page.
‘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
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’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.
The end of term is almost upon me and the theoretical ‘free time’ I should gain by losing my examination classes has been filled with other important bits of school work. This is usually a critical time for me as I start to plan ahead in detail and the need for ‘thinking time’ as part of the process is vital. I was provided an opportunity to think very carefully about plans for the next year by attending the Apple Regional Training Centre (RTC) conference in Manchester last week.
This was my first RTC conference and it brought home how wide and diverse the RTC programme is for Apple covering schools, City Learning Centres (CLCs) and other educational organisations. The theme for the conference was mobility and we were taken through some astounding numbers in terms of mobile device adoption in relation to other kinds of technology. One thing was made clear in relation to the adoption of mobile technology; content, provided by the teacher/web/company, was a key driver for use. After the introductory sessions by Apple staffers, delegates and Apple Distinguished Educators took the floor. I was particularly drawn to what Gillian Penny, a Headteacher from a primary school in Scotland, had to say about ICT. She made it clear that the learning has to come first in the use of technology. Abdul Chohan, Director of IT at Essa Academy, echoed this but I fear the message may have been lost on the conference by the sheer scale of the project at his school. Essa made the news last year when it gave an iPod Touch to every student. Whilst the media focussed on this aspect and the cost, Abdul in his presentation touched upon the change of ethos that governed the use of the iPods; All Will Succeed. This belief has led the Academy to reshape its curriculum and its teaching methods and the interim results look impressive.
On the technical side of things, there were two highlights to the conference. The first was Steve Beard’s ‘Making an iPhone app’ session using Xcode and Freeway, which he did in about 10 minutes. The second was Chris Jinks’ talk about the deployment and configuration of devices using Snow Leopard Server and the free iPhone configuration utility which allows you to manage the use of the device (you can disable the camera or remove the ability to browse the web for example). My colleague, the Head of Classics felt this was a great feature and would help allay fears surrounding behaviour management issues.
I was also reintroduced to a technology I had first heard about in 2006 from Doug Belshaw. I have also been looking at it again in relation to discussions with folk on Ed Tech Round Up and Johannes Ahrenfelt (especially in relation to Augmented Reality). Richard Clark’s talk about the work at Leicester CLC and QR Codes has reinforced my desire to look at this technology again more seriously. He and his team have used QR codes in primary schools to embed links to video on worksheets to model the learning so the pupils could complete the tasks. The potential for this technology is huge and all I really need for this to be work within my classroom is an iPod Touch with a camera…
Overall, I found the conference to be an enjoyable experience – I learned some new things but the key aspect for me was speaking to other RTCs about what they are doing. It also left me with some questions about the emphasis placed on the technology and missing the context that gives rise to the use of it in the first place. For example, Joe Moretti gave a workshop on Stanza and Calibre for producing Ebooks. It was useful to be reminded of the tool, but as a teacher, I was particularly interested in the way it was used to help literacy. I could not get to grips with how the technology would allow me to do something beyond what I could replicate in the classroom with a computer or with a piece of paper. I suppose the reason why I was so concerned is because this is something I constantly struggle with/ask myself about; does the technology helping the learning process or not? Is there enough pedagogical thought behind it to make it a genuinely useful tool which allows you to do something more quickly or even beyond your current set of tools? I don’t think this is a particularly innovative thought; this is something I am asked by many people I meet and to be frank, this keeps me, and my work, honest. Thanks to the Apple Education team and the Cornerhouse in Manchester for hosting us and for giving me the time and space to reflect. The next RTC conference is in November and I, alongside some of the other members of the mobile research team at Felsted, may present our project there.
The learning journey continues over the next month or two as I am heading to Cramlington Learning Village on the 25th June for their conference on teaching and learning. The following week sees me heading to the national Schools History Project conference in Leeds to present some work on technology and History teaching and chairing the TeachMeet session there. I’m really looking forward to the sessions on Change and Continuity by Christine Counsell, Diana Laffin’s presentation on A Level History teaching and Ian Luff’s workshop on active learning. After the conference, I am going on a grand tour of Teaching and Learning. First on my list is Neal Watkin‘s classes to see how John Hattie’s work on visible learning has affected the progress of students in the History classroom. I am then off to Essa Academy to learn about their framework for the use of technology and finally, I plan to see Dawn Hallybone’s school in action. I am also hoping to teach some History lessons at the local primary school (Flitch Green, also an Apple RTC) in the last week of their term. If you have any other ideas about what I should see, let me know. I will document each visit here on the blog.
Finally, a word about the mobile learning project. I’ve had a few requests for information about it and once we have ‘sharpened the saw’ on a few of the research issues, it will be publicised on the school website and on this blog. It is taking a little longer than expected but we want to make it as good as we can before the end of our term. I’m really excited by what the team here have come up with and we can’t wait to share it with you and our students.
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… 🙂
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…
With the exam crush looming ever closer (especially for my lovely IB class) and the need to consolidate learning that has taken place over the last year/two years, I often neglect the fact that I also need to reflect and learn about my subject. Two upcoming events this year should help me stay on the path of classroom refinement/enlightenment…
Next month Doug Belshaw and I are going to give an address and two workshops on History and ICT to Turkish History educators as part of the European Association of History Educators (EUROCLIO) which is funded by the Netherlands Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The way how History is taught in Turkey is being rethought and there is a desire to incorporate/develop more innovative methods; our role is to suggest how this can be done using examples of work in the UK. Doug and I will stress in our presentation that ICT is more than an ‘add water and stir’ approach and that it should support the work in the classroom rather than become the determining factor. This may seem pretty obvious but I sometimes lose sight when I come across a new/exciting tool and articipating in the conference reminds me to keep asking questions about what I do in the classroom and what direction my school is heading in.
The second event is the TeachMeet Doug and I are organising at the Schools History Project (SHP) conference in July (we are also presenting a workshop at the main event). This conference is THE conference for History educators and sessions are always informative with ideas that you can take away and use on the first day back in school. If you haven’t come across a TeachMeet before, it is a fantastic way to share teaching ideas through volunteers giving two or seven minute presentations in an informal and supportive atmosphere. This video made by BrainPop UK for another TeachMeet will help:
My experience of the TeachMeet at BETT was fantastic and I found out some really useful tips that were too ‘small’ for a seminar but very practical which stimulated much discussion at dinner and this is what we hope to achieve with the SHP version. We are currently looking for volunteers for the SHP TeachMeet so if you are intending to go and want to share your ideas and get involved in the conversation about teaching and learning in History, please get in contact via the TeachMeet page or Twitter (me or Doug Belshaw). Details on the conference can also be found on the schoolhistory.co.uk site. The outcomes of both of these events will now doubt appear on these pages and I look forward to creating exciting (or crazy depending on which student you ask) activities for my students as a result of the conversations!