Category Archives: Teaching

Die Hard…Or Not At All

Die Hard…Or Not At All

We have both lived in our small home town for 12  years. There is one route through the centre. After the first 3 years, the local council changed the road markings at a junction. You no longer had to make a right turn in order to exit the town, you just had to continue. You still drove on exactly the same roads but there was no longer a need to signal.

However, despite the fact that this change was made 9 years ago, both of us automatically signal a right turn as we approach the former junction...unless we make a conscious effort not to do so. We are not the only ones. I frequently follow drivers who signal needlessly at this junction and a knowing smile of empathy appears on my face. Old habits die hard…or, in this case, not at all.

The original pattern of neural pathways that must be triggered when approaching this junction seems deeply and irreversibly ingrained.  The flow of neural information needs to be consciously re-routed each time. This got me thinking about pedagogy, (sad but true), particularly ‘effective questioning’. Read on…

Image 1 - Version 2There is a place for ‘lower-order’ recall questions but I have been in many classrooms and settings where they are the only type of question posed to learners. Sometimes, it is just a straightforward ‘Who was Henry VIII’s second wife?’.

Sometimes, it’s the ‘finish my sentence’ variety, ‘…and the day after Tuesday is…is….hands up…anyone?’’

Then there is the ‘guess what’s in my head’ question – a recall disguised as a higher-order question – ‘How can we use Pythagoras’s Theorem in real life?…C’mon…you should know the answer…I told you last week!

Encouraging learners to engage in higher-order thinking, beyond recall, requires ‘thoughtful’ questioning from the practitioner. Of course, many of you reading this may have attended courses on ‘Effective Questioning’, ‘Higher-Order Thinking Skills’, ‘Bloom’s Taxonomy’ and ‘Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy’! You may have walked away with handouts of ‘levels’, ‘question starters’, etc. etc. You may even have walked away with inspiration and good intentions!

Despite the best efforts of your course presenter/trainer, it is unlikely that you walked away with a new, deeply-ingrained pattern of neural connections – unless, of course, your trainer was Derren Brown! Your automatic, habitual style of questioning is probably deeply and irreversibly(?) engrained. Effective questioning, one of the pillars of formative assessment, may not come naturally to you. Eek! What to do?

Speaking personally, I was educated and ‘trained’ in the traditional recall style. This was the pattern that I heard from my teachers and to which I responded. It is no effort for me to emulate them and think of recall questions. However, when I started to think about how I could engage my learners with ‘better’ questions, I found myself quite challenged. It was not as easy as simply following a ‘starter’ pattern listed on a handout. But, like most skills, the more I practised and experimented with formulating ‘thinking’ questions, the more comfortable I became with the process…and the results.

However, I can still slip into the habit of closed answer or recall questions, especially in a potentially stressful situation. The old neural patterns kick in and I have to consciously over-ride them.

Many moons ago, after attending a ‘thinking skills’ course, I scoffed at the idea of preparing questions in advance of a lesson, believing that any educator worth their salt would be able to create questions as needed. Since then, I’ve reassessed that view. I have always invested time and effort into preparing physical resources. Effective questions are a powerful resource. It seems strange to me now that I baulked at the idea of preparing questions to deeply engage learners with their learning. I can forgive myself because it was not part of my original training as an educator and thankfully, experience has been a wise and challenging mentor.

The good news is that by putting in the effort to design effective questions we are engaging and exercising our own grey matter in higher-order thinking activities…and I like it when educators actually model the skills they want to develop in their learners, instead of blindly following a commercially produced script. They call it integrity…I think. 🙂

OK. So, old habits die hard (…or not at all) because we may be up against forces at a molecular biology level – myelination and the like! That is forgivable. Knowlingly condemning learners to day after day of ‘Guess what’s in my head?’ is not. I echo this sentiment for every aspect of education where educators resist developing their own pedagogy because they believe they are ‘too set in their ways’. If we are are in the business of learning we need to be model learners…and sometimes we need to unlearn…and sometimes that can be tough…but in the words of John McLane “Yippee-ki-yay [ inset plural noun of your choice ]..!

For those of you who like/need to know this stuff…

*The image used  is a portion Sylvester (The 7th Doctor) McCoy’s costume from The ‘Dr Who Experience’, Cardiff.

** ‘Yippee-ki-yay + expletive’ is the character John McLane’s catchphrase, in the ‘Die Hard’ movies…when he leaps into action and violently destroys the bad guys/gals.

 

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‘Village’ People…

(…or Consciously Creating Community)

ny2 007

I grew up in a city in the 1960s. A network of terraced houses built in the 1800s to accommodate the local docks’ workers. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins lived a few streets or a short bus ride away. Front doors were frequently left unlocked. There was a butcher’s at the end of the street, a bakery on the corner of the next. My great aunt and uncle owned the local grocery (one of the few family members who were self-employed). We had a Post Office, a pharmacy (‘chemist’s’), a fish’n’chip shop, a cafe, a newsagent’s, a sweet shop and one of those small shops that defies categorisation, selling an odd assortment of bric-a-brac, toys, ironmongery, and textiles. If it had been 19th century USA it would probably have been labelled the ‘General Store’. There was even a small ‘dairy’ – no cows, just a distribution point for the local milkman to collect full milk bottles and deposit the ‘empties’.  All this within five minutes walk of my house. It was a ‘village’ within a city. Half a mile away there was another ‘village’ replicating the variety of shops.

As a toddler, shopping with my mother or grandmother could be interminable. Progress from shop to shop could be slow, as neighbours, acquaintances, and family members randomly met and exchanged news and gossip. Shopping for a neighbour or family member was not unusual. If it rained while you were out shopping, a neighbour would take your washing off the line and put it inside your back door.

Many of my grandparents’ generation lacked formal education, having left school at 14 in order to assist or solely support their families. They valued education and its potential rewards, encouraging their children to aspire to careers beyond the skilled or unskilled manual labour of the docks.

Consequently, family members of my parents’ generation gained a few academic or specialised qualifications. Changing their ‘collar’ colour from blue to white. With greater earning capacity and a wider choice of job opportunities, they left the ‘village’ and began to populate suburbia or more distant population centres. Some emigrated to new continents.

The family homes which had seemed like a busy network of bee-hives, with their constant to-ing and fro-ing between them, became quiet except for ‘celebration’ days or holidays. The telephone became the substitute for face-to-face interaction.

I am a child of the ‘diaspora’. My first cousins are scattered around the globe. The nearest member of my family lives 25 miles away.

The ‘village’ had its negatives as well as its positives. Those that didn’t conform could be shunned, bullied and belittled. They were not necessarily undermining the community, they were often expressing their individuality. You could be gossiped about for wearing clothes that were ‘too loud’ or having ‘ideas above your station’. For some, leaving the ‘village’ was  a liberating experience, essential for their personal growth and well-being. Be assured, I am not idealising. The ‘village’ had its fair share of ‘ne’er-do-wells’, rogues and a criminal element. In addition, maintaining a degree of privacy could be viewed as suspiciously secretive or exclusive.

What’s my point? Where am I going with this?

OK. In the ‘village’, the process of building and maintaining community required a minimum of effort. You could avoid it if you really tried but otherwise it just ‘happened’. The historical/geographical context governed the degree of interaction. Families and neighbours facing similar ‘struggles’ could and would empathise with each other. They would offer support, share resources and seek solutions. If you destroyed trust, the repercussions could last a lifetime (or two)!

In the strive for individualism and independence, have we lost that real sense of interdependence and kinship? How much would you really sacrifice for a suburban neighbour or co-worker who may be there one moment and gone the next? As we have become more ‘mobile’, both work and personal relationships may have a greater sense of ‘impermanence’. Also, if someone destroys trust, they may not have to live with the consequences for too long.

Building classroom communities requires deliberate and sustained effort. The values, attitudes, skills and knowledge to build a healthy community have to be internalised by learners who may not have had the experience of growing up in a ‘village’. The ethos and climate of classrooms cannot be solely dependent on the charisma, mood swings or dictats of the teacher/educator. At the other extreme, empowering learners does not mean allowing ‘jungle law’ to develop.

In a world seemingly driven by mobility and material acquisition, there is an even greater need to acquire ‘values’ which value people and embrace diversity; which value skills needed to develop emotional intelligence and collaboration;  and values which build and maintain community.

While I abhor the abuse of social network media, from a personal point of view, the recent advances in this type of technology has enabled my family ‘diaspora’ to begin a process of reconnection and the rekindling of a sense of kinship. A virtual ‘village’.

We are social animals. We are interdependent. And, while we pursue political or educational policies which promote hierarchy and the selfish individualism of a dog-eat-dog society, we merely serve to widen divisions and ignore our collective responsibility for the well-being of all.

Getting the balance right means that we not only provide opportunity for and tolerance of a diversity of individual aspirations and beliefs but also a sense of responsibility for and contribution to the community, which is dynamic and ever-changing. This is real lifelong learning. And, when individuals feel secure and valued, they develop greater motivation and confidence to take risks and explore their potential.

 

For more thoughts on building and maintaining community see  our previous post ‘All hours, all weathers.’

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Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook – A Taste of Professional Development

The ‘lone’ chef!

Starters

I like to cook. Simple dishes or complex menus, I enjoy the preparation, the cooking and the presentation. However, I like to cook alone. I don’t like someone else being in the kitchen, especially if they are trying to engage me in unrelated conversation. It spoils my personal enjoyment of the act of cooking. 

(Or looking at it from a consumer’s point of view…you begin eating a favourite dessert…someone engages you in conversation…suddenly, you’ve finished…but you didn’t savour a single mouthful because your attention was elsewhere…and there’s no more! 

I know at this point some ‘food fans’ will need to recover. Take your time, take your time…)

Main Menu

Good cooking is about paying attention and being aware of what is happening to the individual elements within the meal. It is about skilfully using tools and utensils for their intended purposes but also exploring new uses. And, yes, I like cooking because it allows for creativity. Experience and experimentation. 

Cooking is not just about following a recipe. For a long time I could never understand when people would say, ‘I can’t cook. I follow the recipe to the letter but it’s always a disaster.’ I couldn’t understand this until I watched a friend of mine ‘performing’ in her kitchen. 

Many years ago, just at the beginning of my teaching career, I received a dinner invitation. I arrived on time but cooking had not commenced so I was led into the kitchen where I offered some assistance. My friend put some oil in a saucepan and turned the gas on a high flame. However, the pan was then left as she began to prepare the ingredients. I anxiously watched as the oil began to ‘smoke’ and then I had to intervene with a warning. My friend laughed and with good humour, said ‘I’m always doing that. The smoke alarm lets everyone know that dinner will be ready in 20 minutes.’ Hearty guffaw from her, nervous laughter from me!

For my friend, cooking was a necessary evil. She didn’t enjoy it and was resigned to the fact that she would never improve. There was also an attitude that cooking was about doing ‘stuff’ to food using unfriendly technology…and somehow the food always fought back and the technology would always sabotage your best intentions!

(OK educators, I guess you can see where this going but bear with me.)

Perfecting the pastry.

For me, cooking is an art and a science. Last Christmas, I discovered the science behind the need to keep ingredients cold whilst making pastry for mince pies. (Honestly, I was fascinated.) The texture of my pastry has become more consistent because I have a better understanding of what is going on in the mixture. 

Cooking can also be a kind of meditation. Engagement and attention. Three saucepans, a frying pan and an oven. All with different timings. That requires attention. It requires engagement of all the senses. It requires the right intervention at the right time – small adjustments of heat, timely stirring, tasting, add more of this and a little of that. It also means frequently dealing with the unexpected…hmm…I don’t think there are supposed to be lumps in this…! You need to be focused and responsive. 

To really enjoy cooking requires a willingness to learn. To learn new preparation skills and techniques; to learn about new ingredients; to learn about the theory or ‘chemistry’ of cooking; to learn to wield new tools and utensils; to develop resilience following the inevitable disappointments. 

And, as we all know, not only does learning require reflection but also an attitude of self-efficacy. 

Waiting…managing time…

It seems incongruous that my friend, who was also a teacher, was resigned to her status as a ‘bad cook’. There was an acceptance that small fires and smoke alarms were the norm. I haven’t seen that particular friend for many years and we didn’t teach in the same school. But as I was musing about how I might develop this blog, I wondered if she applied the same resignation to her classroom. Had metaphorical ‘small fires and smoke alarms’ become the norm? 

This is not a blog ‘knocking’ teachers. It is about how attitude and self-perception are key ingredients in professional development. Please read on…

My own kitchen disasters happen when my attention is pulled away from what I’m doing. A thirty second lapse, as I answer the phone, can be all it takes. Something gets burnt, boils over or I miss an important step in the process.

How many well-prepared, well-intentioned, highly-skilled practitioners have their attention pulled away by unnecessary interruptions. A thirty-second lapse is all it takes. Someone gets ‘burnt’, something ‘boils’ over or you miss an important step in a process. 

Hmm. I can hear some murmurings, some whispers…‘Aren’t you about collaboration? Isn’t that a bit hypocritical saying that you want to work alone?’

Collaboration isn’t about doing everything together all the time. Collaboration means that we work together to solve problems that are difficult or impossible to solve by ourselves. We use our individual and collective skills when it is appropriate. Collaboration could occur at various stages of problem-solving. It could mean collaborating at the point of generating ideas and then implementing agreed solutions individually. Or, it could be a collective task of implementing one person’s idea which they could not achieve alone – architects, generally, do not physically build the house they have designed.

With reference to my own cooking. I don’t need another person – I’m usually cooking for no more than three. This is not challenging. I can manage it alone – if I’m not interrupted! However, if I was cooking for a large number, then I’m going to need some help. As a collaborative entity we would need a whole different set of skills and attitudes, from how we would organise ourselves to how we would communicate without going into Gordon Ramsay parlance! We would have different roles, and we would have to be aware of the dynamics between us. Collaboration does not mean that we chop the same onion at the same time…otherwise the likelihood is we will both be shedding a few tears…not because of the onion but because we could be shedding some fingers! Collaboration means that we may be engaged in different tasks, which require different expertise but contribute to a towards a single outcome. (To witness entertaining (but not perfect) kitchen collaboration see ‘Cake Boss’! Leadership or Facilitation? Discuss.) 

A watchful eye…

In a successful collaborative classroom, learners develop the skills to organise and communicate effectively, managing their own learning and also behaviours. This means that if the practitioner is distracted by external forces…

(Knock. Knock. ‘Excuse me, Mrs Can’t-Wait-Till-Break-Time wants to know what YOU have done with the school’s ONLY stapler. SHE said YOU had it last!!!’), 

…then, instead of the ‘pots and pans’ boiling over, they would self-regulate for a while.

Desserts

Some thoughts. Whether you are cooking or teaching, attitude is everything. The desire to learn, to go beyond what you already know, the belief that there is more to explore and you are capable of effecting change. The anticipatory excitement before trying something new and the wisdom to see setbacks as a natural and essential part of the learning process. 

Staying safe, with your limited but tried and trusted repertoire (whether you are a fast food or a top-end restaurant) may please a certain target clientele, make life easier and massage your ego. However, in terms of education it does not model the learning process and certainly does not value the variety of learners and their needs.

Engagement and attention are key dispositions. Do you listen and observe carefully and intervene at the right time? Do you follow ‘recipes’ to the letter or do you respond to what is happening in front of you? How do you ensure that you and your learners are not distracted unnecessarily? Is this an issue in your setting that needs to be addressed by everyone? (Keep a tally of the number of interruptions – you may be surprised.)

Collaboration. If you have too many ‘pots’ to watch, how do you effectively engage the skills of others (classroom assistants and the learners themselves) in moving towards developing a self-regulating collaborative learning community? What tools and strategies do you use which specifically promote and enable learning about collaboration?

And, if you work with someone who burns toast at least 30% of the time, don’t try peer assessment, effective questioning or mentoring…especially while they are holding the bread knife! ;o)

 

Teas/Coffees/Night-cap

The skill or myth of multi-tasking. Cooking is a multi-tasking activity. It requires shifting focus between different elements whilst having an awareness of what is going on elsewhere. If that is something you genuinely find difficult because you are not wired that way, that’s OK. If you like to focus on the start and completion of a task before moving on to something new, that’s OK. It is OK but cooking is probably not for you…microwave ready-meals don’t count! 

When some people talk about multi-tasking they boast of how many things they can do, which is fine, but does quality suffer? Do they merely practice crisis management? I think that the skill of multi-tasking lies in understanding WHEN to switch focus between activities that compete for your attention and also understanding the economy of action that needs to be taken. This is the skill of an outstanding practitioner in the kitchen or the classroom. 

The finished mince pies…

 

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Standardized Testing — The Brutal Search for Factual Data

George Bernard Shaw once said: “Live in contact with dreams and you will get something of their charm: live in contact with facts and you get something of their brutality”. When it comes to the current preoccupation with standardized testing in the United States (and, more particularly, in New York State), my fear is that we are replacing dreams and compassion and thoughtful analysis with a quick but brutal search for data and statistics. And it is wrong to do this. We ought not to acquiesce to that which diminishes the quality of life for our children, our teachers, our schools and our communities.

via Standardized Testing — The Brutal Search for Factual Data.

We recently published a blog about a child’s response to the standardised testing regime that they had been subjected to over the past few weeks. Testing that teachers may not necessarily agree with, but are forced to administer and then (in some places) publicly named and shamed in the media – and we are not talking about the ‘banding’ or listing of schools based on their performance (which happens in the UK), we are talking about the names of individual teachers. This is happening in parts of the US. How long before this trend spreads?  

The above blog by gilboafox caught our interest. It is well worth a read. 

This sentence in particular resonated with us.

“We ought not to acquiesce to that which diminishes the quality of life for our children, our teachers, our schools and our communities.”

We have just completed a 3 day event in Stirling, Scotland. Assessment within ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ was a major theme – something that everyone is working towards. Assessment that encourages learners (of all ages), helps them to progress and involves them from start to finish. Assessment that does not just reduce the learners (of all ages) to a number, a piece of data that can be used by politicians to justify their existence and policies. Every practitioner this week talked about learning and learners with passion, respect, understanding and accountability. If only ‘those in charge’ talked about the teaching profession (who are also learners in their own right)  in the same way and applied an ‘indivisibility of principles’ approach.  All too often teachers are used as scapegoats…and forced into situations that are incongruent with their principles and values.  

If ‘health and well-being’ is high on the agenda, how do we as a profession help to create an assessment system that is not soul-destroying…a system that involves the learner (of all ages) at the centre of the process…a system that is accountable to the learner and not just the politician? Do we, as members of the education profession, have the confidence to stand up, stand tall and be heard? Do we have the confidence to question?

“To question is to grow” (Great line in ‘Proud’, M People)

Now is the time to question more loudly than before. Now is the time to grow. 


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Let them be heard: Voice of the Children

A 9 year old child writing an ‘open’ letter on behalf of the class after a prolonged period of standardised testing in New York State. They want their voices heard and have asked if we can help them to do this.

This is not ‘our’ blog, so we shall write no more. This blog post belongs to the voice of this child and their class. 

Voice of the Child

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“It’s about time you did some work…!”

For years I listened to my dad jokingly say,

“It’s about time you did some real work! You teachers get it too easy!”

He said it with a twinkle in his eye and a genuine background respect for how hard I worked as a teacher. Yet how many have heard this said by friends, family, acquaintances, politicians, general public, and the media…without the knowledge and understanding about what really happens during a working day in a school; what happens during the evenings; what happens on the majority of weekends and what happens during school holidays?

At this point I feel I need to say that I am aware that, like in any other profession, there are different types of workers. Those that over-commit, those that work hard, those that just do what is needed, those that will do the bare minimum and, lets face it, those that just don’t care. Of course we have education professionals that will fit into each of these categories. That is reality. Just as it is a reality in any other line of work.

However, as the end of the Spring Term neared, I began reading more and more articles about school holidays…the length of school holidays…whether they were justified…whether teachers had it easy…whether it had a negative impact on standards…whether they should be shortened…etc etc.

Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has a perspective. Education is a public commodity. If you have been to school as a child and young person, you will have an opinion about school based on your own experiences. If you have a child in school, you will understandably have an opinion about their education and your own ability to attend work. If you are a politician, you are certainly going to have opinions and policies which may be based on your own experience, or on what will get your party into power and or perhaps even on genuine research into proven theory and innovative practice. (I will leave any further political thoughts here). If you work in the media, then the very concept of education and the fact that the majority of the general public have an opinion, will obviously make it something of a focal point.

It prompted me into action. So what were the teachers and educators going to be doing with their holiday? What do they have to say? Hence the creation of our last blog: A ‘snapshot’ survey.

Thank you to all who took part. We had responses from Primary/Elementary teachers, Secondary/High School teachers, School Admin/Business, Advisors/Trainers/Consultants within a geographical area that spanned the UK and the USA.

The question asked:

School Holidays: What are your plans?

A very quick set of multiple choice answers followed…with the option to add more of your own.

The results.

No, it was not the most complicated of surveys. No, it wouldn’t stand up against the big research studies. It wasn’t intended to do that. It was intended to give people we know personally and people who follow us at singlestepslearning, an opportunity to voice their opinion, whilst at the same time giving us a simple set of results, something concrete to analyse.  

Having worked for 16 years in education, I wasn’t that surprised by the results. I am aware of the hours that many teachers put into planning, preparation, assessment and paperwork. I’m also aware of the amount of personal money, time and energy many teachers put in to purchase or make resources. I could continue the list…the amount of time and energy given in worry and concern about the emotional and physical safety of certain pupils when they leave the school building; the fact that teaching a class(es) of 30 all day, every day, involves so many high level emotional interactions. The average teacher must be able to multi-task, must be multi-skilled and must be ready to act with flexibility to any unknown, unforeseen circumstance that may veer you completely off any kind of pre-planned format or content of a session. The energy needed to sustain this level of interaction, to enthuse young children and people, to inspire, to encourage, to treat each as an individual, yet build a cohesive community, to help every learner explore their potential, ask big questions, develop as citizens….well, I’m exhausted just thinking about this. Unless you have worked in a school, unless you have experienced this, it is something that you cannot fully comprehend. Working with young children, young adults is a privilege. It brings moments of sheer pleasure. Yet it is exhausting if you fully commit to it…and there are NEVER enough hours in a school day to do everything required. Never. Hence the result that 44% of respondents would spend holiday time involved in a work related activity.

Add to the mix that there is a growing trend of ‘publicly judging’ teachers by a set of cold standardized results, I’m not surprised that many in teaching are beginning to question their choice of career. And these are teachers who are exceptional. Are we really going to demonise the teaching profession so much that we drive out those that do the best job?

The voice of one teacher who responded…

“I have followed the recent discussions in the media about changing the academic year. I entirely agree that the summer holidays are too long and children forget things. To be honest, I do too! However, as a teacher I find the half terms and holidays invaluable for both catching up and preparation for the next term. They are also a great opportunity to reset my work-life balance, as I generally have too much to do during the evenings and weekends to make time for socialising. On another note I also recall Michael Gove suggesting that the school days should be longer. Clearly he doesn’t see the 16 hour days many of us put in. I’m pretty sure the overtime during term time more than covers our holidays.”

And my final thought…

…learning experiences can happen anywhere, with anyone. Schools provide one venue for learning. Time away from school can also provide rich opportunities for learning. It just comes down to what you as an individual, and what we, as a society, decide to value. But that is another story…another blog…

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Thank you…and last chance…

Thank you to everyone who has already completed our short survey based on school holidays/vacation.

We will be closing the survey in the next few days and taking a look at the results and trends. 

If you would like to take this last chance to complete the survey and add your opinions, please follow one of the links below. 

Facebook Link: Requires you to have/sign up to a facebook page and will register your name.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/singlestepslearning 

Survey Monkey: Anonymous, no need to sign up, 2 quick/simple multiple choice questions (click on all that are applicable) and an optional comment box.

Survey Monkey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/3PSZ9R6

Please click here to read our initial blog regarding the survey.

More coming soon…

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A ‘snapshot’ survey…

For many of us in the UK, the school holidays are imminent. Some areas are already enjoying the start of the break, others are counting down the days.

Around the world, other educational establishments will also be looking forward to a vacation or preparing for the end of their academic year.

So what will teachers, educators, practitioners be doing with their ‘holiday/vacation’ time? Do you in fact get a holiday? What are your thoughts on ‘school holidays and school terms’? Do you work in an educational establishment that is changing their organisation of the academic year? 

We have set up a couple of very short surveys which can be accessed via SurveyMonkey or our facebook page. 

Green tick

We are interested in collating these initial results with a view to extending the surveys and writing a post about education, schools and the varied perception of ‘holidays’. 

So, if you have a spare 2 minutes, we would be grateful if you would follow one of the links and/or forward them to family/friends/colleagues who may be interested in completing the survey. 

Facebook Link: Requires you to have/sign up to a facebook page and will register your name.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/singlestepslearning 

Survey Monkey: Anonymous, no need to sign up, 2 quick/simple multiple choice questions (click on all that are applicable) and an optional comment box.

Survey Monkey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/3PSZ9R6

Thank you 🙂 

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Google: Getting Welsh Business Online

On opening an email from the Welsh Government last week, we noticed an invite to the Google Launch Event: Getting Welsh Business Online. Not being ones to miss out on an opportunity, we immediately signed up!

Tuesday 7th March arrived. At some point, we did wonder what the event would entail? How should we dress? Who would be there? What was the purpose? How would it be organised?

As we walked towards the Coal Exchange, Cardiff Bay, we smiled at the ‘Gingham Bunting’ and the signs pointing us in the right direction. Our first clue that the launch was going to be a bigger event than we first anticipated!

Conference badges in alphabetical order gave another clue. Followed by complimentary bottles of ‘juice’ – refreshing,  surprisingly tasty and supplied by Lovely Drinks of North SomersetRow upon row of seats in the main arena – each with a Google ‘goodie’ bag. Twitter users immediately began the ‘goodie’ bag banter. Why were some red and some blue? Did they contain different items? Some excitedly mentioned the free information books…others the sweets…and one ‘loving the lip balm’!

Google 'Goodie' Bags

A general buzz of excitement could be felt in the room. 

As the event was about to kick off, someone sitting directly behind us whispered,

“If I can learn one new thing, it will be worth it…”

And then Sian Lloyd, who was hosting the event, took to the stage… “Noswaith dda a croeso…”. 

It really wasn’t until this point that we understood what this was all about. Google had chosen Wales to launch their new ‘Getting British Business Online’ initiative. Along with the Welsh Assembly and Partners, Google will offer a programme of support to boost the online digital presence of Welsh business. 

Edwina Hartand Sian Lloyd

Edwina Hart, Business and Enterprise Minister, spoke about the digital skills needed for tomorrow’s market, the target to ensure faster broadband access across Wales by 2015, recognition of problem-solving skills and preparing young people for work in a technological age. 

Dan Cobley, MD, Google UK and Ireland, arrived on stage amidst polite applause. He expressed his delight at being in Cardiff and delivering the keynote speech.

  “We live in exponential times.”

Dan Cobley highlighted success stories in Welsh business and then attempted to engage the audience by testing their knowledge of Welsh success in history. A mixed response at this point. The audience yet to warm up and participate. Only a few responded. (Although alternative reasoning could point to the fact that  the audience lacked ‘general Welsh knowledge’!).

Dan Cobley, MD, Google UK and Ireland

“Let’s pick a word like sex…”

The demonstration of ‘Google Insights for Search‘ began with an initial intake of breath and a few nervous glances as Dan Cobley uttered the phrase, “Let’s pick a word like sex…”

He went on to show the ‘search trend’ for ‘sex’ on a global basis over the past 5-10 years. Audience participation then surged as he asked the question, “So, what if we put chocolate in as a term? Would chocolate be higher or lower than sex in Wales?”

Immediate laughter and the word ‘chocolate’ reverberated around the venue – although mainly from female voices noted Dan Cobley!

The audience finally warmed to Dan Cobley at the mention of ‘Rugby’ – especially when he commented that the Google Insights trend for the UK maybe suggested why Wales did so well in the Six Nations. 

“Chocolate…higher or lower than sex in Wales?”

On a more serious note, Dan Cobley spoke about the need to understand data and the link between understanding what the market ‘search terms’ really were so that these can be utilised within your own websites to optimise the performance and presence of your business.

This sparked an interest in us – what would the search trend for ‘education’ look like in the last 10 years?

Search Term: Education in Wales

Surprised?

I’m not sure if we were surprised, shocked, saddened or just resigned to reality. It is something we will definitely think about from multiple perspectives. 

Returning to Dan Cobley and the ‘facts’ he presented:

  • Businesses which embrace the digital online economy experience 4-8 times faster growth. These SMEs bring in custom from around the world and export their products globally – and they can do it without the support of big I.T. departments.

  • Everyone today is a broadcaster – 60 hours of YouTube footage is uploaded every minute.

  • Everyone is connected – 845 million people on facebook, 91% of 16-24 yr olds are active on social media.

  • Half of all new internet connections are now from mobile devices. In 2011 the sale of smartphones overtook the sale of PCs.

  • Make your website ‘mobile friendly’ – 79% of people use a smartphone during shopping.

  • ‘Mobile’ optimisation is a game changer for local businesses. 81% use a smartphone to look for local information, 31% make a purchase after looking.

  • 25% of all search queries come from mobile devices.

  • Take the first step and create an online presence…or improve what you already have

  • Become ‘greater with data’ – use tools like ‘Google Insights for Search

  • ‘Digital Basics’ – use images, tell people why you are different, use endorsements from clients, use a map plugin to publicise your location.

  • Make your business have a ‘multi-channel and multi-media’ presence

  • ‘Leap and learn’ – engage in the process. Try something out, analyse it, refine it.

Getting Welsh Business Online

 Local Salon Owner

Guy Christian, a local salon owner, joined Dan Cobley on stage to explain how an online presence has contributed to the success of his business. It was great to hear someone talk realistically about their experience – both the pitfalls and the success. Recognising the need to take a risk and learn from mistakes. 70% of new clients to the salon now come via the internet and they market their business exclusively online.

“Business only survived because of our web presence”

Sian Lloyd returned to the stage to bring the formal part of the event to a close. The reading aloud of ‘tweets’ was met with laughter – particularly the mention of Dan Cobley’s great hair and inspiring speech. The ‘roving microphone’ began moving around the audience – question time with Dan Cobley and Robert Lloyd Griffiths (Institute of Directors).

And the final surprise… 

As the informal networking began, delicious canapes were distributed by friendly staff. The bar opened…and, much to my surprise, I was given a complimentary glass of sauvignon blanc! How civilised. Maybe my surprise is due to a career in education – the only complimentary thing you are likely to receive is a pencil (and that’s if you are lucky!). 🙂 

Coal Exchange, Cardiff Bay

So – it was ‘goodbye’ to the Coal Exchange. A great evening. A great event.

And ‘hello’ to Google Juice Bar. But that’s another story…

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Filed under Business, Learning, Networking, Potential, Professional Development, Single Steps Learning, Teaching, Technology

Cap’n’s Blog. Aaarrr-date 30.01.12

Ahoy there shipmates! . I have pledged Cap’n Williams to make this entry in the blog ‘fore the sun sets…otherwise I have to forego my ration of grog! No Blog, No Grog!

‘Twas a blustery afternoon when we weighed anchor in Bernadette Brandsma’s Primary 2/3 Class in St Mary’s RC Primary School, Bannockburn.

We were a wee bit late (as we had become becalmed at Sprinkerse Industrial Estate), so we slipped into the back of the classroom quick smart, as the children were reviewing their previous learning, which, by now you will have guessed was about….Pilates! Oops…sorry…that should be Pirates…how could I forget the ‘arrrrrrrrr’!

Well learning-lubbers, what a collaborative crew, to be sure! The children worked in teams on a carousel of activities – identifying and labelling parts of a pirate ship; a pirate code of conduct; and job descriptions for the crew members.

As we we wandered around the deck, we witnessed brainstorming and recording of ideas, discussion and decision-making. We chatted with the crew, who were all thoroughly engaged with their ‘dooties’ but politely and knowledgeably enlightened us. They all knew their roles and one young bosun even gave me a quick tour of the cabin…er…classroom.

Then, just as we had gained out ‘sea-legs’ it was time to put into port. But wait…what’s this…the crew mutinied and wouldn’t disembark. They wanted to show us their treasure!!!

Quality Learning

The children had made their own treasure chests filled with ‘valuables’. They wanted to explain the personal significance of the precious contents – pictures, small toys etc. It was very touching and we felt privileged to experience such enthusiasm and engagement.

Thank you to Bernadette and the whole ‘crew’ of St Mary’s for a wonderful afternoon…but particularly the amnesty from a flogging for our tardiness!

But that’s not the end of our yarn…with course charted (sat-nav) and a fair wind in our sails we headed for Linlithgow and the company of our good friend Maria, who had just celebrated her ??th birthday and is now a fully qualified instructor of Pirates…oops….sorry, I meant Pilates. Congratulations Maria. Avast! Yo,ho,ho and a bottle of rum…or in Lynne’s case, Pinot Grigio!

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Filed under Coaching, Designing for Learning, Embedded CPD, Primary, Teaching