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Going for Gold

The NQT support at this school is excellent, and I’m taking advantage. Not only do I have a standard induction programme including NQT mentoring and CPD but… a Senior Management Team (SMT) link person designated to me, plus optional extra CPD and coaching. The latter means I get an informal 15-minute observation and 15-minute debrief, every week. This is almost as much mentoring as I was getting last year on ITT, and it’s incredibly useful. I’m going to share some recent coaching with you.

The target this week was Learning Objectives and Outcomes. My coach, Andy – an assistant head whose subject is PE – wanted me to put more effort into designing the outcomes and sharing them with the class. Also, they must be clearly graded and I should communicate the grade of outcome to the students, with reference to their target grade. I’m not sure if it was because Andy is a sports coach or just because Rio 2012 has just ended, but I decided to place bronze, silver and gold medals on my slides and worksheets! The idea being that the bronze medal work should be achievable by all, the silver by some, and the gold by a few top-target pupils.

The topic was Decomposition and Algorithm Design. The task was to decide what makes a strong password (itself a side-learning point), decompose this problem into small steps (must be memorable but not guessable, build it up from two or three components unrelated to each other such as colour, animal and number…) and then write an algorithm to create it. I wanted them to write the algorithm in four different ways: English, Flowchart, Pseudocode and, finally, Python. With slides and an example of each on a worksheet I had plenty of scaffolding, but I thought that getting as far as Pseudocode would be a stretch in 60 minutes, so I invented a Platinum medal for the actual coding. I needn’t have bothered.

The “medal effect” as I am now calling it was amazing. Everyone wanted a Gold or Platinum medal (even though they didn’t actually exist as medals, they were purely notional!). Here is the LO slide:

los

I asked the class to decide what medal they were going to aim for. Not one said bronze! So off we went, and in under an hour, 17 of 26 had written some code to generate strong passwords. Here is a sample program, from a student targeting a GCSE grade 6. She had already written the flowchart and pseudocode…

IMAG0263.gif

I am a convert to the “medal effect”. The next stage may be to include the students in the actual target setting. Perhaps I’ll have them write the outcomes and place the medals next time?

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like.no.other

Teaching is unique. There is no other profession (I’ve done a few, and know a few by association, so I speak from experience) where, in the pouring rain, on the way to the car park, two bags in hand, red-faced and half-jogging to try to stop my suit from getting soaked) a colleague would stop her car, wind down the window and shout “how was your first week?”. But no other profession is like teaching.

Sony’s slogan in the noughties was “like.no.other”, and their kit was pretty cool… the VAIO laptops were better than most. But unique, they weren’t, MacBooks were always awesome, and some of the kit from 2010s giants HP and Samsung was already excellent. Sony tried hard to suggest otherwise, but when applied to computers, like.no.other wasn’t entirely accurate.

Teaching is truly a profession like.no.other. I have lost count (somewhere over 20) of the staff who have asked about my well-being this week. Each and every day, the reception staff and the school business manager (whom I see on the way in) have asked me, by name, how I am doing. The head uses my name daily, despite having 160ish staff and 20 new teachers this year.

And then there are the students. All different: some lively, some quiet, some flying, some struggling. All amazing, colourful, challenging and inspiring. In no other profession do I meet 242 young people, each and every week, and get a chance to help them become the best people they can be.

It’s tough, they depend on me to support them, help them learn, keep them safe. But I’m OK with that, because I’m part of a team. Teamwork gets the job done. And I’ve discovered there is no team like a school’s staff. I have my NQT mentor, my head of department, my coach (this school does teacher coaching: whether you are an NQT or not, you can ask for coaching from a senior teacher) and an SMT link. (Senior Management Team, sometimes called Senior Leadership Team or SLT).

Unbidden, and entirely welcome, teachers who have seen me interact with pupils have told me what I did right, and what I might try next time. My head of house has checked on me all week, and supported me through the first few form tutor sessions (particularly where makeup and bag checks were needed – something I would never have thought I’d be doing as a teacher but very important, with a strong uniform policy in our school).

As I relax on the first Friday, after an exhausting week, I reflect on the great support I’ve had from my colleagues, how exciting it was to see learning happening again after a long break since PGCE, and how well my school works together.

I thought the week was over as I ran to the car in the rain, but a colleague stopped, wound her window down and shouted genuine concern to me, and now I know, this is really a profession…
like.no.other

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RIP Seymour Papert.

I read the news today with a heavy heart. I’ve only been training for a year, and thinking about teaching actively for a few years before that, but I have come to know quite a lot about Professor Papert, and his mentor Jean Piaget.

Indeed, this paragraph is straight from my recent PGCE dissertation, submitted in May this year:

Often considered the father of the Maker Movement, MIT Professor Seymour Papert (b 1928) was a protégée of Piaget, having studied under him in Geneva. Papert’s learning theory of “constructionism” extends Piaget’s constructivism to add “the idea that [knowledge-building] happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity, whether it’s a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe.” (Harel & Papert, 1991).

I hope to continue using the teachings of Papert and Piaget, encouraging young minds to contstruct knowledge as they construct gadgets and programs.

I am off to buy or borrow “Mindstorms” for my summer reading pile.

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New Look Blog

I have finally wrestled WordPress into submission, and reorganised the blog so it makes more sense. Hopefully you like the changes. You can see my Twitter feed on the right, and I have added links to my Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn, as well as my “social bookmark manager” Diigo. During my PGCE year I saved a lot of useful links in Diigo so you might want to look there for content as well as here/Twitter/Pinterest. I hope you are less confused!

The header image for this post is an homage to the 90s when we all had “Under Construction” images on our Freeserve personal webspaces. Reblog if you know what that means 🙂

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My ten top tips for trainees! :)

More top advice from a fellow NQT.

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How-to guide: surviving teacher training.

Wise, true, and might I add, funny. And true. Definitely all true.

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#ITTChat & #NQTChat meetups – reblog

Unusually, this isn’t a massive catch up post. Be prepared for one of those in about a week and a half, but today is all about having the details for all the #ITTChat and #NQTChat meetups in …

Source: #ITTChat & #NQTChat meetups

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Starting PGCE? Don’t waste this summer!

I was briefly involved in the very valuable Twitter chat that happens every Wednesday night on hashtag #ITTchat. (I had to break off because I was actually attending my daughter’s end of Year 6 play – this year has been mostly SATs and Drama – on many levels).

I managed to answer one question, and my responses are attached in the image. But I will elaborate now. The question, with my responses below, was:

Question 1: With the year drawing to a close, it’s time to reflect. What advice would you have wanted/be giving ITTs in September?

ittchat

What I meant by the above was: this summer is your last free time before the hard work begins. If you read my earlier “rollercoaster” or “Repeat after me” posts you will know that the PGCE is a tough year. It’s going to get manic, and you will never have enough time. What will go out of the window first, sadly, is reading time. You will get a long reading list from your tutor, and you will be required to reference a lot of academic material when the assignments come around – which will be quicker than you think. Also, this material helps you build your classroom practitioner skills, and develop your “teacher identity”. Ask your tutor for the reading list now, and borrow or buy some books to read over the summer. Ask other trainees or NQTs what they read, and read that. It doesn’t have to be academic literature, on my course reading list were some “mainstream” books including Mindset and Why do I need a Teacher When I’ve Got Google? and the “Teacher Toolkit” material is pretty much essential.

Get on Twitter too, and follow #ITTchat, #ukeduchat and #NQTchat conversations, build your “Personal Learning Network” (PLN) now, and subscribe to blogs, podcasts and YouTube channels related to teaching. Fill your head with teaching material. Going into teaching is a change of lifestyle, it’s a profession with its own language and codes, its own way of looking at the world, it is ever evolving and in many ways it is like a huge global conversation. Get involved now, to grow your understanding, develop your skills and – probably mostly important – to discover why you want to do this and what you hope to bring to the party.

There will be times you doubt yourself and your ability to teach. There will be what I call “kick the dog days“. On those days you will need to be strong: remember what you’re doing this for and who you hope to become. You will need to have at least the beginnings of what we call a “teacher identity”. It’s easier to cope with the lows, if you have a sense of what the highs might look like. It’s easier to keep going if you know what you’re aiming for. And it’s easier to cope with the challenges if you are well-prepared. If you have several books full of teaching experiences, ideas and strategies already in your head before you start, you’ll be better placed to cope with whatever the classroom (and your tutor) throws at you!

But don’t forget to relax, enjoy the summer and see lots your family and friends. Because soon it will be all lesson planning and late night assignments. It’s a tough year but one of the most rewarding. Teaching is a noble profession. Be proud of who you are becoming.

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Ed Tech software costs

I am pricing up software for use next year. I really love Prezi, Socrative and Quizlet, among others. The free versions all have limitations, however, so I am considering “going Pro”.

The sum of the premium licenses for those three items comes to… $114 or about £88 at today’s (terrible) exchange rate. And I’m sure that I’ll discover, over the summer, lots of other software I want to buy.

What software have you bought for teaching and why? Let me know here or on Twitter, and I’ll do a longer blog post in a few weeks.

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Manchester Baby 

I’m at Manchester Museum of Science and Industry (they used to call it MoSI but no more, something to do with branding…)

Ive been learning about Baby (see pics), rebuilt in the 90s to the original spec. It uses the Williams-Kilburn Cathode Ray Tube memory store, which I found hard to grasp until today, when a helpful volunteer showed me it close up. Never underestimate the value of physical demonstration to get across difficult concepts. 

The store holds 32 words of 32 bits each, or 128 bytes in new money. This was used to store programs and data, in the world’s first proper stored-program computer. 
They used to have iPads in front of the machine, to encourage people to compare computing power between 1948 and today. However they found that this distracted the kids and diminished the message. 

I’ve used clips of The Imitation Game showing another early machine (Turing’s Bombe) and drag/drop guess the year of the old machine exercises in my classroom, but I think I’ll plan a trip here at some point. 

How would you get across the difference between 128 bytes and 750 instructions per second, and the power of an iPad?