Saturday, 21 May 2011

Why We Must Persist with Glow

If I turned the clock back a couple of years, my experience with ICT in the classroom had not really progressed beyond having my classes word –process essays for English Folio. I could muddle about with e-mail and the Internet but most of it was completely alien to me. Glow, Scotland’s national intranet, changed all that. Glow has turned me into a Blogger, ICT geek and a much, much better teacher. I know there will be those of you who will harrumph and dismiss, but I remain convinced that, despite the flaws, we must persist with Glow if we are to engage all teachers in Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland.

In case you are unaware or haven’t heard or don’t care, Glow is the world's first national intranet for education which hopes to transform the way the curriculum is delivered in Scotland.  The idea is, simply put, that all teachers, pupils, schools, can share ideas, lessons, everything in a safe environment. We can access all sorts of online tools, including Blogs, Wikis, Chatroom, as well as document stores for pupils, parents and other teachers.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m aware of the problems. It can be cumbersome and difficult to manage at first. Log in can be problematic. Finding your way around can be confusing. However, after a great deal of patience and persistence, logging on for a few minutes every day, the process becomes much easier.

Glow has transformed my classroom. Only last week I had my senior class on Revision Chatrooms for four nights before their final Higher English exam; my challenging S3 class beginning reflective Blogs and S2 class uploading Imaginative Writing. During the year I had an online poll, creative writing Blogs, and I could provide all sorts of important web links and movie clips. Two years ago I couldn’t do that. Without Glow I probably wouldn’t have done that.

‘So what?’ you may say and you may be right in that. Many a computing teacher has smirked at my claims. Of course there are better online tools out there. Of course we have more easily accessible online resources. But I’m sure you are very tech savvy. There are thousands of teachers out there who are not.

If we are truly to expect all teachers to engage with the Curriculum for Excellence then we must encourage them to use available online tools in order to engage their pupils in a manner which reflects their changing needs and to enhance their practice with the new guidelines in mind. I believe Glow can do that. I also believe it is not especially helpful to deride Glow at a time when so many teachers are resisting the temptation of ICT in the classroom. Glow is a safe environment for people to get used to online tools and begin sharing with pupils. Then, perhaps, teachers can develop the confidence to go further. Glow might not be perfect but it is something. It would be foolish to give up on it now.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

What if we turned everything upside down?

One of my earliest memories is from about the age of four. I was at home with my family and everyone was eating bags of crisps - or potato chips if you want to get all American on me. The bag, I recall, had a little cartoon man on the front – perhaps made by Smiths or KP – and I had opened my bag from the bottom. The man was upside down. At four years old I clearly couldn’t accept that state of affairs so I turned it upside down to open from the other end. Disaster.
A clear learning opportunity, wouldn’t you say? I never lost another crisp in my life; so isn’t turning things upside down sometimes a clever way of making things better. Even different. Reading Guy Claxton’s ‘What’s the Point of School?’ recently I came across this passage;
‘Imagine a society...in which physical education, design technology and art are the three most highly esteemed subjects, and English, maths and science are obviously less important because they only merit one lesson each a week, and they became optional when you are fourteen.’
He goes on: ‘The outstanding successes of the school are those who are strong, fit and physically agile; who can solve practical problems by inventing and building useful gadgets;  and who can make elegant sculptures and great photographs.’
Now I know there will be readers of this who will be thinking, ‘That’s Rubbish’, ‘Maybe’ or ‘Wouldn’t that be nice?’ but it has rattled my cage somewhat over the last few days. We may indeed mock Claxton’s suggestion but on closer inspection it could have some merit.  What happens when we, the teachers and adults, become jaded, uninspired by work, and desperate for something new? Most of the teachers I know would fit into one of the following groups: we wish we could play a musical instrument in our spare time; we may start to enjoy sketching or ceramics as a creative outlet; we take a photography course and buy an expensive camera; we join a gym.
Quite simply, we desire all of the things which at the moment are, perhaps, the least respected subject areas in our school system, the things we value less. We actively discourage the skills we ourselves desire thirty years later.  Ironic? Perhaps. However, what I think it does is suggest a great conversation to be had. I’m not suggesting we should change everything just for the sake of change but if we are to truly encourage engagement with Curriculum for Excellence we at least need to have these ‘out of the box’ conversations. In fact, we not only need to think outside of the box but, as again I read somewhere recently (apologies for forgetting exactly where), we need to create a new box that doesn’t even look like a box.
Whatever happens, whatever the Curriculum turns out to look like, let’s get talking. And we can start by turning things upside down and seeing what they look like. We can do this, people. Let's do it together.