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Time To Get Glowing…

February 12, 2013

My work as part of the ICT Excellence in Education group (ICTEdEx) is over, and our report was recently published. The next stage has been to hand our recommendations over to an implementation group who are charged with carrying them forward. In an ideal world, the implementation group would simply take what we have asked for and make it happen… but this is not an ideal world, is it?

Screen Shot 2013 02 10 at 16 47 26

One of the most encouraging aspects of the ICTEdEx group was that practitioners like myself and Ian Stuart, Jaye Richards-Hill, Fraser Spiers, Jo Bell and Charlie Love were an integral part of the process. All of the groups’ thinking was grounded in the realities of classroom practice. Between us, we know what works, we know what is possible, and we know how to enable this to happen for all teachers, learners and parents in Scotland. In fact, it is no secret that we were all aware of the sterling work that Charlie Love in particular has been undertaking to create Glew. Glew — for those that aren’t yet aware of it — is a brilliant, working, open example of everything we all hoped Glow would be first time round. It reflects the panoply of tools that are available and is designed from the ground up to be platform and provider agnostic. It encompasses a blog and wiki engine, an e-portfolio element, a Moodle VLE, a survey engine… and even better, Charlie is actively looking for suggestions for new tools and services for inclusion. In short, it fulfils all the requirements for a teacher wishing to move their learning online.

The danger with handing over our recommendations is that we are at the mercies of those who are not hands-on classroom practitioners on a day-to-day basis. They will make decisions based on political expediency, on business interests, on career prospects, and on a knowledge of ICT in education that is just too many steps removed from the realities of the online world that we now inhabit and into which our learners will be moving. I think it would be a terrible waste were all our recommendations to be ignored… in fact, I think they should be adopted lock, stock and barrel — especially as they are designed to allow for new services and ideas to be added as they arise. But, and it’s a big but at that, we have put forward recommendations and as such, they can be adopted or ignored and there is very little I can do other than look on from the sidelines and think about what may have been.

Hotspot iphone 5  320×415

One thing that it may be worth remembering in all this is that, as far as connected learning goes, everything we do is very much in its infancy. The rapid adoption of ‘smart phones(PDF Download), the rapid expansion of 4G networks, and the inevitabilities of Moore’s Law mean that the learners will soon have more technology in their hands than a school can ever hope to provide. In this setting, we will soon find ourselves without any real need to access the school network or Glow unless it offers something of value. The low take up of many of the original Glow’s services can be seen as being symptomatic of the lack of relevance of them. What we endeavoured to do with our recommendations was propose a solution that would be powerful, flexible and adaptable and that would recognise the professionalism and knowledge of classroom teachers. If the implementation group fail to realise this, or allow outside factors to dictate their decisions, then there is a real danger that instead of providing a dynamic and powerful set of tools to enable and support learning, they will have created another edughetto with little hope of popular support and usage. Without a compelling reason to use it, the next generation of Glow will be replaced by the hotspot option of 4G smartphone and all our work will have been for nothing. Our learners deserve better.


Going SOLO – Part 2 : Hexagon Alley!

January 13, 2013

I don’t know how well my overall approach to SOLO is going to go — it’s still too early to tell — but what I can say after my first week trying to apply some of the ideas in my classroom is that hexagons are amazing. No argument, they make a profound difference to how I approach delivery, and more importantly, how learners engage with what they are doing. Read on to find out how my #pedagooresolution is going.

Before talking about my week, I do want to just take a second to reply to this tweet that I received:


I will be honest that I make no claims to being expert in using it… or even, necessarily particularly competent. That will require time and repetition (and how often do we say that to our classes?), but the early signs are very encouraging. As I interpret it, SOLO is a means of giving learners the tools by which they can ask their own questions, and drive their own learning. If this sounds like the Holy Grail of education, then you already appreciate that the fundamentals of teaching learners how to actually learn is one of the most important skills they will need as they grow and develop.  As I mentioned in part one of these reflections, SOLO describes 5 stages in the development of understanding: Prestructural through to Extended Abstract. These recognise the 5 stages of learning from knowing nothing through to being able to taking knowledge and hypothesising or creating in an abstract way based on what has been learned. What follows is my somewhat enthusiastic approach this past week… I have made a couple of mistakes as I progressed, but my classes and I have learned a lot!


SOlo HexagonAs I was reading through the reflections of other teachers who use SOLO, I recognised a common technique that many use when teaching: hexagons. As best as I can tell, these originated with Damian Clark on his In Visible Learning blog, though I first encountered them from David Didau’s Learning Spy. In simple terms, they are a physical/concrete means of encouraging learners to move beyond Unistructural and Multistructural knowledge to Relational understanding. In other words, they are used to take statements of facts and basic knowledge of the text/topic/subject/theory/etc, and to ‘see’ the relationships between them. As I have found, they are an incredibly powerful enabler for most learners.

Using Hexagons – The methodology bit!

Screen Shot 2013-01-13 at 11.22.44I had started by giving the class a sheet of A4 with blank hexagons (click the picture to the right to download the pdf for yourself) and simply asked them to write down a fact about the text they had been studying. Then, once I had done a quick visual check that they had done this (“Class, hold up your sheets… er, David, you’ve gone over the lines… have a new sheet and try again!” {tip: have spare sheets!}) , I asked them to add another couple of facts. I then threw in a couple of single words (basically the theme[s] or some key concepts from the text) for them to write in a hexagon, then asked them to write 3 or 4 statements about the characters, and finally, to fill in the rest of the hexagons with interesting lines/quotations from the text. In doing so, they were essentially moving from Unistructural (knowing one thing) to Multistructural (knowing lots of things). Next came the scissors!

Paired Hex Working

Two of my learners sorting their hexagons based on Cathy MacPhail’s novel “Tribes”. They responded magnificently to the challenge and surprised themselves almost as much as they did me!

I provided a pile of scissors and asked the class to cut out the individual hexagons (Learning point: ask them to put their name/initials on the reverse of each hexagon! I found out the hard way). Once we had a delightful mess, I tasked them with putting the hexagons together, the only criteria being that they had to explain why they had them touching — in other words, what the relationship was between them.

What followed was absolute magic. The class grasped what they had to do, and became thoroughly engaged. My role changed in that, rather than directing them to ‘the’ answer, I became a challenge agent. I could see at a glance what they were trying to put together, and could simply ask them to justify their decisions. And what decisions they came up with! The simple act of moving pieces of paper around, but with a reason, became really involving. I was finding genuine engagement and genuine responses in a way that way surpassed my hopes for the lessons. Before long, every desk was a mosaic of hexagons and a lot of learners were very evidently beginning to grasp the key concepts and relationships in their texts.

The next step was to pair them up with their neighbour/shoulder partner, and to see if they could combine their hexagons into one bigger mosaic. Given that they had had to come up with their own initial hexagons, none of them had exactly the same things written on them. Suddenly, and quite unintentionally, I heard them explaining to each other why they had written what they had, and in a totally natural and organic way, they were merging their knowledge. They also began to ask for some blank hexagons so they could add more to their creations — for me, evidence that they were learning and looking for deeper answers.

The Penny Dropped

I tried using hexagonal learning with all my classes this week (no half measures here!), and want to recount two classes experiences in particular — both S2 classes (aged about 13).

I have a really interesting mixed class with a number of pupils who do not have English as a first language, some who have problems staying focussed, and others who quite wrongly do not believe they are capable of performing well. I always have another support teacher (Mrs Jackson) in the class, and because of this, while the majority of the class have been studying Cathy MacPhail’s novel Tribes, some of the class have been looking at The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore on my iPad. Despite having read two different texts in class, all the class were able to complete hexagons for their text. They were also able to add extra information, and more importantly, no matter which text it was, they were all demonstrating really deep learning as they justified the hexagons they placed together. Working with this class was genuinely infectious. They responded so magnificently that it was impossible not to be proud of them. This also converted wonderfully into some of the most focussed essay writing they have done for me. In addition, what struck me after the fact was that, for the first time, they weren’t asking me to check what they had written was OK every couple of sentences. I see this as a sign of the confidence they had developed through the exercise, and also a sign that, having moved from Uni/Multistructural knowledge of their texts to Relational understanding, they had the confidence to write without seeking constant reassurance from myself or Mrs Jackson. In fact, Mrs Jackson was positively raving about the difference in the learners… to the extent that she has been telling everyone she has met about this technique! And we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface.

BUT… I got cocky! I have another S2 class who are very, very able. And I blew it completely. Having had a week of thinking I was beginning to master hexagons and the theory of SOLO taxonomy, I tried to deliver a really ambitious lesson that I hadn’t had the time to think through properly. It crashed and burned big time! Ironically, one of the classes I thought this would work best with, I had the least success with… but on reflection, this was about me trying to run before I could walk. I had not thought through the lesson, and crucially, it wasn’t my lesson I was using. I’d found James Theobold’s brilliant Heston Blumethal approach to poetry on the Wildern School Improvement site, and — because I admire Heston Blumenthal, and know a wee bit about poetry — thought that would be a great lesson to try. I hadn’t thought through the importance of making sure my own knowledge was deep enough, and so because of that, and my over-confidence at having had such startling successes with my other classes, I expected magic to happen again, but instead, the class found it too difficult to make the relationships between poetry and Heston Blumenthal come to life. The whole exercise began to feel forced and very unnatural. Lesson learned. Stick to my own texts/knowledge/topics, or make sure I am thoroughly up to speed before using someone else’s materials.


I’m becoming very convinced that SOLO taxonomy as an approach should be an essential part of any teacher’s skill-set/tool box. It is not the only answer, but it is an incredibly powerful part of the solution. I am aware that the use of hexagons to develop Relational understanding is only a part of the SOLO process, but even if some of my learners never become capable of moving to the next stage (though I expect they all will), they have almost all found a technique that empowered them to be able to talk about, and write about, texts in a way that even a week ago, I wouldn’t have believed. This is a technique that I will be using regularly  in the future. It works…

Next week

Having focussed on one particular technique, and one particular stage (Relational) of SOLO, I’m going to be looking at making sure my classes begin to feel comfortable with the whole process. This will mean giving them the full SOLO toolkit, and especially the verbs they will need to allow them to make their own decisions and to become even more independent in their learning. Exciting times!


NB: I am finding my way so it is essential for me (and anyone else learning about SOLO) that you should pass on any thoughts, hints & tips, and especially clarifications in the comments — Thanks!

Going SOLO – Part 1

January 5, 2013

Pedagoo SOLOMy Pedagoo Resolution is to introduce SOLO taxonomy to my classes. SOLO is something I’ve been hearing a lot about this past year, but is not something I’ve found the time to do much with… so it is a perfect candidate for a resolution. I’ve heard too many people I respect saying it works, and like most people who are involved with Pedagoo, I’m interested in being a better teacher, so, here goes!

My intention is to ‘think out loud’ the whole process from finding out more about SOLO, adapting lessons, implementing it, and reflecting on how it goes in my classroom, with the intention of finishing up by reviewing the impact on my learners… with them getting the last word as I’ll be asking them to reflect on and comment on what they think they’ve improved on. But that is some way down the line, first, I want to get my head around what SOLO actually is and what it involves. [1]

What is SOLO?

SOLO is the acronym for Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes. It is a method/skillset for encouraging learners to become more reflective and involved in the learning process. It highlights 5 ‘stages’ of understanding and these lie at the heart of SOLO. They are:

  • Prestructural
  • Unistructural
  • Multistructural
  • Relational
  • Extended Abstract

I was going to go into a great big long explanation of these, but instead, will point you at the video that I found most useful when getting to grips with the basic concepts. It’s the (always excellent) David Didau explaining SOLO at a TeachMeet:

So (and apologies for my very simplistic approach):

  • Prestructural = lack of knowledge
  • Unistructural = knowing one thing
  • Multistructural = knowing several things
  • Relational = being able to identify relationships between the known things
  • Extended Abstract = the ability to hypothesise based on the previous levels…

If I relate this to my own SOLO journey, I have gone from knowing nothing about SOLO a year or so ago (Prestructural), to hearing it mentioned on Twitter as a good thing (Unistructural), to learning more about it from David, Lisa, Tait (Multistructural), getting to grips with it by making connections between different blogs and research on it (Relational), to finally beginning to design some lessons that will use SOLO as part of their planning and delivery (Extended Abstract). This may not make perfect sense, but I’m fairly happy that I have learned enough to start thinking about implementing it in class.

Next up, will be a short attempt by me to devise a revision lesson on An Inspector Calls using SOLO approaches. My S3 class need to get up to speed on it quite quickly in preparation for writing a critical essay on the play in the next week or so. Until then, I highly recommend you follow the embedded links above, and if you have any questions, please post them in the comments… and if you have already been using SOLO, I’d really appreciate any thoughts and hints you care to share!

1. I should point out that everything I write here is drawn from a number of excellent people who have generously and kindly made their own thoughts and advice available in their own spaces. In general, I’ll link to them in the body of the text… all errors are mine, not theirs!

Serendipitous Searching!

January 2, 2013

I’ve found a great little iPad app for accessing Wikipedia. It’s simple enough to use, but I really like it because it introduces a wonderful level of spontaneous discovery that could just be enough to help you over a case of writer’s block… or at least keep you entertained for longer than you meant. More importantly, it would be a fabulous tool to have on a school iPad for learners to use.

The tool is WikiLinks and is one of the best (ie: prettiest) Apps for accessing Wikipedia on the iPad that I’ve found so far (My copy of Discover has stopped working on my iPad 1, so I needed something else). The ability to access Wikipedia and save the pages for offline reference would have been reason enough to recommend the App, but it has a truly wonderful visual element that encourages one to delve further into a topic with a simple tap of the screen.

Rather than engage in a fruitless attempt to describe what the App does, here are a couple of screengrabs that will show you (see, I remembered that the key to good writing is “show, don’t tell”!):

The visual links suggested are not always obviously related, which encouraged me to tap on them to find out more… and before I knew it, I was transported into all sorts of loosely related and (to me) fascinating backwaters of learning. I was completely engaged in reading and learning in a way that reminded me of the time I first encountered a copy of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

The available tools are shown in this grab:

For me, WikiLinks is a great example of an App that encourages deeper learning, shows what could be possible when we are allowed to access online tools in school, and that demonstrates that sometimes the nature of the technology does allow us to work in newer ways.

All in all, WikiLinks is highly recommended — and especially as it’s currently reduced to only £1.49 The price is back up to £2.49, but, it is still well worth it… especially as it’ll also run on your iPhone/iPod Touch! Visit the developer’s website for more information: Enjoy.

Safe Harbor

December 30, 2012
Clarity on Safe Harbor

Clarity on Safe Harbor

As part of my involvement with the Scottish Government’s ICT Excellence in Education group I have been learning a lot about ‘Safe Harbor[sic] agreements and their impact on what we can and can’t do with data in schools. In addition, it has become very apparent that many people don’t know very much about the topic and that as a result, the default position is to block things rather than find out the reality. I don’t think it’s any secret that one of the services I really like for using with classes is Edmodo, but there have been questions raised about Edmodo and its safe harbor status so, in the interests of explanation and clarity, here’s a wee guide to what safe harbour is, how you can check whether a service is a signatory, and why Edmodo is safe to use.

We have a great responsibility in schools to keep pupil data safe and secure. However, in the ‘cloud’ computing age, it is becoming more and more common for our online data to be hosted ‘somewhere’, and it’s not always easy to know where. The relevant legislation and laws governing how this data is used lies within the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA98). From a Scottish point of view, Data Protection is what is known as a ‘reserved matter’ — which means Westminster makes the law rather than the Scottish Government, so address any complaints to London!

Schedule 1 of the DPA98 lists its key principles as follows:

 1. Personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully and, in particular, shall not be processed unless –

(a) at least one of the conditions in Schedule 2 is met, and
(b) in the case of sensitive personal data, at least one of the conditions in Schedule 3 is also met.

2. Personal data shall be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes, and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes.

3. Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed.

4. Personal data shall be accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date.

5. Personal data processed for any purpose or purposes shall not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose or those purposes.

6. Personal data shall be processed in accordance with the rights of data subjects under this Act.

7. Appropriate technical and organisational measures shall be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data.

8. Personal data shall not be transferred to a country or territory outside the European Economic Area unless that country or territory ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects in relation to the processing of personal data.

The UK Data Protection was a direct response to EU Directive 95/46/EC which was introduced in 1995 and had to be enacted by the end of 1998 (hence the date of the UK DPA). It is fair to say that the EU and by extension, the UK, have some of the most rigorous data protection rules in the world. This has had the knock on effect of meaning that it is expressly forbidden for pupil data to be held outwith the European Economic Area (EEA — ie: the EU for all practical purposes) unless the company has agreed to observe the same level of protection for the data as that provided within the EEA. Note the important point, an individual company can be approved to host data, there is no requirement for there to be an agreement with a whole country. That said, because of the importance for American businesses in particular to be able to work seamlessly with residents of the European Union, it was decided to create a US-EU agreement in 2000 whereby American businesses and service providers could adopt the principles of EU Directive 95/46/EC. In effect, they would agree to maintain the same levels of security and protection of personal data as that offered within the EU. This is the ‘safe harbor’ agreement.

In order to transfer data outwith the EU, Principle 8 of the DPA98 comes into play. This states that:

Personal data shall not be transferred to a country or territory outside the EEA unless that country or territory ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects in relation to the processing of personal data.
Sending personal data outside the European Economic Area (Principle 8)

The ‘safe harbor’ agreement is overseen by the EU and the US Department of Commerce. As long as a company is signed up, we do not have to worry about the fact that data will be held in the US. There is, however, one very important condition to this which I will mention when talking about Edmodo in a minute or two.

In short… as long as a US company has agreed to observe ‘safe harbor’ environments — which they need to re-accredit themselves with every year — there should be no legal reasons why you should not use them. So… how do you check whether a company is a ‘safe harbor’ signatory?

How do you know?

The obvious place, and the first port of call, is the US Government’s Department of Commerce Safe Harbor site which you can find at However, you need to be aware that this site is not fully up to date… in fact, it really does need to get a serious overhaul! You can search, but you will struggle to find some really obvious companies thsat are signed up to the safe harbor agreement… which brings me to Edmodo and TRUSTe.

Is Edmodo a ‘Safe Harbor’ company?

One of the most popular sites that teachers have been adopting for using in class is Edmodo. It looks like a very well known social media site, but is designed from the ground up to be a virtual classroom with lots of whistles and bells. It also has the advantage of being popular with classes as they ‘get it’ from the word go. Chuck in the mobile Apps for iPhones, iPods and iPads, as well as the new Android app, and you begin to appreciate that Edmodo are really on to something (Disclosure: I am a fan!). There is, however, one particular fly in the ointment that needs to be addressed. I have seen a very snippy response from someone that Edmodo is not a ‘safe harbor’ company and so should not be used. The basis for this assertion was that Edmodo does not (yet) appear on the US Gov’s ‘Safe Harbor’ listings, but, as I mentioned above, the ‘official’ site is notoriously slow at updating, and does not have all safe harbor companies listed. Fortunately, there isTRUSTe TRUSTe. This is the online privacy company used by Microsoft, Apple, Disney and many, many others to ensure data and privacy legislation compliance. In short, they are in the business of keeping companies secure, and also in the business of ensuring that all their data is entirely up-to-date and relevant.

If you go to the TRUSTe search page ( you can enter any company or service name and will be given a list of all the relevant certificates or seals that the company holds. A quick search for Edmodo returns this:

TRUSTe Edmodo Search

TRUSTe Edmodo Search

Edmodo are indeed an EU Safe Harbor company… but I decided to bite the bullet and ask them why they didn’t appear on the US Gov Safe Harbor list. I dropped them a line and got a wonderful reply from Lucia who, amongst other things, let me know that their lawyers are working on speeding up the US Gov list. What she also reminded me of, was the condition I hinted at earlier. It is essential that in order to comply with the legislation, every learner who signs up for Edmodo completes a consent form. There are some samples available through Edmodo itself, but you will need to customise them for your school and to include a space for parents/carers to sign their agreement. Once you have received these, you should be good to go… unless, of course, your LA decides that Connected Learning is not a desirable thing. :-/

Summing Up

In conclusion, here are the sound bites that I should have just tweeted!

  • You can use a service/solution that hosts personal data outwith the EU as long as the company/service are signed up to the Safe Harbor agreement.
  • You should use TRUSTe as well as the US Government to check the safety credentials of a site.
  • Edmodo is a (rather awesome) ‘safe harbor’ company.

I hope this helps clear up some of the confusions I’ve been hearing about. Feel free to post a comment if you have any questions or wish further clarification. 😉

[UPDATE — Meant to mention this in the main body of the post, but Google are also a safe harbor company which is great news if you wish to use Google Apps with your learners! 😉 ]

CfE : Using the E & Os

September 25, 2012

As I mentioned, I was delivering a workshop at the Pedagoo TMSLFringe last Saturday. Here is a variation on what I said — not least because it was different each time, and I received lots of great ideas and suggestions and questions from those kind enough to come and listen!

I took as my topic how I’m moving towards getting the learners to use the Curriculum Experiences and Outcomes for Literacy & English (and if you think that’s a mouthful, you should see the new URLs on the Education Website!). While the focus was based on my own classwork in English, many of the ideas I’ve been trying out have potential for other subject areas — not least because as you will see with my closing example, opening up the means of exemplifying what has been learned can lead to cross-curricular fertilisation that can be immensely rewarding.

Giving The Learners Ownership

Slide 01

As I said on the day, I take my starting point as being the need to give the learners ownership of their own learning. This means handing over the E&Os as soon as possible and is based on the following simple and obvious thought…

Slide 02

I sometimes feel that we as a profession have spent too long agonising over the E&Os — yet they do not exist for us. They are the property and right of the learner. Our role is to introduce, explain and exemplify them, and quite simply bring them to life for the learner. So, as I see it, the E&Os are simply the rules of the game…

Slide 03

As such, we need to teach the learners the rules so they can ‘play’ the game. (And yes, I am well aware of the potentially negative connotations of ‘playing the game’ — but no cynicism is intended or should be implied! 😉 )


What Do I Do?

In simple terms, I have changed the nature of the tasks I set… and this permeates my whole approach.

Slide 04

In a sense, I suppose I haven’t really changed the task as much as I could, but what I have done is consciously moved away from the old tasks I used to set — the ones that involved me teaching with a specific outcome in mind from the first lesson (usually an essay), and being disappointed when the learners didn’t just hand me back the notes I’d given them in the form of an essay. I now try to set tasks that have more of a potential for research and discovery, and that allow the learner to demonstrate his or her learning in the way s/he thinks most appropriate… It’s not as difficult as it sounds at this stage… the real fun comes later!

The key difference is this…

Slide 05

I genuinely have done everything I can to stop agonising about the assessment. My focus is on what is or can be learned… and even in this aspect, I am trying to stop myself from pointing the learners in specific directions. For me, this is where my skill and knowledge as a teacher come into play. My role is as a guide, or mentor, or critical friend, and absolutely not as a sage on the stage. This is not to say that I abandon the learners… quite the reverse… but it does mean I have to advise a direction for studying, and sometimes standing aside and letting the learner get it wrong, while being ready to help him or her reflect on why things didn’t work out. This is a challenging position to take, but I find it immensely rewarding. In short…

Slide 06

I cannot stress this enough… by all means, point learners in particular directions, encourage them by providing them with relevant resources, metaphorically hold their hands as they make the inevitable mistakes (or ‘Management Learning Points’ as an old boss of mine used to call them), but I also try to support them to draw on their existing skills and knowledge as they prepare to gather what they have learned into a format they can share…

Slide 07

If I ask for an essay, I’ll get an essay… and I’ll be really disappointed if it doesn’t do what I expect (see point above)… yet I cannot think when I last shared what I had learned by writing an essay. I am also struck by how limiting the essay as a format is for some things. I recall being told that I wasn’t allowed to include diagrams or pictures in an essay because — essentially — “it just wasn’t done”. Yet I am just as visually literate as I am with words, and more importantly, most of us are. It appears perverse to me to place artificial barriers on the sharing of learning, yet that is pretty much what we do all the time. As I said in my workshop, I keep coming back to The Barometer Problem. This is the possibly apocryphal story about Niels Bohr being asked to measure the height of a skyscraper using only a barometer. Rather than giving the expected ‘right’ answer, he gave several solutions all designed to illustrate his frustrations at his professors:

…teaching him how to think … rather than teaching him the structure of the subject.

If we ask closed questions, we get predictably dissatisfying closed answers. If we allow the learner to choose his or her own means of demonstrating what has been learned, we can be amazed and inspired… but this requires a great leap of faith but by shifting the focus from assessment to learning, we give ourselves and our learners something better…

Slide 08

We are given the freedom to learn, but for many there is an inevitable element of fear associated with this but we need to persevere. Remember, we too need to be ‘confident individuals’!

So to attempt to sum up my new approach, I am moving from…

Slide 09

I am much more receptive to receiving evidence of learning in formats that are non-traditional. Since adopting this approach, I have received presentations, essays, talks, songs (in response to WW1 poetry), posters, ‘graphic’ novels, and videos… and each of these have been looked at and reflected on against the E&Os… and you know what? They have come up pretty well. And this has given me the confidence to have faith in what I am teaching and also to use the E&Os with the learners to demonstrate evidence of good learning.

One More Thing

There is one other aspect of the work my classes are doing now that I want to share. I am emphasising one thing above all others…

Slide 10

I think it essential that pupils be proud of their work. They need to find something that they can take ownership of and that is evidence of something they have done well or better than they have before. This requires reflection and honesty on the part of the learner, and this is also where referring to the E&Os can be invaluable… when a learner sees something s/he has done referred to as an outcome it is a confirmation for him or her that their work has value and worth. Interestingly, pride can come form the simplest of things like correctly using paragraphs where previously there were none…

As I ask (challenge?) my classes, “What are you proud of in your work?”… and if the answer is nothing, “Then why are you bothering?”

Pulling it together

So… enough talking… what does this look like when it works? The best example generated by one of my learners so far came as the result of an open task that I set my S2 class. I simply asked the the question: What Is Beauty? Obviously, there was a little more to it than that, but you can see the whole preamble I gave the class on their blog (click HERE to find it).

A surprising number of the class gave me traditional essays. Some gave me presentations. And then one of the class handed me a DVD with the following presentation on it:

If you don’t want to watch the whole video, skip to 6:43 and see her conclusion. This is the section that the real David Cameron was talking about when he summed up the day last Saturday. I think it is one of the most moving and impressive pieces of homework I’ll ever be handed. But I am gradually realising that as I become more confident in finding evidence using the E&Os, and more importantly, as the learners do too, work like Eilidh’s is likely to be the norm rather than the truly exceptional.

There was much more said by me and those in my workshops on the day, but this post is already too long! Please use the comments to ask or suggest. Learning is a communal thing, so please add your voice here or on Pedagoo!

TMSLFringe — Through The Camera Eye

September 23, 2012

The first Pedagoo organised Scottish Learning Fringe TeachMeet has ended, but I for one hope that it will have a widespread impact. Judging by the immediate feedback, that’s not such a daft hope.

The Earn Valley was showing off something rotten at 7 in the morning.

I was up at the crack of dawn last Saturday morning to travel down to Glasgow for the #TMSLFringe. This first attempt at a Pedagoo un-conference was something I had long been looking forward to… with equal measures of excitement (at meeting people and sharing ideas) and nervousness (what if no-one comes and it’s a disaster). As it turned out, I had no need to be nervous!

The venue was SocietyM and was — quite simply — magnificent. Idiosyncratic and welcoming, and more than one person there was heard to ask: what if a classroom was like this? What I wouldn’t give to take a class (or two) down there for a day and see what we could produce in a modern and funky environment. (If anyone fancies sponsoring me to do this, my email is!).

Having arrived a little before 9, I had a chance to catch up with Ian, Fearghal, and Kenny for a few minutes before the participants began to filter in. I think it fair to say that we were more than a little apprehensive with regards the day… what if no-one came? What if it was a disaster? What if…

Once people began arriving en masse, the venue came into its own. Lots of space, lots of interesting artefacts on the walls, lots of conversation starters…

I managed to snatch a quick chat with Joe Wilson who, for the day, was most definitely not from the SQA! As ever, I was struck by just how switched on and enthusiastic he is… and this set the tone for the rest of the day. Without exception, this was a day for the enthusiasts… as someone said to me later, Pedagoo is like a staffroom for the optimists… how true!

The Real Leather Jacket

At pretty close to the scheduled 10am, Fearghal started us off by thanking ELT Consultants and Wesleyan who were responsible for finding and funding the venue. Then it was over to the Real David Cameron to set the scene. I wish I could remember all he said, but I was panicking at the reality of having to present about how I’m approaching the E&Os and apart from the memorable references to his leather jacket, will need to leave it to others to report his words. 😉

My three sessions appear to have been well received, and I’ll write up what I was saying next!

Lunch was fine, though the space age coffee machine managed to tax the abilities of many… put it down as a new Experience and Outcome!

The afternoon was given over to reflection on the day, and what we could do next. Our discussion was shaped by the following questions:

  • What have you learned today that you could use on Monday?
  • What have you learned today that you could use a year from now?
  • What can we (Pedagoo) to to support this?

There are plenty of other posts about this and rather than rehash them here, I suggest you go and read Claire’s “Learning How To Learn“, Ann’s “Workshop 9 — Thoughts“, Kenny’s “Workshop 8 — Feedback” or Ruth’s brilliant “Pedagoo — Inception” moment!

There are also write ups of the various sessions from the presenters to be read on the Pedagoo site itself… which leads me to my final point: if you like what you see on Pedagoo, join in! The real strength of the day was not the fact that it happened, it was the realisation that we are a community of educators who learn better together, who improve through speaking and sharing with others, and who care deeply and passionately that we need to do the best we can for those we are privileged to teach. A personal highlight came when, after 5 hours of the most extraordinary CPD imaginable, David Cameron drew us back together and charged us with continuing to spread the word and to continue building what we have begun…

Saturday was the first Pedagoo Fringe meeting… I think it fair to say, it won’t be the last. I hope to see you at the next one! 😉

Schools IT Excellence Group Set Up

July 5, 2012


I have been sitting on this wee bit of news and am delighted that I can now go public. I am honoured to have been appointed to the new ICT Excellence Group set up by Michael Russell MSP, Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, to consider the successor to Glow. As someone who has been a long time champion of the possibilities that are opening up, and of the need for education to understand and adapt to change rather than shy away from it, I will be approaching this opportunity with an open mind and a desire to see Scotland’s education system show the way with what is possible.

Below is the press release. I look forward to helping shaping the educational ICT future that my children will negotiate.

Schools IT excellence group set up
Experts consider digital communications for pupils

Scottish Government logo

Education Secretary Michael Russell has appointed the Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Muffy Calder to convene an ICT Excellence Group to consider the future development of the schools’ intranet ‘Glow’.

The new ICT excellence group will draw on the experience and expertise of end-users, and educational technology experts to scope the long-term user-centred future of Glow.

Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Michael Russell said:

“It is crucial that the next generation of Glow allows schools to harness the power of technology for learning, to keep pace with rapidly evolving developments and speak the language that young people speak online.
“Professor Calder’s group will have the challenge of imagining a future for the service that can be customised to the individual requirements of our young people, is dynamic and can remain relevant for years to come. I look forward to receiving their advice later this year.”

Glow is currently used by teachers, pupils and parents to support learning and share resources.
Developed in 2005 as an education intranet with a potential user base of 1.5 million users, comprising learners, parents and carers, teachers and other staff supporting education across Scotland. It provides:

• A trusted and safe environment for online activity by pupils, practitioners and parents
• A variety of online tools to enable national communication and enhance learning
• Access to a range of educational resources
• Communities of practice that offer teachers opportunities to share and collaborate

The group members are now announced as follows: Prof Muffy Calder, Prof Ian Sommerville, Prof Mike Sharples, Mr Ewan McIntosh, Mr Charlie Love, Prof Bill Buchanan, Mr Hamish Budge, Prof Jeff Haywood, Mr Neil Winton, Mr Tony Rafferty, Mr Fraser Speirs, Mrs Jaye Richards Hill and Mr Martin Dewar who will facilitate the involvement of two school pupils in the group.

The Cabinet Secretary’s recent statement on the immediate future of Glow can be found here:’s-next-phase/

Who You Callin’ A Tube? (Part 1)

June 17, 2012

I was delighted to have been asked to speak at the recent Google Apps for Education Event in Glasgow (check the Twitter hashtag #gooscot for more). I’m biased because I was speaking, but I found the whole day to be a superb opportunity to look forward with a lot of like-minded people. It was a really inspiring event, and I dearly hope that David Cameron‘s closing address was recorded because everyone involved in Scottish Education should hear it…

However, I was speaking about YouTube and in time honoured fashion, ran out of time before I could say everything I wanted to. Here, then, is the first part of an expanded outline of what I was saying, complete with links and other goodies! This first part is the background and a few points on searching with YouTube. Part Two tomorrow will cover the specific examples I used, and also some of the really clever tools and YouTube extras that you may not know about. Enjoy! 😉

The Entrée

My slides were designed to give a quick overview of the history of YouTube… but I should really have checked with YouTube first as they have a nifty video (d’oh!) that covers the same ground… here it is:

Anyway… the main thing I was talking about was why YouTube is such an important and worthwhile tool in the classroom. The following page references come from the slides!

Slides 8-23

YouTube’s rise has been nothing less than phenomenal. Consider the numbers… it has gone from one video uploaded in 2005, to over 1 trillion views in 2011. YouTube is where the world goes to see, and laugh, and share, and learn… and that needs to be put into context to understand just how remarkable it is. Consider this slide:

It took 1700 generations to get to this stage, and only within the last 300 have we had writing to record our learning and knowledge. The permanence and ubiquity afforded our knowledge by printing is only 35 generations old. Yet, in less than a third of a generation, YouTube has shared more knowledge and understanding than the sum total of human endeavour. It has become the true record of humankind, not because it is always accurate, or unbiased, or ‘academic’ but because it is real and it is valued and it will afford future anthropologists more insights into our development than has ever been possible. And YouTube is a great leveller. Language has the potential to become irrelevant when you can SEE something happening… though YouTube can always add captions or subtitles!

I think we ignore or block YouTube in schools at our peril. It is here, it is valued, it is valuable, and it is free… but it is also in need of careful teaching. Learners today need to know how to judge the authenticity of a clip, or be able to identify the moral centre of a clip, or even just know how to comment responsibly on a clip. That isn’t easy when the only contact they have (before they switch on their phone), is a screen saying “No entry: This site is blocked because it contains cat videos/social media/learning potential”.

GoogleTube (Slides 26-29)

Here’s a quick task you can try for yourself if you have teenage kids at home. Ask them where they go to find out something they don’t know. If your experience is anything like mine, they go to two places: Google and YouTube. In fact, YouTube is rapidly heading towards becoming the search engine of choice for young people…

The reasons for their love of YouTube is, according to them, that they like to see the answer to a question. That they can also access YouTube very easily on a mobile device is the second big attraction for them. Knowledge and entertainment are available on tap anytime, any place… but I think there’s another more important reason we need to consider (slides 27 & 29).

Finding things on YouTube is more fun for young people because:

  • YouTube lets you find your own answers;
  • YouTube doesn’t ask you the question, you do;
  • YouTube doesn’t ‘judge’ your answer.

As a profession, teachers are very prone to asking questions to which we have answers that are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ using a very narrow frame of reference (Check out the Barometer story if you want ‘proof’ of that!). Yet the truth is, we learn more through serendipity and coincidence… In my own case, that meant a well worn copy of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.I would look up one thing for an essay, and a few minutes — or hours — later, would struggle to remember what I’d originally been looking for because I’d been taken on a voyage of discovery. YouTube is like that. Younger people are much more likely to click the “If you liked this, you may like these” links at the end of a YouTube video. We see them looking at CatVideos… but then we don’t see them actually using YouTube to its potential. We don’t see them using it to help with their research. A quick example…

The grab on the right is what is returned by searching YouTube for Wilfred Owen. No shortage of resources… each with a thumbnail, and more importantly, the length of the clip. You can tell in advance how much time you’re going to invest… not all may be relevant to the topic being researched, but — like Brewer’s before it — the serendipitous nature of the results are an enticement to find out more.

This is all the more likely when, on finishing a particular video, one is presented with related examples…

This is the links presented after viewing my Keynote animation for Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum Est“:

Plenty for the learner to follow up… especially as they develop the 4 Capacities of Scotland’s Curriculum.* Of course, this is my real focus for using YouTube. The working definition of Literacy within the Curriculum documents (slide 35) is this:

Literacy is the set of skills which allows an individual to engage fully in society and in learning, through the different forms of language which society values and finds useful.

Look at the YouTube numbers. And then think about how useful YouTube has been over the past year or so in reporting live news from Libya, Egypt, Syria… the list goes on. YouTube is a source of information that we ignore at our peril… but we do have to take a responsible attitude and approach to it. We need to be teaching effective and safe use — merely blocking will not do that.

One final point for now. The most common reason for blocking YouTube is the quite reasonable one to do with bandwidth. YouTube is video, video consumes considerable amounts of it, and the thought of even greater use by schools will probably fill most network managers with dread… but… there is an apparent anomaly here. I have been told by several different people, and on several different occasions, that the ‘Pathfinder Project’ – rolled out since the mid to late 00s – meant that:

For education, the barrier of bandwidth capacity previously has now been removed…

Shame then that so many Local Authorities are not delivering the blistering speeds promised (up to 300MB/s) to the schools.

That’s it for part one… Part two (coming tomorrow) will cover the actual examples I discussed in my workshop, as well as going through a handful of immensely useful YouTube tools that will help you find even more value for it in the classroom. If you want a taster, try out It’s YouTube without the comments, and a plain dark background. Perfect for schools! 😉

* We have been talking about the Curriculum for Excellence for years now — just a thought: Isn’t excellence the goal of every curriculum? Also, in the absence of any other curriculum in Scottish mainstream schools I’m just going to talk about Scotland’s Curriculum if that’s alright with everyone else! 😉

Responsible Citizens: A Flight of Fancy

June 11, 2012

Especially for those engaged in Scotland’s Curriculum, I thought I’d have a look at what it means to be a Responsible Citizen. (Warning: some of what follows may not be entirely serious)

According to the CfE Four Capacities, a Responsible Citizen has the following attributes:

  • Respect for others
  • Commitment to participate responsibly in political, economic, social and cultural life

In addition, they have the following capacities. They can:

  • Develop knowledge and understanding of the world and Scotland’s place in it
  • Understand different beliefs and cultures
  • Make informed choices and decisions
  • Evaluate environmental, scientific and technological issues
  • Develop informed, ethical views of complex issues

I will be honest, I think these are outstanding statements for a curriculum. They are worthy of aspiring to, but I wonder how well we as teachers are in demonstrating these to the learners we hope to impart them to… and how would a teacher discuss all of these with a class of senior pupils…

Now class, we show we have respect for others by telling them their opinions are not to be trusted… and before you ask, no, you can’t access YouTube in school… It’s bad… you need to just sit down, shut up, and respect my authority…

We demonstrate our commitment to participating responsibly in political, economic, social and cultural life by making sure that social media tools are blocked (because they are social). No Johnny, we stop access to social media tools because they are not an important part of our political, economic and cultural life. For goodness sake, next you’ll be asking if Barak Obama would have won without social media? Or that the SNP’s groundbreaking use of social media tools in the 2011 election was important? Yes Mary, I have heard of the Occupy Movement, and the Arab Spring, but I don’t see what they have to do with Twitter. It’s just reports of what people had for breakfast. It’s not like the National Theatre’s on twitter, is it? Anyway, you’re kids so you aren’t interested in politics or culture, or things like that… That’s why we block all these sites. I’m surprised you even notice.

Still… it’s not all bad. We help you develop knowledge and understanding of the world and Scotland’s place in it by avoiding online stuff. Who needs to know how to use social media tools to have a discussion with people from other cultures across the world in an effort to share what it means to be Scottish, or Australian, or Canadian, or French, or Dundonian… Use Skype in the classroom? That’s just silly. No, what we like doing to help you to understand other cultures is to sit in rows in a classroom while wearing the same clothes and facing the front to listen to the teacher… We call the lesson North Korea 101, and think you will get a lot out of the lesson. You mum and dad did when they were here 30 years ago.

Different beliefs and cultures… mmm… tricky one that. We don’t really want you to actually find out about other beliefs or ideas because … well, I know… we’ll block them to be on the safe side. I mean, look at that lot… they sound like a cult… I mean, nobody uses the internet, do they?

Yes class, well, you know how we are meant to be teaching you to make informed choices and decisions? Well, it turns out we may be being a little economical with the truth on that one. That’s why we do so much blocking and filtering of the internet. Now you don’t have to worry your little heads about the big bad world… Yes, class. I know we could teach you about these things so you could make your own decisions, but… well, you know… you’re just kiddies.

Yes, I had heard that you are old enough to get married, join the Army, have a family, have a mobile phone with better connection speed that the school’s network, but — despite all these things — we’re just going to make the decisions about what you can and can’t do for you. Now, why are you not wearing your uniform? What do you mean you checked the weather forecast and decided warm clothes were more sensible than a blazer and tie in a blizzard… it’s not your decision to make. This is a school you know… not real life.

One last thing class… we do need to talk about technological issues. Hands up all the people in the class who have a mobile phone? Good… now put them away. They are a distraction. Also some people use them to find out the answers before I’ve told you what the answer is… and their answer might be more modern than mine and you might think I was wrong because I went to University in the 1990s… yes, that was before the Internet and Wikipedia and YouTube and Twitter and all those distractions…

Anyway class, I’m glad we had this little chat because as long as you remember what I’ve said, you’ll have developed informed, ethical views on these complex issues. No, Peter, I think you’ll find me telling you what to do and say and think and learn is exactly what developing views on complex issues means. Now, take out your slates and chalk, we’re going to have a test on why the internet is powered by fairies and pixie dust…

With very real apologies to anyone who actually can write well… ;o) I was going to try doing something similar for ‘effective contributors‘ but instead I’ll leave you with this screen grab from my phone.

The WIFi link at the bottom of the list is coming from one of the learners in the class who has jailbroken his iPhone to use it as an ad hoc WiFi network (unfiltered) for his friends.

Even if you were cynical (which I am not), you would have to acknowledge that he has actually demonstrated all of the Attributes and Capacities of an Effective Contributor…