New Years Resolutions

The new year is now almost upon us. As such it is time again to decide on the new years resolutions. This year I am adopting a SMART approach to my plans. This is the result of my review of last year where my plans were a little vague and difficult to measure. I have tried to be a little more specific and measurable this year.

My New Years resolution relate to my interactions with my PLN and my professional learning. They do not include resolutions relating to my job for which I have a separate more formal road-map / plan for the year or to myself personally.

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My PLN related new years resolutions for this year are as below:

  1. To blog at least twice per month throughout 2016
  2. To maintain my presence and contributions to twitter (697 or 1.9 tweets per day over the year)
  3. To achieve Google Certified Educator Level 2 status
  4. To read at least 1 book per month including re-reading existing books
  5. To use tools such as Evernote and Buffer to allow me to work smarter as opposed to harder
  6. To get involved in twitter chats including #sltchat on a fortnightly basis
  7. To get involved in events and conferences including virtual events such as #appsharelive as well as actual events such as BETT
  8. To experiment with video and YouTube as a sharing medium at least four times within the year.

If I was taking a leaf out of @byusuf I might describe it as #share , #experiment and #grow

I look forward to 2016, new opportunities and new challenges!

Also posted on staffrm.io here.

Merry Christmas and reflections on 2015

Once again it is December and another year is drawing to a close which makes for a good opportunity to stop and look back.

Personally this year has seen some major changes for me.  After over 7 years living and working in the UAE in the Middle East I have now relocated back to the UK to take up post as the Director of IT within an independent sector school.     As such this blog entry is being written in slightly less temperate conditions than last years posting which was written by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

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This has proved to be a significant challenge in adapting to a new job while also trying to setup a new house.    It has meant that August, September and October passed in a flash filled with various stressful incidents however now in December I think things are starting to settle down.    My new post means that I am focussed on a single school as opposed to working across multiple school projects, plus it also means I am no longer driving for 2 hours plus per day.   I hope that this will allow me to spend more time on my own professional learning and on engaging and sharing with colleagues including via twitter, etc.

This year has seen me engage in some excellent online professional learning opportunities.   #teacher5adaysketch was very much about looking a teacher wellbeing which has been a reasonably consistent topic for discussion over the last year.    It is clearly important for teachers to deliver the best learning experiences for their students however it is equally important that in doing so teachers are aware of their own wellbeing and workload.   The need to identify bureaucratic requirements where impact on learning is minimal is key as given time is limited we need to focus on the tasks and activities which have the greatest impact.   Personally this is something I feel I need to work on.    The reduction in my daily travel times should allow me more time to focus on work/life balance and on my own wellbeing however I also feel I will need to learn to disconnect occasionally and also focus on working smarter rather than harder.   I have started using Buffer following a blog entry from @teachertoolkit which is just one step towards trying to work smarter.

Following from #teacher5adayskectch I ran #teacherappaday.   Sadly I was disappointed with how this went although I suspect that this was largely due to the lack of time I had available for this task and therefore the fact that the majority of the apps I shared where reasonably common and well know.   Where I attempt to undertake similar things in the future it will be key that I ensure I have the time available to undertake the task properly as otherwise the time spent may lack impact or ultimately be wasted and lost time.    Not long after though, in December, I came across #appsharelive, which was a much more advanced event from @ictevangilist.    This saw teachers from across the UK coming together via Google Hangouts to demonstrate app ideas.    I think this event was excellent and very useful so I look forward to seeing it repeated during 2016.   I also look forward to sharing this with colleagues at my new school so that they benefit from the excellent ideas on show.

2015 has also seen me engage in teacher vendor certification with me successfully achieving both the Microsoft Certified Educator and Google Certified Educator Level 1 status.    My hope is that during 2016 I will be able to build on this in terms of experimenting with the certifications which are available, developing myself professionally and also helping me engage and share ideas with others.

I will miss working internationally and also the ability to work across differing schools although I will also be glad to be able to be more focussed.    I regret not developing my Arabic language skills beyond very basic (and I mean basic) words.   I will also unsurprisingly miss the warmth of the Middle East although I will be glad to be away from the oppressive summer heat.

I look forward to 2016 and the new challenges which await including building on sharing and collaboration relating to educational technology, developing IT strategy within my new school and also furthering my own professional learning.   During 2015 I engaged more with my twitter PLN and started to experiment with other resources such as Staffrm.io however in 2016 I hope to build on this further.   I also hope to develop some consistency in my blogging which I had intended to do during 2015 however never fully realised.    In the Middle East I attended a number of educational conferences and I now look forward to engaging with the various conferences and events which are run within the UK including visiting BETT UK after a prolonged absence.

For me 2016 is very much a new start filled with new opportunities and I look forward to it with some enthusiasm.

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Merry Christmas and all the very best for 2016!

 

Body and mind

We think with both our body and our mind.   Daniel Kahneman outlines the experiment where individuals are made to smile or frown through putting a pencil in their mouth.   They are asked to either put a pencil length ways in their mouth or pointing forward from their mouth, however not explanation is given for this.  They are then asked about how they feel.   Those with the pencil length ways indicate a greater tendency towards happiness whereas those with the pencil pointing outwards tend towards unhappiness.   No explanation is given to participants as to the reasoning for pencil.  The actual reasoning for the pencil is to cause participants to either smile, as a pencil lengthwise in your mouth will cause, or frown as a pencil pointing outwards and therefore held in place by pursed lips will cause.    This suggests that physical attributes or events can result in mental changes, in this case changes in emotional state.    If we take this idea and consider how we might make use of it in education it seems to suggest that the physical position, etc of students could have an impact on their learning.    This could have implications for students being seated for periods of time. or for classroom movement.   It seems to link to the use of brain gym in class which although evidence suggests it doesn’t have a direct impact on learning, it does energize students and in my experience puts them in a better frame of mind ahead of or during learning.   Basically the physical activity changes the mental conditions which impact on learning including emotional state.

Linked to this is cognitive loading and its impact on simple activities such as movement.   We might make students move round a classroom doing group activities however where cognitive load is high, such as where students are having to engage in critical thinking on a topic, they will find the simple activity such as movement difficult.    Kahneman discussed how, if you ask someone a complex maths question while walking, there is a high likelihood the person will stop at least momentarily in order to think through the problem prior to answering.    This raises some questions with regards higher order thinking activities combined with movement.

Cognitive loading very much relies on what Kahneman described as Agent 2 or the analytical part of the mind as opposed to Agent 1 which is the intuitive part of the mind.    This again could have interesting implications within education especially with regards to examinations as the mind will often present what appear to be intuitively correct answers in an effort to avoid the effort of having to analyse the problem in hand.   In some cases these intuitive answers will be correct however they can also be misleading.    As teachers we therefore have a duty to prepare students to deal with these intuitive answers such that the avoid being mislead.

As teachers we also need to look at how we can use mental priming to best effect.   Priming is where a visual, auditory or other cue has a direct mental of physical effect.   As I mentioned earlier a smile can result in feelings of happiness.    We could use images in our classroom to try to encourage students to smile.  Maybe a picture of a smile or a picture of a class of students working together will all participants smiling.   This second example might also serve to set the tone and have an impact on the ability to get students to work collaboratively within class.

Students are human beings and as human beings they think as other human beings do.   As we strive to make better education systems I think a key step is to encourage teachers to dive into the rich texts that exist with regards how humans think and behave.   The more I read from different authors on the brain, thinking, creativity, etc the more I realize how much I don’t know about learning and the more I want to know.   Through such reading we can generate ideas, test them in class and draw conclusions as to the potential for such ideas to impact on the quality of learning;  We can become better teachers of the small thinking human beings which join us every day in our classrooms.

Pass or Fail….But be resilient.

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The educational world is full of contradictions.   A perfect example is the recent discussions on the importance of developing resilience in students and even digital resilience as discussed at a recent conference in Australia.    I strongly agree with the need to develop resilience in students as throughout their life students are likely to encounter difficulties and even failure.   Teachers need to support and develop students such that they are able to get past such difficulties and learn from then, picking themselves up, dusting themselves off and marching onward.

The issue is that all of this is against a background of student examinations and standardised testing where students are either considered as pass or fail or in the case of standardised testing, above or below average.    I would question how possible it is for a teacher to develop resilience in a student who often hears and sees reference to how they are below average.   I would equally wonder how possible it is for the above average student.    Students invariably look at scores and grades and no matter how much we try to avoid categorising ability based on such quantifiable measure they will focus on these and make comparisons between themselves and their peers.    Students after all are often told by their parents about the importance of qualifications and of grades, and they see the focus put on these measures by their older family members including brothers and sisters.   Failure to meet expectations therefore has a significant impact and even more so where a student perceives it to happen regularly or even often.  No number of positive comments and reinforcement from teachers is likely to address this.

If resilience is as important as is claimed, and I believe, then we need to re-evaluate what we currently do particularly with regards constant testing, grading and examinations.   If resilience is just another fad then we need to drop it now and concentrate on what really matters, whatever that is.

Photo courtesy of Sira Anamwong at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net