Showing posts from 2008

Scotedublogs Wordle

Here's a wordle from all the blog posts listed in the Scotedublogs rss feed:

TIMSS 2007

The TIMSS (Trends in Mathematics and Science Study) 2007 report is out.  The headline news is that England has jumped up the ranking for performance in science and maths at P2 and S2, whilst Scotland has remained pretty much where it was back in 2003. This is clearly not good news for any politician, but I was rather alarmed to hear Fiona Hyslop's knee-jerk reaction that these figures called for urgent action. Don't we have a clear agenda in Scotland for progress in education, called A Curriculum for Excellence?  Doesn't it say that we seek to develop 4 capacities in our young people?  Is it not inevitable that our attempt to develop these 4 capacities might result in our youngsters doing slightly less well in dry measurments of subject-based competencies?  Is aCfE not doomed if we launch into defensive action the first time a study suggests that this might be happening? I am certain that the Latin skills of the average 16 year old in Scotland have declined dramatically

A moment of your time?

Terry Freedman ( ) and Miles Berry ( ) are presenting at the BETT show (on the Saturday, see ) for the BCS, exploring children's informal learning outside the classroom and what implications this might have for  teachers and schools. As well as a literature review and some case studies, they've also put together a quick google-form based survey (see ) to get some quantitative data of our own. Miles has asked me to spread the word, so please do take a minute or two to fill in the survey:

By Way of Balance...

This post is going to read like I've had a complaint!  I haven't had any negative comments in fact, but on reflection I've decided that my last post could be construed as an attack on the motives of educational gurus, and I didn't mean it to be one. So... As I said, I believe that enduring inequalities in the education system present a more pressing case for change than the fact that society needs different things from young people than it did 60 years ago. In my presentation of this position, I may have seemed to suggest that educational gurus are not concerned about redressing social inequalities.  This is certainly not the case.  Stephen Heppell, for example, chairs The Inclusion Trust , which is making a real difference to the lives of disadvantaged youngsters. With that caveat added, I'm happy to stand by my words!

When were schools ever ideal?

I guess that most teachers would agree, deep down, that schools represent a far from ideal solution to the education of young people. They are institutions - institutions which struggle to cater for the individual needs of young people and in which it is all too easy for the suffering of individuals to be overlooked. These are systemic problems, which persist despite the hard work and dedication of those employed in schools at all levels. Ever was it thus. If you listened to a certain brand of education gurus, you might imagine that there was once a time when schools represented a perfect solution, and that it is only now, as the digital generation passes through school into a digital society, that schools and the "factory education" that they offer are failing to provide young people with what they need. Rubbish! The profound failings of schools have nothing to do with the nature of the current generation of students, and nothing to do with the kinds of careers that youn

Disrupting Class

I don't read very many books about education, and when I do I am often disappointed.  There are too many snake-oil salesmen offering simplistic solutions. "Disrupting Class" by Clayton M. Christensen is different.  It provides the perfect balance between moments of "yes - that's what I think", "oh wow, I hadn't thought of that, but it makes sense" and "hmm, not sure about that at all." The central tenet of the book is that the success of schools has been measured in many different ways, and that the transformations required to succeed in terms of these successive measures require disruptions the magnitude of which would kill any business - to be replaced by new businesses that introduce disruptive innovations. Christensen argues that every disruptive innovation in business begins by selling to non-consumers of the current product.  Apple began by selling their personal computers to children, whereas DEC were selliing mainframes to hug

Discussion Around?

[I came across this draft post today - I wrote it back in April.  Time to set it free!] Am I the only person in the world that finds the sentence "We had a discussion around this issue" incredibly annoying, when the writer means that they had a discussion about the issue? "About" here means "on the subject of" as in "what is this book about?" "About" shares a different meaning with "around" - bodies could be scattered about the battlefield as well as around it. But this does not mean that I could ask "what is this book around?" and it therefore seems nonsensical to say that I am having a discussion around a topic, unless I am genuinely discussing a range of issues which sit around the topic at hand in some sense.

The Inspectors are Coming

North Berwick High School is being inspected! This will be my second inspection, and I am feeling relatively calm about it. I wonder if any of the inspectors follow the edublogosphere? It would be really cool if they turned up to school with some prior knowledge of the kind of things we've been up to. As always, you can follow my experience more immediately via twitter .

Outdoor Quadrilaterals

Inspired by John Johnston's post , I borrowed some GPS devices from Geography today and took a small class out onto the astroturf, where they tried to draw giant quadrilaterals. We ended up being rather short of time, and had a few technical problems, but a good time was had by all and the students had to think about the properties of quadrilaterals in order to be successful. I'll hopefully have a google map to add to this post on Monday. Here's the map.

Stephen Fry's looking - quick - say something erudite!

Stephen Fry has joined Twitter today, as @stephenfry , and is already being followed by over 1000 people.  He is also following most of those people in return - myself included.  The consensus is that his Twitter presence is probably being managed for him by a PR company, but nonetheless the possibility arises that he might actually be looking at our tweets and blog posts. All across the Twitterverse folk are trying to think of things to say which are suitably witty, erudite or both.  I'm sorry to say that, in the parlance of US sitcoms, "I've got nothing".

My TeachMeet slot - Animation in Maths

Here's what I would have said if I'd had more time: I have grabbed one hour per week in an IT suite with my class of level B/C S2 mathematics pupils. We have spent some time using Tutpup , which has been good fun, and has caught the students' imaginations. But it does not fill an hour per week - 20 minutes is about enough at one time. The biggest success has been the work we have done on creating mathematical stories. We happen to have been using GoAnimate , but I think this would work just as well with Comic Life, Digital Video or any medium which has some depth of skill acquisition but delivers rapid initial gratification. Here's an (unfinished) example of one of the animations: I am pleased with this project for several reasons: The pupils are enjoying learning how to make animations. Enjoyment is sometimes a bit thin on the ground in maths for some of these students, despite my efforts to jolly things up, so I'm delighted to see them turning up early to the comp

Is there a third way for S1/S2 maths?

As people all across Scotland are busy "re-imagining school education" I've been reflecting on my experience over the last 18 years as a secondary maths teacher, particularly on the two ways that classes have been organised over the years. When I began teaching at Newbattle High School in 1990, S1 and S2 maths classes across Scotland were mixed-ability, and almost every school was using a resource called SMP Maths (my legendary PT Simon Smith at North Berwick being a rare exception). SMP consisted of a series of many small booklets, each of which taught a small bit of mathematical content. The booklets were only a dozen pages or so long, and pupils worked through them in a set order, at their own pace. The big advantage of this system was that every pupil could engage with work at an appropriate level, and work at their own pace. The disadvantages were many: teachers spent hours marking tests and organising the booklets and very little time teaching; when they did teac

This week I have been mostly...

My blog posts have become rather sparse of late.  Twitter is largely to blame.  You can see what I've been up to by following me here: .

Virtual Book Club

David Muir has picked up Ewan Macintosh 's suggestion that it might be fun to do a virtual book club for those interested in education. I've signed up - add a comment to David's blog post if you fancy it :-)

And We're Back...

The Summer holiday seems million years ago.  I always forget from year to year just how challenging, exhausting, rewarding, exciting and stressful the return to school can be.  I have a busy year ahead, with  advanced higher, higher and credit classes, along some classes with some very challenging characters in them.  With each class I have relationships to build, routines to establish and ideas to try out. Before I came into teaching, I worked for a few years in an insurance company doing actuarial calculations for pension schemes - I job I fell into.  The work exercised  my mind, but that was all, and I hoped that as a teacher I would be able to bring more of myself into my work.  I got everything I hoped for and more!  My first teaching practices were the most challenging things I have ever done in my life. The great thing about teaching is that whilst it gets easier over the years, it never becomes routine.  Each new year brings a fresh set of challenges.  Thank goodness we have 6

It's that time again

I'm off to the Alps with the school geography trip tomorrow, so it's time for the annual "farewell until August" post. Actually I've been very quiet on the blog for a while anyway. I'm not sure why. Hopefully I'll be back with renewed vigour in August :-)

ELC Internet Safety Training

I've been asked to share the dates of Ollie Bray's upcoming Internet Safety sessions for parents. I do this gladly - I've seen Ollie in action on this subject and he is really excellent. He is not alarmist,  and I guarantee that any parent attending will come away knowing more about the online spaces their children inhabit. The sessions will be held at: * Preston Lodge High- 3 June 2008 * Ross High - 10 June 2008 * Dunbar Grammar - 11 June 2008 * Knox Academy - 18 June 2008 * North Berwick High - 24 June 2008 All training sessions will take place between 7 - 9pm. These evenings will start promptly at 7pm and have a limited availability. If you have any queries or you would like to book a place on one of these sessions, please email Tess Watson, (Acting Education Support Officer) at or log onto

K12 Online Call for Proposals

K12 Online is an online conference "for educators around the world interested in the use of web 2.0 tools in classrooms and professional practice". The conference consists of a series of presentations - videos, slideshows, audio etc, and the call for proposals for this year's event has just been posted. It would be great to have a strong Scottish representation, so go ahead and send in a proposal - I'm full of good intentions but only time will tell whether or not I actually put something together. More details can be found on Darren Kuropatwa's Blog

Crewing an RS400

This season I'm crewing for John Hookway in his RS400 dinghy. This is what we might look like on a good day: [youtube][/youtube] I only started sailing last year, so I have a lot to learn! I'll try to share some of the thing I pick up along the way. The first thing that has become painfully apparent to me is that you need to be fit - in particular to have good core strength, as you spend a lot of time hiking: Photo by dinghyman So far, it seems that my main tasks are: Acting as ballast - moving around to keep the boat level in the water. Tacking and jibing Keeping the jib trimmed correctly Hoisting and dropping the spinnaker, and flying it when it's up Adjusting the outhaul - tight for upwind travel and slack for reaches. Keeping an eye open for stuff that the helm might have missed. I'm not particularly good at any of these yet, but at least I've got some things to work on!  John is a patient teacher, and we w

ScotEduBlogs Performance

I've been working this afternoon on the code behind the ScotEduBlogs site, to speed up performance. Hopefully the blogs page should come up much more quickly now. I also reinstated the sponsors' logos that I accidentally wiped a week or so ago! To be honest, I am partly writing this post to check that the feed updating daemon is still working properly :-)

ScotEduBlogs Stats

Since moving ScotEduBlogs to its new server, I've changed how the graphs are generated on the statistics page .  I'm now using Open Flash Chart , and have taken the opportunity to add a few more graphs - posts per month, posts by day-of-the-week and total posts for each authority.  East Lothian seems to be the most prolific by far.

Great Teachers

Two things brought this post into being - a conversation with my son, and a mandolin lesson. The conversation with my son began with his declaration that he really likes art. I expressed my delight, especially since he had been much less enthusiastic at the start of the year. Through talking to him it became apparent to me that the change of heart is largely attributable to his teacher, Sheila Calder. My son used to be very anxious about getting art work "right", but she has really helped him to relax and enjoy the process. My son said "You know how some teachers say 'this is the way you have to do it'? Mrs Calder says that one of the things she likes about art is that it can be any way you want it to be." Thank you Sheila :-) My mandolin teacher is Andrew Brown. Tonight's lesson was the first for over a month, as we have been away and prior to that my son had been pinching my lessons to do guitar with Andrew. Andrew is hugely enthusiastic about mu

The start of the 2008 sailing season

I was out this afternoon with the rest of the team that are going to be running the school sailing club this year.  It was great to be back in a boat, and to discover that I do remember how to tack and jibe.  It was apparent, however,  that I had been away from the sport for a few months - I forgot to take a hat, forgot my gloves and worst of all forgot to go for a pee before putting my wetsuit on!


I've just survived my first day back at school after returning from Canada at the weekend - no mean feat given the mess that my body-clock is in. Whistler and Blackcomb are awesome - masses of fresh snow, and every kind of terrain, from wide open pisted cruisers to bowls full of untracked powder to groovy gladed runs though the trees that held onto their fresh snow for the whole fortnight. The resort village was great too - loads of shopping, drinking and eating opportunities, all offered up by genuinely friendly staff (many of them aussies!). Here are a few photos, which of course fail to capture the experience! [gallery]

ScotEduBlogs has a new home

I make no apologies for the self-congratulatory tone of this post - the ScotEduBlogs service has a new home, thanks to some funding from Learning and Teaching Scotland   and the Scottish Qualifications Authority , and I'm chuffed to bits. :-) John did all the leg-work that lead to this funding, so big thanks to him. Externally, nothing looks different, apart from the appearance of LTS and SQA logos on the front page, but the site is now running on its own dedicated server.  This provides us with much greater confidence in the stability of the service, and some room to expand the facilities on offer. This funding and the kind comments from  Joe at SQA mean a lot to me personally.  John, Peter and I have put a lot of our own time into this project , and I'm proud of what we have produced together - we delivered all the functionality we promised and more, in a very short timespan.  This is pretty rare for an IT project! In the early days there was a somewhat mixed response to

EeePC and EyeOS

A first glance at this image (click on it to view it full size) might lead you to conclude that I've installed yet another operating system on the EeePC. Look more closely though and you'll see the Firefox bar along the top. What you are seeing is EyeOS - an operating system that runs inside your browser. It isn't perfect yet, and someone is going to have to figure out a way to make money out of such services if they are going to be sustainable, but it's interesting nonetheless. Surely the time is coming when all the "computer" most users will need is a browser.

My Kind of Quiz

I take part in a weekly email quiz.  It's very informal, running simply using a "reply to all" mailing list, with the winner setting the next week's quiz.  I often come last, whilst my wife often wins. I can't understand why I do so badly - I know loads of stuff! I guess I do badly because the stuff I know is mostly obscure and/or technical. Here's a case in point:  I noticed whilst browsing the BBC radio site that there's a program about William S Burroughs coming up soon.  The tagline is "Nothing is true, everything is permitted."  I don't suppose many folk would recognise this quote, but it jumped off the page at me - I know who is supposed to have said it first, and could write a small essay about its influence.  If this comes up in the weekly quiz then I'm laughing :-) [I know the quote as "nothing is real, everything is permitted"]

Meme: Passion Quilt

gapminder , originally uploaded by Jack the fishy shell [  mood ] . I was tagged by Dan Stucke for this one, which was initiated by Miguel Guhlin . I had to reflect for a while before picking this screenshot of GapMinder , a superb piece of software that provides visualisations of global development data. I guess I would like the young people passing through my life to pick up an understanding of the really big issues affecting the globe. I'm sure that I don't do enough in my lessons to achieve that aim! On the picture, the dark blue dots represent Sub-Saharan African countries. I tag John , Neil , David , Tess and Stuart . Here are the rules: 1. Think about what you are passionate about teaching your students. 2. Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn about…and give your picture a short title. 3. Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt” and link back

Glow Mentor Training

Today I had my first day of training as a Glow mentor.  I've seen the portal before, but things have progressed over the last few months and it was useful to see what is possible now. RSS feeds and widgets can now be inserted easily into pages, which is very cool. My job over the next wee while will be to educate other teachers (and pupils?) about Glow, and to lead by example in putting it to effective use in the learning and teaching process.  Whilst this is a daunting prospect, I'm looking forward to taking on such a positive role - it's all too easy to slip into the usual teacherly pass-time of moaning and criticising!

Function Fun

I started the functions topic with my S4 credit class on Friday (crazy that we leave it 'til now to formally introduce the notion of a function) and I came across this web comic today.  Kismet. I wonder if any of the class will be able to follow the explanation?

The Irresistible Allure of Print

I was in Sounds Instrumental this afternoon, which is always a pleasure.  I was ostensibly there to buy a tuner for my mandolin, but took the opportunity to try out a Bouzouki (need longer fingers!) and browse through the music books. This collection of Scottish tunes caught my eye: There is really no need for me to buy this book.  One website alone - - has more tunes than I could ever learn, and probably has many of the tunes in this book, but that doesn't stop me wanting it!  It feels great, and the pages of musical score look fabulous.  I didn't buy it, but as I type this I'm beginning to regret it. (I have hotlinked to the image on the Highland Music Trust site, which is in general a bad thing to do, but I'm guessing they'll forgive me since I'm giving their beautiful book a free plug). 

Another Tune

I wasn't really meaning to write a new tune, and you might argue that it stretches the imagination to describe this as "new", but here's a wee ditty that came to me today. I can just picture the Morris dancers clashing sticks to this :) maypole midi

My first hornpipe

As promised long ago, here are the midi file and score for a wee hornpipe I wrote before christmas.  To be honest, I'm not sure if it sounds better as a hornpipe or played straight like a reel.  Either way, hope you enjoy it :) My first hornpipe midi file

Running Windows Software on Eee PC using Wine

If you really need to run a bit of windows software, then sometimes a nifty project called WINE can come to the rescue.  WINE allows Windows software to run on a Linux operating system.  It doesn't always work, and obviously space is limited on the Eee PC's memory, but it can be done.  Here's a screenshot of Graph (GPL Software, in case the IT boys were wondering) running using WINE:

The Beauty of Linux

I've been using Linux since 2002, and am absolutely convinced of the enormous potential of Linux and open source software to provide high quality, low cost, easily maintained solutions for education. But when I talk to people, I often find that they have very little knowledge about Linux, beyond the fact that it's free! To put that right, here's a 2 minute guide to Linux. It's woefully incomplete and overly simplified, but will hopefully help you understand why I'm so enthusiastic. The Gnu Public License Linux, and most of the software running on Linux are distributed under the GPL . This license guarantees: the freedom to use the software for any purpose, the freedom to share the software with your friends and neighbors, the freedom to change the software to suit your needs, and the freedom to share the changes you make. In effect this means that Linux is free as in "free beer", and free as in "free speech" (the French would say it is

Doings maths on an Eee PC

My feeling is that the Eee PC needs a touch screen to be the perfect 1-1 device. The chat online is that this is coming soon, for very little extra money, so I've been exploring how we migh use it, with the help of my wee Volito graphics tablet. I installed the excellent open source xournal and plugged in the tablet. The Eee recognised the tablet immediately, and I rattled off a quick quadratic equation. Xournal can export to pdf, so you can see that here or just look at the screenshot (click on the screenshot for full size image):

Time for a new FreeMIS release?

I was rather shocked this evening when I realised that the last official release of FreeMIS was in June 2006!  This release has been downloaded over 3000 times, but I have done quite a bit of work on the application since then, so I really ought to put together a  more up-to-date package. It's now officially on my to-do list!  Anyone impatient for the latest code can always download it from the subversion repository :)

Iterative Schemes and Quake 3

Whilst taking a break from a bit of lesson planning (yes, I do plan!) for iterative schemes with my advanced higher maths class, I clicked on SumbleUpon and up came Quake 3’s Fast Inverse Square Root Function .  Most serendipitous!

Tuning the Eee PC for maths

I've been adding some useful maths programs to the Eee PC, and adding icons for them to the Maths/ Learn tab. The scientific calculator is jscicalc, which works exactly like the calculators that pupils use. Maxima and Geogebra should be familiar to you from previous posts of mine.

Time to prepare for 1-1

Playing with the Eee pc has brought home to me the fact that 1-1 (one device per pupil) is coming soon. I don't have to do anything to make it happen. It is inevitable. I have therefore decided to focus my energies on preparing for 1-1. In other words, I am going to be working on lesson plans that assume 1-1 in my classroom, starting with the topics that I'll be teaching on Monday (iterative schemes for Advanced Higher, surds for credit etc). Some time soon, someone is going to ask "where should we start the roll-out of 1-1?" and I want to be so ready that they couldn't possibly choose anywhere else :-) I'll put my work online, cc wiki, but I'll hold off publishing the url until I've got at least a couple of ideas written down. image by venkylinux

Eee PC - credit where credit is due

The Eee PC is a fantastic wee device. Add a touch screen (which is apparently coming soon) and you have a viable means of delivering 1-1. What makes all the difference to the cost point of the device is the fact that you don't have to pay for a copy of Windows xp. That would add something like 20-30% onto the cost. You don't have to pay for Windows because the Eee pc uses Linux. The Eee pc does not shout about its Linux operating system - it just uses it. So I'd like to shout about the hundreds of thousands of hours of work given freely by thousands of developers to create the Linux operating system and the vast range of free software that runs on it. These people have given of their own time without any financial reward simply because they wanted to help to make something useful to humanity, or maybe because it was just an interesting problem to solve. Whatever their motivation, I am immensely grateful to them. Without them we would still be stuck with the duopoly

Maxima on Eee PC

I''ve been playing some more tonight with the eee pc. I installed maxima on it, which is a superb open source CAS. Here's a screenshot:

Eee PC

I'm writing this on an Asus Eee PC, which I've been given to trial by East Lothian Council. My first impressions are very positive. As an experienced Linux user, I found the interface a bit annoying, but a quick google brought me to this howto which explains how to switch out of the easy mode and back to a more regular Linux desktop. Before the switch, it looks like this: and now it looks like this: I can see the appeal of the easy mode for younger pupils.

Yahoo Supports OpenID

A while back, I predicted that everyone reading my blog would have an OpenID within 12 months, and be using it regularly.  Today the first half of that came pretty close to being true in one fell swoop, as Yahoo announced that all Yahoo accounts (which includes all BT Broadband users) are being OpenID enabled. This is a huge boost for OpenID.

Ski Trip

I'm leaving on Saturday morning on a 26 hour coach journey to Italy, where I and the rest of our party of 116 (including my wife and son) will be enjoying a week of skiing and snowboarding. This year I'm not in charge, which is a huge relief!  I'm planning to relax and enjoy the week in a way that I wasn't able to last year - pressures of high office and all that. I'll be tweeting our progress here on a temporary account I've set up.  May also upload some photos to flickr with tag skitrip08 if I get the chance.

Weighed down by Web 2.0

As a blogging, feed reading facebooking twitterer, I do, of course, recognise the benefits of all this stuff, but today, as I reached for my laptop and fired up Firefox, I felt a pang of nostalgia for the days when I would be presented with the blank canvas of Google's homepage.  No feeds to check, no twits to watch, no facebook games to play - just a blank search box and the question "I wonder what's out there?" floating in my mind. It feels harder to get into that frame of mind these days - there's so much new stuff being thrown at me from familiar places that it's hard to find the time to go exploring for new places.   I can tap into other peoples' explorations via but that isn't quite the same. Other people must have spoken about this before - star prize for a link to the oldest blog post to do so :) Anyhoo, what do I care, I'm away now until Saturday night.  I'm not going snowboarding, no sir no, because the conditions up North


Did someone already point this one out?  I can't remember seeing it before. Anyway, Soundzabound is "Royalty Free Music for Education."  Handy for podcasts, videos and the like.

Freestyle East Lothian!

On Friday my son and I took our snowboards out onto a wee sledging hill just beyond Gifford, and built a truly tiny kicker. We had a great time - here a video of a maths teacher in his 40's being silly: [youtube][/youtube] Beta

This morning I received by invitation to the beta phase of is supposed to pull together all your different online activities into one place - I'm writing this blog post from within, and I just posted to twitter from here too. There's lots more to - openID integration, cool attention stuff, rss reading and so on.  I'll post some more once I've played around