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Showing posts from 2010

The God You Don't Believe In Doesn't Exist

I recently watched "The Big Silence" on BBC IPlayer.  It's a documentary about the experiences of four people who volunteered to attend an eight day silent retreat at a Christian centre in North Wales.

Having been on several week long silent meditation retreats at Buddhist retreat centres myself, I was fascinated by the similarities between my experiences and those of the volunteers, and by the differences in emphasis from the two traditions.

The most compelling message I took from the programme was a confirmation of a long-held belief of mine:  that the human experience at the heart of Christian contemplation and prayer is exactly the same human experience which Buddhists meet in meditation.  Buddhists may talk about Jhanas whilst Christians talk about Grace, but it is the same experience.

I was particularly struck by something a monk said to one of the volunteers, who had experienced something very profound, but was unwilling to describe it as an experience of God: "…

A Silent Hour

This morning we had 2 minutes silence across the school.  It was at the start of my lesson with 10 S1 pupils.  After the silence ended, I told my class about the silent meditation retreats I had attended, and about the school on Vancouver Island which has a silent morning for the whole school [I can't find a link to this - anyone help?].

One of the pupils said "Oh - can we do that this lesson!"  The rest of the class was up for it, so we did the entire hour lesson in silence.  It was a lovely experience, and the pupils were very positive in their learning logs.

Another Letter from Rifleman Jones

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This letter was written in November 1943.  By then, Dad had exchanged the heat and flies of the desert for the mud of southern Italy.  This is the longest letter we have, and in it he writes a brief "history" of his time in the 8th Army.

Alps Summer 2010 Part 2

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The previous day, the ascent of the Allalinhorn had seemed like a big deal. Now in retrospect it seemed like a doddle - a quick jaunt up from the top of the mountain train. Our thoughts turned to plans for the rest of the week.

This first week was supposed to be an acclimatisation week, so we wanted to get progressively higher, and in particular to spend nights in huts at increasing altitudes. But we were aware that Alpine weather is a fickle thing, so we also wanted to make the most of the good weather we were experiencing.

I came up with a plan: to climb two more 4000m peaks before the end of the week -  the Weissmies and the Nadelhorn. It seemed very energetic, but I was expecting the weather to get in the way at some point and impose some rest.

After lunch on Monday we caught the local free bus down to Saas Almagell, and set off up towards the Almageller Hut in blazing sunshine.  We climbed about 300m up the right-hand side of a gorge, only to discover that the route across from …

Letters from Rifleman Jones

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My father, Trevor Jones, was born in 1920 in Mid Wales, and served in the King's Royal Rifle Corps from 1941 until the end of the second world war. He died  12 years ago.

I had known for years about the existence of a collection of letters written by my father in 1943 to his sister Nancy, but it was only recently that I actually got hold of them. I have been scanning them as carefully as I can, then putting them back into storage.

Here's one written in May 1943, the day after the end of hostilities in North Africa:


Dear Nancy, Gwilym and Wendy,

I am very sorry I have been so long in writing, but I haven't had much chance until now.

Yesterday was a very eventful day for it was the day upon which the ceasefire sounded in Africa and believe me everyone was glad.  The day before the Germans decided that they didn't want their guns or ammunition any longer so they decided we should have them and they first of all slung over all the shells they had left and then they threw the …

Alps Summer 2010 Part 1

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School broke up for Summer on Thursday afternoon, and on Friday morning I was on a plane to Geneva with Alan.  We took a train then a bus to Saas Fee, and arrived in sweltering heat about 6 pm, to see this inspiring view.



Saas Fee is completely car-free, so we had to haul our luggage across the village and up the hill behind the church to reach our apartment.  We managed to get lost on the way (which did not bode well!) but eventually we found the right block, and were warmly welcomed by the owners of our apartment.

I had planned a full day of acclimatisation activities for the Saturday morning, but Friday was Alan's birthday, and he was in the mood for a few drinks! After a vague attempt to encourage moderation, I surrendered to the inevitable and joined him in a round of cocktails, then another...



Some time around 10.30am, we declared that Saturday would be an "orientation day".  We wandered around, picked up some supplies and pulled ourselves together.  We decided to buy…

Thinking Out Loud about ICT: tools for reflection

provide students with tools to help them to reflect upon their own learning

I want the students coming to my department to be aware of themselves as learners, and to be active participants in their own learning processes.  Of course every student is actively involved in their own learning - no learning would take place otherwise - but I want them all to be able to take a step back from themselves and reflect upon their own progress.  Making this reflection regular, manageable and meaningful is a challenge!  We don't have 1-1 computing devices in class, so if we are going to use ICT we are largely going to have to use the students' devices in the students' time (until enough of them have smart phones!).

Moodle

Moodle offers a plethora of tools that might help here:  Class wikis, glossaries, journals, forums... the list goes on.

Glow

Wikis and blogs are in Glow now aren't they?  Or they will be soon.

Google Apps

Google Apps include forms and shared documents.  I guess they coul…

Thinking Out Loud about ICT

So the "best class ever"  have moved on to new teachers, and I have new classes starting on Monday. I've been reflecting, for myself and in my role as head of department, on what I am hoping to achieve by using ICT with my new classes. I want to make sure that I'm focussing on quality learning and teaching, not on ICT for its own sake. Here's a provisional list of aims:

help students  to reflect upon their own learning
help them  to discuss their learning with each other and with me at any time
help them  to gather evidence of their own learning
help them to learn collaboratively
help them to self-assess their progress, and peer assess each other's
provide them with alternative resources to "close the gap" if they have not mastered learning objectives
provide parents/carers with information about their children's learning
provide me with tools to manage assessment data
save money!

Along with this list of potential benefits, I have a list of possible tools…

The Best Class Ever

A year ago, I had my first lesson with a new S2 class - a middle set. As usual, I began by saying:
Imagine that it is a year from now. You are leaving the classroom, and as you go, I have a tear in my eye and say "you were the best class ever". What kind of things do you think you would have to do, individually and as a group, in order to make that happen? And as you leave, you say to me "thank you Mr Jones - you were the best teacher ever." What kind of things would I have to do to make that happen?
A year ago, as usual, this led to the class coming up with an excellent set of class rules, and a clear list of their expectations of me as a teacher.  The pupils all signed their list, and I signed mine (once I had negotiated away items like "no homework"!)

Now things don't always pan out the way I would hope, but today, as the class left the room for the last time, I must confess that there was a lump in my throat, and I was able to tell them honestly…

A Rich Task

Over the last 2 periods with my S2 class, we have been working on the Counting Cogs task from Nrich, using the groupwork roles suggested by them. 



I plan to use this task as an introduction to multiples, factors and primes in our new  CfE course, so I was really using my S2 class as guinea pigs!

The task was genuinely rich: the pupils came up with many conjectures which I had not predicted. Here are some snippets of the artifacts they produced:



I was particularly pleased to be able to discuss the "failed attempt" and convince the students that it wasn't really a failure at all. It was really a great bit of evidence of the scientific method in practice. They could have improved their recording by showing how they found out that it wasn't true (by making a prediction based on the conjecture, then finding that it didn't work).

The pupils were using words like multiple, factor and prime without any prompting from me to do so. I think this task would work very well as…

More ideas from Teachers' TV

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My S3 credit class have just finished the straight line topic, so today I used the activity from this teacher's tv video as an end-of-topic assessment.  I expect this will be familiar to many maths teachers - our probationer used it during one of her student placements last year.

I put the class into groups of two and threes, handed them out the envelopes and said "this is an assessment activity - show me what you have learned in this topic".

The pupils struggled initially with the open nature of the task.  Several asked "what are we supposed to do?" to which I replied "show me what you have learned about straight lines."  "This is weird" said one of the pupils!

I did not say that they had to make a poster, but the resources to do so were available unobtrusively at the front of the room.  Once one group asked if they could make a poster, and I said that they could if they wanted, the idea took off across the room and they all ended up doing so.

Assessment supports Learning?

Isn't assessment supposed to support learning from 3-18 in Curriculum for Excellence?

How do we square that with a system that has all S4-S6 pupils abandoning any pretence of learning from Easter until the beginning of June in order to prepare for and sit the SQA exams?

I don't see anything in the documentation about the senior phase that suggests that anyone is planning to deviate from this age-old model of qualification by exam.

Nor do I have any alternatives to offer!

That is all.

FreeMIS State of Play

FreeMIS is an Open Source, web based, school management information system which I developed in the mid noughties.

A lot of people arrive at my blog looking for information about FreeMIS. If that's you, this post should provide you with an up-to-date picture of FreeMIS.

FreeMIS is working for me at North Berwick High School, providing the following functions: reporting to parents; positive referrals; progress tracking and target setting; unexpected absence notifications.

FreeMIS is easy to use once it has been set up, but it is a fairly technical job to get FreeMIS up and running on a web server, and there is not much documentation to help you.

As a bare minimum, you would need to know how to get a Ruby on Rails application running on a web server (FreeMIS runs on Rails 1.2.2), be familiar with MySQL and be able to use a tool like Phpmyadmin to populate pupil tables (as FreeMIS does not have a front end tool to enter new pupils other than by doing it one at a time!)

If you can manag…

assessment for fun and profit

I'm sure I am not alone amongst Scottish educators in wondering what assessment is going to look like in coming sessions.

Having watched this Teachers' TV video at the weekend, I felt inspired to try an assessment activity that might better reflect the principals of assessment in CfE.  It wasn't a big deal, but the outcome was interesting enough to prompt this rare blog post!

Today was the last lesson for my S2 class on a money topic which included wages, VAT and exchange rates.  I told the class that the aim of the lesson was for them to produce evidence of what they had learned during the topic, then asked them how they thought they might do that.  The first response was  "a test" (loud boos from classmates!).  Someone else suggested making posters, and another pupil suggested making up questions for the Activote pods, which they would then answer.

We settled on making posters.  I have done this many times before as a way of allowing a class to reflect upon the…

Fiddler on the roof

Last night I went along the see Fiddler on the roof, performed at North Berwick High School.  It was a wonderful experience.  The singing and acting were incredible, and the musical accompaniment performed by students and music teachers was superb.

I can't really put into words what a great privilege it was to be there.  My son was performing, and I have taught most of the pupils who were on stage.  I also sail with quite a few of the youngsters.  It was like being a proud parent thirty times over.  It was also special for me because it was the first school musical that I have been able to see, having been a performer in the last two shows.

"Happiness doesn't come from having things - it comes from being part of things" as the saying goes, and I felt a huge pride last night at being part of the community that produced such a fine performance.

Lesley Hood devotes a huge amount of time every year to putting on the musical.  I don't know where she finds the energy, but…

First Thoughts on Numeracy Assessment

SQA have just published  The Design Principles for the National Literacy and Numeracy qualifications.

Here are a few things that stood out for me after a first reading:

To get a 4 you need to get a 4 in every assessable component. If you get one 3 then you get a 3 overall.

Information Handling is going to be internally assessed.  Goodness knows what form that assessment will take!

The portfolio used to assess the other elements will "be drawn from across the curriculum or from more than one context" (emphasis added).  It could therefore consist entirely of work produced in the maths department.

Whole Class/Individual/Group?

Julie Arrol asked me this question yesterday on Twitter:
What are your views about amount of time to spend whole class teaching in maths vs. individual/group work etc.?
I told Julie I'd get back to her, but my response needs more than 140 characters - hence this short blog post.

The short answer is that there is no answer!  All three modes are useful, and an effective teacher will use all three, but it is not useful to attempt to prescribe an ideal mix.  At the risk of setting up a straw man, I think it's important to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect lesson, and that a lesson which suits one learner very well may fail completely to meet the needs of another member of the class.

Having said that, the reality is that learners still spend the majority of their time in secondary maths classrooms either being taught from the front or doing individual work.  This is especially true for the more academically successful learners in S3-S6.  One could argue, therefore, that…