Most of us teach material that will be assessed in an examination of some form or another, but upcoming changes to GCSEs mean that for all of us the focus on teaching exam technique will become more and more important.

One of the major issues that I’ve found to be holding learners back from excelling at exams is the problem with retention of information after their in-class tests: whilst they may revise and practice for the actual test, their effort in keeping that knowledge fresh or making use of the exam result after it has happened is often disappointing.

The research into how we make memories indicates that it is the process of repeating the learning that causes information to be stored in long term memory, and the practical application of this that feeds those skills into working memory. What we need to be doing then is making the grade scored for each assessment less important that what we learned about the students’ recall and use of those facts to inform both the teaching and the revision strategies.

The first thing to tackle is the initial response of students to your exam marking: for most students the only thing that really matters is seeing that grade. They instantly decide if they’re happy with it or not then completely forget about the exam content, marking it up as a success or failure and moving on. In both cases the act of reducing all that learning down to a simple binary state can mean that students simply repeat the exact process of revision for future assessments without making changes.

One method of doing this is an exam reflection activity. Still go through the questions, still hand out grades, but force the students to actually reflect on what they’ve achieved. One strategy for this is Question Level Analysis: traditionally this involves keeping a record of every mark on every question for every student and using it to inform your teaching of which subject to cover again. This tool is too detailed to be much use with students directly, what works a little better is to group the results of the questions into topics and present percentage grades for each of the topics.

Showing this data directly to the student really allows them to get an understanding for which areas of learning they succeeded in and which areas that they need to improve.

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This is reasonably straightforward to set up in a spreadsheet, demonstrating a simple percentage for each of the areas of learning that the exam covered. It simply allows an overview that works particularly well when used with the following sheet.

Once each exam has been sat, the results returned and you’ve gone through the questions with your group; then going through something like the sheet above will force the students to engage with that so-difficult reflection on how the exam actually went. Please don’t feel that you have to replicate the questions on this sheet by they’re a reasonable attempt (and a fourth iteration) to get students to think about how they could do better from a variety of places.

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Firstly, the WWW and EBI are swapped for What Went Well? And What Went Badly? – the language here is specifically chosen to have more emotional resonance with the student so that they are more likely to value the list of problems. All of this can be informed from the QLA that you have performed and allows the students to not only identify which sections they performed poorly on, but using the remainder of the questions on the page it allows them to identify why and how they can improve.

What we’re basically doing is holding the students’ hands as they move themselves through a process of self evaluation and planning the next stage of their learning.

We’re asking questions about the time they need to use, what techniques they could try, even who amongst their friends and family could help them and how – all of these are techniques that can have impact and are often not used by the weakest students.

One of the most important things at this stage is to set a date for another test on the same topics, so that students can work to a deadline with the improvements they claim to want to make. When the next test happens you can perform the same QLA and reflection activity but the important thing on the second run is to compare this achievement to their previous attempt and make the students accountable for the changes they wanted to make. Celebrate success as much as possible.

By walking the student through the model for self evaluation, self reflection and planning for improvement then students are more likely to start to internalise this process and see the benefits of it. In looking at comparison data between two groups of similar ability over two years, class A that used the traditional methods and class B who used QLA and Reflection you can see that class B had more consistent and refined improvements in their unit-to-unit scores, compared to class B who were more variable and actually seemed to get worse in their exam technique for the first three topics.

This leads me to believe that the techniques of reflection and QLA do work, they’re not quite the be-all and end-all but they do have a noticeable impact on the long term and lead to more consistent results.

This is just the data from two groups though, why not give this a try yourself and report back your findings?

Stop Getting IT Wrong!

Workshop Summary

Digital learning is not something to be scared of or to be worried about.

It’s just learning.

No one called it ‘Pen based learning’ when we moved away from slate tablets, but I’m sure there were a few people reluctant to change their ways, or that didn’t quite ‘get’ the point of pens. In any case, digital learning is here to stay and should be a part of every lesson in some form, if only because it saves you time!

What not to do

We’ve all seen the classic ‘do a PowerPoint’ lesson. *Sigh*. Yes, you know what I’m talking about; it’s the end of term, you’ve got a section of work on something researched based so you say the immortal lines, “Do a PowerPoint on it”… and four weeks later these digital natives have done two slides that make the content appear one letter at a time.

If students *are* digitial natives then should a PowerPoint take four weeks?

Life after Death by PowerPoint

There is life after death by PowerPoint, and it’s all about the amazing things you can do with digital learning. In this workshop we covered my top-tips for getting started:

1. Get over yourself – you will never be as much of an expert in the technology as a student can be because they’ve got unlimited time to learn it. You have to just plan around that and have strategies for finding out: Classroom Genius: find someone in the class who’s the ‘genius’ at the tech you’re using and get them to be the first port of call for non subject specific questions

2. The connected student – they’re being pinged all the time by Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Why not leverage the fact they’ve trained themselves to respond quickly to notifications by doing that yourself? Using a tool like edmodo to push out work and ask questions turns simple things into pings that use the same action-reward mechanism that replying to a tweet does; and most importantly, it gets things done!

3. Print on Demand – I’ve covered this in my blog, but essentially it boils down to getting custom printed exercise books so you can force student to improve skills you want them to focus on.

4. Blur your classroom – Use a VLE of some kind for taking in work (I wrote about this in the most recent Teach Secondary magazine) and then mark using your mobile device whenever you’ve got some down time. Stood outside Next waiting for your other half? Whip out that phone and mark one or two. Waiting in the car for the football crowds to let out? Your mobile is your friend for quick marking. This means that your work life balance gets much better because whilst you might be marking more often, you’re doing it in ‘dead’ time and suddenly you don’t need to sit down and mark in an evening anymore.

5. Record a learning dialogue – using many online tools it’s easy to record the feedback and conversations your having about work and display the progress over time to that tricky Ofsted lot. One piece of kit I’m enjoying at the moment is Kaizena [https://kaizena.com] which allows you to record audio annotation over a Google doc. This is the quickest marking ever because you can highlight a section, click record, then just speak your feedback. Wowzers.

6. Record everything – use the video camera in your phone (or something fancier if you have it) to record anything you think is useful, even yourself. This gives more flexibility in the type of lesson you can teach because if you spend five minutes recording yourself work through a particular exam problem then you can reshow that video almost indefinitely. Take a look at my youTube channel for some more examples of where you can take a lot of the repetition out of your teaching.

7. X-Factor your lessons – Why not use instant poll software like PollEverywhere [http://www.polleverywhere.com] to allow X-Factor style text voting in your lessons. AFL has never been so much fun. It means students can reply anonymously so closed questions work better, but it does have a free text response option which all updates live as a student texts in. Pure magic.

8. Plan for epic fails – so what’s going to happen if the computers don’t work? Make sure you’ve got a second strategy, an offline ‘go-to’ just incase because the very worst thing you can do in a lesson is wait for the IT guys to come along to fix things, you’ll lose your class’ attention almost instantly if they have any downtime, have something to do that requires dead-tree-tech so you can jump to it in an emergency. This doesn’t have to be well planned, just planned.

9. If you use new tech, use it more than once – because let’s face it. You’re probably not a Computing teacher, so if you do us a favour and teach a bit of software use then why not get a good return on your investment? Use the same tech three of four times, at least, which means that students stop asking you how to use it, and ask you what to use it *for*.

10. Sometimes you can do too much – I once had a year 13 student ask me, exasperated, if they could “just do things on paper today sir?”; so please don’t imaging that I expect every lesson to be an all singing, all dancing digital learning machine. No. What I’d like to see is more teachers using tech day-to-day and not worrying about it.

At some point we’ll forget we ever called it digital learning and find the very idea that we differentiated between eLearning and Learning as a bizzare artifact of a bygone era. When even the most old fashioned teacher in the class thinks nothing of slapping on a pair of video-recording glasses and rocking out an epic lesson.

If you’re interested in finding out more then head to my blog or read my book, which coincidentally has the same title as my workshop .

I’m sure that some of you remember my post from last year: Print on demand for better Learning, where I explained the thinking behind my efforts to produce custom exercise books for my post-16 Computing students. Well, after a year of use and some very interesting impacts on teaching and learning we decided that it would be worth rolling a tweaked version of this out to the rest of our groups.

As such I have created a custom exercise book that both allows students to take notes in the Cornell style, as well as summarise and mark the notes; all this and target setting, planning, recording and analysis assessment have been incorporated into the exercise book. In short what we’ve got here is a generic, any-subject, any-level exercise book that focuses students and improves teaching and learning.

Please feel free to buy a copy from amazon (only £3.99) or download the PDF versions of all the files to construct your own, remembering that you must credit this site if you are using any of my materials, and then only non-commercially. Anyway, on with the blog post.

Lesson Learned from Version 1

There were a number of things we learned as a result of last year’s trial of the custom exercise books:

  1. Students needed more pages and flexibility for keeping notes
  2. Students needed simpler summaries of assessments
  3. Students needed more structure to planning and evidencing revision
  4. The self reflection and analysis contained too many similar questions
  5. A specific book per unit of work was a little too much faff
  6. We needed room to add marking comments
  7. Students needed a checklist of some kind before hand in
  8. Quality of the books needed to improve whilst cost needed to be reduced
  9. Use fewer explanatory or pre-printed pages as students just didn’t read them
  10. It needed to include the deeper questioning grid to allow use each and every lesson

Design

This year rather than do all that work in Photoshop, illustrator and Word (as I had done last year) I decided to just bite the bullet and use InDesign, I’d been teaching myself how to use it in order to write my tl;dr books so felt pretty adept at this. Using InDesign meant that much of my hard work from last year seemed a bit pointless and crazy as industry standard software is just so much more refined at doing this layout malarky.

I started with going for the biggest size that was still affordable to have printed, selecting the US Paper size which allows more room for content. Working on the cover first and following the style of before, but with more generic content: such as the blank box for lesson, name, etc. on the cover. I then added the deeper questioning grid to the back, reasoning that this on a glossy cardboard surface would allow us to use whiteboard markers on them when using the grids.

ExerciseBookGenericCover  deeperQuestioning Download the PDF

The next step was the front page, because this would be an odd page on its own I decided to use it to hold targets and summaries of assessments. This made the design choices easier and cheaper as I wasn’t wasting resources including an enormous copyright page, the page here holds potential summaries for 8 units which is more than we usually cover in one particular unit of work but allows it to be used by many different groups.

 Download the PDF

The next stage was to get into the nitty-gritty of what I wanted the note pages to look like, in using a larger size this meant that I could keep all the aspects of the previous notes pages that worked so successfully: the lines pages, the Cornell sidebars, the summary areas, date and title sections. In going that extra mile to improve this the new size actually gives us more written space than before. I added a RAG rating to each page for difficulty means that students can, at a glance, see which pages need revising more than others. The top also contains a ‘type of learning’ box so we can identify classwork, project work and homework for work scrutiny purposes. Finally there’s an area to identify if this is self, peer or teacher assessment to engage students with assessment in different ways.

At the bottom of the page we now have a finished-page checklist, so students can check they’ve done everything before they hand in a book for marking, a key for our Literacy and numeracy marking policy and areas for What-Went-Wells, Even-Better-Ifs and a response from the student. Making these a double page spread means that the space can be used more effectively.

NotePages NotePages2 Download the PDF

Rather than doing what I did last year, and trying to estimate how many pages students need per topic, I made it more generic and ‘classic exercise book’ style by sticking in 100 pages worth of this layout, plenty for any student to write notes on most subjects.

The next step was to produce the Revision planning, logging and assessment reflection pages. Again, 8 of these were added at the back in order to ensure that students could go through a complete revision exercise to practice this skill and evidence what they have done. The revision plan was split into a more specific table layout that asks the students to describe the type of revision methodology being used from our standard taxonomy, this was joined by a more generic week planner so students can demonstrate thought as to when and what they’ll revise.

Of course, once they’ve planned revision they’ll presumably go and do it. To check this a page of revision logging is presented, in a new more specific table format that once again uses the revision taxonomy to push the students to revise in an effective manner. At the end we ask the student to summarise and WWW, EBI the actual revision they’ve done so that we can review it after the exam.

Assessment reflection follows a very similar pattern to before, with fewer, more differentiated leading questions and opportunities to force students to reflect upon their achievement and produce a plan of action. Student would then be asked to fill out the overview summary at the start of the book.

AssessmentPrepLogReview AssessmentPrepLogReview2 AssessmentPrepLogReview3 Download PDF

So, one more page to go. Last year the calendar was extremely useful, but if this is to be as generic as possible and be less work to create next year then I can’t have year specific pages. In thinking this through I realised that what students really want is to be able to write down key dates rather than having an actual calendar, thus I went for a much more generic, box based design so that they can be reused year-to-year.

KeydateCalendar Download PDF

Printing

If you’ve read my previous article then you’ll know that I’ve previously used Lulu.com to print this stuff, which is great because they allow you to create projects that don’t necessarily have to be for sale everywhere and meet a load of guidelines. However, the quality of their paper is not quite as nice as that from amazon’s createspace and me being a bit of a stationery snob decided that it would be nice to have better paper for the student’s notes. This has benefits and drawbacks: the benefits being that the cost was reduced slightly, now coming in at £2.99 rather than over £3 as before, but because createspace is designed for publicly available books sold through Amazon you need to adhere to a number of guidelines in producing the document. This is the reason the phrase ‘Exercise Book’ exists on the cover as the title of the book being on the cover is a requirement of the createspace process.

However, after all that and getting the samples ordered I ended up with a beautiful exercise book that does all I wanted it to do, then we got the full order in.

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Is it worth it?

Well, I’d say so. The difference we saw in the quality of both notes and revision last year was astonishing; and that was with a first attempt at streamlining the process of students making notes and reflecting on assessments.

It’s got to be better than buying 50 books of lined paper and expecting the students to organise themselves. It’s got to be better than expecting students to make their own plans with no guidance. It’s got to be better than giving papers back and asking them to think about what they needed to do better.

Yes, it’s much more expensive than bog standard exercise books but the beauty of this is that with a small investment of time and a little more money you can have books that are personal and specific to the way you teach, mark and reflect.

If the time investment’s too much for you then please just buy a few copies of mine and give that a go – at £3.99 a go it’s probably not there for the hundreds of people in your KS3 classes but it’s certainly affordable for KS4/KS5. Give it a go!

If you make your own let me know how you got on, I’d love to publish other examples here.

At #TMCotham last night I delivered a very well received 5-minute presentation, all about the best investment I ever made into the teaching and learning in my department. So what was it that I spent that fateful £30 on that really changed things for us?

Amazon link to buy the glasses

What Was I Looking For?

It was about a year ago and I was looking to stock up on a few more digital cameras, because whilst it is fine and groovy to have students use their own devices to record video on; it does also flag up a few embarrassing situations when you’re trying to get that video off their device and the student’s entire photo collection is visible for a few seconds. To get around that I’ve always kept a cache of relatively inexpensive (£100) point-and-shoot cameras around, but these had been breaking and it was time to get more.

The problem is that these are actually quite a large investment of capitation if you want any more than one or two, to get five it would be the best part of £500 and the quality wouldn’t be what the students are expecting.

I’d also been waiting patiently for Google Glass to find its way to the UK. I’ve got vision with this one, imagine a future where teachers are specced out with Google Glass and student face recognition technology: imagine seeing a student in the corridor and Google Glass silently displaying an overlay of the student’s data in your eye line as you talk – the implications would be amazing!

Anyway, whilst searching Amazon for cameras I suddenly had a bright idea and searched for ‘video recording glasses’.

Amazon link to buy the glasses

I immediately bought one, getting a 16gb TF card to use with it for £35 all in. This rocked. Firstly, it’s a fifth of the price of a generic, half-decent point-and-shoot digital camera, secondly it will allow for POV recording. So they took a bit of time to come but they worked wonders when they arrived. If so then I could get five of these for the price of a single point-and-shoot!

Why Care?

 

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As you can see from this sample recording GIF it works really well for getting a student to record and explain a sample of their work. This example is from a group project where I’ve asked the group leaders to go and interview the members of the group to explain what they’ve achieved, how they met the marking criteria and discussing improvements that they should be making.

That’s amazing because now when I’m marking a group project I really can just sit down with the group leader and review their footage, this gives us more opportunity to review the learning, be honest and reflective and set more exciting targets than we would otherwise. It also serves as an implicit record of the achievement of students in your lesson and we’re certainly going to be showing that to Ofsted!

It also works really nice to watch bits of this footage as a class at the end, seeing clips of a group over the six lesson project go from strength to strength is highly motivational and the students really love having an X-factor style ‘best bits’ montage at the end of a project.

No Screen = No Vanity

Have you ever sent a group of students off with a normal digital camera to record something? They’re gone for an hour and come back with five minutes of poor footage, mainly because they’re busy watching, reviewing and deleting any video that’s not Hollywood standard. They never are Hollywood standard.

That doesn’t matter to us, but to the students it’s horrific and they’ll spend hours reshooting a five minute video because someone laughed, or someone’s hair looks awful or maybe just because they aren’t happy with the way they sound.

This is a distraction to the point of the video recording task, when you use a pair of video recording glasses then students don’t get to see the footage before you do, they can’t delete anything and so what you get is a full stream of consciousness recording. Much better for most purposes.

They also work better to melt away into the background, no one’s standing around unnaturally holding a camera for all to see and act up to, someone’s just wearing slightly naff glasses and students soon forget that they’re being recorded. It’s a completely different experience and because of that I thought it might be useful elsewhere.

Lesson Observations

8odneSo we bought another one. With two at my disposal I snuck them into lesson observations, and they worked a treat. Ever tried to record a lesson observation? The students act even stranger than if there’s just a member of senior leadership in the room! Not so with our video recording glasses, and better than that you get a pupil’s eye view of the lesson so you can really see what they get up to whilst you’re running around being inspiring.

One of the things that works for us is using Final Cut Pro X on the Macs to edit these two videos into one so that you can give different pairs of the glasses to different ability students. It’s very difficult to argue against the need for differentiation by task when you see for yourself the different abilities and actions of two very different learners.

Where it works well is for observations of long lesson in departments, the batteries last about an hour and a half, good enough for most lessons. We take the footage, edit it like in the gif above and simply all sit down together and watch it back: fast forwarding, pausing and rewinding as we see fit. The important thing is the conversation, it turns a lesson observation into a real-time coaching event and you can have some fantastically productive conversations to improve teaching and learning without struggling to remember what was going on.

Summary

Video recording glasses are brilliant, because:

  • It’s a cheaper way of getting video recording into your classroom
  • The only way to watch the video is with a USB cable into your computer, so no one can delete or review the footage until you say so
  • It allows students to naturally record work and progress
  • They are much more subtle than traditional cameras and so allow observations and pupil work recording with more natural behaviour
  • Footage is high definition with great audio so we can watch it back in our teams and have useful coaching style conversations about the teaching and learning happening
  • It implicitly records pupil progress

I’d really recommend giving it a go!

I was lucky enough to be asked to discuss the topic of Coding in Schools with John Darvall on BBC Radio Bristol today, I think it nicely explains the importance of coding whilst contextualising it in the continuum of learning.

If you’d like to listen you can either go to the BBC iPlayer (within 7 days) and fast forward to about 2hrs 37minutes, or download the MP3 recording of my appearance.

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This week I’ve been inundated with messages from colleagues who see the standard of emails being poor. Not from students, no – from other staff! You may have picked up on the passive aggressive undertones to previous articles on email behaviour from me; that this is one of my biggest pet peeves, I get so much email in a day that I see poor practice that would make your hair fall out (that’s my excuse anyway) so let’s try and address a number of issues.
This is a longer article than normal, and outside of my usual format – but for the best, I hope.

How to Write an Email like an Adult

One of the big problems with electronic communication is that whilst most of us were taught how to write a letter when we were at school, very few of us are of the age that we were taught to write an email. This is a problem for the way we communicate with each other, because most people have learned to communicate electronically with their friends using Facebook or text messages and now we’re sending messages to other professionals that make us sound like we’re about fourteen.
Worse still is that we’re showing this poor practice when we communicate with the students, and guess what? Not only do they think that type of communication is okay and replicate your behaviours but they don’t even think you’re cool because you can finish a sentence with LOL! What they think is that you’re trying to be hip. Guys, as Huey Lewis says – It’s hip to be square – so let’s tighten up our email style and demonstrate this practice to the students.

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1. Use a descriptive subject line

One thing that makes me want to scream is people that send email without a subject line. Why would you do that? You know we’re all busy. If you’ve not adequately described your email in a short sentence beforehand then when I’m scanning which email to action next by title alone then yours is likely to be ignored. I’ve grown fascist in my own ways and students who send me emails without a subject line get the following message from me:

Which is very sarcastic, but you know me by now. The students do too. I will not action anything they have sent me unless they can be bothered to write me a proper email. Unfortunately you can’t really do that with staff…
It’s also worth remembering that the subject line of your email shouldn’t be the content of your email. If you send a message to a group of people with the message in the subject then in most cases, and most email programs, will just cut off your message half way through. Because of this titles should be short and sharp, with the content (however little it is) in the main body of the email itself. It certainly helps those of us with mobile devices as otherwise we can only see the first five or six words of the title.

 

SubjectLine

2. Spell check your email

This was the one thing that colleagues hammered me with email about. People do not check their email for spelling before they send it. It’s really simple to do too. Click the spell check button, then you change any problems. In most email clients you can even force this to happen when you click send, so that you always have a nice spell checked email going out. Check the preferences of your email client and set this up as soon as you can, then you’ll look less like a prat when people are reading your hastily written emails.

spellcheck

3. Fonts

Arial. Size 12. Done.
Seriously though, you’re a professional so think very hard about your choice of font, colour and style for your communication. People read a lot into your presentation of your communication and if you’ve got size 20, bright green comic sans text then I immediately jump to the conclusion that you think you’re being cute and don’t know a thing about professionalism. Fonts are a very subjective thing so it’s best to stick to something that’s easy to read and looks professional. Fonts like Helvetica or Arial are great for reading on a screen as their lack of serifs (the pointy bits) make them look better on normal computer screens than fonts like Times New Roman.
It’s one thing to send a charming, overly bright, layout to very, very young children but as soon as someone becomes discerning this splattering of your personality becomes grating; especially if you’re not a design expert. Does the style reflect the content of the email? Imagine receiving a notice of expulsion in bright pink Comic Sans. They style implies a lot. What of other professionals receiving these emails from you? Do you think they appreciate having to claw through all the animated gifs and bright red text for the important technical information you’re sending them? The answer can be seen by every book ever written because you never see a professionally published book that’s written in comic sans.

fonts

You might be wondering about our students with additional needs. Isn’t a fun font better to engage them? Shouldn’t we make the font huge just in case they can’t see it properly? Well first of all, what you consider a ‘fun’ font can be interpreted in a lot of ways; comic sans, for instance, can be seen as demeaning and derogatory to students with learning difficulties because “that’s a kid’s font”. There’s also no need to set your font to a ridiculous size because you’re concerned about people with visual or reading issues being able to access your content. This is a computer. Students with those issues should easily be able to turn on the accessibility features of the operating system and zoom in or colour overlay things themselves. The key thing for you is that the font is sensible and readable, don’t concern yourself with the size because they can sort that out for themselves!

3. Write it like a letter

Because it is. Email. Electronic Mail. It’s meant to be just an electronic delivery system for letters, so if you’re writing a letter make the slightest of nods to the format you should be adhering to. Do not write it all on a single line, don’t launch straight into it and do not every simply not even bother writing your name on it. These minor deviations from the message you are trying to deliver turns an informal email into one to take notice of, it gives you enough time and breathing space to process it as well as it being seen much more like a communication that matters.
Our students and our peers are trained to see most electronic text based communication as transient, what forms of communication tend to be massively informal and inconsequential? Facebook chat? Text messages? Yeah, and neither of those is written like a letter. Centuries of work on the letter writing format shouldn’t be lost because we’ve stopped using pens, it’s like that for a reason: to encourage the reader to engage with the text and understand the weight and importance of the message. As educators we need to model these behaviours and styles to students and colleagues who are being bombarded with the most informal text based communication they can get, by doing this we can help to support literacy and keep our culture alive for another generation.
Start with a greeting (salutation), Hello, Dear Sir, whatever – a nice friendly one is ‘Hi David’, a sterner one could be ‘Students’, and a proper formal one could be ‘Dear Mr. Morgan’. Whatever you decide is appropriate for the situation make sure you do it, launching straight into an email makes you look more like you couldn’t be bothered rather than the honest truth which is that you were rushing. The greeting is a great place to engage your reader because they can tell how personal the email is, writing ‘Hi Johnny’ at the top of an email let’s Johnny know that this is specifically for him and not just a mass email to your class.
Write the content in paragraphs, make sure it reads properly and makes sense. It’s this bit that holds the content that you are communicating so make it good.
Finally, end with a polite closing so that the person reading it knows that you have finished and that they can ignore your enormous signature bit, you know, the bit with all the quotes in it? A polite closing can be ‘Regards’, ‘Cheers’, ‘Peace out’ – whatever, just make sure it’s appropriate to the person you’re sending it to. You wouldn’t say ‘Love and Hugs’ to your boss, or (hopefully) not to that Year 8 class on a Friday.

4. Is it really urgent?

urgent

If your email isn’t really an urgent matter than needs to be dealt with there and then or else someone could die, then why not leave that urgent button alone?
Please. Leave it alone.
Only ever use it in a real urgent situation: for instance, I went to print something for a meeting and suddenly my pinter was out of ink. I needed that print out for the meeting desperately so I sent the email to reprographics using the urgent tag and lo and behold it was done for me. Urgently. That’s what that button should be for, not for every single email you send.
It’s a bit like the boy who cried wolf, if you make every email, no matter how inane, seem to be ‘Urgent’ then when you do have cause to send an urgent email people will ignore it. If we over use the urgent tag then it loses all its power.
So think; is it really urgent?

5. Signatures

I know my email signature is a bit daft, but you know what – it’s concise and is obviously different from the rest of my message. Is yours? Most people’s email signature is a list of contact details, a pretentious quote about something-or-other and then a reminder not to print out the email to save the environment. Seriously, who prints out an email? What are they, insane? You’re wasting space there – you really are – all your signature really needs to be is some offline contact details just in case the person you’re conversing with has to make immediate contact with you or can’t seem to get an email message to go through.
Is your quote relevant? Will anyone receiving a message from you think anything else other than “well, THAT’S pretentious” – because that’s not the opinion you want to elicit from anyone when you’re asking them to do you a favour or turn in homework. I’m naturally pretentious but I don’t use signature quotes for that very reason. Well, I say that, but I once used “See, I can have a pretentious footer quote too” – David Morgan, as mine. But it was probably offensive.
Look at it this way; is your email signature bigger than most of the emails you’re sending out at the moment? When you look through your sent items is a sentence of content being overwhelmed by fifty lines of interesting and amusing quotes? Finally here, DO NOT put your email address in your signature. If they’re received an email from you then it’s hard coded into the email itself and they’ve already got it!

signatures

6. Textspeak

 You are likely not a fifteen-year-old girl. So why would you write like one? Sure, the odd LOL can slip out when we’re writing because we probably use it a lot in text messages, but it’s not appropriate to use every line in an email.
LOL, by the way, means Laugh Out Loud (not lots of love) and is an interesting societal tick as it doesn’t actually mean “I just laughed at that” – it’s really a nice concise way of illustrating that you recognise something is funny without having to say so. I like LOL, it’s got a real world function not filled by anything else in the virtual world.
What about shortening words? O rly? w8 a sec. This is infuriating, it really is. The only reason that we invented textspeak was because we had to fit entire sentences into the 120-something character limit of a single text message, when that disappeared it was habit, but still quicker when you were typing on one of those old phone keyboards. No one I know really uses textspeak any more because now we have full keyboards on our phones, and certainly if you’re sat in front of a full keyboard you have no excuse for not typing the words out properly.
My Dad does though. My father. Mr Morgan senior. Because he thinks that’s cool.
That’s what you look like when you use textspeak, someone trying too hard to be cool. Ignoring the fact that if you use it you’re modelling a behaviour that we’re all trying to suppress in schools for literacy reasons. If it’s a proper email, one worth writing, then just tap out the extra few letters because you’re not really saving any time, all you are doing is making yourself look like you can’t write a correct sentence.
We’re professionals, communicating with other professionals, members of the public and modelling best practice behaviour for students. We need to show that in every way, especially with the language we use in our communications.
You have dignity and respect. You don’t want impressionable people to think that you are stupid.

textspeak

7. Sending files

I’ve covered this in

previous articles

, but sending files in an email is a bit of an art. Size and type of attachment are important, most emails over 2Mb in size do not reach their recipients as they’re too big so sort that out first, the type is important because if you don’t select carefully then the recipient may not be able to open the file at all. One thing I would remind you is that if you’re sending a file then you still need to add some content to the email itself, even if you’re just saying “Here’s that file you asked for”, because that’s just courtesy. You probably wouldn’t drop a file on someone’s desk without popping a sticky note on it to say it was from you, so make sure you do the same with email.

8. Quick emails

 I can see the rolling eyes from here. You’ll be thinking ‘well, that’s all well and good for him, but I’m busy, sometimes I don’t have time to write a full email’ and yes, fair enough, I’ve sometimes been tapping a keyboard as I’ve been trying to leave the room for a meeting. It does happen. There are there solutions to this:
* Take your time, if an email’s worth sending then it’s worth writing well.
* Write it on your mobile device and send it from there, you can always do a draft on your phone and tidy it up later if you need to.
* Apologise up front, “Sorry, having to send this quick. Can you send me that data please? “ – because then I know you’re rushing and will happily forgive you many of the sins expressed in this article.

9. Elipses, Symbols and Smileys

 What’s an ellipses? Well … is an ellipses. Highlight it. It’s a single character. What it is not is three full stops. Or four. Or five. Email shouldn’t replicate the pauses you make in natural conversation because that’s what a comma is for. An ellipses should represent you trailing off as if to make a point and should be used sparingly, if you litter your email with ellipses then your message reads like thinking is a little difficult for you. If you want to use an ellipses then do so; but please use the correct symbol and not three full stops! To get to the ellipses simply press alt + 0133 on windows, or alt + ; on a Mac.

There are myriad other symbols that people misuse, from the type of Quote marks they use, to replacing the word ‘at’ with an @ symbol. It’s even possible to include the degree (°) symbol really easily, in Windows have a look through the character map before you try and make up similar looking symbols because we’re striving for accuracy, and you have a wealth of symbols at your disposal. They all have a meaning and a use. Why not check out this brilliant guide to symbols on the computer to become as Picky and pernickety with it as I am! 

http://www.creativebloq.com/typography/special-characters-121310119

Exclamation marks are another thing. This symbol ! means that you’ve exclaimed something, you’re making a big deal of it. Four of them makes it seem like you’re trying to make something seem more exciting than it is. You only need one exclamation mark. Please, just the one.
Smileys are great for expressing emotion in a message, a quick 😉 illustrates that you were joking or trying to be amusing, but just like textspeak if you over use them then they come across as you trying too hard to be cool. I know you use emoji and smileys when you’re texting, and you probably spam Facebook with them, but use them sparingly when conversing with colleagues and more so when using electronic communication with students. That way a smiley has more impact, it isn’t just noise in a message to be ignored because ‘Miss always uses smileys’. We also implicitly teach students what a formal email looks like so they don’t start emailing their future bosses with things like “not coming in today, am ill ;p’. Would you try doing that with your Principal?
Also, try not to use the poo emoji. It’s very hard to forget once you’ve seen it.

10. Proof reading

 The number one thing you can do before you click that send button is re-read your email. Does it make sense? Does it read properly to you? Proof reading is not really an IT based skill, but it’s something you should do because email is such a quick way to respond to someone that you can benefit from slowing down a little and checking that you’re sending what you want to send. More than this, it’ll give you time to reflect if your angry and intensely sarcastic rebuttal to something was warranted or if you’re simple feeling tech-rage. There’s nothing worse than ending up in an email argument simply because you didn’t proof read your email and it sounded angrier than you meant it to.

conclusion

So, that’s it. That’s most of all there is to being a professional when your using digital, text-based communication systems. Especially if you’re working with email, students and colleagues; because your electronic persona is summarised more succinctly in the presentation and style of your written communication than ever in today’s world. It’s much better to sound a bit more formal and well thought out than the general populace because, It is hip to be square.

If you’re still treating email like a text message then you’re getting I.T. wrong. And if you are then maybe

you need my book

. Which is good because

it’s on sale

and was

recently reviewed by Teach Secondary magazine

!

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It’s another week of sarcastic top-tips to improve your teaching and learning through technology. Innovation through technology, you could say. That’d make a great motto for a car company…

This week is a very practical, but almost simplistic way to add more technology to your lessons. You don’t need every student to be sat there with an iPad to make use of technology in your lessons, you just need imagination!

Sustainable Use of Tech in the Classroom

One of the most difficult things to do in your lesson is to introduce a fantastic new piece of tech; be it an app, device or service; and make sure that the students both engage with it and produce the work you want using it. Let’s be honest here, why would a non-ICT teacher really care about using tech in their class? Maybe one reason is increasing the range of possible teaching and learning activities available to them, but it can be a scary proposition that instead of students working on paper they work on a computer.
The key skill to acquire is how you can sustainably introduce and use technology in your classroom as a regular occurrence and not the one off special lesson that ends in stress and lost learning opportunities.

wahtyoudowrong

Gearing yourself up for a new unit of learning – you’re thinking about all the different activities that students could be doing in order to consolidate and present their learning. You’ve done posters, newspapers and scripts galore; but now you want something different, so you look online – maybe you search twitter – and find something cool.

This online cool thing is amazing and you really want to use it in your lesson, maybe you find an IT room or you take turns on the equipment in your room, but the students eventually are working on the cool online thing, struggling to make things work and taking a lot longer than they normally do for a similar activity. You grow disillusioned. You cancel the topic or only half-heartedly mark the work produced. The students never again see that really cool thing that you saw all that potential in, and next time you have the thought to do something cool and online you simply don’t bother. Retro is best, yes?

sarcastic

I’m teaching Oxbow lakes in Geography and I think if I see another poster of lake shapes then I’ll blooming scream. So I’ve found this really cool website where students can create narrated videos and share them with the world, it looks amazing and I’ve seen some other teachers on twitter raving about it, I must use it.

So I do my lesson starter, introduce the concept and start the students on planning their videos whilst the first to finish end up on the computers we’ve got starting to record. Problem is that the students are being really silly and recording daft things, they’ve got ‘comedy’ introductions and are using memes on screen. Some of them are stuck with using it, or there’s an error that makes them lose their work and they can’t recover from it.

Suddenly I’ve got a backlog of students asking for my help with the learning whilst I’m desperately struggling to show the students on the computers how to effectively use the software, everyone’s getting a little disenfranchised. I know, let’s call a halt to this as it’s going south and I’m losing the kids. I’ll set it as homework, there done, let’s move on.

A week later and students all seemingly had problems doing it at home, fair enough – it was going wonky in the lesson, let’s just assess their plans and move on. Next year I’m back to doing posters.

problems

  • Students associate digital work with an easy out; you know as well as I do that most students will find any excuse to justify their poor decisions and so whenever a non-ICT teacher launches into something a bit techy and new for them, the student can feign idiocy and get away with doing less work
  • Students associate digital work with messing about and having a laugh, fine in moderation, but when their only experience of creating digital content outside of an ICT lesson is that they get to stick in lots of in jokes because the work will never be marked anyway, then their ability to engage with the medium diminishes
  • You’re doing yourself a disservice to introduce something exciting and new and give up on it too quickly. I’m sure you remember back in September when you had to train new students up in your expectations and classroom behaviour? That took more than one try, so why give up on digital work?
  • The reduced variety of your possible outcomes, all students get a bit sick of posters and it would be nice to have the extended variety afforded by digital technology.
  • There’s a problem even accessing the hardware to make it in the first place, realistically, so you need to plan ahead and around that. Does it need to be done in lesson time? Can it be done in lesson time?
  • All work should be treated equally, if you accept that there could always be a technical hitch with digital work then there always will be. We wouldn’t accept a broken pen as an excuse for traditional work not being handed in, so why do we accept the digital version of that excuse?

doitright

The key to this is patience, willingness for things to fail first time and commitment. I’d do exactly as I’ve done here but in the case where I’ve got limited in-class tech then I’d set the digital work as homework, doing a quick demo of it on the board (taking a few minutes of lesson time to show it off for the first time) and allow students who finish their planning for it to have a quick start on it whilst we wait for the class to catch up.

Intervene in silliness and be very pro-active about how important it is to engage with the learning, remember – to the student you’re teaching them about the software at the moment and you need to remind them that that’s not your job – all you care about is their ability to explain the content of the lesson using this slightly-more-fun medium.

Set expectations that you expect the work in on a date without exceptions, and when that work doesn’t come in then be merciless in your acceptance of excuses. Sanction those that didn’t do it regardless of the reasons because they will start to realise that digital work is the same to you as traditional work and will start to assign it the same importance in their minds.

Here’s the killer – no matter what happens make sure you use that same lesson format again with the same class within the next month or two. You’ve given up some of your lesson time to teach some of the usage of the software, time that could have been used delivering your content. Why repeat yourself? Students have now all experienced using the software and should be able to create better content using it with less help.

Show them Outstanding examples of the work produced last time, make a big deal of which pieces are showing off the content of the lesson better than others and make sure to keep stressing how important it is that content is king!

 

hints

  • Whatever technology you introduce into the lesson, if you need to use some of your lesson time to show them how to use it then make sure to use it more than once. Get some return on your investment and soon maybe students will be able to churn out fantastic videos and interactives that show off the content as well as they can construct a poster for the same ends.
  • Be consistent in your approach to digital work as you are with your traditional work, don’t accept excuses, mark it to the same rigorous standards and don’t get wowed by fancy technical feats; it’s always content that is king. Students need to remember that.
  • If you haven’t got the resources in your classroom for all students to be making the digital piece of work then make the planning for it a part of the assessment, and set the digital work as homework. Even if the student has to spend some time in one of your school’s computer labs then they can get it done, there should be no worthwhile excuses that can be made – homework is homework regardless of the medium.
  • Make sure you’ve had a quick play with the digital or tech resource before the students so you are reasonably happy with what it can produce as well as in the simple use of it. You don’t need to be a tech expert, but you will need to at least demonstrate quickly how it works. These students understand how to learn how to use technology because they’ve had to do it all their lives, if they’ve learned Facebook then they can learn something productive!
  • Don’t feel the need to be a tech expert. No one expects you to. You’re an expert in your own subject, remind the students of that when they ask and encourage them to help themselves. Why not nominate a member of the class to become the classroom ‘Genius’ and let them explore and train up on the software so that they can be the first port of call for troubleshooting? They have much more free time to do this than we do and you know there are students in your class that will love that responsibility.
  • It is important that you make this model sustainable, don’t do anything that runs you ragged or makes you move too far out of your comfort zone. If you’ve suddenly become an ICT teacher you’re doing it wrong; make sure the students know they need to solve their own problems, and that those problems will not form part of any excuse you’ll accept. Don’t feel the need to apologise for this, or any lack of proficiency with computers that you may have, you’re an educator, an expert in your area – you’re allowing the students to use something cool, it’s up to them to work out the specifics of how they use that.
  • Use the best of the submissions as examples, so next time students try to raise the bar. Can you share the content with the school or wider learning community? Then do it!
  • I once had a group of Y13 Computing students say, “Sir, can’t we just use paper?” after I binged on cool new learning experiences with them. Students don’t always need something new and flashy every week, that’s why reusing the cool things you’ve used before is good. Students get a second crack at something, and this really cool new thing becomes just one more tool in their arsenal.

conclusion

The type of sustainable use of technology in the classroom depends upon the amount of resources you have available and your tech-savviness. More than anything, though, technology needs to be used to support teaching and learning of the content you want to deliver. It should not be shoe-horned in to any lesson for the sake of it. So you need to develop a way of working with technology in teaching to diversify the variety of activities you can offer students to expand on their learning and ideas.

If you ever find yourself running around a lesson, baffled by the tech and the learning falling apart because of it then  you’re doing IT wrong, and if you are, maybe you need my book… which happens to be on sale!

emailHeader

Welcome to the fourth in the weekly series of top-IT-tips, officially the world’s most sarcastic effort to get everyone using technology to enhance teaching and learning.

This week I’m tackling something deep seated in our culture.

Stop Low-Level Plagiarism!

It’s a common problem today that students genuinely think that ‘doing some research’ involves a quick google search and then pasting the contents of a wikipedia page into a PowerPoint. If that’s homework then you probably have enjoyed reading the same copy and pasted article multiple times, but this low barrier to entry in the world of plagiarism leads to students going on insane binges of copy-pasting that ends up in everything from A-Level essays to work submitted as part of government dossiers.
Students have a major problem with low level plagiarism, and this leads to a poor attitude to the seriousness of the issue that is becoming more and more of a concern the further they get through school. In fact, stopping plagiarism in Universities is big business, with a hugely expensive software solution called Turnitin being by far the industry standard. So, if they’re working so hard to identify students who plagiarise work then shouldn’t we be doing more to change the attitude to it’s younger brother – simple copy-and-pasting – in our own classrooms?
How can we get the students used to not plagiarising any of their work, and why would we want to?

wahtyoudowrong

Letting the students get away with doing very little work when completing researching or ‘writing a report on’ type exercises; and not taking the time to identify when work is being simply copy-and-pasted off the internet in any form. Students start to get a little lazy with this and eventually you find that you’re telling a year 10 off for doing the exact same thing in their GCSE coursework.

What we’re really doing is reinforcing the idea that homework is quick, easy and requires very little engagement of cognition on the part of the student – and then they really do have a valid argument when they ask us, “What’s the point, Sir?”

sarcastic

I’ve set some homework for Year 7 to go off and research ‘Operating Systems’ and to come back with at least a page of research about that topic that we can use next lesson.

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 13.10.46

Well, students did do that. They all did a quick Google search and copied and pasted the information from the wikipedia page entry, so when they turned up in the lesson they had nothing different to talk about, more than that; it turns out none of them have actually read past the first line… frankly this was a waste of time! I mean look, they haven’t even had the decency to remove the links from the text. 🙁

problems

  • No one has actually done any learning, or anything other than mechanically type some stuff in. Really, all they’ve done is the modern equivalent of finding a book, photocopying a page and handing it in
  • If all your students are using the same resource to work from then they are going to have a very one sided view of the topic at hand
  • Wikipedia is not exactly a definitive resource, unless you really want to find out what happened in Breaking Bad S04e08 in tremendous detail, because it can be updated by anyone, no expertise required
  • Without the cognitive process of even the olden days methodology of ‘copying from a book’ then the information has not even entered the students brains once! They will really have no recollection of this in a days time
  • It breeds a culture that students just have to stick their question into google and not analyse the result, this means that students take this attitude with them throughout KS3, into GCSE work and beyond.
  • The content is at too high a level for the student, and chances are if you select a random word on the page they will not be able to define it
  • High level thinking skills are certainly not being utilised, let’s be honest, neither are lower order thinking skills. I’m not even sure typing the exact question and copying and pasting the first page result into a word document counts as conscious thought. We could probably train cats to do that.
  • Students don’t see plagiarism as a big deal, they build bad habits and end up writing entire essays without really engaging with the topic
  • Students get frustrated when future work requires them to engage their brain or use more than a few seconds of their personal time
  • Students have no concept that merely copy and pasting someone else’s words, or changing a few here and there, doesn’t actually count as their work

doitright

Instead of setting a task that is just called ‘research’, I’d be better placed to explain what I mean by this and what I expect. Finding information, and copying and pasting it is acceptable as long as it’s referenced and they have summarised it in their own words afterwards. Why not set the primary task being to evaluate how trustworthy or accurate the source they have found is and justify that? Let’s steal the idea of primary and secondary sources from our friends in the History department and get the students to really think about where they’re getting things from and what value they’re adding to them.

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 13.14.14

I’d also take this work in electronically. Get them to email it to you, use Moodle or use Edmodo – it’s up to you – but the point of this is that I’m going to copy and paste the entire thing into a google search and see if it matches anything already out there – if it does google very kindle emboldens all the text it matches. This is the poor-man’s-turnitin but it works, and if the student has copied and pasted more than about a third of it then they’ll get it back with a big fat zero on it, asking them to do it again.
The key to this is being more prescriptive with the learning you want to take place with the task, explaining clearly your expectations for a student in evidencing it, and demonstrating they you can identify when they’ve tried to take the shortcut to success.

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 13.15.28

hints

  • Why not set this as one of your first homeworks in September, then take the class apart for their plagiarism and make a huge deal of it. Better yet – catch them early and do it on the first lesson in Y7. Students will learn to identify low level plagiarism with not getting the work completed to the appropriate standard and stop doing it.
  • You only really need to make a big deal of this on the first occasion, an entire class shamed through the simple art of the ‘copy and paste into google’ technique shows them how easy it is for you to be able to identify any copied work. You may need to follow this up on occasion but once they know that you’re no fool then they’ll step into line
  • Really make sure students are aware that the work should take them time, and that the point of the exercise is to see what they can learn from it, not just who can do the best google search
  • Do the brilliant embarrassing thing of asking student to define some of the complex, eight-syllable words they’ve undoubtedly submitted to you
  • Have sanctions in place for plagiarism, sanctions that you’re using and effectively demonstrating to the students that you care about it and will not tolerate it
  • Make sure you do this in KS3, sure it might not be externally assessed but this is where we are building the skills for their successful future education
  • Call it plagiarism, call it cheating, make the language you use more impactful when decrying it than calling it ‘copy and paste’, ‘cause that sounds cosy and nice
  • Try a real software solution to this, packages like viper (http://www.scanmyessay.com), The Plagiarism checker (http://www.dustball.com/cs/plagiarism.checker) and more are completely free to use. They show you statistics for how much is copied and even show you the links to the original works they were copied from, this is really nice for presenting to students or even parents!
  • Get the students to use this software too, if they can see what they need to do to transform a work into their own then they are developing the analysis and synthesis skills they need to succeed
  • Get parents involved in persistent offenders, if we’re spotting this in subjects as varying as drama and mathematics then we can see patterns and read more into a students’ attitude to work than we could otherwise
  • I used to do something a little naught many moons ago, and when I set a research task on something like ‘Operating Systems’ I’d sneak into wikipedia after the lesson ended and put something random in the article for the topic, like ‘Any student with this line in their work will do an after school detention with me’, lo and behold most students ended up with that copied into their homework! The look on a students face when I returned the work with that one sentence highlighted was amazing! It’s very difficult to do nowadays though as the wikipedia guys are changing it back and banning you in a few minutes. Sad times for sarcastic teachers.

conclusion

Make an effort to seek out and identify this poor practice and the students will engage more in your lessons and homework, because once they realise that you’re not just wasting them time in setting them donkey work tasks, but rather that you’re endeavouring to improve and extend their understanding, they’ll be much more on your side. You’re also going to benefit from the students realising what a big problem plagiarism is and wipe it out whilst it’s still at a low level and not going to mean a major lot of rewriting for an externally assessed piece.
More than this, thought, make it obvious that as a teacher you too live in the 21st century and Google is more your friend than it is theirs!

Otherwise you’re doing IT wrong, and if you are, maybe you need my book…

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Welcome to the third in the weekly series of top-IT-tips, filled to the brim with sarcasm galore, in an effort to get everyone using technology to enhance teaching and learning.

A big hello to Mr. Wilson this week, who used last week’s tips with some of his students, and he promises me that their PowerPoints improved!

This week I’ll be tackling something most people are either unaware of, or take for granted.

Classroom Management for Computers

You’ve been there too, students are trying to use a computer but, lo and behold, it’s not working. This can be easily fixed by improving some simple, non technical, classroom management skills.

Most people are really, really poor at managing the computers in their classroom, even though they can manage 30 teenagers with ease. You may have one, ten or a hundred computers, but making sure that the equipment in your room is ready to be used is something that everyone can benefit from.

The most common causes for down-time of Computers in the classroom is caused by teachers simply not applying the same rules and routines to the computers as they would any of the other materials in their classroom, so, for the sake of the children and our put-upon techies, let’s stop getting this wrong!

wahtyoudowrong

Letting your students fiddle with the computers, and not making them put it back the way it was at the end of the lesson.

This can be as simple as a student moving the machine to be closer to a friend, or even taking cables out all over the shop to get the computer they want working again, and leaving it in that place before they leave.

You may not log an IT problem because you’re busy, or you don’t need the machines that lesson, or perhaps you teach in their once a week so surely someone else will report it?

Even simply leaving the keyboard and mouse out and strewn across the desk cause problems. It’s basically just sloppy use of the equipment, but not dealing with it is the issue here.

Why might any of this be an issue? Well, whatever a student tells you they do not understand how to fix the machines better than our techies. In fact, most of their so-called ‘fixes’ might make the machines work for a lesson or two, but end up causing cascading errors and problems through our entire IT infrastructure.

The sloppy use of the equipment, moving it about, swapping cables, changing mice because they ‘don’t like that one’, means that cables and connections are being pulled and damaged, leading to the machine seemingly breaking on a regular basis.

sarcastic

I’ve let little Johnny in, and he’s sat at a computer. Problem is his friend, little Jimmy, is sat a little bit further away from him than he’d like. He shifts his computer close to Jimmy so that they can talk and work at the same time.

I don’t intervene in this because this seems like a pointless battle, why should I get Johnny all riled up over moving a stupid computer? He’ll do some work at least.

It get’s to the end of the lesson, and I’m busy getting students to put books away, organising homework and trying to run a plenary. I dismiss students who have sorted my equipment out for me. That’s fine, but Johnny and Jimmy have left their machines in that classic Mary Celeste way, keyboards are absentmindedly left about, mice are stretched to breaking point and the computers aren’t back where they came from.

photo 1 copy

photo 2 copy

But that’s fine. It’s a computer. They’re robust. Right?

problems

  • When you show concern over your resources, but not the computers, then students are more likely to treat them badly
  • Damage can accumulate bit-by-bit, meaning that things like buttons falling off computer screens, or mice that don’t work are not noticed
  • The students develop the attitude that, “these computers are pants” and treat them worse still, making them the excuses for not doing work
  • Computers end up breaking and being out of action more often
  • Your teaching starts to ignore the computers because you can’t rely on them actually working, you and your students lose out on interesting learning opportunities
  • Faults are not picked up and reported, meaning that you’re waiting around with a broken piece of kit long term
  • Students attempt fixes themselves, swapping cables, changing hardware, etc. that causes bigger problems on the network. Don’t forget, this is a big system being maintained by professionals, a couple of kids who are ‘good with computers’ can’t match that
  • Computers start being health and safety nightmares, what with all the cables hanging out of them all over the place

doitright

Simple. Intervene. In this case I’d warn them about moving the computers and sanction appropriately if need be. I’d keep my eye on them throughout the lesson, looking not just at them but the computers to check that they are being used appropriately.

At the end of the lesson I would ask them to make their workstations presentable and wait to be dismissed quietly by their chairs, before dismissal I would make a quick visual check of the computer, get the student to correct any obvious problems, then send them on their way.

Simple.

photo 3

hints

Think of the computers, and treat them, like any textbook, like any other piece of equipment you want to use.

When students sit down at a computer, intervene and sanction them for moving or fiddling with the equipment. If it’s broke, then log it with IT support and carry on with your lesson. Wait for an expert to come along and fix your problem.

At the end of a lesson make it part of your routine to not dismiss anyone sat by a computer unless it has been put back to the state it was in at the start of the lesson, being: Screen off, mouse tucked back in, keyboard pushed back or stowed away (depending on computer) and finally do a quick visual check to make sure everything looks right.

You might not be a computer genius, but you can easily tell if things look a bit wrong, and get the student to sort out what they’ve done wrong or at least log a call with the techies to come take a look.

Log any problems as and when they become apparent, no matter how trivial. If the techies don’t know it’s broken then it’ll never get fixed.

Log problems in any room you happen to be in, even if just for a single period a week. If no one’s logging problems then they’ll never get fixed and your ability to use the technology will diminish.

conclusion

Take ownership of the tech in your room as if they were chairs, books or tables. We need to get involved in teaching the students to respect the equipment so that we can rely on it from day-to-day.

So next lesson, make them sort out the equipment before they leave.

Next time, intervene if students are trying some do-it-yourself repairs.

Or you’re doing IT wrong, and if you are, maybe you need my book…

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Welcome to the second in a weekly series of top-IT-tips, topped with copious sarcasm, in an effort to get everyone using technology to enhance teaching and learning.
This week, my second biggest concern.

You Suck at PowerPoint (and how to get better)

Yes. Yes you do.
Me too.
This isn’t because of your technical skills, in the main. You may be able to animate one funky transition and apply custom animation galore, but let’s be honest, you’re not doing a presentation; you’re using the slides to store the content of your lesson.
PowerPoint presentations are meant as an extra visual stimulus or a place to hold small amounts of key text – if you’ve got more than 20 words on a slide then you’re doing it wrong.
Worse still, our students start to emulate our PowerPoint style and end up giving the most god-awful presentations you’ve ever seen. So, for the sake of the children, please stop getting PowerPoint wrong.

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Filling a PowerPoint full to the brim with text. You’ve seen the ones, size 6 font, black on white, Times New Roman; they should be banned. The sort of presentation where you feel the need to apologise for the amount of text or the fact that people might not be able to see it or read it all.
If you’re apologising then don’t do it in the first place.
Maybe you’re using PowerPoint to store the entire curriculum text that you need to deliver. You know, just in case you miss something. Perhaps you’ve rushed this lesson and copied the textbook into the PowerPoint file? I really don’t know what to say here. In many ways having nothing is better than jamming all that on the screen.
Research suggests that people are less likely to pay attention or absorb information when there is an over abundance of text on the screen and a speaker or activity is ongoing. They are subconsciously attempting to read and process the text rather than listen to you.
As teachers we need people to listen to us. Otherwise you’d be better off giving your students the textbook in the first place.

sarcastic

It’s Friday afternoon, you’ve got year 9. They’re going to be bouncing off the walls and you try and teach then with this:

Screen Shot 2013-11-28 at 10.43.48

So what? I was in a rush, needed to cover everything about keyboards and copied and pasted in the content from the mark scheme. Not ideal. I could break it up over multiple slides maybe, and make it look a bit sexier? That would work… right?!

problems

  • There’s too much text, you will end up reading it off the board, modelling poor presentation skills and forcing the students to ignore your speaking as they rush to write down every, single word
  • It’s also really, awfully boring, there’s no stimulus here, there’s nothing to lead the learning around. You will be adding a minimal amount to this content by doing it in this way
  • Sticking a picture or animated gif on the side of this will just distract the student even further from your learning activity, and even distract from the text you thought was essential to the lesson.
  • No one can see the text, it’s far too small. Any student would struggle to see this and the frustration may lead to disruption, or the pace of your lesson simply dropping off
  • The important bits are lost on the students because of cognitive overload. There’s just too much there to take in in one go.

doitright

Simple. Chuck the text away. Why not go super minimalist? Just a picture to stimulate the discussion? I can knock this up in a rush if I need to, the lesson can be more student led and it is a real, good quality presentation that models to a student how to present when using PowerPoint in a way that will let them get a job!

Screen Shot 2013-11-28 at 10.45.34

hints

1. Pictures help the retention of information, students use a different part of their brain to process that than they do the talking or discussion, therefore data is written to more areas and you have a simple stimulus to remind them of the discussion
2. The less text you put on the board the more you can make the students the focus of the lesson, an interactive session with debate, discussion or the like makes memories stronger as it increases the amount of associated memories and actions, increasing the likelihood that students will remember things.
3. Make the stimulus weird and wonderful, students will remember a wacky stimulus better than a boring picture, so if you’re teaching about fascism then why not have a silly gif of ‘the great dictator’ looping in the background? The absurd creates stronger memory associations and therefore helps students remember!
4. Students wont give up on you if your slides are simpler, because you have more to give them than they can access from the slides. Otherwise they do have a valid point when they say, “Can’t I just have the slides, Sir?”.
5. Please don’t think that just adding custom animation to make every word slowly drop in or appear will sort this out. What is wrong here is not our technical skills, but our attitudes to what we consider a presentation.
6. If you’ve got a lot of text to distribute then make it into a word file and print it out, using it as supplementary information. If it’s important enough that every student has to have it then why are you letting them transcribe it poorly?
7. Remember this applies whenever you’re using PowerPoint! Even if you’re showing a bunch of adults your slides as you talk then the same rules apply. It’s even worse here because adults are actually polite about your presentation, and don’t tell you that they tuned out two slides in.

conclusion

You can make the presentation any way you want, but PowerPoint presentations are there to support the content with stimulus and not serve as a place for you to dump all the text of your lesson so that you can just read it aloud. It is not a aide memoir if every bit of text in the world is written on there; it’s a script.
No one puts the script to a new movie up on screen whilst you’re trying to watch Bond do his thing.
So please, make your PowerPoint slides less verbose and simpler.
If not then you’re getting I.T. wrong.
And maybe you need

my book