Why become a teacher?

Teaching in my opinion is the greatest role in life that someone can do. To actually see the look of wonder and understanding on someone’s face is something that cannot be bought. To pass on knowledge and see where it takes a young person in life is amazing. To actually help young people in life choose a path in the life with your encouragement and guidance is breathtaking.  Last year I wrote an article for Sec-Ed called ‘Proud to be a teacher!’, and it outlined my reasons why teaching is the best profession, this can be accessed here and via my blog here. Below are my ‘Top Ten Reasons to be a Teacher;’

  • To teach a subject you love and have a passion for
  • To help motivate and inspire young people to be passionate about learning
  • To learn more about your subject and you as a person
  • Teaching keeps your mind young
  • To work in a innovative environment
  • To be your own boss and develop your own lessons and SoWs
  • To work with a wide diversity of people from different environments
  • To make a difference and give something back to society
  • To learn from others especially the pupils
  • The long holidays

As Batman once said, ‘it isn’t what you say that defines you but what you do’ (Batman Begins, 2005).

Earth Hour – Get Involved


Today, Saturday 27 March 2010 at 8.30pm, the WWF want a billion people around the world to switch off their lights for one hour – WWF’s Earth Hour. The idea is to raise awareness regarding climate change that is affecting our planet. The first Earth Hour was in 2007 in Sydney, Australia where 2.2 million people took part. Since then it has gone global, 50 million people in 2008 and over a billion in 2009. In 2009, 4000 cities in 88 countries took part. The message is clear, climate change is not about the country you are from but the planet you live on.  

The WWF works to create solutions to the most serious environmental problems facing our planet, so that people and nature can thrive. Climate change is the biggest threat of all. Impacts such as changing weather patterns, warming seas and melting ice threaten to devastate people and nature, and to jeopardise all our conservation successes.To tackle the threat, it’s vital that world leaders agree effective international action. The WWF want urgent global action to safeguard the natural world. We’re already seeing the impacts of climate change – from melting Arctic sea ice to flooding and droughts.  

Tidd Tower will be turning its lights off at 8.30pm tonight. To get involved go to the WWF Earth Hour website here

Assessing Your Subject Area

This week myself and the geography department have been looking at how effective we are as teachers, as a department and ways of moving forward. This is not always easy to do but a very important part of our role as teachers. It is vital that as practitioners we are reflective and build upon our strengths and areas for development. Every teacher is different and all add something to a school.

This week we have used Stoll and Fink’s analysis upon our department. It was originally used as a tool to look at whole school development but many practitioners are using it for subject areas.

Using the diagram above and the explanations below you have to try to judge your department/school on where you think you are. We tried to look at individual key stages as well.


  • Boosts student progress and achievement.
  • People work together and respond to change.
  • People know where they are going and have the will and the skill to get there.

Cruising Subject Area

  • Appear to have many of the qualities of an effective subject area.
  • Pupils achieve despite the teaching.
  • The people are responding well to change.

Strolling Subject Area

  • Neither particularly effective or ineffective.
  • Move at an adequate pace to cope with change.
  • Have ill-defined aims.
  • Conflict sometimes inhibits progress.

Struggling Subject Area

  • Ineffective and know it.
  • Expend energy trying to improve but results in “thrashing about”
  • They are willing to try anything and will ultimately succeed.

Sinking Subject Area

  • Staff are isolated.
  • There is an unwillingness to change either through ignorance or apathy.
  • There is a blame culture.
  • Student achievement is poor and failing.

It is not an easy task and you have to be very honest as a department. It is an ideal tool especially with self-evaluation high on the list of things Ofsted look at. It also gives you and your department to start thinking about what areas you might need to develop over the coming months or year. As a Head of Department it has made me realise where we need to go as a department and what our priorities are for the year ahead.

comicbrush: A Tool for the Classroom

Comic Brush is an online comic maker that I have recently found and used. Comic Brush is a very versatile and easy tool to use and seems well suited to the classroom. Rather than drawing a comic from scratch, Comic Brush lets you mix stock artwork from their fun collection of comic backgrounds, characters and props with photos of your friends, neighbourhood or school.You can add speech balloons, text, your own artwork and more, before printing or publishing your comic to the Web, social networking sites like Flickr, Facebook and MySpace, or a friend’s iPhone/Touch.

I have used Comic Brush for my Year 7 Settlement assessment on shanty towns. I have used the tool as a way of getting the pupils to start thinking about the push/pull factors involved in migration within developing countries. It is a different way of getting information put across to pupils or for them to present their work. For those who find literacy difficult or are visual learners, this is an ideal tool. It could be very useful as a data presentation method for controlled assessments using images the students had taken on their fieldtrip and explaining their findings. My first adventure into Comic Brush is below, enjoy!

Raising Your Game – Improving Your Subject Area

Last week I attended a course run by ASCL Management and Professional Services in London. The course focused upon what subject leaders can do to improve the quality of teaching and learning in their subject area. It provided a coherent insight and practical approach to improving the performance of colleagues, which will help raise the pupils’ achievement in your department.

The aims and objectives of the day were:

  • to help improve learning and teaching in your subject area
  • to become familair with improvement strategies
  • to help integrate the improvment process
  • to understand ‘what effective teaching and learning looks like’
  • to develop skills to carry out effective lesson observations
  • to develop the skills of giving effective feedback and resolving conflict

The course was run by Geoff Barton, Headteacher at King Edward VI School in Suffolk and Peter Richards, a qualified SIP, teaching consultant and former Headteacher.

I found the course a great success and found both Geoff and Peter realists as professional teachers. They knew the rhetroric of being a successful subject leader and the reality. They were able to explain things very clearly and efficiently. The key question they kept referring to was; ‘Would you be happy for your child to be taught in the classroom?’. This was a brilliant way to question whether we were doing the right thing within our own subject areas.

It was clear by the end of the day that the five most important skills a great subject leader needs to develop were;

  • being visible,
  • optimistic,
  • working hard,
  • hungry for success
  • and resilient.

I could not argue with their thoughts and feeling throughout the day and found them brilliant speakers. It was an excellent course where I came away knowing more than before I went in. Both Geoff and Peter did try to link the course to Ofsted and what they were looking for as inspectors. For more information regarding the course please go to the ASCL website or Geoff Barton’s website.

From Slumdog to IT Surfer

The Guardian newspaper yesterday wrote a brilliant article in its education supplement about Professor Sugata Mitra. It was a follow-up on to an article written last year on Mitra’s Hole In The Wall learning project. The project itself was about installing computers with internet connection in Delhi slums for local children to discover. The project discovered that the children began to teach themselves English, computing and maths. This was all in a month after installing the computers. It was from this that inspired Vikus Swarup to write Q&A, the book that became the film Slumdog Millionaire.

The project was a success and over five hundred computers can be found in walls across India and Africa. Mitra is now a professor at Newcastle University and is working on a new project in the UK, where is helping youngsters use computers to carry out ‘self-activated learning’ in the classroom.

According to Mitra, ‘having watched hundreds of Indian children learning without teachers at the Hole In The Wall computers…children can work by themselves, if they want to.’

‘Most British children grow up with the internet and the means to learn what they want in minutes, and this challenges the traditional idea of school being about learning things that will come in handy in the future. They become disengaged.’

‘If you encourage individual learning, and give children interesting questions to look independently, the learning process is sparked by curiosity.’

Mitra is currently working with some schools in Tyneside where is challenging primary school children with GCSE questions. The children are able to choose which question they would like to research and they are able to use computers freely within the room. The results are very impressive according to the teachers at the schools concerned. Three months after the project the pupil’s knowledge and learning had improved from the tests given. 

It is a very interesting and thought-provoking article and I recommend all teachers to read it. The link to the article can be found hereMitra has plans to develop autonomous learning within all schools. It is a fantastic project that could improve a pupils’ learning and knowledge and possibly make learning fun for all! Perhaps the developed world can learn new ways of teaching from developing countries. As Henry Ford once said, ‘all of us are smarter than one of us’.

Plymouth University e-Learning Conference 8-9th April

My old university is holding it’s 5th e-Learning Conference. This year they will examine the theme of e-learning in a time of change, and will challenge notions of traditional boundaries, learning spaces and roles. The conference will focus on new practices, new technologies, new environments and new learning. The conference is taking place on Thursday 8th and friday 9th April.

The Plymouth e-Learning Conference is jointly organised by the Faculty of Education and EDaLT (Educational Development and Learning Technologies) at the University of Plymouth.

At the conference two keynote speakers will be attending; Josie Fraser and Donald Clark. Josie Fraser is well known in the field of social media and learning, and writes regularly about her research on her blog SocialTech. Josie spreads her time and energy across a wide variety of social media/networking spaces, where she can be found experimenting with all manner of emerging technologies. At the ALT-C 2008 Conference, she received the prestigious Learning Technologist of the Year award and continues to be at the forefront of learning technology development.

Donald Clark was CEO and one of the original founders of Epic Group plc, which established itself as the leading company in the UK e-learning market. He is now a board member of Ufi (LearnDirect), LINE Communications, Caspian Learning, Brighton Festival, and a school governor. He has produced over 40 papers, dozens of book reviews and many articles on e-learning. Donald has also won many awards for the design and implementation of e-learning, notably the ‘Outstanding Achievement in e-learning Award’.

It looks like a cracking conference and I look forward to hearing the thoughts and feelings that come out of it.

Piet Kääpä’s First Book

My good friend Dr. Pietari Kääpä has recently had his first book published. Myself and Piet first met each other when we both studying at Southampton University, where he lived in the flat above mine. Piet has always had a love  for films and knows more about the movie industry than anybody I know. In the time since I left Southampton Piet has gained his Phd from the University of East Anglia and now lives in China. Piet is based at the Institute of Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Nottingham Ningbo in China. His research explores transnational connections in the fields of Finnish cinema, European cinema and the global marketplace.

His book is about the films of Aki and Mika Kaurismäki. This work examines the films that the Kaurismäkis produced, individually and in collaboration, between 1981 and 1995 – films which mobilise various methods to reflect, criticise, counteract and contribute to the globalisation of Finnish society in the era of late capitalist development. This work provides an in-depth analysis of these films, exploring the aesthetic and narrative content of the films as well as their production and reception in Finland. The theoretical scope of the work situates the films not only in the field of transnational cinema, but also that of ‘post-national’ cinema. Exploring the Kaurismäkis’ films in a post-national framework points to new, emergent understandings of both the fragility and the persistence of national culture and identity in a globalising world.

Myself and Piet have had several adventures over the years where both of us can tell many a tale about each other. He is a character and I wish him well with his book which is available via the Peter Lang Publishing Group.

Personal, Learning & Thinking Skills

I am slowly catching up with my blogs at the moment as it seems to be a very busy term so far. Recently I went on a course run by Dorset County Council. This was my first course in my new county having previously worked in Hampshire and Surrey. The course itself was based on ‘Focusing on Skills in Foundation Subjects’ particularly personal, learning and thinking skills and run by Katie Ashcroft, Foundation Subjects Consultant. Personal learning and thinking skills (PLTS), together with functional English, mathematics, and ICT, cover the areas of competence that are most often demanded by employers. Integrating these skills into the curriculum and qualifications will provide learners with a platform for employability and further learning. PLTS involve:

  • team working
  • independent enquiry
  • self-management
  • reflective learning
  • effective participation
  • creative thinking.

The course itself was split into three sessions;

  • Session 1 – Developing pupils’ independent enquiry skills
  • Session 2 – Developing pupils’ team work skills
  • Session 3 – Developing a cross-curricular approach in foundation subjects

It is was a very informative and enjoyable course. It was great that they re-emphasised the importance of PLTS in lessons. PLTS help prepare pupils for the future, in and out of school. They develop the essential skills and qualities for to be a life long learner, life and future employment. They also provide a common focus for learning across subjects and provides great opportunities for cross curricular collaboration. PLTS use functional, transferable and creative skills which can be applied to real life scenarios.

It was pleasing to be given the opportunity during the course to identify the skills our department might want to develop in geography and reflect. With the new GCSEs and A’Level syallbus’ this course has come at a good time for reviewing the schemes of work we have developed so far and want to develop in the future. As teachers we sometimes forget about the skills the pupils require and focus on the content we need to teach. It has to be a balance of both and is something we feel at Gillingham we are achieving. It is also vitally very important that the pupils are clear about the skills they need to be successful in your subject area.

There was particular emphasis on cross curricular links and their importance within schools. This is a requirement within the new Secondary Curriculum for all subjects to explore connections with other subjects. Cross-curricular links provide a more coherent and relevant experience for the learner. It enables all pupils to understand the importance of different subjects and in helping them make a sense of the world. It provides pupils with the opportunity to apply the knowledge, understanding and skills they have acquired in one subject to a different context. For those of you investigating to develop cross-curricular links I recommend looking at the subject comparison web-page provided by the National Curriculum, which can be accessed here.  

The course linked the theory of skills to what Ofsted are looking for within schools. This is key for any school to have an awareness of what Ofsted expect from us as practitioners. I have quoted below Ofsted’s expectations;

‘The school’s curriculum provides memorable experiences and rich opportunities for high-quality learning…The school may be at the forefront of successful, innovative curriculum design in some areas…A curriculum with overall breath and balance provides pupils with their full entitlement and is customised to meet the changing needs of individuals and groups…Cross-curricular provision…is mainly outstanding and there is nothing less than good. As a result, all groups of pupils benefit from a highly coherent and relevant curriculum which promotes outstanding outcomes.’

These are skills I feel all schools’ are trying to achieve. Unfortunately, they do not happen over night and they do take time to develop and integrate in the school community. By sharing good practice, an understanding of what we want to achieve and hard work these skills will start to appear in all schools.

Blue Marble

Above is an astonishing photograph of the Earth. It is the most detailed and accurate images of Earth taken yet. The photograph is truly amazing and shows the planet in all its beauty. It is such a wonderful image that words do not do it justice. 

Astronomers at the Goddard Space Flight Centre produced the series, called “Blue Marble”, using the Terra satellite more than 435 miles (700km) above the Earth’s surface. They also produced an accurate example of the Earth’s topography, ocean depths and Arctic and Antarctic ice. After capturing images every eight days – to compensate for clouds that might block the sensor’s view – the composition has even left Nasa experts astonished.

“These images are the most detailed images of Earth to date and which shows the beauty of our small planet,” a Nasa spokesman said.