Celebrating Success

For all of us I am sure it has been a very long and productive year. Today, we get a chance to celebrate and congratulate our AS and A2 students. Personally, it is the end of my first year of teaching at Gillingham School in Dorset as Head of Geography. It has been a thought-provoking, productive and exciting year for myself, one I have very much enjoyed. I have been extremely lucky to work with an outstanding department who all bring their own individual strengths to make Geography a fantastic experience for all our students. With the GCSE and A’Level changes there has been much to think about and contend with along with teaching every day. As my fellow geography teacher Andy Jenkins said, ‘great things are not built-in one day or even one year, enjoy the summer and bring on September.’

Good luck with the results today, I would love to hear how everyone gets on. Over the coming weeks I shall be writing about what I have been up to over the past few months and what lies ahead for the world of Geography in education. If anyone would like to share or add their views with myself or get in contact please feel free to make a comment by clicking below or via the ‘get in touch’ tab at the top of the web page.

Reflective Teaching

This year in education has been one of change and planning for the future. With the new GCSEs, AS/A2 curriculum changes it has given me much to think about since I joined Gillingham School in September 2009. Joining a very successful school and department I have had big shoes to fill, a challenge I have relished. I believe I have put in place the correct building blocks for the future. This month I have had a chance to look back and reflect upon our successes and future developments. For a successful department I believe you must not look at too many areas to change, focus, innovate or tweak. Geoff Barton, Headteacher of the King Edward XI School likened managing a large department to plate spinning, you have to be able to manage each of the areas you start to change – too many and the plates start crashing around you. Personally, a maximum of five strategies/innovations is perfect. Making sure your strategies are manageable and flexible you are able to keep a good grasp and move the strategies forward.

Idris Mootee, of  the innovation playground blog,  has said, ‘innovation is hard, it is not about getting the ideas at all, it is about managing ideas. So you have a few great ideas, so what? The future is never about the future but now.’

The five strategies we will be focusing on are outlined below:

  • Teaching & learning

The primary target for improvement this year revolves around teaching & learning within Geography. As a Department we want to teach the best we can and we are looking at our lessons and seeing where we can make improvements and implementing new teaching strategies. We must make our teaching experience more personal for the students and improve their independent study skills. This must be developed from KS3 onwards and carried on within the school.

  • Assessment for Learning

AFL is a very important skill and is an area where we could develop within Geography. As teachers we are sometimes too controlling and we must put the onus back on the students for them to achieve. Investigating methods and ways of implementing this into our schemes of work must be one of our priorities. This will encourage student learning and raise achievement across all year groups. AFL will also help improve the student’s knowledge of using a mark scheme and what to include in a good answer. This will reduce our marking and in the long-term our workload.

  • Reflective Teaching (including observations)

As teachers we must be more reflective of our own practice and make amendments where we need to. We must utilise our strengths and work on our areas of development. Observations are vitally important to watch other teachers and how students learn. This would be ideally done within the Department and with other Departments once a term where possible. This should therefore improve our own teaching and benefit the students .Working with other colleagues will help develop cross curricular opportunities to raise achievement throughout the school.

  • Technology

Geography has prided itself on using technology where possible to improve our lessons and the student experience. This needs to be further developed to further enhance our learning and the students. GIS must be developed within the Department across all year groups.

  • International link with a school abroad and feeder schools

As part of our role in the local and global community we would be looking to develop a link with a school abroad. This would develop our student’s knowledge of their role within a global community and understanding of issues that occur worldwide.

Locally we would like to work with the feeder schools on developing our link and improving geography. This would enhance geography’s status and develop their geographical knowledge. Geography is sometimes not always taught in primary schools to a high level and we would like to develop this to help their progression and achievement later on.

Please get in contact regarding what your departments/schools are planning/changing for the future…I would love to hear them especially in these uncertain times with possible budget/curriculum changes.

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!

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.

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.

Rockin’ All Over the World

In my lessons I always plan to include a variety of activities, different learning approaches and trialling out new ideas to help the students’ understanding and enjoyment of the subject. Music can entice a young person’s mind and start to make them think. Thinking skills are vital in education. Young people need to develop their thinking skills. Music works on many levels and can attract many different types of learners. It can spark their interest or reinforce their learning and make them more inquisitive. Music appeals to the auditory learner. Sections, lines or quotes could all be used to help a young person gain an understanding of a story, case study or theory. It is also a great cross-curricular way of working with another department. For example, your music department might be teaching South American music whilst in geography you teach Brazil. Simple, but effective!

I remember one of my geography teachers playing Dire Straits’ ‘Telegraph Road’ to us to help us with settlement change. As a guitarist I love Dire Straits and was immediately hooked by the lesson. My geography teacher at the time, Mr. Leach, started to explain the song lyrics. We listened again and wrote down what we heard and applied it to our topic we were studying – settlement.  He had used it as a lesson starter on settlement change. This was my first introduction into the use of music within geography. Thank you Mr Leach!

What would be your top ten music starters be? 

My Top Ten Geography Music Starters

  • Telegraph Road – Dire Straits (Settlement)
  • Paradise City – Gun ‘N’ Roses (City Change)
  • Why does it always rain on me – Travis (Weather)
  • Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash (Plate-tectonics)
  • Rocks – Primal Scream (Geology)
  • The Sea – Morcheeba (Coasts)
  • Starsky & Hutch Theme – The James Taylor Quartet (Crime)
  • Mas Que Nada – Tamba Trio (Brazil)
  • Magical Mystery Tour – The Beatles (General Geography)
  • The End of the World as we know it – REM (Climate Change)

Fairtrade Fortnight 2010

Fairtrade Fortnight will be taking place during 22nd February to 7th March. For this year’s Fairtrade Fortnight they are asking the nation to join The Big Swap. For two whole weeks you will be asked to swap your usual stuff for Fairtrade stuff.

Swapping your usual stuff for Fairtrade stuff is a fantastic small step to making the world a fairer place. It means that you get to show your support for developing world producers through what you buy. For more information follow the link to the Fairtrade Fortnight website.

The Book is Dead, Long Live the Book

So it is finally here – the iPad. My initial thoughts were not that good to be honest, but with further research and looking at different points of view I am now starting to see its merits. Firstly, I don’t think it is the nail in the coffin for the traditional book. Most people are very used to this successful formula and will probably not change. But for education purposes it could be successful and make reading more widely available.

Apple has been very clever in the sense that they have announced partnerships with Penguin, Harper-Collins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and the Hachette Book Group. This enables Apple to set up their own in-house iBooks store like the successful iTunes that is currently available for music. Many people do find this method of shopping very appealing (especially young people).

The text could be enhanced by audio and visuals with the option of linking to the internet. This could help with many disaffected learners in the classroom.

The UK price for an iPad have not been announced but speculation has been around £400-£700 depending on the Wi-Fi scheme chosen and model. This is not cheap and I wonder if discounts would apply to schools?

Would Steve Jobs be willing for my school to trial some out?