As a school leader, I find myself wondering how to best utilise the resources we have: time and money. What should I focus on? How can we use our staff time in the best way possible so that our teachers can be prepared to lead learning-filled classrooms? Which technologies should we invest in? Which areas of learning research and development should we focus on? There are so many choices and limited resources.
In June, I travelled to the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference in Chicago. Along with nearly 17,000 other eager participants, I spent three days in workshops, lectures, visiting the expo, networking with teachers from around the world and reflecting on how all of this new knowledge could empower the students in my organisation.
ISTE is so much more than a technology conference. It is a pedagogy conference. It was like a giant discussion of what works best when and where and how to implement best practices. Information, skills and experiences were shared in every direction. Check out #ISTE18 to see examples of what I mean. Or even better, check out #NOTatISTE18 to see what you missed.
During my visit, some trends became very obvious:
The idea of students of all ages learning how to code and program was being discussed at every level. The idea of computational thinking extends well beyond the Maths classroom. A whole body of activities aimed at teaching students how to think in a logic way to solve problems were introduced, discussed and tested.
Further read: Students build coding skills block by block.
2. Professional development
Everyone was asking “how can we train our teaching force to be ‘ready’?” I noticed that in many settings, teachers were referred to as “learners”, and that professional development was no longer about workshops and lectures. It was more about professional learning where teachers had embedded training often administered in a need-to-know, personalised way. I could hear from many of the participants that “technology coaches” had now been replaced with “learning coaches”.
Further read: Great example of “shifting” to professional learning.
Very trendy in the gadget world, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are now becoming accessible and “buildable” by teachers and students. Finally, the price is right and the possibilities are endless.
Further read: Check out Google Tour Builder.
This body of research is now leading the choices we make in Instructional Design. How students take in information, remember and connect important ideas, spacing, chunking, looping - all technical terms for how we can more effectively organise learning in our classrooms.
Further reading: The Learning Scientists blog.
5. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The thought of robots in the classroom scared many people a few years ago. Today, teachers and administrators are starting to embrace the idea of an assistant. Many schools were talking about how they were piloting Alexa and Echo in the classrooms to answer routine questions. In addition, there were multiple examples of how AI when integrated with our digital teaching material could help tailor the learning path for just that student.
Further read: 7 Roles for AI in Education.
6. Design Thinking
Another trend evident throughout the conference was the idea of creating, designing and making ideas grow. Entrepreneurial thinking, idea-to-action and design lessons and activities were evident in many workshops. On a district-wide and state level, the discussions were focused on how to shift this exciting trend and problem-based way of working from electives and one time projects to a more systematic and integrated part of every classroom at every level.
Further investigation: My favourite speaker at ISTE was @thetechrabbi. Follow him on Twitter for great inspiration.
No longer is it about being careful who you connect with; the trends were much more about how to make your connections work for you.
“The focus is moving away from warning students about online risks or trying to curtail their activities and toward helping them leverage the power of digital media to work toward creation, social justice and equity. The new digital citizenship, also reflected in the ISTE Standards for Students, is about being in community with others and creating digital citizenship curricula that shows students possibilities over problems, opportunities over risks and community successes over personal gain.” - from Julie Randles
Further Read: Check out Be Internet Awesome with Google.
8. Personalised, student-driven, blended, instructional design
Many different words all baked into one idea... empowering the student to take charge of their own learning. How teachers design the learning activities, build the (face-to-face and online) environment, and manage the learning time determine the when, where and how our students will learn. No longer is it a pie-in-the-sky dream to personalise and tailor for each kid. With the right methods and tools, this is finally becoming a reality.
So, back to my original questions:
How can we use our staff time in the best way possible so that our teachers can be best prepared to lead learning-filled classrooms?
Model best learning practices - personalised, embedded, just-in-time learning
Which technologies should we invest in?
Across our organisation, our major investment is a powerful LMS. This is sort of our epicentre for learning. Other than that, tools that my teachers request and believe in. If they have a plan for how it will help their students learn more, I want to hear about it and try to make it happen.
Which areas of learning research and development should we focus on?
Brain-based science and motivational psychology … and, yes, edtech tools that can help us implement best practices.
These are the trends I am thinking about. What are you focused on?
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What is more engaging than a robot dog that kids can program? Or a virtual reality trip through the jungle? Or a 3D printout of Michelangelo’s David? This is the beauty and the diversity of edtech: there is literally something to engage everyone. And isn’t engagement important when it comes to kids? Getting them focused and fully immersed in the lesson - what could be more crucial?
Well, there’s the not-so-small matter of the learning itself. How can a child program a computer if they do not have a solid grasp of numbers? How can a child articulate their experience of a jungle without the basic vocabulary and grammar to convey it? Engagement is a ‘nice to have’, but learning… that’s an essential.
Ironically, learning is something the edtech industry may be guilty of drifting away from. Bigger screens, more gadgets and gizmos, more fun… not necessarily a significant amount more learning. A perfect example was given by education minister Damian Hinds recently, in an article published in the Telegraph in August 2018. In the article, he openly stated that the introduction of interactive whiteboards into schools did not have any reflection in the academic achievement of pupils, and said "schools must decide which products suit them best".
It’s not just the pupils who have been affected (or not affected, as the case may be). The schools, the teachers, the budgets and, subsequently, even the edtech industry itself as the boy who cried wolf (or robot dog!) have all had their fingers burnt. According to the latest BESA statistics, a quarter of teachers, in the modern age of 2018, still maintain that technology brings no significant impact to their classrooms.
It’s almost the rain on the parade, isn’t it? The ultimate party pooper. It’s like Father Christmas coming to take all of his toys back.
In our rush to create brighter colours and louder sounds and hipper concepts… we also forgot that learning, for its own sake, can be fun. Recall the pure joy of finally getting something right. Or the addictive feeling of wanting to get a better score on the next round. What we need to remember is that real learning doesn’t need to be condescending or dressed-up like an accessory from Back to the Future. It can have integrity.
So what should you look for to separate the edtech wheat from the chaff?
It needs to be easy to use and implement for busy teachers who do not have the luxury of time to learn complicated new tools. As simple as it needs to be, it also must be flexible so that teachers can use it the way they want to, not be dictated as to how to do their job. Edtech should empower, not burden.
One of the key positives for technology in the classroom is that it is not a one-size-fits-all solution; it’s adaptable, and that makes it possible for different pupils to learn in different ways. Edtech should maximise this, not just as a one-hit wonder or gimmick, but as a long-term solution that helps children throughout their school careers.
3. Quality content
Great mediums such as VR and 3D printing are being developed all the time, and it’s easy to get very excited. But before you invest, check that they have quality, curriculum-aligned content that teachers can get on and use. This was the problem with interactive whiteboards 10 years ago. Without a clear strategy of use and content teachers can rely upon, expensive edtech can end up gathering dust in the corner of the classroom.
Everyone who has a smartphone knows that by the time they’ve got it out of the packaging, another version has been released. Make sure that you invest in future-proof solutions for your school, ones that regularly update their content and evolve their platform so that today’s purchase can last for years to come.
Don’t buy on a promise. Any developer worth their salt will have conducted some research, and have evidence that their product does what it says on the tin. Ask to see some proof of their claims, so that you know you’re investing in edtech that actually delivers.
There is no question that technology is the key to unleashing the potential of our amazing teachers and pupils, but we do everyone a disservice by pushing solutions into schools that haven’t got the infrastructure to support real long term learning.
A robot dog should be for life, not just for Christmas.
When dealing with assessment, behaviour, attendance, teacher workload and the rest of daily school life, it can be easy to leave website updates for… tomorrow. However, all it takes is one visit from the Big O for that out-of-date website to become a major issue. But how can you find out exactly what’s expected for your school’s online presence, and how do you go about making this a reality? Thankfully, the team at Schudio - led by the dynamic duo of Nicole and Ian Richardson - have released a one-stop-shop resource to walk you through the process.
For the academic year ahead, you’ll want to have Your School Website Requirements Guide saved to your browser’s favourites. This resource is completely free-of-charge and requires no signup. It’s incredibly in-depth, answering any questions you may have (though the Schudio team are quick to answer any queries sent to [email protected]).
“There are specific requirements for academies, free schools and colleges and this guide covers all the latest changes,” the Guide states. “Every year we see at least two rounds of changes to the current requirements for school websites. They’re usually released at the beginning of September but can crop up at any time. It’s possible that a single requirement change will be released, such as the swimming requirements in autumn 2017. More often than not, a raft of changes is released in one hit.”
This comprehensive checklist explains what content to display on your website, offering suggestions on how to implement them to ensure that you not only meet the current requirements, but exceed them as well. The Schudio team designed this resource for ease-of-use, which allows for a consistent approach as you audit your own website.
“Demonstrate how your school is inclusive
Many schools have lots of EAL students, and how well you engage this part of your school community will most certainly be evaluated by OFSTED. By adding a good translate feature to your website, you will be inclusive of all your users and provide a really useful tool.
Also, your school needs to effectively demonstrate how you care for and educate those with additional needs, and of course there are the statutory requirements around safeguarding.
We’ll cover that in detail in the full Checklist in Chapter 5 but for now, note that these are issues that are right at the top of any inspector’s agenda.”
If you’d like to quickly check your website against the current requirements, Schudio has that covered too. The School Website Requirements Checker presents you with a report and then sends automatic notifications when school website requirements change. Plus, you don't need a Schudio website - it works with every school website!
Make sure that your school’s website is up-to-date: www.schudio.com/school-website-requirements. The Schudio team are keen to answer any questions you may have, so get in touch via [email protected] / 0333 577 0753 to discuss further. You can even book a phone meeting that suits your schedule here.
There is a parable about two woodcutters. Determined to prove their superiority, they decided to have a competition to see who could cut the most trees down in one day. One woodcutter chopped on relentlessly, spurred on by the intermittent silence of his competitor whom he assumed was exhausted. But when the day ended, he discovered to his horror that his competitor had felled twice as many trees! His competitor had triumphed, simply because every-so-often he had taken time to sharpen his axe.
Imagine a future in which artificial intelligence (AI) is fully embedded within our education system. AI algorithms mark our children’s essays, decide what they need to learn (and the best time to learn it), detect when they are cheating in exams and judge the performance of their teachers and school. Does it make you feel comfortable or uncomfortable?
Do your school’s processes ensure that the right type of CPD is being provided to the right people at the right time? And crucially, is the impact measured? Countless studies tell us that carefully-designed, insightful staff CPD can help raise standards and pupil attainment, as well as positively contributing to staff retention and recruitment, welfare, happiness and morale. However, research (Goodall, Day et al, 2005) suggests that many providers don’t have sufficient evaluation processes in place.
It can be difficult to find learning strategies and resources that both tackle of budgetary concerns and teacher workload effectively. In 2018/19, we plan on helping you double your pupils’ rate of learning, while not charging a penny. Our team of educators and scientists know that our new platform works, and we want to bring it to your school this academic year.
In the age of social media and ‘alternative facts’, sparking your pupils’ interest in the world around them and ensuring they know how to navigate current affairs is essential. Understandably however, in the face of tricky questions and misinformation, many education practitioners can find it difficult to know where to start. To help kick off your conversations, in this article I have outlined my top tips on getting pupils interested in current affairs that are easy to follow, and more importantly, effective.
Preparing students for the future is a hot topic right now, and with good reason. According to the World Economic Forum, 65% of children starting school today will go on to do jobs that don’t exist yet. For those of us who work in education, this presents a rather troubling dilemma: if we don’t know half of what they’ll be doing, what are we supposed to teach them?