Saturday, 13 March 2010

Classroom ICT solutions?

Mark Robson's workshop with the writing group got me thinking. We worked on short story strategies - very useful stuff, and I was very impressed that we were still going at five o'clock. The students would have stayed, but we grown-ups needed to get home! But what I particularly liked was the tech setup that Mark brought with him - a class set of AlphaSmarts wirelessly linked to his laptop.

An alphasmart, if you don't know, is a simple wordprocessor, with a shallow LCD screen displaying up to 6 lines of text. You turn it on, type, and send your work wirelessly to a central hub. I'd only really encountered the pre-wireless model before, as something issued to pupils by Learning Support. Couldn't manage to get work off it with a cable, and stuff kept on getting accidentally deleted. My fault - trying to use stuff without training.

But to see a bunch of keen writers tapping away, sending in their work at the touch of a button (well, two), having them projected onscreen and instant feedback given, was a real eye-opener. I'm more used to getting into an ICT suite, having to negotiate the number of machines and passwords that don't work, and collecting work via email or USB stick. Efficiency and simplicity are better.

With the approach of controlled assessment at GCSE, our department is looking at investing in a portable wordprocessing solution to complement an ICT suite. It'd be interesting to know what sort of experiences other teachers have had with using a class set of alphasmarts, laptops - or any other machine. One concern raised about alphasmarts is the screen size, and whether it allows for a real overview of what's been written.

But at the end of the day, the Word training I had emphasised how powerful a tool MS Office is, and how unnecessary it is to have when all you want to do is to get a bunch of teenagers to write something. Do we need to spend money on more licences, on machines which can access the internet, which have dvd capability, which can do everything? Or should we be looking at a set of different solutions for different purposes?

I read a lot of discussion on the BECTA research list about the iPad being the future of education, and I can see wonderful potential for teaching Literature texts there, as well as a host of other things. But sometimes, do we just need a keyboard and a screen?


My mission to turn the kids into Doctor Who fans continues well. They enjoyed Pyramids of Mars, and particularly the Hand of Sutekh. I'm hoping the robot mummies make their way into imaginative play along with pescatons, hornets and the K-1 robot...

After an enforced gap...

A few things have happened over the past couple of weeks - firstly, got ethical approval granted for the research, which is great news. Had some very useful training in using Word for academic writing (now I see what all those annoying areas at the top of the screen are for!), and got myself a shiny new laptop.

Obviously, laptop purchase resulted in catastrophic failure of home network, but, one new router and a nice long ethernet cable later, we're alright again. Thanks go to and tech guy at school; no thanks go to tech guys at linksys.

Big creative writing group event was Mark Robson's visit on World Book Day. It was just the sort of thing I'd been wanting to arrange since starting up the group - 'major-label' author leading a writing workshop with the students - and it went very well.

More later!

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Ethics and blocks

Been thinking about the tensions surrounding Web 2.0 technologies in schools. Had a staff meeting after school where we talked about safety in two contexts - of our ICT hardware, and of the students themselves.

Different LEAs have more or less restrictive policies of allowing access to social networking sites - ours is very conservative, blocking all blogs as a matter of course, as well as YouTube, facebook, bebo et al. Other authorities' policies have different levels of access for staff and students, which clearly broadens opportunities for teaching. Of course, students find proxy sites and get round blockers - which has the ironic result of teachers actually having less internet access than many of the children in their classroom...

One argument put forward about blocking 'user-defined content' is for the security of school networks - I'd be interested to see research on how unsafe (in terms of virus transmission and the like) sites like YouTube, facebook (and the rest) are. Are there cases of educational or business networks being harmed by access to social networking?

The other safety fear is for students - and clearly 'cyber-bullying' is a very real issue, as well as 'unsavoury characters'. I think my worry here is that if the educational establishment absents itself from sites like bebo, then we leave them as unsupervised spaces. Should we, as teachers, know more about these places and help to guide our youngsters through them?

And there are issues about ethics as well, in terms of teachers' contact with pupils in these areas. While I would not add a student as a facebook friend, I know I have twitter followers within the school, and run a ning with my creative writing group. What are the differences, and where do we draw lines?

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Writing group meeting (Feb)

Had a nice little get-together with a select few of the writing group after school today. There were fairy cakes and hob-nobs. We talked about competitions - how entry fees operate to dissuade young writers (and, of course, entry fees are meant to be barriers, to keep out the piles of rubbish you'd get otherwise...), but also about the differences between writing competitively and writing for pleasure.

Obviously, it's important to get the balance right with a school group - these are busy students who work hard, and I don't want to pile pressure on them. Just need to create the time and space for them to be able to practise their developing craft.

Did a nice exercise on character building - each person wrote details of someone they knew on the left hand side of a piece of paper, then passed that over to another writer, who had to write a short piece of narrative about that character. Just warming them up, really, for our exciting author visit next week. Mark Robson. Lovely bloke. Looking forward to his session very much indeed.

In other news...

Received cd of 'Doctor Who and the Pescatons' this morning. Girls (age 7 and 5) very excited to have new Fourth Doctor / Sarah Jane audio to listen to in the car. They really got into Paul Magrs' 'Hornet's Nest' audios, and we followed that up with 'Robot' on dvd. Which they went mad for. So Thing Two was being a pescaton during her swimming lesson. Obviously. :)

Monday, 22 February 2010

Blogging for the dissertation

I've finally got started with gathering research pointers for my MA dissertation, and figured I needed a place to put them together. This blogspot was looking old, tired and disused, so with a lick of paint and a bunch of links, it becomes useful. I hope.

I'm a secondary English teacher in Newbury, Berkshire, studying for the MA in English and Language in Education at Reading University - four modules done (Mentorship, Poetry Teaching, Children's Books in Education, Media in Education), and just the dissertation to go. It'll be about the potential value of social networking technologies in education, specifically to do with the development of creative writing. So it really has to have a blog to go with it.

Anyway, the first area of research I'm looking at is to do with collaboration and writing - I'm interested in the history of creative writing in English teaching over the past forty years; secondly, I'm trying to get a handle on the work that's been done on looking at social networking in education; and thirdly, I'm looking at creative writing communities on the web, and using them to develop the one I've set up for my creative writing troupe at school.

Yes, it could get a bit overwhelming... So any pointers, comments, votes of solidarity, whatever, will be heartily welcomed and appreciated.