ICTeachers Ltd
  August 2009
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The Bleeding Edge of Education News
Hope you're managing to get some holiday in colleagues, in the meantime here are a few updates for you. I've realised that this is the 10th year of ICTeachers! 10 years since I got the idea of collecting teaching matrials together after recieving my "laptop for teachers" lappy as part of the BECTa scheme. Exciting days.
This month our staff writer looks at the issues of learning platforms, data use, social mobility and school enterprise.
Tim McShane, Editor and bottle washer
All the world's a learning platform

In the weeks before the end of the academic year, many schools around the country were turning their attention to selecting their school's future learning platform. Why? Because the Government expect all secondaries to have a system in place by 2010 and all primaries to be up and running by 2012. Of course, many schools have been running learning platforms successfully for a considerable time. Other confident schools will go their own way and not follow their LA's preferred suppliers or reject a formal learning platform altogether and stitch a solution together using Google Apps or blogging platforms like WordPress.
However, there are a lot of schools, perhaps even a majority, now taking on learning platforms because they 'have to' and very probably following the LA preference. Here, there are many needs and opportunities. When you adopt a technology because you have to and stick with the understandable safety of the local authority's preference, the big picture can easily drop out of view. When technology is adopted under these circumstance, it is too easy for teachers not to encounter the picture of the benefits of using well chosen online tools to enhance children's learning and the school's connection with parents, their community and other schools. The picture can easily narrow to a focus on the functionality of the tool that has been chosen.
So, we feel that there are considerable opportunities for organisations that can bring that bigger picture into focus for teachers and school leaders, either through publications, training or other networking events. Where are the events that allow teachers using platform X to share stories with teachers using platform Y? Where are the case studies that pull out the general lessons that might be so valuable to this significant majority of later adopters regardless of the platform they adopt? There's a huge knowledge gap there, perhaps even a motivation gap. How can we fill it?
Data is not a four letter word
We listened for the first time this week to the Whole Child Podcast published by America's ASCD. The theme for the July episode was on moving the conversation about the use of data beyond the narrow focus of league tables and school accountability towards using data creatively and strategically to support meaningful school improvement. Participants in the recorded panel discussion shared stories of how they worked with data to uncover the causes of success and failure and to initiate conversations with students and parents about change and improvement.
Rather like the imperative to have a learning platform, is the collection and use of data another example of something that everyone is doing but perhaps only a few are doing well? Since the new School Report Card, to be introduced in 2011, will hold schools accountable across a much broader range of measures, perhaps the time is ripe for interventions and offerings that encourage a more creative use of data to identify and address the factors that support student learning and well-being and school improvement. We've got huge pockets of knowledge and expertise in the use of data. We've got huge knowledge gaps about how we might work with data. We've got lots of data. Do the maths! There are opportunities there.
Social mobility, the professions and soft skills

In the traditionally quiet month of July in the educational media, Alan Milburn's report into social mobility and the professions, Unleashing Aspirations: Fair Access to the Professions, attracted a lot of coverage and comment. Much of it focused upon the advantages enjoyed within Higher Education and the professions by children educated in the independent sector or by children uplifted by the closed professional networks of their parents. However, are there any lessons in the research for schools in the state sector? Surely not? This was a story, was it not, about the tenacity of the middle classes in passing on their privileges to their children and their friends' children?
In fact, there are many concrete lessons and recommendations for all schools. For example, the report recognises that, on account of their greater access to extra-curricular activities, independent school students can leave school with very well-developed soft, communication and teamwork skills. The report recommends that all schools need to provide students with a rich experience beyond qualifications, and expanded extra-curricular activities, that help them build up a CV of soft skills. Of course many schools already do provide this. But every school can no longer do this entirely on their own. So perhaps there are opportunities here for partnerships between clusters of schools and organisations that can support the provision of such extra-curricular activity? Are there training opportunities to support teachers and schools to develop their students' softer skills? Are there stories of excellence to be shared and modeled across the system?
Get your hands dirty with enterprises in schools

The Independent reported recently on a successful and inspirational project at Alphington primary school, in Exeter where the students, working with two local artists, constructed  an outdoor classroom out of wattle and daub with a turf roof. The experience provided children with "opportunities to learn about history, geography, science and art, and has given its junior builders a chance to gain practical skills, practice teamwork and just get gloriously muddy".
The story also feels like one about the value of networks of expertise to schools. Many schools could tell similar stories of initiatives which have thrived because, alongside the commitment of the teacher going the extra mile, they have tapped into knowledge and skills that lie outside of the classroom, whether that is the expertise of the craftsperson or the passion of the campaigner, or whatever.

There are many more passion-driven enterprises, whether they are artists, entrepreneurs, charities or social enterprises who could work profitably with schools if only they knew how, if only they could tap into networks that could help them to draw out the educational benefits for schools of working with them. So, think about networks. Think about who you could partner with, bringing your educational understanding to their enterprise as an attractive package for schools or clusters of schools.
McShane Family News

OK, exam news, James (8) passed his step 2 keyboard with distinction, John (14) passed his grade 2 music theory with 98%. Woooo. : )  Lizzie (11) is just enjoying the singing and piano. Father in law has started his chemo, Fiona is fine, has been through the roller coaster of emotions since finding out, who knows when the end will come, fortunatly he is at peace with God and has committed his life and death to Him. i don't know if you have faith or belief dear reader, but it is a comfort to us and him. I've told the children, they've accepted it as much as they are able to understand. Fortunatly, the local church where we go has had several  people pass away so death, and discussions about it isn't unusual for them. However, death itself on screen is still shocking to them. John saw his first person to die on screen at 10, it was a black and white weston and a person got shot, he was so distrubed by it. James doesn't like to see violence on the screen and the most he will watch is a PG but still goes out at the rough bits, and Lizzie doesn't like conflict at all. I grew up with conflict, both in the home and on the screen, so i was pretty immune to it. I think it has made my children value life more, we don't watch television per se, although we have it, I've always bought dvds or vetted the films before we watch them. The eldest, John, now almost 15, is clear about what HE will and will not watch, all I've tried to do is decribe the possible impact of what you allow into your eyes and ears and how once it's in it stays there. However, what you can't stop is what they are exposed to by "friends". Perhaps I'll talk about that next time....