Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dog nut spread shit...

...was the title of Jermaine's rather natty spreadsheet today (part of my soon to be published IT scheme of work 'How to teach everything using the Simpsons')

Monday, November 27, 2006

More on baby milk revisionism

Reading the comments on that post on NHS Blog Doctor has led me to News Sniffer which appears to keep archives of evolving news stories. The really interesting edits happen between versions 4 and 6.

The BBC, the baby milk and the indestructible nature of data

This is momentous. NHS Blog doctor reported on Nov 20th that the BBC had been conned by a pressure group called 'Act Against Allergy' into reporting a story about children's allergies to milk that was in fact a thinly veiled attempt to market a hypoallergenic baby milk substitute made by the company SHS international...who run 'Act Against Allergy'.

Two days ago, he started getting e-mails accusing him of not checking his facts.

So he went back and checked the story and discovered.... that the BBC have gone back and changed the original story! But as he says, data is never lost once published on the Internet... so you can read the cached original here, the reworked version here, and NHS Blog doctor's criticism of the original article here.

Today I taught a lesson during which I asked my students to discuss the question 'How can you trust what you read on the Internet?' They all said 'You can't.'

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Stacey Slater the next Stella McCartney?

Sometimes blogging about education feels like floating in a surreal swamp of madness, injustice and really, really stupid ideas. According to this idea from the skills council,
Giving teenage soap characters dead-end jobs and low aspirations risks shattering young viewers' career dreams, TV writers have been warned.
Now I don't watch EastEnders, but apparantly there's this character called Stacey Slater who works on a trading stall.
The LSC says that if she were to put her skills to good use and take a Level 2 diploma in fashion retail, for example, she could progress from Walford market to her own designer fashion boutique.

Please, if you read this blog, and you know this Stacey, is this a realistic aim for her? And please, if you read this blog, and you teach on a Level 2 diploma in fashion retail, is this really the main thing holding her back from starting her own little business?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Teacher, the detention and a case of accidental optimism

The Teacher is (I think) in his second year of teaching IT and his blog today included this great posting, called The Club. It's a sorry tale of heavy sarcasm disrupted by a burst of optimistic creativity. I await updates of this tale with great anticipation!

PS Isn't it shocking how students don't actually get sarcasm these days? One of my favourite rants has completely lost its impact.

'Well, don't worry, I'm sure the exam board won't mind if you don't answer questions on this topic because you overslept. I'll just pop a note on the end of your exam paper and they can give you a few extra marks to make up for it.'

'O cool, Miss, that's alright then, isn't it.'

Written in horror as I listened to Christine Gilbert on the six o'clock news

Great! If you think your school is failing, here is the advice from the Head of Ofsted.
She said parents could be "a major force for change" and should put pressure on weaker schools, such as asking why no homework had been set.

What about this as an idea? Your children go to a 'failing' school? Why not first check that your children arrive at school every day, on time, with a good attitude, well-fed and well-equipped, and with the manners and respect necessary to learn? Most schools I know that no longer set homework have given up because it is either a long drudge or a complete farce getting students to do it, and there is no support from parents if students are then punished for not doing it.
In nearly one in three secondary schools, behaviour was found to be "no better than satisfactory overall, and in these schools there are also instances of disruptive or distracting behaviour from some pupils".
Does this mean that in one in three secondary schools there are terrible teachers who can't control the kids, or could this be an epidemic of awful behaviour which is unchallenged because there is no parental support in changing it?

Oh, Lord preserve us all. And to think I was logging on to post some cheerful stuff.

PS quotes are from the Guardian and the BBC

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Part-time work teaches sixth-formers to manage their time (and hand in work late)

One in 10 sixth-formers who works part-time said their jobs had forced them to hand in school assignments late, a new survey for the Learning Skill Council (LSC) reveals.
Oh dear. Their work is forcing them to hand in their work late. Busy earning megabucks they are compelled to squeeze those old bits of coursework around the shifts at Top Shop.

But wait! Why are they putting themselves through this ordeal?
Young people said the benefits of working while learning included being better at time management and motivating them on their courses and learning programmes, the survey revealed.
Read all about it here!

My experience is that 90% of students work to pay for their mobile upgrades, their designer clothes and their bingey weekend clubbing trips. They would not dream of turning up late for work but they happily stroll in half an hour late the following morning; look dopey when confronted about their missing homework; and offer neither apology nor explanation. Thankfully, some start to realise they are trading short term gain for long term results and drop their hours in the upper six.

The other 10% work to support themselves or sometimes even their families. Those students have my respect and I am happy to give them as many coursework extensions as they need.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Lovely story

They're using fountain pens in Dundee.

What I love about this story is the courage shown in chosing to make students learn something that a) demands patience and b) is not related to instantly improving exam success.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

"Why would I wanna be anywhere else?"

Friday. Giddy exhaustion tempered by the knowledge that the clock is ticking and I won't have to mark tonight.

I've got a full day ahead, no lunch break, so the thirty five minutes of illicit, caffeine-laced work time first thing in the morning is even more precious than usual. Illicit because we are not supposed to drink coffee in the classrooms... but all my stuff is there and I need to hide...

Task one of the day is to rescue the two Christmas packages (for children in Eastern Europe) from the back of the cupboard and take them to the collection point before any of my tutor group arrive. They were actually created, lovingly, twelve months ago, but I forgot to hand them in before the collection date so I have been hiding them from the girls ever since.

An e-mail - someone else is off ill. I'm already organising cover for one absent member of staff. Off I go to find a victim...loud music is echoing down the stairwell. It's only 8.45 so I shouldn't get annoyed. And it's Lily Allen, 'LDN', which I love, so I stop to complement the kids on the stairs on their taste. It becomes the soundtrack of the day.

First lesson. Olivia's supposed to be tackling an extended coursework project. This consists of her asking for help every five minutes.
'What do I do next?'
'Well, (as I've said before), you need to look at your aims and objectives in turn and work out how to implement them in your database, using the skills I have taught you, and the extensive handouts I have written and fifteen minute verbal recap I have done about six time now.'
'Miss, that's really difficult.'

I start my usual verbal tape recording about how the second year of A-level is difficult and she, as a seventeen year old with an application to university already written, should at least have a go before giving up...
Then I break off, call up the handouts and point to one. 'Do this' I say.

Five minutes later she speaks again. 'Miss, done that, it's really easy! What do I do next?'

Break is a disaster! Lovely Sue, who comes in to make coffee for the staff, is off. After a few minutes of penguin-like flapping, people start to fend for themselves. But there's no milk (Sue brings it in.) Out the back of the staff room in the tiny corridor by the stock cupboard, I bump into Rob the philosophy teacher, who furtively clutches a tiny container of the precious liquid.
'It's Jack's - he doesn't want everyone to know he has it - but you can have some'
'Oh, I couldn't possibly, that's not fair.'
'No, no, have some. It's completely morally justifiable. Think of the kids. Think of how badly you'll teach without coffee.'
I take it, expressing wide-eyed horror at the expediency of his ethics, and decline to mention I was only out there because I know about the secret fridge where they keep the milk for the SMT meetings.

Second lesson, same group. I turn on the projector, fire up IE and type in In less than a second, the Whitehouse website is on the screen. 'Right, in groups, explain how that happened.' Ten minutes later they are drawing on the board, one from each group.

One group has drawn something that looks like this.

Two other groups have variations on this: When you type into the computer, a beam goes up to a satellite and then goes down to the Whitehouse and then comes back.

After much questioning, we arrive a something better; we have recalled WANs (which I taught in October), we have remembered what a server is and we know what an ISP is. I am drawing madly, whiteboard marker everywhere, comments and questions flowing thick and fast. It's great. Then Kelly, a really, really nice young woman, says unexpectedly and in a voice thick with adolescent disdain 'You really get off on this, don't you Miss?' Splutter at her angrily for quite some time. Reflect all day on the fact that although children say they want enthusiastic teachers they don't respect us for it.

Tutorial; six students want my comments now on their UCAS applications, which they have been writing (apparently) since June. They are quite charming about it, though, especially as they know I will rip them to shreds if I find a spelling mistake. Every one says they have a passion for their subject. Every one lists 'socialising with friends' as their chief interest outside college. Apart from Sarah's, which is about the joy she feels when reading nineteenth century women's novels and how it helps her to make sense of life; this brings tears to my eyes when I read it.

Into my Foundation class, which you can think of as a small case study in the reasons some children fail to flourish in education. Bob, Carl and Anton have various learning differences on the autistic spectrum and are delightful. They love college, love the work, and have already finished the assignment. The difficulty is trying to get them to slow down and consider how they could improve it beyond their first attempts. 'But I've done it, Miss!' Of the others, for the first time in eight weeks, everyone is on time. Serendipitously I have a bag of sweets on me - the ones from last year's Christmas packages that will now go out of date before they reach their destination. Anderson, who has only been in the country six months, and is still getting used to computers (along with being teased, which appears to be a whole new experience for him) is researching day trips for youth clubs. We have quite a profitable discussion about why Puerto Rico is not an ideal choice, despite the fact it came up first when he typed 'Trip' into Google.

Out of Foundation and straight to a disciplinary meeting. It's lunchtime, so I eat my sandwich on the way. David has missed thirty percent of his lessons for me, done no work, and greets every admonishment with a cheeky grin that presses all my buttons. It turns out, though, that I have been quite blessed: he has not attended geography since September, and owes his sociology teacher six essays. He cannot explain any of this, our comments bouncing off him. Letters home are drafted, conditions set, and threats uttered. He's a bright boy, he could pass anyway, but we don't leave with any further understanding of why he's not attending. (Post-sixteen education; our motto, 'So much easier because they all want to be there')

Out of the disciplinary meeting and a quick tour; things to sign, e-mails to send, handouts to photocopy, coffee to source and consume. I meet a sad looking Bob. He's just overheard some students being cruel about him while he was in the loo. He has no idea who they were as he did not see them, but he is devastated. His Asperger's syndrome means he just can't handle this at all. He wants to know what he can do about it. The answer is nothing. I tell him he could think about how those people are wrong and how he is a good person and lots of people like him and are glad he is at college.
He's not fishing for compliments. 'I like you Bob, I think you are a great person, and I know that Miss Carter and Mrs Brown like you too.' He looks a bit happier.

The bell goes for the last double period and I have a lower sixth group. Twenty-four eager faces waiting to study the Data Protection Act ('Look at me when I'm talking please. Alan, please don't talk when I'm talking. Headphones out of your ears, please. Alan, please sit properly in your chair. Bob, Keith, Surita, Dhalia, you're late. Again.') David gives me a beautifully folded origami flower that he has been making. I start to be grumpy that he has wasted both his time and our paper, but he protests that the paper was his, and of course we haven't done any work yet because we are all still faffing around ('Yes, we are doing some work, yes, get your folders out, you need paper and a pen, yes, you do need to bring a pen') I accept the flower with grace.

A colleague from maths walks in to tell me he cannot work the SMART board next door. I am not charming, I tell him I am teaching. He looks forlorn, so I return to the class room with him and do SMART board 101 in under a minute. My status as benevolent Head of IT, who always has time for a colleague struggling to use ILT, is threatened. Remind myself that maths teachers are like guided missiles and once pointed at their goal have little time for subtlety.

The wonderful Richard Thomas, who I adore for his uncompromising stance on all things privacy related, lets me down badly. The exercise I have planned using the ICO website crashes and burns as their server is down - this is unprecedented. Instead we do an off-the-cuff lesson on sound in PowerPoint. I show them PartnersinRhyme where they can download sounds legally. We revist the subject of copyright from last lesson. Again, we go round the block. Demitri brings the argument to decisive halt 'I download lots of music Miss, I'm not going to pay 99p per track - I can't afford it!' Most students mumble their agreement. Of course we should get things for free if we want them! How stupid you are, Miss! Juan tries the 'But everyone breaks the law, Miss' line. He does not believe me when I tell him I try not to break the speed limit. Eventually, I say, a bit too loudly, that he shouldn't assume that everyone else breaks the law and is immoral and criminal just because he is. Everyone laughs.

I tell them that for once, they can turn up the loudspeakers on their computer. Slowly, quietly the different sound effects start as they explore the site. They start to riff off each other. The first person find the war section and lets off a grenade. For five minutes the lads fire at each other across the room. Then the battle of the 80's TV themes starts. It's genuinely hilarious, they are really enjoying it. Meanwhile the girls are 'Mwahing' at each other, having found all the kissing noises. Periodically I remind them they actually have to embed these sounds in their presentations.

The bell goes.

Sun in the sky, oh why, oh why, would I wanna be anywhere else?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Education news update

Trying to summon some enthusiasm here for an update of all that's new in UK education news!

Most blatantly obvious discovery of the week! If children can't read, and then they get lots of one-to-one help from skilled teachers, they learn to read better, and quite quickly too! (here) This is obviously quite a startling piece of news because we all know that class size does not matter.

Confusing policy announcement of the week! Alan Johnson is actually discussing the role of parents in education (satire aside, this is a very good development) He says parents should spend more time playing with and talking to their children. However, in order to facilitate this...he is going to make sure schools stay open longer in the evening. Don't get it.

I give up. I've just watched two episodes of Spooks and I think I'll become a spy instead. Buy some jeans and white t-shirts and a black leather jacket and just stride around shooting people like Hermione Norris.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Faith schools

It depends on the faith, you see.

By which I DON'T mean that certain faiths are inherently good and therefore allowed to prosletyse, while other faiths are inherently bad and should be prevented from doing so.

No. I think we should examine what the faith (or the denomination or the specific branch/founder/order of the faith) has to say about education and simply judge on that.

Because the actual ethos of a faith school can very widely.

'We are followers of the faith of Pong. We believe that everyone is special and that Pong loves everyone. Our deity Pong is especially concerned to see children grow up into happy, fulfilled adults who can be a force for good in the world. As followers of Pong, we respect the followers of other faiths and seek to learn from them. We believe Pong loves everyone, no matter what they believe and we believe we are especially required by our faith to serve the poor and the needy.'

'We are followers of the faith of Ping. We believe that those who believe in Ping are special and should be given preferential treatment. Our deity Ping is most concerned to see children grow up into followers of Ping. As followers of Ping, we think all other faiths are at best misguided and at worse the worship of anti-Ping, and will treat them accordingly. We believe that we are here to serve the followers of Ping and those who aspire to join them.'

I reckon the school founded by Pongites might seek to be a caring school, willing to go out on a limb for disadvantaged kids, and would probably be a place where followers of all faiths would feel respected.

I reckon the school founded by Pingites might actually be quite a scary school, in danger of promoting their own faith at the expense of others and would probably be a place where intolerance lurked in the corners.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Not about teaching II

Book review number 2 - Wasting Police Time' by PC David Copperfield is another good blog-based read. It is slightly more acerbic than 'Blood, Sweat and Tea' and it has a much more specific argument - that modern policing is in a mess because of government policy. Specifically, the damage is caused by bureaucracy (such as the five separate pieces of paper work that David has to fill out after he triggers a speed camera on the way to an emergency) and the need to keep the statistics favorable. If you read this blog regularly you will know that I believe that league tables are the root of all evil, so I was both smug and shocked to read about how statistics have twisted the way the Police Service (sic) is run. I won't attempt to explain it, but believe me, the 'Administrative Detection' is responsible not just for some misleading statistics, but also for a skewing of how people like PC Copperfield prioritise their time. (Here's a review which explains the issue in part.) Read the book.

But like Tom Reynolds in BS&T, David obviously enjoys aspects of his job as well, and you can feel the humanity and warmth in his writing - the kind of copper you'd like to encounter in a dire situation.

Both these two books have been a delight to get lost in. I haven't managed to get as enthused about Frank Chalk's 'It's your time your wasting.' It's extremely well written but whereas the other two allowed me to escape into the fascinating world of a different job, this book simply reminds me of things I already know. I've picked it up and put it down four or five times. Sorry, Frank, no offence... Maybe policemen love it...

For interest, here are some other books which take you into a different world...
'Kitchen Confidential' by Anthony Bourdain - about the life of a chef
'Hotel Babylon' and 'Air Babylon' by Imogen Edwards-Jones and Anonymous
about a day in the life of a hotel manager and airline manager respectively.

If anyone knows of any others please let me know - I love them.