Sunday, 30 March 2008

The Byron Review - everyone has their say

I am only picking up on the Internet safety issues here rather than muddy the waters with the rating for video games. There are many comments from the industry on the already well-publicised rating sysytem and whether a new one will have any more effect ...

There are so many views on Tanya Byron's Review ... You can read some of them here.

More here if you wish to get Keith Vaz's point of view.

The Times have their own viewpoint ... strange scare mongering...

An Irish point of view ... here

From the 'HandHeld' Learning Forum ... here

itsneak notes that there is a Government anomaly here

This is enough to be going on with .... What is your view?

More Google Alerts on this by the hour but none appear to be any more than just reporting that the Review has happened.

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Friday, 28 March 2008

So ... back to the Byron Review

I read and read again the exec summary and was taken by some of the analogies which I thought would make sense to parents and teachers and then I looked at the summary of the report for children and young people (The exec summary didn't appear to have a cover)

What is that cover about ?
What image is it trying to put over?

The title says 'BE SAFE, BE AWARE, HAVE FUN' ... great ... a screen tells me that 'I know who you are and where you live' another exhorts the reader to 'Shoot them all' ... A weird individual pops out of the screen saying 'I'm coming' and a hand reaches for a throat... wonderful ... HAVE FUN !!

What were they thinking of ?

I noticed later that the cover was the same for the main report !!


My Google Alert for 'Byron Review' has reported 17 separate mentions over the last two days ...

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Youngsters taking risks

You may not have caught this on BBC Breakfast today but there was a feature on :Tiger Cam - The latest instalment from the people who brought us dung-cam, snowball cam and salmon cam… trunk-cam; where elephants carry disguised cameras to bring us closer than ever before to tiger cubs in the Indian jungle.

The camera showed closeups of a growing family of young tiger cubs. The point here is that from the very first moments they could walk they explored and took risks in their investigations of all that life had to offer. Standing by to retrieve them when they became stuck and to watch over them was their mum. Always ready to help, she let them explore and investigate for themselves.

Isn't this what we are saying about e-Safety and young people growing up in an institutionally contrived 'risk-free' world? Will this fit in with the findings of the Byron Review?

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Thursday, 27 March 2008

Young people's reading

It is the National Year of Reading but there are many definition of reading. It is with pleasure today that I read on the web site 'Read Up, Fed Up' that:

Compiling their own online blogs came fourth in the Read Up rankings and 80% of those taking part said they had written their own story, film, play or song.

National Year of Reading director Honor Wilson-Fletcher said: "Young people are web natives - exposed to a wider variety of reading material than any previous generation through the explosion of digital media.

"It seems not all adults are comfortable with this shift, and are often discouraging teens from taking advantage of this new reading landscape.

"Accessing the digital universe is absolutely central to life's opportunities for teens.

"We may be only just starting to understand the dynamics of online reading, but adults need to feel more positive about it and to learn more about it."

and that:

The National Year of Reading report shows that more youngsters are choosing online sites as a reading source.

This is student voice in operation.

You can read a BBC digest of the report here.

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Podcasting in Spondon

With 32 excited Y1 children, 10 laptops and assortment of microphones, 2 teachers and myself we embarked on a podcast of what each of the groups thought of the story of Cinderella.

Firstly we had to set the kit up over lunch time and check that the laptop batteries were charged and that the mics worked ... well that took some time ... but in the end we were there just in time for the children to come in.

We began,(after the niceties) to have a look at the Podium software. I demonstrated on a SmartBoard (bad move - explanations later) how to open the software and where to click to record. We had a class go at 'We're going on a Bear Hunt' and the playback sounded really good as my laptop has a great in-built mic and the speakers on the SmartBoard did the job well.

We reviewed how to make the recording, talked about not chewing the microphones and not fiddling with the wire while speaking and then the children went to their tables to speak and listen to their voices. It was wonderful ... 32 young voices with no problems about what to say. We paused and spoke of 'sharing' and 'taking turns' and then we were off again. These were Y1 children many had never used a laptop before and certainly had not seen a trackerpad and so some of the pointing and clicking was a bit hit-and-miss but they soon got the hang of how it all worked. Small problems were found listening to playback as the laptops had really low volumes which I could not seem to change. Perhaps that was for the best really as they had to listen carefully and quietly. Oh ... and the SmartBoard bit ... well, because I moved things around my screen with my finger they thought that they could do that on theirs ! They soon worked out that it didn't happen!

I then showed how to import MP3 sounds into Podium (just for fun) and they made up lots of sound jumbles. Then we got down to the real stuff.

The group had listened to the story of Cinderella in a literacy context based on the idea of 'traditional tales' and had gone on, in small groups, to write their ideas about the story. These ideas they had 'carved up' so that in the speaking rehearsals they knew who was going to say which bit. And they had practiced their parts.

To set up the podcasts the children had to type in the podcast title, who would make it, the name of the episode and their initials. this took quite a while as keyboard familiarity is something that they are working on.

Once that was done with papers at the ready, the red buttons around the room were pressed and the recording started. Some stuttered and stopped and we restarted ... some spoke loudly and softly, some repeated. But, after all the trials were done they were satisfied with their own individual bits.

These Podium files were then saved as Podium MP3 files so that I could collect them and stitch them together to make up the final Cinderella Podcast.( They did not publish their individual files as the network was going a little slowly)

When all the files had been collected on my portable hard drive we did a final class podcast on my laptop of 'Heads and Shoulders, Knees and Toes'.

The whole thing took the best part of two hours and the children did not appear to flag once. They stuck to the task and appeared to have had a good time. The quality of the literacy was also good and the 'soft' curriculum aspects of sharing and collaborating were well to the front.

You can listen to the Cinderella podcast by clicking here or by pasting this address into iTunes:

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Tanya Byron Review ...

Today's papers and the News channels are full of reports of the review by Dr Tanya Byron into 'the effects of online content and video game violence on children and young people'.

The BBC featured it on their early morning Breakfast programme and bloggers (!) have been recording sightings of the information for the last four hours or so.

You can read the diverse views in the National press here: The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Times (The Independent chose not to feature it)

You can listen to a Guardian interview with Dr Tanya Byron, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham here.

Ewan Mcintosh has come out up front commenting on the dilemma of allowing children to take risks without them actually being exposed to any. We have over the last thirty or so years gradually reduced the area of risk taking for our young people until, frightened by the paranoia into not playing out they now seek to risk take in virtual worlds ... if we stop this where will they go next to grow up?

I have just been informed of the link to the report (thanks Pete) and am reading ... so more here when I have digested bits of it.


Unusually for me (you might say) I feel that this is not the time to comment rather a time to read and reflect on what has been written but (I can't resist) I like the way the case has been presented for children and young people and love the analogy about road safety in the exec summary (especially as it is one I have been using for a long while now)

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Wednesday, 26 March 2008

The teacher challenge

I spent a very pleasant day yesterday with teachers from a development group in North Derbyshire. It was their group's 'teacher day' and they had gathered in the splendid surrounds of the Hayes Centre near Somercotes for a day of stimulation and conversation. There was real meat in the day which opened with a presentation by Will Ord called 'Philosophy for Children'. The teachers then broke into their various groups to pursue activities ranging from photo orienteering to digital alchemy.

My sessions were called ... 'Podcasts, blogs and that sort of thing' ... I had prepared a set of ideas which included an opening on Web 2.0 and then a work through of the sort of things that people can do and how this affected or would affect teaching and learning. It didn't work out quite how I had planned it. The teachers, in this first group, had come to listen because they wanted to know for themselves so that they could make sense of what was going on and what it might mean to them in the future. My careful preparation went out of the window as I answered their questions... 'Well what is a blog then?'... I explained and then showed them Common Craft. I ran a video from YouTube and the discussion began about stopping and blocking and how schools could get the best out of the resources available. I showed how to unplug the videos and run the flv files on their own. I talked about RealPlayer11 which does the job neatly for you and how this worked with FireFox. I did a podcast using Podium having been asked about podcasting and I built a blog in Blogger to show how quick and easy it could be.( You can see it here)

Forewarned I waited for the second group to arrive. I asked what they wanted to know and took it from there. I don't know what they got from their 45 minutes with me but I was left with the impression that we needed to go on and explore what could be and what could happen.

These professionals needed time to consolidate information and help and support in getting to grips with changes and challenges. It seemed to me that the session was a start but by no means an end ... almost like booking the tickets for a long journey and then having to wait to get on the plane.

I ended by showing Honeycomb as a way of making the connection between what they needed to know and what they might use ... thoughts for the future... and suggested that they kept their eye on it.

We talked of mobile phones, Asus miniBooks, Nintendo DS and all other tools that children will be bringing to the school party and tried to make sense of them in a world driven by targets, tests and standards.

Right at the end of the last session two teachers approached me ... 'Thanks heavens,' they said, 'We thought it was us! ... It transpired that they worked in a secondary school with challenging pupils who needed support to move through their institutional world and these teachers had been trying to make the connections between what their students do and want to do and where the system leaves them. They could see that Web 2.0, for want of a better title, could be part of this and that schools needed to move forward and not worry so much.

It made my day ... I gave them my card and offered help ...

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Monday, 24 March 2008

Just like buses ...

I wonder what the collective noun for a lot of mini handheld computers might be? Having put out a Google alert for such things I am beginning to think that there will be no end to the set/group/mash/??

And I managed to miss one ... Following up a lead led me to the Gizmodo site where I discovered:

Innovations for Learning just announced a blue GameBoy-like handheld computer designed for schools. It's got directional buttons, a few face buttons, a 2.5-inch LCD, USB sync, SD card storage, AC/USB charging, and a 3.5-hour battery life. Inside the teachermate is a "complete reading and math curriculum that is aligned with all of the major reading and math programs," which means it can help substitute the learning a K-2 school student already receives.

They're a non-profit company, which means they only charge the cost of manufacturing the device, $50, but the reading and math programs cost $20 per student. The initial rollout will be at 500 Chicago elementary schools.

I am sure now that I have missed others ... imagine Bitesize running on one of these !

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Sunday, 23 March 2008

Cold, wet, snow ...

If you have nothing to do and its cold and snowing outside take a look at this site.

I know it has adverts etc and to use the full range of the games you pay. But ... you can play for free online and the 'Typer Shark' game will do wonders for your little wonders as they get fractious over Easter.

And there are more games to try all of which have that edge that makes them exciting and, dare I say it, educational.

Go on try ... you know you want to ...

And while you are doing these things take a look at the new games on the BBC Bitesize website. The Questionaut game is very reminiscent of Samorost. With regard to the Questionaut game ... in the past children did an activity and then were 'rewarded'... in this game the reward seems to come first. I found myself wanting to have some control over the questions ... but I am not sure why I did !

PS ... (Remember that you do try these things at your own risk !)

PPS ... Have 'played' Questionaut all the way through once now and am impressed with the quality of the decision making and the logicality of it all ... it is too good to be wasted on KS2 revision questions ... they almost(!!)spoil the whole thing.

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Friday, 21 March 2008

Dr Kawashima rules okay

Last week Derek Robinson, from LTS, did an excellent job in saying on a variety of interviews on television what was really happening in a project he is involved with in Scotland at the Consolarium .He explained the use of games and games machines having value in educational contexts but the protagonists, on the whole, just didn't get it. You can read more about this on Ewan's blog here.

Well a week has passed and Derek has had time to think back on the impact of what he was saying. You can read this better from his blog than me reiterating it.

But a number of things come out of this for me, the main one being his assertion 'good teachers will use good resources'. Of course they will and many good teachers will take a variety of resources and make them good and useful by the power and excitement of their teaching. It is the teacher that 'does the stuff' ... the resources help and support.

As I have just commented on Derek's blog:

I am totally sure that you are right... I am just curious what the definition of real impact will be and hope that it will not just be a measure of improved performance. I don't believe in the quick fix ... I think that things happen in learning over a much greater time scale than we imagine ... the impact may be years ahead and will not be down to one idea or thing or lesson or experience.

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Wednesday, 19 March 2008


I often get asked ... 'What is a wiki?' or 'What is a blog?' and I go into my explanation of what they are and how they work and how they are useful to do the things that people want to do efficiently and effectively. And then I came across 'Commoncraft' and was so impressed by their simple and straightforward way of explaining these things that now I just direct people to their web site.

Simple ideas are often/always the best !

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Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Web 2.0 Technologies for Learning at Key Stages 3 & 4

Yesterday I spent my time in a policy workshop at the Learning Science Research Centre of Nottingham University discussing eSafety issues as part of a project on Web 2.0 Technologies for Learning at Key Stages 3 and 4.

The workshop was called not to establish a consensus about eSafety in the use of Web 2.0 technology but was to investigate differences of opinion on the subject through a process of structured debate:

The aim of the Delphi workshop is to get behind the rhetoric and assess how the benefits of learning through Web2.0 can be achieved while protecting children from the dangers of communicating online.

The Policy Delphi method is a structured group process to survey and
collect the opinions of experts on a complex problem. Rather than
striving for an early consensus, the emphasis is on identifying
differing opinions through a process of structured debate.

What was really interesting was the shared opinion that there was a fundemental education process which needed to be developed to support the work. It was heartening to listen to colleagues treading similar pathways towards similar goals, which, though difficult, they felt were worth making the journey for.

This was the first stage of the process.It ...

...will be followed by a second round, at a later date, using the same or different experts, to rate and extend the findings, define the positions, and explore whether
or not a consensus can be reached.

More details will certainly be published about this at a later date.

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Saturday, 15 March 2008

Al Upton

I don't know if you are aware of Al Upton ... Australian educators will be !
On the blogs comes the sad and crazy news and on his miniLegends blog that:

Order for Closure
This blog has been disabled in compliance with DECS wishes (Department of Education and Children’s Services - South Australia)

It seems that this blog in particular is being investigated regarding risk and management issues. What procedures should be taken for the use/non-use of blogs to enhance student learning will be considered.

Just how this fits in with Article 13 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child:

13. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice. ... I am not sure !

Please go to the blog and read what has happened, and, if you wish, post a message of support.


It is heartening to read in the comments on the blog that the parents of the miniLegends are now voicing their support for Al.

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Friday, 14 March 2008

Schools and mobile phones

I am just reading a post on Will Richardson's blog about students in a school in midtown Manhattan and how they get round the school's ban on mobile phones:

...these kids don’t leave their cell phones at home. They are too important as a communications tool for safety’s sake and for social connections. Yet they can’t get these phones through the airport like scanners at the front of the building. So what do they do? Seems a little cottage industry as sprung up at the delis and bodegas around the school so that kids can check their phones in for the day at $3 a pop. They get a ticket, just like a coat check, on their way into school, and they pick it up on the way out.

It just makes you want to cry ... when will educational institutions get the message?Just go to the blog and read the post ... then read the comments !

This should be compulsory reading for every headteacher, member of a SMT, teacher, school governor, member of parliament, minister of education, the building schools for the future team,ICT training course providers, Becta employee, parent etc etc.

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Google News Alerts

I use the Google News Alerts to track the things that I am interested in on a short or long term basis. Currently I have a number of tracks out but today the one that caught my eye is the one for the Elonex ONE which I blogged about after the Education Show.

The next kid on the block appear to be the MSI Wind and there are many reports of it in its prototype state:MSI Wind and 'the codename of the first low-cost laptop of multinational Taiwanese' . But prices and spec seem to be going up not down. This will run in at about 299 Euros. PC World are offering reconditioned laptops at £269 (350 Euro) so for 50 extra Euros ...

I will just have to put in a Google Alert for the MSI Wind and see what else pops up.

The screen below is a Voice Thread which allows you to post onto the images your views. You do need to sign up first to be able to do this. The just click on the small images in the bottom right and have your say. A powerful tool.

Here is a link that reveals further kit in the range ... it grows by the day.

18th March 2008 - George Cole writes a Guardian article about the Asus

PPPS ... or you could read the review of both the Asus and the Elonex ONE from the Sydney Morning Herald

PPPPS ... and so it goes on ... Intel now throw their hat into the ring.

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Education ... the key

There is no doubt, for most people, education is the key. But we do not have a collective intelligence about what education is or how best to go about getting one that is fit for purpose. And do we mean purpose now or purpose in the future about which we can guess so little. Did any of you watch the film 'Water World'? It was slammed by the critics but did open up the idea that things could happen which would change the concept of an education fit for purpose beyond anything that we could think of. And who should be the judges of this fit for purpose?

Over the last two days four interesting things have caught my eye in the educational arena. (Sort of like the Coliseum in ancient Rome ... a place where some come to watch others fight for their lives!)

Firstly there was the story of schools putting CCTV cameras in all of the classrooms and the headteacher who explained that it was a security issue about equipment not a tool to watch what was happening. Did the teachers protest about this? I know some of the students were bothered.Watch this here. When I searched for the story on the BBC web site I found that this was not isolated. There is an interesting bit on the CBBC site.

The second issue is a reason for celebration as it is about the use of computer games etc to improve learning. In typical form the BBC wheeled out the pro and con brigade. The con group (they seemed to swap them round) just didn't get the picture at all and managed to argue off the point most of the time .. typical back to basics and teachers should be making their subjects interesting (well of course they should) and the pro candidate Derek Robinson, from LTS, did an excellent job in saying what was really happening in the project he is involved with in Scotland at the Consolarium. Learning and Teaching Scotland's. You can read more about this on Ewan's blog here.

The third thing was the excellence of some of the young people who took part in the BBC's School Report initiative. Who says our young people are not highly motivated and highly talented.'Chapeau' to those teachers and students who had the sense and the purpose to take part in 'real world reporting'.

The final thing rests with the thorny subject of handwriting and what it has to do with literacy. Again its the BBC (Haven't they got better things to do?) who run an article on Technology and the death of handwriting . The article neatly slips from handwriting to learning and the state of everything:

...Meanwhile, one in five parents surveyed for My Child magazine's Write a Letter Week said they last penned a letter more than a year ago. If the figures are representative, this apparent demise of handwriting could have serious implications for educational achievement

These serious implications are based on the premise that we 'test'/'examine' our young people by getting them to write on paper. No thought that this might not be the best idea in a developing digital world.

Professor Rhona Stainthorp, who is conducting research into children's writing abilities, says there is growing evidence those who write faster and more legibly get better marks.

Is this a surprise to anyone ... but so what? My question is: 'Is handwriting going to be a key skill the the future of the children being educated in our schools today? Or isn't it time we began to see it just as a personally useful tool and that the vagaries of it don't matter?

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Thursday, 13 March 2008

Jill Bolte Taylor

If you have not watched this TED video ... please do so !

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Second Life - John Connell

Am currently listening to John Connell lecturing in Second Life on the Cisco News 'space' talking about Learning 2.0. There are people here from UK, France, Spain, Bulgaria and Australia (and I suspect other places too).

Once I had the sound sorted (and many people sprang to help me do that) the session was superb and I will go to John's blog tomorrow to pick up more.

Here are my garbled notes:

He has just said ... 'Knowledge is learning' ??

'What we teach is rarely what is learned'

The Web is the learning platform ... this underpins the concept of 'learning 2.0'

This is the key to it ... we have to move on ... all of us have to move on ... the longer we delay the more our young people will leave the intitutional system of education behind ... adapt or !!

Web 2.0 shifts the context of education

Questions (well, sort of):

How do we establish a system to trust the knowlege?


Concept of a global classroom ... GLOW ... web-based online platform ...working jointly across the world

The assessment tail is wagging the dog and we need to change this

There is much that I have not commented upon as I was involved in participating in the discussion ...

You can access John's slides from his blog. More than worth the effort.

John has now put his summary of what he said on his blog ... here


Wednesday, 12 March 2008

11th Annual ICT Conference and Exhibition

Sitting in the auditorium of the Rheghed Centre near Penrith listening to the Cumbria Awards for ICT being presented by Dr Baldev Singh.

Baldev is now starting on his 'keynote': The changing face of technology and its implication for teaching'.. I note that the audience are here to listen, not to interact (see my post of yesterday).

Here are my notes made on the 'fly' during his presentation:

Global drivers push new learning technologies
The timing is perfect for the developments of new technology
We need to debate the terms digital immigrants and digital natives
How do we take these things into account and also satisfy the OFSTED inspectors?
Let's make it input> processprocessprocessprocessprocess>output
Innovation leads Globalisation
Children like to make things not just consume things
Interacting is the key word
Baldev explains RSS ... he talks about 'collective knowledge' and 'empowering students' and how they allow students to find information quickly and then synthesise it.
In a Global World ... we should not be tethered by our geography
The 'knowledge economy' is a driver in third world countries
Students need to learn how to filter the information that they find so that they can make sense of it
Baldev introduces 'Google Docs' and other Web 2.0 tools to develop collaborative productivity
Google map of the future ... influences education
Model of sustainable innovation in 4 quarters
Innovation allows us to work smarter and get higher output
He uses 'We didn't start the fire' to discus a history project and the effect of smart technologies on motivation ... transformational use of ICT
The next clip was 'Animator .V. Animation'
Students do not want to be passive consumers of information ... they want to be creators
We need to think about appropriate or inappropriate use of technology ... teachers need to know the differenceFuturelab
We need to bring the world outside into the classroom ... and we need to take the classroom outside into the world
Connectivity is important, Content is king but context is emperor
Kids acting as amplifiers of information and learning
Should we be digitising the curriculum? ... or creating a new one.
We need a model of curriculum that embraces flexibility ... ICT used in a context
Baldev introduces 'photostory 3' as a way of creating ... simple technology, multimodal presentation on the fly...students personalise quickly and simply
Voice Thread ... peer review of personal context ... enriching a curriculum ...
Higher order thinking
Use of Microsoft Producer to stitch video with slides
Use of for a similar thing
The power of Flickr and to move things forward motivationally
Podcasting as a tool for learning ... download into iTunes
Baldev gets involved with 'mashups' as a way of mixing tools together
He finishes on the Utube video 'Did you know?'

Then came the Cumbria Animations Awards ... children being crative and exciting ...some working in groups , some on their own ... some with a text story line, some with music out for these on the Cumbria Grid for Learning web site.

The audience at the conference used the 'Activote' system to decide the winner. Real use of appropriate technology.

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Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Getting onboard ...

Over the last couple of weeks I have presented in various venues and lectured to different groups in University education settings. The one thing that is coming over to me at the moment is that everyone listens and nods and gets enthused but I just don't detect things happening.

In a huge lecture theatre with over 250 students I noted that not one one them had a laptop or any other device switched on to take any notes (let alone Twitter) ... they all had pieces of paper to write on ... I asked them how they were going to share their thoughts with others in the room, put that did not seem to be part of their learning agenda. They had come there to listen and absorb not interact. Similarly with a largish group of ICT coordinators at a conference ... no sign of anything but the pads provided by the organisers. It was the same on a course for heads. It is as if the message of sharing/collaborating and the read/write nature of the next stage is out there but it just isn't happening.

If our training teachers and our teacher leaders don't respond and model what chances further through the system? I note that on the Naace Conference blog from Torquay that there are almost NO comments at all on any of the sessions ... even the foremost ICT educators in the country don't appear to make their thoughts known so that they can help to shape the thoughts of others. I posted a comment straight after listening to a recording of Ewan's address, and there mine sits, all on its own.

Will Richardson in a post on his blog highlights a similar issue:

I feel like it sometimes when I go to an education conference with 6,000 attendees and virtually no Internet access where almost no one who is presenting is modeling anything close to great pedagogy with technology.

He goes on: in god’s name can we talk seriously about 21st Century skills for kids if we’re not talking 21st Century skills for educators first? The more I listened, the less I heard in terms of how we make the teaching profession as a whole even capable of teaching these “skills” to kids. Sure, there were mentions of upgrading teacher preparation programs and giving teachers additional time in the school day to collaborate, etc. But the URGENCY was all around the kids. Shouldn’t the URGENCY be all about the teachers right now?

Barack Obama using a quote from Dr Martin Luther King calls for the people of USA to pay attention to 'The urgency of now'. It makes a good rallying cry for the moment!

The longer it takes educators to develop their own ICT capability to support what is happening, the more young people will be leaving formal education without having been able to take advantage of the technology they deserve.

The rest of the post on Will's blog tells the story well as do the comments on the post.

In Torquay last week on Tuesday evening Ewan McIntosh said at 9:06 Don't think - try! ... we need to make a move NOW.


There are now 138 comments to Will Richardson's original post and heaven knows how many people have linked into it on their own blog ... the Twitter lines have been burning.

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Sunday, 9 March 2008

Using Comic Strips to give a sense of narrative

For the TES magazine of 29.02.08 I wrote an article on using Comic strips to give pupils a sense of power over narrative writing. Many kind people have mentioned the article and have taken up some of the ideas. As is the nature of writing in this way the original text was cut down to fit the magazine's format. Below I have included the whole thing for those who wish to read more (with my thanks to Simon Mills for his original idea):

Bring it to life!

Back-reading through my Internet ‘feeds’ I came across some literacy work by Simon Mills that really attracted my attention. Amongst many other things there he was talking about multi-modality and punctuation and there was this bit about:

‘…pondering on how the use of comic strips might help with this, and how in the process I might also encourage colleagues to see this undervalued literary form as a potential tool in supporting engagement with texts and literacy development.’

This got me thinking about narrative and the way that comic strips could be used to engage different people in different ways. In other words, how a single story line might be accessed from different directions. This especially worked for me as I was thinking that comic strips were great multi-modal representations and the whole thing fitted into a ‘design and build’ context. The images chosen and the captions created carry both the narrative and the story and different people focus on different parts to begin with and then ‘blend’ or ‘mash-up’ to imbibe the whole context. I feel that writing narrative succinctly could be really well facilitated by using comic strip format. Really I was getting to grips with ‘storyboarding’!

So I began to look for an electronic format which would help me to do just that.

During October I spent some time in an Online Conference called ‘K12’ and there I came across a presentation by Wendy Wolfe from Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA, where she detailed the use of some free Web 2.0 tools. Her presentation, ‘If All My Class Did This’ was both entertaining and engaging. It introduced me a number of potentially useful Web 2.0 tools that I had not come across before. It was the easy way that she adopted and then adapted the tools that were available to fit in with her curriculum that impressed me and determined me to look at ToonDoo, a cartoon creator.

This free Web 2.0 software enables users to create simple one, two or three panel cartoons quickly and simply with supplied character sets (there is a really large fantasy range) and supplied backgrounds etc but it is also possible to upload photos from your own computer for use in your cartoons. There is also a function which allows you to build your own characters. To get to use it you have to fill in a simple form and register online (as with most of these applications).

The implications of using this technology are exciting for children as they begin to take control of their writing and also how they develop their sense of audience. Web 2.0 technology opens up a developing idea of communicating and review that has not really yet been explored in a school setting. The usual audience for children’s work is restricted to the class or occasionally home and the close community. Using tools, such as ToonDoo, opens up the possibilities of collaborations around the world in formats that are engaging and creative. There is no need within this environment to be tethered by geography, it is as open as users are prepared to allow. And it is this allowing that we all need to come to terms with within our various institutions.

Once your film strip has been created it can be saved, kept private, shared with friends or even published to the world. This opens up enormously the concept of ‘sense of audience’ for published creations and all of the exciting things that come with giving children the power to go outside the school environment with their work.

When you view the finished work it looks like this ...

(and there is a comments box at the bottom for people to give you feedback on your work - provided that you shared it with them!)

It is also possible to combine ToonDoons to form ToonBooks which work terrifically electronically with virtual page turning. This function means that groups can combine strips to make a series. After a few exploratory goes, the whole thing is very intuitive and simple to use allowing the users to concentrate on the quality of the literacy involved rather than getting bogged down with the operation of the software.

Contextually you can use the visualisation through the different formats of the speech bubbles to easily differentiate between speech and thought … as Simon notes: ‘With thought bubbles we can think, reflect, look back, imagine or visualise... with speech bubbles we can shout, cry, whisper, whimper query, say and exclaim’ . The shape and size of the bubbles and their position on the pager can also play a part in the inference of the ideas. If you have ever ( and who hasn’t) read any of the ‘Tin Tin’ books you can see how this works with the first part of the dialogue/idea always on the left of the picture and any action moving with the eye line from left to right . Even in some cases, going out of the frame.

Using these ideas young writers can explore the difference between thoughts and speech and can develop ideas of how to track the narrative of a story in a variety of ways – comic strips being one of these. The Express Newspaper’s Rupert Annuals of the past are excellent examples of this whereby the narrative is carried by the title of the page, the four images and the rhyming couplets and the narrative text (which also involves speech). At this point it is about experimentation and almost the ‘breaking’ of conventions to see the effect that they have on writers and readers.

Simon notes:
‘The narratives presented within comic strips are layered or textured and in constructing meaning as intended by the author must be accessed on multiple levels. When I read a comic strip I often begin with the visual elements, and then use the captions to set context before following the speech, linking the pieces together to construct my own version of events, in using the text in this way I am take personal control of the meaning I am making, designing my own story from what is being presented as I go.’
It is this sort of experimentation with writing that we should be encouraging so that it allows the audience of the writing to construct their own version of the author’s narrative.

Point to Ponder

There are numerous ‘comic strip’ generators sitting on the Web that can easily be found by any quick search. Before you consider using such an application in a classroom context or as a home/school idea check carefully. Really work through the options. Remember, these sites were not, on the whole, designed for education purposes and there may be things lurking you would prefer not to be associated with.

Other software to explore.

Plasq (works with Mac or Windows) – is a download rather than a Web 2.0 application
Comic Creator - from readwritethink

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Brain Box

My wife has always been a 'puzzles person', from word searches (and I suspect earlier join-the-dots) through crozzles and crosswords followed by sudoku and even every IQ test thing that she sees in newspapers, magazines and on the back of packages ... she is a puzzle player, a 'Countdown' viewer and switches, when the time is ripe, to the quiz channels on television. Her mind is honed so sharply to these things that it cuts the air with the speed of response... and I've forgotten to mention University Challenge (me too).

She sits later in the evening with her Nintendo DS open and trains her brain ... finishing with the question ' So how old do you think I am today?' For a women who did her teacher training in the early 70s, the answer '26' leaves me a happy man!
Tessa Watson (of GLOW fame and a strange car) has started doing dsome work with children using the DS and a summary of this can be found on her blog.

Just now, in the evening, the warm up might easily be general knowledge with ( hold your breath) the black clad witch of the quiz, this followed by pitting wits against the best brains in Britain on 'Egg Heads' and now ... the BBC has launched us into Brain Box Challenge.

This, in my opinion, slick programme hosted by Clive Anderson is well worth talking to children about. It is a:

...challenging brain boggling quiz in which contestants battle it out to win money from the ‘Brain Bank’ by proving themselves in a sequence of brain games which test their memory, language, visual, numerical and spatial skills.

... and the accompanying web site (not just because it is free) is the sort of site that you could strongly want to identify with if you were a teacher committed to developing home/school links.

There are three interesting sections on the site: The science behind learning when you play the games, a link to the BBC2 area where you can catch up with programmes you have missed on BBCi, but most importantly ... the games themselves.

The games come in six categories: visual, spacial, language, dual task, coding and memory ... together with a warm up area to get you ready. The warm up is at three levels and the games come in at ten different levels of difficulty building one on one. At the end of it all you get a 'Brainbox quotient', and an explanation of what it all means.

Can't wait to get started (and pass it on to your class/friend/family). Just click here.

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Tuesday, 4 March 2008

RM Inform Conference, Birmingham

I spent a very interesting day at the Motor Cycle Museum in Birmingham as a participant in an RM Inform Conference. Lots of interesting and provocative ideas and lots of interesting people to talk to about them.

Dame Mary MacDonald, Head of Riverside Primary School,in North Tyneside led the way with an impassioned plea for putting the fun back into the curriculum and children's lives in school. She argued that the current curriculum was too academic and much too prescriptive and that in following the 'given' lines we stifle fun.

Speaking to a partisan audience, Mary found empathy with the group who recognised her style and 'up-frontness' ... she castigated inspections, strategies, targets and most current institutional initiatives and carried her audience with her in her rallying cry of the fact that 'every child certainly did matter'. The group consciousness oozed from the assembled teachers who you could feel really wanted to have her as their head teacher.

She hid the underlying issues of government interference behind the 'no fun in school' banner and declared that 'fun' should be in. She was and is right. Childhood seems to have become a precursor for something else that we are not sure of. We test, target and measure our young people as if progress through and artificially prescribed system in the key to life. What is left out is the fact that each and every moment of each and every day is of tremendous importance and that today is not just a rehearsal for tomorrow but an entire , exciting 'moment' in its own right and needs to be celebrated and safeguarded.

You got the sense from listening to her that she was there and would drag others, if necessary, kicking and screaming towards the recognition that every child matters.

She commented that we could be a load of 'Strategy delivers and creativity crumblers.' ... such was the strength of her conviction that if I have it wrong I feel sure she will let me know!

She ended her 'set' by saying: A classed bewitched by learning ... fizzes'. We all knew what she meant.

Stephen Heppell spoke with his usual laid-back passion about 21st Century Learning and called for a mashup of wisdom with wild enthusiasm. He illicited a concept of 'in betweenies'... those places between 'now' and 'not now'. He argued about the divide between the 'banners, and the 'doers' and gave many examples of young people being the teachers and commented that learning was a ubiquitous commodity.

He had observed, he said, that it was now 'cool to be brainy' ... just watch kids with Nintendo DSs !

...and at the end of the day there was Gervais Phinn. If you have never seen him or listened to him then if you get the chance ... do so ! Anecdote with reality and above all children in mind ... that is what you get.

I obviously didn't get to see all of the break out sessions but those I did see were excellent and left food for thought. The session on 'Primary Schools of the Future' had a terrific lead in video put together by Jon Sparke and Andrea Carter... and here it is -

There was so much more than this in the day and all the details and downloads of presentations etc can be found here.

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Speaking Freely

This blogged by phone by Stephen Heppell at the RM Inform Conference at Birmingham today:

"Doug hi, it's Steven Heppell. I've just had a really interesting lunch time chatting to people actually but must admit that I'm amazed that how good all this is getting you know, ... but this is a technology. We've got inflatable stuff here, we got pocketables here, we've got wall shape stuff here man. Really, really, really ... times that we're always ready to demonstrate those showing some of that from around world, but I tell you what there's some fabulous stuff here."

spoken through SpinVox

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Speaking Freely

This blogcast was recorded and translated by mobile phone from the RM Conference in Birmingham today.

"Hi my name is Andy Fisher, I'm the manager from the City Learning Centre in Middlesborough. We're here at the RM Conference in Birmingham, demonstrating a 3D steroscopic system we doing a lot of work with. We've been looking at applying this technology in the classroom for 2 or 3 years now. I know about 60 of these systems out there... in the 3D space, we'd also created a number of software and environments to go in to this"

spoken through SpinVox

Andy Fisher was demonstrating an awesome system of 3D projection where two data projectors and a clever bit of software combine (with a pair of specs) to give a great 3D experience. You can read all about it here... and check out Reach Out Interactives - the 3D Experts.

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Monday, 3 March 2008

Broadband Consortia, Networks and YouTube

It is apparent that many (most) broadband connections in educational institutions, for reasons of 'safety' block certain web site which can (or could) have positive educational use. FaceBook and YouTube to name but two of the likely suspects.YouTube has many videos that can help and support teachers by making connections with quality materials that are difficult to find elsewhere.

I have spent some time over the last six months or so explaining to teachers and educationalist how to extract the useful videos so that they can be used in a stand alone format.

This post is to explain a number of these because the job is getting easier and easier.

Firstly there is 'Unplug', a Firefox Add-0n that does just what it says ... unplugs videos.

Then, recently, I upgraded my version of 'Real Player 11' to discover that it was most efficient in allowing me to download any video that I came across in my browsing. There is a very good guide on how to do this written by Mike Trodd of Cecil Road Primary school which can be found here.
... just as I thought I had learned lots I looked at Joe Dale's Blog and noticed that he had others.

No excuses then about good material being blocked from use by the school's firewall etc . All you need to do is go home, extract the video you want from its blocked source and play it in its original form ... Oh ... you will need to download an FLV player to do this.

Watch out for an article on some of the useful things to be found in YouTube in the ictopus Sharing Good Practice number 23.

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I really do need to pay attention to the things I read on blogs and in my feeds. Each are a facinating source of information and are wonderful at keeping me (and anyone reading this) up to date on the world and everything else.

So for those who don't read Ewan Mcintosh's Blog (why?) or John Connell's ( again ... why?) here is a rerun of what they said ...

Way, way back in the dark days of October, Ewan noticed a lovely app while he was in New Zealand and today I noticed that John Connell had picked it up for comment.

Visuwords is an online graphical dictionary similar to Visual Thesaurus but needs no log on and no subscription. Just go there and use it.

Thanks again to Ewan and John for this and note to myself to pay more attention in the future.

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Saturday, 1 March 2008

A Black Swan

A change in education is on the way ... it will be a Black Swan !

A Black Swan is an event with the following three attributes.

First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility.
Second, it carries an extreme impact.
Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

From Pedagogy through androgogy to heutogogy we need to pass on the responsibility of learning to the individuals and groups who are 'in' the process. The institutional nature of our schools and educational environments is counterproductive in this aim.

At TED 2008 on 29 February 2008 Nassim Nicholas Taleb the author of 'The Black Swan' spoke of these cataclysmic changes that we all recognise retrospectively.

In education terms, now, we have the chance to be ahead of the game. The digital environment in which we all live is sweeping chages over us by the year,month,week, day, hour, minute and second - changes we often don't recognise until we can't function the way we wish without them - just think of mobile phones, word processors, 24/7 online shopping ...

The secret is not to watch the big issues - Building Schools for the Future - but to listen to the whispers - Second Life. Black Swan logic makes what you don't know far more relevant than what you do know... Black Swans being unpredictable, we need to adjust to their existence (rather than try to predict them). There are so many things we can do if we focus on anti knowledge, or what we do not know.

Andrew Marr on BBC Radio 4 - Start the Week - on Monday 3rd March interviews Nassim Nicholas Taleb (the podcast is now available at here):

'We are hard-wired not to truly estimate risk, too vulnerable to the impulse to simplify, narrate and categorize – and we don’t even realise it. What we should understand, argues the academic and city trader NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB, is that our world is dominated by 'black swans', highly improbable events that have a massive impact and are nearly impossible to predict. Black swans, he says, mean we should ignore ‘experts’, stop reading newspapers and learn to take advantage of uncertainty. Nassim Nicholas Taleb will be delivering lectures on The Black Swan at the University of Oxford on Wednesday 5 March and at the London School of Economics on Thursday 6 March.'

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Asus competition? The Elonex ONE

Just when you thought it was safe ... the competition has only just begun.

At the Education Show Elonex showed their Elonex ONE a sub £100 laptop.
I know nothing more of it at the moment except that it could likely rival the RM Asus minBook which ships in at £169.

The new Elonex ONE also has a Linux OS, WIFI and all of the sorts of things we will begin to expect from these new generation machines. It seems that they expect 200,000 of these ready for shipping in any of five different colours. Yours can be pre-ordered on the web site for a mere £10.

This small laptop was also the device reported by Ray Barker, Director of BESA as one of the main stars of the show. You can hear his comments on the Teacher TV programme here.

I wait to hear what other think of this and to see who next will get into the frame.

Any chance of a £75 laptop ... is it a 'dutch auction'?


Quick Tech Spec Comparison

ASUS miniBook

7" TFT screen
Mobile Intel Celeron-M ULV 900MHz processor
512MB Memory or 1GB Memory (Windows version)
2Gb, 4GB or 8GB (Windows version only) Solid-State Hard Drive Integrated IEEE 802.11b/g wireless
Integrated LAN
3 USB ports
Integrated microphone and speakers
Ports for external microphone and speakers or headphones
Lithium-Ion battery
Asus-developed Linux-based operating system or Windows XP Home with Works and Live Services
Integrated webcam (4G and 8GB model only)
Option of wireless 3G dongle
VGA-out port
SD card reader

Elonex ONE

7” High res TFT LCD; 800 X 400
0.95 KLXN Code 8 mobile 300 MHz processor
Linux Memory 128 MB DDR-II SD RAM
Onboard 1Gb Flash Memory
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g
Ethernet ( wired)
USB 2.0 X 2
Built in speakers
3.5 mm audio in/headphones
3 cell battery – 4 hrs
Linux – Linos 2.6.21 OS
Pre-installed software bundle
QWERTY keyboard ( removable)
Mains Power adapter

It seems to me, at first glance, as is usual in these things , that you will get what you pay for ... time and usage will tell.


Already the comments are coming in re the Elonex ONE read here from Ian Usher of 'Changing the Game'. (Thanks to him for the video at the top of this post)

The Times Online reported a sighting of the ONE back on February 17th (and I missed it !) and this was also picked up on the same day by 'engadget'. Other sightings were on 'jkkmobile' who come up with a Chinese connection.


If you want more just run a Google Alert for the Elonex ONE. At 19.00 on Sunday 2 March there were 13 'mentions'.

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The International Schools Island - in Second Life

I have just spent an interesting, exciting hour on a tour with Chris Smith (of Shambles fame and inspiration behind the International Schools Island in Second Life) of the new island. We travelled the island on specially constructed comfy chairs that followed Chris wherever he went. His arguement for opting for this mode of transport was that he didn't want people new to moving in SL to be disadvantaged by their ability to use the application. A true educationalist, he didn't want the technology to get in the way of the learning esperience.

To get to the island (if you are already a user of SL simply click here and you will be directed.)

If you are a new visitor to the SL experience then:
a) fasten your seatbelt
b) Click here and be directed to SL where you should
i) register yourself (all free ... no need to upgrade to premium)
ii) choose a name for your Avatar (cannot change this later .. be creative)
iii) choose an initial look for your Avatar (can be completely changed later)
iii) download the S.L. viewer (PC or Mac)
c) Fire up the viewer
i) sign in with your Avatar name and password
ii) go through the orientation that has been designed for 'newbies'
d) play / explore

When you have done all of that click here and you will be taken to the ISI

You really need to experience it and then debate the educational potential. Open-mindedness is necessary to see the way forward and certainly all previous experiences of the concepts underpinning teaching and learning will be unnecessary baggage for the journey.

Learning and teaching should not be limited by geography, time or space. Virtuality will have much to offer in this regard. At the moment it is SL that leads the way and is doing much of the R & D or everyone else. Others will surely come to the front in the not too distant future but beware the commercial ventures. Will there be a need or the will to develop an educational resource removed from the commerciality of SL so that a sort of 'purity' can be maintained?

Chris Smith is pushing the boundaries will you be there when it all comes through or will you still be delivering 'lessons' in the tried and tested Victorian manner?


You can watch the whole tour on video here, thanks to Gareth for this.