Saturday, 9 April 2011

PELC11 Day Two

I felt much more confident about the second day of the conference. I'd already met several new faces, and that meant more people I could mingle with and therefore more new people to meet! Such an opportunity presented itself early in the morning. Again, the advantages of picking the stand next to one Russell Prue were shining through, as I noticed Russell speaking to Stephen Heppell (@Stephenheppell), who was due to give a keynote speech to open the second day. With a little encouragement from @ethinking to make an introduction, I took the note-so-subtle approach and introduced myself during a break in their conversation (sorry, Russell!), talking to Stephen about the Student Teacher Resource and my aims. He seemed genuinely enthusiastic about it, offering me some key advice about possible things to share and we had a good chat about things for about 5 minutes. Apparently, some people at he conference would have given their right arm to talk to him for 5 minutes, but I guess 'right place, right time' would be an appropriate phrase.

I'd already felt like I'd achieved something for the day before I went into the keynote speech, but the day had barely begun. Stephen's keynote speech was titled 'What have we learnt from the virtual that we might build in the physical world of education?' and focussed on the idea that children have found so much online that they enjoy that they are now looking for similar experiences in the 'real' classroom.I put 'real' in inverted commas because I think that the spaces in which children learn effectively are no longer limited to a specific place in a specific school. With the advents in modern, mobile technology, children can learn anywhere and at any time. Some of the classrooms that Stephen showed during the keynote included shoeless rooms, unstable stools ('active seating') to allow children to fidget, ovens that freshly bake bread for the children first thing in the morning, and in general very playful learning spaces. A particular highlight for me was when Stephen mentioned that the new generation of teachers will likely be of the highest quality for many years. This made me feel proud to be part of the new generation, but not as proud as when he furthered his conversation by talking about one of the fantastic projects he saw earlier in the day - OUR project! Mentioned by Stephen Heppell in a keynote speech in front of hundreds of people? Hurrah!

So, after meeting with Russell afterwards to apologise for my lack of subtlety earlier, I noticed that we had a new neighbour to our stand. GCSEPod had moved on and were replaced by Education City, the interactive children's resource. I'd only used Ed City's maths games with Year 6 children on a recent placement, but found it to be a fantastic resource. The children loved playing the games and each game was focussed on a specific objective within the curriculum, which meant that it was easy to select the right game for the right lesson. I'd never used it before this, and even then, not outside maths. Talking to other student teachers, I found that they were also singing it's praises for different reasons, phonics, science, etc. So I got talking to the man running the stand and we discussed the possibility of our students getting free access to Education City to take with them on their placements, the idea being that if the schools we were placed at saw its effectiveness, or if we wanted it in our schools when we graduate, that they'd make more sales in the long run. Now (hopefully) all students at the University of Plymouth will have free access to Ed City on their placements, and for a month after they graduate. Not only this, but we discussed briefly the possibility of their involvement with the Student Teacher Resource, which was exciting!

It seemed that a lot had happened today, and yet it was merely lunchtime. After a good plateful of food (than you, University of Plymouth catering department!), I went to go and see what Dan Roberts (@chickensaltash) was presenting at his 'Xbox marks the spot' parallel session. Dan's students have created a virtual, explorable map of the school that formed a game, playable on PC or Xbox, to aid the transition from local primary schools to School. The game was coded in XNA entirely by the students. Dan openly confessed to them that he did not know (Breaking news: Teacher in 'I don't know' shocker!), and played the 'lazy teacher' card to spur the children to take control of their own learning and find out for themselves. The results become even more impressive when you consider the fact that the teachers gave only guidance and pointers and allowed the children to have near total independence. I think this must have been an absolutely magical moment for the teaching staff - When the children realise that there are other ways to learn and then go and pursue those avenues of their own accord, so I fully applaud the chicken man for being able to pull this off, truly remarkable.

The final event of the day was the keynote speech from John Davitt (@johndavitt). John's keynote was titled 'From Silo to Orchestra: The staccato progress of eLearning'. I think that because I'm fairly new to teaching and still getting to grips with the pedagogical side of things, some of this was a little over my head. However, I did take some key ideas away. Firstly, he said 'How will history judge teachers? You had all these tools, but what did you do with them?'. I think this is quite a profound quote, essentially saying 'Look at what you have - use it, don't waste it!'. Definitely made me think about the resources I have at my disposal, and how to use them effectively in my lessons. Secondly, (this man is very quotable, thanks for the help with my future essays!) he said 'Teach less so they learn more'. I think this is quite profound, that in effect we as teachers can get in the way of a child's progress. Just look at what the children at achieved without teacher input, or the children of Sugata Mitra's Hole-in-the-Wall project. The final thing he mentioned that resonated with me is that 'It's not about computers, it's about tools, activities and risk'. This was quite inspiring, and linked nicely back to his first quote. We have a wealth of exciting things, but if we don't try them and use them effectively, then they go to waste. There should be no fear of trying something new.

Just when you think that your day has been exciting enough, I get home, open my emails and find one from the Alumni Assistant, Jack Stevens, telling me 'You have been awarded an Enterprising Britain Student Enterprise Award, which is for an enterprising activity. This is for your activity which involves developing a website to support the development of teaching quality across the Faculty of Education.' Cue grin like a Cheshire cat. It's given me an immense sense of achievement, and I think that everyone involved in the project should be proud at this token of recognition. I want to thank everyone for helping our project take our first few steps, and hopefully we can use this as a springboard to really  hit our stride!

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