Thursday, 31 March 2011

Teen Work

Last night I spent some time in Skoolaborate for the first time since it has moved onto the main grid. My login has only just been sorted! Skoolaborate teachers were invited to see the work that has been done by a group of teens. The students were there, ready and more than willing to show off their work and even though they were teens they were very childlike in the demands to looks at their poster next! They were anxious to talk about their work and their experiences. I was very moved by what I saw. On the surface it is a simple, but very well presented poster display, but the notecards given by the posters were very distressing and clearly were inspired by first hand experiences. After writing about their experiences the students had done research and suggested ways to cope and move forward.

Short quotations from the posters

My mom once experienced domestic violence when she was married to my sister’s dad. She told me that one day she and my sister’s dad got in an argument. When he smacked her so hard that she started dripping blood from her nose. She was wearing glasses so they scraped her nose really hard.

If you’re Latino you won’t be able to get to college because you are going to drop out. That’s how people talk about us. They also call us wetbacks and lazy. They don’t think we deserve an education.

My grandfather died from drinking alcohol. I was 10 years old when my mom told me the story. I felt sad but at the same time mad. I know that alcohol is bad for everyone. I always wondered why he had to drink to his death.

So many people don’t even care about what they do to the earth. For example the factory that burns many things, the smoke is changing the weather. Ok, what about me? You? What are we doing to kill our planet?

It was a Saturday night. I knew something bad was going to happen. My dad was out with his friends drinking. I was with my sisters in the room when. All of a sudden, I heard, “BOOM!” the door closed real hard.

Smack!!!! My older sister got hit by her future husband. My sister started to cry. Her husband told her to stop crying. I got my little baby niece out of the room but I was too afraid to go in the room.

I have seen bald eagles and their tree’s have been cut down. And bald eagles build there nests in houses. Or in city lights around neighborhoods. Because there trees have been cut down and they have no homes.

The statistics for domestic violence and alcohol related problems where they live are horrifying. These are teens.... it is so sad that they have to live through these things :-(

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The 4th Virtual Round Table March 2011

The 4th Virtual Round Table 2011 has taken place this weekend with
• 5 plenaries/ panel discussions
• an Adobe ConnectPro and a Second Life strand
• 18 presentations
• 16 workshops
• a Pecha Kucha Night
• an Open Mic session

The Virtual Round Table is planned by Heike Philps, Shelly Terrell and Berni Wall and takes place in Adobe Connect and Second Life. It is a free, totally on-line conference for language teachers primarily, and a very inspiring event.
It has been a fantastic few days with some amazing presentations such as Barbara Sakamoto's Little Tech for Big Results, Janet Bianchini's Storytelling in a Digital Era, Tyson Seburn's Soundcloud for listening and writing practice and mLearning: an introduction - by Gavin Dudeney and Nicky Hockly. There were masses of wonderful presentations for language teachers, but my interest is in the technology more than anything else.

I have to say that the Pecha kucha was quite amazing - I am still laughing at Marisa's event, it was without doubt the funniest presentation that I have seen. I don't know how she carried it off, she must have practiced for ages to do it without laughing but it was good. Recordings will be available soon!

The open mic night was somthing of a revelation too, Bernie has a lovely voice :-) Sue singing the VRT song was wonderful - I had only heard Heike's rendition before the event… it was good Heike - but don't give up the day job!

The party was fun - I think everyone was a bit exhausted by then but I have some lovely pictures

For loads more information, wonderful photos and videos very soon keep an eye on

The Naace Conference 2011

Well - back from the Naace conference for three days now and I have still not got to grips with my thoughts of the whole event. It was great seeing Sugata Mitra present, he has long been a hero of mine. Sometimes when one is looking forward to a preso it can be disappointing but in this case it was just wonderful. I was slightly worried, having seen You Tube videos of his talks that there would be nothing new but it was superb.

His new pedagogy - " I have no idea I am going now, see you in eight weeks," still has me giggling. His SOLE - Self organised learning environment - is a story to inspire. Some of the new things he added to this talk were about primary children answering GCSE questions in 20 minutes, the children in Hong Kong answering how an ipad knows where they are thus mastering trigonometry without even knowing what it is called and The Hyderabad Experiment where very strong accents were a problem to teaching English and students were not getting jobs. Sugata set up computers with speech to text software which did not understand the children's accents so returned rubbish, he told them that the software was fine they needed to make it understand, then he used his wonderful pedagogy when the children asked him what they had to do. When he returned he met a child and he asked how they had got on, apparently the child replied in perfect English "Fantastic." He queried the children to find that they had downloaded the Oxford Talking Dictionary and learned how to pronounce the words that they knew properly :-)

I loved Ollie Bray's session about gaming! There is so much information about the Consolarium and so many recordings of his sessions I will not attempt to write it up here - but it was inspiring!

Ewan Macintosh kicked off the conference reminding us why ICT needs to be taught in schools, tinkering with the curriculum is what ministers do but what they need to do is invest money into CPD!

There were so many inspiring talks and breakout sessions I can't begin to write it all out. The one session that I really enjoyed though was towards the close, it was Geoff Stead talking about
Mobile learning: Can smaller = more personal AND more effective?
From the programme:
"There is an amazing convergence point happening right now. After several years of creative, disruptive and technological tension there is an emerging consensus of how new and mobile technologies can add real and meaningful value to today’s learners.

This convergence is steering us towards opening schools up, allowing students to use a range personal devices and encouraging schools to adopt “collaborative project based” approaches to new technologies.

These solutions are by no means straightforward. “techno-hype” and “supplier enthusiasm” can quite often drown out the most important of lessons. Sometimes local problems can only be solved with local solutions whatever the global enthusiasts tell you.

Geoff will be challenging UK schools to look at lessons learned further afield. Post-school. In work. In health. In Africa. Across the globe. He will also be presenting a range of tools and ideas to support practitioners looking to adopt some of these emerging lessons."

Geoff started his talk with a video clip from You Tube showing how mobile devices can really help in times of crisis:

He shared a site offering a collection of Research papers - having read a few there is some really interesting stuff here! He did mention that there are some tools in the making - whether these are cross platform, useful for education or what I can't say, still waiting for an answer to an e-mail :(

Sadly this is now well out of date, it seems to have lurked in draft for two weeks - hmmm - some catching up to do!
It has been so long in the waiting all of the conference videos are on-line now - maybe only for Naace members though :-( that seems a bit sad to me - it will hardly encourage membership!!

Also - nearly forgot with the passage of time :-) I receieved my Certified Naace Professional certificate after the gala dinner - quite an honour!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

A lovely Day

Well I guessed right but it did not go quite as planned, Andrew's work van broke down on the way back to work to drop it off so I had to get H out of bed early to go and tow him in :-) H got out of bed after only 3 hours sleep and dressed - jeans and t shirt - ready to tow a van in! This is significant - when they got back we had a houseful and he did not change, now does not like the photos :-(

Clem arrived in their car with the meat which we got started, Pete and Helen rushed over as soon as they heard to get the veggies all prepped, by the time Andy got here it was as if he had started on time :-) This is good - Andy is a little stressed just now as trying to stop smoking!

Sadly three of the family could not get to us due to work but 14 of us sat down to dinner about 2pm; our best man and his wife, lifelong friends, and the family. Everyone who walked into the house seemed to have an armful of food! They had it planned down to the last fine detail. Andrew phoned Helen last night realising he had boobed saying that no-one had told him mum didn't know..... doghouse for Andy ;-)

The sun shone, it was uncommonly hot for March and we spent some time outside with all of the family dogs!

I was presented with a huge pink box, I had already had to move it to lay the table and knew it was a light as a feather :-) Inside was a helium filled balloon with two tickets for a hot air balloon flight attached to the ribbon, on the 9th April we are going hot air ballooning - our present :-)

The day has been quite wonderful, a lovely surprise and celebration.

The Cat's out of the Bag

Had a phone-call from one of my sons last night - "Mum there is an accident on the A34 - I am stuck behind it, need to get to Woodstock and Chippy to deliver can you see if you can find a route for me?"

So - I start to open maps and road news pages to see what is going on an where and Andrew keeps chatting….

"Clem and I will be over quite early tomorrow…"

Fine I say, but Phill and Vicky usually come mid - morning (his twin and twin's wife whose son's birthday it was in the week - me thinking they wanted to see Woody for his birthday!)

Andrew - Oh is it Woody's birthday?

Me - beginning to get puzzled - Yes it was Wednesday! Also your dad will not get to bed until 5.30am so he will not be up until about 10-30…

Andrew - but Helen (his sister) said we have to sit down at 2.30 and I need to get the meat on…

Ahhhh - suddenly these oddments come together and he has let the cat out of the bag. It is our 30th wedding anniversary on Monday and the family are clearly planning a huge family gathering today - Andrew is cooking - I can understand their choice, he is an excellent cook, it will be like Christmas again :-)

So I have done the house, am dressed in better than usual Saturday jeans and t shirt - just waiting to see what unfolds :-)

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Royal purple


Wonderful - I posted it by mobile phone to Posterous and it ended up here :-) Hmmmmmm one wonders how. Investigation time!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Our Last ICT Conference

Today was our annual conference - the last one! A really fantastic day even though my feet hurt so badly now :-)

We split the building into four areas:

The Virtual Zone - showing off Learning Platform work and the use of Second Life for e-safety sessions. Children shared what they have been doing, teachers shared resources, we had a spoof video clip on the difference between the learning platform and Facebook by 11 year olds ... hmmmm ;-) I was in the virtual room and I kept losing the children to the games and mobile zones - wonder why??? Once I got a group in ready for their preso I had to bribe them with my iPad and iPhone to keep them there!

The Mobile Zone - schools showing off and talking about the use of laptop trolleys, netbook trolleys, iPod sets, mobile phone work, iPad, tablets and more (actually there was a lot of control work with Probots and Lego in that room too) it was buzzing and lively, I just wondered why the teachers were playing with the ipod touches for up to 30 minutes at a time :-) We have a tiny SMS to develop reading skills project that has just started and the teacher was in the mobile zone to talk about it. Amazingly she said at the end that loads of secondary teachers were astounded and thought it might be a good idea to let pupils use their phones in class.... wow from tiny acorns...

The Creative Zone - where Apple have been demonstrating all of the wonderful capabilities of the Apple software and launching our creative trials of MacBooks for green screen video, podcasting etc., there was an Apple Distinguished educator there all days demonstrating what could be achieved - hands on - wish I could have been there all day! Also there were pupils demonstrating stop motion animation all day with a swap over of pupils at half time :-)

The Games Based Learning Zone where teachers could see pupils using DSis, Wiis, PSPs, Kinect etc and explore how they can be used to inspire classroom projects. It is frightening just how quickly the children learn new skills such as those needed for various games on the Kinect and just how poor the adults were on the same learning curve.

Both an inspiring and sad day!  Inspiring as there was so much creativity that was being shared by children and teachers in all of the different zones but also a wide range of  great resources on show in the exhibition hall.

All of the Oxfordshire schools that attended had their evaluation forms put into a hat and a grand raffle will be drawn tomorrow to complete the event. The prizes - some 50 or more lots - is all of the kit that we have been using for years as a LA ICT team. Netbooks trolleys, laptop trolleys, ipods, cameras, sets of cameras, control kit, data sensing kit, flip cams, IWBs, projectors, wiis, DSis all sorts!

I not sure how I feel about it all - very sad obviously, glad the kit is going into schools not into a skip like so much unwanted county kit but the big county consultation document shows that my job is going, the building we use closes on the 31st July, and still two of us have not been informed about anything yet so could be expected to turn up to teach on the 1st August with no training room or facilities :-)

It was very touching to realise how many teachers are concerned for us, everyone asked what is happening and if we have heard anything yet. One of the big companies said that if I go independent to let them know and they will try to send some training my way - aren't people lovely?

Sunday, 6 March 2011

mLearning - a completely on-line course

Having delivered a fair few but strangely not actually done one before, I have recently finished taking part in my first ever completely on-line training course. I really enjoyed it! It was so different from any other courses that I have done.

Most courses that I have done over the years have been one or two day training events - EPICT, CEOP, ICT Assessor training etc., where I went somewhere, took part in something and was "trained."

Thinking back to one of the last real life training courses I did for my degree, it involved me driving home from school as early as I could get away. Cooking dinner and leaving family to fend for themselves. Driving for an hour to get to the university in Oxford. Getting into the library for as long as possible before the course session began at 8pm. Into the room for 1.5 hours of note taking etc during the lecture,  an hour's drive home, wash up, sort out lunches, clothes etc. for next day and fall into bed by about midnight! Every week the children were abandoned either to mother-in-law or husband if he was on the day shift. I know it is fair to say they all disliked it! Tis true that was about 1993 and before the Internet had made life so much easier!

With no children these days and consequently much more freedom from time constraints when I said to my husband that I wanted to do a 6 week training course he more happily agreed saying to go ahead and sign up. He asked which night it was - I replied whenever I want to do it. He asked how long it would take and I replied about 5 hours a week. I still think he thought I would be away from home.

The course was 30 hours spread over 6 weeks with each week's work being made available on Tuesday evening.  I logged in on the first night and read the week's instructions, decided I needed to do as much as possible during the week to leave the weekend to family visits, housework and planning my real work for the following week as usual, so got stuck in and did the work. It soon became very clear that the on-line course enabled much more delegate interaction than I ever was aware of in the face to face course, we had forums to discuss work, to chat in, and one to sort out technical issues. We were in touch with each other!

In the face to face course I basically rushed in at the last minute, sat and listened taking notes and rushed out at the end, a typical lecture scenario, I did have tutorial time when it came to discussing my dissertation, then a further tutorial to finalise things but had little interaction with anyone really, the most being a few minutes class discussion at the end of each session.

In the on-line course I was completely free to decide when to work, all of the resources for the course had been made available or were on the web with links provided. The reading list was easily accessible, I was not fighting everyone else on the course to get one of a handful of copies held by the library - and then return them for the rest of the delegates on the course!

There were only two hours in the whole course that were scheduled, live on-line discussions, but they were recorded for people who could not attend.

It also was very obvious that everyone on the course really wanted to do it, delegates were enthusiastic about trying out new stuff and sharing their experiences.  I learned people's names, something of their work situations and interests. People were from several different countries, working in different circumstances with different age groups, bringing between them a huge wealth of experience to the work and all willing to share their knowledge. The course was exhilarating in a way I never expected it to be. I had a wonderful time!

I would absolutely recommend on-line courses to anyone wandering whether to try one or procrastinating in any form about their value. For people not used to planning their own time a little discipline may be needed but the benefits of this on-line course were great and the learning opportunities are enhanced massively.

This particular course was mLearning being run by The Consultants-E, for more information about their courses see, many thanks to Nicky and Gavin who ran and moderated the course and to all of the delegates who shared their experiences so freely!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

A Holiday in The Gambia

I have just returned from a week's holiday in The Gambia. The week was supposed to be just relaxation but once we got there we signed up for a few outings - can't resist looking round just a little bit :-) We flew into Banjul international airport where there was a veritable battle over our cases with dozens of porters trying to get them onto their trolley… it was clearly going to be one of "those" holidays… tourism is one of the biggest trades and people need to make a living from it! It is a very poor country with over 1/4 of its people living below the international poverty line. It was quite funny though - we paid a porter to take the cases to the door, another to take them to the coach, a third held his handout to put them onto the coach!

The Gambia is a long, thin, low lying, small country moving inland from West Africa along the River Gambia. It has two quite clearly defined areas, north which is westernised and south which is largely traditional.  It has tropical weather and the charts show that the temperature in February is about 32 degrees. It wasn't when we were there!! I don't think it got down to 32, it was over 40 most of the time!

We stayed out of town in the middle of nowhere at a place called Brufut, there was nothing much except the hotel so it was very quiet and peaceful. Nearby areas such as  the Senegambia strip and Bakau town are pretty modern places with bars, restaurants and places of entertainment as well as shops, supermarkets, chemists etc.
There is a good tarmac road from the airport to where the hotels are, the locals call it the M1, there is another road going from east to west - apparently the M25 :-) Road signs etc are few and far between. tarmac is a rarity with sand being the common surface. In the rainy season roads are virtually impassable because of mud so the cars that people have over there are mostly 4 X 4s.

The river is about 700 miles long and up to 11 miles wide. We travelled the tributaries for a day seeking out beautiful birds in the mangroves. This day out was booked at the hotel, a coach was laid on to pick us up and take us to the boatyard. First impressions of the boat - well let's not go there :-)  We had two choices, sundeck or bar so we chose the sundeck. We were ordered to take our flip flops off - "shoes off, shoes off…" so we obliged and walked up the steps to see spread before us about 6 mattresses with frayed, ancient covers, wet from the low lying cloud over night - and all looking rather dilapidated.  As soon as the sun broke through though everything dried and we were set for the day. Coffee with brandy was served soon after we arrived, the most beautiful, light, crisp garlic bread mid moorings, champagne and orange juice just after that and lunch not long after that!! We were spoiled rotten. The birds were a little shy, but pelicans, stalks, whimbrel, oytsercatchers  and loads of others, I have no clue what they were called, were all there to be seen and photographed. After lunch we had a swimming stop. This was a revelation! One poor lady wanted to get in the water to cool down but was worried about the depth - apparently about 7 mts., I got in expecting to swim but it was so salty that was impossible, all I could do was float. When the lady lacking in water confidence saw me bobbing about on top she realised she had no worries. Neither swimming nor sinking was going to happen.

We spent a day travelling in the south looking at villages, there are still villages that  have to draw water from a pump house well. Children are not usually allowed near the wells, obviously any breakage would result in the loss of water to the whole village, but the villagers are clearly used to the old Bedford Army wagons arriving and know that means visitors - so the children were out in force asking for sweets and money, showing us how the well works and displacing folks actually gathering water who seemed to disappear into the background leaving us to the tender mercies of the village  young.

Extended families live in family compounds. This is normal and commonplace. In muslim areas these compounds may include several wives and sets of children. It seems that children, however young, look after the next age down, we saw that as a recurring pattern wherever we went. Tiny children gathered up even tinnier children and carried them around :-)

We drove for miles along sand tracks, past several villages and family compounds. We saw miles of walled off plots of land. Apparently people buy a plot of land and put a wall around it. As and when it is needed for a house, or they have money to build, they may build a wall or two. Over a period of years a house may appear on the plot. Meanwhile the termites build their homes on these plots with no thought whatsoever for the owners! A "comfort stop" was on the schedule, we stopped, in the bush, ladies to the right and gents to the left please :-) That was a bit of a shock to first time visitors!
As we passed one village we saw a large group of vultures. Apparently this was the place where carcasses were put, they were eating a dog at the time. The guide called them Sanitary inspectors!

We arrived, eventually at a village school. The Government provides school buildings and teachers but parents have to provide school uniforms, food etc.,  for some families that is impossible so some children still do not go to school. The headteacher at the school we visited was quite a lady! She opened with two classes, invited the tourists, invites them to leave as much money and goods as they can and uses it for education. She now has ten classrooms, a library almost complete and 550 children on role. There is an accommodation block for the teachers, whose monthly wage is about 500 dalasai (£12.50) each and the children are fed once a day at school.
The children sang and danced for us - it was delightful! They showed us their vegetable plots, where they sell the surplus food, their classes etc. They were all talking in English and many of them, at least the older ones, could hold a reasonable conversation with us in English. Looking back into the room where we had been invited to leave all of our wordily wealth and virtually everything else too, my husband saw the headteacher and travel guide squabbling over the binoculars he had put in the box :-) She won!

The music and dancing was spectacular, we watched groups several times over the week, their costumes were lovely, very colourful, very sparkly!  They sang, danced, did fire eating, all sorts with the most amazing energy.  There seemed to be lots of symbolism in the dancing, sadly I had no idea what most of it represented.

Several nights, after dinner, in the dark we walked along the beach. It is the Atlantic Ocean and huge rolling waves break onto the shore sending brine in white fluffy lines onto the sand.  The first time we went, as we walked, we realised the "brine" was running hell for leather back to the water as we moved. There were hundreds of white crabs from the tiniest things as small as my little finger nail up to about 6 inches across. I tried to film them but did not have the right equipment there :-(

To see photographs from the Gambia Click here

I am not convinced that I want to return - we love Africa with its colour, music, traditions, crowded, roadside stalls selling anything, animals wandering freely etc, but it is getting quite westernised and losing it's appeal in the process. Also it is still very poor, that one can do so little for them whilst there is quite upsetting.