Monday, 6 May 2013

How high up is the school in the cloud?

It's the start of May already, the sun (I think it's the sun, its been a while!) is shining and exam leave is upon us. The fourths years left for exam leave a week ago and have already completed their standard grade mathematics exam. It will be a while yet till we discover has our labour really paid off but the vast majority were happy with what seemed very fair exam papers. The fifth and sixth years took their leave on Friday, some celebrated their last day of school by hosting an impromptu home economics lesson with eggs in the dining area and around the front doors.  There was also some colourful fancy dress and some less colourful and more scary in many different ways. I think one of the reasons some people could have a fear of clowns is the scary (or ugly) looking ones that turn up on days like this!

I am not a massive fan of the way the Scottish have constructed their school year but changing something like that is, way, way above my pay grade to such an extent it is but a dot in the sky to me. In Ireland school starts in September and finishs in May for the majority and those taking exams continue into June. Not so simple in Scotland, school starts in the second week of August and carries onto the end of June. Those sitting exams go on exam leave normally around now (the last week in April) and could sit exams anytime between the end of April and the first week in June. What complicates it further is that the new timetable will start around the start of June and in the space of a weekend, first years will become second years, second years will become third years and so on up the school. It is all very messy and very scattered in my opinion. There are pros to having the year structured like this. One of the massive pros is that it brings to an end the busiest time of year. At the moment there are loads of reports to write (for me first years and second years, about 70 in total), assessments, prelims and NABS to be done and marked, planning continues and must begin in earnest for next 'year' which starts very soon and things like working groups are finishing up and presentations and reports must be made. It brings a breadth of fresh air to the year and you can really focus on setting up courses. Last week was crazy and the week before that equally so. Every week since Easter has been full on and I have been trying in vain since then to catch up on my blog since then with no success. I am still 'developing' when it comes to writing this blog but forever the optimist I believe I can get a handle on it. It's not just this blog I have been trying to catch up on. I still have some work to do for my 'teaching and learning' working group and hopefully I can get that done this week. I also have to continue to develop the National 3 Lifeskills curriculum so we can implement that. Thankfully time has been given to get this done and each teacher has been given a days cover to help beat into it. Success on that front should come in the next three weeks.

The last thing I want to work on is the lessons I teach, some lessons I have taught this year have been awesome and really enjoyable for both the students and myself. I am pretty happy with the standard of lessons I am teaching but I still feel I can improve or at least do some slightly differently. Once you hit the May Bank Holiday you can take a breadth, reflect on what has been and think of what might be different if it were all to be done again. Since I have a month where I have no fourth, fifth or sixth years I can really focus on the remaining three classes and try and raise the bar again. I was watching a TED video by Sugata Mitra ( and thought maybe I am doing to much teaching and it is time to hand some more responsibility over to the students. Sugata Mata believes that the education system we have today, based on the Victorian system used across the British Empire is no longer fit for purpose. He believes that children given the right encouragement and not burdened with assessment can, using the tools of today learn by themselves. He experimented by leaving computers in remote villages in India for children to access and though they did not speak English (all downloaded content was in English) or had ever seen a computer they achieved incredible results in learning by themselves. If you have 20 minutes spare the video is well worth a look. His main idea is that if you give a child a 'big' question they will be able through curiosity and the interweb be able to find an answer. What I am thinking of doing is not so grand or big at all but does involve the students doing their own learning and teaching. I will take the text books off my S1's and S2's, put them in groups and pose them their own big question. Something like 'How tall is the school and how could we measure it using mathematics?' Hopefully they would come back with some Trigonometry but it would be interesting none the less. They would have to go away, research the question, collaborate in their groups and then teach the class. It will take a lot of direction I think, but I don't want to do too much more than manage their time so as not to stifle their creativity. I could then assess both the students and 'teachers' to see how they have got on, this kind of goes against the idea a little bit but I will have to think of someway to to check for understanding. I will put the Smartboard and a class set of iPads at their disposal and encourage them to go nuts. Technology will play a huge part in their lives so it should play its part. Maybe they will make a video or a Prezi or a podcast or something?! The idea is still in its infancy, I have much to think about and better run the idea past the boss but I have high hopes that we could have a lot of fun and much could be learned. I also want to make sure that the questions cover the work and topics we still have to do and that we can get it done in the time left. If it all goes pear shaped we can always knuckle down and recover the work as time is on our side. I will also try to blog it on a daily basis so as to document it, I can now blog on my smartphone so it should make life easier. I am excited, onwards and very much upwards..

In other news last week my Curriculum Leader came to observe me, as is good practice, teach my S3 class. This is my most challenging class but the hard work has payed off as the working relationship no longer suffers dips after holidays, we are getting some serious work done and most importantly we are having fun whilst we learn. The lesson went really well and everyone was happy. What was humorous about the lesson was that every single student was present. I had not had a full class on one single day for a few weeks but Murphy knowing full well that this observation was taking place decided to use his law that day! It is never a dull moment in that class as there is a lot of issues to deal with but we have a lot of fun during our learning and I hope we all get back together again before the next observation!

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