The Chimp Paradox – why school leaders at all levels should read this book

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I heard Professor Steve Peters speak at the ASCL conference about his work and his book.  As well as being a very entertaining speaker his ideas seemed to make sense, essentially a model for how your brain works and how to learn to work with the primitive aspects to the brain.

I’ll confess I didn’t read the book in the traditional sense but I listened to the book, read by Prof Peters himself (courtesy of my Audible subscription).  I find non-fiction books hard to read and thought an audio book would be easier than reading.  With a hundred minutes in the car each day the audiobook was indeed better than a paper copy although I did have a tendency to let my mind wander (probably because you don’t get the same kind of imagery in your brain as you do reading a fiction book).

The first few chapters of the book covered the material Steve used in his talk about the chimp, the computer and the human in your brain (SEN teachers will be able to relate to the concept of the chimp being in control!).  As well as giving a model to explain how your brain works, the purpose of the book is to train you how to program the brain, replacing the things that happen instinctively with things that you would prefer happen.  This is then extended into target/goal setting for yourself and for working with others.

The book avoids using terminology that would bamboozle readers and keeps things simple, explaining why you have to set and follow the strategies set if you want to succeed (and some excellent advice about finding a partner).  I would recommend this book to people from all walks of life who want improve their lives by achieving success, happiness and confidence!

 

Microsoft Office add-ons that everyone should know about

 

Microsoft Office Remote
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I’ve got a clicker in my drawer but it’s a bit hit and miss, and unless you can see your screen you never know what slide is coming next.  The first of my tools is a solution for this.  Available for Android and Windows phone, Microsoft Office Remote is a remote control for Office.  The most obvious use is as a smart clicker in PowerPoint but it can also be used to scroll through word documents and even change between sheets in Excel.

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This application requires a small install on your bluetooth-enabled PC (downloaded from Microsoft) and the app on your phone ( Android and Windows phone versions available).

Office Lens

My second apps is a useful tool for teachers who use whiteboards a lot or who need to capture hand-written text.  Also from the Microsoft stable, Office Lens is an app that captures, trims and stores photos and then converts them into a format that you can edit further (including using OCR).  This has a variety of uses from simply capturing text on a white board to be distributed as revision notes, to editing and building on these notes back on the computer.  There are versions available for Android, Windows phone and iOS.

Leave me a comment if you found either of these tools useful.

When did I stop thinking of myself as a science teacher and become a school leader?

Coming back on the train from the ASCL conference yesterday I sat reflecting on my weekend with heads and school leaders and my own position in school.

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In the past I’ve always thought of myself as a science teacher and that’s how I’ve introduced myself.  I’m a regional secretary of the ASE and heavily involved in the promotion of good quality science education, I’ve blogged about science teaching and people associate me with science teaching.

I’ve been doing my current job (albeit with a number of titles and contracts) for nearly three years now so perhaps the change has been gradual.  I still teach science (my current teaching commitment is two days including PPA) and when I stand in front of a class I’m their science teacher.  When I sit down at the weekend to plan I’m a science teacher and my focus is on planning science lessons that allow my students to make progress.

So what’s changed?  What’s the difference?  I spend more of my free time thinking of whole school issues like data, Ofsted, curriculum and exams and I spend less of my time thinking about science teaching.  I’m also aware of the expectation that I lead by example so when I’m lesson planning I have high expectations of myself, higher when I was just a science teacher.   The biggest change is how I see myself rather than how others see me (they took less time to get used to the stripes on my shoulders!)

Does this make a difference to how I do my job? No but it does make a difference to how I use my time and in future it will make more of a difference to who I chose to follow and interact with on Twitter.  I’m still here to answer questions and I hope that people still get in touch with me as they always have if they want to ask me about science teaching and SEN.  Maybe my site will take a new direction as I am able to write about more of the problems I face as a school leader and how I’ve gone about tackling them.

 

Activate science – half way through the first year

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I’ve been using Activate for six months now so I thought it was time for an update.  I have seen much discussion on #ASEchat and I know schools out there are considering the switch.

I’ve used Activate as a structure on which to do my own thing.  I’ve kept to the topics, the lesson content (roughly) but that’s where it stops.  I use the teacher guide if I need help with levelled learning outcomes or ideas for a topic.  The rest of the information given for each lesson is probably useful to new teachers but as an old-timer I find most of it superfluous.

Kerboodle.  What can I say about Kerboodle?  The first thing is that I won’t be subscribing next year.  I know that will take away updates and interactive materials but as I haven’t used them this year, I won’t miss them next year.  The resources on Kerboodle seem to be intended for schools that have an unlimited photocopying budget and a desire to use up the forests of the world.  I’ve not used many of the resources for this reason – yes my students have SEN but quite honestly I can knock up better while blindfolded and using my nose to work the trackpad…

I’ve not used any of the interactive and assessment materials on Kerboodle and don’t think the subscription fee is worth it for these.  (I didn’t set it up because I knew I wouldn’t be using it next year).

I’ve not taught the year 7 units so I can’t comment on these, but the year 8 modules are ok.  The content flows and students have enjoyed the activities (although I’ve probably inserted in a few extra practical activities of my own).  I’ve not used the text books with students at all, and I managed to cancel my order of class sets which has helped keep my costs down.  Year 8 have certainly enjoyed their science – the only downside (which comes with covering the curriculum in two years) is the fast pace of the content.

This brings me to year 9.  I’ve tried to think of something positive to say about this but I can’t.  It is clearly written for more able and engaged learners but a lot of the content is dry.  Very dry. I managed to plod through genetics but the new technologies section is what finally killed it for me.  If I want to go to sleep just reading the overview, there is little hope of engaging my learners.  I found it so dull that I’ve dropped it already and moved the group onto KS4 early.

So there you have it.  I would suggest that schools should develop something that suits their learners and use Activate as a starting point rather than a definitive scheme.  If you have good access to IT either at home or school (or preferably both) you might find the Kerboodle subscription useful but I didn’t (apart from not having to carry home the textbook to help me plan).

How did you find Activate?  Have I been too harsh or do  you agree with me?  I’d be interested to hear your comments below.

Where did your free teaching resources go?

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You’ve probably come to this post because you are wondering where did my free resources go?  The good news is that I haven’t stopped sharing them, the bad news is that I’ve had to change the way I go about doing this.

Unfortunately technology moves very quickly and the wordpress plugin that I was using hasn’t been updated for several years and poses a security risk to my site (and in turn to visitors of my site).  This means I have had to look for a new way to make these files available.

The files are now hosted on Microsoft OneDrive in which I have plenty of storage.  More importantly it allows me to easily embed folder links into a WordPress page, and to update these folders without having to tinker with the site.  This isn’t as easy for Google Drive or Dropbox (who require a paid upgrade for the functionality I require).

Unfortunately I can’t just share my working folders as these contain copyrighted materials (from bought in resources) and modified versions of other teachers work (for example downloaded from the TES) that I am unable to give credit for.  I’ve taken the opportunity to group resources together and simplify the categories under which they are grouped. I realise that the new system is not as convenient as the old but there a limited number of free plugins available on WordPress which provide the functionality I need.

If you have any questions about the change, or you think you know a better way of sharing my resources then please let me know by leaving a comment below.

British Values – what it looks like in my special school

We are expecting Ofsted soon so it may be that we spend more time thinking about our provision than other schools do.  British Values is a political hot potato at the moment, and I have heard confusion from teachers in other schools about what it actually means.  The good news is that a big chunk of the content just happens, delivered as part of normal schooling by conscientious teachers.  Of course that makes it harder to track.

What I’ve done is taken the British Values as defined in DFE/Ofsted publications and then added a few supplementary ones of my own (we are a special school and there are more values our students need to learn).  I’ve mapped our assembly programme against the British Values (although this is fairly fluid as assembly rotas change for a variety of unforeseen circumstances).  I’ve also mapped our PHSE days on the same grid, so that there is an at-a-glance view of where British values are planned for.

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Of course there are lots of places in the curriculum where British values are taught, and it isn’t possible to map and evidence them all.  It’s easy to say where these values are being taught, but how do you know if you are being effective?  How do you measure impact?

Unfortunately it isn’t possible to see your students in the future, speaking on National TV about the minimum wage or visiting a polling station on election day.  You can hold mini-elections and debates, putting these skills into use but how do you know if what you see is down to  your teaching?

I’m a scientist and I work with data and evidence.  I’m also a bit of a SIMS.net geek which is where I get my evidence from.  I looked at the categories of behaviour linked to tolerance and respect and filtered out other types of behaviour (this is especially important in a special school where something as simple as a change in routine can cause an incident of non-cooperation to be recorded).  By adding a trend line to my data it is possible to see a downward trend in negative behaviour points, or in other words an improvement in behaviour.  It isn’t possible to say if this is down to our work on British Values or just a coincidence but I look forward to discussing this data with Ofsted should they ask about impact of British values.

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I would love to hear from others who have an interest in British Values.  If you have any questions or information to share, please leave a comment below.

Read magazines like New Scientist for free (good for teaching ideas)

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Teachers need to keep their subject knowledge up to date.  I can still remember one of my lecturers at university in an epidemiology lecture telling me that one day John Selwyn Gummer would come to regret feeding his daughter those beef burgers. In the twenty years that have elapsed since, we’ve know a lot more about CJD and have put measures in place to tackle it.  By reading and watching the news, I’ve been able to build on and update what I already learned back at uni.

I’ve blogged before about ways of developing subject knowledge (a little out of date now) and using internet websites to help that.  I’ve recently discovered two ways of reading magazines for free or cheaply.

Using your library

I’m guessing that the days of the library service could be numbered but in the meanwhile you should be using the service that your tax contributions have paid for.  Lots of local authorities buy into a service where you can check out magazines and read them inside the Zinio app – this can be on a tablet, phone or laptop (or all three!).  I would suggest that you start on your county library pages.  New Scientist is only one of the magazines you can check out, others include BBC wildlife, National Geographic and even computer magazines.

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Readly

I discovered Readly this Christmas.  Basically it is like Netflix for magazines where a flat fee (£9.99 a month with a one month free trial) gives you access to dozens of different publications.  You can even change the country in the app and read American magazines if this floats your boat.  Titles of interest to the teacher include BBC Focus, Wonderpedia and the Sky at Night.

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I’m sure that much of the content in these magazines is available on the internet for free, but if you are old school like me, you can’t beat sitting down with a cup of tea and reading a magazine (even if it is on an iPad!)

Leave me a comment if you use either of these services?  What magazines do you read and find useful? (and which are the opposite?)