Tools

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I have been trawling the web – catching the mere fragrance of a Wi-Fi signal from poolside – for a complete set of tools to aid my Masters Research. And when I find a glimmer of hope, it turns out to be a Mac-based solution/workflow.

I know.  Switch off and relax, I hear you say.

I already use Scrivener for document management of both my academic reading resources and my own writings; Evernote will be pressed into service as my sole data collection tool; Mendeley is my academic reference manager of choice.  I also have Atlas.ti to assist with coding, and it is proving quite intimidating – and that’s only from reading the mini manual.  More on ‘coding’ in a future posting.

So: Scrivener, Evernote, Mendeley, Atlas.ti. 

I’m hoping that Scrivener will allow for an external folder to be mapped to its project structure so that it and the desktop version of Evernote can both utilise its content, which will use the ‘MSc Digital Education’ notebook I have created and organised into folders that mimic that of my Research Dissertation.

I have a skeleton prepared within Scrivener, and the metaphor used is very similar to Microsoft Explorer where you can nest folders within each other as well as documents.  From my web readings many students note that the benefit of this feature is that it actually assists the thinking of the research workflow as well as the structure of the eventual discussion that your piece of work is intending to convey.

Fine-grained?  One can actually reduce a section or page into a number if separate text documents which are then included (or excluded) when the project is compiled into the final target document. Notes/annotations can be added as meta-data and which can be viewed via the corkboard overview feature. 

(I think this would benefit pupils who struggle to paragraph and others who would benefit from having a permanently displayed scaffold for their writing).

I hope as the conclusion of thing that I am not the proverbial ‘bad workman’.

Adios!

A Visitation

The clock has started…

I received a visit from my MSc Supervisor last Tuesday, and he had kindly come from Edinburgh to speak about Literary, Science and games-based learning.

A delightful buffet, ice-breaker conversation that included two distinguished colleagues and them we were underway.

Data. Limits.  What exactly am I looking to analyse?

Well I’ve recently become less fearful in modifying my original Research Question, including the key points it hoped to explore: this is key because one of the suggestions was scope, the corollary being the volume and management of the generated data.

Gantt Charts are useful (but sometimes they are all consuming) and I have two, a ‘micro’ and a ‘macro’.  The meta level planning – academic reading, literature review, questionnaires, observations, data collation,  analysis, write up and submission …

The micro identifies the daily (and lesson plan) ‘action research’ activities across the 5 weeks between 6th January and the first week of February.  The first two weeks are aimed at providing pupils with the backstory to their imagined Mars landing, as well as allowing them time to acclimatise to the GUI, their team (of 4).

Being the kernel to the focus if analytical lens of Activity Theory (CHAT) , we then have three weeks of learning where pupils adopt the tool of Mars Colony Challenger and I observe m activities that I hope are transformative in knitting together ‘seeded’ Science curricular knowledge, in-game immersion and literacies.  (Amazon provided two cheap but capable tripods for the department Flip cameras to deliver this rich qualitative data set.)

Pupil journals, observations of group discussion, records of reading occurrences of multiple media forms (even F1 Help provides a ‘text’) and weekly triangulation with my ‘Science Guy’ to assess the progress of pupils’ competence against a set of ‘SCN-‘ Es & Os.

An ‘exit questionnaire’ or report task will provide us with a testing instrument against which will be applied pre-questionnaire knowledge.

A number of ‘ENG-‘ outcomes have been defined,  but the majority are Literacy focused and cover Reading, Writing, Listening(Watching) and Talking.  In conjunction with activity system diagrams, activity narratives and the application of the aforementioned Es & Os I will look at additional ‘codes’ that present themselves through MCC use and ‘curious play’.

Common ground? Literacy.  And how will the addition of a multi-user simulation software application immerse and engage pupils in applying their learning within a collaborative virtual environment? 

Findings.

Masters Proposal – First Draft

070302.Mars.melting

It has been a long time since I have posted; I aim to address this by using this space to explore my thoughts, concerns, fears, anxieties – every facet concerning the MSc. in Digital Education, which will be undertaken (part-time) at the University of Edinburgh.

Many thanks to The Scottish Government for facilitating the completion of this Masters-level study. (And special “thanks” to those wonderful people at Edinburgh!)

What began as an MEd. proposal through the University of West of Scotland and The Chartered Teacher Pathway Programme, has now been augmented with elements of the ‘digital games-based learning’ module that featured as part of the  ‘E-learning’ Postgraduate Programme I was undertaking in parallel at University of Edinburgh.

mmorning1The main context of the research is the evaluation of the introduction of a multi-user software simulation – Mars Colony Challenger – to a number of English and Science lessons, placing users as part of an expedition team tasked with the formation of a colony on Mars, in order that reflective practice, analysis, and evaluation – all essential high-level skills in the 21st Century – can be developed through increasing motivation and engagement with learning that is personally relevant.

Providing pupils with the necessary back-story, supporting materials and ‘communities of practice’, they will have the opportunity to engage in real-life science and logic problems that will allow them to adopt the virtual personas of scientists and engineers and therefore transform and synthesise these experiences into narratives an other artefacts that evince a similar (or deeper) understanding of a scientific topic previously delivered through the passive delivery of science content, aided by the increased use of literacy skills.

MarsColonyChallenger

Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) will be used as the theoretical lens to analyse and facilitate collaborative efforts, focusing on the tensions between: learning a scientific topic and increasing the use of literacy; and the reduction of teacher-led instruction, with an increased focus on the activities of communities in supporting the learning. 16_copy

This research activity aims to increase the opportunities for both the effective use and assessment of literacy, and possibilities for the spread and coordination of lessons beyond normal classroom timeframes and boundaries; the possibility that science content be distributed electronically and across the competencies of the learners themselves; for pupils to “act as a community of scientists…and use the languages and practices of scientists” (Royle, 2008) through a simulated mission to Mars, and carrying out a variety of tasks, demonstrate the key principles of a Science through discussion and imaginative and other genres of writing.

Currently, students are evaluating the software application and providing feedback, which I then use in discussions with the US-based developer. Skype is the obvious choice.

So, Summer 2013 looks to be one of much academic reading and preparation.

Mars, LAC and LCoP – Term 1 Reflection

A time for reflection…

The Research

The Secondary Schools’ Literacy Initiative (SSLI) http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rlae20/21/5

The Visit

So, we had our visit from Dr Noeline Wright.  Memorable andunforgettable that Dr Wright visited us and augmented our understanding of the SSLI research. We have video and audio of our discussion.

The S1 Mars Report

And we had at House Time (we have adopted a ‘vertical house system’ for our tutor forms S1 – S6) activity which ran for a fortnight, although was originally scheduled to be formally enacted for one week and then undertaken by pupils in the second week.  We hopsted that with four subject teachers could present Mars from their particular subject’s perspective: RME, the morals and ethics of spending trillions on space research; History, The Space Race and its legacy; English, film and textual imaginings around Mars and the solar system; Science, the facts and figures associated with previous and the current Mars Curiosity Rover.

We did attempt to introduce De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats.

The LCoP

Some of the members have been at the school for a considerable time – many of whom were there at just those right times when, as a student teacher and probationer, I needed some vital advice, feedback on that dilemma – and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t awed in some way.

Much positive and negative feedback was provided as ‘minutes’ of each LCoP meeting.  In summary:

Positive

  • It was a chance for practitioners of different disciplines to meet up and discuss pedagogical issues.
  • The Mars Curiosity Rover proved to be a relevant and current scientific event under investigation by our pupils and the media – perhaps for longer than expected.
  • S1 pupils were excited about the project.
  • Artistic, technical and literacy was being showcased – as was the ability to meet a deadline.
  • Pupils were already aware of the importance of Literacy – this re-iterated the fact, delivering a whole-school exercise.
  • This was the first time that Literacy – as ‘a responsibility of all’ – was given the high priority it requires, and primarily of its inextricable link with successful learning.

Negative

  • Too little time in which to undertake all activities during 20-minute House Time.
  • Too much information.
  • Many pupils ‘cut and paste’ (something I think that we are increasingly more aware of in light of the ubiquity of digital information).
  • Concern was raised about how often staff are supposed to assess literacy in a subject – there is little time to mark for content let alone literacy.
  • Cognizance should be taken for the participation from other year groups (although I personally had S2 and S4 pupils providing peer-support, for which they gained a ‘House Merit’).

 

The Way Ahead

A whole-school Correction Code which will be laminated and on display in every classroom in the school

Collegiate Peer-Assessment Activity planned for November 19th (the next collegiate meeting) and will allow non-English subject teachers to be  part of a supportive LCoP and led by a Key Person (KP) drawn from Modern languages or the English Department.  Small, supportive and interdisciplinary with a focus on a subset of the Writing Es and Os of under ‘Literacy’.

The LCoPs are to foster and nurture interdisciplinary tasks that can be constructed and ‘sand-boxed’  during House Time; allowing smaller-scale projects that minimise negative impact on both teacher’s confidence and curriculum progress.

4 Collegiate Meetings have been afforded and ring-fenced by senior management – a commitment to LAC has to be demonstrated by SMT, and the SSLI research asserts the dependency on successful LAC progress as being linked with CPD.

Strategy for greater links with associated primary schools already underway, with peer-reading to be constructed, and Big Writing to continue beyond Primary and into S1.  VCOP, Correction Code and Literacy  Es and Os should be the focus.

Sharing of House Time Mars Activity with associated Secondary English Departments.  Positives and negatives that have been identified will not only help our future adoption of similar whole-school House Time tasks, but also the dissemination of this interdisciplinary task fosters closer relations with associated authority schools, and should assist in resource creation and moderation.

Resources

LAC Information Sheet

LCOPs-Version 3-Anon

LAC Marking-3

correction code POSTER

Mars Glow Blog

The Chartered Teacher Scheme – An Open Letter (Part 4)

Identity

Asked what they do for a living, I am sure that his or her response is “I am a teacher.”  They do not immediately say, “I teach Physics” or “I am an English Teacher.”  We are teachers; that is our identity.

Roles and activities that I and others undertake as ‘leaders of learning’, may fail to create the impact and success that having a recognisable professional and academic mechanism – i.e. The Chartered Teacher Scheme – aimed to do.  The GTC-accredited professional identity was imperative in facilitating and supporting enhanced practice.

Detractors of the scheme will view professionals like myself as simply having ‘failed’ to complete a scheme of CPD, a scheme that many teachers and managers viewed as ineffective, inferior; it was just a route to “more money.”

So, has the SNCT accounted for the manifestation of a multi-tier system, consisting of teachers partially- and fully-accredited in accordance with a professional scheme that no longer exists?  I can only envisage resentment and further opprobrium directed towards those individuals who chose this route – exacerbated, perhaps because the scheme no longer even exists, but that certain individuals will have a slightly higher level of salary (which in itself carries some limiting effects).

This lack of clarity will only serve to undermine the future activities of such committed individuals, rendering them defenseless in light of the Chartered Teachers who share the responsibility for the scheme’s dissolution, through their betrayal of the tenets of the Standard for Chartered Teacher, as well as school managements that, whether or not they understood the Standard or not it was within their remit and interest to do so, failed to constructively engage with their Chartered colleague.  Who knows, this may have actually saved the scheme.

Now, let us usher in further confusion and continue to foster the disagreements between management, classroom teachers and and CT practitioners.

How will aspirant Chartered Teachers, unable to complete their professional journey along the Chartered Teacher Pathway, delineate their professional practice from unpromoted classroom teachers and those at the next pay scale level on the CT Pay Scale?

Will employers recognise the complexity in differentiating between those who laid the foundations their final Med Dissertation and those who did not – or perhaps had no intention of – ‘raise their head’ beyond Point 4?

We should await with interest how ‘additional responsibility’ will be quantified and evaluated in proportion to a person’s position within the 6-point Chartered Teacher Pay Scale.  What differences in responsibility are proposed to exist between a candidate on Point 3 and one on Point 4, especially when considering that an individual on Point 4 may have undertaken the preparatory Dissertation preparation and submission phase, which introduces and exercises the use of academic research tools and theory, and the difference being, therefore, not simply the inclusion/absence of a single module of study.

How will a fragmented view of the Standard for Chartered Teacher elicit the clarity that the whole failed to do?

How will a ‘sliding’ scale of interpretation apply to the Standard when identifying duties and evaluating an individual’s performance against it?  How can the Standard’s qualitative statements be interpreted using a scale of 1 – 6?  I am sure that I speak for many participants that even when on the lower-end of the scale, one was aspiring to fulfill all expectations of the Standard even at such a formative stage of or individual ‘journeys’.  Will this be the case?

Add to this ‘new era’ in interpreting ‘The Standard’, feelings of professional betrayal, de-motivation, coupled with a purely remunerative approach by management and local authorities, which ignores the un-quantifiable returns that a negotiated enhanced practice could yield for all stakeholders.

What has been damaged is the professional identity that was formed, fashioned and – until recently – nurtured by the professional development under the tenets of The Standard for Chartered Teacher.

My Professional Identity and my sense of ‘self ‘ are inextricably linked.  And both have been damaged.

 

The Chartered Teacher Scheme – An Open Letter (Part 3)

I applaud advancements to the education of our teaching graduates who, energised with the desire to innovate, are ready to enhance not only the learning experiences of our children, but will also re-kindle (perhaps) the spirits of their collegiate…

Gillian Macdonald, writing in the TESS, (7 September 2012) celebrates the changes in initial teacher education whereby “New and stronger links are being forged between theory and practice, and between schools and universities, while the students themselves are encouraged to be enquiring, lifelong learners…” 

Then what?  So why, upon qualification, are these essential “links” no longer available?  What about the exemplifying life-long learning?

The Standard for Chartered Teacher (2009) provides teaching professionals aiming to enhance their professional careers a set of benchmarks against which their continuous professional development and classroom practice can be evaluated.  It is a framework against which the practice of Chartered Teachers can be evaluated by all stakeholders; it also shapes academic provision and choice.

Academic research, according to Judyth Sachs (Sachs, 2003) is concerned with validity and positing generalisations, the result of ‘processed analysis’ of teaching practice. Sachs suggests that such skills can be demonstrated by ‘teacher researchers’ “collecting and analysing data, publicly presenting their research to broader audiences, and developing a process which could be extrapolated across other areas of school improvement” (p. 81).  This suggests a symbiotic relationship between what happens in the classroom and those ‘hallowed halls’ of academia; those on the Chartered Teacher Pathway – the ‘teacher researchers’ – demonstrating educational praxis within their schools, authorities, and perhaps even nationally and internationally via the ubiquity of digital media.  

Teacher researchers are ideally placed to engage in this ‘action research’, which harnesses their daily practice of teaching, allowing them to apply the pedagogical ‘lensing’ that encompasses the critical interplay of educational literature and pedagogical discourse.  Such enriching discourses lead to the creation of ‘critical friends’ and ‘critical communities’ (school- and local -authority-wide) which have the opportunity of delivering “a recognized contribution to the educational effectiveness of the school and the wider professional community” (The Scottish Government, 2009, p. 1) and towards the construction of the ‘knowledge-creating school’ (Hargreaves, 1999 in Sachs 2003).  

Communication.  Share goals. Trust.

For such teachers, “autonomy [and] altruism” are instrumental features in forming “the platform for teacher professionalism” (Bottery, 1996, cited by Sachs, 2003, p. 13).  Moreover their autonomy takes account of notions of choice, freedom, individuality and moral responsibility – all of which are pertinent to the classroom context and social interactions that shape both the identity of the young learner, and the accomplished teacher.

Surely the schism that exists between universities and the daily practice in Scottish schools – post- Initial Teacher Education phase – can be bridged only through harnessing the synergy that occurs when classroom teachers undertake a formalised academic programme of study, during which time they engage with educational literature, similarly-oriented peers, and under the guidance of accredited course providers.

What opportunities exist – outwith the higher education providers of the Chartered Teacher Scheme – for teachers to develop their research skills and have the ability to publish and make a positive contribution to the world’s academic canon?  

Moreover, how does one access the vast body of academic research that exists to educate our teaching profession, but one which is ‘pay-walled’ by the various silos of journal providers?  Considering the prohibitive expense of purchasing a single journal ranges, judicious choice is required when undertaking the most basic of research activities, and even then – and from personal experience over the last five years – often there is the serendipity when tangential curiosities lead to unexpected yet often rewarding pathways during the course of an investigation.  This exploratory approach, accompanied by the benefits of any course of wide-reading, would be stymied.  

Can local authorities replicate the provisioning of access (as well as the routes to publishing) for teachers willing to assume the identity of ‘teacher researcher’?  

Or does it all end with initial teacher education?

References

Sachs, J. 2003.  The Activist Teacher.  OU Press.
The Scottish Government. (2009). The Standard for Chartered Teacher.  HMSO.

The Chartered Teacher Scheme – An Open Letter (Part 2)

Could our mobility opportunities have been severely damaged by the statement regarding salary retention? 

My chances to compete for a Secondary Classroom Teacher post – should I ever wish to experience another school authority – has been significantly reduced, when one considers the Secondary Teacher salary ceiling and that this, in such austere times, additional 3 or 4,000 pounds to employ myself and others like me as a result of a professional development scheme that was publicly dissolved as one facet of the McCormack Review, and one which was misunderstood by senior management and local authorities, may well count against me even being considered for interview.

The assurance of salary protection (which may change) not only has a negative effect on mobility, but the inability of staff to ‘migrate’ across authorities may lead to stagnation, which ultimately leaves little inspiration for the pupils of such teachers who have low levels of confidence as to their professional development.  Furthermore, partially-accredited practitioners may find themelves faced with unwieldy ‘remits’ from less sensitive and more cynical local authorities who wish to get the ‘best bang for their buck’.

Decisions against pursuing a management position, or a Guidance Role made five or six years ago may now be reversed, as those betrayed by the decision to dismantle – nay, dissolve – the Chartered Teacher Scheme now seek the very limited P.T., Faculty Head or Guidance posts as the only opportunity for career advancement – rightly or wrongly! 

Next Post – ‘The Academic Canon’.

The Appliance of Science (Maths, Language…)

Today I was meeting up with Noeline Wright from Wakaito University, New Zealand who very kindly agreed to introduce a two-night diversion into her academic ventures south of the border and come up to our rain-soaked land to discuss Literacy Across the Curriculum with us.  More on this to come.

However, whilst awaiting our honoured guest – nervousness mixing with excitement – I received a Twitter message from our very own contact involved in the Mars Science Laboratory, which helped to calm my nerves and force a tsunami-like smile across my face.

The new S1 cohort will – the whole year group – undertake a short interdisciplinary activity under the theme of Mars.   In the meantime, I engaged my S2 pupils to assist me with one particular ancillary task, to which they had one remit: What Would You Send to a Mars Scientist?

And they produced the following response:

http://blogs.agu.org/martianchronicles/2012/07/18/msl-care-package-thank-you-dunoon-students/

Considering the proximity of the actual landing event (August 5th), as well as the unfathomable remit Ryan must have,  he took the time to send a fantastic acknowledgement of thanks to reward the children’s enthusiastic andcreative efforts. For this I am extremely grateful.

And to think that this ‘connection’ between a cohort of school children began with a single ‘tweet’; a connection that hopes to begin to nurture in pupils the natural wonder of space exploration, and mankind’s deep-seated desire for knowledge of who we are.

What better exemplar of interdisciplinary learning than NASA’s latest robotic laboratory? Designed, crafted – and being delivered at speeds exceeding thousands of miles per hour! – by men and women who perhaps sat in classrooms, just like our own pupils often do, and think (or ask) Why am I doing this? Here is the application of mathematics, languages, and science undertaken with a significant element of risk of failure; here is the application and spirit of collaboration.

The power of social media indeed.