Sunday, 11 December 2011

Day 2 PIL Global Forum


The day started even earlier than planned. That's why the agenda is written on to remind me.

During day 1 I had meet and spent some time with the group of teachers I was working with.

My group are from left to right are Alinazim from Azerbaijan, Tahmeena from Pakistan, Saba from UAE and Kara from Sweden (Below). Unfortunately Jenny from Bolivia (and her translator, Daniela) didn’t make it to Washington.

These were all amazing educators in their own right. They had already won the national and regional forum competitions for their Virtual Classroom Tours of there projects.

We are called SERC 7. The name is from our visit today on our Learning Excursion. We were group 7 heading to Smithsonian Environmental Research Centre – SERC.

First though the was a keynote from Microsoft’s VP for Education, Anthony Salcito. Ollie Bray has a great post on this and it was a very powerful mood setter for the event.

Off to buses with our groups. Once we had found them…


The Learning Excursions were a range of information gathering trips. Some groups went to the Zoo others went to the Gardens. We one of 8 groups that went to SERC.

SERC is about an hour outside Washington. In fact its in another state, Maryland. We had a stunning drive out of the city on a beautiful clear autumn day. Due to the time in travelling we had lunch on the buses.

At SERC we had a background talk on what the work i that's done. One thing that really caught my attention was the Distance learning programme.

SERC have a mobile video conference (VC) broadcast unit. This means they can broadcast to any internet connected classroom in the world. Having used VC extensively I know that is is a very powerful media. Much more powerful than TV or YouTube as the pupils involved can ask questions and interact. Something more schools could take advantage of.

We were give several options to go and look at; from building an Remotely Operated Vehicle to getting out in a canoe into the bay. The group decided we would split up and cover as many of the activities as possible.

I attended a topic called Environment Builders. This, it turned out, was looking at demonstrations and doing a few activities looking at how animals have an affect on the environment.

For example, we used the SERC (Soon to be) downloadable resources on jellyfish body design to conduct an experiment about the affect that different body types have on the water temperature layering.

Then a sampling exercise to look at how the Scientists estimate what the populations are in the bay. Using mixed beans and statistics

and a final exercise on the affect of different types of plants and animals have on the amount of light.

We I liked about these exercises was that none of them required high tech equipment or resources but demonstrated real effects and phenomena in very real and practical ways.

It was then a few minutes breathing space as the groups gathered and I could actually take in just how beautiful the environment was that day….

…but no time to dawdle, it was back on the coach to talk with our groups as we headed back into Washington. This was a slower run as we  hit traffic. Therefore we were late for our next mentor session.

An Introduction to Coaching

Coaching and Mentoring is something we have been doing on Islay for several years. In fact only a few weeks before Mathew Boyle had done some work with our senior pupils on this.

To me this something that is a vital skill for all learners. A shared understanding of the language and process  of learning and be able to have positive conversations about learning.

I was surprised at how many of these great educators had not done any courses on this or were even aware of it.

On the timetable it shows that we had sometime………. actually we had homework. We had to go to our team members and apply the skills we had jut been looking at.

The feedback from lots of the Mentors was that teams got a lot out of the coaching conversations. In fact they wish they had had the conversations right at the start of the event as they made them think. Some even restructured the talks they gave because of the Coaching conversations. That's the power of these.

In the evening I decided to go with the group of mentors for dinner at Old Ebbit’s Grill rather than go with the national groups for dinner. I wanted to get to know people outside the formal sessions. This is exactly what happened. About 14 of us had a fantastic meal and amazing conversations about all sorts of things.

This was also the first time I had the 2 bottles of Whisky with me to share. A Bottle of Bowmore 18 year cask strength and a 16 year old Jura, also cask strength. The idea was that they would go further.

Everyone was very impressed. In fact our waiter for the evening, Kevin, was allowed to taste them. He had the most amazing descriptions of them for the group. A natural born poet I feel.

Conversations continued back at the hotel in all sorts of ways and in all sorts of topics ……….

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Day 1 PIL Global Forum

I woke early and got out the hotel to take some pictures. I am so glad I did.

Having collaborated with others via Skydrive and OneNote and had several online presentations before hand I had some idea of the intensity and level of work expected, it was high, but when I looked at the first days agenda I did take a bit of a gulp.


Each of the streams were equally intense. This was no ‘jolly’.

The Institute Kick-Off was:

‘Dimensions of 21st Century Learning’.

This introduced ITL Research’s work. Over the week we would be looking at and using these dimension’s with our teams to develop an understanding of them and how they can be used to gain an understanding of these skills.

I should say here that I don’t believe that 21st Century skills are new. I think that the skills identified as 21st century have always been part of good education since the Platonic Academy. I think that it did loss its way into an industrial system and needs to be refocused with the use of technology to refocus it.

The first dimension looked at was Collaboration. This defined as below with each area having a Code:

  • working alone - 1
  • Working together -2
  • Shared responsibility - 3
  • Substantive Decisions made together - 4

This is a code to identify what's happening it is not a score. Though it can be very difficult not to apply a score to this. Sometimes though you don’t want collaboration within a particular learning sub topic. The dimensions are about a balance across a topic.

We were given some examples of class exercises and asked to code these. At first individually, then in pairs and lastly in tables. This proved to be a very ‘lively’ discussion. The debates and justification of choices were excellent. True professional dialogue.

We had to do the same exercise with our teams so it was important we these clear in our heads too. The discussions continued as we moved to session 2.

Theme: Shout and the learning activities

Shout is the environmental project which started last year. Mandeep Atwell told us about the background from last year and we were introduced this years theme Water. This is a theme that our groups will work around to produce a learning resource for.

Again lots of discussions in our teams about initial ideas. I saw my role to be a mentor not a leader of the group. I wanted the group to drive it themselves with some direction from me.

We spent a lot of time developing ideas and possibilities add in discussions on What is Collaboration and what could be done it was very active time.

Some of the team members wanted to given more information on what was being assessed and what was expected but the idea was to leave this as open as possible. It was safe to say that the desire of the planning group to make the teachers uncomfortable was achieved.

Living and learning in a Global Community - Will Richardson

Heads still spinning from the morning we went into hear Will Richardson add another bit of momentum to the spinning heads.

I have followed Will Richardson on Twitter for a long time now. So I was quite prepared for his ideas. What I wasn’t prepared for was the number of teachers who hadn’t heard these ideas before.

Below a TEDx Talk which gives a cut down version of the talk given.


The second big surprise was an example used during his talk. It was how his son was given an introductory talk on Scratch Programming by a 10 year old from Perth, Scotland. An image appeared on the screen and I see my old friend Neil Winton appear. I think I I may have even said an expletive (Oh FFS). You really can’t go anywhere.

Neil’s side of the story is at

This again started lots of discussions on what education is and the role of the teacher in that.

With more learning excursion talks and getting the start of the process in place as well getting to know lots of new people. All of whom I could talked to and learned from all day. The day was full.

The evening also became spectacular. With a reception in the American History Museum.

An amazing event in an amazing building. We could wonder round and enjoy the place and the amazing company. Educators from Australia, Alaska, even Wales! (I have to acknowledge my fellow UK representatives of Gareth Ritter (Wales), Ollie Bray (Scotland via somewhere south), Tony McDaid (HT Calderglen High School), Ben Rowe (Saltash, Cornwall), Stuart Ball (UK PIL Microsoft & Wales) and Steve Beswick (MS Education Director UK). Without whom it would never have been half as enjoyable or as fun.