Friday 27 July 2012

Linking Educators with Developers

Last night on Twitter James McEnaney asked about finding a developer for an idea he had. This got me thinking. How many educators have an idea that they would like to see? How can they link with a Developer? Also I suspect that Developers are looking for ideas.
This is not meant to be a full blown interctive site for the development of major apps. It just a starting point to spark (hopefully) useful ideas.
I would like Educators and Developers to cross fertilise ideas and inspire (Push?) each other.
So this morning I set up a page on a wiki to provide the start of a space. No matter how small or big an app. I really don't mind which particular flavour of technology you are into.
Just get your ideas down!

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.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Pre work and travel

A few weeks before travelling to Microsoft Partners In Learning Global Forum I had attended three livemeets. These set the scene for being a Mentor and also set some collaborative tasks to get the mentors working and talking together.

This proved to be rather difficult for me as these took place twice a day to cover the globe but on my local time they took place at 6am and 4pm. I couldn’t get access to the live meeting at school as the live login is blocked. I did make it home for one of the 4pm times but I had to attend (Is that the right word?) the 6am meets. Fortunately these did not involve me being on camera so I could be ‘relaxed’ about my image. The last one though took place after the clocks changed, and yes you guessed it, I arrived for the end of the meeting.

I enjoyed using OneNote 2010 hosted on Skydrive to collaborate with others and answer some questions. The really interesting part is OneNote web apps and live sharing on that.


Getting too and from Islay can be an adventure. Yes we are 2 hours on a ferry from the mainland and yes that ferry is over 2 hours drive from the nearest city (Glasgow) but by plane its less than 30 minutes to Glasgow. And that's what I did on the morning of Saturday 5th November.

A chilly but bright day and a stunning flight across from the west. I could see right up into the highlands with its high ground covered in fresh snow.

I still had another day to go before I headed south. Some last minute shopping like a new kilt pin to go with my new kilt.

I was fortunate in that while I was in Glasgow I had the oppertunity to attend a Teachmeet. This was teachmeet EPA (Enterprise Practitioners Association). This was a great event bringing a whole load of new people to TeachMeets and then to Twitter. Loads of great ideas as always at a TeachMeet.

I spent the night visiting my Father and set off to Glasgow airport on a very foggy Glasgow Airport. Several flights were already delayed. I was very nervous as I checked in. I needn’t have worried my Heathrow flight was on time as the aircraft was already on the ground.

So far I had been traveling on my own but I had planned to meet up with old friend Ollie Bray. Ollie was attending the Global Forum as a judge and was traveling to Heathrow from Edinburgh. I was also going to meet 3 other people traveling from the UK that I had never met before. I knew I was going to get on well with everyone when we arranged to meet in the bar. Though I must admit that myself and Ollie were sitting on one side of a wall while the others sat the other side of the same wall and it took a while to realise what was happening…….. it did set a tone.

If you want to get involved with the Partners In Learning UK go to

Sunday 20 November 2011

Partners In Learning Global Forum



This is the first of a series of posts on the Microsoft Partners In Learning Global Forum.

Two weeks ago I was on a journey to Washington DC. I attended the Microsoft Partners In Learning (PIL) Global Forum as a Mentor.

The journey was more than geographical, it was very much based in Education.

So what is PIL?

PIL is to, “…. help educators and school leaders connect, collaborate, create, and share so that students can realise their greatest potential.”

I have been a member a member of the UK PIL for the last 5 years. Its been a good basis of info and resources as well being wider than the web site, its also a large number of fellow teachers who are active on Twitter.

As a Mentor I was working with a group of fellow teachers from all over the world. In my case they were from Azerbaijan, Sweden, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and Bolivia.

They were all PIL winners in there own national groups and were all impressive in there own right. They were focused on the Global competition but my job was to get them to work together as a group to develop educational resources.

The journey of a mentor was in team Building, applying ITL’s Research, Coaching the team. I will be going deeper in to these over the next few posts.

I was so impressed with people and the processes. It matches very well with all the changes we have been doing in Islay over the last 5 years.

I did wonder why I had never put in a Virtual Classroom Tour (VCT). I always use the excuse of time but really that is an excuse. Of course there is what the pupils do…….. If I don’t try I won’t fail.

Well let me assure all Scots teachers. You will stand up well against the rest of the world. Lets do it!

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Teachmeet Remote

I really enjoyed TeachMeet West Argyll the other week. I was part of a mixed group of primary and secondary teachers in Islay High School watching in via Flashmeeting.

What made it particularly good for me was not just that the talks were excellent (Which they were) and about teaching and learning but that I was talking to colleagues about what was being said (as well as with various people from round the world in the FlashMeeting).

This has given me an idea for a long planned TeachMeet Remote.

Small groups gather in various places and link in to share together.

Each group will act as a round table and then feedback to the rest to the topics.

Topics could be collected centrally or each group could opt to raise a topic to introduce for discussion in the roundtables. One of the table could well be an online group of individuals.

What do you think?

Sunday 25 September 2011

TeachMeet at Scottish Learning Festival


Last week was the Scottish Learning Festival (SLF). I wasn’t able to attend.

A major part of SLF is now TeachMeet. I think it one of the largest and highest profile TeachMeet kicking around.

A huge congratulations to the individuals who gave lots time and a huge effort to get everything in place…………..but……

As an online observer I had several problems:

- lack online participation

- Talk selection

- Ad breaks


Lack online participation

Over the last 18 months more and more teachmeets have been using ustream. This is a great broadcast service but is not very good with the back channel. Previously FlashMeeting was used. This was not as good for the broadcasting as you had limited numbers but the interaction was very good. During breakouts the online session could have one of the topics.

During the tmslf11 the broadcast was switched off during the roundtable discussions. I understand that the pressure is for the faces infront of you but please remember upto 100 people are following online.

Would it be possible to have the webcam feed both uStream and flashmeeting. Then those who want to just watch can do so and those who want t get more involved can also do so.


Talk selection

When was it decided to reduce the number of people who want to share down to the number of spaces that are available?

This means that those who are confident get there names down first and no one else gets a chance to even take a chance.

Yes this does mean that someone doesn’t get selected. I have been the victim of this many times but I think its important that someone who isn’t too sure about speaking can step up and we all get to hear something new.


Ad breaks

All the way through sponsors were mentioned. This, to me, is against the ethos of classroom practitioners sharing.

I won’t mention the one that has been talked about in Twitter with the sales person getting 2 mins.

I think large teachmeets need financial support. This has been talked about at length previously by lots of people.

Its how much positioning this support gets is very important. Personally they should have stuff about and logos online but not mentioned during the event.

I see a place for lots of teachmeets. Large like the tmslf11 but even more important are small, less structured, ones where topics are discussed over a beer. Its a full spectrum inbetween.

Teachmeets are an ethos not a fixed structure.