Thursday, April 05, 2007

And the Penny Dropped

I have been leading ICT-based INSET for my teaching colleagues now for about, erm, humpty years and its not all been plain sailing. No sirree.

As any fellow ICT Co-ordinator will know, the road to ICT literacy amongst your colleagues is, more often than not, paved with scold. OR, in other words, it can be a thankless task as expectations can be made of people in this role that are not there for anyone that teaches any other subject. French teachers are not expected to run language lessons for colleagues, nor are Technologists expected to run welding masterclasses. But the expectations for us ICT Co-ordinators is very high, something we just have to take in our stride.

Most recently I offered training in: Audacity, Podcasting, Mind mapping, Going Beyond Google and Webquests. Only to receive criticism from one colleague that my ICT training was 'completely irrelevant'! Who says Web 2.0 is alive and well in schools? Sometimes this role can be so frustrating!

But this isn't a blog post loaded with negativity. Oh no! I was reading this post on David Warlick's wonderful blog, in which he discusses the moments of 'wonder' or 'WOE! moments', as youngsters in a class he was observing were writing words using Logo, and I felt inspired to post about a similar experience I had in an INSET session a couple of weeks ago.

As Duke Special sings, its often the case that in this ultra-technological, Google-dominated, u-learning age its possible that it can 'steal your sense of wonder, innocence and flight', to the point that ICT users can become immunised to the incredible things that they can do with ICT tools. But there are still moments in which I have found the people I have worked with have been truly surprised and inspired by what they have learned.

(The dreaded) PowerPoint his widely used in my school and has been for quite some time. Nothing special there you may say - especially as it is either used mainly to create posters (because of its ease in handling images) or for linear, passive slideshows. But bear with me. I recently showed a group of Year 6 pupils how to use the drawing tools within PowerPoint and one bright spark noted that they could use this to create a mind map that they had just done with their science teacher on the subject of electricity.

I decided to show them a few further skills that I knew they'd need to know. Then, once they had created their single slides, I used the opportunity to see if they were ready to explore non-linearity.

They took to it like ducks to water - none of them realising beforehand that PowerPoint could be used in such a way. And they ran with it - producing some OUTSTANDING output.

They were so good at this, that I asked a select band to assist with my INSET on the very same topic the following week.

The next week came round and I introduced groups of colleagues to the concept of mind mapping (of course the term 'mind map' is now a registered trademark of Tony Buzan) and offered to demonstrate Freemind that we had only just installed on the network. To begin the idea of mind mapping I asked the Year 6 girls to lead the INSET by showing what they had done. And they were FANTASTIC! It was truly magical moment to see the 'penny drop' moment on my colleagues faces as they realised the potential of using slideshow software in such a way. No one of them had realised that slideshow software could be used like this.

The Year 6 students spent the rest of the session aiding my colleagues in the use of the drawing tools and hyperlinks to make a PowerPoint mind map.

And all was good.

Or so I thought. Until another colleague decided to tell me I had done a disservice - that mind maps were incredibly difficult to create and that I have misled colleagues into thinking they were so easy that Year 6 pupils could make them. It appears that they have to be made 'just so', in just 'such a way'. That's real blue sky thinking at play there - not!

But I am uplifted at the fact that - unlike most other INSET I have ever run over that past 15 years, this is the first time ever that colleagues have been so eager to implement what i have shown them.

Firstly, I've had at least four colleagues excitedly tell me they are putting into practice the mind map design skills I showed them. Secondly, I have been asked by two departments to provide extended training to show how to take this process a stage further.

So all in all it's proof positive to me that the purist may not like my application of 'mind maps' but it's great to see other colleagues have seen the potential and are willing to roll this skill out across their students in all years.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Nail House

Once upon a time there lived a very arrogant King. He ruled his land with an iron hand and ensured that all his people did as they were told. He was nothing like his now-dead father who had laid out laws and rules that protected his people.

One day the new King decided he wanted to build the grandest palace the world had ever seen and he wanted to build it on top of the city - the city where all his people lived. So he served notice that all of the people in the city were to be evicted with no compensation so that the new palace could be built on that land.

Everyone in the city feared the new King and so they reluctantly did as they were told and moved out leaving their homes behind. Everyone that is, except for a little tailor and his family.

Jarvik knew that the old king had decreed that people had the right to their homes and they could not be evicted if they stood their ground - why had the rest of the people not realised this? Jarvik thought they must have had the wool pulled over their eyes.

So he told the King, "Your father passed a law protecting me and my home and I am NOT MOVING!"

Angrily, the King consulted his legal advisors and they had to confirm that Jarvik was right. All around him all the other homes were demolished until only Jarvik's home stood there alone - like a nail that would not be beaten down - The Nail House.

"Go ask what he wants," ordered the king to his advisors. "Tell him he can have anything. I just want him OUT!"

The advisors returned saying, "He wants apartments in your new palace for him and his family on exactly the spot his home is on now."

The King could see his grand plans for his palace disappearing before his eyes, so he decided to give in to Jarvik's wishes. So Jarvik and his family got their new home.

However, word soon spread amongst all the other people who had moved out of the city and they too came to the King and said, "We want homes in your new palace exactly where they were before." And the King had to relent.

In the end the King finished his grand scheme around him, but instead of building a palace for himself, he had ended up building a new city for his people.

And all because of 'The Nail House'.This story is inspired by the tale of Ms Wu (see photograph) and her dogged determination to stick to her guns and refuse to bow to pressure for authority.

In many ways her struggle and ultimate triumph seemingly against all the odds, is a metaphor for the struggle that schools in the UK currently face in their choice of VLE. They can choose to go for the ten 'Becta accredited' VLE providers, or they can be 'digital mavericks' and choose 'The Nail House' option - the Open Source alternative that is Moodle.

I have spoken at several conferences and I know very well that much as the powers that be would like it not to be the case, Moodle is a Nail House that will not go away.