Saturday, 15 September 2012

Connecting beyond the classroom walls

As with many teachers, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to make the learning experience within my classroom the best it possibly can be.  Now I am certain I have had a number of successes over the years.  I am also sure that I have made, and learnt from, a lot of mistakes.  I feel that the environment I create within my classroom and the the learning that takes place within it has developed greatly and is improving in quality.  But that's all under my control.  What happens when students leave my lesson?  How can I ensure that away from school, students continue to engage themselves with learning in my subject?  How can I ensure that they look for real world examples of how topics in my subject are used?  How can I best maximise the few years that I teach them to create a more rounded experience?

A lot of the emphasis should be on learners to take on this responsibility away from school.  I can't be accessible at all hours to answer questions or prompt students to do revision.  There are steps I have taken over the years to promote an ethos of continuing their learning at home such as providing well thought out and meaningful homework, the use of current examples in the press/media in an effort to encourage students to look for them themselves, and instilling a culture of 'Growth Learners' by promoting the many qualities documented by Carol Dweck.

Recently though a number of ideas I have had seem to be topics of discussion.  I am very lucky to be in the process of planning some Project Based Learning (PBL) with Team GB Cycling.  At a meeting with a regional development officer and lead coach a few weeks ago, I was mesmerised as they discussed all of the small interventions, developments and protocol that they use to ensure that they have a lead over competitors.  I have also been recording 'Road to Glory' on Sky Atlantic to use with my students as a resource for the project.  I have been reading up on the mastermind that is Dave Brailsford as his work is the major driving force of the project.  At the same time, @fullonlearning has been having learning conversations with @HuntingEnglish and @Macn_1 about lessons learnt from GB cycling and their buzz phrase 'the aggregation of marginal gains'.  The combination of these got me thinking.  Now I'm probably looking at this idea from a different angle than others (or I might not be).  What I was thinking about was "What small details, strategies, ethos, protocols, interventions and opportunities can we put in place for students, that when combined together, will make a big impact on their learning?"  How can we as teachers in our department use our skills and time to push on and support our GCSE students?  We will in due course look at the flip side and think about what small things students can do themselves, but at the moment I am focusing on my role.  If I view my students as my riders, like Dave Brailsford, what systems can I put into place to get the best out of them and help them be successful?  That is my role as a teacher.

Now I will be looking at the broader picture in the future, but for now, like Brailsford, I need to identify specific key areas.  I am therefore combining the idea of 'marginal gains' with my first issue of developing learning away from the classroom.  What small things can I implement that will encourage students to learn at home?  What things can I put in place that I might not have before that might help students develop their understanding and depth of knowledge?  After thinking through all of the various options, the use of technology and social media seemed the easiest, most accessible and potentially the medium to have the most impact with students.  So I have been putting some systems in place.  I am no means an expert, and what I am doing is not the only options.  In fact I would encourage you to follow and read the amazing blogs/tweets of @ICTevangelist, @philcbarrett and @syded06 who are miles ahead of me.  In the meantime, here are the some small strategies using technology and social media that I am currently using.

Now I am a big fan of Edmodo.  As a learning platform, it is probably one of the easiest to construct and manage.  It's style is very similar to Facebook which makes it familiar for most students.  If you have never heard of it before, I would best describe it as an online classroom.  You invite students to join your private/secure online group.  When students have joined, you have a whole host of tools to use to enhance learning outside of your classroom.  It comes as an app which is easy to load onto smart phones.  You are able to post messages or alerts which can be received by students by either e-mail or text.  You can set assignments which automatically register when work has been handed in and stores the grade that you give it.  You can have online quizzes and polls to get either quick formative or summative assessments.  You have a mark book where you can store all grades and create averages so students can monitor progress.  There is a calendar to share key dates.  A library facility where you can upload resources and store materials that students can use at home.  In the main screen you can post links to outside websites, materials in Dropbox or embed videos for flipping the classroom.  In fact there are many tools which can ensure students can continue their learning from home.  The two best reasons to use it though in my opinion is it makes organising your group so easy.  Everything I need is now in one place.  No more loose pieces of homework turning up in the bottom of my bag from months ago.  No searching various spreadsheets for grades or missing work.  Everything is in one place.  Secondly, it has a unique parent feature.  Each student that registers automatically has a parent code generated for them.  I can then give this code to the relevant parent and they can join the group.  All they can see is their own child's grades/work and this makes the link between home and school so much stronger.

Twitter (@teambrookfield)

This is a first for me but something that @peter8green introduced me to last year.  I have now created a school and subject specific Twitter account for my class.  I have made it private and made it a policy not to follow any of the students so I don't hear any awkward conversations.  I make a conscious effort to add two or three things maximum to the feed every day and plan to use it in the following ways:
  • A-Z Revision:  Tweeting out a glossary of definitions and key words for some quick revision (starting at A)
  • Unit/topic specific revision:  Breaking down a topic and tweeting revision notes out.
  • Linking articles, materials and resources:  Tweeting out anything that I read or get passed to me that may help students.  This can range from images, videos, newspaper articles and presentations.
  • Our own version of #ukedchat:  Have topic specific discussion evenings where I pick a topic and have an open forum for students to revise together online.  I am there to facilitate and support if needed but plan to let them run themselves.
  • Challenge questions:  Tweet out curious questions about GCSE PE which requires students to draw upon their knowledge of subject content.  The aim is to try and create Extended Abstract type thinking for students (SOLO taxonomy).
  • Q&A sessions:  Kind of an 'Ask the teacher' activity of sorts where I set a time one evening for students to tweet me questions about topics they are struggling on and want some extra help on.  No spoon fed answers though I am afraid.  Instead I plan to use coaching techniques to help students find the answers out for themselves. This will probably happen as we get closer to exams.
It's very important for me as a Learning to Learn teacher to make sure that Twitter doesn't become a 'dependent tool' but instead spark imagination/create eureka moments for students to go off and learn independently.


A fantastic piece of screencast software.  Camtasia allows you to record whatever you are doing on your laptop, with audio, and turns it into a movie file.  You can edit just like a normal video editing software.  So far I have recorded 5 minute presentations for our Unit 1 topics where I talk students through a powerpoint, video, revision material etc.  These are stored in the library folders in Edmodo.  They can also be put into Dropbox where they can be linked to Twitter.  These videos already helped a student who joined the course late get up to date on lessons he missed. 


Dropbox is an online storage platform which allows you to upload and save various electronic resources.  Many people use them to connect and share.  I have created a GCSE PE specific Dropbox for myself where I will store as much helpful revision material as I can find.  Dropbox allows you to create a link which you can copy into a tweet and share files or resources.  I can send out various materials when needed very easily.  These links will redirect to a safe host page where my students can access that specific resource and use it to enhance their learning.

Now a lot of this is very simple for those who are technologically minded.  I am also sure that a number of people will tell me that there are better platforms or screencast software which have better functions than the ones that I have listed.  But, for many like myself who are early into the exploration of technology with students (and who as a department and school don't have any ipads), these small tools can become very powerful when fully combined.  These are very small steps that closely interlink and are extremely easy to manage.  But just like Dave Brailsford and Team GB cycling, I am hoping that combination of these little factors can prove to have a big impact.  I am trying to use the best possible tools I can, using the best technology available (much like Team GB and the Secret Squirel club).  The marginal gains that each might offer to those students that choose to use it may make the difference between understanding a topic at a shallow or deep level.  It could even be the difference between a grade or two.  Now as part of any strategic plan, this is only the first of many sections that I will be focusing on to get my team (the students) to achieve the best they possibly can.  But in terms of the mini goal of getting learning beyond the classroom, I hope it is one that will prove to be successful.

1 comment:

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