August 16, 2013 — Ideas
I was fortunate enough to join a friend at this morning’s recital in the Queens Hall by Russian pianist, Nicolai Luganski. Starting with a quiet, reflective opening, “In the Mists” by Janacek developed into an intriguing essay ion the theme “music as impressionism”, each movement offering new glimpses; now gentle, now staccato, with occasional dramatic flourishes reminiscent of Rachmaninov. The piece really needed the audience’s full attention, and so it was a pity that the first, fragile minutes were interrupted by coughs, noises off and a mobile phone. It took a while for the misty atmosphere to reassert itself, but it was well worth the trouble.
The four Schubert impromptus require the utmost concentration. They are hardly impromptu at all, rather they are carefully structured, substantial works, each with several themes, that allow the pianist to explore the full range and potential of the early Romantic piano. Here, Luganski’s restrained, thoughtful playing ensured that familiarity did not breed contempt; rather we heard the piece as a whole, sonata like in duration, structure and intensity. The audience were spellbound.
The second half saw a more bravura style of late Romantic piano, with Luganski on home ground, bringing out the full orchestral timbre of the five Rachmaninov etudes, the left hand in particular emphasising power and depth “Les jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este” by Liszt was captivating, and a sparkling rejoinder to the sombre, brooding and at times explosive tone of the Rachmaninov.
The final work, Liszt’s arrangement of the Liebestod from “Tristan and Isolde” was expertly controlled, quiet and only gradually, bar by bar, building up to the long awaited climax. Always in command, never resorting to bombast or cliché, this was a fitting finale to a concert that skilfully combined a range of styles. The two encores, music by Grieg and Rachmaninov only helped to demonstrate both his lyricism and his sheer power and technical mastery.
May 26, 2013 — community, international education
May 7, 2013 — Music and Arts Tagged short stories, William Sansom, writing
A chance find in King’s second-hand bookshop in Callandar led me to pick up a Penguin collection of short stories by William Sansom, a writer new to me. Born in 1912, Sansom only started to write after various other careers, including a spell in the City, an advertising agency, and a film director. He has also written films, TV plays and musical lyrics. His stories are minor masterpieces of descriptive writing, allied often with underlying unease or tension. Among these are the quasi-horror, “A Woman Seldom Found” with its very unexpected, supernatural ending, and, my favourite, “The Vertical Ladder”, which manages, in a few pages, to play on our two very human fears of heights and of being trapped. With its emphasis on the inner thoughts of the protagonist, Flegg, climbing the vertical ladder of an old gasometer as a dare, we are drawn increasingly into his predicament, and can only guess what will happen beyond the story’s closing lines:
“He looked up, following the dizzying rise of the rungs to the skyline. From this angle, flat against the iron sheeting, the gasometer appeared higher than before. The blue sky seemed to descend and almost touch it. The redness of the rust dissolved into a deepening grey shadow, the distant curved summit loomed over black and high…Flegg imagined despite himself that the entire erection had become unsteady, the quite possibly the gasometer might suddenly blow over like a gigantic top-heavy sail. He lowered his eyes quickly and concentrated on the hands before him, He began to climb.”
March 5, 2013 — ICT, Ideas, Teaching and Learning Tagged flipped learning, ITC, ReformScotland, teaching
( source: ReformScotland website)
Today, Reform Scotland, a ‘think tank’ published a major report on the state and direction of Scottish education. It is entitled, “By Diverse Means: Improving Scotland’s Education.” It will take some time for the implications of the Report to sink in, and it is not yet clear how it will be viewed by politicians and educationalists. Some will love it. Others will wince at the criticisms. It certainly makes some hard-hitting points and has a raft of recommendations. It is broadly supportive of CfE, but questions some of its principles, and argues, as others have done, that it must be subject to much more rigorous scrutiny. Its main thrust is that we don’t do enough for children from poor backgrounds and that school still fails far too many pupils. It observes that we are still using a 19th Century model of schooling in a 21st Century setting.
There is a plea for schools to have more autonomy, saying, “schools are entitled to take decisions where there is no statute, rgulation or established national policy that indicates otherwise.” and that,
“The state, both nationally and locally, should encourage and support greater diversity in Scotland’s school system. In order to do this, greater autonomy is required at school level. The autonomy of schools should be greatly extended. As a general principle, decisions that can competently be taken at school level should not be taken elsewhere. ”
The authors suggest a board, similar to those of independent schools and universities, might be set up to manage the interests of each state school
There will be much debate about this Report, but I was struck by the section on technology, as the following extract shows:
“ It is clear that new technology offers huge possibilities. It provides readier access to information than has previously been possible and in ways that many people find motivating. Education could learn much from the computer gaming industry with its capacity to handle multiple pathways and provide instant feedback in sophisticated ways. New technology has organisational possibilities that could finally render traditional timetabling and class organisation obsolete. Furthermore, it offers the opportunity to open up new dimensions of choice. Yet its impact in the classroom has as yet been relatively limited.
Similarly, knowledge about the workings of the brain and the nature of the learning process has expanded rapidly over the past two decades. John Abbott of the 21st Century Learning Initiative summed up the possibilities thus:
“Our growing knowledge of and understandings about learning show, for example, that the brain is driven by curiosity, learning must be active, children learn in different ways and at different rates, intelligence is mutable and more than just a general capacity to learn, children’s search for meaning starts very early in life, the brain works best when it is building on what it already knows and when it is working in highly challenging but low-threat environments and that learning is an immensely complex business. Some would argue from this that to put our faith in a highly directive, prescriptive curriculum, is to go ‘against the grain of the brain’, that it inhibits creativity and enterprise … the very skills needed in the complex, diverse economy and community for which we need to prepare our children.
Work by cognitive scientists lead them to advocate constructivist approaches to learning, with its progressive deepening of earlier understandings, and the joining together of what had earlier been separate, disconnected ideas.
The Santa Fe Institute would go so far as to say that ‘nearly everyone would agree that experience is the best teacher, but what many fail to realise is that experience may be the only teacher’.
It goes on to say,
As yet, the educational impact of neuroscience has… had little impact within mainstream schooling.
Schools have to consider that the impact of new technology on schools will increase dramatically. It will allow schools to plan and deliver a more personalised curriculum through greatly improved record keeping, more sophisticated timetabling; enable wider curriculum choice through distance learning and video conference, encourage project work and homework to be properly integrated into the whole learning experience expand the capacity of the system to give timely individual feedback; develop research as an important element in learning, thus facilitating approaches such as “flipped learning” and enable an element of “anywhere, anytime” learning, perhaps particularly for older learners.
February 11, 2013 — Ideas, Teaching and Learning
Always trying to see the practical application of social media tools in teaching and learning.
1. Class Blog
Like many colleagues, I find using a blog to help support the work of my First and Third Year classes. The blog included additional information, details of homework and copies of powerpoints and video clips viewed in class. It is intended to help pupils take responsibilit yfor their own learning by creating a dedictaed site of vetted resources, notes and exam tips. I am adding revision material and simple revision tests, using Survey Monkey. Th eblog is a key tool in helping to introduce the concept of …
2. The flipped classroom.
This makes use of the substantial amount of online video clips to which pupils can be directed. You cna then follow these up in class by quizzes, tests, past paper questions. You might show the clip once as an intro, and then ask them to watch it at home. By putting the relevant links on the blog, you ensure your pupils are only watching the clips you want them to see. Here, I recommend BBC Leaning Zone. They can be encouraged to view these several times, at their own pace, enabling them to pause and take notes. Additionally, I am using Survey Monkey to devise questions that make them go back to the clips to get the correct answers. All of this is part of the philosophy of the flipped classroom. To quote Wikipedia,
“In flip teaching, the pupil first studies the topic by himself, typically using video lessons. In the classroom, the pupil then tries to apply the knowledge by solving problems and doing practical work. The role of the classroom teacher is then to tutor the student when they become stuck, rather than to impart the initial lesson. This allows time inside the class to be used for additional learning-based activities”
I have along way to go, but given the interest in this concept there is a huge amount of material to choose from. Kahn Academy first made this concept popular; , eg:
3. Padlet (formerly Wallwisher)
This is a simple electronic noticeboard, on which pupils post electronic post-its, in a process called “building a wall”. These can be questions, ideas, suggestions. I have embedded a couple of examples on to my blog ( eg for S1 Geography, here) and have got pupils to provide feedback by posting messages. You need to give the pupils guidelines, eg on language, content, style, etiquette, but to me it seems a very powerful way of gathering pupil feedback, thereby helping to create a culture of collaboration. It can be used to guage pupil views as part of self evaluation. For example, I am asking my first years to post questions they would like to revise in class.
February 3, 2013 — Uncategorized
The Guardian published an excellent panoramic view from Britain’s second highest structure, The Shard.
The photo picks out, and offers commentary, on a range of famous London landmarks.
You can see the photo by clicking here. and there is plenty of detail from Wikipedia here.
January 11, 2013 — Ideas, Music and Arts, Teaching and Learning Tagged books, libraries, resource centre
At a recent in-service course by Radley’s Head of Digital Strategy, Ian Yorston, we heard about one school in England-Wellington College -which has completely removed thousands of its books from the library, to replace them with i-pads and Kindles. This was with the express aim of complelely reinventing the concept and purpose of a school library. Likewise Essa Academy in Bolton has given all pupils and teachers their own iPad. This helps students and has cut costs, including reducing the school’s £80,000 photocopying bill to just £15,000 a year. You can see the BBC report here:
As someone who loves books, and who enjoys collecting old Penguin paperbacks, I am instinctively concerned about the supposed twilight of the book.
The tenth novel in Anthony Powell’s series A Dance to the Music of time is memorably called “Books do Furnish a Room”. There is indeed something very pleasant about well stocked shelves of books of all sorts and sizes, their spines producing a spectrum of colours. To browse and by happenstance alight upon an interesting title or an intriguing dust jacket by a new author is the pleasure of serendipity. The classification system often throw up strange juxtapositions of authors somewhat in the manner of Heston Blumenthal concoting a recipe of seemingly mutually hostile ingredients- bacon and ice cream, perhaps. We are lucky-our school has a very well resourced, modern and popular library, with the latest titles, and helpful staff. To remove this would seem an afront; it certainly would not go down well with pupils I have talked to. In my office I have a shelf load of Penguin cerise travel and adventure books, and the more modest green foliage of the Crime and Mystery series, assembled over several years of collecting in second hand shops the length of this country.
Yet, presumably there is a well thought rationale to the decision. Wellington College has a good reputation. From the BBC’s website, we read that, “The £2m redevelopment at Wellington College will use the latest touch-screen technology to replace half of its main library’s 20,000 books.(The School is) keen to recognise the radical shift in the way people, especially young people, are reading and learning.”
And Dr Bill Bell from Edinburgh University says that,”Traditional books ‘may not survive electronic age’ They..need to be adapted to include technology..as new devices now encouraged different reading styles. Dr Bell, Director of the Centre for the History of the Book, suggested they books need to become easier to navigate, with more information links to satisfy people who are used to flicking between different programmes on computer screens.”
One key piece of evidence in measuring the success of a library are statistics on borrowing. How many times are books taken out? It is argued that books often look god but they are never removed from the shelves. Open a random 10 books and count how many times they have been stamped in the last year.if the answer is hardly ever, then why stock them. Why bother?
This doesn’t tell the full story-not all books which are read are necessarily borrowed; nor, of course are all borrowd books necessarily read. What is important is a responsive staff, who intuitively know what pupils are reading, who closely follow trends, and who can anticipate the next big idea. They too will love books and be knowledgable. Any modern library is a resource centre, with lap tops, PCs and places to study but also to chat. But the best resources can be the librarians themseleves. . A liberal and eclectic approach to purchasing is needed, to ensure modern, well written teen fiction is available, as well as the classics. A stimulating set of magazines and newspapers, plus subscriptions to online journals and strong links to university library systems undoubtably help.
Perhaps the rapid uptake of Kindle, and other platforms for e-books, such as iTunesU does seem to presage a major shift in reading habits. We shall still read, bu th emedium may be different. The very identity of “the book” is called into question. To quote Bill Bell from the BBC again:
“..there is a new literacy which has emerged among younger users and readers who are incredibly adept at multi-tasking. The older generation might want to read a book from beginning to end but it takes a different type of skill to multi-task and keep all of those things going simultaneously. It’s about having a hybrid experience, it’s no longer sitting and reading linearly from beginning to end, it’s about developing new kinds of skill. A new generation of authors are starting to think in more multi-linear ways about the way they can structure narrative.”
All this has profound implications for book lovers, and the future of libraries and the ever decreasing number of bookshops…
August 17, 2012 — ICT, Ideas, Teaching and Learning Tagged schools, social media, website
Some fascinating data, presented in a lush visual mix of colours and fonts. While this is for the USA, what appeals is how we could apply this to our own situation; providing examples of some useful lines of enquiry regarding how effectove our web presence actually is, in comparison with others.
Created by: Best Education Sites
August 1, 2012 — Teaching and Learning
Note taking is an under valued skill. It is taken for granted that pupils or students know how to take notes. Not so. It is actually a complex skill which needs to be taught, and one I keep reviewing to see what is regarded as most effective. I am also interested in what makes good presentations. Do you issue notes before, during or after a lesson? On paper or electronically? What physically do pupils do in terms of note taking during the lesson? Do we use PowerPoint or perhaps Prezi? Th enature of our presentation has a big impacton the use pupils make of their notes, and on how they learn.
Edward Tufte is an expert on design and discussion on his forum has much to say about the elegance and application of visual images and the printed word. For additional thoughts see also here
Issue handouts BEFORE a lesson and use them actively DURING the lesson
NO Power Points-sporadic use of slides-emphasise pupil interaction (“Instead of constructing Powerpoint-style slides, use original material-screenshots from websites, book covers, journal articles enlarged as “callouts” in the style of contemporary current affairs programs. Include animations and motion”) See http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/powerpoint
Find a good “supergraphic” (i.e., a graphic loaded with information) and hand it out at the beginning of the presentation and let audience explore it using their own cognitive style.
Annotation is at the heart of explaining things.
Apply 7 Design Fundamentals
1.) show comparisons
2.) show causality
3.) show multivariate data
4.) don’t separate words from graphics,
5.) document everything and tell people about it,
6.) Focus on quality and relevance
7.) important things should be adjacent in space
From Standford University we get a host of advice:
Start by explaining a concept in the traditional lecture format, using graphics and equations as well as words. After a five-to ten- minute mini-lecture, pose a brief problem that the students can’t answer unless they understand the basic concept.
Ask students to turn to take a minute to discuss the concepts just gone over.
Active participation and immediate content review enhances student learning.
Uses knowledge of how students learn. First present complex ideas in a simplified form, stripped of qualifications and conditions. Once students understand the general idea, they are prepared to make sense of all the details and qualifiers.
Consider a combined lecture/discussion format that gives more responsibility to students to raise and answer questions.
At the start of class meetings, ask students to summarize the main points covered in recent lectures. Make explicit connections between that summary and the new lecture. This strategy can help students understand the relationship between new material and previous material, while reinforcing what they have learned.
July 9, 2012 — Uncategorized
Here are examples of some mind maps which my First Year Geography class made up as part of a homework exercise into learning how to prepare for exams. They were encouraged to choose the style that suited them best. in some cases, they produced bright colourful spider diagrams; others opted for a more structured approach, with bulleted notes. What is important is that they chose a method that helped them to revise effectively. It is all part of trying to help pupils identify appropriate learning techniques.
For more details on mind mapping and memory skills, see for example:
Wikipedia article on Mind Mapping by Tony Buzan
here is the link to the World Memory Championships