Moving forward

July 14, 2009

So I thought it was time for a run down of where I am at at the moment, and the issues and directions this blog is likely to take.

Around a week ago I completed my PGCE course, and I have been meaning to write some reflections on the course as a whole. However, I realised that really my head has been in my new job for some time now, so when the end of the course came it felt like more of a formality than anything else. I have met some really great and inspiring people in the past year, both students, lecturers and school staff, but I am sure we will keep in touch, and it feels like more of a beginning than an end to me.

There is much I could say about issues I have had with teacher training, one big gripe being the prioritisation of everyone ticking the same boxes rather than discovering their own areas of strength and creativity. At times I have been known to get quite irate about issues surrounding the PGCE, but now in hindsight they seem relatively unimportant. I think this shift in my thinking really came about when I truly took control of my own direction and learning as a practitioner, and this really tied in to my own search for jobs and realising just how much there was out there in the world of education that was exciting and interesting.

I made a strong personal commitment that I wanted to start my career in a school that was outstanding, both in terms of being really effective, and in doing things differently. Through this job search I discovered the potential of networking and sharing practice (often driven by Twitter). Once I realised how many inspirational people there were out there sharing their unique ideas, any moans about not being prepared for teaching in the way I thought was right largely dissapeared- the responsibility for that preparation was my own.

So it was some time ago that I mentally moved on to my job for next year, as I was lucky enough to find a school that not only fitted my criteria, but surpassed it. In September I will be starting at Robin Hood Primary School in Birmingham, where I will be teaching in Year 4.

Lots of exciting things are happening next year, and I am sure it will be even more of a learning experience than the past year has been. For starters we will be introducing to year 4 a scheme of one laptop per child. Being firmly committed to an integration of ICT across the curriculum this is a perfect project for me, although I am sure it will not be without it’s difficulties. Number 1 on my list at the moment being organising keeping the things charged… However, that kind if access should result in a very different use of ICT, and I already have lots of ideas for using collaborative and Web 2.0 technologies throughout the curriculum.

I will also be involved in the development of an Internet radio station for the school, and hopefully their unprecedented Masters course in Educational Leadership & Innovation with a focus on New Technologies (see Neil Hopkin’s blog). Whilst I am obviously very interested in New Technologies, I feel very strongly that the use of such tools should be based on research and reflection on their true educational benefits rather than merely the ‘fun factor’. With 14 members of staff lined up to do the Masters, as well as many from other schools, there should be a lot of such reflection going on!

However, I am not just about technology, and I am really excited about becoming a part of the focus on learner independence, and the development of a ‘negociated curriculum’ at the school. This is something my PGCE has certainly not covered, but something I believe is a really beneficial step in education, and intrinsic to the way my own learning journey has panned out so far. This is one of the many areas in which I am keen to learn from the staff at the school, and having been to visit a couple of times now they seem like a great team which I am looking forward to joining.

So, this is the direction I am going in for the next academic year, and I am sure I will be sharing my experiences and reflections on these projects and issues in this blog. For me these are exciting times..

Subversive tech: An IWB for £30?!

July 7, 2009

I love the idea of being creative with technology; not just creating things ICT, but thinking laterally with the technology itself. In the past I have tried this by creating a cheap digital visualiser, a £2000 audio compressor for £150, and using a modified touch screen shop till for music performance…

Therefore, when I saw Johnny Chung Lee’s YouTube video detailing making an interactive whiteboard from a Wii remote I just had to have a go! This method involves making a pen which emits InfraRed light, and setting up the Wii remote to track the light from this pen and interpret it into mouse movements.

Sounds complicated, but it was one of the simplest projects I have ever made. I ordered an Infra Red emitter from Rapid Electronics, and a switch to turn it on. When these arrived I set about removing the innards from a permanent marker and fitting these inside. The emitter, switch and a battery just had to be connected in a simple circuit, and the hardest part was simply getting them all to fit inside the pen which was a little fiddly. I ended up soldering the battery into the circuit, but I might revisit it and make the battery a little easier to replace.

Once that was done I nipped down to gamestation and bought a Wiimote for £20 (would be nice if they cleaned their second hand hardware before selling it though- yuk!). Then I downloaded the native Mac version of Johnny Chung Lee’s WiiMoteWhiteboard software, pressed the 1 and 2 button to link the WiiMote with my Mac and calibrated the board. You will obviously need a Mac with bluetooth, or a bluetooth dongle for this to work. The software exists for PC, and looks as easy to use but I haven’t tried it.

Positioning the WiiMote takes a little playing, and I would recommend opeing the camera view in the software and checking that it can “see” the WiiMote at any point on the screen before trying to calibrate. You just have to get a feel for what the angle of view is on the camera. Once this is done you have a suprisingly responsive and accurate IWB on any screen, or with a projector – any surface!

I have been really pleased so far with this, and am already thinking of ways to use it in the classroom (google earth on a table anyone?). There’s a demo video below, and you can find all the info you need to make your own on Johnny Chung Lee’s website.

Here’s to subversive technology!

Edit: Have just found a much more powerful solution to the software side of this in Smoothboard. I haven’t tried it myself, but it looks worth looking at if you are using a solution such as this.