Internet safety: Good article and site

This comprehensive piece (7 screens full, whatever that is in words)
via Jenny Levine at The Shifted Librarian looks a good resource for internet safety work. We're planning to run some sessions for parents on internet safety: this looks like it will be a help us make sure we cover all the concerns.

"Decoding MySpace – It's the coolest hangout space for teens-but parents might be surprised at what their kids do there. Here's how to help keep them safe online" – Michelle Andrews at

It mentions I've not explored that yet, but at a first glance it looks very comprehensive. It's run by a 9000-strong volunteer group, which is even more than we've got behind Exc-el.

What do you think of it?

More musical training to improve learning in East Lothian?

Alan Coady has sold me on the importance of music in schools. Yesterday's Scotsman carried more evidence:
Schools 'need music as tool of education' , based on the
editorial in the current Brain Journal. There's a more detailed 1-page story
here that describes the method and conclusions. Unfortunately the original paper is a $28 download.

What they found:

  • "After one year the musically trained children performed better in a memory test that is correlated with general intelligence skills such as literacy, verbal memory, visiospatial processing, mathematics and IQ."
  • "It is clear that music is good for children's cognitive development and that music should be part of the pre-school and primary school curriculum."

It's been picked up by the media in a big way:

Music clearly has an important role in the future
3-18 curriculum . It would be a particularly good keystone for an "
Extreme Learning " project if it could surreptitiously improve learning ability in the other subjects…

I wonder if any has ever looked at the statistics to see if there's a significant relationship between learning an instrument and attainment in subjects that use these intelligence skills? Of course, we may not have the stats; if not, maybe this is data we should be capturing and analysing?

Learning from SETT

SETT, the Scottish Learning Festival, proved a rich source of ideas for Exc-el. I'm helping support
Glow, and was there to start on mentor training. That left plenty time to attend other events. I went for those I thought might help with Exc-el:

I'll do some more posts with thoughts on each.

P3 bloggers roll their sleeves up

Today we tried to set up the PCs – a mix of Windows desktops and iMacs – to enable the students to log straight in to their accounts using links stored in the Internet Explorer "Favorites". Tests had previously shown that this worked, but today we realised that this wasn't consistent – there must be some variation between them. Anyway, it didn't take long to ensure they were all logged in before each of the 2 classes arrived. That made all the difference – they were able to concentrate on their writing!

The WordPress (multi-user) interface doesn't seem to present any difficulties, even at this age. By setting them up with Author rights, they're presented with a lot less menu options – just the ones they'll need. They were again enthusiastic about describing likes and dislikes. Motivation was sufficiently good there was no need to introduce any more features yet. Things like changing the appearance may become rewards for good work…

We've also now started adding a Blogroll, or list of favourite links, to each which will enable them easily to find one another's blogs. The idea here is to enable peer commenting. Here's an
example of what they're looking like now.

Take 23 P3 students, add 23 weblogs…

We've jumped in the deep end, and we didn't drown. Here's some things we learned from the first 2 sessions, each with 23 children.

  • Create shortcuts to the individual student blogs: Although Robert had burned the midnight oil creating the blogs in advance, and had created shortcuts to the blog web site (James Farmer's ) on each computer, we could have made things go much more smoothly by creating individual shortcuts that led directly to each student's blog. That would have avoided the need for students to key in blog URLs, usernames and passwords – all these led to plenty of hands going up!
  • Focus on "hands on" as soon as possible: With the first class, Robert gave a short introduction using a projector, showing each child how to type in the URL of their own blog. They then moved to the computers and tried it, but many needed support. With the second group we concentrated on getting them at the computers from the start, so that they could perform the task immediately after the demo, and that saved a lot of time.
  • You don't need a lot of bandwidth to start whole-class blogging: The whole school shares a 2-channel ISDN network connection, so there's only a maximum of 128Kbps available. We were pleased to find that performance was acceptable. The wireless Mac laptops (12) were noticeably slower, but still fast enough to get by. Clearly things would be different if a lot of images were being uploaded, or browsed!
  • There's something special about having your own blog! It was interesting to see the positive reaction when the children got logged in and saw the home page of their own blog, with their (first) name prominent in the header. That perhaps helped with understanding of what blogs were all about, and they quickly showed a sense of ownership. Of course, at this point they were all using the default design (
    Kubrick ). We mentioned they'd soon be able to choose their own design, and they liked that idea!
  • Writing to your blog is fun!: All were asked to write a Post titled something like "Cool Stuff" describing things they liked. All were enthusiastic about the task, regardless of their writing ability.

For the next classes, we're planning to:

  • Create login shortcuts for each blog, with password stored: We proved that by checking the "Remember me" box on the
    login screen while logging in, then creating a browser shortcut (Favourite), we could get an instant login. As a bonus, the shortcut had a meaningful title, which identified the blog by name, like "Aarron’s Blog › Dashboard — WordPress".
  • Prepare seating plans to control which PC each student uses: Favourites are stored locally on the computers used. By controlling seating, we can avoid having to create a shortcut for each student on every computer.

Next update will be tomorrow..

Using blogs to support Assessment is for Learning

If AiFL means nothing to you, you're probably not a teacher. It stands for Assessment is For Learning, and it's about improving learning using some proven techniques. There's solid evidence, for example, that formative assessment techniques lead to better learning. (See, for example, the section headed Why Take Formative Assessment Seriously on P2 of
this look-inside extract from Paul Black's book,
Assessment for Learning: Putting it into Practice .) If you want to know more,
Learning and Teaching Scotland have an
AiFL web site .

What's this got to do with Exc-el? Exc-el is about improving teaching and learning too. The common thread is IT, particularly the internet, and its potential to enable new ways of working. If IT could help with AiFL, it could help improve learning. There are opportunities.
Personal learning plannning , for example, is causing
controversy because of the bureaucratic burden involved.

But what if IT could help with that? That's what Robert Whiteside at Haddington Infant School is exploring. By using weblogs as an engaging tool to support
personal learning planning , he aims to find out if they can help beat the bureaucracy. Not only that, because they're on the web, and interactive, a new possibility exists for improving
partnership with parents in the process.

Today we worked out a plan for using
WordPress blogs. The idea is to set up a blog for each child in P3, and use these as
learning logs . Robert sees opportunities for using the blog commenting features to provide a mechanism for
peer feedback , too.

Each child will have an individual login with the rights they need to post new entries to their blog and to reply to comments. The "master keys" to each blog will be held by the teacher, so that any incoming comments can be moderated. This will provide a high degree of safety. The owners of the blogs, of course, will not be identifiable.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this goes. First trial is planned for tomorrow, so we'll soon know…