ACfE Inter-Authority Conference

As Dave Cain has already mentioned I had an opportunity today to do a short talk on eduBuzz to an inter-authority group working on developing A Curriculum for Excellence in Scottish Borders, Midlothian and East Lothian.

We’re already using an edubuzz blog as a place for sharing information between the 3 authorities involved in the project. The idea today was to give people a better idea of how easy these tools are to use, and to show some examples of how they’re being used to support the kind of collaborative network we need to build for ACfE development.

We looked at examples including:

  • how easy it is to create a new WordPress blog at
  • how publishing to the web is now as easy as sending an email
  • an example of a student’s blog showing what an interest-based project might look like
  • an example of a busy blog-based school web site from Law Primary School
  • a blog which supports an ACfE curriculum project, Active Learning Partnerships
    • (more on this is available from Barry Smith at Preston Lodge High School)
    • this site is maintained by a number of contributors from a range of agencies
    • we saw how it uses video to capture learning experiences such as rock climbing , an approach which led to increased engagement of participants
  • briefly, how an aggregator such as Bloglines can enable monitoring of a large number of blogs from one screen

Midlothian’s Innovation Centre was a good choice of venue and had fast, reliable internet access.

Please leave a comment if you’d like to get involved in helping build the ACfE inter-authority network, either by keeping a blog of a project in your authority, contributing to the existing site, or just finding out more about what’s possible.

Can Farnborough’s Extended Project inform Extreme Learning?

This week’s edition of the BBC Learning Curve included a short piece about the piloting of “Extended Projects” at Farnborough 6th Form College. Our Extreme Learning projects aren’t aimed at that age group: but it was good to hear from some people who have direct experience of this new approach to learning.

The program is currently available on Listen Again here (this piece is between about 19m 40s and 29m 30s) and due to be repeated at 23.00 today on Radio 4. The interview is also on the college’s site as a stand-alone mp3 file (9MB). Click on the Audio mp3 icon to listen. Link

Key features:

  • The pilot involved S6 students, working on 5000-word projects during summer months.
  • 120 or so started, and about 70 completed their projects.
  • The projects were bound into proper books, like dissertations.
  • Response was astonishing, with unselected students asking to take part.
  • The dissertations were presented by Sir Mike Tomlinson, who recommended extended projects for schools.

The projects combined 2 A-level subjects. This was compulsory, and was seen as important in teaching students about the difficulties associated with subject boundaries. The research projects were described as “excavating the area in between” subjects.

The projects weren’t graded. Although the links below discuss grading arrangements, it sounds like the decision was eventually made not to grade the projects, but instead to provide a subjective response, including good feedback. They wanted students more than anything to be proud of their work. The variety of projects described probably made the development of grading criteria more trouble than it was worth. Perhaps this was because the students involved were using the projects to supplement their A-levels? In that context, perhaps formative assessment, to guide future learning, is more appropriate?

Students saw coursework as unchallenging by comparison. These projects clearly weren’t a soft option. The HT interviewed claimed the rigorous projects developed resilience and stamina, but admitted that a number of students had found the projects depressing at times, but had come through that.

Don’t “over-specify” the projects. This advice came through strongly, particularly regarding time allocation.

Those on content-heavy courses were most prone to drop-out. Examples given were chemistry and biology, where the coursework content was huge.
What ideas could we learn from this?

We haven’t spent much time thinking about how we might recognise the achievement of an Extreme Learning project.

  • Perhaps some sort of professional publication could be created, in a similar way to the Farnborough dissertations, and presented to the student? A professionally presented CD or DVD with a copy of the project web site on it could be done at moderate cost, and be a useful part of the student’s portfolio.
  • A formal presentation ceremony is perhaps also something we could consider; it could help build confidence.

The Farnborough College site includes these other links

In class, I have to power down

David Puttnam, in today’s Guardian Education asks why it is, despite children having been quick to grasp the joys of new technology, schools are lagging so far behind.

At a recent digital education conference in San Francisco, one of the more memorable remarks quoted came from a child: “Whenever I go into class, I have to power down.” That roughly translates as: “What I do with digital technology outside school – at home, in my own free time – is on a completely different level to what I’m able to do at school. Outside school, I’m using much more advanced skills, doing many more interesting things, operating in a far more sophisticated way. School takes little notice of this and seems not to care.”

He refers to a recent Demos report, Their Space (81 pages, pdf). This report, supported by the National College for School Leadership, includes a whole range of ideas that could help inform eduBuzz developments, for example this from Chapter 4 , “Start with People not PCs, How schools can shift investment”:

This chapter has laid out a set of changes that when taken together add up to a shift in values: a shift in terms of the kind of investment that is needed to reach the potential for change in the system, and a shift in terms of the kinds of skills, experiences and relationships that schools value. Shifting schools’ value systems in this way will create more meaningful learning experiences for young people, and also more active and engaged learners. It will also enable schools to reconnect the currently disparate parts of young peoples’ lives – in school and out of school – and enable them to transfer knowledge and skills across a whole range of experiences. But finally it is important because by building on young peoples’ interests and enthusiasms, and doing it in ways that are going with the grain of their lives, schools will succeed in effectively providing all young people with a set of tools that they can use far beyond their formal learning experience.

Inter-authority web support for Curriculum for Excellence (ACfE)

Click to open a larger version of this image in your browser There’s now a prototype web site to support inter-authority work on A Curriculum for Excellence. We’d appreciate feedback on it.

This site, which is based on an Exc-el blog, is is the first step towards building web support tools to help Scottish Borders, Midlothian and East Lothian local education authorities collaborate on new curriculum development.

The basic idea is to develop that site as a “big picture” entry point which enables visitors to find out about, and engage with, ACfE developments at inter-authority level. It provides links and information to put the work into context and to provide an overview of what’s happening. Because comments are enabled on every Page and Post visitors can contribute their perspectives. There’s also an Event Calendar.

Visitors can then easily browse, click through to, and engage with more detailed information on individual pieces of the picture. An example you can look at just now is the Active Learning Partnerships project page from Preston Lodge High’s Althernative Curriculum project. There you’ll see summary paragraphs being fed from the main ALPs project blog.

Feedback on this site would be welcome. It’s currently operating in “Stealth mode“, so shouldn’t yet be picked up by search engines such as Google and Technorati, and isn’t appearing in the “Latest Post” lists on the eduBuzz blog.

Tagging time for new curriculum resources?

Climate change impact Today’s Stern Review on Climate Change includes this really powerful graphic as part of the slides for launch. This topic is important already within subjects such as geography and science, and has huge potential value as an alternative curriculum resource. Maybe it’s time to start tagging stuff that’s clearly useful for cross-curricular projects? The sheer volume of web resources is so high, anything that helps separate out the really good material could save teachers and students a lot of time. For example, I’ve tagged this in with the tags climatechange, impact, education, resource and graphic – and included some words to point people to the graphic:

  1. PDF file of Sir Nicholas Stern´s presentation

    edit / delete

    Slide 2, Projected Impacts of Climate Change, is a great graphic showing effect on food, water, ecosystems, extreme weather events and irreversible change risk of global teperature changes of up to 5 Deg C.

    to climatechange impact education resource graphic … 2 mins ago