Some good links for Creative media

I came across some of the following links recently for some nice Social Media projects

Picozu –   Editing images/ photos/ drawings

Stupeflix   – Make videos for free

Pixton – comic maker

Zimmer Twins   – Create and share your own animated stories

Go!  Animate – Make animated videos

Answergardern – A tool which can be used to get feedback

Tagxedo – a stylish word cloud

Popplet – A place to share your ideas

Spicynodes – Free mindmapping tool – great for revision/ planning

Sliderocket – Some online presentation tools

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Open days and Nights make a difference

Having a daughter in P6 had meant that I have had some reason to visit some local post primary schools over the last few months. This has been both a positive and a negative experience. Some have been good and some have been awful. But schools and leaders should not underestimate the real difference that these visits actually make to the opinion of the perspective students.

Often schools spend a lot of time and money in getting round the primary schools to tell students about the school and give out impressive information packs and prospectus. The problem comes when the students then go to visit the schools concerned. For example in one recent visit there was a vague welcome, no explanation of what was happening, teachers who failed to. Engage either with adults or kids, students who lacked enthusiasm, rooms were sometimes untidy and often what teachers thought of as examples of good practice was out of date, basic and underwhelming.

It’s not that I am hard to please, but i do expect schools to do their best to wow us When we go. I expect to be amazed. I expect to be engaged. I expect teachers to speak to me, but much more importantly I do expect them to engage with my daughter. Not one teacher spoke to my daughter. Did they not realise who they were trying to impress? This is an amazing school with a lot going for it with amazing resources and facilities, yet we left feeling a little unloved and flat. My favourite bit was when we arrived to see one particular department and felt we should just leave as they were packing up their display a good 30 mins before the closing time.

Schools, please note that the impression on these days is a big one. Do to be complacent. Make sure that all people : students and staff all know exactly what the expectations are. Make your rooms welcoming and inspiring. But most of all: engage with the customer that you are aiming for, talk to the kids and make them feel wanted and special and not some commodity.

Thanks for trying but ou have to remember that days like this can also show the cracks and weaknesses in all their glory as well as the strengths. Leave nothing to chance because gaps usually mean that people leave remembering the gap and not the filler.

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Managing ICT in a time of change

There has been a lot of talk over the last few months about the changes taking place within the ICT network system within NI. I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in some of the conversations about what we want/ need/ and are getting. Still, this is a time of serious flux and change for ICT in NI and there are many open and unanswered questions. In a recent web chat I noted that we are probably about to see the biggest paradigm shift in NI education that we have seen. Schools are going to have to make a big decision about whether they allow the wave of personal technologies to infiltrate the classroom or just ignore it like King Canute, commanding the tide not to come in.

This is a time where careful, strategic management of ICT within schools is essential. For too long we have been holding back the tide and when it comes in we need to be ready so that the flood does not swamp us. With an increased pressure on school finances and resources ICT can save money and we must be smart, must be daring and must push both teachers and learners out of their comfort zones a little.

eLearning has been around for a while but what do we mean by this? What is eLearning? What problem is it solving? What question is it answering? What is it replacing in school? Is it going to make an impact on photocopying budgets? Is it going to create 24/7 learners? Is this what we want? Do we really want teachers and students communicating outside school hours? Do we need to think of school and learning as a more flexible institution?

There is little doubt that ICT can cut costs and improve effectiveness, when done right. But do we have what it takes to do it right?

John Davitt writes that we need to learn,

How to match the appropriate tools to the learning need

What is our blueprint for ICT? Can we move away from ICT being a subject to being a tool? How do we ensure that ICT is transformational in learning? If we have the same students using the same programmes to do the same thing from primary and into post primary, how is that transformational? If all we teach is the gospel of Microsoft, how is that transformational? If all we teach is presentation techniques, how is that transformational?

Are we in danger of having too much communication, no understanding and nothing to communicate about anyway?

We need to go through some new adventures in learning.

Using computers needs to move from being a slot in the timetable to being something that underpins the fabric of every single lesson. Hopefully with the new EN (NI) we will. Have this and be ale to do this.

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Using data to inform and enhance learning

There is a very delicate balance to be had between being someone who uses data to inform their judgement about performance and someone who uses data to inform their judgement about whether a teacher is performing. I have alway s been wary about how data in schools is used. I have seen data being manipulated, used to encourage and used to discourage. There is no doubt that data has its place in modern management in schools but we still need to take all stats with a major pinch of salt. I always used to say to my former principal that I could pretty much make any statistics tell the story that I want to tell. We need to remember that the facts and stats are not the be all and end all. They give a flavour and a direction but we must look a little deeper beyond the stats at the people who are involved behind the numbers.

So, how can we handle data effectively within a school? The key is to make sure that data is used appropriately at the right time. A cycle for evaluation is a good way unto make sure that data is managed effectively. I see 5 major groups of information/ data that can be used to inform practice.

1. Benchmarking data
This is information used prior to a student coming into the school and then can be used to follow the progress of an individual through the school from ks3 to gcse to A level. This data often needs to be used in conjunction with target setting so that when teachers and students see where someone is – they can help to push the student to improve further.

2. Tracking.
This has come to mean the method of summarise assessment that a school might use to continuously assess the performance, achievements and effort of a student through the school year. Different schools have different processes for this but this is usually organised using the pastoral system.

3. Internal reporting
Tracking gives a continuous supply of information on assessment and performance but this is not always relayed back to parents. Usually formal progress cards or reports are sent to parents on a Regular basis to allow them to see how their child is progressing. Usually reporting involves some form of follow up – a parental meeting, a target setting meeting with a student, a learning conversation or a more formal report card to monitor improvement over a short term in a particular area.

4. External indicators
Increasingly there are a range of indicators that a school can use to look at whether students are performing as expected or whether they are under performing. CAT tests, YELLIS, ALIS, MIDYIS, PIE and PIM, can be used to assess whether personae levels are as expected with the ability of the students. A measure of value added can help to see how students are performing across subjects. In many ways the best performance indicator are the exam results that students get. These are the true measures of the school and the way that the external performance is judged by the wider public and the school authorities.

5. Attitudinal studies
There is an increased need within schools to find out what students think about school. Tis can help to identify weaknesses and concerns that parents and students might have. YELLIS can help with this as can things like SETAQ and Kirkland Rowell assessments.

The mass of information needs to be collected, collated, compared and this should help to inform the school how to improve. But, this is more art than science and leadership teams need to take care to ensure that the numbers do not drive the school in the wrong direction. Principals need to use their own judgement to prioritise and ensure that through all things the school continues to move forwards and that students and staff feel supported and valued through any process. There is a point when pressure becomes stress and Principal’s have a responsibility to protect, support and build up their staff as much as possible. The key is to handle data carefully . . . .

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What does School Improvement mean?

I am often asked to comment on School Improvement. This is something which has become a bit of a buzzword in educational leadership and management of late. In Northern Ireland some recent documents from the ETI and from DENI have highlighted some of the ways that schools are expected to raise achievement and improve the educational impact of the school.

One of my favourite thoughts on this is that an effective school is a reflective school. There is no doubt that the learning and success of students is at the core of everything that the school does. It is the reason, the purpose for the school.

Dick Wiendling noted that

An effective school needs smart, strategic, energetic and systematic leadership. Leaders need to be big picture thinkers who can envision the path to the futur whilst dealing with the minutiae of the present

A culture of success should be promoted where students can achieve by building on their previous performance rather than by comparing themselves to others.

Some of the main drivers to raise achievement and build capacity in a school are
1. Personalised learning
2. Professional teaching
3. Building intelligent accountability
4. Networking and collaboration.

In fact much of this is echoed in the DENI publication: “Every school a Good school” when they look for school improvement in 6 key areas
1. Effective leadership and an ethos of aspiration
2. High quality teaching and learning
3. Tackling the barriers to learning
4. Embedding a culture of self evaluation/ self assessment and using performance to effect an impact
5. Focus on supporting schools to improve
6. Increased engagement between schools/ family and community.

School leaders can improve a school and pupil learning indirectly through their influence on staff motivation and working conditions. It is essential for senior leadership to support, listen and challenge other leaders and teachers within the school to always improve. It is essential that they look to support, encourage and develop staff. When staff feel valued they will perform better and will better be able to be more innovative teachers. Just like we do with students in the classroom, we need to give people the tools to enhance learning. That’s when schools start to Improve.


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Realigning my digital world

I have had a Macbook for over 4 years now and I have to say that I just love it. Its goes everywhere.  I do all my work, planning and writing on it.   I have always used MS office on the mac as in work I use windows and and use Office as my presentation mode of choice.

But, i want to make a change.

It all needs to start with my macbook.  I have office 2004 and I dont really want to give Mr Gates the hundred quid for another version Office plus I have been thinking for a long time that it was about time that I maybe shifted to Pages, Numbers etc  . . . the much cooler and easier to use Mac software . . . .

This would then mean that I can finally upload OSX Lion.   Then, I will be able to use the iCloud and all that goes with it properly.

But, i think it might be time to go for a iPad.  I have resisted for too long and I think that now the time is right.   I am going to hold off until the end of the month just to see if Apple bring out the ipad3 in early March and might ensure that I am one of the first.

I am looking forward to messing around with an ipad and can’t wait to see what I can do with this tool in the classroom  . . . .


Its time for a bit of cloud based learning. I feel  . . . . .


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Apples or clouds?

I have a bit of a dilemma.   Where I work at present we have reached a bit of an impasse when it comes to ICT.   We need to do some serious investments and part of me wants to wait for the roll out of the C2k new contract and some of me wants to jump now and get what we need to stay current.

There is a lot of discussion out there about what we need to have.   Currently iPads and Apple TV seem to be the rage.   I agree.  Great tools.  But, you need to make sure that everyone can get their hands on one.  Plus, our wifi network in school is rubbish  . .  so what comes first the device (the apple) or the cloud (the wi fi).   If I could get my hands on some money to spend  . . . what is best to go for?

But of course, the big what if at the minute in NI schools is, will I be able to to get ANY investment anyway?

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