Bluedot Festival First

Finding your first festival feet is always a little exciting and daunting but having braved a few nights in a tent with every element of humanity breathing and swarming around you, I think I have decided I would do it all again.

IMG_2186I was invited by Practical Action to deliver two days of workshops to support their education, enrichment and outreach programme. The Bluedot festival has been running for many years and next year celebrates the 50th anniversary of the lunar landings in 1969. Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre and surrounding area is a fantastic venue and brings the very best of scientific thinking together with a most eclectic range of music, theatre, poetry and fun activities. I decided to take my 8 and 10-year-old daughters and there was plenty to keep them busy and plenty of things to spend hard earned cash on!

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The workshops were sold out and fully attended and provided a great platform for exploring real issues that affect people’s lives in some of the poorest regions of the world. Practical Action provides support to these vast numbers of people through the integration of technology, community partnerships and engineering expertise that makes a sustainable difference to the lives of people in places as far apart as Lima, Kathmandu, Khartoum and Dacca. The first workshop was called The Floating Garden Challenge and allows people to design, build and test a floating platform that could rise with flood waters and keep crops out of flood waters. They might even be able to house chickens. The designs were built and then tested using 100g masses to examine buoyancy and stability. You can download the high-quality free resources here. 

IMG_2214The second activity on Sunday was called Ditch The Dirt and involved understanding how precious water is as a resource. Clean water is essential for good health and millions of people just don’t have access to it. In fact, they might have to walk miles to dig for, retrieve and collect water with a return journey carrying up to 20 kg of potentially unclean water. The Ditch The Dirt challenge requires people to design a simple water filtration system that could be used in the field. Investigating which materials work best and how they affect the water cleanliness and rate of flow is all part of the challenge. You can download the excellent free resources here.

Both of these challenges form part of a suite of STEM activities that are highly engaging, stimulating and challenging for all ages from 6-18, with appropriate differentiation. Each challenge is designed by teachers and is accompanied by excellent PowerPoint presentations, posters, teacher notes, certificates and additional resources such as video and photos. Over the last three years, one of the primary schools I have worked extensively with has created the UK’s first STEM Leaders’ Conference which allowed Year 5, 6 and 7 pupils to work on these challenges over days and weeks and then present their projects in short presentations to the rest of the conference. With over 20 schools and more than 200 pupils involved, it has been nominated for a STEM Learning Inspiration Award. You can find out more here and here.

Running these incredibly successful workshops also gave me a chance to talk to parents and engage them in discussions about the challenges and the wider global context. With the United Nations global goal Number 6 – to provide clean water and sanitation to all people by 2030 – it is clear we have some way to go, yet with every action that Practical Action takes we are potentially getting closer.

Practical Action is a registered charity and can only carry out its work through generous donations from everyday people. If you’d like to find out more about what they do just visit their website.

If you are interested in running workshops that bring engagement, challenge and a global perspective then just get in touch through twitter @ICanTeach_UK or via email at ideas@icanteach.co.uk and I can help you get started.

Also, check out the Bluedot festival. A fascinating journey into the unknown world of festival life for me, which has left me scientifically curious to see what it might be like next year!

Do you Google?

Bringing Google Apps for Education to schools is one thing but making it work depends on commitment from staff, good training and support and a willingness to try something new……

So I was surprised to hear a good friend and former colleague from another school say that he didn’t trust Google. Google was filtered. Searching on Google was banned. What on earth!

I tried to explain the direct links between using Google Apps for Education and improving his results in English and Maths; greater collaboration, maximum productivity and opportunities to become producers rather than consumers. He seemed interested in Google Classroom – the place to link teachers, assignments and learning (for free).

It was a battle to open the door and I was certain that I was going to keep it at least ajar. Google Docs would allow departments to share resources with a click. Collaboration on schemes of work and lesson plans would be a piece of cake. Sharing them with Faculty Heads for commenting and feedback – easy. Students sharing work with each other and teachers would allow powerful peer critique. It opens doors. Concerns over coursework? Over generous feedback? Just tailor the share settings or create the environment where that doesn’t happen. Let’s face it if students have a ‘cheat’ mindset, they will find a way. Google Apps create the environment. It’s our job as educators to teach young people how to make the most of it. Haven’t we all been watching something or mid-conversation and the urge to ‘Google it’ wells up in our finger tips? Use the research facility in a document and cite your work with one click.

Google Chrome is a web browser providing all sorts of extensions and apps to make the classroom interactive, intuitive and engaging. Pixelate, animate, calculate and integrate as you like it. The Webstore https://chrome.google.com/webstore/ brings you apps like Evernote Clearly – strips blogs and webpages down to the basic text and images. Great if you are a page jumper and you need to focus. Improving literacy

Google Sites takes the learning onto the world stage. As soon as students know that someone other than their teacher is going to scrutinise and criticise every inch, they up their game. Publish student work to the class, the school or the parents and the whole world. A game changer. Use it as a place for students to upload their work. Easy to click through their webpages, based on a template, to see their efforts.

Google Drive brings all this together. Upload files and folders. If you don’t convert them to Google Docs then you can add terabytes of the stuff. The power comes in the collaboration, the ease of sharing and the security of knowing that you can search and retrieve previous versions with just a couple of clicks.

So, we are planning to meet and discuss training for some key staff – champions if you like. A short presentation to the Head and her team and a chance to look at simple integration into the classroom. My next mission is another school, a little further afield, where the Curriculum Deputy is keen to see staff working together and sharing precious time more productively. An open mind is all I need.

Google Apps for Education is a suite of tools to improve collaboration, creativity and productivity. Patrons report feeling happier and more willing to share resources and chocolate. They talk to each other. Achievement and progress follow. There’s a link for techs and people that need to know how here: http://www.google.com/edu/products/productivity-tools/ .

I also explain to people that I don’t work for Google. I am not sponsored by Google. I just help people become more digitally productive.

Google Classroom

Google Classroom is the solution to so many classroom issues. Easy to set up and constantly in a beta mode so that everyone can add to its development. The key part is the means by which classes can be allocated either assignments (homework) or posts for information and announcements. It is easy to set a particular task to smaller groups of students and to provide separate copies of tasks to each student. Now, the best bit. They submit their work back to you ( turn it in) and then you can comment on it and allocate a grade. It uses the technology of Google Docs, sheets, slides etc, so you can find yourself commenting on or grading a piece of work in real time. So, the opportunities for quick, useful and meaningful feedback are obvious. The students can improve their work based on your critique and the essence of multiple drafting and redrafting is available. This leads to higher quality work by miles. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K26iyyQMp_g http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIfXzJMLsMQ

So, once the assignments have been set to a particular time and date, you can check progress along the way, offer significant and important feedback and critique and then give a final grade based on a rubric that you have already provided in an easily accessible location within the ‘classroom’. It is also easy to tell who has submitted their work or not. If they are late, I mark them down by 10 points: a grade. Once all the grades are entered, I can download a useful parents evening tool in the form of a spreadsheet, that gives all the grades for all the assignments since the beginning of time. Well, since the beginning of term. Its as powerful as having their books in front of them, as you can pull up evidence of submissions, feedback offered and improvements made. It’s a real time saver and with limited set up it rivals expensive options or iPad apps that need a great deal of time invested in them. The key part for me is the motivation for the learner. They can engage with it from any device at any time from wherever they like. They get feedback quickly and are then able to see specifically what they need to do to improve. From a teacher’s point of view, it’s an extra tool. It’s a good use of time and drastically reduces that time taken looking through books. In my view – well worth a look!