Northern Grid Conference 2011

Northern Grid Conference

Today I was privileged to attend and deliver two sessions at the Northern Grid Conference which took place next door to Newcastle Racecourse. The approach taken by the organisers this year was different to most conferences as the vast majority of the seminars were delivered by people of whom they had become aware through Twitter, TeachMeets and bogs.

For those of us selected this was an exciting prospect as it brought together a group of professionals who communicate regularly on the web but rarely get to meet up. Many had travelled long distances (including several for whom flying had been the most sensible option) and I suspect that the line up is one which will not be replicated soon.

Russell Prue

Russell Prue

The day was started off with a keynote from Russell Prue who is always exceedingly good value. He is well informed and has opinions which are worth listening to. Russell is a voice in the pedagogical debate which should be heard – he understands how education and the workplace is developing and fired up the audience with clarion calls to consider how they use mobile devices and social media whilst also launching attack on present practice in too many schools. Russell knows how to get an audience onside and he cleverly compared how each of the examples he showed compare to a Govean view of the world. I would say that I do not agree with everything that Russell argues but feel that he was the perfect choice for the event. His use of data and examples around how companies no longer look for the traditional routes into work such as A* and A grades and Duke of Edinburgh schemes but now for pupils who show a clear understanding of the digital world and are able to share their work through blogs, mashups, film, YouTube etc. A message which he said he would be passing onto Michael Gove when he speaks at the same event as him in the near future – we await this with interest!!

You can see the elements of his presentation on this link here

Ian Addison

I was in the fortunate position of not delivering during the first session and so caught the joint session between Ian Addison and Jan Webb both of whom are fantastically exciting practitioners and skilled presenters. Ian presented 15 applications in 15 minutes which can be found at this link . The stand out applications were not necessarily new to me it was just the examples given by Ian which made my head spin – Isle of Tune (Ian did point out that it was a good idea to use isles from the bank uploaded by previous users – these are accessible on the “View Shared Islands” tab, Simon Haughton’s Infant Dictionary which is something that all KS1 teams should be using, Popplet a great mindmapping tool  (about which I blogged last week) and the Avatar generator made by John McClear. Personally I would look to use this alongside the Lego App Minifigures

Jan Webb

Next up was Jan Webb who was the perfect foil to Ian as her presentation is deeply based in her research based approach to education.  I would point to her exciting ideas about the potential for the use of OneNote as an aid to assessment – it would be fascinating to see if it could actually be used to streamline the Foundation Stage Profile assessment gathering process. The comment which struck me most from her talk was “It’s not the tool that makes the collaboration, it is you as a teacher”

She used this video excellently to demonstrate the notion of modelling, collaboration and mirroring other learners.

My session

In my presentation I returned to several themes I had previously covered but brought them together to drive a message about pupil voice and ensuring that practice was shared across whole institutions. I started the session reading the opening to The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman which remains one of my favourite children’s literature book. I then reinforced the message that whatever they were going to see through the day we couldn’t get past the fact that everything should be based upon solid pedagogies and high quality resources including books. I showed the trailer for the forthcoming film which is excellent but stressed that it was important that technology was not used as a surrogate reader. We need to read to children and to allow them to enjoy the joy of being read to by their children. I also rehearsed my views that children have a right to be made uncomfortable by books, to be read books which make them laugh and which stretch them emotionally.
It is important that, in Primary schools, children have time where they have an ongoing novel read to them – those moments where they can sit sucking their thumb, plaiting their hair, playing with the velcro on their shoes and listening to an amazing text.

I then moved onto resources which could be used during literacy sequences starting with Voicethread.

These thread examples from David Mitchell’s class at  Heathfield Community Primary School in Bolton and Jack Sloan’s class at Ferry Lane Primary in London where the teachers have developed independent use of the application to develop the pupil voice but also to support teachers in their assessment of the children’s work and to identify next steps for development.

Ferry Lane Primary School, Haringey using Voicethread to add comments to
Heathfield Primary School, Bolton using Voicethread to develop oral rehearsal of writing ideas

Heathfield Primary School, Bolton using Voicethread for peer assessment

The point of these examples is that through the use of an easy to use application a teacher can add to their armoury of tools. The pedagogy is the point of this not the clever trickery of the technology. It was clear from a show of hands that the vast majority of the crowd (standing room only by the way!!!)  were primary teachers so I asked how many of them would use this in their class. There was a general sense that it is an exciting tool but most were sceptical that they would be able to convince all of their colleagues to adopt it. This then allowed me to show these two videos which I have created in recent work with Key Stage Two classes using Photostory and the recorder tool in IWB software. Neither of these examples are necesarily new to people who have seen me speak before but they remain highly powerful.

An example from an able group in a Year 3/4 class.

Using Photostory for reading comprehension – an example from Year 6 children.

The importance of these clips is multifarious – the children can introduce them into class practice without need to rely on teacher technical understanding. All that is needed is for the teacher to recognise the potential for bringing pupil learning to the fore and reducing teacher talk at key moments. In both cases the children were working independenty; in the recorder tool example a group of children worked independently  on the IWB in the lesson and then demonstrated their work to the class in the plenary. This is about children taking control and not being held back by teachers for whom these intuitive applications are too hard.

We then had a discussion of the photostory which demonstrated work with some Year 6 children for whom reading comprehesion was mainly based around Assessment Focus 2 and 3

AF2 Understand, describe, select or retrieve information, events or ideas from texts and use quotation and reference to text.

AF3 Deduce, infer or interpret information, events or ideas from text

It is clear from the recording that there has been clear modelling of how we want children to talk about texts and which information we want them to engage with to make those decisions. Again, the point was that the teaching was the most important element not the technology. Also I made it clear that I had modelled a process which could be followed in their school across all classes and not dependent on teacher’s technical understanding. There is no excuse for not introducing voicethread in some classes and then beginning with the IWB recorder or photostory (or other equivalents) in any primary school.

I then went onto show the work of @giraffeclass and how easy it is to get Year 1 microblogging. You can access other blogs on them on this site.

I also linked to Kevin McLaughlin’s class blog on their Conkers project which they published using Posterous. I used this example as the project was so wonderful and the simplicity of posterous allows pupil independence again.

You can access my prezi from here.
NG conference prezi


Steve Bunce

I delivered my session with Steve Bunce who is always stimulating and stretches my thinking. Steve introduced us to Challenge based learning in a project based around skateboards, graffiti and video games which sat very neatly next to my presentation in drawing out the pupil voice.

He also used two excellents film from YouTube – both showing how games can be created in real life

Pac Man – Remi Gaillard

Angry Birds

These two examples were then used to introduce this wonderful blog post and work from Kevin McLaughlin who took this one step further and allowed his children to plan, design and build their own Angry Birds levels.

This is definitely worth a good look – let it influence your practice.

Final Session – Professor Steve Wheeler

The final session was a plenary keynote by Professor Steve Wheeler who tweets as @timbuckteeth who is one of my blog heroes. His blog learning with e’s is brilliant and although never knowingly underacademic I rarely leave without thoughts being highly provoked. It is sometimes dangerous to watch your heroes speak publicly but Steve did not disappoint with a mixture of appalling impersonations of a Geordie accent, jokes, pertinent video clips and challenges to our perceptions.

He quoted one of his daughters when he asked them about their experiences at school – “the worst thing about being at school is being treated like an idiot.” which raised a laugh and a pause for reflection. Steve then talked about how the education system has barely evolved over the last century and used images of a children sat in rows in the 19th century juxtaposed with a modern ICT suite.

He also quoted Derek Bok stating that “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”

Steve then showed this excellent video from Penguin books

I spoke to Steve before his session and he admitted that he was nervous about rounding up  such a brilliant day following so many high quality presenters. It would be fair to summarise his session as a call to arms which generously referenced several of the speakers whose sessions which Steve had attended including Martin Waller, Joe Dale and Lisa Stevens. All of these were sessions which I was sad to miss and understand that they were as good as I had expected.

Steve has done some brilliant and interesting work in Africa and he used a great example from Robben Island in South Africa referencing the guide who showed him round the former prison who had studied for a degree whilst he was imprisoned. He said that he saw this the ultimate act of rebellion as it showed that the system could not prevent him from developing himself and using his brain.

Final thoughts

So that rounded off one of the best conferences I have attended in recent years and one which I do feel that Northern Grid will struggle to better next year – if they do I hope that I get to attend it in some way. I left having met new people, caught up with some of my heroes, delivered my session to two large audiences who promised to go and implement some of what I had said and taken some ideas back to my employers on Monday.

It only remains for me to thank Simon Finch (@simfin) for his invitation to deliver my sessions at the Conference which was a real privilege. It was clear that a massive amount of work had gone into all of the organisation from Simon and his great team all of which was worthwhile as everyone I met had had a very good day and felt that they had learned a huge amount.


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