Remote teaching

In the current climate of school closures, I was recently asked to share my experience of teaching from home. My plan was to maintain a little bit of lesson routine and student interaction, rather than create a ‘how to’ video for each topic – as there are plenty of these videos around.

What I use when recording videos

I usually utilise a combination of the following:

    • PowerPoint to display pre-prepared questions, and sometimes answers
    • Visualiser to model methods and demonstrate solutions
    • Screen sharing – e.g. to demonstrate maths graphing software, or similar

These are all uploaded to my school youtube account, via OBS.

Live vs. Recorded

When it was announced schools would close, I informed students of exactly when I would set them work (twice per week), to help them establish a routine. I originally planned to record videos, but the lack of ‘live feedback’ from students, not being able to respond to their questions and not knowing how well they were understanding my explanations, quickly prompted me to try livestreaming. The fact that we were already working towards a routine helped me here.

However, I did not want students to be in a position where ‘attendance’ of the video (live or recorded) was compulsory – I just hoped that it would ‘sell itself’ and students would choose to engage. The setup I opted for (i.e. hosting on youtube) allows students to revisit these videos at any time they choose.

Assessing students’ understanding

I was conscious from the outset that I did not want a two-way video. I did not want students to be further disadvantaged due to issues with technology, nor did I wish to see into their home environments. I do, however, make much use of the live (text) chat alongside the video in the following ways:

    • It is an opportunity for me to assess students’ understanding
    • Students will ask questions when they don’t understand something
    • It is also an opportunity for students to ask general questions, as they would in the corridors of school

I need to be mindful that (in this format) I am only responding to the students who are ‘present’ at the time – which is typically those who are more diligent. For this reason, and in line with the rest of the Department, it remains the case that the Hegarty tasks (for Yrs 7-10 and equivalent for Yr 12) are the only compulsory tasks for all students – as I can see clearly what students have done (and understand), and can feedback through these platforms.

Miscellaneous

Alongside this, I have given all of my students a weekly questionnaire. They know that recording videos is new to me, and I have welcomed their feedback – which has helped my own development.

I have also chosen to only record live videos for the classes who I feel would make the greatest use of this – Year 9 top set, and Year 12. I continue to record, and upload, videos for my other classes, but these are not live.

Pros and cons

The benefits that I have found are:

    • Students definitely appreciate ‘live’ teaching – and the fact it is responsive (and reactive) to their needs.
    • Students also appreciate the fact that these videos are available to view later and they do not need to attend live.
    • Alongside the questionnaires that I have sent, Google Classroom and my responding to students’ questions/comments, I feel this has helped me to maintain some sort of relationship with many students – and will hopefully help when we eventually return to the classroom (whatever form that may take).

However, the drawbacks are:

    • In the very beginning, I spent a lot of time (hours) setting up for one video. This did not remain the case – and I currently spend as much time planning as I would do normally.
    • It probably took me about 4-5 videos to start producing something I was more comfortable with.
    • I am quite happy using technology, but those less so may struggle – my advice would be to practise first, and it is possible to practise privately.
      • My live videos seem to be ‘laggy’ and I have still not managed to resolve this. This is not an issue with the prerecorded videos.
    • If students watch live, I do not know if they watch all of the video. I also do not know which students have viewed the videos at a later stage.
      • It is highly likely that some students have not engaged with the videos. I am conscious that these students must not be disadvantaged further than necessary – hence I must be mindful about the content that is included.

A sample live video is available to view here and a recorded video here.

I welcome comments, advice, or questions, on any of this.

Histograms

Responding to a tweet from Dani Quinn:

My preferred introduction would be to show the following frequency table, and subsequently ask students to represent this information in a diagram.

Age Frequency
5 ≤ age < 15 10
15 ≤ age < 20 10
20 ≤ age < 30 10
30 ≤ age < 60 10

Specifically, the frequencies are equal, while the class widths vary.

Students develop an understanding of the limitations of a frequency diagram, and we have a gradual discussion, using the following as a guide:

Histograms have a number of uses relating to visually indicating the distribution of the data (e.g. skewnewss). However, they are not the best tool for other tasks (e.g. identifying frequencies).

Students have rarely (conciously) encountered them at the point that they are first introduced in the classroom, and often struggle to underhstand their purpose.

To me, it is very much one of Dan Meyer’s:

If [x] is aspirin, then how do I create the headache?

With histograms being the [x] to the headache that is an appropriate visual representation of the frequency table.

Right angled triangles

This is my second attempt at creating a ‘prezi’ presentation. It is currently ‘in progress’ and I am still not certain of the best way to ‘store it’ for future access, so have placed a link here for the time being.

With this particular prezi, I haven’t yet decided if I want it to include trigonometry, or if I want this to be separate.

Solar System

These are a few resources regarding the solar system, for reference, in case I wish to find them in future.

All known planets to scale via xkcd:
http://xkcd.com/1071/
Interactive solar system:
http://www.sunaeon.com/#/solarsystem/ or http://www.sunaeon.com/
The universe to scale:
http://www.space.com/10900-solar-system-planets-scale-infographic.html or http://dailyinfographic.com/…jpeg

Questionnaire design

This is my first attempt at creating a ‘prezi’ presentation. I am not yet certain of the best way to ‘store it’ for future access, so have placed a link here for the time being.

The questionnaire to which it refers is below, or viewable here.

For those of you who are reading the questions and are perturbed by their nature, they are intended to be ‘thought provoking’.

Time for a change*

I don’t usually copy posts verbatim, but I wanted this one*, from Mark Clarkson, for future reference:

I seriously considered leaving education today. And if I had a viable exit strategy I might have taken it further.

Did I have a bad lesson? Was a pupil abusive, violent or threatening towards me? Not at all. I had the pleasure of my delightful Y7s, made a breakthrough with my Y8s, managed some productive revision and even had a pleasant time on a cover lesson.

What made me think about leaving was the agenda for Monday’s full staff meeting. Item 1? OFSTED. And pinned up next to it, the minutes of a recent Heads of Faculty meeting.

  • In recent years we’ve been told our lessons have to be pacey.
  • They have to help the students demonstrate independent learning.
  • We have to give the students time to explore concepts and ideas.
  • We have to demonstrate progress. From every student. Every 15 minutes.
  • We have to make sure we build literacy explicitly into every lesson.
  • We have to show an awareness of which pupils are FSM, EAL, EM, GAT, SEN, SA, SA+.
  • We have to show how we make learning activities available to kinaesthetic learners, visual learners and audio learners.
  • We have to differentiate our work for multiple intelligences.
  • We have to aim for a 70:30 classroom.
  • We have to assess every student every 6 weeks (that is, after every 6 hours – imagine having to assess every employee at work at the end of every day).
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have a full suite of policies to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have detailed exam analysis to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have a detailed, evidence based SEF to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have marking that demonstrates progress to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have detailed lesson plans to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have detailed ‘narrowing the gap’ data to show them
  • When OFSTED show up  I have to have seating plans to show them

Via the minutes of the meeting I was informed that in my gained time I also have to arrange for a collaborative observation program for my department. Every member of the department has to carry out observations and also has to be observed. Each observation must be written up, objectives set, observations repeated and the whole process evaluated. In addition to planning new schemes of work, updating resources, rewriting lesson plans using the new double sided lesson pro forma, preparing book scrutinies… oh, and at some point teaching all of the Y7, Y8, Y9, Y10 and Y12 students.

At the same time I am told that I will have to work for another 36 years. That I will receive less pension than I was promised (despite the fact that the TPS pot has been overpaid for many years). That tests are too easy. That my subject is not good enough. That I need to solve gaps in parenting. That I should receive performance related pay. That teachers are paid too much. That public sector workers in the north are paid too much. That teachers ‘cheat’ when the watchmen come. And today I’m told that ‘teachers don’t know what stress is‘.

Three local schools have had the dreaded ‘O’ visit them in the last 3 months. Two were graded Satisfactory (which will soon be officially less than satisfactory) and one was given notice to improve. SLT appear to be living in a climate of fear that is pervading every meeting, every document, every decision and every discussion. It appears that my job is becoming more and more about pleasing our overlords (Did I say overlords? I meant protectors – Jonathan Coulton) and less and less about educating and enthusing children.

I’m not leaving teaching today, because there are still too many moments that I enjoy. The XKCD comic at the top of the post perfectly sums up the reason I became a teacher. The idea that someone can leave the room knowing more than they did when they went in has always fascinated me, and that I have the ability to be a part of that is wonderful. The fact that my AS Computing class is taught almost exclusively out of schools hours – when neither I nor they are required to be there – fills me with hope. TEACHING is a great activity. Teaching, at the minute, doesn’t always feel like a great job.

*this post is stolen** entirely from Mark Clarkson. It struck a chord, so I am storing*** it here for my own future reference until he asks for it to removed.

**definition of theft: to dishonestly appropriate property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it.

***I will happily remove it if requesed.

Hot meals versus education

There has been much snow during the past week. To clarify, about 8 inches fell on Saturday night and, as the temperature was low enough, it laid instantly. The UK rarely seems to have enough snow on a regular basis for people to acclimatise, so it often ends up causing widespread disruption; however, being a Sunday morning, this was minimised. The temperature picked up during the day, some of the snow melted and, by Monday, there was little comment on its disruption – other than in small localised regions.

In north-west Norfolk, most schools closed on Monday due to the usual array of snow-related reasons. These included large numbers of staff and/or students being unable to get to the premises, unsafe paths and other similar reasons. Being a particularly rural region, this was not too surprising but, amongst all of the schools which closed, one notable primary school remained open.

Well, the Queen was visiting – it had to, didn’t it? [see here]

Meanwhile, as the week progressed, the reasons behind some of the school closures were clarified. This included some of the following:

Boiler failure – so no heating or hot water
Electrical fault – so no heating
Unable to provide hot dinners

Arguably, these are valid reasons for schools having to close; it is right that people (staff and students) are not expected to work in inhumane conditions. But is it right that schools close for such reasons? Do the potential consequences of such problems outweigh the potential benefits of education?

Admittedly, the timescales are relatively small, so the actual consequences are limited. But perhaps it would make more sense to give staff and students a choice?

Box and whisker

One drawback of Microsoft Excel is that it does not have a function that easily allows for a box-and-whisker diagram to be generated. By ‘fudging’ together a stacked bar chart with error bars, this image was generated using Excel alone. The benefit is that I can just ‘copy and paste’ new data and the diagrams will update automatically.

I am pleased with the outcome, and the idea is that I will use it as the basis of a ‘starter’ in a lesson, as well as lessons in the future. However, I question whether the effort involved in achieving this is worthwhile.

I guess only time will tell how many times it is used.

Lazyitis

I always start out with good intentions, but laziness often gets in the way and they become left by the wayside. I am aware this is the case, so I try to develop ways of preventing this from happening. This is typically achieved by attempting to implement improved, more efficient methods but, occasionally, things slip through the net.

This is either because the new method cuts a corner, thus omitting the good intention altogether (albeit unintentionally), or just because my laziness kicked in and the good intention was omitted over a period of time.

The purpose of this post is to remind me of some of those things which are a good idea, were briefly forgotten about, and are about to slip through the net. This post is therefore acting as that net.

Reflection in teaching is one of the most important tools to help improve practice, but other pressures of the job often get in the way. This blog, as a whole, together with social media and online forums go a long way to helping that (if used correctly), but nothing beats a colleague entering your classroom, observing and feeding back. Thanks SB.

SB was in the classroom for no more than two minutes.
“[Student ‘X’] looked bored while you were taking the register” was the feedback.

Ouch. That hit me right where it hurt. Any pride that I may have had felt like it had disappeared instantly. But it has played on my mind since. I have thought about it long and hard. Was he bored? Why was he bored? What would stop him from being bored? What could I do differently to stop him from being bored? What am I going to do to stop him from being bored? And, to help my pride, how can I demonstrate to SB that he has never been bored since and will never be bored again? Ok, so that last question may seem far-fetched, but it is what I strive to achieve [right?].

While this feedback does not necessarily follow ‘the rules’, or guidelines, of giving feedback, it certainly made me stop and think – and reflect when I may not have done so otherwise. I need to somehow not forget that feeling I felt when SB pointed out to me the observation. The clearer I can remember that feeling, the more likely I am not to want a repeat – and the more effective the ‘net’ will be at saving those good ideas – and defeating laziness.

I continue in my quest to improve.