IT excitement

For a while now I’ve been looking for a simple way to project the pupils’ work up onto the board, whether that’s answers to an exam question, notes from discussion, or even good diagrams in Economics. We don’t have a wifi network in the building, so screencasting, in whatever form, is a no-go. I’ve been using a clunky solution which involves taking photos on my mobile, connecting the phone to the computer via USB, then opening the DCIM folder: it works, but it ain’t pretty!

Some time last year, John Tomsett blogged about explicity modelling thinking with his Economics class as a way of developing exam technique; he followed this up with another post about a teacher doing this process with a visualiser. A visualiser? THAT’s what they’re called! Clearly I am a long way behind the technological curve.

During the final week of the summer holiday, the HOD for Economics and I discovered that we’d got money left in the budget. After ordering all the new spec resources we could justify, I persauded him to let me spend eighty quid on my own visualiser. Technically it’s the department’s visualiser, but I’m not going to split hairs about that! It arrived on the first day of term, and I’ve only just got round to setting it up, but already I’m excited about the possibilities – my Y13 are tackling their first BUSS3 paper this week, and the ability to show them how I’d like them to annotate the case-study is going to be invaluable. As we read it together, I can make notes, which they can then see on the board – talk about making the implicit explicit!

Now all I need a long USB extension cable so I can use it in the middle of my classroom…

Nine days of teaching…

…and we’re still standing. (And I’ve written my UCAS references: success)

The Oracle (pupil handbook) has been generally well-received, and one class in particular thought that “Let’s consult the oracle” was particularly amusing. Getting the Y12 to highlight/annotate in their books before making summary notes seems to be going pretty well, although – much as the same way that the real proof of the pudding is in the eating – I’m not certain that their knowledge is secure enough yet. I suppose that this is where the ‘nothing new’ lessons and the cumulative assessment will come in.

The Programme of Learning splits the specification into two: side A starts with ‘what is a business?’ while side B begins with revenue, costs, profits and profitability. My Side B class have spent a lot of time doing calculations, and it’s going to be an interesting time: that class has, among others, three pupils doing A-level maths and two who scrapped a C at GCSE maths. I really need to work out how to stretch the top without scaring the bottom, and there’s a real risk of that happening – time for a chat with the Maths department, I think.

Side A seems to be pottering along OK, although it felt very odd teaching mission statements to Y12, when it’s traditionally been a topic taught half-way through Y13 – I used pretty much the same activity as normal (going to the IT centre, each finding 5 mission statements, then analysing them about purpose/audience/effectiveness) but the comments in class really brought home the lack of sophistication in their understanding. I think this will be a real challenge of the linear AQA course, in that there is none of the ‘easing in’ found in the legacy BUSS1 – topics done this week have to be covered to the same depth as topics in the final weeks of the course. I’ve given them an essay on mission statements to write (might as well start them young!) but I think it’s going to take a lot of polishing. Mind you, we’ve got to start somewhere and I’m going to think of it as a good opportunity for redrafting and formative assessment.

There are all sorts of challenges on the Head Of Department front – it’s felt like a fortnight of frantic running to keep still – but things are thankfully settling down, I hope, and I’ll be able to finalise the tracking spreadsheets. Next year, to make the start of the year easier (recorded here, so I can look back on it as a reminder!):

  • I’m going to be stricter on the department about the completion of UCAS references: the process is that they write individually, I then compile; the final references came in 4 hours before the deadline this year. There was swearing. Not in front of anyone else, of course, although the cat looked shocked.
  • I’m going to concentrate on get the overall set-list sheet of the tracking spreadsheets sorted first and maybe just keep all the pupil data on a single sheet, rather than splitting it into sets in advance, then having to copy and paste kids from one class to another as they change their options and their minds.
  • I’m going to sort a system for tracking exam re-marks. I’ve just been whacking the emails into a folder, and I’m all confused. Ach well.

The first week…

… has been a total whirlwind, and  – whilst I’d like to tell the tales of spreadsheets and set-swapping, of data analysis and total mayhem, and how that new course is bedding in – actually I have to write UCAS references. Lots of them. By tomorrow.

Bum.

Blimey!

We started back on Tuesday. Actually, that was only yesterday, although it feels a lot longer ago. There have been meetings, discussion groups, seventeen versions (and still counting!) of set lists, half a bazillion emails, and we’ve still not got any pupils!

Lessons start tomorrow morning – I’ve already counted out textbooks, file dividers, copies of The Oracle (the student handbook), and wrestled with the timetable to work out who is teaching which classes when. I’ve still not had chance to re-arrange my classroom, but I’ve a free lesson before I start teaching so hopefully I’ll survive.

In good news, though, the arrival of the pre-released materials for both BUSS4 (for our Y13) and A293 (for Y11) has cheered me greatly: once the dust has settled from the start of term, I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into those. I’ve also received a couple of Tutor2u resources for the new Business spec, so they’ve been uploaded to the shared folder on the network. I love it when a plan comes together!

See you on the other side…

Excelling

When I first started teaching, back when the year began with a one not a two, I could only get the internet at home by using my mobile as a dial-up modem. I think the speed was 5kbps. Unsurprisingly, I therefore spent a lot of time in the IT room at school, which was the only reason why I got picked by the Head to teach GCSE IT in my second year. Playing on the internet can in no way be compared to using spreadsheets and databases and, suffice to say, the learning curve was awfully steep. Leaving the school at the end of that year was bittersweet – for all that I was going to miss my colleagues and pupils, there was no way I was going to miss Excel.

Until this week.

I’ve finally got round to the faffy spreadsheet jobs that seem to be part of the HOD job description these days, and boy am I wishing I could remember more of the stuff I had to teach! It’s taken a lot of trial’n’error, not to mention swearing under my breath, but I’ve finally managed to get a spreadsheet for each year group that we can use to track progress. It’s set up so that teachers can enter the results of the assessment point activities (which will be the same test for every class in each year) by class but the results will automatically transfer into an overall spreadsheet, so we can look at the year as a whole. That’s my plan anyway. I suspect that the mis-remembered formulae will let me down at some point, and I’ll have to go crying to the Excel wizards on the staff, but I’m going to pretend that it’s working.

My next job is to work out how to colour-code things. Then there will be no stopping me…

Results day

Our exam results get emailed to pupils, so we don’t have the big results day gatherings that I’ve known in other schools. I quite miss that feeling of togetherness, and the chance to congratulate and commiserate with pupils in person. I read of one school that has a results day breakfast before the dreaded envelopes appear; I defintely like the sound of that. However, we have HODs, dragged kicking and screaming from their holidays, who sit in reception waiting for the phone calls and visits from anxious parents and pupils who have been let down by technology.

This year, I was the hapless HOD on duty. I had the disheartening job of breaking the news about one son’s underperformance: not a highlight of the day. Then, not ten minutes later, I got the joyous task of telling someone they’d got an A* in history, significantly better than they’d been predicted or were expecting. He told me that he’d left the history exam in tears, there must be an error, and I was definitely reading the wrong person’s result. In the end, we gave him his results slip to prove that we weren’t making it up. It was truly, in his own words, a result.

Of such things are results days made. Now, on to next year…

Step by step, lesson by lesson

Having spent so long thinking about the ‘big picture’ for the linear A-level – Which topics fit where during the course of the year? How best to carve up the specification between teachers? – that I’m finding it quite tricky to plan individual lessons. I suppose this is the natural challenge when moving from classroom teacher to HoD, but it’s unsettling!

As a department, we’ve decided to change our teaching approach this year: rather than spending time covering content in lessons, we’re going to get the pupils doing much more reading and note-making in advance and then discussing the key issues in class. Some might call this a flipped classroom, but it’s actually much more like ‘reverting back to the old days when prep actually meant preparation’. Planning for this has required a different mindset, but hopefully will make pupils much more confident about tackling information independents, which has to be beneficial in the long-run. I suspect that it will take a while to bed-in, and I’m expecting some resistance from the Y12, but hopefully the fact that they’re at the start of their sixth form courses means that we can set the tone early.

I’ve read through the appropriate chapters in the textbook and made a note of all the questions I’d like to ask on each topic – some relatively closed to check understanding; others much more broad to develop thought and discussion. I’m intending to use those notes as a prompt in lessons, and so lots of lesson plans just seem to say “Ask questions”. Hopefully it will fall into place once the students get here!

The spreadsheet cult

There is – out there in the deep corners of the internet – a master spreadsheet of all current UK education blogs. It’s a lumbering leviathan of a computer file, and @oldandrewuk is its evil overlord. Every few months, from the safety of my own computer, I’ve observed Andrew’s calls to the edu-twitter-types, urging them to add their details. The start of this blog meant it was time to step gingerly onto the slippery slope leading into the abyss. I signed up and added my details. I was lured further down by tales of Andrew’s next project: a blog that automatically aggregates all blogs about a specific subject. There are oodles of maths teachers out there writing about the intricacies of differentiation, and countless RE types philosophising over some Kantian principle. Surely this is exactly what we need in the world of Economics and Business teachers? I started looking.

Turns out there aren’t many of us.

In fact, the number of personal teacher blogs I found could be counted by a three-toed sloth (although one toe would have to reach to New Zealand, so that’s probably unlikely in a biological sense, not to mention preventing inclusion on The Spreadsheet Of Doom). What is it about business and economics teachers that makes us unlikely to blog about our classroom practice?

Lots of us use Twitter, Scoop.It, Pinterest blah blah blah, so it’s not about being baffled by the technology.

Many share information with pupils on a weekly, if not daily, basis: one of the best things about the subject is that we’re at the cutting edge of current affairs, and there’s always something in the news that is of relevance to our subjects. Is it that blogs are just another layer of content that demands updating?

Are we really such unreflective teachers that we don’t think about and discuss what we’re doing in our classrooms, day in, day out?

Or is it that existing structures like tutor2u.net make us reluctant to strike out on our own? Those who want to blog and share their ideas can do so through T2U; those of us who have imposter syndrome, and feel bemused that anyone would be interested, instead stay quiet.

Maybe what we need is a quiet revolution – more dialogue about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Perhaps there will be more blogs out there in time for the next version of The Spreadsheet?