I sometimes worry I’m becoming stale… Looking back with ‘rose-tinted spectacles’ it seems that in the past I was able to spend more time keeping abreast of new things than I am now. I seemed to be more able to find new opportunities, to discover new things and to learn new things in the past.
So how do you discover new and exciting things to do in the classroom with Computers?
I’ve managed to make use of a myriad of avenues to help me discover new things here in the UK…
I have attend conferences such as the (now sadly defunct) Naace Conference where for many years (over 10) I relished the opportunity to network with old friends and made new ones too. I picked up some gems from the main presentations, but in many ways more important were the little ‘show-and-tell’ sessions running on the side where teachers and consultants would quietly show you what they’ve been doing. Some of the best things I have taught (and still do) come from sessions like that!
More recently I’ve attended the E2BN conference in St Neots. It seemed to capture the same feeling as the Naace conference and sent me back to ‘work’ with a fresh step and new ideas bubbling up again.
I have attended Bett annually in London for over 15 years now, often trying to put a high priority on choosing sensible seminar sessions above the exhibition. It’s amazing how the slightest thing can be that spark of an idea which can turn into something excellent. Bett as a conference is too large still and you really need to go equipped with a plan of action or a specific focus to get the most out of Bett. This year I started by sitting down with the seminar timetable and drafted myself a list of those to use as a scaffold to then build my Bett visit around. I then created a must-visit list of exhibitors and also a list of things I am looking for. As travel around bett I will keep my eyes open for anything else that catches them too!
The CAS Conference is a really CHEAP conference which takes place over a weekend and which has provided me with excellent ideas over the years BUT focused exclusively on the programming and logic side of Computing. I have attended three CAS conferences over their nine-year history and taken away many things which I have tried in classrooms.
Some of our local Apple re-sellers have offered excellent free days where you could go off to a nice location to see experts showing you what’s new and ‘funky’ in the Apple world. I got many great ideas from these sessions, things that helped me become really creative with iPads especially.
The issue with conferences of any kind is that they are often not cheap AND you usually need time out of the classroom or work to go. A double-whammy!
TeachMeets CAN be great. I have helped run several over the years and attended dozens, but not so much recently… Having said that I am signed up for the 2018 Bett TeachMeet taking place on the Friday of Bett. I am even tempted to sign up to present!
What is a TeachMeet then? Well, it’s a kind of cross between speed dating and a conference. They are usually run in the evening (so negating the cost of release from the classroom). They are also usually free to attend (often sponsored by some education company) or very cheap to attend. They are run in a social atmosphere, often with drinks and nibbles and they are usually organised and run by teachers. Anyone can sign up to give a presentation. Presentations are normally either 3 or 5 minutes long and you can’t go over time (or give a sales pitch)! I’ve picked up many gems over the years from TeachMeets so I am really looking forward to the Bett one, and getting a chance to catch up with some old faces there too!
I guess that brings me on to CAS or Computing At School to give the organisation its full name. CAS is a free community of educators created to help ‘support and promote excellence in computer science education’ according to their strap line. I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with CAS for many years. They have an active online presence, an annual conference and a printed magazine but more importantly they have unique regional ‘hubs’ (I used to help run one). These CAS hubs arrange local teachmeet-like sessions where teachers meet up and share what they’ve been doing in Computer Science.
CAS predates the changed computing curriculum and have campaigned to raise the profile of computer science for many years. I agree with much that CAS do, but their tight focus just on the logic and programming side of ICT (and the fact they tend to be more successful at engaging Secondary Schools rather than Primary Schools) means that they are not the whole answer for me, but a useful part for sure.
Social Media and the Internet
I used to be an avid Twitter follower (I don’t really Tweet much myself) but I hardly visit it anymore. The fact that even when you are fairly selective over who you follow I found I missed far more than I read. The amount of time it takes to sort through and skim tweets for the return I got just didn’t add up. Every now and again I feel I ought to go back, and I spend an hour or so ‘catching up’ but then it seems a bit fruitless. IF I were engaged in conversations I am sure it would be different… There used to be some great resources for finding ACTIVE educationalists on Twitter…
I do subscribe to some newsletters. I think these probably came from people I followed on Twitter or saw present at a conference or TeachMeet. The newsletter is an interesting concept… It’s an opportunity to condense the kind of content I used to find spread out on Twitter into one place. Generally the newsletters I follow bring me ideas and concepts which are edited together by the newsletter creator saving me time in trawling twitter and the net!
Doug Belshaw crafts an excellent weekly newsletter called Thought Shrapnel which arrives most Sundays. There’s usually something which I follow-up in more detail. Not so much the classroom teaching ideas as the bigger picture from Doug. Doug also has a live version of this where you can discover new ideas and thoughts as they happen to him and an archive of older posts.
Terry Freedman has produced newsletters since the year 2000. They are more spasmodic in frequency but also more content-rich than other newsletters.
There are more educational blogs than you can shake a stick at (this being just one of them). To be honest I don’t follow ANY of them… I’m sure there are some excellent things out there (and my very mildly autistic side hates the fact I’m missing them) but HOW do you discover them?
I guess it doesn’t really matter how you get your new ideas, so long as you do!