Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Hungry for Success with Health

Scottish Executive Education Department has published a baseline report about school meals and pupils' eating habits, which will be used for comparison with evaluation data acquired by research over the next few years. It is intended to help track the effectiveness of local implementation of SEED's 'Hungry for Success' policy which aims to improve the health of Scotland's young people.

Clearly there is a long way to go, and eating habits are slow to change. Today's edition of 'The Herald' newspaper has a story entitled "Health aside.. pizza and chips still top choice for pupils", which points out that children usually still opt for unhealthy foods and drinks.

Besides those kids that take school meals, what about all the rest who bring in food or (in secondary years) leave school premises to go and buy some.

A BBC story "School ban for chip vans mooted" suggests that local authorities may be given powers to prevent mobile food outlets operating near school premises. Would the kids not just walk down the road a bit further to get their junk food?

What about parents? If more people were persuaded not to fill their little darling's lunch box with chocolate biscuits, bags of crisps, and cans of sweet fizzy drinks, that would help.

I'm about to set a bad example. Time for coffee and a muffin..

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Schools 'twinned' to beat bigotry

This BBC story relates to the Scottish Executive's launch of further action against Sectarianism in Scotland. The Executive's own news release gives more detail. The full 'Action Plan on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland' is online, and focuses on four areas: Education, Sport, Faith, and Marches and Parades.

One view:

Religious bigotry, principally between Protestants and Catholics and mainly in the West of Scotland, is a very unattractive feature of Scottish life. But it touches the lives of most Scots hardly at all, and is probably in a long-term decline as 'multi-cultural life' becomes more the norm across Scotland and the hard-line bigots die out.

Educational and other initiatives to address sectarianism have been around for some time, trying to change attitudes. For example, the Nil By Mouth campaign in Scottish football is well-established and works to reduce the incidence of intolerant individuals spoiling the pleasure of football for other people. And Learning and Teaching Scotland were behind an anti-sectarian education web resource in 2005.

One part of the action plan is to have more 'twinning' of catholic and non-denominational schools, to organise more joint events that bring children together from different communities.
The clear question that follows that is: why not take the logical next step and stop having separate schools labelled 'catholic' and 'non-denominational'? Create a reformed education system and let the young people truly mix and learn to live together.


I'm pretty much a Microsoft man. I use Windows and the Office suite pretty extensively - and Word, Excel and Outlook are great tools. Up until a few weeks ago, I used Internet Explorer for my Internet browsing. But I decided to give Mozilla Firefox a try - and I'm a convert. Tabbed browsing and the easy extended architecture make it a great information tool. Apart from tabbed browsing, it's small things that make the difference - for example, the way that a range of search engines are built into the browser (including Wikipedia and Internet Movie Database). The use of extensions pretty much accomplishes anything you want (just search for what you want and someone will probably have written an extension to do it). Most sites are Firefox friendly - but there's an extension to convert any page to IE format if you find a page that doesn't render correctly. The forthcoming version of Internet Explorer (IE7) includes tabbed browsing but right now FF appears to be a more effective information tool for educators than IE.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

BBC and e-learning

The BBC has launched the first phase of its keenly-anticipated 'Digital Curriculum' broadband service. Now branded as 'BBC Jam' , this service offers creative and innovative digital content and some tools to make better use of the material.

A BBC news story 'BBC curriculum gets kids to jam' provides background information.

My first impressions of two subjects were of some great stuff, so I'm looking forward to more in the future. Now let's get our teachers and students making use of the resources..

Physical exercise and computer game

The BBC story 'US pupils to dance themselves fit' reports on an initiative in West Virginia, USA. Following a succesful pilot project, the state is extending the use in middle schools of a computer game and electronic dance-mat. The teenagers move their bodies to match dance steps shown on screen, taking exercise and getting healthier. It's a neat way to address childhood obesity.

Given the obesity figures for Scottish children, would any of our Scottish schools like to try this?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Council fast-tracks exam pupils

Bobby linked to this BBC story which reports that East Renfrewshire Council will have a council-wide strategy of secondary school pupils starting their work towards SQA Intermediate exams early, to take their first exams at age 14.

I see the rationale behind this, that the S2 year (recognised as often undemanding and de-motivating) could have better use made of it, and that students would get longer working towards their Highers exams.

There are a few concerns:

1. That might suit bright and able teenagers, but what about the less-able young people who never reach the stage of taking Highers? Does this system write them off, or divert them into vocational classes?

2. This also implies that kids would have to choose which subjects to continue, and which to drop, at an even earlier stage - probably aged 13. Hard to make those kind of decisions so young.

3. Hard also for the teaching departments at school; they would have to persuade kids within just one year in S1 that their subjects were the ones to choose, or lose them to the subject for ever. Would the best teachers be put into S1 classes, to try to ensure that numbers were sustained for exam classes? Will exam grades then suffer, if the best teachers are in other classes?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Internet serves as 'social glue'

Bobby linked to this BBC story, which covers some US research about the impact of the Internet on everyday life. The Pew Internet project found that Americans use the Internet extensively to maintain and extend their social networks, and to seek help advice and information when dealing with personal challenges - like healthcare, relationships, jobs, etc.

Its interesting reading. Are people in Scotland any different? Is the culture here less amenable to the benefits of life online?

My feeling is that we're maybe a year or so behind America still, in terms of both infrastructure development and social acceptance of the Internet's benefits and uses. The growth of services such as online dating and Internet poker in the UK demonstrates an acceptance of the Internet's value in certain circumstances.

For us in Scottish education, there's huge potential....


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Is the iGeneration a myth?

I've never bought the argument that young people (the iGeneration) are naturally good at using IT. My own kids were brought up with computers - and can barely bookmark a webpage.

This article argues that the real difference between the generations has nothing to do with IT skills and more to do with media. This seems to be borne out by my own family - my children aren't particularly skilled with IT but they are incredibly comfortable with digital media.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Education - funding and effectiveness

Last week the Scottish Executive Education Department published details of expenditure on Scottish school education in 2004-05 and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education published a report titled "Missing Out: a report on Children at risk of missing out on educational opportunities".

Expenditure is rising, but the long standing problem of a lack of attainment for many children living in poverty is not much changed. A BBC story "Pupils' performance gap widening" considers this.

It's not simply about money.

The relationship between social deprivation and educational achievement is clear but complex, and there is a need for a better measure of school effectiveness in terms of 'added-value'. Schools in deprived areas start in more difficult circumstances and may achieve a great deal with their pupils which is not well reflected in exam results.

Other commentators have picked on the issue of local authority and school leadership. Can strong leadership make a difference and overcome to some degree the problems caused by poor economic context?


Culture and Creativity in Scotland

Me, I'm a 'Culture Lover', so this made interesting reading. The Scottish Executive has laid out its plans for rejuvenating the cultural sector in Scotland, by publishing its response to last year's final review report from the Cultural Commission.

"Scotland's Culture: Scottish Executive Response on the Cultural Review" expresses the Executive's vision, the roles of national and local authorities, etc. And there are some significant changes in the plans, helpfully highlighted in a news release. Here's a few:

A new cultural development agency 'Creative Scotland' will be formed, by merging two existing public bodies - the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen. Two very different organisations, one in Glasgow one in Edinburgh.

The new body will lose one responsibility, the funding of national performing companies such as Scottish Opera, which will be done directly by the Executive.

The national collections of Scotland will be expanded. If this means better resources for gems such as the excellent Scottish Screen Archive and better use of resources by all, I'll be pleased.

A new system of 'cultural rights' and entitlements for citizens will be introduced. This one is vague at the moment, and local authorities may not welcome a responsibility to provide services to meet local citizens' entitlements (and who decides what they are entitled to? the council or the consumer?) without extra funding.

Education is recognised as important, to support the development of a new generation of creative individuals. That's good news! And it fits with the on-going curriculum renewal process, and the emphasis in 'A Curriculum for Excellence' on young people as effective contributors, successful learners, etc.

Now we just have to make all of this a reality..

Science education

The BBC story "Science 'not for normal people'" outlines research which indicated one reason for many students opting out of science at school. Apparently, teenagers thought that scientists were not 'normal young and attractive men and women'.

That research was conducted in England, but I reckon Scottish teenagers (and many adults) would share the view that scientists are a bit odd and not the sexiest specimens around.

There are a lot of factors that influence the choices made by teenagers when choosing their subjects for exams/qualifications at age 13, but parental influence is a key one, and ideas about future jobs are another. Widespread public perception that scientists are unattractive nerds is a significant hurdle to overcome, and makes it essential to have activity and campaigns to persuade children and adults otherwise.

NESTA does some good work on Science education projects and the public communication of science. For example, Planet Science is a great resource.

Scottish Executive Education Department has also supported science education in Scottish schools through initiatives such as 'Improving Science Education 5-14'.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

New e-assessment glossary

A new glossary of terms used within e-assessment might standardise the use of terminology within this developing area.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Socratic Method

The Socratic method involves learning through questioning. This example illustrates the technique by using questionning to teach binary. Not a great example but a useful reminder of a powerful teaching method.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Physical Education in Scottish schools

The Scottish Executive Education Department has published statistics about the state and extent of PE in our schools. The report 'Progress towards the recommendations of the Physical Education Review Group' reveals some progress, like a growth in teacher numbers and teacher-trainees, but also weaknesses.

A SEED news release highlights one significant problem. School children are rarely getting enough time actually doing some physical activity in school. (a minimum of two hours per week is the target). A BBC story 'Minister exercised over PE issue' covers this point and the varied responses of the Education authorities to the shortfall in provision.

In many places there isn't much out-of-school hours sport either. And parents can't avoid their responsibilities towards the eating and drinking behaviour of their children, and the lack of exercise they take. Combining a lack of physical activity with a poor diet, it's no wonder that the childhood obesity figures for Scotland are a national disgrace.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Education Podcast Network

The Education Podcast Network is a website that includes links to a large number of educational podcasts.

BBC jam launches this month

The BBC's Digital Curriculum initiative is due to launch this month. It has been re-titled BBC jam. Given the BBC's track record in multimedia, we can expect some high quality learning materials that can be used within the Scottish curriculum.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Computer games - more

For anyone interested in the potential of computer games for learning in the UK, NESTA Futurelab does a lot of research into ICT and learning, and they have a very useful 'Games and Learning' handbook among their publications.

I visited their exhibition stand at the BETT show in London last week, and their staff showed off some of the activities and simulations developed through their projects. The 'Mudlarking in Deptford' project was one I liked, using mobile technologies to engage with the environment and history of their area through creation of a multimedia tour.

Up in Scotland, John Kirriemuir is a 'veteran' researcher and consultant on games in learning, with a website and the Silversprite blog.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

59% of teachers would consider using video games in schools

Given that one of my daughters has learnt most of her social skills on The Sims (she lectures me and her mother regularly), I'm not surprised that 60% of teachers appreciate the educational benefit of computer games.


I'm a believer in the benefits of computer games for learning too, but I wouldnt want my kids learning their driving skills from 'Need for Speed' ....


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Crash course in learning theory

'Digitally challenged' people wanted

A BBC story 'Technophobes wanted for research' reports that Dundee University researchers are looking for volunteers over 40 who find it hard to cope with digital technology devices. It wants to explore how fear of change can be reduced by making devices much simpler to use.

Any Scottish teachers out there who'd like to volunteer? I'm tempted myself, the latest mobile phones are beyond my capacity...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Contributors wanted

This blog has been on the go for a few months now and the readership is slowly growing. There are now three contributors - but the original idea was to have lots of contributors so we're looking for more volunteers.

The only criteria are that you have an interest in Scottish education and you can occasionally post links to interesting stories and useful resources. You can get a flavour of the sorts of posts by reading the existing blog. Don't worry if you have never blogged before - posting a message is simple.

Drop me an e-mail if you want to become a contributor.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Web competition on Diplomacy

The US government State Department is sponsoring the 'Doors to Diplomacy' competition for 13-19 year olds from any country (so why not Scottish teenagers!) , encouraging students to produce web projects about the importance of good international relations, global issues, etc.
The previous years of the contest have generated good websites on subjects such as hunger and famine, health, security, etc. The closing date is 17th March 2006.

The competition is run through Global Schoolnet, an American educational foundation with a track-record of worthwhile internet projects.

Friday, January 06, 2006

New Year's resolution

One of my New Year's resolutions is to contribute to Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia which anyone can contribute to. As a result, it's growing at a phenomenal rate and is very up to date. It's a fantastic educational resource - but not without its critics (ironically documented by Wikipedia).

I've made one or two contributions already but intend to write more in 2006. It would be good if more Scottish educationalists contributed.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The future of assessment and learning?

The Exam on Demand Advisory Group produces occasional papers on e-assessment. Its latest paper is entitled The Development of E-Assessment 2004 to 2014 [PDF]. It speculates on how e-learning and e-assessment will affect schools, colleges, awarding bodies and regulators during the next few years.

I think that it's a bit optimistic about what can be acheived in the next eight years but it makes bold predictions about the future - many of which will come true.

Personal laptops

Individual personal access to a laptop or other computing device for every student (and teacher) is seen as essential by some educators. Having guarenteed access, ideally with wireless Internet access to networked resources too, would enable greater achievement of the potential of ICT for learning.

Not everyone is convinced: There are lots of other demands on education expenditure, and not all local politicians and education managers are convinced of the cost-benefit proposition; a risk of over-exposure to ICT worries some teachers and parents;

No Scottish education authority has yet implemented a personal access strategy, although several have aspirations. Small scale projects with laptops and handheld computers in cities such as Dundee and Glasgow have not been continued.

An October 2005 BBC story "Diary of a laptop school pupil" descibed the life of a teenager at a High School in Arizona, USA, who makes extensive use of ICT with positive attitude.

A new story in USA today "Schools ask parents to pay up before kids log on" reports on a California elementary school's experience with laptops for younger kids and the local digital inclusion issues.