I have always loved mathematics, but I’ve not always been ‘good’ at maths. I got a grade A for GCSE Mathematics when I was 16 years old (a grade I worked really, really hard for) but I struggled with mathematics at ‘AS’ and ‘A’ – Level (the UK’s pre-university qualifications).
It just so happened that mathematics wasn’t a subject I needed as a prerequisite for my university course anyway. So, in a sense, I committed the cardinal sin of thinking that it ‘didn’t matter’. I was planning to study molecular biology at university, and my admissions tutors were mainly interested in my biology and chemistry grades.
I achieved my goal of going to uni and doing my PGCE in order to become a fully qualified Science teacher in 2006. I was happy for several years, but my failure to complete my mathematics education at school kept gnawing at me like an annoying itch. I needed to do something about it.
I decided to complete the Certificate in Mathematics course with the Open University in 2009, after three years of being a full-time science teacher. This course covered everything in my ‘A’-Level syllabus with some extra, university-level topics thrown in. It was challenging and offered me just what I needed: closure. As a distance-learning course, it also offered me the chance to study and work as a teacher at the same time.
As I started studying the course and handing in assignments (which had to be snail mailed to the UK – I was living in Thailand at the time), I began to realise how much I had become disconnected from the student experience as a teacher. It had been around three years since I had ever studied anything seriously, and this mathematics course was teaching me how difficult it was to:
Seek help when in doubt
Have the self-discipline needed to study at a regular time-slot each day
These skills were, of course, things I had to do whilst completing my degree course and schooling earlier in life, but it had been a few years since I had been immersed in serious study like this. I was slowly losing empathy for my students: that was until this course gave me a wake-up call.
Another big thing I took from this experience was just how stressful it can be to prepare for a difficult exam (and to complete it). I had to fly to the UK to take the end of course mathematics exam (a three hour beast), and along with the intense revision that came in the few days running up to the exam I had the misfortune of not sleeping so well the night before the big day. And then, once sat down and actually completing the paper, three hours felt like it went by in an instant.
I guess I’m trying to make a number of points in this trip down Memory Lane – namely that by immersing ourselves in the ‘student experience’ we can, as teachers:
Regain, or enhance, our true understanding of just how many hurdles await our students on their race to the exam finish-line.
Learn new skills and concepts that can be applied to our roles as classroom managers, leaders and ‘purveyors’ of specialist knowledge.
Build self-discipline, and pass on the lessons learned to our students in our roles as mentors, homeroom teachers, form tutors and coaches.
One final point to stress is that, whilst we can study almost any subject we want via online platforms like EdX and Coursera these days, it’s also important that we take the time to thoroughly reflect on a regular basis. Keeping a journal of things we’ve done well, and things we messed up, can be a great way to have a written record to read over when we want to celebrate successes and remind ourselves of lessons we have learned on our journeys as educators. This video I made a few years ago goes into this in more detail:
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Tip:Jump to the end of this article for questions I’ve received (plus answers) on these apps.
In addition to the above video, I highly recommend that you watch my ‘sequel’ to this, which goes through welfare, safeguarding and practical issues you’ll need to deal with when doing online learning (includes some not-so-obvious things to consider):
Your questions answered
Question about Nearpod from Mirian (via Facebook):
Sorry to ask but Nearpod seems to be really useful. Is it an app I have to download or a webpage? Because I logged in but then I couldn’t create my lessons or it didn’t generate a code for my students. Probably I didn’t do things properly 😕
It’s a website. You’ll need to create an account, upload a slide presentation (as a pdf – just click ‘save as’ on your ppt and convert to a pdf.). Once your slide show is uploaded and saved (Nearpod will ask you to choose the subject and age level), you then need to click on ‘Live Lesson’. This will generate a code. Share the code with your students and you are good to go.
I have made a video describing how to create an awesome, free Nearpod lesson here:
It’s the story that everyone is talking about, and that also has many school leaders concerned: COVID-19.
The recent outbreak of this novel strain of coronavirus has caused a domino effect resulting in school closures, travel restrictions and a general, heightened sense of anxiety for many people. For schools, three major priorities now exist:
Protecting the student and staff body from infection
Having effective, simple plans in place to support students with their learning in the event of a sudden school closure
Educating the community about good hygiene practice and dispelling any myths about the virus that may surface, and which may add to anxiety
In this week’s blog post I aim to tackle all three of these priorities in a non-biased, objective way. Original sources will be hyperlinked and a full list of citations can be found at the end of this article.
Priority 1: Protecting the student and staff body from infection
This has to be a school’s first priority right now, as not only do the symptoms of COVID-19 infection vary slightly from person-to-person, but the resulting disease caused by the virus can progress to a serious stage in some people. A community in which high numbers of people work in close proximity to one another (such as a school) is also an ideal place for human-to-human transmission to occur, should an infected person be on-campus.
The latest official information about COVID-19 allows us to evaluate risk to some extent:
Transmission can occur from person to person, usually after close contact with an infected patient through droplet transmission. This is why it is important to stay more than 1 meter (3 feet) away from a person who is sick. (World Health Organisation)
Develop, or review, the school’s emergency operations plan. Review strategies for reducing the spread of disease and establish mechanisms for ongoing communication with staff, students, volunteers, families, and the community. Collaborate with local health departments and other relevant partners.
It is advised that students, staff, parents and guardians, are excluded from sites if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days.
When possible, regular health checks (e.g., temperature and respiratory symptom screening on arrival at school) of students, staff, and visitors. Those who are symptomatic should be excluded. For students experiencing homelessness, use your current procedures to ensure their safety.
Older adults and individuals with underlying medical conditions that are at increased risk of serious COVID-19 are encouraged not to come to the child care and food service setting (including employees).
Practice social distancing (i.e., limit contact of people within 6 feet from each other).
Provide adequate supplies for good hygiene, including clean and functional handwashing stations, soap, paper towels, and alcohol‐based hand sanitizer.
Follow environmental cleaning guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are followed (e.g., clean and disinfect high touch surfaces daily or more frequently).
Plan ways to care for students and staff who become sick and separate them from students and staff who are well. Use face masks as needed should this occur. Staff should go home immediately if they become sick. Contact the student’s parent or guardian immediately if they show symptoms of COVID-19.
Priority 2: Having effective, simple plans in place to support students with their learning in the event of a sudden school closure
I’ve come up with what I believe to be a simple method to facilitate learning in the event of a school closure:
The Online Learning Journal [A suggestion for schools]
Step 1: Every student in the school creates a website that will act as an ‘ePortfolio’ or learning journal. Each website should contain a separate page for each subject the student learns. Google Sites is amazing for this (it’s very user friendly), but Wix, WordPress and Blogger are also good (and free) alternatives. Just make sure the students are using their school e-mail addresses to sign-up to these platforms.
Step 2: The URL for every ePortfolio for every kid in the school is kept on a centralized spreadsheet (e.g. a Google Sheet or an MS Excel sheet) that every teacher has access to.
Step 3: Work is set by the teacher through the school’s online Virtual Learning Environment or MOOC (such as Google Classroom, Firefly or Moodle) or even via e-mail. Students are required to complete their work on their website (e.g. by writing notes on each page, uploading photos of work that’s handwritten, embedding Google Slides, etc.)
Step 4: Teachers simply need to click on the URL for each website of the kids they teach and check their work. Feedback can be written on the website itself (Google Sites makes this very easy, but the student needs to click ‘share’ and share it with the class teacher), or feedback can be directly e-mailed to each student.
You can read more about this method at my blog posthere. I also made an accompanying video:
I’ve done some recent research with my own students about which online learning platforms work and my findings are given below (please share this image far and wide):
Priority 3: Educating the community about good hygiene practice and dispelling any myths about the virus that may surface, and may add to anxiety
Keeping good communication lines open and providing regular updates is always a good idea at times like this. Consider the following ideas:
Send out a weekly newsletter to parents that goes through the steps the school is taking to protect the community from infection and general advice about good hygiene and best practice.
Encourage parents to e-mail any questions or queries they have to a designated person, or to their child’s homeroom teacher.
Assemblies and meetings with students and staff to go through good hygiene measures and offer advice and reassurance.
Find out where everyone in the community is travelling to during school vacations (Google Forms is great for this – send it out and collect responses). Analyse the data received and plan accordingly.