Good Teachers Are Also Good Students

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Accompanying video:

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). 

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“An AMAZING Book!”

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.

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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. 

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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:

  • Meet deadlines
  • 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.

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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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Online Learning: A Risk-Assessment List for Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback and 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps)

Accompanying video:

Teaching online can be a very productive and worthwhile experience for both the teachers and students involved. However, at this time of widespread school closures due to COVID19, many teachers have had to quickly adapt their skills to teaching online without full knowledge of the heightened risks involved. 

This blog post aims to educate teachers everywhere about the things we can do to protect ourselves when teaching online. I believe that this list is so important that I’ve included it in my upcoming book for teachers: 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps (Release date: 8th April 2020 on Amazon globally). 

100 Awesome Final Cover
Available on Amazon from 8th April 2020 onwards

‘The List’: What do we need to be aware of? 

  1. Anything we say or do online can be recorded, stored, edited and forwarded without our knowledge. Google Hangouts Meets, for example, can be set to autonomously record your meetings and auto-generate a transcript of what was spoken and by whom. We must keep every interaction with our students professional and clean. The same high standards of personal conduct that are expected of us in the classroom apply even more when we are teaching online.
  2. Know when your camera and microphone are switched on. When you start doing video conferencing for the first time, you might inadvertently set your students on a task after a live stream video briefing and then proceed to make a coffee; yawn and stretch in front of the camera; or even chat casually about how messed-up life is with your spouse who’s also working from home. Be careful. This is a very easy trap to fall into (I’ve come close to doing this myself on several occasions!). Make sure your camera AND MICROPHONE are switched off when you no longer need to engage with your students in real-time. In addition, be equally aware of video conferencing apps that can auto-generate captions. If you switch your camera off, but fail to switch off your microphone, then that next YouTube video that contains expletives and blares out of your mobile phone will not only be audible to your students, but captions may even appear on their screens!
  3. Parents will watch you teach, so be prepared for that. In my experience, many students like to switch off their cameras towards the beginning of a lesson and, unbeknownst to you, a parent could be watching. This places us, as teachers, under even greater pressure to deliver high-quality lessons than when we are snug and comfortable in our respective classrooms. Be professional and keep standards high. If we aim to be clear, caring and professional, then our students and their parents will respect and appreciate our efforts all the more for it.
  4. Be aware of chat features that are built into apps. These can contain casual emojis that one can choose to use; but we must be careful not to chat casually with any student (even by adding emojis to our messages). Keep all communication conducted through integrated chat as professional as you would in the classroom. I expand on this advice in a separate blog post (How Should Teachers Behave on Social Media?). This section is well-worth a read if you want to see some real examples of teachers who lost everything because of their lack of alertness to this point!
  5. If you are not sure about an app’s appropriateness for use, then check with your school’s Senior Leadership Team or your line manager. Some schools like to keep all their prescribed online learning apps under the control of their domain (e.g. schools that use Google Classroom and Gmail may prefer to use Google Hangouts Meets as their video conferencing system, as opposed to Zoom). A great story that illustrates this point is a slight blunder that a former colleague of mine made several years ago. Knowing that Flipgrid was a popular video-exchange system used by many American schools, she recommended it to her colleagues in an upcoming collaborative teacher-training session. However, the school’s head of ICT followed up on that training session by e-mailing all the secondary teachers to tell them not to use Flipgrid – because it wasn’t a system under direct control of the school.
  6. Check student well-being on a regular basis. When students work from home they can feel lonely, extremely bored and anxious. At this very moment, for example, as I write this prose; the novel coronavirus pandemic has snared much of the world’s population with fear and confusion. This fear and confusion is certainly being felt to varying degrees by many of the students I currently teach. Check that your students are having regular breaks and are sticking to a routine. E-mail parents of the students you are responsible for to find out how things are going. Recommend any tips you can for working from home productively and maintaining a personal sense of happiness and wellness. Share any tips that your school counselor or Student Welfare Officer sends out. When interacting on a video-call, check how your students look and feel. Are they dressed properly? Are they tired or stressed-out? Are there any student-wellbeing issues that come to your attention? Is the technology working correctly for your students?
  7. Effective online teaching requires effective technology. This can be a challenge when using old hardware or software (or both) and when internet connections are slow. We must adapt: no matter what it takes. Set work via e-mail if video conferencing is not an option. Experiment with using the apps listed in my book (100 Awesome Online Learning Apps) on your phone if you don’t have a tablet or notebook/laptop. Figure out how your device’s integrated microphone works if you don’t have a headset. Go through the apps in this book that seem appealing and test the efficiency of each when setting tasks through the technology that’s available to you. Check-up on your students regularly – do they have the technology required to access and complete the tasks you are setting?

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Online Learning: How to Create an Amazing Nearpod Lesson

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

One of my favorite apps to use for online learning is Nearpod. It’s fun to use, it’s free (but there is a very cool premium version if you want to really up your game) and it’s very effective.

If you’ve never made a Nearpod lesson before, then this video I made today talks you through the different steps (and shows you the amazing end-result!):

Nearpod overview

Where you can get it and use it: App Store, Google Play Store, Microsoft Store, Chrome Web store and on the web at Nearpod.com

Cool Feature #1: You create a slideshow on Nearpod. Your kids login with a code that Nearpod generates (they don’t need to sign up, which saves tons of time) and, boom!: the slideshow will play on every student’s device. When the teacher changes a slide, then the slide will change on the kids’ screens.

You can choose to show the slideshow on a front projector screen/smartboard, or simply walk around the class with your iPad or laptop as you’re instructing the kids.

Cool feature #2: Put polls, questions, quizzes, drawing tasks, videos, 3D objects, web links and audio segments into Nearpod presentations to make the experience fully ‘interactive’.

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When I tested Nearpod at Harrow I thought it was super-cool because I could write an answer (as a student) and it would show on the front-screen as a sticky-note with everyone else’s. Chelsea Donaldson shows this excellent image of what I experienced over at her blog:

As you can see, other kids can click ‘like’ and can comment on the responses, making this an ultra-modern, ‘social-media’ style education tool.

Another feature I loved was ‘Draw it’. It’s similar to ‘collaborate’ (the feature above with the sticky-note answers), but this time the students either draw a picture or annotate a drawing you have shared.

I can see this being great for scientific diagrams and mathematical operations.

Students can use a stylus/Apple Pencil, their finger (if it’s a non-stylus tablet or phone they are using) or even a mouse to draw the picture. Once drawn, the pictures will show up on the teacher’s screen together, and this can be projected if the teacher wishes.

Cool feature 3: Virtual reality is embedded into Nearpod (and I need to learn a lot more about it!).

I don’t understand it fully yet, but Nearpod themselves say that over 450 ready-to-run VR lessons are ready on their platform, including college tours, mindfulness and meditation lessons and even tours of ancient China!

Now that sounds cool!

My thoughts about Nearpod

I like apps that are quick, useful and free/cheap to use.

Nearpod ticks all of those boxes.

The features that I tested which were super, super cool include:

  • Kids log in with a code and your presentation appears on their screens. When you change a slide, the slide changes on their devices!
  • You can put polls, drawing tasks and questions into your slides and it’s all fully interactive. Kids’ answers will appear on the projector screen for all to see (if you wish), or simply on the teacher’s screen (for private viewing).

I love this app and so do my students.

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Smartphone Addiction is Destroying Children’s Lives

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Related article: Digital Disaster: Screen Time is Destroying Children’s Health

I’ve been given three Year 7 Computer Studies classes to teach this academic year. It’s been really exciting, and really interesting to discover what 11-year-olds are learning about in this important subject these days. When I was in Year 7, for instance, I learnt how to create folders, spreadsheets, word-processed documents and databases on an even-then outdated Acorn desktop computer:

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The Acorn Archimedes A3020 desktop computer: What I was using in IT class when I was in Year 7 (Image courtesy of Martin Wichery at https://www.flickr.com/photos/mwichary/2190336806/)

Today, however, students are using tablets, notebooks and smartphones to learn about:

  • E-safety
  • Digital footprints
  • Cybersecurity
  • Online docs, sheets, slides and forms using Google Suite
  • Gaming addiction

That last bullet point: gaming addiction, has been really interesting to teach as a significant minority of my students are regular gamers on Fortnite and other platforms. As part of their course, I was required to show them this video which tells the story of a young boy whose life was almost destroyed by gaming addiction (very highly recommended):

In the story, the boy is given a gaming console by his dad, and his life basically spirals downwards until he is left homeless. It highlights the fact that online gaming can be really expensive, really addictive and very time-consuming. The effects on the character’s body, his hobbies and his schoolwork are all very cleverly portrayed. 

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Is he working, or gaming?

Gaming addiction is only a small part of a much larger and more pervasive problem in society, however. That problem is smartphone addiction, which has really gripped younger generations quickly, and was certainly not a problem 10 years ago. 

This week, BBC News released a shocking report entitled Smartphone ‘addiction’: Young people ‘panicky’ when denied mobiles:

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The report summarizes a large study conducted by researchers at King’s College London. The research analysed 41 studies involving a whopping 42,000 young people, and was published in the journal BMC Psychiatry. It arrived at a surprising and worrying conclusion:

  • 23% of participants exhibited behaviors consistent with addiction, such as feeling anxiety when the phone was taken away, not being able to control the time they spent on smartphones and spending so much time on mobiles it encroached on other activities.

So smartphone addiction is officially ‘real’, and that should act as an immediate call-to-action for school leaders. 

As a teacher who has embraced technology for learning purposes for quite some time, I was quite the advocate for the use of smartphones in teaching. They can be used as clickers for online games like Kahoot!, and can be good alternatives when kids don’t have access to tablets or laptop computers. This research however, along with the World Health Organisation’s recent classification of gaming addiction as a mental health disorder has led me to reevaluate my stance. 

Perhaps it’s now time for schools to ban smartphones and online gaming completely?

Here is a snippet of what the World Health Organisation has to say about this new condition, Gaming Disorder:

 

Gaming disorder is defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

This, I believe, should lead all teachers to a logical question to ask: What can we do about it?

Here are my suggestions:

  • Ban smartphones in schools completely, unless written permission is given from a parent. In the case where written permission has been given, the smartphones must be locked away in a central location during the day and only returned to the student at the end of the school day (e.g. for the purposes of phoning home).
  • Invest in ICT systems that are non-intrusive and non-addictive (e.g. ICT labs). Classrooms could be fitted with notebooks/laptops integrated into classroom desks, or students could be asked to bring their own laptop/tablet to school each day.
  • Schools should have bookable sets of laptops or tablets for students to use, and school libraries should have suitable numbers of laptop and desktop computers for students to use. 

The clear advantage of centralized ICT systems over studentowned devices in schools is control: school-owned devices can be set-up with gaming blockers, chat blockers and website filters. 

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I would suggest that the challenge of solving smartphone and gaming addiction (two separate, but related problems) is an urgent one, and will require:

  • Schools to work even more closely with parents, health professionals, ICT service providers and local governments.
  • Careful allocation of school budgets, with more money being funneled towards ICT systems that are usable, but safe. 

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