External examining and Edutalk radio

This week I’ve been learning again, but then that is what I do, and enjoy doing, everyday. I’ve been doing work as an external examiner at Newcastle University and met some great people including lecturers, teachers and students. I’ve gained valuable insight into the systems operated by another education department but also how different staff operate. I was also lucky enough to be taken around several schools and this allowed me to make more interesting comparisons. I will take lots of ideas back to Dundee and I’ll assimilate much of what I’ve learnt into my practice. I’ll probably do this consciously but I’m sure I’ve also taken lots in subconsciously, a bit like Reber’s implicit learning (see earlier post).

I also got to learn about a great innovation which will help teachers evaluate their teaching, I was also really impressed to learn about the VEO connection software that can support observations and reflective practice. This fantastic new app was created by a lecturer Jon Haines ( follow him on twitter @jon_haines) and I have also just participated in a slightly older form of technology, a radio show, by David Noble and the Edutalk team. This was great fun and a chance to explain my interest in CPD/PL while asking for help and ideas from fellow educators. Even while being asked questions I think I was learning, and I hope I’ll get the chance to do this again, and of course you could give it a try (I promised to give it a plug) and talk about your areas of interest in education. So get in touch with the Edutalk folk and get involved.

Links

Edutalk interview: http://www.edutalk.info/show/radio-edutalk-09-05-2017-richard-holme-university-of-dundee-on-do-it-yourself-professional-development/

Pedagoo Tayside: http://www.pedagoo.org/pedagootayside/

University of Dundee Edushare blogs: https://blogs.glowscotland.org.uk/glowblogs/uodedushare/

TeachMeets: http://teachmeet.pbworks.com/w/page/19975349/FrontPage

Tim Jefferis PhD research Twitter and Leadership development: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/6858/

Life, loss and friendship 

This blog usually focuses on ‘worthy’ issues and I’ve posted things before that I thought might be interesting linking to my personal ethos or things of professional relevance. But this post is a bit of a departure from that. This past few week I’ve been marking assignments, getting a feeling of deja vu, and it was during this process that I suddenly stopped and thought about the futility of life, and if writing and marking essays is really a good use as anyone’s time (obviously education is important, but it was the ‘task’ element, and Groundhog Day feel, that really got me thinking). Alongside this is the fact that over the past year my home life has changed considerably in the last year, and very recently some good friends have moved on, and left Dundee. This has made me think about what really matters in life. I realised that the friends moving on (some have really helped me through a tough period in my life) has hit me harder than I expected. Also, not long ago, another friend from university passed away, while he was still very young, and this was big shock to many of his good friends. What all this has done is given me the chance to reflect and think about how I deal with such life changes and make the most of the time I have.

 

I now realise the issue of loss has featured in my life from an early age and I can just remember leaving my first home in Bury aged three, before we moved away. When I was five my best friend left my school and think I only ever saw them once more (I hope you are well, wherever you are, Michael Hind). In contrast my brother (Ian) was only a few months old when we moved, so probably didn’t feel the same connection and loss. Ian is still very best friends with James (pictured above) who lived a few doors away and I suspect they’ll stay this way for the rest of their lives. I spent a weekend with them recently and had a great time catching up, and in many ways they’ve not changed. It has also been lovely to see how they’ve supported each other as they have got older and had their own kids (not together, by the way).

As my own life went on, growing up in the days before social media (although social media has a downside as Salima Khan’s Ted Talk suggests, and may even make a feeling of isolation worse) I made many friends, but then lost touch. In particular I’ve lost touch with people I worked with, who were great friends at certain points in my life. Nearly twenty years ago I spent a year backpacking and am embarrassed to say I failed to keep in touch with anyone I met at that time. However, I have stayed in contact with school friends who still live near my parents and am fortunate to count my brother as one of my very best friends. I’m also still in touch with some great friends from university. But the main reason for that is quite sad. Not long after we all left university a close friend, Andy, took his own life so at the funeral we agreed to meet very year in Andy’s memory. I’m pleased to say we have managed this, and this coming weekend will be the 17th reunion weekend. I might post an update on the weekend later. Those who can’t make it always call up and I think I can count on these friends as the very best I could wish for. It is just awful that it took the death of someone to give us the impetus for this.

Just a few of the good people of Dundee, or formerly of Dundee

 

Therefore as I get older I become more aware of what matters in life, and take time to enjoy life and my own company. But we are a social species and we need people and interaction and it sometimes needs one person to reach out, or make that effort to stay in touch. A few weekends ago I went 48 hours without any meaningful face-to-face social interaction. I traded a few Facebook or Twitter messages, and a couple of texts, with a few friends, and had a short chat with the bus driver, but I had to push myself to initiate all of these. Watching a football match in the pub someone asked me if I was a Formula One fan, I said I wasn’t, and that was the end of that interaction. I do find radio, and even TV, is a great comfort and talk shows in particular make you feel you are at least part of a human interaction. Of course at least I have the opportunity to go out and meet people and there are many, many people in a far worse position. But being on your own, and feeling lonely is tough.

So I think I will just have to make more effort as I get older, and I’m glad I’ve come to this conclusion now, and have good friends who will reciprocate. I suppose the last few months and years have shown me that there is always time to make new friends, but I should also make time to keep the ones I have.

Update 9th May

The reunion weekend is over for another year. I had a wonderful time seeing some of the best friends and a great couple of nights out in Edinburgh and Newcastle. I can wait for next time, but will make an effort to call and see them all more in the meantime. And today I bumped in to my old American Football coach, totally unexpectedly. It reminded me of the amazing times I had playing for the Gateshead Senators. One of the great things about these experiences is the memories these meetings bring back. Maybe that is what friendship is all about, creating a shared life story.

Wild food foraging and a little more PLANT-ing

The weather has been getting better this last few weeks and this has encouraged me to get out and about. I’ve done a bit in my own garden, and spent a couple of afternoons at the Tayport Community Garden which is a great local community project. And I’m also quite pleased that I’ve been able to do a bit of wild food foraging. This time of year I love to head out in search of wild garlic, it is really easy to identify and can be used in a range of ways. I think the foraging lifestyle is one of the best ways to be truly sustainable and this is sonething that really interests me in Neolithic and Mesolithic history. There were settlements in North East Fife thousands of years ago (near Morton lochs) and I can imagine the people living here then using wild herbs to flavour the shellfish and meat.

Wild Garlic being prepped for kimchi

So I managed to find a good supply of wild garlic and then set about using it, I fried some garlic mushrooms, whipped up a wild garlic omelette, made some wild garlic and cheese scones and have even gave kimchi a try, although this won’t be ready for a few weeks. And my house now smells rather, well, garlicky! There are some great resources online and Galloway Wild Foods is one of the best so I used the advice from them to help me prepare the kimchi, a fermented pickled garlic, originally from Korea. If it is a success I might try other versions including nettles. The scones were pretty good too, and the garlic flavour nicely subtle, so I’ll certainly try making them again. Next on my list is wild garlic humous.

Wild garlic and cheese scones

Of course it would be a challenge to live solely from foraging, and finding a reliable source of carbohydrates is the major challenge. So it is good that we can get hold of these staples, like potatoes, really easily, thanks to our ancestors who domesticated these crops. Even though access to shops means we can get most foods when we want I think home grown always taste better, so I was really happy to lend a hand at the PLANT Community Garden as they were preparing and planting up a new tattie bed. As we worked I learnt a lot from Peter and Jenny, who both work there, and although I’ve done a fair bit of gardening before it was great to learn new many things. I also realised that my ability to prepare a straight trench left a little to be desired. However I doubt this will impact on the taste, and so I’m really looking forward to tasting some first crop new potatoes, possibly served up with some wild garlic butter!

Tattie bed, PLANT community garden, Tayport

Implicit learning, twitter, blogging & essays

Today the PGDE students at Dundee University finished working on IDL projects. One of the things we wanted to focus on was the process of learning, and less about the outputs. This is hard for people trained in our ‘schooled society’ and Ivan Illich suggested schools reflect society, and society reflects schools, so ended up proposing we deschool society. I like this idea but I also like, no love, learning. I’ve posted about twitter and blogging before and tonight, lying on the sofa, a student tweeted a reply to my last blog post, while they were on a break from writing their essay (very much a product or output). This resulted in a short twitter chat which revealed we had both learnt something from the interaction. This could be the sort of thing that Reber termed implicit learning, although whether it is or not I think this informal, fortuitous learning opportunity certainly has value.


In between replying, and thinking, I spotted tweets from a formal professional learning session being run by Fife Council. They were asking staff for things that would help them engage with PL. The common reply was time. And the staff featured seemed to be suggesting that PL of CPD has to be away from school, or needs to be organised. I am not criticising formal PL or CPD, and Fife Council deliver very good quality provision (so please take advantage if you get the chance!) but perhaps teachers views of what learning is could be reconsidered. Any chat about resources in the staff room while the kettle boils (or a pint after work where teachers debate the latest educational initiative, or the teacher thinking on the bus about the way a lesson just went) presenta a chance to learn. So taking this chance, by tweeting then writing this blog post, and thinking and learning as I go, I am trying to de-educate, and re-educate, myself about the very nature of education and learning. How about you?

Brexit fallout and the future of Scottish education

I’ve not posted anything about Brexit as I’ve nothing to add to the wall-to-wall coverage of this ‘interesting’ situation. I’d become disillusioned with politics some time before the vote to leave Europe, mainly due to politicians (including ones I voted for) and their self serving nature. And nothing has happened over the last few months to change this view. However this week someone mentioned something, that could happen in Scotland as an indirect result of Brexit, that stopped me in my tracks.

Scottish Education – Proudly independent from England

Some people reading this might not be aware that education in Scotland is a completely devolved issue. This means there is a different approach to running and administering schools, the curriculum and the inspection system. But recently Theresa May gave a speech suggesting that everyone in the U.K. deserves a good education, and she name checked a few cities, including Dundee. The friend who pointed this out, with an active interest in politics, said it might be the first sign of a Tory government plan to take back control of devolved issues, including education. This might seem dangerous as many of those involved in education in Scotland are proud of the system. Recently the SNP have been under pressure on this topic with poor performance in international league tables and unpopular policies such as reintroduction of primary testing. So the Tories may be pushing at an open door on this subject.

Will Education in Scotland become a political football?

Returning the point about self serving politicians, this is something the Tory party excel at, and they also like to drive home any advantage they have. So this desire to reclaim powers, including education, might be more about winning the battle for Britain, post Brexit, and preserve all the associated power and privileges. It is a fairly low risk strategy too, as there isn’t much for the Tories to lose in Scotland, but plenty to gain. With no real Westminster opposition right now the SNP are the main threat and it could be that Theresa May has just blown the whistle kicking off an almighty game of political football, with education sitting in the centre circle. If so this could be a rather unpleasant game, with a less than entertaining outcome.

Gardening in Tayport and relevant school science

I have been living in Scotland for four and a half years and before moving here I did quite a bit of gardening. When I lived in Newcastle I had a nice vegetable plot and even kept chickens but since moving north haven’t had the same space and the growing season is a little shorter. I have added a small vegetable bed in the garden at my current house in Tayport but have only planted some salad crops and a few roof vegetables. I’m hoping the sandy soil will be good for parsnips, but won’t know till the winter. So I was really pleased to find that Tayport has an excellent community garden. This is a new project and has generated great interest in the village and recently they hosted a superb family open day. Everyone was really friendly and welcoming and I bumped into a work colleague who was doing face painting.

Richard Holme Tayport Plant

Vegetable patch in the Tayport garden


The local community have really embraced this project and links to the local school seem really strong with former teachers and scientists who live in the area supporting the school staff. Sadly opportunities like this are sometimes difficult for schools to access but I am convinced that a strong local community makes it so much easier. Once this is established the young people and their friends and families can continue and ensure projects are maintained. One of the real challenges for these sort of projects is that they do not become overly managed or controlled. From what I can see of the Tayport project this is certainly not the case here.

Tayport plant

A multi-talented local resident getting involved in the open day


One of the things I was really interested in was the links to science and how this was being applied in the garden. There was a really interesting display covering soil testing and showed some of the work that had been done by a volunteer who is also a professional scientist. This was great as the people visiting the garden, including the local school pupils and teachers, could learn about why science is so important in areas like horticulture. When I taught as a primary school teacher I carried out a project exploring marine ecosystems, funded by a grant from the Royal Society for Science, and I am sure that a project linking science of soil testing and application to growing yields would be supported by this fund. We may put a project application together, with the local Primary school in the future. If anyone reading this wants to know more about developing such a project you can read the case study or I’d be happy to let you know what we did.
Tayport plant

Soil test results at the PLANT project Tayport

For me the best thing about the display, and the work being done by the school at the garden, was this was not contrived and of real, practical benefit. Sometimes primary school science can be overly simplistic (e.g. learning names of planets) or lacking relevance (e.g. extracting DNA from saliva) but this example showed that, with a bit of effort, it doesn’t have to be. Returning to my own garden, and my parsnips, perhaps I should have tested the soil. But I’ll have to get some pointers from the staff and students at the Tayport garden first!

 

Edushare blogging and conformity

A bit of a ‘stooshie’ kicked off on Twitter a week or so back, and I wasn’t sure about blogging on this topic. After some contemplation, given the fact that transparency is something I value and all this is in the public domain, I’ve decided to publish this post. Also I invite, indeed welcome, comment on this topiceven if this challenges my view (especially from those mentioned).

So what was the issue? Over the last couple of years education students at Dundee University have been encouraged to write blogs, mainly led by my colleague Derek Roberston, although other staff have been involved too. The original rationale was to encourage reflection, analysis and greater confidence in expressing opinions and debating ideas about education, in a public forum. This is quite a step forward as in my experience teachers, particularly in the primary sector, are not always been keen on voicing opinions openly. The blogs are hosted on Glow (Scotland’s educational intranet) and syndicated using the #edushare tag. The results have been quite remarkable as a good proportion of students have really taken to this, some with real enthusiasm, despite there being no formal requirement to do so. Of course staff, including Derek, have encouraged this but I really like the unforced nature of the blogs, which also act as a portfolio tracking progress (unlike the GTCS professional update process, which is ‘signed off’ by a manger every 5 years). Derek had been Tweeting about Glow and the blogs and in doing so he drew attention from beyond our University. He has also blogged about this and how it has influenced the culture of the students.


And this brings us to the ‘shooshie’. Derek was challenged, by Andrew Old a teacher who also blogs, about the issue of conformity within the University of Dundee and lack of originality in the #Edushare blogs. Andrew argued that ‘You get dozens of trainees all saying the same things. Not a good advert for an academic institution.‘ I could see why he may have thought this as there are multiple blog posts on similar topics, but as the undergraduate course has 60+ students per year and they get the same lectures, this isn’t really surprising. Andrew then went on to suggest that students weren’t able to challenge the common view. But what came next was very interesting. One of the students (Sharon) joined the debate, signposting their own blog as evidence. I hope you’d agree this is not what you’d expect from a ‘trainee’ who had been subjected to enforced institutional conformity.


It isn’t surprising that Andrew put this view forward as he curates a blog (The Echo Chamber) which explicitly aims to challenge the usually progressive view of education put forward by many. Personally I see this presence of a counter point as being important, whether you agree with the position or not. In my last post I mentioned how I’d be made aware of criticism of a theoretical  model of digital technology (SAMR) which I’d tweeted about. Ironically it was Derek that alerted me to the criticism. But he did this in a constructive manner (I do know him personally, so maybe that helped) and the way in which others then contributed to the debate allowed me to enhance and deepen my understanding. In his doctoral thesis on the Twitter and leadership Tim Jefferis classes this phenomenon as ‘unresolved tensions’. Perhaps as Twitter, and social media in general, evolves as a professional development tool facing up to these tensions will lead to education becoming more open, honest and transparent.

Anyway regardless of the outcome of this current debate I think, as a lecturer and teacher, I’ve learnt plenty from this experience. Firstly the #edushare blogs are having an impact because people beyond Dundee University have noticed them, and engaging with them to a degree which they feel they can challenge them. Secondly although the criticism from Andrew could have knocked the confidence of the student bloggers I think it may have the opposite effect by getting them talking about this issue, with some clearly wanting to show this is not the case. But most importantly I am going to think about how I approach teacher education (maybe there are times where ‘group think’ prevails?). And how we deal with this to become even better in future. I’ve already started by discussing this Twitter debate with a group of PG education students, some of whom had seen the debate unfold. However I stopped short of telling them what I thought because I need to trust them to do the thinking for themselves.  And who knows, they might blog about it later…