Burn, heretic, burn!

Once upon a time in the West, if you believed in the transubstantiation of bread and wine during Holy Communion and you lived in one part of Europe you got burned at the stake. If you denied this small fact and lived in a different part of Europe you also got burned at the stake. It didn’t matter if you agreed on 99% of the other details of your religion, you still killed those with slightly different views. Humans do that darnedest things to each other based on the most trivial of differences.

Thankful we are all humanists now to a greater or lesser extent (whether you accept it or not) and therefore it isn’t acceptable to burn each other. In his books Noah Yuval Harari charts the course of the three great humanist traditions of the 19th and 20th centuries: liberalism, communism and facism. All of these traditions placed mankind and the human experience at the centre of their creeds, as opposed to an almighty, thats what makes them humanist.

We now live in the area when liberalism has triumphed against the others, according to Harari. Even as a conservative you are a liberal, in the sense that you believe in the rights of the individual, freedom of the individual, and the equality of individuals. Democracy is the flowering of liberalism in politics. Everyone’s vote is equally valid.

Like all religions, humanism and, specifically for this thought trail, liberalism has its schisms. We humans love to be tribal and to argue. In someways it is what makes us human. Identifying who isn’t in our tribe helps us identify who is. We depend on our social interactions within our tribe.

Indeed Harari, likens the intellectual differences and squabbles between  humanist tribes to be not too dissimilar to the tribalism that erupted in Europe within Christianity, best exemplified by the Spanish Inquisition, which murdered hundreds of people over differences in the interpretations of the bible.

If you have spent any time on Twitter as a teacher you can’t possibly have avoided the prog/trad squabbles, rows and playground name calling, highlighted this week by closure of Debra Kidds account.

It’s a shame that the greatest CPD tool for teachers also highlights so much of our  worst social natures.

Despite the protestations of some, the debate between progressive education and traditional education (the prog/trad debate) doesn’t just exist on Twitter. It’s obfuscated because teacher training courses don’t teach education history (to my knowledge) and generally they aren’t balanced in discussing pedagogical approaches (again in my experience).

Any honest reading of the history of the ideas in education can trace the debate back to at least the early 1800s. Hirsch provides a decent overview in the appendix. In the wake of the American war of independence and the French revolution new ideas about the progression of humanity began to take hold. Nothing happens in a vaccum. As the ideas of the intellectual founding fathers of liberalism, communism and fascism spread, they were also to influence ideas about education.

I don’t intend to recount that history here, as much better has been written about it but with the, sometime vehement, differences in opinion between proponents on both sides of the debate, it is easy to forget that, ultimately, according to Harari, wether you identify as trad, prog, trad/prog, atradprog, we are all children of the great intellectual revolution of liberalism.

We all believe in the rights of the individual. We all believe in equality. We all believe in the individual freedoms of adult members of a civilised society. We just disagree on methodology and approaches of indoctrinating and raising adults into this society.

Those advocating a traditional approaches do not do so because they are sadists. They do so because they believe these are the best methods of reducing inequality, and helping all individual children fulfil their potential.

Those advocating progressive approaches do not do so because they have a hidden agenda to keep an elitist society propped up. They do so because they believe that these are the best methods for ensuring individual freedom and individual expression, as well as helping all individual children fulfil their potential.

And to be honest, I think most people would probably describe themselves as mods.

In a sense this debate is simply a practical outworking of the inherent tensions within liberalism: those of ensuring individual freedom and of ensuring equality. It’s hard, in any society, to have both.

So next time you feel like throwing a stone, just remember, you’ve got more in common that you think. It also might be worth remembering that without tone or body language the written word can be so easily misunderstood.

At least no teacher in the Twittersphere has literally burned another teacher at the stake for professing different views….yet.

Teaching #tags

I am trying to comply a list of teaching and schools related hashtags as a reference for all the #tweetchers out there. My reason for doing this was simply so that I could ensure that when I was tweeting or retweeting something that I thought was valuable to others, I wanted to ensure that my time wasn’t wasted.

As a zoology graduate I’m fairly familiar with classification of living things and the history of this classification has a lot to say about tweeting hashtags.

Currently hashtags are in a mess! Im a IBDP Biology teacher so what hashtag should I use if I want to tweet something to do with DP Biology? #IBBio? #bioed? #bioedchat? #ibdpbioedchat? These are all hashtags that have been used for the same purposes.

As a label on information the hashtag also acts as a digital repository of information. You have to label and categorize correctly if you wish the information to be found again.

The situation on the twitter space is not unlike that faced by the 19th century naturalists who, when faced with mess of different names for the same organisms, had to devise rules about how and when to name a living thing.

I wonder when the first convention on hashtagging rules will be?

If you wish to update this list then add your hashtag to the list here or email me. I will update the list either every month or term, depending on how much time I have and how many people read this!

August 2016 #tags


What I learned about: EdTech part I (Social Media)


I left school in 2001. At the time my school had a computer suite and I believe that as a student I had an email address but I never used it. I got into email in a big way on my year out as my only means of communicating with family and friends while overseas, although I suppose I could have started a blog then. When I started university in 2003 we students were regularly advised to check our emails daily and this and DUO (Durham University Online) became two major technologies used in the delivery of the courses I studied.

I rejoined school as a teacher in 2008 and between then and now one of my internal fascinations and dialogues has been concerned with the sheer change and opportunity that technology has afforded schools; initially I was struck by the difference wrought by Skype and social media, between what I experienced at the very end of my schooling and what secondary students in a boarding school in 2008 were experiencing. Since then I have listened, intently, to the debate that has raged about teachers, schools and students and social media – should they, shouldn’t they?

That was the beginning, but it hasn’t just been social media and its opportunities and problems for the education community that has had my attention during my professional career to date. I now work in what can only be described as a “tech-saturated” school and while there are still things I am unsure of, embracing technology in my classroom meaningfully has allowed me facilitate learning in the last two years in a way that was unimaginable even 10 years ago.

I often wonder if anyone who doesn’t work in schools and left school prior to 2000 can possibly have the faintest idea about what classrooms look like now. I wonder what scenarios my parents, who were in school in the 1950s and 60s, must imagine when they think of me as a teacher. The same goes for my (much) older siblings.

In a series of three posts I want to distill the experiences I have had with a variety of different educational technologies to condense my thinking of different areas of what is a vast topic for schools. This post will look at social media, the next with mobile technology in the classroom and the final will look at screencasting.

I expect that I will use future posts to expand on elements in all of these posts.

Social Media

I have been a member of Facebook since 2006. When I joined I needed to use my university alumni email address as at the time you had to be a member of certain universities to join.  I am no stranger to the idea of social media then, but I have been very reluctant to bring it into the classroom. Doing so certainly presents challenges; exposing your personal profile to students so that they and parents know where to find you has been a perennial concern particularly if, like me, your early days on the platform were littered with tags in photos from days at university you would rather not have a grade 9 student poke around through. There are ways around this, particularly if spending hours tinkering around with your privacy settings is the way you like to spend a Friday night (are privacy settings always that private?) so the problem is not insurmountable. However, personally, I think I have been reluctant to use social media because I felt the clue was in the name. “Social” is not the same as professional.

All that said I have experimented with social media in my classroom. Initially this was with Facebook but I have moved on from this platform now and would not use it in my classroom again as I decided last year to change my name and to keep this platform specifically for non-professional life. Because of this I branched out to Twitter and LinkedIn as my professional-social media outlets and it is Twitter that I am now actively considering ways to utilize it in my teaching. Here are some of my thoughts about social media in the classroom, distiled:

Facebook can be used to create groups which can be used like classes or clubs, groupings of students based on certain attributes. Students can be invited to join these groups and this can be a great way to set assignments, share news stories or other activities with them. Student responses can be assessed and the interaction can be really positive. Also there is no need to add students as friends so if your privacy settings are secure then they won’t be able to sneak a peek at those pictures of you down the pub.

Clearly there are advantages to using Facebook in the classroom. If students are engaged and motivated it becomes very easy for them to read, and re-read shared stories or each others work. Facebook can also be used to set up dialogues, quite a interesting one from the point of view as a science teacher. Part of what I want my students to understand is the context that scientific discoveries were made in. If you can get that then you appreciate the wonder even more. Having students write up a facebook dialogue between two competing scientists (for example a dialogue between Franklin, Crick and Watson to name one) could help bring the topic to life. I haven’t actually done this but I have thought about it.

For me, because I joined Facebook as a student when social media was a new thing, I think its best for me to keep the families and students away from that account and so I move to twitter.

Twitter can be handy too. Creating a hashtag for your class and asking students to tweet short reflections, or to upload photos from class to twitter using that hashtag and/or your twitter handle, can create online repository of learning artefacts that track the learning journey in that classroom. These materials from the group can easily be found again when it comes to revision time just by searching for the handle.

I like twitter. It is open and you know how open it is. The privacy settings are simple and to be honest if you want privacy don’t use it. It is made for public engagement. The first thing that interested me was the thought that my students could tweet a well know or celeb in the science world. Someone like @AdamRutherford or@DrAliceRoberts who they see on the TV and in class as well as hear on the podcasts I play them. People like this could be contacted as expert advice for a school project although there is no guarantee they will reply.

Twitter can also be used to create dialogues between students as themselves or as actors, concepts can be explained in real time and the thinking is then recorded easily and interactively for assessment.

It is really important to divide private and professional social media; it is healthy to keep work in work and home life at home and the same goes online. Therefore I now only use Twitter for personal professional reasons, whereas Facebook I now keep private. It is also very important that the focus remains on learning not on using the technology.