Tag Archive: teachmeet




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When they don’t do what you expect… #tmmk

Last night I attended TeachMeet Milton Keynes (#tmmk – I’ve tried to Storify the experience into a useful form here) and had a fabulous time; fabulous ideas, fantastic people, inspiring all-round.

I also tried to deliver a 2 minute nano-presentation but found that despite some rehearsing, on the evening I significantly over-ran and had to stop short (next time I’ll bite the bullet and put in for a full 7 minute slot, even if I finish short).

So below are the full ramblings and ideas I was trying to get across: the talk was titled as above and sub-titled “or how I learned to get over myself” and the slides I was using to accompany the talk are here on Google.

My background is in computers. I remember my Dad soldered together a Sinclair ZX80 as our first home computer when I was 9 or so, and it grew from there. After 13 years or so as a programmer, I feel I know my way around systems pretty well and being (as my sixth-form wrote me up as) suicidally pedantic, I make sure I know what I’m doing in software as best I can.

Which does mean I get a little exasperated with pupils who will insist on assuming that PowerPoint is the answer to everything:

  • Need a poster?
    • I’ll fire up PowerPoint.
  • Making a mind-map?
    • Hey, here’s PowerPoint.
  • Design a menu?
    • Ooooh, I could use PowerPoint.


So, I’ve got my year 9 groups working collaboratively on a project to “help” the owners to a flesh out a new cafe in town, producing such things as colour schemes, posters, booking systems, interior models, customer service training and the like. And, while I have had to beat off the odd inappropriate PowerPoint file, I’ve actually had to admit that there have been times when the pupils have made appropriate choices for software for tasks THAT I HADN’T EXPECTED.



For me, the learning actually starts slightly earlier this academic year, when a set 5 pupil asked whether he really had to use Publisher for the task (I think it was a poster, I was trying to get them thinking about backgrounds, page sizes, good colour schemes, etc – basic stuff, I know) or whether he could use Paint.NET (which, if you haven’t tried, you should). I hummed and hawed – he isn’t the best worker, and I was concerned he would just scribble something and call it quits.

How wrong could I be?

20 minutes later I was sat down next to him having a high-speed master class on best use of transparency in colours, on layers, Gaussian blurs and the like. It was from this encounter that I took home the lesson that I don’t actually know everything there is to know about computers (ouch!) and made a mental note to listen more carefully when pupils asked to use alternative software.


Fast-forward a term or so and we are back in our cafe task.

Only now, where I asked for a 3d interior model, I naively assumed they would all turn to SketchUp (which we studied last year). Hah! I have a handful of groups using Minecraft. And using it WELL. One group have completely finished that part, then videoed themselves flying around their model giving me a guided tour. Some of the building tricks that I’ve seen in other groups have been, for me, breath-takingly fabulous. They know their onions, in that world, no doubt about it.

And finally, where I had asked for a “customer service training package” carefully trying to slant the task to get them thinking in terms of animations of customers entering the coffee shop to be grilled mercilessly about what they wanted, whether they wanted the cake of the day, etc (we’ve done animated nursery rhymes in Scratch, too) I instead get one group of girls recording themselves in a drama performance which they have then used iMovie to edit into a suitable training video!

I’m pleased, don’t get me wrong. Very pleased that for 9 out of 10 students, PowerPoint isn’t the default. But oh boy, was I wrong to try and assume that I knew what the “most appropriate” choice of tool for them.

Hopefully I won’t make that mistake again. Hopefully…




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…one giant leap for me!

So, today I attended TMM11 – TeachMeet Midlands 2011 – which was, as ever, inspiring. We enjoyed any number of cracking talks: a couple about game-based learning (one using Xbox Kinect, the other on Mario Kart), a fabulous insight into using Aviary in both primary and secondary settings (the latter by Helen Morgan / @nellmog) in a fabulous insight into how to get my own pupils enhancing their animations 🙂 and a wry look at learning the lessons of practical fault finding.

For me, though, the highlight (lowlight? most terrifying part, certainly) was finally putting my mouth where my money is, so to speak, and delivering a short, unrehearsed, talk on the unit I delivered initially to Y9 (and now to Y8) using Scratch to produce an animated short story. My thoughts, such as they were can be summarised as

  • use simple tutorials to get the children engaged in using Scratch (which isn’t usually too hard, as it’s sooooo engaging)
  • get them to plan a story on paper (which can help with APP AF2c – “can we give your storyboard to someone else to animate?”)
  • extend their use of searching (which can help with AF3a, and have found the Common Craft video very amusing, here)
  • possibly use some image manipulation software to trim borders from sprites to leave them on transparent backgrounds – we used Paint.NET (which can arguably help with AF1a)
  • (the one I forgot) you can demonstrate the use of sub-routines (kind of) by using Scratch “messages”, which then opens the pupil up to level 6 on AF2b

Apart from the usual adrenaline rush I always get from new endeavours, all was good. The only mild frustration was in not talking about the use of “sub-routines” in Scratch – another notch on the APP tick-chart – but was flattered by the positive comments I received. Thanks, all – I think it helped being sat where I was, and being encouraged by the redoutable Zoe Ross / @zoeross19 and friends.

So, in short, that was one small leap for teacher-kind, but… 🙂