Reflections on Leaving the Classroom

Today I can no longer introduce myself as “Maths Teacher” as I leave the classroom. Though I might still use my former job title for introductions at parties to make things simple.

I move from the classroom to take up a training and consultancy role supporting schools looking to implement change and embed technology for the benefit of learning. That is less snappy isn’t it!

As I move on from the classroom after 13 years I thought it worth taking a moment to reflect. Telling other teachers you are leaving the classroom was hard, not just the ones you are leaving your tricky classes with! My own reasons were varied but an opportunity came up at a time I was traveling 54 miles to my school. I have also come to the decision that the way schools work can improve for the benefit of teachers and students. I don’t see myself as someone who would necessarily implement this change from within by moving up so I have another route to take. I have had great feedback from my educational technology (edtech) training and speaking events so I am going to embrace this and work to support schools with change.

Technology

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My Chromebook trial with a year 9 class back in 2013

In my first classroom after PGCE training I had an overhead projector to project notes and develop diagrams on. However, don’t be fooled into thinking I am that old. Within a year I had a Smartboard installed and smartnotebook was my lesson planning tool for years. My own view on interactive whiteboards is they are not a cost-effective resource for schools to invest in, despite replying on mine for many years. It proved invaluable for demonstrating concepts but I feel sure that £2000 per classroom could be spent more effectively. I never had a chance to try out my ideal scenario of whiteboards (normal dry wipe ones) on every wall and surface but I must take this opportunity to apologise to the classroom cleaners who removed dry wipe pen from my desks every day. If there is one legacy I have from my time in Maths classrooms it is writing on desks.

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A-level learning

My embracing of technology for learning was due to two factors. Firstly the summer I tried out twitter and discovered teachers sharing! The second factor was a teacher called Dan File who joined our Maths faculty as an advanced skills teacher (AST). We could be found in school beyond 6pm most of the week getting excited about ways we can change learning in our lessons that didn’t work the way we wanted. He joined us having pioneered instructional videos at his last school and we both set about populating our youtube channels with videos. Exam paper solutions to avoid that boring lesson when you go through the exam paper… instead “watch the videos of the questions you got wrong”. Then children started requesting videos so we moved to revision videos. We tried our own versions of the flipped classroom with classes too.

One part of our work which was most important was our efforts to get parents through the doors of the school to see what we were trying and why we were trying it. We we trying to get their kids more excited about maths and make them achieve more. We were willing to fail infront of our classes trying something and take the feedback on board to improve. We had some of the best results in the school’s history over those years but that wasn’t because of technology, it was because we had a dedicated department open to trying things out. And in subsequent years the politics of education has made it hard to hit those results again… so a bit of luck and timing too.

Trying new things in schools take effort, determination and a bit of nerve to seek forgiveness instead of ask permission.

It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.

Grace Hopper, 1986

Culture

Good culture is easy to break and hard to build, however the school’s culture is critical to success. What makes it possible for teachers to walk through the doors in the morning with a spring in their step instead of dread? Many teachers are going into work with dread, fear, stress and concern. I have been fortunate to work with teachers who are so committed to their students they put phenomenal hours in and take incredible pride in doing all they can to help students achieve. However, in some schools the culture is such that even working at their limit teachers feel they are not doing enough, failing or letting someone down.

Culture is the difference between a teacher spending an evening planning an parental engagement activity or just marking another pile of books.

Culture is the difference between teachers choosing to spend their Saturday at professional development events or sipping on a Lemsip (other medicinal products are available) so they can be ready for next week.

Culture is critical and every school leader will agree, but their words, actions and emails contribute to a culture that doesn’t bring the best out of their colleagues or leaves them unable to manage the workload.

Get the oxytocin flowing and your school will improve more rapidly than you could ever dream. Avoid your school being cortisol factory!

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Read “Why Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek to learn more about hormones and leadership

Leadership

I have spent time in head of faculty roles, working within a school leadership team and alongside school improvement partners in a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT). There are things you learn in leadership and things you discover you bring to it. You learn more about your leadership skills when you leave a role (because that is when people choose to tell you), and the weaknesses… come on, we all know our weaknesses don’t we? The challenge is whether to hide them or address them and I think I have done both at times.

If you read anything else on this blog you may spot my interest in deign thinking. I was aware of the term for a while in passing on social media but it was something I understood better and its place in education first via Tom Barrett and Ewan McIntosh. Sometimes referred to as user-focussed design, design thinking is a culture and set of tools that schools can use to super charge their improvement. Get empathy and find the problems you need to be solving before any ideas get thrown around. Develop a culture where ideas are not precious and owned by individuals. I strongly believe that schools who embrace a design thinking culture could reap profound results in the way their staff think and work. Design thinking provides an empathetic view of the way your school works (or doesn’t) and gives the chance for democratised decision making to prevail. Earlier I mentioned making your school oxytocin rich… this is how you can do it.

I wrote abour the results of our maths faculty a few years back. These are sometimes attributed to me as head of faculty. It is easy to let that stick (with good results) and accept #fakenews. The reality is very different and something I have learnt to be more honest about over the years. I was lucky. We are often judged against our best moments, which are often lucky. I had great teachers in the faculty who came to work and worked hard with integrity every day. I had good leadership who asked me direct questions but let me try things. I preceded some of the changes that have taken place to GCSE’s and A-levels in the last few years which have taken measures to make the qualifications more rigorous. My point is, think team. I see some teachers coming into the profession with an expectation that they should be ordained with promotions and more pay too quickly. Teaching is a fickle beast so take your time to tame it before you put your head in its mouth.

Change

To give a clear understanding or my own view of education’s rate of change in relation to other industries consider the London Marathon. If the elite and club runners represent the nibble industries able to change and even lead change then I see education as Lloyd Scott (look him up), well intentioned, honourable, hard working, but so very slow.

The challenge I am taking on, leading schools to embrace technology to support learning, is a backwards problem. I hear “We need to use more technology” but I have to ask “Why?” and the answers are not convincing yet. Here is another reason to utilise a design culture of finding problems worth solving; attainment gap, accessibility, aspirations are all worthy causes and we haven’t even reached the b’s yet. A teacher in US will have his class voluntarily arrive at school 2 hours before school starts to come to his lesson. The reason? He has arranged a video call with someone on the other side of the planet as part of their current topic. Technology made it possible but is not the reason he does it.

Would your kids arrive at school for 6am for your best lesson? This has resonated with me and I pass the baton on to you… but let me know if you want help making it the case!

Thanks

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Here are some of the people who have helped me enjoy, survive and even thrive over the last 13 years… (Making a list like this is dangerous but hey, if you are not on it there are two possible reasons…)

Jeff Place, Jon Chaloner, Jack Mayhew, Hugh Proctor, Dan File, Pete Taylor, Tom Barrett, Ewan McIntosh, Allison Mollica, Jon Neale, Dean Stokes, Oli Trussell, Mark Allen, Donna Tueber, Ashcroft twins, Christina Dimitrantzou, Matt Duffield, Evan Scherr, Dan Taylor, 10a1, Asiq, Glyn digital leaders, Keri Cloete, Martin Giles, Simon Brown, Tom Able Green.

 

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What impact does the pencil have on learning?

Should we expect, as educators, that the technology used in schools has robust reliable research that demonstrates the impact it has on learning before we implement it?

This post is a response to an article that featured in EdSurge on 17 July 2017. You can read the full article here. The article refers to findings from a working group looking into edtech efficacy. The lead researcher is quoted as saying the following:

“Having a lot of research evidence, like the type demanded by the feds, was cool but not essential [for education establishments]. I found that to be pretty surprising and a little bit troubling.”

Dr Michael Kennedy

Is it troubling? Should we be surprised that educational establishments are not trawling research before implementing educational technology (edtech) strategies? If we start with an analogy. When pencils are ordered, it is not underpinned by research about the impact pencils have been proved to have on learning. However, we should expect that the learning taking place that involves the pencil does. For example, in kindergarten or early years we might expect pencils to be favoured over pens for handwriting to enable learners to correct their writing and fail without fear more easily than with ink. Educators should be aware of robust research regarding learning reading and write to inform the curriculum, which in turn helps them place orders for equipment to support the curriculum.

Here, a learning approach is supported by appropriate resources. In the edtech world it seems too often the resources are purchased and the learning approach is then discussed or the new tools are made to fit the existing approach. Therefore is edtech efficacy worth considering, when learning and curriculum efficacy should be paramount?

Chicken or Egg?

The article relates to “Role of Federal Funding and Research Findings on Adoption and Implementation of Technology-Based Products and Tools”, a study conducted by Dr Michael Kennedy in which the findings state:

A range of superintendents, assistant superintendents, technology leaders/specialists, principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches, and teachers from 17 U.S. states responded to the online survey. Results demonstrate only 11% of 515 respondents demand a tech-based product have the type of independent, gold-standard research championed by the federal government for funding prior to adoption or purchase.

This piece of work is part of a wider Edtech Efficacy review which took place as part of Edtech Efficacy Symposium in May 2017.

Are schools using evidence to inform their learning and teaching policy and practices? How much research underpins homework, marking, duty rotas/lunch supervision, school timings, learning spaces and so many day to day aspects of every school’s approach to providing exceptional learning?

In the UK, a professional body for teachers, The Chartered College of Teaching, has recently being created (cards on the table, I am a founding member) and here is a video of the impact it is having of headteachers. Watch and then reflect on where edtech fits in this story.

Sally wants her school to base decisions in research and evidence. On this occasion there was no mention of asking one of their software provides or IT services to produce evidence for the impact their product has on learning. However, there were many questions about how every aspect of the school impact on learning. Their research may show that teachers are setting online homework that children cannot complete because of access to devices… which may inform their device purchasing and policies. Their research may find that teachers are spending too long marking homework, which is not impactful or valued by parents… which may lead them to develop their use of edtech to share feedback with parents.

Therefore, should it be troubling that schools are purchasing edtech without the research to back up the impact on learning? It should be troubling if the policies, pedagogies and approaches to learning in school are not based on valid research and evidence, edtech is a tool, one of many, that support schools in delivering their vision for learning and teaching.

Pedagogy efficacy surpasses edtech efficacy when it comes to impact on learning. The article is focussing on one particular area, which for me elevates edtech towards pedagogy and this must be treated with caution. Make sure your pedagogy efficacy is strong and at the forefront of your thinking and your use of appropriate and impactful edtech will follow.

I welcome and expect some comments, there is much more left to discuss around this area and I have only scratched the surface in this short blog post. There are some very interesting findings from the edtech efficacy group. particularly around claims edtech companies make about the efficacy of their product. I have only focussed on whether we should be troubled that schools are not expecting to see the research before purchase, and there may be a reasonable answer to why… they trust their pedagogy?

Enjoy

Ben

References:

Edtech Efficacy Symposium Home Page, May 2017

 

It’s not rocket science! Learn about Space from the experts

Last year two primary school classes in our multi-academy trust submitted questions to astronomical experts related to the Juno mission to Jupiter, which has sent back new and exciting information about the giant planet and its moons.

The excitement for our children was that their questions were answered live on a Google hangout on air by the experts as they watched from their classrooms. Spacelink are offering this opportunity again and it is all free. Check out the hangouts coming up via the link and register your interest to get your class involved.

What we did:

I created a Google document to share with the classes, once they had their class discussions and lessons to investigate the topic they added their questions to the collaborative document and I was able to simply send the document link to the organisers and they had them ready to go during the live hangout, which you can watch above.

At the end of the live hangout the children cheered! Real impactful #edtech should provide an opportunity for learning that wasn’t feasible before. Our teachers found the tech was easy and the learning was inspirational.

Enjoy

 

What’s in your classroom: Potentially everything!

The Weald School in Billinghurst is not the obvious place to end up hearing from a History teacher sitting in the car park of a 7eleven in Missouri but it happened at #TMedtech a Teachmeet focussed on educational technology. Thanks to Andy Cooper, who previously connected his class with Rhett, we were treated to a hangout with the US History teacher who actively pursues experiences for his pupils beyond their own community. If they are studying Greece he will find someone in Greece to get on a smart phone and shown his class around. His class have arrived early before school for some of the hangouts he has organized. As Rhett said…

“Would your students come to school an hour early for your best lesson?”

Rhett Oldham, 2017

I have been showing Google’s Virtual Fieldtrips video for a few years now as it demonstrates the impact technology can have on learning with no significant outlay of cash. If you use the SAMR model it registers on the M or R.

My parents are here now, why not get them on a video call with your class?

I used to have a classblog for a year 9 maths class and through Quadblogging we connected with classes in Singapore, California and Melbourne. A child from one of these classes commented on our lesson and it gave us an idea we put on place the following lesson. Lesson feedback from thousands of mile away! Deputy Mitchell, who runs quadblogging is looking for secondary school classes to get involved. I should crank up the old blog at my current school.
Whether you are swamped in devices or have to beg, borrow and steal to get your students into a room with a working computer, connecting learning to the wider world and bringing experts into your classroom is getting more and more achievable.

If you want to engage with other classes around the world here are a few options you could use to get started.

If you would prefer to get your day to day learning out their for the wider world then start a class blog. I used WordPress for mine where one student wrote the content each lesson and I took the pictures on my phone. (No faces or second names was the rule I stuck to)

You need to see Dean Stokes’ keynote to know why I have a picture of my feet.

Edublogs provides the opportunity for every student to have a login but ensure only the teacher can publish and is based on WordPress so has the credentials of a ‘proper blog’.

Consider taking your class global this week.

Enjoy

Ben

What’s in your classroom: Is Google Classroom ready to take over?

Google Classroom, Google’s tool for managing, sharing and collaboration in your classroom, has had an important update in the last month. A teacher can now assign a task to specific students, something we can all do ‘in real life’ but teachers who have found Google Classroom to be a time-saving effective tool for sharing content and accessing work have been calling for this feature for some time. To see the other updates, including usage statistics in admin panel click here.

When I presented a Google Classroom session for the first time at an Appsevents summit it solved many problems for teachers who already used Google Drive with their classes but those using Edmodo, Hapara Teacher Dashboard, Moodle liked the interface and usability but when they asked if it:

  • Can share information with parents like show my homework
  • Sync with markbooks like…
  • Work on iOS and Android
  • Annotate student work like…

It didn’t, but it does now! What we have learnt is that the feedback button was worth pressing. Google’s team of project managers and developers read every piece of feedback and have aggregated the main requests to regularly improve the product based on user’s requests. If you appreciate being able to sort by first and last name, you’re welcome.

All the items I listed in my training slides that Classroom couldn’t do have consistently been crossed off. Third party tools have made Classroom even more effective, more and more of your favourite web tools and apps work seamlessly with Classroom. Here are a few of my own favourites:

  • Geogebra
  • Share to Classroom
  • Desmos (sort of)
  • Peardeck
  • Smartamp
  • Texthelp

More and more providers of educational tools are taking advantage of the API access to integrate their tools with Classroom so your favourite may be linked soon if it is not already. Check out the ones that do here.

For admins, some who eagerly await more integration with the tools teachers want to use, others who have used a lack of integration as a reason to deny teachers use of it, there are now ways to sync users, create classrooms for the whole school and monitor usage. Parents can get updates on assignments and a calendar is created for every class.

Chromebooks are getting android apps and a stylus to make it even easier for teachers to annotate work submitted, which for me leave one last request…

Google, please can you develop Google drawings to work seamlessly with touchscreen, stylus and interactive whiteboards?

Ben Rouse, 2017

For schools looking to harness technology for learning, can they really look much further than GSuite and Chromebooks?

Enjoy

Ben

Design Thinking in Schools: Which personas are in your school?

Students are categorised by grades, level of need, progress from starting points and in some cases background or ethnicity. There are other categories some teachers might wish to use too. Could we use very different characteristics to provide the best learning opportunities for all children?


Clearly I am not busy enough being head of maths for 3 days a week and Technology for Learning lead across a Multi-Academy Trust for the other two days. To fill in the slack I signed up to an online course on Coursera. The course title is “Design Thinking for Innovation” which has content and cohort discussion over 5 weeks with an assessed reflection at the end.

Why Design Thinking?

Design thinking provides a methodology and toolset for developing innovation (innovation is something we can all produce) and I am keen to apply it where appropriate to the way we work in schools. One aspect of the ground work needed to create conditions for Innovation is to go deeper rather than wider to understand the situation in which you are operating.

Ewan McIntosh’s book “How to come up with great ideas (and actually make them happen)” is a great place to start your design thinking journey.

How would it work in schools?

An example for a school would be to consider putting the whole school excel sheet to one side and take time to conduct interviews with 10 to 15 students. The interview in Design Thinking needs to be conducted carefully, taking time to listen. The themes that come from a few deep interviews can provide more understanding of a problem than data from 100s of students.

Personas

The course is not education specific, in fact it is mostly business focussed. However, I have found relevance in most of the sessions. One in particular led me to write this post.

A case study showcased the Design Thinking used by a healthcare start-up who interviewed 20 ‘users’ to define the things that influence their health and well being. From this work the company developed a set of personas to encompass their users, including strategies to help each persona improve their health.

Consider if in schools we used design thinking to get an understanding of the personas of our students in order to develop strategies for each that help them become better learners? Leaders may also consider this for their staff as recruitment becomes tougher it is valuable to know what will keep your staff motivated and happy. These things won’t be the same for everyone!

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Would this be of use to teachers and staff in your school? 

 

If your school takes an approach like this please do share. I will be using this idea as my reflection assignment for the course.


Further Reading

Have a look into design thinking in education via the Teacher’s Guild.

Other books you may wish to consider are:

  • Designing for Growth: A Design Thinkers Guide for Managers by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie
  • Edupreneur: Unleashing Teacher Led Innovation in Schools by Aaron Tait and Dave Faulkner

 

Enjoy

Ben

(1 of 3) Measuring the Impact of Technology on Learning

How do we measure the impact of technology used to support learning?

In the first of three posts I reflect on technology’s role in education and how we can measure the impact as we utilise it in our classrooms.

Learning is a complex system, particularly in schools where we try to turbo charge it from 9am to 3pm. The measure of that learning can often be less complex, such as a letter or number to quantify the learning or benchmark the progress since the last check.

Technology has always been part of learning…

Chalk, slate, paper, pens, books and calculators… but we are specifically referring to new technology that has become so ingrained in our lives, therefore schools are grappling with whether and how to embed this technology in learning. If a school gives every child an iPad, will this improve learning? Of course it won’t, any tool is simply a small part of the system but we have become used to measuring impact on learning so much in schools we need to be able to measure the impact of technology on learning but it is crude and dis-ingenuous to measure the impact simply in results. However, schools can spend heavily on technology when budgets are shrinking and the investment needs to be justified.

Measuring Impact in Schools

The measures we are used to are

  • Results
  • Lesson Observations
  • Progress indicators

If I were to visit your school and say

  1. “Implementing technology to support learning will improve results.”
  2. “Lessons with technology are better than those without.”
  3. “Learning with technology will improve student progress”

I sincerely hope you show me the door as I almost definitely don’t have evidence to back the statements up. Furthermore, if those silver bullets existed you would already be using them.

However, I do strongly believe that there are some learning experiences that technology can enhance, improve and provide that are not possible without it.

 

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There are times we have reflected on lessons and note that mini-whiteboards, post-it notes, laminated cards or highlighters could have made the lesson more successful. This is not because it saves paper, looks pretty but because it improves progress, understanding, explanations, discovery, feedback and so on. Hence, I aspire that technology sits less as an entity on its own and becomes ingrained in learning and teaching. There are fantastic tools freely available to teachers that can enhance feedback (The Education Endowment Foundation and Hattie have research to suggest this has a significantly positive impact on learning. For balance you may wish to also read @LearningSpy’s blog post summarising some objections to the use of effect size and this post questioning the statistics in Hattie’s work) to students or facilitate more effective group work or peer review.

If I were to visit your school and say

  1. “Implementing technology saves teachers time.”
  2. “Lessons with technology allow for more personalised learning.”
  3. “Learning with technology will improve student engagement”

I hypothesise that I would be much less likely to be shown the door. Technology can be a distraction, irrelevant or a positive impact on learning and I suggest the measures we use to assess the impact of technology need to be discussed and a clear set of agreed measures brought in to general use. The team at Google for Education tried this with a vote on twitter:

Technology used to enhance personalised learning requires some cultural change in schools as it challenges the teaching styles of many successful teachers, the learning preferences of good children and the digital literacy of both groups. Alongside any implementation of a change to embed technology in learning is a need for training, discussion and a clear vision for learning. The training deficit that I have become aware of as I try to embed technology in learning was highlighted more publicly in late 2015.

On 15 September 2015, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report called “Students, Computers and Learning” on technology in the classroom and snippets from it formed rather sensationalist headlines, including this one on the BBC website.

Computers ‘do not improve’ pupil results, says OECD

The report looks at computer usage across a number of countries and compares outcomes. Using OECD’s Programme for International Assessment (PISA) results from 2012 the report identifies “no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education”.

Do we ‘invest’ in ICT for Education?

Is investment in ICT for education or technology for learning simply monetary? My school has an investors in people plaque in reception and I am pretty sure that doesn’t mean they pay more than other schools. However, the reference to investment in ICT in the OECD report is a quantitative measure. Despite the media headlines the report is detailed and aware of the data it has and has not used when summarising the findings.

Technology can amplify great teaching, but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.”

OECD: Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connections, 2015

Schools will have to choose the level and focus of investment in technology for learning. Whether that takes the form of devices, training, open discussion, design thinking projects, bring your own device (BYOD) policies or even new learning spaces is a big and difficult decision for school leaders to make. Especially as the impact of these measures are unclear, hence this blog post.

The discussion around technology in schools is often confused,  school leader. There is a distinct difference between school provided technology to support learning and a personal device used by a student. This distinction can be overlooked in the discussion that surfaces via bloggers, newspapers and those with vested interests. An Ofsted spokesperson was quoted in the Times Educational Supplement (TES):

“Pupils bringing personal devices such as laptops or tablets into school can be extremely disruptive and make it difficult for teachers to teach,” an Ofsted spokesperson told TES.

This quote is then translated into this headline:

Ofsted warns against ‘extremely disruptive’ tablets in school

Richard Vaughan – TES December 2015

Here is a response to the TES article, (Ensure you also read a follow up post including Ofsted’s response as the reference to disruptive technology was specifically to do with technology in schools not for the use in learning) including a search through Ofsted reports for references to technology’s impact on learning.

The decision six months ago to equip all students with tablet computers has not been universally welcomed by parents and carers, but the positive impact on students’ learning is obvious. The computers help students to work independently, they give all students equal access to online resources and they provide an excellent communication tool between teachers and students.

Ofsted Report June 2012 – Secondary (School overall judged as Outstanding)

The impact of technology on learning to this inspection was ‘obvious’ so we know it when we see it. The impact measures suggested by this inspector are

  • Independence
  • Equal access
  • Effective communication

Did this school implement tablet computers because they identified weaknesses in these areas? When I work with schools advising them on their use of technology to support learning the first document I request is the school development plan as there is no point developing technology or the use of it in anything that does not support the key focuses of that school. Therefore the measures have to be the same measures schools put in place every day, week term and year.

The OECD report summarises the implications of the findings and suggests that schools are not yet able or ready to embed technology in learning and leverage the potential. I agree, that we are yet to develop a clarity on how we want technology to blend into pedagogy and schools. I feel this provides more support for a drive to agree tangible measures for the impact of technology. What is the problem we are solving? The implications section concluding the OECD report implies the following potential benefits of technology in education:

  • Equality
  • Digital Literacy
  • Teacher and Student Collaboration

I suspect a search through school development plans will find many that want equality, more officially known and closing the gap. A number of approaches can support this and technology, planned and implemented well, can help. However, a poorly executed implementation of technology can bring into sharp focus the inequality between students. We often hear educators present the now familiar concept that “we are preparing our students for jobs that don’t exist yet” (if I had a penny…) and therefore the use of technology in schools is necessary to prepare them for the world they are going into. However, I didn’t have any such preparation and I think I am doing fine. Technology is already allowing teachers to share and collaborate and we have dumped millions of mediocre to poor resources onto our blogs, social media and resource sites.

What would your measures of impact be?

In part 2 of this 3 parts blog series I want to focus on the tool versus the teacher.