Friday, 29th November, 2013

MOOCS – evolution for educators

We are coming to the end of an online course –

Here are a few initial thoughts on the experience that may be useful when considering taking or developing online courses.

The subject:

The subject was one that had a clear reason for me to study (I will be teaching this topic soon) and this is helpful in terms of motivation to study.

In general it is probably important to consider the motivation before starting a course. In some cases ‘because it sounded interesting’ may not be enough.

The content:

The content was clearly presented by subject experts who were clearly able to speak from a position of authority, both in terms of knowledge of evolution and associated pedagogical content knowledge. This is helpful.

The level:

This turned out to be about right for me, though some parts introduced a lot of topic specific vocabulary without much or any scaffolding. In some sections the course was frustrating as it assumed quite a bit of knowledge. This would seem to be a significant challenge with this type of course as having the content and delivery predefined means it is not possible to be flexible to take account of students needs or abilities. This may account for the high drop-out rate that some of these courses have.

The learning environment:

The site was clear and easy to navigate and had a lot of resources – almost an overwhelming amount. The key lectures, essays, quizzes and assignments were easy to find. The discussion forums were much more passive in this group than in the previous course I took.


The weekly commitment was probably 2-3 hours or so over 4 weeks. This was manageable. Having the relatively short course period seemed a good idea as sustaining motivation over a longer period would be difficult.


This was mostly by multiple choice with multiple attempts allowed. It was relatively straightforward to complete these tasks, thought it was not always clear how the class material supported the concepts tested – other knowledge was assumed. There was also quite a high language comprehension level expected and I imagine this would be challenging for ESL learners.

The course also involved a written task with peer assessment. The task was quite interesting though it was difficult to see it as a developmental task  – mostly I relied on pre-existing knowledge for this task. The peer assessment involved three people reviewing the work I did, yet only generated one short and bland comment – this was disappointing.

Other issues:

It was useful to do this in parallel with Greg to have a real person to talk to about some of the things in the course – this is useful for motivation.

Timing matters – if this course had been during a reporting period it would have been difficult.

Friday, 29th November, 2013

23andme and me

A while ago I came across 23andme. This is a service that will look at your DNA and show you what information can be found from it. For me this seemed interesting because it went alongside the idea that we share a lot of information about ourselves – a lot more than we might have been comfortable with a while ago – and it is interesting to think about what we share and what the implications of sharing are. This connects for me with writing on blogs and posing on facebook and I am really not sure what is shareable and what isn’t.

As well as the public/private issues, it is also interesting to me to see what information is out there and how easily genetic information can be interpreted. So I went ahead and sent in my spit. So now I have the results.

Screen shot 2013-11-29 at 1.33.19 PM Screen shot 2013-11-29 at 1.32.32 PM Screen shot 2013-11-29 at 1.31.35 PM Screen shot 2013-11-29 at 1.30.59 PM

I am impressed at the sheer amount of information that is there, with long lists of health and ancestry data. There is also a lot of supporting small print. I think some of this will be useful for classes for a few reasons:

  • To show what information is stored in DNA and discuss the relationship between genotype and phenotype.
  • To show heritability
  • To discuss the ethics of collecting and storing this kind of information by third parties – how could this information be used in a wrong way.
  • To discuss evidence for claims.

At the same time the results came in, the company made the news as the FDA issued this letter stopping the company from promotional work. This is kind of neat since it suggests that there is an ambiguity about what is right and the company have a different view of their responsibility to the consumer than the FDA has. The FDA are concerned that people will make inappropriate health decisions based on the data and I can understand why. There is a lot of small print and clauses full of conditional language and it really does take an expert to read this.

The CEO replied with a letter that was a masterpiece in the stretching of language.

23andMe has been working with the FDA to navigate the correct regulatory path for direct-to-consumer genetic tests. This is new territory, not just for 23andMe, but for the FDA as well. The FDA is an important partner for 23andMe and we will be working hard to move forward with them.

This is a story to follow. I am looking forward to some interesting conversations with colleagues and students around this data.

My worry is that, in sharing this data (even the screenshots in this post) I contribute to moving to a situation where not sharing becomes synonymous with having something to hide. There is a right to privacy and we should not assume that people who do not share are hiding something.

Thursday, 5th September, 2013

From the Big Bang to Dark Energy

This week a course I have signed up for has started – From the Big Bang to Dark Energy.  This was noted on my goals for the year post as;

an update on these topics for my teaching and curiosity, an experience of a MOOC, an interaction with some people from a local university, the possibility of a shared learning experience with colleagues and maybe some students.

There are at two teachers and at least two students with an interest in having a go. Hopefully all will continue and this will give a good opportunity to evaluate.

Yesterday I went through the first week’s work. It took a while to go through the videos, but the topics were familiar ones for me so this was a gentle introduction. I felt the lecture part was pretty good, though I think I would have approached some of the simpler ideas differently. The 90 minutes was well divided up into manageable chunks and it was easy to take notes from what he presented. There were follow up homework assignments. These came in three levels. The first was quite basic and accessible, which is great because I think many students could achieve this easily if they have followed the lectures. The second level required some computation and analysis and was more challenging, with only one question beyond IBDP level. There was a third optional set which was a big step up and I didn’t complete. The problem here for me was rusty maths skills for the most part.

I will send out a message to the other YIS participants and see if we can get a short face to face meeting because I would love to know how others are finding it.

A big feature is the discussion forum which seems very active. Rumor has it there are 39,000 people signed up, so it is kind of surprising that it is not more active. I didn’t make use of this but it might be interesting to see if there is anything there that would help me through the advanced problems.

I am looking forward to the next week, though it is challenging to find the time.

Wednesday, 28th August, 2013

180 Blog redux

Last year I ran a 180blog, showing a picture a day and some comments about what was going on in the classroom. When starting up this I wrote a blog about the how and why, and again when it moved another post that discussed the progress and the need to move this as the first platform closed.

Now a new year starts again. I enjoyed this and liked the product of this process last year. This year I am going to go for a couple of changes;

  • Moving again: lots of 180 blogs I have seen have been on wordpress and so I thought that might work. There seemed to be some appropriate and stylish themes for this and that is where other blogs are.
  • I will make use of the ‘publicize’ and tweet updates. Hopefully this can generate some dialog on occasion. On the other hand, I rarely comment on others. This way it should go with others who use the #180blog tag.
  • I will try and improve the pictures. Previously I made use of my ipod touch which was handy, but in the classroom light the images could be pretty fuzzy, so I will try some other ways this time.
  • The text should be a bit more meaty. Quick is good but there should be a thought as well as a fact. Again typing on the touch is handy and not disruptive of the classroom, but composing on the computer should be better.

So, here we go again. Here’s the new address in case you missed it before:

Wednesday, 28th August, 2013

New blogs

It seems like I have an ever increasing collection of blogs. I guess this is an inevitable part of getting used to the medium and finding a format that matches the use.

Something to try at the beginning of this year will be a blog with shared authorship for a course where we have multiple teachers – as opposed to a blog for multiple classes for each teacher. As I think of it, the pros and cons of this would be:


  • It means that many of the common things that we would post – assignment details and deadlines, for example, would only need to be posted once.
  • All the students in the course would receive the same information in the same way at the same time. I think this matters because for the first time the students have the same teacher all year and some may have preferences. This way we give some clear message that there is consistency and communication between classes.
  • There will have to be consistency and communication between the groups – the discipline of a shared platform will mean that we will be encouraged to continuously share our planning.
  • There is a bigger audience and one which spreads beyond each class. If something is up for discussion, then there will be three times as many students who can give opinions.
  • We have more teachers to add different things and we each have our specialties and interests. We can use this to add extensions and contexts for each of our topics.


  • There is the additional challenge of navigating from one blog to the next for each teacher and the danger that things will not go in the same place.
  • It reduces the vertical interaction or awareness that may be prompted by having a blog that includes a range of grades.
  • It may be that all the work falls to one person.
  • It may be harder to reflect the personality of an individual teacher or class. If a teacher or student does not feel ownership of a blog then they are lees likely to contribute.
  • The blog has been described as having a role as a professional portfolio for a teacher. With a shared blog it is less clear as this.

It seems at this point that pros win. I guess also that if this does not end up working for any reason, then it should be a relatively simple task to transfer any stuff that has been done to each teacher’s personal blog and start again.

So the big decision would be the name!

The format is:


I think I will poll colleagues!


Tuesday, 27th August, 2013

A new school year

A new school year is underway so this is a good time to think of where I will be (or may want to be) by the end of the school year. Here are a few thoughts in no particular order;


The courses that are new (9/10 Science) will have been gone through. Hopefully these will be fun and challenging for the students. It would be great to be sure that they are all reflected on and ready for improvement in the next iteration.

For the IBDP course, there is a new one on the horizon and keeping tabs on implementing this will be key towards the end of the year, but there are still two cohorts of students to complete the current model who mustn’t be short changed. With the DP accreditation (not the right term, I know, but I can’t remember the right one) then the documentation of work in this course needs to be reviewed.

I would like to be sure that the Japanese classes I started over the summer continue and that I feel that I am making progress here. Quite apart from the usefulness of the language it is really good to have a non-school priority and to be a learner- this is really something about balance.

In the short term there is a Cousera course I will start next week about the Big Bang and things like that. There are a few reasons for wanting to do this; an update on these topics for my teaching and curiosity, an experience of a MOOC, an interaction with some people from a local university, the possibility of a shared learning experience with colleagues and maybe some students. Should be interesting.

Hockey coaching has always been fun. It seems like numbers are dwindling a bit, so perhaps that is something to be active about in the first half of the year. Some pre-season work for example, and goalie recruitment.


Maybe that’s enough for now.

Thursday, 21st February, 2013

Posterous to ?

I have a blog set up from earlier this year about what I do each day. This has been on Posterous and I have found that a good thing. Posterous is closing and so I need to move it.

Perhaps the first thing to say is that I actually want to move it. I noted earlier that I thought that it was interesting that it encouraged me to emphasise real experiments, activities and artifacts in my class. I think there has been a bit of an implementation dip as I haven’t got to this each day, but I have managed most days and the archive is quite interesting.

What I like about posterous is that it is simple to add content from my ipod in a way that does not disrupt the flow of my class too much. It also take the content and makes it look good in a simple way. I want to retain this ease of posting with a control over the content. I should also make sure that things are commentable and that there is an emphasis on the visual. Also it is free.

Options to try: Tumblr (the kids use it so it would be nice to know it’s syntax), Flickr, wordpress (already on and there are import tools), Google blogger (conflicts with other accounts), Squraespace (notfree), twitter (that would be different)

Sources: here, here

So now I am thinking either wordpress or tumblr. Since wordpress seems the safe option. I will have a go at Tumblr.

First I am going to have a look at shifting existing content

This seems to fall flat as I don’t seem to be able to enter data that it is happy with. I have checked the password.

I will try wordpress and then maybe go back.

Waiting for the backup file, found this for moving posterous to tumblr. Something I hadn’t realised is that tumblr doesn’t include comments, so maybe it is a non-starter. Also, the process went to a dead end. On the other hand, vidoe upload from the iOS app is easy and that would be a plus – none of that on the wordpress without a payment.

Still waiting for a backup – should this take this long?


I have tried to structure this blogpost as a bit of self cognitive coaching.

Sunday, 10th February, 2013

A link to a talk about the role of markets in society and in education.

I think it is no accident that two things have been happening over the past 30 years. One is that what we’ve discussed today: the tendency to rely more and more on market mechanisms without any public debate. And something else that’s been happening which is the hollowing out of public discourse in general. What passes for political discourse these days consists mainly of shouting matches on talk radio and cable TV, and ideological food fights in congress. People are frustrated by this. I think one of the reasons for this is our reluctance to engage in serious public debate about big and controversial moral questions.

When he describes a market, he picks out examples where money is an agent. The idea gets extended into ways we think. This would be an interesting piece to reflect on in the upcoming sessions on differentiation and for making thinking visible.

Tuesday, 22nd January, 2013

Networked privacy

There are some things in this piece by danah boyd entitled ‘Networked privacy’ that seem very important. I think I would summarise this as saying that the ideas that we use for privacy are routed in the individual and that these are not (or at least will not in the future) relevant for issues of privacy in a networked world.

Any model of privacy that focuses on the control of information will fail. Even achieving true control is nearly impossible because control presumes many things that are often untenable. Control assumes that people have agency, or the power to assert control within  a particular  situation

From this it seems almost like we should give up trying to keep our privacy settings up to date.

The future is only going to be more networked, more interwoven, more of a gnarly hairball that’s impossible to untangle without harsh cleaving. Expecting that people can assert individual control when their lives are so interconnected is farcical.

This part I follow. She goes on to add:

Moreover, it reinforces the power of those who already have enough status and privilege to meaningfully assert control over their own networks.

I am going to need to think about what this means to me and why it is the case. I think this is not just talking about facebook and their control, but the people in our lives who serve as nodes in the networks and actively manage their online communities. In this latter case I wonder if the implication is that we should all strive to be these actors, but this can’t make sense – we can’t all be the node.

In order to address networked privacy, we need to let go of our cultural fetishization with the individual as the unit of analysis.

I wonder if this means that I should not be thinking of this in terms of me?

A lot to think about.

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Sunday, 23rd September, 2012

180 Blog

Amongst the stream of things that passed through my google reader last year was a blog from a Physics teacher showing a picture a day. I would ignore this sometimes but occasionally take an idea or thought. The idea that it was mostly based around an image appeals to me and the take it or leave it nature is nice, so I thought I would try something similar this year. I have still called it a 180 blog, even though I am very slow of the mark and we are down to about 155 by now. I hope no-one is really counting.

I think the point is to have something to put out and get comment from a wider community. I think there should be a week or so of pictures, the I will try and see if this can be shared.

I have used posterous, since that was the original I am copying. I have managed to test post from email and from my ipod, so this should not be too onerous.

I wonder how wide or narrow to make this – maybe it should be about anything in school, maybe about the teaching of science, maybe even just the experimental ideas. I think I will start with a week on something that is happening or happened in class, and see how that goes. I will stick and annoying calendar reminder in for each afternoon.

In case the link was too hidden – here it is again:

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