Tuesday, December 19, 2006

What's New Blog

I'd written earlier that I wanted to add an RSS feed to the website's What's New page. I haven't found an easy way to do this without a complete restructure, so I have started a second blog to cover this. It's called What's New, and I'll link entries there to this blog.

New Additions to Skills for Life Website

I have added a small raft (7) of mental maths quizzes to Activities Maths, covering some techniques for larger numbers, ie not simple bonds and tables. They were done for a couple of my students and went down well. I have tried in some of them to make them not just sums - so fractions involves divisions and area involves multiplying.

I like the way a matching exercise works. It's a bit like a puzzle and the learner gets satisfaction on completing it. It also has some of the same benefits as multiple choice - the learner can do the calculation and then compare it with possible answers. In this way it gives good practice for multiple choice.

I've added a link for the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics to Background. It's not really got anything yet for post 16 numeracy. There are a couple of relevant blogs, Fractious Fractions and SfL/KS/FS in FE, but at the moment they look more like the start of a discussion board than a blog. Some of the more general or school blogs are more interesting and read like blogs, such as John Dabell's entry here.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Google Docs in the Literacy Class

While blogs and wikis are something I can look forward to using with learners, and they are integral to Moodle, another possibility is Google Docs - in particular the word-processing part. Here is something I have run up as a first example to give some idea of what I have in mind. The linked example has the comments as part of the document, but if you publish it normally you would not have the comments embedded.

The Google Doc is basically an online interactive worksheet. You can put comments on them and all changes get displayed in real time. This example has a number of learners working on the same topic. However it could equally well be an individual doc for an individual learner.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Time Line

I've been thinking about changes I've seen in using computers for teaching Basic Skills in the past 20 or so years. The starting point came in a presentation I gave in Sheffield a couple of years ago.
  • 1984-5 Community Drop-in - using BBC for word-processing, programs
  • 1985-9 Community Classes - carrying BBC Masters in my car for word-processing, programs
  • 1989-96 Open Learning Centre - suite of PCs (Amstrads) - used for word-processing (Wordstar), Lotus, authoring programs especially Storyboard
  • 1990 - Laser Printer to replace dot-matrix to print learning materials
  • 1990 - First "laptop"
  • 1993 - Multimedia CD-ROMs
  • c1995 - First contact with internet
  • 1996/7 - Heard presentations from computer gurus about how internet would change everything
  • 2000 - First used internet with students
  • 2001 - started writing quizzes
  • 2004 - started to collect interactive activities
  • 2006 - quizzes and interactive activities still what I mainly use in 1-1; I know I'd be using different strategies in a classroom
Most of these moments seemed very exciting at the time. Taking the BBCs to community classes was very rewarding because the students were very interested and gained hugely in confidence, even if the equipment was heavy and parking sometimes difficult. The first laser printer was also great because it allowed us to make professional looking learning materials. We used Ventura which had GEM, a better than Windows 2 GUI. The printer cost over £1000 and was only the second in the college - that felt cutting edge (an unusual feeling in Basic Skills).

Monday, December 11, 2006

Numeracy Teaching

I saw a presentation on Thursday which included a section which showed written mistakes that a dyslexic student might make doing written calculations.

I was struck by how rarely I come across people doing sums like this on paper. My current role includes supporting apprentices to pass Level 1 or Level 2 tests. I can only think of two of those students who regularly did calculations on paper, and one of those was one of the few dyscalculics (does that word exist?) I have come across, and he could not hold a sum in his head. Of the others, few have wanted to do calculations on paper and they have been relieved when I started to offer them alternative strategies.

Being a good FE teacher I write learning plans and lesson plans and try to code these to the Core Curriculum. Normally I support the Core Curriculum, though I strongly believe we should teach other things as well. But it is not easy to code mental arithmetic to the curriculum. There is however a whole section at the level I usually teach (N1/L1.3) about written methods. Luckily my students do not have to demonstrate that they can use efficient written methods. And why should they have to? Numeracy is about everyday maths in practical situations - the only real world place you will be presented with a sum is in a maths class.

Most maths books, maths websites, maths worksheets, numeracy worksheets, etc, etc, demonstrate numeracy skills by written methods, which renders most of them useless for teaching purposes, although they may have useful practice questions. Even the wonderful Maths the Basic Skills Curriculum Edition does this. An honourable exception is Skillswise which has good sections on mental maths.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The Literacy Class of the Future

I have recently read 2 interesting schools based wikis (here and here), used to collaborate between schools in different continents. I certainly see blogs and wikis as being central to the literacy class of the future, in the same way as Interactive Whiteboards are central to the numeracy classroom of the present - aren't they? Learners can write to blogs individually and they can collaborate on creating a group wiki on subject or subjects of mutual interest. I've already commented (Reflect) on the use of Wikipedia in a literacy class. I used to publish student writing but Web 2.0 tools make it a lot easier and a lot more learner controlled.

I have added some blogs to the Using ILT page, but a major rework will have to wait. I am still trying to progress my Web2.0 skills. I've been further working with del.cicio.us: (these are my elearning bookmarks I enjoyed the del.icio.us tutorial from John Pederson, and have browsed other people's bookmarks. The tutorial seems to be a Google Doc, another nice Web2.0 tool which would be good in a literacy class of the future.

I have Pageflakes as a homepage, which I can use anywhere, on any browser, complete with well presented RSS feeds, including del.icio.us, including an elearning stream, and Flickr pictures I have rather dully uploaded. I have tried Flock (a Mozilla browser which has a front end for Flicklrand Myspace) and Elgg.