Author Archives: AbbyWilson575

Finding my own Pretty⤴

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Pigtail Pals was one of my great finds of 2011. I loved the energy and passion behind their message – girl doesn’t equal pink! I appreciated the concept behind their slogan ‘Pretty has nothing to do with it’ and I applauded their desire to empower little women. However, at the dawn of 2012 I have begun to reconsider my immediate praise for this site. Yes, I agree that we girls can hold our own; we can be plumbers if we want to and we should never be seconded to our male counterparts. Yes, I agree that girls should be brought up believing they can reach their own stars rather than waiting for Prince Charming to collect on their behalf. But… there is a ‘but’ and it won’t go away… But I like pink…. And Pigtail Pals have made me a little ashamed to admit it.

I love the idea behind the site, but I can’t stop myself from thinking ’They have gone too far’. Rather than telling little girls that they can, and should, be whoever they want to be, they have said you can’t be girly – or at least the typical understanding of such. They have gone so far beyond redefining girly that they have denounced it.

I fear that this post sounds extremely critical, believe that is not the intention. I really do like Pigtail Pals, I really do hate the sexualisation of 5 year old girls and I really do hate people who say ‘Girls can’t do that…’ But I LOVE pink! I love to shop; I love Barbie; I love glitter. I love girly! I spend a fortune on clothes, shoes (I have a criminal number of shoes), and (please don’t shoot me) I have three drawers full of make-up. I enjoy looking nice, I take pride in my appearance, I get my nails done every two weeks – pink is normally my colour of choice – and I hate the idea that anyone is judging me because of this; which ultimately is what I think Pigtail Pals have done. I want to be Superwoman and defy stereotypes but I feel like Pigtail Pals have made me into a stereotype – I’m the I-want-to-be-pretty-girl that you are telling your daughters not to be.

I understand the concept. I understand the desire to rid ourselves of ‘This is the definition of pretty’. I understand, more than you’ll ever know, the overwhelming passion behind ‘Pretty has nothing to do with it’. But at the end of the day I will still spend my wages on beauty treatments, clothes and yet more shoes. Not because society tells me I have to, but because I want to. This is where I think the message fails – we shouldn’t be telling little girls pretty is wrong, we should be ensuring that they understand they are their very own version of pretty.

If I ever have a little girl and she wants to wear a pink tutu I’ll let her – I’ll never force her into one but I’ll also never force a hammer into her hand – if she one day wants a nose-job, a boob-job, who am I to stop her?! She will be whoever she wants to be. She won’t be sheltered for media, because I firmly believe this only creates a naivety about the world, instead I will tell her what my mother has always told, and continues to tell, me ‘you could look like that with her money too.’ I’ll ensure my daughter see the falsity behind stereotypical beauty so that she learns to take comfort in her own beauty. Her own version of pretty.

For the record, in amongst my shoe shopping and beauty treatments, I also love DIY, the history of warfare and politics. I wrote a dissertation on torture and last summer I graduated with a Law Degree – which I proudly declared as my Legally Blonde Fantasy Come True.   

I think I’ll just stick with my tagline – Smart is SEXY!

Rethinking the Maths Curriculum⤴

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Dan Meyer’s TED Talk on the failing maths curriculum, is without a doubt my favourite. He may not be the most confident or charismatic speaker but he is so obviously, in-your-face-passionate about teaching that you can’t help but believe everything he says (and if you don’t agree with that reasoning I’d still hazard a guess that you nodded along with him because what he says is so true). He wants to completely strip maths back; lose the unnecessary words and explanation – it’s maths after all, not literature – just give pupils a problem to solve using the knowledge you have (hopefully) been successful in providing them with. His recommendations for teaching and learning hit the epitome of problem finding and for that reason alone I think they are genius.

I’ve read a lot of articles and posts comparing Dan’s recommendation for maths against that of Salman Khan, and more often than not Dan wins. I can fully understand why Dan wins, he’s a teacher and he is passionate about being a teacher; Salman Khan has created an interactive website to teach rather than going out into the classroom to do so himself. But here’s the point that almost everyone is missing or choosing to ignore… Salman Khan has a potential classroom of 6 billion people; Dan Meyer has a classroom of around 30 pupils. This is not Dan Meyer’s fault, and at the end of the day his face to face methods probably do trump those of a PC, but neither method is wrong. In fact, I think that if you combine the two methods you are pretty much winning. OK so pupils might not watch Khan Academy videos at home… but they might! Give your class the option, tell them about Khan Academy, set videos and exercises for them to complete at home; adopt Dan Meyer’s approach in the classroom, having faith that your pupils are learning the math facts at home at a pace which suits them, and see where you are in a week, month, year’s time. Some pupils won’t watch Khan Academy at home, but, to be blunt, some pupils just don’t like maths! Those kids who want to do better, who enjoy being in the maths classroom, they are likely to not only try Khan Academy, but to love it!

Dan Meyer’s approach depends on pupils knowing the basics; Khan Academy can help free class time by allowing pupils to be tutored for free at home. Give pupils the basics, give them the resources to revisit the basics, allow yourself to use software which tells you where your pupils are struggling and run with Dan Meyer’s new approach to the maths curriculum. 

http://www.ted.com/talks/view/lang///id/855 

I’m Rebelling… I didn’t forget⤴

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A busy day and the loss of an important document meant that National Writing Day was unintentionally ignored by me yesterday. As a self-confessed passionate writer I was overly irritated this morning when I noted that my calendar read October 21st; how could I possibly have missed it?! Residing myself to the fact that a temper tantrum would get me no where unless my fit of frustration resulted in me defying the laws of time and space, I took a deep breath and kindly reminded myself that the world was not over. My self-inflicted tirade of anger did however get me to thinking; as a ‘self confessed passionate writer’ why do I need a pre-assigned date to shout from the rooftops my love of pen and paper (or in this case Word and keyboard)? So here I am, breaking the rules, writing about why I love to write on a day that I have not been given permission to do so. Yesterday I would have been a sheep; today I am a rebel!

I remember clearly my first piece of praised writing. I was in primary 2, 5 or 6 years of age, and I wrote about having a rag nail on my toe; I know, riveting stuff. But for some reason this mundane tale of my discomfort was noticed, and it was shared. I was taken to the Headteacher’s office to show her my work; the story was pinned to the school notice board! I think only my graduation tops that day. I was incredibly proud of myself. As hazy as childhood memories might become that one could have been yesterday. Why do I remember it so clearly? Because it was probably one of the only occasions in my entire school career that I was praised in that way… but the importance of positive feedback and encouragement of talent is an entirely different post.

As far as I remember I continued to write from that day onwards. I have notepad after notepad of adolescent stories and pictures, developing into the daily journals of a hormone tortured teen, which then became the wonderments of a university student finding her way in the world, and then one day, there it was; me, published (OK so the first time that happened is also pretty high on my list of proud days).

I write because I love it. I love putting my thoughts into concrete words that I can revisit someday. I will always write regardless of whether or not I have an audience. I write for me and a lot of the time what I do put to pen and paper goes no further than me (those tortured teen years for instance will never leave the well worn diary pages). Writing an incredibly powerful outlet and at times my pen really is mightier than the sword; on those days no one sees the ink stained pages but me.

I am yet to find anything that can compare to the harmony of a pen pouring my heart onto a blank page. Writing soothes the soul when your mind buzzes with a thousand thoughts, worries, hopes, fears and dreams… place them all on paper tonight and sleep soundly. 

Stay Hungry; Stay Foolish⤴

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Today is a sad day for the modern world. Today the leader of modern technology passed away. America is proclaiming that Steve Jobs will go down in history with Einstein and Edison; I hope so.

Steve Jobs’ commencement address at Standford Graduation in 2005 was pivotal to his career and securing his place in the heart of millions. It is also, I believe, hugely representative of the state of today’s education and the fight for personalised learning. He talks about dropping out of college because the classes didn’t interest him, and then as a dropout attending classes of interest that he was in no way tied to. He went along to classes that intrigued him despite there being no end reward. He wanted to learn and he didn’t care about the resulting diploma. He had a hunger for knowledge; he knew what he loved and he sought it out. The result: Apple as we know it today. The truth is the impact of Steve Jobs’ life and work in this world will probably never be known. Who needs a diploma right?!

The point of this post is that Steve Jobs changed the world with no qualifications. Assessment is not the be all and end all. Standardised testing has been the centre of mass debate in recent years and I think that Steve Jobs’ legacy is an enough said end to the debate.
#ThankYouSteve  #StayHungryStayFoolish

Expressing Gratitude on World Teacher’s Day⤴

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Today is World Teachers’ Day and an excellent opportunity to pause, reflect and recognise the contribution that our teachers make. Michael Russell, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning.
Ever since Sir John Jones keynote at the Scottish Learning Festival last month I have been doing exactly that; reflecting and recognising the huge impact one particular teacher has had on my academic career. Sir Jones keynote talked about a person’s Magic-weaver, he claimed that if you had one you would know instantly, without deliberation. Only one name sprang to my mind: Mr Smith.
I attended Charleston Academy, Inverness, from 2001 to 2007. Mr Smith was my first year Religious and Moral Education (RME) teacher. He told us within our first few days that he would see our year through to our leaver’s ceremony and then he would retire. I always remembered this; it was as though he held an unbreakable bond with our entire year. We were holding him to the school and there was something incredible powerful in that.
I never sat Standard Grade RME; a decision I do not regret; but just before summer, at the end of 5th year, I went on a school trip to Rome, and quite literally everything changed.
I was there as part of my Higher art class, but we were joined by Standard Grade RME and Mr Smith. My pivotal moment of the trip, a moment that I will remember forever, was walking through the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica. The architecture, the art, the passion, it was overwhelming and by no means overdramatic to now say that it was a life changing experience. I am not Catholic, at times I’m not even religious, but standing at the heart of such magnificence, such unapologetic sanctity, moved me to tears and my world was forever altered.
Back in our hotel I found myself being cornered by Mr Smith and all of a sudden discussing me taking on Advanced Higher RME the following year (baring in mind I hadn’t even done Standard Grade!) But he had watched me as I breathed in the magnificence of the Holy See, he observed my enthusiasm as I absorbed as much information as I possibly could, asked as many questions as I could think of, and he decided that he believed in me. I was never the best academic, never the worst either, I fell into the middle bracket of those who plodded along with little notice; the surge of appreciation I had towards the teacher before me was unexplainable. His belief in me sparked a belief in myself that I never had before. I was always inquisitive, but being encouraged to explore this part of my nature was new.  
In the end I decided to sit the Higher course; Advanced Higher with no prior experience was a little daunting! I actually took RME over Advanced Higher art; already this amazing teacher was changing my path without really being aware of it. I was always going to take Advanced art, build my portfolio and assess the possibility of art school, Mr Smith changed everything; and I know that no other teacher would have had the same effect on me. It is true that Rome sparked a deep interest in religion that I hadn’t possessed before, but I took RME because of the teacher, not the subject.
I think anyone who has ever attended Charleston and been taught by Mr Smith will agree that he carried an infectious aura that was impossible to dislike. It’s as difficult to explain now why I was so enthralled by him as it was when I was a first year; but I guess that’s all part of the magic. He allowed me to embrace, explore, test and deny my faith all in an hour’s lesson; he encouraged expression; opinion; critical thought. Not once did he force his belief upon us, instead he listened to ours and helped each individual flourish in their own way. He understood that dictated belief was false and so he encouraged us to foster our own. He wanted us to be informed, to push the boundaries, and at the same time he taught respect for other belief systems. He made me realise that I was an individual, that my opinion mattered, and that I didn’t have to follow the grain; in fact he promoted going against such. I completely changed as a person in my final year at school. I became more independent, more self assured, more confident in my convictions, and it was all thanks to Mr Smith.
My last day in Charleston was also Mr Smith’s last day. The strange connection that he held with my year was amplified in our last RME class; a sense of we did it crept over us all. For me it was like he was my own personal guide through those scary six years, only present at Charleston to see me through it; he welcomed me into the security of secondary education, he prepared me for the world beyond and when it was time for me to leave, he left too. Job done.
I received an A in RME and I went on to receive a 2.1 honours degree in Law; a degree I chose after fostering my inquisitive and analytical skills under Mr Smith’s instruction. My degree brought out my passion for equality and justice – something so intrinsically liked to RME I don’t think I need to point it out – and led me to my first graduate job; researching the best means of achieving equal access to a first class education throughout the Highlands. Everything comes back to that fateful trip to Rome and the amazingly inspirational Mr Smith. I guess at the end of the day all education needs is a few million teachers like him…

Today, on World Teacher’s Day, I want to extend a sincere, heartfelt thank you to Mr Smith; my Magic-weaver.

Backing Down and Fighting Back⤴

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This morning I received my first confrontational blog comment to my previous post Accepting Your Not a Digital Whizz. In this post I talked about my experience with West Calder Primary and their use of Lego Robots at this year’s eAssessment Scotland Conference in Dundee. Most confrontation and criticism I can handle, but this morning’s comment used the word racist to describe my analysis and thoughts on Marc Prensky’s Digital Native’s theory (I must add that I have no idea where racism came into it). I panicked, hated the criticism and in a moments fear deleted the entire post. Now I’m mad at myself because as much as I am aware of the controversy surrounding the theory, I do stand by what I had said. Mark Bullen, while criticising Prensky, said Every generation differs from the previous in some way. I don’t think that my post was any different from this. I work for one of the world’s largest IT companies, I don’t want to be labelled incompetent in IT use and that was never the intention of my post. The very basic point is that, whether you call them Digital Natives or not, the post 2000 era are being brought up in a completely different world from the generation before them and it is a contrast never before experienced. This is not a bad thing; the vast differences between those brought up in the digital age and those who came before need to be and should be fully embraced. Einstein said; The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them. It’s always a positive that the next generation are different.

Everyone can adapt to technology (I wasn’t brought up in the digital era and I’m still blogging) but only those born into a world of Google, iTunes and eBay have it fully ingrained into their lives; they know no different! However this should not deter educators from embracing technology, and I think that is a message I failed to get across in my previous post. The Digital Native theory increases the fear that those sitting in the classroom know more about technology than the person holding the lesson and while this may be true on some levels there are contradictions to it. Teachers need to embrace technology, not only because that is the life their class leads, but because those born into the digital age need to be taught digital responsibility, sense and how to decipher the good from the bad in terms of resources. The Digital Natives (for want of a better term) pick up an iPod and know how to use it; many of those not classed as part of this era will also be able to do this but many will go to Apple and download the manual. And there is the difference.

I do believe that technology, especially ICT, needs to be incorporated into the classroom, the world is changing at a vast pace and education needs to be part of that change. I know from experience that many educators fear technology, this needs to be addressed. Children need to be more engaged in the classroom and I fully believe that innovative use of ICT can make this happen. But more than that, these so called Digital Natives need to know how revolutionary and important technology is for their future and the future of world economy; most of the post 2000 era have no idea how powerful technology is, and that is where the experience and knowledge of those so called Digital Immigrants comes in.

I am annoyed that this morning’s criticism made me doubt what I had said because whatever way you slice it I am still incredibly impressed by the primary 7s at Mid Calder school and I know that when it comes to the Lego Robots, they really do have the upper hand. 

Saved for a rainy day⤴

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As the rain pours down here in Inverness I am sitting flicking through old holiday snaps feeling helplessly nostalgic… so once again I find myself blogging not about education but about my life in general. I wrote this after an amazing day in Puerto de Mogán, Gran Canaria, earlier this summer… it’s well worth a visit.  

As the boat swayed on the ocean waves I caught my first glimpse of our destination just beyond the staggering cliffs. With speed not matched to the elegance of movement, the Salmon IV rounded the bend to expose the beautifully quaint Puerto de Mogán harbour. Stepping cautiously back onto solid ground my gracias was nearly forgotten as I took in my surroundings; the whitewashed village beyond the tourist-trapped harbour and the backdrop of vast mountainous terrain made my jaw drop in wonder.

Stopping only momentarily to refuel in a small, ivy clad cafe we were soon eagerly taking in all this strange little town had to offer. It was like walking through a Venetian-Greece; narrow winding streets lined by startling white buildings, rimmed with blues, reds and yellows, protected by ornate iron gates and decorated with elaborate flowing plants of the vividest greens and pinks, while the sea ebbed and flowed through tunnelled routes made passable by stone arched bridges. 

The sun beat down and burned our necks as we watched the multi-coloured fish swim amongst the millionaire yachts. I could not help but be amazed by the stark diversity this corner of paradise held; the Greek style homes to the Venetian canals, the yachts of Monaco to the Arizona Mountains, the Spanish tapas restaurant to the Irish bar. I never wanted to be separated from the gem we had found hidden in the rocks.

Arriving back in Puerto Rico, in its finest Times-Square-wannabe-but-more-like-Blackpool fashion, was as great a contrast as there could have been. We alighted the air-conditioned bus to be hit by the stifling, dry heat that comes from a lack of fresh, sea air and, in keeping with the culture of our surroundings, headed for a Happy Meal.  
 

Revolution starts at the bottom⤴

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This week I was feeling massively overwhelmed by the challenge I face; enhance the capability of schools to achieve Curriculum for Excellence goals through the benefits of ICT. I love research, so being handed this task was like a dream come true… but to date I have 100+ journal articles, 100+ Blog and Newspaper opinions and ideas, 100+ inspirational companies and 100+ fears!
I have always known where I want this project to go; I always had a main goal, one word that stood out: equality. I want education to be equally available for everyone. Wow, that is one huge goal.
Then, reading through blog comments after a Twitter tipoff from @readywriting, I read this Hang in there and remember, revolution happens from the bottom, not the top. You will get your chance! I love this. It reminded me automatically of a friend of mine facing charges for protesting against the student cuts and then of the Libyan and Egyptian protestors who finally regained control of their countries. Violence aside, the passion and determination of these people, like so many others before them (Emmeline Pankhurst is a personal hero of mine) has driven mass cultural change. I am not proposing we protest for an ICT boost in schools, I’m just revelling in the idea that I, along with everyone else out there who visualises a 21st Century classroom, could actually contribute to a revolutionary change in education. It’s invigorating, empowering and immensely motivational.

Here are a few of my educational heroes, fighting for the 21st Century learner:
Do-Be @dobeict A really great little company with big ideas for revolutionising teaching.
And of course the reason for my inspirational spurt this afternoon Lee Skallerup @readywriting

Curiosity Didn’t Kill the Cat⤴

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I will always place myself firmly in the Arts field; literacy, history, reading, writing, religion, philosophy, etc etc. Maths and science? Not so much. So I did a law degree; it catered for everything I enjoy, love, about learning; reading, analysis, writing, evaluation, debate… then I had to do Property and Tax Law and I was handed a calculator. I quite genuinely didn’t know how to work out 1%, and had no idea how many zeros were in 1.2 million. Ideally no child should go to University lacking these skills, but shockingly enough I actually received a C at A-level maths… I had the skills didn’t I? No, no I never. Why? Because I hated maths! Why did I hate maths? Because I had never been told how maths would ever be relevant to my life. I had to learn the basics of maths again on my own. I really enjoyed teaching myself maths and it pains me to admit that I really could have secured an A. Had maths been put into different contents, perhaps even as a small part of English or History, moulded into examples of how the world really works, I might not have had an A-level at all but I also might have had no problems in University. What I really needed from maths was parallels with everyday life, and not a generic Timmy walked to school at this speed, for this many miles, how long did it take him? I needed real life maths, the things I am now struggling to understand and deal with… I really didn’t need differentiation, integration or Trigonometry! I needed very basic, real life situations, maths lessons; and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Science is different. As much as I really didn’t need science, I did enjoy it; some of it. I did A-level Chemistry, truth be told I was more interested in Physics but the dreaded maths was problematic for me. I really don’t think this is fair. As an inquisitive person I actually enjoy all areas of science- I never thought I’d enjoy Biology but Richard Dawkins converted me- the only problem is I enjoy the theory of science. I don’t care about working out the theory I just want to be educated in it, I want to know how the world works without being given a complicated equation to prove the probability of a finding, or memories the periodic table, or know the inner workings of a leaf; school doesn’t offer anything that comes close to what I wanted. Most unfortunately school really teaches you nothing, or very little, about evolution and the scientists version of Creation. I am fascinated by religion, but I lack a balanced argument because the science was never shared with me in school – and I know many will argue that religion and science should never be brought together for a balanced argument, I’m not one of those people and I mean no offence to anyone, but, I am 100% with Dawkins on the campaign for evolution to be taught in schools; without it you can never claim to be fully informed. I am exploring what I like to call the scientific part of my religious education, by myself (hence the new Dawkins obsession) and, like my self-taught maths journey, I am really enjoying it; to the point that I know it is incorrect for me to currently use the word religion, really I should say Christianity, but I am working towards religion because now that I’ve started I want to fully understand it all; or my argument will never be balanced and my opinion will never be informed.

The point is, while school didn’t offer me what I wanted, I was always aware of my strengths and so I played to them. I gained the literacy and analytical skills that got me into a Law Degree, and my passion for learning is allowing me to fill in the gaps school created. A lot of people do not share my enthusiasm for learning; I firmly believe that in the majority of cases this is because they had the same unfulfilling schooling as me, while also lacking the curiosity that I, apparently, was born with. While I went to University desperate to learn more, I came out even more willing and anxious to explore new avenues, because my natural curiosity was toned, groomed and heightened by a selection of amazing tutors. People are wrong when they state they hate education or learning, everyone enjoys to discover something new; it’s school, the education system, that people have gained a massive dislike for; this can be changed, curiosity can appear in places it never showed before. Curiosity exists in everyone, we are all born with it, but the current mode of teaching seems to quash and frown upon it, this is so very wrong. Curiosity killed the cat… maybe, or maybe it was the bus that hit the cat, or the river he fell into; it really is the worst of all clichés, but can be perfectly matched by… you’d never leave the house in the morning. Leave the house. Explore the world, become inquisitive again, learn to ask question again, become that 3 year old who asks Why to everything, learn to learn again and you’ll be amazed at the change it will make; not just to you, but those around you, and most importantly to those whose education you are responsible for.