Showing posts from February, 2012

Real Steel in the classroom: how we need to be more than robots to be teachers.

Real Steel: boxing robots as a metaphor for teaching

For those of you who haven't, or will never, see it, Real Steel is a film aimed at the family market. It's set in the near-future, where boxing has been replaced with robot boxing.

Bear with me.

Hugh Jackman plays Charlie, an ex-boxer/ loser who bums around from fight to fight with an assortment of junk robots, always one step away from the gutter. Through an improbable twist, he gets temporary custody of his estranged 11 year old son; they start the film hating each other, and if you can't see the plot/ character arc sweeping down on you like the Valkyries then you need better narrative radar. It's a kids/ family movie, and I thought it was rather wonderful, but that's not the point.


Now that I've chased off the last few of you, it's just you and me. Either you've seen it, or you don't intend to, or you don't care. Either way, take a ring-side seat with me for the fina…

The Love of Money: How schools became Markets, and everyone lost.

Reading John Lanchester's interesting Whoops! Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay this week (and there's a publisher-suggested title if ever I saw one. Because every author secretly dreams of calling their book Whoops! Mind you, they used to get away with An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and such, so I suppose we reap what we sow). It's a good explanation of the recent boom and bust moneyquake that has underpinned- or excused- the austerity frenzy coming to a Lidls near you. Did you know that the RBS was the biggest company not just in Europe, but the world?

I did not know that.

The salient point he raises is to do with capitalism in general. He traces the current financial clusterf*ck back to the fall of Soviet Communism, and the removal of a direct competitor to the free market model of economic and political discourse. With this removal, he argues, there was less need for the capitalist economies to justify their superiority over the repressive, but…

Education Bloggers: What I Think I Do

It is never too late to jump on a meme bandwagon.

My Way or the High Way? Why every teacher needs to be different

I had to change a fuse today; what tool did you think I used? If you imagined something shaped like a screwdriver, then award yourself a pre-decimal BTEC (worth five A-levels in old money), and proceed directly to Oxford. If you thought instead of something like a lawnmower, then thanks for your interest, and we'll get back to you. Have you thought of Bangor?

What if I wanted to change a fuse on the Mir Space Station. Could I use the same screwdriver? I imagine not; I fancy that NASA have designed something with a torch and a magnetic strap. The concept of using different tools for different situations is not, I hope, a controversial one, although anything's possible on Twitter, I suppose (WHY YOU HATERZ HATIN ON SCREWDRIVERZ? etc)

Yet in the world of teaching, this concept is apparently inconceivable to many. I know this because the last twenty or so years in education have seen tighter and tighter screws turned on exactly how we teach and how we should be measured. It's…

Who’s driving this thing? Leadership, and the dogs of the classroom

If you have never been driven through the frozen Norwegian country in the pitch-dark night, may I recommend that you add it to your bucket list? If you harbour a secret passion to reincarnate as Roald Amundsen or even simply to gasp in awe at the perspicacity of a dozen Arctic Huskies as they tear across Narnia and empty their bowels with abandon simultaneously, then it is the very thing. I heard Stephen Fry, the great arbiter of all things middle-class describe it as the most exhilarating thing he has ever done and while I cannot vouch for that claim- jumping out of a plane will evoke far richer echoes of imitating Hemingway-it is peculiarly vivacious.

And at points, also oddly soothing. I have often used the metaphor of a pack of dogs with a driver as a blunt instrument to illustrate some basic truths of classroom management. (I know that the mere proximity of those images makes some critics howl with horror- children as animals? The teacher as a driver of dogs? And that, my friend…

'You're here to learn about Satan.' How our schools are petri dishes for the Dark One, says everyone

A teacher at one of the UK's most successful sixth form colleges has rocked the educational world by claiming that students there would be 'better off learning how to pay homage to Old Split-Foot.'

In a recent article in the TES Online, he claims he advised a student to 'stick his A-levels up his arse and instead work out better ways he can serve The Father of Lies by accelerating the Last Days of the Apocalypse.'

The chattering classes of education were swift in their rebuttal of Mr Cypher's unusual pedagogic methods. 'This is a disgrace,' said Mr Mendicant of the Church of the Telegraphed Soul. 'Worshipping Satan has been an outmoded, outdated way to get ahead in the world since the sixties. We thought we had managed to leave all that pentacle-drawing, blood-letting progressive incantation nonsense in the Dark Ages. Our children are expected to follow the modern, scientifically proven method of emailing their aspirations to the Dark Gods of Cthul…

Son of Brain Gym: Dancing to Nursery Rhymes Boosts A-Levels or something.

Remember Brain Gym? It was a now-discredited theory that pressing your brain buttons and doing warm ups would somehow improve the cognitive development of your learning conversation, or something similarly moronic. It would be laughable, except that a sizeable purse of public money was spent promoting this ridiculous snake-oil. You know, money that could go to orphans and homeless people and that. I should know, because I was one of the recipients- I was a cultish recruit on the now-defunct Fast Track program (motto: Be the inspiration- from the classroom to the staffroom, which should give you some kind of idea how much we were hated), sort of a predecessor to Teach First. They threw money at us, really chucked it as hard as they could. One of the now-unimaginable training bonuses was a three day residential where we learned NLP (another dubious bag of serpents and spanners) where we were taught the uncertain joys of Brain Gym, and had it recommended for dissemination in the real wo…

Bankers: 'Better at taking risks with your money than making friends'

People working in the finance sector are good at awarding themselves agreeable bonuses and managing their portfolios, but are poor at empathising with the needs of others or possessing a sense of humour about anything other than cruel jibes at the expense of the impoverished, a survey suggests.

Research by the Institute of Tautologies found that while they scored highly on tasks requiring avarice, egoism and the accumulation of wealth for its own sake, tasks that required collaboration, sympathy and sensitivity to the impact of one's actions were performed less well.

The Institute found that only 25% of leading financial institutions possessed any sense of social responsibility suitable for inclusion in humanity, while the remaining 75% received lower scores than the Cosa Nostra or packs of scavenging vampires in those areas.

Said one recent applicant, 'While I'm disappointed that I wasn't selected to join the lowest untouchable rank of their vile anti-life gang of ar…

Breaking Teacher Training News! Kobayashi Maru Test to be adopted as gold standard.

Teacher training providers in England and Wales have taken a bold and novel approach to next year's cohort of prospective classroom teachers. Instead of the usual post/ pre graduate routes of the BA (Ed) or the PGCE resulting in a portfolio of demonstrable experiences, future candidates will instead be subjected to The Kobayashi Maru, from Star Trek, as a final assessment.
Little known outside of friendless, internet communities of Trekkies, the Kobayashi Maru is a fictional training exercise that Starfleet officer trainees underwent; a computer simulation of a no-win situation, where participants could never succeed. Rather than seeing if they could beat the program, candidates were tested to see how they coped with no-win situations, in essence, being guaranteed to lose.

As one inspector explained, 'We were all up late one evening, caning a very agreeable bottle of Cockburn's port and watching Sky Movies, when Star Trek came on, and we thought, hello; there…

Dickens Bicentennial Celebrated by Not Teaching Dickens

As of next year, students will no longer have to study Charles Dickens- or any other text over 140 characters, or that cannot be summarised easily in a triptych about cats dressed as policemen and Harry Potter characters.

'We have to recognise that our children are cyber natives and 21st century learners, and we can't oppress them with our prescriptive notions about reading, writing and communicating with other human beings,' said the Children's Poet Laureate yesterday. 'A curriculum should truly enable our children to be life long learners in an uncertain, turbulent world where all knowledge is out of date before it's even been discovered, and we need to address that reading a book just doesn't facilitate their emotional discovery conversation in any way,'

When asked to give examples of how pre-21st century literature would be adapted for the curriculum review, she said, 'Check this out: turn Great Expectations into a series of unimaginative insul…

Scenes of chaos as research shows factors of underachievement exactly what teachers thought they were anyway

Bedlam descended on the world of education as teachers reacted to the shock findings of  recent research, which claimed that, among other things, children who came from families that take drugs, have no money, or don't value education, have less chance in school than others.

'I don't know what's real any more,' wept one teacher who asked not to be named. 'Previously I had thought that kids raised in crack dens with two absentee parents and a day job scraping rust from the underside of moving trains were my best bet in the GCSE sweepstake. Now nothing makes sense and I don't know if I should be teaching them about chromosomes or hitting them with a shovel.'

'Make the madness stop,' he added.

Researchers at the Faculty of Research and Facts were adamant that this information would revolutionise how we understand the link between 'having a hard life' and 'not finding things easy'. 'This shows once and for all that children who …

Educating Essex 8: The Parable of the Good School

Ladies and gentlemen, I have BEEN to the mountain top. This week I visited the mother-ship of telly schools: Passmores, in Harlow. It was, of course, the event horizon of the Channel 4 edu-phenomenon black hole Educating Essex, which gave me far too much to write about a few months back, as the fixed rig docudrama attempted to peel back the curtain of schooling and let the public see what kind of wizards were pulling the levers. It was the hit you couldn't miss if you were a teacher. I wanted, perhaps for the first time,  to draw a teacher-eye picture of what our favourite telly-comp was like from the inside, as opposed to a journalist's preferred storyline.

Not unlike an educational endoscope.


It is, I must say, hard to miss Passmores, given that the front of the building (I say front; it's built in the shape of a starfish, or the Nickelodeon Splat!) has the name spelled out in wooden planking thirty feet high, in a manner that could enable identifica…

Let's say something so stupid we have to call it science: obnoxious, loud children 'learn better'

NEWSFLASH: A study of 12,000 baby Tyrannosaurus Rexes found that the larger, more aggressive calves with longer, sharper teeth tended to outperform their more civil, amenable peers in standardised herbivore intimidation tests (SHIT). This contradicts the commonly held view that agreeable, polite mega-carnivores would be more successful. This raises questions about the need for T-Rex mentors to consider other methods.....(continues in a similar vein forever and ever until everyone dies crying)

Comedy Gold dropped into my email box this morning; a timebomb of stupid that I normally associate with people 'standing on street corners, selling coloured pencils from a tin cup,' to quote the Hitch. Only this time it was a paper written by m'learned educational scientists at Durham University, and blazed on the BBC news website here. The claim was that children who shout out in classes do better than their kinder, lovelier peers.

If Charles Darwin read this report he'd b…

ZOMG! Ofsted are TOTALLY on Twitter. Jazz Hands!

Have you seen the Ofsted Twitter feed. LET ME TELL YOU IT IS A HOOT MY FRIEND. It is either written by a very earnest and serious young person, or it is, in fact, the MOST FINELY CRAFTED PIECE OF SATIRE THE WORLD HAS SEEN. I prefer to believe the latter.

There are many Twitter feeds that I have absolutely no understanding of- literally, cannot fathom why they exist, like the Coca Cola Twitter account, or the ASDA feed. Who the HELL is following these soulless, corporate ad-drips? And yet, and yet, followed they are, in levels approaching the Biblical. Going down a level in Dante's Twit-ferno, we find accounts for abstract nouns like 'Friendship' and 'Caring', and yet we see an exponential rise in membership. Worrying about follower numbers is like worrying how many nipples you have- pointlessness squared, but I worry about a world where people think to themselves, 'What shall I follow? Who do I want to hear from? Ah yes, Fanta. And Happy.' Give me strength…