Where's your head at?

Project based learning, thinking on learning and amazing Art projects

October 31, 2012
by Pete Jones
1 Comment

The Neverending Quest For Outstanding and then some…

It has been a week or two since my whirlwind visit to the UK. I managed to fit in a day of discovery at Clevedon School, followed by Teachmeet Clevedon and then a day at the City Academy in Easton, Bristol for Independent Thinking’s big day out. I had a gut feeling before hand that this would be my time to discover whether I was on the right track with my thinking over in little old Jersey or whether my thinking was 10 years or more out of date. I was also exceptionally apprehensive about meeting so many top tweachers and edu-gurus all in one place at one time. I really wanted to see what an outstanding school was like and whether I would find my holy grail of teaching nirvana. Not much to ask I thought. (High standards you see…)

After teaching a full day, I got the plane over to Bristol and with the help of my sick to the back teeth of everyone tweeting about my map on his timeline brother, picked up 3 A1 copies of the map to give to @ICTEvangelist, @fullonlearning as a small thank you for accommodating me at their school and one for @gwenelope to say, well thanks for being such a jolly awesome tweacher.  After a good nights sleep, I set off for Clevedon from the other side of Bristol in the dark, thinking I’d get lost several times. 20 minutes later, I arrive at the school, full of hope, wonder and expectation to be greeted with… well nobody. I was early, very early. Most teachers at the school were clearly still in bed whilst I eyed up their 60’s build. SO…. This is what outstanding looks like. I rang Mark Anderson to see if he was out of the shower. No answer. I gave it another ten minutes or so and rang again. Finally, the overslept (but all the better for it) Head of Digital Learning pulled up in the car park. Even more dashing than his avatars and twice as jolly. We walked into the school and I got myself a badge on the way to the coffee machine. A proper full size Nespresso machine. SO THIS is what outstanding looks like I thought to myself… Proper coffee first thing would be on my marginal gains list of how to improve great teaching for sure.

After a brief chat and a few intros in the hallowed corridors, I was whisked into their house assembly. This was really impressive. I loved the fact that it was started by a student who reminded all about uniform and went through all the boring stuff on the bulletin with great confidence. The assembly itself was like many others I’m sure this term, highly influenced by our Olympic achievements. I was amazed at how long it was (not that it seemed to go on forever) which helped the message of how hard work brings reward in a more worthwhile manner than the usual 10 minute drop in. The students seemed to really take in the message. I certainly did, despite the speakers stinking cold.

I meandered back to Mr Anderson’s room for a longer chat about IPad’s, educational thinking and all that stuff. This was fantastic, but little I couldn’t have got from Twitter on an evening with the great @ICTEvangelist. He really does know his onions. What I was more interested was what made this school tick; Why are there quite so many great teachers in one school? Did the ethos of the school live and breath in every school corridor? Every conversation with a student? The atmosphere in the lessons? No pressure…

Mark seemed to know practically every student in the school, talking personally with many of them as we walked through the corridors. I love this. Never a ‘them and us situation’ with Mark. I had a tour of the school. There were some really impressive parts of the school; the new Science block, the DT facilities, but it was also clear that this was a school that could do with some serious bits of rebuilding too. There was a real sense of learning taking place wherever I went though. Students always seemed full of purpose and highly motivated. The discovery centre was a really interesting idea to allow students to work independently when teachers are away. Work projected on the wall and a huge bank of computers for students to use as they see fit.

I was getting the impression of a school which takes independent learning as a natural requirement of a student’s experience. That learning can happen with or without the teacher dictating the rate of progress. Outstanding? Quite possibly.


Ofsted were in that day, as well as teachmeet happening in the evening. Anywhere else I would expect panic, but here, the whole system seemed to manage this in it’s stride. Not sure if this was a swan moment or just a school who feels it can cope with whatever is thrown at it. Outstanding? Probably.


Mark took me over to Art, where I was going to see the buzz of Mrs Kelly Hawkins doing her thang or so I thought. 10 minutes later I was teaching a lesson to a lovely bunch of Year 7’s who are working on my Year 7 paint project. This I have to say was a very strange experience, to see how another school adapts to my thinking. I was so impressed with the starters and organisation of the class. They seemed so up for it and gave some great explanations about Van Gogh’s work. Further proof that this school is building students as highly capable, passionate learners.

The rest of the day was taken over by talking to some incredibly passionate teaching staff, who, like all of us are all on the journey to understanding what outstanding teaching and learning looks like. Throughout the day, I was constantly impressed with much of what I saw. A confident, happy and focused student body. A confident, happy and focused staff who were very accommodating to me.

Did I see what I was looking for? A curriculum, staff, student body and environment which fills every pore of the school with excitement and anticipation to learn? An environment which challenges, supports and enables the very best out of every person who walks through their doors in the mornings? Well…. prbobaly not. I saw some great things, spoke to some quite exceptional students and teachers, but it was a school, which like any worth their salt was on the quest. The never ending quest for enabling brilliance from everyone. Some sad people call this raising standards.

Possibly my most informative 30 minutes was spent with the learning spy himself, David Didau. Never have I come across a teacher who must fill his head with 30 things at the same time and still manage to hold a conversation, pick up litter in several classrooms, speak to each member of his department, fix the blind I broke, make me coffee, show me every room in the English department, speak to the caretaker about some suggestion boxes and convince him not to blow up his century box, speak on first name terms to every cleaner, stand in the corridor at the end of the school day and ask every student to do their top button up as they headed out the door. In the midst of all this, we spoke about project based learning and how we approach things differently. No wonder he managed to write a book, keep a blog, get a new job…. you get the idea.

What clicked whilst talking to David was that we are all on this journey, we are all approaching it differently, but we all have one thing in common; a shared desire to equip every student we teach with the skills and knowledge to be even better than they were yesterday. There is no special potion, no elixir which one can take for your school. Just good thinking, shared thinking, good understanding, common understanding and a lot of soul searching, failing and failing better to be the best school you can be.

I hear Gove is hiding in the next village…

Mr Anderson, Mark, ICT Evangelist or the chosen one as he likes to be called, deserves a  medal for letting me traipse round his school on a day when OFSTED were in AND… far more importantly TEACHMEET was about to take place, bigger, better and braver than ever. It was an honour to see this outstanding school in action. Thanks all at Clevedon. You rock. Literally.

Teechmeet was another one of the seminal moments of any teacher who writes a blog from Jersey who doesn’t get out much, especially to schools in the UK. You know THOSE moments…

All dietary requirements were catered for..

With all the pizazz of a 1970’s game show, Mark, pretty much single-handedly whipped up a frenzy of excitement not expected by several hundred jaded, end of term teachers into a pedagogical party the like of which I sincerely doubt I shall witness in my lifetime again. Speaker after speaker got up and spoke with great eloquence and passion about their own ideas to fill my brain with some truly outstanding cutting edge practise. ‘Twas an absolute joy to be there, not only to be so inspired with ideas, but to meet so many map members who were just so damn lovely.

My seminar was with El Quiff. Also known as @totallywired77 also known as Coles, Tait Coles. A more sharper Leeds/Bradford man have I ever met? A resounding NO. Great talk on Critique as the missing link in many a teacher’s toolkit. Brilliant, brilliant talk.

The night ended down the boozer, where I got to speak again to some truly awesome teachers. A long. long day, but so very worth it. Thanks to all the staff and students at Clevedon and thanks to all the speakers and thanks to the rest of you too. You know who you are.

As for the quest.. I now know that the quest belongs to everyone who work in schools who care deeply about what affects children’s education. And that the holy grail probably belongs in San Diego, High Tech High. International teechmeet anyone? I know a great presenter who could do an amazing job in a gold suit…….

October 24, 2012
by Pete Jones

The Map

Quite a few tweachers have asked me why did I create the map? So I thought I’d do a quick piece on what its all about, why I did it and why I REALLY did it!


Several weeks ago, I was having a conversation with the rather wonderful @fullonlearning also known as Zoe Elder, writer of the quite dazzlingly brilliant book ‘Full On Learning’ about an article I read on the BBC website about the design of underground maps across the world, following the publication of a book by psycologist, Dr Maxwell Roberts. He states,  “A nice map in front of you says ‘you can go anywhere and do anything and here’s how to do it”. That quote really stuck with me. I ADORE the tube map. It’s probably my all time favourite piece of design. It reads brilliantly for pretty much everyone and has influenced so many other map designs across the globe. It makes what might seem a complex, difficult journey seem as easy as ABC.

So, as I said, a few weeks ago, I created a simple twitter map, using the central area (zone1) to link some of my important twitter friends together. It was ridiculously popular. In fact so popular that I spent several days emailing a copy to pretty much everyone on there. Anyway… A few weeks after that, I took the plunge and created the entire map, including overland routes, over 360 stations and created The Tweacher’s Map. What was an incredibly long slog….Deleting all the old names of stations, redrawing all the blue lines and grey and white background areas took scores of hours to do, but I guess I wanted to do a proper job this time round.I filled in as many of the stations as I could with the magnificent people I follow. I am not and will never be highly organised, so of course I had no check list of who was on there, who was missing that really should be on there, but I got to a stage where about half of it was finished. I then tweeted where I was up to and asked for people to get intouch to fill the spaces. I looked at blogs, tweeted with new followers to ensure they were right for the map. Finally after probably 100 hours work, the map was finished. Special mentions were made to the first inspiring tweachers I met and the rest as they say is… well on the map.

Twitter has completely transformed my perceptions of what I do everyday. I have always been (I hope) a fairly decent teacher, who likes to constantly reflect and adapt my teaching. Joining Twitter has allowed that journey to become a shared experience and I have gained SO MUCH from reading fellow teachers blogs, tweeting with truly awesome teachers from across the globe. It has been transformational for me. So… The map is my way of saying thank you to all the brilliant teachers, educators and thinkers on Twitter who have helped shape my thinking far more than I could have hoped to do in a lifetime of teaching by myself. Having only been tweeting since early Summer this year, I cannot get over how much I have learned from so many people. I am sure by this time next year, I could fill ten tube maps, but it’s probably time to hand the baton over to someone who knows what they’re doing…. Using illustrator. I hear it’s being used for inset, on staffroom walls, offices and even in homes, such is the love for my map!

When I first read the article I mentioned earlier, I was transported back to something I created a few years back using the map called ‘My Brilliant Future’ a sort of NLP mini book I made for my form, which used the map to discuss some ideas. It also made me think of Zoe Elders work on the PLTS in her book, where she mapped how projects can be designed, integrating the PLTS (personal learning and thinking skills for my non-UK readers). I started to think about how the map could be used to record learning or to explore characters in a book and a whole range of education applications.

I have what I think could be an awesome idea for creating an app which you can draw your own map, creating interactive ‘stations of learning’ which could house a whole range of evidence, but I will save that for another post once I’ve done some further thinking… and tweeting….

For now, let me leave you with the new phenomenon of London stations being overtaken by their new tweacher identities …


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