Swimming in the Swamp

It had to happen, after a couple of days in bed with whatever iteration of ‘Man-Flu’ I was supposed to have, I needed to get my planning done but instead find myself with an impromptu post regarding an article written in The Sunday Times Online (paywall – though a free sign-up gives you two articles to read each month – no CC details required, though you are added to the News Corp. database)

I’m not going to reproduce the article here as it deserves the copyright it invokes, however, what caught my eye before commenting on it was that the author Tom Bennett used the phrase ‘We need to drain the swamp of gimmicks.’ I confess that, no, I hadn’t read the full article before engaging in a brief online exchange regarding the use of the phrase that came to such prominence during Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign.

The article should be asking teachers to properly evaluate the usefulness of ANY new approach they take in a classroom – regardless of it being a technological one or not. Not every teacher should be using Minecraft in their classroom – especially if they are not confident in using it or by not taking the right steps to ensure there are sound educational goals in its application. But isn’t that the same with any approach? As a profession, we should be pushing boundaries to engage students to improve their educational experience but that shouldn’t be at the cost of genuine educational standards. There are innovative, hard-working, inquisitive teachers who are genuinely trying to encourage engagement through different methods (not all technologically based) and their public efforts to encourage teachers to try the same methods should be applauded.


My planning for this week is to include the lesson I didn’t get doing on Friday which was modelling of cube patterns in Minecraft (up to a 10x10x10 cube). This, differentiated, lesson gives all the pupils in my class of 10 / 11 yr olds the ability to access the learning (and, trust me, I have a wide spread of abilities – like most classrooms, I suspect) right up to GCSE level where some of the children will be researching the algebraic equations that could predict the growing pattern. I don’t have thousands of cubes to give the children to build the cubes required but I do have Minecraft where we can build in glass blocks and the children can see the developing pattern – internally and externally…

To me, this is effective use of technology that I have evaluated, when used before, and feel that it enhances areas of the learning. I remember using this approach last year and those children in my class who struggled with the inability to visualise the developing pattern were captivated and able to engage fully with what was happening – even instructing their, academically more able, peers about how to correctly develop the pattern for the investigation. I look forward to it and know, personally and professionally, that this is by no means a gimmick in the class.

When the Chief Inspector for Schools in Northern Ireland released the biennial report into education in Northern cir%202014-2016%20cover%20pageIreland this week I, like many of my peers and colleagues, were interested in the development of ICT over the past number of years. It offers us a challenge in Northern Ireland about how to improve the headline comment:

‘Digital technology is used to support teaching more than enhancing learning’

But it should also be challenging the decision makers about how to support the teachers, effectively, to make that change.

Young people may be more digitally confident than some teachers, but not all teachers and learners are sufficiently competent educational users.
73. While the effective use of ICT-enhanced teaching is a feature of many schools inspected, too many teachers, and most learners, still lack the knowledge, skills and confidence to harness digital technologies effectively to enrich learning across the whole curriculum.
“Encouragingly, in 54% of primary schools inspected the children now use ICT well to enhance their learning and are developing elementary coding skills.  In a minority of primary schools, drill and practice applications are used excessively.” (https://www.etini.gov.uk/publications/chief-inspectors-report-2014-2016

I am disappointed that the use of ICT for ‘enhancing learning’ is still in the 50% bracket and would love to know how we could change this as a body. What is it that nearly half of our schools are missing out on? How can we help? How can schools effectively cluster to support each other and improve the curriculum for the pupils?

I am also disappointed that there is still the use of ‘drill and practice’ and some schools still feel that this is effective use of ICT in the classroom – when it patently isn’t. How can we change this? However, more in-depth reflection of this latest report might will come in the future…

Tom raises important points and I am glad that there was respectful conversation between a number of people who reacted to the post this morning and I hope it stays this way but I can’t get past the ‘draining the swamp’ reference and all the baggage it carries… No, I’m not offended and crying ‘liberal tears’. Technology for technology’s sake is the wrong way to approach this – it needs to be meaningful; it needs to be impactful; it needs to enhance the educational value of the children; it needs to develop their understanding of areas; it needs to make a difference…

What it doesn’t need is to have to drag itself out of a ‘gimmicky’ swamp…




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