USA/Scotland exchange visit April 2014

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in Collaboration, Creativity, Curriculum for Excellence, International Education, Leadership for Learning | Posted on April 15, 2014

Last week students in Northern Valley Schools, New Jersey welcomed 24 students and 4 staff from Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland. Families of students in Demarest and Old Tappan schools kindly hosted young people from Castle Douglas and Dalbeattie for the week of 5-12 April. This was our reciprocal visit to the USA following the American students’ visit to Dumfries & Galloway in April 2013.

SATURDAY

We had a good flight on United Airlines from Glasgow to Newark Liberty International Airport on Saturday 5th April. It was a very pleasant surprise to be met by Northern Valley friends greeting us warmly at the airport. From there we headed for Demarest High School to meet all host families. In the evening we went to the Ice Skating Rink at the Palisades Centre.

SUNDAY

Sunday was a day for host families to spend some quality time with the new arrivals. Our students were involved in a wide range of activities with their hosts. The weather was superb today and I was delighted to take part in a game of golf at River Vale Country Club.

A beautiful day for a game of golf!

A beautiful day for a game of golf!

Later that afternoon our chaperone group enjoy a traditional thanksgiving-style meal at Steve and Elaine O’Neill’s house.

Fiona and Chris enjoying the sunshine!

Fiona and Chris enjoying the sunshine!

Elaine & Steve hosted us for a delicious thanksgiving style meal.

Elaine & Steve hosted us for a delicious thanksgiving style meal.

Kay, Evan and April on Sunday afternoon.

Kay, Evan and April on Sunday afternoon.

 

Claudia, Susan and Nancy

Claudia, Susan and Nancy

 

 

 

 

 

 

MONDAY

Today we all meet up at Demarest at 7.45am and take a private coach to New York City. Highlight of the day is a boat trip to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island. In the afternoon we visit the Reflecting Pools commemorating those lost in the World Trade Center tragedy.

Standing at 1776 feet, the Freedom Tower

Standing at 1776 feet, the Freedom Tower

Fiona on Liberty Island at the Statue of Liberty

Fiona on Liberty Island at the Statue of Liberty

 

Reflecting Pool at the World Trade Center site

Reflecting Pool at the World Trade Center site

TUESDAY

Today we have a very full and exciting day, starting in Central Park at the ‘Imagine’ commemoration for John Lennon.

Strawberry Fields in Central Park, New York remembering John Lennon

Strawberry Fields in Central Park, New York remembering John Lennon

We then head for the Museum of Natural History and then an opportunity for shopping at Times Square.

At the Museum of Natural History

At the Museum of Natural History

Our dinner at Ellen’s Stardust Diner features our waiters and waitresses also starring as Broadway singers in their own right!

Waiters and waitresses take their chance to sing on Broadway!

Waiters and waitresses take their chance to sing on Broadway!

After our meal we head to the Broadway show, ”Wicked”, which is for many of our group a highlight of the week. A truly excellent show.

Everyone enjoyed the show!

Everyone enjoyed the show!

 

 

IMG_9437Wednesday

Today, we all go to school, either at Old Tappan or Demarest. It’s very interesting to visit a range of classes in a New Jersey school. The schools are very well equipped with technology and other resources. In the evening, all the chaperones enjoyed a lovely meal at Claudia and Evan Cooper’s house. Claudia’s cooking is wonderful. I even took a picture of breakfast!

Strawberrys, pancakes and bacon….mmm….

Strawberrys, pancakes and bacon….mmm….

Thursday

Today our group takes on the challenge of the Project Adventure ropes course. Everyone has their own challenges and successes on this, with beautiful weather today helping all to enjoy the outdoor activities. In the evening we have a formal reception at Old Tappan with a few speeches and exchanges of gifts.

All smiles at the evening reception

All smiles at the evening reception

 

 

Dr Chris Nagy, totally committed to the success of the exchange visit

Superintendent Dr Chris Nagy, a great advocate for the Northern Valley / Dumfries & Galloway partnership

 

Cool dudes

Some cool dudes

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Northern Valley hosts

Our Northern Valley hosts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday

Another very full day starting at the Empire State Building with wonderful 360 views of New York and New Jersey from the top.

From the top of the Empire State Building looking towards the Freedom Tower and the Statue of Liberty

From the top of the Empire State Building looking towards the Freedom Tower and the Statue of Liberty.

 

We then go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This massive museum houses a huge range of amazing artefacts.

George Washington crossing the Delaware in December 1776

Famous painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware in December 1776 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the evening we all board ‘The Spirit of New Jersey’ for an evening cruise and dinner. We enjoyed fantastic views of New York from the boat and also of the illuminated Statue of Liberty.

Everyone looking forward to the evening cruise and dinner

Everyone looking forward to the evening cruise and dinner

 

 

 

Chaperone team USA/Scotland prepare to board 'The Spirit of New Jersey'

Chaperone team USA/Scotland prepare to board ‘The Spirit of New Jersey’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This has been a week we’ll never forget! Many thanks to all our friends and families in Northern Valley, New Jersey.

Great views of New York City by night from the boat

Great views of New York City by night from the boat

Professor Stephen Heppell

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in Collaboration, Creativity, ICT, Leadership for Learning, Learning & Teaching | Posted on February 5, 2014

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Great to spend time with Stephen Heppell last week as he shared his ideas and stimulated thinking with us in Dumfries & Galloway for a couple of days regarding Dumfries Learning Town plans and the exciting new build school in Dalbeattie. Had a good chat with him as we drove (roofless, open top in January!) back up to Glasgow Airport. And just yesterday, Stephen was chairing the first meeting of an Educational Technology Action Group (Etag) as the UK Government in London (with Michael Gove) look to develop a strategy for ICT in learning for schools, Further Education and universities. No challenge too large!!

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Music Education Expo, Barbican Centre, London

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in Collaboration, Creativity, Curriculum for Excellence, International Education, Leadership for Learning, Learning & Teaching, New Learning, video conferencing | Posted on April 4, 2013



Over 3000 delegates signed up for the UK’s largest ever music education conference. Sponsored by Rhinegold publishing, and with the endorsement of Boris Johnson (Mayor of London) the event took place in the Barbican Centre, London on Wednesday 20th and Thursday 21st March. I was pleased to be invited by the editor of Music Teacher magazine, Chris Walters to present at the Music Technology session on our video conference teaching programmes. Polycom UK gave great support to my presentation, enabling me with ease to have a live link with John Wallace (Principal at the Royal Scottish Conservatoire) in Glasgow; with Grant Golding (brass tutor) demonstrating a live lesson to a pupil in a Dumfries & Galloway school; and with Christianne Orto (Dean of Distance Learning) in the Manhattan School of Music, New York. Many thanks to all participants who assisted in demonstrating the amazing potential of video conferencing for learning and teaching.

Gordon Brown – UN Special Envoy for Global Education

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in Collaboration, Health & Well Being, ICT, International Education, Leadership for Learning, Learning & Teaching, video conferencing | Posted on November 25, 2012

Last Thursday, at the ADES (Association of Directors of Education) conference at the Westerwood Hotel, Cumbernauld I was very honoured to be in the company of Gordon Brown to hear him speaking on global education issues. The UK’s former prime minister has taken on the role of Special Envoy for Global Education for the United Nations.

He was very challenging (in a non-political way) to everyone in the room as to how each of us might support his mission of bringing education to all children in the world. He spoke very passionately of the value of education to children across the world and of his hopes and plans to improve matters in a radical way. His challenge to us was for us to support and encourage  Scottish schools to lead the way in linking and partnering schools in Africa and India in the next few years, particularly as internet connectivity continues to improve in these places.

I’m hoping our schools in Dumfries & Galloway can continue to build links with schools in areas of need in the world, possibly through our growing video conference infrastructure in all secondary and many primary schools.

What makes a good teacher?

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in Collaboration, Leadership for Learning, Learning & Teaching | Posted on November 28, 2011

It’s a simple question. What makes a good teacher?

Education policy-makers around the world have yet to provide an answer to this most simple of questions.

Most of us went to school, even me. Our view of what makes a good teacher tends to come from our own very personal experiences from having spent around 12 of our formative years in the education system. I can remember some ‘good’ teachers I enjoyed being in the class with and others that I just didn’t. At the age of 5, I loved my very first teacher. Miss Crawford read to our class stories by Enid Blyton. I can still remember eagerly anticipating each short installment of ‘The Castle of Adventure’. It was fun, exciting, stimulating and engaging. I’m fairly sure that the experience of having these stories read to me led to an early interest in reading.

My Physics teacher, Mr Stewart at Eastwood High School, was great. He told stories. Mr Stewart translated physics into real life scenarios. He asked for volunteers to attach tickertape to themselves and jump off the top of the school so that we could measure the velocity and distance travelled of a free falling object. He told us he had on his mantlepiece a sign saying  Ω SWEET Ω. (Ohm Sweet Ohm). Okay, not that funny, perhaps you had to be there, but 40 years on I can still remember that electrical resistance is measured in Ω ohms. He made lessons something to be looked forward to and fun. Even topics such as the refractive index of water were delivered in an interesting and engaging way. The refractive index of water is 1.33, meaning that in a vacuum, light travels 1.33 times as fast as it does in water. I still find that fascinating, and it’s all down to Mr Stewart. He made learning engaging and fun.

It has long been thought that teachers with the highest academic qualifications are not automatically the best teachers in the classroom. Some schools however (across the world), still appoint teachers to posts primarily on the merit of their academic qualifications.

So what makes a good teacher? Is it attitudinal? An aptitude and empathy for working with young people? Subject knowledge? A vocation? Bits of all of these? If the member of staff is willing to take the under-13s rugby team on a Saturday, does that make them a good, ‘committed’ teacher?

I remember Professor Brian Boyd (formerly Strathclyde University) years ago saying ‘education was a messy business’. There’s no one right way of doing it, no template to follow. However I strongly believe that one of the best ways of developing skills as a teacher is to watch others in action. Schools are now recognising the benefits of peer observation and ‘professional dialogue’ amongst staff. In many schools, there are hundreds of collective years of teaching experience available to be shared.

Evidence from research around the world is showing that good quality teaching and learning comes when we have the greatest autonomy for the teacher and the learner. Good teachers should be given more trust to get on with what they think their students need. Good teachers will usually have excellent working relationships with pupils gained through their ability to create an atmosphere of mutual respect and fairness in the classroom. It sounds like stating the obvious, but a good teacher must be able to explain things clearly. We all remember teachers that took time to explain things in plain English, and others who said it once and moved on too quickly. A good teacher will provide variety in their class, variety in routine, in style of teaching and in content. A good teacher will usually display a sense of humour to more effectively engage the class.

In England, (the place most of the world thinks is the UK) it was the politicians’ loss of confidence in child-centred learning that led to the creation of the national curriculum and, with it, a system of national testing to handcuff teachers to a framework of required knowledge.

We now expect teachers to develop the ability to reflect on his or her own performance and then to change it. They need to develop their own judgment of what works and what does not work in their own teaching. A good teacher will devise his or her own way of teaching and engaging students and, working collegially, evaluate and adapt their own teaching methods.

Why would they do this? To provide an excellent education for all our young people who deserve top quality learning experiences and outcomes.

Keir Bloomer – Leadership for Learning

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in Leadership for Learning | Posted on October 8, 2008

Easterbrook Hall, Dumfries       Tuesday 7 October, 2008

An excellent day in Dumfries as Keir Bloomer, former teacher, Education Director, Council Chief Executive and key player in developing Scottish Education’s ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ led a group of promoted teachers, heedies and central education staff in a day of discussion and reflection looking at Leadership for Learning.

He set education in the context of a rapidly changing world, giving examples of dramatically escalating football transfer fees over the years highlighting the fact that we are now seeing the effects of globalisation. He also raised the issue of an exponential increase in knowledge and that teachers are now teaching for a future we cannot see.

As a proud grandfather, Keir was able to use pictures of his lovely grand-daughter to illustrate that human beings are ‘the greatest learning machine on earth’. She isn’t taught to talk, but is of course learning to talk. She will succeed in learning to talk because she is well motivated, observes, experiments, performs and imitates  –  a sound learning process. Young people learn best through intrinsic, natural ways by constructing their own reality  –  all true learning is like that.

Keir stated that intellectual development is sometimes inhibited by giving students too much visual information, thus diminishing the capacity for imagination. He outlined the cognitive apprenticeship model of (1) the master modelling, showing by example how  (2) supporter, giving help where appropriate (3) fading, where the master withdraws and (4) coaching. Learning can be like an apprenticeship.  

He looked at the world of education over past centuries with references to seats of learning and their specialist/reductionist approaches, which has been deemed a success in the eyes of academics and many others. However, that was then and this is now. Another view is that learning can be lateral  –  just look at websites. This form of literacy demands you access information laterally, not sequentially.

Schools need to send young people out to the world of work or further education as lifelong learners keen to engage in learning and not having been put off learning because they’ve been stuffed with content/knowledge in a way that’s put them off for life.

Which brings us to the rationale for Curriculum for Excellence and the purposes namely; successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens.

In addition to the core areas of literacy and numeracy, Keir outlined the importance of recognising the key 21st century skill set of information handling, problem solving, synthesis and creativity. The curriculum is not an anthology of content, but a development of capability.

Most of us would probably not fare too well if we had to re-sit certain exam papers again; however the issue is not about recalling content, it is about the development of the capacity to think effectively. Education is what remains, when we have forgotten all that we have been taught.

The challenge for schools is to ensure young people are challenged and enjoy their learning. Enjoyment is not the same as fun with a teacher cracking jokes throughout the lesson – it is more that pupils are truly engaged with a sense of purpose, possibly even in a state of ‘flow’ where they are totally engrossed in the activity. Depth in learning is also very important where pupils can see real meaning in their work and are motivated to learn more. Relevance is also a new theme within Curriculum for Excellence. Keir stated that aspects of Personalisation & Choice are more challenging to develop as schools still echo the Victorian organisation of 100 years ago.

Children should have a stake in their own development and teachers should be led to adopt an increased professional self-confidence.

Keir also outlined how school leaders can make a difference. The key thing was to focus on things we can actually do something about. School leaders can make a significant difference in 3 key areas. These are; Pedagogy, Relationships and Innovation. The biggest potential difference for children is in the classroom with their teacher. If a teacher’s practice can improve, this will make a positive difference to learning outcomes for children. Keir’s winning formula in classrooms is for children to have challenging goals and effective feedback.

However, the single most important factor to being ‘a good school’ is the development and nurturing of good relationships.

We look forward to working with Keir during the current session as we seek to develop leadership capacity at all levels in our schools.

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