Threshold adventurers, my reflections on #SLF11

On Wednesday this week I attended my first Scottish Learning Festival at the SECC in Glasgow.

The first seminar was entitled Literacy Through Technology. HT of Dalmarnock Primary Nancy Clunie explained how the school first used blogs, wikis, then a dedicated website to engage the entire school in an international exchange through the Comenius programme offered by the British Council. I was particularly interested in attending this seminar as blogging has not yet been embedded in my current school and I was keen find out as much as I could about proven benefits to learning and potential technical issues to aid future whole school dialogue. Nancy showed how her school used eTwinning to improve pupil literacy in their email and blog exchanges with students in other schools in the European Union. Nancy explained that her pupils were struck by how few spelling errors were in posts made by Polish students. They decided that they should be extra careful with their own communications because of this, but Nancy did point out that although their electronic literacy improved it did not translate to their written work! Other projects and events mentioned included a multi-lingual book club and a Eurovision Song Contest-esque competition to choose a logo for their See The Sea project but Nancy was most proud of the direct communication between her pupils and those from other schools using Flashmeeting software.

After a morning negotiating the stands I was really looking forward to Tim Laver’s (@laverminded) seminar on how he has used Little Big Planet 2 as a teaching aid in his History classes. Tim began using PS3 and LBP2 after a pupil suggested he take a look at the game. He was hooked on the potential of its application in History. Although most of the levels have been created by Tim, he took time to explain that it was not educationally viable to have each pupil creating a level with the rest of the class passively watching and waiting their turn (after using the PS3 and Little Big Planet with classes in the past I can completely understand this point!!). Tim realised that the process of designing the levels were more challenging and engaging for the pupils and required a deep understanding of the topic and how these facts or concepts could be presented as a game so he created a series of worksheets to focus pupils on thinking carefully about their proposed learning outcomes. The pupils were later involved in selecting three of the level designs for creation through peer evaluation and these levels were created by Tim – who admitted this was a time consuming process – but he then showed us these games in action to highlight the high quality of level design shown by the pupils and the high impact presentation possible within Little Big Planet 2. Tim is adding video walkthroughs of these games to the littlebighistory channel on YouTube and plans to continue adding to this extremely creative resource.


I feel I scored with my choice of keynote. Sir John Jones was captivating as he explained to a packed house why he thinks The Future Is Not What It Was. How positive language can have such a beneficial effect on a child and how it can be used effectively in shaping responsible behaviour and how negative language, delivered off-the-cuff can “shred” a child’s confidence. How inspirational, emotional, caring teachings make a difference through RINGing education (making it relevant, interesting, naughty and having a giggle).

Click here to watch his SLF11 keynote

He regularly had the audience in stitches, especially when he used images of increasingly bigger cranes to highlight the benefits of double-loop thinking rather than brute-force repetition. He asked teachers to become threshold adventurers (I prefer this label to his magic weavers alternative), to allow the positive active kids to thrive: (they) “are in your face – is that not what we want?”. We all want engaged minds, not passive viewers and through personalisation of learning, a good relationship with your pupils and by teaching a love of the subject rather than a capacity to recall facts for an exam we will ensure that “they will be smart enough”… if we are good enough.

On the train home I reflected on the messages I took from each of the seminars and from exploring the stands at SLF11:

  1. All three talks promoted collaboration, passion and going the extra mile to help pupils achieve their potential.
  2. Blogs, websites and wikis are not new technologies and pupils should be using them to make learning relevant, accessible 24/7, interesting and to develop their skills as digital citizens.
  3. Well planned use of games consoles can inspire a class as well as providing teachers with a useful revision tool (passive and interactive)
  4. YouTube or other suitable video sharing services are of great benefit to educators in engaging pupils and creating the right conditions for a flipped classroom.
The only slight negative to my experience of SLF11 was the comments from other educators that it “wasn’t as good as previous years”. I heard this a lot – in the queue for coffee, in the main foyer, on the low-level train back from the SECC, even on Twitter. I can’t comment as this was my first year and I personally got a lot of great CPD from the event – CPD which would not have been as effective if I had simply watched the videos online. I hope that SLF continues to be a real-life event and that as many educators as possible benefit from the community and collaboration that these kinds of events offer.


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