Category Archives: 2.2 Education Systems & Prof. Responsibilities

I know the caterpillar is hungry but do I need to know why?

Another fun filled expedition with my Ruby to delve into the world of science. This time it was another impromptu discussion brought up by the world around us. The location was the cycle path along by Barry Buddon (army base), a lovely contrast of environments: golf and a train track on one side and gunfire on the other with a wildlife rich walk slap bang in the middle. We often walk along here to watch the trains, identifying the company names and cargo we think they might be carrying and to where. Ruby’s keen eye spotted something large and furry as she rode her horse Star (bicycle) along the path. I was welcome of the break as her four wheels move much faster than my two legs.

The following video is of her recalling knowledge, the catalyst for this being the presence of the caterpillar. Ruby appears to be hanging like a cocoon in this video and Ollie the dog is a bit out of puff (it isn’t me). My mini scientist then went on to discuss the different appearance of the cocoon and caterpillar in relation to whether the insect would be a moth or a butterfly. The brighter or greener the outside then it was more likely to be a butterfly. The darker or hairier the outside it was more likely to be a moth. Every day is a school day! Ruby deduced that our fluffy caterpillar would most likely become a moth but we would have to come back to see because it would be unfair to take it home.

As a child I learnt about the butterfly life cycle, read the Hungry Caterpillar, was able to dig and explore outdoors whenever I wanted at home and was amazed by their delicate but intimidating presence on a trip to Butterfly World in primary 1. Considering that was 24 years ago I believe this shows what a profound effect the whole topic and the teacher had on my love of creepy crawlies. Spiders are even included in that. I understood we were much bigger than them, we should care for them and they have very important jobs to do. Within the science benchmarks for early years, SCN1-01a discusses consideration of growth and sorting organisms by features. I find this a tenuous link really, which made me question why the humble butterfly’s life cycle is one regularly taught, what children gain from this and why did this work so much better outside.

Instruction from Education Scotland in the Science Benchmarks is to allow children to develop understanding and skills in a practical manner(Benchmarks, pg2). My memories are vivid due to hands on experience outside of a classroom. But does real life experience in the outdoors engage learners? Currently the Association for Science Education, a UK organisation, champions the need for outdoor education in the field of Science education. In Scotland specifically, Education Scotland have the Curriculum for Excellence Through Outdoor Learning document, that encourages “planning for spontaneous local visits when weather is favourable.”(pg13) Slightly confusing terms: having to organise something spontaneous and only head outdoors if it is sunny?! We live in Scotland. Furthermore, science education is explicitly mentioned once (pg8) in the outdoor education document and the outdoors are mentioned only once (pg2) in the benchmarks. Consider also that a recent (2016) paper by the University of Edinburgh, Outdoor Learning in Scotland:Issues for Education, identified that not enough was being done beyond policy making to insure children had true engagement in outdoor education. This was due to a lack of training, provision, awareness, facilities and accountability (pg3).

I am just doing as I am encouraged at University and questioning the didactic methods in the hope that this will help me be the teacher I want to be within the Scottish education system. I know, from experience in classrooms that last minute trips do happen whether it is a trip to the playground to read a book or wandering in the local area to discuss homes. I can’t however, help but think that maybe more teachers would feel more confident in utilising the outdoors if they felt wholly encouraged and at times told. Theorists such as Pestalozzi and Froebel championed outdoor education, an area I am passionate about. However more recently and most succinctly, Priest (1986) established outdoor education as a system that was dependent on six factors: it was a method; it utilises the wealth of knowledge from experiential theorists like Dewey and Pestalozzi; it is essential for learning; it provides learning opportunities across cognitive, emotional and physical development; it highlights that our curriculum is naturally cross-curricular and a key component is that many relationships contribute to a child’s education (Watchow, Brown, 2011, pg18). This encourages me to pursue my pedagogical stance whilst teaching science.

How could the butterfly engage children in outdoor learning? How can it not? The butterfly is just so magical! The charity, Butterfly Conservation have an interesting breakdown of the scientific and educational value the butterfly and moth hold within the UK, all under the heading Why Butterflies Matter. This got me thinking of a stimulus for a topic about extinction, migration and adaptation in the natural world. The butterfly is a prime candidate.

The gems are probably the best-preserved fossils of any butterfly  photo credit New Scientist

Imagine the conversations and investigations that could occur from placing this image or even better an imitation of this in a small wooden crate surrounded by shredded paper and handled with white gloves delivered with a stamp from the Scottish Museum? Or bury it in the play ground or shallow trough for children to excavate. Taking the children butterfly spotting in spring, can we find any? Why not? What can we do to bring them here? You could possibly explore life cycle, adaptation, extinction and most importantly conservation. The E&O being SCN2-01a the survival and adaptation of a species. I would be interested as an adult, let alone a child.

Whilst meeting Es and Os is important and guaranteeing progression enables life long learning I cannot help but feel a prescribed curriculum could occur if sole focus of meeting E&Os is stringently followed. I understand it is discouraged within the Benchmarks and that they are not for assessment but I had to scour the Experiences and Outcomes to shoe-horn the butterfly life cycle in when I know it is covered so frequently and how exciting it can be. There is no doubt that science lends itself to inquiry-based learning, in the outdoors with field work and that is aided by interest, opportunity and passion. Not ticking of boxes.

As Ruby and I discussed her bike may well have ended that caterpillars hurried journey to safety and food. Being outside, being aware of the human role and responsibility in the world of nature is one that is dear to my heart. An area I believe science in the Scottish Primary can really uncover and have lifelong impact upon.



Learning a new skill is sometimes daunting. Applying the skill gives you that wee bit more confidence then showing others gives a degree of confidence in the skill.

This week I learnt how to upload a video from my iPhone to YouTube then to my eportfolio, in a somewhat seamless manner. Although I am not scared of technology I think that I truly lack enough knowledge to say I’m an expert. Put it this way, I’m not scared to crash a few computers and reboot a couple more in my quest to become a techno master.

The video I chose was my daughter’s first ever book review. She is 5, an avid reader and I tend to buy her books from charity shops (Oxfam often have children’s books for 49p), eBay or TKMaxx. The book she picked for this review seemed to fit nicely with my current elective, Science. The book was Albie’s First Word by Tourville and Evans. The book is about Albert Einstein and how for being the father of relativity and scientist extraordinaire he did not speak till late into his childhood. It is an interesting read for children and adults alike, with a short biography about Einstein at the back. I feel it would encourage children to question the world of science and allow them to imagine they can be the next Einstein. No matter what. There is an undertone of Autistic behaviour described but in such a nonchalant way. Ruby picked up that, although he did not speak, he was trying. He communicated in his own way.

The way my own daughter reads has made me question the language I will use in a classroom. Why should I aim low or underestimate the children’s comprehension or grasp of language. Adams (1999) discussed that teachers aim to use words they believe the children will easily understand but that if they are not stretched or exposed to more subject specific language and a  wider vocabulary then teachers are doing them an injustice(pg37-38). In saying that Moyles (2003) argues that in order for children to feel confident attempting and using newly acquired vocabulary they must be put into comfortable situations where trial and error are embraced (pg40). When a challenging word is said by the teacher, it has to in turn be explored and the children’s connotations of word meaning addressed for it to be beneficial. I find reiterating the word, adding a sing song voice to it, pretending I have forgotten the meaning, using a visual prop and also parroting the word helps it sink in.

Personally, I feel that books are the door into extension, experience and engagement with new exciting words. As a teacher I hope to provide the chance to engage with the written word as often as possible and in as many medias as possible. I understand that reading a book (even if that’s make believe), is a very personal and private experience. Reading aloud to peers is daunting and often detrimental. I want them to be Charlie Cook in the Julia Donaldson novel where all they needed was to “curl up in a cosy nook to read their favourite book.”

Adams, R., Ali, S., Bassi, K.L., Hussain, N. & Brock, A., 1999. Into the enchanted forest. 1st ed. Wiltshire: Cromwell Press Ltd.

Moyles, R.J., 2003. Just playing? The role and status of play in early childhood education. 1st ed. Suffolk: St Edmundsbury Press Ltd

Internationally Inspired

Back to the grind.  Watching numerous TED talks is the grind yeah?? This year is set to bring about a whole new plethora of knowledge and interests. I have chosen to take the International Baccalaureate elective and my reasoning for this is to broaden my own approach to teaching while also increasing my experience in a classroom. At 28 I have in no way learnt all I can from ‘life’ but I feel I would gain more from a school based placement than a work or community based one. Especially at this point in my own journey.

I would have loved to go abroad and see the IB in an international context, unfortunately my motherly duties dictated I pursue a more local route. Therefore I am on my way to a local IB school next March. Knowing where I’m going has allowed enthusiasm to grow and enabled me to embrace the international mindedness at the IB’s core. Indeed, the more I read and inquire into the Primary Years Programme (PYP) the more I draw similarities between their ethos and my own personal teaching philosophy, a predominantly constructivist approach.

I would be outside learning and engaging with the local environment every day if I could. Teaching children more about taxes, inflation, seasonal foods, local wildlife, budgeting, questioning and local industry. When a child’s inquiry is given adequate time and genuine response then a child can build their own set of beliefs and values. This is not because there’s not room for it in the classroom but learning within REAL context and genuine interaction will surely help it to stick better. Children can then attach their emotional state/environment to the information in order to recall or build upon this when needed. This is all a very personal view point into how I believe all children and adults are individuals, however I have also experienced these benefits first hand. It is also  Children are more than capable of discovering links and applying their growing knowledge when they are given opportunity and challenge.

I cannot help but compare and contrast the Curriculum for Excellence with the PYP programme when we first inquired into the IB. I couldn’t help but assume (never assume people!!) that the CfE wanted to possibly emulate the well established, ever evolving IB (1960s). The PYP’s focus on child led inquiry may have the equally floral jargon but the CfE ultimately lacks the specific trait of: investment. Not just constant financial investment (invigoration) but emotional investment from all involved. The IB was a philosophy created through necessity, for an international curriculum that met the needs of those who embraced the international approach to life and work. Parents/carers choose the IB schools as an alternative to the local schools and their curriculum, not just because it suits their lifestyles. The CfE wanted to breed excellence and prepare Scottish children for the world, however it wasn’t deemed a needed leap by all within the education system or those who use the schools. The choice and investment is not as universal.The IB also has 40 odd years on the CfE, that’s a wealth of hiccups and triumphs leading to subsequent and on-going development of the curriculum and approach.

Inquiry is key to the IB and that is allowing children to question the world around them, delve into the possibilities that arise from mistakes or success and reflecting upon the whole process through a peer and self-reflecting lens. The whole international aspect is not just physical it is about the willingness to adopt another’s viewpoint and respect the world we share. Yes, it does sound idealistic in the way I’ve written it but I think that’s my favourite part. The IB helps children foster clear self-image, allowing them to attribute their success to the whole journey not just the outcome.

I’m looking forward to learning more about the IB approach and allowing it to inter-link with my current teaching philosophy, driving it forward.


Upstart, let’s get started

So I walked into the Upstart presentation/talk/debate with a definite bias for upping the school age to 7! I have always believed the rigidity of primary school was a drastic change at an impressionable age and too much of a downgrade in child led play.

However after tonight I realise that I am surrounded by like minded people in my field and beyond. It’s not that we don’t understand the importance of play. We do. It’s just these children arrive in uniform, to sit at desk, with the parents expecting reading and writing work brought home within a week. Why shouldn’t they? I do believe I was at school at 5, my mother was… Her mother was. Mini adults as young as 4. The worst thing we can do is ignore the blatant fact we all survived and many flourished going to school at 4 or 5. I’d hate to discredit the amazing work teachers have done in early years for many years!
That doesn’t mean that change isn’t possible just that it will take implementation. It’s not “Presbyterian Scottish” views that are stifling that play, this was often referred to in the presentation. Scotland is a culturally and socially diverse society still leading in aspects of education, and if we are still producing innovative young people many WILL be apprehensive about upping the school age. Those against change should be heard too. Instead of frowning and culturally shaming the nation why not just encourage a more play based environment into early years. Let the teachers choose to spend the afternoon playing, our curriculum allows for flexibility…. utilise that.
I have explored how people lived in the past and have used imaginative play to show how their lives were different from my own and the people around me.
SOC 0-04a

Our own lecturers encourage us to question and utilise the expression available within Curriculum for Excellence. I don’t feel it’s the school age that needs upped but that simply play should be happily extended. Choice should be extended. Individuality should be encouraged.
My questions are not on why are we scared of play; they are… Why a uniform so young? Why am I suddenly a title and not a person…? Why shouldn’t I encourage reading and writing in its simplest forms, if that child is switched on and ready. It’s about the individual. (In regards to talk play read bus! ) What bothered me was the assumption that it was school that stifled play. I’ve never looked back and thought oh I was so bored at school!!! I do however look back and smile at the quantity and quality of the play I engaged in out-with school.

I feel it’s the lack of play education with parents that needs addressed. Teachers having a more open policy with parents or community organisations venturing into the classroom. We change the adult to child ratio massively in just a few short months. That’s not ok.
Another point I want to probe is technology. The statistic that two thirds of 5-16 year olds have a tablet speaks volumes. The schools do not give the children these, the families do. That number being so high may be in correlation with the deterioration of play. We should utilise not demonize this information. Swiping instead of turning pages. Let me think back… Chalk instead of print, pencil instead of chalk, typing instead of pen… Progress. If as an adult I find it socially acceptable (if not encouraged) to use technology and smart phones daily then what stops me and others finding it ok to hand that device to a child? I am a mother and my 3 year old will “Google” info with me. I can show her quickly what I mean by the phrase “ominous clouds”. It’s not detracted from our engagement, it’s eased her understanding of a difficult word and it’s made my job easier as a mum! Books are still to be enjoyed and by my daughter loving books I’m not depriving her of play but feeding her imagination for her to then excel in play!
Information is to be accessible. When the changes we have made in education over the years they should maybe have touched upon the positive influence and impact of technology. We can’t poo poo or blame a tablet for the deterioration of play. We have to, ourselves, step back from our all encompassing reliance on our devices and engage in talk, interaction, contact with people. I will never lose my ability to play because I make a choice not to. As an educator I will make a choice to encourage play. We need to help everyone make informed choices for their children’s sakes.

I am 100% behind further utilisation of play in early primary. Upstart is a campaign that could revive the children of Scotland and give them back their youth. A vision shared with the vast majority that showed up on Tuesday night.


I don’t know, let me find out.

An enquiring practitioner is ultimately an individual who seeks to gain more relevant knowledge. They further research aspects of interest or need and are then able to relay these to others. This allows the investigative work to become more than reflection, while also consolidating information that has been learned. For us on our journey to becoming teachers, it is of benefit to fully immerse ourselves in this ethos, as it is hoped that practitioner enquiry will become a day-to-day occurrence in Scottish schools.

As a student teacher the concept of being an enquiring practitioner seems to fit nicely with the theories and inputs we have heard so far and indeed what we do as university students- learn. If we expect and encourage student autonomy we have to also be ever improving as teachers. Learning and sharing of information should be on going. As students we use the eportfolios to highlight and hopefully discuss areas of research and interest. It is reassuring for me, as a student teacher that as a qualified teacher there are guidelines in place to justify and encourage ongoing knowledge. We are in a modern society and teachers can come under scrutiny; we are not the once entirely trusted “do as the teacher says,” profession. To have documented and shared research to back up our teaching and methods, will help us fair against any doubts or insecurities parents or colleagues may have. That is of double benefit as through practitioner enquiry we adopt a more critical eye and will therefore be in the position to improve our own practice. An enquiring practitioner can foresee possible routes of research and further study; for pupils and teachers alike. Another benefit is the impact our research can have on the curriculum, to make change we must be the change. It is through collaborative and engaged research that those suggestions lead to action. Being an enquiring practitioner will open the door and be a direct link to the passion we have for our chosen line of work. As a student teacher our grasp on being an enquiring practitioner can benefit us on placements; being able to engage in the wider school community and contribute to any meetings, parents evenings, in-service days, workshops etc. No teacher should rest on the laurels of past techniques, without knowing that is the best current method.

So lets look critically at the concept of the enquiring practitioner. To me, a student teacher, there was that level of assumption that this idea of on-going learning and evaluative investigative research was a given. So giving it a name and a section of GTCS was a bit of an eye opener. For me this highlighted that not all teachers engaged in on-going research or peer interaction and valuable development. Another disadvantage or critique would be the self-serving role of individual research. The want to highlight new ideas and thinking without a critical and professional approach; not engaging deeply enough with these. As a student teacher we will also have to question and practice becoming an enquiring practitioner on placement. This means we will have to take into consideration that what works for one school may not work for another. Don’t blindly adopt techniques without doing further situational research. Indeed it may be hard to focus on research coming to a productive end. Pulling in research when necessary and not allowing tangents, unrelated to teaching, to occur. Also, thinking from a student teacher, perspective; imagine going through hours of engaging research to then be told by peers or higher governing bodies that the work is of no significant value or to go back to the drawing board. It is throughout our student lives that we will gain the expertise to cope with this constructive criticisms and keep the drive.

I’ve found as a student teacher that most lectures are new and exciting, but what can’t be covered in the hour long lecture is up to us to research. To practice becoming an enquiring practitioner I have to take the initiative and engage in conflicting ideas/methods/theories as well as my peer group. By doing I can become.

…if we are to achieve the aspiration of teachers being leaders of educational improvement, they need to develop expertise in using research, inquiry and reflection as part of their daily skill set.’ (Donaldson, 2011:4)

You can learn from me

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the mental condition resulting in a lack of correct social behaviours and interactions. Currently identified through parental interviews and observational studies, it effects an increasing number of today’s children and can be identified from as young as 2. Although signs can be seen from as early as 1, they are too ambiguous and traits too common at that early stage.

When autism was first identified by Leo Kanner in 1943 he suggested it was a result of cold parenting. Later in 1967 Bettelheim considered autism as an emotional disturbance resulting from early lack of attachment. It is currently known that autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurobiological condition. Many argue that it errs on the side of genius, dependent on what part of the spectrum the child is on. Indeed extensive research carried out by Carper and Courchesne have shown consistently that the size of an ASD child’s brain is larger than average, namely 5-10% bigger in volume from 18 months. Backing the idea that people who have ASD are unable to do necessary pruning to synapses and carry information and knowledge that people without ASD would have “cut back”.  There are current studies that are trying to link genes – to areas of the brain – to patterns of behaviour. Tracking the neural pathways when people are given facial expressions to recognise, then seeing the neural activation this causes, can help understand a person’s ASD. When specific patterns are observed within generational studies they can be linked to the genetic alleles (psychological and physical traits of a gene) thus binding behaviour to genetics. I found the study fascinating.


But how does ASD impact upon the learning environment? Autism is a condition that can ostracise and compartmentalise a child and their family. However, this is happening less and less through early identification of needs and the implementation of working solutions to aid these children to lead happy and accepted lives. Social skills and interaction are somewhat challenging for children with ASD. Having worked closely with children who have ASD I know all too well how personal it can all feel. What have I done wrong? Why can’t I engage with this child? But the truth is the connection takes time and effort, delving into their complex world’s one step at a time. Continuous routine and the use of PECS (picture exchange communication system) were tools used to assist the individuals who were immersed in mainstream education settings.  As a teacher it must be a challenge in itself to get that framework in place quickly, while involving and informing the class as a whole. There’s nothing worse than it being a “oh that’s for Billy, don’t touch” within a class, children are tactile and inquisitive, I believe involving and informing them can only be a beneficial thing. Children are very different to adults, the unknown doesn’t evoke fear within the majority, they just want to know why? Inform them so it’s not just a condition or a picture they can’t touch; it becomes a tool for a peer and in doing so it becomes personal.

Many techniques used to help a child with ASD are also good for the classroom as a collective; creating quiet spaces, giving children time to process information, setting clear classroom rules, buddy systems for the playground and teaching social skills. It must then be of benefit to have these systems in place from the offset. Unlike behaviour issues, ASD should be seen for what it is, an entirely different way of thinking and at times, a way that is insightful. So the more exposure and information we have on the condition as students the more able we will be to meet the needs of an ever growing demographic of the classroom.

A Messy Divorce

The GTCS code regarding social media and its use is clear in conveying the importance of conscientious contribution to the world of Social Media. For all the perks of the profession and the reward, it is also in the GTCS’ best interests that the teachers of Scotland conduct themselves in a manner that instils trust within the pupils, parents and society.

In my opinion I feel teachers would be perceived as out of touch and reluctant to be forward thinkers themselves if they didn’t embrace Social Media in some-way or another. Social Media should be seen as an extension of the classroom and if the teacher is willing to marry their private life to that professional space, they are doing so against guidance. Social Media as an entity is judgemental and self-involved. Understanding the intense pressure there is to be involved in Social Media is the first step. It is everywhere! Instead of adopting a “retreat!” attitude, as teachers, we should be innovating ways to make it benefit the pupils. If you want your private life to stay as such, insure you have the correct settings. I know myself that I have a private Facebook and Instagram account, however my Pintrest is public. I find Pintrest a positive space, devoid of too many trolls or negative comments and enjoy searching recipes, fashion design and rainy day projects. Social Media has the power to portray the teacher as holistic, human, relatable and approachable. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram cannot help but become personal, the line is blurred before the first post is even created. It is all about how you feel and what you think, the temptation to blurt a rant on Facebook is all too easy. Emotions are at the core, “liking”, “reposting”, “#selfie”. Marrying the private and professional aspects exposes the teacher to scrutiny and to befriend a pupil or parent goes against the guidance laid out for us as part of our regulatory body.

So, if I feel Facebook and twitter are too personal and places like glow are too professional or not inclusive of parents then what space do I use? If Social Media is to be a positive experience for all involved, what can I do to get it incorporated?

Pinterest and YouTube are easily accessible, BoB is useful for keeping track of educational programmes. I think many of these social media platforms bring the real world to the classroom. Live connections that can change the setting instantly; evoke instant emotion and discussion. Insuring first and foremost that you are well versed in the lingo, savvy about safety and aware of the omnipresence that Social Media has become. If use of social media is approached in the same manner a teacher would approach a book or a project; well planned, concise and relevant, then there is no detriment to the pupils.

We are now part of a culture that sees children exposed too young, to so many inappropriate images. The need for them to relate and conform to society is a growing pressure and instead of teachers shying away from the subject of social media they need to be seen as a guide. In saying that they also have to guide parents. Why can’t social media be used positively to bridge the gap between home and school? Indeed, between personal life and school?

I looked into this and within a few searches I found a site called Edmodo, a space for pupils, teachers and parents alike. It claims to keep parents in the loop about upcoming assignments, eases use of on the go learning and makes class comprehension something you can analyse mid lesson. For teachers it has all the benefits of social media in a professional context. This appears to be catered to the English curriculum but it’s very interesting how sleek and appealing it looks. Could it be the Facebook for teachers?

As a parent my-self the horror stories regarding misuse of Social Media seem to be splayed everywhere. This doesn’t deter me from encouraging Social Media use in the classroom but it does highlight the need for dialogue. Attitudes will not change if the horror stories are continuously repeated and then documented, ironically, on news sites and Social Media. We teach children how to cross the road, how to construct a sentence but when it comes to Social Media it appears to be them teaching us. Children are all too aware of the independence they can feel on the “big bad internet” and it is our job to show them how to handle that independence and use it to a positive end.

Children have created the frame, catapulting social media into the classroom and we must help them keep within age appropriate boundaries but make the content engaging and beneficial. They will see massive changes in their lifetime. When I was 5 I never imagined I’d be using the internet to converse with people all over the world instantaneously. Actually, when I was 5, there was no internet! If I can’t resist using Social Media in my personal life then surely I can utilise it in my professional life? By following the Professional Guidance on the Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media as guidelines we can help shape the positive use of Social Media in the classroom. There is opportunity to bypass media hegemony and use Social Media to mould a more Just society