First up who is the chickenman and what is it all about? I know this seems a little bit self obsessed but the amount of times recently I have had to explain what this is about is driving me mad and also as it is the first blog of hopefully many I think it is useful to the reader if they understand a bit more of where I am coming from.
I decided to take on the persona of the chickenman when one day I discovered he was much better known than I was. When I say Chickenman essentially when you look at the pictures of him, he in fact has a gender issue as the costume is actually a hen therefore it should be a chickenwoman however he goes by the name of chickenman.
So where did all this begin?
I had been teaching 5 years at Tamarside Community College in Plymouth where I was a Science teacher and also Head of Sixth Form. Tamarside is currently a national challenge school and it was a challenging place but I loved my time there and it is a school with fantastic students and really good staff who do well in the circumstances that they face. While I was there I dabbled a bit in using new technologies to engage students to great effect, although looking back I was no so called expert.
I have reflected on this recently where has this passion for technology come from?
I remember at my secondary school from 1990-1997 (St Aelreds RC High School, Newton-Le-Willows most famous for the school that spawned 80’s quaffed singer Rick Astley), we only had around 15 computers in the whole school even when we were in sixth form you only got to use a computer if you did ICT A level which I didn’t. We didn’t really have a so called PC at home either as money was tight although looking back we could have got one however I chose to have a mega drive for Christmas instead!
It wasn’t until I went to University in Plymouth in September 1997 that I started to use more technology like computers, we had to use them for my course all of the time, to help with this if you didn’t have one the Babbage building was open all hours and held masses and masses of the things. I remember the first time I went in and it completely blew me away, the volume of computers. This may sound really sad but it really did I remember embarrassingly saying wow! It is weird to think that I had never used things like Microsoft word before or even PowerPoint, all things these days that I use often. My friends helped me with the basics and then I learnt it as I went along, I discovered like I suppose many boys do with computer games, I never used to read the manual I just discovered as I played and that was what I did with computers – if you got stuck some bright spark had added a help bit that you could type in what you couldn’t do and it would tell you – well actually it was a dog at the time that noisily wagged its tail whilst helping you!
I also remember that when I arrived at University no one had a mobile phone however by 1999 I had a Motorola pay as you go that resembled a rounded brick (a model better than my mates whose did look exactly like a brick with a long antenna on the end that he used effectively to pick things!) So looking back now I have come a long way in less than ten years from never using a computer to having one or the technology of one permanently at my finger tips. In fact as I write this first blog sat on a cliff top just off the South West coast path on a beautiful summers day overlooking the channel and following a very nice picnic courtesy of Marks and Spencer my wife sits beside me reading and soaking up the view whilst moaning about how sad I am that I’m on my computer again doing ‘work’.
The last two years…
I arrived at Saltash.net Community School, which is a specialist Science, Maths and Computing school with a rural dimension exactly two years ago now as a Head of Science. At the time I was also a Lead Practitioner for the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust focusing on Science but also using ICT in innovative ways. When I arrived at Saltash I was in my second year in this role and was carrying out active research in using multimedia in Science with things such as using music, sounds podcasts and creating videos in Science. This had all come about on the back of the Masters I had completed a year or two previously where I looked at using these types of multimedia in lessons in an accelerated learning approach to raise the achievement and attitude of students within Science.
Coming to Saltash really opened my eyes to using technology in innovative ways; the whole approach is not about spending thousands of pounds on all singing and all dancing technology etc but to use the stuff that is out there and often free and what students are used to using. One of the Deputy Headteachers there Dave Garland was the driving force behind this as well as many other innovative and creative staff.
When I first arrived one of the first things you encounter is the schools small livestock area, you may have heard of its world famous pigcam which encountered massive media attention a few years ago when Delores the pig had her first litter of piglets live on the internet – it was watched by thousands from all over the world! One of the first projects I was involved with was to really improve the existing livestock website as it was pretty simple and had not been used for a year or two. A brand new GCSE had just started in September – Environmental and Land Based Science and so we gave the students a chance to redesign and improve the website whilst meeting parts of the curriculum of the course, they worked with Dave Moore our E-content person at the time to do this. You can visit it at www.saltash.net/livestock (It is still very much a work in progress)
This then led to the world renowned ‘Recharge the Battery’ project. (I will discuss this in much more detail in a future blog). It was a series of 3 lessons created by students and the objectives were to understand more about the advantages and disadvantages of intensive and extensive farming. As a result we had the idea to rescue 7 battery chickens from a local intensive farm who were about to be killed and let them live in our livestock area free range. The students would create podcasts and video diaries of how their behaviour, physical appearance would change etc. They also added an eggcam so that you can view the chickens anytime. We decided to launch this to the whole school to inform the students of the intensive/extensive debate and that they could see this first hand – one bright idea from one of the students was to create a viral campaign where I would dress as a giant chicken and rap in whole school assemblies as part of the advertising campaign – hence the title chickenman!
This project had a massive impact not just in our school but on the world stage. My Headteacher Isobel Bryce the previous year had won the South West Teaching Award for best Headteacher and was then asked to attend the Worldwide Innovative Teachers Forum 2009 sponsored by Microsoft in Helsinki. Whilst there she made some good contacts with Microsoft UK Pippah Hullock and Stuart Ball and she spoke about some of the innovative ICT projects that happened at Saltash that could be future award winners for future forums. In February 2008 she was asked to recommend someone to go forward to the European Innovative Teachers Forum in Zagreb in March. She decided that the Recharge the Battery project had great potential to showcase the work our students and staff do. So I then had to complete a VCT (Virtual Classroom Tour) which is simply a vehicle of sharing a project r series of lessons that has all the resources, examples of students work etc attached that you upload to the innovative teachers’ network and other teachers from around the world can download it and use it in their own classrooms. If you haven’t done so please join it by registering at www.innovativeteachers.com
Anyway this is getting to be a hefty first blog and I am sure it isn’t supposed to be! Anyway I went to Croatia and the project was an award winner, it then went through to the Worldwide Innovative Teachers Forum in Hong Kong in November and also won an award. More recently I was invited back to the 2009 European Innovative Teachers Forum in Vienna as a keynote speaker which was a fantastic experience. Whilst in Croatia and Hong Kong I wore the chicken outfit and became an attraction at theses Microsoft events, so much so that when I was walking on the streets of these places and even one day in a theme park (well in fact on the log flume normally dressed) people were shouting look it’s the Chickenman!
So finally why did the Chickenman cross the road? I suppose ultimately to overcome barriers to learning.
In my next blog I will talk more about the project Recharge the Battery.