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I suppose I’ve tried it two or three times since blogging became a craze a few years ago, but always with very little idea of why, and even less conviction to do a decent job of it. Recently, though, my involvement with Twitter has introduced me to a growing community of professionals interested in technology & education, and I’ve become acutely aware of how beneficial sharing ideas with these people can be.

I’m very fortunate to work in a school where new technologies are embraced, and that we have a core group of people from different backgrounds, teaching different subjects, eager to share ideas. Compared to many schools, we have regular informal meetings where we would try to collaborate on some activity or other.

Working on things like this – a project, a club, a link between departments – offers the opportunity to expand your field of vision beyond the limitations of your subject as well as giving the opportunity to reflect on your own teaching, but as with so many things in teaching the biggest obstacle is time.

Inter-departmental projects are often rewarding, but finding the time to put one together can be far more difficult than it would seem at first glance. Recently, our leaders of learning (lol) and senior leadership team (sadly there’s no way to turn that into rofl) decided there should be themed homework projects across departments for next year’s year 7 cohort. Topics included “who am I?”, plots and protests, the world about us, etc – nothing too restrictive, yet some kind of over arcing theme.

I took on plots and protests, deciding to make a project based on cryptography. I started with some historical information about the Babington plot to oust Elizabeth I by using coded messages shuttled back and forth between Anthony Babington & the prison where Mary, Queen of Scots was being held in the cork of a beer barrel for some good historical background. I then moved on to introduce simple substitution (Caesar) cyphers using the excellent Cryptoclub website, and ended with a choice of research questions:

  • Describe how important encryption of information is on the Internet, or
  • Describe how complex the maths behind cryptography can get once you apply the power of computers.

Lovely. I sat back and marveled at what had turned out to be four hours of (thoroughly interesting) work to put together one-and-a-quarter-A4-pages-that-I-knew-I’d-be-told-to-cut-down-to-one-page-but-didn’t-have-a-clue-how.

Then I remembered… it was for year 7s. Alright, I wasn’t asking for them to crack 128-bit encryption, I was asking for an explanation of why the process was difficult, but yeah… kind of silly, really.

Back to the point of this post, taking me out of my comfort zone of spreadsheets, databases and Photoshoppery, I put on a history teacher’s deerstalker for an afternoon and learnt a hell of a lot. Several web-based resources made that process much easier; the excellent resources section of the Bletchley Park website, the Cryptoclub website mentioned earlier, Simon Singh’s Cracking Code Book, and – most importantly – a handful of people on Twitter, including the head of Humanities at my own school.

Good advice, and a couple of hours later, I had my homework project complete, ready for the little cherubs come January. The point I’m trying (a little too hard, maybe) to make is that the biggest part of CPD is reflection. Through something as simple as planning a homework activity a little outside my comfort zone, with the help of other teachers, I spent an afternoon doing little else.

While I’m not sure exactly whether, or how, I’d integrate Twitter into my classroom in a major way, the potential for sharing good practice and getting help from a large and still growing community of professionals worldwide is huge. If you haven’t taken advantage of it yet, do.

“So why aren’t you saying this there, you wordy bastard?” you ask… well, I’m on 653 words so far. Try get that into 140 characters, I dare you.