The winter months can seem like the last moment any teacher would have the time, or energy, to innovate their teaching and learning, but these dark mornings and evenings mark the season of predictions of how and with what we will be teaching and learning in 2008.
BETT, the London-based education show with 30,000 participants over four days, was the first incarnation this year of what is in store. And it's good news. There's not too much that's changed since last year. Disappointing for the gadget aficionados, but offering yet more time for innovation-weary teachers to play a game of catch-up.
So what has been moulding our students' lives this winter and what will start to have a knock-on effect in the classroom this year?
In our students' lives social networking is the pass-time du jour. Children as young as 6 are taking part in vivacious online encounters on Club Penguin and Habbo Hotel, while our teens maintain their addiction to Bebo. Growing numbers of teachers, even, are taking to Facebook as a means of keeping in touch with colleagues and old friends who, being teachers, don't have time to call anyone any more.
The BBC last month unveiled its plans for its own social network for young learners, a safer alternative to the Penguins and Habbos of this world, by only allowing youngsters to interact with pre-made blocks of language: no possibility of our youngest social networkers letting out their name, sex, age or location. It may become the Lego of social networking. A few companies are venturing into this space, too, showing their wares at an education show near you.
Why are these networks so popular? Largely it's down to the fact that children feel they are at play when online, and not just playing a game alone in a darkened bedroom, but playing with friends, both known in person and unknown to them.
And this, frankly, is where some more of the biggest innovations in teaching and learning are likely to come in 2008. Learning and Teaching Scotland last year opened its Consolarium, the Scottish Centre for Gaming and Learning, which in 2008 looks set to bring nearly every Local Authority into the world of Guitar Hero, Dr Kawashima and the Wii. The action research already published on its website will be expanded this year, starting with a numeracy and language project involving over 500 Nintendo DSes appearing all over Scottish schools. The initial small-scale studies revealed significant increases in attainment in numeracy and in the self-confidence of learners who, as well as learning through traditional methods, played their favourite brain-training console games to learn maths. If the large-scale study repeats these results, I wonder if we can expect more teachers seeing these less as 'disruptive gadgets', but as significant learning tools.
The structures for more social learning and discovery through play are being set up through the Curriculum for Excellence, too. The latest "Building the Curriculum" report from the Curriculum team explained the notions behind active learning, seen worldwide as an appropriate way for children to develop vital skills, knowledge and a positive attitude to learning. Active Learning takes advantage of the opportunities for learning presented by spontaneous play; planned, purposeful play; investigating and exploring; events and life experiences, accompanied by focused learning and teaching.
There is no doubt that social media, including blogs, wikis, podcasts and social networks, considered a passing fad for years now, will facilitate this kind of learning well beyond 2008, creating the 'Responsible Citizens' after which we hanker. Gaming, too, offers clear opportunities to structure the spontaneous and purposeful play many teachers would like to encourage, but have trouble visualising in their classrooms.
Winter might not be a time for innovation, but the remainder of 2008 almost certainly is.