Thursday, December 27, 2012

Blogging with 5-7year olds

The positive effect of blogging on writing has been documented by Deputy Mitchell, who has inspired a multitude of teachers across the world to join in with projects such as quadblogging (my class do it!) and Feb29th (I contributed 'Accidental children!') . Knowing that you have an audience can have a powerful effect on writing. I know that from experience. A request from someone unknown can lead to me taking time to write a post or add content to any number of blogs that I have.

A short blogging history

In  2006 I had a talented young lady in my class who was lucky enough to go off travelling to Thailand and Australia with her family (during school time). She blogged about her travels, showing us many sights and making us feel like we were on a journey with her*. This got me thinking about our children's journeys at school and inspired me to start a class blog to showcase the work going on, to let our wider community join in our journey. We had an audience at this point, but very few comments. I'm also slightly ashamed to say that I wrote most of the content in the early days as we were a little unsure of esafety considerations. My children had their own blogs, but these were locked away safely in our VLE, so they only really had their peers and me for an audience.

Space Transportation and Restoration Specialists - one of my first mantles on  one of my first blog posts. 

 In some ways the most successful school blogs were from our residential trips as they kept the parents informed of our antics. We receive plenty of comments from parents on these blogs and they expect lots of news! This should become even easier in the future as our children can blog themselves using iphones and ipads. Our blogs have evolved greatly since the early days and for the past few years, since the 'loss' of our VLE, I have incorporated a workbook into them, to support children's learning@home.

Our children have also become increasingly involved with the blogging process and our year 5/4 and 4/3 children have their own kidsblog and frequently participate in writing online via Livewriting and Julia Skinner's  fabulous 100 word and 5 sentence challenges. These online activities not only inspire creative writing, but give children that all important audience for their writing. How nice for my children to have their posts featured in Julia's new blog dipping venture too - another global audience!

Blogging on our ipads

The introduction of ipads at our school has made the blogging process so much easier. The four ipads that I have in class are set up with the blogger app so that my children can blog when they like. It has made the process so much easier and more flexible than it ever has been. I don't change their work, though I have occasionally made suggestions for improvements. My children take the ipads outside and blog, which in turn is great AFL evidence for me. Because they were adding content to our class blog, it seemed to be getting too 'hefty' so I decided to set up a separate blog for my children and my colleague did the same for our parallel class. This is their work. They are often writing for pleasure and request to blog about things, though sometimes I ask if anyone would like to take the ipad into assembly etc if I want a record of special events.

An infant ipad expert!

Although our parents still seem a little shy about commenting, we know they look because they tell us in their child's learning@home journal. They are proud of what their children are doing. One family were so inspired that Xanthe (aged 5) started her own blog at home! This can only be having a positive impact on how my children see themselves as writers.

My digital leaders use the ipads to blog too. Their posts are like mine - more of a reflective diary. They will no doubt prove useful for future digital leaders, who I am guessing will want to go one better! They also do a great job as commentators on the aforementioned 5 sentence challenge and understand the value of thoughtful comments and impact on the writer.

So would I recommend blogging in school? Most definitely! Remember to gain consent from parents, devise some blogging rules / etiquette and find the right blogging resource that works well for you. There are plenty out there, but my favourites (for ease of use and free tools) are:

  • Blogger - perfect for ipads
  • Wordpress
  • Posterous
  • Weebly
  • Kidsblogs

If you need inspiration, @RedgieRob has kindly put together a shed full of class blogs for you! The winning blogs in the 2012 edublog awards may prove useful too. 

*We used this idea when seven of us from school went to India to visit children's homes that we sponsored

Seven go to India

Friday, November 30, 2012

Digital Literacy Project: The End

Today I worked with other inspirational teachers - Sarah, Niki and Adam  - at the UEA to show PGCE students our digital literacy work. The work was inspired by Kate Pullinger's 'Inanimate Alice' and I have blogged about the start of the project here.  When I started to put together a prezi for my presentation, I felt very proud of the work that my children did. It was lovely to spend time revisiting this work that we did at the end of the last school year. The whole project had a good feel to it and a great balance of drama, enquiry and ICT. We really explored our creativity in a great local environment.

When I looked back at posts on this blog I realised that I hadn't shown all of the work. My children's finished work was collated in a map so that parents could see some of their fabulous films, stories and poems all in one place. Of course there are more examples of my children's puppet pal movies, photostories and art work on their class blog. We did a lot and even got a comment from Michael Rosen! It is work that I will definitely repeat in some way!

                                                               View Digital stories by Badger Class in a larger map

Thursday, November 29, 2012

How we are using ipads at Roydon

Yesterday my digital leaders led a staff meeting to show off some new (and some not so new) apps. They started the staff meeting by showing what can be achieved with some of the apps with the offer of 1:1 support sessions with teachers straight after their demonstrations. They were marvellous! Our HT is relatively new to the school and will admit to not being particularly techy. She considered it to be a brave act on both parts, to let our digital leaders take control and teach the teachers. Eloise live-blogged about it on their digital leader site during the meeting and the whole thing was a great success.

Why was it successful? Well there are a few of us at school that get enjoyment from playing with tech and trying out new things. I'm not saying it's a hobby, it's more of a desire to create awe and wonder in the classroom and to ,learn new things so that we can teach children to try new things. There are more teachers at school who don't want to take (more than necessary) work home with them. So whilst some of us have used most apps in the classroom, others are sticking to a familiar few. They wanted time to explore apps with experts on hand, hence the digital leader workshop. Here are the apps that my digital leaders showed:

  • Comic life - a great app for comic creation, newspaper reports, posters etc
  • Notability - useful multimedia app
  • Smart office - for making and sharing microsoft office documents
  • iMovie - create movies in minutes. See my DL's Train of Doom!
  • Monster Physics - a great little problem solving app
  • Twinkl phonics suite - a really useful app for targetting specific phonemes as well as letter formation
  • Pocket phonics - as above
  • Book creator - Great multimedia app for creating your own e-books
  • Puppet pals - Animate cartoon characters or yourself! Multiple uses for this simple app.
  • Blogger - my year 2/1s are blogging, so it's time our Headteacher did too! She had a personal tutor called Eloise to help! 
  • Drawing Torch - a wonderfully creative new app from the Night Zookeeper people

So how am I using the ipads? Here is a quick reflection of how I use them in my practice.

Guided work

I have four ipads in my classroom at all times. Quite often I have more than this and occasionally I have a whole class set. We use them to research and answer questions and I use them every day for guided and extension activities, as folllows.

Maths - I mostly use the primary games apps, maths sumo, pop maths and puzzle maths as brain breaks, rewards or to compliment work in class. Occasionally I will use an app as an extension activity. I have also used the ipads as whiteboards for children whose M+O work I want to monitor more carefully. They take screen shots and can email these to me, or blog them. I have recently asked one of my TaG children to create a screenchomp explanation of how to do partitioning. I will get her to create a bank of these maths tutorials.

Guided reading/writing - I have 2 groups of children who use the ipads regularly for phonics/handwriting work. I have assessed where they are and so then can find the right sounds quickly that they need to practise. We use twinkl pop suite, Mr Thorn does phonics and pocket phonics for this.
For a small group of children who need support with their writing, I use the Collins Big Cat apps. They can read the story first, then there are enough visual cues in the way of scenery, characters and objects to scaffold their writing. We do have some good reading books on the ipads, but not nearly enough, so this is an area that I would like to expand next. 

Whole class work

You can see how I have used ipads for whole class work by looking at our class blog. It shows examples of using book creator, puppet pals, art apps and writing with Collins Big Cat apps amongst other things. The ipads are often used for TaG children to publish their written work in a different way, or create impromptu animations.

I am using my ipads most lessons in class and it is my aim to get others to do the same. One way to encourage this is to have 20 minutes at the beginning of a staff meeting where all teachers share a way that they have used the ipads in class. Like a mini staffroom teachmeet!

Don't forget you can see all the apps we use at Roydon Primary on my ipad apps site.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Network failure ... DON'T PANIC!

A couple of weeks ago I hosted a twilight training session for SNITT students and was really looking forward to working with them. Although we have ipads at Roydon I was very aware that the students needed time to look at resources that many Norfolk schools have, like IWBs, textease, Espresso, visualisers,  beebots and free resources like photostory3 and movie-maker. I also thought it important to have a practical session, but point them in the direction of theory/paperwork. I wanted them to have a positive experience with ICT

Unfortunately, like one of my OfSTED observed lessons a few years ago, the network had a meltdown. Fortunately I didn't. I think that my defence mechanism of not feeling responsible for  out-of-my-control technical failures is one of my strengths. Still, it was a bit embarrassing and a bit disappointing - especially as I was wanting to give them a positive experience. 

Luckily, there is always a plan B. The beebots and probots just came out earlier than expected, easi-speak chatterboxes and microphones were modelled and played with and I recounted my digital literacy project. The ipads were used as an example of where schools can go next with their tech (and showed perfectly how versatile and practical these 'shiny things' are). I was very grateful that I had them and they filled a gap whilst the laptops were slowly logging on. 

So what have I learned from this? Well I will definitely check the network during the afternoon next time. I will also ask my digital leaders to be on hand, to accompany the students to other rooms to support them individually to use the IWBs and visualisers in case my room crashes again. 

I was very grateful for the loveliness of the students - and that their mentor Jayne said 'Beebots' when I was having a 'blank moment' of disbelief about the network fail! Maybe this experience has shown the reality of ICT in school? It will definitely be better next time!

Monday, November 26, 2012

What does effective planning look like?

I have been meaning to write about planning for a while, as it is something that I have strong opinions about. I read a post recently by David Didau (@learningspy) that articulates my feelings very well and I urge you to read it. I will not repeat what he says, but will summarise my own views here. They are based on my experiences from my own practice and from different schools I have supported. My opinions are not necessarily shared by the people I work with.

So what does effective planning look like?

Different for different teachers is my answer. So why do we all try to use the same forms? After 11 years of teaching in mainstream, I have finally created a maths plan that works well for me. I plan sparsely. Completing weekly maths plans to hand in the week before you teach is not efficient use of time.  Effective teaching happens when you reflect on prior learning and plan for progression. I know what I want to teach/cover for the week ahead , but may only have planned activities for Monday and Tuesday. I need to see how they go before I think about the rest of the week. This is how I approach a lot of my teaching. I can't plan too far ahead, it muddles me. I don't want to be thinking about next week, I want to be living the present time. That doesn't mean I don't have a long term plan, it means that my ideas beyond the week I am teaching are merely titles like 'collage work, non-fiction projects, multiplication'. It looks like this

I approach most of the rest of the curriculum through mantle of the expert or enquiry approach. This means that although I know where we are going in terms of the main objectives and outcomes (and some of the dramatic conventions we will use), I don't always know the learning route. Quite often the children will share ideas that inspire me to take a new direction - a better direction than I had come up with myself ! Instead of spending hours and hours writing plans that I will never read, let alone follow, I spend the time thinking about getting the best from my children, the resources I will need and reflecting on the lessons that have finished. This is what I enjoy doing, what motivates me and what I would rather spend my energy on. My plans are paper based, minamilist mind maps.

This works for me. My plans are for me, no-one else.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Edublog award nominations

Here are my nominations for the edublog awards this year:

  • Best individual blog - Anthony Evan's blog great ICT and ipad inspiration and reflection
  • Best group blog - the Digital Leader Network because it is collaborative
  • Best new blog - the literacy shed  a great store of films for learning
  • Best ed tech / resource sharing blog - Simon Haughton's very helpful blog 
  • Best individual tweeter - @RossMannell because he looks at what is happening on class/individual blogs and leaves comments on them. Not just ordinary comments either, sometimes he leaves responses in the form of his own blog posts and these have supported and extended the work going on in my class. Marvellous!
  • Best educational use of audio / video / visual / podcast - Mark Anderson's blog a wealth of information
  • Best educational wiki -  ICT Magic's extremely helpful wiki does what it says on the tin!
  • Best mobile app - @nightzookeeper's Drawing Torch app is my favourite this month. Use your imagination and explore your creativity for free!
  • Lifetime achievement - I think that Julia Skinner deserves this because she has given so much to education and although I think she has a huge 'lifetime' left to go, her dedication (and the time she gives) to the 100wc, 5sc and getting children writing is admirable. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Digital leader kidsmeet at the Night Zookeeper offices

This morning two excited adults got on the Diss to London train at 7.19 with four excited digital leaders, to travel to the Night Zookeeper Kidsmeet. We were the first school to arrive, so Roydon DLs took the time to explore the offices and practise their presentations. When they realised that the prezi presentaion that Emily had created hadn't been saved to the net, they didn't panic, but problem solved ways around it. They very much enjoyed being interviewed about being a digital leader, then minecraft and tried out a few comfy chairs!

Throughout the day they blogged about what they were doing, on their own digital leader blog and the kidsmeet blog.

Digital leader presentations

The first presentation was Scratch, which was presented very well by Lauriston Primary School, who showed us how they have made games in their lunch time. Galliard digital leaders arrived at the offices just in time to present 'A minute of listening'.

Next up, confidently talking about blogging, 100wc, Skype and Night Zookeeper was Springwell Junior school.

The last presentation of the session was by Oakdale digital leaders, showing how gaming can help their learning. A very persuasive presentation.

We watched some presentations from some of the people who share the Wayra space about pollarize, makelight, mychoicepad and pixelpin.

I was very proud of Roydon digital leaders presenting about Sketchnation without the safety net of their prezi. Other presentations included Mersea Island's fantastic animating - led by the unforgettable Jack! - Morfo booth (which my digital leaders love) shown by Elm Park Primary and some great free online tools from Brunswick house.

There was no rest for our busy digital leaders at lunch time, but time for a bit of livewriting organised by Michelle.

The workshops

These can all be read about on the kidsmeet blog, but our digital leaders joined some great workshops.
Oliver Quinlan led a progressive RaspberryPi workshop and Jo Neale got them creating vegetable animals. They were able to play with the Drawing Torch and Mychoicepad apps, create an ocean without the colour blue, join in with a Makey Makey, play pingpong, learn with Nintendo DS, blog, interview others, lounge about on cushions and chairs and play with photobooth in a phone booth! Marvellous!

At the end of the day our digital leaders were given a choice about where they went. Mine all chose the vegetable making, which didn't really surprise me. In a technological world we must always remember that there is nothing quite the same as creating things with real objects.

Many of the digital leaders were flagging at the end of the day, but Roydon DLs seemed to get a second wind. They voted on a MaccyD tea, where Emily proved that small children can eat adult-sized meals, then a trip to Claire's accessories to browse shiny things. 

On the train on the way home they carried on with their creativity by creating a great little imovie called the Train of Doom! What a wonderful day!


Sunday, November 18, 2012

London Festival of Education

I am going to attempt to live blog from my iphone at the festival. I will be spending a great deal of my day in the DigitalMe makeroom having lots of fireside chats!

I was kindly invited down by Tim Riches (@triches) from DigitalMe to talk about student digital leaders and explore the way that badges can be used to recognise their skills. With Tony Parkin and Doug Belshaw joining discussions this was too good an opportunity to miss!

The DigitalMe make room had a lovely fire burning in the fireside chat area and other areas for hands on learning, video diaries and musical interludes.

The first chat of the day was with Doug, talking about Mozilla Open Badges. It was an informative session and Doug did a great job of explaining the difference between digital badges and open badges. The part that I am most excited about is how you can create your own badges using which I will be trying later in the week. After the fireside chat people were invited to the 'make' area to use thimble to create their own web pages - and earn a badge.
I have my mozilla backpack and the two badges that you can earn from the Mozilla site, which I did at the Naace 3m hothouse. I earned my third badge with this thimble rant. It would appear that many badges are out there for the taking already, like kodu badges.  I am looking forward to exploring the ways in which we can make this work for our digital leaders and primary aged children.


After a couple of breathtaking musical interludes and a fireside chat about musical futures (which I will blog about later), it was time for a SAFE chat with Kate. This has come at a great time as we need to rethink our esafety at Roydon now that our children are blogging more freely and bringing their own devices to school. Some great ideas and resources were shown, which can be found here. Kate did a great job of reminding us about copyright as well as issues with blogging, Facebook and other social media. We talked about badges and how digital leaders can develop their own safe skills, then peer mentor others, earning badges as they do so.

Digital leader fireside chat

Our chat clashed with Hattie on the main stage, which was both a good and bad thing. Although it was disappointing not to see him it did leave us relatively audience-free, giving us time to discuss digital leaders and badges. During a previous session, Amir from Hamble College (possibly the first school in the UK to employ digital leaders, initiated by Kristian Still) had introduced himself. I had asked him if he could come back and join the discussions; it was great that he did. Carrie Philbin - a fellow #gtauk attendee - joined us and showed us the badges that she has created for her school. Carrie hosts  Geek Gurl Diaries which aims to inspire girls to get geeky in a male dominated workforce. With Tim Riches, Tony Parkin and others from the DigitalMe team it felt like there was a good mix of experience and enthusiasm in the group. One thing was clear, we are all hardworking and have a passion for student voice. I am very hopeful that the discussions will lead me to blogging in more detail about a future badges project.

The discussion about badges led to Cliff Manning telling us all about and showing us the badges he has made for his students. Cliff gave us a quick demo to show how it can work within a school. I have signed up and will be having a play as soon as I get confirmation.

When I left the DigitalMe room I went looking for twitter friends, but bumped into Michael Rosen! I have to say that he wasn't anywhere near as excited at meeting me as I was him ;-) I very much enjoyed seeing him on the main stage (and told him so later) with Anthony Horowitz, who was funny and inspirational. Michael was passionate and political as always.

For much less 'chatty' posts see, Oliver Quinlan, Tom Bennett and Doug Belshaw's work. For a broader view of the festival, check out Dawn Hallybone's post with links to lots of other worthwhile reading.

Friday, November 16, 2012

RiskIT for a biscuit?!

At the end of October we participated in Naace's two week RiskIT campaign at school, which encourages staff to try something new in ICT. The Key RiskIT Elements are:

  • Working in judgment-free environment
  • Trying new things
  • Experimenting
  • Taking the fear out of technology
  • Making teachers young again
  • Mind over matter
  • Taking control of the technology
  • Learning new things
  • Learning from students
  • Not afraid of failure, but learn from it

So how did we RiskIT? By doing lots of things that may not have been new to all teachers, but were a big leap for some. I put up a timetable in the staffroom to encourage teachers to sign up and 'RiskIt for a biscuit!' 

So here are some of the things that teachers did at Roydon Primary:

  • Use crazytalk to start an enquiry/drama lessonss
  • Give the digital leaders the opportunity to create their own blog
  • Year 2/1s used crazytalk on the ipad to create a news report about the great fire of London
  • Other year 2/1s used book creator to create fact sheets about the great fire
  • Create symmetrical pictures using textease paint
  • A skype session with a viking
  • Using Mr Thorne does phonics apps in class on the ipads with reception aged children

 I think they earned a biscuit or two! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hosting #ukedchat

I was a little anxious about hosting #ukedchat, but it went really well! You can read the summary and see some of the more memorable tweets here. I didn't keep up and missed loads of pertinent tweets, but was inspired when I read through the archives afterwards. Yes lots of the ideas have been discussed before, but there were also some creative suggestions - ones that we all need reminding of. Thanks to all who joined in! 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The problem of fixed/borrowed ICT schemes

This post was inspired by a brief twitter conversation with @alexgingell about ICT schemes of work. We've probably all looked around for inspiration and ideas from others, but if you want a scheme that works, you really have to write your own. Why? You can't make someone else's mould fit right. How do I know? I've tried. It is an impossible task. I was inspired by the comprehensive schemes from Wokingham a few years ago and tried to adapt them for our school. I sat with colleagues in each year group and we looked at what they teach, which resources could be used and how skills can be embedded. It took over an hour with each year group until we finally came up with something we were all happy with. I felt happy that staff had ownership of their plans.

The trouble is, things change. New technology appears, skills change (children and staff) and teachers move jobs. Then you end up with schemes that you spent too much time on, that don't fit. Who likes to follow someone else's plans anyway?

So our present solution is a very simple one. Each teacher needs to be mindful of the skills that should be taught to the children in their year group. They should then seek opportunities to embed them in other curriculum areas*. We have a very basic overview that shows what is taught in each year group and resources that are available. How teachers embed skills is up to them. Energy is spent on finding new opportunities to use ICT and supporting teachers rather than creating detailed overviews. I admit that at the moment more formal monitoring methods are needed, but we are a relatively small school and we talk to one another. I know what is being taught around the school. In the near future we will have a staff meeting using the Naace framework to monitor our progression in ICT more carefully. At the moment though we are concentrating on maintaining our good standards, whilst learning how to get the best from our ipads.

What @alexgingell pointed out was that maybe the children should be involved too. Of course they should! Digital leaders immediately came into my mind, but maybe it is a job for the school council? Maybe google docs should be used so that more people can adapt them? Whatever happens, I am always grateful for the food for thought that fellow tweeters provide. Two heads are always better than one!

If you are starting from scratch, I would recommend looking at the Naace frameworkSimon Haughton's blog and Chris Leach's rethinking ICT wiki. These guys work tirelessly to inspire others.

*It often happens the other way round - the skills are taught as and when they are being applied to a curriculum area. Then more opportunities are sought to rehearse the skills.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Technology - a different language in the classroom?

This post will provide a little background for  #ukedchat tonight, which I have been asked to host. I have a few anxieties about this because I am a reflective person who needs a lot of thinking time. I can also be reactionary - and this can get me into trouble. I would rather think before I speak, but obviously there is no time for that during online debates. 

So, the five themes I chose for #ukedchat were

I was hoping that the topic for debate would be drama based, but kinda knew that this one would get the most votes:

 How can we support teachers who struggle to engage with new technologies?

As an ICT consultant (one day each week) and ex-AST I have experience of supporting other teachers, leaders and schools with ICT developments. I am honest about my abilities and my weaknesses. I will happily support creative developments and the embedding of ICT; I do not do excel. 
I have met many people with different abilities and yes, have sometimes found it frustrating trying to teach things that I consider to be simple. Things that I naturally do (scrolling down the page, clicking the next button etc) do not always come naturally to others. Some people need a lot of time to play and learn - and some people have better things to do. It's like taking on a new language. It takes lots of practise and sometimes when you go back to something you've done before, you forget how to do it. So how can we support teachers who struggle with new tech?

To understand how the 'struggle' feels, I try to think of how I would feel if I had to embed another language across the curriculum. A language that kept changing. I also understand how frustrating it can be when the technology goes wrong. It did for me during an OfSTED lesson. It was all fine in the end (thank goodness) as we were used to technical failures in class and I always had a plan B. We were familiar with and happy to persevere with a system that wasn't working well. Not everyone has that stamina.

I hear the argument that there are plenty of us who take the time and work hard to learn new things and keep up to date with technology. What about the people who keep up to date with new music? I was in awe of my teacher at primary because he was Spanish, his name was Mr Casanova and he played the guitar and sang flamboyantly. In high school I did 'computer studies' and I made a program that helped decorators (!) It is not an overwhelming memory, not like the drama we did or the learning outside the classroom. I suspect that when our children leave school they will remember things like that - not who was good with the technology. 

So hopefully #ukedchat will be a great place to generate some ideas and useful support mechanisms for teachers who struggle with technology. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mantle of the expert - deceiving children or inspiring learning?

I have been teaching through the mantle of the expert approach for seven years now, having first seen it in action at Little Bealings Primary School. I had heard about it in passing from my headteacher and curiosity got the better of me, so I convinced him to send three teachers from school to an open event at Bealings. Our trio consisted of myself (trying to find my niche), our deputy head (and English coordinator) and a new teacher who I had mentored as an NQT.

Your cakes are too tiny for Giants!
Our thoughts about what we had seen differed greatly. We spent some time with a trainee teacher, whose lesson was pure drama from start to finish. Our deputy was concerned about the pace, the learning and the progress in what she thought was an English lesson. I saw it as more than that: PSHE, collaboration, decision making and totally led by the children. There was no written work at the end of it, but photographs and film clips were taken throughout. The planning made sense to me as well. It wasn't comprehensive, because things change. Energy was put into the ideas and resources for the lesson, not the paperwork. To me it was dynamic.

 Even more memorable was what was going on in the infant classroom (a gardening company). It was busy, the children were excited, they were making decisions and different things were happening in different areas of the room. It wasn't a conventional room either. It wasn't dominated by tables and chairs. The displays were not particularly neat, but they were covered with the children's ideas and work. I was hooked. This felt right to me. The learning had been put into a context and the children were thriving on it. I saw much evidence of their learning, but was astounded by the children's confidence and the way that they could reason and articulate their thoughts. Our new headteacher at Roydon felt the same the first time she saw me teaching this way.

My first major mantle

My first mantle S.T.A.R.S (space transportation and restoration services) lasted a whole term. It was with year 5/4 children. I worked in role as many different people throughout the term, but started the mantle as an angry professor who was cursing NASA's inability to launch a rocket. Did the children know it was me? Of course. Did they immerse themselves in the drama of the situation anyway? Totally.

A Chadburys employee
What was more noticeable was the 'buzz' that was created. Parents were interested in what was going on and they were telling me that their children were talking to them about their learning in ways they had done previously.
Teaching through this way seemed to naturally support children with SEN, whilst stretching TAG children. How do I know this? Through what I was seeing and hearing and through their results at the end of the year. I had lots of visitors and they were confirming what I was feeling - it is a positive way for the children to be in control, make progress and learn.

The importance of appropriate language

I have written this post in response to a comment on twitter that suggested I was 'deceiving' the children. It is true that you are creating an imaginary world, but surely this is what we want to do in school - feed and nurture their imaginations? I am careful with the language I use and favourite phrases include:

'I wonder what it would feel like ...'
'What would you do if...?'
'What would it be like if ...?' 
'When I put on this hat/tie/jacket I will become...'

There are many more phrases that I will use during a drama, but sometimes I drop right in role without warning. At these times, language is used carefully to debrief the children. I am not going to go into detail about mantles, as I have written about them elsewhere, but over the years I have worked with the children to rescue orangutans and polar bears (helped by Sir Richard Branson!), rebuild a Chocolatier that burned down, created documentaries and resources for publishing and broadcasting companies, become a rival company to RyanAir, catered for the needs of giants, gnomes and Australian documentary makers, been  trainee timelords and found many different artifacts that have led to huge investigations.

I could talk about drama and mantle of the expert for ever, because I am passionate about it. The benefits for me as a teacher are:

  • It suits my teaching style
  • Its creative nature keeps me happy as a teacher (I like dressing up!)
  • The enquiry approach lets children lead the way. I like pretending that I don't know the answers. It encourages the children to problem solve.
  • You never teach the same thing in the same way (so I don't get bored if I repeat a topic)
  • It promotes problem solving, collaborative skills, decision making and using initiative
  • It enables a personalised learning approach 
  • Amy Pond?!
  • There is never a dull moment!

I do not subscribe to the purist Mantle of the Expert approach that says the children need badges and identities in the drama each time. I have adapted the approach to suit my style and the needs of the children I am working with. That is why I like to call it drama in the classroom. Sometimes I am purely using drama to give a context for learning, other times we become a company. My mantles can last from a week to a term and are very flexible depending on the theme; there is no room for tenuous links. 

If you would like to know more about mantle of the expert, visit their main website. If you want ideas for using drama in the classroom, there is a booklet here. If you are still in doubt, imagine you are 5/6 years old and working for a gnome. Wouldn't that be fun?!

Saturday, October 20, 2012


I did a learning styles questionnaire on the NCSL site many moons ago and it told me things that I already knew about myself, but also made me think about significant weaknesses in the way I approach things.  I scored 2/50 under the 'realistic' tab. I needed to do something about this. Whilst I believe you need teachers who can see endless possibilities, you also need practical teachers who can see the problems. I had a new found respect for teachers that I had previously considered to be blinkered. It was a huge learning curve for me, but really helped me to understand why our school is successful; we have a good balance of personalities.

 How does this relate to BYOD? Well I have realised that my excitement at trying new things has sometimes meant that I haven't thought about the potential risks. We started started blogging over seven years ago at school without any worries about having policies in place. Of course we had consent forms for photograph use, but no guidelines for actual blogging. I want to make sure that I don't do this with BYOD.

Roydon digital leaders
 The need for one has arisen because my digital leaders have wanted to bring their mobile devices into school for our digital leader sessions. This has made things so much easier for me and it enables them to carry on learning at home. The games that my digital leaders have made in their on time are amazing and they have set up their ipads/ipods to be able to blog from them. The first couple of times they brought them in, we just had verbal agreements with the pupils and parents. They understood the risks and rules, but this needed putting in writing.

Ruby's sketchnation game
So last week I searched the internet for exemplar policies. I found very little. Eventually I found a forum where  a policy written by Mount Erin College in Australia was praised. The wording was very clear, so as a starting point I have adapted this slightly and sent it home with digital leaders. As a school we can adapt our policy accordingly as we continue our BYOD journey.

I would love to hear from others about BYOD policy and practice, so that I can carry on learning!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Be prepared!

I have been asked the question more than once, 'How did you prepare for introducing ipads in school?' so will try to provide a few tips. 

1. Firstly, you need the ipads set up with quality apps that are going to be useful in class. That may seem obvious, but I have delivered staff meetings in other schools where the technicians (and in one case ex headteacher) hold the password for downloading apps and the ipads had few quality items on them. It is frustrating for me and frustrating for staff when they cannot play with the apps I am showing. To get them used quickly across the school I would recommend the following:

  • Primary games maths apps - great for M+O skills across the primary age range
  • Sumo maths - a fun free app with different levels for calculation skills
  • Book creator - create e-books quickly and easily 
  • Mr Thorne does phonics
  • Twinkl phonics - fun games up to phase 5
  • Collins Big Cat - for guided reading and story creating
  • Puppet pals - create fun animations easily
  • iMovie - create slick movies with ease
  • I can animate - quick and easy stop animations 
  • Smart office / Noteshelf / Notability
  • Blogger - because it's so easy to get blogging with it!

The apps that we rate most highly at Roydon are shown here with some useful teacher tools here. You can cover a range of ICT skills with the programming and gaming apps shown here too.  

2. Provide an ipad for each teacher, even if the expectation is that they are available for use in class each day. Let TAs take home ipads if they want to. We have a booking out system at Roydon.

3. Make sure that there are regular training (learning through play) sessions for your staff timetabled throughout the year. Don't assume that all staff will want to take the ipads home and play with them. New apps need to be introduced properly and staff given the chance to use them so that they can understand the value of them. I would advise that this should happen at least once every half term to start with.

4. Limit the amount of apps you add, or the people that are allowed to purchase them. Try a 'request' system. This will help avoid the problem of 400 apps on the ipad with only 200 quality ones! 

5. Manage your apps so that they are stored in folders for children to locate them easily. Let them synch through the cloud. It is much easier if your ipads are set up so that they all look the same. It is very frustrating if you give out the ipads, then realise that the app you want them to use is not on all ipads. Teaching children to use the search facility is helpful too. 

6. Delegate ipads to each class, but have a timetable where they can be requested for whole class work. Having 4 in my room at all times means that group work can happen throughout the day. 

7. Set your home screen up so that ipads can be returned to the right class when borrowed (mine all have badgers on them). Having a number helps to. If a child starts to create a book on Badger 1, they know where to return to find it. 

8. Employ digital leaders to help you inspire and innovate!

I am researching the use of ipads in our school, as are others that I know of, like Jenni from Frettenham Primary. I will share my findings through this blog regularly in the hope that it will help others. Simon Haughton is another ipad enthusiast who writes extremely helpful posts about his experiences with ipads in school. You can read them here. Learning from others this way will not only inspire, but hopefully enable you to learn from any problems we have had. I will try to explain in more detail about the synching issues in the next post.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Our ipad learning journey (so far)

Another post that has been a long time coming - but it needed a little thought putting into it. It is no secret that I am a BIG ipad lover and haven't looked back since introducing them in school. I have found them to be an asset in my 2/1 class and really do believe that they have optimised learning, as I will explain later. It has not all been plain sailing though and there have been a few hitches. I will try to document them as honestly and accurately as I can.

A special delivery

I had wanted ipads in the classroom since buying my own, having been inspired by their potential during a meeting with Jenni Hammond and Jill Duman. I took mine into the classroom straight away and let my children 'play'.* I could immediately see how every second of learning time could be put to use. For example, during lessons/when some children finish their maths, they can use the desktop computers in the classroom, but there is never enough time for them to collect a laptop, turn it on and get enough learning time before the bell goes. I don't always want to give them additional work, but computer based games are an enjoyable resource that they love.

So, I asked our headteacher if we could purchase some ipads. Fortunately, our head teacher was very forward thinking as far as technology was concerned. Unfortunately he was retiring and so decided that it would be inappropriate to make that decision. Whilst I understood and respected that, I also felt very frustrated. We had managed to keep ahead of new technologies and I was keen to keep abreast of innovations.

After waiting a polite amount of time for our new head to settle in (and recover from a broken ankle!) I broached the subject. Although she admitted to knowing little about technology, our new head was keen for us to continue to keep at the forefront of ICT innovations, so I went ahead and ordered 45 ipads in November 2011. This included one for each teacher, two for our Den (SEN room) and one for each child in the biggest class in school. Initially the ipads were going to be kept together and timetabled out in the same way as the laptops. After visiting another school that had recently purchased laptops, I realised that their use would be optimised if we shared them out between classes. So we have 4 in each class and a timetable where we can request to borrow other ipads if needed. The home screen on the ipads have been set with a picture of the class name (so mine have a badger on it) and the number allocated to the ipad. This makes it easy for children to return to the right ipad for their work, such as that done on book creator.

Setting them up

The first problem that we had was actually setting them up. They needed to be connected to itunes on a laptop to get them started in school - they were blocked from connecting to the internet. This confused me initially, as I had brought mine home and set it up without connecting it to a computer, so couldn't understand what was going on at school. This is a school network issue, which I'm not sure can be resolved due to restrictions. So staff had a choice: set them up via a laptop at school or take them home and connect to their internet.


Initially our ipads synched through icloud, but we were persuaded by our technicians to purchase a mini mac server to 'ease' synching. I'm not sure that I agree that the server has made it easier. With eleven teachers inspired by the ipads, we quickly ended up with nearly 400 apps on the laptops! These needed organising before they got even more out of hand. In my view, this is the responsibility of the class teacher. We have 4 ipads to organise and as long as time is made available, we should be able to keep on top of this.

 The problem was that once a teacher had downloaded an app, then found it to be unsuitable, it had already synched to all the other ipads. Our ICT support team decided that they would send someone in to organise our apps and they arrived on the first day of a new half term, with no-one aware!
Then they wanted all the ipads ... In my opinion this was not the most efficient way of organising our ipads. We managed to draw up a list between us of apps we definitely wanted to keep, reducing the number to under 200. I also grouped the apps into files, so that all ipads would 'look' the same. Unfortunately this never happened as the technician took so long deleting apps from each laptop and synching them to the server. As a result we have ended up with 45 ipads that all look different, which is not particularly satisfactory and will still require time to put it right.

The children can find apps quickly with the search facility on the ipad, but they do need organising. Staff meeting time will be allocated, which is possibly what should have happened in the first place. We are definitely on learning journey with these - and hopefully our experiences will help the other schools in our cluster that have since purchased ipads.

Educational benefits
Ibooks on PhotoPeach

I truly believe that we have already seen huge benefits from having the ipads in school. They optimise the time available because they are ready so quickly and they are so intuitive, easy enough even for our youngest learners. My children have accessed a range of apps, both in and out of the classroom and are writing blog posts with ease. Having a camera on them means that my year 2/1s don't need to learn the skills of downloading photos before they start blogging. Indeed our EYFS teachers intend to get their children blogging this year.

For group intervention activities I have used the ipads for phonics work, mental maths skills and guided reading. The children are excited to use them. I will be tracking year 1 progress using the 2simple EYFS profile app this year and will also be using a range of multimedia resources with my digital leaders. I am more than happy that we are getting value for money from our ipads - in my classroom. I will be monitoring the way that they are used across the school to make sure that we get value across the school.

This year we will be learning how to use a wiki app so that the children can save and retrieve their work.

To see some of the things my class have been doing, take a look at our class blog. To learn about the great apps we use in school, look at this ipad apps site.

Staff benefits

Like most schools, staff at Roydon have a range of technical skills. All staff at Roydon work hard to learn new things, whatever their ability. The thing that I have noticed with the ipads is that their ease of use has meant that those who have struggled with some aspects of ICT before have a new-found confidence, which has then rubbed off onto other technologies. I will gather quotes later this term.

 I mentored two NQTs (@j_santy and @wickybailey) three school years ago and felt really excited about their ICT skills and passion for the subject. They have been a great asset to the school and a huge support to me in my role as ICT coordinator. Their enthusiasm rubs off on others and it is great to have their support in teachmeet style staff meetings. It means that I am not the only one that others seek out for support too. A lot of time has always been dedicated to ICT development in our school and my role as AST and now ICT consultant has been a positive factor as I get time to attend conferences and shows to extend my knowledge and skills.

The Future

There have been many debates on twitter about ipads and many comparisons are made between tablets. My view about not exclusively having ipads has already been blogged about; a broad and balanced curriculum needs broad and balanced resources. What I dislike is people jumping on the anti-ipad bandwagon when they have never used them. I don't understand their gripes.
  Nobody will truly know the tablets that offer best value for money until maybe a few years down the line when research has been done. Because of the quality of apple products and wide range of educational apps available, I really didn't consider any others. We have made the mistake of buying inferior resources before at great expense (digi-blues for example) and need products that will last. One of our ipads has survived being dropped and stood on by a child! We also have a huge range of 'software' on the ipads to inspire the children that really compliment existing school resources.
 That said, I am very curious to know how much of an impact the ipads will have, so intend to do some form of research this year. Having like-minded people in other schools (@JenniH68) will help us make comparisons and will also allow us to continue to inspire one another. I am very much looking forward to continuing my ipad learning journey!

For other ipad related posts, take a look at Simon Haughton and Ant Evan's helpful blogs.

*I use the term play, because the children are playing whilst learning.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sack Mabel and Doris?

This post has been a long time coming - I didn't want to rush it (like I normally do), but needed to give it some thought as it is an issue that I want to address. I know that I risk getting publicly shot down for my views, but they are mine and I would hope that they are respected. I am coming from a primary viewpoint here, so would appreciate the reader remembering that we are not employed to teach one or two subjects, but are (mostly) responsible for delivering all.

Rethinking ICT

I had an interesting time at the rethinking ICT conference earlier this year and met some hard working people who I have a lot of respect for. With the exception of a few that I had met before, they were nearly all twitter acquaintances, many of whom are doing inspirational work in education (and special mention must be given to Chris Leach who put this event together). At the end of the conference an expert panel answered questions from the audience. During this time I was stunned to hear the opinion that teachers should be sacked if they did not engage with new technologies*

My initial reaction was that it would be very uncharitable of educational establishments to sack teachers for finding an aspect of their learning difficult. Would we exclude a child who struggles or refuses to learn, or would we try our hardest to find a way of engaging them? Teachers get paid to do a job, I understand that, but technology does not come naturally to everyone and teachers have to keep abreast of  a multitude of new/recycled educational ideas each year. There is a lot to juggle. I thought about some of the people I have supported over the past few years, people who I have heard (and seen on twitter) being referred to as the school's 'Doris' or 'Mabel' (a derogatory term given to those who shy away from new technologies) and the opinions at rethinking ICT hit a nerve. A big nerve. So big that I felt compelled to challenge it by stating my disagreement of the expert panel's view. I was told that we wouldn't accept it if a teacher continuously failed to learn how to teach fractions*. My response to this was that fractions don't continuously break.

If I were told that I had to embed the Polish language in each curriculum area, I know that I would find it time consuming to learn and stressful because I would not always know if I were teaching it well. Imagine how I would feel the next year being told that the language had changed, to Bengali. One of my colleagues has no trouble with technology, but if he were told to include art in as many lessons as possible, he would probably not appreciate it! Likewise, I can read music and have always aspired to play the piano, but have not been able to devote the time to it. I played (one-handed) in assembly once and it was one of the most stressful things I have ever done. I know that these examples are not the same as embedding technology, but I am trying to make comparisons of the 'fear factor'. This is a fear of the new, the unknown and the things that could lead to public ridicule. Children as well as adults can be intentionally and unintentionally cruel with their frank opinions. Some teachers lack the confidence to put themselves in that position.

I myself never wanted to be an ICT coordinator; I find many aspects of technology quite dull. I have developed a passion for it because I am a curious person; I see the creative potential and the awe and wonder technology often brings and I want  slice of the action. Maybe it is slightly easier for me than some over 40s though, because I did computer technology at school (yes, it did exist in the 80s!) and I am not afraid of breaking things. I also had two children at a very young age and they had all manner of gaming platforms, remote control toys and then computers when they were older. My youngest son collected eggs at the weekend so that he could buy himself a laptop. I am not an advocate of the term 'digital native', but our children now have many more opportunities to engage with technologies than I did when I was young and the fear factor of 'breaking it' only arises when they are told by an adult things such as 'don't touch, you might break it'. Is this why they seem to learn more quickly? They are not afraid to try something new.

Yesterday I sat and watched Ruby, who is only just two, use an ipad. She had no fear and no anxieties and was happily expressing herself through mark-making. She was delightful! Conversely, trying to teach my 68 year old dad how to email and access the internet was incredibly stressful. He would not experiment, because he did not understand and his frustration quickly led to acute grumpiness. His fear was preventing his learning; he needed a lot of practise and repetition. So why do we expect our teachers to pick things up quickly and use resources straight away? I would challenge anyone who believes that teachers should be able to do just that, to attempt the same by learning a new musical instrument.

So what can be done about it? I would suggest that the negative opinion of sacking them be replaced with a more positive offer of support. Two methods immediately spring to mind: digital leaders and RiskIT.

Digital leaders.

Digital leaders are the best free resource at school to keep abreast of ICT. For example, when I introduced scratch and kodu at school, I knew that our hard working year 6/5 teachers would want their children to use it. I am ever aware of the hours that they put in and do not wish to add to their workload. Digital leaders are the perfect compromise. The teacher gets to join in the lesson, learn with the children and develop their confidence. Why not make a pledge to employ digital leaders and join our supportive network.


If you want your teachers to use new technologies, adopt a whole school approach such as  RiskIT. This strategy encourages and empowers teachers to explore ICT in a safe environment without making them feel pressured or ridiculed. I will definitely be promoting this next year in our cluster schools. I will not explain it any further here, but please read Jan's post by following the RiskIT link.

Other methods of support that are commonly used in school could also prove useful: 1:1 support, small group work, peer tutoring, modelling, lesson observations.

And finally - we need to stop negatively labelling our teachers! Self-fulfilling prophecy? Does our low expectation = low output? It's a hard enough job without people in the same profession being negative and knocking you down. Instead of questioning their 'inadequacies', maybe we should be asking ourselves if we have been teaching 'Doris' and 'Mabel' properly and giving them appropriate support. I don't just mean chucking a manual at them (could you learn to play the saxaphone that way?) I mean proper, personalised support. I feel that it is my duty as ICT coordinator to find out what our teachers know, what they need to learn and how best they can be supported to do so. Spending a little time reassuring them and ensuring that appropriate support systems are in place is essential. At our school it works well, because it is a supportive team. If someone struggles, we pull together to help them.

* that was the gist of it, I cannot remember exactly what was said. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hackasaurus x-ray goggles

I had learned about hackasaurus x-ray goggles at the google academy in April, but like many things never got round to playing with it. I was reminded of this free tool at the Naace Hothouse by Doug (@dajbelshaw) so decided then and there that I should make time to play during this holiday. I was further inspired by Ant's (@skinnyboyevans) great blog post and his thoughts about using this tool in KS2. 

I intend to use this tool with my digital leaders. I like the idea that they will be learning about what 'hacking' means and I know that it will generate discussions that will help them understand more fully about copyright, privacy and internet safety issues. It is very easy to use and you really don't need to understand much coding to be able to play with this.

So, I had a quick go today, starting with grand ideas that were inspired by some of the photos that I have. My first hurdle was getting my photos to replace the existing ones, as I kept getting the 'broken photo' icon. I failed to get photos from dropbox or flickr to work (so failed to become an Olympic gold medal winner), but managed to use an old photo from facebook. The photo then dictated the kind of website that I wanted to alter. I am not sure why the other urls did not work, but will endeavour to find out. It shouldn't be a problem for my digital leaders though as they can use blog photos. 

The thing I like about this is the thinking that the digital leaders will have to do. They need a photo. They may have to stage this. They also need a story to accompany the photo, then they need to find a website that lends itself to their photo and what they want to say. I will encourage them to consider themselves as Olympic winners, famous inventors, scientists, historical figures, actors or singers etc. What a great way to get them writing!

So here is my tongue in cheek effort!

Click to enlarge

Update on 24/02/12

I have had another play before a recent enrichment morning and became the new Emile Sande as well as joining Dick and Dom in the bungalow. My digital leaders wrote a post on the digital leader network, although their work is not shown on it unfortunately.