Sunday, January 26, 2014

More computing resources

Did I mention the crowd-sourced computing document?! It's still there with some tech and non-tech ideas and resources to help you deliver the new computing curriculum.

Today I have been playing, albeit briefly, with a couple of new computing resources for the ipad. Lightbot is similar to Beebot and Alex as it gets you thinking logically whilst gaining an understanding of basic (and more complex) control. I haven't got very far with it, but it will help children learn to write algorithms with procedures and conditionals. You can also play on your PC by clicking here.

I also had a very quick play with Kinescript. I admit that I didn't get very far as time was limited and this was not as easy to drop in and play as Lightbot, so this is just a pointer so that you can have a play yourself. It is clearly inspired by Scratch with the use of sprites and built-in backgrounds and sounds. You can read more about it here and I will try to review it properly when I have had more time to play.

I realised last night when I looked back at my computing posts that I have shared lots of resources, but have said less about the 'why' of it. In a post from Feb last year I showed why computing/computational thinking is important with the 'What most schools don't teach' film. I am lazy, I do let the experts explain things - they are the experts. My posts are not intended to show deep thinking, but to signpost resources and views of those I consider to have expertise.

One expert - Miles Berry - has very kindly pointed me in the direction of his 1010 reasons for teaching computing and @worrydream's Reopening the debate: Should children program computers. They are both well worth a look!

I have also just come across Rising Stars 'Switched on computing with Microsoft', which you can download for free. It aims to guide teachers with creative ideas that draw on a range of computing/ICT skills. There are 6 units for you to try out in the classroom, with alternatives and assessment guidance to support teaching. I may try the 'We are cooking' unit with my year 2s, though I have very much enjoyed the digital literacy projects I have done before, so may just think about developing those further.

If you have any other resources to share, please let me know!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Espresso computing resources

I have written posts before about computing and as always am trying to reduce the anxiety that it brings to some teachers by sharing resources that are simple to use.  The crowd sourced computing document is a useful resource, though I am aware that it may feel a little overwhelming to some teachers who do not have expertise in ICT.

Espresso have cleverly made their coding resources free until October 2014 - enough time to let you have a good play with them! What I found useful was that they work on an ipad too, which will really complement our ipad computing resources.

Here is what I have learned so far. The initial page is clearly set out in year groups, starting at year 1 (children in EYFS can easily access these resources, but as the computing curriculum starts in ks1, that is where it starts.)  There are handy tutorials for some of the activities and clear instructions on each screen. Lesson plans are provided for those who have paid the subscription though some samples are provided. Likewise there are quick start guides.

Although I haven't played with them all, it seems like there is clear progression through the activities. As with many activities, children may progress past their year group quickly - I would certainly expect children who have been computing regularly using existing resources to find this quite simple. That said, I had to think about the year 6 activities and as someone who jumps right in without reading instructions, I found I didn't know what to do, so had to reverse up a bit. This is what you see if you click on unit 6d

and if you press start, you go straight to the activity. In order to access the tutorial, you press the link where it says Step 1: Walk the dog. Although I believe it is essential that you have listened to the tutorials and had a play yourself, you have the safety net of somebody else talking the children through the activity. You could do that as a whole class thing, or why not give the children headphones and their independence?

This is what Espresso say about their resource:

Espresso Coding has everything you need to deliver the coding part of the curriculum for years 1 to 6 including:
  • a comprehensive Scheme of Work linked to Curriculum 2014
  • 70+ step-by step lessons and tablet-friendly activities for pupils to create apps
  • full lesson plans for each activity by December 2013
  • a bespoke website area where apps can be published and shared
  • an introduction to coding using elements of JavaScript (an industry standard)
  • short, helpful video guides
  • additional CPD training is available

Find out more on their pages here or their helpful faqs.

Update: I have just found a useful blog post here by Aled Williams about Espresso computing.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

What's in the news?

When I first started teaching at Roydon Primary in 2001 each child had 'passport to the world' folders in which they collected work about world news. I love the global element of learning and have tried very hard to incorporate world events into my mantles, for example monsoons in India as part of Asian elephant rescue centre and successful/unsuccessful shuttle launches when we were STARS (space transportation and restoration specialists (I have many more examples...)

Participation in Etwinning, Comenius projects and more recently quadblogging have all helped promote the similarities and differences in countries and cultures, but I am aware that I have drifted away from ensuring that children all know about major world news. One way of achieving this came from my friend Jenni Porter, who uses CBBC Newsround each Friday so that the news is shared and talked about. I have endeavoured to do this, but have traditionally been out of the classroom on a Fri pm, so aimed to do it during other whole class times. Quite often it slipped off my list though.

This term I have decided to try and incorporate the use of CBBC Newsround into an adapted version of Julia Skinner's 5 sentence challenge, which will be one of my PPA lessons. As we do read, write inc, this provides one opportunity to write beyond that.

How the 'almost hour' will look

 An aspect of the news will be shared during talk time, using CBBC, then the teacher will model juicy (wow, power) words about the events and thoughts / feelings / opinions surrounding it to enrich the children's vocabulary. These will be written onto coloured bits of card and scattered around the IWB (yes, I know you can do it interactively, but you can hand these bits of card out to the children). The expectation is that the children write 5 - only 5 - sentences of their own. There will be a time limit on this, so that valuable time can be given to the reflection / self-assessment part. I am a strong believer in the mini-plenary, so although a TA may be used to work with a different guided group each week, the teacher will be the one who moves around, encouraging, thinking out loud, then making a huge fuss of the amazing sentences that are being written.

 One of the first ones we will look at is the US big chill, then I may find other new species like the hairy troll bug. Who couldn't be inspired by that?!

Why I like the Collins Big Cat apps

I have been thinking about 'inspiring writing' over Christmas and the new year in response to pupil progress at school. I thought it was about time I blogged about some of my favourite apps that lend themselves nicely to the development of literacy skills.

Collins Big Cat apps won a Bett award in 2013. Quite right too! I have been meaning to blog about why I love them for a long while. I will point out at this time that I am not employed by them and have no pecuniary interest, I just like shouting about the things that I find to be effective in the classroom. I recommend these apps to our parents too.

These are the great points about the apps:

  • The transition from reading to writing is made simple
  • Children can listen to the story before reading it themselves
  • The stories are nicely animated with some interactive elements
  • Children can practise expression by narrating the story, then naturally self-assess by playing back the audio
  • You can use each app to create different stories
  • The story creator part has a range of scenes and characters to choose from
  • There are 8 different apps
  • The apps are FREE

I have used these in a year 2/1 class for guided reading and writing sessions, during book choosing time and for whole class work. The texts range in difficulty, but are perfect for developing language skills from EYFS and infants to children with SEN. Don't forget you can find more great apps on my ipad site too.

You can add text boxes or callouts to your stories

Text is highlighted as words are read to you
Thank you Collins!

Monday, January 6, 2014

More ideas to develop a writing culture in school

I asked @JenniH68 to write a guest post for my blog and she obliged! Well that's to say she wrote the post on her blog (which has now become our collaborative blog!) Never Mind the Spag. Without being too gushy, I know that you will be inspired by Jenni's ideas on inspiring writing, whether they remind you of something you have done before or whether they are totally original ideas. 

There are some similarities / close alternatives that I value in my own practice that I will share afterwards. Some of these ideas I introduced as an infant teacher, but most have been used in KS1 and 2. Maybe you can add some of your own as comments below?

What I learned from Jenni before now is to use music videos to inspire writing and the thing that I really take from Jenni's post is the hairy troll bug -I'll hand you over!


 More ideas for developing a writing culture... Writing for real audiences cannot be emphasised enough. From parallel classes, younger and older children, to other schools in a cluster. We send copies of stories and books we have made to whoever has inspired them,from Allan Ahlberg- who, by the way, writes amazing personalised letters back- to music video directors; and we also made a child friendly guide book following a visit to Blickling Hall- we haven't heard back from all of them yet, but we know we have sent them and that real and diverse audiences are reading our writing. After listening to the incredible Mick Waters at the NCBC 'Reading for Pleasure' conference back in November, I have introduced an intermittent ' amazing news story' spot - still thinking of a catchier title! Like this one: (see above!)

  Hairy Troll Bug!

 Mick Waters argued that we need to keep the children reading 'controversial, fascinating texts which challenge you and make you think about things in a different way'. Reading an interesting or irresistible news story such as the one above naturally makes you look at a much wider range of texts. He called it 'Hot tub learning'- it's warm, inviting, fun and you don't want to get out....he went on to stress the importance of exploring and discussing controversial issues and encouraging the children to challenge each other's thinking 

As well as the pupils sorting their books themselves, how about getting them involved in choosing the books you purchase as a school. Persuasive writing anyone?

 I have also been banging on about this one for a L O N G time, but choral reading aloud needs to be brought back! Not just Pie Corbett style story telling as important and imperative as it is. No. Reading a text as a group or even a class. Why? We encourage good readers to be silent readers...however, they soon lose the ability to read aloud with appropriate expression, paying little or no attention to the punctuation. By reading a piece of narrative aloud, it makes you more aware, as a reader and a writer, of how to tell a story to that 'audience' we keep banging on about. Reading the Christmas Story as a class was actually quite magical just before the holidays. I have Y2/3 and they are not all by any means fluent, but, as part of a crowd, you pick up the good habits of others and can hear what those trickier words are....this improves confidence, broadens vocabulary and increases awareness of what a text should look and feel like on the page.

 Reading their own writing to each other is so quick and simple and peer marking and feedback Is often much more powerful than any adult opinion!

 I have an ' I wonder...' box in the classroom where the children can post random questions about anything, anonymously or named. We have recently had 'What are clouds made of?' which then prompted much reading and note taking about clouds, fog and mist, as well as 'I wonder why so many words are spelt wrong?' Good one, not quite answered that yet.... We also have notebooks and every week I try and stick a question or prompt in there for them to interact with me more informally. Sometimes it's to do with the topic, sometimes random. In their notebooks, the left hand page belongs to me- where I can write or stick a question, and the right hand page belongs to them- they can answer my question on either page, but I don't interfere with 'their' pages! They seem to love the idea we are sharing a book!

 And last, but not to the children about their writing like you actually enjoy it, and have actually read it for its own sake rather than just pointing out next steps all the time. I think I sometimes underestimate the effort they have out into their writing for me to then moan about marking it (not to their faces!). And I definitely think that we, as teachers, forget just how powerful and influential our opinion of their work is to them.

Jenni Porter

My similarities / close alternatives
  • Peer assessment. Another teacher will be doing the 5 sentence challenge for me this half term and so I thought it would be a great opportunity for peer assessment. We will start with this simple one 
  • We have a 'Why box' where the children can post questions. I've learned lots from these!
  • We have a heart shaped box and post-it notes so the children can write what they have loved/enjoyed learning
  • Choral reading (or as I call it 'story telling') not only to inspire writing, but for the joy of retelling a story. The one below was performed for our HT's parents when they bought our class bear back from Australia. They are year 2/1s. When I have used this before as a model for writing, the writing has been phenomenal.

I have tried author audience (Michael Rosen commented on our poems on twitter ones), but haven't been that successful. Perseverance is key!