Times Tables Rock
Saturday, June 04th, 2016 | Author:

As many teachers will know, it is now a Year 4 expectation that children will know all of their times tables. This is obviously useful throughout the maths curriculum but I am not going to debate whether children should or shouldn’t learn them all. This post is to share a fantastic resource that Jo Payne (www.mrspteach.com) pointed me towards earlier this year.

Times Table Rockstars (www.ttrockstars.com) is an online tool that tests children on times tables. That’s it. It isn’t fancy and it doesn’t wrap them up in racing/football/skiing games or whatever like some tools might do, it just shows a multiplication/division question and the children answer it. Quickly.

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Let’s start from the beginning. You get a four-week free trial (good) and you can upload your whole school using a csv file (great). I created accounts for my whole school in minutes. Every ICT leader must surely have a csv file with all pupils on as this is the default way of creating logins for so many tools these days. If not, get one from your MIS system (ask the lovely people in the office). You can then put children into classes or bands and you’re away. We decided not to set them up in classes but to call our classes 2x, 3x, 2/5/10x etc after the different times table groupings. The children still have weekly tests in class and if they pass, they move to a different band. You can assign times tables to a particular band too. So the 2/5/10x band are only given 2/5/10x table questions. Makes sense, right?

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Once logged in, the children are given a rock star and can choose from some bizarre rock star names. If they don’t like them, they pick again and again and again… They can also choose hair, eyes and other avatar essentials. Then the fun starts…

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They can either go into one of the training modes or they can go into the rock festivals. These arenas (named after different venues such as Glastonbury or Wembley) are where the children can battle against each other. Often, I will have a whole class of children trying to get into the same arena so they can all play against each other. As they answer questions correctly, they earn coins. These coins can be used to adapt their avatar and also show in the leaderboards (turn these off if you want to). Each game only lasts 60 seconds.

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There is also a new feature where children can challenge a friend. So one will play a game and send the time to their friend, when they log in, they will see the challenge and be able to see a “ghost” of their friend’s achievements and try and beat it. Friendly competition is a good thing.

So, how have we used it? I would say we have 2/3 times a week where the children will have 10 minutes on Rockstars. We use chromebooks which load in seconds so we can be up and running, playing a game in under a minute. The children will then play at least 5 rounds, answering 50+ questions in minutes.

For each child, it shows a times table grid. As they get the answers right, the squares go green so I know which children need targeting in which areas. I still teach times tables and I still practise in the normal ways, but this gives the children an additional resource to use too. They even choose to go on this when given free time.

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The children in my class have made massive progress in their times table knowledge and this is the culmination of lots of different approaches but TTRockstars has definitely helped. It also has a range of paper-based times table tests too.

How much does it cost? £50 per year for the whole school. An absolute bargain.

Is this still on?
Wednesday, June 01st, 2016 | Author:

This is a bit weird isn’t it? In the past 18 months (since December 2014 in fact) I have posted just twice. Once about Teachmeet Takeover at BETT2015 and once in Feb ’15 about the Teachmeet at the Education Show. In fact, both of those events were huge disasters! One was cancelled and one only had a handful of people attend (an incredible selection of presenters, but no-one to present to) So it’s safe to say, I’ve been a bit quiet. In that time I haven’t tweeted much either. So is there a reason? I don’t know. I could blame a few different things:

  • My wife gave birth in June 2015 so we were quite busy in the months leading up to that and ever since…
  • My son, Oliver, is 11 months old now and I think I’d rather be spending time with him whenever I can. He’s asleep now, so it’s ok, I have time to write this.
  • People I work with are on Twitter so I know they read this now and again. It felt weird talking about things that other people knew about!
  • I lost my mojo, my drive, my passion, my oomph.

I’d like to say that Oliver has caused the lack of sharing and online activity but that would be too easy. In honesty, it’s probably because the second half of last year was all about the SATs. I was a Year 6 teacher, in a school that “Requires Improvement” so the results were even more crucial. We took a different approach and for around 57 children we split them into 3 classes but 4 sets. Two teachers taught Maths and two taught English. We then had 90 mins with each group, each day, to raise standards as much as possible. I had Maths groups 2/4 and many of the children in Group 4 were hard work. Keen but had many, many gaps to fill. Teaching 90 minutes of Maths, twice a day, took it out of me. There were only 11 or 13 children in a group but keeping it innovative and fresh was difficult. Then with so much input in the mornings, we had interventions and catchups and all-sorts in the afternoon too. We did well though and I was proud of our results. But this blog was mostly about ICT and the tech we were using and we almost stopped using it. OK, we had some things to help with revision or practise such as Sumdog or Education City, but I found it hard to use ICT in an exciting way so I guess I forgot to blog about it.

Anyway, Year 6 were out of the way and I was moved to Year 4. We have done a few things this year but there has been a massive push to work out what to do with assessing without levels and raising standards. This year has included a whole host of support, observations,book looks (!), learning walks and all of the other things a school with an imminent Ofsted inspection would do! I’ve worked with the Hampshire Maths team to raise standards in our year group (and this has gone very well so far), I had a chance to work with our Leading Practitioner on a bit of coaching to help me improve in the classroom and I have worked with the other Year Leaders and the local inspector to decide the direction of our role and to help improve our year groups.

Throughout all of this, and maybe Oliver can be blamed a bit, I got to a point where I wondered if I wanted to do this job any more. I used to work in an Outstanding school where life was simpler. The children didn’t have complex behavioural needs, I never had anyone swear at me and generally everyone had supportive parents. I had an observation once or twice a year and we never had book scrutinies or massive pressure to worry about. I left that school because I wanted a challenge but there were times earlier this year where I thought about leaving completely and doing something else. I have no idea what I would do though. It had all mounted up. I had a bad observation, the workload was killing me and I was seeing my son for 15minutes a day if I was lucky. How can it be improved? I’m not sure I have done anything specific to improve the situation, but I am lucky that I work with some amazing colleagues and actually, lots of them are in similar boats. Talking to each other has helped a bit. There are still low points, but (and yes it’s cheesy) but the children do make it worthwhile. Even the one that says she hates me or the one that doesn’t listen or the one that seems to fall out with everyone, every day and is driving me mad. I know they are making progress in many different ways and it feels good.

We are in a tough situation, we are the second most deprived school in Hampshire so we have a lot of catching up to do from the moment they walk in the door but we have a fantastic team and Ofsted recognised that last month and said we were Good. Which makes everyone feel much better! I know we have to work hard to stay there and I know that Outstanding will be the next step, but I am starting to feel that the things we have done have actually paid off.

As for the ICT? Our ICT project is nearly complete. At the end of this week, all PCs throughout the school will have been replaced. The teacher ones have been done, just the offices to go. Then I can crack on with planning again. I realise that I have never really finished my ICT curriculum and I haven’t changed it (publicly) in well over a year but we have a great level of kit in school now and I have teachers eager to use it with their children. So I need to put together a curriculum that works for us and this will be in place for September. That will only be two years late, but hey…I made the deadline, I can change it….right?

I know which year group I am in from September and this will be another level of challenge, but I feel ready. I won’t have a newborn keeping me awake or taking up every second of my spare time so I want to get on with enjoying the challenge of leading a year group and making it interesting and exciting for the children and the staff too.

So, does this mean I will blog more? Hopefully. I think that the focus of the blog needs to change a bit. There will still be the ICT elements, I know people look for the Google Apps stuff or the Chromebook guides for example, but I want to include more about what we do on a day-to-day basis. This might involve technology, it might just be good stuff that we should share. I already know that my next one will be about an approach to Maths that we have taken recently. I feel a bit out of the loop.  I haven’t been to a Teachmeet in ages (except the one at BETT ’16) and only recently was I invited to a conference. This is the first time in months. It’s nice to know people still remember me now and again.

Anyway, if there is still anyone out there that sees this, thanks for reading. I know I waffled, but I have also written a blog post for the first time in forever. So I feel better about it.

Category: General Thoughts  | 4 Comments
Teachmeet at the Education Show #tmedshow15
Tuesday, February 03rd, 2015 | Author:

Are you planning to go to the Education Show in March? It is held at the NEC in Birmingham and on the Saturday, I have been given the Leader Summit Theatre to host a Teachmeet. For those that don’t already know, a Teachmeet is an event where etachers come together and share ideas. The presentations are short and range from 2-7minutes in length on a range of practical, classroom ideas.

This Teachmeet will start at around 1:30pm and last until 4pm. There will be plenty of time for networking, sharing ideas and meeting teachers too.

Also, as I have the Leader Summit Theatre for the day, I am currently trying to arrange some exciting presentations for the morning…so watch this space.

Sign-up to attend the Teachmeet by following this link.

I would love to see lots of you there. If you are not going, please share this with someone that might live nearby!

 

#tmTakeover2015
Sunday, December 07th, 2014 | Author:

It’s that time of year again, BETT is only a few weeks away so it’s time to start getting organised. Once again Teachmeet Takeover is there as an avenue for teachers to hijack stands and share ideas. Each year we have some very generous companies and exhibitors who give up part of their stand to teachers who then give presentations about what is happening in their classroom. This can be on anything, the main point being that it is an idea that can be taken away and adapted for other schools and settings.

I have created the Wiki for this year’s Takeover and that can be found here: http://bit.ly/tmtakeover2015

Firstly, we need some exhibitors to volunteer part of their timetable. So if you know anyone, please show them this wiki and get them to add their details. Once we have some confirmed times, then teachers can start adding presentations.

Please use the #tmtakeover2015 hashtag too.

If you have any questions, please do get in touch.

PS: I can’t answer any questions about the “proper” Teachmeet in the evening. Please wait for information.

Sharing Links
Tuesday, December 02nd, 2014 | Author:

I am a little bit obsessed with finding tools that make it easy to collate and share links to websites. I had a look back through and realised I had blogged three times about this before. The latest, in 2010, being here. I think that it is very important for children to be able to load the internet, be presented with a range of stuff and then access it quickly. This helps to get to the learning quicker and will help reduce potential errors when typing long addresses. There is a time and a place for using Google to find things, but that is not every time you want them to load Education City.

I usually use 3x3links (www.3x3links.com/riders being our current page) to share links and this works well as the children access a website and on there are a list of tools that I want them to get to. I can adapt it in seconds meaning that if they find a useful resource, I can share with others too. This has worked for me for four years and will continue to have a place, but I needed something more. We have a range of online tools and some of them require usernames and passwords. Some also have school codes. One such example is Sumdog. If you go to Sumdog.com, you can’t login with a school account but if you go to a special URL – http://www.sumdog.com/sch/riders-junior-school – then it knows you are from my school and you simply login. Some tools, such as  BrainPOP, have provided us with a URL that includes our username and password so by clicking it, you visit the site but log in along the way meaning that there are no usernames to remember.

If I was to include these on our school website, they would be publicly available meaning anyone could get to our paid content for free. We’d be breaking all kinds of licenses too. So I needed a tool that was behind a login screen, but ideally linked to our Google accounts. The majority of children are accessing the internet via a Chromebook so they are logging in to get online and to have a different login would be a bit of a pain.

Around a year ago I became aware of a company called Airhead. They were offering a solution that gave children access to a page or launchpad with a variety of links. I could either use the pre-made links or I could create my own from the huge library.

airhead1

Adding a tile can sometimes give the option to store the username or password too. I have to admit, this can be a bit hit and miss as to whether it works, but it is improving. I’d like to see the option to add school codes as these are what we use for tools such as Sumdog and Purple Mash.

Capture

It takes seconds to make a new page and add it the list that I already have.

pads

 

I could have a pad for different subjects e.g. Art and photo tools. These can then just grow and grow over time.

art

Once I have made a page or pad, I simply share this with different users. This has already been setup through our Google Groups so this makes sharing easy.

share

The children simply click the link to visit Airhead.io and it knows their Google login and signs them into the launchpad that they need. There is also a new feature that removes the need to login at all. This is perfect for our infants, they will simply click the login on the desktop and be presented with a range of links. I have also used this option on our tablets. This is on the home screen of every tablet giving pupils a quick way to load the various tools they need to use.

The tech support has been fantastic so far with questions answered often within minutes. One teacher did point out that I could make a Google Site and only share this with certain users and this would work in much the same way, I just like the simplicity of Airhead so far.

So what do you use for accessing resources online? How do you manage the multiple usernames and passwords that are available?

Skitch
Monday, November 24th, 2014 | Author:

 

Another app that we have been playing with is Skitch.  This lets you annotate a picture, webpage, map or document but we have mainly used it for photos so far.

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To begin, you open the app and then either take a photo or browse for an existing one. On the side of the screen there is an icon, clicking this will show a range of tools that you can use.

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These include a pen tool, a rectangle tool, one for drawing arrows and another for typing. On the left-hand side, there is a coloured circle, tapping this gives the chance to change the colour of your text or pen.

Screenshot_2014-11-15-15-59-32  Screenshot_2014-11-15-15-59-19  masons tricky triangles

We have used this in a variety of ways so far. In my class it has mainly been used for Maths. When we have children who have been working practically, we have been able to take a photograph of their work and then annotate it to show what they were doing. The examples above show children finding fractions and drawing groups or labelling the different triangles that they have identified. We don’t required evidence of every practical task that the children have taken part in, but having a way of annotating photos when we need to is very useful indeed.

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Once finished, the picture can be shared using the normal Android sharing tools giving us the power to blog it via WordPress or add to Google Drive to share it with others or to print it out and stick in a book or use for a display.

How else could you use this tool in your classroom?

 

Category: Android Apps, blogposts  | Tags: ,  | 4 Comments
Hi-Q Audio Recorder
Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Author:

We wanted the ability to record audio on our tablets. There was an audio recorder built-in but once recorded, the file was saved within the file structure and was a little tricky to get back. So with a bit of Googling, I found Hi-Q audio recorder. I did try a few others, but this seemed the best one. We have decided on the free version as we have no need for more than 10 minutes of recording.

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You simply press record and then stop.

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Once done, you press the menu icon (below).

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This then shows you all of the recordings and gives you the option to play them back, delete them or of course share them. I blogged before about Google Drive, so we could store our recordings online for others to get to if we wanted or we could email them to our radio station team and they could put them online too. It all works very quickly and easily!

Screenshot_2014-11-15-16-00-19    Screenshot_2014-11-15-16-00-23

By far my favourite use of this so far has been by a teacher with a child that found writing difficult. She gave him the audio recorder, he spoke his sentence and then played it back, over and over before writing it down. I love this idea and it has now spread to other classes and they have started to orally rehearse their work before writing. They did this anyway, but hearing how it sounds when spoken will hopefully help to improve the quality of their work.

This could be used as an alternative to the Easi-Speak microphones that many schools have used in the past.

Update 2/1/15 – The free version of this app seems to have disappeared. The paid-for version is here

Google Drive for Sharing Photos
Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Author:

Google Drive has been around since the middle of 2012 and although at first I was sceptical, it really has come into its own this week with the tablets.

Every one of our tablets has Google Drive installed and is set to go to the tablets@ourschoolname.co.uk account that “owns” the tablet. We logged onto a PC and went to Google Drive and created folders for Infant and Junior as well as a few other things we needed. Inside each of those, we created a folder per class. This was the start and teachers (very) quickly added sub-folders for whatever they wanted.

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So, you simply take a photo. Press the share button share and then if the tool you want isn’t there, press see all. You can then upload to a whole host of different services. We of course want Drive.

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You are given the option to add a title. You can then press the folder name and be presented with a list of folders:

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Browse to the folder you want to upload to and press Select Folder. That’s it, your image is magically winging its way to Google Drive.

As mentioned before, all of our tablets are assigned to one user – tablets@ourschooldomain.com for example and there are potentially 100+ tablets taking photos at any given point. One thing we were concerned with was how we actually did anything with the pictures afterwards. I mean you can blog, tweet or whatever directly from the tablet, but sometimes y’know, you want to just…print them. Printing can be seen as a dirty word by some people who want a paperless world, but for us, we want stuff in their books, on the wall or for them to annotate. So we have fiddled with Google Drive a bit and now have an awesome solution.

We installed the Google Drive desktop app from here. To begin with, I installed this on two class computers. You install the program and it then asks you for your login (tablets@ of course) and then sets about downloading everything from your online Google Drive to your computer. This worked ok, but every morning I had to re-sign in before it would sync the photos to my computer. This was a pain.It was also set to download the images, currently at 4gb, to My Documents meaning that my profile was getting quite big.

So we installed it onto our server instead. We set it to put Google Drive onto a folder that all teachers and pupils can access and now, it works brilliantly. We timed it yesterday and two minutes  after a photo was taken, it had uploaded to Google Drive and downloaded onto our server for us to print out. In just two days this has been a game changer. It means that anyone in school can access and print the files, create Animoto videos with them, easily show them on their whiteboard and lots of other things in seconds.

The speed is key. It’s great having photos that you can take, share and print in minutes as it cuts down on any wasted time. In one lesson this week, we were investigating different types of triangles. Some children used the sheet and colour-coded them, others just wrote on the sheet but some boys decided to cut them out and write on tables. We then took a photo, uploaded and printed it and it was stuck in their books with notes before the end of the lesson. My LSA works with a child and they often use models, cubes or whiteboards and having a quick way to take photos and stick them into his book is really helping to share the learning he has been making.

masons tricky triangles

Oh and another Google Drive bonus? Unlimited storage. Yep. As much as we want. Wow.

 

PS: Before someone says, please check photo permissions for your children before uploading them online.

PPS: Oh and yes I know Google are evil and will harvest your images/soul/first-born, but their terms for file uploading are here. Please ensure that you read any terms and conditions and that you check with the powers-that-be before uploading your content online. There, that should do it.

Category: Android Apps, blogposts  | Tags:  | 2 Comments