G-Suite – Internal Email
Sunday, February 18th, 2018 | Author:

Following on from a discussion in an online forum about email, I have made a guide for GSuite / Google Apps users so that they can configure their email settings. These settings allow teachers to restrict who their students can email. I find that for primaries, the best option is to only allow students to email addresses with the same domain. Our school domain is @ridersapps.co.uk so anyone with that in their email can send and receive emails from anyone else. If someone with a hotmail or gmail account tries to email my pupils, they get an error.

There are some caveats to that…

  1. If you have a penpal/partner school. You could allow users of that domain to email your children by just adding their domain into the email rules.
  2. If you have online services that send “forgotten my password” reminders. You could also allow some of these if you knew that they would be suitable. Of course, it would probably be best if teachers could manage all children’s accounts, but some services do not allow this.

Anyway, I hope the guide is useful for G-Suite users. Any problems, let me know.

View the guide on Google Drive or as a PDF document

Category: Google Apps  | Leave a Comment
Reading Rocketeers
Sunday, February 11th, 2018 | Author:

Recently I attended the BETT show and part of the reason to visit is to see the latest technology available in the classroom but this post is about something else entirely. While there, I attended a presentation by Lee Parkinson and John Murray sharing their ReadWritePerform English resources. During the presentation, John shared a few of his resources and one was the Reading Rocketeers book. 

The purpose of the book is to support children in their reading. It is aimed at children that are able to read but find inference and comprehension difficult. John suggested around Year 2/3 and as a Year 3 teacher, this sounded ideal. I flicked through, took the plunge and ordered a copy. There are 25 texts within the book and they range from about 50 words to 150 words for each piece of text. Each text has some questions to orientate the children and get them thinking about it, followed by the text and then some questions about the gist of the text. Following this there are literal questions which require the children to retrieve information from the text and then the main questions, the inference. The children are also required to draw a picture to show their understanding of the text and example pictures are included too. 

My original thought was that a small group of children will use the texts in the book as an intervention and we would go from there. While discussing this with a colleague, we decided to try 1 or 2 as a whole class read and then pick our children for the interventions.

So far, we have had 1 whole class reading session, based on the easiest text in the book. 

The text is called “The Window” and talks about Lucy standing on her toy box looking out of the window at her mum hanging washing on the line. I read the text, then the children drew a picture of what they thought was happening. I then shared the picture from the book and we discussed differences. 

The children then had a set of seven questions to answer and my only guidance was that all answers should contain “because”. There were questions that asked “What was the weather like?” or “How old do you think Lucy is?” After 10-15minutes, we shared answers and discussed reasons. When asked about the weather, some said sunny or windy because Mum was hanging the washing out and only one mentioned that the word “fluttered” showed that it was windy. 

When asked about the age of the girl, one child said “She is standing on a toy box, so I think she is about 5. 5 year olds have toys and she would be quite short too so couldn’t see out of the window”.

When I do it next time, I will draw pictures after. Some children said that the girl looked short in the picture or that her brother was taller so I think that the picture swayed their thinking. 

Although it is very early days, I am extremely impressed with the resources. I think that they will have a huge impact on the reading in my classroom. I intend to try another whole class text (one a bit further into the book) and take it from there. I will also use the results from the first session to teach how to answer the questions to explain their thinking too. I’ve shared the book in school with the English leader and the Head of School and both were very impressed so I’m hoping it has a huge impact in class. 

To find out more about Reading Rocketeers, visit: https://www.johnmurraycpd.co.uk/product-page/reading-rocketeers

There is also a sample text on there too. So have a go and let me know what you think. 

John is @readingexplorer on Twitter if you have any questions. 


Category: Curriculum  | Tags:  | Leave a Comment
Hooking them in
Saturday, January 13th, 2018 | Author:

This week in Year 3, we started reading a new book based on our topic of Egypt. It wasn’t a long book, about 15 pages in fact but I still wanted the children to be hooked in and to get enthused about what they were going to read (and be writing about).  They didn’t know that we were going to be learning about Egypt until a few days later.

So I started by visiting Tagxedo and typing the whole story into their create box. This took a little while, but like I said, it wasn’t a long book so it was fine. I then removed all appearances of the main characters’ names. I didn’t want them to know these just yet and thought we could introduce them later.

I then shared the word cloud on my board and gave them time to have a little chat about what they noticed. Obvious words such as “king” and “bear” jump out but with a few minutes of looking, they spotted “pyramid”, “iceberg” and “playmate”. I asked them for their first thoughts and then we jotted down 5 words that we noticed. Not necessarily the biggest ones, but 5 that might give us clues about the content of the book. (feel free to play along, the actual book title is further down the post)

Next, I gave them the chance to explore any unusual or unknown words and to make a list of them. They jotted them down and then we recapped how to use a dictionary (or find them on Google) and they went about writing definitions of the words that they didn’t know. We then had a bit of fun by spending 5 minutes telling each other the story, just based on those words. They found this HARD, but of course they did. They are 7 and were given a bunch of words and nothing else.

The final step was the toughest one. I told them that every single one of them would probably get it wrong and that this was totally ok. We predicted the name of the book. We had “The Royal Bear King” and other similar mixtures of the big words such as “King Bear and the Royal Pyramid”. But others used the clues a bit more. One girl said that as it said Arctic and Egypt, there was obviously some travelling involved so she chose “The King who went on his travels”. It was a good insight into their thinking and they were nearly all wrong. Yep, one got the title spot on.

The book was the Egyptian Polar Bear. We have now started writing about the places that the polar bear visits on his travels from the Arctic to Egypt and using our descriptive techniques to describe his amazing journey.

If I was doing this reading lesson again, I would make hieroglyphics a bit larger by typing it a couple more times as it was so small, most children didn’t see it or even try and look it up.

Category: Curriculum  | Tags:  | Leave a Comment
Addition in different ways
Tuesday, January 09th, 2018 | Author:

This week in Year 3, we have been looking at addition but in various different ways. We have used place value counters before and number line, but this was our first foray into the expanded column method. It was also the first time that they had used the bar model outside of their work on fractions and I was keen to make sure that the children could link all of the different strategies/models together.

I started by showing a question using 3digit addition that didn’t cross any boundaries so that the children could complete the different stages quite easily. Some could do it in their head, but it was nice to also see them set it out in different ways.

We worked with PV counters on tables initially rather than recording anything and they could nearly all (21/24 children) do this.

The next step was to model this using expanded columns and it looked like this:

We talked about how the numbers on the column method were worth the same as the counters on the first step. We also talked about how to set it out, how important it was (especially later) to add from the right column first and so on.

The next stage was talking about the bar model. I wanted them to be clear that if it was a question such as 245 + 121 that these were different sizes and that the chunks/parts (?) of the bar should reflect the differences. They found this tricky at first but are getting there.

The final stage was to tell me “What I know now” so this would show the answer 245 + 121 = 366 but also 121 + 245 = 366 to demonstrate the commutativity of addition. We will move on to reflecting the inverse but will save that for later in the half term as this was quite a lot for one session!

Then, we pieced it all together. Their sheet began as A3 so that they could use real counters and then many grasped this quickly so drew counters onto their sheet instead. They were then able to use A4 or A5 versions of the grid to demonstrate their understanding. The children love using the tablet to check their answers and were able to find errors and correct them too.

So far, we have spent 2 sessions on this (although today’s was much shorter due to PE) and I was also able to introduce crossing over the 10s/100s boundary with some of them. Tomorrow, this will be the whole class’ target…

It has worked well so far and has really helped them to show their understanding and to demonstrate the same question in a variety of ways.

Category: Maths  | Leave a Comment
516 is a lot
Saturday, January 06th, 2018 | Author:

It has been 516 days since my last post (Google is wonderful isn’t it?). In fact, since December 2014 I have blogged just 5 times. That seems ridiculous considering how much I used to blog and tweet. What happened? School. Life. A baby (now a toddler). So much has happened and so much is still the same. But one of my New Year’s resolutions is to get back on and get back sharing. I’ve been tweeting a bit more. I had a cull. I was following 4000+ people and it was too much.  I stopped using it, it was all just noise. So over Christmas, I sat (with a touchscreen laptop) and scrolled through clicking unfollow. I tried on the app, but it wanted me to confirm every time but the laptop meant I could tap away.

I am sure that I have stopped following some amazing people, in fact, I know I have. But I tried to keep people that I knew, that I have met, that I hear about regularly. I went from 4000+ down to around 400. Already in the past week, I have followed another 20 or so people that I have found so the number will rise. It is now more useful and I think I will use it more again.

As for the blogging, I have a few posts planned but nothing groundbreaking. I will just be sharing the stuff that I do in my classroom and in my school.

So if anyone out there is still reading this, I’ll have more stuff to share soon.


Category: General Thoughts  | One Comment
Creating Logins
Monday, August 08th, 2016 | Author:

It’s that time of year again. It’s time to get the CSVs from the office staff and to create usernames for various different online tools that we use. This is the 2016 update of this post that is now five years old. Having just re-read the post, it is shocking to see how little has changed since I last wrote about it. Maybe it’s because no-one cares about this whole process like I do…

So, what are my requirements? Yes I am picky, but I am a paying customer too. I’ve also been ICT Leader in various roles and schools for 11 years so I know what I want! I would like:

  • To specify my own usernames – I have a number of sites that are used, I want the usernames to be the same
  • To have usernames that are school-specific and not site-specific – I’d much rather Johnny Smith could be jsmith rather than jsmith184 or whatever because the sie has 20,000 users
  • To specify my own password – Yep, security is important, but let’s start with a generic password and then teach them how to change it in September rather than giving them all random passwords which will be a pain to manage. I am also making this easy for staff.
  • To put all of my children in year groups rather than classes if I choose to – The year group changes once a year so in August, I can change the Year 4 to Year 5 and they are ready to roll. Moving them all to different classes each Summer would be a pain. I’ve tried it before and it takes ages. I do want to use classes for some things e.g. Google Apps but I can add that later.

We use a variety of online tools in school and these are the ones that require usernames/passwords for the children to access. I though I could write a bit about each one as it is such a different prospect for each tool. This isn’t just about creating new users, this is also about updating them too. For example, moving up a year group, adding that new Year 5 child or removing someone that left Year 4. It needs to be a simple process.

In our school we use:

All require similar things. They all need pupil names and they usually require a username and password. Some will ask for an email address and some would like a class/year group too. This is all done via CSV and I have prepped the CSVs ready. I have a CSV for each year group with all pupils in. Our username structure is defined as first initial and then four letters of surname e.g. iaddi. Some children have a 1 on the end if there are duplicates but it works well. We have 250+  pupils and only a handful of duplicates. Oddly, these are often siblings with forenames starting with the same letter.

Google Apps:

Create the CSV, make an organisation called Year 3 and then upload. Once created, I have groups for the pupils so that I can email them if needed. So year3@ will go to all year 3 pupils and so on. Unfortunately, you can only add 25 users to these groups at a time so this slowed me down a bit. But still, all Year 3 users uploaded and whole school done in around 10 minutes. Annoyingly, when you try and add users to a group, if they are already there it says “operation failed” but doesn’t say why. I know why, it’s because they are already a member! Grrr. Also, if you had Jake Smith (jsmit) and you’re adding John Smith (jsmit) it just moves them rather than saying that the user exists already. I found a few duplicates in our old years 6 that we hadn’t deleted yet. My suggestion? If there is a duplicate username, tell me!


The show-off of the bunch. After uploading the users to Google, I logged into J2E, pressed the Google Apps button and it takes all of my Google users and puts them in J2E. Their support is also top-notch, they have a fab little team who reply to tweets and listen to schools.


Purple Mash:

This is the gold standard. I created a CSV of my whole school. I uploaded it and every user was colour-coded. Green users were new, blue were being updated (moving year groups for example) and errors were in red. Less than 2 mins and done. Wow. Best of the bunch as it gave me a clear indication of any errors or warnings.

Times Table Rockstars:

Easy. Uploaded/dragged the spreadsheet and it uploaded the new users. @ttrockstars also replied to my tweets about the process and offered ideas. Fab company with great support. *Update* TTRockstars also have the colour-coded feature to make you aware of any errors in the upload process.

Education City:

With the exception of Google, I think this is the biggest company on the list. They are present in so many schools yet adding usernames is a huge faff. I even had to phone tech support. Firstly, all users are site-specific, so Jsmith would be Jsmith174 because of how many users there are. Not ideal at all. I have started prefixing usernames with the school initials so that we can at least have something easy to remember. If it finds a duplicate username, it chucks a number on the end, so they all have random numbers on (it does start with 1 and work up, but they are not all the same). I phoned to ask for help as it seemed quite complicated and the suggestion? Delete all users (and their scores/data) and start again. Every September. Ouch. Alternative could be to not bother with usernames, don’t save scores and just use it as a game rather than a tailored tool, but that seems silly. I can export all of the data before deleting, but again, not practical.


The biggest problem with Sumdog is that you can’t delete users. I mean you can, but they stay on the system for six months so you end up having duplicates you didn’t plan for! Also, despite having class sizes (year groups) of over 50 on there already, there now seems to be a limit of 50 per class. This is frustrating as it means putting all pupils into classes each year.

After various tweets, Tony Parkin suggested giving my thoughts on what makes this whole process successful. I would say…copy 2Simple or make a link to other stuff schools are using, whether this is Google Apps or Microsoft or whatever, make the link so we just have to press a button and it all copies over. Also, if there is an error message, make it obvious. Don’t put “there was an error at this time” as we don’t know what that means!

If you work for one of these companies and want to give some feedback or tell me I’m wrong, feel free to get in touch.

At least that is all done for another year…….unless we get new children in September who weren’t on these lists of course……..

PS. Yes, there are some system that link your register/MIS data but generally, these things don’t do that. Google does, but none of the others do. I want simple systems that any teacher could use.

Sharing Photos @smugmug
Saturday, July 23rd, 2016 | Author:

Two years ago I wrote about sharing photos with parents, and at the time, I was dabbling in using Cloudup. Although this is a good service and is free, users are limited to 1000 uploads (approx 200gb per account). This won’t last long in a school that is constantly uploading photos.

There are still many choices for sharing photos. We use Google Drive a lot in school and with this, comes Google Photos. This is free and unlimited and I LOVE it for personal use. For school though, what I could do is to create albums for different events and share these links on a page for parents. They could then click and view the photos for each event. We have used this for BIG events such as residential visits and then made the galleries public on the website.

We also blog photos too but for big events there could be 200+ photos and the blog isn’t really the way to share this many either.

On the Hampshire network managers mailing list (yep, I’m on that…) there was a discussion about ways to share lots of photos and one suggestion was Smugmug.  On the website, it lists the basic plan at a starting price of $3.34 a month. That’s currently about £30 a year. So what do you get?

You can upload unlimited photos and videos at ridiculous sizes so no need to resize them at all. You can create multiple galleries and have some as public and some as password-protected or do like we have done, and password the whole site. So if anyone goes to http://riders.smugmug.com then they will be asked for a password. We’ve shared this with parents so they can access each gallery, but for anyone else, they see nothing.

We have a number of options too, we can change the look of the site (this doesn’t bother me) and enable/disable download access for each photo too. We could even set a pricing structure so that parents could choose photos, add them to a mug or a mousemat and have their own gifts.

You get a free 14-day trial and I asked for this to be extended as it was the summer holidays and they have given me until Sept to make a decision on whether we sign up or not. At the moment, I can’t see any flaws with it and it will work well with our blogs (for small things, lessons etc) and with our website too. I can also give one login to all teachers and they can login with an “assistant” password which lets them upload photos but not change the admin settings.

So far I really like it and we have had good feedback from parents too. What do you use to share photos? What works in your school?

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.

Screenshot 2016-06-04 at 22.02.43

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?

Screenshot 2016-06-04 at 22.05.58

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…

Screenshot 2016-06-04 at 22.04.56

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.

Screenshot 2016-06-04 at 22.01.18

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.

Screenshot 2016-06-04 at 22.03.50

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.