Archive for the Category ◊ Curriculum ◊

Diving into Game-Based Learning
Wednesday, August 07th, 2013 | Author:

This is a post that should have been written weeks ago, but what with the end of term, leaving schools (more on that later) and joining a new one, I haven’t had chance. But I wanted to share my experience of something that others such as Dawn Hallybone, Tom Barrett and Pete Richardson have been doing for years. Games-Based Learning.

Firstly, I feel a little embarrassed blogging about it as if it something new. It isn’t. Pete’s and Dawn’s blog posts are over 3 years old and Tom’s was written in 2009! So it isn’t a new thing for many people. But it was for me, and I know that many others will see it as something they haven’t tried either.

Our topic in Year 3/4 for the Summer term was Water. Now, the curriculum was fairly subject-specific with little crossover between subjects, so alongside this Geography topic of water, we did look at liquids and solids for half a term in Science, but then moved onto Living things/food chains in the second half-term. Literacy included topics such as adverts and stories in imaginary settings. So not all subjects linked to water, and I wasn’t responsible for some subject areas (like Literacy) meaning that I couldn’t link water/oceans to everything. It meant that the Wii was really only used in the afternoons. By the time we got started with the Wii, after many weeks of other things, there were only around 3 weeks of term left.

I began by clearing a wall in the classroom for our display. The thinking was that we would use this to document our findings along the way. Nothing fancy, just scribbles, questions, post-its and ideas. The best type of display!

So, to explain Endless Ocean…as a game, it’s a bit dull. It’s not a fast-paced action, shooting, racing game at all. It is also 6 years old meaning that the graphics aren’t amazing and I was honest to the children about this at the beginning. I wanted to fend off any negative comments about the game-play or graphics and the children were great, they didn’t moan although there were a few sarcastic comments about the lack of HD or the pixellated fish. The main purpose of the game is that you are on a boat along with an ocean-wildlife expert, but she can’t swim. So as the diver, you get to explore different areas and see what you can find. Every so often, a mission gets emailed and you can follow the mission to go to a certain part of the map or you can do what 90% of my children did, ignore the missions and just go swimming. Once you are through the training (which takes 15 minutes and I did this at home) then you have the whole map to explore.

As you swim, you will encounter various different creatures and to start with, they are unknown. By stroking them (yeah I know) you find out their name. The more you interact with a particular species, the more information gets added to their fact-file. Every time we found a new creature, we wrote the name on a post-it and added it to the board. The children generally had 10-15minutes each controlling the diver and quite often there would be 10 or more children sitting around next to the diver asking questions, giving tips or drawing sketches…or avoiding work by ‘helping’ but we soon dealt with this.

The children who weren’t involved in the dive party tended to be researching information about each creature, finding facts or looking for pictures online. The nice thing is that, as it was the end of the year, they had already been “well-trained” to find information and images themselves. They were able to copy these onto Publisher for example, resize it if necessary and then add a reference to where the photo came from. I was there to help, but this was them working together, sharing learning and developing team skills along the way.

Every now and again though, the class stopped. The first time was when we saw a humpback whale swim past. The diver screamed with excitement and the class all came to watch, even people from outside the classroom just popped in for a second! It was great to see them organising the next steps. One grabbed a camera, another the Playbook (and tweeted the photo) and others grabbed books or netbooks to find out about the whale. (Here’s a video from YouTube of a whale in the game)

There are some odd points, every 3/4 dives you need to go into the cabin and select the rest option to sleep. Nothing happens except it won’t let you dive until you have slept! Also, occasionally the boat gets a visitor in the shape of a penguin, walrus or seal. No idea why, they just turn up. Which is quite cool, but a little strange.

As part of our Literacy, we looked at the story of “A Whale’s Song” and we wrote descriptions of whales and of being in this mysterious world underwater. Instead of just writing that they had seen a dolphin, a fish or a whale, they began describing guitar fish, humpback whales and all sorts-of different things that we had found on our safari.

What worked well? I think that even if they hadn’t been so ICT-savvy, I could have used this topic to teach them how to research and find information but because they are so used to using the internet now, this meant that these aspects worked like a charm. Also, when we looked at food chains, many used the information they had found on Endless Ocean to help construct their ideas. It was amazing to see their cooperation and I really think they gained a lot from working together. It was great to see the gamers helping the non-gamers with controls, showing them how to swim, turn and find fish.

What would I do differently? I’d make sure that it linked with our Literacy too. We could have written postcards from the boat, news reports of our findings, recounts of our adventures, poems describing what we’d seen and much more.

Overall, the children loved it. I know that some parents and some members of staff thought we were just playing, but once we had found 30+ species in 3 days, we managed to convince a few that this was a learning tool and something a little bit different to just using the internet or books to find out about ocean life. As one child said: ” I can’t even swim on my own, but I’ve just been on a coral reef with a sea turtle”. Awe and wonder. Maybe that’s what it is all about?



Techy point – How does the Wii connect at school? We used the red/white leads to connect the audio and the yellow lead connected to the same panel our whiteboard normally went into. Took about 30 seconds to setup!

Oh and the game? Second-hand on Amazon from £8


Share and Share Alike
Wednesday, June 05th, 2013 | Author:

I currently teach a fairly able Maths group, it’s mainly Year 4 with four Year 3 children in it too. We’ve worked very hard this year and made great progress but I wanted to explore with a few different challenges and projects as the year draws to a close. Recently we ran our own businesses and I wanted to try something new. I had a few ideas, but I took to Twitter to see what others had in mind.

One that I hadn’t thought of was mentioned by Ben Barton from Zondle and then again by @thisisliamm – buying and selling shares. Now, I have to admit that I am not an expert in this area but it seemed like something we could do without too much hard work.

The idea is that each group has £1000 to invest in a range of companies. I limited this to 6, but most stuck to 3-4 companies. We used the real-time website: for the prices and I set about explaining the concept.

The children decided how many shares to buy and then they added it to the Google Spreadsheet that I had setup. I had already created the formula the children would need (number of shares x cost per share) so that on day one, they could focus on the buying. Actual maths work would come in day 2. We were also limited by time with each lesson being around 50 minutes long.

They were also encouraged to buy in multiples of 10, except for when they were spending the last of their money and might have to buy a different amount.

On Day 2, I prepared a table on paper with various columns for them to work out the profit/loss per share. They then had to multiply this by the number of shares.

For example, Tesco went down by 12p per share, and I had 50 so 12p x 50 was a £6.00 loss. We then added up the profit/loss totals for an overall figure. so far the winning child has made a profit of £1.60 and all but two have made a loss! The biggest loss being around £14. I am wondering if using a real-time website, with live prices is the best idea. I have an inkling that prices fluctuate a lot during the day and settle at the close, so for Day 3, I am printing the prices instead. This will also mean that I don’t need to get netbooks out, we can go straight into our maths books. Also, rather than working out the profit/loss per share, the children were relying on the +/- figure on the website which led to LOTS of confusion!

So far, it’s quite interesting in a number of ways. For example, EasyJet’s shares are 1267p which many worked out to be £1.26 rather than £12.67. So we have had to remind about dividing by 100.

I’m not sure how long we’ll do this, my guess is another two days, then check maybe once a week to see how we’re doing. It is fun to see the children out of their comfort zone though.

Oh…after the first day I am £3.96 down…

Liam’s blog post is here.

Category: blogposts, Curriculum  | Tags: ,  | 2 Comments
A bit of hacking
Saturday, May 18th, 2013 | Author:

There are many tools that people get shown either via Twitter or at a Teachmeet and then they sit on the “to-do” list for ages. I know loads of people who haven’t got around to trying differentt ools for one reason or another. Voicethread is on my list, as is Storybird. I’ve dabbled with them, but not really used them in class much.

Hackasaurus is one of those tools for many people. I have shown it at a couple of recent Teachmeets and also at a conference I was at last week, but I hadn’t used it with a whole class until this week. So I thought I would share what we did with it and how it worked.

In case you don’t know, Hackasaurus lets you take a webpage and then edit the text and images that are on there. This looks like the site has been hacked, but in fact it’s just a (very clever) copy. This works best for news sites I think.

I first used it in class to create a stimulus for discussion. I took a Sky News page, hacked it a bit to add a photo of a hotel and then wrote 5/6 paragraphs about the new hotel that was being built in the Indian village we were looking at. The text gave different opinions from different sides such as the hotel company, local businesses and unemployed villagers.  I could have just said to the children “today we’re discussing a hotel development” but by having it as a news page that I have “found”, it made it more real.

So, on to the whole-class test. In the morning, we went down to the pond and took part in some pond-dipping. We took photos of the things we found and then later on, I wanted the children to write about what they had found.  Now, this wasn’t the main focus, it wasn’t literacy, these aren’t the best examples of writing at all, but they are examples of children exploring a new tool that later on will help them to improve their writing. Over lunchtime I uploaded the photos to a Picasa gallery meaning that the children could easily access them. I put the link to this gallery on the schools website ( and also added a link to a Newsround site too. I find that working with Newsround is much better as it has less inappropriate news stories on the sides and is more suitable for children. I also added a link to a Google Doc (that was open for anyone to edit without signing in) and added this to the school site too.

For the lesson, I demonstrated how to add the X-Ray Goggles to the bookmark bar and then we looked at how to edit text. I realised that Picasa brought another bonus, as the images were stored online, they already had an image URL meaning that the children could copy the URL of the image and paste it into Hackasaurus and change the photo in seconds.

As I said, these aren’t the best examples of writing, but for 45-60 minutes with a new tool, they worked really well. I hope you like them and can see a way of using them in your class too.

The hacked pages that my class made are available here (for best results, right-click and open in new tab/window):

Word of warning, once your children know how to use Hackasaurus, they won’t believe any webpage you ever show them again. But maybe that’s a good thing? My children now question the information they see online a lot more than they did a few weeks ago!

A how-to guide for Hackasaurus is here:

Essentials CPD
Friday, May 17th, 2013 | Author:

Earlier this year, I spent some time working with Rising Stars to create an online CPD course aimed at improving the use of ICT across the Primary curriculum. I realised that I hadn’t blogged about this yet and thought it sensible to share it. The course is titled “Embedding ICT in the Primary Curriculum” and is for all teachers, not just ICT Leaders. The course is completed online meaning that teachers can work through it in their own time and come back to it as often as they need to.

The course is split into four modules:

  • ICT and Literacy
  • Images and Animated Videos
  • Finding and Presenting Information
  • Blogging in the Curriculum

Each module contains some links to free software or websites as well as suggestions of how they can be used in the class. Alongside the activities there are often help videos showing how a tool works.

I hope that this course is useful to teachers and will give them some ideas for using ICT with their children.

The course can be found here:

Westminster Forum – an update
Thursday, February 28th, 2013 | Author:

Today I attended the Westminster Forum to discuss the new Computing Curriculum. Details of the sessions are here.

My brief was to present for 5 minutes on the new curriculum and to see if it was fit for purpose. My question is, what was the purpose? If the purpose is to get more computing into schools, then yes it will do that.

My talk started with an introduction and an explanation that I am a primary school teacher and although I need to know about computing, I also need to be able to teach dance, music, science and a load of other things too. It is hard to train teachers in one aspect of the curriculum when there are so many things to look at.

I talked about my background. I didn’t have any PCs at school and didn’t really see a PC until I was 16 at college. I didn’t program at home on Spectrums etc either. I still went and did a BTEC in ICT and my Primary Education Degree specialised in ICT too. If people want to learn ICT and learn about computers, they will find a way. Even if they haven’t been taught computing.

I then showed the new curriculum and discussed the interpretation. I think this is a big concern. If read in one way, then 3/5 statements from KS1 and 4/6 from KS2 curriculum are focussed on programming and just 1 in each looks at the other bits. So what would happen to all of the ICT we do now? We had already heard from Phil Bannister at the Department of Education saying that it is expected that ICT should be taught across the curriculum and even though this wasn’t mentioned, teachers should do it anyway. My worry is that  many schools will look at the curriculum and just interpret is as reducing the need for all of the fun creative ICT that we have been doing already.

I showed some pictures of a few projects from school using Sketchup, Pivotman, Voki, Google Maps, Audacity and many others and asked if these would be applicable in the new curriculum. There are some statements that might help…

Those statements are:

KS1 – organise, store, manipulate and retrieve data in a range of digital formats
KS2 – select, use and combine a variety of software (including internet services) on a range of digital devices to accomplish given goals, including collecting, analysing, evaluating and presenting data and information.
I asked what these statements meant. What is data? Is it spreadsheets and graphs? Or is it video, audio and photographs? I said that it would be great to have a small statement giving a little bit more explanation about the definition of data just to try and prevent schools from mis-reading it. 
To view my PowerPoint, download it here. It isn’t very exciting, but then I guess you had to be there 😉
Overall I was very pleased with how it went, there were laughs and a round of applause half-way through (thanks to Bob Harrison for starting that). Afterwards there were many great comments from people, so that was nice 🙂
Other highlights included David Brown (Head of ICT from Ofsted) saying that schools should not lock down their systems and that they should be open. How can you teach an outstanding curriculum, particularly with e-safety, if everything is locked down?? Carrie-Anne Philbin (@missphilbin) was great and really spoke from the heart about the projects she had been involved with. She also got lots of laughs and people nodding in agreement. It was also a pleasure to meet and catch-up with many different people as always.
It was an interesting event and it was good to have different people’s views shared. Will today change anything? Will it matter that the word creative is not in their? Will it matter that data could mean anything?
Who knows. It was very interesting though.
Category: blogposts, Curriculum  | Tags:  | 2 Comments
Computing Curriculum – Responses
Monday, February 25th, 2013 | Author:

A few weeks ago I asked for feedback regarding the planned changes to the KS1/2 ICT Curriculum.

Here are the responses. I have removed names from the survey.

Click here to open the results.

Remixing Videos
Monday, February 11th, 2013 | Author:

After our success last week with videos for news reports, we have looked to other ways of editing and playing with video online. Offline we were fairly limited to an old version of Windows Movie Maker, but on the web, we suddenly have loads of (free!!) tools to pick from.

Miles Berry (@mberry) suggested remixing videos using Popcorn Maker ( which is a free site to use. We had a bit of problem signing the children up but I think this was probably down to our email settings rather than the Popcorn site, so the children all logged in using my log-in. We worked in pairs and had 16 pairs using the same log-in with no difficulty.

The basic concept of the site is to find a YouTube (or Vimeo/HTML 5) video, add it to the timeline and then while it plays, add pop-ups, text, images and multimedia content.

This is an example from two Year 3 girls (note, they haven’t done a huge amount but it gives a small flavour):

We were basing this on our India topic and we were looking at the River Ganges. For this, we all used the same two videos to make it a bit easier, technically. Then, the pairs had to research facts and information about the river and add it to their video. Now, some have spelling mistakes, some are slightly inaccurate (the river is 2,500km and not 2,500m long!) but in an hour, we have produced some great work.

This was all fairly simple to do and within minutes the children were happily adding maps of Varanasi and pop-ups to their video. Once done, they simply saved it and it gives them an embed code and a URL to share them on a blog or website.

Francesca and Issy then went and added the videos to their own blogs too!

The next step is to finish the videos and publish them onto the class blog. The children have already started to suggest other ways to remix videos in other lessons. I think maths methods might be the next one…

Computing in KS1/2 – Have Your Say!
Thursday, February 07th, 2013 | Author:

This is your chance to have your say on the Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 National Curriculum for Computing (the subject formerly known as ICT)

Today saw the launch of the draft National Curriculum. ICT is gone and in its place, Computing. To read through the document, click here.

Now, my thoughts on the changes can wait a few days until another blog post, but I REALLY need your help with something. I am on a panel at the Westminster Forum reviewing the new curriculum and giving my thoughts. The full line-up is available here but includes some amazing people such as Miles Berry and the Director of Education for Microsoft and the person who co-founded CodeClub and someone who does Computing and Software Development and me.

I’m the only primary school teacher on this panel. I don’t want that to sound big-headed, I’m not sure why they chose me and not Chris Leach or Kevin McLaughlin or the 100s of other amazing people on Twitter either….but I need to present for 5 minutes on my views of the new curriculum. That’s where you come in. My plan is to share your thoughts and fears and feelings about it too. Maybe I can be your voice on the panel. Maybe you love the thought of teaching algorithms to 6 year-olds.

So if you have any thoughts, please share them below. Will it change anything? Who knows. Will it make a difference? I doubt it. But it’s a chance, right?

For the official chance to consult on the changes, visit here

Category: blogposts, Curriculum  | Tags: ,  | 3 Comments