Archive for the Category ◊ General Thoughts ◊

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
ICT in my school Part 2
Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 | Author:

Following on from my last post where I talked about our ICT journey and where we had come from, this post will discuss our approach to Chromebooks.

I have had a Chromebook at home, as well as desktop PCs, for about 3 years. I must say that it was a freebie for doing some stuff for Google, I’m not sure if I’d have bought it myself. Over the past few years it has lived under the living room coffee table and is always there should we need to do something quickly. It turns on in seconds and the internet is there.

For those that haven’t seen them, Chromebooks are devices that look like “normal” laptops, but rely very much on the internet to access anything and to work properly. Yes, you can do some things offline, but you wouldn’t. I tried to do some work on the train once and ended up opening a glorified post-it note app and then copying the text out later when I had WiFi.  If you can guarantee internet signal, then you’re onto a winner. I’m sure the offline side has got better recently, I’ve just not needed it since.

The devices run the Chrome operating system, turn on in around 10 seconds and then to log-in, you simply enter your Google login. They generally last 6-7 hours and can be charged in around an hour too.

In school, we have 60 Toshiba touchscreen laptops and I am not a fan of them. The pad for the mouse is sooooo sensitive it ends up getting turned off so that the children use the touchscreen instead. This provides issues now and again, but some teachers seem to like them. My issue was that I wanted lots of devices across the school so that we could really ramp up the opportunities for the children. I had used Chromebooks before, I’d borrowed some from C-Learning in my previous school and seen how easy they were to manage. If they ever go wrong, you wipe them and factory reset them within 10minutes. I’ve only ever had 1 device get that bad. So after all the positives, I took the plunge and ordered 60 Chromebooks and 3 trolleys to put them in.

As I said earlier, when logging in to the Chromebooks, there is the question of signing in with a Google Apps account. We now all have those through Google Apps so the pupils can be switched on and logged in within a minute. One thing to be aware of is that there is the option of paying £19 per Chromebook to purchase a Chrome management license. This adds your Chromebook to your Google Apps domain and gives you control. Think of it like a regular server managing your laptops. I can control the WiFi, proxy, power settings, default homepage and much more from one control panel rather than from each device. The console also manages updates. Ours are set to update over the course of a week so all devices don’t update at the same time and slow own the bandwidth. I wouldn’t consider buying Chromebooks for school without the £19 license!

In school, we have started to dabble with Google Apps. I mean I have used it in previous schools and I am a Google Certified Trainer, but with so many other things happening at school, this is a slow, measured approach. We started with giving everyone access to the calendar which despite being in place for almost a year, has only taken off this term. We have now given all pupils a Google email and will start using other tools soon. A few classes have been using Google Docs and children are excited by the collaboration opportunities that it provides.

So, what are the downsides so far?

  • Publisher – People always want an alternative to Publisher
  • Printing – Our Sharp printers don’t like the Chromebooks – For the few times we will print, the children can share the document with teachers who have a Windows desktop and we can print from there
  • Everything is online. Our laptops have links on the desktop so that pupils can access certain tools and websites. We have had to be more creative with how we do that. I have a solution and that’s for another blog post!
  • It takes longer to  type the login e.g. iaddison@ridersapps.co.uk than it does to type iaddison to logon to the Windows machines. But the extra 30seconds here is saved as the machine is on in 10 seconds.

We have had them in school since the start of September and so far it is all going well. They are used for simple thing so far, but that will change as we begin to show staff the possibilities.

Oh, did I mention the price? The Samsung Chromebooks we bought were £168 including the license. Bargain. (We actually just managed to buy 45 more Chromebooks that were on offer at £134 each)

If you are looking to purchase Chromebooks, I would suggest talking to C-Learning. As far as I am aware, they are the only company that will lend out Chromebooks for users to test for free (although I must also point out that I run training courses for them too from time to time)

The next step after chromebooks involved looking for tablet devices. That blog post is here.

Inspiration
Sunday, May 18th, 2014 | Author:

Following on from last month’s post about what inspired me, I thought I would share a little bit of what inspires me now.

In my study/third bedroom, it is a bit of a mess. My wife hates working in there as I have bits of paper and post-its everywhere. On one wall I have postcards and thank you notes from 2Simple, BrainPOP and other companies that I might have done a little bit for. This might just be that I presented for them at Bett or ran a training session, but they all tend to go on the wall.

On another wall, just above the computer where I am typing this now, there are about 20 cards from children and parents. I don’t display every thank you card, but there are some, (including the one that starts with an apology about how she treated me at the start of the year) that just mean something a bit special. They are also there as a reminder of some of the amazing children that I have had the pleasure to work with and to have in my class.

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This one is from three of my Digital Leaders who came with me to LWF to present. They had a great day out and as a thank you for me taking them for lunch while we were there, they bought me a voucher for the same restaurant as a leaving present!

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This card was a little different because it also came with a signed football. Signed by all of the girls that had been in my team that year. After school clubs can be a bit of a drain after a long day and I’m glad that the girls enjoyed it as much as I did.

 

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These three are from parents. All very different but they include a girl that was almost mute at the start of the year and her parents thanked me for working on her confidence. It’s always nice to know that there is a bit of thought put into these notes rather than just giving the child a card and present to hand to their teacher on the last day. These are children that developed a great deal while in my class and I am pleased that the parents agreed too.

 

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This is the best present I have ever been given. In around 2007, a band called the Hoosiers released a song called “Goodbye Mr A” and a few months later, when I left my first school, one of my children presented me with this. It’s a reworded version of the lyrics to the song and it has been on my wall ever since.

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This one isn’t a teaching thing, but this reminds me of what I have achieved. If you had told me 6 years ago, when I struggled to run one mile, that I would have completed the Great South Run 5 times and ran 5 half-marathons, I would never have believed you. I’m not exactly Mo Farah and I’m a slow runner who often slips back into “non-training mode” but seeing what I have done in the past has helped me to try for new challenges in the future.

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely don’t do any this for the praise, but the feeling that you are making a difference is well worth it.

What Inspired Me?
Friday, April 18th, 2014 | Author:

I have been asked by the SHINE charity to write a short blog post about being inspired at school. to find out more about SHINE, there is a link at the bottom of this post.

The question posed was…What inspired me at school?

I honestly can’t remember. When I was a child, I spent four years at Riders Infant School and then a year at the Junior school before asking my parents to move me elsewhere. I was an able child, it was (and is) a deprived area and I wasn’t being challenged enough. I certainly don’t think I was special at all, but I felt that I could do it all. I do remember moments when I was proved wrong, like when I completed the whole of the Maths workbook but got lots wrong because we hadn’t looked at that bit yet, but still, in Year 2 (as it is now) I was certainly doing Junior level work. Moving to the Juniors was a terrible experience. I was there just a year and hated every second. I can’t even remember why it was so bad, but in a whole year’s education, and I would have been eight years old, I can’t remember anything from my time there.

So I moved schools and went to Front Lawn Junior which, in comparison, was a wonderful place. Instead of classes of 30ish, we had a huge class of about 55. With two teachers. It was open plan, we had different teachers for different things and I met other children that were just as able as I was. I loved it. I was there for three years and they were the best three years of my school life (I hated every second of secondary school too, but that’s probably another story, right?)

It makes me think, what made the time at Front Lawn so good? I remember cross-curricular activities such as the one where we asked to design a new development for the recreation ground behind our school. I remember the science lesson where we used different washing powders and soaps to get stains out of fabric. I remember being set complicated challenges by my teachers to stretch me in every way possible. I remember having teachers that made learning fun and relevant. I think that is what inspired me. It inspires me to make my class enjoy what they are doing and to make it purposeful.

Oddly, twenty years after leaving Riders Junior school, I went back. This time as a teacher. I don’t want any child in my class to feel like I did when I was there. I don’t want them to be bored, disinterested and disillusioned. I want them to learn, and learn lots, I want to provide them with the experiences that they might not normally have. This might be visiting the Spinnaker Tower, which despite being less than 10 miles away was something many had never been to before. It might be the residential trips that I have spent hours and hours planning and fighting so that every child in my year group that wants to go, can go. I want to give them the best that I can. I want them to look back in a few years time, or in twenty years time, and remember that their time at Riders Junior wasn’t that bad really. You never know, some might even say they enjoyed themselves.

So what inspires/inspired you?

The Let Teachers SHINE competition provides an opportunity for inspirational teachers to use their ideas to improve outcomes for children. You can submit your idea today for the chance to win up to a £15k grant

 

http://campaigns.capita-sims.co.uk/sims-and-shine

Category: blogposts, General Thoughts  | Tags: ,  | One Comment
Feeling Charitable @kiva
Thursday, April 17th, 2014 | Author:

Totally different blog post to usual, but one that I hope leads to at least 1 person donating some money and making a difference.

I’m not sure how many of you donate to any charities. Some of you might donate regularly, some might do it if a friend is running a race or something similar. But about a year ago I donated in a different way. Kiva (www.kiva.org) is a website that lets you donate money to projects around the world. This isn’t just a way of giving money and never hearing about where it went. You lend it to a business or project and then they pay it back over time. This money might help a family to buy building materials so he can build a house or it might give supplies to a farmer to start off his business or it might stock up a local shop so that the owner can sell products to local people.

Here’s how it works:

When we ran an enterprise topic last year, we donated around $100 to Kiva and this money is still going strong. It’s been paid back and lent out again a number of times, but each time, it feels like the chance to make a bit of a difference.

So if you want to give it a try, visit this link and who knows, maybe you can make a difference.

*If you click that link, I will get a bonus referral fee from Kiva to donate to a project on the site. Alternatively, just visit www.kiva.org

Category: blogposts, General Thoughts  | Tags:  | One Comment
Literacy and ICT
Sunday, April 13th, 2014 | Author:

At the end of March, I presented at the Derbyshire LA ICT/Computing Conference. I was running a workshop on the use of ICT within Literacy lessons and I thought that I should share the links to the resources that I talked about. There are some that have been around for ages, but maybe there’s something you haven’t seen before.

All of the links can be found on www.3x3links.com/literacyandict

Before starting, the links are shared using 3x3links which I have been using for over 3 years and I first blogged about here. This is a free website (using just a Google login) that allows you to share links with others quickly and easily. It can also embed into websites, meaning that pupils can access links quickly too – this is an example from my school – http://ridersschools.co.uk/children/

The general theme of the session was using ICT to improve standards in Literacy and there are lots of ways to raise standards so this is far from a definitive list, but there are a few suggestions.

Inspiring stimuli + messing around with sentences and words

One thing we have been doing is giving the children something interesting to write about. This can be for the whole unit of work, but it can also be for a snippet of a lesson such as the first 10-15minutes. This is traditionally whiteboard work, but we have a writing journal that these ideas can go into as well. They can start with simple sentences and then we mess around adding verbs, adjectives, adverbs and so on. We might then use the Random name generator to select the next sentence type e.g. starting with speech or containing commas in a list. Through playing with sentences, we have been able to explore what works and what doesn’t. Although this may seem like finding the few key components to make it to Level 3 or Level 4, there is more to it than that. The children enjoy playing with sentences and developing as writers.

There are loads of places to get inspiring pictures and one of these is Twitter. I blogged last year about using various Twitter accounts that share photographs and we use these to give us something to write about. This might be thinking about using our senses to describe the picture. A great place to get images from is Google Maps. Look at this image from Hengistbury Head in Dorset. Think about how the sky looks, what is causing it? The images of Whitby Abbey can also help to inspire writing too. Obviously if you can visit there, even better. But if not, use Google Maps/Earth to explore the world from your classroom.

Writing for an audience

Once you have some great writing, what do you do with it? For years now many schools have been blogging and sharing their work with the world. We have had a fantastic few months at Riders and when we produce writing, we try and share it with a specific audience. We have written book reviews based around Mr Gum and Year 5 wrote instructions for surviving in space. We then tweeted or emailed these links to people we wanted to see them including Andy Stanton, the author of Mr Gum and Commander Chris Hadfield. They don’t always reply, but we have had comments on our blog from both of them. Year 6 also wrote letters to Newsround and received a reply too. Now we make sure that when we plan a unit of literacy, we also plan in the outcome. Obvious to many teachers, but making it explicit really helps the children. I have the purpose written on my Literacy wall so we know where we are going each time.

Videos

This isn’t something I’ve done yet this year due to a lack of equipment in school, but last year we produced scripts and then recorded these as videos. We wrote news bulletins sharing our weekly news and we wrote scripts for assemblies and shared these with the rest of the school. Using sites like WeVideo gave us the chance to produce great quality videos, for free, in a matter of minutes. This is next on my list at Riders as we want to have a big push on Speaking and Listening. A big success last year, and the most complicated site that I shared, was Popcorn Maker. The complications come when signing up. Sometimes it takes 24hours for the confirmation email to come through and a few times the email has never arrived meaning the children weren’t able to use the service. The basic principle is to find or make a video, paste the YouTube link into the tool and then add captions, speech bubbles, pop-ups and URLs to give extra information about the video. This could be describing the action, showing where in the world it is set or simply adding dialogue via speech bubbles to a video without any speech. The final video can then be exported and shared.

 

Feel free to look through the sites I shared and the examples of work from my class (and some from Simon Haughton’s children). I hope you find something useful.

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Let Teachers Shine
Wednesday, March 19th, 2014 | Author:

This is a guest post, written by Graham Cooper

Interview with Graham Cooper – SHINE

What inspired me at school?

Graham Cooper, Head of Product Strategy at Capita SIMS and former deputy head, reflects on his teaching days, when he witnessed the inspirational turnaround of a young student.

I’ve decided not to tell a story from my school days but from my teaching days. It’s a story that’s stuck with me after all my years of teaching and I’m sure many other teachers out there will have had similar experiences.

Back when I was a deputy head at a girl’s school in Manchester, a student joined the school who had been permanently excluded from another school.  She was new into school having come from a very troubled background.

As deputy head, I used to carry out the inductions for the new students – sitting them down, putting them into a class and buddying them up with somebody. I have to admit that on first impression I didn’t think she would last long at the school. Within a couple of months I was unfortunately proved right – I excluded the student for bad behaviour and rudeness to teachers. But we didn’t want to give up hope. With everything that was going on in her life we wanted to provide her with stability and support. We decided to put in some support strategies around her – she had a classroom assistant and we gave her counselling around anger management. Another student in year 8 also took the student under her wing and they became good friends.

Gradually, over the course of the year and into year 9, her behaviour began to improve. She became an integral part to the school’s peer mentoring and bullying support scheme. Her school work also improved, she started learning to play the piano and took part in the school talent show alongside another student.

By the end of Year 11 she was voted student of the year by her fellow students and left with a string of good GCSE grades – she became a model student. It was a miraculous turn around and due to the hard work of a number of staff that supported her and of her own belief that helped her make more of herself than anyone ever expected.

There’s a point about this – while teaching is hard and stressful, in no other job in the world do you get anything close to the level of job satisfaction that you can get out of teaching when something like that happens. We all remember the moment in Channel 4 TV series Educating Yorkshire, where student Musharaf overcame his stammer and started talking almost fluently in front of his English teacher. It was a truly inspiring moment not just for the millions of viewers but for that teacher, knowing he had truly made a difference to that child’s life.

Most teachers rarely get the chance to reflect on what they do. When good teachers move from one school to another and students say ‘I’m really sad that you’re going’, those teachers can really tell that they’ve made a difference to those children’s lives. But it’s probably something that most teachers don’t often stop to think about.

There are times in a teacher’s career (and I don’t think they’re that rare), where something happens that you just wouldn’t get anywhere else. I certainly believe the Let Teachers SHINE projects will help to deliver even more of those moments.

 

The Let Teachers SHINE competition provides an opportunity for inspirational teachers to use their ideas to improve outcomes for children. You can submit your idea today for the chance to win up to a £15k grant

 

http://campaigns.capita-sims.co.uk/sims-and-shine

The Half-Way Point
Thursday, February 20th, 2014 | Author:

This half-term has been a bit different to usual. Yes there are days out and yes, the nieces have come to visit, but I have also been into school, not for planning, but for completely redesigning my classroom. This post will also be an update on the classroom tour post I shared in September.

I have a massive classroom. It echoes, it’s just huge. The plan was to redecorate and build a small office/workroom space at the back for interventions, so I held off making changes for the first term but as this work isn’t going to happen now, I could get in and change things. Also, I wanted to reflect on what has worked and what needs to be improved.

Literacy – As blogged about here, we focus on a different sentence every week. In practice this actually becomes a “sentence of the literacy unit” but that doesn’t sound as cool. So what I have done is to make a board showcasing different sentences. Some are examples of complex sentences, e.g. embedded clauses and some are taken from Alan Peat’s book. The idea is to have examples to share with the children but also to have space for children to share their own too. Example sentences will also be in their toolkits on their tables so that they can see them while they are working.

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Maths – Before, I had a working wall and a whiteboard for Maths. The whiteboard didn’t really work and soon became used for other things as I needed somewhere to write notices for the children and also put up learning objectives, the date and other similar information. I love the A4 whiteboards that we have. These are not the chunky ones for using on the carpet, these are flimsy ones that snap very easily (one broke yesterday when I dropped it onto the carpet!) but they are perfect for blu-tacking to the wall and writing on. For my Maths board, these will have questions based around the maths we are doing. I try to differentiate them but the more-able will always try and answer every question anyway. there is also space available for me to stick up paper to show methods or ideas as we go along. The main thing for me is to make their toolkits on their table better so that once we have taught something in Literacy, Maths or Spellings, it comes down from the wall and into their toolkit to be replaced by new learning on the wall.

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The Science wall has more whiteboards stuck to it with questions about our topic. I could print the questions and stick them on but these whiteboards are fab for quickly changing ideas. I have also left space for children to stick post-its with their own questions too.

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A big change in my room is that my dry-wipe whiteboard has been moved. There are various reasons it hasn’t been moved until now, but having it at the front of the room will help. The behaviour chart is also now at the front, next to me while I teach. One issue that I had is that when the children move up or down the chart, I had to break from the teaching and request that the child moved their name. This meant that the flow stopped and sometimes there could be problems if a child didn’t want to move their name…so by having it at the front, I can move names without discussion if needs be and continue with the lesson.

Another change is that I now have a board for “Building Learning Power” which is something we are trying to start in school.  It is about picking up the learning behaviours and making children aware of what they need to do to be better learners. My wife suggested making it Lego-themed and singing “Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team” to show how working together can achieved great results. I have a few children who want to improve, but want it on their terms. They want to work on their own and don’t want others to help. I want to break this down and make them want to learn and succeed together. So learning behaviour is going to be a big push this term.

One idea that I found in the book Inspirational Teachers, Inspirational Learners is the idea of having marbles in a jar not to represent “good” behaviour but to represent learning behaviour instead. So “Well done Timmy, you have shown great resilience today” which then leads to a marble (or for me, ping-pong ball) going into the jar. The whole class will need to work together to focus on the behaviours we are trying to learn about. I want to make this very explicit to them so that we can discuss what is meant by resilience or perseverance. It’ll be interesting as some of the children find persevering very difficult indeed at the moment!

It’s odd to think that half of the year has gone already and I’m still figuring out what to do. I am doing OK so far but I want to get better and I hope that the re-arranged classroom will give y children the chance to succeed even more than they have done so far.