Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Creative Activities for Snowy Days

I have to admit, I'm a little disappointed that the snow hasn't taken hold yet. Yes, I know it causes disruption, I know it means travel is difficult... but it's just so much fun! I'm in the process of adding bits and pieces to my class GLOW page so that if we have a school closure due to snow, my pupils will have lots to keep them happy and busy.
Adventure play in snow Photo: Svane Frode
If like me, you sometimes need inspiration to get the creative brain going then look no further than Juliet Robertson's (Aka Creative Star) I'm a teacher - Get me OUTSIDE here! blog. I have included some links to her snowy posts last year which include some lovely, decorative ideas as well as some more sinister, macabre goings on involving fake blood! Just click on the captions to be taken to her blog.

Snow, Stencils and Blood! Photo: Juliet Robertson
They are well worth a look and if you don't already follow her blog, then start now as there are bound to be some fantastic ideas for this year. (Btw, her site has been nominated for this year's 'Best ed tech blog' at the Edublog Awards 2011. It's worth a look!)

For other snow day ideas, have a look at this book, also recommended by Juliet this time last year. Click on the image for more details.

Playing With Snow Photo: Vegard Fimland

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Possibly the most difficult exam...ever!

The following was emailed to me by a very clever friend of mine. I doubt that even he would score highly in this!

The Ultimate Exam

Faculty of Applied Omniscience

Read the questions carefully. Answer all of them. Time available: Two hours. Commence

1. History

Elaborate on the Vatican history from its beginning until today, and focus especially, but
not exclusively, on its social, economic, religious and philosophical influence on Europe,
Asia, America and Africa. Answer concisely.

2. Medicine

You have been given a razorblade, a strip of gauze bandage and a bottle of Scotch
whisky. Remove your appendix. Don't sew yourself up before your work has been
approved. You have fifteen minutes on this task.

3. Rhetoric

2500 hysterical head hunters are about to invade these premises. Calm them down. You
may use any extinct language, except greek and latin.

4. Biology

Create life. Discuss the future culture differences of this life form, given that it has
evolved from about 500 million years ago. Be specific about the expected effects on
Norwegian party politics. Prove your assumptions.

5. Music

Compose a piano concerto. Orchestrate and perform your work with flute and drum.
You will find a piano under your chair.

6. Psychology

Based on your knowledge of their works, evaluate the emotional stability, adaptability
and the surpressed frustrations of Alexander the Great, Ramses II and Hammurabi.
Support your assumptions with quotations from their works. Remember to name your
sources. It is not necessary to translate.

7. Sociology

Present the sociological problems that might arise in connection with The Day of

Judgement. Design and conduct an experiment to prove your conclusions.

8. Technology

On your desk you will find a disassembled coarse-caliber rifle. You will also find an
instruction manual in Swahili. In ten minutes a hungry Bengal tiger will be released in this
room. Take all precautions you find necessary. Be prepared to defend your decisions.
Remember that the Bengal tiger is an endangered, protected species.

9. Economy

Develop a realistic plan to refinance the national debt. Explain what effects the plan will
have on the following fields: Cubism and the Donatist-dispute over the wave-nature
of light. Establish a method to avoid these effects. Then criticise this method from all
conceivable points of view. Identify the weaknesses of your viewpoint in the same way
as in the previous question.

10. Political science

There is a red telephone on your desk. Start World War III. Give a report on the
sociopolitical effects of it, if any of the kind will occur.

11. Epistemology

Decide whether to defend or to reject truth. Prove the substance in your choice.

12. Physics

Explain the structure of matter. In your explanation, please include an evaluation of the
significance mathematical development has had on all science.

13. Philosophy

Outline the development of human ratio. Estimate its significance. Compare with the
development of any other form of thinking.

14. General knowledge

Discuss the topic in detail. Be objective and specific.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Literacy and Numeracy in Curriculum for Excellence - Part 2

As promised, in this post I will talk about my thoughts on the second half of the Literacy and Numeracy in CfE presentation that I was lucky enough to attend last Saturday 29th October. Tom Renwick presented and easily kept the room's enthusiasm and interest that had been handed over by Bill Boyd.

I try very hard to avoid being one of the statistics of people who like to talk about how terrible they are at maths. I'm not terrible at all, though I didn't do well at school. Since school I have been back to evening classes and worked on my 'areas for development'. Tom's presentation helped me to see where I had gone wrong and the importance of providing the right opportities for the children in my class so that they can get to grips.

Tom made a frightening but, I fear, well known point. Numeracy in Britain isn't as good as it could/should be. Many of the daily number tasks we do as adults are done with calulators, spreadsheets, phone apps, google. These are all great tools but if you don't know what they are doing, how can you cope when they go wrong?

With the aid of his huge 100 square, Tom talked the audience through a series of related problems. What is heavier, a tennis ball or a golf ball? How much water is in a plastic cup? How to use mass to measure volume?  I must admit, I did get a little lost at points but the message I took away was valuable nonetheless.

At every opportunity Tom solved the problems with the hundred square. The numbers that were flying around the room were no longer abstract. They were all part of patterns that were clearly illustrated on the square. They were all related to the practical demonstrations. And they all seemed to make sense (a little revisiting and reinforcement later on would have sorted me out!)

Like many adults, my wobble with maths confidence stems largely from a fear of being put on the spot or being asked a question I can't answer. Tom spoke about the idea of parents and children learning together and explained that this could easily be done in school. I saw this done a few years ago when the assembly hall of the school I was in was taken over for a day by parents and children learning maths, playing maths games and sharing their own skills together. It was fantastic and was a very comfortable and positive experience for all.

The overarching message presented in the session was that the most important thing that we can develop with children is a fluency when it comes to mental agility. The faster and more accurate a child can solve mental number problems, the more likely they are to cope with the maths through school. As a child learns to develop words using knowledge of the alphabet, they should also be able to develop maths agility through knowledge of number bonds and patterns.

I would recommend visiting Tom's website Maths On Track  and look out for the live Glow maths session lead by Tom on the 26th November. Tom has lots of free resources and videos on his site too.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Literacy and Numeracy in Curriculum for Excellence - Part 1

Last Saturday I was lucky enough to attend the literacy and numeracy event run by Bill Boyd and Tom Renwick. The presenters individually had such a wealth of experience and knowledge that I am going to blog each presentation separately to really try to give them both justice (although there is no substitute for actually being there).

Bill Boyd

Bill, a.k.a The Literacy Adviser, does just what it says on his tin (except he uses less cliches!) Having been a Principle Teacher of English, a Depute Head Teacher and an Education Manager with LTS he shares all of this knowledge in a way that captivates his audience. He has an obvious interest in modern culture and uses of film, comics and technology all blended together to present his argument that being literate means more than the understanding of books. In his talk he referred to a range of texts from comics to digital novels in the most authentic and unique sense. I'll attempt to summarise my notes from the morning in a series of paragraphs.


Bill highlighted the evolution of language through our interaction with everyday texts. We learn to follow patterns in texts. He started off by having the audience consider ingredients, song lyrics, instructions and computer screens showing that we decode everyday texts using our prior knowledge and links to function. The fact that the range of texts that we use is wide and varied is highlighted by the wording of the Curriculum for Excellence's definition of texts.

"a text is the medium through which ideas, experiences, opinions and information can be communicated." CfE Literacy Across Learning: principles and practice.

Games-based Learning

Bill argues that the narrative in modern games are as valuable as texts as are film and written word. Games such as Myst are valuable when used as contexts for learning. Creative writing, fantasy worlds, problem solving and many cross-curricular themes can be found through games such as Samarost, Machinarium and the more recent Doctor Who games.

This made me think, surely the Doctor Who adventure games could provide a whole term's primary topic as children could delve into character development through the regeneration of the Doctor, exploring key points in history, familiar and fantasy geographic settings, technology as well as the idea of creative writing and parallel narratives.

The interactive novel

This resource really interested me. Bill took us through a novel titled Inanimate Alice. This was like no novel I had ever seen before. It was not simply a book converted to an ebook or simply an interactive decision-making  story. Inanimate Alice puts you in the shoes of a young girl and fires stimuli at all of the senses for a completely immersive experience. As the chapters progress, the story of Alice and her trans-migratory family progress through different territories, exciting problems that Alice solves with the help of her handheld device-based friend. Children have created their own episodes which can be seen via the website though I have yet to explore this.

Graphic Novels

I've not been into comics since I stopped my subscription for 2000AD in the early 90's. I really think I've missed something! I remember visiting my cousin in Portsmouth as a child and being awestruck at his collection of thick graphic novels (He's now a successful graphic artist). These were not comics, these were novels with all the credibility of any piece of literature. Bill reignited my interest in graphic novels and made me realise that the gap between our literacy interests and that of the children is not as great as it sometimes seems.

Having thought about this, literacy is a perfect example of human's varying learning styles. Whilst studying English Literature at University, I would often sit through the film's of Shakespeare's plays. For me, this made the language far more accessible and the characters much more understandable. For Year 4 boys two years ago, Macbeth was brought to life by the graphic novels. The narrative remains the same but the means in which children digest, process and deconstruct these 'texts' is individual and as teachers we need to understand that. Bill says, look out for The Invention of Hugu Cabret and Chemical Reactions. I say look out for Macbeth: The Graphic Novel.


I used to run the Filmclub for children where we would receive feature films to watch, discuss and write about. It worked but was difficult in the sense that a two-and-a-half hour film takes 3 weeks to watch and loses much of it's impact.

Bill directed us to a fantastic few websites that provide a great deal of teaching resources for short films that are more than manageable in class. Have a look at Moving Image Education, Scotland On Screen and Screening Shorts. I was very pleased to find the short animation The Sandman which I found so intriguing and terrifying that I have never deleted from a VHS tape that I recorded it onto, accidentally, about 15 years ago!

If you haven't been convinced of the value in analysing computer games, digital novels, film and animation as forms of text by now then Bill has provided further help in the form of the 7 Reading Strategies and the 10 Tools for Reading Film. These are certainly worth a read though I think it would be far better to share them with your pupils whilst deconstructing comics or film.

You can follow Bill's blog at http://literacyadviser.wordpress.com/ and you can must follow him on twitter @literacyadviser

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Teachmeet Aberdeen October 2011

I'd had a pretty full-on term and really needed a boost to lift my spirits and increase my motivation for the long days teaching, assessing, reflecting and planning. This boost came in the form of the Aberdeen Teachmeet.

I repeated my May presentation calling for teachers to become involved in an Aberdeenshire augmented reality channel to showcase children's work around the area. I also demonstrated the use of Issuu and the 'hilariously' titled Stickybits. Yes, insert captions that read 'Charlie Barrow showing off Stickybits' and such like.

Ian Simpson: Becoming Orson: Podcasting War Of The Worlds

Ian presented a fantastic piece proving that the umbrella of ICT clearly covers what we would traditionally call 'media'. Inspired by the famous Welles radio play War Of The World, Ian's lunchtime club pupils favoured the radio play genre over the celebrity music based programme pleasantly surprising Ian.

Using free audio software Audacity and microphones bought on the cheap from the Pound Store, they began work on scripting and producing the radio play. That moment we all look forward to as teachers came when Ian walked in to the classroom to find his pupils experimenting with the springs from the back of a broken chair. They discovered that they could create some fantastic foley by dropping two springs on the floor and recording the sound.

Thank you Ian for sharing your inspiration and making us all wish that we were pupils in your class!

Twitter users can follow Ian's tweets @familysimpson and access his blog at http://caffeinetangent.wordpress.com/ 

Nikki Stobie: Random name generator

In primary schools we rely heavily on tried and tested systems like using lolly pop sticks with names written on to randomly choose children for various reasons. While this has worked since before I can remember, it's always great to be able to take these ideas and modernise them, polishing them up with a little wow factor.

Nikki has found a great random name generator from classtools.net. Insert the names of your pupils and choose from the typewriter or fruit machine. The flash based animation then generates one of the names at random to a big round of applause. Nice!

Mark Hay: Glow blogs, wikis and eportfolios

Mark presented on his use of Glow blogs and Wikis. This is something I have been trying to do for a long time and I think that Mark seems to have cracked it. He went on to discuss eportfolios using Glows 'Honeycomb' based system. He also mentioned Kodu, the game development software for children which again is something I hope to follow up.

I think that the beauty of Teachmeet is that presenters like Mark can introduce resources and ideas and though I admit that I didn't follow it all at the time, the food for thought can be digested over a long period of time and this really has given me the inspiration to learn more.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkHay79

Martin Coutts: Games based learning and maths

I admit that when maths teachers stand up to present, I immediately feel on edge, the sweat runs cold and I get my fingers ready for some rapid calculation. In Martin's presentation he showed off a wonderful resource aimed at secondary maths pupils but which also lends itself to the extension of P7 and even P6 pupils. Manga High is a free resource with a huge amount of competitive maths games, many of which also contain teaching activities too. The resource allows for quick class registration and password generation or, as I have done in order to try it out, a random set of 30 general log-ins to be used with any class. If it proves to be a success, I'll register the class properly so that they can track their progress.

My cold sweat soon cleared and I've even tried some of the Manga High challenges. I was awarded bronze! :-/ If you would like to follow Martin on Twitter, his user id is @mcoutts81

Katheryn Roper: Geobus

Katheryn sensibly took the opportunity of Teachmeet to present the Geobus project to the 60-something attendees. To be launched in January 2012, the Geobus will be a free resource available to all secondary schools and perhaps eventually some primary schools too. It will provide mobile expertise and tailored lessons in all curriculum areas (even embedding ICT - see what she did there?) on geographical topics.

The website will be up and running soon and bookings will be taken in the very near future. I'll update the blog as soon as I find any details out. In the meantime 'd suggest some sporadic Google searches!

Gretchin Perk: Frayer Model

Another presenter sneaking in a brilliant idea to prove that Teachmeet Aberdeen was more about sharing fantastic resources than simply shoehorning ICT into teaching. Gretchin demonstrated the use of the 'Frayer Model'. The model is "is a graphical organizer used for word analysis and vocabulary building." (http://www.justreadnow.com/strategies/frayer.htm, 30/10/11) It is in the form of a four-square diagram, each square for pupils to demonstrate their understanding of a concept by defining the term, defining the term's characteristics and providing examples and non-examples. 

As I write this, my plan for my P7 metric measuring lesson includes a Frayer Model activity to allow children to demonstrate their understanding. I hope it is successful and I'll be trying it out in language work and topic work in the future.

Stephanie Orr: Jousting Game

Games-based learning is popular in both primary and secondary at the moment and I'm sure it's popularity will only grow as educators continue to accept the computer game as a valuable form of literacy such as the novel and the moving image.

Stephanie has found a great little flash game that uses historical fact to create a perfect visual learning tool showing children just what jousting is all about. It's factually accurate, fun and funny and had the audience smiling for the full 2 minutes. I spoke to a fellow Aberdeenshire practitioner a couple of days ago who used this resource with her primary class last week with great success.

Ed Walton: Stagework, Dark Materials

Unbeknown to the Teachmeet congregation, Ed was busy creating an off-the-cuff presentation on his iPad having been inspired by the previous presentations. How he managed to get such a slick and full presentation done that quickly is beyond me but it was excellent.

One of his main demonstrations showed how he taught meta-cognition to his secondary pupils through a series of superhero cell-snapshots presented in ComicLife. It was a bold and captivating way to do it and I can understand exactly how his pupils must have felt when engaging in it. Using a plethora of higher order thinking through speech bubbles seemed to just work.

He also presented some interesting material through the stagework website which is full of teaching resources for curriculum areas through drama. There was also a fantastic sequence of videos from the His Dark Materials play (I think) where each shot was filmed 3 times with slightly different actions to enable the pupil to create their own version of the scene. I forgot to write the address for this properly so as soon as I find it, I'll post it.)

Darren Gibb: Resource medley!

Darren Darren Darren, what can I say. He could have presented for an hour with all the resources he had. He chose to go last which, in hindsight, could have been a ploy to make sure that after 2 hours of listening, we were all still on our toes. He covered so much in such a short space of time that I will list the bits I wrote down and will leave it to future blog posts to share how I've used some of his ideas. I've used two in the two days of teaching since his presentation. Both with great success. Thanks Darren.

This app has been on the go for a while and is heavily endorsed by Stephen Fry. It's like a twitter, blogging, podcasting tool in one. You record straight into the computer's mic or your android, iphone, iPad or whatever device you have, and upload it to the world. It's so quick, so easy and right up my street as it's a great way for children to publicise their work. As a form of social networking, pupil Internet safety should be at the forefront of your mind all the time but if handled carefully could be a valuable tool.

This is a really simple way to build a wiki about anything. It's extremely easy to create class logins from an education account and once created, every amendment to the wiki can be seen along with the child that edited it. Assessment is for Learning, tick!

is a chat tool that allows you to create a private room that only people with the specific web address can access. You can set the room to be automatically deleted in hours, days or weeks and children have 140 characters with which to comment. I am fascinated with the idea of our language developing based on the need to cram as much in to small windows of text. Children are getting pretty good at adapting their language. I hope we can keep up with their literacy skill.

A really simple active learning activity where children use an A3 sheet divided into quarters with a fifth, central box to hone their ideas or facts. Each child silently jots down as many notes as they can about a given topic and afterwards they discuss which are the important points to select for the middle box.

If you want to follow Darren on Twitter then he's @darrengibb

So, another Teachmeet Aberdeen over with. With the attendance increased three-fold, the next one in about 6 months time should be a cracker. "We're gonna need to get a bigger boat"...er... venue! Thanks to Stuart Brown for organising the event at Aberdeen University. Thanks to Ian Simpson, Darren Gibb, Martin Coutts for your bits. I hope they'll give me something to do next time. I could bring the crackers and cheese?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Never Mind Excuses!

Oh dear oh dear! It's been an age since my last blog post and I'm slightly embarrassed that I haven't had anything rattling around in my brain that was worth writing.

In my defence, I focused my blog-writing energy on my Coast to Coast blog documenting my off-road cycle trip from West to East Scotland. Although

Much has happened since the Summer. I've begun my probation year teaching a Primary 6/7 composite class at Fishermoss Primary in Portlethen, Aberdeenshire. That could also explain the lack of posts since all of my time and attention has been spent on planning for an unfamiliar age group and a HUGE range of needs across all curricular areas. It has certainly been a challenge but it's getting easier.

I'm looking forward to using technology to enhance my teaching, their learning... and my learning. I'm battling against some teething problems with GLOW logins, browser errors and strange unknown bugs and beasties in the system but those will soon be defeated.

Looking forward, it's the Aberdeen Teachmeet next week. Meeting up with lots of like-minded teachers is a great way to sort things out in my own mind as well as learning what colleagues have been doing recently. Watch this space as I revive Augmented Reality, QR codes, Issuu publishing and our Jaguar Cars Maths in Motion challenge progress.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Coast to coast to raise money for UK cancer charities

In July 2011, I will set off from the Skye Bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh and cycle 270 miles, climb over 17,000ft and will be in the saddle for 7 days before arriving in Montrose on the East coast.

This trip is to raise money for both Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support. Please support me, even a couple of quid will help.

Click on the logo to visit the blog where you can donate via the Justgiving widgets.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

The Future (and trying to make sense of it)

Firstly, I must apologise as this is going to be a lengthy post. Today I had a tweet, it looked like this:

And it made me think. What is AR technology all about? Augmented Reality has been around for decades. In essence AR is simply the overlay of artificial (computer generated) information over a real image. For example, when your disappointed football manager comes on the telly and over the video image pops up his name, thats AR. Or perhaps the news report that has a moving ticker giving extra info at the bottom of the screen. I suppose even that radical idea of having an MTV logo at the top left of the screen. How annoying and now its everywhere. So really, to explain AR and it's applications would be a little like someone saying, so explain - what's the internet all about then?

In this post I am going to attempt to try to explain AR, it's applications and how it is already embedded in our society. I will also show how exciting it is as this aspect of science fiction has now become reality. I think it's also important to recognise that as exciting/scary (delete as appropriate) as this technology is, it is not the be all and end all, particularly in education. But I believe that it will have a huge impact on the way we learn and how we prepare our children for their future.

I'd like to start with a video that blew me away at the beginning of last year. It is from early 2009 and I wonder if the people that made it knew what the developments were likely to be over the next two years. Look out for the technology that we now know about which makes this reality much closer than first thought.

Get Microsoft Silverlight

So, if you missed it, heres some of the technology already being used to make this reality possible.

touch responsive boards like SMART
voice to text and instant translation from Google
microsoft surface
xbox kinect for the 'minority report' wizardry
ipads/tablets with cameras to support gps based AR like junaio, wikitude, foursquare
paper thin video screens in magazines
paper thin mobile phones

During Teachmeet Aberdeen 2011, Jim McCracken made a salient point that we have to be careful not to replace good teaching and learning with technology. I agree, sometimes we can get carried away and I constantly ask myself, what does this tech add to teaching and learning that could not be done before? How does this help learning? And, yes, sometimes I persue the use of technology where it does not add to teaching and learning and have to bring myself back down and refocus. On the other hand, what appears reactionary now may be worth keeping in the back of your head for the future. I'm sure people thought about the potential of a 4" high-res colour screen in the classroom before teachers began lobbying for them to be allowed. Others saw them as something else to fight against. What's the use of a position of power if you have nothing to ban?

So, a fraction of the way through the post and I have to ask, where do I start?

Augmented Reality - 3D, the wow factor.

One aspect of modern augmented reality is the ability to use simple imagery to trigger 'things'. One such 'thing' that can be triggered is 3D modelling. This is where a camera can be used to detect a simple marker depicting the size and orientation of a 3D model that then pops up on the screen. Some of these are fantastic and I've included a video of the first ever 3D augmented reality CV.

You can read more about this aspect of augmented reality in my posts, Smart Grid Augmented Reality, LearnAR, Second Sight (I'd recommend looking into AR Sights for a brilliantly accessible plug in for google earth and google sketchup for free)

Augmented Reality - Image Overlay

In February 2010 I shared this TED talk video about Bing's use of image overlay. Microsoft Bing Maps - Augmented Reality

I instantly thought of the fantastic use of this technology in the social studies curriculum area as this is an area where a picture does speak a thousand words. My memory of history at school was just the copying of a thousand words! But this technology brings it all to life. If you  navigate to the US version of Bing Maps, there is the option to the streetside photos app. This shows photos overlaid ontop of street view. Imagine historical images overlaid onto street view and accessed with a smart phone or tablet. That's got to make an impression on any Standard Grade history pupil!

Augmented Reality - GPS tagging

This technology is everywhere now. Google maps on a smartphone, wikitude, layar, junaio, many apps now allow you to use the phones camera to see information about your surroundings. You can even scan your camera in any area and see where all your fellow tweeters are. Scary stalking scenarios now spring to mind. This technology is behind the phenominon of Geocaching but as a further educational resource, what if treasure hunts were actually stimulus for exploration on school trips. That was my idea when I set up a treasure hunt at Hampton Court Palace using Wikitude. Wikitude was chosen as it was easy to insert the information on the computer, simply inserting waypoints on a map. Mobile devices then overlayed these waypoints onto the phones maps and once you had located the waypoint, the teacher designed task could be carried out. Have a look at the blog post for that for more info. GPS AR Trial @ Strand Juniors' Hampton Court Trip

That leads me on to where I am at now; investigating the idea of sharing children's work with the wider network through the growing use of mobile technology. Junaio is the closest application that I have found with the ability to enable pupils to almost pick up a virtual version of their 3D design and move it around, or to send a newsletter home and have parents use their mobiles or tablets to access moving image in a window of the newsletter, or to be at a school trip and see where extra info has been virtually supplied by the teacher by way of GPS tagging or view other pupil's interpretations and comments by pointing a camera at a piece of art.

Now here's the deal. The future is all about sharing. The concept of connectivism as a credible learning theory is all about learning through networks. We do it already as practitioners through teachmeet, #edchat, blogging, virtual CPD. It's really important. If there is one thing that I have learnt this year, it is the importance of discussing ideas with others in order to see them materialise. If you would like to collaborate to get some of these ideas going, please get in touch with me. If you have already managed to, or do in the future, please let me know how you got on. I really think that microsoft's view of the future is so interesting and exciting and it's almost here. This will be out children's future and it's moving very quickly. Let's give them a running start.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Outward Facing Classroom using Augmented Reality

For anyone that was following the Teachmeet Aberdeen on Wednesday 11th May (#tmabdn), here is my presentation on using Augmented Reality app Junaio to share children's work.

My main points were:

  • There is a wide network of people including other pupils, teachers and family taking an interest in children's learning and progress. We are no longer confined to displaying children's achievements in a closed classroom or school foyer.
  • Educators have embraced the internet to motivate and reward children whilst teaching them about audiences. Take @deputymitchell's blogging work and it's affect on his pupils.
  • Mobile technology is growing and becoming much more accessible to pupils and parents. Inclusion issues will soon become comparable to that of internet access.
  • Augmented reality overlays digital 'magic' onto real life via cameras.
  • This kind of magic has already been used by 2simple's 2animate programme. See youtube video.
  • Using Junaio app, we can attach children's work to clear images. This allows children's work to be attached to their own images, work sent home, images at visits and attractions without leaving a physical mark which, in some circumstances (National Trust Properties?) would be undesirable.
  • Use GPS to represent these locations on a live map.
  • Collaboration is essential. I would like to set up a Glow group to work towards a Junaio channel to showcase children's work in the borough. 
  • At present, a friendly user interface allows creation of Junaio Glue channels, attaching video and 3D models. (I'll upload a 'how to' video shortly)
  • Much much more is possible and in collaboration with other primary and secondary school teachers we can create a template to get children's work out to a new, wider, tech-aware audience.
  • Remember, to borrow a quote from elsewhere, "Email is that thing your Dad uses." We need to move with technology to excite and keep up with our pupils.

Feel free to post your comments and thoughts to this blog. Thanks.

Aberdeen Teachmeet 2011

This evening I attended the second ever, my first Teachmeet Aberdeen. Hosted by the University of Aberdeen and organised by Ian Simpson (@familysimpson) this was absolutely invaluable as a form of accessible CPD and sorely under-attended in my opinion. I'm not going to give a breakdown of all the presentations I saw, I'll instead link to the livestream video.

In summary, I learned:

  • About iPad apps as maths resources for secondary (and primary) schools including a random question generator Mathsboard and maths app Times Warp. Also web resources Manga High and games design with Kodu. Thanks to Martin Coutts from Meldrum Academy
  • About Wordle and it's many uses around the classroom. Thanks to Kirsty Marsland
  • Stuart Brown's fantastic collection of ICT resources, pitfall lessons, mobile learning and the benefits of letting Philosoraptor set questions for pupil essays!
  • The concept of a Genius Bar as a short, sharp, focused CPD provision. Having been bereft of a Mac for almost a year, I was intrigued to learn about the Apple Genius Bars in stores. Sounds like a definite model for education. Thanks to Ian Simpson of Inverurie Academy.
  • An introduction to the use of Avatars for both pupils and teachers in schools. I've experienced Voki
    before and found it a wonderful resource for helping children to think about how they represent themselves online. Thanks to Jim McCracken.
  • Ian Simpson presented another presentation introducing great ways to utilise iPod handheld tech in schools. Very useful looking apps like Comictwist, Sonic Pics and others as part of the Aberdeenshire iPod Development Group.
  • And fantastic impromptu presentations by Darren Gibb, Westhill Academy on his use of Glow, Helen Bradley on Purple Mash and The Daily What and a virtual presentation from Colin Graham on Algebra in Primary Schools.

In all, a fairly mind blowing and very positive experience in a really relaxed and comfortable environment. I particularly like the enthusiasm of all participants and the fact that people felt comfortable enough to present on the spur of the moment. Obviously the whole experience was very inspiring. I would urge anyone with an interest in ICT and teaching to attend a Teachmeet. I certainly gained some good ideas and some good contacts.

If you are interested in my presentation on the outward facing classroom and the use of augmented reality, I will post the prezi on here within the next day or so.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Visit to Nature Nurture at Camphill

Wednesday was my birthday! And what better way to spend a birthday than with a group of outdoor experts on their weekly learning adventure around the Camphill Estate.

Camphill is a residential and day school on the outskirts of Aberdeen that specialises in providing holistic, nurturing education for children and young people with complex special needs. I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours being involved in the Nature Nurture session run by one of the schools management staff, Terri Harrison.

Children visit the school once a week and from the start, they were very excited about being at the school. It took them a good while to begin to wonder who I was, standing there trying very hard not to look authoritative but on the other hand not look like a target for excited children to bombard with questions and observations from the off.

The children were split into pairs so that they could 'look after' one of the adults. As I was a guest, I had no children looking after me. The looked after adults have a host of specific observation and guiding responsibilities though the children were very much in control of their own learning.

It was wonderful to see children confident and at ease in an environment that obviously has a very strong sense of safety and boundaries. What I saw was play-based learning at it's best with children allowed to take risks, explore and ask questions.

At one point, Terri produced some mallets, fabric and kitchen roll. I later learned that this was planned though to me it seemed like a spontaneous reaction to the children who, at this point were picking flowers. The mallets were used to pummel the flowers against the flag to make interesting designs. What started as a spark of interest from a few children quickly developed into an activity that most, if not all, children had a turn with. And, with a large amount of banging, hammering and walloping, no children's fingers were bruised (though I'm not sure about Terri's!)

Obviously, the ratio of adults to children make these activities manageable but to say that I was impressed by the children's ability to manage their own behaviour (something that these children find difficult) around a campfire and a claw-hammer is an understatement. These children were playing and exploring. But as well as that, they were learning control, restraint, awareness of others, risk and the value of the correct use of tools.

I came away feeling very positive that, as a mainstream teacher, I should also be ensuring that children have the opportunities to develop these skills as these children are in control of their learning and really on the right track to being successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors with the help of a group of very skilled and dedicated adults.

For more information and to support Camphill, visit their website.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Cycling Scotland - Cycle Trainer Course

Over the past two weekends I've been attending the Cycle Trainer course with Cycling Scotland. The purpose of the course is to become equipped with the ability to teach cycling skills to both children and adults. The course incorporates what I knew 20 years ago as the 'Cycling Proficiency'.

The course had a really good ratio of two tutors to 6 students, all coming from a range of cycling backgrounds from ex-professional racers to teachers getting back into cycling after a break. Having said that, the course was by no means targeted towards people who know a lot about bikes or commute regularly and it's value is for anybody; teachers, parents, cub/brownie leaders, volunteers, anybody who would like to help children to be safe both on and off the roads. Participants have already gone back and applied what they have learnt from this course to educate children in cities, towns and very rural areas. Here's a brief breakdown of what we learnt.

Day One - Ready Steady Bike

Bike safety check to ensure that all bikes brought were safe. This involved The 'M' Check where the bike is checked from front wheel, handlebars, pedals and chainset, saddle and seat pin and finally the rear wheel. A drop test from 6" or so can also reveal loose and potentially dangerous parts. Luckily nothing fell off my bike but it does have a fair few rattles!

It's also important to consider clothing. The general consensus amongst teaching colleagues is that it is compulsory for children to wear helmets during this training. It is not a legal requirement on the roads but strongly advised. I can think of several spills that I have had where a helmet has saved me from serious injury.

Clothing must also not dangle so as to risk getting caught in moving parts and sensible shoes is a must.

The rest of day one was spent on setting up games and courses to practice and assess basic skills like starting off, balance, control, braking etc. This was done in the park as it was a safe environment away from traffic and pedestrian risks.

Day Two - Level 1 of the Scottish Cycle Training Scheme

Dave from Dave's Bike Shed kindly provided a basic maintenance workshop which went through the correct adjustment of brakes and gears, how to split and join a chain and how to mend a puncture. These are all skills needed by children if they are to cycle independently and safely. Repairing a puncture is also a good activity for a rainy day in the classroom. Most bike shops will have a supply of damaged inner tubes that they are willing to give away as many people still take their bike to a shop to have the inner tube changed rather than fix it themselves.

The second half of day two was handed over to us where we worked in pairs to deliver aspects of the Ready Steady Bike course. This was great fun but also highlighted to importance of prior planning, modelling and ensuring that the rest of the group are engaged too and not just standing around. It's interesting to note how even competent adults feel the nerves when being watched by others!

Day three

This is where the tricky stuff came in. We all prepared activities to teach the core manoeuvres on actual roads. The core manoeuvres are:
Starting and stopping
Overtaking parked vehicles
Turning left from major to minor road
Turning left from minor to major road
Turning right from minor to major road
Turning right from major to minor road

Assessing risk was a major factor and contributed to the planning of which roads to use as well as dynamic risk assessment during the actual activity. Surroundings and hazards can change very quickly.

Day four was great fun as the group had gelled really well and we could learn to assess much busier roads and junctions working with multiple lanes and faster traffic. This would form level 2 of the Scottish Cycle Training Scheme which is more appropriate for developing cyclists at secondary school level.

A technique well worth learning was 'snaking' by which a bike snake is formed with an adult leader at the front and back. This is a very good way to travel with a group safely to the location you will be training at. It works by having a leader to model signalling and road position as well as leading the way. There is also an adult at the back whose job is to sprint up the snake in time to assess junctions and usher group through if safe before joining the end and protecting the riders at the rear. We practised this several times and the snake began to flow very smoothly and quickly through the town.

I can't recommend this course enough. It's free to go on, really good fun and so important to ensure that our children can enjoy their bikes on the road safely. It also goes a long way to disseminate road safety skills to drivers who perhaps don't always think about how their driving 'style' affects cyclists and pedestrians.

For more information on the Cycle Trainer courses amongst others, visit Cycling Scotland

If you live in the Fife area and cycle, you could do a lot worse than to check out Dave's Bike Shed for reliable bike repairs. (I know due to pre-course technical disaster. Dave fitted a new headset in good time and for a fair price)

Friday, 25 March 2011

Portlethen Fair-trade Videos and Stickybits

I've now finished the first part of my 2nd school placement which has been at Portlethen Primary just South of Aberdeen. This has been a steep learning curve as Primary 2 has been about as far from my comfort zone as a rural school near Banff but, like the 1st of my placement, I've gained new confidence and learnt many new skills.

However, like most teachers, it's far more fun when given the freedom to try new things and exciting ideas.  So, when I began the placement I jumped at the chance to create Fair-trade animations as part of Fair-trade Fortnight.

After some minor problems (no compatible camera, no microphone, only one laptop and no ability to install Crazy Talk software at short notice) we changed the animation project to a more simple video story format using the backgrounds and characters that the children had created.

The change worked really well as I soon realised that managing a P2 class was far from managing the 8 and 9 yr olds I'm used to. Not to mention that I now had a dozen netbooks with Movie Maker at my disposal. I now realise that it is not outwith P2 capabilities to independently order their collection of images into a sequence based on their co-written script. I must stop underestimating children!

So the finished results will be published on the class' Glow Fair-trade blog. In the meantime, the videos can also be seen attached to certain Fair-trade products by way of scanning the barcodes through the Stickybits Smartphone app. The class plan to make use of some of Aberdeenshire's iPod Touch devices to further enhance their Fair-trade table display. Until the children have had a chance to zap the products, the videos will remain hidden amongst the barcodes. So, get zapping with Stickybits and see if you can uncover Portlethen Primary's story of Fair-trade bananas, coffee beans, chocolate, cotton or sugar. Good luck.

Don't worry, I'll update the blog once children have had a chance to have a play!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

WWF - The New Green File Format

The WWF have just launched a new file format designed to make us really think about the documents that we create that need to ever be printed. Let's think for a second. How many documents that we create and share actually ever need to be printed and kept?

Since studying at Aberdeen University, I have found that I have paused for thought much more often as my mouse pointer hovers over the print icon. Mainly this is due to the charge of 5p per print. However, part of this is also due to my acknowledgement of the amount of paper wasted every day.

As readers of the blog will know, this is the second time I have undertaken a teacher training course due to the GTC Scotland's list of unacceptable ITT qualifications. This is the second time I have begun to amass a huge collection of documents and evidence to justify my application to the General Teaching Council. I often wonder, how much could have been presented digitally?

I'm due to fly to London soon and in true student fashion, I have booked a low cost airline and take my luggage allowance in my own hands, literally! But when the computer tells me to print my receipt, does that mean on paper? Do I really need to hand the staff at the boarding gate a crumpled piece of paper to scan? No. I have a crystal clear colour screen on my mobile phone, scan that.

The wwf format is a print option much like printing to PDF. However, unlike PDFs which can be printed, there is simply no option to print a wwf file. Therefore, you can be sure that your document will not end up in a recycle bin, or worse, and encourage an awareness of paper wastage. So at a time when we are concerned about the future of the UK's forests and when we are desperately looking for renewable energy sources, responsible use of paper should definitely be high on our agenda.

Note, at the time of writing this, the PDF viewer on the HTC Desire did not recognise the wwf file format.  However, I'm confident that there will be a solution in the apps market very soon. I'll update the post when I find one.

Monday, 7 February 2011

End of Placement One

Friday 4th Feb was my last day at King Edward Primary School, near Banff. Coming from a large primary school in London to teach in Aberdeen, I was pleased to have been placed in such a polar opposite. The school only has 25 children in total, 15 of these made up my placement class of composite P4-7. I've learnt a lot about how rural schools operate and how Aberdeenshire council support it's schools. I was also given the opportunity to try new things and I was lucky that the headteacher let me run with my own convictions allowing me to learn from both the positives and the mistakes made along the way. 
Using GLOW

During my placement, one particular personal goal was to embrace Glow as well as getting the children using it regularly at school and at home. After some initial log-in problems, all children were equipped and ready to use the resources that I had put up. I created a Glow group allowing children to access links, games and an example Prezi presentation that they could access both at school and at home. It was important that the children get into the habit of logging on and we made sure that the children had the opportunity to log-in almost daily. I began to increase the use of glow to include web based games activities for use in number (and at home) as well as setting online homework. At this point, only the instructions for the investigations, some links and fun games were set online but I have every intention of developing what I have used in Glow to set some Glow Learn and Glow Meet tasks in the future.

Games Based Learning - using Endless Ocean

In the first part of my placement I used the Endless Ocean Wii game to set the context for diary writing from the perspective of the main character in the game. The children loved that they were using the games console in school and it provided motivation and a talking point both inside and out of school. I can see that a whole theme, carefully planned around a game like this can provide some really deep learning as children really get into the subject. I found that I could make constant numeracy references too so this really did help with embedding numeracy, literacy and ICT into the whole CfE.

Planning for Art

Following the castles theme, I planned a series of lessons to enable children to consider things that represent them in their lives. Children thought about what was important to them and we explored the idea of representing those things using symbols rather than pictures. The symbols were then used to create their coat of arms where they used paint to add contrasting, solid colours, black crayon to make thick, bold lines and then silver or gold paint and sponges to give it a metallic effect. They loved creating them and seeing what their neighbours had done. They also look fantastic on out wood panelled wall, above our big fireplace.
ICT presentations - using Prezi

I introduced children to Prezi in the last week as they were to begin their presentations to show their own castle. Their castles were to be a collection of features that they thought were important and were based on real, local castles owned by the National Trust for Scotland as well as fictional castles set in fantasy stories. They picked up Prezi extremely quickly and some rushed home to continue their presentations. I'm sure that this is a tool that they will revisit again and again.
Go Animate

Following an inset day on teaching & learning strategies for children with Autism and another inset delivered by Stephen from DoBe, I introduced a pupil with Aspergers to Go Animate as a way to express how he felt in a certain situation. I also mentioned that he could be the class expert and show others how to create animations. Little did I realise that he would take this new responsibility with such vigour. He is now 'booked' to deliver training to the other teachers as well as leading a group of children creating an animation for the Comic Relief assembly. One empowered pupil!

Plate Design

Another success story that I feel particularly proud of this term was the boy who was allowed to take part in a plate-making activity, even though the family were not in a position to pay the £7 for the plate. This particular child has difficulties in most areas of the curriculum although shows a real talent for making and designing things. The plate was no different except that he unfortunately left his design at home when the day for painting the plate came. Unperturbed, he preceded to recreate his exact design (I know because I saw both!) onto his plate from memory. His plate was one of the most well spaced out and carefully painted designs in the class. He was really pleased with it. 
However, when I returned after Christmas, his plate was still there. We discussed it in the staff room as well as with any other professionals who commented on the art-piece in question and I photographed it and presented the A4 colour print to him that afternoon. He was extremely proud and immediately went home to show his Mum. The next day he proudly announced that his Mum liked it so much she had agreed to buy it after all. At no point did anyone in the school send the print home as a selling tool. It was a celebration of his hard work. The fact that they bought the plate definitely showed the affect that ensuring praise goes home can have.

Chatting with Jacqueline Wilson

A while ago I read a twitter post about a forthcoming LTSwatch the web-cast but their behaviour was very good and they all seemed to be able to relate what she said to their own writing.

The web chat was not going to be online until 1pm, during their lunch break. However, as they had all written down questions that they would like to ask, I said that we would choose one to ask while the children were brushing their teeth at 1.15pm. We did, and she answered. The children were very excited to see the name of their schoolmate up on the big screen, on the Internet, for JW to answer.

Letting off Steam

What better after 4 weeks of hard graft in someone else's classroom, your own sleepless nights and not to mention your ill children's sleepless nights, than to walk 24miles in 24 hours. No, in black and white it seems like a daft thing to do but it was my way of letting off steam.

Having had to ditch the hike around the Lochnagar area due to the weather, me and my oldest pal Will (none other than William Wallace actually!) headed for the Gordon Way armed with heavy packs full of food, dry clothes and other necessities. I felt my binoculars far more justified Will's tin of baked beans when it came to extra weight but that was just one of the bickerings to be had as we hiked from 8pm Fri eve through to 2am before bivvying in the woods near the Bennachie Centre and hiking back to Suie car park the following morning via Pixie Heaven, which was another point for 'discussion'!

To read more about out planned coast to coast walk and the training (or lack of) that we are undertaking, click here.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Connecting with Connectivism

I’ve read so many blogs, so many research papers and listened to so many speeches recently that have all made the point that we cannot begin to imagine what job titles will be given in the near future, let alone the skills needed.

I’ve decided to tinker with something called MOOC. It stands for Massive Open Online Course and the one that I’m interested in (I think it may be the first and only one) focuses on the recently modern theory of Connectivism. I am interested in the idea that the skills and tools that children need to prepare themselves for an unknown future need to be learnt through experience and discussion with others. It sounds like Constructivism for the 21st Century and beyond. 
The course seems to be pitched at teachers of adult education but I am interested in the application of online networks , twitter, GLOW and creation and collaboration online in Primary School settings. I’ve embedded the introduction video for anyone who may be interested and will post my thoughts here as I progress through the course. Obviously being halfway through my PGDE, I haven’t a huge amount of time to spend on this but please feel free to post comments, contributions etc. I’m really interested to hear from teachers who have already engaged in this idea.

The two questions knocking around my head at the moment are:
1)Is it all about ‘knowledge’?
2) Are we/can we really ever be really effective at filtering and quickly evaluating the amount of knowledge that we are now exposed to and still trust it’s integrity?

Principles of connectivism:
  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.


You can find the course information here

*DISCLAIMER! I am exploring this with an open mind and having just read some of the different reactions to the theory, my head is spinning. Perhaps by my 12th week  I’ll be blogging a conclusion or perhaps by my 12th teaching year  I’ll have figured out the pedagogy!