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!