Thursday, 15 November 2012

Book Detectives blockbusters style

Last year I was sitting in a staff meeting thinking about how to manage my reading groups when someone mentioned the word honeycomb which my brain translated to me as Blockbusters which in turn planted a seed in the discombobulated jungle eco-system that is my brain.

My problem:
5 reading groups, each needing time with me or my classroom assistant and all needing to be directed towards appropriate comprehension tasks to check understanding.
I was forever having to refocus them on their tasks or remind them of the Book Detective comprehension task that I'd previously given them.

So, I thought about how to hand over control to them, giving the ownership while still ensuring relevant and progressive tasks.
What I came up with were a series of three differentiated blockbuster cards.

The solution:
Each child is given a laminated Blockbuster card appropriate to their depth of understanding. The cards are made up of a grid of hexagons providing a pathway from left to right. Each hexagonal cell contains a Book Detective task. The idea is that children choose their own path with tasks getting 'meatier' as they progress. There is a mix of visual and text-based tasks avoiding too much repetition of the same task.
Children have really engaged with this and enjoy choosing their own path. Towards the end of a book they engage with deeper thinking and more involved tasks.

In order for them to feel that their work is valued I also changed their jotter from a small, skinny lined notebook to an A4 jotter lined on one side and blank on the other to accommodate lengthy writing and proud illustrations. Please feel free to download my cards and try them with your class.

Click here for the PDF files

*** I must make it clear that Book Detectives is a current reading comprehension system that has been used in the school for some time. It is not my own. I have simply created the blockbuster cards as an alternative way to manage the children's learning.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Pupil Collaboration Using Wikispaces

Over the past couple of years, I've tried a few ideas to encourage children to write collaboratively using ICT to help. Previous efforts have included Google Docs, which I was told could be done, but I just couldn't find an easy way to enable children under 13 and parents to have individual access to contribute.

However, I have had some success with What I liked about Wikispaces is that the user interface is very clear and simple and the option to register an education account means that you can register a class of children by copy and pasting a class list. You can then accept random passwords assigned to children or you can change them to something easier for the children to remember.

Once the class has access then it's really up to them as to how they populate the wiki. What I love about using a wiki is that children can consolidate their learning and peer assess. The facts that they put on the wiki may not always be accurate (like all wikis) and the grammar and spelling may be incorrect but the children are free to correct and make changes as they see fit.

Another valuable tool is the ability to see the history of every change that was made and who is was made by. This means that a pretty accurate assessment can be made of who has a good contextual understanding and where misunderstanding and misconceptions lie.

We have made two class wikis now. One last year about the Victorians and one this year about WW2 which is still being updated.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Teaching and Learning with iPod Touch Part One

This year, our school has been fortunate enough to be given iPod Touch devices for each class from P1 - P7. We have been exploring the impact that the tools, apps and general nature of learning and teaching using these handheld devices.

Whilst the emphasis has been placed mainly on the use of apps. My P7 class have been looking at how we can use the iPods in general to replace or improve current systems and make information and resources more available for all learners of various needs and learning styles.


Children have used this mind-mapping tool to organise ideas during writing and topic lessons. I was surprised at how easily children adapted to the small screen and managed to navigate around. I also anticipated issues about the speed of progress due to having to use the on screen keyboard. However, this didn't pose a problem, even for children who I expected to use the paper alternative.

Impact: Children have enjoyed this as a tool and they find it different and fun. However, it loses the group work and spontaneous benefit as children do these mind maps individually and unless the SimpleMnds+ app is also installed on the class Macbook and then connected to the whiteboard, I feel the advantage still lies with children surrounding a sheet of large paper that can be instantly shared and discussed.

KidsMathFun, ArithmeTick, Times Tables
These apps are fun little games to allow children to practise mental maths and times tables. We have used them as fun starter activities at the beginning of maths lessons. Children have also chosen to play them at times where they have finished tasks or during their golden time.

Impact: It is expected that regular and engaging times table practise will pay dividends. Time will tell.

There is no substitute for the good old traditional paper dictionary... or is there. The dictionary app has many more words than our class dictionaries. The app doesn't get creased and torn and compensates for misspelled words. It also has the ability to play a sound file demonstrating the pronunciation of the word.

Impact: Children have been far more keen to refer to a dictionary to aid spelling and comprehension when using the iPods. However, this means that the teaching of alphabet and dictionary skills begins to lose relevance to the children.

French, FR Lite
I installed these in case children were interested in developing or testing their French language learning in their own time. Some children have but it has not been widely used.

Impact: this has had little or no visible impact although I plan to work more closely with our French specialist to see if there is a way it can aid teaching & learning in her class.

I installed this app as an extension activity when we were looking at shape. The children immediately engaged with it and spend the next 5 - 10 days working through the many levels, competing with each other.  was very pleased to see their enthusiasm.

Impact: A huge motivational tool which really got children into competitive problem solving. As extension tasks, I will definitely look for more puzzles like this related to future maths topics.

Inspired by the 2012 Olympic Games, we used the Banner app in our class assembly to recreate a version of the matrix boards used around the seating of the Olympic Stadium. It was... fun!

Angry Birds
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy! Children have made very good arguments for using Angry Birds as a maths tool through the use of estimation and angle. Fair play to them.

Smart slides
When teaching, I use the interactive whiteboard heavily. I find it drives the pace of the lesson, keeps children engaged during the 'teacher talk' part as well as allowing a clear display of modelled/shared tasks, success criteria and word banks. In this current climate of budget cuts, it is not possible to photocopy SCs, word banks etc for each child. Especially when much of this ends up being used for scrap or in the recycling box. The value of these aids last only for a couple of lessons at the most.

With SMART Notebook software, any slides created can be exported as image files or PDFs. This means that all the slides can be copied across to iPhoto on the Macbook and synchronised to the iPods very quickly. I have done this often in writing tasks and have even managed to do this after we have annotated the slides. In the 3 minutes that I give children to write the date, title and get started, I can sync the iPods and have them distributed. Children then have the most up to date versions of the slides to reference as they need.

I have seen a great impact especially on writing. I have found in the past that children constantly need to flick between models, shared-writing as well as copying success criteria. Word banks were generally only given to those children identified as benefiting from them. Now, children are in complete control, flicking to and fro between the information that they need. They are borrowing the ideas from the shared writing, reminding themselves of vocabulary and all have access to SC, word banks, sentence starts etc. All without having to print or photocopy anything. (I always have a couple of paper copies for any child who finds it difficult to use the ipods. The rarely need them) I feel that the quality of writing has increased through the use of the ipods.

The multimedia element of iPod Touches in the classroom has been very beneficial to children's ability to engage with cross-curricular projects. For our assembly I imported the music that accompanied their singing into iTunes. I then copied the PDF of the song words and assembly script into Dropbox. This meant that, with headphones, children could listen to the backing tracks and follow the song words at the same time. All children had copies of the scripts which could be updated and refreshed by me at any time. At this point the iPods were not being allowed home but had they been, it would have made a huge difference to the extent to which children could engage with the assembly.

Likewise, for history-based lessons I imported Chamberlains declaration of war speech and an edited version of Martin Luther King speech accompanied by images of him making the speech. This way, children could engage with primary sources that were far more meaningful, with far more impact than a typed page.

Children have engaged with primary sources in a way that they would not have if given photocopies or reading from a book. The personal nature of the devices mean that the children have had the freedom to revisit, reconsider multimedia texts. This has meant, for example, that there has been a crossover during children's work where they refer back to these resources to enrich other, but related, tasks.

Since children are now able to take the iPods home, I have explored the possibility of replacing the diaries that children have previously taken home. The diaries have space for 'things to remember', 'keep in touch' and 'homework tasks'. I have set up the calendar so that the iPods themselves are set to their own, independent calendar that children can edit and update themselves. I have also set up a P7 calendar that automatically syncs from the Macbook. This is where I can put general events that are synced to all iPods such as itineraries for trips etc.

This will take time to become a habit but my hope is that it will become a more reliable way to communicate between home and school as well as helping children to be more organised. Children often forget their diaries though, to date, have never forgotten their iPod.

I have mostly used iPhoto to provide children with images of SMART slides or photographs of worksheets or other, photocopied resources. However, iPhoto will not accept PDFs and since many of the resources we collect from online sources are provided in PDF format (or at least can be converted from word) I have used Dropbox to make these available to all. Since children only have to log in once, there is little chance that they will not have access to the most current files in Dropbox and this gives it an advantage over GLOW documents as children still seem to have problems with the log-in process, especially at home.

The impact of this will not be clear until we have tried it for longer.


  • The screen size is small and therefore, while there have been few complaints from the children, the long term effects of this are worth considering.
  • The firmware on the devices are becoming outdated meaning that many of the modern apps will not work on the devices. This is not known until after they are installed (and paid for).
  • The lack of a camera does limit the uses with regards to augmented reality applications, QR codes and most pressingly the uploading of images of pupils achievements to their online e-porfolios.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012


I'm just on my way home from the very first PedagooNE and feel the need to update my blog straight away. As I was saying to Martin this evening, I definitely feel that my enthusiasm and interest of teaching follows regular peaks and troughs. The troughs usually follow intense peaks where I become focused and perhaps slightly obsessed with projects or ideas. Although sometimes I just fancy a rest. Events like Teachmeets and pedagooNE serve to give me a real inspiration hit and fill me with enthusiasm. Here are some of the things that I learnt about this evening.

Learning and Outreach: Special Collections Centre provides experience days and a range of free workshops and services related to a range of historical sources.

Claire Illingworth showcased Speak Up Scotland, a resource to encourage debating in the classroom in a way that can be quick and easy. Perfect for plenaries or for teachers like me who maybe are not as confident in leading debates in the classroom. Follow her on twitter @belledefluff

Duncan MacLeod from Aberdeen College took us through the process of creating a badge reward scheme for students at F.E. level and talked about the impact that this had on attainment and attendance. He shared some fantastic media projects that the students had achieved particular success in. Thanks @aktoman

From the virtual world of the Internet, Ian Simpson presented his video about Class Dojo and the positive effect that it has had on his S1 pupils. I spoke to Ian over the October break and he gave me a sneaky heads-up on the Class Dojo resource. I began using it with my class this week and it has been a great success so far. I'll blog about my experience at the end of this term. Thanks @familysimpson

And finally, Stuart Brown gave an insight to his current work with disengaged young people and how he has completely redesigned his workspace to provide a more conducive learning space for the young people he works with. Again, this is something I will follow up with Stuart and blog about in the future. His fresh outlook has already had me thinking about the positive learning environments promoted by people like Steven Heppell.

For anyone looking for my presentation on Our Class Geocache, I have embedded it below. I blogged about this in a previous post so have a look and feel free to post any questions.


Thursday, 27 September 2012

Geocaching with P6/7s

This term the class found out that their 'travel bug' which had started it's journey less than a mile down the road, in their own geocache had managed to travel across the Atlantic and is currently 'In the hands of afamilywiththreeboys' near Chicago.

Our Scotland trackable
Confused? Excited? Yes, those are two words to describe how my class felt when we first discussed the idea of a geocache back at the beginning of 2012. Here is an account of how our geocaching adventures started and ended and were resurrected.

our cache complete with treasure
Before I continue, I suppose I should really explain the whole idea behind geocaching to anyone who hasn't yet experienced it. A geocache is a small container or 'cache' that is hidden anywhere in the world. These caches can be as small as the dust cap on your car tyre or as big as an ice-cream tub and many sizes in between. Some contain treasure and some simply contain a rolled up sliver of paper with some dates and initials. In essence, geocaching is simply a treasure hunt on a global scale.

Using a web-based database of hundreds of thousands of caches around the world, the user employs their map skills or, more commonly their GPS device to find the location of a cache. They then use clues to narrow the location down from several metres to a specific location. Once found, the log is signed and dated and if there is treasure then the user can take from the cache as long as something of equal or greater value is left in it's place.

Often, amongst the treasures are 'trackables' which are special items with a trackable serial number. These are designed to be moved from cache to cache and often travel between countries.

We decided that we should plant our own geocache and so set about using map work and our local knowledge to pick a sensible place to hide it. The rules state that the cache cannot be buried underground but can be hidden in holes, bushes or sometimes even in plain sight. We had to also make sure that there would be no environmental damage through the hiding of the cache or by the geocachers who would be looking for it.

With all that in mind we decided upon the local community woodland. This was an area that the children had already been involved with the previous year with a couple of days of tree planting. So we decided to walk to the woodland and seek out suitable hiding spots. Each child sketched where they thought it should be hidden. Then each child jotted down directions to help people to find the location. Once back at school we decided upon a final hiding place and I went back to the site after school to log the exact GPS coordinates on my phone.

Since most geocaches are hidden in areas of geographical or historical interest, this provided an opportunity for some writing in the form of a description of the local area based on children's own knowledge and further research about the development of the woodland. Further writing took the form of an instructional text explaining the concept of geocaching and how to hide a geocache. The children were very engaged in such relevant pieces.

The next task was to find a tub suitable and provide some initial 'treasure'. Some children brought in some small items like rubbers, keyrings etc. I supplied a Scotland travel bug. Since our topic was Europe, we decided that we would like our Scotland travel bug to travel as far round Europe as possible. We packed all our items in our waterproof tub and set off, back to the woodland to hide it.

After a little nudge in the right direction from the website help page, I logged the cache site and awaited it's approval. A few days later it was live and the children knew that they had a special secret treasure cache that only people in the know would be able to find. We checked the website every once in a while to read logs from others that had found it (including a supply teacher working at Portlethen Primary) and we checked to see where our travel bug had travelled to.

So, almost a year on and our travel bug has travelled 5124miles. If you would like to find out more about Geocaching then visit Our geocache is called A Fishermoss Find and our travel bug is called Scotland Flag Tag.

Monday, 24 September 2012

A lot can happen in 10 months

Wow, has it been almost a year since I last published a new blog post?

So much has happened since then. Perhaps the whole teaching malarky has meant that I'm far too busy to tap tap tap away at this keyboard. Or perhaps I am seeking the elusive 'work/life' balance?

Whatever the excuse, remind me to tell you about;

the collaborative writing using wikispaces.
the fantastic Geocaching experience that my P6/7 pupils engaged in and how their travel bug skipped it's intended location and is now half way across the USA.
our Health and Wellbeing open day that allowed children to create and run their own stalls teaching other children how to be safe through responsible cycling, healthy through football and tennis and even assisting others through 1st aid knowledge.
our work with a class set of iPod touches and apps, learning resources, SMART pages, audio/visual resources and lots of techy fun.
our vision to provide cycling provision from Nursery through to P7, from balance bikes to mountain bikes.

Oh I've been so excited. Maybe that's the reason I haven't managed to update the blog.

Ps, I'll also be publishing some new CPD opportunties that I have just learnt about too. Like this

or this

Educators and parents of primary school children. Your weekends are now free: