Saturday, March 12, 2016

Using free technology to start a drama in the classroom

I love environmental issues, technology and drama, so mixing them up is something that makes the curriculum come alive for me. This week my class will become The Asian Elephant Rescue Centre (The ARC), based in the rain forest of Borneo. The first dilemma that will start us off is that a baby elephant has fallen into a water pit and is unable to get out. The mother is so distressed that she is charging at anyone who comes close. This will create opportunities for thought tracking, pupil in role, decision alleys and role on the wall.

As always, when  I am planning for mantles such as this, I have an idea about what I want to do, then I search google to see if anything exists that I can use (and pretend to be mine). There usually is! This time I have found video footage of a charging Asian elephant and a bay elephant stuck in a pit in China. Perfect! I can adapt those.

For the baby elephant footage, I have used screencast-o-matic to make it sound like I am recording the elephant myself. It's not perfect, but it will do. 


For the charging elephant I will use a video straight from Youtube, which I have downloaded to my computer using the ss trick as we can't access Youtube in school... 

A bit later in the 'story' I will use a news page, adapted using x-ray goggles, to help make the news our own. I am considering teaching my class to use this, but they may be a bit young. 

Something I will definitely use during this mantle is Doink green screen app. The children can record themselves as if they are in the rainforest,  near to the baby elephant, or the charging elephant. Of course they will be told that this is all in our imaginations. In my experience, my children have been disappointed to learn that things aren't real when we first start using drama in September, but by this point in the year they understand that we are using our imaginations to make our learning exciting. History (The Great Fire of London and Florence Nightingale topics) has been particularly popular.

Planning the smart way?

It has taken me under fifteen minutes to find and prepare the films, then about the same for the hacked news page. I will also practise using Doink at school, where I have some green fabric tucked away. The value in doing these for me is that they help focus my thoughts on where the mantle will go, to start off with. The children will guide the rest of the way. The point is that I have planned for a unit of work quickly, in a practical way, which is how I prefer to work. I have a 2 minute mindmap on paper and I may complete one using popplet (I will add it here if I do), but I won't have a detailed plan. I have the objectives in my copy of my class's curriculum for 2015-16, which I will highlight and date. Minimal paper plans, but lots of planning will take place throughout. Most importantly (in my opinion) is that I am excited about teaching this and I really believe that excitement and passion is picked up on and replicated by the children. We will cover geography, art, DT, ICT, PSHE/citizenship and English in this unit. Can't wait!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Investigating mathematics

This is less blog post, more list of resources that I use to teach the new maths curriculum, as well as old favourites Nrich and the brilliant reasoning in the classroom activities. Don't forget the archived misconception resources too - they are very helpful for teaching points.

Edu Dudley lots of great stuff including finding all possibilities, finding rules and describing patterns, logic problems, reasoning about numbers and the mathematical challenges booklet. 

Maths warriors  investigations


Trinity maths hub - free learning schemes  and assessments for each year group (spring mastery docs can also be found here)

Teaching for mastery assessment materials

We have also purchased the Rising Stars problem solving and reasoning books at school, which have good activities and good approaches to maths

More will be added as I remember them!

Improving working memory

I have played this app a few times, with varying degrees of success I'm ashamed to say! I think it could be a useful app for children who need to improve their working memory, attention and concentration. Ribbit frog Ribbit uses sound and visual cues, much like the old game Simon, but in a linear way. 

First you press to show you are ready. 

Then you listen to the notes, which increase or decrease in amount depending on how you are doing.

At some point when you repeat the sequence of notes, a coloured note pops out of one of the frogs' mouths, which you then have to identify at the end. 

If you get the sequence wrong, the frog falls off the log. I'm not sure how long it would keep a child entertained, but I can see how regular short bursts could improve a child's working memory and attention skills.  It's another one I will be trying in class.

Another EYFS /KS1 computing app

I have been playing with the Foos this morning and it's another nice free app for EYFS and KS1. 

It uses drag and drop blocks that scaffold learning. 

You can change the direction of your blocks by clicking on them, then select from arrows.

After you have mastered basic walking and jumping, it introduces the repeat command.

That's as far as I've got at the moment, but I can see that children will enjoy playing with it from what I have played. I will try it with my mini digital leaders next week. It requires some computational thinking, though doesn't challenge like other apps by asking children to think too much about direction. This is good for the children who find apps such as Beebot too challenging. 

 My only other criticism so far is that you don't have to be overly precise with the jumping/adding blocks. I was successful even when my code wasn't quite accurate. A nice start to early coding though.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

#DLchat as a Slow Chat

Most people who know me know how passionate I am about having digital leaders in schools and the benefits they can have. I have been known to nag folk about hosting #DLChat - and posting on the digital leader network. #DLchat and the Digital Leader Network are a collaboration between like-minded people and not owned by any one person; it's the energy shown by a great community of professionals that keeps them going. 

I'm not quite sure exactly how long #DLchat has been going, but over the past few years we have had some really successful chats on a Thursday night. Some weeks have been quieter than others and lots of regular chatters have had major commitment changes over the past few years, though remain as passionate as I am about digital leaders. A couple of years ago I asked people if we should change the chat to a different night as many people had other commitments on a Thurs. It was felt at this time that it should remain the same. I do now feel that a different format is needed, to keep the chat going and to include more people. If you check out the # each week, tweeters have shared photographs, blog posts and events with their digital leaders and more of these people might like to host if they weren't tied to a Thurs night. 

When @Bekblayton proposed that we trialled a slow chat, I thought this could be a great way of keeping the chat going, whilst involving and including more people. A slow chat happens when someone poses a question, then it is responded to throughout the week. An alternative (thanks @clcsimon) is whereby the host posts a different question each day throughout the week. We can find it by searching for #DLchat and following the threads.

So now that it is more flexible, there is no excuse! Here is the document you need to sign up for hosting! When you sign up, you can state whether it is one (or more) questions / ideas / topics for the week, or whether a new question will appear each day. It's entirely up to you!

I think that this way we will include more international digital leader advocates and we can learn from each other. It also might just tempt those who are put off by the fast pace of the chat as responses can be slower and more thought out. 

So to kick off this week's slow chat, tomorrow I will be asking: 

Q1: What are the benefits of having digital leaders? 

Q2: How have they contributed to school improvement? 

Q3: What difficulties have you encountered when supporting digital leaders?

These will hopefully appear throughout the day ... 

I'm relying on others contributions, as I am now attending an an unexpected meeting on Thursday from 6pm. But that's ok, because the slow chat can continue for a whole week! So please do join in. Don't be shy or feel you can't contribute because you haven't before - all views and ideas are welcomed! We can learn a lot from listening to one another and sharing oue good ideas. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016


Having just looked back at my nurture 14/15 post, it was interesting to reflect on my hopes. #DLChat has continued, my ulcers have been kept at bay, most of my closest friends remain fit and healthy and my children are doing well.

Reflections of 2015


Despite feeling like it has taken a back seat to SEN this year, I managed to deliver a keynote at a conference in March, have run a code club at East Harling and have employed mini digital leaders. Although I feel I don't have enough hours to remain at the cutting edge, I know I am still doing my bit. #DLChat continues, though it maybe needs a rethink this year.

My children

Ben came home in July and will commute for his last year at uni. This is good as I can pester him to work hard and to try and keep normal hours... We have a lot of study chats now I am a student again and it is lovely to have him home. Jake has bought a house and I am dead proud of him, even though it has left me feeling very emotional. He is moving next door to one of my best friends at primary school and although I know she will be there for him, it feels a little weird that she might see him more than I will.


One of my hopes last year was to find a yoga class. I failed with that, but have found a pilates group. The phrase 'zip it up, front bottom, back bottom' is now one of those that pops into my head at all times of the day! I have also started running. After years of being a fine weather fartlek* runner, I bumped into a friend who told me I could run without stopping, that the first km was always the hardest and that I just needed to tell myself that I could do it. The next day I ran 3km without stopping. In my jeans. This carried on 3-4 times a week for a few weeks until I bumped into the same friend who said her husband thought he had seen me out running in my jeans and they'd had a good laugh about his eyesight... I had to admit that I didn't feel confident enough at that point to put tracky bottoms on, so if anyone saw me walking they wouldn't think I was a naff runner... Looking back it seems a bit ridiculous now. My son started running with me a bit later in the year, which helped me up my pace. Despite preferring to run alone (or with Jake - but we don't talk so that doesn't count) I said yes when I was asked to join in a charity run. Realising that I wasn't that bad was a really good feeling! As I'd been out once in company, I decided to join a local running club. I've not looked back! I'm not particularly competitive, but know that keeping it up is great for my asthmatic lungs and wellbeing (I can only concentrate on my breathing and looking where I'm going whilst running so have a real brain break). I feel like I have conquered the 5km and have managed an 8km route on occasion.

* Ben is doing a sports science degree and has told me that what I refer to as fat lady's running (I know that's not PC, but I didn't coin the phrase) whereby you run for a bit, then walk (and repeat) because you don't have the stamina to keep going, could be passed off as doing it that way on purpose i.e. fartlek.

County moderation

I trained to be a county moderator last year, which proved to be very interesting. We had to offer four dates to work, then were told that the county was being inspected ... you guessed it, on one of the dates I was moderating. It was ok though as there were five moderators in that day and I was the only newbie, so I thought I might be left alone ... Nope! The inspectors plonked themselves down on my table and looked at how another moderator and I were hosting the sessions.  It was all good though as we were commended on the way we moderated work. Phew!

Social media and blogging

They have both taken a back seat this year, much like computing. I haven't had to time to blog properly and have started and not finished about 10 posts over the year. I have stepped back from twitter as well, for two reasons: it takes up too much of my time reading the posts that I think will inform my practice or following interesting threads; some of the arguments/statements on twitter were raising my hackles. I'm sick of the phonics debates. I'm sick of high profile secondary teachers slating primary teachers, then refusing to answer challenging questions because some of us are too insignificant or don't have enough 'celebrity' status to respond to.

I did set up a deputy head FB page as a place to share SLT stuff, which I will try to promote next year. I think it could be a valuable resource if we get enough people sharing. I have tried to support @SENexchange, but must do better, and have almost kept up with #dlchat.

My hopes for this year

Family and friends

Life is precious. A tragic death in the family before Christmas reminded me of that. I will continue to ensure that at least one day each weekend is spent with family and friends. I hope that I will become a nanny at some point (Nanny Pidge) though next year might be wishful thinking. I hope my lovely friend Sue gets better and that other close friends have good news about health issues in their families. I look forward to bicycle shop / prison cafe meet ups with Jenni, Becki, Rubes and Judith, seaside walks with a range of friends and lots of afternoon teas with Linda, Sal, Jo and Becca. I hope I get to more gigs next year than I did last year.

BIG weekend

I hope I get to China this year after an epic fail last year. I did manage Scotland, Munich, Whitby, Wales, countless beach trips and both days at the BIG Weekend, so musn't grumble! After climbing Snowdon last year on my birthday, I'd like to climb Scafell and Ben Nevis this year.

New SENDco award

It needs to be done. I need to stop grumbling about it! (Sorry Amanda...)

Digital leaders

I hope that we can do something innovative this year - possibly with @kevin_sait.


I want to manage to keep up with reading for pleasure in amongst the abundant SEN course reading. Our book club will continue and I have a stack of new books on my shelf to read. I got 'A Boy Called Christmas' for Christmas, but haven't started it yet ...


It's therapeutic. I need to spend more time doing it. A child in my class bought me an A5 sketch book, which will now go to the seaside with me.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Thinking out loud: assessment

In amongst my roles at school is that of assessment coordinator. It's in the back of my mind a lot and as a county moderator I am acutely aware that we need to produce a system for our school, grounded in our curriculum, before I go out and act as a critical friend to others. For that's all I can be at the moment. With so many different systems, questioning a school's rationale for the systems they have in place may be the best I can offer.

 The confusing aftermath of the removal of levels has been captured brilliantly by @theprimaryhead in his blog post, Who Needs Levels Anyway? If you need a good chuckle, it's a must read! (Don't read whilst drinking tea. Spitting it out could seriously damage your tech!)

So how can we develop an effective assessment system?

As an advocate of all things formative, I agree with many of the messages in the Final Report of the Commission on Assessment without Levels and of course Dame Allison Peacock's Learning without Limits. I have written about this before, but having seen fleas in a jar it captures beautifully (scarily?) what happens when you put a ceiling on children's learning i.e. by levelling them.

 I have questioned my own practice considerably over the last few weeks, particularly in maths, and wonder if I have unintentionally been putting some of my children in a jar. That is another blog post, but some superb maths CPD and a relective moderation meeting have challenged my ideas and are helping me move forward. Although I heartily agree with much of what Tim Oates says, I have blindly followed some assessment systems without questioning them. Carry on learning eh? 

So here is what we have done so far at East Harling. It may not be perfect (yet), but it's our story and therefore we can redraft and tweak it as and when necessary. This will be essential over the next couple of years as we adapt our curriculum and aim to create a seamless system whereby assessment is an integral part of teaching. (When I say 'we' I am not elevating myself to royalty, but referring to our SMT, which consists of my HT, English, Maths and curriculum coordinators. Four of us have been deputies. It is an experienced team).

We use Pupil Asset at school, which I quite like. Under the new curriculum it takes the NAHT KPIs and allows you to click beginning, developing, embedded and not achieved for children. It then provides a DNA strip that will quickly show you what a child is able to do and where they struggle. For maths the KPIs are clumped into 'domains', though in the National Curriculum it is made clear that rich connections should be made between them, to develop fluency. 

At school we acknowledge that not all teachers are as familiar with this. We haven't had a staff meeting on it yet and you can't assume that everyone will have had a play with it. Equally, some teachers prefer to work on paper. Because of this, at the beginning of the year I created paper based tick lists for Maths (tweaked by our maths coordinator), based on the KPIS, and today have spent time creating them for English*. They need to be used in conjunction with the National Curriculum and the NAHT assessment frameworks and it is important that, especially for maths, you are not just assessing content, but fluency, reasoning and problem solving. Our expectations must exceed the NAHT descriptors so that learning is not limited (especially in writing where they seem low for some children). Because of this, our assessment sheets identify where an objective has been seen, (the child is) secure, (the child is) fluent and can reason and problem solve- the greater depth part. The latter may not be 'tickable' until the end of the year as children would need to show that they have mastered the skills across different contexts. I think it may prove hard to measure - and could be very subjective. This itself causes problems as schools may differ in their expectations as to what fluency and greater depth look like. 

I think that the Rising Stars assessment progression frameworks could prove invaluable. Why? Because it reminds us that we must not just focus on the things we are assessing (fleas in jars?), but all the things that will help make our children competent, confident, inquisitive, creative and expressive mathematicians, readers and writers.  

This is particularly important for new teachers who will not have the knowledge of the breadth of the curriculum, or those missing objectives. Likewise, they may not understand all the components that would make a child fluent with concepts such as place value, that the KPIs are only the big ideas that save us assessing countless objectives. And that's what we need to decide and tweak for our school by asking questions, like: What are the big ideas in our curriculum, the things that children must know at the end of each year? I anticipate that our method of assessment will be tweaked continously until it fits us. What we are desperate to avoid is the limiting of learning that Tim Oates and Dame Allison have attributed to levelling. Can we find an effective system that doesn't do this? If you have any thoughts or ideas, I'd love to hear them!

If you want to reflect even further on this, read (or re-read) @michaelT1979's 'Have we forgotten the rationale for scrapping levels?' or hot off the press, 'Updated assessment journeys' by @tim_jumpclarke. 

I'm still wondering how many schools are doing the same thing, creating systems, questioning what they are doing, becoming confused and going round in circles ...

* I will share these via google docs if anyone would like a copy