Sunday, January 1, 2017

#Nurture 16/17

I haven't blogged a great deal this year as I have been trying to find more of a work-life balance. That has been hard to achieve at times (I know that I am not alone there). I thought it would be cathartic and, possibly, a positive way to reaffirm personal and professional achievements. So here goes...

Reflections of 2016

Our dogs

It almost seems trivial when there has been so much suffering last year, such as events in Siberia, the loss of lives from the earthquake in Italy, the terrorist attacks that have destroyed families, but the loss of our beloved dogs was heart-breaking. They were approaching their thirteenth year and we said goodbye to Macy in February as she had lost the use of her hind legs. It was the kindest thing to do. We were absolutely devastated that Sabre fell ill within a month. Possibly from grief. She had seemed so spritely and it was a massive shock when she died. It was a huge loss to our family and nobody wanted to be in the house on their own. Nobody wanted to be the first home from work as the house was just so empty. We made sure they had a beautiful resting place, in a lovely field with a beautiful view and they have been placed in their running position, with some of their things to take them into the 'afterlife'.


Grief for dogs is hard, as I'm sure anyone who has them will know. Small things can trigger emotions, but you don't feel like you have the right to be upset when you know that there are people who have lost, or have very sick, family members. My cousin died just before Christmas last year in a car accident, leaving two children, a twin, a sister and two devastated parents. Losing elderly dogs does not compare in any way to this and yet I had to go through a grieving process. One of the more rash things was to search obsessively for a dog to fill the gap. We have welcomed to our family Beau, our first male dog and one who looks similar, but totally different to our beloved girls. We have rehomed him from a family, so he is great with children, though possibly has a slight attachment disorder... He will hopefully be a good running partner in years to come.

A run down to Macy and Sabre's resting place


Last year I was able to tick off this destination in my bucket list. It was an incredible trip and I had a fantastic travelling partner, Ann. We booked the trip through Responsible Travel, which meant that we were tourists who helped local communities. We travelled from Shanghai, to X'ian then on to Beijing and the Great Wall of China. There are far too many highlights and I could not write them all here, but I have to say it really was the trip of a lifetime.


We got the call in October, just shy of the two years when we previously received a grading of RI. To put that in context, they had sat on the fence during the last inspection and there are things we maybe should have done in hindsight to convince them we were good. I never doubted that we were. All visitors, our cluster schools, supply teachers etc seemed shocked by the outcome and it had an impact on staff morale. From my perspective it had felt like a fair inspection. Rigorous, but fair. Our inspection this year felt very different. It was fast-paced - as expected - and gruelling. The fact that our OfSTED fell at the same time as parents' evening and the handle broke on our HT's office, locking us out for a couple of hours (seriously!!), didn't help. 

 It felt like a fight, but I am proud that it was acknowledged that we are a good school and that we know our children really well. OfSTED understood our curriculum and ethos and the benefits for our children. I feel sad that they did not come and watch me teach, because they would have seen a passionate teacher, eager children who have made phenomenal progress and lots of Jambots at one point! It was a huge relief to wave goodbye and to have the half term holiday to recooperate. 

Social media

I spent less and less time on twitter last year, mostly because I was fed up with the spats that were taking over my timeline. My hackles kept going up because I couldn't understand why educational professionals, who should know better, would publicly try to humiliate each other (we all do a difficult enough job as it is). Even experienced professionals get it wrong sometimes and I believe that humbly admitting that is a quality I respect. Some professionals just have to 'see' that there are many ways of viewing the educational world.

 I have stated my opinion before now, then immediately regretted getting caught up as I know that I am neither quick nor articulate enough to respond in a tweet. The best option seemed to be staying away - and by that I mean not scanning through my timeline. I have tried to reduce the people I follow, but that is not easy as I still want to read influential blog posts.

One of the positive things I think I have done this year is to start the deputy head network. It was an attempt to encourage folk to share blog posts, news etc through facebook, saving folk like me the twitter trawl whilst enabling us to keep up with current events and innovative ideas. If you are not a member, please do come and join us. You don't have to be a deputy, just passionate about progress and interested in lifelong learning.

We have also managed to reinstate #DLChat on a Tuesday night, which seems much better for the majority of folk. It is great to see that the hashtag still gets used and that new people are joining in. Some long-standing advocates, like me, have different priorities now, but they still make time to share the thoughts and ideas. Long may it continue!

Being a SENDco

I passed the SENDco award in October. The work load was unsustainable, but there were many positive things about it. It added to a very busy year, with year 2, deputy, SENDco, county moderator and assessment coordinator commitments, but I think I can look back and say that some of those things I have done well ...

My hopes for next year

These haven't really changed from my hopes last year. I want to be a better person and to be better at everything I do.

Sharing the education love!

My very good friend Jenni and I are hosting a SEN teachmeet/unconference next year (do come!) and I hope that there will be more opportunities to replicate this sharing of good practice. We are so lucky to have Mary Myatt generously give her time to this.

  I will endeavour to share more on the deputy head network and will attempt to blog more. I am hopeful that the reduced workload from the SEN course will allow me the time to renew my spark and the capacity to think outside the box again. I think that I have managed to give my children an exciting curriculum throughout, but am keen to do more things that will have an impact at a whole-school level.


I hope that I can continue running, with Beau. My painful foot and his naughtiness have made this tricky at times. I know that I will keep reading for pleasure, travelling, enjoying the great outdoors and going to the seaside. I hope that I find more time for sketching and painting next year. I know that I will spend lots of time with family and friends, appreciating life! I still haven't managed to find a yoga class.

Lifelong learning

I shall carry on learning next year with educational reading, but would also like to learn to do something new. I'm not sure what. It may involve learning outdoors activities as I feel like I can put more energy into this in school next year, now that the year 2 pressure is off. I need to do some governor training and will also try and fit in a trip to the apple store so that I start using my mac properly. I know that I will continue to learn loads from my passionate, knowledgeable friends and colleagues: Amanda, Jenni, Judith, Becki and the Old Buck SENDco crew.

Digital leaders

I know that I need to push this more in school. I have my class digital leaders and I run a year 6 code club, but these are often difficult to manage when there are so many other things going on in school. I felt very honoured to be asked to deliver a keynote at an ICT conference again in 2017, but I felt like I had to say no. It's not because I wouldn't have anything to say - I could talk passionately about digital leaders for hours - but it feels a tad fraudulent when I am not the ICT coordinator at school and I don't organise the year 6 digital leaders. I keep my hand in with innovative ICT by getting together with the wonderful Kevin Sait and our enthusiastic code club members, but there's always more to be done.

Healthy eating

Maybe this will be the year when I limit my sugar consumption ...

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.