5 Minute Blog – Episode 8 “Moving on Up…”

Well I did it. I moved schools. After five years I made the very brave and decisive choice to move school: not only to move school but to move county as well. Whilst initially I was very nervous as to whether I had done the right thing I must say that moving schools has been easily one the best things I’ve done and has, without doubt, helped save my career.

Before I decided to move I was actually considering whether teaching was for me at all . I had grown tired of the constant paper trails, the need for evidence and countless different ways of making progress data sing on charts that nobody really understood or used.

To avoid the grass is greener cliche I will say that moving schools has helped me develop my practice and make me think again from word go about what it is, that as a teacher, I do.

Sure my new school isn’t perfect, you won’t find one that is, but It’s give me the golden opportunity to start again, be the new guy and understand how new systems and practices work. As before, I am surrounded by a wonderful teaching staff and I have learnt so much already.

Moving schools is something I think we all need to do at least once in our careers. This will be more fourth school in an 11 year career and I feel I am already a better teacher for it. Ive opened myself to new ideas, new ways and new children and I have to say that even though I’m travelling further and the days are longer it’s actually a lot more refreshing and rewarding.

I see a lot of people discussing what to do with their careers on twitter and trying to decide whether to continue or not. My advice would be to move before you call it quits, you might just find that school, that one school that fits you and that you fit into as well.

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The Five Minute Blog – Episode 7 : “Saying it like it is!”

I record the first draft of every post on this blog using the dictation tools on my iPhone. I set it recording at the start of my journey and then try and make sense of it once I’ve got home. Generally I am very pleased with the results, even though I speak relatively fast, and mostly with a broad Norfolk accent. I only really have to do minimal editing and rearranging : as you would with any piece of written text.

This feature however, is also amazingly helpful in the classroom as well. I have often worked with children who find writing difficult for a number of reasons. Be it their lack of confidence when writing, their not wanting to write full stop, or a struggle with motor skills that leads to illegible handwriting.

I have found using the dictation tools on iOS to be a great way of helping children find their voice as writers. This worked particularly well in my last cohort of year 6. I had two students who wanted to write but struggled with motor skills and their handwriting was challenging to read. Through using dictation to construct their writing first I could see that they could construct relatively clear and coherent pieces of text and had a good grasp of language constructs. We then focussed intervention on copying this work into written form and practicing handwriting techniques.

Upon (the dreaded) writing moderation at the end of the year it was clear that these students had made progress and I was able to show that they could use descriptive language and different sentence structures with confidence.

If this is something you want to do with your students it is very easy to do as long as you have an iOS device and the Notes app (Which I use to dictate my blog posts before editing). I have found these simple tips really help:

1. Ensure that the children know that they have to speak punctuation when dictating eg “full stop, New line, semi-colon” etc. This also helps to see if they know where and how to use them.

2. Make sure that your students are good at editing and that they check through what has been scribed by the device. As previously mentioned, the dictation is good, but it is by no means perfect.

3. Ensure that children speak clearly and fluently.

4. Whilst an obvious hint, this one often gets forgotten, try not to have a lot of background noise when dictating, it makes it a lot easier to pick up what is being said if the background is quiet.

4a. I find that you can make some effective dictation booths in your classroom with some cheap storage boxes (Ikea Drona boxes are great for this) and some foam. It cancels out most of the background noise and gives the students privacy to record if a corridor or intervention space is not available.

Five Minute Blog – Episode 6 – “Splening”

Spelling can be a tough nut to crack. Children learn 10 words a week, get them all right on Friday and then by Monday they are all forgotten and the whole thing starts again. Having seen this cycle repeat numerous tomes I decided that there had to be a better way to teach children key spellings but to engage them as well.

Somewhat oddly the answer came from Facebook in the shape of an advert for a game called WordBrain.

For those of you that don’t know WordBrain is like a digital version of a word search in which words can be hidden. The player finds the word by swiping through the letters in the correct order and creating the word. Starting with basic cvc words the game gets progressively more difficult and offers, at its highest levels, some really challenging words.

However, the real “game-changer” with the app is the ability to create custom levels and hide your own words for the children to find. These levels can then easily be shared as the game creates a six digit code. As a way of making spellings interactive and more engaging WordBrain worked wonders. Children kept book creator files full of level codes and even began sharing them at home with their peers.

What’s more is that it had a competitive element as well and for every level completed the player is awarded a brain size. By the time the app was embedded into practice at my school children were begging to stay in at break times to practice their spellings.

Download WordBrain here…

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/wordbrain/id708600202?mt=8

I also wrote an iTunesU course about using WordBrain which you can find on the iTunesU course catalog.

“The Edtech Revolution” (Something ‘political’)

I swore I wasn’t going to get ‘political’ when I setup my own blog but the recent announcement from Education secretary Damian Hinds is something I just feel I need to comment on.

Firstly I have to wonder whether Mr Hinds, or anyone at the DfE for that matter, has even bothered to look beyond the end of their desks because I can guarantee you that there are already a lot of very good schools using technology in immersive and engaging ways and getting very good results. Simply search for Apple Distinguished Schools and you will see what I mean. Putting my Apple Bias aside for a moment there are also a great number of schools and education institutions that are using things such as notebooks and google suite to great affect as well. I find myself asking the question: when did they take a look at such schools and think, how can we use this practice? I fear the answer is simply never.

Apparently, and I am quoting this from an article on the TES, (https://www.tes.com/news/hinds-calls-edtech-revolution-schools)

“The DfE listed the five “key opportunities” where the tech sector could “create a step change in education, improving teaching and slashing workload”:

  1. Teaching practices to support access, inclusion and improved learning outcomes for all;
  2. Assessment processes, making assessment more effective and efficient;
  3. Methods for delivery of teacher training and development by upgrading educator support so they can learn and develop more flexibly;
  4. Administration processes to reduce the burden of “non-teaching” tasks;
  5. Solutions to lifelong learning to help those who have left the formal education system to get the best from online learning.

Upon my initial reading of these points I was quickly able to go down the list and give simple answers to most of the points, namely:

  1. iPad (Great accessibility features, a lot of schools already doing it)
  2. Nearpod, Kahoot!, Plickers, Explain Everything
  3. iTunesU
  4. As a government, you gave the profession a lot of these mundane tasks, don’t now sell technology as the golden-bullet to get rid of them.
  5. iTunesU

Now before we go any further, I know what your thinking: A) well it isn’t as simple as one word answers for these things A) technology costs.

Let’s start with point B, which seems odd, but hopefully it’ll make sense later: Yes technology costs. It is expensive. I am a signed up Apple fan but even I’ll be the first to admit that the tech is expensive. Therefore we have to make it worth it. There has been lots of talk about how interactive whiteboards were actually a waste of money and didn’t actually do much, if anything, to improve teaching. How could they ever have been expected to? My experience was, of being given this new board and then zero training on it. Absolutely nothing! Technology was shoe-horned into nearly every classroom up and down the country and very little training was given to cover the benefits of it at all. I often speak to teachers today who didn’t know that you could do infinite cloner on Smartboard, or how to make the screen on your laptop extend to the whiteboard. How has this been allowed? This is why Smartboards were seen as a failure: namely because the companies selling them made loads of money putting them in and then the teachers were left to try and work it out – sound familiar?

This time I fear the approach is not correct again and if we are not extremely careful history will repeat itself. The wording of the announcement struck me. Namely that Mr Hinds has challenged the edtech sector to create the revolution – not the educators themselves. Now the government may have spoken to many educators and schools, indeed I hope they did, but there seems to have been very little consultation with schools that use technology already. As practitioners we are constantly learning from each other – why not let us do just that? Point out those schools of excellence, flag them up and let others go and see what they are doing and how it can be adapted – oh, and make the money available for that to happen.

(Now this is the really cynical bit, so you might want to skip this paragraph.) Something else that nobody seems to have called the Government out on is the timing of this announcement. It could be purely coincidence that this has been announced less than a week after Apple was valued as the worlds first trillion dollar company, it could be, but it doesn’t look like it from where I am sitting. With Brexit looming (incase you’d forgotten) doesn’t it seem a little too well timed that our Government are now courting the worlds most valuable company and using education as the excuse?

Now back to point A) If you’ve got this far your probably still thinking about money and the fact that it really isn’t as simple as just dumping iPads in the classrooms. You’re quite right, it really isn’t. Schools need money, that much is certain. To me, what this announcement really needed to be was that the government were making money available to schools for technology, or for the training on how to use such technology (I know there is massive debate about school budgets and pay and that is for people much cleverer than me).

What I really hoped for was that the DfE would realise that there is already very good practice going on in their schools and look at how this can be beneficial to all. I hoped that if they felt the need to court big technology companies that it could be in the fashion of seeking lower product prices or deals for schools or educators – thereby making the technology more accessible. I know, through my own work as an ADE that there are a lot of Apple Schools in the country that share their knowledge and training for FREE and I am sure that there are a number of other institutions that use other products and share their knowledge as well.

Yes children need to be using technology and they need to be able to see how it can help and improve their learning but so do the teachers. Don’t forget, we were told that interactive whiteboards would change the world….

The Black and White Challenge

I was recently tagged to take part in the black and white photo challenge on Twitter. For those of you that aren’t aware the challenge comprises of posting only black and white photos, one a day, for seven days that do not include words or humans or an explanation of why you have posted a certain picture. Each day you nominate somebody new and the challenge then continues. I loved the idea and duly got snapping away. The 7 photos that I took are shown below.

Day 1DjaQpt8W4AA-GcK.jpg

Day 2

IMG_1650.jpg

Day 3

IMG_2994.jpgDay 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

5 Minute Blog – Episode 5 – “It’s a rich man’s World”

Apple devices are expensive. I’m a completely signed up “Apple fan-boy” but even I’ll admit their devices aren’t cheap. However the one advantage, if you can call it that, is that the devices last. My wife and I bought an iPad 2 when we married 7 years ago and it is still useful now. Having been into a lot of schools that have iPads I have seen that this is also a familiar situation within education: namely that a lot of schools bought devices 4 or 4 5 years ago and they are still working so see no need or want to replace them. The pace of change is relentless and for any school to buy brand new devices every year would be bank breaking to say the least. Therefore schools and educators really have to be able to get the most out of older devices and ring the a lot out of them.

One of my previous schools was 1:1 with over 200 children. We bought all the devices at once and bought 1st generation iPad minis. To this very day they still work as well as the day they came out of the box and we only ever had 2 fail. “But you can’t use clips” , “what about screen recording” I hear you scream? Well with apps such as Vittle and Educreations we can still leverage these older devices efficiently and plan for a gradual phase out over a number of years.

This all came through very effective forward planning and thinking. As new devices were released and prices gradually rose we knew we would only be able to renew a class set at at once. So as new features were announced (things such as screen recording, clips, Apple classroom) we looked for apps that would plug the gaps and allow us nearly the same functionality (Vittle free, iMovie and nearpod/Kahoot!).

The point here is that I’ve seen schools were devices are sidelined because they are old and it is therefore assumed that they aren’t useful anymore. With clever app searching and planning even the oldest devices are useful and make a great difference in your classrooms.

P.S. Vittle Free is a little known app that I champion a lot, and although it is difficult to find on the App Store it does everything that Explain Everything does for free and is really useful for plenaries. I’ll be posting about it soon in my “appsolutely” fantastic series.

Five Minute Blog – Episode 4 – “A Voice for all…”

I think we all have those children in our classrooms that no matter what we do, or how hard we try,  they just won’t to say anything. Unlocking their voice and giving them a chance to shine is often a very difficult task.

The beauty of having technology such as iPad in the classroom is there is always a way to engage even the most reluctant pupils and over the many years I’ve been using Apple products in education apps such as Nearpod, Kahoot! and Plickers have proven great ways of engaging children that wouldn’t normally say anything at all or fully push themselves to take part in activities.

Nearpod, a personal favourite of mine (if you hadn’t guessed), can be really useful for bringing out what those reluctant learners know and sharing it with a group. Many a time has gone by when I’ve had a really reluctant contributor put forward a great idea and then been able to share it to the whole group and showcase their talent. Just recently I was working with a year 6 group and looking at solving word problems in maths. The children were given a word problem in Nearpod and had to demonstrate their method of solving the problem before ‘submitting’ their working to be shown. Once this had been done I could call up different responses and discuss with the class. But because I could hide the names of the children whose work I was looking at, I was able to call up a really good response to the question and display it on all the iPads in the room with naming the student that had come up with it. It gave the student (who you’ve probably guessed by know was a quiet one) their moment to shine, their voice and more importantly didn’t leave them feeling embarrassed or forced into anything that they didn’t want to do.

In my opinion that should be what the whole process is all about. Giving all of our learners an equal voice is easily possible with apps such as the ones mentioned here, and there are many many more than that that are readily available.

P.S. I will be posting soon in my “Appsolutely” Fantastic series about Nearpod and Kahoot! And how useful they are as assessment tools.