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Friday @ #BETT2015

So today our only plan was to go along to some kind of talk or seminar. We failed. Nothing really caught the eye in the brochure and we were having much more fun exploring the stands loading up on complimentary coffee, lollipops and popcorn.

The first highlight of today for me was a rather pleasing few minutes I spent at the Sound and Music stand learning about ‘A Minute of Listening’. It’s a fairly simple idea where you play 60 seconds of sounds and the close their eyes and listen. Afterwards there are some questions that the children can think about and discuss. This can be the basis for whole lessons or more likely a daily calm moment of reflection. This will certainly help meet the part of the music curriculum related to listening and responding to a range of music. Also, it is claimed to help the listening skills of the children. Makes sense to me. More information can be found here;http://www.soundandmusic.org/projects/minute-listening  . It does sound like the sort of thing I could make myself, but it would take a bloomin’ long time and it’s just not going to happen. It’s £40 a term for the whole school.

We already use Accelerated Reader at our school and really like it, so went to investigate Accelerated Maths. As with the reading programme there are two parts to it. The assessment side, which gives levels, highlights areas for development and allows you to track and evidence progress.

The other side is the teaching bit. Pick levelled, targeted activities for each child in the class. Differentiation as many ways as you like/need. All jolly good, but a dramatic change of approach to the teaching and learning of maths across the whole school. Realistically I think we’ll just get the assessment bit for now, if budgets allow.

RMBooks is an on-line library from which you can borrow or buy books to use with your class. Have them on your screen or share with the children’s devices. Annotate the books to ask children questions  to use for guided reading or simply allow the children to follow along, or take over, during a class read.

After being excited by Fiction Express yesterday we went back and sign up for the free trail today. As an added bonus they had a couple of the authors there and we were able to chat to them further about the process of writing these episodic stories and allowing the children to be such an integral part of the creative process. Check them out: http://schools.fictionexpress.co.uk/en 

I have found the whole BETT experience to be a very positive one. Loads of great ideas and creative solutions to problems, even ones I didn’t know I had. The problem I had was that there is just so much to see and do. Although we were there for two days, I still felt as if I missed a lot. Another problem is that I have a fairly short attention span so struggle to focus on things when there is so much sensory stimulation all around. Flashing lights, loud music, presenters with microphones, people dressed in costumes and lots and lots of people. Despite all this I still found the trip extremely rewarding and came away with a wealth of new ideas and I am keen to return next year.

Thursday @ #BETT2015

I spent most of the first few hours at BETT walking around wide eyed. There certainly is a lot to take in. We walked around all of the exhibition hall, just to get a feel for the place. The Millgate stand certainly caught the eye, mostly because it had a dance floor, mirrorball and was offering free cocktails. This had the desired affect of drawing us in and at the price of two Mojitos each, we had a very informative chat with their consultants and a follow up visit has been arranged.

Once we got our bearings it was time for lunch, and the big hunt for somewhere to sit down at a table. This afforded the opportunity to check the map and identify which stands we wanted to see.

First up was Fiction Express. They publish e-books online in weekly episodes, pupils vote each week to decide where the plot goes next. This sounded great for whole class guided reading sessions 2 or 3 times a week. For £249+VAT a year it is something I am very interested in. 3 week free trial period here we come.

The next exhibitor to impress us was Hapara. It’s a teacher dashboard for google apps which allows us to see what each child is working on and share information and feedback more effectively. At £4 per child for the full package it makes it an interesting preposition and one we are seriously considering.

The Lego stand was very interesting. We’ve already invested in a little bit in Lego Mindstorm, but seeing it in action makes us want at least enough for a class set. Hugely engaging and versatile for across the curriculum.

Also enjoyed the Brainpop, EducationCity and  Frog stands, but we’ll have a more detailed look tomorrow. They all seem to offer things we are already getting elsewhere.

The real treat of the day for me was winning a £50 Amazon voucher from OCR for being really quick at putting some magnets on a board. Random, fun and rewarding. Pretty much like my whole day.

Over all it’s been a very good day. Tomorrow we’ll even take in some seminars and what not. Bring it on.

Looking back while looking forward – #Nurture1415

The aim of this post is to look back at some of the things I’ve done and learnt from this last year and to set out a few goals and hopes for the year ahead.

LOOKING BACK TO 2014

1. Changing school – Leaving the only school I had really worked in was a big and scary step. I was happy in my old school and worked with some amazing people, including @ianaddison and @clairemarie00, which made it hard to leave. I had completed my second PGCE placement there and my NQT year so I felt at home, comfortable and knew my place in the team. It was also the kind of school where you know you make a positive impact on children’s lives everyday and that felt great.

However, I had the opportunity to move to a very exciting school which offered me the chance to work in a very different environment and broaden my experience further. The move has been overwhelmingly positive so far and I know I’m very fortunate to be able to say ‘I love my job‘.

2. Blogging – In 2014 I began to blog about some of my teaching experiences. I have found this particularly useful in reflecting on my own practice as well as sharing with others. I will definitely carry this on in 2015.

3. School Productions – Since changing schools I have continued to have responsibility for Music. Under the Music umbrella comes school productions and I’ve been lucky enough to help out with two fantastic shows so far. I’ve been amazed just what can be achieved while still managing to include every child in the school.  What I thought might be optimistic or over-ambitious turn out to be awesome, thanks to some very dedicated staff and talented children.

4. The music stopped – This summer I stopped performing with my musical partner. This was for various reasons but we basically needed a break. It was a fun hobby which brought me a lot of joy, but it could also be stressful at times. It’s sad that I don’t do it any more, but I’m sure one day I will do something musical again. In the mean time I am enjoying focusing on other areas of my life.

5. Hanging out with my family – Since changing schools my work/life balance has improved dramatically, though it still has some way to go. I’ve really enjoyed spending more time with my family and watching my son grow and develop.

LOOKING FORWARD TO 2015

1. Make a difference beyond my classroom – I’d really like to make more of an impact throughout the school with the subjects which I lead. This will include going on training courses to improve my own practice and sharing what I’ve learnt. I would like to be the best teacher I can be and help others to improve their practice too.

2. Samba – I plan to start a Samba band at school, giving children an opportunity to perform as part of an ensemble working and listening to each other. I hope this leads to a number of performances at school fairs and the like.

3. Sharing with teachers – I love the collaborative nature of the people who work in teaching. I’ve always found the willingness of people to share ideas (through twitter, blogs, #teachmeets, and in person) really helpful and inspiring. My aim this year is to continue with this blog, to contribute more at teachmeets and take any opportunities to help train others in the areas I have skills to offer. Having spoken at my first teachmeet November 2014, I plan to get involved much more in 2015. I also look forward to having more students in my classroom to help them grow and so I can gain from their new ideas.

4. Expand – This year I’d really like to expand my little family but in order to do this I’m going to need a bigger house! 2015 is going to be a big year one way or another.

5. Get fitter – I don’t want to make any rash promises about running marathons and such like. However, since tearing my ACL in May I have had to stop playing football. This in turn has lead to an additional spare tyre on top of the old spare tyre. I aim to throw myself into my rehab and get more active to benefit my body and mind.

Top Tips when choosing presents for teachers

Before I get into this it is worth saying how grateful I am to those parents and children who choose to give me a gift at Christmas and the end of the Summer term. I really appreciate being appreciated. I love my job, and get huge reward and satisfaction from spending my days with some awesome children and to get gifts along the way is a real bonus.

Receiving presents is not something I take for granted and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have a number of very generous parents.

The aim of this post is to offer some top tips and golden rules for parents who wish to show their children’s teachers just how much they appreciate them by getting them a gift. A gift they will actually like. If you are going to spend money on someone, it might as well be something wanted.

DO…

1) …give consumables. Chocolates, biscuits, toffees, sweets, alcohol… The last one is particularly important!

2) …ask the teacher what they like. Red or white? A simple question we love to hear.

3) …club together. If you want to go the extra mile. Have a word with the parents on the playground or on the facebook group and put a couple of quid in each. Then you could get something truly wonderful for your truly wonderful class teacher.

wine1

AVOID…

1) …buying anything that says ‘World’s Best Teacher‘ on it. Very, very few of us are arrogant enough to believe this is true. We’re certainly not going to sit at home drinking tea from a ‘best teacher‘ mug, blowing our noses on ‘best teacher‘ hankies while wearing our ‘best teacher‘ tie and sock.

2) …letting your children choose the present. It’s rare to have the same taste as a 9 year old.

3) …letting your children make the present. While it can be very sweet, many teachers have their own children who make ‘precious’ gifts for us, so we’ve already got enough stuff stuck on the fridge.

bestteacher

 

Teaching is genuinely one of the best jobs in the world and it’s wonderful that some parents wish to thank us with gifts. I’m not saying you should to spend much money at all, but if you are, I hope these tips are useful to get something that will show the teacher just how thankful you are.

Animating teaching with Wideo

Wideo is a free on-line tool for making videos. You can use their templates or start from scratch to create your own animations. It is possible to upload backdrops and different objects to animate, enabling you to make your videos specific to your needs.

This term in ICT we have been learning how to use Wideo to make animated movies of firework displays as part of our ‘Firework Maker’s Daughter’ topic. A simple black background is used with a variety of firework we found on google images layered over the top.

Through teaching and exploring Wideo I began to see other possibilities for using it in school. We are currently rehearsing ‘Jack and the Beanstalk‘ as our Christmas production and so I had a go at creating the set using Wideo. It took a bit of playing with timings and it was important to keep the animation to a minimum, but it was brilliant to see the beanstalk grow while the action takes place on stage in front.

There are short tutorial videos available on the site and youtube as well as hints and tips to help you along the way. All this makes it very easy to use for my year 5 class and the results are slick and most pleasing.

Due to it’s ease of design and format Wideo can also be used for any number of lesson and staff meeting presentations, helping to engage and inspire.

The catch is that it is only free for Wideo animations that are 45 seconds or shorter. Perfect for our firework display but obviously this can be quite a limitation. We have also experienced problems using the site with the whole class as too much traffic can cause the site to freeze. This can be frustrating but is a good opportunity to teach the children about patience!

Recording a school CD

Last year I saw this tweet from @MySchoolCD and it piqued my interested.

Naturally my first thought was, ‘what’s the catch?’ So I investigated further.

It turned out that MySchoolCD were offering to give away a class set of African percussion instruments if you sign them up to come and record an album at your school.

Encouraged, I booked the recording and it all went rather well. Later I moved schools and have just repeated the process of recording an album with my new school.

In this blog post I aim to share my experience and the benefits of recording a whole school CD.

So what’s in it for them?

Once the album is recorded, they sell it. Your school (or school charity) gets at least £1 for every CD sold and they get the rest. The price you can sell it for depends on the quantity you sell. Suggested selling price is £7.99. There are 3 different options you can sign up for, but on both occasions  I went for the ‘Zero Risk’ option. Mainly because it meant I wasn’t tied down to selling any guaranteed quantities. Basically I’m not too comfortable with risking school funds and being left with CDs that I can’t shift. If you are willing to commit to more sales then you can get a better deal overall.

What’s in it for you?

Firstly we got a class set of African percussion instruments. Useful. Especially if your topic is Africa.

Secondly, you hold a whole school art competition to design the album cover. In our school this was judged by some member of the senior leadership team and we gave the winner a copy of the finished album as a prize.

Thirdly you get to meet a large part of the music curriculum while giving the children purpose for their work and a very memorable experience.

We practised in whole school assemblies and each year group had their own songs to sing. It gave the children a real reason to work hard at improving their singing as an ensemble and listening to each other as well as the music.

Recording

The day of the recording itself is pretty straight forward so long as you have rehearsed and communicated clearly with the rest of the team so they know what what is going on.

The engineer arrived by 10am and was set up within 20 minutes. We recorded most songs in 2 takes (so allow 15-20 minutes for each one). The engineer on both occasions really useful. He was keen to do a good job and was happy to record as many takes as was needed. I was really struck by the fantastic behaviour of the children. It was obvious they were completely engaged with the process from the moment they walked into the hall and saw the microphones set up. They sat straighter, listened more intently and sang better than I had heard before.

Overall I found working with MySchoolCD to be a positive experience and one the children will remember for a long time to come. While the percussion instruments were a welcome bonus, the main benefit was the sense of purpose it gave to our singing and music within the school. The children and staff all upped our game considerably because we had something to work towards that we can now listen back to and be extremely proud of.

A multimedia approach to literacy

I was asked to talk some School Direct students about ‘A multimedia approach to Literacy’. This blog post is the result.

The Literacy Shed contains a collection short animated films with teaching suggestions. These can be used as a wonderful stimulus for writing in a wide range of genres. http://www.literacyshed.com/ .

Writing fake text message conversations is a lovely way to introduce dialogue for story writing and play scripts. http://ifaketext.com/

@Fascinatingpics and @abandoned_pics are two twitter pages that offer some interesting pictures that can used as writing prompts. Superb for scene description. Other great writing prompts can be found on this Literacy Shed blog by @redgirob

 http://www.literacyshedblog.com/blog/story-starters 

Use x-ray goggles to ‘hack’ or at least adapt any website to say what you want. https://goggles.webmaker.org/  The example below is one we used in school during book week to help  draw the children in. Be warned it can lead to confusing conversations with both children and parents. Also, as you are only pasting over the top of the web page so any links and comments will relate to the original story.

http://blake-lobb.makes.org/goggles/usernames-remix-of-usernames-remix-of-bbc-news-schools-must-do-more-to-help-disadvantaged-pupils

If you wish to let the children in on the scam it can be a wonderful way of getting them to write their own news stories.

Use random name generators available from classtools.net (http://www.classtools.net/) and primaryschoolict.com (http://www.primaryschoolict.com/) to select children at random in class. This helps the children in the class remain focused during the lesson and you don’t get the same children putting their hands up every time.

I also use the generator for sentence and word games. The example I’ve included below can be used with any writing, take a spin and ask the children to include whatever comes up in today’s writing.

One of my favourite tools at the moment is Padlet (https://padlet.com/). Padlet is an online bulletin board which is perfect for sharing ideas in the class to encourage collaborative learning. It’s free to join and simple to use.  I share the URL to my page with my class and then they can add their ideas so the whole class can see them and build on them. This Padlet page shows examples of some sentence my class were writing.

Mainly to support my lower ability writers, I use Keezy on the iPad to record and play back sentences. This allows them to listen back to what they want to write as many times as they wish. See my previous blog post for more information.

Most of the ideas shared so far are ways to stimulate literacy. These usually result in writing in books, but there are a few other ways for children to commit their ideas to the page digitally. eBooks can be a lovely way of getting children to write stories. There are loads on iPads and you can add your own pictures to many enabling you to write fiction and non-fiction. Zooburst and Storybird have been recommended to me by @ianaddison. Storybird is particularly beautiful but you need to use their (admittedly wonderful) artwork. This can be limiting or inspiring depending on your need.

Our class blog also gives the children another means of sharing their writing, with the bonus of offering a real audience and sense of purpose to their work. Quadblogging (http://quadblogging.net/) and the 100 Word Challenge (http://100wc.net/) help to broaden that audience.

No doubt as more websites, apps and tools spring to mind I will add to this post.

Using Keezy in the classroom

I first came across Keezy being used by Reggie Watts on Sky Atlantic’s Setlist. He uses the app to record beats and loop them before working his vocal magic over the top of them.

And this is a great demonstration of the musical possibilities.

This inspired me to begin exploring Keezy myself. At first I thought I might be able to work it into my own musical repertoire and then remembered I am a primary school teacher and not Ed Sheeran.

Then I wondered how I might use Keezy with the children in my school. It is visually very bright and stimulating as well as being very simple to use so I thought it would appeal to the children. I have a responsibility for leading music provision at school and as part of that role design learning journeys from which the class teachers plan their lessons. These learning journeys give a basic outline of objectives and an expected outcome. This term we are writing stories about travelling through the human body. Once the children have written their story they will pick a favourite section/passage/paragraph and read it into Keezy. They will then use the other 7 channels to record sound effects to accompany the story. They will also need to write a graphic score to show when each sound effect is needed.

During discussions with colleagues it occurred to me that Keezy could have many uses beyond music lessons, particularly in Literacy. Initially we thought it could be useful for less confident children to say sentences into the Keezy meaning they could play it back as many times as they needed while writing it down. The more I thought about it, the more uses sprang to mind. I have included a few below.

Music

  • Practising harmonies
  • Singing in rounds
  • Recording samples and creating original compositions
  • Recording sound effects and creating graphic scores to accompany stories

Literacy

  • Practising sentences – Record each sentence you want into Keezy before writing it and play it back as many times as you need
  • Extending sentences – Write a simple sentence (The bus was red) on the board and in groups the children take turns to pass the iPad around adding a word or two each time to improve and extend the sentence. Listen back and discuss to the outcomes as a class.
  • Building sentences – In groups the children say 2 verbs, 2 adjectives, 2 adverbs and 2 nouns into Keezy. Pick four at random and include them in sentences on mini-whiteboards.
  • Matching sentences – The teacher records compound or complex sentences into the app. Half the sentence into one of the coloured rectangles and half into another. The children then match the two halves to complete the sentence.

History

  • Some of my colleagues  recently used Keezy in their history lesson. They recorded four questions into the four tabs on the left hand side and the children had to find out the answer and record them into the tabs on the opposite side.
If you have any innovative uses for Keezy I would very much like to hear them and I can included them in updates on this page (naturally you will be credited for your genius).

Downloading

The catch was that I couldn’t actually get Keezy on my iPads in school leading to me asking @pasql (the co-founder of Keezy) what that was all about. He kindly informed me that…

Useful. However, it still didn’t work for me. The simplest way I found was to go onto Safari on my class iPads and google ‘Keezy’, click on the first link that comes up and download. The draw back with this was that as it wasn’t through the App Store I had to load it individually on to every iPad in the school! (thanks to @NeilHall21 for the help with that).

Keezy is great for all ages. My 18 month old son can even use it. He has recently been exploring the demo that come in the library and created some tunes that don’t sound too dissimilar to Aphex Twin.

So I see Keezy having educational uses from very early years right the way through reaching way beyond the music. It’s also FREE!

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What is the single best way to ensure high quality learning outside of the classroom?

I was asked to contribute a short video for TMMooc with the title ‘What is the single best way to ensure high quality learning outside of the classroom?’

Now, while I don’t feel entirely qualified to give any sort of definitive answer to this question, I reckon I can have an opinion.

I thought of several ways of approaching this question but it strikes me that the best way to ensure learning outside of the classroom is to facilitate, nurture and encourage parental involvement. An open dialogue between school and home allows parents to have a better understanding of what is happening at school enabling them to further support their child’s learning. Sharing experiences, opinions and discussions and helping make their education relevant to their wider life outside of school.