Truly random musings…

If you look closely at my blog page, the tagline says “Random thoughts spilled onto a page…”

Never before has this been more true.

There are 4 days until Pedagoo London.  4 days for me to practise my presentation and to overcome this sick feeling that’s in my stomach.  At school, I spend all of my time encouraging my children to push themselves to work outside of the Comfort Zone.  Challenge themselves. Push themselves to help them to learn.  I hear myself saying it every day.  And yet the first time I practise what I preach and take myself out of the Comfort Zone, I’m a nervous wreck.  I’m not even sure what I am worried about – I know what I’m talking about, I think I’m pretty easy going and not too boring to listen to, so what’s the problem.

So here goes the spilling of random thoughts to try and make myself feel better…

What if loads of people turn up?

Great.  A captive audience.  If they turn up, they obviously are interested in what I have to say.  They’ve given up their Saturday to come along, so they must be keen to find out more.  And no-one’s going to get up and walk out half way through, so we’re stuck with each other until the bitter end!

Image courtesy of the Daily Mail
Image courtesy of the Daily Mail

What if they disagree with what I have to say?

I’m not professing to be any kind of expert in the field of assessment.  I even explain that right at the beginning, just to make it very, very clear.  Worst case scenario, in the words of the lovely Mrs Merton, “Let’s have a heated debate!”  Ok, I’m sure I’m the only person who gets that reference.  I probably won’t do an impression if a heated debate occurs.

What if no-one turns up?

Ok, that could be a little embarrassing but 130 people won’t all be able to fit in the other sessions, so by default, some will have to listen to me!  And if my session is so unappealing that they all decide to grab a coffee, well so will I.  And then I’ll lie and say loads of people came!

What if they think I’m boring?!

They’ll be nice.  Teachers are generally nice.  They won’t flood Twitter with tweets filled with sleepy face emoticons or Zzzzzs.  I hope.  And if they do, I’ll just have to hope that Twitter is so busy being filled with other people’s positive tweets that no-one notices theirs! And then I’ll lie and say everyone loved it!

Is my PowerPoint too long winded?!

Maybe.  Maybe not.  We’ll have to see!  I haven’ gone for “Death by PowerPoint” – I’ve got a few points bit some quotes and discussion points.  I’m not just talking through slides.  At the end of the day, if nothing else, people can doodle on their handouts.  As long as they don’t make paper aeroplanes and throw them at me, I don’t mind what they do with them. Making notes on them would of course be a bonus – if I can see pens moving on their pages, I’ll assume that’s what they’re doing.

What if they ask difficult questions.

Answer them.  Or don’t.  Or ask if anyone else knows the answer.  The world won’t end if I don’t know.

What if I accidentally say a bad word??? I have an irrational phobia of using the words “fussing” or “mucking around” in class.  I always worry that if I use one of them, I’ll end up with a spoonerism that could get me sacked.  I can’t get sacked from a free presentation.  And the words “fussing” or “mucking around” aren’t naturally going to occur in my presentation.  So the chances are I’ll be ok.  And if I do, well then that’s one Twitter quote that’s bound to do the rounds – I’m sure my follower count would do well from it!

There are still a hundred and one questions going around in my head.  What kind of room will it be? What should I wear? What do I need to take with me? Aaaargh!  The stupid thoughts go round and round and round.  But now that the presentation is sorted and I’ve had a couple of goes at it, I am starting to feel better about it all.  Well, a bit better.  This evening, I sat at the children’s picnic bench at the end of the garden and presented to myself.  Tomorrow, I reckon I might even stand up and do it properly.  Ok, so the neighbours will all think I’ve gone a little bit loopy, but it’s a small price to pay for confidence.

Well, these truly have been random musings.  But therapeutic ones.  So, if you did actually make it through to the end of this mind-splurge on a page, thanks for your help.  It’s much appreciated.


Candy Maths Mania

An early morning comment conversation with The Quirky teacher today was discussing whether the amazing, “bells and whistles” lessons we plan are actually having a detrimental effect on children’s learning, leaving them reluctant to take place in less exciting lessons (see the comments here) To some extent, I agree: if we were to plan over the top, all-singing, all dancing lessons too often, then children aren’t going to want to take part in “normal” lessons.  The word “dry” was bandied around a little.  But do any lessons need to be “dry”?

Of course, there are some objectives that are less interesting, less inspirational than others.  Maths was given by QT as an example.  But do the lessons have to be dry? Children need to be engaged.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been looking at the assessments I have carried out of the year, and am trying to fill in the gaps in the children’s learning.   More complex word problems using column addition and subtraction and grid multiplication , along with collecting and interpreting data are two areas where lots of the children have gaps in their learning.  There are plenty of opportunities for “dry teaching” here.  This, coupled with the fact that there are only 3 weeks until the end of the year, could lead to some chaotic and unproductive lessons.  I wanted to find a way to engage the children. Now, before I go on, I just want it to be known that I have been thinking of writing this post for a while, but didn’t know whether to or not.  Never one to court controversy, I know that some teachers will not approve of my approach: maths should be for maths and not for playing ridiculously addictive games.  So, deep breath, and here goes…

Image courtesy of king.com

Candy Crush Saga was my answer.  I have to admit to being very apprehensive about it: it took me a while to get it on to the Learnpads, plus a lunchtime phonecall from their very helpful support team putting my mistakes right.  I didn’t know if the internet would cope, if the Learnpads would cope, and more importantly, if the children would cope.

But all was good.

The children spent ten ridiculously crazy minute completing five levels of Candy Crush and recording their scores.  “Ten minutes wasted when they could have been learning,” I hear some people say.  But 10 minutes isn’t wasted when we had three fantastic, maths filled lessons from it.  The children had a huge selection of word problems to choose from, ranging from simple addition or subtraction to complex problems which involved many steps of addition, subtraction and multiplication.

From SkitchThis is where I had intended the Candy mania to end, but the children really enjoyed it, so we spent 5 minutes in another lesson completing two levels and recording data to put into graphs.  For most, this was in the form of colours of candies swapped, but others opted to choose their own data to collect.  Those who were less confident with drawing graphs then put their data into simple bar charts; those more confident children worked out how to present the results of more than one child on the same graph for comparison.  Again, five minutes well spent.  Today, I found an information sheet produced by King which gave statistical information for the children to interpret. Clearly not the most thrilling of lessons, but the fact that it was linked to our Candy Crush experience made the children all the more enthusiastic.  I’m not going to milk the whole Candy Crush thing, but one more activity to come: the children are going to design their own survey and collect data to present and draw conclusions.

I know that using technology for technology’s sake is a bad thing.  All too often, I see trainees teaching using the interactive whiteboard when it adds nothing to the lesson, just because they feel they should be using it. Taking 10 minutes out of every lesson to play a few levels of the game surely couldn’t be justified. But if it can be used to motivate and engage children, then a few minutes’ technology used wisely can be time well spent.

Learnpad, Observations

No children were harmed in the teaching of this lesson…

Who would have thought that a blog I wrote in excitement, in all innocence and enthusiasm turned out to be a little bit controversial?

Imagine my surprise when, on checking my phone one lunchtime, I found a string of Twitter notifications discussing whether my actions during our work on aliens were ethical.  Sadly, by the time I read them, the brief debate was over, but the conversation can be found here.

I didn’t have the opportunity to defend my actions, so I am going to do so here.  For those who haven’t seen the tweet from Andrew Old, he was asking why I felt it necessary to lie to my children about aliens being seen on the school playground.  A fair point, and I completely respect his views on this.  And, if it’s any consolation, I did weigh up the pros and cons of whether I should tell my children that aliens have invaded or not.  But, I know my children well.  I know that they were mature enough (being Year 4) to deal with the excitement, for the vast majority of them to work out during the course of the day that this was a hoax, and to accept the reasons why I lied when I came clean and told them the truth.  For me, the benefits of the day far outweighed the naughtiness of bending the truth:

  • Every child, every single child, was engaged, enthused and excited throughout the whole day;
  • They were motivated and wrote brilliant letters to their parents, warning them of imminent invasions (some of the parents came to see me to say how impressed they were with the letters when they were sent home);
  • It was an amazing launchpad for our week of animation work;
  • The children produced animations which they were incredibly proud of;
  • It was clearly an experience that the children will never forget.

We made sure to tell the children not to discuss what we had been talking about on the playground with other children – no, we didn’t tell them to lie to anyone, but they don’t normally go out at break time and discuss their literacy with their brothers and sisters, so we just said to make sure they did the same with our alien work.  Any children who were a little unsure (and there were only 2 in a year group of 60) were brought “in on the act” from the beginning, and so helped to engage their peers. They were all told at the end of the day that aliens hadn’t been seen, and they were fascinated to know how the invasion footage was made.  Many even went home and filmed their own.

So was I wrong to lie to them? Maybe I was.  But how many other teachers have done the same?  When I was on my teaching practise many years ago, we were fortunate enough to have a small wood at the end of the field where we would take the children on a bear hunt – they had been led to believe that bears had been sighted there.  My 6 year old son comes home from school having received letters and phone calls from various fairy tale characters.  Apparently his teachers’ mobile phones have contact details for Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, Jack (minus his beanstalk) and various wolves and bears.  MNQTH often used to dress up in random fairy tale character costumes and hide in the woods for his children to track him down (admittedly, in black and white, that really doesn’t sound good, but it was all legal and above board, I promise).  All of these are examples where teachers deliberately mislead their children.  We do it all the time.  My children, being that bit older, would have laughed at Little Red Riding Hood being sighted in the school, so I opted for something a little more grown up.  Does that make it wrong? I don’t know, I guess that depends on your moral viewpoint.  But from my point of view, I think it was worthwhile.  I think children need opportunities to explore and to be creative, and that’s not always possible when things are based in reality.  The feedback I got from parents has been fantastic, and what’s more, I received no complaints from either children or parents.

Would I do it again? Without a shadow of a doubt.  Provided, or course, the children were right for it.


Ofsted experiences of assessment – please help

I have written  many times before about the processes involved in designing a new assessment system to assess without levels.  The purpose of this blog is not to provide more information, but to hopefully gain it.

On the 4th July, I am presenting a session on overcoming problems with developing an assessment system at PedagooLondon15.  The main basis of my presentation is based on my own experiences, but I would love to hear how other schools have got on with assessing without levels.

I am very happy with the system we are using in school, but as yet, I have not developed any kind of measure of what “expected progress” looks like to aid target setting.  Maybe I won’t even do that.  Jamie Pembroke has discussed developing “Progress Pathways” over time to map out what progress looks like , if I feel that I need a progress measure.  I like this idea, and am happy to do this over the next 12 months and beyond, but my only concern is the dreaded “O” word – visit due next year.  I am perfectly happy to discuss and defend this decision with Ofsted: I am not prepared to set random, meaningless and possibly unrealistic targets for the sake of ticking a box, and I know I have the support of the SLT in this, but I hate to think that my decision could affect any judgement made on the school.

I would love to hear any experiences that schools have had this year with Ofsted, in particular with regard to progress measures against Age Related  Expectations.  I would be interested to hear your experiences in the following:

  • Did you roll out your assessment system across the whole school, or trial in one year group?
  • Have you developed your own progress measures?
  • Have you set ARE targets individually, and if so, what did you base these on?
  • Were Ofsted expecting to see specific targets for individual children?
  • Were there any aspects of your assessment systems that were particularly praised or criticised during your inspection.

I would really love to hear from you, whether primary or secondary.  Please either comment on the blog, tweet me, comment on my Facebook page or DM me for my email address.

Thank you in advance for your help!

Curriculum, Observations

Pledge a Book

Image links to Pledge A  Book website
Image links to Pledge A Book website

It goes without saying at bedtime in my house that the children have a story.  Sometimes, T reads to his little sister.  Occasionally, I read to one child while MNQTH reads to the other.  But mostly, we all sit together and listen to one story.  It’s a lovely time for all of us to wind down together at the end of a hectic day.  T has a bookshelf overflowing with books; some are firm favourites, some are perhaps ready to pass on to his little sister, some are yet to be read.  There are far too many books on there really; they are usually found strewn across the bedroom.  Already, at 21 months old, G is developing favourites – the “That’s not my…” books are also often found across the bedroom floor.  I’m sensing a pattern developing here.  But if I’m honest, who am I to complain?  They enjoy rummaging through their books, reading them and then moving on to another.  MNQTH and I also love reading – admittedly, we don’t get to as much as we would like, but as children, we always had our heads in a book.  It’s a love we developed as young children which has stayed with us forever.

So many children don’t have the opportunity to develop this love.  For them, reading is something they get told off at school for not having done enough of at home.  You know the ones: they take their school books home, and they never return.  Eventually, the school stop sending them, as it’s costing too much money in lost books.  They probably haven’t ever had a bedtime story, and certainly don’t have shelves overflowing with books – just the ones they’ve not returned from school. The chances are, they don’t have someone at home who is willing to take them to the library.

www.pledgeabook.com has been set up to help children like these.  People who are in a position to do so can pledge a book to the charity, which will then be sent out to a child who has no or few books at home.  I know that many of these children may have bigger issues in their lives than not having books, but here is way that we can help them to be just what they are: children.  We can help them to escape their own lives for a short while, to disappear into a different place for a time or to get lost in the pictures.  We can do something small to make a big difference to these children’s lives.

You can send books by post, order from an Amazon wishlist or just donate money – whichever way you pledge, it’s just a small amount.  I’m sure my children wouldn’t mind forgoing another new book for the sake of someone who has none.

I’ve pledged my first book – I chose Esio Trot by Roald Dahl, as it’s one of my favourites.  I’m not in a position to send copious amounts of books at once, but I can send one whenever I have a few spare pounds.

Please send a book, and encourage everyone you know who loves to read to do the same.


Exploring what’s on our doorstep

Warning: this may come as a shock to any non-teachers reading this, so be prepared.  Contrary to popular belief, teachers are not rich.  I’ve been teaching for 15 years and have a management role, so my salary is ok, but dropping a day a week, having a Schools Direct trainee husband and two children, with all the expenses and childcare costs they bring (the children, not the husband), all take their toll on that “ok” salary.  So for us, entertaining the children is not a fancy affair.

T loves a good theme park as much as the next 6 year old, but in his time on this planet, he’s been to 4.  They are ridiculously expensive, and not something we can afford to do very often.  Soft plays are great, but to be honest, how many parents actually like going to them? So loud, often smelly, having to ignore children doing things that you wouldn’t dream of letting your own get away with.  We love farm parks, but again , they can be pricey, and on a day where you have severe weather warnings for rain, probably not the best choice of venue.  So today, we had a free day out! Well, apart from a rather lovely lunch at The Swan in Cheltenham. But that was my Dad’s treat, so was a bonus extra!

IMG_4230Who would have thought that a washing up bowl full of water, some fairy liquid and a huge pile of plastic crockery would have provided so much entertainment?  Apparently, it’s great fun!  Everyone got a bit damp in the garden, but it was free fun that lasted for ages.  And for anyone who’s reading and thinking what a rubbish mother I am for giving my children washing up to entertain them, it does get better.

IMG_4234We are fortunate enough to have a wonderful farm shop at Over Farm, down the road from us, which is always good for a wander.  But sadly, not a free wander, as I always end up filling a basket with their amazing produce.  However, wandering around the fields full of crops and seeing the animals is free, and seeing both my children stroking an ostrich and T running off along the fields was priceless.  Being fortune enough to avoid the heavy showers, we had a lovely time exploring, finding all the crops and looking for wildlife.  Wonderful.  And free.

We then went on to The Flying Shack in Cheltenham.  It’s a flying school on the boundary of Gloucestershire Airport, and while the flying lessons would have proved a little pricey for our cheap day out, for the price of a cup of tea we sat and watched light aircraft, helicopters and even a jet come and go.  Ok, I’m sure many people wouldn’t have fancied it, but the children absolutely loved it.  Once the rain eased off, there was plenty of open space to run around and we could even go to the perimeter fence to get a closer view.  I’ve never been there before, despite repeatedly saying we should, but I’d definitely go again.  We could happily have sat there all afternoon watching the air traffic come and go.

IMG_4240Days out don’t have to be expensive. Save the theme parks for a special treat. There is so much to do for free and in the fresh air on our own doorsteps.  We just need a little bit of imagination to find it.

Curriculum, Learnpad, Technology

The aliens land…

Animator is available for Learnpad - click image for more details
Animator is available for Learnpad – click image for more details

What a week it’s been.  After our fantastic alien invasion on Monday, we have been animating our Alien Blobs this afternoon.  After playing with the Animator app to create stop frame animations on the Learnpads yesterday afternoon, the children had a go at creating a more slick animation today.  All of the children planned out their work, although admittedly, some in more detail than others, and sought out unusual places for the aliens to be found.  Many then completely scrapped their plans when they realised that play doh can’t actually defy gravity, but it was all a learning curve!

Click in the image to see The Alien in the Sink!
Click in the image to see The Alien in the Sink!

While the movies the children made were all impressive, the quality of them did differ quite vastly.  But, if I’m honest, the final product was by no means the most important part of the lesson.  For me, today was all about the attitude and the atmosphere.  I am fortunate enough to work with a really lovely bunch of children. They are generally very happy and positive.  But for some, concentrating for anything longer than a few minutes can be an enormous challenge.  For others (or perhaps the same few!), an opportunity to use a Learnpad means an opportunity to attempt selfies or videos of others.  So, imagine my trepidation when, after my brief introduction, the children went off to shoot their movies with almost an hour and a half to spend on them.  Imagine my greater horror when half the class wanted to go off and shoot their movie elsewhere. How was I to be on hand to help with technical issues AND police selfie-abuse in two different places at once?

I really needn’t have worried.  I might as well have not been in the room (or on the playground!) at all.  The atmosphere was amazing, as even those with the shortest attention spans stayed completely focussed for the entire lesson.  And not a technical issue to be seen – the children planned and shot their movies, exported them and handed them in, all completely independently. The only time I was needed all afternoon was when someone shouted; “Miss, come and see this, it’s amazing!”  It was a common cry all afternoon, just with various substitutions for “amazing”.  In fact, there were times I really felt I was in the way – “Miss, can you move please, you’re in our frame” or “Miss, DON’T touch the table, there’s a big sign on it!” (There really was: WARNING.  Do not touch this table.  We are making a movie).  Even when the Reception children came out to play and interrupted shooting, there were no issues: those who had to stop got themselves a drink and sat down in the sun for 10 minutes, the rest carried on animating with an enormous and hugely impressed audience!

I said at the beginning of the week that I was more excited about what we had planned than anything I have done before.  I haven’t been disappointed.  The children have been completely engrossed; many have gone home to download Stop Motion apps on their tablets and phones. Already, the movies are being emailed in. I have never seen them so enthused by technology.  Tomorrow, we have scrapped what we intended to do and are adopting a “free for all” approach.  Play doh and props provided, but bring in whatever you think you can animate: whatever you can imagine, you can do.

Today, I heard one boy say: “I never thought I would be so excited by 4 seconds of movie!” By the time he had finished, it was 11 seconds long.  I really don’t know how he managed to contain himself.