Thursday, 19 February 2015

Low cost; high impact

Sometimes, and I am guilty of this too, the best, quickest and often simplest solutions to problems are often overlooked. Technology is becoming more and more relied upon to support and motivate learners. Whilst I don't think technology is a bad thing, if learning can be supported better without plugging something in or turning something on then don't plug it in or turn it on; simple.

Some of the more engaging and effective sessions in my room are often the ones that evolve from an unknown element being introduced. A few unplanned or unknown elements that have impacted upon learning in my room this term would not have looked out of place on a 'Blue Peter Makes' materials list. Many of us probably remember this one:

Instructions on how to make this and several other classic Blue Peter Makes can be found at:
This will be a site I will get my class to visit!

These resources are on my list of low cost high impact resources used this term:

Masking Tape

1. Masking Clauses 
One revelation was made during a group session on grammar. We were discussing the impact of clauses depending on their order within the sentence. I had planned to use the whiteboard and the children's show me boards to model arranging clauses for impact, however, I have a terrible habit of fidgeting with inconsequential objects whilst working and I had picked up a roll of masking tape. I asked the children to write a clause, to go with an example on the whiteboard, on a piece of tape. These were then put onto the Literacy working wall. The children were then able to rearrange the clauses and discuss the impact of their order. This appealed to several kinaesthetic and visual learners. We also found that  the whiteboard pens wiped off relatively easily, therefore editing and redrafting  clause was very quick and the children had little fear of experimenting with different ideas.

2. Masking Maze
I was privileged enough to work alongside my Year 2 colleagues this term for an afternoon team-teaching session on algorithms, and introducing the children to Logo programming. Masking tape was used during an impromptu introduction that I set up in the school hall. During the morning I had been teaching my class how to make a maze game on Scratch, an idea came to me during the last few minutes of the lunch break. I quickly set out a large, simple maze using masking tape on the hall floor.

When the children entered, much to their amusement, I put my shoes and tie around the maze in different locations. They then chose one of their teachers to be the robot/turtle and we introduced the language and instructions for controlling the turtle. The children directed the teacher to one of my items, but they had to avoid the maze walls. Extending the activity was relatively simple, the class were split into three smaller groups. Each group into pairs, with one child being the robot/turtle, the other being the programmer. Differentiating and adapting the activity for each group was then very simple as extra walls could be added with the simple addition of more tape, likewise it was also easy* to remove walls by peeling off masking tape to make routes easier to navigate.

*although it would have been easier with low-tac tape, lesson learnt. Several children and a few minutes were required after school, peeling bits off of the floor. 

Large paper and coloured pens

1. Felt tip Friends
There aren't many children that don't love using felt tip pens and bright colours to write with. During many of our most successful writing sessions I have started with a paired writing activity. The children choose one colour each and may only write one sentence at a time on their shared piece of paper, they discuss each sentence; often using ideas borrowed from Pie Corbett's 'Talk for Writing' models. This simple technique has engaged several reluctant writers in my classes over the past few years. I have modified the task in different ways to suit different group dynamics. In one group the children scored points for using a range of punctuation correctly, e.g. Full stop = 1pt, capital letter = 1 pt, comma in a list 1 point, comma for a clause 2 points etc...

2. Sentence Scaffolds
When experimenting with sentence construction and different types of punctuation I like to scaffold the activities using a similar technique to the felt tip friends. However, on this occasion the children pair, or group write sentences on A3 paper. Each piece of paper will have a scaffold sentence structure on it in different colours. The children have to then write a sentence in pairs ensuring their clauses fit the structure given.  I will often make differentiated sheets quickly before school and photocopy them for each pair. I have found that they make a brilliant warm up activity before longer writing tasks. We have also used them to structure children's learning on a working wall and as examples of stepping stones within success criteria for a task.

An example Sentence Scaffold


1. String Connections 
In several sessions I have found an odd length of string in my pocket, left over from a display or tidying a roll of paper. In an impromptu discussion I had the children create a discussion connection web. They passed the string around and held on at their place in the discussion. This was a very quick and simple technique to track the history of the discussion and important points raised. It also allowed us to recap and build upon other pupils' ideas as the discussion continued.

2. String Timeline
The string has also been used as a non linear timeline during initial learning tasks for our history topics.

3. Story Strings
Whilst working with other teachers from local schools a group of pupil premium children from our year 5 class took part in a writing project on smuggling. Facilitated by several staff from different schools there were many different activities, however, one that struck a chord; story string. The children quite simply had a length of string each. During their walk they collected items of interest and tied them to their string. A simple and effective writing prompt ready for a recount to be written back in class.

There are many more very cheap resources that we all use that have a high quality impact on learning. This term I'm looking forward to measuring the impact of the investment we have made in Google Chrome books and iPads. 

At my previous school I had the opportunity to work alongside a very charismatic and IT astute Deputy Headteacher. One of his sage-like expressions during our IT meetings was "Don't be first...", I believe he saw the virtue in letting someone else iron the kinks out. However, it is with excitement that I start next term ready to roll out some firsts, we are the first school in our locality to implement Chrome Books and Google Apps for education at the pupil level. Our tech support team have been busy over the holiday getting the hardware set-up. 

Next it's time to introduce the resources to the children and staff; but I'm also looking forward to finding the next 'freebie' with high impact learning gains as well. 

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Keys to success: Adventures in Blogging in Year 4.

Is blogging the key?
Tagxedo of text from our class blog page.

Whilst carrying out research for my CPD targets last year, I read a very insightful book by Mark Anderson - "Perfect ICT Every Lesson".The book contained may good ideas and prompted several questions for next steps in my classroom and school. 

Notes from my Thought Journal whilst reading the book.
The thread that made me think most was the section and suggestions on blogging. I had used closed online systems online before e.g. Edmodo and Superclubs, but I had not had time to explore blogging in the primary school. Mark's insights about Quadblogging and praise for the 100 Word Challenge encouraged me to read further. 

I decided to explore the options around a venture into blogging with my Year 4 class. I wanted an easy to use and secure platform for the children to use and easy bulk group management for myself. Looking through the list of posts on the 100 Word Challenge website, there were many very impressive pieces of writing; furthermore the prompts were varied and inspiring. My mind was made up, I wanted to give this a whirl with my class. One of the commonly used blogging platforms used on the 100 Word Challenge website was, it fit the criteria set out for my use with the class and setting the group up didn't take too long. As you are able to upload from a csv I was therefore able to use the usernames from the pupils' Google accounts with ease.

I pitched the site to my class at the end of October 2014, we had all of their accounts set up and ready from November 2015.

Incorporating the 100 Word Challenge into the classroom has inspired several of the more reluctant readers and writers to take an interest in reading and writing. Building opportunities for the children to participate in blogging is essential, we have put the blogging in as a guided reading activity. Within their carousel of activities the children have at least one opportunity to read ad respond to children's blog posts and write their own. Several children have continued to write their posts at home or during their own free time at school. Between 3rd November 2014 and 8th February 2015 35 100 Word Challenge posts have been published by children in my class. Many more posts have not made it past the draft phase - we either need to build more time into the guided reading cycle to enable the children to complete the draft, check, redraft, peer check publish cycle; or we need to build more opportunities at other parts of the school day. 

Improved engagement does not always equate to improved attainment or progress. I decided to measure the progress made by pupils in writing during the period we have been using Kidblog. The data makes interesting reading: 

There is no concrete way to know whether the rate of progress in Pupils A, C, E ad H has been directly accelerated by posting to the class blog. However, accelerating the progress of the children's writing is not the sole reason for blogging. The process of blogging satisfies many aspects of the National Curriculum:

"Purpose of study: Computing also ensures that pupils become digitally literate – able to use, and express themselves and develop their ideas through, information and communication technology – at a level suitable for the future workplace and as active participants in a digital world."
"Within the Key Stage 2 National Curriculum pupils should be taught to: "select, use and combine a variety of software (including internet services) on a range of digital devices to design and create a range of programs, systems and content that accomplish given goals, including collecting, analysing, evaluating and presenting data and information."

Giving the children access to a wider audience, as authors, is far more important. They are extremely happy when they get a comment on their work from other pupils and teachers from around the globe. 

I shared our class blog with our school community during a Teachmeet last week, several staff have expressed a interest of joining in. Next steps could well be to Quadblog within our school. I will be continuing to use KidBlog and the 100 Word Challenge with my class and will roll it out across Years 5 and 6. First we have to get their new hardware set up. This week's ICT task: set up 16 Google Chromebooks and 53 Ipads. Very exciting! 

Monday, 2 February 2015

Introduction to our Journey: Using Google Apps for Education

Over the last six months I have been exploring the use of Google Apps in the primary setting.

I have used the Google Apps with both of my classes in the last six months and have rolled use of the Google accounts our with my partner year 4 class this term.

I have been deliberating the use of Google Apps in the primary school for several years. However, thoughts began to evolve after a visit to Bett 2013. I was researching a alternative to KLZ, the LEA recommended provider for email and calendar management, after being underwhelmed by the service being offered for the price. At Bett there were very few companies that grabbed my attention. Google, however, did. During the summer holiday of 2013, our IT support team, Primary Technologies assisted in the handover to Google Apps for Education. Initially we only activated the mail and calendar functions, but the potential for greater use of cloud resources for collaboration were key to plans for curriculum development within our school.

During August 2013 I began to jot several ideas about devices, management systems, content providers and began to formulate a plan. The above photograph is from my thought journal, I'm still adding and reviewing my thoughts on this mindmap - it is very much ongoing.

One of my CPD objectives for 2013-2014 was to investigate the impact of cloud based resources on engagement and attainment in writing. I chose to activate the Google docs, sheets, slides and drive apps from the Google Apps Suite for my class.

There were several hurdles to go through in order to set up and manage the children's accounts efficiently and safely. I chose to employ the IT support team at Primary Technologies to do this for us. We still get all of our accounts and the apps for free and are saving a lot of money compared to the KLZ or RM easymail subscriptions.

During the year we experimented with collaborative writing and explored the tools on offer. The children were very motivated, and some reluctant writers - not just boys - and several pupil premium children demonstrated improved attitudes towards their writing. One other advantage of the suite of Docs was the availability resources to children at home. The efficiency and ease with which Google Apps syncs with Edmodo (a truly fantastic resource!) creates a very manageable online learning platform with very little or no cost. The children are able to access set tasks, complete them and submit them for review without leaving the cloud; on almost any device.

I was so impressed with the Google Apps for Education and Edmodo system that I am rolling it out across years 4-6 this year. I have already introduced all of our year 4's to their accounts. Hardware issues have slowed down the setup a little.

Every cloud has a silver lining, the failure of a large bank of laptops has resulted in the purchase of Google Chromebooks and a bank of IPads for KS2 pupils to use. Another set of IPads have also been purchased for KS1 and EYFS. I am very excited to be rolling out devices and tools that have not been used in this scale or in this way in our locality.

I will be sharing our progress so far at the Deal Learning Alliance TeachMeet.
Here is a preview of the presentation - all made using the free suite of apps within Google Apps.


Further details and a synopsis of each presentation from the teachmeet can be read at @chizkent's blog.

What to do after Ofsted?

I've taken longer than initially planned to write this first post, a post that was going to be about ICT and writing. However, there are some things that you have to get off your chest.

In the run up to the tinsel and hoop crazed period that consumes all primary schools in December, we got the call; Ofsted. It came as no surprise, we were ready; as ready as could be any way. We'd been anticipating a visit after our conversion to academy status in the previous academic year.

Needless to say we wanted the call to come, enjoying a Christmas holiday, without the uncertainty of an impending visit from the judges without wigs, was something that all staff and stakeholders in the school were looking forward to.

The inspection was a resounding success; a tribute and testament to the hard work and enthusiasm that every individual at the school puts into every session of everyday. One thing that I look back on from the inspection is a question asked during the feedback from an observation: "Why, in your opinion, have you (the school) made rapid progress?"

It didn't take long to answer, "As an academy we are free to take risks, we're not shackled by LEA policies or directives. Our CPD encourages us to improve as individuals through reflective practice that directly impacts on the school development objectives, we're encouraged to take risks and share good practice with others."

The lead inspector seemed, quite satisfied with the response, lots of ink was added to the paper, adorning the clipboard, precariously perched on the desk. It was refreshing to hear that this response, or similar to it, had been echoed from other members of staff during the inspection.

The other question that remains fully rooted in my mind didn't come from the Ofsted team. It came from the attendant on the desk at the local swimming pool. The first morning of the inspection and my class are meeting me at the pool for registration. I arrived slightly earlier than usual, and approached the desk to be met with:

"Good morning, are you aware that we will be closing the top section of the pool this morning? A dive team are arriving...." 

There was a dropped beat in my chest, my thoughts turned to the idea of a inspector arriving at any moment, and the endless amount of possibilities of problems that could arise if an observation occurred under such circumstances - not to mention the knock on effects and stress that such an event would cause for the other classes within my team who would be swimming throughout the morning. The pool management team were very understanding, and the dive team were quickly rescheduled to have no impact on the swim sessions.

We needed the Ofsted team to see how much progress we had made again. To see how far we had come. This small event on the first morning of the inspection gave perspective and a reminder to how quickly things could change.

I joined the school as a new member to the Senior Leadership Team in September 2012, it was a move into a school twice the size as my previous and with many different challenges. It was my first leadership post, one I was excited to start. Transition and change go hand in hand, but one thing that had remained constant at the school from day one of my appointment was the possibility of an Ofsted visit at any time. Sure enough I experienced my first Ofsted as part of the Senior Leadership Team in early November 2012, a true baptism of fire. This Ofsted was a real battle, late night paper chasing, data analysis and troop rallying. We were all relieved to emerge from that inspection; relieved and disappointed.

The school had gone through a rapid period of change. Many of the systems and structures that formed the basis of teaching and learning in the school were under review or had only recently been implemented. Nevertheless, the staff were determined. There was, and still is, a strong family and team ethos, everyone wanted to show how much progress we, as a school, were making. However, at that time the inspection team couldn't see an established trend in the data. New systems and strategies hadn't had time to demonstrate measurable progress in standardised assessments (how will Ofsted manage without levels Mr Gove?).

Conversion to an academy in January 2013 was one of the first stepping stones forward as an establishment from the 2012 inspection. In a short period the general mindset within the school changed, we began to take more risks. We offered an ever growing and richer curriculum. We were confident that we were on the right road. We could see the positive impact our curriculum was having on our pupils. We also knew that another Ofsted inspection was going to happen at any moment. This ominous looming was a feeling that we continued to feel, for another twenty two months; until now.

Now that feeling isn't there, there's a different feeling. I'm just not sure what to call it yet. What to do when you have been judged as 'Outstanding'... We've had more phone calls, emails and tweets wanting to hear how we did it, what can we share? People asking what next?

For me, the next steps at the moment are:

- Continue to take risks, learn from the mistakes, share them as well as the successes.
- Continue to look for opportunities to collaborate with others.
- Share steps and progress on this blog, seek feedback, criticism and support with next steps.