#52books2017 – January

I’ve loved the 52 books challenge – it has directed me back towards my neglected book collection, though my wallet is beginning to moan a little.

1. Neil Gaiman – Neverwhere

If wanted to read more of Gaiman’s work for a while, particularly after loving The Graveyard Book, so started here. It is set initially in today’s London, with main protagonist Richard finding his way into a mysterious (and initially confusing) underworld, meeting characters such as Door and the Hunter who help guide him in his new surroundings. It took me a while to get into it but ended up being very enjoyable – a tale of friendship, adventure and coming-of-age.

2. A.F. Harrold – The Imaginary

I loved this book. It’s a story about Amanda and her imaginary friend, Rudger, who end up in more trouble than they realise when they cross paths with the bewitching Mr Bunting. Emily Gravett’s illustrations add to the tale; I can’t wait to read this with my class.

3. John Green – The Fault in Our Stars

Having bought my headteacher A Monster Calls for Christmas, she insisted I read this as it was also sad and so I’d therefore like it. I enjoyed it. It was an easy read – very straightforward to follow and what happened was quite obvious. Not as moving as A Monster Calls but a well-written insight into the suffering illness can bring.

4. Brian Bilston – You Took The Last Bus Home 

A Christmas gift from my wife as I’d become slightly obsessed with Bilston’s Twitter output. Christmas Day mainly consisted of my surprise recitals, and I’ve since shared Refugees and Frisbee with my class. The collection is generally humour-based but so many poems are written in such a clever way. Made me love poetry again, while simultaneously making me jealous.

5. Polly Ho-Yen – Where Monsters Lie

I was delighted to pick this up in Oxfam for £1.99. I loved The Boy in the Tower and didn’t know Ho-Yen had a follow-up. Similar themes are apparent, such as mysterious, unexplained happenings (which remain deliberately left unexplained throughout), friendships and disappearances. Not as strong as the debut novel – I felt there wasn’t as much tension – but a good read nonetheless.

That’s it for now. Five down, 47 to go. I’ve got a pile of ‘to-read’ books taller than I am (which might not be saying much). I’m enjoying reading more and am (coincidentally?) sleeping much better too.

Reflecting on writing 

We have been spending a lot of time reflecting on our choices, explaining our methods and expanding on our thoughts in maths recently. It made me wonder why we don’t do the same when writing.

Over the last week we have been writing fantasy stories, set in far-off distant kingdoms, under the sea, inside volcanoes and, erm, on a football pitch (we talked about this). The children have enjoyed this but some have found it hard, particularly as writing fantasy stories relies heavily on creating a whole new world, and, ideally, a new fantastic point of view.

So the children have been busily imagining predators and prey, hunters and faeries, merbabies and Giders (a gorilla crossed with a spider),  and as such have been trying to do the old ‘paint a picture’ thing – something they realise is more important than ever as nobody has actually ever visited their land other than themselves, in their heads.

We’ve encouraged the children to explain why they have chosen certain words or phrases in order to write more deliberately and effectively. Some examples are below.

 

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This was an interesting exercise, not least because it shows at least one child is unsure about what a metaphor is, but because after writing these comments, lots of the children went away and changed what they had written. They edited, improved and rewrote. Some children loved their feedback partner’s idea so much that they ‘magpied’ part of it for themselves. Writing improved. Description improved. Children made deliberate choices – and, thanks to the blog, they were writing for the reader, not just the teacher. This has obvious links to reading as we begin to prepare for SATs, as well as developing understanding for the grammar terminology. 

In addition, we (and when I say we, I really mean the children) quickly put together some videos on iMovie using photos, videos and the voiceover option (click here to see these). They were really easy to do and lots of the other children want to do the same when they’ve finished describing the shark that turns a cloud into gold with its death-ray.

Writing is fun, isn’t it?

Header image taken with permission from Sweetie187

Google Cardboard 

This week our school was visited by the Google Expedition team to showcase their new app, which works best with (but can work without) Google Cardboard. 

All you need is a smartphone or iPod touch with the app (free to download) and the Google Cardboard viewers which are available on eBay for around a fiver. 

The staff get to grips


Once every one is on the same Wifi network, all you need to do is become a ‘leader’, while your children would select the option of ‘explorers’. From here, you can take the children on a wide range of virtual tours – we swiftly passed through the Amazon, the Pacific, the Antarctic and Rio de Janeiro. Each scene comes with a selection of notes, almost as a script, that can be used to share information with the children. Click on a hotspot and an arrow appears, directing children to an area you want them to focus on. 

That’s it. It is really simple, appears to be cost-effective – it is also possible to print your own viewers and buy only lenses – and it is a wonderful way to show children parts of the world in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. There are obvious links to a range of topics, but we are especially looking forward to using it to develop writing. 

You can sign up for your own Google Expedition experience here; it’s no hassle to organise and the children (and adults) found it fascinating. The potential here is huge – dive in. 

Read more from our school website here

Digital Leaders – the difference they make

I accidentally stopped blogging about the school’s progress last year, which is a shame because we’ve used programming much more widely, held Raspberry Pi sessions and been invited to talk at events.

I recently sent a link to somebody who was interested in Digital Leaders with a view to helping them start a group up. Turns out it was a post that was over 2 years old. With the introduction of the new DL slow-chat, I thought I’d try and explain a little more about what we have done with DLs over the last few years.

Starting

We’ve had interviews with the headteacher, recommendations from the teaching staff and good, old-fashioned badgering on the part of the children. The key is finding out who is really interested – the best way to do this is to talk to the children. Run a lunchtime club where you can play with software and hardware, start a Code Club and spot the regulars, and make sure you get feedback from other teachers about who stands out (not just in terms of ability, but also enthusiasm and interest).

Purpose

Ensure that the children have a clear idea of what they are doing, and why they are doing it.

We talked to our children about becoming experts: that they might be training staff (they did); they could be leading parents’ meetings (they did that too) and they would be testing and assessing new programs, websites and apps (tick).

Currently, the Digital Leader team have been raising awareness of online safety. They created and conducted questionnaires across KS2 about how the internet is used in our school, and this will be fed into staff training. The children will also be leading activities on Safer Internet Day in February.

Interact

I am not the most regular of contributors to the #dlchat community, but I do appreciate it and have picked up lots of good advice and ideas from joining in when I can. This forum allows the sharing of good practice and gives a good idea of what other schools are doing.

From joining in these chats, we were fortunate enough to be invited to a DLKidsmeet, organised by Liz Allton, where Digital Leaders from up and down the country shared their experiences. They were then treated to workshops in Minecraft, Sphero, 3D printing, Kodu and much, much more. More than this, the children were able to present in front of a real and engaged audience – this, to me, was invaluable, and this can be achieved at any level, whether it be in an assembly at school, to a local cluster or at a larger event.

Future

Plan what the children could do over the next year. Invite ideas from them, ask colleagues if they require support in any areas and keep tabs on what is new in computing – then get the DLs to try it!

The Difference

We have had DLs for 3 years now and they are part of the furniture at school. They take responsibility and are proud to be leaders among their peers, while they become mini experts in different areas. They promote computing as a subject, show enthusiasm for the role they carry out and help others throughout the school.

I have seen children grow in confidence so much after becoming a Digital Leader, even it was only for a term, and that alone is worth it. I’m glad we have children who are enthusiastic about their learning – long may it continue.

If you are thinking of starting a Digital Group but feel a little unsure, just go for it, even if it’s only for a trial period. What’s the worst that could happen?

 

 

Picademy

On Monday 27th April, I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the 8th Picademy, a two day CPD course focusing on all things Raspberry Pi.

Arriving on Sunday night, I was glad to find that a group of teachers were staying in the same hotel as me ahead of the course, so we met up, had a drink, taught David what a skip was and wondered about what we might find out the next day. The next morning, our questions were soon answered.

Day One

We arrived at Pi Towers to be greeted by the team, as well as several other teachers and educators who were all as equally excited as we were. The introductions helped to settle everyone and it was over to Carrie Ann to introduce herself, the team and what we were going to be doing over the next two days.


Sonic Pi

Our first session was with Sam Aaron as he demonstrated the uses for his program, Sonic Pi. Once loaded onto the Pi, it could easily be used with children as young as 5 as the most basic command is play (choose). This plays a sample from the library, which can be added to using sample websites, or even your own recordings.

Basics on Sonic Pi

It can then progress to introducing the sleep command to rest between samples, before loops, live loops and edited samples can be tinkered with. This really got me excited as a music fan, and would be a brilliant way to introduce the importance of correct syntax, as well as concepts such as loops and conditionals.

Check Sam’s videos which show the true potential of Sonic Pi.

LCS #1 – Goodbyes… from Sam Aaron on Vimeo.

I want to use this with my children just to let them explore music, particularly as it is something that we don’t teach with any confidence at our school

Scratch GPIO

Scratch GPIO uses the same well-known blocks as its big sister, Scratch. The difference here is that it can talk to and receive from other hardware, such as buttons, buzzers and LEDs. We played around with LEDs initially, and the excitement from getting a light to flash was genuine – imagine what it would be like in a classroom of primary aged children. From there we programmed traffic light sequences and then used header leads to form a circuit to control a sprite – essentially, building a control pad.

The lights are on, etc…

I’ve spent this morning investing in cables, LEDs and buttons for the children – I know they would love this aspect and it could tie into Science teaching too. Where we go from there is up to the children.

Camera Hacking

Ben showed us how to use Idle to write commands that allow us to hack into the Pi camera. We started by taking selfies, then edited the script so that a picture was taken every x seconds. Clearly, this could be furthered to use timelapse for all kinds of different projects. We have a summer fair fast approaching and I may ask the children to program a timelapse there (thanks to Steve for the idea and sharing what he had already done).

 

Hacking cameras

We have recently had a woodpecker take residence on our school grounds, which is quite rare for the middle of the city. I’m thinking about setting up a camera to film the bird’s comings and goings…

Pibrella

Pibrella is an add-on board which is connected to the Pi’s pins. We were very quickly programming motors and Les shared some of the projects he had done with it. The next day we were shown some brilliant practical ideas that used the Pibrella in ways that children would definitely love.

I have to admit to suffering from some kind of mental fatigue here – I need to do more research on the Pibrella!

Minecraft

Our final session of the day was with Martin O’Hanlon, one of the authors of Adventures in Minecraft. The Raspberry Pi has its own version of Minecraft and allows users to hack into it. Martin showed us houses that followed him, blocks of his choosing and how to quickly manipulate Steve’s co-ordinates to benefit the game player. We had Steve falling from on high, building things instantly and creating rainbow bridges within minutes. Such fun, and obviously Minecraft is beloved of so many children.

Minecraft is one of the main reasons our Digital Leaders wanted us to try the Pi – now I know a bit more I feel I can teach them, rather than being taught by them!

The day ended with a quick brainstorm of potential projects for the next day. Following this, the team were kind enough to treat everyone to dinner by the river. This was another opportunity to meet lots of new people, and the jaunt to the pub later afforded me a chance to try some lovely new beers.

Day Two

The morning started with talks from James on Pi in the Sky, a project that I really want us to try at our school. Using add-on boards, radio transmitters and helium balloons, James and his class used a Raspberry Pi to take photographs from high above – the video below shows how amazing it must have been to be involved.

Sam Aaron gave an inspiring talk about programming and how it should be an opportunity for children to be creative – I really wish someone had recorded this.

Then was the acid test – what could we make using the tools we were shown yesterday?

There really were some brilliant ideas – Babbage Bear was programmed to send out messages on an LCD screen; Minecraft and Sonic Pi were combined to put music (and musical instruments) into the game and earthquake detectors were built. This was all in two or three hours – the enthusiasm and dynamism here was incredible.

 

Musical Minecraft

 

A poo in the sky

 

Babbage says hello

 

Astro-Pi in action

I relied on Sam more than I should have done, but he helped me to build a program in Sonic Pi. I wanted children to be able to put their writing into the code, which would then play back music to suit the mood of the text. This worked fairly well, but I do need to explore samples further. I am also going to try this with the children to see what they think, and will write a blog post based on those experiences.

 

Borrowing some writing from my class blog

 

The code

 

After the presentations were made, everybody was officially enrolled into the hall of fame as Raspberry Pi Certified Educators. I couldn’t stop thinking about all I had learned, and all I want to explore in the coming weeks. From starting the two day course as somebody who lacked confidence in using the Pi, I definitely feel as though I can apply it in so many different ways. The Raspberry Pi Community is incredible – already, I’ve seen tweets, blog posts and newsletters that help those of us who are still learning, which is exactly the kind of attitude I’d want among my children – desperate to do more, willing to try new things and sharing what they learn.


 A huge thank you to all at Raspberry Pi, particularly Carrie-Ann, Sam, James and Martin for the help they gave me. Thank you too to David, Alex, Steve, Elani, Mark and Laura for their company to and from the hotel.

Further Reading

Getting started with Python picamera – Ben Nuttall

The Picademy experience – David Saunders

Buddha BabbageGrace Turner

Picademy – Laura Holdsworth

The Time I Went to Picademy – Steve Bagnall

Blogging and the new Computing Curriculum

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Blogs are brilliant if you want to raise standards in English, but they can also break the back of an awful lot of the new Computing curriculum. We are following the advice of Computing at School (CAS) and have split our Computing curriculum into the three distinct areas of Computer Science, Digital Literacy and Information Technology.

Digital Literacy

This element of the curriculum is perhaps the most obvious in lending itself to blogging. From as early as year 1, we should be teaching the children about keeping personal information private. Use your blog to highlight how sharing personal information could be problematic; refer to the good practice of other children who only use first names; discuss how writing a name with a picture could cause issues. All of these would cover objectives such understand where to go for help when concerned about content, or identify a range of ways to report concerns.

What if there is inappropriate contact? What if a blogger leaves a comment asking for your email address? Should the children reply? If not, what do they do? These discussions are important in all age groups, particularly if your children use email addresses.

We also need to be positive about the use of the internet. Whenever Digital Literacy is mentioned, people invariably think ‘e-Safety’. Of course, that is key, but we don’t want our children to be scared of using the internet. Blogs allow the children to communicate with other teachers, children and visitors in a positive way, and could lead to collaboration on other projects too. Tools such as Padlet allow for instant collaboration which can be moderated as you go. Coveritlive can allow your children to talk to authors and experts – these can, of course, be embedded into blogs.

Information Technology

The new curriculum uses the word ‘create’ sparingly, though it is there. Almost all digital content that is created by children can be embedded into a blog post, either directly from sites such as Audioboom or Scratch, or by hosting through Google Drive. If using a class blog, then children immediately have a purpose and audience, so you can tick off curriculum objectives such as use technology to create digital content, use a variety of software to accomplish given goals or design and create digital content. Of course, this can all be done without the use of a class blog, but if you can show it off to the world as well, it might just encourage children who ask ‘what’s the point?’ You might be able to create adverts for people other than the class teacher, or write a persuasive letter to someone other than the head – what’s more, your blog is an easy place for people to write replies.

Computer Science

A trickier one, this, and one I’d love to hear from others on. We can use blogs to discuss how search results are ordered and ranked by looking at popular blogs such as Raja’s Howler Monkey, or even by searching your own school blogs. When I search for ‘school name blog post’, why does this particular blog come at the top of the list?

There is also the potential to use HTML with children who are ready to use a language in which to code – I understand HTML is not programming, rather mark-up, but still, children will be able to understand that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions, or design programs that accomplish specific goals. We can use the blog to write and edit HTML codes that will, in turn, affect the display and structure of a blog-post by including links, embeds and altering sizes of images and objects.

As a disclaimer, I am a novice in the field of Computer Science, so if there are glaring mistakes/misconceptions, do let me down gently!

I feel that blogs allow coverage of a good proportion of the curriculum, particularly in the Digital Literacy and Information Technology strands. If anyone has any further suggestions, please let me know 🙂

Image with permission from Denise Krebs

The Impact of Blogging with your class (or, why I love it and won’t stop talking about it)

It's true.

It’s true.

Originally posted on Staffrm

I was a quiet lad at school. I worked hard, got on with it and waited for the day to be over. I knew I was good at some things, and knew I wasn’t at others. I knew this because my teachers told me so. Peer marking and editing time were glints in the eyes of future educators – my work was for my book, and my book was for my teacher. I wish I’d have had a blog. (I also wish I’d have had a kite, but that’s a story for another time).

It has been just over two years since I started using a class blog with my children. Excited oohs and aahs greeted each and every flag that popped up, but the enthusiasm to blog wasn’t quite there straight away. The children needed an audience.

Thankfully, people like David Mitchell and Julia Skinner devote much of their time to such a need, and, deep inside the Twitter universe, there are several other like-minded folk who are more than willing to ensure children are enthusiastic about blogging. But why?

Blogging at its simplest is a free ride for teachers, essentially encouraging your class to write for free – it’s not your homework, it’s your choice. However, the best blogging classes have children who don’t care if it’s their homework or not. Instead, it’s just theirs. It’s their story, their poetry, their painting, their audio recording, their dramatic video. It’s their learning on show for the world to see – an open door into a room full of learning.

For many of the children I have taught, it is their voice.

There are children I work with who perhaps do not get the recognition they deserve in school, or maybe even at home. Perhaps they are a little shy in reading their writing in front of others, or don’t want the teacher to do it because they are embarrassed. They don’t want to be the centre of attention. The blog negates all of this. It gives children a chance to shine, even if they want to do it from the shadows. They share their writing, offer comments to others and show that self-awareness in learning that might be missing in other children. They become reflective.

There’s lots to be said for blogging with a class. We have made links with other teachers and classes to collaborate, held Skype sessions with children in different countries to find out how they live, contacted authors, had a real audience online, used it for aspects of e-safety and most importantly for some, have seen the impact it has in terms of academic attainment. As a teacher, I’d like to think I have used my blogs positively, either sharing and promoting children’s content with others or encouraging an atmosphere of discussion in the classroom.

A blog offers so much opportunity for a range of groups of children; I am happy if I can give a voice to the quiet ones.

Image courtesy of Gideon Burton