24 Jul

Reflections on a PGCE

Just tell them…

Primary schools have a huge part to play in Primary ITT – trainee teachers seem to be in schools much more than ever before and it stands to reason that if we don’t like what is happening then we should stand up and say so.

The problem seems to be that in Primary there is a culture of ‘just stay one step ahead of the children’ – especially in history or geography topics where the teacher may do it once every few years. Moving year groups or key stages just compounds this – the curriculum across these very different age groups has very different demands.  Not to mention the fact that the whole thing changed three years ago with absolutely no support given for teachers to brush up on their own knowledge – European History study? Coding? The Americas?  And don’t get me started on chikdren’s literature – I firmly believe that their should be a reading list of core children’s books. I don’t really care what is on it, I just think it should be encouraged and seen as standard behaviour.

My own experience of teacher training now, as a Head, is very different from when I trained. My institution did their own English, Maths and Science tests. I remember talking about how to help children learn times tables by rote – how powerful chanting could be for memorising poetry and getting the ‘feel’ of the rhythm. We spent a day learning about animal habitats  – and then discussed how important it is to get the children writing up scientific study. I focussed on key stage 2 and my subject specialism was ICT (as it was) – and yes, we had a children’s book reading list.  I had to do an ICT test – and was tasked with learning how to create, and edit, a video. This was the year before (I think) – the national skills test. I remember trialling them in some London office and receiving my first, and possibly, last, crisp £50 note.

There was an early a lesson observation (seared into my mind!) – where I was really pleased with the ‘activity’ and the ‘busy’ classroom. My tutor sat down with me after the lesson (poetry) – and asked me a very simple question – ‘but what did they actually learn?’ – this question sticks with me now. Another memorable lesson involved the properties of solids, liquids and glass. My year 2s could not get the concept of gas being ‘all around us’ – as I was teaching it. We had balloons, we had huge sheets of paper, we made aeroplanes but I was getting more and more frustrated trying to get the children to guess ‘what was in my head’. In the end, convinced that I was on some educational version of Candid Camera I asked my teacher mentor what she would have done. In another memorable quote she answered – ‘just tell them – tell them first and then ask them to explain how we know it is true.’

School based?

Now, when trainees are ‘school based’ – there is a danger that school leaderships value the trainee who can control the class, who can please parents and who keeps the children smiling. The VAK culture – where teachers have to ensure they are hitting the needs of all learners means that our trainees are at the whim of their current class and their current leadership team. Unmanageable workloads and expectations of ‘cover’ will not help trainees. A school that ‘grows their own’ purely for fast track leadership will not sustain our system. I’m not against these systems, I just want to make sure we keep an open mind about the role of other institutions that have grown up recently.

We need to value what our profession actually does – educate.

The quality of teacher training is very patchy – and will always have an element of subjectivity – but it is right to be under the microscope like this. Those providing the training have a duty of care to their trainees and ensuring that the job is manageable is one of them. ITT providers should be able to challenge the demands of SLT in schools, should be a able to share the latest thinking with the schools without throwing out everything else that works. Universities sadly seem not to do this.  Certainly in my time as a school leader none of the tutors have ever engaged me in professional debate about why I do things in my classroom. ITT should be about time to reflect, yes, but also time to study what has gone before and debate choices.

I’m enjoying this current debate – there won’t be one right answer – but let’s ensure that ITT provides our teachers with everything they need to teach. Schools systems will change and children will change – but at the heart of what we do is ensuring our children are actually learning and our teachers can teach.

 

07 Oct

On replacing the interactive whiteboards…

Our generation of whiteboards at school… The interactive type no less… Are slowly coming to the end of their useful life. The projectors are becoming more and more problematic, bulbs replacing with increased frequency and the hardware looking increasingly like it’s not going to last the year.

Fact is some problems: constant calibration, bulb changes, lost remote controls can all be sorted out, but, they are becoming more and more time consuming and less out of our expertise. Replacements are needed.

Where to start?

Some key questions need to be answered :

  • Do they really need to be interactive?
  • Do we want to continue using a laptop alongside a projector?
  • What size screen do we need?
  • And – controversially – do we even need a screen?

 

Observing

I’ve been thinking very carefully about this over the last few weeks, and spoken to many of those who will be directly affected. Fact is our whiteboards, particularly lower down the school are used interactively. Children manipulate images, draw, create and play games. Higher up the school, not so much, but they are still used with an element of demonstration from the teacher.

We also have visualisers attached, and these need still to work as they are popular with staff.

It’s also worth considering that we a GAfE school – and google infrastructure is used very well by most of the key stage 2 pupils!

I’ve got an idea of where we need to go next – but I would be incredibly interested to find out what works for others in schools… Thanks!

06 Aug

Introduce your class to safe tech use: 8 things you should try!

Starting the new term with a new class is always exciting! Get them off to a good start with the tech in your classroom with a few simple activities designed to have them think about what they use tech for, and why! These activities are very easy to set up and might inspire you as well!

 

 

  1. Is everything they read on the internet real? Look at this Dihydrogen Monoxide site – it’s only water, but when will they figure that out? Read about saving the tree octopus here.. Take a look at Victorian Robots here.
  2. How safe are they online? Ask them to take part in challenges on Think U Know and find out!
  3. Create a paper computer! An intesting activity for the younger ones, naming computer parts.
  4. Take part in a collaborative blog challenge.Try the 100 Word Challenge here, or the Nrich Maths challenge here.
  5. Remind them about last years Hour of Code challenge, before the new one this year!
  6. Ask them… What do they use computers for? Create a joint class padlet on Padlet.com
  7. Build a paper cup robot, complete with instructions! Use the excellent lesson plan from csed.com here.
  8. Join in a #mysteryskype – set up a skype date with an unknown country! Find out more here

 

05 Jan

Don’t Forget… Padlet

As part of a review of the year it occurred to me that there were plenty of apps, programmes and ideas that shouldn't get lost over time, but are often overlooked. So I thought a 'don't forget series' might remind teachers of what is out there.

Number 2 – Padlet

I wrote about Padlet here.

 

Padlet is great because it is a quick, versatile tool that can be embedded and saved once created. Think electronic post-it notes. Padlet is growing, and in recent months has changed. It now includes an account which registers Padlets you have answered on as well as a multitude of options for privacy.

You can still just click 'create a padlet' and get going however!

And for a while Padlets were embedded 'everywhere'… Or at least in posts like this and this. For a few simple reasons:

  • Easy sharing – a link, an embed, or a code for the site. Anyone can contribute to your Padlet.
  • Protectable – embed one in your class blog and protect it with a password.
  • They can be anonymous, or invite only. In class you can insist everyone contributes, give a synonym, extend a story, write a question for a numerical answer. Whatever your focus, leave a Padlet on a computer and then let the pupils contribute.
  • They work on all systems. At least, i've not come across one it doesn't work on yet.

In the classroom:

  • Use it to assess knowledge prior to teaching, an open question about a topic, or a question that opens up more questions.
  • Great for PHSE – different answers to sensitive problems that can be anonymous (or not)
  • Quick fire vocabulary collecting – 'how is the wolf described?'
  • Embed pictures to showcase work.

 

Resources:

Ideas for history teachers.

Teachers guide here.

 

27 Sep

Why I’m trying Linux Ubuntu in school…

Our Digital Strategy is outlined here. Such a vital part of school life nowadays! I've been thinking of a way we could make use of the old machines which are spread around the school.

Considerations…

  • Teachers need to go online, often quickly
  • We are moving much shared work over to Google Drive
  • Pupils are therefore working on Google Drive on on their Google Site more
  • Budget!

 

So, my response is Linux Ubuntu – a version of Linux designed to be pretty much useable out of the box…However still stripped down and fast.

Admittedly you do still have to think about your tech support in school – proxy settings for servers and things are easily handled in the operating system – but you may come across some issues. For example I haven't created a server system…

Linux is an open-source operating system, which comes in many flavours. Built by a community which makes it super responsive to changes in hardware. There are so many different versions that it can feel a little overwhelming! I wanted one which the pupils and teachers would still recognise!

 

What I've done

Installed Ubuntu on a few 'choice' machines – they are old Dell machines – with either 500MB or 1GB of ram. As we're moving away from the shared network they are not connected to the server. I've created some 'crib sheets' detailing what they can be used to do – and installed some simple education software (and a few games!)

 

 

So far

Ubuntu has proven surprisingly resilient – it certainly speeds up the machines it is on – connects quickly and provides consistent access to the internet. Downloading chrome lso helps in terms of our cloud based MIS system! I'm waiting to see how it goes with the adults in school! Biggest learning curve seems to be moving away from using MS Office.

 

And next…


This – I'm looking into some of the child-friendly operating systems – aiming to explore the range of apps and the different organisation.

 

I'll keep you informed! Would love to hear if you've had any experience of this!

 

29 Jun

The New Curriculum – Nearly there…

So.. this is kind of Part 3 for the New Curriculum for me.. we are at the stage where we have now used it, planned for it, and now buying resources and getting excited about the teaching of it.
Yes, you heard me, we are now getting excited about it.

I’m in the lucky position of, over the last few years, having worked in several different schools, all of which take a very different approach to the development of the curriculum. To my, rather crude, eye I see three key types of curriculum approaches:

  1. The school that is still doing units from the old QCA documents (yes, they do exist…)
  2. The school who buys in their curriculum – whether it is a maths, literacy and then something comprehensive like the International Primary Curriculum, or just parts of those. This is the school that, somewhere, will have cupboards full of folders.. LCP PE anyone?
  3. The school that develops it’s own curriculum, perhaps with some help from elements of Chris Quigley design... or another bespoke support

For all of these schools, or those that best-fit, we have unique challenges. Time, cost and competence being the most obvious. The schools will have a mixture of these to deal with. For example, the school that hasn’t moved on since QCA units is not in a worse position to any other, but may have to put more time into developing the resources they need. The school who buys into the curriculum may  be in a unique position of waiting for updates, and then paying to send staff on training.   For the most part however we find ourselves at the same point now – we need to get a move on. The final ‘curriculum planning’ meeting then went like this.

  • We discussed the key changes (Haiku Deck underneath)
  • We looked at our topics (we had already discussed what we want to keep and the drivers we had)
  • Then we went away and we planned.
  • The curriculum coordinators studied the units discussed, ensured we had even coverage and we were not repeating ourselves.
  • Finally we got together as a staff team and discussed our topic outlines, added to them, shared them and improved them.

New Curriculum – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Next steps: progression for assessment and linking the units to books for literacy

 

I would love to hear how you are getting on – I am also collating a list of schools who have published on their website their new units and topic outlines. Please comment if your school is willing to share! Thanks!

 

Resources: Again and again I recommend Michael Tidd!

Another school’s story here from @BelmontTeach

The Primary History Association here.. 

The Primary Geography Association 

Brilliant Science resources here from the STEM centre…

And from STEM Centre – Maths resources