January 4

What Parents need to know about Videogames.

Many children are now settling down with new games consoles or new games following Christmas. For some parents this can be a whole new world, and a bit of a confusing one! After all video are big business – millions of pounds and thousands of employees. Here a few things to be aware of, and a few links that will guide you for further reading.

Surviving Mars

there is a massive variety of games… it is, after all, not just for kids!

The stats around who plays and what they play make for interesting reading. Average age; 35 – and 45% of US gamers are women.

Find out about the games, spend a bit of time exploring the store of the platform you are using. Lots of websites are out there for suggestions, and ask around for recommendations. Depending on the age of your children there are lots of multiplayer games and I recommend you set aside time to try and play yourself. Start with Lego, or Rayman! Good sites to check out include: this round up from CNET and co-optimus.com.

And… read the ratings! All games come with age ratings, it can be harder to see these on digital downloads so make yourself aware. For example a rating such as a PEGI 12 will mean there may be violence, usually against fantasy characters and mild swearing. A rating of PEGI 7 is not that different from a PEGI 3, but you may find some peril or mild fighting. You can find out more about the ratings here: https://videostandards.org.uk/RatingBoard/pegi-info.html#pegi-controls

you are always online, unless you specifically request not to be… parental controls need to be used.

This works also for mobile platforms such as the Switch and the PsVita and you need to ensure you are aware of these settings. Big games often require updates once bought, and for this the games console will want to be online. Create a master account, or parent account, on the console first as this will allow you to keep an eye on parental controls, report any issues and check any purchases. Don’t let your children create an account which doesn’t have their real age.

They can be more about the social side of things than the actual game.

Recent games, such as Fortnite, which is based on team battles often involve lots of talking, working together and general ‘hanging out’ – be aware of this and talk to your child about who they are talking to and how they ‘play’ together. Minecraft or Terraria also create virtual worlds which allow players to meet and to work together cooperatively. This is good social interaction, developing language and game skills and a good opportunity to take about esafety, be involved.

Limit screen time and have breaks!

There is some evidence that screen time at a young age should be limited, but there is little firm evidence for older children. Still, be vigilant as with anything, encourage breaks, such as you would have with TV and Film. Talk about what they are doing, especially if they seem to get angry at games. What do they enjoy about playing? Will they try a different kind of game instead of the same one over?

Finally enjoy them! There is a world of experience in games, and some which will definitely tax your problem solving skills as well as silly games which will encourage the whole family to have fun!


December 4

Are our classrooms more digital?

A few years ago my interest in educational technology was ignited with an article in the TES arguing that technology made absolutely no difference to schools whatsosever. At the time, a teacher just starting out, I was outraged that all of the ways in which tech made school life easier was just glossed over. Look at the accountancy side? The sharing of information, the access to to resources, the collaboration- then, in my eyes, getting bogged down in individual games or apps – or resources – was not the way to do it.

This debate is still rumbling on, and I still stand by my opinion. It was interesting then to read the recent debates about minecraft, about coding and, more recently, the article in the TES arguing that classrooms are becoming more ‘digital’.

Take this site, for example, some content on here is three, even four, years old. Yet the top hit pages remain consistently about iPads, tablets and reading. Google is beginning to gain ground, but it feels like we have leapt forwards only to then stand stock still where we landed.

My question then is this, are you using technology more than you used to? Does your classroom increasingly feel digital? Are you forced to use tech that you feel adds no value to your teaching?

I’m working on an article about my school, and it’s use of tech – in the meantime I would love to hear your thoughts.

October 7

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!

August 22

My top edtech tools 2015

 

In all the fuss and fizz it’s easy to forget that some digital technology tools are actually both time saving and incredibly useful – this is the tools I’ve turned to this year..

 

 

Google Drive – this has been a perfect introduction to cloud computing for the whole school! A great way to share resources and information and easy to keep track of whole school documents such as Teaching and Learning Policy!

 

Skype – a fantastic resource, one which I have written about many times! This year we continued our exploration of #mysteryskype.

An online MIS – years back I remember thinking that having a fully integrated MIS that handles everything from bus lists to behaviour notes, lunch menu and assessment data was the stuff of dreams… Having one means staff can access it for their classroom, registers all online means no paperwork, all information is kept together and is up to date. We use scholarpack, others are, obviously, available!

WordPress – sounds obvious right? But WordPress continues to be a top tool for me – building new class blogs, my own blog and even the school website (with help!).

Scratch – still top on my list for coding, creativity and challenge! Other apps and programs are catching up, but the resources are there and the children really enjoy using it!

 

 

Haiku Deck – so useful, so easy to create on and fantastic for those ‘guess the news story’ picture assemblies!

Finally an honourable mention for an app (there are many apps that I make use of!) Pic Collage – a great app for combining pictures, sharing and printing quickly them and easily.

And next year?

We’ve just started a Kindle Project – time will tell if this proves useful!

Go Animate is proving very popular with the pupils, will that still be around next year?

The digital platform MakeWav.es with their Online badges are also incredibly useful for keeping track of what the digital leaders are doing. Can this be used in other ways across the school

Which tools have you found useful this year? Please share!
August 6

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

 

March 15

Digital Literacy – getting the experience.

Following on from this post, we next look at how we actually integrate ‘digital literacy’.

As discussed, the skills of digital literacy are tough to pin down precisely, but we are able to think roughly about what skills, concepts and experience we want our pupils to experience. Ask yourself some key questions:

Does the school model effective use of social media?

Is there an esafety policy which incorporates pupil voice and has some pupil led elements?

Is it integrated into the curriculum, through computing led topics?

Do teachers model the skills they expect children to be able to use, for example searching, creating, using the internet safely?

Are there any whole school projects or activities which link effectively to Digital Literacy?

Let’s take three concepts and look at what we can practically do in schools.

Keeping Safe Online

Probably the easiest just because there are so many resources out there. As a school you need to ensure your staff are up to date with issues, build in regular training and share resources frequently. This site, from e-safety adviser is choc full of recent updates and a newsletter which can be shared with staff and parents alike. You can also use various dates in the year to highlight issues, such as Internet Safety Day.

In the classroom, e-safety needs to be covered regularly, I would advise a refresh with each new topic, especially if you asking the children to research and use the internet. Ensure children are happy with the language used to describe internet safety, who they can talk to and what happens (as a school) if something that they are uncomfortable with takes place. Key discussion questions, age appropiate, are helpful and can be a shared staff discussion. Displays, posters and regular discussion are key.

More information, and a year by year breakdown can be found here: Curriculum information here.

 

Communication

The concept of ‘communicating responsibly, competently, confidently and creatively’ is probably the hardest one to quantify. As a school this needs to be modelled, to pupils and parents. Teachers need to ensure they too are able to navigate this and mdoel these skills. Whilst you may not be ready for class blogging projects or whole school email just yet there are lots of ideas that can give pupils these experiences.

  • Simple commenting and sharing writing can be done a number of sites which don’t require whole school log in Lend Me Your Literacy, 100 Word Challenge. Other sites encourage the sharing of ideas and resources, such as the NRich Maths Site
  • It doesn’t always have to be about writing and commenting. Skype is the perfect example of communicating digitally, the education site is a great way of getting started.
  • Communciating within the school is also a good way of modelling skills. Beyond whole school projects such as Google Drive, or a VLE, you can also ask children to collaborate on shared projects in the classroom: Haiku Decks, Padlets, Scratch – all allow a class to register and then to share the outcomes.

 

Information

Accessing information online can be a minefield – and the lessons of old where resesarched and made notes need to be fine tuned to ensure that they fully understand what they are doing. Again, modelling this is key. From early on the teacher needs to be using search engines, looking at specific sites and modelling how to navigate the huge quantity of information which can be found.

This is very much linked to how networks and the internet work, which is a curriculum aim, and there are a number of resources out there. The BBC are currently putting lots of effort into this, and have some great resources. Building this into a fun topic is one of my next jobs…

Remember as well that it should not always be about ‘googling’ information. Finding different opinions, sharing what they find and examining different opinions are all key to this aspect of digital literacy. Using apps for informatiom finding, and digital books is also important – representing information in different ways!

 

Other resources:

Simon Haughton’s site is choc full of ideas and incredibly practical resources for all aspects of computing.

The Literacy Shed, and other Sheds! Perfect for digital media, inspiration and information.