03 Aug

Taking a Primary School Online

I’m not going to pretend that I am an expert in this.

Having taken the opportunity to reflect on what has been a memorable few months I wanted to evaluate some of the learning that has taken place online within our primary school. I hope that these thoughts will go some way to developing my own practice; and maybe supporting others who are thinking of the best way to get online and support learning during another potential lockdown.

To give you an idea of what we were doing: Once it became clear that schools were shutting we did our best to give them relevant and interesting work that would challenge. Of course, we did not know how long this would last.

Develop your own knowledge

  • it was important for me before embarking on something new to arm myself with the experience and knowledge of others first. I started here – with a Future Learn course that connected me with others who were just starting out on this path.
  • We also made sure that the online systems we used – mainly in Key Stage 2 – were ones in which the children and staff were well versed. We use Google Apps and Google Classrooms in school – we turned on hangouts (more of that later) – and spoke to the children about the best way to contact us if they needed help.

Access for all?

We are a small, rural school whose children are geographically spread. Some of our families do not have decent wi-fi and some do not have enough devices for children to access learning at the same time. As we had sent home work, we decided after the Easter Break to start doing weekly learning grids and lessons, with clear links to resources, where available. These were put on the school website, or emailed out as appropiate.

We were however reluctant to do regular online classes / assemblies (at this point!)

  • We loaned out the school chromebooks where possible – and encouraged parents to contact us if they needed support.
  • We encouraged parents to contact us – giving out email adresses to individual teachers.
  • We started a weekly whole school assembly via Google Meets and then Zoom. This started with a special guest (our local vicar) – which meant that families tried really hard to get there.
  • Regular phone calls to families who might be seen as vulnerable (but who may not have been on Free School Meals.)
  • We used social media liberally. A ‘running’ – distance – challenge via our facebook account. Enocurage to share work and pictures; link sharing etc.etc. We found that many parents, and the wider community, enjoyed sharing photos and ideas this way.
  • Weekly online creative writing class and code club. These were a natural fit online as they were already taking place in school – especially code club which allowed the older children to chat and support one another in problem solving.
  • Google Hangouts was used for the pupils to contact teachers – teachers told the pupils when they were online and checked in with pupils via Google Classroom. (Key Stage 2). This proved very useful, but had to be strictly managed as many children would happily sit online chatting with their teachers for ever…

In it for the long haul…

Once we realised that only a small number of children were going to be coming back into school before September we began to increase the online presence of our teachers.

  • Weekly zoom meetings for all classes were held.
  • For the younger classess this meant a book being read, or some simple online number and phonic work.
  • For the older children they were able to discuss any problems with the work set that week – and ask for help if needed.
  • EYFS and KS1 teachers recorded themselves reading a book – and these were put on the website.
  • We provided physical work books in Maths Y1- Y6 – herocially these were delivered by hand by the teachers – and proved very popular with parents and children alike. So much so that we also provided workbooks for Reading and Writing for the younger children as well.

How did we do?

Once we got into a routine and school started opening for more children our attention turned to September. And so, we needed to know how parents had found the last few months. SOme findings were clear and will directly impact our work in September:

  • Online meetings and short lessons were useful – BUT – some found them overwhelming. Flexibility seemed to be the key.
  • Keeeping children enagaged and enthusiastic is tricky.. whole school assembly went some way to alleviate this, but the main support seemed to be teachers chatting 1:1 with these children. Whether this will be something we can scale up in the event of further lockdown is worth thinking about.
  • Paper / workbooks / exercise books are worth their weight in gold. Put simple we are too worried about exercise books and children’s work ‘looking the part’ – we need to ensure that there is some way for work at home and school to be seamless next term and if that means books getting dog-eared between home and school then so be it.
  • We need to develop Parents’ confidence with the apps and the infrastructure we use for online learning – e.g. Google Apps / Drive / Book Creator and so on.

I’m not sure what we will be doing in September – at time of writing the expectations for schools are still unclear. However I will take any time we have with the pupils and parents in school to prepare for further lockdown.

29 Jul

EdTech round up of 2018-9

Getting back to my roots now with a look at two new bits (and one not so new) of of actually useful edtech that has graced my school this year!


Reusable Notebooks – Rocketbook

The idea of a reuseable notebook is not new. And there a few on the market. The premise is pretty simple – a book full of whiteboard paper that you can then photograph to save automatically to where ever you need. E.g. an email address (with text recognition) or an online drive space (as a JPEG or file). It makes us of QR codes and preallocated menus to allow you to specifcy where you want them to go. The Rocketbook then has pages which, depending on the model, allows you to wipe with water or just wipe off as you would a dry wipe pen. https://getrocketbook.com/

So how did I make use of it? Obviously as a reusable whiteboard – but the ability to photograph what’s on there and have it stored somewhere is more useful than you think; make a list then email it straight from the meeting; children’s collaboration sent to a shared space; your own notes stored safely. I found it become more and more useful as I got used to it.

In the classroom I use them for children who might work on whiteboards more, but still need evidence of lesson work or progress. Children who may want the reassurance of writing on a whiteboard, to be able to rub it away and start again. As a google apps school all of our children can access their own drive and so they snap the book with an iPad or chrome book (just download the app) and the page is saved to their space. They can make their own notes and save them – it also saves paper!

Classroom Robots: Marty the Robot

There are plenty of classroom robots available – and all of a similar cost with seemingly similar features. What sets the Marty apart is the ease of use – and the results that go along with it. I’ve mentioned before that we are a Google Apps school – children have easier access to chrome books rather than windows laptops or iPads – this can pose some problems for apps needed to run robots and devices etc. The Marty robot runs from a variety of systems and is set up using its own network with router. With instructions so simple my (pupil) digital leaders set them up. Various options for programming languages that can be block based (via scratch) – or code (via python) – it will be recognisable to most KS2 classrooms. The developers behind this kit say 10-18, but I would stretch that to Key Stage 2. To make the trial even easier you can borrow these robots first too.

https://robotical.io/

The Rasberry Pi

I know, this isn’t new, but I think they are criminally underused in Primary Schools. They have come into their own for us this year as the last of our desktop PC’s died and we had their monitors and keyboards left. If you’re not sure what they are – look here. They are cut down, no frills PC’s which have the power, and flexibility, to do pretty much anything you need. Various operating systems are available (I use the NOOBS one) and they come readied with software such as scratch, word processing and internet access. NOOBS even comes with a networkable version of Minecraft which my pupils have loved. The Rasperry Pi works on many levels: it’s budget friendly, it makes use of old equipment and cables, it contains a wealth of software which is very Primary school friendly and it helps the pupils learn about the workings of a PC as they can physically see all the bits. Definitely cheap enough to give them a try.

Have you discovered any useful EdTech this year?

23 Mar

The future’s bright, the future’s Cumbrian!

I had the pleasure this week of attending a fantastic conference full of great speakers and big names in Education. Not the first time I‘ve done this of course, but this one was different in that it occurred on my doorstep. My Cumbrian doorstep.

The reality here is that since leaving London I have travelled hundreds of miles to hear the latest thoughts in Education, to be inspired and or discuss the latest policy and find out what impact it will have. Having our own conference such as #northernlights in Carlisle really was a revelation.

Why such a big deal I hear you ask? Well, it’s simple really, here in the North of England we often feel talked at. We feel like the poor cousin of the geographical family; not independent like Scotland, or central like London – and we are sometimes catapulted into the news because we are not quite as successful as we would like to be. We get tired of hearing about negative news stories and often struggle to see beyond our borders because, well, we work so damn hard!

So a huge thank you to all of those speakers who came this week to Carlisle to share positive messages, to allow dialogue where the North of England was put on centre stage and to put context into our challenges and successes. I won’t name all of the speakers here, but they know who they are, and they know the positive vibes and the buzz that was at the University of Cumbria. It was a great mix of local experts – nearby academics – CEO’s of successful academy chains and education experts! It means much to know that we are not alone, that despite any political differences at the end of the day we all want our children to have a world class Education.

I came away buzzing about the success of some of our Cumbrian schools – happy to share my own experiences and looking forward to shaping local thinking in the future. I thought hard about the future for Education in general and glad that, for once, it was Cumbrian colleagues that I was speaking to, Colleagues who I could easily catch up with again, whose schools I could visit and who are in a position to share resources and ideas. Because this is really what it’s all about – I make use of twitter and of Skype, but the chance to talk positively about changes and success on your doorstep really is inspirational. The chance to look at challenges honestly, to talk about retention and recruitment in a way that takes into account our context. To hear policy makers and influencers discuss what is actually important for our area and to help us make the changes needed.

A huge thank you to Michael Merrick who got this ball rolling, and everyone else who took the idea and ran with it. The University of Cumbria was a fantastic host and I know many people gave their time to making it succes. Here’s to being the change!

12 Jan

Getting your child started online.

Children will be online. There really is no way to avoid it. And, as they get online they will need an account or a profile for games, apps and even just for browsing on some sites. Then, as they get older, social media. To support this it’s a good idea to model the use of the internet and to support your child whilst they get used to managing their own accounts and their own online presence. But where to start?

Usernames

We talk about usernames in school. We discuss how you don’t want to give any personal information away in your name. You need a username that is not offensive and is simple.

Many people choose their first name and some numbers, or a nickname and children need to be warned of the danger of this. First names can be problematic. Not only can they identify you easily if names are spelt in an unusual way but they also give a sense of familiarity which may mean some children find it difficult to remember they are talking to strangers. A child may say they want to use their real name so they can find their friends. Some platforms offer the chance to let contacts know your real name separately – make sure you talk to your child about this before they do it. We always suggest that children only add as ‘friends’ those contacts that they know in real life.

Email addresses

To start with use a family email address so you can keep track of account registrations and any other agreements that go with it.

Schools may use email addresses for children for internal mail to get them used to the process of usernames / passwords etc. – and so as a family sharing email addresses is a good way to introduce your child to this. It also allows you to model use and to introduce the child to email etiquette. Staying in touch with far-flung relatives maybe or just emailing thank-you notes at birthdays. Most social media sites have a minmum age for sign up and so use this as a rule of thumb for email addressses too.

Friends

Always start with the premise that children should know their online friends in real life. Encourage this and talk to children about what they use to talk to friends and how they act online.

However, as we know, meeting people out of your bubble is a big plus of the internet and so, as they get older, the need to understand not to give too much information away. In a lesson we did once we found that children were pretty savvy about their own address, real name and family but not so good with their school. Children would give details out about where school was, or how they get to school particularly if it was another child they were speaking to. There has to be a fine line with trust and looking after your information. So use this a a discussion point. Do they really need to know how you got to school this morning?

Finally use these conversations as a way to set boundaries – once children are managing their own accounts or setting up their own games they will inevitably find themselves being advertised to. Being savvy about adverts and about what you can and can’t download is a big subject, but if you are able to be open about this early on it will hopefully prevent future problems.

And don’t forget there is lots of help online with specific apps, platforms and games. You can take a look here for more information.

06 Jan

My career has been driven by Government Initiatives.

Funny, I had a bit of a revelation today. Tidying out turned up my old CPD folder. One which I kept throughout my career, up to this latest job. ( I have to say I found this very helpful when job hunting and whatnot, but that’s not the point of this post!)

Looking though my folder, organised by ‘theme’ – e.g. photo evidence, letters and articles, reports; I realised that everything I had done in terms of pushing my career forward, or trying something new, had been dictated by the government of the time. Even my Local Authority position, which was partly inspired by a big push into spending on IT, was all about money – and where schools were allowed to spend.

Take my first role – which was PE and School Sports Coordinator. Completely driven by the money that was going into school sports. This meant, of course, that schools had to evidence the spending and the impact (remember the survey and older SSCO colleagues?) – and they needed someone to do this. My folder also contains the ‘evidence’ of my next role – extended school coordinator. Again, using clubs, afterschool clubs, out of hours (I think that was my title!) all as ways to engage the whole school community. I was in London then, and there was a lot of local focus on the family- family kitchen cookery classes, English classes, etc. I’m sure the Head Teacher at the time thought these things were needed, but the fact is I only did it because money was available and school were being rewarded for doing such things. If there hadn’t been money I don’t think the school would have provided these services. Was this a choice of that school then? Would we have scraped together the money?

Reports are also a big part of my CPD folder, as Assessment Lead for a few years, I put a few in my folder and the change over the years is startling. I reported to governors, SLT and our SIP at the time. It started with a look at the whole school trends, three years trends, cohort strengths etc. But then in a few years it moves into groups – and a focus on just a small percentage of children for each cohort — and each year the number of these groups increase, and the detail I go into bcomes more specific, and arguably, more useless. The time taken probably increased too – but I don’t remember!

It doesn’t just follow the money of course, in all this I have attended courses for hockey, cricket FA Coaching (sports, of course! )- but also book corner training, and the seemingly obligatory ‘outstanding teaching courses’ (I attended a few of them.. take that as you will!). There were also the interactive whiteboards training (government put a lot of mone into this of course – see this report for more info) and the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment – which I don’t think we ever used). These type of initiatives can all be linked to government drives though, and it makes me wonder if I, as a new teacher looking for opportunities would have made those career choices if there wasn’t this big push on sports / IT and assesment practises.

This has all made me think, if, as a Headteacher, I can now effectively lead my school in a direction that the school community wants to go in? Even if it is not attached to a government idea, or funding pool? This is why our profession needs an independent body that can advise and protect schools and teachers from the whims of whichever government happens to be in power. Hopefully the Chartered College can do this, but I wonder how many teachers have had their careers shaped by Government whims?

03 Jan

What will 2019 bring?

As useful as it is to reflect, I think that the chance to look forward and to plan, as far as we can, is also important. Being the Head Teacher of a small primary school means that we have to be able to move with the ever-changing political and financial tide. And so, for the first time, I thought I’d try some predictions of what will, and won’t, impact our schools this year. Here goes:

Assessment

Now, in the core subjects, I don’t think this will be so controversial this year. We have had our fair share of controversy over the last few years and things are settling down now. Guidance for Key Stage 2 remains the same, and moderation procedures are left untouched too. There is some change on the horizon for Key Stage 1, it I don,t think this will bite just yet. Instead we will be busy creating our own procedures for the rest of the curriculum. Unfortunately, I think that the welcome broadening of the focus by Ofsted will mean that we will see various ways of schools looking to ‘prove progress‘ or to measure where pupils are on their curriculum continuum. Of course the result of this will be two-fold, with some of this entirely within our control. The education world taking a look at the wider curriculum in Primary is a good thing, of course, and will hopefully influence other areas of the media. However we need to keep ourself in check and ensure that this does not add to an already jammed workload.

Staffing and CPD

We are in the middle of a rise in home-grown teacher led CPD, and this is a good thing. This is not just my Twitter bubble, although I do love the hashtag led chats on twitter. But it is thanks to Multi Academy Trusts, The Chartered College and, of course, the fact that schools are feeling the pinch. Ofsted is more open than I have ever known it, and I think that teachers scrutinise DfE announcements for themselves more now. As a teacher shortage bites we need to realise how much power we have. I hope this teacher led expertise continues to grow and we don’t lose this growing confidence. Social media can be very helpful in this way. The downside to this is the opportunity for misinformation, though this is a predicament for all areas of social media now.
 
As for other areas, I think much will be about well-being, whole curriculum and ‘evidencing’ the whole school and what we do. I just hope we can keep our heads whilst we do this.