Tuesday, 21 December 2010

How Learning Platforms could become the new 'worksheet'

I was adding some maths games to my school's Google Apps domain the other day when suddenly a warning bell went off in my mind. What if I was filling up the learning platform with so much stuff, it would detract from the relationships between the adult and the child?

Let me explain myself a little.

I've been doing some research on the use of social media in maths learning and what I've found is that social media can be used to promote 'negotiated scaffolding'. Some people call this co-construction. It's a pedagogy that fits within the realm of 'social constructivism'. What I also found is that most primary (elementary) children are exposed to mainly 'rigid scaffolding'. Now I have to admit at this point that I'm not completely clued up as to where a pedagogy starts and a teaching strategy starts, but suffice it to say that in my own teaching I'm a social constructivist who's good at making connections between ideas. I use two main strategies: negotiated and rigid scaffolding to take children into their zone of proximal development and onto 'the edge of learning' (Vygotsky).

Is that enough jargon yet? I'll put it another way - essentially my lessons take 2 forms:

  • Lessons where I start from a point the children have specified, negotiate the learning goals and guide them to achieve them. (You can see why co-construction is a useful term for this, as the children work together with the adult to 'constuct' the scaffold).
  • Lessons where I define the learning goal, set the specified success criteria (or steps to success, learning ladder - whatever you want to call it) and teach the various stages until the children achieve the learning goal.
Or going back to the terminology, I use 2 types of scaffolding - negotiated and rigid.

So in my research I did a half-term of negotiated scaffolding, using blogging, Twitter, video sharing and Google Docs for the children to collaborate with each other and beyond to the wider world. One of the particular highlights was when a student, writing the date asked the question: "I wonder if there's a birthday on every day of the year?" She posted the question to the blog, I put it out on Twitter and there were some great responses from maths teachers in different parts of the world by the next day. Excited, motivated, inspired - the children went on to solve the problem the next day.

I then did a half-term of 'rigid scaffolding'. I mainly taught skills like written methods and simplification of fractions. Sounds pretty tedious.

What was interesting was that the children made progress in both periods, during both the rigid and the negotiated scaffolding. And not only that they made double the expected progress. There may be many different explanations for this, but I suspect that the ownership that the children were able to take from the negotiated scaffolding part carried over into the rigid scaffolding part - the children knew that they were in a learning relationship with myself, each other and also people beyond the classroom and it motivated them to really excel.

Sadly, much teaching in the UK primary sector (especially in maths), is dominated by the rigid scaffold. Alexander (2004) calls it 'pedagogical prescription' and Thompson (2008) says:
“at the deeper level of classroom discourse, pupil– teacher interaction was still dominated by closed questions, emphasizing recall rather than speculation and problem-solving”
And with the 'rigid scaffold' the worksheet is king. It enables a teacher to give a 'learning ladder'; to leave the children to get on with it; to ask mainly closed questions

The fact is that social media had enabled me and the children to recapture the dialogue. It forced us to think 'socially'; to talk about what we were doing; to ask questions that were more open-ended.

So why the warning bell?

Well it suddenly struck me that the learning platform - if I filled it up with stuff - would become just like a worksheet. I had talking the 'blank sheet' approach of Google Docs and was busy writing over the lovely blank spaces with content. I could continue fill it up with an activity for every piece of learning needed, forgetting that each child may have different starting points and forgetting that negotiating the way through the learning is an extra-ordinarily powerful method.

The lesson for me is that I need to be prepared to continue the dialogue with the children, finding ways in the learning platform to do it. I need to avoid the temptation of 'closing off' the learning platform, making everything rigid and I need to enable children to negotiate their own learning on the learning platform with me - to become creators of content themselves. A helpful progression for developing learning platforms can be found on this #edjournal article: 'Implementing New Technological Tools in Schools.'


There's still a place for the rigid scaffold, but it needs to be blended with the negotiated one. In the same way there's still a place for the worksheet and the highly structured online course, but they need to be blended with negotiation and dialogue, both face-to-face and social media.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Brummie Phonics: boy or bye?

When @Mr_Thorne uploaded his new 'oi' sound video on mrthornedoesphonics.com , it reminded me of a seminal experience I had when teaching a year 4 class in North Birmingham some 10 years ago.

I was teaching homophones and during the introduction, after a hesitant start, a boy enthusiastically joined the discussion with that face that just says: 'I've got it!' You know - that AHA moment that all teachers thrive on.

What he actually said was: "Oh, I know! It's like 'boy' and 'buoy!'"

I could have left it there. Moved on to the next child for more examples of homophones they could think of. But I was astounded: an eight year-old living in one of the most deprived council estates in Birmingham who knew the word 'buoy'. I had to investigate the further.

So I asked "What do you mean, 'boy' and 'buoy'?"

His response was "'Boy' as in me. And 'buoy' as in 'buoy buoy'!"

And then he waved at me.

My turn to have an AHA moment! I realised: in Brummie (the Birmingham accent) 'boy' and 'bye' ARE homophones.

Anyone got any other interesting regional phonics stories?

Monday, 13 December 2010

Running out of ideas to increase skills in gifted children

The picture is what we use as the pinnacle of our '99' club test. This was a test that we introduced a few years ago to help increase children's instant recall and mental mathematics skills. Unfortunately, 99 club wasn't big enough, so introduced a 'superstars club'. Then that was completed so we made up a 'mega-stars' club. Even that wasn't enough, so I designed a killer test - Gigastars club, thinking no self-respecting 10 or 11 year old would pass that. Even my brother-in-law who's a red-hot software designer type could only do half of it in the required 10 minutes.

But then last year, one plucky 10-year old did the test. In only ten-minutes. We allow 3 wrong to get the certificate. She got 2 wrong. What a star. What a 'giga-star' in fact!

But now, what do we do now? She's still got a year with us. Helpful suggestions about where to go next with our skills development would be most appreciated.

Paganel Scalextric Project

In the Academic Year 2009 to 2010, Year 6 at Paganel designed, molded, vac-formed, laser-cut, assembled, glued and soldered their own scalextric cars.


Then they learnt how to commentate.


Then they raced them and shared the racing with the whole school.


This is how it happened:

We'd like to do the project again this year, but want to share it with more than only Paganel children. So if you have a group of Year 5 or 6 children and you're free at the end of March, let us know and we'll do the whole thing together - we have all the kit, we just want some more friends to share it with...

Monday, 29 November 2010

I made a song with Audacity and an iPhone

Gtauk by Steve Philp  
Download now or listen on posterous
gtauk song.mp3 (2576 KB)

At the end of every term I start thinking 'music'. It might be that it's just the season for performances and that I've got my guitar out, but inevitably over the next few weeks I'll have a group of children trying to create some piece of music or other.

I've been using Audacity for a few years - plugging in the school's old keyboards and seeing what children can come up with. This year however we've invested in a couple of iPods, so I've been wondering what I could do with them. I've been experimenting over the weekend to see what the time limits and snags might be and I think I have a reasonable solution for a way of creating some music with just an iPhone and Audacity. Although I have to admit, I have cheated slightly - I played a guitar - and that's something none of my children can do, still here's what my sequence looks like so far. If you want a more detailed explanation, let me know - this just a quick 'big brushtrokes' picture of what I did.

  1. Find some words for the song. I did a Wordle of the Google Teacher Academy Blog that Kevin McLaughlin had started. While I was recording other bits, I looked at the Wordle and tried to find words that would rhyme and might fit together until a song of some kind appeared.
  2. Start recording drum tracks into Audacity. I used DrumTrack8 which I like because it's got a copy of my old Boss 808 sound that I used to use in the 1990s. Not that I used that particular sound for this song. Depending on how complex you want to be, you can record all the drums together or on separate tracks. I chose to do Kick and Snare together, highhat on its own, ride on its own and some fancy toms on their own track too. I then used Audacity's fade in, fade out and amplify (with a -200 quantity) to cut some of the drums where I didn't want them, for example I only wanted ride in the chorus.
  3. Find a tune. Try to match some words to it. While I was recording the drum tracks I picked up my guitar, tried a few chords and tried to make some of the words from the Wordle fit. This is the tricky bit for the children I guess - as most can't play guitar - I'll have to work out how to make this step accessible to the children.
  4. Record the tune. With the drum tracks done I recorded my guitar track onto my iPhone using Recorder Pro. I couldn't record it straight into Audacity because my cheap mic had broken.
  5. Record the words (i.e sing!). I then sang into Recorder Pro and transferred that into Audacity too. This is the really weak bit for me - I can't sing very well - my voice is thin and my tuning is... interesting. This was also where I had the largest snag. Aside from the quality of my voice, Recorder Pro seems to stop recording when there's silence, so when I synced it back onto Audacity is had cut out some of deliberate gaps. I've tried to add some silences back in, but the words don't quite mesh with the beat at some points because they're out by the odd hundredth or so.
  6. Add some harmony and other stuff. I used Nlog Free synthesiser app to add some more sounds. I love this one. I can't play keys but I can play Nlog. Sort of.
  7. Balance. The worse thing in a pop song is when you can't hear the words. Except when I'm singing. So here, I did a little bit more fading in and out and amplify adjustment on the different tracks.
  8. Mix Down. Finally I assigned some tracks a little to the left and a little to the right to give that fuller sound achieved by a bit of stereo and I saved the track as an MP3
If I'd had more time I would have recorded some extra vocals to pad out my voice. I may have even tried some harmony.

If I'd had a lot more time I'd have found someone who can sing to do my vocals for me.

Next stop - try something like this with the children. Should be an interesting learning experience for us all.

The words of the songs are:
I once was settled with what I knew
I thought I needed nothing new
In a bubble of my own
A tiny world was my home

But then cool awesomeness
Different practices
In a Network Earth
Couldn’t settle then
Had to jump right in
Into a different world

I’ve Gone Google at GTAUK
Posted time to a blog via Twitter that day.
So certify me.

Teachers from every different nation
Showing some steep appreciation
Demonstration and explanation
All in the name of education

New technologies
New literacies
Squeezed into each hour
Better practices
It’s going to work for years
This is education power

Friday, 26 November 2010

Valuing misconceptions on the way to explaining fractions

I filmed this about 6 months ago, following an excellent session about fractions on the Mathematics Specialist Teacher Programme. The challenge that we were given, and then I in turn gave to the children, was given a 4-pint bottle of milk that gets 3/5 of a pint drunk each day, how many days does the milk bottle last for? Those of us with a formal background in maths would say:

÷ 3/5
= 4 ÷ 3 x 5
= 4 x 5 ÷ 3
= 20 ÷ 3
= 6 r 2.
So the milk lasts for 6 and a bit days. If we wanted to be really fancy we would say the milk lasts for 6 and 2/3 days. And isn't it more practical to say the milk lasts for 6 days and there's 2/5 of a pint left over? Does our understanding of the algorithms let us say that?

Also can children, who are without the drilled-in knowledge that when you divide a divisor you actually multiply, do this question?

That's what the video explores - and there's some interesting misconceptions on the way.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Learning Creativity in Maths at MaST HEI Day 5

MaST is the Masters level study programme I am on (standing for Mathematics Specialist Teacher). HEI merely stands for Higher Education Day.

Creativity in Maths

The Day begin with a lecture on creativity in maths. It's an interesting idea - creativity - because many teachers have the mental construct that creativity is all about thinking artisticly and creating things of aesthetic value. Derek Haylock went on to talk about about divergence and flexibility - a far different way concept of creativity in maths. One leads to trying to shoe-horn maths into a themed curriculum and doing lots of shape work that becomes artwork, the other leads to open-ended questions, good dialogue and child-centred learning. Here are my tweets:

  • About to hear Dr. Derek Haylock at #MaSThei5. http://derek-haylock.blogspot.com
  • #MaSThei5 creativity is not normally associated with mathematics (confusion between artistic and creativity)
  • #MaSThei5 find 2 numbers with a sum of 9 and a difference of 4? When we have the knowledge, what blocks us accessing it to solve a problem?
  • #masthei5 what are the processes that characterise creative thinking? How do we recognise creative product What kind of people are creative?
  • #masthei5 what conditions foster creative thinking? (all in maths context)
  • #masthei5 Derek Haylock demonstrate that we're all fixed, rigid thinkers by nature. We have to choose to think flexibly.
  • #masthei5. Equal pieces problem - will demonstrate on blog how we're all rigid by nature.
  • #masthei5 flexible thinking is the first step on a creative process in maths. Avoid rigidity an fixation.
  • #masthei5 2 kinds of fixation common in maths that limit creativity: algorithmic and content universe
  • #masthei5 ask children to draw a rectangle. What do most of them do?
  • #masthei5 creativity in maths includes thinking divergently: fluency (many), flexibility (kinds), originality, appropriateness.
  • #Masthei5 appropriateness is easy to define in maths (as opposed to art, writing, etc) so teachers fixate on this one part of divergence
  • #masthei5 how to develop divergent thinking in maths: problems with many solutions; problem-posing; redefinition.
  • #masthei5 redefinition - come up with lots of responses by redefining the elements, eg: what's the same as 16 and 36?
  • #masthei5 redefine by using lots of different ideas to create subsets of a given set of numbers
  • #masthei5 conflict between creativity an accuracy - do we value creativity as much as accuracy in maths?
  • #masthei5 graph of attainment vs. creativity (as Derek Haylock defines it) show 0 children in the high creativity, low attainment sector
  • #masthei5 factors associated with maths creativity include low anxiety, high self-concept, risk-taker, high attainer, being a boy. 
  • #masthei5 creative maths children are also 'broad categorisors'. They are good at identifying the same about numbers+ideas and make links.

Writing Assignments

Course Tutor, Mary McAteer gave us some top tips and hints to help us successfully write our first piece of level 7 writing.

  • #masthei5 Mary McAteer reminds us to demonstrate an understanding of ethical issues in essay and PLL
  • #masthei5 warns us against over use of Excel as a presentational tool for simple data

Place Value

Ian Sugarman definitely had the graveyard shift on the day. The last session after a big lunch on a 6 day week - on a Saturday when most would be out shopping, or slobbing in front of the TV - can't have been an easy lecture. And when the subject is the dry area of place value, it's always going to be a tricky one. The biggest thing I got out of this lecture is the warning against the indiscriminate use of number lines and the value of teacher column methods for securing place value when ordering decimals.

  • Context for place value #masthei5 getting things 10 times out can be at best expensive; at worst lethal...
  • #masthei5 misconceptions of place value after the decimal point are rife between ages of 7-11. Half-learned rules and over-generalisations
  • #masthei5 when pupils are given opportunities to explain their thinking, they often spot their own flaws.
  • #masthei5 to get place value it's helpful to sort and justify before ordering
  • #masthei5 talks about left-justifying decimals when I think it's helpful to justify by the decimal point
  • #masthei5 to get x10 relationship it's helpful to use pictures or Dienes apparatus to visualise place value
  • #masthei5 recommends http://nlvm.usu.edu - university of Utah website for good models and images.
  • Great activities advertised at #masthei5 at http://numbergym.co.uk (but not free)
  • At #masthei5 Ian Sugarman talks about standard algorithms can be a sledgehammer to crack a nut in questions like 81-78.
  • #masthei5 numberlines vs standard algorithms vs necessity of getting place value = conflicting interests
  • #masthei5 British children have been referred to as 'pathological splitters', as they partition numbers in both addition and subtraction.
  • #masthei5 Ian Sugarman advocates empty number lines, but not as another rote-learned method. Draw from 0 and emphasize progression.
  • #masthei5 maths in Holland always starts with a real setting, whereas in UK we start with pure maths.
  • #masthei5 can use 'same difference' method as alternative to empty number line for examples such as 83-37 (86-40 is much easier)  

Saturday, 20 November 2010

A growing argument for Google Apps in schools instead of LA-imposed VLEs.

At one point I thought there was only reason why Google Apps would make a better VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) in my school over the LA-imposed one.

It just worked.

The teachers got it straight away. Within half an hour of using it, they had produced something collectively of value in the school. The children got it straight away too. In my first lesson with Google Apps, the children learnt a knew skill, created something relevant to the curriculum and shared their work with me within the Google Apps domain. It took 45 minutes, without any painful file management, reminding children exactly where on the server they should save their work. Some of the children followed up at the weekend by continuing their work and sharing improvements with me. Google Apps was, in short, a great learning resource. It still is. As my friend Mark Allen (@edintheclouds) says, it is the iphone of the internet.

Since then, I have started to find that there are other arguments. For a start, most VLEs started in universities where they a repository for online learning and knowledge. They are designed to keep the knowledge secure for that university and for that course - that's how universities make their money. State primary education is completely different. The knowledge should be shared. Children of course need to be kept safe (which Google Apps does as well as any other VLE), but we can't withhold essential elementary skills and knowledge from our communities.

But I'm not the only one who believes that 'locked-down' learning is dangerous for children in the long term. The Ofsted report, Safe use of new technologies says:

"Although the 13 schools which used ‘locked down’ systems kept their pupils safe while in school, such systems were less effective in helping them to learn how to use 
new technologies safely. These pupils were therefore more vulnerable overall. This was a particular concern when pupils were educated away from their main school, for example, in work-based learning."

Worryingly, it seems that  some LAs aren't engaged in best practice in terms of developing VLEs in their schools. An old report from Becta states:

We consider that, if unchecked, such arrangements for interoperability have the potential to impede competition and choice not only in the provision of MIS solutions but also in the market for Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and Managed Learning Environments (MLEs), and hinder the effective delivery of wider policy objectives in relation to personal learning spaces.

They have certainly been unchecked in some LAs.

Agent4Change.net has a link to the new MIS BECTA report (september 2010) with the conclusion: The new Becta MIS report, after all, concludes that the market for MIS now, compared with the position at time of the 2005 Report, remains just as uncompetitive.

So while it's great to have all the defensive arguments about e-safety, it may also be valuable to have some counter-arguments about how ineffective LAs have been at educating children for the 21st century and how they have failed to prepare schools likewise.

I'm also struck by this 2009 report about school VLE use, which states (on page 8) that successful VLE use is characterised by:
  • Schools having developed a tradition of effective procurement and implementation of innovative use of ICT
  • Schools having underpinned the implementation of the learning platform with a coordinated, positive and enthusiastic strategic approach by senior leaders and managers.
Comparing this with the MIS report from BECTA (September 2009), it seems that LAs are tarred with a brush of ineffective procurement, yet Becta have found that schools with effective procurement have effective VLEs. In addition the second point would indicate that VLEs that are foisted upon schools by LAs don't work, but schools that have ownership of their VLE through their senior leaders have VLEs that are making a difference for their learners.

Just like we're finding with Google Apps.

Finally, while I've been writing this, someone tweeted a link to this warning about the dangers of not teaching about the world we actually live in.

Seems to me like schools need ownership of this stuff so that they can prepare their communities for the future. As a senior leader in my school, I have ownership of our Google Apps and know where I'm going with it. There may be better stuff out there but I don't have ownership of it.

So if you lead a school or are part of the leadership, take ownership of the offline and the online. Google Apps might even help you.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Good Design or Misleading Iconography?

A couple of months ago I read, or rather looked at, this on Doug Belshaw's blog. A 4-set Venn diagram. I looked at the four areas described - Education, Technology, Productivity and Design and how the centre section where all four areas meet must surely be some ideal. The I realised I couldn't meet the ideal - because I am rubbish at design. The other areas are fine, but not design. 

Doug described the centre section as 'User Experience' and a kind of agree. All four areas have to combine positively to create a positive user experience. I saw this happen when I used Google Docs with my colleagues earlier this term. I had previously tried to foist Moodle on them - but to no avail.

It. Just. Didn't. Work.

There was something missing from their user experience. But Google Docs made complete sense. We used a spreadsheet to plan how we would teach our 120 children maths for the term. Not only did the same teachers who didn't get Moodle get Google Docs straight away, but we planned the maths groups in only half an hour - previously it had taken a couple of hours for me and then lots of follow up conversations and re-adjustments. It was a productive experience, the teachers learnt something using technology and it was clearly designed well enough for teachers with low IT confidence to get it straight away.

It. Just. Worked.

So when, a month or so later I came to design a learning platform using Google Apps - I was excited that the technology was in place to create a productive online tool, but worried that my design skills wouldn't be up to the task. Along came Mark Allen (@edinthclouds), fellow GCT with some wonderful help, advice and a great template - but still I wanted more. I didn't want to solely use the icons that Mark was offering because I wanted them to belong to us at Paganel. So I asked some children to design some for me. Some were hand-drawn like what you can see on the front-end of our learning platform at lp.paganelschool.net, others were created in Google Drawings. They're not brilliant - but they're ours.

And this is I hit a really interesting problem. I had a go at creating some of the icons myself (I couldn't take the children away from their curriculum every lesson to do my work for me - child labour was banned in this country in Victorian times). But obviously being a poor designer I was completely stuck for ideas. So a Google Image search revealed what the rest of the world was doing for icons and gave me some good ideas for my own. However, it was clear that whilst there are some excellent designers out there, and the icons look very pretty, they're not all working in the centre zone of Doug;'s Venn diagram - they're not actually working for a good user experience.

My best example is 'training'. I did an image search for training and came up with the picture I attached to the blog. 30 icons for training. However many of the images provide a very negative image for training - they're all about 'instruction' not training. Images of chalkboards, lecturing and even mortar-board-wearing figures. That's not training to me.

Training is about the practice and application of specific exercises to develop and hone a skill. It requires two people to help you - a coach who can draw out your motivation and a mentor who can guide you when you're going wrong. Images of instruction give the wrong message to the user about what training actually is. They limit the message. Is this being pedantic? Maybe so - but I want the best user experience possible for the teachers who will be using my learning platform.

But I'm not a designer. I desperately want a good icon image for 'training' so I can use it on my website, but I can't think what it should be. So any thought or reflections on other misleading icons will be most welcome - and if anyone can help me design a good 'training' one, do let me know.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Solution to Einstein's Problem

Quite a few of my class know the answer to 'Who Keeps the Fish?' know.

This problem is ascribed to Einstein who reckoned that only the top 2% of the population could solve it. That might have been true back then, but I reckon we're a lot more adept as problem solving these days. Anyway, I was really impressed with Lauren's neat, tabulated solution to the problem. See if you can work out how she did it.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Xeno Tactic Level 3

Download now or watch on posterous
xeno_level3.mp4 (10074 KB)

It seems that when I posted My top 10 games in the classroom recently, I didn't count for some of them being rather addictive. So apologies to my fellow GCT @jessternrays, but hopefully you'll find this part solution to Xeno Tactic mission 3 useful.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Ray Maher at Athena

Today, UK Maths expert, Ray Maher visited the Athena schools in Birmingham. This is the record of the tweets I made of the event.

5 schools meet for #Athena day at the Beeches for #RayMaher on Raising Standards in Mathematics

#RayMaher still does teaching in school - says best teachers should be in Year 3 - it's the engine room of the school
#RayMaher- best resource in schools is human
#RayMaher - if get foundations right, you get the rest right - times tables by rote - make sure 7 year olds know them off by heart.
#RayMaher wonders why some Year 6 don't have methods for + - x and ÷
#RayMaher says UK is 4th in World in maths (behind, Korea, China, India)
#RayMaher -think of a number, double it, add 5, multiply by 50, +1760, - year you were born. My answer = 738
#RayMaher talks about weighting of maths. 20% U&A, 50% N@C, 20% SSM, 10% DH
#RayMaher questions how secure children are at end of Year 3. (should be level 3)
#RayMaher says if you get the calculation right, you're going to get standards up
#RayMaher - child methodology: in my head? Using drawings / jottings? can I use expanded / compact written method? need calculator?
Teaching one method means less able improve, but more able stay the same... #RayMaher
#RayMaher says models and images in Y1-Y3 are really important
#RayMaher - sort out misconceptions in Year 3
#RayMaher Use number lines to develop mental imagery - then move quickly on to efficient written methods when understanding is secure
#RayMaher advocates using Grid Method - Level 3: 2 dig by 1 dig / Level 4: 2 dig byt 2 dig. Can't do grid method unless timetables secure
#RayMaher gives example of using bus stop for 47 ÷ 8. #fail!!!!
#RayMaher Chunking is repeated subtraction. Egof Y5 non-divider who caught on with chunking 10 lots of 17 on a number line (for 191 ÷ 17)
#RayMaher indicates that children need to OWNtheir one method for +, -, x, ÷. It's not one method per teacher, but one method per child.
#RayMaher - we need progression of calculations policy from foundation stage to Y6. Gives example of very simple policy.
#RayMaher says use calculations policy as displayed curricular targets
#RayMaher use easy-language display of calculations policy to go home for parents
#RayMaher has marvellous counting stick with velco on and 'Mortimer' a puppet who counts up and down.
#RayMaher shows place value mats for Lower KS2. Place value strips for addition. Number squares - 0-99 better than 1-100.
#RayMaher shows viewfinders for number squares. - Algorithmic Ls - great resource for revitalising our number squares
#RayMaher Know 1, get 3 free sheets. Show that one addition fact gives 3 more (1 +, 2 -); 1 multiplication fact gives 3 more facts (1 x, 2÷)
#RayMaher - round tables - look ace. TAs - make up packs of all these FAB resources
#RayMaher - Language pyramids for maths language
#RayMaher - shows kinaesthetic resource for counting
Useful numbers game like countdown http://bit.ly/1HqVtn #RayMaher
Good place for maths games (although the cost...) http://bit.ly/cAghdW #RayMaher
#RayMaher shows Busy Bees good SODA (Start Of the Day Activities) for maths http://bit.ly/dqDGOZ (it costs £20)
#RayMaher - can you gain 5 minutes during register? Research shows that if you do the children will get cleverer...
#RayMaher advocates buying Nintendo DS to support mental recall - brain traing / maths training
#RayMaher uses numeracy passport to support progression of key skills. http://bit.ly/8ZEHNl
RT @frogphilp: #RayMaher uses numeracy passport to support progression of key skills. http://bit.ly/8ZEHNl
#RayMaher says Wirral Authority give children a 'travel bag' for pre-passport activities where children get stuff when they achieve learning
#RayMaher demonstrates resources that include left-handed children
#RayMaher shows Fiery Ideas Passport kit. Costs £55 but is comprehensive for developing mental maths and instant recall http://bit.ly/b0FX3h
#RayMaher points out that doing bonds to 6, 7, 8, 9 are as important as bonds to 10.
#RayMaher - organisation of passport instant recall means that you can focus on skills for different groups during main activity of lesson
#RayMaher - passport objectives: know all recall by Year 5; more confident at doing sums in heads; key skills for ECM; kids love it!
#RayMaher argues that APP should be standardised - 5 schools on this day - we could meet to standardise our practice
#RayMaher Shows a grid of standardisation
#RayMaher warns that great resources like Pitch and Expectations http://bit.ly/bn0sia may be removed from website as funding is withdrawn
#RayMaher says learning objectives should be broken down - different buzzwords 'steps to success', 'learning ladders'
#RayMaher example of steps to success for Grid method: partitioning, multiply by 10, recall of times tables, spatial awareness, addition...
#RayMaher shows resource linking AFs - Objectives - Steps to Success - Resources
Robin at #RayMaher day points out that steps to success can become a barrier for teachers if they don't use common sense.
Robin at #RayMaher says that a teacher's job is to make planning exciting and relevant; not to pull planning from the ether.
At #RayMaher day, http://bit.ly/OuI2Y (Mathletics) is demonstrated. Looks great - Education City rival - Athena have paid for 2 years
#RayMaher endorses Mathletics
"If there's a problem, there's a solution" says #RayMaher about to introduce section on problem solving...
#RayMaher says put maths into context - 'Deal or No Deal' with special offers from supermarkets
#RayMaher Shows problem solving frames - RUCSAC (Read, Understand, Choose an operation, Solve, Answer, Check)
#RayMaher Problem with RUCSAC - no estimation
#RayMaher 6 schools meet #Athena My tweetdeck is keeping me fully informed with @frogphilp chirps. Sounds great. Chirp...
#RayMaher Other Problem solving Frame - RACECAR (Like RUCSAC but with estimation)
#RayMaher Problem Solving - Use maths in a real context - real money, use roleplay, prices, 5-a-day, special offers, price vs mass, data.
#RayMaher - lesson idea work out how much Cola is replaced by ice at Macdonalds (Tip: answer = about 67%)
#RayMaher shows free game to show supermarket maths http://bit.ly/bTKk8H
#RayMaher shows Number Crunch Bunch http://bit.ly/cHgOzt (£25) to encourage dialogue
#RayMaher - Could use Flips to film children speaking about conceptions / misconceptions to promote class discussion
#RayMaher If there are 196 legs and 126 eyes at a dog show, how many people and dogs are present?
#RayMaher shows Maths Talk TV http://bit.ly/bqfsA9 (£60) (NB Teacher.tv has stuff on dialogue http://bit.ly/ckYhd9)
#RayMaher shows beginning of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and asks: What maths can you see?
#RayMaher Logic and Reasoning is possible area of weakness in UK primary schools
#RayMaher shows logic problem: http://bit.ly/bTzAXT - Can you solve it?
#RayMaher shows progression for making decisions - build up complexity from simple decisions
#RayMaher points out you can get free education resources about London Olympics from http://bit.ly/bCLD21
#RayMaher shows Professor Problemo - interactive software and resource sheets (£25) http://bit.ly/9atnwC
#RayMaher recommends free resource: Mathematical Challenges for able pupils http://bit.ly/apfZxn #gtchat #mathchat
#RayMaher recommends Gecko Maths http://bit.ly/aIFBqj Korean problem solving that has contributed to SK being number 1 in maths

Saturday, 30 October 2010

My top 10 games in classroom

Using these criteria, I've chosen my top 10 games that I've used in the classroom. My classroom, admittedly has usually been in Key Stage 2 (UK NC), so my list is somewhat skewed. But it's mine.

  1. Xeno Tactic. Great problem solving game - good for children to help children develop visualisation (they have to see the spaces to create the best maze). Also the last level is impossible - at least I've only ever seen screencasts of it being done by cheating.
  2. Submachine. This series of game is great for developing lateral thinking in problem solving. The first one, Submachine 0, is a great start for children because it's not too complicated, but after that they do get quite tricky and I have to admit I've used the walkthrough on one or two of them.
  3. Sim City 3000. I got a whole load of these CDs cheap from somewhere and regretted it. Sim City is a great game and the children who used it did get something out of it - but the versions I got where all looked with annoying codes and in an ICT suite of 30 children it was just impractical. I notice it's possible to download this for free now, so things might be different from a few years ago.
  4. Civilization 2. Again an old game that I picked up some cheap copies. This worked much better than Sim City though as it was the same version. I remember it fitted quite nicely with the history-based topic work at the time, especially giving children a sense of chronology. Of course it's a good strategy game too.
  5. Myst. I used Myst as an interactive whiteboard activity during my weekly team problem solving session. One team would see if they could get further than the previous in their hour. I've seen people have used it to inspire writing, but that's not my own personal bag.
  6. Baldur's Gate. I was looking for something to support the teaching of fantasy / sci-fi genre in my literacy lessons and remembered this one. It's an 11+ so I used it only with the oldest children. What I like is that it's essentially text-based - so children need to use their reading skills to get anywhere in the game. It also prompted some great writing as it's set in a very rich world.
  7. Football Manager 2006. It's a bit out of date (obviously), but I've used this game to run a club in dinner times. It's a highly numbers based game - all the players are rated on scores out of 20, and there's lots of large numbers transferring players from team to team. Strangely only boys joined the club.
  8. Atomic Cannon. This is one of those games where you set an angle and a power and shoot the missile at the enemy tanks. I remember playing a game like this on the BBC Micro when I was about 9. This one works on PC or Mac (and now I notice some mobile devices) and is great to teach children about an understanding of angle.
  9. Schoolsfl.com. OK, this isn't quite a game. It's the Fantasy Football League for schools where each player chooses their own team of Premiership footballers. They are given points after each round of games and prizes each month then follow. There are free versions that exist, but I've found that the £3.50 you pay for each team is worth it.
  10. Cbeebies. As I said, I'm no early years expert, but my own children have loved the Cbeebies website - loads of games and things to do.
So that's my list. As you can see it majors around problem solving and strategy - I suppose that indicates both what my personal preferences are and what I think children need from gaming. I'd love any thoughts and reflections on the games I've chosen...

Weird celebrations

Halloween, Bonfire Night. There's something strange about our celebrations at this time of year. At many levels.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Top 5 criteria for making a top 10 list

I've noticed that a lot of bloggers and web 2.0 gurus like making top 10 lists for different things. I can't get 'High Fidelity' by Nick Hornby out of my head when I see a top 10 list. Admittedly, in High Fidelity, Rob Fleming, the main character makes only top 5 lists - you've got to do twice the thinking for a top 10 list - but I'm about to challenge myself to do it. Yes, unheard of before, I'm going to make a list of my top 10 educational games. OK, so maybe lots of people have done that, but I might as well throw my money in the top 10 games hat. Anyway, here are my top 5 criteria for making my top 10 list.

  1. Make sure you have some experience of items on your list. People can find stuff out from Wikipedia, so just be academically right. You've got have lived it...
  2. Try to put your list in some kind of order. It may only be a list, but it can still have a narrative. I love it when I get to about item 6 and the tension is broken with some witty humour or self-deprecating reflection. Or when point 3 comes along and you can't help nodding sagely at the thoughtful insight.
  3. Remember that nobody really bothers much with the middle of the list. So you don't need to write much for that point.
  4. Make sure you have some experience of items on your list. It sounds obvious, but you wouldn't guess the amount of people who just look things up on Wikipedia and then pretend they know all about it.
  5. Don't repeat yourself. You may think you're making a point, but you could have just made a shorter list.
I hope everyone finds that helpful.

Moving a Site from individual Google domain to a Google Apps for Education domain

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site_mover.mp4 (1831 KB)

Apologies for the poor sound quality on this video - I really must buy a decent mic sometime.

Thanks to Benj for the instructions.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

My top tips for challenging children


I've taught a lot of ADHD children. Probably twenty, which isn't quite an entire class but isn't getting on for that. Imagine the fun of teaching a whole class of ADHD children? So I'm no expert, but in my experience most ADHD children are boys. Also some of them (remember this isn't representative) are, in my opinion, suffering from DDD (Dad-deficient disorder) and are desperate for a male role model in my lives.

  1. Speak to them often. Tell them what's coming up in the next lesson. Talk to them about how they're playtime was. Tell them when you're next going to talk to them.
  2. Ritalin sometimes works. It often doesn't. Sometimes it makes things worse - or weirder. If parents are thinking of medicating, it's important to be in close conversation with them about how things are going.
  3. Give them space and physical activity. Allow them to write standing and sitting. It seems to me that ADHD children are often very kinaesthetic.
  4. Find a male role model for them - preferably a class teacher - I don't know how this works out in secondary (where it may be counter-productive), but in the primary schools where I have worked this has been successful.

I have many funny stories about children with different levels of autism, but I need to tell them in a pub, not in this medium. As a teacher I relied on a good TA or integration assistant to support children with autism. As a BeCo (Behaviour Co-ordinator) I rely on the Educational Psychologist and LA support services (which in Birmingham are excellent) to tell me what to do.

Quiet Children

These are sometimes the worst - they won't willingly engage with any activities. At earlier ages they may have been elective mutes. I've taught a few, including a Polish girl who returned to school a few weeks to visit, but still wouldn't speak to me. Suffice it say, I find them very challenging.

  1. Analyse what their self esteem is like using the BASIS approach.
  2. Do lots of team problem solving and challenges where they have to engage with their peers.
  3. Take them to a field and make them practice SHOUTING!
  4. Talk to their parents.
  5. Find another adult that can work with in smaller settings than a whole class.
Whole School

Sometimes you need a whole school approach - the methods being used in the individual classrooms aren't working, the challenges are coming thick and fast and everyone is struggling. We're about to launch one at my school where every child will score themselves out of 10 at the end of the week in a circle time session. The criteria will be quite rigid - 7 will be normal. 10 will be role model, handing in all homework and generally being perfect. 5 will be a couple of warnings and 1 will be an exclusion. As will score it on Google Spreadsheets, the scores will then come to me as BeCo and I will present a 'class' of the week prize in Monday assembly. After that I will begin giving prizes for class that make progress from week to week (so our nightmare Year 4 class don't miss out) and also give prizes for children that get a whole loads of 10s. This system isn't for everyone, but we need it at the moment. We may not need it for ever either. - I'll report in a few weeks on how it's going.

Smack the naughty child

It was about eight years ago.

A parent  came to see me about his son's behaviour and said, "I give you permission to smack him when he's naughty."

Of course I had to explain to the parent that even if that permission could be granted, I would not be able to use any physical punishment on the parent's child. It's not the only time it's happened either.

I've had many experiences of 'difficult children' over the years. I've only taught in 'difficult' areas of Birmingham - areas of high deprivation, low expectations and often multi-ethnic. In one school of only 180 children, 22 different home languages were spoken. In another, some of the families last legal employment could be traced back 6 or 7 generations to some great, great, great grandfather who had helped build the canals. Why am I saying this? Credibility? I suppose so. While I'm a relative newbie to blogging, Twitter and behaviour management, I've spent my whole career dealing with challenging behaviour.

So what's my top tip for dealing with challenging children? Treat them all as children. All different, all unique, all special and all with some growing up still to enjoy.

When I was a full-time teacher I encouraged my class to have a sense of class-ness. I used aspiration walls to engage children with their future and circle time to encourage a sense of openness and teamwork. I used the BASIS approach to analyse children's self esteem and plan interventions for children or groups of children with particularly low areas. I use day planners and a weekly diary so that children can approach each lesson without any sense of surprise and then reflect on the highs and lows of a week of learning. All these strategies create a sense of unity that is difficult to fight against, but still there are challenges and when they came I would use other adults - teachers, senior leaders and parents to support. The most difficult situation is when a parent isn't supportive. I've had parents threaten and swear at me and when this happens I've needed colleagues to support me, time to sort the situation out and a good cry.

I'm BeCo (Behaviour Co-ordinator) now. I spend a good amount of my time dealing with challenging behaviour from around the school. As a leader, it's often tempting to question what strategies were being used in the lesson? Was the learning appropriate? Were the children bored? But it's unfair to point the finger at any teachers. The strategies are good, the lessons are good and the majority of the children are thoroughly engaged. Actually I'm more and more pointing the finger at myself - my intervention wasn't early enough, my support level wasn't high enough, my engagement with both the pupils and parents wasn't deep enough. I'm new to the role and learning as I go, but I'm sure I've dropped more balls than I've caught so far (sorry colleagues!)

The thing is, it takes a whole village to raise a child, or in our context - in the UK - a whole school community. We all need each other to raise these children right. That's why parents needs teachers, teachers need their leaders and the leaders need the parents. If you're wondering how you can sort out the naughty children by yourself (remembering that smacking isn't allowed), then maybe you're thinking the wrong thing.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Does 'mean' mean 'mean', 'mean' or are you being mean?

In researching for my assignment (about whether social media can enhance maths learning), I've come across lots of interesting stuff about language. I'm bemused with myself that I'm saddened at the fact that the mere 2500 words I've got to write my assignment won't be enough to include many of the interesting things that I've found out. Interesting questions more than anything - because it's a whole world of learning. But it's also another essay to be written at a different time.

Suffice to say, at this point: maths teachers - you are amazing.

Why are we amazing?

Because we can explain to our children when leaves means equals.

And when vulgar isn't rude.

We know that multiply can make things smaller; that even isn't always smooth; divide can mean share and group; differentiation is more than just good practice for including all children in learning.

And we can explain that mean means mean (as in average), as opposed to nasty (although it might feel like it), or intend.

Maths. It's all about the words, don't you know.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

How to divide 3 by 4

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divide 3 by 4.mp4 (10226 KB)

Many people would say: divide 3 by 4? No can't do it.

Except if you use packets of stuff maybe you can.

My kids haven't got it completely yet, but they're on the way as this video shows.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The filtration process has started.

Experiment 1: elderberry liqueur

Practice Entries to Next Vista Video Competition

In the process of entering for the Fall Cue 2010 Video Contest at nextvista.org, my maths group practiced their maths explanations before some videos were chosen to be entered. These were two of the videos that didn't quite make it.

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be_cal2.mp4 (5302 KB)

Download now or watch on posterous
chloe and lauren v2.mp4 (3285 KB)

Management is like a bar of soap

Management is like a bar of soap

If you hold it at one end, it slips out the other.

If you adjust and hold it at the other end, it slips out of the first.

If you squeeze it too hard, you just destroy it.

If you scrub too vigorously, you use it up too quickly and it becomes expensive.

Yet if you hold it just right, it does a perfectly adequate job and nobody really talks about it.

Management is about skill before effort. It is about doing the job and ignoring the glory. And you may have to drop the soap a few times before you learn to get it right.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Number systems

I love using different number systems to teach understanding of number. I often use binary, base 6, Egyptian and roman, but here's four more that will definitely find a place in my lessons.

Do you know which is which?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Google Search Training

It's not much time to give up - half an hour. But in that time at Paganel we have just honed up our search skills not only to save us hours of time planning and preparing lessons, but also to improve the quality of what we teach.

This is what the staff meeting looked like:

Here's some places to go for safe searches:

 - a website with vetted pages.

On Google, remember to use:
      • Wonderwheel
      • Timeline
      • Picture filters
      • Custom Search
Here's one of my custom searches: Paganel Space Search

Short and simple.

The first few links to Sweetsearch and IPL are links to vetted searches - ace for primary schools where an un-monitored Google search can lead to unmitigated disaster, or at least embarrassing conversations with parents and/or senior managers, even if the safesearch is set to strict. The image search for 'copyright free' images is an interesting one for us. In the past we've not considered this very much and have used pictures willy-nilly whatever their copyright might say. Now, as educated, law-abiding members of the 21st Century, Paganel staff will only use images that are copyright free.

The second section - guidance on wonderwheel and timeline - should help staff get to the information they need quickly when preparing lessons. And the fact that you can search for images down to wanting a red line-drawing of a pirate is quite remarkable.

Finally we finished the meeting by looking at a Google Custom Search that I had made - 'Paganel Space Search' (above). I had used sites found at the IPL (also found above). Each member of staff had to then make their own custom search for a forthcoming topic (which range from Rainforests to the Victorians).

As members of the 21st Century we have to teach our children to use search safely and efficiently to find the information they need. Teachers need to be able to search for information quickly and also teach how to use search within the curriculum.

Which is why I concluded the meeting by showing the staff the Interesting Ways series for the first time. The Interesting Ways on Search was particularly interesting.

Monday, 4 October 2010

What is Maths?

This is my definition of maths.

Maths is elegant. It is graceful and swift.

However my favourite is by my MaST colleague Matthew Cham who worked with his children on the definition. Together they came up with:

Mathematics -
a spoonful of numbers,
a sprinkling of symbols,
200g of quantity,
100g of measurement,
All mixed together and moulded into the 
shape of your choice!

MaST stands for Mathematics Specialist Teacher. It's a Master's level study designed to help us primary school teachers be a bit more clued up on the big picture of maths. We all had to come up with our definitions of maths, but they're all hidden away on the universities Blackboard system.

So did the exercise with my children on this wallwisher.

Please respond to this post with your own definition of maths or post on the Wallwisher (although as I write, wallwisher does seem to be misbehaving a little at the moment - bizarrely I find it works best on IE8)

Vagueness, Titles and an Inability to get to the Point.

Please take this post in the manner it was written - with a generous pinch of sugar and probably a substantial spoonful of sugar too.

Have you noticed the recent trend for titles of blog posts. There seem to be a plethora of posts written with this three subject pattern: "Blah blah, Blah blah and Blah-bla-blah Blah"

On my reader at the moment there's three such articles I'm yet to read:

At least 3 or 4 more have passed me by on Tweetdeck today.

And then to my shock I notice one on my own blog:
And I suppose that's kind of what blogging is. It's exploring ideas, linking them, reflecting on what you do using the written word to do so. So there's probably a natural inability to get to the point (and if you've ever read many of my posts you'll definitely agree). That's because bloggers are explorers, not journalists. We connect things, we don't define them.

But I still think there's a call on me as an educator to use words precisely. While I jokingly reflect on blog titles, I rail against the inaccurate use of words in pairs. You hear them all the time in schools - 'leadership and management'; 'monitoring and evaluation'. I always check myself when I hear myself say such things because I know that when I do I'm being vague.

Why use two words when you could use one?

Maybe sometimes we're just filling up the space.

Oh dear, is this what I've just done. Being 'meta' or navel-gazing. It's the same difference.

Are you a hub or a connector?

Hubs are where many connections converge. Like the spider at the centre of a web, many strands come from that one point.

A connector is just the end of a wire. A simple bit of metal and plastic that plugs into something.

The temptation is to want to be a hub. You can be at the centre. Many different connections come into you. People are focused on you - you cannot be ignored. I feel that sometimes.

But connectors are important too. When I worked in automotive engineering (which admittedly was a few years ago) it was true that the second greatest cause of all break downs in cars were due to connector failure (the first was human error). Connectors don't look too much, but you really notice them when they don't work properly.

In my role as a primary school deputy headteacher, it is tempting to want to become a hub. But it would take me away from my core purpose. My core purpose is to connect families and especially children with sources of learning. With teachers, peers, educators across the world. It is to give the power of learning over to the children, not to keep it for myself. My core purpose is to give hope to children, not keep it for myself.

There's that old adage describing over-management - "too many hubs and not enough connectors." At least I think it goes something like that.

I could spend my time creating marvellous resources, honing them to perfection, making connections point to me. I could become a hub.

But those resources already exist. There are many storehouses of marvellous resources. Here are just two for teachers that I've been looking at in the past half an hour:

So as I ask myself the question, 'are you a hub or a connector?', I must remind myself what my core purpose is. Who exactly am I serving?

How to Count in Binary

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count_in_binary.mp4 (2316 KB)

Did you know you can count up to 1023 on your fingers? It takes a while, but this video shows how you start...

Sunday, 3 October 2010

10 squares and 1 squares

Earlier today @tomhenzley tweeted about models for teaching addition and subtraction of decimals. I've often found the 10 square and 1 square to be a useful addition to other strategies. In many classes, children are very used to the 100 square to add and subtract 2-digit numbers. It is a natural progression to use the 10 square and the 1 square to move on to decimals.

In many ways the 1 square is easer to pick up because it represents numbers in the way that children are used to see them with money. You could even call it the £ square (or the $ dollar square, or lots of other denominations of currency for that matter). The 10 square is a little bit more difficult to link to real life, although if you produced one with two decimal places you could put it into the context of timing a 100m race.

It is important to remember that number squares are limited as a image for children - number lines are so much more flexible because they are extendable and easier to produce freehand - which is important for jottings - that all-important stage between mental methods and standard algorithms.

If you want to try it for yourself, have a look at my Google Spreadsheet of the 10 square and 1 square.

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10 square.pdf (14 KB)

Download now or preview on posterous
1 square.pdf (15 KB)