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 It's a bit out of date (obviously), but I've used this game to run a club in dinner times.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. 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, 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)