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.
  • #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 - university of Utah website for good models and images.
  • Great activities advertised at #masthei5 at (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. 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, 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 #RayMaher
Good place for maths games (although the cost...) #RayMaher
#RayMaher shows Busy Bees good SODA (Start Of the Day Activities) for maths (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.
RT @frogphilp: #RayMaher uses numeracy passport to support progression of key skills.
#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
#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 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, (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
#RayMaher shows Number Crunch Bunch (£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 (£60) (NB has stuff on dialogue
#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: - 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
#RayMaher shows Professor Problemo - interactive software and resource sheets (£25)
#RayMaher recommends free resource: Mathematical Challenges for able pupils #gtchat #mathchat
#RayMaher recommends Gecko Maths Korean problem solving that has contributed to SK being number 1 in maths