Saturday, 31 December 2011

Egyptian masks @bm_ag


There's just enough interactive stuff to keep the children interested for a couple of hours at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Chrome Os and its Serious Product Failure


In the last couple of weeks I've had to erase the stateful partition on several occasions, upgrade to the Beta Channel and even upgrade to the Dev channel (which, by the way, happens to be very unstable). In addition, I've had to block automatic updates, which is the same as saying go to manual override. It's a mercy that I haven't had to reverse the polarities or change the Dilithium Crystals. No, I'm not re-enacting an episode 1960s' Star Trek, rather I've been trying to get my Chromebooks to work.

I know that in my last post about Chromebooks I wrote that I intended to delve into the depths of the Google Apps Management Console, however the next day they stopped working.

You see Chromebooks update themselves automatically, as many things do these days, but unfortunately, version 15 didn't work. Version 14 had worked fine, swimmingly even. You might possibly say dreamily. The students, even after two sessions had started to: Love. Their. Chromebooks. But version 15 let us down. A crucial part of the Chromebook experience had stopped working - the sign in screen. So I upgraded to the Beta channel - version 16 and that did work. Then to the Dev (Development) channel but that didn't work either.

It was something to do with the proxy setup in my school and authority. You see, Birmingham runs a system where a local 'Squid' server, based at the school, links to a central parent server somewhere in the depths of a shady building in the city centre. With this setup the local server caches the internet sites that students visit. This means that the first student that visits a website will bring the content both onto their computer and onto the Squid where much of the content is cached. Any students that follow up will then have a much faster experience because most of the content can be delivered to them down the metres of cable on a 100Mb connection, rather than down miles of fibre on a 10Mb connection. The central parent server has the job of filtering out unwanted websites, which it generally does a very good job of doing.

Something to do with that setup didn't work in Chrome Os 15 - it just didn't hold any of the proxy information or network information, so any new user wanting to use the Chromebook couldn't do so. The Chromebooks were dead in the water. As the guy at Google told me - it looks like a serious product failure. 

However the marvellous thing about Google is that their product support is absolutely brilliant. If you ever want an experience of being spoken to politely and humbly by people who really know what they're talking about - go talk to Google product support. Within a couple of days some flash drives containing version 14 of Chrome Os were winging their way towards me from Dublin. The instructions, which included the use of the paperclip shown in the photograph, demanded that I block the update server: it would be a nightmare if I fixed the Chromebooks by downgrading them to version 14, only for them to re-update themselves to version 15. The technical guys in Birmingham were equally quick at sorting this - responding to the request to block the update server within a day and also providing me with some insightful tips on how proxy servers work (which in fact helped me right the paragraph above).

It amuses me somewhat that, after all that technical stuff about proxy servers, it should be a paperclip that I would need to sort the problem out. I've all but had the Chromebooks inside out over the last couple of weeks and it has finally been a paperclip (and version 14 of Chrome Os on a flash drive) that has fixed them.

Onwards and upwards then - I'll have a full set of working Chromebooks by tomorrow and I'll look forward to version of 18 of Chrome Os with considerable anticipation.

Low attaining pupils in low attainment shock

The BBC article on the school leagues tables surprised me this morning. According to both the BBC and various politicians, low attaining children don't attain well. Let me put that another way: Children who are less average when they are 7 don't become average by the time they are 11.

It reminds me of when Tony Blair, newly in power back in 1997, was alleged to have said that he wants all children to become better than average.

So what is supposed to happen? Bearing in mind that the National Curriculum is divided into 'levels', which are broad descriptors of a child's knowledge in each subject area, children are supposed to make 2 levels of progress between Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. Also, children are expected to finish Key Stage 1 at level 2, although some low attainers finish at level 1, some high attainers at level 3. This progress that children should make means that, if all goes to plan the children
  • move from level 1 to level 3; or
  • move from level 2 to level 4; or
  • move from level 3 to level 5.
Apparently a quarter of children who are 'low attainers' actually made it to level 4 - this means moving from level 1 to level 4 - a great achievement. Disappointing then that Steven Twigg, Shadow Education Secretary should see his glass as being half empty with this statement: "The fact that only a quarter of low attainers at age seven go on to meet the expected Level 4 in English of maths when they leave primary school is not good enough."

Fortunately we have a country with such amazing secondary schools that they will pick up these disastrously low expectations from primary schools and make good their low attaining pupils.

I'll write next about how this announcement is akin to thrusting a red hot poker into the nether regions of all secondary schools, given the current SATs regime.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Is Michael Gove doing a good thing, but in so bad a way as to spoil it's beneficial effect?

My title is a shameful paraphrase of Gladstone from his third Midlothian Speech (Tuesday 27th November 1879). What he actually said was:

"Even, gentlemen, when you do a good thing, you may do it in so bad a way that you may entirely spoil the beneficial effect;"

and he finished his sentence by saying:

"and if we were to make ourselves the apostles of peace in the sense of conveying to the minds of other nations that we thought ourselves more entitled to an opinion on that subject than they are, or to deny their rights - well, very likely we should destroy the whole value of our doctrines."

The reason I've made this quote is that Michael Gove quoted this same speech in his recent address to Cambridge University. I understand that Gladstone was talking about foreign policy at the time, whereas Gove was talking about Education, but I wonder whether I can make a comparison with a speech that's 130 years old. After all, Gove did.

Some real positives hit me from Gove's speech, for example: "I want to proclaim the importance of education as a good in itself. I want to argue that introducing the young minds of the future to the great minds of the past is our duty." and "I think any society is a better society for taking intellectual effort more seriously, for rewarding intellectual ambition, for indulging curiosity, for supporting scholarship, for feting those who teach and celebrating those who learn."

These are sentiments that ring my bells - they make me think this is what I got into education for. They are: A. Good. Thing. I think it's great that he doesn't want to subordinate education to purely economic ends; that he believes our current generation of teachers are the best ever; that he wants us to be connected with communities of learning such as those at Google and Apple. Marvellous. FAB!

However I think Michael Gove is a bit disingenuous about some things and just plain wrong about others - and it's this that Gladstone was hinting at in his speech with the 'apostles of peace' phrase. You see Gladstone's arch-rival, Disraeli had waited through the early 1880s as the Liberal party tore itself apart (partly due to the rigours of getting the country's first Education Act through Parliament). Disraeli was offered the chance to form a minority government in 1883, but could see that the Liberals would only make it worse for themselves and waited for the general election of 1884 to form a majority government then. Disraeli seems to have been characterised as cunning and cynical and it was these characteristics that Gladstone was railing against.

Gove casts a vision of acadamies bringing the excellence into the education system. He talks about a 700% increase this year. But this is nearly all at secondary level, where a school's large size can help undertake the structural change necessary to become and Academy. I don't see a model which works for Primary schools unless there is a significantly active community group ready to support them.

What Gove doesn't say about Gladstone's speech is that there is a common theme of Christianity in it - there is an assumption that his entire audience are Christians. If you then look back at the Education Act of 1870 you see that at that time over the half the children in the country were being educated by the Anglican or Roman Catholic Clergy. The National Education League was set up by mainly secular industrialists, such as Joseph Chamberlain to demand a state education system for the benefit of industry. When the Act went through it was a victory for the League, but the first Education Boards were often dominated by non-conformist Christians such as the Quakers. So the motivation for providing schools was either from religion or from industry.

In Gove's speech he talks about education for education's sake - for the love of the art, or the music, or the literature and I want that as much as anyone. But it isn't right to suggest that Gladstone's audience thought the same thing. The 'rude mechanicals' would have valued education because of their religious beliefs, or because they wanted their own children to have a better quality of life than they, because of their education.

The 'push' for Academies that religious groups could have provided in Victorian times no longer exists - those Christian groups just aren't there any more in large enough quantities. So it makes me wonder what will happen to the rest of schools when all those who have converted into Acadmies have converted. When Gove says he'll be putting greater demands on headteachers and academics, does that mean in supporting those schools who aren't yet elite? And is it elitism for everyone - so that when everyone is elite, nobody will be (I'd like to be quoting Aldhous Huxley at this point, but I realise I'm closer to quoting 'Syndrome' from 'the Incredibles'.

There is also the odd thing in his speech that I consider to be just plain wrong. Like for example when he says that 'children in Singapore are exposed to calculations involving the foundations of algebra' before children in the UK. Our children meet their first algebra at the age of 4 - children in Singapore don't even start school until they're 5 so how can this be true? He also claims that the government are reforming the whole exam system and yet Key Stage 2 SATs remain unchanged. It is KS2 SATs where education starts going wrong for many of our young people, but I'll be looking at this in another post.

The final thing that is wrong with this speech is the context. I have read at least three of Gove's recent speeches and each one has impressed me - I love his ambition and the vision he casts in them - I want to be in the education landscape he paints. However the speeches I have read have been (a) to the Conservative party; (b) to the Royal Society; (c) to Cambridge University. It would be nice to see Gove trying to inspire (like I do) 60 young parents about the virtues of education - then I would see that he was not only doing a good thing, but doing it in such a good way as to enhance it's beneficial effect.

Is this the beginning of the end for the proxy server?


Proxy servers have been great for schools. The ability to apply policies, filters and firewalls to a range of academic establishments has helped keep millions of students protected from less than savoury websites. In Birmingham, UK, Europe's largest education authority, nearly all the 420+ schools use the same proxy, meaning that the costs of maintaining it are much lower than they would be should each school have to manage their own one.

Essentially a proxy server is an extra computer that sits between your network and the rest of the world, although if you want a more technical article, see the wikipedia article.

In short, proxy servers do a good thing and they save money.

As an ICT co-ordinator, I have seen the proxy server as a necessary evil.

It does more good that it doesn't.

I need the proxy - but it does often cause me problems.

For example, to make the school Kindles work, I have to take them home to set them up (where I have a direct internet connection). This is a bit frustrating.

In addition, some websites are rightly filtered by the proxy for all the schools in Birmingham, but on occasion it would be useful to open them up. Facebook is a good example of this - not only do I manage a school Facebook page that I can update from school via email but cannot see in school unless I borrow a child's mobile phone, but I would also like to offer parent workshops about safe Facebook use. The people who manage the Birmingham proxy server (Link2ICT) are very responsive and offered to unlock Facebook and similar social media sites for a specific computer at a specific time - but this does require extra organisation and time - it would be handy if I could control this myself.

A further problem is a clash with external providers. Increasingly schools such as ours are forging stronger links with external software providers. 2Simple are an excellent example - they provide software that is just perfect for the primary child - uncomplicated, powerful and fun to use. However their support solution involves a tool called Logmein, where they can access a computer remotely from their offices whilst speaking to me on the phone. Now in the past I have been literally shouted at by a colleague from Link2ICT for daring to experiment with Logmein as it jeopardises the integrity of the whole Birmingham network, apparently. This is a bit of a conflict - do I turn to the software company for support, or do I only rely on the services of our local people?

And when schools are increasingly asked to be accountable and autonomous at a school level, not a local authority level, is there a balance to be struck between the systems that work at a local authority level (like Proxy servers) and between commercial software providers?

Managing my own proxy would be completely out of the question. Not only would I not have the time or the inclination to learn the skills, but I'm sure it's far cheaper to share a proxy between a range of school like we currently do.

However, just in this last week, I have noticed something in our Google Apps domain that does some of the jobs that the proxy server does.

This week I have been experimenting with our Google Apps management console to set up our Chromebooks in different ways for the different user groups. For example I can set up the teachers so that the school calendar and their email open at startup. Or I can setup the year 6 students so that they get straight to a Google spreadsheet we have been working on for our Switched on ICT scheme of work. Or I can setup the Year 3 students so they get straight to Purple Mash, that they have been trialling this term. I've noticed too that I can control the Chrome extensions and web apps from the chrome store - I can make Angry Birds appear as an icon in the corner of the desktop. Or I can ban it so it never appears.

What I am most excited about is the URL blacklist / whitelist section (pictured above). I can blacklist everything, and then whitelist all the websites I want the children to access. I can use this to have complete control over the Chromebooks and change their accessibility according to the needs of the students and the curriculum. The question I need to answer now is how much work is this - managing a blacklist / whitelist filter? Is it the kind of thing I can do for my school or do I need to share the responsibility with other schools? And if I can find those other schools to work with, do I still need a proxy server - does it offer some functionality other than a web filter that I am ignorant of?

Lots of questions, I know. Hopefully answers will come in future posts as I begin to look at how the Management console affects learning.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Good teaching decreases mathematics anxiety

This weekend, I found myself doing something I've not done before - disagreeing with Professer Derek Haylock. Giving his second lecture to Edge Hill MaST cohort 1, the man who's seminal work "Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers" has pride of place on my shelf, said some things that didn't quite hang together for me.

His lecture was on the subject of mathematics anxiety - something that most adults have either experienced or can empathise with. His main point was this: if you teach mathematics well, you don't get students who are anxious about maths. As someone tweeted on the day "My God I never thought of that. I hope the person giving this advice is paid a fortune." Given that the audience was a room full of primary maths specialists, or 'maths champions', the advice is more purposeful if given a more negative slant: don't allow bad maths teaching in primary - you'll just get adults who are anxious about maths.

Briefly I will sum up what I thought were his main points and then I'll say where and how I disagreed with him.

  • Many adults experience anxiety in maths when they are afraid to make mistakes in public, or given a mathematical challenge they cannot think clearly to carry it out.
  • These adults can trace their feelings of anxiety back to a single experience usually between the ages of 9-11 at primary school.
  • This experience is always a negative interaction with a teacher - Prof. Haylock quoted adults saying that their teacher had shouted things like "why can't you just get it right?" There was a real emphasis on the negative experience being when maths is thought of as either right or wrong.
  • Many of these adults reported they could only learn maths by learning a rule by rote and couldn't master any conceptual learning.
  • Some of these adults become primary teachers.
  • Teaching styles are to blame for mathematical anxiety - 'traditional methods' create more anxiety; a 'problem-solving / relational approach' creates less anxiety. Quoting from Newsted, he described a traditional approach as one of direct instruction, followed by practice and application, whereas in the 'problem-solving approach' the teacher acted as a facilitator, with the children suggesting their own methods and strategies for solving problems.
Aside from the dangers of telling rooms full of teachers that 'rote learning is always bad' and 'this is the only way to do it', my main disagreement was the way he linked the single negative experience with a given teacher to the traditional teaching method. It doesn't take the room being in rows or table groups for you to have a bad experience with a teacher. Neither does it mean that you if are using a 'problem-solving approach' then teachers can't lose their tempers and make everyone frightened of maths.

In my own experience I've tried both traditional and 'problem solving approaches'.

I would call them using a rigid scaffold and using a negotiated scaffold. In the former, the teacher plots the course through the learning (the scaffold) and takes the students through that course through direct instruction, practice and intervention; in the latter the student and teacher negotiate the path through the learning.

Both approaches work.

In fact this time last year I did an experiment where I did 6 weeks of negotiated scaffolding in maths, then 6 weeks of rigid scaffolding in maths. The children made progress in both periods.

Delving a bit deeper into the Newstead report I see that the traditional approach includes: "The teacher decides what is right or wrong and intervenes in the case of mistakes. Later word 
sums may be used as application of methods. Social norms are more static and involve more discipline, rewards and teacher authority." Now to me that's not traditional teaching. Traditional teaching is where direct instruction is followed by practice, yes, but then appropriate intervention from the teacher. And so now it leaves me thinking that Haylock, quoting Newstead isn't comparing 'Problem Solving' with 'Traditional', but is comparing 'Problem Solving' with 'Bad Teaching'.

I'll go on to say that Haylock is right by saying that for a student to have one-to-one negative interactions with an authority figure such as a teacher will cause anxiety, in any subject. The teacher that chooses 'traditional teaching methods' but can avoid the negative interactions can still teach a class without causing anxiety amongst the students. And a teacher that attempts to be a 'facilitator' but then loses their temper when the students don't choose a method they were anticipating will also cause anxiety. It's not about the style, or dare I even say it the teaching, it's about the teacher themselves.

Good teachers reduce anxiety.

How the decision whether to strike or not has become harder, not easier.

SN00405.pdf Download this file

I can't decide whether to strike next Wednesday (30th) or not.

A few months ago, the decision felt a lot simpler: pensions are the one good thing about teaching - I have to strike. But now I'm not so sure. Over the next few paragraphs I'm going to sketch out my indecision in more detail.

Pensions are not the one good thing about teaching.

The first thing is that pensions are not the only benefit of being a teacher. I didn't become a teacher because of the pension. I had finally found something that I was good at and I enjoyed doing. I had previously tried engineering, selling computers and even being in a band, but I either wasn't good at them or didn't enjoy them. I enjoy teaching. And I'm good at it (most of the time).

The pay isn't bad either. When I started teaching the highest pay I could expect in about the year 2000 was about £25000. Now I could expect £39000 - that's over a 50% increase in 10 or so years - well above the rate of inflation in that time.

The holidays, hours and general flexibility are brilliant. Like most teachers I work late some evenings. I work at home. I work in the holidays. But I don't work all the time. Being a teacher  

The exaggeration of my union

I'm disappointed with the language coming out of my Union. According to them I am "demoralised" and desperate to have my "classroom released from the shackles or paperwork". I am, in fact, neither of these things. I am concerned about pensions, but I've been taken aback by some of the mouth-frothingly* emotive language I've had emailed to me over the last few weeks. What's more, I did some digging and found a report that I've posted (above) which seems to indicate that the teaching unions were in a no-compromise mood from as long ago as 1997 when the at-the-time New Labour government took office and set up a working party to look at the Teacher Pension Scheme. The government in 2004 was frightened off making significant changes to the pension scheme by the teacher unions. It made me wonder whether a more conciliatory stance back in the 2000s (when we were all living in our heady credit bubble) might have led to a more constructive dialogue now.

In addition today my local association have been tweeting: "Remember there's no requirement to tell your Headteacher if you intend to strike on #N30. NASUWT advises you do NOT tell them #sufs #nasuwt" Now that may be true, but it's really unhelpful to school leaders, some of whom are in that union are just trying to find out whether they can keep their school open or not. Most headteachers have a positive relationship with their staff and it seems a shame to jeapordise it by telling union members to communicate less with their senior leaders.

Two issues in one strike

There are two issues that dominate discussion on pensions - the pension age and the pension contribution. I'm a primary teacher with the belief that a certain amount of role modelling is important to the primary age child. My pension age is 68. At that age I can't quite imagine myself being able to perform a Cruyff turn, or somersault or even jump off a bench. I'm sure some sixty eight year-olds may be able to, but many won't. I know some may find that a rather fey reason, especially when firemen are expected to work until 60 these days, but a reason it is. The contribution for me is another matter - I know paying more represents a pay cut, but the sliding scale that hits teachers on the leadership spine worse than teachers who aren't seems fair to me. Why shouldn't the rich contribute more? It's an idea that old Labour would have been proud of.

Suffice it to day that I'd like to see these two issues separated. Strike about the age thing - yes I'll go with that. Strike about the contributions? Not for me.

The mandate of the vote

I've been told twice, via email and letter, that an 'overwhelming' 82% voted for strike action. But it's an 82% of only a 40% turn out. That means about seventy thousand teachers in my union positively chose to strike out of a possible two hundred and twenty thousand. I don't see that as overwhelming. Given that this is a really important issue that could affect the future of many people and will cause many families a severe headache next Wednesday, how can only 40% have bothered to vote about it? And how can that justify this strike action? What I suspect is that many teachers aren't that bothered about it, but quite fancy 30th November as a Christmas Shopping Day. Letting a keen minority make the decision for them, they will gleefully take the day and when challenged say "well my union are striking, I can't go against them." Worse, I suspect that some staff are hoping to tell their schools that they are not striking that day so that they can still claim their pay, but that the school will have sufficient strikers out to close the school. OK, maybe I'm getting a bit paranoid here - I've certainly not seen any of this behaviour in my own school - but now the thought is there I'm struggling to get it out of my head.

The importance of unions

The flip side to my previous argument is that I really believe unions are important. For many years, my union has given me helpful advice, great opportunities and that legal protection just in case something should go wrong at school. I also think that it's important to stick together about key issues - for my part I think the changes within the new curriculum might be more important than changes to pensions. I don't want to go against a union decision, because I think unions are important.

School is important free day care

I hear a lot of teachers moaning that parents just view school as free daycare and yes I agree, school is a lot more than that. Schools provide knowledge, understanding and skills for future life. They are important social structures within our communities. But they are also free day-care and as such form part of our economy. With our economy being in such a fragile state at the moment, is it wise to close them for a even a day?**

My prior experience of strikes

As a secondary school student in the 1980s I was negatively affected by teachers' action. All the clubs stopped. As a twelve-year old treble I had sang that part in Carmina Burana at the Town Hall. I never got the chance to develop my baritone, because by then the choir club had shut down. It also seemed to affect the teachers badly too. I remember them being bright and happy at the start of secondary school (1983), but gloomy and miserable by the time I left - I'm sure there were other factors, but such things stick in the mind.

My conclusion

I read articles like this and I float one way, then I think about the whole 40% turnout again and I float back the other.

I think about the looks I had from other dads at my son's scout group and how each of them in the private sector have had to make all sorts of financial sacrifices over recent years just to stay in work and I think "Nope, I can't strike." Then I think about myself teaching PE to 30 ten year olds and I think "I really should strike."

My union tells me I don't need to tell my headteacher, but he's given me until Wednesday.

* - note how I've used some emotive language of my own here.

** - you could argue with all the teachers Christmas shopping, it may actually boost the economy.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Product support: the efficient, gentle arrogance of Google

It's no secret that I'm a complete Google fanboy. You know how some people are so keen on Apple products they almost froth at the mouth. Well I'm a bit like that with Google. Given that, you may find it surprising that I've used the word 'arrogance', which for many people has negative connotations.

One of the things that has made buying Chromebooks from Google so pleasant is the amount of positive interactions from Google people during the process. When I first contacted them in about June there were no plans to extend Google Chromebooks for Enterprise into the education market in Europe. But during the summer break someone from Google Europe emailed to say that Google had formed a Chromebooks for Education in Europe and we were "good to go" (that's a shameful use of US expression).

Since then the interactions have been many and positive, helping us through the purchasing agreement, which was of a type we hadn't seen before at our Primary School and making sure the Chromebooks were delivered in good time.

Shortly after arrival I received a phone call from a friendly chap calling all the way from Mountain View. He'd got into work really early to speak to me mid-afternoon, given the 8 hour time difference. This was our deployment advisor, Hubert, who would guide us through the steps to successfully deploy our Chromebooks. And guide us he did. 2 Chromebooks didn't work at all at first and it was looking like I would have to go through the faff of having to put them in boxes and send them back to Dublin. However Hubert saved the day. His precise advice worked perfectly and the 2 Chromebooks were resurrected - they now work perfectly with our wifi system.

When all was sorted, he rang me one more time as a kind of debrief of the whole process and we went through my deployment experience. It concluded with a conversation in which I managed to express some of the things I'd like to see on the Chromebooks or in Google Apps - like a child-friendly version of Google+ for example.

In the email that followed he went on to say that I had "been one of his better customers." 

Now I know my school is only a tiny primary school and Google is a huge multinational company with thousands of employees, but it struck me as remarkable that any company would say this to their customers. I asked one or two friends who run businesses and they agreed that saying such a thing might make them lose business. It would be a bit like me saying to a parent: "You're one of our better families." I suppose there's a certain sensibility - maybe even a 'Britishness' - that might be offended by this. It could produce comments such as: "fancy rating us as a customer... how arrogant!" But of course for me (the Google fanboy) I just felt like a seventeen year old who'd just been told he was really good looking, despite his spots and gangly legs. I walked around the school just that little bit taller for a couple of days. If it is an arrogance, it's a gentle one, because I didn't mind it one bit.

And since then the support has been equally as good. I'm currently experiencing a glitch with our Google Apps Chrome Os Management Console (I'll be blogging about what happens with this in a few days time). I emailed at the start of the day and already two people have contacted me from Google until I've got the email from just the right expert, who will be giving me a call next week.

So in short, it's early days, but the product support has been brilliant - efficient, quick, precise and ever-so-gently arrogant.

Chromebooks to the rescue!

This Monday my plans were put on hold when as Key Stage Co-ordinator I was directed by the Deputy Headteacher to cover the Year 6 teacher who was poorly. In addition the ICT subject leader proposed a further challenge - the half term's unit from the Switched On ICT scheme of work was as yet untouched and needed to be started. Fortunately I am both ICT leader and deputy headteacher - so it's all my fault really.

It's difficult to get a day of lessons ready with half an hour's notice, but the Chromebooks helped me in all sorts of ways on the day. The students had only had one previous session with them, in which they had mainly been testing them for me and seeing if there's anything decent in the Chrome Webstore. The students were keen to use them again, but I feared they would just want them to play. "Can I play Angry Birds, Sir?" would be the question I was most anticipating. Now while I've seen Angry Birds work in a classroom context, today was not the day for it. You see, I was behind on teaching year 6 the 'We Are Fundraisers' unit in the Switched on ICT scheme from Rising Stars that I quoted above. In fact I hadn't touched on it at all. The unit covers data handling and real life money problems (amongst other things) and I was keen to work with year 6 on developing their skills at using spreadsheets and calendars. The Christmas Market was three weeks away (it takes place on the 2nd December) - and this was the event that the children would actually be carrying out their business ideas in.

So how did the Chromebooks help?

Direct Teaching

I moved the chairs and tables into rows (yes I know - unusual for primary schools) and had all the children facing the board. Each child had a Chromebook in front of them and was logged into a sample Google Spreadsheet I had created for them. In this I taught them how to add, multiply, divide and take away cells; find a total using the sum function and make predictions of how much profit they make if all their plans came to fruition. Each child then copied my sample spreadsheet to experiment themselves with their own business idea.

Group work

The 'communcations officer' in each team was given a Chromebook. Each group then discussed their ideas with each other of how they might money at the Christmas Market. When an idea was sufficiently well formed, the communications officer would input it into a shared Google Doc that was also projected onto the interactive whiteboard. Each group could then see what other groups were coming up with and as a class we could make sure that no business would be duplicating each other - you can have too many lucky dips.

Independent work

Once each business had a rough idea to work on, each individual worked on the tasks associated with their roles. For example, treasurer, advertising, coms officer. Managers would be using Chromebooks to investigate prices and put together costings of prizes or materials they needed. Treasurers would be putting together a projected profit plan, considering how much money they might make. Communications officers would be putting together a list of questions they might need to ask other adults in the school. Advertisers used Google Drawings and Aviary to create adverts for their business. In many of these tasks the quick start up of the Chromebooks, their long battery life and the stability of their systems proved invaluable at keeping the groups productive.

Whole class presentation

At the end of the day, each group presented their plans to myself and the teaching assistant in an almost 'Dragon's Den' atmosphere, with the rest of the class listening in to the interaction. In this we talked about the realism of their plans, suggested new ideas or alterations and then decided whether to approve their business plan. Again the Chromebooks were useful - keeping the Google spreadsheet open was useful to look at how the numbers changed if, say only 30 people came to their stall instead of the hoped for 200. It also helped me, with my ICT hat on, spot whether students had really got the learning about using formulas within the spreadsheets and write down those who might need further work in that area. Of the 6 groups, 4 businesses were approved. The other two went away with ideas of how to improve their plan and return at a later date.

Given that this was the second time the children had used Chromebooks, I was delighted at how useful and glitch-free they had been. Some students had previously moaned that they couldn't get used to the trackpad (which is more akin to the way an Apple works than the PC laptops they are used to), but none complained in this second session. The Chromebooks blend really well with other activities - in one group the treasurer was working on her spreadsheet while right next to her two other children were painting and advertising poster - I love it when technology is so seamless it's just there - just another way of doing things - like picking up a pencil or using a number-line. It's seems like Chromebooks are already becoming that way in Year 6. And what's even better is not one child played Angry Birds, or even asked the question.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

What went wrong with the Chromebooks in Year 3?


It was perhaps a mistake to let year 3 use the Chromebooks before I had fully tested them and passed on a list of 'Dos and Don'ts' to my colleagues. However, the ICT suite was otherwise occupied, the Chromebooks were available and the Year 3 teacher has a proven track record at being highly successful at teaching ICT.

It was with a small degree of apprehension then,  that as I walked into the classroom towards the end of the lesson, the teacher was almost turning the metaphorical tearing her hair out into literal follicle damage. Essentially a third of the children had failed to log on, and it appeared to be the Chromebooks fault.

The trouble with Chromebooks is that they only connect to the internet. This means there are 4 barriers to young children using Chromebooks in schools
  • They must connect successfully to the school's wifi;
  • They must connect through the school / district proxy server;
  • The children must remember (and be able to type) their username;
  • The children must remember their password.
Of course when you've got 30 seven-year old children in front of you, each of them making some kind of demand on your time, all you can see is children who can use the Chromebooks and those who can't.

It's my job, as ICT leader, to make sure the barriers above are minimised. I've tried to introduce usernames and password that balance security with ease of use. I've enrolled and setup each Chromebook so that it works properly with both our wifi and proxy server. Or at least, I thought I had. So what went wrong on this afternoon?

Firstly there were 4 children who didn't have logins at all - two of these were new to the school and two were children who had slipped under the radar in the previous year. A further child had changed her password and forgotten what she had changed it too. 4 more children had problems typing their usernames. Now I had introduced the Google Apps domain 2 terms earlier and the classes containing younger children had used it far less than older children - these children were a lot less experienced at logging on to the Google Apps. I should point out that Chromebooks use the children's Google Apps logins to work. In addition because of less usage, the teacher last year had not noticed the two children who didn't have logins - maybe they had presumed it a glitch in the system and so the problem had not been recognised.

Another child was a mystery - she was properly setup and seemed to by typing in everything properly, but her Chromebook just didn't login. I restarted the computer for here and tried again. This time it worked. It seems that for the odd Chromebook, when 30 are all trying to connect to the system at the same time, one or two don't quite get through - they need a second chance. This was also a problem with the laptops that we had previously used in classes - they too would on occasions not connect properly to the wifi and would need to be restarted. Somebody at Google told me it was about being stuck in a 'portal subnet' - but this just sounds like I'm on an episode of Star Trek, and not wanting to go to manual override, reverse the polarities or indeed change the dilithium crystals, my solution is just to restart and hope. It worked this time.

You see, the good thing about Chromebooks is that they only connect to the internet. And they connect using Chrome. They restart superfast - it takes less than 2 seconds to shut them down and only 8 seconds to start them up again. This meant that in the remaining twenty minutes of the lesson I was able to call each child over to me, identify their problems, sort their problems out restart their Chromebooks and still give them a go.

Next time all of the Year 3 children will be able to use the Chromebooks.

What lessons have I learned in terms of deploying Chromebooks?
  1. Make sure all the students have working Logins to the Google Apps domain.
  2. Make sure that the students are familiar with logging on to the Google Apps domain.
  3. Be prepared to restart the odd chromebook just because it doesn't pick up the wifi network on the first go.
So maybe it wasn't a mistake after all - I owe a big dept of gratitude to the Year 3 teacher for being prepared to experiment with the new technology - she certainly will have made the experience of everyone else in the school more successful.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Chromebooks hit year 6

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The Chromebooks, having been enrolled over for the past couple of days, were given to Year 6 today.

Their purpose was simple - test them, see what they can do, review them.

Would the children be able to access their favourite internet sites? Would the children be able to access some of our purchased services, such as Espresso and Education City?

The children accessed a shared Google Spreadsheet while they were doing this testing, filling in the cells to inform me of what they were finding (that's in the video above).

Here are some of the results from the spreadsheet:

1. Positives of the Chromebooks

Wordle: chromebook postives
2. Negatives of the Chromebooks
Wordle: Chromebook negatives
3. Some children went on to find that all of our purchased services - Espresso, Education City and Mathletics do work.
Next week Year 3 will be testing the Chromebooks on Purple Mash and Year 6 will be using them to plan a fundraising event through the shared use of a Google Spreadsheet. Can't wait.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Chromebooks really only take 8 seconds to start up

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In my school, we had a laptop trolley about 3 years ago.

16 laptops that could be charged up overnight then trundled into a room for action.

We haven't really used it for about 18 months.

The thing is that by the time each laptop has started up, connected to the wireless network and been logged on, you've wasted 5 minutes of the lesson.

That may not seem like a long time, but it is enough to lose a roomful of 8 year olds, especially when the learning is supposed to be about something entirely different than ICT - the technology is supposed to be supporting the learning. (Think about it another way - if you waste 5 minutes every school day waiting for laptops to boot up, that would add up to 3 school days over the course of the year - too much time wasted.)

In addition the battery life of those laptops was only 3 hours. That meant they could only be used in the mornings, or, if needed in the afternoons, partially charged during lunchtime, only to die part way through the afternoon.

I could go on about other barriers such as syncing the files over the wireless system to our Windows network and how that didn't seem to work consistently on each laptop, but I won't.

Suffice it to say, they were more trouble than they were worth - they got in the way.

Now we've got Chromebooks. These are built in such a way that I'm hoping they won't present the same barriers I've listed above. I hope they really well support the learning.

The first feature that I think will help is the start up time.

8 seconds they claim. And I timed it today. They were right.

Chromebooks really only take 8 seconds to start up

chromebook_8s.mp4 Watch on Posterous

In my school, we had a laptop trolley about 3 years ago.

16 laptops that could be charged up overnight then trundled into a room for action.

We haven't really used it for about 18 months.

The thing is that by the time each laptop has started up, connected to the wireless network and been logged on, you've wasted 5 minutes of the lesson.

That may not seem like a long time, but it is enough to lose a roomful of 8 year olds, especially when the learning is supposed to be about something entirely different than ICT - the technology is supposed to be supporting the learning. (Think about it another way - if you waste 5 minutes every school day waiting for laptops to boot up, that would add up to 3 school days over the course of the year - too much time wasted.)

In addition the battery life of those laptops was only 3 hours. That meant they could only be used in the mornings, or, if needed in the afternoons, partially charged during lunchtime, only to die part way through the afternoon.

I could go on about other barriers such as syncing the files over the wireless system to our Windows network and how that didn't seem to work consistently on each laptop, but I won't.

Suffice it to say, they were more trouble than they were worth - they got in the way.

Now we've got Chromebooks. These are built in such a way that I'm hoping they won't present the same barriers I've listed above. I hope they really well support the learning.

The first feature that I think will help is the start up time.

8 seconds they claim. And I timed it today. They were right.

Enrolling Google Chromebooks into Google Apps Domain ((tag: Chromebooks, Google Apps)

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Today I began enrolling our newly acquired Google Chromebooks into our Google Apps domain.

It was reasonably straightforward as the video shows.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

"The Trendy Word is 'Scaffold'"

"The Trendy Word is 'Scaffold'"

I blogged a couple of days ago about a mistake an Ofsted inspector had made during a headteacher's briefing meeting.

It might be somewhat predictable, that as a teacher who's been through 5 Ofsted inspections, I should seem to enjoy pointing out when an inspector makes a mistake. I've had enough of my own shortcomings identified during inspection that it might look like merely petty revenge...

Here's another mistake anyway.

Part way through the briefing, the inspector, talking about the inadequacies of some aspect of teaching that she had seen somewhere, came up with the quote that makes the title of this post.

"The trendy word is scaffold." She even raised her eyebrows as if it was some kind of new-fangled educational fad.

Wasn't it Bruner who first related the word 'scaffolding' to teaching sometime in the 1950s? He was working on Vygotsky's idea of the Zone of Proximal Development and came up with the concept that teachers could put structures in place to support learning. And isn't that what teaching is? Teachers either fix the steps the students most go through to learn something, or they negotiate the steps with the students and guide them through those steps. Two ways if scaffolding - rigid and negotiated.

So, teachers scaffold learning. Some prefer the rigid approach, others negotiate the learning targets, and some mix it up. I'm not convinced that any one approach to scaffolding learning is better than any others, nor have I met any teachers who don't scaffold their lessons in some shape or form.

I have seen some people get confused between lesson resources and scaffolding. Maybe this is what the inspector was getting at. For example I've seen writing frames given out to support a particular style of writing and been referred to as 'scaffolding'. But that's not trendy, it's just wrong - Bruner referred to scaffolding as the interaction between the student and the teacher, not the handing out of some photocopied worksheet - photocopiers had barely hit the mass market by the time Bruner was doing his work anyway.

Maybe Bruner should be pleased that scaffolding is finally trendy. And maybe Ofsted will be raising their collective eyebrows at the work of others academics - a sly laugh at Piaget or a muffled cough at Vygotsky. Don't worry though, these new fads won't fool Ofsted.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

"Leadership is like Clint Eastwood in Easy Rider"

This was a quote that got my attention today at a briefing about the new Ofsted framework. The presenter, who was quoting someone else, went on to show Eastwood dressed as a cowboy looking all stern and pointing six-shooters. "Leadership is like all guns blazing..."

That's not exactly my image of leadership, but more importantly it's not my memory of Easy Riser, in which I distinctly remember Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper riding around on motorbikes trying to come to terms with hallucinogens, 60s America and rednecks who didn't like men with long hair.

There was a third character in the film, and for a moment I wondered if that was Clint Eastwood, but a quick Google search reminded me that was Jack Nicholson.

There was no Clint Eastwood in Easy Rider.

I hope that's not what the quoter meant - "Leadership is being absent, or mistaken for someone else."

Or maybe something more complicated was intended - some kind of character juxtaposition. I have to admit I can never get away from Clint's "Dirty Harry" character. So joining Fonda and Hopper (and for a short while Nicholson) on their ultimately doomed journey rides Eastwood, magnums in hand, demanding "Do you think you're lucky, punk?" of every hostile situation they face. Try as I might it's still not a helpful image of leadership...

Maybe the film that had been intended was actually 'Pale Rider', in which Clint Eastwood plays a 'mysterious preacher' who saves a town. Again, mystery and preaching aren't the first things that I would associate with good leadership.

So I came to a conclusion that it was just a mistake, too obscure to get at what was being meant.

But then maybe leadership is all of the above - it's an amazing journey with extreme highs and terrible lows where you do meet some people who are actually out to get you. Sometimes you have to go in all guns blazing, and sometimes you have to be almost absent to allow others to develop their own leadership skills. You have to be able to preach - to share your vision - and to show the strength to be able to defend your team. And maybe a sense of mystery helps too.

It's amazing where an Ofsted briefing can take you...

Sent from my thingamajig

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Good for the fractions learning; bad for the coffee mug


Sometimes children hear the word 'fractions' and they turn off.

I saw it on Wednesday when I started my lesson on comparing and ordering fractions. I had barely uttered the words when I saw a few heads drop. A few children joined in when I asked them what they knew about fractions - one knew the word 'third'; someone else knew 'part'; yet another one knew they have something to do with division. But quite a few heads with dropped.

So while the keen had their hands up, and others were looking to avoid eye contact, I slid an empty coffee mug into an empty plastic bag. Then, for security, whilst the conversation continued, I placed the first plastic bag into a second one.

Then I smacked it against the wall. Really hard.

All the children looked - some jumped.

I proceeded to pull pieces out of the bag and estimate how much of the mug each piece had been, from the large chunks (1/3 or 1/5) to the tiny chips that were only 1/1000 or maybe even smaller.

The children were engaged and by the end of the lesson all of them had made some progress about ordering and comparing fractions. Even the special needs group children who, according to their data, struggle to order numbers 1-100.

As a bonus, we even specified that the bottom of the fraction was called the denominator and the top number the numerator - I love it when children learn proper maths words, although it was amusing to hear one child call the top number the nominator and the bottom number the dominator.

So, if you're stuck with teaching fractions - break something. At least you'll stop the heads from dropping...

School Development Planning on Google Spreadsheets

sdp plan.mp4 Watch on Posterous

So, I've shared the excellence of Google Docs with my colleagues.

And I've collaborated in lessons with the children I teach.

But today came the big test - could I share Google Docs with my fellow senior leaders?

The day started normally, with big sheets of paper, post-its and lost of discussion as we tried to hone our school development ideas into a coherent document. But then came the test - would they get collaborating altogether on the same document? And would they mind that it was a spreadsheet?

The answer was yes. The video shows some of the first few minutes (speeded up) of us working together on the same spreadsheet. It's worked. So far. Hooray!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Applying some principles from #uppingyourgame

Applying some principles from #uppingyourgame

A few months ago I acquired a Kindle to test how it might be used in the school where I teach. My first purchase on said Kindle was Doug Belshaw's #UppingYourgame. For 86 English Pennies I thought I couldn't go far wrong.

And I was not disappointed.

It's a few pages of common sense which refers to lengthier tomes should you wish to read more deeply. I didn't.

I did read #Uppingyourgame. Then my wife did. We both enjoyed it.

That was at the start of the Summer Hols and as you all know, teachers do nothing over the Summer except lie on beaches taking in the scorching British sunshine. As a consequence I've not been able to put any of the principles into practice. I've had no game to be upped.

Now however, term is back into full swing and I thought I'd write a few posts about the putting into the practice of the principles of the Uppingyourgame.

One of the things that impressed about the book is that it doesn't deal in specifics - what follows are my specifics - if you really want to up your own game a bit then read the book, not this blog.

So whether it's me getting fit, or using lists, or using social media more wisely, be prepared to see how I've begun to up my game...

Thursday, 11 August 2011

A view from the side


It's interesting how a different perspective changes things.

I'd spent nearly every meeting in Venue 1 in the same place, but this night I moved.

The worship was freer and I engaged more.

Was that just because I had moved, or do different parts of the venue attract different types of people and so *feel* different?

Community Lunch ((daily life))


Here's a panorama shot of our community lunch.



There's something about a sunset on a campsite that is special. Better somehow.


Apparently the marketplace in CSW was much busier than in LSE.

Because of Hampshire, so I'm told.

Whatever that means...

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Day Off Trains

newwinetrains.wmv Watch on Posterous

The trains at New Wine on each day off are a particular highlight, especially if you have young children to entertain...

Gems shaker

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Here's the shaker that my two your old made in her Gems group.

She loved it.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

New Wine day 7

I'm home.

A rather curtailed day at New Wine today brought on by some commitments next week that need considerable preparation.

I'm clean.

I've had a bath and a shower and a shave. It's not that there aren't showers and opportunities to shave at New Wine, but there's nothing quite like having a shower and a shave in your own home.

Today began with another excellent talk from Kenny. Then I got the car and began packing it. The children were a little upset when they came back from their groups to find that we really were leaving and so they would miss their final session this evening. It's not a decision I like to take - we've always stayed to the end before and will do so again next year, but we really did have to get home (I know- excuses, excuses!)

The journey home was fine, unpacking smooth and getting clean highly satisfying. All that's left to do know is to reflect on my notes a little bit more and, err, put it all into action. 24/7.

Dramatic testimonies rarely change ordinary people #nwcsw11

Wow! A great final talk from Kenny Borthwick. He talked again about the twins of 'Nurture and 'Mission' and how the church in the West had become very good at the former, but not the latter.

But what really struck me was the truth that it is important not to over-elaborate or exaggerate my testimony. Real people don't need whizz bang, they just need to know that there's a different way to live. We don't need over-dramatic testimony.

One of the ten commandments says: "Don't bear false witness against each other." how much worse would it be to bear false witness against God. And then there's Eve committing the first sin by exaggerating to the serpent about what God had really said about the Tree of Life.

I guess it's important to tell it. And tell it true.

Friday, 5 August 2011

"The whole place of repentance and surrender is missing" #nwcsw11

Kenny Borthwick spoke these words this morning when talking about the two different words for 'word' used by John in Chapter 17 of his gospel.

While both of them have been translated as 'word' the Greek behind them is quite different. One of then indicates knowledge from heaven, the other, the unalterable truth of the gospels.

It is this latter 'logos' that struck me the most and that inspired the quote from Kenny in the title above.

We live in an age in the church when there had sometimes been an over-emphasis on grace. Kenny mentioned various gurus and leaders on the forefront of the emerging church and speedily growing movements who have said that 'doctrine doesn't matter anymore - it is only grace.'

Yet it is doctrine, coming from the Bible and so elegantly framed in much of the liturgy of the Anglican church that speaks of repentance and coming to the cross. It is those words of saying sorry for our sins that open up the whole world of gave that we don't actually deserve. The gospel does matter.

As Kenny put it, God has His arms of love, but you still need to walk into them.

I wonder if it would be worth having a corporate repentance for this attitude at New Wine - we may not have been personally or corporately responsible for these sort of wrong attitudes ourselves - but there may still be a place for saying sorry on behalf of others.

Where are the tent makers at #nwcsw11?

This was the first title I wrote in my journal as a potential blog post when I arrived at New Wine this year.

I suppose I've always been impressed at how Paul was a tentmaker, working hard by his own hands (1 Corinthians 4). The assumption I've always made is that he (at least) paid part of his way through his own trade. It's encouraging for those of us not in full-time ministry to see how effective Paul was.

I looked through the list of speakers and, not knowing much about them, I had written down the above title, presuming that all of the speakers would be full time ministers of some kind. Now I've since learned that I'm wrong in that - Caroline Cox, the speaker on Tuesday is clearly not in full time ministry, and there's been quite a few seminars addressing Christianity in business.

But what was interesting was when I met an old-friend who's recently left a secure full-time vicar position to plant a church in deprived part of Cardiff. It's been a calling on his and his wife's life for a few years and they've finally got the right timing from God to do it. A brave move.

What I found especially encouraging was that he will be training as a science teacher next year to support the mission financially. He even used the phrase 'tent-making'.

And as I reflected on this and other things - like words that have been spoken over me this week, and the way the New Wine leadership are always encouraging us to step out o the boat - I realised that I had answered my own question. The tent makers are all around me. We are the tent makers. I am a tent maker.

Many of use are much better at our tent-making than our following Jesus. We out our time and effort into our careers, sometimes at the detriment of everything else. It is only at events like New Wine where we realise what the balance could look like. But as Bishop Zac said last night, we need to get out of the 'garage service' and get used to being 'in Jesus' 24/7.

There are only 2 verses in the Bible which refer to Paul's trade - his tentmaking. There are many more that detail his wisdom, his exposition, his reasoning and his deeds that furthers the Kingdom. Maybe I need to think on that when I'm looking at the choices I make about how I spend my time.

New Wine day 6

Just a short one tonight.

My day has been dominated by that hayfever feeling today. Sneezing, itchy eyes, irritable ears and a bleary head.

Kenny was brilliant this morning, speaking further in John 17. We returned straight back to the caravan to clean and tidy as we will be leaving slightly early tomorrow afternoon.

A journey to the marketplace made us richer in 2 ways - a CD containing some of the songs that the children have enjoyed this week and a book that Mary Pytches recommended.

And that was about it really. I'm now listening to Anne Coles speaking from Venue 1 on New Wine Fm on growing stronger in the Lord.

I may manage a glass of wine later sitting with friends, especially considering that tonight will be our last night here.

Sent from my thingamajig

Thursday, 4 August 2011

New Wine day 5

The day started with rain. Lots of it from about 0:05 in fact - pit-pattering away on the canvas and plastic all around the campsite.

The walk to groups first thing was a slog, but it was worth it - the children had a treat time again and Kenny preached a great message in Venue 1 on Chapter 17 of John.

I spent the next couple of hours wondering around with our smallest child, who was quite content to sit in the pushchair, underneath the rain cover, singing to herself and shaking her shaker that she had made in Gems. I tried to get my phone charged at the Tearfund Cafe during this time although it was slightly delayed because hey had got some water into their electrics.

Community lunch followed and it was timed perfectly with the sun coming out. Sixty people or so all sat around eating Chinese food and a pleasant time was had by all - I managed to catch up with a couple of folk who I'd not spoken to all week.

The trip to pastoral prayer was the highlight of my day. A couple of things had really stood out from the morning talk and I went down to pray about them. I came away smiling.

A birthday tea followed, which our children had been invited to - the second birthday of the week. Our youngest was particularly delighted with the pink biscuits.

The evening talk was by Bishop Zac from Uganda - it was really good and have blogged about it elsewhere. On returning, it was our own tea, a chat with friends and I finish with wondering whether I've still got time for a shower before bed.

To an unknown God

The episode of Paul's life when he visits Athens is often used to explore ideal ways of evangelising hostile peoples. Paul sees how the Athenians have an idol for every conceivable deity in the known world, and even one altar for gods they might not know about. It is this insecurity in the Athenians that Paul uses as an opening for his evangelism.

However, I've not heard the passage applied so relevantly to my own life as Bishop Zac did this evening in Venue 1.

He talked about idolatry in categories that I've not heard before. Where before I've thought of television, money and other concrete things, today Biahop Zac made me think about religion, safety, security and even myself.

The point is that an idol is something I create and then worship. It could be anything - my family, my lifestyle, this blog even. When I say I've Jesus in me just as I am in Him, I may be speaking the truth, but not in equal measure. It's far more I'm in Jesus than the other way around - believing that Jesus can bed boxed up is one of those idols that individuals and even churches create for themselves.

Interesting, powerful stuff. And it musts shows how little of God I really know.

And then it started to rain...


There's nothing quite like rain at New Wine. After four days of heat and sunshine, the rain has been falling heavily since the early hours of the morning.


New Wine evening session getting going at #nwcsw11


A view from the side of the main stage at Venue 1

Community lunch


God is good! The rain stopped just in time for the St. John's community lunch.


It doesn't always rain at #nwcsw11


Just in counterpoint to my earlier rain pictures...

Kenny Borthwick: spot on again at #nwcsw11


Morning session in Venue 1 was amazing again.
Kenny Borthwick, speaking on John 17 has been spot on every day - somehow speaking into my life and I know the lives of many others.
He spoke about what John meant by 'the world' - sometimes referring to the lost men and women who live in it; at other times, the organised system of rebellion against God.
He spoke about avoiding the hyper-spiritualisation of God's love - that it is practical. Even the Cross was a practical solution to a practical problem.
He challenged us to to think about what acts of love we had actually done during the week.
But what really got me was when he spoke about a picture he'd had before the meeting. It was one of those times when after the first sentence of describing someone, I thought 'Oh, that could be me.' Then as he went further and further into the picture I became more and more sure that he was speaking about me. I didn't have time to respond, as I had to pick up our smallest child, but I've since been to pastoral prayer, which was brilliant (and coincidentally I was prayed for by someone I follow on Twitter...!)
If you're here and have not made it to pastoral prayer when you've felt the urge to go - I really encourage you to do so - it is positive, encouraging and filled with insight. Amazing stuff! Thanks God!

Another rain picture



View from the swingball


Playing it safe

My 8 year old son, listening to Mark Bailey on thought for the day just now, said: "I like the way he put that."

"What do you mean?" I enquired.

"Well, Peter denied Jesus, but what were the others doing? Playing it safe."

I too am pleased at the message that Mark gives: 'it is risky to play it safe.' I like it that New Wine encourages us to take risks. I've been warned before that I shouldn't post what I really think on a public blog - people might be offended, might think less of me. By cross-posting onto Facebook, my non-Christian friends who I love might decide to break the contact...

It might not seem like the most risky thing in the world, keeping a blog - but it's my risk for the

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

New Wine day 4

The day started with a trip to Wells Leisure Centre to swim (and get clean) with the kids. Many other folk from New Wine had had the same idea. I often wonder what the people who run such places in Street, Wells and Shepton Mallet must think when hordes of New Winers converge upon them. The time was made particularly joyful by how our youngest child reacted to the water. Where previously she had been apprehensive, even fearful she was delighted and adventurous, laughing at every splash.

However I couldn't help feeling (for the first time ever) that I was missing out on the communion service being held back at New Wine - the single daytime event that occurs on the day off. I hadn't felt this in previous years, but mainly I'm finally feeling more a part of New Wine - I'll have to reflect on this further.

A trip to Tesco followed, and this wouldn't deserve a mention but for the shenanigans that took place there. Obviously exhausted by the swimming, our youngest had fallen asleep by the time we reached the shop and wasn't going to wake up for anything. I tried putting her in a trolley but the way her head was lolling around really wasn't good, so I picked her up. I soon realised that I wasn't going to be able to carry a sleeping child for very long and push a trolley, so I abandoned the trolley and went to sit down. However my wide didn't realise that and sent back the other two children like outriders to place the required food they had found in the trolley I was supposed to be pushing. I saw them walk past me out of the shop carrying food that was unpaid for. They walked past a security guard also, who didn't even notice. Eventually they did realise that I had given up on the shopping process to sit with the sleeping child and I thought that would be the end of it.

Unfortunately I was wrong. The next thing I knew my son was approaching me, carrying a carton of milk with his trousers completely soaked through. What had escaped me was that he hadn't been able to find his mother to handover the carton of milk, though he had spent considerable time looking. The need to find mum became more desperate when he realised he needed the toilet. The urge became more and more powerful and he had just decided to come and see me about it, when the accident happened. Whoops. Poor parenting there I think...!

The poor boy hadn't had a brilliant night either - he'd fallen out of bed three times and on the third time woken his sister up by trying to get back into the wrong bed. Then, first thing in the morning he had locked himself in the toilet - we had been woken by little cries of "Help! Help!"

Back at camp, we made it down to have a go on the trains - always a highlight of the Day Off if you've got young children.

My evening was dominated by the celebration event at Groundbreakers, 45 minutes of madness which even included a spam eating competition this year. There were some great new songs we heard also.

On the way back I was really struck by the amazing worship I could hear all around from at least three venues. There really are some amazingly powerful songs around at the moment.

Tomorrow brings a return to 'normality' - morning bible study, kids groups and seminars.

New Wine Zoo

Earlier on the week I mentioned that there were one or two nuances of Mark Bailey's talk that troubled me slightly. Don't get me wrong, I think his call to be passionate is timely, spirit-led and biblically accurate. That's why I called my troubles *nuances* only - feel free to comment below or respond via twitter if you think I've got this one wrong.

"Church does to people what zoos do to animals." I can't help agree with Mark on this one.

We tie ourselves up with structures that limit our creativity and, more importantly, limit the holy spirit.

It seemed to me that Mark was talking about the established church in this, referring to how we've turned Jesus into a synod-loving Jesus and how we're the most over-resourced, over educated, least effective church in Christendom.

Now the Church of England is an easy target in this. It's often caricatured and has been guilty of many wrongs in the past. But it's still the church. And Jesus loves it.

And, as I gaze out upon this tented slope before me, I can't help feeling there's something slightly zoo-ish about New Wine itself.

As a 7 year old attendee of the Dales Bible Week in the 1980s (that dates me), I was impressed at how every church group would have someone strumming a guitar first the morning, as each micro-community would join in their own corporate worship before getting on with the rest of the day. This was an empowering act - each group led by the Spirit - and as Kenny Borthwick reminded us this morning, it was part of the pattern of solitude at night, community in the morning and mission in the afternoon.

Yet I never see or hear those mini-acts of corporate worship at New Wine. Only the big stage stuff. It's almost like the music is of such high quality, that those people who can only bash out a few chords daren't do so. It wouldn't be good enough.

At this point I want to make a joke about jumper-wearing, bearded worship leaders from the past. But Kenny Borthwick today warned us of the trap of coolness - we live in a society where the cool-looking, beautiful people take the stage. Is that also true of New Wine? Is that part of the zoo that Mark Bailey was talking about?

I could go on, but I don't want to spend my time nit-picking over New Wine when I love I here so much. There's a far more constructive approach: individual and corporate repentance - because I think there are two responses to the thought that churches limit the Holy Spirit.

The first is to acknowledge where each of us, as individuals, have imprisoned ourselves. Are there traps of coolness or other things that are barriers to the Holy Spirit? We each need to spend time with God for Him to identify where our own attitudes and behaviours have become blocks to the Wild Goose. The second is to acknowledge that as New Wine churches we are part of the whole church and need to say sorry corporately for the whole church. It's not as though there isn't a biblical precedent for this. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the very words of God written in stone tablets only to find the Israelites had made a golden cow to worship while he'd been away, he later repented for the whole Israel people - he didn't say "they did it" - he said, "we did it."

So how about it, New Wine? A huge corporate act of repentance to get us all out of our cages?

It might even spark a revival.

What's it got in it's pocketses?


I thought my shorts had been getting heavy.

I emptied them out this morning and found all this.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

New Wine Day 3

While my friends play a hard-fought game of 'The Great Dalmuti' around the table, I find a few minutes to reflect on the day.

The main one has been the heat: it has been a scorcher today. After the morning talk it was all I could do to sit and perspire slowly for much of the afternoon.

Kenny Borthwick's talk was both challenging and encouraging, and I've already referred to it in other posts I've made today. A brief sojourn in the marketplace before the walk back to the caravan, when the heat was really beginning to tell.

Apart from sweating for most of the afternoon, I also spent sometime looking through my notes on the talks I've heard so far, and meeting up with some old friends who were at or church ten years ago. The highlight of the afternoon though, was a water fight with my son, who had previously been getting slightly bored and miserable, especially because a friend he had hoped would be here had not yet arrived.

There's nothing quite like a water fight on a blisteringly hot day, and not only did it provide cool relief, but it was also a joy to re-engage with my son for a good play.

After tea, more amazing worship at Venue One and then a tear-jerking talk from Caroline Cox. I cried at times as she related the stories of faith, tragedy and triumph from different parts of the world where she has visited.

It's the Day Off tomorrow. Swimming, pub lunch and trains are on the cards, I think.

Kenny Borthwick this, Kenny Borthwick that.

I write this with some trepidation, because in his first talk on Monday morning, Kenny  Borthwick, who is basing his daily Bible study on John 17, declared that when he hears his name being mentioned too much he knows it's time to moving on. He went on to tell the story of a chap called Campbell McAlpine who lived fully in his own glory but was careful not to touch the Glory of God; God shares His Glory with no-one else.
Kenny Borthwick has such a humble air about him that I'm sure he's following the same course as Campbell - so please forgive me for the title above. To God be the Glory.
I don't want you to move on, Kenny, not yet. And I have three reasons for doing so, yet I do want to honour and thank you:
  1. I'm loving the talks you're giving. They are rich food. I've got stuff to chew on and digest that will take me more than this week to do so.
  2. You're about to speak at our Church weekend away in a few weeks and I'm praying that it's going to be a significant point in the life of the church.
  3. One of the most significant moments in my life happened at a talk in a previous New Wine, when during a message ont Isaiah, you talked about American Indian names.