Sunday, 29 December 2013

Top 10 Tips!

As ever, it's been a busy term.  My class and I have been very fortunate to work with Axelle our French born PGCE student.  As well as giving children a fantastic grounding in French, she has been helping my class with their polar bear projects too and these are developing in inspiring ways with fund raising ideas and awareness raising initiatives!

In November, Yonit, a Google Certified Teacher put out a request for info from any teacher who has done some project based learning.  Completely unexpectedly, this led to a group of our Year 6's, who had done some project based work in my class over the last two years, taking part in a hangout at a conference for the Ministry of Education in Israel who are interested in making this part of the curricular approach in Israel!

I have also been very fortunate to have met many amazing educators through the Google Teacher Academy in London this month.  One of these is the inspiring Rachel Jones @rlj1981 who invited me to contribute to an Top Tips iBook she's putting together with @chocotzar.   Can't wait to read tips from others but in the meantime I thought I could combine my top tips with this blog entry & will update with a link to the full ibook when it's published.  So here they are:

Top Tip Number 1
What's in a name...
At the beginning of the year, give children the opportunity to name their class.  If you like, you can ask them to follow a theme that goes with a topic you'll be studying.  For example, when my year group studied the rainforests, my pupils could choose any rainforest animal - this led to the Year 4 Monkey Mandrills, the Year 4 Mountain Lions and the Year 4 Bengal Tigers.  This year I'm the Year 5 teacher and our theme is water so pupils chose The Year 5 Dolphins as their name. 

If you want to take it a step further, ask your pupils to choose cryptonyms based on the rainforest (or for us this year, the ocean).  Whenever the class go on-line, instead of using their real names, they use their cryptonyms.  That way our class all know who is posting but they safe because no one else has this information.  It's also a fun way for children to explore a topic more deeply.  Pupils have populated lots of Google class maps using their cryptonyms.  Here's an example:

Top Tip Number 2
An invisible pupil
I got this tip from the inspirational Ros Wilson on one of her improving children's writing courses.  The idea is
just as the title says, to have a pupil in class who is invisible.  Let me tell you, your invisible pupil will take on a life all of his (or her) own.  Pupils of all primary school ages - and perhaps beyond - love the mystery and imagination involved in this idea and you can develop it in lots of directions.  Ours took on all the writing 'mistakes' in class, he sat next to children who wanted some company and wanted to get ideas about how to write well from every single child - which was a great confidence boost.  Over the years we've had a Marmaduke, a Byron, a Humphrey - more than I can recall offhand but all brothers of the 'Allbright' family.  They've had time machines that have taken them to the ancient Greek theatre where we've had to help with posting a report so that they can get the time machine to bring back.  Another went to the Mary Rose in Tudor times and we helped him create a soundscape of a Tudor ship using Audacity before he could return.  The possibilities are endless!

In recent years, each brother of the 'Allbright' family has left us with a rainforest mascot.  Among the many we've had are Zingo, the Toucan, Humphrey the Tapir and this year King Kong the Chimpanzee.  My pupils give the mascot a name and take him home and on their travels and share his diary with the class.  Sometimes our mascot goes further afield - one mascot, Zingo the toucan made it to the Himalayas with a Local Authority adviser and blogged throughout his trip.  Later that year, he went to the Members' Dining Room (& received his own security pass!) at the Houses of Parliament with a group of the Year 4 Mountain Lions to explain how we'd helped our community to get on line!

Top Tip Number 3
Develop your class as a 'Community of Enquiry'
Develop your class as a 'Community of Enquiry'
Build in opportunities for pupils to explore and develop their thinking skills through enquiries and you'll see why I cannot recommend this highly enough. Based on the ideas behind Philosophy for Children (P4C), enquiries give children opportunities to respond to a range of prompts from a story, to a newspaper article, an artefact, a piece of music or a picture - anything really - with their own questions and then their own discussion.  The prompts can be related to something you're studying or real flights of fancy - you will be amazed at the quality of discussion and thinking that emerges.  If you'd like to take things a step further, Sapere run courses ( and you might like to check out the Gallions School in East London who've seen some remarkable outcomes through P4C (

For just a taster of enquiries try 'Thunks' which are collections of questions to get your pupils thinking like 'can a fly see a skyscraper?' ; 'Can you turn a sound upside down?' and 'If you could take a pill that meant you'd never fail, would you?'. These will lead to discussions that surprise, if not amaze you!

Top Tip Number 4
There are many fantastic websites and tools out there but one which I've found invaluable time and again over the last few years is Voicethread (  Each Voicethread you create is based on a picture or photo which pupils respond to using a choice of doodle pen, typing, voice recording or camcorder.  You can create individual identities for each class member (mine are based on their rainforest or ocean animal cryptonym).   We've used them for many things from responding to Maths questions, contributing information they'd found for topics and often for evaluating Art and D&T projects.  There's a free edu version available if you contact Voicethread using a school email address.

Top Tip Number 5
Lollipop sticks
Create a named lollipop stick for each member of your class.  They can be useful in lots of ways.  Often
they're used when you or the class are asking questions and you don't want to keep choosing the same four or five children who regularly put up their hands.  This encourages everyone to think about a possible answer.  Avoid anxiety by giving children an opportunity to 'think, pair and share' before hand so that they've talked about their answer with someone else and give them the opportunity to respond to the question with their 'talk partner'.  The lollipop sticks are also useful if you want to create pairs or teams or for any activity needing a random element.

Top Tip Number 6
Movies feel real in a way that just reading about something or just writing about something really doesn't.  Children have used film to make news broadcasts about Hurricane Sandy, the St. Jude's Day Storm and the deaths of Henry VIII's wives (in costume!), they've created videos about their Polar Bear Project Action Plans and most recently they've used them to film their Maths Casts explaining calculation methods to post on YouTube.  There's just something about a film project that invariably brings together and develops all sorts of skills from planning, researching, scripting and acting to ICT, working to a tight deadline and collaborating in teams.

All you need for the above is something you and/or your pupils can film with.  If you have access to iPodtouches or iPads think about using iMovies which enables pupils to top and tail their films for a bit of a professional finishing touch. 

Top Tip Number 7
Class rewards
Here are two ideas for rewards that have proved popular with my pupils.  The first one is for tidying the class - something everyone, including children, can feel reluctant about at one time or another!  Each table of children work together as a team to tidy their table and the 'peripheral' class room area (why not squeeze a bit of Maths vocab in while we're there!).  The tidiest table wins the cushions which they can sit on throughout the next day of lessons.

Treasure Tokens are the other popular reward.  Children are given a raffle ticket or treasure token for all sorts of things.  Usually it's unexpected and for their being kind and doing something for someone else.   The tokens they like best are the ones they given to each other and where they write the reason on the back and choose whether they wish to put their own name to it.  At the end of each half term we have a draw and the first person chooses the main activity for an afternoon and the first 8 can use the iPodtouches.  The first 20 receive a small prize from the Treasure Token Chest (usually pound shop stuff).  If someone's name comes out twice or more, they given the additional token to a friend in class.  Very popular!

Top Tip Number 8
Real world
My pupils love opportunities to bring the real world into the classroom.   This is possible with pretty much
anything you're studying in class.  Over the years we've had a Black Country history project which involved children in creating a large playground sculpture of an anchor.  The project grew like topsy with children hammering chain at a chainmakers furnace and arc welding the final structure.  They visited factories, created living histories with their families and learned Old English dialect.

We've had a rainforest project that led to pupils campaigning for better labelling of palm oil in products - a major cause of deforestation.  My pupils now watch over an area of endangered rainforest land in Borneo with the agreement that they'll flag it if they spot any signs of fire or logging (Check out Earthwatchers for more info:

This year, my class have created polar bear action teams to try to tackle some of the causes of loss of Arctic habitat. 

You really don't need a detailed roadmap for bringing the outside world in, just a willingness to given children opportunities to pursue their interests a bit further a field and encourage them to believe in their ability to make a difference.  Small changes can lead to a big impact.

Top Tip Number 9
Learning skills
Developing good learning skills is at the heart of good learning outcomes.  As a school, we've identified the key areas as:  independence, curiosity, learning relationships, staying power, changing, meaning making and creativity.  Children have come up with their own definition for these: (   Pupils in my class think about their learning skills and set themselves targets which they review later in the year.  Children also give their reasons for areas they've identified as strengths and weaknesses and this is always a valuable perspective for me as their teacher. 

Top Tip Number 10
Class stories
There's absolutely nothing new about this one but it's right up there in my top ten anyway!  Children just LOVE sharing a good story and as primary teachers we're in a privileged position to ensure that it's part of children's experience in primary schools.  This term we've shared ancient Greek myths and legends, stories from George Layton's 'The Fib' and, thanks to Axelle, my French born PGCE student, Le Petit Prince - a French children's story by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry that is also steeped in philosophy.  

Sunday, 8 September 2013

And a new year begins...

King Kong our class mascot
A new year and for me this year, a new class!  My new class have chosen to call themselves the Year 5 Dolphins.  They've met their new classmate Xaviar - he's a bit unusual as he's invisible and gets into all sorts of mischief.  Xaviar has introduced everyone to his chimpanzee (are you keeping up?!)  The chimp has already become our class mascot and children have named him King Kong.  King Kong is already leading a busy social whirl if his diary is anything to go by!

The children have their new ocean cryptonyms - everything from a blob sculpin to a sea cucumber.  And they've already begun putting their cryptonyms to good use by posting on padlet some of the things they'd like to know about the ancient Greeks who we're studying this year.  Here's their wall in progress.

What we'd like to know about the ancient Greeks - our wall on padlet
Our new set of 1:1 devices has just arrived in school for Year 5.  They're the Surface RTs - I gather the discounted price was really too good to pass up.  I've had a quick look at one of them and on the plus side I like the touch screen and the usb port.  I'll need to get used to not being able to load them with some of my favourite programs as you need apps from the Windows store. I'll let you know how we get on with these as the year rolls out.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

A busy year!

On the Google stand at Bett 2013
 It's been a busy year: In September I moved back into Year 5 after six years away and, on the Google front, I took part in the Prague Summit last Autumn and in January I took a turn on the Google Bett stand sharing how I've used Google Apps with my class.  More recently, in May, I returned to the Association of Learning Technologists - this time round helping out on the judging panel. All interesting and worthwhile experiences for which I'm grateful!

Connect All Schools
In class, Year 5 took part in the International Learning Circles through Connect All Schools.  As we all had experience of this from last year, I think we all felt up to speed with what was involved and somewhat more organised and able to meet the various deadlines involved in taking part!

For one of our partner's projects we were able to draw on our local history project work from last year - something which showed just how rooted this has become in the children's sense of place.

Capital Cities of the World
Our project was 'Capital Cities' and the inspiration for this was one of the highlights of Year 5 - our trip to London!  Needless to say, this spring term trip is always eagerly anticipated and this year was no exception.  Every moment was jam packed so although for many pupils, this was their first trip away from home & family, with so much to see and do there wasn't too much time to feel homesick!  Click on the picture of London to see some of the contributions from our Learning Circles partners.

London Tour Guides
This year, pupils became London tour guides which involved choosing a famous landmark or site, researching it and then scripting an informative and engaging presentation as part of our exploration and discovery of London.  Pupils also used their computer skills to create multimedia presentations to share with families, next year's Year 5 and, of course, our Learning Circle partners.

Pupils created voiceovers using their iPodtouches and then overlaid these on the videos they'd created using their Animoto (educational) accounts so that they could combine pictures, text and a music backing track.  Here's a tour of Baden Powell House, originally the Headquarters of the Scouting Association and now a youth hostel.  It was where we stayed in London.

Hurricane Sandy
At the start of the year, last September, Hurricane Sandy featured prominently in the news.  As two of our Geography topics for the year were 'Water' and 'News from around the World', Sandy seemed particularly relevant and pupils worked hard to find out all about the hurricane and its effects from a number of news feeds before creating their own broadcasts showing the huge impact on those living in the region.

It turned out to be particularly poignant for me as I have family in Long Island - thankfully all safe - but still living in temporary accommodation while their house is being rebuilt!  Pupils again made good use of their iPodtouches to create their movies.  They were also able to share their research through Voicethread.  Here's one of the news broadcasts created by pupils.

The Three Kings
Although it may feel a little odd to mention Christmas in August, I do want to give it a mention in the round up of the year.

Every year, Year 5 create the designs for the school Christmas cards and over the last few years this has involved a digital element.

This year pupils created designs in pastels and then used GIMP, the image manipulation tool, to transform their designs using a mosaic effect.

The picture on the left shows one of the five designs chosen for the 'official' school Christmas cards.  Of course all the pupils were able to use their completed designs for their families.

Festive Story Spiral
As you can see from the picture of the Three Kings and our storyspiral, although the theme for the designs are traditional, the digital element has given it an effective modern twist.

For those interested, the story spiral on the right is generated through Photopeach.  Photopeach has a selection of tracks you can choose from to accompany your artwork and work can be displayed as a story or as a story spiral.  I think there's now an educational version too.  

Talking Textiles
Over the last few years, as I've highlighted elsewhere in this blog, Art has been a big feature of our work.  This year we've been involved in a lovely project where pupils share their love of some of the Greek myths and legends we've read.

Three lovely ladies, Jean Lewis-Millward, Sheila Allen and Barbara Henslow, very generously gave their time throughout the summer term to help children turn their designs into textile based pictures.  Here you can see some of the (nearly) completed panels which will go on display in school in the Autumn term.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Learning Technologist Award - Reflections and thanks

I was honoured to accept the Learning Technologist of the Year 2012 Award on Wednesday evening for my work on accelerating children’s learning through an enquiry led, technology enabled approach.

Attending the Association for Learning Technology Awards' ceremony was a humbling and moving moment for me, particularly in light of the awesome learning technology projects out there (past and present) led by some truly inspirational educators – many of whom have inspired me!

Although the award is called 'individual', an accolade like this is never just about the recipient. This one recognises the children - their enthusiasm, their learning and all those moments that make teaching so special. I particularly wish to thank Bev Hartland-Smith, my Head Teacher, for her encouragement, enthusiasm and inspiring leadership throughout my time on her team. My thanks too to our Deputy Head, David Dunn and the School Governors for their support. I hope the award also says great things about Pedmore Primary school and what it’s like to be part of the team here and of course, the wider support the school has always been fortunate to have from the super team at Dudley Grid for Learning and RM.

I thank Martin, my husband and our two sons Luke & Max for their fantastic support and encouragement.

Lastly, I want to express my hope that by sharing the learning benefits, other teachers will feel encouraged, just as I have been, to use technology to help children learn.

My presentation to the panel:

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Google Maps & Mask Making

Rainforest research with Google Maps
Just a brief update today!  I thought I'd share the map of rainforest information that my class started creating earlier in the year.  It's a good way of getting into a topic early on and for children to share the information they find.  As you can see, the children post using their online rainforest cryptonyms which they choose at the beginning of the year.

View Researching Tropical Rainforests by Y4 Bengal Tigers in a larger map

Hangout with Taiwan
We had our last hangout of the term with Chong Ming Elementary school in Taiwan.

Hanging out with the lovely pupils of Chong Ming
Andy, one of the teachers there supporting our sessions, shared with children that he and his son had recently visited the World Land Trust Borneo Appeal site that earlier in the year our pupils had raised money to help fund.  This has made it all the more real for them!

We were all excited to learn that there's a possibility that Amy, the fantastic teacher we've been working with on this project, may be visiting us at Pedmore before the end of term!

Children made chilli and flatbread
This went really well and the weather held out for most of the evening.  Google Apps have proved really useful for all the planning children have been doing.  The context and real data children were working with from using forms to find out what everyone wanted for dinner, dessert, drinks and breakfast through to analysing with the spreadsheets and then using Google Presentation to present results to the class have proved invaluable.  Children have found the apps very straightforward to work with.  With project based learninjg, children have found it actually matters that questions are framed in a way which enables them to be answered!  Feedback between class teams has been instant (and occasionally blunt)!  And with this approach, meeting the deadline for your presentations to the class has really mattered - otherwise the person doing the shopping won't know what to buy!

Our school chickens really came through lots of eggs this week.  And many children brought in produce that had been homegrown.  Throughout Thursday and Friday children were cooking chilli, flatbread and toppings ready for one of the evening dinner options.

Mod Roc and Greek Masks
Mask making
I've recently discovered that I'll be working with the same class next year. :)

So for our Domino sessions, we've been getting stuck ancient Greek mask making inspired by the history topic we'll be studying next year.  Here are the children working away on the early stages.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Bengal Tigers - Seal of Approval Awarded!

This week, despite hurricanes, we had another hangout with Taiwan...our second Bottle Top Art Day and...the Bengal Tigers awarded their seal for the first time ever!  More about that later!

Taiwan Hangout
My class - ready to hangout!
This time, my class, the Bengal Tigers, were presenting to Taiwan.  Children worked SO hard creating scripts and then learning their lines - they LOVE the real context our hangouts provide.  They included many aspects of our Earth Caretakers Project. 

Children's presentations went really well but our second hangout of the week had to be postponed because Taiwan continued to be affected by severe hurricanes.  We were very glad and relieved to hear that everyone is safe in Chong Ming and we've rearranged for next week.  (Video to follow!)

Securing the bottle tops to perspex!
Bottle top art (day 2)
We also had our second bottle top art day.  We're likely to need a bit longer before this is completed because the scale is quite big and the process of sticking and then screwing down the bottle tops is taking longer than originally anticipated.  But, as you can see from our pictures, it's really coming along now!

There's been lots of interest and lots of staff and children have helped by bringing in extra browns and golds because we found we were running short of these colours.  Thank you everyone!  Next time, hopefully we'll be able to complete it and put it up in the playground in its permanent home.

Our orangutan is coming along well!
Breaking news....Bengal Tigers' Seal Awarded!
The Bengal Tigers are extremely pleased to report that AT LAST we've heard from a company that actually answered the questions we asked about recycling and the use of sustainable packaging!  And what's more, children were impressed with the answers too!  This feels groundbreaking!

Over the last 12 months pupils have written MANY letters but companies smoothly (or perhaps not so smoothly) have side stepped all our rainforest action teams' questions.

Well done John Lewis!
So....DRUM ROLL....the first company to be awarded the Bengal Tigers' official seal of approval is......JOHN LEWIS!   Well done John Lewis!

On a sadder note, the children were very concerned to read reports that wood fibres from prime rainforest land in Indonesia have been found in the packaging used by KFC.  I know children are keen to write to KFC about this matter!  They've also been listening out for news from the Earth Summit in Rio - mostly though, the feeling is one of disappointment.

Next week we are having the last hangout of the term with Taiwan.  Children will be sharing their Earth Caretakers presentation with more pupils at Chong Ming Elementary.

Our summer camp
We will also be having our summer camp.  In small teams, children will be using Google Forms to collect data about everyone's requests for food, drink and activities.  They will then be analysing the data and making presentations to the class about options chosen.  There's nothing like real life Maths is there!

Pedmore's chickens
I've mentioned before that children are growing lots of their own fruit and vegetables for our camp and we're also hoping to use eggs from Pedmore school's very own chickens!

Minimising the air or freight miles of anything the children need to buy will be a priority too! 

Hopefully the sun will put its hat on for us on Friday....

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Orangutans & our bottle top art (day 1)

work in progress
Bottle top art and orangutans
Our keenly anticipated bottle top art day at last arrived on Wednesday!  We all had a fabulous day - even the sun came out!

Before half term children had created some lovely rainforest inspired designs and we settled on a picture showing an orangutan with her baby and in the canopy layer a toucan and macaw.

macaw artwork
The orangutan was inspired by our focus on Borneo which, with Sumatra, provides the last two natural habitats on earth for the orangutan.  100 years ago there were 315,000 orangutans - now it is estimated that there are less than 7000 and this beautiful animal may be extinct in the wild by 2015.

The children feel that we may not be able to do much to help, but we should try to do whatever we can.  'Be the change you want to see in the world' - Gandhi
sorting, counting and sizing bottle tops

The children transferred their designs onto card and then from card onto the perspex.  Meanwhile, other groups were busily using Google search to research rainforest tree species so that they could come up with leaf designs for the background.  A further group were counting and colour and size sorting the bottle tops the whole school community has been collecting since September.  There were over 1500!

rainforest leaves
Later, children began the process of sticking these onto the perspex.  Next time they'll be drilling them on so that they'll be really secure!

As our video shows, our bottle top art is a work in progress.  We're hoping to complete it next week and put it up in a leafy, tree filled section of the playground.  Meanwhile children have begun to develop their ideas for a world themed playground.  Watch this space!

  Replies to our rainforest letters

So far children have had two replies to their rainforest letters.  The Animal Savers Team heard from Marks & Spencers in reply to their letter about packaging and the Rainforest Orangutan Team received a reply from Coca Cola about their use of plastic bottles.

Although the Animal Savers are pleased to read of M&S's 'Plan B' both they & the Orangutan team were more than a little disappointed to find that, on close reading of their replies, there were NO responses to their questions.

The M&S reply referred the group to their website for answers so they will be having a look there.  But I think it's fair to say that, teams are already drafting new letters to these companies!

Hangouts with Taiwan
We were delighted to receive another invitation to not just one, but two hangouts with pupils in Taiwan next week.  Towards the end of this week children have been busily scripting their presentations in preparation for our hangouts.  They are going to talk about our Earth Caretakers project.  We'll let you know how these go.

Year 4 Summer Camp
Summer camp planning
In less than a fortnight, the Year 4 Bengal Tigers will be having a summer camp on our school field.  Children plan it in detail and this includes budgeting for food and other things we'll need, menu planning and deciding which games will be played and other activities.  

This year, because children are so focused on 'being the change' they've decided to try to cut out air miles for food bought and better still, they've been working with their families to  GROW THEIR OWN fruit and vegetables.  Fantastic!