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.