Wednesday, 30 December 2015

I'm feeling skitchess - app review skitch

So time for another app review. This is one of my favourite apps around. A great resource to create other resources live. I've been using this for a while particularly in staff training where you get sudden bursts of inspiration and have to create ideas on the spot.

So what does it do?

Skitch is a application that allows you to edit or annotate photos, maps, websites, pdfs etc. It has arrows, lines, drawing and highlighting functions. This in itself isn't really that impressive but what it allows you to create quickly is real world plenaries and problems.

 Here's a problem a created in mere seconds.

Exploring rotational symmetry that I could edit more admittedly for a plenary.

Showing and annotating scaling problems for a plenary.

But here is my favourite activity to do. Make a real world problem using google earths 3D function. Nothing could be more real to children than real objects.

Draw backs?

Can't see any as far as I am aware. It's free, its simple and user friendly. What more could you possibly ask for?

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Scratch that - scratchjr app review

Hello wonderful people,

Computing errrrrr I'm afraid and I'm sure you are as well. In the government's desperate need to compete with far away countries in Asia we have been given the computing curriculum to master. A slightly weird concept is that it will somehow pay off in the long run. All our coding children will bring millions upon billions of pounds to our company. I only say this seems weird because any tech company worth its salt works across international borders. Alas,  this has been long overdue if a little rushed.

I was met with the challenge of providing coding this year and some significant obstacles arose. My answer came in the form of this wonderful app - scratchjr.

Scratch 2.0 had been around for donkeys. But scratchjr is the new app form to cater for a problem I had. The problem was this; we had got rid of the computer lab for shiny new ipads but scratch 2.0 only worked on pc. Ah nuts! But scratchjr saved me and thank god!

How does it look?

In a word beautiful. A simplistic masterpiece. You know nivarnas song come as you are, a sunrise, fresh herbs or even a cold beer on a really hot day, scratchjr gave me that feeling. Simple, fun and fantastic.

What does it do?

It allows children to manipulate sprites (characters) using basic coding functions. It's not immediately apparent how this relates to real world coding but it is designed to develop the thinking skills or the basics that underpin it all. Children can create dances, simple games or animated stories.

Draw backs?

There is only two things holding this app back. First was the lack of ability to save work on another platform. Of course the children can save on the iPads but when you have a school full, the work easily get lost. Second the lack of the ability to set a scoring system up for games. In my opinion this limits the game possibilities.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Poor times, Great times, Creative times, Exhausting times - The PGCE year


I thought I would take a moment to reflect upon my PGCE year. What a wonderful year it was!

It's almost the new year and I'm sure all PGCE students across the country are enjoying this magical time off. Well they should they earned it!

By now, students have experienced or had a taste of many different interesting aspects to the role of being a teacher. Many will have flown enjoying rich opportunities to get to know children and teach them new things. Some may have had harrowing and heart breaking experiences thrust upon them that have tested them to their cores. Both versions are very much necessary in the never ending journey to become a teacher. For myself, the first term was very much the former. An enlightening time where I deemed that I had arrived in my future. I remember thinking 'yes, this is definitely for me!'

The Spring hit me like a steam train and I felt my experience changing rapidly. Difficult behaviour, assignments and audits building up, looooooong lectures, driving and monetary issues all seemed to provide enormous obstacles. Having met up with my other student friends for Christmas drinks I remember laughing and commiserating with them about the bad times they were having. But at the very same time thinking well why am I finding this brilliant. But as it turns out Spring was just my time or turn. However, I look back I am so thankful for that time it was testing and the real definition of character building. Most of all I learnt that we are not islands and that asking for help was the only real option. The more I asked and lost any sense of ego I had the more I clambered through the year.

I hope I can share neutrally now what the Spring holds for students. This is what I knew collectively we all experienced.

  • Assignment meltdown - Your teaching hours increase and expectations rise. It is only natural that in the deep dark months of winter that you want to hibernate when you get home from long lectures. But those assignments are due and they will creep up fast. 
  • Lecture fatigue - 'What do these have to do with teaching' classic stock phrase coined by many students. I remember sitting through an hour long lecture at 4 o'clock on a Thursday having had lectures solid all day. The lecturers message was essentially why you should drink water when teaching. No side points or pedagogy. I was tired drunk big time and cracked my head on someones knee behind. My advice just bear with these lectures you will be craving CPD when you are fully fledged.
  • Costs - Man its expensive and if I think back I'm not really sure how I afforded everything without a job. You want to make these beautiful resources for your next big appearance in front of your awesome new class but fuel costs, living costs and food costs get in the way. Endure and be smart. There are many many many different ways to create awesome costless resources that children will love. Look at pinterest if you don't believe me!!!!
  • Observations - I'm still daunted to this day about observations. You are desperate for that outstanding I know but it really isn't that important. I got a few of them in my PGCE year and found that when you get into an actual school the expectations rise again. Just keep improving your practice is the best thing to do!
Undoubtedly this was one of the best years of my life. A passion sandwich with a slices of optimism and wonder all inside a stress bun. But there were somethings missing...

  • Parents - To a certain degree you are shielded from the parent teacher relationship by your mentor. This is one of the most vital relationships you will ever experience. There is nothing more uplifting than a grateful parent but on the opposite end of the spectrum soul-destroying when there is problems with parents. Often you can be left it moral crisis feeling helpless at situations. Just find your style and keep talking the more experienced.
  • The TA relationship - I got so lucky. Teaching assistants are the most vital part of schools and they make the world go around for little or no money! Treat this relationship like it was the most fragile artefact ever discovered. Teaching assistants should be revered and you would do well to nurture this relationship.
  • Paper work - Your endless lesson planning sheets may well end but the paper will not. It is replaced with things far more fat and unforgiving. Forms, policies and data will rule your life if you let them. It is coming for us all!
  • Data - Unfortunately the school system relies on data. Now it's progress related data and you will be generating it out of the wazoo! It's important to remember that in the darkest depths of the wee hours that the only thing that matters is the children.
  • Leadership - Now you may be given grace for a year as an NQT but soon the leadership will be asking you to organise and develop parts of the curriculum. Taking on subject leaderships is something that nobody is ready for. Embrace it and know that it is on-going.
To everyone who is on their journey through their PGCE years, know that whilst the late sleepless nights may never end, it is worth it at the end! I can tell you 'the juice is worth the squeeze'...

Sunday, 27 December 2015

A quiver for your bow? (App Review - Quiver)

App Review - Quiver (formerly colormix)

Hey people,

I've decided because I've being doing so much educational App research that I would write a small review every week!

This week I'm starting with the app Quiver. Initially I saw this app at some training at Apple specialist school but I couldn't make the thing work at all! Tre annoying at the time which made me give up on it. But someone I know put me back in touch and I have to say its working and its fantastic.

What does it do I hear you say...

It's what's known as augmented reality. The company produce colouring sheets. The children then colour these sheets which when the camera is pointed at them, come to life! Wow! The picture springs from the page and can be interacted with.

What could it be used for?

1. Fun!! Of course!
2. Improving description skills. Children will really be able to see and describe the characters that they create.
3. Why not add an interactive element to a storybook.
4. Introducing a topic.
5. An interactive art lesson.

Draw backs?

Although the app is free and the pages are free, it does mean that there are in app purchases. This shouldn't be off putting because almost half are free. Or you could buy them for the teachers iPad and then use the app on the IWB. Another drawback is the app does tend to get overwhelmed on smaller iPads with smaller memory. This will cause the app to crash from time to time. But to be honest its so amazing I would definitely persevere.

So overall I give this app a 8/10

Here is the site to get the colouring pages:

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Tablets - baby computers?

Hi again,
I think at one point as we entered the 21st century education wondered what direction technology would take and how would it impact learning. But it seems ever more increasingly obvious that iPads are the future and they are here to stay... Yippee!!!
As some great philosopher said if you aren't moving forwards then you are moving backwards. Or something similar... Who knows.
Ah but aren't ipads a headache sometimes! Endless pointless updates, printing problems and how as the teacher do I get the work from the children saved on the the network.
The important thing to bear in mind is iPads are not designed for educational use. It seems apple just left the door open for apps to be developed without any real consideration for a school setting. But they or people around them are cottoning on fast. This explains the lag we are all experiencing to some degree or another. Apple partnership schools with elite status are popping up everywhere. Right or wrong education is big business...
The school setting presents a multitude of problems chiefly of which is the integration with prodominently windows based state administered  networks. But luckily there are ways around these problems.
So let me let address some of the solutions I've found to some basic ipad problems. Hopefully, you guys will be able to share some of your solutions with me as well.
Google drive
This free app provides free cloud storage up to 15GB. Mmmmm free delicious! Setup a google gmail account with a simple password and your children can save their work using a drive app on their ipads. At the end you have all their work in one central location. However, this doesn't come without problems. If you have a central hub for your iPads then everytime children access the drive app they will have to reenter the password again. Not mention ICT control from your administrator that oversees schools tend not to like this being used for some reason.
Seesaw: the learning journey, edmodo, showbie
All platforms to start online classrooms. After researching all of them Seesaw was my preferred choice due to its simple interface similar to social networking sites. These platforms really are the future allowing you to record and share with parents the work of the children. But fundamentally given the correct apps in accompaniment children can upload and share their work with you easily.
Simple transfer
I was shown this nifty little app at a conference and it allows ipads to be taken control of through an Internet browser. There some draw backs. Obviously it's one at a time. The first 50 files on the ipad are the only ones available to transfer.
Last resort nothing is work ahhhhh. Use the Airdrop function on the pull up menu. Children can quite easily ping you with their work. However, this takes a really long time.

Monday, 21 December 2015

R and R (Reports and Reflection)

Ah tis the season to be jolly! Christmas is on the door step and teachers around the world have a well deserved break... errrr nope. Tis the season to plan for next season I think :)

This one in particular for me is a challenge. *Sigh* report writing... You either have the gift or you don't. I have the latter. But I do like them in the sense of reflection. This is a small step off the treadmill to reflect upon your children as a whole. 

  • What have they achieved? 
  • How much of it is a result of them developing naturally? 
  • How much can you really apportion to your teaching? 
  • Who are they as a person?
  • Where do they have to go next?
  • How am I as the professional educator going to get them there?

I love this aspect of the report writing process. I suspect this is why my reports never end up fitting in the school template. I will undoubtedly go through the motions of arial 12, arial 11, arial 11 narrow, edit the margins, edit the boxes, smaller headings, edit, edit, edit and on and on :) Why will I never learn! Alas, what a nice opportunity to reflect especially whilst you are in the throws of spending time with family and friends. Not to mention all the sweets around.

However, bearing in mind this is coming from a second year teacher, let me try to share what I have learnt in a pompous ten top tips.

  1. For God sake check for personal pronouns (he, she, her, his). I believe that all children are unique. But, let's be honest the things we may say are not. That being said there is a lot of cutting, pasting and editing. It is a nightmare when parents see their little girl being called a he. As for names come on I know your not that sloppy :)
  2. Read it aloud.
  3. If it doesn't even remotely fit you template it is waffle! (pot kettle black I know)
  4. 20 minutes drink and repeat.
  5. Short sentences are key. Easier to follow. Shorter is sweeter.
  6. Avoid over complicated terminology. Your audience may not understand what a commutative law is or even why little Jim age 6 would need to know this.
  7. Be positive! Sarah hasn't been shouting out she's been enthusiastic. She would benefit in developing how to channel her important vocal contributions.
  8. Be honest but never say anything you wouldn't be prepared to say to a parents face. Always be constructive and weather a parents wrath if needs be. Remember the child comes first.
  9. Show how much you know the child. Personalised recognition of each child's interests or personal achievements show much you care and make parents understand how much you care for their children.
  10. Get someone else to read them.

Well back to writing mine!! Merry Christmas to you all...

Sunday, 20 December 2015

It begins

Hello to anyone out there...

Welcome to my tiny little corner of the internet! I think I'll start by being totally honest. This blog is for me to share my musings about teaching today and to maybe sell a few resources along the way (because why the heck not). But probably this blog will provide an outlet for my hopes, frustrations, small successes, calamities and utter disasters. A self help journal laid bare for any stranger to view I suppose.

So my situation is this, I have the best job ever. I'm a primary school teacher. My day is filled with endless opportunities to affect the future. Truly the impact of this thought excites and paralyses me every day. It's not because I'm self important or an egotist it's because I care. The ripple effect has to be respected. I navigate the delicate intricacies and complex personalities of developing minds hoping to spark a passion to learn.  Everyone has had a teacher of some sort even the greatest of minds!

I'm a male teacher in my twenties. This is my second full year of teaching so I guess I haven't yet had the time to develop a really stout and embattled cynicism. That's not to say I don't feel it creeping up behind me but I'm fighting on with boundless passion and a sense of humour. This year I have been blessed with a superb class! My current school is completely irrelevant to this blog so I won't be referring to it in any detail at all. I work with wonderful people and I live in a beautiful (if a little deprived) area.