Sunday, 5 July 2015

Mr Nottingham goes to Washington

A few months ago I entered the Discovery Education UK competition to win a weeks CPD at their annual Discovery Educators Network Summer Institute (DENSI). 

Out of all who applied 5 others and myself were selected and on the 11th July we fly to Washington DC to begin our DENSI adventure. What follows are my Pre-DENSI thoughts and musings on what promises to be a most extraordinary week of professional development.

With less than a week to go before my journey begins the excitement is starting to creep in about just what I will experience once I arrive at DENSI. I am obviously excited about going to the states, having been lucky enough to visit Washington DC before. However it is the thought of connecting with over 130 other educators from across the US, Canada and the UK that has me most excited. 

I have been treated to a preview of the exciting and diverse array of attendees thanks to the power of the internet and have connected to several of the attendees through Edmodo and Twitter. Already connecting with the other attendees means that when the week is over hopefully these networks will continue and a truly international cohort of passionate and enthusiastic educators will be able to continue sharing and growing together.

In the past I have attended events that have brought together teachers from all over the UK, and have been inspired by their passion and shared knowledge. I am hoping that by sharing with educators from across North America I will be further inspired by the stories and experiences they have to share. Taking into account that the UK would fit into several US states. There is bound to be a wide range of educators with a variety of experiences. They will all have different takes on education but will undoubtedly have one thing in common. They want the best for their students. It is this passion that will forge friendships and fuel discussions over the week and will hopefully inspire all who attend.

It is not just a week of sharing that I'm looking forward to. It will be interesting to discuss the challenges that everyone faces. Especially those that are common amongst the teachers from the varying countries. I imagine continued pressure from "higher up" to be one of these. Be that Local Authority or Governmental pressures in the UK, and pressure from county, state and federal level in the US. How teachers, leaders and schools handle these increasing demands will no doubt be up for discussion. 

Karl Fisch is repeatedly quoted 'we are currently preparing pupils for jobs that don't yet exist, using technologies that haven't yet been invented, in order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet.' How do teachers address this as we continue to work with generations of pupils that will come to view the works of Arthur C Clarke as historical fiction?

I'm also feeling excited, and privileged, by the opportunity to share my own experiences. I have been asked to contribute to one of the many workshop sessions over the week. giving a UK perspective on the computing curriculum. This is a fantastic opportunity and I'm really looking forward to discussions with other attendees on the importance of the computing curriculum in modern education.

I will be trying something a little different whilst at DENSI in regards to documenting my experiences. I will try to produce a short video diary for each of the days whilst I am there. Watch this space for my DENSI Diary!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

BETTer with friends

Disclaimer: This post does not contain any educational content it is my own personal reflection on the last couple of days and why I think we are in the greatest profession in the world.

I am currently on the train back to Liverpool after what have been some of the most exciting and exhausting days in my teaching career.

This year I have been lucky enough to be able to spend a few days at the BETT show in London. Every year thousands of Teachers, ICT specialists, Suppliers, Inventors, Presenters and Foreign Dignitaries descend on East London for one of the world's biggest Educational and Technological shows. It is truly an incredible place and the sheer size of the show is daunting for any first time visitor.

This was not my first time visiting BETT. In fact this year would be my third successive BETT show, it would, however, be the first year I would be attending and staying in London so as to attend as many of the seminars, workshops, and speeches as I could during my visit, whilst also having time to talk to suppliers to continue the roll out of our ICT plan in school.

I arrived at the show on Thursday afternoon after checking into my hotel and I was buoyed by the prospect of not having to worry about rushing back to Euston before the end of the day. In previous years I have come with a plan and stuck to it. "This year," I thought "I will take my time and try to absorb as much as I can, if I wander off the plan then so be it. What's the worst that can happen?"

Since September I have been consciously more active on Twitter, not only is it a great place to pick up ideas and tips, the teaching community on there is incredibly supportive. I have had twitter conversations with various members of this community and a few of us are involved in overlapping projects around the country. So walking around the show amongst the myriad of vendors and displays a strange social phenomenon occurs. As we all wear badges that proudly display our name, institution and job role you start to recognise familiar names. You recognise these names from Twitter and start to put faces to the Twitter handles. The awkward part is, you've had conversations with these people perhaps even collaborated with them, but you've never seen their face, or they yours.  You stand there for a moment staring, at them. Maybe give them a smile, and you can see them thinking "What is this idiot doing? Why is he staring?" Then they glance downwards to your badge and read your name and the most amazing thing happens. They go through the exact same mental process and suddenly its like you are being greeted by a long lost friend. 

This happened with several people as I walked around the show and it honestly made my day. Previously I had felt like a customer wandering around a marketplace and although you talked to merchants about their products a lot of the conversation was usually a sales pitch. The show took on a different meaning for me and I started to see the community that was built into the fabric of an event like this. 

As I was staying over I had decided to attend the Teach Meet at the end of the day on the Friday and the subsequent Teach Meet Eat in the bar next to the venue. Not knowing anyone (outside of Twitter) I was hoping that I could maybe spot a friendly face and hope they wouldn't mind a +1 for the evening. As I made my way into the Bett arena (a cosy 500 seater venue) I had tagged along with a few other people and we took our seats. I felt like the new kid at school and I'd wandered into a friendship group where really I had no place being. Then the same phenomenon occurred again, except these people didn't know me from Twitter they just accepted me as one of their own. More people arrived and as greetings and hugs were exchanged between people joining this group I realised, these people really do only see each other in a group setting once (maybe twice) a year and mainly keep in touch through Twitter, blogs and emails. 

By the end of the evening the number of people I was "following" had increased as had my own "follower" count. I had a new group of friends, friends whom I could call upon to help with resources, lend an ear, help solve a problem as well as get together once a year for a cheeky drink in the Fox. 

So today as I was walking around Bett on my final morning in the capital I saw more familiar faces than I have ever done previously. I saw a few more unexpected resource sessions than was on my plan thanks to my Twitter feed and left knowing that the first thing I will be doing when I get home is booking my hotel for #BETT2016.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Teaching Remotely or Remotely Teaching?

A few months ago I was one of the members of staff who went with our Year 6 pupils on their 5 day residential trip to the lake district. An annual tradition of running, jumping, climbing trees, water sports and eventual exhaustion. Whilst on this "holiday" my Year 2 break out groups back at school would have to remain in their classes and work within them. I decided this could cause issues for my colleagues who would have to further differentiate their planning on account of me not being there. So I saw the opportunity for an experiment.

What if I could set a whole weeks worth of work for my pupils that would keep them engaged, move them on and not result in me coming back to a large pile of marking after a long week in the Lake District? I decided to use a mixture of all the tools we have been using in my breakout groups to accomplish this.

How would the work be set?

We have been playing around with Google Classroom in school for the last term or so and my maths group have enjoyed the way they can access material I set through their own log on and leave comments for each other under the posts.

Each resource had its own link at the bottom of the assignment.
A screenshot from my Google Classroom feed.
I decided each day would have work set and the pupils could submit this at the end of each lesson. The Google Classroom teacher interface would mean that, should I have an internet connection, I could check up on how they are doing. 

I decided to set 4 separate tasks each day that would take approximate 15mins each to complete, thus filling the hour long numeracy session. Each task would be independent therefore if pupils had trouble with one task they would have 3 others to work on during their maths lesson. Setting the tasks was simple thanks to Google Classroom's simple interface. I selected assignment, and added all the resources for the first day to the one post. I selected the time frame for submission and clicked the assign button. 

What activities would the pupils do?

I focused on activities that would challenge the pupils but allow them to be independent and therefore not disturb the class they were working in. The activities were, 4-a-day, 15 minutes of RM Easimaths , a written method activity involving a brief video explanation and Education City activities.

Each activity was self contained, 4 a day is a daily exercise, pupils copy questions into their 4 a day books and then complete them using strategies they are comfortable with, this also works as a medium for teaching and practising new written strategies before applying them to problems. 

RM Easimaths tracks pupils understanding of different mathematical concepts and pitches its questions to the level of each pupil after a timed 15 minute session the system then shows the pupil how well they have done through a points system that rewards pupils at different milestones. 

Education City is a great resource for all areas of the curriculum. The interactive activities test pupils understanding of a concept and can give them guidance if they are struggling, it is great for reinforcing topics as well as using the tools when introducing new concepts. I used the My City feature to set specific activities for my group and could track attempts and how well they did on each actvitity using the Education City Success Tracker. I could then alter the activities for the group if needed should I have an internet connection.

The written method activity required the most preparation as it was in two parts. The first was a video created using the Clarisketch App, which I have written about before, of me explaining a mathematical strategy. In this case it was short division and the grid multiplication method, 2 videos on each subject, 1 for each day. The second part of this activity involved my self marking spreadsheets, questions were set for pupils to work out the answers using the method described in the video. The self marking questions had conditional formatting applied to the answer cell, if a pupil entered the correct answer the cell would turn green, orange if an incorrect value was entered. Google Classroom creates a copy of the original spreadsheet for each pupil as they start the assignment and using the revision history of each document I could see how many attempts pupils have made at each question and how long it took them to complete the worksheet. 

What happened?

So feeling quite pleased with myself that I had managed to set up 4 days work and only have a little bit marking to do I set off with the Year 6's. Upon arriving at our accommodation for the week the centre staff provided us with their Wifi codes. That evening I eagerly logged on to check the progress of my little group back at school. They had accessed Education City and RM easimaths with encouraging results! Success! However that success was short lived as I checked the assignments that the pupils had attempted. Several comments greeted me on the Google Classroom feed, "Sir I cant wach the video" "My sheet dosint work". My heart sank, was my experiment a failure? Had I not revolutionised remote education? I had visions in my head of my two colleagues back at school cursing my name as they had to deal with a technological crisis in my absence. I messaged one of the teachers and tentatively asked how it went. She was very positive and said that the pupils had all attempted the 4-a-day, RM and Education City quite easily. It was their understanding of Google Sheets that had let them down. I realised I couldn't address this until I was back at school so left an encouraging message for them on the Google Classroom feed and added a few more activities to their My City pages on Education City.

I checked in on their progress over the next couple of days, as it happens there were a few interruptions to the school week that meant maths didn't go as planned on some days, but when they had the sessions they tried their best to complete each activity. Upon returning to school I spoke to the pupils about how they felt using the technology to complete maths activities. They were very happy to play on RM Easimaths and Education City, and some even liked the videos I had created for them. I talked them through the use of Google Sheets and we have since gone on to do some great data handling work using them. I reflected upon my experiment and realised that it wasn't a complete failure and there were some great positives I could take from the exercise. My 6 and 7 year old pupils had, near enough, been teaching themselves that week. Albeit with the assistance of online resources, and it made me realise that as we continue to use technology to challenge the nature of learning spaces and the tools pupils use to learn, we will need to ensure that pupils understand the tools they have at their disposal to help them achieve. 

As my grandad used to say "You can cut a steak with a spoon, but it's easier if someone teaches you to use a knife."* 

*(He didn't but why let the truth stand in the way of a good metaphor?)

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Self Marking Sheets

Instant feedback for students thanks to conditional formatting.

I have been playing around with Google Sheets, a standard feature of Google Apps, to see if I can make use of some of the features found within the app. I have used conditional formatting before in Excel to sort mark sheets and keep track of students scores, because I liked the fact that I could see which pupils were on track at a glance. What if I could give the same feedback to pupils as they entered their answer into a cell?

I set about creating a template within Google Sheets that would be easy for pupils to follow and give that instant feedback. Once the template was set I entered conditional formatting formulas relevant to the operation that the pupils would be working with and set the background colour to green for a correct answer and orange for an incorrect one. As pupils enter the answer the formulas look for a correct response and provide the appropriate feedback.

Here is a link to my prototype sheet, Self Marking Sheet. It is currently in view mode to preserve the conditional formatting, use "file" and "make a copy" to create an editable version, feel free to use it as you want and let me know in the comments if it has been useful.

I am also working on a randomized times table speed grid with similar instant feedback, which I hope to finish soon.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

A quick overview of Clarisketch

A quick overview of Clarisketch

EDIT: I have now added QR codes for the videos to the pupils' books to allow readers to find the video and how it fits into the learning process for that unit of work. 

I have been using the Clarisketch app on Android for a few weeks now, and have used it in several different ways. The app is a voice and annotation recorder with a very simple interface. The app records your voice and annotations to a limit of 2 minutes and then uploads the finished file to the Clarisketch servers. You are provided with a unique URL to view the video, which you can choose to make public or only accessible to those with the link.

The great thing about the app is that the resulting video can then be viewed in any browser on near enough any device with an internet connection. The possibilities for this are amazing and the apps versatility is shown by looking at just a few of the sketches that have been shared on the website.

Within lessons the app has had a great impact on boys writing, engaging them in oral rehearsal of a story and helping them to plan for a retell. We used Pie Corbett style actions to help learn the story of Lila and the Secret of Rain and then sketched out a rough story map onto a comic strip type frame. I deliberately told my group not to add all the details and told them we would be animating the story maps on Clarisketch. Each pupil used the app to take a photo of their comic strip and then they retold the story as they added animated annotations to the story map. Examples of their work can be found here.

Pupils then used playback of the video to help them when writing a retell of the story. This playback not only gave the pupils a verbal reminder of the structure of their sentences, similar in the way talking tins can be used, but also a visual prompt enabling the pupils to access their ideas in two formats simultaneously. This method has produced some great work from the pupils and helped focus them on the structure of their writing. I will continue to use Clarisketch in this manner to see if the positive effect on writing continues.

I have also used Clarisketch as a teaching aid, using the app to explain written calculation methods to pupils as part of my Google Classroom Experiment which I will expand upon in a blog soon.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

QR Codes (or should that be Q Art?)

In school we have been playing around with QR codes with some of the KS1 pupils. They have become fascinated with them and one of the classrooms has been steadily amassing an album of these black and white wonders.

For those who are wondering QR stands for Quick Response and was developed to aid the Japanese motor industry around 20 years ago. They allow for much more information to be stored in them than your traditional bar-codes like the ones you get on your chocolate biscuits.

They have since been used to provide information for a variety of uses such as advertising, parcel tracking at transport hubs and even tombstones. You will most likely come across them in the advertising sense as they provide a handy way for brands to provide you with a link to their online content without the need for you to input the address into your browser.

So how can we use them in school?

There are any number of applications for QR codes in school and as with most things are limited by your own imagination. So far I have used QR codes with pupils for most subjects. 

My maths group loved the QR treasure hunt around school. They scanned their initial barcode which sent them off to find the answers to various maths questions posted around the school. When they arrived back at the class they scanned a final code and it told them how many questions they got right based on the final answer they came back with. This took a lot of planning but the children were desperate to try the hunt again to improve their score.

My original route plan
(scribbled on the back of an envelope)

I decided four questions were enough to start with as that meant having 16 potential destinations for my pupils to end up. I am hoping to create a more ambitious trail but this initial run seemed to work quite well. Just remember to keep all your printed QR codes labelled right up until the last minute. The last thing you want is to have to follow your own trail 16 times to find out where the codes all lead.  I kept track of mine by inserting the QR image into a word document and labeling its purpose and content to keep everything together .

To make the codes I worked out all my answers and associated questions and then went about creating the codes. There are many QR generators on the internet but my personal favourite is They have a really simple interface and you can download or print your QR codes easily. Your QR can easily be copied and pasted into a word document to enable to keep track of things. Just remember to set your QR codes as plain text on the left hand side menu to enable apps to read the code correctly.

Once printed it was a case of putting the trail up around school and showing the pupils how to use the software to read them. We used the built in QR scanner on our Learn Pads to scan the codes, however there are lots of QR readers on the app stores with varying degrees of accuracy, Barcode Scanner on android seems to work well and is free if your device does not have a reader built in.

We have also used QR codes to enable displays to become more interactive. We are currently adding codes to pieces of work that link to files in Google Drive (everything in Google Drive has its own URL). So as long as your permissions are set to "anyone with the link" parents and visitors could hear an mp3 of pupils reciting a poem they have written, just by scanning the code with their phone.

Finally, for this blog at least, we have been creating Q Art codes. Taking regular QR codes and using them as a basis for patterns in maths. The pupils have extended the black and white patterns, using the squares in their maths books, and due to the error correction built into the codes the central QR code is still readable and links to a digital workbook for the pupils to be used at parents' evenings and book scrutinies. 

If you have any questions or more ideas on the use of QR codes feel free to leave a comment or tweet me @trysomeicytea