iBoard and Control

If anyone is looking for a fantastic resource set, for introducing on screen control to younger students, yr 1 and Reception, checkout the iboard resources from Electronic Blackboard. I used three games today with my year one group, from the iboard purple "control it" set, called Cheese sniffer, pollen hunter and fly catcher. As young and relatively inexperienced computer users, many of this group are still learning mouse control, and developing screen to hand coordination. These games enabled a multi pronged approach. They involved
  • Mouse control practice
  • Coordinating actions on screen with mouse movements
  • Decision making about which directions to send the game characters in,
  • Visual problem solving
  • Turn Taking
Cheese sniffer is a two person game, involving input, to control either a grey or pink onscreen and furry mouse. The aim, for your mouse to gobble as many pieces of cheese as possible before your partner's does. It uses an onscreen arrow pad, featuring right, left, up and down to input movements. Children take it in turns to input up to 5 moves before their pad fades indicating the next players turn. Whoops, cheers and much giggling was a key feature of the children's engagement and enjoyment of the tasks. As an IWB resource, as we modelled the activity, it was soon highjacked by the children, giving instructions to their friends from the carpet space. Great fun.

Pollen Hunter, expands on cheese sniffer, with again only four directions, but this time is a maze type game for one player at a time. The aim is to control the flight of your bumble bee as it tries to collect pollen from on screen flowers, before he is caught by a hungry bird. What appealed to me about this was the speeds you could choose for the birds flight, described as "gentle," "slow," and "fast."

Fly Catcher is another one person maze type game, but this time with an 8 direction arrow pad. Here we pretend to be a spider sitting in his web. The aim to control the spider and to try to catch and eat as many flies as possible before they fly away.

For spatial language development, these are fantastic resources, for using to consolidate through paired, group or class discussion, terms such as forward, backwards, up, down, right and left, the foundation of any work we want to do using floor turtles for example, but also particularly useful in the early mathematics curriculum. They are also great for encouraging and consolidating the kinds of cooperative and turn taking activities we expect and want to develop when children work in pairs on the computer, such as the use of gesture and talk, rather than taking over the mouse. Great fun as both standalone tools on individual computers and on the electronic whiteboard. As an advocate of a tool box approach to ICT use in teaching and learning, these are just three of an amazing array of cross curricular materials available in the iboard toolkits, but which will definitely be embedded in our scheme of work as it is reviewed.


Getting our Bearings

Last term I really caught Beebot fever with my year 2 group, but this term I have moved on to using Roamers to develop control with a year 3 group. We will be developing a unit of work, which is largely geographical but which will make a considerable mathematical leap, from the use of preprogrammed right angle and quarter turns with a BeeBot. In order to control the Roamer, the children will need to input numerical values for the size of turns and later I want to develop this work to introduce an onscreen turtle.

I decided to take a non digital approach to over come the problem, and made "floor compasses" with the chidlren. During yesterday's session we began with Beebots, but used them to help us begin making and exploring these tools. First of all we made cardboard circles, and folded these into quarters. Using a ruler and pencil we lined in the folds, and added the four cardinal directions. With the beebots sitting in the centre of the compass, we carried out a series of activities to predict what direction the beebot would face, when we inputted different numbers of turns, either to the right/left, to the east/west, or in a clockwise/anticlockwise direction. This was developed as a small group activity, where children took up positions as the points of the compass and used their cardboard compasses to give each other instructions based on predictions, about how many inputs would be needed to rotate the bot to face members of the group. They could only use east, west, or clockwise anticlockwise, and the number of turns they predicted to give these instructions. At the end of the session, we reviewed how our ability to predict had changed, had we got better? What had they noticed about the number of inputs needed to make the turns in one direction when compared with the other? For example 1 turn anticlockwise or west, would require 3 turns clockwise or east if the beebot were to end up facing the same direction. We ended the session by recording the numerical values for North, South, East and West found on a Magnetic compass to our floor compasses, before further folding them and lining in the additional points which next week will become NE, SE, SW and NW. We will be using these compasses next week when I introduce the class set of roamers I have borrowed from our Local CLC, and hopefully these strange and mysterious numbers will begin to mean something to them, as we get our bearings with the more complex floor turtles. Modelled on the floor, through planning routes and journeys for the roamer I hope these cardboard tools, will become helpful when we move to mapwork adventures, using an onscreen turtle in MSW LOGO, later. Perhaps as intrepid adventurers we should also decorate our compass roses, as they become valuable tools on our onscreen expeditions.


Hunting For Geography Resources

While searching for Geography resources to support a Unit on Using the Internet with our Year 2 students today, I ended up wandering, and in the process came across some real nuggets, some of which address areas I had looked for previously but failed to find and some which I think are real treasures and I don't want to lose. Most of these I have added to each year group's community useful links pages on our school website, but there were three that I particularly wanted to share.

The Staffordshire Learning Net's Visual Geography Micro Site is part of their wider Geographical Association Gold Award winning site.
Find Out About St Lucia from School Train, which I think will be an amazing tool to use with these young students, uncluttered and easily accessible through picture links and reduced text content. Will enable a focus on the browser navigation skill I want to address while at the same time enabling access to information the students will be able to use back in class. Check out the other resources on this site too, as the site is not limited to geography.
Weather, this link takes you to the weather right now in St Lucia, but last term I was looking for a site just like this for colleagues to use with Students in Year 6 which could be used to collect online data for weather tracking and modelling activities, using a spreadsheet.

Collecting on screen assessment evidence from Flowol

I was just reminded through an email conversation of how useful the Smartboard recorder tool turned out to be at the end of term. Having played to experiment with making software demonstrations for colleagues, I wondered how useful it might be to capture evidence of outcomes from the Flowol activities and challenges, my year 6 students had engaged in. Running their Flowol files through their associated mimics, I was able to use the Smart Recorder tool, to captured the onscreen action that their programs produced to a video file.


New Literacies and Multimodality

In a previous post I began to explore aspects of what Multimodality meant to me in the context of onscreen work with 2 Create a Story.

I recently read an amazing book Edited by Janet Evans called "Literacy Moves On:" which I would strongly recommend to anyone teaching literacy in the primary school. Published in 2004 by David Fulton, it is a very readable and accessible text, that deals practically and theoretically with ways in which multiliteracies and popular culture can be exploited in the classroom, and explores how the multimodal world may impact on children's text creation and their views as authors. There are also 2 excellent online publications on multimodality and multiliteracies in the classroom available from the QCA and UKLA entitled More than Words and More Than Words 2. Inspiring stuff.

I was stimulated after reading this book, to reconsider some of my preconceptions about why my students seemingly meandered into unconnected dialogue at the end of their stories. Was it because they couldn't organise their work? Or were they in fact drawing on a wider text world, and playing their story like an episode of Eastenders on some cranial screen, where dialogue unlinked by stage directions and narration, carried their created plot through the physical actions of characters only they could see? Could they see their story unfold as they wrote it? Presumably they must, since the dialogue was frequently linked even if not as expected in the written forms they were presenting. Might part of the solution to mine and their "problem" be to value and draw on this text type as narrative, and engage them more critically with it, to help understand the difference between the oral text genre's I wanted them to write, whilst drawing on the largely visual text of a TV programme as a stimulus or starting point. I enjoyed as an outcome of these reflections, using several animated stories without dialogue last year, in supporting a group of reluctant writers in narrative writing activities. Their favourite was "Bert." Having the visual narrative, to work from really seemed to help them organise events, and understand how to develop the story sequentially. There being no dialogue, they had to really think about how they would describe the actions of characters, and the events in the story as it unfolded. They also wrote reams, and were happy to revisit, revise and develop the stories they had written in onscreen form, using images captured from the film within a PowerPoint writing frame. What was really good to see was them later sharing the stories they had written so proudly with younger students, printed out in the form of picture books.

I would also like to recommend a really good teachers TV programe I came across recently about reading multimodal texts such as this in the classroom. Check it out.

Reading Film: The Lesson
Reading Film: The Monk and The Fish

IWBs: Reflections on Visibility and Readability

This week I have been giving a great deal of thought to some upcoming staff meetings I will be leading about use of the Interactive Whiteboard and designing for learning. While watching Joe Dale's video, I was reminded of some of the issues around readability while using the Interactive Whiteboard with students. His use of Yellow backgrounds with Large Blue Fonts, reminded me of the suggested importance of high contrast, colour combinations and font choice when creating digital resources for use in the classrooom. as opposed to paper based tools. As we move from paper to screen it is easy to think that the process will be a direct transition, but designing for readability within digital environments can present new challenges.

Many my colleagues use Comic Sans as a preferred font, probably because it looks fun and child friendly, but their are other more practical reasons and benefits for using this and other sans serif fonts, eg arial and verdana, when creating digital material. Sans Serif fonts tend to be more rounded, widely spaced and lack the little flicks that Serif fonts such as Times New Roman have. Some usability studies and reference sources have suggested that in digital environments, these latter font types (serif fonts) can cause difficulties for some readers as they can can lead the eye while scanning. Since discovering this, I have made a concious decision in presentation tools such as websites, powerpoints and IWB Notebooks of my own design, to use sans serif fonts.

Colour choice between fonts and backgrounds, are also an important issue to consider when creating your own digital content. Red on green or green on red as an example wreaks havoc with my eyes, described as busy by colleagues I worked with on my degree course, text presented in this way was described as "dancing," "jumping" and "dizzying" by them as we tried to focus on the apparently moving text, if uncomfortable for us consider also what effect this would have on for example a student who exhibited red green colourblindness.

Several articles I have encountered about dyslexia, also suggest that the choice of font size and colour, background colour and column width may effect student ability to engage with the texts we present, not only on screen but also while publishing for paper based activities. On Screen high contrast texts are useful in overcoming some of these barriers, but it is suggested that black on white may not be the best medium, and that a slightly off white background, would be preferable to support onscreen work. For more information on this latter area visit the British Dyslexia Association's website, who offer a useful style guide, not only for on screen text development but also print materials. The site itself is also great for demonstrating some of the ICT based tools available for supporting dyslexic students, including text readers, and includes tools in its design for customising page views which are style sheet enabled. Yellow on Blue or blue on yellow are are often suggested for use in developing IWB resources, I have to say that I don't always use these, but in putting together files and resources I do think about how these texts might be received by my students, consider the fonts I am using and the colour combinations and how these might effect readability. I also try to establish with my students before we begin whether or not they can see clearly, and if neccesary (which is often an issue related to how whiteboards and projectors have been sited in a room) adjust light conditions on the screen through closing blinds, or turning off lights accordingly.

Fonts and backgrounds may not be the only factors to consider when creating resources for use with students. Consistency in style of presentation may also contribute to accessibility and readability issues. This is an important issue to consider for those of us who work with children as emergent readers, this will apply when reviewing and planning which websites we will use, how we will lay out a support sheet, and when it comes to presenting material for shared reading, I have become increasingly aware in planning and making resources of the need to maintain a consistency in style throughout particular documents, and not to mix fonts, colours etc too widely, unless the style change is neccesary for a particular purpose. Eg in making hide and reveals, or highlighting a particular learning outcome. What we need to be careful of however is limiting font use to a single standard house style, for everything we make and use, but being aware of the issues and how they might effect our presentation or reader engagement. It is not I feel useful or indeed desirable to limit the fonts we use, as we do not want children to believe that all written texts, use letters or sound pictures of the same size and shape, which is likely to introduce readability issues all of its own later.

In the smartboard toolbox, there is also a very useful tool for all students, called the magnifier. This tool acts like a magnifying glass and when opened, can be dragged over sections of a page, revealing in another window on screen a digitally enlarged version of what is inside the "lens." I have found this particularly useful in highlighting sections of text on internet pages, and enabling the students to see for example web site addresses, without the need to copy them to a notebook and enlarge them.

These are only a few of the issues, and relate to ideas I will be considering as a with colleagues as a starting point when considering notebook design for students. If you would like to explore usability and readability more widely then a few useful starting points might be.
The British Dyslexia Association
Jakob Nielsen's usable information technology
and the US Department of Health and Human Services Usability Web Sites

I was also interested to read an article By Anthony Evans on Web Page Reading a few weeks ago, where he had begun to explore how readers engage with web based texts.


Making Drop Downs with MS Word update

Thanks to Joe Dale for his comment and pointing me to his very useful blog and video tutorial about making writing frames which include drop downs. The video is a great walkthrough for newbies, with handy hints, including how to change "dropdown" background colours, font size, style and adding online help for students and other users. Special thanks from me for the tip about inserting spaces before and after the menu entries. There are host of other fantastic support tools, links and resources in this rich space, focussed on Integrating ICT into the MFL Classroom. Since these are language focussed, many of them are readily adaptable for use in the primary literacy hour. Check out Joe's Blog at, Joe also presented at BETT this year, and his blog spot about this, with direct links to the video above and more can be found by following this link.


Drop Downs: MS Word as an Interactive Resource

In this entry I want to share the use of the "drop down menu" creation tool, which has enabled the often static texts I have created using MS Word to become more participative. Using this tool created and shared texts become firstly cloze and multiple choice based activities, but combined with the IWB and our imagination they can also take on dynamic properties.
Digging up a Hidden Treasure
Hidden to many of us within MS Word, the "drop down" tool is part of the "form tools" set. Going to view/toolbars and moving down the available list, and clicking forms opens a floating toolbar we can begin to use to add some degree of interactivity to the shared texts we create with and for our students.

Inserting a Drop Down Menu

Working with a prepared text, a "drop down menu" can be inserted from the toolbar where the cursor is placed in the document. Once inserted, double clicking on the form element opens a dialogue box. In the drop down item box type a word or phrase and press the add button, repeat this to create your list of choices. To the right of the dialogue box, the list of words or terms in your dropdown list will be appear. If you make a mistake, simply click on the error and click the remove button, to remove it from the list permanently, or correct it and press add to put it back. Closing the dialogue box returns you to the word document you are working in. At the moment you cannot use the drop down list as you are in the design view. On the Forms tool bar is a padlock, clicking this button, protects the sheet, but also reveals the drop down arrow. Clicking the arrow opens the list you created, and so access to the choices. Unlocking the sheet again means further drop downs can be added, or double clicking on existing objects, new words and phrases can be added to an existing list.

How Have I used Dropdowns?
  • To create files using shared story ideas and text level elements developed during shared and guided writes.
  • To provide shared activity files, that allow children to select from ideas, lists of words and phrases, developed over the period of a class shared write, to create their own versions of a class created story.
  • To Facilitate class and paired discussion about word choice, sometimes innovating on files developed and published within the National Literacy Project. (eg Grammar for Wirting Tasks).
  • To focus children on common spelling errors and structures, by giving lists of the different ways familiar words have been spelt within class activities, and requiring the children to identify the correct spelling from the list.
  • To explore the correct use of homophones, providing sentences which require the children to discuss and choose from different forms of the word eg their/there/they're, or one of our particular problems is deciding when to use our and are.
  • To play with sound pictures as a class during phonics sessions. eg using several dropdowns and large fonts to generate words as a class on the interactive whiteboard and playing games such as inviting children to change one letter or sound picture to change a rod into a place where peas grow, or a fish etc, this extended the common sound button activity to engage with the meanings of the words we were generating.

Like so many of these tools though, playing with them in the classroom context opens up many more doors and possibilities, as we engage with them imaginatively. Thanks goes to the Secondary MFL Team during the Interactive Project, based at the University of Bristol, who first introduced this technique to me. Would love to hear from anyone else who uses or finds this technique useful.


Treasures to Recycle

During recent work using Branching Databases; to help my students understand how to develop null questions, I made a Smart Notebook that included simple two branch trees, and collections of similar themed objects to be sorted. In between each tree page I added 2 others and from the clip art gallery inserted a treasure chest and a recycle bin, which became background images for each of these. The file can be downloaded by clicking this link.

We began by dragging objects from our theme sets to the top of the branch and practiced asking and testing questions which we thought would split the pairs. As the session progressed questions which were found to work were dragged from the tree page to the treasure chest, and those which didn't were dragged to the recycle bin. We went on to use the questions in the recycle bin, as discussion points to help identify, the features which made good null questions. The challenge for the group was how we might change these recycled questions to join the treasures, that we already had available for use in our sorting trees.

This strategy has since been used in guided and shared writing sessions. Working with partners to create "Super Sentences" and "Story Openers, students were encouraged to discuss, rehearse aloud and then draft texts on small whiteboards. These were then shared and recorded on a blank notebook page. Drawing on a recent INSET session, where we were encouraged to "steal" super sentences, for display as models for later, I used the treasure boxes and recycle bin instead as tools to collect and sort both the super and the not so super sentences. Rather than rejecting them, the not so supers, became a focus for task extension and discussion. What might be done to them, so that they might be promoted to become treasures? The children suggested improvements, involving reordering words, adding WOW words etc, and revised sentences were promoted to the treasure chest.

Models of quality work are great, but heavily dependent on our student's ability to see and understand what made them great in the first place. Working and reworking texts and text elements on screen together, I feel really helps to support emergent understanding, of what makes a good text. Through shared evaluation we can begin to understand what the song sheet we are being asked to sing from really means. It also illustrates in action the potential benefits of using ICTs within the writing process. In contrast to using ICT solely as a publishing tool, text input is not seen as an end in itself, something to get finished before we move onto the next thing, but rather as part of an ongoing process. A starting point to be revisited, edited, revised and improved as part of an ongoing series of activities, and where the relationship between reading and writing becomes an explicit element of the activities and discussions which evolve. Engaging children in the review and revision process encourages ownership of class texts, as shared works as children see their "bits" transformed with the support of others. Combining this type of activity with the wordprocessor, through for example the use of drop downs, values the shared resources present within the class as a community of writers.

Using Dropdowns, which I have written about in another entry, enable children to use individual and paired activity to engage further with these shared resources, considering personal or group preferences for word and phrase choice. Despite all working from the same text elements, being able to mix and match phrases, actively engages students in reading and rereading, and creates a diverse range of outcomes. Students are frequently surprised at how different, individually published texts are, even though they began from the same starting point. But what is the high point for me of such activities, is how even the most reluctant recorder is able to develop a text of which they can be proud, and are keen to celebrate their success through the sharing of their outcomes with others.


Drag and Drop versus Raspberries and Giggles

A common problem I encounter in using the Smart Board are the sounds made and the repeated dropping of objects brought about by pushing or dragging against the surface with the skin of our fingers. Continual contact with the surface of the board is neccesary inorder for objects to move when we drag them, but friction between skin and the board, either makes those "rude" noises that the children giggle about, or cause our fingers to move unevenly and bounce across the surface, leading to us dropping the object we are moving, and returning it to the home space we collected it from.

Try teaching students and yourself to invert your hand, so that it is the back of your finger nail that makes contact with the board. This makes it easier to apply continual pressure to the object being dragged. Because the finger nail bends under the slight pressure needed, and because it is relatively smooth it will also move over the surface of the board without emmitting the dreaded raspberry and is more likely to remain in contact with the board. If moving from the Promethean or Hitachi board environments to the Smartboard for what ever reason, or just looking for another method of engaging with the board, then pen here can also be used as pointing tool. By pressing the pointing tool icon on the Smartboard's floating tool tray, then your pens can be enabled to act as pointers, and used to drag and drop objects about the board.

Bad Dog: Exploring Hide and Reveal Techniques for the IWB

Does anyone remember the Sierra After Dark Screensavers from the 90's? My personal favourites were The Flying Toasters, swooping across the screen to the background theme of Flight of the Valkyries, and a character called Bad Dog, who would during periods of prolonged absence, sneak onto the screen and dig it up, pausing occasionally to glance for my approval, before plodding onwards in my continued absence to bury my folders, dig up bones he had left earlier, or chase the pesky cat. I hadn't run this software for sometime, and was asked to take a year 1 class last spring, being allowed to run the day from my own plans, I took as an opportunity to explore some of the affordances of the smart Notebook, and how I might use the tools it offers to develop a theme based day with children of this age group. Obviously the screensaver set, with some of it's content, as a resource was not appropriate to use, but bad dog as a character and his antics inspired me to think about how I might use him to engage the children, as we explored a text together.

Hide and Reveal

Hide and reveal activities are perhaps the most commonly used techniques with the object based Smart Note
book software. In hide and reveal the layering functions of the notebook are exploited to develop "interactive" tools to work with children. To be successful in creating tools and carrying out this type of activity we have to be able to visualise the software environment as if it were 3 dimensional. A useful analogy for using hide and reveal as a technique within this environment is to try to view it is as if the pages were constructed like layers in an onion. The page itself being the background layer and in the middle of the onion. Items added to the page by the user "piling up" one on top of the other, as they become additional layers in this digital root vegetable. Try drawing two rectangles on the page with the Notebook, and you will see that the last object you drew when dragged over the first one will sit on top of it. This is the basic principle of hide and reveal, an object placed on the page last can become a draggable mask, or by selecting objects you have created and using the layering tool from the menu, you are able to place these objects on different layers in relation to others. This opens a host of possibilities for how the tool can be used to support problem based teaching and learning. During the day I spent with this year 1 group, I tried out a number of these hide and reveal techniques with the notebook, using Bad Dog in part as my supporting cast!?*

Preparing Tools and Resources: Getting the Media Together

I love using stories to support and frame work with younger children. Examples from the past inclu
de using the "Light House Keeper's Lunch," and "The Iron Man" to support Design and Technology activity, and "Mr Gumpy's Outing" " The Owl Who was Afraid of the Dark "and "Peace at Last" to contextualise science activities on Materials and their properties, sources of Light and Sound, as well as in their obvious literacy hour contexts. One of my favourite texts though is still Jill Murphy's "On The Way Home." This Shaggy Dog Story, tells how a little girl having had an accident in the playground walks home to tell her mum, but before she gets there she meets a number of her freinds, and tells them increasingly outrageous stories about how she got "her bad knee." I decided to use this text to support my day. First of all I scanned the text inserting the pages to a notebook to act as a shared text.

In additi
on to scans from the book I also needed Bad Dog to join me on my adventure. I downloaded a screenshot image from the web, and using the freeform select tool in the Smart Toolbox, ectracted only Bad Dog and the mounds of earth he had created from the image to use in my progressing tool. Using copy and paste, and the clone tool, I was then able to make a set of bad dogs and his mounds, to act as masks for various sections within the activity, or to act as sound buttons in the phonic tasks I would later develop as the book progressed.

(Update: 04/09: The original screenshot image I used to make my notebook has unfortunately been moved. I have been unable to find it again and so have uploaded my cropped images. Images originally from After Dark Screen Saver, Bad Dog published by Berkeley Systems 1989)

With all the objects I needed to create the book, I could begin work on the resource set itself. Within the book I included many hide and reveal activities all of which were slightly different.


  1. Rub and Reveal: Using the title page of the book as a background layer, I began by "sending it to the back" and then "locking it in place." I selected the pen tool from the menu, and then custom to increase the thickness of the nib, to the largest possible width, changed the colour to the same as the background, and then coloured over the whole image hiding it behind a layer of "ink". During work with the students they were invited to use the whiteboard eraser to rub out areas of the "ink," gradually revealing parts of the picture behind it. Encouraging inference from the picture about what they thought they could see, I questioned them about the reasons they had for what they thought they could see encouraging use of visual cues in the picture to support their suggestions. Only children who were following "quality audience" routines were invited to take part in the board based activity, which helped focus attention, and encourage engagement. Eventually as the whole image was gradually revealed we were able to identify all of the imaginary characters that the little girl in the story would meet.
  2. White on White: This was a technique first introduced to me by my father several years ago, for my own sanity, when I began sharing desktop published items with a wider audience. As a teaching and learning tool this technique also proves useful as a hide and reveal technique in the smart book environment. In this book I changed the page colour to dark blue, and drew a sky blue star in the centre, sending the star to the back using the layering tool I locked it in in place. This was now the frame for the rest of the activity design, which set out to be a look and say task, but has since proven useful in engaging younger children in Look, Say, Cover, Write and Check activities, using small dry wipe whiteboards as support tools. On the now background layer I inserted a collection of numbered High Frequency Words, selected from the text we were going to read. By default these were coloured black. I followed the following process to create a set of text objects. Firstly I created one text object, and used this to set the text size and font shape for all the objects I would use on this page. I then copied the text object pasting the number I needed on the page. I Then arranged the objects on the page, double clicking on each one to edit it. Firstly I changed the number, and then added the word. Highlighting the word only, I changed its colour to the same dark blue used on the page background. Clicking on the page, the number was now visible in black, but the word had become invisible against the background that shared its colour. I repeated this process for all the words I needed. In activities with the students children following "quality audience" routines were invited to choose a number, and encouraged to gradually drag the number into the sky blue star, revealing a letter at a time from the high frequency word. We invited predictions from the other students about what the full word might be, asking reasons for this, before revealing the next letter and asking if this changed their minds and so on. Eventually the full word was revealed, and a new child selected by the student at the board based on our "quality audience" rules. To help prevent friends, and children of only one gender being chosen we introduced the idea, that if we were a girl we must invite a boy and vice versa. On another blog recently I found a reference to a tool which looks great for helping with selection of students for tasks such as this, called the hat, this piece of currently freeware allows you to input a class list, and then to randomly select children from a list to take part in activities such as this. Recently I also used this hide and reveal activity to support whole calss Look, Say, Cover, Write and Check activities with year 2 children. Dragging a word into the star by student number choice, saying the word together, and then hiding it to try writing on small white boards, before checking and discussing what we had written in talking twos by dragging the word back into the star. I am sure that you can find numerous other ways that you could use this tool too, incuding missing word, number and sign problems in literacy and maths.
  3. Cover Up: In this technique a created or imported object is used to hide another, or parts of another in the notebook. This is where Bad Dog emerged as our companion, and engagement gimick or element within the text of the story. We all have heard of the story of how my dog ate my homework, but what about the idea of the dog sitting on my story, or digging holes in it. I began by inserting the images I had scanned from the book, sending them to the back, and locked them in place, to prevent accidental movement during the activity I had planned for the students. I then began dragging copies of Bad Dog and his mounds to the pages, placing them over the high frequency words I had highlighted and worked on earlier. I also placed them over frequently repeated words, later in the text. Working with the Students, hiding words in this way, supported prediction either by reference to the sound pictures being revealed gradually, or by encouraging inference and prediction based on textual repetition or through reading on and back. In essecnce the character helped create cloze procedure we could engage with physically, but with the added "Oh! Bad Dog," chorus from the students as we engaged with the story. For those who struggled in engagement the activity became a scanning exercise as they began to search the page for Bad Dog or his diggings, that they came to see would invariably emerge on the pages as we progressed through the book as we read. This tool could also be used to support activities with children where missing object questions are presented, in Numeracy or literacy, and the solutions revealed for shared marking and peer assessment later.
  4. The Magic Box: This techniques was introduced to me through a session with Keith Ansell from Bristol LA, from work done with a KS 2 teacher around odd and even numbers, and though not part of the activity book has been added to extension work on onset and rime, medial vowel sorting and counting tasks I have carried out with younger students. This technique exploits the layering tool by enabling some objects to be hidden behind another, while some are brought to the front, giving the impression that some objects go inside another while some are rejected. An example of how this was used in class was in a counting and subtraction activity, I used again with year 1 students. The back story to the task was based in Little Red Riding Hood. The wolf while waiting for the little girl had become peckish, and in grannies kitchen, found a plate of doughnuts she had made in anticipation of the Hoods visit. The plate was sent to the back, and locked in place, to avoid movement. The doughnuts were then placed on the page, all were selected and then brought to the front, to ensure all were on the same layer. Finally Big Bad the wolf was added to the book page, enlarged and placed to one side of the page, he was now the front layer. With the students, we used a "flash" object dice from the gallery to help decide how many dougnuts he would eat, used bead frames to calclate how many dougnuts would be left on the plate, and then checked our calculations by having the wolf eat them, dragging the doughnuts to be hidden behind the wolf layer as he gobbled them up to lip smacking support from the students, before recording the number sentence which represented the problem. This activity as described is very similar to the cover up task described, but what if we were to replace the wolf with one of the little pigs, and said he only collected objects that rhymed with pig, we could replace the doughnuts with objects that rhymed, and create another set of objects that didn't, bringing these to the front. Now when we dragged these over the pig, words that rhymed would go behind him, and those that didn't would would stay at the front, and be rejected by him.

As I said earlier I love using stories to frame work with younger students. Using the IWB and these Notebook techniques we can with some prethought engage students with the texts we create. In the final example three forms of representation were used to support development of one concept, involving all students. A frequent criticism of IWB use in the classroom is that they are used as teacher boards, essentially as projection surfaces. The assumption is that in order to support learning the whiteboard must somehow be engaged with by all children, the idea that interactivity only involves engagement physically with the board is a nonsense, as we all know that thirty children can not touch the whiteboard at the same time, so we must engineer and design learning contexts which enable whole class participation. This invariably means a multiple tool approach, where one child or the teacher can engage with the board physically while the other students use other classroom tools to engage with the activity developed for them. My favourite resource for this is the small dry wipe whiteboard and paired talk, though as we saw in the last activity we could equally use bead bars, number lines, number or letter fans, or laminated printouts of the screen we will be using, indeed any tools we have available which will involve the other students in interacting with the task/text we have created and each other.

In the final session I began to develop above, the whole activity set again was based around a story. As the students were exploring fairy tales in Literacy, I developed the introductory numeracy session around Little Red Riding Hood, firstly picking flowers for grandma in the wood, and using this to count and then create subtraction sentences as she picked flowers, moving to the big bad wolf, eating doughnuts both working on the take away model. Later I included a competition between two of the three little pigs, collecting apples in the orchard, to explore the difference model, and subtraction as comparison.

A common concern I encounter is the idea that the ICT resources we need in the classroom or for the IWB must already exist on the internet. If they don't then it seems we may be prepared to we make do with something that is close, even if it doesn't meet our needs completely. Teacher imagination, creativity and innovation in the classroom is instrumental in the outcomes we gain, and tools such as the smart notebook, which is available for use as a suite for anyone using the whiteboard type, can enable rapid creation of tools which meet our needs and requirements more directly, if we engage with it in combination with other sources. The step by step approach deployed above makes the process of resource development appear very slow, but these activities were put together relatively quickly once all the elements I needed were together in one place. Now I have a collection of these with different characteristics, I am also able to use what exists already as templates or starting point for innovation in the development of others. My watch word would be that in learning to use a tool it always takes some time, but as we become familiar with the processes involved we become quicker and more efficient. Try out some of these techniques for yourself.


BOT d'abeille

Year 2 finished their BeeBot Games today, before wending their weary way off for a well earned half term break. Having missed the last session, due to a Briefing last week, I spent time this morning reviewing how the students had progressed without me. We carried out a group check in, where the children explained how far they had got with the process, shared the back story to their games and how the games they were making would be played. Some of the ideas they had developed were amazing, and I was surprised at how they had stuck to the task in my absence. A couple of the games had evolved to a recognition by the students that they might need to make shopping lists for the beebot, and one or two had begun to suggest that they might be improved by using dice. The session evolved into a 15 minute challenge to complete the games they had made, ready for a trial activity with their friends. I decided to carry this out through a "jigsawing" process. The children were brought together and divided into groups so that one person from each game making group was in each game playing group. The games were then played as a carousel, where the person from the game making group explained and demonstrated to the others how to play their game, giving the opprtunity for each game to be played, as the groups were rotated around the games. The children loved it, there were one or two problems with taking turns, but the social purpose of such activities with young children as we know, is to enable them to learn and practice these skills. Interventions today were not solely about ICT skills which the children had already aquired and were consolidating, it was more about sharng success, cooperating, and beginning to establish ideas about evaluation of the products outcomes, and the process elements of their projects. Being able to talk about our activities, and make decisions about how we might improve our use of ICT are key elements in the assessment process regarding children's engagement with ICT activity in the primary National Curriculum. This activity proved to be one way to begin engaging these young ICT users with this process.

In review, the children had enjoyed teaching their friend to follow paths, they liked the bit when they showed them how to dance, inventing a game to play with their friends had been good fun too. But they were also critical of their presentation, how sometimes the footprints they had drawn were not in the right place, or how they kept forgetting to clear the bots memory, before putting in new instructions, they could have made their game cards a bit bigger, and they needed to concentrate more to colour in and stay in the lines, and practice cutting out.
Both classes also asked today if they could have a beebot for their classroom and if they would be able to play their games with their friends and teacher in golden time this afternoon. This is great, as I have recently ordered a site licence for the BeeBot software which I hope they will enjoy using with their teachers next term. But now I also may have to find money from my new budget in April, to consider their request for a classroom pet of the programmable and motorised kind. This has special significance as they are now in competition with other colleagues and students who have been caught up in Beebot Fever. One example of this being a couple of Key Stage 2 colleagues, who borrowed Les BOT d'abeille (I hope this is an adequate translation) to suport small group consolidation of directional language use in french lessons this week. I hope the planned purchase of Pro Bots, for Key Stage Two, and a borrowed set of Roamers next term will spur us on to greater things within cross curricular control activity.


2 Create a Story, Multimodality and Onscreen Text Development

The apparent first glance simplicty of many of 2 simple's products often hides the huge power of the tools that lie behind their interface. 2 create a story for example has a hidden yet powerful tool which enables the youngest of students and their teachers to create web publishable content at the drop af a menu. As well as being able to save a file in it's 2 create a story format, these can be exported or saved from the software in the same format used to publish for example the National Numeracy Strategy's ITPs, Flash. These self contained and playable packages can then be included in your web site, or shared via the network or on the Interactive Whiteboard as standalone texts.

Last term as a 2 create newbie, I was excited by how quickly our year 1 and 2 students could compile a text using 2 create a story. The desktop view is very similar to the newsbooks, my year 1 class used to have when I began teaching, with a space to draw a picture at the top, and a box to write in at the bottom. To the left of the screen is a set of thick and thin felt tips to draw with, or using teacher controls a wider range of drawing tools can be offered to the students. The abilty to add new pages was quickly exploited by the students, who were happy to draw their picture and then add a sentence, or input their emergent writing and names, for editing, revision or teacher modelling below. The students also seemed to like the idea that the software's page structure could be used like a storyboard. They could create their story in pictures first and then go back and add there writing afterwards, using the pictures as a scaffold or writing frame, allowing them to effectively sketch out/plan their story through talk first. Another exciting aspect for them, was the ability to animate their pictures and add sound effects. Without knowing it these children were compiling multimodal texts all on their own.

The concept of multimodality within texts is likely to be one of our biggest challenges. At it's root it challenges our basic understanding of what a text is, and what the terms text and literacy for the 21st century may mean. During my masters course I engaged with a unit entitled "Communication and Representation with ICT." I have to say that it blew my mind, unfamiliar terminology and a lack of vocabulary, due in part to my recent immersion in traditional text types through the National Literacy Strategy, left me frequently floundering to express my thoughts and understanding. I vowed never to go near the idea again. However in engaging with my dissertation and video analysis, I have found myself unable to avoid it's theoretical basis. Within methodological papers, I discovered that in choosing to collect and analyse video data I had commited myself to reading the data as a multimodal text. Oh woe was me. Anyway the key concepts explored in this study unit related to Semiotics. Putting this simply is quite difficult, but essentially semiotics as an area of study is about how signs and symbols are used to create and achieve meaning. What is apparent when you begin to explore texts in this way is that communications are rarely dependent on one mode of representation in order to be understood. We tend to see reading and writing, speaking and listening as individual activities, but when someone speaks they gesture and intone, and these change the meaning of what is being said. Even taking a reading book from the Oxford Reading tree for example, it can be considered to have multimodal properties. We have the picture above, the written text below, and the children will be encouraged to read this aloud drawing on the visible resources on the page, and past experiences they bring to the story. When these elements are put together in action we have at least three modes of communication, two symbolic forms and the sound of the child's voice. When we create a text in for example 2 create a story, we have the three modes above, but we also have the possibilty of including movement through animation of the pictures, and the possibility to embed sound effects. All of these add further texture and depth to what has been created, and how the overall text can be interpreted. Each new element added to the text creates new levels for interpretation, not only by the reader but also by the author to consider in their writing. The author as designer, has to make decisions about which sound to add, which type of movement to input, and whether they are doing this because they can, or whether they structure this to enhance the text they are creating. Eg Do we want a spooky sound when we are taking a walk in the country? Do we really want the car, we took a drive in to shoot into the sky and explode, if later we will drive up to our door in it? Or do we want it to drive off the screen to the left going forward or to the right in reverse? Multimodality, in this context would see the author as designer for meaning, the text needs an audience and a purpose if it is to be meaningful. The student may be writing for themselves, for their teacher, for others through publication to the web. Choosing the elements to compile their text from a toolbox, requires them to begin thinking about their readers and how they would like their text to be interpreted. Infering from their own writing they might be considering what meanings their reader will take from their text and need to reorganise and structure it's elements accordingly.

On a word level, as a school, we have introduced, a programme for phonics which sees letters as being sound pictures, symbols or images which represent the sounds we make when we speak. Referring back to the ideas of multimodality and Semiotics above, and applying this to the keyboard on the computer, when we input a letter character, we are also inputting representations of the sounds we hear when we speak, and want to write. I have begun to include 2 create a story and Tizzy's presenter as scaffolds, and to apply these ideas as we seek to develop keyboard familiarity with our younger students. This is enabling the younger students to use the computer to extend their emergent writing, by applying their growing phonological awareness to develop texts which use spellings that are increasingly phonetically plausible. As children are introduced to two letter sound pictures and high frequency words, they are encouraged to use these in their texts. In some of the sessions children draw their pictures, and in some they select graphics from a clipart gallery, and add simple texts. Some times we use a sentence start. Eg I am... or Once there was... and the children extend and complete this using their emerging understanding of how the phonetic system they are using works through keyboard input. All sessions begin together, using the Interactive whiteboard's keyboard, and children work together to sound out some of the words or structures we are going to use today. In Year 2 we also use small dry wipe whiteboards, and children rehearse their sentences and texts aloud, they use familiar words directly, and write first unfamiliar words they want to include, which can then be checked and corrected by the teacher, with celebration of attempts they have made, or discussion about structures they have used. The benefits of using ICT and writing directly to screen however is that children can have a go first and the temporary nature of text means that work for publication can if neccesary be corrected on screen, without them having to go back and rewrite the whole thing. I say if necessary, because some spellings even though incorrect, are fabulous and worthy of celebration. They give us clues about what to do and where to go next, and provide encouragement to write on. In school I would be happy to display them in the writing area, though if publishing to the web or for a wider audience, would want to discuss the need for accuracy in the public domain. Initial drafts can be saved to the network as evidence of their independent work, and saving the file as flash, after editing or revision means we have a web publishable, or playable document. Paper based writing for publication by many of our students can be demoralising, especially if they have spent an age creating it and then they may have to go back and do it all over again. Perhaps fine motor skills let them down, and no matter how hard they try, their handwriting never looks good enough to them. As a tool for supporting the writing process and reluctant recorders, tools such as 2 create a story offer enormous potentials. The writing space is small, and the students feel great when they have written 5 pages. Structuring input, as annotation provides the possibility for students to structure their own work chronologically and develop their own writing scaffolds. The ability to alter font size enables differentiation of expectation for student input. Engaging with onscreen text development encourages and promotes keyboard familiarity. Once in the frame, students may be happier to go back and extend their work, revising and adding wow words, as they do not have to rewrite the whole thing. Coming back to texts in this way encourages reading and rereading of drafts. I know I am certainly better at this since I began using a word processor. Seeing keys as sound pictures, potentially enables links to be made between the multimodal aspects of traditional text construction, and the idea that symbolic text represents what we want to say. All children are expected to label their texts with their name. We are also extending the idea of starting all of our sentences with a capital letter (using the shift key) and ending them with a full stop. We see these as magic Keys, as they help us change the way text looks and also the way text is read. In year 2 children frequently choose to use 2 create a story independently. Next steps are to extend this type of activity to become an integral part of the literacy hour or topic based activity in class.

Thanks to a post by Anthony Evans earlier this term I have played further with 2 Create and learned I can import photographs and images from outside of the software. I didn't realise before this article that you could, it is all 2simple 2make assumptions based on face value. I have also worked with some students to apply their own recorded sounds including voice to the texts they develop. Last week with a group of year 2s we created a simple multimedia text as an experiment. They imported their choice photographs from a visit to Slimbridge Wild Fowl Trust, inputted simple sentences to describe their favourite parts of the day and recorded themselves reading their text as a background for each page. It is very simple, but very powerful. I wanted to use it to introduce the idea that speech marks surround spoken phrases, and intended the students only to read the direct speech elements of the text. They were too excited for this unfortunately, and if you read our multimodal text, you will see they read the whole thing. However, they enjoyed sharing the outcome with their classmates and teacher who were wowed by what they had made. Their partner class are now desparate to make a story like it, and so I will need to find the time in my busy schedule to do this. I am looking forward to reading about what Anthony and his lead teacher group have been doing around Literacy, ICT and the new Primary Framework.


Restructuring My Subject Leader File: Musings of an Admin Bound Man

Last weekend I spent engaging with the data I have collected to date, regarding the state of play and progress I have made against the School Improvement Plan for ICT, since my appointment as ICT subject Leader in September.

When I began my computer hard drive was a maze of folders containing plans, photographs, samples of children's work, PowerPoint learning stories, scrutiny summaries, documents in progress, Excel Spreadsheets and the usual downloads I thought would be useful at the time, but had not got round to looking at again... My key task was to consider how I could organise this wealth of material into something which was useful to me, and accessible to others who might want to see it as part of the school's self evaluation framework.

At the moment I am also mindful of a Masters Dissertation project, which is pining for my attention, a process I really want to complete by the middle of August or earlier. Over the last couple of years I have found myself engaging with the ideas of Neil Mercer, Wenger and Lave and Jerome Bruner among many others, but who particularly have helped me to begin framing thoughts about how teachers and learners work together to create shared meaning and understanding in ICT mediated learning contexts. Using and exploring the use of ICT as a teaching and learning tool, it is becoming more apparent to me just how much of a learning event or process is transient and "missable" as it is not neccesarily manifest within the files and paper based outcomes students produce as a result of their activities. Using video data of students and teachers working with ICT particularly, I have frequently found that evidence of learning is often manifest in their actions and the discussions they have, or in the review and feedback stories they tell. These shared stories have common themes, because the lessons have a common structure, and we use these to construct shared meanings from our diverse engagements, and to lay foundations for future learning. The interfaces created between teachers and learners seem to act as spaces where we use talk about our common experiences to think together and negotiate common understandings, developing shared starting points for future learning, within the ongoing journey or story we share as a community of practice. Building on this during my MSc Course, I began to wonder how I could capture these events and journeys in a meaningful way, and began using digital photographs, in combination with PowerPoint and SmartNotebooks to help me explore, organise and share the learning events I and my students had engaged in. These "Narratives of Learning" became an integral part of my classroom practice providing feedback and feedforward, acting as assesssment for learning tools, enabling children to discuss and review previous activities, and me to plan for future learning based on what had gone before. Classrooms as "communities of practice and discourse," are created to develop shared learning experiences. Teachers and their students work hard together to achieve this establishing shared group identities and cultures embedded in common histories and manifest in the works they produce. So what has this to do with what I set out to do last weekend, well, this has a striking resemblance to me of the purposes of school self review and evaluation, where we share a journey as an organisation, evolving a culture of learning from our shared practice as we go, engaging in a journey of continual improvement towards shared goals and aspirations. I have begun to believe that all learning journeys including that of a school as an organisation is an iterative series of events, and policy statements, action plans and monitoring activities should be seen as snapshots in time, part of this ongoing developmental process. Very much like classroom learning narratives, I want within this self review framework, my subject leaders file reflect progression and continuity over time. So my thoughts last weekend moved towards how I might develop a format to begin telling the story of how ICT as a subject culture is evolving within my school. Redeveloping my Subject leader file and portfolio of evidence as a "Narrative of Learning" for the school. I decided I could best achieve this by creating a web page based navigation system, which would allow me to organise and structure the digital material I had begun to develop, using my web browser as a means to display and access my data and enabling me to open frequently used files for editing and saving, by hyperlink. This will also allow me to show progression in work as it evolves by saving, highlighted, annotated or significantly updated files in a hierarchy, through the instalation of new hyperlinks to open these as new documents are added. Also since much ICT based curricular work will be computer based, linking these into the portfolio means that they can be viewed in their native format, rather than on paper, where access to the process or dynamic content may not be readily accessible, visible or complicated to evidence. (eg hyperlinked powerpoints, or spreadsheet files involving the use of formulae). Essentially I have begun to create a navigable filling system where everything I need is in one place, organised and categorised for ease of access. To enable use of this structure as a Learning story, the web page interface affords the possibility of adding dates, commentaries and so context to the link, through reflections and additional text support about how and why the particular activity was carried out, or to enable cross reference with other sections of the portfoio.

Within this system I have initially set up 5 main folders.

  1. Assets where I am housing things like Spreadsheets we have created to monitor and audit software, how many licenses we hold, ELC spends, etc annotated with comments about why the kit was bought, and how it relates to curricular use and our scheme of work, as well as the very useful BECTA ICT Investment Planner.
  2. A CPD folder, containing details and evidence of training and support work carried out within school , and CPD questionaire data.
  3. A policies section, which is fairly self explanatory, although as I reviewed above, I would like our ICT related policies to reflect a change in ICT culture. By renaming our existing policy an ICT Curriculum Development Framework, I would like to aline this set of documents more closely with the SIP, BECTA self evaluation framework and make them flexible enough to be adapted in response to our vision and the technological and social changes which emerge constantly around the uses of ICT. Making them more dynamic documents, will enable us to adapt as an organisation in response to identified needs and changes, not only within the school but from the world outside.
  4. A scheme of work area, in which to house and create links to our evolving existing documentation, and resources developed in support or relating to how we are adapting to bridge evolving curriculum policy and practice, and a growing portfolio of how ICT looks in practice across my school, as we respond to the challenges of Self Evaluation, CPD and the changing curricular landscape and culture. Also within this section will be a school assessment portfolio with evidence of student work.
  5. And finally a self review folder, which houses an adapted Word version of the BECTA Self evaluation Framework, to be annotated and referenced to other areas of the portfolio, or our school website, which is also a source of rich data about what has been happening. Within this section are also our last OfSTED report, progressive annotated and highlighted existing SIP documents, which represent the state of play when I assumed my role, and those which have and are developing in response to the self evaluation framework and school needs.

Hopefully this will eventually represent a "service History," and learning story for subject based and cross curricular ICT development within the school. It has been abit of a chore, but as with all things like this, moving paper based systems to the computer takes time to establish, and as it develops hopefully it will become more manageable as we are able to simply drag and drop new evidence to the file system and link it in with supporting annotations, and seek to establish the idea of a toolbox approach to teaching and learning with ICT. Hopefully it will also mean handing a CD Rom to visiting school improvement officers, inspectors or external assessors, rather than the sack truck, my colleague needed when she met with OfSTED on their last visit. Since the system is currently housed on my laptop, it also means when I meet with colleagues or the leadership team, I should be able to access what I want when I need it, or link in material we develop there and then. The files should also be uptodate versions of works in progress.


FITS and starts

This morning I attended a briefing about BECTA's Primary Framework for ICT Technical Support in Schools. The session proved very useful in helping me think about planning the logistics of change and transitional management of ICT at an institutional level. It provides guidelines and a structure to frame the delineation and definition of roles and responsibilities within the diverse functions ICT serves in the school context. I would strongly recommend that anyone who has not seen this framework, reviews and shares it with their head and leadership team, as it highlights the central and key roles they play in the strategic management and development of ICT infrastructure. Another tool I would recommend if you have not accessed it yet is The BECTA Self Evaluation Framework which has proven invaluable in supporting my action planning for ICT within our School Improvement Plan this year.

Why FITS and Starts? Today having engaged with colleagues around the framework, I now have an additional tool to kick start an aspect of my action plan for this year which was beginning to flounder, and which we can use as a supporting structure within our ICT management toolbox, to establish and scaffold the organisation of hardware, software and infrastructure management tasks. Using the template files within the toolbox, and the function structure of the framework, we should be able to quickly enhance our current monitoring structure, making strategic planning for systems design, hardware deployment and use of technical support more effective.