Thinking Together

I have been asked a number of times recently about by local colleagues and visitors to these pages, usually questions revolve around how easily students engage with the environment and whether or not they really use the spaces to work with others.

In answering the first question the students do find the environment relatively easy to work with. When modelling how to use the space I have tended to describe it to them as a modular system rather like a construction set. Lets say we want to build a car from LEGO, then we get together a set of bricks with axles, and add wheels, we use transparent bricks to install windows, and other pieces we collect together, we arrange on a base to develop the vehicle, adding modules or bricks as we go rearranging them to gain the effect or shapes that we want to achieve. With we initially have a base, or blank space, and as we want to develop the space we insert modules or widgets to do or hold particular things. If I want to add text, I insert a writing brick, if I want to insert a picture or two I add a picture brick and so on. If I want to rearrange them I use up and down arrows to move them about the page, and likewise if I want to reorganise my pages I can do the same, using up and down arrows to change the order.

I visited our community this afternoon, as I had asked a group of students I am working with on a DT project to set up a new page to record and log the progress of our project to share ideas with each other, and to seek help in collecting materials we might need in order to develop our project when we return from the half term break. I had proposed that the pages could also act as a space to collect together group thoughts about how we might present our project to the judges at the final exhibition day in June. In this example, the student had visited our school website and blog, in order to download images he could use to support his presentation. He has also inserted a hyperlinked list to direct other community members to our project blog, and added a brainstorm/discussion board to his page inviting other students in the community to contribute ideas to his project. Other members of the team have followed suit, and within the discussion boards the group are beginning to share their thoughts. He has also contacted me through think, using email, to ask questions consolidating his thoughts about the project, and offering suggestions about how I could alter and edit the web pages we have uploaded. As an active member of the community, he also takes on additional responsibilities offering support to other students who want to know how to do things when an adult is not online, and acting as a "think buddy," highlighting and pointing out transgressions from our online agreement when visiting other pages. What was touching is how as a year six student he has also kept a Blog, during SATs week that made very interesting reading. Within our community he is not alone in this.
Although we have some students who use their spaces as display boards for favourite footballers, pop stars, wrestlers and the like, this weekend has been a bit of a special time for Bristolians, with the confirmation of a double promotion in the football league, and this has been a stimulus for a change in the upload process, with male students particularly and as young as year 3 suddenly uploading images of the Gas and the Robins with supporting text, and photos from the local newspapers. This is I feel more than justification for providing spaces like this for students, particularly as we have many reluctant recorders, and in order to engage with this environment and the community as a whole, the students must engage textually. Writing about city or rovers, is a start and something which interests them, this space has enabled and facilitated a sharing of interests. Writing for a purpose, identified by them, and for an audience of peers.
As an environment Think has many possibilities, and everytime I visit it I encounter student innovation and creativity. Three of my favourite favourite spaces are a gaming space developed by a year 6 student, an e zine style space constructed by one of our year 6 girls and the agony aunt style spaces built by our school councillors, who regularly update in order to seek opinions through the use of votes and discussion boards. During our end of term review, the year 3 and 4 students who were introduced to the environment for the first time this term, suggested a host of things they would like to develop with their class teachers, such as utilising the space to collect ideas and thoughts for their VCOP work, and the big writes they engage in in class. They suggested publishing research and topic based pages to their think spaces, and unlike many of their older peers who have tended to use Think rather like MSN and My Space, these students were keen to write and publish material about what they were doing in class, have written short poems and uploaded images relating to topic work, before going off to engage with their peers, through interactivities published around the material they had uploaded. This bodes well for future developments and use of the space as an embedded tool for cross curricular ICT development. What needs to happen now however, is full involvement by colleagues to build on the enthusiasm and excitement that the space has generated in their students, to structure the space for their use as a collaborative learning environment. It would be great to see think used regularly within literacy hours, as a starting point for or as final outcome for the presentation of classsroom activities. Watch this space.


Bill and Ben's Outstanding Adventures

Thinking about back stories for the Airbus DT Project some of my students have been working with me on I began wondering how we might present this. As you might guess from recent posts Comic Strips have featured prominantly in the work of our year 6 students, creating caricatures and telling stories.

The props for our DT challenge, have been centred around two Play People, who for some reason or another must use the vehicle we design to escape safely from something. I visited the Playmobil Website for inspiration this morning, and in the Online Shop found some scenes, from which two characters particularly cried out, "caption us! Liberate us from this cage of two dimensional meaninglessness!" Never one to refuse anyone in such obvious distress I downloaded the Hazmat Team to my PC and Using Microsoft Publisher did my best to help the fearless pair express themselves, and share their current predicament.

Playmobil is a resource which many of us have in school, and perhaps don't readily recognise as an ICT resource. However listening to students as they engage in or describe their activity following role play activities, or while reviewing game play using computer games, their is a striking degree of narrative development which takes place and which we could draw on to promote and support writing activity, both on paper and onscreen. I do feel however that we need to broaden our view of what writing is in order to achieve this.

Using ready made images like the one above to prompt the creation of comic strips is one way, of making the link, but we could extend this to enable the students to develop the scenes for themselves. Using Playmobil, as an example, how about using table top and found materials to create dioramas and scenes in which to place our characters, rehearsing stories orally, and using Digi Blues to capture significant scenes, which the children might later add sound tracks, page turning effects, animation or written text to, by importing the images to applications such as 2 create a story, MS Photostory or Powerpoint. They might also import the images to Word Processing Packages or Desk Top Publishers and add speech bubbles and Captions creating their own comics for class or web publication.

Why stick with static images when you could make movies.

New for 2007! "Bill and Ben's Outstanding Adventure." Coming to an interactive whiteboard near you!

Building on paper based storyboarding activity, or emerging from role play, maybe set in the dioramas the students have made, stop motion animated movies could be made using digi blues. As actors in the film, The Playmobil characters star in the adventures that develop, and springing from their 2 dimensional cage of meaninglessness, or comic strips onto the big screen. Sound effects, voiceovers, music and visual effects could then be added, drawing on the planning framework provided by a comic strip, or a script provided by the speech bubbles and added during editing in perhaps MS Movie Maker.

I have been asked by my year 6 colleagues this term to work with them to help them and the students who are moving on, to create an alternative leaving service for their parents. It would be great to draw on the multimedia and multimodal experiences the students have had this year and brought to school from the world outside to develop something special and more than the previously powerpoint laden event. Pondering this morning perhaps we could use Playmobil characters or other toys and props to help them represent the adventure they are about embark on including some stop motion animation, pixelation and digital video work, to support this, alongside the other means of representation they are familiar with.


Post Script To Captain Underpants

Here are a couple of First Attempts from the gang using the Captain Underpants Web Site. The titles in themselves are fantastic, and made me want to read more...

There were some concerns from the students about how to keep these comics, which appear on the web in Flash Format from email links. This led to discussion about how we could keep these to share locally, on our blogs or website. My suggestion to the students and their teachers is that they should do some screen capture work, using the print screen key on the keyboard to capture each page from the comic strip individually, and then pasting the resulting image into photofiltre for cropping, editing and saving.

Using these edited images, the students can build on their recent multimedia work with PowerPoint, to make navigable slideshows. Inserting their comic strips as background images to the slide, and then adding action buttons, which will not only mean linking pages together, to be turned onscreen, but also the possibility of adding additional effects such as sound and animations to support transition from one page to another, affording an additional dimension and texture to their comic strip texts.

This is a completely new experience for many of my colleagues, students asking how I can use the computer to do this, rather than what are we doing with the computer today. And exactly where I wanted us to be as a school by July. The Students now want to share their completed texts on their blogs, or through their community pages on the school website, this either means signing up with for example slideshare, but more likely means a little extra work on the Y6 community pages. Can't wait to publish the outcomes...


Captain Underpants Comic Strip Maker

This Website featuring a comic strip maker comes highly recommended by our Year 6 students. Really good fun. Scholastic's Captain Underpants .

Phonic Photos

Following the link in Keith's ICT Applications in Literacy Post, I came across a reference to phonic Photos. I figured this might be an opportunity to play with one of the Microsoft Powertools I downloaded the other week, and try it out in practice with our school website. The application, HTML Slideshow Wizard, is quite simple to use, and the shows you make don't have to be web based, you can pack them and go if you want to look whizzy by saving them to a flash drive, for use on your laptop or sharing with colleagues on your network.

Here is a sample ch or th slideshow, I uploaded to our school website this evening. The images I found by "Googling" a collection of "sh" and "ch" words, and then saving them to my computer. Using the slideshow wizard, I browsed for the folder I had saved the images to, selecting the ones I wanted to use, and then following the wizard step by step to produce it. To run the show, you browse for the folder where you saved the show, double click on the default.htm file and the slideshow will open in your Web browser. I think the outcome looks pretty slick.

Immortalised by Y6

Thought I ought to share this amazing caricature created by one of my Y 6 students this week. Thanks Cal. It is an amazing piece of work. Note the pouches and suitcases. Too many pies and late nights.

Just one question.... Who did you say it was meant to be?

How cool is a blog? Final sketches finished 2.15, scanned in the suite... 2.30, published and live to a potentially global audience by 2.40.


The Summer of 90: Logging Change in Key Stage 1 and Foundation

While recently updating our school website, reorganising the student project section about the new school being built here, I suddenly found myself thinking about how much the place had changed since I first began working here. I have worked here since I graduated, taking time out occasionally as professional development opportunities became available, but always being drawn back. Exploring the photos, and trying to recall and visualise what used to be here when I first arrived, it dawned on me that I was engaged in the kind of activity I would expect from students, engaging with images generally but akin to analysing data collected during a logging activity. Looking at the material collected by the school documentation group, and the blog being developed by our year 1 students currently I have found myself as a result thinking about what emergent data logging and analysis might look like in practice.

Data Logging is usually identified with Scientific activity, and associated with the use of Data Loggers and sensing devices, but has a broader application it seems to me, on reflection, in plotting and recording change over time. With younger students, loggers and their outputs are very abstract, but there may be other tools we can use to introduce the process in the Key Stage 1 and Foundation Classrooms, where observation is based on first hand experience using all senses.

Data Logging part of an observational process. Within the ICT curriculum it relies on the use of digital means to remotely collect and store of information (data) about events as they unfold over time. This data when presented visually either in real time or in retrospect allows us to draw on the evidence presented (usually graphically) to tell stories, identify patterns, draw inferences based on what we have observed (or Logged), to this end multimodally speaking, it might also be considered a literacy based process. Science one at Key Stage 1 sets out to promote student's observational skills gradually encouraging them to relate these, drawing simple conclusions and making predictions based on their observations and growing body of experiences. I am reminded here of a something which happened during my NQT year.

My first class were a family grouped year 1 and 2 group, and outside our classroom we had a large asphault surface, with a concrete wall around it (all of this has now gone). That summer it was very hot, and the windows and doors were constantly open. Outside we usually had at least one activity set up, and one week I set up the painting easels, and water tray for exploratory play. During One session there was a desperatation by all to go outside. I thought to begin with that this was down to the heat, but it turned out they were fascinated by something they had discovered. That morning a pair of children had taken a container of water from the water tray, a brush from the easel, and had begun painting pictures using water on the wall. Their pictures had mysteriously begun to disappear. Beginning at the top of the wall and working down, by the time they reached the bottom of the picture it had almost vanished. Not to be beaten by this they would go back and begin all over again, only to have the drawing disappear again. I had watched this intrigued by what they would do next, and as the day went on the children as a class became increasingly drawn into the phenomenon, and eventually came to ask if I knew where their pictures had gone? This was too good an opportunity to miss.

We sat down as a class to discuss their problem... To many of the class it seemed like magic, but as we talked and drew on their experiences, children began to suggest that perhaps the water had dripped off, it had soaked into the wall or it had gone up into the sky... We recorded their thoughts, and when the following day I "accidentaly" spilt the contents of the water tray, I asked them to predict what they thought would happen next. I had a feeling that morning, the day was going to be a bit strange, and so I had brought my camera with me. We went outside together with chalk and drew around the puddle I had made, taking photographs of the marks and shape that resulted. Every 30 minutes or so, a group of children were sent outside to record the puddle again and a photograph taken to record what had happened since the last time, this was repeated throughout the day.

Unfortunately in 1990 I didn't have a digital camera, and IT work was limited to borrowing the school's solitary BBC B for any work I wanted to do with the computer, immediacy of output meant a 24 hour wait, and collecting my photos from Tescos on the way into work. In class we looked at the images and discussed what we thought had happened. The puddle hadn't gone all at once, it had taken a while to disappear so what might be happening. The suggestion that the puddle had soaked into the playground was not really likely, as we might expect the pavement to be damp, it took nearly all day for the puddle to disappear completely, and this left lots of time for discussion, speculation and conjecture, as we huddled and grouped, hummed and haahed! I still feel this is one of my best ever science lessons. The children were completely sucked in, we made a class book using the photographs we had taken, telling the story of the "Mysterious Vanishing Puddle," with a host of possible conclusions, all written in the back by the children themselves, and drawing on the related observations we had made and logged over the course of that strange day. The children loved their book and would sit in small groups talking about it in the book corner and share it with visitors who arrived.

With the emergence of Digital Photography, combined with multimedia authoring and Web 2 environments, this type of activity now has enormously powerful potentials, not only with younger students but across the primary school, in supporting the telling of "stories of change" and "logging" learning or observational data from process based activities. Recent examples of this process in school include our Year 1 student bean diaries, Year 2 using their digital camera to record the development of eggs and chicks in a clasroom based incubator, photographically supported recounts using 2 create a story and powerpoint, and the use of comic strips and story boards to support the telling of stories based around events and school visits. Key Stage 2 Blogging activities and Web Site projects about the new school and Airbus Challenge also represent learning stories, using images to log change and development.

The use of tools such as digi blues and tuff cams, if seen as data logging devices and observational tools, enable this process to be placed in the hands of the students, using community activity and discussion to select approriate data and evidence from the sequence of events for inclusion in the emerging stories. From a scientific point of view the Digital Microscope and also time lapse videos such as this, borrowed from You Tube, might also provide similar opportunities to observe changes, which would raise health and safety concerns in the primary school, but which support Science Work on Microbes at Yr 6.

while the use of webcams set to capture images over time, satelite images showing moving weather fronts from space, and the use of meteorological data from websites also enable comparison to be made of local weather conditions with those in a remote location .


Writing With Sound

Thanks to Keith for this. Have been feeling under the weather a lergie of some kind, and having a bit of time on my hands I wandered off at his recomendation to visit the pages of a local school who have uploaded some fantastic persuasive writing.

It has cheered me up no end. Not the least of which because its not just writing, but writing with sound. We have been thinking a lot lately about podcasting, and I have been talking to colleagues about multimodal texts, while considering alternative outcomes for writing units in literacy, that use ICT to drive them. These Radio Adverts with jingles, created by Yr 4 students at SS Peter and Paul Primary, are fantastic examples of how a writing unit has been developed and adapted to embed ICT, through a media genre, to create high quality writing outcomes.

What makes them multimodal? The text presented uses expression and intonation to support meaning making and maintain the attention of the audience. They have devised jingles and sing these adding a musical texture, while including the range of features which we would associate not only with the genre of radio advertising but advertisements generally. It is aparent from the quality of outcomes that they spent considerable time preparing scripts, and rehearsing them before they were presented. Writing for a purpose, with a real outcome and.... as part of your audience I think they are fantastic. Well done all, I hope you have many visitors, I will certainly be sharing your work with my students and colleagues. Really inspired. Now to get cracking with Podium, engaging my colleagues and students in writing with sound, Thank you your fantastic examples, will really help me.


Mr Mills I can play the Rosiephone!: Surfing With Year 1

This week's Hot Site from year 1 emerged from a mini theme on Pets. The Canine Gang's learning with pet's fun page. Learning to play the RosiePhone, as Pup Idols, raised whoops and cheers, and lead one child in the Plenary to say "Mr Mills I can play the Rosiephone, its good because you can make it bark and stuff too." In addition this flash based page also allows children to record, though unfortunately not save their compositions. Another favourite was Muffin's Mix Up, where the children could swap body parts to design a puppy, which before printing they had to give a name to.

This site really is fantastic as a resource, and has been very well thought out. All of the activities are obviously embedded in developing understanding of the needs of a dog as a pet, but also have very strong cross curricular links, particularly in the ICT curriculum, not only as an internet resource, but also within strands such as control, using mazes to take your dog for a walk. Input and output through activities such as Pup Idol mentioned above. For older students or as a shared class task another fantastic resource is the doggy database, where inputting information about the type of dog you might like, or engaging with provided scenarios, help support and identify questions we may need to ask when identifying a suitable pet dog for different people. Check it out. Dig deep and stay a while.

Structuring Web Use With Students

Our year 1 students are currently working with me in our Online Classroom to explore the internet. I may appear a bit of a party pooper in saying this, but there are key skills and concepts to learn even for these younger students, and a host of potential e safety issues surrounding suitability of websites, and how we manage access to those sites we want them to work with. My experience tells me how children click off a site when they are bored and wander off. In my early days within my current role, students would ask if they were going to play on the internet today. When given access to the web during freetime at the end of a unit of work, they would gravitate towards a handful of very limited sites, such as cbeebies, paperdolls or in the case of the older students they would try to access or search for gaming sites, frequently blocked by the LA firewall. There are some questions around the wisdom of generically blocking websites, but for the time being , perhaps this is an essential prerequisite step, in the protection of all, though as anyone with any web surfing experience can tell you you cannot bolt down the system completely, and often the most unlikely keywords within search requests can return some dodgy (a very technical word) search outcomes, some of these which may not be readily evident on the surface or until pages are reviewed, or regardless of the relevance to the subject you set out to find.

With very young children it can be difficult to limit and provide "Safe Opportunities" to explore, and at times a chore to set up the Network room or Computer so that they all have the same web sites in front of them as starting points for the session. We do however need to emphasise the role of the internet as a learning resource, as well as a place to have fun and play. And I particularly want to emphasise the role of the teacher, as with all ICT based activities, in planning and preparing these experiences.

It was interesting in my student interviews recently when asked about the ICT experiences they enjoy, how students openly said they had enjoyed using the internet with me, but were disappointed that they didn't "play" their anymore. I took this as a backhanded compliment, when they went on to say that the sites they had visited with me were fun, and had helped them to learn about what they could use the internet for, and helped them find out things. The older students loved for example using, because they had made their own web pages, it was a bit like MSN because they could sticky their friends and send email and the other social webspaces they had used at home, because they had used stuff they had found out or collected on their pages. They also mentioned how they had enjoyed making PowerPoints that were like the CDs they had played with. The Three Bees had helped them to think about what they were doing. So even though not free play or free searching, structured learning and fun were not exclusive, just different to prior experiences. It is possible by selecting the sites we wish our students to use carefully we can enable a balance between what is considered play and what is the purpose of the internet in school to support cross curricular "work"and the specific teaching of ICT skills. How do we manage this process however requires time and careful consideration of the resources we select and use. My strategy for this has been to use web technology itself to support me.

There are a number of possible strategies, some more difficult to manage than others, and dependent on the age and experience of the students, but all involve careful preparation for the sessions by teachers or other adults and the collection of bookmarks. For this post I offer 2 ways of doing this one, an individual teacher solution through the making of simple web pages to provide direct links to the pages you want the students to use, and the second a whole school approach through the inclusion of bookmark collections to your school web site.

Making a Simple Web Page Book Mark Collection with MS Word

For many years I have used Microsoft Word as a platform, to set up simple computer based web pages to support web based work with students. This is not dependent on the abiltity to code pages, and requires only a change in the way you save your pages, the rest draws on your ability to wordprocess an type. It is not as difficult as you may think.... HONESTLY!

You may have noticed how when you type a web site address into a Word document, the software automatically inserts a hyperlink. Some of my colleagues find this an annoyance, but I have learned to see this as a benefit, as this also happens if you copy hyperlinks from the web browser's address box and paste them into Word inputting a space or return afterwatds. You can then insert a picture next to the link or a text description to remind yourself or point older children to what is available on the site when they follow the link, or what you expect them to do when they get there.

Copying further useful links and repeating the process builds up a bookmark collection, around the theme you are working on or as in the case of the year 1 students I am currently working with it would provide links to a range of sites I had chosen for them to explore around the objectives and outcomes I have identified.

Once the list is complete you can use all your wordprocessing skills to bullet the lists if in plain text, add and resize images as reminders, organise and group your links into categorised lists by copy and paste or drag and drop, add headings to the catgories, change the font etc. If you feel adventurous you might even explore using a table on your page to act as a place holding device.

When finished your list you should save the file not as a word document (.doc) but as a web page ('htm, or .html), and in Word this is quite straight forward. You click save as, locate the place you want to save the file, give your file a name, and then in the file type box, where it usually says word document, select web page from the drop down menu, before pressing the save button. You can come back to the file and edit, make additions or remove links by opening it in word later too, and then resave to update the file.

To use the file you have made, find it on your computer, it will have a web page icon, with blue e, if you saved it as a Web Page, it will open in Internet Explorer or your default browser, and clicking links should take you to the pages or sites on the web you have linked to.

Managing use of this file is possible by copying and pasting it to the computer desktop, I have tended in the past to keep a copy of the original safe, and to copy and paste this for students to use, on the desktop of classroom computers. On the network, I place one copy of the file in a shared folder, and then show the students or support staff where to find it, and how to open it.

Using The School WebSite or Learning Platform

On our school website, each year group has a "learning Community Area," and within these community pages a collection of web links which we are building to support theme based work. Our school website has been set as the home page for all browsers within school, so when we log onto the internet, the first page we see is our school home page. My aim is that all students and staff see this as a starting point for school based internet work, and something they can contribute to. As we educate our students about the internet as a virtual place, I hope we can enable a progressively more open approach to the web as a learning tool. Our site does not prevent web searching, and indeed in the lower corner of the page a Google search tool is embedded, however this has been set to safe search, and as I know this may not always return "suitable sites," we have recently installed Hector The Protector, and I have actively encouraged students to either hide or turn off monitors and then point out pages they are uncertain about. I have also set up an account for staff with the social bookmarking site, and intend this as a central place where teachers can add web sites they find useful and reviewed, or want to use with their students. From here as the webmaster for our school site, I will eventually be able to use these bookmarks to make additions to the school's resource bank and year group community pages, on a regular basis.

Returning To Year 1

Our Internet work with year 1 has been linked to classroom based activities, but centred around the principles of what the internet is, what we can see there, how we get around and the things we can do. We have also focussed on the multimodality of web pages and observation of what happens to the mouse pointer or cursor when we move it around the page, how do we know when we can do things on a web page? How to make our windows bigger, and how we move pages up or down. Where can we find windows that seem to have vanished? The interactive and dynamic elements of pages have been central to the activities we have presented on line, focussing in and using pages which exhibit sound, movement and pictures to have fun with the ideas we are learning about, mixed with the serious stuff of navigating, interacting with and getting things to happen or done. This has also been linked to exploring CD Roms, laying foundations for understanding that information can be stored, saved and used in different formats.

Using the school website as a teaching resource (maybe even a learning platform), to support this learning has been a key feature of the sessions. Children have been taught how to find the places we want them to go, by learning how to find their way around this place. They open up Internet Explorer, and our home page appears. Where is their community Section? Where Is our class Blog? What have we been doing in class? Where can we find the weblinks section? Using these as places to explore the web concepts we wish to develop, in a guided yet exploratory way. I am not just saying this but the children have had a lot of fun exploring the sites we have provided for them, and this evidenced by them beginning to visit sites from their community pages in independent classroom work.

Notes To Self

One of the things I have learned form this experience is that perhaps the early years communities I have set up do need some editing and review, and we may need to include some pictorial/iconic buttons to support emergent web and oral text literacy. I will however not remove the text based links, as the expectation to use these has challenged the student's use of phonic cues to find them, or to seek help from adults to enable this, and this in turn is a valuable experience for them in their desire to engage with the material and understanding that words carry meanings. Perhaps the use of picture buttons, in the early years alongside Text based hyperlinks, might support pace in the use of the community pages when locating specific areas we want them to use, nonetheless once there they will still need to locate resources. Perhaps the use of Theme based images would help support identifying what each section of the links page was about, and make narrowing down the search zone easier for them. Will have to look into this with the children during the assess and review week for this unit.


Wilbur Helps Out Again

Have uploaded another three Wilbur Helps Outs to our School Website. These include an introduction to 2 Create a Story, Getting started with Bee-Botology and Part 1 of a guide to using the tools in

If you have not used, and have wondered what the environment looks like behind the scenes, or how some of the basic tools work, then this is a chance to see.


Bee-Bots Down Under

A group of Colleagues in Australia are exploring the use of BeeBots in the classroom, developing their own activities and floor mats and have developed this blogspace to enable them to share what they and their young students are learning in the process. Beebots have foraged in Ilford, Boogied in Bristol and much much more besides. Now check out what these industrious wee beasties are doing down under.

Thank you for sharing your blog with me, I look forward to visiting often and directing my friends and colleagues to read about the work you are doing.

Lightning McQueen: Control and Show and Tell

It is two terms now since I worked with the BeeBots and Year 2, and they are still excited about the work we did. I work with this group every Friday and one of the children excitedly came to me yesterday with a toy he had brought for show and tell. Lightning McQueen from the movie "Cars," made a guest appearence during our check in. I asked what had brought Lightning to class today and was told, how he was like our BeeBots only different, and how he thought I would like to meet him. Programmable toys are available in a multitude of varieties these days, but this toy particularly was nice as it's control inputs were readily identifiable by the child as being like those he had used in class. Making links is an important factor in the progression of any area of the curriculum, and I wanted to share this today, as it is the first example I have encounterd in my school of a student making links between a classroom based control activity and his real world experiences. It is a real step forward for me in terms of how far the children's ICT capabilities have progressed since the beginning of the year. As a class we spent some time discussing with him how the toy worked and having him demonstrate this, this was not only good for him, but also then enabled children to talk about toys they have at home that work in a similar way. It made me think of an earlier post, and how as part of an emergent aspect of the ICT curriculum I really want our students to see control as a meaningful and relevant aspect in their lives, and to begin identifying and evaluating control systems in the world around them. Using toys as a starting point might be just such a vehicle to begin enabling children look beyond the interface, and develop oral evaluation and visual disassembly tasks drawing on the personal experiences students have of control in the real world. Thanks J, not only did you make my day, but you were an inspiration.


Spot The Inference: Using Video and Multimedia Authoring In the Literacy Hour

I haven't embedded video to my Blog, before, so this is a bit of an adventure for me. I thought I'd give it a go with this particular entry to give a context to the sessions I have been developing, using digital writing frames with two different year groups in school this term. I also wanted to share how I have used the same digital text, to introduce and extend children's skills using mutimedia authoring tools, while supporting writing outcomes. The video I have been using, and which is embedded below, is the computer generated, animated short "Bert," created by Moonsung Lee. 

My Sequence For Reading This Video

As I have spoken about in previous posts, I have been using video data to inform my classroom research project, and this has in turn begun to inform the way I use Video snippets and short films with my students as literate objects. Video as a text presents meaning in several modes, and sessions involving video require us to engage with these as we do others. With written texts we engage with them on a word, sentence and text level, with a video I tend to view them on a visual, aural and whole text level. To begin the unit we spent time "watching" the film in different ways:

I minimised the movie, and we listened to the soundtrack. Bert is great as it has no dialogue, there are lots of sound effects to listen for, and a jaunty score which changes to reflect mood. Every now and again I would stop the film, and encourage the students to discuss firstly in pairs and then as a class what could be heard
and to infer what they thought was happening from the clues they could hear.

I muted the sound, and we watched the movie as a series of moving pictures, pausing the film at approximately the same points as before, cueing the children to recall the sounds they had heard in a particular section, and focussing on the actions, the facial and physical gestures of the characters. Using these to devleop inferences about feeling, and to predict actions that might happen next.

We watched the movie with sound and pictures together, and spent some time rehearsing and retelling the story orally before beginning our own versions of the story.
Preparing To Write.I have a copy of Bert in MPEG format, and have used this previously to support narrative writing and recount in the literacy hour. For previous table top units of work, I created and used Smart Notebooks with drag and drop storyboards, to support sequencing and oral storytelling.

To create the Notebooks Quick Time Pro was used, to capture significant scenes from the film and to save these as image files. These images were inserted within the Notebooks, to support sequencing and discussion of how the story unfolded. Images of characters, featuring facial expressions and gestures, were also used as prompts to support discussions about feelings or why characters might be behaving as they were. To some images I added thought bubbles and speech bubbles, and using "pair and share" or "talking twos" used small drywipe whiteboards to encourage discussion and suggestions about what the characters might be thinking or saying. Since the film is without dialogue use of images such as these out of sequence, also enables revisits to predictive tasks from previous sessions. What happened before this? What happened next? and facilitates the use of inferencial skills to consider why characters might be doing or saying what they are, drawing on the visual cues and the student's sense of events drawn from the aural and visual evidence within the film itself.

From this immersive work, I went on to develop student's own versions of the story through collaborative storyboarding and comic strip type activities. The Writing outcome initially being to orally retell, using images their versions of the story to the class. This immersive approach I found worked particularly well with struggling writers, who were able to use the visual narrative to support their independent work later.

The last time I used this movie was with a group of reluctant writers, and students who had significant literacy difficulties. Our unit's final outcome was based onscreen, and used images captured from the movie in MS PowerPoint, as writing prompts to support creation of a picture book for younger students. This term I have developed the unit to become two multimedia text units one at key stage 1 and the other in Key Stage 2.

Extending This To Develop Onscreen Multimedia Texts

This term I have drawn on the activities above to develop familiarity with the story, but have used the images captured previously to create digital writing frames.

In Year 2, I was asked to use a unit originally about graphics and text to support the student's understanding of features of recount writing. We have been using 2 simple's 2 create a story, and Bert as a context to support this. Before we began the onscreen writing task, the children helped me to choose 8 images from the movie and 2 create a writing frame, inserting the images before saving the file to the network. The children then worked in pairs, opening the shared frame and drafted their texts on screen, using the images as writing prompts. On completion of their writing the children were encouraged to think about what they had written and choose animation effects for their images that would help support the story they were trying to tell. Finally they were asked to add sound effects to the page that would add to the feelings of the characters and action within their story. I have published the first completed text to the school website.

In year 5 we are extending their experience of digital texts by writing a digital story book for younger children, using PowerPoint. The story is much longer, and as well as using images from the film, they are inserting action buttons to enable their readers to navigate the story on screen. We have turned off the onclick default setting for slide movement, which means that the strories they produce will function very much like a CD ROM story in slide show view. Some of the students have asked if they will be able to include sound effects, as the CD ROMS they have used often jingle when pages are turned, and also about the possibilities for having their story read to their audience, or hiding sounds or actions in the pictures. These types of questions I find particularly exciting as they reflect an awareness of the creative potentials of ICTs in the classroom, which we may overlook. They reflect student knowledge and experiences of digital technologies, experiences we tend not to utilise or draw on in our need to teach particular skills, or perhaps because they are beyond our personal experience. They also reflect a move I actively encourage, the "how do I get the computer to do this, rather than what can I do with the computer today" approach we often see in classrooms. We discussed how we might be able to achieve some of these, but time is an issue here, though I really would like them to have the opportunity to build on this interest and the excitement and sense of achievement I am sure it will generate. I had planned to insert page turn sound effects, and am considering how we might insert hyperlink effects through image hotspots. We also have the software environments available that would enable the students to create self made sound files to read the stories through action buttons (and on mouseover), in the form of Podium and Audacity, this however will mean the children needing to work in small groups to create these. Watch this space for further developments.

7.5.07 a practical place to engage with E Safety

Began that E Mail Unit with Year 3, but have decided to take a slightly different tack. I have opted to adopt the Environment as a place to work as an online community and a place to practice e safe procedures. My decision has been supported through Surveys carried out with Students using tools within the environment itself and data collected in recent interviews with students, which in part regarded their online activities outside of school, and their uses of mobile technologies.

Of 103 students surveyed, 80% across Key Stage 2, from year 3 to 6 have their own Mobile Phones, and more than 70%, have access to the internet most via Broadband from home. From conversations I have had, many of those using the internet regularly, also have MSN or Social Web Space accounts, and several of the Boys in upper KS2 are regular players as members of Multiplayer Gaming Commmunities. Surprising to me however, were the students in Upper Key Stage One, who said they had Mobile Phones, some of which they had received for Christmas, and one of whom mentioned using MSN (hopefully under supervision!). I also had a conversation last week with one of our parents, who felt able to discuss with me some of the issues they had already needed to address with their eldest child, and who expressed how pleased they were that we were seeking to engage with the issues surrounding online safety and behaviour, so actively with our younger cares.

Our School Contract and Code is known as the Three Bees. And within this contract children are encouraged to

Be Responsible
Be Respectful
Be Safe

Within this framework, classroom based contracts are negotiated at the beginning of every year as classroom communities are established Through PSHE or SEAL sessions, what these mean to us as members of the community, ideas about what they look like in practice are also developed and consolidated through practical activities as we seek to establish commonly understood guidelines and codes of behaviour. It is my desire that within this framework we ultimately develop and embed our e safty work.

Within ICT sessions earlier in the year I engaged older students in helping me to write an Internet 3 Bees Student Charter building on the familiar and established framework we already had for classroom communities. It is important that our students recognise and are able to transfer skills and approaches from their everyday experiences to their online or technologically mediated activities, and I feel that this requires experience, and engagement in supported online activities.

To support this process I have opted to use the environment within taught ICT sessions, focussing on email and other aspects of online communication, from Year 3 to Year 6. Within our Scheme of Work, I hope to tie use of this environment to our PSHE and SEAL curriculum, as a place to practically engage with our E saftey guidelines, but the environment offers so much more, as a cross curricular tool to encourage collaborative work and thinking together. As we move towards the introduction of VLEs, we need to be careful that we do not see these solely as homework repositories, but that we see them as vehicles to support and diversify our views of learning with ICT and not just delivery systems or storage spaces. Hopefully when we do adopt a VLE formally the skills students and teachers develop within think will be transferable to the more formal environment. enables students to develop up to 10 pages, where up to 6 page elements, text, multimedia or dynamic can be added on each, using widgets to do this. It also provides each student with an individual student.yourschool email account. I have just been visiting some of my Year 3 and Year 4 student pages, who after 2 sessions in the suite, as with the older students, are finding little difficulty in using the tools available to them to engage with others, and to add interactivity to their pages. Indeed they are offering support and help to their friends, by sending stickies, inviting them to visit their pages and helping to include things they have done. Using the widget structure their is the potential to engage children in collecting and sharing ideas, collecting data, and uploading and publishing work which can be seen by and commented on by a real audience. To enable this environment to be used for practice, and for school based e safety purposes I have set access options to limit their access to the wider world community, creating a "walled garden" type environment, where they can work, and through monitoring, we can promote the e safety practices which the space is intended from our point of view to promote. This could be altered later, as student experience develops but for the time being we are concerned to use this space for school based online tasks.

Currently I am working on a new E Safety Policy for school, drawing on templates borrowed from the LgFL, (thanks Anthony for this link). Within this the priority for us must be to recognise and acknowledge the diversity of experience our students and colleagues bring with them, and the naivity as well as expertise we have within our communities. A cybecafe mentality is not an appropriate perspective on the use of the Internet. Many of our colleagues may be unaware of the online behaviours of their students, or the potential dangers they face. We need to find ways of making these considerations as transparent as road safety and stranger danger are when we take students on a school visit. E Safety considerations are not a matter for scaremongering, but about using common sense. We have not stopped taking children on school visits, because of the need to carry out risk assessment, but have become more vigilant and considerate of the potential hazards. A common sense approach to developing and supporting children's learning in and around the use of technology is what is required of us, and this in turn requires us to become familiar with these ourselves, and to ensure that our school philosophies and policies reflect the action required to bring this about.


Monitoring and Sensing Change: Blogging with Year 1

I set up some year group blogs, with ethink, a month or so ago, and have begun introducing them slowly to colleagues as a way of sharing the ongoing work they engage in with students in class. My initial reason for introducing blogs, was an attempt to encourage a wider ownership of and engagement with our growing online community and website. It also struck me that the increasing use of the IWB in classrooms, meant an enormous amount of readily available and publishable work was going to waste. Shared and Guided writing for example consumes a considerable amount of our time in the literacy hour. Granted students use these as models to support their own texts, but saved to hard disc, this collaborative and high quality, guided and shared work, never sees the light of day beyond the classroom where it is made. One of the keys I feel in promoting the value of writing is a sense of audience and purpose. What better way to develop this than by sharing our work with people who visit our website, and enabling them to offer comments, that can help us to consider how we might improve our work, or better still praise and celebrate our achievements, and motivate us to keep trying.

I have spent the last couple of weeks working with year one students, initially using the space as a newsboard, and somewhere to share the things we have enjoyed doing in class. Today, we uploaded our first focussed use of the space. The students have been learning about plants and the conditions they need to grow. They have planted bean seeds, and will be keeping a bean diary. This diary will be developed over the course of a few weeks, with pictures and simple annotations as the bean grows. We began today to develop a digital version of the diary, using our blog space as a place where we can include digital photographs of the process, and as a class annotate these. Uploading the photograph and their comments to the blog together, means we will be able to share our "logging" process not only with each other but with a wider audience too. Although constituting primarily a science based literacy activity, this also introduces the use of ICT to sense and monitor change. At key Stage One much of science's AT1 is about making and beginning to relate observations. Using digital photographs we can capture visually the process of change over time and use visually captured data, to compare and contrast evidence, relating what we have done to what has happened. Through "thinking together" around these images we can introduce the vocabulary and explore and discuss the processes involved, drawing on the visual evidence we have collected. You can visit our bean diary on our year 1 blog, we would love to hear from you.


Wilbur Helps Out

Have just uploaded a few fledgling comic strip how tos, to our school website. If anyone is interested in having a look at these they can be found here. I would be grateful for any comments that might help me improve these. They are intended to support colleagues and older students in my school, so some sections are school and network specific, but perhaps visitors may also find them useful.

Tizz's Travels: Adults Having Fun With 2 Create a Story

Have just spent a couple of really good fun days helping a member of our support team get some really exciting things out of 2 Create a Story. It never ceases to amaze me just what this tool can do. We haven't quite finished, but I think this is probably my fault not bringing the right file home with me, but what amazed me was seeing the real sense of achievement when the work was done, and the surprise at what was possible using this apparently simple kit as a multimedia authoring platform.

I had this idea a few years ago of building a zoomable website which would enable students to navigate the globe, zooming in and out of places they were studying and adding information, or uploading postcards and images people sent from their holidays. This became a bit more realisable after visiting world and took initial shape during a geography focussed book week when we used Where's Wally? as a context for a whole school project. When our Key Stage One Students adopted Tizz The Bear as character to roam the globe with them early in the Spring Term, this seemed too good an opportunity to miss to play with and develop this idea even further. As students have been covering geographical topics I have tried to encourage them and their teachers to contribute material they develop to this space. This hasn't always been as successful as I would like, but the aspect which is now just starting to take off, is the idea of travel logs, and sending postcards to school from Tizz. 2 Create a Story with the ability to save files in swf format, may just be that additional catalyst I have been looking for.

My colleague, spent the morning with me and a group of year 2 students, while we prepared a writing frame together using screen captured images from a video. She had originally decided to use PowerPoint, to present her version of Tizz's Travel Log, but having seen how easily this tool enabled the students to build image supported texts, create animation effects and to use sound files, she decided this might be the tool to help her get the best from the materials she had.

Using teacher the options we have set up the software to give access to the full set of drawing tools, and this also enables on right click a file import, copy and paste option on a pop up menu in the drawing space. So to set up her travel log, she firstly imported each of the image files she wanted to use, sequencing these to tell her story as she went. In the writing space she added supporting text, before moving to add her animation and sound effects. When you are in the flow, confidence is growing with a piece of software and you have identified a purpose for what you require it is amazing how adventurous you can get and to what lengths you are prepared to go to achieve this. You cannot really imagine a visit to spain without the appropriate music, and in her final slide, as Tizz reclines on his last day, she decided she needed some Spanish Music. This was not available in the sound effects so we needed to aquire some. She had brought along a CD, and with a bit of playing around we used Media Player to extract the track she wanted to use in .wav format. Using Audacity, she spent some time trimming and cropping her file to extract about 10 seconds from the file, before saving it. Using the import a file option in the sound effects menu, she then attached the sound file to the page. To say that she had never used either piece of software before, the outcome was amazing, and from her point of view unexpected. This also, again demonstrates just how powerful this tool could be as a multimodal resource in the hands of young children, with teacher preparation, and student access to, collections of theme based images and additional sound files.

Combined with a zoomable and tagged map created at, this document is currently displayed on Tizz's Travels, on our school web site. As I said above, I think I brought the wrong swf file home with me this evening, and so will need to update these pages tomorrow to gain the full effect. Well Done Ms C. I am sure others will be inspired to follow in your footsteps...