Making a Molehill Out Of A Mountain: Ramblings and Reflections

Explaining how I plan or visualise the learning routes I design for my students has often been a headache for me, since I haven't found a visual model to help me explain. The IKEA man image I presented in a previous post, although describing my behaviour during the planning process, somehow didn't really explain how I see this process in my head. In order not to make a mountain out of a molehill, I have made a molehill out of a mountain instead, and in this post wanted to share a visual model I am currently working on with my students to help break the processes we engage with into steps while supporting us in working towards the outcomes I want to achieve. I would like to thank Di Pardoe for the idea behind this image, and for the inspirational work she did with us around assessment for learning practices, in recent years.

I mentioned in my IKEA Man post how concerned I was becoming that when we look at planning frameworks, particularly like those presented in the QCA schemes of work, we tend not to look at the end product first, or the outcome we want to achieve. A learning focus often taking a back seat to the need to deliver. This may seem strange to some of us, plans are essentially linear after all, we move from point a to point b and then we can do c. Our plans might be, but classroom learning as a long conversation, provides many first hand experiences of how when engaging with students, the assumptions we make during planning, can quickly become unravelled, leading to more complex situations and requirements than we intended or expected. Recent events have required my reflection on this and to find a way of formalising visually, the processes I want to engage with in supporting student learning and to guide classroom visitors and myself toward seeing where we are now and how this has been achieved, modelling how the small tasks and activities in our learning process are leading towards desired and intended outcomes. I still feel it is important that we and the students see the big picture, to ensure understanding of how the steps or processes that evolve link to the way we are approaching these goals, and using the Maths Mountain above is enabling me to begin fulfilling many of these needs. It enables students to participate in the journey we have taken so far and to see where we are to go next as we traverse our topic. On the top of the mountain goes the big objective, or target outcome for the week, and at stages or stopping off points up the mountain the smaller objectives to be achieved are displayed. We have a character who climbs the mountain with us as the week progresses, and during our plenaries we review the sessions and make decisions using traffic lights about whether we can move on up the path. In our final sessions we engage with a problem or a puzzle involving the steps we have developed to review where we are. This simple visual device is helping me to improve the transparency of the processes we engage in, and currently flexible enough to allow small diversions, while focusing my attention and guiding my conversation toward the intended outcomes of each session, allowing at a glance for feedforward and feedback around the steps in our journey and the possibility of insight for students and visitors to where we will be going next.

After attending the Year 3 numeracy sessions held in Bristol today I have been considering how this tool might also support another issue, that of evidence of learning. The practical nature of the teaching and learning processes shared and outlined today by our colleagues, and the emphasis on talk as a process I have over time come to recognise as "thinking together" is in stark contrast with school based requirements to have children record all outcomes. I was interested to hear the question "Why are we doing this? raised, is it for the students, for their parents, for the inspector or maths coordinator? One suggestion made to free us from this concern was that we list the things students had done in a word processor and to copy and paste these to create cut outs that could be stuck into student's books at the end of the week, or to perhaps capture photographs of students engaged in practical work and discussion to be added. This essentially might turn the student's maths book into a learning log, where some pages have student recording, while others outlined learning outcomes or showed images of learning in the first instance generated by the teacher. This fascinates me since it parallels much of the work I have been doing for my Degree on "Narratives of Learning." As a result this evening I am toying with the idea of producing in a smaller format the maths mountain for students to use with our existing green for go and pink for think colour coding system, so they can use the I can statements included in our class mountain, to share with each other their personal progress towards the class targets set, perhaps helping to take ownership of the learning we engage in. Perhaps at significant stages in the process, during plenaries or as part of a morning task the students might be encouraged to highlight or later annotate these with sentences about their work, putting the vocabulary they are engaging with into practice, or illustrating the mountain with examples of what we have been learning. Perhaps the addition of a problem or puzzle to be worked together, could also be used to provide additional evidence of their ability to use and apply the skills and experiences gained during their practical work. I was really drawn to the power of the idea of encouraging children to express themselves, what they have gained from a set of practical activities, rather than forcing an activity merely to model it for an often remote audience. As professionals, the idea of our plans as records of learning, even though as an assessment support teacher I used to advocate this, somehow right now doesn't seem to cut the mustard in some circles, and so this for me right now is certainly worth further consideration. I would be grateful for any comments that might support this idea.

(Having just reread this I have amended the title, it is a bit of a ramble, perhaps I should have called it High on a Hill stood a ... it seemed to make sense at the time Ed.)


NPS Teaching Tools for Mathematics and Some Other Goodies

One of my colleagues on the Y3 Primary Maths Day today mentioned how she had found it difficult to find the ITPs, that on the Numeracy Strategy Pages were all in one place. Resource files available on the new site are also grouped together and listed for download from the following pages.

Long before the NPS discovered and began publishing Excel based resources this site, , was a regular haunt of mine, the free download pages provide access to a number of really interesting and powerful Excel based interactive tools and resources, including support sheets and materials, as well as some cool PowerPoints. I have downloaded and used a number of these in the past, and particularly liked the Excel symmetry tools, which my previous year 4 classes loved using, Some of the worksheet generators were also quite useful time savers in creating Notebook pages for consolidation and practice activities, input the number ranges, generate the calculations and select and print to notebook. It was through visiting this site, that I first encountered MSW LOGO, the programing environment, free for educational use, that I now have installed and available for use by students. The children like its no frills look so much, many have downloaded it at home to use on their own computers. Onsite they have some nice resources and ideas available to use with with this tool too.

I'm not usually one for ready mades, but if you are looking for hands on tools, editable and printable templates or support materials for class use then why not pay a visit to The Leicester Maths Web, flip flaps, follow mes, Tables Fold Ups, place value grids, target boards, and much more.


Welcome to My Classroom: Images from a Learning Walk

My blog is primarily about ICT and Learning, but I am a classroom teacher, and not every hour of my working day is spent using the computer. To prove it here are some photos from my classroom. Last week we had some colleagues visit us from our local secondary school for a learning walk. During their visit they were encouraged to leave messages for us in the form of post it notes about features they liked, or thought would be useful in ther own classrooms. In class as well as our blog, we keep a scrapbook, of things that happen and exciting moments in our learning. I took some photographs of some of the areas of our classroom that my visiting colleagues liked and mentioned, to include in this and share with the students. To show I am not an entirely virtual teacher I thought I would also also share them here with you.

The students were not in for the visit, but this photograph shows something else that our colleagues really liked, the plants that every group have to look after in the middle of their group tables.

This is our target board, the kites are our numeracy targets, the balloons our literacy targets. As we begin to show evidence of these in our work, the kites and balloons begin to rise towards them.

Maths mountain, at the summit is our end of unit objective, and from the base of the mountain upwards the targets we are trying to hit on the way. We have a character who climbs the mountain with us and we use them to help us review our position on the mountain during plenary and opening sessions of our numeracy hour. This structure is helping not only the students but me to plot, track and find our way through the units of work we engage with. It is also helping me to structure my planning and focus my thinking about progression through our work on a weekly basis.

This is one of several Tudor displays in class. It is about Henry VIII and his Six Wives. The concertina books were highlighted as nice features, 3 d elements that drew our visitors in. They tell the story of how king Henry liked to spend his day. The black tights centre right are left over from a previous science display, that I haven't gotten round to taking down. We set the children a challenge to devise a fair test, to see which material would be stretchiest, as Henry was getting older he was getting too large for his tights, his hosiers worried about their heads needed to decide on a material that might fit over his ample frame. Which material could they use to make tights for the king, that would stretch to fit.

This is our learning tree, the leaves have on them things that the students have found interesting or exciting things they have learned, we use them for review, as well as for recording things we would like to celebrate about others as learners or good community members. Around the trunk are our Tudor Me's, framed self portraits, dressed in the tudor style. We have also published these to our communtiy pages on the school website. The thing I was really excited about was how much our visitors wanted tt celebrate the use of ICT by my students, they enjoyed the digital displays available from the school website, and the student voice we were able to bring into the classroom, even though they were visiting afterschool through use of the year group podcast site and Interactive Whiteboard.


Talking for Writing: Using a Picture Book as a Multimodal Text To Develop a Script for Podcasting

Just finished the first weeks planning of our new writing unit, and am really excited, having persuaded my collegue that the writing outcomes for work developed might be a series of short whole class podcasts. The unit of work relates to play scripts, and the obvious links within this are that as a written form scripts are intended for oral and visual performance. We discussed how it would be interesting to begin using the context of the unit as a vehicle to explore some of the ways in which speech forms are encountered multimodally within texts, as this links nicely with the way we have begun to approach punctuation for reading in class so far this term, and begins the students on a journey towards our could target.

Our starting point is a familiar story, and we have chosen to use "On The Way Home" by Jill Murphy. I love this text, a picture book based shaggy dog tale, about a little girl, with a "bad knee!" On her way home to tell mum all about it she meets various friends, who greet her, are told about her bad knee, and then subjected to an increasingly elaborate series of explanations and tales about how the injury was gained. What is lovely is the ending, "just how did she get her bad knee?" "Well.... I was p..." I don't want to spoil this and since we want the students to innovate on the story, perhaps you might visit our podcast when we publish to find out.

The page format for "On the Way Home" borrows many of its visual elements from the comic strip genre. Each double fold page being split into panes, that illustrate the story in beautiful and incredibly detailed visuals. The Character presentations in Jill Murphy's illustrations, offer fantastic opportunities for discussion not only around the written text but for developing inferential work, from gesture and expression to talk about feelings they may be experiencing, this inturn offers possibilities for unpicking how the words spoken by a character might be expressed. We have decided to use this as a platform to develop writing frames and Smart Notebook pages to encourage students individually, in small groups and as a class to discuss events, and consider what characters might be saying and how they might be saying them.

Using punctuation spotter activities with extracts from the book as a shared text, we want to extract character dialogue, adding these to the images through speech bubbles to present visual models of speech. Developments from this for students themselves to create their own page for a class book, replacing Claire the central character in Jill Murphy's story with a student from our class who meets friends from school on the way home. Over the course of the week, we intend the students to script a short passage of dialogue beginning in comic strip format, expanding this to think about how they and the friend they meet are saying things. Drawing on the rich visuals in the original text we want to draw out and develop a wordbank including new and familiar speech verbs, that can be applied as the students create there own dialogue, recording and adding these to our WOW word wall.

Since we are going to podcast our outcome, use of descriptive phrases and adjectives will be required to add depth and richness to the content our listeners recieve. Using "rub and reveal" activities, with the cover illustration from the book, we will begin by playing vocabulary games, to help extend the complexity of description given by the students. The WOW words used and collected can also be recorded and added to our WOW word wall for use as we progressively develop our short scripts over the sessions. Playing games the students will be encouraged to be "Claire" or the "class character" we have chosen, and to use sentence starters we collect from the text and develop such as "Weeeell!...." or "it was like this!..." "From nowhere a .... appeared!" "As I was...." and so on to rehearse and present exagerated descriptions, that we can draw on as models for writing in the dialogue we present. We use actions in our speech based activities, to mark punctuation types in spoken sentences and phrases as we speak and rehearse, and these will also form part of the development process through the games we play.

Throughout the week, while focussing on talk for writing within shared sessions we also want to use text book based materials to introduce and model how speech marks, are used to mark what is said by characters. Using speech bubble activities and punctuation spotter activities during shared work will help we hope to model the role they play, and also enable us to revisit prior work on special full stops such as question marks and exclamation marks. Usng student's written speech in bubbles, visual context cues and exercises we want to encourage the students to think about and rehearse speech; returning as we go on to consider how the choice of additional punctuation marks we have already worked on might influence how things are said, and how speech verbs will support this.

Our Big write on Friday this week will hopefully be a process of illustrating our class book and an opportunity for students to record their section of our podcast. Over the course of the week using modelled support the students will have gradually created in comic strip format, a short passage of dialogue between themselves and the class based "Claire" character, and an exagerated explanation of how they got their bad knee. These will then be recorded using the chapter tool in Podium as a dialogue between two children working in pairs, using the context sentences they produce as narration, to link additional dialogue created by other students as we build up the final podcast in chapters. The original story opener read by my colleague, and the close by myself to each story, having been modified to fit with the class characters chosen. The idea being that as we introduce play scripts formally next week, we will have an available class design to draw on helping us to make links between the text types used this week, the picture book, the comic strip and the podcast as we begin to discuss and identify the purposes that the formal structures of a playscript play.

I would like Podium to play a developmental role as a shared writing tool the week after next week, drawing on the "script writer" within the software enviroinment to help model how dialogue is organised within the play script environment. In a comment left by Doug, a couple of weeks ago about my post Reading With Expression: Punctuation for Podcasting With Year 3 he said:

"I would be really interested to hear/read about the role that the 'script writer' in Podium could/did play in this task. The move from text to speach through the study of punctuation strikes me as a very powerful thing indeed."

Hopefully as this unit unfolds I will be able to engage with some of these ideas in a practical context, and be able to provide concrete examples. For me becoming a reader or writer, is more than a process of encoding or decoding. In our multimedia world it is increasingly a journey towards gaining understanding of how text in a variety of forms is used to represent and share an inner voice or visualisation. One of the exciting things about using Podium with my class is that after the giggles and "barge" at the text approach we encountered at the beginning of term, students racing to complete their input; on hearing their own voice several students are beginning to think about what they say and how they say things when they are reading, and this is beginning to impact on how they approach the writing process too. It was exciting on Friday, as you can see from the photographs supporting this post, to see students for the first time rereading what they had written. One student in writing about how Henry VIII had married his brother's wife, asking "did I think he felt guilty about this?" Going on in the text he finally produced to hypothesise that he might have...?

The role or potential role of the Podium Scripting tool, in the development of understanding around the place of punctuation for reading is a potentially powerful one, and one which I am keen to explore and exploit, building on the current experiences we are providing with visual and oral textual models. It will be interesting to return to this as the writing unit progresses, and particularly as we begin to use the script writer as a dynamic resource to focus in on features of play scripts. Within this I am particularly drawn to providing an existing story imported to the scripting tool, to be reworked together as a class using the affordances of the interface to model how the format used by Podium in the allocation of roles, within a performance, mirrors formats we encounter in formal play script models we share. Using this to transform visually and dynamically the text on screen as we go, may help develop understanding of why inclusion of stage directions, or narration within the text we create will be neccesary, and seems to me a very powerful imaging role for the tool. I look forward to sharing this further as we explore the tool and processes involved.


Playing with my Voki: EULAs and E Safety

I am busily preparing an esafety assembly, a reminder about our Internet 3 Bees for tomorrow. As I was downloading images to share, as starting points around some of the sites I know my students use regularly I suddenly thought how useful it would be to show a EULA or part of one anyway, one of those documents that appear online when we register for a service that highlight our responsibilities as users. If you are like me I frequently flick through, these clicking the accept button, but since exploring web 2.0 spaces and how they might be used, and in the light of e safety concerns, I have been increasingly drawn to read through some of these, focussing as a primary teacher on the "age limitations" presented by those offering the service.

Tomorrow in revisiting our Internet 3 bees, I now feel that I need to draw these documents to the attention of colleagues and students alike, inorder model the need to involve parents when they want to engage in online activities and before entering into any online agreements. This is particualrly important for us in light of the fact that we use which has a rather lengthy EULA, that constitutes a contract between school and Oracle. It is easy to bypass these, in the midst of excitement about the potential of online tools but when visiting the Voki site this evening, I was reminded that the age limit placed in their site EULA is 13. This is also the case for sites such as MSN, Google and social networking sites but the wordy legalise of EULAs means they are not easily accessible and students and parents may not be aware of the responsibilities they have, or choose not to engage with them. Even though it would be a shame for such potentially powerful tools not to be used, in the primary sector it is really important that we are aware of these, and that because of this any use of such tools, be developed with and through parental partnership, or class based accounts, inorder that we comply with the EULAs presented.

Anyway having been the Mr Grumpy, I agreed to the EULA at Voki, (being just a little older than 13) and have had a play this evening adding part of one of our class podcasts as a backing track. I think it would be great to have a class designed character, who would be able to appear on our blog to share what we have been doing, or to celebrate in a different student's voice a particularly fine piece of work, or in a piece of news. Using Podium the track can be recorded very easily, and exported as an MP3, I am thinking it would be great to upload this file together as a class alongside their blog entry, and share with their parents.

Get a Voki now!


Yesterday, One for the Staffrooom Wall

It seems that missing data and lost files, in the minds of some colleagues anyway, are always someone elses responsibility, or the result of some system crash that only ever happens to them. I saved it, and now its gone, or my flashdrive had all of my work on it and now it doesn't work. Backing up data is incredibly important, I seem to have a necklace of flashdrives these days, but these always contain files that I have saved elsewhere, and then copied for transport.

As I came across this lovely, (albeit ironic) wall display file from Teach today, I could not help but giggle as I imagined Paul McCartney's dulcet tones, rendering this timeless reminder that backing up data is the responsibility of those who generate it. Not the network manager, technician or ICT Subject Leader. Sung to the tune of an Old Beatles standard, I intend to print several for display, in prominent places about school.


The Craft ROBO Plotter Cutter: Integrating sensing, modelling and control in DT

On Firday last I spent a really enjoyable morning working with a colleague at our local secondary school exploring the Craft ROBO plotter cutter and its associated CAD package. I was really pleased with the Christmas card I finally made, but as a user of the Nuffield DATA Primary DT materials, available freely on line, this tool is now a potentially powerful addition not only to our DT toolbox, but also in support of the modelling and sensing strands of our ICT curriculum. Thanks to Phil for inviting us to take part in the DT project he is developing between a local cluster of Primary schools and his department with the support of the Medlock Charitable Trust. I left yesterday, at lunchtime with yet another toy to play with and share, a community sharable object based CAD package and one of these lovely tools.

As a personal professional support tool, I have uploaded these videos to return to later, but thought some of my regular readers might also be interested in taking a look at the tool and its potential uses for themselves.

Video 1: An overview of the Craft ROBO

Video 2: A demonstration of the tool

In terms of modeling, one of the things I liked about the tool is the potential to prototype. Designing on paper first how an object might look before beginning to develop the project in real time. Students can sketch design proposals to paper, and then transfer these designs to the screen, by applying shapes to a work surface in the craft ROBO software package. Being object based these features can be dragged around and placed using layout grids. Turning on snap to grid, means the objects can be dropped and held in place accurately on screen. Using colour coding, the plotter cutter can be instructed which areas to cut, which areas to leave and with the insertion of a biro, the tool is converted to plotter rather than cutter mode. Prototypes and mockups, can be plotted first, and then replacing the biro with a cutting bit, a prototype can be cut using paper first. Inserting dotted lines lead to perforation cuts, being made, that allows for easier folding by small hands, no need for scoring.

After prototyping the full design, can be developed, with photographs or images inserted to the design file. Printing out on a colour printer, leads to the production of a colour net and the addition of "registration marks." which are later used by the cutter to align itself in relation to the design, when instructed to cut. This has alsorts of potential for developing these sessions to discuss sensing and control, within the context of the DT application for which the tool is being used. I am looking forward to trying out this tool with students as christmas approaches, and have already got one or two ideas for how we might use this to develop standard as well as animated christmas cards.


Reading With Expression Follow Up Post 1: Young Henry VIII Poetry Podcast

I have just uploaded episode 1 of the Henry VIII Podcast I began with my Y3 srudents yesterday. If you would like to give it a listen, it can be found by following this Link.


Reading With Expression: Punctuation for Podcasting With Year 3

As I mentioned in an earlier post about Comic Strips, the literacy target we have shared with our students for this term is to remember to include capital letters and full stops when we are writing, and to begin to use exclamation and question marks.

What has been interesting this week is the slowly emerging realisation that punctuation is not actually for the writer, but for the reader. A full stop indicating where a unit of sense making ends in an oral text, and a new unit begins. But also the "hooky bit" and the "line what comes down," above the full stop changes the effect it has. The full stop doesn't change, what we need to decide is how we want what we have written to be said by our reader, and that this will help us to decide whether our full stop requires the addition of these other parts to the mark. Deciding which mark to use requires us to put ourselves in the shoes of our reader.

This week we have been playing a range of table top games, and carrying out theme based activities, which have required the students to read their sentences aloud, working with a partner to "rehearse and write," and then on the basis of what they make, to first of all decide whether their sentences make sense, and to add the capitals and full stops. Following this using a coding system with highlighters, green for go, and pink for think, they have been encouraged to check each others completed sentences, to see if they have remembered their full stop and capital letter, before together deciding if any additions need to be made to the sentence to turn it into a question or an exclamation. To consolidate and practice this process they have really enjoyed reorganising silly sentences, such as "the bone bit the dog" "good a reader am I", rehearsing these together, the latter leading to some interesting dicussion and debate around the rightness and wrongness of answers, as it can be written, as either:

I am a good reader. Or..
Am I a good reader?

Today I used one of the nice examples from the BBC words and Pictures web site, printing it to a smart book for the students to use as a start of the day task.

We are learning about Henry VIII and his six wives at the moment, and I have decided to use extracts from Richard Brassey's brilliant picture book Brilliant Brits : Henry VIII,to help collect ideas and information for the vodcast we will eventually make. Using scanned images to play punctuation spotter games, and to begin discussing how we might read what he has written to an audience through the punctuation clues and cues he has written.

Today the students used an image of Old Henry from the book, to create simile sentences in a ten minute challenge, to describe what they could see. This was followed by an acrostic activity, where from a portrait of Henry as a Young man they were challenged to write a simile sentence for each letter in his name. Some of the outcomes were really lovely, and I decided to begin recording these, performed during the plenary session by the students who wrote them using Podium. The children were so motivated by this they did not want to go out to play, I eventually had to call a stop to the task by promising we woiuld retun to it at the start of tomorrow's session. The thing that really stood out for me from this activity, was just how hard they tried to use the ideas they had begun to learn about the role of punctuation in their work, for some this was remembering to pause at the full stop, though for others trying to add expression to the performance was also evident. In returning tomorrow, I think I will use the files we have already recorded to begin thinking about how performances might be enhanced, enabling space to rehearse more thoroughly before recording. I will try to publish the final performances to their podcast station later in the week, and to update the blog so anyone who would like to can share the production. I am sure the children will enjoy the idea that they can share these at home with their parents, though it will also be interesting to see what kind of reaction these files will get from the wider school audience if sent for sharing in our celebration assembly on Friday.


Remember, Remember, the 5th of November Part 2

Thanks to Doug for his much appreciated positive feedback on my previous post and the additional ideas he offered. In his comment he says:

"Great ideas Simon ... particularly like the speaking and listening idea using Podium to podcast ... would make a terrific historical drama with actors recording episodes in podcast diary format of the days leading up to the final arrests and then a reprise to sum up."

This week my year 3 class have been working in small groups to create storybaords during the literacy hour, based on the story of the plot. We are targetting the use of Punctuation Marks, and how they are used when we are writing and reading, and I hope over the course of the year we will be able to use podium as a tool to help us with this, through reading with expression. A moment to treasure from this week though will be the somewhat perplexed look at the beginning of the week, from a student who confused by the idea of the "Houses of Parliament," (aren't we all! Ed.), had begun thinking Parliament was a person, and they must have been very rich if they had more than one house that looked like that!


Our Probots have Landed

YEY! Today after much of the waiting, with the baited breath, the anticipation, the pestering of the office staff and the arrival of the mail man, our Tesco Voucher order arrived, and with it...

the class set of Probots and our license for Probotix. Can't wait to see what the students make of these new tools.

Watch this space!