Thursday, 29 March 2012

Cake at @sosbham by @trulypinkthing


@trulypinkthing always makes fantastic cakes for our meetings. Today we're discussing how schools can use Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Chromebooks: faceless magnificence

It's been some time since I added to my growing list of Chromebook posts.

Previously, in the Chromebook saga, a near-fatal flaw in Chrome Os had put the whole Chromebook experiment in jeopardy. Unable to get through the proxy server setup, the Chromebooks, all beautifully sparkling in their brand new charging trolley were a bit like a bank of door wedges - I might as well have bought ZX Spectrums - at least they'd have been a more wedge-like shape.

Many of my previous posts had me wrestling with complicated equipment such as paper clips and using interesting Star Trek-like phrases such as "I have now erased the stateful partition." But the marvellous Matt from the Chrome Os support team in Mountain View got me back on track. In his laid-back Bay Area voice he explained, suggested, advised and encouraged until, with the help of a more updated version of Chrome Os, the Chromebooks starting working again.

And then what?

I was expecting the next problem. This is ICT you see - it never is completely straightforward. What would be the next barrier? The next obstacle? The next mountain to climb?

There hasn't been one. All the Chromebooks work. Perfectly.

We take them into the classroom and give them to the students. The students use the Chromebooks in some or all their learning. Then we put them away again.

So the solution is even better than the Chromebooks working perfectly - it's like they're not there at all. There is no fuss about them. They have no charisma, no personality. They are faceless devices. They. Just. Work.

What that means is that the students can concentrate on using the software. So, during the last month students have:
  • used Worpress to blog (on the Chromebooks);
  • used Purple Mash to design 3D models (on the Chromebooks);
  • used Google Maps to embed photos of the school as part of the Switched on ICT scheme of work (on the Chromebooks);
  • used Google Docs to write stories (on the Chromebooks);
  • used Google spreadsheets to learn their times tables (on the Chromebooks);
  • used Khan Academy to practice maths skills (on the Chromebooks);
  • used Education City to practice phonics and literacy skills (on the Chromebooks);
  • used GoAnimate to make animations (on the Chromebooks);
  • used Aviary to create their own music (on the Chromebooks).
Some students even used Google Search to find out information for their topics...

Having had a bank of wireless Windows laptops in the past, Chromebooks have already proved to be better in the following 5 ways.
  1. The 8 second start up means that the only time wasted is distributing the Chromebooks to the students, whereas the laptops could take up to 2 minutes to boot up and access the network.
  2. No virus checker means that the Chromebooks work fast from the start, whereas the laptops would be slowed by for ten minutes by the inevitable start up of various Windows processes.
  3. An 8 hour battery life in the Chromebooks means that they only need to be charged over night, whereas the laptops would have to be charged during lunchtime to give afternoon users a chance.
  4. The light weight of the Chromebook means you can carry them around the classroom to show other people what you've been up to, whereas our laptops had been much heavier.
  5. The VGA adaptor that comes with every Chromebook has been really useful for showing what's on the screen on the classroom projector. The laptops by contrast often did bizarre things when connecting to a projector.
There have been two small non-Chromebook related barriers. The first is that sometimes the children can't log on because they don't spell their names correctly. Or they forget their password. The second is that it has exposed the frailties of the school wifi network - for most of the above applications everything was fine, but for Aviary (online sound editing) the demands of thirty children all trying to create their own "Burial of the Pharoah" music was a bit too much for the sole wifi access point. Looks like Meraki could be the answer to that. Mercifully the 2 second shut down / 8 second start up (mentioned earlier) saved the day here - when a Chromebook got stuck trying to get through the access point, a quick re-start sorted it out.

In Chromebooks, it seems like we have found a device that enhances productivity - because you don't really notice that its there. Instead of being a magnificent in-your-face piece of technical kit, Chromebooks are instead magnificently faceless, allowing all the fantastic software available online to come to the fore.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Creating a School Facebook page

howtocreateapage.mp4 Watch on Posterous

Here's my attempts at explaining what to do to create a school Facebook page.

More to follow.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Ofsted and the Missing Year

"Ofsted: they want the impossible."

I'm sure I've heard someone actually say that and I know many disgruntled teachers must have felt that over the years.

But today I have actually seen it with my own eyes.

You see we hired a fully trained HMI Ofsted type person to come in to our school and tell us the kind of things that inspectors like to say. Gluttons for punishment, you might say - masochists even. Actually the experience was rather cathartic. We now have a clear picture of the things we're good at and the things we need to improve.

With the new Ofsted framework just enacted in January, schools such as ours - a one form entry Primary school in a deprived part of Birmingham need to be prepared for what's coming. For a start, small schools are more likely to be hit by cohort-specific effects - with each child being worth over 3%, it only takes a few children to have a bad day in their SATs test to generate the dreaded blue boxes on the RaiseOnline, which indicates that the school has become significantly below national average in a particular area. In addition small schools are more likely to affected by staffing issues -  one or two people our on maternity might not have a big impact in a secondary school with 80 teachers and 140 support staff, but in a school with only 10 teachers it can make a big difference.

So theory apart, many of the things that the inspector lady told us we knew anyway. We know it with more clarity now, but we did kind of know it in the first place. However one thing has really surprised me - Ofsted expect primary Sschools to be able to create a whole year of education. They expect us to warp some temporal field, maybe by harnessing the power of a nearby singularity and actually create time. A whole year of time.They expect 7 years of education from Reception to Year 6 to be worth 8.

Here's how I know this.

You're going to have to bear with some numbers now.

Most children leave our Reception class on about Early Years Foundation Profile point 6. This is out of a 9 point scale in a range of areas. Leaving at point 6 is about national average. Early Years Practitioners and Experts get very cross if at the notion that there is any correlation between the Early Learning Goals and the Level Descriptors within the National Curriculum. So cross in fact, that some will literally shout at you if you suggest such a thing. Nevertheless Ofsted have deemed that there is a correlation. What they say is that if you leave at the average point 6 from Reception, then by the time you get to Year 2 (in two years time) you should have made it to a secure level 2 in the National Curriculum.

Now I should explain at this point that there is a numerical scale that helps both Ofsted and geeky-data-crunching-school-leader-types like me to drill into the data provided by the National Curriculum Level Descriptors. It divides each broad brush stroke level into 6 points called APS (standing for average point score). And the progression goes something like this:
  • Level 1 >> APS 6-11
  • Level 2 >> APS 12-17
  • Level 3 >> APS 18-23
  • Level 4 >> APS 24-29
  • and so on.
This APS system means you can say that normal progress is about 3 points progress per year, which good progress being about 4 points a year. Now working backwards from Year 2, Ofsted say that most children should get a secure level 2, which is about 15 or 16 points. Working backwards 3 points a year, this means that children need to start Year 1 (having just left Reception) on about 9 or 10 points (a secure level 1).

However, in reality children leaving Reception at the average 6 points on the EYFSP tends to start their Year 1 class at the start of the National Curriculum at a low level 1, or the equivalent of 6 or 7 points. This means they need to make an additional 3 points progress just to catch up with where they need to be - a full year's normal progress.

To make matters worse, Ofsted say that children leaving Reception as high flyers on Point 9 of the EYFSP are the equivalent of a secure National Curriculum level 1 (i.e. 9 or 10 points on the APS scale). It would be reasonable to assume that these children could make good progress to secure a high level at maybe 17 points on the APS scale. But no, Ofsted expect these children to make 11 points progress in 2 years to 21 points by the end of Year 2.

There are various possible consequences for this missing year:
  1. Schools can remain doing what they are doing - making normal progress and then watch as their Key Stage 1 department gets labelled as inadequate for not making enough progress with their children.
  2. They can increase the quantity and quality of the staff in Key Stage 1, to intensify the learning there, allowing teachers to teach to smaller groups, thereby increasing the progress.
  3. They can cheat. This could happen at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage or at the end of Year 2, but cheating would certainly help make the data look better than it is.
  4. Schools could actually invent that time machine and give the children the extra year's education required to make the progress they need.

Friday, 20 January 2012

When shall we have Teachmeet Brum?


So I'm looking to organise a Teachmeet in Birmingham sometime in March.

My preferred date would be Friday 9th March of Friday 16th March. I have a city centre venue with free parking that's about 5 minutes walk from Broad Street, so I'm figuring we could go for a Teachmeet and then a TeachEat at a decent Birmingham balti place.

But here's the thing - I'm not quite sure about Fridays. Being an inexperienced Teachmeet organiser (having only done one previously and that was mid-week), is Friday just to late in the week? Are we all too tired on Fridays?

So here's a chance to influence the decision. Please fill in this spreadsheet to answer the question: When shall we have Teachmeet Brum?

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

What I learned from BETT 2012 #2: Grass isn't always greener

I've never experienced a different education system than the British one, but of course the odd snippet or two has come my way over the years which have led me to the following beliefs about education in different countries:
  • The district structure in the US is ideal with between 10 and 20 schools in each district.
  • Hungarian education is best at teaching maths.
  • Finland is perfect.
This BETT washed those beliefs away like the chaff they really are.

I spoke to a Norwegian lecturer bemoaning the loss of small rural schools and the devastating impact it is on their community.

I spoke to US educators tearing their hair out at the slow pace of change exhibited in their state's education system, with each district being stalled and blocked by what they really want to do.

I spoke to teachers from Germany decrying their assessment regime in the way in categorises students into 3 categories of achievement at the age of 9 or 10 - you know whether you'll be going to university at that age.

I spoke to an Italian teacher shocked at how much technology was available to British schools and how little to Italian schools.

And I thought, it's not actually that bad here.

Planning for serendipity: #DoMoreEdu meets level 3 students at my school

I had the fortune of being invited to the #DoMoreEdu event at BETT on Saturday by the team @DellEDU. Whilst I couldn't stay for the full event I was impressed with the way that the discussion created engagement of its own accord, regardless of the content of the discussion. Led by Ewan Macintosh and Tom Barrett of

One of the earlier topics in the conversation was about how we use space. Now I have to admit that I'm pretty nonplussed about the issue of 'space' in schools, firstly because I'm of the belief that the relationship between teacher and student is so crucial that the issue of space makes only a tiny fraction of a percentage of difference to education, and secondly because I work in a serviceable 30s built school. It isn't perfect but it works and we get decent results.

What surprised me however was that the discussion engaged me. Motivated me, even.

On to serendipity. It's not the kind of thing that one associates with schools. So much so that I had to ask the guy sitting next to me what it actually means. The top search in Google gives me: The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: "a fortunate stroke of serendipity". So it's something about happiness, good luck and benefit. Yet our planning and our timetabling is so tight, so rigorous, so full of targets, that I struggle to see how we can 'plan for serendipity' within the current system.

But maybe the answer was right there before my eyes - it was in the discussion that I was engaged; through the growing relationships around the table that I was motivated. It wasn't the content of the discussion that mattered so much at that time - more the process.

Back to school on Monday and I was preparing my first lesson for a group of level 3 students who are really struggling with maths. Disengaged, with low self belief, they find maths extremely hard. Both their attainment and their progress is below where it should be. I knew all that and realise that I have awful lot of content to teach them if they are to make level 4 by May (when they sit their SATs tests). Could I afford to give up a single lesson just to engage them?

I decided I could and so on Monday we sat around a conference table and held our own #DoMoreEdu. We talked about moments of unhappiness and happiness in maths learning. We talked about how we should organise the space and how we could find more time. The children made suggestions for how and what they should be taught. They resolved to meet online at 6:00pm on Tuesdays for an extra revision timetable. Some of their discussion is recorded here. We also wrote our first blog post about that session. Since then we've had our first real maths lesson, which did actually contain some real content.

It was by chance that I booked an extra night's stay at BETT that allowed my to take advantage of the kind offer from @DellEdu. It was also bad planning when I realised that my train ticket actually said 11:23am, not 1:23pm, meaning that I had to dash off earlier than expected from the session. But that chance and bad planning allowed me more time to reflect on the experience in the light of teaching nine disaffected maths students on Monday morning, and already they have shown a higher level of engagement than I expected. Is that serendipity? Maybe it is. Certainly giving up one lesson of content and direct instruction to gain more motivated students who are willing to participate online in their own time is a win for me.


planning_serendipity.mp4 Watch on Posterous