Friday, 29 August 2014

Tale of Two Staffrooms

Having spent quite a lot of time on Twitter this summer, I have come to realise that I now effectively work in two staff rooms. There is the staffroom at the school where I teach and there is the virtual staffroom that I step into when I interact on Twitter.

I use these two staff rooms in very different ways. The staffroom at my school is generally used for grabbing quick brew while trying not to suffer 3rd degree burns on the geezer or throwing down sandwiches containing dubious meat from the local sandwich shop. I may even occasionally check the notice board to remind myself of anything I need to do that day. Any conversations I have in my 'real' staffroom are generally fairly uninspiring - relating to football results or TV programmes. Sometimes, I may even try to avoid talking to someone if I am too busy and/or they are not my cup of  tea.

This is very different from how I interact in my Twitter staffroom. When I am in that staffroom, the conversations more often than not are professional in nature. Partly because the people in my Twitter staffroom are people I have chosen to interact with. People whose opinion I value. Also, I am aware that any conversation that I have in my Twitter staffroom is in the public eye. Another difference is that I can access my Twitter staffroom at any time of the day (or even night). If there is a question that I have about my practice, I can get answers almost immediately. Occasionally, I will have conversations about more social topics but the majority of my time spent in my Twitter staffroom is for professional activities.

There is an old saying 'You can choose your friends but you can't choose your family'. A similar idea applies to the two staff rooms. I can't choose who is in my real staffroom but I can choose who I wish to interact with in my Twitter staffroom. As it happens, I am lucky enough to work with a very supportive and pleasant bunch of colleagues although I know some people aren't that lucky.

I just hope that when terms begins again, with all the madness that comes along with it, I still am able to find time to pop into my Twitter from time to time to interact with the people I choose to interact with.

Monday, 25 August 2014

What I have learnt from Twitter this Summer.

As the summer comes to and end, I have started to reflect about how I have used Twitter this summer and what I have learnt from using it.

This summer I have been the most active on Twitter that I have ever been. I have taken parts in chats such as #ukedchat and #aussieED chat. I have had discussions with people, not always agreeing but, hey, that's sometimes the nature of discussions. I have followed links people have posted, I have read blogs that interest me. Also, I have built up my network of followers and followees. So what have I learnt?

1. What a great source of CPD Twitter can be.
Twitter has helped to bring me bang up to date with what is happening in Education at the moment. This includes new practices that are popular and/or becoming so. Through helpful folk, I have been able to deepen my understanding of some of these practices. The major change (and challenge) presented by the new curriculum is one that I will admit, I am a little apprehensive about. I found lots of useful information and resources out there in the Twitterverse. For example, the excellent bank of resources produced by @MichealT1979. For my own role especially I have found schemes of work that other people have worked hard to produce and then shared for free. Obviously, Twitter comes with a health warning - not all the CPD advice on Twitter is sound, it is important to reflect on what you are told to decide whether you will find it useful.

2. You can find an answer to pretty much any questions you have.
As I have built up my personal learning network (PLN) on Twitter, I have been able to tweet a question or ask for advice on a particular teaching issue. Very quickly, reposes come in from experienced teachers, sometimes with links to useful resources or suggestions for people to contact or follow. This works both ways of course. If a person I follow tweets a questions then I will endeavour to answer if I am able. If you are teaching any concept, there will be most likely be someone in your PLN who can suggest a resources or website or person to follow to help you deliver that concept.

3. Twitter Chats are a great way to quickly learn about how other teachers operate.
The first chat I joined was #aussieEd chat on the recommendation of @grahamandre. This is a chat organised by Australian teachers that involves teachers from all over the world. At first, the pace of the chat was a bit too manic for me and I found myself wondering whether I could keep up. Using Tweetdeck helped. Through these chats I have discovered some excellent ideas that I can use in the classroom. It is also interesting to see other teachers' viewpoints on ideas that you have, to see whether others think they will work! Finally, chats are a good way to build up your PLNand make connections that could be very useful in the future.

4. Teachers' Blogs are a good way to challenge your thinking and read informed thinking on a range of education issues.
I once went on a training course where they suggested (nay, insisted) that we blogged. At the time, I wasn't sure I liked the idea of sharing my personal thoughts in the public domain. However, as I began my journey into Twitter, I soon realised that blogging could be very useful both for me to gather my musings and to read about the thoughts and ideas of others. This summer I have read many thought-provoking blogs such as @LearningSpy by the excellent David Didau, the blog of secondary English teacher, @JamesTheo (James Theobald), @webofsubstance (Harry Webb) and @WatsEd which is a blog full of very useful ideas. Through these you will probably find links or references to other useful blogs.

I have enjoyed using Twitter this summer and just hope that I have time to use it in the same way once the pressures of work increase from September.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Using 'Socrative' In The Classroom

Having been asked on Twitter tonight whether I had used a piece of software called Socrative by @grahamandre, I thought it might be useful to write a post about the different ways I have used it.

I was first introduced to Socrative in a staff meeting by our then ICT Lead. I was then given further ideas about how to use it from the excellent Lee Parkinson (@ICT_MrP) on his training course. To register as a teacher for Socrative, you need to go and sign up as a teacher. You will be given a room number. The children will use this room number to access the activities you design. The activities come in the form of 'quizzes' that you design which is a very easy process.

Your children access the room either using the Socrative app or by going through the student section of the website. They enter the room number and access the 'quizzes' that you have created using your teacher account. Their responses are then displayed on your teacher account screen which I have on my laptop connected to the IWB.

Ways that I have used Socrative in the classroom:
1. Sentence activity (similar to slow writing which was developed by David Didau @learningspy). Ask the children to write a sentence with given criteria e.g. a Noun, who/which/where sentence (One of Alan Peat's Exciting Sentences). The children respond on their iPad/laptops and all their reposes are then displayed on the IWB together. This can then generate discussion about which is the most effective sentence and why.

2. This was an idea from Lee Parkinson. You can add pictures to a quiz you create. Then you can ask the children to write short descriptions of the setting. Again all their responses are displayed together. This means you ca then ask them to pick things out from each other's descriptions or discuss improvements etc.

3. In Maths (another of Lee's ideas) I have used the multiple choice quizzes. When the children respond to these , the results are displayed as a bar chart allowing for instant data-handling work.

4. In geography, my class were debating whether the Metrolink line being built near school was a good idea or not. The children submitted through Socrative their reasons for/against. The responses were displayed automatically. I then asked the children to look for common threads in their reasoning and which reasons they thought were the most persuasive. Finally, we used each other's responses to write persuasively about the issue.

There are different types of quizzes you can set up for your children to answer depending on what kind of outcome/response you want. Quizzes can be saved for future use within your teacher account.

I found it useful to display the room number I use on the wall in the classroom to save having to remind the children. I also found that having something else for the children to do once they had responded helped to keep them engaged e.g. looking for patterns in the responses.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Using Character Mash-ups To Improve Character Development in Writing

Once again a Twitter discussion has led to some interesting ideas that could be used in the classroom. From a post by @gazneedle there came the idea of mixing characters from different stories. Initially, we discussed mixing characters from different fairytales e.g. Snow White and The Three Bears. This is a similar idea to the idea of 'flipping' story genres that the always excellent Lee Parkinson talks about in his blog. To read about this  - go to ICT Mr P's Blog.

The idea of mixing characters from different stories means that young writers can add new twists to the personality of these characters. Also they can write about how characters might react in unfamiliar situations e.g. How would Snow White keep the three bears on task! The idea of putting characters in different situations and describing how they would react comes from Mat Sullivan who talks about it in detail in his excellent book 'Developing Writing Through Comics'. However, mixing characters from different stories is an extension of this.

A next step from this would be to 'mash-up' characters from different narrative genres rather than just within the same genre. For example ' Harry Potter and The Minotaur'. This could lead to exciting new twists on well-known stories.  Also, characters would definitely be placed in situations that are outside their comfort zones. Thus leading to deeper character development.

An idea from @gazneedle is to mash-up characters from famous films e.g. Harry Potter is tutored by Obi Wan Kenobi. This would open up opportunities for using digital media, many examples of which can be found on The Literacy Shed by Rob Smith.

@WatsEd suggested some fantastic ideas that character mash-ups could provide for comprehension and discussion prior to writing. For example :
Using a well-known story such as Little Red Riding Hood, ask 'What if...?' questions such as:
1. What if it was 3 bears, not a wolf?
2. What if Hermione was going to grandma's house?
3. What if Wolverine was at Grandma's house instead?

At a later date, we started to discuss images of mash-ups that could be used to inspire writing. A range of images such as the ones below was found by @grahamadnre, @redgierob, @gazneedle and @WatsEd.

This video is a mash-up of many superheroes.

How about Batman/C3PO

There are many more examples of images of character mash-ups on the internet. Visit Lee Parkinson's blog (link further up the post) to see an example of a brilliant app that could be used for character mash-ups.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Fantasy Football Maths

Many teachers I know used the World Cup as a context for learning in the summer term of the last academic year. There were lots of resources around to help on websites such as and Lee Parkinson also produced an ebook of iPad lessons which was a very useful guide to help teachers incorporate the context of the World Cup into their children's learning.

Now that the World Cup has ended, there is the new football season nearly upon us. Every season, many of the daily newspapers organise a Fantasy Football competition. For the uninitiated, the idea is that you pick a team of 11 players who all have different valuations. You have a given budget to work with. Each player then earns points for your team for things they do in real-life matches such as score a goal, keep a clean sheet etc.

The data provided for the game provides lots of maths opportunities.

1. Addition and subtraction of numbers involving decimals.
2. Money problems - working within a given budget and working out change.
3. Data-handling. For example, pupils could generate questions for other pupils to answer about the players in the goalkeepers section. Drawing bar charts, Venn Diagrams, Carroll Diagrams of player information.
4. Investigating all possibilities through different formations of 11 eleven players e.g. 4-4-2, 4-3-3 etc. Could also work out all the different ways that a team could score a given number of points.
5. Percentages - if all player values were reduced by 10%, which players would you pick now?
6. Investigating truth of a given statement e.g. Liverpool has the highest total value of players.
7. Ordering decimals - For example, pick 8 players at random and order their values.

These are just a few ideas that I came up with quickly, I am sure there are many more. The good thing about the Daily Telegraph Fantasy Football is that you don't need to log in/register to pick a team or see the player information so the children can work on it using laptops/ipads.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

How Twitter Has Changed My (Professional) Life.

I joined Twitter in 2010 but never really did anything with it. My interest was sparked when a couple of colleagues mentioned that it was useful for teachers. I had just discovered the Literacy Shed at the time and had long been an admirer of the work of Alan Peat. These two people were among the first that I followed. It led to some interesting conversations with Rob (Literacy Shed). Through Rob I came across Mat Sullivan (@InspiredMind5) and Lee Parkinson(@ICT_MrP). I began to use some of Lee and Mat's ideas in my classroom with impressive results.

Then, in January of this year, I attended the Literacy Shed conference. There was a Twitter feed displayed where teachers were commenting about the conference in real time. Also, Lee Parkinson talked about Twitter in his presentation. This made me think that I needed to get more involved with Twitter.

Through the people I was already following, I began to build up a network of people whose ideas and opinions I respected. Some of them have since become friends. I began to look to Twitter more and more for lesson ideas and started to share some of my own thoughts and classroom practices on Twitter. As my confidence in using Twitter grew, I felt able to give advice to others about topics I felt confident with. This led to a conversation with Alan Peat which in turn led to me being able to contribute to his Pupil Version of Exciting Sentences App (see earlier post). A year ago, I would never have imagined that I would be working with someone who I admired so much.

Having met Rob Smith (creator of The Literacy Shed) over a few drinks with Dr Richard Farrow, I was delighted to be offered the chance to become a 'Sheditor' on the Literacy Shed. This again, came about through a conversation with Rob and a few others on Twitter one evening. I now edit two sheds on the website (Retro Shed and Advert Shed). All the time, my network of followers and people I follow was building.

Through Rob, I also got in contact with Graham Andre who is the creator of The Mathematics Shed. He is regularly involved in education chats that occur weekly on Twitter. Once I started joining these chats, I was hooked. I obtained lots of great ideas and found new people to follow from all over the world!

In the last week, I have been asked by David Didau (author of The Secret of Literacy) to help coordinate a non-profit ebook about his concept of Slow Writing. This has led to me engaging with even more teachers on Twitter and hopefully will lead to having my name in print which is a dream of mine.

It has been a very exciting time and I can't wait to see what the next year will bring. Twitter is an fantastic resource for teachers. If you are a teacher who is new to Twitter, here are some key people to follow to get your started on your Twitter journey. You won't regret it.

1. @alanpeat
2. @redgierob
3. @MichaelT1979
4. @SLTchat
5. @WatsEd
6. @LearningSpy
7. @goodman_ang (my wife - had to put her on the list!)
8. @ICT_MrP
9. @grahamandre
10. @InspiredMind5
11. @FarrowMr
12. @gazneedle

There are many more - take a look at who I follow.