Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Not all displays are for children

I will let you in on a little secret, this one is mainly for NQTs or students. Not all the displays in my classroom are for the children. At the back of my classroom, high up where only I can see it, is a small display for me. On it is a picture of Jonah from Summer Heights High, a picture of a plus symbol and a sshh picture. These are reminders for me for every lesson.
Summer Heights High was a fantastic comedy mockumentary from Australia. It was written by Chirs Lilley and, as far as I am concerned, is compulsory for all teachers. As well as copious amounts of cringe worthy and hilarious moments there is the character of Jonah, a dissatisfied, foul mouthed and disengaged boy from Tonga. As we follow his character through the short series we get to see school life from his point of view and, most importantly, share his sense of injustice at the world he has to work in. His picture is up there to remind me to never make assumptions about children and to give everyone a fresh start everyday. Something that I always want to do but, sometimes, without my reminder, gets lost in the midst of chaotic school life.

I have a deep voice that carries and, when wrapped up in the enthusiasm for my lessons, can sometimes get too loud. I have this reminder on the wall to remind me to check how loud I am being so that children three classrooms away do not start trying to do what I have asked them.

The plus symbol is easy. It is to remind me to use praise and positive behaviour strategies as often as possible.

Don't get me wrong, these reminders are not used everyday. After teaching this long, they are not even used every week I have had them on a wall at the back of my classroom since my NQT year and I like to have them just so that every so often I remember things that work for me and help keep my classroom a positive learning environment.

At the start of your career in teaching, there are hundreds of things to remember. This, tiny, display helped me to remember some key ideas I wanted in my classroom.

What would be on your display?

Monday, 27 February 2012

Manga High maths games

We were first saw Manga High at BETT a few years ago. Looking down over the balcony I could see an enormous manga style figure and wanted to know more. After the requisite sales pitch, we were impressed with what looked like fun games that could be accessed and, at the time, some of them were free.
Returning to school, we duly incorporated some of those games into our maths work.  A particular favourite was estimating by chucking penguins out across an ice flow. The children enjoyed this both because it was visually stimulating and challenging.
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The challenge is one of the great things about Manga High. It seems to be primarily designed for secondary and therefore is usable as a genuine challenge for more able children. We have used these activities as a basis for homework for our more able mathematicians in Year Five and there are even more options available for maths groups in Year Six.
Recently, and rather amazingly, Manga High is now free to use when you register as a school and get some customisable options to work on. Whilst we have not made major use of it in class yet and certainly not explored the options that are available when you register, it is a great resource for teachers to direct parents towards for mathematically challenging home learning tasks. Our children enjoy it because of the style of the website and because of the challenge it offers and invariably move on to some of the other tasks that are available to play.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Learning New Vocabulary

"What's the most impressive word you know?"

I was recently told that a child needs to encounter a word in context fifteen times to gain an understanding of it and then be able to use it in their own writing. While I'm not sure where the 'fifteen times' came from I certainly do agree that children can't possibly fully understand and then be able to use a word after seeing it only once or twice.

Picture books are good for introducing new vocabulary to all key stage two children. In a picture book there are less words and the story can be completed quickly. The pictures often add to the children's enjoyment and certainly raise points for discussion and deeper understanding of plot. Then within the story there will be one or maybe two words that will be new to the children. I recently used 'Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey', from which the group I was working with selected the word 'crevice' as a word they did not know the meaning of. We repeatedly said the word aloud to ensure all could pronounce it correctly. Next, the group offered suggestions for its meaning. After that, I explained its meaning and gave the children the opportunity to try writing it in sentences of their own. To follow up all this, over the following weeks I highlighted opportunities for using our 'new word' and looked to see who was using it and then if it was in the correct context. Since time I have also used Meerkat Mail, Six Men and Princess Smartypants. Each one of these texts and proved useful in introducing new words.There are also many, many more useful picture books for all key stage one and two children.

After the new vocabulary has been introduced, it's essential to keep providing those opportunities for the children to actually use the word in context:
- Have a class word of the week.
- Ask for a certain word or words to be used in a written text.
- Display a word. Read some definitions. Children select the correct one.
- Display a word. Read it in some sentences. Children select the correct one.
- Read a sentence with a gap. The children insert a word they recently learned.
- In a book highlight some words. Children re-write replacing those words with synonyms. 
- Tally chart for number of times the class have used the new words. Spoke and written.
- Look at word up at
- Look at a group of synonyms. How do their definitions differ / match?
- Display a definition. What's the word?
- Select a random word. Children put it into a sentence.
And of course praise and rewards always encourage! 

This process can be used in any subject. I have used this in literacy as a method of improving children's writing through their word choices. But, it will also be useful in maths, science and other areas for developing understanding of subject and topic specific vocabulary.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Sum up your learning for me...

At the end of a lesson it's useful to find out what children have learned during the time spent in that lesson. Here are some ideas for doing that:

1. Sum up this lesson in a Tweet. Ask the children to explain their learning from the lesson in 140 characters or less. This means the children need to be concise about what they write. These could then be added to a school or class Twitter account too.

2. Sum up your learning as a text message. Again requiring the children to be concise, but this time giving them 160 characters to work with.

3. Sum up your learning in 3 words. Give the children a word limit to explain their learning. Again requiring them to think carefully about their description.

4. Exit Polls. Give the children a question or task to complete on a slip of paper that they can put in a box as they leave the room.

5. Draw me a picture of what you learned today. Giving the children the opportunity to explain their learning in a different way.

6. Write down the 3 Key words from today's lesson. Could be particularly useful in science, maths or other lessons with subject specific vocabulary.

Just some ideas we've been trying recently that the children have enjoyed and have been a bit different to what we've tried in the past. We'd love to have some comments below offering other ideas you've used. 

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

A Year on Twitter

“Join Twitter”
“You’re not on Twitter. Why not?”
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These were some of the comments I received in January and February 2011. I didn’t see a need to ‘be on Twitter’, I thought I didn’t really have anything to say and didn’t really understand what it was all about.
So, in March 2011 I joined. Set up my own account. Followed a few friends, the odd celebrity and some sports teams. I initially wrote the odd Tweet and picked up the odd useful snippet of information from friends and the sports clubs.
In May 2011, I attended an event run by Apple. The event had its own hashtag. So, I followed and tweeted using the hashtag. I quickly realised that there were a number of educators using Twitter. And, not only using Twitter, but also using it in a way that I could see was really useful! During that weekend, I picked up some new followers, followed some excellent innovative educators and began another step into seeing how useful Twitter could be.
As a result of finding these new educators on Twitter I next became aware of TeachMeets. My first TeachMeet visit was to BedfordTeachMeet in June 2011, again picking up new followers and finding new educators to follow. This was then followed by attending the E2BN Conference with the same results as before. In addition to these events, I found that subjects have their own hashtag as well as things like #edtech and #ukedchat.
I’ve been pleased with the amount of followers I’ve built up, as it’s nice to know what I’m writing about is useful to others. But, it’s those I follow, the members of my PLN, that are most useful. I have found many new resources, engaged in interesting discussions and read numerous interesting articles that I would possibly never have found without Twitter and those sharing excellent snippets within 140 characters!
August 2011 then saw the formation of @primaryideas and this blog. My initial thoughts about this were the same as outlined in at the start of this post with “why?” and “I’ll have nothing to say” being the initial thoughts. But, at the time of writing, 799 followers on Twitter, 15 likes on Facebook, 88 circles on Google+, 1140 channel views on YouTube and over 5000 blog views all in 6 months I think I may have underestimated the usefulness of a blog.
In addition to all the educational usefulness there’s also been a personal use. The educational Tweeps I follow often write about personal goings on which can be interesting to talk about and give an insight into personalities. Those sporting clubs I mentioned at the beginning have also come to be useful tweeting about tickets going on sale, travel arrangements and breaking news. And yes those friends, somewhere in amongst all the ‘teacher talk’ there are also updates from friends.
Who’d have thought a bunch of people you’ve never met could be so useful and helpful? So if you’re not using Twitter yet you need to start. You don’t even need to write anything as it’s those you follow that you’ll find most useful. Although, if you do start to write then having a blog is a useful extension to that 140 character limit.