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Saturday, 18 November 2017

Scratch Jr from MIT

Hello anyone who' s reading,

So this is my second year of the on the job training for coding so to speak. I have restarted my coding club for the new academic year and have chosen my resources very carefully!

Last year I purchased 6 brand new raspberry pi 3 computers with 7" screens thinking that this would possibly solve all my computer problems regarding the teaching of coding. But they lacked practicality. That's not to say we didn't have a great time hacking Minecraft endlessly. Plus I learnt about just how much I didn't know.

This year I have gone back to basics with my coding skills. I dusted off the 6 blue bee bots I had purchased and thought about teaching the fundamentals before I ever got into python coding. Needless to say the beebots worked brilliantly and the bluetooth, although a bit of faff, worked fantastic with the iPads.


Attaching pens to the sides of beebots to draw letters wasn't easy but end up exploring repeating patterns and repeating codes
All children soon found a way to emulate each others coding
I then challenged them to connect two together
Maze and bee bot racing
Using obstacles in mazes
Cups for obstacles allowed movement to see where they went wrong 
I love masking tape


Once I felt we had got everything we could out of the beebot learning I moved on Scratchjr. Now I knew my club had already taught my self built unit the year before but I felt that this app had so much more that wasn't explored.

Here is the list of what we went through,


  • sprites and formal vocablulary.
  • debugging
  • clockwise and anticlockwise
  • directions
  • repeats
  • commands
  • if/then/when
  • backgrounds
  • editing and sprite creation
  • bloc coding
  • coordinates
  • variables (touched upon)
  • control pads
  • bumps
We created evasion games and maze games with different levels to much success. The people at MIT have really thought how to place a step between the use of bee bots and scratch 2 block coding. I have to say I've learnt such a lot myself. Just playing around gets your mind into the logical way of thinking that is required and how you might problem solve to find a solution. My only small complaint would be the lack of variables which means I can't create a score of any sort but I understand the breadth they create which may be over complicated. 

Maze Level 1
Maze level 2
Maze level 3
The final background when every level was complete

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pnkgl5uxxfQ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCLW9MvxfZ0

Here's my evasion game!


If you are not a born coder then go to the numerous video walk throughs on Youtube and look like an expert in front of your kids.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Life without levelling - hell or happiness

With the advent of the new Conservative government Primary Curriculum in 2013 came the announcement APP and levels were going. They've been gone now for a little while and some of you may miss them like an old comfortable sweat shirt and others are indifferent. But why get rid of them?

Now I know I'm going to say something fairly controversial but the new Primary Curriculum isn't particularly that bad... Yes it has some awful things like only studying History pre-1066 or an insistence on reading words per minute. We all knows every curriculum has it bad parts but on the whole its very much looks like professionals have developed very clear reasoning behind their decisions, whether or not our own children can actually achieve the expectations. For example, the Maths curriculum is an excellent example of knowledge and skills being built upon each other. 

But and there is a gigantic BUT. Opinion, school data pressures, ITAFs and private companies plague clear assessment of the children's actual ability. Coupled with the moving goal posts of scaled scores (especially KS1) makes determining a child's ability in comparison to another impossibly hard. 

Opinion

Inevitably, during the Spring Term, around May,  I will receive another totally new pupil. Whilst this in it's self is not a problem, finding out what the child already knows and where they are in relation to meeting the expected standard is difficult. I will claw at the last school for every scrap of information.  I will pour over books and any data that I'm given. Yet every time I am led to inexorable conclusion, that my judgements and another schools does not match. Now, maybe I'm a little bit harsher or possibly another school is generous in their judgements - who can tell? But the two things I do know is that interpretation and opinion play a role and my in-school judgements match the test conclusions 9 times out of 10. Now you could say I'm being egotistical here and by saying I've nailed it but it isn't about that. The point is, even with moderations,  the pressure on schools and teachers to achieve good results combined with the KS1 and Foundation Stage Teacher Assessment mean that a incredibly wide variety of interpretations can be given for one child's attainment. You could argue, what about LA external moderation - everyones dreaded fear. But we all know when we are likely to get moderated due to the fairly obvious rolling rota that is no secret. Teachers can tighten up their judgements on that year and go back to the free hand the next.

School Data Pressures

Value added and progress measures are becoming more prevalent data pressures have become ever more important. Constant judgements are given by teachers, every term or more likely every half term to see where the children are at. Talk about whiplash for teachers. Largely most teachers I know have the heads buried in data - why because it is tied to performance management and making the next pay threshold. What's wrong with that you may ask? Well nothing in the sense of sensible data to plan relevant tailored learning experiences combined with a tough rigorous pay system that rewards progress and achievement is good overall. But no one is on a level playing field and many people are on the receiving end of others. Year 2 and Year 6 are completely on the receiving end, with very little places to go. This is especially for Year 6 which are tested at the age 11 and what they get is what the get - no teaching judgement required apart from writing. Foundation Stage and Year 2 can if they want to override their data to look exceptional but this presents a snowball effect throughout the school. Year 1, Year 3, Year 4 and Year 5 have cart blanche with whatever school system they assess on. Little testing and no exemplar is available for these years to accurately determine the children's attainment. I'll outline an example below:

Say a Year 3 teacher is given the performance management target of ensuring more middle attainers become higher attainers in order to achieve their next increment. Then, lets say this teachers goes hell for leather trying to achieve this. Now, as this teacher is a human being and not infallible,  lets say they are an NQT and have their first child but their target is not being met. A situation now arises - I need more money for my life but my class are not playing ball and cannot meet this target in some areas. How tempting a situation this is!

A chain reaction begins...

1. No one really understands the school assessment system as its new, its not national and how can you be proven wrong - I'll just move them up a step or even a couple. No harm no foul!
2. A meeting ensues - the teacher maybe challenged and like any colleague is treated with respect and their judgement is accepted - probably even applauded!
3. Next year comes the year 3 teacher has their increment and a new class. Yay!
4. Year 4 teacher is given a similar task with lower attainer meeting middle attainment, yet finds they are having to back fill knowledge and skills the children should know.
5. But wait Year 4 teacher needs their increment of pay they have 3 mouths to feed at home. Those original children now higher attainers need to at least need to meet expected progress.
6. Those children who are lower attainers are moved higher and now are middle attainers and why? Because they must meet the standards or surpass the gauntlet set down by the previous teacher.
7. Year 5 teacher does exactly the same.
8. Year 6 teacher now has a class that have stunning attainment from their previous years curriculum yet none can actually do so - result SATs ultimately undos the children and Year 6 teacher is bereft of success and money.

Now obviously I'm engaging in hyperbole but, I have seen this happen again and again. Well you might argue management should be picking up this. Well they are! But between the increased load of thousands of other requirements and quite frankly scary level of social work they take on, time is at a premium. Trips, British Values, looking for terrorists, extra whole school events, safeguarding, new school initiatives, data sifting, parent complaints and covering staff all take up a dizzying amount of time. But without which Ofsted would deem the school as not meeting the grade.

ITAFs

This stands for Interim Teacher Assessment Framework. Essentially a list of bullet point markers which bares close resemblance to the curriculum however, doesn't always quite match. Some points are particularly detrimental as they may hold a child back from really what they can do. The tight fit model, a move away from the best fit model used at Foundation Stage, unnecessarily impedes children's real attainment. For example, if a high attaining writer shows all the requisite qualities of being at greater depth but cannot join handwriting they cannot be awarded the GD standard. Whether they are able to actually join their handwriting due to fine motor skills development that will only develop over time is thus irrelevant. They have failed!

Private Companies

What I find extremely alarming is the back door privatisation of the data industry surrounding schools. A whole host of data companies such as target tracker and pupil asset have sprung up to provide sometimes excellent, and sometimes dismal services. Furthermore, no system is transferable to another school: meaning if another child came from another school, it would be very hard to ascertain where that child fit in terms of attainment, progress and historical data. A whole dizzying host of academic vocabulary has sprung up like exceeding, excelling, secure, greater depth, mastering, secure+ etc, all meaning different and the same things. Who knows?! Then into the mix comes point in time assessment... A totally different way of assessing children such a 4, 5 or 6 is expected. With behaviour and progress vocabulary of equal array of vocabulary, who knows? And that really is the question who knows? Certainly not the parents...Certainly not the next school...Certainly not the teachers. All this is designed not really for the benefit of the children, but for the benefit of Ofsted to prove however disastrous your results maybe, little Jimmy the disadvantaged child is diffusing the difference because he's a 4 at this point in time!

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Highway to the burnout zone! (written July 2016)

Wow! I found this little ditty whilst I was looking at my drafts. Upon reading it again, I feel it is still relevant although I know this was properly meant for my eyes only. But upon reflection and in the spirit of professional openness I do feel its important to share your lows and your highs.



Burnout

So aside from the corny title (couldn't resist!) it's time to reflect on the balance... specifically the life balance.

Bluntly put I'm there! I'm the Mayor of Burnout city. I am so tired... Trust me this no exaggeration. I have been going for years now with nearly no complaints but last week was by far the most terrifyingly testing. I had been off sick a couple weeks ago, so bad in fact that I was sent home! I know when does that ever happen. But to be honest I haven't ever really fully recovered. I came back on the edge and when the computer melted into itself I was so done! It's funny where each our limits are but that was it for me. Add into the mix, countless outside agencies and people observing I was begging for this holiday.

Now to be fully objective I have a incredible class, with a superb Teaching Assistant and I work with some amazing people. However, this job plays on my both my best and worst traits, habits and nuances. Before getting into teaching or even if you are in teaching already I think it's important to analyse yourself to pick out where it may unravel. Now it is not easy. A bit like assessing what makes the economy tick, you never can completely know every action that contributes to the end. But you need to give it a go to avoid that perfect storm and stay in calm waters. So here is my analysis....

Firstly, I am for all intense purposes completely obsessive which can lead to some cool results but with a job like a teacher things are never going to be finished and fantastic. In fact if you are to believe the government and SLT's everywhere you are never good enough. Needless to say, I find this very hard to take.... To find out that the outstanding I so longingly strive for in an observation is now irrelevant in the new Conservative age of education is, to say the very least, soul destroying. This feels awfully like you fail every time you get observed.

Secondly, I am in my working life a yes person. I say yes to everything and sometimes you just have to say no I can't do that. I have unfortunately failed at that. But I know there has to be a line!!! I love to be a positive person but no just seems negative. However, if you really can't get it done an apology and a politely worded no is the better alternative than semi sobbing into a cold cup of tea on a Wednesday break time.

Finally, I love the way things look! This always always always means more work. Whether it's a creative title for a wall or beautiful resource for the children to use. Even those little progress bars for the children have to be highlight blue!!! But this is my flaw because it drives me up the wall.

The moral of my little story is to stay strong by finding your weakness. If there is any advice I can give any PGCE or NQTs out there is don't do it my way.

Keep well!

Absence

Hello everyone,

I realise I have been absent for almost a year now with my posts. This past year to be frank has been unbelievably busy! It has been the most tremendous and turbulent year full of great stress but overwhelming joy. I have built my own home (with help from amazing people around me), got married and welcomed my first born into our family. Coupled with this I have now risen to the dizzying height of middle management and extended my role outside of the classroom. Unfortunately all of these wonderful things came within weeks of each other and not without complications. You know it never rains but it pours! Our boy was born a little early after some scares and thus I had to prioritise what's most important in life. This blog this year unfortunately was not one of them. But alas I'm back and ready to get cracking again now there is some sort of normality returning.

Posting soon :) :) :)

Monday, 16 May 2016

SATS, sleepless nights and writing for a purpose

Well it's another late night and I thought I'd write a blog post to catch up. I feel I have been a little lazy on updating my blog and that's just rude. I do apologise...

So what's been going on. Well to put it bluntly May is here and SATs have been my life.  I have marked them, collated them, analysed them and even dreamed about them. Though I can't help but feel a certain degree of disappointment about them. I dont believe in testing 7 years but no its not that.... it's that they don't really tell me anything! Scaling scores come out at the end of May and even the scores I do have matter very little until then...

For all their importance in the school year I still have to go to moderation and prove against key indicator statements. So I now find myself scrambling to make sure each child has the evidence I need to support my judgements. I really wonder why I had worried myself at all. But a couple thoughts popped into my head about SATs through administering them this year.

Firstly, timing. I think I probably took the leap early compared to everyone else. I know my children and I know that they are about as useful as a rubber duck in a snow storm when it comes to the last two weeks of a half term. I am seeing it today. The inevitable social problems and behavioural issues cassading through the class. They are tired. I really do wonder if schools who have left it to the last minute have done themselves a disservice.

Secondly,  I was fairly surprised about the reading paper 1 (ks1). Three really annoying little parts where you had to stop the children mid flow. I think next year I will space these three sections out...

Lastly, I don't like to be a tail teller but it seems schools have been seriously misabusing the test conditions this year. Children revising whilst in the same rooms, carouseling testing and alsorts of nafarious practices. So what stock do I take in outcomes can I take any?

Now I find myself on the long road to moderation...  It's paved with:   Have I got it? How am I going to get it? Where the hell is it? Particularly writing... I've been finding it a largely torturous endeavour. That was until I started giving writing a serious going over in my mind. What makes a good writer? What is going to get the children writing to their maximum ability? The answer seems clear to me... write for a purpose! Currently I have set up two opportunities for the children to communicate internationally writing letters. The children are passionate and the writing is really progressing!

I'll let you know how it goes...

Monday, 4 April 2016

Oh no he didn't oh yes he did - app review puppetedu

Puppet edu

So I'm back... So much for the app review every week! 
This app is a fantastic way to engage primary children and presenting information without much hassle. Now I'm not going to say there will be no hassle as the children will have to learn to use the app and it's functions. But its interface is incredibly well thought out.

So this is the kind of thing you can produce...




Now this app is from the same lovely people who created the Seesaw: Learning Journal app. Which is great for my classroom personally because the app is completely integrated with the other. Saving work on the iPad has never been easier. Teach the children the upload button and you have solved the problem of saving work to be viewed later.

The app allows you to take pictures or download them from the internet. Once you have your images then you can order them very simply. From there it is a case of recording sound over the top of the images. The children can change the timing of the slides or even record parts of the voice recording. Text and emojis can be added in all sizes and colours. But what I enjoy the most is there isn't an abundance of choice for the children to get hung up upon. After an inevitable few not so good attempts the children can produce a great presentation.

Friday, 25 March 2016

What's happening? Who has the plan? Does anyone know? - Teacher Moderation 2016

My thought pattern over this academic year was as follows...

Be positive! Stay positive! Am I positive! OK just keep being positive... no you can do this... what's this oh ok thats ok... wait hang on what's this... and what's this?  But that doesn't make sense with this or that... what is going on? 

This rather long and laborious journey is all related to teaching assessment this year. I know everyone is as frustrated as me this years interim teacher assessment. Now I know this will be the first time I have attempted this for my school. But as a new teacher I quite relished the challenge of the hashing out a set of professional judgements about the children in my class. I knew I was possibly going to be up against the big wigs up at County and the government as an institution. I had it all set out in my mind... 

"See here child is A is this child is this" I would say to the demon dream crushers of county.

"Hmm well Mr Holmes I'm not sure about this" he would scoff.

"No look here and there! I'm right so there" I would defiantly claim.

"OK you are so right but I will get you next time" he would say skulking away until next year.

Queue patriotic music... bah bu bu bah bahhh bah

Yeh whoop fighting the man!

No such luck. Early in the year I quickly realised things were going wrong and I would be robbed of the chance to kick the proverbial dog. Bluntly put the current curriculum testing and assessment has been plagued by ambiguous mixed messages, arbitrary rules, too many contradictions and endless blundering. In my blog I think anybody can see I'm nothing but a pragmatic positive optimist. It really pains me to write such negativity but what's the truth is the truth...

I shall outline some of the difficulties that I am experiencing in brief.

The getting rid of levelling. The department for education said that the old levelling was difficult for the parents to understand. Now to a certain degree I understood this, I'm sure a 2B meant little to parents. So out they went...Did they replace them with 1 2 3 or even a b c all of which are universally understood. NOPE. Let's replace them with senseless letter acronyms. They are so devoid of any meaning that I can't even remember them!

The move from best fit to a secure fit model. Not only do the children have very difficult and demanding key descriptors to meet. But if they fail to evidence one on the preceeding set but can do all above in the higher set then they out and out fail. I'll give you an example. Let's just say I have a child that can write with subordinate clauses and beautiful prose. But fails to consistently put in full stops in their writing they fail automatically. Now an argument can be made that the teacher has failed to address or teach them full stops. But sometimes children's personalities completely override teacher wishes and hopes. What seems even more ridiculous is that we live in a world where people will be typing on computers which can tell you what's wrong with your writing. I always want to throw my computer out of the window when it underlines my writing saying passive voice consider revising. Why should I deny children the same soul destroying task.

Handwriting! Honestly I fell like I tripped into the tardis and fell back into the Victorian times. I sense that any tories reading this will be itching to tell me 'well one ought to ensure ones transcription is legible for ones recipients besides Britain was a tremendous nation back then ahhh the good ol days'. Unsubstantiated nonsense... The old days were full of awful pedantic practice for the sake of practice. Yes your handwriting should be be neat enough for others to read but joining should be a personal choice. Is there a correct way to join? NO! Does it matter if anyone does join? NO! Surely it's time to face up to things are computerised now. Shh don't tell anyone but...... the world is run on computers. But does either make a better writer...nope. The current system has been relaxed but only so much as to say that if you are a writing at greater depth then you are a joiner. But if not then you are only just meeting national standards. This doesn't take into account clear medical research that shows that seven year old boys often can't develop the fine motor skills to be able to join handwriting.

Grammar. Currently our six and seven year old will have to sit a GPS test. Harsh indeed considering the average adult cannot sit them successfully. I see the same strange glazed mixed with terror look fall across parents faces when I mention grammar. Often followed by well 'I was better at maths'. However, what's most confusing is that it counts for nothing. First of all it doesn't count towards evidence for meeting the standards in writing. Moreover, they have to use grammar in written pieces to prove they have met it. Huh but what happens if it doesn't come up in that particular piece of writing? Even more strangely is that my teacher assessment overrides it all. A curious way to spend time.

Drum roll please... exclamation sentences. Apparently a late clarification from the department of education has said that an exclamation sentence starts with 'how' or 'what' has a subject, verb and an exclamation mark. Now I have looked and spoken to a great many individuals and I cannot find any origin of this definition. It doesn't even seem related to the way anyone speaks or writes. My question would be why? Let's leave it there.

Constant late clarifications and clarifications that the  need more clarifications. Everything is rushed and half baked. Why release anything in the first place if it's not correct. Surely there should be a clear transparent end goal that everyone is included in achieving. Schools and teachers are currently left hopelessly in the dark. 




I have so many questions, equivocations, worries and fears currently about the looming end of year judgements. Too many to write about here. It feels good to unload. Even if it is into the abiss of the world wide web.

If anyone does read this throw me a comment good or bad.