Bev's adventures in ICT

Archive for the ‘Bev's Waffle’ Category

You’re Gonna Find Me…Out in the Country

Over the bank holiday weekend I made the five and a half hour trek from Pembrokeshire to Yorkshire to be involved in what ended up being the most enjoyable educational themed event I’ve ever been to: CampEd12. I can’t even put into words what ultimately made it so wonderful, I just know I spent the whole time with a smile on my face. What began as a little fun chat on twitter turned into a truly magical experience for all involved, and fo that thanks have to go to the terrific trio of Dughall, Bill and Helen. Pulling the event off was quite an achievement – well done guys!

So…let’s start with day 1. We were a bit late arriving to the actual camp site, so missed the introduction, and a lot of the earlier arrivals were out doing things already, but this didn’t really matter. I was met with one smiling face after another: James Langley and his geocaching crew, Penny Patterson, who leapt upon the opportunity to photograph my hair (this, I found out later, was something to do with Mission Explore), the blooming Helen and her family, an assortment of smiling, excited children and, finally, Kevin McLaughlin, his partner and his gorgeous baby girl. After the art equipment for Saturday’s activities had been unpacked and the guitar had been brought in ready for the evening’s sing song sesh, it was time for a mug of tea and a chat. My son, Matty, sat himself on a nice comfy bale of straw and got out his sketch book while Kevin’s little one had a bit of fun with the iPad. She tried out a few different apps but her favourite was definitely Draw Stars! Actually I was slightly overstating it when I said Kevin’s tot was trying out apps: it was more a case of us showing her apps and encouraging her to interact, which she did with varying degrees of success. What she really wanted to do though was turn the iPad over to see if she could work out where the twinkly noises were coming from! Anyhoo – it was great fun.

Eventually a few more people started to arrive and more chatting ensued. I had a great discussion with Vicki McCormick about apps that would work in a Foundation classroom and then, after what seemed hardly any time at all, we all decamped to the local to watch the FA Cup final. To be fair not a lot of football watching was done – we were having way too much fun chatting about other stuff! After the football (who won? what was the score?) it was back down ‘the hill’ (this blog post explains all about the significance of ‘the hill’) for a bbq and the aforementioned sing song sesh, as organised by the fabulous Dan Bowen, who showed unbelievable patience with us people pretending to be guitarists (okay – that would just be me). I believe all genres were covered (ish) by our little band although we did suffer the blow of ace guitarist TeaKayB leaving to set up his telescope (yes, that’s right, we even had night time activities). Despite this the band carried on and we’re ‘bulked up’ by the addition of a percussion section (mainly Tony Parkin with assistance from others), the additional vocal oomph of Alex Bellars and assorted backing singers. The band also managed to encompass all age groups: from the under tens to the previously mentioned Mr Parkin (now known as ‘the old bloke’ – more of that later). As we were among the group that were not camping the end of the night involved another trip up ‘the hill’ to get back to the warmth of the b&b: some people were far braver and camped on site. I salute you all!

And so to day 2. Matty was keen to try out geocaching while I set up and organised the art activities in the barn so he set off with Susan Banister, Penny and Tony in what I believe was a dream team scenario. Matty has never been good with names and later returned to tell me he’d had a great time with my friend with brown hair (Susan), the nice lady with white hair (that’ll be Penny) and the old bloke! The choice of activities was quite diverse: day two included den building, moor walking, football fun, paper folding, science activities, daytime astronomy in addition to the art and geocaching already mentioned! This was where I realised that running a session meant I missed out on trying out a few new things – something I’ll bear in mind next time ;). The main art activity was tissue paper painting but there was plenty of sugar paper and other resources available for younger children to just have messy fun with  as well (and that they did) – it was definitely an equal opportunities workshop!   The finished artwork was amazing – there was a little bit of everything and many finished images were inspired by the landscape, including the one below (an amazing piece created by Alex). It must be said that all the pictures were special in their own way. A particular mention must go to Steve Bunce’s rainbow stripe picture which many felt paid homage to Tony Parkin’s 80’s style jumper from the night before (I’ll let you make up your own mind…).

Day two finished with the ‘official dinner’: lovely food and great company (Matty particularly enjoyed spending time with fellow Red Dwarf fan TeaKayB and  Emma) with much reflection on the events of the past two days. Plans were hatched, friendships were forged and ideas were swapped but the general feeling was the sort of warm fuzzy glow that can only come from spending time with people who are all pulling together to make something happen. It does your soul good to be part of something that is inspirational and it was wonderful how everyone just got along and made the magic happen. A big thank you must go out to everyone involved for making Matty (who is usually quite shy and quiet) feel part of things: he really got a lot out of the weekend and cheerfully talked with anyone who cared to spend a bit of time with him.

The weekend ended with emotional goodbyes, lots of ideas and the packing of cars. As everyone set off to their various home destinations we were already thinking about the next steps. If I could bottle the atmosphere of the whole weekend and take it with me everywhere I would. That has to be the mark of something very special.

This Sporting Life

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There are so many things going on this year – it’s difficult to keep up!!! This summer’s Olympics must rate pretty highly though and it gives so many opportunities for learning. Here are a few ideas that might inspire you to try something new or different in your classroom.

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Now I love Google Sketchup. It’s one of those programs that the children can grab hold of and just run with. What’s even better is that there are plenty of tutorials available for using it – just check out You Tube! And what better way to use it than to get pupils to design an Olympic village, sports facility or stadium? Or, if you’re trying to inspire your pupils to write, get them to design one of the above and then write instructions on how to do it for other pupils to follow. Genius.

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Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to get to the Olympic site. But you can take an aerial tour of what it looked like while being constructed. Tours from above is a great idea and contains many other useful aerial tours you could use in the classroom – perfect for those times when you want to whisk your class away to somewhere different.

The statistical data that gets thrown at you during big sporting events makes them perfect for linking to maths. Why not think about introducing some games based learning? Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games would be perfect for this and has already been used in classrooms for this very purpose. I know a number of educators have developed ideas for using this, including the ever wonderful Steve Bunce, so why not give it a whirl?

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Obviously there are so many more ideas that could be mentioned. There are numerous videos of past Olympic events that could be used to inspire pupils to write or as discussion points in the classroom. There are a whole load of links on the Project Britain and BBC sites that could be very useful. I’ve created an ICT challenge pack for UKS2, that includes PowerPoint templates and other bits and pieces. You could create news items, based on past Olympics using the BBC On This Day, as used here or design your own sporting outfits. Whatever you choose – I’m sure it will be fab!

 

A New Direction

Well, hello. It’s been quite a while since my last blog post, and with good reason. Last year I changed my job; no longer am I school based. These days I work at TES, devoting time to finding and creating quality resources that support pupils with SEN. I still, however, like to keep up to date on what is happening in education and spend time exploring lots of web based ideas I think might be interesting and I thought, what with today being the 29th February and therefore a little special, I’d share a few new finds an old favourites. All these sites have some link to inclusion (even when it’s not obvious – I will explain) and all of them are free to use. So here we go – a special top ten for a special day! Hopefully there’s something for everyone here.

1. Doorway Online: I love this site. I cannot stress how useful it is for so many reasons! All the activities on here have been created with inclusion in mind and would be useful across a number of different settings. All the activities have a clear font and an uncluttered layout. It’s just lovely 🙂

2. Poisson Rouge: If you haven’t indulged it the joy of the Red Fish you really need to check it out! No instructions and some areas are undeniable French (it is a French website after all) but within the madness there are some great activities The ‘School of English‘ (the castle) is quite handy for learning vocab and other languages are supported too – making it great for MFL. In the bugs section (flower on the windowsill) there are lovely basic mouse skills activities and matching games that would be useful to use with pupils in EY or SEN settings. Everything is brightly coloured and engaging. Some items might be a little annoying (the choir is distinctly odd) but there is a wealth of usefulness within the site – both ICT skills wise and across other curriculum areas.

3. Literactive: This is one of those websites you will either love or hate. It’s free to register and you can ask to register with UK English (the site is American). I just found that the Road to Reading  section had some really useful sequencing and memory based activities that some pupils with SEN found both engaging and enjoyable. It is pitched at a young audience but the animated content in the sequencing activities and some of the more cartoony elements mean that you could use it with some slightly older pupils if you needed to.

4. Help Kidz Learn: Another website that has been created with inclusion in mind (after all – it is from the bod at Inclusive Technology), this one has lots of beautifully presented and helpful activities across a number of areas. As you would expect, the activities are switch accessible and are all aimed at a basic skill level. This doesn’t take away from the beautiful design of them and I particularly like the creative section.

5. Bembo’s Zoo: I have a real soft spot for this website. It inspired one of my first blog posts and is truly beautiful. You would need to be creative to find lots of ways to include it in your teaching (although animal and alphabet focused sessions are a given) but it’s worth exploring. Even if it is just for fun.

6. TESiboard: I was a big fan of TESiboard long before I went to work at the TES. I’m still a fan. A plethora of great interactives from, EY to KS2, that can be used in a number of ways. And, from read aloud story books to creative activities (taking in lots of great curriculum topics along the way), there is so much here that’s available to support pupils with SEN. I remember suggesting this one to a 1 to 1 TA when the class were writing about their families – she needed something quick and accessible for her charge and this did the job brilliantly!

7. ARKive: A fabulous website with so much information included it’s mind boggling. It even has a layer you can use when accessing Google Earth! Loads of video and photo content, which is fabulous quality, and supporting teaching resources and games too. I think it’s just an amazing site that you (and the children) will want to explore time and time again.

8. Qwiki: It’s not perfect but any website that allows you to search for a topic then watch a slideshow about that topic while listening to audio content (a little fast but still useful) has to be a winner. Yes, the automated voice is a little annoying (but you can control the volume and pause the slideshow/go back over things) and the images are sometimes not the most accurate (check something before you let the children loose) but the pros still outweigh the cons as far as I am concerned. It even has read along captions with the slideshow which you can turn off if you want to.

9. Dabbleboard: There always seem to be new tools appearing that can be used to support collaborative learning and thinking skills within the classroom. Dabbleboard takes elements of both and fuses them together seamlessly. You can draw. You can type. You can add shapes, arrows and lines. You can share. You can chat. You can insert pictures and documents. Truly fab.

10. Teacher LED: Lots of nice, clear activities for your IWB. Many are maths based but other areas are covered too. I really like the new Word Circle activity, mainly as it reminds me of a similar idea I had using PowerPoint. I’m also a fan of the Map Maker. Some of the maths based interactives are the best I’ve seen – just take a look for yourselves.

Are you an Angry Bird (addict)?

So…here goes with my second post of the day – I must be mad. I did, however, promise a few people I would share a few of my bonkers ideas for using Angry Birds as a basis for learning in the classroom. I’m sure many of you have some ideas of your own to go with this topic and I have a few friends who have already been using Angry Birds activities as a way of engaging pupils in the classroom. Now not all of these ideas are ICT based but I promised I would share them so…here we go…

First the mad part. I was sitting on the train the other day with my ipad and I saw a mum bring out some home made toys for her little one. Simple felt balls, about 6 cms across, (created as shown above) with little eyes and extras on. I thought how that would make a lovely idea for a school fete or similar and made a note of it.  Then she brought out a blue one that looked just like an Angry Bird – my mind went into overdrive. My initial idea was to get pupils to create them (or, possibly a friendly adult) and stuff them with a set weight of kapok so they could be used in maths for weighing/comparing/measuring. Maybe sort them so that the black one weighs twice as much as the red one which weights twice as much as the blue ones (if you know what I mean). After this, mind still in overdrive mode, I thought about creating a separate set of blue ones which had three mini blue ones inside – for times tables work or counting (but  I realise this might be pushing things a little too far…). Of course, if money is no object, you could always purchase a complete set of Angry Birds plush toys but I doubt many school budgets would stretch to them!

Let’s move onto my next batch of mad ideas then. After maths I moved onto science. How about using the little blighters you’ve just made for maths in a lesson on forces, complete with giant catapult. Too dangerous? Well it’s just an idea. Coming back down to earth with a bump (!!!! – sorry, couldn’t resist) why not use autoshapes, or another shape drawing program, to create your own Angry Birds? They could be as simple or complicated as you like. The one above is fairly straightforward – I bet the pupils could come up with something better. Another ICT idea I came up with involved the use of 2DIY (or maybe even 2DIY 3D if you have access to Purple Mash): creating games based on the Angry Birds story and characters. Maybe a journey game where the birds have to sneak past the pigs. Or a collection game for finding golden eggs. Again – the children are bound to come up with much better ideas.

And so to my final few ideas for today (and, I’m warning you, I have loads more): let’s link to literacy. If there are pupils who are really familiar with the game they could hone their instruction writing skills by creating walkthroughs for other children to follow. I think this would be a lovely exercise that could involve some really obvious peer assessment. I also think that the initial introduction to the game would make an interesting story starter and, if you want to get really into it, why not get pupils to storyboard and create their own game trailers, similar to the one seen here? I bet they come up with some corkers!

It’s Your Letters

I wasn’t going to blog today. Honestly, I wasn’t. But then I thought, following on from yesterday’s post, I’d make some letter cards to share with everyone (and you can download them here). What struck me while making these was 1. – how difficult it was to find letters that were not watermarked or copyright protected and 2. how few lowercase letters were actually available. I had the most success looking at craft and home furnishing sites and I ended up creating some of the letters by using word art and filling them with unusual textures.

With this in mind I had a bit of a brainwave. Why not send children out and about (around school or possibly when you’re offsite) with a wordlist, plus a camera or mobile device, and let them find the letters required and take photos of them. You would have your own bespoke set of funky letters to use. It would be a really hands on way to support spelling and I’m sure the results would look great on a display.

 

Old favourites revisited.

I spent a bit of time this morning going through long and forgotten folders on my computer (sad, I know, but a bit of housekeeping was in order) and came across a few things I remember downloading long ago when working with pupils with Special Educational Needs. Some of them are quite old and some of them may still be available online but I thought someone, somewhere might find them helpful so…here we go.

The first thing I came across this morning was a game/activity simply called Road. I remember downloading it so it could be used as a free time activity by a child who loved trains. I have a feeling I found it though SENTeacher.org but can’t see it listed there today so I’ve placed a link to a zip folder here. With a little investigating I’ve found a similar, more modern equivalent on HelpKidzLearn but this doesn’t have the same flexibility or options as Road which still seems to run okay on my newer system(although the one on HelpKidzLearn is switch accessible). It does look dated but might still be fun for the child who loves to play with trains and roadways. Another free time activity I came across and downloaded (possibly for the same child) was John’s Funny Face game: pointless fun for those with a few minutes spare.

Another couple of great downloads I remember finding via SENTeacher.org were called Tunes and Chimes: simple musical activities that worked brilliantly on a touch screen. In this day and age of apps and interactive content they are looking a little tired and dated but still might be fun to try out. Chimes is very simple and I first used it just to get a particular child engaged in touching the screen but Tunes is quite funky in its own way and might be a nice alternative to some of the newer interactive music things about (such as Incredibox), especially for younger pupils. It’s worth mentioning at this point that many of the downloads I found via SENTEacher.org are still there (some newer and updated) and could be useful in any classroom setting: not just one set up for pupils who need that little bit extra. A few of the mathematics downloads are particularly useful and it’s definitely not just a website for practitioners and facilitators working within the Special Needs sector! Another great place with free general classroom downloads is the Primary Resources online activities section. The activities run online but are also downloadable and there are some really useful things there, including an activity for ordering numbers that I have flagged up to many people over the years.

Returning to Special Needs, I came across a few downloads this morning to support the use of sign language in the classroom.  These came from ET Resources and are still available (Windows platform only). The downloads can be run in a demo mode (without purchasing an activation code) and include a range of simple signs that have a picture prompt and supporting text alongside the sign. You can search through the signs available and click on one to view. A small flashcard then pops up in the bottom right of your computer screen. The sets don’t include endless numbers of signs but it is a good way of checking a sign you’re not sure of or picking up a new one. The signs would be particularly useful when supporting a signing child in a mainstream setting – especially for those who were not confident in their signing as it is always good to have back up.

I have to say I came across endless downloads to support literacy when sorting things out today but, unfortunately, many of them will not run on anything newer than Windows XP. I have fond memories of using RnR spelling ( Look, Cover, Write and Check activity where you could add your own lists) with lots of children but it just doesn’t work on newer computers (although I’ve still got it if anyone does is still running XP and would like it!). There are similar things available to use online, they just don’t give you the same amount of control (although they are excellent). My pick would be the Doorway Speller but there are also versions from Ambleside Primary and ICT Games (among others). I also had a huge collection literacy of resources from Grey Olltwit – the site still going but has different activities and it would seem you know have to register – that no longer work but most of those activities (missing letter, hangman) would be available elsewhere on the web I am sure. You might wonder, with all this talk of literacy, why there is a picture of a calculator above this section. It’s just because I was going to mention it. I downloaded a stand alone version of it a long time ago and it’s still available online via Crickweb – a site with loads of great activities for different areas of the curriculum (and it also includes links to other worthwhile sites). And for those of you who don’t want a Big Blue Calculator; here’s a big red one – just in case.

So, You Wanna be a Digital Leader?

There’s been a lot of chat on Twitter recently about Digital Leaders: pupils who can carry out a range of simple ICT based ‘jobs’ within school settings. It is an absolutely fabulous idea and there’s a great blog post about it, by Ian Addison, here if you want to find out more. Lots of schools have mini task forces for all sorts of little jobs ( School Council, recycling group, e-safety group – need  I go on?) so why not have a group of pupils doing little tech based things that will save the  a bit of precious teacher time.

Thing is, lots of school groups end up having little badges to wear out and about in the school corridors and I thought it might be nice to have something suitable and adaptable for the Digital Leaders. With that in mind I’ve created some editable badge templates, in Word and Publisher format that some of you might find useful. I’ve placed clip art images of children on them at the moment but these can easily be replaced by photos or other avatars. The borders could be changed to reflect school colours and I’ve used the much maligned Comic Sans font as I thought it was one most schools would have readily installed.  Why don’t you download them and start developing a Digital Leaders culture in your school – you know it makes sense.