Friday, 30 April 2010

Using Nintendo DS and Dr Kawashima's Brain Training in the classroom...

Well it's done, I've sent off my latest assignment to my tutor and it feels good! I can enjoy the bank holiday weekend without it hanging over me. Not that I haven't enjoyed researching and writing it. I'm not claiming to be an expert in the area at all, but I have seen good improvement in the mental maths abilities of my class after using Nintendo and Brain Train despite what the BBC have to say.  For those of you who are champions of games-based learning, I hope it makes interesting reading, and for those of you who are not, perhaps you'll give it a go!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Book Club

I love Tuesdays. At lunchtime I run a small book club with the Year 6 teacher. We like to think of ourselves as a bit like Richard and Judy, but without the embarrassing bra incident or condescending banter.

We started it back in February with ten Year 5 and 6 children who were interested in reading and keen to discover new authors and books. Each week, one member suggests a title and we go off and either buy the book (from ebay or Amazon 'new and used'), borrow from a friend or take a trip to the library. Depending on the length of the book, we give ourselves either a week or two weeks to finish, with opportunities to discuss the books in between.

So far it's been fantastic. I've read a real range of books that I would have never have chosen, plus it's really got me back into reading for pleasure rather than just purpose. We've read Joesph Delaney's Spooks Apprentice, Michael Morpurgo's Born to Run, Elizabeth Laird's Red Sky in the Morning and Once by Morris Gleitzman. Through these we've covered shaggy dog stories, disability, the Holocaust and dark magic - fantastic! The children within the group are expert debaters and we have a 'no hands up' policy so we can have a real discussion around the table where everyone can chip in and feels comfortable to comment. Most of the children have gone on to read books by the same authors or more books in the series.

I've also set up a Book Club Forum via our VLE 'DB Primary'. Children log on and write their own reviews and I post the forthcoming books so that everyone has a good chance of getting hold of them. We even had our own Book Club Fuddle on our last session before Easter. If you're not familiar with a 'fuddle' it's a picnic where everyone nominates themselves to bring something to the feast. We had a ball and there were plenty of biscuits, buns and chocolates to go round!

When it came to suggesting a book myself, I chose A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. Obviously, this book is a little controversial because of the various swear words that appear throughout the story. We discussed this before we chose it and asked for parental permission to read it within the group. I'd read the book as a teenager and been inspired not only by the story but by the fantastic description Hines uses to paint pictures of even the simplest of things. I hoped that the children would appreciate that too.

Well it got a mixed reaction to say the least. Some children found the dialect hard to understand, others decided they never wanted to visit Barnsley and others really appreciated the story of downtrodden Billy and his desperate bid to have a little escapism via his Kestrel. They children were very mature about the colourful language used and understand it's affect on the reader and the impression it gave of the family. It was one of our best discussions yet as there were so many facets of opinion. I've suggested that the children re-read the book again in five years time and see what they think of it then.

I think a book club is a fabulous way to get children to reflect on their reading, in a way that a Guided Reading session doesn't seem to. The children have even passed their books onto their parents for them to read, so we're getting a thumbs up from them too!

Friday, 16 April 2010

Twittering away about the election...

I think it's important that people get involved with politics. I took Politics at A-Level and really enjoyed it despite not doing too well in the exam. I have a vivid memory about an essay I wrote on the three main political parties, when I got my comments back from the teacher she noted that where I had meant to put 'Conservatives' or 'Tories', I'd actually put 'Conservatories'! I look back and laugh and hope I'm a better proof reader these days! But actually when I think about conservatories (and I apologise now to anyone who has one and loves it) I'm actually not that keen on them, I believe they were quite popular in the 80s, and that these days people prefer more modern glass buildings. If I bought a house with one, I'd probably knock it down as I don't see that they serve a purpose, they can be very cold and only warm and comforting when the sun shines...ironic.

I like many others (I think about 20m) watched the live Election Debate on ITV last night with interest. What was more exciting and enthralling, however, was the live debate going on within social network sites, in particular Twitter. I think what happened last night was what the Greeks really meant when they referred to democracy as 'people power'. It was fantastic to read what ordinary people actually thought as it was happening, you can read many tweets at #leadersdebate

Social networking and indeed the rise of the Internet will no doubt make this election different from any other. I've already used several decision making websites including and @johnmclear's fabulous education policy sorter

Watching the debate, whilst tweeting and joining in the live debate in my own living room last night  really got me thinking about how politicians should be a bit more like teachers. What I mean is that in my lessons I try to present the facts, or better still help the children to find their own facts and then make up their own minds. An example would be in our 'Britain since 1948' history topic. I introduce the children to some key terms including 'immigration'. It's often clear to hear a parent voice during a debate on immigration (we are a 99% white school). I then present them with some facts; like the history of The Empire Windrush, they begin to see that immigration isn't as black and white as they first thought, if you excuse the pun.  As a passing thought, I've also taught 'Invaders and Settlers' in history - when does an immigrant become a settler? An online dictionary defines them as...
Settler def: a person who settles in a new country or a colony.
Immigrant def: a person who leaves one country to settle permanently in another.

I hope that today some political aides are busy trawling the thousands of tweets in the  #leadersdebate and are actually getting a feel for what the British people think, feel and want. I guess we'll only know if they have, if next week Harry Hill is presenting the live debate where there is opportunity for a few fisticuffs, Gordon Brown takes his eye out just because he can and the last important question is 'Marmite: Love it or Hate it? (real tweets I promise). I might send this blog entry to David Cameron, I could end up as one of his infamous anecdotes...

'I once knew this primary school teacher who said she wished politicians were more like teachers - presenting the facts in an interesting and stimulating way, using plain English so that listeners could make up their own minds...'

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Why Blog?

This is my first attempt at personal blogging. I've been running a school blog parallel with our website, and I once highjacked @mynictle 'bits and bobs', but this is me on my own and it's a tad scary!
@terryfreedman suggested that I should start one after a brief email about a current MA assignment I was working on. He suggested it would be the perfect forum to publish my own research. So here goes...

I've done a little digging around trying to answer the question 'why blog?' and actually the answer has been here all along. I read other people's blogs with interest, I love to hear about their experiences; their successes and failures. I love to pinch ideas and try them out myself. I also think it's a great way to escape the enclosure of the classroom.

I guess what I mean by that is that blogging gives you the opportunity to share and collaborate with other like-minded professionals and I miss that in teaching. I'm only been doing the job for less than two years - previously I was in publishing. I worked in a busy creative studio where you could bounce ideas off colleagues instantly. I find in teaching, there is very little time for collaborative reflection with colleagues in school. The school day is so packed, you rush from one lesson to the next, you might get ten minutes in the staffroom, but perhaps not everyone wants to spend their precious breaks discussing their new lesson ideas or pondering over their latest successes.

That's why blogging is great. It's an opportunity to be reflective - something every teacher should be. It's an opportunity to share - I've had some of my best lessons after reading a blog or catching an idea on Twitter. It's also an opportunity to chat with teachers and professionals who are doing what I think is the best job in the world.

I hope that through my blog I can continue to be a reflective teacher, share my successes and failures in the classroom (every good teacher should take a few risks) and perhaps pop my MA assignments up here for anyone who wishes to read them.

Any tips for being a good blogger will be gratefully received...