Archive for January, 2007

“It’s not rocket science!” No.36

| January 31, 2007 | 0 Comments 

The first “not rocket science!” of 2007 but, if you missed the old ones:
Simply: I am often caught saying it…
All your “It’s not rocket science!” spottings always relished.

Thank you to Alex from Edinburgh for this one.

ICT Register: “Here Miss!”

| January 31, 2007 | 0 Comments 

When I was at school, I used to have the day dream (I am sure everbody used to have it… didn’t they?!) that I was the Six Million Dollar Man. (Oh go on…be honest! Who hasn’t secretly done “in-head commentaries” as they puff their way breathlessly around a school playing field in an ill-fitting M&S tracksuit… or was that just me?!) Well, it was with flashbacks (and that’s not nylon against dralon sparks!) to those glorious pseudo-athletic days that I navigated my way around the impressive Loughborough University complex to find the venue for the ICT Register Showcase. (“Here comes the small but perfectly formed, neat yet not gaudy and only slightly balding athlete, Rylands, representing England at the Witter Olympics!) What a remarkable establishment.

I was also reminded of my trip to Cyan (the minds behind the Myst games) and their offices in Spokane, last August. There, the front entrance has been “ripped away” from the main building and placed the other side of a small bridge. At the venue yesterday, we entered via a long drawbridge across a lake. Very Myst-like.

I enjoyed meeting up with Sian Bloor, a student teacher who is investigating the power of computer games in the classroom. It always a pleasure to talk to people with a passion for their subject and Sian is one of those. A perceptive and enthusiastic soul, who will make a very valuable member of the teaching profession. I wish her luck in her studies.

picture-3.pngAnother great find was the folk on the Mathletics stand. Shane, Alice and the rest of the team showed me my first looks at, what seems to be an impressive, web-based environment for motivating children’s maths skills. I am keen to find out more.

My presentation was slightly marred by the venue’s sound system being almost as mute as the swans on the lake outside. I would like to thank the audience for a warm and generous response. Thank you to all those at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and the ICT Register for inviting me to speak at a great event. It was a delight to meet up with them all beforehand too.

I have been fortunate enough to do some work with Scott Wilson, and the staff of the Bristol Sensory Support Service, on finding ways of using the visual literacy ideas, and the audio from the games etc, with the children they work alongside. It is something I am being asked to become involved in more often now as people are aware of the huge potential these simple ideas have for motivating all children.

Today’s link is to a really useful page on the RNID website, which is their Fingerspelling Tool. With it you can learn how to finger spell letters, words or indeed whole sentences that you type in to a text box.

To follow the link, just feel how warm my hands are after attempting to sign through this post!

There’s no business like snow business!

| January 27, 2007 | 0 Comments 

Wednesday this week started out looking like it could have been a challenging day.
It turned out to be a real delight.

I arrived at Northend Primary, in Bexley, in the middle of a snowblast. I plugged my laptop in and …nothing but buzz. The first class I was due to teach came into the room understandably buzzing as well, because of the scenery outsidesnowflake-1.jpg and the snowballs they had evidently thrown at each other.

I breathed in and started the game. A soggy round of “We’ve been here” rang out. Anything else to go wrong I wondered.

That was it though. The rest of the day was, as I say, an absolutely cracking day. They were hooked. It is really energizing to find that children of all abilities respond magically to these simple ideas. The last class I visited had had maths, literacy, science and been swimming… and then a bald bloke with a walking stick arrives and starts playing computer games and getting them to write extended descriptive narrative! They were still up for it. Believe it or not they had a bucket of snow from the morning that had not melted.

Things like snow, water, heat… make a powerful sensory stimulus for children who find it difficult to express themselves when we are exploring the visually rich MrRylandsIslands as somebody, wonderfully, called it today. Paper towels were another sensory way of representing leaves in one of the locations we visited. I had a great day working with four classes and then had an after schooloct30a_a_sm.jpg session with the staff. I realise that it is these practical times with children (and staff observing the lessons) that I enjoy the most. Ideas just snowball!

I had a longer drive than I had anticipated to get a replacement laptop, but it was well worth it. Thanks to all those at Northend for a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Any of my minor technical problems were nothing compared to those of “Website Clive” in Normandy. He awoke to discover his whole hard drive had imploded. Thankfully, he has been a diligent chap with his back ups but the speed that he works on websites meant that, even then, he has lost a lot of data and hours of work. A salutary prompt to us all, me included. They too had a snowfall, so Clive appears to have worked off some of his frustration with a romp with Basil, the Les Rouges Terres snow-hound.

Web-concepteur

Today’s link is an appropriately snowy one: Make your own, virtual snowflake.

Let us snow how you get on!
snowflake.jpg

http://snowflakes.barkleyus.com/

Courage Award

| January 21, 2007 | 0 Comments 
A Winscombe man has been honoured in the People’s Courage Awards for 2006 for showing ‘outstanding bravery and strength of character’in throwing out a number of old computer cables, even though he could not remember where they came from and could not be certain that one of them might not come in handy again at some point in the future!

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Power cables

Richard Cureton, 26, had apparently been complaining for some time that he was no longer able to close the bottom drawer of his home work-station as it was so jam-packed with old power leads, redundant chargers, USB links, iPod speakers, power cables, redundant modem cables and the printer wire from an Amstrad 8256.

‘We suggested stuffing the lot into a Tesco’s bag and chucking it on top of the wardrobe,’ said neighbour, Rita Hinton, 32. ‘Or storing them all in the loft with the vague intention of maybe trying to flog them as a job lot on eBay one day. But none of us could have guessed for a moment what Richard was actually going to do.’

‘We were stunned’ said Hinton. ‘There was a curly off-white cable with like, a round five pronged little plug on one end and a square blue plastic bit on the other. That must have been essential for something. And the redundant phone chargers might have worked as a back-up charger for another mobile phone that he might purchase in the future. It was madness.’

But when Cureton’s courage came to the notice of the organisers of the People’s Courage Awards, they knew there could only be one winner:

‘We are fed up of giving out these awards to blokes who have rescued people out of the sea, or kids that have kept smiling through terrible diseases,’ said a spokesman. ‘Chucking out mystery computer cables; that’s what I call courage.’ Cureton said he was going to spend the prize money on computer peripherals, specifically connecting his universal card reader to his lap-top, adding ‘I’m sure I used to have a cable for that somewhere.’
According to eye-witnesses, the normally cautious local computer programer simply took the packed wooden drawer out of the workstation, walked out of the front door and tipped the entire contents into a wheelie-bin.

iCan’t iWait!!

| January 20, 2007 | 0 Comments 

ichatter

I am not normally a technobloke but the announcement of the new iPhone has really caught a lot of people’s attention… mine included!

Whether or not it stands a chance of becoming cheap enough to be used as a teaching tool is another matter, but it has got me thinking already!

http://www.apple.com/iphone/

Now THAT was fun!

| January 18, 2007 | 1 Comment 

I always enjoy days where I get invited to a school to do a series of demo lessons with colleagues observing. It is an enjoyable challenge to detect the needs of a group of children and stretch their expectations of themselves. Today, at Longleaze school in Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, that challenge was made even more fun by a delightful set of children and an equally delightful set of teachers. It has been my pleasure to travel around this country and meet a huge range of people. I am constantly surprised by the humour and imagination of children and the creativity and dedication of colleagues in all areas. Today, again, I saw nothing but SMILES! Thank-you.

I even picked up a new word thanks to “R” in one of the classes. I am going to nick it as a piece of “creative plagiarism” if that’s O.K. with you “R”

When we were discussing descriptive phrases, I asked what it was called when you compare one thing to another e.g. “the gravel path is like an apple crumble” A forest of hands went up and the word “Simile” was confidently offered. “O.K. What about when you say that the gravel path IS an apple crumble? In other words that it IS rather than is like. (if anybody emails to correct my description of these two devices, please remember it has been a long week. :-) ) “R” put his hand up, enthusiastically, and said “I don’t know the word, but how about a SAME-ely?!” Delicious, and something I will quote for years to come I am sure.

The afternoon session, with two classes of year five and six, wasn’t even thrown by the school’s projector going blank half way through. “In my writing I’m going to “close my eyes” for a moment because the scenery is “all too much” Mr Rylands.

Thank you to Rachel, for organising a tremendous day, and to all those that kept me supplied with toast throughout the day! The expression that I picked up from the team in Huntingdon applied today too. “No wangy toast here!”

Now that’s a great quote. So today’s link is a store of some of the best:

http://www.brainyquote.com/

brainyquote_logo_blue.jpg

Over the bridge, again.

| January 17, 2007 | 0 Comments 

I had a thoroughly enjoyable day over the bridge in Newport today. My Welsh connections continue to grow. Monmouthshire, Newport and others, invited me for a day of exploring visual literacy ideas, mainly focused on the use of games. EVERYBODY was up for a challenge and it was great to spend the day with so many smiling faces. Thanks to all those who sent thoughtful, encouraging (and very …prompt!) emails. I look forward to a return visit to Monmouthshire already booked for later in the year.

Congratulations must go, at least, to Frances, for conducting a mini masterpiece to go with another roller-coaster ride. I was impressed by some truly inventive ways to play standard percussion instruments too. A gloriously controlled cacophony. I will post pictures when I get them. Thank you to Karen, Frank, Penny and all those involved in the organisation of a fun day.

A recurring theme of today was the balance that is needed between planning what you want to achieve in lessons, and flying with ideas. Children can lead in many of the game based sessions, but you do need to have a clear idea of objectives and intended outcomes. However, I do feel that it is important to take the brakes off and fly a bit as well.

It is really crucial to explore game environments in a structured, but not overly planned, way initially. e.g. to have an idea about what kind of things you can cover but not predetermine a route or how long you are going to spend in each location. It is important to become familiar with the games yourself at first. Then, when you begin explorations with a class, to be prepared to cover less physical ground than you might expect. You may only “move” one “pace” but the children will be able to see how a new paragraph can begin with just a turn of the head, or reaching out to move a lever. Standing outside a door is a classic example of how tension and expectation can be built within a readers mind.


I was asked where to find sound effects.

A useful little site is appropriately called just that, “findsounds”:
http://www.findsounds.com/types.html

palette_animation2.gif

BETT Blitz 3

| January 16, 2007 | 1 Comment 

I admit that it is now Tuesday, the week after BETT finished, …and so am I ! !
BETT is an enervating experience but so energising at the same time.

Saturday’s presentation went very well indeed. It was fully booked, with people standing all around the room so, apologies to those of you who didn’t manage to get a seat! It was really encouraging to get so much feedback after the event and to see the website “hits” go through the roof.

There is a definite positive feel about technology in education at the moment. That move from black and white to colour that we talked of, continues apace.

I experimented with a Gyro Mouse, very kindly sourced by Marc Keable, of Classroom ICT. A Giro Mouse enables you to navigate through a presentation or website and move the mouse pointer without having to place your hand on a surface. Takes a bit of getting used to I have to say, but I think there is a vast amount of opportunity to use one creatively with children. For example, in a virtual landscape experience, a giro mouse would enable you to navigate and “walk” whilst standing in front of the screen. I look forward to trying new ideas soon.

BETT Buzz Too

| January 12, 2007 | 1 Comment 

BETT thursday was busy but, as I sit writing this, Friday looks like it is going to be packed.As anybody who has worked BETT will confess though, the working day is great, but the after-doors-have-closed events are an event in their own rights. Steljes, 2Simple and GigaJam may be some of the most innovative companies in the world of education technology but they also know how to entertain in style.

On more serious matters, I promised I would mention some of the things that have caught my eye so far. Shakespeare Works may be a small company but their stand alone was a gem, all decked out in theatrical spangle. I was impressed by their polished films, but also by the way they link their CD-Roms with, what looks like, inspiring training days.

Shoo-fly continue to surprise, this time with whiteboard pop-up books! A unique visual effect that deserves a lot more attention.

I did a particularly dramatic fall somewhere between both stands but was wearing my T-shirt with “I do all my own stunts!” so got away with a laugh from the stands around. My best finds of the fall were Spiny Software and Crazy talk4. (Both soft landings!) Crazy Talk 4 is the most effective and simple way of creating animated avatars and faces. Has so much potential with children of all abilities. I hope that they make contact with Pete Wells, the Johnny Vegas of education, who already uses this program with his usual wit and flair.

No links for these few days as I am writing online.

Onwards!

PC LoveMan marries computer
Recent amendments to the civil partnership laws have resulted in Britain’s first ever legal marriage between a man and his computer. Steve Wibburn, 27, from Brighton yesterday married his Hewlett Packard Pavilion (Media Centre Edition) desktop computer and has opted to take the name of his PC.‘We’ve been together for just over a year now, but even from the earliest moment I knew I’d finally found complete happiness. I just didn’t want to be with anyone or anything else for the rest of my life,’ said Wibburn. ‘She entertains me, she keeps me well-informed, we listen to our favourite music together,’ he added, ‘and as for the sex, well it’s constant. I could never turn on a woman as easily as I turn on my computer.’ Mr Wibburn says their only argument was when he became jealous of a technician tweaking one of her USB ports but the couple have apparently put that behind them and are hoping to have a little laptop together.Wibburn’s friends suspected that Steve must be in love, when they realised that they were seeing less and less of him. He had given up tennis club, his evening classes, and his trips to the local library, so they knew something special must have come into his life. He claims he still ventures out of his room for trips to PC World to buy little trinkets and add-on’s for his new partner and it’s always with a look of joy that he hands his purchases to the cashier and says, “She’s just going to love this.”Steve’s friends did point out that one day, like all computers, Mr Wibburn’s Pavilion may become a bit erratic and slow down and start losing things. However Steve is adamant that that he won’t let that come between them. ‘Well that’s going to happen to me too, so hopefully we can grow old together with lots of happy memories.’ said Steve glancing at a brand new Sony Vaio that was a guest at the reception.

BETTer and BETTer!

| January 11, 2007 | 1 Comment 

There is a great buzz abound this year in Olympia. BETT may be the world’s biggest technology in Education show, but I didn’t realise just how much of the world knew that too! It has been so motivating to meet people from all across the globe this week. Sweden, Denmark, and Holland, in particular,seem to have emptied and headed for the show!

When you see so many innovative uses of technology it confirms to me that it really is a glorious time to be alive. The Futurelab speech from Annika Small reiterated that point. The move from a black and white (text based) world to one of colour (the proliferation of uploaded films and online communities) Exciting times that BETT is showcasing.

I think that, nowadays, everyone has the potential to be a Pepys. The difference is that, when Pepys wrote his now famous diary entries, he was not expecting anyone else to read it! I have been surprised at the amount of emails I have received in response to the new blog and the “new-look” website. Thankyou.

Wednesday’s presentation gave me the opportunity to chat to Professor Don Passey, from Lancaster University. An encouraging and perceptive man who seemed genuinely excited by the new direction that the gaming project is taking. I am still not at liberty to divulge too much information but continue to urge you to “Watch this space” over the next few days and weeks.

More tomorrow on what has caught my eye so far.

Mr Hutt, that fine fellow from RM is taking the brave step to go independent. (visit his site at http://eduhutt.wordpress.com/ )

His farewell “Do” was held at a very interesting restaurant complete with entertainment. For more info send money in a brown envelope marked “Blackmail”

Professor Portakabin's Posse

BETT Bitz

| January 8, 2007 | 0 Comments 

I always look forward to BETT and this year is no exception. BETT is the world’s biggest “IT in Education” event. It takes over the whole of Olympia, and not many other trade events do that! Each year brings a batch of new ideas and launches of innovative products and projects. For me, this year has an extra nugget of excitement because Joe and I (SoIntoIT) are also going to reveal a new direction in our adventures with Myst.

You heard it here first! (Well you will do when we are at liberty to tell.)

I am going to be presenting three “Invitation Only” sessions at the Dfes (Department for Education and Skills) Meeting space (Stand H49) If any body would like to attend these, though, please let me know and I will see if I can sneek you in. (“We’re with the band!”) These sessions are at 13.15 on Wednesday, and 13.30 on Thursday and Friday.

I am also going to be doing a 3/4 of an hour seminar on Saturday 13th, at 11.45 in Seminar Theatre B. I will be revisiting some of the old territory of simple ideas for visual literacy, the use of the Myst games, and other ideas. But, the element I am really looking forward to is the opportunity to present these NEW ideas, on-line with Joe (“Mr Moretti to you!”) Joe will have been on the Apple stand all week so look out for him there and see if you can get him to to tell you what we’re up to!

I can’t wait…