Archive for September, 2007

ASCA Partnership Professional training day

| September 28, 2007 | 16 Comments 

A good trip up to present at the ASCA Partnership Professional training day.

The ASCA group is made up of 9 Primary schools who take one day’s training together each year.

The schools include Ashbeach Primary, Upwood Primary, Ramsey Junior, Ramsey Spinning Infants, Bury CE Primary, Warboys Primary, Earith Primary, Somersham Primary and St Helen’s, Bluntisham. 

I was asked to do an opening keynote and then deliver two workshops. There were four other workshops on a variety of subjects: MFL – Language Awareness, Think it – Map it – Model learning, Art Start and Philosophy  and mine on Visual Literacy.

The training day took place at The National Centre for Deafblindness, Hampton, Peterborough. This award winning centre was the dream of a deafblind woman who felt very strongly that this devastating disability needed to be put firmly on the map. When people go deafblind they lose their independence, their communication and their mobility. I was really impressed with the centre and the work it does to support and empower deaf and blind people.

Well done to Michelle for navigating through, and surviving, the Doors of Doom Challenge.

I had a quick, but really interesting, chat with Ian Harris about integrating visual tools into learning and class settings. I will put a link up at a later date. Watch this (space) modelmap! This is a map that Ian drew during my presentation. He picked up on the talking -thinking -writing- cycle, and how it is reversible and worth juggling with.

Many thanks to Hazel Lambert, head of The Ashbeach Primary, and her ASCA colleagues, for a really fun day.


Lanivet – Cornwall

| September 26, 2007 | 0 Comments 

What a lucky man I am! I have had another thoroughly enchanting day, this time at Lanivet Primary school, Cornwall.

Some superb work and some full on laughter.

In our lesson with years 1 and 2, I took them back to the spiral staircase plant I had visited yesterday at Nanstallon.

We explored: links with traditional stories (Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk) other stories (The Owl Babies) their own experiences (helter skelters, water slides, and the whole feeling of sliding) spirals, birds nests, the feeding resposnse to a baby birds calls, feelings (lonely, afraid, hungry, frightened, relieved) feathers, colours, eggs…

With a more time and space, we could have extended into P.E. and forming spirals, art and so much more.

The other children, across the whole school, also showed some truly inventive thought in response to the locations we explored.

Here, for example, is a picture from Jessica (aged 8. ) and some excellent writing from Dorothy (aged 10) The striking thing about both of these pieces is that they were done, straight off, “first draft” as it were, and at great speed.

Standing here, I see a huge barren wasteland of dry rocks stretching out beyond the horizon. A coal black bird swoops and glides about, looking for it’s prey. I can feel a light breeze calmingly touching my cheeks. The sharp, rough stone formations are covered in a thick layer of orange dust.

There is no moisture in sight. The sun is scorching the back of my red neck. The only water in this parched area of rocks is kept secret in the misty clouds above.

A turquoise sea, that is the far away sky, gives some colour to this strange craggy world.

Behind me, I find a coloured glass overhead shade. The space is crammed with huge, bright green trees and tropical bushes. A beautiful, marbled stone bench sits patiently in the corner of this astonishingly luscious orchard. Exotic plants hang in wooden painted baskets above. A turquoise, shimmering crystal door, the colour of the bluest seas, lies at the end of this magical garden, patterned with coffee coloured flowers, entwined together to make an amazing leafy chain.

What lies behind we will never know.

(Thanks Dorothy for typing that mid lesson as well! Your imagery is powerful and evocative)

Thanks to Mike Jelbert, his colleagues and pupils at Lanivert for a superb day.

I would like to thank the folk of the whole Wheal Prosper group for a great few days.

I often say, I am meant to be travelling around and doing a bit of inspiring…

…in truth I am learning so much. 🙂


The Camel Trail!!

| September 25, 2007 | 2 Comments 

Having survived the Beast of Bodmin last night, I thought I would head off on the trail of some even more exotic local wild-life: the Camel!!!

The Camel Trail is actually a disused railway track, and runs all the way from Bodmin Moor, past Camelford to Wadebridge, along the Camel Estuary, and on to Padstow.  Being an old railway track, the Trail is virtually level all the way. Although not a tarmac surface, it is mainly smooth, ideal for wheelchair users, pram and buggy pushers and people who have difficulty in walking on uneven surfaces. The Trail provides safe and easy access to unspoilt countryside for those people unable to use woodland and coastal paths. Lots of outlets to hire bikes in the area too apparently!

I braved the elements for a gorgeous stroll (well, I thought I was strolling gorgeously! 🙂 ) along a stretch close to the lovely Trehallas House Hotel where I am staying.


A camel !——–>

(…and me needing to get out more frequently!!)

Nanstallon – Cornwall, II

| September 25, 2007 | 2 Comments 

A second day at Nanstallon Primary school and MORE fun!!

To teach every year group, from reception through to year 6, in one day is a great experience especially when there is such a range of ages within one class.

With class 1 (reception – year 1) we explored an area I haven’t used before. We found ourselves looking out across the sea in Edanna, an organic age from Myst III: Exile. After a superb speaking and listening session we explored a bit further and found a corkscrew plant that, when we stepped onto it, whisked us upwards to a different layer of the tree. At the top, there is a nest which is home to an unusual bird and her chick, the first to hatch from a cluster of five eggs.
Some remarkable vocabulary came from the session (including an exploration of “spiral”) and I saw some remarkably confident emergent writing too.

Class 2 (Years 2,3 and 4) spiralled upwards in their writing as well, a few surprising themselves with the quality and quantity of their work.

Class 3 (Years 5 and 6) showed themselves to be up for a challenge and have a sense of humour too. Headteacher, Peter Dingle became so wrapped up in the lesson we had to wrestle the pen from his hand to stem the flow of his descriptive writing!

Thankyou to Wendy Bheeston for the nudge reminder towards the VCOP (Vocabulary, Connectives, Openers and Punctuation) elements from Ros Wilson’s book – ‘Strategies for Immediate Impact on Writing Standards’
One particularly useful aspect is the punctuation pyramid which shows the punctuation marks from level 1 to 5:

. ?
. ? , !
. ?, ! ’ “”
– . ? , ! ’ “” : ; ()

They make a good display, table pyramid and reminder to children.

I enjoyed myself today and thank the staff and children at Nanstallon for a lot of laughter.

The Beast of Bodmin!

| September 25, 2007 | 0 Comments 

I knew, last night, as I lay awake in a darkened room I was being hunted down by THE BEAST OF BODMIN !!! (Dramatic swell of orchestral strings.)

The terrifying sound of this evil being had me cowering beneath my blankets, searching the room for signs that it may have located my presence. It was after my blood!  No one else, across the barren Moor heard the haunting sound though. I was alone in my turmoil.

The Beast is often thought to be a large, black, panther-like creature. I know the truth. The beast that haunted and terrorised my efforts at sleep last night was black yet considerably smaller and even more agile, able to evade capture as efficiently as the ellusive phantom feline.

In short…
Is it just me or are there considerably more mosquitoes around at the moment after our wet “summer”

(Actually, I have just found the answer to my own question HERE)

Wheal Propser – Nanstallon – Cornwall

| September 24, 2007 | 2 Comments 

Now that was a fun day! A great group of staff from some of the schools in the Wheal Prosper cluster, today based at Nanstallon Primary School near Bodmin in Cornwall.

A group of folk, all with a great sense of humour, from St Wenn Primary, Nanstallon Primary School , Robartes Junior, Lanivet Primary, Bodmin College, St Tudy Primary and Port Isaac Primary schools.

(If you can’t see pictures dropping elegantly onto the page below… they are being blocked by your school filter. Rotten eh?! This is something to try at home.)

Whilst the weather outside went through a remarkable range, (from incredible torrential rain and brutal winds, through to… heavenly sun-filled skies and rainbows) it remained remarkably sunny inside.

There was a great range of people including teaching assistants, and teachers from all age ranges (yes that is both their ages, and the age of their pupils!) I had some good conversations about how some of the techniques and tools we covered can be used effectively in a one-to-one and small group setting with SEN children. Some had had a lot of experience working with children across the autistic spectrum and were keen to try out some of the ideas. (I, sadly, had to miss two days working at Baytree special school last week, and had been particularly keen to see how one autistic girl would respond.)

Thank you to Peter Dingle, for organising the day and to all of the those taking part. I am really looking forward to coming back tomorrow to do some demo lessons.

Everything bad is good for you… and a bit of soup

| September 23, 2007 | 1 Comment 

A couple of days of downtime feeling a little under the weather but I did get to read some Paddington and something… um… (a bit) deeper.

Have just finished re-reading Steven Johnson’s “Everything Bad is Good For You” I found some of the arguments, and the way they were presented, a little ambiguous, but I was particularly fascinated by his thoughts on computer games, and the positive effect they can have on our cognitive processes.

Most of the people who denounce video games, he says, haven’t actually played them—at least, not recently. Twenty years ago, games like Tetris or Pac-Man were simple exercises in motor coordination and pattern recognition. Today’s games belong to another realm. Johnson points out that one of the “walk-through” for “Grand Theft Auto III”—that is, the informal guides that break down the games and help players navigate their complexities—is fifty-three thousand words long, about the length of his book. The contemporary video game involves a fully realised imaginary world, dense with detail and levels of complexity.

Indeed, video games are not games in the sense of those pastimes—like Monopoly or gin rummy or chess—which most of us grew up with. They don’t have a set of unambiguous rules that have to be learned and then followed during the course of play. This is why many of us find modern video games baffling: we’re not used to being in a situation where we have to figure out what to do. We think we only have to learn how to press the buttons faster. But these games withhold critical information from the player. Players have to explore and sort through hypotheses in order to make sense of the game’s environment, which is why a modern video game can take forty hours to complete. Far from being engines of instant gratification, as they are often described, video games are actually, Johnson writes, “all about delayed gratification—sometimes so long delayed that you wonder if the gratification is ever going to show.”

At the same time, players are required to manage a dizzying array of information and options. The game presents the player with a series of puzzles, and you can’t succeed at the game simply by solving the puzzles one at a time. You have to craft a longer-term strategy, in order to juggle and coordinate competing interests. In denigrating the video game, Johnson argues, we have confused it with other phenomena in teen-age life, like multitasking—simultaneously e-mailing and listening to music and talking on the telephone and surfing the Internet. Playing a video game is, in fact, an exercise in “constructing the proper hierarchy of tasks and moving through the tasks in the correct sequence,” he writes. “It’s about finding order and meaning in the world, and making decisions that help create that order.”

Johnson’s response is to imagine what cultural critics might have said had video games been invented hundreds of years ago, and only recently had something called “the book” been marketed aggressively to children:

Reading books chronically under stimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of game playing—which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical sound-scopes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements—books are simply a barren string of words on the page. . . . Books are also tragically isolating. While games have for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him or her in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children. . . .

But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path. You can’t control their narratives in any fashion—you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. . . . This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they’re powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory process; it’s a submissive one.

He’s joking, of course, but only in part. The point is that books and video games represent two very different kinds of learning. When you read a biology textbook, the content of what you read is what matters. Reading is a form of explicit learning. When you play a video game, the value is in how it makes you think. Video games are an example of collateral learning, which is no less important.

Being “smart” involves facility in both kinds of thinking—the kind of fluid problem solving that matters in things like video games and I.Q. tests, but also the kind of crystallized knowledge that comes from explicit learning. If Johnson’s book has a flaw, it is that he sometimes speaks of our culture being “smarter” when he’s really referring just to that fluid problem-solving facility. When it comes to the other kind of intelligence, it is not clear at all what kind of progress we are making, as anyone who has read, say, the Gettysburg Address alongside any Presidential speech from the past twenty years can attest. The real question is what the right balance of these two forms of intelligence might look like. “Everything Bad Is Good for You” doesn’t answer that question. But Johnson does something nearly as important, which is to remind us that we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that explicit learning is the only kind of learning that matters.
Some of the above text is taken from the excellent review “Brain Candy- Is pop culture dumbing us down or smartening us up?” by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker

Oh yes, and, mums ARE right: tomato soup (with toast) DOES have healing properties!

Coalway Junior school – Gloucestershire

| September 19, 2007 | 1 Comment 

I enjoyed a fun day today at Coalway Junior school, Coleford, in Gloucestershire.

For 700 years the local Free Miners mined coal in the Forest of Dean. It was the skill of their forefathers in tunnelling under castle fortifications that earned them the right, by Royal decree, to mine anywhere in the Forest without hindrance. So, maybe all my years of digging tunnels in the back garden could lead to a new career after all?

Back at the chalk face: I taught three lessons today and then led a staff meeting after school. Each lesson was with two classes in a year group. It is always good fun to work with large groups of children and to see that they rise to the challenges as if they were in a small group.

The afternoon session, with year 6’s, was slightly longer so we had the opportunity to extend ideas but, sadly not quite enough time to create a sound track.
It is amazing how much difference music makes to a film or game sequence though. I had some interesting conversations with some of the children who shrewdly identified the importance of music in creating an atmosphere, feeling or mood.
I mentioned to some of them how, sometimes, what you might think of as an “unsusual” choice of music actually enhances your experience in an unexpected way. (Look out for some examples over the coming weeks)

Thank you to Fay, Enid and all their colleagues and pupils for a really fun day.
The quote of the day for me: “That was mintage!” I agree!

Questions and answers… as predicted in 1964

| September 17, 2007 | 0 Comments 

“I do enjoy looking at old predictions of the future. Eventually, the future arrives and we can compare it with the predictions. Sometimes, the predictions are better than the reality. Sometimes, reality outpaces not only the predictions but even the dreams of the past. And sometimes, the predictions end up being pretty-much spot on.

That’s the case with a piece about the “answer machine” of the future, which appeared in the book Childcraft Volume 6: How Things Change, published by Field Enterprises Educational Corporation in 1964. (Thanks to Paleo-Future for bringing this to our attention.)

Here’s how it starts:


the Google version:


Here’s some more of what “The Answer Machine” do for us:

Continue Reading

Baytree School – Weston-super-Mare

| September 10, 2007 | 5 Comments 

I paid a visit to the incredible Baytree Special school today, to lead a staff meeting on, among other things, the idea of using the immersive worlds of Myst as a stimulus with their students.

What a school. There are currently just over 60 pupils on roll, arranged over 8 classes. All pupils have a Statement of Special Educational Needs and a proportion have exceptional needs which include physical and sensory.

I have been really keen to try out some of the immersive world ideas in a special school setting so feel very fortunate to have one of the best just down the road from me. Baytree has had new premises for about three years, and what a site! It includes a hydrotherapy pool, and a range of airy and futuristic classrooms, set within a modern, curving design of building.

They share “The Campus” (an award winning site) with Herons’ Moor Community Primary School, who also joined us at the staff meeting as the two schools work closely together, sharing rooms in the building and encouraging the children to share activities. The site also features a community library, meeting rooms, sports hall, dining room and kitchen facilities.

The design is different from many of the buildings I have been in recently. Here, for example, is class one:

Each class has a framed sign outside representing the class number and some are very imaginative.

I particularly liked a light I spotted above a door, and the way that it has been disguised as a bird:

I was invited by Evelyn Varma, one of the school’s IT technicians, who had come to one of the talks I did at Bath Spa University. (Evelyn was kind enough to leave a lovely comment on the blog ,even when she had been overlooked by The Hat to take part in the Doors of Doom challenge. The Hat made up for it this time though! Well, I cheated a bit!)

I have previously been lucky enough to work with The Bristol Sensory Support Service working mainly with auditory impairments. We have wandered through the Myst worlds, using them as a stimulus for discussion.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable meeting as the group have a superb sense of humour.

It was also good to meet head teacher Carol Penney who won this year’s Ted Wragg Award for Lifetime Achievement, at the Teaching Awards. Carol is due to retire in December but I am sure she will find other ways to use her natural tendency for creative ideas. 🙂

I was glad that some of the ideas we covered in the meeting today, from Myst to Crazy appealed to many of the staff and I look forward to returning and working with them, and their pupils at some stage this year. We have already started to plan some lessons, and maybe even filming, so … “watch this space.”

Thankyou to the staff at Baytree and Heron’s Moor for a fun session.

iPhone recall – “It’s toast!”

| September 7, 2007 | 0 Comments