Improving our well-being using a staff shout board 

As teachers, we look out for the morale and well-being of the children in our care everyday. However, there is a growing awareness that we neglect to look after our own well-being as teachers.

We started the year well, but pressures mount quickly, and by the time half term was approaching, we were concerned about morale within school. So, as an SLT, we took several steps to try to boost our morale and show our staff how much we value them. We had a niggle box in the staff room for a month (October became Moan-tober).  At the end of October, we addressed the niggle box concerns and put some new ideas in place.  We started to provide free tea, coffee, sugar and milk for everyone and we provided pizza or vegetarian curry (school is just at the end of the fabulous Golden Mile!) at all our twilight meetings. We started to look again at our marking policy, as this was an area of concern from a work load and expectations point of view.

We also started a Staff Shout Out board. From an idea I saw on Twitter, we transformed a large notice board that is in between our staff toilets and the staff room and isn’t seen by children (except for a few brave Eco Warriors that come to empty the staff room recycling bin!). it has several sections:

  1. We have a list of birthdays each month that includes everyone – cleaners, lunchtime supervisors, TAs, teachers and admin staff.
  2. Staff nights out, or other social activities (for example, someone has just suggested we start a book club).
  3. Funny things overheard in the playground.
  4. The main area is given over to post-it notes (a ready supply with pens is kept in a box on the board) that people can use to send a shout out to someone else.

So far, it has been very well used! I’ve had to clear post-it notes off the board every month otherwise it would be so stuffed full no-one would be able to see anything. Messages range from saying thank you for holding a door open when someone had their arms full, congratulating staff that have got engaged, count downs to the holidays and thanking people for their support when staff have returned from long term sick leave. It makes people smile as they go up to the staff room and I make sure that everyone gets to keep the post-its about them when I take them down.

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It is the little acts of kindness that remind us what a tough job we do and that we all deserve a break now and then! My next challenge is to keep it going with the enthusiasm that we begun. I’ve noticed the frequency of post-its has slowed over the last half term, so if you have any ideas about how it can become more sustainable, let me know!

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Leicester University NQT Conference – Challenging the most able

Presentation at Leicester University NQT Conference, January 2017

Presentation at Leicester University NQT conference on 18 January 2017. I was asked to speak about challenging more able pupils, but of course, bent the topic around to using ICT to challenge children.

#CASconf16 Computing At School Annual Conference

As a CAS hub leader, I intended to go to the CAS annual conference last year and just didn’t make it. It’s a crazy time of year with reports, assessment deadlines and transition to think about. This year I dragged myself out of bed, feeling glum after a hard week and set off to Birmingham. However, the opening two talks set the tone for the day. So much so that I felt I could have gone home at 10.00am! 

 http://twitter.com/jobadge/status/744088242853675008
Jane Waite, Wendy MacLeod, Paul Curzon and Nic Hughes gave a brilliant whistle stop tour of primary practise packed with fabulous practical examples, embedded in pedagogy and computational thinking.  

    
They showed us a lovely model for using beebots by inviting children to create their own games to test their knowledge on any given subject using some simple challenge cards, a blank beebot squared grid. 

A lovely idea was to use Scratch blocks to re-write signs around school. I could see how this would get children to really start thinking about how algorithms are everywhere.

Something particularly relevant to us as a Talk for Writing school is to use those principles to teach computing terminology using actions. Wendy had made a video showing her son demonstrating an action to help children remember different computing terms. I liked her suggestion that we could also think about applying the imitation, innovation and invention cycle to teaching computing. 

The main keynote by Conrad Wolfram was fascinating. He very effectively raised the question of why our maths curriculum doesn’t take account of computing and computer assisted calculations. The mantra of using real life problems for children to solve has been well rehearsed. However, he put it in the context of how computing now allows us to ask questions of messy data that we never could before. 

Ben Davies shared some super ideas for mini-activities, starters and plenaries  in his presentation. In particular, ideas for getting children to apply what they had learned from one language to another. Could children predict what an approximation of a scratch code made from shapes in PowerPoint would do? What a lovely way to test and tease out their understanding!

   

Nic Hughes used his 40 minute workshop a slot wisely by challenging  us to make a moving Crumble-controlled device. As a primary teacher, having some dedicated time to tinker is the best way for me to learn and gives me space to consider the pedagogy that is needed alongside the kit. His instructions were minimal which helped us think for ourselves.

 

Phil Bagge was awesome (as always!). He described his approach to assessing computing and made an app for assessment available. While the app looks great (utilising a matrix approach from simple/ complex to guided/independent), what grabbed me were the videos of his children talking about their computing. Phil hit the nail on the head when he said he realised that the majority of his assessment came through conversations worth his children. He took it one stage further by providing a simple way for children to reflect on their own learning using an iPad and stand to video themselves. 

Crucially, he left the children to record these videos themselves (based around key questions he gave them). This enabled the children to provide their own answers without the pressure, guidance or interference of the teacher. He described how his conversations and the children’s verbalisations could be summed up as Talk for Computing. This chimed strongly with the Pie Corbett approach to teaching English that we’ve  been using at school. A fascinating way to approach learning. 

 

A session on helping primary teachers to feel confident in teaching computing had a couple of Talk for Computing gems in too. Talk to the rubber duck (link to blog by A Colley) is a great idea for children to voice their problems out loud to a rubber duck before asking the teacher. Usually verbalising their problem leads to a realisation of the solution.

The day ended with David Malan giving us a fast paced whizz through some of the early elements of CS50, an undergraduate computer science course at Harvard University.  Surprisingly this contained many of the elements we teach in primary computing – search strategies and the famous Sandwich Bot which lead to the most hilarious mess of peanut butter, jam and bread courtesy of Phil Bagge’s reactions to imprecise instructions. 

      
    Finally it is worth saying that the conference was exceptionally well organised. The sessions were just the right length and there was plenty of time given over to lunch and coffee which gave space to network and drink lots of tea. 

    Overall I had a brilliant day, learnt loads, met some great people and felt inspired. Exactly what a conference should do! It was definitely worth getting out of bed for on a Saturday morning. 

    CAS North Leicester Primary Hub meeting 11 February 2016

    Our Spring Term meeting was focussed on Key Stage 1 and Early Years provision. Kevin McLaughlin shared some of his thoughts on how his foundation class responded some computing challenges beyond the expectations of the EYFS curriculum. 

    Kevin suggested that much of the computing curriculum aims for KS1 was part of everyday teaching in EYFS – pattern recognition (phonics), sequencing (story telling) and logic (questioning) . He has begun to explore computing without computers, focussing key computing skills. He demonstrated how his children could soon tell him about algorithms after linking them clearly to practical instructions. He had a child that could predict what shape would be made by a set of instructions to move a model crane around the floor. They took apart a computer and made their own from paper. 

    He recommended Hello Ruby, which has ideas, lessons mad practical activities for exploring computers and computing with young children. 

    Kevin’s slides are available online. 

    We then had a swap shop and shared ideas, tips and equipment that people had brought along. There was a wide range of discussion, from makey makey and book creator to a Rising Stars scheme of work and phonics apps with physical letters to put on your iPad to listen to their sounds. Time to network and talk with other teachers was time well spent and hopefully everyone came away with something new! 

    The next meeting is 25th May 2016. 

    Report from CAS North Leicester Primary Hub meeting 28 October 2015

    CAS hub meeting Rushey Mead Primary
    CAS hub meeting Rushey Mead Primary

    During this CAS hub meeting, we focussed on the use of input and output to investigate how computers can control devices connected to them. This is an area that often gets taught at KS1 using robots, such as Beebots and Roamers, and can be more problematic at KS2 simply because it requires some equipment for children to be able to control!

    Fortunately, we had some experience educators to help us look at some of the equipment available for control.

    Crumble robot
    Crumble robot

    Nick Page, Primary Computing lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, works with trainee teachers on the computing curriculum. He has recently been investigating using a Crumble controller in the classroom and brought several projects along to demonstrate how they could be used and integrated with the Design and Technology curriculum. Particularly fun was the ability use conductive thread to sew connections between lights to make a circuit, a lovely way to combine sewing, electronics and programming to make a felt Christmas Tree with a  sequence of flashing lights! A big advantage of Crumble is that it is cheap to buy and can use electronic components that you may already have in school such as crocodile clips.

    Claire Robinson, from Holme Valley Primary school in North Lincolnshire, is a HLTA with a passion for computing. She has been using two very cute robots, Dot and Dash, at her school and demonstrated how they could be used in the classroom with the various attachments they have from Lego adapters, to an iPod holder and even a xylophone.

    We also had a number of attendees bring along other control equipment to play with during an open workshop. There were Spheroes, Ozobot, more Crumble projects using traffic lights, a Lego Wedo toilet fan and iControl.

    Dash
    Dash
    Claire with Dot
    Claire with Dot
    Scratch and lego WeDo
    Scratch and lego WeDo

    There were 46 people at the meeting and the overwhelming choice for a subject for the next hub meeting was for us to look at Computing in Early Years and KS1. We have already secured Apple Distinguished Educator Marc Faulderfor our meeting on 25 May 2016 and are looking out for someone to present at our Spring meeting on 4 February 2016. Get in touch if you could help or would like to recommend a speaker or workshop topic.

    Demonstrating Lego WeDo

    At the end of my Master Teacher in computing training with Computers At School, an email from CAS came round asking for volunteers to demonstrate computing lessons for the DfE. I volunteered and was rather surprised when the week before the end of our school year I was contacted by the DfE to book a time to film a video for their YouTube channel. 

    The film maker, Lee, was camera man, sound engineer and editor all in one, which made the process easier for me and the children. As it was he day before the end of the school year, I chose 10 children from my class to take part in a Lego WeDo lesson. Lee had sent me some questions in advance for a piece to camera and I’d explained how the lesson would work. 

    The lesson was from Phil Bagge’s plans for making a toilet fan. I started the children off by explaining the task and they made their models in pairs before Lee arrived. The children were great and really enjoyed making their fans and couldn’t wait to get started controlling them using scratch. Once Lee arrived, we continued with the lesson and they soon forgot their nerves at being filmed as they were completely absorbed in their programming!

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=HvopGuX3_SI

    Leicester University Computing focus day #lupgce2015

    Today I’m back at the University of Leicester speaking to the PGCE students about how I use technology in the classroom. There are some great workshops and speakers planned, I’ll be sorry to miss seeing some of them but it is half term and so I will just be popping in to grab the free lunch and do my talk!