Saturday, December 28, 2013

A tune for 2014

Here's a simple idea for 2014. If you're an educator that also plays an instrument or sings then how about help creating a tune (or tunes) for 2014? Sign up below to let me know if you're interested and I'll start sorting it out. It's a bit like +David Mitchell's (@deputymitchell) #quadblogging although this will be with educators who happen to play instruments/sing/are into music.

Get out clause - if you wish to remain anonymous you can remain anonymous please feel free to do so. If you need a great anonymous service to capture your musical inspiration I suggest vocaroo
Record your track and share the link here or on Twitter using #2014tune

General idea for #2014tune

Get involved by completing the form below
Discover your group
Share your original track with your group - this could be as simple as a tune hummed, recorded and shared to a full blown, studio produced track
Decide which track works best
Develop your tune by adding tracks using whatever means you think work best - this could be via videoconferencing, sharing tracks online, YouTube - whatever you see fit
Share your finished tune via Twitter using #2014tune
Await glory, huge fan base following and world domination.

It's time to rock (it had to be said)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Thoughts after a first term teaching in Early Years

Figuring it out

"Mr McLaughlin, when I came into your class I couldn't read really good but now I can read really good"
A child in my class told me this during the last week of my first term in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). I started teaching EYFS in September having only ventured into the age group previously as either a visitor or observer. When I was offered the opportunity to teach in EYFS back in May I jumped at it as I had always wanted to teach in this age group. My expectations have been surpassed as I have found teaching in EYFS to be the best learning experience I have had as a teacher.

Children enter EYFS at 4 years old, some have just turned 4 whilst others are just turning 5. The age difference may seem minimal but in terms of life and learning experiences it is vast, much more apparent than in other age groups I have taught. From holding a pencil using the preferred tripod grip to writing their name, sounding out a letter to reading a simple sentence, recognising numbers from 1 to 5 and being able to add 1, the level of ability that I found from the onset was huge and scared me. These children had started to challenge my assumptions that I was a good teacher and it was only week 1.

Background to the current EYFS Framework in England

"Sure, all they do in the Foundation Stage is play!" A comment I've heard thrown around by teachers that should know better. So here's a short background to EYFS.
There are 7 areas of learning and development which make up the EYFS environment both inside and outside the classroom. Children learn through challenging and engaging activities which can be adult led/initiated or child initiated yet also meet the individual interests of every child. Play is important and forms a large part of learning in the Early Years setting but it isn't all play. It may look chaotic from the casual observer but once you go deeper you will see how free play is intertwined with adult focused activities which are essential if young children are expected to meet the 17 early learning goals by the end of their EYFS year.

Play or Teaching?

It is hard to disagree that play is essential for any child; play forms an integral part of the EYFS environment and as an EYFS teacher you have to leave time during the week open to child initiated play, where children choose what they want to play with. This can't be planned for and as such there are blank areas of my planning that indicate this, but this 'blank' time is used to observe children and help build their learning profile, discover their interests and inform individual planning for the following week. However, teaching is just as important as play, without teaching skills you can't hope the children in your class will pick up reading, writing and number work through play. The EYFS teacher treads a fine line between play and adult led and/or adult initiated activities and I found myself questioning whether I should lead an activity or leave them to it. So it was with great relief that I came across the "Learning, Playing and Interacting - Good Practice in the Early Years Foundation Stage" document which answered all my questions and more.

A continuum of approaches - from the Learning, Playing and Interacting document
The central band is considered a best fit with the teacher dipping using highly structured activities to teach specific skills (phonics, number work, pencil control and writing). As well as using this document and asking my experienced EYFS colleague for Early Years teaching advice, I searched online for information and asked questions of other EYFS practitioners on Twitter. There were numerous answers but all pointed towards the same conclusion - a good mix of play and focused learning. Some preferred more highly structured activities whilst other adhered to more child-initiated play. I myself have found I based my approach on a mix of child-initiated and focused learning with highly structured teaching on a daily basis. I also believe that, as term 2 progresses, more highly structured teaching activities will form a larger part of my daily approach. 

I have struggled at times to ensure my teaching was of the highest quality but this struggle has led me to discover more about effective pedagogical approaches with younger children. In the next posts I will look at these approaches and how they have shaped my teaching in the classroom, I will also be looking at reading and early number work.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Ofsted before Christmas

Image from Wikimedia

Ofsted before Christmas
based on "A Visit from St Nicholas" by Clement Clarke Moore

Twas the night before Christmas, when all round the land
Teachers were livid no time in their hands
Their assessments were due, SMT wouldn’t wait
And they’d better be good or they’d meet their fate

Their students were hoping for Christmas instead
Michael Gove ended that, “Rigour” he said
and facts and more facts” were the only things true
that teachers should teach so start learning them through

When outside the school there arose such a clatter
Yet no one looked round to see what’s the matter
Due to LO’s and feedback and keeping the pace
of the learning that Ofsted wanted in place

The Head sauntered out to find out the fuss
And immediately ran back shouting “Offfffffstedddddd” and cussed
Teachers dropped pens, students looked aghast
Would Christmas be cancelled? They’d find out fast

The inspectors hovered in, pushed the secretary away
“We demand cups of tea” someone heard them say
“And then summon the staff so we can see
who will fall victim to our misery”

With no time to panic not even despair
every classroom was readied and told to prepare
for an inspection that would search, find out and destroy
any teacher using teaching to help girl or boy

“Now Mr James, Now Mrs Jones, Now Miss Smith and then next
is that NQT known as Becks
Onto Year 1, then 2, 3 and 4
5, 6, the HT then out the door”

They spoke not a word and went round every class
sat in a corner, stared then asked
“What have you learned?  How long has that taken?
“20 minutes” I answered “if I’m not mistaken”

“20 minutes” they wrote and nodded their heads
the pace of the learning was rapid” they said
The inspectors were happy with all that they saw
Every teacher sighed relief as they walked out their doors

With the end in sight the staff had pulled through
The Headteacher was last but needed a brew
The outcome was good with some Outstanding
better than last time” we all shouted clapping

As Ofsted turned round to go out the door
We peeled the Headteacher up off the floor
They left without smiling, and drove out of sight
And with that we wished each other Merry Christmas and good night

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Apps for younger children - lestroiselles has got you covered

It can be quite difficult to find apps that meet the needs of a teacher and younger child - the teacher wants an app that ensures the child is learning something from using it, the child wants an app that's fun to use. So teachers have to scour the app store for suitable apps, they visit educational app related websites or they go on recommendations from colleagues, friends and social networking. Hence my Early Years apps recommendations for this month.

The following apps are all from the same developer, Les Trois Elles. I had been searching for suitable age related apps for the Early Years classroom and I came across more misses than hits, that is until I came across Lestroiselles and their Montessori based apps. There are 7 apps, most of which meet the needs of an Early Years child - writing, reading, identifying numbers, calculations, shapes and even animation are some of the areas these apps cover.

Letter sounds, Letter sounds (French), Numberland, 1st Operations, Montessori Maths, Geometry, Easy Studio 

Letter Sounds
Letter Sounds does exactly what it says, it covers the sounds that letters make and it's based on the Montessori method. It introduces each letter sound to the child and it also gives them the opportunity to learn how to write the letter by using on-screen tracing and other games. It's suitable for children from 3-5 years and challenging enough for any of your Early Years children.

Read more here.

Letter Sounds (French)
Similar to Letter Sounds but in French, an app that I couldn't use with my Early Years class but found to be quite useful with older children who have started French lessons in school. It has 4 games that I found to be suitable for ages up to 8 years and the content progressed from initial letter sounds in French, to writing first words in French.

This app introduces the child to the numbers 0-9 in a fun and enjoyable way. It's aimed at the younger child although it has a game that the user has to build numbers of matchsticks correctly and some of my Early Years class found this to be a good challenge, it also has number tracing to help a child learn how to write numbers 0-9. You can also set the language to 7 other languages!

1st Operations
This app can be set in one of 11 provided languages, it comes with 11 games and it covers adding, subtraction, sharing and doubling. This has been an essential app in my EYFS class and one that every child has enjoyed. The game is quite challenging as it uses numbers from 0-99 but it is very visual and the use of coloured cubes is great as you can repeat the game in class using multi-link cubes. My class loves this app and I highly recommend it.

Montessori Math + & - 
The developers recommend this app for 6-9 year olds and I have to agree, it is too difficult for an Early Years child as it is a more in-depth look at addition and subtraction up to 9999. I did however try this app with some older children and they immediately took to it and described it as a brilliant app that helped them with their Maths. I've got to take this app further with a range of children from 6-11 years old and I will revisit it in a future blog post. Give this app a try, you won't be disappointed.

This app is aimed at older children from 5-10, my class found it too challenging and children would always ask me to explain or show them how to use it or solve the question. However, when a child has been introduced to shape then it's a perfect app that consolidates learning and understanding. The games are good fun, the graphics are enticing, there are excellent definitions of the shapes and older children I used it with in Year 3 loved it.

Easy Studio
The last app from lestroiselles is Easy Studio, the easiest animation app I have come across. It is perfect for younger children as it starts up with an Easy or Expert option. The Easy screen provides an excellent tutorial and easy to follow levels that require the user to drag and drop shapes into ghosted positions on screen. The final edit pleases and demonstrates how animation is built up in layers.
Perhaps not aimed at Early Years but as a tool in KS1 (5-7years) it's hard to beat.

I have been surprised at  how useful these apps have become in my Early Years classroom, the children love them and I'm sure over the next term as they become more proficient with each app I should observe improved learning outcomes due to their use in class.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

How to use proxy setting with Linux Mint

The dreaded proxy server has reared its head again. If you read my post about Linux OS for old tech you would have found me advocating Ubuntu, Elementary and Linux Mint. Unfortunately, I have found Linux Mint to be problematic if your school server uses proxy settings to get online. Ubuntu and Elementary also require changes to the network settings if you use a proxy, but this only involves a simple change in the Network Settings panel. This doesn't work in Linux Mint, the settings can be entered but will not remain saved.

So, here's the 'how to' courtesy of the askUbuntu Q&A section - if you're not keen on using terminal commands I suggest you either don't bother using Linux Mint and stick to Ubuntu or Elementary (or any other Linux distro) or swallow your fears and give this a go.

  • Use terminal to open /etc/environment using a text edit app as superuser - e.g. in terminal type sudo gedit /etc/environment     (enter password when asked)
  • Add the following lines to the text document that appears, replacing with your proxy address
  • Save the file, then  navigate to /etc/apt/apt.conf.d/ and create a new file there named 95proxies and include the following code (remembering to add your own proxy address in place of
Acquire::http::proxy "";
Acquire::ftp::proxy "";
Acquire::https::proxy "";
Reboot and once you have logged in you will find that your proxy settings are in place for Network Settings, apt-get and Update manager. It's a pain but it does give you an idea about using the command line in a Linux terminal.

Additional setting (Tip provided by +Chris Readle
If you need to authenticate on your proxy, you need to stick a <username:password> in front of the proxy server address
For instance

Sources askubuntu and archlinux wiki

Monday, October 7, 2013

Coding in EYFS

Kodable introduces EYFS to logic and simple code

Now let's begin by saying straight off that the iOS app Kodable will not teach a young child (or a child of any age) how to code. What it does do, and does very well, is to introduce a child to code through symbols and logical thinking.

EYFS (Kindergarten) may not be the first age group for many educators to introduce aspects of coding but I've found that it's a perfect age group due to the very inquisitive nature of young learners. The children in my class are 4 years old and using an app like Kodable to start them on their coding journey has been very straightforward. The app begins with a quick demonstration of what to do then leaves the user to it. Perfect for a 4 year old who wants to explore and discover. Through using logical thinking, the children in my class worked their way through each of the presented levels using their fingers to trace out the route and talking it through with each other. As an EYFS teacher this was the perfect opportunity for me to record pupil observations and I was amazed at how they solved each level, even levels that presented conditions in the form of  different coloured squares. Some children asked for help at this point whilst others worked the solution out for themselves.

I found myself using IF...THEN...ELSE statements during discussion with the children.

The new Computing Curriculum for KS1 and KS2 in England the first three attainment targets state that children should be taught to:

  • Understand what algorithms are; how they are implemented as programs on digital devices; and that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions 
  • Create and debug simple programs 
  • Use logical reasoning to predict the behaviour of simple programs 

I don't see the app as just a game but one that meets every target listed above, this is early years games based learning at its zenith. Kodable is not just a game, it's a game you use to learn about the basic principles of coding. And that's perfect for EYFS.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Bringing old computing kit back to life with Linux


Come on then, own up. How many of you have a pile of slow laptops gathering dust in a cupboard or a line of old pcs that no one will touch because they take over two minutes to start up? Well, before you remove their hard drives and consign them to the junk pile you should really take a look at Linux.

Linux is an operating system, just like Windows is an OS that the majority of schools use on their computers. Chances are, the old computers in your school run Windows XP and run it very, very slowly. Linux can help to speed those pcs up and make them almost as good as new (apart from the obvious signs of wear and tear, no OS can remove that).

Linux is freely available and as its an open source operating system it is continually being developed, improved and upgraded to make it even better. But Linux comes in many different distributions (distros) - my favourite is Ubuntu but you can also have Edubuntu, Xbuntu, Fuduntu, Mint, Debian, Fedora...the list goes on but two for beginners are Ubuntu and Mint. For this article I will focus on Ubuntu but most Linux distributions can be used.

What do I need to do before I get it?
Make sure your old pc or laptop has at least 1GB of RAM - I have used Ubuntu on a laptop running 512MB of ram but it is slow and defeats the purpose of breathing new life into one. At least 1GB or more is best. RAM is quite cheap and it is more economical to buy some extra RAM for older pcs and laptops than buying new equipment. RAM is located on the bottom of a laptop, usually under a screwed in plate. You can either add extra RAM or replace the one that is there. Use to pinpoint the exact RAM you need. As for a PC, you will need to open the side of the computer and locate the RAM sticks - YouTube has plenty of video walkthroughs to guide you along.

How to get a Linux distro like Ubuntu.
It’s quite easy actually. You can either download one of the distros to a pc (one that is still functioning as it should) and create a LiveCD/DVD of the distro; this is a CD/DVD that lets you play with the Linux OS without having to install it, great to make sure it will function on old pcs and laptops before installing it. You can even download a USB version of the distro and use a USB pendrive to test out the OS before installing, but you will need to make sure you can boot your laptop or pc from a USB drive first before using this route. You can do this quite simply by starting up the laptop or pc, pressing either the ESC key or F2 to enter the Bios menu and changing the boot order there.
To get Ubuntu go to this site and follow the instructions. To install a Linux distribution onto a memory pen the easiest tool for the job is UNetbootin (available free from their site)

So I’ve got it installed, now what?
Well, play with it. Be amazed at how fast your previously defunct and dusty kit has become and how everything you plug into it just works. You will need to get to know your way around and the Ubuntu site has excellent information regarding tips, resources, applications to download, where to download them from and an amazing responsive and helpful community that are there to answer any of your questions. A word of warning though - if your school internet lies behind a proxy then I suggest you stay away from Xubuntu as it requires some coding to get it to work.

My own story.

I’ve installed Ubuntu onto 5 old laptops that I found cast aside in different cupboards in the school. Installing Ubuntu onto them has meant each is now fully functional and used daily by children in my class. We don’t have access to many of the software titles that we have installed on our Microsoft PCs in school but we have found as a school we are gradually moving away from many of those titles in favour of online tools. A Linux OS is perfect for that. The children took very little time to get to grips with Ubuntu and now actually prefer using it to some of the Windows XP machines. Some children have enjoyed using so much that they have installed it on an old pc at home much to the delight of their parents.

My favourite Linux Distributions

This article was originally published in Teach Primary magazine.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Do schools unwittingly stifle imagination and creativity?

My first week in Foundation Stage has been a great beginning in my Early Years journey. I have been amazed at the creative imaginations that young children have compared to their elder peers further up in the primary stage, so much so it's made me think just what is it that stifles those incredible, imaginative and creative minds.

I observed children creating worlds from a corner of an empty room, attacking a blank page with no hesitation or fear and filling it with beautiful imagery, talking out loud and singing in front of their class, asking pertinent questions and giving wonderful answers, telling stories, giving explanations, using reasoning, trying without fear of making a mistake.

These observations are just a few of the many eye openers I've seen; I will no doubt witness more and continue to contemplate why children and their imaginations are being stifled in Primary school.

Creativity is like finding a corner in a round room, it's there if you use your imagination. Schools do a great job hiding those corners.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Stepping into the early years

Image by cohdra (Morguefile)

Tomorrow I start a new journey in my teaching and learning career - I begin at the start, in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), aka Kindergarten. My experience of teaching in this age group is limited yet I have always been interested in the teaching and learning that happens in this age group, so much so that I used ideas for my own personalised learning approaches.

I start this new chapter filled with excitement for the year ahead. I have already started to follow many excellent EYFS teachers on Twitter and Pinterest so that I can 'get my head round' early years teaching and learning. My blog will no doubt see a change as posts relate more to what I discover during the months ahead.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Flash is dead

Flash is a dead technology in schools. It's a complete waste of time. 

Teaching kids to program in flash is the new Latin. 

School technology leaders may throw up their arms aghast and shout, 'but we need it, we rely on it, our kids use it every day' but seriously, flash is dead. 

It's a hacker's delight. 

Use it like any other old bit of kit, talk about it in the past tense. Kids will 'ooh' and 'ahh' when they see those little blocks on the screen move around with various keyboard presses or mouse moves. But face it, Flash is dead. 

Move on.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Piaget..wasn't he a woman?

I've been a teacher for 17 years. I was unleashed onto the teaching world back in 1996 after a 4 year Primary Education course at university. The course was mainly theory with smatterings of classroom based teaching thrown in. My only recollection of the theory side was someone called Piaget. I usually got through one lecturer's sessions with headphones on as the theory was so dull.

Judging by this you would be safe if you came to the conclusion that I never listened at university, and to be honest I never usually did. Yet I'm a damn good teacher for the very opposite reason - I do listen.

I listen to those that are the most important to my teaching.

I listen to my class.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Can Mozilla Webmaker tools meet new Computing curriculum requirements?

Can it meet new Computing requirements?

Today I finally completed my first html web 'quarter-page' using the brilliant Thimble tool of the Mozilla Webmaker site after signing up for an account over 1 month ago. It wasn't difficult to create the basics of the page as there is a wealth of information on the Webmaker site; if you wish you can be lead through the more intricate webpage building using CSS, I'll leave that for the summer holiday. The Webmaker site also includes Popcorn Maker which I haven't used yet but gives users the power to remix audio, video and image content found on the web.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Testing Save to Drive

This is only an image ;-)

Save to Drive is a new script from the Google Developer team which adds a save to Google Drive functionality to your site. I've been trying to find a way to add this to this site so that it's added into every blog post as standard. Well, I'm not having much luck. The only way I've been able to do it is to write a new post, change to HTML view then add the script into the post. Once posted the Save to Drive button appears in the post.

If you know how to add the following script into a Blogger blog could you please post a link to the how to or even add the steps in the comments.

<script src=""></script>
<div class="g-savetodrive"
 data-filename="My Statement.pdf"
 data-sitename="My Company Name"

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Google Glass in the classroom

Google Glass (Image from Google Glass site)

Google Glass appears in some eyes to be yet another 'shiny device' that schools and education consultants/sellers will jump on and proclaim as the next great device for education. I haven't seen Google Glass apart from the media presented online but I think the naysayers will get this one wrong. 

Education is littered with revolutionary and/or evolutionary technological devices:

A decade of iTunes in a timeline

Image from 9to5Mac

There are plenty of great timelines and timeline creation tools available on the internet. Schools use them, kids love them and we all learn from them. History is given a fantastic visual platform to work its magic. So when I saw this timeline from iTunes today I immediately added to my Springpad and have shared it with a few teachers already.

iTunes changed the face of music, there's no argument there whether you like the app or not. Apple have created a fantastic timeline of the iTunes platfrom from its official launch back in 2003 up to the present day. It includes notable dates in each year and, of course, links to the top 10 selling songs of every year since its launch. 

The information provided is easy to use in a classroom and would give children a great starting point to create timelines that are not just based on wars, kings and queens.

Check out the timeline by visiting this link which will open in iTunes itself.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Google + integrates with Blogger

Earlier today Blogger brought a much anticipated feature to its blogging platform with the integration of Google+ with the comments section of every blogger site. 

It's simply stunning. However. There is only one slight issue regarding this integration. Comments are only allowed from those that either have a Google+ profile or Google+ page. Whilst this may prove unpopular with some readers who will no doubt refrain from commenting due to having neither it should also mean less spam.

Find out more on the Blogger Buzz page.