This weekend, Jet, Elizabeth and I went to Oxenhope in Yorkshire to attend CampEd12 – a (nearly) free learning festival that was organised by the most amazing Bill Lord, Dughall McCormick and Helen Daykin.  It took place on Helen’s mum’s farm, which was a wonderful backdrop for the event.

The Activities (top five as chosen by Elizabeth)

  1. There were loads of activities to choose from, and on the first day we spent the time with  James Langley, and his son Joseph geocaching.  For those who haven’t experienced geocaching before, James and Joseph are excellent instructors.  We started by throwing monster faces, moved onto jumping onto geckos, and then walking around a virtual maze.  After the warm up, we were let loose to find the eight cache’s that had been set up around the farm.  This is the bit that Elizabeth had been looking forward to, and she was really quick at finding the caches.    We have done a bit of geocaching before, and even though Elizabeth is only five, she can walk for miles and not realise it as she moves from cache to cache!  I have a feeling I will be tapped up for a Garmin soon!
  2. Science experiments. Elizabeth spent ages looking at feathers, wool, plants and other things under the microscopes that were set up on the second day in the barn.  I have a feeling I am going to be tapped up for a microscope soon!
  3. On day two, we went for a moor walk (advertised as child friendly) and although it was shorter than the day before, I realised that I am unfit.  Very unfit.  However, it was a lovely day for a walk, and Elizabeth loved jumping in the puddles and scrambling over the rocks.  We stopped at Oxenhope train station half-way around, and cooled down with an ice cream.  In typical Yorkshire humor, the gentleman serving the ice cream suggested that if I wanted to cool down I could take my coat off.  Everyone’s a comedian!
  4. We had a bit of a lie-in on Sunday and arrived a bit late, but fortuitously we walked passed Dughall running the den building session.  It was really fun to create dens from natural materials – and water piping!  Elizabeth ran off looking for branches, Dughall was ever supportive and full of praise.  We had a great time!   Just after we had taken down the den, Elizabeth and I explored a ravine, walked on a dry riverbed, and climbed a tree (one more off the 50 things to do before you’re 11 3/4 list! 
  5. Football.  Actually, I’ll add a bit here and say it wasn’t just the football.  One of the best things about the whole event was that we could let Elizabeth go off and explore. There were so many other children around to play with, run about with, hide with, sing with, play football with that there wasn’t five minutes when she was bored.  It doesn’t happen often in modern life that you can allow young children to run off and play without hovering too much – and although I did a bit of that, it was brilliant to know that she would be okay when  you eventually found her!  

We also did the origami and I realised how I still don’t know my left from right and we really wanted to take part in Mission Explore!, Science experiments, and the star gazing – next time perhaps?!

The people

There were quite a few different types of people at CampEd12: Teachers, non-teachers, outgoing people, shy people crazy people (the campers) and lots of amazing children.  Jet and I were so impressed at how the other children helped out Elizabeth when she needed it – included in football (especially when there’s the danger of a goal being scored against you by a five year old), helped up a hill by Joseph (who Elizabeth has a soft-spot for!).  Hopefully we have said thank you individually, but if not, then thank you again.  There should be some very proud parents out there!

A lot of the people that I have known for a while through twitter and the odd conference were there, and it was an honour to spend extended time together. Elizabeth got a bit shy at times, but has come away talking about  how much she liked ‘that tall man with the funny beard who likes Beegu’, ‘that man who was with us building the den’ and ‘that man with the hat who was with the lovely lady’ (the first was Bill, the second Dughall and I think the third were John and Lydia)!).  I really enjoyed seeing everyone in the pub on the last night, and spending time with the Allmans when we got back to the campsite – even though it took me a very long time to get the jokes!  Elizabeth was very keen to show the girls  where she was sleeping, and although I thought that a short book would be good, ‘Again‘ by Emily Gravett probably wasn’t the best idea as we most likely woke up half the campsite.

The best thing was that everyone who was there could say that they were at the inaugural CampEd12.

Share your School Holidays dates with My School Holidays

“When do the school holidays start?” is a commonly asked question by parents in schools. Parents and teachers are using search more and more to find the information they want but the problem is some of the websites data doesn’t include INSET days and the like. Fear not fair maidens as My School Holidays has the answer.

My School Holidays is a free web site from Primary Technology that provides UK school term and holiday dates for 16000+ schools for 3+ years and has recently launched in Germany as Schulferien. My School Holidays is the best place to organize, update and publish your school’s holiday dates.

My School Holidays’ vision is to be the #1 provider of school holiday dates in the world with fantastic features such as, the embeddable widget(see above), and countdown to the holidays we expect big things from the guys at Primary Technology who will do us all proud!

Some more features you might like:
· Dates are available for 1 year into the future
· Mobile version of the website
· Council/district dates as well as specific school dates
· Printable calendar
· Various APIs for software developers and partners.

The Eee Pad Transformer – my romantic tragedy

As a happily married man, falling in love again is not generally thought to be a good thing.  However last night I did. Not only that, but my wife was not happy.  I had better explain…

We are going away soon to the US so that I can be best man at my best mates wedding. Elizabeth and Jet are coming too, and we thought that as we will spend  a lot of time in planes, and waiting around that being able to distract ourselves with a good film or two would be a good thing.

We looked around a bit (quite a bit actually) and it came down to a decision between getting an iPad2 and an Eee Pad Transformer.  We knew exactly what we would get with the iPad2, but the Transformer was a bit of an unknown.  After deliberation, we opted for the Transformer.  The reasons?  It is cheaper – significantly – something like £200 all in, the ability to read websites as they are meant to be (flash) and we read many many good reviews from very well respected websites.

Out of the box the Transformer is amazing. After a quick charge, and logging in with your Google account, it knows exactly who you are – not only that but your contacts are downloaded, your photos are there, and all docs.  The unit itself is slick, image amazing and clear.  The Honeycomb UI – no problems with it at all (I haven’t experienced yet any of the problems with 3.01 that others have).

So what nearly caused us to return the Transformer only hours after receiving it? The things we wanted to use it for (films specifically) are so blinkin difficult to get on it!  I spent hours last night looking for ways to transfer films on, and woke up early again this morning to do the same thing.

The problem isn’t the unit specifically, it isn’t even the OS that runs on it. It is with Google.  I can see why people crow about the iPad.  The simplicity of having a store where you can select a film, and download it is just what you need.  The time and angst trying to find the right file coding for Handbrake, working out how to transfer it on to an SD card (which is not as easy as it sounds) is very close to not being worth the hastle.  Google need to address this, and quickly.  There are companies such as Netflix and Amazon who in the US allow for file download. The closest we have in the UK is BlinkBox which just allows download to PC.  It is a conflict that goes to the heart of the Android ideology – freedom to use which app you like, when you like with little control from an equivalent App Store, with amazing multitasking  etc. etc, but when the main competition is Apple, that likes to hand hold you through every process you have a problem.  it is not good enough to be good enough, you need to be the best, and sorting out this problem soon is critical.

Luckily, I have managed to find the right package to sort out the films – it isn’t perfect at all, but I can live with it until Google get their act together. And  I can stay with the tablet I love 🙂

Grrr… How to create a Fusion Table

Earlier this week, I came across a Guardian article about where schools were on strike – it included a Google map that had each Local Authority highlighted to show what percentage of schools are on strike.  Now, I have made my own map in Google before, and carefully drawn around each territory to show where we have School Representatives, but it is painstaking, and definitely not as professional as the Guardian one.  It made me wonder how they managed to create it.  If you want to skip to the end, then here is what I made!

The answer was in Google Fusion Tables – and after a couple of minutes of tinkering, I was hooked.  The possibilities here are amazing. But also quite a bit of learning to do – and as with everything new, lots went wrong.  Here is how I managed to create my Fusion Table showing all of the different areas of the UK, and where Scholastic have school representatives:


Golden rule: don’t build your data table in the Fusion Table itself – it is a very long winded and convoluted way.  Either build it in Excel or Google Spreadsheets, as you can import them when you are finished.

Get yourself some location data.  Now it depends which type of map you want to show. If I had wanted to show points in the map, then a place name, or postcode would have done and I could have skipped happily onto the next step. But I wanted to show each area as a layer on top of the map.  This is a lot more complicated.

I did plenty of Google searching to find the right data.  In the end, I found some from Nearby.Org, which isn’t perfect, but I can refine over time. To draw polygons over the right data you need a string of coordinates that show the edge of the area you want to cover.  Now, most coordinates come looking like this:

54.91567645	-1.743341174
54.91925706	-1.724644054
54.91056256	-1.718651474

Unfortunately, the lovely way that Google works, you need to reverse these codes, so they end up looking more like this:


Once you have all of the location data (and in my case I have 164 different lines in my database, each with up to 4000 coordinates in) – you can start to build up your spreadsheet.  I wanted to show the Rep name, Area name, phone number, email, Area number (more on this later) and finally the location.  Here is an example of mine.

All of the columns are self-explanatory, apart from location.  In the location column, you need to put in the KML data for the areas you want to show.  This can be done with the following code:

<Polygon> <outerBoundaryIs><coordinates> -2.51998453948394,51.6881171980821
-2.51981095720608,51.6881179666459  </coordinates> </outerBoundaryIs> </Polygon>

Now to do this for all areas would be very time consuming, had it not been for the wonderful concatenate function in Excel.  By using this, it saved me hours of coding work.

Once you have this in your table, you can then import it into Fusion Tables, using the import function.


Once you have imported it, you can click on ‘visualise’ which allows you to show the data you have in your table as a map.  As long as you have included the KML data here, you should have no problems.

All of the areas are red to start with, and you then have to work out how to change each area.  If you click on Configure Map Styles, then on Polygons, fill colour, buckets, you can then set the colour to be what you want.  Now as I had numbered my areas, I was able to set the number of ‘buckets’ to 100, and then I could say that bucket 1, should be green, 2 blue etc. etc.

Once you have done this, you have pretty much finished, you can grab the embed code and put that into a website or blog post.  There is, however much more you can do. You can merge tables to compare and contrast different sorts of data.  The visualisations are much more than maps, you can do timelines, heat maps, charts, storylines…the list is longer, and the possibilities pretty much endless.

Have you used Fusion Tables before? What for, and how have you found them?  I can’t wait to get stuck into more complex, but funkier data!

Blogging Platforms

I was asked earlier to advise on blogging platforms… I answered as follows. If you agree / disagree please let me know!!

I have a few and have used a lot of different platforms…

I write a blog for booksellers in blogger, which is very basic, but reasonably easy to use (the platform, not the blog, well actually, both). The problem I have with it is that every time you want to do something slightly different from the norm in Blogger you find you can’t do it, or you need expert html knowledge. I know that there have been some advances of late, but of them all, I’d say this is my least favourite blogging platform.


I started properly on Posterous which is superb, really easy to post stuff to, although limited in themes and plugins are almost non-existent. You can email in your post with an image/video/audio attachment and it sorts it for you. Great for a first blog, and for community blogging, but not advanced stuff really. Has been known to have a bit of down time, but nothing massive.


I use Tumblr just for pictures and videos – incredibly easy to set up, and use. I post from an app on my phone, which Posterous, Tumblr and WordPress also have (blogger maybe also, but I’ve never looked). Very similar to Posterous in look and feel.



WordPress is the ultimate blogging platform (in my opinion!). It has millions of themes to choose from, unlimited plugins that allow you to have tag clouds, custom menus, voting etc. It is completely open source, so free.

Both of these blogs and are self-hosted. This means you don’t necessarily know it is on WordPress. The Education Blog Awards looks and feels like a website (as does another site I put together, also built on WordPress). The self-hosting is reasonably cheap, and the domain name is as expensive as you want it to be. If you don’t want to self-host, you can use WordPress.com which hosts it for you, but you get a URL that looks like this http://educationsales.wordpress.com/ (if you can see the content of this, then let me know, as you shouldn’t be able to!) The other downside is that you don’t get the added functionality that a self-hosted blog gives you.

One other option if you are a school is to use Primary Blogger, which is based on the WordPress platform and is also free.  It has built in spam filtering and SEO optimization and you get the same ability as with the normal WordPress to post from your mobile.   Over 1500 primary schools use it, and it costs absolutely nothing!

There are a few other blogging platforms, such as TypePad (paid for), Moveable Type (free), Squarespace (paid for), Textpattern (free, but low support).

What blogging platform do you use, and why?

I suggest you don't Poke the Box


I’m sorry to say that the latest Seth Godin offering, Poke the Box, is not up to his usual standards. A huge Godin fan, I was really looking forward to reading this – especially after reading Linchpin and being inspired.

I have to start by saying I haven’t quite finished it (about 10 pages to go). I had hoped it would get better, but it hasn’t. I also admit to recommending it half way through and wish I could retract!

I also will admit to having just finished one of the best books I have ever read – What is the What by David Eggers, any book following it would pale in comparison.

Right. Excuses over. Poke the Box is meant to be a manifesto about how to ‘ship’. A good idea, but rather than introducing an idea, expounding on it and concluding, it seems to be an exercise in trying to say exactly the same thing 64 times, with different words. In short: if you have an idea, don’t keep it to yourself, do it, market it it, produce it, ship it. Um, that’s it.

One or two of the examples are nice as they always are, but nothing up to usual standard. I am a keen reader of Seth’s blog, and will continue to read it, but will be more circumspect about his next book.

By the way, I have to thank Drew Buddie (@digitalmaverick) for recommending What is the What. If you want a motivating book that shows triumph over adversity, success against the odds, vision when all is lost, then buy this rather than the frippery that is Poke the Box.

My social networking presentation to the IPG

On Wednesday I gave a presentation to the Independent Publishers Guild Annual Conference on social networking. I followed Jon Reed who gave a very comprehensive look at ways in which publishers can use Twitter / Facebook and LinkedIn. It was great to catch up with Kate Wilson from Nosy Crow as well, and talk about how well her lovely new iPad and iPhone apps were going!

I spoke about increasing awareness of a brand through Social Networking.  The story: two years ago, the awareness of Scholastic amongst ICT Local Authority Advisors was 0% (this isn’t just me making progress look good, we had research done to confirm our fears!)… with the launch of Class PET not far away, I needed to increase that percentage slightly!

The things we did:

  • Set up the Class PET Twitter account (which recently turned into eScholasticUK), which is a good, although quite formal way of engaging on Twitter.
  • Sponsoring TeachMeets (which I hope we have done without being too commercial at all)
  • A larger, better BETT stand which has acted as a central place at BETT for people to meet – and by listening to teachers, ensuring we have things that teachers need on our stand!

All of the above, from an official perspective have helped to increase awareness of resources such, but not confined to ClassPET.

The other thing that has happened, which has almost happened by accident, has that by being myself on Twitter, and sticking to my mantra of ‘no selling’ I have found myself in a place where I have many good  and firm friends all over the country.  I have done things I never thought I would (running 10-miles with @ianaddison being one of them!).

The culmination of this was that I was able to conduct some research on Twitter (distributed by people other than me!) that showed that Scholastic was the best known publisher or provider of services to schools on Twitter (not as one Tweeter at the IPG conference heard, the best known brand on Twitter!).  There were some very lovely comments indeed, so to those who were so nice about me, thank you!  The presentation with the data is below, but if you want to see the original source data, check out this link.


Don't conform… or obfuscate

Some people define insanity as doing the same thing as you have always done and expecting a different result each time.  Well, for me, launching new products, someone could have looked at me and committed me.  I seem to fall into the same trap…well no more!

I shall explain – this isn’t an advert – just self-reflection and honesty.

By now, I hope you know  I work for Scholastic Education.  The type of resource we are traditionally known for is teacher resources (typically A4, with or without a CD-ROM inside).  However, in the last couple of years we have been publishing other types of resource: reciprocal reading, non-fiction guided reading, digital resources such as Story Stage, Class PET and Read & Respond Engage.  Normally, when you launch new products into new areas that you don’t normally publish, you look at the competition, see what they are doing and copy them.

For example, Class PET.  We launched what is a fantastic digital resource as a subscription product.  Something that is the norm for that type of resource, and therefore, why wouldn’t we do this? We hadn’t counted on two things. One was that the market was changing when we launched.  What worked as the norm isn’t necessarily going to work in the future, and secondly, most importantly, it goes against what we do as a business.  (The closest thing Scholastic have to a subscription product are our magazines at £20-£40 a year – not hundreds of pounds a year.)  Therefore, our customers weren’t expecting to see subscription type product from a company that they usually purchase and own the resource from*.  So, we did the thing that most companies steer as far away from as possible: we changed.  We now offer Class PET and Read & Respond Engage as a one-time only purchase, just the same as if you bought a book**.

The part of selling books to schools that has always been clouded in obfuscation is that of guided reading.  Probably not the thing to say as an Educational Publisher!  Look at any publisher of guided reading books, and it seems that 23.6p is added on every time they add a couple of pages.  Well, this time, you can call the men with the white coats off…we are going against the crowd here.  Next month, we are launching a Guided Reading series that are the same price, whether they are for Pink band A, or Orange.  Whether they have four or twelve pages.

No more confusion, no more working out how much something is going to cost. Simple, clear pricing.

The lesson I have learned? To trust my instincts.

*note – our customers are very likely exactly the same as those of companies who do offer subscription products, it is the expectation that is different.

**there is a nominal annual Access and Update fee, but this is for a guarantee that the resource that will work with any future curriculum that is published.

Great Expectations or why businesses should under promise and over deliver

If you set the bar high, you have to reach it

If you set the bar high, you have to reach it

This post was originally posted on The Best of Hinckley blog, where I occasionally guest post.  You can read it here, or in its original context.

I am sitting here, typing this blog post out, very early on the day of my house move.  It has been a long time coming – we put our house up for sale last October, and after five agents (two local, two national and one internet based) failed to sell it, we managed to let it out after only two days.  This is a post about setting expectations.

In everything I do, I prefer to buy from local companies, therefore the  first agent who came around to the house was from an agent who only works in Hinckley and the surrounding area.  He was enthusiastic, and left our house saying that we would be sold within a fortnight.  A fortnight came and went, the house didn’t appear in the local paper when he said it would, and took quite some time to appear online, and after three months, we had had enough and went to some national agents to save the situation.

We had three agents in to look at the house in January, and chose two of them.  We went national for greater coverage, and more professional appearance and because both of them said that the previous agent had done it all badly, and they could have it sold within weeks.  Weeks came and went.  Chasing agents turned into a small hobby of mine, and it wasn’t long at all before they were suggesting that it maybe the price – because the market is absolutely fine!  We lowered the price quite substantially, and still no movement.

Finally we went with another local agent, and an internet based seller.  The former followed exactly the same pattern as the three above and the internet one claimed an average number of days to sell a house was 21 days. You guessed, it 21 days on and we haven’t had a sniff.

I don’t blame any of the agents for not selling our house, it is a very tough market.  If five agents can’t sell it, you have to think that there is something more than just one bad agent.  In unguarded times, one of the agents said that the houses that were selling were going at the bottom of the scale, and only then it was very tough to get them moving.  It is a hard time to sell anything.  What I do blame them for, is setting very unrealistic expectations. Neither my wife or I are daft people, we can take the truth, what has been incredibly tough to take is sales people setting themselves up as a fantastic way of getting houses sold, and in every case would get it sold within weeks – when really they probably knew it would take much much longer.  We have been left with an incredibly sour taste in our mouths from dealing with people who deal primarily in doublespeak.

The lessons to learn for any business out there are:

  • be honest;
  • talk to people as grown-ups who can take the truth;
  • set a reasonable level of expectation;
  • if you say you will call every week with an update, do it;
  • if you say that you will be able to sell a house or deliver your product  in a fortnight, do it!

If you are in business then whatever you say you do, ensure that you do everything in your power to do it – under promise and over deliver. Even if the first agent had sold the house in three weeks, the very high bar of a fortnight would not have been met and the outcome is – I am disappointed.

And what happened to the house?  Well I met Graham from Easy-Lets and Sales in Earl Shilton who came and let our house out in two days – much quicker than he thought it would be and at every stage, he has provided a level of service which surpasses all our other experiences.  Well done Graham!