Think positive on Feb29th and everyday

There has been a lot of negative press about teachers lately. From the press, but also from government, Ofsted,  unions and others.  This post will not contribute to that negativity in any way, indeed I hope this is seen as an antidote.

To start – think of the amazing things that you do every day in the classroom and the effect that is having on your pupils. Then look at other teachers in  your school and see what they are doing – are they making a difference? Chances are you won’t have to look that hard.

Three things off the top of my head:

  1. I have been lucky enough to help David Mitchell out today in moderating some posts on the Feb29th website. It is one of the most amazing things that I have seen.  At one point, there were posts going up at the rate of one every one-and-a-half seconds.  The work that David and Peter have put into making the Feb29th project work is incredible, and the results are simply stunning.
  2. How about Ian Addison’s  Under Ten Minutes website? A fab tool for CPD with some great tools explained by teachers for teachers.
  3. The 100 Word Challenge is one of the most innovative and inspiring writing projects I have seen – really inspiring pupils to write

So, my challenge to you… as there is news out there about teaching that it isn’t all negative, think of something positive to say about teaching and the impact that YOU are having in school.  Now, go to the  Feb29th site and write down what they are 🙂

My BETT 2012 – the show

Ian Addison presenting Class PET

This time last week, we had just got back to the hotel after a long day of setting up our BETT stand.  We sat in the bar, and considered that this year’s BETT could go one of two ways… Would it be like last year? Relatively busy, but full of visitors  who weren’t quite sure what they wanted, and even if they did pretty sure they didn’t have any budget. Or would things have settled down a bit and we have a good show?

The good news is that this year, BETT was full of visitors who came with a shopping list.  They knew what they wanted, and how much they had to spend. In addition, the  buzz that was at the show meant that visitors to the stand seemed much more interested in what we had to talk about.

Now, whether you are a fan of Mr Gove or not, there was a big shift between not appearing last year, to opening BETT this year.  The speech was heavily trailed, and although the big news was the removal of the ICT Curriculum, the big news for us was Gove saying:

“…technology brings unprecedented opportunities for assessment. Teachers can now support pupils’ learning by assessing their progress in a much more sophisticated way, and sharing assessments with pupils and parents.

Each pupil’s strengths and weaknesses can be closely monitored without stigmatising those who are struggling or embarrassing those are streaking ahead. Teachers can adjust lesson plans to target areas where pupils are weakest, and identify gaps in knowledge quickly and reliably.”

For Scholastic, with Class PET and Read & Respond Engage that do just this, and help with the revised Ofsted framework, this meant we had more teachers coming to our stand looking to see exactly what they do and how they could help. It meant that a lot of the demonstration schedule was rewritten to get both resources demo’d a bit more, and by Friday night my voice was more husky than someone who smokes 40 a day, and I hadn’t had lunch for three days.

In amidst all of this, we had some astonishing TeachMeet Takeover sessions, and quite possibly even more impressive KidsMeet sessions.  I honestly think that some of the demonstrations by primary school pupils from Ian Addison’s, Charlie Deane’s, Nick Jackson’s and Tim Handley’s schools were more slick than many adult presentations.  Thank you very much indeed to all of the teachers, and pupils who presented on our stand.

By Saturday night, I tweeted that I’d like to have a foot transplant.  Apart from my feet feeling as if they were going to fall off, everything else seemed well in the world. Our teacher resources had sold incredibly well, Hutch (our caricature artist) had gone down well again, and we had so many leads to follow up that it has taken two days to sort them all out.

A good BETT – and one that was a fitting end to it’s time at Olympia.

To VLE or not to VLE? It is questionable…

I go into primary schools quite often, about two per week on average, and the thing I have noticed this term – much more than last year is that a lot of schools are giving up their VLEs.

I would say that in the 10-12 schools I have been in since September, about half of that number started this academic year without a VLE. Not the greatest sample size in the world, but then if you know me at all you’ll know that one swallow always makes a summer!

The reasons that the Head teachers I spoke to for getting rid of their VLE ranged from – “we never used it”, “to it cost us too much money”. One Head, and I won’t say at which school, gleefully told me that she and the Deputy Head had cancelled all of the online subscriptions the school had (Espresso, Education City etc.), plus the VLE and not told any of the teachers…they had a bet to see how long it would be until the teachers noticed the services had gone – and by the middle of October, no teacher had noticed a thing.

Now there are a few things you can take from that anecdote, and a few concerns! But one thing I took from it was that you only get out of a VLE what you put in – and if the management of the school aren’t supportive or active in pushing the VLE then there is little wonder that the teachers didn’t use it.

One thing that does seem striking is that the government policy which dictated that every pupil should have access to a personalised online learning space by spring of 2008 made schools and LAs look at VLEs, and buy into them, but unless well trained and supported they weren’t used. Or, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Time for another anecdote? I think so… Another quite stark example of the way this policy was implemented was in a primary school I know very well. One of the members of staff who left about 12-months ago in her exit interview asked why the school hadn’t invested in a VLE – the shocking answer was that they had, in 2005, they just hadn’t gotten around to telling anyone yet. This is a very large school, who for five years had been telling anyone who would listen they were running a deficit budget, but had spent five years spending money on a service no-one knew they had and consequently never used.

Don’t take from this that I am anti-VLE, much the same as my thoughts around interactive whiteboards, in the right hands they can be incredibly effective tool which allows teachers and pupils to prosper, but when you’re not trained on something properly, or don’t have the technical know-how to do it yourself, it is a waste of time and money – both of which are in tremendous short supply in schools at the moment.

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 which hosts it for you, but you get a URL that looks like this (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?

Qwiki… what an amazing website

You know, it happens, the fortunate typo.  I was aiming to type ‘wiki’, and my fat fingers hit a ‘q’ and I ended up at Qwiki – what a lovely discovery.

The homepage states that Qwiki “knows millions of things” – so I tested it with Barwell.  The old village we used to live in in sedentary Leicestershire.  What I got was a pretty impressive run down of Barwell, telling me things (literally with the automatic text to speech audio) that I didn’t know about the place even though we had lived there for too long.  I then tried something that would be a bit more rich in content, and the Amazon Rainforest looks pretty amazing.

Qwiki is based on wikis, so it doesn’t actually know everything, but I can see how this could be a stunning resource for the classroom – as do quite a few of you it seems, as my link to it was clicked on over 250 times between last Thursday and today!  It will be fascinating to see how it develops, but for now, I am just having fun being told stuff I didn’t know I needed to know!

Do you think you will use Qwiki?  What uses do you think you will put it to?!

My BETT – day by day… Saturday

I woke up with a spring in my step on Saturday. My feet barely hurt, the walk to the show seemed to take no time at all, and everything was just right. Is it a coincidence I had been at a TeachMeet the night before? Was I floating? Possibly!

Saturday is a good day to be a visitor at BETT. There are many fewer visitors, and much more time for you to talk to people on and off stands. It was for this reason I was a bit nervous about the number of people who would be around to hear Anthony Browne talk on our stand; but I shouldn’t have worried. The stand was at least six deep, with people sitting on the floor to hear him talk. We had over 100 people for over an hour listening to the Children’s Laureate talking about books, reading Gorilla and answering questions. He then went on to sign (and draw gorilla’s on) copies of Gorilla. He was such a nice man to talk to, and someone I have been a fan of for such a long time – I was ever-so-slightly star struck!

Anthony Browne was on our stand to launch Read & Respond Engage. I have never hidden what I think about Read & Respond – I believe it is by far the best resource that Scholastic, and other publishers have produced for teaching literacy in the classroom. It ensures that the classic children’s book is at the heart of every lesson, and that most importantly children develop a real love of reading through it. I am particularly excited about Engage, as it really does what it says on the tin. You can show videos, photographs; assign work to pupils to do in school or at home etc. etc. I don’t usually talk about resources we publish on my blog, but this time, I had to make an exception! If anyone wants to try it out, please let me know – you know where I am!

We hosted two more TeachMeet takeovers on Saturday, and again was delighted to meet even more people from Twitter!  Another highlight was Ian Addison standing up at the end of a Class PET presentation talking about how they use Class PET in their school, and what the children think about it.  As soon as I have video, I will post it here!  Needless to say, Ian was an incredibly natural presenter, presenting in the live Class PET, showing real results… I was really happy with the presentation, so thank you Ian!

In summary…BETT this year was by far the best show I have attended in all the years that I have been running exhibitions.  It was really interesting that after all of the hype over hardware for many years, it was the show for content (apparently publishers are now ‘content providers’!).  It was nice to see the amount of interest we got for products we have worked so hard on – including Class PET and Read & Respond Engage.

It was worth all of the sleepless nights; the attention to detail really paid off and we just have to think about what to do next year!

My BETT – day by day… Friday

I woke up on Friday morning thinking that I had only just closed my eyes.  The long walk to the show seemed longer than usual and my feet posted a petition for divorce. Then I realised I was only half way through, and decided to buck my ideas up, and found some Music to Wake  A Stand Up To…

The show was so busy on Friday that it was 3pm before I looked at my watch.  Everything seemed to go seamlessly – no technical hitches, everyone there when you needed them – almost as if we had planned it!

We did have some special guests on the stand. David Mitchell (@deputymitchell) brought six of his pupils from Heathfield CPS in Bolton onto our stand to do some experiments to help launch Scholastic Primary Science – a really nice new science scheme full of practical science experiments, ebooks and science APP.  The pupils, and staff were thoroughly professional all the time they were on our stand; and some of the pupils managed to get their charicatures done by our resident artist, Hutch.

It was also great to see Tom Sale and James Maloney who had made the long trip down from Blackpool and many other teachers who made the time to come and see us on the stand.  TeachMeet Takeover took off on Friday, many more presentations held compared to last year, and again we hosted two events on our stand.  Presentations by Alessio Bernardelli & Dan Roberts followed by Ian Addison were tremendous.  If you haven’t been to a TeachMeet before, you should – find out more here.

Friday night was TeachMeet BETT – something I had been looking forward to for a long time.  The evening was very professionally run by the Two Ians (@ianaddison and @iusher).  I was slightly disappointed in two or three of the presentations, two of them were adverts for the companies that stood up, and one pretty much bordered it!  There is a show floor for exhibitors to talk to teachers, the TeachMeet was a time for teachers to talk to teachers, it appeared that not everyone understood that.

I loved Dughall’s snow-day presentation, and Bill Lord’s reflections on @giraffeclass (a must-follow!), but the rest were just as good and the event was a real testament to the passion that was in that room.

TeachEat was brilliant. I had avoided it last year as I didn’t think that people would want someone from a company there, but the pizza was just what I needed at the end of a long, but fantastic day.

My BETT – day by day…Thursday

So Wednesday has come and gone, and Thursday is here.  This time last year, we were hopeful that things would get better, this year, we were hopeful that things would be as good as yesterday!  The good news is that the stand was busier from the outset all the way through the day.

One of the problems you have as an exhibitor, is the problem of making sure that the people who come on to the start of a presentation stay all the way through to the end.  One of the ideas that was had was to have a prize draw at the end of each presentation to ensure that people stayed around to listen.  Some call it bribery, I may agree.  Whatever you call it, it worked!  We really did have a lot of people taking part in a lot of presentations (14 per day!) and many people stayed to listen to more than one.

At this stage, I have to say a huge thank you to the presenters who, between them did 56 presentations, and there were only four of them!  They were Russ Payne, Tim Meek, Paul Naish and Paula Hubbard.  It is a testament to their professional presentations that we had such an amazing show.

We had been showing Read & Respond Engage a lot during the show, and we were getting many good responses from people, some saying that it was just what they needed and signing up there and then.  One visitor said that it was refreshing to see a digital resource that kept the children’s book  at the heart of the resource.  Another said it was the best thing they had seen at the show.

It was on Thursday that I met some people I have followed and respected for a very long time, Ewan McIntosh, John Davitt  and David Whyley.  It was nice for me not to be on stage for most of the day, so that I had the time to talk to these very inspirational people!  We were delighted to host two TeachMeet Takeover slots on Wednesday from Bev Evans and Kevin Mulryne. 🙂

Thursday night was Collaborate for Change at BETT night, and I went along to take the photos (yes, I was the annoying git hovering over you taking photos!).  It was really good to see a room full of teachers sharing ideas about the resources they use in the classroom.  It was also good to catch up with Ant from 2Simple (@2simpleant), Ian Addison (@ianaddison), Charlie Deane (@charliedeane) and many more!

The good news was that I got back to the hotel in time for food before the mayhem that was Friday!

My BETT – day by day…Wednesday

BETT is one of those shows that you think about for a long time.  We started planning BETT 2011 in February 2010, allowing ourselves time to have crazy ideas that keep us awake at night, and then distil them into common sense punchy ideas for the show.  For example, back in May we had the idea of a QR treasure hunt, and then in September I listened into a great presentation at the Scottish Learning Festival Teach Meet by Jennifer Harvey about setting up a QR treasure hunt which helped focus our minds.

BETT is also the worst time in the year for an exhibition – a week after you return from Christmas!  This year we also had the dreaded flu to contend with, which took out our exhibitions coordinator until the Monday after BETT!  Nevertheless, the stand on the Tuesday seemed to be ahead of the year before, and we even had time to do some presentation run throughs before we finished setting up at 8pm.

Wednesday morning started with me in Sainsbury’s buying my own body weight in Chocolate Eclairs (we had this idea that we should have a purple theme, and it was the only sweet that fitted the bill).  On the stand, we had a massive problem with the Internet connection.  For some reason, our brand new router decided that it didn’t want to do a full time job.  We didn’t really need the stress, but after a couple of hours it was back and we could start the show with everything working!

Wednesday was busy.  Compared to the Wednesday before, where it was so quiet we played spot the visitor, this year we were busy fro

m 10:30am to about 4:00pm.  We met so many excellent people on our stand it has been hard to remember them all – but needless to say that the show started with a bang!

The Wednesday evening was TedXOrenda.  Organised by Drew Buddie (@digitalmaverick), one of the most passionate and energetic people I know, it was a great start to the three day teacher-curated BETT.   I absolutely loved listening to the speakers – top of the list would be Naomi Jane (@missnaomijane)who gave a talk about the effect that teachers can, and do have on the lives and prospects of pupils.  Maybe it was because I could relate very closely to what she was discussing, or whether it was because she was such an assured public speaker, her words were incredibly inspirational.  I was delighted how well the Hexayurt programmes went down, a homage to the work of Vinay Gupta (@leashless).  Again, the compering by Bill Thompson was excellent, this Ted event is going from strength to strength!

Unfortunately, we got back to the hotel very late, too late for food, so I ended the day having eaten no more than breakfast.