New allotment

Okay,  so a diversion from the norm but as I haven’t posted for nearly a year maybe this is a new norm?


Enough of the ramblings, onto allotments. In a moment of rashness I rented an allotment on Monday – more weeds than Weed City and hasn’t been used for a year, but it has a (broken) shed and a (dusty) compost heap.

Last year, Elizabeth and I decided to grow tomatoes.  It worked well, tomatoes grew; so we decided to try again this year. Not just tomatoes though – carrots, peas, beans, courgettes and a few others I’ve forgotten about and my writing has rubbed off the stick – pot luck I guess.

We have a problem though, as we moved house last summer,  this garden just doesn’t get enough sun. And even I know that in vegetable growing recipes, sun is a key ingredient.

Enter stage left, Eileen. I found her number on the Internet and she asked me to meet her at the end on the lane. Luckily this is where the allotments are, and the start of new blog posts with bad puns. The allotment was the incredible sum of £12.50 a year and Elizabeth has the biggest grin on her face since smiling was invented. Her top five things to grow are:

  1. Rhubarb (not sure why, she’s not that keen on it)
  2. Nettles (to encourage butterflies)
  3. Tomatoes
  4. Carrots and
  5. Blueberries (she has even saved me a pip from the last one she had. Nice.)

On the way back from showing her the allotment, she said how she thinks growing your own vegetables is a really caring thing to do. As there is enough food in the world for everyone to eat, but we are greedy in this country and waste too much. If we grow our own, maybe that will mean that other people who are going hungry will get to eat some food. I kind of wish I had recorded it, as it was a very grown up thing for a small girl to say, and I’m very proud of her.

Anyway, away with the mushy stuff, now the day dreaming starts…

So far, I have researched gravity microirrigation, have encountered John Harrison and his wonderful world of allotments (by the way, his Vegetable Growing Month-by-Month is a gripping read, and you get it signed, AND you get free seeds!). I’ve bought a water butt (don’t giggle); some guttering for my shed and I am very much looking forward to handling my Dutch Hoe.  Not to end the puns there, I told Elizabeth that Grandad’s friend Willie has a rotovator we may be able to borrow. Except I would have, if I could have got passed saying Willie… wow, did she giggle or what?!

So, there’s lots of work to do, I’m sure and not much growing this year, other than weeds 🙂


The UK Education Blog Awards 2012 are open!

Great news! The UK Education Blog Awards have just opened! Check them out here.

However, before you go, here’s the bit I should say first.

Thank you so much to:

  • the team at Primary Blogger (Ed and John) for helping set this up.
  • to the judges, Tim Rylands, Ollie Bray, Margaret Vass, Peter Ford and Tim Major
  • to the sponsors, Child Education and Primary Blogger

That is all – go nominate and vote!


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.

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.

BETT 2012 – what a busy week it’s going to be GREAT!

I can’t wait…really, can’t wait.  We have been planning for the BETT 2012 show for nearly a full year – our first meeting on it was in February when we had  a full look at the 2011 show, and then pretty much monthly after that, until October when things got super busy!

As I mentioned in the post I wrote before Christmas, we are going to be running a much more comprehensive round of resource demonstrations, including:

    • Using paired story videos and non-fiction EBooks to build a love of reading
    • Using real time digital assessments in the classroom
    • Using favourite children’s books to structure your literacy teaching

    A full list of our demo’s, and the times they are on is here.  We are super happy that we have at least three different schools on our stand as well!

    In addition, TeachMeet Takeover is happening again! Here’s the agenda.

    As always, BETT really isn’t BETT without the fringe events; and this year I’m going for the full-house yet again!

    Wednesday night: BETT Awards Dinner.  Read & Respond Engage is up for an award in the Primary Digital Content category!

    Thursday night: Scholastic are sponsoring the Collaborate for Change event in the Apex room.  I am also hosting a table at C84C which has the title: ‘How much should children be, or feel, in charge of their work?’ which I hope will be an interesting discussion!

    Friday night:  Scholastic are sponsoring the  TeachMeet at BETT – can’t wait!

    Right, I’m off to watch Sherlock before a very long week!

    Scholastic at BETT 2012

    Anthony Browne on the Scholastic stand in 2011

    Anthony Browne on the Scholastic stand in 2011

    Here we go again, BETT is just around the corner and Scholastic have been getting ready (almost since BETT 2011 ended!) for a big show.

    We have kept the bits that you said you loved from last year (More resource demonstrations based on the needs you have in your classroom; TeachMeet Takeover and Hutch, our caricature artist is back again!).

    We have changed a couple of other things – we are taking a selection of our resources that you can buy on the stand (thank you to @dawnhallybone among others for this suggestion) – to make this extra special, we are offering 20% off at the show!

    In full… we are hosting 60 sessions on stand G40 to help you in the classroom. From Using real time digital assessments in the classroom, to Using favourite children’s books to structure your literacy teaching

    Here’s what you can do on our stand:

    • take part in a demonstration of resources that can help you in the classroom
    • a chance to win Olympics resources worth £50 every half-an-hour
    • take a look at our latest resources, and try them out for yourself
    • watch and take part in a KidsMeet or TeachMeet
    • save 20% on all orders placed at the show
    • charge up your mobile phones while you have your caricature drawn
    • and most importantly enter our Treasure Hunt for a chance to win an iPad!
    Scholastic Treasure Map

    Scholastic Treasure Map

    If you want to get ahead of the game, download the treasure map now – you can fill in the answers on the Scholastic web site.

    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.

    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.