Growth Mindset in the Real World

It’s not like it used to be. Sunday night, crowded around the radio waiting for the Official Radio 1 Chart Show to find out who would be this week’s number one. And, if it was a special week, poised with your finger over the record button trying desperately not to get the DJ talking over your favourite songs – why did they always do that? Nowadays there’s no chart show and singles and album sales are no longer the be all and end all for music artists.

It won’t be a surprise, then if you missed the fact that a local bunch of lads secured their second number one album a couple of weeks ago. For a start, it was announced on Friday via a press release on their website. No fanfare, no fuss, just a number one album. If you haven’t worked out who I’m referring to you yet, you’re probably not from Bury – it is, of course, Elbow.

Their story is one of unlikely triumph, so some would like you to believe. The seeds of the band we now know as Elbow were planted in Tottington Primary School, Bury (which, incidentally is where I trained as part of the now defunct GTP program) when three boys – Richard Jupp, Mark Potter and Pete Turner – became friends. One would become a drummer, one a guitarist and one a bassist. Their friendship survived through high school, where they began to write and perform (badly). Through a series of chance meetings and changes of direction the band was completed by Guy Garvey and Mark’s younger brother Craig.

I first met them just before they released their first album in 2001. For them to get to that point was nothing short of a miracle. Their first big break came a couple of years before that when they were signed by Island Records. After releasing their first EP to great critical acclaim and building a loyal following through lots of gigs around the Manchester area, their first album was written, recorded and ready to go when out of the blue they were dropped by their record label. They went from being the next big thing to having to take part time jobs in local bars to make ends meet. This would’ve finished most bands off, but against the odds they managed to negotiate another record deal, this time with V2, re-record the album and got it released.

If they though it would be plain sailing from thereon in, they were wrong… Two more albums followed, both of which were again critically acclaimed but massively under promoted, to the extent that even some of their most loyal fans didn’t know that their third album ‘Leaders of the Free World’ had even been released. The inevitable lack of sales which followed meant that they again faced to prospect of being dropped. This was even more of a big deal than the first time. By that time band members were married, some with children, for the band to continue something drastic had to happen. Through sheer hard work and persistence a third record deal was signed, this time with Polydor (ironically a subsidiary of Island Records).

This is the point at which you might become familiar with the Elbow story. Their first album for Polydor and fourth overall was ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’. It was again released to much praise form the music media, but again achieved modest sales success. Their big break came when it was nominated for, and won the 2008 Mercury Music Prize. After nearly twenty year writing, rehearsing, recording and performing Elbow became an overnight success. Shortly after they won the Mercury they played their first headlining arena gig at Wembley Arena and it was at this gig that I got my best insight into the secret of their success. At the after show party I spoke to their bass player, Pete Turner. Without really thinking I commented that I bet they couldn’t believe they were playing such a big venue. Not a bit of it, he said he knew it would happen one day, it was just a matter of time.

The Elbow story is not one of unlikely triumph. It’s one of hard work, determination, persistence, an absolute belief in their own abilities and a refusal to accept defeat. There were so many times when they could’ve called it a day, a running joke in our family was Pete’s lack of a plan ‘B’ should the band not succeed. Thankfully they didn’t listen. They kept practicing, writing and honed their craft to such an extent that when their break came (and it wasn’t lucky – you win the Mercury Prize on merit alone) they were at the top of their game and ready to take advantage of it.

I can’t think of a better example of a growth mindset. How else could they overcome so many hurdles and prove so many people wrong? If you don’t believe me, download their latest album ‘Little Fictions’ and go and see them live this summer – 30 years after they began to play together they’re better than ever.

Growth Mindset in the Real World

Cross-curricular computing with Scratch Maths

Earlier this week I was privileged to take part in a joint twitter chat, with #caschat and #mathscpdchat joining forces. As a dedicated computing teacher it’s sometimes easy to forget how much the subject overlaps into other subjects, and chats like this are a great way to help you re-connect to other curriculum areas.

I was particularly pleased to be introduced to the Scratch Maths project. This is a research led project which develops Computing and Maths skills through Scratch. There are so many reasons why this is a good idea – it’s a great way of encouraging class based teachers to embrace computing by placing it in well planned and resourced units which also covers broad sections of the maths curriculum, or alternatively you could use computing sessions to re-enforce maths learning. Either way, what’s not to like?

If they are able to prove a link between this project and higher attainment in Maths, this could be the start of something special, not only in Maths, but in Computing too.

Cross-curricular computing with Scratch Maths

Fake news – a shift in the internet safety paradigm

I’ve had the misfortune of a couple of days of man-flu this week. Consequently I’ve been stuck at home, often with the radio on in the background. During Adrian Childs programme on Radio 5 live on Monday morning there was an interesting discussion on the recent phenomenon of fake news, looking at what it is (and isn’t), how people react to it and how it can be filtered from real news.

What struck me is that this has serious and potentially far reaching implications for how we teach internet safety in the classroom, particularly in KS2. I use the SMART rules as a framework in KS2. Of the five rules, the ‘R’ for reliable has arguably been the least significant, focussing mainly on the accuracy of information you seek to find on the internet, using Wikipedia as the classic example of a site which needs verification from other sources. Whilst this is important, it’s easy to make a case for the other rules being more so, such as keeping personal information private and not agreeing to meet people online.

However, fake news means we have to revisit these priorities. Children now need to understand that not only should they check the reliability of sources, but now they should question virtually anything they see online, and it can appear in the blink of an eye. The very nature of social media means information flows quickly and judgements on validity and relevance are made on the spot. This offers us the opportunity to have some really interesting discussions – what is fake news? What could motivate people to create or share it? How can you discern what is fake and what is real?

These issues are really important and recent global events have brought this sharply into focus. When you see the President of the United States of America in an open Twitter war with established newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, you can see how important it is that the next generation of voters have the critical thinking skills to make their own judgements. In terms of life skills, it doesn’t really get more important than that.

I recently blogged that the growth in physical computing is blurring the lines between DT and Computing. Arguably fake news is doing the same with PSHE. Whilst it’s obvious links to internet safety place it firmly within the Computing curriculum, the scale of this problem makes it much more important than that alone.

Fake news – a shift in the internet safety paradigm

BETT 2017 – Where’s the Pedagogy?


My second visit to BETT and for the first time I visited the show for two days as I was fortunate enough to be released from teaching on Friday. A little bit of prior experience and a more intimate knowledge of the DLR made the journey down much more straightforward this year. It also helped that I didn’t lose my travelcard on the tube this time…

Having been before, I was a bit more focused in my aims this year – I wanted to see more of the speakers and more carefully target the stands. I guess less product, more pedagogy summed up my approach.

As soon as I got there two themes emerged very clearly – physical computing, mostly in the form of robotics and virtual reality, mostly in the form of Google. The sheer number and variety of robotics was mind boggling, the vast majority of it beyond the budget of a financially stretched (or not) primary school. I also thought there was a lot of product, but the links to learning were much less clear and in many cases non-existent. As is so often the case, you had to search carefully to find the pedagogy, and some of it came in a great little session –  ‘We are the droids’ in which Mic Hughes, Bill Harvey, Neil Ruckus and Lucy Rogers shared their experiences of robotics in the classroom. This included the crumble bot, a low cost (£25ish) entry level robot which children can build and program themselves. When questioned on the key to success, the answer was watertight planning. It doesn’t matter what the tool is, you have to know what you’re doing and what the learning is. This shift towards physical computing is also blurring the lines between computing and DT which is both a challenge and opportunity for all schools.

I must, at this point give huge credit to the Raspberry Pi Foundation, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that no other organisation is doing more to promote computer science in education than they are. Not only were there a great variety of Pi themed stands and activities (real ones, with ideas you could try and touch), but they also launched the rather wonderful Hello World magazine, aimed specifically at educators. I have no idea have they can create such a quality publication and distribute it for free, but I’m very grateful they have.

The same themes were evident with VR – where’s the learning? I actually though Google might have made more of it on their stand, maybe they’re mindful its early days too. The number of VR suppliers out there surprised me. With Google offering a pretty strong option free of charge, I can’t see much space in the market. It’ll be interesting to see how many of them are around in three or four years time.

Other speakers I saw were Rajen Sheth, Senior Director of Product Management for Google for Education, who mercifully limited the hard sell and spent more time discussing Google’s principals for reimagining education. These hold true whether or not you are under the spell of the mighty G, and a couple of his phrases stuck with me. He discussed how learning should be personalised and measured, and that we should ‘ teach to the edges of the classroom’ meaning learning should be inclusive for everyone. He also highlighted that we should be equipping students with the skills to become life long learners. I’m writing this blog on a tool which didn’t exist before 2010, publishing it on a platform which was launched in 2003 which runs on the World Wide Web, which contrary to most children’s beliefs once didn’t exist. Enough said?

Another great session was Ashton Sixth Form College’s Digital Literacy Initiative by Brian Cooper and Dan Atkinson. You maybe wondering why I was at this one, being a primary practitioner, so time to declare a interest, it was recommended to me by my good mate Anton McGrath, who happens to be the Principal. I’m really glad for the tip off. The initiative is all about empowering teachers to use technology effectively by offering incentives and encouraging them to play to their strengths. We’ve all seen expensive, top down initiatives thrust on to over worked, under pressure teachers which are poorly implemented and supported and which probably get canned when the next big thing comes along. Ashton’s approach is the opposite, they encourage teacher led development, reward ideas (through an innovation of the month award,) support change through small, managed‪ and sustainable steps. It’s an approach that would work in any institution and is definitely something I will be pitching to our SLT.

Another theme which I noticed was the gradual move from up front to annual licensing costs. Three of the main apps I looked at – Explain Everything, Minecraft and Erase All Kittens, are all moving to annual licensing. Whether these are on a named or concurrent basis isn’t clear, neither is how they will enforce their licensing. In isolation the costs are not too prohibitive, but when combined they start to add up. If we were to licence all three it would come to around £10 per pupil. I can see why vendors we doing this, in a market where there are so many new tools emerging it makes sense to tie schools in to a longer term relationship. However, the reality is we’ll have to look at restricting some tools to narrower year groups, which is a shame when previously we could budget more easily with an up front cost.

I’ll leave the last word to a lad I sat next to on the DLR on my way out of the Excel. He was 17 or 18 years old and was discussing his career ambitions with his mum. First of all it was great to see a lad of that age actually communicating with his parent and there wasn’t a phone in sight. He recounted a meeting he had with his school careers advisor. He recounted how he told him that his goal was to become an investment banker, to which his advisor replied “I think you should focus on something more realistic.” At that point he described to his mum how he got up, turned around and left the room.

Maybe I learned more from that incidental exchange than I could at any conference. Keep the fire burning, son. We all should.

BETT 2017 – Where’s the Pedagogy?

Predictive text – a giant leap or a false dawn?


As with many of the best ideas, this one came about entirely by accident.

After a brief lull (caused by reasons beyond my control) I have been introducing blogging to KS2 children. All the KS2 children I teach now have their own logins, so subject to moderation they can post and comment on their class blogs. I have been doing this for the last five years and during that time I have noticed there are some barriers to children blogging, particularly in an environment with high proportion of EAL children.

The first is poor keyboard skills, particularly in KS1 and lower KS2. Most children never use a conventional keyboard outside of school, such is the popularity of phones and tablets as communication tools. This can make children’s early experiences of blogging slow and sometimes frustrating – they know they can handwrite faster than they can type and they can find punctuation difficult. The answer to this is simple: Typing is a skill which needs to be taught, but that’s not something that can be done overnight.

The second issue is a lack of confidence in their own spelling, punctuation and grammar. I have found that when offered the opportunity to blog independently, higher attaining children will often take up the challenge without hesitation, relishing the opportunity to share their writing with a wider audience. For lower attainers, this can be daunting, knowing that your mistakes and vulnerabilities will be there for all to see. This is also a difficult balancing act for schools – you want children to blog independently, but equally your blogs are a window to the world, and not necessarily the place to display error strewn writing.

I was with a year 5 class earlier in the week. They were using iPads to log onto their class blog for the first time. I gave them the opportunity to blog about a subject of their choosing, as long as there was some connection with school. After a few minutes, one of the boys who could best be described as a reluctant writer put his hand up – he wanted to share with the rest of the class how quickly he could type using the predictive text feature. I airplayed his iPad to the big screen, and within seconds the output of the whole class shot up. Not only that, but the standards of spelling, punctuation, grammar and vocabulary also showed a marked improvement. You can see some of their posts here – most done in less than 15 minutes.

At first I was delighted. I’s never seen such a step change in standards and such an increase in output in one lesson. It was like predictive text freed them from their inhibitions and allowed them to express themselves like never before. But then the more I thought about it, the more I began to worry. Lots of questions began to form… Does this constitute independent writing? Does it help improve spelling when not on the iPad? What happens when they have to write in their books? Will they have to draft everything using predictive text and then copy it out? If it improves their writing, Is that good or bad? Regardless of all these questions, it’s something which now out there and will not be taken away, and it’s likely that it will spread to other technologies too.

A couple of days down the line and I’m still torn on the issue. There has been some work done to see what impact technology such as predictive text can have supporting dyslexic learners, such as this paper by the British Dyslexia Association. There was also a study done in 2009 into changes in the cognitive function of adolescents associated with the use of mobile phones, however technology has moved on considerably since then.

This is an area which needs further, more contemporary research. We maybe opening digital communication up to a much wider range of children, but at what cost?

Predictive text – a giant leap or a false dawn?

BETT 2017 Hit List

I’m really looking forward to my second visit to BETT next week. Last year I went for the Saturday only, which was great, but not really long enough to get the full experience. I also found that many of the people I wanted to meet up with were only there during the week, so this year I’m there for a couple f days, with the bonus of meeting up with an old friend on Friday evening.

Having adopted a bit of a scattergun approach last year, this year I am going to plan which stands I would definitely like to visit:

AB Tutor – This is something I looked at last year at Bett. AB Tutor, and a number of similar offerings enable you to remotely manage students’ desktops. You can see from one console what they’re doing, freeze or takeover screens or push content out to screens. As a classroom management tool I can see the benefits, but I am concerned that it might be too administratively heavy.

BCS – Simply to keep across industry developments.

Bloodhound – I’ve been following the Bloodhound project for years. For those that haven’t, the BLoodhound SSC project is aiming to break the land speed record with a super sonic car (SSC) designed to top 1,000mph. They are using the project as a launchpad for a huge variety of STEM activities in partnership with schools and colleges throughout the country. I’m interested in seeing if there are any projects I could introduce to our school.

ClassVR – Having recently experienced Google Expeditions, this will be an opportunity to have a look at an alternative solution – quite how they can compete with the mighty Google’s free solution, I’m not sure, but they’re promising a free VR headset so I think I’ll see if I can find out…

Erase All Kittens – This is a must visit stand. Erase All Kittens (EAK) is the most bonkers coding site I’ve ever been on. It’s designed to bridge the gap between block and text based programming so children can smoothly into using ‘real’ code. It does using a fantasy based narrative which engages girls whilst not alienating boys – a clever trick. If the whole premise of the site isn’t mad enough the characters certainly are, how about a half mermaid, half unicorn with flowing blond hair called Tarquin? Behind the weirdness there’s some real substance – backers include gaming big-hitter Ian Livingstone and ex-Labour Schools Minister Lord Jim Knight.

I’ve used the demo versions in school for the last couple of years, but they have now released the first paid version. I’m looking forward to seeing what additional features they have included and how they will be pricing it for schools.

Explain Everything – This is one of my favourite iPad apps and, in my view is an essential app for primary schools. It’s unusual in that it can be equally useful for students and teachers. I will be looking to see what they are showing this year, and what plans they have for the future, particularly around licensing, where I understand they are making some significant changes.

GBM – A good chance to catch up with our preferred Apple reseller to see what they, and Apple have in the pipeline.

Google for Eduction – Not long after our extremely enjoyable session with Google Expeditions, I’m looking forward to seeing what Google will be showcasing. In particular I would like to see what scope there is for using Google Classroom for shared devices in a primary setting.

Internet Matters – Obvioulsy a massive issue for anyone who is involved in schools in any capacity, but in my role as ICT co-ordinator this is top of my priority list. I’m particularly looking for resources which will encourage and support greater parental engagements so messages from school are being re-enforced at home.

Kahoot – Another must have iPad app, Kahoot has been a huge success at our school, even amongst technically reluctant teachers. It will be good to see how they see Kahoot and what their future plans are.

Lego Education – Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of lego? However, this visit will be purely for professional reasons, you understand.

Makeblock – A bit left field, this one. I was lucky to get a Codeybot for christmas. This is a programmable robot which was developed through a crowd funded project. It’s now been on the market for about three months, but there is very little in terms of support materials online. I will be seeking assurances of their support and commitment to this product in the future.

Microbit – I’m keen to find out what’s happening with the Microbit. From what I’ve seen it’s got huge potential,  but the project has been beset with delays, to the extent where my duaghter, who was in year 7 last year didn’t get one. I think it’s something we could utilise in primary, so I’d like to see if they share my view.

Minecraft – One of my aims for this year is to start using Minecraft education throughout the curriculum, not just in computing. I would like to understand more about what the education version offers and how it could be used in the classroom. Last year I attended a brilliant session by Stephen Reid (@ImmersiveMind) – if he’s there again I will definitely try to see him.

Raspberry Pi Foundation – As a relatively newly qualified Raspberry Pi certified educator I’m looking forward to seeing what they have to show at Bett. I’m hoping to get a small suite of Raspberry Pis in school, so will be looking for some simple starter projects.

UKEdchat – I have had a number of blog posts re blogged on UKEdchat and have had an article published in their magazine as well as being a regular contributor to #UKEdchat but have never actually spoken to any of their team face to face. This will be a good opportunity to put some names to faces and look for opportunities for more collaboration in the future.

In addition to all the above stands, there are also some general areas I am interested in. I am particularly interested in how I can introduce more physical computing and robotics, but on a very limited budget, so will be looking for ideas and inspiration in that area. I am also keen to get a 3D printer into our school – I think this would be a great way to combine computing and DT.

BETT 2017 Hit List

A ‘Wow’ Moment – Google Expeditions


Last week I had the privilege of a visit from the Google Expeditions team to our school. In case you’re not familiar with it, Google Expeditions is a Virtual Reality (VR) app which enables students to be placed in a growing number of locations – some of these are real word places, some historical recreations and some virtual worlds. In all my years of teaching, I have never seen such a big ‘wow’ moment as when the children experienced it for the first time.

Pre Visit

In practical terms, it’s a very easy day to set up. You simply need to visit the Google Expeditions website, provide them with details of your school and they will respond with dates and availability. They can facilitate workshops in most places – as well as fixed teams in Manchester, Birmingham and London, they have a mobile team who can get to other UK locations. Once your session is confirmed, they ask you to choose which expedition you would like to go on – don’t get hung up on this, once you can get started you can choose any of them.

On The Day

The day itself is also easy to manage. As a school you need literally nothing other than  a room. Google bring all the phones, VR headsets and even their own router so you don’t need to worry if your wireless network is not state of the art. The day begins with a teacher briefing so that classroom teachers can lead the sessions rather than the Google trainer and then progresses into 30 minute sessions for each class. They have 60 headsets and two routers so they can run two sessions concurrently.

After a short introduction, 30 minutes is long enough to take the children on two or three expeditions. I tended to lead with something related to their current topic or area of learning and then let the children decide where to go after that. There are teacher notes for each expedition, but mostly it was a case of letting the children explore and find things for themselves. With a few carefully chosen questions you can bring out some great learning points.

The most popular expeditions we looked at were, in no particular order, The Antarctic, World timeline (exploring the formation of Earth through to the Jurassic era), a variety of underwater scenes and the Earth and the moon. All of these provided children with the opportunity to visit places they have never and probably will never visit. The Burj Khalifa was also very popular, with some children able to relate their own experiences.

Using Google Expeditions in the classroom

The app itself enables is free to download for IOS or Android. To run an expedition yourself you need a leader, with a device and students need to device on which to follow. This can be a smartphone in a VR headset, or a tablet. If you use the latter, the experience is not as immersive, however the larger screen means images are sharper and more detailed. If you can get hold of some cheap or second hand smartphones, you could achieve the full immersive experience at relatively low cost. It’s advisable to have a router, separate from your school network, which can broadcast at 5 GHz. Most school networks will broadcast at 2.4 GHz and even if 5 GHz is available most school lines will not provide the necessary ports and will not have sufficient bandwidth for a good experience. Don’t be put off by this, most domestic routers are dual band, and even of you can’t get hold of a second hand one, they can be picked up new for next to nothing.

Once your technically up and running, as a teacher you launch a leader session on your device, then the children will be able to follow you. All the resources are indexed and searchable or you can simply browse through the various expeditions.

There are a couple of great features within the app – as a teacher you can mark a particular point on the image, once you do that an arrow appears on the children’s screens which directs them to that location. You can see on your screen when the children follow the point as they are represented by an icon which moves around as they look at different locations. There are plans for you to be able to individually identify children with this feature, which would be a great addition. There are also teacher notes for each expedition, which are very useful and link directly to the images in each expedition.

Taking it Further

If you would like to take things further, Google offers a fully resourced online training session and options to become training partners. I am hoping to show Expeditions at a Teachmeet in the near future as they offer the opportunity for sets to be used in teacher training sessions.

A ‘Wow’ Moment – Google Expeditions