You've got that yucky feeling? Blippit chat to Kidsafe

This week Blippit Social met up with NW based Kidsafe for a chat about safeguarding, child exploitation and the importance of not keeping experiences inside that give a child a ‘yucky feeling’ as Kidsafe describe it.

Blippit Social’s approach & beliefs about the importance of schools having a social approach to parental engagement complement Kidsafe’s work well which is why we’ve some interesting ideas bubbling in the pipeline now that will mean good things for schools in the future.

blippit social and kidsafe
“They know it’s a puppet!” Jude Walker from Kidsafe with KS.

Byte at the Museum

Yesterday I took Blippit to the National Museum of Computing – immediate neighbour of Bletchley Park.  To be invited as part of their Bytes Festival and work directly with their visiting families surrounded by such history was not half-bad.

Out of school you get such an insight into how parents relate to their children and learning as a whole.  They share insights with you quite openly and comment on your limitless patience with their child who frankly drives them nuts most of the time.

There’s noone marking, setting targets or observing when it’s just you and a family which makes for some very natural and easy steps forwards.  One young man (Year 3) made an app and learned what HTML 5 markup language was as he worked with me on the side and his mum making encouraging comments as he progressed. To say he was ‘off his seat’ with excitement when he saw his app on mum’s phone (she downloaded a QR code reader to get it) is an understatement.

Another young man’s Dad regaled me with stories of his son’s disengagement at school contrasting with his persistence, resilience and immersion in his favoured world of technology.  It’s not an unusual story and we all know children like this but seeing how he learned was interesting.  Essentially it was broadly like this

  • “listen to the expert”
  • “grab the basics”
  • “build and try out”
  • “go over bits as needed with expert again”
  • “build towards a result”
  • “publish”
  • “improve on published app”
  • “re-publish”

I’ve been lucky (no doubt about that) to teach in many different schools and environments over the years sometimes as a ‘regular’ teacher, sometimes as an ‘advisory’ teacher and more recently as the ‘Blippit Man’.

blippitio manThe ‘Blippit Man’ tag does generate extra attention and effort from children no doubt at all so my reflections are mindful of how children respond to people they view as ‘experts’ from the ‘real’ world.

This bit of shine from an external expert isn’t sustainable and so it makes what teachers and children achieve together, day in day out, all the more remarkable.

The National Museum of Computing is an awe inspiring place for anyone with the slightest interest in technology and they’re pretty rammed with school visits and tours but if you’ve not been yet, do yourself a favour and go!

Bug hunting can be like 'Where's Wally?'

First you find a bug & then you de-bug.

It’s that simple isn’t it?

blippitcode

All software applications have bugs – some cause no real problems and go unnoticed, others are minor and a minority wreak havoc.  You might be surprised to hear that software providers LOVE hearing about possible bugs via bug reports.  They love it even more if the steps that lead up to the strange behaviour  can be replicated by their Application Development Team because this means the bug is real and can be fixed.

Blippit Code
Real code from the Blippit IO Application that runs on a user’s desktop

Without the help of users (essentially many hands and eyes) application developers can’t hope to capture every bug for debugging try as they might.

In the classroom it’s a fantastic exercise to give students a simple program with a bug or two it.  This way they really REALLY have to

  • be systematic in their approach – record steps taken etc
  • be tightly focused on isolating the area where the bug is likely to be
  • be able to step through the programme in it’s component parts or sections
  • develop an understanding of how the larger whole can be viewed in chunks

Here at Blippit we were able to find and de-bug a FANTASTIC bug in quick fashion this month thanks to two schools who took the time to file a bug report (they told us about it basically) to support@blippit.co.uk .  This lead to more detailed info gathering, a school visit from us and finally within a week and a half a global update of Blippit IO.  They helped us improve Blippit IO in a measurable way for the thousands of students and teachers who are using Blippit IO across the UK, Australia and US.

If you’re a lovely Blippit IO User, we are going to make it nice and easy for you to report anything that feels like a bug to you soon.  More about that to follow.

Blippit Code
Real code from the Blippit IO Application that runs on a user’s desktop
So…the moral of this story is, if it’s safe and legal to do so, always tell the people who wrote the code if you find what you think might be a bug in their app.  They’ll never be offended, they’ll always be grateful and the rest of the community using that app will put you on their cool list.

What more could anyone want?

Communicating with parents heading in to the festive season within the structure of the Aristotelian Dramatic Arc!

The story arc of your school should ideally be less Aristotelian and more ‘Downton-ian’ where the peaks and troughs are relatively gentle and you could be forgiven for thinking that nothing much is really going on!

When school is on the front foot & leading communication it helps to make responding to parents less of a drama. We think Facebook is a key factor in taking the lead towards reclaiming school’s position as the authoritative news source.

Fishing where the fish are does work & if you’d like to know more you’re welcome to call 01772 657 100 or support@blippit.co.uk

Death Knell of the School Newsletter?

The school newsletter has always been a big deal for at least two people in school, typically the Head plus the poor soul who inherited the MS Publisher Template from the last incumbent.

‘Knowing’ glances often shoot across the table during conversations about the school newsletter and website.  Given the information requirements for school websites this is hardly surprising.  (Clerk to Governors is a must read.)

In my experience here are the most common 5 approaches where tech touches school communications specifically for the newsletter. Some of these are done in tandem.

“We send the newsletter to parents every week on Friday…

  1. on paper with pictures
  2. as an SMS message linking to the website
  3. as a PDF email attachment
  4. via a Facebook update with a scanned image of the newsletter
  5. via Twitter to parents with a link to the newsletters page on the website

…so why do parents still tell us they don’t know what’s going on?”

If Brian Blessed read the school newsletter out loud on a Friday standing in the playground parents would still not know fully what was going on in school.  Why?

Is school boring?

Generally no.  However what’s considered to be news and how these exciting things are shared might be giving the feeling of ‘old news’.

Is it to do with timing?

Yes without doubt.

People are used to ‘on demand’ consumption of media.  Most homes if you’re lucky will save a paper newsletter to read later when they’ve nothing else to do – that’ll be never.  They may though get a calendar out and add dates to it from the newsletter to remind them when it’s non-uniform or sports day or parents evening.  They are less likely to read a scanned newsletter on a timeline and add dates from there remembering the detail while switching views.

Tweeting or Facebooking on a Friday will land better but, still, what is it that’s making you do it on a Friday?  Our data shows that this is not the day to do it.  What time on a Friday is best if you decide to still pick Friday? 3.30?  You need to know when people are being receptive to receiving your ‘stuff’.

Is it to do with the format?

Yes without doubt. About 50% of people reading this post will have stopped already because there are too many words, not enough pictures, maybe they’re just tired, know all this already or someone has just un-paused the Blackpool stage of Strictly.

SMS messages are definitely a ‘read later’ thing once the parents get used to seeing the school sender name and they know that there’s just a link to a long newsletter awaiting.

There are some schools who have gone to extremes.  I know of one school where parents have been given an iPad to get them to use Twitter and receive school Tweets!

Many more schools use Facebook now and report greater reach, engagement and impact. Some however seem to lean to far towards ‘operational’ updates – don’t forget this, don’t park there & nits.   Even on Facebook it’s hard to break old habits and to forget that it’s ‘social’ not broadcast media where the relationship is ‘the thing’.  These messages sit like uneasily in Facebook.

Even in Facebook there are improvements now to make sure parents get your updates over and above others but how many parents know about these.

Horses for courses

Teachers and business managers are experts in their business not in design.  Too much effort has historically been spent by schools on making design choices at a micro level. Now, simple is best.  Look at the format of Tweets, FB Updates & websites.  Clear, simple, brief and fuss free from conflicting font styles and colours. Why use 200 words when 25 will do? Let the system you’re using style your message in a way with which parents are familiar already.

Is it to do with content?

Yes. People today are spoilt!  They’re used to personalised this that and the other – even Coke and Nutella let you put your name on their label.  There’s very little ownership over a school newsletter even though it’s a clear sense of transparency and honesty that excites/engages parents.

On Facebook (our favourite horse in the race) personalisation is king.  These are the their updates,  their school, their victory in the cup, their great decision to send their child there.

So how about scanning/saving a newsletter and sharing it as an image update on Facebook?  That’s canny but I don’t think it’s transformative.  How about disaggregating the newsletter into bitesized chunks and drip feeding them as updates at optimal times across the week instead?

With technology it’s often been the case that people do just what they did before except a bit faster/easier without reflecting on how else it could be measurably better.  It’s maybe an indication of the times in which people work – less time to reflect, ticking off the list of jobs and so on.

If you’re in charge of the school website too, as part of the school comms strategy, you’ll have even more to think about. Our approach is to blend web with social to avoid doubling of effort.  Much of a school’s attention is on tending their social ‘garden’ while the website is given a lick of paint each year to meet the necessary requirements. Who really is the audience for your school website anyway?  Ofsted.   We’d like to imagine many others too but sadly it’s holidays and snow closures that make your site stats spike.

Does all this mean the end of the school newsletter as we know it?  Yes – in any useful form I’d says it does but it’ll be a while before parents realise if you announce it in the newsletter.

Sabotage – the love of learning

One of the saddest things to see in children, a teenager in this case, is a seeming loss of the love of learning.  There have been other incidents but this one happened today.

Today, over lunch, we were eating a delicious alternative English breakfast that included spiced up beans  courtesy of chilli powder and Tabasco.  It was a great success however our eldest reminded the family about the time Dad (me) seemed to sabotage the last time we had this by adding way too much Tabasco.

I refuted the accusation but, being still basically a teacher, I was impressed with her use of the word ‘sabotage’ despite it being an outright fib.

“Great word.  Did you know that it’s a French word in origin?”

(Teenager returns a *bad smell* face)

“Yes.” I direct my words to the youngest who, though only 7 years old, seemed to be very interested in knowing exactly what it meant.

“What do I need to know that for?” asked the teenager.

“Well, with your love of language and words I thought you’d be interested to know a bit more about the origins of such an interesting word – seeing as you used it.”

“Why?”

Reaching for my iPhone6 I Googled for more while our plates were still warm.

“Ahhh!  It’s believed to have 16th to 19th century roots….” I read from Wikipedia.

“When am I ever going to need to know all that? It’s not like someone is ever going to test me on it is it? I just don’t need to know all that.”

(Silence)

“Listen.” I said. “This isn’t about being tested.  It’s about learning something new just for the pleasure that comes with knowing and understanding it.  Just because someone won’t be testing you on it does not mean it’s any less valuable.”

(Teenager returns the *bad smell* face again)

“But I’m never going to be assessed on it so what’s the point?”

(Silence)

“Wow.  Do you know what art is? You love art right? Well a lot of art exists for no other reason than just to ‘be’. It may serve no real purpose or practical application, it may not even be exhibited, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable or valid to the artist for having created it – it’s still art.”

(Teenager returns a *where the hell is he going with this?* expression)

“What I’m saying is that you can still learn something, like what a ‘sabot’ is, and it can still be really valuable as a piece of knowledge without anyone actually testing or assessing that you know it. Do you see what I’m saying?”

(Teenager returns a *Kevin* noise)

“Forget it.” I look, defeated, over to my wife.  “Has it left her already?”

The above is a true story.  I hope that it’s “just a phase” and that our adventurous learner with an insatiable appetite for language and wider knowledge returns one day.

It strengthens my resolve that the best I can try to do for her, other children and teachers is try to create opportunities where the love of learning cannot be easily sabotaged by testers and measurers.  Whether it’s making apps, exploring code or school engaging with mums and dads, it’s a driving force for me personally that everyone is entitled to love learning and I for one hope to never stop.

Head Teacher’s Pet (Alpaca my bag now)

Some things are meant for sharing and some things aren’t. When your audience is parents it’s not unnatural to think once or twice about what you might share. However, an Alpaca in the Head’s Office? No brainer. It makes “dog in the playground” seem very pedestrian.

alpaca ma bag

This Alpaca went on tour around the classes with the wonderfully Doolittle-esque Head Teacher Dave McPartlin and in terms of memories for the children you can only imagine them re-telling the day’s events when they saw their families later that day.

alpacainclass

Isn’t it refreshing that in the prevailing climate of risk avoidance and health & safety we have an ‘Ofsedicially’ Outstanding school prepared to take in large South American mountain dwelling creatures in the name of enrichment & probably a few other things too…including fun?

On the face of it it’s slightly bonkers.

Conventional wisdom might say

  • do it, but don’t make too big a fuss as parents might not ‘get it’
  • do it and feature the visit in the next school newsletter at the end of the month
  • do it and pop a photo on the school website

Unconventional wisdom might say, do it then share it on Facebook the same day so that mums and dads might actually believe their children when they get home!  Today that’s exactly what happened. Unconventional wisdom won and the response from parents at Heysham St Peter’s CE Primary was very good.

By coincidence in the news two days ago another large furry mammal was spotted in London – specifically a Polar Bear.  Wait.  A massive polar bear in London down in the Tube (and later other places too) with small children? What could possibly go wrong?

For me, social media engagement is about stories and in my talks round and about the place with groups of Heads that’s what I delve in to in more detail.  Whether it’s stories about an Alpaca in the Head Teacher’s office or Polar Bears on the London Underground it doesn’t matter too much. Every person and place has a story to tell so why not share it? You’ll might be surprised at the reaction.

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