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!

Colossus
Colossus

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.

Facebook: My story as a Primary Head

As a primary school headteacher, I have always been conscious of improving home-school communications. As a working Mum, I am all too familiar with the ‘What have you done today?’ ‘Nothing!’ conversation’ while struggling with guilty mother syndrome of missing special events and occasions in school. So when approached to discuss the concept of a ‘Social School’ with John Bidder at Blippit Social I was intrigued and my mind began to work.

An initial mind mapping session with John channelled my thinking and enabled me to explore the possibilities that lay ahead. On the mind map was the all too familiar ‘Facebook’ logo which I have got to admit did get the warning bells tinkling. Facebook conversations within the school setting tended to be negative ones centred around the tricky world of e-safety. However, chatting with John opened my eyes to the possibility that it could also be used as a powerful tool if well-planned and supported.

I wanted:-

  • To be able to give informal snippets of school life quickly
  • To point parents in the direction of things to read and watch
  • To access parents at any time of the day
  • To provide links to school for absent parents
  • To provide real experiences of school life that parents sometimes have to miss
  • To provide a forum for discussion between school, parents and community

John listened to my wish list and came back with a skeleton model for a Facebook page which looked really exciting. The social environment was tailor-made to suit our requirements yet had the potential to change as we wished.

I was keen to learn as we went along so made the decision to go ‘live’ very quickly. We have now provided a space where parents can engage with school informally, where parents can receive information, reminders, updates and tasters of school life at their fingertips.

One of the most powerful tools is the ‘Whittle Boo’ tab where we quickly upload sound files of school life e.g. tasters from music events, reports of sports events and visits. To do this, I use Audioboo – a simple tool which needed no time to prepare. I simply press record on my Iphone and by pressing ‘publish’ I immediately send content to our Facebook page and Audioboo. Parents have loved having the opportunity to hear their children mid-enthusiasm which is sometimes lost between the journey home, tea, bath and bed!

Quick and timely reminders e.g. Don’t forget it’s non uniform day tomorrow have been appreciated by the busy, working parent who has not yet found the newsletter buried at the bottom of the school bag.

It has also helped to send out messages about what our school is all about. We are a family oriented, friendly school and I think this is evident to others through our Facebook page. New places for our school have just been allocated to parents and we have had a few families this year who have been offered a place with us which was not their first choice! Not a good start! However, it was great to hear that they had logged on to the Facebook page and loved the tone of it. They then went on to visit the school in a much more positive frame of mind and are now happy with their allocated place. As a school, we don’t often have the chance to reach parents before they came to us yet our Facebook page could.

We are in the very early stages of being a ‘Social School’ yet already aware of its massive potential. I have been able to share snippets of video material for parents, plea for help with the Summer Fair, share songs from our school Choir, spread our celebrations at Sporting events, upload pictures, provide parents with access to ICT equipment via The Whittle Shop and let our parents know our Year 6 children have arrived safely at their residential trip. [UPDATE: 07/12 We’re now using Blippit Social’s Facebook app to manage our page]

Most recently John connected us up with University of Salford Business School and after meeting Dr Aleksej Heinze and Dr Gordon Fletcher there’s going to be some really exciting collaboration coming up for the school.

I have valued the ICT expertise of John to ensure it was tailor-made for us and was as safe as possible, I’ve had a few ideas that I want to get out there but would not have actually done it without the technical ‘know how’ and the fear of crossing the lines of internet safety. I have also found the tools I use to be simple and immediate which is crucial in our busy working days. As I mentioned, we are in the first steps of a journey with this project but I feel there is so much more potential in being a ‘Social School’.

[UPDATE: Clare is now Head at Salesbury Primary School Sept 2014] Clare Berryman (@whittleprimary)

Headteacher

Whittle-le-Woods C.E. Primary School