|Wednesday 14th July 2010
|I have just bought Dave a book for his birthday, "The invisible gorilla" exploring ways our intuition fools us. It is written by the guys who created the famous Gorilla in their midst experiment which showed how people watching basketball players can completely miss a gorilla coming and standing in the middle of them. I have sneakily started to read it and it is full of anecdotes (which always makes it more readable for me) giving examples of how we have not seen what we thought we saw.
|It's fascinating stuff and I know it's true. E was a dancer at the Wimbledon Theatre pantomime - Cinderella; as the curtain came down at the end of the first half I suddenly noticed a crystal coach pulled by two beautiful ponies in the centre of the stage. "How the hell did they get there?" I asked Dave. I had been so intent on watching E dance that I had completely missed it, even though it must have passed across my centre of vision several times.
|Once I have given Dave the book I will be able to read it a bit more openly. I do find this pschyschology of perception absolutely fascinating. I'm not sure what relevance it has to teaching but it certainly makes you less sure that you are definite about something!
I'll let you know if I come to any conclusions once I've finished reading it. In the meantime enjoy your holiday reading and I hope the weather stays gorgeous for you.
|Thursday 13th May 2010
| I hear that the new man in charge of the DFS (Goodbye Department for cushions and soft furnishings) is something of a "traditionalist". This has been explained to me as someone who expects children to wear ties and stand up when a member of staff enters the room. This will apparently improve standards.
| I scoff but actually
I am all for politeness (how can anyone
be against politeness?) and yes it doesn't
do anyone any harm to automatically open
the door for someone else - not in a male
opening for a female sort of way but as
one human for another. In fact the first
school I taught at was a tough school in
the North West and our Head expected the
students to stand when a teacher entered
the room. I won't go into the fun I had
one afternoon finding excuses to keep popping
in to a friend's classroom when they had
a new group of Year 7s! But the politeness
ethos really did mitigate the general harshness
of the atmosphere. Particularly on school
trips - I remember one trip to the ice rink
where one member of staff was dealing with
the police over various thefts committed
by school students whilst another was in
the cafeteria being told what polite students
they were by the lady behind the counter.
| One of the Heads particular
foibles was that she insisted that all female
members of staff were addressed as "Madam".
This did confuse new members of staff who
wondered exactly what sort of institution
they had arrived at. But actually over time
it became second nature to the students.
So even as they were telling you to F Off
they always added Madam, so it ended up
sounding more like a polite request!
|Monday 26th April 2010
|So the latest batch of Roamer rechargeable batteries arrived and our very astute head of QA realised that they had the wrong sized fuse in them - too strong so wouldn't short quick enough. So he rejected the batch and asked the company to change the fuses to the correct size and resend. "No way," they said - we'll send you the correct ones when we get the next batch of batteries in but we don't have the man power to change fuses in already made batteries.
|Trouble is the next delivery of batteries they are expecting is several weeks away and we need the batteries now. We tried every sort of persuasion but they weren't budging. So in the end we accepted the batteries back and we are changing the fuses. But it takes about 15 minutes per battery. Aaaah! I offered my help but was deemed only competent enough to take the batteries out of the boxes and unscrew the tops. Then when the fuses are changed I can screw them tight again and rebox them.
|I don't want to sound girlie but it really hurts my hands and cardboard cuts are a million times worse than paper cuts. So if you have ordered Roamer rechargeable batteries, please bear with us - I am literally spilling blood to get them out to you.
|Thursday 1st April 2010
|First of all let me assure you that this is no April Fools joke, but yesterday E became a guinea pig. As I may have mentioned before we are developing storytelling with robots as an educational activity, and our professional storyteller has designed a workshop for the Constructionist Conference in Paris this summer. (As a world renowned robotics expert Dave had been asked to organise the robotics part of the program.)
|Anyway, our storyteller wanted to test out her activity on someone first, before then trialling it with a class in the school prior to the big event when it will be all the world's leading educationalists who will be doing it. And of course E was the obvious choice. She really enjoyed the workshop and wrote a couple of imaginative stories. In fact proud Mum that I am you will find them reproduced below.
|"Legend says that each human had a robot buddy, with
special powers! These powers connected the
human to the robot. This ability could be
invisibility to shape-shifting. The robots
name was Roamer! A story of Roamer helping
his human friend was when an evil man called
Dr.Squidworth kidnapped a poor child, but
fortunately Roamer was not afraid of evil
and went on a mission to save his beloved
human twin. ROAMER TO THE RESCUE! Roamer
busted brick walls, flew on vines, swam
a crocodile infested lake, clambered up
to the top of Mount Everest and back down
again in no time until finally he saw his
friend pressed up against the window of
a broken down shack. Oh what a sight it
was, it brought a tear to Roamers eye, since
he realised the shack was on the other side
of a hot lava river. Luckily this was no
match for Roamer who just wiped his tear
away and jumped, JERONEMOOOOOOOO! He made
it (only by a few centimetres though, but
still he made it) now all he had to do was
silently pass the guards, crack the code
for the lock, fight the kidnapper, untie
the double mega knot around his human and
then get out and back to safety with his
best friend on his back. He did all that
with ease and just in time for tea! Guess
what Roamer's special power was, bravery.
|Now it's time for the most well-known legend, it is
called Brian and the Fish! A generation
ago there was a young boy named Brian who
had a robot friend, also called Roamer.
When Brian first discovered Roamer he played
with him every day, but as time went on
he began to ignore roamer and started to
hang out with his friend Eddie instead.
Although every so often Brian would buy
Roamer a gift to make up for ignoring him
for a while, but as more and more things
started to happen around Brian (to do with
his environment) he slowly forgot about
Roamer. Roamer felt lonely which meant he
started to lose his powers of happiness
and invisibility, and sadly Roamer could
only use his special powers when he was
happy! Brian had so many other priorities
from his mother being pregnant to Eddie
being off school for at least 3 weeks. It
turned out that the factory that Brian's
father worked had dumped mercury into the
bay and that is why Eddie was sick, because
of food poisoning (since the fish which
they ate was contaminated from the mercury).
Since Brian had so many problems to sort
out he completely forgot about Roamer, so
that is why their connection has become
weaker and weaker as the years passed them
| Have a great Easter.
|Monday 22nd February 2010
|As I have noted here
before, we are working with storytellers
to look at the sort of role Roamer-Too could
play in telling stories. So we have gone
to storytelling workshops to see the sort
of strategies and activities that professional
storytellers use. And I discovered that
I have a very visual memory. My storyteller
was describing a little girl to us. She
then asked what shoes she was wearing. I
answered straight away and the guy next
to me asked how I could know such a thing.
Without thinking I responded, "I looked".
And it was true - I had such a strong image
in my mind that I just glanced down to the
little girl's feet to see what she was wearing.
|I also have a very good
memory. This is not just idle boastfulness.
I knew that I had an OK memory but didn't
suppose that it was anything out of the
ordinary, but then a friend was doing a
psychology masters and had to develop her
own research on memory. She devised a test
and used me as a guinea pig. Once completed
she admitted to me that she almost gave
up after my test because I had scored 100%.
It was only by using another couple of test
cases that she realised that it was me that
was abnormal and not her test that was wrong.
|Putting these two facts
together I have realised that I have always
used visualisation and connections when
remembering. Things that are now known to
be great memory strategies. Having recognised
this I think that Roamer-Too could be used
to help children remember as well as understand.
It's a rather exciting realisation.
|Monday 18th January 2010
| Walking round BETT
last week I was reminded of an occasion
many years ago that I had found particularly
frustrating. Nikki and I were making finger
puppets with our same age classes. I was
so proud of mine. The boys had produced
dinosaurs, pirates, lots of Liverpool footballers
and a couple of traitorous Everton ones.
There was even a Man U finger puppet produced
by a boy who had recently arrived from London
and didn't know better yet. The girls had
produced all manner of characters and creatures.
Every child had worked really hard on their
| We had an open evening
and each class had to produce a display
and I proudly displayed my children's finger
puppets and their design portfolios (unheard
of then!). Unfortunately Nikki also decided
to display her finger puppets - they were
beautiful. I asked her how her children
had produced such fantastic work and she
showed me the commercial pattern she had
used and explained how she had made card
templates for them to draw round and had
glued the felt edges together for them to
sew over. My kids on the other hand had
drawn their own designs, traced round their
fingers and made measurements to create
their own paper patterns and used a variety
of materials to produce their very individual
and distinctive finger puppets. It had been
a learning experience of greater depth and
more skills and far more satisfaction. But
try explaining that to the parents who looked
witheringly at my children's' puppets next
to Nikki's. I either had to go into the
educational why's and wherefores which they
weren't interested in or sound whiney and
pathetic "but mine was a much more educational
| Why was I reminded
of this last week? Because for the first
time, since we weren't actually exhibiting,
I had the time to really look at what was
on offer. And yes, there was much that was
innovative, exciting and educational. But
there was also the glossy and beautiful
or funky and fun that promised much but
was actually incredibly shallow. Once you
got over the production quality you realised
that whatever the activity was it promoted
very little learning. It provided a short
route to an end result that didn't engage
the children's brains but allowed them to
seem like they were learning. Aaaaaaaah!
Here were Nikki's finger puppets all over
|Thursday 5th January 2010
|Happy New Year. I'm
feeling rather smug. We decided not to go
to BETT this year. So no spoiling Christmas
with BETT preparations or frantic rushing
around at the beginning of the year. I'm
sitting here feeling quite relaxed - for
the first time in 20 years. And to top it
all the weather forecast is dire. Another
six days of snow and then continuing freezing
temperatures. So only the most dedicated
(or foolhardy) will actually go to BETT
|So, yes I am feeling
smug. If only I was also feeling snug!
|Monday 30th November 2009
| Swine flu. Been there
seen it done it bought the T shirt. What
a nasty little critter it is. So hot your
eyeballs burn, so achy that even your teeth
ache, then there's the congested chest,
the sore throat and the throbbing head.
And just as you start to think that maybe
making it to the sofa in the living room
is not an unattainable goal, the next wave
of lousiness hits. On the other hand you
really appreciate fresh pyjamas, the ingenuity
of the straw (mind you one feverish 4am
as I was trying to get the last half inch
of juice I tipped instead of sipped,) and
you find the real meaning of marriage. Forget
the hearts and flowers twaddle. When you
are at your unloveliest, communicating with
a grunt, and your partner is still caring
for your every need then you know you've
got a good 'un. Thanks Dave.
| So now I'm back, fighting
fit, and tomorrow is my birthday. Life is
| Tuesday 9th November 2009
| Two of E's Year 12s
took an assembly on Internet Safety. They
had created a fictitious facebook profile
and linked her to the school network. She
then made friends with lots of others on
the network. The sixth-formers then showed
everyone who had become her friend even
though they didn't know her. E was on the
| Now I have drummed
into E the possible dangers. Every time
someone runs off with a person they met
on the internet I highlight it with E. We
talk about how you can pretend to be anything
you want to be on the internet. And I regularly
check her facebook. Even so she was caught
out. It was a salutary lesson and a brilliant
one. Wish I'd thought of it.
| Thursday 1st October 2009
| I have taught in many
schools and visited many many more. But
yesterday was a first. I was visiting St
Augustine's in Trowbridge to show Roamer-Too
to a cluster of teachers. And we had a great
time playing for the afternoon, chatting,
developing ideas etc. And then I went to
the loo. And here was the first. There was
a small lined basket with a selection of
toiletries - deodorant sprays and lotions
and potions. I was mesmerised. And apparently
the Gents loo had similar.
| I thought about it
later and realised that they were probably
not used very often. They would be a thrill
to start with but then just "there". So
they wouldn't need replacing very often.
So for a really limited amount of money
(probably less than £20 a year), you get
an enormous effect. You are saying - this
is a really civilised place to work and
we care about you. Remember it next time
you are recruiting. Oh, and if you want
me to come and check out your loo I'll be
more than happy to come and do a Roamer-Too
workshop for your cluster.
| Tuesday 11th August 2009
| A postscript to yesterdays
| Last night I phoned
my Mum and she mentioned she hadn't been
able to open an attachment to an email I'd
sent. So I suggested that she download it
and then try. How did she do that? "OK,
just right click on the file and a list
of options will open up.." "What???" "Hold
the arrow over the paperclip and right click."
"Oh, I see. So I put the arrow here and
type c-l-i-c-k"!!!!!! .
| Monday 10th August 2009
| Last week's visit to
my Mums made me realise just how great the
concept of ICT natives and ICT immigrants
is. My family vividly illustrate the spectrum
| My Mum, where to start
with my Mum? She is the sort of person who
leaves her mobile phone next to her landline,
switched off. My brother set her up her
email and gave her the quaintly non-technical
address of GrannyDevon and together they
sent off her first few emails. Phoning a
few days later I asked why she hadn't replied
to any emails I'd sent. Her email was broken
she informed me. Every time she tried to
put in her password it just came up asterisks.
| Visiting a few days
ago I admired her lovely new computer and
asked if she was having fun surfing the
web. "Oh No," she informed me, she didn't
go anywhere near the internet. She just
went on to Google and followed the links
| My daughter, on the
other hand, can be talking to multiple friends
while checking her facebook and managing
her Sims. When asked to write a diary piece
for a Shakespearian character she produced
a Facebook page for Richard II where different
characters were listed as his friends and
one of the scenes was replicated in modern
language on his wall. It was awe inspiring.
She automomatically uses ICT if it is relevant
or would make her work more effective or
| And me? I fall squarely
in the middle. I tinker. I've played Sims
and was delighted when my couple gave birth.
But then the baby died in a fire (I hand't
realised the importance of placing fire
alarms everywhere or teaching at least one
occupant to cook.) Their next baby was taken
away by social services (I swear I kept
trying to feed it - it kept refusing, it
really wasn't my fault!) When I tried to
explore second life my lack of a sense of
direction in the real world was amplified
and I kept falling in water as I tried to
get anywhere. So I twittered and gave up
because I really couldn't see the point.
(I have to agree with David Cameron here).
But people keep following me even though
it's an obviously dormant account. I can
only assume they think I am an offspring
of Goldie Hawn; there being no other reason
to follow me. And yes I have Facebook but
all my comments appear rather turgid next
to my witty friends and rather long winded
next to E's text-writing contemporaries.
| And I suspect that
most teachers would fall broadly into my
category, trying to teach a generation who
are so easy with all this technology that
it is as much a part of the tools they use
as paper and pen. I do use ICT and can still
get excited by any new application or idea
and know that if I was still teaching I
would find ways of using it in my lessons.
So I am delighted to see that the Goverment
is continuing to invest in training for
teachers in the newer technologies. And
of course we will continue to support you
with our products - ensuring that they are
exciting but relevant, challenging yet simple
to use. Just wait till you see Roamer-Too!
| Thursday 2nd July 2009
| Yesterday our new Bank
Manager came to visit us with a colleague
and they both recognised the Valiant Turtle
from their school days. And, thankfully,
remembered it fondly.
| But Boy! does it make
you feel old when your Bank Manager has
used your products in school. That combined
with the fact that he looked about 12. Better
be careful what I say here since he read
this blog as part of his research. Which
was a very professional thing to do and
showed that he is a man of great character,
intelligence and charm...
| And not at all like
those other Bankers!
|Tuesday 9th June 2009
| Apparently Ashton Kutcher
is the most followed Tweeter outranking
even Stephen Fry. But I suspect that it
is only because he tweets photos of Demi
Moore bending over and it is the closest
that most of us will come to a Hollywood
lifestyle. Talk about living vicariously!
| So I started a Twitter
page but could never think of anything exciting
enough to write about. Even drinking your
G&T after a hard day's filming before going
to bed (Stephen Fry) seems a lot less boring
than my pre-bed activities.
| But for some reason
people started to follow me. I have no idea
who they were or why they were but each
day would reveal more followers.
| So then Roamer-Too
started a Twitter page and her life is altogether
more interesting. At the moment she is in
Malta where she has made friends with the
Minister of Education. If you would like
to find out what she is doing (and it will
never involving drinking a G&T) then please
| Friday 1st May 2009
| Three years ago in
April 2006 I reported, on this blog, a conversation
I'd had with my brother-in-law, about what
would happen in a pandemic and in passing
he mentioned that all schools would close.
Now at the time Bird flu was seen as the
big threat and I wondered how prepared schools
were to deal with it.
| And guess what, three
years later and here we are again, but this
time pigs are to blame. Apparently this
is a much milder flu than bird flu but even
so we are seeing schools close. Not just
in Mexico and New York, but here in the
UK in Devon (coincidentally where my brother-in-law
is). And we've hardly started.
| It does seem that there
is every likelyhood (level 5 at the present
time) of a pandemic breaking out and I don't
think schools are any more prepared than
they were three years ago. Is yours?
| I have also been pondering
whether I should encourage E to catch this
(like Mums do with small children and Mumps)
since this is a mild form which the NHS
has plenty of drugs for and which would
not pose a danger to her, with the view
that her body would build up a resistance
so should a more virulent form appear she
would already have a level of protection.
Or would it make no difference, or does
the protection only last for a certain length
of time? I sort of think that if you are
going to get a flu virus it is better to
get it at the start of a pandemic when the
resources are available and the strain is
weaker than later on when there are fewer
drugs and the virus may have mutated and
grown stronger. But maybe you could avoid
it altogether. Oh I don't know I can see
I am going to have to have another conversation
with my brother-in-law .
| Thursday 19th March 2009
| There is a lot of discussion
on the ICT Research Network at the moment,
about the place of computer games in education.
This follows on from a quote from Horrible
Histories Terry Deary that education is
boring and games are fun. Now, I am all
for making education fun and loved thinking
up games, not necessarily computer ones,
when I taught.
| Indeed many standard
computer games can play a role in helping
children grasp ideas - for example, Sim
City helps them understand the need for
an infra structure before a town can grow
and the placement of police stations and
hospitals and rubbish dumps etc are vital
decisions where wrong decisions can have
dreadful consequences. A fantastic simulation
for GCSE Geography students.
| And of course Roamer
is fun. But its longeveity is due to the
fact that it is based on sound educational
principles first and fun second. I worry
about a culture that demands fun and seems
wary of good solid hard work. This need
for instant gratification seems to be the
same side of the coin as the wanting to
be famous for famous sake rather than for
a paricular skill or gift honed from years
of practice. I was particularly pleased
that both George Sampson of "Britain's got
talent" and "X factor" winner Alexadra had
both come back after an intial failure,
during which time they worked and worked
and worked to improve. Then they achieved
their success. In fact research has shown
that the difference between the merely Good
and the Great is 7000 hours of practice.
David Beckham wasn't born great. He was
born skilful and then 7000+hours of practice
later he achieved greatness.
| So yes, lets make education
fun. But let's also help our students understand
that if they really want something they
are going to have to work for it. Either
that or appear on "Big Brother"!
| Friday 27th February 2009
| I am fascinated by
miscommunication. I know a couple of people
who can be given a piece of information,
add it to other disconnected pieces of information
and come to a completely erroneous conclusion.
I find it interesting to take the conclusion
and unravel it back to see the starting
point. I'm not sure that it is a useful
skill - this constructing a whole from a
fragment and it can lead to some very strange
| I well remember when
I was apparently having an affair with Ken
the Drama teacher. All my other "affairs"
had made sense to me. Mr C and I happened
to catch the same bus on one occasion and
sat together - so obviously we were having
an affair, no surprise there. But my affair
with Ken I couldn't understand since I didn't
recall ever speaking to him outside the
staff room - he was at the opposite end
of the school. So I asked my Year 11s about
it. They told me it had all started when
we played squash together. Now it made sense.
I had written in my school diary that I
had a squash match one evening against my
friend Ken, to ensure that I left in time.
At some stage I must have left the diary
open and since Drama Ken was the only one
the kids knew, it must be him (this did
require quite a stretch of imagination -
he wasn't the most athletic man you could
meet!), hence our affair...
| Half pieces of information
are also damaging to understanding in children.
One incomplete explanation during our sex
education lesson left me confused for years.
And since everyone else seemed to understand
I didn't like to ask for clarification.
| So the importance of
communication at all levels has been a key
part in the design of Roamer-Too. The children
don't have to communicate through a Roamer/logo
language but can construct a language and
keypad that makes sense to them. They could
use pictures, numbers, colours, words -
anything they wish. This is one of the really
ground-breaking things about Roamer-Too.
And I will be fascinated to see what communication
styles teachers and pupils will come up
with. Over to you...
| Thursday 5th February
| Tonight E returns from
a week away in France with the school. It
was a French immersion week under the guise
of an Adventure holiday. Each morning the
students learn the words needed for the
day's activities and are then expected to
speak 100% French. Much better than the
school trips we organised where the kids
relationship with the French language was
more of a ships passing in the night sort.
I well remember Martina proudly telling
me she had asked a French man the time.
"How did you do that?" I excitedly asked
her. She pointed at her watch and said very
loudly and slowly "WHAT IS THE TIME?"!
| When my friend Kim
was doing "A" level French she spent a summer
in Brittany and got to the point when she
was dreaming in French. And I remember our
Dutch exchange student, Marlene, telling
us over breakfast of a dream she had had
in English. So I reckon that when you start
to dream in another language - that's fluency!
| But what about fluency
in Maths? At the moment Dave has a team
working on a Roamer-Too activity. The core
of the team are a UK Secondary Maths teacher,
a USA Elementary School Teacher, a professional
storyteller and him. The Maths teacher chose
4 Maths words randomly (indices, speed,
division and rounding) and from these words
they had to construct a robot story. They
have developed the idea of a tree where
three branches split into three more branches,
each of these split into three more (indices).
An ant has been training to get to the topmost
branch - he has to be the first at each
junction in order to choose the route that
leads to the top (speed). The point of the
exercise is to experience the activity as
a child would and to take Maths away from
the sums and formulae type experience. In
Mindstorms Papert likened the way we teach
maths to the way we teach French. Instead
of learning it naturally as a French child
does (and as E has been doing for the last
week) we teach grammar and tenses. Instead
of students first experiencing natural maths
ideas we force feed them symbols and formulae.
Interestingly Dave was saying that through
working with this activity he has really
got an understanding of the words in different
more personal ways and started to see relationships
between the concepts that had never occurred
to him before. This is intended to complement
formal work and not replace it. It has been
quite an eyeopener for him and all the other
professionals involved. No doubt the results
will be displayed under the Roamer-Too activities
on this website.
| Whenever I show MathAmigo
it has been very easy for me to ascertain
a person's proficiency/fluency in Maths
through one of the available activities
- Find the Middle. Try it for yourself.
Find the number in the middle of 15 and
43. How did you do it? The least Maths literate,
I have found, tend to count in from each
end. Next level up is the way I do it -
take the smaller number from the larger,
divide the result by two and add to the
lower number/take away from the higher number.
Those who have a higher level of Maths immediately
just add the two numbers together and divide
by two. But the most "fluent" in Maths,
and reassuringly it does seem to include
a large number of Maths Advisers, just "Know"
the answer. When you ask them how they did
it they have no methology they just instictively
knew the answer. Maths appears to be so
much the way they think that the process
in indiscernable not like us more ponderous
mathematical thinkers. They are truly fluent
in Maths. And the professionals involved
in the Roamer-Too Maths activity are hoping
that by taking Maths ideas away from Maths
processes it may help young children gain
a fluency in mathematical thinking. I love
| By the way, the answer
| Wednesday 21st January
| I know that the UK
is sliding downhill fast and the global
economy is disintegrating and the Banks
are going bust and we are all going to lose
our jobs, but I am feeling decidedly upbeat!
I am sure that yesterday's inauguration
augured in a new era of hope for many and
I have to admit that I'm a little in love
with the man. I watched the ceremony mesmerised
and shouted at E when she dared make a sound
during his speech. So that's one reason
my spirits are lifted.
| The other is last weeks
Bett exhibition. After what seems like an
incredibly long gestation period Roamer-Too
is almost with us. Peter brought the production
prototypes back from China just in time
for demonstating at the show. There was
unanimous approval, not one dissenting voice.
People who said they would come back did
- it wasn't just a fob off, and those who
said they wanted to get their colleagues
to show them also did. It was fantastic.
| Despite the fact that
I do enjoy meeting you all I can pretty
much guarantee that there is at least one
person that I want to slap by the end of
the show. The one who says something like
"Oh, my children couldn't do that," or even
worse "Oh, my teachers couldn't do that."
But this year every single person I met
was positively delightful. Even the one
who I thought was heading for the slapping
who then explained she was just being Devil's
Advocate and actually she totally agreed
with me. Phew!
| And now the orders
are flowing in - so pray for a fine wind,
an end to Chinese New Year and a problem
free production process. And with fingers
crossed we should have our new progeny by
early April. It'll be first come first served
so order yours today.
| Monday 24th November 2008
| Dave is part of a team
writing a Maths book on the use of robotics
in teaching Maths. Another of the team -
a Secondary Maths teacher, came down and
stayed with us for the weekend so they could
go over stuff together.
| This guy told me a
story about his daughter who is profoundly
deaf. When she was very little he was trying
to explain to her that the gas fire was
dangerous. He knew the sign for "dangerous"
so as the fire cooled down he took her hand
and gently placed it on the fire top and
signed "Dangerous". She got the message
and steered clear of the fire.
| He then extended this
to Road Safety and told her that cars too
were dangerous. She got the message and
was very careful around cars; until he got
one. Then she lost her fear and it took
just a moment's inattention for her to stride
out into the middle of the road into the
path of an oncoming car. The driver honked
his horn violently - obviously to no avail.
He then had to brake very sharply. Luckily
he had only been travelling at about 20
mph so as he hit her she was thrown and
sustained bad bruises but nothing more.
| Later her father asked
her why she had gone into the road when
he had told her that cars were dangerous.
She replied that she had understood that
they were hot and once they had got one
she knew they weren't. This seems to me
to be a dynamic example of how children
can actually learn very different things
from what we think we are teaching them.
I'm sure that there is a moral to this story,
but I'm not sure what it is...
| Tuesday 18th November
| One of the things that
Dave hates is the use of rote learning in
Maths. All his designs are based on the
idea of understanding. He always quotes
the negative number rule of "two minuses
equal a plus" as an example of learning
without understanding. And then goes on
to explain how learning the concept using
Roamer builds a mental model of the mathematical
concept which creates a basic understanding
upon which other concepts can build. It
won't fall down the moment pupils try to
build on it as rote learning does.
| So last night I had
to tell E not to mention her Maths homework
to her Dad. It was the addition, subtraction,
multiplication and division of positive
and negative numbers. Now E is actually
extremely good at Maths, but the only way
she could solve the problems was by employing
the strategy her teacher had told her.
| This strategy was to
equate positive numbers with happiness and
negative numbers with sadness. So -7 - -8
becomes you have seven sadness and you are
taking away sadness to the tune of 8 so
you end up with 1 happiness i.e. positive
1. Or 8 - - 8 you are starting happy and
then you are taking away sadness (adding
happiness) so you end up more happy. If
you were adding sadness (+ -8) then it would
cancel out the happiness and be back at
| Using this strategy
E got every question right. But she hasn't
a clue about the real maths involved. I
can only hope that because she has an inate
ability with Maths that it will in time
make itself clear to her (or perhaps I should
get out faithful Roamer and go up and down
a positive and negative number line). I
certainly can't explain it to her - I'm
not that solid in my understanding myself.
To be honest I rather like the happiness/sadness
solution - just don't tell Dave!
| Thursday 9th October 2008
|Every year at Easter,
Valiant gives us a small Easter Egg. At
a recent audit we discovered that this counts
as staff entertaining and is therefore liable
|I'm sorry but as the
financial word comes crashing down and our
taxes are being used to prop up a sytem
that has been destoyed through the greed
of its operators it seems a bit mealy mouthed
to begrudge us a £2.99 Easter Egg each.
|I'm sure that your school
isn't immune to the credit crunch either
- what with escalating utilities bills etc
etc, so rest assured that here at Valiant,
we are doing our best to keep our prices
as low as possible and for the fifth year
in a row we will be holding prices at their
current levels. So some good news amongst
all the gloom. But don't expect us to send
out an Easter egg with your order!
|Tuesday 7th October 2008
| E has now started Secondary
school and absolutely loves it. In fact
all her old Primary classmates seem to be
embracing their new schools. I'm not sure
what happens the summer they leave year
6 but they seem to blossom into children
who are really ready for Secondary. Or maybe
their Primary school was particularly good
at preparing them for life post-Primary.
| Whatever happened it
was a success. Yesterday E came home as
the first child (with a couple of others)
in her year to get a distinction. We were
on the cusp of being proud when she told
us it was for RE. Now I know I should regard
all subjects as equal, but somehow it doesn't
happen. But then again why should I be any
different from the Universities which certainly
regard some A levels as more worthwhile
| Notice how I am now
talking about Universities? It is easy to
lose touch with Primary despite walking
past it every day with Toffee stopping outside
the gate because he can't get used to the
idea that E doesn't go there anymore.
| I am still a Primary
school Governor which helps to a certain
extent but its not the same as the daily
rubbing shoulders that I have now lost.
So I would really love to hear from you
- what do you consider the challenges in
your classroom at the moment. And how can
| Thursday 11th September
| So, yet another piece
of research shows that our children, far
from doing the hours exercise a day they
are meant to do are actually only doing
24 minutes. And now all 11 year olds are
being given a cook book, to try to improve
| It's not as if they
don't know what they are meant to be doing.
I don't think you will be able to find a
single person who doesn't know the difference
between a "heathy" and "non healthy" diet
or the fact that exercise is good for you.
But it's like smokers - they know it could
be killing them but still they continue.
Even E who has already joined every sports
club available at her new secondary school
and is a vegetarian by choice would happily
eat a bar of chocolate rather than a plateful
of vegetables. And so would I for that matter.
| I remember a class
I had once coming in to school very animatedly
discussing a tv program from the previous
evening that had been about the consequences
of a poor diet and how children should eat
less sugar, salt and fat and more fibre.
And all the children were agreeing that
from now on they were going to be more concerned
about what they ate. "But that's what I
told you 6 months ago," I pointed out "Yes,
but we expect you to tell us things like
that," they responded. So the expectation
had diminished the message. A priest telling
you God exists is far less convincing that
say Richard Dawkins!
| And E seems to be really
affected by programs like "Honey we're killing
the kids" and "Make my body 10 years younger"
etc. So that's it - we should encourage
our children to watch more television. Mmmmm,
but then that exacerbates the exercise problem...
This is obviously a koala conundrum - the
population of the koala is in severe decline
because of the spread of syphillis. The
only way to stop the decline is to encourage
them to mate but that of course - you can
see where this is going...
| I know, I have a solution
- get Roamer
to tell them for you.
| Monday 21st July 2008
| So that's it - the
end of our Primary education. Amongst much
sobbing and wailing and hugging E bid her
final farewell on Friday .
| I will continue to
have an association because my parent Governorship
has been transmuted into a community one.
But it's not the same. You become very fond
of a class that you have known for the past
7 years where the majority have been a guest
in your house at some stage over that time.
So it was a wrench for parents too.
| But guess what? We
still don't have all E's SATs results. We
are assuming that she will complete a full
house of 5s but are still awaiting Maths.
What a debacle it has been. But I can add
little to the many comments that have been
made over the past few weeks. So instead
we will draw a line over it, dry our eyes
and look forward to Secondary school.
| Have a great summer
break. See you in September.
| Wednesday 16th July 2008
| Isn't technology wonderful?
The way it allows personalisation - tracking
our buying habits and tailoring its sales
to your tastes. At least I used to think
it was wonderful.
| I went on to Amazon
to buy our latest Book Group title chosen
by Julia. And in due course it arrived and
I started to read it. I was rather surprised
that Julia had decided on such a salacious
book and decided that there must be a hidden
side to her that had lain undiscovered until
now. In the end I couldn't stomache much
more and put it in the dustbin (for fear
of E picking it up and starting to read
| We started to discuss
it and everyone was very enthusiastic. "But
what about the sex?" I asked. "Oh I must
have missed that," one of my literate friends
replied. "How can you have missed it - it
was on every page". It turns out that there
can be several books with the same name
and it really helps if you search with the
| But now Amazon's cookie
or whatever its technical name is has got
me down as a bit of a desperate housewife
and every time I go to buy a book I find
that they are recommending their latest
pornographic title! So I'm all for personalisation
but... On the other hand if you want help
delivering the personalisation agenda at
school then look no further than Roamer-Too
and I promise it will keep it clean!
| Friday 20th June 2008
| I have been looking
through the Government's list of "failing"
schools and have noticed with a certain
amount of chagrin that every school I have
taught in (even on teaching practice) bar
one has ended up on this list .
| Now I would contend
that they are very challenging schools to
teach in - which is why I chose those sort
of schools. The rewards were phenomenal
and the kids certainly kept you on your
toes. And no they perhaps weren't what you
would call academically bright, but they
were sharp and interested and interesting
and they all gained a great deal going through
the school. Maybe they couldn't cope with
Maths but were a star in Mr Townsend's carting
club both driving the things and building
them. Maybe Romeo and Juliet didn't do much
for them but "Bridge to Terabithia" had
them in floods.
| So I refuse to accept
that these children, who have left with
fewer GCSE's than the Government says they
should have, have failed. And I refuse to
accept that the majority of schools on the
list, judging from my experience, have failed.
| Thursday 8th May 2008
| One of the dilemmas
facing modern parents is how much freedom
to give their children and at what age.
In fact a report came out this morning complaining
about the way we cottonwool our children
against imagined dangers.
| In fact I take the
view that if you begin to introduce children
to the freedom of the outside world they
are better able to assess risk thereby reducing
| Last night gave a very
vivid example of trying to make E aware
of what is going on around her as we walked
Toffee in the park. I realised that we had
somehow become trapped between a prostitute,
Karen (I think I can name names I don't
think there's much danger of her reading
this site) and her client. He was slightly
ahead looking for suitable bushes with E
merrily riding her bike alongside. Because
Toffee started a prolonged sniffing I ended
up walking with the prostitute. I called
E back because I knew he would be veering
off into the bushes across her path at any
moment. So then we were in the bizarre position
of E, Toffee, me and prostitute/Karen sauntering
along in the sunshine to the point where
she too would veer off. She was very friendly
and smiled at us all but got uncomfortable
at the point where she had to go to the
bushes in front of E so carried on walking
a little. Man from bushes then started calling
her name which made E start to look around
and I tried to hurry her on. I decided that
I should tell her exactly what was going
on so that she would start to pick up cues
better when she was out by herself , after
all she will be going through the park every
day to and from school when she starts Secondary
|So last night I introduced
E to prositution! It was an opportunity
and I made the most of it (like the time
a child refused sweets from me, a stranger,
I told toddler E the story and she assured
me she wouldn't accept sweets from a stranger.
She then paused and added "But I would accept
bananas from a monkey"!). Anyway, back to
mollycoddling our children but still giving
them the tools to assess risk. If you don't
want to take your pupils out for a walk
with a prostitute there are alternatives.
Roamer is brilliant for this particular
topic because it removes any percieved danger
away from the child but still allows them
to make decisions on Roamers behalf. For
a risk assessment activity please click
| Thursday 24th April 2008
| Yesterday I was on
my way to a meeting at Besa (British Educational
Suppliers Association) when I passed a woman
speaking on her mobile phone. I overheard
this snippet of conversation "…and the people
that I don't like seem to find out who I'm
related to and want to be my best friend…"
Now if that doesn't get you wondering you
don't have an inquisitive bone in your body.
| I do love overhearing
conversations. I was on another trip to
Besa when I overheard a couple of political
journalists talking about the fact that
Iain Duncan Smith was going to resign and
this was a couple of days before it happened
whilst everyone was still "supporting" him.
I felt very knowledgeable for those two
| All that aside, the
important thing is that I regularly go to
Besa as vice chair of the New Educational
Technologies Group - the group that represents
the more innovative curriculum peripherals.
Now Besa is 75 years old this year and part
of our discussion was how to share with
teachers the benefits of buying from a Besa
| So I'll tell you. Besa
has a code of practice that ensures high
quality, good value, reputable company,
ethical policies etc. And every member has
to sign up to this policy. I'm sure you
wouldn't buy a holiday from some one who
didn't belong to Abta so for similar peace
of mind make sure that any supplier you
buy from belongs to Besa. And if you just
happen to be the woman I passed yesterday
- please tell me who you are related to.
I'll be your friend!
| Tuesday 22nd April 2008
| So that's the end of
the longest Easter in history. It has been
the weirdest few weeks as an educational
supplier. We just haven't known who was
doing what where. So we've really been marking
| However, as you can
see, we haven't been wasting time. Our brand
new shiny website is open for your perusal.
It will continue to grow and expand and
once Roamer-Too is out there the number
of open-source activities available will
| So this last term of
the school year promises to be an exciting
one for us. For a start it's the last term
of E's Primary School life and, crossed
fingers, Roamer-Toos will start to get out
to schools to inspire and educate the next
generation of school children.
| So have a good look
round and let us know what you think. And
if you want to pre-order your Roamer-Toos
have a read through our recommendations
before visiting the shopping site.
| Tuesday 1st April 2008
| Valiant is 25 today
- so Happy Birthday to us!
|Thursday 20th March 2008
|Oh dear! I put the cans
of condensed milk in the water to boil at
7 o’clock. I want to make Banoffi
Pie when my family visit on Monday. Then
E and I made a load of chocolate nests for
the Charity cake sale at school today. Meanwhile
Dave had phoned an old friend who is a wonderful
teacher and one of our consultants on Roamer-Too.
Once he’d had a discussion about some
minutiae on Roamer-Too I then had a long
chat catching up on the gossip and arranging
to meet up. Then I slumped in the chair
to watch Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares
and another program, I forget which, before
sloping off to bed with a new book.
|At 1am Dave shook me
awake. The place was filled with smoke and
the smell of burnt sugar. Thankfully a)
nothing had actually caught fire and b)
the cans had not exploded. Just one ruined
saucepan and a stinky home, but enough of
a near miss to put me off my Banoffi Pie!
|Have a wonderful Easter
5th March 2008
|If you are reading this
you are on our website. You may realise
that we are putting in a lot of work upgrading
and developing the site so that it really
supports our customers and enables them
to find out what they want quickly and easily.
So it has to be easy to navigate.
|And therein lies the
problem. I hate having to click backwards
and forwards and would much rather scroll.
But Dave hates to scroll. So how about clicking
and boxes open up that you can then close?
But no, someone else hates those ...and
so it goes on. For every solution there
is someone who hates it.
|All we want to do is
to make sure that our customers can 1) find
all the free resources and curriculum suggestions
that are available to them and 2) tell them
what's available. Plus one or two other
things like all our exciting news, who we
are and of course my blog. But it is so
|So please help us out.
We would love to hear from you. What do
you think of the site so far? What else
would you like to see? Do you like clicks
or scrolls, or even boxes that open up?
Constructive criticism and suggestions are
more than welcome. Please help us to help
you. Just fill in my comments box. Thanks.
15th January 2008
|I am absolutely fascinated
by how the brain works and how our understanding
can be used to make our teaching more effective
and help children work to their full capability.
In fact one of the really wonderful things
about Roamer-Too is how much thought has
gone into its educational principles all
based on the latest research and understandings.
|So I was really interested
the other day to hear Carol Vorderman on
the radio talking about the latest research
into how to maximise performance in exams.
The results of each piece of reasearch varied
between a 40% and 60% improvement. Staggering
figures, although I can’t remember
which percentage improvement belongs to
|Children should eat
complex carbohydrates about half an hour
before their exam to show dramatic improvement
in results. I know that many schools have
a free breakfast club for Year 6 the week
of their SATs. This is to make sure that
not only do they all get into school on
time but also to ensure they get a full
breakfast beforehand. Just ensure that you
make porridge or muesli part of that breakfast
and you should get a minimum improvement
of 40% if the research is correct.
|In another piece of
research one group of students were told
to imagine that they were football hooligans.
They were then given trivial pursuit questions
and then a full exam. The other group were
told to imagine they were professors before
questions and exam. You’ve guessed
it – the imagined professors dramatically
outperformed football hooligans although
the groups had started with the same potential.
That old self-fulfilling prophecy and visualisation
combined to a potent force.
|Of course, when you
think about it mental preparations are bound
to affect your mental capabilities. But
perhaps the most annoying piece of reasearch
involves chewing gum. After years of insisting
that chewing gum is put into the bin I now
find that research shows that if you chew
gum whilst revising and through the exam
you outperform your peers who don’t.
In this research they actually scanned the
brains of the participants as they worked
and chewing gum seemed to massively increase
action in the hypothalamus. The scientists
think that chewing gum increases oxygen
supply to the blood and therefore your brain,
thereby improving your thinking power. All
I need now is the research that shows that
sitting in your outdoor coats in the classroom
is, afterall, a “good thing”!
27th November 2007
|We're up in arms. Wandsworth
Council are proposing to create 10 all weather
pitches on our beautiful common and to claim
back the land leased to the Steiner school.
Effectively closing a very successful school
that serves local children.
|Now I abhor faith schools.
This is not a blanket detestation - the
little village CofE Primary school that
serves the local community is fine. But
where faith determines the curriculum and
limits its pupil intake to adherers of the
faith then I get all hot under the collar.
(Remember, this is me speaking, not Valiant
- I'm sure they wouldn't want to alienate
a large portion of their customers!)
|However schools based
on different educational principles are
necessary to a healthy education sector.
They encourage debate in methodology and
thinking and provide places for children
who don't happily fit into the normal sector.
So whilst I might find Summerhill strange
and I certainly wouldn't send my daughter
there I would defend its right to existence.
And good old Maria Montessori - she had
some really barmy ideas but she had far
more really good ones that have filtered
into ordinary school settings and would
now be viewed as normal good practice.
|So to close a local
Steiner school is unforgivable. To close
it to make way for all weather pitches that
will also spoil our beautiful common is,
to me, a heinous crime. The school is canvassing
local residents for support and I, for one,
will support them to the hilt. So to the
16th October 2007
Two words to invoke trauma in the heart
of all Year 6 parents. Not so, say my country
cousins – you just cross the field
from the Primary School and enter the Secondary
School. For us Townies it is a far more
stressful process. The notion of choice
is laughable, particularly if you live somewhere
like Lambeth, which only has enough secondary
places for 50% of its pupils. We unfortunately
live in a large black hole. In previous
years children near us have not been placed
until the summer holidays and then to an
undersubscribed school at the far side of
the next borough.
|And so we have been
traipsing around all the local Secondary
schools in the faint hope that we have some
say in where E will end up. It has been
an interesting experience. It has confirmed
to me my assumption that the most exciting
environments and the most motivated staff
are within schools where the pupils are
not the most easy. But however much I like
a school and its staff it is a bit disconcerting
to keep being told about all the support
measures they have in place for the less
able children. In the end I was moved to
say “As a concerned citizen I am pleased
to hear that you support your less able
students, but as the mother of a bright
child I don’t give a toss about the
stupid ones and just want to know how you
support the more able.” The poor teacher
(English) looked a little disconcerted but
took it in her stride. But to keep getting
the same message rather put me off the school.
|At the other end of
the spectrum is a “good school”
which I taught at seventeen years ago. (The
only school I taught in that was not in
the middle of a council estate.) However
I was amazed at the number of staff that
were still there all these years later.
They weren’t there because they wanted
to use such a well-disciplined and stable
environment to develop really exciting and
innovative teaching schemes, but because
it was a cushy number. The whole place stank
of complacency. Really disappointing.
|But the school that
everyone wants their child to go to is also
an easy school to teach in, also has stable
staff but has such a great atmosphere with
staff who talk to you excitedly about their
plans and are constantly looking to the
future. And that’s why it has been
lauded as the best Comprehensive in the
country. Unfortunately such is the demand
that you have to live in the Biology Lab
to get a place.
|So I have come up with
a sort of strata of schools. There are the
ones at the top – and here I will
name names, like Nonsuch and Graveney, that
are at the top for a reason. The whole atmosphere
of the school is one of achievement within
a vibrant environment full of dedicated
staff. Next is the strata that do well enough
and would have the capacity to excel but
have fallen into a sort of complacent lethargy.
Then comes the strata of the more difficult
school that is possibly the most excitng
school to teach in with a wonderful staff,
great communication and innovative teachers.
They will never make the top echelons because
of the nature of their intake, but their
value added goes through the roof.
|And now I hit the problem.
My black hole is not near enough to the
top strata schools so really I have to choose
between the safe but boring and the vibrant
but more difficult. Maybe, after all, I’m
pleased I don’t really have a choice.
21st September 2007
|What’s in a name?
Now Juliet would argue, “not a lot,”
(but not as eruditely – she warbled
on about roses). I actually think the opposite.
When we named our new puppy Toffee, apart
from the colour, it conjured up images of
soft sweetness. Yesterday we met Rebel,
who at six months isn’t too threatening,
but as a Rottweiler Lab cross I can imagine
that fully grown he could be intimidating
and his name would complete the picture.
|Teachers can have real
problems naming their children. Too many
names become off limits because of experiences
with children of that name. And politically
incorrect or not I know that if a child
enters my classroom called Wayne, he is
unlikely to be top of the class. And, bless
him, Wayne Rooney lives up to the stereotype
perfectly (apart from the multi-millions
|Dave had always cherished
the notion of calling his son, Duncan, after
some legendary football player apparently.
So it was a great relief to discover that
E was a girl. I didn’t want to be
the one who trampled over his dreams; but,
(with apologies to all the Duncans out there,)
|Naming a product is
even more difficult because not only do
you have to find a name that carries with
it certain images, but it also has to have
never been used before. We can’t afford
to pay other people to spend hours sitting
round a table, drinking coffee and contemplating
their navels in order to come up with the
flash of brilliance, so we have to do it
and it can take weeks. Even an apparently
simple name like Roamer-Too can take ages.
|Then when our products
go into different cultures they are given
a different name again. When Roamer went
into every school in Shanghai it became
Yua Yua (that’s the nearest I can
get to the anglicisation of the Chinese.
We do have it written in Chinese caligraphy
on the wall of our office, but that wouldn’t
help you any.) It means “a little
creature that wanders around a lot. Which
I think is delightful. Now Roamer-Too is
going in large quantities into the Middle
East and yesterday we were told its new
name. It’s Sinbad. And I like it.
16th August 2007
|For the past few months
we have been housetraining Toffee. The puppy
trainer emphasised that we must use positive
reinforcement only. So Toffee got a full-blown
Hallelujah chorus every time he went outside
to pee. However, in the end I reverted to
the negative – i.e. he also got “told
off” when he got it wrong. It seemed
to be far more effective to use both. But
I still feel bad about telling him what
a bad boy he was for a puddle on the kitchen
floor only to subsequently find out that
Dave had spilt some apple juice and failed
to clean it up properly.
|So I can appreciate
how easy it is to fall into the negative.
But last night I watched a documentary on
children at the Shanghai State Circus School.
Parents had sent their kids there as a way
out of poverty. But I ended up sobbing along
with the wee mites who were having their
bodies forced into unnatural shapes. Now
I am all for pushing the human body to its
limits (other people’s that is, not
mine) in exploring outer space, climbing
Everest or running the marathon etc. But
|I appreciate that in
any field of physical endeavour people do
suffer to excel. Ballet dancers ruin their
feet, cyclists knacker their knees etc.
and although they start young they seem
to build up to it. However the circus kids
were subjected to a cruel and bullying regime
perpetrated by teachers who really didn’t
appear to be unkind. In fact in one memorable
scene one of the teachers was in tears as
she was tongue-lashed by the head for failing
to get her three pyramid handstand troupe
up to the mark.
|It really was unpleasant
to watch children being so abused. But at
the end they showed the result of all the
“torture” as an eight year old
boy performed his acrobatic routine and
it was positively sublime. Which leaves
me in a quandary – would he have been
so good if he had just received praise along
2nd July 2007
|When writing this blog
I am mindful of the fact that I am writing
for an educational company website. So I
try to incorporate something about school
or education in its broadest sense.
|So for this one I thought
I might start by exploring the nature of
assessment and the fact that the children
are pretty accurate in their assessment
of their classmates abilities and can easily
spot the “Best in Class”.
|On the other hand I
could discuss the way our expectations of
pretty and ugly (to put it bluntly) children
differ. I could tell you about Michael,
one of the best looking children I taught
who consistently surprised me by his apalling
behaviour. When I taught I used to write
a quick summary of the lessons, ostensibly
so I could appraise them, but in fact they
turned into something else and I well remember
one student teacher who I was working with
having tears of laughter running down her
face as she read my lesson appraisal diary.
Anyway I read my lesson appraisals for all
Michael’s lessons and found that there
hadn’t been a lesson when he hadn’t
misbehaved. So why was I so taken aback
by his behaviour – was it the hope
over experience theory? In fact I realised
it was because he was so damn good looking.
I was shocked by my revelation, I had always
thought I treated all children the same,
so then I started to watch myself carefully
and became aware that I did have different
expectations of pleasant looking children.
In fact subsequent research has borne this
out, and I was very pleased to find that
I was not alone in these particular hidden
prejudices. It should also be noted that
Michael went on to murder.
|But in fact all these
discussions are diversions from what I really
want to tell you which is this: At the Abbeville
Dog Show Toffee won Best in Show!
29th June 2007
|Mr Kingham told us that
we had to learn our times tables because
we would use them all our lives. Smart arse
that I was/am I decided that if I was going
to use them so much I would learn them by
osmosis and therefore didn't need to waste
my time learning them now. Even at 10 I
had learnt to prioritise and play definitely
took priority over work. However when I
first tried using MathAmigo just to get
used to the system I found I made a consistent
error if I was calculating quickly of saying
5 5s are 15. Oops! And Heaven knows what
8 9s are!
|This actually convinced
me of MathAmigo's efficacy. And this week
I have had further confirmation. A teacher
in Sandwell has been doing reasearch in
seeing the effect that MathAmigo had upon
the Mental Maths capability of her class.
She got some astounding results. After a
consistent class average of 12.3 out of
20, the moment they started to use MathAmigo
their weekly test score rose to a staggering
19.8. They stopped using MathAmigo when
they had to hand back the PDAs and the score
gradually dropped back. We're investigating
|Meanwhile at home I
am now, belatedly, "doing" my
times tables as E strives to get into the
class 50s club (MathAmigo on the computer
and me in the car!). For this she has to
score 50 out of 50 in her weekly times table
test. Last week she got 49 so today our
expectations are high.
|S is the class champion;
she was the first pupil to get into the
club and holds the record for the quickest
time - she did it in 1 min 12 sec. However
in their recent Yr5 Numeracy SATs test S
only got 5 out of 35. Make of that what
you will - and keep your fingers crossed
8th June 2007
|At various stages in
my life I find that I belong to a certain
group. I am now a member of the group of
humans who are “dog walkers”.
And what a nice bunch they are. I only know
them by their dog’s name and I know
that Toffee is known rather than me. In
fact walking down the street I am amazed
by the number of people who say “Hello
Toffee,” and completely ignore me.
I even had a long chat on the common yesterday
with a woman I had seen everyday last year
in the school playground as she delivered
her daughter to Nursery, but had never spoken
| It’s very similar
to when you have a baby. But here I was
part of an NCT pre and post-natal group
and I was never completely comfortable in
the role since I didn’t feel my Earth
Mother credentials matched up.
| But perhaps the group
that I felt most at ease with was the “Teacher
Staff Room”. Particularly the smoking
one, in the day’s when such a thing
could exist. All the more interesting people
seemed to smoke. In fact I remember one
non-smoking member of staff putting up with
the unwholesome atmosphere because of all
the merriment in the room. And that’s
how I remember my old Staff Rooms –
as places of fun and wit. Yes, you could
have a good old moan, but only in a light-hearted
way. There was always laughter and a lot
of support. I did notice that the more challenging
the children, the better the Staff Room.
| There did sometimes
seem to be an undercurrent of admiration
if you were always busy in your classroom
and never had time to visit the staff room.
But I have no truck with this. I honestly
believe that a school is a healthier place
if all the staff spend time together even
if it is just to drink a cup of coffee and
catch up on the gossip. More often that
not the “gossip” can provide
invaluable insights into what’s going
on in individual children’s lives
and what’s going on in other classrooms.
I’ve developed lots of cross-departmental
work on the basis of friendships developed
in the staff room. So assuming that this
computer isn’t in the staff room isn’t
it time you logged off and went and got
a cup of coffee. All for the betterment
of the school, of course.
17th May 2007
| Dave and I do not argue
very often (except in our daily squash game
where we argue over every point) so it was
surprising how much trouble E's Numeracy
homework caused. It was a photocopied sheet
about three lighthouses. The first turned
on for 3 seconds then off for 3 seconds,
the second had a 4 second on/off cycle and
the third a five second cycle. You might
well have seen the question, maybe even
used it yourself. Anyway, the children were
asked - if the lights started all turning
on together, when would be the next time
they would all turn on together. Ok- that's
not too bad, obviously the lowest common
multiple of 6, 8 and 10 - 120 seconds, 2
minutes. Got that one.
| However it was the
second question which caused the ructions.
When would all the lights be off together?
Firstly I thought they meant turn off together,
but that was too difficult to work out (
6, 8 and 10 times tables -/+3, 4 and 5)
far beyond the capabilities of most year
5 kids. So then I decided that it must mean
when was the first time they would all be
off together for any amount of time. E was
totally confused by now by my ramblings,
so we drew a chart. Here the trouble started.
| We labelled the intervals
1, 2 3 etc to represent the seconds and
by doing that it clearly showed that at
6 all the lights were off at the same time.
But then Dave argued that in fact it was
5 because 1 second came at the end of the
first interval because we were dealing in
time, and it was the interval between 5
seconds and 6 seconds. I said that they
would expect the answer 6. He said that
was the wrong answer and the teacher should
be told. I felt it was a bit much to expect
E to argue the toss over a question that
she was now completely at sea with.
| To prevent bloodshed
I phoned a Maths education expert (he wrote
the activities for MathAmigo). He agreed
it was a very badly written question - basically
a number question that had been inappropriately
put into a time setting to try to make it
more real to the kids. Yes, they would be
expecting the answer 6 and it would be OK
if you said 6th interval. And yes, Dave
was correct, that actually 5 was the more
accurate answer. So we were both right and
E still hasn't done her homework.
1st May 2007
| I realised early on
in my life that I was destined to be a “Jack
of all trades, master of none”. I
was always pretty accurate in the assessment
of my abilities. There are three times in
my life when I did unexpectedly well –
but I can explain them all. I always got
an “A” in art despite being
less than mediocre in the subject, but that
was because Miss G tended to mark you on
how much she liked you and I was obviously
a favourite. The second time was when I
got 96% in a Physics exam. It was the first
multi-choice exam I had ever done and I
have been sceptical about their reliability
ever since. And finally during my Education
degree we had to study educational philosophy,
which left me cold. However my philosophy
lecturer took my vagueness for brilliance
and kept giving me As. My friends also thought
he fancied me, which could explain my grades.
| So it is with reluctance
that I am the sounding board for the book
that Dave is writing on the use of robots
in education. Since developing Roamer he
has researched and read and developed ideas
for the use of robots and used this theory
as the basis for the development of Roamer-Too.
It is all very high level and erudite.
| However whenever he
gets stuck with an idea he likes to talk
it through – and I’m the nearest
available person. I have explained my antipathy
to philosophy but he thinks this is better
because then he can make me understand.
All very good, but when I am doing the ironing
as I listen to the Archers on a Sunday morning
I don’t really want to have to go
through the pretence of caring about Empiricism.
Or listen carefully enough to follow an
argument, or understand it enough to be
able to question it which is what Dave really
wants. I am being put through my philosophical
paces far more that at college and he wouldn’t
give me an A I’m sure. He doesn’t
have to – he married me!
| The thing is, when
I then get to read the next bit of the book
it really does all make sense. And the design
and innovation within Roamer-Too as a result
is awe-inspiring. So when you all get your
Roamer-Toos and start using them with your
students please spare a thought for the
small but vital role I played.
25th April 2007
| For years E has been
begging us for a dog. We tried to fob her
off with a couple of goldfish. That bought
all of two months peace. Recently with "The
Underdog" being shown on TV the pressure
has increased. So in true over-compensation
of the only child style, we caved in.
| It was all done in
complete secrecy for her 10th birthday.
A carefully selected couple of friends were
invited to a birthday tea on Monday. Meanwhile
I had gone and collected the puppy (a lab/jack
russell cross - no, we don't know how either!)
and he was to be sitting in the kitchen
when she arrived.
| However during the
day E had invited more and more people so
Dave looked like a veritable Pied Piper
walking from school to home and the poor
puppy was surrounded by a sea of adoring
ten year olds. He was soon named Toffee
and was being passed around like pass the
| As you can imagine,
I am loved by the other mothers. One told
me her daughter had said, "Just think, if
we didn't have M (brother) and S (current
dog) died I could get a puppy." Another
child said, "It's not fair, E gets everthing
because she's an only child and I've asked
and asked for a pony!"
| Monday 2nd April 2007
| I am getting very irritated,
even angry, with the attitude of some teachers/advisers
who seem to think that they are the moral
guardians of the educational development
of the next generation and that the commercial
sector are nothing but profiteering, money-grubbing,
so and sos.
| Firstly there has been
a huge debate on Naace talk about the disappearance
of BBC Jam. This was seen as a Machiavellian
plot by industry to get rid of free resources
to schools. It wasn't seen as a State sponsorship
that had a very strict legal remit which
the BBC broke and therefore has to answer
to a European court for.
| Then we got a teacher
from an Independent school refusing to pay
an invoice of £46 for a repair to a Roamer
because in his opition it could be done
for much less (we charged the component
at cost and, even though it took longer
than an hour, the hourly service charge
of £25). He was incredibly offensive saying
that we were making loads of money off the
backs of schools etc. etc.
| I have just had a school
that was using MathAmigo on some PDAs that
are going round the schools in their LA.
She loved MathAmigo and was very disappointed
to be losing it. I pointed out that she
could use it on her PCs. She would have
to buy a licence but she wanted it for free,
because she had been telling everyone how
good it is. No I couldn't just give it to
her. So she wasn't interested.
| I wonder if the teachers
who live on this high moral ground get altitude
sickness. Because it certainly nauseates
me. If you can show me a teacher who teaches
just for the love of it, or an Adviser who
"advises" just out of the goodness of their
heart then I will happily support them with
| To the vast majority
of you out there who do a great job and
appreciate it when small innovative companies
invest in education to support the work
you are doing, I wish a Happy Easter. Enjoy
| Monday 25th March 2007
| The South Korean Government
is writing a law to protect the rights of
robots. As the world centre for robot technology
they reckon that by 2020 there will be robots
in every facet of human life and that their
civic rights should be protected. I thought
Asimov had this covered, but perhaps his
rules were more about protection of human
from robot than the other way round.
| As the world leaders
in the development of educational robots
perhaps we should write the laws protecting
the rights of all robots in schools. So
to that end I will start thinking about
what it should contain.
| 1. No robot shall be
left in a cupboard when it could be out
playing with children. 2. Roamer shall not
be viewed as a robot but as a learning mentor
that can assist with all types of learning.
3. Children will not be allowed to poke
their fingers into Roamer's pen hole. 4.
All Roamer's will be given their own names
and treated as individuals. 5. Roamers will
be respected and there will be a nominated
member of staff to whom they can report
any gievances. 6. A proper grievances procedure
for robots will be required for Ofsted.
| Any other suggestions?
| Thursday 8th March 2007
| Today is International
Women's Day and this blog is in praise of
middle-aged women. My friend Julia held
a clothes-swop evening to help raise money
to take her severely autistic son to the
Son-Rise program in the USA (donations can
be made at www.milesahead.org.uk
and will be very gratefully received). So
I cleared out my wardrobe and went along.
Unfortunately every other person was a size
10. I did keep asking Julia when her fat
friends were going to arrive and bless her
for not saying, "You're here!"
| It is a long time since
I have been in the company of a roomful
of unknown middle-aged women and I have
to say it was a joy. There was a warmth
and generosity of spirit that you would
not find anywhere else. All the competition
of youth has gone and everyone seemed comfortable
in their skins (no wonder - size 10, I ask
you!!) and open to everyone else. There
was also an element of shared experience,
we sort of understood where everyone was
and personality, intelligence and wit abounded.
And I eventually found a single item of
clothing that fit! .
| So it is no surprise
therefore to read that research shows that
the most innovative teachers are middle-aged
women. The report I read seemed to take
on a surprised tone, but to me this research
fits into the category of the bleeding obvious.
Of course middle-aged women are the most
innovative. They have honed their discipline
skills, tried every teaching strategy in
the book and beyond and with their wealth
of experience are open to any suggestion
that will make their teaching more effective/enjoyable.
| So all you youngsters
out there, enjoy where you are, but the
best is yet to come. And so I throw the
beautiful pink scarf, that I bought at Julia's,
round my neck and stride out to take on
January 29th 2007
|This morning after
dropping off E I passed a little boy going
in to Nursery in all his Monday smartness.
There he was in his newly washed and pressed
uniform all topped off with a giant Pirate
hat! I just melted.
|At the other end of
the spectrum I know city dealers and Bankers
- you know the million pound bonus guys
who look terribly traditional in their smart
tailored suits. But lurking underneath are
the wacky socks. Just that touch of rebellion.
The safe way to say "I may be in an
incredibly conservative job but I am still
|Why, therefore, is
it not acceptable, between these two extremes?
I am a vociferous proponent of school uniform
and I think schools have the right to enforce
it. I've seen too many children bullied
because they're not wearing the correct
named trainers or the in-designer jeans
to want anything but school uniform. However
I do not believe anyone has sovreignty over
another's body - and any part thereof.
|I have never felt comfortable
being part of a system that sends pupils
home because they have died their hair some
vibrant colour or tattooed their skin. Obviously
a swatstika carved into a hairstyle would
be totally unacceptable but why is green
hair offensive? I remember I was unable
to justify to one of my tutor group the
fact that the Head was sending her home
until she had got rid of her rather attractive
magenta hair. And I read recently of a rebellion
amongst students in a West Country school
who were fed up with the zero tolerance
approach to the slightest transgression
- including dying their hair. This was a
high achieving school but I seriously doubt
that their results would change one iota
if the examination hall was filled with
rainbow coloured heads of hair.
January 17th 2007
|I am now only just
starting to draw breath after all the hectic
activity pre-Bett, during Bett and now post-Bett!
So Happy New Year to you all. Well we did
manage to show Roamer-Too and it was a little
more than a cardboard box and sticky tape
- but not much more! Despite this teachers,
advisers etc could immediately see how it
could help in the classroom and how it took
the ideas of educational robots into a new
|Normally when we ask
people to leave their details so we can
contact them there seems to be a slight
reservation to do so. What was remarkable
this year was people actually asking to
leave their details so we could contact
them with more information about Roamer-Too
when it's ready.
|And there we have the
problem. We are hoping to get out Roamer-Too
in June. But in the meantime we have to
continue to sell the classic Roamer (as
it is now called) or we can't afford to
get Roamer-Too into production. A bit of
a Catch 22. So we have come up with a brilliant
plan. Buy a Classic Roamer before May 2007
and you can get a Roamer-Too for just £10.
Good eh? Just quote "Kate's offer" on your
|Without wishing to
sound boastful (but still wanting to tell
you all the same) several people told us
that Roamer-Too was the best thing at this
year's Bett, and who am I to argue?
December 15th 2006
|For most people this is the time of year
of Mince Pies, Nativity Plays and all things
Christmas (or Eid or Hanukkah). But for
those of us in educational ICT it is the
time when all thoughts turn to Bett and
Christmas is just an event that happens
|And this year is worse than usual. We
are launching a new product range, the research
for which started ten years ago. Despite
its long gestation period it is still a
manic struggle to ensure that we have something
to show at Bett. Days are spent on the phone
ironing out problems, forseeing issues,
removing them etc etc. It’s all done
on a wing and a prayer.
|The DfES are issuing invitations to presentations
of our new product range so it is rather
important that we have something to show
beyond a cardboard box with a pretty picture
on the side. Meanwhile I haven’t even
started on the literature for it because
I have been so busy providing photos and
information for other dealers Bett catalogues
that my own is last in the queue.
|Hopefully it will all be worth it when
you are all crowding round our stand, C86,
ooing and aahing in appreciation at this
wonderous new gift for childkind. So I do
hope to see you there.
|Happy Bett to you all!
| Tuesday November
|Well there I was casually turning on the
telly for the evening news when I was confronted
by an ex-pupil who is now considered enough
of a “celebrity” to put in the
Australian jungle. Well I never, little
Phina, all grown up!
|A couple of weeks ago I met with a couple
of friends and an ex-pupil to go to another
friends funeral (very sad and untimely,
proof that the good die young). This of
course led to reminiscing and they told
me that Phina was now starring in “Footballers
Wives” which I have to say I completely
|We did comment at the time that she was
the only pupil likely to appear on the telly
outside Crimewatch. And here she is in the
Australian jungle whilst all the other pupils
we talked about are doing something like
15 years for armed robbery. It’s nice
to have a success story!
| Friday October
|The other evening my 15 year old niece
phoned to ask if I would like to buy some
packs of Christmas cards that she had designed.
I said that of course I would, what charity
were they for? She said it was for her school.
Now that’s all very well, but (and
in my mind it’s a big but) she goes
to a Private school. I said “So now
the poor give to the rich – that’s
a novel charity idea”. I tried to
explain that whilst I was happy to support
her I rather objected to giving money so
that the advantaged got even more advantage.
At this point she handed me over to her
|My sister said she could see my point
of view and would donate the 65p profit
to Oxfam, but I could tell she thought I
was being awkward. Dave thought I was being
a bit harsh with C, my niece, and said she
wouldn’t understand – she just
wanted her, normally dutiful, aunt to buy
some Christmas cards
|So, as I usually do with these moral dilemmas,
I’ve been toying with it in my mind
trying to decide exactly what I should have
done. I still think it is outrageous that
a private school should expect my money
when I couldn’t possibly afford to
send E to one should I even have the inclination.
On the other hand, they didn’t –
my niece just wanted her aunt to buy some
cards she had designed. Oh! I don’t
know – what would you have done?
|| Monday 25th September
| I've been thinking
a lot about ethical buying recently. It
used to be that the education market was
a good place to be. Because everyone knew
that you weren't going to make loads of
money from it there was always room for
the small trader, the ex-teacher working
from their spare bedroom type of thing.
And you could feel proud of the products
you sold. However, with the advent of eLCs
and now BSF, it is changing and the larger
companies are starting to employ bully-boy
tactics. I worry that we are going the way
of the retail trade. .
| I was at a seminar
last week that was unusual in that the attendees
came from a very wide range of industries.
On my table were a couple of accountants,
the CEO of the company that does knife demonstrations
in such stores as Debenhams and a Sales
Director for a company that sells picture
frames. A refreshing change and interesting
to find out what other areas of industry
and commerce are like.
| The Sales Director
of the picture framing company was complaining
that it was now more cut-throat than ever
since power was concentrating more and more
in the hands of the few. Now I've told of
my dislike of Tesco before but they are
not the only ones. He sells a lot of picture
frames through a large cut-price retail
chain M (no names here - I don't want to
get sued). Last year all suppliers to M
got a letter saying that the company was
going to take an additional 2% off the agreed
price of goods on all existing invoices
and future orders. So they kept back several
hundred thousand pounds and set them off
against money owed. The smaller companies
didn't like it - but what could they do?
Then to add insult to injury M cancelled
several orders for frames. They had already
taken money off because they were on order.
The Frames company wrote and demanded the
money they had taken for the frames orders
that had been cancelled and they were basically
told to go whistle.
| This has infuriated
me. I know that it has nothing to do with
me directly, but on the other hand as a
member of the buying public I want to be
able to have the knowledge to choose who
to buy from. But on the other hand, do I?
How much of the world's guilt can I carry
round and still function? Should every mouthful
I eat make me feel guilty about Darfur,
every time I shop do I really want to have
to weigh up the morality of the shop? I
have to be a bit pragmatic or just spend
my life feeling miserable about the world's
plight. Last night I needed a loaf of bread
and stopped at Tesco Express because it
was the only shop open at 7.00pm on a Sunday
night - the world didn't stop turning, the
apocalypse didn't arrive and E got toast
for breakfast. But I still feel guilty!!
|Monday 3rd July
| So that’s it – the
World Cup is over for all but the most ardent
footie fans. You may be able to take a lad
out of Croxteth but you can’t take Croxteth
out of a lad (Wayne Rooney). And I say that
with the greatest affection for the place
having taught in the environs for many years.
I dearly loved my Scousers. A friend taught
at one of the Primary schools in Croxteth
and one hot sports day the staff were provided
with a cup of tea. Not enough for the parents
too – so they took revenge by emptying all
the plant pots into the tea urn.
| So anyway, last week
we were told to make Maths more relevant
– this would transform Maths teaching, apparently.
Do they think teachers live on a different
planet? I cannot imagine there is a teacher
in the country who hasn’t made use of the
World Cup in their teaching. E came home
covered in little football stickers as a
result of a numeracy lesson on the World
| Do these people actually
know what is going on in schools? Having
said that it is very easy to become myopic
when you are in the classroom and to assume
that because you do something a certain
way, that is the universal standard. It
is only since leaving the classroom and
going in to loads of schools that I’ve realised
just how much variety there is.
| I can also tell a lot
from a school by the staff room culture.
I remember Tony Blair once got castigated
for commenting on the moaning culture within
staffrooms, and uncomfortable though it
is, there was a lot of truth in what he
says. But it varies enormously within schools.
I once had a Roamer Workshop on two consecutive
days in two schools who, although miles
apart, had very similar problematic, oops
sorry I don’t mean problematic. I mean challenging,
catchment areas. In the first the staffroom
was dominated by two older women who delighted
in moaning about everything to do with teaching
and their school. The NQT did bravely try
to bring in a note of positivism and was
immediately slapped down. They really couldn’t
be bothered with the workshop and one of
them said, “I hope you don’t think I’m going
to be crawling round the floor.” In the
end the enjoyment of the rest of the staff
discovering just how Roamer could add to
their lessons meant that I could mentally
erase the two moaning Minnies.
| The next day I was
met by brightness, enthusiasm and a real
professionalism. It was a delight to be
in the staffroom of a dedicated team who
obviously wanted to maximise the use of
Roamer to ensure that their children weren’t
short-changed. We had a great workshop with
loads of laughter and I had real respect
for this group of women. Now I’ve done loads
of workshops but the juxta-position of these
two really brought home just how the wrong
staffroom culture can poison a school and
stamp-out any budding enthusiasm. What’s
your staffroom like?
|Monday 26th June
| When I was teaching
the only time I went to, what I would consider,
a posh meal, was at weddings etc. On leaving
teaching I found that it could be part of
your working life. In fact in the first
week I had to go to just such a “do” held
by some Corporate sponsor at Lords Cricket
Ground. My new employers (not Valiant) asked
me, ironically enough, to pretend I was
still teaching – we were launching an education
pack for the sponsors and I was the teacher
who had to say how wonderful it was! .
| Last week was our trade
organisation’s (BESA – British Educational
Suppliers Association) Summer Meeting. It
was held at Kensington Roof Gardens, which
are quite amazing. A proper garden with
trees etc six floors up in the centre of
London. You quite forget that you are up
so high until you glance out and spot the
rooftops below you! It is a great chance
to network with friends and colleagues in
the industry. I sat with Data Harvest, REM
and Sparrowhawk and Heald amongst others
and a thoroughly jolly time was had by all.
| Normally at these meetings
it is customary to tell everyone how well
you are doing. However all pretences were
forgotten as with one voice everyone complained
about the abysmal state of the market. It
really is shockingly bad and we don’t know
why. There doesn’t seem to be a single cause
but rather an accumulation of factors that
seem to have put the stop on any spending.
| Rumours abounded –
One extremely large company was in its worst
trading year for 10 years. Another company
was about to go out of business… So what
is happening? Can you tell me why you are
not spending your money? BESA represents
companies who are honest, innovative and
genuine in their desire to help teachers
– but God, this is a difficult market to
|Monday 22nd May
| Last week I decided
that sentiment alone was not enough reason
to keep something - the very dilapidated
chair that Granny reupholstered over 40
years ago had to go. So yesterday I duly
set off for IKEA. As I queued for the carpark
I vaguely wondered how ethical they were
and sort of assumed that, being Swedish,
they must be. And was therefore content
to purchase a rather comfy armchair.
| You see, I do like
to try to be ethical (as long as it doesn’t
inconvenience me too much!) Which I suppose
is how most people feel. I will not buy
from Tesco. I don’t like their business
practices and I don’t like the effect they
have on the local community. To my mind
they are not a “good” company, no matter
how many computer vouchers they try to bribe
| Last summer I went
to visit REM in Langport, Somerset. Since
my previous visit a large Tesco had been
built on the edge of the village and as
a direct result shops that had been happily
serving the local community for several
generations had gone out of business and
the High Street had effectively died. I
know I’m not new in saying this but today
I read that Alan Johnson (who? You know
the new Education Minister!) has told schools
that they should try to buy ethically.
| But how does a school
know who is “ethical” and who is not in
the schools market? Last week I went to
meet Steljes – they are Smart Board UK.
Most schools will have a smart board but
they probably won’t know what the company
is like. Don’t worry - I was most impressed
with their genuine desire to promote good
educational practice and a sincere wish
to help educate the next generation of citizens.
And in the interests of even-handedness
I would say the same about Promethean. In
fact the majority of educational suppliers
who I have met are “good guys” who develop
excellent products with clear educational
aims. However there are exceptions, the
few that seem to be in it purely for the
money I have always thought that the activity
of making gears from matchsticks is totally
redundant with no educational validity at
all. I remember saying as much to the then
CEO of the company that sold the packs.
He laughed and said “Yes, but you cannot
imagine how many thousands I’ve sold!”
|Friday 12th May
| I was sitting on the
tube the other day en route to a meeting,
mentally working out a timetable of all
the jobs that had to be done; mainly, I
have to say, at home. I realised that I
didn’t have a slot for mowing the lawn for
the next four weeks. At that point I realised
that I don’t have a life – I have a schedule.
| So that evening I left
half and hour earlier and managed to cut
the grass before going to collect E from
after school club, making her tea and then
taking her to cubs, shop whilst she’s at
cubs, go back and pick her up, give her
a quick snack, bath and bed, feed myself
and fall back into a chair. After all the
grass is not going to stop growing or the
dandelions stop proliferating until I’m
ready for them!
| How I miss school holidays.
You may have to use a bulk of them in preparation
and planning, but they also allow you time
to catch your breath. Stupid little jobs
that mount up can be done – like fixing
a new front panel to the bath. Mine has
been standing vertically on the landing
for the past month and God knows when it
will get done. Dave has been in the US for
the past couple of weeks. He’s back tonight
which means that he will be asleep at 6pm
every evening for the next week as his body
catches up with the time zone he’s in. Then
he’s back to the States. So I’m not holding
my breath about getting the bath sorted.
And as for that pile of ironing that is
growing by the day…
|Friday 21st April 2006
|Last weekend I was chatting
to my brother-in-law about bird flu. He's
a Director of Medicine (I won't tell you
where, just in case) so I felt that he would
be able to cut through all the media hype
for me and I'd know just how much of a likelihood
it is and what I could do to protect me
|He was very matter of
fact about it all and said that it wasn't
a question of if but when. I remember Ian
Blair the police guy saying this about a
terrorist attack in the UK, prior to 7/7.
So I take it seriously when people in the
know say things like this. So then I was
asking what I could do to protect my family.
Within one of the sentences was the throw-away
line "… and of course all schools
|I wonder how many schools
have though about this and what provision
they are making for this eventuality. I
have no idea, and neither does anyone else
I suspect, whether we are talking closure
for days, weeks or months. But it does seem
to me that schools really should be looking
at handhelds, vles and other web-based learning
so that disruption to learning is minimised.
|When I was teaching
I built up a bank of resources for use by
supply teachers should I ever be off unexpectedly.
Now I think I would be building up a bank
including web sites to visit and activities
to do etc etc in the eventuality of a lengthy
school closure. After all forewarned is
|Now I must go out and
buy those paper face masks and stock up
on tinned food...…
|Thursday 30th March
|Yesterday I went to a seminar where one
of the speakers was Chris Woodhead. Now
I have a general antipathy towards the man
so I was quite interested to see how I would
react when listening to him in the flesh.
Well, I veered from complete agreement to
absolute horror all the way through his
speech. He started off well by complaining
about teachers who claim that they teach
children. I remember that at every LEA Inset
day when we all introduced ourselves by
saying the subjects we specialised in there
would always be one who said, "I teach children".
And I would invariably feel like smacking
them in the face. It is so smug and self-righteous
whilst at the same time denigrating to the
other teachers present as if to say "I'm
the only one who truly knows what this job
is about". So when Chris Woodhead said he
hated them too my heart sang. He also mentioned
Bruner and the spiral curriculum. Well I
am a diehard Brunerian, so I felt I had
found my soul-mate.
|Then he blew it all by wanting to return
teaching to the 1950s.
|I remember reading a book "Mapping the
Mind" which explained all the latest medical
research on the brain and what we now knew
about it, in layman's terms. I was so excited.
I immediately saw that now we knew better
how the brain functioned we should surely
be able to tailor our teaching to incorporate
this knowledge and make it as effective
as possible. Then I discovered Accelerated
Learning, which did just that. Now some
of it I have to take on trust - like the
fact that blue creates brainwaves that are
more conducive to learning therefore you
should print your worksheets on blue paper.
To me that seems a bit simplistic and facile
but I am not in a position to disagree with
it. But other bits of it seem to me to make
so much sense and in fact the vast majority
is a summary of what I would consider best
practice - the sort of things that over
the years teachers have found work, without
necessarily knowing the reason why. So for
Chris Woodhead to totally disregard such
a valuable body of research seemed to me
at best selective at worst pig-headed.
|I think teaching continues to grow as
a profession and most teachers constantly
revisit delivery methods and skills, analysing
what works and what doesn't in an effort
to improve the teaching and learning in
their classroom. And I think we should continue
to support its forward move and not try
to regress. End of lecture!
|Wednesday March 15th
|Have you ever had the feeling that life
is out to get you? This last week or so
life has definitely been after me. I'd been
oh so organised at work - I'd got out my
mailshots on Rediscovering Roamer and introducing
version 4 of MathAmigo which works with
pcs. I'd sorted out our attendance at The
Education Show, I'd satisfactorily progressed
various projects. Everything was going very
smoothly. Meanwhile at home everything was
falling apart. As the first snows fell my
boiler decided to die. Ten days with no
heat and no hot water later, I was the proud
owner of a brand new, expensive, boiler.
Then the washing machine gave up. This is
still waiting the reapairman because the
one who normally covers my area is on holiday.
(What would happen if teachers did the same
to washing machine repairmen? - Sorry we
can't teach your child today we've decided
to have a holiday and we can't be bothered
to make any provision). I can barely see
my bed behind the mountain of unwashed clothes.
Next it was the car. Fairly simple - it
just needed a new battery. But first there
was the hassle of getting it started in
order to get it to Quick Fit.
|When my electric toothbrush gave up I
knew that, for definite, Life had it in
for me. Or maybe it isn't Life - it's Technology.
I've always known that photocopiers hate
me but now it looks like there are other
machines that I will have to add to the
list. Oh well, at least I know that Roamer
still loves me. Good old reliable Roamer!
|I met Libby at Bett and after a chat we
realised that there was a synergy between
our companies that we should explore and
develop. She had run out of cards so I zapped
her badge for her details. Through email
we arranged a date for meeting others in
her team. So yesterday I set off through
the cold and rain to Knebworth. There were
no taxis at the station but luckily I had
checked out multimap and, keeping the image
of the map in my head knew I could find
it walking. Unfortunately the strap of my,
continually overstuffed, handbag broke making
the journey quite cumbersome what with a
heavy computer and all (no slim-line modern
technology for me!)
|I was a little astonished to be heading
out of the, albeit small, commercial centre,
into the domestic dwellings. Even more astonished
to find a rather pretty house at the address
I had zapped.
|A few frantic phone calls later I discovered
that I was standing outside Libby's home
in Hertfordshire and the meeting I was(n't)
attending was in Camberley in Surrey. Ooops!
|This week I became a "good mother". I
can count on one hand (actually on two fingers)
the number of times I have achieved this
status. The first was when I sewed E's summer
uniform making some rather attractive gingham
dresses rather than making her wear the
horrible nylon shift dresses that always
make me think of nurses.
|The second occasion was when I started
to make her a fresh fruit smoothey, made
up of at least 3 fruit, for breakfast. I
did wonder whether I really should be considered
a good mother when I recognised to myself
that in fact the reason I was doing it was
so that I could continue to serve her rubbish
food in the evenings without feeling guilty.
So I admit that this "good mother" status
has a rather dubious foundation. But since
I'm so low in the count I'm including it
|This week I did it again. I'd noticed
on Sunday when E did her Numeracy homework
that she was rather poor at multiplication
and division. So after weeks of thinking
about it I actually did it. I put MathAmigo
on the computer at home. Now I'm not technical
- in fact my constant cry at work is "Gwilym,
it's not working!", so it was with a certain
amount of trepidation that I installed it.
Oh what joy - it worked perfectly. I even
managed to install the activity machine
and when I got a bit stuck about how to
transfer data I hit the video help button
and it told me exactly what to do. It was
great. Such a sense of achievement.
|The E sat and did some activities. Now
I've spoken to lots of teachers who use
MathAmigo and they've all praised it but
when you see your own daughter discovering
Maths, making mathematical connections and
having such fun doing it it's a little bit
of magic. In school they seemed to think
she was good at Maths, in fact she's in
rhino group! But I wasn't convinced having
watched her struggle with her homework.
But now with MathAmigo's help I reckon she
really could do it. Having praised MathAmigo
vicariously for so long I'm now a total
|Tuesday January 17th
|So that's Bett over for another year then.
Whilst there I was chatting to a couple
of guys from other companies and we were
discussing how frustrating it is that there
is a particular company that seems to be
copying everyone else's designs, adding
a flashing light here or there and then
selling it cheap. With no R&D, no investment
in education, then of course they can sell
it cheap. N commented that his company would
never so such a thing and P, ever the pragmatist,
said,"Well, if it's what youhave to do to
|I thought about this later and decided
that it was like suggesting to a Guardian
that in order to raise their readership
numbers they should indulge in salacious
gossip rather than deliver the news. They
would probably, justifiably, be outraged.
|And I feel the same about our products.
There HAS to be a place for a product that
isn't just about the lowest common denominator,
that (whilst simple to use) actually raises
educational values and expectations, that
is founded on solid educational principles
and not just a pale reflection of another
|So if you want cheap rip-off then please
go to ####, if you want innovative products
that are designed to excite and inspire
future generations of children (and won't
break!) then we would be happy to talk to
|Now I'll get off my soapbox...
|Tuesday January 3rd
|Happy New Year. First day back at work
today and boy what a start. I needed to
unload a load of stuff that I'd done at
home so I didn't park properly - just sort
of reversed to get as close to the door
as I could. Then finding I was the first
one in tried to turn off the burglar alarm.
And didn't manage it. Disturbed the peace
and quiet within a 100 mile radius. Neighbours
poured out to see what was happening, police
screeched in in the pursuit of robbers.
It was bedlam! At one point I was reversing
the car whilst talking to the alarm engineers
on the phone and the police through the
car window. Now that's multi-tasking!
|I hope your New Year gets off to a more
peaceful start. Next week, of course, is
BETT and I would love to see you there.
We're on Stand E80 and we'll be showing
off a new bluetooth connection for Roamer
plus using the interactive whiteboard. We'll
also be showing the latest vesrion of MathAmigo
with its completely redesigned Manager (this
was redesigned in response to requests from
customers - see we do listen to you). See
you at BETT.
|Friday December 23rd
|I feel like I'm the only one left at my
desk and the rest of the world is already
Christmassing. I think I'll bunk off early.
Happy Christmas to you all.
|Friday December 9th
|I must just tell you about the most fantastic
website if you are stuck for Christmas (or
any other sort of celebratory) presents
- it's www.greatgifts.org. I found it when
I was searching for a charitable gift for
key contacts. You can buy anything from
a mosquito net to a bore hole and let your
friend know what you've done on their behalf
with a personalised card. You really must
go there and look.
|Mind you if any of my suppliers try to
fob me off with a gift that actually goes
to someone else I shall not be pleased!
I like my annual receipt of boxes of biscuits
and bottles of wine!
|So where did I go last weekend? Well,
I ended up at Longleat Center Parcs, which
I love. It was just surprise after surprise
- a meal out on the Saturday night turned
into a surprise meal. I, scrubbed face,
unmade-up in rather boring black trousers,
walked into a room full of friends and family
all looking very glamorous as befitted the
Manor House we'd gone to. I was expecting
a pub meal!
|I must also tell you about the fact that
I clambered up a forty foot pole, pulled
myself up onto the tiny platform on top,
stood up as it swayed and launched myself
at the trapeze hanging a few feet away.
Thus proving that it might have been my
**th birthday but there's life in the old
|On the way home we met my brother in a
pub in a little village in Somerset (yet
another surprise). He's been researching
our family history and has taken one branch
back to the 1500s. Apparently a host of
relatives emerged from the area of Kilmersdon
and Charlton. By the church in Kilmersdon,
where many of my relatives were married,
christened etc is Jack and Jill Hill. Yes,
THE Jack and Jill Hill. At the top is Kilmersdon
CofE Primary School. For the Millennium
the local council brought in a water diviner
to find the site of the original well and
then rebuilt it (it's in the school playground).
The history of the rhyme with children's
drawings is on the side of the school. Jack
and Jill weren't the youngsters depicted
in story books; the fall actually killed
Jack and Jill was pregnant! I'm now searching
for the wall that Humpty Dumpty fell from...
|Today is my birthday. I was woken some
time between 3am and 4am by an excited E.
She was sent back to bed. At 6am I gave
in and opened my presents - lots of wonderful
things from cashmere shawl from Mum to Alan
Bennett's Untold Stories. Then E gave me
her home-made card. On the front was an
unlikely drawing of me as a cool mum wearing
a crop top, showing my belly button. Inside
it read "Happy Birthday Mum. Your (sic)
off on a mystery trip. We are leaving Friday
morning and returning Monday evening!
|It means E misses her school trip to the
Tower of London (she's doing the Tudors)
and we miss the Christmas Fayre but I don't
care - I'm off on a mystery trip. Skeggy
here I come!
|All the electricity has just failed. And
only in our office - either side is fine.
So I'm reduced to writing my blog with pen
and paper; so I suppose that really it's
a diary! I've only been without power for
half an hour or so, but boy does it make
you realise what you take for granted and
what a godsend mobile phones are.
|On the other hand I've done all the things
that really needed doing but never got done
- I've tidied my desk, got next year's planner
up, cleared out my handbag (when I recently
went to Education Northern Ireland the Gatwick
Security Guard who checked out my handbag
uncovered an avocado that I'd mislaid a
couple of weeks previously and had been
wondering where it had got to!) and made
a few calls on my mobile phone (hair appointments
|It's weird going back to paper and pen
but now I've started there are other things
I can do. I shall start to plan next year's
Roamer campaign, "Rediscover Roamer". We
recognise that Roamer has been in schools
for many years now. In fact it has helped
educate a whole generation of children.
But even though it is "old" technology,
educationally it is just as valid because
it was designed on educational principles
rather than based round the technology.
However for many teachers it is old hat
and not new and exciting. So we're going
to encourage teachers to "rediscover Roamer"
and remind them of the exciting activities
they can do that help access all areas of
the curriculum. (Any ideas or comments welcome!)
|So I shall get a fresh piece of paper,
neatly write "Rediscover Roamer" as the
heading, maybe even underline it with a
ruler, and do some old-fashioned brainstorming.
Then when I can no longer feel my toes I
shall wander off home and await the phone
call that tells me the electricians have
been and the office is once more a warm
and welcoming place with fully functioning
|Friday November 18th
|Last night was E's parent's evening. She's
one of those really motivated children who
contributes wholeheartedly and achieves
well. So there's nothing much her teacher
can say about her. Once she's heaped on
the praise and talked about attainment levels,
where does she go? Well she started talking
about the difficulty of addressing the needs
of a class with such widespread needs. This
was Dave's cue for telling her to use MathAmigo.
The school does have it (it's my daughter's
school - of course I gave it to them, nothing
but the best for my daughter), but she's
a new teacher and didn't know about it.
|It's SO frustrating. It is a brilliant
school with an enriched curriculum that
includes regular yoga sessions for the children,
loads of trips out to museums, the theatre,
art galleries - in fact all London has to
offer, but it is weak in Maths. Above the
authority average but below National. We
have spent many many governors' meetings
talking about improvement strategies and
I want to scream out "USE MATHAMIGO". It
is so difficult because I know that it could
really address so many of the problems they
perceive but I cannot say anything because
I feel that I'm in an awkward position.
I'm an ex-teacher, parent and governor but
with a distinctly commercial flavour. Perhaps
MathAmigo is not valued (or even used) because
it was given free and therefore there was
no ownership. I don't know how to change
this. For my own daughter it's simple -
she can use it at home, but I became a governor
beacuse I wanted to contribute to the education
of ALL the children in the school. As I
said it's very frustrating - they have a
tool that could really help them push up
their Maths results and they don't use it.
|After the parent conference Dave took
E to ballet and I stayed to count the votes
for the latest parent governor. We have
been very worried about the white, middleclass,
female dominance in the staff and governors,
in a school that is so diverse, so I was
delighted to see that the two candidates
were male. The first a dreadlocked chef/musician
who regularly delivers his children to school
and chats to the mothers in the playground.
The second owns his own estate agency and
is our local rep on the Muslim Council of
Britain. So two great candidates - we were
in a win/win situation. In the end it was
our Rasta chef who won and I'm really looking
forward to welcoming him to our next Teaching
and Learning committee meeting on Monday.
He's a real gentle-man and I feel that he
will be a great addition to an already committed
|Then I was on a Staff Appeals panel. This
was horrid, horrid, horrid! I am going to
make sure that should there ever be a need
to convene one then that will be the night
I am unavailable washing my hair. I don't
want to shirk responsibilities but it tore
me apart emotionally. I am just so glad
that my career route diverted away from
Headship. The pressures Heads face leading
a team where many times they are relying
on staff goodwill to make that extra bit
of difference and they build up excellent
personal relationships. Then they have to
make a decision where, as a friend they
would say one thing, but as a Head they
have to say the opposite. No I don't want
to have to do that again.