Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Mentos + Diet Coke = Fountain!!

The "Mentos fountain" is created by dropping soft mints into bottles of Diet Coke. Steve Spangler turned this really cool trick into an internet sensation on Youtube. There is a website where you can find out how to use this in the classroom. Although the resources are aimed at Y7 & 8 I don't plan to let an amazing trick like this slip by without trying it with my class! Also check out Steve Spangler's website.

Monday, 29 October 2007


Another brilliant Dragon's Den and another teaching resource business - only this week's was good! What original designs for products Concentrate had available. I think the bottlecoolerpenholder could really catch on and I'm going to recommend that our school supplies these - I believe that school logos can be printed onto the holders. A practical way to get the children to drink water, concentrate and to remember their pens!!

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Books are beneficial

The beneficial effects of bombarding young children with books has been demonstrated at Woodberry Down Community Primary in Finsbury Park, in one of the poorest areas of London. The school was in serious weaknesses in 2003. By 2005 it was on Ofsted's list of outstanding schools.

Last year 4 out of 5 pupils reached level 4 in English, despite the fact that half the pupils do not speak English at home. Greg Wallace, the headteacher, puts the children's success in English down to synthetic phonics and instilling a love of reading. "There are some experiences in life we can only ever get from books. Books help by opening up all these different worlds to children, giving them inspiration and allowing them to meet people who they would never meet in real life."

The school's book budget is £20000 a year and every classroom has its own library.

Saturday, 27 October 2007


We have just returned from a brilliant few days in London! We went to the capital for a few days this time last year and enjoyed it so much that we thought we'd go again! Apart from a mix up with hotels (very complicated) we had a fantastic time.

We visited: Buckingham Palace, Tragalgar Square (saw the London Games Festival, which was partly presented by Reggie from the Radio 1 Chart Show), Leicester Square (saw Halle Berry), the London Eye (saw Martin Clunes in the queue!), had an excellent cruise on the River Thames, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Houses of Parliament, Oxford Street, Museum of Natural History and the Science Museum and much more. I loved the cruise on the River Thames as there was a tour guide who explained so many interesting facts about the buildings and the river. I couldn't convince Lisa to go to the Star Wars Exhibition at the County Hall.

We did so much walking and travelling on the Underground - but I loved it all.

Highlight of the stay was going to see the musical 'Wicked'. Billed as the 'untold story of the witches of Oz' I had absolutely no idea what to expect. But believe me it is brilliant! The music is great and the acting fantastic! It cast a new light on the events of the Wizard of Oz, which, by coincidence is the show our Year 4, 5 and 6 are planning to perform for Christmas this year!

I can't wait til our next visit to London!

Monday, 22 October 2007

Sweet Counter

I have just watched the brilliant Dragon's Den. What a great show! The betting comparison site looked quite interesting at the end. I wasn't too sure about Chris Mayo's Sweet Counter business. Her chances of investment failed for two reasons - she wouldn't stop talking, and because she valued her company at £1million. I'm sure all the people who sell similar teaching resources on Ebay do very well out of it - but I'm not sure about £1million. If I'm wrong then I need to have a rethink about how I spend my spare time and will make a few resources to sell instead!! Here is a discussion on Sweet Counter at TES.

I saw this video and thought it was worth including!

Is your classroom too noisy?

After reading a report in this week's TES, I think that mine might be...

The din of modern classrooms is making primary school children miss as many as one in six words spoken by their teachers.

Chattering children (hopefully not), heating and air conditioning systems (I'm lucky enough to have one of these), humming lights (I have got a light that needs fixing), fish tanks (got two in my classroom!) and computers (I've got a few of these as well) created a 60 decibel background. Oops!

Normal speech is around 50 decibels. Researchers in Canada found that to make 95% or more of their speech intelligible to children, teachers needed to speak at least 15 decibels louder than the background noise.

Some schools are introducing surround sound systems in classrooms to make sure the teachers are heard.

The report includes a link to a website with tips for having a quiet classroom.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

High School Transition

Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, has said that schools must focus on managing the transition between primary and secondary level and provide parents with opportunities to learn about their children's education. He said the measures were necessary to prepare current Year 6 pupils for the 14-19 reforms. They will be the first cohort to benefit from the full package of vocational diplomas in 2013.

The paper also features an interview with Andrew Russell, the headteacher of Wyvern Community College in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset. He reorganised his Year 7 curriculum after his staff spent a day in a local primary school.

"I gained a lot from my own day in a Year 6 class. Most of that was similar to what others noted, including the strength and depth of the relationship between the teacher and the class and how that was used as a mini-timeout when the class became restless after an hour of numeracy. I was also amazed at how they managed to stay focused for long periods on different activities. Finally, the amount of independence and 'freedom' to go off to various parts of the school to get on with work was revealing, especially when compared with the relatively little we used to give Year 7s.

"We restructured our school day to reduce the number of teachers seen by pupils in a day and to remove one lesson changeover. We restructuied the curriculum in Year 7 to reduce the number of teachers and lessons. Instead of having separate history, geography, RE and PSHE teachers, we now have just one humanities teacher to cover those four subjects for each class. We also combined English and drama.

"We set up a 'competency'-based curriculum focusing on common skills used across the curriculum and we have planned curriculum enrichment weeks throughout the year.

"In addition, to help make Year 7 feel like a 'school within a school' we gave them their own toilets, locker space and social area for break and lunchtimes. The impact seems to be a smoother transition, with the students feeling very settled far more quickly than we have found in previous years."

Friday, 19 October 2007

Online police station

An online police station is being set up as part of a new drive to protect primary children from increasing apporaches by predatory adults on the internet.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre is urging primary teachers to give more advice to their pupils about internet dangers. The centre believes that online predators are increasingly turning their attentin to primary pupils. Parents are reporting around 10 such incidents every month to its website. A cybercafe is being launched next week to provide advice to children aged 8 to 11. It encourages younger children to first talk to an adult they trust, such as a teacher, and the site's 'virtual police station' can put them in touch with a real police officer.

Once again, the QCA schemes of work need to take some of the blame for this. The schemes don't teach much about the internet at all never mind internet safety. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the ICT schemes of work need to be updated quickly and catch up with the 2007 society and its computer-literate children.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Ofsted's Annual Report

Wouldn't it be great if they said, "Thank you for all your hard work," just once.

Delivering her annual report on the state of education, the head of Ofsted said the worst-performing schools were 'blighting the life chances' of students. Christine Gilbert, however, said it was the poorest children who were most likely to get a raw deal from the education system. The learning gap between rich and poor children showed little sign of closing because too many schools used pupil deprivation as an an 'excuse' for under-achievement, she declared. She also warned that weak mastery-of the three Rs was holding back too many pupils despite almost a decade of Labour initiatives. "It cannot be right that 20 per cent leave primary school without a solid foundation in literacy and numeracy" she said.

Four in ten primaries are judged to be either failing or coasting. Miss Gilbert's report also highlighted these warnings aout primary education:
• boring lessons are fuelling indiscipline;
• too many schools are failing to teach pupils about British values, history and heritage;
• gaps in teachers' subject knowledge is leading to 'mundane' lessons;
• teachers are not putting a strong enough focus on spelling and grammar;

She hailed a rise in the quality of schools since 2005/06 and said behaviour and attendance had also improved. The proportion of schools judged 'outstanding' had risen to 14 per cent, up from 11 per cent last year, she said.

However, Miss Gilbert added there were still too many 'buts'. After inspections at 6,848 state schools she said she remained concerned at the number providing an 'inadequate' education. One in 10 secondaries and one in 20 primaries had been judged to be failing or at risk of failing, the report showed. Though lower than last year, these levels were still 'far too high', said Miss Gilbert. She added: "Even if you have got one failing school, there are children having to go to that school. The blight to their life chances is something that can't be recouped in 10 years' time." The report showed that a further 39 per cent of secondary schools and 34 per cent of primaries were merely 'satisfactory'.

Swearing helps

According to research by the University of East Anglia's Norwich Business School swearing benefits workers. It lets them express feelings such as frustration and it encourages relationships to develop. Professor Yehuda Baruch said, "Our study suggested that, in many cases, taboo language serves the needs of people for developing and maintaining solidarity and as a mechanism to cope with stress. Banning it could backfire. Employees use swearing on a continuous basis but not necessarily in a negative, abusive manner. Swearing is a social phenomenon to reflect solidarity and enhance group cohesiveness or as a psychological phenomenon to release stress."

Basically I think she tried to say, in an over-complicated way, is that swearing really helps us to release stress and get all our frustrations out to allow us to work more effectively.

This got me thinking about how teachers could try to avoid swearing in front of the children. Using bad language is obviously a no no, but what do people say instead. "Shine a light" is a phrase I have uttered when dropping a pile of photocopies, which is really good for avoiding saying a certain four-letter word beginning with S. Does anyone else do this?

Sunday, 14 October 2007

They Didn't Teach Me That

Here is a link to a series of Teachers TV programmes which I recommended to a trainee teacher I have working with me at the moment. Titled 'They Didn't Teach Me That', the programmes are all about classroom management, observation, health, form tutor, communicating, voice, classroom environment, time management, induction and marking. Some of them are perhaps not suitable for primary teachers but they all have good advice.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Show Me is a new website for KS1 and KS2. It is full of educational games, interactive activies, teaching ideas and resources created by museums and galleries. It will be very useful when planning for History, Science and Art topics in particular.

Tax on school budgets

Schools that are prudent with their finances or saving for big projects would be penalised by the government's plans to impose a 5% levy on schools that hold any surpluses at the end of each financial year, whether or not the money had already been earmarked for specific projects.

Although the levy will not be imposed until 2008-09 it will be backdated to balances at the end of March 2007, raising the prospect that establishments will be asked to pay back money they have already spent.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Eden Camp War Museum

Today we enjoyed a brilliant day out at Eden Camp War Museum, Malton, Yorkshire. If you have never been before it makes a really good day out. The children adore the visit as they are so passionate about our history topic of World War Two. The Museum is full of exciting displays and information boards about life during WW2.

The declaration of war, rationing, evacuation, the Home Guard, ARP Wardens, Air Raids, the Blackout and lots more are really interesting topics covered in the museum. There is a puppet show featuring singers from the period. There are incredible vehicles which the children can explore.

The gift shop is very reasonable and the children love the adventure playground.

It takes us 3 1/2 hours to get there and about the same to get back, so I question the children, staff and volunteers about whether it's worth the journey. The answer is always a resounding "yes".

If you study WW2 then I would recommend Eden Camp for a visit.

Backlash against SATs. Nothing new there then...

Opposition to the KS2 national tests was almost universal amond those interviewed for the interim Primary Review, with only the children having anything good to say about them.

One child said, "Children should be tested to show that they have done well and have been listening."

A report in the TES says that the tests have a dual role. They measure pupils' progress but are also part of an 'accountability framework', giving information to parents and taxpayers about how schools compare. Heads highlighted this accountability aspect (league tables) as the real difficulty.

In our newly amalgamated school, target setting and scrutinising progress is becoming quite a priority. Can anyone tell me why is it that every year the children are given a sub-level (3B, 3A, 4C etc) and then in the SATs they just get a level 3, 4 or 5 and no sub-level. I think this is odd.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

The evolution of the English language has beginned...

An interesting report in the Daily Mail describes how the English language is likely to evolve over the next few years. And it will really pain us teachers to see what they think will happen!

Researchers believe many of the irregular verbs that make English such a rich and varied experience are heading for extinction. In future, 'stank' will evolve into 'stinked', 'drove' will become 'drived' and 'slew' will turn into 'slayed', a team of linguists and mathematicians say. And if the simplification becomes really serious, 'begun' could change to 'beginned', 'brought' to 'bringed' and 'fell' to 'falled'.

The prediction comes from the first study of its kind into how irregular verbs have evolved in literature over the last 1,200 years. Around 97 per cent of verbs in English are regular. That means in the past tense they simply take an '-ed' ending – so 'talk' becomes 'talked', and 'jump' becomes 'jumped'.

Irregular verbs, however, do their own thing. Some like 'wed' stay the same in the past tense while others like 'begin' take a different ending to become 'begun'. The study, carried out at Harvard University, found that irregular verbs are under intense pressure to change into regular verbs as language develops.

The team identified 177 irregular verbs used in Old English and tracked their use over the centuries from the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf to the latest Harry Potter novel.
By the 14th century, only 145 were still irregular and by modern times, just 98 remained.
The less commonly used they are, the more they are likely to change, the team reports today in the journal Nature. The scientists predict that 15 of the 98 irregular verbs in the study will have evolved into regular verbs within the next 500 years.

Verbs that they say are very likely to change are: bade to bidded; shed – shedded; slew – slayed; slit – slitted; stung – stinged; wed – wedded.
Verbs that are less likely to change are: broke – breaked; bought – buyed; chose – choosed; drew – drawed; drunk – drinked; ate – eated.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Virtual Learning Platform 2

Today I attended the second part of the Uniservity training. Another useful bit of training delivered by Ben from Uniservity (he heard about my blog post last time so thought I'd give a compliment in case he hears again!)

I think I now understand each of the aspects to the platform. I now plan to spend a bit of time forming the basic structure of the site before I begin to roll it out to staff. Each child has been given an e-portfolio - a bit like a MySpace page, except that we can regulate it in school more easily. I plan to launch this with the children before Christmas - just with Year 6 at first to trial it.

Take a look at the work in progress at our website.

A new primary in every town

The Chancellor has announced some interesting new initiatives in his pre-budget speech.

Every local authority will be given the cash to rebuild or completely renovate one primary school - but will face a whole raft of new targets. Education spending will rise 2.8% above inflation each year taking the budget to £75billion by 2010/11.

He added an extra £450million to the settlement for schools he outlined earlier this year, with an additional £200million to rebuild primaries and £250million to fund personalised learning.

As many predicted would happen under Gordon Brown, targets will be given for exam results, bullying, drug use, drinking and school meals. There are also targets covering toddlers at nursery. By 2011, ministers want 78% of 11-year-olds to achieve the expected standards in English and Maths.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007


I remember using the Footee website in my first year of teaching. It really entertained the lads during break times who were determined to build up a good team. I was gutted when it went offline not long after.

Now it's back! You will find the site here. It combines educational games and movies with football. Children collect balls which can be used to buy players for their Footee team. It's definitely worth a go!

Monday, 8 October 2007

1/3 of children leaving primary school are overweight

A third of children leaving primary school in some areas of the country are overweight, the Daily Mail reports. The latest figures are part of a nationwide survey of children's weight commissioned by the Departnent of Health.

Ten primary care trusts have released their results under the Freedom of Information Act. These show that on average a quarter of children are already obese or overweight when they start school at the age of five. In some areas the figure rises to a third by the tiume pupils enter secondary school at 11.

Worryingly, although both figures are up on previous years, experts have warned they could still be underestimating the problem as the parents of heavier children are less likely to agree to have them weighed.

Sunday, 7 October 2007


Mapzone is a lively and fun website that helps children learn about the different aspects of map work using interactive games and quizzes. Useful for helping the children to use maps.

Are you smarter than a 10 year old?

I can imagine my Year Sixes loving this brand new TV programme on Sky One. Starting tonight at 6pm, this quiz show shows 10 year old children challenging adults to win a prize of £250000. Presented by Noel Edmonds, it looks like it could be a laugh.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Successful SATs marking appeal

The BBC today reported on a story that both really amused me and terribly annoyed me. A primary school is celebrating after successfully appealing against its Sats results - and getting them reduced.

Teachers at Ash Green Primary in Mixenden, West Yorkshire, knew it was unlikely 98% of the Year 6 pupils would have reaching the expected standard. Even worse, 70% were said to have reached the next level up. Checking the scripts, they saw the problem lay with the marking of writing.

An appeal resulted the scores going down to 83% and 20%. A total of 33 of the 53 pupils had their levels reduced. Acting head teacher Mungo Sheppard said the exam board, Edexcel, had sent the school a £100 re-marking invoice for the 20 results it had not amended. The bill will go unpaid.

"We were really quite angry because the original results made a mockery of our teacher assessment," he said. "We had children who had been given 50 out of 50 for writing. I have never known that in 10 years here." The school had confidence in its internal monitoring system - praised by Ofsted inspectors, who called the school "outstanding". The governors sanctioned an appeal.

Children were told they had done very well and the school was proud of them, but they and their parents were warned about what was happening. The school also alerted the secondary schools to which the 11-year-olds were moving this term, so they did not have unreasonably high expectations of them. And it was mindful that, in the target-setting culture that governs England's schools, it would be in trouble if its results next year and the year after fell back from such a high level.

"You have year-on-year targets and to have had those results, that would be completely unsustainable, would be a nightmare," Mr Sheppard said. "We hope the children will achieve as highly as they can. But to get results you cannot possibly sustain because they are wrong is doing us no favours."

But the case also raises wider concerns for Mr Sheppard, given that it seems likely the examiner concerned would have dealt with scripts from a number of schools - and used the same approach. "It's not certain that other schools have questioned this. You might think that this may be representative of other markers - or maybe there's somebody so off beam the other way and schools are getting results that are rather harsh. You have to question a little bit the quality assurance side of this."

I applaud Mr Sheppard for having the courage to campaign against this. How on earth can schools have faith in the SATs results if they can't be marked properly. I would hate to be an English SATs marker - but surely it cannot be so difficult to do it. 50/50 in the writing test. I think all teachers agree that they would struggle to get that!!

Secondary school run with primary methods

Loreto High in Chorlton, Manchester, is pioneering a systen that blurs the boundaries between primary and secondary. The school has a primary school head and the pupils keep the same class teacher for all their lessons. They have recently employed several primary school teachers.

Pupils in Years 7 and 8 are allocated a personal learning tutor who stays with them at all times. Other teachers visit their form room to 'team teach' specialist lessons. The system ensure that there are two fully trained teachers present in lessons for more than half of the time. In many lessons, the pupil-teacher ratio is about seven to one. In English, maths, science and humanities, pupils two or three lessons a week for each subject taught by both teachers at once, followed by a 'reinforcement' session with only their tutor.

Headteacher, Luke Dillon, said he was excited by the project. "It was a case of 'do something radical or close'. This model convinced the local authority the school had a chance."

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Children's TV in a state of decline

I've been saying this for a while - children's TV is nowhere near as good as it was when I was a child. Think back to all the brilliant programmes you watched when you were younger - He-man, Thundercats, MASK, Cities of Gold, Willy Fog & 80 Days Around The World, Count Duckula, Trapdoor, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, Inspector Gadget, The Real Ghostbusters, Dogtanian & the Three Muskerhounds and Defenders of the Earth to name just a few. I can remember all of these so vividly. Well apparently, Ofcom don't feel that today's children's programmes are very good in comparison.

The Daily Mail reports that youngsters are being fed a diet of imported cartoons and repeats. Shows made in the UK and premiered on a domestic channel account for 1% of the output. Cartoons make up 60% of programming and 83% are made abroad.

Ed Richards, Ofcom's chief executive called for a national debate on tackling the fall in quality. "This comprehensive study highlights the decline in homegrown commercial children's TV production and the revolution in young people's media consumption. Parents are understandably concerned and we now need a national debate on what measure, if any, can or should be taken."

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Evening meals are being eaten later and later...

The Daily Mail reports that dinner time in the average home has slipped to 7.47pm because of longer working hours and changing lifestyles. This is two hours later than ten years ago.

58% of the people surveyed siad that their increasingly busy lifestyles are to blame. More than a quarter said the main factor was the increase in working mothers, while another quarter said it was because of longer working hours.

The survey, for Jacob's Creek wines, also appeared to reconfirm the theory that the traditional family meal, with parents and children around the same table to eat and chat, is disappearing.
Only 36 per cent said they ate at a table, with a mere 21 per cent saying they used meal times as an opportunity to chat to their family. Twenty-nine per cent admitted to eating their meal on a tray in front of the television. One in five said they watched the night's soaps while eating, while 8 per cent said they logged on to their computer at the same time.

The poll also found that by the time the average person has finished cooking, eating and clearing up and is ready to enjoy the evening, it is 9.38pm.

I thought this was really interesting research, and I guess it has implications for us as teachers. Of course, it means that our own lifestyles are affected and that we often end up working late into the night as a result. But it also means that children must now be going to bed later than ever.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Virtual Learning Platform

Today I attended a course where we were shown how to set up a Virtual Learning Platform for our school. The link will take you to my work very much in progress.

We are using UniServity. The company aims to provide schools with,
"An easy-to-use set of online teaching and learning tools for pupils, teachers and parents. Primary schools can create an ‘interactive playground’ in which pupils can take ownership of their own learning areas, participate in collaborative projects with other children all across the world, and become autonomous and empowered learners.

The cLc has enabled schools to produce the most innovative and inspiring examples of how a learning platform can transform the way a teacher teaches – and more importantly how your children learn!"

This really does look amazing. The possibilties are endless! I was sat at the course thinking, "Wow!" Then I quickly came back down to Earth when I remembered how much work will be involved setting the site up. It does look reasonably straightforward, just time consuming.

Has anyone else set up a VLP?

Pupils borrowing only one book a term

Children are missing out on reading for pleasure because schools are failing to spend enough money on library books. The average pupil borrows just one book a term because school libraries are so underfunded and underused. Library budgets have been cut to allow for an increase in spending on computers and ICT facilities.

According to a survey for Booktrust, 61% of primary schools are failing to provide the recommended number of books for their students, spending £8.04 per head on books, instead of £10.

The research also showed that it is difficult for children to borrow books with half of primaries closing their libraries at break and lunchtimes.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Heroes Season 1

I purchased the Heroes DVD on Amazon a few weeks ago. Lisa and I have been hooked! It's brilliant! It is completely gripping and extremely clever in the way everything fits in. I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but the entire series is awesome and the finale is fantastic! I can't wait for the new series to start on BBC2 in the new year!

Packed lunches haven't improved

Despite all the effort by the Government and celebrity chefs, the quality of packed lunches have not improved since 2004.

Research by the University of Leeds revealed that nearly half of packed school lunches did not contain any fruit. Of the 1300 pupils, aged 8 and 9, in the survey, 68% had a cake or biscuit in their lunch bix and 12% had sweets.

Sandwiches were in 85% of lunchboxes with 37% of these made from white bread. Brown bread was used by 4.6% and 3.4% used wholemeal bread.

The researchers concluded that there has been no improvement in the nutitional quality of packed lunches since a similar survey in 2004.