I’m a Kid, Get Me Out of Here!


Friday 4th April saw a conference on outdoor learning run by Kirklees Learning Services. The conference was at Cliffe House, a residential, outdoor learning centre to which I had brought many a class of pupils and that will be host to CampEd14.There were keynote presentations by myself  and Juliet Robertson. There were also some fabulous workshops.

Juliet’s keynote presentation was inspiring and grounded in countless case studies, research activities and practical examples, all illustrating the profound importance of learning outside the classroom. She described how for her as an educator, the outdoors evolved from being a ‘jolly nice thing’ to ‘an absolute need and necessity’. She made the point that zoos have a legal requirement to provide a certain amount of space to their primates: and yet, in comparison to that, we confine our young people in classrooms with a fraction of that space – and expect effective learning to happen. Juliet reminded us of the memorability or ‘stickiness’ that outdoor learning often has to it.
She also reassured us that risks are an essential part of outdoor learning and  to not get overly hung up on risk as unrepresentative perceptions can easily become barriers (a point later reiterated by Kirklees’ adviser for outdoor learning). She cited, by way of example, the fact that there had been not a single death of a young person in the UK from berries or mushrooms in the last 60 years.
I like the simplicity of Juliet’s approach, epitomised by her emphasis on the importance of forming circles with learners and handing the learning over to them, “Form a circle, ask them to go off and find something interesting, return to the circle and then discuss.”
For me, one of the key messages was Juliet urging us to have a go, and take a chance and a couple of quotes summed that up nicely:
“Of course you go out on a limb. That’s where all the fruit is.” Mark Twain
“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Wayne Gretsky

Workshop 1 Maths from Sticks and Stones – Juliet Robertson

Juliet also ran a workshop throughout the day with an emphasis on mathematical development through the use of sticks and stones.
We warmed up in a circle, varying the formation and size of the circle as we went along (feet touching, elbows touching, sticks touching, shoulders touching). With a meter-long stick each, we worked on some simple counting games involving tapping our sticks, passing them, walking in different directions around the circle with ‘switch’ and ‘Fizz-buzz’ variations. We then moved into smaller groups where we were first introduced to Juliet’s bag of tricks – a variety of natural resources for maths such as pebbles with numbers and symbols, sticks of varying length and gauge, shorter sticks with coloured tips, rope etc. Importantly, she also has an old white sheet – invaluable if you want to ‘display’ a find or something interesting. The brief for the small groups was to simply ‘do something mathematically interesting’ with a resource-set. This is both challenging and empowering and I can see how the approach can really put the learning in the hands of the learners (as well as providing a perfect assessment for learning opportunity).
Groups were then able to see what others had done and share ideas. A final ‘plus, minus, interesting’ plenary rounded us off.

Workshop 2 Bushcraft
My second workshop was with Cliffe House centre manager, Rosie Taylor. Delegates used a range of tools to firstly prepare and set a fire (without matches) before whittling skewers for marsh-mallow toasting.
Rosie emphasised the importance of careful briefing and tool-talk prior to an activity that involved bow-saws and fire. Again, the risk-assessment watch-words here are ‘supervision’ and ‘common-sense’. “For a fire this size, you definitely wouldn’t want the children to use gloves, you’d want them feeling the danger for themselves.”
Fires were set in little mini-barbecue containers and lit with cotton wool and ‘sparkers’ (no matches or lighters!).
Finally, sticks were whittled using potato peelers (good quality, wooden handles recommended here) before skewering a well-deserved mallow!

Workshop 3 Story time
My lovely next door neighbour and Cliffe House teacher, Catherine Heppenstall, ran an enthralling session on story. We gathered in a willow grotto to first listen to Catherine as she held us rapt, wrapped (herself) in story-robe and seated on her teller’s throne. She told the story of the unfortunate farmer who came a cropper upon the third sneeze of his donkey! Snip-snap-snout! Her story was out.
Catherine reminded us of the importance of oral story telling (as opposed to ‘read’ stories); how the narrative can be fluid, flexible and responsive – the hero’s hair may be flame-red one day and raven-black another.
We all know the ingredients of a good story: a setting (in place and time), a character or two (with certain dispositions), a problem etc. How wonderful then to wander the woods and pluck these elements from the trees and bushes and thread them onto a ‘story-stick’ that would later be the concrete framework from which we would tell our own stories!

Workshop 4 Cob-ovens
The final workshop was facilitated by conference-organiser Andrew Heath-Beesley and would be best described as a project. Over the course of the day, delegates devoted themselves to the construction of a cob-oven atop an impressive pediment (formed of recycled bottles and clay). Clay was ‘mined’ (shovelled) from a rich source elsewhere on the Cliffe House estate and transported via wheel-barrow to the construction site.
Constructing a cob-oven is such a great cross-curricular activity. There is so much in it: collaboration, planning, design-technology, changing state (dobbing the wattle & dawb was a particularly consuming activity!), art & design. I could go on.

Keynote – Digitally Outdoors
I gave a keynote presentation about the use of technology in outdoor learning.

and finally
Juliet’s final message: ‘Leave No Child Inside’

and, if the evaluation forms were anything to go by, we have provided some valuable CPD!

Dance like a wave of the sea…

…What WB Yeats has to say about technology in the classroom

I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak at the CESI Conference at GMIT in Galway. With my roots in Sligo and my heart in educational technology, I decided that I would combine a couple of interests. My thinking was prompted a little by an idea I originally came across with John Davitt’s Learning Event Generator. Juxtaposing a couple of disparate ideas can really provoke the creative juices and I found the process of preparing my presentation challenging, stimulating and rewarding in equal measure.

I decided to scour Yeats’ work and glean any lines/quotations that might apply to some messages I could share about education technology. I found 10 good ones but kept a few back just in case.

There follows my slides with a brief explanation of the message I delivered alongside them.

Slide01Slide 1: The image is a GIF I created using the ‘Vintage TV’ option on the excellent ‘generator’ website, Photofunia I also include my name in the Google font (Google font generator) as a clue to how to pronounce my name (rhymes with Google).

Slide02Don’t dive in and use technologies without thought. Plan and consider carefully how you might squeeze the best out of the technologies in question. As Tim Rylands would say, ‘take your time’. This applies particularly to the use of computer games in the classroom.


Let’s take the specific example of Mario Kart Wii

Slide04For this slide, I used another generator. I made the point that the game itself is merely the stimulus, the hook from which huge amounts of learning can be hung. I drew upon the work of many ‘giants’ of games-based learning upon whose shoulders I stand: Derek Robertson (the ‘Daddy’ of GBL), Dawn Hallybone (post), Bill Lord (post) to name a few. The game is the distilled droplet of wonderfulness, tread softly with it and use it wisely. A single race in Mariokart might be all you need to stimulate a mass of activities from designing and making Karts to averages (lap-times) in Maths.

Slide05Us oldies may have senses that have been dulled somewhat by age. Young folks have senses that are sharp as knives. We must hand the lead to them sometimes so that they can use those sharper senses to perceive the magic that we may never have thought of. Like clay, paint and musical instruments, we all need an opportunity to just play and explore and perhaps discover the magic that is patiently waiting to be perceived. Let the pupils take control of the learning more often and watch them find the magic.

Slide06It would have been remiss of me to not include Yeats’ most famous (at least in educational circles) words. Here we see some fires being lit by technology – the result of a video trailer produced by the imovie app. The unbridled joy that technology-enhanced learning experiences can produce is plain to see. Let’s light fires and not fill buckets!

Slide07You could wait for ever for the perfect device. “I’ll not buy that tablet just yet because a better, faster, more capacious model is due out imminently.” No, let’s strike now and warm up the iron with wonderful experiences. Get stuck in, be brave, go out and do something! However, remember to also tread softly…

Slide08Yeats was clearly a fan of social media and realised the value of a network of benevolent, like-minded professionals. Friends (many, as yet, unmet) who are willing to share a great idea, advise and encourage others and engage in professional discussions. Twitter is just such a place for educators, populated with many friends you have not met yet.

Slide09We are truly blest by the simply astonishing time in which we live and work. Never have we had so many exciting tools for learning at our fingertips. We should rejoice at the possibilities that are presented and, if you like, laugh and sing!

Slide10Despite his passion for technology in education, Yeats also reminds us with a cautionary line or two that there are also some esafety considerations that should never be far from our minds and that, despite the wonder, there is also the possibility of encounters with ‘webs of sorrow’ when using technologies. Take every opportunity to deliver esafety messages whenever pupils are using small (or large) slate-coloured (or otherwise) things.

Slide11Where should we turn for leadership? From whence will our inspiration come? Who will plot our course? The image is from the previous evening’s Teachmeet and for me, illustrates that we are all captains, and the lead comes from no one person but of the collective, shared guidance and ideas that come through sessions like Teachmeets. Let’s inspire each other and plot the course ourselves. (Thanks to @clerktogovernor for sharing this particular quotation with me.)

Slide12So rejoice, enjoy! Let the learning be buoyant, exciting and fun!

And a final quote that I included just because I love it. It has nothing to do with educational technology though:


Slide14I believe in ‘the incredible expanding presentation’ so, had a slide ready in the event of an early finish. With the following, final slide I challenged attendees to undertake the same exercise that I had: to spend some time considering the following quotes and seeing how they might apply to approaches to educational technology. Delegates did not let me down, some great ideas were shared. us casinos 18

Slide15Go on! Why don’t you do the same? Leave a comment if you are suddenly struck with creativity! I’d love to hear your idea!

Thinking out cloud


I received an email from a primary school recently along these lines:

I wonder if you can offer advice. I have put off updating our office software for quite sometime now as what we had (MS Office 2003) (I know, an ancient relic) seemed to do the job, teachers were familiar and the costs were quite high. I think it is time to move on but unsure what to. I wonder if cloud computing services are the way to go, or other free packages in terms of traditional software such as open office. Or should we look to something completely different.
I would value your thoughts and observations of schools on your travels!

I responded something like this:

Hmmmm Depends on a few things really but here are some considerations:

  • Do nothing – consequences are what? Stuff gets even more out of date and misaligned with what’s out there in the world. But it is an option for a little while yet maybe.
  • Upgrade your MS Office software and licences to something a little more contemporary – consequences are quite severe in terms of a financial hit and you will also need to think about any ‘transitions’ staff (and pupils) may have to make to ‘new’ software which is fairly different from a user point of view.
  • Install ‘Free’ Office applications (such as Open Office) – ok, this is a cheap option and one that many schools I know have taken. It certainly does the job and has a similar enough look and feel to the ‘authentic’ applications to be manageable.
  • Cloud solutions – I’m thinking Google Apps for Education (GAfE) and Google Drive here (although Microsoft have their own equivalent – Skydrive (more later)). If you were to explore this option, it requires a fundamental shift in thinking about how everything works. Stuff is no longer done ‘locally’ on a machine (although it can feel a bit like it) but it is done via a browser. The other essential difference is the way in which documents become far more fluid in terms of sharing and collaboration – this is powerful stuff and potentially truly transformational. However, it is very much a new and different way of doing things with new and different approaches to workflow. This takes some considerable getting of the head round things (especially as a whole-school thing). The same is true for the Microsoft offering, they provide online storage (Skydrive) and a set of cloudy, browser-based software apps called Office365 (think Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc) that look very much like conventional MS software (comfortably familiar for some perhaps). All the same sharing, collaborating etc is available with Office 365 as with GAfE. The difference between these two though is that you can get going with GAfE immediately cos it is part of the (the local authority solution) thing every school has. Now you’ll ask me how to do that… erm… I’ll find out. I know of schools doing this stuff extensively (but not sure about within our local authority). So, as with anything, I recommend a bit of trying stuff out. Why not install and play with Open Office? For one class? Why not see how (one class?) gets on with GAfE? Then informed decisions are easier to make.

I offered to extend the request to this blog, see what responses people came back with, and there came the following response:

Thanks for that, very comprehensive! We have dabbled with open office and I have used google docs a little, just not quite the same, but all valid points you make. It would be interesting to hear what other people do so no problem with sharing via a blog. Also, I find that some features get blocked by the firewall, so if we moved in that direction I would want to be sure we can use it. The issue of having to log in too bothers me for cloud computing. The children log onto the laptop/server and would have to log into the cloud service too, unless we can find a way to facilitate a single log on.

So, what are you doing in your school?
What do you do about ‘Office’ applications or software, licences etc?
Have you elevated into the clouds? Is it sunny or stormy up there?
What are the pitfalls? The advantages?
What about firewalls? Logins?
Do you do different stuff with different ages of pupils?
Have you recorded your progress for us and others?

I’d love to see some replies! Many thanks in advance!

I suppose some people just like the speed and efficiency of Twitter as I got some useful replies there:






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Front to back?

photoI had an email from a school recently. I thought I would record my response here as it illustrates my thinking on an approach schools seem to sometimes take to technology purchases generally and ipads in particular.
The school said they were looking into purchasing some IPads for students within school and were wondering if I could offer any advice or point them in the right direction.

They were seeking answers to three specific questions at this point:

  • What IPads are being used for and how they can enhance learning?
  • Which model IPad is the most popular within other schools?
  • Are other schools using Macbooks for synching/updating etc? top 10 gambling sites

I replied as follows:

I am sure you appreciate that these are *big* questions that you are asking and perhaps not the easiest to answer in an email. Having said that, I’ll do my best.

What IPads are being used for and how they can enhance learning? video poker download

This is *huge*. Where do I start? Really the question could be asked more broadly about ‘technology’ and the answer would be wide and complex. In a way, it would be helpful for the school to undertake some visioning of how they want technology to integrate and support the learning experience and then consider whether ipads might be part of this. Many schools mistakenly start their thinking with the device and then on to how it might support learning. In some ways this is the wrong way round. I have a little further reading on ios considerations and deployments in school here: http://bitly.com/bundles/dughall/k but this is merely a drop in the ocean.

Which model IPad is the most popular within other schools?

Again, I wonder if this question is coming from thinking that is the right way round. What is it you want to achieve? Then ask which device will best suit the vision. Why ipad? Why not an alternative tablet? Why not Android? Windows 8? Why not netbooks? Laptops? Ipods? Why not a mixture? Again, ask yourselves: 1. What do you want to do? and then 2. What will help you do it?

Are other schools using Macbooks for synching/updating etc?

Yes. Or an iMac. There is no doubt that the deployment of large numbers of ios devices is greatly helped by having a MacOS PC (laptop or desktop).

It does worry me that some schools seem to be getting their thinking a bit ‘back to front’. Of course, for large purchases, it would be appropriate for for school governors to ask a question that I always find helpful: “What was the thinking behind this decision?” and the associated: “What alternatives were considered?” and “Does this represent the best value for money?”


PELeCON Kidsmeet



Recently, as part of the larger PELeCON conference in Plymouth, Pete Yeomans asked if I’d like to come and help out with an afternoon ‘Kidsmeet’ session. I immediately liked the idea of this and wasn’t disappointed. The idea was to invite kids (aged 8-12) to come along with their parents and attend a workshop (in the truest sense of the word) that would involve them making some stuff. Also in attendance were Jo Neale, Paul Hutson (The Night Zookeeper), Pete Yeomans himself and some teacher trainees from the university.

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Plymouth University provided some ‘kit’ in the form of ipads, Flip cameras, laptops, some Robosapiens and other resources and attendees were invited to avail of the kit to produce stuff. What might that ‘stuff’ be? Well, they could do stop-frame animation, something using Scratch or Kodu, a piece of music, whatever. There was also the understanding that the resultant ‘artefacts’ would be showcased to conference delegates later in the afternoon (a true proud-dad moment for me).

Will and Fionn test-driving their Kodu games

Will and Fionn test-driving their Kodu games

I set myself up as something of a Kodu person and introduced it to my own son, Fionn (10) and an 11 year old called Will. Both Will and Fionn are huge Minecrafters and so I was interested to see how they got on with Kodu. Both boys definitely needed 5-10 minutes introductory input to get them into what it is that Kodu actually does and the ins and outs of the software. I was glad I had brushed up on it myself in advance of the Kidsmeet. In an astonishing display of rapid, highly-motivated, intuitive learning, Will then sped away with the software, quickly finding his way to achieving the results he was looking for, opting to use the Xbox controller as his interface device of choice. In a couple of hours, he had produced a couple of wonderful, working games with considerable complexity.

IMG_4537Something I realised but should have known is that the stop-frame stuff was probably the activity of choice because it was something intuitive – the ICanAnimate app is so straightforward, it requires no prior experience or input (point and click). Scratch and Kodu (and to a certain extent the Robosapiens) need a little bit of teaching to get them off the ground. On reflection, I’m sorry now not to have got some people going with Scratch.

IMG_4545I really like Kidsmeet and am left thinking about how I might be involved in future events such as this or even the possibilities of organising one.


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Why I like the model and why I think it works:

  • Kids learning with and alongside parents is a very powerful thing
  • This highly constructivist model is very effective
  • There was a joy about the learning and activity
  • The session was very open-ended (perhaps a little too much so)

What might be an improvement:

  • A little more direction for the participants. Think effective EYFS practice here – it isn’t just the presentation of the resources and opportunities for learning that are provided, the skillful practitioner leads learners in and moves them along (I’m not saying this didn’t happen, just that I, personally might have done it more and is something I’ll bear in mind for the future)
  • Some way to shift people away from the comfort zones (too many(?) opted for stop-frame). Again, EYFS approaches would help.

Further reading:
Paul’s essential pre-meet cribsheet
Tyla Elworthy’s reflection
Jo Neale’s blogpost real money roulette app iphone

Some of the animations: