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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 by.
 
THE END! "
 
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 creation.
 
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 learning experience!"
 
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 again.
 
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 this year.
 
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 good.
 
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 list.
 
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 blog.
 
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 of users…
 
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 there.
 
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 more interesting.
 
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 click here.
 
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 ideas.
 
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 2009
 
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 it.
 
By the way, the answer is 29.
 
Wednesday 21st January 2009
 
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 2008
 
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 0.
 
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 for tax.
 
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 than others.
 
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 we help?
 
Thursday 11th September 2008
 
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 their diets.
 
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 it).
 
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 author too!
 
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. So there!
 
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 their risk.
 
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 in September.
 
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 here.
 
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 days!
 
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 member.
 
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 time...
 
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 increase dramatically.
 
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 break.
 
Wednesday 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 difficult.
 
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.
 
Tuesday 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 which research.
 
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”!
 
Tuesday 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 barricades...!
 
Tuesday 16th October 2007
 
Secondary Transfer. 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.
 
Friday 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 that is!)
 
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,) No Way!
 
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.
 
Thursday 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 at eight?
 
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 the way?
 
Monday 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!
 
Friday 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 this.
 
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 for E.
 
Friday 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 to.
 
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.
 
Thursday 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.
 
Tuesday 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.
 
Wednesday 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 parcel.
 
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 free products.
 
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 your break.
 
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 the world!
 
Monday 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 an individual."
 
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.
 
Wednesday 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 stratosphere.
 
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 order form.
 
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?
 
Friday 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 before Bett!
 
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 14th
 
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 missed.
 
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 20th
 
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 Mum.
 
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 Cup.
 
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 be in!
 
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 me with.
 
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 and mine.
 
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 will close…"!
 
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 forearmed.
 
Now I must go out and buy those paper face masks and stock up on tinned food...…
 
Thursday 30th March 2006
 
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 2006
 
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!
 
Thursday February 23rd 2006
 
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!
 
Wednesday February 8th 2006
 
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 anyway.
 
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 convert.
 
Tuesday January 17th 2006
 
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 survive..."
 
I thought about this later and decided that it was like suggesting to a Guardian (Times/Independent/Telegraph) journalist 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 product.
 
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 you.
 
Now I'll get off my soapbox...
 
Tuesday January 3rd 2006
 
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 2005
 
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 2005
 
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 dog yet.
 
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...
 
Thursday December 1st 2005
 
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!
 
Tuesday November 29th
 
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 etc!).
 
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 technology!
 
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 Governor team.
 
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.
 
 
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Kate