The dying art of writing?

I would consider myself a good writer. I would even consider myself a fairly good writer in my second language. However, when I was 9 years old I remember vividly that I had a thorough hatred for writing and that I had a recurring daydream when it came to writing things in class. My daydream revolved around inventing some sort of machine that could magically take all the ideas I had in my head and write them for me without me having to actually exert myself with the enormous effort that writing often takes.

Fast forward till 2015. Now we have all manner of technology which can do all manner of things and one of those things is my 9-year-old self’s dream: speech to text technology. But, it has left me wondering: would I be as good at writing today if I had chosen never to write things down but to use some sort of speech recognition software instead? Or is the skill of formulating oneself to be understood not actually dependent on the physical act of writing/typing?

Currently, these softwares are not so amazingly accurate yet we have introduced it to our classes as a support tool which all children can choose to use if they wish to. However, I have some concerns. The fact that they are so inaccurate means that children need to go back and edit the writing afterwards and I’m left wondering if this is actually even more of a demanding skill for children who most need support with writing in the first place. Are we doing children a disservice by allowing them to not ‘write’ in the conventional sense of the word or is it the skills of how to express oneself more important regardless of the method used?

Will the skill of physically writing/typing actually die out in our lifetime?

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How things change

I thought it was time to resurrect this blog from the ashes. In the time I’ve been away an awful lot has happened. In February 2013 I decided that I couldn’t cope with all the politics and stress of teaching any longer and decided to walk away from a profession that I loved. Not only that, I decided to up sticks and move to a new country and start a new life with new challenges.

I’ve spent the last year learning a completely new language, making new friends and generally learning how not to work quite so hard (although I studied hard instead ūüėČ ). I have spent many wonderful hours with my gorgeous nephew and sister and have really appreciated getting to be close by.

The hunt for a job was difficult as there are not many around except for summer jobs in restaurants for which I’m seemingly unqualified. Everyone kept convincing me to apply for teaching jobs but I had a hard time convincing myself. I’m not actually qualified yet to teach here, I have to do my language exam first to show I am fluent enough; it’s booked for the end of October. However, I was lucky enough to find a job as a fritidspedagog (think teaching assistant/after school club leader and you’re about there) and it was after a discussion about blogs today that I thought it might be time to set the fires burning again.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that education is completely different here which is both good and bad but one things for certain, the stress is nowhere near the UK and teachers work WITH instead of AGAINST each other. To be fair, I experienced a great deal of working with each other when I was at teacher related events, especially things like teach meets and camped. I just wish there had been more of that within the school building. The teachmeet concept is a relative unknown out here but I would love it to be bigger because I miss them, might have to plan one of my own!

My school has a fair amount of challenges but it has the most wonderful setting: we have a fairly extensive forest just crying out to be made the most of as well as very good ict provision (1:1 for those age 10+) and a new set of blogs which I’m in the process of building. The county ¬†council also has a county wide deployment of google apps which is great as the children can then take their accounts with them when they move schools. I’m very excited to be where I am, even though it wasn’t where I ever expected to be.

As Douglas Adams once wrote: I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be.

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Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential by Carol Dweck

Mindset by Carol Dweck is not my usual read but I have heard a lot about it over the years so when it was available for 99p on the Kindle the other day I thought I’d give it a go.

It’s a popular psychology book where the author has spent a long time studying people’s thoughts and beliefs (or mindsets) on intelligence/talent. It’s actually a much easier read than I anticipated (I read the entire thing in a day) and very easy to understand.

The book discusses the fact that people have one of two mindsets:

Fixed – a belief that intelligence/talent is something you are born with and no amount of learning will change things. These people have a sense of needing to prove their intelligence constantly and fear criticism and not being the best. These people will often not try something new for fear of being shown up or failing at it.

Growth – a belief that intelligence/talent is developed through effort, hard work and challenge. These people are willing to challenge themselves and try new things. They want to make themselves better but understand that mistakes will help them improve. They often tend to be more motivated to carry on with something even if it is not going well.

It also discussed that all people are a mixture of the two and that you can have a fixed mindset in one area eg belief about your maths ability, and growth mindset in other areas.

The bit of the book that influenced me most was the discussion of several studies into offering praise to people for something they’ve done and the outcome this has on their future choices. In the studies they gave two groups of people the same test. After the test one group they praised how smart they were eg Well done, you got 80%, you must be clever! and the other half they praised their effort eg Well done, you got 80%, you must have worked really hard. After that they offered another harder test; those praised for effort in the previous one showed much more willingness to challenge themselves to have a go at the harder one. Many praised for intelligence chose not to take the harder test. They also showed that when asked to discuss their results with others those that were praised for intelligence were much more likely to lie about their results to make themselves sound even better. I find this really interesting as a teacher as clearly this has implications about the language used to praise children. Schools, particularly primary ones, are usually very focussed on praise, but perhaps we need to be careful about how we word the praise so that it encourages a growth mindset rather than a fixed one.

The book goes on to discuss fixed and growth mindsets across sports, business and education. As a teacher you could just skip out the chapters on sports and business although I think there are interesting messages within them to think about. The final chapters plant the seeds about how you might change your own thinking to more of a growth mindset, basically by encouraging you to think about the way you approach things.

It’s definitely a book I would recommend to get teachers thinking about intelligence and talent, how learning happens and what prevents learning, and especially the barriers people (including young children) put up to protect themselves.

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Oops! Helping children learn accidentally – my thoughts.

The Oops! book is an inspiring read with a focus on taking a creative, thematic approach to engaging (or luring and tricking as described in the book) children in learning and provides lots of excellent ideas that can be easily taken away and implemented in the classroom. I found myself reading it and having lots of ‘Ah!’ moments, easily coming up with ways to add them into my planning.

It is written by Hywel Roberts, an Advanced Skills Teacher of Drama, and as such, has lots of ways of incorporating drama techniques across all curriculum areas, even subjects like maths. But it’s not all about drama, more about finding interesting and engaging hooks into learning that the children will find meaningful. Many examples are given of how the author has used the ideas in a context relevant to the children’s lives to teach many different subjects and the book is written in a quirky, informal style. I particularly love the use of slightly eccentric lists, slightly eccentric opposite lists and humour to help explain thoughts and ideas.

The author is also a big fan of Mantle of the Expert (something I would love to try more of) where the children are given some sort of task and they assume a role and develop their¬†curriculum¬†from there (this can last from a week to a term depending on how far you/the children want to go with it and what you want them to get out of it). This is something I’ve tried in little short bursts but would love to develop more of a knowledge and understanding of. There is a website¬†¬†with lots more information that I really need to take the time to look around properly.

Allowing the children to guide and develop the learning is also a major theme of the book although this is one I struggle to get my head round more, especially when working in a large primary school where all classes need to follow the same curriculum. I don’t know how you could ensure that all children would get the same entitlement and experiences this way. This is maybe easier in a small primary or with individual secondary classes.

Anyway, I’d definitely recommend this book, even if it’s just to remind you about techniques you might not have used for a while or have heard of before but forgotten. It’s definitely one that can be dipped into time and time again for ideas. And if you’re quick, it’s only ¬£1.79 on Amazon Kindle¬†(Aug 2012) or rather a lot more if you want the real version.

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Last night I went to my first ever MathsJam in Northampton and had an excellent time. I heard about MathsJam just over a month ago when @TeaKayB announced that he was going along to one but to be honest I was a bit scared that it would be a bit beyond me: they’d all done university degrees in it and I’ve done up to A level but that was 10 years ago. But when he came back and said I’d be ok I decided that I’d go along to the next one with him.

The premise of MathsJam is similar, although slightly more informal, to a teachmeet, of which I am a well-known lover. The events take place in pubs up and down the country on the second to last Tuesday every month with the idea being that you can bring along a puzzle or game or anything maths related if you want to ¬†(you don’t have to bring anything) and sit and play/chat/drink etc. The great thing about them all happening simultaneously up and down the country is that different MathsJams can set challenges for everyone via their twitter account @MathJam and it makes it easier for different groups to collaborate/send messages/challenge, or whatever you want to be achieved, with the help of mobile technology.

Last night there were six of us, well up on the three from last time (the first one in Northampton so doing well number wise!) and we played with various things: Pass the Pigs (plastic pig shapes with the ability to land 6 different ways like dice); Sicherman dice; a couple of iPad games – SET and Torus Games; how to make an Enigma machine out of a pringles tube; 3-player chess boards; the game 24; and those annoying metal puzzles that you have to try and get apart and back together again. There was no order or agenda to things; the puzzles and games were just shared and you dipped in and out of what you wanted and when.

Our messy maths. Picture courtesy of @rathematician

I’d definitely recommend going along to one if there’s one near you; they’re really not as scary as they sound. There’s a map to find out current MathsJams that take place or you can request to set up your own if there’s not one nearby:



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Roald Dahl museum and story centre, Great Missendon

Roald Dahl has always been a favourite for adults and children alike, his stories popular for their wild imagination and slightly off the wall-ness, and still regularly seen being read even after so many years. I’ve wanted to visit the Roald Dahl museum for a long time so jumped at the chance when @TeakayB suggested we visit on our way down to Reading to dog-sit while his mum was on holiday.

The museum is small but perfectly formed and can be found in the quaint little town of Great Missenden. It is split into three sections: Boy (about his childhood), Going Solo (about growing up and joining the RAF) and then a story centre which I wish was my classroom: there was a craft area, animation area, reading area, ideas table, an Automatic Grammatizer, Refrigerator Rhymes, story sacks, dressing up area and probably much much more besides.

The whole thing impressed me with how interactive it was (it’s well designed for children) but it also captures the imagination of adults (big kids) too. We listened to a talk given by a member of staff all about Roald Dahl’s writing hut and the process he went through every day to get into the right frame of mind for writing. The museum regularly have events such as talks and famous visitors (just check the website for upcoming events).

If we’d have had more time, there’s also a couple of walks around the town tracing back important buildings and places in Roald Dahl’s life.

In terms of school trips I imagine it would be good for just one class, but as it is so small it can only accommodate up to 35 children at a time so not great for larger schools. They do have some resources available on their website though and I’m definitely tempted to adapt some of the ideas from the Story Centre into my own classroom. And most of all, it’s inspired me to want to read more of his books, which is always a good thing; just waiting for them to come down in price on the kindle now!

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Mozilla webmaker #3Mhothouse

Mozilla are most well known as the makers of the FireFox internet browser but at #3mhothouse we were introduced to three very cool little tools which they are currently developing. The tools РThimble, X-ray goggles and Popcorn Рwork in any web browser Рgreat! Рand can be found here.

Thimble is a web-based website maker which allows you to code and create your own pages.

X-ray Goggles allows you to create website mash-ups by playing with the codes of websites to create your own, personalised/unique versions.

Finally, Popcorn allows you to create videos in your browser using stuff on the web. It’s still in beta version at the moment but looks pretty cool so far.

The website gives a much better explanation than I do and also has lots of projects and idea to get started using these tools straight away. Go check them out!

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