Inventors Day: the importance of tinkering and play.

Working with Shonette Bason-Wood, and being a Spread The Happiness Teacher, has taught me one thing… stop waiting to be happy!

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The Spread The Happiness diary and calendars make everyday an exciting day for you and your class. What’s best about the diary is that you are never quite sure if the days in the diary are real or not! But that’s the point, don’t wait for a day to do something new, exciting, daring or different. The diary gives you permission to be the teacher you want to be, and the teach in ways you’ve always wanted to. Which brings me to Inventors Day.

Thursday 17th January was marked as Inventors Day on the Spread The Happiness calendar. I hadn’t seen any of the usual posts on social media about an international day for inventors but it motivated me to observe play in the Maker Space that I set up and developed since 2016. So I spent the afternoon tinkering with the robot kits we have and it made me remember all of the fun we’ve had working with different robotic toys over the years …. and I’ve never shared them!

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Unplugged to Debugged: coding in the early years.

Bringing coding to the early years seems like a big step as the Early Learning Goal for technology narrowly states that young children should use technology for a particular purpose. It’s one strand of the curriculum where practitioners may be less confident in working that cross-curricular, linked-learning best practice that we are the true experts of.

To bring coding to the early years we need to better understand what coding is and how the skills of a good coder are related to the skills we are developing across the areas of learning.

The Cornerstones of Coding

Being good at coding is more than inputing commands in sequence. Good coders are actually good problem solvers. Coding is a process underpinned by the skills of:

  • Pattern Spotting and Sequencing
  • Breaking larger problems down in to small steps (Decomposition)
  • Looking for mistakes and correcting them (debugging)
  • Making predications based on prior knowledge (Logical Reasoning)
  • Testing out ideas (Evaluating)
  • Playing around (Tinkering – yes that’s a technical term too!)

Looking at this list of skills and the definitions, I immediately see a link to The Characteristics of Effective Learning.

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For readers who are new to the Early Years Foundation Stage in England, you can view the 2019 profile handbook here and read about The Characteristics of Effective Learning which underpin all learning for birth to 5 year olds here (page 22).

 

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Photography and Story Writing

The Naughty Bus is one of my favourite stories to read to children. The text is presented in a fun way, with words that help convey meaning. It’s the illustrations that bring the story to life for me though, real photographs in a fiction book. I love the way a real London Bus toy comes to life on the pages in the way that children imagine when they are playing with their own toys.

These illustrations made me think about the ways that photography can inspire children to write. What if children used their own photography as a stimulus for writing?

Each day this week, children have come to school to find our own Naughty Bus in various scenes of chaos.

These scenes created lots of conversation and excitement each morning, and I modelled how to capture these moments with our camera. In a few taps of the iPad, I could snap a few photographs, swipe through them with the children on the spot, select the ‘one best’ photo and print it wirelessly to display on in our classroom. The children then set to work cleaning up after their Naughty Bus but the moment was captured forever (and shared with parents via the class blog).

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Remembrance Day Exhibition

This year for Remembrance Day our school planned an exhibition of work. As with any time of remembrance and reflection, the community comes together to support each other. Differences are put aside and similarities are found between us.

I wanted the Foundation Stage exhibition of poppies to show this so I took inspiration from the new Everyone Can Create Photography guide.

Physical Art

First of all, children drew their own simple representation of the iconic poppy symbol of The Royal British Legion.

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Your First Class Book Project

Creating class books is something I remember doing as a child in school. We would all contribute a page by drawing and writing. Every member of the class had something to put in and our book would be displayed proudly in the classroom library. Do you remember those kinds of activities too?

They were very manual tasks, with a lot of potential for practising literacy skills but gave so much pride in our work too! The sense of a real audience for our class book was so motivating.

The problem was, we only ever made 1 book and if you wanted to show it anyone, they had to come in to the library. What if your class book could be shared in an unlimited capacity, to anyone, anywhere?

It’s now possible with Pages book templates and creation tools.

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Pages is a free app from Apple for your iPad and to make a class book, you only need 1 iPad! This is great first activity for book making in an early years classroom, where each child can add their own page to the class book.

 

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Young Children Can Create

In England we teach young children (Birth to 5 years old) from a non-statutory curriculum now known as Early Years Outcomes (formally Development Matters). The curriculum is structured around 7 areas of learning but themed on A Unique Child, Parent Partnerships, Enabling Environments and Learning & Development. Learning across these themes, principles and areas of learning are woven together through The Characteristics of Effective Learning.

Development Matters, and Early Years Outcomes, explain that theEE theme Enabling Environments theme should ‘value all people’ and all learning. Yet there is a division in the early years community about the role of technology in learning. Our young children have access to technology in the home and there are an abundance of reports and opinions claiming screen time is a contributing factor towards low attainment in physical, social and language development. For this reason, there are settings who switch off to technology provision.

Technology is the one strand in our early years curriculum, and throughout the National Curriculum, where the application in the learning environment is different to the application at home:

  • talking at home is similar to talking at school,
  • sharing at home is similar to sharing at school,
  • reading at home is similar to reading at school,
  • numbers at home is similar to numbers at school,
  • whereas technology at home is different to technology at school.

At home, children (and adults!) watch TV and video rather than film movies ourselves. We use the internet at home to browse and shop. We more often choose to listen to music rather than make it. We look at photographs at home rather than take them. We regularly relax in front of screens. 

At school and nursery, the Early Learning Goal for Technology states that children should ‘select and use technology for particular purposes’. In the National Curriculum for Key Stage 1 this extends to digital skills such as using images, video and sound for creative projects.

We should be teaching children how to create with technology, in meaningful ways that are cross-curricular where ‘experiences respond individual needs’ and interests.

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These Walls Bring Us Together

Attending the Apple Distinguished Educator Institutes at the end of each academic year is my time to reflect on the year of teaching and recharge for another year of learning. A global gathering of innovative educators who share vision and values for learning that are similar to mine. These global gatherings for reflection and collaboration are more important now than ever before. An education based institute attended by almost 400 educators representing 37 countries makes for an empowering experience. Coming together in one place in a unique opportunity to learn across cultures and boundaries. The walls of the ADE Institutes don’t divide us; they unite us as one community.

Often in education, barriers are put up in teaching and divisions are made when debating what is the best way to learn. These kinds of walls can slow down innovation and creativity in the teaching community, which impacts on the children we teach. The children that nobody else knows, but us, their class teachers.

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At Institute, we might be inside the walls of a conference, but these walls don’t divide us. They bring us together and become a think tank for creativity, for what is possible when we stand united as a community of innovative educators. The Apple Distinguished Educator community came together again in Austin, Texas, to build teaching ideas and strengthen confidence to try something new that will make a change to learning. With this courage and opportunity to be creative, we evaluate our practice, refine it and make it the best it can be, without any walls dividing us. I gain the confidence to share my work, my ideas and my vision to lead the charge for change in my school and the educators I connect with.

This year’s Institute was themed around Everyone Can Create. A simple statement but a complex idea behind it. Everyone can create, and everyone should be creating. Teachers, students, adults, children. Everyone. Everyone should be encouraged to create, because creating is in our DNA. It’s our personality, it’s our identity and it’s how we move forward and make a difference, together. Creativity should be at the heart of education, because it is creativity that solves problems, builds good communicators and makes the world not only a more interesting place to live, but a more successful place to live.

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Don’t Touch The iPads!

There has been a flurry of articles published recently about tablets, and general technology use, and how overuse at home may be having a detrimental impact on early childhood development. These articles often highlight a practitioner’s viewpoint that physical development is the lowest it has ever been, that children can’t hold paintbrushes and there are no mouse or keyboard skills these days. As with most good things in life, good health and well-being comes with careful balance and always in moderation; it’s not often that a total ban is a necessary solution.

I was going to write about this, and why I think a complete ban or avoidance of technology in early years will not close the gap in physical development and social skills. I would have written something along these points:

  • We are supposed to find out what children bring to their learning, what skills they have, and develop them.
  • Technology is 1 area of learning where children’s home skills do not match the skills we want to see in learning.
  • Children are consuming content at home (watch video, play games, listen to music) and we need to teach them to create with technology (make films, code games and create music).

My point would be, if we are recognising children have an unbalanced diet with technology, that they are consuming too much content, then we should be planning for our children to learn how to create. If they learn how to create with technology, their characteristics of effective learning are enhanced. We would give them another way to express themselves, in a medium they are interested in. Then, what if, they go away and download these apps at home? Suddenly, the gaps could start to close. That children are making stunning photographs, meaningful films, collaborating and sharing their work with a real audience. Their learning becomes focused on the idea and the task… and not the device.

But I decided not to write about that.

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Instead, I want to share apps to use on 1 iPad, that require no touch at all and we can put the iPad down and make it respond to us using all of our physical skills. Those skills that we need to develop now more than ever.

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50 Things To Do This Summer: Number 49 “Make a PicCollage”

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I am an advocate for using Spread The Happiness resources for more effective partnerships with parents.

 

Last year Shonette Bason-Wood introduced 50 Things To Do This Summer; a checklist of activities to get families having fun together. It's full of real simple ideas that sometimes get forgotten in busy life, but when we look over it as adults, we remember those things from our childhood – well most of them!

Number 49: "Make a PicCollage"

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Technology is part of children's lives now and 'screen time' gets a lot of bad press. Not all screen time is the same though. No doubt many of us are in settings where children's communication, language, social and physical development are behind age-typical development so we are quick to assume this is because of their use of technology.

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Through the fire, I’ll keep burning on.

“When it goes wrong, I’ll take my time and keep on holding on”

Chase & Status: All Goes Wrong (feat. Tom Grennan)

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Will Kennard, of Chase & Status fame, shared his story at the Apple Distinguished Educators Academy this year. In an hour long special appearance, he told stories of his influences and inspirations. Tales of creativity and collaboration took us on a journey where obsession, attention to detail, failure and perseverance have lead to success. Will reflected that collaboration can only be successful when there is a balance of personalities and experiences. Everyone has something to contribute and his best work comes together when different people work with a shared vision.

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