If I were in charge of education policy…

In October I will be speaking at the Digitally Confident Conference in Gateshead alongside my head teacher Rachel Orr. As part of the conference we have been asked to respond to, “If I were in charge of educational policy I would…”

This is not something I have found easy to do. However, I hope that this encompasses my vision for education:

I can’t think of anything more important to all of us than our young people and their futures. If education is about equipping our young people with the skills to participate successfully in a world with constantly changing horizons, then being digitally confident becomes as central as English and Mathematics. If I were in charge of education policy, I would recognise that one single person cannot change the educational landscape but rather it takes communication, collaboration and a shared vision that elevates technologies to be more than an add-on tool for learning. Replicating existing practices and hoping for the best will not provide children with the skills necessary to be digitally confident. Educational change should be rooted in research and practice and aim to educate the whole child in a real world context. Children do not engage in endless testing in the real world but rather engage in a fusion of communicative practices through digital technologies and collaboration with peers. The education system needs to recognise and respond to this.

Digital technologies have fundamentally changed the communicative landscape and resulted in a mass of “new literacies” spanning different domains of life. Within these domains children learn habits of communicating both online and offline. As educators we need to work together to help teach and guide children to use safe “habits” of communicating in different domains. If I were in charge of educational policy I would not push my personal views of education onto others but I would encourage debate, discussion and vision between different spheres of education – pupils, classroom teachers, senior leaders, headteachers, academics, consultants – all those concerned in the education of our young people should have a voice. It is important to recognise that these spheres have one thing in common – the advancement of a relevant education system which places the best interests of our young people at its core. Educationalists and young people need a voice that is heard. If I were in charge of educational policy I would give them the voice they deserve.

Photo Credit: smlp.co.uk via Compfight cc

Online Field Trips

A great way to engage children in learning about healthy lifestyles through innovative use of digital technologies!

A couple of months ago I came across The Tesco Eat Happy Project which has been set up to help educate young people in having healthy lifestyles. The project aligned well with my school’s Growing Greener creative learning programme so I was very keen to explore it further.

An interesting dimension to the project is the concept of Online Field Trips which allow classes to visit food producers around the world. We have used Skype in the past to connect with Everest explorers but the idea of partnering with other classes in real-time was something we had not explored. The fact that we would be able to take part in tours and Q&A sessions also made the project all the more exciting.

The online field trips use Google+ Hangouts to connected classes across the globe with a food producer such as the Wensleydale Cheese Factory, a banana farm in Costa Rica or a pasta factory in Italy. The online field trips really open up new opportunities to pupils and allow them to develop an understanding of where food comes from in an exciting way which would not otherwise be possible. It’s easy to watch pre-recorded videos of food production but the ability to interact with experts and and ask questions adds a valuable and exciting dimension to children’s learning.

My class enjoyed taking part in three online field trips, including Sweet Strawberries:

We also visited the Wensleydale Cheese Factory and the banana ripening centre! There are two options when taking part in an online field trip: you can either choose to watch the broadcast live and not appear on-screen or you can take part in the field trip by appearing on-screen and asking questions. Tesco will also send you resources and some of the food to try if you’re one of the featured schools – we especially enjoyed the Wensleydale Cheese!

I’d really recommend getting involved in this project with your classes if you can. You just need a webcam and a Google+ account. If you are a Google Apps for Education user then you can activate Google+ within you domain. We use our new school learning platform which integrates Google Apps.

Tesco will be running the online field trip again this year and my class will be taking part in some of them.

Upcoming Field Trips

  • Honey – 11 September 1.30pm
  • Sweetcorn – 18 September 1.30pm
  • Rice – 25 September (time TBC)
  • Broccoli – 2 October 1.30pm
  • Pumpkin & squash – 9 October 1.30pm
  • Baked beans – 6 November 1.30pm
  • Bread – 13 November 1.30pm
  • Potatoes – 20 November 1.30pm
  • Tea – 27 November (time TBC)
  • Clementines – 4 December 1.30pm

If you would like to take part in any of the above field trips then visit the Eat Happy Project Google+ page to find out more!

Photo credit to Martin Fisch – Fields of Gold – used under creative commons license.

Maximising the Potential for Interactions Online

Today I had the privilege of sharing some of the work of my pupils and projects at the Captia Managing the Safe Use of Social Media and Online Gaming Conference in Manchester. It was an interdisciplinary and multi-agency conference so it was great to be able to engage in discussion and debate with delegates from different professions.

During the presentation I covered the ways I have maximised the potential of interactions online in a safe and meaningful way:

You can view the presentation complete with videos below:


My 100th Post – A new role from September…

This is the 100th blog post to be published on this blog. I started blogging in February 2009 and for the past five years I have found it a useful place to reflect on education, technology and life. I wanted my 100th post to be something special so I’m using it to share some exciting news.

A new horizon…
I have been appointed to the role of Curriculum Leader with responsibility for E-Learning and Computing at my current school. This is an exciting development as I will also be a member of the school’s Senior Leadership and Management Team (SLMT) from September 2014. It’s a role (and challenge) that I’m really looking forward to. I’m really excited to be able to continue to coordinate our e-learning strategy and development as well having increased responsibility at the school. We’ve got some really exciting developments coming up with our e-learning work which I plan to blog about soon.

I want to thank everybody who has helped me along with the way. I have found it such an encouragement to be part of a wonderful network of educators on Twitter in particular. If it wasn’t for this network then a lot of the projects I have developed wouldn’t have happened.

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 16.47.02

Expedition Everest – Thematic Learning

The way that meaningful learning contexts and extended projects can be embedded in the primary classroom has always been a research and pedagogical interest of mine. I have developed many projects during my time in the classroom including the Brer Rabbit Critical Literacy project I ran in collaboration with The Wren’s Nest museum in Atlanta, USA. The most successful projects have included:

  • An open-ended theme with a range of text types and curriculum areas embedded.
  • An external and relevant collaborator with expertise linked to the theme of the project.

I was very thankful to The Wren’s Nest for being involved in our Year 2 animation project as our live storytelling session was a real highlight to the project and added a global (and historical dimension) to our project.

When I started teaching in Year 5 at my current school, I was interested in developing another project with my class which really added a meaningful layer of collaboration with a thematic approach across the curriculum. That’s how Expedition Everest began…

Expedition Everest

This project was originally planned as a two-week report writing unit of work. The children researched and learnt about the Himalayas and specifically Mount Everest. We found a wonderful video of Everest explorers successfully summiting:



I took a chance and contacted the uploader of the video – Ben Stephens. Ben then very kindly sent my class a presentation of his journey to Everest and set of photos of his journey from England to the summit of Mount Everest. The children were able to write newspaper reports of Ben’s successful expedition and used video interviews he recorded at various camps to extract direct speech to use in their newspaper reports. There was utter excitement in Y5 Moonstone Class as our children received a reply from Ben on our class blog:

Contact from Ben Stephens

Everest Explorer Ben Stephens responds to Y5 Moonstone Report Writing

The excitement and engagement of the children through the two weeks of report writing meant that I knew that the theme had further mileage. I therefore decided to continue with the theme of Everest for poetry writing. We used Ben Stephen’s photos as inspiration for poetry work.

Everest Poetry

Y5 Moonstone Everest Poetry

The poetry from all ability levels was outstanding and the children made excellent use of figurative language in particular.

Y5 Moonstone Everest Poetry

Y5 Moonstone Everest Poetry

I was then very fortunate to be in contact with Tori James, who was the youngest British woman and first Welsh woman to successfully summit Mount Everest. Tori became an inspiration to the children in my class and they were absolutely delighted to be able to interview her on our class blog.

Y5 Moonstone interview Tori James.

Y5 Moonstone interview Tori James.

You can read the full interview here and I would recommend reading the comments too as you can sense the excitement when the children replied to Tori’s messages.

After the poetry work I decided to build narrative into the project too, so contacted friend of Y5 Moonstone Gail Terp who works with us on The Book Project with Gail Terp on our class blog. Gail recommended a range of fiction texts but I eventually went with Jack Stalwart: The Hunt for the Yeti Skull by Elizabeth Singer Hunt.

I was also very thankful to adventure cameraman Keith Partridge who agreed to take part in a Skype session with the class to share his experiences of being on the summit of Everest. Keith helped realise an 88 year old promise of taking an Olympic gold medal to the summit in 2012.

Y5 Moonstone Skype

Y5 Moonstone Skype with Keith Partridge

You can read reflections of the Skype session on our class blog here and here. This session really helped the children when they were talking part in creative writing. They worked together as a class to create a compilation of stories based upon the theme of Expedition Everest: The Yeti Sightings. At the end of the project my class also wrote a special reflection for Gail Terp’s reading blog. You can read it here.

The project was an exceptionally exciting one and we are very thankful to Ben Stephens, Tori James, Keith Partridge and Gail Terp for making it so special. Their contribution really added value to the project.

You can read all of the children’s Expedition Everest work on our class blog here.


Class Blog – http://moonstone.htrblogs.net

Children’s reflection of the project on Gail Terp’s Reading Blog

Y5 Moonstone interview Everest Explorer Tori James

Class blog archive of Expedition Everest work



#nurture1314 – The year in review…

All over the world, education folk are taking part in #nurture1314 – an idea which began last year and has gained more traction this year via Twitter. The premise is simple – post your 13 best moments/achievements of 2013 and then your top 14 hopes or plans for 2014.


2013 has been a year of significant change and readjustment for me. It has been a year of significant highs but also challenges. This has been reflected in my dwindling use of Twitter and blogging this year, something I wish to address in 2014.

1. School

I am exceptionally blessed to be able to work with a brilliant staff team who put our children at the heart of what we do. I have some very dear friends at work to which I am really thankful. Education is my calling and I have known this since I was seven years old. This year has also been a period of significant change at our school, not least with the arrival of @RachelOrr as our new head teacher. Her inspirational leadership and immense knowledge of primary education is a huge asset to our school. I also became e-learning coordinator during 2013 so I’m looking forward to further developing this area in 2014.

The biggest shock of the year was OFSTED arriving in the last week of term – just before Christmas! Energy levels are now running very low!

2. Class

It is a privilege to teach my class each day and I hope that I really do inspire them with a love of learning that will continue as they grow up. We have had lots of exciting learning adventures and I really enjoy planning ways which will hook them into learning.

On a personal note, in October I also received my first ‘Outstanding’ lesson observation under the new OFSTED framework – a testament to the children in my class.

3. Class Blogging

I’m a huge advocate for class blogs for promoting multiliteracies. My class are enthusiastic bloggers and I regularly have 150+ comments a day to approve on our class blog. Our communication with NASA Educator Astronaut Barbara Morgan was a definite highlight of our blogging journey.

We’re also very fortunate to be able to work with Gail Terp, as part of ‘The Book Project‘ – a transatlantic blogging project where my class share their favourite books with a real author who then very kindly shares them on her reading blog.

4. Message from Barbara Morgan

Following on from the last point, I was overwhelmed to receive a personal message from NASA Educator Astronaut and ‘Teacher in Space’ Barbara Morgan. I wrote in January about how Barbara’s story is an inspiration and about her important work within education (see ‘Why I teach…‘ post).

Barbara Morgan Message

Click to enlarge…

5. Twitter

I really value Twitter as it has allowed me to connect with other educators across the globe. Although my use of Twitter has dwindled recently, I can easily dip into my Twitter feed and see great things happening in classrooms around the world. I have made some good friends on Twitter – both online and offline – and I am looking forward to investing more time in Twitter in 2014.

6. Conferences

I was privileged to be invited to speak at the UK Literacy Association’s National Conference in Manchester this year. It was a great event and it was brilliant to meet up with UKLA folk. I spoke about multiliteracies and some of the exciting projects my class has been involved in. I also attended the Northern Grid Conference and Teachmeet Woodham – a great place to be around like-minded educators.

7. Research

This is an area which I have not focused on in 2013 but I did put the finishing touches to my third book chapter about blogging which follows on from my work at the UTAS New Literacies Conference in Australia and also my MA thesis. Further information can be found on this page.

8. Work/Life Balance

This has always been a real area of development for me and one that I am pleased to report really began to be addressed in 2013. It was always focused too much on the work aspect. I now no longer work Sundays, which as a primary school teacher, is an unconventional approach to take but I do believe that a day of complete rest is important.

9. Life

As mentioned, I really value my colleagues and have many great friends at work. I’ve also enjoyed meeting with old friends over the past year. This time is very important to me. It’s very easy to spend all of your time working in education as work can easily expand to fill any available time. I’ve also been blessed to meet some amazing people over the past year who have become very good friends too – I’m really thankful for that.

10. Music

I have played the piano for many years but recently decided to learn how to play the guitar. I now have a Sigma acoustic guitar which I am gradually getting to grips with. I can play a few chords and my fingers are currently burning. Once I’ve mastered a few more chords and my fingers no longer feel like they’re on fire, a friend is going to be teaching me some songs.

11. New York

I had an amazing visit to New York in August with my brother – it was a really special time. So many amazing things happened there. Not least eating amazing food! I finally got to see Space Shuttle Enterprise as well as the usual tourist sites.

One of my most favourite places in the world is now Bethesda Terrace – especially in twilight at summertime! It was one of the most memorable moments of my life.

12. Coffee

Not coffee per se, but many of my happiest moments during 2013 have involved a cup of coffee!

13. Hope

I do feel really blessed and privileged with the life I lead. Even through rough and busy times, I have faith and hope… remembering, the important things and trying to place them at the centre of what I do.


2014 is going to be a good year. It’s not going to be a perfect year but that’s because there can’t be a perfect year. Life is full of valleys, mountains and seasons. I am a believer of taking each day as it comes but there are some areas I would like to think about as I enter 2014.

1. Life

I intend to live! I’m really looking forward to time with friends over coffee and food!

2. Family

Quality time with family should always be a priority.

3. School

There are so many things that I am excited about doing at school. I plan on blogging about them soon! I’m also looking forward to developing our approach to e-learning across the school. We recently launched our new school website and have lots of exciting things in the pipe-line.

4. Research and Conference

My third book chapter will be published in 2014 so I will be looking at other research projects. I have no idea what this will entail but let us see what arises! I’ve already been booked to speak at a conference in Greenwich in May so I’m looking forward to that.

5. Blogging and Twitter

It is my intention to return to this blog on a more frequent basis! I’ll be back on Twitter and look forward to learning from all of the education folk on there!

6. Fitness

I need to get back to running!

7. Guitar

I do hope that by this time next year, I am significantly better at playing my guitar!

8 ‘Device downtime’

I am going to be taking periods of digital leave over the course of the year as I think it is a healthy thing to do. On a daily basis I’m also going to disconnect from devices for a couple of hours.

9. Reading

I love to read and I am going to make this a priority this year.

10. The Outdoors and Seasons

I love the countryside, especially in Summertime. Summer is my favourite time of the year but a good friend recently told me that there is something beautiful in all of the seasons. So I’m going to remember that, especially during wintertime and the dark nights!

11. Cooking

I love to cook and I have been trying out some new recipes recently. My friends and family have been tasting the results for me. I’m really aiming to have a more holistic and natural view of food this year. I’m going to try and cook more wholesome food – and make the time to do it.

12. Paperless

I have started the process of going paperless and I believe I have a system which will work. I hope to significantly reduce the amount of paper in my house during 2014!

13. Friends

There are some friends who I see rarely and I hope to go and visit them this year!

14. Hope and Peace

I hope and pray for peace, even when the storms of life try to take over!


I am open to and excited for what the new year will bring!

Enjoy 2014!

Picture of Atoms

Papers and Research

I’m in the process of re-adding all of my previous research and documents to this site. I am aware my blogging activity has dwindled this year but I hope that in 2014 I will have a more active blogging presence. Feedback on any of the papers is, as always, very welcome.

  • Dissertation – Exploring the effects of multimodality on writing. Winner of UKLA Dissertation award.
  • ESRC Paper – ‘A fixed point in time and pedagogy’ presented at the ESRC Virtual Worlds seminar series.
  • Multiliteracies Paper – Presented at 45th UKLA Conference ‘Building literate communities’ at University of Greenwich, July 2009.
  • Using Twitter in the Primary Classroom – My article about @ClassroomTweets, which was published in English 4-11.
Crescent Moon (NASA, International Space Station Science, 11/03/07)

Retiring Technologies

With the change of command ceremony on Saturday, our time on the ISS [International Space Station] has really come to an end and our focus is on descent. Last time, I landed in the summer in the desert of California in a space shuttle. This time, it will be winter on the steppes of Kazakhstan in a gumdrop shaped capsule! I have a feeling I already know which one will be bumpier… [Sunita Williams - NASA Astronaut]

I use the above quote from NASA Astronaut Suni Williams as an example of retiring technologies without an improved successor. In 2009 the USA had a fleet of three space shuttles which were able to transport a crew into space and to the International Space Station (ISS). Now the US have no means of doing so and have to rely on private companies and Russia. NASA was the primary transporter for the International Space Station and did wonderful things with their space programme. Sadly this looks to be stalling. They retired a technology and had no replacement.

ISS crew members sit inside the Soyuz TMA-02M capsule after landing near Arkalyk
Russian Soyuz capsules are now used as the primary transporter for manned expeditions to the ISS. They lack the crucial functionality of being able to repair the space station [Image Reuters]

Over the years I have come across various technologies which have being retired without a replacement. Google Reader being the most recent example. The reason given is that Google are looking to pour their energy into fewer products. I rather naively thought that Google Reader was well used because it has been so valuable to me. It wouldn’t be possible for me to follow all of the websites I want to read and sync them across devices without Google Reader. I don’t believe RSS is dead and I don’t believe Twitter is a viable replacement – there is too much information on there to keep track of it and ultimately a lot of it will be lost in cyberspace. Thankfully other solutions have emerged including Fever, which I have installed on my own webspace so I don’t have to worry about the service being discontinued.

Sometimes, no other alternatives appear. I am a big user of Microsoft Photodraw 2000. It is so simplistic and let’s me produce quality graphics very quickly. I use it for all of my print and web work – both professionally and personally. Microsoft retired this software in 2001 and I have yet to find a replacement that matches its simplicity and versatility. As a result, I have to boot into Windows on my Mac and use a twelve-year outdated piece of software to do my graphics work because I don’t believe in replacing technologies when they work well.

Apple are taking a different approach with my first-gen iPad and are forcing me to retire the technology by discontinuing support for it and not providing any updates. As a result I am using iOS5 which means some of the functionality I would like is missing and apps are slowly becoming unsupported. It’s slower than I remember it ever being. As a result I’m probably going to have to upgrade to a newer model in 2013/14. That’s a whole different thread of consumerist thinking.

I do wonder which seemingly popular technology will be retired or swallowed up next?

Featured Image used under Creative Commons – NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center via Compfight


OMG. My mom (@murieloliv) got me @foursquare badge cookies for my birthday!

Badges for Learning

A couple of months ago I wrote about introducing Badges for Learning onto my class blog to link specifically to my classroom management system both in the online and offline world. I had initially encountered badges from the likes of Foursquare and GetGlue where ‘checking in’ to locations and films allowed me to earn badges/stickers.

Get Glue Stickers

Get Glue Stickers – unlocked by ‘checking in’ to various television programmes and films.

Foursquare badges and GetGlue stickers initially sowed the seed of how digital rewards may be used in my classroom. It wasn’t until I encountered Doug Belshaw’s tweets and blog posts about #openbadges that I began to think in a more concrete way about how such an idea could be embedded in my classroom.

I’ve read with interest the work of Julia Davies who has talked a lot about the way blogs create a virtual territory which, although delineated, can blur boundaries for when the space begins and ends (Davies, 2006). Her work into Teen Wiccan sub-cultures through blogging is fascinating stuff – as is a lot of the ethnographic research included in this book. Julia’s work constantly sees blogs as online digital ‘cubby holes’  – also linking to Wenger’s notion of Communities of Practice (Wenger, 1998). She argues that blogs can disrupt the binaries of online and offline worlds (Davies, 2006: 60) which is exactly the concept I am trying to develop with Badges for Learning.

In a general sense I want our class blog to become the digital ‘cubby hole’ for online activities linked to our school work – children can access all of our internet services through the blog using unified log-ins and passwords. I also want Badges for Learning to transcend both online and offline spaces – blurring the boundaries and rewarding skills, activities and achievements in both online and offline spaces. Initial response has been excellent.

When I wrote my last blog post we had five available badges – we now have fifteen. Five of these badges have been created by the children in my class – both the design and awarding criteria.

Example Badges for Learning Backpack

An example ‘Badges for Learning’ Backpack

For further explanation of the low-tech way I set up the badge packs then see my previous post about badges. I still use exactly the same method. We now also have an Apply for a Badge page using the Support Tickets WordPress plug-in as badges cannot automatically be unlocked and it’s impossible for me to keep track of who needs which badge.

In short, Badges for Learning works very well. I would really like a WordPress plug-in that could automatically issue badges linked to post counts etc but I am happy for the badges to be linked to skills rather than something quantitative. Letting the children design badges and awarding criteria also gives them ownership of the programme too. This is a very powerful model I am very keen to develop.

My next line of enquiry with Badges for Learning is to create a new set of badges that link specifically to new media literacy competencies such as the work of Jenkins (or perhaps Mozilla Web Literacies). I will be sure to blog about this when it happens. In the meantime I’m really keen to hear your thoughts on Badges for Learning/Open Badges and also any ways in which you have embedded badges into your classroom or setting.

Davies, J. (2006). Escaping to the Borderlands: An Exploration of the Internet as Cultural Space for Teengage Wiccan Girls. In K. Pahl, & J. Rowsell, (Eds.), Travel Notes from the New Literacy Studies: Instances of Practice. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice, Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Featured image used under Creative Commons License – Creative Commons License dennis crowley

Simon Finch on Social Media

I have a great deal of respect for Simon Finch (also known as @simfin on Twitter). He speaks very wisely about teachers and children using social media – backed up with evidence and sound advice. It’s no wonder he has been short-listed for a Naace Impact Award.

I was honoured to find that Simon had included some of my work in his BETT presentation about social media in education. Initially the @ClassroomTweets (Using Twitter in the Primary Classroom) project and then our recent work linked to Barbara Morgan and NASA. Some of the highlights I picked out:

“In the olden days we would celebrate that [sharing writing] by putting it on the wall. When the internet came it went on the school website or the school newsletter and you would publish it there for the parents to see and the wider community to see. By using social media that audience becomes, not just a local, regional, but a national and international but also you’re able to leave comments and receive feedback.”

“Back in the day, we used to have to lie to kids that we had a letter from NASA; here we have real ones to bring space and NASA into the classroom, is absolutely fantastic.”

“Social media are a fantastic opportunity and we need to embrace that opportunity and get the rest of the world to understand that there can be valid activity when a teacher uses Twitter or a blog – it’s not a waste of time. But within that we need to post like our enemies are watching – who is managing your identity? If you’re not managing your identity then, collectively, other people are. And then the final message is… nothing is private.”

More about Simon here and you can follow him on Twitter here.