My top 10 games in classroom

Xenotactic

Using these criteria, I’ve chosen my top 10 games that I’ve used in the classroom. My classroom, admittedly has usually been in Key Stage 2 (UK NC), so my list is somewhat skewed. But it’s mine.

 

  1. Xeno Tactic. Great problem solving game – good for children to help children develop visualisation (they have to see the spaces to create the best maze). Also the last level is impossible – at least I’ve only ever seen screencasts of it being done by cheating.
  2. Submachine. This series of game is great for developing lateral thinking in problem solving. The first one, Submachine 0, is a great start for children because it’s not too complicated, but after that they do get quite tricky and I have to admit I’ve used the walkthrough on one or two of them.
  3. Sim City 3000. I got a whole load of these CDs cheap from somewhere and regretted it. Sim City is a great game and the children who used it did get something out of it – but the versions I got where all looked with annoying codes and in an ICT suite of 30 children it was just impractical. I notice it’s possible to download this for free now, so things might be different from a few years ago.
  4. Civilization 2. Again an old game that I picked up some cheap copies. This worked much better than Sim City though as it was the same version. I remember it fitted quite nicely with the history-based topic work at the time, especially giving children a sense of chronology. Of course it’s a good strategy game too.
  5. Myst. I used Myst as an interactive whiteboard activity during my weekly team problem solving session. One team would see if they could get further than the previous in their hour. I’ve seen people have used it to inspire writing, but that’s not my own personal bag.
  6. Baldur’s Gate. I was looking for something to support the teaching of fantasy / sci-fi genre in my literacy lessons and remembered this one. It’s an 11+ so I used it only with the oldest children. What I like is that it’s essentially text-based – so children need to use their reading skills to get anywhere in the game. It also prompted some great writing as it’s set in a very rich world.
  7. Football Manager 2006. It’s a bit out of date (obviously), but I’ve used this game to run a club in dinner times. It’s a highly numbers based game – all the players are rated on scores out of 20, and there’s lots of large numbers transferring players from team to team. Strangely only boys joined the club.
  8. Atomic Cannon. This is one of those games where you set an angle and a power and shoot the missile at the enemy tanks. I remember playing a game like this on the BBC Micro when I was about 9. This one works on PC or Mac (and now I notice some mobile devices) and is great to teach children about an understanding of angle.
  9. Schoolsfl.com. OK, this isn’t quite a game. It’s the Fantasy Football League for schools where each player chooses their own team of Premiership footballers. They are given points after each round of games and prizes each month then follow. There are free versions that exist, but I’ve found that the £3.50 you pay for each team is worth it.
  10. Cbeebies. As I said, I’m no early years expert, but my own children have loved the Cbeebies website – loads of games and things to do.
So that’s my list. As you can see it majors around problem solving and strategy – I suppose that indicates both what my personal preferences are and what I think children need from gaming. I’d love any thoughts and reflections on the games I’ve chosen…

Top 5 criteria for making a top 10 list

I’ve noticed that a lot of bloggers and web 2.0 gurus like making top 10 lists for different things. I can’t get ‘High Fidelity‘ by Nick Hornby out of my head when I see a top 10 list. Admittedly, in High Fidelity, Rob Fleming, the main character makes only top 5 lists – you’ve got to do twice the thinking for a top 10 list – but I’m about to challenge myself to do it. Yes, unheard of before, I’m going to make a list of my top 10 educational games. OK, so maybe lots of people have done that, but I might as well throw my money in the top 10 games hat. Anyway, here are my top 5 criteria for making my top 10 list.

 

  1. Make sure you have some experience of items on your list. People can find stuff out from Wikipedia, so don’t just be academically right. You’ve got have lived it…
  2. Try to put your list in some kind of order. It may only be a list, but it can still have a narrative. I love it when I get to about item 6 and the tension is broken with some witty humour or self-deprecating reflection. Or when point 3 comes along and you can’t help nodding sagely at the thoughtful insight.
  3. Remember that nobody really bothers much with the middle of the list. So you don’t need to write much for that point.
  4. Make sure you have some experience of items on your list. It sounds obvious, but you wouldn’t guess the amount of people who just look things up on Wikipedia and then pretend they know all about it.
  5. Don’t repeat yourself. You may think you’re making a point, but you could have just made a shorter list.
I hope everyone finds that helpful.

My top tips for challenging children

ADHD

 

I’ve taught a lot of ADHD children. Probably twenty, which isn’t quite an entire class but is getting on for that. Imagine the fun of teaching a whole class of ADHD children? So I’m no expert, but in my experience most ADHD children are boys. Also some of them (remember this isn’t representative) are, in my opinion, suffering from DDD (Dad-deficient disorder) and are desperate for a male role model in my lives.

 

  1. Speak to them often. Tell them what’s coming up in the next lesson. Talk to them about how they’re playtime was. Tell them when you’re next going to talk to them.
  2. Ritalin sometimes works. It often doesn’t. Sometimes it makes things worse – or weirder. If parents are thinking of medicating, it’s important to be in close conversation with them about how things are going.
  3. Give them space and physical activity. Allow them to write standing and sitting. It seems to me that ADHD children are often very kinaesthetic.
  4. Find a male role model for them – preferably a class teacher – I don’t know how this works out in secondary (where it may be counter-productive), but in the primary schools where I have worked this has been successful.
Autism

 

I have many funny stories about children with different levels of autism, but I need to tell them in a pub, not in this medium. As a teacher I relied on a good TA or integration assistant to support children with autism. As a BeCo (Behaviour Co-ordinator) I rely on the Educational Psychologist and LA support services (which in Birmingham are excellent) to tell me what to do.

 

Quiet Children

 

These are sometimes the worst – they won’t willingly engage with any activities. At earlier ages they may have been elective mutes. I’ve taught a few, including a Polish girl who returned to school a few weeks to visit, but still wouldn’t speak to me. Suffice it say, I find them very challenging.

 

  1. Analyse what their self esteem is like using the BASIS approach.
  2. Do lots of team problem solving and challenges where they have to engage with their peers.
  3. Take them to a field and make them practice SHOUTING!
  4. Talk to their parents.
  5. Find another adult that can work with in smaller settings than a whole class.
Whole School

 

Sometimes you need a whole school approach – the methods being used in the individual classrooms aren’t working, the challenges are coming thick and fast and everyone is struggling. We’re about to launch one at my school where every child will score themselves out of 10 at the end of the week in a circle time session. The criteria will be quite rigid – 7 will be normal. 10 will be role model, handing in all homework and generally being perfect. 5 will be a couple of warnings and 1 will be an exclusion. As will score it on Google Spreadsheets, the scores will then come to me as BeCo and I will present a ‘class’ of the week prize in Monday assembly. After that I will begin giving prizes for class that make progress from week to week (so our nightmare Year 4 class don’t miss out) and also give prizes for children that get a whole loads of 10s. This system isn’t for everyone, but we need it at the moment. We may not need it for ever either. – I’ll report in a few weeks on how it’s going.

Smack the naughty child

It was about eight years ago.

 

A parent  came to see me about his son’s behaviour and said, “I give you permission to smack him when he’s naughty.”

 

Of course I had to explain to the parent that even if that permission could be granted, I would not be able to use any physical punishment on the parent’s child. It’s not the only time it’s happened either.

 

I’ve had many experiences of ‘difficult children’ over the years. I’ve only taught in ‘difficult’ areas of Birmingham – areas of high deprivation, low expectations and often multi-ethnic. In one school of only 180 children, 22 different home languages were spoken. In another, some of the families last legal employment could be traced back 6 or 7 generations to some great, great, great grandfather who had helped build the canals. Why am I saying this? Credibility? I suppose so. While I’m a relative newbie to blogging, Twitter and behaviour management, I’ve spent my whole career dealing with challenging behaviour.

 

So what’s my top tip for dealing with challenging children? Treat them all as children. All different, all unique, all special and all with some growing up still to enjoy.

 

When I was a full-time teacher I encouraged my class to have a sense of class-ness. I used aspiration walls to engage children with their future and circle time to encourage a sense of openness and teamwork. I used the BASIS approach to analyse children’s self esteem and plan interventions for children or groups of children with particularly low areas. I use day planners and a weekly diary so that children can approach each lesson without any sense of surprise and then reflect on the highs and lows of a week of learning. All these strategies create a sense of unity that is difficult to fight against, but still there are challenges and when they came I would use other adults – teachers, senior leaders and parents to support. The most difficult situation is when a parent isn’t supportive. I’ve had parents threaten and swear at me and when this happens I’ve needed colleagues to support me, time to sort the situation out and a good cry.

 

I’m BeCo (Behaviour Co-ordinator) now. I spend a good amount of my time dealing with challenging behaviour from around the school. As a leader, it’s often tempting to question what strategies were being used in the lesson? Was the learning appropriate? Were the children bored? But it’s unfair to point the finger at any teachers. The strategies are good, the lessons are good and the majority of the children are thoroughly engaged. Actually I’m more and more pointing the finger at myself – my intervention wasn’t early enough, my support level wasn’t high enough, my engagement with both the pupils and parents wasn’t deep enough. I’m new to the role and learning as I go, but I’m sure I’ve dropped more balls than I’ve caught so far (sorry colleagues!)

 

The thing is, it takes a whole village to raise a child, or in our context – in the UK – a whole school community. We all need each other to raise these children right. That’s why parents needs teachers, teachers need their leaders and the leaders need the parents. If you’re wondering how you can sort out the naughty children by yourself (remembering that smacking isn’t allowed), then maybe you’re thinking the wrong thing.

Does ‘mean’ mean ‘mean’, ‘mean’ or are you being mean?

Ambiguities

In researching for my assignment (about whether social media can enhance maths learning), I've come across lots of interesting stuff about language. I'm bemused with myself that I'm saddened at the fact that the mere 2500 words I've got to write my assignment won't be enough to include many of the interesting things that I've found out. Interesting questions more than anything – because it's a whole world of learning. But it's also another essay to be written at a different time.

Suffice to say, at this point: maths teachers – you are amazing.

Why are we amazing?

Because we can explain to our children when leaves means equals.

And when vulgar isn't rude.

We know that multiply can make things smaller; that even isn't always smooth; divide can mean share and group; differentiation is more than just good practice for including all children in learning.

And we can explain that mean means mean (as in average), as opposed to nasty (although it might feel like it), or intend.

Maths. It's all about the words, don't you know.

Preacher’s Forum

On Monday 18th January, my church began a new thing:

Preacher's Forum.

I've only preached* once and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. It was the penultimate week of my summer holiday, which is always much valued by any teachers, and I'd spent the previous five weeks preparing and panicking about what I would say. For some reason, ten years of standing up in front of children and teaching hadn't prepared me for 12 minutes of standing up in front of adults and preaching. Then the aftermath was disastrous too. I'd 'given' so much of myself into that 12 minute sermon that I couldn't get much energy to start the term right – and it was about the worst start to an academic year I ever made.

So obviously I'm not a natural preacher.

I was really interested as to what would be said. Preaching is not the most fashionable of activities, so in this world of blogging and Twitter how does or should it fit in. Bishop Andrew of Aston (Birmingham, UK) was leading the session. He himself is said to preach about five times a week, so he should know a thing or two… Well – I tweeted my notes using the hashtag #preachforum and here they are:

  1. Bishop Andrew of Aston about to speak at #preachforum – wonder how this will affect my teaching?
  2. Apparently Spurgeon once preached a sermon in his sleep, his wife wrote down the main points and gave him the outline next am #preachforum
  3. Mark Earey (a regular preacher at St. John's) #preachforum hands out feedback forms for the congregation after a sermon. Ah – the backchannel in church…
  4. SEEA – state, explain, example (as in give one), apply #preachforum
  5. Bishop Andrew says the idea of children growing up on boring, irrelevant teaching makes him frustrated and angry. #preachforum
  6. Preachers don't clone ourselves – variety is important for the user. #preachforum
  7. Why is preaching important? Very few occasions when people can give a talk in society. #preachforum
  8. Basic convictions about nature of God are key to preaching. Otherwise it's just arrogance. #preachforum
  9. How do you measure what happens to a sermon? (my suggestion – use Google Moderator). Bishop Andrew – look at the long term. #preachforum
  10. Revival is linked to prayer and preaching – St. Dominic, St Francis of Assisi, Wycliffe, Wesley, Charles Simeon, Billy Graham. #preachforum
  11. Preaching is an antidote for advertising #preachforum
  12. 7 images of preacher: herald, sower, ambassador, steward of God's household, shepherd, workman, priest or bridge buillder. #preachforum
  13. Preaching: stick to one point, keep on track, refresh old commentaries, reach for the Bible first. #preachforum
  14. Preaching: don't preach your pet subject, don't tell jokes, don't overdo personal anecdotes, don't rely on Powerpoint #preachforum
  15. Preaching: use humour, especially self-deprecating, so that the preacher isn't put on a pedestal #preachforum
  16. Preaching: don't just prepare the sermon; prepare yourself. #preachforum
  17. Preaching: don't circle round the runway at the end of the sermon. Think about the user's response. #preachforum
  18. Preaching: don't preach to impress; preach to inspire. #preachforum
  19. Story and narrative is very important to preaching. #preachforum
What came across to me the most was that

Preaching still has a place in society – they are very few other opportunities to just give a talk on something. Yet in church it happens every week and can be the starting point for interesting dialogue. In addition preaching can be an antidote for the highly consumerist messages that are given constantly through advertising in the media.

Preaching is very separate from teaching – my own skill has to be teaching. I love the dialogue of a good lesson. The interaction between student and pupil. But I can appreciate that preaching has it's place too. The exposition of a positive message; the declaration of truth.

Success of preaching is measured in the long term – here I think preaching is very similar to teaching. While the backchannel in the classroom is very useful, the true success of a teacher is what your students are up to in 20 years time. Just as the quality of the preaching is measured by the long term life of the congregation, not just stewing over the sermon during Sunday lunch.

*preached – although I'm often tempted to say 'praught'