Spam? Yes I remember Spam!

It’s not often that SPAM gets through the filtering applied by Gmail. In fact it’s so infrequent that I’ve forgotten what it looks like. It used to be the case, on my old email account that I’d have at least 2 or 3 spam emails each day. In those days my trained eyes would spot the Spam through the tell-tail signs and wearily move it to the Spam folder. It was an automatic process – one that I did mindlessly. My brain would tell me, “Oh that’s Spam,” and I would remove it.

Today I received Spam for the first time in ages and it surprised me. For the briefest moment I thought it was real. That’s not because it looks real. The grammar and capitalisation is terrible and there’s a key spelling mistake that gave it away at the end (and made me laugh out loud I should add):

error code5199AA 

your attention is highly needed to update your account, due to error code5199AA. failure to comply to this instruction will result to account termination click here 

singed management.

Now, you’d have to be extremely naive not to realise that was Spam, but it’s been so long since I’d received Spam that I feel my guards are down. There really are people out there trying to get you and it’s important to read each email from an unknown person with filter applied – do you really want to click here? Can you be absolutely sure that link isn’t going to take you somewhere horrible? (I have taken the hyperlink out of this post just to make sure nobody clicks it).

It made me realise too that in all my recent efforts to get students aware of the dangers inherent in online identity and social media – those friends who aren’t really friends – not keeping too much of your private self in a public space, and all that – I’m not sure if I haven’t forgotten the whole Spam issue. And if the email systems that we use in schools are so perfect and filtered that students never see Spam am I really helping them?

Rising Stars – A company that make me want to get back into the classroom

The amount of my teaching varies. Sometimes I’m in class a lot, sometimes I’m not.

I have a office and a desk. Sometimes I have a classroom and a group of children. The constant is the desk, not the classroom and I often miss the whole teaching a class thing – taking a class of children in September, teaching them a varied and interested curriculum, watching them develop and grow over a year, forging positive bonds with their parents and all that.

However recently the thing that has made me miss teaching more than anything has been Rising Stars, or more specifically, 3 things that Rising Stars sell:

  1. Writing maps – these are the kind of open-ended resource I love. They’re a picture prompts for story writing – full of images that can prompt discussion around vocabulary and story ideas. They’re just the thing for children who are struggling to unleash their imagination or when I’m finding my own imagination is petrifying with tiredness towards the end of each term. You could conceivably base much of a term’s work on one map, depending on how much detail you want to put in to each map.
  2. Challenge Cards – more open ended resources. A picture or a saying on a card to stimulate discussion with guidance and vocabulary on the back to help the teacher. The longer I teach, the more I am convinced that much of education is is giving children more words to describe things with. Some people criticise excessive verbosity, but just because you have a load of words doesn’t mean you need to use them in every situation.
  3. Dockside – Teaching mainly older primary children, I have always struggled with motivating those older children who are behind in their reading. The thing is that many of the books that help them learn to read have concepts and themes that are too infantile to motivate these 9, 10 and 11 year olds. These books are set to the six stages of phonics as decreed by the government as THE WAY THAT CHILDREN LEARN TO READ (which is another debate, for another time). But even better they have the kind of themes that you get in Eastenders – really engaging for older children. We’ve already had great reports coming back from our Year 5 class who are trialling them at the moment.

And guess what. In September I am teaching. 3 days a week. I have a lot of other things to do in the remaining 2 days like being Senco, ICT coordinator, maths leader, performance management responsibilities and all that. But I’m excited about the teaching and it’s partly down to the fact that I’ll finally be able to use these great resources from Rising Stars.

Chromebooks – they’re all about battery life

Last week pretty much all the work in Year 6 was done using Chromebooks.

Year 6 were documenting our school’s sports week, that we dubbed unofficially the Pagalympics. You can read about what happened at our school blog – paganelschool.com/blog – all the posts written there by children.

The idea of the week was that the rest of the school would engage in fun-filled workshops themed around the Olympics – some making puppets for the Olympic torch relay, which passed through Birmingham at the weekend, others making videos about the Olympic mascots, yet more taking part in a Decathlon – learning different events and competing against each other. Meanwhile, Year 6 were the journalists – it was there to job to find out what each group was doing, what the participants were learning and so on.

During the week the Year 6 children used the WordPress interface on the school’s self-hosted blog to write about what happened . They interviewed people about the events straight into Aviary – which contains a cloud-based audio editor. They uploaded audio into Audioboo and embedded this content into their posts. They took pictures, uploaded them to Picasa and embedded them into the blog. Somee made videos of what happened, which they edited in Camtasia.

Of these things only the video editing was done with no use of the Chromebooks. Everything else was done using Chromebooks in some way – using the Chromebooks internal microphone to record straight into Aviary or uploading pictures using the SD card slot.

The children learnt a lot from the week – one of the main things being the limitations of the current wifi system. The access points, scattered around the school would only allow three or four Chromebooks to get on with audio editing – anymore and the bandwidth would run out and nothing would happen. They also learned that they could only work so far onto the field before they couldn’t access the internet anymore. “You’ve got to write your blog this side of the big tree” one child told me.

That’s partly why I’m in the process of upgrading our wifi to a much faster system using Meraki – a cloud-based wifi management system that should increase the bandwidth of our access points by tenfold.

However the reason that the week worked above all was the battery life of the Chromebooks. It seems a minor consideration, but the fact that they last for 8 hours means that they last for a full school day –  a child can take a Chromebook in arm, walk about all over the school, use it whenever they notice something interesting and it never runs out.

I think this has got to be the overriding USP for primary schools with these kinds of devices, whether they be iPads, Android tablets, Chromebooks or whatever. They must last a full day. I know colleagues have had the same experience with iPads – whatever you make them do, they last all day and you just can’t beat that. All teachers know that one of the biggest drains on lesson time is sharpening the pencils – people develop all sorts of systems for it – monitors, electric sharpeners and the like – having sharpened pencils makes such a difference to lessons where drawing or writing happens. Similarly for tech-devices – having to charge them at dinner time is just a no go.

And that’s why, despite the fact that a newer, faster Chromebook is now out (the Samsung 550), I won’t be upgrading to that model, because it only guarantees 6 hours battery life. I can imagine that some places need them – maybe when you come on to doing cloud-based video editing or 3D modelling and you need the speed, but for my purposes, battery life is the winner.

So next time your looking for shiny mobile technology, make sure you keep the battery life in the back of your mind.