Is Michael Gove doing a good thing, but in so bad a way as to spoil its beneficial effect?

My title is a shameful paraphrase of Gladstone from his third Midlothian Speech (Tuesday 27th November 1879). What he actually said was:


Even, gentlemen, when you do a good thing, you may do it in so bad a way that you may entirely spoil the beneficial effect;”


and he finished his sentence by saying:


and if we were to make ourselves the apostles of peace in the sense of conveying to the minds of other nations that we thought ourselves more entitled to an opinion on that subject than they are, or to deny their rights – well, very likely we should destroy the whole value of our doctrines.”


The reason I’ve made this quote is that Michael Gove quoted this same speech in his recent address to Cambridge University. I understand that Gladstone was talking about foreign policy at the time, whereas Gove was talking about Education, but I wonder whether I can make a comparison with a speech that’s 130 years old. After all, Gove did.


Some real positives hit me from Gove’s speech, for example: I want to proclaim the importance of education as a good in itself. I want to argue that introducing the young minds of the future to the great minds of the past is our duty.” and I think any society is a better society for taking intellectual effort more seriously, for rewarding intellectual ambition, for indulging curiosity, for supporting scholarship, for feting those who teach and celebrating those who learn.”


These are sentiments that ring my bells – they make me think this is what I got into education for. They are: A. Good. Thing. I think it’s great that he doesn’t want to subordinate education to purely economic ends; that he believes our current generation of teachers are the best ever; that he wants us to be connected with communities of learning such as those at Google and Apple. Marvellous. FAB!


However I think Michael Gove is a bit disingenuous about some things and just plain wrong about others –  a bit like how Gladstone hints in his speech with the ‘apostles of peace’ phrase. You see Gladstone’s arch-rival, Disraeli had waited through the early 1880s as the Liberal party tore itself apart (partly due to the rigours of getting the country’s first Education Act through Parliament). Disraeli was offered the chance to form a minority government in 1883, but could see that the Liberals would only make it worse for themselves and waited for the general election of 1884 to form a majority government then. Disraeli seems to have been characterised as cunning and cynical and it was these characteristics that Gladstone was railing against.


Gove casts a vision of acadamies bringing the excellence into the education system. He talks about a 700% increase this year. But this is nearly all at secondary level, where a school’s large size can help undertake the structural change necessary to become an Academy. I don’t see a model which works for Primary schools unless there is a significantly active community group ready to support them. And this to me seems slightly cynical – he’s said what he wants(Academies) but for those who are in no position to attain it – like most Primary schools it’s like “Oh well, you’ll just have to be the have-nots” – he’s left the future of students and teachers in those schools in the ambitions of their tiny governing bodies.


What Gove doesn’t say about Gladstone’s speech is that there is a common theme of Christianity in it – there is an assumption that his entire audience are Christians. If you then look back at the Education Act of 1870 you see that at that time over the half the children in the country were being educated by the Anglican or Roman Catholic Clergy. The National Education League was set up by mainly secular industrialists, such as Joseph Chamberlain to demand a state education system for the benefit of industry. When the Act went through it was a victory for the League, but the first Education Boards were often dominated by non-conformist Christians such as the Quakers. So the motivation for providing schools was either from religion or from industry.


In Gove’s speech he talks about education for education’s sake – for the love of the art, or the music, or the literature and I want that as much as anyone. But it isn’t right to suggest that Gladstone’s audience thought the same thing. The ‘rude mechanicals’ would have valued education because of their religious beliefs, or because they wanted their own children to have a better quality of life than they, because of their education.


The ‘push’ for Academies that religious groups could have provided in Victorian times no longer exists – those Christian groups just aren’t there any more in large enough quantities. So it makes me wonder what will happen to the rest of schools when all those who can possibly convert into Acadmies have done so. There just won’t be enough motivation in our society to run all theose academies – so we’ll have to have a significantly-sizsed state school sector. When Gove says he’ll be putting greater demands on headteachers and academics, does that mean in supporting those schools within the state sector who aren’t yet elite so that they too can become elite? And is it elitism for everyone – so that when everyone is elite, nobody will be (I’d like to be quoting Aldhous Huxley at this point, but I realise I’m closer to quoting ‘Syndrome’ from ‘the Incredibles’.)


There is also the odd item in his speech that I consider to be just plain wrong. Like for example when he says that ‘children in Singapore are exposed to calculations involving the foundations of algebra’ before children in the UK. Our children meet their first algebra at the age of 4 – children in Singapore don’t even start school until they’re 5 so how can this be true? He also claims that the government are reforming the whole exam system and yet Key Stage 2 SATs remain unchanged. It is KS2 SATs where education starts going wrong for many of our young people, but I’ll be looking at this in another post.


The final thing that is wrong with this speech is the context. I have read at least three of Gove’s recent speeches and each one has impressed me – I love his ambition and the vision he casts in them – I want to be in the education landscape he paints. However the speeches I have read have been (a) to the Conservative party; (b) to the Royal Society; (c) to Cambridge University. It would be nice to see Gove trying to inspire (like I do) 60 young parents about the virtues of education – then I would see that he was not only doing a good thing, but doing it in such a good way as to enhance its beneficial effect.

Is this the beginning of the end for the proxy server?


Proxy servers have been great for schools. The ability to apply policies, filters and firewalls to a range of academic establishments has helped keep millions of students protected from less than savoury websites. In Birmingham, UK, Europe’s largest education authority, nearly all the 420+ schools use the same proxy, meaning that the costs of maintaining it are much lower than they would be should each school have to manage their own one.


Essentially a proxy server is an extra computer that sits between your network and the rest of the world, although if you want a more technical article, see the wikipedia article.

In short, proxy servers do a good thing and they save money.


As an ICT co-ordinator, I have seen the proxy server as a necessary evil.


It does more good that it doesn’t.


I need the proxy – but it does often cause me problems.


For example, to make the school Kindles work, I have to take them home to set them up (where I have a direct internet connection). This is a bit frustrating.


In addition, some websites are rightly filtered by the proxy for all the schools in Birmingham, but on occasion it would be useful to open them up. Facebook is a good example of this – not only do I manage a school Facebook page that I can update from school via email but cannot see in school unless I borrow a child’s mobile phone, but I would also like to offer parent workshops about safe Facebook use. The people who manage the Birmingham proxy server (Link2ICT) are very responsive and offered to unlock Facebook and similar social media sites for a specific computer at a specific time – but this does require extra organisation and time – it would be handy if I could control this myself.


A further problem is a clash with external providers. Increasingly schools such as ours are forging stronger links with external software providers. 2Simple are an excellent example – they provide software that is just perfect for the primary child – uncomplicated, powerful and fun to use. However their support solution involves a tool called Logmein, where they can access a computer remotely from their offices whilst speaking to me on the phone. Now in the past I have been literally shouted at by a colleague from Link2ICT for daring to experiment with Logmein as it jeopardises the integrity of the whole Birmingham network, apparently. This is a bit of a conflict – do I turn to the software company for support, or do I only rely on the services of our local people?


And when schools are increasingly asked to be accountable and autonomous at a school level, not a local authority level, is there a balance to be struck between the systems that work at a local authority level (like Proxy servers) and between commercial software providers?


Managing my own proxy would be completely out of the question. Not only would I not have the time or the inclination to learn the skills, but I’m sure it’s far cheaper to share a proxy between a range of school like we currently do.


However, just in this last week, I have noticed something in our Google Apps domain that does some of the jobs that the proxy server does.


This week I have been experimenting with our Google Apps management console to set up our Chromebooks in different ways for the different user groups. For example I can set up the teachers so that the school calendar and their email open at startup. Or I can setup the year 6 students so that they get straight to a Google spreadsheet we have been working on for our Switched on ICT scheme of work. Or I can setup the Year 3 students so they get straight to Purple Mash, that they have been trialling this term. I’ve noticed too that I can control the Chrome extensions and web apps from the chrome store – I can make Angry Birds appear as an icon in the corner of the desktop. Or I can ban it so it never appears.


What I am most excited about is the URL blacklist / whitelist section (pictured above). I can blacklist everything, and then whitelist all the websites I want the children to access. I can use this to have complete control over the Chromebooks and change their accessibility according to the needs of the students and the curriculum. The question I need to answer now is how much work is this – managing a blacklist / whitelist filter? Is it the kind of thing I can do for my school or do I need to share the responsibility with other schools? And if I can find those other schools to work with, do I still need a proxy server – does it offer some functionality other than a web filter that I am ignorant of?


Lots of questions, I know. Hopefully answers will come in future posts as I begin to look at how the Management console affects learning.

Good teaching decreases mathematics anxiety

This weekend, I found myself doing something I’ve not done before – disagreeing with Professer Derek Haylock. Giving his second lecture to Edge Hill MaST cohort 1, the man who’s seminal work “Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers” has pride of place on my shelf, said some things that didn’t quite hang together for me.


His lecture was on the subject of mathematics anxiety – something that most adults have either experienced or can empathise with. His main point was this: if you teach mathematics well, you don’t get students who are anxious about maths. As someone tweeted on the day “My God I never thought of that. I hope the person giving this advice is paid a fortune.” Given that the audience was a room full of primary maths specialists, or ‘maths champions’, the advice is more purposeful if given a more negative slant: don’t allow bad maths teaching in primary – you’ll just get adults who are anxious about maths.


Briefly I will sum up what I thought were his main points and then I’ll say where and how I disagreed with him.


  • Many adults experience anxiety in maths when they are afraid to make mistakes in public, or given a mathematical challenge they cannot think clearly to carry it out.
  • These adults can trace their feelings of anxiety back to a single experience usually between the ages of 9-11 at primary school.
  • This experience is always a negative interaction with a teacher – Prof. Haylock quoted adults saying that their teacher had shouted things like “why can’t you just get it right?” There was a real emphasis on the negative experience being when maths is thought of as either right or wrong.
  • Many of these adults reported they could only learn maths by learning a rule by rote and couldn’t master any conceptual learning.
  • Some of these adults become primary teachers.
  • Teaching styles are to blame for mathematical anxiety – ‘traditional methods’ create more anxiety; a ‘problem-solving / relational approach’ creates less anxiety. Quoting from Newsted, he described a traditional approach as one of direct instruction, followed by practice and application, whereas in the ‘problem-solving approach’ the teacher acted as a facilitator, with the children suggesting their own methods and strategies for solving problems.
Aside from the dangers of telling rooms full of teachers that ‘rote learning is always bad’ and ‘this is the only way to do it’, my main disagreement was the way he linked the single negative experience with a given teacher to the traditional teaching method. It doesn’t take the room being in rows or table groups for you to have a bad experience with a teacher. Neither does it mean that you if are using a ‘problem-solving approach’ then teachers can’t lose their tempers and make everyone frightened of maths.


In my own experience I’ve tried both traditional and ‘problem solving approaches’.


I would call them using a rigid scaffold and using a negotiated scaffold. In the former, the teacher plots the course through the learning (the scaffold) and takes the students through that course through direct instruction, practice and intervention; in the latter the student and teacher negotiate the path through the learning.


Both approaches work.


In fact this time last year I did an experiment where I did 6 weeks of negotiated scaffolding in maths, then 6 weeks of rigid scaffolding in maths. The children made progress in both periods.


Delving a bit deeper into the Newstead report I see that the traditional approach includes: “The teacher decides what is right or wrong and intervenes in the case of mistakes. Later word sums may be used as application of methods. Social norms are more static and involve more discipline, rewards and teacher authority.” Now to me that’s not traditional teaching. Traditional teaching is where direct instruction is followed by practice, yes, but then appropriate intervention from the teacher. And so now it leaves me thinking that Haylock, quoting Newstead isn’t comparing ‘Problem Solving’ with ‘Traditional’, but is comparing ‘Problem Solving’ with ‘Bad Teaching’.


I’ll go on to say that Haylock is right by saying that for a student to have one-to-one negative interactions with an authority figure such as a teacher will cause anxiety, in any subject. The teacher that chooses ‘traditional teaching methods’ but can avoid the negative interactions can still teach a class without causing anxiety amongst the students. And a teacher that attempts to be a ‘facilitator’ but then loses their temper when the students don’t choose a method they were anticipating will also cause anxiety. It’s not about the style, or dare I even say it the teaching, it’s about the teacher themselves.


Good teachers reduce anxiety.


How the decision whether to strike or not has become harder, not easier.

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I can’t decide whether to strike next Wednesday (30th) or not.


A few months ago, the decision felt a lot simpler: pensions are the one good thing about teaching – I have to strike. But now I’m not so sure. Over the next few paragraphs I’m going to sketch out my indecision in more detail.


Pensions are not the one good thing about teaching.


The first thing is that pensions are not the only benefit of being a teacher. I didn’t become a teacher because of the pension. I had finally found something that I was good at and I enjoyed doing. I had previously tried engineering, selling computers and even being in a band, but I either wasn’t good at them or didn’t enjoy them. I enjoy teaching. And I’m good at it (most of the time).


The pay isn’t bad either. When I started teaching the highest pay I could expect in about the year 2000 was about £25000. Now I could expect £39000 – that’s over a 50% increase in 10 or so years – well above the rate of inflation in that time.


The holidays, hours and general flexibility are brilliant. Like most teachers I’m in work by 8 and I work late some evenings. I work at home. I work in the holidays. But I don’t work all the time. Being a teacher has enabled me to support my wife get back to work after having children and it helps us with childcare during school holidays.


The exaggeration of my union


I’m disappointed with the language coming out of my Union. According to them I am “demoralised” and desperate to have my “classroom released from the shackles or paperwork”. I am, in fact, neither of these things. I am concerned about pensions, but I’ve been taken aback by some of the mouth-frothingly* emotive language I’ve had emailed to me over the last few weeks. What’s more, I did some digging and found a report that I’ve posted (above) which seems to indicate that the teaching unions were in a no-compromise mood from as long ago as 1997 when the at-the-time New Labour government took office and set up a working party to look at the Teacher Pension Scheme. The government in 2004 was frightened off making significant changes to the pension scheme by the teacher unions. It made me wonder whether a more conciliatory stance back in the 2000s (when we were all living in our heady credit bubble) might have led to a more constructive dialogue now.


In addition today my local association have been tweeting: “Remember there’s no requirement to tell your Headteacher if you intend to strike on #N30. NASUWT advises you do NOT tell them #sufs #nasuwt” Now that may be true, but it’s really unhelpful to school leaders, some of whom are in that union are just trying to find out whether they can keep their school open or not. Most headteachers have a positive relationship with their staff and it seems a shame to jeapordise it by telling union members to communicate less with their senior leaders.


Two issues in one strike


There are two issues that dominate discussion on pensions – the pension age and the pension contribution. I’m a primary teacher with the belief that a certain amount of role modelling is important to the primary age child. My pension age is 68. At that age I can’t quite imagine myself being able to perform a Cruyff turn, or somersault or even jump off a bench. I’m sure some sixty eight year-olds may be able to, but many won’t. I know some may find that a rather fey reason, especially when firemen are expected to work until 60 these days, but a reason it is. The contribution for me is another matter – I know paying more represents a pay cut, but the sliding scale that hits teachers on the leadership spine worse than teachers who aren’t seems fair to me. Why shouldn’t the rich contribute more? It’s an idea that old Labour would have been proud of.


Suffice it to day that I’d like to see these two issues separated. Strike about the age thing – yes I’ll go with that. Strike about the contributions? Not for me.


The mandate of the vote


I’ve been told twice, via email and letter, that an ‘overwhelming’ 82% voted for strike action. But it’s an 82% of only a 40% turn out. That means about seventy thousand teachers in my union positively chose to strike out of a possible two hundred and twenty thousand. I don’t see that as overwhelming. Given that this is a really important issue that could affect the future of many people and will cause many families a severe headache next Wednesday, how can only 40% have bothered to vote about it? And how can that justify this strike action? What I suspect is that many teachers aren’t that bothered about it, but quite fancy 30th November as a Christmas Shopping Day. Letting a keen minority make the decision for them, they will gleefully take the day and when challenged say “well my union are striking, I can’t go against them.” Worse, I suspect that some staff are hoping to tell their schools that they are not striking that day so that they can still claim their pay, but that the school will have sufficient strikers out to close the school. OK, maybe I’m getting a bit paranoid here – I’ve certainly not seen any of this behaviour in my own school – but now the thought is there I’m struggling to get it out of my head.


The importance of unions


The flip side to my previous argument is that I really believe unions are important. For many years, my union has given me helpful advice, great opportunities and that legal protection just in case something should go wrong at school. I also think that it’s important to stick together about key issues – for my part I think the changes within the new curriculum might be more important than changes to pensions. I don’t want to go against a union decision, because I think unions are important.


School is important free day care


I hear a lot of teachers moaning that parents just view school as free daycare and yes I agree, school is a lot more than that. Schools provide knowledge, understanding and skills for future life. They are important social structures within our communities. But they are also free day-care and as such form part of our economy. With our economy being in such a fragile state at the moment, is it wise to close them for a even a day?**


My prior experience of strikes


As a secondary school student in the 1980s I was negatively affected by teachers’ action. All the clubs stopped. As a twelve-year old treble I had sang that part in Carmina Burana at the Town Hall. I never got the chance to develop my baritone, because by then the choir club had shut down. It also seemed to affect the teachers badly too. I remember them being bright and happy at the start of secondary school (1983), but gloomy and miserable by the time I left – I’m sure there were other factors, but such things stick in the mind.


My conclusion


I read articles like this and I float one way, then I think about the whole 40% turnout again and I float back the other.


I think about the looks I had from other dads at my son’s scout group and how each of them in the private sector have had to make all sorts of financial sacrifices over recent years just to stay in work and I think “Nope, I can’t strike.” Then I think about myself teaching PE to 30-ten year olds when I’m 68 and I think “I really should strike.”


My union tells me I don’t need to tell my headteacher, but he’s given me until Wednesday.


* – note how I’ve used some emotive language of my own here.


** – you could argue with all the teachers Christmas shopping, it may actually boost the economy.

Product support: the efficient, gentle arrogance of Google

It’s no secret that I’m a complete Google fanboy. You know how some people are so keen on Apple products they almost froth at the mouth. Well I’m a bit like that with Google. Given that, you may find it surprising that I’ve used the word ‘arrogance’, which for many people has negative connotations.


One of the things that has made buying Chromebooks from Google so pleasant is the amount of positive interactions from Google people during the process. When I first contacted them in about June there were no plans to extend Google Chromebooks for Enterprise into the education market in Europe. But during the summer break someone from Google Europe emailed to say that Google had formed a Chromebooks for Education in Europe and we were “good to go” (that’s a shameful use of US expression).


Since then the interactions have been many and positive, helping us through the purchasing agreement, which was of a type we hadn’t seen before at our Primary School and making sure the Chromebooks were delivered in good time.


Shortly after arrival I received a phone call from a friendly chap calling all the way from Mountain View. He’d got into work really early to speak to me mid-afternoon, given the 8 hour time difference. This was our deployment advisor, Hubert, who would guide us through the steps to successfully deploy our Chromebooks. And guide us he did. 2 Chromebooks didn’t work at all at first and it was looking like I would have to go through the faff of having to put them in boxes and send them back to Dublin. However Hubert saved the day. His precise advice worked perfectly and the 2 Chromebooks were resurrected – they now work perfectly with our wifi system.


When all was sorted, he rang me one more time as a kind of debrief of the whole process and we went through my deployment experience. It concluded with a conversation in which I managed to express some of the things I’d like to see on the Chromebooks or in Google Apps – like a child-friendly version of Google+ for example.


In the email that followed he went on to say that I had “been one of his better customers.”


Now I know my school is only a tiny primary school and Google is a huge multinational company with thousands of employees, but it struck me as remarkable that any company would say this to their customers. I asked one or two friends who run businesses and they agreed that saying such a thing might make them lose business. It would be a bit like me saying to a parent: “You’re one of our better families.” I suppose there’s a certain sensibility – maybe even a ‘Britishness’ – that might be offended by this. It could produce comments such as: “fancy rating us as a customer… how arrogant!” But of course for me (the Google fanboy) I just felt like a seventeen year old who’d just been told he was really good looking, despite his spots and gangly legs. I walked around the school just that little bit taller for a couple of days. If it is an arrogance, it’s a gentle one, because I didn’t mind it one bit.


And since then the support has been equally as good. I’m currently experiencing a glitch with our Google Apps Chrome Os Management Console (I’ll be blogging about what happens with this in a few days time). I emailed at the start of the day and already two people have contacted me from Google until I’ve got the email from just the right expert, who will be giving me a call next week.


So in short, it’s early days, but the product support has been brilliant – efficient, quick, precise and ever-so-gently arrogant.

Chromebooks to the rescue!

This Monday my plans were put on hold when as Key Stage Co-ordinator I was directed by the Deputy Headteacher to cover the Year 6 teacher who was poorly. In addition the ICT subject leader proposed a further challenge – the half term’s unit from the Switched On ICT scheme of work was as yet untouched and needed to be started. Fortunately I am both ICT leader and deputy headteacher – so it’s all my fault really.


It’s difficult to get a day of lessons ready with half an hour’s notice, but the Chromebooks helped me in all sorts of ways on the day. The students had only had one previous session with them, in which they had mainly been testing them for me and seeing if there’s anything decent in the Chrome Webstore. The students were keen to use them again, but I feared they would just want them to play. “Can I play Angry Birds, Sir?” would be the question I was most anticipating. Now while I’ve seen Angry Birds work in a classroom context, today was not the day for it. You see, I was behind on teaching year 6 the ‘We Are Fundraisers’ unit in the Switched on ICT scheme from Rising Stars that I quoted above. In fact I hadn’t touched on it at all. The unit covers data handling and real life money problems (amongst other things) and I was keen to work with year 6 on developing their skills at using spreadsheets and calendars. The Christmas Market was three weeks away (it takes place on the 2nd December) – and this was the event that the children would actually be carrying out their business ideas in.


So how did the Chromebooks help?


Direct Teaching


I moved the chairs and tables into rows (yes I know – unusual for primary schools) and had all the children facing the board. Each child had a Chromebook in front of them and was logged into a sample Google Spreadsheet I had created for them. In this I taught them how to add, multiply, divide and take away cells; find a total using the sum function and make predictions of how much profit they make if all their plans came to fruition. Each child then copied my sample spreadsheet to experiment themselves with their own business idea.


Group work


The ‘communcations officer’ in each team was given a Chromebook. Each group then discussed their ideas with each other of how they might money at the Christmas Market. When an idea was sufficiently well formed, the communications officer would input it into a shared Google Doc that was also projected onto the interactive whiteboard. Each group could then see what other groups were coming up with and as a class we could make sure that no business would be duplicating each other – you can have too many lucky dips.


Independent work


Once each business had a rough idea to work on, each individual worked on the tasks associated with their roles. For example, treasurer, advertising, coms officer. Managers would be using Chromebooks to investigate prices and put together costings of prizes or materials they needed. Treasurers would be putting together a projected profit plan, considering how much money they might make. Communications officers would be putting together a list of questions they might need to ask other adults in the school. Advertisers used Google Drawings and Aviary to create adverts for their business. In many of these tasks the quick start up of the Chromebooks, their long battery life and the stability of their systems proved invaluable at keeping the groups productive.


Whole class presentation


At the end of the day, each group presented their plans to myself and the teaching assistant in an almost ‘Dragon’s Den’ atmosphere, with the rest of the class listening in to the interaction. In this we talked about the realism of their plans, suggested new ideas or alterations and then decided whether to approve their business plan. Again the Chromebooks were useful – keeping the Google spreadsheet open was useful to look at how the numbers changed if, say only 30 people came to their stall instead of the hoped for 200. It also helped me, with my ICT hat on, spot whether students had really got the learning about using formulas within the spreadsheets and write down those who might need further work in that area. Of the 6 groups, 4 businesses were approved. The other two went away with ideas of how to improve their plan and return at a later date.


Given that this was the second time the children had used Chromebooks, I was delighted at how useful and glitch-free they had been. Some students had previously moaned that they couldn’t get used to the trackpad (which is more akin to the way an Apple works than the PC laptops they are used to), but none complained in this second session. The Chromebooks blend really well with other activities – in one group the treasurer was working on her spreadsheet while right next to her two other children were painting and advertising poster – I love it when technology is so seamless it’s just there – just another way of doing things – like picking up a pencil or using a number-line. It’s seems like Chromebooks are already becoming that way in Year 6. And what’s even better is not one child played Angry Birds, or even asked the question.

What went wrong with the Chromebooks in Year 3?


It was perhaps a mistake to let year 3 use the Chromebooks before I had fully tested them and passed on a list of ‘Dos and Don’ts’ to my colleagues. However, the ICT suite was otherwise occupied, the Chromebooks were available and the Year 3 teacher has a proven track record at being highly successful at teaching ICT.


It was with a small degree of apprehension then,  that as I walked into the classroom towards the end of the lesson, the teacher was almost turning the metaphorical tearing her hair out into literal follicle damage. Essentially a third of the children had failed to log on, and it appeared to be the Chromebooks fault.


The trouble with Chromebooks is that they only connect to the internet. This means there are 4 barriers to young children using Chromebooks in schools
  • They must connect successfully to the school’s wifi;
  • They must connect through the school / district proxy server;
  • The children must remember (and be able to type) their username;
  • The children must remember their password.
Of course when you’ve got 30 seven-year old children in front of you, each of them making some kind of demand on your time, all you can see is children who can use the Chromebooks and those who can’t.


It’s my job, as ICT leader, to make sure the barriers above are minimised. I’ve tried to introduce usernames and password that balance security with ease of use. I’ve enrolled and setup each Chromebook so that it works properly with both our wifi and proxy server. Or at least, I thought I had. So what went wrong on this afternoon?


Firstly there were 4 children who didn’t have logins at all – two of these were new to the school and two were children who had slipped under the radar in the previous year. A further child had changed her password and forgotten what she had changed it too. 4 more children had problems typing their usernames. Now I had introduced the Google Apps domain 2 terms earlier and the classes containing younger children had used it far less than older children – these children were a lot less experienced at logging on to the Google Apps. I should point out that Chromebooks use the children’s Google Apps logins to work. In addition because of less usage, the teacher last year had not noticed the two children who didn’t have logins – maybe they had presumed it a glitch in the system and so the problem had not been recognised.


Another child was a mystery – she was properly setup and seemed to by typing in everything properly, but her Chromebook just didn’t login. I restarted the computer for here and tried again. This time it worked. It seems that for the odd Chromebook, when 30 are all trying to connect to the system at the same time, one or two don’t quite get through – they need a second chance. This was also a problem with the laptops that we had previously used in classes – they too would on occasions not connect properly to the wifi and would need to be restarted. Somebody at Google told me it was about being stuck in a ‘portal subnet’ – but this just sounds like I’m on an episode of Star Trek, and not wanting to go to manual override, reverse the polarities or indeed change the dilithium crystals, my solution is just to restart and hope. It worked this time.


You see, the good thing about Chromebooks is that they only connect to the internet. And they connect using Chrome. They restart superfast – it takes less than 2 seconds to shut them down and only 8 seconds to start them up again. This meant that in the remaining twenty minutes of the lesson I was able to call each child over to me, identify their problems, sort their problems out restart their Chromebooks and still give them a go.


Next time all of the Year 3 children will be able to use the Chromebooks.


What lessons have I learned in terms of deploying Chromebooks?
  1. Make sure all the students have working Logins to the Google Apps domain.
  2. Make sure that the students are familiar with logging on to the Google Apps domain.
  3. Be prepared to restart the odd chromebook just because it doesn’t pick up the wifi network on the first go.
So maybe it wasn’t a mistake after all – I owe a big dept of gratitude to the Year 3 teacher for being prepared to experiment with the new technology – she certainly will have made the experience of everyone else in the school more successful.

Chromebooks hit year 6

chromebook review.mp4
Watch on Posterous


The Chromebooks, having been enrolled over for the past couple of days, were given to Year 6 today.
Their purpose was simple – test them, see what they can do, review them.
Would the children be able to access their favourite internet sites? Would the children be able to access some of our purchased services, such as Espresso and Education City?
The children accessed a shared Google Spreadsheet while they were doing this testing, filling in the cells to inform me of what they were finding (that’s in the video above).
Here are some of the results from the spreadsheet:
1. Positives of the Chromebooks
Wordle: chromebook postives

2. Negatives of the Chromebooks

Wordle: Chromebook negatives

3. Some children went on to find that all of our purchased services – Espresso, Education City and Mathletics do work.
Next week Year 3 will be testing the Chromebooks on Purple Mash and Year 6 will be using them to plan a fundraising event through the shared use of a Google Spreadsheet. Can’t wait.

Chromebooks really only take 8 seconds to start up

In my school, we had a laptop trolley about 3 years ago.


16 laptops that could be charged up overnight then trundled into a room for action.


We haven’t really used it for about 18 months.


The thing is that by the time each laptop has started up, connected to the wireless network and been logged on, you’ve wasted 5 minutes of the lesson.


That may not seem like a long time, but it is enough to lose a roomful of 8 year olds, especially when the learning is supposed to be about something entirely different than ICT – the technology is supposed to be supporting the learning. (Think about it another way – if you waste 5 minutes every school day waiting for laptops to boot up, that would add up to 3 school days over the course of the year – too much time wasted.)


In addition the battery life of those laptops was only 3 hours. That meant they could only be used in the mornings, or, if needed in the afternoons, partially charged during lunchtime, only to die part way through the afternoon.


I could go on about other barriers such as syncing the files over the wireless system to our Windows network and how that didn’t seem to work consistently on each laptop, but I won’t.


Suffice it to say, they were more trouble than they were worth – they got in the way.


Now we’ve got Chromebooks. These are built in such a way that I’m hoping they won’t present the same barriers I’ve listed above. I hope they really well support the learning.


The first feature that I think will help is the start up time.


8 seconds they claim. And I timed it today. They were right.
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