The Wonders of OneNote

In the last two years I’ve started a love affair! No, it isn’t a mid-life crisis, this is a moment of clarity.  Microsoft OneNote is the software I (and many other teachers) have been waiting for and it has been under our noses for years!

Why has OneNote driven me to write this open love letter? It isn’t just another clever app, this software is truly practical with a multitude of uses in just about any environment, especially schools.  Here are some of the reasons why I am passionate about OneNote.

It is accessible.  OneNote has been a standard issue on Windows machines for years but remained undiscovered to most.  However, with Microsoft’s push into the education market, OneNote has been developed and extended to be freely available on every device I own.  Simple sharing, across platforms and devices, is key.

OCD organisation.  Just being accessible isn’t enough, to be long term love rather than a dalliance, the program needs to prove to be useful.  OneNote does this because it organises everything in an intuitive and familiar way.  It really is an electronic ring binder with section tabs and pages.  However, as you would expect, the electronic organisational features go way beyond what you could achieve with a paper binder.

So easy, a child could use it.  I implemented the class notebooks with a Year 4 class (8/9 year olds) and all of them, regardless of ability, were navigating OneNote independently within a couple of sessions.  I didn’t explicitly teach OneNote skills, I simply embedded it into some lessons and let them loose.  They loved it because it made learning easier.  Screen clippings and audio feedback were two of the most popular features.  The Microsoft feel means that anyone who has been using Office (i.e. nearly everyone) will immediately be at ease with the layout and menus.

OneNote ribbon
The OneNote ribbon menu is familiar and easy to navigate making the software accessible to all.

Teacher Features.  The ease with which work can be shared with the whole class via the Class Notebook, the accessibility granted by the Immersive Reader and the integration with Outlook, Teams and other Microsoft products make this software something every teacher can fall in love with.  Even if you do not feel you have the infrastructure or confidence to use this in class, start with your own notebook and see how easy it is to organise and access your plans.  Soon you will be sharing it with others and getting them on board.  Staff notebooks, for things such as meeting notes, are a natural extension.

So much to love.  I mentioned just a few of the many great features I have discovered and I am finding more every day.  By following @onenotec and @msonenote on twitter, you will find that there is always something new to learn.  I intend to spread the love through my blogs and videos here, with an aim to share notebooks online in the future so please sign up to my blog or follow me on twitter @topdad75.

Start a love affair with Microsoft OneNote.  It is free – much cheaper than most love affairs!

How to Handle Homework

Love it or hate it (probably the latter!) homework is a necessity for most primary teachers.  You need a system that works for you and the children and the start of a new school year is the best time to implement it.  When designing a system, these points need to be addressed:

Impact.  There is no point doing homework for the sake of it.  If it does not enhance the child’s learning than do not do it.

Manageable for you.  Homework can be an added pressure to organise and mark but we all know that workload is an issue.  You need a system which is easy to produce and assess.

Manageable for children. No one wants children to be spending an too much time on homework, we want them to be able to enjoy after school activities and relax.  If there are projects or a back log of work occurs then it can become a big chore so we need to avoid this.

Parents need to be on board.  They want to see that the homework is relevant.  We also want to avoid homework being the source of arguments at home, this is a regular complaint from parents so they need to know the system and reinforce this at home.

So what is the solution?  Easy, give more homework!

I know this sounds crazy but stick with me, it works!  The system I have been using, which has now been put into the policy for the whole of KS2, is to give a short piece of homework every day.  This can solve all of the potential issues above.  Here is how it works:

  • 10 minute homework sheet given out Monday – Thursday (Weekend for spellings & tables)
  • Sheet is collected as the children go to lunch, if they don’t have it they spend up to 10 minutes completing it.  This is promoted as time to do the homework if they were out the night before or if they needed a little bit of guidance rather than a punishment.
  • During afternoon registration homework is self-marked with key points discussed as a class.
  • Children self-assess (star system but smiley faces would work).
  • Teacher flicks through the sheets, any causing concern can be addressed in next lesson.
  • Sheet sent home so parents can see it has been marked.

This works for a variety of reasons:

  • The sheet is very easy to put together, I have a template where I can paste regular things I want to keep on the boil (time or conjunctions for example) or a few questions from the work they were doing in class to reinforce that day’s learning.
  • Parents can see it is really short but relevant.  They also know the system so if a child is refusing they just send it to school and do it at lunchtime rather than argue.
  • Children know the system and know it will not take up much time at home but it is better to do it than miss a few minutes of lunch.

I use a template which has a maths section and an English section each day but this could be adjusted to maths one day and English the next.  I saw a massive increase in the amount of homework coming in and I got some very positive comments from the parents.  Once the system was up and running nearly every parent liked it but you cannot please all of the people all of the time.

The main benefit was in the children’s progress.  When we returned to time in our maths curriculum I found that every child was further ahead than I anticipated because they had been revisiting the skills every week or so since we last studied the topic in class.  It really did have an impact.

Obviously, a system like this is easy to create for yourself but if you want to see some examples of the sheets I created for my Year 4 class then follow this link to the TES resources website.  Try it out in your class, I am sure it will be a success and I am sure the other teachers will be copying your system when they see the impact it has and how easy it is to run.

Diamonds are forever, aren’t they?

Shapes, lesson plans and rocks – diamonds are everywhere, even when they shouldn’t be! The good and bad points of a diamond.

  
Firstly a rant. This is a rhombus. We insist upon teaching our children technical terms which they will probably never use outside of school in all sorts of areas, particularly phonics, so why not a rhombus?

The problem starts early, my 2 year old has a wooden peg puzzle with the above shape labelled ‘diamond’. This is then reinforced in Reception & Key Stage 1, I’m sure it isn’t every teacher but I’ve seen the posters on walls. It wouldn’t be so bad if it even looked like a diamond but surely a diamond shape should be an irregular pentagon? 

  

So when I teach quadrilaterals I have to ban the word diamond and retrain the children to call it a rhombus. So please, if you teach young children, design resources or make peg puzzles – don’t call a rhombus a diamond. Rant over!

But that isn’t the only way diamonds are taking over my life – the diamond lesson plan is our schools chosen model for creating an Assessment for Learning environment. Over the past year or so I have taken it onboard more and more, applying the theory and making it work in all different subjects. I have to say I like it! For the first time I can see differentiation working properly because it is flexible, I feel like teaching is focused and learning is accelerated.

I have been in teaching long enough to recognise a fad, this isn’t one – it makes sense, it helps children and it uses teacher’s time efficiently. So what is the catch? It needs a teacher!

I’ve got a cynical feeling that at some point in the not too distant future there will be a move to water down the qualifications and the cost of teaching staff but to apply an AfL model you need a real teacher. Someone who can devise a challenging lesson, manage differentiated teaching inputs, asses on the spot and plan ‘in the moment’. In addition they will need to have the time to carry out further assessment and give immediate feedback before the next lesson whilst also planning an equally sparkling diamond lesson for the next day, building on the learning achieved today.  I’m not sure an hourly paid instructor would fancy that?

Whilst the diamond lesson generally gets a thumbs up from this teacher, it is still hard work. Is that work made a little bit easier because you feel like it is having an impact? Yes! Plus, it could just be the saviour of the profession.

Look out for future posts about how to make the diamond lesson work in a primary school.

So will I be buying diamonds for Valentine’s Day? On a teacher’s wage – I don’t think so!

Shouldn’t EdTech be for everyone?

I spent a day at BETT 2016 (a showcase for Educational Technology) on Friday.  It is about 14 years since I last attended, back then Interactive Whiteboards were just about to become mainstream.  Haven’t things changed and hasn’t it grown!

The sheer size of the exhibition, now at The Excel Centre, was unwieldy.  The layout was like a rabbit warren of tunnels between a mixture of massive corporate displays and pop-up micro efforts with a banner printed last week in Staples.  All of them potentially interesting but unfortunately distracting and completely unnavigable, even with the help of the not so handy map which unfolded to a size big enough to power a yacht if the wind caught it.

Then there were all the people.  Not the people visiting, although there were plenty of them, but the people selling – there were hundreds of them! Many of them seemed to be ‘Exhibition Specialists’ who had probably been selling sails (the size of my map) at The Boat Show last week.  Their sole purpose was to scan you, well your badge code, with their iPad, iPhone, iPod or (if they were a corporate stand) a special scanner.  They must have been on scanning targets or bonuses because once they had your precious e-mail address they just wanted to move onto the next person.  It was noticeable when you spoke to someone with a real, rather than a mercenary, passion for their product as you had to remind them to scan your badge.

On top of all of that were all the stages and presentations, I counted at least 10 presentation areas all with different timetables and none of them with a single seat by the time I got there.

However, I loved it!  Lots of people were genuinely enthusiastic, passionate or even evangelical about education and how we might be able to make it better using technology.  People had come from all over the world to share, learn and try to improve the education of children.  I saw some ground breaking technology which was exciting, some brilliant ideas which were inspiring and a lot of stuff I wish I had access to, let alone my students.

Despite my grumbling above, this is my real issue – it is clear that even within this country, even within the state sector, even within counties and postcodes, there are schools who have and schools (and children) who have not.  Clearly this isn’t fair or right but as I left I wondered why?

I teach Primary and we know we have always been a poor relation to Secondary Schools when it comes to technology but it was clear that the differences within the Primary sector are huge.  I know all schools circumstances, budgets and cohorts are different but that in itself doesn’t explain the massive differences.  Why are some schools thinking that they are on the cutting edge with a suite of 30 (24 working) Windows based PC’s which will only connect to the internet if you turn them on a few at a time whilst other schools have sets of iPads or 1:1 chromebooks?

I stumbled into a presentation by a Primary Head, I didn’t catch his name because, predictably, I missed the start.  He was the answer to my question.  3 or 4 years ago they had invested in iPads – 1:1 I think.  There didn’t seem to be anything special about his school, no additional funding, average cohort, just a ‘normal’ Primary School.  The only difference was the fact that they had someone passionate about using technology.  Rather handily, it just so happened he was the Head Teacher but I realised it could be anyone, it could be me.  I am not a Head Teacher but I am passionate that technology can make teaching and learning better for our teachers and our children and so I want to make sure that Edtech is for everyone.

How is this going to happen, I’m not sure yet!  It may well depend on what is contained in the many e-mails I will be receiving this week from all the people who scanned my badge on Friday.  I am sure it will start small but I know that unless people with a passion for getting technology into the classroom do it then no one will, we certainly cannot wait for the ‘powers that be’ to do it, so the children in my school will miss out and be at a disadvantage.

I will be writing about this much more over the weeks, months and possibly years.  Any advice, anecdotes or warnings will be gratefully received.

Reasons to be cheerful: 1, 2, 3?

Christmas is now a distant memory – lost in the seemingly inescapable flood of teaching, planning, marking, assessment, meetings, etc. Now we are immersed it would be easy to be dragged under, especially at this time of year. Therefore, if we are to stand any chance of surviving until half term, we need to focus on some reasons to be cheerful.  If not for yourself, do it for your families, colleagues and the children you teach!

  1. You know you can do it!  You survived last term and that was a marathon, this term is just a sprint by comparison.  Plus, if you haven’t moved school or anything, you know the children and the systems and so it will be easier.
  2. You are doing something potentially life changing everyday – educating and preparing children’s minds for their future life.  There aren’t many people who can say their job is as important as that, it is a privilege to be given this responsibility.
  3. Teaching is hard, really hard, harder than anyone outside realises.  But if you can keep your head above water, develop strategies to cope, improve and then flourish you will be very sort after.  I am not so short sighted that I don’t see the problems caused by the recruitment crises but we are looking for positives here.  If you are good at this job you are in a strong position and that isn’t true in every industry.

A-school-closed-sign-001So they are my reason’s to be cheerful, I didn’t even mention the fact it might snow next week or that we get (for now) a 6 week break from the classroom every summer.  What are your reasons to be cheerful in the depressing depths of January?

Will you sleep soundly tonight?

January is strange in schools. You should be relaxed and refreshed after 2 weeks off but the reality is a crowd of zombies.

OK, you have had a break from teaching but: entertaining, late nights, perhaps a little more alcohol than you would normally have and everything else that the Christmas & New Year period entails hardly make it a holiday.

On top of all that there is the insomnia. The night before I go back to school I always worry but after Christmas it is worse. I do not think I am alone!

Why?

Firstly, remember we worry because we care! We want the best for the children we teach and losing some sleep is a symptom of this.

Your feet haven’t touched the ground for the past 2 weeks, opening the laptop was never going to happen, despite your best intentions. Planning while the in laws/neighbours/random strangers (delete as appropriate) are being entertained is generally frowned upon, so you are completely unprepared. You haven’t got the excitement or adrenaline you get in September when everything seems new, you know what to expect and that might not be a good thing!

But worse than this is the expectations. This is the term where you (or the children you teach) need to make progress! There is nowhere to hide, you have had a term to get to know them, mould them and build the foundations – now you need to show what a great teacher you are! Is this a pressure you are putting on yourself, does it come from your SLT or is it the current culture in Education? Probably a mix of all 3 but unless you have a crystal ball I’m sure that assessing without levels has only added to the pressure.

Add to all of this the knowledge that the children you are going to try to teach are also going to be a crowd of zombies, how could they have recovered already from staying up to see the New Year in? It is no surprise that you can’t sleep – neither can I! There isn’t anything you can do about it, just rest in the knowledge that you are not alone and that in a few days the chaos of Christmas will be long forgotten.

How do we cope with everything else? We will deal with that, just subscribe to this blog for thoughts, insights, resources and more.

Despite all of this, my worst fear for tomorrow is tinsel! Is there anything more depressing than tinsel in January? I hope I remembered to take it all down – did you?