Thursday, 30 May 2013

STREAM of Consciousness

My old and valued friend and colleague, Mark Standley - Director of the Professional Education Center at the University of Alaska in Juneau, is organising a wonderful conference / institute with the title Pedagogy of Place from 17-19 July. I have been looking at the information on the web at and, in doing so, been introduced to the idea of a STREAM curriculum and place-based learning. This may be familiar territory to you, my readers, but it is new to me.

We have heard a lot from the UK Department of Education over the past year or so about the importance it places on STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics - in the curriculum. There is a great deal of rhetoric about how this will help develop the skills in our young people necessary for national economic strength in the future and, indeed, there is no doubt in my mind that - well taught - such a curriculum could be engaging, exciting and of lasting value to students. However, context is all, and such a curriculum could equally be overly theoretical and sterile if it is not rooted in the experience of students (and teachers). The other problem with a STEM curriculum is the danger of narrowness to the exclusion of the arts in particular. 

STREAM overcomes these difficulties with a curriculum containing Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics all of which are studied in the context of the place where students and teachers live. The uniqueness of place-based learning is the grounding of curriculum and instruction in a local context. In a fascinating, short paper ( Edward Diden quotes James Lewicki, a teacher from Wisconsin, for this succinct definition of place-based learning. Combined with the elements of STREAM, this sounds like my idea of the ideal educational experience:

"A pedagogy of place brings school and community together on a common pathway dedicated to stewardship and life-long learning. It is teaching by using one's landscape, family, and community surroundings as the educational foundation. Significant learning takes place outdoors and in the community. This community expands outward from the local 
landscape and home, to regional realities, to international issues. In coming to know one's own place, one comes to know what is fundamental to all places." (the italics are mine)

Of course, this may be easier to achieve in a rural context or a smaller school and it is hard to visualise how it might be worked out in a secondary school with 1600 students but what the heck, it has to be worth trying. It would be so much more interesting and rewarding for teachers and students than the latest version of the national curriculum.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Aah, CEEFAX - the end of an era

The announcement that the BBC's CEEFAX teletext service will cease when the last analogue TV service in the UK is switched off at midnight tonight has triggered a wave of nostalgia in me.

The blocky pixels which characterised CEEFAX were also the basis for VDU MODE 7 on the BBC Micro. I spent many hours, days, weeks (my long-suffering partner says "months") writing and reviewing educational software for the BBC Micro in the early 1980s, most of it in MODE 7, and became quite a dab hand at making graphics that vaguely resembled the person or thing they were supposed to represent. Certainly the pupils at Hundred Acre Wood School who were the main "beneficiaries" of the fruits of my labours never seemed to have any difficulty recognising what they saw on the screen.

The same graphic mode was used for the PRESTEL online service which I clearly remember demonstrating to my governors one evening via the technological marvel that was a 1200/75 bps acoustic coupler and a telephone handset. MODE 7 was perfect for something with such limited bandwidth.

One of the governors wrote to me after the meeting that "One day we'll take all this for granted. It will be so fast and reliable that people will look back at what we have in 1982, say how primitive it is and wonder how and why we persevered with it". It certainly looks that way thirty years down the line. I wonder how people will look back on iPads, smart phones and Kinect in 2042 ...

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Same but different

As a fan of the great game (cricket, you fools!) I have been lucky enough to visit both the Adelaide Oval and the Melbourne Cricket Ground on my travels.

Whilst at the MCG I bought some greetings cards with images of paintings by E P Kinsella including one called "The Hope of His Side" which I had last seen in the 1970s on the cover of an LP by the Climax Chicago Blues Band. Another image is "Out First Ball" which you can see below.

I filed the cards away in a safe place and only rediscovered them last week. Something in the back of my mind told me the images on my cards were different from the image on the LP cover so I hunted through the attic until I found the LP and, sure enough, there's a big difference. The paintings were obviously "localised" for UK and Australian consumption - look at the differences in the background and face in the UK version of "Out First  Ball"  below.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

An App Toolkit for Chromebooks in Primary Schools - Years 3 - 6

Now that the Chromebooks for the primary school I am working with are installed and working, I thought it was time to write about some of the  "cloud" resources which we have chosen for teachers and pupils in Key Stage 2.

The free Google Drive ( applications provide the core  - word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing and a simple "forms" database. The facility to work collaboratively in real-time on writing and other tasks a great feature of the Google Apps.

I really like the Aviary suite of programs from the Chrome App Store. The Photo Editor integrates fully with Google Drive allowing editing and sharing of images. The Series 5 Chromebook's built-in SD Card reader makes it easy to upload images to Google Drive for long-term storage and editing.Aviary Audio Editor and Aviary Music Creator also get a place in the app toolkit for pupils and teachers. These are all available free from the Chrome Web Store.

A notebook app that allows pupils to collect information through browsing, make their own notes, add audio and photos and then edit and share also looked like a "must have". I recommended Evernote for Web which is free and allows pupils to collaborate so that a shared notebook can be used by  group or a whole class to collect and organise information. Clip to Evernote is a handy free app that automatically copies a web page into your Evernote notebook. Both are available free from the Chrome Web Store

I want the school to have a set of resources to help pupils develop programming skills. At the simplest level a Logo / Turtle Graphics program such as Online Logo ( will provide an enjoyable introduction to simple programming. Unfortunately there isn't a "cloud" version of Scratch (yet!) but I see no reason why pupils who show an interest and aptitude shouldn't go on and do some of the early Javascript or HTML courses at Code Academy. There are also app design sites such as that take a more graphic approach to designing apps for Android or iPad tablets.

For teachers, all the National Primary Strategy maths resources for Interactive Whiteboards can still be found online at and work perfectly in the Chrome browser. The interactive elements are all in Flash. I also love the US National Council for teaching Mathematics "Illuminations" resources at  which comprise 108 interactive teaching tools and games. Well worth adding to the Bookmarks bar on Chrome.

I have advised the school to subscribe to the TES iBoard resources (worth £11.99 a year of anyone's money!) which all work perfectly on a Chromebook.

The school already has subscriptions to Espresso for Schools ( and Mathletics ( and staff have successfully tested both on the Chromebooks.

The Year 6 teacher is keen to develop class and individual blogs to help develop writing and will be using Edublogs ( This is also available via the Chrome Web Store making it easy to access from the Chromebooks.

I'm sure the staff will discover other great resources over the next few weeks. I will post an updated list before half-term break at the end of October.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Almost there ...

The new school term starts on Wednesday 4th September here in Cumbria and it has been a busy week on the Server-Free School project. The Chromebooks have all been commissioned and enrolled on the school domain and the Aerohive wireless network is installed but it still needs a few tweaks tomorrow to ensure it is ready for the staff training day on Tuesday.

Getting the Aerohive network up and running has been more difficult than anticipated. As a remotely managed network it requires particular ports to be opened so that there can be constant two way communication between the Access Points and the Hive Manager. The school takes its internet connectivity from the Regional Broadband Consortium (originally Cumbria & Lancashire Education Online or CLEO for short, but now One Connect  - a joint venture between BT and Lancashire County Council) and it took a few days and several calls to the helpdesk to get someone to take the necessary action and open the ports. However, even with the correct ports open, the APs are still not connecting so I'll have to spend a couple of hours tomorrow on the phone to Solutions Inc, the Aerohive supplier, whilst we tweak and check to ensure everything is working correctly.

Chromebook commissioning was a walk in the park by comparison. The Google Apps for Education Management Console is a wonderful tool - simple, intuitive and and powerful. Enrolling the Chromebooks and Chromebox is handled automatically and it took only an hour to create 145 users and set up the apps they will use. I had kept one access point from the old wireless network working and this was sufficient for the enrolling process. As each device was enrolled the Chrome operating system was automatically updated and was then rebooted to the latest version of the Chrome desktop. This automatic updating is one way in which technical support time is reduced.

I managed to persuade Google to provide the school with a free charging trolley - as they do in the US for a school that purchases 30 Chromebooks. It really would make Chromebooks a much more compelling option if this were to be standard practice in the UK too, but Google seem reluctant to take this step. The trolley arrived on Friday and I was able to leave the school that afternoon with all 30 Chromebooks snugly fitted into the trolley and the timer set for automatic overnight charging.

So, we're nearly there. Fingers crossed for a smooth start at the staff training on Tuesday.

I'll report on that later in the week and keep the blog updated with how the devices and Aerohive network perform over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Ahead in the Cloud

Elsewhere on this blog I have written about the pilot of Google Chromebooks at St Ursula's Primary Academy in Bristol. I am working with a primary school in Cumbria at the moment to implement a similar solution for the start of the new school year in September.

A number of developments have occurred since the conception of the St Ursula's project that make a server-free solution with solid-state devices running remotely hosted applications even more compelling for primary schools.

The St Ursula's project used Google Docs (now re-branded as Google Drive) which, along with 25Gb of personal storage provides word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing and forms database applications. These, alongside GMail and Google Calendar constitute a pretty good suite of office applications available free to schools as Google Apps for Education. However, the admin staff in the school I am currently working with are adamant that they want access to Microsoft Office and this was starting to look like the reason the school would shy away from a server-free model. They don't want the Web Apps versions of Word, PowerPoint and Excel which come with Office365, they want to run the full versions of these applications.

I was stumped until I spotted a post on the Chromebook Ratings website that reviewed InstallFree Nexus with Microsoft Office.  At first I couldn't believe what I was reading, but a quick visit to the Chrome Web Store and two minutes later I was running a full version of Word 2010 on my Chromebook.

Installfree Nexus gives you 60 days free use of Word, Excel and PowerPoint and you will then be able to license the software by upgrading to Installfree Nexus Premium. This gives you:
  • Full-fidelity viewing for Microsoft Office documents.
  • Seamless integration with Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive, SharePoint, Office 365 and other storage services.
  • Microsoft Office 2010 (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher) 
for an academic user's licence cost of $4.99 per month / $49.99 per year. 

Even more impressive is the fact that the solution works on Android Tablets, iPads and Chrome devices. Although office applications on a tablet without a decent keyboard sounds like a suboptimal configuration to me.

I demonstrated Installfree Nexus with Microsoft Office to the head and admin staff last Thursday and they were convinced. They will go ahead with Google Apps for Education on Chromebooks for classroom use  and Microsoft Office + Gmail and Google Calendar on Chromeboxes for the head and admin staff. An order has been placed for the new remotely-managed wireless network (Aerohive) and we have an official order form with Google for 30 Chromebooks (£266 each) and 3 Chromeboxes (£287 each). I'll keep you posted on the installation and commissioning process over the summer.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

No Knead Bread and Frugal Food

A quiet day today. Sporadic email traffic and a sense of quiet satisfaction at having dealt with everything in my in-tray and given the dog a good walk. So, time in the kitchen with no sense of guilt that I should be out earning a crust but having the time to bake one instead.

One of the joys of living in Cumbria is proximity to the Old Watermill at Little Salkeld ( ; a working flour mill which has a great tearoom and produces a range of excellent flours. Driving over to a meeting in Gateshead via the back-roads a couple of weeks ago, I called in at the Co-op in Lazonby and was pleased to see a shelf full of Old Watermill products. I picked up a couple of bags of Miller's Magic and was about to head for the till when I spotted something I hadn't seen before. The usual brown paper bag but bearing a green label with the intriguing words "No Knead Flour". On closer inspection this mixture of coarse wholewheat flour and pinhead oatmeal promised to be able to produce a loaf simply by mixing with warm water, salt and yeast, leaving to rise in a 1 lb loaf tin and then baking in a 230C oven (210C in a fan oven) for 30 minutes. I bought a bag, pushed it into the cupboard when I got home and promptly forgot all about it ... until this morning when I went searching for pasta flour (that's a posting for another day).

I put 288g of the flour in a mixing bowl with 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt and 1 teaspoon of quick-acting dried yeast then added 300ml of very warm (but not hot!) water; stirred the lot to a sloppy mixture and poured it into a non-stick loaf tin which went into the airing cupboard until the mixture had risen level with the top of the tin (about 40 minutes). After 30 minutes in the oven (230C) the loaf slid easily out of the tin and the picture below shows the finished product. The crust slice has since disappeared with a helping of Bowland whey butter!

The loaf has an open texture and will probably be good toasted. It's delicious as it is.

I'm the lad who got 17% in a Chemistry exam when I was 13 so I have no idea how this works ... but it does.

Whilst the loaf was baking I browsed the recipe bookshelves and pulled out the first recipe book that Gill and I bought after we married - Delia Smith's "Frugal Food", the Coronet paperback that cost the princely sum of 70p back in 1976. You can see the effects of 36 years of regular use in the picture below. And look how young Delia loooks!

There are so many good recipes in this little book that is is no surprise we have returned to it often as our family grew up. I don't know if it is still available or has been updated (some of the recipes are "of their time") but if you haven't got a copy it is certainly worth seeking out.