Thursday, 29 January 2015

How to Teach Primary Maths (Anyone can feed sweets to sharks) - A Review

How to Teach Primary Maths - Nick Tiley-Nunn

Reading the foreword to this book by the renowned Phil Beadle makes it clear that Nick Tiley-Nunn is no ordinary teacher. Being described by someone who made teaching cool by doing it on TV as possibly the best teacher in the world, and certainly the best seen by Mr Beadle himself, is a pretty big thing - at least in my humble opinion. It also means there’s a lot of expectation about the contents of this book. Can this world beating teacher deliver and tell me things, after 20 years of working in primary schools, that will make me rush to school on Monday morning desperate to teach maths? Let’s see.

The introduction is, well, interesting - I know, I said ‘interesting’ about a maths book! There’s some reference to maths but a large amount of this section covers areas of problem solving (without mentioning sweets), resilience and creativity.  It is clear how Nick’s approach to maths is applicable to learning in general and I’m interested but then, right at the end, he drops in ‘SHINE’ (you’ll have to read the book to see what it stands for!) and I’m hooked. I might even be slightly excited. I know! ‘Excited’ about a maths book!

So, I’m 8 pages in and already I’ve got a number of activities I can take directly and use with learners. I’ve also met a narcissistic race of Evens and a greedy crocodile...and more and more great ideas and approaches for learning keep coming. In fact, the remainder of the book is a throbbing, gooey mass of maths joyousness. Every section of the primary maths curriculum is covered; each in a consistent style of inspiring activities and Nick’s jovial, humourous approach.  Don’t be fooled. Nick never takes his eye off challenging our learners to get the best outcomes possible; it’s just that he finds the most inspiring and interesting ways to do it.

There is only one regret I have from reading this book. I wish my own maths teachers had been like this. In fact, I wish the 1000s of maths lessons I’ve taught over my 20 years had been like this.

I have no doubt that many more children would leave primary school with a love and fascination for maths if every passionate primary teacher had this book. This book is an essential addition to any staffroom or teacher’s library; it could even change a generation’s perception of maths.

Read this book and you won’t need the foreword to realise that Nick Tiley-Nunn is clearly no ordinary teacher. Fortunately for teachers and children alike he has chosen to share some of what makes him the teacher he is and I for one will be a better professional for it.

Get your Freak on - A review of Freaked Out by Simon Pridham

Freaked Out - Simon Pridham

Ipads seem to have hit schools at a tremendous rate, which may on the surface seem like a good thing. But what about those staff who are not as technologically confident? What about those who might be freaked out by this new tool for learning? Don’t worry...there’s a book for that!

It might seem a slightly odd arrangement that, having been given an Ipad, a teacher needs a book to find out how to use it. Isn’t this a bit counter-intuitive? How can a book even come close to reflecting the multimedia digital nature of the Ipad? Is there any point in a book like ‘Freaked Out’?

First things first. Reading the back of the book instantly raises my confidence. The comprehensive list of topics covered, including ‘what a 21st Century classroom looks like’ and ‘home-school links using digital learning’ along with the reassuring blurb discussing the cross-phase and cross-curricular nature of the guide, mean expectations are high.

The book begins with a simply written guide to the physical features of the Ipad. The freaked out will take confidence from the small step guide to switching on and explanation of the buttons and icons that face the user when the Ipad starts up; nothing is taken for granted which is a good place to start.

Next, apps. The friendly ‘arm around the shoulder’ text (I had an image of Simon sitting on my grandparents sofa with a cup of tea in their best china…) gently coaxes the reader through registering for an Apple account and on to searching for and downloading their very first app! Interesting that the choice of app is Aurasma.

Hang on...the next section is about Aurasma. Surely someone freaked out shouldn’t leap straight into Aurasma? If you haven’t guessed already, this is where the book comes alive, almost literally. We are talked through our first use of Aurasma and lo and behold there’s an ‘Aura’ ready for us to scan and there’s Simon talking to us! Brilliant, and really hammers home the possibilities of this new technology.

From Aurasma we move to QR codes and these are used in the remainder of the book to enhance the content and provide direct links to items discussed in the text. Simon has included a series of icons to represent the content that will be accessed when a QR code is scanned. This enables the reader/user to decide if they need to, or want to, follow the link. Maybe they understood the text well enough to not need to watch the video.

There’s a range of further chapters that provide information and stimulate creative and pedagogical juices. Each chapter deals with key areas of implementing digital learning in schools to empower the freaked out (who I’m sure are more likely to be ‘freaked in’ than ‘freaked out’ by now) with more QR codes and a continuation of the easy-going chatty type text. It’s all very well knowing your way around an Ipad and using a number of exciting apps but once the initial honeymoon period is over there are always questions...Fear not, Simon has included a FAQ section which is made up of genuine questions asked by real human beings. They cover an interesting range of issues from printing from an ipad to implementing with a small budget. Finally, an essential glossary and the book is done.

Although really it isn’t.

Not only has Simon provided a brilliantly useful guide to enable the freaked out amongst us to start their Ipad journey, there is such a wealth of content that this book deserves to be revisited a number of times - and I’m certain it will be popularly shared amongst colleagues for years to come.

So, is there any point to this book? Does it work in this digital age? Absolutely! The use of Aurasma and QR codes provides digital content to enhance (or should it be ‘augment’) the traditional analogue book. Simon’s friendly, non-patronising tone combined with his excellent knowledge of digital learning will empower any colleague, no matter their level of ‘freakedness’, to confidently begin their digital journey. This is an essential book for the staffroom. Download it to your bookshelf today!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Oops a Daisy - A review of Teaching with Flowers by Julie Warburton

Teaching With Flowers - Julie Warburton

Ok, to be completely honest, I’m a bloke. Teaching with flowers is not something I have ever really given serious consideration to. Like most teachers, I’ve stuffed some daffodils in a milk bottle and got the kids to draw them but that’s about the extent of my floral expertise. Therefore I expected that reading ‘Teaching with Flowers’ would be a challenge.

I needn’t have worried. Mick Waters, as always, writes a compelling introduction and then we’re into Julie’s introduction, the first line of which made me feel guilty of my stereotypical blokeness as the word ‘learning’ is in the first sentence. I’m a passionate teacher so I should have seen flowers, as Julie says, as ‘another way to help children learn’. Combining her significant teaching experience and her abilities as a florist, Julie shares her experiences of working with children and flowers, with some amazing results. The underlying themes of hands-on, care, pride and quality apply to many other curriculum areas so why not teach with flowers? In case you need any more convincing there are lists of vocab you can cover as well as pages of curriculum areas - yes, ‘pages’.

Ok, so you’re convinced but you don’t know your buttercups from your eryngiums? Me neither. Don’t worry petal, Julie is here to help. There’s a full chapter on flowers, how to care for them, elements of design and all sorts of technical vocab; another chapter on seasonal flowers and what’s generally available when, cleverly organised by colour, flower name and season and much more background information.

The rest of the majority of the book is split into two main sections; one is step-by-step instructions, clearly written and supported by great photos, to create specific flower arrangements. These aren’t the ones you’ll see in the local church but practical activities for children to tackle in school. The other section is called ‘Let’s learn about...’ and provides a number of lessons that tackle a variety of concepts and knowledge from a range of subjects and shows how using flowers can enhance this learning.

The book ends with more useful tips on extending the use of flowers, or the ‘blooming curriculum’, across the school, with a special mention for Julie’s previous passion of transition. Finally there’s ‘techniques’ so you can look like an expert in front of your learners and links to useful resources. Even the index is colour coded to make the busy teacher’s life easier.

There is no doubt that this book will provide you with everything you will ever need to enhance children’s learning through the use of flowers. Imagine the smell, the colours and the excitement of a classroom with children enhancing learning through flowers. What a great experience that would be - and then you could display the results in the staffroom and cheer the teachers up too! Well done Julie for creating a book that adds an unexpected level of rich educational experience in an easily accessible form that the busy teacher, whether a trained florist or not, can readily use to bring learning alive.

I will definitely blooming go out and buy this book. No stigma attached!

Don't Change the Light Bulbs.

Don’t Change the Light Bulbs - Rachel Jones

I’m not sure how to describe this book.

I’m torn between ‘it’s my Twitter feed written down’ and comparing it to one of those shiny metal boxes in films that, when opened, a cloud of gas escapes...which dissipates to reveal rows of test tubes of coloured liquid, each one affecting the human who consumes it in different ways.

Maybe these two possible descriptions aren’t so far apart. This book takes nuggets of pedagogical gold, many from legends of the educational Twitterverse, and presents them to you on a plate.  When consumed (not literally of course, unless ‘internalising’ means something different to you) they stimulate, provoke, challenge and excite. Unfortunately I haven’t found one that will re-grow my missing hair but I’ll keep re-reading just in case.

What I really enjoy about this collection is that dipping in and out is as effective and enjoyable as reading from the front to the back. The format of numbered lists, with each ‘tip’ having it’s own design, makes them really accessible and bite-sized.  Just reading one tip is not as easy as it sounds though, as the ‘just one more...’ mentality kicks in and you’ll find hours pass by unnoticed, but you’ll be buzzing to get into school.

And really, that’s the fundamental point of this book. It’s aim is to inspire and help us all to be better at what we do. And it does. What it doesn’t claim to be is a magic bullet or a panacea; the contributors have most likely never met the learners you work with. Instead, the tips, tricks, thoughts and opinions will challenge us all to adapt and improve by applying them to our own situations.

If you’re looking for an easy to read source of inspiration that you can gain something from, in the time it takes to drink a teacher’s coffee, then this is the book for you.