Friday, 14 December 2012

Childcare - 'Tis the Season

As the end of the year approaches, our thoughts turn towards the seasonal festivities in schools and nurseries across the country. Many of your learners will be in their placements helping out with end of term parties, nativity plays, Christmas concerts and other celebrations and it is always a good time to remind ourselves of the many different religious festivals and celebrations that are recognised across the UK.

Equality and diversity in the early years is a very important part of both the Level 2 Certificate and Level 3 Diploma for the Children and Young People’s Workforce, particularly:

L2:       Unit SHC 23 Introduction to equality and inclusion in health, social care or children’s and young people’s settings

L3:       Unit SHC 33 Promote equality and inclusion in health, social care or children’s and young people’s settings

Unit CYP 3.7 Understand how to support positive outcomes for children and young people
In addition, Diversity, Equality and Inclusion in the Early Years also form a whole unit (Unit 10) of the new Edexcel BTEC Level 3 National Diploma in Children’s Play, Learning and Development (supported by the forthcoming Collins student textbook). This unit also includes strategies for inclusive practice and planning to meet children’s individual needs.

Copyright Vicky Brock
In order to really appreciate diversity and discrimination, learners need to be aware of their own attitudes, values and beliefs. I have frequently used an “Attitude Poll” as a starter exercise in class, which provides a forum for learners to explore their own beliefs as well as reflect on how they might deal with ideas that challenge their own views. Divide your learners into small groups and provide each group with a set of statements, including several controversial ones (Some examples are attached). Invite the learners to discuss each statement in turn and decide if they agree or disagree with the statement. Each group should then select one statement (perhaps the one they had the most discussion about or the most controversial) to share with the whole group. You will need to act as facilitator, adjudicator (and sometimes referee!), but it can give rise to some extremely interesting and thought-provoking discussion. This has an important message for learners who will someday be working with a wide variety of people, holding a mixture of different views, which will very often be in opposition to their own. How will they handle that? Learners can sometimes be very critical of parents and families, but it is important for them to think about how they will maintain a professional attitude, which encompasses diversity and is non-judgemental.

Many of your learners will have studied different religions in school, but their knowledge and understanding is often varied. One way to consolidate what your learners already know is to use the blank chart on world religions (Attached) and ask your learners to work in groups to complete as much of the chart as they can. Explain that it is not a test and stress that they are not being assessed on how much they know. Provide the completed chart (Attached, and adapted from for your learners to fill in the gaps.

The significance of this relates to the implications for early years practice, particularly in areas like festivals and celebrations, dress, diet and dealing with death. Your learners may already have some understanding of different religious practices from their own lives or their placement experience. Invite learners to share their experiences and create a collage about the different ways that early years settings embrace religious diversity in practice, (for example by celebrating different religious festivals, having a range of resources or involving parents or community leaders in the setting).
One activity I have found very thought provoking for learners is a role-playing exercise around answering children’s questions, (Attached). This can be extremely challenging, but can also give rise to some very useful discussion and practical advice. If learners are reluctant to engage in role-play, then encourage them to think about how they would respond and then share their ideas in the group. With issues involving different religious beliefs, stress the importance of putting the question back to the child, or checking in with what the child already knows i.e. “Where do you think people go when they die?” or “What has you mum told you about that?”

Amidst the hectic whirl of the end of term and preparing for the holidays, we can always count on young children to bring us all back down to earth.

Janet Stearns, Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies, former Lead Examiner for CACHE

Changes to the Primary Maths Curriculum

When and how is the curriculum changing?
In June 2012, the Education Secretary set out the draft Primary National Curriculum Programmes of Study for English, Maths and Science. The next draft is expected for consultation in early 2013, including details about how current levels of achievement will be replaced with the expectation that children master age-related concepts and skills in the new curriculum. The final version is due in schools by September 2013, with statutory implementation beginning in September 2014. The new Programmes of Study are clearly more demanding than the existing National Curriculum, so schools need to be aware of the changes.

What are the aims of the Programme of Study for Maths?
The draft National Curriculum for mathematics aims to ensure that all pupils:
become fluent in the fundamentals of mathematics
can solve problems by applying their mathematics
can reason mathematically by following a line of enquiry.

How will the curriculum be organised?
The Attainment Targets of the current National Curriculum (2000) and the strands of the Primary National Strategy Mathematics Framework (2006) will be replaced and the 2014 Programme of Study for Mathematics will be structured and sequenced under the following domains, with content arranged into yearly blocks which children will be expected to master.

What are the key differences?
Overall, the levels of expectations have been raised, especially in relation to number and recall of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division number facts. A strong emphasis has been placed on mental and written calculation of whole numbers, decimals and fractions. Many mathematics topics are now introduced at an earlier stage and taught at an accelerated pace. This is especially the case in Key Stage 1 where, at the end of Year 1, children will be expected to recall and use number bonds and related subtraction facts within 20. Some new topics have also been introduced, such as Roman numerals, identifying parts of a circle, recognising binary numerals and a more formal introduction to algebra in Year 6.

How can schools get ready for 2013–2014?
In preparation for 2013–2014, I would strongly advise schools to:
become familiar with the draft Programme of Study for Maths and updates to follow
begin to look at any differences between current levels/standards and expected levels/standards
identify two or three priorities for your school and begin to implement these
refocus teachers, support staff, children and parents on the importance of memorizing key mathematical facts and, in particular, knowing by heart the:
- addition and subtraction number facts to 5, 10 and 20
- times-tables and related division facts up to 12 x 12
- product of a multiple of 10 and 100 and a 1-digit number, e.g. 40 x 7, 600 x 9.

Where can schools find more information?

Keep up to date with the new Primary National Curriculum:

Download reports related to this article:
DFE–00135–2011 (report of the Expert Panel)
DFE–RR178 (analysis of curricula of high-performing jurisdictions worldwide)
DFE–00136–2011 (responses to the call for evidence)

Peter Clarke
Series editor, Collins New Primary Maths

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Your school can save 50% on bulk purchase of Apps!

Many traditional classroom aids and learning supports are changing shape; they are now available as ‘apps’ that can be downloaded and used on digital tablets and phones. The Apple App Store, which supports apps for Apple products such as iPhones and iPads, is where many useful educational aids can be found.
The Education Volume Purchase Programme allows app providers to offer their apps in the store at a special discount rate, which can be ordered only by educational establishments.
Here is a brief guide from Collins on the Education Volume Purchase Programme by Apple, and what it can mean for your school. To access these special benefits, just follow these simple steps:

1. To best utilise the store, your school needs to have a dedicated Programme Manager to look after Apple orders. Your school can have as many Programme Managers as they require.
2. The Programme Manager may then set up Programme Facilitator accounts to allow teachers to browse and purchase from the site. All you need is an email address that isn’t already linked to an Apple ID.
3. Simply access the Apple Store to use the Education Volume Purchase Programme
4. Once orders are placed, an easy to use code for each copy can be downloaded from the App  Store.
5. Send the code to any student or teacher with an iTunes account. There is no time limit to use the code

 At Collins we like to support teachers using this feature. All of our Education apps, including the recently released Atlas by Collins, are eligible for a 50% discount for orders of over 20 copies. 

Fertility and Birth rate screen shot view from the Population Globe, Atlas by Collins
With 7 globes full of detailed information, and 200,000 places available to browse offline, Atlas by Collins is specifically designed to inspire: the more you discover, the more you want to explore! Atlas by Collins  provides an additional fun learning platform to the usual classroom equipment for both students and teachers, particularly in the run up to the Christmas holidays.

In particular, Atlas by Collins can be used as both a general interest platform within a range of subjects, such as Geography, History, Languages and the Sciences, as well as a useful reference base from teacher to students. Here are a couple of ideas for use in the classroom:

·         In the run up to the holidays, why not try a quiz utilising the hundreds of embedded and interesting facts in the app?

·          Or provide hours of interest by tying the app into current world events; for instance, the recent news of declining birth rates in the US?

Atlas by Collins has something for everyone, which is why we think it’s the greatest app on earth!

We hope this brief introduction has been helpful – look out for more useful guides in the near future!
Wishing you all very ‘App’y holidays...

Monday, 10 December 2012

Reforming the ICT Curriculum - Coercion or cooperation?

Following the Reformation a number of people found Good King Henry’s neck supports were uncomfortable - fortunately this turned out to be only a temporary problem for those afflicted.  It appears that changes following Gove’s January speech to BETT are likely to be somewhat kinder towards the teaching force, although the intention is to change the direction of travel, in this case from ICT (boo!) to the Nirvana of Computer Science.  A well intentioned move made not before time, but these columns have speculated on the two major problems to be solved before necessary improvements in the IT/Computing curriculum can be used to effect; these being teacher training and arranging a suitable bandwidth in the new curriculum to cater for pupil-all-comers.  It looks as if progress is being made, certainly the problem is recognised and proposals advanced for solutions to both problems.

In the case of Teacher Training, the press notice updated 22nd October:

This reports that the intention is to provide annually around 50 scholarship programs at £20,000 each available to top graduates.  The training programs are set up by the British Computer Society (BCS), supported by Microsoft, Facebook, BT and IBM.  Graduates with at least a 2.1 will be eligible to apply for the one of these scholarships.  These graduates will have, in addition to “exceptional subject knowledge and enthusiasm for the study of Computer Science”, will also have an “outstanding potential to teach”.  The relationship between these students and the BCS will continue into their careers; it’s interesting to speculate on what is intended by this: are we talking about feedback for the next tranche of students, ideas for lesson plans or something more radical such as career advice and assisted professional development?
In addition to the BCS students, around 500 teachers are to be trained through a “Network of Computer Science Teaching Excellence”.  This grandiose title relates to a scheme to train up to around 500 teachers, so it could be one lucky individual I suppose, anyway these missionaries with some knowledge of ICT are to be trained to “better teach Computer Science”.  There is an information pack from the BCS which summarises much of this with further useful links:

It seems a worthy effort that might work, but I have never been able to pick someone with outstanding potential to teach without seeing them in action and then in an environment where they can show their potential.  Teachers so often prosper in their natural habitat (and not necessarily an academic temple) else the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and miseries.  Probably others will disagree and have more success at picking winners.

In the next blog we’ll look at proposals which impact directly on those taught.

John Giles

John Giles is an educational consultant and author specialising in IT and computing. He works closely with exam boards, and has written syllabuses and exam papers.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Alex's Chinese Challenge – Getting started

Meet hyperpolyglot Alex Rawlings, winner of the 2011 Collins Livemocha search for the Most Multilingual Student in Britain

Alex's  language skills were assessed by  eleven native-speaking judges who all confirmed his  proficiency in French, Spanish, German, Italian, Greek, Catalan, Dutch, Hebrew, Afrikaans, Russian (and English!). Don't believe us? Then take a look for yourself...

Alex doesn't want to stop there though and has set himself a new challenge – to learn Chinese in just 10 weeks! Read his Chinese Challenge reports to find out how he gets on, and to see what tips he has for you when learning a new language.

Chinese challenge – Week 1

I’ve just come to the end of the first week of the Chinese challenge! Every day for about half an hour I’ve been working on my Chinese, using the Collins Easy Learning Mandarin Audio Course, Easy Learning Chinese Characters and Chinese Language and Culture book. It’s been really good fun and I’m really enjoying using the variety of materials available.

So far I’ve listened to the first three units of the audio course a few times on the way to and from work, and read two chapters of the culture book, which is really interesting reading about Chinese history and the way the language is spoken in practice. I’ve learnt 5 Chinese characters so far, but I’ve been concentrating on the audio side so I can get used to the sound and rhythm of the language first. So far I can introduce myself, greet people, ask how they are, and say whether or not I speak English or Chinese. The tone system is quite challenging though, and I’d like to speak to a native speaker to make sure I’m getting it right!

Next week I’m going to concentrate more on reading and writing, hopefully learn five to ten characters a day, while still listening to the audio course. But Chinese seems like a fascinating language, and I’m really glad to have got this opportunity to study it!

New Year is coming – keep taking the tablets

As a child of the sixties I was no stranger to books and magazines featuring artists’ impressions of cities of the future.  Sleek skyscrapers, elevated freeways and even personal jetpacks were all clearly going to be on offer; it was a case of when rather than if.  They indicated a clear optimism that the future was going to be better than the past and a belief that technology would be a key driver, presenting lifestyle choices that anyone in their right mind would seize.  When these did arrive, they somehow seemed a little less glamorous and not quite as exciting.  I’m still optimistic about the jetpacks though.
I think this resonates with ICT, which sometimes seems to arrive a little later than promised, not saving quite as much time as we’d thought and always needing a back-up.  However we’re still sometimes promised game changers and, true to my optimistic roots, I’m willing to believe it.
Copyright Sean McEntee
Enter the iPad.  Not being used to Apple systems I was keen to explore and wanted to learn about the potential for use in the classroom.  Three things won me over – Cox, the camera and Machinarium.  “Wonders of the Universe”, already a TV series and a book, was introduced as an iBook.  Seductive in its beauty and simplicity, it invited exploration.  Pictures grow to fill the screen and up pops Brian himself in an exotic location to explain some tricky concept.  What’s not to like?
The camera was next – not so much that the images were stunning as the speed and ease with which they can be displayed.  Anything in the classroom worthy of sharing, be it a chemical product from an experiment or a set of notes from a group task can be snapped and projected, without missing a beat.
Then came Machinarium.  A colleague of mine is involved in a British Council Anglo-Indian project (UnBox 21) to develop the use of computer games in science teaching.  Machinarium was one of his favourites; I asked my 18 year old son to road test it – last I saw of the iPad (and son) for the next four days.  The game is a surreal little world of problems to be solved by using logic, science and technology; entirely devoid of language it nevertheless stimulates a lot of discussion amongst users.
As many of you will know, New Year is closely followed by the ASE Annual Meeting, this time in Reading (January 2nd – 5th).  I’m running a number of sessions there for Collins including ones on iPads (as long as I get the kit back) and others on developing extended writing and effective revision strategies.  If you’re there it would be great to see you.  Either way, have a wonderful Christmas.
Ed Walsh
Ed Walsh is Science adviser for Cornwall Learning. In the past, he has worked extensively with teachers, schools, local authorities and national agencies in relation to science education.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

'Daredevil vs the Hulk? It's just comma-sense!'

You think using full stops is hard!?” I asked one group of GCSE re-sit students the other day as they grappled with just two simple tips on what to look for when locating the end of a sentence – those being, whenever you can hear a substantial one second pause and / or wherever two main clauses come together – “Wait till you get a load of the rules for using the comma!” Obviously, if we are still struggling with full stops by next term, then the comma is unlikely to get a look in.  However, should the long-awaited full stop revolution ever occur, I will boldly venture forth into a whole new set of starter activities featuring this agile little punctuation mark.

So, in a spirit of reckless optimism, I’ve prepared a slimmed down list of essential comma rules (do you know that there are over twenty in total?) and thirty sentences taken from the epic super hero clash referred to above which occurred in Daredevil, issue163. I’ve selected, and sometimes modified, sentences which not only cover all of the comma rules that I wish to focus upon, but which also tell the full story of this rollicking rumble.

If Daredevil isn’t your thing, then you could always adapt a classic text of your own choosing.  But for me, Daredevil has many of the elements of great literature: powerful characterisation (no, I don’t just mean the big muscles!), as much conflict as you could possibly wish for in a single sitting, and all served up with a generous helping of the most vivid imagery - much of which, thankfully, has been graphically illustrated for me, thus saving me the bother of having to visualise it for myself.  Of course, if you are already a Marvel fan, then your concerns might run in a different direction: “Daredevil versus the Hulk!? What happens after the opening panel???”  Well, to put your mind at rest, DD does survive, albeit after a spell of intensive care in City Hospital!

Should you decide to take the Marvel route, but feel the need to justify all of your literary choices by searching for deeper meaning, then you could encourage your students to imagine the much heavier, more bulky full stop as the Hulk of punctuation – massive and imposing … nothing breaks through it – and the nimble, much more versatile comma as the athletic Daredevil himself.  However, this might be stretching allegory a bit too far!

Ultimately, I hope to project three of these sentences onto my white board at the start of each lesson and ask my students to identify the relevant comma rules from the slimmed down list which, in this heavily idealised world of super heroes, super villains and near-perfect full stop usage, will have been glued into every exercise book for homework!

This abridged version of the comma rules is as follows:

Rule 1: Only use a comma when absolutely necessary; if in doubt, leave it out.  If you think of the sentence as a highway, then unnecessary commas are like bricks in the road.  They severely hinder the smooth flow of traffic.

Rule 2: Use a comma to separate two adjectives when the word ‘and’ can be inserted between them.

Rule 3: Use commas before or surrounding the name or title of a person directly addressed.  You should also use a comma when the inclusion of a name is additional information as opposed to being in the main flow of meaning.

Rule 4: Use commas to embed individual words that interrupt the sentence flow.

Rule 5: Use commas to embed clauses or phrases that interrupt the sentence flow.

Rule 6: Be very careful when using embedding commas in conjunction with words like WHO, WHICH and THAT (relative pronouns).  If the information is essential to the reader’s understanding of the subject of the sentence (i.e. the person or thing being referred to), then the information is not additional and thus does not interrupt the sentence flow. In such cases, the information should not be embedded and so the commas are unnecessary.

Rule 7: When starting a sentence with a subordinate (weak) clause, use a comma after it. Conversely, do not use a comma when the sentence starts with a main (strong) clause followed by a subordinate (weak) clause.

Rule 8: Use a comma when beginning sentences with such single word sentence-starters (introductory words) as: ‘However’, ‘Alas’ and ‘Conversely’.

Rule 9: Use a comma when beginning sentences with short phrase sentence-starters (introductory phrases) such as ‘On occasions’, ‘From time to time’, ‘On the other hand’.

Rule 10: Use a comma to demarcate (to separate) clauses if it will help avoid confusion or make the meaning clearer and easier to understand.

Rule 11: Use commas to separate direct speech from narrative.

Rule 12: Use commas to separate items in a list.

Basically, most of the above could be summarised as follows.  Use commas:
  • when beginning a sentence with anything other than a main clause
  • in order to demarcate (separate out) extra / additional information which is not in the main flow of meaning
  • in order to separate words, phrases and clauses when it is necessary to make the overall meaning of the sentence clearer for the reader

  • A comma splice is an error caused when two sentences are separated with a comma instead of with a full stop.
  • A run-on sentence is an error caused by placing two sentences together without any form of punctuation at all.

Thus, as is often the case with tales of mystery and suspense, this final reflection brings me full circle to the point at which I began:

“You think using full stops is hard!?  Wait till you get a load of the rules for using the comma!”

 Peter Morrisson

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Easy Learning practice books

I have been studying Italian for a couple of years now and plan to start a GCSE course in September. Throughout my studies so far I have been greatly aided by Easy Learning Italian Verbs and the Easy Learning Italian Dictionary. The Easy Learning Italian Verbs has been excellent for allowing me to quickly check verb infinitives and for flagging up irregular verbs clearing up any confusion I might have and helping me to complete homework assignments. The Easy Learning Dictionary not only offers me great translations and definitions but it also provides me with examples instantly placing the word into context which I feel really helps me to remember it.

I bought Easy Learning Italian Grammar & Practice to use over the summertime, as having the grammar advice and tips collated together looks like it will be really handy when I start my studies in September. Also the practice exercises provided at the end of each section have been helpful in refreshing my Italian knowledge before the course starts. The practice exercises so far have been really useful for helping me to remember those common irregular words and verbs mentioned in the different sections by returning to them in different practice exercises throughout the book -getting them to really stick in the brain!

What I have found really handy with the Easy Learning titles is that they provide lots of extra bits that also aid my studies, for example at the start of the Verbs and Grammar titles there is a really helpful Glossary of terms that defines all those grammatical words and phrases that I often get confused with (such as the difference between Past Perfect and Simple Past!). And being able to check the meaning of these in English is vital when coming across them in the different areas of my studies. Once I have achieved my GCSE in Italian I hope to continue studying the language and hope to one day achieve an A Level in the subject, for this I will definitely continue to use my Collins resource books.

by Emma

FREE sample exercises from Easy Learning series

Friday, 30 November 2012

The end is nigh: notes on the History of Maths

For most teachers this date is the end of term but could it be the end of the world as well?
If you search this date on the internet you’ll get nearly 2 billion results. There is even a web-site specifically dedicated to this date and the doom laden prophecies associated with it.

The main source for all this is the ancient Mayan calendar. The Mayan civilisation was dominant in Central America from about 200 BC to 1540 AD. They used 3 different calendars. There was a religious one, the Tzolk’in, based on a year of 260 days (20 lots of 13 days) and a secular one, the Haad, based on 365 days. This was made of 18 months, called ‘uinals’, of 20 days. To this was added 5 days called ‘the period with no name’ symbolised by chaos. You were thought to be cursed for life if you were born during these 5 days. The religious and secular calendars synchronised once every 52 years, about the length of a lifetime. This is an interesting exercise in calculating the Lowest Common Multiple of 260 and 365 (=18980 days or 52 secular years).
Image copyright of Roy Niswanger
The Maya were phenomenal at astronomical calculations even without the means to measure parts of the day. Their solar year works out to be equivalent to 365.242 days compared to our current value of 365.242198. It is more accurate than the Gregorian calendar we use (365.245 days). The Gregorian calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1572, attempted to allow for the solar year being just under 365 ¼ days long (as used in the Julian calendar from 45BC which brought in the leap year). The Gregorian calendar leapt forward 10 days and said leap days would not happen every century, unless the year was divisible by 400 (so 2000 was a leap year but not 1900). It took a while for some to adopt the Gregorian calendar, especially non-Catholic countries. It didn’t happen in Britain until 1752 when there were riots as people demanded to have their stolen days back.

Mayan name
Approximate solar years
   Note that the system isn’t uniformly base 20 with a tun being 18 x 20 not 202

The Maya had another calendar, used for long periods. It was based on a year of 360 days, a tun. A k’atun was 20 tun and a b’ak’tun was 20 k’atuns or about 394 years. On 21st December, we will simply move onto the next b’ak’tun.

The date 21st December 2012, in the Mayan long calendar, will be  Suggestions that there will be a cataclysm are generally denied by modern scholars of Mayan history, so you’ll need to prepare the lessons for next term!

Don Hoyle

Monday, 26 November 2012

Animate your lessons!

Too often, the first unwelcome obstacle a teacher has to overcome when entering the classroom is the inertia of disaffected students, students who arrive expecting to be bored and, as is generally the case with self-fulfilling prophecies, who get exactly what they expect (and, some might say, deserve!).   This is not to say that your lesson is in any way uninteresting.  In all probability, you will have given it considerable thought, possibly having worried about it all weekend, but, let’s face it, if your students arrive with such a profoundly negative attitude, then you really are up against it!

So what can be done?

One solution is to open with an exciting starter activity which raises the emotional level of the class and thus, hopefully, ignites a spark of enthusiasm which will propel them through the rest of the period.
Animation is one way of creating that spark ... as, I hope, the accompanying four minute animated film, ‘Fire!’, will illustrate. The objective of this film is to introduce an intensive session about what students should look for when faced with the challenging task of responding to a GCSE English examination question which requires them to analyse a writer’s use of language in order to create effects.

If you have a quick look at this animation, and then compare it against the high-tech, high budget productions of internationally renowned film companies, you will immediately realise that it is certainly not Pixar-perfect!  However, I have tried and tested it in class and, despite the fact that I have only been competing with Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks for the past eight months, never having made a film of any description prior to March 2012, it certainly grabs the attention of my students – not least because they are often excited (one might even say animated) by the fact that I made it.  And this leads to such questions as:  ‘How did you do it?’, ‘Did you write the song?’ and ‘Is that you singing?’  Well, it certainly isn’t me singing but, at this point in the proceedings, it doesn’t much matter because we are all sufficiently enthused to progress with the rest of the lesson.

So just in case you are interested in spending some of your spare time pushing the boundaries of both your teaching and your creativity, just how do you do it?

Well, your first task is to download a free trial version of a suitably powerful and affordable animation programme.  You could make a web search in order to see what is available.  The one I use is a 3D programme called iClone Pro 5 and the 30 day trial version is available from:

Once you open the programme, it will offer you the option of surfing through some of the online tutorials (on the Training Resource tab) which contain relatively simple projects designed to familiarise you with the iClone workspace.  This is well worth doing – otherwise, you will be faced with the daunting task of somehow bringing life out of a most visually unappealing putty-grey screen. Below is the link to the tutorials bank should you wish to peruse it:

Of course, if you are animating, you will also need to experiment with sound.  The soundtrack to ‘Fire’ was initially recorded on a Yamaha PSR 8000 synthesiser but the vocal was remixed on a totally free recording programme called Audacity:

Audacity includes many first class editing tools and special effects and, most importantly, enables multi-track recording – so you don’t have to get your performance right in one take, which can be very frustrating when trying to record a five minute script which, through nerves, you keep botching in the final paragraph!  Once successfully recorded, there is the facility to export your masterpiece as an mp3 file which can then be imported into iClone.

Another very useful iClone product, again available on a trial basis, is 3D Exchange:

This programme allows you to make use of the thousands of free 3D models created and uploaded by animation enthusiasts.  These are available from the Google 3D warehouse:

iClone 3D Exchange will enable you to select from this massive range of content and then convert your chosen 3D models into iClone files which can then be imported into your animations.  In my film, ‘Fire!’, the shimmering silver moon and the sleek and stylish Dodge Viper GTS are courtesy of the creative talents of such generous enthusiasts. The alternative, of course, is to make all your own models – but that could prove to be very time-consuming … and could we well be regarded as over-stretching the boundaries of dedication!

A further useful piece of software to consider is a text to speech (TTS) programme such as Natural Reader or Neo Speech.  If, like me, your voice is so uninspiring to listen to that you certainly wouldn’t want to subject your students to it more than once, this could be the perfect solution for you.  Such programmes allow you to convert text into one of a number of very convincing speaking voices with accents which can range from US to UK and German to Arabic.  So, for example, let’s say that you teach history and you want to bring Karl Marx to life.  iClone would enable you to create a Karl Marx look-alike avatar and your TTS software would allow you to paste in quotes from the great man himself which, for argument’s sake, you might have copied from the Internet.  Your TTS software could then articulate these in a genuine, if rather heavy, German accent – so subtitles might be advisable!  As with Audacity, your TTS software should then allow you to convert your sound file to mp3 which you can then import into iClone and thus allocate to your Karl Marx avatar:
‘History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce’ … and thirdly, of course, as animation!

Natural Reader can be found at:

And Neo Speech can be found at:

Again, as with iClone, you can try before you buy.

Finally, you will need a video editing programme such as Windows Live Movie Maker (but, if your computer is reasonably new, do have a quick check that it has not already been bundled in with your operating system – it was with mine):

You will have to save each change of camera or each change of scene in iClone as a separate file and then render (export) each file, preferably as an AVI file with MJPEG compression.  Windows Live Movie Maker will then enable you to stack each of these exported scenes in the order that you would like them to appear in the finished film.  It will also enable you to meld them together via such neat transitions as ‘Fade in’, ‘Cross fade’ and ‘Flip’.

If you feel daunted by the prospect of familiarising yourself with so many new programmes, then you might initially begin by experimenting with only one; just download the trial version of iClone Pro 5 for now and see how you get on.  However, if you’re really pressed for time and even this seems a step too far, then why not simply take advantage of the thousands of animations (and other short films) that the ever-growing army of enthusiastic amateur (and professional) film directors regularly upload to Youtube.  Type your chosen topic into the search box and you might well be very pleasantly surprised by what is out there.

But if you are really are up for the challenge, animation is fun … and seriously addictive.  Furthermore, you can upload and publish your own creative output - on Youtube, of course.  So, if you are looking for a wildly creative new hobby that could open up all sorts of doors – real as well as virtual - then this might be the perfect holiday project for you!

Peter Morrisson

Friday, 23 November 2012

Class activities for child nutrition

November 5th to 9th was National School Meals Week. This year, it coincided with the publication of a survey by the Local Authority Caterers Association, which examined parental views about nutritional standards in free schools and academies. The survey revealed that 57% of parents did not know if their child’s school was meeting the nutritional standards set by the government. The majority of parents also said they would welcome the introduction of an independent body to monitor schools to ensure that standards are being met.

Knowledge of nutrition is an extremely important aspect of working with young children and forms a significant part of both the Level 2 Certificate and Level 3 Diploma for the Children and Young People’s Workforce, particularly:

L2:       Unit MU 2.8 Contribute to the Support of the Positive Environments for Children and Young People
L3:       Unit EYMP 3 Promote Children’s Welfare and Wellbeing in the Early Years        

Food and Mealtimes in the Early Years also forms a whole unit (Unit 14) of the new Edexcel BTEC Level 3 National Diploma in Children’s Play, Learning and Development (supported by the forthcoming Collins student textbook). This unit also emphasises the importance of working with parents in helping children to develop healthy eating habits and attitudes towards food.

Many of your learners will have studied food and nutrition on a variety of other courses and may already be familiar with the main principles of a balanced diet, the nutritional content of different foods and the role of different nutrients in the body. It can therefore be challenging to keep the topic fresh as well as specifically relevant to the early years. The School Food Trust ( provides a wide variety of learning resources in addition to many of the current policies about food and nutrition in the early years, which I have found very useful.

The School Food Trust Guide “Eat Better, Start Better” (2012) provides a range of information about healthy eating for young children, including food choices and portion sizes. The Food Groups table (Download here) can provide a useful starting point for your learners to refresh their knowledge about the main food groups and nutrients. Working in pairs or small groups, learners could begin by completing the blanks in the table. This could be followed by the case study (Download here), where learners could analyse the food intake of a typical five year old and make suggestions for improvement. You could even ask your learners to keep a personal food diary and analyse their own food intake over a few days. I have often found this leads to a few surprises, with learners looking at ways to improve their own diet!

Another important focus for food and nutrition in the early years involves an awareness of individual dietary requirements, including cultural or religious restrictions and food allergies and intolerances, which are common in young children. The School Food Trust provides a comprehensive chart (Download here), which summarises some of the main religious dietary restrictions. Learners could use the chart as a reference tool to complete the associated task in planning meals and snacks for different children.

For more independent study, your learners could investigate different food allergies and intolerances at:

The same website also has a section on healthy eating recipes, which I have used with learners to research and create a fun recipe book for children.

With increasing concerns about childhood obesity, it is perhaps more important than ever for learners to be fully aware of their responsibilities in helping children to develop healthy eating patterns in the early years.

Janet Stearns, Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies, former Lead Examiner for CACHE

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Codes and Communications - Primary Maths

You’d normally associate English with communication but maths has an almost equally important role to play. This series of activities introduce children to codes and communication.

Activity One – Sequences and codes

LO:  To be able to recognise simple number patterns and sequences
        To be able to identify the next term in a sequence and state the progression

The simplest sequence is counting on in ones which we do from an early age but what is tricky in those tender years is to recognise the relevance of the name of the number to what it actually signifies. It’s learning a new language where a group of five objects is named by the word ‘five’. Sequences gradually get more difficult, from counting in 2s, 3s and so on to ones where it’s squares of numbers or cubes or where the next term is algebraically calculated.

The easiest way to identify the progression of a sequence is to calculate the difference between the terms.
Show the children this example:

0, 1, 3, 6, 10, 15 and ask them to tell you the progression

They should identify that it goes up by 1 then 2 then 3 etc.

This is a sequence of triangle numbers but they don’t need to know that to be able to work out that the next two terms will be 21 and 28.

Try these with them, asking them to identify the progression then the next two terms.
a) 1, 3 ,7, 13, 21, 31
b) 2, 4, 7, 9, 12, 14, 17, 19
c) 0,1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21,  (a tricky one)

Codes are an interesting use of number, especially if you match the alphabet with the numbers 1 to 26. This is a simple code but allows the children to begin to understand the principle. Use it to get them to write their names in code and use the cipher to work out whose name is which.

Talking Point: The idea of a code is that it’s a secret between people who want to share messages without others knowing. The simple code we've just looked at makes it easy for others to intercept messages. How could we make it more difficult?

The children should suggest changing the numbers that go with the letters either randomly, in which case the recipient would need the cipher or progressively by making A be 4 and B be 5 for example.
Ask the children to change the original code progressively and see now if anyone can decode the names.

At Home:  Devise your own code and write a message using it for the teacher to decipher!

Activity Two – Base Numbers

LO: Understand that although our number system is effectively metric, you don’t have to count in hundreds, tens and units
      Understand how base 2 numbers (binary) can be used to express numbers

Base numbers dropped out of the primary curriculum a long time ago but may be making a comeback!

Whilst many are of little use except in codes, binary code; using 1 and 0 to represent numbers, is used in computing across the globe and is fun to work with.

Write these numbers on the board:
1 = 1
10 = 2
11 = 3
100 = 4
101 = 5
110 = 6
111= 7

Talking point: Ask the children if they can work out how the numbers match. If they struggle place the numbers in places with the place value headings as question marks. This will help them to consider what value each digit might be.

Once they have realised that the place value headings are 4s, 2s and 1s, ask them to rewrite a selection of base 10 numbers up to a hundred, predicting what the extending place value headings might be.

They should notice that whereas in base 10 the numbers in each place holder can only go up to 9 before beginning again and adding a digit to the next column, in binary (base 2) it can only go up to 1.

Extension or At Home: Numbers can operate from any base so ask them to write out the numbers 1 – 10 using base 3. You should get the response:
1, 2, 10, 11, 12, 20, 21, 22, 100, 101

Activity Three – Morse Code 

LO: Understand how binary numbers can be expressed by a series of on/off commands or short or long pulses
       Understand how Morse code uses a binary system to convey messages

Morse code was one of the best inventions in the field of communications – a quick and simple way to communicate using dots and dashes. You’ll notice that Morse code is almost a binary system with dots and dashes representing the 1s and 0s. A dot was a quick pulse on a transmitter whilst the dash was a longer one.

A great activity for the children to do which involves translating Morse code into binary and then base ten numbers giving an excellent code that they can use between themselves.
The Morse code alphabet is as follows:

Taking the letter A for example, if a dot is a 0 and a dash a 1 then A would be 1 in binary and base 10, B – dash, followed by three dots would become 1000 in base 2 and 8 in base ten. C would be 1010 in binary and so 10 in base 10, D would be 100 and so a 4, and so on.

The code for ‘dad’ would be 4, 1, 4 and for ‘cab’ would be 10, 1, 8

Ask the children to continue working out the letters of the alphabet. There are one or two which duplicate so can they suggest a way around it?

At Home: Ask the children to use their code to write a message to a friend.

Dave Lewis - Primary Teacher

Take a look at: Collins Big Cat: Code Making, Code Breaking