Category Archives: awards

Tourist in Thailand

Last November I won the CIPR Award for Outstanding Business Education Journalism 2015 for a series of articles about Apps for Good, a scheme that gets primary and secondary pupils to create an app, plan their pitch and show how they would bring it to market. I already had a trip to Hong Kong and Australia in my sights and decided to use the prize money to visit Thailand on the way home.

I soon learned that April is not the best month to visit Bangkok. With temperatures of 38 degrees and high humidity, I spent my time scurrying between the tourist attractions and anywhere with even a hint of air con.

thailand4I found that £500 goes a long way in Bangkok as my prize paid for four nights in a hotel, a half day guided tour of the city, canals and temples plus a full day visit to the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi to see the famous Bridge over the River Kwai, the Allied War Cemetery and Museum and a trip on Death Railway followed by an elephant ride.

Along the way I talked to locals and discovered a little about life behind the tourist sites. Thailand means Land of the Free and celebrates the fact that this country is the only one in south east Asia which has never been colonised by a foreign power.

Some of the anxieties expressed by Thai people are very similar to concerns in the UK right now. They respect their King – now the longest-reigning living monarch in the world- but are not so sure about his heir, so much so that there is talk of changing the law to allow his sister to take the throne.

Immigration is a key concern. Many complain that the Chinese have bought up property as an investment and as prices have risen, young people cannot get on the housing ladder. The average age for marriage is now over 30.

They also worry that legislative changes to the rules on migration for countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will allow free passage of other nationals into Thailand, especially from the Philippines. ‘Filipinos speak better English than Thais,’ explained my guide Michael, ‘and they are also noted for their good voices so they are likely to corner the market in professional singing jobs.’

The minimum wage in Thailand is just £5 per day but the top jobs which many young people aspire to are as plastic surgeons and cosmetic dentists. This is a country where looks count. The most popular anti-ageing cream is Snail White. Yes, it really is made from snail slime and is also reputed to be very good for acne, rashes and reducing the appearance of scar tissue. I didn’t buy a pot. Some things just don’t travel well.

Thank you, Ma’am!

HelpKidzLearn from Inclusive Technology is an award winning collection of software for people with the most severe disabilities. Not only is it a vital resource for learners in the UK, but also it is proving to be a firm favourite in the United States and 148 other countries. Now its success has been crowned by the Queen. To mark her 90th birthday she has given Inclusive Technology the most prestigious International Trade award in the UK – the Queen’s Award for Enterprise 2016.

Martin Littler, Chairman and CEO of Inclusive Technology, has been a pioneer in the field of technology for children and adults with severe learning disabilities (SLD), profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) or those without speech who need alternative or augmentative communication (AAC) who perhaps can only make a single voluntary movement or sound.

hklLast month the HelpKidzLearn development team received the 2016 Education Resource Award for Special Educational Needs including ICT for their work on harnessing Eye Gaze  technology to meet the needs of learners with complex needs. Eye-gaze technology is the closest equivalent we have to thought-operated hardware so far, and is already surprisingly affordable. Inclusive Technology’s myGaze costs just £875 and is having an impact not just on children but on adults as well.

Just looking around a computer screen moves the mouse pointer and gazing at an area performs a click with no physical effort needed. Support workers can now use eye gaze to identify where the user is looking when different images, prompts or questions are asked, giving an insight into what users can see, what they are interested in looking at and some indication of their understanding skills.

Sean Carroll, IT/Assistive Technology Consultant at Sensation Communication and Technology Solutions, describes its impact: ‘James has sat in his chair since he was 19 with very little to occupy himself with, and even when at school I don’t think his independent access skills were attended to very much at all.’ Now with an Eye Gaze tracker James is able to access some online games and his parents are delighted to discover evidence of new skills.’

Yesterday Martin was on TV with his colleague Sandra Thistlethwaite who is a Specialist Speech and Language Therapist, and Dan Woodman, deputy head teacher at Richard Cloudsley School in London. They were talking to the presenter of London Live about the impact of the technology on children’s lives. ms and xx

‘Children need to play, have fun and communicate,’ said Martin, ‘but this technology also lets children who are non-verbal use on-screen symbols and words to build language, create messages and take part in conversations with families and friends. The award is a huge pat on the back for our team of developers, teachers and therapists.’

Martin and his managing director Sukhjit Gill will collect the award at a Buckingham Palace reception on July 14, 2016.

 

 

Groupcall – a lot of texts, a lot of help

I recently spent an afternoon with a group of teachers at The Thinktank in the heart of Birmingham learning about the latest advances in Groupcall technology. The teachers were from primary and secondary and were there to find out about Groupcall Messenger 5, the latest version of the Parental Contact system that reads pupil and attendance information live and in real time from the school’s Management Information System.

gc1Groupcall is used by more than 5,000 schools.  It is inextricably linked with Sir Bob Geldof, one of the co-founders, and was set up with the aim of improving communication between schools and parents. I knew that but during the afternoon, courtesy of Steve Baines, International Business Development Manager, I learnt a whole lot more.

Here are ten things you may not know:

  1. Every single second 193,000 texts are whizzing round the world
  2. Messenger lets schools send text, voice or email messages to parents’ mobile phones or landlines. In Scotland they use a lot of voice messaging, and believe voice gets a better response. With Messenger schools can record a voice or use an automated text to voice facility
  3. A text can have a maximum of 160 characters. This is the default limit and is based on the notion that a text is supposed to contain roughly the same amount of information you would fit on a postcard. Longer messages can, of course, be sent but increase costs accordingly
  4. Messenger 5 features e-cards so schools can create certificates which are sent via email and can be printed out. There are templates for Merit Awards, Thank Yous and Well Dones but staff can make their own if they have a basic knowledge of HTML
  5. Messenger lets schools translate messages into 64 languages. These are the Google Translate alpha languages. Of course, you’ll be flummoxed if they send the reply in the home language
  6. On average once you press Send it takes 13 seconds for the message to reach a parent’s phone
  7. The History section of Messenger 5 shows who has received the text. This can be useful if parents claim hey have not see a text or email
  8. Messenger 5 will let parents send notification of a child’ absence via text so if a child has been sick all night, parents can send a text instead of hanging on and trying to send a message by phone in the 830 to 9 o’clock slot
  9. Xpressions is a FREE app for parents that will work on Android, iPads, iPhone or other smartphones. Imagine a school trip. A teacher can send a text message to parents direct from a smart phone instead of notifying the school and getting them to relay a message. This makes communication more immediate
  10. OFSTED is very keen on engaging parents and Xpressions is a fine example of push technology that will integrate with other systems such as Show My Homework, FasTrack

 

 

 

Award winning software from Sonocent proves to be a great conference tool

Naace is the association for everyone who cares about ICT, whether they are teachers, researchers or technology companies so it was entirely appropriate to see Sonocent Audio Notetaker being used in the audience.

merlin's notes with ano2

I sat next to journalist Merlin John whose site is essential reading for anyone with a passion for technology and how it is used in our schools and colleges.  He was taking notes on a talk called ‘You have Mobile Devices- Now What?’- given by Darryl LaGace, Executive Vice President of Global Business Development at Lightspeed Systems and as I glanced across I couldn’t help noticing that Merlin was using Audio Notetaker.

merlin‘The microphone on my laptop is good enough to pick up the sound in a conference setting like this,’ said Merlin. ‘I like to make rough notes and then get the exact quote from Audio Notetaker. It is so easy to home in and find the part you want.’

Merlin recently published my article about Audio Notetaker’s success at the BETT awards and their tie-in with Dragon Naturally Speaking. It is so nice to know that he is now using it as a tool to help him in his daily work. He commented on Twitter: ‘AudioNotetaker use it a lot. My favourite for transcription’.

Growing the next generation of readers

What is the role of a library in a special school where many young people are likely to have literacy problems? Liz Millett obviously knows the answer. She has just won a School Librarian of the Year Award.

Winner Liz Millett at school
Liz Millett Winner of a School Librarian of the Year Award

Liz works at WeatherfieldAcademy in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, a special school for students aged 7 to 19 with moderate learning difficulties and additional complex needs. Many of the children come from backgrounds where reading is not a priority. She set up the library in 2009 and her role is to make sure that the 3,000 books will fire up the 112 pupils and turn them into enthusiastic readers.

Nowadays there are so many different forms of entertainment that reading for pleasure is not high on many children’s agendas. Liz finds she gets the best results by tapping into their interests so she spends time talking to children: ‘One of my students, a 13-year old girl, improved her reading levels by 23 months in a year. Once I realised that she loved horses I found her collection of horse and pony books and she just ate them up. At the moment I know that one little boy is obsessed with lorries so I pick books out for him.’

Liz has set up a rewards system to motivate pupils. She had built a relationship with Weatherfield’s local public library and adapted the idea of the Summer Reading Challenge. Children are given a set number of books to read and those who persevere and meet the target are presented with a certificate in assembly. There is also an end of term Library Trophy for the most enthusiastic reader.

She tries to encourage parents to enjoy reading too and this can be hard work as some of them have problems with literacy. Like most special schools, WeatherfieldAcademy takes pupils from a wide area and many live up to 20 miles from the school. Liz builds personal connections very slowly and encourages them to email her as the school is promoting an online facility for children and parents to choose books together at home.

The school’s uses the Creative Curriculum up to Year 9. Last term’s topics were ‘Sport and Life’ and ‘Health and Fitness’.  Liz helps teachers to find appropriate resources and creates displays to reinforce topics. She also ensures that each pupil develops information literacy skills to the best of their ability, with colour-coded shelving alongside the simple Dewey system so that pupils can find their books independently.

The School Librarian of the Year award recognises the fact that Liz has made such great progress since taking over the role in 2009: ‘I’ve been given more and more responsibility over the years and I’m always busy but the difference you make to individuals makes it worthwhile.’

 

 

 

All this and Jo Brand too

The BETT awards are almost upon us and I can nearly get into my posh frock to join the glitterati at a new venue, the Brewery at the Barbican. This year we are in for a real treat as the awards will be announced by Jo Brand. Even if your company doesn’t win, you are assured of a good night out.jo2I have been looking down the list of finalists seeing who I would like to see win in some of the key categories. This is a purely subjective approach. I am not going to support anything which deals with assessment in any form as I now believe that this is just another way to cosh teachers, parents and children into submission and give them an inferiority complex.

There are many shortlisted products that I know and love. I am running two sessions on Audio Notetaker for dyslexia learners on the Sonocent stand C470 on Thursday at 1.30 and Friday at 2pm and they are on the list for the ICT Tools for Learning and Teaching section. I am of course familiar with all the products in the special needs category and I am delighted to see other old friends such as 2Simple, Twig’s TigTag, TextHelp and the Yes Programme.

But there are many products which I am less familiar with. Here is my top ten to look out for:
1. For early years one good choice would be Rising Stars Switched on ICT, a step by step approach to get young children using ICT in meaningful ways. I like Rising Stars and have written about some of their other products especially their e books.
2. I like the look of TTS Group’s Mini Mobile Phones: ‘Children will delight in developing their language using this set of 6 realistic mobile phones. Colour co-ordinated buttons make for easy use.’ This will at least stop children using their parents’ boring old iPhones. They have also been shortlisted for:
3. The NEW Ultimate Timer, a rechargeable stopwatch with a simple to use, lapsed time function. Anything which saves looking for batteries will be welcome in the classroom.
4. For primary I am going to opt for 3P Learning Reading Eggs a library with over 1,500 eBooks, for specific year groups, as an intervention/catch up tool and to support EAL and SEN requirements
5. Another good choice is Espresso Education – Espresso Coding that teaches students to code and make their own apps to share with their friends and parents. This will help children develop skills for their future working life which so much of the National Curriculum singularly fails to do.
6. For secondary I am going for English and Media Centre’s Arctic Adventure which works on ipads and has authentic video material, images and blogs from the Catlin Arctic Survey.
7. For ICT Tools for Teaching and Learning I like the idea of IGGY ,an online educational and social network for gifted 13-18 year olds from across the world with content for maths, science, history, politics, creative writing and life skills, and a safe environment for students to exchange ideas, debate and learn.
8. It’s a pity FlashSticks won’t be at BETT because the product looks excellent. It combines low tech post-it notes, foreign language vocabulary and smartphones. The notes are colour coded to help with gender recall (blue notes for masculine words, pink notes for feminine words) and a Free App channel means users can wave their smartphone or tablet over any note to call up a quick pronunciation video.
9. Visual Education’s Wordwall lets teachers make easy learning activities for interactive whiteboards. Apparently you pick a template, type in your content and with a few clicks you’re done. Alternatively pinch some ideas from their online community.
10. Finally I am on the look out for good maths resources this year so I am hoping that Jumpido will do the trick. It is billed as: ‘an exciting series of educational games for primary school. It combines natural body exercises with engaging math problems to make learning a truly enjoyable experience.’

If your product is in the running for an award, good luck. If not, then just enjoy the entertainment. I am sure Jo Brand will be very good value.

Pupils to paint a picture with words in the Descriptosaurus Writing Challenge

nltPupils aged 7 to 14 are being invited to take part in a fun new descriptive writing competition from the National Literacy Trust, Alison Wilcox, creative writing expert and author of Descriptosaurus, and publishers David Fulton Books from Routledge.

The Descriptosaurus Writing Challenge is asking pupils to write either a story or a non-fiction description of an event or place – without using any dialogue! Developing descriptive language to communicate effectively is an essential tool across the curriculum. History is concerned not merely with dates and facts, but with describing and interpreting past events. In geography, children need to be able to describe the world around them. In science, they need to observe carefully and then be capable of describing what is happening in an experiment.

The competition will provide teachers and librarians with resources to support the development of children’s descriptive writing skills and will encourage pupils to explore and experiment with descriptive language. The piece of writing they produce can be on any topic, giving teachers the option to either give their pupils free reign to choose what they want to write about or integrate the competition task into a current class topic.

Entries should be no longer than 250 words and will be judged in three age categories:

1. Lower Key Stage 2 (Years 3 and 4)

2. Upper Key Stage 2 (Years 5 and 6)

3. Key Stage 3 (Years 7, 8 and 9)

Alison Wilcox will judge the competition entries alongside Routledge’s editor, and pupils who enter will stand a chance of winning: • For themselves: £50 worth of book vouchers and a brand new tablet computer • For their school: £250 worth of David Fulton/Routledge books, membership to the National Literacy Trust Network and a school visit from Alison Wilcox to run writing workshops for the pupils and training for staff The shortlisted entries will be read by thousands and will feature in a gallery on the National Literacy Trust website.

Susie Musgrove, the National Literacy Trust’s Schools Officer says: “It is so important that young people are equipped with the skills and vocabulary to effectively describe and interpret the world around them (and in their imaginations!). We hope that the Descriptosaurus Writing Challenge will support them to develop these skills and vocabulary, whilst having fun with language along the way.”

Alison Wilcox, author of Descriptosaurus, says: “I am really excited about this competition as I am passionate about the power of descriptive language to enable children to develop the vocabulary and techniques to communicate their ideas and express their individuality. The restriction of the word limit to 250 words should enable the children to focus on their choice of words, and experiment with sentence structure and length to develop their text into something which they are proud to share with an audience.” The competition’s deadline is Friday 8 November – good luck with the Descriptosaurus Writing Challenge! To take part and download the teacher’s resources visit: http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/descriptosaurus

I am honoured …

txh

I am delighted to receive Texthelp’s Dyslexia Champion Award for 2013. The award recognises, ‘someone that goes beyond the call of duty to help people with dyslexia and promote awareness.’ It is the first time my work in the field of dyslexia has been recognised.

I taught for many years at Coventry Technology College and for five years ran the BEN Unit, a large basic skills unit with over 500 learners, so I came across plenty of people of all ages with dyslexia and soon came to realise two things. First they were mostly really clever because they often hid their problems from family and employers and managed to cope with all the written text that life throws at you. Secondly that dyslexia was much more than a spelling problem or even a reading and writing problem.

I have written 5 books about dyslexia, including How to Help your Dyslexic and Dyspraxic Child published by Crimson Publishing which looks to bridge the gap between home and schools. Right now I am finishing off a series of conversation cards for Fink  called Dealing with Dyslexia at Home and Dealing with Dyslexia at School

When I worked at Becta the government agency for ICT I came to realise that technology could help people overcome the problems associated with dyslexia including literacy, short term memory and organisational issues.

Technology can help people be more independent. It ensures that their text is legible (not always the case with handwriting), can easily be edited and looks professional. But technology now is so much more than just the word processing software of a few years ago. Now it can read text, provide a picture dictionary, change the colour of text, help learners with study tools and fulfil many more functions.

TextHelp is one of the world’s leaders in the field of dyslexia software. They are in the vanguard of developers who make software easy to use for people who struggle with reading and writing. They don’t make ‘special’ software. They create tools which open up the web and standard software to everyone.

TextHelp are experts in ICT and dyslexia and I am honoured that they have recognised my contribution to the field.

FREE Science unit for every UK school

Tell your friends. Sunflower is offering a FREE science pack to every single secondary school in the UK. Click here to register your school

Back before Christmas I had a very nice breakfast in Canary Wharf. It is not the sort of thing I usually do. In fact it was the only time I have breakfasted there but I was meeting Elizabeth Kelly, Director of Schools Operations. We were there to talk about the new science curriculum and the units they were producing for Sunflower for Science

Sunflower has animations for DNA, Natural Selection, Electromagnetic Spectrum, Chemical Reactions and Heat Transfer modules which many teachers enjoyed at Bett his year.

Obviously I was interested in the special needs angle but in fact Sunflower’s materials are differentiated so they cover everyone from young people struggling with basic concepts in science to those who are on the gifted and talented register and are aiming for University or a career in the sciences.

Atoms and ions, bonding, diffusion and the periodic table are just a few of the units for chemistry and many pupils will enjoy following the story of the carbs, fat and protein in a pizza. Every programme comes with worksheets activities, quizzes and sample lessons.

‘One of the key features of Sunflower Science,’ Elizabeth told me, ‘is to make sure that teachers can deliver modules in scientific subjects outside their own specialism.’

Schools can buy one module at a time, ideal for those on a tight budget, but why not start with your freebie?

Caroline Wright, BESA and the House of Lords

Caroline Wright of BESA
Caroline Wright of BESA

Tonight I am meeting Caroline Wright face to face. I interviewed her for Merlin John Online 
We have emailed and talked on the phone so much that I feel as if I know her quite well but in fact we met just once – very briefly – at the farewell do for Ray Barker.

Caroline is not the new Ray. Nor is she a replacement. One thing I have learnt is that as the new director at BESA Caroline will put her own stamp on the organisation. She has a formidable pedigree with extensive overseas experience which will be of great benefit to the UK software community but she also has great charm

Most importantly she has a very clear set of values: ‘Education matters and is always likely to be featured in the first few pages of a newspaper because it is relevant to most of the population. We have all had an education and we nearly all know someone who is having one now. The role as a director at BESA ticks every box for me. I love education and this job lets me be part of a team and puts me back at the heart of strategy and delivery.’

Tonught I shall enjoy being BESA’s guest at their annual House of Lords reception.