Monthly Archives: September 2011

Simple technology makes maths more fun for bright students

Former investment banker turned teacher Narsh Srikanthapalan has been teaching gifted and talented pupils at Caludon Castle School in Coventry. He still spends a lot of time on spreadsheets but he also exploits all the facilities of interactive whiteboard software too, “We have Promethean interactive whiteboards and I like using the ActivInspire software. I probably use this more than other staff in the school.”

Maths at Caludon Castle School

For a lesson on rotation he took the theme of Caludon Castle and the pupils made a drawbridge over a moat. They played with rotation and came to realise that if you put the centre of rotation in the wrong place, the drawbridge doesn’t just lift up, it twirls like a baton. So it was back to the drawing board and pupils had to find their own solutions.

Similarly he created a cops and robbers game, “I told them that I was PC Srikanthapalan and I was chasing a robber across a field. I had a green rectangle which represented the grass and as I started to ‘follow’ the robber the pupils realised that I could only move horizontally and vertically, not diagonally. The more able students started to ponder issues of programming here.”
He believes that pupils prefer teachers to use interactive whiteboards as it improves the presentation of lessons. Resources can be prepared in advance, are clear and easy to read, can be edited and look professional. He finds that some members of the class will ask to come up to the board to show what th y have done as they find it easier than using words to explain concepts and methods. This means that more able pupils can share their knowledge and ideas with others in the class in a very immediate visual way.

He thinks one of the hooks for teachers is that technology improves classroom management. Interactive whiteboard software has virtual versions of the tools pupils are using, such as compasses and protractors so a teacher can demonstrate how to use these instead of showing each individual pupil. The whiteboard also means a teacher can keep eye contact with the class instead of turning away to write on a board. This year Caludon Castle has introduced a computerised random name generator to choose who will answer questions. It has been very effective for keeping pupils attentive. Since no one knows who will be chosen, it stops pupils drifting off . Now pupils only put their hand up if they want to ask a question.

Widgit software sails into calmer waters

Cate and Tina Detheridge

Two generations of the Detheridge family are now at the helm of Widgit software. The company has been in the doldrums lately with fears that it might be bought out by competitors, interested only in its assets and not in its development arm.

Mike and Tina Detheridge set up Widgit in 1981 to provide symbol support for young people who struggle to read English text. This includes pupils who are learning English as an Additional Language (EAL) and those with learning disabilities or certain forms of autism.

In 2001 the family sold a large stake of their then 20 year old business to Logotron but 10 years later it came to grief when Logotron went into receivership in August of this year. The Detheridge family put together a rescue package with support from Terry Johnson, former partner in the highly successful US company Mayer Johnson, and other right-minded investors. This week they learned that their bid had seen off competition from outsiders.

Now the second generation of Detheridges is leading the way. Cate Detheridge is product manager for the company and develops the symbols while Simon is chief technical officer, responsible for much of the sophisticated programming which underpins the symbol collection in different languages.

Tina Detheridge said she was delighted with the news that their bid had been successful, ‘Widgit has been our life’s work and we were desperately worried that it would disappear. Because of the complex technical developments, I don’t think that any other company would have the programming skills, let alone the vision and passion, to take it on.’

Widgit is in safe hands now and is making headway with a number of improvements and new developments.

Thank heavens for shortcuts!

I have been much vexed by Internet Explorer 9. This puts favourites and history on the right hand side of the screen. Maybe this is handy for people who read right to left but is a real nuisance for those of us who are used to having everything on the left. That is where it has always been.

I tried clicking on the star and then the arrow to shoot the favourites across the page but you have to do that each time you close the home page. Now I have discovered the short cut CTRL Shift and the letter I. The favourites appear on the left. Just as they should. I can live with that till the designers of Internet Explorer get bored with this little gimmick.