I’ve moved!

Follow me to mclearning.co.uk

Follow me to mclearning.co.uk

Just to let anyone who has followed me, or accessed my blogs on here know I have a new website where all future blogs – including my one from yesterday ‘Why I want to be a mosquito’ can be acessed. I hope you’ll join me at:



Leadership in Complex Times

What a great piece, really made me think!


My life has got more complex.  It was my own fault, there is no-one else to blame.  I now work with a greater number of schools, they are more diverse in nature and there are many more connections to understand and take account of.

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Old dog, new tricks

This post is about appreciating it’s never too late to learn and that sometimes we need to simply re-think our own thinking and practice to get better results!

Following my (self) revelatory posts about changing my morning routine (here) and how I had adapted my lessons to take account of my PE teacher background (here) I was delighted to chat to a colleague who shared his own moment of revelation with me, providing the inspiration for this post.

Howard is one of those colleagues that many schools have – or I believe should have! He’s been here over 20 years, seen 2 generations of some families – he has promised that he will have retired by the time the next generation arrive though! He teaches PE, has a fantastic knowledge of sports, particularly football and athletics and is one of the most caring people I have ever worked with. He genuinely puts himself out for staff and students alike, he doesn’t do it for any plaudits or celebrations.

As a tutor he has few peers and delivers amazing assemblies – galvanising staff and students alike about safety as the dark nights of October half-term approach, as well as sharing his passion for nature, especially the bird and butterfly counts. Beyond all of this he has such diverse interests that a few minutes chatting with him refresh you and make you feel better – I can say this in all honesty as I’ve been his assistant tutor since September and have witnessed this all first hand.

However, I wanted to share with you his recent revelation (I do have his permission!) about a practice he has just designed and the impact it has had. The best thing is it is adaptable for ages and abilities and can be played individually or in teams, plus – whilst Howard is a football specialist, we have looked at how we will now use it for hockey, basketball and netball! The simplicity of the practice is its beauty it requires a few cones and allows the teacher to observe everything and everyone easily.

As you can see from the diagram the children are set up in zones and from this the play can be:

Level one practice, passing against the wall

Level one practice, passing against the wall

  • Individual – pass between the cones for 3 points, hit a cone 1 point.
  • Challenge – move the cones closer/ further away depending on the player.
  • Used for alternate feet.
  • Used to develop pivoting with a pass in one direction, pivoting and then passing in the other.
  • Partner – who can get to 10 first? Or how many can you score in a minute
  • Team – as for partner.
  • Also, if the cones are coloured you can create teams across the space.

Then from this diagonal passes can be developed to teach the idea of the wall pass, which can use exactly the same games as above, just between 2 sets of cones, or for even further challenge, maybe from one part of the court to the other.

Developing the diagonal 'wall' pass

Developing the diagonal ‘wall’ pass

So, following Howard’s example, what could you introduce that is simple, yet devastating? Is there something which, if you think about it, you could introduce and then have a great impact on your learners? Maybe use the Easter break to redevelop and develop, rather than try to immerse yourself in new things. Like Howard, you might just surprise yourself!

Life in a Refugee Camp – Part 1.

For anyone approaching Easter and thinking how much they need a break, a sobering piece by Debra Kidd!

Love Learning by Debra Kidd

It looks like a beach, but there is no sea. The dried out river bed running through Kakuma town is a hive of activity. There are goats, some dead and those that are alive are roaming and bleating in desperate search of water. Groups of adults and children dig down, deeper and deeper in the hope of finding some remaining pools. Mostly in vain. There has been no rain since November, when cruelly, so much came, so fast that it carried members of the community and their homes away with it. As fast as it came, it went and the river has since dried up. Kakuma is facing a drought.


Twenty years ago, the people here agreed to host a refugee community. Set up to serve 90,000 people, the camp is now home to over 185,000 with more people arriving every day. Resources are stretched to the limit but the…

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Learning with Manic Miner

What a great blog on a game I didn’t know myself – but I do now! Great to look at learning in a different way

Class Teaching

manic miner

The other night I remembered this great ZX Spectrum game of the mid-80s.  Me and my friends loved it.  In fact you could go as far to say as we were obsessed with it.  Imagine my delight when, following a quick google search, I found that you could still play it online – right here. Go on, have a go – you won’t regret it!

There are 20 levels to complete on Manic Miner.  My expectations were low – I hadn’t played the mighty game for almost 30 years!  With this in mind, I was amazed (and quietly impressed with myself) when after just 3 attempts, I reached level 4 – the ‘Abandoned Uranium Workings’ level.  The bizarre thing was how much I remembered – when to jump in the ‘Central Cavern’, to avoid the killer bushes or in the case of ‘The Menagarie’, those menacing dodos.  It all…

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How do you unite your school?

There are many things that I love about working in a primary school, but the past week is one of my favourites, the week when all of our work on the Take One Picture ideal comes together for an exhibition of work from our EYU (nursery) to Year 6. For the uninitiated the idea is that, using a picture from the National Gallery, all lessons for a week (or two) are focused on aspects of that picture – trying to avoid tenuous links, e.g. Maths – counting what’s in the picture.

The EYU Display

The EYU Display

As I said in my last blog post about morning routines (here) my Maths classes loved working on a theme, to develop their maths skills across a range of themes.

Although the National Gallery’s choice of picture was ‘Mr and Mrs Andrews’ by Thomas Gainsborough, our school focused on the work of Victorian artist Marianne North, specifically picture 378. ‘Amatungula in Flower and Fruit and Blue Ipomoea’, painted in South Africa.


Having been trained to teach in secondary I can honestly say that, in 14 years of teaching in secondary schools there was nothing as unifying as this process. Yes, successful sports teams and music or drama performances created a great team spirit, but nothing that brings the children together like Take One Picture.


The sense of anticipation amongst the children is only just ahead of that amongst the staff, where everyone wants to see what each other has done and (sometimes inadvertently) share teaching and learning ideas. The vibrancy of the display is down to our fabulous Art and Technology Department, I’ve learnt so much from; Susie, Sam and Jac over my time here – even to embrace mess and my artistic side, but their vision carries everyone along in producing amazing work to showcase the children’s talents.

One of the main enjoyments, especially as a Year 6 parent, is seeing what the centrepiece will be, as this is traditionally created by the senior children in the school in their Art and Tech lessons. Last year for Uccello’s ‘Saint George and the Dragon’ they created a wonderful scale dragon, using tissue paper and wire for the centre of the room which was certainly eye-catching. This year, was an amazing 3D recreation of the Amatungula work of Marianne North, which hung on specially constructed panels at the back of the hall and drew everyone’s focus immediately.


The sheer variety and focus of the work always staggers me, from the beautiful miniature gardens created by our EYU children (see above), to these stunning examples:


20150316_081255 (1)

For my Maths classes – as I know you’ll be wondering how I worked this into my lessons I focused on the journeys of Marianne North. This allowed the children to have a focus for developing a vast array of skills:

  • Developing time knowledge by expressing Marianne North’s 60 years in different ways; decades, months, weeks, etc, etc.
  • Measuring accurately between 2 points.
  • Converting the measurement using a scale (1cm=850km) which required long multiplication – including of decimals for my Year 6 who weren’t allowed to round their measurements.
  • Converting km to miles (standard in Year 6, an extension in Year 5).
  • Working out time differences between 2 places on the map – then developing this to write (in 12 and 24 hour clock) the relevant times in both locations.
  • Using a protractor to calculate the angle of travel between these two points.

This was all developed to then include destinations the children have visited, or would like to visit.

However, the richness of this work, I think, is added to because of the collaboration that occurs during the lessons. The children really do embrace the 4Bs principle here – I barely speak, apart from showing my appreciation for their ideas (bliss for them!) I also love the creative presentation they demonstrate, they almost try to outdo each other in making their work eye-catching. Here are some wonderful examples:

Work created by two of my girls.

Work created by two of my girls.

A booklet created by 3 of my boys.

A booklet created by 3 of my boys.


Work created, with questions for the reader to answer.

Work created, with questions for the reader to answer.

A collaboration between 2 girls.

A collaboration between 2 girls.

For my Science lesson (I had one double, 100 minute, lesson with Year 5) I decided to have some fun – plus to really challenge the children’s thinking. As this half term’s work is on sound and the ear, I used that for inspiration to work around the question, ‘(How) do plants hear?’ The lesson started by watching a clip from Little Shop of Horrors to open the discussion, that if Audrey talks to Seymour, how can she hear him? From this the children:

  • Discussed what their thoughts were.
  • Read an article about Prince Charles talking to his plants. (here)
  • Tried to identify on a plant cross-section where a plant would hear from (as we all acknowledged they don’t have ears!)
  • Worked in a 3 to design an experiment to test the hypothesis that a plant can hear – ensuring fair tests, as well as some ingenius ideas for recording measurements and reactions, including a super slow motion camera!
  • Finally, after much debate looked at the work of Mythbusters and The R.H.S, reported in The Telegraph, where we found out that sound does affect plant growth.

The children loved this aspect, taking a somewhat sideways slant on the work of Marianne North, plus not only linking it to our current topic, but looking differently at the topic we tackle after Easter – plants. (This is why I avoided looking at the life cycle of a plant, the cross-section of a plant and any of the more mundane things that have to be covered in the curriculum.)

Now, I know some colleagues will be looking at this thinking, but what are the drawbacks? Well, thinking about it, I would say that the following are possible:

  1. To properly display the work takes time and effort.
  1. If a proper exhibition is conducted, then a large space is needed – which probably means the hall is taken out, affecting lessons and lunches.
  1. There can be a simplification of the subjects to ‘meet the picture’, attempting tenuous links, rather than proper focused work that would be on the curriculum anyway.

But, in reality, that’s it. I firmly believe that the project is excellent and brings the school together around a common purpose. The curriculum content can (easily) be covered – admittedly, to the chagrin of some, not necessarily in a linear fashion, but as I think my Maths classes showed the vibrancy and potential is huge.

One final thought, this year, our Take One Picture work was conducted throughout the inspection week! The inspectors were impressed about the depth of learning and the cross curricular links established and how the engagement was so high. Therefore my challenges are, what do you do to unite your school around a theme?  What could you do? How could you deliver your curriculum differently – in a cross curricular manner, perhaps even across year groups and phases?

What’s your morning routine and how does this reflect your teaching?

What’s your morning routine?

Calvin and Hobbs on routine

Calvin and Hobbs on routine

I know this is a bit of a strange question to start this piece, but, seriously what is your morning routine? Look at the pictures below and decide in what order you would place them. What order would you carry them out, once you’ve got out of bed? (I admit not everyone will shave, or do all/ any of them, but please bear with me and have a go!)




OJ, cornflakes and tea.

OJ, cornflakes and tea.

Now I hope that you have, at least, considered your order – maybe for the first time. However, I am aware that some of you will have dismissed the ordering task altogether, not (I hope) because it’s pointless or too hard, but because you don’t have a morning routine.

You see, building on my last post about reordering the way I teach my Maths lessons (here) where I now carry out mental maths tests at the end of the lesson, rather than the traditional start of the lesson placement. This borrows from my PE teaching background, but even as I wrote it, light dawned on me that perhaps I was actually limiting me outlook. In fact, was there a danger of becoming more glam than punk, to borrow from Tait Coles’ wonderful book? In fact, my slow realisation, as I approached Easter, in the post Inspection bubble, was that I could easily slip into a rut – and we know how dangerous that can be…


Now, don’t get me wrong, for the inspection I changed nothing – in fact the children I teach actually commented on this, and (along with several colleagues) that I was remarkably relaxed. I always responded with the fact that I changed nothing, I used the #5MinLessonPlan for the inspectors, otherwise … But writing the last post, I realised the danger of this – and weirdly I realised this in relation to my morning routine. Yes, surprise, surprise, I have one (or I had!)

I was worried this was fast becoming me!

I was worried this was fast becoming me!

Mine consisted of; wake daughter up, shave (as she got/ woke up), shower, clean teeth (this allows time for deodorant to dry so no marks on clothes!), dress, eat breakfast, mouthwash, leave. See, it’s worse than having a routine; I actually had reasons for it – meaning I had considered it! And this realisation made me think about my teaching and how/ if this was approaching a similar pattern.

Now I’m a keen advocate of the works of; Jim Smith, Dave Keeling, Tait Coles (see above), Hywel Roberts, and others, plus wrote about working differently in my book Unhomework: How to get the most out of homework without really setting it. But a worrying thought struck me, what if my desire to be different and creative has actually become routine? The consideration has come as I thought about the serious impact that simply changing the structure of my maths lessons around and made me wonder, where next…? But in thinking that, it dawned on me, what if I was the blocker to the progress for the class? Has my spontaneity and doing things differently become too ‘off pat’? Have I actually developed a ‘routine’ rather than being ready to engage – especially if I have done so in my everyday life, in as far as getting ready for work?


Now this doesn’t mean that I criticise the above, in fact I have revisited for inspiration as this shows how I can do this, but ensure I can do so in different ways. So, what has happened? A few things actually!

  1. There is now no clearly identified pattern to lessons – save for the mental maths test ending a lesson.
  1. I’m using a wider variety of music in lessons (thanks Nina Jackson!)
  1. We’ve loved using Marianne North’s paintings for inspiration (that’s the next blog – just decided) from the Take One Picture
  1. We’re having more laughs – joke telling and friendly banter, often at my expense, showing my fallibility. (Thanks to Dave Keeling and Stephanie Davies). These are useful to introduce topics too; e.g., “What does a female frog wear under her blouse?” An algaebra (Ba dum tish!)
  1. Thanks to Make it stick: The science of successful learning I am using far more.
  1. I am reading far more, I have always tried, but have been finding too many excuses not to (from recent reading thanks to; Rachel Jones, Oliver Quinlan and Simon Pridham for your impact on my classes!)
  1. As promised I am blogging far more – I may not be setting the world on fire as yet, but I am enjoying it and it’s allowing me to rethink my work and refine my teaching further.

So, as expressed in my blog about what teachers can learn from musicals after watching Made in Dagenham I am ensuring I re-establish my righteous indignation and challenging myself to remember the sage words of Steve Jobs

One of the best speeches ever (in my opinion)

One of the best speeches ever (in my opinion)

It’s certainly keeping my family on their toes of a morning!