Tuesday, December 19, 2006

What's New Blog

I'd written earlier that I wanted to add an RSS feed to the website's What's New page. I haven't found an easy way to do this without a complete restructure, so I have started a second blog to cover this. It's called What's New, and I'll link entries there to this blog.

New Additions to Skills for Life Website

I have added a small raft (7) of mental maths quizzes to Activities Maths, covering some techniques for larger numbers, ie not simple bonds and tables. They were done for a couple of my students and went down well. I have tried in some of them to make them not just sums - so fractions involves divisions and area involves multiplying.

I like the way a matching exercise works. It's a bit like a puzzle and the learner gets satisfaction on completing it. It also has some of the same benefits as multiple choice - the learner can do the calculation and then compare it with possible answers. In this way it gives good practice for multiple choice.

I've added a link for the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics to Background. It's not really got anything yet for post 16 numeracy. There are a couple of relevant blogs, Fractious Fractions and SfL/KS/FS in FE, but at the moment they look more like the start of a discussion board than a blog. Some of the more general or school blogs are more interesting and read like blogs, such as John Dabell's entry here.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Google Docs in the Literacy Class

While blogs and wikis are something I can look forward to using with learners, and they are integral to Moodle, another possibility is Google Docs - in particular the word-processing part. Here is something I have run up as a first example to give some idea of what I have in mind. The linked example has the comments as part of the document, but if you publish it normally you would not have the comments embedded.

The Google Doc is basically an online interactive worksheet. You can put comments on them and all changes get displayed in real time. This example has a number of learners working on the same topic. However it could equally well be an individual doc for an individual learner.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Time Line

I've been thinking about changes I've seen in using computers for teaching Basic Skills in the past 20 or so years. The starting point came in a presentation I gave in Sheffield a couple of years ago.
  • 1984-5 Community Drop-in - using BBC for word-processing, programs
  • 1985-9 Community Classes - carrying BBC Masters in my car for word-processing, programs
  • 1989-96 Open Learning Centre - suite of PCs (Amstrads) - used for word-processing (Wordstar), Lotus, authoring programs especially Storyboard
  • 1990 - Laser Printer to replace dot-matrix to print learning materials
  • 1990 - First "laptop"
  • 1993 - Multimedia CD-ROMs
  • c1995 - First contact with internet
  • 1996/7 - Heard presentations from computer gurus about how internet would change everything
  • 2000 - First used internet with students
  • 2001 - started writing quizzes
  • 2004 - started to collect interactive activities
  • 2006 - quizzes and interactive activities still what I mainly use in 1-1; I know I'd be using different strategies in a classroom
Most of these moments seemed very exciting at the time. Taking the BBCs to community classes was very rewarding because the students were very interested and gained hugely in confidence, even if the equipment was heavy and parking sometimes difficult. The first laser printer was also great because it allowed us to make professional looking learning materials. We used Ventura which had GEM, a better than Windows 2 GUI. The printer cost over £1000 and was only the second in the college - that felt cutting edge (an unusual feeling in Basic Skills).

Monday, December 11, 2006

Numeracy Teaching

I saw a presentation on Thursday which included a section which showed written mistakes that a dyslexic student might make doing written calculations.

I was struck by how rarely I come across people doing sums like this on paper. My current role includes supporting apprentices to pass Level 1 or Level 2 tests. I can only think of two of those students who regularly did calculations on paper, and one of those was one of the few dyscalculics (does that word exist?) I have come across, and he could not hold a sum in his head. Of the others, few have wanted to do calculations on paper and they have been relieved when I started to offer them alternative strategies.

Being a good FE teacher I write learning plans and lesson plans and try to code these to the Core Curriculum. Normally I support the Core Curriculum, though I strongly believe we should teach other things as well. But it is not easy to code mental arithmetic to the curriculum. There is however a whole section at the level I usually teach (N1/L1.3) about written methods. Luckily my students do not have to demonstrate that they can use efficient written methods. And why should they have to? Numeracy is about everyday maths in practical situations - the only real world place you will be presented with a sum is in a maths class.

Most maths books, maths websites, maths worksheets, numeracy worksheets, etc, etc, demonstrate numeracy skills by written methods, which renders most of them useless for teaching purposes, although they may have useful practice questions. Even the wonderful Maths the Basic Skills Curriculum Edition does this. An honourable exception is Skillswise which has good sections on mental maths.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The Literacy Class of the Future

I have recently read 2 interesting schools based wikis (here and here), used to collaborate between schools in different continents. I certainly see blogs and wikis as being central to the literacy class of the future, in the same way as Interactive Whiteboards are central to the numeracy classroom of the present - aren't they? Learners can write to blogs individually and they can collaborate on creating a group wiki on subject or subjects of mutual interest. I've already commented (Reflect) on the use of Wikipedia in a literacy class. I used to publish student writing but Web 2.0 tools make it a lot easier and a lot more learner controlled.

I have added some blogs to the Using ILT page, but a major rework will have to wait. I am still trying to progress my Web2.0 skills. I've been further working with del.cicio.us: (these are my elearning bookmarks I enjoyed the del.icio.us tutorial from John Pederson, and have browsed other people's bookmarks. The tutorial seems to be a Google Doc, another nice Web2.0 tool which would be good in a literacy class of the future.

I have Pageflakes as a homepage, which I can use anywhere, on any browser, complete with well presented RSS feeds, including del.icio.us, including an elearning stream, and Flickr pictures I have rather dully uploaded. I have tried Flock (a Mozilla browser which has a front end for Flicklrand Myspace) and Elgg.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Maths Quizzes - New Additions

I added a new Maths quiz on Currency Conversion to the site at the end of last week. There is a wealth of activities for maths out there. I have come across many at several sites in the last couple of months and have added some of their goodies to Activities Maths. They are mostly Flash-based, look good and work well. There are many more useful activities around for numeracy than for literacy. Some of the reasons for this include: schools activities are often created in a neutral way which will appeal to adults, the schools curriculum is much closer to the adult curriculum for numeracy than for literacy, and the issues are more similar; activities are often created to work on interactive whiteboards and so look good and simple on the screen; many literacy activities I've come across are from an EFL background or a University Study Skills background - there are useful activities in the NLN materials (needs registration - look under Family Care etc), but I cannot link these.

However I still find it useful to write Hot Potatoes quizzes for numeracy. I was brought up in the old-fashioned basic skills way where it was an ideal to bring in something individual for your learners each session. A Hot Potatoes quiz is generally only a worksheet online with online rather than verbal feedback, but it feels completely different for both tutor and learner; the learner feels more involved while the tutor can be more neutral, not having to correct it. Drag and drop can add quite a lot extra, but I've not been able to persuade the Hot Potatoes team of this. For this week's quiz on Currency Conversion I had something particular in mind as well as currency conversion, which was multiplying by halves, 6 x 2.5, etc. Things like this rarely crop up in generic flash activities which look at one element only, and are not often concerned to teach things which people find difficult, the core task of a Skills for Life tutor.

I work with a number of learners moving from E3 numeracy to Level 2 numeracy, and there are always issues with fractions. I know that any worksheets or quizzes I write on this topic will always be useful for next year's learners.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


I was interested to see in the new issue of Reflect from NRDC, under the heading Effective Practice:
Our analysis pointed to four guiding principles for ILT in a Skills for Life context:
1. Foster learner autonomy.
2. Enhance peer collaboration.
3. Plan the construction of artefacts.
4. Aim for technological diversity.

We also identified two strategies that do not appear to work:
1. Telling learners how to do the task rather than listen, discuss, prompt and extend.
2. Tutors using PowerPoint.
Although the research was done 2 years ago, and activities observed were things such as webquests and mindmaps (Web 1.0), the conclusions (autonomy, collaboration, doing) are more Web 2.0. A report and practitioner guide will follow. I hope the guide will include Web 2.0 ideas: blogs, forums, etc., as they should enable those guiding principles. It will be interesting to read the research which led to these conclusions.

There was also a review about using Wikipedia, with some ideas and starting links. It might also be useful to think of Simple Wikipedia, maybe to use in tandem. This has the benefit of using easy English. It might be easier also for groups to edit or add pages. Wikis are also also Web 2.0, the web as a place where people are writing information as well as reading it.

I always enjoy reading Reflect. This is Issue 6, available only in pdf at the moment. Earlier issues in html are here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


My head is full of ideas about elearning at the moment. The growth of the internet gets faster and faster as seers have always predicted. I got into this by looking at lots of the sites which are really blogs, such as Jane Knight's Jane's Link of the Day, Will Richardson's Weblogg-ed and Tony Karrer's eLearning Technology.

Will writes an education blog and most of his ideas and enthusiasms are practical and classroom related. Jane and Tony both come from a business perspective. Jane regularly has items of interest in her daily pick - I enjoyed Cappuccino U last week for instance. Hers is a good starting point. Tony has a very clear way of writing his blog, simple but inspiring.

I was very taken with the idea from Will, picked up on (here) that teachers must be users. I have widened the range of Web 2, collaborative, things I have been doing on the web, because this is where a big part of the future of elearning must be. As well as blogging, I have been using Moodle, to which my college is migrating from Blackboard, a great step forward if teachers can grasp the opportunities for collaborative learning it offers. I have been using RSS feeds, and would like to add one to the What's New page. I have been playing with del.icio.us and browsing Utube, Myspace and Flickr.

Some of this must get reflected in posted links. I am trying to rejig the ILT page but haven't found the formula yet.

I am finding it hard to punctuate elearning properly: it could be e-learning, elearning, eLearning, Elearning and others.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

New Additions - Spelling

I have added a page which links some of the Spelling Quizzes to other resources, mainly pdf word lists at the moment. This reflects the way I have been teaching spelling over the past few years, both with groups and with one to one support. I use a word list to look at particular rules or patterns, have the learners write sentences using the words and use the quizzes to reinforce the learning at the end. Normally I'd do one rule a week and have tried to indicate how I would organize this with the numbers down the left. Some learners will go more slowly. I'd often back it up with individual look/cover/say programmes. You can compare this with the LEAP programme in Jenny Lee's "Making the Curriculum Work for Learners with Dyslexia", published by the Basic Skills Agency, details here. I came across this more recently. There are also references to LEAP deep in the DFES Framework for Understanding Dyslexia.

I have also posted an L2 spelling quiz, which is longer and gives more feed-back than usual. This was designed as a task sheet with oral feedback for a particular group of Level 2 candidates, doing the test with minimum of input. I have added the feedback to the quiz, but am unsure how this will go down with a range of learners aiming at the Level 2 end tests.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Recent Additions

I have enjoyed finding useful resources on public Scottish sites recently. Two good examples are a store of worksheets and website links on Adult Literacies Online which is a little like the resources part of Talent. Sites like these are not necessarily easy to find what you are looking for, as either you go through sequentially - and the Scottish site is already up to 156 items since June - or you search which can be difficult if you don't know what you are looking for. Easy to organise from the point of view of website design though. On Talent you can search by curriculum reference.

The Learning and Teaching Scotland Core Skills site has some useful numeracy activities. I particularly liked 10% and similar which would be good for one to one, or self-study, or on a whiteboard. I found it difficult to align these activities with English and Welsh Curriculum or Key Skills levels and references. I understand that Scottish tutors have difficulty with our references, as in this guide (pdf: page 6) from CLAN. I have tried to avoid classifying resources on Activities English and Activities Maths completely by curriculum reference, but as the number of links grows it gets harder to find what you are looking for.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

First Blog

There are not a lot of blogs around in Skills for Life at the moment. The first I came across was Keith Burnett's Bodmas Blog for maths teaching (not really numeracy), and then a small raft in Scotland, including Clan Gathering and Blogging for Numeracy Students, aimed at groups of learners.

For this blog I am really thinking about things I put on the Skills for Life website, and the ways I use these resources and other elearning techniques.