iPod Touch leads to homework revolution

A recent purchase of an iPod Touch for our daughter’s 9th birthday has already revolutionised the daily homework grind. As expected – the functionality, ease of use, general Apple lushness of the device and the ease of use of various educational apps has meant previously dull activities such as learning spellings, doing times tables etc has suddenly become almost engaging.

Whereas before, a mini version of the battle of the Somme would take place every evening: us sending regular salvos of parental artillery across the table, sounding like the manic, abusive parent in Pink Floyd’s The Wall: “You must finish your homework before you can have anything nice!!!” (while I rant incoherently about attacking the next school governor’s meeting to demand an end to pointless, dull, educationally invalid, family harmony sapping homework…), while our darling mutters, “..no, I’m staying firmly entrenched in my bunker, adamant I won’t try these boring spellings on these flimsy and crumpled, crappy bits of paper I have to bring home from school, when I could be doing something more meaningful in my young life, like practicing some nifty new moves to Swan Lake.

But gosh..this morning the sun came out and as our solar-powered plastic butterfly fluttered it’s wings at the strong light beaming across the breakfast table, the iPod came out silently, the gentle ping of a new word learned blessed the air..no fuss..no hair-raising screaming from us…most of the week’s spellings sorted before school, five days early..job done completely independently..bliss. And after the spelling s were sorted some times tables were also dispatched successfully in a bloodless coup..

So – some great educational apps that we’ve installed to get her started (and there are squillions more out there..):

  Test you spelling – works a treat – there are loads of other ones..

Same as Times Tables – all sorts of these, including some that are created as games rather than straight sums. Lots of score board treats to suck ’em in..

As a family who love photography, here’s a few we’ve used and put on the iPod:


OldBooth is great fun – make you Dad look like an eighties icon or even a camp squaddie from the fifties.

Hipstamatic allows you to shoot square framed images with an array of retro, Polaroid effects, nice movie style black and white and much more. You can swap film, lenses etc.

Here are some great science apps that will teach your kids about the stars and the solar system:


If your kids are keen on wildlife…here’s one on birds (costs a bit but has all UK bird songs, images, data etc..)

And finally for now…some great Google reference and research apps and GoogleEarth on your iPod:


As and when we toy with more apps that work well…we’ll let you know.


Why have a national curriculum if it’s not universal?

Some key questions here – why should any school have to endure a national curriculum if the government accepts that it may not be appropriate or desirable for academies and Free schools? Is this is a cynical carrot to change schools’ status and governance through devious means….?

The national curriculum: why have one if it’s not for everyone? | Education | The Guardian.

Cheerful China?!

Please forgive the cynicism and angst but let me introduce you to an example of how unpalatable truths are kept hidden from children in schools. Some interesting questions here on the nature of ‘education’: at what point in a child’s education do you tell them about the political and human rights horrors of certain regimes, as opposed to merely the points of cultural interest.

My six-year-old daughter’s teacher has sent home a slip of paper asking for us to help create a mind map to see what out child knows about China..or even china. Topic title: ‘Cheerful China’. Do I hear dark laughter from some readers (in fact…are there any readers..?) As someone who has read books such as Tears of Blood – A Cry for Tibet by Mary Craig, or the equally distressing and compelling Fire Under The Snow Testimony of a Tibetan Prisoner by Palden Gyatso, the notion of ‘cheerful China’ seems naive and ridiculous at best. But how to approach this with young children?

When working as an English teacher in the 90s, potentially controversial issues emerged often as part of our study of literary texts. In fact, this is one of the great attractions of studying literature – stories become the mirrors within which we can scrutinise issues about humanity, morality, love, war …whatever. Unfortunately, the prevailing liberal wisdom of the time required teachers to strike a balance between opposing views, to remain impartial for fear of over-influencing young people’s views and ideas. Most of the time my own moral voice was screaming to emphasise the political injustices that swirled around life in the UK at the time. The dying days of the Thatcher and Major governments saw that party continue to shred the fabric of British society and prepare the ground for the economic woes then exacerbated by Blair’s rampant over-spending. But I digress..

The question for educators I want to ask is: at what age and to what extent do you introduce young people to the horrors of  certain regimes: in this case the current and past Chinese government. To state the obvious – China is a miserable place to live and work for many Chinese people. The disgraceful and shocking torture and cultural devastation, nay genocide, visited on the Tibetan population (including many monks and nuns) since Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ makes most sane people boil with rage, sorrow and indignation. And this is only exacerbated more by British governments’ repeated efforts at toadying up to current Chinese leaders because they desperately need their cash. Even under Blair, members of the Free Tibet Campaign who were present at a cavalcade for a visiting Chinese Premier were harassed by officials and required to take off their campaign t-shirts: in our blessed Blighty where there apparently we have freedom of speech.

I could go on – but read the two books listed above and you’ll no doubt feel the same anger. So, back to my daughter’s mind map. Do we suggest she includes important Chinese inventions (silk, rice, toilet roll) and a few china cups and saucers (we have a pretty hand-painted Royal Doulton set of china –  we could include that as an important cultural artifact and symbol of Chinese cultural and political supremacy, because it’s made of china – which has been suggested by the teacher..). Or – should we do an electronic mind map with links to various texts, YouTube videos, campaign websites and images of self-immolating nuns? I know what I’d prefer….

Cyber bullied…but not defeated

Check out this excellent blog by Rhys Morgan, 17, Cardiff. He recently got seriously harassed by representatives of the Burszynski clinic in Houston. You can read the story in The Guardian.

And here’s Rhys’ blog:

Rhys’s Blog.

Raises interesting questions for teachers as well who have yet to discover the power of blogging for learning. How to learn about global citizenship issues.. and never underestimate young people…!

Revive a Child

Please take some time to look at this website.

Revive a Child.

Revive a Child is run by a Ugandan friend of ours called Anselm Barozi. We met Anselm earlier this year when he was staying in the UK for year, raising money for Revive a Child. The charity is based in Kampala, Uganda.

Many of the young people at Naguru Remand Home are not criminals. In the fall out from the Rawandan genocide of the 90s and the continuing violence and social chaos that is now the Republic of Congo, many young people lost parents, were kidnapped and forced into ‘military service’ by rebel groups, or were simply abandoned by parents unable to cope for  a variety of reasons. Many of these young people who were kidnapped by revel groups were arrested by government forces and imprisoned. So Naguru is a mixture of young criminals and innocent victims of war and social disintegration. Above all though, it is a genuine beacon of hope for many young Ugandans who have fallen prey to years of violence and neglect

Mercifully however, people like Anselm have come to the rescue. He and his colleagues, with some volunteer helpers from other countries, are working hard to improve the life opportunities of the young ‘inmates’. Their future plans are to build a better equipped school and improve existing facilities. Anyone wishing to donate funds to Revive a Child can contact us as we are now acting as UK coordinator for fund raising etc. Below are some pictures of workshops, inmates and more. An inspiring example of the generosity of the human spirit – nice one Anselm!

The images below show inmates making crafts; taking part in  workshops bead making beads out of recycled magazines; learning guitar; showing off new bags for mobile phones; learning about computers; learning photography:



Conditions at Naguru are pretty basic, so inmates and their support workers are constantly seeking funds to improve these. The images below show inmates lining up for food (often basic maize flour porridge and not much else..), talking in dormitories and posing for a photo:


Finally, below are some very happy young Ugandans: some young women (ex-inmates) now at school and some young men recently graduated in different skills/disciplines:


Congratulations to all those involved! If you’d like to learn more about Revive a Child and how you can help, please contact LearningBeyond by leaving a comment with some details of how to get hold of you. Or you can make contact directly with Anselm through their website.

Learning to be creative.

I’ve finally got round to reading the following book  Out of Our Minds by Sir Ken Robinson. This book is a must for anyone working in education. I expect most readers will have come across Sir Ken via his various lectures (many on YouTube) for TED. If not – then I recommend you do so.

I’m not going to try to precis Out of Our Minds – it’s too finely detailed and compelling for that. But I do need to share some relief at the fact that someone out there has so brilliantly articulated the miasma of faults currently undermining the UK (and probably many other western) governments’ approach to education and so-called curriculum transformation. Sir Ken’s main premise is that without excellent creativity skills, and the ability to innovate, our children will fail to live up to the complex and terrifying challenges of the next 100 (or even 50) years. An interview with Chris Woodhead in the most recent TES only emphasised this – (he’s still blathering on about academic knowledge being more important than skills development). Our current education policy developers have completely failed to acknowledge much of what Sir Ken is saying (or indeed what the CEO of IBM recently said, and what pretty well every successful entrepreneur and businessman agrees with): namely, that without a set of good creativity, problem solving and entrepreneurial skills, our children are going to fail to find solutions to a whole range of issues from energy needs to food to population growth, in the coming decades.

Mr Gove thinks we need to learn  more historical facts – the names of English Kings and Queens and their dates has been muted as a typical knowledge set that our kids need to acquire. Tragic but true – and a ridiculous return to the type of Gradgrind educational idiocy that has eroded this country’s ability to generate new wealth or industry (ref Hard Times, Charles Dickens). He’s also been quoted as saying he thinks mobile phones should be banned in the classroom (even more depressing and reactionary..)

Anyway – Sir Ken can say it all much better than me..go have a read…