The Troll Tree

I wanted to introduce using a tree diagram in sorting this week. I thought it would help children to think of different ways of sorting and encourage the thinking skills through working out how someone else has sorted a collection of objects. Tree diagrams don’t really install excitement in four and five year olds though so I made a story to go with it. 

As a child of the mid 80s/early 90s I have a soft spot for trolls. So I thought I’d use a troll to help me make the tree diagram a bit more fun. 

This is my troll. 

He’s a bit grubby  and isn’t one of the ones with the jewel in its belly button but the children were excited. I asked them where the trolls live (in a tree now that’s to the recent animated movie). I explained that my troll likes collecting things but that he is very picky. He has rules about what he would like to collect. He uses his tree branches to help him sort. 

The children picked an object each from a box of sorting toys. One at a time they walked their object up the tree and the troll said yes or no, directing the object to the right branch. The children then had to work out what it was that the troll was collecting. It started off easy… green things, bears…. and then it got trickier. The thinking, excitement and language was brilliant for what could’ve been quite a dry activity. 

They particularly shone with comments like “why does the troll only want bugs?” “I think the troll only wants flying stuff” 

They were able to start to predict if the troll would say yes or no to each item once they had an idea of what the rule was. Sometimes they were proved right. Sometimes they had to rethink because the troll let something in they didn’t expect or ruled out something they thought he would like. 

I had eight at a time in this little group activity. After each sort we went trough the criteria verbally – 

bugs / not bugs 

purple/ not purple

With Wheels / not with wheels

Then they took it in turns to be the troll and decide their own rule. 

This lesson was a hit with the children and with me. Definitely going to use it again as we progress on to two criteria sorts. 


Elmer Invasion

From September 10th….

I’ve now done two weeks in my school. It’s busy, settling new P1s, getting to know them, getting to know staff, finding my way around my new setup in school and getting used to my new role of Foundation Stage Coordinator. It’s busy but I’m loving it. It’ll loving the challenge of it and the creativity that I get to share.

Our first theme for P1 is colour, it lets us learn about ourselves and each other, begin to sort and join in with some lovely book related activities. I’ve got Wow said the owl, the princess and the wizard, the day the crayons quit and brown bear brown bear lined up…. but I started with Elmer. My class have absolutely fallen in love with Elmer. They can’t get enough Elmer stories. I’ve literally caused a rush on Elmer books in the local library. One little girl even brought her own Elmer book in her bag to read on Friday.

For a playful introduction to sorting I decided to use their love of Elmer to create a purpose and interest in sorting.

On Tuesday as the children came in I told them someone had made a big mess in our room and I didn’t know how it had got there. I told them to go and look, in the classroom they were met by a pile of sorting toys on the floor surrounded by cones. A piece of paper was poking out from underneath. The children all had to guess what had happened.

It led to great excitement. “It’s a mystery for P1!” said one little boy. Our talking and listening activity for the morning was getting their ideas as to who it might have been. Then one girl spotted the note. I read it out. Elmer had come to play when we have gone home. He said sorry about the mess. My class decided he must’ve knocked to toys over with his trunk because he was too big. Some children were a bit sceptical. I suggested we check the security cameras… and lo and behold there was Elmer walking into our school.

I created a video of Elmer coming into the school using the greenscreen app by DoInk. I used photos of school, a png image of Elmer with a transparent background and added a series of shots with Elmer moving a little at a time, like stop motion. I exported it to the camera roll and opened it in iMovie to add the sound effects.

I asked the children what we could do about Elmer mess. I asked how they thought we could sort it. They suggested put all the same colours together so that’s what we did, working in pairs with a sorting tray and a big handful of elders mess they began to sort for colour with more enthusiasm than I’ve seen for an introduction to sorting ever.

Then they insisted on writing a letter back to Elmer, cue some shared writing I hadn’t planned on and in play the construction was quickly turned into a scene from James Bond as my pupils became mini Qs making”spy eyes” with knex to catch Elmer.

It’s inspired a whole lot more Elmer linked learning including Elmer toast and shared writing to the author David McKee.

This really worked with my class, I know a few teachers have said they want to do it too. If you use it let me know how it goes!

Wind’s in the East…

I’ve been working in the same school for the past seven years.  In that time I have taught across Foundation Stage.  I taught P1 for a year, P2 for two years and then became the Nurture Teacher responsible for setting up and teaching a small intervention class for 4-6 year olds with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.  Those seven years saw me develop as a teacher, as a colleague and also as a lifelong learner myself.   Its been seven years where I learned a lot, grew in confidence and in skill.  I have just seen my first class, my first P1s, leave and head off to Big School.

I know how this school does things.  I’m able to help and mentor new staff.  I’m able to speak with confidence about how we do things ad why.  I know the families and the community – I’ve taught sibling groups and extended families.  I know where everything is kept and how things run from term to term, year to year.  My colleagues have become proper friends.

But I’m leaving.

A post came up in another school, P1 teacher and  Foundation Stage Coordinator.  Its pretty much the dream job.  I love Foundation Stage.  It was my specialism during training and where I have happily spent the last seven years.  Its also the opportunity to move more formally into a leadership role.  I applied, and I got the job.

So I’m leaving.

Its bringing mixed emotions with it.  I flit between excitement and nerves.  I’m telling myself thats a healthy combo and it will keep me on my toes.

There will be lots more to learn, lots of new challenges and opportunities and hopefully new colleagues who will also become proper friends.

But for now let me leave you with a  quote from Mary Poppins which sums up a lot what I’m feeling at the moment.

“Winds in the east, mist coming in,

Like somethin’ is brewin’ and bout to begin…”

ADE Project – ClipsTours

A week ago I got back from ADE Academy in London.  Simultaneously it feels like it was forever ago and no time at all.

Since coming home I’ve had to recharge my phone at least twice a day.  Sometimes I just put my watch on to airplane mode to manage the constant stream of notifications.  I met some of the best people at Academy.  Teachers passionate about education and making a dent in the universe.  Teachers with a clear “why” who do everything for the love of learning.  It a fantastic buzz to be part of this community.  My phone just can’t keep up with all the buzzes!

One of the reasons as well why my phone battery isn’t holding up to a full days use is Twitter, another is Apple Clips.  I’m working on a project at the moment with my friend and ADE 2017 classmate Laura Dickinson.  ClipsTours aims to showcase our world through a series of short videos made with Apple Clips.  The project has only been alive for five days and already we have 45 clips submitted spanning the whole word.  You can take a look at the map here and follow the project on twitter @clipstours or #clipstours Maybe even make one of your own!

The exciting thing for me is that its not only other ADEs getting involved, its teachers and hopefully very soon, pupils.

As an early years teacher I’ve seen the value and importance of opening pupils eyes to the worlds beyond their experience.  As a teacher in a fairly insular and closed community  I know how vital it is to grow understanding and acceptance of different people from different places.

If we want our pupils to grow up to be responsible, engaged global citizens we need them to realise that they are part of a bigger world, that they have a place and a part to play.

Its a big aim, but I’m hoping that #ClipsTours might help with that.  Lack of education leads to fear and mistrust, which can lead to prejudice, racism and a whole host of social problems.

So lets start with education.  Lets build five minutes of global awareness into our classes every day.  Lets watch clips.  Lets connect with different people in different places.

Let’s make a dent.

My Showcase Journey Part 1: The Story

I had the opportunity to present a showcase at ADE Academy in London last week.  It was a scary, exhilarating, encouraging and wonderful privilege; certainly one of the highlights of Academy for me.

A good bit of arm-twisting went on to encourage me to apply to present.  Some Alumni who had seen my application video encouraged me that I had a story to tell and that I needed to apply.  My initial reluctance to do it wasn’t because I felt that the story wasn’t important – I am tremendously proud of the pupils and the staff I work with.  My reluctance was more along the vein of ‘sure everyone does the same kind of work!’ I know from watching, talking to and working with the rest of the ADE Class of 2017 that everyone is passionate and hardworking, what I do in my setting isn’t particularly different to what happens elsewhere.

I heard that I’d been selected to present at the end of May, only four weeks before the end of term.  It was a mad dash to get photo and video permissions in place and gather all the resources.  One thing I knew wouldn’t be hard to sort out was the story – I’ve been living it for the past four years.

The school I work in is set in the most educational deprived area of Northern Ireland.

82% pupils qualify for free school meals.

40% pupils are on the Special Educational Needs Register.

Four years ago we introduced iPads into every class.  Despite the improvements we have seen in motivation levels, engagement, Literacy and Numeracy, for me, the important story is the change in pupil aspirations.  Before iPads my 5-6 year old pupils struggled to think of what they might be when they grew up.  The idea they would have a job was strange to most of them.  Now with iPad those children are authors, illustrators, coders, game developers, collaborators, artists and architects.

I was asked at Academy what prompts I gave the children before I recorded them saying what they wanted to be when they grew up.  The answer is none.  I just told them that I wanted to record them saying what they wanted to be.  I got a wide range of answers: baker, florist, make-up artist, hairdresser, chef, footballer, youtube, Apple Teacher (!), designer, game developer, army IT support worker, navy engineer, inventor, architect, archaeologist and astrophysicist.  I couldn’t include them all so I picked the ones I knew were dreams that came from the influence of the iPad experiences.

The little girl who wants to be an astrophysicist is 10.  She taught herself to code with Python at home and since its release her favourite app has been Swift Playgrounds.  She is a Digital Leader in the school and is always willing to help out her peers, younger pupils and teachers.  She relishes a challenge.  Recently she was unable to play outdoors at break and lunch – out of all the options available to her she choose to sit inside and read her book.  Brian Cox’s Forces of Nature.  A signed copy that she got at Belfast’s SSE Arena when she convinced her parents to buy her tickets and take her to see him.  Now, for her, astrophysics is a total valid and achievable career path and honestly I will be surprised if she doesn’t achieve it.  Its either that or President of the World – I can see both happening.

I titled my showcase “Creating Dreamers” because thats what happened, an outcome I never would have predicted, but certainly a story I will tell and retell again and again.



ADE Academy 2017: First Reflections

I’m just back from ADE Academy 2017 in London.

I have so many thoughts and feelings that it’s going to take me time to process and reflect properly, but I’m also aware I want to get some initial thoughts down before they float away and are forgotten.

Over the next few days and weeks expect to see blog posts on these themes.

Start with the why….

My showcase journey.

Change and influence.

Create. Share. Amplify.

For now let me just share with you these thoughts.

Passion is contagious

Community is the key

When we collaborate we make each other better. Together we shine more brilliantly than we ever could alone.

I’m not the only crazy one.


ADE Academy 2017 – Rockstars and Rocks

Back in April I was accepted as an Apple Distinguished Educator.  Honestly it’s one of the things in my professional life that I am most proud of and excited by. To be a member of the community that I have looked up for years is such an privileged opportunity. Part of being a new ADE is attendance at Academy.  Mine is in London and we have just finished day one of formal programme.

Coming to Academy I knew (from social media and my own butterflies!) that most of the new class were feeling a pretty much equal mix  of nerves and excitement. When you look up to people and work for something for so long and then you get it you don’t quite know what to expect. There’s also the inevitable feelings of imposter syndrome;  you know that everyone who is there is amazing because you’ve followed their work for so long.

It was great to hear yesterday someone say that being an ADE isn’t about being a rockstar, though people I have met here definitely are rockstars – albeit the humble, approachable kind.  Being an ADE is about being a rock, a foundation that builds other people up, who have the firm foundations of pedagogy to build their practice on and can model that good practice for others. They are the Advisors, Author, Ambassadors and Advocates who support their schools and the schools around them. They have influence and impact at local, regional, national and international levels, not because they are rockstars, but because they are rocks, supporting others. Like a rock at the seashore helping support the whole ecosystem of a rock pool, just by being there and doing their thing.

I was nervous until I arrived, but after some kind words from Alumni, Advisory Board and Apple Staff and the warmest welcome possible, the nerves totally disapated. These people are like me. They get me. They are the person like me in their schools and I get to be a part of that community.

Staff rooms are funny places. Once I was subbing in a school for a two week block, back the start of my teaching career.  It was a really large school and one that I knew extremely well, just not from a teaching perspective. This Staffroom was the most uncomfortable place to be. The staff, creatures of habit, had their set chairs and groups.  Cups in the cupboard were for the use of specific people only and there seemed to be a pecking order for the hot water for tea.

I asked to sit and join a group of teachers to be told no, before being informed that the teacher I was covering usually sat over there.  No one spoke to me. No one asked about my day, if I had settled in or offered help.  It was awful. I’m pretty resilient and it didn’t put me off the school at all, but it did shape my practice for how I treat subs, new teachers and other people in general.


ADE Academy is not like that Staffroom.


I know now I could confidently sit beside anyone and start chatting- it’s actually encouraged. No question is too small or silly. We have been told repeatedly that we are supposed to be here, we don’t need to second guess ourselves or hold back. Let the story sharing begin, let’s ask deep questions of each other, let’s clarify, lets push each other on. All in the most supportive environment I think I’ve ever encountered among a group of strangers.

I’m doing a short showcase presentation on Friday. The number of people I’ve never met before who have said to me- “we’ll all be cheering you on” is huge. We want each other to succeed. We want to push on as community. We want to share stories and projects and impact. We want to share successes and failures, because failing forward is part of learning.

ADE Academy is not like that Staffroom. These people are Rockstars, what they do is brilliant and inspiring and encouraging, but they are also rocks.

I can’t wait to see what today holds.

Rock on!