Using blogs to engage boys in learning

We all know that it can be quite difficult sometimes (or all the time) to engage boys in learning. One strategy being used at Allerton CE Primary is to use a “Football Manager” blog to encourage boys who are interested in football (and girls) to write and do arithmetic.

I well remember working for 6 months as a student with a young lad called Karl who had left school with no academic qualifications. He was working in a meat processing unit of a frozen food supplier and was supplementing his rather low pay by betting. His ability to calculate the odds and potential winnings was amazing, and he was also pretty good at calculations to do with weighing meat. All he had needed was to see a use for the skills and he acquired them.

Since football is such a huge motivation for young lads it is a great way into engaging them in their learning. Blogging about their team, players that they want and building a fantasy team on a budget in order to get results exposes them to brilliant opportunities to write and do maths.

Have a look at the ACE Football Manager site and see what you think. And if you need help getting into blogging do contact me.


iPad Apps: Comic Strip

Comic Strip is an app which provides a simple way of producing a comic strip! Comic strips have so many possible uses and advantages including:

  • they are motivating
  • they are a great alternative way of telling a story – see the example below
  • they are visual so visual learners can benefit from using them especially where text might get in the way of the learning process
  • they can be used to give a set of instructions or pupils can make a comic strip using photos and speech bubbles to create their own instructions or to record what they have done eg making a cake, writing a letter, doing a multiplication, etc
  • they are popular culture – pupils understand them and enjoy them. Making their own bridges a gap between the cultures of the classroom and the home
  • The Comic Strip app is so easy to use, you can take photos or grab images from the Internet, pop them into one of several comic strip formats, add speech bubbles and text and then save the result as an image, publish to Facebook or Twitter (of course pupils won’t be doing the last two!)
    Here is a comic strip celebrating my son’s newly learnt skills on skis:


    And I forgot to say, it’s free!

    iPad apps: Morfo

    Morfo may seem a strange iPad app to use in the classroom but we have had some fun using it to improve writing and reading confidence.

    Morfo allows you to take an image of a face, preferably a face-on portrait, which you then line up the position and size of the different parts of the face. The more care you take over this the better the results. You can then record your voice onto the iPad and play the recording back as if the face is saying your words. We have used the faces of pupils and teaching staff with other people’s voices but it is even more fun if you load a face from a historic painting eg one of Henry VIII. We have had pupils write and record short speeches that Henry might have made. These can be saved as videos or shared via Facebook. A very short example is shown here.

    There are lots of other features. You can morph the face and make it move in all sorts of ways. You can also pay to have access to even more features but I think the free version provides enough for most teachers.

    Blogging from an iPad

    I regularly use an iPad to blog, both for my own blogs and for blogs with teachers and pupils. I also use Windows Live Writer on a PC, and web browsers on both PCs and Apples. As I mostly use blogs based on WordPress I use the WordPress app on the iPad. Since it was updated to the latest version it has become my choice method of blogging, it is so easy! Words, photos and videos can so easily published, it is often a case of point, click, type a few words and then press “Publish”.

    There are occasions where I want to do something a little more clever, like position a picture so that text flows around it, then I have to resort to a browser or Liver Writer, but usually the iPad app does the business.

    Once published, it is very easy to see any comments that are made relating to a post and to moderate them. It is also quite easy to view statistics relating to visitors to the blog if Jet Pack is configured on the blog.
    The outcome? Teaching staff with iPads are able to publish their students work with very little effort increasing their audience, their motivation and involving their parents and relatives in their learning process.

    It’s free as well, making it a win, win, win app for me!

    The International Children’s Digital Library

    The International Children’s Digital Library is described as “A Library for the World’s Children”. In it’s mission statement it says:

    “The Foundation pursues its vision by building a digital library of outstanding children’s books from around the world and supporting communities of children and adults in exploring and using this literature through innovative technology designed in close partnership with children for children”image

    The library consists of over 4600 books in 61 languages including Farsi and Tagalog (Filipino), many of the books having English translations or at least an English description of the book.

    Children who have come to this country (England) from non-English speaking countries may be familiar with some of these books. Being able to look at them with their language and with an English translation could help with their confidence and developing their language skills. These books would also introduce the rest of the class to stories from other cultures.

    If you use these books I would be interested to hear your comments on how successful they are so do please post a comment back.


    Storybird is a brilliant collaborative story telling tool. The site has loads of artwork which you can use to tell stories and make a book. The book can then be published online and embedded into your website (see Captain Peregrine’s Big Discovery below). There are already loads of stories on the Storybird website and there are other sites that use stories embedded in them including stories in foreign languages. As part of a literacy campaign in your school why not put a different story on your website class pages each week?

    Teachers can also set up class accounts which are private areas for their pupils to collaborate on work or to complete assignments set by the teacher.

    And if you have the money you can have your books printed out!

    n.b.In writing this post I ran into problems embedding the story into I have embedded stories into a number of websites and VLEs but couldn’t do it here. Then I found the following text:
    "Currently, Storybird embeds work on Blogger, Typepad, (self-hosted), Tumblr, Ning, and most other platforms that accept standard HTML. They do not work on blogs yet."
    Hopefully this will come shortly! Meantime, I’m afraid you will have to click on the image of the book.



    Storybird have their own blog and are also developing a Storybird app for the iPad.

    Storyline Online – a site to encourage reading

    Yesterday I was introduced to Storyline Online, an on-line streaming video program starring members of the Screen Actors Guild reading children’s books aloud. Each book has beautiful animations and has ideas for lesson activities. I don’t recognise a lot of the names of the actors – I’m not a particularly star struck sort of person – but I did recognise Elijah Wood and Ernest Borgnine (now in his late 90s) so I had a “read” of their stories. image

    Both books would work well being read on a computer or laptop screen in school or at home but they would also work well on an Interactive Whiteboard with the opportunity to pause and discuss the story, the pictures, etc. There are some good activities suggested and a downloadable activity guide. Some of the pronunciations are a bit American but I think this site could provide quite a bit of inspiration for reading. Why not put a link to this site on your school website or VLE?

    If you would like suggestions for other literacy websites visit my website links page, and if you have recommendations for particular sites do please let me know.