Tuesday, 14 February 2017

#NotesFromASmallIsland by Bill Bryson - Mini review

Notes From A Small Island is a lovely little book about Britain from an excellent perspective; that is of celebrated author Bill Bryson, as an outsider who spent a considerable number of years living in Brtain.

Born in Iowa, Bryson portrays in equal measures his love and loathing for the British Isles, discussing the difference in nature of a homespun Brit to the rest of the world in their attitudes towards drinking establishments, eateries, public transport stations and 'walking' in Britain and how rather than being things to keep us as humans quenched, nourished and travelled they become activities to be complained about in their own right.

Brits will apologise when colliding with you; successfully arrange silently a multi-tier queueing system and have invented and consume an inordinate amount of baked goods, and these are all things that, while not uncriticised, Bryson communicates an endearment towards. And it's precisely these peeks and troughs that we love about or own country (though I may only be speaking for myself...).

From cities to seaside resorts; rolling hills of Scotland to the puddle ridden landscape that dares call itself 'the lake district', Bryson manages to cover on his 2 week trip many aspects of British life. I find it simultaneously uplifting and saddening, that despite the book being first published in '95, how little some of the locations described have changed.

Bryson has an informed yet witty way with words and describing the eccentricities of the locations he visits, but is especially astute discussing the architechture from place to place, and I very much enjoyed his opinionated stance on many of the wonders and eyesores that make up the void between copy and paste residential estates. In fact I found myself either smiling in agreement or in disbelief at a lot of his observations, but the key thing to remember is that I was indeed, smiling.

I'm surely in danger of no spoilers given the age of the book, but I do highly recommend this book as an insightful, humorous but loving depiction of Britain only someone who wasn't born here could have, and because of his eloquent way with words, 'Notes From A Small Island' is a joy from beginning to end.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017


So last week saw my second visit to the Bett education show at the London ExCel arena - a show about all things technological meets education.
Travelling from Birmingham was a doddle - booked a London Midland straight through to Euston train in advance for £27, reading copious amounts of my Retro Gamer magazine on the way, then once in London used the exquisite, though crowded and quite grubby tube system just 'blipping' my contactless debit card when needed, changing a few times before arriving just a short walk (with a Starbucks en route) away from the arena. Excellent stuff.

Now this year, seeing as the schools know what they want in terms of hardware at the moment, I was much more interested in the seminars and talks that were on offer. The hardware being shown varied little from last year anyway - asides from the usual swathe of laptop and pc suppliers there were numerous 3D printing stalls, Virtual Learning Environment stands, robots of varying sizes and loads of different brands of interactive screens. In fact, it could of been 4 stands and a shed load of mirrors.

The major new arrival was the inclusion of VR technology and there were lot of stands and services dedicated to the new technology. It's amazing stuff and I look forward to our schools adopting it.

Moving on to the talks, the first one I attended was about the benefits of VR technology with regards to transition for children on the autistic spectrum. This was excellent and I can really see the benefit of this, allowing children with difficulties challenging their anxieties the ability to visit a new environment without evening needing to leave the comfort of their familiar classroom. Excellent stuff.

I also went to a few Microsoft talks - the use of the Microsoft Surface and Onenote in education is something I really want all of our head teachers to think about adopting. Due to funding constraints I can't picture our establishments going with 1-2-1 devices for children, but in terms of SLT using the devices to collaboratively work on documents simultaneously, I think its will be invaluable.

Windows Ink is also an excellent feature for anybody using a surface and I look forward to showing this to the heads that do have a MSSurface.

I also managed to play on Minecraft, embarrassingly for the first time. I wasn't sure about this at first but now I can completely see the benefits - it's so creative and free, teaching resource management, supporting numeracy, encouraging reading and algorithmic thinking... It was also great fun. which helps.

I also really like the Chromebooks and the discussions regarding google classroom and other google services. The devices are ace and should a school choose to go down the route of using solely Chromebook devices I think I would like to be involved in supporting this. The interface is clean and google classroom is excellent for managing content interactively in lessons.

Finally, I made my compulsory trip to the Lego coding stand. Nothing has changed since last year except Lego are now using a variety of resellers for the education market instead of supplying schools themselves. What I like about this is how it teachers coding but gives the children a physical output - so a robot for example will complete an actual task in the real world, instead of just controlling a game in scratch (though the coding is similar and thus the skills are transferable). The supplied content and resources are also completely free once you've purchased the initial sets, containing lesson plans for a variety of subjects, not all of which are to do with coding the actual. Great value and great variety.

In all, I enjoyed my time this year and whilst I don't think there was much completely earth shattering, the progression in existing technologies is making everything much more user friendly and efficient.

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