Monthly Archives: September 2010


Alternatives to Sparklebox – part 3 6

Alternatives to Sparklebox – Part 3. Click through to read Part 1 and Part 2.  In Part 4  I’ll cover some of the smaller sites you might find useful. I am also preparing an ebook of all these posts which will be available as a free download to subscribers to my new Classroom Displays newsletter (coming soon!).

“Do you know of any alternatives to Sparklebox ?”- this subject still keeps coming up in my email, in direct messages on twitter and in face to face INSET days.

This series of posts has been one of the most popular I have ever run on this blog so here are three more alternatives to Sparklebox.

Just a word of advice first. Please remember the best  alternative for learning is usually to produce your own resources with the children. Save these ready made resources for when times are hard and you really need the help.

earlylearninghq.org.uk

First up is Early Learning HQ and Poster Play, two projects from Peter Samuel. Peter is keen to provide resources that are different and perhaps a little less ‘kitsch’ than some commonly in use. Although his background is not in education he’s guided by his Mum, an experienced early years teacher. Peter says:

My name is Peter Samuel. After finishing a masters degree in law a couple of years ago I decided that rather than pursue a career in the legal profession I would start a printing and design business (a bit of a departure I know). In order to expand this business I have created two websites aimed at the early years sector www.poster-play.co.uk and www.earlylearninghq.org.uk. Both sites were created with the input of my mother who is an experienced early years teacher, but the design work is all mine. Poster-play was created in order to provide a solution for early years practitioners who need a cost effective way of providing large, laminated banners for inside and outside the classroom. There is a particular focus on creating educational and inspiring role-play backdrops. This site complements ELHQ which offers hundreds of free foundation stage and key stage one resources. These resources are completely free, however if visitors require any of them printed and laminated in a larger size they can arrange this through poster-play for a very reasonable price.

ELHQ was created following the demise of Sparklebox. I felt that following the appalling actions of its creator, there would be a need for an alternative. I also felt that  despite its popularity there were many problems with the site, both in terms of its design and the quality of some of its resources. In particular I felt that many of the resources are purely decorative and lack educational value. I have tried to avoid this by concentrating on quality rather than quantity. I have also tried to give the site a fun yet professional and grown up feel. When putting together the design I wanted it to be clean, easy to navigate and free from gimmicks.

Whilst I want my site to be used as extensively as possible, I am aware that there is a danger that all classrooms end up looking the same. As such I encourage visitors to create their own unique resources using the pictures that I have drawn and the many photographs I have accumulated (all of which are contained in the photos and illustrations section of my site). Moreover, I have also tried to create many editable Microsoft Word resources as well as PDFs. Finally, it might be worth noting that I intend to translate many of my resources in to several different languages (although this is a long term project).

Next up is Pencil Street. I’m really glad to be able to feature them as their resources are quite special. They use lots of high quality stock photos in the resources and this attention to realism makes their resources shine out. They have an active Facebook presence as well as their website and they do seem very keen to talk to their customers.

pencil st

Karl Jenkins, the Managing Director says:

Pencil Street is not one person but a team of dedicated people who all work extremely hard to make the product work. I may be Pencil Street’s Managing Director and the person who set up the company, but without the team there is no company.

I formerly managed an aviation software company until six years ago – when I realised I had missed my true vocation and I became a teaching assistant at my daughter’s school. Currently I am midway through a degree to become a teacher, with several qualifications in primary support, focusing on children with special educational needs. In June 2009 I secured a BIS Enterprise Loan to establish Pencil Street, which launched in December 2009. Nine months on and we have 14,000 members in 124 countries, who have performed some 80,000 downloads. There are currently 8 members of staff plus a dog called Merlin.

I’m often asked what makes Pencil Street the company it is and I believe it comes down to three main principles.
The first is that all our resource designers work in schools or nurseries and have many years of teaching experience. We are lucky that one of our staff is a former head teacher.
Secondly, I have always insisted that the resources at Pencil Street must be of a very high quality. They are relevant, varied, engaging, beautifully produced and all go through a triple check process.  Relevant means following the curriculum and expanding upon it.
Thirdly, I believe in the use of ‘real life images’ where applicable, these are bought under licence from photographic agencies. Whilst this is highly expensive practice, it adds another dimension to the resources, benefiting the children using them.  (Note: We do use Pencil Street cartoon characters for some early years resources)

Our wealth of expertise, across Early Years, KS1, KS2, modern teacher training and business acumen, provides the professionalism teachers expect and most importantly the classroom displays, worksheets and activities they need. Obviously all our teaching staff have CRB checks through their current schools.

The site is always going to be work in progress. We started with the basics and have expanded outward. Currently we are working on Geography, SEN, R.E., Citizenship and a new Role Play category; plus some very popular requests from our members. In truth we are always working on every section, as our work is never finished.

Finally in this section I’d like to introduce SENteacher.org I was a huge fan of this site when I was a TA (cough – that’s quite a long time ago!) and the resources are still excellent. Lots of the resources are suitable for use in mainstream classes so don’t be put off by the SEN tag.

Simon Evans who runs the site says:

I have a popular and all-free teaching resources site @ http://www.senteacher.org
It targets Special Needs teachers but gets a lot of use from the Primary Sector also – the most popular resources are user-editable templates to produce worksheets, certificates and manipulatives but I also have several resources for display and classroom organisation purposes. The site also has a bit of free educational software, some search tools and a SEN links collection – all focused on stuff which is free, creative commons etc
The site has been going since 2000 – I was a Special Needs Teacher until 2001, but now work as a research developer. I’m freelance but have been retained at 50% for the past 8 years by the Rix Centre @ University of East London who will act as referee – I work mostly on research projects around Web, software and multimedia with adults who have intellectual and cognitive disabilities and am therefore regularly CRB Checked under Enhanced Disclosure [my homepage for this work is www.cognable.com]. Since leaving teaching I have kept SEN Teacher running with my other half who is still a specialist language/autism teacher.

Watch out for Part 4 in November.