#TMSwansea presentation – 10 reasons to use Hwb

I was lucky enough to attend another excellent Teachmeet in Swansea on Wednesday , this one at Prentrehafod School. It’s funny seeing different schools and hosts focus on different elements of the Teachmeet. For example, tonight the audience were in rows, rather than around tables (which I still prefer), but the time limit was strictly enforced (something I think more should do!).

I did my six minutes on reasons to use Hwb. In case you’re new to the blog and aren’t aware, Hwb is the National Digital Learning Platform was Wales, and I’m currently seconded to their ‘Digital Leader’ team supporting schools in adopting and using the tools. It was interesting picking up the point in Gareth Morgan’s blog post that many schools are still unaware of what Hwb can offer, and this is something we’re working hard to address. My private reflection is that many school’s aren’t used to a national platform developing as fast as Hwb has, especially in the last twelve months or so, and having decided that it wasn’t for them two years ago haven’t realised the wide variety of things it offers now.

(if you have any ideas on how we can help solve this, please do leave them in the comments!!!)

So I galloped through this Prezi (which may not make much sense without commentary). But for anyone curious, my top ten reasons to have a look at Hwb are:

  1. Automatic management of user accounts via link to the schools MIS (electronic registers)
  2. Around 90,000 bilingual teaching resources, mapped to the Welsh Curriculum, including materials for the new English, Welsh and Maths GCSEs – hwb.wales.gov.uk/resources (Nb – These are open to the world, you can use these even if you don’t have a Hwb username and password)
  3. Once you have logged in, all teachers and learners from schools in Wales have access to the online version of Encyclopedia Britannica, with three reading levels and a huge bank of images and videos
  4. Staff members can join the Hwb Community, where they can share and access other teaching materials, including websites, their own materials and playlists (see point X), and Hwb Networks (online PLCs, they work in a similar way to Facebook groups)
  5. Student interactive materials to help preparation for PISA. Stacks of interactive materials for Scientific Literacy, Maths and Reading. We’ll shortly be adding the option to assign these activities to students and get their scores back too!
  6. E-Safety Zone, including information for parents, sample templates and materials, the Digital Literacy Resources with lesson materials for every year group from reception to Yr 13. Schools can also use the 360 Degree Safe Cymru tool to benchmark their e-safety policies and practices
  7. Playlists. Users can pull together content from across the web, add quizzes, and have students access them all from one link.
  8. Office 365 – Every teacher and every learner gets and email account and OneDrive, including online file storage and the option to work in Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote through any webbrowser
  9. J2E – The full Just 2 Easy suite of tools, including JIT for younger learners, J2E Digital Paper, J2Code (including tools and lesson plans) and J2Launch to help manage files from across devices (including ipads)
  10. Hwb+ – Every school gets it’s own Learning Platform built on the LP+4 platform from Learning Possibilities

If you’re a teacher (or a student) at a school in Wales and you’re not yet using Hwb, please feel free to contact me via the comments if you’d like some help getting started.


Forcing Frameworks or Rethinking Thinking?

Image Credit: Thinking… Please Wait, by Karola Riegler. CC Licensed on Flickr.


Following last week’s posts about Computational Thinking across the Curriculum both Glyn Rogers and Anthony Rhys raised some concerns about whether it was something we should be aiming for in schools. Glyn in particular expressed concerns that many subjects have their own domain specific thinking frameworks and trying to force one discipline onto another was at best counter productive for both.

For me, there are two parts to this. Firstly, I’m in agreement that we shouldn’t forcing anything into a subject domain where it doesn’t belong. However, one of the things I got from completing the course was the sense that there were actually a number of natural cross-overs that could, and should, be explored. Most academic and professional disciplines have, to some degree, been influenced by the computing revolution that has gone on, often uncommented, over the last thirty years or so. Certainly in the case of History the emergence of the analysis of big data sets is one that we should perhaps be bringing into our school history syllabus anyway, and if we do it makes sense to use the terminology and thought processes involved in computational thinking.

I’d actually extend this principle to other cross curricular work. In Wales that is largely currently driven by the Literacy and Numeracy Frameworks. One of the most fascinating conversations I had a TLAB earlier in the year was with Dr Steve Wilkinson, who argued (very convincingly) that there are literacies within subject domains, and by ignoring them (and assuming that “Literacy” applies equally across the curriculum) we are missing opportunities to help our students develop a deeper understanding of both literacy and our subjects.

On the flip side, there is (I would argue) a tendency in secondary schools for teachers of specific subjects to over-emphasis the uniqueness of their own subjects. I still think that student would get a better understanding of the world in which they live (and perhaps of the nature of some of our disciplines) if we spent more time exploring the areas of cross over (has I believe has been the tendency in Higher Education over the last twenty years or so).

Maybe the new post-Donaldson structures will give us a chance to think again about what connects our subjects just as much as about what makes them different. And in the mean time, we could start by being more transparent with each other about what we’re doing behind those classroom doors. Who knows what we might stumble upon by accident!


Computational Thinking and History – Part 2: The Commonwealth War Graves Commission Website, Big Data and History

Commonwealth War Graves Commission Website

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I spent some time over the summer holidays completing the Google ‘Computational Thinking for Educators’ course. With the final deadline for the final project looming I spent some time this evening pulling together my notes and ideas into a final project plan.

The idea is for a three lesson series for Yr 9 (although this could be adapted) using the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website to gather and interrogate a large data set to try and find out something about the impact of WW1 on the men of Swansea who signed up to fight.

The overview of the lesson can be found here. Please feel free to let me have any feedback, especially as I’m not actually in a position to deliver this myself right now. And if you’d like to have a go at it, or adapting it for your own town, please feel free.

Image credit: Commonwealth War Graves Commission website

Computational Thinking and History (Part 1)

Barefoot Computing poster

Over the summer I started Google’s ‘Computational Thinking for Educators‘ course. With the deadline for the final project submission looming, I’ve been reviewing what I wrote and putting the finishing touches to my final project, which I’ll post tomorrow.

If you’re not sure what ‘Computational Thinking’ is, it’s a set of thinking tools to allow someone to break a problem down into the kind of logical steps that a computer would need to solve that problem. The Google course is based around four of these concepts:

  • Decomposition: Breaking down data, processes, or problems into smaller, manageable parts
  • Pattern Recognition: Observing patterns, trends, and regularities in data
  • Abstraction: Identifying the general principles that generate these patterns
  • Algorithm Design: Developing the step by step instructions for solving this and similar problems

The Barefoot Computing project (run by Computing At School) breaks Computational Thinking down into 6 concepts, and 5 approaches. You’ll find them in the header image, a poster that I picked up at the TLAB Conference earlier this year.

The Google course is a great starting point both for thinking about computational thinking across the curriculum, and for some great resources that can be used in lessons right now, especially for anyone starting to think about the content of their ‘IT’ lessons (I think the Traveling problem was my favourite). While I have no idea what ‘Digital Competence’ will look like the context of the new Welsh curriculum, personally I’d hope that there was at least an element of this in it (rather than ‘Coding’ or ‘Comp Sci’ as some areas of the media seem to be fixated on). Certainly the work done by Barefoot Computing in England has shown, these are concepts that can be taught to, and have real tangible benefits to, students from KS1 (Foundation Phase) and up.

Part One of the assessment for the course was to answer the question: How does computational thinking apply to your domain or subject area?

This was my answer. (I’ve added the links back to the relevant sections of the course in the following text)

My initial thoughts are that Computational Thinking applies to History in three main ways.

Firstly, it provides a context for some of the activities. The chatbot is a good example of this – students would need to learn a lot about an historical character to program the bot. The activities are largely unrelated, it would simply be a vehicle for learning about a character, in the same way that it provided some context for the CT activity.

Secondly it provides a useful toolbox for thinking about big historical questions – decomposition and abstraction in particular are key tools in helping historians, even though they would probably use different terms to describe them.

Finally, with more and more access to ‘big data’, some of the pattern recognition and algorithm design may open up new avenues for historical enquiry, for example through activities such as the Google Books ngram viewer. While at first glance these may offer more tools for the professional historian, there may be something here that can be used in a classroom setting in a meaningful and useful way.




There’s always a reason not to

James Rhodes Comic on Zen Pencils
Image Credit: Zen Pencils


The more observant among you will have noticed that I’ve haven’t been updating the blog for a little while. There’s always a reason not to…

  • I want to clear my feed reader first
  • I need time to write that awesome post rattling around in my head
  • I’m just going to have a sit down first
  • I’ll do it tomorrow

Those of you who know me in person may have noticed that I’ve gained a few pounds of late. I should exercise more, but there’s always a reason not to…

  • I’m knackered
  • I need to join a gym
  • I just need to do <INSERT RANDOM THING HERE> first
  • I’ll do it tomorrow

Those of you who are good enough to chat to me in Welsh, and humour my mangling of the language may have noticed that my learning has plateaued recently. I’m making too many of the same mistakes, and learning too many bad habits. But there’s always a reason to gloss over it

  • I haven’t got time to go back to Welsh lessons
  • I’ll just pick it up as the kids learn it
  • I’ve never been very good at languages
  • I’ll do it tomorrow

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been pondering this cartoon from the excellent ZenPencils website:

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 23.44.37


(Go and read it, then come back…)

There was much of there that rang true, not least the staring at the phone. So after chatting it over with my wife, I’ve decided to revive the ‘don’t break the chain’ idea from my last burst of blog writing, and apply to three areas of my life I’d like to improve.

Each day I’m going to try and find an hour – 20 minutes for exercise, 20 minutes for Welsh, and 20 minutes to get a blog post written and posted. Tonight I’ve done a 20 minute session on a workout DVD (and ouch, by the way), I’ve started going back through my notes from my last Welsh course and pulling notes together into a Google Site, and I’m posting this. Not because of any sense of ‘hey look at me’, but rather because the more people I tell about the more reason I’ve got to keep going. Some days things will slip, but I’m going to try and find those three lots of 20 minutes every day because, as the dates on this blog and my expanding waistline testify, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ really isn’t working for me.



New phone. Time to review some apps!

Blogging  this directly from  my  new  phone with the WordPress App. While I’ve always loved macs, I tend to prefer Android  to iOS and I’ve gone for a LG this time.
Any new phone is a time to review some apps and widgets. So far I’m really pleased with the SwiftKey keyboard,  especially the built in additional languages,  including  Welsh.
I’ve installed Firefox as well as Chrome as it’s increasing  becoming  my browser of choice on the Mac. 
I’m looking forward to catching  more from Google + with their widget and maybe being able to keep on top of my feedly account with theirs.
Pushbullet looks interesting,  although  I’m waiting to get my repaired Mac book back before I give it a whirl.
I think I’m going to need a better way to collect items of interest I found from various places on the Web.  I might give pocket a go, but recommendations are welcome.
I’m also looking for a twitter client with a better widget.  The built in one seemed to be permanently full of ads.  Trying Hootsuite again for now,  but again I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Besides that Google Drive,  Evernote,  instagram,  Dropbox and the Kindle  app are ready to go.  I’ve downloaded  the Flickr app and may start trying to make better use of that service.  I also just downloaded ‘Prey’ as a security system.

What else would be on your list of must have apps?


Fall of a bike. Get straight back on


So I broke the chain. Ten posts in, but last night, having been away all week, I just couldn’t bring myself to get off the sofa and open the laptop. So, I’ll start the count again and see if I can make it beyond ten this time.

What I have learned over the last ten posts?

1. I need to have some ‘spare’ posts ready to go for nights like last night. I’ve got half finished things, but I need a bank I can just copy, paste and publish.

2. It’s easier to keep up the blog if I’m also keeping up to date with my feedly account. Other people’s blogs give me ideas for posts of my own or links I can share.

3. I need to do a better job of turning my own ideas for posts into actual posts. Lots of what I’ve posted in the last ten posts have been links to other content. That’s useful, but as a proportion of posts that’s probably a little higher than I’d like it. I’ve got a Google Doc full of first sentences and badly written paragraphs. I need to develop some of those.

4. When I started blogging, I was blogging for me. While that’s still true I think I’m getting a better sense of blogging for a reader. That’s certainly true in terms of links I’m sharing, and watching the graph of hits and the retweets come in provide a sense that it worth doing this, not just for me but because someone else gets from this what I get from some of the blogs I read.

5. I should consider doing more list blog posts.


Image credit: Juan Cortez – CC Licensed on Flickr.com

Zen Pencils (day 10)


I’m away from home this week doing training up in mid-Wales, and this evening following a great walk around Aberystwyth I’m eyeballs deep in various sharepoint geekery trying to answer questions that have been posed to me over the last few days.

As a result, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to write about tonight. At one point I nearly decided not to bother, but I popped open Feedly, flipped through my ‘misc feeds’ folder and found an update from Zen Pencils.

I’ve been following the site since it started. On a fairly regular basis Gavin Aung Than produces a cartoon strip based on a famous (or less famous) quote. The site is up to 177 strips now (this week’s is one I hadn’t heard before from Frida Kahlo), and it strikes me that many have the potential to be great starters for discussions with students. Not all are completely suitable, either because of the language in the quote, or perhaps in some cases the images used, but many are striking and often give me pause for thought.

You can review some of the post popular strips at this page. It’s interesting looking back through some of these, many of my favourites are quotes that I didn’t know well before. As good as this Carl Sagan one is for example, nothing for me beats hearing his voice against that original photo of the ‘pale blue dot’. Perhaps an exception to this is Gav’s take on one of my favourite poems, ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost.

Go and check out the site, and leave a comment below either if you find a quote you really like, or if you use the site with some of your students!



Who you gonna call? The E-safety helpline (9)

Safer Internet

We spent some of today’s training day talking about the various ways that schools can make sure their e-safety policies and practices are up to date (there are a range of links and resources in the E-Safety section of Hwb that are free to access even if you teach outside Wales).

The discussion moved on to what you might do in the (hopefully unlikely) event of an e-safety incident.

Luckily, the Safer Internet Centre runs a professional helpline for just these incidences at http://www.saferinternet.org.uk/about/helpline

They say:

The Safer Internet Centre has been co-funded by the European Commission to provide a Helpline for professionals working with children and young people in the UK with any online safety issues they may face themselves or with children in their care. We provide support with all aspects of digital and online issues such as those which occur on social networking sites, cyber-bullying, sexting, online gaming and child protection online. The Helpline aims to resolve issues professionals face about themselves, such as protecting professional identity and reputation, as well as young people in relation to online safety.

Well worth keeping a note of. A link can be found in the ‘Schools’ section of the Hwb E-Safety Zone.


What might Digital Literacy / Competence look like in terms of lessons? (day 8)


While we’re waiting to hear what the Welsh Government’s response will be to the Donaldson Report, it was noticeable how many companies were tweeting within 24 hours of the report’s publication that they could provide your school with a solution to ‘Digital Competence’. Best of luck to them, although you might want to ask them what this week’s lottery numbers are going to be as there is no official definition of what this will look like yet.

What we do have though is one of the resources created for schools in Wales by the South West Grid for Learning as part of the Hwb Project – the Digital Literacy Resource. This provides a series of outline lessons for each year group from reception to Yr 10 that cover 8 areas of ‘Digital Literacy’, each one with resources, and mapped back to the Literacy and Numeracy frameworks, the PSE and IT curriculum and suggestions for how you could use Hwb+ to deliver the lessons (although you could equally use J2E, Office 365 or another online tool of your choice).

You can find the resource via Hwb (either search for ‘Digital Literacy’ in the resource section or follow the links via the E-Safety Tab). Or you can click here to go direct!

The site contains downloadable pdfs and Word files for each year group.

If you’re either an IT coordinator or PSE coordinator in Wales and you haven’t had a look at these yet, get yourself over there now. If you know and IT Coordinator or PSE Coordinator send it to them quick sharp. It might save them so much time they can take you for a drink to say thanks!

Nb – A version for the English curriculum exists here

There are a number of other E-Safety tools and resources available to schools via Hwb, including the 360 Safe Cymru tool self review tool for schools. You can find them all by going to Hwb and clicking the E-Safety button.