Happy New Year – Back to the blog

Maybe I should just create a new category of posts that relate to starting back to blogging after a period of absence. They’d probably soon grow to the be largest group though!

So. New Year. Restarting the blog. Again.

I’ve got a pile of resolutions, but over the next few weeks I’m going to be sorting out the resources section here (the links are all currently dead) as well as getting a whole pile of posts out of my head and on to the screen.

There are a whole host of reasons why the blogging dried up. The biggest one was probably time, but with my current secondment to the Hwb team, I’ve got more time for both thinking and blogging. Another big reason was related to the huge explosion in UK teacher blogging over the last 18 months. The growth in high quality blogs has made me want to up my game, but a growth in robust discussion has also given me pause to stop and reassess some of my core beliefs about education. There were also times when the level of ‘dialogue’ was such that I had no desire to stick my head above the parapet. I’m not sure whether things are more civil now, or I’m just ignoring people who’s manners I find problematical, but my mental block seems to have lifted. At least for now.

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Keeping up to date with more than 140 characters – The joy of RSS

In my last post I mentioned that I’d got my RSS reader down to 0 and I thought it might be useful to share what I meant by that.

Many of you will understand the idea of Twitter – you ‘follow’ those people whose updates you want and they are pulled together into one central place.

RSS does the same, but for blogs.

You will need an RSS reader (I’m using Feedly since the demand of Google Reader, although others are available!), and a website you want to be kept updated about. Assuming the website produces an RSS feed (so most blogs will, as will many news websites), you simply copy and paste the URL (web address) into Feedly. Next time that site updates, the update will appear automatically in your RSS reader. This saves the time consuming business of working your way through a list of bookmarks on the off chance they’ve updated. It also ensures that you don’t miss a post if you’ve been reliant on Twitter to let you know when your favourite edu-blogger has posted something new.



Caring is sharing. 

A good percentage of my tweets start with ‘just read:’ – these are things that I’ve found through my RSS reader and think other people in my Twitter network might be interested in.

I found that a few other people were doing it, and I found it a good way of finding out about new blogs to follow or interesting articles to read. When I started I was (and still am) picking up a few favourites and retweets, so I’ve carried on.

You can share to Twitter (or any other network) straight out of Feedly. The one draw back is where possible I like to add the twitter name of the person who wrote the article. A few I just know, but in many other cases I’ll actually follow the link to the original blog and tweet it from there as I stand a better chance of being able to work out the Twitter name of the author.

I also use the brilliant IFTTT service to keep a record of those blogs I’ve shared on the ‘Ihavemostlybeenreading’ Tumblr here. If you’re looking for some blogs to start off with, you could do worse than having a flick through some of those posts and following the links back to the blog.

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Adobe Voice / Office Mix – a couple of new tools

Finally got my RSS reader down to zero, and noticed a couple of new products that are firmly on my ‘must investigate’ list.

The first is Adobe Voice, which I saw on Twitters as described as being like Photostory – add some images, record a voice over and voila – a video. Potentially very useful both as a tool for student projects and for teachers keen to create quick and easy resources for students to access online. It’s currently iOS only, but one I’ll be having a play with over half term.

The other is Microsoft Office Mix - A PC plug in for Office 2013 that allows you to create screencasts of your ppt slideshows, but also embed various quizzing and feedback tools, apparently in a similar way to tools such as Nearpod. Kristian Still has had a go at creating a screencast here. Looks like a tool with lots of potential. The only issue in the short term will be the number of schools who actually have Office 13 at their disposal!

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Giant mindmaps!

I’ve come to the end of the A Level course with my yr 13s, and we were discussing last week how they wanted to spend our last few lessons. We agreed that we needed to recap the main ideas of the course, but rather than me rattle through it, I revived an idea from a few years ago and we created giant mindmaps.

Four sheets of flipchart paper taped together created the space we needed, and I added the outline of each of the two units we’d been studying.

Mindmap ready to start 2014-05-12 12.54.24

I explained that I wasn’t going to organise them into groups, they had to split themselves up and everyone had to be doing something. If there was anything people were unsure of, I would hold a 2 minute mini-seminar for anyone who felt they wanted it. They added ideas in pencil to start with, and after about 20 minutes it seemed people had run out of steam. So I sent the group that had worked on one mindmap over to the other, and got them to review the pencil notes, amend and reorder as necessary and then go to town with the coloured markers.

2014-05-12 13.22.17 2014-05-12 13.22.54

With about 15 minutes to go both groups seemed to have finished, so we pinned them to the wall and I led a review of what had been created, adding a few key points that had been missed along the way.

2014-05-12 15.05.08 2014-05-12 13.46.13

The feedback was quite positive, and I’ll try this again tomorrow with my other group of Yr 13s.

Next lesson we’ve agreed will be based around the ‘Wall of Uncertainty’ – where everyone will bring in questions about topics they are least confident about and we’ll try and

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Collaborative revision using Google Docs

Last June I was both honoured and amazed to be awarded with the first ‘National Digital Learning Award’ in the post-16 category for the work my year 13 class had done with online collaborative revision. This year I’ve repeated the work, but also offered it as a tool to my year 11 students, many of whom joined me online last night to start work on a revision guide for their USA course.


Having read about using wikis for collaborative revision, and never being brave enough to try it (there’s a big power and control issue you need to overcome here), in May 2012, finding myself with a couple of weeks left at the end of the A2 course, I set up a wiki spaces wiki for my year 13 class decamped to a computer room for a couple of lessons and they worked together to create a wiki guide to the course.

The feedback was positive, but the biggest problem was that individual pages couldn’t be edited by more than one person at a time. This was fine when they were working away from the classroom, but did cause problems in the computer rooms.

Fast forward a year and I wanted to revisit the idea, but also needed to find some time for some additional revision for my next year 13 class (this year having found time to have slipped away a little too quickly). Having talked through some options with them, we agreed that we would try some evening online revision, using Google Docs. I posted the syllabus and some bullet points in advance, and around half a dozen students and I spent an hour in the evening, one day per week, building up the revision guide.

The feedback was positive, both from those involved, and those who couldn’t make the agreed time, but still found it a useful resource. I added in a lunchtime session where we reviewed and edited the notes as a class, and another after school session to apply that knowledge to exam questions. I found it useful as I could keep an eye out for misconceptions and mistakes that crept in so that I could go back and reteach or clarify as needed.

It was this project that we won the award for. I nearly didn’t enter, as the competition was for resources, and my view was the fact that it wasn’t the final resource that made this interesting, but the process that we went through to get it. I said at the time that while people were welcome to take it, I would be starting again with a blank Google Doc again the following year.

And we did. This time I started a little earlier, and as well as weeks focussing on content we also tried collaboratively planning essays. As fewer students were able to attend after school sessions we also ran a follow up session on a Wednesday lunchtime in a computer room. The take up hasn’t been quite so high this year (perhaps less students felt they needed it, perhaps I’m finally teaching the course a bit better!), but those who did commented that they found it useful, and again a number of students have gone back and use the final set of notes as additional material for their personal revision.

So, after losing a couple of lessons with my yr 11s, we were looking for a way to make up some extra revision time. The school have provided us with a timetabled revision session, but as it’s the day before the exam, while I think it will be useful for a final focus on exam technique my view was that it was too late for addressing issues with content. So we agreed that we try a similar system to the one I used with my Yr 13s. Last night eight students logged on a various times to add both content and questions to out revision guide. I was able to go through and fix any misconceptions and answer questions, but when I had to leave for ten minutes to put one of the boys back to bed, I was delight to find that the session carried on happily without me. We’ve still got more of the course to add notes on, so I’ll offer a lunchtime / after school session for the rest of the year group as well as my class.

Want to do this too?

If you’re a school with Google Apps this is dead easy. Create a document (in my class I simply copied and pasted the syllabus overview) and give editing rights to everyone in your organisation who has the link. Pass the link on to the students (via email, Twitter, Edmodo, etc etc) and once they log in you can see who is making what edit. You also have the option of the chat feature if wanted.

If you’re not a Google Apps school but you’ve got a Google Account you could create the document and share it openly, giving all visitors editing rights. You won’t know who’s who, but the functionality will be the same.

If you don’t have a Google Account, you could create a wiki (as I did originally), although you’ll need to create lots of pages if you want people to access them at the same time.

Alternatively you could use an Etherpad style tool (for example https://etherpad.mozilla.org/ or http://primarypad.com/)

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What? No blogging?

So it’s been a while.

(Happy New Year, by the way)

There are a myriad of reasons (excuses?) that I haven’t done much blogging in the last twelve months,

  • E-learning coordinator role is taking up more time at school
  • I don’t think I can remember a busier year at school
  • My kids are growing up and I am determined I’m not going to miss it
  • As the debate has heated up in education blogs (and on Twitter) I haven’t always been clear of my view, so I’ve been waiting until I’ve had something to say. Twice I’ve written what I thought were killer blog posts, then reread them in the morning and saw a glaring hole in my thinking staring me in the face
  • As the quality of education blogs has improved I’ve been less willing just to post ‘whatever’ to the blog. I’m going to need to get over this, or I doubt I’ll ever post again!

Over the next couple of months I’m going to try and…

  • sort out both the resources section of the blog (which is currently not working after sugar-sync went to a pay model)
  • update the presentations section to include the other talks I’ve given over the last couple of years that haven’t made it to here
  • blog about some tools and resources that have made an impact in some of my lessons
  • try and join in with some of the current debates around education that are going on in education blogs, while continue to ignore others that just seem to a little too oppositional and personal for my preference.

The history of this blog has always been rather stop-start. Let’s see if this latest start can be a little longer lasting than some of the previous ones!

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ICT in Education – Swansea

This morning I’ll be presenting at the ICT in Education event at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea.

I’ll be trying to share some of the lesson’s that we’ve learned over the last few years as we’ve embedded digital learning at Olchfa, and some of the tools that have proved to be particularly well received.

The slides from my talk are here.

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#TMSWWales2 – 5 ideas I’ve stolen!

Last week I grabbed a train after school and hopped over to Dyffryn Taf school in Whitland for another Teachmeet organized by Rosie Davies.

Among other things, I learned about the ability to plot graphs onto Google Earth using a tool called GE-Graph (Windows only), the idea of creating an ‘emotional map’ of a school to plot where pupils feel safest ( and least safe). We saw an excellent video created by a group of pupils trying to win themselves a pile of Lego kit. I also saw the LNF being used as a framework for AfL, which is something I may return to in a future post.

I spoke on 5 quick ideas that I’d got for various people via Twitter or Teachmeets. You can find my slides below.

Thanks to Rosie for organising, and to everyone who spoke and shared an idea!

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The return of the blog!

I’ve been threatening to revive this for some time, but never seem to find the time – the backlog of half written posts became a bit of a millstone, the feeling that I had to post them before i added anything new.

Stuff that. Time to start again. I’m going to try and post something every week, and I’m going to try to use my phone and the iPad to take advantage of odd minutes here and there. I know I’ve said that before, but what is an ocean if not a collection of individual droplets. Time to stop worrying about the sea and start focusing of those droplets.

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#TMSwansea – 16.05.13

TMSwansea 13 logo


It’s a fairly well known fact that I am now an TeachMeet addict, so following the success of TMSwansea two years ago, and in attempt to get another hit of TeachMeet goodness, my school has agreed to host another of the events, this time on the 16th May

If you’ve never been to a TeachMeet, the idea is simple. You get a bunch of teachers in a room together, give them tea and coffee, and a few of them who have agreed to get up and speak for either 2 or 7 minutes on something that’s had an impact in their classroom. That’s it. The events are free to attend. In the past I’ve tried to get sponsorship, although generally speaking most companies are happy to give you ‘stuff’, but less able to part with cold hard cash. Given that time is of the essence I’ve decided we could do without a raffle and so we won’t be seeking sponsors for this event. Instead the school will provide teas and coffees, and attendees will have the chance when they arrive to put in an order from the local chippy, which we will have delivered for half time!

So, what are you waiting for? Get yourself over to http://TMSwansea13 and get yourself signed up either to speak or just to come and listen to some great ideas. You can also like the event on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter or have the details of the event tattooed on your forehead


See you on the 16th!

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