Practical Pedagogies 15 – My session

Image credit: Pete Sanderson

My workshop at the Conference was (slightly too grandly?) titled ‘Collaborating within and beyond the classroom in the cloud’. Despite that, a room full of people turned up. This blog post serves as a summary of what we talked about, and some links to resources / sites discussed.

You can view the slides below, the icons should be hyperlinks to the sites for the various tools.

We kicked off with brief survey about the delegates using Google Forms.

We then clarified what we meant by ‘The Cloud’, the importance of being platform / browser neutral and discussed how it was possible to develop and extend any type of pedagogy with the right choice of technology.

Our first group of tools took the idea of using a survey with students (or colleagues) both as a way of capturing understanding at a given point in time, or of getting ‘pupil voice’ and other forms of feedback. We then also discussed tools that allowed us to provide feedback by creating online quizzes. Many schools (my own included) still don’t allow students to use devices in the classroom, so a service like Plickers allows teachers to use their device and printed cards to achieve a similar effect.

Tools discussed:

Google Forms, Survey Monkey, Poll Daddy, Doodle.com (this tools allows a group to identify the best times for a meeting)

Socrative, Quizlet, Plickers

We then moved on to discuss the fact that many teachers highest demand is a way of sharing resources with groups of students. Once you’ve started to do this, it can be a short hop to have students either responding to even co-curating content, either teacher produced or gathered from the web.

Tools discussed:

Dropbox, Youtube, Twitter, Today’s Meet, Padlet.

The group then spent some time working together on this Padlet (now locked) sharing some ideas and experience.

In our third discussion we talked about larger online spaces, including Blogs and Wikis, and the various ways in which they could be used – from completely teacher controlled (with pupils consuming the information) to learner created. We also mentioned Edmodo as an online VLE service that allowed the submission and return of work that was a feature important in some aspects of school, especially secondary. We also mentioned Blendspace as an example of a new range of tools that pulls together lots of existing content (in a similar way how Playlists work in Hwb). That link comes with the caveat that I haven’t tried it yet!

Finally, we talked about how both Google and Microsoft are now rolling out free education versions of their cloud suites for schools, with Google’s including Google Classroom and MS now with OneNote Class Notebook creator. We had a quick play with a shared Google presentation, with the whole group recording their ideas and experiences with similar tools. We also had a chance to show how quickly you could adapt things on the fly, as we realised having each other’s twitter addresses would be useful, so we added an extra slide to share that.

We discussed pros and cons of using these, especially issues around what data it is / isn’t ok to hold in the cloud (true for all the tools discussed here) and the importance as a teacher to check your school has a clear policy to help you. We also discussed what ‘free’ meant, including the fact that in many cases there was no guarantees that these services would be available long term.

Hopefully the session was useful, please feel free to use the comments below for any questions / follow up.



Practical Pedagogies Conference – Day 2

Image: Photo from Ewan McIntosh’s session on questioning and feedback. More info / links below


A slightly less rushed reflection of day two, written in the airport after a lovely day strolling around Toulouse, but only posted now as the airport wifi didn’t seem too willing to load my blog!

Following an excellent meal at the end of Day 1, Day 2 through everyone straight back in with another four workshops!

Workshop 1 – Theory of Knowledge

In hindsight, perhaps I wasn’t really in the target audience for this workshop and so this was probably the least useful for me as I didn’t really have the context to make sense of some of it.

None the less, from talking to other people on my table I got the idea that ‘Theory of Knowledge’ (or as one delegate put it ‘asking how we know what we know’) is a key element of the International Baccalaureate. There seemed to be lots of cross over with the old ‘Critical Thinking’ AS level in the UK, although there was the potential for it be to be much more applied.
I got the impression that it wasn’t especially valued by many students, perhaps because it was often taught as an add-on, rather than a key element of the subject.

My notes, including several photos from walls around the room are here.


Workshop 2 – Questioning and Feedback – Ewan McIntosh

Another excellent, thought provoking session, bursting at the themes. As with yesterday’s workshop I’d seen some of the ideas Ewan was talking about on his blog and in the NoTosh Lab, but talking them through with others and getting more of a context really helped to make sense of them.

A few takeaways for me:

  • You need to separate the process of generating ideas and evaluating them for quality – we tend to combine them and that just stifles ideas
  • UnGoogleable questions are more interesting and lead to deeper thinking, but that doesn’t mean the Googleable ones are not important, especially as part of learning deeper
  • Questions need to pass the ‘So what, who cares’ test – and it may take some tough love to get students (and teachers) there
  • Get lots of feedback in to early versions of ideas and iterate often. (There’s a link here, I think, to the 30% vs 90% feedback I read about a few years back ( I think via Doug?) and Tom has written about recently. It take 4 -5 prototypes to get something good. I’ve also seen Austin’s Butterfly in a new context
  • For this, this provides a valuable structure to help me help my students improve the quality of their independent learning projects when I go back to school.

I need to go back and reread the Mindset, Skill set, Tool set stuff in light of what I’ve heard and thought about here.

Workshop 3 – Embedding Coaching and Mentoring to improve standards in Teaching and Learning. Pete Sanderson (@Lessontoolbox)

A very interesting session, exploring how Pete has used Mentoring models to help separate out ‘Performance Management’ and improving the quality of teaching, by ensuring that all teachers are entitled to support in reaching a goal of their own choosing

I must confess I didn’t realise how fought over the ideas around coaching were, and several of the audience seemed to have issues with how it had been deployed and there is clearly a tightrope to walk in terms of empowering teachers to improve, and ensuring quality across the school. None the less, it sounded like a very positive process to me, and something I hope more schools (including my own) look to implement.

There were a couple of interesting discussions with people around me about the use of peer mentoring as a way of further developing this, and the power that can be accessed by changing observation from something that is done to them, to something that they get to do.

My notes are here

Pete has blogged a summary here


Workshop 4  – Reading like a Scientist, Writing like a Geographer. Angela Cooze

I was interested in this session even before I knew it was Angela (who is from UWTSD – the University I did my teacher training in) who was running it.

My interest around subject specific literacy was sparked by Dr Steve Wilkinson at TLAB, and this session contained some really interesting, practical examples of how writing can be improved in a subject specific context.

Before I come on to those, I was again left thinking how important it is to let students draft ideas and structures on post-its before coming to write. I’ve often done it with A Level students, I need to make sure it works it’s way down to KS3.

There was a plug for Geoff Barton’s book ‘Don’t call it Literacy’, which I’ve never read but heard very positive things about.

A few of my takeaways from this session:

  • Can another member of staff work out what the challenge was if you remove the title from a student’s piece of work?
  • Modelling is key – but not of the final product, but of the process (A link here I think to the work done by John Tomsett and others around annotating exam papers with their thought processes rather than their answers for students to read through)
  • Starting with a teacher version and having students improve it to a point they can use it as a starting point for their own version (eg a piece of writing about a particular river)
  • This can lead to writing that is a little limited, but it provides a better scaffold for students that we current offer, and as David Didau says, the point of scaffolding is that you’re supposed to take it down after a while. I think you’d need to plan for this though.

Closing session – Ewan McIntosh

There was so much here, I’ve discovered my notes have stopped as Ewan prompted us all on to Twitter to outline our Objectives, Strategies and Tactics (from his original Key Note). I think I’ve managed to capture them all here.

Key takeaways and reflections

  • It’s ok to aim big (sometimes I forget this)
  • Don’t be fearful of mediocrity – it’ll stop you innovating
  • How do you get those around you to join your orchestra, rather than playing like soloists?
  • I can’t help thinking we need this kind of provocation in the next few years for the team who are drawing up the new curriculum for Wales.

Final reflections

This was an amazing, intense, thought provoking and (at times) headache inducing two days. I loved it!

Huge thanks to Russel and the team at IST for organising it so well, and to Ewan for being so thought provoking. Also to everyone I got to catch up with again, to everyone who I finally turned from a Twitter follow into a real person and friend, and to everyone who I had never heard of before, but who nudged my thinking in various ways and who are now filling my Twitter stream with their ideas.

I suspect more posts will follow as I start to digest everything I heard.

A few other people have already started blogging their reflections. I think Ben was first out of the blocks, and Simon Gregg’s post is here. Keep an eye on the #pracped15 hashtag on Twitter for others.


Practical Pedagogy Conference – Day 1

Image credit: Pete Sanderson
Wow – what a packed day. My head is buzzing with stuff, so following a stroll / hike back to the hotel with Alessio and Pete (pausing for a beer en-route) I want to try and make some sense of today before heading out for the evening meal. What follows may or may not be coherent. If you’ve got any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments.
Opening Keynote – Ewan McIntosh
As with the last time I saw Ewan, there’s something about watching him talk and explain ideas that make sense from stuff I’ve read several times before, but hasn’t clicked in the same way.
Key ideas
You need a (big, hairy) objective, some strategies to get there, and some tactics to realise those, especially when things start to go, not wrong, but differently to how you expected.
Five stages (?), Three processes – Mindset, Skill set, Toolset
Evernote Camera Roll 20151015 095057
This is something I need to come back to and think more deeply about.
Definitely something here for those involved in curriculum reform in Wales
Useful link: Notosh lab
Session 1 – Bill Lord – Developing a primary school curriculum you’ll be proud to put your name to
Loads here – key takeaways
If you’re prone to having too many ideas, get a laminated cloud in a cupboard and post them their first. Bring out the survivors slowly! (Love this!!!)
Need a clear view on why you are developing a curriculum (links here to Ewan’s session earlier), and route it in your locality – we tend to ignore it, but it has a big effect on shaping us.
Do stuff, even when the risk assessment might be off-putting – the value is there.
Good experiences cost. Where will the money come from? Does it represent a better investment than in something you’re already paying for (including staff?!?!)
Stuff to look up
Will Ryan  – Inspirational teachers, inspirational learners
Session 2 – Ewan McIntosh (again!)
Not many notes from this session as were too busy doing it.
We need to find a way of building this into the curriculum
WG should really be using these strategies in developing the new Curriculum for Wales
Session 3 – Chris Mayoh – Digital Leaders
Confirmed to me that this is a really important thing for schools to do.
Empowers learners (lost count of the number of times CM said ‘This is just cool…’ or similar!)
Helps teachers use tech better.
Loads of good ideas
Session 4 – My session
Presentation is here. It may not make a lot of sense if you weren’t there, I’ll blog about it in more soon!
Loads of great ideas shared, problems discussed and (hopefully) a few solutions suggested.
Few things for me to reflect on
Many teachers still not using Twitter for CPD, and seemingly quite reluctant to start doing so?
Doing works better than telling in a workshop like this
One teacher, one class, one tool seemed to go down quite well as an approach to do adopt – I need to start finding the holes in this! (Future blog post)
General thoughts
A few people making beautiful notes from workshop sessions – See Lisa and Mark as examples.
That will have to do. More tomorrow!

#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