Oct 29 2009

This Blog is Moving!

Published by under Blogging

I am excited to let you all know that I have decided to move my blog to a self hosted WordPress platform. With the amazing help from Doug Belshaw and his constant nudging, I have made the switch, which was effortless really, to give me more flexibility for my work and ideas.

The new blog is called edte.ch


To James, Sue and everyone at Edublogs – I just want to extend my warmest thanks and appreciation for looking after me and my blog for the best part of 3 years. Your help and dedication in supporting teachers and students in blogging is amazing and I owe a great deal to the platform you helped create.

To you the reader, I would be most grateful if you would help get the message to people in any way you can (cross post this message on your blog or Twitter) about changing their subscription details to the new blog. I will post in both places for a short while to give time for people to change but hope to switch completely soon.

This blog will remain but it won’t be updated – it has had nearly 100,000 visits in the last 3 years or so which is amazing and I appreciate that many people have linked to posts here. It won’t suddenly disappear.

This is an exciting time for me and it has been fun to shape my new space, I hope you like it, however I am a little anxious about the move as you can imagine. Please help and encourage other readers along to the new blog. If you pay a visit please let me know what you think.

9 responses so far

Oct 27 2009

WISE Summit Doha, Qatar

Published by under WISE and tagged:


I have recently confirmed that in mid November I will be travelling to Doha, Qatar to be part of the World Innovations Summit for Education, hosted by Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development.

According to the conference information the,

WISE Forum is a “by invitation only” event that will bring together 1,000 leading education figures from all disciplines, levels, supports and media coming from more than 50 countries and representing the 5 continents.

Earlier this year I was invited to an event in London by the organisers but was unable to attend. So I was thrilled to receive one of only a thousand invites for the summit. I would like to think that I will attend the conference as one of the representatives for UK education and will have the opportunity to meet with some equally passionate people from around the world.

As I understand it the invite was as a result of someone reading my blog and I suppose it is a small reward for me and this space and the time and effort I have put in over the last 3 years.

I was sceptical whether I would be able to have the time away from school, but understood that you don’t get many opportunities like this either. With the support of my family and headteacher I have decided to go.

I have signed up for a range of interesting workshops and breakout sessions across the three days.

  • Day 1 – Education and Community Development / Technology and E-learning.
  • Day 2 – Globalisation of Education: Preparing Students for a Global Economy and Society / Increasing Access Through Technology.
  • Day 3 – Tomorrow’s Education / Innovation and New Pedagogical Trends.

I think that I will enjoy many of these and feel that with my experiences I would also be able to contribute substantially to the discussions that take place.

It has been mentioned that Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter, is attending. If I get the chance to talk with him I will be sure to explain how transformational Twitter has become for teacher’s professional development across the world. Saying that, let’s hope the whole conference gets that already. If they don’t you can guess who will be banging that particular drum.

7 responses so far

Oct 26 2009

Finding the Blue Whale

Published by under flip,Wii and tagged: ,

To kick off Whale Week (the final few days of work using Endless Ocean in our Sealife topic) with my class I planned to discover the Blue Whale in the Nintendo Wii game.

Planning a discovery is I suppose a bit odd, but in a moment of solitary gameplay, I mean planning, in the classroom I found the Blue Whale. The children never stumbled upon it during their own play in the last few weeks. As a result I thought it would be a great way to introduce our week of work based on these amazing animals.

I explained to the class we were going to be taking a dive together as a class. I have done this infrequently over the last 6 weeks, but it is useful to work together sometimes to discover new things and to maintain the momentum.

I didn’t explain that we were looking for the Blue Whale. As I swam away from the shallow waters of the bay, the gloomy blue depths that stretched out ahead of us seemed to raise the tension. As I turned back towards the boat the sound of bubbles from the diver was overwhelmed by the children shouting, “What’s that?”, “Over there!”, “Turn around!”

Appearing before us was the Blue Whale and the children were so excited, it was the largest creature we had found in the game. Here is the Flip camera footage we shot to capture the moment as our diver swam with the whale. (If you listen closely you will notice that at school I take on my Darth Vader alter ego)

Finding the Blue Whale in Endless Ocean from Tom Barrett on Vimeo.

The children went off to work with Google Squared and find out more about the Blue and other whales.

On the BBC last week Stephen Fry was tracking down the Blue Whale in the last in the series of Last Chance to See and so we spent some time watching someone finding the Blue Whale for real.

It was a great way to start our week of work, I could never offer that experience for real – the simulated moment we shared using Endless Ocean was a lot of fun and hopefully a memorable one.

4 responses so far

Oct 25 2009

Google Squared: A Complete Guide

Published by under Google and tagged: , ,

Google Squared is a product of Google Labs. It displays your search results in a grid format. Each item found for your search term populates the rows and their common attributes are shown in the columns. Rather then listing the web pages, your results are organised.

In my opinion it is vital that we don’t just assume that primary school children, who have grown up with “Google” as a verb, can search internet content effectively.

In July last year Google search engineers recorded 1 trillion unique URLs that they indexed, and that was more than a year ago. The amount of information at our pupil’s fingertips is amazing. Sometimes it is too much.

I think Google Squared is a great addition to classroom searching as it provides well needed structure to those search results. It doesn’t just provide a list of sites to click on but a grid of types of information. Google Squared is limited to the types of search terms that can be “Squared” but I think the added structure is a huge benefit to the experience of finding information.

For this post I have produced a series of screenshots and will highlight some of the unique features of searching internet content in this way to help you get the most from Google Squared in the classroom.

(The Flickr slideshow is best viewed in fullscreen)

Information Validity

When a cell isn’t populated with results it provides a great opportunity to explore and teach information validity. We not only need to help children develop their search skills to connect with information, we need to model and teach how to judge the quality of what we see. Just because it is online doesn’t mean it is any good, accurate or indeed useful.

With a regular Google search you will always get results. Using Google Squared often leaves you with gaps in the Square. This is a good thing. These gaps in the search results allow children the opportunity to make decisions about what should be included. We have been using Google Squared during our “Whale Week” and children had to engage much more directly with the information in these gaps, then they would with a regular Google search results.

One example that occurred in class last week was whether a Blue Whale would live for just 10 years or nearly 100 according to the Google Squared results. With some support we were able to see that most of the other values provided for whales were over 50 years and so we were able to define what was most appropriate. Another example was the length of one of the whales, which suggested it was over 100 metres! On closer inspection it showed we found it was referring to the USS Narwhal – a submarine!

Try this search for the wives of Henry VIII and see if you can spot the anomaly. These inaccuracies should be embraced as great opportunities to help illustrate information validity.


Although there is an option to automatically standardise the units of measurement in any given column – the maths that is involved to convert these would be a great activity.

A search for Bridges provides the ideal range of data for such a task. Children could change the Longest Span, Height or Total Length to KM or M. Other good examples include Cruise Ships, Skyscrapers and Super Cars (Super cars results all seem to be in millimetres which is great to do some conversion into centimetres and metres)

Building a Square

For the average classroom I think Google Squared provides a great opportunity to explore and learn about the very act of searching – not just viewing the results. Building a Square of results should be considered a learning outcome in it’s own right.

I think that this would be a great learning activity because of the way the children would have to engage with the validity of the results, the way it can be built from scratch and the choices a child would have to make to refine the accuracy of their work.

Your challenge today is to build me a Google Square showing me as much as you can about 3D Shapes.

More Search Ideas

The Google Search Curriculum provides lots of valuable resources for regular Google searches. It provides basic, intermediate and advanced lessons for three different modules:

  • Understanding Search Engines
  • Web Search Technique and Strategies
  • Google Web Search Features

I believe that Google Squared would be a worthy addition to this “curriculum” because it is not only a search tool, it provides the structure and choice to help children become better at judging the quality of information online. Most importantly it allows children to directly interact with search results as they build their square.

Why not explore some alternative search engines for the classroom in this Interesting Ways to Use resource.

If you haven’t looked at Google Squared before I strongly recommend you take some time to explore it. I hope that some of the ideas and screenshots in this post give you some inspiration to use it with your own classes, let me know how it would be included in your work.

4 responses so far

Oct 23 2009

7 New “Interesting Ways to Use” Resources

Published by under presentations and tagged:

With the half term break upon us here I wanted to introduce some new members of the “Interesting Ways to Use…” family. In addition to the usual types of tech topics I have decided to start some resources that are not technology specific in a hope to widen the relevance.

One is to Support Writing which is fairly obvious and the other is to Make your Classroom a Sparkly Place to Learn which will be a place to share ideas for creating an enriching and vibrant classroom environment – types of displays, resources, organisation etc. We all want our rooms to sparkle so let’s share our ideas and help each other.

They all start at zero remember and they need you to contribute your ideas. All of your ideas are welcome, grand or small, they can be things you have been doing for years or just solid ideas you think could have an impact.

Remember One Idea, One Slide, One Image.

If you would like to help just email me or send me a Direct Message on Twitter with your own email address, and I will add you as an editor to the presentations.

3 responses so far

Oct 22 2009

LearningTech Newsletter Issue#1

Published by under Newsletter and tagged:

In my continued efforts to support the staff at my school navigate the ever evolving landscape of educational technology, I have begun producing a fortnightly email newsletter.

When sat writing it for the first time a few weeks ago I hit upon a nice set of regular sections I could easily update every 2 weeks. I have written them using Google Docs, then published the doc, and then shared the link with staff via email. (Plus a PDF copy too)

  • HAVE A GO!

Many colleagues in my Twitter network have asked to see the newsletter and so I have caved  in to popular demand. Please understand that this is primarily aimed at helping the colleagues at my school, however I am sure you will still find something useful.

LearningTech Newsletter Issue 1 (October 2009)

Download PDF version (No printing allowed!)

The second issue is out soon and I will post the link on here too. Please take a minute to drop me a comment if you use the newsletter in school. Also let me know what you think as it would be great to get some feedback from you all as well.

3 responses so far

Oct 21 2009

Introducing Google Docs to the Class

Published by under Google Docs and tagged:

Day one of introducing Google Docs to a class is always an exciting one, I have been fortunate to be able to see three cohorts experience the fun ways to use it. Today we made a start with our Year 5s and had a great afternoon.

The first thing that you need to have ready is a document that the children can work on – a task to kickstart their use of Docs and one that may illustrate some of the features. Spreadsheets can have 50 simultaneous editors, the highest number in the Docs suite of tools, as we were all working at the same time this was ideal. Documents and Presentations have a limit of only 10 simultaneous editors – after that anyone opening them will only be able to view – not edit.  (Check out this Google Docs Help section for more.)

This makes Spreadsheets an ideal first choice for your first collaborative writing experience. Not only is the simultaneous editor limit high but the cell, column and row structure of spreadsheets provides a lovely clear scaffold to shared work. I would always go on to use the Documents in smaller groups later on. (Of course Presentations are also clearly structured, perhaps make something with a slide for each person to edit – either way make it easy for the children to be successful.)

(We used some little sheets for the children’s password and usernames. Feel free to grab a copy.)

I created a spreadsheet called “My Favourite” and shared it with everyone. There is a screenshot below and it basically had, in the header row, lots of different subjects: My Favourite…Band / Fruit / Sealife Creature etc. In the first 2 columns, which you cannot see, are the children’s names. This clear structure works very well.

Preview a blank copy of this document and grab a copy of your own from the Templates Gallery.

This first foray into the use of Google Docs was all about logging in, opening and editing this document and you can see from the picture that they added all of their information. There was a great buzz around the year group as they realised they could see everyone editing in real time, I wandered next door and the same was taking place in the other Year 5 class. The children enjoyed sharing their work together and, often contrary to what some people might think, they were chatting away with each other – speaking to those who had written something elsewhere in the Doc.

I know Google Wave gives us an even more refined real time collaboration experience, but I am unsure about whether it would really change things yet. Google Docs already lets me work in real time with someone else. I suppose the added functionality of what might be created with Wave is where the potential lies.

Children were working in pairs on laptops and I asked them to Sign Out from their session and then repeat with the other person. In this way the children are supporting each other on their first attempts at logging in.

I decided to push them on and we went through the procedure of creating a new document and then sharing that with me. We talked about the idea of “handing-in” your work and the kids were quick to catch on and they spent the rest of the afternoon creating and sharing something.

I think it is really useful to be in the same place as the kids when they share their first document. I put my own Docs home page on the SMARTBoard and tell kids when they have completed the sharing successfully. They wouldn’t get this sort of confirmation when away from class. It just helps them to know they have done it correctly and reinforces the process.

As I speak – a couple of hours after school has finished – some of my class have been busy creating documents and sharing them with me from home.

A quick checklist then for your first Google Docs session.

  • Get all of your passwords and usernames ready to hand – you will almost always have to refer to them. If you are using Ed Apps then you will have already made a CSV file for a bulk upload.
  • Use a simple sheet to share the username and passwords with the class – writing them out yourself might be time consuming but saves problems with children writing them incorrectly.
  • Do a quick login on the school computers using a child’s account – remind yourself of the process. Does it behave the same?
  • Remember that on the first login there is a security question in which children will have to enter a spam filtering word. We needed to support lots of children with this.
  • Have a document already shared with the class, so that when they open their Docs Home there is something there.
  • Use a shared Doc to begin with to demonstrate the collaborative nature of Docs – use Spreadsheets if you are expecting more then 10 simultaneous users.
  • Keep it simple and easy like the My Favourite idea I used today.
  • Before you get into the document show the children around the Docs Home screen.
  • Demonstrate how the different views or filters on your documents changes the view. This is often a problem when children think someone has hacked their account and deleted everything, but they haven’t clicked on ALL ITEMS. Good to take time to demo this.
  • Show children that there is a right click menu on the documents.
  • When viewing a document talk about how it is automatically saved and how each change is logged and can be viewed.
  • Explain how important it is to SIGN OUT at the end of the session.

Why not explore some more ideas about using Google Docs in the classroom in this presentation. (Let me know if you have anymore ideas to add)

I wrote a couple of guest posts for the Official Google Docs blog about using it in class. The first post has some further information about making a start with small group projects. And don’t forget to explore some of my previous posts about using Docs too. Here are some highlights:

Our Google Docs journey has begun and I know that it will be an exciting one. I hope that you find some of these ideas useful if you are beginning to use it with your own class.

7 responses so far

Oct 16 2009

Fish Friday Challenge

Published by under gamesbasedlearning,My class

Today we had our inaugural Fish Friday Challenge. We had so much fun and I am compelled to explain what we did and to encourage you to do something similar with your classes.

Whilst I was gathering ideas for our Sealife unit (centred around the use of Endless Ocean on the Nintendo Wii) I began to think about the use of John Davitt’s Learning Event Generator or LEG for short. Essentially this is a crowd sourced list of learning topics – the DO pile and a list of styles or outcomes – the AS pile.

If you take a look at his site you will see the LEG creates a random combination from these two burgeoning lists – I just generated DO “Glaciation” AS “A Mini Opera” ! John explains:

The idea for the LEG came out of desire to nudge learners (and teachers)  and also to give them permission to move beyond the “comfort zone” of talk-look-listen-write and allow them instead to move across a whole chessboard of learning opportunities.

I decided to adjust the different sets of ideas to suit our sealife topic. Although the full list of outcomes from the AS pile is great, I needed to edit it down to just those which are manageable and clear enough for our Year 5s (9 and 10 year olds)to complete in a single session.

I created a list of sealife that the children have had some experience of or learned about during the last 5 weeks and combined it with the outcomes list in Richard Clarke’s excellent Excel version.

The class were split into groups of 3s and a couple of pairs. Each group had access to a laptop if they needed it. I spent time explaining that today’s session would challenge them and make them scratch their heads. I outlined what we were doing and it helped to just run through the different outcomes from the AS pile – they loved the idea of a finger puppet show.

I then generated the different Fish Friday ChallengesI think in the other class they even had a drum roll for this bit for added tension! I added to the Excel sheet the sentence “Show me what you know, have learned or can find out about…” which helped them to focus. Some of the combinations included:

  • A Killer Whale as a 5 slide Photostory.
  • A Puffer fish as a heated dialogue between enemies (good to highlight the predators!).
  • A dolphin as a cartoon.
  • A lionfish in the style of a weather forecast.
  • A manta ray as a mime.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the children rise to the challenge of the different tasks – each one requiring a different approach. The children really got into it and took to it with energy and enthusiasm. One girl said 5 minutes in:

Can we do this every week! I love it!

The children were engaged and the anticipation and unexpectedness of the task really helped. The outcomes reflected their commitment and this enthusiasm. I wasn’t necessarily that interested in the outcome as I was keen to see the children work in their group to solve the challenge. But it just blew me away.

This style of activity puts the children on their toes and makes them think laterally about presenting information. As John said we were well out of our “comfort zone” but it is good to know what that other place is like. We need children to face new unexpected challenges and to learn not just from the process but also from the accomplishment of completing it too.

One of the highlights for me was the mime about the manta ray between two children who probably had the biggest challenge. They did an amazing job and I was so proud of them – I asked the rest of the class what they just learned from the mime and they just reeled off facts about what the manta ray eats, how big it is and how wide – even how it moves.

In total we spent about 45 minutes preparing the outcome and then half an hour celebrating their work. Sometimes you spend days or weeks on pieces of work, we busted this out in an hour and it was great. I am sure you can see from some of the examples in the slideshow. (Some of the children had to do video interviews with an expert – hence the Flip cams in the slideshow.)

I hope you can see the potential for any unit of work in school for this sort of approach and urge you to consider including it in your work, why not try it next week?!

The unknown direction we were taking as a class, in terms of our learning, brought about a real energy in the room which pervaded the quality of work too. A great day!

4 responses so far

Oct 14 2009

Nintendo Wii Golf Subtraction

Published by under gamesbasedlearning,Maths,Wii and tagged: , ,

We had fun today using Wii Sports Golf during our maths lesson. This week the children have been practising different written methods of subtraction and today we repeated the Wii idea from last year.

After doing some recapping of the compact method of written subtraction we worked as a whole class with the game. Each child was at their tables with a whiteboard and pen.

  • Start by making a note of the length of the hole you are about to play (A). This appears at the top right hand corner when you are teeing off. Get the class to write this down.
  • We had a 4 player round to generate lots of questions to practice.
  • Choose someone to come out and tee off. When their ball comes to a rest it will show how far to the hole (B). It does not show the length of their shot – so complete the subtraction with the class A – B = C (shot length)
  • We repeated this for the other three players.
  • As you get your different shot lengths (4 in our case) you are presented with lots of opportunities, such as ordering the shots from longest to shortest, how much further was ? then ? – we used some of these with the whole class after the first group of shots were made.
  • With the longer holes you may be able to get another calculation from the 2nd shot – but most of the time the second shot will sail over the hole. This makes it a bit tricky to calculate shot length.

Another direction you could take the game in a maths lesson is to plan for ordering decimals. When the ball lands on the green the game displays how many metres/yards to the pin (hole). It will show it to one decimal place. With four players hitting the green then you have the option of trying to order 4 different distances.

    WiiMaths is created by Tristan Methers with funding from the Victorian Dept of Education and Early Childhood Development as part of the Knowledge Bank Next Generation Research Projects. Tristan outlines the investigation into positive and negative numbers in the game of golf and explains:

    In Golf names are given for the  number of stokes taken on each hole. If you score the expected amount for a hole that is called a Par. If you get a stoke over the expected amount that is called a Bogey and one stoke under the expected amount is called a Birdie. The number of  stokes under and over and their names are in the table below:
    ALBATROSS               -3
    EAGLE                        -2
    BIRDIE                         -1
    PAR                               0
    BOGEY                       +1
    DOUBLE BOGEY       +2
    TRIPLE BOGEY         +3
    Golf is a very mathematical game, from the distance to the pin,  angles of shots, wind speed and so on. The first task of the students is to while a  person/persons place a game of Wii Golf, they are to look for all of the maths that is being used in the game. In my class we came up with 8.
    After listing these, the students are then given a verbal 9/18 hole golf course to solve and come up with a final score, linking the naming of the stokes to the total score:
    Example:  Hole 1  - Eagle
    Hole 2 – Bogey
    Hole 3 – Par

    In Golf names are given for the  number of strokes taken on each hole. If you score the expected amount for a hole that is called a Par. If you get a stroke over the expected amount that is called a Bogey and one stroke under the expected amount is called a Birdie. The number of  strokes under and over and their names are in the table below:

    • ALBATROSS  -3
    • EAGLE  -2
    • BIRDIE  -1
    • PAR 0
    • BOGEY +1

    The students are then given a verbal 9/18 hole golf course to solve and come up with a final score, linking the naming of the strokes to the total score:


    • Hole 1  - Eagle
    • Hole 2 – Bogey
    • Hole 3 – Par

    I think that this is a good example of explaining the maths behind the scoring system itself and would allow a class or small group to practice +ve and -ve numbers in an engaging way.

    Why bother?

    This games based approach to maths engages the children. It certainly engages my class. They asked me to do some more in the afternoon. More written subtraction! They are switched on by the use of the game and enjoy the challenge of the maths that we packaged up within it. With some successful baseball addition earlier this week too, it is proving effective to use Wii games in this single lesson role.

    Are the children better at subtraction because of the game?

    Crucially we were able to practice and refine our calculations over a more sustained period in the lesson due to the game. The same occurred with the baseball addition earlier this week. Children were happy to work hard on the maths for longer due to the involvement of the game. If use of the game is combined with solid, clear and supported teaching of the written methods beforehand then it can raise the standard of work in the classroom.

    Please share with me any other ways you have used Wii games in support of your maths lessons, as I am always on the look out for more ideas.

    (Pic “dangerous walk“ by cinocino)

    2 responses so far

    Oct 05 2009

    Climate Change and our Sealife Topic

    Published by under My class,Science and tagged: , ,

    As we continue our Sealife topic we have been exploring the conservation of sea turtles and subsequently climate change. We learned how rising sea levels have a direct impact on sea turtle nesting sites. I just wanted to outline some of the great resources we used in our classes this afternoon.

    acidic oceans

    The main part of the afternoon was working on an science experiment that replicated the effect of acidic oceans on the coral reefs. This has been ideal for the work we have been doing recently. Whilst I was exploring the resources on the Under the Sea IMAX film I found some nicely produced resources for classrooms. Amongst it is the experiment we did.

    We placed shells and chalk  in cups filled with varying levels of water and vinegar – each representing “Clean”, “Polluted” and “Very Polluted” seawater. We used some digital scales to weigh the shells and chalk before putting them in. The children enjoyed seeing the immediate reaction in the more “polluted” test and jotted down some observations. We were going to retrieve the solids today and check them, but I asked the class if they would like to leave it a full 24 hours – they agreed, so we will have to wait until tomorrow to see the full effect.


    After setting up the experiment and completing some initial observations we invited the children to explore the Zerofootprint website. It provides a very child friendly survey (well written and very accessible to different reading abilities) about different aspects of life:

    • Transportation
    • What you eat
    • Home and School
    • What you throw away
    • What you use

    The results are then collated and the children are able to compare their own data with averages from countries around the world. We spent some time discussing some of the averages and talking through as a class the differences we found. It is a good way to compare personal and average national data.

    Breathing Earth

    To draw the afternoon to a close and provide another discussion point, I showed the children Breathing Earth which is a CO2 emissions, birth rate and death rate simulation. It is a strangely engaging animation and simulation of real data on a world map. We looked closely at the indication of CO2 emissions and identified the major culprits around the world. (As I explained what was shown I had some dramatic music on in the background which added to the impact of the simulation.)

    I spent time drawing it back to the experiment we were doing – higher CO2 emissions means more polluted oceans, means more acidic effects on coral and sealife.

    As a class we discussed how these levels might be linked with population and other factors. Breathing Earth provides a rich and engaging starting point for discussion that I would highly recommend. As you roll over a country on the world map more detailed data is shown for that nation. I think that Breathing Earth could prove a useful data resource in it’s own right – children retrieving information by finding the country and then rolling over. Better then looking at a list or on a basic webpage.


    After the children had some time to work in pairs at their laptops exploring the Breathing Earth simulation we closed out the day with a film from WWF called “Knock-On Effects“.

    A lovely animation that helps to remind us about the difference we can make if we all act. I love the domino metaphor and how if we all act and put up our dominoes we can gain great momentum and change some of the damage already done. We finished the day talking about what the class could do at home tonight to make a difference and what they thought of the animation.

    I think that some of these resources have really helped us to show the children the connections. And to see, for example, that switching off that light at home could effect a sea turtle finding a nest. In a positive way. One domino at a time.

    One response so far

    Next »