Author Archives: Jimmy Leach


The 10 things any digital champion should do to engage technology in schools

Many organisations use the idea of digital champions to embed new, tech-led, approaches to their services.
In schools, or in school districts, many have adopted the idea of recruiting a range of digital champions and embed them right across the school or across the district so that each school year or each department has someone responsible for driving change and digital technologies into the everyday work of the rest of the organisation. They lead change by doing; drive the process though delivery.
So if your school should hit on the idea of digital champions, what should those people actually do?
Here’s a cheat sheet of tasks which you can use as a check list or even as the basis of a job spec to recruit digital champions and get them to work.
They should:
Develop and embed the culture and practice of digital and, possibly even blended, learning models across the school.
Identify the needs of individual teachers and support staff, providing effective coaching and team teaching support to develop a model of sustainable self-sufficiency
Model, advocate and support the development of teachers’ online personal learning networks
Provide information, training and support for parents to ensure their familiarity with, and confidence in, the blended learning initiative and the benefits of digital learning
Liaise with the school’s parental engagement teams to ensure that parents are fully integrated in the digitisation process and empowered to support and facilitate their children’s learning
Promote the use of the school’s Digital Learning Platform across the school, by staff, parents and students
Work with the school’s Curriculum Co-ordinator(s) and all teachers to ensure the effective integration of digital learning tools and practices across the curriculum
Be responsible for researching, reviewing and advising on digital content to be provided on the school’s platform, in liaison with other colleagues
Oversee Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives across the school
Engage proactively with other digital champions in the school and in the district to share best practice

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Software scores as well as teachers in marking exams

It might be a threat to teaching jobs or a blessed relief from a tedious chore, but an Australian academic study claims that software can be just as good as human when marking essays.
The testing of the testers was done by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), which looked at essays typed directly into computers for the country’s standardised tests, the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN).
Those typed essays, ACARA believes, are suited to automated marking because they have “criteria that target lexical properties of essays (sentence structure, paragraphing, punctuation and spelling), criteria that target semantic properties of essays (audience and ideas) and criteria that explicitly target successful interplay of lexical and semantic features of writing (test structures and cohesion).”
ACARA’s research paper (PDF) is based on the premise that such automated software is proven to and designed for assessing those qualities, so the Authority decided to give four vendors a run and compare their assessments to those of human essay markers.
To help train their systems the four vendors were provided with 1,014 essays plus scores provided by human markers. The vendors were then handed 339 essays to mark with their automated systems.
Try the pdf for the methodology, but ACARA concluded that “the investigation showed that at both the rubric criteria and total score levels, the four marking systems provided satisfactory (equivalent or better) results relative to human marking.”
Given that ACARA is planning a lot more onlone testing so the research is significant, although perhaps a little bleak for those teachers hoping to pick up the extra cash for exam marking this summer.

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Education Work

Why you shouldn’t do those Facebook quizzes – and how to disconnect from them

If you’ve been on Facebook recently, you may have see the online quiz that creates a ‘word cloud’ from all the words you use most regularly on the platform. It has gone viral – and its a classic example of why you shouldn’t hop on those ‘harmless’ quizzes that your friends seem to have so much time to do.

Time To Ask Yourself A Simple Question

So whether you’re asked ‘what is your signature pop song’, ‘what historical figure you are’ or ‘what literary figure you most resemble’, just ask yourself why the quiz-makers have bothered.

After all, it’s not up to them to decide how you pass your time. Those tacky adverts down the side aren’t going to pay their bills.

The UK-based VPN comparison site (yes, there are such things) Comparitech looked into the information the word cloud quiz ‘needed and discovered it asks for your name, birthdate, hometown, education details, all your Likes, photos, browser, language, your IP address and even your friends list if you link it with Facebook.

That’s quite a lot to ask when creating something from your public utterances.

Many quizzes and games ask for similar amounts of seemingly superfluous information. They may also ask you to authorize the connection to the social network, to make sure you share your results in the hope that the quiz goes viral. If you don’t allow the sharing, the chances are that the quiz doesn’t function.

It’s About Control

The big issue with all this is that once you’ve handed your data over, you can’t control what is done with it, even if you never use the quiz again.

These games are simply data harvesters and, buried deep in the privacy policy you ‘sign’ when you connect, is often the permission to continue to use your data even after you disconnect from whatever tempted you in the first place. And that often means sharing your data with third parties – clicking that permission button has already allowed that.

The only safe way to deal with such things is to never use them in the first place, but you can alter what the quiz/game app can access.

How To Get Rid Of Facebook Apps

To get rid of older apps you already authorized, simply click the lock icon on the top right corner of your Facebook page and go to “See More Settings.” You can see the “Logged in with Facebook” list under the Apps section — click “x” to remove any application that you don’t trust or recognize.

There’s an element of watching a sprinting horse as you close the stable door about that approach. Abstention is your best policy – because even if you don’t worry too much about your own privacy, by sharing the app and your data, you could be making your friends more vulnerable too.

Want to stay connected to the author? Follow Jimmy on Twitter

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The best resources to get kids coding

Many schools are getting to grips with teaching coding, but the resources available, while numerous, can be difficult for any teacher to get their head around. There’s different approaches and different languages to learn, and it can be hard to work out what is most suitable.
The tendency is to think ‘what do kids like?’ and then attach the coding skills to that. Hence the newly announced partnership to help pupils learn to code with Minecraft. Using a system called Blockly, rather than text instructions, pupils can use the game mechanics to build up their understanding of coding. Alternatively, you can learn to code with Star Wars, or with the Raspberry Pi.
Such things can take you so far, and with certain groups – to fully emerse yourself in any language, you need to offer a variety of challenges that will engage everyone in the classroom.
And these are not bad places to start – some are just starting points, while some are simply guides to further resources. None will make you, or your students, coding geniuses, but they will help give some structure to your learning. Expertise was launched a couple of years ago to push for wider access to computer science learning in schools, but is relevant here not for its campaigning but for its resources, from lessons like the K-8 Introduction to Computer Science, to the collection of tutorials from a range of sources.

 EdSurge Guide To Teaching Kids To Code

The EdSurge Guide to Teaching Kids to Code is a pretty all-encompassing guide to coding resources, largely from the point of view of parents. The best place to begin is, unsurprisingly,”Teaching Coding: Where Do You Start?” but there’s around 50 very decent resources to use.’s Coding for Kids Resources

From this is an admirable and hugely useful collection of  best links, guides, apps and resources from around the web to help kids learn to code and to help parents/educators do the teaching.

 Awesome Coding Resources From Google

Made With Code by Google: Google have a mission encourage girls into the computer sciences. And they’ve made it a great place to start, for brand new and intermediate coders. It has projects which are easy to follow, with a very decent Resources section, which is updated regularly.

 MIT Media Lab

MIT Media Lab’s Scratch Team offers up support for Scratch, one of the most popular coding tools for youngsters, and built to help those with little or no experience of coding, but who want to jump right in. It lets students create animations and stories with building blocks that mimic the structure of computer code. It’s pretty simple for beginners, but there’s a  guide to help everyone get started.

 Hour of Code

Tynker’s Hour of Code Free Activities is a set of games for pupils to pick up basic ‘computational thinking and programming skills’, centred around the Hour of Code offering. A good section for parents section too.

 Common Sense Media Tools

The excellent Common Sense Media group have a typically sensible and moderated selection of Apps and Websites for Learning Programming and Coding with reviews and insights from teachers which will act as a pleasingly strict guide.

Be A Code Avenger!

CodeAvengers is an online platform will enthuse those hard-to-reach kids who want, most of all, to learn to code games, apps, and websites. There is over 100 hours of lessons on how to code.

 Check out W3Schools

W3Schools  is a series of free online tutorials to help older kids (and adults) learn individual coding skills. You can pick and choose what you want to learn, rather than going through a series of specific courses (as is often the case) –  especially useful if you already have some skills but want to fill in the gaps.

 Visual Programming

Kodable is designed for those aged 5. It’s a visual programming curriculum that makes it easy for kids to learn to code even if they can’t yet read. The app is free, but has the, dreaded, in-app purchases, done via a school or class licence.
Do you know any better? Add your favourites to the comments below and we’ll add the best to the page.
Photo: Unsplash

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Six social media stars your students love (and you can follow)

The chances are that if you’re over 25, you’ve missed them. A whole range of seemingly invisible, yet hugely famous, people. Massive audiences, but no TV or radio shows, and very little coverage in the mainstream media.
These are the new stars of online platforms – people who have built up massive, and lucrative, online audiences of tens of millions yet seem to be under the radar to parents and even older siblings. You may have heard of the YouTuber phenomenon, but do you know their names? And the Periscope-famous? And the Vine stars?
So treat this as a quick guide to the people your students know about, but you’re not supposed to. Drop their names into lessons casually. Just let them know how hip you are. Just don’t use words like ‘hip’.
He’s hit 10 billion views on his YouTube channel,  and is the first to do so, so while some may view him as old-school already, he’s still raking in the numbers. Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg is a Swedish comedian and producer. At 26 he defines the excesses of the YouTuber market.
The third largest YouTube channel with 225m monthly views. It’s hidden creator is an ‘unboxer’. He/she opens toys and videos the process. One estimate has it that whoever it is earns ‘seven figures’ for doing so. Opens toys. Seven figures. Go and tell that to the careers advisor.
It’s all about the numbers. Eleanora Pons is 19 makes six second videos on the Vine platform, and her little vignettes have been ‘looped’ (watched) 7.3billion times. Over 9 million people watch her little jokes and sketches.
Brian Wyllie
This Canadian gamer, also known as The Odd One, plays long gaming sessions on the Twitch platform, live for his audiences to watch, around 185 million times. Again, he has made enough money (from gaming, I repeat) that he has no fear about where his next pizza is coming from til around 2045.
‘Stampy’ is (obviously) a cat character, the guise of another gamer Joseph Garrett, British this time, who concentrates on Minecraft game – and 6.6m people subscribe to watch him potter round. Garrett is preparing to launch a second channel, Stampy School, which concentrates on education.
Amanda Oleander
Oleander is a multi-channel performer, on Instagram, YouTube and the rest, but is of note because of her swift adoption of Periscope. She has collected 34 million likes (or hearts in Periscope-land) over 300,000 followers on the new channel, where they watch her marathon sessions.

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Should social networking be taught in schools?

Although there’s plenty of evidence that Facebook is on the slide amongst the under-25s, social media is very much a common pastime amongst school children, who seem unable to put their mobiles down for fear of missing an update. While many schools get their kids to put the phones away for the school day and don’t use the gadgets for learning, the sheer scale of the social media presence in children’s lives begs the question: should schools teach their pupils how to use social media properly?

Should they learn both the benefits of social connection and information gathering, and the perils of cyber bullying and internet safety?

With some estimates suggesting that a third of 9-12 year olds have a Facebook account and with many social media channels having no lower age range at all, it can be very young children who are entering the world of the trolls.

Over a third of 9-12 year olds are believed to have their own Facebook accounts, regardless of the fact that there is a minimum age limit of 13 for the website. Children appear to be able to pick up how to use social media websites easily, often growing up as the developments happen, making it easy for them to adjust to the latest features on these networks. However, often children do not seem to notice the ways in which social media can be a danger to themselves or to others.  At this age, children may not be completely aware of the repercussions that may ensue if they were to post something offensive online. It may be useful in this case to educate youngsters on what one should and should not post online.

Many young children are unaware that something that you post online might be misconstrued by others and can often never be fully erased from internet history. Children could therefore be educated on how it is wrong to write anything on a social networking site which you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. It is too easy for young people to get carried away when they are addressing someone they can’t see or might not know personally, and they are less aware of the hurt or the offence that this could cause the recipient of the comment. Furthermore, children should be made aware that even simply ‘liking’ or re-tweeting a comment or post may implicate you in the content of the comment and makes it too easy to libel someone – a concept which children would not think of when using social media, especially if some users are as young as 9 years old. Schools may want to teach their students the potential risks that posting their indiscretions on Facebook might have upon their future applications to University or College, and even for jobs in the future.

A recent law passed in California aims to prevent these embarrassing posts from tainting one’s future by making sure that all social networks have an option to delete past posts for minors. But should students be educated about the risk of posting these comments and photos in the first place whilst they are still at school?

Social media has often been at the source of cyber bullying, especially as the bullies can often hide behind anonymity or their online alias, and subsequently feel a greater sense of power and less like they will be associated with the hurtful comments which they choose to post. The distance between users on social media sites also means that the bully will not necessarily be aware of the level of pain that they might be causing their victim. The availability of social media networks has also exacerbated the problems of bullying for some individuals, as they can no longer escape from bullying at school by simply returning to the safety of their own home. Social networks in some cases just transfer the problem to a new arena, so that the bullying can continue at all times. The dangers of social media and cyber bullying can most recently be seen in the case of 14-year old Hannah Smith, who was found hanged in her bedroom after suffering months of abuse on the controversial site in August 2013.  

What may therefore be most useful for school children is to be taught in appropriate use of social media, and the danger of posting hurtful comments online. Schools should also be providing adequate support platforms for children who are being victimised in this manner so that they can come forward and ask for help. This form of education has already been introduced to some schools as part of their Personal Social Health Education programmes and ‘Esafety’ is already a part of the curriculum in both England and Wales, showing that there is already an attempt by schools to do more to teach students on the positives and negatives of social media and the importance of setting up privacy settings to protect themselves from potentially harmful individuals online.   

 As students often access their social media accounts while they are not at school, it could be argued that it is down to their parents to educate them in the dangers and benefits of using social media, as it is during the time when they are at home that children will choose to access these sites most. The parents are also the figures who provide the smartphones and the computers, from which their children access their social networks accounts from. Therefore, should the parents be the ones who are responsible for teaching their children the problems which might arise from social media use?

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Your quick guide to writing your next education blog post

Definition of Blog:

  1. noun – a web site containing the writer’s  or group of writers’ own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other web sites.
  2. verb – to maintain or add new entries to a blog.

Courtesy of
We’ve spoken before on this site about the benefits of blogging for your school or education district. It can, in short, be a great way to break down the complexities of the school day – the targets, the pedagogy, the learning outcomes, the socialisation, the enrichments – into bite-size chunks which use none of those words and speak to your audience, primarily parents, in ways they understand.
In other words, it’s a great way to speak about education, while speaking ‘normal’.
It’s also a great way to introduce yourself to your audience (parents, prospective parents, pupils and colleagues) and to ‘humanise’ your work. To make them think of you as a good person, just trying to do good things…
But to get this blogging lark done right, there’s a number of things to consider
Why? What’s it all about? What’s it all for?
What is the topic of your blog post?
What is the point of your blog post? You may already have a topic, but the point will drive your blog post. What conclusion do you want people to reach?
Are you going to include a Call to Action? (Do you want people to respond to your post with comments or suggestions?
What are you going to call it?
You will want a catchy title. Something that intrigues the reader to click on the link to your blog and/or to start reading it but is also not too long. You may want to use strong (but not fruity) language, alliteration, or another literary tactic to grab your audience. You would also want to consider how that title will resonate in search – does it use the words that people normally use to talk about that subject?
Get the style and tone right
You’ll need an editorial style guide of some kind, but, in general, the tone and style of a blog post needs to be informal, and more so than the ‘corporate’ communications that comes from elsewhere in your organisation. This is not a research paper and definitely not a time for pedadogical ruminations. You should write this as if you are writing to a friend; it should feel personal and be in plain language.
This is a time when using personal pronouns such as ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘we’ will benefit your blog post. They help make the blog more feel more personal, like you are having a one on one conversation with the reader.
Make sure there’s images and links
Include images! Images will help make your text more engaging. Include links to create more depth to your blog. If there are supplementary materials you can link to, an event website, video of an event, etc. Use these items to help tell your story and make your point.
How long?
The general recommendation is a blog should be between 300-600 words.  When a blog post is much more than 600 words studies show people tend to stop reading.
Don’t forget to spread the word
Writing a blog without trying to ‘market’ it is like writing a letter without bothering to post it. Email, tweet, post, link – just make sure that you connect this with your networks, both professional and personal.
And watch the reactions
Once you’ve posted, see what the reaction is – what topics get people re-tweeting, commenting, liking and so on. Not that you should just keep on on those topics (there’s a law of dwindling returns), but see what sort of tone, topic and approach seems to hit people’s buttons.
The best way to get on with it? Try it here.

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The quick guide to using Pinterest in education

You’ll know Pinterest, the social network which allows you to share and comment on visual material, which could be photographs, sketches, videos or web pages. It’s a visual scrapbook, an aggregation tool – and, usefully, there are no copyright issues either. In fact, sharing from other people’s websites is the whole point.
Content is organised around boards, split into themes. In education, you can use it to:

  • Compile content – words, pictures, audio, video…
  • Organise and store ideas
  • Connect and comment on students’ work
  • Make connections with other teachers and get ideas for future projects
  • Create group projects: community boards can be perfect for collaborative projects

To understand how to get the best from Pinterest, this, from WorldWideLearn, is as handy a graphic as you’ll see, on how and where to deploy it best.

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14 ways you can tackle cyberbullying

Bullying seems to have been with us for as long as there have been schools – and what sometimes disappoints in not the seemingly inevitable fact that it happens, but how few schools and parents are able to tackle it.
That issue is made more difficult by the newer manifestations of bullying – the cyber kind that can happen on a growing range of social and digital media – Instagram, Snapchat, What’sApp and so on…
So what can schools, parents and, indeed, the children themselves do about it? Here are the 14 ways that all three can tackle cyberbullying.
1 Adopt a demonstrably zero-tolerance policy for bullying of all kinds. It should be abundantly clear that any form of intimidation, harassment, or threat will be dealt with swiftly and seriously. And when it does occur, follow through …
2 Schools, districts and education authorities should have that zero-tolerance codified in anti-bullying policies that everyone in the school community are made aware of.
3 Teach digital citizenship and internet safety in the classroom. When pupils are more aware of their rights and responsibilities, they are more likely to behave accordingly.
4 Have regular sessions with pupils, parents and teachers discussing bullying prevention. Keep the issue ‘alive’ with everyone.
5 Keep the computer in a shared space in the home – the living room or the kitchen perhaps. Don’t let them hide away in their bedrooms online. Monitor their usage and keep an eye on them as they use their device.
6 Learn about the spaces they inhabit – the social media platforms they engage on. If you know how Snapchat, What’sApp and so on work, you’ll understand where the danger points are. Ask, where you can, to see their profile pages.
7 Talk with your children about online issues, and make it clear that they can come to you for advice and support.
8 Set rules and time limits for your kids. Explain why – that you’re concerned for their online safety – and ask them to help set those rules. But don’t threaten to confiscate their laptops or phones if they are the victims of bullying.
9  Make sure your children don’t respond to cyberbullying – but that they don’t delete either. That will enable you to keep the messages, and indications of the identity of the bully.
10 If your kids are being bullied, don’t assume they ‘brought it on themselves’ somehow. Be supportive and understanding and help them, and the school, find a solution. And don’t ever tell them to ‘man up’ or ‘get over it’.
11 If it escalates to physical threats or violence, don’t be afraid to call in the police.
12 Don’t respond to threats, but don’t delete the messages either. Keep them and show your parents or teachers and they can use them to track down the bullies.
13 Don’t help other bully people, or stand by if you know it’s happening – report it.
14 If you’re being bullied – don’t hesitate. Report it.
Follow Jimmy Leach on Twitter.

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How to have successful education Twitter chats

You’ll have seen the hashtags for educational Twitter chats, #edchat this or #edutech that, where like-minded education-types gather for a pre-determined digital appointment to exchange questions, answers and ideas.
Try here for a full guide to existing education Twitter chats.
They are a great way to build and join communities to share issues of common relevance. They often generate a lot of activity and build great connections across the community, and with the host, allowing that host to build a greater social following, and build your own reputation for thought leadership in your part of the ‘industry’.
So how do you build up a regular, quality education Twitter chat?
Ask yourself why
Why am you hosting this? What is it you want to achieve? Hosting an opinion-led conversation in a public space can be tricky if opinions lead to arguments. Given the potential hassle, you need to have a clear vision as to why you want to build and run a professional Twitter gathering and what you want from it.
Learn the process
Do you know how Twitter chats work? You’ll need to learn the etiquette and lingo of Twitter chats – the best way to do that is to participate in others, on similar topics. Participants in those will join yours too, if you’re not obviously trying to cut across them, that is.
Think about timing
What’s the optimum time to run them? Will your chats be weekly, monthly or opportunistic? Be consistent, in whatever timing you choose and make sure it fits the majority of your audience – when they will have the time to participate.
Pick a hashtag
Your hashtag will define your community so make it simple, relevant, concise and unique (so far as possible). You may want to define yourself by geography (so use the name of your district), by the issue you want to discuss (a subject or technology). Choose carefully.
What’s your angle?
There’s plenty of education chats on Twitter already, so make sure yours fills a gap that no-one else does. Find a niche or an angle that offers people real value. Then they’ll come to you.
How will you promote your chat?
Build it and they will come simply doesn’t work, so you have to make sure people know about it. Tweet out beforehand, perhaps, or email colleagues you know will be interested; build a list of people on Twitter you know would be interested and invite them (individually, not spammily). It might take a few sessions to hit your stride, but you’ll find you audience, in the end.
Doing it
Now it’s time to launch. So:
– Kick off the chat with a welcome tweet that sets the tone. You could schedule that tweet (use Tweetdeck or Hootsuite) to make sure that goes out on time.
– Welcome participants and ask them to introduce themselves. This gets the dialogie going – which is kind of the pointGiven some time for introductions to be made, you’re on to the questions and answers: the reason you’ve brought your audience together to chat.
– Set questions with numbers (Q1) and the answers the same (A1) so that users can make the links.
– Give around 5-10 minutes for the chats around each questions
– Set the minimum number of questions, therefore, at 6, but, if you’ve set an hour for the chat, don’t set more than around 10 questions.
– Make sure that, as the host, you’re prominent, but not dominant.
– Close by thanking everyone, and reminding them of the next chat (and topic of the next conversation if that’s how you do it)
See here for the three best tools for Twitter chats
And then?
After you’ve congratulated yourself, it’s time to measure, reflect and learn. You can look at measures like:
– Hashtag mentions
– Participants, both new and old
– Number of contributions
– Growth in Twitter followers
Make sure your measure the same thing each month or week so that you can see progression – but remember to tie those numbers back to your original intention. Are you getting the meaningful conversations, new ideas, engaged community and enhanced reputation that you wanted?
Then carry on…

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