Author Archives: Jimmy Leach


Don’t complain about a lack of CPD if you’re not on Twitter

Training is key to quality teaching and continuous professional development is the difference between a teacher who atrophies and fails to develop during a career. Many teachers get great opportunities for their CPD, and feel equipped to deal with education’s modern challenges.

Others battle for the right training but always seem to lose out, or never understand what their real training needs might be.

For both groups, there’s Twitter.

Following the right educators and specialists gives you a timeline packed with opinions, references and links to wider thinking and a constant babbling stream of thoughts, ideas and inspirations – none of them passed down from on high as if on tablets of stone, but delivered by your peers, the same kind of people as in your staffroom, but just as you might be sitting in Richmond, Virginia, USA, they might be sitting in Richmond, London, UK. There’s nowhere else you can get that breadth of experience contributing to the pool of ideas.

It’s a supportive community too – ask your Twitter stream for inspiration on the how best to teach algebra or Mandarin to ten-year-olds and your PD community will come up with the answer. A knowledgeable bunch, only too happy to help, no matter how simplistic the question might be – which make make a change from the tired bunch in the staffroom only interested in who took the last of the coffee and why someone else was appointed Deputy Principal…

There’s a range of education hashtags to use and chats to join to enter Twitter communities you’ve not yet stumbled upon (try these tools too). The ability to cross-fertilise ideas from such a profusion of  professional expertise is not something you’ll get anywhere else, it’s motivating and energising to boot.

As a networking tool to allow you to talk to new people and create the opportunities that come with activity, you won’t find a better reward for the investment you put in, whether that be to find, or be, a mentor, to take up the opportunity to partner with classes around the globe, to speak at a conference,m to blog on someone else’s site…

So for those who view Twitter as a trivial medium, something that’s beneath them, think again. It’s only a trivial space if you want it to be. If you want it to be the professional inspiration, support and ideas factory that you need, then just follow the bird.

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4 powerful ways to use StumbleUpon in education

There are some days when the internet is just too big. Too much to cope with. You’re standing in the scree at the foot of an enormous mountain, wondering where to get a foothold, where to get some inspiration.

For those in education, they could do worse than to use StumbleUpon – a recommendation engine that, based on your interests, will suggest websites and content that might, just, ease that panic of too much choice and too little inspiration. Think of it as a wise guide through the morass of content laid out in front of you.


Get fresh inspiration

Desperate for inspiration? In need of content for lessons? Even to the point of needing lesson plans? Exactly what StumbleUpon is for. Far better than Googling aimlessly and hoping for the best, this will get you quality content in the subject areas you have chosen. Websites, pictures, video, printable material. The whole lot. That’s your prep work done, then. It’s also available in apps so that you can scrabble about for those sparks to enliven those moribund brains cells, even as you travel in on the train. No need to thank us.

Use it to teach research skills

By getting your students to use StumbleUpon for their own research, you can help them build the research skills they will need – the ability to evaluate the quality of one set of content against another and to judge the motivations of journalists, writers ,  and content creators. By setting a range of high-end content in front of them, they can judge the subtleties of source credibility. You can go through their choices in class and interrogate their thought processes.

Channel the latest thinking

Whatever specialism you are looking for, whether it’s subject-led or for professional development, there will, almost certainly be a related channel for it, curated by brands, websites or people. Sometimes it might be that you’re ploughing through a little too much celebrity or brand-led stuff, but in amongst all that, there are nuggets, where you’ll find sources of real expertise. It’s also handy for following up with your alma mater – plenty of colleges and universities are curating channels too.

Get your class connected

Teachers have the option of setting up a class account, which would require every pupil to follow and sign up alongside you, but that will allow you to set research tasks to your students and get them to share with the class. Or you can share your own choice of sites and content and get them to investigate from there. Pupils can also add their comments to a thread, which you can use to spark classroom discussion.

So if you want a way to find the best content, rather than the stuff which tops search engines, then start Stumbling. At the very least, it’ll take you to somewhere new, and that’s not a bad place to start…

Follow Jimmy Leach on Twitter.

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5 ways to truly create a culture of innovation in your school

Schools and organisations which say they are looking to innovate and find new models for education are just as often to be found resorting to re-naming their head of IT as ‘Head of Innovation’ and sticking motivational posters on the staffroom wall which talk about ‘impossible is nothing’, but offer nothing more than flim-flam.

5 ways to truly create a culture of innovation in your school

So, when you’ve still got to deliver high grade exam results, how do you start to create a culture which delivers new ideas and new ways to implement them? Well, you could do worse than follow these:

1) Be obvious about innovation

Start demanding of your team that they look for ways to innovate. Make finding new routes to educational excellence part of the core of the organisation. Talk endlessly of reinvention and even, if you must, talk of disruption. Just never stop banging on about it – and make sure everyone knows you mean it.

2) Set aside time

Google, famously, set aside time in their workers’ schedules for them to think about things other than their jobs. Easier said than done in education, but it’s vital to set aside thinking time to find ways to do things better – even if its only finding 15 minutes at the end of a staff meeting for one of the team to showcase a new response to an old problem.

3) Don’t micro-manage innovation

Creating the space for innovation is great – but don’t dive in too early and try and make it part of your school’s brand. Adopting new ideas for the sheer kudos of it, without thinking about how they can be properly integrated can kill an idea for ever. Staff will grunt ‘we tried that once’ every time an idea even vaguely similar crops up. So allow time to test theories and think through ideas and the ways in which they can be adopted.

For ideas as to how to deliver that, try Intuit’s Catalyst Toolkit, a guide that was made available to all employees and the public and which includes self-serve ingredients for cooking up innovation.

4) Measure success

As Tony Blair used to say, ‘What’s right is what works’. The only true test in this environment is educational outcomes – and that’s playing a long game. Measure the improvements that new ideas are supposed to bring. In the end, that’s how well students do, but there’s lots of things to measure ahead of that (consumption, understanding, attendance) which are pretty strong indicators as to whether you’re on the right track.

5) Give rewards

Rewarding innovation is vital, but financial incentives will create division in the staffroom. Give ‘worthless’ rewards insteads – have ceremonies where you note the strides individuals have taken, but reward them with low-grade prizes. Validate their invention, but don’t create disharmony amongst those who are still at the coalface and delivering your core work every day.

If you can get some of these embedded, you’ll be on the way to new approaches to old problems, and modernising the way you improve students’ prospects.

rethink innovation

Source: Mia MacMeekin

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Why parents and teachers should let students fail

If you talk to enough entrepreneurs, they will tell you (often repeatedly), that they have learned to fail (‘and fail fast’), and that failure has taught them more than success. It’s almost as if that failure is the point of what they do, rather than an obstacle on the way.

Allowing for the exaggerated nature of this reverence for failure, this isn’t a life lesson that school kids get. Failure remains something that isn’t tolerated in schools. Failure is not seen as inevitable, failure is the doorway to punishment.

Parents Letting Students Fail

Now, parents will be grouching that they don’t want failure for their nippers, and this isn’t to say that schools should encourage new ways for pupils to knack up and should encourage them to get low marks in exams and fail to deliver homework. But do schools look at failure in a healthy way? Or even at different levels of progress?

Everyone learns at different paces, but throughout school life pupils are ranked on their progressions in relation to each other, not in terms of their own improvement and learning ‘journey’. And in that way, schools punish those who meander on their way to mastery, teaching them life lessons about work and experience that they will never come across again.

So, while a pupil may face the wrath of a teacher for failing to understand a maths concept on the first pass, any employer worth their salt would show a bit of patience, invest time in the employee.

Students And The Workplace

Quite simply, hierarchy and punishment, the keystones of the pupil/teacher relationship are not represented in the workplace any more, not since the 19th century factory model faded from our economies. If school is meant to prepare people for the work environment, then schools need to reflect modern work environments – different paces of progress, specialisation and flatter management models, as well as a wider range of skills.

Not hierarchy and single points of authority.

The failure to embrace failure is, of course, another sign of that failing.

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How to use crowdfunding in education

Got a great idea for your class? Asked your principal or year head about it? Did the answer revolved around the word ‘budget’?
No matter where you are, the chances are that funding a new idea or even simply replacing old equipment is difficult. All schools are under budgetary pressures, so the chances of you chasing that dream project can often remain slim. And that affects how effective you are as an educator.
One alternative might be crowdfunding. Most commonly associated with funding Silicon Valley’s wilder dreams or a more old-school creativity it can, in education, be a method of raising funds, awareness and input from parents and supporters. Crowd-sourcing as well as crowd-funding.
If you fancy giving it a go, these tips can help you build the perfect crowdfunding campaign for your school.

How to use crowdfunding in education

Research what’s worked. See how others delivered – what sort of projects were successful, and which weren’t. For examples, try the student newspaper the Daily Free Press. Or the coding game Code Monkey Island. Or as a way of raising cash for more basic materials. There’s plenty out there. look around and learn about your market.
Choose your platform. Few crowdfunding platforms cater specifically to educators and they don’t have huge audiences. From Indiegogo to Kickstarter to GoFundMe and all the rest, check out what cut the platform will take, whether you have to raise all the money to get any and whether other education projects get funded. There are comparison tables, like this one ‘coincidentally’ run by GoFundme.
Get the pitch right. Your pitch, typically, is made up of a few hundred words and a video. They are there to sell your project in a VERY crowded market. Your target audience needs to know what the project is; why it’s important; what will be the outcome and while you are just the person to deliver it. Pass your text round a few colleagues to see what they think. You’ll only have one shot, so make sure you get it right.
Think about the rewards. Rewards in crowdfunding projects are those little inducements to get people to pledge. In many projects they seem to be based around t-shirts and little else – and you don’t want to spend the project cash on even that. For an education project, the better rewards could be in involvement – the crowd-sourcing. Getting people to see the project come together and to get benefits that spin off that (artwork, videos, letters from the pupils) can be more rewarding than any old t-shirt.
Marketing your project. Getting the idea in front of people is key. And the more you can personalize that contact, the better. So individual emails and direct messages on social media deliver far more than round-robin mails and simply posting a link. The problem is one of time and you have to balance out the potential drudgery of individual contacts and the upside of the fact that those one-to-one messages will work much better. A mix of personalized and broader social media messages will be the most likely outcome. But make a plan for delivering the news of your project, don’t leave it to chance.
Keep the conversation going. Those who supported your project deserve information. keep talking to them. Send regular updates on how the project is progressing. During the fundraising process, this will encourage them to share the pitch with others and market it for you. When you’re funded, thank them and during the project itself, news on your progress is the least they deserve.
Crowdfunding is not something you can do too often – you can’t go back to the same crowd and ask them to subsidise your cake budget. But once every year, for the right project, it could be the key to getting that extra project delivered. And everyone will be happy, especially your students.
 Thumbnail image by Images Money via Flickr cc
crowdfunding in education

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Google’s best new gadgets – and how you might use them in education

Google has just finished its Developers’ Conference in San Francisco, which is where they unveil the gadgets and apps which seem outlandish now, but could transform our world in the short-term future.

Translating from the high-end geekery can be hard work, but these are likely to be the tools and apps that could end up in your hands:

Project Soli

This is the end of the button, transforming the way you and your students interact with technology. Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects Group has created a motion sensor that can pick up “sub-millimetre” movements, which would give any of your gadgets a new kind of control – your smartphone, fancy watch and tables could, if armed with a Soli sensor, be controlled with a whole new menu of gestures (which you’ll have to learn). ‘Ctrl+X’? That’s just a scissor action.

Project Jacquard

There’s not much we can be certain about with this, yet, beyond a tantalising website filled with spools of thread, and new from CNET that talks of normal fabric acting like interactive touch pads for a variety of smart devices. Which sounds weird, but this could be the first genuinely wearable technology – clothes, or at least patches, that control your gadgets. Those leather patches on the elbows of your tweed jacket? You just turned on the TV… This could be hugely significant and, again, a whole new way to interact with technology – in the classroom and at home.




Jump is Google’s big push on virtual reality – a new VR platform which will allow anyone to create and upload VR content – a YouTube for a new generation. And if you don’t have a virtual reality camera? Then Google’s much talked-about collaboration with the GoPro camera people comes in with Array, which has 16HD cmeras in a circle and software which stitches the images captured by the Array into a single “image”, which anyone wearing a VR headset can then “look around”. As a classroom aid, this could transport  transporting classrooms of children to a whole new world.



Now on Tap

You may be one of the few who used Google Now, but the idea of having an app that you can quiz is getting so much closer. Like a clever Siri, you can ask questions related to the apps you use of the searches you’ve made – ‘tell me the names of the Plantagenet Kings’ or ‘remember that museum I looked at earlier, get me their phone number. And an Uber to get me there’.


Offline Google Maps

You’re on a field trip and lost – and with no internet connection or signal? Maps without the need for wifi or roaming charges. Download the map in advance and get around without the live link.




Google Photos

Google is picking off the carcass of Google Plus quite effectively. The photos function – storage and tools – is now a standalone tool, ideal for storing your stash of school event photos, keeping the ability to tag people and locations, and upload them to other social networks – and keeping them searchable, maintaining the advantage that Google has always had. So much better than Flickr.

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The step-by-step guide to making Google love your school website

If you’re in a school, you might think that you’re not really competing online – that your website is simply a way of maintaining a contact point between your school and the parents. Telling them when the snow has closed the school and announcing when the school play is happening.
And you’d be wrong. No matter what education sector you’re in, you are in a competitive environment. Your school’s profile and reputation depends on its digital visibility. Parents making a choice about the education of their children or putting forward their own opinions on your school will do so, more often than not, online, and will both provide and gather information there. So if you’re wondering what it is people think of your school, just Google it. The front page of results is the information that people will use to form their opinions (who goes past the first page?).
So it makes sense for you to be sure that its your website and your content which appears on the front page. Hence, how you optimize your website become critical.
The design, copy and placement of all the elements of your site can have a huge impact on how it ranks in search results. Ranking higher on the pages of Google in turn, mean more views, social media shares and likes, and most importantly, new parents and students discovering your school.
The problem is web page optimization often feels complicated and overwhelming for those who decided on a life in teaching, not coding. It’s tricky stuff for anyone who is not a web developer or Search Engine Optimization (SEO) expert –  but this, from SurePayroll, means that either you can be better informed when you’re building your website or, at least, ask the developer who is doing if for you all the right questions about urls, meta-tags, title-tags and the rest. It’s got most of what you’d need.
Dive in, geek out.
Thumbnail via Yahoo on Flickr cc

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6 steps to help students become entrepreneurs

Youth may be wasted on the young but, increasingly it seems, it is also no barrier to starting up a new business.  And many students are taking the lead in the creation of new start-ups, balancing academic work with the joys of entrepreneurship.
That balance is a tricky one, and is greatly helped by discipline and self-awareness – two assets which make anyone in business see things more clearly. And for those running two lives, as students and as business-types, that’s even more true.
This infographic from the combined might of the Westminster Bridge Student Accommodation and Urbanest Student Accommodation covers what it takes to become a student entrepreneur:
Self-awareness: The ability to self-evaluate and see what you have as genuine qualities, strengths and weaknesses.
An idea: Often thought, with some foundation, to be the most important bit. What are you actually going to do/sell/deliver?
Understanding of the competition: You won’t be the only one doing it. What do the others do well, that you have to match, and do badly, that you have to be better at?
A business plan: Don’t just wing it. Plan it.
A mentor: You don’t know everything. Someone else will have been in a similar place before you. Use that wisdom.
A legal basis: Register your business. Make it legal. Pay your taxes. Don’t think you’re above all that.
Get all that right and you’re well on the way. When you’re a trillionaire, remember us little people…
Thumbnail by Hamad AL-Mohannna via Flickr cc

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The best email tools to connect teachers, students, and parents

The best email tools you say? I have an app for that, though! Whatever fancy social media tools you might use to keep in touch with students and parents – Edmodo, Facebook, Twitter, Slack – you may find that the most effective way of keeping in touch is email. It can be targeted, the messages can be aimed directly to those who need to hear – and people will open them. Email (still) works, no matter what the hipsters tell you.
We’ve shuffled through a plethora of options to find you the best email tools out there.  Here you’ll find the best ways to manage your email lists and the content within them. They all approach the same issues in slightly different ways, so play around and see what suits you best.

The best email tools to connect teachers, students, and parents 

View more lists from Jimmy Leach

And talking of email… don’t forget to sign up for the finest in the education market.
Thumbnail by Kelly Schott via Flickr cc

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The IT approach to education leaves pupils over-protected

It’s almost a theological battle – the digital guys versus the IT people.

From the outside, there’s plenty of people who assume that IT and digital are the same thing – both a bit nerdy, both spend a lot of time on computers.

But there is a fundamental difference between them, and it’s one which determines the nature of how your school uses EdTech, and that, in turn, helps decide how pupils are equipped for using digital tools in their school work and, later, their professional lives.

To put it (over) simplistically – the IT people like a project; the digital people prefer constant change. The two don’t have to be wholly incompatible, but its an approach which can cause a clash. An IT project is predictable – when it is delivered well, it will have a launch date, a budget and a lifespan. We will know what devices it will work on and we will know what level of support we can commit to, in order to adapt to the more extreme of the changes in the wider world. An IT project might last for 3-4 years and it will be recognisably the same at the end of that period as it was at the start. It brings stability, and thus the ability to plan and budget accordingly.

A ‘digital’ world view is simply that the world is constantly in flux and that you may as well try to keep up with it. Projects are much shorter, more unpredictable and will continue to change. Any digital project that makes it to a 4 year lifespan will be almost unrecognisable by the end of that. Digital projects will change the tech, the platform, the supplier multiple times. It will be based on the idea that so much changes over an 18 month period in the world of technology that planning for the long term is useless.

In education, the IT guys are in the ascendancy. A risk-averse culture that is common in public service industries (and education counts, even when privately supplied) likes to plan for the long-term and likes to remove variables. The best example of that might be the reliance on the virtual learning environment – a controlled space where nothing unapproved can intrude. In many ways it makes sense, and gives the institution charged with the child’s welfare, a measure of control.  Good intentions and a perfectly respectable outcome.

But it’s not how the real world works, and it’s not how it works the minutes those pupils walk outside of the school gate, when the filters are off, on their own devices at least, and the internet is there to be explored. They will find some horrors, for sure, and ISPs can do more to protect. But the full-scale censorship of the traditional school IT approach means that pupils don’t learn how to do their own filtering. They will be fascinated by much that is inappropriate, but they also need to learn to make their own judgements on whether content is appropriate – and also whether it’s true, balanced, useful and applicable.

In short, it helps them make sense of an increasingly digital world and how they actually use tech – for their amusement, for their education and, in future for their work – this more fluid approach usually means that work/leisure/learning is done through a variety of sources and tools. Different sources of content, and different tools to use them. Essentially, the front page of a digital life is Google,  not a VLE.  Content from everywhere, and the tools might be a bit of Gmail here, a dabble with Dropbox there, maybe connect through a social platform, maybe aggregate through Pinterest.

While some say that pupils, in an age of Google, don’t need to learn facts, just skills, then the key skill is the ability to analyse and understand those facts, and work out the veracity and importance of information put in front of them. By putting filters between children and content, they don’t learn how to judge the quality of what is in front of them since everything put to them is ‘good’. If you’ve never seen ‘bad’ content, why would you assume it exists?

It’s admirable for the IT guys to want to have a world which is on-budget and to look for ways to protect children from the worst excesses, but hide them from everything and they’ll never know how the digital world really operates.

Thumbnail via Ryan Tyler Smith on Flickr cc

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