Author Archives: Jimmy Leach


5 really quick videos to help use Google in the Classroom

Yes, we know Google tools are usually pretty intuitive and simple. And that, often, includes Classroom. But, just occasionally, you get stuck. But the internet is always here to help (often with a nudge from Google themselves). These videos, some as short as twenty seconds, can help with some of those little tricks to make your day go easier, and you look cooler…

Using Google apps – the basics

Share from other apps

Snap a photo

Using tablets for Google Play

Using Google maps in the classroom

Thumbnail by jacinta lluch valero via Flickr cc

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When will schools imitate work life again?

The classroom model of teaching borrows, heavily, from the Industrial Revolution. The whole process of co-location, of everyone performing identical tasks before leaving for home at the same time each day was modelled on the factory model of the 19th century. The Dark Satanic Mills of industry were mimicked in education.

But we’re entering a post-industrial age, especially in Western economies and that model of working is less and less the norm. Fewer of us spend our days at work in factories and, while the office is hardly a radical departure in terms of co-location, it is much more rare, nowadays, for people to share the same identical tasks in the workplace.

Whatever frippery of the modern age that we’re producing in our new-era jobs, the working model is becoming more and more varied – more people are working in smaller companies and start-ups of fewer than a dozen people. Even in larger companies the old-style production line has been automated, and the workforce are more likely to be in a role where their work is unique, and where they don’t have daily tasks set from above, their role includes decision making about what they do and the self-organising to do it. They have roles, not jobs. Even the co-location norm is fading with technology allowing people to work remotely, while still being connected.

Disparate locations. Probably different time-keeping too. Different tasks. Devolved decision-making. Working solo and making their own decisions on priorities.

None of this sounds like the modern classroom. While communications technology has changed the work model that the education system is based on, it has yet to change education itself to the new, more fluid ways. Which is to be expected – this new approach is yet to settle, for one thing, and it’s a difficult one for schools to pull off. It’s nothing short of a revolution – but we know the ingredients are there – personalised learning delivered through data and technology; the flipped classroom model of solo working and fewer shared interactions and digitally-led independent working. It can all be done – and if schools are truly to prepare pupils for work, then, while we might have to be patient, it’s the only way to go …

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The 8 things to make your new education blog work

If you’re tempted by the idea of blogging about your work and your (teaching) profession, the chances are that there are as many different reasons for you to do so, as there are people reading this page.
It may be that you want to share best practice; to reach out and build a community around your subject; to share your experiences from the front line; to enter the process of writing as a way of organising your thoughts…
It could be any of them, or a combination of them, but what all bloggers have in common, by definition, is that they make their work public and that kind feel like a rather exposing process. You’ll publish and you’ll become paranoid about what people think of you, what they are making of your opinions, your blog design, your writing style – or, even worse, that you’re writing but no-one is reading …
So try these tips (from someone who rarely blogs but reads a lot of them):

  • Indulge yourself – write about the things you want to write about, rather than second-guessing what ‘your audience’ might want. As they say about novelists – write about what you know. As you demonstrate what you want to talk about. The audience will find you (if you take the rest of the advice, at least).
  • But try and stay ‘on topic’. If people are reading your blog it’s because you have perceived expertise (or even genuine expertise). So stick to that. As you build an audience, you can talk about wider things, but don’t vary too wildly, you’ll start to lose people.
  • You’ll show your coherence on topic with tags. Always tag your posts with the keywords. It’ll help people find you content (and remind you of the degree of discipline you need on subject matter).
  • Keep it punchy and accessible. You’re writing long-form content, but keep it pithy. Stick to hundreds, rather than thousands of words and keep the terminology as accessible as possible. Don’t use the arcane management speak you use when you’re trying to justify spending a higher budget, stick to language that the enthusiastic lay-person would understand.
  • Don’t be put off by the tech. Choose a simple platform like Medium (where you get what you’re given) or WordPress, where you can choose from a range of free themes. Pick something nice. Stick with it. Simple.
  • Always link out. Don’t try and keep people on your page, that’s a futile battle. Link to the stuff you’re referencing and to the useful content which has informed your views. That way you become a curator as well as a writer of content. And that’s so much more useful. You can link to content in a new window, if it makes you feel better.
  • If you don’t promote your content on social media, it’s like writing a letter and never posting it. So self-promote through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn… If you make sure people know you’ve posted stuff, then you can make sure people read it.

If you don’t fancy starting a blog of your own, write for someone else. You want to write for a website read by thousands and thousands of education professionals? Then start right here.

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7 cutting-edge apps that connect parents and teachers

The parents/teacher relationship used to happen once a term at parents’ evenings when every parent can have 5 minutes with each teacher to discuss a whole term’s work, while the next parents in the queue eavesdropped.
These new-fangled communications technologies we’re always talking about mean that schools can be in near-constant contact with parents to send reminders and messages and help keep their kids’ education and welfare on the straight and narrow:
A free app that allows teachers to safely send text messages to parents and students regarding homework project, deadlines and school activities, organizing those messages by subject. Telephone numbers are not seen (making it safe for everyone) and you can easily archive the message history. You can also send voice mails and icons – meaning it is inclusive for parents who don’t share English as their first language.
Buzzmob is a location-based platform that connects the wider school community (administrators, teachers, parents and students) and, again, offers the opportunity to send reminders and information on key aspects of school life.
Class Messenger
Class messenger is another form of direct, two-way messaging that strengthens the connection between parents and teachers and allows both parties to communicate about a student’s potential, progress, strengths, struggles and so forth. It can be used on a phone, computer or table. Parents can join a class and engage in a dialogue with teachers who can send test results, reminders, photos and even videos.
Google For Education
A Google+ for the classroom in which teachers can create groups and share documents to be viewed and edited by that class as well as have hangouts, share calendars and launch websites. Anyone in that group can see all their classes, find assignment deadlines, download files and contact the teacher, including parents, if they’re included.
VolunteerSpot is aimed at providing wider support to the school community – it helps an app that helps organize group meetings, e-mails, and parent-teacher meetings as well as organizing volunteers for events and trips and parent chaperones.
Arguably the best known of the lot, with more than 35 million users – around half the schools in the US are using it. It captures and generates data on behaviour that teachers can share with parents and administrators, while helping teachers inform parents about behaviour they want to encourage at home as well, for example, “helping others” and “persistence”.
Hugely popular, not least as a result of its apparent familiarity – it looks and works a lot like Facebook. It lets parents, teachers and students to communicate and collaborate by sending messages, sharing photos, setting calendar reminders and much more.
In the US, Edmodo has been supporting teachers with their preparation for the Common Core Educational Standards by launching Snapshot, a free tool that delivers a clear picture of students’ performance data. In the UK, they have gone for a content partnership with Cambridge University Press, aimed at creating “standard-aligned content” to help with the new curricula, launching later this year

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30 Twitter accounts to make you smarter

Many people will dismiss social media as a space where inanities rule, where people tweet about their bus journeys and their breakfast. Oh, for some profundity.
There’s plenty of that on Twitter, for sure, but if that’s all you see, you’re looking at the wrong people. Follow this selection of brain boxes and learn about the latest in science, education, the arts, business and journalism, and more from these far-thinking folk. And what they eat for breakfast, of course.

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Does the profit motive work against EdTech?

The economics of both state-provided and private education are always making life difficult for those who spend their days balancing budgets. Schools don’t have a lot of money. Even the rich ones. We get that.
The result is that, right across the industry, even in the private sector where the institution itself is dedicated to its own margins, there is a suspicion about suppliers who chase a profit. Margins are for other people, education is a vocation.
This isn’t about the profit motive in private schools – that’s an issue that bears longer discussion than this piece – but about how those running schools, somehow, seem to live in a world where they assume that everyone – from those who drive the buses to those who make the lunches to those who make the apps that keep children educated even on their mobiles – are all doing it from higher motives. Higher motives and lower margins.
Surely, the thought goes, no-one does this for the money, no-one would exploit the education of a child in that way? In other words, there’s a moral confusion about profit in the sector.
While few app-makers in the sector are profit-making, plenty are profit-seeking – and the aspirations of developers do marry with those of educators – for the techies to have any hope of making any kind of cash, they need to create a product that improves educational outcomes. The success of a product depends on its utility. Unless the developers create a successful product, the profit debate is irrelevant.
Yet still, plenty of EdTech entrepreneurs report that schools, school districts and school chain find plenty of little ways to make them feel uncomfortable for wanting to add a margin. But those making educational tools can’t really slip in some money-spinning ads (even if adverts did spin money), and not everyone can be the Khan Academy and bankrolled by some hefty backers to the point where no-one even thinks of turning a dollar.
But without some financial incentive, the education sector will, and indeed does, struggle to find innovation and quality content. It’s a tricky balance – developers need to eat and feed their families too. Schools work to very tight budgets, but they have to remember – a failed start-up educates no-one.

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6 free online courses that will boost your science skills

When people talk about education and it’s digital revolution, the conversation quickly turns to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) – the model that’s supposed to change the digital model for higher education forever.
Only, it’s not quite there yet.
Research by the Penn Graduate School of Education (from the University of Pennsylvania), looking at 1 million students on 16 courses run through Coursera, showed that only half of those enrolled look at a single lecture and an average of 4% completed the course.
Let’s assume that there’s nothing wrong with the product, and nothing wrong with the theory that easier access to education is No Bad Thing. It’s something else. It’s a commitment thing. It’s too much to ask, too big a shift in ‘consumer’ behaviour, from directed learning to self-directed.
So perhaps we should get used to this new style of learning in easier ways. Self-direction without the pressures. Accessing some of the finest academic minds, but because you want to, not because it’s a compulsory step in your education paperchase.
And if its education for its own sake, then look at these as a starting point. Six of the best/most intriguing free online courses focusing on science, from some of the best boffins around.
Dip in, get used to the idea, and follow the video trails they offer til you find what you’re intrigued and interested in.
So dive in, make yourself clever…

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The case for coding is over-done: learning to consume comes first

Everyone should know how to fix cars. The important skill is not driving, it’s the ability to fix the carburetter that’s the important thing. Similarly, it’s not the skill of cooking that’s key, it’s the know-how to fix the oven that’s the main thing.
Sometimes, it feels that that is the argument around getting kids to code. That the consumption of digital products is less important than the creation. It’s understandable, and forgiveable, but the drive to make coding the language of the 21st Century (Mandarin or Spanish are so last century) feels increasingly overdone.
There are more readers than writers; more theatregoers than playwrights, more people in the stalls of a cinema than behind a camera. We are, by nature, more likely to be consumers than creators.
Yet that hasn’t stopped the noise. ‘Students need to code.’ ‘Primary school children need to code. ‘Can we teach coding in the womb?’
Driven by fears of a skills gap in the UK and US especially and worries that Indian/Polish/Rusian coders (delete according to fashion or prejudice) are getting a head start, then coding clubs, academies, coding hours and school departments are popping up everywhere from Shoreditch to Saskatchewan.
And maybe we should calm down a little.
For one thing, we have yet to teach children how to consume, yet alone create. The skills of research, analysis and judgement which will be so important in a flipped classroom future have not yet been embedded. Research for pupils, as for their parents, rarely goes beyond the front page of Google.
So the coding advocates may need  to step back from that a little. To understand the nature of their own market.
And the coding movement doesn’t actually need people to learn coding. Its needs them to learn logic, not Javascript.
Logic underpins algorithms, and pupils can learn logic better without a device – they can learn sequences with wooden blocks, they can see patterns in colours, not in coding language. As with any language, it’s a more coherent progression to learn the grammar before hitting the literature; to learn French vocabulary, before attempting Voltaire.
And its a lot easier to read Voltaire than to write it.

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Understand when to reach for the tablet (or the laptop)

Occasionally you come across a kind of theological divide in EdTech around whether to focus on learning through the  iPad or via the laptop. Which is like wondering whether to have fish or vegetables for your dinner. Both are fine, but they don’t fill the same need.

The problem with seeing the laptop/iPad issue as an either or is that they can complement each other, not replace them. Effectively, you should see one as an instrument of consumption and one as an instrument of creation.

So, budget allowing (and recognising that is not a trivial issue), schools should look at how the iPad can encourage the consumption of content, especially that which is ‘native’ to the hardware – content which encourages an almost physical interaction – using the fingers to zoom in on detail or to rotate or swipe. It’s that tactile element which is especially important for younger pupils.

The iPad (or, indeed other tablets, the brand here is shorthand for tablet) also enables students to create their own media – take pictures, record audio, and video, and to do so on the hoof, telling multimedia stories that demonstrate their understanding of a subject in ways which the old-fashioned essays never could.

Which is fine – but the old-fashioned essay has its place. Long-form writing is still the way many students will be assessed in many subjects and the serious research and creation of full-length projects is still better suited to the laptop. Try tapping out a few thousand words on a tablet. If you want students to do the hard yards and create work of complexity then the iPad skims the surface too much, it feels too frivolous a device. And if your workflow for home assignments is based around creation documents in shared formats and uploading them to a shared environment, then the laptop is the only way.

For convenience, and creativity, reach for the iPad. To draw it together in some serious work, flip open the laptop.

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Digital Compass – Gaming the way to digital citizenship?

There has long been talk of gamification in education. It’s been quite the buzzword for some time, but without any real sense of how gaming technology might be harnessed for actual educational outcomes. There has been much energy expended on using games to engage pupils (ie ‘it’s better than real lessons’), but little on how that might be focussed on something useful.
So a step in that direction from the estimable Common Sense Media is worth a look.
Digital Compass is a gaming platform which teaches students in grades 6-9 about the skills of digital literacy and citizenship. Based on Common Sense’s own K12 Digital Literacy and Citizenship curriculum, it looks at topic such as cyberbullying, privacy and security, creative credit and copyright, information literacy, Internet safety, digital footprint and reputation, self-image and identity, relationships and communication. And all through a choose-your-own-adventure format, which puts puts students in the role of one of eight characters (four male, four female), each of whom is faced with a series of digital dilemmas. Students determine their character’s actions – and the story’s outcomes – by making a series of decisions between one of two options as the story progresses.
Speaking via the medium of press release, Dr Michael Carter reckoned: “We know that good learning games engage students more than lectures, improve retention over text, support higher order thinking skills, and encourage kids to persist and try, try again. Digital Compass does all this in a developmentally appropriate way that challenges middle schoolers to explore, experiment, make decisions, rationalize, take risks, judge conventions, assert individuality, express themselves, and interact with peers, within a safe, walled-garden experience
AT&T is currently sponsoring Digital Compass, so it’s free for schools and families to use.  Versions of the app for tablets (iOS and Android) as well as a version designed to work on the Edmodo platform will be available in app stores at the end of this month.
Have you tried Digital Compass? Put your comments and ratings in the box below if you have, and let us know.

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