The films and TV series to help English speakers learn a foreign language

We all know that book-learning can only take you so far when it comes to learning a language. The real challenge (and even fun!) comes when you start applying it to real life scenarios. One way to ease yourself into applying all your hard-earned language skills is by watching foreign films and TV series.

By virtue of being something that you can pause and rewind, both films and series are great for helping both new and experienced language learners alike ‘get their ear in’ to the different tones and speeds of language, as well as helping you learn a little slang and cultural knowledge along the way!


  1. Skam (TV Series) – This is a great watch for those who want easy and everyday conversations. Based on the daily lives of Norwegian teenagers, watching this TV series is a great way to pick up slang and other cultural insights.
  1. Frikjent (TV Series) – If you’ve picked up on the Nordic Noir obsession, then this is the one for you. Centred around a businessman who returns to his Norwegian hometown, this intrigue-fuelled crime drama is great for language learners as the characters often repeat the crime and mystery at hand to different members within their community. If at first you don’t succeed, this TV series lets you try and try again!
  1. Askeladden – I Dovregubbens hall – This film is based on a well-known Norwegian folk tale, so perfect for those who want to learn a little more about the culture. It follows the story of a poor farmer’s boy who goes on a quest to save a princess and defeat a vile troll. With an easy to digest plotline, this film allows the language learner to focus on the language and not need to understand every word to keep up with the story.


  1. Millennium Trilogy – From a country famous for its crime dramas, the original Swedish version of this trilogy is one of the most successful franchises to come from Sweden for nationals and non-nationals alike. Beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the entire series of films is great if you want a mix of everyday conversation and the thrill of a gripping plot line.
  1. Anything based on the books of Astrid Lindgren – A popular topic of small-talk in Sweden, this author wrote books for children that have now been turned into films that are great for adults and children alike. Titles such as Pippi Långstrump and Barnen i Bullerbyn are perfect for those who want to pick up Swedish, as they use a lot of language that you might hear every day and include a lot of repetition.
  1. En man som hete Ove – This Oscar nominated feature film is centred around an old man who becomes friends with his neighbours of varying ages, so great for anyone that is keen to learn more about Swedish culture! This feel-good comedy also includes a lot of short conversations, so it’s perfect for helping language learners pick up new vocabulary.

See also: Why, and how, do we swear?


  1. El laberinto del fauno – This award-winning film is a fairy tale for adults that mixes the stark reality of a post-civil war Spain, with a romantically grim mythical world of a young girl. As well as being a must-see film, the vocabulary that can be picked up from this film cuts to the core of Spanish history and mythology.
  1. El secreto de sus ojos – Another blockbuster hit is this Argentinian film, which is great to learn more about Spanish speaking countries outside of Spain. Based on a court case, this film is filled with useful vocabulary around crime, justice, and society.
  1. Las chicas del cable (TV series) – If you like watching series and learning in short bursts then this entertaining TV program is great to picking up everyday vocabulary. Though it is set in 1920s Spain, the themes of love, friendship and work provide some great insights into Spanish culture.

See also: Five reasons why you need languages, not muscles if you want to find love


  1. Alles is liefde – This romantic comedy was inspired by Love Actually and even won several Dutch film awards. Language learners will be able to immerse themselves in the fun-loving film and pick up vocabulary for everyday conversations, as well as some Dutch culture. The title song was recorded by BLØF – a famous Dutch band!
  1. Ja zuster, nee zuster – Originally a successful series from the 1960s, this film was updated for a 2002 audience, and turned into a great musical film. Great for music lovers, this film uses lots of repetition in the songs and the everyday vocabulary used is easy to understand.
  1. Gooische vroouwen – One of the most successful films of all time, this movie is centred around the lives of four female friends. Set in the Netherlands, language learners will be able to spot some stunning pieces of Dutch architecture, as well as get a feel for the everyday vocabulary used by the characters.


  1. Que horas ela volta? – Sundance Film Festival award-winner, this film is perfect for those who want to learn more about Brazilian society. The plot follows a mother who works as a housekeeper in a wealthy family home, and how tensions rise when her daughter comes to live in the family’s house. The conversations had in the film are a highlight for Portuguese learners, as they are easy to follow but also highlight some key differences in language and grammar between Portuguese from Portugal, and the Brazilian variety.
  1. 3% (Netflix series) – For Portuguese learners who like their content on the go, this TV series is a must-watch. It’s great for picking up the odd word of Brazilian slang (and even the occasional swear word!).
  1. O outro lado da rua – A romantic thriller, this film takes place in Copacabana in Brazil and follows the story of an elderly and lonely woman turned investigator. Portuguese learners are bound to appreciate the slow dialogue in this film, as well as giving them a view into one of the most well-known neighbourhoods in Brazil.

Miriam Plieninger is Director of Didactics and part of the Management Team at Babbel, where, if you’re hooked by international film, and want to learn more, their language courses in 14 different languages are here to help!

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What is learning in ‘blinks’, and why you should do it

For many of us, studying is over the minute we leave school or university. However, as we settle into our adult routines, many find that the craving for new information returns. Sadly, as an adult, it can be a little more difficult to find the time to learn new things, as we are often juggling many tasks and responsibilities. This is where learning in blinks comes into play.

Think of that non-fiction book you wanted to read to improve your career, to become a more mindful person or to simply learn something new. Well, a book-in-blinks is that book, condensed into a fifteen minute text and audio format, that you can dive into on your commute or as you workout, while cooking, or whenever you have a spare minute.

Why should you do it?

Blinks teach you new things

The most obvious benefit of a book-in-blinks is also the most important one – it will teach you something new. You don’t need to carve out time and money to attend an after-work class, or make painstaking notes as you read something new. Learning in blinks gives you information in short bursts, making it easier to commit to your memory and, if you forget something, the information is right there, kept safe on your phone.

Blinks help you maximise your downtime

In a world where every moment is filled with something and every minute is spent rushing from A to B, a tool that can maximise your downtime is invaluable. By learning in blinks, you don’t have to worry about finding the time to read, or fret about freeing up time on your schedule to sit down with a new book. Every spare fifteen minutes can be used to learn something new, instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media or worrying about your to-do list.

Blinks give you choice

If you are someone who is interested in a bit of everything, you might often be faced with the difficult choice of prioritising. Do you want to focus on improving your productivity, or would you rather discover new ways of being healthy? Should you find out about your subconscious or learn about great historic events? Books-in-blinks give you the chance to do all of this, switching from listening to one of the world’s greatest thinkers, to reading about corporate culture, in the blink of an eye.

Blinks allow you to stay up-to-date

Whether you are worried that you don’t have enough to contribute during work meetings, or perhaps you are the one left listening while your friends converse about the issues of the day, learning in blinks will make you feel more interesting. You can woo your friends with your knowledge of psychology, or impress your boss with your insights into sustainable business models, or maybe discuss the main points of Fire and Fury on your next date.

Ben Hughes is head of content at micro-learning app and platform Blinkist.

See also: There is more to learning that Ted Talks

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Why it’s time to regulate social media in schools

It is spring time, and once again I am planning a new network security plan for a school. The same issues as always, and the same questions, many involving social media.

All questions usually have answers with a price tag attached. Value in such planning is very subjective. After all, we spend money every year managing free apps on iPads, how does that make financial sense?

One question cannot be answered. Regardless of my due diligence and the school’s willingness to fund a comprehensive plan, students will still have phones. Those phones will have data plans. Those data plans circumvent all the work we do. Parents do not seem to care, because they are worried about having that device for logistics and emergencies.

These devices are addictive, and the applications are purely for entertainment and dopamine-driven feedback loops.

Yes, the network can manage the problem when students are on Wifi; but not when the students are on their own network.

Jamming signals is not legal in most countries, and localized jamming seems to cover very large spaces. Even if it was legal, it would impact other services.

I believe all problems can be solved, and I believe I have a solution for this one. Generically, I like to call it Social Media for Education.

Social Media for Education Explained

The core concept is simple. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., would offer an educational package. I firmly believe this should be a paid service for schools that can afford it, and free for schools that can demonstrate hardship. If you consider the cost of properly  blocking Apps on Wifi ($10-50 USD per student per year), this service would be viable if priced appropriately.

The social media companies would follow a Google Apps or O365 model for schools to join. They would require any person under the age of 18 to register as a student connected to a school.

For example, schools who sign-up would be given a school code, and could provide a student ID based roster for cross-referencing. Any person under 18 would be required to connect their profile to a school or education program of some sort(some students are home schooled or have other types of educational plans).

Unless they are connected to some type of educational plan, they simply cannot use social media until they are 18 years of age.

Schools who join would receive these benefits:

  1. Social media profiles are deactivated from 8:00 am – 3:00 pm everyday, in the timezone set by the school. This prevents VPN access from spoofing the clock.
  2. Schools could centralized a two steps homework system. Teachers would use Social media to circulate messages related to the school, and unless students confirmed all messages have been received (read), their profiles would not be activated. Although confirming a message has been seen does not equal work completed, it does mean the student acknowledged receiving the message. Blocking all other activities until all messages are cleared would prioritize the school’s notifications.
  3. Since all students can be identified and connected to a school or program, cyber-bullying would be easier to manage. Schools would need to make a request for data, but that data would connect to a student ID (most likely), and a verified location.

I have thought of more options, but, I would consider the above a tier one solution.

See also: The DOs and DON’Ts of social media for teachers

It Cannot Work Unless There is Regulation

It is clear from current practices, such as not enforcing the age restrictions for users, that social media companies will not offer services to schools that help disconnect students during their academic day.

In places like France, the government is physically banning phones from campuses. Other schools follow strict device confiscation policies. These measures only create a black market for phones, theft among students, and a burden on families who are victims of theft.

Trying to regulate property, and potentially facing liability issues related to property, is not the path to follow to solve this problem.

Governments need to simply require social media companies, or any company making a communications product, to provide the an identity and connection management system for those under the age of 18.

Those over 18 already have to use multiple methods to verify themselves when making new accounts. However, students seem to be able to join social media using devices and phone numbers that are not even legally in their own name. Think about that? I give my child a phone and number, they use it to join Facebook? How is that legal or even verified?

Not Enrolled in School = No Social Media

Compulsory Education around the world varies. Very few countries report having no compulsory education requirements.

No Requirement Based on Previous Data
Oman 0 2007
Solomon Islands 0 2002
Cambodia 0 2008
Holy See (Vatican City) 0 2007
Tokelau 0 2007
Bhutan 0 2008

The world-wide impact of adopting social media regulation of this caliber would equate to those under 18 not being allowed on social media, if they could not demonstrate they were enrolled in some type of educational program.

Likely, many countries would not participate in such regulation at all. However, it really only has to be country by country. As international as these platforms seem to be, connections students have are usually very local. Most students have their primary social network within the school they attend. That means their social media time is literally just interacting with people they could easily look at and speak with.

If Facebook in India were not participating, that would not impact a school in Korea. If students were to move from country to country (or school to school), they would have to re-register. The meta data from that behavior alone would help confirm drop-out rates, possible issues within school districts, etc. I believe the unknown benefits of the data would be substantial. Observer effect issues and data manipulation by school administration would be reduced.

I have been working with teenagers since 2005. I have worked with students from over 100 countries. I have been a technology disruptor, more times than I have supported the status quo. I believe in BYOD programs, and any students I have worked with will confirm I empower them to lead and make decisions. I know when I see a problem in the plan and the patterns. I know when students are not engaged, and when they are not learning. Mobile devices with addictive applications are a real problem. The design is an addictive design, and the effects are powerful. I hate regulation, but unfortunately, I think we are there.

More from Tony DePrato here. 

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The timesaving guide to bringing technology into schools

Consider this your straightforward digital guide that will get any school on the path to effective technology integration.

Getting Started

Any educational organisation is looking to see how digital media will disrupt its organisational model. And it will quickly come to the conclusion that it needs, in part at least, in order to be able to offer education across digital media and, in doing so, create different models for education delivery beyond the classroom. It needs to transform the way it looks at delivering education, not just to offer a digital alternative to the traditional model, but also to give students exposure to mechanisms of learning they will use throughout their adult working lives.

There are a number of models of blended learning, but it’s more a matter of the mindset – to allow different schools to adopt different approaches – than it is about being prescriptive. But there are useful approaches to share:

There will be no one-size model for every school to adopt wholesale – the schools will be on a spectrum of digitisation – from fairly basic adoption to a full-scale blended model. To succeed, digital must be a part of the way you do things, and not a separate team or workstream which is all too easy for the rest of the organisation to ignore. This is, therefore, about embedding digital across the whole school, so that, within, say, five years, your school is an organisation which is digital by default.


Photo by Marta Markes on Unsplash

The Ingredients

To create a digital organisation, there must be a number of key ingredients:

Platform: A digital platform that allows for your school to adapt it to your own needs, which is intuitive for the user while containing the functional needs of parents, student and teachers

Content: Content on that platform that meets and anticipates those needs. This content will come from the curation of quality content on the web, the signing of school-wide licencing deals and the creation of bespoke school content (which may have re-sale value)

Format: A policy on formatting which understand the digital habits of pupils, teachers and parents

Digital PD: A program of digital professional development for teachers which encourages them to adopt digital methodologies and encourages them to do so.

IT needs: A program of needs analysis with your IT team to enable them to equip schools with the capacity to deliver digital education and the creation of digital delivery programs for each school.

Digital curriculum: A program to develop a digital curriculum for pupils to set accepted standards across the network (with the provision for different standards for different schools models) on devices, formats, storage, behaviour and so on.

Data: The long-term adoption of better data gathering on attendance, performance, achievement etc to create data profiles of pupils to better personalise and incentivise their education.

– Digital culture: The creation of a culture of innovation and experimentation to allow the digitally savvy to develop their own digital work, with a network to share that best practice

– Partnerships: Your school is new to the market – to fast-track understanding, you could make partnerships with companies large and small to facilitate speedier delivery of projects

– Profitability: Digital content is unlikely to make huge profits, and that may not be the driving force for your school, but there will be instances where you can re-format content and take it to markets outside of the school network to make some money (to be reinvested) and build a reputation for digital delivery and innovation

– Reputation: A newly digitised school needs to change its external reputation to one of a digitally aware company. Much of this comes from delivering rather than talking about it, but you must look to change the way you present ourselves. This starts with the websites, but also includes your presence at conferences, your range of contacts, your external messaging.

See also: 5 digital tools (and tips) that will help new school leaders

Photo: Unsplash






Fundamentals To Consider

As with any digital media project, there are certain fundamentals which have to be thought through:

1) Audience – user-centred learning

Both students and teachers will better engage with digital curriculum resources that explicitly address the target audience profile and the intended objectives and that are aligned with curriculum and assessment standards.

To ensure your resource is focused on the target learner:

  • Describe who the target user is (eg background, age, language)
  • Take into account their prior knowledge of the subject
  • Define the learning objectives of the resource, aligning them with the relevant curriculum content descriptions and achievement standards
  • Be aware of the need to be inclusive (eg by taking into account l earning styles, cultures, disabilities, genders)
  • Consider how the resource is likely to be used (eg alone, as part of a group, with or without teacher support)
  • Plan the context, content and behaviour around engaging the target user (eg visuals, interactivity, humour, media types).

2) Interactivity

Effective digital learning design uses interactivity to engage the user in a meaningful activity with a purpose.

Digital curriculum resources offer opportunities for varied interactive experiences, enabling learners to:

  • Make choices and decisions
  • Inquire, investigate and problem solve
  • Gain feedback on progression and achievement
  • Interpret information and apply new knowledge in a range of contexts
  • Develop and present final products
  • Communicate and collaborate.

3) Engagement

Engagement and motivation are achieved through a mix of aesthetic, technical and educational design.

Things to consider that are central to engaging learning design:

  • How to achieve a high level of interaction (for individual learners, between groups of learners and between learners and the teacher)
  • What sort of innovation and creativity will stimulate highly technology-literate learners
  • The needs of teachers or facilitators at all levels and stages of schooling and in different learning areas, including those new to the online environment
  • The requirements of the learning environment itself (online or classroom-based)
  • How the resource is likely to be used (eg alone, as part of a group, with or without teacher support)
  • The type of content likely to engage the target user (eg visuals, interactivity, humour, media types).

4) Structured Learning

In digital curriculum resources, a structured learning approach can help consolidate the process of learning by:

  • Scaffolding student learning
  • Engaging the learner at various levels of complexity
  • Assessing learning as it proceeds
  • Supporting communication and collaboration
  • Using authentic situations.

  5) Education Value

If a digital curriculum resource is not relevant to the content and achievement outcomes identified in the curriculum, teachers and students will not use it, no matter how interactive and engaging it may be.

Where applicable, the resource should be based on an acknowledged pedagogical framework.

Things to consider when planning the value of the digital curriculum resource:

  • What learners will achieve by using the resource
  • Whether the objectives are relevant to a specific curriculum or pedagogical framework
  • How assessment can be embedded in the learning design.

6) Pedagogy

Formalise and share the digital pedagogy with teachers. Don’t restrict it to blended learning schools or the highly digitised, this must (a) come from the top and (b) be shared throughout the organisation. This would also include the systematic delivery of research findings (both ‘for’ digital learning and against

7) Building Skills

Create a series of ICT/digital training modules within the school’s existing PD framework to build skills and confidence in the use and creation of digital materials. This would nee d:

  • A skills audit to assess the general level of understanding of digital and to pick out exemplars amongst the current professionals to use as leaders and examples to the others.
  • Training resources and materials (digital of course), to be used in PD programs. These may even be distributed/sold outside of the the school network, to create revenue streams and show your school as a leader in the field. These may also be created in partnership with other organisations
  • Develop materials especially for non-ICT and non-science teaching to drive digital learning away from the ‘easy wins’
  • ‘Buy in’ digital professional development materials from third party organisations
  • A series of workshops and seminars to create and discuss best practice
  • A series of guest speakers to present and discuss broader digital issues and practices
  • Strong assessment tools to show whether teachers are progressing

8) Sharing Best Practices

Develop ‘lighthouse’ schools that show off the best in breed in digital provision. This could include partnerships with corporations (Apple for example) to deliver such excellence and to do so publicly.

Establish ‘digital champions’ – a teacher (or two) in each school (ideally not the ICT guy) who will be the evangelist and supporter for digital teaching. Allow other teachers to sit in on their lessons to pick up tips to apply within their own lessons.

Establish a communication network across the school to facilitate cross-school professional relationships aimed at building digital capacity.

Embed the best digital work in public facing websites – both the open (marketing) sites and the VLE environment

9) Embedding Skills

You should think about appointing a specialist digital learning coach in your school – training up existing staff but freeing them up to work on the wider brief, and ensuring their skills and knowledge are embedded with the wider school body.

10) Innovation

The key to the success of the digital element of a School of the Future is constant iteration and innovation. The platform that waits for the next version every two years; the formatting protocols which don’t change and the awareness of the possibilities of the innovations brought about by others.

You have to encourage your school – teachers, but also parents and pupils, to use digital to innovate. Innovation is not top-down and is not (always) controlled. You need to give teachers the opportunity to create content, create products and deliver them in new ways. Some will fail, but you need to be more relaxed about that.

11) Embedding a digital culture

You need to set out how you do this in three ways:

i) Encouragement

The best licence to do something is to go ahead and do it. You need to encourage the development of new approaches. You could bring in a series of guest speakers to speak to both the teaching and student bodies; set up ‘hack days’ with local developers to build new teaching tools; contribute and even host conferences on digital learning – become part of an educational digital learning community. This kind of collaboration is also a licence to individual teachers.

ii) Tools & Technical Help

You can’t do a hack day if the wifi doesn’t work, if there’s no in-house APIs or content to work with or if there’s no support. Teachers are there to teach and while some will innovate, you will also need a small enclave of professional and amateur coders and developers to help develop the platform, create or re-format content and so on. These would best be pulled together by a semi-formal group of ICT digital teachers. It already exists and can be put to good use.

iii) Boundaries

Teachers will need to know when they’ve crossed a line – exposing too much pupil data to public view, perhaps, or crossing boundaries on social media. The boundaries are exactly the same on digital as off-line, but a working document about what you expect (including social media policy especially) would be a useful way of making sure that problems encountered are ones of implementation not privacy law…

And finally you need luck, patience, persistence and a little nerve. Good luck…

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Education Work

How to stop the gender gap in tech and coding

There’s a problem in our education systems, leading to a problem in our tech industry – the continued perception that coding is for boys…

When I was younger I wanted to be a games designer. But I didn’t know anything about engineering or coding and for some reason they seemed like impossible subjects, designed for people with completely different brains to mine. I started to think this career path wasn’t for me at all. I’d never heard of any female games designers or engineers and it felt unlikely that it would ever be possible for someone like me to build games.

Despite the introduction of the new UK computing curriculum and the rise in after-school coding clubs, such as CoderDojo and Code Club most girls’ perception of coding and engineering appears to have stayed the same.

This issue is serious and hasn’t been ignored. A multitude of campaigns have been launched, such as Google’s Made With Code program and the European Ada Awards, and more advice is being provided on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) focused careers to encourage more girls to code. However, the fact that only 14% of the STEM workforce in the UK is made up of women suggests that these measures aren’t having much of an impact.

Why, in the 21st Century, are interesting, fascinating subjects such as these not appealing to female students? Only a quarter of girls aged 8-12 say they know anything about engineering, and those that do say it’s ‘too difficult’ and ‘more for boys’* – evidence to suggest that there is social stigma attached.

As a society, we seem to be investing far more time and money trying to achieve gender equality for adults when we should be addressing the root of the problem and understanding why there’s a gender equality gap to begin with. Are imposed gender stereotypes from a young age the problem?

Although obvious adult gender biases are seen as outrageous in our society (see the very funny responses to the ‘Bic’ pens for women campaign), the gender biases children experience on a daily basis are considered to be harmless and acceptable.

Why is this? As adults we are sensitive to sexism yet the majority of us don’t see a problem in allowing young children to grow up believing that boys and girls are very different.

Do separate toys and games, and comments such as ‘boys will be boys and girls will be girls’ really make sense in a world where we’re striving to achieve gender equality?

To eradicate sexism and close the gender equality gap we need to do more than invest millions of pounds in ways to make life more fair and equal for adults. We need to try and eliminate centuries of cultural conditioning which has made the vast majority of adults and children alike believe that men and women are essentially a different species with completely different interests, rather than people with very similar needs.

See also: The Game That Saves Kittens and Teaches Coding

I believe we don’t recall being treated differently at a young age – let alone consider it damaging – because for the most part, boys and girls are treated differently without even realising it. An example of this sort of conditioning is often seen when parents and teachers unnoticingly encourage girls to internalise their low expectations – by saying things like ‘don’t do that, you’ll get your dress dirty’ and ‘nevermind, you’re better at other subjects’. Girls are brought up to play it safe, whilst boys are often told to ‘try harder’. This conditioning is also present in children’s toys, books, TV shows, games, and the advertising that surrounds us too. Sadly, it makes more sense financially to market cooking sets and princesses to girls, and superheroes and cars to boys.

All you need to do is type ‘Girls’ Toys’ and ‘Boys’ Toys’ into Google and look at the images in the results, to see how apparent and perhaps disturbing this is. You will immediately notice a sea of pink for the girls – cooking sets, dolls houses, makeup kits and barbies. Replace ‘Toys’ with ‘Games’ and the imbalance is even more obvious. Free online games for young girls include ‘Barbie’s Fashion Dream Store’, ‘Miraculous Hero Kiss’ and ‘My Pretty Pedicure’.

See also: The Answer To The Skills Crisis May be More Obvious Than You Think

What can we do to try and solve this problem? Toys that challenge and encourage children without pandering to gender biases is one way. Some great examples of this can be seen with games such as Technology Will Save Us and GoldieBlox.

My team and I have created ‘Erase All Kittens’ (E.A.K.) – a web-based, Mario-style platform game designed to inspire both girls and boys to learn practical coding skills, whilst leveraging their creativity and critical thinking skills at the same time.

In E.A.K., children from the age of eight can edit real code that governs the game’s environment, enabling them to build and fix levels as they play, using the languages HTML and CSS. Our aim is to eliminate the fear that many girls initially have of coding, and empower them with practical skills through a highly gamified and story driven approach. Parents can also spend time playing alongside their children, also providing them with an opportunity to learn.

Interestingly, it’s been found that girls’ grades in science and maths correlate directly with the level of anxiety that they have about those subjects. I believe that gender biases in our society are influencing girls to want to look and be perfect – and perhaps as a result they are not as courageous or willing to try and fail in the same way that boys are. This leads to fewer girls taking an interest in STEM subjects which require those characteristics, in turn leading to less women pursuing careers in these fields.

Gender-biased products are always going to exist – but at least now there are more options. If we truly want girls and boys to grow up to have equal opportunities, it’s essential that we place more importance on treating and encouraging them in a similar way from a young age.

See also: Schools Need To Use Code To Empower, Not To Pigeonhole

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How to do well in multiple choice tests (probably)

Exam time is fast approaching and a ridiculous proportion of pupils’ lives will be directed by an apparently random process of multiple choice questions. Of course, the easiest way to ace any test, multiple choice or not, is to do the revision, but even the best-prepared can come unstuck on occasion, so here’s some tips for those moments when you’re just not sure…

And keep in mind that these are far from foolproof…


If it’s a true/false question, favour ‘true’

You’d think that a true/false question would be 50-50, but at least one sampling test has shown that ‘true’ was the answer 56% of the time. A fact is easier to remember than an invented lie so those who devise tests are looking what you know, rather than your knowledge of what is unlikely. They will veer, perhaps unconsciously, to the ‘easier’ way of asking you to confirm something.


Answers will skip a pattern

Whether it is true/false or A/B/C/D multiple choice, the answers will alternate more than would be the case in a genuinely random pattern. So a ‘false’ answer is disproportionately more likely to be followed by ‘true’, or a multiple choice letter (D, perhaps) is unlikely to be the answer twice in a row. So, if you’re pretty certain on one answer but guessing the next, you’ll be better off choosing a different answer than the previous known response.


See also: Why parents and teachers should let students fail


Choose the longest answer

The longest answer on multiple-choice tests can often be the one. The right answer has to be indisputably correct so sometimes that means some qualifying language, not required by the wrong answer.  If one choice is noticeably longer than its counterparts, it’s likely to be the one you need.


Avoid the outliers

The examiner’s goal is to hide the right answer by offering up credible alternatives. If the choices are (A) Red roses; (B) stick insects; (C) runner beans; (D) basil. So, ask which doesn’t belong  – stick insects, obviously, as the only non-plant. Three distractions of the same type is unlikely. Of the two remaining answers, two are edible, one isn’t. So roses can be eliminated as an outlier. Of the two left, it’s noticeable that all the answers are two words, apart from basil. So, in that way, basil is an outlier. Which leaves runner beans as the answer.

Now, remember, these are only tips and knowledge is the best way to pass any multiple choice. But at some point, you’ll be stumped, so put some tactics into your guesswork. Good luck…


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Using passwords with G suite and Office 365 – in kindergarten

If you use G Suite or Office 365 with your school – those students must have a password. If you work with high school students it is easy – they can manage their own password. Heck even middle school students can manage their own passwords (most of the time). What if you want to use these services with elementary students? Now there are some questions. I’ll let you know what we have done and what seems to work for us.

Early childhood – Preschool – Kindergarten

OK – this is pretty easy. Of these two, we only give kindergarten an “account.” What we have done is made a general account (one per class) that the teacher and the teacher’s assistant use. The account has no Gmail and only access to drive for certain projects (mostly slides) that they work on. When they do work on projects the teacher usually logs into the computer or iPad and then lets them work. It takes a little time but it ensures no one has the password and the students aren’t working on it at home.

We haven’t had any issues about accounts or kids doing anything bad since they only use Google Drive while being supervised. If something does happen (a document deleted or a student working on the wrong document) it is usually caught quickly and remedied.

See also: You can now use Microsoft 365 on Chromebooks. Here’s how.

Grades 3 – 4

Now onto grades three and four. This is different. Each student has their own account. Gmail is still turned off but they have access to Google Drive and they have their own password that they know unlike grades K–2.

We used a simple combination of numbers and words and we recorded the passwords down into a chart and we kept a copy and the teachers had a copy. That way teachers could remind students what their password is or we could. Also, if a teacher ever suspected a student was up to some tomfoolery she/he could log into the student’s account and check it out first hand if they need be.

Things worked fine for a while and then the students started talking to one another and started figuring out the password conventions. Can you guess what happened next? I bet you can.

Some brave students then started to log in as other students, create documents and use these Google Docs as a kind of messaging board. It had some mean stuff about others but it wasn’t as awful as you might guess. Due to revision history we could see who wrote what and when. Those particular students were spoken to by administration and their parents were informed. Of course the file was deleted.

The fix

After the administration and the teachers sat the whole class down and talked about treating others with respect and how their Google account is not actually theirs but the schools and that they should expect no real privacy with it.

I then disabled the entire class’s Google access and rolled in and explained that impersonating another person in Google is illegal and tell them about the story of a student from my university who hacked into a girl’s email account, sent her cryptic messages (from her own account) and was investigated and arrested (true story).

Now it was time for them to create their own and unique passwords. We stressed that the only people they should is their parents, their teachers and the IT people. DON’T TELL YOUR FRIEND! Since then we haven’t really had any issues outside of a few students who have forgotten their passwords.

More from Tony DePrato here.

See also: Office 365 for education: What you need to know and don’t want to hear

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Education Health

How universities can do more for students with food allergies

For many youngsters, studying at university is the time of their lives – independence, new friends and learning about something they are passionate about. But for students who suffer from food allergies, this can be their most vulnerable time.

For an awful lot of students, it’s their first time away from home – which means that someone else needs to step in to take that ‘parental’ role seriously. Leaving home for the first time is life-changing for any young person but for those suffering from food allergies it can be a very dangerous time because they are having to manage their allergies for themselves. Prior to this moment, their parents probably cooked for them and did the food shopping, checking labels to ensure things are free from specific allergens.

Peer pressure also has an influence as some allergy sufferers don’t want to feel different and may not take life-saving medication out with them. It’s a significant problem at this stage in young lives, and it’s not looking like it’s going to improve any time soon:

  • Teenagers and young adults are most at risk of severe reactions
  • 50% of children and young people have one or more allergy within the first 18 years of life
  • Each year the number of allergy sufferers increases by 5% half of all affected are children and young people
  • In the last decade, the cases of food allergies have doubled and the number of hospitalisations caused by severe allergic reactions has increased seven-fold

But there’s a number of things that universities and colleges can do (and that parents can be vigilant about):

  • Make sure they have allergen accreditation. It’s a key part of the process of educating your organisation.
  • Have a stand at Freshers Week to talk about food allergen awareness
  • Meet with residential advisors on campus to identify students with food allergies
  • Produce a daily allergen chart for all the dishes being served
  • Hold a briefing before service to educate the counter staff
  • Colour code utensils and allergen-free dishes (I use the colour purple)
  • Publish an online menu cycle
  • Salad bars can be an area of cross-contamination so offer bespoke salad bowls for people with food allergies  
  • Train all staff in the use of epipens
  • Ensure that full nutritional and allergen information is available
  • If the recipe of a dish changes, ensure customers are informed

Get those steps right and the institution will be well on the way to make food safe for students. So that they can get on with enjoying themselves. And studying, of course.


Jacqui McPeake is founder of JACS Allergen Management, giving advice and consultancy on food allergen and intolerance management in the catering industry.


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Video: How language learning may be simpler than you think

We’ve talked before about how we should all set aside a little time to improve ourselves, and language learning is one of the best ways to do that. And for more reasons than you might think.

Now, many of us may look to find the easiest option and learn the languages that are easiest to succeed in, or at least avoid the hardest…

But it might all be a little simpler than we think. These characters in this TEDx video may not be the most charismatic, but they took on the ambitious challenge of learning four foreign languages in a year, while many of us struggle with just one, ever. The secret to success as it turns out is simpler than you think. This is worth a watch if you harbour the forlorn hope of being fluent, one day…

Scott Young is a blogger, speaker and author. He previously spoke at TEDx EastsidePrep about his project “The MIT Challenge” to self-test MIT’s undergraduate computer science curriculum in one year, using their freely available information. His most recent project was with Vat Jaiswal, traveling to four countries, learning languages, with the goal of not speaking English for an entire year. He writes about learning and self-education at his website.

Vat Jaiswal is a graduate student, aspiring architect and filmmaker. His most recent project was with Scott Young on The Year Without English, where he traveled through Spain, Brazil, China, Taiwan and Korea creating four short documentaries on language learning and cultural immersion. His website seems to have collapsed through not renewing his domain, but you can follow him on Twitter.

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Education Work

Can you really ban smartphones from schools (and is it a good idea anyway) ?

My good friend and fellow IT Babbler Tony wrote a piece called Mobile Phone Shutdown about how his school is banning students from using their smartphones during certain hours of the day. It’s good (please give it a read). In the post he identifies some problems that his school is dealing with and outlines a solution to ban phones for students and the hope of the outcome. It is sound. It is a levelheaded response to a problem and, let’s not forget, this is an experiment. It may yield results that are unexpected maybe even unwanted, but no matter what happens, Tony and the people he works with will observe, analyze and make another rational decision later on if needed. It’s not just a plan, it is a process.

There is a lot of talk out there about how terrible these devices are to children. There is an article in the Wall Street Journal that talks about parents trying to grapple when to buy their child a smartphone. Then there is the article in the New York Times that calls out Apple to make a “Less Addictive iPhone”. There is a lot of emotion and reaction in these articles and these topics. You often hear these words when discussing smartphones and students:

– Addiction

– Distraction

– Diminished social skills


– Harmful for developing minds

– Disconnected

– Leads to unhappiness and/or anxiety

– Sleep deprivation

Then there are other articles such as this one from Wired that talks about how smartphones are being demonized and may not be that bad. Then there is this article from Doug Johnson’s The Blue Skunk Blog(great blog and well worth your time if you’re an educator). He says that we might as well learn how to leverage and manage smartphones in schools. Both Wired and Doug Johnson’s blog are written by very well respected professionals like the authors of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Here is the bottom line. There is no missing puzzle piece that will solve this issue for all schools. We have to remember that the iPhone is only ten years old and I am not exactly sure when a majority of students started coming to schools with smartphones but I would take a stab and say 5–6 years ago. So the long term report isn’t in about how bad/awful/great/awesome these devices are to students.

I’m not for or against smartphones in schools. I think that should be a decision made based on a school by school basis and not by a single person.

What I am for are experiments. Trying out solutions, analyzing and discussing the results with the community and moving forward and using a process.

I am not for rash and knee jerk decisions. These are often not so thought out and when results come back that are unexpected, then it is too easy to call the fix it a failure and abandon a policy for another one.

What do you think?

More from Tony at

At what age should students get a smartphone?

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