On wellbeing


It’s fairly commonplace to be self-reflective at this time of year and, for teachers anyway, the holidays are usually when we consider how to improve our own wellbeing. Recovering from a draining term, it has definitely been on my mind…


I was intrigued by the Twitter discussion #teacher5adaySlowChat over the past few days however decided to lurk instead of post. Long-time Twitter friend Robert Macmillan wrote a fantastic discussion piece yesterday on teacher wellbeing. I found this section particularly jarring:

If you are naive enough to believe the pundits and the politicians, then we’re treated quite well. Indeed, the ‘Get Into Teaching’ website preaches that as a “valued professional” you can look forward to:

Job satisfaction, “competitive salary, generous pension”.

It goes on to tell about long holidays in which you can: “pursue your interests, travel and spend time with family and friends.”

Not for them the lower life expectancy that has seen several of my former colleagues die just after retirement.

I wouldn’t paint all schools with this broad brush but have experienced the highs and lows of working in locations where teacher wellbeing is either a high priority or completely ignored. Teaching is a career that can completely overwhelm all other aspects of your life and needs careful attention to ensure that you don’t spend your long holidays recovering from illness, fatigue or stress. My family spent most of the last term swapping bugs which left us all exhausted by Christmas and I’m sure a lot of other teachers would have been in the same boat around the world. Even one week in we’re nowhere near 100%. Hence my preference to lurk and consider at the moment – at least I’m managing to spend time with my family…

Milan traffic ban

Milan is a beautiful, vibrant city with so much variety to observe and explore. However what I found most striking recently was the (non-peak) ban on vehicles in the city. Yesterday the city was eerily quiet between 10am and 4pm for the first time since 1999. I had imagined it would be reminiscent of traffic levels when we arrived in early August, when most of the Milanese head for less stifling heat, however it was completely different. I walked with the kids to a local supermarket and saw a handful of low-emission cars quietly whirr past on the way but was delighted to see how many people were out on the street chatting to neighbours, walking slowly, enjoying the winter sun. For someone who is used to everyone moving quickly and with purpose, it was a unique and enjoyable experience. I don’t know if the vehicle ban is going to help current smog levels to be honest, but it appears to be improving the quality of life for its residents in other ways.

How to be happy

The Guardian article “New year, new you – how to be happy” by Rachel Kelly didn’t contain anything that hasn’t been said before however it groups advice from yoga techniques through to recent screen time recommendations in one easy-to-reference list. I don’t agree with the “60% rule” heading but do feel that sometimes our perfectionism forces us to overwork.

The pros and cons of digital connections

While some of us decide to take regular digital detoxes to improve our wellbeing. While I agree that you need balance between online and offline activities I disagree with the idea that you need to force yourself to take a month off to realise:

The other thing that struck her was just how much pointless “digital noise” there was in her life. “When I got back home, I realised I didn’t have any messages that were actually important, that needed me to do anything. No one had died.”

Without our regular Skype or Appear.in chats with family back in the UK, my Facetime and iMessage discussions with friends and teaching colleagues I would certainly feel very isolated as suggested by the Ages 2.0 project.

#RGCdevicetrial staff drop-in sessions

We are just shy of 3 weeks from the end of the #RGCdevicetrial and I realised I haven’t yet blogged about the weekly staff drop-in sessions. Every week since early March most staff involved in trialing the devices have given up roughly 45 minutes of their afternoon to talk about their experiences, try out other devices and get troubleshooting help for theirs. Every week @stefanhorsman sends the invite to all staff and every week the attendees and questions have been different. In short, it has been a really great thing to do.

This afternoon we met in the Junior School. I love this venue as it already has the WiFi network coveted by the rest of the campus and, as the drop-in session is hosted in one of the device trialist’s classrooms, we have an Apple TV permanently connected so those experimenting with Macbooks, iPads or Windows 8 tabtops (and Air Parrot) can try wireless projection as well as the devices themselves. In addition the room layout lends itself well to both round-table discussion and informal groupings.

The sessions themselves are organic – there is no agenda apart from to experience the devices and take the opportunity to ask questions. People are welcome to arrive late and leave whenever they like. Today we even welcomed our first pupil who was very quick to explain to her (teacher) mother why they really needed an Apple TV at home!

I’ve blogged already about my experiences with the iPad and Kindle Fire (which I’ve been allowed to keep for a week in return for the Dell XPS tablet – I think I got the better deal there!) but has been really interesting to talk to staff and address misconceptions on cost of devices. Most of the time it is assumed that the Apple products are the most expensive (true for the Macbook Air, but not the iPads), the Kindle is the cheapest (ok, by FAR the cheapest) and the Windows products are somewhere close to £300 as “that’s what normal laptops cost”. When I explain that, bar the Macbook each of the Windows 8 / RT devices in our trial are at the top end of the price list, jaws drop.

Today I explained this as I attempted to reinstate the touchscreen on one of the Samsung ATIV Smart PCs: a touchscreen device that allows you to turn off the touchscreen! Not only does it make very little sense, the process is hugely convoluted and therefore difficult for users to remember – meaning troubleshooting at best takes time and at worst requires a visit to IT support and then a longer wait without the device. The Windows devices also need two batch files I created to set up the IPv4 Internet settings correctly for home (or any DHCP network) and school (static IP and DNS servers) use [if these would be useful to you, connect with me on Twitter and ask].

The more I experience the Windows 8 / RT machines the stronger my belief that we should move away from devices where users cannot customise without navigating screens of administrative features that are not linked, grouped or even described particularly well. I don’t think a tenfold increase in the apps available for these devices would matter either: for learning and teaching we have 40 or 80 minutes where our lessons need to be pacey, varied, stimulating and above all educational. It’s hard to do that when the teacher has their head in a user guide because an incorrect keyboard combination or tap shuts down the core functionality of the device.


Using Excel, Macros and @Evernote for Course Planning

I use Evernote a lot. I store interesting tweets, grab sections of web pages for later, have a form of GTD in there (The Secret Weapon) to keep me focussed. I took part in the 30-day paperless challenge in September and had a lot of fun seeing what was possible. I’ve even started to get my colleagues interested in using Evernote. And last month I was very happy to discover my work opened up access to the web version of Evernote.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now: There has been a distinct disconnect in my workflow. Found an interesting link? Send it to Evernote. Got a unit to develop? Plan it up in Evernote and assign a task in my GTD stack. Plan my weekly lessons? A paper desktop planner with scribbled notes on which resources I need to have ready?! It’s really daft but, up until recently, it was the most accessible way to work. I’ve even found myself taking pictures of my planner pages and sending them to Evernote so I can check I’m ready for the coming week!

Two weeks ago I attempted to set up an electronic planner in Evernote from my workplace. The web version didn’t really like being pasted into from a Word document and screwed up all the formatting and numbering so I figured I needed a few hours investigation time and a desktop version of Evernote to make progress. This weekend I made time.

Firstly I wanted to be able to create a template with the correct number of rows for each particular class for each term, so I created a simple macro that took values (class name, start date, end date, number of periods per week) and used them to populate a new Excel worksheet. Here’s the VBA if you want to use it yourself:

Sub btnCreateTermPlanner()
Dim AddSheetQuestion As Variant
Dim StartDate As String
Dim EndDate As String
Dim noPeriods As Integer
Dim noPPW As Integer

StartDate = Worksheets(“Start”).Cells(1, 2)
EndDate = Worksheets(“Start”).Cells(2, 2)
noPeriods = Worksheets(“Start”).Cells(5, 2)
noPPW = Worksheets(“Start”).Cells(4, 2)

AddSheetQuestion = Application.InputBox(“Please enter the name of the sheet you want to add,” & vbCrLf & _
“or click the Cancel button to cancel the addition:”, _
“What sheet do you want to add?”)
‘ create new workbook
ActiveSheet.Name = AddSheetQuestion
ActiveSheet.Move After:=Worksheets(Worksheets.Count)
‘ add header text
Cells(2, 2) = AddSheetQuestion
Cells(3, 2) = StartDate & ” – ” & EndDate & “, ” & noPPW & ” periods per week.”
Cells(5, 2) = “#”
Cells(5, 3) = “wb.”
Cells(5, 4) = “Topic”
Cells(5, 5) = “Learning Objectives”
Cells(5, 6) = “Resources”
‘ number rows
Call NumberPlanner(noPeriods)

‘ date rows
Call DatePlanner(noPeriods, StartDate, noPPW)

Worksheets(AddSheetQuestion).Columns(4).ColumnWidth = 30
Worksheets(AddSheetQuestion).Columns(5).ColumnWidth = 30
Worksheets(AddSheetQuestion).Columns(6).ColumnWidth = 30
End Sub

Sub NumberPlanner(ByVal noPeriods As Integer)
Dim count1 As Integer
For count1 = 1 To noPeriods
Cells(count1 + 5, 2) = count1
Next count1
End Sub
Sub DatePlanner(ByVal noPeriods As Integer, ByVal StartDate As Date, ByVal noPPW As Integer)
‘ One date at the start of every week
Dim date1 As Integer
Dim wb As Boolean
Dim daycounter As Integer
Dim weekcounter As Integer
wb = True
daycounter = noPPW
weekcounter = -1
For date1 = 0 To noPeriods – 1
If daycounter = noPPW Then
wb = True
daycounter = 0
weekcounter = weekcounter + 1
End If
If wb Then
Cells(date1 + 6, 3) = StartDate + (weekcounter * 7)
wb = False
End If
daycounter = daycounter + 1

Next date1

End Sub

It’s not refined and I have to admit I can’t remember how to make the macro populate a Word document directly yet but the code above generates something a little (ok, exactly) like this:

A little manual formatting after copying and pasting into Word resulted in this:

Finally, copying and pasting into the desktop version of Evernote was a breeze. It even took in the document header and footer (I’d recommend removing the footer as an Evernote note does not have a page break!).

The time consuming part will be linking Evernote notes into the resources column for each lesson, but I’m happy the structure is there. The aim is that, once completed, these plans will not only be synchronised between home and work (reducing the need for those photographs of paper planners!) but that revising them will be much more efficient as I can immediately add in a new resource or interesting news article link when I find it (because they always appear three months before or after you actually need them). If my colleagues need to look at them for any reason I can send it quickly via email.

The ultimate goal? No paper planner at all for my lessons. These folk have already managed it and, if the web version can handle editing the newly created notes, it won’t take long until I manage it too.

Reflection on use of Safari Photo Africa as stimulus for P7 writing

Over the last few weeks I’ve been using Safari Photo Africa with a P7 class to inspire their writing. As I see them once a week we have been creating podcast material since August but the interest was definitely beginning to wane. I decided that first-hand experience of an African safari would inspire them to create a script for their final task: a short section for a whole class radio show.

I gave them the option of imaginative response, factual writing or poetry. I also allowed learners to write notes while watching others play the game. In later weeks I let some of the class move on to the machines to type up their scripts or begin to record their podcast as I noted some of the class were disengaging with the task, rather than being inspired by it. Here’s a section of my notes which were jotted into my iPod straight after the class left in week 2.

Audio cable connected to smartboard, sound much better. Took class through giraffe level. Less appropriate as took long time to find creatures so class disengaged. More wanted to do silly things and show off which at one point required game to be restarted. Teacher in class to see resource being used impressed by potential. Tighter planning required to keep class engaged. Some good extended responses to questions: whats a hyrax? (An antelope); where do vultures nest? (In rock crevices) – new learning for many pupils (and me!). End of lesson feedback: class agreed elephants level was better as more happened. Would have been good to have class in groups to play game while others worked on recordings.

After reflecting on the second week I decided to spend a lot more time with the game before the final session with the P7 class. By this point two-thirds of the class had played the game and more than half had made significant progress with their writing. I wanted to take on board their feedback about enjoying the game more when things happened (I’ll admit, finding your way down off a mountainside is a good challenge (the giraffe level, week 2), but in an hour-long lesson where pupils were taking turns it just didn’t suit) and to provide the class with an action-packed finale! I played through the game for another six assignments and found two excellent scenarios to place the class in: a helicopter safari where the character didn’t have to move, just take photographs (quickly – which made it very challenging and a great team level), and a night-time lion hunt where the photographer could be as easily eaten by a lurking crocodile as pounced on by a lion.

The helicopter assignment was very successful as there was a lot of action, audio instructions and animals to take photographs of. I also changed the structure of the lesson so those who had already written their stories or poems could make progress with typing up their scripts then begin to record the last part of their podcast. This worked really well as it allowed me to help those who were struggling with storage space for their recordings while entrusting two game experts to guide those who hadn’t played the game before.

I had also made sure to work through a few extra levels and save games at exciting points. This allowed me to change the game quickly to a night safari during the second half of the period. The night safari follows a lion hunt and is a much more challenging assignment. The remaining pupils had to restart the level quite often as they got too close to the pride or one of the crocodiles lurking in the dark depths of the river.

Over the three weeks there were many successes – I noted a high degree of co-operation between peers and a levelling of the playing field with regard to general knowledge as well as game-playing technique. One pupil who regularly struggled with podcasting skills became one of the game experts and patiently explained the controls to his classmates to allow them to make the most of their time as the photographer. Another pupil shared her surprisingly detailed knowledge of the animals appearing on the screen. Surprising that is until she told me that she had been to Kenya on holiday with her family and had gone on a real safari. She regularly commented on the accuracy of the game in its portrayal of the environment and the actions of the animals roaming them. Two weeks on from using the game, the podcasts are nearing completion and sounding fantastic! The variety of writing has surprised: poems, stories, news reports, even a few raps!

There were a few technical hitches too. I had originally planned to have two pupils play the game at one time (inspired by Dawn Hallybone’s posts on using a similar game on Nintendo Wii) by setting up an iPod Touch as a wireless mouse controller for the pupil controlling the camera. The other pupil was to use the laptop to move the photographer around the environment. As I explained in my last post on Safari Photo Africa, I managed to set this up successfully at home but due to interference in the classroom the virtual wireless network regularly dropped out so the iPod could not be used. If I used the game again in future I would make sure I had a wireless mouse / Gyromouse rather then the convoluted virtual networking setup.

Safari Photo Africa, although released in 2006, kept a demanding P7 class enthralled in the main and certainly inspired their writing (which I’ll share in a future post along with some podcast snippets if I can). An added bonus to using the game was that as well as allowing situated cognition and development of themed writing each photo the pupils took within the game was saved to the laptop hard disk, meaning that good shots can be printed for wall displays, added to pupil work in future or added to blog posts (like this one!). In fact I intend to use them to create African-themed Christmas cards and calendars in the final session with the class before the holidays.

Improving learner-teacher dialogue using Edmodo

On Friday afternoon I heard some great news. My school is to extend the trial of Edmodo until Christmas, allowing other teachers in my department to experiment with using Edmodo to positively impact their learning and teaching. This may prove to be the beginning of a big change in whole school policy as, up until now, use of external websites was limited to passive teaching resources such as YouTube and Prezi – only teachers were allowed access.

As part of the approval process I wrote a report on how my Higher Computing class made use of Edmodo in their classwork, homework and preparation for assessment. I was able to answer the concerns of the school’s IT manager with regard to data protection and responsible use. I’ve embedded the document below for anyone else who is interested in investigating Edmodo further.

If the extended trial proves successful Edmodo could become the main resource for allowing external access to pupil resources and, most importantly, providing learners with a permanent record of their knowledge development in a place where it is much less likely to be lost or damaged. Learner-teacher dialogue can be referenced and revisited; gaps in knowledge due to absence could be filled; knowledge could be pulled from the class group rather than pushed. I intend to share my experiences in using Edmodo with my colleagues and blog readers in the coming months.

I’m excited about the possibilities but know Edmodo is not a magic bullet. As part of my research into how Edmodo is used worldwide I set up a Twitter search via TweetyMail and received hourly summaries peppered with disillusioned, confused and angry students who were being forced to use the service simply because it was there, not because it enhanced the classroom experience. I can see the benefits of opening classroom discussion with carefully crafted questions on Edmodo, where every learner has the opportunity to contribute not just the one who thinks fastest. However I can also see the potential for misuse by the minority who want to use Edmodo to keep their classes quiet or too busy to realise that their needs are not being met. It needs to be used in a carefully considered way where it should enhance the learning and teaching of all students in the classroom, but teachers also need to bear in mind that it offers the advantage of being able to hold a 1:1 discussion over a long period of time. The teacher has to make time to read the comments and adapt their usual classroom practice to best serve their learners.

So, in short, it offers the opportunity to deliver a flipped classroom model of education. I’ll investigate this further in future blog posts.

Getting ready for a safari

Tomorrow I take my laptop, preloaded with Safari Photo Africa – Wild Earth, to the Junior school to immerse the class in a scenario closely linked to the work they are doing with their primary teacher. I only have an hour with them, so want to make sure everything is set up to work as quickly as possible.

Originally I had wanted to make use of a Nintendo Wii with Wild Earth African Safari but this was not possible (or affordable) as a proof of concept in the timeframe available, so I found an old copy of Safari Photo Africa – Wild Earth for PC and installed it on my laptop.
It looks brilliant when displayed on the data projector and allows the players to take part in a virtual animal photograph safari – taking shots for magazine articles. The photos taken in the games are automatically saved to the user’s My Pictures directory on the PC, meaning that they can be used in other applications at a later date. I think this is also possible in the Nintendo Wii version of the game but imagine it’s a little trickier to get the images onto a PC.


When you complete an assignment your photos are inserted into a magazine article = instant reward!


The main advantage of a Nintendo Wii over a laptop is that the wireless wii controller supports exploration of the game by groups of learners sat in front of the SmartBoard. I’ve read posts by Dawn Hallybone and Nicky Newbury who maximise the interactivity of the class by pairing up learners and having one pupil move and the other take the photographs. The laptop could allow this but would mean a lot of moving around and swapping places, so I wanted to try and find the best way to interact with the game wirelessly. There is a GyroMouse in my classroom but no sign of drivers or installation CDs and I wanted to be able to use the keyboard wirelessly as well. Then I remembered reading about using an iPod Touch as a wireless mouse and found Logitech TouchMouse, an app which not only allows users to control the mouse pointer on the PC using the portable device but also access its keyboard. I installed it and after a little bit of fiddling with Windows 7’s firewall settings (you need to allow it to access the Private networks, not Public – go through Control Panel for this) I got it to work!

The only issue with using the iPod Touch as a wireless controller is that it needs a wifi connection that is shared with the laptop to communicate. This is a real issue in school where there are no wireless routers and a very tight rein on network security. When I was Mobile Learning Leader for Inverurie Academy I investigated using the school’s MacBook White to set up ad-hoc wifi networks to allow iPods to access the Internet. There was little success with the Internet-access part, but the iPods were all able to communicate with each other. If only there was a way to do this in Windows 7 I thought – and luckily enough, there is!

After a little Google searching I found Virtual Router – a freeware program which allows your laptop to be set up as a wifi hotspot with the intention of sharing its Internet connection with other devices. Set up is incredibly simple – you give your ad-hoc network a name and a password and it uses WPA2 encryption to ensure no rogue devices interfere with the laptop!

“at this moment i am typing part of my blog using the ipod touch wireless keyboard – i have turned off all connection to the INTERNET and only had to restart the logitech touchuse wireless server!”

It seems to work best if you access the iPod app before starting the Logitech TouchMouse wireless server. If you don’t you may find that the devices don’t connect.

Unfortunately although the keyboard presses do get sent to the laptop, using the keyboard for games control seems impossible. Neither Logitech nor HippoRemote Lite allowed me to control the game character so I may need to allow one child to use the laptop. This may mean one learner is looking at the laptop screen instead of the SmartBoard but if I can position the laptop in a suitable place it may be a minor issue.

I ran through the first assignment on my own and it took about 40 minutes – too long for the lesson tomorrow but if I can set up saved games to allow the class to jump in at appropriate points (meeting the elephant herd for the first time, giraffes grazing, the swimming crocodiles around the elderly elephants) I feel that the class will be able to generate excellent material for their podcasts.

If you have been using computer games to augment your teaching and learning I highly recommend you visit the Consolarium site. This service, offered by Education Scotland (new name for LT Scotland) aims to explore and share how the appropriate use of computer games can have a positive impact on teaching and learning. It has received international praise and attention, and for good reason.

TeachMeet Aberdeen October 2011

On Wednesday evening I once again found myself at MacRobert Building, University of Aberdeen six months on from the last one organised primarily by Stuart Brown. The wikispace advertising the TeachMeet can be found here and, in addition to this, Stuart made use of social media to extend the reach of the promotional material. This approach, along with the assistance of Jim and Linda at the University in selecting the optimum date for engaging PGDE and BEd students, resulted in over 60 attending the evening. At times the online stream had viewers into double figures but we were beset with technical issues, most disruptive was the lack of constant wifi and this seriously hampered our online impact as well as preventing the planned link up with TeachMeet Strathclyde. However the evening could be considered a success and as we were able to record most of the presentations on the laptop I hope we can – in time – share the talks with a wider audience.

To whet your appetite, here is a YouTube playlist of the May 2011 TeachMeet Aberdeen presentations.

When I find the time to edit and upload the individual presentations to YouTube I’ll update this post but I’ve included my notes on each presentation and relevant links to the web sites mentioned.

Stuart Brown – “Why de ye bother with aww that?’ – Justifying the use of ICT in the classroom

Stuart Brown: "the way we communicate is changing"

I felt this was an excellent start to the night. Stuart highlighted the fact that 19C teaching methods and environments are not suited to 21C learning. That most pupils have access to instantaneous information using devices which are often more technologically advanced than the computers and resources available in school puts today’s teachers at a disadvantage. I agreed (through gritted teeth as I recognised the phrase “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater” from many unfocussed, confused presentations on implementation of Curriculum for Excellence) with Stuart on the need for all teachers to adapt, not rebuild to ensure that we are serving our learners sufficiently. I recommend you watch Stuart’s last TeachMeet talk (May 2011) which is a stepping stone to this presentation.

I loved the phrase Stuart used in the presentation “to stratify education” – but felt it needed explanation. Internet searches show this to be standarisation of education or use of standard tests and tracking methods.

Ian Simpson – “Becoming Orson: Podcasting the War of The Worlds”

I did this so I won’t comment for long on the actual presentation. On reflection this talk was a little early, my lunchtime podcasting group had only been working on this for about 5 weeks (30-40mins per week) and despite their excellent progress there was little evidence to share with the teachers present. However it was a good starting point for a future presentation (maybe TeachMeet Aberdeen October 2012?) on how these learners have self-organised themselves into an amateur radio drama production group. After working with them the day after the presentation and seeing how they continued to innovate and collaborate with the newly-arrived high quality microphones I have high hopes of achieving our ambitious target to have recorded and shared the full radio play by next October. Follow the progress via this blog or my twitter stream @familysimpson.

In addition Dave Adams, DO Curriculum and Quality Improvement Service for South Lanarkshire, got in touch in September and kindly sent his ideas based around the 1938 Orson Welles War of The Worlds radio play for CBS. I’ve emailed Dave to see if these lesson ideas are publicly available and will update the links section if this is the case.

Nikki Stobbie – Random Name Generator

Nikki Stobbie describes how she uses classtools.net with her classes

A presentation from a press-ganged student! Nikki showed us http://www.classtools.net and, in particular, the random name generator. Great resource to use in class and a great 2 minute presentation!

Mark Hay – ‎”Look what I did…” E-Portfolio’s using glow wiki

I didn’t see this presentation as I had to run to the shop for supplies but will update once I’ve extracted the presentation from the video clips currently sitting on my laptop.

Martin Coutts – “Maths is just a game”  – Using GBL to raise attainment

Martin showed how he used Mangahigh with an Access 3 / Foundation class to improve their motivation and attainment. Pupils were taught maths through combination of games and Prodigi technique. Competitive aspect through bronze, silver and gold and school leaderboard. Martin especially recommends sigma prime.

Kathryn Roper – “GeoBus – A mobile Earth Science Resource”

GeoBus: based at St Andrews University but a national funded resource for secondary schools (or P7 at a push). Kathryn seems very passionate about Earth Science and claims to be able to develop activities to suit your curricular area.

GeoBus launches January 2012 but those interested can get in touch with Kathryn now via kathryn.roper@mac.com

Gretchen Perk exemplified how she uses the Frayer model to enhance literacy

Gretchen Perk – “Frayer Model in Literacy”

Meldrum Academy English teacher Gretchen spoke about the Frayer Model which is a “vocab aquisition graphic builder”. She found it great for more effective learning of keywords through use of higher order skills such as analysis and synthesis. I personally found the use of non-examples especially useful. Gretchen highlighted the fact that it is a good teaching strategy for all subjects I’m already thinking about how to use this with Computing classes.

Charlie Barrow – An outward facing classroom using Augmented Reality – Junaio

Charlie repeated his May 11 talk on using augmented reality in the classroom but wanted to inspire teachers to build an Aberdeenshire channel for augmented reality. I’ve included the video of his presentation from May and hope to be working with him in the future on his vision for an Aberdeenshire channel.

More information on his own use of augmented reality in the classroom can be found at http://www.charlesbarrow.com

Stephanie Orr – Medieval Law and Order

Stephanie gave a quick 2-min presentation on using games in class to motivate and educate by stealth. http://www.tudorbritain.org/joust

Ed Walton – Fusion, Meta-cognition and The Learning Story

Presentation written during teachmeet! Ed shared how Fraserburgh Academy used Glow effectively to dissemenate work to pupils unable to attend school during snowdays. Three themes; fusion, meta-cognition And the learning story. Ed showed snow work posted for AH on glow featuring embedded prezis for self-directed learning, stagework.org which allows users to be the director for a scene from His Dark Materials. It looked fantastic! Ed showed Comic Life which he has used with classes and whole-school assemblies to explain meta-cognition. Finally Ed explained how Fraserburgh Academy has been using Honeycomb / I Can as a trial school to build an ePortfolio which remains with the child as they progress from primary through secondary. I was interested to note that because data is stored on a separate server from Glow there is no upload limit so videos and large image files can be posted. To be honest the presentation was actually 3 or 4 but there was lots of useful information.

Darren Gibb describes how he uses a variety of ICT tools to enhance learning and teaching in the English classroom

Darren Gibb – ICT teaching and learning tools

The last talk of the night was delivered by Darren Gibb, teacher of English at Banchory Academy. He exemplified many ICT tools that has augmented his learning and teaching. Again the audience was treated to a suite of presentations on different services from Todaysmeet to Evernote, Wikispaces to Glow.

#edchat Summary: How does giving students more control of their education affect the quality of the education?

I’ve hovered around #edchat fringes for a couple of years now. Adding the occasional link but never really sure when to take part as people post using that hashtag all the time. I was chatting with @drdouggreen and he was kind enough to give me some more details about when the scheduled chats take place (5pm / midnight GMT on Tues in UK).

So on Tuesday I took part in my first #edchat. I hadn’t realised that they had two different topics for the weekly #edchats and had been expecting discussion on the flipped classroom, but I was more than happy with the alternative: how does giving students more control of their education affect the quality of their education?

I really enjoyed the hour and noticed a few familiar faces from the UK join in as well. I think it worked well for me as I’m on October break and this makes a 5-6pm chat feasible. Usually I’d just be getting in the door and I don’t think the family would appreciate me disappearing with the laptop instead of finding out about their day. I don’t think I’d like that either, so perhaps a midnight #edchat is the way forward – for me at least!

I’m a big believer in promoting learner choice in my classroom. I teach to the planned outcomes (sometimes in a round-about way!) but in a way that suits the class. That one class. It means a lot of work for me at times, but I get a huge kick out of the enthusiasm it generates amongst my learners. What works for one class or child may not work for another and I would not be doing my job properly if I ignored this fact. Yes, you have to retain your role as troubleshooter (I typed behaviour manager first but that sounds far too controlling!) and facilitator but sometimes – and as much as possible – you have to let your class take charge of the learning. I didn’t do this based on any educational research or current policy, I remembered the best and worst lessons of my own school years and remembered that when we were given the freedom to play within the boundaries of the topic we enjoyed it and saw relevance. With that in mind I want to share with you a TED talk by Alison Gopnik. She explains a little about what babies are thinking.

You may think this is a strange choice of supporting video. Please watch it, I hope all becomes clear.


Here are some of the main themes from the discussion:
  • Personal learning
  • Project-based learning
  • How to learn
  • Motivation
  • Passion
  • Learning through making mistakes
  • Open and honest discussion with learners
Here is a selection of some of the comments:
  • “Hopefully we do not give students “much” control over content…but give them some control over how they demonstrate mastery.” – berryed1
  • “It will improve quality from the child’s point of view. What else matters?” – drdouggreen
  • “If kids rely on the teacher for the answers, then we have failed them as teachers. ” – stumpteacher
  • “Ownership ups the ante of the student’s interest, involvement and motivation.” – drmcgettigan
  • ” ‘Children should be given a voice not only about the means of learning but also the ends, the why as well as the what.’ Alfie Kohn” – cybraryman1
  • “I would love the concept of Personal Learning Networks to be introduced to, and used by students early on.” – tomwhitby
  • “We have to stop thinking we are the only experts/teachers/leaders in our classroom” – pernilleripp
  • “Listen outside clssrm door: Who’s voice do you hear? If solely tcher’s voice: Tcher-Directed. If studs’ voices: Student-Centered.” – prlowe91
  • “Teaching kids how to learn is more important than what content to learn. If they commit to the content, the how to becomes easier.” – tomwhitby
  • “good for teachers to say “i don’t know”, brings in whole class and dilutes the idea that the teacher is the source of all answers.” – familysimpson
  • “Stdnts need 2 feel “allowed” 2 make a mistake or get something wrong & comfortable enough 2 try again. That’s when learning happens.” – KristinHenry1
  • ” the goal matters & it’s got to be their goal” – inquirebook
  • “Yes, I hope to make poor choices! Makes me human & helps me learn! I’ve learned more from poor choices!” – davidwees
To follow the complete discussion see here
As ever, there were some great links shared:

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Ian Simpson is a Scottish secondary teacher, specialising in Computing. His particular passions include: mobile learning, web 2.0 & games based learning.

Augmented Reality using a webcam and laptop

I’ve long been jealous of those mobile smartphone types with their fancy embedded cameras and their Junaio, Layar and Aurasma apps. With my iPod Touch 2G I can get the apps but not the content and the closest I can get to mobile augmented reality is to watch cool videos on YouTube as I walk, or stick post-its to my headphones and play pretend…

I set myself a summer holiday target to find out more about Augmented Reality and to try and get it working on a laptop. I knew it was possible but Google searches tended to get bogged down with iOS or Android apps. However this evening I stumbled upon a web-based service called EZFlar. This site allows you to link an image, 3D model, movie, text or hyperlink to one of five fixed marker images extremely quickly (not too sure how it handles recalling the generated AR projects though – here’s a link to what should be an image of Bloom’s Taxonomy…), however this blog briefly discusses how to extend this by downloading the EZFlar program to your own machine and indulging in a bit of Flash ActionScript coding. Definitely something I’m going to try out!

I also put a tweet out asking for help in finding laptop-friendly AR applications. I had two responses, both suggesting http://www.arsights.com which uses Google Earth 3D models and a fixed marker image. It was really quick and easy to get started and I can see this being used with classes for quick and easy demonstrations of Augmented Reality. There’s a suggestion that you can use Google Sketchup to create your own 3D models and then submit links to the ARSights warehouse but I haven’t investigated it as I haven’t used Sketchup before.

So what could these applications be used for in my classroom?

  • a multimedia treasure hunt using EZFlar to store videos / clues to keep the game going
  • a fun way to display pupil work by pinning printed AR markers on the walls rather than a black and white print out of their graphic work / animation / movie
  • a method of allowing pupils to explore digital representations of computer hardware which is too expensive to buy or too fragile to hand out
  • a fantastic way of starting group tasks by using embedded audio / video on an AR-ready placemat in the middle of the group. Scanned by a webcam or mobile device, this could engage all types of learners as well as offering differentiation in the ability to replay these movies on demand (or offer extra AR markers if required)
I want to finish this blog post with a few videos I saw on YouTube. 110 Stories is an augmented reality app proposal currently attempting to get Kickstarter funding. I thought it was a great use of AR – I hope you do too.

FIFA Thursday

It is nearly the end of term and the assessments for the year are finished. The restructured S3/4 course has been designed so that the pupils are engaged in creating their own multimedia applications – hence there have been few calls for a rest day as they have been making and playing each other’s games for the last few weeks. More on that in another blog post I think as their work this year has been pretty inspirational…

I set up an old laptop (resurrected by my Advanced Higher pupils a year ago and still working well!) as a machinima station in my class, permanently hooked into the data projector feed to record walkthroughs from the ps3. The plan is to allow pupils to explore Fifa 2010/11, collaborate in multiple player games and coach new players (including me!) in how to play well. I also wanted them to try recording matches or training to build up video guides or to edit game highlights.

The two PS3 consoles were set up at either end of the classroom allowing space for the class to move around freely. It also allowed those not playing to watch or use the iPods or their own PCs. Too late I realised a selection of games (including FIFA) could have been preloaded on to the iPods. A large number of the audience chose to play The Sims 3 while waiting and I observed the same kind of peer coaching between small groups as occurred with FIFA. They organised a fair length of game (3min each half) and an inclusive practice to ensure as many of their classmates got the chance to play a game within the single periods.

Two pupils brought their own controllers and supplied the FIFA game disks which allowed at least two players on each PS3. Compared to the single player Heavy Rain which I used (selectively) with my Higher class earlier in the year and Little Big Planet (which allows multiple players but is viewed by a number of pupils as too childish unless they are building their own levels) I felt that the pupils were sharing more expertise, were more deeply involved in the experience and that the audience got more out of passive participation. For example, a number of the songs in FIFA 11 interested pupils enough to complete a complex web search to find the track and look for further songs by the same artist.

Discussions about local teams were also well informed. One pupil was attempting to show me how to round the goalkeeper by using L2 and the right analogue stick – a skill I have yet to master – and he softened my failure a little by pointing out that Aberdeen players in Fifa are probably too slow to manage tricks successfully!

If there was an obvious difference between the two main games played in my class today it was that the girls in the class preferred The Sims 3 and were more vocal in their coaching. The majority of the boys played Fifa silently, even when they were on the same team! They all responded well to the challenges set by the game and I can safely tell you that even after a free period of practice I was only hitting the net 20% of the time. Pupils will be running virtual rings around me for a while yet!