Saturday, October 12, 2013

The sky's the limit

I stumbled across this image the other day of the launch of Antares/ Cygnus from Virginia. Apart from the fact it is absolutely breathtaking, it really made me think about what we are capable of when we collaborate using technology.

When you think of the teams of people who need to communicate to make this possible, is this why technology integration fails in schools? How many schools integrate a new technology by asking what we want to be able to do and working towards it? It is more likely that someone in the leadership team saw a sales presentation and thought that looks great, we should get it. In the presentation, they were told that the product could do x, y and z. What they didn't realise was that to get it to do x, y and z, you need a team of people to troubleshoot, experiment and develop the solution to meet the needs of the school. Even if you get the technical side down, the teachers often don't see how it will help them to help students learn more effectively.

Even the most expensive rocket will get nowhere without fuel. When I hear of schools investing in expensive learning platforms (the rocket), I really think they need to think about whether they have the fuel to get it to lift off. The fuel for most schools has to be a willing body of staff that see the purpose in the mission and work together to make it a success. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Using phones in the classroom

Lots of teachers have a strong opinion on students using mobile phones in school, ranging from vehemently against to strongly in favour. I have been quite amused on occasion to see the 'vehemently against' brigade suddenly cave in when they forgot the stopwatches for their Science experiment.

There is a risk that mobile phones can be a massive distraction but if you think about it as a hugely powerful computer that happens to also make phone calls, is it worth banning it just because it happens to make calls. It's a bit like saying Steven Segal can't come on the boat because you don't want food. He also cooks.... Yes that was an Under Siege reference.

A colleague sent me this list of 26 ways to use a mobile phone in the classroom today. It was originally posted here on the TES community site.

26 ways to use mobiles in the classroom

1. Recording experiments

Students use cameras on phones (annotating pictures with applications like EverNote and Skitch) to record equipment layouts, electrical circuits, visible results etc and save for later. These can then be uploaded to their own blog, a school wiki or simply added to a series of virtual revision cards. I’ve only tried it with sixth form due to school policy.

2. Problem solving using QR codes

Create a puzzle-solving lesson out of QR codes. Put QR codes around the school building - each QR code leads to a new science based clue. The clue leads the students to the next QR code - it's a 21st century treasure hunt! (See first useful link for more info on QR codes and more suggestions on how to use them in the classroom).

3. Using mobiles instead of clickers

Clickers can be expensive for schools to buy (or in the case of college, for students to buy). There are programs such as Top Hat Monocle ( and Poll Everywhere ( that will allow teachers to do instant quizzes and check for understanding using their cell phones, computers and tablets. It’s a great way to find out if your students are understanding the material.

4. Visualising infrared remotes with the camera

The signal emitted by an infra-red remote is invisible to the naked eye, but clearly visible on a mobile phone using the camera. This form of radiation can be detected using this method easily and enables students to visualise something they may otherwise find hard to truly accept or appreciate otherwise. The concept of it as a means of communication could even be used by pupils who can send messages to each other with morse code with long and short flashes of light. Goes down very well with pupils, who are usually a little surprised and very intrigued.  

5. Using apps

The use of a number of free APPs in order to plot distance etc. Such as endermondo (free). This could also link with heart rate & GPS. The data collection can be done outside of the classroom (homework?) and then brought in. Could also create their own free APP. I have found that pupils respond to “real” examples and also engage more in the topic if the technology is embedded and they can understand the use and purpose.

6. Using the timer

Most phones have timers that can be used to record the progress of experiments. This can be handy if there are a limited number of timers available or an opportunity to record something arises when timers are not available or have not been planned into the lesson such as an outdoor activity. Pupils appreciate the ability to investigate phenomenon as and when the opportunity arises rather than sticking rigidly to pre-planned learning.

7. Using the calculator

Most phones have calculators and therefore leave pupils little excuse not to carry out relatively simple calculations and can be used in impromptu situations in a similar way to phone timers. More modern phones may also have scientific calculator apps for more advanced calculations. Pupils may not appreciate the incorporation of maths and requirement to do calculations into an investigation but they do appreciate the ease with which it can be achieved and reminds them of the many capabilities of their phones.

8. Using the voice recorder as a dictaphone

Many phones have a voice recording function that can be used by pupils to carry out interviews, record events in class; including teacher explanations, or as verbal revision notes when revising for exams. Then either share the files to a shared folder or upload to Soundcloud.

9. Using smartphones to record ecology or field study investigations

Smart phones can now take photos, assign locations using GPS and post them to social media enabling pupils to record and share findings in ecological studies or record their progress on Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. This was a well-received way for my pupils to meet some of the requirements of their Duke of Edinburgh expedition and record the route they had taken.

10. Converting Top Trumps to QR code interactive posters

Top trumps are sometimes used to engage pupils with science and they can be converted into interactive posters for display around school. This has been trialled with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council working with the University of East Anglia on a science communication project.!/DrTristanBunn/media/slideshow?

11. Virtual field trips

With a range of environments and places being studied in the Geography classroom maps apps, specifically Google Earth, offers outstanding topographical views and also ‘Panoramio photos’ that allow students to continue to build their mental images of unfamiliar places. Obviously, if you had tablets or iPads to hand the experience is further enhanced. I recall a particularly successful lesson examining contrasting urban environments.  

12. Using Twitter to improve creative writing skills (writing twiction)

Students share reveal a story online via their SmartPhones through characters they have invented (with accounts they have created for them on Twitter) who interact with each other through a series of tweets, mentions, direct messages. This will enable students to be more precise in their choice of language, develop the ability to read into (and add) extra layers of meaning, consider what they show the reader and strategies to hook the reader, develop characterisation skills (including viewpoint and voice) and consider and develop structural narrative skills. You can find resources to support students to write ‘twiction’ and give students the chance to win the annual prize for Twiction a

13. Using FourSquare to develop orientation around school sites for new students/staff

FourSquare enables users to be able to check in via their Smartphone to different locations so schools could set up a ‘treasure hunt’ using FourSquare locations around their ‘campus’.

14.  Use Twitter as an on-demand learning tool

Set up a Twitter Feed that can provide alerts to the students on-demand.  Students can tweet to this feed when at a conference or taking notes on a field trip or the teacher can send out alerts such as reminders. Students can subscribe to the feed via text messaging so that all messages are received immediately. On-demand learning and communication!

15.  Practice speaking in MFL

For MFL use mobile phones as flip cameras and record speaking/drama activities.

16.  Memory aid for dyslexic learners

The photo camera function can be used to take pictures of complicated diagrams, timetables or the menu in the canteen. To write this type of information down would take a dyslexic learner too much time.

17.  As an eBook

Using the Kindle App,or iBooks App on iPhone, learners can turn their mobile phone into an eBook and use it to read books, newspapers, magazines and PDFs.

18. Tweet your reviews

Teach journalism skills by having students write Tweet length reviews of things such as TV shows, films or new music releases. With only 140 characters students learn that every word counts.

19.  Set Homework using QR codes

Convert text to a QR code and display through a projector for pupils to scan. One click and they have all the info they need with them. is easy to use.

20.  View marked Homework

Homework can be collected from a dropbox folder via the phone. Teachers can mark the Digital homework by using apps such as Neu.annotate to mark the work.

21.  Voxpop Feedback

Get your students to leave visual feedback of the activity, then export the video file into dropbox, this is great evidence for Ofsted, and provides real engaging feedback to entice  backing for your projects from investors and parents.

22.  Class planner

By ensuring Students all have access to a Google Calendar account you can do away with paper planners. Students can share calendars with other students and staff, and receive real-time notifications.

23. Use an App such as Do it Tomorrow to make a note of anything that needs to be done

This App is free in Android market. It is a simple ticklist of tasks and unlike a calendar only has two pages-today and tomorrow. As today’s tasks (say homework or to remember PE kit today) are completed you simply cross them out. Anything not completed is carried forward until tomorrow.

24.  Create your own e-Books quickly and simply

Create an account at, the website allows you to create your simple e-Books from existing word document just by cut and paste. Educate your pupils / students on the use of the Wattpad app, (available for all Smart Mobile phone platforms) they can then always carry around the current reading list, course guide, assignment help document on their mobile phone.

25.  Use twitter to share revision documents

Use twitter as a revision machine! Send tweets out reminding students to revise over the weekend especially when it is good weather.

26. Use twitter as a plenary tool

Use twitter to check learning during and at the end of the lesson. Create a hash tag specific to that lesson (ie #10FBiology) and have students create an answer to a specific question in tweet form. Using twitter tools these can then be displayed on the board within the PowerPoint or within an internet screen using or

Useful Links

  • Using QR Codes in education
  • Using Mobile Phones in the Classroom - YouTube video - class discusses how they use mobiles in the classroom
  • Top Hat Monocle
  • Poll Everywhere
  • - using smartphones to write stories
  • Share any kind of file between multiple devices
  • - Very easy eBook creation site















Saturday, October 5, 2013

Actively learn: A great tool to help students with reading

Actively learn is an online ereader which is designed to help teachers interact with and engage students when reading text.

It has some great features such as the ability to use it with any online text or upload your own, annotation tools, embeddable questions and features that allow sharing with colleagues.

The free version works on any device, lets you use public domain books,  lets you create your own layers of questions, and for American teachers has common core standards based grading. The paid-for version adds the ability to export grades and actively assisted book uploads although what they offer in the free version is really amazing.

This is an excellent tool for teachers who have a lot of students where English is an additional language although I see uses for this in every subject to aid comprehension of text. I could certainly use this teaching Physics and Environmental Systems where I could use it to draw students' attention to key points in the text.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Rising Cost of Education

This is a guest post from Chris Rawlins at Scholar Match.

The consistently rising cost of higher education has left many bright and high-achieving high school students in the Bay Area without the financial resources to attain their goals, dreams, and ambitions of a college degree.  As a result, I have partnered with other Silicon Valley professionals in starting a new financial scholarship fund through the combined organizations of and ScholarMatch.
Our goal is simple.  To provide college scholarships for 12 very special and deserving students in the Bay area.  This program will also be offering more than just financial assistance.  We will follow these young adults through their college years, providing support and mentoring as they face the many challenges of a post-secondary education.
We need your help.  The 12 scholarships will require a combined total of only $16,150 dollars.  We can easily meet this goal with only 646 donations of only $25.  It is our hope that the wide reaching arms of the social media will help our Indiegogo Campaign to quickly “GO VIRAL”.  All funds exceeding the original $16,150 will be used to help even more students from the California, Bay Area area.  Won’t you help us with this noble cause?
We encourage you to spread the word!  Share this blog link with your friends and family on Facebook and Twitter.  Checkout the campaign here. Promote awareness of this scholarship program in your place of employment or office. Help us to help under-financed students who already have a proven track record of academic success to achieve their hopes and dreams of a college education!