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Google Classroom…the new IT silver bullet?

The goal: going paperless. Why? Not only is it better for the environment but it prevents me from *misplacing* those pieces of paper without names that were handed to me in the corridor period 9 on a Friday and aids easy tracking of progress.

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Year 11 google classroom header

I have been using Google Classroom with my Year 11 class since the 16th of June and introduced it to my Year 10 and A Level groups at the start of this school year. I had previously been using Edmodo which had been working well, however, with Google Drive being such an integral part of my teaching life it seemed stupid not to give Google Classroom a go.

How does it work?

For those of you familiar with Edmodo it is similar in many ways – you provide your class with a code to access the classroom page. This is all done through the google sign in details. You can post announcements (which can include links to websites, images or document attachments) and create assignments that are submitted via the student’s google drive.

The pros:

  • It allows for easy marking and editing of pieces of work that are submitted as google docs (tip: it is essential that students submit the documents as a Google Doc rather than a Microsoft Word document if you would like to edit or comment on it). The comments are seen down the side of the page and the student can then resolve them as they act on the piece of work.
  • It is easy to add missed worksheets or PowerPoints onto the page from my own Google Drive.
  • I can see the comments I have made on work previously submitted by a student and the mark that was given – this is lost when marking work on paper as the comment is returned with the students so it is difficult to verify whether the student has acted upon the feedback given.
  • Google drive is already an integral part of many workplaces.
  • It is easy to use and follows a similar format to Google Drive

The cons:

  • If your students do not already use Google Doc/Google Drive to store and complete work it can be quite an adjustment for them to get used to completing work in this format rather than in Microsoft Word.
  • Using Google Classroom is reliant on being connected to the internet – if you do not have access to a good internet connection either at school or at home it may not be for you.
  • For the marking and commenting process to be time efficient you should be comfortable typing and reading work from a screen.

For me, Google Classroom has made my marking both more efficient and effective and has worked in seamlessly with the way I already use Google Drive. Whilst it may not be an educational ‘silver bullet’ it may just save you some time (which we all need some more of) and seems to be one of the best ‘virtual classroom’ spaces available at the moment.

Please feel free to let me know if you have any questions about how Google Classroom works or how I have implemented it with my classes!

Why blue sky?

At some point while thinking about our approach to education we asked children 1 question: What would you like to find out from scientists?

What did we do at school? 😉

We had of course some responses in our heads (it was not THAT bad, you know), but we got to the point where adding some additional “but why’s” made us realise, that we just don’t get it really :) – and also, that we CAN (and do) live with that. It left us wondering how at some point we just accepted the level of our lack of understanding and moved on skipping yet another “but why?”.

Who to ask though? How many “but why’s” of an average kid can an average person handle?:) Some of us are parents and – believe us – we know what we are talking about here: the constant inflow of ‘Why’s?”, ‘When’s?”, ‘How many’s?”, ‘Which’s?”, ‘For’s?” and  ‘How’s?”…

Because it is so, okay?” :) We read somewhere that an average 4 year-old asks 437 questions a day. Scary?

We haven’t read anywhere though how many questions an average adult asks a day, yet we’re pretty sure it would probably be MUCH less than 437. Even scarier? Do grown ups already know the responses to questions they do not ask? (which was definitely not the case in our little experience with kids’ questions) – or is it that we just do not notice the “question-opportunity” anymore :) – or not give ourselves time to wonder. Why is the sky blue?  Do you know? If not, what would it change for you if you knew? What would be different if you gave yourself some time to think about it?

And this is how we knew we would engage our actions in appreciating the ability to wonder why, or simply – the CURIOSITY – as one of the most important competences for life.

We’re WhyBlueSky
Check out our all open source LESSON PLANS that respond to REAL QUESTIONS of real children! :)


Engineering the Learning Set: A Socialised-learning Capacity

From the start I have been adamant that my doctoral research was of a nature that could have a true practical application rather than merely concerning itself with theory and principle. My research has resulted in an emergent understanding of the ‘Reality’ of learning as, with and because of a group, which has led to a redefined approach towards the initial construction of the group which seeks to enhance the socialised-learning process of collaboration within the classroom.

I have written about the theory, principles, practice and outcomes of constructing or ‘engineering’ such a group in a number of previous articles and will seek to avoid unnecessary repetition:

As such the focus of this article is upon the application of an eighth applied criteria when initially constructing the group; a socialised-learning capacity.


One of the most fundamental aspects of Collaborative Group Learning is the construction of the initial group; the Learning Set. When applied to an educational context a student would be placed into an ‘appropriate’ group of 6 (the Learning Set) based on the following criteria to ensure Principal 3 (heterogeneity) of Learning Set construction is achieved:

academic profile
any additional learning needs
reading age
socio-economic background
socio-cultural background
prior educational establishment e.g. Primary or Middle School

Ensuring that the Learning Set represents a balanced mix of the above criteria has been a successful means of enhancing the heterogeneity of knowledge, understanding and skill potential of the Learning Set as a whole, with that ‘whole being greater than the sum of its parts’. But what has been illuminated through my empirical research is that more was needed in terms of recognising and understanding the ‘parts’ and considering each individual in more depth before constructing the Learning Set.

As such I have devised and implemented an eighth criteria to the construction of a Learning Set;
8. a socialised-learning capacity.

Understanding the Learner

To gain a greater understanding about each learner before determining which individuals should be placed together to create an effective collaborative learning group I designed and applied (to a cohort of 180 11 year old students) a questionnaire comprising open and closed questions of a quantitative and qualitative nature.
These questions were designed to gather general information about the individual which could prove useful pre-knowledge (for example their language ability and their access to the internet at home), gain information relating to criteria 3, 6 and 7 of the heterogeneity principle, and questions which sought to elicit information about the individuals beliefs concerning learning and education and to determine the learners academic self-concept (the Myself As a Learner questionnaire was incorporated into the wider questionnaire to achieve this). In total the questionnaire comprised 51 questions in 3 sections (Tell me about you, Your views about yourself, Learning) and took between 25 and 45 minutes to complete.

Assessing an Individuals Socialised-learning Capacity

To ascertain an individuals ‘potential’ socialised-learning capacity a ‘crude’ point score system was applied to responses relating to the following questions:

Do you like learning the best…(mostly on your own, mostly with others, I don’t know)
Do you like helping others to learn? (Yes-No)
Even if this means you don’t get all your work done? (Yes-No)
Do you get frustrated when other people ask you for help? (Yes-No)
When learning in a group which role do you think you are most likely to take? (options provided)
I find it easy to work with others (MAL scale)
What are you motivated to learn the most by? (options provided)
I can make friends easy (MAL scale)
Which subjects do you believe you are good at? (number of selected subjects used to determine overall subject confidence)

A higher point value was assigned to a response which aligned with a belief which indicated a positive capacity for socialised-learning and a lower point value for a negative capacity for socialised-learning. A total of 23 points were available, with 23 indicating a highly positive capacity for socialised-learning. Once applied a point score was assigned to each individual, with point scores relating to this cohort ranging from 23 down to 5, and 3 coloured bands applied to aid categorisation (Red 0-11, Amber 12-16, Green 17-23). Both the band and the point score was then considered when assigning students to a group seeking to create a balanced mix of socialised-learning capacities.

Assessing an Individuals Academic Self-concept

By incorporating the well established Myself As a Learner suite of 23 multiple choice questions within this questionnaire it was possible to apply the MAL point scoring system and identify each individuals academic self-concept as a numerical score ranging from 53 (low self-concept) too 98 (high self-concept). As with the socialised-learning capacity point score 3 coloured bands were applied to aid categorisation (Red 0-69, Amber 70-79, Green 80-98). Both the band and the point score was then considered when assigning students to a group seeking to create a balanced mix of academic self-concept.

Constructing the Learning Set

Combining the two point scores, socialised-learning capacity and academic self-concept, and producing a third data set banded again into 3 colours (Red 0-79, Amber 80-99, Green 100-120) a new ‘total’ score was created for the mean of group allocation. By ‘reading’ both the point score and banded colours of each of the three categories, as well as considering the 7 criteria outlined above individuals could now be ‘matched’ to others in order to create a balanced and mixed group of learners.

1         2                       3      4     5       6      7
Girl     Islam                        12    71     83     2
Girl     No religion               15   62      77     2
Girl     No religion               16   96     112    2
Boy     Islam                       17    83     100   2
Boy    Judaism            Y     20    71     91     2
Boy    Christianity               21    89    110    2

The above highlights how the Learning Set (column 7) was constructed considering:

  1. gender
  2. identified socio-cultural background
  3. level of English language proficiency (EAL)
  4. socialised-learning capacity
  5. academic self-concept
  6. combined capacity and concept.


This new approach was applied in the construction of a new cohort of Learning Sets in the summer of 2015. These individuals have been learning with, as and because of their Learning Sets for 6 academic weeks. So far observations of interactions and the nature of the socialised-learning being undertaken indicates that this more considered and detailed approach to group construction may have achieved its aim of enhancing the socialised-learning process of collaboration within the classroom. I will continue to observe the effects of this approach to grouping and will share my reflections in future articles.

If you want to know more about the approach undertaken or any aspect of Collaborative Group Learning feel free to contact me at rgratton.cgl@gmail.com

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!
IMG_0285 (4)

My first blog post for Pedagoo – no pressure! *steadies nerves*

I am @louisateaches and I am a passionate educator in Work Based Learning (16-18 year olds).  Worked Based Learning helps our learners understand how the things they learn in my classroom are connected to the real world and I focus on employability in particular.

More recently I introduced a new project to my learners, a class magazine! This enabled my learners to take a little break from our regular classroom activities and individuals were enthusiastic to work on something completely unique and of interest to them.  It also meant learners could work at a pace appropriate for them, with confident/more independent learners producing 3 page articles for example, as well as giving the less able the opportunity to excel.

A number of roles were assigned to aid in the production of the magazine; everyone was a reporter, there were also editors (who SPaG’d!) and designers who worked on the front cover.  We used a variety of real magazines for inspiration and took a vote on a name for the finished article (‘On Point’!).

So what’s in it for them?  I hear you ask;

Everyone’s ideas matter – so this encouraged learners to engage and it empowered them to contribute to discussions, giving them more confidence.  As it was a collaborative process , it helped them in their development of good judgment and most importantly, the task required teamwork, collaboration, problem-solving, creativity and self-control – all skills that are in demand in the job market!

Here are a few images to show the development of the magazine over the last couple of weeks;

Class Magazine (1) class magazine

Hand outs learners were given to describe and inspire them for the task

class mag2 class mag3

Learners mind mapped using the Popplet app to decide topics they would report on

class mag4

They were given a range of magazines to research content, topics and layout

class mag1

Learners use Piktochart, a free online infographic creator, to design their articles

class mag5 class mag6 class mag7 IMG_0284 (4) IMG_0285 (4) IMG_1834 (3)

A selection of the finished articles and learners proudly viewing their work!


For any extra information on this activity or about the work I do, please don’t hesitate to contact me!




Involving Learners in Planning Learning
September 15, 2015

I’m a big believer in the power of engaging young people in their learning through involving them in the learning process. As Lois Harris argues, if students are going to feel that they own their learning they need to have opportunities to collaborate in the learning process:

Continuum of Learner Engagement (What) and how teachers can achieve these levels of engagement (How). Adapted from Harris (2010).

Continuum of Learner Engagement (What) and how teachers can achieve these levels of engagement (How).
Adapted from Harris (2010).

But how on earth can we as teachers involve our students in planning their learning? I’ve been working on adapting my practice to make this possible for a number of years now, so perhaps I could tell you how to go about doing this yourself?

Well, I’m not going to. My students are. I’d been working with my S1 Science class on developing approaches to involving them in planning learning last session when we were approached by Children in Scotland to participate in their Leaders of Learning project. Children in Scotland, the students and myself worked together over a number of weeks to explore and develop approaches to involve the students in planning their learning to a much greater extent. The project culminated in the students evaluating what we’d done, and producing the following video to communicate what we’d learned together.

Hope you enjoy learning from them, I know I have!

Cross-posted from fkelly.co.uk

Instagram and #teach180
September 10, 2015
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I’ve not found much time for blogging over the summer since I’ve been moving house and deliberately trying to ‘wind’ down after a crazy busy year last year at work.

I’m back at work now and it feels like I’ve never been away! I’m enjoying my new timetable although it is jam-packed and I am sharing three classes which is a new thing for me – I’ve never had to share one class let alone three! I’m hoping to blog as I go this year as with previous years but there’s always a wee (big?!) stumbling block and that is time. There’s just not enough hours in the day, not enough days in the week, etc…

In fact I hardly ever manage to blog on a regular basis during term time so I know trying to commit to blogging is setting myself up to be disappointed and annoyed at myself… However, I take pics around my classroom almost every day. Pictures of good pupil work on sheets or in jotters, of unusual events such as yesterday’s school hike, of new displays, Puzzle club activities, etc. I usually save these pics and then take a couple of hours every few months to upload them to the department website so kids and parents can watch out for them. During the summer, however, I spent a bit of time with my sis who loves Instagram which got me thinking that I could create an account for my classroom.  So I did.

Here is my new Instagram account for sharing pictures from my classroom to the rest of the world.

I think this will make me feel better about not being a regular blogger although my heart wants to be! But more than that I have found the kids are eager to get their work photographed which has been a nice surprise and bonus :-)

Ed (@solvemymaths) has shared his idea of work selfies on his blog which is really good; so I’m going to get the kids to choose one piece/part/question/solution/etc. from the day/week’s work that is their best and they draw a wee camera beside it as a plenary exercise which will help me identify where the kids think they’ve done particularly well (self assessment) or on occasion get the kids to swap jotters and peers can choose where the wee camera logo goes as a peer assessment tool.

Earlier today I was over at Sarah Hagan’s blog stealing(!!!) more of her awesome wall display posters and came across her #teach180 idea for Twitter which also stems from a lack of time to blog regularly. It’s a great idea and I will be checking it regularly as the ideas so far have been brilliant and very interesting. It is especially cool that she is collating some of her highlights on her blog every week. My twitter account is for myself as a practitioner so I’m gonna ‘lurk’ around this idea without taking part and I definitely couldn’t commit to everyday. I sometimes don’t even get round to tweeting my week highlight for the awesome #PedagooFriday some weeks!!!

So my new Instagram account is for my kids and their parents. It’s for me as a teacher to display their awesomeness outside of the classroom on a display that the world can see… That’s gotta be worth the pupils putting the extra effort in for :-)

Bloom’s Taxonomy
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It’s safe to say, I love Blooms!

I think Blooms is a brilliant way for teachers to ensure they are helping pupils progress as well as students can identify their skills easily. I love blooms so much, one of the first things I did when I got my new classroom was paint a massive triangle on the wall, and get pupils to add “I can” statements on it when they can do something new.
I think the issue I have with blooms is and don’t think I am alone is, we are good at creating wonderful Schemes of Work and Units, but actually sign-posting our skills and how that links into Higher Order Thinking is our downfall. Also I know i have been guilty of focusing on the task and not the skills being used.

I have given myself 2 new term resolutions this year.

  1. Use less PowerPoint and look at other teaching and presentation methods.
  2. Highlight skills progression to the pupils.

My first task has been to create these posters.IMAG0592

These break down the skills, the types of activities and question stems that can be used – an amalgamation of several posters I could find on Pintrest. Here’s the file to download the posters yourself: blooms posters.

So now my aim is to get pupils to be able to self evaluate their own learning and skills at the end of a task/ unit/ lesson. I also made up cover sheets for my junior classes that will be stuck into their jotters with the intended skill progression of the current unit we are on- encouraging them to color in the triangle as they move up the thinking skills.

I think Blooms can be used in many different ways and it is important that we share resources and ideas in order to encourage pupils to be using their thinking skills in a variety of ways.

Originally posted on my own blog bxarmps.wordpress.com

Preparing learners to face the future with a SMILE
Smart kids

“Our task is to educate their (our students) whole being so they can face the future. We may not see the future, but they will and our job is to help them make something of it.” ~ Sir Ken Robinson

Smart kidsIf you agree with Sir Ken Robinson, then you’ll also agree that education serves a purpose bigger than a suite of academic outcomes that only capture part of a person’s ability at the end of the schooling process.  If you agree with that statement, you might also be inclined to agree that our learners need to know how to find their purpose in life, how to be successful but in a manner which ensures their happiness and gratitude.  But how do you squeeze these positive psychology messages into a curriculum that is already overburdened and where teachers lack the time to develop resources that focus on the learners’ well-being?

Gratitude trees are a visual representation of recognising acts of kindness.  They are easily implemented into a classroom environment and can be the first step in a process where our learners embark on a journey of well-being and self-discovery.

On episode 25 of the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show, Ashley Manuel, Head of PE & Sport at Immanuel Primary School, Adelaide, Australia and founder of Growing with Gratitude has developed a new revolutionary approach to help teachers and learners build positive habits.

Together Ashley and I discuss simple and effective strategies to implement positive habits of well-being into your classroom.

Episode take-aways:

  • Benefits of introducing habits of well-being, happiness and gratitude into your classroom
  • Classroom activities for promoting happiness, gratitude, mindfulness and service
  • How to develop positive and engaging habits
  • Modelling behaviours of service at school and in the community

If you enjoyed this article please tweet the knowledge forward and share with your community!



Reluctance vs. Positive Wizards

Every remarkable leader throughout our history had a powerful message behind their choice of words, “We must fight them on the beaches…” ~ Winston Churchill, “I have a dream” ~ Martin Luther King and “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” ~ Steve Jobs

It was those motivational speeches that rallied the troops, empowered the marginalised and inspired a generation…

We use powerful phrases all the time in education to teach our subjects, convey models of behaviour and to ignite the passion for learning. But have you ever heard of rallying your positive wizards to overcome reluctance?

As educators we regularly encounter reluctance in our classrooms or when attempting to launch new initiatives. Often the wave of sighs and rolling eyes dents our own enthusiasm, makes us question the validity of our ideas or shakes our ability to inspire our learners. Reluctance in its most basic stubborn form, “I don’t want to”, requires a framework of skills and a suite of motivational phrases to overcome the negative force which refuses to engage. This is the precise moment that you need to channel all of your energies into identifying the positive wizards among your pupils, teaching staff and leaders. Positive wizards are those people willing to embrace new ideas, have a thirst for learning and who are willing to champion your cause.

Julia Skinner, former Headteacher and now founder of the 100 Word Challenge has used positive wizards to champion the most reluctant of learners and most stubborn of staff. And when the conversation is beyond the magical sway of her positive wizards her cunning plans have enticed and achieved resolution.

On episode 24 of the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show Julia and I discuss how to overcome reluctance and engage not only learners, but teachers, leaders and governors.

Episode take-aways:

  • Deciphering reluctance to engage
  • Identifying positive wizards and using them to your advantage
  • Building relationships and effective communication

If you enjoyed this article please tweet the knowledge forward and share with your community!




The Best Lesson I Never Taught

As part of lesson study in my school (Soham Village College) I decided to try and develop a one off lesson which involved no teacher participation at all! Obviously careful preparation was paramount to success and the lesson did take several hours to put together. The activities were not as rigorous as I would usually plan for in a GCSE history lesson (some were pretty much there for fun) but it was a fascinating experiment and experience and demonstrated just how well students can work in collaboration (and independently) if we give them the opportunity.

Students came in – creepy music playing – tables set out with mixed ability group names on and an A4 envelope which stated – ‘Do not open until told to do so’. Groups were carefully selected in advance.

I handed a scroll to a quiet but able student which said – ‘You are the only person allowed to touch the computer this lesson – get up and open the folder called ‘start here’ – after the video has played ensure the screen with all of the folders on is visible’. Handing this student the note was the one and only teacher interaction for the whole lesson.


The student opened the intro video and I appeared on screen dressed as a creepy clown – this set the ‘mystery/horror’ mood of the lesson – the clown tells the class that if they are ever to leave they need to solve the mysteries and riddles during the lesson.


The clown tells the students to open the envelopes on the table. Inside they find a selection of sources, an A3 grid and an instruction sheet. Very quickly and efficiently the students worked out what to do. An interesting observation at this point was how natural leaders developed in groups and how groups took different approaches. Some choose to split the work amongst the group to speed up time. Others choose to work as one group with one member reading the sources to the rest. From my observations all students were involved in this first task.

3This task took them about 13 minutes and involved them trying to decide if the sources (9 in total) were for or against the statement on 19th century policing – at this point I was interested (and slightly nervous) as to what would happen next. They had no further instructions – all the clown had said was that the code would be revealed if they got it right. It was fascinating to watch as one student got up and started checking what other groups had got – the class worked together sharing thoughts until eventually they released that there were 5 sources for the statement and 4 against – this matched one of the folders on the screen ‘5F4A’ – the student chosen at the start moved to the PC opened the folder and this revealed the second clown video.

This video congratulated them and then told them to look under their chairs – which caused great excitement! Under selected chairs I had stuck words. There was no further instruction. The students who had words removed them – some students then took a lead and it was fascinating to see them organise themselves. They decided to use sellotape to pin the words onto the board – then they started rearranging them to make sense – it took no time at all for them to work out the message – ‘Look between the black and blue book on the shelf’. This then gave them the next batch of A4 envelopes.


5These A4 envelopes contained an article on the police and a sheet with another statement – this time on the failure of the police to catch Jack the Ripper. They had to read the article and identify reasons as to why the murderer was never caught and how far this was the fault of the police force. They worked out fairly quickly that this would reveal another code. Again they worked well and shared their findings across groups. One problem was that they only completed one side of the table as they quickly realised there was only one folder with 4 agree (4A 5D). Although this showed good initiative it meant they did not fully consider the arguments against the statement. Once solved the allocated student opened the folder and the clown appeared again. He is getting more erratic and evil by this point! The clown tells them to look under the recycling bin where they find the envelopes for the next task.

6The penultimate task involved the class trying to break 4 different codes – some involved replacing numbers with letters others involved changing letters – they were given no instruction as to what the code might be. It was interesting to observe how groups worked again. Some groups worked as a four – one code at a time. Other groups split and took a code each. The natural leaders worked out that working as a class was the most efficient method some students starting asking the whole class if any were solved yet. They were looking for factors as to why the crime rate fell in the late 1800s. Once they solved all 4 riddles they worked out they needed to open the folder called – Police, living, prisons, tax.

On opening the final video the clown presented the class with a riddle to solve. They were told that once they had solved it they should open the cupboard at the back of the class. They played the video a couple of times and then one student solved it. This was a special moment as the person who solved the riddle is an FFT E grade prediction – for a moment there she became the class hero!

When they opening the cupboard they were presented with 5 envelopes – ‘The Maid’ – ‘The Gardener’ – ‘The Butler’ – ‘The Wife’ – ‘The Cook’. The answer to the riddle was the maid. On opening this envelope they got the final code.

The final video gave them the end silly message from the clown and concluded the lesson. The whole thing had lasted 55 minutes – timings could not have been more perfect! I had not spoken to the class for the whole lesson (just sat at the back largely ignored by the students) and the only action taken during the whole lesson was handing the note to the student at the very beginning!


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