Category Archives: Technologies

The Big Draw – drawing techniques

We are excited to be partnering with The Big Draw this year in delivering a workshop online that you can all take part in, for free! Anyone across the globe can take part using your GPS location tracking system on your mobile device along with a simple GPS Drawing app. This type of drawing technique is fun, experimental and really doesn’t require any previous experience.

In true Portfolio Oomph style, we have a free eBook that guides you through the process of setting up the app and using your body position on the earth as your pencil!

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Digital Leaders @ Uphall Primary School.

A couple of Saturdays ago now, I presented at the brilliant #tmlovelibraries at Edinburgh Central Library.

My presentation/discussion was about using Digital Leaders, from set up to the end of their 1st year at Uphall Primary School.

Digital leaders are an idea I picked up at NAACE hothouse last year in Crewe. The idea was shared there by @shellibb, @chrismayoh and @largerama.

The basic idea is that you have a group of children who have a keen interest in computing in any form and who are happy to develop their interest and taken on responsibilites around the school which had previously been done by adults (or adult!). They will also get to review new pieces of software, try out some new apps in school, act as experts in the classroom, run CPD for teachers and other pupils, represent the school at digital events and teachmeets.

The recruitment of Digital Leaders (DL) at Uphall was by an initial online application using google forms . Once this had been completed we interviewed all of the applicants, giving them the questions prior to interview.

We decided to offer all of our interviewees the chance to be a digital leader, which meant our first group was 14 children from P4 up to P7. Some schools use P6 and P7 and let P7 lead the way, having cut their teeth in P6. I guess it’s up to the feeling of the teachers involved. I liked having the full range, and there has certainly been no time when the P4 child has been out of his depth…far from it.

Once selected we began holding our DL meetings. (Thursday afterschool). Initially I led the way with our meetings sharing some desktop apps and web based programs with them – things like screenr to make screencasts, wordpress for blogging and moved into Scratch and the mozilla webmaker tools. The children began to bring in their own devices and share their blogs, apps, creations etc with each other. The DL Thursday evenings soon had a good buzz! I encouraged the children to share their work on our own DL blog and on the Digital Leader Network Blog. The DL’s were excited by this and enjoyed using Edmodo groups to share ideas too.

As the year progressed the DL’s began to find the things that really interested them. The initial interest in blogging waned and a love of making movies and minecraft took over. I was happy for them to use their tools in the direction they wanted to go and much video was created and many, many minecraft worlds!

In the last few weeks I have felt there has been a return to wanting me to provide some stimulus for them to use, so we have gone back to mozilla’s webmaker tools (which have developed since we first used them) and done some work with them. Our final few weeks have been taken up with developing ideas for next years DLers, creating the interview questions, creating logos and posters for the DL interview process and some badges for ICT skills across the school. I’ve also taken the opportunity to discuss where the DL-ers might want to go next year.

I feel the meetups for the DL have been successful, with a mix of teacher led and child led activities and opportunity for children to spend their time and develop ideas as they wished to some extent.

Support in school is a key area for DL work (and should be a time and hassle saver for teachers and schools). Our DL’s have supported staff in many ways. Creating powerpoints for assembly, teaching teachers how to use certain apps on their iPads, having a go at podcasting, creating video for transitions events in school, setting up, operating and putting away AV equipment for assemblies and the like.

The digital leaders came up with a series of ideas for next year. These include interacting more with other digital leaders (which is why I’m trying to create a digital leader network for Scotland), speaking at more events, running a junior digital leaders group in school (p2 and p3).

Personally I have made a commitment to developing the digital leader in school and beyond as part of my Leadership course application for West Lothian Council’s course. As such I’ll be blogging more about the digital leaders role over the year and how the network develops. I will share those posts (if there is an interest) on this site, as well as my own.

If you wish to start your own digitial leader group, wish to contribute to the Scottish digital leaders network, or just want to to ask any more questions, feel free to get in touch.

To text poll or not to text poll, that is the question?

Although I have come across online text polls in the past, I hadn’t used them myself until last week in one of my lessons and came to the conclusion that they are more time and effort than they are worth – let me explain why…

The group of learners I used this with were Entry Level 3 and in a nutshell the objective of the session was to identify and demonstrate skills, qualities and values required when assisting at a sport and active leisure event.

So after providing learners with their personalised targets for the session I asked them to place their mobile phones on their desks. Out of the 12 learners in attendance, only 10 had a phone…already the task was not going to plan!, I paired the learners without phones with somebody with one.

I then provided the text number and opening question…”what skills are needed when helping to lead a sports event?”… Learners were allowed open ended answers and the premise was that the answers that were text to the number would appear on the smart board…what I didn’t realise until the time was that learners who didn’t have phone credit, could not participate…another two learners out of the task and requiring a partner. Those that did have credit began to text their answers and they started to appear on the board – great!

However, it soon became apparent that it wasn’t clear who was texting what answers (thus making it difficult to target questions to the learner concerned and also ensuring that all learners answered). Moreover the answers that came through were not just skills, but also qualities and values… Not such a bad thing, but in order to differentiate between the three areas I had to write everything on the white board (almost defeating the purpose of this e learning tool) and ask learners to dissect the information into the relevant categories.

So after almost 20 minutes and the disengagement of those without a phone/credit, I came to the conclusion that I could have provided the learners with a much more effective learning environment had I used ‘post-its’ or any other traditional strategy which allows all to be involved, whilst allowing me to see who answers.

Despite believing that there is room for e-learning in the classroom, I do feel that we need to ensure that whatever is chosen as a strategy is effective and not just used because the school/college has an e-learning agenda.

On the other hand, perhaps I approached text polls in the wrong fashion, so if you have used them with success, please share your comments.

The Missing Skill

There’s a skill that I was taught nearly 30 years ago, which over the intervening years has saved me literally years of wasted time. It’s a skill that is completely missing from the current National Curriculum in England, and indeed the new draft curriculum. But it’s a skill that both teachers and students need to use on a daily basis. Indeed, the further we move into the future, the more valuable and vital this skill will become. It’s a skill that is crucial in the vast majority of workplaces as well, and yet we completely fail to include it within the world of education.

When I’m in the classroom, and I show my students this skill, they are totally astounded. Comments range from: “How do you do that miss?” to “Miss, that’s like, magic innit?” They simply cannot believe that it’s possible, and yet it’s a relatively easy skill to learn. Like most skills, it just takes a bit of practice and commitment to get the hang of it. And the more you do it, the better and faster you become, until you can do it without even thinking. A handful of UK schools teach this skill, but the vast majority do not.

It’s a skill that I’m using right now, as I create this blog entry for Pedagoo. Have you guessed what it is yet? A couple more clues … I can do it at a speed of about 80, while those people who haven’t learned the skill can only go at a speed of about 8. So, that means I’m ten times as fast at this skill than someone who cannot do it. If you have mastered this skill, you can do it at the speed of thought. If you haven’t mastered this skill, then your thinking processes (and those of your students’) will be slowed right down.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? And yes, you’ve probably guessed by now, that I’m talking about touch-typing. There are various ways to learn. There’s the old fashioned way I was taught, which in those days involved a book of exercises, an hilariously huge BBC computer or even (gasp!) a typewriter. But these days a quick Google search will bring up software options suitable for schools, such as the ‘Englishtype’ programme. I recently bought my own children a Pokemon DS ‘Learn Touch Typing’ Game, with wireless keyboard included, which would work brilliantly in a school environment and which is great fun.

So this blog post is a plea to all you technologically minded teachers out there, to seriously consider teaching this skill in your schools. My ‘missing skill’ might not make it into Gove’s controversial new curriculum, but that doesn’t mean you can’t teach it in your classroom. Your children will thank you in their digital future, I promise.

CLAWS Teaching and Learning Model

During my work as a Head of ICT and Business Studies at Esher High School over the past year or so, the importance of two things has become increasingly clear to me:

1. Students enjoy homework!
Maybe I should rephrase this and state that students enjoy the right kind of homework. They enjoy homework that they see as having value, and for which they are accountable. Homework is an essential element of the teaching and learning process.

2. Students can be sociable!
Yes, we know that given the opportunity, students will socialise rather than work in lessons—it’s not cool to do otherwise. That stated, given the right environment, they really enjoy working in a collaborative and practical way in lessons, much more than they enjoy being lectured to by their teacher.

I am acutely aware of these two points today, just as I was a decade or more go. So what has changed? Well, quite simply, I began reading about the Flipped Classroom model of teaching. You know, the one where the students watch videos at home and then the teachers sit back and watch the students in class? This is the negative view of the model, of course. However, I am not writing this article in support of the Flipped Classroom model, but as a description of how it led progressively to the development of what I am now calling the CLAWS Teaching and Learning model.

CLAWS is an acronym, short for:

The CLAWS process  is a linear one and is described in the table below:

Consider > Listen > Answer > Watch > Share >
Students are set a homework which they consider, as directed by the teacher Students return to class and listen to a short podcast on the subject Working individually, students answer worksheet questions Students watch a video version of the podcast they listened to earlier Students share their answers and discuss the issue raised in the worksheet


At home, students research the topic of binary using books, websites, VLE quizzes, YouTube links etc


In class, students listen to the 60 second AudioBoo Podcast on binary (link below)


Class answers the questions on the binary worksheet (link below)


Class watches the 1 minute video on binary (see link below)


Discussion followed by Q+A session (see worksheet)

With the CLAWS process in mind I have developed a set of resources on the topic of Binary. The location of these resources is detailed in the table above (with links at the foot of this post). I have tried to ensure that:

1. Students enjoy homework!
The homework that is set is seen as having value and students are accountable for it. They quickly learn that will not do very well in the Answer component if they fail to do their homework.

2. Students can be sociable!
As most of the more theoretical aspects of the syllabus are covered with the CLAWS Teaching and Learning method, this leaves more time for practical activities in class. In my subject, Computer Science, we can do more programming. And that’s the bit we enjoy most!

[audioboo url=”“]


Download the worksheet


Share: – see the above worksheet


Gocracker – Science, Engineering and Technology Careers for the New Generation

Gocracker is designed to encourage young people to study STEM subjects and to discover the exciting career opportunities available to them in the SET sector.

Young people can find information and news about STEM subjects, industry sectors, apprenticeships, colleges, universities and leading employers. They are provided with many opportunities to interact with there are free iPhone apps to download, there is a video collection (goTV) and they can access hundreds of web resources dedicated to STEM.

You might also like to visit the ‘The Hub’ section where you can find links to great teaching resources, fun days out and forthcoming local STEM events. Within this section you can also order FREE pocket cards to give out to your students and A3 posters to brighten up your classroom!

Our parent company Crackergroup comprises four websites dedicated to careers in science, engineering and technology. We are funded by Crackergroup and our company sponsors and were not set up to be a ‘for-profit’ website.

Although we are part of a commercial organisation all the resources we offer to schools are completely free.

For more information please contact me on 01347 825620 or

I look forward to hearing from you!

Positive steps in behaviour? I hope so

Well to begin with I’d like to make it clear that i know this is not rocket science, but I have been encouraged at how this has worked with a set of pupils and thought I would share.

To set the scene: I am a CDT teacher and sometimes our department can attract the most…challenging of individuals! This year this is very much the case as I have a S4 class of  boys who are challenging me more than I could have imagined. Many different needs are presented in the class which makes every day different! I would definitely say we have been on a roller coaster so far this year and last week was one of the worst downs we had had in a long time!! Infact I would say we were off the rails completely.

What caused me to act?: Last week the behaviour in the class reached an all time low and I felt that it was getting close to not being a safe working environment for anyone in the workshop. I have these boys three times a week and knew that something needed to change.

Plan of attack: After discussing the situation with other members of my department I decided to remove the class from the workshop and attempt to address why they thought the behaviour was as it was. I talked to them honestly about how I felt and why I felt let down. I then got each pupil to carry out the following exercise.

Each pupil had to consider the steps they took individually to help/sabotage the situation. All of the pupils completed it in silence (eventually) and to my surprise they took part very honestly.

Some outcomes:

I’ve never thought about my behaviour like this.”

“I guess I didn’t do anything that helped the situation.”

“My attitude in general sabotaged the situation.”

“I guess my behaviour made it difficult for others to act responsibly too”

These are just a few of the quotes I have selected from their very honest answers. The boys were forced to think about how they had taken steps for the better or for the worse in the class. This made them consider in the long run how small decisions in the classroom make big impacts.

I have had the boys three times since this and so far (fingers crossed) they are acting more responsibly. Don’t get me wrong it hasn’t fixed the situation but I can see them thinking about their actions before or as they carry them out.

I guess I am just encouraged that my steps to show the boys respect and talk to them as adults about what the problems are have paid off. The class took part in what was a different behaviour exercise than they have been part of before and seemed to relate to it.

I’m sure this is pretty elementary stuff to most of you out there but I was encouraged so thought I would share (after been encouraged to blog!!) This is my first post so please excuse me!!

Can Literacy in the Maths Classroom be Taken as Read?

I posed a question, whilst sitting on the East Lothian coast line staring at the choppy waves. This was posed to fellow math and science teachers.

What Literacy do you cover, and how?

The responses were wide and varied. The responders were from wider than just Scotland too, clearly this is a topic of interest beyond CfE.

Before I do go in to the responses, I should outline some of my own experiences first.

Writing letters.

Okay, this was more of a “bolt on” and I knew it at the time. It was, however, tackling a wider point than just using words. I got my classes to choose an author and write to ask for the author’s experiences of Maths and their reflections on Maths now.

If you choose to do this sort of lesson, expect to be amazed. When I handed in my notice in Edinburgh as I had a new job in East Lothian, the order of requests were 1) Can I have your room 2)Can I have your fan 3) Can I have your arm chairs (long story) 4) Can I have your letters.

I got a letter from Harry Hill, now deceased, who was the original Goodfellas gangsta. He extolled to one of my pupils the wonders of Maths and how he loved the subject. There was another one (hand written) from David Attenbourgh explaining how the statistical research in Natural History makes Maths one on his biggest draws. Then I had authors write to say how they had to learn to fly a plane – to kill off a character in a series – and discovered the Maths involved almost blew his mind. The list went on, and on, and the office staff started to hand me the mail and stand longingly next to me as I may open it and let then read another famous person’s response. The display eventually ended up in the Holy Rood library so may still be there today.

The purpose of this was as much to do with engaging those who preferred literacy to numeracy, who did not want numbers to get in the way of words, who were going to hate Maths simply as it wasn’t English. Did it work? The parents thought it was great as their children went home talking about Maths in the wider setting. I would venture this may be classed HWB as much as literacy, all in.

However, it was a “bolt on” and bolt ons are baddies in this busy curriculum.


Maths has this section in the CfE Level 1-4 where we expect them to research and present, in various media, topics involving history or current Maths people or topics. Great chance to talk about the subject we love and the history that made it the powerful subject it is today (Helps I did History of Maths in my degree, mind, to make me love this bit)

Some people, I don’t particularly distance myself from this either, may think this topic is a bolt on by the writers of the course. Many schools, I have found, “shove” this to the end so if there is a bad winter or a problem earlier on, the course can omit this topic. Not my own school, I must say!

So, my point in asking the question was to find out what natural Literacy links are being made within the science and math section of the curriculum.

Steven Wilkinson (@S__Wilkinson)
I’ve tackled literacy using creative writing, “What would the World be like if America lost the Space Race” etc…

Blair H (@TwentySeven11)
major point for us is scientific literacy. Ability to read and understand scientific text and to use approp vocab.

Alice Clubb (@AliceClubb)
Stats investigation on variety of literature- they decide HOW to compare the word lengths etc & what this actually means 4 reading

Robert Jones (@jonesieboy)
group work and learning logs cover loads of E&Os: 3-02a, 3-09a, 3-28a, 3-29a etc etc.

There were several people kind enough to add even more comments but I think this gives a great flavour of what is happening.

The point of Literacy being an overarching term to cover all types of literacy was also discussed by some, noting that literacy is a much richer topic than Grammar and Spelling. Sure we have word banks for our subject, but Literacy is as much about the group work as it is about the words. Robert Jones’ comment above expressing this view.

In fact, we even let an English teacher join in with the discussions.

Neil Craik-Collins (@ngccollins)
Any English department should be able to show you how to teach Listening/Talk. Easy to assess if you had a framework.

When I last did my History topics, we used a basic grid of what we were assessing, (clarity, eye contact, engaging with the audience etc) and a video camera so people could self-and peer- assess their work. Never had someone sing their Maths homework to me before but if you have not heard my old S1’s song about the history of the calendar, you have not lived!

What did come out in the discussion was very positive.

We use timetables, graphs, charts (and other types of Texts) that mean we can deliver :

Before and as I read, I can apply strategies and use resources independently to help me read a wide variety of texts and/or find the information I need.
LIT 4-13a

We lead class discussions and have the following impact on their Literacy Skills :

When I engage with others I can make a relevant contribution, ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute and encourage them to take account of others’ points of view or alternative solutions.

I can respond in ways appropriate to my role, exploring and expanding on contributions to reflect on, clarify or adapt thinking.
LIT 4-02a

In fact, if you go and re-read your big green folder (or the website, probably) you will agree, as everyone above has contributed, Maths and Science are all about communication of ideas and how we learn is a further opportunity to hone the skills required in Literacy.

Indeed, another excellent point made by Robert Jones sums up the excellence of the current set up :

Robert Jones (@jonesieboy)
I don’t lose sleep over the gathering of evidence Eddie. I’m more interested in feeding the pig than weighing it.

Nothing of what we do with Literacy needs assessing, in Maths and Science, but reflecting on the Outcomes and Experiences may well help with our Learning and Teaching maybe?

The point coming across is almost “Literacy is a non-story for us, it is so well embedded (from years ago) that it is impossible for us NOT to deliver most of the Literacy Outcomes in a normal Maths course.”

As ever, Pedagoo is a great start point for sharing details and I would love to see comments or tweets to @pedagoo with your own experiences of good practice in Literacy in the Maths and Science classrooms

Using the Web for Learning

Cross-posted from

For our new S5 and S6 students returning following exam leave, I’ve created a self-study course designed to skill them up on a few web tools and encourage them to use the web better, and use it more for their learning.

In order to help explain why this is important, I spoke to them all together for an hour last week. When preparing this I wanted to find links/quotes/videos aimed directly at students to encourage them to begin to make better use of the web – but I was surprised how difficult it was. I did a couple of twitter requests which drew a blank, and my own web searching mainly brought up videos and websites aimed at teachers.

My message to the students was that they don’t need to wait to begin skilling themselves up on using the web effectively, as this is going to become an increasingly important life skill in their futures. I used the following prezi to help make this point and given the apparent lack of resources of this nature out there, I thought I ought to share this here:

To see what the students think of all this directly, have a look at the hashtag #plweblearn

My saw doesn’t cut- (trying) to develop creativity in Technology

“Mr Wilson, my saw won’t cut!”

I was somewhat shocked when I was met with this last year from one of my pupils. At the point of this happening the pupil was holding the saw against the cutting block with the wood underneath it, running it back and forth…the other hand was busy ellaborating the story of what she had been up to the night before! This is going to be my next hurdle I thought and straight away set about changing up my classroom.

Sitting down that night with the technology experiences and outcomes in front of me was an interesting starting point. In the first level many of the experiences I could inbed in the room without too much time and expence: I brought the beebots down from the shelf, the hand tools and wood blocks where given a specialist area (with appropriate safety equipment!) and my PC/SMART Board was given specific task cards. When the pupils walked in the next day there was very evident excitement from the boys in my class and my heart fluttered a little as I saw a world of opportunity open up. They all ran to their free-choice bases before starting work for a look, and then went back to work like troopers to get done so they could get back to them.

However, when I took the time to go around the room to see what we had I felt a bit of a mixed reaction. Although the class had “engaged” with the learning opportunities they hadn’t developed anything into any great depth or detail- the beebot was moving forward but then being picked up and moved back to the start. This was not what I had wanted. How can I develop skills as well as creativity into these contexts…this hurdle may indeed require a little higher jump to clear!

What I wish I had done was take time to sit down with the class and ask them what way we could develop this and take it forward but that I suppose is the power of hind-sight. I will remember that for next time! I was hoping for creativity but had not provided anywhere near as much stimulus as I could have and could have done more to lead them through formulating a plan for what they were doing.

Instead I went about organising more cross-curricular tasks involving the technology, and thinking through problem solving opportunities. This was a huge success straight away. Here are some of the ideas we tried were:

  1. using the beebot to find as many paths through the woods to get the Gradma’s house (yes- it was dressed like red riding hood).
  2. working with a partner to build a shaduf that was as close to 20cm tall as possible (we were studying Egypt).
  3. making a pyramid den for us to fit inside.
  4. using plaster of paris to recreate sections of wall (possibly more art than technology but it was a wonderfully messy activity!)
  5. creating models using K-Nex, Lego and polydron- this is ongoing as it proved very popular.

At the end of last term the pupils were asked in their PLP’s which subjects they enjoyed and a greater number selected technology. I don’t know whether this was down to the tasks but they certainly helped!

I was wondering if any of you guys out there had other activities for early years/ first stage learners that you have had success with? I would love to continue building on this now and would welcome any suggestions.