Winding down

germanelidorEdu-blogging will continue soon, I promise, however this is just to say I’ve managed to read two books for pleasure during the break, and I recommend you do too. Reading is escapism for me, it exercises the brain – something I can never do without – but frees me from the incessant cycle of reflection we teachers get into during term time. It took me a week and most of the second book but I have managed to stop thinking about teaching for a couple of days – at least I’ve stopped micro-managing little aspects of my job like mentally rearranging seating plans – and I’ve started to think “bigger picture” like how to engage kids on the thorny topic of binary!

I have two books to thank: an old childhood favourite revisited, Elidor by Alan Garner, which I read over two days (Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) and then a fairly random find: “Seeing Other People” by Mike Gayle. Both come recommended for clearing your head of butterfly-like edu-detritus (edutritus?)

Please do enjoy the break. I’ll be back soon, my own PPA begins again tomorrow so I’ll probably post about my planning and maybe a review of the term. Merry Christmas!


On PGCE block A and “kick the dog” days

At the invitation of my PGCE tutor @EllieMMU, I attended MMU today to visit the next PGCE cohort. I made a presentation for the event, using Prezi which is a lovely non-linear presentation platform, free for basic use at My Prezi is here (a free account requires all your Prezis are public, so avoid using personal data or pics).

I invited the class to write post-its with their current issues, as they are in only week 5 of teaching practice, I tried to think back to a year ago and how I solved those issues. Of course, as always in first placement, the two biggest issues they are facing are are planning and behaviour. Without going into too much detail (sorry Ellie for overrunning!) Some behaviour tips I shared are:

  1. Exude an air of authority to gain authority. Some ways you can do this include: be standing smartly outside the classroom as they arrive, and correcting uniform errors. Give out merits or raffle tickets* to any students lining up correctly, in silence. Don’t accept rowdy behaviour outside or inside your classroom and send back out any children who come in pushing and shoving. These all send signals that you are in charge. Have something to do on entering the class, a “Do Now” or “Connect” activity on the board, instruct them to do it, and reward the first to start.
  2. Students who are just not working can be tricky, they are not disrupting the class, what to do? Speak to the student and tell them politely they are making the wrong choices, that they must work or there will be consequences. Give a quick ultimatum such as “When I come back in 1 minute I will see the title and date and one sentence and then we’ll discuss what happens next, thank you.” – Note the choice of language, as if the student has already complied. This is important. Now walk away and return in a minute, and reward if they have complied. “Now we’re working together, super, have a raffle ticket and see how much you we can achieve today! Looks like I won’t have to speak to your form tutor after all.” – I’m using “we” to send the message this is teamwork. I’m again suggesting with my language that the poor choices have ended. And I’ve suggested that a wider conversation might happen if the student chooses not to work. It takes a very belligerent student to go against this kind of language.

* I have a raffle ticket system, so if the students answer a question or work hard they get a ticket, for small prizes like rubbers and single Starburst sweets 🙂

On planning, one who shall remain nameless admitted he had spent 8 hours planning 1 lesson, and I remember being much the same a year back. It gets easier, this week I planned the week (19 lessons) in 4 hours, so that’s 12 minutes each give or take a few. My tips were

  1. Once you have a Learning Objective and some preferred Outcomes, beg, steal or borrow resources. Your mentor will have plenty, ask for them. Use “The Starter Generator” and “The Plenary Producer“. Use CAS, and… with permission from the owner Mr O’Donohoe… use his JellyMarmite resources. Don’t make everything from scratch, it will kill you. Don’t edit that slide for an hour to make it perfect, if it will be on the board for 2 minutes. If you know your stuff, you can talk about it.
  2. Minimise Teacher Talk. Doing is better than listening for behaviour. Keep talking segments to under 4 minutes. Use videos (bingo cards are amazing for improving engagement with video segments), make a quick Voki avatar segment so a robot or Barack Obama tells the students what they are doing next… Anything but “chalk and talk”.networks
  3. And don’t be afraid of giving discovery tasks without prior learning. As Piaget told us, the best learning is constructed in the mind of the learner from their own experiences. For example, a network topology card sort (see right)… give them the cards… let them have a go… they will be very proud of themselves if they get it, and totally unashamed if not. You then demonstrate the correct answer after the exercise, and everyone wins.


But most importantly, today reminded me just how far I have come, and how much is possible in a year. Be very proud you are entering the most noble profession. It’s worth it. I talked about my “kick the dog days” today, and it occurs to me that PGCE is hard because it is an endless cycle of making “mistakes” and correcting them. You’ll probably make hundreds of tiny errors this year, learn from them, and not make them again.  That’s hard. But worth it.

CAS Manchester Conference 2016

CAS Regional Conference – Manchester

Saturday 15th October 2016, University of Manchester


This was my second Manchester conference, and the best so far. There were over 100 delegates from all over the North of England, Midlands and Scotland. Presenters included Master Teachers, University Tutors and Education consultants with many years of teaching experience. I chose workshops on 3D printing, “Flowgorithm” flowchart software, Flipped Learning and MicroPython, and they were all excellent. See lots of pictures from the conference here on my Storify, and read on for details.

3D Printing with Tinkercad

Carl Simmons of Edge Hill (author of Teach Computing which is on every PGCE syllabus) demonstrated the Ultimaker 3D printer and some tools and pedagogy. image001We then had a hands-on session and I designed a Halloween pumpkin with Tinkercad – a free web-based 3D design tool which is pretty easy to get to grips with.

According to Carl, 3D printing is great for teaching algorithms, process flow, creativity and optimisation (efficiency of algorithms etc.) and of course, emerging trends in technology.


Ellie Overland of MMU (see banner image) introduced this new, freeware software tool that provides a drag-drop flowchart editor, but then converts to program code automatically. It’s a game-changer in many ways, and there were several delegates who were worried about the impact on controlled assessments, might the students just use this to generate their code?

I like the fact that among the languages the program supports (Python, Java, javascript, Ruby) it does pseudocode. It’s not Edexcel standard but it’s still potentially a useful tool. I may introduce this tool to our Y8 scheme to complement the Flowol work and link up the pseudocode to flowcharts and program code. Try the program for yourself (free download), or have a look at this video I shot on the day.

Flipped Learning and MOOCs for GCSE

One of the best workshops, the presenter Alan O’Donohoe is an education consultant with 20 years ICT/CS teaching experience, and now runs the “Exa Foundation”, a not-for-profit organisation providing support for teachers of Computing across the UK.

Alan introduced “Flipped Learning” to his classes many years ago. This is the principle by which students learn independently outside the classroom (i.e. for homework), and then present their learning to the class. In Alan’s model for GCSE Computer Science, he provides an online learning environment called a “Massive Open Online Course” or MOOC, and the students use this to learn the week’s topic, and each creates a single page “Mind-Map” style summary of their learning. Alan marks these, taking about 1 minute per student. He then has one session each week where the students present their learning to their peers, which Alan facilitates ensuring that all the material is covered, and the rest of the week is free for project work.

I think it might be worth piloting this with one topic in KS4 higher ability classes, and I’ll consider how I might do this with a Y9 class in the Spring term.  In the meantime, Alan is simply a mine of useful resources, which he collects here at the memorable URL of

At that page, there are 7 pages of links and notes, way too many to list here, but these are my highlights:

  • Lots of free Python books
  • Skulpt – Python in the browser, can be used on any computer, students can do programming homework anywhere, no need for IDLE or RDS connection to school. See also Repl.It
  • Various webinars as CPD for teaching computer science.

On the next pages I explore the MOOC.

J276 MOOC Overviewimage003.png

Alan’s latest MOOC, based on the current OCR spec J276, is available to all schools for the nominal fee of £100 per school. Considering Codio is upwards of £1000 just to learn coding, this sounds extremely good value for a whole GCSE scheme!.

As Alan advised, all the UK exam boards overlap at least 80% of their spec, so the fact it is OCR-based does not make it irrelevant. See the image on the right to see what topics are included in the MOOC (the more practical topics are not included as they are not suitable for flipped learning).

MOOC abstractimage004.png

A typical MOOC topic page looks like this, with several links to research resources, and embedded videos to watch. The student uses these resources to learn the topic, and creates a summary page to show they have understood the topic. They then present in class what they have learned. This is Systems Architecture Topic 1: The CPU.

Flipped Learning

Alan has had such success with this technique, he describes it as like “changing square wheels for round ones”.

Whether we go “flipped” or not, the MOOC resource is excellent.

Using Mu and Micro:Python

Dave Ames of Edge Hill ran this session. We used the free “Mu” editor to program a Micro:Bit. We used the Raspberry Pi as the development platform, and later connected up the Micro:Bit to the Pi and used it to interact with Minecraft.image005.png

Mu is an excellent editor, and the Micro:Python language is the same familiar Python we use in IDLE.

The session included programming both the Micro:Bit using Mu, and programming the Minecraft-Pi API using just IDLE, and then connecting the two bits of hardware together, to make the Micro:Bit cause actions in the Minecraft world. You can see my videos here and here.

I am currently gathering fun and useful activities for a Micro:Bit club and I’ll add this to the list.


The conference was excellent, I exchanged contact details with several local teachers and maintained strong relationships with local universities. There were other displays including a Lego Rover programmed via a tablet in a logo-like language, and news that the next Manchester Hub will feature a Micro:Bit session with a 25-lesson scheme giveaway for free.  Feel free to comment below if you have any questions.

PGCE “punch the air” days, and worse.

About this time last year I was revelling in the joy of my first ever taught lesson. That lesson was exciting, a bit crazy and lots of fun. It went as well as could be expected… no, really, I was treated to some mentor feedback containing the words “the best first lesson I have ever seen”. Today I call that a “punch the air” day. But.. trust me, teacher training got much harder after that, and included one lesson I will never forget.

I had asked the students (year 8) to complete a task in Excel and print it out, forgetting that a full print would be 6 pages. Each. Times 30. And I asked them to start printing with 5 minutes left. And there were no names on the printouts.

So, as my mentor sat watching and yes, quietly laughing, at me trying to organise a queue for the printer… I realised…  Teaching is a rollercoaster. Some days you’re up there, in control, conducting an orchestra of kids, all making progress. Other days nothing will work and the music will sound awful. That day I went home feeling pretty down, and wondered if I’d have “kicked my dog” if I owned one, I felt so bad (trust me I’d never really do this 🙂 )

Don’t worry if you have a “kick the dog” day. Know that you tried your best. Reflect, get advice, change things, fix it for next time. The only bad teacher is the teacher that repeats mistakes, the teacher that doesn’t reflect, refuses advice, rejects growth. Be the teacher that reflects on every experience, learns from their mentor and other teachers and changes things up for the next lesson.

I’m now an NQT (yay!) in a great school with loads of support. But I remember that first placement fondly. I’m greatly indebted to both my first mentor and my tutor for this reason… they both knew I was not the finished article, not by a long chalk. However, they also knew that I could be a decent teacher, given half a chance and the right support. And they did what was necessary, gave me the advice, encouragement, coaching, and crucially, the criticism needed to progress as a student teacher.

So if you’re on PGCE now I say this. Be that crazy, exciting teacher. Enjoy your first lesson and many more. Try everything, especially whatever excites you. And be ready for feedback. Listen to feedback, take criticism. And reflect on it. Remember, your tutor and mentor are already good teachers and know what works, but they do understand you’re an individual and have great ideas. So they are trying to bring out the best teacher that exists within you. Be passionate but humble.

And be prepared for “kick the dog” days, but get through them by saving up memories of “punch the air” days. Write a blog, keep a scrapbook, write a diary. Make a social media group for your course or of similar student teachers and chat there., and celebrate successes on it. Call your friends or your Mum if you’ve had a good day. Mark it on the calendar. Because you’ll need the memories of the “punch the air” days to get you through the “kick the dog” days.

Teaching is a rollercoaster, exciting, a bit crazy and lots of fun. Like you.




Digital Classroom trials

This week I have been making my classes digital. Fortunately for me my school issues GMail accounts to all students, and one to me specially for the purpose of communicating with students, this makes it much easier to get them signed up to other platforms, if your school does not issue a cloud email account then things are going to be tricky for you.

So first things first, I asked them all to email me, and I saved their accounts in my contacts and put them in groups by class. Secondly, I set up an Edmodo class and invited them to it. Thirdly, I put all the class resources in a Google Drive and sent them a link.

Now I can set homework on Edmodo, safe in the knowledge they can check the Google Drive for the slides from class, and any other links and docs we used, and attempt the homework. Having both the Edmodo message feature and the email accounts means that I can set challenging homework and they can ask for help outside of class.

So far so good. I’m planning a stretching homework assignment for half term, turned in via Edmodo. I’ll keep you posted here.

Going for Gold

The NQT support at this school is excellent, and I’m taking advantage. Not only do I have a standard induction programme including NQT mentoring and CPD but… a Senior Management Team (SMT) link person designated to me, plus optional extra CPD and coaching. The latter means I get an informal 15-minute observation and 15-minute debrief, every week. This is almost as much mentoring as I was getting last year on ITT, and it’s incredibly useful. I’m going to share some recent coaching with you.

The target this week was Learning Objectives and Outcomes. My coach, Andy – an assistant head whose subject is PE – wanted me to put more effort into designing the outcomes and sharing them with the class. Also, they must be clearly graded and I should communicate the grade of outcome to the students, with reference to their target grade. I’m not sure if it was because Andy is a sports coach or just because Rio 2012 has just ended, but I decided to place bronze, silver and gold medals on my slides and worksheets! The idea being that the bronze medal work should be achievable by all, the silver by some, and the gold by a few top-target pupils.

The topic was Decomposition and Algorithm Design. The task was to decide what makes a strong password (itself a side-learning point), decompose this problem into small steps (must be memorable but not guessable, build it up from two or three components unrelated to each other such as colour, animal and number…) and then write an algorithm to create it. I wanted them to write the algorithm in four different ways: English, Flowchart, Pseudocode and, finally, Python. With slides and an example of each on a worksheet I had plenty of scaffolding, but I thought that getting as far as Pseudocode would be a stretch in 60 minutes, so I invented a Platinum medal for the actual coding. I needn’t have bothered.

The “medal effect” as I am now calling it was amazing. Everyone wanted a Gold or Platinum medal (even though they didn’t actually exist as medals, they were purely notional!). Here is the LO slide:


I asked the class to decide what medal they were going to aim for. Not one said bronze! So off we went, and in under an hour, 17 of 26 had written some code to generate strong passwords. Here is a sample program, from a student targeting a GCSE grade 6. She had already written the flowchart and pseudocode…


I am a convert to the “medal effect”. The next stage may be to include the students in the actual target setting. Perhaps I’ll have them write the outcomes and place the medals next time?