Collaborative writing using TitanPad

I was first introduced to “Etherpad” a few years ago and I really loved the concept; one document in ‘the cloud’ which anyone can edit with all revisions saved and the authorship of the text colour coded by author.

As with many web2 tools the most important issue is how can this enhance the learning of my students.

I struggled for a while to see a really worthwile way to use this technology and tehrefore I rarely used it but recently I tried it again and this time the results were amazing.


The lesson.


My History students had just complete a unit of student on the persecution of the Jewish community in Nazi Germany. At the end of an important unit such as this one I always like to give the students a past paper question to see if they can apply what they have learned to a real exam question. The activity is designed to consolidate what they have learned rather than test what they have understood so I was happy to try the collaborative writing tool again for this task.


I have been working on writing style with this class so I divided the answer up into four sections: ‘Introductory statement(s)’, ‘Nazi beliefs’, ‘The actions of the Nazis’ and ‘Concluding remarks’. I created two documents – ‘doc 1’ and ‘doc 2’ – on TitanPad using this template and I posted links to these in the class Edmod group. When the class entered the room they were asked to find a partner – friends together is fine – and then each pair was assigned to either ‘doc 1’ or ‘doc 2’. They were given a laptop and asked to get the link to their document in Edmodo and begin answering the question. Each pair took one section of the four part answer and worked on it for about 10mins then I asked the pairs to swap sections to check over their collaborators work. They corrected spellling and included details that were missing. Next I asked them to check throught the entire answer and ensure that a number of key events and details had been included.


By the end of the hour we had two answers which were nearly perfect. My input had been minimal; merely directing the activity and suggesting ideas. The pupils had been engaged in the lesson throughout and the hour had whizzed by.

What we the benifits of using TitanPad over pen and paper?


TitanPad allowed the students to see each other’s work without having to move around the room. They were able improve their answer as they went along…a messy business if using pen and paper. I saw some students use the ‘chat’ function in TitanPad to share information with another group work on a different section so they were actively reviewing each other’s work and making suggestions for improvement. TitanPad encouraged discussion, first in the pairs than across the groups. The students knew that they had to do their best as they were working on a shared answer.


So to sum up, I think the collaborative writing exercise was a great success although the truth will come in how they fair in the exam in June. Speaking of exams, one student suggested that we could use TitanPad to create revision notes for the class in advance of the exam. A great idea I think!


Alternatives to TitanPad


I’ve added these links as you might want to compare features. Most of these sites are pretty similar although some do have registration options for more privacy. For me TitanPad was perfect as there was no need to register students and the pads were live in seconds.

Mirroring iPad to IWB with Airserver

iPad, Windows laptop and Smartboard all in wonderful harmony!

I recently got my hands on a school provided iPad but without Apple TV and wifi I was forced to use a VGA cable to show my i Pad on the IWB however I found a solution in Airserver.


Airserver is an application that allows you to mirror your iPad to your IWB via a PC or Mac.


Even better it doesn’t require wifi as it can work with an Ad Hoc network set up on your PC.


In the picture I’m using my own laptop as the school laptops run Windows XP and Airserver needs Vista or later. The mirroring is happening over an Ad Hoc network as I don’t have wifi.


How to set it up:

1. Download Airserver on a free trial from their website.

2. You’ll be prompted to input your email address in the trial version. You need internet access for this. As I had none at school on my own laptop I set up a “Personal Network” on my iPhone and used it’s 3G connection to verify the install of Airserver.

3. Set up an Ad Hoc network on your laptop using this tutorial to help you

*IMPORTANT* The network must be “Open” i.e. no password or encryption.

3. Connect your PC and iPad to the Ad Hoc network

4. Double click the home button on your iPad and push the icons along the bottom to the right to reveal the airplay symbol.

5. Choose your laptop from the list and switch mirror on.


That’s it!


You are now free to walk around your room with you iPad displayed on your IWB.


This is a temporary fix until I get an Apple TV up and running but even though it’s a bit fiddly at times it beats being tethered by cable!



Starting out with Solo

My “Solo” journey began almost a year ago when I stumbled upon this blog post from Tait Coles (@totallywired77).   I don’t want to regurgitate what others have already said about solo, Tait’s blog has all the links you’ll need to get you started, I just wanted to describe how I am using it.

Firstly, I am not an expert so please forgive any misunderstanding of solo in this piece. I decided to start using solo this week because I needed to give constructive feedback to my Y11 History class on a 12 mark exam question. Giving feedback can be a chore in History. There are so may variables to consider and a lengthy comment can be crushing to a 15 year old’s confidence…even when the intention is to be supportive. In our department we have looked a a few AfL techniques  such as “Three Stars and a Wish” as well as various forms of peer and self assessment but I don’t think I have come across anything as elegant solo.



Solo (as I understand it) is a way of measuring how well a student has grasped a topic. It helps to signpost how “deep” their learning is but also points to how a student can improve. It has five levels

1. Prestructural

2. Unistructural

3. Multistructural

4. Relational

5. Extended Abstract

Granted…at first look it can seem a bit complex and the language can be a bit off putting but within 5 mins my class had the hang of it. I asked my students to re-read their work after a brief explanation of the solo levels using this poster from Pam Hook;s HookEd Wiki


Next I asked each student to self-assess their work to decide where they felt it fitted on the taxonomy. Most placed themselves at “multi-structural” stage…and I agreed. As with many students just starting out with GCSE History they are more concerned with getting the names of  people and the dates of events right whereas I am more concerned with how they link ideas to answer the question. They had all the right information but it wasn’t structured very well.


Next I asked “What then should be your focus for improvement?”.


Well that was easy. The next step in solo is “relational”.


“We need to link things together better” came the response.

So in the next class we took the “Relational” level as our focus and worked on how to make links with the information we have at our disposal. We drew mindmaps to record all the ideas we had then we began linking them together using coloured markers to colour code the ideas in groups. We talked about “transitiions” in paragraphs which link ideas together…just simple things like “therefore”, “furthermore”, “in addition to” and so on. (Only now as I’m writing this am I remembering this blog post from “The Learning Spy” on Hexagonal Learning – a missed opportunity in this lesson but I’ll do it next time)


Things were going great until one student asked, “How do I get to the ‘Extended Abstract’ level?”. So we talked about what “Extended Abstract” could mean.  I explained that to get to this level not only have you linked information effectively but you have looked at it from a new perspective or made a judgement call on it. For some reason this explanation clicked. The fluffy, nebulous, subjective thing that is History essay writing suddenly seemed very simple to them. They could see it. It’s early days but so far I am very optimistic. Solo not only helps students identify where they are at but it also helps them plot their way forward…something that grades alone cannot do.


I think I will extend this now by  assigning homeworks and assessments a solo level instead of a grade. The two don’t necessarily marry but I feel if solo can get my students to think about how they are using the information at their disposal then I am justified in using the solo symbols and ignoring grades…for now at least.

We’ll see how that goes and take it from there.


“Sir, are you our History teacher or our Geography teacher?”

It’s finally happened. I’ve morphed into an ‘Environment and Society’ teacher!

I teach both Geography and History and I have always treated them as separate subjects. The NI curriculum which became statutory in 2009 linked the two subjects together under the heading “Environment & Society”. Some speculated at the time that this could be the beginning of the end for History and Geography as discrete subjects in KS3 however the stipulation that progress in both had to be reported separately in KS3 seemed to suggest that they could remain as they were. I’m not sure how other schools have dealt with this in their curriculum planning but in our school we have continued to have separate Geography and History classes in KS3 without any explicit linkage between the curriculum content of the two.

This week Y9 were looking at the Flight of Earls, an event in 1607 where a group of Irish noblemen fled Ireland seeking refuge in Spain before eventually ending up in Rome. I had been using “Scribble Maps” with a Geography class earlier in the week and as it was on my mind I thought to myself that it would be a good idea to use this mapping tool to plot the route taken by Hugh O’Neill and his entourage in 1607.

I chose nine locations on the route from Rathmullen in County Donegal to Rome including places like Basle and Milan, and asked the class to work in small groups to mark the locations on a map of Europe using the Scribblemaps web app. Almost immediately a number were asking for atlases to help them find the places…sometimes old-school works best! Once the location was found they dropped a placemark onto the scribble map and then were tasked with finding a suitable image of the city. They then added this image to the placemark by linking it’s URL – some ICT skills being developed too! Finally they used the line tool to link the locations and measure the distance travelled…Maths!

What I loved most about this activity were the discussions that were going on at the tables as the pupils  studied the map and looked at images of the places marked. There were impromptu discussion about all sorts of things breaking out; one group was arguing about which language was spoken in Switzerland, another was trying to work out which cities had a team in the Champions League! What was obvious was that they were engaged in their learning, they were inquiring for themselves because they were genuinely interested and they were making links between various areas of the curriculum as well as to things outside of the curriculum.

I firmly believe that this type of holistic approach stands a greater chance of engaging and stimulating “love of learning” in our pupils than the single-track, compartmentalised approach of much subject-based learning. History and Geography can do much more than merely sit side by side on a curriculum planning document – they can in fact enhance each other by being intertwined and messed in such a way that the learning is much more meaningful and real.

It was near the end of the lesson when one pupil asked “Sir, are you our History or Geography teacher?”.

As someone who hates being pigeon-holed I was quite pleased with that.

iPad update: A change of plan…

In the summer I was buzzing with ideas about how we could use iPads in the classroom. Initially the idea was to use the 16 iPads at our disposal as a class-set. I was keen to see the ipads get into the hands of students. However after after a meeting with Patrick McGrath from it became obvious that an iPad pilot with teachers was what was needed – Patrick always knew this, it just took a little while for the penny to drop with me. It was agreed that there was to be a change of plan; the iPads would be given to teachers not pupils.

Today Patrick visited our school to help us launch our “iPad for Educators” pilot programme. For one hour he had the staff of our school eating out of his hand as he demonstrated the power and versatility of the iPad as a teaching tool . I don’t think there was one person in that room who couldn’t see the benefits of having an iPad in their classroom. One member of staff described Patrick’s session as the best CPD session that they have witnessed in years…well deserved praise in my opinion,

Our next move is to invite teachers to apply for the pilot. Those selected will be tasked with discovering apps which enhance learning and teaching in their subject and to explore pedagogical styles which best suit  teaching with iPad, To support the pilot group  I will be asking members to contribute to an Edmodo group and we will have monthly meetings to share our experiences in a face to face meeting. At the end of the project the  pilot group  will produce a report detailing their findings and they will lead a staff development day to share their experiences with their colleagues.

Exciting times.

Using ‘Fakebook’ in History

What about using the ‘Fakebook’ generator on as a learning log in KS3 History?

Well sort of.

I have just started a unit of work centred on Elizabeth I which includes lots of sub-topics such as the execution of Mary Queen of Scots and the Spanish Armada. I hit on the idea of using a ‘Fakebook’ page for Elizabeth I as a way of recording the events in a more interesting and meaningful way.

For those unfamiliar with ‘Fakebook’ it is a resource made available for free through the website. Pupils can create a facebook type wall for anyone they wish and add friends, comments, posts etc. The beauty is that the page is saved on the web and students can revisit it time and time again to add to it.

In my lesson this week we were looking at Elizabeth’s decision to execute her cousin Mary Queen of Scots. Working in groups of four (only 6 laptops working) the students were asked to create a post showing what Elizabeth would have siad about the execution on the day that it happened . They were encouraged to think of how someone like Philip II of Spain (Elizabeth’s arch rival for any non-historians reading this)  might have responded too.


This is more than an updated version of the traditional empathy exercise where pupils put these in the role of an historical figure. This activity requires students to apply the following skills:

  • sequencing events logically on a timeline (Fakebook allows posts to be dated and reordered)
  • Cause and consequence – I’m encouraging the pupils to think of the warning other people may give to Elizabeth via her ‘Fakebook’ wall on the consequences of her actions.
  • Understanding bias and motive – before posting the students need to think carefully about the message they wish to convey.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this works as a long term activity over 5/6 weeks and I’m hoping to see students attain a deeper understanding of the human relationships which are so important in History,

Anyway, here’s a link to one of the student produced ‘Fakebook’ pages.

First flipped lesson

After a slight change of plan I delivered my first flipped lesson this week.

My students were learning about The Treaty of Versailles. Usually this would mean reading a section of their textbook with them in class, maybe asking a few questions and then setting a piece of written work possibly accompanied by a mapping activity of Europe in 1919. I have no doubt that for many students this is a fairly decent way to learn however they remain pretty passive throughout and when I stop talking the conversations in the room quickly turn to the usual gossip that idle minds turn to.

For the flipped lesson I wanted to put the onus on the pupils to construct meaning for themselves. I thought that actually simulating the Paris peace talks and asking the pupils to take a role would force them to think about their attitude and reactions to the Versailles Treaty. I searched the web for a pre-made lesson (no point reinventing the wheel) and found this lesson (document) from the brilliant JohnDClare in the forum. It was exactly what I was looking for.

For the flipped element the students would need to familiarise themselves with some background information on the ‘Big Three’ nations and their aims at Versailles. I asked the students to watch a 2min screencast which I prepared using Prezi and Screenr and  posted to Edmodo. I gave them instructions to make brief notes on the aims of the three nations. You can watch the 2 min video here.

Importantly, the presentation tells the students nothing about what was actually decided at the Peace Conference, that was something which they would uncover for themselves in the class activity.

When the students arrived in class they were assigned a country, either France, GB or the USA, and they were given a briefing sheet to familiarise themselves with. The sheet outlined what they were trying to achieve at the peace conference and explained the forfeits that they would incur if certain things were agreed. Once briefed, each group appointed a spokesperson and the negotiations began. I had the tables arranged in a horseshoe and I acted as the chairperson. We worked our way through the key terms of the Treaty of Versailles but it was up to the students to decide what they would ask for and what compromises they would accept.

At the end of the hour we had agree our version of the Versailles Treaty and interestingly, although the students had not studied the key terms of the treaty the version that they agreed during the activity bore a remarkable resemblance to the 1919 document.

On reflection I feel that the lesson went well and the students definitely benefited from the Edmodo activity. Having had a night to think about the context and issues before having to apply it the students seemed very confident assuming their roles in class.

I’m finding that the students actually enjoy watching the video clips – maybe its still new to them – however I have decided to use the quiz builder in Edmodo to quickly assess whether or not the key learning intentions were achieved and if the students actually viewed the video! The quiz builder is pretty basic but it is quick and easy to use and a 10 question multiple choice quiz can be drummed up in a few minutes.


Overall I am happy with how things are going. Edmodo is working great outside of school (still big issues with Internet speed in school – no upgrade as yet and if you are a teacher in NI you will need to ask your network manager to enable streaming for your students as it is blocked by default ) and the students are buying in to the concept.

Note: Three students do not have web access at home so I encourage them to use school ICT suites after school. On day one we realised that the streaming content was not available in school so permissions were changed by our local network manager to resolve this.

I don’t know if what I’m doing is strictly ‘The Flipped Classroom’ or just a way I’ve found of supporting active learning in the classroom by creating homework activities which stimulate thinking and prepare students for class. What has flipped is the role of homework which I have traditionally used to assess class learning or finish off class activities. In this new approach homework is (hopefully) more meaningful as it introduces new ideas and prepares the student for their learning activities in class.

This week I will be having a look at the ‘Badges’ feature in Edmodo to see if I can use this to stimulate pupils and reward their participation and learning.


Flipping with Edmodo

Like most tweeting teachers I have been aware of the flipped classroom idea for some time now however I wasn’t totally convinced by it.

For the uninitiated, and the flipped classroom is one where links to teacher instruction and content are put online to be consumed outside of class leaving classroom time free for activities that deepen learning.

The idea was difficult for me for a number of reasons:

I am at heart an opponent of homework. I believe that formal education is but one part of a child’s life and homework can impinge on equally valuable activities such as play, socialising, family time and so on. Was the flipped classroom not just a system of class work and homework in reverse?

Secondly, not every child has access to the Internet outside school. Surely the flipped classroom would put them at a severe disadvantage.

Finally, it’s no secret that most school children hate homework and make up all sorts of excuses to a avoid doing it. Would they be more likely to watch a video presentation on a topic or would they create more excuses? And what impact would it have on my lessons if half the class arrived without having done the content session at home?

That was my thinking until I got chatting to @dmurray742 @cnicaodha and @stiofanoc about their plans to flip their Year 8 Irish lessons. In a splurge of tweets the fog began to clear and I could see that ‘Flipping’ was more than a re-branding of homework rather it allows a personal space for learning at a time and place of the student’s choosing – and even on a device of their choosing – allowing class contact time to be used like some kind of ‘mega-plenary’ where ideas that have been given time to sink in are explored in greater depth. @cnicaodha shared this video and it was obvious that Flipping enabled students to explore content within the classroom where and when they needed it during the class activity. I began to imagine how useful it would be if my lessons were available to my students instantly and how helpful it would be for me to be freed from the chore of constantly repeating myself!

Cutting a long story short I’ve decided to give Flipping a go. I intend to use Edmodo to post content for my GCSE History class to view in preparation for class activities. When it need to create content I intend to use sideshows supplemented with my audio commentary using either Screenr or my Smartboard ‘capture’ function however I will also poach content from other places such as Vimeo. I’m considering using the quiz function in Edmodo to check how well my students have grasped the key content and possibly asking them to show evidence of note taking.

One issue with using screenr is that it only allows 5min screencasts on their free account – maybe this will help me get to the core point of the learning intention (and I think the class will be happy too!)

So, the first topic for my flipped class is the Treaty of Versailles. I have a video lined up from the wonderful @JamiePortman and a class activity which will involve a treaty negotiation simulation.

Wish me luck!

“Arrive safely in July.”

The title of the blog post is a quote from a teacher I met on the OLTE programme. I’m not sure if this was an off-the-cuff remark or if it was something that he says to all his colleagues but it has stuck with me.

Teaching is a rewarding career but it is also a very difficult one. It appears fourth on a UK list of most stressful jobs with only the Police, Prison Officers and Social Workers faring worse.

I got to thinking about this as I noticed with the impending return to work my mind was becoming preoccupied with all the things I need to do this year. I’m not an expert on stress management and I do confess to finding the pressures of teaching overwhelming at times but over the years I have found a few things which help me and I felt like sharing them.

  • Write a list of goals you would like to achieve today, this week and for the year. When new issues arise decide if they are important enough to go onto your list or if you have time to deal with them at all.  Tick things off as you so them. A list of completed tasks will help to show that you are being effective.
  • Learn to ignore your room telephone; invariably it is interrupting a more important task. If the phone message is really important someone will get it to you!
  • Accept things you can’t change. A lot of stress emanates from feeling powerless to change structures, behaviours or mindsets. There’s an old saying ‘If you can’t shift it, paint it’ – paint over the things that you’d love to change but can’t. This may be difficult to do but the alternative is to beat your head against a brick wall which doesn’t help either.
  • If you are finding your work load or expectations of you excessive then speak to your principal and explain where you’re having difficulty. This is not the same as complaining; it’s a professional person recognising that their effectiveness is being compromised and they are seeking a solution.
  • Take a minute at the end of each day to think of something that was achieved that day. Let that be your last thought as you leave work. Don’t dwell on the things you failed to do; you probably failed to do those things because you were achieving elsewhere.

And remember, it is only a job. An important job and one that you’re passionate about but at the end if the day it’s just your job.

Arrive safely in July my friends.

iPad class sets…where to begin?

So, I’ve received news that our school will have a small class set (16) of iPads available to use from September and although I’m genuinely excited by this I have to admit that I’m a little anxious about the prospect as well.

Aside from logistics of where they are stored, who takes responsibility for syncing updates etc there is the issue of how do we ensure that we get best use from the technology.

With this in mind I put a call out to my PLN on Twitter for help and advice and the response I got amazed me! Thanks to everyone who responded – it seems that nothing excites you lot more than the iPad! You can see the feedback that I got from my PLN here

So now it’s decision time. How will we manage our class set of iPads to ensure we get maximum return from this investment?

I’ll be returning to this topic over the next few months. Watch this space!