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.

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!

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!


The Olympic Torch Mystery

On Monday last we ran what has now become our annual ‘CSI’ themed day in Year 8. The premise for the day was that the Olympic Torch belonging to one of our classroom assistants had been stolen from a classroom at break time the previous Friday. The aims for the day were many but the core focus was on team work and problem solving. The day would also serve as a vehicle to showcase how mobile technology and collaborative tools can be used in schools as well as promoting interdisciplinary collaboration and all-ability grouping.

Twitter was one of the collaborative tools being showcased during this event.

We have 250 students in Year 8 who were organised into 20 groups. We tried to ensure that each group contained a good mix of abilities and gender. Each group took the name of a country and were assigned a facilitator (a teacher or classroom assistant) who would stay with them throughout the day.

The day ran as follows:


Meeting in canteen to organise teams and to give them ‘the talk’ about team work and problem solving.

9.30 – 11

Team building games. These were organised by the PE department. They had set out a carousel of 10 games. Teams would compete against each other in each game for 5 minutes. Each 5 minute session winner was awarded 5 points.


Team games.. everyone participating!

11.15 -12.30

The Science department led Forensic Science training after breaktime which involved learning how to record and identify finger prints as well as carrying out a chromatography test to discover which pen was used to write a ransom note. We had 10 science rooms running at once; two teams went to each room. Marks were awarded for carrying out the experiments and tasks correctly. At the end of the training session there was a quiz to see which team had learned most from the session and more marks were awarded. Just before lunch the students were shown a Voicethread which contained recorded witness statements.

Witness Statements via ‘Voicethread’

1.15 – 1.45

QR Hunt / Orienteering Relay. QR codes were set at 20 locations around the school grounds. Teams were given a map and seven locations to go to to find a code. Team members worked in relay; two team members would go to find the first clue then return to the group with the record sheet and map and then the next two would go and find the next one and so on. They scanned the code with their mobile phones using a QR reader (most of the Year 8s have Blackberries and used this QR app) but also recorded a letter which was written beside the code. These letters proved that they had gone to the correct location. Points were awarded for 1st, 2nd,3rd etc and also for the number of clues found.

QR codes are a great way to make information gathering exciting.


I was then time to review the evidence. Back in the classroom as a group they could listen to the Voicethread again, review the clues from the QR codes and look at the Twitter stream which I had set up for the day.

2.15 – 3.15

Grand finale in the main hall. Everyone gathered in the hall and the six key suspects were brought on stage to face some questions from the audience. I was genuinely amazed by the quality of the questions coming from the floor and by our staff’s ability to remain in character!


The stage being readied for the arrival of the suspects.

Questioning over, each group had to make their final submissions where they state who they think the thief is. Again, marks we’re awarded. Before announcing the winners we had to expose the guilty person. I made this quick video to do this…it was a last minute idea and the finished product isn’t as good as I’d like it to be but it worked really well as the hall was plunged into darkness adding to the tension.  A big “Whoop!” went up as each of the innocent parties were revealed and cheers from the majority of the groups when the culprit was revealed at the end. Video over, the winners were announced and brought onto the stage to receive their trophy just in the nick of time as the home-time bell rang!

My final thoughts on the day were that maybe it was happening at the wrong time of the year. If an event like this was held in term 1 it would held promote positive relationships across the college and help develop a sense of community within Year 8. Feedback from teachers and students was very positive so it looks like there’ll be a third instalment of “CSI Holy Cross” next year.

The new C2K contract….my view.

To many involved in education in Northern Ireland the name ‘C2k’ has become synonymous with poor internet access, blocked websites and a VLE which is, quite frankly, a total waste of time and money. For years I and many others have been making these complaints to whomsoever would listen and we held out some hope that the new “Education Network for Northern Ireland” (ENNI) contract to supply IT services to schools here, which was put out to tender in 2011, would bring a more up-to-date, flexible and user-friendly service.

In January, at the BETT expo in London, it was announced that Northgate had been awarded the  “Education Network for Northern Ireland” (ENNI) contract to supply ICT services to NI schools. Many of us found the news underwhelming (to put it mildly). Northgate had delivered the previous contract and many were afraid that the new improved service would be a mere upgrading of the old service with better broadband access and maybe a new look for LNI but not the complete overhaul which we had hoped for. There were a few assurance from ‘people in the know’ that C2k  had listened to schools and that, in partnership with Northgate, they would put things right and that we would be impressed by the new service but we had heard that type of thing before.

It was in that context that I, like hundreds of other teachers, took the opportunity to attend the “C2k Roadshow” in Omagh last week . The roadshow’s mission was to  inform schools about the new ICT service which would be rolled out from September 2012. Whilst I was hoping to be impressed by what I would see and hear there was still a niggling worry in the back of my mind which told me that somehow I would be left feeling disappointed.

I needn’t have worried.

From what I saw at the C2k Roadshow in Omagh I now believe that C2k and Northgate WILL deliver the ICT service that we all dreamed of and more. The suite of services that will be available to NI schools will make us the envy of the rest of Europe if not the world!

So what have C2k and Northgate done to deserve such high praise?

C2k and Northgate have developed a ‘single login’ portal called ‘MySchool’ which will give students access to all the software and information services offered by their school from any device with an internet connection. Put simply, MySchool is a single web page where each student can find links to all the services such as their documents, timetable, VLE etc. Students will therefore be able to access their information and documents remotely; this may not seem that impressive to anyone who has used Google Docs but what did impress me was how C2k will be able to stream software to the students own home device via their browser. Take an example of a student who doesn’t have Microsoft Office installed on their home PC. Through ‘MySchool’ portal the student will be able to open the document and edit it in a streamed version of Office. Pretty impressive. The MySchool page is customisable; schools can brand it with their logo and motto and as well as this students can arrange the widgets on their homepage and choose from a gallery of designs and colour schemes.

The service is ‘browser agnostic’ (use that on your friends this weekend) meaning a not so fond “Fair well” to IE7 and great big “Hello!” to Google Chrome…or Safari, or Firefox. Any device with a modern browser can access MySchool. This opens up the possibility of using all sorts of devices in the classroom from laptops to iPads, smartphone, android tablets, PSPs…you name it. If it’s got a browser it can access MySchool. All schools will have a Meru wireless network installed which will allow students to access the network via any wirelesss device meaning that the age of ‘Bring Your Own Device’ could finally be here. Couple this with a bandwidth upgrade from 4 meg to 100 meg for large secondary schools and mobile solutions for integrating ICT in the classroom become much more attractive.

As for the VLE, this time around C2k have decided to buy in a ready-made solution in the form of Fronter and I have to admit that on first glance it looks quite impressive…even to a dyed in the wool moodler like me. It replaces LearningNI (LNI) and there will be few tears over it’s demise I’d imagine. Fronter has all the features that you would expect from a VLE – course areas, discussion forums, assessment tools, grade book etc – and has a simple interface which reminded me a lot of  the wikispaces editor. It seems very simple to edit courses (simpler than Moodle maybe?) and sits neatly within the MySchool portal single login. I’m anticipating that Fronter may signal the beginning of the end for my wikis and Edmodo groups. As much as I loved using those free web-services the students didn’t seem to love remembering their login details.  I have to admit that having everything I and the students need with one login will be a real bonus and I’m prepared to sacrifice some freedom for that convenience.

Another aspect of the new service which has impressed is how the whole suite of services has been seamlessly integrated. For example our Management Information System (SIMS) will integrate seamlessly with ‘MySchool’ portal and with the ‘Fronter’ VLE. A new student added to ‘SIMS’ will automatically appear in ‘Fronter’ without the need for a IT technician to set up a new account.

Now, you can’t convert a self-confessed grouch like me overnight and I still  have a few concerns around schools becoming tied-in to certain vendors and over the portability of our data if those vendors were to pull out however I do think that C2k and Northgate have really gone out of their way to give teachers and students in Northern Ireland the integrated and flexible service they need to push education here into the 21st Century.

Roll on September ’til we get a crack at it!

My best use of Voicethread yet!

I’ve been using Voicethread for a while now with some success (and failure) but this activity is definitely a winner and it’s one I will do again and again.

Year 9 have been looking at the topic of “The Ulster Plantation” in History and I decided to put images referring to key events and people into voicethread. I then added clues and the pupils job was to try and find out who the person, place or thing was and what it had to do with plantations.

For this task I made them work in pairs with a laptop and I gave them a link to this website and told them that all the answers could be found there. The lesson aimed to encourage my students to use their research and inquiry skills. They would have to make decisions about which information was relevant and make connections between text, pictures and ideas.

When they got an answer they had to type a response onto the relevant Voicethread slide. As the comments are moderated before being publicised, I could see all the class’s answers coming in in real time but the cool thing was that they could only see their own.

I have rarely seen this particular class work so well and they were obviously enjoying the challenge and the technical side of things. There was no looking at the clock or puffing of cheeks. There was a lot of questioning, maybe a little frustration at times as they struggled to get an answer but then there was genuine elation when they had made a connection which led them to the solution.

At the end of the class we shut down the laptops and played the Voicethread on the IWB to see what each group had written.

How handy is that?  A ready made plenary!

The class didn’t get all the questions answered but I wasn’t too bothered because I know that when we revisit this next week they will all remember who Hugh O’Neill was and how he is connected to the Ulster Plantation.

You can view the Voicethread here

#NIedchat on Elluminate

This Wednesday night (14/12/11)  at 8.30 , #NIedchat (the fledgling Twitter chat for NI educators) is doing something a little different. In response to a request in last week’s chat, Donna Vaughan (@Medv2 on Twitter) has agreed to deliver a session on Using ICT in the NI Curriculum via Elluminate.

Elluminate is a technology which facilitates distance learning via the web. As of last year, all of Northern Ireland’s teachers have their own Elluminate room made available through LNI. Elluminate opens up loads of possibilities for teachers and learners and Wednesday night’s session could be a good way for many teachers to dip their toe in the water and see what the technology can do.

The room will go live at 8.30, and to participate fully you will need a  headset with a mic and a webcam (if you have neither of these you can still participate…just not as effectively!).

Rest assured, you won’t need any technical knowledge to participate just a willingness to try something new.

A link to the Elluminate room will be posted in Twitter by @NIedchat and using the #NIedchat hashtag after 8.15.


A brief introduction to Elluminate

The video below gives you an idea of what you can expect the first time you enter an Elluminate session.