Wrestling a Gorilla: That Was The Year That Was

Kong Blog

It’s been quite a year this year and I felt that I needed to write a post purely to help me reflect on it all.  This is it.   With this in mind, it is an entirely self indulgent piece of writing but if there IS anyone reading this, please forgive me.   I’d already decided that I wanted to blog more frequently, through shorter, more reflective posts and I’m still new at this blogging lark.  It’s also, arguably, more of a list than a properly insightful bog post, but this just felt like something I needed to do to put the year to bed.  I may link back to some of my earlier blog posts, where I feel that they explain what I want to say with  more lucidity.  So, without further ado and in no particular order…


I had never even heard of a TeachMeet until this year – I have now attended and presented at three, and helped to organise one – each time it was a buzz, though I would describe my presentation style as “rough and ready” at best.   In March I worked with some colleagues to organise a TeachMeet in our own school –  TeachMeet Cov.  We are really proud of how it turned out and there will be another one next year. I was also delighted to be asked to talk about TeachMeets and the Nord Anglia Head Teacher’s Conference at Warwick University, and I hope that my limited experience were usefu in some small way, to those that were kind enough to listen.  I’m already looking forward to my TeachMeet experiences next year  – huge thanks to Dan Harvey for getting me started.

Aspiring Senior Leaders Development Programme.

I enjoyed this course immensely, but it didn’t answer the huge range of questions I had about Leadership – instead it gave me a whole bunch of new ones to think about.  I originally started this blog to help me reflect on my journey (ugh, I hate that phrase) through the course, but it hasn’t really ended up that way.  Still, as John Lennon said “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans” – I have learnt (and will continue to learn) about myself as a Leader by getting on and doing it. Being a Middle Leader is a challenge every day and I can only imagine, at the moment, what life as a Senior Leader is like – I applaud and admire those who can pause to write about school leadership with the perception, passion and imagination, of the likes of Kev Bartle, Tom Sherrington and John Tomsett, at the same time that they “walk the walk”.  Incredible.

Running a TaLK group

At some point I will write a separate post about my experiences of Teaching and Learning Communities – I have referenced TaLK groups a couple of times in previous posts and the opportunity to run a such group, with my good friend and colleague Mike Gunn, has been hugely rewarding.  The most pleasing aspect has been to work with colleagues and watch them try things in the classroom that they wouldn’t have done before.  It was amazing and humbling to work in such a mutually supportive environment and I can’t wait to see what new directions we can travel in next year.  If youtr school hasn’t looked at the Dylan Wiliam model of Teacher led CPD, then I would heartily recommend doing so.

The Finham Park Teaching and Learning Conference

Our school’s first Teaching and Learning Conference – held at the Coventry Hilton in July – was a fantastic event, providing wonderful opportunities to share practice and reflect on our experiences of TaLK groups.  Mike Hughes provided a stimulating – and challenging – keynote and it was good to be able to work and share with colleagues from our partner schools. The conference was a positive opportunity for people to look back at what they have done and celebrate whilst also look and where to go next.  I don’t always think we spend enough time being positive about our own – and each other’s – achievements  and we (as a profession) should do it more often, particularly in light of the fact that there is always an orderly (and very lengthy) queue of people waiting in line with opposing views..

SOLO Taxonomy

I have barely scratched the surface yet and I have already blogged about about my attempts with SOLO this year.   My time on twitter and in the blogosphere this year has put me in touch with some amazing teachers who have studied, written about and taught using SOLO and done all of these things far more effectively than I.   My original question with SOLO was whether it was something that would work in my own subject area (ICT) and the little I have learnt has convinced my that it IS worth pursuing.   There is a growing interest in SOLO within my own school so I am sure that there will others to help me take the next steps.

Setting up Digital Leaders

Having been involved with the birth of Smart Learning at my school, it was wonderful to help with the appointment of 15  fantastic students as Digital Leaders in the last few weeks of term.  Though the group hasn’t been together long but already they have started to show what they are capable of and it will be amazing to work with them next year.  I will be blogging about how they are getting on, in the new year. In the mean time, Mike has added to his superb range of blog posts about our experiences of setting up a BYOD programme, by talking about Digital Leaders.  I strongly recommend that you check out this post – and his other others.

Being given a Head of Faculty role

Various movements and changes at school have given me an expected opportunity – I was flattered to be asked to be head of the newly formed ICT and Business Faculty.  I am already extremely lucky to be a Subject Leader of a great department with some fantastic colleagues and I am looking forward to working with a terrific new Head of Business Studies to build a faculty. The challenge of turning two departments into one faculty, whilst still preserving the best elements and strengthening the other bits of each, is a daunting but exciting one.

SLT Secondment

In September I will also be beginning a two term secondment to SLT – this opportunity is given to two colleagues each year and, as the previous incumbents of the role have reliably informed me, it will be eye-opening.  The opportunity is made as “legitimate” as possible – there is a formal application process and you have to complete (or at least work on) a project during your secondment. If anything is going to help me answer the questions posed by my ASDLP course, this is will I have chosen to look at the not insubstantial areas of personalised and independent learning. So not ambitious then.  I have started to explore this area already but clearly I have a lot of work to do.


Finally I have to thank all the talented and generous teachers with whom I have chatted, debated, shared or collaborated in any small way this year.  It has been fantastic to actually meet some of you.   I think I have finally learnt how to “do” Twitter in such a way that IT works for ME (and not the other way round) which hasn’t always been the case.. I can’t possibly name all of you here but it wouldn’t be right not to mention Dan Harvey (again!), the lovely Gwenelope, Andy’s Knill and Colley and of course, Mark Anderson, ICT Evangelist (good luck with your new job Mark!)

What’s the Gorilla bit about, then?

There is a common thread linking all of these things together.  

All are a personal “work in progress”  – I am under no illusion that for all the learning I have done, I still have a massive amount of learning still to do.  The slightly odd title of this post is derived from a saying that sums up my feelings about this..

“When wrestling a gorilla, you don’t stop when you get tired.  You stop when the gorilla gets tired.

I think the gorilla has a few rounds left in him yet… 

Yes I’m looking forward to a holiday, but I’m also looking forward to being in it for the long haul.  I may never beat the gorilla but I am looking forward to trying and I am as excited about next year  (which will be my 17th) as I was about this one.  

Seconds out, round two…

In the meantime, I wish everyone a happy and restful summer. 

Using Learning Placemats to Develop Independent Learning


I have been trying to look at ways of developing independent learning skills in my classroom this year, and as usual it was via Twitter, that I found my way to Dan Aldred’s excellent website and discovered Learning Placemats.  (Bearing in this in mind, any credit for the original idea should go to Dan and any blame for its clumsy execution should be directed at me!)

What are Learning Placemats?  They’re an interesting idea, flipping the idea of Teacher Toolkit’s 5 minute lesson plan on its head.  Students are presented with, essentially, a lesson plan, guiding them through the structure and content of the lesson, along with the means to support themselves on their journey through the lesson.

I took Dan’s original template (check the link to his site, were he has provided the source files) and tried to produce an ICT version, that also enabled me to focus on developing the students’ independent learning skills. You can get a less blurry version of my version from here should you so desire.

Photo 24-05-2013 11 45 59

The key elements of my version of the LPM were:

  • Lesson Objectives (with a simple method of allowing students to self-assess progress against them)
  • The 4B’s model
  • Spaces for students to reflect on learning at the beginning and end of the lesson
  • Information about where they could find the lesson’s resources on the VLE
  • Outline of the key tasks, with spaces to reflect on their learning from each one.

To (mis) quote Jim Smith, from the introduction of his excellent “Lazy Teacher’s Handbook” the idea was to..

“Put the responsibility of learning directly and consistently onto the students.  In doing so they learn to engage with their own learning, and not just in what they have learnt but in how they have learnt it”

So not at all ambitious then..  (for my next trick, I will unicycle blindfold over the Niagra Falls, whilst doing Gangnam Style)  Still, in for a penny in for a pound

I decided to try LPM (as they shall henceforth be known) with all three of my Year 8 groups. All three groups are mixed ability and there is a very wide mix of students across all three.

I was about to start a spreadsheet topic with all groups and I have always found this aspect of ICT challenging to teach as students either seem to “get it” or they don’t, thus giving me very polarised groups.  My thinking was that if I could enable the student to work independently for the most part, I would allow the confident students to work at a pace that suited them, while I would be able to better support the less able.  I also hoped to remove need for students to depend on me for even the most basic pieces of information.   I’m sure that a few of you are familiar with at least some of these questions too ..

  • What am I supposed to be doing?
  • How do I do it?
  • I have finished.  What do I do next?
  • Where do I find out the information I need?
  • What do I do when I get stuck?
  • What did we do last week?
  • What is the homework for this week?

Using LPM in class

The placemats would be out on their desks as they came into the room (I am lucky  enough to have my own classroom so I was able to manage this without any problems) and it became the norm for the students to fill in the “What I know already” section as a bell-work activity.

While there would be some “whole class” activities across the project – some starters, self and peer evaluations – I increasingly left it to the students to decide how they would work.  They came to see some of the lesson tasks as more of a “suggestion” then something they had to do.  Nearly all of the resources they needed to learn the skills necessary to complete the tasks were uploaded onto  the VLE.

I tried to establish  a climate of minimal questions – I have established the 4B’s with my classes this year – and referred to rules on the sheet.  When I say “minimal questions” what I mean is those “low level” questions – i.e. where are the resources, what do I do next, how do I do that – that  I referred to earlier  

I tried to make use of “DIRT” (Dedicted Improvement and Reflection Time) in each lesson. There was “reflection time” built in towards the end of each lesson, where I would ask students to think about what they had done in each activity, leading them to set a target for the following week. Students were given time at the beginning of the following lessons to use as they saw fit.  I also rewarded students who completed every section of their LPM.

The LPM’s were used in all seven lessons in my project and here are my thoughts on how it went…

Some WINS and positive outcomes

1) I was very pleased with project outcomes in all three groups – I would go as far as to say that all three groups achieved produced their best work of the year. There is plenty of evidence of progress for every student. 

2) For the most part, my role seemed to change during this project – while there was some whole class teaching, I spent much more time supporting students than whole-class teaching. 

3) As a result, I found that I was able to get a good understanding of where each student was at, since my time was spent with individual students.   This was very useful during DIRT as I was able to support the less able students by helping them to identify the progress that they had made and suggest appropriate targets for next time.  I could give my time to the students that needed it, knowing that  I wasn’t impeding the progress of students at the other end of the scale who wanted to go further but didn’t know how.

4) At the basic level, students were better at managing themselves and supporting each other. There was far more evidence of students at least trying to solve their own problems, if not always succeeding.  Some students were still guilty of asking the VERY basic questions that they should have been answering themselves.  For the most part, the culprits responded to me tapping the LPM in front of them and the rest were made to endure the process of me asking them where THEY thought the resources were.

In terms of their progress the LPM started to make more and more sense.  Students were able to use them to support learning at their own pace and questions about “what do I do next?” disappeared almost completely.  The progress made by the most able was considerable.

6) There was some evidence of independent learning – I saw students use skills that I know I didn’t teach them and, while I am aware that this is a generalisation, I would say that the most able students flourished while I was able to encourage the less able to achieve more than they might have otherwise.

Some EBI’s and things to reflect on

1) Dependency is ingrained into a lot of students.  For some, it is almost a Pavlovian response to being asked to do something.  I am increasingly starting to believe that breaking these habits is something that can’t be done in isolation by a few staff.  Even at the end of the project, there were more than one or two still clinging onto their learned behaviours.

2) The quality of the reflective work on the LPM’s varied considerably.  Less able students found it hard to reflect on their learning in a meaningful way and it was hard for them to articulate what they had learnt in writing.  I think that a way around this will to be to encourage students to record their learning in a wider variety of ways, something which will be easier to do as our school moves towards a BYOD environment (for example, by using something like Evernote to record voice notes) Still, I believe that it is the time allowed for this rather than the method which is key.  Speaking of time…

4) Making effective use of DIRT is very hard in ICT – like many schools, we only have an hour a week in Key Stage 3 and projects tend to be 6 or 7 weeks long. When most of my teaching time is dedicated to “getting through the content” it is often hard to allocate the time I would like, to getting students to *think* about what they are doing. Andy Colley and I have both lamented the challenge of managing DIRT appropriately in ICT:



I am envious of colleagues with the time to use DIRT properly and in awe of any who do it with similarly scare resources.  (I would point any ICT types towards Andy excellent blog where he talks about how he manages it)

The end of project evaluation I did with the students asked them to consider process as well as outcome but they did find this hard, even I provided a WAGOLL.  There is work to be done here.Photo 24-05-2013 11 46 49

5) Arguably, the learning was inhibited by what I provided in terms of the resources I used to support it. Not all students enjoy learning from tutorials and some just aren’t able to do it.  Some students just respond better to being taught, by a teacher.  In addition I have to consider, that if I am truly trying to get students to develop independent learning skills, I need to explore the possibility of using more open ended projects.

6) Producing one LPM per week wasn’t too arduous but in subject where there are two or more lessons a week, one might want to think about changing the format slightly

7) I could and should have got some pupil voice feedback from the project.  I am sure that the structure and design of my version of the plan could be improved and I can’t believe that all 75 of my Year 8  pupils were able to use them effectively, just like I can’t imagine 75 teachers would look at the same version of the 5 minute plan without wanting to tweak it at least slightly.

In summary…

Overall I have had a very positive experience of using LPM.  They have led me to further consider if there is a difference between independent working and independent learning and, exactly what combination of those two things took place in my classroom.  Gut feeling?  There is a difference, and what I got was a little from column ‘A’ and a little from column ‘B’.  They key thing though is that I DID see independence from my students and that gives me encouragement to persevere.  I haven’t met the lofty ambition ideals described in my Jim Smith quote, but perhaps this is another tool in my armoury which lead me towards achieving this.

While the outcomes have not been perfect I think that the idea has enough potential to warrant further exploration and I’m going to use them again and I’m in process of planning a second project.

I’d like to thank Dan for being good enough to publish and share his resource in the first place and I’d love to hear from anyone who has used the LPM – either successfully or unsuccessfully – and has a story to tell about it.

Infographics Part 2: Using infogr.am

A couple of months a go, I wrote a post about creating infographics – I am seeing an increasing number of infographics shared on my timeline these days and many of them seem to be created by teachers.  Since writing my post, I have discovered a new tool that I think is so good, it warrants a follow up post.

Infogr.am is a (currently) free web app – currently in beta –  for creating charts and infographics.  The main difference between Infogr.am and the tools that I posted about before (easel.ly and Grafio for iPad) is that it is focussed more on the DATA side of infographics, than the use of images and graphics. I know that all infographics feature data in some way, but a lot of the tools I have used have been focused on the use of images rather than handling numeric data.

Infogr.am doesn’t really have drawing tools – it does however, have a wide set of options for building charts and visual data representations of various types.


Infogr.am will allow you to import data straight from an excel spreadsheet, or you can paste/type data directly into their own, easy to use spreadsheet interface.  Video, image and map imports are also supported so there is certainly lots of potential for building something that looks really good. Customisation is limited to the themes on offer, but they look good and it is easy to adapt them for your needs.  I assume that more themes will be supported when Infogr.am leaves beta and the “Pro” version comes online.

There currently six themes to choose from

There currently six themes to choose from

I have not used Inforgr.am with students, though I believe that they would be able to use it with few problems.  It does require an account (the app is currently free) so if you aren’t comfortable with the students doing it, you might want to try something else.

I actually think that Infogr.am has great potential as a teacher tool – for example it would be a great way of producing really attractive visualisations of school/department data.  I am currently in the process of using it to generate visualisations of the  pupil voice data that I recently gathered using Google Forms.

You can see my (first) attempt here, with the caveat that it is very much a work in progress


It would make a great tool for representing exam results, or indeed any data sets that would warrant a more visual or interactive way of engaging the audience.


  • Free (at the moment)
  • Excel import (or use their inbuilt spreadsheet tool)
  • Easy to use interface
  • Wide range of options for displaying data
  • Brilliant for infographics driven by numeric data
  • Sharing via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or – via embedding – Blog.
  • Choice of themes
  • Option to add other media (such as maps, videos, images)


  • No download – infographics can be only be published to the Infogr.am site
  • No graphics tools
  • Doesn’t seem to work on a tablet
  • Account needed (maybe an issue for students)

If you are at all interested in creating infographics, I really recommend giving Infogr.am a go.

Hosting a TeachMeet – The Noob’s Perspective



Even though the idea of the TeachMeet seems to have been growing apace, with events being held all over the country, they had seemingly evaded my particular corner of the West Midlands, until the fantastic Dan Harvey organised TeachMeetBrum.  I went along with my good friend Mike Gunn, and in for a penny, in for a pound, we (sort-of) contributed to it and certainly both thoroughly enjoyed it.  By the time we returned home, we had both decided that TeachMeet had to come to Coventry. (Our planning on the car journey home reminded me of the over-excited and wildly far-fetched post-gig conversations the teenage me would have with friends about forming a band..)  We knew we would need some help so after convincing our brilliant Deputy Head @plestered that it was a good idea, #TMCov was green lit..

What follows is a short overview of what we did – our take on a TeachMeet – and how three TeachMeet-organising-noobs tackled it.   Hopefully there will be something here of use – even if it’s a what-not-to-do.   If you are thinking of running a TeachMeet of your own, I would certainly urge you to check out posts from ICT Evangelist and Teacher Toolkit who are both old hands at this sort of thing.  I have tried not to repeat the same points that they made – so here goes…


1) Decide on a TM format that works for you

Most TeachMeets seem to work on the premise of people delivering short presentations (seemingly between 2 and 8 minutes)  We decided on a TaLK group format for our TeachMeet, on the basis that we have been running TaLK groups at our school since the start of the year and they have proved to be a fantastic way of sharing best – and next practice.  Since this is what TeachMeets are all about, it seemed the perfect way to do it.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the TaLK group model and are nodding sagely, but for those of you aren’t, they are based on Dylan Wiliam’s idea of Teaching and Learning Communities  – basically teacher led CPD.

Looking back I am glad we did it this way  and my advice would be not to worry about whether you are doing it “right” or not – just think about what you can do to provide the best experience for those attending.

One of the best bits of advice I got was from Andy Knill..


I like to think that we at last tried to think about this principle when we put our TeachMeet together

2) Ticketing 

If you’ve never used EventBrite I can recommend it as a really easy, stress free to manage your ticketing.  It’s free to use for events that don’t charge for tickets and it doesn’t take long to put an event page together.

3) TeachMeets are a great chance to work TOGETHER as a school

One of the nicest comments I received after the event from was one about how everyone seemed to “pull together” – admin and support staff, SLT, pupils and teachers.

From the standpoint of practical organisation, it is a really important to have someone to bounce ideas off and while there are a LOT of little (and a quite a few big) jobs involved in organising a TM, it is possible to lose focus and you find yourself drilling down to minute and not always important details that aren’t really going to impact the event.  Hopefully we succeeded in talking each other out of the more ridiculous ideas and keeping the “main thing the main thing”. SLT involvement was really important. @plestered (who has more contacts than a Specsavers Superstore) was able to find us a Keynote speaker and our equally supportive Head Teacher was able to find funding to pay for.. well everything really.  A large number of  SLT were there on the night and helped in a huge range of ways – it is fantastic to be able to draw on the expertise of your SLT for events like this.  I feel it sends the very important message that the key purpose and focus of the school is teaching and learning.

What I would say is that without the help we got from admin staff, site services, catering and ICT technicians we would not have had a Teach Meet.

The amazing TeachMeet Cov curry

The amazing TeachMeet Cov curry

As for the pupils bit…

4) TM’s are a fantastic Student Leadership opportunity

We would have liked to involve our students more than we did  (Having some proper digital leader involvement  is an EBI for next time)  but the students were SUPERB on the night.  The student leaders helped with ‘meet and greet of guests, showed people how to sign up to / get to sessions and even filmed the Keynote.  I think they did a great job..

5) Have an Ice breaker.. do what you can to ensure people have fun

We thought it would be fun to provide some “bell work” for people when they arrived – this served the dual purpose of giving folk something to do while others were arriving and getting people talking to each other, to hopefully make them feel more comfortable about sharing things in the sessions.  Mike and I have tried the same thing in our school TaLK group and it has worked really well.    If you’d like to see the thing we put together you can get it here.  We provided some fun prizes (which were awarded at the end of the evening) We went for large Thorntons chocolate bars with “TM Cov” iced on top and I think they went down (literally) very well.

Some lucky winners of #TMcov chocolate

Some lucky winners of #TMcov chocolate

6) Think about the best way of archiving the event that works for you

We decided against videoing/recording/streaming the actual sessions for a number of reasons (though we may look at this next time) but mainly to minimise the number of things that could go wrong on the night. We opted to use Linoit as our means of archiving what happened in each session.  (It ws a toss-up between Linoit and Padlet (née Wallwisher) but on the wise advice of Mike, the guaranteed stability of Linoit won the day.  We asked people to post their own “ideas/comments/pledges to try” at the end of each session to build up a permanent resource board for each of the different groups.  The beauty of this is that people were still adding to them after the event (as well as uploading resources) so Linoit boards have kept #TMCov alive after the event!)  Our aforementioned genuis technician put together a #TMCov website  where you can see all the boards.  We’ve now got this to use with our next event.   I’d also recommend using Storify to make a record of all tweets from the event.

7) Avoid Epic Tech Fails: Make your life as easy as possible

If you can, have technical rehearsals – check your WiFi, your PA – any tech that you’re going to use.  Do everything you can to minimise the chance of technical problems on the night.  For example we used one laptop with all presentations pre-loaded and set up in advance.  We trialled the open WiFi to see how it would cope.  All the Linoit boards had been set up and tested the week before.  Sounds obvious I know, but it does help to know that things are going to work!

8) Post Event Feedback

We are in the process of collecting WWW’s and EBI’s to help us plan next year’s event.  There are plenty of ways of doing this – SurveyMonkey or Google Forms would both work – our genius-tech-guy built ours into the TMCov website.

9) Just do it…

What I would say is DO IT.  The hard work is totally worth it, though someone may need to remind me that I said that when it comes to organising TMCov 2!

Some early EBI’s…

(Note: I will keep adding to this as more post-event feedback comes in, but initially..)

  • The ticketing worked well, but we had to put a link on the page to a Google Form to allow people to book sessions – the only problem was that if one person booked tickets on behalf of others, only one would see the link.. a bit of frantic emailing and tweeting was needed to get the forms filled in so I would like to look for a more elegant solution next time.
  • Organise the sessions so that every presenter gets at least one session off – several of us did three sessions and didn’t get to see any of the other sessions.
  • More student involvement – I will be taking my queues from Dan Harvey and Liz Allton who have their Digital Leaders presenting.  The DL’s at TMBrum were fantastic and I’d love to see our students doing it too.

I hope this hasn’t come across as an attempt to suggest the “right” way to do a TeachMeet  – all I have tried to do is share my perspectives as a first-time organiser.  I (and I’m sure, Mike and Russell) have learnt an enormous amount during this..and still have more to learn before the next one.  Any new perspectives, advice or comments would be most welcome.

Creating Infographics (using Grafio, easel.ly and more)

Title Image

I love infographics and have been experimenting with creating my own for a while.  I have also written an infographics project for Year 7 as part of our KS3 ICT programme, so  I thought I would share a couple of the best ways I have found for making infographics either for yourself or with students.

Most of the design blogs I read in the subject seemed to require significant knowledge of Adobe Illustrator (which I haven’t got) or significant design skills (which I also don’t have!) It also seemed to be difficult to get the feel and authentic look of an infographic in most of the DTP or graphics programs I have used (though this may well be just me) so here are a couple of suggestions..


Grafio (available or iPad and iPhone) is a hugely impressive app that allows you to create infographics (or indeed pretty much any chart or diagram) with a minimum of fuss.  The app would be equally useful for creating system flowcharts or venn diagrams and there are  a number of ways in which it could be used in different subject areas.

The superb design of the app means the user is given a wide set of tools, accessed through clear, simple and uncluttered interface and enhanced by clever use of gestures.

The basic Grafio tools - the Properties section changes according to context (like Adobe Flash, Fireworks et al)

The basic Grafio tools – the “Object Properties” section changes according to context (like Adobe Flash, Fireworks et al)

It contains a decent library of built-in vector objects and is easy to create your own shapes (which can be added to the library) or import others from the your iPad’s camera roll.

The shape recognition tool is particularly clever and the app does an excellent job of working out what you have tried to draw and then improving it!

There is also a neat Tips & Tricks feature built into the app

There is also a neat Tips & Tricks feature built into the app

The app provides some beautifully presented how-to-guides (created with the app itself) and includes some sample documents which you can fiddle about with to see how they were made.  In truth, the app is very easy to learn and most features are easily accessible.

Share Editable

There are a wide range of sharing options (via mail, Dropbox, iTunes etc) and the ability to share an editable Grafio document is particularly useful – it would be straightforward to create a template or outline of a document and share it with students.

Grafio isn’t the cheapest app out there – £5.99 – but  you get what you pay for, which in this  case is a phone/tablet app with the featureset of a proper graphics package.   I would urge you to try the free version first.  It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes playing with it to convince you that it is worth paying for the full version.

If you would like to see the app in action, the publishers have helpfully provided some video tutorials on their YouTube channel and you can check them out here.  Below is an example of my first attempt at an infographic in Grafio – please don’t judge the quality of the app based on my limitations as a designer!  For me, Grafio ranks alongside Phoster as my favourite for creating classroom displays or posters and would also be perfect for student use.

My first attempt

My first attempt


Easel.ly is a web app, currently in beta, that also does a great job of simplifying the process of creating infographics.  I used this successfully with Year 7 as a part of a  scheme of work and was very pleased with the results.  (I actually think infographics make a great KS3 ICT project – there are all sorts of elements in there, such as the use of data, the importance of good research, graphics design…)

[Disclaimer: At the time of writing easel.ly is FREE but it IS in beta.. so it could easily become a paid service or disappear altogether.  Do bear this in mind when deciding whether you would want to use it in the classroom]

You do need to sign up to (either with Facebook or via an email address) to use easel.ly – our school has full Google Apps for Education integration so we had a secure managed email address for each student to use.

As a web app, easel.ly does not boast the full range of features that Grafio can offer – but it is certainly good enough to produce an effective infographic.  If you’d like to see an example, you can download an easel.ly infographic I created to show the 4B’s (again applying my disclaimer regarding my own skills!)The 4B's infographic

Below is a screencast I created showing how to use easel.ly which gives a pretty good idea of the features it has.

Some of the nice features of this app include..

  • You can upload your own images – this is a nice touch, though the feature  occassionally didn’t work when my students tried it
  • There are a nice range of custom templates provided or there is the choice to use a blank canvas
  • There is a surprisingly good range of vector images included in the image library
  • At the current time there seem to be no limiations on use, other than the fact that only one infographic can be saved/edited at one time
  • It is very easy to use


I am very happy with both these tools at present but am looking to see if there better ones available.

  • Piktochart is a nice alternative to easel.ly (though the free version does seem to have a few limitations) A new version has just been released so I am going to revisit Piktochart.
  • Lucidchart (another web tool) can be used for infographics.  I’m looking very closely at this for next year since it has Google Drive integration baked in – which takes it to another level as far as I’m concerned.
  • Inkscape is an open source vector graphics package which looks to have potential as an infographics tool – and has the obvious bonus of being totally free.  T

I would be interested to know what you think of these applications – and indeed, which other mobile apps, web apps or programs you are using to create infographics yourself, or with your students.

Power and Responsibility: Safer Internet Day and the future of e-safety

Great Power...Greate Responsibility

This is post in two parts; it started out as a “what we we did on Safer Internet Day” job, but two days after SID 2013  (as it shall be known henceforth)  the new Draft National Curriculum was released and that got me thinking..

I am grateful to Alan MacKenizie (@esafety advisor) for helping me to frame my thoughts for this post – as well of course, as for providing such superb guidance on this issue on an ongoing basis

Part One: Safer Internet Day 2013

So let’s look at SID first. This was (to my shame) only the second year we had taken part in SID and I wanted the event to have a higher profile this year.  It is now on the school calendar which meant that I was able to start discussing the planning earlier –  I was also able to discuss it in our Middle Leaders meeting, which provided me with some useful thoughts and ideas from other colleagues.  SLT – and other Subject Leaders –  were very supportive and I think events like this don’t work unless you have SLT firmly on board.

We decided to take the school off timetable last period on the day, for a Internet Safety lesson;  I planned and resourced the lesson, which was delivered in Mentor Groups.  We followed the SID 2013 theme of rights and responsibilities – the main objective of the lesson was that every mentor group was to come up with their own “code” of internet safety rights and responsibilities.  The fact that we have a vertical mentoring system gave lots of opportunities for good discussion.  Each group discussed and voted on their “top 3” which were added to a Google Form (you’ve got to love Google Forms!) in order to collate this information.

SID2013 Wordcloud

A word cloud generated from the responses of every mentor group

A few little things about the day..

Whole-staff Involvement

At the suggestion of the Deputy Head, both SLT and  Associate Staff joined the mentor groups during the lesson in order to reinforce the “whole school” emphasis we were trying to place on the day. OFSTED believe that involving everyone in e-safety contributes towards “Outstanding” practice.  In their 2010 report, “The Safe Use of New Technologies“, they give an example;

“In the five schools where provision for e-safety was outstanding, all the staff, including members of the wider workforce, shared responsibility for it. 

Associate Staff are so often the first port of call for vulnerable students – the ones who talk to the office staff, the dinner ladies, the learning supervisors before they will share anything with a teacher.  From my point of view the involvement of EVERYONE was what made the day a success.

I received a lot of positive feedback from staff regarding how the lesson went – this was very gratifying considering the challenges involved in planning a single lesson for 100 or so staff, without access to computers – which had to be suitable for students in every year group!

Death Star Impact

Follow Up

There is a danger that worthy whole-school events like Safer Internet Day take place amongst a lot of hoo-haa and noise, and then disappear without trace until the following year. If we’re not careful there is no IMPACT.  One of my tutor group said to me “just doing a day won’t achieve anything” and of course he’s right. But you achieve more than by NOT taking part at all and it needs to be a start point not a full stop.  This week we are following up SID with student-led assemblies.  Student Leaders will feedback the results of the whole school rights and responsibilities exercise, and we will use the key ideas contributed by the students to inform a more student-friendly Internet Safety Policy.

An up to date, student-friendly policy, informed by the views of the student voice, is vital for us since we are currently going through the process of developing  BYOD in our school and this can’t happen without students “buying in” to the culture of responsibility that this will necessitate (as referenced by the Spiderman quote at the top of this post!)

Again, taken from the OFSTED guidance;

few of the schools visited made good use of the views of pupils and their parents to develop their e-safety provision.”

Next Steps

There is still a lot of work to do..

  • Integrating e-safety into PSHE – we are hoping to do this in both KS3 and 4.  Not only will it allow us to teach it properly, but will provide important opportunities for student voice.  I would like the modules to allow students to devise an e-safety policy of their own which we can use to help us evaluate and improve the existing policy on ongoing basis.  After all, the internet changes all the time so any policy regarding its safe use needs to reflect this!  Once again, OFSTED’s views;

Rigorous e-safety policies and procedures are in place, written in plain English, contributed to by the whole school, updated regularly and ratified by governors.

  • Digital Leadership – we already have a superb cohort of Frog Leaders, with e-safety as part of their remit.  I would like to develop thei role of DL in shool and e-safety will have a large part in that.
  • Parental Engagement – tweets, stuff on the website and letters home about SID are great, but not really “parental engagement”.  Definitely an Even Better If
  • Staff Training – OFSTED identify this as being the most significant weakness in e-safety provision.  The expectation is that all staff receive some sort of e-safety training each year.  I wonder how many schools do this and if so, what form it takes.

I would be really interested in hearing from any schools that are outstanding practitioners of e-safety to hear what you have done – and how you have done it.

All this is very worthy.  E-safety is very important and OFSTED clearly agree, so it should be straightforward to find it in our curriculum.   What we are really talking about here is, for want of a better term, “Digital Citizenship” – not just being ABLE to  tweet, download and surf, but to fully understand the implications and responsibilities involved with doing so.  Which leads me to…


So where is it?  It must be SOMEWHERE – after all, OFSTED, in their Inspecting e-safety document have made it clear what they expect from schools, by thoughtfully providing us with Key Features of Good and Outstanding Practice

In terms of teaching they suggest that this includes…

  • “A progressive curriculum that is flexible, relevant and engages pupils interest; that is used to promote e-safety through teaching pupils how to stay safe, how to protect themselves from harm and how to take responsibility for their own and others safety.
  • Positive sanctions are used to reward positive and responsible use. 
  • Peer mentoring programmes”.

Wow, excellent – OFSTED are recognising that it needs to be on the curriculum and that it needs to be “flexible, relevant and engages pupils interest” You can alway rely on OFSTED for clear expectations.  So that means that we should be able to find some clear guidance on who should be teaching it, right?

So where can we find e-safety in our national curriculum?

A lot of schools will currently be teaching e-safety within ICT – we are – but for how much longer? E-safety was, rightly, added to the ICT Programme of Study in 2009 but it is now GONE from the rebranded 2013 ICT Computing version (along with just about everything else that was there before – but that’s another post waiting to happen)

OK.. so not in ICT.  Citizenship perhaps?  No mention of it here either.  The idea of our young people being good “Digital Citizens”  doesn’t seem to vindicate it being in the shiny new 21st century Citizenship curriculum.

The opening lines – the Purpose of Study –  of the Citizenship POS state that:

“a high-quality citizenship education helps to provide pupils with knowledge, skills and understanding to prepare them to play a full and active part in society”

Isn’t internet safety a huge part of this?  There have of course, been several high-profile legal cases involving the inappropriate use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter that have resulted in prosecution and even imprisonment of the offenders.  There seems to be a growing feeling that ADULTS aren’t aware of their rights and responsibilities, so how can we expect children to be?

E-safety  isn’t explicitly mentioned in PSHE either-  you could loosely interpret “risk taking” as this but it is a broad interpretation…


I find it astonishing that we try to educate students on issues surrounding sex, drugs, alcohol – and now finance – within schools in a structured way, but that we do not do the same with the internet, something which is intrinsically part of students everyday lives.

Despite the omission of e-safety from  any part of the national curriculum, OFSTED still regard the failure to teach it as inadequate practice;

“There is no progressive, planned e-safety education across the curriculum, for example there is only an assembly held annually.”

So we’re back to rights and responsibilities. Whose responsibility is it to teach e-safety?  ICT staff?  Pastoral teams?  PSHE teachers? Obviously a combination or all of these and more, but the curriculum guidance provided on this issue is so poor that that there is surely a danger that no-one will take the ball and run with it.  More importantly I think it sends a poor message about the importance of e-safety – where will it rate in terms of priority for a DH trying to squeeze subjects into a full curriculum?

Surely we have moved BACKWARDS.  Five years after the Byron Reviews and three years after OFSTED’s Safe Use of New Technologies report, there is no home for e-safety in the National Curriculum.  This is despite the fact that more students than ever have access to mobile devices, more schools are moving to BYOD policies or 1:1 device programmes

So my question to the DFE and to Mr Gove, is this – when are YOU going to take responsibility?

SOLO in ICT: Episode 2

SOLO station

I had much to think about when planning my third lesson. I felt that I had a good idea where the students were and wanted to ensure that I was using SOLO to support them in making further progress. To make things a little more interesting I had arranged for my Line Manager to observe the lesson as part of the SLT lesson observation programme. So no pressure then!

After my first post I, received some terrific advice and feedback from several people, including (again) Andy Knill and Mark Anderson who both gave me some useful pointers. (I’m going to use Andy’s tips for peer assessment in upcoming lessons) I had also read DataFiend’s blog posts about SOLO stations which were very helpful.

The lesson

I wanted to focus purely on spreadsheet formulae in this lesson, after a more general approach in the last two lessons. I started by showing the students a slide giving them SOLO stages relating to their level of understanding of spreadsheet formulae. I used a simple two-question Socrative quiz to get the students to self-assess; the first question asked them to choose their SOLO level, the second asked them to give a reason (where possible)

I went through the LO, which were differentiated (as per school policy) into MUST SHOULD COULD. I also displayed SOLO symbols next to the objectives, to emphasise the progress I expected them to make.

I then told the students to choose an activity based on their Socrative assessment.

I had prepared 5 different activities – one for each SOLO stage – to use as my SOLO stations. I know that mine were very straightforward compared to ones I have read about others using, but I put together what I felt was appropriate for my students.

There was, as you’d expect, considerable variation between each activity;

The prestructural sheet gave a simple explanation of a formula and contained some very basic written exercises.

The extended abstract sheet provided a context and some data and required the student to choose and apply appropriate formulae to solve the problem.

The stages in between gave some information, some
questions requiring written responses and then pointed the students towards resources on the VLE which they could use to test themselves.

I encouraged the students to take their time and to work at their own pace, going back a stage if they felt that the work was too hard.

The students worked very well in this phase of the lesson – there was a good working atmosphere in the room and the students were all engaged and on task. Any interventions were mainly to support students who had assessed themselves as pre or uni structural, or occasionally to get one or two to go back a stage when they were struggling

I noticed that my role was almost entirely supporting rather than explicitly “teaching” the students.  I also observed that they seemed to be working far harder than I was which is always a good thing!

After a while I stopped the students and used a multi-choice hinge question to see how they were doing. The students used mini whiteboards to show me their answers. To my delight, all but two students showed the correct answer. I was then able to target the two who had answered wrongly to try and support them further, while the remaining students were able to continue with their independent work.

As we moved towards the last part of the lesson, I wanted students to be able to write about what they had learned, something with which some had struggled, judging by their comments in their SOLO workbooks.  I had decided to use SOLO hexagons for this task.

Shout out time: If you are going to try hexagonal learning, then try reading LearningSpy’s  blog post on the subject – he explains it superbly. Also a nod to my colleague Joe Coughlan  who has been using hexagonal learning in his science lessons for ages and was very helpful. There are of course tons of good examples of hexagonal learning on Pam Hook‘s SOLO wiki, and the site now contains an excellent app that allows you to make and print your own hexagons with ease.

Being an ICT teacher I wasn’t keen on the idea of cutting out 25 sets of hexagons and decided to come up with a solution of my own. I could have used David ‘Triptico’ Riley’s Think Link web tool but I wanted each student to have easy access to pre-defined set of symbols. To this end I built a simple flash object, that would allow the students to drag and drop their hexagons

I built in a text box ( so they could add their name) and a print button, so that students could print their hexagons when they were finished and uploaded it to the VLE.

The students then spent five minutes arranging the hexagons, either as individual tiles, sequences or clusters.

I then asked the students to write a sentence about their understanding of formulae using the connections they had made on their hexagon printouts. In simple terms it worked like this:

  • Students who had identified just one word they understood, were to use that word in the sentence (a uni structural response)
  • Students who had identified several different words but couldn’t link them together, were asked to write a sentence for each word (a multi structural response)
  • Students who had connected a sequence of words, were asked to write those words in a sentence (in some cases they re-evaluated their sequence and changed order) – a relational response
  • Finally those who had made ‘clusters’ were asked to use the words at the points where the hexagons intersected (an extended abstract response)

It is far easier to understand this by looking at examples – and you will find these presented beautifully, in the LearningSpy blog post to which I referred earlier.

I got some good written responses (and maybe or two that weren’t great!)

I concluded the lesson by getting the students to use their writing to complete a written self evaluation of their progress today in their SOLO booklets, showing them the slide showing the SOLO stages as a guide.

What Went Well

  • The use of SOLO stations created an atmosphere were students worked independently and allowed me to play a more supportive role.
  • I loved the hexagonal learning task and will definitely use this technique again. I feel this is something that could be used with students even if you have not followed a SOLO approach.

Even Better If

  •  I realise that hexagon task would have been more powerful if I had made the students create them.
  • I would also like to see how this task would work as a collaborative activity with students discussing were the hexagons should go.
  •  I think that I could also improve the SOLO station activities slightly.


I STILL want to look at the use of hot maps and will continue to research this area. I also want to improve my use of written feedback, as per Andy Knill’s suggestion.

And what did my SLT Line Manager think? I am delighted to say that she graded the lesson as Outstanding. I am awaiting her full feedback, but in the discussion we did have, she mentioned the points I had included in my “What Went Well” section.

Reflecting on my original question before lesson 1, where I wondered whether SOLO could be used in ICT, I think it can. I still feel the need to tweak what I have done and am but a young Padawan compared to some of the illustrious SOLO Jedi’s I have mentioned in this post, but I am now thinking of other ways to use it. Again I would love to know if there is anyone else out there using SOLO in ICT – if so it would be great to share experiences. In the meantime I will continue, and hopefully find more ways of making gratuitous use of a Han Solo image…