Librarian blogs and social networks

Angie Dickson, our new librarian, is an fan of the PE blog Phil Rowland set up for this academic year and wants to set up her own. Not only can she use this blog to communicate with students at our school, but with librarians and heads of information services worldwide!

Here’s some examples of some great (newbie-friendly) blogs in the field:

There are also some social networks powered by Ning related to libraries and information services:

Finally, there’s a great website called LibWorm that’s a search engine just for librarians! ๐Ÿ™‚

(image from The Read/Write Web: Social Software and Libraries)


Good ideas, sheep and wolves.

Have you ever read an article or blog post that feels like it was written just for you? Hugh McLeod, he of ‘cartoons drawn on the back of business cards’ fame (like the one above) wrote a post just like that a few days ago. Entitled Good Ideas Have Lonely Childhoods, I urge you to go and read it in its entirety.

For obvious reasons, I’m not going to go into detail, but I’ve had to deal with two or three frustrating workplace situations recently. In one I lost my cool a bit as my interlocutor just didn’t seem to get it. Hugh’s post made me a bit more philosophical about it. He makes six very good points in his post, but the two that stand out for me are:

1. Good ideas have lonely childhoods

Given 20:20 hindsight, anyone can wise. There’s a quotation I put up on the walls of the History department at my school that reads, “A historian is a prophet in reverse”. It’s easy being the historian; what takes talent and effort is being the prophet.

Ideas have gestation periods. There’s a time and a place for them to be ‘born’, a time for them to be ‘nurtured’ and a time for them to reach maturity. Think of the green movement, for example. 20 years ago they were considered part of the lunatic fringe. Now, such ideas are mainstream and seen to be ‘the future’.

So we should expect some banging of heads against walls from time-to-time in frustration. Especially in schools – those most conservative of institutions.

2. Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships, that is why good ideas are always initially resisted

I’ve seen this on a cartoon by Hugh McLeod before, and it makes me smile. For someone to take on and accept other people’s ideas they must themselves be confident and secure in their own position. It’s obvious when this is not the case. Things become increasingly centralised and bureaucratic. It’s interesting that Google, for example, one of the world’s largest and most successful companies, has 20% time. This is, as you would imagine, one-fifth of an employee’s time which can be spent on projects they are especially interested and motivated to see succeed. The key is that these people are being trusted to have, organise and carry through ideas. That’s how successful innovation occurs. ๐Ÿ˜€

So, as Jenny Luca stated towards the end of her response to Hugh’s post, I’m going to keep plugging away. In fact, I liked her metaphor so much I’m going to finish with it:

I feel like Iโ€™m in the playground, sitting in the sandpit pretty much alone right now in terms of my thinking. Friends will come, they always do, theyโ€™re just hanging around the fringes of the sandpit. I need to draw a few more lines in the sand to attract a crowd.ย Iโ€™ll keep at it.

Thanks Hugh and Jenny!

(also love this discussion about whether that means that, conversely, lonely children have good ideas…)


How to find and download YouTube videos for use in the classroom

Our school network, like most in the UK, blocks the video-sharing site YouTube. Whilst this is understandable from an Internet safety point of view, there are many wonderful resources that educators could be missing out on.

There are many ways to download videos from YouTube, one of the easiest being to use a website such as Zamzar. The following screencast demonstrates how to do this. It is hosted at, so should remain unblocked by most school networks! ๐Ÿ™‚

This text will be replaced

var so = new SWFObject(“”,”mpl”,”450″,”355″,”8″);so.addParam(“allowscriptaccess”,”always”);so.addParam(“allowfullscreen”,”true”);so.addVariable(“height”,”355″);so.addVariable(“width”,”450″);so.addVariable(“file”,””);so.addVariable(“searchbar”,”false”);so.write(“player”);

Direct link to screencast

If, for some reason, Zamzar fails to work, the following websites do the job in a similar way:

Most of these converters support more than just YouTube – so try them with other video-sharing websites! ๐Ÿ˜€

***UPDATE*** A colleague suggested that a handout might make things easier than trying to follow an online video. I’ve put one together that you can download below:

How to find and download YouTube videos for use in the classroom (4.9MB)



Dilbert on ‘best practice’

If you’re an educator, you don’t need me to comment on this:


Some questions about teaching

Title page to Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s the start of the new academic year and so naturally a time when I start musing on the whys and wherefores of education. By the end of the academic year I’ve almost come to accept the system as normal but now, at the beginning of the year – and fresh from summer holidays – it all seems rather strange… :-s

  1. Why do we have a system that trumpets ‘personalised learning’, ‘Every Child Matters‘ and the diversity of society, and then insists that each cohort must do better than the last in public examinations?
  2. Can you think of another profession where day-to-day web tools such as Flickr (that have been used unproblematically and without complaint) are suddenly made unavailable by persons unknown (and unaccountable)?
  3. If we know that children learn ‘academic’ subjects best in the morning and do better in artistic, athletic and creative activities in the afternoon, why don’t we arrange our lessons accordingly?
  4. Why must every intervention and way of teaching lead to ‘better results’ (measured, of course, by examination)?
  5. Given that headteachers, colleagues, parents and pupils all know who the very poor teachers are in a school, why is it so difficult to remove them from their extremely important position of responsibility?
  6. Why are politicians in control of the majority of what goes on in education?
  7. What makes a ‘good’ teacher? Should decent results in public retrospectively justify or condemn the methods employed by teachers?
  8. Most private schools do better than state schools. Research shows that this is largely down to smaller class sizes. Why, in a wealthy western world, do we not do something about this?
  9. Do students always know what’s best for them? Shouldn’t professionals guide their option choices and advise them based on experience? Has ‘learner voice’ gone too far?

What would YOUR answers to these questions be?

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10 ways to use your interactive whiteboard more effectively

Following on from this previous blog post detailing over 30, here are what I think are 10 really effective ways you can start to use your interactive whiteboard (IWB) like a pro. I shall be demonstrating these during the Tuesday and Thursday luncthime sessions in H14. ๐Ÿ™‚

1. Shade your screen!

Using the Screen Shade tool you can hide part of the screen on your IWB. You can use this for starter activities where students have to guess what is in the rest of the screen or to prevent students ‘jumping ahead’ with a lesson’s learning sequence.

2. Erase lots of stuff without ‘scrubbing’

If you’ve quite a bit of writing to erase from your IWB, simply use the eraser to draw around it, then use it to press in the middle of the writing. It should then disappear! (see video)

3. Tap and drag for a more accurate IWB

It’s sometimes difficult to click exactly in the middle of the crosshairs when orienting your IWB. Instead, take one of the IWB pens, press it on the IWB near the crosshair, drag it into the middle of the crosshair, and then release. This makes the tracking on your IWB spot-on!

4. Use the SMART Lesson Activity Toolkit

In addition to the SMARTboard software, the Lesson Activity Toolkit gives you more options and flexibility with your IWB. See it in action with this four-part video: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

5. Use keyboard shortcuts

Learning these keyboard shortcuts could make using your IWB more productive and less frustrating:

  • Ctrl+G – Group objects
  • Ctrl+R – Ungroup objects
  • Ctrl+K – Lock an object
  • Ctrl+J – Unlock an object
  • Ctrl+D – Clone an object
  • Ctrl+M – Insert blank page
  • Ctrl+PgDn – Send object backward
  • Ctrl+PgUp – Bring object forward
  • Ctrl+Shift+PgDn – Send object to back
  • Ctrl+Shift+PgUp – Bring object to front

6. Record a sequence of events on your IWB

If you’re doing something procedural, it’s a good idea to record the steps you go through. Use the SMART Recorder to record what appears on your IWB. This is useful to then play on repeat whilst students are completing a task, to put on your website, or on your school’s virtual learning environment.

7. Create puzzle-image starter activities

Befuddlr takes any picture from Flickr (an image-sharing website) and makes it into a puzzle. This is great for IWB’s as students can come up and re-arrange the puzzle to make meaning. Creating your own Flickr account is easy and free, so there’s unlimited potential for all different types of puzzle. Check out Tom Barrett’s suggestions for how to use Befuddlr in various ways here.

8. Rub and Reveal

Using a pen the same colour as the background covers-up words, images – anything you choose on your IWB. If you then use the eraser it will ‘reveal’ what you have covered up!

9. Google Earth

If there’s one application that comes into its own on an IWB, it’s Google Earth! You can zoom, pan and scroll as well as discover ‘layers’ to add value to your lessons. Google themselves have put together a useful guide, and there’s a Google Earth Education Community that breaks down resources by subject. You definitely need this installed and be using it in whatever lesson you teach!

10. Get involved in the Whiteboard Challenge!

The best way to learn is with other people, either face-to-face or in an online group. That’s why the Whiteboard Challenge is such a great idea. It’s a 14-week course that began on 15 August 2008. Have a look at what’s available and get involved here:

*BONUS* 11. Do the double-tap!

Don’t click-and-drag, instead put the finger of one hand on the object, then the finger of your other hand where you want to move it. The object will move half-way inbetween. Remove the first finger you put on the IWB and the object will ‘fly’ across! (see video)

I couldn’t get this one to work, which is why I didn’t include it in the original 10… ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

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10 ways to make your working day more productive

A lot of what makes people ‘productive’ is common-sense. But sometimes this needs spelling out, hence this post. I’m always looking for ways to be more productive. Please let me and fellow readers/subscribers know your tips and strategies in the comments.

Here’s some of my tips!

1. Don’t read emails

If you make the first thing you do in a day reading emails, you’re starting off the day on other people’s terms. Instead, achieve something from your own agenda first, then catch up on what people want to tell you! :-p

2. Read something inspirational

It might be the Bible, it might be some Marcus Aurelius, but make sure you read something (however short) – for a quick fix, try!

3. Listen to podcasts

However you travel to work, podcasts are a great way to stop it being ‘dead time’. Audiobooks are also great (try Audible). Here’s the podcasts to which I subscribe:

4. Use an online to-do list

There’s lots of ways people will take money off you to ‘make you more productive’. I love Remember the Milk: it’s simple and free!

5. Share everything you do

If you share with other people, they’re a lot more likely to share with you. This, in turn, reduces your workload and increases your overall productivity. You can share things online through things like a wiki or a forum, or face-to-face.

6. Take pictures

I know very few people who haven’t got a camera built-in to their mobile phone. Instead of writing things out or trying to remember complex things, just snap it with your cameraphone! You could take this one step further if you’ve got an iPhone and use the wonderful Evernote for web-based synchronization. ๐Ÿ™‚

7. Make everything you can, digital

The problem with paper is that unless you photocopy it a copy exists in only one location – and can’t search and organize it. If you’re a teacher, make your markbook and attendance registers digital. Plan things using Google Calendar. These things might take some time to set up, but will pay dividends in the long-term.

8. Take breaks

Know your limits. You’re far better of having a 10-15 minute break and coming back to something with fresh(er) eyes and increased motivation than slogging away at an activity non-stop.

9. Drink coffee

Coffee is a stimulant: it contains caffeine. Drinking too much coffee isn’t good for you and can generate withdrawal symptoms. However, drinking a couple of cups per day of good filter coffee increases alertness and attention. I tend to have one in the morning with breakfast and one when I come home from work. You could, in fact, combine coffee with taking a nap and have what Lifehacker calls a ‘coffee nap’ – more here.

10. Prepare well

A productive day actually begins the day before. Be prepared! Pack your bag, get lunch ready (if applicable), iron your clothes, go to bed at a reasonable hour. Done regularly, such a routine makes for large productivity gains. ๐Ÿ˜€

What are YOUR tips for improving productivity?

(image credit: happy birthday, baby mantis (hello, cruel world) @ Flickr)

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My way or the highway.

As I posted recently, although I’ve just begun my fifth year of teaching, last year’s GCSE results were my first set. They were rather disappointing and it made me question my methods somewhat. Back in the classroom with pupils today for the first time this academic year, however, has made me stick to my guns.

As Limp Bizkit famously sang (rapped/said/roared?):

I’m ‘a do things my way
It’s my way
My way, or the highway

That is to say that whilst I’m obviously going to try some of the modifications detailed in the aforementioned blog post, my fundamental teaching style and blended learning approach isn’t going to change; I’m still going to be introducing my students to educational technology new and old that I think will aid their learning. Thankfully, although there’s obviously analysis to do of my results and those of the department, my teaching methods haven’t been questioned at all.

It’s difficult. As the main earner for my family I have a responsibilty to my wife and son to make sure they can live in the manner to which they are accustomed. But I also have guiding principles. It’s easy to let the latter fall by the wayside in the face of adversity or pressure. Thankfully, the only pressure I’ve felt has been self-exerted. Reading the following passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson‘s essay Self-Reliance helped greatly:

Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it. Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? Every great man is a unique. The Scipionism of Scipio is precisely that part he could not borrow. Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare. Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much.

I’m not, of course, comparing myself to these luminaries, but I found this particular passage very inspiring in the last few days. It’s eased some of the self-imposed pressure to focus narrowly and exclusively on results. ๐Ÿ™‚

(Image credit: Ruta 12 by *L*u*z*a* @ Flickr)

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Class spreadsheet for teachers

It’s a well-documented fact that I don’t like working with paper. Consequently, I track student attendance, homework and grades via spreadsheets. This year, instead of using Microsoft Excel, I’m using Numbers which comes with iWork ’08 for Mac OSX. Numbers has a pre-configured (US-centric) spreadsheet for educators. I’ve played about with it a bit to make it more relevant… ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ve set up the spreadsheet in the following way:


The name of the class/set you teach.


This is like a standard gradebook – use /, O or L to indicate Present, Absent or Late.


Colour-coordinated using conditional formatting. Entering Y, N or L (i.e. Yes, No or Late) makes cells change colour to green, red or yellow respectively.


This is entered as a percentage, with less than 60% highlighted in red. Graphs give at-a-glance indication of class performance.

You can download the spreadsheet here:

Class spreadsheet for teachers

(ZIP, 104kb – please note that this will not work in Microsoft Excel!)

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How to use your interactive whiteboard more effectively

Tom Barrett, inspirational primary teacher and Assistant Head in Nottinghamshire, England, had a great idea recently. Using the collaborative features of Google Presentations, he invited educators from around the world to contribute their tips and ideas for using your interactive whiteboard more effectively. Here’s what they’ve come up with (so far!)

View a larger version here. Do get in touch with Tom if you’ve got another tip you can share! ๐Ÿ™‚

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