Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Choosing a Website for your lessons

There are so many great free ways to create Website and online lessons now and each one has its merits.  Over the last 12 months, I've been trying to use quite a number of them and finding the pros and cons of each method.


This is probably the easiest Website creator I have found and it is quick enough to use that you can use it for a single lesson.  It has all the basic features you would expect and a linking system that enables you to connect to anything on the web.


  • Quick to use
  • Ease of use
  • Looks good
  • Little more functionality than a Google Doc


I felt that I outgrew Tackk pretty quickly and so was very happy to find Versal it has many more features, has a side-navigation menu that makes it ideal for doing units or short courses.  This is now my preferred choice for developing units for my younger students (ages 12-14) 

  • Includes quizzing tools
  • Wide range of embedding functions
  • Can include html code (markup)
  • Interface takes more time to master
  • Users need to sign in to access courses most comfortably (There is a workaround for Pro users)


Wix makes some very good looking websites, but without payment there's a large number of adverts and these can be distracting for students.


  • Professional looking
  • Easy to use
  • Advertising
  • Limited features for free users


Weebly is a great developer and as an education user you do not have adverts in it.  The templates are both professional and flexible.  The interface is easy to use, but once you press publish or delete a page there's no history functionality.

  • Professional Look and feel
  • Forms functionality
  • intuitive interface
  • Blogging tools

  • No history function to correct mistakes
  • Limited search functionality
  • Limited integration with Google apps

Google Sites

This is the grandfather of online based web-development tools and it shows in what many people consider to be a rather plain look and feel. The menus are not that intuitive, but the full power of google is available. For many years we have all hoped that it would be updated, but nothing has happened.  Even so, I use it for all my Keystage 4 and 5 courses, because that power is not to be underestimated.  It has the scaleability that simply is not there is other systems with the full force of Google's search engine.

  • Full integration with Google Apps
  • Google Sign in supported
  • Immensely powerful search 
  • Almost unlimited storage for edu users
  • History function
  • Page level editorship
  • User interface is not intuitive
  • Old-fashioned feel to it

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Quizlet - Tried, Forgotten and Resurrected!

Quizlet has always been able to make flash cards, but with a new generation of competitive quiz systems such as Quizizz and Kahoot it seemed antiquated! Students weren't even prepared to give it a go the last time I gave them the opportunity to choose a system to make quizzes.

This time however we were on Quizlet's home turf! Making Vocabulary cards and using them as a revision tool.  There's a lot to commend Quizlet as a flash card making tool. It's multi-platform, even works on a Windows phone! Much to the surprise of my one Windows phone user!

In the corner was a suggestion that we could play a new live game and ever one who likes to press big buttons. We decided to give it a go!

Unlike Quizizz and Kahoot this is a team game where you compete against other teams. Teams are randomly formed, but if you don't like the make up they can be reshuffled.   I'd also say it's better if you've got portable devices for this. Oddly enough, a computer lab isn't actually the best place to play this, because teams get shuffled frequently.

However that didn't get in the way of most of my students who found ways to dash to each other, grab phones and generally work it out!

The compulsory team element differentiates it from Quizizz and Kahoot, but it also opens up a new type of challenge.  Quizlet have thought it through that for the kind of sets they have this kind of game will work better.  The other point to note is that Quizlet games take a fraction longer to setup.  I've played Kahoots in under 5 minutes, but Quizlet seems to need at least 10 minutes and more than that the first time students play.

In revision season you need all the tools you can get, so I'd strongly recommend Quizlet if you have vocabulary to learn!

Thursday, 17 March 2016

The multi-million dollar lesson!

19 years ago, we were told we were so lucky because we now had 5 channels on our television. What a glorious day in the UK when we finally had a fifth channel. I remember, because I couldn't get it and so I had just 4 channels. 12 years ago, I felt so privileged because thanks to the power of the Internet I could make a call across the world and NOT pay for it.  In fact 19 years ago, I would have needed rather a lot of money to be able to share my lessons the way that I did today.

Today I had a student with a virus. Nothing too serious, but contagious and he had to stay at home.  In the old days that would definitely have put pay to any chance of him catching any of his lessons and on top of coming back to school, not quite 100%, (s)he'd have to catch up on a truck load of work that he missed.

However, that's not quite the way it rolls in a 21st century classroom! Thanks to a friend's iPad and his PC at home, he was able to Skype in with video to see my presentation and even interact with me. Then, because the lesson was largely on Google Classroom, he was able to join in and submit work as if he was there.

Then after that we were very lucky to have Eric Cooke from Southampton University come by and because there were people who wanted to be there, but might miss the talk. I naturally, broadcast it to the world using Google Hangouts on Air.  I'd like to think it was an event of world-wide importance, but I did it simply because I could and to top it off YouTube even made a copy for me.

It was only as I was walking home, I realized how far the world has come and how much technology has helped us. I took many millions of pounds worth of technology completely for granted and used it pretty much on a whim.  I can't imagine the justification that would have had to be made to use that kind of tech in my childhood, but here's the thing... We don't have to, if we want to use Video conferencing to connect people half across a city or half way across the world we can.  This is the world that our children live in and the world we as teachers should take full advantage of.

And because I can... Here's the video of Eric Cooke! Great guy with a very provocative and entertaining view of the world!

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Mark 740 tests in 60 seconds

The Challenge

How can you mark 740 assignments in less than a minute?  Can you imagine the MIS system that would be required for this and the many thousands of dollars required? To top it all, you have no budget for this and no server hardware.

Surprisingly, you can actually do it using completely free software!  You will need a little programming expertise and a plan to break up the onslaught of data you are about to receive!


Here's what you will need to pull it off:
  • Google Apps - So long as Google Apps are not blocked, then that should be enough.
  • Internet connection - Unless you have amazing WIFI I would not recommend doing this in the main hall. In our case students were in classrooms, which in most schools puts much less strain on the Internet.  If this is likely to be a problem, then you can still achieve rapid results, but it will be limited by the number of students you can get on the Internet at once.  It's also perfectly feasible to use 3G, if your students are on mobile phones. 
  • A device each child can have access to - Students can share by taking a turn each, but it will be slower. 

How it was done

1. Split up your entries

It is important that you limit each Spreadsheet to about 200 entries for high speed marking.  You could split it up by year group or school house.   These can be put back together again later, but at an individual teacher level you are likely to only need to see a small number of the entries.

2. Create a Form

Firstly you need to create a Google Form with either multiple choice questions or one word answers. Web of Notes has a nice guide for this.

3. Mark it with Flubaroo (Optional)

If you would like to send an email to the student and have the whole cohort marked, then Flubaroo is a great way to do this. http://www.flubaroo.com/flubaroo-user-guide  If you are a classroom teacher marking your own class, then you can stop here, but for the speed we need you will need a faster method.

4. Importing the data

On row 3 use an importrange command. 
(Row 1 will be used for titles and row 2 for Awesome Table commands.)
You need to import all the information that you are going to process. See the video for a full breakdown of the command.

5. Marking the Data

There are two ways to do it. Either you can fill the form out yourself as the first entrant or you can hard code the answers in.  Hard coding is slightly faster, but your code will be reusable if you put the answers in first and it works with Flubaroo.

The first method works like this:
I used an if(H$3=H3,1,0)

You use the if formula and if the answer is correct you give it 1. If you would like to weight answers you can change the numbers accordingly.

H3 = Being the cell where the answer is.
The $ means that when you copy and paste it won't move down.

Optional: To make the spreadsheet look more effective I added the isblank command, but it does not have to be used:

You can also use conditional formatting to see at a glance how students are doing.

6. Creating a front end for the sheet

I used Google Sites to make a Website that broke down the various checkpoints and houses.
One very useful feature of Google Sites is that you can use Insert -> Subpage listing.

For the large Scale study we had 4 checkpoints split across 4 houses. Making 16 individual quizzes in total.

I created a front page and then on each sub-page I copied and pasted the questions. This enables you to display more columns in the page itself.

7. Awesome Table

To display the actual results for individual teachers I used a gadget called Awesome Table. (Which is also the reason I used Google Sites.)  This is why we needed to leave rows 2 blank.  For each column decide how Awesome Table should handle it:

  • CategoryFilter
  • CategoryFilter - Hidden
  • NoFilter 
  • Hidden

The CategoryFilter enables you to choose which columns teachers can see and what they can filter on.

Number based columns appear as a slider and text based appear as a drop down. (You can select multiple keywords)

8. Roll Out the Forms

Once everything is in place you will be able to roll out your forms, teachers can see the data that they need for their groups, heads of year can see their whole year at a glance and senior management can quickly evaluate all of the data.   

To provide a whole school view, you will either need to use several import range commands for a live Spreadsheet view or copy and paste once data collection is finished.

By using this method mentors had immediate access to filtered data via the dashboard on their students and up the ranks, leaders could target students who were likely to need more help.

The Result

I expected it take up to 5 minutes for the data to come rolling in, but I found that data was being delivered significantly faster and in most cases the slowest part of the process was the time taken to load Awesome table.  Raw results were coming in less than a second and teachers had access to those results in under 60 seconds.

Piloting it in your school

My advice is to have a go with something low stakes. You can start with something as simple as a quiz that you might do in form time. (Homeroom time).  Test if your Internet can handle it and if so you have an amazing opportunity to collect and analyse data in near to real time.  

Future enhancements

1. The viewer worked very well for Mac or PC based teachers, but did not work quite as well for iPads.  We are looking into how we can address is this.
2. Live charts - Live charts are a possibility, because we found out that each tab is a separate task in Google Sheets.

With thanks to the following people

The amazing teachers and staff at Garden International for making the large scale study such a success.



Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Using Versal To Flip The Learning

I looked at quite a few platforms to host my new course. Tackk is very simple and quick to use, but I soon hit the limits when I put my Scratch course together. Udemy and other online offerings are very much video focused and although I wanted to include video I didn't want it to be the main teaching medium.

So I opted for Versal. Firstly let me stress Versal isn't really designed with coding courses in mind. It's a general purpose online teaching tool, but it has the flexibility built in to enable me to create the materials that I wanted.  However there are some features that make Versal a great choice for this kind of course.

Firstly, you have all the standard tools that you expect to see in an editor such as the ability to insert videos, a good range of interactive quizzes and integration with Google Drive.

The most useful built into Versal is the Markdown editor, which conveniently has a Code option. This is wonderful for including little snippets of code.  However it doesn't handle indentation too well, which is important for Python.

However to include longer pieces of code I turned to Pastebin.com  this enabled me to include code quickly and also in a format that students could easily copy and paste materials without annoyances such as numbers and indentation problems.  There are some limitations, in an embedded window you can only get about 30 lines of code. If you want to share a longer code sample, you are better off including a link.

Finally I included the code on GitHub. Useful enough to have a quick to download zip file, but I feel it's good for students to start using the industry standard tools as soon as possible: https://github.com/jamesabela/PyGameCourse

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Christmas Gift for everyone: Python & Pygame Course

For the past week I've been making my way around Versal and after quite a lot of work. I've managed to publish my first course. Please take a look it's at: https://versal.com/c/clzqsx/python-pygame 

It has been an experience to see just how expert many tutorials are. Most appear to be aimed at the truly dedicated! I can't imagine many children wanting to put in more than 100 lines before they even get their first game!

One aspect of the coding process that has been very helpful is Pycharm, it's debugging is far superior to the default client and I'd highly recommend getting it installed. The EDU edition seems to have a great feature set and taken away some of the more complex features.

Feel free to have a go and please let me know what you think! The code has all been tested in Python 3 & Pygame.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Quiz Tools - The Ultimate Showdown

This week was a revision week before my year 10's next big assessment. So I decided to run a little competition. The students could choose any quiz app they pleased and then the following lesson we'd play the quizzes.

Round 1
Quizlet was knocked out the competition straight away, because none of the year 10s wanted to develop quizzes for that platform and neither did any students choose Socrative. So they didn't make it to the final!

Round 2
The two finalists were Quizizz and Kahoot Students enjoyed creating questions for both platforms and the process was pretty similar.

The Grand Finale
I used a Single Google Sheet to coordinate the quizzes. Each student gave me an url to direct the quiz. I then used a random name picker to choose the quizzes.

Let Battle Commence! 

Both platforms feel like a quiz show with countdowns and music.

Class Game Vs individual

The first key difference is that in Quizizz students play through all the questions when they choose to start the game. This enables students to do the exercise when they have finished another task or it can even be set for homework.  Whilst on Quizizz they were highly focussed on their screens but they were not so directly competing with each other.

In Kahoot the whole class plays together, which adds to the sense of community but means everybody has to play the same quiz at exactly the same time!

Question displayed on Main Screen Vs at Your device

Quizizz also displays the questions on the students device, so not everybody has to see the projector, which is a real advantage in rooms with poor visibility.

We had no difficulties at any point logging into Kahoot and this weekend I had over 80 players at once playing it. With Quizizz we did have one or two small login problems, but all were fixed with the judicious use of the refresh button.

Who won?

The students narrowly gave the win to Kahoot! They acknowledged the fact that Quizizz enables quizzes to be given out as homework and they enjoyed using both.  So it was a noble contender that we hope goes from strength to strength!