Archive for October, 2010

As I have posted in this previous article I am on a secondment with NGfL Cymru (National Grid for Learning, Wales) this year and we work in close partnership with eChalk. Dr Iestyn Jones (Managing Director of eChalk Ltd) was proudly announcing his latest tool, the eChalk Circuit Builder.

When he told NGfL Cymru this tool was finally completed he used these words “I think it’s a world beater – for a web based resource in any event”, and I certainly agree with him. I really think this is the Ultimate Circuit Builder, because of it’s simplicity and its powerful functionality. It will be available free of charge as a “taster to try” to everyone for a limited time from the eChalk homepage So, don’t let this opportunity pass you by, have a try before it is moved in the members’ area! Before you use it have a look at the video tutorial (which can be opened directly when you launch the resource). The video will show the real potential of this fantastic tool and you will be amazed by what this application can do!




After this initial trial period the resource will be moved also in the NGfL Cymru area on eChalk. This means that all schools in Wales will be able to access it, like all the other resources (all subjects). Please, remember that this applies only when you are physically inside a school in Wales and using the school network!


You can reach this area from this page on the NGfL Cymru website. Just click on the link at the bottom of the last paragraph (not the one in bold) when you are in your school and check out the great collection of resources you can find there!







If you are not teaching in a school in Wales, you can still subscribe for a very affordable price for your school. It really is worth it for the amount and quality of resources you get!

Please, let us (or eChalk directly, know if you spot any bugs in the Circuit Builder, so they can be put right! Your feedback is very much appreciated, as always.

Reading this excellent blog post from @Chickensaltash and the more complete article from TES rekindled my passion for Tablet PCs in the classroom. Though I believe IWBs are a great tool to enhance Teaching and Learning and I agree with Dan Roberts when he tweets that we have to do with what we have got, I find it difficult to understand why very few schools went down the road of installing Tablet PCs instead of IWBs (I am talking about schools that installed IWBs after the first boom and when Tablets were already well known). Here are my thought on why I believe Tablets are a much cheaper and more versatile option.

1. I bought my first Tablet (a Toshiba Portege’) 2nd hand for £400, my second one (Toshiba Tecra M7) new for £800 and my current Toshiba Portege’ M400 for £890. This is to say that they are quite cheap. In fact, most schools would have at least a projector per department (if not per room) these days, so a tablet PC is all you need to go with it to have a fully interactive kit to share with your pupils. Buy a normal PC/laptop and you still have to buy a multi-k £ whiteboard. Moreover, the newest Tablets are multitouch, giving a more interactive experience than some IWBs.

2. Tablets are fully portable. Ever had to fight to book the only room with IWB in the department? And having to put up with the dirty looks of the teacher (often the least likely to actually bother using an IWB and that uses it as a post-it holder) being kicked out from his class? It is understandable that departments start with what they can afford, but this unpleasant situations would be avoided if the department had bought two Tablet PCs for the price of one IWB (and you still have to buy a PC/laptop with the IWB, so you might be able to fit three Tablets for the same price). This way it is the Tablet that moves rooms, not the teachers. This is a lot better for everyone (teachers and students) and the lesson can start on time.

3. You can’t pass an IWB around, but you can send the Tablet around the classroom for the pupils to use and contribute actively to the lesson (well, you either need a very long projector cable, or a wireless projector).

4. You can place your Tablet PC wherever you want, so you can stand away from the line of view of the children and you don’t project your shadow on the screen. The latter is really annoying for both the audience and the person using the IWB, because it makes it really hard to write, as you don’t actually see what you are writing (I know there are some projectors that project right from the top of the board and get rid of this problem, but I have seen hardly any in the schools I have visited).

5. You can actually work on your interactive resources even when you are away from your classroom, as a Tablet PC allows you to write on the screen just like you would do on an IWB. It’s just not as big and as heavy! I have used it to annotate and mark pupils’ electronic work, draw mind maps (one example on my previous blog), etc, and obviously get my pupils engaged with the same rich experiences.

6. You can download free software for IWB on your Tablet PC. KindleLab is an example, but you can also try the free trials from Promethean and SmartBoard to compare and then decide to buy the software if you want, so your Tablet PC is just as good as an IWB on the Software front.

I really think Tablet PCs are a fantastic tool in Education and I wish more schools used them. I thought they deserved at least a mention in the TES article, but they didn’t, so I felt the need to write about them and share what a great asset they have been in my practice.

I attended my very first TeachMeet in Cheltenham at the Parabola Arts Centre (Cheltenham Ladies’ College) and it was a worthwhile experience. There were not as many teachers as I would have expected/hoped, but it was still a great opportunity to network with like minded educators and to see some great stuff in action.

The meeting kicked off with some lovely demos on 2D and 3D animation from Liz Pratten, Glenfall. What I liked about her presentation was the large amount of kids’ work she showed us. Nice, funny and engaging pieces of work from her pupils… can’t get any better!

Then, @mrjstacey took us through a nice Hystory lesson he made in Prezi. I liked the video hidden inside the photo and the showing off of the depth of zooming in that can be achieved in Prezi. I tried to get my pupils to use Prezi in class, but they found it very heavy and frustrating that they had to wait so long for things to upload, etc. This seemed to be @mrjstacey experience too I think. He showed this lovely Prezi on Chemical Scales too!

Next, was @isaachsenalex showing some fantastic work he did as a cross curricular  project with the Geography department using Macs and photographs taken by the children on school trips. There was a lot of good teaching and learning thinking and practice in the way photos were used by the kids.

To balance out the Apple presence @innovativeteach gave a very quick and snappy 2 min presentation on the many examples of free software available from Microsoft and the Partners in Learning Network. From Deep Zoom Composer to Autocollage, Songsmith, etc… I think most of the audience was literally blown away by these great examples of free educational software. And again the focus was on the pupils, not on the technology.

Then, @atomicjam showed us how Google Reader can be used to keep track of all the blogs and websites you are following. I had used it before, but I got a couple of tips I didn’t know about!

@mrjstacey was up again talking about a really nice blog he uses with his Politics class in WordPress. A great example of how blogging with your class can be a very useful and enriching experience for you students. I liked the was he builds up trust with his classes, e.g. starting from allowing only comments first and slowly handing the writing of the post to the students. I also learnt you can email your posts to your WordPress blog directly!

After the break I was up showing what I did with what I baptised “The Ultimate PowerPoint Macro”. My good friend Mike Ebbsworth (WJEC) gave me this PPT template and he got it from here. So, I showed a version of the Caterpillar learning journey I made using it for some of the resources I am working on at NGfL Cymru. This macro is phenomenal and it does a great deal of stuff, e.g. rotate objects, edit text in slideshow mode, resize objects… You can download it directly from the link below. I also quickly introduces the Stimulating Phyiscs Network and


And the @mrjstacey was up again to close the meeting with and with the thanks, etc. Unfortunately there was no more time for more presentations, but the experience was certainly worth living.

I am looking forward for the TeachMeet in Bristol on the 10th November were I will do a 7 min pitch on “Why is broadcasting your students’ work a confidence booster?” Hope to see you there!

I have touched on the idea of using Poetry in Physics on my blog post My top five list of features in Office 2007!, but this looks at the issue in more depth and it was a must to write it just one day before the National Poetry Day.

October the 7th will be the National Poetry Day and people across the UK will celebrate poetry. What better way to celebrate than getting your students to engage in Poetry in ways and areas they might have never thought possible?

Last year I used the Math Add-in for Word 2007 to create graphs of the Photoelectric Effect and then asked, in the same worksheet, my pupils to put in rhymes what the graph meant and how it explained the Photoelectric Effect. Obviously, it would have been unfair to ask them to do Poetry and coward away from it myself, so I created the instructions for their task as a poem too (a pretty bad, but maybe not so bad for an Italian with English as a second language). The results were quite remarkable and I was pleasantly surprised to see such good Physics in their explanations and such nice rhymes too.

Here is the task I set for my students:

Equation and graph created with Math Add-in

The red line was added by one of the students in response to the second part of my rhymed instructions, see below.

If this is the Photoelectric equation,

Name its parts with some persuasion!

Kinetic energy, Planck’s constant and even work function

Which symbols and Greek letters go in conjunction?

At this point they had to list the symbols associated to the Photoelectric Effect equation. Then the task carried on:

Ok, you know your symbols and letters in Greek,

Another challenge lies ahead for you Geek!

The metal is swapped with one of work function much higher,

In red the new graph draw, if this knowledge you want to acquire!

Now, about this can you rhyme?

Don’t rush it and take your time

To have some fun and give it a go

And make your explanation flow.

And it doesn’t end there, because one of the best poems came from a student who was supposed to be Dyslexic! His poem is below.

The photoelectric effect is easy

UV light hits the metal causing it to become a little queasy

The metal releases a photoelectron without a fight

More electrons are released when the intensity is increased of the light

As long as the threshold frequency is met

The electrons would be emitted I bet

The threshold frequency for a given object

Is the minimum frequency needed for photoelectric emissions to collect

To escape the potential well

The electron must do a certain amount of work to excel

The work function can be defined

As the minimum work needed to remove an electron blind

That is all you need to know

about the photoelectric effect and potential well

When u hear of this effect

Just think how it could be in your subject

The students went on to merge the best parts of each poem created to form a rap that they then sang and recorded using SongSmith, which can be downloaded free of charge from all teachers on the Partners In Learning Network.

If you want to know more about the Math Add-in and how you could use it with your classes have a look at the Innovid I made below!

I am writing a series of lessons on refraction of light for National Grid for Learning Cymru (NGfL Cymru) and I needed a place to store the photos for a lesson starter activity in Wallwisher, so I thought I could write a blog about this and share the idea with all my readers. This blog post will also give you a preview of this series of resources and hopefully tickle your interest to follow up on the final product!

The idea is to create a wall on Wallwisher like this one and let the students add comments next to each of the images below to explain how the effect they see is produced. Basically like the famous placemat activity (I have attached a copy of the placemat version in Word at the bottom of this post).

I hope you will enjoy the activity with your classes and let me know how you have used it, the outcomes and any suggestions for improvement!
Download the Placemat activity in Word Refraction placemat (LS)