Posts Tagged ‘collaboration’

I recently came across this awesome tool – DropTask – that allows you to manage and organise your projects in a very visual and intuitive way and I have to say that I am already falling in love with it. You can create new events in your project, drag them around the project space and even gather them in groups. All this is done using colours to help you visualise and organise your tasks better.

But this is not the end of the story! DropTask is also the ultimate collaborative project management tool and, although it is still in beta and I can see more features coming, it lets you invite your collaborators to join your projects and see at what stage of the project they are. It becomes really easy then to keep track of your team’s performance and manage everyone’s tasks and feedback.

I know people who even take notes in Excel and I find that really strange. This tool is probably not for them, or maybe it is and they don’t realise it, but if you are a visual thinker, this is the best tool for organising your work I have seen in years. Just take a look at the video below and judge for yourself!

Buzan's iMindMap

If you really want a free copy of the best mind mapping software ever created (iMindMap 5), you can take part to this simple competition. There are two ways in which you can participate and they both involve sharing.

Option 1

– Download your free trial of iMindMap 5 here (after the trial period your copy becomes the Basic version which you get to keep for free forever)

– Create a mind map with iMindMap 5 on any topic you like. You could also create a collaborative mind maps with your classes, family, or colleagues and describe your experience

– Upload your mind map on Biggerplate

– Post the link to your mind map as a comment at the bottom of this Blog post

Option 2

– Think of a creative and innovative way to use iMindMap 5 in Education

– Explain your fab idea as a comment to this Blog post

You can obviously contribute more than one mind map and/or ideas and priority will be given to the most active contributors, e.g. creating a mind map is obviously more demanding than writing a comment (or you could mind map your idea using iMindMap 5). You have time until the 7th July to submit your entries.

The rest of this Blog post is about some of the rules of mind mapping and why I love the idea of Biggerplate! Yes, you heard correctly, there are rules to mind mapping and you might be pleased to hear that I have not made them, but the creator of mind mapping himself, Tony Buzan!

“But I though mind mapping was a creative and free process that should reflect the way in which your brain works!” you might say and I would agree with you. In fact, that is precisely why there are rules to follow in order to achieve good and effective results in mind mapping. Our brain works in very efficient and creative ways which we don’t easily realize because we have been trained for years to use tools and strategies that are limiting the potential of our brains. Our mind thinks in a radial way, pretty much like a mind map does. From a central idea a series of associations and connections radiate to derive greater understanding of that idea and that often are used to solve problems related to that idea. This often leads to another important idea that also radiates into multiple associations and connections between ideas into a complex, but very coherent network of associations interrelated to each other which derive and construct meaning. Neuroscience has shown that both sides of our brain work together in any task we tackle and different areas of the two sides of our brains are activated constantly and intermittently as we think and process information. This complex process of information exchange and processing is mirrored very well by a mind map, and even better by multiple mind maps (which is now a feature of iMindMap 5 which I find really useful), you can find an example of this here. I guess what I am trying to say, is that what we need in order to improve the efficiency of our brains is not necessarily freedom to develop “our way to learn”, but to learn a way that is proven to mirror the way our brain works!

I often meet people who say they have tried mind mapping but that it is not for them, or others (and I used to be one of them) who think they are mind mapping, while they are actually still using linear note taking in a slightly more colourful way and linking whole sentences with other whole sentences, like this one I created a few years ago thinking I was helping my students learning about types of energy.

The problem with whole sentences is that they don’t really allow for associations and connections to be created, or they do so in a very limiting way. Take for example the concept of speed. If I am mind mapping about motion and use two words, say “constant speed”, in the same branch, I have limited that branch to develop into associations that are limited to the concept of constant speed. But if I had use the word speed in a branch and constant in a daughter branch, I can now make many more associations with the word speed, e.g. constant, increasing, decreasing, units –> m/s, formula –> Δd/Δt, etc… can all be daughters of the branch speed and lead to more associations and deeper meaning and retention of information. So, the types of energy “mind map” I created could turn into this (you can download it here).

I will let Tony Buzan explain the other rules and their importance in the video below and if you are convinced, please take part to this really exciting competition and share your mind maps on Biggerplate which is a fantastic community website for sharing mind maps and it now supports iMindMap 5! I love the idea of Biggerplate and one application I can see, especially now that iMindMap 5 Basic is free for all, is that a teacher can create a template with maybe just the main branches of a mind map on a particular topic and let their pupils download and complete the iMindMap as a learning activity. The learners can then upload their mind maps on their accounts and the teacher can leave feedback as comments and learners can also peer feedback on each other’s mind maps as an Assessment for Learning activity! In addition, parents are now able to interact with their children’s work in a more dynamic and engaging way. But the fun doesn’t end there! As a teacher you could let other teachers and classes use your templates and collaborate with other schools in your local area and, why not, worldwide!

So, iMindMap 5 is here and there has never been a better time to try it, as the Basic version is free, a word that teachers and skint schools are always very pleased to hear. And the Ultimate version, which is what you could win (if you take part to this simple competition), has some really amazing features, like 3D mind map view, which is a stunning way to navigate through your mind map, multimaps (fantastic for connecting multiple central ideas with each other), 3D presentation view which will blow your mind for the powerful visual effects that it creates, and many other great functions like the Smart Layout that spaces branches out for you and that is the most powerful and fastest way of drawing mind maps when combined with shortcut keys like TAB for new daughter branch and ENTER for sibling branch! Take a look at all the new features here and check this video out to see how iMindMap can transform the way you work and go about your day!

A couple of days ago Microsoft has launched Office Web Apps and this is great news for Educators. In fact, this is a great tool to enhance collaboration in the classroom, at home for collaborative projects that go beyond teaching time and even to collaborate with other classes worldwide!

Not only you can create and edit Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote files directly from the browser, but you can also edit in your desktop where you can use the full functionality of your installed Office packages! And what about those pupils who haven’t got Office 2007 or 2010? It is no longer a problem, because they can edit from the cloud, directly from their skydrive. Basically all they need is to link their existing email (which could be their school email) to a Live ID.

If you thought this was great, keep reading (and watch the video below)  because Office Web Apps also allow you to share your files with whoever you want and multiple users can contribute to the files simultaneously, e.g. edit the same spreadsheet the whole class is using!

I can’t wait to use this great tool with my pupils, but to be more effective with it I have created an Online OneNote Notebook (that anyone with the link can see) to share ideas on how we can use these fantastic tools in Education. However, to make your contribution I have to invite you, so please get involved an ask for an invitation by sending me an email at:

Don’t miss the chance to share, as it is by sharing that you get a better understanding of how to maximize your effectiveness as a teacher and learner!

Please, share this blog with as many people as possible!

You can now watch a preview of our Yr 10 EM Spectrum “TV Show” directly from this blog. The section we are showing below is part of the EM Spectrum News Report. If you want to watch the whole show click here.

Please, also take a look at my previous post about this show for more details.

A few weeks ago I introduced the E.M. Spectrum to my yr 10 classes (14-15 years old) by asking them to produce activities that we would broadcast on our very own online “TV” channel

Needless to say they were very excited by the idea, especially because they were given complete choice on the type of activities they could create, the groups they were working with and even the software they could use. So, we got activities ranging from News Reports and Revision Songs to Documentaries and Comics. The whole process was highly enjoyable for them, to the point that some pupils who normally would not be that interested in the subject and that would find it difficult to focus on the work given became those who were always working very hard at their project and even came back at lunch time several times to make sure they could complete the activity in time to be broadcast.

Our pupils used a range of sources of information to produce their activities. Many used the internet, but most also checked their facts on Science Textbooks and made sure that their content was both relevant to the AQA Specifications (our examination board) and scientifically sound!

As I mentioned above, all groups had complete choice on the software and format they were using. So, some groups used Photo Story 3 to record short documentary-like videos.Photo Story 3 is very easy to use and very intuitive. It basically lets you choose a sequence of photos and record an oral narration on each frame. Other groups used Songsmith to create lovely revision songs. If you are a teacher, you can download Songsmith free by joining the Partners in Learning NetworkSongsmith gives you a choice of musical bases and by singing to the software your voice is recorded and the base is turned into the melody you’ve created. You can then export your song in Movie Maker and add background images, text and effects, like our yr 10 pupils did.

One of the highlights of our show was the News Report created by our pupils using only PowerPoint 2007 and Movie Maker. Michael asked permission to ITV News to use their music and he then produced the most amazing PowerPoint presentation I have ever seen. In this presentation he included the videos created by the other Reporters in Movie Maker and it looked really professional, as well as containing really good Physics. I think the most powerful message we could get from work like this is that we don’t really need to spend thousands of pounds in highly expensive equipment, nor have a state on the art recording studio in our school, because what really makes the difference is the creativity and engagement of our pupils.

Some other groups used Community Clips to record their presentations directly from their computer screen. Community Clips is a very useful free tool from Microsoft Research that lets you record a video of whatever happens on your screen. You can also narrate what’s going on and your voice will be captured by Community Clips. A Good example of use of this software were the instructions made by our pupils on some useful websites for revision, towards the end of our show!

So, how did we broadcast? Well, we used a free software called Procaster that lets you broadcast live directly on your Livestream channel. But the great thing about Procaster, and what makes it stand out from any other free broadcasting tool, is that you can choose to show just your webcam view, your screen, or a lovely 2-D or even 3-D mix of the two. The result looks very professional and the quality and speed of streaming is also pretty impressive for a completely free service. Your Livestream channel is also free and there is the option to let your audience interact with the show and with each other via the chat built in the channel. You can also link the channel to your Facebook and Twitter to maximise advertising possibilities. Our E.M. Spectrum show went live on Thursday 17th December 2009 at 20.30 (U.K. time) but it’s now available on demand in our Croesy Physics Livestream channel. Please, watch it and have fun!

Croesy Physics Livestream Channel

Have you ever used live streaming software, or websites? What was your experience?

We had a very Special Viewer during our live broadcast, Les Foltos, the Director of edLAB
Puget Sound Center for Teaching
who commented: “Dude.  Really great.  Or as you said it, Bringing Physics to Life is Amazing.” Les also asked our pupils: “What is the benefit of sharing your work in this online show?” and this are some of their comments.

Michael: the benefits are that we are in control of our learning and the research that we did to produce the “TV show” allowed us to take everything in and understand all about what we were learning.

Niall: some of the benefits would be the new and great technologies and software and being able to watch the show on the internet.

Jess: the benefits are that your parents can see it and get involved with what you’re doing in school. Also, it was more fun knowing that lots of people can see it!

We were thrilled to receive an email today to tell us myself and three of my Yr12 Students have been invited to BETT to receive our prize for the “Be a Reporter for the day” competition organised by the National Education Network. They competition invited schools to submit a news report about how they are using Technology in Education.  At the time I just started a Revision Club on Google Wave for my Yr12 Students and I knew that was just the right thing to submit… A project on Wave!

We are one of very few schools that uses Google Wave, as it is brand new technology and still quite few people have been invited to it! I got my invite from my brother in law and my Yr12 pupils from Michael (one of our sixth formers) who had some spare invites to give away.

So, how do we use Google Wave for revision? Wave is an incredibly powerful tool for collaborative work. Not only my pupils and I can communicate real time (and I mean real time), but Waves offer you many tools to enhance your experience, like gadgets and bots. And the best thing is that there are already many Developers who are busy writing new gadgets and bots, so things get more exciting everyday.

But what are these gadgets and bots? To any wave you can add various tools. For example, I added a mind mapping gadget (use the URL: ) to decide what definitions we wanted to revise. So, each member of the class could contribute and group the definitions they found in their notes and specifications. This was a useful excercise because it helped them revise the different concepts and create links between words, definitions and topics.

Then, I invited the Wikifier bot ( to our wave, so that my Students could look up those definitions from Wikipedia directly on the wave. This is another powerful feature of Google Wave; you don’t need to leave the Wave to make something happen, as you can get most thing to happen and be stored there!

After that, I asked my Students to compare the definitions from Wikifier with those in their notes, books and the AQA Specifications, which I believe was not only a great way to revise, but also to encourage them to use more than one source of information when studying and researching! At this point, a great suggestion came from Alex (one of our Students). He said he was going to change the colour to green for those definitions he had checked, red for those he thought were wrong and orange when he wasn’t sure. In this way the Wave started to become more and more something owned and developed by the Students rather than directed and managed by me all the time. In fact, Alex’s suggestion became a norm followed by others too. Other suggestions and activities have been included by the Students since and our Revision Wave is now a lot bigger than the one we started with and our Students reported about in their award winning project, and we are getting very excited leading to January 15th when we’ll be at BETT to enjoy the great events and our boys will receive their prize, a brand new laptop each!

I have heard many teachers saying they can’t understand, or see the point of Google Wave, but I can say it is a fantastic tool and a smashing online collaborative environment unlike anything we have seen before. As more and more Developers will join in writing gadgets and bots for Waves, we’ll see a phenomenon that could really change the way communications and collaboration happen in Education.

I have often wondered whether to use Office Live, or not! I tried it a couple of years ago with my Yr10 pupils and it just didn’t work for them. They would not upload stuff on the share workspace and some complained they couldn’t access the resources I uploaded, or could not log in. So, I gave up for a season, until a few months ago when I created a PowerPoint Template for my Yr 12 Students to use to create a massive mind map on various aspects of Quantum Phenomena and EM Radiation. I designed the template using PPTplex, a PowerPoint plug-in that allows you to view your slides as if they were part of a canvas. You can then use the buttons and scroll on your mouse to zoom in and out of each slide (see my previous blog about it)

The result was that each pupil in yr 12 was assigned a topic and turn that into a mind map on a single slide. Thanks to the zooming features of PPTplex there was no concern about the font size and students could, therefore, fit as much information as they wanted in their mind map. Each slide was a new central concept within a much larger mind map whose template I designed in the background view to include all the pupils’ slides and show how each topic linked with each other! This way they could all work at the same mind map presentation and that saved the hassle to have to collect all their work and paste it in a single presentation afterwards. In addition, it allowed the students to use the amazing features of Office 2007, like smart arts and PPTplex and create really nice and visual mind maps!

So, did it all work so smoothly? Well, we live in the real work! I already knew about the problem of not being able to work simultaneously on the same file. If someone is currently working on one file another user can only open it as a read only. This takes away all the collaborative nature of sharing documents online, doesn’t it? No doubt, tools like Google Docs and Google Wave allow a much superior real time collaboration, but the tools provided by Google Presentations are quite limited compared to the range of features of PowerPoint 2007, which allows the user to create much more versatile and professional looking presentations, as example of which is PPTplex. Some students could not download the Presentation and work on it and one pupil experienced the frustration of not being able to edit the presentation because another student was working on it at the same time. Thankfully, he was quick enough to think of saving it with another name, make his changes and then cut and paste onto the Office Live shared presentation later.

So, is Office Live a useless online collaborative environment? I believe it’s far from that, because of the reasons I explained above. If they could merge the awesome features of Office 2007 with the collaborative power of Google Docs, or even better, Google Wave, that would come close to perfection. But we live in the real world where live can sometimes mean “wait a minute I am rebooting” and collaboration sometimes means “Well you both wrote on the same spot, so I won’t show any of it at all!”

What so you think? Please, leave a comment!

I have always been excited by the amazing potential of Deep Zoom in Education ever since I was given a demonstration by Stuart Ball (Microsoft Innovative Teachers Network, @innovativeteach on Twitter), when he showed me what the Hard Rock Cafe’ did for it’s Memorabilia. I tried to use the Deep Zoom Composer across the network in my School, but it did not work (apparently it conflicts with our RM network, any suggestions?). So, I was apparently stuck, but I wasn’t ready to give up yet and coming to a unit on Reproduction with my Yr 7 class I came up with a simple solution, which proved the inability to use the composer on individual PCs to be a blessing rather than a curse.

The objectives of the project:

–  To develop interdependence through a collaborative project in which all learners had to take into account the needs and objectives of other groups

–  To encourage collaboration between different groups by getting my pupils to develop and peer teach different aspects of Reproduction

–  To enhance Communication Skills through the creative and collaborative use of Deep Zoom, Community Clips and Movie Maker

–  To develop Thinking Skills by developing the project using the TASC Framework

The management of the project:

In the first lesson the groups were introduced to the project and were given an area of Reproduction to develop. All the work undertaken by the groups was their independent work and research and was carried out using the TASC Framework (see the TASC section below). In the second lesson one member of each group could use a PC to research appropriate images and diagrams to use in the whole class Deep Zoom composition, while the other members of the group continued the preparation of their displays and presentations. In the third lesson each group took it in turn to add their pictures to the Deep Zoom composition while the other groups worked on the scripts for their presentations. This was a very important part of the project, because, in composing a whole class Deep Zoom, each group had to take into account the contributions of other groups and make sure that their interventions would not affect negatively the work of others. This approach developed interdependence, creativity, flexibility and adaptability skills, and of course ICT skills, as every learner could use Deep Zoom Composer. In the last lesson each group used the Deep Zoom Composition made by the efforts of the entire class and zoomed in and out the relevant parts while they were explaining their topic to the class. They also recorded their presentations using Community Clips, but at this stage we became aware of a challenge. When they zoomed in or out Community Clips would skip a short bit of the narration, so when we played back the first clip, we realized we needed to pause between each zooming action. That has slowed down the narration a bit and it doesn’t sound as fluent as it could have been, but the results were still very good. The groups’ presentations could then be edited in Movie Maker to minimize the pauses introduced because of the above problem.

The impact on my students:

During the project I could witness a maturity I had not noticed before in my pupils. The class I run the project with behaved in a more responsible way than they had previously done in other projects not involving Reproduction and they were genuinely interested in discovering how their body works. I also noticed much improved behavior compared to the classes I taught Reproduction to in the past and I believe this is due to the collaborative nature of the project and the ownership the learners had not only on the format (as they could choose and collate their own photos in Deep Zoom), but also on the content, as they conducted all the research and produced all the resources they needed themselves (all I gave each group was a topic to develop). This proved to be successful, because many groups found interesting information that the usual text books did not have and that was a curiosity or a concern for some members of the group. In that my pupils were not only consuming knowledge, but became creators of a knowledge that better suited their needs and those of their peers. In addition, retention of these concepts was much higher than in the past and pupils from different groups could recall many aspects of the topics not developed by themselves, or their group.

I got this fantastic online resource from Dan Roberts (@chickensaltash on twitter) who blogged about some fantastic work his pupils did with it! Dan’s blog

So, here is how I used it so far! I got my pupils in yr 10 to split into nine groups and develop a 5W activity on energy resources. Each group was assigned one type of energy resource and the power stations assiciated with it. In the 5W activity they had a pentagon shape with an image in the middle and they had to find information to include in each box to answer the 5 questions starting with W, Who, Where, What, When, Why.



When they were presenting their work back to the class, I asked each pupil to look at the presentations and post a sticky note on our Wallwisher whenever they spotted an advantage/disadvantage of renewable/non-renewable energy resources, so they were taking shared notes about topics created by other members of the class. I have uploaded the link to the wallwisher I created on our VLE, so they can now use those shared notes for revision!

Here is the link to our Wallwisher on energy resources

Please, comment on this blog and share with us how you use Wallwisher!!!

No. 1 – I found a pearl in Excel 2007, or the Share Workbook feature

You can share a workbook with multiple users over a network! Just go to the “Review” Ribbon and click on “Share Workbook” and tick the “Allow changes…” box. It’s as easy as that!

Sharing in Excel

I have used it to create real time polls in my classes and for other collaborative projects. To see the changes made by other users the individual user has to save the work repeatedly, which is not as good as spreadsheets in Google Docs. You also have the disadvantage, unlike Google Docs, that you cannot share the workbook over the Internet, but just on a local network. However,  for schools this feature is just AWESOME, because it lets you share a workbook with entire classes and you retain all the really amazing features of Excel 2007, features like Smart Arts and the new graphing tools that make look Google Docs spreadsheets like primitive cave drawings in comparison!

No. 2 – Triggers in PowerPoint

Triggers in PowerPoint allow you to start animation effects of objects on your slides at the click of other objects, so you can get things to move, change, appear and disappear by clicking on existing objects, or even “invisible” buttons that you have created. The possibilities are limitless. I have seen Blockbuster games designed with triggers and I have made multiple teams games, where from the same slide two teams can play and affect changes on the side of their team. I have also created drop down menus to navigate around your presentation (this is very effective and looks very professional) and spelling and Numeracy games. Have fun with triggers, you will find them in the Timing tool for each animation you create in PowerPoint!

The Timing tool in PPT

The Timing tool in PPT

Download my Innovid on Triggers here.

No. 3 – Ink for Office 2007

Ink has actually been around for a long time in PowerPoint, but Office 2007 has extended it to Word and Excel too, which is a great asset, if you are using an interactive whiteboard, or a Tablet PC. Well the name says it all, with Ink you can use your interactive pen to hand write directly on you PowerPoint presentations, Word documents and even Excel workbooks. I will produce an Innovid on Ink very soon, so I’ll let you know when you can access this one! Meanwhile, if you want to have a go at inking, you’ll find this tool in the Review ribbons. Have fun with it!


No. 4 – PowerPoint Plex

PPTplex is an amazing plug-in for PowerPoint 2007 that allows you to display all your slides as if they were on a canvas! You can then zoom in and out of each section of your canvas and enjoy the looks of amazement of your audience. You can also look at the PPTplex blog to get your Wiimote to act as the mouse and control your presentation using a Nintento Wii remote control. This is quite amazing!

In Education you can use PPTplex to create amazing mind maps with your classes and to create timelines that really come to life in History, etc…

Have a look at my Innovid on the Microsoft Innovative Teachers Network

No. 5 – Maths Add-in for Word 2007

The Maths Add-in enhances the already very good Equation Editor in Word 2007 and lets you solve simple and simultaneous equations. You can also plot 2-D and 3-D graphs directly in Word and trace the curve, or rotate around the axis of your choice!

This is very useful and if you this Maths is the only thing you can use it for think again, because I used it (under suggestion of Stuart Ball, Microsoft) to get my Yr 12 pupils to create a Poem to describe the Photoelectric Effect

Math Add-in

I have made an Innovid about this Add-in, so take a look at it and have fun with it!

Well, these are my top five features in Office 2007. What are yours? Please comment!!!