Using twitter on a school trip

November 17, 2009

4OQ Visit Selly Manor

I always think one of the most powerful uses of the social media that has grown around twitter is for reporting and reflecting on live events on location.  Some time ago a friend and I experimented with some ideas for a club night based around social media and, although we eventually shelved it, it made me think about using social media for our school trip today to Selly Manor in Birmingham.

I have been using twitter and blogging with my class since September to reflect on learning, share their work with an audience, and get them to the different places on the web easily on their 1:1 netbooks. Some of this has been through twitterific on my iPhone , which has allowed me to tweet their reflections outside of the classroom, and get them all to links quickly without having to return to my own computer.

Today we used Twitterific to document our trip, both using text and its capability to take  photograph with my iPhone and upload it straight away to our twitter news feed. I also used the iPhone app tweetmic pro , which allows you to make audio recordings and immediatly upload them to your twitter feed. Whilst I had to mediate the text updates as I am the only one proficient with the iPhone keyboard, this allowed the children to more immediatly and personally make their observations and reflections.

So, whilst this is a very ‘cool’ thing to do, many people may be asking what the value of it is for the children. Personally I think there are a few things it adds to our trip, the first is a nice timeline of the day, and the activities we engaged in. Whilst this could easily be achieved using a class blog or just a camera, the ability to mix text, audio and images and have them arranged chronologically should be very useful when it comes to reflecting on the trip when we are back at school. Of course this could be achieved by other means, but it is so immediate using twitter. Once it has happened and been captured it is documented, and there is no need for someone to upload photographs, organise them into order and publish them.

This immediacy has another benefit- although we were short of time when we got back to school we could immediately open up the twitter feed and all the material we had collected was there to be reflected on straight away, even as the children were sat in their coats waiting for home time. No doubt some of them will have also logged on when they got home and shared their day with their parents well before I would have had time to update our class blog.

Another purpose of these tools was to encourage reflection on learning throughout the day. Undoubtedly this could have been done by teacher questioning, but the act of recording and publishing their reflections should be a huge factor in engaging the children and encouraging them to think more meaningfully about what they are experiencing. Let’s face it; you are going to try harder with your reflections when being broadcast to the world than if you are scribbling them on a piece of paper that will often be only seen by your teacher.

I was really hoping to use these tools today to encourage some solid reflection from the children, but given the lack of thinking time beforehand, and the fact this was my first school trip as an NQT I did not fully achieve what I had hoped. We certainly created a record of the day, which hopefully will help with later reflection. However, the amount and level of reflections were not quite what I had hoped for as my time and energy was largely taken up by making sure none of the children got on the wrong bus, fell down the stairs of the tudor house or got lost going to the toilets! Despite this I do think with a bit more experience these tools could be really useful in encouraging reflection and extending learning on a school trip, and I will certainly be using them in a more focused way next time.


Audio tweet:

Our class twitter news feed:

Class blog on the trip:


Sentence writing with pictures

October 17, 2009

In the last few weeks I have been discussing IEP targets with children in my class (Year 4). A number of them have targets relating to writing simple sentences, and had been set targets last year to have regular practice writing sentences to go with pictures they were given. This struck me as a good idea, and is something I have done before with my year 2 class on the advice of my fantastic PGCE tutor Kate Glavina.

However, I had an interesting conversation with one of the more streetwise boys when I suggested this. He took offense at the suggestion he couldn’t write ‘simple’ sentences, and when I suggested the picture writing his response was along the lines of “Not again, that’s baby’s work writing about those pictures of girls!”. I asked him what he liked, and he replied immediately ‘Cars! Hummers, Porche’s and Lambourghini’s!”. Therefore, much to his amazement, we made the deal that if I found him some cool pictures of cars, then he would write me some cool (not simple) sentences.

Due to the fact  other things got in the way, we didn’t get round to making this happen for a week or so. Throughout that time he was asking me when he was going to do his ‘car work’, and soon some other children were asking me as well…

Last week I put together the pictures. I am a big fan of, a search engine that lets you search for high quality images which are creative commons licensed. It was obvious from our conversation that these pictures needed to be exciting and engaging, so I used compfight to find a set of pictures which I hoped would genuinely engage him and the rest of my reluctant writers. I feel strongly that you need to have high production values for things you make for the classroom, so I used Apple’s Pages to put together a sheet that would complement these exciting pictures.

Last week we began, and the results have been fantastic! There was great excitement when I revealed the full colour pictures I had printed for them, and a genuine scramble for children to get the ones that grabbed their interest (some had chosen to go for wildlife rather than cars as their subject). The best part is that in two short sessions several of the pupils who were making no attempt to organize their ideas into sentences have started to do so. We still have a lot of work to do, but they are really starting to try to improve their writing as they want to do their best at this activity. Our last session ended with them all imploring me to let them take them home, something which really surprised me coming from these children. “My Mum will work on it with me because she loves cars too and she will remind me to do my car work.”

Just a simple idea, but one I thought was worth sharing. It just shows how taking some time to listen to children’s interests can reap rewards in terms of their engagement and effort. Hopefully, as this is something they have engaged with well, they will be willing to return to it to try to edit and improve their sentences.

1:1- Using twitter to get a young class to the right resources

October 11, 2009

One of the fundamental issues in a 1:1 primary classroom is getting the children to the websites they are meant to be using as quickly and painlessly as possible. In a conventional classroom you can just hand out copies of worksheets and resources to different groups, but when working with web based tools this is much harder to organise. My class of 8 year olds find copying exact URLs very difficult, due to their still developing typing and reading skills.There is no way there are going to copy ‘’ just to get to a quick maths game, and a google search could land them anywhere on the net.

Therefore I had to find a way to get them all on the same page (or differentiated pages) quickly before we could get anything done.

In the summer I thought Edmodo would be the answer to this. This service provides a private, walled, twitter like service which you can restrict to your classroom. I had visions of using this to send out links to the class, but in practice it didn’t work for the stage we are at. My class are still learning about logins and remembering passwords, and the process of having to log into something before they could find where they needed to go (and possibly log in to that service as well) took some considerable time. Edmodo also lets them communicate with the class by sending out short messages, and they soon discovered this and my own messages to links I wanted them to visit were drowned in a timeline of noisy classroom discussion!

Therefore, I decided to have a re-think, and use something more static and more easily accessible. Basically I decided to set up a twitter account (@4oqlinks), so that I could tweet out links and they would immediately be accessible to the pupils. Now, when I want pupils to go to a certain site I just tweet out a link to it, it updates our twitter feed instantly, and pupils can be on that site in moments by visiting, without needing a login. This is really powerful, as if one student finds a better source of information for what you are working on, you can just tweet it out and the whole class can access it straight away, allowing you to take the lesson in any direction very quickly and easily. This is actually faster and more straightforward than handing out resources on paper!

If you are in a 1:1 environment I would hugely recommend setting up a system like this. It gives you a really quick way to get pupils where you want them to be, and is only as difficult as registering for twitter and making a big sign with the address of your account to put on the wall for the pupils to visit. You can keep the twitter page open on your computer and send out links to your whole class in an instant: much quicker than having them try to copy them from the board!

Now to complicate it: Implementing this in a class home page
However, I was not happy about pupils accessing the twitter page directly because it just wasn’t slick enough! I also wanted to have multiple feeds on the same site, so pupils could see our class news, blog, and links for lessons all on the same page. Therefore, I decided to create a class home page with the feed from twitter as part of it.

I had already bought so that I could set up google docs accounts for my class, so I set up a google site as the home page for that domain, and embedded a twitter gadget to display the feed on that site, which I could also use for class news and links to regularly used tools. Unfortunately I could not find a way to get any gadgets to open the links in a new page, so users always got their page opening in an unusableframe within the site:
Picture 1
After much experimentation I decided to ditch google sites and go for a website made in Apple’s iWeb. I have always liked iWeb for very quickly putting together slick looking websites, but previous versions have always fallen down when it came to wanting to extend your page beyond a basic, static site. Thankfully in iWeb ’09 Apple have included a great widget called ‘HTML snippet’. If you drop one of these into your site you can past HTML into it to achieve anything you cannot do with the program, but can with HTML or javascript.
Picture 3

I played around with a number of third party widgets, but found all of them to be slow to load, overly flashy, and still with the same problem that links would load in a frame. I therefore decided to go back to basics, and mashed together some code to access the twitter api directly and render the feed as text. Even if you are not that technical, you can use the code below to drop into the HTML snippet box in iWeb, or into the HTML of your website to render a twitter feed as a column as it is on our home page. Just copy it in, and change the text that reads ‘YOUR_TWITTER_USERNAME’ for the username of your twitter links feed. If you are doing this in iWeb the frame will go a bit mad for a few seconds, but wait for it to settle down and it will be fine.

<style rel=”stylesheet” id=”mainStyle” type=”text/css”>
html {background-color:#FFFFFF}
body {background-color:#FFFFFF; font-family:Tahoma,Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif; font-size:14px;
margin-left:1%; margin-right:1%; border:3px groove darkred; padding:15px}
h1 {text-align:right; font-size:1.5em; font-weight:bold}
h2 {text-align:left; font-size:1.1em; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline}
.buttons {margin-top:10px}
<div id=”twitter_update_list”>
<script type=”text/javascript” src=””&gt;
<script type=”text/javascript” src=”″&gt;

The only problem I have found is that you sometimes have to refresh the page a few times for the feed to render, but I have just told my class to press f5 a few times until it does. In the rare cases that it doesn’t I put a hyperlink to the twitter page right above it.

And the result:
Picture 2

Now I just have to tell my class to ‘Go to’, and I can get them anywhere on the internet in seconds.

Hopefully this is useful to some of you in getting children to the right page as quickly as possible so the learning can begin!

Some tools and tricks I swear by

August 2, 2009

People are often asking what tools and apps I am  using, and I usually struggle to remember. Therefore, I thought I would create a run down of a selection of tools that are essential to me. Rather than a simple list I have tried to add some value by way of some tips and tricks I have discovered to get more out of these tools…


This is a killer application/web service for synchronizing files, a real lifesaver if you use multiple computers/laptops. You sign up for an account, install a small service program and it creates a folder on your computer the contents of which are uploaded to their server and instantly synchronized to any other computer you have set up with that account. You can also access them from anywhere using a web browser, which also works great on the iPhone (an app is also on the way).

It makes problems knowing which computer has the latest version of a file a thing of the past, and the fact you can access all the files online or offline is really useful. You can also share folders with others which was a lifesaver for sharing hard to track down reading on my PGCE course.

Get it here, or if you want a little extra free storage than the stock 2GB  you can sign up using my affiliate link.

Trick > Sync Apps Preferences and Data

If your on a Mac you can also use it to keep applications synced. Most apps store their data in your Home library folder (eg Address Book is in /Users/[User_Name]/Library/Application Support/AddressBook/ ). If you move this folder to your dropbox, then create a symbolic link to this moved folder in it’s original location on all the computers then you can keep the app synced across all your machines.

For example to sync your address book, move the /Users/[User_Name]/Library/Application Support/AddressBook/ folder to /Users/[User_Name]/Dropbox/AddressBook/ .

Then open a terminal and type:

‘cd ~/Library/Application\ Support/’

and then ‘ln -s ~/Dropbox/AddressBook AddressBook’.

This creates a shortcut where Address Book is looking for it’s files which points to the folder in your dropbox. On your other machines delete the original AddressBook folder, and repeat the terminal commands. Address Book files are now synced across all your machines.

Google Reader

I watch an awful lots of blogs, and the only way I have found to keep track of them all is using Google reader. Instead of visiting each of the sites you want to keep track of to see if there are new posts, Google Reader aggregates all of them into one place, showing you when they have new articles and posts. All you need to do is Sign up to Google Reader, then find the link to the ‘RSS feed’ on the sites you want to follow. If you click on this link and choose to open it with Google Reader then it will be imported and you will never have to check the site for updates again!

Trick > Share items to Twitter.

Every article on Google Reader has a ‘Share’ button at the bottom. when you click this the article is published to your own personal ‘Shared’ page, so you can share interesting articles. This page is available at

However, this page also has it’s own Atom (Similar to RSS) feed. If you sign up to a service like Twitterfeed, you can get any RSS or Atom feed automatically tweeted and shared with all your followers. Just copy the link to the Atom feed, and paste it into this service. Now whenever I click the shared button on an article I am reading it is automatically tweeted- a much more useful way of sharing than your public shared page. Note there is a delay on this, it checks feeds every half hour.


I am a big fan of iCal on the Mac, and the calendar on my iPhone is constantly in use to keep me organised. I also like to be able to access my calendar on a large screen wherever I am, so I also use Google Calendar. I use a variety of methods to keep all of these different solutions in sync.

Firstly I use Spanning Sync installed on all my Macs which synchronizes my iCal calendars to Google Calendar. This is an inexpensive and powerful program which is linked to your Google account so you can install it on as many Macs as you want. I then use Google Calendar Sync to keep these calendars synchronized with my iPhone. This might take a bit of setting up, but it is far cheaper than a MobileMe account from Apple, and Google Calendar is way better than their online application.

Google Docs & Gears

Google Docs is (are?) brilliant. Not only is it a complete office suite for free, it makes your documents available from any computer with a web browser. The collaboration features are also amazing, and put an end to having email chains with multiple copies of files with different revisions having to be collated. Everyone can simply work on the same Google Doc, and all the revisions are kept track of in one place.

However, it does present a problem if you use a laptop which is not always online, as you have to access your office suite through the net. Step in Google Gears, which is an extension for your web browser which allows it to synchronize your Google Docs so that you can work on them even without an internet connection. Just install Gears, log in to Docs, select ‘offline’ from the top right and it will guide you through the quick set up.  It can even allow you to read and send your GMail when you are offline.

Trick > New Docs Offline

One thing that does annoy me is that Gears won’t let you create a new document when you are offline, only edit existing ones. A trick I picked up (I can’t remember where from!) to get around this is to create lots of blank documents when you are online. Name them ‘Blank Doc 1, 2’ etc. Then when you are offline and want to start a new document, simply open one of these blank documents and get started.

I hope these tricks and examples are useful to some people, and I am always looking for more tricks like these so let me know if you have any to share..

Subversive tech: An IWB for £30?!

July 7, 2009

I love the idea of being creative with technology; not just creating things ICT, but thinking laterally with the technology itself. In the past I have tried this by creating a cheap digital visualiser, a £2000 audio compressor for £150, and using a modified touch screen shop till for music performance…

Therefore, when I saw Johnny Chung Lee’s YouTube video detailing making an interactive whiteboard from a Wii remote I just had to have a go! This method involves making a pen which emits InfraRed light, and setting up the Wii remote to track the light from this pen and interpret it into mouse movements.

Sounds complicated, but it was one of the simplest projects I have ever made. I ordered an Infra Red emitter from Rapid Electronics, and a switch to turn it on. When these arrived I set about removing the innards from a permanent marker and fitting these inside. The emitter, switch and a battery just had to be connected in a simple circuit, and the hardest part was simply getting them all to fit inside the pen which was a little fiddly. I ended up soldering the battery into the circuit, but I might revisit it and make the battery a little easier to replace.

Once that was done I nipped down to gamestation and bought a Wiimote for £20 (would be nice if they cleaned their second hand hardware before selling it though- yuk!). Then I downloaded the native Mac version of Johnny Chung Lee’s WiiMoteWhiteboard software, pressed the 1 and 2 button to link the WiiMote with my Mac and calibrated the board. You will obviously need a Mac with bluetooth, or a bluetooth dongle for this to work. The software exists for PC, and looks as easy to use but I haven’t tried it.

Positioning the WiiMote takes a little playing, and I would recommend opeing the camera view in the software and checking that it can “see” the WiiMote at any point on the screen before trying to calibrate. You just have to get a feel for what the angle of view is on the camera. Once this is done you have a suprisingly responsive and accurate IWB on any screen, or with a projector – any surface!

I have been really pleased so far with this, and am already thinking of ways to use it in the classroom (google earth on a table anyone?). There’s a demo video below, and you can find all the info you need to make your own on Johnny Chung Lee’s website.

Here’s to subversive technology!

Edit: Have just found a much more powerful solution to the software side of this in Smoothboard. I haven’t tried it myself, but it looks worth looking at if you are using a solution such as this.

A visualiser on the cheap

June 15, 2009

I had been aware of visualisers for a while, but it was at the BETT show last year that I first had a play with one on the Smart technologies stand, and I knew straight away that I had to have one! The ability to show children’s work immediately on a large screen, and even highlight and annotate it on the IWB without actually writing on it seemed fantastic, and an ideal tool for encouraging children to reflect on and improve their work. They are also fantastic for sharing books and small objects with the whole class.

However, there was no way as a PGCE student I could afford the £800 odd Smart were charging, so I decided to try to find a way to get the same functionality on a shoe string budget.

I turned first to the internet haven for cheap technology- eBay. Having once bought a £2000 mixing desk for £60 on there I am ever hopeful of true bargains, and although there were lots of bang up to date visualisers at silly prices, after some scouring and waiting I was lucky enough to find an old analogue model for £30!

This wasn’t the latest model by far- no USB connections here- just an analogue video output, and the plastic casing is almost as yellow as my 20 year old Amiga… However, it did the job of displaying childrens work when plugged into a data projector.


Me being me, I was never going to be satisfied with that, so I started looking into getting an analogue video input for my computer, and again eBay came up with the goods. Somewhat skeptically, I bought an RCA video to USB dongle for £15 (search for EasyCap USB), which turned out to be perfect. It isn’t the greatest resolution in the world, but it is good enough for running through a 1024×768 data projector, and allows you to bring up any video source on your computer screen. There are a multitude of these on eBay, but if you are a Mac user be sure to get one which specifically says it is Mac compatible as not all of them are.

Once I had this hooked up all I needed to do was find some software. Smart Notebook has fantastic integration with visualisers, but it only works with their own model, so I sought out something else that would allow me to achieve the same thing. For the PC I had in school that turned out to be a program called ‘Open Video Capture‘. This is only a limited trial, but for displaying a video input full screen you don’t need to pay for the full version.

For the Mac I found a program called VideoGlide capture, which you will have to pay for to remove a watermark, but it is not too expensive, and it does a great job.

With either of these programs active displaying the video input from the visualiser ‘Smart Tools’ allow you to pick up a pen and annotate, and scribble over the live video. You can even click the camera button to capture the screen as a still to Notebook- leaving the annotations editable so you can rub out and change them.

Annotating work


Since I have started using it I have found all sorts of uses for the system beyond simply displaying childrens written work. I have used it for displaying a live science experiment so we could annotate it with arrows showing the force, to allow a child to demonstrate to the class with clarity how to use a ruler or a mirror to find a line of symmetry, and recently to analyse the information on juice cartons for my year twos to allow them to define success criteria for their own carton designs. The camera is also a high enough quality to zoom in on a photographic negative, invert it, and display the photograph contained in it. This filled my Year 2 class with wonder during a lesson about the history of cameras (most of them had never seem a film camera before).


Force Diagram



Analysing fruit juices


Mirrors for symmetry

VideoGlide also allows recording of video and stop motion filming from the visualiser- so who know what we will end up doing with that… If you are using it on a Mac I highly recommend setting up application assignments for your spaces so you can flip between full screen video and notebook (as described here).

All in all I have found it to be a great tool for encouraging pupil reflection, and genuinely enhancing their learning many ways. For a total cost of around £70 and a bit of tinkering I have been able to achieve most of the functionality of a new model costing many times the price. It’s always easy to lust after expensive new technology, but sometimes a bit of tinkering can get the same results for much less, so I thought I would share my experiences with this as it may be useful for others lusting after a visualiser as I was!