Agile Learning Spaces

By Alex More

Inspired by Prof Stephen Heppell’s work on agile learning spaces I have been experimenting with ways to reduce paper use and maximise learning time in the classroom. Here are some ideas from a work in progress …


Writing on the walls 

The rebel in me has always loved the idea of writing on walls. This cheap retro-blackboard concept is cost effective and appeals to the hipster in everyone. So, I have 2 x blackboard set up, both of which students can use to explore ideas and map thoughts.

Big Ideas Board

This is where students map out questions they have about topics or ideas. They pose those questions to each other and sometimes to me, the teacher. The big ideas represent things they don’t know yet, or sometimes things they are confused about. The students really like the process and it gets students out of their seats and active. The questions act as a platform for discussions and debates within the class. The image below shows a recent lessons work. This task took 4 minutes for students to complete but led to 17 minutes of deep engaged discussion about the big questions. associated with diet and nutrition. After 21 minutes we had explored and learned 11 new ideas, which includes the fact that there are 13 vitamins the body needs (which I didn’t know). You just need a old wooden board, some blackboard paint and chalk!


Writing on the desks 

My new year pledge was to reduce the number of post-it notes I use for ‘Do Now Activities’ so writing on the desks avoids excess paper use and is better for the environment. I upcycled some pen pots and scattered them all over the room so students have access to a range of colours and rags to wipe the desk clean with. It’s a great way to share thinking, scaffold thinking and engage students in challenge. I use this to really challenge ideas and have shared a few strategies below that work really well.


Great for easy access and high challenge. As a recap ask students to recall 5 facts. Let’s imagine this was a follow up lesson to diet and nutrition, you could ask them to write down 5 of the 7 nutrients the body needs. They might write down Carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and fibre. Once done, ask them to underline 3 that relate to the main learning aim. For the diet and nutrition example, this could be under line 3 that are macronutrients. The final needs to be the most important part or component, so perhaps Carbohydrates if that is what you are about to teach them.

Marketplace Learning or Rotating tables 

A simple variation on the above, ask students to stand up and move to another table to discuss the ideas displayed there. To increase challenge, ask one student per group to remain at their table to defend ideas and present the groups ideas. To develop further, you could ask a representative from each table to present ideas at the front of the class or take questions from the class.

More confused – More questions – More ideas 

Set up 3 points on 3 walls of the classroom. Have 3 mini-whiteboards ready. Write the words More confused on one whiteboard and More questions or More ideas on the others. When introducing a new topic or checking progress on an existing topic ask students to go and stand next to the whiteboard that best represents their thinking at that point in time. In my experience, most will go for More questions as children are naturally curious and if engaged in what you are teaching them will want to explore concepts at greater depth. You now have the perfect platform to take questions, bounce them around the room and explore knowledge. If students opt for more confused, don’t panic, they just need more explanation or are articulating gaps in their knowledge. 

To develop this idea, ask them to write their questions on any of your writable surfaces. A challenge could consist of other students or teams trying to solve the question and offer support. If Ed Tech is your thing, why not invest in a Google assistant so students can ask Hey Google, what’s …. ? 

So, there you have a few ideas to play around with. They are low cost but high impact. The benefits are increased challenge and active engagement. You can also take some screen shots of what they have written on the tables or walls which provide evidence of progress over time and feedback, especially if they include teacher comments too! 




By Alex More


Happy New Year and sorry it’s been a while since we last blogged. As one year ends and another begins it’s tempting to pen a blog on 2018 and the trends, stories and ideas that shaped our craft, but, this blog is all about looking forward into 2019 and what ideas might light our pedagogical fires.

So, let’s start 2019 with a dilemma. If you were presented with an opportunity to attend a one off CPD event in January with the following titles, what would you choose? Feel free to add your choice in the comments tab below;

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Source: London BETT conference 24th – 26th January 2019 LInk

It’s a tough choice. Personally, I would go for ‘connecting classrooms with AI’ as I would love to see how this would be or could be done. Or, perhaps ‘Growing Humans for the Digital Age’. One thing I noticed about all of the CPD choices above is the presence of technology as a change agent.

Ever since Marc Prensky’s digital natives paper in 2001, the role technology plays in evolving or in some cases distracting learning has intrigued teachers and the media that surrounds education. Daisy Christodoulou in her controversial but brilliant book ‘seven myths about education’ makes the point that technology is not new, it’s always been with us and humans have always evolved through technological advancements. Conversely, technology advocates Jon Bergman (Flipped Learning), Sugata Mitra (School in the Cloud & Hole in the Wall), Sal Kahn (Kahn Academy) and Steve Wheeler (Learning with E’s) believe technology is changing the way we consume knowledge and that we are living through a technological revolution. Now, that’s an exciting prospect.

Like all great revolutions, there are going to be believers and haters. For the sake of this blog I am going to sit firmly on the fence and simply present some of the big ideas about what might happen in education this year. I am always a critic of hunches and vague predictions so what you will read below is evidence based and from some of the leading minds in education starting with Alex Beard, author of Natural Born Learners which should be on every teachers 2019 reading list.

The educational revolution has passed, we are now living through a technological revolution. 

Imagine what a time travelling child, aged 11 would make of our world today. This child from 1910, pre-war Britain arriving on the streets of London in 2019. They would not recognise the fashions, smart phones, social media, hashtags, colour television, game consoles, likes, notifications, electric cars, digital street signs and many other everyday things we have come to accept as normal. However, if you were to drop that same child into one of our classrooms they would feel instantly at home. Why? Because classrooms have hardly changed in the last century. They would recognise the lay out of the desks, the board at the front, the teacher, at the front and the students listening, taking notes and being punished if not engaged with the content. So, if technology in the world outside of the classroom has evolved so much, why does the classroom look so similar to what it did in 1910? 

There’s no simple answer to this. It’s true teachers are habitual and that routines are repeated, sometimes five times a day. Teachers are under increasing effort to teach content for students to pass tests and then the same teachers are judged on how well students perform in those tests. So, maybe we play it safe and keep students in their seats. Note to self: In 2019 I am going to change the way I use the classroom to teach. 

So, let’s look at some exciting work done by Professor Stephen Heppell on Agile Learning Spaces 

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These ideas are alternatives to the teacher at the front of the class norms and could be used in combination with this traditional approach.

Setting up your learning space to encourage student voice. How about surfaces you can write on? Writable surfaces with pen pots available to scribble ideas, thinking and questions on the desks, tables and walls.


Writable surfaces are different and will encourage students to be creative when recording and sharing ideas. Surfaces can be wiped cleaned, photographed, presented on, it’s a winner and easy to implement. In addition, it gets students out of their seats, it allows the teacher to move around the space and support learning.

Family Learning Tables (FLT) or cluster tables. A simple but effective idea. FLT’s allow students to work together, be grouped together or sit together but work independently. Heppell (2018) described these spaces as tables can be long (five seats on each side, one on each end…) or circular but the long rectangular shape takes up a lot less room whilst still encouraging “quiet time” work. Often these are sourced pre-used. There is something grand about an ex-boardroom table that seems to the add status and value to quiet work.


Learning everywhere. Spreading the learning around the room, filling spaces with meaningful words and that spark curiosity is effective in creating a stimulating learning environment. This can take the form of posters, displays and student work. A school that has this dialed is High Tech Hire in San Diego where students are surrounded by work, creations and things designed to spark their curiosity and creativity.

WAGOLL: What a Good One Looks Like. A variation on the learning everywhere theme is the classroom friendly WAGOLL, which stands for What a Good One Looks Like. The teacher creates a space in the room where students can view work that has been teacher and peer assessed. I first saw WAGOLL presented at a TeachMeet by an enthused textiles teacher who created a wall display of graded work from A-E. Students were encouraged to use the display to inform their own judgements about existing work as they developed their projects.

Attention squares: Talking in small groups. This concept works when a task lends itself to collaboration. The groups sits or stands looking inwards. If a member wishes to present an idea or question they move to the middle of the square so others acknowledge and respect their right to talk and be listened to. These squares could vary in size depending on the task but Heppell suggests 4-8 is the ideal size.

So, the ideas above present ways to change the layout of the classroom, quick grab ideas that could be tried without too much disruption or effort. I have intentionally left out the role technology plays in this as feel the next part of the blog focuses heavily on our relationship with emerging technology. So here we go …

Light boards. Student engagement in flipped learning and podcasts has risen exponentially since the Kahn Academy’s early podcasts. Now students have so many digital learning options at their fingertips, perhaps this version will attract even more learners to view learning online via podcasts.

Time travel, lightsabers and hoverboards have kept Back to the Future and Star Wars fans optimistic about how technology might rock our future world. None of the above have been fully realised yet but Star Wars fans might recognise light boards, a super cool bit of tech used by Princess Leia in the Empire Strikes Back movie.

Towards the end of 2018, Flipped Learning innovator Jon Bergman started experimenting with the use of digital lighboards to create new and engaging flipped podcasts for his students. The result is an interesting user experience, check the video out here: Light boards. 

In Bergman’s own words … What I love about videos made with lightboard’s is that for most teachers, it seems intuitive. They know how to draw on a board and teach their subject. It is also more personable as you get to see the teacher and you feel more connected to him or her with visual cues.

SOLEs (Self Organised Learning Environments) and the School in the Cloud. Do you want SOLE in your school? What if teachers were not present in the classroom and students actually taught themselves via digital online instruction and exploration?

In 2001 Sugata Mitra placed a basic PC ‘hole-in-the-wall’ style in impoverished areas such as Bishnupar in India to see if students who were illiterate could teach themselves how to use technology. His hole-in-the-wall experiments were dubbed ‘minimally invasive ways to educate’. In 2013, Mitra won a $1 million TED grant to fund a new innovation in the field of SOLE learning. He started to build the school in the cloud. The concept of having a school based in the digital cloud is a new idea and one that has attracted a great deal of attention, both from critics and advocates alike.

The community map which presents on the homepage of the School in the Cloud website Link shows how countries around the world are engaging with this new way to acquire content. Word is spreading far and wide and educators seem to be engaging with the big questions concept.

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Mitra is a Scientist at heart, being a Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University gives him a unique platform to grow the school in the cloud. There is huge potential to develop STEAM work (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Mathematics) through the Big Questions, something we could all adopt and use in lessons. Let’s look at some of the big questions which have been created from the minds of children worldwide.

Children are naturally curious learning animals so it’s no surprise they come up with so many great questions. I can hand on heart say I don’t have the answer to most of the questions above, but I am willing to find out. I wonder how this might work as a starter activity in a science or art lesson? Could students potentially answer these questions using knowledge available online? Could students discover the answers to the big questions without teacher help?

Keep an eye on Sugata Mitra’s school in the cloud, it could be a game changer!

Immersive learning experiences and the surprising role AI (Artificial Intelligence) could play in the classroom. One of my most memorable learning experiences involved a ad-hoc History teacher who used to bring props into the lesson. He was the master at capturing your imagination. One day he brought a huge stuffed eagle into our classroom, placed it on the table and said nothing. He taught the full two hours with our undivided attention, waiting to see when and how this strange animal would fit into the lesson we were captivated. At the end of the lesson, he simply placed it under his arm and walked out. Imagine if you brought a robot into the lesson with you, the most jaded student would be intrigued surely?

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Setting up a Google Assistant, Apple Siri or Amazon Alexa and getting it to answer some of the questions that come up in a lesson would be a fairly simple task for many computing teachers. Most students have access to this at home so why not embrace AI in the classroom as digital teaching assistant?

Machine-learning can already play a vital role in setting work, in marking and assessment, and can track individualised learning very proficiently. There is a plethora of online platforms that rely on AI to convert dialogue, provide summative assessments, socrative, google docs and google classroom to name a few. A recent Dragon’s Den pitch saw a teacher from the UK secure funding to pilot a ticketing system that uses AI (voice recognition software) to convert spoken comments into written labels, alledgedy saving teachers time.

We are a way off Robots taking the class but AI if used correctly has the potential to change again the way he receive and consume knowledge.  This is an exciting development and 2019 could be the year we start to see AI’s vast potential realised in the classroom. I wonder if our time travelling child ever dreamt such things were possible. We are evolving so fast. We are living through a technological era which evolves and changes weekly. If someone on a street corner had shown me Google Maps when I was 20 years old it would have blown my mind, that was only 20 years ago! Who knows what the future holds? One thing I think we can all agree on is that it will involve change and change can be a good thing …

Happy 2019, make it a good one.

Find what you love and share it

By Tom Franklin 

This months blog is an inspiring story about discovery. John Hattie once said ‘classrooms don’t have to contain walls’. This is a story about how outlooks and opportunities can transform learning when we immerse young people in nature  and take them out of their normal environments. We are delighted guest blogger Tom decided to share his inspiring story on the hipsters blog, enjoy!

As the clock struck three thirty, on this day, I grabbed my bag and rushed out of the door, to get as quickly as I could to the train station.  Being the end of March and the final day of what had seemed a long Spring Term I was off again to find deserted beaches and paddle into waves in deepest Cornwall.  A regular excursion which had been a saviour of my soul for as long as I could remember. I loved teaching in London for many reasons but my first thought before a long holiday was always; how to fastest reach the ocean and reconnect with my first love – The Sea.

Only half a day and one peaceful sleep later, I was sitting in a place that was as different as one could ever imagine from the skyline of a city. Looking out over miles of endless water and feeling myself return to how nature intended.  Paddling into refreshingly cold walls of water, looking up at dark menacing cliff faces and breathing in the air as it whipped over the crests of waves took me away into a different dimension every time. A place without SMART phones or emails, without messages and news flashes, without worry and anxiety.  The feeling of sand between my toes and the salt water in my mouth, the sounds of the ocean and all it brings, from chattering seagulls to booming white water. Caves, waves, wind, sand, silence and soul.

I was lucky growing up, I felt.  I was one of those children from one of those families which had enough.  Enough to twice a year, get out of the suburbs of the city and hedge all their bets on the weather systems surrounding the British Isles.  Armed with a 1960’s caravan and a side awning, the kids, dogs and a frying pan were thrown into the back of the car and North Cornwall, Cliff field, pitch 24 was always the destination.  

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Pic ref:

At 6 am every morning, I could hear the ocean from our pitch and I would be first up to rush to the field’s edge to see my playground for the day.  It’s mystic allure never got old and I could be hypnotised by the sound and sight of the dancing waves as they lined up along the coast. I was full of awe, I was in the moment, I was in the sea.  I watched men and women gracefully leap onto boards of all shapes and sizes to ride the pulsing water from left to right across the bay. They seemed like they were flying and each of them had a spiritual glow that I was drawn towards.  Over the years I was honoured to become an incredibly average member of the classless albeit slightly chaotic community of ‘Surfers’ who grace every shore line around the world. – I was hooked.

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I wanted to study the ocean, live near it, talk about it and write about it all at the same time.  So, I went to University to study it with grand plans. Spin forward 10 years, and I am back at University learning to become a Primary School teacher in London (a long way from the ocean) and once through the trauma of NQT year, Ofsted and various other incredibly common trials and tribulations of an inner-city teacher, I found myself at a point where I asked myself; What I can bring to the children to really make a difference, not just in their lives but rather grandiosely, in the world?

I enjoyed teaching but often found myself watching other teachers with a passion for football, or music or science, relishing in their enthusiasm for theses things, glowing as they shared their crafts with the children.  My passion was the ocean and surfing and no you tube clip or beach clean with the local council came close to the feelings I had experienced growing up. I would ask some children if they had enjoyed the summer break and where they had been, I was naively shocked to hear more than often; “nowhere sir”.

I decided, things must change.  I had heard enough sad stories of lost lives over phones and postcodes which often boiled down to hopeless boredom and disconnection and I was fed up with school trips of abseiling in the rain and quad biking.  I set about planning a short and incredibly simple unit of work, including Ocean swimming lessons, Ocean sustainability choices, Ocean safety and the Industry of the Oceans! All culminating with a train ride to Cornwall, to my favourite beach to learn to surf.  My fuse was lit, I was off and running. Emailing frantically, every famous surfer I could think of, surf shops, celebrities, even Prince Harry! No luck, if you are not a registered charity, you have no chance, I was told.

I knew the children we wanted to take, each of them had their own reasons to go, to escape, to connect with something bigger, to have their fears and anxieties washed away for the first time.  We knew how much money we needed to deliver the project – and I could see them there in my mind.

We hussled, begged, ran, swam, sweated and toiled and over six months we took a group of ten, children, who had never seen the ocean, through an Ocean Boot Camp of knowledge and skills meeting fantastic people along the way.  With the kindness of many family members, teachers and like-minded strangers too, we at the last minute, hit the target. We were going to Cornwall.

The feeling I experienced when the group first turned the corner to find the vast, blue ocean in front of them was like nothing I had experienced before.  The week we had is etched in my mind for eternity. The things they said, the questions they asked. The running, laughing and screams of excitement as they carelessly found out that they were in fact just children, that the ocean brings joy and freedom and perhaps most importantly that the sea belongs to us all.

Since that time, we have run two more trips, we are on our way to becoming a registered charity and we have had a film made about the project and its impact of global sustainability.

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I often wonder if we just got lucky or if this was something waiting to start.  ‘City Kids Surfing’ was born in 2016 from a small school in Lewisham because we wanted to pass on what we loved to those who could not reach it.  Find what you love and share it, anyway you can. You will change the lives of children and you might just change your own too.

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To find out more about Tom’s story visit his webpage City Kids Surfing or drop him an email – The Unseen Ocean

“You can only love what you know” – Aldous Huxley





Towards sanity

A refreshing look at how we keep focused and upbeat amidst the challenges of our profession by Nige Armitstead.


As we ignite the afterburners to get the academic year off the ground, an almost private letter to a teacher who nearly gave up last year – a real and indeed quite special person…

Dear Kay

You have a pretty good life all things considered.  I have always admired the drive you bring to everything you undertake.  Perhaps the balance of things is open to improvement: from a touchline perspective I think your game is nearly all attack with poor quality defense.  I hope you won’t mind me saying so. We all have things in our lives of great value to us; things we should defend with as much strength and vigour as that with which we attack the try line of life.  It’s a rugby metaphor… Go Kay!!

What is it that needs defending?  My list would include health, home, and happiness of relationship.  Your list might be different, although I hope not entirely different.  The important point here is to be clear in your mind what the things are which have great value to you, that may sit in the background somewhat, that may be the foundation from which your zest for life springs, and which need your active attention to sustain the quality they give your life.  Your relationship of course is also a quality factor in another person’s life whose happiness you may want to defend.

You work extremely hard Kay, and towards the end of last academic year you began to say that it was defeating you: that perhaps you should give up teaching. To balance working hard you try to play hard, but it is all just too hard.  You have not burned out, but you know that you are risking it, even though you are still in your twenties and regarded as a ‘super teacher’ by your managers.

So enter a kindly old friend with some suggestions for an alternative but still high quality of professionalism…

Exhausted Coping is NOT OK

Teachers need their wits about them to keep one step ahead of the event mania of the school day.  The rolling problem analysis, judgement in an instant, and clocking of follow up needs that is continually present whilst in contact with students requires the mind to be in top form all the time.  Otherwise there is vulnerability to professional hazards. So making sure that you are at no point exhausted should be an absolute priority in order to do the job well. Do these things…

  • Prioritise sleep hygiene. Hours before midnight have double quality!
  • Get to school with time to relax before the students arrive.
  • Always go to the staff room at break time, and for at least half of the lunch hour.
  • Never see students outside lesson time.  Have a spare chair by your desk, and summon a student to it for a quiet chat during the lesson.  If necessary take a student outside the room for a quiet chat during the lesson. Beyond that, catch up with them during lessons you are not yourself teaching.
  • Always go home by 6.00pm
  • Never take marking home, ever.  (cf my suggestion on marking below)

Teaching can be an enlightened enjoyment rather than a dire enslavement.

It is so much more enjoyable to do the things your are interested in.  So be interested in teaching, and in particular…

  • Follow education in the news or in professional magazines.  Read books.
  • Stay in touch with and try out ideas: for example our ‘educationalhipsters’ blog.
  • Stop doing the dark brooding that teachers sometimes do that involves a low opinion of students, a disenchantment with school managers, and an embittered hard luck story of the self.  You can do better: make it your professional business to like students; work positively with managers; and take responsibility for positive self beliefs in relation to your role as a teacher.
  • Reflect on your classroom practice, always looking for what seemed to go well and therefore you might want to do more of.

Use a SIMPLE feedback mechanism for students to make progress.

For any year group the main aspects of the curriculum for any given subject should be possible to simplify on to one side of A4 paper, with room underneath for recording assessments that have been made.  The following is half of a feedback sheet which I used to hand out to GCSE students so that they knew what to aim at for different grade levels. It is derived from the GCSE curriculum but reconstructed as a set of statements which complete the sentence starter –  ‘In order to improve you need to…’

GCSE GRADE: 3 and 4 5 and 6 7 and 8
Spelling and




to spell high frequency words accurately; to use capital letters and full stops to apply spelling rules accurately; to use speech punctuation and indents to spell unusual words accurately; to use punctuation for sophisticated phrasing
to use basic vocabulary with some qualifiers (eg. very, extremely etc.) to use extended vocabulary without qualifiers to use elaborated vocabulary to convey precision meaning, subtlety and fine nuance
to write correctly structured sentences including commas for basic phrasing to use sophisticated phrasing in order to embed one sentence inside another to use specific phrasing for analytic writing; comparisons and contrasts
to indent the first line of a paragraph and use as a larger unit of meaning to give clear internal structure to paragraphs; topic sentence, details and completing sentence to use well structured paragraphs to organise the development of a story/essay

Of course this is the template for feedback which suits my mindset on the exam course assessment objectives.  Your template might look different. The thing is to explain it to the students and then use it to give feedback on their work, although in line with the comments below on marking.  For example, using impression only as an adequate analysis, I might put at the end of a piece of work PG 5/6, and the student would be able to consult their sheet and see what this involved, and furthermore what they needed to do better (in the box next door) to improve their grade.  Thus a useful feedback process is managed in a simple way with a low cost to time and effort (once the sheet is produced and put in student books).


Well, OK, not entirely stop, but let’s remember that if the feedback process is good, it is the poorest use of a teacher’s time to wade through yards of student work trying to grade every inch of it.  Instead…

  • Check at a glance that the work expected has been properly presented.
  • Ask students to put a mark by any aspects they want you to look at more carefully, up to a maximum of three.
  • Comment by those marks, extremely briefly.
  • At the end of the work record your impression of it, using the system offered above for feedback or something like it.  (Students should know in advance what the particular line of grading was going to be relevant, eg ‘Spelling and Punctuation’ etc.
  • NEXT!

Allow a MAXIMUM of two minutes for each student’s work, and aim for it to be one minute.  Take the obvious short cuts such as asking students to hand in their exercise books stacked open at the page on which the work is to be found.

Marking wastes time.  There are more important things to be good at.  Cut through it as quickly as you can. Talk to students about their work rather than writing long comments.

School managers should be helping to protect you.

So if they aren’t insist that they do.  Find a fair and reasonable way to address issues to senior managers.  If you fear that you will not be treated well then get support. But having said that, my experience is that when managers know you are a good and committed teacher, they will be only too happy to listen and help.  After all, nothing I have said above would erode good learning, and therefore all of it should help sustain or improve a school’s examination results.

The conclusion is the same as the start, and that is that you can only sustain good teaching in the long term if you are enjoying what you do.  What I have tried to offer above are some suggestions about taking this into account, and having a good life alongside a good career. It isn’t about work life balance, as they aren’t ever likely to balance, not when you are a teacher.  But there is plenty you can do to make the imbalance acceptable and even happy.



Neuroscience of Executive Functions

By Nige Armitstead

Following Nige’s 7 minute talk at the Teach Meet last week, here is a blog on the neuroscience of executive functions. Enjoy!

Educational neuroscience (cf Learnus: is a pioneering collaboration between academics at the forefront of neuroscience and specialists in the arena of education and its future.  The aim is to make our growing understanding of how the brain works both accessible and useful to teachers in classrooms, now and tomorrow.

This presentation was concerned with executive functions.  These are the self regulating means by which we promote fluency and effectiveness in our thinking and behaviour.  We need executive functions most of all in situations where intuition and/or direct responding may not be entirely effective.

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I have appropriated this diagram to give some idea of how phenomena of mind rely on the networking of different brain areas.  Coloured areas are those shown through research to be involved in self regulation. In the article from which this diagram comes the focus was moral self regulation, but the executive functions which we are looking at are fully implicated.

The prefrontal cortex is that which lies just behind the front of the brain.  Its dorsal lateral area is that which appears to initiate executive functions, regulating the chaos of mind by instigating the brain networks needed.  In general terms the dorsal lateral area is essential to managing and adapting to variation of meaning and context. It is the part of the brain which has the slowest rate of structural maturing, this not being completed until after adolescence.  Hence we should view it as a maturing process on which we can have an impact as educators. We can help build strong executive functions.

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These are considered the three core aspects of self regulation.   Inhibiting refers to the suppression of distracting thoughts. Switching refers to changing from one way of seeing things to another.  Working memory should really be called something else, such as ‘thought holding and processing since it allows a brief hold on the existence of a thought whilst the mind processes it with other thoughts.  

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These are all simple creative ideas for embedding a stimulus to the growth of executive functions within the normal classroom delivery of lessons.  Other and better creative ideas will doubtless come to mind, but have a go at some of these on which I have written brief notes of explanation below.


  • Simon says: the game where you only follow an instruction which begins ‘Simon says…’  However, in the classroom you only follow the instruction if a statement is true. For example…  ‘Clap your hands if tree is a verb!’ Not clapping requires inhibiting.
  • Prime students to react (hand clap again perhaps) when you speak a particular word, such as ‘examination’.  Then use similar words, such as ‘example’, every now and again during the lesson. Not reacting to a similar word requires inhibiting.  The target word could be something which you do want the students to learn about.
  • Forbidden word: Challenge students to explain something to the class without using a key word.  For example, explaining photosynthesis without the word ‘light’.


  • Hidden meaning: Students guess the word which a sequence of phrases or pictures will culminate in.  This is good for getting students interested in the topic for the lesson. For example: they are found in Africa, they are big, they have a trunk, they use it to suck up water, they have leaves!  Hopefully students switch from elephants to trees at the end, and in the process have to reappraise all the meanings they had attributed.
  • Points of view: Ask the class to list words which capture their view of a particular object or issue, such as a sports car.  Then ask them to suggest a list of words for the same thing which would be given by a class of students on a small island with no roads.  (That is not a great example, please come up with better ones…)
  • Levels of complexity: These crop up naturally in most learning situations.  The SOLO taxonomy (presented by Joe Burkmar) is a good way to stimulate switching through levels of complexity.  

Working Memory

  • Holding brief stimuli:  show a picture at the start of the lesson for a brief period, say 20 seconds.  Inform pupils they will be asked about it at the end of the lesson so they have to hold as much of it as possible in mind during the lesson.  Ask students for comments at the end of the lesson and then look to see how well they have done. Select a picture for relevance to the lesson content.
  • Visuospatial:  whilst arithmetic is thought to be managed mostly by the audio/verbal part of working memory, mathematical concepts are generally more associated with the visuospatial part.  Therefore aim to embed as much visual and spatial cuing as possible when teaching maths concepts, and help students respond to this aspect of those concepts.
  • Auditory/Verbal: unsurprisingly this part of working memory (sometimes called the ‘articulatory loop’) is involved in thinking with language.  Exercises which require a lot of verbal holding are good. For example, ask students to mentally select the fourth letters in the words chair, table and spider, but not to tell you anything until ready to say a word made out of those letters.  In this case it would be ‘lid’. Another example involves arithmetic: simply figuring out two mental sums and not responding until both answers can be given together. Only speak the question once as holding it in mind is part of the exercise. ‘Five thirteens and twenty three take away six’. Oh what fun!



Michelle de Haan, ‘Attention and Executive Control’

In Mareschal, D., Butterworth, B., and Tolmie, A.  Eds. (2013)

‘Educational Neuroscience’

CHICHESTER: John Wiley and Sons

TeachMeet SP7: Your guide

The aim of the TeachMeet this year is the spoil your mind, from the moment you arrive until the last 7 minute talk, we hope you’ll be inspired. 

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Here is a mini guide to getting the best out of the TeachMeet, whether it’s your first one or you are a seasoned attendee. It’s an exciting time for education and the landscape is changing and changing fast. Innovations in pedagogy and advancements in neurology form the central focus for an underlying theme of ‘connectivism’. We look to the big ideas from 2017 which are research backed and gaze forward at some of the bigger ideas due to sweep through the educational landscape next year. 

During the event we will be running a live twitter feed #teachmeetsp7

After the event we will be uploading a blog daily for 10 days about each of the 7 minute talks and links to research and ideas so you can explore them further. 

Arrive early

Try and escape from school as close to 3pm as possible and get your groove on. We open the doors at 4.30pm and there is an epic welcome hall to navigate with raffles, activities, displays, snacks and freebies. It will take you about 20 minutes to enjoy it all so aim to arrive for 4.30pm. You’ll receive a wifi log in when you sign in. No need to print tickets, the events sold out and we have your name. 

The Main Event 

The first 7 minute talk starts at 5pm on the dot. We plan to raffle off some prizes between speakers and there are 10 x 7 minute presentations in total. Here is a little insight into the main theme or idea

SOLO TaxonomyJoe Burkmar

As learning progresses it becomes more complex. SOLO, which stands for the Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome, is a means of classifying learning outcomes in terms of their complexity, enabling us to assess students’ work in terms of its quality not of how many bits of this and of that they have got right.

Flipped & Blended Learning Alex More

Teachers are choosing to ‘flip their classrooms’ in increasing numbers. How we use technology and blend interaction between the classroom in real time and learning at home is the crux of this issue. A research perspective sharing insights and current thinking.

STEAM  Rhona Phelps

Was STEM traditionally but recently saw the addition of Art to the existing Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. Rhona Phelps has an engineering degree and a PhD in biomechanics and runs graphic science. The talk will focus on how you can inspire communities and families through the power of STEAM work and make the impact truly cross-curricular.

Staff Well Being Helen Finch 

Staff well being seems to be at the forefront of teachers minds. How is your HYGGE? A unique way to view the ‘wellness of you’ and some ideas to support teacher well being will always be popular. We hope by the time you get to the end of this talk you’ll feel inspired and valued. 

Google Classroom

An epic platform that makes it easy for learners and teachers to connect. Free and forward thinking Google Classroom is easy to set up, costs zero money, saves time and paper (better for the planet!), helps you organise learning and work and really enhances communication and feedback. It’s a game changer! 

Collaborative Learning – Josh Gardiner 

In a world of escalating populations, working as a team and the wisdom of the crowd has never been more important. Josh suggests some amazing ways to embed this in the classroom with pros and cons to help you navigate the tricky art of collaboration. 

Digital Literacy – Adam Morland 

Adam works in the tech industry and will be giving you direct insight into how important digital literacy is in a fast evolving digital landscape. What skills and dispositions will our learners need to thrive and survive? An interesting talk, get ready to embrace your digital natives and survive impostor syndrome! 

Brain Based Learning which is really Educational Neuroscience – Nige Armitstead

We have no idea what Nige will be presenting on but we know it’s always engaging, current and linked to his vast knowledge of the mind and how it works. Be prepared to take away new thinking about learning, cognition and how to relate it to your classrooms. 

Gamification – James Mosely 

James will be enlightening us about a new player in town, gamification. What is it? How can we embrace it in the classroom and how can we shape our lessons to appeal to the digital natives? All good questions … 

In Utopia 

If you could create the perfect school, what would it look like? The final talk focuses on this very issue and how we might prepare an education for a 2032 child. 

Estimated finish time: 6.30 pm. We will raffle off prizes between talks so the event will close after the last talk. 

How to get involved socially? 

During the event we will be running a live twitter feed #teachmeetsp7

After the event we will be uploading a blog daily for 10 days about each of the 7 minute talks and links to research and ideas so you can explore them further. 

See you on Wednesday! 

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