Why research rocks? … part 1

By Alex More

Read time: 5.2 mins

Teacher led research is powerful in creating new knowledge. In this blog, I plan to give all teachers a simple guide on how to create a small-scale action research project that has the potential to improve your practice and teach you new things in the process.

If you follow EduTwitter feeds or read TES blogs and articles you might be aware of the replication crisis that is raging in psychology research. This stems from a view that some research fails to replicate when tested in the same conditions, a basic framework that underpins research models and eventually papers. Furthermore, it has been suggested that the validity and in some cases the reliability of the said research is now in jeopardy, hence the ‘crisis’. This has given EBR (Evidence Based Research) a bad name and led to the EEF (Education Endowment Fund) to review every single one of their studies conducted in the UK.  Don’t panic though, and don’t dismiss everything you thought was sacred in our field. Why not conduct your own research, it’s liberating, insightful and not as difficult as you might think!

So, why run a small scale action research project? 

  • It can be liberating and teach you new things about your practice, pedagogy and students you teach. Ultimately, it makes you a better educator!
  • It will sharpen your knowledge in a specific field which can have a whole-school impact and reach out to the education community.
  • It can connect you to new ideas, thinkers and others in research who share your passion and ideas.
  • You might have some gained time in the summer term so dedicate a little time to research
  • It helps you solve a problem (or start to …). This is often a question you have asked yourself but never really explored. This is the most powerful reason! 

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So, the last point is the best starting place; finding an answer to a question you might have about a specific pedagogy, idea, concept or group. I have found there really are discrepancies between what teachers believe is evidence based research, and reality. A great example of this is VAK learning styles, left and right brain thinking and the view that we only use 10% of our brain at any given time. All of the above have been debunked as ‘neuromyths’, a welcome benefit of neurologists working with educators to help teachers on the front line understand the pedagogies that really improve learning.

What question do you want to answer? 

As teachers we often wonder what if? … Action research provides a platform to explore this curiosity. 

Step 1 – Create your research question 

Decide a teaching group you wish to conduct the research on. It helps if it is a group or group/s that you see on a regular basis. I would advise a class you teach 2-3 times per week as ideal.

Decide on your focus. Investigating or illuminating a type of pedagogy is a simple way to get started and will help people understand what you are doing and the reasons why. To give some context this could be; growth mindset, flipped learning, CLT (Cognitive Load Theory), collaborative learning, STEM based learning, gamification, using Bloom’s SOLO taxonomy etc. Once you have decided on this, it’s time to create a research question.

How to write a research question?

Don’t stress too much about this. The question needs to simply explain what pedagogy you are investigating and who you are investigating (teaching group). This will help others understand the what’s and why’s and help you secure the permissions you need on the ethics side of things. Below are some examples suitable for small-scale teacher led research projects.

Do classroom teachers have lower expectations of female students?

Does the use of operant conditioning (behaviorist) techniques help when working with children who have an attention deficit?

Can achievement by children with attention deficit syndrome be helped by reducing distractions for them in the classroom?

Is there a relationship between class size and student achievement?

Here is a link to more examples

Step 2 – Ethics 

This is an important step but don’t let it scare you. Once you have a research question, just add a short description (similar to an abstract). This helps when presenting your research idea and justification, both essential in getting your idea across. Let’s breakdown the process into simple sub-steps; 

  • Identify the group you want to conduct the research on.
  • Meet with the Gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper is a cool term for the person in the establishment / school who will authorise your research project. 90% of the time, this is the Head teacher but sometimes governors of schools or CEO’s 😦
  • Meet with the group of students you plan to conduct the research on. This is really important, they have to be consulted and involved in the rationale for the research. I also write to the parents outlining: the research question, reason for the research, time-frame (testing window), what I plan to do with the data and how I’ll safeguard the students involved and protect their anonymity. 
  • Decide on a testing window. In educational research this is normally fixed to 8 – 12 weeks depending on your time and resources. The window needs to be at least 8 weeks to monitor any changes in the variables.
  • Notify all involved when the research project will commence. In some research designs, the researcher implements a pre-test. I’ll discuss this in Part 2.

And, now for the fun part; Creating a hypothesis …

Step 3: What is your hypothesis? 

In scientific terms a hypothesis is a tentative statement about the relationship between two or more variables. It is a specific, testable prediction about what you expect to happen in a study.  So, it’s a prediction (not a guess) as it is assumed you’ll have sufficient background in education to formulate an opinion about what your research question will uncover. Don’t worry too much about this part, have fun with it as it really doesn’t matter if your hypothesis proves to be inaccurate, it can actually help validate the authenticity of your research. 

Step 4: Start to think about your research design

So, you have completed steps 1-3, you have a clear research question outlining what you want to investigate. You have shared this information with the relevant people involved in the research and created your hypothesis. In the final part of this blog, let’s focus on some key terms that will strengthen your research. 


You won’t be able to do very much in research unless you know how to talk about variables. A variable is any entity that can take on different values. OK, so what does that mean? Anything that can vary can be considered a variable. For instance, age can be considered a variable because age can take different values for different people or for the same person at different times. Similarly, gender in education  can be considered a variable because a person’s gender can be assigned a value. The most common variables you might work with in a classroom small-scale research project are; age, gender, academic ability (contentious), special populations, prior knowledge, prior attainment and setting. You could also add a pedagogical approach (flipped learning, growth mindset) as a variable. It’s worth knowing that there are 3 types of variable:

  • Independent variable (IV) – can be controlled or manipulated. This are of greatest importance to the research as he/she can mould these to suit to research question and design
  • Dependent variable (DV) – we hope will be affected by the changes we instigate on our IV (independent variables).
  • Control variable (CV) – what we hold as constant during the testing process. For example; same subject being tested, same group, same duration of lessons etc.

Research design 

Research design is a plan to answer your research question. A research method is a strategy used to implement that plan. Research design and methods are different but closely related, because good research design ensures that the data you obtain will help you answer your research question more effectively. Part 2 will focus on this specifically as this will involve thinking about how you will collect the data; qualitative vs quantitative, mixed methods and triangulation. 

Special populations 

Special populations (SPs) are any minority group that populates our sample. The sample is the group or groups you wish to conduct the research on. SPs can offer really intriguing insights within the research as you can compare how specific groups within the sample performed / experienced under the same conditions. The most common SPs in the school setting are;

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Academic starting point
  • EAL (English as an Additional Language)
  • PP (Pupil Premium)
  • SEND (Special Educational Needs)
  • G&T (Gifted & Talented)
  • FSM (Free School Meals)

This is not an exhaustive list as there are many more. These are the most common and can add weight to your analytical narrative.

Right, part 1 done! I have tried to keep it light and easy to digest. In part 2, I will explore the world of research design, methodologies, data collection and how to write up your research project for maximum impact.

References and additional reading 

Cohen et al (2011) Research Methods in Education

Denscombe, M (2016) The Good Research Guide 

Maxwell et al (2019) Is psychology suffering from a replication crisis … link










Questioning, a teachers guide.

By Alex More

I often get asked ‘what’s the best way to question students?’. There is no silver bullet but what follows is a short guide on how to structure your questioning to ensure you reach all learners.

I am going to use Benjamin Bloom’s famous taxonomy framework to present some ways to engage students in purposeful questioning. If you are not familiar with his work here is a Bloom’s taxonomy for learning.

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Bloom’s taxonomy is a set of three hierarchical models used to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity.  The models were named after Benjamin Bloom, who chaired the committee of educators that devised the taxonomy.

Bloom’s model has it’s critics but I feel it has more in common with our current structure for extended answers used by exam boards in the majority of GCSE and A Level specifications, which presents like this;

AO1 – Knowledge and Recall of facts

A02 – Applications and examples 

AO3 – Opinions and Conclusions 

If you correlate Bloom’s taxonomy with the current AO1 – AO3 and AO4 in some subjects, it’s easy to visualise our government with a copy in hand when devising this new system of examining. The good news is that the two work well together. In this blog, I am going to use Bloom’s as a tool to show how you challenge through questioning can be easy and accessible to all teachers. 


Personally, I have a problem with the terms LA (Low Ability), MA (Middle Ability) and HA (High Ability). Whilst I accept the need for such terms I dispute the thinking that students should be grouped on academic ability alone. What about their creative muse, ability to communicate and physical ability. In the UK, we are rooted in the school of epistemology that celebrates academia. The reasons for this are obvious but that doesn’t mean they are right!

How about this as an alternative way to think about the students we teach?

Students who require more support to learn – a term stolen from by mate Nige but a good one nonetheless! Student A

This group of wonderful students require more 1:1 input and time from the teacher and will struggle with the freedoms associated with guided discovery and peer led teaching.

NON (Not Often Noticed) AKA Middle Ability – Student B

This group cruise under the radar of conventional teacher focus as they are neither LA or HA, just the group in the middle. If you look at UK Statistics released from Gov UK (2018) this groups represents 56% of the students, so the majority of students’ we teach. I came up with the term ‘Not Often Noticed’ as a protest to the fact that we largely assume this group are happy nestled somewhere between the students who require support to learn and those that don’t. Surely, this group need more attention?

Students who will fly whatever we do – Student C

I appreciate the above term is not that catchy in a profession laiden with acronyms, but if Prof Plomin’s work on Genetics (2019) is a blueprint for how we should challenge the academically gifted then the best thing we can do for this group is give them the ideas and then get out of their way.

Ok, if you are still reading, you might be wondering where this post is going …

I have introduced Students A, B and C, so now let’s work on how we structure our questioning and challenge for everyone! Let’s imagine the focus of this lesson in on BEES.

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Hopefully, this is accessible to everyone so provides a platform to explore Bloom’s and most importantly questioning.

Student A – Start with some knowledge based recall (AO1)

Example Question: What are the three types of bees within a bee colony?

Answer: Queen, foragers and worker bees

This works on the lower, foundation tier of Bloom’s as per image below. The benefits are building confidence, recall and providing scaffolding for deeper learning. Teachers should praise the answer and move onto Student B.

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Student B – Exploring ideas and conceptual understanding (AO2)

Example question – Explain the reason Colony Collapse Disorder occurs?

Answer: CCD is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few bees to nurse the remaining immature bees.

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In this example Student B has some background knowledge to apply and is able to explain the theory around Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The teacher could extend their thinking and mobe them onto AO3 (higher order) by asking …

Why do you think this happens? 

If you could create a solution to CCD, what would it be? 

Can you think of any other species that abandon their boss in the animal kingdom?

Student C – Increasing cognitive load by asking them to create solutions to problems (AO3)

Example question: Is the bee the organism, or the colony? Justify your answer

Answer:  It’s a tough one! By inserting the word ‘justify’ you are automatically asking students to work on creating and evaluating with a little analysis thrown in. This creates a high cognitive load as it’s hard to process. Students essentially start at Creating and work downwards to justify their response.

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Once they feel a response is justified, ask them to present their thinking to the class and invite questions. This creates a climate for challenge and the practice of defending an idea or hypothesis.

To take this a step further, flip Bloom’s on it’s head so the model looks more like this;

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Benefits of using Bloom’s for questioning

  • Easy to differentiate questions appropriate to level of class
  • The Bloom’s model matches the A01 – 4 structure of modern exams
  • You can build in SOLO taxonomy into lessons and get students up out of their seats challenging ideas and concepts
  • The model applies to most questioning scenario and you can spend time scaffolding each level if needs be
  • If you take the time to teach students about Bloom’s, they understand the model and can relate to the levels and what’s being asked of them
  • It’s a solid platform for challenge at all levels

I appreciate the Bloom’s model has its’ critics, but, I hope the above examples give an insight into what’s possible when Bloom’s is used as a questioning tool in the classroom context.



The first 60 seconds

By Alex More

Your students have been born into a time within our history where knowledge is instant. At a click of a button or a tap, they have access to a wealth of learning resources so are used to instantaneous interaction. That’s why the first 60 seconds of your lesson are the most important, students need a quick engaging hook to get them interested. Call them starters, engagers, hooks or DNAs (Do Now Activities), they are all designed to do the same thing; gain interest and capture imaginations.

Here are a few I have been playing experimenting with complete with a brief explanation so you can have a go in your classroom. I am going to use activities that use Recall and low access, high challenge to engage students.


This task is simple, give each student a post it note and tell them they have 30 seconds to look at the image and then recall as many letters as they can, in any order. Have a go at this yourself ! 

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How many did you get?

They key here is to keep to time very short and create a high cognitive load. After 30 seconds of looking at the image, ask them to write down as many letters as they can. Self-marking or peer marking works well and most students score between 10 and 12 correct letters.

Same but different – Recall 

Show them this image. Take a look at the letters, do you recognise them? Have you seen them before? Give students 30 seconds to do this task. 

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I am sure you have worked out they are the same letters but presented in a way that is memorable, a way we can recall them and store them as identifiable schema. It goes without saying students ace this task with many scoring 100%. 

Have a conversation about why the second image is so much easier to recall than the first. Many students will tell you it’s due to the familiar pairings of the letters into acronyms that make sense to them. 

Taking recall a step further 

This is a tough task. Create 5 lines of random numbers with no sequential or numerical relevance to each other. Let me give you an example; 

311, 72, 9, 1020 & 239 

Just read the numbers out as you have written them and inform the students they can only listen and cannot write down any of the numbers until you clap your hands. Only when you clap your hands can they write the numbers down and they must do this in the order you read them out. 

Warning! This activity gets competitive and can be progressed to include key words, lesson objectives and get stats with a little savvy. In terms of focusing learning at the start of the lesson and highlighting the importance of listening and concentrating, it’s a game changer. Here is a numerical sequence you could use that adds up to 25 points.

Line 1:                   311, 72, 9, 1020 & 239 

Line 2:                  9, 414, 3034, 45, 856, 32

Line 3:                 81, 717, 0, 65, 847, 34, 117

Line 4:                 67, 82, 62516, 7980, 3, 43 & 6

Allocate one mark for each number that they record in the correct sequential order. The total is 25 marks so multiply by 4 to get a %. To make it even harder, drop in random facts and distracting stories between number sequences and watch students swirm as they battle to keep focus and recall the number lines. 

Recall using images 

Sticking with the theme of recall, magic happens when you replace numbers and letters with pictures. I teach students how to create memory palaces and these activities form the best foundation to really show how powerful images can be when recalling. 

The Emoji challenge 

You have 30 seconds to look at the image below. After 30 seconds you will be asked to DRAW as many of the emoji’s as you can. 

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Ok, so most students recall between 6 and 8 emojis. The surfer, aubergine, peach, beer and santa. The ‘moai’ are quite popular too. Some of their drawings will be funny, perhaps offer bonus marks for detail (colour, likeness and scale). 

Create a story themed around ‘happiness’ that links 5 emojis. 

Creating and synthesis sit at the top of Bloom’s temple for taxonomy for a reason, they are hard to do. Starting a lesson with a creating task places quite a lot of stress on the cognitive load. Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) is research based on the conceptual difference between the working and the long term memory and provides a number of strategies to optimise instruction within that framework. 

When students are asked to create a story or a narrative they begin to link pieces of information together. In this case, making a story they can read aloud keeps the mind focused on the task and gives students a reason to create fiction. To increase cognitive load enforce a time limit or perhaps allocate more emojis and themes. This is a great lead into memory palaces which use an ancient mind-mapping skill called the method of loci. The power of using images for recall is evident over time as students retrieve stories from their long term memory and recite them, or at least all the key words and characters. 

Low access, high challenge

Keeping the theme of images to spark curiosity ‘low access, high challenge’ is exactly what it claims to be. The ‘low access’ refers simply to the ease of which young people can relate to images. Everyone can interpret an image and express an opinion about that image so for that reason it’s an inclusive starter. Let’s look at the most basic form of low access, high challenge. 

Select an image. This image happens to be of some colour cards, perhaps from paint tin samples. Pick a simple question to provokes a response. 

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The low access response could be simply the colour ‘blue’. In terms of high access, where you take the conversation next will determine how high the challenge goes. Let’s use Bloom’s Taxonomy as the mechanism to drive this particular discussion and scaffold our layers of questions to progress up the pyramid. 

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How you can scaffold low access, high challenge. 

  1. What colour would you pick? Recall the options and select one so ‘remembering’ 
  2. Why did you select that colour? Understanding the colour you chose and the reason why, perhaps offering an explanation that applies your decision to a specific context. 
  3. Find 3 other people that selected the same colour as you and analyse their reasons for selecting that colour. 
  4. Evaluate the classes colour spectrum choices and create a way to measure this as a valid research instrument 

All of the above can be achieved in 4-5 minutes. All students should be able to access steps 1 & 2 which are the low access steps. Remembering and Understanding are important steps but not as difficult as evaluating and creating. To evaluate something you need sufficient background knowledge that contains all the facts. Here lies the high challenge element. Steps 3 and 4 can be offered to students who progress through the initial steps quickly. 

Starting a lesson with an image that requires students to make a decision is also a good way to go. Inevitably, students will have contrasting views and opinions which can lead to a healthy debate. Have a look at the examples below.

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Using images to increase cognitive load. 

To increase the level of challenge students could be asked to create a question from an image and the answer. This creates high cognitive load and requires students to think deeply. 

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There are many potential answers, but students reaching the answer is not the important thing about this activity. Deep thinking and problem solving are the key things you are aiming for, challenging and great to engage minds from the offset. 

Think like a Scientist, Historian, Explorer, Sports physio etc …  

Whilst I am a firm believer that students should use thinking skills across subjects, cross-curricular thinking, I acknowledge the need to think subject specific sometimes too. There are a wealth of websites out there with inspiring images you can lift and borrow, just make sure you credit the creator. Let’s try Unsplash which is a free image platform you can utilise to get inspiring, free images on to your screens. 

Step 1: Find an image that represents what your lesson focus will be. I taught a lesson on media in sport last week and used this image.

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Within 10 seconds of the image going up, one of the students suggested the image might have been taken by a drone. This led to a short debate about whether drone cameras were invasive and a breach of privacy, which led to a discussion about sport and how famous footballers have to act responsibly in front of the media. The lesson was about media and sport and the golden triangle so by displaying one image students thought openly and came up with the sport-related content. A few also mentioned they would like to go on holiday to this place. 

Where is the Science in this? 

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Where is the poetry in this? 

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Where is the geography, history in this image? 

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Creating links between images 

The next level on from single images is to present two images and ask students to make the link, create the story. Cognitive load comes into play here again as this is hard and requires complex thinking processes to take place. To structure this task use 5-3-1

5-3-1 is an organisational tool that students enjoy applying. For the image below, ask them to make 5 possible links between both images. Allow approximately 60 seconds for this. Next step is to discard the worst two links and keep three solid links they believe have credibility. Finally, select the one link that best represents your thinking and be prepared to justify that link. By this stage they have navigated around most of Bloom’s and will be confident to articulate their thinking out loud. Share opinions and offer students the chance to change their mind. 



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What does image 1 have in common with image 2 
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Image 2 

So, there we go, lots of engaging starters to try with your students. Have a go and let us know how you go. 




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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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 getcitykidssurfing@gmail.com

https://youtu.be/aVgA_Y4Dt7M – The Unseen Ocean

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