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Improve your productivity with IFTTT

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In my last post I wrote about how to use Feedly to keep your subject knowledge up to date.  Feedly and similar services become much more powerful when you link them together with IFTTT.   IFTTT has a number of triggers which can happen on any of the sites it supports.  You can then assign an action that will happen after a trigger.  To make the system even more powerful, there are Android and iOS apps that have their own actions too (although the iOS app lacks some of the more useful features of the Android one).

So how do I use IFTTT?

I mentioned Feedly last week and I have several recipes (triggers and actions) associated with Feedly

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When I mark an article as “save for later” from the iPad app, the two recipes above will save the article into Pocket and add a bookmark to my delicious account.  If you have a client that lets you add Feedly tags (for example the website client) you can have separate tags that save to Evernote (my saved for later tags go here too) or Microsoft OneNote.  You can even send files to cloud storage like One Drive, Google Drive and Dropbox.

There is more to IFTTT than using just with Feedly.  I make extensive use of the Twitter favorites feature to bookmark favourites and save them to a Google Drive spreadsheet. With the Android app I can save my text messages and call log to (separate) Google Drive spreadsheets which act as a cloud based backup of my texts.

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Bloggers can use IFTTT to automatically tweet their new posts or cross-post between services (IFTTT can move content to and from WordPress too).

There are thousands of possible combinations and more services are being added all the time.  Check out the recipes section of the IFTTT website to see what is possible.

Do you have a favourite IFTTT recipe? Why not comment so other readers of the blog can make use of it too!

Gather teaching ideas and keep your knowledge up to date with Feedly

As a teacher I like to read the blogs of other science teachers and read updates from science websites.  I use feedly to manage this for me – and because the service is based in the cloud, it works from any computer or even a phone or tablet.

Firstly visit the Feedly website and sign up.  You can even sign up using your Google or Facebook ID.  Once you have an account you can begin to add content – you can click on the [Add content] button and search by category (for example science).  You can also search for the specific name of a website/blog if you happen to know it (for example fiendishlyclever.com)

Once feedly has a list of sites to follow it will visit the site regularly for you and download updates so you don’t have to visit each individual site.  If you follow lots of sites you might want to organise them into categories.

I read my feedly articles using their app on my iPad which I’ve configured to my preferences (oldest articles first and I like to read across all categories).  Other apps are available that support feedly and they offer a premium subscription service if you find yourself wanting more features.

The real power of feedly comes when linked with other services like Evernote and IFTTT.  Stay tuned for a post about linking feedly to other cloud services that will make it even more useful!

I thought this tutorial might be useful (whilst it is over a year old it is still relevant):

Why not share your favourite science teaching blogs in the comments and let others know what to follow.

Automatically backup your resources on a USB flashdrive to the cloud

USB flashdrives are the life saver of the teacher. They are small, portable and fairly robust (I’ve had several go through the washing machine and survive).  The downside is that they often contain the only copy of the resources saved on it – and failure means a loss of work.

First of all I’d recommend encrypting the drive if it contains anything that might identify you or your school – you can do this easily for Windows machines by using bitlocker encryption.  Any PC running Windows 7 Enterprise or Windows 8 Pro can encrypt your drive with a password – be sure to store your key and password in a safe place!

So that’s your drive secure, but what do we do to keep the data safe.  My preferred Cloud storage option is Dropbox because it works across all platforms and has the best support from mobile apps and cloud services.  Because school issued laptops are often locked down I’d recommend using Dropbox Portable which is a special version of the software designed to be run from a flashdrive.  Even if your laptop is so heavily locked down that you can’t run software on your USB drive, you can plug this into a laptop that isn’t and still backup your files to your account.  The beauty of backing up to dropbox is that you have another copy on the cloud, and you can share folders for collaborative working.

Setting up is easy – grab the latest version of the software from their site.  If you don’t use the latest version it won’t work!

Install on your flash drive and set up your dropbox by running the software and following the prompts.  If you haven’t got a dropbox account already you can get one by following my referral link which gives you extra storage.    As part of the install process it will ask you a series of questions and download the dropbox software for you.

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Add your files to the dropbox folder – you might want to drag the dropbox folder to your favourites section on your Windows explorer.

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Running dropbox from a flashdrive is slow – I’d suggest existing users only sync the folders they actively add and  replace documents in – the option you are looking for in dropbox is selective sync.

If you spend your life in Google Documents or you want to sync with the Google family of apps on Google Drive, there is a portable version of their software called syncdocs portable which serves the same purpose.

You can also store your Microsoft Onedrive documents on a flashdrive by default using the built in functionality that comes in Windows 8.  If you do this you can grab extra storage space just by clicking my referral link.  You just edit the location of your Onedrive to your flashdrive and using the right-click menus make it available offline. Unfortunately Onedrive is often disabled on school-issued laptops and since it is built into Windows you are stuck with this limitation.

There are advantages to each platform – for example Office 365 users will want to access their 1Tb of storage and might want the web apps or the iPad apps.  Google Drive users might want to access their files on a Chromebook.

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I would also recommend using a Flashdrive with a small profile so you can leave it plugged into your laptop if you want.  Suitable drives include:

Ask by commenting or tweet (including a link to this article) any questions you might have and I’ll do my best to answer them :)

 

Online testing with @Educake – save yourself time and track progress

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I’ve written a review of Educake before but it has moved on a lot since then so an update is needed.  For those of you who haven’t come across it before, Educake is an online testing system.  It runs entirely on https (so none of the moans like the ones I’ve had about my school not being able to make full use of kerboodle that doesn’t!) and so you know your student data is secure. The system is incredibly responsive and works just as well on an iPad as on my laptop, and the large friendly buttons make it a pleasure to use on any platform.

The way Educake is being run and developed means it is growing and adapting to the needs of teachers in a way that other online platforms are not. For example since I reviewed the platform last year it is now possible for teachers to upload lists of students using a spreadsheet which makes adding students even easier.

I’ve grown to love Educake a little bit more after the addition of KS3 questions to the system.  The questions are levelled which helps you pick questions that match the needs of your students.  There are still GCSE questions which are graded to indicate level of demand and are arranged in categories to make selection simple.

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This is the simple home screen that you see as a teacher logging into the system.  You can assign a test in a few simple steps.

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As you select a unit then a topic the options are displayed clearly as shown above, which lead you to the graded questions.

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You can preview questions if you want to check their suitability (handy for SEN students like mine), and deselect questions that you don’t want to include.

Once you have assigned a test to a group, it will show up to those students when they log on.  Deadlines and messages can be included making this perfect for setting homework to test understanding.

When students complete the test they can request a teacher review their mark when they get a wrong answer.  Alternatively (in a feature added at my request – how’s that for responsive) the teacher can review a student’s answers and change the mark if required, in both cases there is the option to leave feedback for the student.

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You can tell that this student got the answer right but the system didn’t recognise their response because the student chose not to use their key word sheet.  Fortunately the teacher can award the mark if required.

Of course there are reporting pages to report back this information to the teacher, and paying members can export data if required.  Pricing is a little expensive when compared to Kerboodle but a school running Kerboodle across 5 year groups can expect to be paying £750 a year (with the resources, online textbooks etc) but Educake is priced at £999 after the first year.

I love the interface, I love the information it gives me but more importantly the students like it too.

There are some features I’d like to see like the ability to save a custom test so I can assign it to different classes and perhaps the ability to add questions of my own.  I know that there are lots of exciting developments in the pipeline that relate to evidencing progress, and ways to make Educake even more powerful for teachers and students alike.

I would recommend that you sign up for a free trial of Educake and see if could work for you and your students (you can also invite members of your department to join if you like it!)

Planning lessons using Activate and Kerboodle – the good and the bad

Having planned for two weeks of teaching using Activate I feel I have more of a handle on what the scheme can offer and where the promise falls short.

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I’m now in possession of the teacher guides but we still don’t have students imported into Kerboodle because there is still no secure option for importing them.  Unfortunately our school policies prevent using Kerboodle with students until this is fixed so it looks like we won’t be continuing next year with Kerboodle once we have downloaded all the resources.  In this day and age of enhanced awareness around CP issues you would think this would never have arisen…

The teacher guide is the central piece of the Activate puzzle when it comes to planning lessons.  Each double page spread matches those in the student book and gives you lots of useful information.  Levelled information is provided which I find useful in writing our (mandatory) levelled outcomes although I have to work backwards as many topics don’t include statements at level 3.  The same page also has literacy/numeracy links and keywords which are useful in planning for student progression.

The opposite side of the page provides a list of suggested activities – a lesson plan that is planned around the average lesson.  Clearly if you don’t have hour long lessons you will have to do some extra work and decide where to break and join the topics to make them fit your timetable.  The supporting resources can be found in the textbook and online on Kerboodle available for download.  Resources on Kerboodle tend to be worksheets (in word and PDF format) together with an interactive activity (or sometimes more than one) for each topic.  There is a distinct lack of video or multimedia material on Kerboodle and I tend to find myself making PowerPoints to lead my learners through each lesson and link ideas together.  These should have been provided as part of the scheme.

Differentiation is provided for but differentiation usually takes the form of extension activities and the whole scheme seems to assume that level 4 is the baseline for all students.  This was also true for the Wikid scheme I abandoned this year, but I know of lots of students in mainstream settings for whom level 4 is a long way off.  Some lessons have more resources and activities than you will need so you could plot alternative routes through the topic for different learners (provided they are above level 4).  Unfortunately there is little material for children who have SEN (or English as a second language), apart from the odd writing frame and this is a clear area of weakness that teachers will have to plug themselves.

I haven’t used the textbooks with students yet (probably because I’m still waiting for them to be delivered…) but when I do, I’ll be using the textbooks for pictures and extension questions (since the onscreen textbook does not enlarge as much as I would like).  I’ve dipped into some of the resources, taking them as a starting point for resources of my own.  The profile of my students mean I have lots of students at level three/four who have literacy several levels lower.  These are the students that are left behind by this scheme and that need more personalised resources.

I do intend to share the resources I have created to plug this gap with my students, and I do try to playlist any videos that I find that complement the scheme on YouTube.  I will also write another update if Kerboodle updates their site so I can upload student details securely.

I’d be interested to hear from others who have bought into the Activate scheme and how your experiences (with a different cohort) are different to mine.

Moving to the Activate scheme of work for KS3 science

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My followers on here know I’ve been a long fan of Wikid Science from the Science Learning Centres/ASE.  However the scheme never lived up to the promise of a constantly adapting scheme of work in the cloud.  Instead the wiki vanished and links were moved to diigo, and if you look closely you could see the tumbleweed blowing through the resources.  The lack of updates for the new National Curriculum (in a timely fashion) meant a move to another scheme of work.  In an ideal world I’d make my own but as second in a school, I have many demands on my time outside of teaching.

I visited our partner school within our academy trust and they had opted to follow Activate. I discussed the reasoning with them, looked at the resources and invited the sales rep into school (it also makes sense for schools in the same academy chain to follow the same scheme to allow for movement of staff).  I was impressed with the incorporation of literacy and numeracy into the scheme, both of which are going to be increasingly important at GCSE level.  I was also impressed with the Kerboodle platform which offers the accompanying resources, cloud based planning tools and also pre/post teaching assessment tools.

Unfortunately I can’t give a complete review at this stage because I haven’t been into school to pick up the teachers guides (they were delivered while I was on holiday) but I have started to plan so I can give you my first impressions

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The good

  • The science content is more prominent in this scheme and there seems to be less of the airy-fairy material that was in Wikid
  • there are supporting resources online for each chapter of the textbook (and there is a decent textbook!)
  • Kerboodle – the online textbook (for teachers) means I don’t have to carry the textbook home, although I have only bought paper copies of the teachers guides.
  • There are literacy key-words and tasks created with a literacy focus
  • There is a lot of self-marking assessment material within Kerboodle
  • Interactive materials for whiteboards are included in Kerboodle

The bad

  • The book and supporting resources do not show much differentiation and the units I’ve checked so far don’t include enough materials to mix and match for different abilities
  • The lessons are very rigid – and aren’t structured in a way to adapt them easily for different lengths of lessons (some of mine are 100 mins)
  • Kerboodle uses admission numbers to make sure pupil records are unique – but as of the end of term there was no way of uploading them securely (this may have been fixed by now – I haven’t checked)
  • some of the topics seem a little more dry than the wikid topics that had a theme (however rubbish) to link content together.
  • access to Kerboodle is subscription based so there is an annual charge (hence the online tests to keep you hooked).

These are just my first impressions – I’ve only started planning my first lesson, and have only had access to the textbook/Kerboodle for a few days.  I will be posting more – and letting Oxford know exactly what I think of their scheme :)

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BTEC Level 1 (FLT) one of the best kept secrets in science teaching…

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I don’t get why Pearson aren’t singing about this qualification.  It’s a level one qualification and it so it has limited appeal but there are a number of reasons that heads of science should pay attention to this qualification.

  • It is portfolio based assessment with NO examination.  This makes it suitable for learners with SEN (or possibly EAL students)
  • It is worth slightly more than an F at GCSE, which makes it appropriate for SEN and LA students.
  • It is on the list of approved qualifications for 2016 (and of course 2015 if you want to run it in a year)
  • The certificate can be taught in a year (I know this from personal experience)
  • You (the teacher) design the assessment tasks so can be personalised for teaching groups

There are however a number of downfalls to this qualification:

  • paperwork – you need to track every assignment and keep central records that others can access (I have 12 assignments covering the certificate qualification).
  • quality assurance – someone has to take the OSCA lead internal verifier qualification otherwise you will be subject to mandatory sampling.  Someone in the school has to act as a quality nominee (exams officer?) who will get a visit and a grilling as part of the QA process.
  • Assignment briefs MUST be verified before using and at least 50% of the marked work must be internally verified as well (and your policies must explain how this will work).
  • The qualification is pass or fail.  A new version could be in the pipeline that has pass/merit/distinction grades (there was such a version before QCF!)

I’ve been running this qualification since it was introduced as it suits the needs of many of my learners (I’m currently teaching it alongside GCSE as some of my students have target grades above an F).  I’ve uploaded many of the resources I have used and will continue to upload resources/assignments as I make them.

I’ve included some screenshots of the Edexcel site that show you where to find the specs for this qualification.

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Let me know if you have any questions or you see any teaching resources that appear to be missing and I’ll do my best to help.