LessDull – an interesting website for science (biology) teachers

I recently received an email from a developer who had set up a website called LessDull.  The teacher is experimenting with the demand for interactive whiteboard teaching resources and has created some resources based on the eye to test demand.

There are free diagrams on the website that support teaching about the eye.  These are clear and suitable for use with learners of all abilities.  To complement these the author has created a standalone Windows utility which he intends to sell to teachers for a modest sum (£1.99).  The fee is payable to download the software using a well implemented shopping system.  The software appears to be free of DRM protection although it would be advisable to check with the author before sharing with a department.

The most useful feature of the software is the interactive labelling tool which allows you to label the anatomy of the eye, part by part.  There are the options to show/hide all labels etc if required.  This is the most interactive part of the software.  The software also covers the pupil reflex and how the eye focuses.

The software is simple. perhaps a little too simple as it provides similar functionality to a well crafted powerpoint.  For example it would have been nice to have some kind of transition between the images when demonstrating accommodation or a variable slider to make the differences more apparent.

I approve of the simple style and layout of the software which will function well in a touch environment.  The price compares favourably with some of the resources on the TES site, although it could get expensive if you had to buy lots of resources (I teach the whole of the GCSE curriculum).

I hope the author takes this project further and produces further resources – perhaps readers of my blog could signpost the resources they need the most?

Book review: 100 ideas for secondary teachers – outstanding lessons

Amazon.co.uk Widgets

Before I talk about the book I wanted to give a little background about myself that might put the review into perspective.  I like reading and I read a lot of books, but nearly all fiction.  I find non-fiction and research material tedious and slow going.  I’ve had a number of books about assessment in schools sat on my shelf waiting for me to start reading them – and I’ve never got more than a chapter or two in.  This could have influenced my view of the book, as could the fact that there are lots of ideas in the book that I either use already or can’t use in my setting.

Anyhow on to the book.  I decided to order a copy of this book because my twitter stream was full of people who had purchased the book.  Others were saying how they had used some of the ideas from the book and had good observation feedback as a result.  I decided to part with my cash – opting for a paper copy rather than buying for my Kindle (I think reference material is better on paper).

The book arrived and the first thing that struck me is the size – it’s a compact paperback with small print.  The pages aren’t full of text but instead the main text flows down the centre of the page in paragraphs with ‘tips’ and the odd hashtag (yes – hashtags in a paper book!) down the sides.

My initial feeling when flicking through the book was one of disappointment – I didn’t think the book lived up to the ‘hype’ on Twitter, although you can’t fault the book for that.  When I go on CPD I always look for things packaged up that I can take away with me and slot straight into my own teaching.  I did like some of the ideas in this book but the majority of the book left me feeling distinctly unimpressed.

If you follow lots of teachers on Twitter (like I do) then you come to pigeon hole some of the more prolific posters into certain stereotypes.  Reading this book made me think of the ‘trendy’ teacher, using ideas and terminology that is in fashion.  That might just be my opinion (I am getting a little long in the tooth now and my teaching styles are starting to look a little old school) but a review is an expression of one’s opinion.  The title also made me think that the book would be 100 teaching ideas but instead some the ideas relate to the culture you build that leads to outstanding learning – an important but subtle difference.

Some of the chapters were of little use to me – for example the chapter 23 is called #bananas.  After a page full of text we learn that it might be useful to use your marking to inform planning (perhaps next a chapter about teaching your granny to suck eggs?).  Another chapter talks about the gherkin in a burger.  I read this expecting some tangy tasty tip I could throw into my lesson – but the chapter concludes with a short list suggested by tweeting teachers about lesson planning.

Other chapters that I didn’t find useful referred to strategies and ideas that I already use like mini-whiteboards (these are hardly new, they appeared with the National Strategies).  A chapter is devoted to Bloom’s taxonomy which all staff at our school use when planning (we starting to move out of special measures).  Another chapter refers to Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce (which Dylan Wiliam explains well here) which I’ve run training on in my own school.

I’m painting rather a negative picture of this book and that doesn’t mean that it isn’t useful to others (and Twitter will bear witness to this).  My setting (special education) means that some of the ideas in the book aren’t relevant to my teaching, and the nature of my students means we do a lot of hands-on practical activities.

If you are the type of teacher who needs to be told how to use a TA (perhaps by involving them in planning…) then this could be the book for you.  I’ve tried returning to this book several times in case my opinion changed and unfortunately it hasn’t.  I have several teachers and school leaders in my family and when we were catching up over Christmas the topic of this book came up.  I wasn’t sure if to be relieved or disappointed that we shared the same opinion of it.

Don’t let this review put you off – I’m in a different position to lots of teachers having accessed and run CPD for teachers, ASTs and school leaders I doubt I fitted into the target audience for this book.  I will continue to flick through this book and share it with my colleagues at work who might find it more useful than I did.

If you have bought or read this book then please do tell me which parts you found useful so I know which bits to revisit.  Alternatively I’d love to hear from you if didn’t find the book useful.

The IPEVO document camera – a cheap alternative to a visualiser

The IPEVO camera set up that I received consisted of three separate parts – the document camera itself, a carry case and an extension stand to give it extra height.

The packaging that the camera arrived in had foam cut-outs which could make the carrycase an unnecessary purchase in this time of restricted budgets. The build quality of the camera looks a little cheap, although it doesn’t feel like it is going to drop to bits when you hold it. The camera comes with a clip (which my year 9’s showed me how to attach to my laptop) and a stand for functioning as a document camera. The extension stand is really needed to give extra height and should really come bundled with the camera rather than as an optional extra.

The camera functioned well, although when left in continuous/autofocus mode it would often keep adjusting the focus, so the manual focus mode was preferable. The way it focussed on objects meant I was able to get a sharp clear image (although when the focus was lost it took a couple of seconds to refocus). I found the images in good light clearer and sharper than those of my Avermedia visualiser. The camera could also be pointed around the classroom or used like a webcam to show demonstrations adding to its versatility.

The software for using the document camera is simple to use, well thought through and very good. Again I prefer the IPEVO camera software to the Avermedia software that comes with their visualisers.

Time will tell how durable the camera and stand turn out to be, but I would expect a slightly better build quality at this price point, however for those looking for a document camera this could be a worthy purchase.

From Amazon – IPEVO camera £55, Case £19, Height extending stand £22

What I liked about the IPEVO cam:

  • The software
  • The stand makes it easy to position the camera
  • The camera has many uses – and the laptop mount just adds to these

What I didn’t like

  • The build quality
  • The price – I’m not sure if the advertised price includes VAT but if it does it needs to be reduced
  • The case and stand being sold separately – they should be sold as a bundled package
  • I got interference patterns on images of paper when using artificial lighting
  • The camera often refocuses when on auto-focus