Devices, devices, devices?

It’s true that schools should never START their technology journey by deciding on a device, but by thinking about their curriculum and what they want to be able to achieve using technology before considering which device BUT the real truth is that most schools are not starting with a blank sheet.  They have numerous devices of different types already in their school.

In my experience most Primary schools have Windows devices of some kind, often with a mixture of Windows 7 and 10.  Most have file sharing to a local server of some kind so that pupils can pick up any device and find their work.

Lots of Primary Schools have a number of iPads.  Some have a small number for group work, others just an iPad per class, others a full class set of 30+ iPads!

Some Primary Schools are looking at some of the cheaper devices such as the Windows 10S devices or Chromebooks.  Some have experimented with Raspberry Pi too.

So if your school is looking to start a tech refresh you need to understand what each devices strengths and weaknesses are, so that you can match the right device or devices to match your desired outcomes.

Before we get to devices maybe we need to consider storage.  Many primary schools have ageing server technologies which are reaching the end of their life.  The CC4 Store was a popular cut-down server from RM in the UK which has not been available for a number of years.  The ones that are in schools are generally reaching end of life, with Windows updates causing various issues slowing down or stopping some servers, so is it time to consider the cloud?

If you have a good server then by far your most sensible option is still to buy laptops to use with your existing server.  If your server is nearing replacement it’s time to consider how you are working, and how you might like to work in the future, and whether it would be best to save yourself the thousands of pounds it will take to replace your server and consider the cloud instead.

Cloud Solutions

There are two main cloud options for schools.  Any school can have an Office 365 cloud solution from Microsoft or a G-Suite cloud solution from Google for free.   Some schools are using both as they both have strengths and weaknesses.

Office 365 from Microsoft

On the plus side:

  • Free to schools
  • Email accounts
  • Shared storage using Sharepoint and One Drive
  • Collaboration spaces using Microsoft Teams and groups and sharepoint
  • Shared One Note notebooks
  • Familiar software means staff and pupils can use office suite on personal devices or web versions which don’t require installation or updates

On the more minus side:

  • Can be confusing to set up collaboration


G-Suite from Google

On the plus side:

  • Free to schools
  • Email accounts
  • Shared storage using Google Drive
  • Collaboration using Google Classroom and Google Sites is very intuitive and easy to use.

On the minus side:

  • Can be out of the comfort zone for staff particularly


Computer Devices

Windows 10 Professional

This is the device of choice if you have a reliable server and want to keep it.  Combined with a server you can fairly easily manage software and all users have a login which means they have secure personal storage and also the ability to access shared storage.  With a Windows 10 Professional machine you also have the ability to use web-based software and Cloud storage as well as locally installed software and apps too.


Windows 10S

This is Microsoft’s answer to the Chromebook.  It is a cut down and cheaper version of Windows 10 which aids battery life and promotes cloud storage.  The Windows 10s devices can only install software as apps from the app store.  Your school computer administrator can choose which apps are available.  You will need Azure if you don’t have a physical server.

With all Windows devices you can still make use of either Office 365 OR G-Suite.


The Chromebook is fast becoming the go-to cheap computing device.  They are still more popular in secondary schools rather than Primary ones.  They are very fast to boot as there is not much of an operating system.  Android Apps are available for installation on newer Chromebooks though some are not compatible.  They are designed to be used with G-Suite but also can be used with Office 365 without any issues.


The iPad from Apple is still amongst the most creative tools available for the Primary Classroom.  There are so many apps covering so many areas of creativity that it wins hands down on creativity.  They are harder to manage BUT with new features such as Apple School Manager and the Classroom app and a plethora of MDM solutions available it’s become easier to take control of new devices and have them set up for pupils to use as shared devices.

Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is a very cheap computer, HOWEVER they do need a screen with an HDMI connection to be able to use them.  They have a version of Linux which runs on them and they can be used for programming and controlling devices.  They have limits to what they can do so make sure you really understand what they offer before buying.



Schools often already own a range of peripheral devices used to help deliver their curriculum.   Here’s a list of the most common.


Beebots are simple programmable devices often used in Early Years and Key Stage 1.  You can program them with a number of steps using a forward/backwards motion and right-angle turns.  Newest versions (like the Bluebot) can also be programmed via blue-tooth from tablets and phones or dedicated programming boards.


The Probot is the ‘big brother’ of the Beebot and has a screen and a number of sensors for inputs.  The Probot’s programs can be edited and can use the inputs to modify the program such as reacting to bumping into something .


Almost every school seems to have a grey circular Roamer knocking about.  The newer version of the Roamer runs on smaller batteries and boasts the ability to change keypads meaning you can have more or less complex controls which can be tailored to match your pupil’s level of computing engagement.


The Sphero at first glance looks like a remote-controlled ball.  It has a number of free apps on the iPad which allow you to program the Sphero to get it to navigate a route or to create games.


The MicroBit devices were given to year 7 pupils although they were originally intended for Primary pupils.  They are small microcomputers with a range of built-in sensors and an array of LEDs for outputting information.  They are  programmed from a computer or iPad as they can connect using a USB cable or via blue-tooth.  They can work together via Blue-tooth or one can be programmed to control the actions of another.  MicroBits are relatively cheap and the software is all online.  There are a range of add-on robots and connection boards available for use with the MicroBit.  There is a massive community being built up around the MicroBit offering support, resources and also a growing range of additional items which can be used to augment the MicroBit.


The Crumble is a robust device for controlling motors and lights etc from Redfern.  They are simple devices programmed from a PC.  They are very robust and the programming language software is available for free and is very Scratch-like.


The LEGO WeDo has been around for a while now.  Whilst not the cheapest option and having a very limited range of outputs and inputs it is part of an organised ecosystem with resources designed to support teachers and teaching.

The others…

There are a myriad of other peripherals from data-loggers to fully-fledged robots but these are some of the key items for Primary schools in my view.

Your Journey

Know what you want to achieve, how you want to teach and how you want to engage your pupils and then go looking for how to do it!


Going to BETT?

It’s almost that time of the year again – BETT time!

bett uk logo with dates 24-27 January 2018 at Excel London

What is BETT?

It’s an educational tech show in London, UK and it’s THIS WEEK! (24-27th Jan 2018)

BETTfree to attend massive ed-tech exhibition with presentations and workshops spread throughout many of the stands, as well as in the designated ‘Theatres’.

Who should go to BETT?

BETT is for any teacher of any age child/young person who is interested in using Technology in the classroom.  There are many Head Teachers who attend to try and get a handle on future trends.  There are School Administrators who attend to find better suppliers of communication tools (phones, email and messaging services) or catering payment systems etc.  It’s a great exhibition to attend as a Student Teacher, to understand some of the services and technologies that can help you really engage your pupils.

What can you get from BETT?

Ideas, new kit, new services, replacement (cheaper?) services, a view of what’s the next thing to come to your school.  You can also network with Educators and experts and pick up excellent tips and tricks via the presentations and workshops, as well as at some of the stands.

There’s a good spread of official seminars listed on the BETT site and if you download the free BETT app you can shortlist seminars (and even suppliers) so that you can see what you want to do very quickly.

Top Tips for Surviving BETT

There are many people who offer tips for successfully attending large exhibitions like BETT, but here are mine:

  1. Hydrate – Take a disposable water bottle with you and drink as often as you can.
  2. Plan to visit seminar sessions spread throughout the day so you get a sit down!
  3. Be selective over promotional materials.  All stands will offer you flyers and booklets.  I hardly every accept them.  If there’s something I want to think about or come back to later I photograph the stand/promotional materials to remind me to take a look online, or arrange a trial etc.
  4. Take business cards.  This is less important these days as most exhibitors zap badges instead, but there are still some exhibitors (mainly the smaller ones) who ask you to hand-write details onto a pad.  Instead I give them my card and they keep that OR copy from it themselves.
  5. Wear comfortable shoes.  Every year I think to myself I’ll check my mileage or steps walked at BETT and I haven’t remembered yet.  Maybe I will this year…
  6. It can be overwhelming and daunting so do some preparation.  Plan what KINDS of things you are interested in to create yourself a list of things to look for.  Try and stick to your list to stay focused.  If there are suppliers you want to touch base with make a list of them (or use the app as mentioned above).
  7. Check the seminar program in case there’s something you just can’t miss.  If there is set yourself a reminder or alarm, it’s easy to loose track of time!
  8. Exhibitors get tired!  If you are attending BETT on Friday or Saturday try to remember that the exhibitors are getting tired.  It’s hard work to set up a stand, stay in a hotel and smile all day whilst standing on your feet and trying to attract people to talk to you. I have often spoken to exhibitors at BETT with the vague feeling that they’re not really on this planet towards the end of BETT week, though maybe that’s just my effect!

Other Advice

Lots of other educators offer advice, in fact Terry Freedman has created a full-blown book available from Amazon – find out more here!

Around BETT

There are two TeachMeet‘s planned during BETT.  If you are not aware then a TeachMeet is a kind of un-conference organised by teachers for teachers.  No suppliers, no-one selling anything.  Teacher’s and educationalists offer to share a 3 or 7 minute presentation on ANYTHING to do with teaching.  Anyone can volunteer, times are usually strongly adhered to and there isn’t allowed to be any sales pitches.  Some are sponsored and so feature nibbles, others are not.  At BETT for 2018 there are two TeachMeets.  There’s an international one on Thursday evening and then the traditional TeachMeet BETT on Friday evening.  Find out more and sign up to attend or present for free at the TeachMeet site

Register for BETT

Register for your free ticket to BETT online.  They email you a link so you can print your ticket and skip the queue!  Then work out how you are going to get there!


How do you find out new stuff?

I sometimes worry I’m becoming stale…  Looking back with ‘rose-tinted spectacles’ it seems that in the past I was able to spend more time keeping abreast of new things than I am now.   I seemed to be more able to find new opportunities, to discover new things and to learn new things in the past.

So how do you discover new and exciting things to do in the classroom with Computers?

I’ve managed to make use of a myriad of avenues to help me discover new things here in the UK…


I have attend conferences such as the (now sadly defunct) Naace Conference where for many years (over 10) I relished the opportunity to network with old friends and made new ones too.  I picked up some gems from the main presentations, but in many ways more important were the little ‘show-and-tell’ sessions running on the side where teachers and consultants would quietly show you what they’ve been doing.  Some of the best things I have taught (and still do) come from sessions like that!

More recently I’ve attended the E2BN conference in St Neots.  It seemed to capture the same feeling as the Naace conference and sent me back to ‘work’ with a fresh step and new ideas bubbling up again.

I have attended Bett annually in London for over 15 years now, often trying to put a high priority on choosing sensible seminar sessions above the exhibition.  It’s amazing how the slightest thing can be that spark of an idea which can turn into something excellent.  Bett as a conference is too large still and you really need to go equipped with a plan of action or a specific focus to get the most out of Bett.  This year I started by sitting down with the seminar timetable and drafted myself a list of those to use as a scaffold to then build my Bett visit around.  I then created a must-visit list of exhibitors and also a list of things I am looking for.  As  travel around bett I will keep my eyes open for anything else that catches them too!

The CAS Conference is a really CHEAP conference which takes place over a weekend and which has provided me with excellent ideas over the years BUT focused exclusively on the programming and logic side of Computing.  I have attended three CAS conferences over their nine-year history and taken away many things which I have tried in classrooms.

Some of our local Apple re-sellers have offered excellent free days where you could go off to a nice location to see experts showing you what’s new and ‘funky’ in the Apple world.  I got many great ideas from these sessions, things that helped me become really creative with iPads especially.

The issue with conferences of any kind is that they are often not cheap AND you usually need time out of the classroom or work to go.  A double-whammy!


TeachMeets CAN be great.  I have helped run several over the years and attended dozens, but not so much recently…  Having said that I am signed up for the 2018 Bett TeachMeet taking place on the Friday of Bett.  I am even tempted to sign up to present!

What is a TeachMeet then?  Well, it’s a kind of cross between speed dating and a conference.   They are usually run in the evening (so negating the cost of release from the classroom).  They are also usually free to attend (often sponsored by some education company) or very cheap to attend.  They are run in a social atmosphere, often with drinks and nibbles and they are usually organised and run by teachers.   Anyone can sign up to give a presentation.  Presentations are normally either 3 or 5 minutes long and you can’t go over time (or give a sales pitch)!  I’ve picked up many gems over the years from TeachMeets so I am really looking forward to the Bett one, and getting a chance to catch up with some old faces there too!


I guess that brings me on to CAS or Computing At School to give the organisation its full name.   CAS is a free community of educators created to help ‘support and promote excellence in computer science education’ according to their strap line.   I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with CAS for many years.  They have an active online presence, an annual conference and a printed magazine but more importantly they have unique regional ‘hubs’ (I used to help run one).  These CAS hubs arrange local teachmeet-like sessions where teachers meet up and share what they’ve been doing in Computer Science.

CAS predates the changed computing curriculum and have campaigned to raise the profile of computer science for many years.  I agree with much that CAS do, but their tight focus just on the logic and programming side of ICT (and the fact they tend to be more successful at engaging Secondary Schools rather than Primary Schools) means that they are not the whole answer for me, but a useful part for sure.

Social Media and the Internet

I used to be an avid Twitter follower (I don’t really Tweet much myself) but I hardly visit it anymore.  The fact that even when you are fairly selective over who you follow I found I missed far more than I read.  The amount of time it takes to sort through and skim tweets for the return I got just didn’t add up.  Every now and again I feel I ought to go back, and I spend an hour or so ‘catching up’ but then it seems a bit fruitless.  IF I were engaged in conversations I am sure it would be different…  There used to be some great resources for finding ACTIVE educationalists on Twitter…


I do subscribe to some newsletters.  I think these probably came from people I followed on Twitter or saw present at a conference or TeachMeet.  The newsletter is an interesting concept…  It’s an opportunity to condense the kind of content I used to find spread out on Twitter into one place.  Generally the newsletters I follow bring me ideas and concepts which are edited together by the newsletter creator saving me time in trawling twitter and the net!

Doug Belshaw crafts an excellent weekly newsletter called Thought Shrapnel which arrives most Sundays.  There’s usually something which I follow-up in more detail.  Not so much the classroom teaching ideas as the bigger picture from Doug.  Doug also has a live version of this where you can discover new ideas and thoughts as they happen to him and an archive of older posts.

Audrey Watters produces her ‘HEWN‘ newsletter weekly too.  Often with a more American focus, Audrey produces thought-provoking pieces.

Terry Freedman has produced newsletters since the year 2000.  They are more spasmodic in frequency but also more content-rich than other newsletters.


There are more educational blogs than you can shake a stick at (this being just one of them).  To be honest I don’t follow ANY of them…  I’m sure there are some excellent things out there (and my very mildly autistic side hates the fact I’m missing them) but HOW do you discover them?

I guess it doesn’t really matter how you get your new ideas, so long as you do!


My return to the CAS Conference for its 9th year

After around five years of absence I returned to the 9th CAS Conference held in Birmingham today.

I was hoping for new ideas and a chance to catch up with people and I got both.

Now, cooling off in the garden with darkening skys (it is nearly 11pm) I have spent a few hours reflecting on the day…

The day started really well.  I boarded my train, bacon roll in hand, and made my way to my reserved seat to find none other than Phil Bagge sitting in the seat opposite.  Phil was one of the CAS people I met at my first CAS conference and I’ve pinched his ideas and shown his jam-sandwich-robot video to teachers ever since.  We had a lovely chat about work and life and I tagged along with Phil right up to the University.

The opening sessions were thought-provoking…

Mark Guzdial introduced us to three keys to improving computing teaching:

  1. Prediction – the power of asking the pupils to make predictions help them understand and remember more
  2. Sub goal labelling – making it obvious (almost decomposition) what we are doing
  3. Instructional design

This gave me my first take-away – trying to include Sub Goal Labelling in future resources and planning

The first breakout was on CAS’s Project Quantum with Miles Berry.  Again someone I’ve known for years and who I’ve quoted and also used his YouTube videos around the new computing curriculum with teachers in the past.  One thing he mentioned that really got me thinking was about hinge points/questions after around 20 minutes of teaching was something new to me and a definite second take-away.

Taking time to check real understanding at appropriate times within a lesson before moving on is something I probably don’t conciously focus on enough.   Project Quantum was interesting, a quantatitive online bank of quiz questions that can be used to assess pupils knowledge and understanding of Computing, but currently heavily biased towards secondary.  It made me want to contribute more primary-level questions…

The second break-out I attended was with the aforementioned Phil Bagge and Mark Dorling.

They have been working on a project around attitudes.  What makes a good Computing Problem Solver…

Phil’s resources and animated explanation and description made me want to try these ideas out straight away (another take-away).  I will certainly be introducing them into my teaching from September, if not before.

After lunch I attended a rather poorly attended session on streamlining assessment using tablets.  Will Franklin took us through Formative, Socrative, Kahoot and Plickers also mentioning Google Forms and Class Kick.  Although there was little really new here for me, it did server to reaffirm my ideas and prompt me to spend some time developing Socrative particularly which also made me think a bit more about Hinge points too… so another take-away!

The final breakout I attended was with Steve Bunce and Mark Dorling (again).  This was a look at how to move pupils from a block-based language (Scratch) to a text-based language (such as Python) via something like Snap.

The plenaries in the afternoon started with Miles once more recapping Project Quantum, but with some interesting audience participation!

The Second plenary was a very interesting and engaging talk from Chris Ensor of the National Centre for Cyber Security who talked about his organisation’s changing role since World War 1 and the modern challenges.  He talked about how they are hoping to encourage and support a new generation of security experts (and programmers who understand the absolute need for code without holes) through things like the Cyber First bursary scheme.

The day was rounded off by a charming and highly engaging session from Linda Liukas.  She’s describes herself as an author, storyteller and computer scientist (and more).  Author of the growing “Hello Ruby” book series.  Her storytelling style had the whole lecture theatre of 300+ people spellbound despite the heat and left me with even more to think about (and an Amazon bill for books).  A superbly engaging way of introducing young children to Computer Science and I can’t wait to share it with a reception teacher I know!

Thank you CAS for a great event, thought provoking and invigorating (and excellent value).

Board games and Computational Thinking

Watching our children play board games collaboratively this afternoon I am struck by several things:

  • working with a partner collaberatively requires a high level of communication.  The children need to be able to have a vision of the algorithm they need to achieve their objective in the game and then they need to be able to effectively communicate this to their partner or team to persuade them that their solution and idea is the best one.
  • listening is difficult…
  • learning that other people might have a better idea than yours is something that everyone needs to be able to do!

Even playing simple board games in teams allows such levels of communication and persuasion that there seems to be greate value.

Linking back to computational thinking:

  • identifying patterns is a key to developing your strategy
  • creating an algorithm to achieve the progression you need in the game is key to winning the game
  • the aim of the game needs to be distilled through abstraction to get to win
  • to be successful you need to have an eye on the whole picture to develop a winning strategy BUT you will also need to decomose the whole aim into smaller achieveable parts to work towards a winning position…

Taking time…

One of the hardest things to do as a teacher is to take time.   Teaching is a time-pressured occupation where every second counts.  Particularly when it comes to Computing, or even embedding technology in every-day teaching and learning across the curriculum.  Too many schools and teachers rush into decisions and jump on to technologies without really understanding WHY they do or do not need them.

In bygone days there were Local Authority Advisors (I was one) who could take the time to step back from the technology and pressure, were not under any obligation to sell schools anything and who could take the time to summarise the pros and cons of the various technologies.  If schools were very lucky these advisors would also know the schools, staff and pupils well enough to make personalised recommendations based on their experience of the individual setting.  On the whole this has disappeared from most of the English education system.

The loss is felt beyond just the schools.  Companies used to know that if they had a product they belived in they could send it to the local authority who would review it impartially and who would then recommend it to schools which it fitted.  This gave a route to market for the companies, and also a buffer to the schools.

There are some independent advisors who can still be employed by schools to give them impartial advice.  Some who work with specific schools on a regular basis and know the schools and what will and what won’t work for that specific school.  Schools also rely more on their own social networks, recommendations from other schools, colleagues, Twitter…

Despite this we still regularly experience schools who have bought often very expensive technology without really knowing WHY they needed it and WHAT it would do to enhance their teaching and learning.

This isn’t a local phenomenon, there are well publicised high-profile cases where whole school districts in the US have done exactly this and then been lambasted for it in the media.  Surely this is putting the horse before the cart?

Every schools NEEDS to have a regularly updated technology plan (for want of a better term).  This plan needs to consider HOW the school sees its teaching and learning developing over the coming few years.  They need to understand how their use of technology should  develop over the next 3-5 years.  This plan WILL be out of date after 12 months and will need revising every year.  The plan needs to START with the educational outcomes that the school desires and NOT with the latest, best kit or what the neighbouring school has just purchased.  With the clear vision schools will understand what they want to achieve to then find the best way of achieving it.

If a school can explain their vision for HOW the piece of technology they want to purchase will enhance teaching and learning, explain how they are going to train staff and impliment it and how they expect the technologies use to develop over the next 3 years then there is a fair chance that technology will be used.

Unfortunately schools don’t often take the time to do this.  They jump on some technology because someone else has it or someone recommended it.  They buy it, it’s put in cupboards, no training is given, it gathers dust…  because no-one takes the time to ask what do I want to achieve BEFORE asking how can I achieve it…

Technology is not the goal but a means to an end…

The Blogging Revolution Comes to Oxfordshire?

Following the really well received Blogging Keynote from David Mitchell at LWT2012 we felt it would be useful to share some of the information and links. What makes anything like Blogging or Podcasting really come alive is to give it a REAL audience and purpose. Blogging by publishing into a vacuum (ie onto a site with very few viewers) soon dies and is very unsatisfactory for all. To get around that, the biggest issue, David Mitchell founded a site to partner up groups of schools into clusters of four schools so that they could take it in turns to blog about focussed issues of things of interest as a major focus for a week, then spend three weeks as the audience for the other schools. The language work invovled in being an audience is still massive, and again with a real purpose and also with the abilty to write back well thought out comments, questions etc. Almost like pen pals but on a different scale! Since LWT2012 we have already heard from many Primary schools who are setting up blogs for children as young as Year 2. Many Oxfordshire schools have since started to create their own clusters to support each other with audience and purpose, many within school partnership or geographic areas. If you are struggling to set up a cluster of your own or if you need more schools to join you then please feel free to email the Oxfordshire CC Curriculum ICT Team and we will see if we can help schools find each other!

For a more global picture though we would highly recommend Quad Blogging!   Below you will find links to some other sites where you will find more information.

David Mitchell’s Blog can be found at His school blog can be found at


QuadBlogging – The defibrillator of the blogging world!

 A defibrillator: To deliver electrical energy to the heart to stun the heart momentarily and thus allow a normal sinus rhythm to kick in via the heart’s normal electricity centre.

QuadBlogging: To deliver electrical energy of a global audience to the heart of a blog to allow a rhythm of excitement to kick via the blog’s widening global audience.

Imagine four schools that had a partnership/agreement that would mean that for a four week cycle, each school’s blog would be the focus for one week out of four. Each school in the Quad would spend some time visiting the blog of the school for that week, leave comments etc. After that week, another one of the four schools would be the focus and this would be repeated for the four week cycle and then repeated. It wouldn’t take the pupils long to work out that during their week, they would get a boost in visitor numbers and comments. This would give a real focus to have posts online ready for this bulge in visits. During the other three weeks, pupils get to visit and comment on other blogs in their quad. Pupils being pupils, they would also venture out of the quads and visit other blogs that are linked.

Text taken from the Quadblogging Website at where you can also find out more about how you can QuadBlog too!

iOS Apps for Education

Due to increasing requests for lists of iOS Apps for iPads, iPod Touch and iPhone we have decided to publish a list of our favourites HERE.  We would like to grow this list, so if your favourite is not there then please let us know and we will take a look at it and add it if we agree with you!

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