My wordle

There’s nothing like a Wordle to make you stop and think.  I looked at the Wordle for my blog and noticed that it had a distinct technical (and Microsoft) flavour.  I know it only uses the RSS feed (and so only recent posts) but it still gives a good representation.  Not as many educational terms in my cloud as I would have liked to see.  I will try to do better in future.
This is the wordle that my RSS feed generated.
Wordle: Fiendishlyclever

New science lab

I should be allocated resources for a new science lab in this financial year.  I had some designs done last year (before we ran out of money) and I’m having doubts about these plans.  They seem a little traditional and don’t reflect many modern teaching techniques.  As a special school we have pupils with a wide range of abilities – from P levels to GCSE grade C.  All will be taught in the same room.   The room must also
  • provide ICT access for 5+ pupils ( at the moment hard wired desktop PCs)
  • have all seating at same level (cut down on the amount of furniture we have at the moment)
  • provide good visibility of ALL pupils during practical work

This is the lab I have at the moment.

My science lab

The leading design last year looked like this (two rows of benches, PCs down side)

I’ve since seen rooms like the one below which seems to facilitate modern teaching styles as well as traditional ones
What would you do?  What sort of lab would you prefer?  What should a modern lab look like?

Using the National Schools’ Observatory over the Internet

NSO - The National Schools' Observatory_1235762882888Knowing we would be looking at space and the big bang as a topic I had registered for an account at the National Schools’ Observatory and requested additional user IDs for my pupils.
Using the telescope couldn’t be easier.  Much of the process is automated so you don’t need to know anything fancy like stellar coordinates etc.
You are given an initial selection of potentially interesting things to observe like the moon, stars, planets and galaxies.  Once you have selected, you are told the probability of seeing your object. NSO- Go Observing_1235763060707That’s all there is to it.  My smallish class requested a number of different objects, things they were likely to see within a short timeframe (since we didn’t have months to wait).
Two weeks later we downloaded the image files and the free software, and decoded them.  These are the actual photographs, cropped but otherwise untouched.  My pupils were thrilled and pleased with the photos they had requested.  Here are the best ones





I would recommend the NSO site to anyone who teaches about space.

Measuring the speed of light with a microwave oven

Year 11 pupils followed the Naked Scientists’ method as featured in their book “Crisp Packet Fireworks” by Chris Smith and Dave Ansell.  We used their technique to work out the speed of light using a microwave oven.

Year 11 pupils videoed the experiment as well, although most of the footage is of buttering the bread, the important bit at the end didn’t video very well but we hope you get the idea.  Click on the link to the Naked Scientist site for the science of how this works (using Speed of light = frequency x wavelength).  (Not bad for special school science!!)

Using digital microscopes to look at onion cells

My Y10 group were looking at cells using microscopes.  We tried a variety of different microscopes – an optical microscope, some Intel QX3 microscopes and a couple of cheapo cameras based on webcam technology.

Looking at cells requires a good light source passing through the cells so that ruled out the cheaper microscopes.

These are the pictures we took on the Intel QX3 (yes they are a few years old) with the x60 objective.
I thought these were pretty good since it was the first time the students had prepared a slide themselves.

Pupils enjoyed using the digital microscope and were able to capture their best images off the screen.  One pupil decided he wanted to capture the images from the optical microscope.  We don’t have a camera attachment (we don’t use it enough to justify the cost).  The pupil in question decided to use an ordinary 10megapixel digital camera with the macro setting and these are the images he captured.

For all the pictures you can just about see the individual cells if you look hard!

Using Google Custom Search for pupils with SEN

An update to this article is now available from here.  Please refer to the update rather than the post below.


I teach pupils who all have low literacy levels and SEN.  They enjoy searching for information on Google, but struggle to pick out the signal from the noise.  They can’t recognise which sites are worth using.  The solution is Google Custom Search – which you can either set to only search a subset of websites, or to prioritise a set of results over Google’s default results.  You can find custom search here.

Setting up a custom search is quite straight forward, you will need to have a list of sites that you want to use.  You can also request that Google remove ads from the results if you are a school etc.  Once set up you have the option to customise your search further, e.g. by adding a school logo to the search results.  You can even add collaborators who might want to tweak the custom search as well (e.g. other department members).

Once you have your custom search you need to find an easy way for pupils to use it.  My preferred method is to use Google sites, in which I collate information and I embed material in once place for pupils to use.

Embedding into Google Sites gadget

I took my custom search and embedded it into a Google site that I am using with my BTEC Science pupils.  This makes it easier for SEN pupils to access.

Embedding the custom search takes some hacking, steps listed below:

  1. From the Google Custom Search management page, click on [homepage] for the search you want to embed.
  2. Click on [Add this search engine to your blog or webpage] then [Get the code], copy the code into the clipboard and paste it into notepad (or similar)
  3. Edit the code – remove the first part of the URL from the start of the web address so it starts http://
  4. Remove the end of the code after the word gadget
  5. Your code should now look like this
  6. In your Google sites page, click on the [Insert] dropdown and go down to More… at the bottom.  When the Gadgets search box comes up you click [Add by URL] next to the search button
  7. Paste your code into the box and [Add].  Pick suitable size settings for your page.

Your Google Custom Search should now be embedded on your Google site.  This makes it easy for your SEN pupils to locate and use.

Making Ice-cream

Making Ice-cream as part of the Cook module in Wikid Science. Pupils are also making ice-cream again in food technology to compare production techniques, effect of freezing time on ice crystal size etc.

We used an Ice cream ball – which you fill half up with ice/salt and the other half with cream and milk.

This is our finished ice cream.

Using Google Sites/Apps to track the admin in BTEC Science

BTEC Science is a good course for many pupils, being portfolio based it reduces the pressure on pupils to perform in exams.  Pupils can also work independently through many of the tasks.  The nature of the course means that the admin can be a nightmare for teachers who run this course.
I have used Google Sites and Google Apps (together with Delicious) to gather all the resources and information in one place so students can check their progress and look up web links etc.
Task 1
Open a Delicious account and make a note of your username.  You will need to add all the bookmarks for BTEC Science to Delicious.  I’d recommend tagging them with a sensible name too, I use BTECsci.
Many people have already written good guides for Delicious – here is one specially for educators

Task 2
Create a spreadsheet to track your BTEC Assignments on using Google Spreadsheets.  You will need to enter pupil names or identifiers in a way that complies with data protection legislation.  I colour the unfilled sheets in red.  When pupils start an assignment I colour the cell in orange, and in green when they have achieved a pass grade (thanks to Dukeries school for the traffic light system).
When your sheet is finished you need to publish it using the share options (view only, auto-republish).  This will allow anyone to view your sheet – needed later.
Task 3
Create a blank site using Google sites.  This site will need to be viewable by anybody – so click the option to share with the world.  Give the site a suitable name (preferably something simple so you can give it to your pupils).  Pick a theme that suits you and create.
The home page is where your introduction/welcome goes so click on edit page and enter some text.
Creating a page for your spreadsheet:
Click new page and enter a suitable name (e.g. assignments) and then create at the top level.  When you get your new page click insert on the menu bar and then look for the spreadsheet option.
snip1 Select your spreadsheet and click [OK].
Create a page for your bookmarks
Click create new page, give it a name and create it at the top level as before.  When you get your new page this time you click insert go for the more.. option at the bottom of the menu.  This should bring up the Google gadgets menu.  Type in delicious and click the search button.  The gadget you need is called “ bookmarks” – click on it once.
snip2This should bring up another screen that asks you for some settings.  You need to know your delicious username and tags to input here – here is mine…
snip3Click ok and your links page is done.
Additional pages
You can create additional pages in the same way – these could have information/text on them (e.g. deadlines).  You can embed YouTube videos (for pupils to view at home) or even create a page of files (file cabinet option) for assignment briefs, documentation  and so on.
Navigation bar
Now all you need to do is edit your navigation bar at the side.
Click edit sidebar on the left – this should allow you to change the layout of your site.  I removed the [Recent site activity] panel and then clicked edit on the [Navigation] panel.
snip4This brings up a menu which allows you to add pages to the sidebar navigation.  Click [Add page to sidebar navigation] and select one of the pages you created (e.g. links)
snip5Whilst a page is highlighted you can change the order of pages in the menu using the arrow keys at the side.  Click [OK] when your menu is complete.
Your site is now available at
If you are technically minded you can register a domain name (e.g. a address for your site but I’m not sure of the benefits if you have picked a sensible name for your site).
If you are new to Google Apps or Google sites feel free to contact me using the options at the top right of my blog (or click here) and I’ll do my best to help.