From the category archives:


Students using computers.

One of the beauties of a blog is I get to write about whatever I want, rather than focusing on the things I have to do.

Bill Gates has a blog too, at least his foundation (which I’m actually very fond of) has, and he occasionally puts puff pieces in. Because that’s exactly what this one from a few months ago is. Or possibly an ad for the Khan Academy, if you admire nothing else about Salman Khan he’s managed to get large amounts of money out of both Apple and the Gates Foundation.

You want to know Bill Gates’ take on technology in education? It can be summed up in one sentence – technology has the potential to make a difference in education. Seriously? That sentence is basically a fill in the blanks.

[New innovation] has the potential to make a difference in [complicated problem].

Here are a few I just made up:

  • [Drug vaccines] have the potential to make a difference in [addiction].
  • [Immobilisers attached to breathalysers] have the potential to make a difference to [drink driving recidivism].
  • [Geo-engineering] has the potential to make a difference to [climate change].
  • [Workplace flexibility] has the potential to make a difference to [sexism in the workforce].

Why don’t you try a few for yourself?

It’s basically a statement you make for public consumption when you don’t know much about something, that sounds nice and can’t really be all that wrong.  I’m certainly not going to deny Bill Gates’ expertise in technology, but if he knew anything about education I might take a little more notice of his views. Because his track record is not all that good, and it’s only because the US is stuck with their version of a plutocracy that he gets any airtime.

You see Bill Gates is an advocate for all sorts of theoretical models that he thinks ought to work in education. Experience doesn’t matter. You can easily double class sizes. Standardised testing will make sure everyone is learning what they are supposed to. Teachers will improve if they know they will be fired if the kids don’t measure up on those same tests. This is rubbish. Teacher Tom (and this is an education blog you really need to be following) has written multiple posts about it, just search for ‘Bill Gates.’

Not only that, but it’s a classic example of do as I say, not as I do. Not the technology bit, but the Gates children are not being educated in the way he advocates for others.  The Gates children travel. They visit factories and the Large Hadron Collider. They get to seek out individual and authentic learning opportunities with a rich context. Which is exactly what he is advocating taking away from others, as they prepare for their standardised tests. It’s possible he thinks technology can fix this – why experience something for yourself when you can watch a film on the internet? Be careful Bill, your Dunning-Kruger* is showing.

Ironically, in this case I actually agree with Gates. And that’s from the point of view of an educator who is working to get technology into the class, and I’ll even take out the qualifiers. It is exciting. It will have an impact. It can even help students experience a much wider world. But it needs to work together with all the other good experiences we can already do – collaborative work, exploration, real hands on, going on a tangent because it engages the kids, an emphasis on how to learn not what to learn. Bill once again mouths the right soundbite in his final paragraph, but given his other statements, I really have to wonder how much we would genuinely agree on.

At the moment his opinion of what should be happening in my class is irrelevant. I hope it stays that way.


*The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias which has been described as ‘the arrogance of ignorance.’ Very simply, people who know nothing about a topic assume they know a lot more than they do and rate their abilities very highly. People who know a lot tend to rate their abilities lower, because they know how much they don’t know.


Periodic Table

One hundred and ten minutes is a very, very long time to do science. When doing a prac it’s great, but not even I can manage a prac every single lesson. If I was doing the normal maths/science type load I would split some of the classes to give us a break, but because I’m just helping out I only have straight science. So one hundred and ten minutes it is.

I did my second planned Teamboard experiment today, I set up a simple page with three links on it. We were doing a super quick ‘review year 7 and 8 chemistry in one lesson’ which meant states of matter, the periodic table and elements, and I just happen to know some cool songs that go with that topic. Plus of course the Periodic Table, which is a geeky dream when it comes to patterns and pretty colours.

I suppose I could have opened up all the pages on the computer before class and minimised them. I could have had the links copied and pasted them in. I could even have searched for them in class, what a fun few minutes that would be. And that’s assuming access to a projector or every kid on a computer. Scratch that, can you imagine trying to get every kid to visit the right YouTube video? That’s way more aggravation than a cute song is worth.

But being able to set it up at home, search around and find the right links, save it onto a flashdrive then just switch the computer on? Simple.

Being able to easily show a couple of cute songs and an engaging, large poster in a class that is one hundred and ten minutes long? Priceless.

Sure you have to find the links before if you want to use them, but how is that any different to finding any other resource? In this case it was only a couple of fun breaks but they are still good songs that had a purpose. And having instant access to the right internet page (or any page on your computer) has just increased my resources almost infinitely.

Oh and here are the cute songs 😉

This song is actually most of the Year 9 chemistry course. The kids complained after this one that it was stuck in their heads, so even if they say it’s stupid, it’s doing the job.


The second use of the teamboard*, this one planned. The simplest of simple uses almost didn’t seem worth it, but for both the kids and I to get used to it I’m happy to start small. I’ll be posting about it quite a bit as I explore using it.

As you can see in the above picture, I set up 3 pages before the lesson. This is the sort of thing I would traditionally do using a textbook or handout with the three pictures. The class then discussed what might be being tested in that picture, and all the things they were doing wrong! I used a pointer and the inbuilt pen function to circle the things they found and label them.


  • Colour
  • No opportunity for kids to hide in books
  • No time wasted getting books out and finding pages
  • Exactly the pictures I needed, which weren’t available anywhere else I could find.
  • Easier to engage everyone at the board and get discussion.
  • Save on paper, both environmental and not providing distractions.


  • Drawing nowhere near as sensitive as whiteboard marker, either needs more practice or a different technique.
  • Had to be put together myself, although as noted, I couldn’t find other pictures easily anyway.
  • Don’t stand in front of the projector!

Overall worked well, even though it was so simple it helped engage the kids better than a book or handout. The problem of only a few answering is there with either technique, that’s up to the teacher to overcome. I also forgot to save the file with the modifications we made!

However not being able to write properly is a major issue. There is a keyboard available, but I’ll need more practice using it and positioning the resultant text before I can see how useful that is. The built in Teamboard drawing ‘app’ has potential with more practice.


*Teamboard is just a brand of interactive whiteboard. I’m sure they can all do similar things.


Second day in the classroom and I’ve used the interactive whiteboard. At first the kids freaked with me drawing on it because ‘it’s a screen for videos!’ I really, really wanted to record the mindmap we created, but I wasn’t organised with a password yet. So I took a photo instead.

But we were doing separating and I mentioned distillation of coke, so all the stories of ‘Coke will dissolve your teeth!’ came up. How easy to find a video and show it, so the kids could see what was really happening. I love having technology available, and that’s just the basics of a computer. Can’t wait to look at the software I’ve brought home.

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