Category: Digital Leaders

My first after-school Code-a-thon

The beautiful blogs poster, as made skillfully by Sian, one of my digital leaders.

The beautiful blogs poster, as made skillfully by Sian, one of my digital leaders.

So, I know I’ve been writing for a while, but this is something that I have had a passion for and looking for an outlet. The school I currently work at busses the students in, which makes extra curricular a real challenge. usually we have to run any kind of extra curricular club in lunchtime which does limit the way we work and also the need for giving students the chance for lunch.But I’ve finally cracked it and got 10 students to stay behind for an after school session, titled “Beautiful Blogging” and aiming to teach the skills of HTML and how blogs work. The aim to encourage students to program and learn a new outlet for the skills that we teach in the classroom.

Now, like most things, this isn’t an entirely original idea, I saw this at a Manchester Girl Geeks event with another teacher who ran it. I thought it was so brilliant I have kept it, revamped it and used it in my class. the results were good, I got girls and boys from 12 to 15 to learn some HTML skills using the Tumblr platform.


Estafety in schools is a massive issue and whenever there is talk of social networking sites (As tumblr generally is classed due to its links with facebook and twitter), you need to consider the information surrounding it.

When I approached the school they were reticent. You’re using a social media platform to teach? (fear and trepidation from the child protection officer). Writing a brief proposal of how I wanted to use the platform and also in the session think about E-safety issues (e.g. making sure the blog is not listed on google so you have to know the email to find them).

I also had to approach the technicians to allow the network to unblock Tumblr for a few hours so the students could get in. If you have access to Tumblr in school, great, if not you could also try Blogger, WordPress(duhh) or Edublogs.

I chose Tumblr for one simple reason, I wanted a platform that students were already keen on and using in order to gain the most appeal.  You can find the proposal that I submitted to the safeguarding officer, demonstrating the settings that I applied with the students here:

Beautiful Blogs SG Letter

The Session

Lasted for 1 hr 30 mins, with 11 students who signed up and seemed to go well (If I were doing this again, I could invite other schools, but I would need additional permissions and I’d need to be ‘dead-on’ with my delivery). The main issue I had involved getting the students signed up to the site. What I failed to take into account was that Tumblr makes sure you are 13 to sign up, so you have to make sure there is more than one option or try a different blog. You could, if you wanted, make dummy accounts for students below the age of 13 to try, but that would be illegal, so i wouldn’t endorse that at all.

When the students have signed up, the students alter the blog settings for e-safety (See above) and also that you alter the settings to allow for the students to write in RichText/HTML. (A word of warning, if they don’t activate the account using the email, HTML won’t work in the blog, weird!)

Introducing the session students were also introduced into the topic of blogging. Through the demonstration of blogs that I know students in the past have set up and discussion of what people write about, students had an idea about what to write. The initial discussion was to create an “about me” page (also thinking about e-safety) with things that the students are passionate about, in order for them to decide on their first post.

Using the following worksheet (BBSample), the students were able to think about the different tags they could use to make the page more effective.  The kids got a real kick out of the work, most had a smattering of HTML, so in an hour and a half I talked about what to write a blog about and also putting some funky HTML into a blog you couldn’t do without using code (E.g. marquee’s and funky CSS borders).

The students really saw the value in this as they could not of done this with a standard Tumblr blog, this meant that they could do things at home that other students couldn’t! (everyone loves showing off!)

Were to go next

I planned this session as one of 3. Which means that the second session would probably feature more CSS then the final session on how to change the site to alter the theme and make it more attractive.

Not sure what people’s thoughts are but I think that this could easily be applied to other schools and through the general excitement that the social network produced in order to teach HTML, I think this could be a new (different) way of applying HTML in the classroom. The larger scale of this (rolling it out in a standard classroom session) would probably be open to more abuse, but as a follow up to an existing classroom activity in HTML it can have a real benefit to ICT and computing as a subject.

*Mr Gristwood did not write any HTML in the making of this blog (unfortunately)

(Adendum) Pedagogical Approach

As students were entering the class at differing levels of expertise the resources had to be planned for differentiation. The worksheet allowed for the differentiation of the class with beginner(left hand side), intermediate (right hand side) and advanced (back of the sheet).

The idea of using different pedagogical styles:

  • Visual – here is a worksheet, this is what you can achieve (powerpoint)
  • Audio – here are some visual tutorial foudn online of how to code HTML
  • Kinesthetic –  lets do something fun and interactive

I have found recently with using tools like notepad, students enjoy the experience of programming, refreshing the page and seeing what they have learned. This does have it’s drawbacks, so when approaching this task i wanted to use an online tool that would show instantanious response (if they had done this correctly), so tumblr engages students with the effect of showing what they have learned instantly, in a piece of software that has real life application for them. This also meant if they made mistakes they can see the response qucikly.

Teaching HTML in previous classes has shown that studnets want to get working fast, so by getting students t produce something quickly that they can see, then refining that product to make it more interactive and fun has worked well in this example. Providing sutdents with additonal research allows us to plan for progression and challenge them beyond the taught task.

Students generally have to be taught a way of working with HTML in that they have to learn to develop a base product and then refine quickly checking each step along they way. This also aids them in a future career in computing where one of the more popular ways of working is Test Driven Design, which is widely adopted as being good working practice within industy, and also version control which allows them to work togheter online on the same blog, with version control showing the development of the product.

During the class I was also chatting with a numebr of students that had their own web projects outside of the classroom, this allowed me also to aid in their development beyond the curriculum.

What I have seen in the last 3 years due to the advent of courses like this and support in student’s learning beyond the classroom is the general shift for students to take more computing in the school. Through this level of nurture and support, Computing numbers are rising within the school and the keen-ness and enthusiasm for a subject which (in this school) is an option and competing with other subjects which are more established in the curriculum.


Digital Leaders – the legend grows (January Term)

So the digital leaders continues from strength to strength with their work. I hear reports circulating around the school about how they have helped teachers fix broken powerpoints and help with how to use activ-studio. This is the idea and this is their positive impact.

However there have been a number of other positive things that we have been doing with our own projects and it’s good to highlight them here.


So, another part of my remit this year is that of of E-safety. Through discussions with the school Child Protection officer, she felt that it would be beneficial to explain the issues that were faced online and that had actually happened so that the digital leaders could understand how children in school were effected. This had a real impact on the students and how they percive themselves online. We are now thinking of having a display that the students made from this discussion in order to highlight their feelings on e-safety.

Computing Videos

One of the tasks I set was for the students to adversise a computing through a video. I think this had partial success and think that it requires more guidance to make sure they follow the remit. The one that they produced had some issues with sound so i ended up using a non-sound version for options evening, which looked more like a powerpoint slideshow. I think in future i will have to give more guidance on this one. you can view the result here

The podcast is one of the major successes of this year. I get students to come up with a topic, discuss issues surrounding it and put it on Itunes for them to download. The issue they did this term was “the gaming issue” where they talked about the new tech that is coming out in games this year and also enthusing students in the ways to make their own games.

The thing that i struggle with this is time. I’m getting the students to record which is great, but i am left with the job of putting it all together. I think that following on from this i’m going to start giving them a template for the podcast and get them to put it together when they have recorded it all. For the construction we are using audactity and Pod-O-Matic

For safer internet day, i also knocked out a very quick podcast on how students percieve e-safety and what they think about protecting themselves online. You can view their Itunes channel Here


One of the digital leaders has set up a canon slade Digital Leaders website. This is pretty good, but i’ve tried to give him the task of organising it so that it is easier to use. I think following on from a term where he has been working on the graphics etc. I’m going to get each of the digital leaders to write a post a term to detail what they have done(maybe get some pictures etc.) and then display their work. you can view their website and what they have done so far Here.

Inter School Linkup

This is something that could really be good. I’ve started teaching my digital leaders how to use TextAdventures with the aim of getting them to go to a primary school and teaching the students in primary how to make an adventure game. Depending on the success of this, i can then look at doing a HAck to the Future – After Hours, like i did with Alan (@teknoteacher) about a year and a half ago to get other students enthused about ICT, Programming and computing.

If you are interested in working with me on this i’d love your input. The idea is to do it on an afternoon in a primary school.

Final Thoughts from Mr G

I think that the ideas laid out this term have been good. my lessons that i have learned is the amount of guidance that students need in order to gain them focus. I think this could be an area i need to look into where i get some 6th formers to work on projects with the digital leaders to offer guidance and give the 6th formers some confidence in their abilities too. I’d love to know how often other school digital leaders meet, as i’m finding that doing it one lunchtime a week only gives me 5 hours a term (if that).

Digital Leaders – The Christmas Edition!

So the Digital LEaders have been working for a full term now on their various different projects and I think things are developing well. There are been a couple of things that have really been a success:

Work around the school

What has been really great is having a number of members of staff using and utilising the digital leaders for work. We’ve had posters made by the students explaining online storage facilities and staff asking for questionnaires and feedback for different areas of school life. I think this is great to get students seeing themselves being used around school in a positive way. The leaders this term have helped with the school newsletter( allowing collaboration between students)

Digital Leaders Training

Students have been trained this term on ActivStudio. I thought this was a good idea as some of the teachers in the school are unconfident in it’s use and there was after school CPD on the topic so it can help to “firm up knowledge”. Each of the digital leaders for each piece of training they do gets a badge on their own profile on the moodle, highlighting that they have done training and can be approached by staff to help with that topic

The Tech Talk
Digital LeadersThis is think has been a major achievement this term. I pushed the idea out that the students should make a podcast of what they are interested in. I think this may lead to other things that we can use fof promoting ICT around the school. I floated the idea of having a “tech topic”, “social issue” and a “website of the term”. So, in their first issue, the students talk about:

  • “is the term geek offensive” which highlights social issues around the school and tackles bullying
  • “which tablet to buy” which seems to be a big question that I keep getting asked
  • “Website of the term” – this time it’s a google music making web 2.o app
  • and their “top tech toys for christmas”

The students really had a buzz doing this, and the fact that it is being put on the Itunes store gave them a big buzz, which i think is great (you can find it by typing “Canon Slade” into Itunes) or by going to Itunes, File, Subscribe to podcast and pasting this link I used PodOmatic to host the cast after they first created it.

The next issue will be “the gaming issue” which will discuss their favourite games as well as promoting some of the computing topics e.g. scratch, textadventures etc. this will hopefully highlight some areas we can develop in school.  Students woudl reallly appreciate feedback through a twittter mention to @canonsladeict

The website

One of the students has really taken on the job of keeping the website up to date. He has made his own Weebly site and is now working on making it effective. Next term i’m going to focus on giving guidance to make sure it stands out and getting the students to mail to him their own posts on what they have done and how they are working.

Twitter presentation
This was a bit of a disaster as no students wanted to learn how to use twitter, however a member of the school SLT showed up and sat listening as the students explained in brilliant detail how they use twitter. Which was really positive as they did get to present to someone and it also highlighted safe use of social networks to the school SLT.

She was so impressed the boys will now present to the headteacher next term.

So….whats Next?
The digital leaders have really had a tough job as i’ve been trying to work out what to do as well as them working alongside me. The success of the podcast and the website really great and i hope this continues. We are going to try to move the podcasts to once a half term and really get them cracking with that. We have a lot of displays to do and also a promotional video telling students why to take GCSE Computing.

We are also aiming to have an after hours night for lower school(e.g. y7 and y8) with an evening making their own text adventure game with parents.

If you have ideas of projects i’d really love to hear from you.

Digital Leaders – The first meeting back

So I’ve been back 2 weeeks and called my 9 digital leaders together to decide on our first terms work. The aim is that i woudl like students to determine independent thought and ideas for them to make their own digital leader projects.

Initially i came to the meeting with a few initial ideas, but i also wanted to find areas that students have their own interests in.  In our school, we have ICT rooms open at lunchtimes for students to complete homework etc. so Digital Leaders are now allocated to classrooms on those days to ether work on their own projects or help other students in their coursework.


From lasyt year we needed a digitial leaders logo. I know that the digital leader network has a logo competition that was succesful in generating a logo, however i feel it is important to give students a sense of ownership and by designing a product for their own school, it gives them a sense of pride in the work they are completing. I have provided the challenge of setting up a logo and a prize (box of cookies, Healthy school will kill me!).  This is due at the next meeting, after half term. (This is the ICT department logo, designed 2 years ago by one of my students Adam Brownlow)


At the same time, i wanted the studnets to have their own say and viewpoint, the hope being that they can integrate a blog and other tools in and they can comment on the work they are doing and what they have done. As Web Design is a love of one of the students i have put him and another student together to delegate and organise the work between them


A number of students have been looking for ways to integrate other communication methods into school communication. So they are looking at making a number of help videos to show students how to use smartphones effectively. I would also like students to investigate maybe making a help video on how to use twitter on your phone as we have a school twitter feed and i need more students to follow it.

Work at home

a number of studnets want to look at ways that they can send work home, I think this will directly tie into the smartphone element, but as an initial project to work together i think it is good and it allows them to do an analysis of googledocs vs dropbox vs icloud vs everything else

Social Networking

The last group is looking at use of social networking within school and the ways that students use social networking. The aim is that they will produce a display for the classroom on the effective use of social networks.