Computer Science Week – 12 Games of Christmas is back!

Last year to celebrate computer science week I created the 12 games of Christmas. Basically I created 12 different types of games on Scratch and each day recorded a video highlighting a key part of the coding. I also featured some of my students games using Twitter and the daily video.

This year I’m going bigger than ever and taking it fully international – And I need help! If you teach computer science to kids aged 7-16, please pass on the posters below to share with the students so they can be featured this year or check out the promotional video!

To get involved, visit the website every day from December 1st. You can also submit games on the site or go straight to the studio on Scratch


3D Modelling Minecraft Style – without Minecraft – for FREE!

A user generated model built in cubical

This week I came across the most incredible tool: cubical.xyz

It is brand new and is basically a Minecraft world build editor that is entirely online and ENTIRELY free. The interface is a little tricky at first, particularly if you don’t have a mouse. The audience is not education, it is made for Minecrafters, but it basically emulates the fun of building 3D models in Minecraft, without the distraction of mobs, explosives and other elements.

If you like the idea of trying a minecraft project in your room but don’t like the gaming element of it then this is perfect.

In addition, this has so many great tools that when mastered, could help create some pretty incredible models. In fact in some ways it is better than Minecraft

Just a few cool features include:

The Tools: You can quickly cover an area in grass, trees, water or whatever block you need in just a few clicks using the brush tool:

The Generators: Play around with different styles of topology, great for geography and humanities projects.

The editing features: You can copy and paste selections! Like a house you’ve built? Copy and paste it all over your map to make a village. It also includes an UNDO button, something I wish existed in the real Minecraft!

The blocks: Most of the Minecraft blocks for building are in there and a new update is coming with even more!

Sharing worlds: A fantastic feature for education is the way worlds are set up. The interface is set to be improved, but as of writing, each world comes with it’s own URL. You can also set a template for the class to use, so they all start from the same point. The BRILLIANT part to this is that as soon as they open a web URL template – it automatically creates their own copy and then when they save their version it has its own URL ready to be shared to the teacher.

To see this in action, my colleague created a Google sheet for his class to open the template and then save and post their variations on it for anyone else to see.

I’ve not had an opportunity to use it yet in lesson, but have watched a Y4 year group use it to build some models of the starting of an ancient civilisation. I can imagine this can be used for sustainability projects, learning about volcanoes, 3D modelling, and much more. The world can be exported and used in Minecraft (though that requires some knowhow) or as an image.

I’m excited to see what educators and students can do with this fabulous online tool. To see more watch the video below:

Follow @cubical_xyz for more updates and information

Daily Tips

Daily Tech Tidbits #13

I am continuing to share on this blog more great tips and updates as we all continue on this journey!

Rivet – Google for Education

During school closures, it can be extra tough to be there for our children who need extra support in their learning. Google continue to improve on their offerings to help in this area and I am excited about this tool called Rivet. It seems free for now and it supports reading – with some very different books – some including Youtube stars and popular shows. the app is supported best at the moment, but there is a web version too.

This is invented and supported by engineers familiar with machine learning and with access to Google’s superpowers. I think this is only going to get better. Currently you can click on any word for it to be read out loud, and it will find a definition too. Just think- this software is collecting information about words that children struggle with and then can teach itself how to best help similar age students. Big future ahead.

This book is based on the very popular Tic Tac Toy Youtube channel.

Createability – More Google Education

Another Google project is Creatability which is still in development but is geared to supporting anyone with accessibility issues.

Creatability is a set of experiments made in collaboration with creators and allies in the accessibility community. They explore how creative tools – drawing, music, and more – can be made more accessible using web and AI technology. They’re just a start. We’re sharing open-source code and tutorials for others to make their own projects


We’ve used a couple of these before and they are just super cool to play with. There will be more on the way I am sure.

Teacher Virtual Summits

With many Educational conferences being moved or cancelled – ISTE 2020 is the big one for me 😦 – teacher empowerment can not be stopped and there are various online summits coming up that offer some great PD from the comfort of your home. Be warned – these don’t hang around, so set your calendars. Here are the ones i’m ‘attending’ so far. Or at least trying to:

Whole Child Virtual Summit – with a number of key speakers thinking about many social aspects of education. This set up by a growing player in social-emotional learning, Character Strong.

Research Ed – Limited time only – UK based summit on research within education – it also features some support on school closures

Wonder Workshop – Like to use more computational thinking in your classroom? Ever used or heard of Dash/Dot/Cue robots – this has loads of great talks about programming and STEAM and all things techie!

And Finally

Dav Pilkey is doing his thing online to help make more interesting activities at home. I appreciate Joe Wicks and Oliver Jeffers and Julia Donaldson are already doing their bit and so well too, but, well, y’know, it’s Dav Pilkey and 20 million+ kids are pretty happy about it.

Daily Tips

Daily Tech Tidbits #12

I am continuing to share on this blog more great tips and updates as we all continue on this journey!

GooseChase EDU

I came across this from the wonderful Cult Of Pedagogy blog in January, and when I considered new and interesting tools for the current closure – this came back into my mind, particularly as many teachers are setting scavenger hunt style activities already. GooseChase EDU allows teams of students or individuals to work on completing activities set by teachers. Then they photograph evidence via the free app and collect points. Teachers review the evidence and give bonus points (or return as incomplete).

Okay, so you can still use Seesaw or Flipgrid or Google Classroom to have students upload evidence of work, but this is different, gamified, with leaderboards and an option of choice. You can set questions, challenges or use the pre set ideas like ‘have someone take a photo of someone else taking a photo of you’. You can set locations (using GPS!) or just set an answer that needs to be typed in correctly. A definite option during closure.

Flipgrid Continues to be Awesome

Some companies have gone all out to support teachers during this closure, but none more than Flipgrid, who already offer a fantastic fee educational tool and promise it to be free forever. They also keep responding to teacher requests and have introduced another fantastic upgrade: Screen Recording – from Flipgrid! We can also do 10 minute recordings too – which is fantastic for teachers – not so much for a class full of 10 minute student videos!


Another great tool to be creative, and this one is LOVED by kids. There is so much opportunity to extend in this great app, with various level of coding but a very simple to use interface for beginners.

This is designed for students to create great 3D virtual scenes, that can be added to to have animations play from the characters added in. Adding in the feature that anyone can then enter the world created using Virtual Reality, and students fall in love with the idea. Projects for: historical scenes, curating a VR museum, retelling a story, creating mazes and much more.

And Finally

Check this out for a hack to present your own writing during a video conference:

Daily Tips

Daily Tech Tidbits #11

I am continuing to share on this blog more great tips and updates as we all continue on this journey!

Google Meet Multiscreen Grid / Gallery View

A big debate at the moment in our school of whether to switch to Zoom, or stick with Meet. This feature created by someone who isn’t Google, just might have swayed us to stay with Meet. The free chrome web extension here: THIS LINK means when you next sign into Meet, you will see a new icon in the top right hand corner:

Screenshot 2020-03-27 at 17.04.49.png

When you click on this button you will get a grid view of all your Meet participants. I am not fully sure of how many images it can handle, but this looks promising:

The only small issue is if another participant on the Meet needs to present the screen, you need to make sure you turn off the grid view if you want to see their screen full size. But it does not interfere with you presenting your screen. With thanks to my colleague @MoriartyAngela for testing this out!


Amongst the many free edtech tools being offered, Formative is a very powerful and well respected tool that allows for some pretty impressive assessment. Having said that – many of its features are replicated in other formats, albeit across different platforms. This brings it all together, and has a piece de résistance – the ability to convert any worksheet into an online one, with automatic feedback. This may be your best option for assessing students in the coming months. Here is the page on the home learning slide for more information and tutorial video

World Book Online and Audible

As some of you are already aware, Audible has announced it will provide free audiobooks for children and teens while schools are suspended.
Here is the link: https://stories.audible.com/start-listen

Also available now is World Book Online bit.ly/2QsQs1E

And Finally…

Daily Tips

Daily Tech Tidbits #10

I am continuing to share on this blog more great tips and updates as we continue on this journey!


So as the western world struggles through lockdown, more celebrities are taking to offering what they can to support families. Of course as one does it, the others start to copy, so expect many more. The best for schools are the book readers, and authors, but there are plenty of ideas and suggestions to share with your family communities. This article links a few of the current offers including Josh Gad and Lin Manuel Miranda. And Twitter is full of helpfulness:

Interestingly, Authors are not allowed to give you permission to share books online. In fact for most books it is not advisable to record and publish to an open online platform. Please be mindful of publishing rights if you are sharing stories online – although some publishers have been offering temporary solutions.


This looks fun – and is easy to share for your students, if they are likely to have access to technology and use Google for education.

It is about drawing simple shapes using Google Drawing, but of course the real secret here is the improving of several key formatting skills, like resizing and using colour tools, duplicating things and much more. The first 4 are free and come with a video which talks through the process.

It’s a simple idea – but a fantastic one for a simple home learning challenge.


Forgot to mention this a while ago, but when recording on Flipgrid using the app, you can keep music playing in the background of the device, and it won’t stop when you hit record. It may seem like a minor thing – but now you can add much better audio quality to your Flipgrid video all from the same device.

Lip Snyc battle anyone? What a great home learning challenge!

And Finally!

I hope teaching and learning is going well for everyone. As a parent and teacher – it’s been tough old seven weeks, and I feel like things probably need lightening up. Now more than ever is the time to jazz up your learning videosmake a fool out of yourself and get creative. Don’t forget to promote creativity to your parents too – let them work together on a great project – this is what we did at home recently on Wevideo for a habitat activity. Having fun is of course one of the most important parts of a successful classroom. How are you managing to keep that going?

Daily Tips

Daily Tech Tidbits #9

I am continuing to share on this blog more great tips and updates as we continue on this journey!

Google Meet

Google are always updating their education apps (frustratingly for us teachers doing tutorials!) but this one is great:

No pesky kids kicking you out anymore! A great new addition. Puts it back into contention with Zoom as the go to video conferencing tool. As with all Google updates – it may take a few days to be available. Keep an eye out for when it changes!


For something a bit more professional, Whereby have a very good reputation and one big selling point that may turn you to using them – is that you do not need to download any app to use it – or require any log in. The other big advantage of this is that there is a feature where you can lock your room, meaning new people joining have to ‘knock’ to get in.

This will work brilliantly for teacher conferences – especially as it is free for 4 or less people in the virtual room. Also, if you do pay the extra – you can use it fro up to 50 attendees and one cool tool is that you can play Youtube videos to all the people in the room without loss of audio.


Epic have been great with schools so far, but since the outbreak of COVID-19, they reevaluated and realised that they can’t share books through the school set up, at home, due to publishing. So current access is not available through school codes. HOWEVER, Epic have offered 3 MONTHS free access to parents.

The unfortunate downside is a bit of work for the teachers as you will have to invite them using individual emails. At our school we are providing teachers with a list of emails from our management system, but that is as far as we can go. Once parents receive the email they do not even have to enter any card details – they will be provided with 3 months free to access at any time.


I’ve spoken before about this great tool – but they are offering free Pro access if you get in touch. Wordwall gives you a link to share fun mini activities to help with retrieval practice. Best of all, when you complete a set of flashcards, Wordwall automatically creates various different games with the same learning information, giving you up to ten different activities with the click of a button, including matching activities, crosswords, anagrams and more.

There is a maximum of 5 activities in a free account, but you can create more if you upgrade to Pro.

Daily Tips

Daily Tech Tidbits #8

Each day, whilst the school is closed, I have been sending daily tips and advice to our staff to support with their online learning provision. Sometimes it is in response to common questions, and sometimes it is just great tips and tools. I’ve decided to share them in light of the ongoing global impact of Covid-19.

Best practice:
Seesaw: I’d like to share with you an activity from Alex in which he is teaching Maths using Seesaw. What he has done is when creating the activity – he has created a multimedia example, and so then he can create either a set of slides or the task that children have to complete. He has then recorded his voice, but most importantly, he is writing or adding shapes live whilst speaking. If you didn’t know this was possible in Seesaw – now you do! So you can essentially use it as a whiteboard – even better if you have a stylus. (we can arrange for you to borrow an LT chromebook for a few weeks if you would like a stylus and touchscreen). Then this is added as separate to the actual template provided to complete the tasks. Again this means that as the student completes an activity on their template – they can refer to the instructions at any time without leaving their work, by clicking view instructions at the top of their page.

Top tips: Use the arrow shape in Seesaw as a pointer.  Also you can pause at any point, add in some text on the screen, then play to have it magically appear.

Research online:

Just a reminder from Mel that whilst we wait for BrainPop’s free access, you can also use Britannica Online as a place for children to do some research. I think this site warrants a tutorial video for kids (and teachers) so I’ll make one this weekend – some of the tools when using this include changing your reading level, being able to cite correctly, and as a teacher, posting articles direct to a google classroom.

Daily Tips

Daily Tech Tidbits #7

Each day, whilst the school is closed, I have been sending daily tips and advice to our staff to support with their online learning provision. Sometimes it is in response to common questions, and sometimes it is just great tips and tools. I’ve decided to share them in light of the ongoing global impact of Covid-19.

Hello and Good Morning,

Great practice

In my unremitting quest to improve interaction and teacher instruction during school closure, It is only fair to pause and praise the outstanding work that is already being done to achieve these goals. I’ve heard from a number of secondary teachers who are using screencasts and google meets and Zoom to provide live learning. I’ve most enjoyed the videos I’ve seen though, and not just the ‘hello it’s good to see you’ videos, but the recorded screencasts that teachers have used to explain, demonstrate and teach, enabling the students to pause when needed, reflect, tell siblings to be quiet, make a brew, etc.. Allowing them to flourish in the best way that they can. This is leveraging technology in such an impactful way, and allows them to be saved and reused for revision and practice later in the year. Thanks to those of you for pushing yourself a little from your normal routine and possible comfort zone, because the kids love hearing from you a million times more than a random American math tutor, for example. This is fully in line with the vision for us to align with the ISTE standards for educators and students.

On the back of that – I’m looking for teachers who are happy to share a particularly concise and clear lesson they’ve created in order to inspire others.  If you don’t mind that and are particularly proud of one – please send it across

More Screencasting Support
Since we now have temporary unlimited access to screencastify, I challenged the Year 5 and Year 6 group to make their own screencast guides. Just a day in so far and boy have they delivered. One girl in particular, Sadie in Y5, created this incredible tips video using google slides, including using gradient colours and making words look 3D with a simple trick. She let me share this and it’s worth a watch if you have 8 minutes to spare. The confidence in these kids creating these teaching tutorials is brilliant. I’ve already learnt loads from them including a cool gimmick for when you google ‘wizard of oz’ and then click on the red slippers on the right! The best will be available next week on our LT website for all kids and teachers to use.
To help them I created a tutorial video on using screencastify (for children) feel free to share it with anyone who may want to create you a screencast. 

Seesaw Activities
Please, if you create a great activity on seesaw, (and you may not know how great it is till after the students have attempted it!), please share it to the Discovery Bay School section. In your activities dashboard, select the activity you want to share, click share, then click on the school. Set the grades and subjects and then all shared. This then will build a fantastic library of activities for us all to use. If you are in Secondary and are interested in using Seesaw – please get in touch too.

Lessons Learnt

Lessons Learnt Teaching Through a Screen: Setting Work

A summary of many of the things I continue to learn in light of the current situation in education can be found here

We have done so many great things in school to facilitate students continued progress as they learn from home. We aren’t perfect either, and it is often humbling to see how well some other schools have managed their closure. With the extension of school closure running into the seventh week (and eighth week this academic year), it is important to keep reflecting on best practice. The key word here is INTERACTION.

Early Years

The challenges in setting younger children work is numerous and extensive. The likelihood here is that you are channeling your teaching through a grown up in their home. So, whilst setting the work and aiming it at the children, you are also presenting it to the family as well.

We are fortunate to have Seesaw as our online learning portfolio platform. They have been very supportive to schools and are now opening up a feature to allow families to upload work into the child’s journal. This means I don’t have to go into detail on the workaround that our current teachers have been doing for the past few weeks. Work is split into five areas, linked to the curriculum we teach (UK). The teacher currently has no live teaching, but does record a vocal instruction for each page of the slides that we share daily. This can be around 12-20 slides. This could easily be done in a google slide and embedded into a google site and shared to parents also, thanks to the addition of audio into Google Slides.

The activities are varied, often involve a two minute video/listen to the teacher, perhaps a quick activity on the device, or a my turn, your turn with a grown up, followed by an activity off the device. They are generally quick activities and can be done with general bits lying around the house.

Each week the teacher reads a story, and this has been done through a variety of ways, but the most effective way is to use the (currently free) Screencastify. (I’ll share a how to do this soon).

There has been a few parents who have asked for live lessons and live teaching, but the decision is still very much that even in class, you would not expect young children to sit for a length of time, and so doing it in front of a screen isn’t necessarily the best option.

The key here is to channel your inner Sesame Street acting. Speak to the screen and wait for a response you will never hear. Ask questions then pause and… did you say ‘orange?’ well done if you did.. etc. It’s why Sesame Street lives on all these years!


At this age there is a mix of some children who can access independently and some that need support. We have found that there is a good uptake in older children as they can figure things out themselves, the middle age groups are not as active, or do not produce the same amount of work, and again this is because they are old enough for parents to be able to be left to their own work, but not quite old enough to be independent learners. The younger age group are often ably supported by parents and so again they are fairly active.

This is less about the work that is set, but more about how it is set and the expectations. At our school we use Google Classroom from Year 4 and up predominantly. We have seen year groups present this in different ways, and have had differing feedback from parents.

The organisation is key – if using Google Classroom, keep it tidy, use Assignments for work and use the stream for announcements. Also we’ve had problems where work is set on google classroom but is actually also set in Seesaw. Instructions need to be clear.

Also, parents expect teaching, and so setting work with a paragraph of text will not cut it. There needs to be accompanying videos or voice instructions. The easiest way to do that is to use either a screen cast tool such as screencastify , an app like Explain Everything or other alternatives. If you have a way to host these videos on a site, share them from your school’s drive. If not, create a youtube channel and if preferred, upload your videos as unlisted. Therefore only people with the link can see them. Then you an provide a link to the video as part of your assignment that day.

Differentiate your tasks – and if not – set the bar at just lower than the middle. It is easier to extend students from distance than it is to support. You will also get far less complaints.

There is going to be more screen time for these kids, that is a fact, however, if they do have access to a screen to complete the work – in many cases they are more likely to do the work. Kids love screens. So educate parents on the need for screen time that is purposeful and educational. Having said that, make sure you set writing activities now and again that involve actual writing!

Time the work appropriately. Parents and children will stress about the time taken to complete these tasks and they may not finish it before you already have a new activity for them. Reduce anxiety by actively accepting half done pieces of work. It may even alleviate your workload as you can continue pieces of work over a few days.

Project based work can work – but there has to be constant feedback throughout – we are still getting paid to teach and we cannot pass on all the work to the parents – keep in touch every day – with constant messages and voice comments and videos. Praise pieces of work and share them for inspiration, but avoid over using clichés like “You are all working so hard, you are all doing so well,” and instead be specific.

Technology should be used and I disagree with other advice that says don’t try new things. As long as there is a central place to start from and that is well organised, there is no reason to not take advantage of the many edtech solutions that are currently out there.


Again in secondary there is a big divide – Exam age students and, well, everyone else. A colleague recently said to me that although Year 11 and 13 students are a priority in terms of upcoming exams, actually our Year 10s and 12s are most at risk as they are losing teaching time, not revision time. He makes a valid point, it is easier to revise remotely, with low stakes quizzes and revision notes etc, but harder to teach the important content that still hasn’t been covered.

When setting work – there is definitely an urge to set a two week project. Of course for all but the best of our students, here’s what happens. If it sounds interesting – they do it pretty much immediately for a few hours, then they are done. They may not touch your subject again for two weeks. Or, they don’t like the sound of it, they see the deadline, and then they spend half an hour on deadline day getting something to hand in.

To improve Interaction, set small parts of project work and expect work done on scheduled timetabled days. Keep the timetable as close to the normal timetable as possible. If available, run a 10 minute video conference at your usual time. At the very least, be ready to answer emails and messages in that time.

Do not use Social Media for any classwork or communication. Google Classroom is the preferred way to open discussion and share work, but there are many other LMS that you may already have in place that will work fine. At the very least, create a google site with the information on for students to access. Google Sites are free and easy to use and do not require log ins. School websites can also be used to post work if you have limited options.

Set expectations early and do not waver. Secondary schools with the most success in these times, have been ones that have kept the school running as normal as possible. It is not an easy task for teachers though.

Specialists (Primary, Early Years)

It’s tough being a specialist teacher in closure. You are right at the bottom of the list in terms of importance, and in some cases, it is understandable. So how can we ensure specialists are contributing?

How about Specialist Day – where class teachers take a break and the work that day is set by specialists? Or stagger the specialists to submitting work on certain days only – Mandarin Monday, Tech Tuesdays etc.

Even better still, collaborate! Why not team teach a lesson that uses technology, where the tech teachers lead on the skills to use a platform, and the teacher concentrates on content. Or work with music to create a rap song all about recent learning, complete with a ‘sick beat’ generated from some music lesson learning. Create a PE workout for soldiers taking battle in Ancient Rome. (Okay thats a stretch but you get the idea) Remember, specialists teachers are here too!