Introducing the Open Schools Network

OER schools iconsAt the end of the 2014/2015 school year, the DigiLit Leicester project put out an open call to all schools in the Leicester City Council’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) Programme to participate in a new collaborative open schools network. Network members will support their schools in developing staff digital literacy in relation to copyright and the creation and use of electronic resources, building on the council’s work on open educational resources (OER). They will also provide support for other BSF and primary schools across the city who want to develop their work around the use, creation and sharing digital resources.

Last year, the council became the first in Europe to provide school employees with formal permission to openly licence educational resources created in the line of their work. Providing this permission helps raise awareness about OER and open educational practice, and sends a clear message of encouragement for staff to find out about, and make best use of, openly licensed resources. You can read more about our work in relation to this here, and access and download resources to support your local authority and school implement their own OER policies.

We also provided schools across the city with OER guidance, resources, activities and information, which are also shared openly.

The newly formed group currently consists of ten network leads and two network coordinators, representing 12 city secondary and special schools.

You can find out more about their work and download the resources they are sharing at the project blog:

The network is made up of school support staff, teachers and leaders from a wide range of different types of schools:

Open School Network Coordinators

Coordinators will help facilitate network activities, and ensure everyone gets to hear about what is achieved.

Suzanne Lavelle, Researcher, Children’s Hospital School Leicester

Nora Ward, Assistant Headteacher, St Pauls Catholic School

Open School Network Leads

Antoinette Bouwens, Business Manager, St Pauls Catholic School

Harjit Kaur, ICT Network Manager, Keyham Lodge and Millgate School

Pearl King, Assistant Headteacher, Rushey Mead School

Sharon Malley, Head of Mathematics, Crown Hills Community College

Michael Richardson, e-Safety and Communications Officer, Ellesmere College

Sera Shortland, Citizenship Coordinator, Hamilton College

Lucy Stone, Computing Teacher, Sir Jonathan North Community College

Mark Sutton, Assistant Curriculum Leader for Design and Technology, Soar Valley Community College

Christine Turner, Science Teacher, English Martyrs’ Catholic School

Peter Williams, Maths Teacher, The City Of Leicester College

The network will be taking part in a range of activities over the next academic year, including:

  • Developing their own knowledge of open educational practice, open educational resources and open licences
  • Support school governing bodies in implementing school based OER policies
  • Promoting school staff understanding and awareness of what open educational resources are, how to find them, and how to reference them
  • Promoting the use, creation and sharing of OER across schools
  • Supporting Leicester primary schools and other BSF schools in relation to staff awareness and use of open educational resources
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Technology to support English as an Additional Language

Post by Simon Newman, EAL Coordinator, The Lancaster School:

Simon previously reported on the professional development innovation project he undertook this year, exploring the use of iPad features and apps to support students working with staff in the school’s English as an Additional Language (EAL) Department. Here he provides an update, along with recommendations from and tips for teaching assistants.

One of my aims for the project was to introduce the use of tablet computers in the English as an Additional Language classroom environment, and to explore the impact on pupil learning – with the aim of supporting better progress.

The pupils found the iPads useful as it gave them some independence and allowed them to have greater control over their learning. Pupils identified the following resources as particularly useful when they were working independently:

  • Google Translate and iTranslate. They allow instant translation for many languages and it is easy to switch between languages. The ability to hear the words spoken in some languages was very useful, especially if the pupils were not literate in their own language. Longer sentences are translated less accurately however, and meaning could be lost. The pupils preferred the iPads over normal dictionaries because of the speed of translation, and felt this enabled them to focus on the lesson more effectively.
  • Google images. This was especially useful to get an understanding of the keywords for the lesson.

The iPads have been used by about 8 different staff members. The staff liked the pupils using the iPads because it gave them independence and improved their ability to access the lesson. I think we are still at an early stage of iPad classroom use. Some staff appear unsure how they can be useful, so more input is required on my behalf to make the benefits clear to them.

It is also clear that making effective use of the iPads needs to be planned –  effective use doesn’t happen by just having devices in the classroom. EAL pupils made most progress from those teachers who put careful thought to how they were to be used.

The iPads have also been used by my EAL teaching assistants and also other teaching assistants within the school. These staff members were very positive about iPad classroom use and about the way the devices have helped support EAL pupil progress.

In addition to translate and image search, the teaching assistants identified these resources as particularly useful:

  •  BBC Bitesize – staff and learners used this in Science, English and Geography. The teaching assistants liked the use of the images available and the simple language. For EAL pupils the KS2 Bitesize was most appropriate (free).
  • Dropbox – This allowed instant access to lesson worksheet and presentations so the TA’s could revisit ideas to support understanding. Dropbox’s terms and conditions specify that the service is only for use by people 13 years old and over (free).
  • Clicker Sentences (link to Apple App Store) – Clicker Sentences is an app that supports sentence construction and can be used to build tailored resources for specific lessons. The sentence construction can be supported by images allowing better pupil understanding. It also has the ability for resources to be saved to Dropbox. Once saved the resources can be shared easily between other iPads (£19.99)

Clicker Sentences

  • Nearpod – This is a resource for creating presentations which include a range of interactive elements including multi-choice and open-ended questions, audio, video and quizzes. The presentation plays on all iPads at the same time and the pace is controlled by the teaching assistant or teacher (basic version free).

Our English teaching assistant recommended the following apps for grammar work:

Teaching assistants using iPads in the classroom

The use of iPads by teaching assistants can have significant benefits for EAL pupils in the classroom – we believe they have enabled EAL pupils to make more progress than they would have made without them.  EAL pupils can often struggle with the use of vocabulary or key words in lessons. The iPads allow the teaching assistant to revisit words or pictures used by the teacher to allow for clarification or can use images or translation to ensure the EAL pupils are clear in their understanding.

Understanding does not come about just by knowing the meaning of the key words. They need to see them in context and then have a chance to use them in context to ensure the learning is secure.

Tips for teaching assistance using iPads to support EAL learners in lessons

  • Use pictures to illustrate key language where possible so pupils have a visual image to allow them to link with own language.
  • Maps can be very useful where appropriate.
  • Translate the words into the pupils own language.
  • Show learners the words in context in English so they can see the word in use.
  • Ask learners to explain the meaning of any language used and model language as appropriate for them to practice.
  • Help students practice using the words in context by using an app like Clicker Sentences (or with the words written on a mini whiteboard.)

Clicker Sentences

  • Ask pupils to use the same words in a sentence of their own.
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Arduino for Art, Design & Technology

Post by Paul Wilby, Head of Art, Design and Technology, English Martyrs Catholic School

For a while I’ve been seeing references to Raspberry Pi and Arduino computer programmable boards, and a while ago I decided to invest £30 or so in buying a couple of the Arduino boards. I also had a raspberry pi given to me. I talked with a few students in the sixth form and year 11 who I knew liked computers and tinkering around, to see if they would like to try out the boards. They looked at them and politely declined the offer, and the boards went back into the drawer to gather some more dust. I kept promising myself that I would try and learn to use them myself. Anyway I had marking to do, lessons to prepare, forms to fill in and all the thousand and one jobs that a faculty head has to do. The boards remained in the drawer occasionally being seen when I needed an LED and reminding me of my promise to learn how to programme and use them.

When the design and technology programmes of study were published in September 2013 I realised that I had to do something to fulfil the new requirements, particularly:

  • understand how more advanced electrical and electronic systems can be powered and used in their products (for example, circuits with heat, light, sound and movement as inputs and outputs)
  • apply computing and use electronics to embed intelligence in products that respond to inputs (for example, sensors) and control outputs (for example, actuators) using programmable components (for example, microcontrollers)

I had previous experience of using BBC computers (remember them?) in control and having taught a bit of ICT (or computing) over recent years I recognised the need to update my programming skills. I had a Chip Factory PIC programmer and could write some interesting and fun programs to program PIC chips (essentially small microchips that can be programmed to read sensors and to output signals to control electrical devices). There are a lot of these systems on the market such as PICAXE and GENIE and there is a reasonable amount of support for them in education but it is becoming clear that more ubiquitous systems like the Arduino are becoming industry standard for off-the-shelf programming and control. The programming also uses C which is a common language for a lot more than just programming Arduinos. I felt that if I could master this and teach it I would be introducing the students to a widely used standard language.

With the help of a Leicester DigiLit staff development award I bought an Arduino starter kit and an Arduino robot buggy and started working my way through the examples in the pack.

The hard copy project guide that comes with the kit is well laid out and clear in how to construct the projects and write the programs in C. The choice of using a small print font, metallic inks on some pale backgrounds causes problems in reading the text in some light conditions was annoying (a sentiment shared by others when I went on to the Arduino web forum to see if there was a PDF version available). It also makes photocopying pages for class use difficult. This is a shame as the materials are meant to be freely shareable under a creative commons licence. Scroll down to see my notes on the project guide.

Having said this the book is a useful start and the explanation of each command and the structure of C programming is well laid out and explained. However I think there is scope for deeper explanation particularly where a teacher is explaining what is happening in the program. The operation of the electronic components is reasonably done and is at a level that could be managed by an able student in year 9. The kit comes with a wide range of electronic components including LED, servo motors, DC motors, sounders, a liquid crystal display and temperature sensor. The kit comes with plenty of spares which is useful considering the small nature of many of the parts. The kit comes as a nice package but once opened and assembled it is impossible to put everything back. I transferred the content to a small divided tray to store and organise the parts.

Having worked my way through the projects in the starter kit I have become very aware of the power of the Arduino as a control system and I can see why it is taking off and encouraging a wide range of people to learn to program and construct electronic circuits. As the boards and the programming are all open source it is not too surprising to see others imitating the system. It is possible to buy well-made clones of the Arduino Uno for around £4 compared to a “real” Arduino Uno for around £25 from Maplins. It is also interesting to see companies such as Intel producing their own versions of the system using the same pin configuration and providing a faster speed and a greater range of functions. The Bare Conductive company have launched their own version for small electronics using their conductive paint system. It is a low profile board that would be easy to fit into textile projects.

On the downside it is fiddly to make connections and the programming language is wordy and has to be accurately typed in. This is an advantage once used to the language as the program has very little waste of memory space and it does use ‘C’, so can be used to introduce learners to “real” programming.

There is a wealth of support on the web, both in the form of projects and tutorials. Artists use the system to incorporate interactivity into their art.

There are plug-in “shields” available to allow connections to be more robustly made but these add an additional complication to making circuits.

I’m now more confident in using the Arduino but I’m not so sure that I could use it in its natural form with a class. It is more suited to a club activity where there is the time and space to get over the inevitable problems with electronics and coding.

I think it would be better to create some shields where some of the projects are permanently soldered in so can plug straight into the Arduino and then the students can concentrate on the coding rather than the electronics. I would use the breadboard method for more able and interested students who may want to develop their skills and knowledge using the raw connections and components.

My next step then is to construct a few soldered projects that simply plug into the board. My favourite projects so far are the servo motor controller, the keyboard, the light Theremin and the Zoetrope.

Teaching Notes on the “Arduino Projects Book”

You can read the notes below, or download in PDF: Arduino for Art, Design & Technology – Project Book Notes (2015)

or Word: Arduino for Art, Design & Technology – Project Book Notes (2015)

This book comes (in hard copy) with the starter pack and provides a useful introduction to a wide range of applications for the Arduino in projects. However as I worked my way through the circuit construction and the programs I noted a number of pitfalls that could cause someone new to programming in C (like me) to give up.

General points – Punctuation

An important part of programming in C is the use of brackets.

Curly brackets { }

denote a loop function. If you click on a { the corresponding } will be highlighted by a box around it. I found it useful to go through a program clicking on each bracket and looking for the corresponding one to be highlighted. This helped me to make sure that I hadn’t missed out any brackets.

Plain brackets ( ) denotes where information needed by the program could be found for example whether a pin is an input or an output or what the state of the pin is (high or low). They are also used for comparisons such as less than, more than or equal to arguments. Again it was useful to click on each bracket and make sure that the corresponding open or close bracket had been included.

Square brackets [ ] are used to denote an array of numbers or information where the program looks up the position of the number in the array rather than the number itself. Project 07 – The Keyboard Instrument uses this function to denote musical frequencies and rather than having to keep entering the frequency each time the program looks at the position number of the array to obtain the required value. Similarly, as with other brackets each one can be clicked on to discover the corresponding bracket.

The semicolon ; is used after values or plain brackets the only exception being if the bracket is before a curly bracket. I have found it is very easy to miss out the semi colon and the program, frustratingly, will refuse to compile and will give you an error message telling you are missing one.

The use of the decimal point . caused an issue in the case of the ‘float’ instruction. This refers to a floating decimal point number rather than an integer (given by the ‘int’ instruction). When using the ‘float’ instruction any numbers, even if they are integers, must include the decimal point (for an example look at Project 3 – Love-O-Meter on page 49)

Speech marks “ “ are used along with the Serial.print instruction to print on screen the state of inputs, outputs or values.

The use of !=   means not equal to.

Notes on the projects

As I worked my way through each of the projects in the starter pack I came across some issues and things that I needed to do in order to get the circuit to work. I think it might be worth sharing these.

On a general note, while the book covers a fair amount of basic electronics and circuits I would advise a little caution. Some information is over generalised and some misleading. For example, on page 30 Ohm’s law is introduced and used to calculate the value of the bias resistor for the LED. The calculation ignores the voltage drop across the LED itself and so with higher voltages may give a false value for the resistor that could end up damaging the LED. The use of the term “amperage” for current is annoying.

Project 03 The Love-O-Meter

This project introduces the TMP36 temperature sensor. This component produces a linear output temperature reading unlike many thermistors, 10mV change of output represents a temperature change of 1C. Note the need for the offset to read from 0C. The device can measure from -50C and will start from this temperature if the offset is not included in line 20.

Notice in line 15 of the code the ‘float’ instruction needs the decimal point included. This line results in voltage changes of around 5mV to be detected and acted upon this means that the device measures 0.5C steps.

The project uses analogue to digital conversion (ADC)

Note the need for a short delay when using ADC.

Project 04 Colour Mixing Lamp

This project introduces light dependant resistors and multicolour LED. It also includes the use of pulse width modulation (PWM). Output on the board marked with symbol ~ can produce a PWM output. This function is useful for motor speed control and light dimming.

Project 05 Mood Cue

This project introduces a variable resistor used as a potentiometer (ie all three pins connected) and a servo motor (a motor that uses gearing to move its axle through an angle of rotation up to a maximum of 180 degrees)

The project introduces ‘libraries’ or pre-set information that someone has compiled to convert output voltages to servo output angle.

The servo included in the pack has a three pin female plug attached to the lead. In order to connect this to the breadboard it comes supplied with a strip of header pins, I found this solution doesn’t work so used some jump leads to make the connection. A better solution is to cut off the plug and solder header pins directly to the three wires from the servo motor.

I was very impressed by the accuracy and control of the servo. One turn of the potentiometer moved the servo almost 180 degrees and half a turn of the potentiometer produced a 90 degree turn.

For the fun of it I replaced the variable resistor with a light dependant resistor and a 10K resistor as a potential divider. The top of a bic biro with its small hole at the top acted as a good mask and allowed for slight changes in shadow to operate the servo.

Project 06 Light Theremin

This project introduces the ‘tone’ function and discusses the difference between the constant 50% duty cycle of the tone function and the variable duty cycle produced by the ‘analogWrite’ function. The calibration routine used to identify the most to least shadow and modify the program to accommodate different depths of shadow is an interesting and clever part of the program.

This program worked well and again the bic pen top worked well to give a good variation of shadow to obtain a full sound range.

Project 07 Keyboard Instrument

This project is a good example of an array. The frequencies of four musical notes is given in the array and the array uses the position of the notes in the array to identify the note rather than having to keep entering the note frequency in the ‘tone’ instruction. A resistor ladder is used to produce differing voltages that are converted to frequencies when the buttons are pressed.

In figure 1 the resistors are connected in series, pressing more than one button doesn’t change the resistance the analogue port “sees” the voltage over the resistor nearest the junction to the analogue port.

The layout of the breadboard shown in figure 2 is the circuit shown in figure 3. This circuit does change the voltage “seen” by the analogue port when more than one button is pressed. However the values of the resistance chosen don’t make significant changes. It is worth using the resistors in parallel formula to work out the voltages when a combination of buttons is pressed.

In the example array on page 83 line 2 generates a conflict error. It isn’t needed so leave these two lines out.

Project 08 Digital Hourglass

In this project the timing function “millis” is introduced. This tracks how long the Arduino has been running in milliseconds. It makes the distinction between the “millis” function and the delay function. The delay function freezes the board’s state until the delay is over, this means it can’t take in information while the delay is going on.

The project describes how to extend the information storage to a 32 bit number by using the “long” function.

The code shows how to compare time and give an accurate time interval for timing events. The time interval for 10 minutes (600 000 milliseconds) is given in line 6. I got bored waiting the 10 minutes so changed it to 10 seconds (10 000 milliseconds)

The circuit uses a tilt switch.

Project 09 Motorized pinwheel

This project is good as it shows how to control motors using an external power source by using transistors, in this case a MOSFET. It also shows the need for a diode to remove damaging voltages caused by back emf from the motor.

Project 10 Zoetrope

This project takes some building. It builds on the pinwheel in project 09. It is a nice project to build and try out. The motor supplied is good quality and it can really spin the wheel. On a safety note it can easily fly off. The wheel can also launch cd’s so be careful if using with students, good fun but may need safety specs just in case.

The potentiometer supplied keeps popping off the breadboard and then the speed increases. When held down it does have a good range of speed. The circuit does use a very useful IC called a H Bridge this makes it easier to reverse the motor direction and removes the need for including additional diodes to eliminate the back emf from the motor.

The code doesn’t introduce any new functions and is fairly easy to follow. There are though a lot of lines of code and it easy to miss appropriate brackets, semicolons and capital letters (if used). It took me four attempts to fill in or correct code.

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Digital Art for Schools

Digital arts - lights in jarsOn Friday 12 June, a group of art teachers from six city secondary schools met at Interact Labs (based in Leicester’s Phoenix Arts Center) to find out more about digital art.

From work with low-resolution computer screens and black-and-white pen plotters in the 1950s and 1960s, to the photo-realistic renderings of modern video games, artists have often been at the forefront of innovation in computing. For over 50 years artists have been exploring how modern art can be made with the latest digital technology. Indeed, it’s amazing to think that something as seemingly new as “digital art” is actually as old as acrylic paint. However, digital art does not always get the recognition it deserves in arts education.

The workshop introduced school staff to the history and development of digital art, and looked at practical ways staff might develop digital arts practice in schools.  The event also provided an opportunity for staff from schools across the city to network, and find out about local digital artists and digital arts organisations and events in Leicester.

The workshop was led by  Sean Clark, a Leicester-based practicing digital artist. Sean collated a bank of useful resources to introduce and get staff started in digital arts, covering the history of digital art, key exhibitions, artists and art works, and teaching resources.


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TEDx Leicester – Open and Connected Learning: Transforming School Practice

TedxLeicesterI was delighted to be invited to speak at the first ever TEDx Leicester. I looked at why open and connected learning is a critical priority for the schools sector, and looked at some of the exciting work taking place in Leicester’s schools relating to digital literacy. Leicester is currently causing a stir internationally in terms of open learning – my talk explained what Leicester City Council has been doing in the schools sector, and why:

Leicester is a large and diverse city in central England. I work for Leicester City Council, where I lead on technology for one of the country’s biggest school building programmes. As well as the huge investment being made in ‘bricks and clicks’, we’ve been working with our school communities to transform educational practice through open and connected learning. We’ve also been working openly, sharing what we’ve found and the resources we have created online under Creative Commons open licenses so that teachers, schools, and councils across the UK and internationally can benefit – and ultimately, so that all our learners can benefit.

There is no doubt that in the UK and many other countries the internet is now a mainstream site of everyday activity. Currently around 40% of the global population have access to the internet. This means that many of us are working, learning, and living in digital as well as physical environments. We post pictures of our children, we build and develop our personal, professional and learning networks, we find romantic partners and fall love, we buy and sell goods, provide and access services.

In many countries in the world the local percentage of the population who go online online are in the majority – so much so that in these countries we now talk about digital divides, and digital exclusion. There are lots of reasons why the minority populations aren’t online in what we can characterise as digital societies – including poverty, disability, and literacy.  The mainstreaming of online spaces as sites of social, cultural, economic and political sites provides all kinds of new opportunities – but also risks exacerbating inequality amongst those who aren’t able to take advantage of new, digitally mediated forms of contact, communication and collaboration.

Globally, digital inclusion is not just about functional technology skills and access – it’s also about the confidence and knowledge to critically engage in online environments – or, digital literacy.

There are different ways to describe digital literacy. The definition I use most often is functional technical skills + critical thinking + social engagement = digital literacy. There are quite a few definitions of digital literacy about at the moment – mine has the advantage though of being one of the shortest ones.

Digital literacy is important because social, political and economic participation is important – the ability to contribute to, and to shape and change our communities. The House of Lord’s recently published report ‘Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future’ (2015) recommends that digital literacy should be regarded as a necessary life skill, along with literacy and numeracy. The report cautions that not doing so constitutes a significant risk to individuals and to the UK, of missing the many opportunities afforded by digital technologies.

Digital literacy is also situated in practice. When we think of other essential skills – numeracy for example – it’s easy to understand that every one of us benefits from a basic level of numeracy, and that we’d find a lot of day to day management of our lives extremely difficult without this. If we were to take up a career as an accountant, or a chemist, we would of course need additional, specialist numeracy skills.

Similarly, digital literacy is important for all citizens. Everyone benefits from a basic understanding of finding, evaluating and managing information, being able to communicate and collaborate, being able to buy goods and access services, and being able to keep themselves and their data safe online.  For some groups, for example those supporting learners and learning, specialist and specific skills & knowledge are obviously going to be an important part of their professional practice.

In the context of publically funded schools, staff confidence and knowledge of basic digital literacy is particularly important, since most will be supporting some digitally excluded young people. Schools have critical role to play in ensuring no sixteen year old leaves compulsory education without the skills, knowledge, and confidence to make use of technologies to support and enhance their ability to learn and work, and their social and political participation. For some of our learners, schools may be the only place where they see digital literacy practices being modelled, and are actively supported in the creative, safe and effective use of technologies.

For the last few years, I’ve been working with Professor Richard Hall from Leicester’s De Montfort University and Lucy Atkins on the DigiLit Leicester research project.  In partnership with the 23 secondary and specialist provision schools in the city’s Building Schools for the Future Programme, we identified the key areas of digital literacy for school staff. Based on these key areas, we created a survey which has been carried out city-wide over two consecutive years. The data collected has helped us to identify the strengths and gaps in digital literacy practice, in individual schools and across the city. These strengths and gaps can be taken as indicative of other secondary schools and specialist education provision across the country. We’ve responded to the findings by carrying out a range of projects designed to consolidate and promote our strengths and address gaps. All of the resources from the work we and the schools have done has been openly licensed.

One of the gaps identified by the data relate to finding and creating digital resources – a key, everyday activity for school staff. We’ve identified that a healthy culture and spirit of sharing and reuse does exist, and that this sharing is characteristically informal. One of the reasons for this marked informality is a lack of confidence and knowledge around Intellectual Property Issues as they relate to digital resources. In particular, we found a significant lack of awareness of copyright, and open educational practices and approaches – particularly in relation to open licences and open education resources (OER). For example, the majority of staff have not knowingly come across or used Creative Commons licensed resources.  It’s likely that this is typical of school staff working across the UK, and certainly colleagues I have compared notes with across Europe and the US have indicated that awareness of OER and the opportunities they afford schools and learners is a cause for concern.

There are many reasons why it’s important for us to address this gap in digital literacy. School staff are modelling practice for learners every day, typically in physical classrooms but also, increasingly, in online environments. Ensuring the schools workforce is confident and well informed about basic copyright issues, including the use of open educational resources, provides an opportunity to support learners by demonstrating great practice that we shouldn’t be missing out on.

While it’s great news that the majority of school staff in the UK have embraced a culture of sharing and reusing resources, the informality of this sharing ultimately limits and localises benefits – benefits that could be that could be more fully realised through open licensing. It means that staff and schools very often don’t get credit for their work – in turn making it harder for others to contact them and develop collaborative practices. Staff and schools may find their work being used and reused in ways that they aren’t happy with. Sharing and promoting work publically is also fundamentally limited if that work contains elements that the author doesn’t have permission to include and hasn’t accredited appropriately.  For example, if I’ve created a great, high quality and effective resource, which contains an image I’m not sure if I have the rights to use, or an activity that was informally adopted from someone else’s shared work, I am going to be less inclined to attach my name to that work and make it publically available for others to use. Schools can and have been fined for publishing images and using other resources online that they don’t have rights to. Being confident about the content of resources, including web pages, and properly attributing any content we have built on, means that they can be made publicly available and promoted – many of our staff and schools are producing amazing work, that they should rightly be proud of, that could be used and built on by other educators locally and globally to support learners.

The other key drivers with respect to this area of school and school staff digital literacy practice are the ones that get mentioned again and again – time and money.  Open education licences and practices have a long and established history. Creative Commons, the leading provider of open licences globally, was established in 2001, and there are somewhere around 900 million CC Licensed works currently online. UNESCO adopted the term ‘open education resources’ (OER) in 2002. Schools and school staff can’t take advantage of the existence of OER and openly licensed materials if they don’t know about them.

Imagine the time and money that could be saved if instead of 70 staff individually creating resources to support the same learning objective, resources were pooled and developed collaboratively, so that time could be spent instead on refining model resources to best suit the needs of learners. The reality of the situation is actually staggering in terms of the numbers of staff currently struggling in silos with very limited capacity and resources, with this situation being replicated across and multiplied by the whole of the curriculum. In this context, it becomes a practical matter of urgency that we take a fresh look at how schools and school staff globally work with, create and share digital resources, and how open and collaborative working practices can better support our learners. Open licences, which build on top of existing copyright frameworks, provide a clear indication as to how resources can be used – providing legal and practical foundations for the development resources and of collaborative approaches.

In Leicester, we’ve been taking the first steps on this journey. Working with Dr. Bjorn Hassler and Helen Neo, and with our school staff acting as critical friends to the project, we’ve produced easy to understand OER guidance for school staff on what open educational resources are, how to find them, how to develop and accredit them, and how to create and share them.

As well as ensuring the guidance is as practical as possible, we’ve produced walkthroughs for staff to demonstrate how easy it is to change and enhance current practice by using OERs. For example, we’ve created simple guides to finding and accrediting openly licensed images on the photo sharing site Flickr, to enhance resources, presentations, and web pages.

The work we’ve done is not just about supporting staff in tapping into the great range of resources out there, but to encourage and support them to contribute to open education by creating and sharing their own OER. In order to do this, we’ve had to take a look at Intellectual Property and employment laws. In the UK, as in many other countries, unless there is a specific agreement in place, your employer is likely to have ownership of the intellectual property rights and copyright of the work you produce in the line of your employment. This doesn’t just apply to school employees, but it’s worth addressing in the case of public employees, particularly those who are producing educational resources. I believe very strongly that where publicly funded educational resources can benefit others than the group of learners they have been created for, they should be shared openly. This ensures we get the best possible value from the work we are doing, and helps to put in place the working practices we need to establish to put an end to the wasted time and money we are spending on duplicating resources locally.

To facilitate this, Leicester City Council has given blanket permission for all it’s school employees to openly licence the educational resources they are producing for work. The council employs the majority of teaching staff in the city, but there are several types of school where the governing body is the legal employer – for example, academies, trusts and some faith schools. To support these schools we’ve produced model local OER policies that can be adopted and adapted to support their employees. The policies, guidance and resources can all be downloaded from our schools website and are openly licensed, so they can be used, adapted and reused for free. They have already been adapted for the university and further education sectors by Jorum, and are being translated into French and Portuguese by the African Virtual University.

I’m very proud of the start we’ve made across the city to introduce and embed open educational practices and resources, and I very much hope that other cities, regions and countries will benefit from and build on our work here –  please do enjoy, use and share our work, and help us to open and connect educational practice.

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Eye Gaze for Assessment – Project Update

etherhall School are exploring how eye tracking systems can be used to support and provide accurate assessments of learners with disabilities and creating support materials for staff wanting to use eye tracker technology with learners. You can read the initial project post here.

The project is being led by Erica Dennies and Helen Robinson. The school has provided the following update:

In December 2014 we trailed a range of different programmes to use with the eye tracking technology. Having hands on experience of the range software available allowed us to make informed choices about which were most appropriate to use for the project. We’ve invested in a programme called Tobii Gaze Viewer. This is an assessment tool which records the eye tracking data from any application which can then be saved as a single image or a video. It uses heat maps and gaze plots which we can then use to assess the pupil’s ability to use the eye tracker and their cognitive understanding. For example we can assess understanding of language comprehension, prepositions, colours or size by analysing where the pupil is looking on the screen. It can also record the audio track of people talking in the room so we can record the level of verbal prompting staff gave to pupils. It will provide us with exactly the data we need to be able to use eye tracking technology as an assessment tool. It is however expensive at £617 for a single user licence.

The other software packages we trialled and purchased gave us a range of graded activities to use with eye tracking technology. This provides us with pre-made activities to use with pupils.

Originally we anticipated having 2 tablets of different sizes, the larger 18” and a smaller 10”. The smaller screen would allow us to work more closely with a small number of pupils who are not easily positioned in front of a screen; when positioned over a physiotherapy wedge for example. The smaller visual field would ensure ease of view with less screen to scan and less head movement required.

However, escalating costs of software was making it difficult to keep within our budget. To keep in budget, we reduced the size of the screen view on the 18” screen and put a black backdrop behind the images for those pupils who needed a smaller image. So we purchased just the 18” screen. For most pupils however, a full image on an18” screen provides an excellent sized image.

Our final order of items required for the project were as follows;

  • SB18 18” classroom touchscreen PC running Windows 8 which comes with additional amplification, switch connections and mounting plate.
  • Tobii PC Eye to Eye tracking camera
  • Floor stand
  • Gaze Viewer assessment software
  • Look to learn software
  • Scenes and Sounds software
  • Sensory Eye FX


The Tobii camera is portable and can be used on any PC or laptop. It is highly accurate and quick to set up. We have found it very easy to use and reliable. The software we purchased is designed for the earliest level of computer access allowing all our pupils to engage with the technology at the simplest level. We will be able to comment further on their value when we have completed the project.

We also bought a day’s training from Smartbox who supplied all the hardware and software. This took place in January and provided us with detailed knowledge of how to set up and use the Tobii eye gaze and all the activities available on the software and how the assessment software worked.

We chose a group of seven pupils for the cohort, assuming that some pupils would be absent from school or non-co-operative. We could therefore guarantee a cohort of four in the final project.

To gather baseline information about our cohort of pupils, we devised and distributed a simple, open question questionnaire to send to parents, teachers and other professionals who work with the child. We asked questions about what the child likes to watch, did they recognise photos of themselves, favourite activities, favourite sounds etc. We also asked if the respondent thought that the child could understand drawings, symbols, photos, real objects, and questions about their ability to track objects and see them in different positions.

This information gave us a view as to what understanding different people held about the child’s visual skills and their cognitive level with regard to taking meaning from two dimensional images. It also gave us information about what would interest the child and be more likely to hold their attention. We received all the questionnaires back from professionals and a few from parents, collecting sufficient detail to inform our strategies and develop some of our own activities to use with individual children with the eye gaze.

We videoed each child in their normal classroom situation so we could record their usual levels of attention and comprehension. We could observe if they were comprehending the activities they were participating in and what form of representational images they were gathering information from. This formed our baseline.

We were now ready to start using the eye gaze with individual pupils and recording their levels of interaction with the screen using the Gaze Viewer software. Each pupil had an initial session with the eye gaze participating in activities which we thought they would like and which would engage them in using the technology. We also videoed the pupil during the session so we could link their physical movements with their heat maps. The maps show where the pupil had looked on the screen and for how long. The areas where pupils had looked the longest show a red blob, less frequent gazes are shown in green So, if the heat map was not showing any evidence of the child looking at the screen, we could check the video to see in the child had looked away, or closed their eyes.

At the end of the session we had evidence of the heat maps showing where the pupil had looked on the screen and for how long, the gaze plot of the order in which they looked at images on the screen, the audio track of what was said during the session and video of the pupil’s face whilst they were participating in the session.

Our initial learning from this first round of sessions is:

  • Gaze Viewer is an excellent tool for analysing if the child is looking at the screen and what they are looking at.
  • Activities on the purchased software have a lot of detail and can be confusing or just not interesting for the child. So we had to make some simple activities using our own single images produced using Powerpoint.
  • We found it was worth taking time to collect evidence from others who knew the young people well about their interests – we designed activities in response to this and these did hold our pupils attention.
  • The eye gaze does not need to be calibrated for that specific child for it to pick up the child’s gaze and provide informative data.

Now the pupils are happy to engage with the eye gaze and we have seen them with the technology, we are now going to run a second set of sessions with specific activities to test the pupil’s cognition and check if our understanding of their understanding of specific concepts is accurate.

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Making Learning Last: final report

As part of their BSF ICT Making Learning Last Innovation Project, Beaumont Leys School has been using classroom observation technology to look at three issues: supporting self and peer observation and reflection for Newly Qualified Teachers (NTQs) and new teachers; recording teaching materials for use within a flipped classroom approach; and creating a bank of good practice resources, for example, starters, plenaries and experiments. These resources are shared via the school’s website and YouTube channel.

You can also read the initial project blog (March 2014) post and an update (July 2014) on the project.

Alex Vann, the school’s Assistant Head Teacher, is project lead, and provides a final report:

Observation Deck

Observation deck after Hurricane Sandy by Ashley Spratt/USFWS shared under CC BY 2.0

Classroom Observation

The classroom observation system (we are using IRIS) continues to be a huge learning tool for staff at Beaumont Leys School. It was introduced as part of our professional development and induction programme, and is being used extensively by our Teach First, Newly Qualified Teachers (NTQs), and first and second year teachers. An account is created for the teacher that allows them to access their video once synced to the website, and they were encouraged to change their password if they wanted to. This means that they have control over who views their lesson video, and they would choose to share the file if they wanted it to be used for professional development with a colleague. Teachers have also used the system for self-reflection away from any formal developmental observation process especially when attempting new techniques or styles. This is only possible using the video system and provides unique feedback for the teacher.


Classroom observation systems are designed to let teachers watch themselves teaching, a view point that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to access. Teachers can analyse their own performance on video without having to recollect the lesson or events within the lesson which is a hugely powerful tool. Peer discussions between colleagues have been enriched and are more valuable as both viewers can stop the video and discuss events or write notes at time stamped points for later discussion. We have found that the discussions support professional learning rather, than observation for performance management.


The video system is far less obtrusive than having observers in the class. This means that the ordinary dynamics of the classroom are easier to capture, especially if you are creative about camera placement. Students act as they normally do which benefits the teacher as the discussion can go ahead without being affected by another member of staff being in the classroom.

Reduced disruption

Additionally, the fact that no cover needs to be arranged for an observation reduces disruption across the school as a whole. Once the lesson is recorded it can be shared (with the teacher’s permission), and viewed at any time. This has led to multiple people observing the same lesson but with different foci. It has also allowed comparison of lessons after coaching conversations. Teachers are able to view the changes they have made to their teaching of the same lesson in some cases, and the impact different approaches have had on progress in the classroom.

Good practice library

We have used the video technology to create a good practice library. This consists of short videos that either explain/demonstrate a particular teaching technique, strategy or tool, or show those techniques in a classroom situation. This is seen by staff as valuable, as they can observe colleagues using techniques in the classroom that work with the same students as they teach. The videos have supported staff in being more open to trying new approaches and taking risks, as they can see what works.

The good practice library has also acted as starting points for discussion or led to further developments in areas such as questioning/Assessment for Learning (AFL), use of Point Evidence Explain (PEE), Rock Star maths (a sequenced programme of daily times tables practice), or using technologies such as Plickers and our Epsom interactive projectors.

At present, staff can access the good practice library via the school intranet but development is underway to have these videos hosted via YouTube and available through a team site using SharePoint. We have guided staff towards the videos through our in house continuing professional development (CPD) program and during morning briefings, where we are developing a 3 minute CPD program. This format allows us to quickly introduce an idea or signpost a resource that staff can investigate at a later time.

We have also used the equipment in our professional learning for Lesson Study, a professional learning approach where a particular area of focus is identified by a teacher. Working in triads, a lesson is planned that will enable the teachers to look at the chosen area. The students are then the focus of the observation rather than the teacher – the lesson observation cameras can be set to view the whole class or a specific group of students. Having cameras in the room rather than two other teachers means that the class behaviour isn’t altered by the physical presence of observers. All three Lesson Study group members can view and discuss the recording in order to collaboratively develop and refine the class.

One teacher involved in this approach has commented:

“We used the Iris system for our lesson study triad. Our purpose was looking at techniques to engage Year 9 boys in maths with an active learning style used in Modern Foreign Languages (MFL). The advantage straight away was that there were no other teachers in the room therefore the dynamic was unchanged and we could get a true reflection of the techniques being used.

The method for the lesson study was this; a triad planned maths lesson was delivered to a Year 9 class by an MFL teacher who used active learning methods taken from her teaching in MFL.

We had the camera focused on three boys for the whole lesson and were looking at their reactions and engagement at different points during the lesson.

We met post lesson to view the video and discuss what we saw. It was very interesting watching the video, it facilitated a thought provoking discussion which we were all able to take something from and learn from.

We will be repeating this lesson study method using the iris system for a similar group of Year 9 boys in both an English and an ICT lesson later in the year.”

Flipped Classroom

Since the last project update the science faculty at Beaumont Leys have embraced the flipped classroom model and are at present building the resource bank through videoing particular parts of teaching. The Flipped Classroom model was introduced to them in a flipped classroom manner. We watched videos such as this one published by Keith Hughes in 2013:

This led to an evaluation of schemes of work and classes in terms of which would be suitable to trial the approach with and then detailed planning of what would be videoed, when and how it would be made accessible to students prior to their lesson.

It was decided that the priority for this model was Year 11 with the reasoning being that this method would be particularly effective in the delivery of practical information (experiments), which would be available pre and post lesson to augment the revision programme. This has been embedded as part of our Year 11 revision programme with the videos produced hosted on a dedicated YouTube channel:

The development plan is to continue building the video resource bank whilst also linking to sites such as to help develop independent learning and allowing deeper learning to occur in the classroom. Further development of the video resource bank means that more homework will be ‘Flipped’ and viewed as necessary prior learning for the class. This has its drawbacks with student access to the videos or not viewing the homework which is something or teachers are working hard to negate. They are pushing the importance of the prior learning but recognising that sometimes there will need to be a backup plan.

We will continue the focus with Year 11 and move onto Year 10 in time.

Both teachers and students have given positive feedback about of the impact flipped learning. Watching short videos pre lesson that contains the major messages for learning fits in with the way students at Beaumont Leys like to learn and generally mirrors other techniques such as Point Evidence Explain (PEE). The school is going to continue to develop its use of video, particularly through flipped classroom approaches and use of the lesson observation system, both of which support increased flexibility of learning which would not otherwise be available to staff and learners

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iPads for writing, using voice activated technology!

Ruth Fairley is a Special Education Needs (SEN) teacher at The Lancaster School – an all boys secondary (age 11-16) school in Leicester. Ruth’s innovation project explores the use of iPad accessibility features and apps to support students with learning disabilities. The project enables her to develop her own skills, and represents a new approach to working with SEN learners in the school – who will be involved in evaluating and recommending approaches and tools. Here, Ruth introduces the project:

Many people find the physical act of writing to be difficult, demanding, and in some cases, painful.

Let’s face it, it can be quite a demanding task. Not only have you got to have an idea of what to write about, you have to get that idea clear in your head, organise it so that it makes sense and make sure you know the rules that accompany good sentence writing. All this, and you haven’t even got to the point where you have to put it down on paper. Think of the demands that this brings: you have to have the right writing equipment handy, an appropriate piece of paper and only then are you ready to commit these now sometimes forgotten thoughts to paper. Then you have to think about, punctuation, grammar and the actual physical handwriting itself. For many of our students this is too much and they simply give up, or panic. These are the students that many of us have in our classes every day. This is the reality of teaching.

I wanted a way to make this experience less daunting and more accessible to students who struggle to pull these many demands together to produce a coherent piece of work.

Firstly, I thought the answer would be laptops and students would be able to write their work down on laptops and get it printed off. Seems pretty straight forward! However, this does not work for some students particularly students who have motor control problems or issues with one of the many facets of dyslexia.

At Lancaster we were lucky to have the services of a touch typing teacher who was very good at looking at a variety of innovative ways of teaching our boys to touch type. However for some boys they just couldn’t speed up enough for this to be a viable option for them to use in class. Also having nearly every word you write come up with a red line under it indicating a spelling error can be very frustrating for intelligent boys who just want to be able to express themselves like everybody else could.

Having updated my smart phone to one with voice activated searches I began looking around for apps that would let our boys do the same for their work. A way to get their good ideas down on paper without all the accompanying difficulties. I discovered Dragon Speak, an app which would allow the boys to dictate their ideas and the program would translate this into a document, which could be used as the boy’s own work.

Initially I trialled this with my bottom set Year 7 English group and I had some astonishing results. In particular one boy who is severely dyslexic was previously working at a L2c for writing was able to secure a L3a for writing – which is much more in line with his cognitive ability.

I then was drawn to the DigiLit Leicester innovation programme and thought that this might be a way to enable a number of our boys to access this and to improve their work and their confidence in writing. My DigiLit bid was born!

My bid included funding for six iPads for which I would download ‘Dragon Dictation’ (an updated version of Dragon’s Speak). Six boys could take them to each lesson where they were expected to write, and use Dragon Dictation to record their ideas and later to print off and use in their books as their own work.

The project is limited to working with six boys – I wanted each boy involved to have across-the-curriculum access to an iPad, so there was no question of sharing.

I then had to make the decision about which boys I would choose. Ideally I wanted boys who found writing difficult and that this in some way impacted on their ability to achieve their potential – able boys who were dyslexic or had motor skills issues.

In order to identify these boys I looked at the school’s SEN register. I looked for boys who tended to underachieve in literacy based subjects but whose targets were quite high. I selected two boys with motor skills issues and four with diagnosed dyslexia.

In order to assess the impact of using mobile devices with speech recognition software in their lessons,  I did a number of things before issuing the iPads. Firstly I spoke to the boys’ English teachers to determine their current writing levels. I look at their behaviour management log and jotted down any negative behaviour points the boys had, and finally I asked the boys to complete a short questionnaire on their views about writing. I felt that all of the actions would give me an idea about where the boys were with regards to writing and I would be able to repeat this process at the end of the project to see if there was a measurable impact.

Moving into a new building (with a new ICT system) slowed things up as I was not able to get the iPads set up as quickly as I had hoped. It is now time to start. As they say in many good books, ‘More anon.’

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Rushey Mead – evaluating iPads

Last year, Rushey Mead School expanded their use of iPads to support a range of subjects areas, investing in 45 new devices. The school is sharing successes and lessons learnt through a variety of channels, including the Rushey Mead Twitter account – @RusheyMeadTL. Here, the school reflect on the early impacts of introducing iPads to the English, Maths and Science departments.

What staff training and development has taken place in relation to the iPads? How was the effectiveness of this training measured? Is any additional training is being provided?

The e-learning Theme Group were visited by Apple Trainer Fil Crisi who shared many ideas for using iPads in the classroom.  As some Science staff had not used iPads before, Ms Clementson (Teacher of Science and iPad Sci Champion) ran “iPads for complete beginners” in September, which was open to all staff. She also ran a session for  science faculty staff on using the Quizlet and Socrative apps as part of school professional development programme. All training events were evaluated via a Survey Monkey questionnaire, which the Professional Learning team use to capture feedback.  iPad techniques were also shared at the school e-learning theme group meeting in January, which includes Maths and English ‘pioneer’ level staff. The IT Support team are currently investigating the use of AirPlay to display iPad content via the classroom projectors and share students’ work. We are measuring effectiveness through faculty reviews (Maths and English), staff surveys (Science), and through the forthcoming Challenge Partners Review.

What has been the impact of the devices purchased in June 2014?

Case Study – Ms M Cliffe: English

ClassroomIn the English Faculty iPads have been successfully used in the classroom to support a variety of teaching and learning strategies. Almost immediately we were able to facilitate students in carrying out quick, effective and impactful on-line research (social/historical context, history of the language) where traditional laptops would have proved too slow, cumbersome or time consuming. During creative writing the iPads have proved useful as a dictionary / thesaurus either on-line or through the excellent dictionary apps available. This has in particular benefitted and supported our less able students who can find a traditional dictionary difficult to engage with and are put off using them. Use of dictionary / thesaurus apps have allowed students to widen their vocabulary far more readily than before. The app ‘Showbie’ has been used for sharing mark schemes/resources, to allow students to self / peer assess and actively engage with feedback to move their learning on. This has also had the added benefit for the faculty budget in that it has greatly cut down on printing costs! The students have also made use of the iPads built-in audio/video recording capability to record role plays/drama activities allowing them to gain evidence of their speaking and listening skills which they can then reflect on, improve and see progress. More generally the iPads have been used to create interactive presentations to share with the rest of the class, read on-line News articles using the ‘Reader’ feature and readily access revision apps / sites.

In the coming terms we aim to begin creating Storyboards / Books with Year 10 using the ‘Book Creator‘ App and are working with the e-Learning Group and Educational Technologists in School to investigate more efficient ways of downloading work from the iPads for sharing.

Case Study – Mr K Ronald: Maths

Rushey Mead Maths on YouTube

Year 10 students have been using iPads in lessons to access and engaging with the Rushey Mead Maths YouTube Channel to view videos explaining syllabus material as many times as students need.  For example, how to graph data and look for correlations. Lower ability learners, a focus group for the Maths faculty, have especially benefitted as they are able to revisit and reinforce instruction allowing them to build confidence and develop skills. In addition for formative feedback, Socrative has also been used to poll students on what they know and don’t know, which allows the teacher to work with targeted students and address misconceptions more readily.

Case Study – Ms P Patel: Maths

Linear Graph Pictures displayA Year 9 set 2 out of 5 (group 1 is the most able) used the iPads with the focus of ‘Drawing and exploring the properties of straight line graphs.’ Desmos is a graph plotter which was used via the iPads, it is available online and free of charge. Desmos allows the user to input a function and it will plot a graph of that function within parameters provided by the user, this made the plotting of line graphs far more engaging, meaningful and immediate for the students. Their task was to create a picture consisting entirely of straight line graphs using Desmos.  As Desmos is very user friendly the students were able to work independently and explore how it works, supporting ‘discovery learning’. Once the students were confident with using Desmos they were set the task to creating a picture. The group were engaged and enthused throughout, many producing more than one picture. This resulted in line graphs being successfully grasped within a week (2 lessons plus one homework). Such was the impact of this case study that the iPads are now regularly used in Maths for Socractive quizzes with various groups across both key stages.

Case Study – Ms S Clementson: Science

In Science it was decided that each iPad would have a number of apps installed, which were to be categorised as: ‘Student tools’, ‘Staff tools’, ‘Subject (Bio, Chem, Phy)’, ‘SSSI’ (sites of scientific interest), ‘Games and quizzes’ and revision. It was envisaged that these would be in appropriate folders but we have abandoned that idea as students could easily move around the app icons. From this original list we have now added other apps more recently: ‘Colour uncovered‘, ‘Interactive science glossary: Physical science‘ (cpo science)’, ‘Sound uncovered (explotorium)’ and ‘BioBots Undersea Rescue’ – pictured being used below.


So far, five of the 12 Science Faculty staff have used iPads with their classes. Staff are using the following apps: Socrative, Quizlet, i-motion, QR code reader, Reaction Test, Show Me. The devices are also being used for internet research. One Year 8 group of students has requested quizzes on Quizlet to prepare for topic tests with some students using it to help with other subjects. This has been a particularly enthusiastic group who hopefully will participate in a school Bring Your Own Device pilot. Interestingly 9M5, a lower ability group, wanted to write out the words and the meanings when we used Quizlet. This served as a useful reminder of the needs of different groups of students and to take account of this when using the iPads. Where staff have used the iPads student engagement has improved, students worked more independently and staff were able to quickly receive and act on assessment feedback (in particular, using Socrative). At first the pace of lessons was slower as students and staff familiarised themselves with apps, however, as more staff are using the iPads, confidence is growing.

iPad with rugged caseAt least one group in every year has now been given the opportunity to use the iPads. We are now looking to move forward by integrating the iPads into schemes of work which means preparing more resources for apps such as Quizlet and Socrative. To facilitate this a departmental Quizlet account has been opened with quizzes categorised by year and by subject and started to populate them. At least 5 teachers have set up groups for their classes to make quizzes easier to find. Still a way to go but we are certainly moving forward with the best of intentions!


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