We live? We die? You decide!


Photo credit: History Crushes

You must yourselves realize the power of Athens, and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, till love of her fills your hearts; and then, when all her greatness shall break upon you, you must reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and a keen feeling of honour in action that men were enabled to win all this, and that no personal failure in an enterprise could make them consent to deprive their country of their valour, but they laid it at her feet as the most glorious contribution that they could offer – Taken from Pericles funeral oration

It really is difficult to appreciate the impact that great historical people had on the world they lived in (and is some cases the world we live in today). The choices they made directly affected thousands (or millions) of people who lived under their rule. The consequences of their actions could be catastrophic for the people they governed; or they could bring untold wealth, power and renown to the citizens of that state.

So what does any of this have to do with teaching and learning?

Well, after a recent talk with a small group of my peers, I realised that we don’t really give the children an opportunity to take on the roles of these great leaders and figures from history. No instead we get them to watch a video on Boudicca, Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Henry VIII…etc. And then we expect them to write about the motives, rational and reasons these people had for making the decisions they made.

So after much deliberation, I think the ideas below might just present students with a small understanding of what it was like to be responsible for thousands of lives!

I have decided to adapt a decision making game (from a book called ‘Creative teaching in the classroom’ by Rosie Turner-Bisset) to truly give the children an opportunity to walk in the shoes of great historical leaders. The game in this book is based on the arrival of the conquistadores in the New World. Firstly the children have to take the role of either the Aztecs or the Spanish. Then they make decisions based on the actual events from that time. Ultimately, the decisions they make will/won’t affect what happened over 500 years ago.

Adapting the game for my purposes:

At the moment I am in the middle of altering our Year 5 (Grade 4) history topic on Ancient Greece. As you may have guessed , I have decided to use Pericles (Statesman and first citizen of ancient Athens) as a test subject for this prototype lesson. My aim is to combine an adaptation of the ‘Aztec vs Spanish game’ with a digital slideshow presentation (this is included below with the lesson plan and the game script). The slideshow uses high impact images and key words to really drive home the difficult choices that Pericles and the Athenians had to make. The slideshow also provides an opportunity for the teacher to see whether the children are unduly influenced by visual images when making decisions.

It must be said that the decision making story is heavily adapted and altered from the original; however, it does use actual events from the war to reinforce the historical accuracy and realism of the lesson.

I also think that it would be a good idea for the teacher to role-play the part of Pericles. This isn’t an essential part of the lesson but I do think it will give it more impact and believability.

My aim is to teach the lesson to one of the Year 5 classes while the Year 5 teachers watch. I don’t know whether this will be successful but I hope it will give them a better idea of the skills I am trying to impart to the children. If it is successful I really do believe that there is scope to add it to other history units in the upper year groups of our primary (elementary) school.

Finally, Caesar said ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici’ but I wonder what the students will say after they have had a small taste of what it truly means to rule?

Lesson plan:

Slideshow for the game:

Consequences game:




Photo credit: LA county bike association

Infographics? Data visualization? Digital notetaking? What do these words mean?  Me – No idea!

Actually, this isn’t exactly true! I did know what infographics were but I didn’t know that they were called infographics. The first time I had actually come across these type of images was when I had teamed up with Palvinder Thurman for our course 2 final project. Palvinder suggested using Piktochart as a method for delivering our RUA’s message in a more visual and understandable way to children at a primary school level. She also talked about how useful and easy this program/application was to use. So, on a late Saturday evening, I briefly powered up the laptop and had a look at the application. However, I soon turned back to the football (soccer) match I had been watching on the television – and that was where I left it…until now!

I really should have listened more carefully to Palvinder because I now realise the potential this application has! I guess that we don’t really notice the merits of a particular program or application until we are actually faced with a situation where we are given an opportunity to experiment with it; this is one of the reasons why I have really enjoyed the COETAIL program so far.

I have decided to use Piktochart in an upcoming PSHE (Personal, Social, Health, Education) lesson from a unit on safety that we are currently doing in class this term. I haven’t actually altered the lesson plan that much as the original material is relevant and engaging to the students. The only alteration I have made is to the lesson’s independent task section where I have switched the original poster making activity to a Piktochart-infographic focus. Now I am aware that it isn’t a massive change but it does allow the children to add their infographics directly to our class blog which would give it more meaning and exposure to those out there in Cyber-Space. It also gives the children an application which is easy-to-use when it comes to the creation and presentation of ideas and learning.

I have included the lesson plan and my own Bicycle infographic (which I am particularly proud of) for you to use/adapt as you see fit. I am looking forward to seeing how the children cope with the task. Personally I think they will love it because it involves visual images – and that is always a winning ingredient with children!

Bike Safety
Bike Safety through traffic lights

Once upon a time…

We All Have A Story To Tell

Photo Credit: Magenta Rose

Once upon a time, there was a small girl named Adi. Adi was an energetic and enthusiastic girl who loved playing at home, visiting the local parks and going to school. It’s true! She really did love her School! Well, it’s mostly true. She loved almost everything about school except for one thing-that most awful and dreadful task known as…writing. Adi detested writing with all her heart! Story writing, letter writing, diary entries, poems…you name it, if she had to write it, she hated it!

At home her parents simply didn’t know what to do. At school her teachers found it harder and harder to motivate Adi to write. They just couldn’t understand why this little girl hated writing so much! And so each year at her school,  Adi found newer and more varied reasons to hate writing with an even greater passion.

Adi’s parents eventually gave up and her teachers started to think that she was a lost cause.

Just when everyone had given up a new teacher suddenly arrived at her school. The teacher was called Miss Lennon and she was different. For a start, she didn’t dress or talk the same way as the other teachers did. To Adi, she seemed more alive than the other teachers.

Miss Lennon encouraged the students to take more of an interest in the world around them. She also told them fantastic stories that made them think about things in a different way. She listened to the children’s stories, laughed at their jokes and made them feel a part of something new and exciting.

However, this wasn’t the best thing about Miss Lennon. No, the best thing about Miss Lennon for Adi, was the way she made English lessons feel! She used maps, pictures, drama and debates to make stories and poems come alive. She transformed the English lesson into a fun and interesting place to be. One day, she introduced Adi and the rest of the class to the digital story. The story being shown belonged to a friend of hers. The brilliant thing about the story was the way it combined the student’s original story with Miss Lennon’s voice over, sound effects and images.

Adi had always loved visual storytelling. She enjoyed watching children’s programs, on YouTube, that told interesting and exciting stories- programs like Jackanory Junior!

Miss Lennon then demonstrated how it was possible to use an Application called iMovie to create a story that could be uploaded to the web for everybody to see and hear. The combination of images, sound effects and an interesting story line hooked Adi like the proverbial fish seeing a work wriggling on the end of a fishing line.

Adi had always loved making her own movies at home and she desperately wanted to know how to do it!

So she went to see Miss Lennon during her break and asked her if it was possible for her to make a digital story. Miss Lennon said “Of course it is Adi,” and explained how the application worked. She showed Adi how to add effects, record her voice, cut video or images and choose a sound track. Miss Lennon also explained that Adi would need to write a story script for her digital story before she began recording her movie.

Adi writing a story script? That didn’t sound good! But do you know what – she didn’t care! She was going to make a movie – no matter what it took to make the movie, she would make it!

The moral

This story helps to remind me of the impact that a different medium (in this case digital storytelling) can have on those children who are reluctant to write. Personally, I think that the correct use and application of digital media has a pedagogical impact on children that is beyond measurement.

To better demonstrate the impact of digital storytelling I have included a few examples of children’s digital story work. Some examples have been written by children but edited and turned into a digital story by me. However, I have also included some examples where the story/poem has been entirely written, edited and produced by the children.

The Snake Poem

A poem complete by a child at home, then recorded, edited and produced by me on iMovie and uploaded to YouTube.

The Rock Cycle

An explanation of the rock cycle written and recorded by a student then edited and produced by me on iMovie. Afterwards it was uploaded to YouTube.

Five Sentence Story Summary

A five sentence story summary written and recorded by two students. The story was then edited and produced by the students on iMovie. Afterwards it was uploaded by students to my YouTube account.

Creating and watching digital stories has the potential to increase the information literacy of a wide range of students. Moreover, digital stories are a natural fit for e-portfolios, allowing students not only to select representative artifacts from their academic careers but also to create compelling resources that demonstrate the student’s learning and growth – Digital storytelling by Educause learning initiative


Story telling with slides…


Photo credit: Viaja!o.es

Two years ago I was very fortunate to be part of an in-house training session where our excellent and highly creative Literacy coordinator talked about the importance of story telling. During the training, he talked passionately about the need for teachers to take a small amount of time each week/day to read stories to their own classes.

Up until this session I had never really bothered to read any stories or books to any of the classes I had taught. Afterwards I think it is fair to say that I felt rather ashamed and embarrassed that I had been unwilling to take the time to read to the children I had been teaching at that time.

And so, since that training session, I have made it a goal to read to my class as often as I can. I have discovered that reading enables me to enthuse and motivate the children in a way that I had never thought possible. Since STD (Story Telling Day-great acronym I know) I have read dozens of books and stories to my current and previous classes.

I really cannot believe that I never realised the huge potential that story telling has on children (and adults). In the Youtube video by Matt Helmke, Matt describes Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen’s SUCCES criteria. He explains that the final ‘S’ stands for ‘Story Telling’. I adamantly and wholeheartedly agree that to be a successful presenter, you have to be able to relate and explain stories effectively.

When it comes to delivering my own stories, I have had mixed success with adult audiences. I often find that my nerves tend to take over and so my stories tend to be rambling and bitty with an ineffective punchline at the end. However, with children I tend to have better success. This is probably due to the fact that I can use character voices and other storytelling gimmicks to deliver the message I actually want to convey.

So I have decided to combine three aspects of my current educational life to create a Google presentation for a story based on an ancient Egyptian fable called ‘The peasant and the workman’.

Three aspects of current educational life:

  1. To embed stimulating history lessons into the curriculum in new role as Primary History coordinator
  2. To provide children with stories which are historically relevant to a particular time.
  3. To use the ‘Zen Presentation’ style story slide shows to act as a visual stimulus for the stories.

The Egyptian test lesson

The idea is to introduce aspects of ancient Egyptian culture that the students will be able to identify i.e. government, produce, social structure…etc. Hopefully, the combination of me retelling the story and a limited yet powerful visual stimulus should open up a class debate on the beliefs, farming and social practices of the ancient Egyptians.

I am actually hoping to introduce this type of story-based lesson format into all units across the school. The format will probably change as I am wondering whether a ‘Zen’ style presentation combined with ‘Hot-seating’ a character from history might serve to introduce more famous personalities from different historical times i.e. Mary Seacole, Winston Churchill, Pericles…etc.

I have included both the edited story and the presentation below (although I am unhappy with some of the images and the background theme and would like suggestions on any pictures or theme choices people might be able to recommend).

If all goes well, I am going to trial the lesson at some point in the near future. Hopefully the children’s reaction will give me a better idea of how effective the slide show/story combination are when it comes to providing children with a better understanding of a particular time in history.

The Peasant and the Lord’s son story

The Preface

Tale of the Ninth Dynasty, which from the number of copies made would seem to have been very popular at that time. It relates to how a peasant succeeded in obtaining justice after he had been robbed. Justice was not very easily obtained in Egypt in those times, for it seems to have been requisite that a peasant should attract the judge’s attention by some special means, if his case were to be heard at all.

Egyptian Peasant on donkey slide

Long ago in the Salt Country of Ancient Egypt there lived a sekhti (peasant) with his family. He worked hard and traded in salt, natron, rushes, and the other products of Ancient Egypt. One day on his way to sell his salt, natron and rushes he had to pass through the lands of the house of Fefa. Now there lived a man named Tehuti, who was the son of the local lord. When Tehuti saw this peasant he decided that he wanted the donkeys, salt, natron and rushes they carried.

 Shawl on grass slide

“I will take,” said he, “a shawl, and will spread it upon the path. If the sekhti walks his donkeys over it- and there is no other way- then I shall have his donkeys because he will be setting foot on my land.” And so Tehuti had one of his servants place a shawl over the path so that one end was in the water, the other was in his corn field.

When the sekhti came closer he made his donkeys pass over the shawl because had no choice!

Donkey eating corn slide

“Stop!” cried Tehuti pretending to be angry, “Surely you do not intend to drive your beasts over my clothes!”

“I will try to avoid them,” replied the good-natured peasant, and he caused the rest of his donkeys to pass through the corn field.

“Do you, then, walk your donkeys through my cornfield?” said Tehuti, more angrily than ever.

“There is no other way!” said the poor peasant. “You have blocked the path with your shawl, and I must leave the path!”

While the two argued one of the donkeys helped itself to a mouthful of corn.

“Look at that!” Tehuti cried. “Your donkey is eating my corn. I will take your donkey, and he shall pay for the theft.”

“This is robbery”, cried the sekhti, “in the lands of the High lord who has always treated robbers so badly? I will go to him. He will not accept what you have done to me.”

“I am the son of the local lord,” and saying this he beat the sekhti and stole all his donkeys.

 Egyptian Lord and Ladies slide

The sekhti wept and pleaded with him to restore his property but the Sekhti ignored him. Eventually, finding that he was wasting his time, the peasant took himself to the home of the High Lord of this part of Egypt to ask for his help. On his arrival the sekhti bowed low to the ground, and told the high lord what had happened. The sekhti revealed all that had happened to him on his journey, the way in which Tehuti had closed the path so as to force his donkeys to step on the corn, and the cruelty with which he had beaten him and stolen his property. The High lord said he would speak about this with the other lords in the hall of judgement.

 Peasant and lord/king slide

“Let this sekhti bring a witness,” the other lords said, ” and if he is right then Tehuti should be beaten, or he should be made to pay a small amount of money for the salt, natron and donkeys he has stolen.”

The High Lord said nothing, and the sekhti came to him after pleading with the high lord’s servants. The sekhti hailed him as the greatest of the great, the orphan’s father, the widow’s husband, the guide of the needy, and so on.

The sekhti spoke so cleverly that the Lord Steward was interested and flattered by what the sekhti had said.

Food and drink slide

Now at that time there sat upon the throne of Egypt the King Neb-ka-n-ra, and the high lord decided to ask his advice.

He went to the High lord and said “My lord, a sekhti whose goods were stolen has asked me to help him. He spoke very well and I think he may be correct in what he says. What would you do my king?”

“Do not answer his talk,” said the king, “but make sure that you put his words in writing and bring them to me. See that he and his wife and children are supplied with food and drink, but do not let him know who provides it.”

The Lord Steward did as the king had commanded him. He gave to the peasant bread and beer and to his wife enough corn to feed herself and her children. Although the sekti was very grateful he didn’t know where the food was coming from. And he still wanted his donkeys, salt, rushes and natron back.

Papyrus slide

So for a second time the peasant came to the high lord and asked him to help; and he came a third time. On the third time, the High Lord commanded that he be beaten with sticks, to see whether he would stop coming. But no, the sekhti came a fourth, a fifth, a sixth time, always speaking cleverly and kindly. The High lord kept ignoring him but the sekhti did not despair and he came again a ninth time. And on the ninth time he called, the high lord sent two of his servants to the sekhti, and the peasant was terrified, for he feared that he was about to be beaten once more. The message, however, was a different one. At last the peasant had convinced the high lord that he may have been treated badly by Tehuti. He then wrote sekhti’s claims on clean papyrus and sent it to the king, as the king had commanded. Neb-ka-n-ra also liked the way the sekhti had spoken. However, he left the judgement to the high lord.

Egyptian palace slide

The High lord decided to take away all Tehuti’s money, lands and titles and gave them to the sekhti, who moved to the king’s palace with all his family. Afterwards the sekhti became the chief adviser of King Neb-ka-n-ra, and was greatly loved by the king and all the people.


Photographing time

Photo Credit: The economic times

Time! Or more particularly chronology is a concept that most primary school students find very difficult to understand. And why wouldn’t they? How can a seven year old child be expected to understand the differences between the Romans and the Egyptians when they haven’t had a chance to develop any sort of personal historical record. They just haven’t developed the maturity to interpret the huge numbers involved or the lifestyle differences being discussed.

This year I have taken on the role of ‘History Coordinator’ at our school. This is a position that I have always wanted because I really do love the subject and it’s ability to enthuse and motivate children. As soon as I knew that I would be taking on this role there was one area that I immediately targeted for change – the teaching and learning of chronology.

Whenever I had taught chronology in the past, I had always shown the students a PowerPoint timeline with the names of six or seven different historical peoples on it. The idea was to match these people to a list of historically relevant dates that corresponded with the time those people were supposed to have lived. After completing this initial task we then looked at where our focus historical time period would go on the timeline.

As far as I am aware, this has pretty much been the norm at our school (and many other schools) when it comes to teaching chronology.

The problems and issues with this method of teaching children to understand chronology are numerous and varied:

  • The students are simply given arbitrary numbers that have no meaning to them.
  • The students aren’t given any opportunity to investigate why each time period is where it is.
  • The numbers are too vast to understand – even for adults!
  • There are too many time periods and dates.
  • There is no evidence to explain why one time period comes before another.
  • The students don’t get the opportunity to ask any questions about why one group of people came before another.
  • It involves alot of teacher input.

So what to do about it?

After discussing various possibilities for a change of direction with some colleagues, I went back to a very successful history lesson I had first taught when I was in Year 5 (Grade 4). The lesson was based on the difference between rich and poor Victorian children and had a photographic evidence focus. However, for me, the most memorable part of the lesson was the way each of the students collaborated within their different learning groups. They worked really well to listen, confer and debate the content of each particular photograph and what it told them about rich and poor children. It was fantastic listening to their thoughts and ideas as they started to build their own historical interpretation of what life was actually like for Victorian children.

I really wanted to do something similar when it came to providing children with a more concrete understanding of what chronology is – particularly for Years 2-6 where it becomes more important to the children’s growing awareness of history as global subject.

So I believe that I may have started with something that might just give them a foot onto the proverbial time ladder!

School for a student is ephemeral and short, but learning, self-education, and inquiry last a life time so long as a student’s unabashed curiosity remains alive. The best teachers (or trainers, coaches, etc.) are those who light the sparks and inspire students to pursue a lifetime of exploration and discovery. Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds – Nurturing curiosity & inspiring the pursuit of discovery

As a result of my experiences in the Year 5 history lesson, I have created a ubiquitous, all-purpose lesson for Years 2-6 that will repeated throughout the school. The lesson is based on a series of different photo packs taken from different time periods throughout history. It is a speaking, listening lesson which has a heavy focus on pair, group and class discussion. I have included the lesson below with an example photo pack taken from Creative Commons pictures for the ‘Victorians’ photo pack. Each of the photo packs has four photographs or pictures that are based on school, army, home and street life for that time period. In total I created fourteen different photo packs from different time periods.

Chronology Lesson plan

Photo pack for the Victorians

39 soldier

Photo credit: Rob gallup

The classroom

Photo credit: slocumjoseph

Calle Estado 1898-1900 de Leblanc, F.

Photo credit: Pedro Encina

Shard Villa (1872-1874) – interior: trompe l'oeil fresco details

Photo credit: Don Shall

Myself and three other teachers have taught this lesson so far and the overall response has definitely been positive. In fact it is fair to say that the feedback has been extremely encouraging. The combination of high quality images and high level student discussion really gave the children a better understanding of the differences and similarities between different time periods. The fact that it went well doesn’t mean that all the children have suddenly gained a profound understanding of chronology; however, it does mean that they are becoming more aware of the reasons why different groups of people are closer or further away from our own time than others.

Finally, I really like this quote by Garr Reynolds because high quality images were essential to motivating the students as well as allowing them to truly gain a better understanding of what they were evaluating.

Visuals that surprise people, touch them, delight them, and support your story are best because they affect people in an emotional way. People are more likely to remember your content in the form of  stories and examples, and they are also more likely to remember your content if your visuals are unique, powerful and of the highest quality. Garr Reynolds – The power of the visual: Learning from Down Under promotion videos


Give me the tools and I will build!

Photo credit: Mail Online, science and tech

What do I think of visual media? Personally, I can’t get enough of it. Ever since I was a tiny tot I have been a slave to anything that is large, eye catching, colourful, bright or tells me something interesting. In fact I have dedicated large parts of my childhood, teen years and adult life to absorbing as much visual media as possible. It is certainly true that most of my visual stimulation has come from the TV. Yes, you guessed it, I was the family member who was given the endearing title of ‘square eyes’.

Did my addiction for TV have any adverse effects on me? Not that I am aware of! Did I spend too much time in the house in front of a screen when I could have been playing outside in the garden? Not really. I still spent a huge amount of time in parks, gardens and playgrounds playing, building, creating and learning.

Nowadays I am a father who has the same concerns about visual media that my parents also had. So what do I do with my own children when it comes to visual media. Well, given that I live in a world where mobile devices are as numerous and important as a cash card or house key, I think I must help my children to see it for what it is.

And what is it?

The greatest learning medium that has ever been created! Some of you may argue “Hold on! What about books?” And I would certainly agree that books are a massively important part of learning and have been for thousands of years, but…Mass visual media is an instantly stimulating hit that never stops giving. The sheer number and variety of different learning opportunities you get with visual media is truly breath taking.

All teachers and educators know just how important visual learning is to their students. If you put a YouTube video on the students will quite happily sit there and absorb what is being directed at them. If you show them a picture that has a certain ‘WOW’ factor then they will undoubtedly become more engaged with the lesson(well at least they will in the short term).

There is no doubt that effective visual communication is an essential part of teaching. However for the purposes of this post, I am less interested in the visual communication provided by teachers and more interested in the visual communication of students.

Personally, I think that the more methods and mediums for visual communication that a student has, the better.

When presented with a blank page in a book it is often difficult for a student to become enthused. Lets be honest, a sheet of blank paper means one thing to most students – Oh no! I need to fill all that! Whereas a template for a Prezi, Powtoon or iMovie offers so much more appeal.

If students are given the resources, tools and research opportunities they can design and communicate their learning in ways that were unheard of until recently. This is a great quote from Brandon Jones which exemplifies the reasons why we must give our students and children the resources and time to build their visual communication skills.

Design = Communication

At it’s core, design is all about visual communication: To be an effective designer, you have to be able to clearly communicate your ideas to viewers or else lose their attention.

If we give our students the tools they will build. If they build, they will create. If they create, they will inspire. If they inspire, they will teach. If they teach, they will communicate.

To prove my point I have included some examples of what children can create to visually communicate if they are given the time, the trust and the tools.

iMovie video