Embed your Twitter Feed into a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)

If you are a teacher who uses Twitter for teaching and whose institution has a virtual learning environment (VLE), such as Moodle or Blackboard, you may want to embed the feed into the VLE to give your students easier access to it if they themselves do not have a Twitter account.  I do this also so that there is one place to which I can direct my students to access all my electronic resources without needing to be very familiar with all of them.  If you would like to do this I have some instructions below, they are specifically for Moodle.  However, if you know your way around another VLE the same principles can be applied to it.

You can save this to Evernote if you find it helpful: http://bit.ly/11ZEn8L

At twitter.com

  1. Log into Twitter in a web browser.
  2. Click on Profile / Settings button.
    Choose “Settings” from the drop down menu.
  3. Click on “Widgets” in the menu (bottom left).
  4. Click “Create New”.
  5. Adjust settings for your new widget.
    I recommend the following for Moodle: Exclude replies, and 700 height.
  6. “Save changes”.  Then copy the html code.

Switch over to Moodle

  1. Login to Moodle, navigate to the course where you want the timeline embedded and click the “Turn editing on” button.
  2. Scroll to the section where you want to add the link for the timeline in the Moodle page.
  3. Click “+ Add activity or resource” and choose “Page” from the menu.
  4. Give the Page a name, e.g. Twitter Feed.
  5. Click the “html” button under “Page content”.
  6. Paste the html for the Twitter widget into this field.
  7. Click “Update” and then save the Page by scrolling to the bottom of the page and clicking “Save and return to course”.
  8. Mission Accomplished!

Evernote : A teacher’s best friend

Evernote is a useful and powerful note taking application. Millions of people around the world rely on it for activities as diverse as ticking items off a shopping list to collaborating on extensive projects.  For many Evernote is so invaluable it is like an extension of their brain!

Several core features make Evernote hard to beat for most people: it is easy to use, it is reliable, apps exist for just about every platform (desktop, mobile and web) and it is quick to perform detailed searches.  In addition to its wide appeal, Evernote is a fantastic tool for teachers and students.  Below are the main ways in which Evernote aids my day to day planning and teaching.

A large part of my work consists of thinking up new ideas and new resources, Evernote’s biggest strength is capturing information.  It is great at capturing ideas typed up, scribbled on an envelope, doodled, sketched – you name it Evernote can capture it!  Type directly into Evernote if you are able to or write / sketch onto paper and use the excellent document scanner which is built into the mobile apps.

There are three main ways to organise stuff in Evernote: stacks, notebooks and tags.  Stacks and notebooks provide the overarching structure.  I use Stacks to broadly differentiate between personal and work notes, each area has with a few / several sub categories provided by notebooks.  My work area consists of a general archive, a resources archive, notes from meetings, notes for tracking student performance, and an archive of physics / teaching related articles.

Notebooks are useful for imposing order upon Evernote content but the most useful aspect of organisation is the use of tags.

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Whereas a note can only be in one notebook at a time, a single note may have several tags.  It is also possible to nest tags in order to keep them organised too.  Tags make searching through thousands of notes much easier.

It is also sometimes useful to be able create a checklist for lessons and tick them off as the lesson progresses.  Checklists are easy to create and tick off in Evernote mobile apps.  Managing tasks in the office and classroom is straightforward and effective.

In one form or another Evernote is nearly always at hand, whether I’m commuting or at my desk I have a way of collecting and shaping ideas.  The mobile apps are very capable so refining ideas for a lesson on the go is possible.  The desktop apps are even more powerful so my work accelerates when I’m at my desk.  I much prefer to have my ideas and plans in a custom made application rather than as separate documents in folders on a computer.  In Evernote I can click / tap on a note and instantly start reading it, but documents have a time delay before I can start reading through them.  That difference is accentuated on mobile platforms.  And as mentioned above, organising notes in Evernote with tags makes finding what I need a heck of a lot quicker.

Planning on paper has the big advantage of being able to sketch or doodle ideas as you go.  But paper is messy when it comes to archiving – I am hopeless at paper based filing!  It is also incredibly slow to search.  Digital platforms are excellent at search.  Evernote brings paper and digital together wonderfully.  It has a document scanner built it – it’s the camera function I use most.  After planning something on paper I scan it into Evernote.  Once it’s uploaded to Evernote’s servers even the handwritten text will become searchable!  I have terrible handwriting so it’s usually hit and miss for me but it does get it right sometimes.  Nonetheless good use of note titles and tags makes searching much more efficient anyway.

Evernote searching is very useful, it can be narrowed down by notebook, tag, and attachment type.  If you find yourself searching with the same terms regularly then you can save the search too.  Notes can also be tagged with locations if you like.  That can create a whole new approach to browsing your note history, especially if you travel a lot.

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I’ve often created notes in Evernote that I think my students will find useful.  With a few taps any note can be made public with its own link.  Share that link with a class and they have access immediately via the link.  If I make something in advance of a class I can insert the link into Moodle (our VLE, the same can be done with Blackboard etc) so students can login and tap / click on the link.  I usually make a QR code for the link too and add it to the note / presentation so that the students can scan the code and navigate straight to the note on their phones / tablets.

Often my students and I may produce something worth keeping on the whiteboard in a class.  The document scanner works very well on whiteboards too, so I’ll often scan it and then share it with the class.  The above method of sharing is useful for sharing resources or ideas with other members of staff too.

If you want to take sharing to the next level, then share a whole notebook with students or staff.  Then collaborate on projects in the notebook.  Anyone who has an Evernote account and to whom give editing rights in a notebook can add new notes or collaborate with you on existing notes.  In order to give editing rights to someone else in a shared notebook you will need a Premium Evernote account.

Make an Evernote account here: http://bit.ly/1brRE7T, download the app, then get more productive.

Throwing down the gauntlet for big publishers on the iBook store

If you take a look on the iBook store you will find a lot of books about physics but you won’t find many about A-level physics specifically.  Now take a closer look, out of those that are available how many (even of the general physics books) are designed to take advantage of the media rich and interactive features of the iBooks app?  Very few.

Most of the books available are electronic versions of physical books.  That’s good but it is interesting to see that few authors have taken the opportunity to produce more interactive versions.  My iBooks have been available on the store for several months now.  I have one book for AS physics and one for A2 physics, both are designed specifically as iBooks and include a range of interactive content.

Handbook for A2 physics cover    AS Physics Handbook Cover Art

Pricing is interesting to compare too.  The books available for A-level, which aren’t designed with interactive content, are sold per assessed unit at £8 each.  So for a full year’s worth of units a student would need to spend £16 on them and the practical skills unit is not covered.  Whereas my books are £6 and cover each of the three assessed units in the AS and A2 years respectively.

My books shape up as pretty good value.  Here’s a list of the unique features they have:
1. A built in glossary of physics definitions that can be turned into study cards immediately.
The glossary is also interlinked to enable students to quickly jump to related definitions.
2. Video animations of some concepts.
3. Hyperlinks between connected content, for example jump to a relevant graph or experiment diagram from the written content.
4. Pop overs for additional information.  They are also used in the Physics 140 sections, my unique set of short topic summaries.
5. Interactive diagrams for graphs and practical aspects of physics.
6. Interactive review questions.

Whilst they are designed for the OCR specification they are obviously useful for the specifications of other exam boards.

The most awesome use of Google Sheets for students

I’m really pleased to announce the arrival of the best gradebook for BTEC you have ever seen!

BTEC Gradebook - Progress Monitor

Track student progress like never before with intelligent summaries of portfolio progress, insightful graphs covering all aspects of individual and group progress, real time teacher collaboration and time-saving group management tools.

Each class has its own gradebook and one management spreadsheet can manage data for up to six groups. The gradebooks allow for easy data input by teachers and yet give the most detailed information per student in an easy to understand Progress Monitor. This level of data manipulation hasn’t been seen in a Gradebook for BTEC students until now.

The system is built on Google Sheets which allows for real time collaboration in the Gradebooks, i.e. teachers don’t have to wait for another teacher to finish editing before they can enter marks. There is also no need for a shared network location (along with the problems when a linked document is moved) as this Gradebook lives in the cloud. Linked documents are always accessible (with an internet connection) no matter how you arrange the file directory.

The system is operational now but there are a couple more features still to be released before I define it as fully operational: customisation for calculating the fallback grades and a student view.

A live preview of a Gradebook and Management sheet are available on my website. I’m planning to sell the Gradebook if there is interest in it but I haven’t decided exactly how to go about that yet.

BTEC Gradebook - Unit View