Category Archives: ideas

Practical ways to make your lessons more concept-based

Concepts are like containers for knowledge and understanding. They are like puzzle pieces which together provide a big picture overview. Concepts help students develop a deeper, transferable and cross-disciplinary understanding of overarching ideas. As the students move through PYP, MYP and possibly DP, they encounter these concepts in different areas and in different ways. For example, please see the Venn diagram of some of the key and related concepts in MYP Science, Individuals and Societies and the Arts. As you can see, there is quite some overlap between their subject-specific concepts.

Here is a checklist and a reminder for teaching ‘concept-based’: Continue reading

History Textbooks

I have recently spent quite a bit of time thinking about History textbooks and how they are written. My thinking hasn’t fully crystallised yet but I want to share the articles that I have read so far. As I continue my journey in the textbook world, I will write more here.

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My booksnap notes of: “Why don’t students like school?” By Daniel Willingham

Over the last few weeks I read ‘Why don’t students like school’ by Daniel Willingham. It was a very popular book when it was published in 2009. While I enjoyed the read and got some good ideas and notions out of it, this book has not made a big impact on my understanding of teaching. I  found the suggestions quite common sense and straight forward and found the style a bit too narrative at times.

I realise that Willingham is a professor of Psychology with a specialisation in neuroscience; something I am clearly not. But as an experienced teacher I have seen first hand the many things that he points out in his book.

While reading I like to make visual booksnaps using Piccollage. This strategy allows the information to rattle around in my working memory a bit longer; I DO something with the info which means that it will (hopefully) be stored better in my long term memory. Willingham explains this in Chapter 1, page 10, “How thinking works”.

I print the booksnaps off and will refer to them occasionally to remind myself of what I  have read. You can download all of them here in one PDF.

This book is also part of the holiday reading for the Twitter #edureading group.
All the info you need can be found here:

Here are my booksnap notes: Continue reading

Dylan Wiliam, Leadership for Teacher Learning: Booksnap notes

Over the long weekend, I read Dylan Wiliam’s “Leadership for Teacher Learning.  In order to remember what I read and formulate my thoughts,  I make #booksnaps, using piccollage or snapchat. This post contains my key take-aways.

I also recommend that you listen to Ollie Lovell’s podcast in which he interviews Wiliam himself, it is a fantastic listen and it’s great to hear so many of the things that stood out for me while reading reflected back in the interview. Another good one to read is a post I wrote back in 2015, when Dylan Wiliam visited our school.  I took detailed notes, there are photos of the slides and I made a simple resolution for myself which I have since party fulfilled (before class, prepare thoughtful and critical questions to ask students).

DylanWiliam_all booksnaps in a PDF

Dylan Wiliam visiting our school in May 2015

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Tuning In: Online Post-it notes with Google Drawings

Today I used ‘Google Drawings’ to create online post-it notes for a tuning in / predicting activity: it was quick and effective.

  1. Create a Google Drawings canvas. Open the share settings and make sure everyone can edit.
  2. Adjust the size of the canvas. I made mine the size of an A3 sheet of paper.
  3. Create one textbox with the desired text, then duplicate that textbox for the amount of students in your class.
  4. Go to and create an easy to share shortlink. Mine was: “”

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Retrieval Practice Grids

I have tried something new-old. It’s new because it’s a different way, but it’s old because most teachers do this anyway: retrieval practice. I stumbled upon a post by Kate Jones (@87history) about ‘Retrieval Practice Grids’ and I really liked the way she set this up.

I made my own for my VCE French Revolution class. You can download the PPT/handout here, it contains the grid (made with Smart Art) which you change to suit your needs.
Activities like these have worked well in my class, students respond positively. It works like an amped-up version of think-pair-share. The 10 – 15 minute of individual thinking time forces each student to rely on their own thinking first, and the pair-share element allows them to check, correct and consolidate their knowledge.  The point element adds a hint of competition to it. Continue reading

Revision activities posters, made with PPT SmartArt

I created a list of independent revision activities for my students. Our parent teacher interviews are coming up and I wanted to have a list of activities which students can complete by themselves at home, as well as give parents study tools to suggest to their children.

I used SmartArt in MS PowerPoint to create a handout for my students. You can download the PPT itself, and use it to customise the SmartArt and make your own handout.   Continue reading

How people speak at meetings (and in classrooms) is important

Next time you are in a meeting, pay attention to the style of speaking and listening. Do people build on each other’s conversations, do they listen attentively and ask probing questions to deepen their understanding of each other’s ideas? Or do only a few speak, is the dialogue disconnected and are the questions procedural and technical? This goes for the classroom too. Do students actively build on each others’ ideas, or are there a few who dominate and the rest are passive?

Identifying the problem is halfway to solving it. Below is a great description of four types of teacher talk in meetings, but I feel this equally applies to classroom conversations.

Getting good “teacher talk” starts with a good plan, preparation, a culture of respect for people’s time and ideas, modeling and training. 

4 Types of Teacher Dialog in Professional Learning Contexts


  • Teachers’ comments are disconnected from each other and the group’s collaborative purpose; teachers tell stories and give each other advice.
  • Comments are authoritative statements or personal stories.
  • Talk about teaching is general and there’s frequent use of labels and generalizations.
  • Claims are asserted as fact with only anecdotal evidence.
  • Teachers are very sure of what they say.
  • When questions are asked, they are technical, procedural, or personal; meanings, assumptions, beliefs, and values are seldom questioned – and when they are, it’s considered rude.
  • There are few links to instruction.
  • Knowledge and beliefs are fixed.
  • Teachers are congenial with each other, but some don’t contribute.

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An ode to Wikispaces

It’s the end of an era. Wikispaces is closing down. Ah wikispaces, how I loved you in 2008. I had just started at the school where I still happily work, and I made Wikispaces for all my classes because I found Blackboard and Moodle so hard to work with. I never liked PBworks, Wetpaint or Wikia, they were less intuitive. No, Wikispaces was my thing. I made 36 of them, for all aspects of my teaching. The original logo contained the by-line “Wikis for everyone”. How democratic, how Web2.0. Remember Web2.0? That was a big thing in 2005. I made WordClouds, opened up a ‘backchannel’ in (both are still going strong), I surfed the net (people don’t say that anymore) and I had RSS feeds. My first Wikispaces were really basic, but as I discovered the joys of tinkering with HTML, my pages became a bit fancier. I started including wikis in projects for students, and soon my students were leaving wikis all over the web, like little squirrels leaving acorns in the internet forrest. I think it’s a shame Wikispaces is closing. They were an application of their time, they were the vanguard of easy content creators, particularly for education. Vale Wikispaces, it has been fun. Thank you. Continue reading

Where is Syria?

The simple question “Where is Syria?” can lead to a whole world of related questions. It implies that the questioner does not know physical details about the Middle East and it could possibly imply they are unaware of the geo-political situation there, as well as socio-historical reasons for the civil war there.
Ted-Ed made a very informative site about the situation in Syria.


I believe that being interested in where places/cities/countries are, is one of the first steps in becoming a geo-literate ‘global citizen’. But how do we teach this most effectively to our students? When I was a kid, I was given endless Geography quizzes at school, and to be honest, I quite enjoyed them. Now, as a teacher and Head of Department, I have come to the conclusion that Geography quizzes still have a role to play, but only as a fun activity, a challenge or a game. I see them in addition to many other strategies of increasing students’ Geographic literacy.

Geographic literacy is a very important concept which goes so much further than ‘knowing where countries are’.  This is a must-see video, created by the National Geographic Societies on Geo-literacy (4 minutes):

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Concepts in MYP

Work in progress.

MYP Concepts_relevant pages

From the MYP Guide, translated by me in plain English: (it’s an attempt anyway)

A concept is a ”big idea”.  Concepts are like categories which students can use to frame their ideas about personal, local and global issues.
Concepts can help students to generalise, but also to make connections and to think more deeply about facts and topics. Concepts can help develop principles, generalizations and theories.
Here is the MYP version:

A concept is a ”big idea”—a principle or notion that is enduring, the significance of which goes beyond particular origins, subject matter or place in time. Concepts represent the vehicle for students’ inquiry into the issues and ideas of personal, local and global significance, providing the means by which they can explore the essence individuals and societies.
Concepts have an important place in the structure of knowledge that requires students and teachers to think with increasing complexity as they organize and relate facts and topics.
Concepts express understanding that students take with them into lifelong adventures of learning. They help students to develop principles, generalizations and theories. Students use conceptual understanding as they solve problems, analyse issues, and evaluate decisions that can have an impact on themselves, their communities and the wider world.


Click on the image below for an interactive and searchable version of the wordcloud:

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