CSciTeach Evidence

It’s odd, in some ways; for a profession which is all about leading and tracking progress for our students, we’re remarkably bad at agreeing any kind of consistent way to record what we do.

Years back I put together a Google Form for me to record what I was doing. The idea then was to match different activities to the Teacher Standards. To be honest, I didn’t use it for very long, although the process was useful in itself. Since then I’ve thought several times that a better way to track what I do is in the context of professional accreditation. For science teachers, who I work with in my day job, there are several things to consider for CPD tracking.

  1. Performance management forms are very specific to institutions, but in most cases having a record of what’s been done in between school-based INSET would help.
  2. There are several ways for a science specialist to become accredited; this is about recognising current knowledge and skills, not jumping through new hoops. CSciTeach is the route I chose, through the ASE (now also available via RSC and RSB). You may also wish to consider the new STEM Educator pathway. I have just completed the Chartered Physicist accreditation, which is available to physics teachers and teacher-trainers with appropriate experience. (I should point out I’m involved with making this better known to teachers/teacher-trainers and more information, exemplars etc will be out this autumn.)
  3. Having this information to hand can only be a good thing when it comes time to apply for new roles. I personally think it’s bizarre that there isn’t a single national application form, universal* with perhaps a single page ‘local detail’ for stuff a school feels just has to be asked. Otherwise colleagues have to waste time with many tiny variations of badly formatted Word forms, rather than their cover letters.

The thing is, who writes down every time they read/watch/observe something which ends up in a lesson? And if you do make a note of it, mental or otherwise, what are the chances of it being recorded in one central place? We end up with a formal record which has a few courses on it, and all the other ideas are along the lines of:

I think I got it at a teachmeet – was it last year? Might have been the one before. I’m pretty sure there was an article, I’ll have a look for it in a minute…



My Proposed Solution

What I’ve produced didn’t take long, and it’s only the first version – I’d really welcome ideas and suggestions for how to improve it. The idea is to gather information, reflect on impact and be able to refer back to it as evidence of professional practice.

If you want to try out the form, then feel free – this link takes you to my trial version and is not linked to the downloadable version below. You can also look at (but not edit) the resulting spreadsheet; note that the ASE guidance is reproduced on the ‘Notes’ tab. Thanks to Richard Needham aka @viciascience for some suggestions.

I’ve used the CSciTeach standards, but obviously (1) you need to do more than this form to be accredited and (2) other accreditation schemes are available.



Want to play around with your own version, editable and everything? You’re in luck:

1 Set-up

You’ll need a Google account. Go to the responses sheet (starting here means the formatting of the final spreadsheet is preserved.) Select ‘File’, then ‘Make a Copy’. Choose ‘Form’, then ‘Go to live form’; save the form URL as a bookmark on each of your devices. The spreadsheet URL will probably be most useful on something with a keyboard, but YMMV.

2 Capture

The form is set-up to get a few brief details fast, and then gives the option to skip to ticking relevant CSciTeach standards. If preferred, you can add the details of your reflection and impact in your setting at the same time. This completes the entry, but often you’ll want to come back when you’ve had a chance to think or try something out with students.

3 Reflect

Assuming you skip the in-depth reflection during step 2, you’ll want to return to the spreadsheet the form generates. I’ve included a few formatting points to make it work better which should be preserved when you copy it.

  • Column headings are bold
  • Columns are sized so it should print neatly on landscape A4
  • Text is justified ‘left, top’ and wrapped to make the columns readable
  • If empty, the columns for further reflection and impact are shaded red to prompt you to fill them in
  • The standards cells are shaded if at least one in that category has been ticked.

The point of CSciTeach, or any other accreditation is to recognise that ‘doing CPD’ is not a one-off event or course. Instead, it is a process, and one which should have reflection and consideration of measurable impact at its heart. This impact may be on students, teachers or both. This will very much depend on your role.

4 Share

You may prefer to keep the spreadsheet for your own reference only, using it to fill in other forms or complete applications. Sharing a Google spreadsheet is easy enough, of course; that’s the point! Just be aware that if you give ‘edit’ access, whoever it’s shared with can change your details. If you want their input – for example a professional mentor or coach – it might be better to give them permission to ‘view and comment’.

Alternatively, you might wish to search for particular examples and copy the results to a fresh document, depending on context. It would be easy to modify the form so that the Stimulus question was multiple choice, allowing you to categorise different kinds of formal and informal CPD. If colleagues think this would be more useful, I’ll create an alternate version centrally.

If, as a HoD or similar, you want to try something like this collectively, then it would be easy to adapt. Give the form URL to all team members and ask them to contribute. Whether you wish to add a question where they identify themselves is, of course, a more sensitive issue!


What Next?

Firstly; tell me what might be worth changing using the comments below. If I agree, then there’s a fair chance a version 1.1 will be shared soon. If you’d rather play around with it, feel free. I’d appreciate a link back if you share it.

Secondly, there are a couple of features which would be great to add. Being able to upload a photo or screenshot would be much better than copying and pasting a link, but I can’t see how to do this with a GForm. Related, if you think this could be developed into a mobile app then I’m sure the ASE would love to hear from you.

Lastly, yes, the SNAFU above* was on purpose. Those readers who understood can feel smug for exactly five seconds.

Funding a Science Ed Project

A quick appeal for help: I’ve got a cunning plan and would love to see it happen. But I’m going to need some help.

I’ve written before (see the second half of this post, which I’ve cannibalised below) and complained on Twitter about finding science teaching resources. It’s hard. And, frustratingly, it’s harder than it needs to be. Quality control comes at the expense of  accessibility. Good resources take time and money to produce, and then they need to be kept somewhere. There are some great resources which most people know about; Practical Physics (and the biology and chemistry equivalents, naturally) for example. There are good directories which make an effort to organise materials so they can be found; the eLibrary from STEM comes to mind.But could we do better?


  • links to resources, rather than hosting them all
  • sortable by key-stage, topic, type of resource
  • some kind of meaningful review/curation/approval process
  • free to use without login

The last one is probably the sticking point. Who would spend the time and money to produce something like this, without then harvesting your details so they can sell you something? (And yes, I know a login allows you to make personalised lists of resources – but that should be an optional extra, not a requirement.)

I’d like to make this. I think it would be useful; an evolving resource which any science teacher could use to find useful stuff. I’ve been thinking a lot about opportunity cost lately, and any time spent searching for resources, or reinventing a powerpoint about the motion of a wheel, is time that could have been spent on something better.

I’m not suggesting that time creating resources is necessarily wasted. We personalise what we do, we match it to students, we use it to clarify our own thinking, and we diagnose problems when we see how students (mis)use it. But what if you could check, once, if someone’s already done it?

What I’m imagining comes in two distinct phases. I put a smaller version of this together for Martin Reah when he was involved in a ‘Science SOW in a day’ last year. But if we wanted to do something larger-scale, I’d need significantly more help.

Crowdsourcing Phase:

  1. Get a domain and matched Google accounts so everything is in one place.
  2. Produce a checklist to describe and assess teaching resources. Part of this would be defined fields based on obvious criteria (type of resource, age group etc). Make this checklist – effectively a ‘markscheme’ – public, and adjust it based on comments from the eventual users.
  3. Issue an open invitation for submission of URLs to a GoogleDocs form. Each submission would require relevant keywords from set fields to describe the resource. For example an exam checklist might be tagged with 14-16, AQA, Physics, exams, pdf, CC-BY-NC-SA etc.
  4. Set a deadline or a threshold when a certain number of submissions have been received, and publicise the project as widely as possible.

Curation Phase:

  1. Find a half-dozen subject specialist teachers who are happy to spend a weekend together. Pay them overtime. Provide accommodation and food. Lock them in a meeting room with good ‘net access and lots of coffee. Have a computer technician who can troubleshoot as they review every link, scoring them according to the agreed criteria.
  2. Moderate a random sample of each teacher’s reviews. Ask them to suggest any useful changes to the checklist/markscheme. Every rating is based on teacher judgement.
  3. Make the spreadsheet freely available, or ideally build it into a website with the messy data behind the scenes.
  4. Return to Crowdsourcing Step 2 above.

This is a high impact approach with a minimal cost. By balancing crowdsourcing (where individual teachers do a small amount of work by submitting a favourite resource) and curation (where the time commitment means it needs to be paid properly) the strengths of both are acknowledged. The process is focussed on teachers using their professional judgement and being rewarded for it. If you think this looks like a good idea, you can help me out:

  1. Make suggestions of improvements in the method above. What’s wrong? What could be better?
  2. Share this post however you like so other people can make suggestions.
  3. Pass it on to people with budgets to spend on science education projects which can be open-access. As a community, we have the knowledge and the skills. What we don’t have is cash.




One I Made Earlier

I had an old webcam. I had time on my hands. And I had an idea.

This was never going to end well.

I’m actually pretty pleased with the result. It’s nowhere near as pretty as the one on Instructables produced by Glen Gilchrist (aka @mrgpg) but it didn’t need any power tools. Which were in the shed, and it was raining.

Start with an old webcam and a cheap lamp, in this case one from Ikea. It’s the sort of thing you might have, just make sure it has a long neck  which holds the head steady. It will need to support a bit of extra mass. (Not weight. Well, yes, weight. Anyway.)



I used Lego, Sugru and cable ties to hold everything together. This has the advantage of being reversible, as well as quick. How you link the two parts depends on the exact models, but Lego means angles can be fixed and changed to suit your purpose. Plus, you know, Lego.

Sugru feels like blue-tack but dries within 24 hours to a firm silicone rubber. I’ve used it for outdoors repairs, making cufflinks (again with Lego, as it happens) and repairing odds and ends from cables to memory sticks. They don’t sponsor me. (Although if they want to send me some free samples…)

It works fine on my laptop, but I’ll need to try installing the drivers on a memory stick to make it properly portable. The plan is to demonstrate this in my new job and try it out myself, without the cost (100UKP+) involved in the decent models. I’ve read about uses (for example these for primary science from @dannynic) but never had the chance to put them into practice.

My first thoughts:

  • use student work immediately for “good because” and “even better if”
  • turn a small-scale practical into a class demonstration
  • have a student commentate on an experiment in progress
  • show hands-on methods like measurements and graph drawing in a realistic way

Not particularly exciting, I know, but I’m expecting to do a lot of improvisation in the new job. I’m currently putting together boxes of demonstrations, quick practicals, tips and tricks for the teachers I’ll be working with. (Post about this coming soonish.) But for now I’d love to have comments giving me better suggestions for how to use my Blue Peter Sugrued visualizer.

Teaching With Evernote 2/2 The Software of Everything

If you already use Evernote and can already see how it might be useful in teaching, read on. If you’re less familiar, it means you didn’t read my previous post. Go now, I’ll wait.

Is everybody sitting comfortably?

Then I’ll begin

Evernote is a great way to organise resources and commentary on them. The note can include your thoughts about the lesson, while attached files contain a formal plan, printable resources, presentations, even audio files. What I find powerful is that everything for the lesson is in one place, and stays there. If – or more accurately, when – the specification changes again, you simply put a new contents page together, with links to your new running order of lessons.

Like so much in life, you get more out if you put more in. In the case of Evernote, this is literal; the more information you add to your notebooks, the more useful links you can make and the more material you have access to. I use it as an external memory for my brain, and these are some of the approaches which have helped me to make it work.

A note can have lots of Tags, and the tags can be put in ‘families’. So aqa has subtags P1, P2, ISA and so on. I could tag relevant lessons with the appropriate unit for another exam board too, and probably will in the future.

It’s really only recently that I’ve made the most of being able to have distinct Notebooks. A note can only be in one at a time, but you can move them freely. So a note might get moved from freelance to old projects when I finish a piece of work. I find that tags for lessons work better than notebooks, because the same resources might be helpful with two year groups.

You can set up custom searching very easily and saving these searches will make it easy to find what you need. This might be for recent notes, or a combination of tags, or either of two tags in a particular notebook. Along with creating your own contents pages (one of several ideas in this Lifehacker post) this means information is where you expect it to be with a minimum of fuss.

One Place For Everything…

I try to use bits and pieces of David Allen’s Getting Things Done; this is practically a religion in some parts of the internet, mainly those that spell colour without the u. (A simplified version is explained by ZenHabits here.) Some aspects aren’t useful for me, but I really like the idea of ubiquitous capture. Put simply, this means that if you’ll need something, anything,  later then you record it in one place. It might be a notebook – I’m a Moleskine fan myself, I must admit – but for many online things you need an electronic destination.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly by recording ideas and jobs as they come to mind you can stop worrying about them. Reducing those background thoughts reduces stress. Secondly, it means you can spend time going through everything in one go, when it’s convenient. Each item then gets deleted, finished, added to your jobs list, saved for later, turned into a reminder on your calendar… you get the idea.

A lot of notes will be saved for reference – addresses and dates for example. You won’t need them on a regular basis and you don’t need to do anything with them. But many of the others will need to be tagged #action, or merged with other notes as jobs lists for individual projects. How fast you make progress on these will be, if you’re anything like me, highly variable.

Churchill: "Action This Day"
Churchill: “Action This Day” from Lateral Works


…And Everything in Its Place

To make this easier I’m slowly turning everything I do into a ‘funnel’ for Evernote. Sometimes it’s as simple as making a note on my phone, or snapping a picture. If in doubt, these go to the default folder, Inbox. (This is actually _Inbox for me so it shows up at the top of the list, as explained in this productivity post.)

There are several ways to link with your browser so you can share directly, adjusting tags and destination notebook as you prefer. Often you can choose whether the whole page, a selection or just the address is saved. You will need admin rights so unfortunately this may not be practical on work machines.

evernote tips

Download the above flowchart as a .pdf

I use Gmail which means I can use labels and filters. These are rules which act, for example, on any email I label as ‘work’ by forwarding it to another account. Your Evernote account comes with a dedicated email address which leads to your notes.

For mailing lists which I know will produce work items, I can use a dedicated alias (eg which your filters can be set to recognise and forward without you ever seeing it. When you move workplace, the filter gets changed but you don’t have a dozen mailing lists to alter.

A final powerful tool is IFTTT (If This Then That) which links different online tools. A trigger in one account will cause a response leading to another. So if I add a star to one of the blog items in my RSS reader, IFTTT notices this and sends a copy to my Evernote. Because the categories are matched with my notebooks, it arrives already organised.

Actually Doing Stuff

Of course, organising everything is a waste of time if nothing happens. Going through the Inbox is when I finish small jobs, or start the bigger ones. Sometimes it’s about ticking off the next step in a process. My earlier post talked about how I’m using Evernote to save all the resources for each individual lesson. The lesson itself is planned back to front, starting with how I’ll evaluate the kids’ understanding of the ideas, then thinking how to engage them, then considering ways for us to explore the concepts. Regular readers will recognise these as shuffled steps in the 5/7Es process. Of course your own planning process will vary but can easily be converted into a template for comprehensive notes.

Fine Print
  1. All the above links for Evernote are referrals, which means if you use them to start your own account I get a free month of Premium access and extra upload space (as do you, FWIW). It doesn’t cost you anything extra but if you’d prefer not to, follow this unaffiliated link instead.
  2. As usual, if this post has helped your professional practice I’d appreciate a brief comment via this GoogleForm; you do not need to leave your name and there is no chance of a cash reward, but it’s good karma.


Teaching With Evernote 1/2 Getting Started

I was really pleased with myself. Then it all went horribly wrong.
Those paired statements could apply to many aspects of my life, but most of them wouldn’t interest you. The time I’m thinking of, however, is definitely teaching related – and it sets the scene for today’s post.It was the summer term and we were putting the finishing touches on a new scheme of work, for the (then) latest GCSE science specification. The resources were done, possible homework was listed, everything. And so I decided to make life just a little easier for myself and colleagues by hotlinking the files to our master scheme in Publisher. One click, I reasoned, and everything we needed would appear as if by magic.

As If By Magic...
As If By Magic…

Original artwork by David McKee, from Aubergine Art&Framing

It took several hours, and for about a week it worked beautifully. Then our IT support migrated curriculum data between servers and every single link stopped working. Fortunately, I discovered this first thing in the morning so there were no students around to hear my frustration turning the air blue.



I still think that writing a good scheme of work is only half the battle. You need to be able to find everything the next day, week or year. The way I organise my resources – and in fact my whole life – is Evernote, and it seems to me that it’s a good time to tell you about it (again – a lot of this will be developed from ideas in a previous post, the eighth E). Because right now in schools everywhere colleagues are looking at schemes of work knowing they need tidying up, but that as usual a new specification looming makes it feel like wasted time.

The Quick Version

  1. Sign up for Evernote.
  2. Type a few words about a lesson that’s part of your scheme.
  3. Add links to websites, YouTube etc.
  4. Attach lesson resources such as presentations, worksheets, homework, sample data…
  5. Add tags for the topic (eg P1heat) and year group (eg yr10).
  6. Repeat from step 1 as many times as you like.
What this makes is a huge dumping ground, in no particular order, of all the lessons you teach. The search bar checks in the notes as well as tags and titles, so finding what you’re looking for is easy. To be honest, if you’re not sure about what you’re reading I’d suggest trying this for a week then coming back to read the second half of this post.

Next Steps (in no particular order)
You can run Evernote from your web browser without too much hassle, but the real power of any cloud service is Sync. It won’t take long to install the desktop version, and there are mobile equivalents for each platform (although precise functions vary). All let you see your notes wherever you are, although you’ll need Premium access to open attached files when you’re offline.
You can create a ‘contents’ note with a numbered list. Right click on the first lesson in the topic, chose ‘copy note link to clipboard’ then paste it in to your list. Rinse and repeat. You can create as many of these as you like, linking to different mixtures of notes, and the links will keep working as long as that note exists. If the scheme changes, you don’t need to move files between directories – just create a new contents page, with a different order and any additional notes where needed.A note can have as many tags as you like. If you want to organise them in a non-overlapping way, create separate notebooks. I might use the tag blog on lots of different kinds of notes. Recipes, however, are all in one notebook of their own, away from Ed-research and Schemes.You can share a note – or a whole notebook – with a colleague – they don’t need to be using Evernote themselves. This is a really nice way to create a portfolio of lessons to show off. Alternatively, have your students set up their own accounts and save their work to notes that are shared with you. You have easy access to their portfolio, but for them nothing extra needs to happen once set up. They simply add completed pieces to their Ready for sharing notebook, which you can see.
I use the tag action to remind me that there something in a tag I need to change, fix or act on. I’ve saved a link to all notes with this tag: instant to do list. If you want to add a specific date, you can turn a note into a Reminder eg for exam dates or report deadlines.
Creating a Templates notebook might be a good way to keep ‘blank’ copies, effectively starting points, of all the things you know you’ll be producing. Most teachers have a preferred format for lesson planning (or their school does), meeting minutes, seating plans and so on. Put each of these in their own note, along with letterheads, an empty Powerpoint presentation with your preferred colours and fonts etc.
I find using Evernote this way helps me to keep my resources, lesson plans and everything else organised and available. Because the notes are editable, I’ll add any thoughts during the lesson so each plan is constantly evolving. If I need to change the attached resources, I’ll just add my thoughts and the action tag, then come back later. Over time it’s become part of how I organise pretty much everything, for work and home, and I’ll be blogging details of this in the vague near future. Please add comments or questions below and I’ll try and address them in that later post.
Fine Print
  1. All the above links for Evernote are referrals, which means if you use them to start your own account I get a free month of Premium access and extra upload space (as do you, FWIW). It doesn’t cost you anything extra but if you’d prefer not to, follow this unaffiliated link instead.
  2. As usual, if this post has helped your professional practice I’d appreciate a brief comment via this GoogleForm; you do not need to leave your name and there is no chance of a cash reward, but it’s good karma.

The Eighth E – Evernote

It’s that time of year again. Scheme of Work time. When we all pay for the sudden drop in teaching workload, now Years 11 and 13 have left, by updating and writing new schemes for future teaching. Sometimes the changes are small. Sometimes, often thanks to politicians who love to change things just for the hell of it, they’re huge. Either way, it’s a great chance to think again about what we’re trying to do in our lessons over the longer term.

For various reasons, as well as rewriting and updating some rather dusty schemes this year, I’m trying to be more organised about keeping my own copies. I’m moving towards a 5/7Es model (as explained by me here, @hrogerson here and NASA here). And I’m also converting the school Word templates into my own personalised Evernote variant. I thought it might be worth sharing.

Why 5/7Es?

I find this clear framework, with a huge variety of actual activities, really helps me to make sure kids are getting something useful out of the lessons. This is particularly true when adapting existing schemes, or fitting in with someone else’s ideas about ‘essential practicals’. (See @alomshaha‘s recent Guardian piece about using practical work effectively for a useful example of this problem.)

Start your planning with the last E – Evaluate. How will you know what/how students have learned? Begin the lesson by Engaging students and Eliciting current knowledge. Guide students in Exploring the main lesson concept, which you can then Explain before checking progress with Extension work – this might need further Elaboration.

Obviously there are other models of lesson planning, but I find this is not only useful for more detailed plans when required but also makes a great ‘looser’ structure for schemes of work. These need more freedom, but giving some ideas lets colleagues choose what suits them while still improving consistency. That’s the idea, anyway!

Why Evernote?

In short, this is a note-taking application which can automatically synchronize between desktop, browser and mobile versions. I’ve used it for a while and am finding it more and more useful as it becomes a dumping ground for pretty much everything I need to remember or refer back to. Until recently it’s been an external memory for my own brain, but I’m now starting to build in more structure. It’s helped that they’ve now added reminders, which takes the place of the EventNoted add-on I was using.

The easiest place to start is by choosing a few tags which will make it easy to find material. I started with work, books, recipes, next action, blog and inbox. You can link it with email your web browser (to ‘clip’ particular sections of pages) and even your RSS reader via services like IFTTT. This means anything I want to hold on to I can save to one virtual filing cabinet.

So now as I revamp our AS/A2 teaching, I’m producing one note for each section. I’m using one tag for each year group, although this may be added to with topic codes a the list grows. I’m moving towards a consistent structure of Specification, Outcomes, 5Es and Activities, with links, page references and attached files.

evernote screenshot

This last part is what makes Evernote so useful. You can attach worksheets, powerpoints, animations… pretty much everything you’ll need to teach the lesson.

You can also share what you’ve done with someone else, either by inviting a specific person or by creating a weblink. They can’t edit – for that you need the premium version – but they can see what you’ve been up to. This strikes me as a great way to share ideas between colleagues in a department. Here’s an example from AQA AS Physics.

Using Evernote this way would be an excellent substitute if you chose not to use the TESPro service (although of course without access to their privileged content). It also makes it easier to keep a ‘personal’ copy of school planning, so your tweaks won’t mess it up for colleagues.


I’m planning to produce outline plans in this way for each topic, as I teach; I’m currently working on an ISA sequence, for example. I want to experiment with producing templates using KustomNote so I can automate some of the planning layout. I also want to see about a ‘week to view’ layout, more like a traditional teacher planner, which would then link to the specific notes for each  lesson.

Of course, maybe you have better ideas or a smoother system – in which case I’d love to hear about it. Let me know what you think in the comments.



Modern Skills

When does asking for training become an excuse not to try something new?

I recently had an interesting discussion on Twitter with @GrahamBM about the use of technology in education. He’s probably best-known as the founder of Learning Without Frontiers. Also involved was @jackandraka, from his point of view of a student who has clearly been able to use what he has learned – presumably both inside the classroom and independently – to produce new innovations in cancer diagnosis.

It started when I butted in to his conversation with @gillpenny. Many of those responding to his comments seemed not to be teachers, and I wonder if the reality of coordinating (and to an extent controlling) thirty teenagers totally escaped some of them.

@grahambm @bobharrisonset they need time with device ahead of kids not to learn how to use but to familiarise in order to realise potential

— Gillian Penny (@gillpenny) December 8, 2012

.@bobharrisonset if teachers in the UK need training on how to use everyday 21st century appliances for learning they’re in wrong job

— Graham Brown-Martin

My argument is, I think – apologies if I’m putting words in her mouth! – similar to that of @gillpenny. In some respects whether teachers are familiar with tablets or not is irrelevant. Knowing how to do something is not the same as being able to best teach how to use it. I can kick a football around, albeit badly. Even if I were an expert player, that doesn’t necessarily mean I could referee a practice game while teaching a GCSE PE lesson. If you’re going to be responsible for them, first aid and risk assessment skills are needed. With computers, we as teachers will be held responsible if kids get into ‘trouble’ online. We need a certain level of practical trouble-shooting activity, to be able to sort out the settings when Johnny has set the language to Swedish, or what to do when the screen has mysteriously become reversed. We need to be able to fix all the varied problems that can be caused by students, deliberately or otherwise, which requires much greater familiarity than the average user. Because otherwise the lessons descend into chaos.

Secondly, the practicalities of teaching the skills involved with effective use of a mobile device are partially specific to that device. I love my tablet – a first generation Galaxy Tab. I use it at home, on the go and at school. Email, reading books and media sites, keeping up with blogs via RSS, producing and managing my own blog, saving ideas via Evernote and Pocket, playing games, Twitter including chats such as #SciTeachJC and #asechat… and I know there’s lots of applications I could add on. But those applications aren’t quite the same as those on an iPad. Or a more modern Android tablet. Or on a small-screen phone. Blackberry apps are different again. And the similarities can fool you just as much as the differences; Americans and Brits can really confuse each other talking about fags and pants, for example…

Of course we should be teaching students about using mobile devices effectively – but which mobile devices do we concentrate on? It’s reasonable for teachers to want the chance to know how they work in the classroom before we rely on them. Then we can focus on them as tools, as ways to apply the thinking and reasoning skills we really want to pass on. I want my kids to be able to use Google effectively, of course I do. But part of that – something I hope all teachers do, explicitly and implicitly – is teaching them to be sceptical about the results. I want them to consider the reliability of the sites they find, to check for bias, to look for opposing viewpoints. And this example brings me to my own classroom experience.

It’s a common claim that students these days are ‘digital natives’. It’s bollocks. It’s like someone claiming a hundred years ago that all ten year olds should intuitively be able to use libraries because they lived in the age of the printed word. Yes, every student from Foundation to Year 7 was born this century. So what? Not all of them have smartphones, and certainly not all of them can use them effectively in a learning context. Every student I have in secondary school can talk – admittedly not all in English – but that doesn’t mean they can present an argument to establish the truth of a proposition.

In my Year 10 Science class I have 32 bright students. The majority have smartphones, although we don’t allow them in school. (Don’t blame me, talk to the management.) We’re in a fairly affluent, aspirational area, a leafy suburb on the outskirts of a Midlands city. But it’s easy to assume too much about their use of mobile devices.

They don’t know what RSS feeds are, let alone how to use them to follow blogs that they’re interested in. They prefer to search using YouTube – great to know, but useless for complex data or meaningful research. They can share links with each other by FaceBook, but are much less confident collaborating on anything document-based such as GoogleDocs. Research is when they copy and paste from Wikipedia, or from one of the first five hits they get if they put the homework title into Google. They use Twitter instead of broadcast text messages, but don’t tend to share ideas or links. Basically, they’re using mobile devices the same way teenagers have always used technology; to talk to their friends, extend their social life through music and media, and look at porn. Sometimes, I suspect, simultaneously.

It’s great to use examples of teenagers who get more out of technology. @jackandraka and @nickdaloisio (the Summly inventor) are two examples shared by @GrahamBM, and I’d add @rhysmorgan to the list. But it’s important to recognise that these kids are outliers. They’re the exception, not the rule. Of course we, as teachers, need to be offering a range of experiences in our classrooms. But we can’t tailor every moment to every student, all at the same time. Expecting us to be able to manage a classroom with both ends of the spectrum, without practice and training with new resources, technology and approaches, is asking for trouble. It’s all very well to seek to ‘disrupt’ learning when you’re on the outside. In a classroom, sometimes all you can do is provide the basics – which are not always exciting, or enjoyable, or inspiring – and then provide opportunities for students to stretch themselves, with or without our guidance.

Personally, I’d love us to provde more teaching in using technology in a learning context. I’d love to see my students blogging their lessons, cross-referencing between subjects, sharing links live and tweeting throughout the lesson with insights or difficulties. I’d give every 11 year old in the country a Google Nexus 7 and a Gmail account, and see what happens. But don’t blame the teachers when things don’t go as planned.