All posts by ZoeRoss

How to Deal with Anxiety


This post discusses self-help strategies to help you deal with anxiety – strategies that work! As discussed in yesterday’s blog post, anxiety can be a debilitating condition. Sufferers may need to take medication to manage their anxiety, but there are many ways you can help yourself. Like many others, I’ve experienced anxiety at times in my life. This blog post gives practial, self-help ways you can deal with anxiety – all strategies I have used to manage my own anxiety. I hope it might be helpful for you or an adult or young person you know.

Practical ways to deal with anxiety

Belly Breathing
If you’re in the middle of feeling anxious, or indeed at any time you just want to feel a little calmer, belly breathing really helps to calm you down. Here’s what to do:

  • Sit or lie down and relax your body
  • Close your eyes
  • Start to focus on your breathing, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Gradually start to take deeper breaths, focussing on filling up your belly then chest as you breathe in and them fully deflating as you breathe out.
  • Try to breath in for count of five and out for a count of 7 (or 3 in and 5 out whichever works for you – make the out breath longer).
  • Carry on for as long as you want / need (3 – 5 minutes works well).

I first discovered meditation when having a period of anxiety after a friend had died from suicide. It helped tremendously and numerous studies have shown it can help with anxiety. The Meditation I do is really just an extension of the big belly breathing. I get up 15 minutes earlier than I used to, put on the brilliant Headspace app and go through one of the guided meditations. Headspace ‘teaches’ you how to meditate through a series of guided meditations (the first 10 are free). Learning to stand back and observe thoughts and emotions is a powerful technique. It’s a great way to start the day and I usually feel focussed, calm and ready for anything afterwards. If I don’t ‘Wake up with Andy’ (Puddicome who talks you through the meditations) I feel a bit ‘off’. I’ll write more about meditation in the future, but if you haven’t already, I really recommend giving it a go.

While anxiety can sometimes interfere with sleep, getting adequate, good quality sleep is helpful in managing the condition. Adults need around 8 hours per night and children at least 10 hours (there’s a great sleep table here). If that’s not happening, trying to find acceptance of the situation can help (see meditation above) alongside implementing good ‘sleep hygiene’. This ‘Ultimate Routine for Optimal Sleep‘ infographic from Huffington Post has some good recommendations.

There is some food and drink that can help with anxiety and some that can make it worse. I’ll be writing about what nutrition help the brain in another post, so I’ll focus on what to avoid here. I’m sorry to say but caffeine and alcohol are top of the list. While alcohol can often be used by people with anxiety to relieve the feelings, it can cause symptoms of anxiety to worsen and dangerous patterns can emerge which lead people further down the spiral.

Caffeine is another stimulant and the ‘wired’ state it gives can create problems for people who are anxious, exacerbating some symptoms. Best to go decaf or avoid if you suffer from anxiety. I’ve not really bothered with alcohol for some years now and drink one or two decaf coffees a day at the most. Peppermint tea is my tipple of choice these days – my 20-year-old self would find that terribly dull, but it’s how my 40-year-old self rolls (and I like it that way!).

More messages you’ve heard before here, but yep, exercise has been shown to have a plethora of benefits for mental health, including anxiety. This leaflet from the Royal College of Psychiatrists is helpful. They recommend 30 minutes of moderate physical exercise on at least 5 days of every week – either in one session or broken up into shorter 10 or 15 minute sessions. That’s pretty do-able for most people. My dog walks are some of my favourite activities of the day – and the dogs quite like it too!

Avoid Avoidance
As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post on anxiety, sufferers may naturally want to avoid the source of their perceived danger and enter into avoidance strategies. This causes patterns to become ingrained and fears to loom larger in the mind. Helping someone to overcome and confront their fears in a supportive, kind, managed way is a great way to help. Depending on how bad the avoidance behaviours are, it may need professional intervention or just someone to be there in an understanding way. Which leads me to…

One of the themes of Mental Health Awareness Week is nurturing good relationships. Good relationships are the cornerstone of good mental health. As I discussed in Monday’s post on Child Mental Health, having people to talk to can significantly reduce feelings of anxiety and other mental health issues before they become mental health disorders. I’m incredibly lucky to have a wonderful network of friends and family that I can talk to, and laugh with, about anything and support each other through life’s ups and downs. On the other hand, as many of us also know, having difficult relationships which bring added stress, can contribute greatly to feelings of anxiety. Having mutually supportive, kind people in your life is a great benefit for dealing with anxiety and mental health in general and Mental Health Awareness Week is encouraging us to pledge that we will nurture the good relationships we have. It’s sometimes a challenge with busy lives, but important that we do. This is a great free guide worth reading on relationships and mental wellbeing.

Herbal remedies
Some herbal remedies have been shown to help with anxiety, such as St. John’s Wort, Valerian and Passionflower. Others include Rhodiola and 5HTP. Each of them works differently and trials are often mixed, however they might be worth a go if you are struggling and want to avoid conventional medication.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Although not really a self-help strategy, as you would usually to a practioner to learn CBT techniques, there are some excellent books that will give you the ideas of the basics which really involves amending our ‘faulty thinking’ to help to see things in a more realistic way. If you would like to find out more I can recommend Change Your Thinking with CBT by Dr Sarah Edelman. There is also an online course used by the NHS called Beat the Blues which is based on CBT and offers 8 self-help sessions for £49.99 which is a pretty good investment as NHS waiting lists can be long for CBT.

Further Help for Anxiety
So, there are some self-help strategies that you can use to manage anxiety, or maybe pass on to someone who could use some help. There are plenty more and some of these may not work for all people, but they work for me. It’s important to find your own way. If you are trying to help someone else, one of the best things you can do is to find out more. There’s good advice available from Anxiety UK if anxiety affects you. Their advice for young people is particularly helpful for teachers or anyone working with children or adolescents. The Young Minds and Mind websites also have practical tips and helpsheets.


What is Anxiety and what are the signs to look out for?


Everyone experiences some anxiety in their life at some points in response to situations such as public speaking, interviews, exams, starting a new job or school, or another big life change. Mostly the feelings of unease, worry, fear or even panic will stop after either the event is over, or a short period of time. However, if the feelings can’t be calmed and continue over a longer period of time, then anxiety disorders can develop that may impact on living a full and healthy life.

As discussed in yesterday’s blog post about child mental health, many mental health problems including anxiety disorders start in childhood and adolescence, so it’s important that parents and teachers are aware of the signs and can help young people deal with their anxiety before it becomes a disorder.

Signs of Anxiety for Parents & Teachers to Look Out for in Young People

  • Spending a lot of time worrying – this could be about school work or their appearance
  • Not wanting to go to school (beyond the usual!)
  • Showing or describing physical symptoms (e.g. headaches) to try to avoid going to school or trying to be sent home from school
  • Wanting constant reassurance from parents or teachers
  • Spending a lot of time on their own at lunch or break
  • Showing the physical and psychological signs described above

Physical signs of anxiety

There are some very physical signs of anxiety that sufferers may feel. Recent studies have shown that the Amygdala, the area of the brain associated with anxiety which alerts us to danger, may become overstimulated. Sufferers can become stuck in ‘fight or flight mode, feeling vulnerable and perceiving a ‘danger’ of some kind. The body meanwhile gets ready to fight that bear or tiger and as the adrenalin courses through our bodies. Some of the physical signs of anxiety include:

  • increased heart rate
  • shaking
  • shallow breathing
  • sweating
  • dizziness
  • stomach problems
  • loss of appetite
  • heart palpitations
  • dry mouth
  • ‘jumpiness’

Psychological Symptoms of Anxiety

The psychological symptoms of anxiety vary from person to person, though they can include:

  • unrealistic fears and worries
  • racing or blank mind
  • inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • insomnia
  • exhaustion
  • feeling on edge, irritable or angry

Anxiety Disorders

Clearly anxiety is pretty unpleasant to live with for any length of time. Anxiety becomes a disorder when the feelings are long-lasting, more severe than the norm and start to interfere with work, school and relationships.

Sufferers can understandably want to stay away from the perceived threat and therefore avoidance behaviours are common. Unfortunately avoidance can lead to greater issues  as the threat looms larger in the mind and the cycle continues. If anxiety continues for a prolonged period, anxiety disorders can develop.

There are a number of different anxiety disorders including generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety, phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Anxiety disorders are common with up to 5% of the UK population thought to suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder, with women between the ages of 35 to 59 being the most common sufferers. The last UK wide survey on mental health reported in 2009 that 4.7 in every 100 people suffer from anxiety problems with 9.7 in 100 people suffering from anxiety mixed with depression.

If you are worried about someone suffering from anxiety, or indeed you recognise that you may be suffering from anxiety yourself, there is a lot of help available. Good websites include: – if you are worried about a child
CALM (for men aged 15-35)
Anxiety UK
No Panic

Coming up tomorrow…ways to treat anxiety




Why child mental health matters to us all & why schools are key


I thought I’d mark mental health awareness week by writing a blog post a day on a mental health topic. First up, a blog about child mental health.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”. Fredrick Douglass (1855)

The above quote illustrates perfectly why child mental health matters to us all. The first signs of mental illness are usually seen in childhood or adolescence, with nearly half of all lifetime cases of mental illness starting by the age of 14. Early intervention at this stage can prevent more serious adult mental health issues developing.

So, it was disappointing to hear last week that despite the government pledging £1.25 billion to improving child mental health, they’ve axed the recently appointed School’s Mental Health Champion Natasha Devon, due to her expressing her views that the over-reliance on assessment was damaging to children’s mental health.

At least Child mental health is being discussed with increasing frequency in the media; The Times has been running an influential campaign based around the recommendations made by Professor Tanya Bryon and National Mental Health Week is receiving high profile coverage. National projects like HeadStart, have the potential to improve our understanding, but just how bad is the situation around child mental health and does it matter?

The statistics are out of date, but it doesn’t stop the need to talk about child mental health.

As pointed out in this blog post, the existing statistics around child mental health are well out of date – the last National study was over 12 years ago. Indeed the top recommendation by Tanya Bryon’s report is that the government commission a new survey, which they consulted for earlier this year – it will make interesting reading.

The youth mental health charity Young Minds gives the following stats which are rather sobering:
child-mental-health-statistics-young-mindsSo, while the claim that “3 children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health disorder” is misleading – is should at least say that the total figure equates to around 3 children in every classroom, the general message is clear – more children than we may realise have a mental health problem and this is confirmed by anecdotal evidence from child mental health professionals.

Talking to children helps

While we all have mental health issues at times in our lives. It’s when they turn into mental health problems and disorders, that there is an issue. 75% of mental health problems in adult life (not including dementia) start by the age of 18. Early intervention when a mental health issue starts to show prevents the personal, social and economic issues that mental health problems in adults and as Prince Harry stated at the opening of the Invictus Games this week, many mental health issues get better simply by talking.
As a society, finally we are getting more aware of mental health issues in general and campaigns such as Time to Talk and The Heads Together campaign fronted by William, Kate and Harry show that we are willing to discuss mental health and working to end the stigma around it. It should be no different for children.

So we can argue about the current statistics, but it doesn’t really matter. If as adults we can help children and adolescents feel better about themselves and prevent their normal feelings turning into a more serious mental health problem, then we really should. And talking to them is a really good place to start.

Schools can play a key role in child mental health

A tale of two schools

The first (enlightened) school I worked at as a teacher and Head of Year had a very caring pastoral team in place who were given significant time to deal with the wide range of issues that arose. The vast majority of the issues were to do with how pupils felt about things that had happened to them and encouraging them to talk, really listening to them and helping them come up with some possible ways forward really did make a difference.
There was a clear system for escalating issues where further intervention was needed and a school counsellor was in place long before it became de-rigour. And yes, it was a happy school. Pupils knew that staff would take time to talk to them and help. I have no evidence, but equally have no doubt, that this made a difference to pupils’ mental health and well-being.

It came as a real shock to my system when I moved schools and the pastoral support, let alone pupils’ mental health, was far down the list of priorities. Pupils were definitely not encouraged to talk to staff (and many staff sadly liked it that way). It was like a totally different world and, despite the fact that it was a more affluent and ‘successful’ school, there was a lot more stress and unhappiness amongst pupils and staff. Funnily enough, I left teaching soon afterwards.

Good teacher / pupil relationships are key

The whole school culture makes a difference and while teachers cannot be expected to be ‘mental health experts’, I’ll reiterate that many of the issues that children have can be helped simply by having someone listen to and talk to them. This is why schools are key as teachers are often seen as trusted adults and they do not have the same emotional ties as parents.

Such relationships are often easier to form in primary schools, perhaps as teachers develop deeper relationships with their pupils as they tend to see them every day, but all teachers have a role to play in simply being aware, noticing and raising possible concerns with more experienced or specialist colleagues. This article gives some excellent advice about talking to children about their feelings if you think there may be an issue.

Signs for teachers to look out for which indicate there may be a mental health problem include:

  • Withdrawal from social activity
  • Apathy or loss of interest in activities pupils usually enjoy
  • An usual drop in school attainment or functioning.
  • Problems concentrating or thinking
  • Illogical thinking
  • Uncharacteristic nervousness
  • Unusual or odd behaviour
  • Decline in personal care or changes to sleep and eating
  • Rapid mood changes

It is important to note that most children will exhibit one or more of these symptoms at some point in their lives – it just means they may need someone to talk to rather than being too quick to label them as having a ‘mental health problem’. But having someone to refer them in school to is a good first step.

Giving teachers mental health training

Giving some willing teachers in schools training in mental health, can help them to be more aware of mental health issues from a child’s perspective but also, and really just as importantly, recognise issues with their own or colleagues’ mental health…but that is another blog post

Courses such as the Mental Health First Aid training gives staff an overview of Mental Health issues and recommends steps they can take to promote mental well-being in their school. Staff who’ve had this training are then in a stronger position to help colleagues support students or to make referrals to professional services where necessary.

Referrals to professional services

Sadly, in February the NAHT found that two thirds of primary schools could not deal with mental health issues in their pupils effectively, feeling they lacked the resources needed. It’s always been difficult to get CAHMS referrals or access to an educational psychologist and CAHMS services have lost out to austerity cuts, although some would argue that schools do now have greater freedom with how they spend their budget, so getting in an Ed Psych or a school counsellor more regularly can be done.

Organisations such as Place2Be provide counsellors in schools to help to deal with pupils needing professional intervention. The government has pledged that every school should have access to a counsellor and are running a pilot to improve school’s access to CAMHS.

Such services are vital to help those young people for whom talking and supportive relationships are not enough. There is of course an irony that the government has cut the funding for such services at the same time as it pledges support for child and adolescent mental health. This of course places more pressure elsewhere and sadly it’s children who have mental health problems that suffer most. However, making sure all children have someone to talk to about their worries and concerns can make a difference and prevent them from developing into more serious mental health problems. And that’s what the best schools do without even thinking.


5 Reasons From Psychology that Surfing Rocked My World


Six months ago I turned 40 and tried surfing for the first time. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I’ve been thinking about how psychology might explain why surfing had such an impact on me.

Surfing gave me a sense of joy I haven’t experienced for a long time. The rush was unbelievable, especially for those few sweet moments when I stood and rode a wave. I finished feeling completely invigorated yet totally calm in a way that I haven’t experienced before. Here’s 5 reasons from psychology why that might be:

1. Experiencing Flow

When surfing I was totally immersed in the moment, concentrating fully on my goal of standing up and riding a wave. No multi-tasking, no ego, no sense of time. Although my mind was extremely busy concentrating it was also incredibly tranquil. In other words, I was experiencing the heightened focus and absorption in an activity positive psychologists call ‘flow’.

Csikszentmihalyi is the granddaddy of flow and he suggests that to experience it an activity should have a balance between challenge and enjoyment, with challenge being the most important factor; what at you’re doing should be challenging, but not so hard that you think it’s impossible – it’s one of the reasons computer games are so addictive. For me, surfing fits that bill perfectly – I found it pretty tricky, but the sense of exhilaration when I manged to ride a wave was worth every dunking, donk on the head from my board and mouthful of Pacific ocean!

Studies suggest flow can lead to greater happiness, increased well-being and a positive sense of self. And while one study of big-wave surfers suggests that the flow experienced in surfing can have a dangerously addictive quality, I think I’ll be ok!

2. Cognitive Benefits of Exercising in the Ocean

There is an undeniable connection between the body, mind and nature that takes place when you’re surfing. Psychology backs this up…

Cognitive Benefits of Exercise
There is much evidence for the benefits of exercise on the mind – this study found that even a single session of moderate exercise impacted participants’ cognitive performance, and this 2013 review of other studies concluded that physical activity was a valuable tool in preventing depression. So surfing is good for your mental and physical health and using up all that energy meant amazing big breakfasts in Woody’s!


A typically incredibly PB sunset.

Cognitive Benefits of Exercising in Nature
Combining exercise with nature may have particular benefits for the brain; this 2015 study found participants who walked in nature for 90 minutes had reduced brain activity in their subgenual prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain associated with mental health issues. This didn’t happen in the group who walked in an urban environment. So, this probably contributed to my post-surf grin!

Cognitive Benefits of Being in the Pacific Ocean.
It’s been known for centuries that being by expanses of water has many benefits for well-being. In his book ‘Blue Mind’, Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist explores how being by or in water increases calmness, decreases anxiety and increases performance. Most of us would be hard pressed to disagree and we spent much of our holiday by the ocean – the Pacific Beach sunsets were incredible!

3. Parallels with Mindfulness Meditation & Yoga

Surfing has many things in common with other activities shown to have highly positive impact on well-being, such as mindfulness, meditation and yoga. Certainly the instructions to ‘take a breath, relax and wait for the wave’ felt very similar to yoga and meditation.

Mindfulness meditation has been shown to alter the structure of the brain, particularly the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) associated with anxiety and increase athletes’ sense of flow. And this 2015 study found that those who practiced yoga regularly did not display the age-related decline in grey matter of the control group. So, the parallels between surfing and yoga – you position yourself into a cobra pose before popping up onto the board (and adopting a version of warrior) – may bring additional brain and mind benefits, as does being a total beginner…

4. Playtime with a Beginner’s Mind

I was first introduced to the concept of a beginners’ mind by the brilliant meditation app ‘headspace’ (if you haven’t tried it – you should). The concept of Beginner’s Mind , or ‘shosin’ as Buddhists call it, is all about having the ‘attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconception’ that beginners usually possess.

Being a beginner surfer gave me permission to be rubbish without any need for explanation. I left my ego on the beach – there is no way you can care what people think when you are being dunked unceremoniously by a large wave wearing a wetsuit. There is a real sense of freedom – and fun – in that.

Tiny things felt huge; when I progressed from getting one knee up before tipping off to getting half way up, it felt great. When I stood up, it felt absolutely incredible. When I stayed up – for about 2 seconds before I squealed with glee and fell into the Pacific – it was the most exhilarating feeling ever! The enormous fun that goes with that is something as adults we quite often forget. There are well-documented cognitive benefits of play for children though few studies focus on adults, the success of last year’s adult ball pit Jump In! and this telegraph article examining the trend behind ‘play for adults’, suggests it’s an area of increasing interest and I’d definitely volunteer for a study!

5. Going Out of My Comfort Zone

As an adult I’ve always enjoyed pushing myself out of my comfort zone. While being a mum put a stop to activities like bungee jumping, learning to surf with my son was pretty cool, even though I was pretty nervous before-hand.

Harnessing a healthy level of anxiety has long been acknowledged as important in living life to the full. The Yerkes-Dodson U-shaped curve developed in 1908 explained why we perform better when we are experiencing some anxiety. However, there is a fine line – too much anxiety and arousal and performance drops.



So, surfing for me was anxiety-inducing to a point, but not enough to make me so anxious my knees knocked and I froze (that was bungee jumping!). And sharing this experience with my son I hope will encourage him to go outside his comfort zone in the future and understand why that’s a good thing.

So there you go, 5 ideas from psychology that may explain my love for learning to surf. I can personally account for the fact that there are so many benefits to surfing; it’s definitely worth a try! While California is not quite accessible every weekend, I’ll definitely be seeking out the best surfing spots in the UK and Europe. Thurso anyone?


Update: New research from Michigan State University suggests looking out over the ocean or sea makes you happier!

Psychology and Education

I started the final year of my MSc in Psychology last Wednesday and the focus on behaviourism in my cognitive psychology learning module got me thinking (again) about the place of psychology in education.

My teacher friends who completed PGCEs recently told me that they had not studied any psychology on their course – they had not come across Piaget, Bruner, Vygotsky, Skinner et al in any way.

That’s such a shame as I found that to be one of the most interesting areas of my course and certainly influenced my own teaching. Many of the teaching techniques we use as teachers have origins in psychology – collaborative learning, scaffolding, discovery learning, spaced learning anyone? All come from psychology and the subject’s scientific sister, neuroscience. The Royal Society’s ‘Brain Waves’ report in 2011 specifically recommended that teacher training should include a component on neuroscience and it’s relevance to learning.

A quick question to my very helpful twitter network revealed that there is widespread variance. For example, Scottish teacher education (not teacher training as Derek Robertson told me) deems studying psychology to be an important part of the course, and many teachers who had completed their training a long time ago, had also covered psychology comprehensively. Steve Wheeler of Plymouth University is helpfully detailing learning theorists in his superb blog. However, others who completed PGCE training in England said it was covered very briefly, or not at all.

So why should teachers learn about psychology and neuroscience?

Well, for starters, understanding how children of all ages learn, is pretty fundamental to being able to teach them effectively.

How people learn, retain information and the ways in which this changes as a child develops can help to give teachers greater knowledge and understanding about their pupils and their learning. It can help you plan and teach better lessons, identifying different approaches to learning that may be most effective for your pupils and can give a teacher an understanding of why pupils behave in a certain way sometimes.

Psychology can teach us how we learn and assimilate information, how we use our memory, acquire language and skills. It can also teach us about social groups, child development, behaviour and learning difficulties. All of which are key aspects of education.

So, while there are people, such as the author of this article in the Guardian who advise caution when applying psychology theories in the classroom, or indeed those who say it’s of little consequence, I would suggest that researching and thinking about how pupils learn and trying out different ideas based on psychological research is better than not thinking about it, or trying anything new at all.

More evidence needed?

Yes, further robust evidence is needed, as actually advocated by the previous article and Tom Bennett in this New Scientist article, but dismissing it all as neurobollocks’ (yes, gentlemen on twitter), is throwing the baby out with the bathwater, surely?  The wider world seems to agree that with more research, psychology and neuroscience may have much to offer education.

The Welcome Trust’s announcement this week that together with the Education Endowment foundation they will be funding 6 neuroscience (a branch of psychology) research projects, shows that there is an appetite for further research in this area. Their January 2014 report on educational interventions and approaches informed by neuroscience makes an interesting read for anyone interested in finding out more. The work conducted by Sarah Jane Blakemore and her team is also of great interest to anyone who teaches (or has) adolescents. Sarah is speaking at TLAB15 (so am I!) and I’ll certainly be looking forward to hearing her.

The psychology research community is determined to improve their reputation since Stapel and other high profile cases of false positives and inaccurately reported research. Indeed, the British Psychology Society’s research digest is often quick to point out issues with studies; in this case with a study claiming to show the detrimental effects of digital devices on children.

So, it’ll be interesting to see how psychology and neuroscience develop in education in coming years. Meanwhile, I’m getting my head down back to my studies!

Update: this recent podcast from Mark Healy gives a wonderfully insightful, funny and balanced view of cognitive neuroscience.

Minecraft Lindisfarne files

For you lovely people at the Digitally Confident Conference here’s the Minecraft Lindesfarne world.

Here is also a guide to staring your world for the first time.

If you need any more help, then do please get in touch!



Update on Using Open Badges with Year 7

Great homework badge

So, Year 7 and I are rocking and rolling with our badges! (If you want to know where we started read this post!)

The students have created some super badges, ranging from Great homework to Going the Extra Mile and Problem Solver. Almost without exception they have found the project fun, creative and have learnt a great deal. One noted; “This has been the BEST project ever”.  The criteria, as expected, was the hardest part with some students doing this very well and others needing more support – from their fellow students rather than me. I have only intervened to try to create a relatively standard approach to make it easier (and less time consuming ) to track and award badges.

The emphasis is on the student to track and then claim their badges (again, taken from Martin Waller’s work with his class). All students have created a table listing the badges they can earn, the criteria and a column to track them. I then tell them when I am awarding them a ‘credit’ towards a particular badge. For example, in Tuesday’s lesson two students who rarely speak earned a ‘credit’ towards their confidence badge as they spoke out voluntarily in class. They need 10 credits to earn their badge.

It’s an evolving project and the first time any of us have done this, so of course we are all learning along the way. Every single student has designed something creative and original in their badge and it been a great way of getting the students working together, encouraging their creativity, collaboration and critical thinking skills.

This has been one of the best projects I have ever taught in terms of the positive reaction from the pupils and the ongoing benefits. Anecdotally I have noticed a huge difference in the students’ independence, willingness to ask questions and collaborate. The process has encouraged them to work together, obtaining regular feedback and striving to improve their work. I’m going to be getting some analysis from the students and will publish the results when I have them.

Furthermore, producing a badge that others will earn has no doubteldy contributed to motivation and a desire to produce a high standard of work and I hope the ability to earn their own and peer’s badges will of course encourage the behaviours that the badges reward! It’s a shame we are not able to use the Mozilla backpack at the moment, due to the students being under 13, however Mozilla I know are looking at ways of resolving this, so I’m certainly hoping in the future we will be able to try open, rather than digital badges.

Meanwhile we’re going old school with a document table for the, to track but I intent for them to use a Google site later this term to be able to keep their badges and best work on – eportfolio style (similar to Carrie-Ann Philbin’s work with her classes). I’m also looking at getting some stickers made. I think seeing their work printed out and stuck in their peers homework diaries would be pretty cool. in I’ll continue to update you on how the tracking / monitoring works towards the end of term, however for now I am looking forward to awarding some badges to my very well-deserving students!

Also, do check out James Michie and Duncan MacLeod’s work with their respective students – both are very generous with their ideas and undertaking some excellent student-centred work involving badges.

Our badge design process:


  • What have you obtained badges or certificates for outside and inside school?
  • What badges would you like to earn at school in ICT?
  • What skills/behaviours can we reward that are not currently recognised?
  • What makes an effectively designed badge?


  • Decide on badge you will design & what needs to be included & sketch out criteria
  • Sketch 4 different designs & obtain feedback
  • Decide upon final design & mock up in detail
  • Obtain feedback & change as necessary
  • Design badge using Adobe Fireworks
  • Obtain feedback & change as necessary


  • Finalise criteria & gain further feedback to ensure is easy to follow for peers

Share & Track

  • Submit to shared folder
  • Design tracking sheet

Start earning / collecting badges!

Google Apps Training at St Joseph’s in the Park School


I was lucky enough on Monday to work with staff (and children) at the beautiful St. Joseph’s in the Park school in Hertfordshire, to help them to utilise Google Apps for Education effectively.

It was a really super start to the term and the enthusiasm, attitude and creativity of the staff was incredible.

I have never actually ‘led’ a training session, where everyone is off experimenting with different practical applications in the space of 5 minutes! 🙂

The school is already making great use of Edmodo with children to set homework and communicate and by linking up Google Docs to Edmodo, particularly using iPads, the hope is, there will be increased collaboration and effective learning. Connecting Google Docs to your Edmodo account is incredibly simple and adds another dimension to an already sophisticated tool.

Having worked with staff in the morning, it was really fun to have three children come in and demonstrate some instant teacher/pupil feedback via a ‘live writing’ task using Google docs. Each pupil worked on a different homework questions and their teacher, Graeme Ellis, ‘popped in’ and gave them instant feedback. The children said it felt a little ‘weird’ that their teacher was watching them, however they thought it was quite cool and helped them to get instant feedback from their teacher. I suspect these eloquent youngsters may be among the first Digital Leaders at the school!

Finally, it was wonderful to hear from Louise Martin about how she is using her blog with her Year 3 class. She explained how simple it has been to set up and use and the overwhelmingly positive response from parents and pupils. Hearing her discuss so modestly how she posts all her homework, spelling lists and activities on there in multi-media format was testament to the usefulness of blogging for all involved; I’m sure there will be some more great class blogs coming from St. Jospehs in the Park very soon!

I was made incredibly welcome at St Joseph’s in the Park (and had some of the best cups of coffee I’ve had anywhere, never mind a school!). Neil Jones, the headmaster is really inspiring when discussing, and demonstrating, topics such as effective leadership, sustainability of schools and using technology creatively. If you don’t already follow him on twitter (or the school), then I suggest you do!  I for one am very much looking forward to following how the staff (and children) are getting on!

How my ipad has improved my teaching and workflow


I’ve been using my ipad more and more in my teaching.

I just find it so easy to work with, both at home and at school and love the fact I can integrate the resources I plan at home (or quite literally anywhere) into my lessons so easily.

I thought I’d run through some of my favourite apps and my workflow.



I first fell in love with the keynote app a couple of years ago, and it remains one of my favourites. Presentations are super easy to design and. Depending on where I am, I either simply mirror my ipad to the projector (see below for more info), or I use my plug, or upload to Dropbox / Google Drive and I sign into one of those accounts and I’m off. I really do love keynote!

Good Reader

The good reader app allows me to hold large numbers of PDFs on my ipad and to annotate them. This has been a bit of a revalation, particuarly in terms of saving paper (no need to print out reems of print screens). Students save their work as a PDF and then I can transfer this either via dropbox or my mac to my ipad’s good reader account. I can then mark all the work using the annotation tools and return the work to the students, again either via email or dropbox. I’ve also saved the comments I’ve made in a document so I can use this to create a more official feedback sheet for large projects and have a copy of my comments in an easy place for Parents’ Evenings etc.

I started using Socrative last year after being introduced to it by Steve Bunce and I really like the simplicity of it. On the ipad it’s even easier to create and share quizzes with students and receive instant feedback. Response from students has been over-whelmingly positive and it’s really easy to use for plenaries, recaps or even summative assessments.

Puppet Pals
Looking for ways to introduce topics in ways that will grab your students’ attention? Look no further than Puppet Pals (and Morpho below). Puppet pals has a free version, although I’ve upgraded to . You can easily create little animated stories and I use it to set homework!

Morpho and PhotoSpeak are also fun apps that you can use to have famous people talking and setting tasks. Jessica Ennis introduced our last Year 7 project 🙂 I have found that they don’t always work with the reflector app, which is a pain as this is by far and away my favourite way to use my ipad in class.

Reflector App
Having seen how easy Apple TVs make it to display an ipad’s screen on a projector at during my work at Leverhouse and Leamore primary schools, I looked for a way of doing this. Although I’d love an Apple TV, budgets are super-tight, so reflector (previously called reflections) or Air Server it was. Having trialled both (you have to be REALLY quick with your reflector trial as you only get 10 minutes!), I plumped for reflector as it worked really quickly and effectively, and Airserver had a few download issues.

I love the fact that I can now reflect whatever is on my ipad onto my gorgeous big screen in the classroom. As I teach in a lovely, but slightly awkwardly shaped room, this has, quite literally, changed my teaching life as I can walk around into the nooks and crannies, ensuring all students are engaged and passing them the ipad to get involved directly in the lesson and WAY cheaper (and more effective in my opinion) than an interactive whiteboard!

If you’re considering doing this, there are lots of posts on reflector vs air server and I would recommend you try before you buy, just to see which you prefer.

So, there you go; a quick run down of my the apps that are helping me and my ipad be a more efficient, creative teacher 🙂

cc image: Sean MacEntee