BGS Teacher Talk @BGSTeachBetter

Welcome to the first edition of 'BGS Teacher Talk'.

The purpose of this newsletter is to share the best teaching ideas and strategies that are being used in BGS and in the wider education community.

Each issue will include features which will focus on some of the great teaching that is going on in our school. We will look at the best educational apps, share tips to help us make better use of our time and showcase teaching strategies that will make a difference to the learning experience of the pupils we teach.

I hope that all of us will be able to contribute to future editions and that the content of these newsletters will generate conversations between staff and enable us to share the good practice in BGS and further develop our teaching and learning in the school.

(M Nesbitt)

Fast Forward
Professional development - ’...learning new ways of working through mutual engagement that opens up and shares practices with others'. (Michael Fielding)

Today teachers all over the world are taking a different approach to their professional development, adopting new methods and mechanisms to reflect on and improve their skills. The rise of social media discussions, TeachMeets and developments in technology have resulted in an ever-increasing trend of teachers seeking out and sharing ideas with like-minded teaching magpies.

Last year 12 teachers from 4 schools in the North Down area participated in 'Fast Forward', the first phase of a local learning hub for teachers. The goal of the programme is to enable teachers, newly qualified and those with years of experience, to reflect on their teaching and to create a forum to facilitate the sharing of best practice between the schools.

Three of our own colleagues - Margaret Faulkner, David Hinds and Hamish Matheson took part in the programme with fellow teachers from Glenlola Collegiate, Bangor Academy and Strangford College. They shared in a series of afternoon sessions on topics such as effective starters and plenaries, assessment, questioning and literacy..

It was an excellent opportunity to see what was happening in other schools in the area, view aspects of the curriculum in action and generate new ideas. (Margaret Faulkner)

The Fast Forward programme is going to begin again this year in October and we are looking for three more volunteers from the teaching staff in BGS to participate. All of our staff found the Fast Forward programme last year to be beneficial to their own teaching and so we would like to extend this to another cohort of teachers from the school. If you would like to participate in the Fast Forward programme this year then send me an email expressing your interest.

Working as a team, with other members of BGS, to provide our own team taught lesson was a great experience. The positive feedback that we gave, and received, was a really rewarding feeling. (Hamish Matheson)

(M Nesbitt)

Classroom focus ...

Our first Classroom Focus is heading into the Modern Languages department with Rachael Douglas.

Rachael has been using a app called Socrative for a while now. Socrative allows a teacher to create quizzes, hinge questions or quick polls and exit tickets to use as quick formative assessments to gauge pupil learning.

"Socrative is an app that I have found very useful for setting short tests with a class set of iPads. It is free to download both the teacher and student apps and to register as a teacher."

In this feature Rachael is going to tell us about what has been going on in her classroom and how using the app has impacted her teaching and her pupils' learning.

Socrative is an app that I have found very useful for setting short tests with a class set of iPads. It is free to download both the teacher and student apps and to register as a teacher. Once you have signed into the teacher app, a ‘classroom code’ will appear at the top of the screen. The pupils input this code and their name into the student app on their iPad in order to join any quizzes you start. The names can be hidden or revealed by the teacher, so that pupils’ answers are only visible on the screen if you want them to be.

Teacher and Student Versions of the app are used for quizzes.

When setting up a quiz, there are three question types to choose from – multiple choice, true/false and short answer. As the pupils answer, the data for the participating pupils will appear in the teacher app. I have used AppleTV to allow me to display the answer data as they go, this way pupils can see how many have finished and what the overall % correct is. The quiz can be done as a class, moving through the questions one at a time, or at the pupils’ own individual pace.

Student quiz answers in Socrative

When the quiz is over, you can choose to have the resulting scores and information emailed to you, for your records and as evidence. I have printed off the pupils’ individual score sheets so that they can take them home and use them to help them with revision.

There are many other features within this app that I am eager to try, such as the space race and the exit ticket.

In my experience, if each pupil has his own iPad, it allows everyone to participate actively in the quiz and get recognition for their own answers. I intend to create quizzes for my classes to do just before their End of Unit Tests, to let them see clearly if there are any gaps in their knowledge that they need to work on before the test.

(Contributed by Rachael Douglas)

Routine business ...

Our pupils move through many activities during the course of a typical day, from whole-group lessons to small-group work, reading time to drama, art to maths and in-class work to physical activity outside at break and lunch.

Educational research and our own personal experience tells us that unless we plan for these in-between times just as carefully as we plan our lessons we can lose valuable learning time. However, with predictable routines in place, students can move smoothly from one activity to the next without a significant impact on their learning.

"Don't ever ask children to do nothing. When children aren't sure what they are supposed to be doing or they are waiting for you to tell them what to do, they will come up with something to do, and in most cases, this will be something you don't particularly want them to do." (Teaching Effective Classroom Routines by Deborah Diffily and Charlotte Sassman)

The following link is for a video clip of a teacher called Doug McCurry practicing passing out and collecting in handouts with his class. I first came across this video in a book called 'Teach Like a Champion 2.0' by Doug Lemov. At first it seems trivial to promote what McCurry is doing as a meaningful classroom technique but by making this an efficient inherent technique in his classroom, Lemov points out in his book that, McCurry saves up to 4 1/2 teaching days a year which is not wasted passing out or collecting in handouts and assignments. It is an interesting point made by Doug Lemov and one that we could perhaps consider when we think about standardising our routines and procedures this year.

I also read a series of blog posts by Mark Miller From Dixons Kings Academy. In the first blog he focuses on establishing classroom routine early on in a term. He writes: "Our routines are so important, but when systems and routines are the sole preserve of the classroom teacher, we get inconsistency. And inconsistency is unfair."

In the second blog in the series Mark Miller focuses on how individual departments can focus on particular routines that are appropriate for their subject areas. "...while whole school routines undoubtedly have value, they aren’t the only things worth practising. That is why we followed up that first practice session with one designed by individual departments."

Perhaps by implementing this type of strategy we too will be able to claim back valuable teaching time with our classes.

(M Nesbitt)

Fancy a Challenge...

Learning not Teaching: Challenge-Based Learning


Challenge-Based Learning is an approach to learning which encourages pupils to find stuff out, without the teacher getting in the way. It allows the students to cover the existing content of school courses, but sets an open question which requires significant research and discovery by students before they can decide upon a solution.

This is a move away from the traditional model of teaching, from the “sage-on-the-stage” towards a “guide-on-the-side”approach. It takes some organising and much thought in getting it set up, but in lessons, the pupils do the work and the teacher becomes much more of a monitor of their learning than the sole source of information.

It should be multidisciplinary, but I have started it as a single subject process so that I could work out all of the bugs and build a better workflow before getting other subject teachers involved!


In my classes, I confess: pupils were often bored and I was exhausted. No matter how funny or engaging or interesting I imagined my lessons were, the focal point was me rather than them. I was well organised, I had many piles of photocopied notes to distribute and my LOs were faithfully displayed on the old-school whiteboard. But as I did more, they did less, passively sitting through lectures about the differences between Private Limited Companies and Public Limited Companies. I allowed myself to continue in this manner under the false presumption that teachers must work hard if the pupils are to learn anything. Actually, the truth was that for any year group, if I was speaking for more than 15 minutes on any topic, I began to realise that I was talking to myself.

I found my epiphany through some soul searching and a couple of books about education. One was “The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook” by Jim Smith and the other was “Creating Innovators” by Prof Tony Wagner. For those who haven’t come across the book, The Lazy Teacher is not, in fact, lazy, but redirects the focus of lessons from the teacher to the pupils. They work, they discover, they learn. The teacher organises, directs and assesses. Creating Innovators is all about innovating our way out of the economic doldrums and high levels of youth unemployment and underemployment. Creating these innovative humans still requires academic excellence, but needs us to break out of the blinkers.Once we have scaled Bloom’s Taxonomy (yes, we still need them to pass those GCSEs and A levels), we need to help young people to become ‘idea machines’. They need to be better at finding creative solutions to big problems, better at collaborating with others on these big problems, they need show initiative (and determination) when circumstances change and be able to communicate more clearly. These skills cannot be properly developed working in isolation. Young people need to get used to working in teams on big problems that have fuzzy borders and no single “right” answer.

How to Use CBL?

You start with the context you need to cover. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! Get a list of topics from your Scheme or Specification, and start there. Now you have to reverse engineer a list of questions to find those “answers”, and finally write an “Essential Question”, which is the title of the project. The Essential Question (or EQ) should require a solution which the pupils must ponder, research and decide upon before reporting back. You may want them to write a report, or present, or make a short video! The EQ should be “open” but will generally lead to them finding out the stuff you wanted them to learn anyway. Some schools take more risks than this, but for nervous beginners, play safe!

Is Challenge-Based Learning like Project-Based Learning?

Eh, yes.

Challenge-Based Learning is similar to Project-Based Learning and Problem-Based Learning; I have adopted Challenge-Based as it tends to be associated with educational technology and has some support from Apple in this regard. I realised that I will need help on this journey and I hope that Apple will be able to provide excellent resources to support the successful implementation of the system.

Is it any good?

There are many positive reports about student engagement and progress coming from the USA, for more than a decade: such as Blumenfeld et al, Thomas and Savery , although there is a need for more recent quantitative research and analysis to increase its credibility. In the UK, the picture of CBL / PBL is encouraging, in pioneering schools such as Stanley Park in London, but lacks hard data to support it.

My own experience is that there is little to fear from trying just such an approach. What is striking is that the pupils seems to learn faster and they learn more than they would have covered with the teacher delivering it all. The open-ended nature of the Essential Question (aka the title of the challenge) means they often ask more relevant questions than would have been suggested by the teacher to address the problem. They are refining how they search for information and how they use it. They are looking for inefficiencies in how they carry out their tasks each lesson and trying to find workarounds. They are playing their roles responsibly and there have been very few arguments.

They are learning more. They are developing their skills more. And I am doing less.

[Bio: Sam Sinclair is Head of Business Studies at Bangor Grammar School and a part-time Specialist educator at iTeach UK. For for information on Challenge-Based Learning, please contact]

Teacher Takeaway..

But... Because... So...

This is a simple literacy strategy By Judith Hochman that could be used in any subject that requires pupils to write at least a short paragraph.

Students are given a short clause or sentence opener and are asked to expand on it using the three conjunctions."

Here is an example of a modified form of the exercise in use from one of our RE lessons which focuses on the different sources that might influence us as we make our ethical decisions. After a discussion pupils had to select what the most important source of their morals was and they then had to develop the clause using the technique outlined.

My parents are the most important source of my morals because...My parents are the most important source of my morals so...My parents are the most important source of my morals but...

One of the benefits of this technique is that it causes students to think about the depth of their writing and how they might improve this. At the end of the exercise they will have written a paragraph which focuses on a single point or topic but they will have included reasons to back up their initial statement along with alternative views.

This is a simple exercise which can be applied in any subject area to deepen what pupils are already learning in class.

(M Nesbitt)


The new season of 15 Minute Forums will be getting underway soon. I have had a few volunteers to kick us off with presentations on 'Challenge Based Learning', 'Introducing iMovie' and 'Literacy strategies'. We might also use the forum as a way of introducing some of the new features available in SIMS.

The 15 minute forums rely on a steady stream of volunteers from the staff here in school to present on an app you have been using, a strategy from your teaching or some other aspect that will benefit us as staff in school. So please keep the stream of ideas coming. Also if there is a particular area that you would like addressed in the forum, perhaps for a PRSD objective, then let me know and we can work on putting together a programme.

Lastly, don't forget to sign up to Twitter and follow our school Twitter feed @BGSTeachBetter to link up with other teachers and continue your professional development.

(M Nesbitt)

Created By
M Nesbitt (Bangor Grammar School) @BGSTeachBetter
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