Sunday, 29 October 2017

Thoughts from a Chair of Governors

The Star Classroom equipment is a great classroom set up in terms of the hardware and software; but like any tool, it is only effective if used in the right way and in the right hands. One thing that really helps maximise its use is having visionary teachers and school leaders who are able to see not only the immediate benefits, but also the potential. One school that has taken things to the next level is Hogsthorpe Primary school - and here are the thoughts from the Chair of Governors on how they have used Star Classroom to address some of the difficulties they have faced in the past in terms of their location.

"I am extremely proud to be the Chair of Governors for Hogsthorpe Primary Academy. As a DRET Appointed Governor, I feel it is important to work for the best of what the Trust has to offer in terms of enrichment opportunities for the children at Hogsthorpe but also how the use of technology can help make life easier for the hard working staff at the Academy. I will be honest at this point that I have a vested interest in ensuring the IT Technology at Hogsthorpe both works well but is also used without need for the ‘it just doesn’t work’ ethos as I am also the Regional IT Manager for Hogsthorpe, as well as other schools within the Trust.
Hogsthorpe is based on the East Coast and has all of the challenges that come with being in an area that fluctuates with parents in mostly seasonal jobs, and on the end of a very interesting Lincolnshire road network! A small Academy with a small number of dedicated staff can often restrict the amount of time staff are able to leave to access Trust based CPD Opportunities or meetings with other Academies in the Trust. One opportunity was offered to the Local Governing Body in 2016, this was an initiative from Lloyds TSB bank on having ‘E-Governors’ becoming part of the Local Governing Body. This would be a first for the Trust and was being followed with interest by a study at Leeds Beckett University who were keen to see how E-Governors would work for Academies.
This would offer the LGB an opportunity for experienced professionals to join the Governing Body by attending meetings virtually, through Web Conferencing and Phone Conferences. This in turn offered a wealth of expertise to add to the passion of existing Governors. We welcomed two E-Governors to the Local Governing Body and they have been able to take a unique look at our Governors meetings. Here we have two experienced professionals from the financial sector of a large bank dealing purely with facts delivered through reports and views presented at the meetings. Were Governors swayed by visiting the friendly environment of the Academy and filling up on tea and biscuits before meetings? Was the critical friend less critical with two sugars in the tea?  
The setup consists of Lloyds TSB utilising their Cisco Web Conferencing facility along with the Academy’s own Star Classroom Equipment in a mix of technologies. One thing we were keen on was for all Governors to see each other. We are able to use the Star Classroom Web Conference facility while dialling into the phone conferencing facility.
This presented a big wake up call in how we present meetings – there was an immediate need for the Chair to be very clear on who was speaking, a rather odd new element for those used to ‘normal’ Governors meetings. Challenge comes to LGB meetings when the discussion starts to flow and ideas swing around the table. Being disciplined to allow our E-Governors know what is happening in the meeting room is crucial but also keeps the entire meeting disciplined and I welcome this basic principle. There is also a need to present reports in a clear and understandable fashion, we ask Governors to digest lots of data and one meeting could be a success based purely on the challenge of one figure in a lot of reports.
Document titles became very important, while the flow of meetings is crucial to allowing everyone to challenge the senior leadership of the school, it is even more important to know what document everyone is looking at! Documents and reports are shared online and followed through the meeting on the Star Classroom screen so everyone knows where we are upto and what data is being challenged.
These seem very basic elements but are crucial in ensuring the LGB are firing on all cylinders in the meetings. An interesting side-line to the use of technology is that meeting basics come back to the forefront.
Another exciting development that I have been welcomed to is the use of writing moderation across several Trust schools. While I admit to being in awe of the work teachers do, I am by no means expert in how they do it. The past infrastructure of moderation was for staff to hop in the car and sit behind the latest John Deere tractor for very variable amounts of time to meet with other Academies staff and moderate each other’s marking. Introduced across the Trust Region including Hogsthorpe was video conferencing between the schools. I was invited in to see one of our Academies in Scarborough, one in Bridlington and Hogsthorpe speaking in crystal clear sound and video via the Star Classroom equipment. The amount of miles saved was fantastic.
The Year 6 and Year 4 Writing work was scanned in and shared between all schools on Google Drive, from here the marking ladders were put against each piece of writing. The challenge was provided by all staff across realtime video and realtime editing. This was one circumstance where the comfort of the home Academy was most welcome. There was no travel, no emissions and no John Deere Tractors to worry about as experienced staff from across the Trust were working together to improve childrens outcomes. It was great to see and showed just what can be achieved by technology being used simply but effectively.
I sat and watched as the staff entered only a couple of web links to fire up both the video conference and Google Drive. Guiding each other on which sites to go to and which documents were being worked on. The reassurance was in staff making tweaks and suggestions on how to improve moderation online, could documents be shared a few days earlier for staff to work with and then share experiences in moderation meetings? Could this be expanded to other areas of working with other Academies?
All reassuring and driven towards embedding technology into Academy life shows how much of a jump for our Academies the Star Classroom has made."

Thanks to Mr Jacklin for his views and insight. It's great to be working with such forward thinkers.
If his words resonate with you, and you would like more information on video conferencing, collaborative working or anything else mentioned, then please get in touch with the eLearning Team.
You can follow Hogsthorpe on Twitter @hogsthorpePA and keep up to date with Star Classroom @star_classroom

Friday, 27 October 2017

Latest Featured Resources

Searching for resources?

Our Trust-wide Resource Library at is full of Key Stage searchable resources, ready for downloading and adapting.

For those outside of the David Ross Education Trust, and those without a login, we regularly feature useful resources that are available for all to use. Last month we featured a set of History resources on the American West for example.

This month, and in keeping with the Halloween theme at this time of year, we feature a set of English resources aimed at Key Stage 3 pupils on the theme of 'Monsters'. In these folders you will find more than 8 lesson's worth of beastly materials dedicated to designing and describing monsters, comparing monsters such as Dracula and Frankenstein's monster and creating spooooky settings that monsters might like to call home: a real scream.....

Find and download the full set of ghastly 'Monsters' resources in our 'Featured Resources' pages at They are a thriller....

(Credit: L Morley, Charnwood College)

Friday, 20 October 2017

iPad Essentials Awards

Members of Malcolm Arnold Academy's Creative Design Department this week earned their 'iPad Essentials' Awards following a successful workshop.

A few minutes after the initial setup,  the team were taking and editing photos, installing apps from our Self Service app store, getting creative with Snapseed, sharing files with each other on Google Drive and mirroring to the classroom board - the enthusiasm was contagious!

The iPad itself fits perfectly with a Creative Design department - using the camera as a visualiser to see demonstrations clearly on the classroom board is often a game changer for teachers, and with tonnes of creative apps available there is a wealth of possibilities. Everyday tasks like taking pictures of student's work and printing them become far easier - with teachers able to take photos and upload to Google Drive, enabling technicians to be able to print at a later date: hassle free and saving lots of time.

In a few weeks, we will be back working with the team and running a workshop on video making and animation - we look forward to seeing how everyone is getting on!

The iPads, along with integrating some of our other services like DRET TV, and using other eLearning tools such as Google Classroom, is an exciting direction that HoD Mrs Prince wants to take the department in - and one which we believe will really have an impact in and out of the classroom. Watch this space!

If you are interested in seeing what the Malcolm Arnold Creative Design Department are doing, you can follow them on Twitter @mrsprincessmaa or follow the eLearning team @star_classroom.
If you are interested in eLearning training for your team or department, then please get in touch with the eLearning Team. Our Core Awards can be found at

Monday, 16 October 2017

#MondaysDebate Project Uses Technology to Bring Together Thousands of Students

Doing anything at scale across 12000 students and 2000 staff can be a real challenge - but sometimes something as simple as a great idea linked to technologies you're already using can take on a life of its own.

Our Monday Debate programme is intended to engage all our students in debates about issues and current affairs - to make it work we've used several parts of our eLearning Toolkit.

Microsoft Stream (or as we call it, gives us a private video sharing service that allows us to publish each week a series of age appropriate stimulus videos that we know every teacher can access to use with their groups in the way that best works for them.

Microsoft Yammer allows us to run a professional social network in which staff can plan and propose ideas for the project, and share the outcomes from their groups with their colleagues.

Google Forms, with the ability to upload footage, will soon allow staff to upload videos from their discussions to share - ideally we'd have all staff uploading directly to Microsoft Stream, but one of the issues we've struggled with the new product (compared to Office 365 Video) is the limit on the number of contributors, which is not likely to be an issue for one school, but is an issue for a group of 34!

This week the topic of discussion was the impact of technology on our lives. Some comments from Edward Heneage Primary in Grimsby.
‘I wouldn’t mind having less technology because there are plenty of other games to play and a lot of other things to keep you occupied. For example: I could practise my favourite sport, play out, play board games, practise school work, play cars and lots of other things. You could, if you have another sibling, play around the house with them.’

‘I could play on the field with my pets instead.’

‘I agree that technology is important  but we do need to spend less time using it as it is affecting our family life.’

‘I would be like an empty shell if I had no technology because I use it all the time. I think teenagers love technology because they get bored with normal life and they find it fun to be on line. When people don’t use technology, and they go outside, it lets them appreciate and enjoy the environment.’
The general consensus was that whilst they enjoyed using technology the film made them understand that they should not use it as much as they do!

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Badges, Certificates, Awards

We have issued over 300 internal eLearning awards this academic year so far, following either face-to-face training sessions or via our collection of online courses. The most popular awards to date have been Google Drive Essentials, iPad Essentials and Star Classroom Essentials - core awards which are a gateway to our Challenge for eLearning CPD pathway.

In addition to this in-house collection of awards, which can be found at, staff have been working hard to gain external eLearning qualifications and awards which recognise skills in using technology for better learning and student outcomes. These external awards include:

Google Certified Educator 
Apple Teacher
Microsoft Innovative Educator
Class Dojo Mentor

DRET schools including Charles Read Academy, Havelock Academy and Bringhurst Primary to name just a few now have teachers that have been awarded external awards and qualifications by Google, Apple and Microsoft - with lots more to follow. What's great about these awards is that they aren't a simple box-ticking exercise, but require applicants to demonstrate proficiency and know how to use the tools to enhance the classroom experience.

Congratulations to all those staff members who have achieved awards so far this year - and we have lots more to follow we are sure of that.

If you are interested in earning eLearning awards, head over to to see our in-house collection, or get in touch with the eLearning team for more information about the external awards.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Ditch the memory stick - a teacher's perspective

After Christmas, external storage devices will cease to work on our school systems - here's some thoughts on moving to cloud storage from Mr Brannigan at Bringhurst Primary School in Leicestershire:

Goodbye memory stick, hello Google Drive

Twelve. That's the number of memory sticks I’ve gone through in 7 years.

When I started my teacher training, lecturers used to joke about memory sticks - “It’s got my life’s work on it”. It wasn’t until I started gathering resources after resources; worksheets that covered every lesson and topic; and countless assessment evidence and test results that I started to sit up and take notice to what those lecturers were saying. This thing really IS my life!

Each memory stick earned its place on the same keyring as my car keys. As I used up the memory in one, another, with a much bigger storage capacity, took its place. Then I bought memory sticks with complicated encryption keys and fancy LED lights. But what became latest accessory quickly challenged the top spot against my phone. What would happen if I lost it? Or if I left it in school? Or it got damaged or corrupted?

We’ve all had that sinking feeling when one of these situations happen. I’ve had it all. I began the arduous task of daily backups of the memory stick to my school computer and home computer and I backed up those backups!!! For years I searched for an easier way to backup my data. Then I attended the Star Classroom training and Guy, Ben and Yasmin had the solution. Google Drive.

Initially, I was very skeptical. I had tried the Google Apps before and found them useful but I wasn’t sure it was the solution to replace my memory stick. The similarities between teachers and their memory sticks and Gollum and his ring were increasing. I dived into the deep end and downloaded the Google Drive app which placed a Google Drive folder on my class computer. I did the same to my computer at home and I was amazed by the simplicity of syncing the folder, ensuring that each was up-to-date. I would type my planning at the weekend, come in on Monday and turn on my computer, and in seconds my work from Sunday was there on the Google Drive folder on the class computer. As I was working on a document and clicked save, again the Google Drive app whirled into life and synced my changes straight away. When I was travelling on the train and my headteacher needed a document sent to her, I could do it through the Google Drive app on my phone in a few clicks.

Since January I haven’t touched a memory stick and I haven’t missed it one bit! So good riddance memory sticks and hello simplicity!

Our thanks to Mr Brannigan for sharing his thoughts. If you or your team would like more information on moving over to Google Drive and the benefits it brings, or any other type of eLearning training, then please get in touch with the eLearning Team. If you have a login then you can view all of our training videos, including Google Drive, at

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Google Slides new additions

For many, it's a straight-up battle of PowerPoint vs Google Slides for making slideshows or teaching resources. Since the introduction of Office Mix to PowerPoint, many teachers we work with use both: Office Mix enabling looped video creation which often acts as the extra adult in the room, and Slides being a sharable slide deck full of lesson content.

Recently Google has added lots more features to Slides, and the great thing about G Suite updates is that many new features that get added are suggestions made by the people that actually use the product, i.e people like us. The new features, although subtle, are actually ones that we would use on a near-daily basis.
The ability to link and sync slides from other presentations is a great addition - so means you no longer have to copy slides from previous presentations. Great for teachers who perhaps want to use yesterday's plenary slide as today's starter slide for example, or create new slide decks but use slides from previous presentations.
The ability to add diagrams and add-ons adds extra functionality to presentations, and being able to see slides in Grid View makes moving slides around much easier, especially if tailoring your slides to different audiences.

The new feature we are most excited about is the ability to use Google Keep in Slides - if you are a regular reader of this blog you know how much we love Keep - so integrating Keep into anything will always be a winner for us. In fact, anything that aids efficiency whilst being simple to operate is surely a winner for all, right?

To see a full rundown of all the new features in Slides, mouse over to this link to hear it straight from the horse's mouth.

If you want to organise eLearning training for your team, then please get in touch with the eLearning Team - or if you are a DRET staff member you can see over 75 training videos on DRET.TV including how to use Google Keep.