Archive for the Category ◊ Useful Sites/Software ◊

Sharing Photos @smugmug
Saturday, July 23rd, 2016 | Author:

Two years ago I wrote about sharing photos with parents, and at the time, I was dabbling in using Cloudup. Although this is a good service and is free, users are limited to 1000 uploads (approx 200gb per account). This won’t last long in a school that is constantly uploading photos.

There are still many choices for sharing photos. We use Google Drive a lot in school and with this, comes Google Photos. This is free and unlimited and I LOVE it for personal use. For school though, what I could do is to create albums for different events and share these links on a page for parents. They could then click and view the photos for each event. We have used this for BIG events such as residential visits and then made the galleries public on the website.

We also blog photos too but for big events there could be 200+ photos and the blog isn’t really the way to share this many either.

On the Hampshire network managers mailing list (yep, I’m on that…) there was a discussion about ways to share lots of photos and one suggestion was Smugmug.  On the website, it lists the basic plan at a starting price of $3.34 a month. That’s currently about £30 a year. So what do you get?

You can upload unlimited photos and videos at ridiculous sizes so no need to resize them at all. You can create multiple galleries and have some as public and some as password-protected or do like we have done, and password the whole site. So if anyone goes to then they will be asked for a password. We’ve shared this with parents so they can access each gallery, but for anyone else, they see nothing.

We have a number of options too, we can change the look of the site (this doesn’t bother me) and enable/disable download access for each photo too. We could even set a pricing structure so that parents could choose photos, add them to a mug or a mousemat and have their own gifts.

You get a free 14-day trial and I asked for this to be extended as it was the summer holidays and they have given me until Sept to make a decision on whether we sign up or not. At the moment, I can’t see any flaws with it and it will work well with our blogs (for small things, lessons etc) and with our website too. I can also give one login to all teachers and they can login with an “assistant” password which lets them upload photos but not change the admin settings.

So far I really like it and we have had good feedback from parents too. What do you use to share photos? What works in your school?

Times Tables Rock
Saturday, June 04th, 2016 | Author:

As many teachers will know, it is now a Year 4 expectation that children will know all of their times tables. This is obviously useful throughout the maths curriculum but I am not going to debate whether children should or shouldn’t learn them all. This post is to share a fantastic resource that Jo Payne ( pointed me towards earlier this year.

Times Table Rockstars ( is an online tool that tests children on times tables. That’s it. It isn’t fancy and it doesn’t wrap them up in racing/football/skiing games or whatever like some tools might do, it just shows a multiplication/division question and the children answer it. Quickly.

Screenshot 2016-06-04 at 22.02.43

Let’s start from the beginning. You get a four-week free trial (good) and you can upload your whole school using a csv file (great). I created accounts for my whole school in minutes. Every ICT leader must surely have a csv file with all pupils on as this is the default way of creating logins for so many tools these days. If not, get one from your MIS system (ask the lovely people in the office). You can then put children into classes or bands and you’re away. We decided not to set them up in classes but to call our classes 2x, 3x, 2/5/10x etc after the different times table groupings. The children still have weekly tests in class and if they pass, they move to a different band. You can assign times tables to a particular band too. So the 2/5/10x band are only given 2/5/10x table questions. Makes sense, right?

Screenshot 2016-06-04 at 22.05.58

Once logged in, the children are given a rock star and can choose from some bizarre rock star names. If they don’t like them, they pick again and again and again… They can also choose hair, eyes and other avatar essentials. Then the fun starts…

Screenshot 2016-06-04 at 22.04.56

They can either go into one of the training modes or they can go into the rock festivals. These arenas (named after different venues such as Glastonbury or Wembley) are where the children can battle against each other. Often, I will have a whole class of children trying to get into the same arena so they can all play against each other. As they answer questions correctly, they earn coins. These coins can be used to adapt their avatar and also show in the leaderboards (turn these off if you want to). Each game only lasts 60 seconds.

Screenshot 2016-06-04 at 22.01.18

There is also a new feature where children can challenge a friend. So one will play a game and send the time to their friend, when they log in, they will see the challenge and be able to see a “ghost” of their friend’s achievements and try and beat it. Friendly competition is a good thing.

So, how have we used it? I would say we have 2/3 times a week where the children will have 10 minutes on Rockstars. We use chromebooks which load in seconds so we can be up and running, playing a game in under a minute. The children will then play at least 5 rounds, answering 50+ questions in minutes.

For each child, it shows a times table grid. As they get the answers right, the squares go green so I know which children need targeting in which areas. I still teach times tables and I still practise in the normal ways, but this gives the children an additional resource to use too. They even choose to go on this when given free time.

Screenshot 2016-06-04 at 22.03.50

The children in my class have made massive progress in their times table knowledge and this is the culmination of lots of different approaches but TTRockstars has definitely helped. It also has a range of paper-based times table tests too.

How much does it cost? £50 per year for the whole school. An absolute bargain.

Sharing Links
Tuesday, December 02nd, 2014 | Author:

I am a little bit obsessed with finding tools that make it easy to collate and share links to websites. I had a look back through and realised I had blogged three times about this before. The latest, in 2010, being here. I think that it is very important for children to be able to load the internet, be presented with a range of stuff and then access it quickly. This helps to get to the learning quicker and will help reduce potential errors when typing long addresses. There is a time and a place for using Google to find things, but that is not every time you want them to load Education City.

I usually use 3x3links ( being our current page) to share links and this works well as the children access a website and on there are a list of tools that I want them to get to. I can adapt it in seconds meaning that if they find a useful resource, I can share with others too. This has worked for me for four years and will continue to have a place, but I needed something more. We have a range of online tools and some of them require usernames and passwords. Some also have school codes. One such example is Sumdog. If you go to, you can’t login with a school account but if you go to a special URL – – then it knows you are from my school and you simply login. Some tools, such as  BrainPOP, have provided us with a URL that includes our username and password so by clicking it, you visit the site but log in along the way meaning that there are no usernames to remember.

If I was to include these on our school website, they would be publicly available meaning anyone could get to our paid content for free. We’d be breaking all kinds of licenses too. So I needed a tool that was behind a login screen, but ideally linked to our Google accounts. The majority of children are accessing the internet via a Chromebook so they are logging in to get online and to have a different login would be a bit of a pain.

Around a year ago I became aware of a company called Airhead. They were offering a solution that gave children access to a page or launchpad with a variety of links. I could either use the pre-made links or I could create my own from the huge library.


Adding a tile can sometimes give the option to store the username or password too. I have to admit, this can be a bit hit and miss as to whether it works, but it is improving. I’d like to see the option to add school codes as these are what we use for tools such as Sumdog and Purple Mash.


It takes seconds to make a new page and add it the list that I already have.



I could have a pad for different subjects e.g. Art and photo tools. These can then just grow and grow over time.


Once I have made a page or pad, I simply share this with different users. This has already been setup through our Google Groups so this makes sharing easy.


The children simply click the link to visit and it knows their Google login and signs them into the launchpad that they need. There is also a new feature that removes the need to login at all. This is perfect for our infants, they will simply click the login on the desktop and be presented with a range of links. I have also used this option on our tablets. This is on the home screen of every tablet giving pupils a quick way to load the various tools they need to use.

The tech support has been fantastic so far with questions answered often within minutes. One teacher did point out that I could make a Google Site and only share this with certain users and this would work in much the same way, I just like the simplicity of Airhead so far.

So what do you use for accessing resources online? How do you manage the multiple usernames and passwords that are available?

Online Field Trips
Tuesday, September 09th, 2014 | Author:

I have been approached by the Eat Happy Project to spread the word of their good work. So this is a guest post, I hope you find it useful.


As part of my role as Social Enterprise coordinator, it is my job to find new and exciting projects; linking new and existing local businesses. We’ve been working with Tesco’s Eat Happy Project  and in the first instance, their Farm to Fork Trails; visiting the store with children to look at produce, services and taste new foods. There therefore seemed an obvious link with their Online Field Trips and we couldn’t wait to get involved so that our children could find out more about the origin of everyday food. Our group chose Cracking Cheese from the Wensleydale Creamery in Yorkshire. The class couldn’t wait to participate in such an exciting and interactive lesson.

We have used Skype in the past to connect with other schools and businesses. We therefore looked forward to the opportunity to connect with schools and farms in real-time. The question and answer session was particularly fruitful and the children gained a lot from sharing their ideas and insights. It also gave the staff the opportunity to develop their understanding of Google Hangouts and this is something we have since used.


The children were able to see the food producers at the Wensleydale Creamery, ask questions and talk to a wide range of people whose knowledge of different cheese was wide-ranging. The children had the opportunity to taste the different cheeses, as the Eat Happy Project sent over samples for every child to try during the Online Field Trip. This added a different dimension to the learning experience and gave the children an opportunity to try new food.



The Eat Happy Project also provided the teacher with a variety of lesson plans, activities and worksheets to support the learning before, during and after the lesson. All this was free for the school and ensured the teacher was ready and prepared for the Online Field Trip with minimal extra work.

Overall, the ‘trip’ was highly positive and one we look forward to continuing to develop in the future.

Tricia Harding, Robinswood Primary School, Gloucester


Here is the calendar for Online Field Trips in the autumn term:


Honey – 11 September 1.30pm

Sweetcorn – 18 September 1.30pm

Rice – 25 September (time TBC)

Broccoli – 2 October 1.30pm

Pumpkin & squash – 9 October 1.30pm

Baked beans – 6 November 1.30pm

Bread – 13 November 1.30pm

Potatoes – 20 November 1.30pm

Tea – 27 November (time TBC)

Clementines – 4 December 1.30pm

Cranberries – 11 December 1.30pm


If you and your class would like to join a live Online Field Trip please contact the Eat Happy Project at


If you’d like to watch the live Online Field Trip with your class (but not participate), visit the Eat Happy Project website:


Or find them on Google+: Eat Happy Project

Twitter: @EatHappyProject

Cloud Storage
Thursday, August 28th, 2014 | Author:

I saw a few articles recently, including this one and this one, that talked about Dropbox reducing its pricing structure so I thought it was worth looking to see how they stack up against what I was already doing.

For those of you that don’t know, and there are many out there, Dropbox is a way of saving your files online. I blogged about it back in 2010(!!). The way that it works is that you install the software on your computer and then add files into it. Easy. You can install it on multiple computers, you can share files and folders and you can sync from you phone too. I have my phone camera set to upload to Dropbox when it finds WiFi. The thing that I love about Dropbox is that when you open the software on your PC, it doesn’t look like you are using different software. It just comes up as a drive in Windows. I can drag, drop, create new files and do everything else I am expecting to do in Windows. Then it saves it all to the cloud.

Free users get 2Gb and there are various different ways of boosting this by tweeting about Dropbox or by asking friends to sign-up via a link (like this one) Through these methods I now have just under 19GB of free storage. But with the costs so low, surely paid options are worth looking at?

In 2010, 50GB on Dropbox would cost £6.50 a month. It is now 1TB/1,000GB for £7.99. That’s progress! Think about your photos, your schoolwork or any useful document you need. If you have never had a USB drive or Hard drive break on you, then you will know someone that has. I still have people at school occasionally that have had USB errors and have lost their work and ask for me to magically fix it but all too often, it’s gone forever. When I ask about backup, they always say it’s something that they meant to do. I used to copy my USB stick to my hard drive every now and again. This is an easy way to make sure that your files are saved no matter what happens.

At school, we have remote working. This means that we log in to the school server, see our Teacher Resources file as if we were in the building and then log off when we are done. This is all backed up and we can even print to school if we want and then collect it in the morning.

Not everything that i do is online, I still save some things offline, but everything is backed up in at least one other place.

This chart, taken from Gizmodo, compares some of the current cloud storage offerings. As well as Dropbox for my schoolwork, I also use Google Drive.

Their current pricing gives 1TB for $9.99 which is pretty much the same as Dropbox but it’s the one below this that I am currently using. They offer 100GB (although I get 125GB) for $1.99 a month. I use this purely for photos. I have folders setup on an external hard drive which means that they get picked up by Picasa on my computer, this syncs with private Google+ albums (that took some time to find!) and then they automatically sync, at full size, to Google Drive storage too. Around two years ago I lost a holiday’s worth of photos so paying £1.50 a month is well worth not having to go through that again! Edit (June 2016) I now use Google Photos for photo backup. We have an Android camera and two phones. Every picture we take is automatically sent to Google Photos and yes, it means we get lots of random photos we probably never need, but it also means that every photo is backed up should we lose a device.

So what do you use to backup your files? Have you managed to convince others that it is a sensible way to go?


PS: Before anyone mentions it, yes there are privacy issues with storing some things online. Who owns your data? Where does it go? Will they modify the data when I give it to them? But for those of us that are already signed up to the fact that Google knows more about us than our partners do, cloud storage is a no-brainer.

PPS: Prices correct as of 28th August 2014

Sharing Photos
Monday, May 26th, 2014 | Author:

How do you share photos with parents after a big event such as a school trip or residential? I don’t mean via a blog so that they can see them, I mean sharing so that they can get a copy of a picture of their child.

I’ve used Picasa in the past as my previous school used Google Apps (and my current one is about to) and Picasa gives each user 1GB of photo storage. We simply created an account called Hampton Court and then uploaded 300 or so photos from our Hampton Court visit. This was done fairly easily and then I could share the photos in a few ways.

1) Public – So anyone could go and look at them. I could put a link on our school website or blog and then parents could see everything. But then so could everyone else.

2) Shared with certain people – This meant the children needed to login to their Google accounts to be able to access the photos. This was perfect as we had been using Google Apps for two years, the logins were ingrained and the parents could sit with the children and access the photos together.

Now, at Riders we are using Google Apps in a minimal sense at the moment. We are in the process of buying devices for September but there isn’t really a way for pupils to use the internet in school yet. So this means we haven’t yet given them Google logins. I needed to find a different way of sharing photos from our residential trip. Some parents had provided cameras for the tip, but many had not so I promised that I would take loads (500+ in fact) and then share them when we got back.

I looked around for a simple way of sharing photos and someone on Twitter (Phil_Timmins) suggested Cloudup. It’s free and allows 1000 documents/photos. Just drag and drop them to upload and then each gallery can be password protected too. So I can share the links with parents and send the password home via a newsletter with the child. Easy!

Cloudup is free at the moment and I’m sure will be chargeable at some point, but for now, it provides a quick, painfree way of sharing photos with parents and friends.

Here’s an example gallery using photos from my O2 climb

It appears that Cloudup is invite only at the moment, but I have a few invites available via this link

100WC Questions
Sunday, October 20th, 2013 | Author:

I am writing this post because I have been asked by a few people how I actually use the 100 Word Challenge within school. So I though I would share a few ideas to get you started. This week, over 1000 children have contributed to the weekly prompt for the first time. I wonder how long it is until over 2000 posts a week are submitted?


Where do the children write their posts? 

In our school we have blogs: and this is setup using WordPress Multisite. This means that each blog I create is a sub-blog from the main one. I have created a blog for the 100 Word Challenge: and every class has a login. The children are aware of the login and password and because of restrictions I have put in place, the children write their posts but it won’t go live on the site until I check it. When the children are writing their post, they add their name into the tags so that we can search for all of the posts from a particular child quickly.

You could of course have any blog just for 100 Word Challenge, but WordPress Multisite lets me manage it easily. I don’t post them onto the class blogs as they would quickly get filled if 30 children were writing on there every week!

How do I use the prompts without a blog?

When I am first showing the 100 Word Challenge to people, I suggest that they use it within class as part of  Literacy lessons or maybe morning tasks. To start with, I help the children witht he planning stages. Use the prompt and see what ideas they have. Will their writing be a letter or a story? What about something else? What characters or settings are there?

Last year, I wrote the prompt (or printed if it was a picture) and put it on the wall in the classroom. The children could then write about this during the week, maybe for 5minutes a day during registration or as one of the activities in a reading carousel. This gets them used to using the prompt and writing around 100 words. I often get the children to peer assess these as they can then look through them and build up their awareness of targets and the content of writing rather than just marking and saying “your writing is neat”.

A bit of hacking
Saturday, May 18th, 2013 | Author:

There are many tools that people get shown either via Twitter or at a Teachmeet and then they sit on the “to-do” list for ages. I know loads of people who haven’t got around to trying differentt ools for one reason or another. Voicethread is on my list, as is Storybird. I’ve dabbled with them, but not really used them in class much.

Hackasaurus is one of those tools for many people. I have shown it at a couple of recent Teachmeets and also at a conference I was at last week, but I hadn’t used it with a whole class until this week. So I thought I would share what we did with it and how it worked.

In case you don’t know, Hackasaurus lets you take a webpage and then edit the text and images that are on there. This looks like the site has been hacked, but in fact it’s just a (very clever) copy. This works best for news sites I think.

I first used it in class to create a stimulus for discussion. I took a Sky News page, hacked it a bit to add a photo of a hotel and then wrote 5/6 paragraphs about the new hotel that was being built in the Indian village we were looking at. The text gave different opinions from different sides such as the hotel company, local businesses and unemployed villagers.  I could have just said to the children “today we’re discussing a hotel development” but by having it as a news page that I have “found”, it made it more real.

So, on to the whole-class test. In the morning, we went down to the pond and took part in some pond-dipping. We took photos of the things we found and then later on, I wanted the children to write about what they had found.  Now, this wasn’t the main focus, it wasn’t literacy, these aren’t the best examples of writing at all, but they are examples of children exploring a new tool that later on will help them to improve their writing. Over lunchtime I uploaded the photos to a Picasa gallery meaning that the children could easily access them. I put the link to this gallery on the schools website ( and also added a link to a Newsround site too. I find that working with Newsround is much better as it has less inappropriate news stories on the sides and is more suitable for children. I also added a link to a Google Doc (that was open for anyone to edit without signing in) and added this to the school site too.

For the lesson, I demonstrated how to add the X-Ray Goggles to the bookmark bar and then we looked at how to edit text. I realised that Picasa brought another bonus, as the images were stored online, they already had an image URL meaning that the children could copy the URL of the image and paste it into Hackasaurus and change the photo in seconds.

As I said, these aren’t the best examples of writing, but for 45-60 minutes with a new tool, they worked really well. I hope you like them and can see a way of using them in your class too.

The hacked pages that my class made are available here (for best results, right-click and open in new tab/window):

Word of warning, once your children know how to use Hackasaurus, they won’t believe any webpage you ever show them again. But maybe that’s a good thing? My children now question the information they see online a lot more than they did a few weeks ago!

A how-to guide for Hackasaurus is here: