Life in the Learning Commons

Friday already and the end of my first full week as Director of Learning Commons and what a week it was.  Before I launch into looking back and indeed forward to some upcoming events, I just want to say thank you for the fantastically warm welcome I have had from students and staff.  Particularly to our wonderful Digital Leaders who have made my transition smooth and stress free.

This week we celebrated Roald Dahl’s birthday, it was great to have conversations with the students on our fond memories of these amazing books.  Remember that if the book you are after is not in the library then do check our eReading platform.


We also got a sneak peak at the yacht we will be using in a cooperative venture with UTC Plymouth, this will see a small team build and program an autonomous yacht to sail round a course of GPS way-markers.  Watch this space!


Calling All Engineers

RN YOE 18 - LockUp

The Royal Naval Engineering Challenge 2019 (RNEC 19) will take place at HMS SULTAN in Gosport, Hampshire, on Wednesday 27 March 2019.  I am looking to put a team of Engineers together to work on this exciting challenge where each team will be required to design and build a floating vessel and a separate RV, both of which can operate by remote control and work together to recover the aircraft. More details and a sign up form if interested can be found here.

Interested in coding?

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This term will see the relaunch of Code Club; a great opportunity to support our students who want to learn to code.  The code will help to build projects such as Scratch, HTML, CSS and python by making games, animations and websites.  For more information, visit their website.

Sign up here if you are interested.

This week Ms Buckler is reading Split Second by Sophie McKenzie.



SWAT 2016 -Poetry from Sue!

On Thursday June 16th, I left home at the unearthly hour of 7am to ensure bagging one of the sought after parking spaces at Exeter Uni for the SWAT conference. I was due to present a workshop with my colleague from Eggbuckland who was kindly driving and despite my cough and sore throat we talked all the way to Exeter, attempting to perfect our presentation.

As the sun attempted to break through the mist, we pontificated on the importance of the – in our opinion – incorrectly titled “soft skills”, & managed to reach the Uni and one of those coveted spaces. The Forum, a relatively new area of the University, is a fantastic space and ideal for this kind of conference – lots of well-appointed classrooms for a variety of audience sizes and a fabulous lecture theatre for the keynotes – one before and one after lunch – with tiers of comfortable high backed swivel seats.

As well as the wide variety of workshops there were also opportunities to listen to student speakers from some of the schools including our own brilliant Alfie Carlisle.

I listened to one speaker on how to prepare for, apply to and interview for a new job or role – no amazing new insights but presented with some humour and relevance.

Our talk on the necessity for employability skills in addition to exam grades unfortunately only attracted five delegates so we had somewhat over prepared resources, but at least the nerves were gone in time for my final workshop choice which was a very interesting explanation of growth mindset in action throughout Gt Torrington School.

An eclectic and on the whole valuable day – wish I’d been presenting earlier so as to lessen the stress!

Here is my not very successful attempt at putting the day in rhyme…

So delegates who made up the quorum

Were asked for a short piece to blog

About the conference in Exeter’s Forum –

That’s the reason for this monologue


Communication as in sharing good practice

Or gath’ring classroom top tips and some notions

No end to the subjects designed to attract us

From growth mindset to prep for promotions

SWAT Conference 2016

We made our way by train which always makes for an optimistic and exciting start to the day and this along with the prospect of meeting people and having time for focussed discussion and likely a yummy lunch in the forum at the university was truly a positive prospect!File_000 (1)In the last 4 years, more than ever before, I have come to love the opportunities to learn specifically about teaching and learning from my peers as very ‘real’ experts. I love the buzz of being around people as excited about learning as I am. Teachmeets, SWAT events and Learning walks in our school , are accessible opportunities.The keynote started with this information on Generation K:

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After 25 years of teaching my subject, I am keen to revive and refresh and develop the quality of learning happening in my classroom more than the content of what I should know about Biology. I remember looking at experienced teachers when I was about 4 years into my career, and wishing that I had the luxury that they had, of experimenting with delivery and practice rather than worrying about behaviour and subject knowledge and here I am. It’s not surprising then that it’s part of my role now in a mixed experience school team.File_000 (5)
To be at SWAT, accompanied by DHSB colleagues and others; all there to make teaching and learning more enjoyable and accessible, was pretty special. I didn’t contribute a thing at the conference other than friendly chatter but I walked, sat chatted and listened. I thought and reflected. As the day went on ideas started to form in my mind. I thought about my teaching, how I assess and the quality of my students learning and also the experience of students coming to the ‘ 5th lesson in a day where the teacher emphasises the importance of the work’ ! I feel compelled to act, having listened to the enthusiastic PHS students as they spoke of the need for variety, “ditch the textbook to independent study” they said, and as they shared their 10 Tips for teachers. See here:File_000 (3)

Following a great presentation from Jill Clayton and John Steiner at Torrington school, I know that I will execute a plan now to embed an ethic of excellence in my lessons too.My outgoing year 13 class were a stunning group who celebrated effort (not achievement ). Together we had built a climate of trust. Following a previously disparate sixth form group, I wanted to grow a more ‘in it together’ and positive culture in my new class in 2014. I wanted them to be united and feel responsible for their own progress. We developed a sense of team and they had definitely developed a sense of autonomy in their learning. We explored their mastery through me helping them to evaluating their answers in past papers (every single one there ever had been too!) The next step in taking this culture forward will be to tie their work with a sense of ‘purpose’ sooner.

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I wholly recommend that you too read : The Ethic of excellence by Ron Berger.It’s about much more than drawing butterflies!

Juicy Words, Word Games and Words Apps and Websites…

Literacy changes lives: not only does it enable accessibility to education and exams but it has been proven that those with good literacy also have improved economic well-being and aspirations. keep-calm-and-love-literacy-8.png

In September, DHSB staff committed to developing both their own literacy practice and the literacy skills of the students they teach through a whole school literacy focus. In March, there was the opportunity to share new strategies gained in the lively carousel CPD session.

New websites and apps have been  identified: Zygolex, Task Magic; Memrise; Versal and Literacy games such as Taboo and Codenames have been developed from their original format to develop specific key word use in Maths and Biology. Marking and feedback strategies that focus on improving literacy have played a significant part in developing subject literacy particularly with an enhanced focus on exam questions now requiring much longer written responses with good SPaG (Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar). This has taken many forms: yellow-box marking; students analysing and marking answered exam questions for themselves and peer assessment sheets that focus on literacy.

In addition to all of this, staff have had fun with the students developing both their reading, writing and oral skills using activities including word wheels, anagramised texts, key word cards, ‘this is the answer: what’s the question?’ games and many more.

Rebecca Edwards @Becky123Edwards


RED HOT Lesson Blog post 5

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I really enjoyed observing Al Morris’ Year 8 DT class last week.

This lesson allowed the students to tidy away after a busy practical session in a safe and ordered environment. During the previous lesson, the students had been made aware of expectations to clear away. Al has used music to establish routines and teach pupils to associate particular cues with specific behavioral requirement’s in the classroom taken from Pavlov’s theory. Music is a great tool to signal a transition from one activity to another, for both the teacher and the student. The students knew exactly what to do when they heard the music, Benny Hill’s theme tune and responded right away. The room was tidy within 2.40 mins, a seriously impressive time. Pupils also had an incentive to do well as groups were timed and feedback and commendations given to winning tables.

The lesson ended with a ‘catch the question’ plenary.” Al started the ball rolling by asking a question, on answer a pupil could then ask a question to the class that they were sure or unsure of the answer and so on. Pupils were really enthusiastic to take on the teacher’s question role. It was a quick and easy plenary to apply in any lesson.

On arrival I had noticed a sign which read “Luke Warm Lesson!” Al, you need to change the sign to Red Hot Lesson.

Amanda Burdon

Red hot lesson blog post 5

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Peer Monitoring the SPAG helps fill the pot to success!

On each table is a laminated A3 coloured sheet demonstrating best practice use of SPAG. All students are consciously aware of their grammar expectations.

During the previous lesson, the students were required to write a paragraph using creative writing skills to compose the beginning of a ghost story.

The peer mentor went around the room whilst the teacher (Gemma)  was delivering the next part of the work, reading over the students work and awarding them a gold star if they managed to get no grammar errors. If the peer mentor spotted an error this would be circled to allow the student to make the relevant correction.

Brilliant – 1) teacher spends time teaching instead of marking, 2) it acts as a learning opportunity for the peer mentor, 3) there is no disruption or time lost from peer marking in class 4) the students have the incentive to do well so they get a gold star……which leads to a bigger prize.

What’s not to like? Everybody remembers getting gold star in school it’s nostalgic.

Well done Gemma!

Nicola Lilley  with thanks to Gemma Machray


Red hot lessons- Blog post 4

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“Spot the errors”

Nicola produced an A5 size sheet with five questions/statements each of which contained one or more errors.  As the class entered they were given a sheet and the questions/statements were also projected onto the screen.  They had five minutes to study the sheet before Nicola started to ask students to identify the errors which they then had to circle.  Not only did they have to identify the errors, they also had to justify why they thought they were errors.  The questions/statements were progressively more difficult.

An ideal starter to assess prior learning (could also be used to introduce a new topic) and to get the students ‘warmed up’.  They responded very well indeed and the use of ‘errors’ made it that more interesting.  Some struggled with justifying their answer and Nicola used this as an opportunity to develop their answers with further questions. Sheets were then collected in at the end.  

Kevin Mitchell (Observer)

Interestingly, I called the starter “Beat the Teacher”, but it all amounts to the same thing.  The previous lesson I gave the students the opportunity to fill in a table identifying key aspects of legal structures of business. As I was unsure of whether or not they really appreciated the nuances, I created a starter to check their understanding and reinforce their knowledge by putting the A01 knowledge into context.  

I’m definitely using it again; 1) it gave me chance to get organised and take the register, 2) it got them settled in to the lesson quickly, 3) I was able to challenge their understanding and application to a high level, 4) it gave me an opportunity to hand out commendations at the start of the lesson which got us off to a positive start.

Nicola Lilley (Teacher)

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