Google Sites, Scratch and Fairy Tales

Simon Lewis is a former computer science graduate who decided to become a teacher after the dotcom bubble burst in 2000. Through a series of fortunate events, Simon qualified in the UK, passed his SCG and settled in Carlow, where he is now the principal of Carlow Educate Together National School.

Simon gives talks and courses to teachers in all aspects of ICT in education. He is a Google Certified Teacher and aims to create lots of tools for teachers to help them get the best of Google’s products. His main interests at the moment are Cloud Computing, Blogging and using ICT as a learning tool effectively.

Simon has designed lots of web sites. He has won several awards for his web sites, including Scoilnet Star Sites and Edublog Awards. He also writes a number of educational and other blogs on lots of different platforms depending on his needs. is his most popular.

I think when technology is at its best, it’s when it’s so intuitive that training is barely needed. For the last 3 months, I’ve been taking a group of 6th class students to do a project about updating classic fairy tales. The tools that I’ve used to do this are: Google Sites and Scratch 1.4. I setup a special Google Site and set up a page for each child. The page had a few questions:
  • Find a Fairy Tale on YouTube and paste it on to the page.
  • Explain why this Fairy Tale is out of date.
  • Plan a new way to update this story.
  • Write a cartoon or game and paste the link here.

I gave each child a username and password on the school’s Google Apps account. To make things easy, I popped the link to the site on the school blog. On logging in, I showed the children the button to press to edit their page and offered to show them how to embed a video. Only one child needed help to do this. The rest knew exactly what to do. It was the same for adding text for the next two points.

The children planned their stories with old fashioned pencil and paper. I told them the web site to go to download Scratch and none of them needed help there. Once the program had installed, I showed them the interface of Scratch. I also showed them how to create sequences and a condition using the blocks. Once that was done, I told them to mess around for the rest of the class, (about 20 minutes), and see what they could find. It was amazing to see that within this time, the children had already figured out the bones of most functions.

From the next session on, I was almost surplus to the classroom. Except for a question here and there, the children were able to independently work on their projects. Cinderella has been given a 21st century makeover, where she loses her phone rather than her shoe and The Pied Piper has become a Marvel Comic Superhero.

The children have come up with ideas that I would never have thought about and as we come to the end of the school year, I’m looking forward to seeing their completed projects.

How I Learn

Helen Bullock is a primary school teacher who loves Irish, Science and drama. Her main interests lie in how we learn and learning styles which prompted a guest post on her site and led to the How I Learn book! Helen is an executive member of CESI, loves ICT in Education and is a regular attendee of the ICTedu Conference! Helen writes her own blog on and tweets from @AnseoAMuinteoir and @HowILearn 

How I Learn

Learning styles vary from person to person and while I may be an expert at learning “by heart” you might find find that more difficult. It might be easier for you to learn by doing. For arguments sake and to back up my point lets say we’ve been set the task to learn all the bones in the human body.

More then likely I’d take the body section by section using a diagram and name each none so I know where they should be. I’d read through them a few times-ok a lot. I’d try to recall the leg bones first by repeating them over and over and over Again. I’d move up a bit and start the process all over again. Repeating and adding in more and more detail and bones each time. A bit like the game “I went on my holidays and I brought” where each player adds in a new item til the very last person has all the items to remember. I’d learn the bones of the body the same way. Sure it takes time but I like to think it works for me and I don’t generally forget. Of course I keep drawing out the skeleton and labeling it. Doodles help me and this would be a great doodle!

Meanwhile our other learner might find it easier to dismantle a skeleton name each bone as they reconstruct it. Repetition works here again, repeating the construction over and over adds to the learning experience and makes it fun! Like playing with Lego. Of course there are many apps available to do this with, skeletons aren’t in everyone’s closest after all! So games, apps or clever software would be an ideal alternative. The interaction is important to this learning style, doing it by yourself so you can learn it and understand it.

ICT is fast becoming a huge element of how we learn as a nation. So many of us are turning to apps, podcasts, online articles and even interactive games to update our skills or make our traditional learning styles easier for ourselves. While ICT is often seen as a stand alone subject to me it’s all about adding another layer to our individual subjects. It’s a tool to learn with and can enhance each of our individual learning styles. It’s a fun tool!

While I’m in no way disputing the need at times to teach ICT, the need in my opinion is less as ICT isn’t a subject you can learn the theory of and just work away. It’d be like having a surgeon who learnt the theory of surgery, but, after 10 years had never preformed a surgery. ICT is one of those areas where it’s best learnt by doing, practice makes perfect just like in Rugby! Practice Practice Practice! Play with the apps, explore Scratch, experiment with coding and new software, don’t be afraid of it, it doesn’t bite. Much.

These areas and more are explored in How I Learn, the book is out soon and all updates, news and stories can be found on twitter from @HowILearn or through the hash tag #HowILearn

If you want more details on the book, want to get involved or even to just talk to Helen about her work and teaching you can email or tweet @AnseoAMuinteoir or @HowILearn

Pupils Reveal Why Blogging Is Best

Our second guest post comes from the 6th class pupils in Ransboro NS in Sligo.  In Part 1 of this post their teacher Damien Quinn gave his thoughts on blogging.

“Without deviation from normality, progress would be impossible. In the classroom, this blog is nowhere near normal!

I think it is great for voices to be heard, as there is a full range of Twitter, RSS, and Facebook options. It is great for posting about your interests. Recently Luke did a Colours! 3D post, James did a post on his Eddie Stobart Collection and Síofra did a post on Google Docs.

You can do things on the blog that you never could in your copy, such as videos, pictures, links and comments. Some of the main things I like on the blog are the comments, the fact that both posts and comments have gone through a moderator (I’m not sure if you can do that on Blogger) so there is no mean comments or posts, (as I said before) you can put up videos, pictures links, etc, and you can personalize your blog. In a copy, you cannot go back and edit without making a complete mess of everything, you cannot re-arrange your work without starting again and after a while of writing, your wrist gets sore. However, on the blog, you can edit easily, re-arrange your work whenever you want, and your wrists don’t get sore as easily. You can’t rip pages, leave smudge marks and it is easy to spot and correct your mistakes on the blog. However, these are frequent occurances in the copy.

Overall I think the blog is infinitely better than writing in copies, and I’d say that there are others who feel the same way.”

By Kaitlin

“Sixth class in our school do work on the blog. I love working on the blog because we have learned so much from it.  You can do many things on the blog like art work, creating images, doing projects, news items and lots more.  Every day we are learning something new in the class.

I like doing my homework on the blog because you can look at it and see what mistakes you have made and correct them before you submit your homework. It is great for checking your spellings too. I am able to comment on my friends’ homework and they are able to comment on mine. We are able to read and see our classmates’ homework when teacher has published it. Everybody has different ideas on some of the homework submitted and when I read it I  learn lots more from it.”

By Alan

“I think that our blog is great to work on because it doesn’t feel like work! I always feel that whenever I go on the computer it is fun. So that way I associate our blog with having fun.

I like the way that everybody is so positive on our blog. We learned about making comments on a blog so that we don’t just write “Well done” and “Good Job” and “Cool!” Now we know the steps for making a comment and this has improved the blog immensely.  It has also improved the standard of the writing in the comments.

On our blog we don’t only do English. We do a wide range of subjects which makes it more enjoyable as you are not constantly doing the same thing. We do Irish, a daily maths puzzle, novel work, digital art, history, projects and sometimes we upload pictures of the art work we do at school. I think that this wide range of subjects makes the blog more interesting and much more enjoyable.

I like the way that the blog is always accessible. If we want to check up during the holidays we can. It is a good way to keep in touch with our class. Sometimes people put up pictures and write a little about their holiday.

I really enjoy our blog and how it has improved our standard of writing. Thank you Mr.Quinn for setting up this blog and making all of our work more enjoyable!!”

By Maedhbh

“I think blogging is a great way for people’s voices, let alone pupil’s voices, to be heard. If you look at the Internet today, the majority of popular/useful websites are WordPress. WordPress, the world’s most popular blogging tool (apart from Blogger), is a great way to (ahem) document your lives. It’s a great way to get your voice heard on the Internet, as there is a full range of Facebook, Twitter and RSS options.

Moving back to the school side of things, Kidblog is an amazing tool. You only have to look as far as our ‘Newest Posts’ to see the wide variety of posts. Síofra recently did a Google Docs post. I did a post on Colors! 3D. Lots of other people show what their interests are, like James with his Eddie Stobart Collection post, and Jamie with his X-Box post. There’s stuff you can put up on the Internet that you can’t in real life, such as videos, links, pictures and posts (as I’ve said before) on what your interests are.

They best thing about Kidblog, though, is the Parental/Teacher Controls. In WordPress, you can post anything you like, but spammers or trollers can fill up your comment section. Kidblog (being an adaptation of WP), has literally nothing WP doesn’t have, apart from the Parental/Teacher Controls. The Parent/Teacher Controls basically let you create select groups, or a ‘Class’, and moderate the content. While I think you can do this in WP Kidblog makes it infinitely more accessible.”

By Luke

“Today for our homework we had to write about why we like doing homework on the blog, instead of in the copy. The main reason I like the blog better, than an English copy is, that it doesn’t take as long and it doesn’t feel as hard.

On the blog it’s easier to notice one of your mistakes, especially because we have spell check, which I think helps us all. It is also easier to correct a mistake on the blog, all you have to do on the blog is delete the wrong word or letter, and replace it with the right one, but in the copy it isn’t as simple or neat when you have to correct a mistake or two.

I also think that work on the blog doesn’t feel like it’s as hard as work in the copy. Mostly because copies are associated with school, and the computer or laptop is (for teenagers) associated with our social lives. Then for that reason to us it’s easier than doing your work in a copy.

I personally really like blogging and I like receiving and giving comments which is another great thing about the blog. I think that the blog has improved a lot of our English work and I think that it is an extremely creative way of helping us get our homework done.”

By Clodagh


Blogging Reveals Pupils’ Voices

Our very first guest post comes from Damien Quinn, 6th class teacher in Ransboro NS in Sligo and the man behind, wnner of the Best Individul Blog in the 2012 Edublog Awards. This is the first in a two part guest post as Damien’s pupils will talk about blogging in part 2 of the post. 


Over the past few years I had read articles on the internet about other educators using Kidblog( to introduce their pupils to blogging by creating individual blogs for them. I didn’t delve into it too much as I had been teaching younger pupils for the past few years. However, when I moved back up to sixth class last September, I decided to investigate this blogging platform and to see how I could use it in the classroom. Having sought advice of other teachers using the platform, I decided to take the plunge and set up a class account in late September 2012.

The benefits of using Kidblog are:

  • It is used by educators around the world to enhance and compliment the curriculum
  • It is a safe and secure platform that is specifically geared towards schools
  • The teacher is able to control activity
  • It is a means to motivate pupils to learn, write, ask questions
  • It teaches pupils the rules of Digital Citizenship and how to behave responsibly in an online community

Pupils can publish posts and participate in academic discussions within a secure classroom blogging community. The teacher maintains complete control over student blogs and user accounts. The pupils’ blogs can be private and viewable only by classmates and the teacher or they can be public. Schools can connect with each other through Kidblog. Pupils can work on their blog at their own pace/level at home or at school. Pupils are able to comment on each other’s blogs but comments can be moderated and approved by the teacher before they appear. The teacher can also post a private comment to the pupil about a piece of work. Through using this safe and secure blogging platform pupils can:

  • create classroom discussions
  • learn digital citizenship
  • practice writing skills
  • create an e-portfolio
  • reflect on learning

Having taken the plunge and introduced my pupils to the whole concept of personal blogs I was totally unprepared for their reaction. Over the course of the first week, the pupils set out on a journey into the digital unknown with such enthusiasm and positivity. Although I have given lots of written assignments for homework to be done on the blog, there has been quite a lot of spontaneous written work appearing on pupils’ blogs. Pupils’ voices have been heard through their blog posts about their hobbies and interests, so I have been reading about horses, dogs, planes, football, birds, animals, hurling, trucks, dancing, online games. The list is endless. Kidblog seems to have given the pupils what the English curriculum intended – writing for a purpose with a real audience in mind.

However, two things have been really interesting for me: firstly, the way that the blog has gelled the class together – they are being hugely positive and supportive to each other and commenting on each other’s posts and asking each other questions; secondly the blog appears to be serving all ability levels within the class. Everybody is working at their own ability and the others are supportive of that in their positive comments and encouragement.

As a teacher, I’m also looking for the positive educational benefits of this way of working. I’m looking at how the pupils are developing their different genres of English writing. I’m admiring the way that they are encouraging each other with their positive comments on each other’s blog posts. I’m learning so much about the individual pupils and their hobbies and interests and it gives me a great way to start a conversation with them in class. In fact, the whole blog has turned out to be one long conversation with the pupils’ voices at its core.

From the evidence of activity on Kidblog, it has been hugely motivational. It seems that pupils are excitedly doing blog work at home and delighting in the comments they are receiving. I’m trying to comment on most of the posts and they seem to like that also. I’ve got very positive feedback from some parents who are amazed at the enthusiasm of the pupils for it. One parent remarked that she never before saw her child so eager to do homework!

Such is the pupils’ enthusiasm for the blog, I’ve even had to put a curfew on activity on it – 9pm is now cut-off point with the threat of losing their account if they are on it after that time. I can see that some pupils are on the blog even before they come to school. Some pupils have even been blogging on weekends, without prompting from the teacher. At this stage of the year we have published an amazing 2,000 posts and commented more than 7,000 times on the blog in a truly collaborative exercise.

The real test of a classroom innovation is the opinion of the pupils. After about a week into this blogging project, one of the pupils put up the following blog post spontaneously one night. I think it sums up the feeling of a lot of the pupils:

“We are now over a week on the blog. I think that everyone is enjoying themselves, especially me. I love it. It is really fun. I am learning so much about it and it is so fun reading everybody’s information. And sharing my information with them as well. It is great. Learning on the blog is totally different it is such an experience to me. Every day I go on the blog and see what I can read and learn. On the blog we do a maths puzzle every day. Some of them are easy but some our hard and I can’t understand them, but mostly every day I do them. We also do homework on the blog. It is soooooo cool.”