Powerpoint – to use or not to use?

The educational twittershpere can be a very strange place.  Over the weekend there was a flurry of discussion about powerpoint – whether it was useful or not for teachers.  Who would have thought that powerpoint could bring about such a passionate response…especially on the first sun-filled weekend of the spring?  Interestingly though, it’s a discussion I’ve had at school on a number of occasions.  It certainly stirs people up!  Personally, I don’t think it’s as straightforward as whether we should use it or not.  I’ve seen powerpoint used really badly and I’ve also seen it used really effectively.  In the words of Bananarama and Fun Boy Three, ‘it aint what you do it’s the way that you do it’.  Here are my thoughts.

Used well….

  • Opening up the curiosity gap – we can support effective explanations by generating curiosity amongst students.  We can do this by presenting them with information that doesn’t tell the full story, intrigues students and makes them want to find out more.  For example, a powerpoint slide could contain images of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and World War 1, generating discussion and interest about the links between the two.
  • Useful visuals – again, explanations can be supported by showing students images that would be difficult to draw and explain accurately on the board.  This also brings the explanations alive.  For example, images of the human heart, with specific defects can be shown to students and discussed with them.
  • Comparative modelling – simply showing an exemplary piece of student work e.g. an extended response to a question,  on a powerpoint slide might not be useful, because if looked at in isolation, it would be hard for students to identify why it is a strong piece of work.  However, if it is shown alongside a weaker piece of work, it becomes more useful.  Why?  When students see a strong piece of work alongside a weaker piece of work (answering the same question) they can compare the two and pick out why one is better than the other.
  • Archiving excellence – whilst simply showing students exemplary work on a powerpoint does not equate to effective modelling, it can serve a purpose.  If we collect exemplary pieces of work and store them on a powerpoint, this can be used to show and discuss the standard expected of students and then challenge them to aspire to this – at the start of a course, or at the start of a new topic.
  • Peer critique – if a powerpoint slide containing a piece of student work is projected onto a normal white board, the teacher can initiate a student discussion that critiques the work and annotate it as the discussion goes on.  A great way of sharing feedback about a specific piece of work.
  • Low stakes quizzes – powerpoints can be used to prepare short, low stakes multiple choice quizzes, to use with students at the start of lessons to support retrieval practice.  Whilst these could just be read out without the use of a poerpoint, a powerpoint allows you to incorporate images into these quizzes which, when used with mini-whiteboards, can be used to effectively assess understanding.  Example below:




When used not so well…

  • Showing the finished product – sometimes teachers believe that they are modelling, when they show students a finished product on a powerpoint slide e.g. a paragraph of writing in response to a question.  The problem with this, is that you don’t model the process of getting there.  What were the thought processes involved in starting the piece of writing?  How did you decide what tier 2 and 3 language to use?  How did you ensure that the argument was balanced?  How did you summarise the key points?  The best way to do this effectively is to write it together, on the board, questioning students as you go – live modelling.  By doing this, you are modelling how you think, in order to get to the end product.
  • Worked examples – when maths and science teachers are doing a complex calculation, that they may not be completely confident about, the temptation is to have a prepared worked example on a powerpoint slide to go through with students.  As above, this doesn’t allow you to really unpick each of the steps involved in the process.  Similarly, you are not really modelling your thought processes.  Do it on the board, punctuated with questions and explain each step carefully.
  • Lots of notes – it’s pretty well accepted that a slide full of notes for students (or anyone for that matter) to copy down, is unlikely to generate much thinking (that’s not to say there isn’t always a place for this – sometimes they just need to copy down a full and accurate definition).  A small change could be to present them with a list of key words (or sentence starters) that they use, to construct their own paragraphs – and so generate thinking.  We need to guard against dependency though, so this should always be used as a way of moving towards writing for themselves independently.
  • Check the detail – google images is a great resource when producing powerpoints to use in lessons.  Take care though.  Just because an image is on the internet, it won’t necessarily be correct – in fact they can sometime contain some glaring errors.  Yesterday, I saw an image of a cell undergoing mitosis with the annotation – ‘cell undergoing division by osmosis’.
  • What’s behind you – some would argue that when modelling, it’s best to use a visualiser instead of a powerpoint and a whiteboard, as this allows you to face the class fully and monitor the class.  It’s a fair comment, but I think as long as you are aware of this, it doesn’t have to be a huge issue.

So is powerpoint a dreadful thing that should be banned?  No, I don’t think so.  It’s a tool for teachers and like any tool, it can be used really well, not so well or badly.

Here’s another post on the same topic by Dan Williams.

Posted by Shaun Allison


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Is it really a low stakes quiz?

Tonight’s 15 Minute Forum was led by English teacher, Tod Brennan and focussed on the concept of low stakes quizzes. There were two aspects of Tod’s presentation; the value of low stakes quizzes for memory recall but also the importance of managing the stress levels of our students.

Picture1.pngMemory can be defined as ‘learning that has persisted over time – information that has been stored and can be recalled’. In order to remember a fact, our brains have to process information or encode it from the point at which that information was learnt, into our short-term (working) memories and then into our long-term memories. In order, to reuse that information (or memory) we have to retrieve the information. It is at this retrieval point, where low stakes quizzes can play an effective role. Low stakes quizzes can be used as a quick and effective activity at the beginning of lessons, to assess student’s memories of information that had been taught last week, last month or even last year. They are low stakes because the score doesn’t really matter; it does not form part of an assessment or tracking process but does allow a ‘check’ of where the students are with their learning.

However, Tod wanted to discuss the concept of low stakes and whether the quiz truly was ‘low stakes’. As teachers, we view the quiz as low stakes but do our students? Tod used an example of a Year 8 student who experienced a panic attack when asked to go to the library and change their reading book. For that student, the act of changing the book caused an overload of hormones resulting in too much stress. Tod highlighted the fact that anxiety and stress are often irrational to external observers, but inherently linked to the inner thoughts of the student. These thoughts are intrinsically linked to the external experiences of that students. Therefore, not all students will see a ‘fun’ memory recall quiz as stress free.

Picture2The research work of Professor Alia Crum has shown that viewing stress as a helpful part of life, rather than as harmful, is associated with better health well-being and productivity. However, too much stress can lead to ‘breakdowns’ and a loss of productivity. Equally, too little stress (or not caring) can be harmful as well, as the student does not see any value in what they are doing. Professor Crum’s work showed that the control group – who were told nothing ahead of the quiz – performed significantly worse than another research group who were told that they were going to attempt a challenging task, but that they were capable of achieving this challenging work. Essentially, we want our students to be in the optimum stress zone, so that performance is maximised.

How can teachers ensure that a quiz is genuinely low stakes?

  • First and foremost, teachers should talk to their students about challenge and resilience (rather than stress). By, talking to students about the benefits of persevering with a task and challenging themselves we should see improved performances.
  • Developing strategies which take away ‘stress’ points from the quiz will also benefit students:
    • use a quiz score sheet at the back of student’s exercise books to allow them to record their scores – rather than asking them to raise their hand if they scored a certain number/percentage
    • ask students to raise their hands for questions that they got wrong. This will often lead to students not feeling that they were the only one, but also allow the teacher to identify which areas of a topic need to be re-taught.
  • Importantly, teachers need to consider and judge their classes/students to know where to pitch the low stakes quiz. If the questions are too easy, the students will become bored and de-stressed; if the questions are too hard, the students will become over stimulated and anxious/stressed. This is also important to consider when recording the scores from a low stakes quiz, as in some cases a competitive element will actually lead to students placing more value on the activity and reaching the optimum stress level.

Overall, low stakes quizzes have a truly beneficial effect on memory recall and student performance, however it is important to consider the ‘unseen’ stress and anxiety levels that they may place on certain students.

Posted by Martyn Simmonds

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Bright Spots: STEM Week


Last week was British Science week and Durrington had its own STEM week led by the Science department and Steph Temple. The aim of the week was to raise the profile of STEM and to inspire Key Stage 3 students to pursue STEM subjects further, discover career opportunities and aspire to reach a higher level. During the week, students participated in various workshops, competitions and cross-curricular activities related to STEM.

In Science, Year 9 students took part in the Durrington Grand Prix. This involved students collaboratively designing electric cars to see how far they would travel. It was great to see students engaged with the design process and discussing complex issues such as Picture3.pngaerodynamics and downforce, in the hope of making their cars travel further. This not only challenged the student’s thinking (and creativity) but also developed their knowledge of forces and energy stores. In Year 7 and 8 students were tasked with designing and building a wind turbine. There was a direct, local link to this activity as many students are aware of the Rampian Offshore Wind Farm, in Worthing.  Again, students were challenging themselves and solving problems within their teams to increase the amount of power produced by their wind turbines.

In PE, The Medical Mavericks ran workshops with a ‘Challenge the Champions’ theme. The activities covered many different skills such as: how much power students could generate on a bike; how fast they could throw a ball; how far they could jump from a standing start and how fast they could run over 10m. All of these activities investigated how science and technology is being used to assess how athlete’s can improve their performance.


In Business and Computing, students were using microbits to practice their coding skills. This inspired students to learn how technology can be used to develop new programmes and how their creativity can be used in a variety of forms.

In Geography, students investigated how technology can be used to help people overcome some of the problems that exist on the planet. Students examined how scientists are using drones to map the areas of the Maldives which are at the greatest risk of sea level rise. This then allows, the government of the Maldives, to plan effectively for the future.

In MFL, students were learning how to explain the processes of growing a plant in French. This helped students to develop their French vocabulary but within a scientific context. The students also considered how the use of technology can be used within languages through the development of translators.

Students also visited the STEM Big Bang Fair in Bognor Regis where they listened to presentations on robotics and watched nanobots in action. The students also learnt about life on the International Space Station and how technology and science is being used to push the limits of human life further.

The week culminated in a STEM fair at Durrington. This was an opportunity for the KS3 students to display the work that they had completed during the week and share with parents/carers what they had learnt. There was also representation from local colleges and business to inspire the students with information about potential STEM related careers.

Phoebe Bence had presented the previous 15 Minute Forum about the importance of STEM and it was great to see our KS3 students engaged in so many activities related to STEM. Science, technology, engineering and maths play an important role in modern society and will continue to do so. As a result, it is important to continue to develop student’s understanding of these subjects and inspire their creative and problem-solving skills.

Posted by Martyn Simmonds





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Effective Marking/Feedback


Tonight’s 15 Minute Forum was led by Kelly Heane (English RQT). Kelly discussed some of the strategies that she has used in her lessons to provide effective marking/feedback. Kelly began by being honest about how marking had initially been a frustrating experience as an NQT. Although at Durrington, we have a flexible feedback policy which allows departments the autonomy to create their own policies, there are still expectations regarding feedback. However, Kelly had found that marking was still time consuming; so she adopted some techniques which allowed her to reduce her workload but provide effective and sustainable feedback.

Kelly wanted to emphasise the importance of feedback for both students and teachers and approached the 15 minute forum in two halves, based upon the feedback loop diagram below.

Picture2The first part of the session focussed on the teacher-student side of the feedback loop. Kelly stressed that this needs to be regular and specific so that gaps in a student’s learning can be addressed and closed. This results in informed learning for that student.

Kelly shared the following strategies which she has used in her English classes:

Green Pen checks


The ‘Green Pen’ checklist has been created by teachers within the English department but is completed by students. This helps to promote autonomy and the concepts of self-checking and proof reading. This then leads to students making corrections in relation to key grammar or vocabulary issues and allows the teacher to focus their marking and feedback on the technical detail such as the structure or composition of the writing.

Success Criteria


A second technique suggested by Kelly, is to create a set of success criteria with the class before the students begin their extended writing. Again, this allows students the opportunity to check their own work and make corrections before the teacher reads their work. This concentrates the teacher’s thinking on the more technical aspects of the student’s writing rather than more basic elements.

Live Marking

The third technique that Kelly discussed was ‘Live Marking’. Initially, Kelly was sceptical about this as a technique, because she could not see how an English teacher would be able to read everything in a lesson. However, she soon realised that the benefits of live marking are that teachers are able to target specific students. In particular, this helps ‘stuck’ students to move forward in their leaning more effectively, as well as focussing the learning of those students who rush their work by developing their writing more fully in that lesson. Live marking is also effective in identifying and correcting ‘bad habits’ such as not using capital letters or punctuation and addressing these immediately.

Class Models

Picture8The final technique, shared by Kelly, was developing class models. This is where she allows the students to collaboratively construct a model answer. This is effective as it allows contributions from the whole class and allows live ‘editing’ to take place. There is not a single drop of red ink on these pages in the student’s books, however a huge amount of verbal feedback and marking has taken place to construct these models. This is very effective, as it allows for instant comparisons to take place between student’s work and allows students to make improvements to their writing using the ideas of their peers.

The second part of Kelly’s session focussed on the feedback provided by student’s work which then informs the next teaching episode. As an NQT, Kelly engaged with reflective practice by using the following prompt questions:


Whilst Kelly did not use these after every lesson, and is not prescribing these as a written record of the lesson, she did find them useful in evaluating her lessons and helping her to plan the next lesson for those students. In particular, by sampling five or six books from a class, Kelly has been able to identify common misconceptions (such as the incorrect use of apostrophes) within a class. Instead of marking the whole class set and writing the same comment thirty times, this reflective practice meant that Kelly could focus on the important thing – namely improving the student’s learning. Through her reflective marking, Kelly planned a lesson which re-taught the concept and then allowed students the time to deliberately practice that concept. This effectively closed the gap in the student’s learning, but also meant that Kelly did not waste her time marking a set of books in a repetitive manner.

Feedback will take many forms and should look very different between subjects, as each subject has different requirements. However, the key principles of effective marking and feedback are that students improve their learning and extend their thinking and teachers are able to effectively respond to the needs of their students.

Posted by Martyn Simmonds

Posted in General Teaching | 3 Comments

Some things about teaching

Today I led a session for our trainee teachers on great teaching.  We talked about lots of things, but in particular we talked about these four slides.  Between them, I think they sum up what great teaching is all about.

This one had to be included of course:

These three great questions from Rob Coe:

As well as these nine things from Dylan Wiliam:

And finally of course, this from John Tomsett:


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Teaching Talk – Deliberate Practice with John Mulhern

In this episode of Teaching Talk, maths teacher John Mulhern talks about how he has focused on developing the ‘deliberate practice’ that takes place in his lessons:

TT7 John Mulhern – Deliberate Practice from Jason Ramasami on Vimeo.

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Why is STEM important for all?


The 15 Minute Forum returned this week and was led by Phoebe Bence (Science Teacher and STEM lead). Phoebe began by talking about the many and varied roles of a teacher. It is relatively easy to identify that teachers have pastoral roles, prepare students for achieving in exams, teaching life skills and raising aspirations. However, a vital role of a teacher is to prepare students for their future and the world of work.

The challenge for us, as teachers, is that the future world of work will look very different to the current one. Phoebe discussed the changing fortunes of Kodak (which was used by Matthew Syed in this article) as an example of how tomorrow’s economy will not be the same as today’s. From 1900, when it patented the Box Brownie, Kodak was a revolutionary company, innovating and developing photographs on film, to the point where they were globally successful and a multi-billion dollar company. However by 2012, and following many years of stagnation, Kodak went bankrupt.

What this shows us is, if an organisation or individuals stop adapting to the changing conditions around them, then they will very quickly become obsolete in those conditions. As a result, teachers have to prepare students for a world of work which does not yet exist. Jobs exist today, that were never thought of when we (the teachers) were students. Equally, jobs will exist in the future which cannot be conceived of at present. There are many examples in the modern world of how science and technology have developed at a rapid pace and generated new inventions over a very short time-scale. These ‘new’ inventions are now part of everyday life and within such fields as automobiles, healthcare and manufacturing the next ‘new’ invention is already being conceived.

So the key question is ‘How do teachers prepare students for an unknown future?:

  • Be honest with students about skills:
    • skills are important and should be cherished by students;
    • teachers should encourage students to engage with harder skills;
    • teachers should encourage students to think more deeply about concepts/topics and to challenge the current way of thinking;
    • teachers should not allow students to ‘opt out’ of hard subjects or skill sets.
  • Broaden their perspective of STEM subjects:
    • STEM is not just science, technology, engineering and maths;
    • STEM infiltrates every subject area from a language app which translates foreign words, to 3D printers changing art subjects;
    • teachers should show students where technology links to their subject and how valuable it can be.
  • Teach them to be problem solvers:
    • many of the skills that are taught to students in their current education, may look very different (and many will be obsolete) in their future careers;
    • the important aspect is that teachers teach students how to ‘wrestle’ with a problem and find a solution to that problem.
  • Encourage students to see themselves as STEM learners:
    • there is no set profile for a STEM learner – as teachers we should be engendering a passion for our subject for all students;
    • teachers can create the right environment which allows all students to be encouraged by STEM based learning;
    • the current national drive focussed on encouraging more girls into STEM careers can be encouraged within schools.

The aim of all of these things is to make students valuable to future employers.

How can this be achieved in the classroom?

As teachers we can:

  • make links within our subjects to show how technology has and will change each subject area;
  • show that there does not have to be a dichotomy between the Sciences and the Arts; scientists can be creative and there is a role for STEM in all aspects of education.
  • show that STEM subjects can be and are inter-disciplinary;
  • encourage students to persevere with tasks and to challenge their way of thinking about the world in which they live.

The future economy and world of work will look very different to the current one. We, as teachers, have a duty to prepare our students for that world so that they can be successful in it.

Next week (March 13th), Durrington will be hosting a STEM week with a range of activities taking place across the school and subject areas teaching lessons with a STEM theme. It should be an exciting week.

Posted by Martyn Simmonds

Posted in 15 Minute Forums, General Teaching | Tagged | 2 Comments