Collecting Tweets

Occasionally I get interested in the science of social media. I think: wouldn’t it be interesting if I can analyse this in some grand way. Wouldn’t it be great if I could collect a load of tweets about something, crunch them and then make some world-changing conclusion.

Of course there’s Storify. I’ve not used it until today, but I’ve seen others produce interesting stories of events from them. I made my first one today. 2 minutes of signing up and clicking things created this (a story of posts about the recent London Google Teacher Academy).

What intrigued me is that during the same event, I noticed that broadcast a way of collecting tweets. There is now a recipe for collecting tweets with a certain hashtag and sending them all to a Google Spreadsheet. I’ve done this a few times with the #gtauk tweets and collected the tweets in three separate spreadsheets here:

Of course, the next challenge is to do something with all that information. This is where something like Storify comes in handy – it already has a way for publishing the posts in some interesting ways.

My first #gtauk word cloud
My first #gtauk word cloud

All I could thing of doing was making a Word Cloud of the tweets, which I did on my iPad (for the first spreadsheet) using an App called ‘Word Clouds‘.

For the second spreadsheet, I again took the tweets to word cloud, but this time used Wordle, which is slightly ironic because Wordle uses Java Applets and so doesn’t work on either of my chromebooks, nor my iPad. I increased the irony by posting the Wordle-generated images to the Google Teacher Academy Google+ Community.

I admit, that publishing this information is a word cloud is not the most interesting thing to do with these collected tweets – I’m still trying to think of a more useful or interesting way of crunching this data.

The 2nd #gtauk word cloud
The 2nd #gtauk word cloud

I have now finished this experiment by seeing how many #fail tweets are generated on Twitter in an hour. Here’s the Spreadsheet. I’m a bit disappointed really: there were only 74. I thought there would be more than that.

Nevermind the moonshot, feel the guilt.

No. It’s not that kind of guilt.

There is one idea that has haunted my thinking in recent months: I could have taught children who now, as adults, are beheading their enemies on behalf of Islamic State.

That hundreds of women and men from the UK have journeyed to Iraq and Syria to fight a brutal war was bad enough. That some of them may have been in my classroom has horrified me. These people have been through our education system. They have walked the corridors of our schools. They have sat in our classrooms. I may have taught them ‘homophones’ or their ‘7 times table’.

Did it matter whether they were taught by evidence-based or evidence-free teachers? Did it matter whether they were labelled as kinaesthetic learners? Did Brain Gym make a difference?

I once wrote that the purpose of education is hope. So where is the hope here? When British people go to join a cause that revels in the genocide of minorities, has our education system failed? Or is this broader than mere education?

I can’t answer these questions on a broad level. And I can’t answer them for any so-called British Jihadis. However I do know something of guilt, firstly that of some colleagues and secondly mine.

Story 1: It was sixteen years ago and I was in my second year of teaching. Returning with 40 children from a visit to a local park, a local youth approached me from behind, hit me hard on the back of my head and knocked me unconscious. There is more of a story than that, I’ll tell it sometime, but for now I’ll focus on the slight sense of guilt I had from my colleagues. It turned out that my attacker had been taught by them. I couldn’t help but sense that they felt they could have done something more when this child had been at primary school. Maybe something that would have stopped the violence.


Story 2: It was earlier this year and I see three young men on my estate who had taught in the same Year 6 class some years before. One of them had been the angry young man of the class – flaring up into uncontrollable anger on a daily basis. I had worked overtime to find ways to include him in my class. It turned out that despite some further flare ups and time in PRUs at secondary, he had settled down, got some GCSEs, joined a local church and community group and looked like become a responsible member of the community. The other two had been underachievers, slightly behind in their reading and maths. I can confirm that I spent less time on them than the first child. Now they both had ASBOs and the first young man warned me to sstay away from them – “they were trouble”.

So there it is. The guilt.

Maybe if I had spent my time better in that Year 6 class I could have helped those children become the kind of students who could have achieved at secondary school. Maybe my input would have made no difference. I know there’s no point living in the hypothetical and I’m certainly not looking for any sympathy.

Last week, at the Google Teacher Academy in London we were ‘Moonshot Thinking’ – thinking of ways that we might make education ten times better than it already is. Is it a moonshot to think we can educate crime and brutality out of society? Or is that beyond moonshot? Was there a point at which a teacher in a school somewhere in England could have said something to the student who later became known as ‘Jihadi John’ that would have stopped him from killing US journalist James Foley?

Is it a moonshot to suggest that all the world’s problems can be solved through education? Or by thinking such aspirational thoughts about education do we inevitably end up finding ways of dealing with guilt brought about by imperfect teachers teaching imperfect students in an imperfect education system?

Image courtesy of

Education is moonshot

I’ve been doing a lot of Moonshot Thinking recently. If you watch the 3 and half minute video that lives on the other side of the link I just posted that you may be wondering how, as a deputy headteacher of a small primary school in a deprived part of Birmingham, I have time for such musings. That’s another story to be told another time.

Here’s one of my conclusions though: the education system is already a moonshot challenge. Let’s think of a system that will make things ten times better for the people are part of it – education already fits the bill.

It works like this: the sum of a culture’s knowledge is distributed on the shoulders of a few individuals. Let’s call these people ‘teachers’. These teachers are then trained to pass on this knowledge to new members of the culture. This second group are known as ‘students’. To make this as efficient as possible, the teachers are brought together in centres of teaching excellence. In most cases, these are called ‘schools’, although they are, on occasion, known as other things. The exact details of how schools, teachers and students relate to each other are worked out according to the differing demands of different cultures. The consequence of these education systems is that students lives are made at least ten times better, because they are taught the knowledge and skills that will give them opportunities within their culture.

When we try and change the education system we need to be clear that we are trying to fix something that already works really well. The teachers I know and work with are amazing. They do a fantastic job for their students, giving them opportunities that they would never have if they were not part of the education system.

When making moonshots to do with education, we need to be careful that we are not just tweaking something that is already really good, but instead thinking of something that will really makes things ten times better for our students.

How to Apply for the Google Teacher Academy #gtauk

When I applied for the Google Teacher Academy back in 2010 I found Doug Belshaw’s post on the process really helpful. His 10 points helped me through my application and I would recommend following his advice (even if it is over four years old). The application form may have changed since then, but much of the advice remains the same.

There are some differences between 2010 and 2014. One of them is that three distinct roles are now described in the process:

  • outstanding educators
  • creative leaders
  • ambassadors for change.

If I were you, I would consider these three roles carefully. All teachers play these three roles – aspiring to educate their students to ever higher standards; to lead creatively in their classroom, subject area, department or school; to pioneer changes that will make an impact on society. The application is clear: you have to be explicit about how you play each of these roles and also be clear about which one you major in. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you do all three with equal ability and determination.

  1. Think distinctively about the best example of how you have acted in each of the roles described.
  2. Be specific about the impact you have had in each role upon students, peers and colleagues.
  3. Avoid being negative about the two roles that you are less strong in.

The next thing is the whole ‘moonshot thinking’ idea. Google are really into this. I’ve heard that their chief exec is said to have been wondering recently whether Google’s work could eventually eliminate unemployment. Whatever you think about the reality of this, you can’t argue that it is a complete ‘moonshot’.

So do that thinking for yourself  for your classroom, your school, the community where you teach… What would be the thing that would make it amazing? What would be the complete moonshot that most people would say “impossible” to? Imagine that no limits of finance, ability, technology, space are put on you – what could be achieved. And make it personal – what is the thing that really burns in your heart to benefit your students – if you can write that clearly in that section of the form, you’re onto a winner!

Finally, keep to the limits. Make sure you don’t go over any word limits on the form or the 1-minute time limit on the video. There are loads of ideas on the video on Youtube – because every GCT video ever made is publicly available on Youtube, including mine, which I’m still proud of because it is the top hit when you put in the three words “motivation”, “education” and “telekinesis”. Seriously, when I look back at it, I still can’t work out why they let me in…

If you didn’t see the link at the top, the application form can be found at and the deadline is next Monday 22nd September

Why you should apply for the Google Teacher Academy #gtauk

The Google Teacher Academy is coming up in London this October. I was lucky enough to be part of the first one in 2010. If you’re a teacher this is why I think you should apply for it:

  1. It’s amazing. No. It really is. I learned more in the first half hour on the Google Teacher Academy that at any other full day CPD event I have ever been to. And that was just the first half an hour on Google Search. When you add that to Drive, Classroom, Apps for Education and all the other stuff, you will come away with a huge list of amazing things to do in your classroom or school.
  2. The presenters are fantastic. You can learn loads about how to use Google tools (that are usually free*). You’ll learn stuff that you can take back and put into your classroom practice immediately and you’l feel inspired to do so.
  3. You’ll meet brilliant teachers. The other teachers there are as FAB as you – and you get to meet them and continue networks with them that will continue to inspire your practice for years to come. Some of the best things that have happened in my school have happened because other Google Certified Teachers helped me make them happen.
  4. You’ll meet Googlers. That’s the name for people who work for Google. It’s no accident that Google are one of the most successful companies in existence – their recruiters are the top guys on the planet and it means the people they bring in have brains the size of small moons. I know not everyone gets inspired by meeting really clever people, but if you do, the GTA is for you!
  5. You get a badge. You can put the badge virtually on your website or wear it at conferences. I find that really useful because it stops salespeople talking to me.
  6. It’s awesome. Yes – there will be some Americans there, and ‘awesome’ is their word. Get used to it. It’s OK – in fact it’s better than OK – its awesome. But apart from that, you’ll get a taste of what Google is like to work for – even that can inspire you to make changes in your classroom and school. If things get really good, you might even hear someone say, “just raw awesome”.

If you to apply, the application is here. You have until the end of next Monday (22nd September).

(* by ‘free’ I mean cost no money)

Developing Digital Literacies. #2: yearn to be literate

Having been challenged by Steve Wheeler that maybe primary schools do have a role to play in digital literacy, I’m now thinking about what we actually do at my school to encourage, or even teach digital literacy.

2. Yearn to be literate.

A few years ago I was a rather jaded IT co-ordinator. I had fallen out of love with an area of the curriculum that I once thought could change the world. The reasons were many and varied: underfunding; cynicism amongst IT technicians; the monolithic nature of IT services within my city; a disillusionment amongst fellow teachers about the impact of IT; the lure of senior management.

And then I heard Ewan McIntosh speak at a conference.

He showed a simple visualisation of his contacts – there were about 6000 at the time and about a quarter were teachers. Yet nearly all links to the teachers looked different on the visualisation from everyone else because they did not contact him – they only listened.

The teachers were either too busy or too scared to talk. Too busy or too scared to do any kind of two-way communication. Too busy or too scared to be literate. His point was that just at the time when students were grappling with growing social media, teachers were shying away from it – choosing to be illiterate in an area where their influence could be really beneficial to society.

It was at that point that I started yearning to be digitally literate with ‘new stuff’ like Twitter. I got an account and started tweeting. I followed some key people from whom I heard about something called the Google Teacher Academy. I applied and, by the miracle of telekinesis, I got in. I carried on communicating, debating in education, growing my digital literacy. I started to blog. I made some videos.

This rubbed off onto my school. We now have a team of Year 6 who make videos each week. Children in Key Stage 2 create wikis and websites. Children set up email groups and email each other about things that interest them. And for those of you thinking standards, standards, standards – our children have ‘outstanding achievement’ in English and maths – so it’s not as if we drop the essentials just to do the fun stuff.

Nor can I say that it has been all ups. Sometimes I have lost my ‘yearning’. Like a few days ago when I posted this. Sometimes I question whether it is all worth it – let’s just teach spelling, punctuation, grammar, reading and maths I say to myself – after all, that’s all we are measured on. I suppose we all have our moments of doubt. But then I remember (or someone reminds me) that the children deserve more than that.

You have to believe that being digitally literate is important for yourself to make it appear anywhere on the priority list at school. I started to believe it was important and I believe this has impacted my school in the long run too.

I made a song with Audacity and an iPhone

At the end of every term I start thinking ‘music’. It might be that it’s just the season for performances and that I’ve got my guitar out, but inevitably over the next few weeks I’ll have a group of children trying to create some piece of music or other.


I’ve been using Audacity for a few years – plugging in the school’s old keyboards and seeing what children can come up with. This year however we’ve invested in a couple of iPods, so I’ve been wondering what I could do with them. I’ve been experimenting over the weekend to see what the time limits and snags might be and I think I have a reasonable solution for a way of creating some music with just an iPhone and Audacity. Although I have to admit, I have cheated slightly – I played a guitar – and that’s something none of my children can do, still here’s what my sequence looks like so far. If you want a more detailed explanation, let me know – this just a quick ‘big brushtrokes’ picture of what I did.


  1. Find some words for the song. I did a Wordle of the Google Teacher Academy Blog that Kevin McLaughlin had started. While I was recording other bits, I looked at the Wordle and tried to find words that would rhyme and might fit together until a song of some kind appeared.
  2. Start recording drum tracks into Audacity. I used DrumTrack8 which I like because it’s got a copy of my old Boss 808 sound that I used to use in the 1990s. Not that I used that particular sound for this song. Depending on how complex you want to be, you can record all the drums together or on separate tracks. I chose to do Kick and Snare together, highhat on its own, ride on its own and some fancy toms on their own track too. I then used Audacity’s fade in, fade out and amplify (with a -200 quantity) to cut some of the drums where I didn’t want them, for example I only wanted ride in the chorus.
  3. Find a tune. Try to match some words to it. While I was recording the drum tracks I picked up my guitar, tried a few chords and tried to make some of the words from the Wordle fit. This is the tricky bit for the children I guess – as most can’t play guitar – I’ll have to work out how to make this step accessible to the children.
  4. Record the tune. With the drum tracks done I recorded my guitar track onto my iPhone using Recorder Pro. I couldn’t record it straight into Audacity because my cheap mic had broken.
  5. Record the words (i.e sing!). I then sang into Recorder Pro and transferred that into Audacity too. This is the really weak bit for me – I can’t sing very well – my voice is thin and my tuning is… interesting. This was also where I had the largest snag. Aside from the quality of my voice, Recorder Pro seems to stop recording when there’s silence, so when I synced it back onto Audacity is had cut out some of deliberate gaps. I’ve tried to add some silences back in, but the words don’t quite mesh with the beat at some points because they’re out by the odd hundredth or so.
  6. Add some harmony and other stuff. I used Nlog Free synthesiser app to add some more sounds. I love this one. I can’t play keys but I can play Nlog. Sort of.
  7. Balance. The worse thing in a pop song is when you can’t hear the words. Except when I’m singing. So here, I did a little bit more fading in and out and amplify adjustment on the different tracks.
  8. Mix Down. Finally I assigned some tracks a little to the left and a little to the right to give that fuller sound achieved by a bit of stereo and I saved the track as an MP3
If I’d had more time I would have recorded some extra vocals to pad out my voice. I may have even tried some harmony.


If I’d had a lot more time I’d have found someone who can sing to do my vocals for me.

Here’s the song: gtauk song

Next stop – try something like this with the children. Should be an interesting learning experience for us all.


The words of the songs are:
I once was settled with what I knew
I thought I needed nothing new
In a bubble of my own
A tiny world was my home


But then cool awesomeness
Different practices
In a Network Earth
Couldn’t settle then
Had to jump right in
Into a different world


I’ve Gone Google at GTAUK
Posted time to a blog via Twitter that day.
So certify me.


Teachers from every different nation
Showing some steep appreciation
Demonstration and explanation
All in the name of education


New technologies
New literacies
Squeezed into each hour
Better practices
It’s going to work for years
This is education power

Google Teacher Academy

I’m quite excited about the prospect of attending the Google teacher Academy in July this year. It’s the first one to be held in London and I got in to it partly on the strength of my video which you can see here.


The video is a bit mad really – you obviously can’t teach telekinesis to primary phase children – it’s more of secondary school job if you ask me.


It also helped to start discovering some well helpful people on the internet who can give advice on technology and the like. Doug Belshaw was one. His blog lives at

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