In praise of BBC iWonder guides – a great learning resource

Recently, I have been using the iWonder guides created by the BBC and freely available from the BBC website. iWonder guides focus on a specific question, such as Why is Chinese New Year so Important? and How did the Tudor Dynasty Shape Modern Britain?, and then present key information that answers the enquiry through structured text, videos of presentations from an expert, audio interviews and pictures of documents. The iWonder guides cover many different areas relating to the curriculum, but history does particularly well with this resource as the guides were launched with their guides on e First World War in the summer of 2014.

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As a digital learning resource, the iWonder guides provide a valuable and interactive opportunity to engage students in a way that perhaps. Text book does not. The enquiries are extremely interesting and accessible to all. Although, the guides cover the more traditional questions that are seen in many text books, they also offer alternative areas that gain less attention, such as the impact of Pack Up Your Troubles on popular culture during the First World War, which I found engrossing and allowed me to explore with my classes a distinct and alternative curriculum areas that would not otherwise been examined.

The most effective application I have used the iWonder guides is in two ways –

– They make an excellent resource for home learning assignments where students are given the link to a specific iWonder guide and students are expected to read it and write a summary of what they have looked at. This has been very popular with my students, particularly those who find it difficult to handle large amounts of text.

– The iWonder guides also provide an excellent resource to stretch and challenge your more able students, as many of the guides are thought-provoking and stimulate discussion and extend knowledge on curriculum linked topics. This is an alternative way to encourage wider reading and independent learning.

iWonder guides are certainly worth exploring as a teaching and learning resource, so do have a look at the iWonder home page – http://www.bbc.co.uk/iwonder – and follow them for all their latest news on Twitter – @BBCiWonder. Highly recommended.

#Nurture1415 – Looking forward and looking back

I tend not to post personal views on this blog as I created this to share resources and teaching ideas. However, the #Nurture 1314 helped me review the past year and look forward so I decided to participate again this year ….

So how did 2014 go …….

1. 2014 was a turbulent year in the department which saw me become the ‘old man’ of the History team with the retirement of my mentor and guide and the enforced retirement of my Head of Department, who is terminally ill. The beginning of the year saw me take on the entire exam teaching for our Year 13 groups as well as another Year 10 group. This was hugely stressful but very rewarding not just in terms of exam results but how the students rallied around and accepted the difficulty of the situation. They were, quite simply, a fantastic group of young people who worked so hard and it was a pleasure to help them achieve the grades they did. This really did show that when times are tough, there is nothing better than getting stuck in and giving it your best shot … you might even enjoy yourself at the same time!

2. I was offered a contract to write my first book by Bloomsbury on the strength of the blog. This was something I would never have imagined doing or even going for but this was an unexpected opportunity which I had to grasp. The book is going to be part of the 100 Ideas series and my volume will be on revision. I have spent much of this year researching and writing the book [which is nearly finished] and should be published in the second half of 2015. I have found the whole process so far immensely rewarding and has certainly sharpened my teaching skills and made me a more rounded teacher.

3. My work/life balance has improved despite the growing pressures and demands of school. I have said ‘no’ to certain extra work requests much more frequently, where in the past I would have tried to complete it. Saying ‘no’ has been easier than I expected despite some reactions of others at school as it has improved the overall quality of my core work. I have joined a social group which has been a brilliant distraction – much needed! – away from school and the politics that go with it. It has relaxed me as well as enabled me to meet more people outside the bubble that it is the world of education.

4. iPad …. I brought myself an iPad in February and I love it! It has sharpened and modernised my teaching practice and resources – to the extent that I have made resources not only for my lessons but for other departments for whole school initiatives. The reaction of my students to these resources has been nothing but positive – apart from one parent who thought that an iPad is purely a gaming machine [ignorance is sometimes not bliss] – and they have even given me challenges of the types of resources to make with it. [Nothing like student voice!]

5. Twitter has continued to be the best virtual staff room and source of CPD one could imagine. I value so much of the contact I have made on this platform and it is truly transformed my teaching outlook. Without it, my teaching would have been in the danger of becoming stale and I would have been bored and frustrated. I cannot understand anyone who says Twitter has no place in the educational world [believe me – this is a common view in some areas of the staff room I work in]. Being named by The Guardian as one of the top five History Teachers on Twitter has got to be a highlight of 2014 – very flattered!

So what do I hope 2015 will bring …….

1. A new challenge – I have been at my present school for 15 years this year and it may be time to move on. I nearly did in 2014, but this year it could be the year to pursue another challenge.I certainly need to broaden my horizons so if anyone knows of a school that needs a half decent History teacher, get in touch!

2. Supporting my form – I have been with my current form since their first day at secondary school and now in Year 11 they will face their GCSE exams. My priority is to support them through such a stressful period of their lives. They are a wonderful group of people and I take great pride and pleasure in supporting them through their various trials and tribulations. Being a form tutor is a highlight of this job and I look forward to seeing them achieve their full potential this year.

4. New ideas – I am a magpie – always on the look out for new ideas and ways to do things. This has given me a bit of a reputation at school as a maverick, but for me being on the look out for new ideas and trying them out is the only way to be a better teacher and strive for continual improvement. Even better, is when you share them with others and find new perspectives on ‘old tricks’. May 2015 bring more ideas, it would be so boring otherwise ……

3. Publishing the book – My book – 100 Ideas for Secondary School Teachers: Revision – will be published this year. Very exciting and looking forward to the challenges this will bring.

4. Work/life balance – Always a massive challenge to maintain. I have done very well in 2014 in improving in this area. I hope to continue this in 2015.

So that is it. I hope that 2015 will bring you everything you want. Thank you for reading my review of 2014 and aspirations for 2015. To all my Twitter followers – thank you! – you all make my job so much more interesting and stimulating.

Take care

Why did the Schlieffen Plan fail? comic strip

This latest comic strip helps explains the reasons for the failure of the Schlieffen Plan in 1914. I have used the acronym BEER to help students remember these reasons –

Balance – referring to the change of number of men in the northern German army in the pincer movement in the strategy.

Eastern attack – referring to the attack Russia launched on Germany from the East.

Exhaustion – referring to the exhaustion of the soldiers in the German army by September 1914.

Resistance – referring to the unexpected resistance in Belgium which slowed the progress of the German advance.

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