Britannica – My Britannica

My Britannica is the section of Britannica Online where you can keep your stuff. As a teacher, you can setup a My Britannica account and use it to plan lessons and collect materials (articles images and videos).


Sign Up

To create a teacher account and access My Britannica:

  1. Go to Simon, scroll to the bottom of the School Links window on the left-hand side of the page and click the Encyclopaedia Britannica link under the Library heading
  2. Click the tiny My Britannica link at the top right of the Britannica launch page (or any of Britannica’s other pages)
  3. Enter a username and password (I used my T/O and network password), email address and school code

NB: I will be writing the school code on the whiteboard at the PD. If you are not attending the session, please get in contact for the code.

Britannica have put together a document outlining these steps with screenshots that can be found here.

What now?

Now that you have an account you can start using the features of My Britannica. More information on the features below is located in this training manual (from page 3 onwards).

Basically, whenever you find a resource that you want to save, click the star on the toolbar at the top right-hand side. This will store the article in your content (My Content at the top right of the page).

You can also create resource packs so that a number of resources are saved together. To do this, type the name of the pack in the field that pops up when you click favourite. Alternatively you can create a resource pack from the My Content page by clicking the green Create a new resource pack! button on the left-hand side under your username.

You can turn your saved resources and resource packs into lesson plans by clicking the Convert to a Lesson Plan button in the My Content screen. This allows you to describe the lesson, its goals and procedures and align it to curriculum standards.

Lesson plans can be shared, browsed and adapted so it is worthwhile having a look for your topic before you start as some of the work may have already been done for you.

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Review: Freedom Ride

Sue Lawson’s Freedom Ride is good. Really good. Many have called for it to be included on school reading lists and it will be added to ours if I have anything to do with it. It is a terrific portrayal of the Freedom Ride movement of the 1960s which evokes blood-boiling frustration at the injustice of the Apartheid-by-another-name experienced by Australia’s First People.

The hypocrisy is startling and everywhere: in the injustice of the descendants of invaders asserting territorial rights over the traditional owners; in the jibes about living conditions when the living conditions are proscribed; and, in the startling lack of insight into the their own lack of humanity.

The book also raises the prickly issue of hard-bitten pragmatism over ivory-tower elitism. ‘It is all well and good that these city-dwellers have developed a theory of equality but it won’t work in practice (especially if it rubs up against established self-serving power structures)’ the story goes. And the price of change is extracted from those willing to ruin (and even risk) their own lives in order to see it happen rather than those who have been profiting from the injustice all along.

This paints a strong picture of the in-group, out-group dynamic of the Australian bush in the sixties and can be extended to the state of publishing in Australia today – why is a book about the great Charlie Perkins and the people he sought to benefit told from the point of view of a young white boy and a white man who is supportive of the cause? Yes, the book has Micky but if you were ranking characters in order of importance, it would be generous to list him third. Sue Lawson cites Cloudstreet as one of her favourite books and for 25 years we have been discussing that book’s problematic representation on Indigenous Australians. Has she just created the same?

This does not make Freedom Ride any less of a book (actually, it probably does) but it does add an extra element to the importance of such a book. Students can learn from the historical events that occur in the novel, see the progress that has been made in Australia over the past 50 years and consider how far we have yet to come.

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Hop. Book. Chat. E03 has been made

Our July episode is a hat tip to the worldbuilders – the creators, makers and dreamers. In Prythian is the New Vampires we look at the worlds in YA fiction that we would like to visit and what we would do when we got there (although much of that occurred in the 5 minutes that had to be cut because it involved references to magical powers and those on whom we would use them).

Listen to the stuff that was too good to cut here:

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Coding – Project #3

This one is simple. This page has an activity where you can animate your name by following the steps.


It pulls together backgrounds and animating sprites and covers some of the controls and looks that you may not have played with yet.

You can complete the activity directly in the page or using the Scratch editor that is available on your netbook. Watch the video on the right-hand side to see what it is all about or, if you lack patience, dive right in by clicking list of steps underneath.

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Fundraising in schools

The library has recently purchased a copy of The most good you can do, a long overdue book about effective charity. The book delves into both the goal of the spending and the efficiency of recipient organisations in achieving this goal. This is relevant to schools primarily because students are often raising money and this money should be used effectively (and the students should be taught how to make these decisions). It is also relevant because we are evidence-based institutions who employ pedagogical initiatives based on this evidence and should apply this equally to our other endeavours.


What should we be raising money for?

If someone is blind and barefooted and you can buy them shoes, that would have a positive effect on the person’s life. If you could alternatively give the same amount of money and restore the person’s sight, that would have a much greater effect on that person’s life. While giving the person shoes would be good, giving to restore sight would be better.

Similarly, spending an hour inexpertly making the barefooted person a pair of shoes would be a worse use of time than spending an hour collecting money to buy the person some shoes (which would also benefit the shoe vendor).

In schools we frequently choose making the shoes over buying the shoes and giving shoes instead of sight. As a result, all of the money raised in schools by students makes less impact than it could. How can we change this? The answer is to do what we do when we are implementing curriculum change.

Who should we give it to? 

We would never make a change to the curriculum without evidence to support the change. We ask what the change would require and what benefit it would be. And we compare the benefit of different changes and implement the ones that make the most benefit.

Our fundraising should be the same.

Charities supported by schools should have a proven track-record in making people’s lives better. Money should be aimed at primary problems rather than secondary ones. Sending text books to under-resourced schools is helpful but sending money for them to buy their own books is better – the books could be curriculum appropriate and the spending supports the local economy. Even better is supporting health initiatives that get kids to school in the first place.

Charities should be held up to the same standards as schools – we should expect value-for-money and evidence that they are working. There are a range of websites to help decide which charities to support based on these criteria. One such website is GiveWell. Send your students there too.

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Reading conferences

Reading conferences provide the most useful opportunities for formative assessment of students’ reading…” – Di Snowball, et al.

Reading conferences are, as stated above, excellent. The students benefit measurably from the opportunity to receive immediate feedback from their teacher, get one-on-one instruction on reading strategies and discuss their reading in general.

Strengths and weaknesses

The regularity of the reading conferences allows us to monitor what the students are reading, how often and how much they are reading and how they are reading.

What the students are reading each conference can be very revealing. We will be able to pick up on students who are reading a different book each conference for example. This is great if they are finishing books every two weeks but it’s not so good if they are flitting from one book to the next or forgetting to bring their book. At the upper end, teachers are able to work with voracious readers to expand their reading into untested areas. At the other end of the scale teachers will be able to connect readers with appealing texts and also present the positives of reading, the benefits of regular reading and set goals for more consistent reading.

We can also get a picture of how much time the students are spending reading. The upper limit of this is open-ended although students should be allowed time outside of school to eat, see the sun and go to the toilet. The lower limit is also fluid as more reading is better but telling a student that they need to start with 15 minutes per day is unrealistic. It is about setting achievable goals, like starting with 15 minutes three times per week. Once the student is reading regularly, we can increase the frequency and time.

Conferences give us a chance to gauge the rate at which the student is reading as well. In addition to being able to understand at least 90% of what they are reading (the five finger test), our students should be getting through a page every minute or so. If this sort of progress is not being made then it is possible that the text is too hard or undesirable and it is unlikely that the students will engage with it. The student’s reading log will provide insight into how much the student is getting through during reading time.

Listening to the students read lets us hear how they are reading too. We can determine if a book is too hard for them, detect problems with fluency and provide direct instruction with reading strategies, teach vocabulary and provide feedback and encouragement.

Reading goals

Goals set during conferences may be made by the student, set by the teacher or created by consensus.

Reading goals might be about:

  • The type of reading that the student is doing (e.g. reading more fiction or non-fiction, reading longer or more challenging books).
  • The amount of reading a student is doing – either by time (per day, week) or words (number of pages, chapters, books).
  • Implementing a particular strategy: reading aloud to practice fluency, using a dictionary to develop vocabulary, re-reading to aid comprehension, making and checking predictions, etc.

Finish on a positive

Reading independently is and should be a pleasurable experience. Students should feel gratification from the reading experience: the achievement of finishing books, adding words to their vocabularies and becoming stronger readers. They should be reminded of their progress and should have their strengths affirmed as specifically as possible. Both reading and reading conferences should be a positive experience for the student.

Posted in Literacy, Reading, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Coding – Project #2

We are working towards a project like Caesar Cipher on Scratch because it neatly explains how algorithms are used to make programs – but first we need a heap of other skills. Backgrounds are one of them.


For today’s task, create a button that changes the background. If you want to see how it is done first, check this out. Otherwise feel free to have a play around (or Google ‘how to make a button scratch’, ‘how to change the background scratch’, etc.).

NB: If you want to jump ahead and create a Cipher like the one above, go ahead! It can’t hurt…

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Anywhere, anytime collaboration

Our Enrichment Coordinator has just set up a new blog to communicate with her TLT. The TLT meetings were being hamstrung by conflicting time pressures. The blog is an attempt to facilitate collaboration without needing to rely on all being in the same place at the same time. I am not really impartial on this subject but if you’re looking for a way to communicate with a group, I reckon you can’t go past blogging.


Blogs are a very considerate way to impart information because the reader chooses the time; reading is much faster than listening to someone speak (just compare watching a how-to on YouTube to reading one); and, the reader can skip to relevant information.

Catching up with reading can also be fit in around other things. Keeping a tab on your phone open with an interesting blog post allows you to revisit it when you have some time to kill waiting for a train.

Blogging is also a great way to organise information. You and your audience can come back to the post whenever you need to and blogs are very rich information sources that can contain links, videos and other media.

Most importantly, writing a blog is a developmental exercise in itself. Writing a blog allows you to reflect deeply on your topic (and sometimes learn about it first from the ground up), condense it down to it’s most important elements and then try to communicate it effectively. I am fully aware that the person who benefits most from my blog is me.

There are heaps of websites offering blog hosting services. I use WordPress; the Enrichment blog is on Blogger (Google). If you want any information about how to set one up, let me know – I’d be happy to help!

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Writing Research Assignments

Research assignments are very different to tests. Tests function to show what the students have learnt throughout a unit while research assignments are a learning experience in themselves. As a result, if you ask your students to recall what they have learnt in a research assignment, they will usually copy and paste the answer. The antidote for this is to ask the students to do something with the information that they are finding.


The following example comes from the History curriculum but the process is the same no matter what the topic is.

The History curriculum says that students need to be able to understand ‘the role and achievements of a significant individual and/or group‘ in Japanese feudal society. A copy and paste assignment would ask the students to explain the social structure in feudal Japanese society and the students would copy and paste something like the text in the image above. Job done. Even if they tried to put this in their own words, they would struggle – there just aren’t that many words for ‘top’, ‘under’, ‘followed’ and ‘bottom’.

This is the same for any project where they are asked to write a biography of a person (scientist, artist, etc.), describe the achievements of a person or describe the role or function of an object.

Questions stems

Enter question stems. These give us prompts that can help us to generate questions where students access and create information at different levels.

Consider the question ‘what would happen if..?’ from the understand column. The question ‘what would happen to a samurai if their Daimyo lost a battle?’, seems more simple than ‘explain the social structure…’ but to complete it the kids need to read closely and pick the correct information to answer the question. Once they have the concept that these classes were fluid and people could move down the social structure, you could ask them if there was any evidence that people could move up the pyramid as well.

‘What would happen if..?’ is also a good alternative to ‘Describe…’ for biographical assignments. ‘What would the world be like without..?’ allows the students to appreciate the contribution of a person or invention, consider if others were at a similar stage of innovation and consider alternative solutions.

Now consider the prompt ‘Do you believe…’ from the Evaluate column. Going back to the history task, the position of farmers in feudal Japanese society is very interesting. You could ask the kids why they think farmers were above artisans, whether they believe farmers are more or less important in our society and what these positions reflect about society.

‘Do you believe..?’ can be applied to many comparative tasks such as, ‘do you believe strength is more important than endurance?’ or ‘do you believe that price is more important than quality?’.


Once you have created your questions, organise them so that the lower order questions come first and the higher order come later – this way you will be able to tell right away how deeply a student has engaged with a topic based on how far they got through the assignment.


Getting question stems to work requires practice. Students will need formative exercises and feedback before they embark upon their major assignment to make sure that they know what is expected of them.

Both writing these questions and answering them is a skill that needs to be developed. Once the practice is ingrained though, copying and pasting becomes at-best insufficient and the whole process of researching, writing and assessing these assignments becomes more interesting for everyone.

Posted in Research Skills, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Coding – Project #1

Coding is a fun and rewarding experience that can develop a deeper understanding of how the devices in your life work. Have a go at completing the following problem using Scratch. If you get stuck, go to the video tutorial below for instructions.

Problem: Create a sprite that moves every time you touch it with a mouse. For bonus points, create a counter that keeps track of the number of times you have touched the sprite.

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