Desert Island Apps for Teachers


There are thousands of websites and apps aimed at teachers but if you had to pick just 10 that you couldn’t live without – the digital bare essentials of a 21st Century classroom, your desert island apps – what would they be?

Here, in no particular order, are mine.

1. Google Drive and Google Classroom

Google Drive includes Google Docs, Sheets, Slides and Forms as well as many other GAFE (Google Apps for Education). Google Classroom is a learning platform for schools which brings it all together in a secure online environment. Drive and Classroom allow students to collaborate and share files quickly and teachers to create and distribute assignments, flip learning, grade work, and post notices. Indispensable.

2. Kahoot!

Without doubt this would be the students’ choice. Kahoot! is an enjoyable, game-based learning platform with many similarities to (the also excellent but less jovial) Socrative. Use it to build fast paced multiple-choice quizzes and class surveys or pose questions at hingepoints during a lesson to receive instant feedback from all. Formative assessment at its most fun.

3. TES Teaching Resources

If you didn’t already know, TES Teaching Resources is a vast online library of mostly free lesson plans and classroom resources uploaded by teachers from around the world. To be honest, it’s not all great but there are some real gems in there which are more than worth the rummage. The site is also home to Teachers’ TV; a source of high quality videos on teaching and learning in Early Years, Primary, Secondary and FE, as well as films to help with continued professional development.

4. Adobe Voice

This one is relatively new on the scene but I love the simplicity of this application for making short, highly-professional-looking animated videos. I have written about it many times in this blog and confess to being a huge fan.


This site provides a variety of different stopwatches and clocks which can be used to add a sense of urgency to any starter activity or plenary, help keep younger students on task, or be clearly displayed during classroom-based tests.

6. Educreations

There are now a huge number of apps for creating video tutorials on the iPad but I have mostly remained faithful to Educreations as it works seamlessly with Google Drive and is so simple and intuitive to use. As well as making tutorials, I find it useful for providing feedback on larger pieces of student work (e.g. posters or models). I simply take a photograph, import it into Educreations, and then comment and annotate over it before sharing with the student via Classroom.

7. Twitter

We all know that Twitter is essentially a virtual staffroom for sharing resources, airing opinions and generating discussion but it can also be used to support learning in the classroom. For example, I have used it to provide a running news feed, tracked hash tags, connected with other classrooms and industry professionals, and encouraged students to send live Tweets during field trips. There are lots of possibilities. Not convinced? Here is a useful post by the brilliant @ICTEvangelist on the dos and don’ts of getting started in the pedagogical Twittersphere.

8. Armoured Penguin

The best site I have found for making crosswords and other simple word games. All free and easily converted into PDF.

9. YouTube

Create playlists of videos on particular topics, import videos into Google Forms as a flipped learning activity, post video tutorials, find sound effects to really bring your lessons to life, or simply mine this vast resource for educational audio visuals. TeacherTube, TedEd, How Stuff Works, BBC and Sick Science are just some of my favourite channels.

10. Visible Body 3D Human Anatomy Atlas

This is the only subject-specific entry on my list and a costly one (at the time of writing £18.99 from App Store) but it is a simply stunning piece of kit with an impeccable 3D interface offering students a far greater appreciation of anatomical structures than the flat drawings of a textbook ever could. The high-resolution graphics offer smooth zooming, panning and rotating capabilities and the concise labelling (showing the name of each structure and the system hierarchy to which it belongs) make it particularly useful for older students during organ dissections and demonstrations. Brilliant.

So there you have it, my top 10 teaching websites and apps. I would love to hear about your own desert island choices!



CIE Mark Scheme Abbreviations


Some students (and teachers) remain confused by the abbreviations used in mark schemes. Since completing and then marking past papers is a key element in effective revision for the upcoming examinations, I thought it timely to highlight the following conventions used by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) at both IGCSE and A Level.

+ ,  

All parts of the answer separated by a plus sign or comma are required to achieve the mark. In the example below, the candidate must refer to assimilates or sucrose and to the fact that they lower the water potential (inside the sieve tube element) in order to gain one mark.


( )

Information in parentheses does not need to be made explicit in the answer in order for the candidate to achieve the mark/s. See example below.


Alternative answers for the same point. In the example below, the candidate can make reference to either folding or coiling and does not need to mention the tertiary structure (in parentheses) in order to be awarded the mark.


Separates marking points. In other words, semi-colons represent the number of marks available for each answer. Note, that for the example below, full marks are available just for giving the answer (300) whether or not the candidate has also shown their workings out.



Accept. The answer is not the answer the examiner is looking for but has been correctly cued by an equation or extra guidance and therefore acceptable to achieve the mark.


Any Valid Point. One point (note the one semi-colon) can be awarded at the examiner’s discretion if any other valid point has been made by the candidate.


AVP ;;

Any Valid Point. The examiner can award up to two marks (note the two semi-colons) for two valid points made by the candidate.


Reject. This is different to ‘Ignore’ (I) and is a negative marking system. In other words, a mark must be deducted from the total if a ‘Reject’ answer is given. In the example below, if a candidate wrote ‘antibodies produced by T-cells‘ they would not receive a mark (i.e. the point awarded for correctly answering that antibodies are produced is deducted for incorrectly stating that they are produced by T-cells).


Alternative wording. This is used when the responses are likely to vary more than usual. For example, instead of saying ‘less oxygen enters the blood‘ it would be acceptable to answer ‘less oxygen passes into the blood‘ or ‘less oxygen diffuses into the blood‘ etc.


Answer underlined

These are key words which must be used by the candidate in order to achieve the mark. Note that grammatical variants and spelling errors (so long as the word can be read phonetically) are accepted.


Or reverse argument. The reverse argument is equally valid.

I hope this clears up any confusion but if you have any questions about mark schemes and script abbreviations or conventions, please do get in touch.




Awesome Lesson Starters

Start the lesson with a bang!

What students experience in the first couple of minutes of a lesson makes a crucial difference in how well they engage with the learning intentions and as such, starter activites should be exciting, enthusing and unpredictable.

Here are some ideas for creating that ‘hook’ and maintaining the curiosity of students from the get-go.

  • Start the lesson with a fun or even explosive demonstration which ties in to the main body of the lesson. Sick Science has lots of great ideas.
  • Pass around mystery objects inside sealed bags. Ask the students to guess what they are and what they do.
  • Display apparatus, interesting objects and photographs around the room.
  • Play a short video on a loop and hand out questions about its content. This is even better if it is a video that you or the students have made. For example, a time-lapse video to recap the previous lesson or the steps of a practical investigation presented in Adobe Voice.
  • Write a true / false question or a statement on the board. As pupils arrive ask them to choose whether they think it is ‘true’ or ‘false’ or whether they ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ and to stand to one side or another of an imaginary line down the middle of the room.
  • Display a picture and a question. Alternatively, you can display a number of different pictures related to a theme and simply ask ‘What have I Googled?’
  • Play ‘Backs to the Board.’ Divide your students into two or three teams. One volunteer from each team sits in a chair with their backs to the board, facing their friends. Write a key word on the board, making sure that the players in the ‘hot seats’ can not see it. After you say ‘Go!’, the members of each team must try to elicit the word from the volunteer without saying the word or giving any clues as to its spelling. The players in the ‘hot seats’ then swap with another member of their respective teams.
  • Arrange for a guest speaker to be standing in the room as the students arrive.
  • Recap the last lesson by displaying true / false statements or multiple choice questions and asking students to answer on mini whiteboards.
  • Use Socrative or Kahoot to prepare a fun quiz or questionnaire.
  • Play a song relating to the lesson as the students arrive.
  • Display multiple choice questions around the room. Give the students a time limit (these classroom timers are fun) and get them to move around the room looking for and answering the questions.
  • Set up apparatus for the lesson and display one or more questions about what it might be for and how it works. Alternatively, hide the appartus under a cloth and, before revealing it, ask questions about what it might be.
  • When they arrive, hand each student or pair of students a mystery object and ask them to come up with ideas about what it might be used for.
  • Greet the students at the classroom door wearing full protective equipment including visor or goggles.
  • Hand each student a question or an answer to a question and ask them to find their pair.
  • Play the ‘Who Am I?’ game but instead of a famous person designate each student a key word relating to the current topic. Remember, participants can only use ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ questions to work out who or what they are.

No matter how you start the lesson try to involve the students whenever you can and make sure it does not go on for too long. Link the activity to the main body of the lesson and allow time for questions and answers. Have fun!


This fun game-based learning platform is simply the most popular app I have ever used in the classroom.

Kahoot! is actually very similar to another of my favourites, Socrative. The teacher (or students) creates a multiple-choice quiz using the web interface which students then access using their tablet, laptop or smartphone. There are also thousands of ready-made public Kahoots that you can use.

However, unlike Socrative, the questions are only displayed via the teacher’s device and the students answer by selecting one or more of four coloured buttons that appear on their own screens (see below). A time limit, a leadership board and the fact that students can get more points by answering quickly adds a competitive element which the students adore.


Kahoot! can also be used as an interface for class surveys and I have recently started using it to display hingepoint questions during lessons as a means of formative assessment. It is completely free and although registration is required to create quizzes, students are not expected to login to play (they simply tap in a pin number displayed by the teacher). I highly recommend it.


Molymod Respiration


Rather than sticking the balanced chemical equation for aerobic respiration up on the whiteboard, allow KS4 students to ‘discover’ it themselves by using Molymods.

Start by drawing a glucose molecule on the board and get each pair of students to make it using Molymods. Then give each pair of students 10 oxygen molecules and ask them to completely oxidise the glucose molecule by converting it to water and carbon dioxide using as many oxygens as they need.

When they are done let them count it all up. One glucose has turned into six waters and six carbon dioxides. They will likely have forgotten how many oxygen molecules they used but just ask them to count how many are left over!

Project-Based Learning

Over the past eight weeks our Year 10 students have been involved in an extended project-based learning (PBL) task. Each group of 3-4 students was presented with a real-life problem which could not be solved by one ‘right’ or easy to find answer and asked to present their ideas to an audience of parents, teachers and peers.

The problems were purposely open-ended in order to emphasise active, student-directed learning across a plurality of disciplines. The students all effectively investigated the problem, carried out scientific research and then constructed their own solutions. New technology was used throughout to communicate, collaborate and present their work.

The students decided that the theme for presentation day should be ‘Jurassic World’. They produced invitations for guests and decorated the science corridor.

ticketjurrasic corridor

On arrival guests were shown an introductory video. The quality of this is exceptional.

Innovations included an ant deterrent made from kaffir limes, a hanging storage facility for utilising the space beneath a work desk, a wind-up torch and this device for removing the shells from hard boiled eggs.



WAGOLL stands for ‘What A Good One Looks Like’ and are exemplary models of students’ work including essays, completed graphs, use of apparatus, experimental write-ups and so on. These can form an ever-changing display of outstanding work or be used in critique sessions by providing enlarged laminated photocopies on which the students can highlight or annotate evidence of its quality. I recommend building a library of WAGOLLs on your school VLE for the students to refer to.

Thinking Maps in Science

thinking maps

Thinking maps are a set of eight visual tools which each correspond to different higher-order thinking skills. First published by David Hyerle in 1989 they are now a common feature in classrooms around the world. The maps help learners to grasp new concepts by allowing them to construct visual representations of otherwise abstract ideas. They also promote cooperative learning and critical thinking through processes such as ordering, prioritising and sequencing.

Here are some examples of how I have used a few of the thinking maps recently in my science teaching.

(Incidentally there are same great apps available for constructing thinking maps but I find that large sheets of paper or laminated, wipe-clean outlines of the maps and coloured board pens are actually more conducive to collaboration when concept mapping.)

Circle map

Circle maps are used to put things into context. The ‘thing’ represented is written or drawn in the centre circle and contextual information is shown in the outer circle. The activity can be extended by drawing a rectangular frame around the outside of both circles to represent a frame of reference. The circle map highlights that how people represent or define something is very much influenced by context and by personal experience.


Most recently I have asked students to use circle maps to:

  • Consider the points of view of various interest groups towards a proposed factory development prior to a public-hearing role play activity
  • Highlight plant and animal adaptations to different habitats
  • Demonstrate prior knowledge of the Periodic Table.

Bridge map

Bridge maps are used to visualise analogies by quite literally bridging the gap between the familiar and the new. The line of the bridge shows the common relationship that exists between two or more pairs of things.

For example:

  • Comparing thermoregulation in the body with the negative feedback used by the classroom air conditioning system
  • Using a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant as an analogy for the cardiovascular system
  • Modelling an electric circuit with a water pump.


Bubble map and double-bubble map

The bubble map shares some similarities with the mind map but it is usually used simply to qualify or describe something using adjectives or phrases. For example, students could outline the properties of metallic elements or list the parts of an insect. However, the double-bubble map takes things one step further and allows students to compare and contrast the perceived qualities of two things in much the same way as a Venn diagram.

Double Bubble Map Example

For example, compare and contrast the following:

  • Nervous system and endocrine system
  • Metals and non-metals
  • Longitudinal waves and transverse waves
  • Plant cells and animal cells
  • Sexual reproduction and asexual reproduction
  • Nuclear fusion and nuclear fission.

Flow map


Flow maps are used for interpreting changes or sequences and is probably the map I use most often in the classroom. Remember that flow maps do not have to be linear (life cycles for example).


Lots of possibilities including:

  • The stages of mitosis or meiosis
  • The life cycle of a flowering plant, butterfly, frog etc.
  • The process of DNA replication
  • The steps involved in conducting an experiment.

DNA repl

Multi-flow map

Multi-flow maps are used to represent the causes and effects of a given situation, for example:

  • Global warming
  • Eutrophication
  • Health and safety scenarios
  • Infectious diseases.


Brace map

The brace map which is used to visualise the relationship between a whole object and its parts (e.g. the human body, body systems, organs, tissues, cells)

Tree map

The tree map is used to represent hierarchical information (e.g. classification or ecological keys).

More information

For more information about thinking maps and how they can be used effectively in your lessons visit the Thinking Maps Learning Community.