Missing Maps: Big Data saves lives. 

Free pizza? Yes please!

A simple idea with big consequences. 

A Tuesday night and thirty volunteers registered with an organisation called Ready2Help. An element of the Red Cross. 

In a spacious university room with wheeled tables and chairs and our own laptops, a group of strangers assembled on a Tuesday night. 

The reward: Pizza! 

The challenge: Map Malawi. 

Missing Maps has a simple idea. Get crowdsourcing to generate big data so that remote area of this planet can be mapped more effectively. 

Human geography for places which are poor is very thin on the ground. By bringing people together aerial photography from satellite can be studied and used to indicate human details in these remote areas. 


Without such information a country is a mystery. It is impossible to know where communities are based, what resources they have and how they can be supported in times of need.

Missing Maps are filling those gaps. 

The skills are simple. Using open street maps (the geography equivalent of Wikipedia) and a simple editor our team scanned the images and mapped buildings and roads. In the thee hours we were working, we identified 5000+ potential buildings and 800 km of roads. 

In the next stage these will be checked locally so that the type of building can be clarified. This means that in an emergency a hospital is identified and if it is damaged it will be easier to provide help for example. 

A community of houses that is hit by flooding can be supported. 

Missing Maps also undertakes crisis mapping when disasters hit to provide information in extreme need. 

Our team of Humanitarian Opensource Street mappers (known as HOTties) can now be called upon to help with this work too.  

At the end of the night there was a strong sense of achievement. It was great to learn how big data and digital teamwork can help solve world problems with a bit of pizza thrown in. 


It’s easy to get involved either by registering for an event of linking up with the Mussing Maps website. Access to a computer, the internet and an account on Open Street Maps are the key tools. 

Mappers can join in and continue the work after a session. 

Why not start today? 

Another option is to use the Mapswipe app to participate in mapping too. 

Getting outside with Tech and Trees

I’ve just spent a week in the woods, metaphorically speaking.

Being immersed in a Forest Schools course with Richard Wood, has been very enlightening. 

Tech is so often a target and blamed for the reduction in outdoor access for children, so how about finding a middle ground?

My plan is to bring the tech and trees together. 

In my other life, beyond the classroom I’m a bee keeper. In the time I’ve been doing that I’ve learned a lot and it’s inspired me to do different things digitally too. 

I’ve recognized that nature and tech have a lot in common when used correctly. But  both can be a cause for concern: either about the mud or about the screen time, concerns about risk can be high in both. 

Meanwhile both can inspire connections, discussions, sharing and dialogue. 

They both create a great opportunity for people of different ages to share their knowledge and work together. 


Like that famous picture of students in front of the Nightwatch in a gallery who were engrossed in their phones yet they were in fact checking their assignment, the use of technology outdoors might be misunderstood or a source of activity. 


Children can use a device in a number of ways outside. 

  • It can remind them about a task. That can be done with paper but paper gets crumpled and can’t speak.
  • It can record events and achievements by them or for them.
  • It can collect inspiration. David Hockney used an iPad as a tool to create art. Though perhaps advancing in years, he embraced the capacity of this tool to provide a huge pallet of colour in one slender piece of equipment. And his prolific work shows the powerful results. 
  • A device can guide you through an unknown land. Pokémon Go may have been a scourge of the summer for some but it was a platform for virtual reality where sharing information created connections and exploration and discovery. 

The digital world shouldn’t dominate the outdoors by any means but it can be harnessed in appropriate ways. 

Tech users can participate in citizen science projects by uploading data that tracks science and animals. Identification becomes easier with access to the internet. 
Forest Skills

How many times, when we need a skill in real life do we need to source help from You Tube? I’ve been finding out how to bake bread on a stove from Ray Mears. It’s definitely going to get me outside. 

Lost knowledge

Finding people who can light a fire or make a mallet with traditional skills becomes harder and harder. Technology allows us to share these skills and prevent them from dying out. 

Such skills are identified as positive opportunities to be in the open, to solve problems, collaborate and develop self esteem. 

Life skills which build people and teams effectively. Tech can take us outdoors.
I’m really looking forward to exploring meaningful uses of technology in the outdoors. 

What real life skill have you used in the outdoors but learned with technology?

Did you find a resource online that made a job easier to do? 

#CSN2016 conference Leiden, The Netherlands 

While presenting my Digital Toolbox  at Friday’s CSN conference in Leiden, I was asked a really important question.

What do I suggest for teachers using technology when it goes wrong and they feel disillusioned?

I answered with the following. I think it’s really important to tell the students that you are trying something new. Don’t build your whole lesson around it, leave it till the end, do it as a new skills slot that is short and sweet then if it doesn’t go according to plan they know and you know that it’s not going to bring the whole lesson tumbling down.

Some technologies only work when you actually use them for the first time. You can’t really simulate 20 people doing something digital until you try it with 20 people doing something digital.

Be honest with your learners, tell them that it’s an experiment and that you not sure whether it’s going to work. 

If nobody in the room has used the technology before then it’s worth learning how to use it before you use it to learn with. It is reasonable to use a skill introduction rather than let the learning be undermined by a skill that no one’s confident using.

We know that the second time you do something that usually goes better than the first so why should we try something new then be disappointed if it doesn’t go perfectly?

If that was a good attitude nothing in the world would happen twice.

Remember students need to see us learning and risk taking too. 

During the conference I shared this presentation. Digital toolbox

I combined lots of ideas for working with children. Content can be anything you want it to be. Tech allows for engagement and interaction which can help us to learn. 

Never be afraid to stop if it doesn’t work out but try again. The next time. 

What’s your secret when trying new technologies? 

(Children with Special Needs is an organization that runs a bi annual. Conference in The Netherlands for international teachers working across the country. )

Digital Collaboration with The Beatles

Technology is often implicated in discussions about creativity in a way that implies that tech isn’t. 

I’m not sure why that is. So often tech can be such an incredible platform to aid a creative process. 

And that’s where The Beatles came in recently. 

The challenge: raise awareness and some money. 

The focus: Save the Children. A world wide charity organization. 

The means: a video. 

Now videos showcasing have been created for many years but going back to perhaps the first such well known collaboration of this kind is a historical process. Band Aid (before live aid ) had many celebs coming together in musical harmony to highlight a world issue. 

Today everyone can achieve something similar. It’s not necesarily easy as it takes guts, commitment and time but the available tech is simple. 

Here’s the evidence. 

If you enjoyed it please think about donating. 

What is a hashtag?

Social media has lots of jargon and three letter abbreviations. It’s a new language and of course that’s off putting. Those who understand it tend to throw the vocabulary around and that alienates those who are new to the scene. 

A number of my colleagues ask me what hashtags are so I wanted to explain and think it through. 

Hashtag has become a word that can enter conversation. 

“I’m so busy: Hashtag  stressed”

It’s as if we need a physical gesture like the inverted commas that used to be used to justify quotation style speech. 

But what is a hashtag?

I’ve found that this wee punctuation indicator is a number of things. 

  • It’s a filter. Or a Flag!

If you want to find something specific it can be used to track down a topic or conversation. ‘How is that different from just typing a search word?’ I hear you cry. 

Well the thing is, other people who are blogging or micro blogging (on Twitter for example) have decided that the word you are looking for is a focus for them too. 

So if the social place where you are searching is like a party, the hashtag is a shout out for people who also want to talk about your topic. I was at a party recently where I ended up talking about kayaking. 

It took a few moments to get there. With a hashtag I could have found people with a kayak conversation more directly. It’s like a flag. Imagine eavesdropping ‘Oh you’re talking about kayaking too!’

  • It’s an archiving device

So archive sounds like a dull word as does cataloging but we use archiving a lot. Or would like to. 

If I’m in my house on an average day I often wonder where stuff is. I need to find a set of correspondence for example. I can look in a variety of spots to find it. 

If I had a hashtag I could pull together a set of related stuff very easily. 

All my #eggs in one basket. 

  • It’s an address

If you want to draw attention to something you are posting then use a hashtag to specify people or topics where you want it to go. That’s also possible with an @ but with a hashtag you can ‘address’ a community or group of people. 

#NT2tEU is a useful tag. It links to teachers who are new to Twitter. 

  • It’s an appointment 

Hashtags are being used to draw people together. If a community wants to have a discussion they set up an appointment time with a hashtag. For example on Tuesday at 20.00GMT (don’t forget the time zone as we are international you know.) The community will be on line to share ideas or feedback. So the hashtag helps to locate the party or discussion. 

  • It indicates trends

Systems are in place to track hashtags to see what everyone is talking about. If a hashtag keeps cropping up then the topic has become significant. If you want to participate in something then you can look for a topical hashtag or find out about a news item. #Princegonetoosoon has been trending this week. In this example the hashtag became a way of expressing opinion too. 

  • So it’s a way of expressing opinion or viewpoint

In the Prince example, you can see that people start a hashtag that is a group of words suggesting their point of view. Sometimes these hashtags take off, sometimes they don’t. #havingabadday

So when should I use one?

If you post and want people to see what you’ve written it’s essential. The Internet is a huge place. Without the use of labeling mechanisms like hashtags, your comment or post disappears into the stratosphere like a puff of smoke. Depending on why you are posting that might be okay but if you want your voice to be heard then a hashtag is one way to make that happen. 

Also it can help you trace your post. So it’s a filing system. If you’ve been exploring a topic and finding on line resources, then posting the links to your feed will be more structured by use of hashtags with them. 

To group your post with the contributions of others, a hashtag makes the link or connection. It’s a way of participating. 

What’s your favourite hashtag?

How do you use them? 

Have you ever though of a great hashtag?

Deja Vu

In 2009 I entered a writing competition. The concept was simple. Tomorrow’s teacher from Teachers TV. 

I wrote an entry and submitted it. But then realised that the competition was only open to UK resident teachers. So I withdrew.

A few days later I received an enthusiastic email from Teacher’s TV. I had won. 

But I hadn’t. I wrote back with much apology. Disgruntled embarrassment may also have been part of the impact on me. Then I buried the story I had written. 

This week, I’ve been mulling over a few things. I decided that I should publish what I wrote here instead. 

I’ve been thinking about whether my idea of tomorrow’s teacher still holds water. 

What could teaching look like in the future. How would that impact on learning. It’s an exciting concept. Here’s the story. 

Teaching tomorrow?

I arise in the morning and switch on my interface before heading for the shower. After a fresh breakfast of croissants delivered to my house each morning, I enter the interface room and get settled. As normal on a Monday, I log into a portal from this space to see each of my pupils smiling faces in their homes. We can look at their work together and at different intervals through the day we work in groups across the band width. The students themselves can break away to explain and demonstrate things to each other. They can also prepare for their three days in the school building that start on Tuesday through to Thursday.

We finish our on-line interaction at 11.30 so they can all engage in audio visual projects that they will show in school on Wednesday, checking in with me if they get stuck. Each pupil has a parent that works from home on Monday and Friday too so they can both talk to me through the web cam interface if they have any concerns.

Mrs Smith wants to know how often her son should be practicing his spellings from the on-line game we use. Sam explains to her that he wants to do it three times a week and to concentrate on his reading in between. I think this a good suggestion and we write the intention into Sam’s work plan.

Mr Jones asks me if I can look at the blog that he and Jane have been keeping, that records the progress of the seedlings that we all planted at home two weeks before. Jane’s younger sister, Janet, looks in too, as she is quite excited by the tiny spots of green progress. Janet’s teacher comes on line and asks if she could send in some photos for her class.

Meanwhile I have preparation time in between conversations with each of my pupils and their parents. Their work is stored and the programs they use are accessed from the cloud, each workstation has very little hardware, and links through the TV screens. The systems are sponsored by local industry so each pupil has easy access. During our shared lunch break we talk about the foods we have for lunch. Then some of the children decide to add their apple cores to the wormeries and compost bins in each garden or balcony. Josie decides to take the temperature in her family bin wit ha sensor she borrowed from the school and discovers that it is hotter than yesterday. She adds this data to our class database.

At 2.00pm each child sends me a request for a skill they want to follow up tomorrow or Thursday so I can plan their learning for the rest of the week. It looks like we are going to be busy with editing skills and finding out more about plant growth. Hari wants to see what recipes are available for the beans he hopes to grow. I hope he’s not being too optimistic about the harvest but we plan a cooking lesson for Friday at home and tasting sessions after that.

At 2.30 Suzy, Germaine and Evie ask if they can show the music project they’ve been doing. With music they composed in the background they make their living rooms a stage each working to the same beat and moving in time. Everyone is impressed judging by the applause that echoes from my speakers! I suggest that they are strong contenders for the live end of term concert that is being planned. They send a video to the auditions committee.
Tuesday sees my class and I heading for the school together on the community bus. Cars are not used for the whole week any more and our special bus allows us to check in with family members that live far away over video links on the move through wireless connections. I sit with colleagues in a section at the front for a team meeting. At school we work in a space with laptops and interactive whiteboards for each group. Sam and Jane’s group play back their video diaries and merge information so they can present it in assembly next week. Assam, a former pupil contacts us on-line at 10.00 so that we can meet his new teacher, Mrs Teller, and share some of the project work he did before he changed schools. She sends us information from a project that he has started with his new class and his former classmates can contribute to this later on.
Wednesday this week will be different. This week, our bus takes the whole year group straight out to the outskirts of the city along with some parents collected on the way. We use GPS to send pictures of a local nature reserve back to the school and the directions are generated by our hand held devices. Mrs Harrington finds a ladybird and Jamie sends a picture of it to each device so we can all look for more. Some of the children have never seen one before. The next red and black creature found has far more spots. Jane checks the internet to see if this is normal. A yellow and black beetle causes confusion so Jane does some more research only to find that this one is not actually a ladybird and that it could be quite nasty.

Thursday gives us a chance to create a documentary of our trip together. Each group starts in the school editing suite by reducing their material to two minutes. When each team is happy they put their final piece on the portal. An editing team representing each group combines all the pieces together. We watch them as a class and our afternoon work involves making the voice over and background music for the final shot.

On Thursday afternoon we start a new maths project using Hari’s suggestion to weigh and measure the ingredients that the pupils will need for the test bean recipes. Our technician has already sourced the ingredients on line and they were delivered this morning. Hopefully the tasty dishes that the children create at home tomorrow will be a success and then the school canteen will use them in the menus shortly.

On Friday our parents gather with their children at home. The broadcast of our work is transmitted at 10.30 to all the children in the school community and the parents are very impressed. I remind the children that they need to submit a review of the film on Monday but that it should be a draft that we can discuss in the morning before they improve it in the afternoon. They’ll need to include an interview with a parent or sibling as well so they can use their web cams for that part but there should be a text submission too.

After the broadcast, Mr Taylor, parent and local businessman, sends a digital greeting card to all the families to tell them how impressed he is. He invites a group of children to visit his television company on Monday next week to find out more about how films are made in real situations. It may be that the pupils can do a story for the local evening news next week.

I publish the attendance record for the week on the portal and I soon get a message from the Harrington’s that she and Jamie will be off-line next Monday morning because of a dental appointment but that he will be back on in the afternoon. Hopefully no fillings this time! I will remember to expect his review a bit later in the day.

The afternoon session today is pretty relaxed. Painting is so much easier in kitchens away from the school! The school tries to ensure that the children in each household work together on an art project rather than separately, so today I’m looking in on 20 children from year 1 to year 4 as well as some of my own pupils. The others from my class are working in groups with other teachers so that they get to know other ways of working. Kuldeep’s family have made a beautiful picture by adding collage to the paint work. They made great choices from the equipment supplied at school. She can show other families how they did it. Some of the other designs get more complex. We can display this work in the main gallery area at school next to a screen playing the video of their processes during next week. Mrs Amir’s laughter is really contagious in the back ground of their video
We’ve had a busy week.

So what do you think teaching could look like? 

In True Star Trek fashion, When I wrote this I only had a tablet PC and my imagination. Now some of these ideas are reality. 

It’s interesting to imagine another learning world. 


Why I like Twitter

There’s very many blog posts about Twitter. So why I’d add to that mountain could be anybody’s guess. You can find out how to use it, who else is using it, what the best hashtags are and how it can enhance your business.

I won’t be attempting to replicate any of those sites. 

However I wanted to reflect on how I’ve benefitted from using it. Initially Twitter was another way of trying to bring visitors to my Green Lizard blog. It was a recommended tool for increasing followers. 

But recently I’ve found that collaboration that it brings really inspiring. 

As a teacher it’s often easy to feel isolated in your work. There are many other people around you also teaching. But opportunities to share professionally can be limited. Twitter is becoming a staff room for our profession. A virtual place to find and share ideas and thinking. 

It’s been really useful to me in that context. 

Using hashtags

The hashtags is a market for finding material but more important to me it is a signpost or an invitation. 

With a hashtag like #NT2tEU I’ve participated in conversation and sharing with teachers about using Twitter this week. Colleagues from around the world all invited by this simple signpost. 


As a teacher time is never available but sometimes it’s not just about quantity it’s about opportunity. Because Twitter is there all the time, it’s up to you when you access it. It’s a 24-7 library, archive, meeting place. Just like the all night supermarket you can go there whenever you need something rather than during office hours or local time zones. There’s generally someone there whenever you go as its running all the time all over the world. And I’ve found that helpful because opportunity also refers to other people. So often when you need something another person doesn’t have the time. With Twitter there will often be someone available at the same time as you or they can respond and you’ll find it when to check in.

This tweetping shows the Twitter activity across the world in a few seconds. Twitter never sleeps. 


Many people have suggested that CPD opportunities have become much broader via Twitter but I think it’s far more exciting than this sounds. I’ve recently participated in a MOOC and the Twitter aspect if this has created conversation for the MOOC itself but the benefit has been further reaching. 

Connections from the MOOC have led to links with other people who have relevance to my field too. So now I have many more resources to draw upon. 

The second advantage for CPD for me has been recognition. In that isolated space where we teach we are surrounded by learners but feedback on our own work is harder to find. However via Twitter when sharing ideas it’s possible to learn about your own successes and to fix things or improve. 

What have you found useful in social networks from a professional view point?