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Monday, 30 June 2014

Three Tools to Help You Organize your Classroom

Keeping organized is one of the biggest challenges for any teacher – especially as classroom sizes are growing.

The numbers that were released last summer were astounding. A report released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said, essentially, that the UK was doing things backwards—that our large class size early in life and smaller class size later is doing a disservice to our students; that smaller classes are more beneficial to younger students and that increasing class size in the teen years probably won’t have much of an impact.

The report also released class size numbers for all of the other nations that are members of the Organisation. We in the UK have the third largest class sizes. The only two countries with more students per class are Chile, with an average of 30.4 students per class and China, with a whopping 38 students per class. No wonder our teachers are having a hard time staying organized!

If you were teaching only one class a day, 25 students (our actual number is 24.8) might not seem like a lot. Unfortunately many teachers, especially those in the higher grades, could easily teach upwards of four classes a day; that’s a minimum of 100 students to keep track of.

Luckily, there are several tools to help you keep track of the administrative end of things – class schedules, attendance, assignments, grades, and so on – so you can focus more on your students.

School-Sponsored Electronic Planners

Some schools are helping teachers and students get and stay organized by introducing 1:1 organizational devices. The schools can then install online student planner apps, like the ones made by Meridian Planners, on the devices to allow students and teachers access to a central organizational database. Students and staff can also use their own devices, or BYOD, instead of having one issued by the school.

The advantage to the centralized electronic planner is that when you update assignments or schedule tests, the information is disseminated to all of your students at once, even if they missed class that day. It also allows parents to use their smart phones, and similar web-enabled devices, to keep track of their children’s schedules and assignments, as well as school events like parent-teacher conferences.

If your school does not have an electronic planner system in place, you could suggest the Meridian Planner system, or something similar, to the administration. In the interim, here are a few other tools to help you keep your classes and students organized.


Edmodo is considered the “Facebook for schools.” It’s a website where students, parents, and teachers can all share information including assignments, quizzes, and events. You can post messages to students and parents, and vice versa. You can also use it to collaborate with your peers, and leave information for substitute teachers. Like Facebook, Edmodo also has an app that you can load onto your tablet, smart phone, or iPhone.

Like the Meridian Planner, Edmodo allows you to do all of your organization and reach all of your students through one simple tool. Unlike the Meridian Planner, it does not automatically load or update your student’s schedules, or school events -- that all has to be entered manually. Also, you have to rely on your students to sign up for Edmodo versus the Meridian system with is issued to the student through the school. However, for schools that don’t have the Meridian system set up, Edmodo is a decent alternative.

Remind 101

Remind 101 is a text messaging service that allows you to communicate with parents and students without using private contact information. All you need to do is open an account at the Remind 101 site, and then have your students and their parents subscribe to your texts. Then you can send out group text messages regarding assignments and other class information, and all your subscribers will receive it.

This is especially useful because you don’t have to keep track of individual numbers. Also, if someone’s contact information changes, they can still get texts as long as they update their number.

Although this service is limited to messaging only, it is a great way to ensure that all of your students have the most up-to-date information, even if they weren’t in class. You may need to check with your district to make sure they approve the use of Remind 101, and you will need to ensure that all of your students and their parents subscribe to your texts.

Monday, 16 June 2014

How Engineers are Finding Their Dream Jobs in the 21st Century

The field of engineering demands students of great intellect, so it's reasonable that graduates seek lucrative positions. And based on a recent article in the Telegraph, the UK is focusing much of its job creation efforts on the engineering and manufacturing sectors. This means that our current and future engineers have their pick of the field, and most probably don’t know it.

Think about it: every day, there are new bridges and roads that need building and repairing due to city expansion. Software applications that connect people to companies and governments are becoming more prominent and depended upon every day.

Ultimately, one’s dream job may encompass many qualities. Some seek high pay scales, others look for companies that challenge them, and some are drawn by company culture. Whatever the case, these methods help engineers find lucrative and interesting fields.


It’s common for engineers to enter an internship that gives them some on-site work experience. Companies tend to favour someone who needs less on-the-job training, so a fresh postgraduate looks a lot less attractive than an undergraduate with four years of work experience.

These placements put students in software companies or civil positions, where they can witness protocol first hand and learn some of the methodologies behind development. There are also an overwhelming majority of employers who use internships to find their future full-time hires.


In the US, engineering placement agencies have become like second sets of eyes for hopeful engineers, freeing them up to improve their skills or find work elsewhere. It’s common for software developers to use downtime between gigs to take on freelance projects online. Those projects build the CV and pad the wallet, plus they present opportunities to learn new skills. A placement agency affords one the chance to take those projects while still keeping prospects open.

These agencies also fill the important role of vetting a candidate, saving the hiring manager hours on research and background checks. The company gets a candidate tailored to their job opening, and the candidate gets valuable on-site experience that can grow into a full-time position.


Finding a job is a lot like finding a uni. It’s not that acceptance is an issue (although, you should get used to rejection as a new job seeker), but it may be difficult to find something desirable. Engineers can easily find jobs, but applying for the right job is stressful if you don’t plan for it.

Applying for a specific job requires thorough research on the company. Study the company’s background, know its history, its executives, and get a sense for how it likes to operate. Plan to remain loyal, and plan to be shot down too. Normally, one’s dream job is with a company that only hires extremely well-qualified candidates. Successful engineers don’t get discouraged when they don’t get in on the first try, they will keep re-applying and explore additional opportunities.

Face Time

A foot in the door is always valuable, and getting a job at a reputable and stable company sometimes requires it. Companies here and across the pond are increasingly reliant on something called “internal recruiting” to connect qualified candidates with hiring managers. Budget cuts mean less time spent checking up on new recruits, so there is a greater risk to the employer. There just aren’t enough hours to spend personally tracking down qualified candidates.

The hunt for amazing talent is always ongoing, so who you know can play a big role in the kind of job you get. That’s why engineers attend job fairs, lectures and seminars. It’s a chance to build knowledge on their topic of choice, but it’s an important opportunity for many to get some face time with decision makers at the companies they want to work for.

Final Thoughts

A lot of graduates make the mistake of bombing classified ads with their CV. It’s not a bad idea for newbies, but the blanket approach only gives candidates a numbers advantage. There’s no guarantee you’ll find the job you want answering classified ads. You have to be proactive and scout for opportunities. The right job is out there, and with patience and a willingness to work hard, there are a multitude of possibilities that open up.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Parents ‘Fall Short’ at Supporting Children through University

According to this year’s National Student Money Survey by Save the Student, one-third of current university students feel that the Bank of Mum and Dad doesn’t give them enough financial support.

The survey found that the average student in 2014 spends £735 a month (down 5% on 2013), whilst a typical maintenance loan only covers £458 of that.

This begs the question as to where students are finding the extra £277 of income every month. Considering
student loans are means-tested against household income, it seems the government expects parents to chip in.

One student commented:
“My student loan doesn’t even cover my rent for a year. I have to borrow £1,000 off my parents and then use an overdraft, credit cards and savings (that I have none of now) to put me through uni each year.”
Almost 20% of students admit to relying on their parents for income, with just one-in-six having a part-time job.

The biggest surprise is that universities provide some level of financial support to just 10% of students, despite increased hardship funding being a condition of the 2012 tuition fee hike. Only 8% would turn to their university in a financial emergency, with a quarter of students preferring a bank loan.

The stress resulting from having to make up the shortfall appears to be having a knock-on effect on broader student welfare too, with almost one-half of those surveyed claiming that money issues affect their academic studies and almost two-thirds admitting that their diet suffers due to a lack of money.

Whilst many students seem to believe that their parents could do more to help, most are grateful they’re able to support them at all. Others would rather accept full responsibility for their own financial situation than approach their parents:

“I’d rather accept more debt and not be reliant on my parents!”, said one student.

Either way, it is clear that the student finance system is severely flawed, with students from middle class backgrounds hardest hit. Another student vented:

“Just because my parents are together I get hardly any money in comparison to someone with divorced parents who gets the maximum, even though one parent is richer than both of mine put together.”

Jake Butler, editor of Save the Student, comments:

“The government must increase the maintenance loan amounts to cover basic living costs. It’s a thorny issue of how much parents should contribute to the shortfall, and it entirely depends on individual circumstances. Ultimately I don’t believe parents should have the expectation put upon them. However with hearing daily horror stories of students living on the breadline, I feel it’s still important that parents are made more aware of the situation their child at university may be in.”