The latest news from behind the scenes at Firefly
In and about schools recently, we heard how many of you are using ClickView for videos in lessons. ClickView allows you to keep your videos organised and share them easily. So, we thought we'd make life even easier and help you put ClickView videos straight into Firefly pages. This blog post explains how.
Show & Tell is an opportunity for teachers to share how Firefly is being used in their school. This year we were thrilled to have four very different perspectives on implementing Firefly and using it in the classroom. After an insight into a roll-out which focussed on tasks, we heard about creating subject pages, developing content across the school, and finished with how Firefly can help mitigate the effect of school closure. This blog post gives some more detail on each talk and the full presentation as a video. We would like extend a huge thanks to the teachers who presented this year.
The Firefly Users' Group 2013 was a great success. The whole Firefly team was there and we were joined by a large number of our schools and partners. Joe and Simon presented what Firefly has been doing for the last year and what's to come in the next. In the Show & Tell slot, four of our schools described how Firefly has been implemented and used in their classrooms. The Keynote speech contrasted 1:1 device roll outs and Bring Your Our Device schemes, finishing with a panel discussion. Our partners were represented on exhibitions stands and in a presentation from Microsoft Education. In between talks there was plenty of time for networking, questions, drinks and food.
If you missed the event, here's a round up of the talks and presentations. We will also be sending videos round to all attendees, so keep an eye on your inboxes. We would like to thank Solihull School again for kindly hosting the event.
Turning worksheets into Marked Work Pages
This blog post is the second in the series on Creating Lesson Resources. For more information about turning files into Firefly Pages, check out our previous post.
The Firefly Marked Work Page acts as an interactive worksheet. It combines different styles of questions with digital media like videos, pictures and can also include links anywhere on the web. Students can complete the worksheets on their tablets or smart phones without needing to download any files or open other windows. You can reuse these pages time and time again, with no extra photocopying or printing. Firefly can mark the worksheets for you, as well as store and analyse marks in reports and graphs.
Turning Files into Pages
Firefly Pages are designed to show your resources in a way that is easy and attractive for students to use. A page keeps all relevant information - including pictures, videos, news-feeds, webpages - together and in context. There's no need to distract from your lesson by opening YouTube, finding or downloading a file, or checking a website: all you need is on one page.
The Firefly Junior Users' Group is an additional event aimed at our Junior and Prep schools. You are more than welcome to come to BOTH this event and the main Users' Group; however, you will need to register separately for both events. If, however, you would prefer to attend only the Junior event, please email the Firefly team and we will transfer your registration.
In the latest version of Firefly you only need to sign in once to Office 365 or Google and you are automatically logged into Firefly - there's no need to remember multiple passwords. For more information on setting up this integration, have a look at our blog post. You can, however, manage each link so that your Firefly login is separate from your Google and / or Office 365 details. This is useful if you frequently need to sign in as a different user, or if a mobile device which you use to access Firefly is lost or stolen. In this blog post, we show you how to manage your integrations.
Firefly Forms have replaced paper letters in many of our schools. No longer are students digging out tattered scraps of paper from the bottom of their bags, or losing letters entirely. Electronic Forms are easy to find, simple to submit and the data input can be exported to Excel for further analysis. You can set Forms as tasks and track who completed them and when. There's no bag, no paper and no proverbial dog involved. However, Forms are more than just replacement letters. In this blog post we reflect on the diverse use of Forms in our schools.
It has never been quicker or easier to take in work from iPads or iPhones using Firefly and the Student Planner. The Firefly Student Planner now supports the iPad & iPhone 'Open in' feature. This means that work can be submitted directly from any app that also supports 'Open in'. Whether you would like students to hand in a document created using Pages, an audio recording of their Spanish reading, a video of their drama, all of these can be handed in directly from their iOS device.
It is February 2011, Cairo. Revolution is brewing. The internet is off, mobile networks are suspended and military orders have closed schools. These are hardly ideal conditions for a school. However, the British International School is still teaching.
Using Firefly, this school in Egypt maintained its contact with pupils and delivered lessons. When the unrest was over, the school was the first to reopen. It may not be the result of revolution, but, each year, schools in the UK face similar challenges because of the need to close school. Firefly can help you keep your learning environment going, even when your doors are shut. In this blog post, we explain how.
Firefly and Office 365 are now even better friends! This makes life easier inside and outside the classroom. In the latest version of Firefly you only need to sign in once to Office 365 and you are automatically logged into Firefly - there's no need to remember multiple passwords. If your laptop or tablet also connects to Office 365 - for your email, calendar or documents - you can take your work with you, without needing to sign in again. Single sign-on with Office 365 is possible even if we are hosting your school's learning platform.
In the latest version of Firefly, you can now check work submitted for plagiarism. To do this, we have integrated with Ephorus, a leading provider of plagiarism tools. Work sent through Firefly can now be checked for similarities on the web, in all other documents on your school's system, in journals and reference documents, and even, in some cases, with other schools and universities using Ephorus. In this blog post, we will show you how easy it is run plagiarism checks.
Firefly Profile Pages are designed to be informative and friendly, but, most importantly, safe. That's why you can set specific permissions to control who can see them. In this blog post we will walk you through the simple steps to setting Profile Permissions.
The Personal Section in Firefly is designed for each user's private work. In this section, you can build pages which do not appear on your school's main Firefly site. Instead, the pages are connected to your profile: you can access them via a special 'Personal Section' link on your profile page. The Personal Section is extremely flexible because you have the option of making each page private or public. It is really useful for self-assessment, portfolio-style work, and personal organisation, used by teachers, pupils and administrators. In this post, we'll show you how Personal Sections work and give you some ideas for starting to use them.
This is the second in our mini-series about using blogs in Firefly. A Personal Blog differs from any other kind of blog because it is published in your personal section and remains separate from your school's main site. It is extremely quick and easy to write, straight from your dashboard. Because of ease of use and because it is a form popular outside the classroom, there are few better ways to encourage students to reflect regularly on their progress or daily school life. It is also great for taking notes, collecting work chronologically and practising literary skills. Teachers can comment on their students' posts, but also make their own Personal Blogs for records and organisation. In this post, we'll open discussion for the best ways to use a Personal Blog and show you how to activate them.
The Student Planner app connects directly to your school's Firefly. It personalises information for each student. They take their timetable, homework and recommended pages with them on their mobile device wherever they go. Now there's no excuse to miss a deadline, because their tasks are organised by due or set date, and they can improve personal organisation by setting themselves tasks.
For those schools using the Parent Portal, we have pulled together some ideas that can be used to give parents the information they need to be able to log on for the first time. You could copy and paste these resources into an email or indeed link to this post from your website. We've also created a screencast that you can download and embed in your own site or link to from an email.
Firefly supports different language alphabets, accents and a range of symbols. These can be used by teachers and students in normal Firefly pages and also in creating questions and answers on marked work pages. If you already have well practised methods for using languages & symbols on your computer, whether that's using keyboard shortcuts or a foreign language keyboard, the same methods should also work on Firefly too. We've also put together a few libraries of symbols and some handy ways of using them.
This post continues our intention to pass on our schools' accumulated wisdom when planning the Firefly menu. Having created the main section menu, the next consideration is the page menu structure. A typical example is shown below. While the names of the pages may vary from school to school, the concept behind the structure of them is the same.
At Firefly, we have the ongoing privilege of seeing how schools use Firefly as part of everyday school life. We have learned so much, whether that's in seeing features being used that our team poured over convinced they would be useful, or by seeing Firefly used in ways that we had never even considered! One of the key areas where this feedback has been particularly helpful is when setting up Firefly for the first time and planning and preparing for that upcoming training or launch date.
This series of posts will attempt to present some of our schools' accumulated wisdom.
One of our summer interns - talented GCSE student Alex Forey - created a system linking the Firefly and Little Printer APIs to set up a daily print out of his homework. In this guest post, Alex describes how the system works and how he built it.
Here's a really simple way to draw attention to particular iOS apps that you would like students or colleagues to have easy access to. For instance, at the beginning of term, it could be very helpful to have a link to the Firefly Student Planner so that students can download the App and have their timetable available on the first day. Anybody clicking these links on their iOS device, will be taken straight to the App Store and prompted to install the relevant App.
One of the most common questions that comes up in training is how to embed a Twitter timeline into a Firefly page. Twitter have recently changed the way these timelines work, so if your previous Twitter widget has stopped working or if you want to embed a timeline for the first time, here is an example with all the necessary steps.
Our trainers have been busy visiting schools all over the UK and indeed further afield too. Having met hundeds of teachers keen to make their resources available to share, we thought we would do the same with our new training handout.
Blogs are a great way of keeping an online diary. They are so easy to set up and anyone in the school can have a blog: Head teachers, teachers, students and even class mascots! Here are some of the ways in which our schools have been using Firefly blogs.
Using YouTube and Khan Academy videos in Firefly pages just got even easier. The address (URL) for any video can be found simply by right clicking on the video itself and clicking on 'Copy video URL'. Whether the video is on YouTube itself or even found on another site (like Khan Academy), copying the address and putting the video into Firefly is very quick.
This is the second in the series looking at using charts and visualisations in Firefly pages. If you have an Excel spreadsheet, then Firefly can turn that sheet of data into some sort of visualisation with just a few easy steps. If you missed the introduction to using structured data it would be worth viewing that first, but if you're ready to work with line and bar charts, then read on.
We often get contacted by schools asking why they cannot see their site on the first page when they search Google for terms like "boys schools near X" or "independent girls schools in Y".
In this post I'll run though a few basic principles of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) which, if obeyed, will help maximise your online visibility.
This will be the first of a 'mini-series' of posts showing some of the possibilities and uses of the structured data component in Firefly.
One of the great benefits of using a Firefly page instead of paper or files is that the information can be visual and dynamic. Infographics & visualisations are becoming very popular ways of presenting key information.
For example instead of displaying school house points as a list of results, they can look far more engaging as a simple visualisation.
One of the exciting things about the using the web, is the access to almost unlimited resources and tools. Of course some of these are more useful than others(!) but one service that is gaining ground as a very credible resource for schools is Google Docs.
A key benefit of using Google Docs is that teachers can be confident that any document created can be read and edited by anyone with a smartphone, tablet, Mac or PC. They don’t need to be concerned whether a student has an office suite installed on their device, as long as they have access to Google docs they can create and edit presentations, documents and spreadsheets. No longer is homework stuck on a lost USB stick either as Google Docs are happily always available!
You can now annotate submitted work using any app on your tablet or mobile. Once students have sent their work to you in Firefly, it is possible to mark their work and return it with ease.
Annotating on an iPad
The example used is on an iPad, but the workflow is the same for any touchscreen device. Start from the usual marking screen in Firefly, click on the file you want to open. On the next screen choose "open in..." and choose the iPad app you would like to use to annotate the work. Apps like iAnnotate, Notes Plus and Adobe Reader (which is free) all work very well.
We're looking again for skilled and motivated people to help us maintain the very high standards of support that our clients have come to expect from us. If you feel you have what it takes to succeed in this role, we'd like to hear from you.
Week view: see your whole timetable and this week's homeworks at a glance.
Day view: mark homeworks as done and add new ones
Please note that the content of this page was updated on Monday 30 April 2012, to include amendments and clarifications that have since emerged regarding the legislation discussed.
We've had a number of clients ask about the new EU cookie law and how it affects their school website. I thought I'd put together some quick information on the cookie law and how it may or may not affect yours.
What are cookies?
Cookies are small pieces of information that are stored by your computer as a way of remembering a visitor between webpages. Cookies are often used for login, remembering settings, analytics and tracking and more.
What is the new law?
From May 2011 a new privacy law came into effect across the EU requiring all websites ask visitors for consent before using certain types of cookies. Note that cookies that are deemed "strictly necessary" to a particular task the user is performing - for example keeping track of what is in a user's shopping basket on an online shop - do not require prior consent.
As the law is going to create a lot of work for website owners and developers, the UK government has said that it will not be taking any action before May 2012.
How can websites get consent?
This is where the law is let down by practicalities (did that ever happen before?). In theory as consent must be given before cookies are used, websites using cookies that are not "strictly necessary" will have to place some kind of pop up or prominent message as soon as the user enters the site asking whether they give consent to cookies being used. This will result in every website displaying the same/very similar splash screens that users get used to just clicking "OK", scared that the site will not function correctly if they choose the "No thanks" option.
Is my school website affected?
You need to ask the developers of your website whether and how cookies are used. For Firefly schools, we only use one cookie out of the box for guest users, and this is a cookie managed by our web framework, Microsoft's ASP.NET, that tracks the visitor's session between pages but does not store any user identifiable information.
Tracking the session is necessary for any functionality that needs to 'remember' what the user is doing between web pages - eg adding items to your Firefly shopping cart. As this cookie is part of the underlying Microsoft framework, it's likely that it will be regarded as "strictly necessary". Indeed, that is the approach that the Information Commissioner's Office have taken on their newly updated website: "One of the cookies we use is essential for parts of the site to operate and has already been set" refers to the same cookie we use.
This cookie is also used when/if users, such as current parents or staff, log in to keep track of their login session. Further cookies are also used by the edit tools to remember recently inserted pictures, the position of the toolbar, and so on. Consent for these can easily be added to your terms & conditions/acceptable use policy/parental agreements that you already have before giving a login to school systems.
Do I need to do anything?
Find out more
The ICO has published further advice on the new cookies regulations.
Please note, we are not your lawyers! To find out more please seek legal advice from your school's legal team or solicitor.
Here at Firefly we realise that a successful Learning Platform or school intranet requires more than just a slick, easy to use software platform. We've now been working with schools for over 10 years, and have collected quite some experience about what works and what doesn't in terms of getting users engaged and using the platform.
So we've put together a Learning Platform Owner's Manual, sharing some of those tips - on structuring the system, content ideas, how to motivate staff and students to use the system, and more. At the moment it's targeted at the person or persons in charge of the learning platform at a strategic level within your school. We've kept it general so it should apply to anyone using a modern learning platform. Please do feel free to share it with your colleagues within your school and outside.
We're offering it to the school community completely free. All we ask is that you distribute it as a whole, with our attribution.
We intend this to be a living document, so please do send us any thoughts or suggestions you have so that we can add them in for the next version.