McGraw-Hill Virtual Labs

I recently posted about doing dissections in Biology class. While dissections are an excellent way of seeing animal anatomy firsthand, there are a number of digital alternatives.

One of my favourite sites is the Mcgraw-Hill Virtual Lab:

You can complete a number of different simulations on here (Nutrition, Blood Pressure and many more) and even complete a virtual earthwarm or frog dissection.



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Anatomy of a Heart Dissection

Nothing Beats a Good Dissection 😉

I love using digital tools in the classroom. When you don’t have all the resources in the world or want something explained to your students from a different perspective, videos and simulations are a lifesaver.  However, after a few years ‘in the field’ so to speak, I’ve realised that a digital presentation, no matter how brilliant, will never trump a live demonstration.

While studying the Circulatory System with my KS3 students recently, I decided to guide them through doing a heart dissection.


  • To observe the external and internal structure of the heart firsthand
  • To link observations to what students know about the heart
  • To observe how various parts of the heart are suited to their specific functions

What you need

  • Fresh, undamaged sheep or pig’s hearts: 1 for every 2 people. (I managed to source these at my Local Makro)
  • scissors (1 per pair)
  • scalpel or craft knife (1 per pair)
  • Latex gloves

Before you begin

Although I am firmly in the camp that believes the benefits outweigh the risks wrt most scientific experiments, you need to give your students a clear safety briefing. Before the lesson begins, find out if anyone has any contagious blood or immune conditions so that you know what actions need to be taken in an emergency. Reinforce the need for care and safety and provide strict guidelines for what students can and cannot do on their own.

The Dissection

The Heart is a complicated organ and some structures are difficult to see if you don’t know what you are looking for. I showed my students this excellent video in the lesson before we did the dissection:

We began the actual lesson by recapping safety rules, putting on gloves and handing out the various tools. The student instructions for the dissection itself can be downloaded at my TES shop here (for free!). I also included a worksheet that recaps the internal and external structure of the heart.

The students were fascinated with this dissection. It brought the theory to life in a powerful (albeit a tad gross for some of them) way. I think they also enjoyed being given some hands on responsibility.





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Becoming a great teacher

I was doing my annual (okay, I’m lying, perhaps once every 3 years), hard drive cleanup recently when I  came across an old document entitled ‘teaching tips and resources.’ Looking at its contents, I was taken vividly back to when I first became a teacher: Frantically scavenging for every morsel of ‘good teacher’ practise I could find and trying to memorise it!

Honestly? It didn’t help much. Becoming a good teacher is a slow process… there’s a reason teachers with experience are frequently paid more or hired first. I’m still very much at the beginning of my teacher journey. However, there are some crucial lessons I have learned that have helped me immeasurably.


  1. Watch, listen, learn. Don’t copy, hoard and archive. Teaching is about feeling and engagement. Sure, make a quick note if you see another teacher using a tool you think is great. But writing down what they do and trying to emulate it is not going to help.
  2. Join a PLN (Professional Learning Network)
  3. Reflect
  4. Stimulate your own interest by watching videos, documentaries, reading scientific papers etc. It’so important to stay in touch with the wider world of your subject/s.
  5. Be unafraid of trying something different. The traditional educational system is bad and failing in many ways. Think about how YOU like to learn and try to bring this into your classroom. Ask your students how they like to learn. Try something completely new- what’s the worst that could happen?
  6. Start with the the objectives. Tie everything back to the objectives so that students walk away with a clear thumbnail sketch of what they have learned in the lesson .
  7.  Give constant formative assessment. There’s a place for tests, yes. But it is not the only way to find out what your students know. Design units that have integrated formative assessment tasks. Engage with your class. Teach them how to assess themselves. When you set a task, make sure it has a ‘checklist’ of things for students t tick off as they complete them.
  8. Get Google certified.
  9. Give regular, useful feedback. I usually do this in a form of ‘WWW'(What went well) and ‘EBI’ (Even better if)
  10. Give students regular, informal, FUN quizzes. I like to use platforms like Quizizz (  for this or use Google Forms and give students instant feedback.

And most importantly

11. Be kind. Never forget that your students have lives outside the classroom. Be sensitive         to their thoughts and feelings in as many ways as you can.


  1. Give unnecessary homework
  2. Allow yourself to feel bored. If you’re bored, they’re bored.
  3. Base a lesson on a textbook chapter. Start with the objectives: Use the textbook to supplement.
  4. Shout, raise your voice or lose control.
  5. Think of your students as a ‘class’- they are people- individuals- not a monotonous lump
  6. Over test. Testing in any way, shape or form soaks up time and energy like a sponge. A test series once a year is often necessary and can even be useful. Testing all the time does not promote learning.
  7. Spend all your time trying to design the ‘perfect’ resource. It doesn’t matter how brilliant your power points are. Research has shown engagement is the key thing that really helps students learn. The more they are doing, the better.
  8. Feel guilty for not feeling exhausted after a lesson. ^ previous point.
  9. Be afraid of appearing vulnerable. Your students are people. Your willingness to admit your don’t know something may help them feel okay with not knowing things as well- therefore more likely to ask for help
  10. Think you know everything. To be a teacher is first and foremost to be a learner.
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Becoming a Google Certified Educator

In my opinion, no one has done more than Google to help integrate educational technology into the school landscape.

My current school uses the Office 365 Educational Suite which has a similar range of tools  . However, Google has gone to immense effort to make its tools as accessible as possible.

Part of this effort has been to create Google Educator and Innovator Certifications.

I am so glad to have done this certification and I really don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. The training is free and the exam costs just 10 dollars to register for.

I cannot reveal any details about the exam as I signed a non disclosure agreement. However, I can promise that if you do the training (or indeed, just complete the end of unit questions for each topic), you will be more than prepared. Here is a link to start your training if you are interested:

I did not find the exam particularly challenging but I have played around with most of the tools over the past few years. The training covers Google Sheets, Google Forms, Google Sites, Google Drive, Gmail, Youtube and Groups. It goes into exhaustive detail so even if you have never really used google apps for education before, you will emerge from the training with a pretty good grasp of the content: Especially if you ‘play’ with the tools as you go along. As mentioned, it wasn’t difficult, just exhausting. You have a maximum of 3 hours to complete- I got it done in about 2:40.

What I found useful

Doing this certification really helped me to explore tools that I have touched on in the past but had not fully explored. I also had not fully realised how well they could complement some of my teaching ideas. Notably, Google Sites and Google Forms. It’s nice to have solid proof of my proficiency with online educational tools and I was also reminded of ways that I could streamline my Gmail more effectively.

Finally, it highlighted many of the shortcomings of the Office 365 Education  Suite- something I will do a separate blog post on soon.


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