Russel Tarr

Friday is here and the first week of term III has completed. A good week and much achieved. A group of exchange students from Japan are also spending two weeks at our school. I believe that they are all having a rather interesting time. I am glad Friday has arrived and I can unwind.

Time for Friday Follow Twitter Interview and tonight’s guest is an educator with whom I can readily identify… Russel Tarr, a teacher of history and an education technologist. As Russel responds below he has created a number of excellent and incredibly useful online resources not only only for teachers of history but also for educators in all fields. Russel also poses a couple of very interesting questions at the end of the interview. Let’s begin…

1. Please share a little about yourself with the readers.

I teach History at the International School of Toulouse in the south of France. I was attracted there because it was the first laptop school in Europe and I have a real interest in the use of technology in education. I am also author of the websites (specifically for history teaching) and (a more open-ended site for creating games and quizzes for the classroom). I am happily married to Marie-Anne, who puts up with my workaholic tendencies, and we have three young children who keep our house buzzing from sunrise to sundown. Despite living in France, home will always be the Midlands (in the UK), where most of my family and friends continue to be based.

2. Describe the role played by social media in education.

Social media is something with which almost all young people engage on a daily basis. This is not something that can or should be ignored. Neither is it helpful for teachers to try to lock it out from their classrooms. The sensible thing to do is surely to harness that interest in social media and channel it into educational directions. That’s what lies behind, for example, the program I have created allowing students to create a “Fakebook” for a character they are studying in class (, or the “QR Treasure Hunt Generator” which I’ve just finished writing and which I plan to trial in September with my students (

3. Tell me about your relationship with social media. How do you feel about social media?

The benefits of social media for teachers are immense. As the only specialist history teacher in my school, Twitter in particular has been amazingly useful in keeping me in touch with the ideas of other history teachers all over the world. I use Tweetdeck to follow the #historyteacher and #sschat hashtags. Beyond that I follow a wide range of educators who aren’t necessarily history teachers but who are full of ideas, support and inspiration (e.g. @AngelaMaiers, @brainpicker, @coolcatteacher, @larryferlazzo, @rmbyrne, @ozge, @shellterrell, @tombarrett, @web20classroom, @petervogel…the list could go on!). Beyond that, my main port of call is the school history forum (, set up by Andrew Field, a colleague for whom I have an immense amount of respect.

4. What do you feel are your strengths?

I am fortunate enough to love my job. I am passionate about teaching, history, and technology – and how those things can be combined in as many creative ways as possible. When I start to tire of doing reading and planning for my history lessons stuff I’ll take a break by doing some computer programming, then flit back again. Combine that with the fact that in a normal day I’m dealing with dozens of different youngsters aged from 11-18, each year group learning a different topic and each student learning in a different way – and it’s hardly any surprise that I never get bored of what I do.

5. What advice do you like to share with people?

Always approach (and sell) technology as something which makes the life and work of yourself, your students and your colleagues easier and more interesting, not the opposite. Try to embrace social media rather than treat it as a distraction. At the same time, only use social media when it adds something to the learning experience: be careful of the “gimmick” factor.

6. Are there any questions you would like to ask?

Hmmm…some of the questions I like to ask my students include: If you had a time machine, where and when would you go and why? If a machine existed which could clone you down to the last molecule, how would you know which was the “real you”?

Thank you Russel, excellent. Inspirational. One of these days I would quite like to meet you and share a brew and a story or two. Now, where would I go if I had a time machine? Me… I would simply go back to 1950… nowhere in particular… perhaps London or Sydney or New York. Then grow old. I would simply like to be a teenager during the 1960s. The music… Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, Velvet Underground, Beach Boys, and so on. I might also jump back to ancient Egypt and ask Akhenaten what motivated his revolution, drop by England in 1066 for a bit of look/see and then Athens, towards the end of the 5th century BC to catch one of Aristophanes‘ plays. I would also try and find out who created the Antikythera mechanism and who wrote the Voynich Manuscript. Your second question… I figure my cat would ascertain which was the real me and which was the clone. Sootie would sniff it out.

Readers, remember to follow Russel on Twitter and please check out his incredible sites…

Russel Tarr on Twitter ~!/russeltarr
History News!/historynews
ClassTools on Twitter!/classtools ~ ~