Accumulation of marginal gains

Many of the models that are used for teaching with technology talk about moving pedagogy forward, using devices for ways of working that we have never been able to do in a classroom before. I totally agree with that, the possibilities that we are exploring in terms of creative possibilities and sharing work are immense.

IMG_0273However, working closely with Overfields Primary with their 1:1 roll out of iPads across year 5 and 6 has also brought home to me a different aspect of developing the use of the devices from Day 1. One of the teachers has been using the devices for really mundane tasks. For example, jotting down notes on a plastic whiteboard has been replaced by doing it on the iPad. The notes do not contribute to a larger piece of work and would not need to be accessed again for reference….but he goes to the effort of asking the children to use their iPads rather than picking up a resource they had used previously and possibly more efficiently. Rubbish use! What is the point of that! An expensive gimmick! Well, no, I would argue that he has got it exactly right.

Let me explain….

Once the run into SATs is out of the way we have plans to do some proper work, flipping the classroom into a student led workplace. This will involve creation of media, quality research, collaborative projects and so on. I’d love to give more detail at this point but who knows how a project will exactly develop at this range, planning would be a limiting factor. So why is the teacher spending time on jotting notes and dropping them in Showbie for no reason every day? Well what he is reporting is that within a very short space of time his children have stopped ‘fiddling’ with the devices with questions like ‘can we use the iPads?’ In effect he is saturating the use of them beyond what would be ‘enhanced’ tasks using the technology. By doing this the children are now at a stage where:

a) they know how to use a key number of apps without constantly thinking about which button to press. They have a mastery over the functions of the app so the conscious part of their thinking is focussed on the task in hand

b) they understand the way that content, especially their content, can move from app to app (inter-apperability) to achieve their aims more successfully than just working with the functions in one app

c) they are becoming more experimental with task outcomes, choosing a range of ‘presentation styles’ for their work as they already understand what the apps can do and they focus on what the task demands are

IMG_0275The result is a group of children who are past being excited about using the device because it can do cool things and instead are thinking about how they use it creatively to make their work the best and most original that it can be; when it is  most appropriate. They have had the devices for five weeks, 1:1 in class time. The devices have a small number of apps on them, the Apple made ones of course (they are free for new devices so you would be crazy not to use them), iMovie, Pages, Keynote and so on, Explain Everything, Showbie and one or two others. We don’t have any maths games on there yet, no apps that ‘teach’ children grammar or prepare them for the SATs tests. My support has been based around the fact that the teacher is the ‘killer app’ and that the way that the devices fit into an effective learning and teaching environment makes the biggest difference to outcomes.  We will add some apps over time, without doubt, even some of the ‘games’ type apps that profess to teach children fractions or whatever as they do have their place (see previous posts on feedback in learning and games apps – with another post in draft as I type), but they do not form the basis of our approach.

So what has our approach created in the first snapshot in time?

The children are incredibly adept at collecting, then analysing information, using the device as a data hoover/second brain. They then have the tools at their disposal to present their work in a range of ways – of their choosing. This is not a free for all, the choice has allowed the teacher to focus on audience and intent for each piece of work so that a child needs to justify why they have created a wanted poster for their character description in Pages when most of the class maybe just produced a straightforward piece of text in the same app. Each time a child does something like that and the teacher seizes on it, instigates a shared conversation with the class around the merits of thinking differently it leads to the next piece of work where two or three children are thinking differently but with sound reasons for it. This process is in its infancy in this class but I am excited that all the mundane, small steps for the sake of them activities are producing such creative learners and producers so quickly. I have seen it in other schools but rarely in such a short space of time.

One last example I want to finish this post with:

For their last piece of writing the children wrote a short opening paragraph for a story. They did this in Explain Everything. That is not the app I would use for writing any length of text, however, the teacher had asked them to use it specifically (and it was only a paragraph) because of what he wanted to do next. At the end of the day the children usually hand their iPads in to be stored and charged. After finishing the writing lesson the bell rang and the teacher asked the children simply to leave their devices on their desks, he would collect them in after they had gone home. He did so…..but before he put them away, he simply read each piece of work, decided what advice he would give each child and recorded his voice over the top of the writing. No annotation, no insertions, simply a short verbal commentary. The children would come in the next morning and be given a few minutes to listen to their verbal feedback and then some time to implement his suggestions. I haven’t had chance to revisit the school yet (next Wednesday afternoon) but one of my first questions to the children be be focussed on how effective this approach was to helping them improve their work over traditional marking methods.

Cake icing

photo%201Posts on here have been somewhat few and far between recently as I have been busy training schools all over the place. Luckily I was back at base for the visit of Mike Hughes running an INSET day for a cluster of our local schools. The title of the day was ‘From good to outstanding’ which Mike articulated more accurately as ‘Adding the icing to the cake of teaching’. Much of his focus centred on identifying how teachers can promote effective dialogue around their learning. This taps into a socio-constructivist theory of learning. Sound familiar? Yes his examples of what makes outstanding teachers exactly mirrors what my research thesis concluded. Effective, focussed talk in participatory groups where the learners have responsibility to be part of the endeavour. There is a combination of both socio-constructivism and the features of communities of practice at play here.

In fact I would humbly suggest that Mike’s focus on activities that engage students (and teachers on the day!) can only be further enhanced when every student has an iPad. For example, when students are given a task where they have to collaborate on ideas taken from a text, Mike used a diamond nine activity as a frame for students to rank their ideas in terms of importance to a theme.He suggested use of post-Its so that decisions could easily be revised, reworked and reordered as discussion ensued. It makes explicit in front of the students what is being mentally manipulated. How would an iPad help this? Explain Everything would allow the same activity of course on a slide. Is this any better though from a learning point of view? I would argue that it is. The post-It activity is pretty much confined to the here and now. A slide on EE can be saved and revisited whenever the student needs to go back to the material. It can include further information such as images, video and weblinks. It can begin to ad the flesh to the bones that is the diamond nine. It can also be reworked on a duplicate slide so that the students can see the effect of rearranging ideas whilst retaining the original layout. Mike spent time discussing the virtue of metacognition – another theme that will be familiar to readers of this blog. In EE a student can add a soundtrack to a slide, describing their thinking, their strategy for the work. This is an excellent way for a teacher to include review in the ‘learning process’. Review that is planned to be revisited, that is key. Doing a review of how and why you did a piece of work is a reconnection to that learning and is a powerful tool but add to that revisiting your own thoughts on a piece of work three weeks later as your understanding of a subject has moved on. It offers unprecedented access to your own thoughts as they were at the time, so you can see where your own thinking has moved on. How often have you written something then gone back to it several weeks later and it is like something that someone else has written? But go back to that document and listen to your own description, given at the time of writing, that explains why you wrote it that way. Build in peer review to that, external views on strategies used and how well they met the objectives of the work and you are building a powerful metacognitive learning approach to learning in your classroom.

photo%202-1I  left Mike’s training with a powerful sense of vindication as he is a very respected international trainer who was advocating the exact approach that my training model and research indicate is most powerful for effective learning. In some ways I also feel that the added opportunities that a personal iPad allows can take this model further than it has ever been practically possible to before. One off lessons with iMovie or Garageband are fab. They motivate children and allow the metacognitive approach to learning happen in each instance but it is only when a device is personal and ubiquitous that the real power of the devices for long term deeper learning can be accessed.

Been busy

Apologies to readers of this blog who expect a bit more regular content but I have been beavering away on several different fronts since the last post and some of the output appears below.

I am now an official Apple Distinguished Educator following a fabulous week working with colleagues, Apple staff and guest presenters in early August. This title is also joined by being confirmed as an official Apple Professional Development trainer. This is very helpful to the schools that I work with in the UK as they get a rebate on my training costs when they buy a set of 50 iPads or more…of which three schools alone in the last week are in the middle of doing following some work I have been doing with each.

However the biggest challenge to my time has been the completion of my MA research thesis. I was told last week that it had passed as well……woohoo! I wanted to look at use of mobile devices from a slightly different perspective to the majority of research. I wanted to explore what children consider effective learning and through their discussion identify aspects of what might be termed ‘learning theories’ from the extant research. Although small in scale, the findings were fascinating and threw up almost as many questions for further research, as much good research maybe should! The thesis was written in a very specific academic style and I have no desire to inflict that on anybody (but if you do want it as a cure for insomnia please email me through the blog!). To combat this I have broken down the findings into a collection of discussion papers that I will release over the next few months.  The first is below:

Personalised Learning…let’s ask the person!

‘Schools are contributing to the upswing in the sales of tablet computers, with their numbers in classrooms more than doubling in the UK and US in the past year, figures reveal.’ (TES 23 June 2013)

Schools in the UK, in fact all across the world, are increasingly investing in tablet computers of one form or another. For some it is an iPad, for others Android phones. They see the devices as being integral to student learning in the modern age (Luckin and Clark 2013). What these devices have in common is their portability and ‘connectedness’. They tend to be instant on, connected to wireless or a phone network, rely on a touch screen interface and have battery lives that survive a day of learning (Traxler 2010). This is in contrast to what schools were buying as mobile devices five or more years ago as a ‘mobile device’ – commonly a laptop, which, although connected takes a few minutes to turn on, tends to rely on an input device (such as a USB mouse), has an ever decreasing battery life and is far less easy to carry around than a tablet or phone. Modern devices are claimed to support ‘personalised learning’ in a way that no other technology or teaching approach has managed so far (e.g., Speak Up Project 2012). So how is this possible and where is the evidence to back this claim up?

During the Summer of 2012 I undertook a small scale research project to explore how children who use mobile devices as part of their school culture view the way that they learn. Nine Y6 children who had been using iPod Touches for two years were randomly selected. It was felt that slightly more ‘mature’ users might give a more rounded picture of how the devices were used over a sustained period of time, thus minimising the ‘flashy’ effect that new technology could have on children. I also interviewed children from two schools to try and gain a perspective across two different teaching settings, potentially eliminating some of the teacher directed biases that must inevitably show. If there were underlying similar themes then it offered some strength to an argument for examples of  effective use. The research took an approach that centred on the pupil’s own perceptions of their learning. This resulted in open ended interviews where the children described ways that they use the devices both in class and at home that they felt really helped them to learn. The research was careful to identify that these definitions of effective learning were very much based on what the pupils felt was effective for them. There were no scores or tests used to ‘prove’ that the experiences they described increased their learning in a more traditional, quantitative way. There again, I am a much better driver than I was ten years ago. I could tell you lots of examples of why I am better despite not having any scores to prove it.

So that was the rationale for asking the children rather than observe lessons or interview the teachers. It was also appreciated that the testimonies of the children reflect their recollections of their experiences, not necessarily what ACTUALLY happened. In a sense that may be a pointless observation. Their recollection of what happened is probably more important in terms of what they took from previous experiences which now helps them deal with new experiences and situations which could be argued is a fundamental aspect of what ‘learning’ is.

From the mouths of babes…

So what did the children say? Well….lots and lots of things to be honest. They were asked to describe great lessons or learning experiences and try to pin down how and why the device helped them. It was fairly directed questioning but it opened up the role of the devices to lots discussion amongst the children.

One of the key factors that came up time and again, across all of the children and therefore both schools, was the idea of ‘there when I need it’. We use an analogy when teaching the children about using devices effectively of a ‘data hoover and a second brain’. The device can take in lots of different types of information and then store it in an easily accessible way as a ‘second brain’. This only works of course when the device is there whenever and wherever it is needed. The portability of the device and the battery life are both key factors in this. The fact that the devices can ‘hoover up’ text, sound and images fulfills the first role; and the ease of accessing that information when needed to further support learning is where it becomes the second brain.

One aspect of the research paper examined some of the more influential theories of how we learn to compare to what the children suggested was effective learning for them. Associationist, constructivist, social-constructivist and communities of learning were all explored as learning theories. The first three particularly emphasise the role of building learning up from experiences (though each describes the mechanisms and modes differently). They also identify that you don’t always learn things at the first attempt. It is through repeated exposure/engagement with a new phenomenon that you gradually acquire the knowledge and skills that are required in a given situation.

The children described how the device was able to store information so that they could use it for further work. It was always there when they needed it and they could more easily bring up a video clip of how they did a maths problem from three weeks ago than simply remembering. Using the Camera Roll or an app like Mental Note to easily store and retrieve self created ‘artefacts’ of information was an external support to the mental operations of linking new experiences to what had gone before. The children also described how this access to key information was also easier to share than they could do without the device. For example, one child described how they would be given a piece of writing to do on a topic. The teacher expected them to do some research then produce the work in a particular genre style, which would be the focus of the assessment. The children would then search individually but, without being asked, share information with one another to feed into their work. When asked if they used email to share the resource they replied ‘only sometimes’ as more often than not they simply found the information they needed then showed everyone else their screen. The others would then jot down what they found useful and then move on. The children were constantly working in teams to crowd source the most effective way of tackling a piece of work. This also has resonance with the idea of ‘ecologies of practice’ in a classroom environment (Boylan 2005).

In addition to the ‘in class’ work children would often email each other about work outside of lessons (though they nearly all told me that most often it would be socially related!).

So what are the implications for teachers wanting to support ‘personalised learning’ whilst also having to deliver a curriculum with specific learning goals enshrined within it?

For teachers

There are many engaging activities that can be done using a mobile device but from a learning theory point of view some of the most basic, day in and day out uses are very effective. Developing effective learners who have strategies for effective ways of learning, has been shown through many studies to improve children’s attainment and progress (e.g., Sutton Trust 2013). Mobile devices support several aspects of this metacognitive approach to learning (and teaching).

  1. There when I need it

The device acts as a data hoover and second brain and is there as an external support for my learning when the mental processes are sometimes found wanting. 1:1 devices, with a child’s own learning journey laid bare and interrogable on the screen allows the child to go back and use previous experiences to support future learning more efficiently than ‘remembering’ can.

  1. Repetition

Research by Nuthall and Alton-Lee (1993) suggested the role of repeated exposure to learning experiences was crucial in retaining what had been learned. Mobile devices allow the teacher to re-engage students with learning experiences that are personal and immediately accessible whenever they choose. For example, the children could be asked to make a short video at the end of a key unit of work to show how to ‘multiply fractions’. That experience in itself would allow the children to have access to the information on the device if they have to multiply fractions again in the future. However, if the aim is for children to be able to internalise their learning, teachers could promote re-engagement with that video at regular intervals over a period of time. This could be as simple as ‘watch the video’ once or twice a week while the teacher does the register (could be a bit dull!) or even share your video with a partner and they have to create a critique of it. This opens up the social aspect of the learning experience too.

References

Boylan, M. (2005) School classrooms: Communities of practice or ecologies of practices? Paper presented at 1st Socio-Cultural Theory in Educational Research, September 2005 Manchester University UK. (http://orgs.man.ac.uk/projects/include/experiment/mark_boylan.pdf)

Nuthall G & Alton-Lee A (1993) Predicting learning from student experience of teaching: a theory of student knowledge construction in classrooms, American Educational Research Journal, 30(4): 799-840

Speak Up Project Link: http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/MobileLearningReport2012.html

Sutton Trust Website links to the Education Endowment foundation website for many links to research papers: http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/toolkit

TES Article (2013) ‘Tablets in schools double in one year’ available online at: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6339835 (last accessed 17th August 2013)

Traxler, J. (2010) Will Student Devices Deliver Innovation, Inclusion and Transformation? Journal of the Research Centre for Educational Technology, Kent State University 6 (1) 3-15

Download this paper as a document: Personalised learning

Schools of the now

I hear and read a lot about schools of the future, how children will be able to do this, that and the other. These discussions tend to be led by technology visionaries who espouse how the technology will transform learning. I must admit, I do have some reservations, I mean humans learn in particular ways, that is how their brains work. It is true that some of our institutional structures don’t capitalise on that to the benefit of the students but by and large students DO achieve and teachers are determined to help their students to realise their potential. What is important for us to remember when introducing new technologies and pedagogies is that we don’t simply throw out previous practice, we analyse what was effective and build in what is useful from the new practice. In many ways it fits with a constructivist pedagogy, assimilating and accommodating new understanding to what is extant.

So when we talk about schools of the future it is REALLY important to consider schools of the now.

What are effective ways of working?

Which technologies support student learning?

My work gives me a priveleged view of this. I work in schools all over the world and it offers me insight into the myriad of ways that students are being supported in their learning. I am also very priveleged in the fact that one of the most innovative schools sits on my doorstep and I work with them regularly. Normanby Primary already has a reputation nationally for the way that it has integrated technology into daily practice, Carl Faulkner the Head has won several awards individually for the way that he has led this. I recently attended a conference presentation he delivered and speaking to delegates afterwards it was clear that they were impressed with his student centred focus and his down to earth approach to dealing with issues that stand in the way of pupil learning.

I was at the school last night speaking to Sonia the technology leader and she was explaining the problem that she has got coming up in September. Following her input in a staff meeting, showing how she gives her year two (seven year old) students iBooks that she makes from all of the resources that she would normally use around a topic, staff have requested training from her. She has done that and now the majority of the staff are repurposing their existing resources into iBooks ready to use in September. The problem? There are only so many devices to go around and only having a device a couple of sessions a week doesn’t really work in the pupil centred, flipped world that Sonia is working in. This is a perfect example of where teachers have identified how new technologies can support a more effective way of learning for students (based on student feedback cross checked with assessment of the children’s work). They have taken the best of how they already work and then adapted their practice with these new opportunities. The limiting factor might now be availability of technology. But do you see the way that the technology demand is created? It follows from the pedagogy. I have often heard ‘Yeah but Normanby always buy technology, they are into that sort of thing..’ but what is missed is that Normanby react to what is effective for the students and if that is technology based then they use it, other solutions are available and are pursued.

I will highlight this point with the video below. It was submitted for a NAACE award and nicely sums up the way that the school focusses on learning and how technology supports this. It is not a school of the future, it is a school of the now.

There is also a link to the commentary version of the video HERE.

Back to Books!

Oh I’ve been flipping too! Following the work I saw with Year 2 at Normanby using the Jamaica iBook (now available for download from this published iTunesu course – with more to come!), I thought that the ability to collate material and give it to children in an interesting way would suit the model of support that I am providing at Badger Hill. The Y4 class have an iPad 1 between 2. It isn’t ideal but I was determined to support the teacher to get the most out of the device, integrating it to the other work that they do. The use of the iBook to access and identify information to then perhaps respond to in their exercise books fits that model (although doesn’t embrace the real learning gains from having 1:1…). I see the class for maybe an hour a week to both show the children how to use the devices and also leave the teacher with lots of transferable techniques. It is a popular model and most schools who buy my time appreciate the little and often approach.

As previous posts show, I am pretty skilled at making iBooks in iBooks Author, it is pretty easy really, but the hard thing is collating the info and getting it put together appropriately. The result of my resource for today can be found here. I wanted to show this, not for the expected adulation and applause but to demonstrate how easy it was to make. The children are studying ‘mysteries’ so I thought a book with info on the Loch Ness Monster and friends would be useful. Now here is the trick. I could have read lots of books and wrote my text for the children. Nope, too long. I went to Wikipedia and looked up Loch Ness Monster. The page is complicated and way above the reading abilities of the children though. No problem, I use the accessibility tool in Safari on my mac and click on ‘Reader’. Instantly the page is reduced to the bare bones that I needed. I copied it then pasted into the iBook. The task then was to edit the text down rather than write it from scratch. I also used the images from the page as I knew that they had creative commons licensing by being on that page. Where other images are required I used Google search settings to specifically look for Creative Commons content. I can’t vouch for it’s accuracy but it is a nod in the right direction if not a full step. The source for my work, although edited, is acknowledged in the book.

The text was still a real challenge for some of the children but that gave me the opportunity to demonstrate to them the ‘speak selection’ option and this was a real winner for many children, they attempted parts of the text that the teacher informs me they wouldn’t have previously.

As a parting shot I also showed the children that they could summarise a text and isolate their thoughts, to be collated automatically, by the notes function. The teacher was really excited by this as she could immediately see how a child could identify key information in a text, justify their choice with a text note and these be automatically collated to be emailed in. Really powerful.

Augmentation


“That was you wasn’t it Mr Stogdale?”

It seems my almost magical ability to conjure up a pirate to give us clues about his buried treasure only held the Year 6s attention while I went through the process. As soon as we had found the gold the questions started:

“Was that Morfo?”

“Which app did you use?”

“Can we make some?”

Yes it was, yes you can make some and we are using Aurasma.map

I had created a set of four Auras that led the viewer to draw a cross on a map to show where the treasure  lay. It was a simple task but I wanted to show them the basics of what was possible. If you would like to follow the directions simply draw a rough map on a large piece of paper and put the trigger pictures in the positions you can see. (downloadable to print out and cut out below). Find my public channels (username is spiketown) from within the app and then choose the Pirate one. It will load my auras for you and away you go.

I actually worked with two classes today as part of the support that they buy me in for, helping the teachers and children to develop their use of the iPad minis (they have one each) to improve their learning.

The first class already had a maths task in hand when I came in, identifying properties of shapes around the school by photographing them. We augmented this task by turning their photos into Morfos which explained why a right angle was a right angle. The final step was to create a set of playing cards for each child. On these they drew unusual symbols that triggered each of the auras. It was a bit of a mashup of ideas but I wanted to try and use what they were already doing to give the task context.

The upper KS2 class were open to whatever I wanted to do so once I had finished the demo they made a simple aura for themselves based on a pirate Morfo (school topic is Pirates if you hadn’t guessed!). Once they had been through the process they began to plan a treasure hunt using triggers around school for a ‘real life’ treasure hunt. They are planning to use the Year 2s as guinea pigs to test them on.

I discussed with the teacher how the auras could be used to add detail to a display, allowing the artist to describe how they made a particular piece of work – this promotes reflective thinking in the children and this in turn supports their deeper understanding.

Pictures are below for your own attempt!

Flipping update

iBookWas wandering through a classroom last week where the teacher was using her iBooks with the children. She had been on the iBooks course a few weeks ago and, following some success with iTunesu previously, she had seen iBooks as an ideal way to get all the resources that she would normally use around her Topics into one place. In fact it allowed her to add some resources that she had previously never considered (such as 3D images). The Year 2 (6-7 year olds) children in her class were using the iBook about Jamaica that she created to identify key information then recount in their books (traditional exercise book). They were using the highlight tool to identify key words and then use these as the basis of their ‘analogue’ work. These children do not have their own device, they are a shared set, but it was clear that they immediately had mastery over the task and that they were massively engaged. I spoke to a few who said that they loved the fact that they could work at their own pace. The teacher had created a range of tasks that the children had to complete within a whole range of lessons. In fact they were at liberty to change round the order of their workload so that they could do whichever tasks they best felt like doing when it suited them. In many ways they reminded me of office workers with a huge inbox cherry picking the most interesting tasks before attacking the mundane stuff. Independent learning? The teacher’s role was much more focussed on support rather than lead, and she was actually hard to spot when I first walked in as she was doing a similar task herself alongside a small group and encouraging the discussion through that. I will get a copy of her book to upload asap but it is clear that her way of working is a real winner with the children who really enjoy being in control of their work. Her approach has also inspired the other teachers in the school to work in this way and she has been running iBooks author sessions after school by popular demand!

Learning is learning…isn’t it?

Having just completed a rather long essay on how ‘metacognitive’ thinking can impact on attainment I was reminded of something that one of the lecturers had said. “Learning is learning.”

By that they meant that it doesn’t matter what age you are or what the subject area is, learning is simply learning. I could go into several definitions by respected academics at this point but boredom would set in on both sides of the screen. However, I was reminded of an unusual situation I was in on the way back from supporting some schools in Kazakhstan.

On the aircraft I was surrounded by some tough looking military types who were overjoyed at the opportunity to sample the inflight hostess service. After about half an hour of this (and several wines, beers and shots) they obviously wanted to make friends….with me. Their english wasn’t great but it was a million times better than my Russian or Kazakh. We stumbled through a conversation and I gleaned that they were tank commanders in the KZ army on route to Nice for some joint training with the French. Then they asked me what I did. Obviously that is difficult to explain, I teach children, I teach adults, I help learners learn more effectively and I tend to use technology to do it. This was a strain on our lingua franca so I whipped out my iPad (luckily not the mini iPad with the mini mouse cover!) and opened Explain Everything.

I immediately tried to show how the technology helps me as a teacher or a learner to manipulate ideas (the screen shot is of my first diagram I drew for them to show

imagehow how we could look at Tank field positions and tactics.

This isn’t an area of expertise for me to be fair but immediately the guys could see how the ability to manipulate ideas, try out a solution then go back and all in a socially shared space (at 33 000ft!).

So we can debate the theory of what learning is long and hard but as a starter for ten I can say that using the device in this way immediately made sense in terms of allowing me to show how you can learn with an iPad in the most unfamiliar situations!

Look no hands….well, wires anyway!

I have written previously on this blog about my shift to using iPads for film making over and above movie cameras. Working from the I2L Centre means that we often do have groups here to use high end cameras and explore film making in some detail. However, a lot of the students who come here for a ‘movie day” have had little previous experience of camera use or film production. I have found the use of iMovie invaluable for this is it scaffolds some of the technical process without getting in the way of camera techniques.

For example, we had a fantastic group of Y8 and 9 students a week or two back who wanted to do a film making day, they had done very little previously. I wanted them to activate the implicit understanding of how a film is shot by making it explicit through choice of shot. By using the trailer option in iMovie they were able to do just that. The scaffold of the shot length (and suggested focus) along with pre-designed titles and audio meant that the students only concern was to ensure that the shots were strung together coherently (basic storyboarding) and shot appropriately (choice of shot). The camera on the iPad minis that they used is plenty good enough to allow the students to explore this. Purists would of course argue that there is little option to zoom, properly tilt and pan etc etc etc but that is not the point at this stage in my opinion. This example is typical of their first attempts:

You can see that it immediately draws of genre pointers in the scaffold but also I asked them to think very carefully about choice of shot, distance to the subject, what is included etc. They are clearly drawing on their own understanding of what the film needed to include.
Once they had successfully made their trailers (and watched them), I took the straightjacket off. The afternoon task was to make a new movie in iMovie (as a project) with a vague title of “The Arrival”. Some groups changed this slightly but stuck to the theme:

We had talked at length when reviewing their trailer work about use of light and lack of vision for the audience and this group took that forward into their final piece. I had also used the opening sequence from Once Upon a Time in the West as a stimulus to the task and you can see the Leone-esque style they have applied to aspect of this.

Taking the idea of “gore looks rubbish on a budget” even further the following group went for a less is more approach. There are one or two dodgy sound effects in here but the choice of shot and grammar of the piece hangs together pretty well for the genre:

And finally we see the most abstract offering from one group. I was incredibly impressed that instead of following the crowd and the obvious story for the title, they took a completely different approach:

The shots were simply framed and really their film from that point of view has little to focus analysis on but the concept here is everything and I liked the fact that they went so bold on what they decided to do.

So what can I draw from the experience? The lack of scrabbling around for the correct lead to put the captured images onto a “proper computer” is a massive help and the quality of the images is absolutely fine for the tasks that they were doing. Comments from the students tended to follow this one “this is the best day at school ever”. I don’t think it is simply because they were having fun (but they were as it happens). There were moments during the day when the pressure was on o get their video finished and shots were not working as they had intended. They had to problem solve where shots needed to “look and feel” a particular way and they could not simply work alone, everything was based around team work. They have now had an excellent grounding in getting a film made, encountering some of the common problems that crop up in the filming stage. They are now ready to go back to the process and start to storyboard more closely, look at film genres to explore using stylistic techniques in their own work and improve their awareness of how a script contributes to the piece. They can do most of that on an iPad or maybe explore actual use of “proper” cameras but the experience that they have had so far has given them a flying start and I would argue is plenty good enough quality to be of use across any subject, not just Media:

A new way of thinking….are we flipping crazy?

ibooks_authorThere has been a lot of discussion in recent months about the concept of the flipped classroom. I listened to Microsoft’s view of it today at the launch of their 365 service. The idea is that the teacher removes themselves as the barrier between the students and the “learning”, taking more of a support role as issues occur. I have some fundamental issues with this “new” concept.

Really good teachers have always had the flexibility to both lead learning and work in a support role. Even bound by the constraints of the curriculum and expectations such as the Literacy Hour I would be very confident in saying that the flipped classroom has been alive and well but maybe just considered part of good practice  without rearing its head as a “technique” for many years. I will give an example.

I started teaching the year that the Literacy Strategy was introduced. Although a young and inexperienced teacher, I quickly realised that binding children to such time limited, and teacher support limited, activities did not help the vast majority of children to enjoy their literacy lessons. Furthermore it made it almost impossible to be creative with teaching approaches. If children were really into a fantastic piece of writing, possibly inspired by a film clip  or an interesting international event then the structure stopped them dead in their tracks. Its aims were good, to ensure rigour and progression in what was taught but it went about it in completely the wrong way. My first school had a very strong Headteacher, Phillip McElwee, and he made it clear that he backed us all to use our own professional judgment to vary our approaches in response to the children. Sometimes direct teaching is really useful and sometimes giving children the materials (which are often teacher created or selected anyway to scaffold the learning) and supporting them through their work.

The use of devices has radically altered what is possible in this way. Access to materials is the most obvious factor as a million learning opportunities can sit in the palm of every student’s hand. Fantastic? Hmmm it can be, but I am reminded of my science tutor when I was training to be a teacher. He made the point that you can ask students to do lots of experiments to “discover” things that can easily be explained in about five minutes. Do children always need to have gone through the processes that the discoverers of oxygen or the laws of gravity to say that they have learned it? There is a balance, of course their is but if we look at the Lavoisier example from a constructivist view of how we learn then the place of the experimental “proof” maybe changes. Explaining the theory around what oxygen is, telling the story of its discovery, gives the students a mental construct of what they are looking at so when they do the experiment it has somewhere to “fit”. doing the experiment first places far more of a strain on the process of assimilation as there may be no mental framework in which it sits easily. Does that produce deeper learning as students want to know more or does it simply disinterest the student as not fitting their experience or even fit in with an incorrect understanding as enough facts of the phenomena are consistent.

 

This may seem a very technical argument but it is at the crux of flipped classroom concept. Simply saying to students “here’s the stuff, get on with it, yell when you are stuck” potentially leads to that situation. This is exacerbated if the students entirely led their own learning interests. Again, there is a balance. Why am I rambling on about this?

Last Thursday I hosted a day at the Inspire2Learn centre to teach a group of teachers who all have access to iPads in their classrooms how to use iBooks Author. The app is free to download as long as you have at least version 10.7 on your mac OS. It allows teachers to create books. Big deal, teachers can do that in loads of ways…however these books have distinct advantages. Yes you can add pictures, text, even video into the pages which make them full of “Wow”, but that is not what catches the eye. The teachers who attended could do that within about 5mins of my input (if they hadn’t already done it themselves anyway!), what we took time to focus on is how an iBook could support the practice in class. Where does the book sit? As a textbook for a course? As a support alongside what happens in the lessons? As a repository for all the other resources that we don’t have time for in lessons. I hope that some of these questions are answered by the work that the teachers do back in class with their creations.

We spent a lot of time simply discussing these issues, and also use of widgets. Widgets are fabulous little things that can ad such a different dimension to an iBook. Yes there are the wow ones (like the 360 panorama widget) but something as simple as a scrolling side bar widget allows a page to hold a lot more content, in context, than could previously have been done. This isn’t simply convenient, it fits with a huge amount of research based around situated learning and how meaning is heavily influenced by context and the expectations that an audience brings to that context.As teachers we need to think about this sort of research to enhance our use of iBooks, not simply saying “it can add more detail”. A sketchpad widget within a page allows a student the opportunity to create or label a diagram and then send it back to the teacher from within the book, again keeping the learning in the context in which is it created.

Something as simple as the browser widget is a godsend. Why is that important? We can add weblinks to any book, document…even an email…so what? It is massive, the book opens the webpage, it doesn’t go off to Safari and all of the distractions (the youtube widget does the same), it stays within the book so when you close it you are still in the book. Simple yet a huge help, imagine using Guided Access with this for certain situations on shared pads?

We do have some unanswered questions though. I mentioned some above relating to how it fits within the classroom context. Also, when do you ask the student to do activities within the book and when do you offer them maybe a gallery of pictures and ask them to create a presentation in an app of their choice. I don’t know if there is a definitive answer as every situation os different and teachers are the killer app that make the difference, judging when to do what. However, an iBook is a finished artefact (although you can update it) and that means that some of these decisions need to be made when creating the book and defining its role in a scheme of work.

The teachers who attended were very complementary in their feedback for my input during the day (as a teacher I used my professional judgement of when to tell and when to…..lol) but I will be pursuing them over the next few months and hopefully reconvening the group to really pin down where the book sits within the classroom context. Armed with that sort of information future users of the app will not have to discover it all for themselves but will have some guidance as a starter for ten…isn’t that where this post started?

Example of iBook from the day:

HERE