Launching in Style


Had a wonderful morning with the parents and children from Year 4 at Normanby. This time of year the children are issued with their new device (iPods again this year as the weapon of choice) and usually the parents come in and sign for it in school. Carl the Headteacher wanted to do something a little more special this year and it was arranged for the process to happen at the Apple store in the Metro Centre. This also helps with creating accounts for each family as you can only do a very small number from one location but the Apple store has the ability to create as many as it likes.
We received a very warm welcome from the team there and it was lovely to see that they weren’t just going to help set up the accounts, they also played some games with the children and gave out various prizes.

The children’s devices were actually given out yesterday with the school image on them and the children today created a family account with a parent to allow them to overlay personal apps, music and so on. Not every parent could make it but they will be given a help guide to show them how to create an ID (particularly with no credit/debit card attached: https://skydrive.live.com/redir?resid=E2DBBE91FDB82F81!846).

There is also support in school to help create the accounts if parents don’t feel confident.

This layered approach to images on the device (se the How To section) is going to be rolled out across the other schools we have working with 1:1 devices as their Y4’s receive their devices. We will monitor this way of working carefully and use the blog to highlight what works well and what comes up as an issue as they arise over the coming years

QR trails

Having had a week away from the school I was eager to try and follow up on the story trails that they had begun to write a fortnight ago. The teacher had certainly kept is eye on the ball and the children had made decent pictures to “Morfo-ise”. One lad had even made an avatar in WeeMee and then drawn it on paper. Today’s main task was therefore to get the Morfo story snippets uploaded and connected to QR codes.

The process that we have employed is to use the free web space associated with the Microsoft 365 mail service that teachers and, where requested, students in our LA have got. It allows 7Gb of storage which can be private, accessed by named individuals or even made public. By uploading our Morfos to hat space, we can make them public and then create a QR code. It isn’t as straightforward as that though. The Skydrive app (Skydrive is the name for this storage area on the account) has never managed to upload a file for me from an iOS device. So to circumnavigate this issue the children emailed their Morfos to themselves (the generic accounts they’re using for this project that are set up as the mail app on he devices). Once emailed they then open the mail account on a computer, download the pics to the hard drive then upload hem to the skydrive. It is a bit of a long winded workaround but it is the solution that works. Many of the children found the process complicated and got “lost” half way through even with very clear steps written on the board to refer to. However, with some support (both from teachers and one or two of the lads who really got the process clear in their heads), all the children managed to get their Morfos uploaded and linked to a QR code. I can only suggest that with a couple of repetitions of the process through further tasks the children will feel comfortable with the steps that they must go through…we shall see. I have include below a complete set of codes from one child. I must admit I haven’t actually scanned each one myself before posting hem but this blog seeks to be open and honest about what works and what doesn’t so have a look and see how he did as his first attempt.



Right, I’ve now had a look at the codes posted and made sure they were the right ones from a complete set. As a story they work, they are continuous, however as a successful outcome of the task they need work.

The children either made avatars in WeeMee or drew, then photographed them. This is fine and in this case the character fits, however in most of the examples they created the character was in no way connected to the story, which I think would need addressing in future work. It adds a whole level of character focus that a traditional story doesn’t get to do, focussing on the narrator themselves.

Also, out of the nine stories that we created only one adds a line at the end of each video as to the location of the next code. I think when planning this work in future we will start with a map of the school or a planning sheet that identifies the last line of each part of the story (which says where to go next) before writing each part. If we don’t make that a focus, what is the point of doing it as a trail? Obviously, the children have not had chance to review these trails themselves and hopefully they will identify some of the problems as well. I think it is also important to make sure that telling the story is the important bit, not the adding of funny voices which make it impossible to hear what is going on.

This was their first real attempt though so I am not at all unhappy with the outcome, a major part of learning is to review what has been done and improve it with the guidance of the teacher and this really focusses the writer on how the audience will react to their writing.

Pad or Pod?

That is a very good question and one that I get asked at least once a week by a new school wanting my support to develop use of mobile technology in the classroom. The answer is not straightforward and depends on several factors.

One of the first things that will have become apparent to anyone who has read the overview section of this blog is that in my opinion the device has to fit the user, not the other way around. I take myself as an example. I use an iPad most days of the week, mainly at work, in meetings or maybe sat on the settee at home (working obviously!) but I don’t carry it about with me as a rule like I do with my iPod. I have to make a conscious decision whether or not I take it somewhere with me as it obviously needs to be carried, stored and looked after. My iPod simply sits in my pocket until I need to use it. It does everything the iPad does and it fits my life much better. I tend to carry my iPod everywhere with me, work and home as it is no effort to do so, that is why it has the majority of my notes, photos and idea sketches on it. So when schools ask me whether they should go for iPads or iPods I ask them to look at the children they are working with, which option will fit their lives better? In the schools where the children are using a personal device, not shared and they can take it home it tends to be the iPod which comes out on top for the reasons outlined above. I would also say that the more durable battery life that the iPod has over the iPad is a key consideration here. In fact the last two points, portability and battery life were two of the non-negotiables that appear on the device requirement list when we have looked at new devices each year.

So bearing in mind what I have said above, is there any situation when the iPad is the better choice? Well, yes, probably. The Pad is  obviously larger and is therefore better for when you want a larger format. If you look through some of the recent posts I have made describing the Early Years projects there definitely seems to be an advantage for younger learners who are developing motor control. Tracing letters for example or “colouring in” are better suited to the larger form. Reading is also easier on a larger device. Given a choice I use my iPad for reading on but in reality I read as much on my iPod because it is more convenient to carry about. We have also seen that when devices are bought as shared class devices a larger device is sometimes easier to work with in pairs or more. I have also been working with sixth form students recently and I can see that in a situation where students are used to carrying a work netbook or laptop about, the iPad may fit their lives quite easily.

A point to bear in mind that needs to be considered is where students are asked to share a device. The “i” in iPod s there for a reason. iOS devices are NOT designed to be shared, they are personal devices. You don’t set them up like a networked laptop so that you log in and get your work. There is a strength in this in that most of the schools that I work with use very little technical support to successfully use the devices (except in terms of the wireless infrastructure that makes the best classrooms work seemlessly). The techie bits are very little and the devices are easy to set up and are then managed the vast majority of the time by the children. However, I fully understand where schools want to buy a class set of devices (or a set of 6 maybe) to try them out before committing to a complete 1:1 roll out. In most cases I believe that the school recognise that the real learning gains are when 1:1 deployment is used but just want to get their feet wet first. That is one of the reasons we have built up a stock of loan devices (iPods and iPads) so that schools can do this at no expense. So by all means schools should seek to experiment with small or shared sets at first but the whole point of using these devices is that they will become personalised, be a “second brain” for the child that can be carried around with them in most situations. The ability to take them home, live with them, play with the apps out of the classroom makes a HUGE difference to simply using them in some lessons in the classroom.

By spiketown Posted in How to

Emerging pattern?

Yet another update from my travels around the Early Years settings in the device project. I had the pleasure of visiting St Peter’s CE Primary school in Brotton where the teacher has decided to leave the two iPods and two iPads on a table as an “area”. The children have simple rules to follow in that they are not allowed to move the devices elsewhere in the classroom unless working with an adult. This may seem an odd rule for devices that are designed to be mobile but in the context of a busy EYFS setting it makes perfect sense….and works too from what we’ve seen.

You can see an interesting trend in the picture, something I’ve seen in every setting so far. The iPads are used almost exclusively on the desk whereas the iPods are picked up and brought closely to the child’s face. It doesn’t seem to matter if children are working alone or several together, this pattern seems the constant across the project. What also seems to be the case is that children are very happy to watch while they wait their turn. The teacher felt that in the case of the devices, “polite” turn taking was more likely than with other resources in the setting (not that the setting was in any way a riot!). I have sen now in almost all of the settings this pattern emerge. Children are intrigued about what is happening and are happy to wait their turn as they can watch in the meantime. What I also see in these situations is a lot of pupil interaction, focussed on what is happening in the app. For example, when a child completes a task they will often have a quick chat with the others who are watching about what they have just done.

The children had mainly used phonic type games, Hairy Letters being a favourite but also the story books were popular. I have seen the FW Animals app used everywhere I’ve been so far, the letters are named rather using sounds and with an american accent at that but the children have consistently told me that they are looking at matching the letters rather than listening to what it is saying.

Unfortunately I had to leave after a half an hour but Mrs J stayed for a while longer and sent me an excited email later. She had seen a girl using Morfo independently. I know the teacher had used it previously as a guided task to bring characters from storybooks to life, the children supplying the voices, but she was amazed to see a child doing it herself. I must admit, I have seen this several times before, if a child is shown, 1:1, which buttons do what, they often remember how to then do it themselves. They don’t read what the button says they just know where it is, like they have an internal map of the screen memorised for each step of the process. I think we need to explore this further in other contexts.
Mrs J assures me she has video of this and I will be posting it once we get sorted. She also got a video of a child adding a background to GlowDraw (which I can’t wait to see because I didn’t know you could do that) which I need to find out if it was demonstrated first by an adult.

Look, no wires!

Every year I end up putting my media support cap on and helping a school do an end of Y6 project based around their time in school in the form of a short film. These have been in the form of spoof “Day in the Life” documentaries, tear jerking memories around school, Big Brother style production and so on. This year the school who have got in first are currently loaning one of the sets of iPads. I went in today to get the children planning how their production will take shape, what they need to do, how they plan and so on.

The children didn’t actually use an iPad today as we looked at some examples from previous years and then came up with the plan to work on. What I did do was talk about filming on an iPad, do and don’ts, a quick view of how iMovie works and some work around shot types. In the context of this project time is very tight but it is essential to educate children around film language and style as an integral part of their literacy. We focussed on basic narrative, what makes a story work and how that translates into what makes a film narrative work. As a starter for 10 I introduced them to establishing shots, two-shots and point of view shots. I also demonstrated how to edit a conversation into two filmed parts using iMovie and my lovely little projector output lead on my iPad. I am finding this invaluable when demonstrating key pieces of software or more usually how I am structuring a piece of work as an example. The Apple TV is making that possible wirelessly here at the Centre but obviously that isn’t possible in many schools yet as only a few have the Cisco system set up to allow it.

I will be back into the school in a couple of weeks to fine tune the storyboards and scripts then hopefully film the set pieces.

Topsy Turvy

Third setting to visit in the EYFS project and yet another range of interesting information about how the iPods, Ipads and DS’s are being used by the children. The teachers did have some concerns (especially in the Nursery end) about leaving the kit out for free choice but we reassured them that setting clear ground rules (device must stay on the table – not be carried away) had worked well elsewhere.

The older end of the setting had placed the devices on a table for free choice by the children. The main observation was that they were used almost exclusively by girls. The make up of the class is that most of the boys in there are quite strong academically but they spend their entire time building stuff with blocks. All children had been shown the devices and one or two apps, but since the choice had been handed over to the children, only the girls have really taken any interest. They like Hairy Letters and the sound board app where an animal makes a noise when you press the picture.

I watched a group of three girls play very co-operatively on this app on an iPad. One girl dominated the actual pressing of the screen but they all laughed together and talked about each animal as it appeared and did its party trick. They also played Hairy Letters in the same way but the teacher remarked that they needed more challenge as most of the children who used the app could easily do cvc words anyway.

There appeared to be little preference across the three devices and they were all used for different purposes. The pad had been sued for shared story apps too.

In the lower end of the setting we sat with a range of children who explored the apps. A small group of boys gathered around the iPad to play with Talking Tom while a girl used the iPod to make jigsaws on an app based around an Arthur story. MrJ intervened with the boys, as it was very repetitive what they were doing, to suggest drawing a picture using Doodle Buddy. She didn’t explicitly show the boy who was in control of the device how to change the pen colour but just did here own picture of a flower employing those skills. She handed the device back to the boy and he immediately used the correct menus o change colour and so on. Adult intervention was also needed to save the image to the camera role, which delighted the children as they could all do a picture in turn and then look back at them.

Strip Designer

Strip designer does what you might expect. It allows children to create a comic book design for their work. At first sight this may seem pointless except for occasional formatting requirements but what we have found is that the range of layouts and possibilities allows children to present a huge range of genres in different an useful ways via the app. One comment a boy made to me last week was that their work looks professional, even if it is basically a list of facts. The ability to combine text and image together, whether to show understanding of a topic, to record the stages of a science experiment or to retell a story has proved very powerful when convincing children that what they are writing is important. Again it can be seen as an example of where children’s work has a clear focus on purpose and audience, imposed by the nature of the app.

The app also needs to be considered in the context of the different stages that a piece of work may go through before being published. For example, you may be teaching a unit of work around the Vikings. The children will maybe watch video clips, read books, web articles, listen to the teacher and so on. During that work they will be note taking, writing short pieces of text, maybe linking in literacy work on a certain genre (narrative of observing a Viking raid for example). Now if the device fulfils its role as a data hoover and those notes are contained on the device. They can then be revisited, embellished, edited , reviewed and so on to form the basis of an end of unit Strip Design that shows all the work. The strips can be as many pages as you like (I’ve never tested this theory but have seen 10 page strips before which should be plenty) so each page might show different aspects of the work covered over the course of the weeks. The fact that the children can copy and paste text from other apps, take photos of artwork or visits and put them all in one place makes this an ideal app to bring lots of different pieces of work together. It can show a complete learning journey.

Holly at Riverdale also showed me that she regularly saves her strips as pdfs so she can put them on her iBooks shelf to act as a library of her work.

By spiketown Posted in Apps

Caring and sharing

Second school visit this morning was in Overfields Primary on the EYFS project with iPods and iPads. Some really interesting observations from it. The pods, pads and two Nintendo DS’s were on a table and the children had free access to use them when they wanted to. The teacher remarked to me that one of the most obvious ways in which the devices support learning is the way that the children are prepared to take turns (they will stand and watch the person using the device whilst they are waiting) and actively help each other to use them. Here is a child who has just been taught by his friend how to create an avatar and is now showing a girl what to do:

The children have a wide range of apps on the device as a major part of the research is simply to look at which apps support learning and whether the smaller device is more or less effective than the larger:

Some children prefer the smaller device as it fits in their hand better, the child in the video above chose the iPod rather than the iPad and told me that was the reason. What is very clear from all of the video clips is the level of concentration that is going on. One of the children in the clips is normally very excitable, especially on the playground where they are often in trouble. In this context they are all very calmly working, often in collaboration or with a level of respect of what other children are doing. To be fair, this particular setting always has an excellent ethos in this respect but the teacher told me that these devices very much help that.

A lot of the children enjoyed the pelmanism based game “Preschool Memory Match”. What was astonishing was the level of challenge they chose to take on. The basic setting has 12 blocks to work with, the clip below shows one of the children systematically using a the setting with 100 blocks:

Although he didn’t continue his systematic approach across the whole board, he often came back to that way of working with a great degree of success. He also developed a technique where he tricked the game by hitting six or seven blocks at once with his fingers so he could see more at one time. I rarely see children of this age so absorbed by such a mentally challenging task in other more traditional contexts. The beauty of it is also that he isn’t simply cocooned in what he is doing, it becomes something that he points out to other children and has pride in. He earlier worked on Epic Citadel, which I’d not used with children of this age before but it was clear that he was very adept at navigating round:

He spoke to me at some length about how he had found certain locations and how he liked to explore further.

Although the research is open, the focus of the project is to look at CLL and how the devices can support this. Some of the apps were chosen specifically for this purpose. The most popular phonics app seems to be Hairy Letters (my 2 year old also loves it) which is often the app of choice for the children. The phonemes are about as good as we have sen on any app and there is a choice of tracing letters as well as building CVC words. One of the children kept getting the tracing wrong…on purpose…because because it made the character “bottom burp”, although he didn’t use those words!

Most of the children were choosing the word building game aspect of the app and it seemed that they were very confident with this level of challenge. The teacher remarked that it would be nice to have a level with blends, trigraphs etc. The boy in the video was whizzing through those examples but watching him longer term it was fascinating to see him voicing the sounds as he touched on each grapheme, then putting it all together to make the word.

The last clip (there were more but I have been ruthless!) demonstrates how easily the children get to grips with an app. I showed the boy WeeMee and set it to make a boy avatar. Look at the screen at the very end of what he has made and look at the image below, which shows what he started with approximately 3 minutes earlier. He went on to make four avatars.

Story Trails

The QR work with gifted and talented lads from one of our primaries has had a few interruptions but has continued well. The lads are fully able to use the qr generator and understand the idea of hosting the media that the codes point to in the cloud. So we can now use this knowledge to create some interesting tasks. The picture above shows good old pencil and paper. These are the story notes and plans for a four part story (based on a traditional tale or completely imaginary) that the children will read out via a character created on Morfo. A qr code will be generated to point to each Morfo (hosted on the children’s Skydrive) which will form a four part set. The children have planned where the codes will be laid around school so that somebody can follow them to follow the story. To make this possible they have included a direction at the end of each part of the story. So, for example, at the end of the first Morfo the character may say, “Now go to the bench on the quiet area for the next part of the story.”

Once the stories are complete the children will be asked to accompany some Year 1 children around the “story course” to evaluate how well the story worked (too long, too short, not descriptive enough?). This will inform the next task that they will be asked to do which will be based around a multiple choice story. School has a PD day next week so we won’t find out the results of this task until then.

Death of print media?

Spent an interesting afternoon yesterday at Prior Pursglove college in Guisborough as a guest of Eric Walsh. Following his attendance on the joint training session we ran back in February he has been exploring with his staff ways to introduce aspects of handheld learning to the college. The specific reason for my visit though was a “guest appearance” lecture to the media students by the editor of the Northern Echo Peter Barron. Peter is a local lad, from Southbank, who has been editor of the paper for 18 years. He outlined the difficulties that he now faces in a rapidly changing world in terms of how people access news. 10 years ago he had a readership of 93000 people, now that is around the 40000 mark. However, he explained that if you factor in the thousands of Twitter followers he has, website hits and Facebook likes then potentially he is hitting more “readers” than ever before. One of his opening questions to the students sat in front of him was “who reads a newspaper?” Through interaction with the audience it became clear that the only student to read a newspaper regularly was a paperboy! The consensus was that most of the students accessed news via the web either through traditional computer browsers or, increasingly, through mobile devices.

Peter developed this theme as it is obviously something that he has had to be aware of for some time and explained how the process of writing and publishing a story has changed immeasurably in the last few years. No longer must a man on a bike wait at Darlington station to take dispatches from reporters across the region to the main news desk to be rewritten, passed through sub editors then onto the presses. Now a reporter will be expected to take footage, write the piece, then transmit it immediately to the newsdesk. Peter suggested that even this will become archaic within a few years, a reporter will be expected to get it right first time and be able to electronically submit a completed piece complete with headline and embedded media from wherever they are. Those are the key skills that he would be looking for in journalists of the future. The role of the “safety net” sub editors will deteriorate dramatically.

This has obvious implications for youngsters wanting to work in the media. High levels of literacy will actually become MORE important as you have to get it right without being checked. The ability to manipulate images, capture the ones that you really need, and embed them into a story are integral to that notion of literacy. Being good at reading and writing in the traditional sense are no longer the defining skills. The move by schools to encouraging use of devices that can capture text, video, stills and sound then allow students to manipulate them for purpose and audience is obviously going to give them a huge advantage over students that have not had that experience through their education.