Had a fantastic day today as I had the opportunity to bring together teachers who are already teaching with iPods in a 1:1 situation, a teacher who has a large set of shared iPads and several teachers who have been using our loan kit or have got it lined up for September.
The day was loosely structured as it was designed to try and allow the needs of the group to evolve. However we did start with a general discussion of what works, what makes the difference and why. This was illustrated brilliantly by a myriad of examples from the all of the teachers who have had iOS devices in their classrooms. Reflecting on key themes from this reveals some key factors:
Big isn’t always better
Although one of the teachers in the group is using iPads (for several reasons) it was clear from the discussions around the table that the children using devices when given a choice currently PREFER a smaller device. They lose practically no functionality (just a few apps), rarely struggle with screen size as an issue (that is an adult issue), and they gain the killer app….hands free portability. I have had many discussions with children around this topic, they love iPads, it is THE desirable gadget of the moment. However they are really discerning in recognising the difficulties of carting one around. That is why mobile phones got smaller and smaller then recently a bit bigger. The technology downsized everything then when the added functionality started to appear, web browsing, video calling, apps etc the screen size became bigger. It has pretty much reached a plateau across most of the market at the iPhone sort of size. The mobile phone industry is one of the most rapidly changing markets in the world as the technology evolves yet we have reached a broad consensus of what screen size the consumer wants. Most people who buy a smartphone now (and use its functionality) are mobile learners. They hoover up info and share or collaborate (“look at this I just saw” – photo or weblink attached). It is their second brain as it keeps details of their friends, important dates, work diary, photos etc. What was once the preserve of a plugged in computer fits in the pocket, it fits into your life. An iPad does not have that feature. I use mine regularly at work or at home but only when I am in a settled spot, if I quickly want to review something, add a note, check a date or whatever, the iPod is instantly whipped out of my pocket. This factor may be different in a world where children are used to lugging a bag of school kit around with them. Where they would have pulled out a textbook, they now can pull out an infinite supply of information and more besides on their iPad. However, it is a conscious effort to do so, to fish around in the bag because they will be in this class for some time. Would they do the same waiting for a bus? I don’t know for others but I know I would rarely myself, where in a moment of boredom, I will naturally reach into my pocket to check my email or finish that exacting game of word warp.
Connectivity is key
A secure wireless infrastructure is an absolute must. It allows the children to share ideas both with the teacher and with others. We talked through many examples today of how the teacher is able to use email to get resources quickly and effectively to the children. For example, in a traditional lesson you hand out a text resource or a picture to write about at a key moment. Typically this is also displayed at the front of the room, maybe on an interactive whiteboard. In practical terms this has always had implications. Take a text for example. A typical class of 25 children will have readers at 25 different levels; no two children are exactly alike. So, if you introduce a text to the children on a big screen to those children, where do you pitch it? The best readers (poorest will struggle to keep up)? The poorest readers (best readers will be bored to tears and not engaged)? Middle readers (extreme ends will have issues as above)? We developed ways of alleviating this by turning use of text on a smart board round (see SpikeTown youtube channel for poorly filmed examples!) but it was always a best of what we can do scenario. If however the children are given the text the day before the lesson, with no photocopying involved, with no chance of them losing it (unless their dog eats the iPod) then you give the children a chance to level the playing field. They will have the chance to engage with the text before the lesson, potentially with help from home. They will also be able to read it with a background colour, font size and style of their choice. Now if the ethos is right, that is a powerful tool to ensure that in the lesson time the teacher is able to focus in on the key features of the text, possibly a text that is of a more difficult nature as the basic decoding of the text has already been done. It won’t work unilaterally but it is definitely something to work towards.
Similarly, if the teacher has been leading some learning (because teachers do that sometimes) and they maybe collate a load of ideas from the students then want to give them that to work on themselves, extrapolate, rearrange or whatever, it was always a case of children having to copy down the info again. In a couple of clicks I can send anything I am doing on the board and have it appear instantly in an email on every device in the room or even at home (as some children are ill sometimes). The fact that it is sent via an email also means that the teacher has a copy of the resource (in their sent items) and that children can complete the work then reply with what they have achieved. The fact that most apps that allow children to produce work actively support email as a way of sharing work makes life so much easier. What has also become clear is that children appreciate their work marked electronically as it means that that can easily respond to edits, suggestions and so on without having to rewrite the whole piece again. That is why most people nowadays use digital text to write, it is much easier to edit and share that way than use a pen and paper (but obviously we have to test our children that way and prepare them for a world that used to exist…!). That was the crux of the discussion today, the fact that information, feedback and resources could so easily be passed around exactly when you needed them and be retrieved so easily when used in the future.
More reflection on today’s discussion tomorrow…