Collaborative Working Part II

Not quite “tomorrow” as the first post suggested but…

Home is where the learning is

Both teachers who have been using the devices in a one to one situation concurred that much of the impact of them was a result of being them being taken home. Children came to lessons “knowing” the apps so the focus of the lesson was on the output, the reason the app was used rather than how to use it. It also allowed children to spend more time on a piece of work, often sending in multiple drafts over  few days as they returned to what they had done (often because they had gone round Gran’s house to show them and had then added a bit, as an example). Allied to that was the use of games to teach key skills. Squeebles is a fantastic app that children in all the schools we work with seem to love – and it is basically a times tables drill (there are also other operation versions available too). Both teachers report that they still do drills in school but children are moving on dramatically as they are choosing to do more when they are out of lessons because ether are just games. Super 7 was also praised as a way of sharpening mental skills. The teacher who had loaned the pods for a half term reported on one girl who would refuse to do work generally and something like Times Tables practice was a complete waste of time for her…yet after half a term of using Squeebles she was turned onto maths suddenly and had made it through most of the levels. It was reflected in an improvement in her general attitude towards school.

More soon…


Focussing on writing

Had an interesting day today with Year 2 groups from two schools across the borough. We run learning days which schools sign up to attend. Today’s theme unsurprisingly was the Olympics. For my part I found useful 5 minute clip on Youtube called Birth of the Olympics. The children watched the video with a view to creating a short presentation based around three facts that they had found interesting while watching. Armed with three facts they were asked to use Puppet Pals to create a short presentation with their picture in it. Now the sessions were only 40 minutes long and the children were around seven years of age…so how to structure it. I will describe below the effect structuring it in two different ways had on the outcome, I hope it will help people think about how the devices are best used.

Group A

I showed the children the video clip and talked to them for about five minutes about what they had seen. I then showed them the iPad (most had used one at home I think but one or two told me they hadn’t seen one before). I took  the decision to demo how to make a quick movie using the provided characters and backdrops. This took about 2 minutes and then I released the children to work in pairs to make their own. They did this very easily within five minutes. I then gathered them back together and asked them to focus on three screen shots (of the 27 I had provided from the video) to talk about. I quickly demoed how to ad themselves as a character and add the three photos as backdrops. They were given paper and pencils to jot down key words to talk about. One pair wrote in sentences, three groups did notes and two groups needed persuading that something to work from when speaking would be useful (I had already stressed that spelling, punctuation and so on was not important, content was as the audience would hear the content, not read it). The results were clear at the end, all children produced something technically correct but the content was maybe a bit thin.

Group B

I changed the task slightly in that I showed the video then gave the children the iPads to look at the camera roll to make them decide on three pictures. They were then asked to jot down what they would say about each picture (again I stressed how spelling etc was not important as that was not part of the purpose). All groups wrote down some ideas, one group in sentences. Only once this task had been done did I show them Puppet Pals. This time I whizzed through the app from pressing Start to the complete production with children as actors and pics about the olympics as backdrops. It only took maybe three minutes and I kept asking the children if they were “keeping up” and they all seemed fine with that. Result? All children produced a finished product but they took longer within this task adding themselves as actors and actually recording themselves (mainly through giggling). However, the overall quality of the sentences was better.


Puppet Pals is a great way to allow children to look like they are on the scene of something that they’re talking about. Working in this way gives them a clear purpose and audience. All children were very keen to come up with facts and produce their movie. Time  was a big factor in rushing through but from what I saw, focussing on the literacy of the outcome BEFORE looking at the app made a difference. The children took more time over getting their ideas down and practising what they would say with their partners. Unfortunately the children didn’t have permission slips today to have their faces on the web so I can’t post any but I will chase this up with the school tomorrow and hopefully post some examples.

Collaborative working

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…

Leadership event

Just a quick note to highlight the presentation Normanby and Riverdale did at the Baltic Centre in Gateshead today. Apple are taking their leadership events on tour and today’s location was the North East of England. Both heads talked through why we are doing this and why we are doing it in the way that we have. I offered to be the buffer zone today to try and keep the presentation to time so made sure we recapped the key points that the Heads (and two children from each school) had made.  One thing that stuck me today was the comment that when technology is introduced into the classroom it is initially disruptive. In the case of our use of iPods it is actually the opposite. That is not to say that it doesn’t change the way that the classroom works (more talk, less teacher input etc etc) but I would argue that the reason we are doing this is that the way classrooms are set up is disruptive to learning. Is a traditional classroom with traditional tools the way that is most productive to learning? Does it actually disrupt the most effective way to work?

Yes I think it does, iPods offer a smoother way of working, a more productive and engaging way of working than what I had to use as a teacher. For example, if a child wanted to know about something pertinent to their work, they would have to go and find a computer to research it or find a book maybe. With an iPod they simply research in their hands. If a child didn’t get a concept that you were demonstrating as a teacher, they needed you to go back over it. With an iPod they could have that demo saved as a video or a screen capture in their hands (what tends to happen more that that is that one child who does get the concept quickly knocks up a video to demo the idea and emails it to the other child).

What was also interesting today was the talk about how interactive whiteboards were a great white elephant that were easily superseded by Apple TV. I don’t think that is true though. I have used Apple TV (or formerly a video lead) quite often when working with the children at Riverdale. It is great, I can show ideas that I want to get across BUT it is no substitute to being able to stand at the board and manipulate ideas directly in a Smart Notebook. It is interesting that the criticism of IWBs is always levelled by speakers at conferences who stand there and use a screen to get an idea across to a whole audience at once (while berating whole class teaching! lol). I have very rarely heard ANY criticism by pupils. They will often complain about teachers who use it as a glorified screen for their power points but I have often heard that children highly value the way that the teacher can take a word, number or picture, stick their finger on it and drag it to where it needs to be, organising ideas, testing hypotheses or whatever. Ideally they value the opportunity to use that facility themselves when explaining they thinking. Yes you can drag and demonstrate via a device, which shows up on a screen but it is more detached, I have seen it many times. Ironically a lot of the reason that we work with personal devices comes from the days when we introduced interactive whiteboards and the focus of the training was “what are the children actually doing”, the implication being that if they all had a personal interactive whiteboard (that would allow manipulation, harvesting and repurposing of ideas) then they would learn more effectively. So I think we need to be careful about simply dismissing “old technology” that was there because we didn’t think clearly enough about why we had it. Some of us thought VERY clearly about why we wanted one and it would be interesting to poll current teachers (especially primary!) about whether they would be happy to get rid of theirs. It is easy to criticise when we aren’t doing that role every day and I would invite anybody to come and work in a classroom alongside me and show me how my use of an interactive whiteboard is not the best way to lead learning (which teachers DO have to do regardless of the guide on the side role that they also take on) at certain points of a lesson.

External constructs?

Just been doing the rounds picking up loan kit from schools, wiping it, then redistributing. I always try to ask for some quick feedback from the schools and I am promised a bit more detail (and examples of work) over the next few days via email.

Briefly though, the set of 12 pads were in a year 5 class. The teacher tells me that she was astonished how quickly the children got to grips with using the apps to create their work. In a sense the playing about bit took no time at all as the children immediately homed in on what the app would do to support the work. She particularly mentioned Strip Designer (as usual) that helped her class with story writing. She told me that traditionally the children would story map the ideas for a story then write each section. With the iPads they constructed the story map directly into Strip Designer as the layouts naturally formed a clear construct into which their ideas needed to fit. For many of the boys in the class creating a story map that has a clear structure is a real challenge and the fact that the app did it for them meant they could really focus on content. They used freeze frames (via the camera featuring the children) to then add  a key moment for each part of the story and of course speech balloons helped to refine the key idea further. This was then used not as a finished piece of work (although they looked nice and professional), but as a support for the writing they were doing in their books (we still do a lot of writing by hand as the children will be tested in that way come May of Y6). The teacher commented on how much better than usual their work was in terms of a clear structure. Here are some examples of the work in the child’s book that was stimulated by the Strip Design:

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This chimes with a lot of work I have been doing using media literacy over the last few years. Giving the children pictures  to work with or video, gives them something concrete to work on. They don’t have to hold an image in their head then build up the text from it, they can see an object or a character in a picture, put their finger on it then  start to form sentences. I know when I was teaching full time I had to get myself out of the habit of asking children to add more description to a piece of work that was pretty bland as they would simply add “very” or several colours, e.g., “The boat was on the sea” became “The very big red boat was on the deep blue sea”. What I learned to focus on was relevant detail, getting the children to identify an object or character trait in that scene that would lead to the next part of the story, refer back to one earlier on or hint at themes to come e.g., “The boat bobbed gently on the sea in the strengthening wind…a storm was coming.” I always tried to get the children to draw the scenes, or close their eyes for a few minutes (put that pencil away!) and imagine sitting at the cinema watching that scene in the film. The pods allow that process to happen much more easily as they can draw directly, photograph or copy objects from the web (or a book) or have examples emailed instant via the teacher (or increasingly, friends). With the image in front of them they can literally point to something and build a sentence around it.

Now there is a caveat with this approach. For developing writers who need that structure it works wonders and the results are noticeable, for writers who can already visualise internally it is often a limiter to their work. This is where the skilled teacher needs to be the guide, not the straight jacket. Identifying what works best for which children is imperative.  I have used the structured picture approach many times and must admit that when I made the whole class follow the same structure the better writers did not shine. Typically such children like to get their ideas down on paper as words then revisit them, redesigning a sentence here, adding a character trait there. The use of the device then allows them to work with the text, editing and rearranging. Sadly, this real world approach to writing (as opposed to how people in the real world used to write) isn’t allowed in an English SAT test so all devices must be taken away. However, the aim is to get the writer craft and confidence developed throughout the years so that when they do sit down for the tests it is merely an inconvenience to have to use a pen.

The second school that I picked up form also had pods in Y5. They had borrowed them short term to use for structuring instructional writing around making bread. Again Strip Designer is ideal for this but I know the school also used Storyrobe which is a great way of making a short narrated movie about a subject (this particular school last borrowed the iPads to complete a short narrated piece of the history of the universe up to the formation of the earth).

The work done behind the scenes for a story robe can be immense with draughting and re-draughting essential. The fact that there is a clear audience for a piece of work like this (I tend to use Youtube but many schools also use children’s work like tis to display on the increasingly common entrance hall plasma screen) seems to raise children’s quality of work.

On that note the teacher at the first school also mentioned one of her girls in particular. She is a child with very low motivation, not really interested in school or any task that is given to her. Apparently she has been a different girl since the pads were introduced, even to the point where she has been volunteering to help other children and discovering novel ways to produce a piece of work. This slots into some interesting discussions I have seen recently that seem to suggest that iPads raise engagement and motivation yet this doesn’t reflect in children’s test scores. This intrigues me as being a teacher I know fine well that when children are motivated they perform better. Maybe that is the problem though. The tests we are using are testing such a precise thing that the fact that the children are learning and showing more interpersonal skills, independent learning skills and problem solving (how do I get my work to look like that..). Now I don’t know about anybody else but if I have two people being interviewed and one is bright, motivated with great social and problem solving skills up against someone who can recite Yeats and has the certificates to prove it…who do I pick? It depends on the job and I don’t mean this to be a political rant but I think sometimes the actual ability of a “level 3” child are underestimated. Of course you aim as high as you can with every child but behind the headlines of what percentage of children leave school without basic literacy and numeracy are many children who are are capable of competing in a real world situation where technology is the norm but struggle when asked to work in a mode they will rarely use again in their entire life.

Hopefully I shall have some examples of work within a few days to add to this post.


I have always liked using the trailer feature in iMovie on my Mac. I have used it several times with groups of children in KS2 to create a stimulus for the wider work around story writing. The results always look very professional and are easy to achieve. What has always been a bit of a chore is shooting enough footage to make the trailer have variety of shot and then the process of transferring the footage from whatever camera you have used. In the past we have used iPods for ease of handling and the ability to email footage to the Mac being used to save the “which wire”game. Even then, the footage was often too large to email. So I was delighted when I began to explore the new iMovie on the iPad. The fairly recent updates have transformed the software into something more like its Mac counterpart, of course with the advantage that the camera and the software are on the same device. The trailer feature is also really nicely put together as it automatically cuts clips to the correct length before inserting.
Although I spend a lot of time teaching media techniques and digital literacy to children and highly value the ability to work with a blank canvas, as a simple activity that allows you to focus on the decisions rather than the process behind making a piece of media this really is invaluable. I gave my 13 yr old an iPad with it on yesterday and asked her to have a quick look through the different styles to see if anything was of use. For ten minutes (and I am not exaggerating) I didn’t see her, then she showed me this:

I did of course question why several shots were sideways on. “To disorientate the audience” apparently….forgot to shoot in landscape I think more likely, but that apart, the ease and speed with which she could focus on a genre, create a plot and then use the scaffolding of the trailer option to produce this opens up such a lot of possibilities. So next time you ask your class to write a report on a key event in history or whatever, maybe get hold of some iOS devices and make them create it in a genre trailer. They will have fun, will need to show social skills, co-operation, planning etc but will also have to really know their subject to get the outcome to look right. The app will take about a minute to learn using this option.

A word from our Sponsors

I’m going to make a real effort over the next week or so to bring together many of the assets we already have lurking around on the web or our hard drives. I also aim to re-organise some of the tagging on this site as an Apps section is great but it is putting the pod before the iTunes account as it were. I will retag them under headings that reflect their use “Improving writing” for example. Comments on my intentions or suggested headings would be welcome.

I will end this post though with a quick word from many of the people who using these devices has impacted upon.