30 Top Apps I Really Can Live Without

Sorry, couldn’t resist!

I actually appreciate the constant tweets that declare the opposite of my title but I must admit I now tend to ignore a lot of them. That isn’t because I feel I have mastered every app I will ever need on the devices, or indeed know the full range of possibilities. The reason is simple, as a teacher I use tools and ideas as need arises. The need might be a new and extra way of practising Times Tables, or it may be a way of children being able to store information they have gathered….but those decisions are rooted in the needs of the learner and how the curriculum that they are expected to engage with.

What has become VERY clear across the vast range of settings and age ranges that I have had the privilege to support and work in over the past few years is that there are several killer ways of working that are fundamental to effective learning with the devices. Raising attainment, motivating learners and developing personalised ways of working – these are all a result of a few simple aspects of using the devices….a huge range of apps is irrelevant. I spent some time with leading teachers from both Riverdale and Normanby Primary schools last week where we discussed effective classroom practice. Apps took a bit of a back seat for much of the discussion, ways of working were far more important. I made the comment at one point that I would still push for the devices in my classroom if they only had wireless, the mail app and the ability to take notes. Again, the reason is simple, at a very basic level these few elements mean that children can collaborate, access information and repurpose it. Fit that in with Vygotsky and Bruner and how humans actually learn, and you are on to a winner. Of course, before you start quoting research at me, it is not QUITE as simple as that, but it isn’t far off. Think about the last time you learned something and think how well it would have happened without collaboration or access to information or the ability to manipulate that idea into your own way of thinking. Did you use all three? Two of the three? Yes I know collaboration and access to information could equally apply to someone like a teacher telling you something but that maybe highlights how intertwined these ideas are.

The devices support these three elements massively. Let us compare a “traditional” lesson with a device enabled lesson.

In the traditional lesson the teacher stands at the front and tells the children what they will learn about and then most likely will demonstrate some examples on a board. They did this because it is an efficient way to quickly set the learning focus for all of the children and demonstrate the skills or describe the knowledge that the children will learn. I have no problem with this as a way of working. That is a very unfashionable thing to say nowadays but I stand by it. Walk into a Y3 class, give them some self study materials about how to do decomposition, then support small groups as needs arise and see how effectively that class learns how to do it compared to the class next door where the teacher supports the children through demonstration followed by small groups support where appropriate. Anyway, I’ll plough on as you have no doubt stopped reading now or are preparing your vitriolic responses to this paragraph and want more ammo…

So the learners in the traditional classroom have now got some idea of what the teacher wants them to learn and then will be asked to do some activities that allow them to practice what they have learned, or demonstrate new knowledge (or a combination – but mainly for assessment purposes). The work is done maybe on whiteboards or jotters as playing with ideas or directly into an exercise book. The teacher and other adults will probably work with a focus group to support this activity. The work will be handed in but some maybe be used for a plenary (via a visualiser, or child demonstrating an example) or the teacher may recap the main points with contributions by the children. The books will be marked at some point to lead on to the following lesson. That a reasonably typical description?

Let’s put a mobile device into the hands of each child in the room and replay the lesson. The teacher starts the lesson, possibly from the front again (easy tiger…put it in the critical comments) to set the agenda for the lesson. Just a note, in this or the traditional lesson this doesn’t have to be “Our learning objectives today are…” I simply mean the teacher explains what the lesson will be focussing on, either from an outcome point of view or an activity introduction. Either way, the children are all made aware of what they will be doing. Now this is where the devices help. At any point children can take notes on a device that will follow them around…so is accessible when they might need it. That is helpful, I would take notes if I was sat there knowing I was expected to do something about what the teacher said once they stopped talking. If the teacher has a resource to show the children, such as a text or a film clip they have the option to show it via the front screen but far more powerfully they can simply email it to the children (or drop it in Dropbox or the Skydrive or whatever you use – oops two apps to consider, but Mail will work just as well). I would argue that in any classroom a text should always be introduced “at the desk” rather than expecting a mixed ability group of readers to access it from several feet away. Some children need to follow with their fingers! They do! I never expect children to read a text for the first time on a whiteboard – it has too many variable barriers to all children reading it at the pace and level of understanding that the teacher wants and they need.

The text is not only easier to access (videos are texts too!) but can be re-watched and re-examined at the individual level. Give the text with a couple of tasks written in the email and it will allow more able children to do something useful while the other children at least get through a decent pace. I have actually run several lessons purely in this way, the children then get on with the task (different groups may have got a slightly different task to allow some differentiation or simply different approaches to a topic across the class). I find in most primary classes this works once in a while but usually they also benefit from some further input at a class level and/or then group level. At all times the children have easy access to the resources (and the web at a personal level which cannot be done in the traditional classroom) and can still access the teacher as their learning guide. From this point onwards the device continues to improve the learning opportunities. The work is done on a device that will follow them, it won’t get rubbed out as on a whiteboard or sit on a shelf as with a jotter or text book. The teacher collects in the work, usually by email but again other services are available. The child leaves the room with the work in their pocket, all the resources and all the help. If homework is set or they want to do more they can continue whenever and wherever they want, learning is not bounded by the ringing of bells. They continue to have the teacher support as they can email questions in (or to each other which tends to be the first port of call in my experience) or search on the web.

Now that is a simplified comparison. It ignores the fact that the children can repurpose their ideas as a film, or a mind map or a comic book…their work can be focussed on a blog (which raises the stakes for purpose and audience). It ignores the possibility of giving them the texts prior to the lessons, or even the lessons prior to the lessons but you know what? Ten year olds rarely work like that. Teenagers don’t either. If you gave them the year’s worth of lessons in advance how many would actually do them until them until they had to? The devices support the here and now, they hoover information in and allow children that level of repurposing and access.

The possibilities are there but the realities need to be considered, motivation as ever is a key player and that is where a new app that allows children to present work in a different way or a new audience to write for IS a very useful thing, but it isn’t the be all and end all. The basics are far more important day in and day out.

The quick practise, games types apps are great, they make repetitious learning more fun (Squeebles is possibly the favourite amongst most local schools) but focus on how a connected, data hoover device that allows the learner to access their externalised learning (previous work) will create a strong base on which the classroom practitioner can build new ways of learner centric pedagogy.

Ok…shoot me down……

Reality check

Let me begin this post with a simple idea: I LIKE APPLE TV IN THE CLASSROOM.

I regularly use one when working with children from 4 years old to 16. My advice is that if you have a teacher iPad or even a set of iOS devices in the room, then an Apple TV is an excellent thing to have for supporting their use.
HOWEVER
You knew that was coming didn’t you?

I am also very concerned with gadgets being used in the classroom just because they are new, seem to be efficient and/or cool. Following a conversation last week I decided to try an experiment today in Riverdale Primary with their Year 6s. The conversation ran like this:

In our newly refurbished classroom I am going to have projectors pointing at walls that can be written on with marker pens. The teachers will control the projector via an Apple TV.

I asked if the Smartboard would then be embedded into the wall too.

No, the Apple TV will do it all

I’m paraphrasing but that was the gist. My argument was that sometimes the ability to manhandle a bit of text, or a shape, or an image is something that I value as a way of really focusing children on a key point or question. The argument back at me was that children would learn just as effectively, if not more so, by watching the image projected of what was happening on the iPad. I wasn’t convinced as I felt the distance between the teacher and the “learning focus” might be an issue.

So, I decided to get some feedback…from the children (and the class teacher who was sat with them).

I prepared a lesson where we would look at key features of a news report by photographing the reports and then annotating them, thereby creating a genre checklist. I had two copies of the story, one from The Mirror and one from the Telegraph (a bloke had nicked an iphone from a toddler in a shop). As usual, before the lesson, I created two emails that would go to all children in the class, each with one of the articles attached. I saved them as drafts for the moment when I wanted the children to look at them. One part would be done via Apple TV and one directly in a Smart Notebook. I explained to the teacher before we started what we would do and why and she thought that we should be open and honest with the children before we started to ensure that we got focussed feedback.

So, I explained the conversation I had had to to the children. It was clear from the beginning that there were strong opinions on this, some were incredulous as to why you would want to take down the board, others said they preferred the “watching the TV” experience of the Apple TV. From discussion, I went off on a tangent (nothing unusual there then). I used the Smart Notebook app on the iPad to try and create as fair an experience as possible across the two interfaces. I quickly drew up a simple addition that involved place value up to hundreds. I “taught” the technique to the children using the iPad and the Apple TV, then repeated the “teaching” stood at the whiteboard in a more traditional way. Please try and stand back from the fact that I was teaching children something that they could all pretty much do without any issue anyway. I asked them to focus on which was a more effective way of getting my point across. There was much discussion and the consensus was that the teacher stood at the front “directing the learning” was the most helpful for the majority. We took into account the fact that the image on the plasma was smaller (albeit crisper than the 8 year old projector) and that depending on where you were sat made it easier or harder to focus in.

I also threw in the idea that maybe standing at the front and introducing an idea was maybe not the best way to do it. The children actually found this funny as they were confused that you would want them to “discover” something like how to do column addition when the teacher could simply explain it to you all at once and then give targetted help to the children who might then need it. I also explained that I had often been to conferences where someone would stand in front of an audience using a presentation to teach them all at once how whole class teaching with a whiteboard was no longer of any use…..I love irony. The point often then being focussed on a whiteboard usually being used as a big projector screen. Well I am sorry that their experience of using one (I’m sure they all teach a lot) is so basic but I constantly rely on the fact that I can interact with the stuff on it to make a point, test an idea, further a hypothesis or whatever. I DO NOT use it as an opportunity for children to come up and touch it, that is a complete waste of everybody’s time.
I actually discussed this point with the children. Connor was particularly vocal about it. He agreed that someone coming up to the board top complete a sum or click the right answer was simply time wasting; as was having an iPad passed to him to do the same sort of thing via Apple TV. It was really heartening that I could have such an in depth conversation with the children about what helps them learn most effectively. I know I always used to do that with my own class (many years ago….) constantly asking them what would have made the lesson more useful for them. Try it if you don’t already.
Connor did say though that he thought children coming up to the front to explain to others was a good thing for learning. I totally agree, the children take the role of teacher in my classrooms a lot and the board helps them to give visual aids to what they are saying at the end of their fingertips…same as for the teacher.

In fact, to further investigate the idea I asked Connor to do the same type of calculation in two ways, the first using an iPad and the Apple TV with his voice essentially narrating what was happening on the screen at the other side of the room and the second doing it directly on the Smartboard at the front. This definitely changed the vote…it made it practically unanimous that the Smartboard was the most effective tool…from their point of view.

Now that is one class in one school. They use iPods day in and day out (they take them home) and have done since they started Year 5. They have an Apple TV displaying through a plasma on the side wall and a Smartboard with a dim projector at the front. They discussed this in great detail and we actually had to shut them up at the end as the bell meant they had to go home! I mentioned I would blog about the “lesson” an several immediately bookmarked this site while I wrote it on the board. They did however say that they wanted to have an Apple TV facility as it was great for sharing work (from the camera roll on their ipods) and sometimes for when the teacher wanted to show, or allow someone to show, something useful on the iPad, But given the choice two preferred to use the Apple TV, the other 23(? and the teacher!) were vehement that day in and day out the Smartboard helped them learn more effectively, particularly when an explanation was involved. I would welcome comments from anyone who has a view on this.

Can I just repeat: I LIKE and RECOMMEND Apple TVs in the classroom but want people to really think hard about how they most effectively support learners. A Smartboard (other IWBs are available) offers more effective opportunities for teachers and learners (and when the roles are reversed) when explaining or manipulating ideas. The Apple TV offers excellent sharing possibilities that the Smartboard does not and mirroring of the iPad when that is really useful for the class to see. But please be discerning about how they are used!

Hmmm, think I’ll buy a new tin opener now it has bits of worm on it….

Let It All Hang Out

Friday was a fantastic day here at I2L as we had an open day to showcase lots of the resources that schools can buy into. Although our centre is based in Redcar and Cleveland we now are able to offer facilities to ANY school who would like to use us. 20121002-103303.jpg

Helping us to showcase what we have available were the fantastic Year 6s from St Paulinus. They were split into three groups and experienced taster sessions of what can be achieved here. As ever we practise what we preach here and each child was expected to use an iPod (they currently have one of the loan sets from the centre anyway) to make notes and observations about the day. They were then expected to immediately blog their photos and observations onto a specially set up wordpress blog. In reality this didn’t happen as we quickly discovered that too many devices logged on to the same wordpress account simply doesn’t work.
We need to look at this for future events as setting up a full blown account for individuals probably isn’t what we want to do! Anyway, they used Mental Note to record their day with photos and comments and simply emailed them to me as they arrived back in school. The Year 6 teacher is going to spend some time with them this week using their notes to write more detailed blog entries, obviously focussing on purpose and audience. This use of the iPods to hoover data in while in a “situation” then reflect on it later, expand, edit and so on is probably the killer app that gets missed in all the lists on the web. It doesn’t really matter what actual app you are using, it is the fact that you are recording your thoughts and possibly images for revisiting later.

Highlights seem to have been everything! The touch screen PCs, the immersive room (three walls projected), the 3 camera studio setup and the drama activities all got a mention as well as the fantastic LEGO challenge work led by Stuart Nimmo. We had lots of visitors who came and saw the possibilities and several expressed an interest in taking over the whole centre for the day for a larger group of children. All possibilities are possible…as it were. If you want to use our facilities or expertise, you can email or tweet me from the addresses at the top right of the blog.

Going home

Was asked to support a parents’ meeting last night at Whitecliffe (yes, that would be Northern Grid ICT school of the Year – Whitecliffe) Primary. The Y6 children have had iPods for a year now and despite some really off putting problems with the devices authenticating onto their wireless (now sorted) they have made continued excellent use of them in most of their lessons. The school has not gone down the parental contribution route for acquiring them so they have always stayed in school. We know from the other schools using iPods that using the devices outside of the school is THE biggest factor in supporting learners. Whitecliffe have always known this but have taken a very careful, very planned approach to getting to this stage which I think is a sensible way to operate. They now feel that the children have ownership of the devices, know how to care for them and the teachers have had lots of opportunities to think through what the children could do to extend their learning outside of the school day.

The meeting was short but included a few examples of how the children could support their learning effectively. The first was from a lesson in school: the children were expected to write a news report, to begin the work they looked at a range of newspapers and were asked to identify features that made the reports effective. They used their ipods to photograph each feature (in Mental Note) and then record below each photo what the literary device was. After then working as a class to refine these ideas the children effectively had a checklist complete with photographic examples of how to write an effective report.
The second example was equally as simple. When the children have “learned” a new skill or way of working (such as a method of grid multiplication in maths) they will be expected to video themselves doing a narrated example. So on the device they have a video of themselves explaining to themselves how to “do it” for whenever they need it; for homework (especially as parents who try to help may have used different methods when they were younger), for the next lesson when they have forgotten or even to email to friends who are struggling….fact is, it is there for as long as they want it, their own personal video helpguide library.