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….

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One comment on “Reality check

  1. Pingback: Reality check | Teaching Children and History

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