Accumulation of marginal gains

Many of the models that are used for teaching with technology talk about moving pedagogy forward, using devices for ways of working that we have never been able to do in a classroom before. I totally agree with that, the possibilities that we are exploring in terms of creative possibilities and sharing work are immense.

IMG_0273However, working closely with Overfields Primary with their 1:1 roll out of iPads across year 5 and 6 has also brought home to me a different aspect of developing the use of the devices from Day 1. One of the teachers has been using the devices for really mundane tasks. For example, jotting down notes on a plastic whiteboard has been replaced by doing it on the iPad. The notes do not contribute to a larger piece of work and would not need to be accessed again for reference….but he goes to the effort of asking the children to use their iPads rather than picking up a resource they had used previously and possibly more efficiently. Rubbish use! What is the point of that! An expensive gimmick! Well, no, I would argue that he has got it exactly right.

Let me explain….

Once the run into SATs is out of the way we have plans to do some proper work, flipping the classroom into a student led workplace. This will involve creation of media, quality research, collaborative projects and so on. I’d love to give more detail at this point but who knows how a project will exactly develop at this range, planning would be a limiting factor. So why is the teacher spending time on jotting notes and dropping them in Showbie for no reason every day? Well what he is reporting is that within a very short space of time his children have stopped ‘fiddling’ with the devices with questions like ‘can we use the iPads?’ In effect he is saturating the use of them beyond what would be ‘enhanced’ tasks using the technology. By doing this the children are now at a stage where:

a) they know how to use a key number of apps without constantly thinking about which button to press. They have a mastery over the functions of the app so the conscious part of their thinking is focussed on the task in hand

b) they understand the way that content, especially their content, can move from app to app (inter-apperability) to achieve their aims more successfully than just working with the functions in one app

c) they are becoming more experimental with task outcomes, choosing a range of ‘presentation styles’ for their work as they already understand what the apps can do and they focus on what the task demands are

IMG_0275The result is a group of children who are past being excited about using the device because it can do cool things and instead are thinking about how they use it creatively to make their work the best and most original that it can be; when it is  most appropriate. They have had the devices for five weeks, 1:1 in class time. The devices have a small number of apps on them, the Apple made ones of course (they are free for new devices so you would be crazy not to use them), iMovie, Pages, Keynote and so on, Explain Everything, Showbie and one or two others. We don’t have any maths games on there yet, no apps that ‘teach’ children grammar or prepare them for the SATs tests. My support has been based around the fact that the teacher is the ‘killer app’ and that the way that the devices fit into an effective learning and teaching environment makes the biggest difference to outcomes.  We will add some apps over time, without doubt, even some of the ‘games’ type apps that profess to teach children fractions or whatever as they do have their place (see previous posts on feedback in learning and games apps – with another post in draft as I type), but they do not form the basis of our approach.

So what has our approach created in the first snapshot in time?

The children are incredibly adept at collecting, then analysing information, using the device as a data hoover/second brain. They then have the tools at their disposal to present their work in a range of ways – of their choosing. This is not a free for all, the choice has allowed the teacher to focus on audience and intent for each piece of work so that a child needs to justify why they have created a wanted poster for their character description in Pages when most of the class maybe just produced a straightforward piece of text in the same app. Each time a child does something like that and the teacher seizes on it, instigates a shared conversation with the class around the merits of thinking differently it leads to the next piece of work where two or three children are thinking differently but with sound reasons for it. This process is in its infancy in this class but I am excited that all the mundane, small steps for the sake of them activities are producing such creative learners and producers so quickly. I have seen it in other schools but rarely in such a short space of time.

One last example I want to finish this post with:

For their last piece of writing the children wrote a short opening paragraph for a story. They did this in Explain Everything. That is not the app I would use for writing any length of text, however, the teacher had asked them to use it specifically (and it was only a paragraph) because of what he wanted to do next. At the end of the day the children usually hand their iPads in to be stored and charged. After finishing the writing lesson the bell rang and the teacher asked the children simply to leave their devices on their desks, he would collect them in after they had gone home. He did so…..but before he put them away, he simply read each piece of work, decided what advice he would give each child and recorded his voice over the top of the writing. No annotation, no insertions, simply a short verbal commentary. The children would come in the next morning and be given a few minutes to listen to their verbal feedback and then some time to implement his suggestions. I haven’t had chance to revisit the school yet (next Wednesday afternoon) but one of my first questions to the children be be focussed on how effective this approach was to helping them improve their work over traditional marking methods.