Xmas fun and frolics

photo-25We’ve had nearly 300 children through the doors over the last few days, mainly 5 year olds but a cohort of Y5 and Y6 did a one off day today around science.

It has been interesting to watch the children get to grips with iOS devices so quickly. Sessions for the very young were barely 20 minutes and today each group had little over half an hour on each activity. The pads were used with the young children to scan QR codes on reindeer stables (which appeared on the walls around the cafe area). Each scan produced an audio track describing a letter that the young children had to recognise and write down. After scanning four stables they had the letters to a Christmas word that would help solve a magic spell to retrieve Santa’s sack. The teacher running that session showed the children how to use the QR scanner app and then click on the audio file. The IT element of this melted away after the first scan as they raced to the next clue to be found and repeated the procedure. The focus was very much on the objective.

Today’s group were exploring the senses and Mrs J led groups to develop short animations (that’s right, understand the concept, learn the software and then make something in less than half an hour – no problem). We used Animation Desk as the app of choice and the results can be sen below. It costs a couple of quid but if you want to do animation simply and in a range of ways then we found it very easy to use and very versatile.

Emerging pattern?

Yet another update from my travels around the Early Years settings in the device project. I had the pleasure of visiting St Peter’s CE Primary school in Brotton where the teacher has decided to leave the two iPods and two iPads on a table as an “area”. The children have simple rules to follow in that they are not allowed to move the devices elsewhere in the classroom unless working with an adult. This may seem an odd rule for devices that are designed to be mobile but in the context of a busy EYFS setting it makes perfect sense….and works too from what we’ve seen.

You can see an interesting trend in the picture, something I’ve seen in every setting so far. The iPads are used almost exclusively on the desk whereas the iPods are picked up and brought closely to the child’s face. It doesn’t seem to matter if children are working alone or several together, this pattern seems the constant across the project. What also seems to be the case is that children are very happy to watch while they wait their turn. The teacher felt that in the case of the devices, “polite” turn taking was more likely than with other resources in the setting (not that the setting was in any way a riot!). I have sen now in almost all of the settings this pattern emerge. Children are intrigued about what is happening and are happy to wait their turn as they can watch in the meantime. What I also see in these situations is a lot of pupil interaction, focussed on what is happening in the app. For example, when a child completes a task they will often have a quick chat with the others who are watching about what they have just done.

The children had mainly used phonic type games, Hairy Letters being a favourite but also the story books were popular. I have seen the FW Animals app used everywhere I’ve been so far, the letters are named rather using sounds and with an american accent at that but the children have consistently told me that they are looking at matching the letters rather than listening to what it is saying.

Unfortunately I had to leave after a half an hour but Mrs J stayed for a while longer and sent me an excited email later. She had seen a girl using Morfo independently. I know the teacher had used it previously as a guided task to bring characters from storybooks to life, the children supplying the voices, but she was amazed to see a child doing it herself. I must admit, I have seen this several times before, if a child is shown, 1:1, which buttons do what, they often remember how to then do it themselves. They don’t read what the button says they just know where it is, like they have an internal map of the screen memorised for each step of the process. I think we need to explore this further in other contexts.
Mrs J assures me she has video of this and I will be posting it once we get sorted. She also got a video of a child adding a background to GlowDraw (which I can’t wait to see because I didn’t know you could do that) which I need to find out if it was demonstrated first by an adult.

Topsy Turvy

Third setting to visit in the EYFS project and yet another range of interesting information about how the iPods, Ipads and DS’s are being used by the children. The teachers did have some concerns (especially in the Nursery end) about leaving the kit out for free choice but we reassured them that setting clear ground rules (device must stay on the table – not be carried away) had worked well elsewhere.

The older end of the setting had placed the devices on a table for free choice by the children. The main observation was that they were used almost exclusively by girls. The make up of the class is that most of the boys in there are quite strong academically but they spend their entire time building stuff with blocks. All children had been shown the devices and one or two apps, but since the choice had been handed over to the children, only the girls have really taken any interest. They like Hairy Letters and the sound board app where an animal makes a noise when you press the picture.

I watched a group of three girls play very co-operatively on this app on an iPad. One girl dominated the actual pressing of the screen but they all laughed together and talked about each animal as it appeared and did its party trick. They also played Hairy Letters in the same way but the teacher remarked that they needed more challenge as most of the children who used the app could easily do cvc words anyway.

There appeared to be little preference across the three devices and they were all used for different purposes. The pad had been sued for shared story apps too.

In the lower end of the setting we sat with a range of children who explored the apps. A small group of boys gathered around the iPad to play with Talking Tom while a girl used the iPod to make jigsaws on an app based around an Arthur story. MrJ intervened with the boys, as it was very repetitive what they were doing, to suggest drawing a picture using Doodle Buddy. She didn’t explicitly show the boy who was in control of the device how to change the pen colour but just did here own picture of a flower employing those skills. She handed the device back to the boy and he immediately used the correct menus o change colour and so on. Adult intervention was also needed to save the image to the camera role, which delighted the children as they could all do a picture in turn and then look back at them.

Caring and sharing

Second school visit this morning was in Overfields Primary on the EYFS project with iPods and iPads. Some really interesting observations from it. The pods, pads and two Nintendo DS’s were on a table and the children had free access to use them when they wanted to. The teacher remarked to me that one of the most obvious ways in which the devices support learning is the way that the children are prepared to take turns (they will stand and watch the person using the device whilst they are waiting) and actively help each other to use them. Here is a child who has just been taught by his friend how to create an avatar and is now showing a girl what to do:

The children have a wide range of apps on the device as a major part of the research is simply to look at which apps support learning and whether the smaller device is more or less effective than the larger:

Some children prefer the smaller device as it fits in their hand better, the child in the video above chose the iPod rather than the iPad and told me that was the reason. What is very clear from all of the video clips is the level of concentration that is going on. One of the children in the clips is normally very excitable, especially on the playground where they are often in trouble. In this context they are all very calmly working, often in collaboration or with a level of respect of what other children are doing. To be fair, this particular setting always has an excellent ethos in this respect but the teacher told me that these devices very much help that.

A lot of the children enjoyed the pelmanism based game “Preschool Memory Match”. What was astonishing was the level of challenge they chose to take on. The basic setting has 12 blocks to work with, the clip below shows one of the children systematically using a the setting with 100 blocks:

Although he didn’t continue his systematic approach across the whole board, he often came back to that way of working with a great degree of success. He also developed a technique where he tricked the game by hitting six or seven blocks at once with his fingers so he could see more at one time. I rarely see children of this age so absorbed by such a mentally challenging task in other more traditional contexts. The beauty of it is also that he isn’t simply cocooned in what he is doing, it becomes something that he points out to other children and has pride in. He earlier worked on Epic Citadel, which I’d not used with children of this age before but it was clear that he was very adept at navigating round:

He spoke to me at some length about how he had found certain locations and how he liked to explore further.

Although the research is open, the focus of the project is to look at CLL and how the devices can support this. Some of the apps were chosen specifically for this purpose. The most popular phonics app seems to be Hairy Letters (my 2 year old also loves it) which is often the app of choice for the children. The phonemes are about as good as we have sen on any app and there is a choice of tracing letters as well as building CVC words. One of the children kept getting the tracing wrong…on purpose…because because it made the character “bottom burp”, although he didn’t use those words!

Most of the children were choosing the word building game aspect of the app and it seemed that they were very confident with this level of challenge. The teacher remarked that it would be nice to have a level with blends, trigraphs etc. The boy in the video was whizzing through those examples but watching him longer term it was fascinating to see him voicing the sounds as he touched on each grapheme, then putting it all together to make the word.

The last clip (there were more but I have been ruthless!) demonstrates how easily the children get to grips with an app. I showed the boy WeeMee and set it to make a boy avatar. Look at the screen at the very end of what he has made and look at the image below, which shows what he started with approximately 3 minutes earlier. He went on to make four avatars.

Learning to Play

Mrs J and myself have just visited a primary school to cast an eye over how the teachers feel they are getting on exploring the use of ipods and ipads. The project runs for this term and has placed 2 ipods and 2 ipads in the EYFS of five schools. The focus is loosely to look at how the devices support CLL but also to assess how the devices fit into the setting. Which is better for which sort of task? Which apps are the most helpful for different tasks? Which apps need creating!? We hope to have as many questions as answers by the end of the project.

Our first setting visit was really interesting. The reception class were using an ipad in small groups led by a teacher with a TA support. The children made a small composter from a plastic bottle. The ipad related task was to record the steps to making the composter and turn it into a story for Nursery to watch. The first example is below:

What emerged for me was that the use of the pad helped to focus the children on the task. The physical task was mainly taken outside, the children then came back in to make the actual video. The app they used was Storyrobe, which is a fantastic way of sequencing any set of videos or photos with a voice over. The fact that the children were reviewing the steps that they had just done was also an added benefit. It was lovely to see the children using very logical language, e.g., “after that, finally…” to structure the overall piece.

We then moved to the younger end of the EYFS where the children were using the devices for adult directed tasks. The teacher spoke about the children playing with the devices and that is maybe the important progressive step before using them for more structured tasks in the older end of the setting. They use the book apps, Little Red Riding Hood and the Going to Bed Book is popular too. One child was using Draw Stars whilst sat with a TA:

Note the language interaction between the child and the adult, he describes how some of them “get bigger” and he controls his device by shaking to start again. He needs to be shown how to restart the game when he accidentally comes out of it. It is interesting to watch him almost feel the texture of the stars and try to manipulate the way that they spin. I showed the video to the teacher in the room and she remarked that that child in particular had difficulty with fine motor control. Interesting after watching the clip….