Reflective and proud

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 at 13.17.07Just spent the morning with the ever wonderful children at Green Gates Primary. I suggested last week to the Year 6 children that the device would be an ideal way of keeping a record of their work in one place, a portfolio of achievement as it were. They took me at their word. The link below takes you to a folder full of images, pdfs and the like that they currently have on their pods. As they achieve something or finish a piece of work it is now common practice for them to add it to their portfolio. This is a brilliant example of the data hoover and second brain dichotomy at work. More than that it requires the children to re-engage with a piece of work and often add a comment themselves, something that is often missed in a traditional “work in books” classroom setup.

Sample of reflective journals

They are only a sample but it is clear that there are already different levels of recording going on, something that the teacher will pursue with the learners over time – what works best for them. Their portfolios are stored on their devices as work in progress but also as finished PDFs which sit on their bookshelf in iBooks. This will obviously be updated as the projects are continued.

Keeping up

I have been working with a diverse range of situations over the last few weeks and I hope my brief discussion below helps to identify useful techniques that may apply to your own use of mobile devices from the outset.

The key to effective use is to identify how they help us to learn. That is always the focus of my first session with a group of new users and it is a theme I continually revisit. The idea of the data hoover that becomes your second brain is paramount and is the reason for using it is documented at length elsewhere in the archives of this blog. One class that I am supporting is in an unusual situation that is now becoming more common; the children have used the devices with a keen teacher the year before and have now come into a class where the teacher has no experience of them at all. I have tackled this in a number of ways:

  • Little and often sessions for the teacher so that she has time to integrate an idea into her existing practise before being introduced to the next
  • Open forum with the children to identify what helps them to learn when using the devices
  • An openness with the class that the teacher needs their help to make the best use of the device for learning
  • Off the peg ideas with demonstration for things like “handing out a picture and receiving descriptive work back” – ipod style!
  • Focussed discussion with the teacher whilst the children are doing a task so that it forms the “director’s commentary” to the lesson she is watching
  • Additional focussed time with the teacher outside of the classroom to consolidate what she thinks she has found useful and what she feels she needs more of in a less public setting – i.e., not in front of the class
  • Begin each support session specifically addressing an issue that has arisen since the last in school support session

This range of techniques to support the teacher has been developed over a number of years and a LOT of experience. I find it helps support teachers who are really keen to use the devices and have even been the instigator to acquiring them….to the teacher who has inherited them and would possibly like one less thing to worry about. I use the same openness with the children regardless of whether or not they have used the devices before in school, 20 odd minds, focussing on “How can this help us learn?” are vital in making the integration of devices as effective as possible.

To give some context, this week the teacher I was supporting had had some problems writing a newspaper article in Mental Note as it went over three pages when it became a pdf – which looked daft. I addressed that with the children straight away and several suggested what I had had thought, Strip Design is a far better tool for organising a page with multiple text boxes and possibly fonts and images. So we spent 5 minutes just demonstrating that…some children led parts of the demo too. Knowing that allows the teacher to make appropriate decisions going forward in terms of which app to use to produce which format of a finished piece. She immediately identified to the children several future uses for the app for types of writing that they had been working on.

That is important, the devices are there to support and enhance what teachers do well. You do not sit there with a device “what can I do with this?” there lies madness. You sit there, plan the work the children will do and identify opportunities for the devices to enhance that experience. That i what I am doing on Tuesday afternoon now that she has had several short and sharp in class support sessions. We will sit and look at her planning, possibly for January, to identify how we develop the use of the devices to enhance the learning experience. As they are going to be studying Ancient Greece as their main topic I can already see how research into the Olympic Games will allow eyewitness news reports via the Green Screen Studio app live from Olympia circa 500 BC!

Over and Out

Although written a little after the event this post is focussed on my third and final visit to the children and loan ipods at St Paulinus. As part three of the starting from scratch series of lessons I hope it shows how little input can produce such a massive impact.

I must admit I indulged myself for the first ten minutes in asking the children their reasons for having an ipod for learning (I was careful not to say “in the classroom”), my notes are screen shot below:

It is interesting to note that they focussed their answers on mainly literacy and numeracy and how the device supports this. The comment about downloading apps at home referred to some of the maths games that they had used in class. Remember, they were using loan kit so were not taking them home, this was a frustration for them they told me. There is an answer to that below…

So what did we do for the last lesson?

Well, I wanted to reinforce the way that the devices support effective classroom pedagogy. So I started by using the Hobbit Movie app (Free) to show the children the 360 panorama of Hobbiton. I asked the children to discuss in pairs who lived there, in fact they had to be more precise than that. I settled the view on one hobbit hole with a clear view of the front door and the front garden. I asked the children to pick out things that they could see in the picture to act as evidence for who lived there. So for example:

overgrown lawn – someone who doesn’t come home very often

The children were asked to pick out five features. The learning focus here is on settings, not one blade of grass will appear on that film set if it isn’t needed. Someone has made that setting to create an accurate impression of the person who lives there – several meetings and a lot of biscuits came up with what we are presented with! How do the devices support this? The image was on the board but it was also taken as a screenshot and emailed to the children (if I’d prepared it in advance this might have worked better through uploading it to the Skydrive as the image was quite large and took a few minutes to load up on the devices via Mail). By doing this the children were able to get up close and personal with the image, zooming in for greater detail. They then used a range of ways of recording their ideas. Some inserted a “zoom” on an identified feature into Mental Note then wrote their idea below it, repeating a different “zoom” for each feature. Others simply inserted the picture and wrote their ideas below. Some even identified a feature by jotting a number next to it on the inserted picture (with the pen tool – I may have led some to that way of working…) and then used a key below the picture to write what each “number” suggested. It was all about children learning to organise their thinking. I repeated the task using the other panorama viewer, the inside of the Hobbit Hole to reinforce the way of working. In all cases the children had to work together. Interestingly, the emailed picture took a while to get through to some of the devices so the children simply went up to the board at the front of the room and photographed it there.

Really simple after that, I turned the task the other way around. Each pair of children was given a character (whispered in their ears – e.g., Cinderella). They had to write down five objects that would appear in the character’s house if we walked in and looked around.
Ok, I know the spelling was a bit dodgy (to say the least!) but these are children who often struggle to know what to write when asked to “write the setting for a story”. Grammar and building these ideas up into sentences is the next step but the children now have a strategy, a place to start when opening a narrative piece. The details of the setting are relevant rather than “it was a nice sunny day” because it is something that paints a picture. Identifying key features to base your setting around, drawn from the character who is in the story, makes writing more meaningful and engaging. I then asked the children to upload their finished writing (screenshot then skydrive as it is easier to flick from one to next than via Mail) so that we could have a quick quiz and discussion around meaningful information in a setting as a plenary to the lesson.

The lesson focus was clearly on literacy yet we could see where the device made that lesson more effective from both the teacher and child point of view. The stimulus could be delivered into the palm of the children’s hands, they had alternative ways of manipulating information to suit them, they were able to feedback info to the teacher and in fact the rest of the class. The teacher was fairly hands free for much of the lesson in the sense that the majority of the time was focused on all children talking and working together. I only stopped them when we needed to clarify a point or move the learning forward. If I had done that with a big screen at the front it would have been more teacher led with children feeding back individually more often one at a time. The fact they could easily hand in their work to a secure place that the teacher could access with minimum effort (it is an app on the iPad with a direct path to the iPod work) was the icing on the cake. I could use it to review the learning in the lesson, children could see each other’s work and learn from it and I could even walk out the classroom and access it either at home or back at our office. In fact, the uploaded images here have just been downloaded from the Skydrive as all the work is still there.

I mentioned above the frustration about stopping learning at 3pm in an iPod sense. Well, the school held a parent meeting last night where I talked to the Y4 parents about what we had been doing with the class and why we wanted it to continue. I think every parent in the room agreed that it was educationally a big advantage to their children and that bringing a device home to continue that would be even better. There were questions around types of device and how they might work, safety and so on but as a group they were very positive. They have been asked to go away and think about contributing to a scheme that will allow their children to have their own school iPod that they will also be able to bring home as well. The school where the other set of iPods were loaned out last term have also done the same thing. In fact, I have yet to work with a school where following a loan and my regular support, they have not then gone on to get their own devices. This may sound like bragging but it is simply a fact and maybe owes more to the fact that we are doing this with the correct educational approach than my personal magnificence! lol

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……

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.

Eyes on the Horizon

My voice may have given up but at least I’m enthusiastic!
I had my second session with the Year 3 class at Lockwood Primary. I was met at the door by the ever enthusiastic Headteacher who was full of examples of how he had seen both the class teacher Miss Easby and the teaching assistant Miss Langley doing fabulous work with the children. He described how they had used them for PE to improve balance shapes by taking photos of each other and reviewing their work (when I was a boy only elite athletes got to use photo and video to improve their technique!), and several had made comic books all about themselves as part of the PSCHE sessions. Speaking to the teacher they had also been using them in literacy for writing notes. It goes to show that when teachers understand how the device supports what they already do – then makes it even more effective for learning, then you can very quickly integrate them into a classroom.
So how?

Well this is week 2 of them having the pods on loan, see the Launching from Scratch Category for week 1!

I didn’t want to go in and simply show them apps, that really is not a long term sustainable model and really misses the way that the devices most effectively support learning. What I wanted was to get the children used to using information from one app to support another. So the device acts as the data hoover, bringing in information then becomes the second brain where the ideas can be manipulated, stored for reference or repurposed for an audience (even if just for the teacher to mark). So, we focussed on four key apps, Strip Designer, Epic Citadel, Mental Note and Mail.

The children were first shown how to make a sticker of themselves in Strip Designer. I suggest all users of the app do this so that when it comes to producing a piece of writing they have stickers of themselves ready to insert. What became apparent was that having to come out of the app, go to camera and take a photo of themselves, then go back to the sticker option was a step too far, too soon for many of the class. They didn’t have the mental map to be able to switch from one app to the other and then go back. I was pleased with this in some ways as it showed that it is a key skill to continue to focus on that users need in order to make best use of the device. So, we supported them through that (some of the children got it first time so they became roving teachers) and realised that this was something to continue to focus on.
I then asked the children to visit Epic Citadel. I quickly demonstrated via the projector and let them have a five minute “play”. They were asked to take a screen shot when they found something interesting (I told them I wouldn’t show them how to do the screen shot…whilst showing them how to do it – so they all remembered….if that makes sense!).

Once they had screen shot something they were then asked to go back to Strip Designer and add it to a page, then add the sticker they made previously. It sounds laborious but I will guarantee that the vast majority of children in the classes that I’ve worked with using these apps over the last few years would do it in seconds. In fact, many did, it struck me that some were really starting to feel their way around how one thing could be used in another. This problem is compounded with the loan kit as the children only use the devices for specific purposes in school. Where children take their devices home they learn this “mental map” in their own time – very quickly I find.

Right, we had a picture, with a sticker of themselves on it. I then showed the picture I had screen shot of the statue in the Abbey in Epic Citadel. Using some of the techniques that the brilliant Tim Rylands had used during his work at Normanby last year, I recreated the story of the statue and the people who lived around it. This generated lots of talk. Soooo, I “hoovered” some of that talk into a list of ideas on my pad (that was being projected to the class), which I then emailed to the children. The joy of 22 “pings” around the class meant that the wireless was working and that they could then continue the work themselves. I used Mental Note to make the list as it is my preferred note taking app. It allows easy access to my notes and it is easy to send work to others. I asked the children to open the text I had sent them, select one of the ideas about the statue then copy and paste it into Mental Note. I demonstrated before I let them touch the devices. They were then expected to write a couple of sentences explaining their choice.
I was aiming to develop that skill of using data from one app to support another. As I said, I use Mental Note for playing around with writing – then I can paste it into Strip Designer or whatever when I have edited it to how I want it.

I was really pleased that the children had little difficulty with moving text from their mail into Mental Note, and then emailing it to me to show me! This whole process from start to finish took the morning session. It is about as app intensive as I ever get with the devices as it is specifically aimed at developing those interoperability skills that will become vital across most of the apps and situations that they will meet as learners.

As a flourish I also quickly made a Morfo of the statue (they didn’t know) and played it to them.
The teacher liked the idea and I believe used it this morning as their morning task. She copied me into an email:

To recap:

  • We focussed on interoperability between apps
  • We started to develop moving from one app to another as second nature
  • We learned to screen shot
  • We learned to copy and paste
  • We started to send and receive work (some children started sending their work to each other

On leaving the school, the Headteacher grabbed me to plan when we offer devices for the children on a permanent basis (with some parental contribution).

Anchors away

Schools are back and I have a few weeks now of supporting the schools with the loan kits to get under way. Two primaries in two days, an iPod per child, one is a Year3 class, one is Year 4.

For those of you starting off with kit for the first time, I’ll just run through how I approached it in terms of supporting the teachers:

Before I give the children any kit I ask them to focus on why they would want to use an iPod/iPad, how will it help them learn? I think starting from this point of via helps them to focus on class use effectively. I also explain to them how the device acts as a data hoover and then becomes their second brain (see previous posts). This approach seems to strike a chord with the classes I have been working with and several have referred to activities that we did in those terms, during the ensuing sessions.

I then let the children “play” with them for about ten minutes with two rules in place:

1. They find out as many things as possible
2. They whisper their findings to children on their table

I do this to get some of the “fiddling” out of the way and it does sam to work quite well. I also establish that when I am talking, unless I says otherwise, I won’t see an iPod in a hand or turned on. This takes some time to get right but pays off over time. I actually make this “deal” in the terms, “I’ll talk less and let you do more if you be very attentive when I do have to stop you”.

I also try to establish that if you have a question about how to do something on an app, the teacher is the LAST person to ask. This works very well and allows the teacher to focus on teaching.

So with loan kit I show the children Doodle Buddy, give them all a number and they draw that number on the screen, save to camera roll, go to the camera roll and set the number as home and lock screen. Today I used a visualised to demonstrate (which was great because when I said “click here” they could all see my big finger hovering over the button) and yesterday I used a direct feed to the projector form the iPad I was using (Apple TV works just as well). I simply had to go over to the board constantly to point to what I was clicking on the pad.

This activity has two roles.
The first is to make sure that is you pick up a pod in that class and turn it on you can immediately see which number it is (where children own their own I get them to write their name). Stickers are also useful but can make the devices look a bit messy (especially after several loans in different schools).
The second is to get the children used to doing something where you use one app to do something in another app. This is really important further down the line where you want to combine graphics, drawings, notes and suchlike in different ways.

I then introduce an app that will help with the hoovering.

Mental Note (see previous posts) is my weapon of choice as a digital notepad. I refuse to tell children how to use it but set them a task that means they have to figure out how to type info, insert pictures from the camera and use a freehand “pen”. Again, this encourages the children to share expertise on what to press – don’t ask me. Of course I quickly review this at the end of their task to ensure they are all up to speed. Today’s class also sent their notes as pdfs to me via email (though we were hampered with the problems that BT are having getting the broadband to work properly in schools). This really is the next step. Yesterday I didn’t get that far with the children but showed the teacher after the session how that worked and how they could create a contact group to send a resource to all the children at once.

The last task I did in both classes was to introduce Strip Design (as your second brain’s way of presenting your hoovering). I do this by showing them how to make a page, add a photo and a speech bubble – all in one go really fast at the front. I then ask them to do one. They never fail. What immediately becomes apparent is the enthusiasm they all have to write something and the wandering about that they all do to share what they are doing and learn more…sound like how you want your classroom to be?

So that is it, about an hour and a half. I will be back in both classes in a couple of weeks to look at what they want next but between now and then I have simply asked them (and the children) to focus on how the device helps them take in, store/retrieve information and repurpose it.

I’ll keep this as a separate category to continue the story as I support them each time.

Additional:
Just received this from the teacher I worked with yesterday:
“The kids loved using the iPods today, squeebles is already a big favourite…I’ve never seen them so enthusiastic about doing their times tables!”.

Wow, this might catch on…