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 For example, jotting down notes on a plastic whiteboard has been replaced by doing it on the iPad.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.

Schools of the now

I hear and read a lot about schools of the future, how children will be able to do this, that and the other. These discussions tend to be led by technology visionaries who espouse how the technology will transform learning. I must admit, I do have some reservations, I mean humans learn in particular ways, that is how their brains work. It is true that some of our institutional structures don’t capitalise on that to the benefit of the students but by and large students DO achieve and teachers are determined to help their students to realise their potential. What is important for us to remember when introducing new technologies and pedagogies is that we don’t simply throw out previous practice, we analyse what was effective and build in what is useful from the new practice. In many ways it fits with a constructivist pedagogy, assimilating and accommodating new understanding to what is extant.

So when we talk about schools of the future it is REALLY important to consider schools of the now.

What are effective ways of working?

Which technologies support student learning?

My work gives me a priveleged view of this. I work in schools all over the world and it offers me insight into the myriad of ways that students are being supported in their learning. I am also very priveleged in the fact that one of the most innovative schools sits on my doorstep and I work with them regularly. Normanby Primary already has a reputation nationally for the way that it has integrated technology into daily practice, Carl Faulkner the Head has won several awards individually for the way that he has led this. I recently attended a conference presentation he delivered and speaking to delegates afterwards it was clear that they were impressed with his student centred focus and his down to earth approach to dealing with issues that stand in the way of pupil learning.

I was at the school last night speaking to Sonia the technology leader and she was explaining the problem that she has got coming up in September. Following her input in a staff meeting, showing how she gives her year two (seven year old) students iBooks that she makes from all of the resources that she would normally use around a topic, staff have requested training from her. She has done that and now the majority of the staff are repurposing their existing resources into iBooks ready to use in September. The problem? There are only so many devices to go around and only having a device a couple of sessions a week doesn’t really work in the pupil centred, flipped world that Sonia is working in. This is a perfect example of where teachers have identified how new technologies can support a more effective way of learning for students (based on student feedback cross checked with assessment of the children’s work). They have taken the best of how they already work and then adapted their practice with these new opportunities. The limiting factor might now be availability of technology. But do you see the way that the technology demand is created? It follows from the pedagogy. I have often heard ‘Yeah but Normanby always buy technology, they are into that sort of thing..’ but what is missed is that Normanby react to what is effective for the students and if that is technology based then they use it, other solutions are available and are pursued.

I will highlight this point with the video below. It was submitted for a NAACE award and nicely sums up the way that the school focusses on learning and how technology supports this. It is not a school of the future, it is a school of the now.

There is also a link to the commentary version of the video HERE.

Learning is learning…isn’t it?

Having just completed a rather long essay on how ‘metacognitive’ thinking can impact on attainment I was reminded of something that one of the lecturers had said. “Learning is learning.”

By that they meant that it doesn’t matter what age you are or what the subject area is, learning is simply learning. I could go into several definitions by respected academics at this point but boredom would set in on both sides of the screen. However, I was reminded of an unusual situation I was in on the way back from supporting some schools in Kazakhstan.

On the aircraft I was surrounded by some tough looking military types who were overjoyed at the opportunity to sample the inflight hostess service. After about half an hour of this (and several wines, beers and shots) they obviously wanted to make friends….with me. Their english wasn’t great but it was a million times better than my Russian or Kazakh. We stumbled through a conversation and I gleaned that they were tank commanders in the KZ army on route to Nice for some joint training with the French. Then they asked me what I did. Obviously that is difficult to explain, I teach children, I teach adults, I help learners learn more effectively and I tend to use technology to do it. This was a strain on our lingua franca so I whipped out my iPad (luckily not the mini iPad with the mini mouse cover!) and opened Explain Everything.

I immediately tried to show how the technology helps me as a teacher or a learner to manipulate ideas (the screen shot is of my first diagram I drew for them to show

imagehow how we could look at Tank field positions and tactics.

This isn’t an area of expertise for me to be fair but immediately the guys could see how the ability to manipulate ideas, try out a solution then go back and all in a socially shared space (at 33 000ft!).

So we can debate the theory of what learning is long and hard but as a starter for ten I can say that using the device in this way immediately made sense in terms of allowing me to show how you can learn with an iPad in the most unfamiliar situations!

Collaborative Working Part II

Not quite “tomorrow” as the first post suggested but…

Home is where the learning is

Both teachers who have been using the devices in a one to one situation concurred that much of the impact of them was a result of being them being taken home. Children came to lessons “knowing” the apps so the focus of the lesson was on the output, the reason the app was used rather than how to use it. It also allowed children to spend more time on a piece of work, often sending in multiple drafts over  few days as they returned to what they had done (often because they had gone round Gran’s house to show them and had then added a bit, as an example). Allied to that was the use of games to teach key skills. Squeebles is a fantastic app that children in all the schools we work with seem to love – and it is basically a times tables drill (there are also other operation versions available too). Both teachers report that they still do drills in school but children are moving on dramatically as they are choosing to do more when they are out of lessons because ether are just games. Super 7 was also praised as a way of sharpening mental skills. The teacher who had loaned the pods for a half term reported on one girl who would refuse to do work generally and something like Times Tables practice was a complete waste of time for her…yet after half a term of using Squeebles she was turned onto maths suddenly and had made it through most of the levels. It was reflected in an improvement in her general attitude towards school.

More soon…

Mental Note

Mental Note

The device is used by children in two particularly effective ways. The first is as a data hoover, taking in text, images, or sound then allowing the children to play around with them, restructuring them, helping them to understand what the information is telling them. The device also acts as a second brain allowing the children to store key information that they could easily forget and retrieve it easily whenever they need it. Mental Note is an ideal tool for doing this very simply. Children can type in it, freehand draw or write and  insert pictures (from the camera or from the camera roll). It also has a sound recorder feature. I would say that the children in most classrooms that we work with use Mental Note as their killer app more than any other. The simple tagging system allows children to organise their work in a simple way too. This isn’t essential (but helps aid structuring of ideas) as the search tool is very effective at looking for a keyword in all the notes the children have ever written.

Children use this app for taking notes, playing around with sentences, writing longer pieces of work, annotating photos with explanations and saving wordbanks personal to each child that will improve their writing.