Cake icing

photo%201Posts on here have been somewhat few and far between recently as I have been busy training schools all over the place. Luckily I was back at base for the visit of Mike Hughes running an INSET day for a cluster of our local schools. The title of the day was ‘From good to outstanding’ which Mike articulated more accurately as ‘Adding the icing to the cake of teaching’. Much of his focus centred on identifying how teachers can promote effective dialogue around their learning. This taps into a socio-constructivist theory of learning. Sound familiar? Yes his examples of what makes outstanding teachers exactly mirrors what my research thesis concluded. Effective, focussed talk in participatory groups where the learners have responsibility to be part of the endeavour. There is a combination of both socio-constructivism and the features of communities of practice at play here.

In fact I would humbly suggest that Mike’s focus on activities that engage students (and teachers on the day!) can only be further enhanced when every student has an iPad. For example, when students are given a task where they have to collaborate on ideas taken from a text, Mike used a diamond nine activity as a frame for students to rank their ideas in terms of importance to a theme.He suggested use of post-Its so that decisions could easily be revised, reworked and reordered as discussion ensued. It makes explicit in front of the students what is being mentally manipulated. How would an iPad help this? Explain Everything would allow the same activity of course on a slide. Is this any better though from a learning point of view? I would argue that it is. The post-It activity is pretty much confined to the here and now. A slide on EE can be saved and revisited whenever the student needs to go back to the material. It can include further information such as images, video and weblinks. It can begin to ad the flesh to the bones that is the diamond nine. It can also be reworked on a duplicate slide so that the students can see the effect of rearranging ideas whilst retaining the original layout. Mike spent time discussing the virtue of metacognition – another theme that will be familiar to readers of this blog. In EE a student can add a soundtrack to a slide, describing their thinking, their strategy for the work. This is an excellent way for a teacher to include review in the ‘learning process’. Review that is planned to be revisited, that is key. Doing a review of how and why you did a piece of work is a reconnection to that learning and is a powerful tool but add to that revisiting your own thoughts on a piece of work three weeks later as your understanding of a subject has moved on. It offers unprecedented access to your own thoughts as they were at the time, so you can see where your own thinking has moved on. How often have you written something then gone back to it several weeks later and it is like something that someone else has written? But go back to that document and listen to your own description, given at the time of writing, that explains why you wrote it that way. Build in peer review to that, external views on strategies used and how well they met the objectives of the work and you are building a powerful metacognitive learning approach to learning in your classroom.

photo%202-1I  left Mike’s training with a powerful sense of vindication as he is a very respected international trainer who was advocating the exact approach that my training model and research indicate is most powerful for effective learning. In some ways I also feel that the added opportunities that a personal iPad allows can take this model further than it has ever been practically possible to before. One off lessons with iMovie or Garageband are fab. They motivate children and allow the metacognitive approach to learning happen in each instance but it is only when a device is personal and ubiquitous that the real power of the devices for long term deeper learning can be accessed.

Look no hands….well, wires anyway!

I have written previously on this blog about my shift to using iPads for film making over and above movie cameras. Working from the I2L Centre means that we often do have groups here to use high end cameras and explore film making in some detail. However, a lot of the students who come here for a ‘movie day” have had little previous experience of camera use or film production. I have found the use of iMovie invaluable for this is it scaffolds some of the technical process without getting in the way of camera techniques.

For example, we had a fantastic group of Y8 and 9 students a week or two back who wanted to do a film making day, they had done very little previously. I wanted them to activate the implicit understanding of how a film is shot by making it explicit through choice of shot. By using the trailer option in iMovie they were able to do just that. The scaffold of the shot length (and suggested focus) along with pre-designed titles and audio meant that the students only concern was to ensure that the shots were strung together coherently (basic storyboarding) and shot appropriately (choice of shot). The camera on the iPad minis that they used is plenty good enough to allow the students to explore this. Purists would of course argue that there is little option to zoom, properly tilt and pan etc etc etc but that is not the point at this stage in my opinion. This example is typical of their first attempts:

You can see that it immediately draws of genre pointers in the scaffold but also I asked them to think very carefully about choice of shot, distance to the subject, what is included etc. They are clearly drawing on their own understanding of what the film needed to include.
Once they had successfully made their trailers (and watched them), I took the straightjacket off. The afternoon task was to make a new movie in iMovie (as a project) with a vague title of “The Arrival”. Some groups changed this slightly but stuck to the theme:

We had talked at length when reviewing their trailer work about use of light and lack of vision for the audience and this group took that forward into their final piece. I had also used the opening sequence from Once Upon a Time in the West as a stimulus to the task and you can see the Leone-esque style they have applied to aspect of this.

Taking the idea of “gore looks rubbish on a budget” even further the following group went for a less is more approach. There are one or two dodgy sound effects in here but the choice of shot and grammar of the piece hangs together pretty well for the genre:

And finally we see the most abstract offering from one group. I was incredibly impressed that instead of following the crowd and the obvious story for the title, they took a completely different approach:

The shots were simply framed and really their film from that point of view has little to focus analysis on but the concept here is everything and I liked the fact that they went so bold on what they decided to do.

So what can I draw from the experience? The lack of scrabbling around for the correct lead to put the captured images onto a “proper computer” is a massive help and the quality of the images is absolutely fine for the tasks that they were doing. Comments from the students tended to follow this one “this is the best day at school ever”. I don’t think it is simply because they were having fun (but they were as it happens). There were moments during the day when the pressure was on o get their video finished and shots were not working as they had intended. They had to problem solve where shots needed to “look and feel” a particular way and they could not simply work alone, everything was based around team work. They have now had an excellent grounding in getting a film made, encountering some of the common problems that crop up in the filming stage. They are now ready to go back to the process and start to storyboard more closely, look at film genres to explore using stylistic techniques in their own work and improve their awareness of how a script contributes to the piece. They can do most of that on an iPad or maybe explore actual use of “proper” cameras but the experience that they have had so far has given them a flying start and I would argue is plenty good enough quality to be of use across any subject, not just Media: