Been busy

Apologies to readers of this blog who expect a bit more regular content but I have been beavering away on several different fronts since the last post and some of the output appears below.

I am now an official Apple Distinguished Educator following a fabulous week working with colleagues, Apple staff and guest presenters in early August. This title is also joined by being confirmed as an official Apple Professional Development trainer. This is very helpful to the schools that I work with in the UK as they get a rebate on my training costs when they buy a set of 50 iPads or more…of which three schools alone in the last week are in the middle of doing following some work I have been doing with each.

However the biggest challenge to my time has been the completion of my MA research thesis. I was told last week that it had passed as well……woohoo! I wanted to look at use of mobile devices from a slightly different perspective to the majority of research. I wanted to explore what children consider effective learning and through their discussion identify aspects of what might be termed ‘learning theories’ from the extant research. Although small in scale, the findings were fascinating and threw up almost as many questions for further research, as much good research maybe should! The thesis was written in a very specific academic style and I have no desire to inflict that on anybody (but if you do want it as a cure for insomnia please email me through the blog!). To combat this I have broken down the findings into a collection of discussion papers that I will release over the next few months.  The first is below:

Personalised Learning…let’s ask the person!

‘Schools are contributing to the upswing in the sales of tablet computers, with their numbers in classrooms more than doubling in the UK and US in the past year, figures reveal.’ (TES 23 June 2013)

Schools in the UK, in fact all across the world, are increasingly investing in tablet computers of one form or another. For some it is an iPad, for others Android phones. They see the devices as being integral to student learning in the modern age (Luckin and Clark 2013). What these devices have in common is their portability and ‘connectedness’. They tend to be instant on, connected to wireless or a phone network, rely on a touch screen interface and have battery lives that survive a day of learning (Traxler 2010). This is in contrast to what schools were buying as mobile devices five or more years ago as a ‘mobile device’ – commonly a laptop, which, although connected takes a few minutes to turn on, tends to rely on an input device (such as a USB mouse), has an ever decreasing battery life and is far less easy to carry around than a tablet or phone. Modern devices are claimed to support ‘personalised learning’ in a way that no other technology or teaching approach has managed so far (e.g., Speak Up Project 2012). So how is this possible and where is the evidence to back this claim up?

During the Summer of 2012 I undertook a small scale research project to explore how children who use mobile devices as part of their school culture view the way that they learn. Nine Y6 children who had been using iPod Touches for two years were randomly selected. It was felt that slightly more ‘mature’ users might give a more rounded picture of how the devices were used over a sustained period of time, thus minimising the ‘flashy’ effect that new technology could have on children. I also interviewed children from two schools to try and gain a perspective across two different teaching settings, potentially eliminating some of the teacher directed biases that must inevitably show. If there were underlying similar themes then it offered some strength to an argument for examples of  effective use. The research took an approach that centred on the pupil’s own perceptions of their learning. This resulted in open ended interviews where the children described ways that they use the devices both in class and at home that they felt really helped them to learn. The research was careful to identify that these definitions of effective learning were very much based on what the pupils felt was effective for them. There were no scores or tests used to ‘prove’ that the experiences they described increased their learning in a more traditional, quantitative way. There again, I am a much better driver than I was ten years ago. I could tell you lots of examples of why I am better despite not having any scores to prove it.

So that was the rationale for asking the children rather than observe lessons or interview the teachers. It was also appreciated that the testimonies of the children reflect their recollections of their experiences, not necessarily what ACTUALLY happened. In a sense that may be a pointless observation. Their recollection of what happened is probably more important in terms of what they took from previous experiences which now helps them deal with new experiences and situations which could be argued is a fundamental aspect of what ‘learning’ is.

From the mouths of babes…

So what did the children say? Well….lots and lots of things to be honest. They were asked to describe great lessons or learning experiences and try to pin down how and why the device helped them. It was fairly directed questioning but it opened up the role of the devices to lots discussion amongst the children.

One of the key factors that came up time and again, across all of the children and therefore both schools, was the idea of ‘there when I need it’. We use an analogy when teaching the children about using devices effectively of a ‘data hoover and a second brain’. The device can take in lots of different types of information and then store it in an easily accessible way as a ‘second brain’. This only works of course when the device is there whenever and wherever it is needed. The portability of the device and the battery life are both key factors in this. The fact that the devices can ‘hoover up’ text, sound and images fulfills the first role; and the ease of accessing that information when needed to further support learning is where it becomes the second brain.

One aspect of the research paper examined some of the more influential theories of how we learn to compare to what the children suggested was effective learning for them. Associationist, constructivist, social-constructivist and communities of learning were all explored as learning theories. The first three particularly emphasise the role of building learning up from experiences (though each describes the mechanisms and modes differently). They also identify that you don’t always learn things at the first attempt. It is through repeated exposure/engagement with a new phenomenon that you gradually acquire the knowledge and skills that are required in a given situation.

The children described how the device was able to store information so that they could use it for further work. It was always there when they needed it and they could more easily bring up a video clip of how they did a maths problem from three weeks ago than simply remembering. Using the Camera Roll or an app like Mental Note to easily store and retrieve self created ‘artefacts’ of information was an external support to the mental operations of linking new experiences to what had gone before. The children also described how this access to key information was also easier to share than they could do without the device. For example, one child described how they would be given a piece of writing to do on a topic. The teacher expected them to do some research then produce the work in a particular genre style, which would be the focus of the assessment. The children would then search individually but, without being asked, share information with one another to feed into their work. When asked if they used email to share the resource they replied ‘only sometimes’ as more often than not they simply found the information they needed then showed everyone else their screen. The others would then jot down what they found useful and then move on. The children were constantly working in teams to crowd source the most effective way of tackling a piece of work. This also has resonance with the idea of ‘ecologies of practice’ in a classroom environment (Boylan 2005).

In addition to the ‘in class’ work children would often email each other about work outside of lessons (though they nearly all told me that most often it would be socially related!).

So what are the implications for teachers wanting to support ‘personalised learning’ whilst also having to deliver a curriculum with specific learning goals enshrined within it?

For teachers

There are many engaging activities that can be done using a mobile device but from a learning theory point of view some of the most basic, day in and day out uses are very effective. Developing effective learners who have strategies for effective ways of learning, has been shown through many studies to improve children’s attainment and progress (e.g., Sutton Trust 2013). Mobile devices support several aspects of this metacognitive approach to learning (and teaching).

  1. There when I need it

The device acts as a data hoover and second brain and is there as an external support for my learning when the mental processes are sometimes found wanting. 1:1 devices, with a child’s own learning journey laid bare and interrogable on the screen allows the child to go back and use previous experiences to support future learning more efficiently than ‘remembering’ can.

  1. Repetition

Research by Nuthall and Alton-Lee (1993) suggested the role of repeated exposure to learning experiences was crucial in retaining what had been learned. Mobile devices allow the teacher to re-engage students with learning experiences that are personal and immediately accessible whenever they choose. For example, the children could be asked to make a short video at the end of a key unit of work to show how to ‘multiply fractions’. That experience in itself would allow the children to have access to the information on the device if they have to multiply fractions again in the future. However, if the aim is for children to be able to internalise their learning, teachers could promote re-engagement with that video at regular intervals over a period of time. This could be as simple as ‘watch the video’ once or twice a week while the teacher does the register (could be a bit dull!) or even share your video with a partner and they have to create a critique of it. This opens up the social aspect of the learning experience too.


Boylan, M. (2005) School classrooms: Communities of practice or ecologies of practices? Paper presented at 1st Socio-Cultural Theory in Educational Research, September 2005 Manchester University UK. (

Nuthall G & Alton-Lee A (1993) Predicting learning from student experience of teaching: a theory of student knowledge construction in classrooms, American Educational Research Journal, 30(4): 799-840

Speak Up Project Link:

Sutton Trust Website links to the Education Endowment foundation website for many links to research papers:

TES Article (2013) ‘Tablets in schools double in one year’ available online at: (last accessed 17th August 2013)

Traxler, J. (2010) Will Student Devices Deliver Innovation, Inclusion and Transformation? Journal of the Research Centre for Educational Technology, Kent State University 6 (1) 3-15

Download this paper as a document: Personalised learning

Back to Books!

Oh I’ve been flipping too! Following the work I saw with Year 2 at Normanby using the Jamaica iBook (now available for download from this published iTunesu course – with more to come!), I thought that the ability to collate material and give it to children in an interesting way would suit the model of support that I am providing at Badger Hill. The Y4 class have an iPad 1 between 2. It isn’t ideal but I was determined to support the teacher to get the most out of the device, integrating it to the other work that they do. The use of the iBook to access and identify information to then perhaps respond to in their exercise books fits that model (although doesn’t embrace the real learning gains from having 1:1…). I see the class for maybe an hour a week to both show the children how to use the devices and also leave the teacher with lots of transferable techniques. It is a popular model and most schools who buy my time appreciate the little and often approach.

As previous posts show, I am pretty skilled at making iBooks in iBooks Author, it is pretty easy really, but the hard thing is collating the info and getting it put together appropriately. The result of my resource for today can be found here. I wanted to show this, not for the expected adulation and applause but to demonstrate how easy it was to make. The children are studying ‘mysteries’ so I thought a book with info on the Loch Ness Monster and friends would be useful. Now here is the trick. I could have read lots of books and wrote my text for the children. Nope, too long. I went to Wikipedia and looked up Loch Ness Monster. The page is complicated and way above the reading abilities of the children though. No problem, I use the accessibility tool in Safari on my mac and click on ‘Reader’. Instantly the page is reduced to the bare bones that I needed. I copied it then pasted into the iBook. The task then was to edit the text down rather than write it from scratch. I also used the images from the page as I knew that they had creative commons licensing by being on that page. Where other images are required I used Google search settings to specifically look for Creative Commons content. I can’t vouch for it’s accuracy but it is a nod in the right direction if not a full step. The source for my work, although edited, is acknowledged in the book.

The text was still a real challenge for some of the children but that gave me the opportunity to demonstrate to them the ‘speak selection’ option and this was a real winner for many children, they attempted parts of the text that the teacher informs me they wouldn’t have previously.

As a parting shot I also showed the children that they could summarise a text and isolate their thoughts, to be collated automatically, by the notes function. The teacher was really excited by this as she could immediately see how a child could identify key information in a text, justify their choice with a text note and these be automatically collated to be emailed in. Really powerful.


“That was you wasn’t it Mr Stogdale?”

It seems my almost magical ability to conjure up a pirate to give us clues about his buried treasure only held the Year 6s attention while I went through the process. As soon as we had found the gold the questions started:

“Was that Morfo?”

“Which app did you use?”

“Can we make some?”

Yes it was, yes you can make some and we are using

I had created a set of four Auras that led the viewer to draw a cross on a map to show where the treasure  lay. It was a simple task but I wanted to show them the basics of what was possible. If you would like to follow the directions simply draw a rough map on a large piece of paper and put the trigger pictures in the positions you can see. (downloadable to print out and cut out below). Find my public channels (username is spiketown) from within the app and then choose the Pirate one. It will load my auras for you and away you go.

I actually worked with two classes today as part of the support that they buy me in for, helping the teachers and children to develop their use of the iPad minis (they have one each) to improve their learning.

The first class already had a maths task in hand when I came in, identifying properties of shapes around the school by photographing them. We augmented this task by turning their photos into Morfos which explained why a right angle was a right angle. The final step was to create a set of playing cards for each child. On these they drew unusual symbols that triggered each of the auras. It was a bit of a mashup of ideas but I wanted to try and use what they were already doing to give the task context.

The upper KS2 class were open to whatever I wanted to do so once I had finished the demo they made a simple aura for themselves based on a pirate Morfo (school topic is Pirates if you hadn’t guessed!). Once they had been through the process they began to plan a treasure hunt using triggers around school for a ‘real life’ treasure hunt. They are planning to use the Year 2s as guinea pigs to test them on.

I discussed with the teacher how the auras could be used to add detail to a display, allowing the artist to describe how they made a particular piece of work – this promotes reflective thinking in the children and this in turn supports their deeper understanding.

Pictures are below for your own attempt!

Flipping update

iBookWas wandering through a classroom last week where the teacher was using her iBooks with the children. She had been on the iBooks course a few weeks ago and, following some success with iTunesu previously, she had seen iBooks as an ideal way to get all the resources that she would normally use around her Topics into one place. In fact it allowed her to add some resources that she had previously never considered (such as 3D images). The Year 2 (6-7 year olds) children in her class were using the iBook about Jamaica that she created to identify key information then recount in their books (traditional exercise book). They were using the highlight tool to identify key words and then use these as the basis of their ‘analogue’ work. These children do not have their own device, they are a shared set, but it was clear that they immediately had mastery over the task and that they were massively engaged. I spoke to a few who said that they loved the fact that they could work at their own pace. The teacher had created a range of tasks that the children had to complete within a whole range of lessons. In fact they were at liberty to change round the order of their workload so that they could do whichever tasks they best felt like doing when it suited them. In many ways they reminded me of office workers with a huge inbox cherry picking the most interesting tasks before attacking the mundane stuff. Independent learning? The teacher’s role was much more focussed on support rather than lead, and she was actually hard to spot when I first walked in as she was doing a similar task herself alongside a small group and encouraging the discussion through that. I will get a copy of her book to upload asap but it is clear that her way of working is a real winner with the children who really enjoy being in control of their work. Her approach has also inspired the other teachers in the school to work in this way and she has been running iBooks author sessions after school by popular demand!

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:

Long time away

It has been a fair while since I posted on here last so let’s make it a good one to get things back underway!

Last year I loaned a set of five iPod Touches to a student on the Graduate Teacher Programme, Lauren. She was working in a school where children have a huge range of specialist needs. She felt that the iPods would give her the opportunity to engage with the children in a different way. And…er… they certainly did! Lauren immediately found that children were keen to talk about what they could do with the devices, exploring the range of apps that we had put on there. We had very consciously decided to put fairly open ended “productive” apps on there as Lauren felt that it would allow the children to create really amazing “products” as long as they were engaged to do so.

They certainly were.

The video shows some of the range of activities that they used the pods for during a train journey (something many of the children had never experienced before). They took films that allowed them to reconnect with the experience back in class, they took notes on Mental Note to record thoughts and ideas while in the situation, again to discus when back in class and then they even used animation and the Green Screen apps in conjunction to record the short sequences at the end.

Lauren’s reflection on the children’s use of the devices suggest that it was mainly pupils that would not engage or refuse to engage with literacy or weren’t able to easily (because of their low level writing skills) were all of a sudden enthusiastic about their ideas when given the chance to record their work, ideas and act out things as characters in animation etc. There was an enhanced desire to create work, to add to what the class was doing, and the technology enabled them to make really “professional” looking results, furthering their self esteem. The only real downside was that she had to explain to them that they had to give them back at the end of the loan period.

The picture below shows some more of the work produced and some description for parents:

Lauren iPod work

There was some fear at first that the small interface of the iPod Touch would be unsuitable for children who had issues with motor control anyway but that was quickly dispelled as the desire to use the device to communicate their ideas took them beyond that and all of the children were able to use them successfully.

Lauren has agreed to present at a conference that we are organising in the Autumn Term with more detail of how this type of technology specifically supported children with a range of needs.

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.

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……

Reality check

Let me begin this post with a simple idea: I LIKE APPLE TV IN THE CLASSROOM.

I regularly use one when working with children from 4 years old to 16. My advice is that if you have a teacher iPad or even a set of iOS devices in the room, then an Apple TV is an excellent thing to have for supporting their use.
You knew that was coming didn’t you?

I am also very concerned with gadgets being used in the classroom just because they are new, seem to be efficient and/or cool. Following a conversation last week I decided to try an experiment today in Riverdale Primary with their Year 6s. The conversation ran like this:

In our newly refurbished classroom I am going to have projectors pointing at walls that can be written on with marker pens. The teachers will control the projector via an Apple TV.

I asked if the Smartboard would then be embedded into the wall too.

No, the Apple TV will do it all

I’m paraphrasing but that was the gist. My argument was that sometimes the ability to manhandle a bit of text, or a shape, or an image is something that I value as a way of really focusing children on a key point or question. The argument back at me was that children would learn just as effectively, if not more so, by watching the image projected of what was happening on the iPad. I wasn’t convinced as I felt the distance between the teacher and the “learning focus” might be an issue.

So, I decided to get some feedback…from the children (and the class teacher who was sat with them).

I prepared a lesson where we would look at key features of a news report by photographing the reports and then annotating them, thereby creating a genre checklist. I had two copies of the story, one from The Mirror and one from the Telegraph (a bloke had nicked an iphone from a toddler in a shop). As usual, before the lesson, I created two emails that would go to all children in the class, each with one of the articles attached. I saved them as drafts for the moment when I wanted the children to look at them. One part would be done via Apple TV and one directly in a Smart Notebook. I explained to the teacher before we started what we would do and why and she thought that we should be open and honest with the children before we started to ensure that we got focussed feedback.

So, I explained the conversation I had had to to the children. It was clear from the beginning that there were strong opinions on this, some were incredulous as to why you would want to take down the board, others said they preferred the “watching the TV” experience of the Apple TV. From discussion, I went off on a tangent (nothing unusual there then). I used the Smart Notebook app on the iPad to try and create as fair an experience as possible across the two interfaces. I quickly drew up a simple addition that involved place value up to hundreds. I “taught” the technique to the children using the iPad and the Apple TV, then repeated the “teaching” stood at the whiteboard in a more traditional way. Please try and stand back from the fact that I was teaching children something that they could all pretty much do without any issue anyway. I asked them to focus on which was a more effective way of getting my point across. There was much discussion and the consensus was that the teacher stood at the front “directing the learning” was the most helpful for the majority. We took into account the fact that the image on the plasma was smaller (albeit crisper than the 8 year old projector) and that depending on where you were sat made it easier or harder to focus in.

I also threw in the idea that maybe standing at the front and introducing an idea was maybe not the best way to do it. The children actually found this funny as they were confused that you would want them to “discover” something like how to do column addition when the teacher could simply explain it to you all at once and then give targetted help to the children who might then need it. I also explained that I had often been to conferences where someone would stand in front of an audience using a presentation to teach them all at once how whole class teaching with a whiteboard was no longer of any use…..I love irony. The point often then being focussed on a whiteboard usually being used as a big projector screen. Well I am sorry that their experience of using one (I’m sure they all teach a lot) is so basic but I constantly rely on the fact that I can interact with the stuff on it to make a point, test an idea, further a hypothesis or whatever. I DO NOT use it as an opportunity for children to come up and touch it, that is a complete waste of everybody’s time.
I actually discussed this point with the children. Connor was particularly vocal about it. He agreed that someone coming up to the board top complete a sum or click the right answer was simply time wasting; as was having an iPad passed to him to do the same sort of thing via Apple TV. It was really heartening that I could have such an in depth conversation with the children about what helps them learn most effectively. I know I always used to do that with my own class (many years ago….) constantly asking them what would have made the lesson more useful for them. Try it if you don’t already.
Connor did say though that he thought children coming up to the front to explain to others was a good thing for learning. I totally agree, the children take the role of teacher in my classrooms a lot and the board helps them to give visual aids to what they are saying at the end of their fingertips…same as for the teacher.

In fact, to further investigate the idea I asked Connor to do the same type of calculation in two ways, the first using an iPad and the Apple TV with his voice essentially narrating what was happening on the screen at the other side of the room and the second doing it directly on the Smartboard at the front. This definitely changed the vote…it made it practically unanimous that the Smartboard was the most effective tool…from their point of view.

Now that is one class in one school. They use iPods day in and day out (they take them home) and have done since they started Year 5. They have an Apple TV displaying through a plasma on the side wall and a Smartboard with a dim projector at the front. They discussed this in great detail and we actually had to shut them up at the end as the bell meant they had to go home! I mentioned I would blog about the “lesson” an several immediately bookmarked this site while I wrote it on the board. They did however say that they wanted to have an Apple TV facility as it was great for sharing work (from the camera roll on their ipods) and sometimes for when the teacher wanted to show, or allow someone to show, something useful on the iPad, But given the choice two preferred to use the Apple TV, the other 23(? and the teacher!) were vehement that day in and day out the Smartboard helped them learn more effectively, particularly when an explanation was involved. I would welcome comments from anyone who has a view on this.

Can I just repeat: I LIKE and RECOMMEND Apple TVs in the classroom but want people to really think hard about how they most effectively support learners. A Smartboard (other IWBs are available) offers more effective opportunities for teachers and learners (and when the roles are reversed) when explaining or manipulating ideas. The Apple TV offers excellent sharing possibilities that the Smartboard does not and mirroring of the iPad when that is really useful for the class to see. But please be discerning about how they are used!

Hmmm, think I’ll buy a new tin opener now it has bits of worm on it….

Let It All Hang Out

Friday was a fantastic day here at I2L as we had an open day to showcase lots of the resources that schools can buy into. Although our centre is based in Redcar and Cleveland we now are able to offer facilities to ANY school who would like to use us. 20121002-103303.jpg

Helping us to showcase what we have available were the fantastic Year 6s from St Paulinus. They were split into three groups and experienced taster sessions of what can be achieved here. As ever we practise what we preach here and each child was expected to use an iPod (they currently have one of the loan sets from the centre anyway) to make notes and observations about the day. They were then expected to immediately blog their photos and observations onto a specially set up wordpress blog. In reality this didn’t happen as we quickly discovered that too many devices logged on to the same wordpress account simply doesn’t work.
We need to look at this for future events as setting up a full blown account for individuals probably isn’t what we want to do! Anyway, they used Mental Note to record their day with photos and comments and simply emailed them to me as they arrived back in school. The Year 6 teacher is going to spend some time with them this week using their notes to write more detailed blog entries, obviously focussing on purpose and audience. This use of the iPods to hoover data in while in a “situation” then reflect on it later, expand, edit and so on is probably the killer app that gets missed in all the lists on the web. It doesn’t really matter what actual app you are using, it is the fact that you are recording your thoughts and possibly images for revisiting later.

Highlights seem to have been everything! The touch screen PCs, the immersive room (three walls projected), the 3 camera studio setup and the drama activities all got a mention as well as the fantastic LEGO challenge work led by Stuart Nimmo. We had lots of visitors who came and saw the possibilities and several expressed an interest in taking over the whole centre for the day for a larger group of children. All possibilities are possible…as it were. If you want to use our facilities or expertise, you can email or tweet me from the addresses at the top right of the blog.