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.

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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.

References

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. (http://orgs.man.ac.uk/projects/include/experiment/mark_boylan.pdf)

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: http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/MobileLearningReport2012.html

Sutton Trust Website links to the Education Endowment foundation website for many links to research papers: http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/toolkit

TES Article (2013) ‘Tablets in schools double in one year’ available online at: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6339835 (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

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.

Augmentation


“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 Aurasma.map

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!

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.

Xmas fun and frolics

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

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

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

Reflective Learners

I’ve been doing a fair bit of reading of late around the idea of reflective practice. Love it or hate the idea there is definitely some consensus around the fact that if you revisit something and think about it again, you often gain a deeper understanding about it. I have always tried to put this idea into practice in the classroom. I remember becoming really frustrated when I attempted to mark significant pieces of writing alongside the children, individually. I simply didn’t have enough time in the school day yet I could see that revisiting the work with them (albeit with me guiding the discussion) made the comments and edits far more meaningful to the children.

With all of that in mind I suggested an idea today to one class where reflecting on their work could become an integral part of their day to day learning. It came form looking at the awesome app that is Storyrobe. It doesn’t do much but what it does it does brilliantly (it is discussed with some examples in the Apps section). I was getting across the point today with the Y6 class that you should rarely narrate over pictures or videos without planning, redrafting, editing and having checked your “script” first. The BBC never would so aim high. Whilst searching for examples of when you cold do it off the cuff, I suggested that children could take a photo of a piece of work that they have done then narrate over it. I suppose it is like those DVD extras you get where the director talks over the film, explaining aspects of why the film is the way it is at each point. The children could do a quick review of what they think they have done successfully in that piece, and what they feel they need more work on. That short video can then simply be added to the child’s skydrive folder where it is shared with the teacher. Done regularly this would ensure that children reflect on work they have done, often with a criteria to talk to. The teacher liked the idea and suggested it might help her marking sometimes to hear the child’s view on the work while she is looking at it, usually outside of the classroom. I haven’t suggested that the mark could come back as a narrative yet…let’s see how this works first.

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!

Getting to grips

Short post about yesterday’s visit to the steel fabricators. Grangetown Primary sent 11 children and the Deputy Head on a visit arranged by Anne Simpson to show our local children the process that is building up the regeneration of our area. The fabrication company, Hambleton Steel hosted a fantastic and really interesting morning learning about the processes that the steel goes through before becoming the new leisure centre and civic hub in the local authority. My interest, and hence this post, was grabbed as we gave the children iPods to record their visit. They hadn’t used them before for school work (some had never used one out of school either) but I gave them out on the bus as we set off and challenged them to work out how to use Strip Design to create a short review of our trip.
During the visit we were given lots of opportunities to take photos of each process. Once back on the bus I quickly used my iPad to ensure that all the children had at least seen the right icons to press to complete their task (though some had worked it out for themselves). They then spent the half hour return journey reviewing their photos and selecting what best represented what they were trying to describe. The teacher was going to follow this up in school tomorrow when she would have the group back together. I will post the results as soon as I have them!

What struck me, and it shouldn’t have surprised me, was how easily the device fitted into the visit. There was a big concern from the company that the children would be kept safe and would be moving around a potentially dangerous environment. However, the iPods only came out at key points of interest then disappeared back into pockets in between, reviewing, adding detail, embellishing their ideas…that an come later, the device was a hoover for all the information that they were getting at the time it was happening. It will fulfil its second brain function when the information is reviewed and produced for an audience.