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.

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Over and Out

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

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

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

So what did we do for the last lesson?

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 Top Apps I Really Can Live Without

Sorry, couldn’t resist!

I actually appreciate the constant tweets that declare the opposite of my title but I must admit I now tend to ignore a lot of them. That isn’t because I feel I have mastered every app I will ever need on the devices, or indeed know the full range of possibilities. The reason is simple, as a teacher I use tools and ideas as need arises. The need might be a new and extra way of practising Times Tables, or it may be a way of children being able to store information they have gathered….but those decisions are rooted in the needs of the learner and how the curriculum that they are expected to engage with.

What has become VERY clear across the vast range of settings and age ranges that I have had the privilege to support and work in over the past few years is that there are several killer ways of working that are fundamental to effective learning with the devices. Raising attainment, motivating learners and developing personalised ways of working – these are all a result of a few simple aspects of using the devices….a huge range of apps is irrelevant. I spent some time with leading teachers from both Riverdale and Normanby Primary schools last week where we discussed effective classroom practice. Apps took a bit of a back seat for much of the discussion, ways of working were far more important. I made the comment at one point that I would still push for the devices in my classroom if they only had wireless, the mail app and the ability to take notes. Again, the reason is simple, at a very basic level these few elements mean that children can collaborate, access information and repurpose it. Fit that in with Vygotsky and Bruner and how humans actually learn, and you are on to a winner. Of course, before you start quoting research at me, it is not QUITE as simple as that, but it isn’t far off. Think about the last time you learned something and think how well it would have happened without collaboration or access to information or the ability to manipulate that idea into your own way of thinking. Did you use all three? Two of the three? Yes I know collaboration and access to information could equally apply to someone like a teacher telling you something but that maybe highlights how intertwined these ideas are.

The devices support these three elements massively. Let us compare a “traditional” lesson with a device enabled lesson.

In the traditional lesson the teacher stands at the front and tells the children what they will learn about and then most likely will demonstrate some examples on a board. They did this because it is an efficient way to quickly set the learning focus for all of the children and demonstrate the skills or describe the knowledge that the children will learn. I have no problem with this as a way of working. That is a very unfashionable thing to say nowadays but I stand by it. Walk into a Y3 class, give them some self study materials about how to do decomposition, then support small groups as needs arise and see how effectively that class learns how to do it compared to the class next door where the teacher supports the children through demonstration followed by small groups support where appropriate. Anyway, I’ll plough on as you have no doubt stopped reading now or are preparing your vitriolic responses to this paragraph and want more ammo…

So the learners in the traditional classroom have now got some idea of what the teacher wants them to learn and then will be asked to do some activities that allow them to practice what they have learned, or demonstrate new knowledge (or a combination – but mainly for assessment purposes). The work is done maybe on whiteboards or jotters as playing with ideas or directly into an exercise book. The teacher and other adults will probably work with a focus group to support this activity. The work will be handed in but some maybe be used for a plenary (via a visualiser, or child demonstrating an example) or the teacher may recap the main points with contributions by the children. The books will be marked at some point to lead on to the following lesson. That a reasonably typical description?

Let’s put a mobile device into the hands of each child in the room and replay the lesson. The teacher starts the lesson, possibly from the front again (easy tiger…put it in the critical comments) to set the agenda for the lesson. Just a note, in this or the traditional lesson this doesn’t have to be “Our learning objectives today are…” I simply mean the teacher explains what the lesson will be focussing on, either from an outcome point of view or an activity introduction. Either way, the children are all made aware of what they will be doing. Now this is where the devices help. At any point children can take notes on a device that will follow them around…so is accessible when they might need it. That is helpful, I would take notes if I was sat there knowing I was expected to do something about what the teacher said once they stopped talking. If the teacher has a resource to show the children, such as a text or a film clip they have the option to show it via the front screen but far more powerfully they can simply email it to the children (or drop it in Dropbox or the Skydrive or whatever you use – oops two apps to consider, but Mail will work just as well). I would argue that in any classroom a text should always be introduced “at the desk” rather than expecting a mixed ability group of readers to access it from several feet away. Some children need to follow with their fingers! They do! I never expect children to read a text for the first time on a whiteboard – it has too many variable barriers to all children reading it at the pace and level of understanding that the teacher wants and they need.

The text is not only easier to access (videos are texts too!) but can be re-watched and re-examined at the individual level. Give the text with a couple of tasks written in the email and it will allow more able children to do something useful while the other children at least get through a decent pace. I have actually run several lessons purely in this way, the children then get on with the task (different groups may have got a slightly different task to allow some differentiation or simply different approaches to a topic across the class). I find in most primary classes this works once in a while but usually they also benefit from some further input at a class level and/or then group level. At all times the children have easy access to the resources (and the web at a personal level which cannot be done in the traditional classroom) and can still access the teacher as their learning guide. From this point onwards the device continues to improve the learning opportunities. The work is done on a device that will follow them, it won’t get rubbed out as on a whiteboard or sit on a shelf as with a jotter or text book. The teacher collects in the work, usually by email but again other services are available. The child leaves the room with the work in their pocket, all the resources and all the help. If homework is set or they want to do more they can continue whenever and wherever they want, learning is not bounded by the ringing of bells. They continue to have the teacher support as they can email questions in (or to each other which tends to be the first port of call in my experience) or search on the web.

Now that is a simplified comparison. It ignores the fact that the children can repurpose their ideas as a film, or a mind map or a comic book…their work can be focussed on a blog (which raises the stakes for purpose and audience). It ignores the possibility of giving them the texts prior to the lessons, or even the lessons prior to the lessons but you know what? Ten year olds rarely work like that. Teenagers don’t either. If you gave them the year’s worth of lessons in advance how many would actually do them until them until they had to? The devices support the here and now, they hoover information in and allow children that level of repurposing and access.

The possibilities are there but the realities need to be considered, motivation as ever is a key player and that is where a new app that allows children to present work in a different way or a new audience to write for IS a very useful thing, but it isn’t the be all and end all. The basics are far more important day in and day out.

The quick practise, games types apps are great, they make repetitious learning more fun (Squeebles is possibly the favourite amongst most local schools) but focus on how a connected, data hoover device that allows the learner to access their externalised learning (previous work) will create a strong base on which the classroom practitioner can build new ways of learner centric pedagogy.

Ok…shoot me down……

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.

Recording history

What a fab day with Zetland Primary school.

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The Year 6 class have been doing lots of work with the regeneration team here in Redcar and Cleveland and today they were given the opportunity to bury a Time Capsule beneath one of the iconic buildings that the council has been building.
The Hub is a striking new addition to the Redcar seafront and aims to house digital, innovative businesses when it opens next year. The children have been working for several weeks to decide what they will put in the capsule and today was the big day. Alongside dignitaries from the council and the contractors who worked to get the building from concept to reality, the children were very much part of the ceremony. You can hear what they buried and why by using this QR code:

We aimed to use the iPods to record the day. One thing that often happens when children go on school trips is that they use digital cameras to record everything. From experience I find that you end up with sd cards full of photos. What I wanted the children to do today was focus their capturing (or data hoovering as previous readers of this blog will recognise), capturing with purpose if you like. So I briefed the children before we went, they were asked to create a four cell strip design that would give them four photos to take at significant moments. Furthermore they were expected to put a text box on each picture at the time of taking it, something that they could edit when they got back to school. In practice this worked really well and the children actually spent the time when they were waiting to go to the regeneration centre to start adding more detail to their annotation.
So, asking them to focus on the key moments of what they were part of really focussed the work that they produced and gave them an excellent starting point to develop their writing about the event. In a wider sense it is like asking the children to read a text with a particular focus in mind, they were simply reading the situation with a focus in mind. They will be adding their work to their own blog in the next few days and I will link to it then.
Much of their work is also going to be accessed via QR codes that will be dotted around the outside of the building area for the foreseeable future.