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

A new way of thinking….are we flipping crazy?

ibooks_authorThere has been a lot of discussion in recent months about the concept of the flipped classroom. I listened to Microsoft’s view of it today at the launch of their 365 service. The idea is that the teacher removes themselves as the barrier between the students and the “learning”, taking more of a support role as issues occur. I have some fundamental issues with this “new” concept.

Really good teachers have always had the flexibility to both lead learning and work in a support role. Even bound by the constraints of the curriculum and expectations such as the Literacy Hour I would be very confident in saying that the flipped classroom has been alive and well but maybe just considered part of good practice  without rearing its head as a “technique” for many years. I will give an example.

I started teaching the year that the Literacy Strategy was introduced. Although a young and inexperienced teacher, I quickly realised that binding children to such time limited, and teacher support limited, activities did not help the vast majority of children to enjoy their literacy lessons. Furthermore it made it almost impossible to be creative with teaching approaches. If children were really into a fantastic piece of writing, possibly inspired by a film clip  or an interesting international event then the structure stopped them dead in their tracks. Its aims were good, to ensure rigour and progression in what was taught but it went about it in completely the wrong way. My first school had a very strong Headteacher, Phillip McElwee, and he made it clear that he backed us all to use our own professional judgment to vary our approaches in response to the children. Sometimes direct teaching is really useful and sometimes giving children the materials (which are often teacher created or selected anyway to scaffold the learning) and supporting them through their work.

The use of devices has radically altered what is possible in this way. Access to materials is the most obvious factor as a million learning opportunities can sit in the palm of every student’s hand. Fantastic? Hmmm it can be, but I am reminded of my science tutor when I was training to be a teacher. He made the point that you can ask students to do lots of experiments to “discover” things that can easily be explained in about five minutes. Do children always need to have gone through the processes that the discoverers of oxygen or the laws of gravity to say that they have learned it? There is a balance, of course their is but if we look at the Lavoisier example from a constructivist view of how we learn then the place of the experimental “proof” maybe changes. Explaining the theory around what oxygen is, telling the story of its discovery, gives the students a mental construct of what they are looking at so when they do the experiment it has somewhere to “fit”. doing the experiment first places far more of a strain on the process of assimilation as there may be no mental framework in which it sits easily. Does that produce deeper learning as students want to know more or does it simply disinterest the student as not fitting their experience or even fit in with an incorrect understanding as enough facts of the phenomena are consistent.

 

This may seem a very technical argument but it is at the crux of flipped classroom concept. Simply saying to students “here’s the stuff, get on with it, yell when you are stuck” potentially leads to that situation. This is exacerbated if the students entirely led their own learning interests. Again, there is a balance. Why am I rambling on about this?

Last Thursday I hosted a day at the Inspire2Learn centre to teach a group of teachers who all have access to iPads in their classrooms how to use iBooks Author. The app is free to download as long as you have at least version 10.7 on your mac OS. It allows teachers to create books. Big deal, teachers can do that in loads of ways…however these books have distinct advantages. Yes you can add pictures, text, even video into the pages which make them full of “Wow”, but that is not what catches the eye. The teachers who attended could do that within about 5mins of my input (if they hadn’t already done it themselves anyway!), what we took time to focus on is how an iBook could support the practice in class. Where does the book sit? As a textbook for a course? As a support alongside what happens in the lessons? As a repository for all the other resources that we don’t have time for in lessons. I hope that some of these questions are answered by the work that the teachers do back in class with their creations.

We spent a lot of time simply discussing these issues, and also use of widgets. Widgets are fabulous little things that can ad such a different dimension to an iBook. Yes there are the wow ones (like the 360 panorama widget) but something as simple as a scrolling side bar widget allows a page to hold a lot more content, in context, than could previously have been done. This isn’t simply convenient, it fits with a huge amount of research based around situated learning and how meaning is heavily influenced by context and the expectations that an audience brings to that context.As teachers we need to think about this sort of research to enhance our use of iBooks, not simply saying “it can add more detail”. A sketchpad widget within a page allows a student the opportunity to create or label a diagram and then send it back to the teacher from within the book, again keeping the learning in the context in which is it created.

Something as simple as the browser widget is a godsend. Why is that important? We can add weblinks to any book, document…even an email…so what? It is massive, the book opens the webpage, it doesn’t go off to Safari and all of the distractions (the youtube widget does the same), it stays within the book so when you close it you are still in the book. Simple yet a huge help, imagine using Guided Access with this for certain situations on shared pads?

We do have some unanswered questions though. I mentioned some above relating to how it fits within the classroom context. Also, when do you ask the student to do activities within the book and when do you offer them maybe a gallery of pictures and ask them to create a presentation in an app of their choice. I don’t know if there is a definitive answer as every situation os different and teachers are the killer app that make the difference, judging when to do what. However, an iBook is a finished artefact (although you can update it) and that means that some of these decisions need to be made when creating the book and defining its role in a scheme of work.

The teachers who attended were very complementary in their feedback for my input during the day (as a teacher I used my professional judgement of when to tell and when to…..lol) but I will be pursuing them over the next few months and hopefully reconvening the group to really pin down where the book sits within the classroom context. Armed with that sort of information future users of the app will not have to discover it all for themselves but will have some guidance as a starter for ten…isn’t that where this post started?

Example of iBook from the day:

HERE