Today I had one of those experiences which blows you away by the nature of it’s unexpected success. We used Twitter to connect and bring two oil riggers, each on opposite sides of the world, live into our classroom.

To back track slightly – as part of our Diamond Decades topic, this week we are learning about the 70s. On Monday we watched a video about the 1970s and amongst the strikes, 3 day week, no electricity etc we watched an oil rig being installed in the North Sea. The children were fascinated and following some discussion, beyond knowing somehow it got oil and thought it would be like a cruise liner inside – they didn’t really know much more.

That evening thought it might be an idea to follow up this child-led interest and see if some ‘experts’ could answer a few questions. I tweeted the following.

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 19.07.16

Thanks to all the people who retweeted – we got a good few offers of help. These included current riggers, an ex-rigger who lived and worked on a North Sea rig in the 1970s, as well as a Year 5 class in Norwich, many of whose parents currently work on the rigs. We set up a Linoit, children posted questions as one of their first morning activities, published them and people have started to answer our questions there. We were collaborating and using real experiences to enhance our learning.

In addition to this, I had two offers of help from riggers who were also on Twitter, Craig Johnson in Western Hebrides, off Scotland and Mr McKinley, currently on a rig off the coast of China. We sorted out the time differences arranged a time for my class to ‘chat’ live on twitter.

My class have an account and we use it in fits and starts. I do use a Tweeter of the Day (if I remember) but a lot of the time it is additional information for our blog, so therefore for parents. But as a result children do have the Twitter App on their iPads. This Tweetchat was upping the anti for us somewhat!

As I sat down to start, I suddenly realised I wasn’t exactly sure how this was going to pan out. I know I am capable of having a chat with a couple of people on Twitter simultaneously whilst following various conversation threads, but could I navigate a class though this and retain their interest? Could our riggers keep up with the questions if too many posted at once? How would we be able to display all the different answers? Suddenly Skype seems a more appealing option!

My intention was to start with one iPad per table linked to our Twitter account which children would post questions from and everyone else would view the @ connect feed on the IWB. I would facilitate it from my teacher account and somehow everyone would still feel involved. We did a quick e-safety chat and started.
We ran into issues almost immediately – the iPads were quicker than my network connected PC linked to the The @connected feed wouldn’t show conversations, so as more questions were posted, and answers came with photos attached, the children with iPads were viewing these excitedly whilst the rest were waiting for me to flick between them on the board. Children with iPads were wanting to ask more questions before the rest of the class had had a chance to digest (or even see) the original answer. At the same time I was trying to take some photos of the activity for our class blog!

In the end I let go. The IWB got ignored. Children buddied up in pairs, logged on to Twitter with one iPad between them and asked their own questions, viewed the threads they wanted to follow and asked their own follow up questions. This meant I had 30 children totally engaged, navigating their own pathways through the responses, choosing what interested them and then excitedly bringing me photos and facts they’d learnt. I watched the learning happen.

I have to at this stage to give utmost credit to @craig294 and @ABMckinley for their patience, speed, informative answers and for attaching captivating pictures to their tweets. The children made their learning but these two guys made it come alive!

To have brought experts from two different sides of the world live into our classroom was an exciting experience in itself. To have experienced the children taking control and creating their own meaningful learning from the opportunity was more incredible.

Success has opened up ideas and other possibilities. One account with many children hooked in having their own experience. Simple. What if you could connect to a fictional character related to your topic (I know some on Twitter have already done this), but live in a classroom situation? What if you used another class, using another single Twitter username as the ‘expert’¬† and connected via Twitter to explore a character, an era, a history event, a future concept? All possible plus more that my overloaded brain hasn’t considered. If you are a KS2 teacher with access to multiple mobile devices and you fancy a try – let me know! We tweet as @bpclass7.

In the meantime for the last day of term – it’s back to Joseph and his Decades-Inspired Technicolour Dreamcoat. Maybe @jasondonnovan or @donnyosmond fancy a chat! ūüôā

Feb
04

Played with a new app today. Ubersense. It is a trainer app for fitness coaches but used in a PE lesson could be really powerful. I used it in gymnastics and when combined with our large all screen and airplay it really showed lots of potential. The ability to quickly video children doing something, and replay it back in slow motion gave them a good understanding of the skill they were  learning. Re-videoing them later in the session and playing both videos back side by side allows them to see the progress they have made.

Essentially the app is a repository for video, with the ability to play it at various slow motion speeds as well as annotate with hand drawn images or shapes, it also has the ability to compare two videos side by side or even on top of one another. Great when teaching a specific skill such as forward rolls, a particular throw or stroke – or even a turn/move in dance.

Even better it is free – have a play!

Ubersense-Coach Photo 04-02-2013 16 09 22 Photo 04-02-2013 15 49 20

One thing I’ve already noticed this year is how much less cluttered my classroom is. There isn’t the pile of resources covered in post-its for my TA to photocopy each morning and I’m picking up less scrap at the end of each day. I’ve relegated the charging cabinet outside another classroom and manage with one surge protected tower of 10 plugs – that doesn’t count as clutter! Surely 34 iPads haven’t made my room tidier? Well possibly…

I also realised the answer to the declutter question was more importantly linked to a process that allowed the children to choose and self differentiate the level at which they want or are able to work, look at things at their own pace and at times in more detail. And as I typed, I also realised the iPads were saving me time!

Whereas previously I might create a resource in the evening, put in in dropbox, print and photocopy in the morning, I now email them, as soon as completed, to children in readiness for the lesson. Other resources are photographed by the children and used directly into an app, or written about in their books. As they have constant access to the web if required then any images are just searched for on a need-to-have basis. Gone are the days when I used to print reference out for a lesson or new topic. Our weekly maths pre and post learning questions are now done in Socrative rather than making, printing, sticking in books. Marking and assessing the paper versions for 35 children takes an hour, Socrative takes me less than a minute – and I still have evidence. As they do it on their own device – it is far less likely that they copy the person next to them. An exit ticket can be completed within the end phase of the lesson, I can scoop up and talk to the children that need clarification immediately. This alone has changed the way my partner teacher and I teach maths. Another post on this later.

In addition to saving paper, emailing worksheets and resources has several other HUGE benefits. I send them as ONE document – this allows children to have choice, self differentiate, see what other groups are doing and challenge themselves to work at a level they feel comfortable with. I encourage them to move on to the next one if they find the first few questions easy. It also means for most of them there is ALWAYS an extension activity. I colour code the top of each resource with a graduated colour so children know it may be appropriate for more than one group. They are always encouraged to up level if possible.

The physical aspect of preparing materials ready and on tables and the transition between main teaching and independent learning is easier, even blurred, as children view these on their device as part of the lesson. I can’t yet say with confidence that these things are specifically impacting on progress, but it certainly is making aspects of my teaching and children’s learning smoother and more successful.

NOTE: there is probably a better way than email, but as we run an internal Educational GApps environment where every child has a single username and password giving them access to GApps features as well as all other . I have set up groups with their own short cut email address. After a mistake where one child hit reply all (and all children asked why ChildA had emailed them!), I realised I wasn’t been as efficient or safe as I could be, and I now send all emails to myself and BCC the group in. We are constantly learning and refining, this may not be the way in which we continue to send it but it works for us at the moment.

Today I have finished marking my assessed writing from the end of last term.¬†Most of my class have made a minimum of 3 pts progress since I baselined them in September. This isn’t that remarkable as most of them had dipped after the summer so many of them are just back on track. However a vast majority of them have made 4-6pts.
Some of this success I can attribute to having a 1:1 device. Their language has improved from having a dictionary and thesaurus to hand. The language they find and use from Dictionary.com is more varied than what they would find in our standard issue thesaurus’s.
The children have also been engaged by using more digital means of accessing the learning objective. We have used Myst. Previously I have used this later in the year, but we’ve rolled it out earlier this year and it has reaped benefits. Some of my harder to grab boys have been far more engaged. Inadvertently we used a different version to the one I had planned as I loaded the wrong DVD but it took us to worlds none of us had been. This brought enthusiasm on our part and a role reversal on the children’s as we all battled to solve clues to move on.
Anything we did as a whole class in a traditional way with Myst, was supplemented with sharing close ups and screen shots to the children’s iPads. This meant they were then able to explore at their own pace and zoom in to get more detail. It also allowed choice and self differentiation . We covered sentence structure, setting and character descriptions and time connectives this way.
The assessed write was the children’s opportunity to apply all they had learnt independently. I gave them the Epic Citadel App and a free 20mins to explore it. ¬†They were also allowed to take three screen shots to use and given a further 15 mins to plan and write notes. They were allowed to use the screenshots in the writing session, but not the dictionary or any other functionality of the iPad. The assessed write is a 45 minute silent independent write.

Here is where one of my 3a writers ended up –

A huge grey brick castle stood silently as coloured stripy tents blue calmly in the soft breeze. Fluffy white clouds slowly floated across the dark sky, peering over the red spiky turrets of the castle while small orange trees waved at the brown dead grass. Flags blew wildly clinging to the top of turrets yet the blue birds carried on singing their beautiful songs.

Further down the alley a murky brown stream flowed hurringly towards the royal blue sea. Ginormous rocks towered over a skinny path which flooded the splashing steam. A great study bridge arched of the brown stream transporting visitors over.

A strange girl stood talking, her hair was black and covered in card beads which crawled down her spindly neck. Her top was a beautiful turquoise but unfortunately it was covered by a light brown rough jacket. A fine learner brown collar rested upon her small shoulders, it was patterned with stripes and a peculiar animal. Her thin bony hands gestured complicatedly as she spoke hopingly.

This was not by far the only good example. My previous 1a writers made 4 points, expanding nouns and using connectives. As for using the prompt (images) in an assessed write. I love Pie Corbets flute analogy, moving one step on, we wouldn’t not allow a child to take sheet music into a music exam or expect them to compose their own piece on the spot, so why rely solely on the imagination for a writing assessment.

 

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iPads in class often put children in the driving ‘expert’ seat. My attitude to new apps is generally not to understand them inside out first. I find that constricts my idea of an outcome and tends to waste valuable time trying to ‘teach’ them how to use it. So I tend to have a general idea of how it might work and let children explore and teach me. It has happened often in the last 4 weeks.

However today it wasn’t the functionality of the app that made the children the ‘experts’ today – but knowledge of a deeper level. We use Dictionary.com a lot. Not just as a dictionary, but also as a thesaurus to extend vocabulary. It has worked well with our Pie Corbet models of teaching/learning and shown improvements in the language used in even a short space of time.

Today we were exploring how writers use character descriptions to tell us not only what characters look like, but to give us clues about their personalities as well. The more able children were asked to take the text we had been looking at as a class and change the character by only changing the adjectives in the text. As part of the task explanation I admitted to the children I was struggling to find the word that meant other words with ‘opposite’ meanings. Immediately several hands shot up. They all said the word I needed was ‘antonym‘. Rather surprised (embarrassing admission, but I don’t think I’ve ever used the word!)… I asked how they knew. They all said that when they have been using the app Dictionary.com looking for synonyms, that at the bottom of the selection were a list of words with opposite meanings and that they had a heading of antonyms! Independently they had worked out what this had meant but until that point, and my admission, had not had the opportunity to show or share their knowledge. Guaranteed that that would not have happened by using the standard issue of thesaurus we have in school.

I was really proud of them and hope there are many more moments when such ‘expert’ knowledge occurs. I envisage when they start to go home, enabling children to have more ‘experimental’ time, that their ability to use them more expertly will very quickly supersede my own level of skill! I guess my role as a fascilitator will have to be more finely honed to guide their skills to extend and deepen their knowledge.

 

Apps can be costly. Even 69p x a few add up. Multiply that by 160 and it adds up more alarmingly. Many developers don’t release a LITE version, so it is difficult to evaluate or try before you buy. (A longer rant due on this – publishers (both traditional and software) will almost always let educational establishments try products on approval for 30 days, imperative when looking at a ¬£500+ spend – when VPP comes in proper I think App developers have to look at ways of allowing schools to evaluate before buying in bulk)

So to date I had relied on looking at what other schools had been using, via twitter. blogs and internet searches.

Then I stumbled on Apps Gone Free – an app that lets you know of apps that are free for a limited time or even just the day. I’m sure it is only one of many such products, but in a couple of weeks of following, we have acquired more than ¬£20 worth of apps per device – for free.

A lot of it is not applicable, I won’t go into my criteria for an acceptable app here, but if you are selective you can pick up some gems. The thing I like most about it, is that it puts apps that you might not otherwise consider into you consciousness – or even your hand… and allow you to use them creatively ¬†in ways that the developer had probably not intended!

So far we’ve loved Scrap It! (was ¬£0.59), Lost Winds – for Literacy (was ¬£2.99), Ice Age Story Book (was ¬£0.59), Minature Cam (was ¬£0.59), Fox Tube (was ¬£1.79), Pic Caption (was ¬£0.59), Colour Vacumn (was (¬£0.59) and templates for Pages (was ¬£2.99)

Penultimate vs Explain Everything
Today I asked children to do something in Penultimate (they have Writing notebooks, and I had asked them to start a Science notebook) Several children asked whether they could use Explain Everything instead. I said I had no objection except they needed to explain WHY they preferred this. If they could persuade me then they could use Explain Everything instead. What ensued was a short lively debate about the merits of both. Primary preference was the ability in EE to be able to type as well as handwrite. My less able children said they liked how they could record what they thought. I appreciated their evaluations so I gave children the choice.
However it is re-raising my concerns about handwriting.

 AB Math App

We’ve been using AB Maths as a warm up, it allows plenty of self differentiation as children enter the maths class. The twist at the end is a game of “Beat the Teacher.” Children choose their target times table and have 80 seconds to get as many answers correct as possible. I try and do all xTT – so far I haven’t won so more practice required! But if they get more than 25 correct in the time, they can achieve a target step.

Dance – PE – You Tube and Apple TV
We are doing dance as part of our indoor PE. I have linked it to our habitat topic and our objective is to create a dance exploring plant growth and the garden as a habitat. Now we have the large screen in the hall I have been using it to show both examples of dance (Royal Ballets Peter and the Wolf), plant growth (slow motion of time lapse plant growth) and animals movements (in normal and slow speed). This immediacy has helped the children’s interpretations of movement as well as provided examples and inspiration. However where it has come into it’s own is as a self and peer assessment tool. I have videoed groups as they have practiced and then played them back immediately. I have found children are far more interested in watching themselves on film than just being asked to critique another group of peers, this self-critical analysis then appears to transfer more eloquently onto their peers. Whole group work is far easier to evaluate on film than just from experiencing it. Progress is made more quickly within a lesson.

 iPads on Tour
Well not quite but we did take 10 on a trip to Kew gardens. Adult leaders used these to photograph and note take throughout the trip. I found the Notability app really useful, I could take photos directly in the app and add captions. I could handwrite and record audio. When I got back I emailed it and shared it with the children who then wrote setting descriptions of the location we stopped in to record language. We then also used the notes from the workshop to explain how plants had adapted to different habitats. All photographs were put into our class Dropbox folder and children have had access to these for subsequent activities. There is definitely mileage for an app that works closely with iBooks Author and allows the building of 4d notes/books on the go.
Here is an example of the trip notes Kew Gardens NW Group 3 – 3 Oct 2012

I’ll reflect and write on what didn’t work later…

I must have written million posts in my head over the last 3 weeks. Life with iPads is a roller coaster – highs of children learning independently and lows of them being dropped! As well as the overwhelming desire to make the most of them, but not enough hours in the day to try stuff out!

However the total highlight of the trial so far has been the 21 I bought and gave to staff. Staff have been enthusiastic, engaged, trying things out and teaching us more seasoned tech users all a thing or two. For those who ever followed my previous teaching blog, you may remember blogging and my school didn’t really get on – they are now blogging from within classrooms, direct from the iPad within lessons! To watch our school NewsBlog grow – fills me with pleasure and pride. ¬†As a teacher I LOVE knowing what the rest of the school is up to.¬†CLICK HERE to see it. I have also shifted all my ICT Assessment over to a single Gdoc for each class. Staff can now sit with their device within a lesson, observe and check off strands by level and ‘I Can’ Statements. These are shared with me, and as we have decided to develop our ICT teaching by focussing on a different strand each term, I can see how children are progressing. Worth the financial investment!

Year 6 have embraced the small class sets they have (2 self confessed technophobic teachers – but now using iPads, Apple TV and GApps with results!), the older children are taking home the ideas they have learnt in class and doing homework on their own devices using App ideas learnt in school. Year 4 are still struggling with the novelty at times, but there have been more than a few flashes of brilliance. Charging is an issue, but we think this is the covers not closing properly. Adapting ones teaching style whilst getting to know the class and fall into a rhythm has been more than challenging – I’m still not there, and not sure I will be for a while. Finding the right workflow has been frustrating – we are still awaiting our VLE to release their App which will enable e-portfolios and feedback to become a more fluid process. If this has not happened by Oct HT I will need to find another solution. Printopia has saved us a fortune in wireless printers.¬†Apple TV is flaky to say the least, we have had faulty models and it seems the close proximity of the devices causes issues. We have also tried Reflection, but similar issues at times with devices not ‘seeing’ airplay as an option. My hunch is we need a wireless controller for all the access points as devices seem to be flicking between them randomly. ¬†The whole issue of updating, VPP and mass deployment (we now have nearly 160 devices in school) is a whole other post! Primary schools have a different set of issues from secondary 1:1 deployments and Apple, resellers and IT firms need to be aware of these. Our new IT Support company has been a invaluable support throughout.

I need to blog more… short successful lessons as well as the mistakes we make. Usual excuses of planning, teaching marking as well as an imminent Ofsted Inspection keep getting in the way!