Archive for teaching with technology

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! 🙂

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 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.


In Literacy we are focusing on how writers create tension in their writing. Our main stimulus is a Chinese story written in poetry form to link in with our topic, but on the success of the recent Wii lesson, I wanted to use Myst to build on the idea of magpie-ing words and phrases to use in writing. I then wanted to help children apply these to a structured format to have a better understanding of how using paragraphs can organise their writing.

I used a section of Myst V I have used before for setting descriptions, but the fact it starts in a room, then goes down a corridor before you are faced with glowing bubble form, linked well with the idea of a trapped/escape/surprise structure. So the focus was to build tension with a descriptive setting, before using the corridor to have a fast paced escape and then a sudden surprise/question which had the possibility of moving to a climax.





I created a magpie sheet with three columns, one for each section. We used the game as a structured word/phrase collection exercise with lots of speaking, listening and note-taking. I had children who were genuinely frightened of the rumbling and shaking effects within the game, so we ended up turning the volume down for the the last half of the session. However enough had been heard to influence their writing. Following the initial slow walk through with note-taking we reversed back to the beginning and did it in real time. Slowly walking around the first room before running frantically down the corridor and stopping still at the vision before us.

The class then helped me to ‘box’ up the sequence and we co-wrote some paragraph openers for each section, before leaving them with and independent write of  25 minutes with their notes. We ran through assembly time (with permission!) as they were working so well. Here is an example of the work of one of my 2A SEN writers – all completely independent…

Myst Build Up – Katie (mp3)

and she left the last sentence off her recording which was fab. ..Then I turned and frantically ran….

I think the combination of pace-altering action, sound and visual effects as well as the ability to give children ownership over where they look/visit and then be able to replay the whole event really inspired them. As inconvenient as it is to change the tables and sit them all facing the front as Tim Rylands suggests is worth it, everyone was focused and engaged.

The fact we did this on Thursday and went on to apply the skill (magpie-ing/note-taking/boxing up and then orally retelling) before writing a completely different build up on Friday was evident in this subsequent writing. Marking this weekend, I have had children using language we discussed in Thursday’s session in their writing on Friday. The general standard of the writing has definitely improved this term through using a variety of mediums to inspire children.

As an aside, I am really enjoying teaching my whole class ‘unset’ this year. The ability to share good language and examples sets higher expectations for those less able, as shown in the Boo above. There is more spark in the class and I think it amplifies progress for all.

This week I tried using Mario Kart on the Wii to help my class apply the features of creating tension and a build up in their writing. It was predominantly a Speaking and Listening lesson, but they grasped what I was trying to get them to do really well so I gave them 20 minutes writing time at the end to write 3 short paragraphs including the features we had identified. Some of their work can be found below.

We started by playing a few rounds of the game, practising using the pause button to swap between drivers. They needed to be able to do this efficiently as I was going to be stopping and starting them a lot!. I only used one controller (on purpose) and the 10 minutes or so doing this got the general excitement out of their systems and we could move on to with a little more focus.

We then recapped how writers create tension in their writing, created a list of SC and then applied these to three parts of the Mario game; sitting on the start line, leaving the start line and describing an incident such as a crash. I created a “magpie” sheet for them, with 3 columns (setting/feelings/powerful verbs) on one side  and a boxed up version of a build up on the other. So as we played, and stopped very frequently we collected lots of words and phrases using a mixture of whole class sharing and paired discussion. It took a good 25 minutes to get about a third of a way around the first lap (which was all I had intended to do) before I free-played to the end of the race changing drivers frequently. I then modelled putting the collected words and phrases into the boxed writing frame to reinforce the idea of using paragraphs to organise writing.  At this point we watched the replay of the race we had just done in order to have a final grasp at any other language we might want to use and the children used their notes to practice orally creating an exciting commentary before we wrote down our final piece.

It worked well. Children could use their natural excitement and enthusiasm for the medium (and game) to apply literary features easily. The fact it is easy to swerve, bump and crash gives a ready made action packed disaster to build up to. My LAG created their own notes and we combined these into a very successful group piece with me only scribing. I copied this and stuck it in their book and asked them to continue for 10 minutes and the evidence of good independent follow on writing showed most of them had grasped the LO well.

We are moving on to use Myst next week to apply the same features to create a slower more descriptive detailed version of a build up.

Here are some examples of our writing.

Mario Kart Build Up (mp3)

I was waiting on the start line for the race to begin. My heart was pumping like the pistons on a train. I was getting nervous as the lights turned green. The crowd cheered as I zoomed to the first corner.
At the corner I dodged the cars to stay in the race. As I tried to dodge another car it went shooting into my path. SMASH! We hit wheels. Sparks flew everywhere. We both slowed down.
The kart was aiming to go around a corner up went up a steep hill and BANG! I hit the side near the crowd.
Edward V

I was waiting on the start line for the race to start. My heart was thumping. I was hot with sweat. The three seconds felt like hours.
Then we were off! Zooming around the first corner. Feeling fine so far.
I was coming to a tail speed bump, getting closer and closer. I went higher and higher to impress the crowd. Then I bumped on top. I lost control. BANG! I drove into the barrier.
Beatrice R

Today I spent the morning at another school. I learnt so much just watching experienced teachers and left on such a high! It will be by mission for the rest of this year to visit another school in my NQT time at least every second week.

I watched a year 4 maths lesson and it was great to see how choice could be offered within a fairly structured lesson. By giving them options (two in this case), this passed responsibility back to children for what they were doing, as it was their choice. More incentive to achieve. I have an observed lesson on Tuesday and would love to try it, but think it is something the children will need some experience at before being able to make good choices independently.

I then went into a the classroom of a totally inspirational teacher. A teacher I’d met at a TeachMeet recently. Just the way she interacted with her students was brilliant. I enjoyed being in her lesson! She used the Wii and a safari game to inspire and provide stimulus for a literacy lesson on diary writing. I liked the way she gave the ownership of writing the success criteria to the students via post-it notes. I also liked her mental starter for literacy to improve a sentence – done in the back of the literacy books. Children in the class were engaged and all worked silently and independently to complete the task. The plenary had children identifing WOW sentences in their own work and were offered the opportunity to self assess against SC before handing in.

Even the small things such as seeing how teachers organise their files, discussing projects, plans and lessons that worked and excited the children. I walked away with two great ideas for reading passports and some guided reading cues! And they were just cherries on the icing of having observed some inspired practice.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my job! But sometimes I don’t quite get the point of why we are doing everything we are supposed to do.

Most schemes, plans, other stuff I find – are all about achieving an objective by expending knowledge. I am new, I struggle constantly, but I try my hardest every day to put every learning objective into a context that has relevance to the children I teach. Even if it is giving my own adult perspective of how I’ve used whatever we happen to be learning about.  In my view, stuff needs a point. No point – children switch off!

So that got me thinking.

I am obviously new to life as a teacher, but not education. My past life includes managing the design department of a large educational publisher and running my own businesses (forays into gaming and IT). In other words the real world – a lot of which, as grown ups we know, is tough and much, much more than just what you know! This resonates with me when I am thinking of what, as a teacher I am preparing my pupils for.

When I employed staff, graduates, or otherwise what was I looking for? Almost over and above the skills for the job I wanted self confidence, good communication skills, intuitiveness, the ability to work as part of a team, solve problems and at times, to think outside the box. Whilst crystal balls are hard to come by, it was also very useful if they would stay abreast of changes in the industry.

If these are the people I once wanted to employ – shouldn’t these be the people I now want to help create?

What would I like my pupils and my own children to emerge from formal education with? A lot of the above but add in resilience, an ability to self regulate, goal set, know what achievement feels like and a knowledge of how to transfer skills  – research, teamwork, collaboration are done in most industries! I can create a game without ever ‘meeting’ another person working on the project, I can create a fully illustrated picture book in exactly the same way. I get my CDP online via live streaming and twitter. Our world, means we now communicate in different ways, surely this is also what we need to teach our children to do. Not just rely on a terms ICT lessons on sending emails and their early experiences of face book and other social media doing it for us.

So it comes back to – what is the point of what I am doing…

And then @xannov tweeted this.

  • I often read tweets from teachers on here, and wonder what an amzing learning experience children would get  if we worked in the same school … We’d all be trying new tech and encouraging children to try (and sometimes fail) new stuff and learn from it.

The combination of my own personal feeling that education has to be far more than crashing through a curriculum to tick boxes as well as my frustrations with my current position and their unwillingness to embrace modern technology resonated strongly in that tweet from @xannov yesterday.

What a dream it would be to work with so many enthusiastic individuals, who seem to be constantly striving to find the balance between engaging learners in ways that both make the most of opportunities here now, and give children skills for lifelong learning in this future we can’t comprehend. Selfishly – I want to be the best teacher I can be, so why not learn alongside people I aspire to be like. Unselfishly – we need to teach children to use the tools of their world to become successful citizens.

So when the discussion between @xannov and @chrismayoh and I developed further into using technology for pupil to pupil learning – I got excited because it felt like that might be the hook on which I could hang my original quandary…. how to create learning that has a point – as well as gives children valuable skillsets for their future.

I continued to mull how this pupil to pupil learning might look and read @xannov’s blog post on pupil to pupil learning with interest. I can see the huge value in sharing learning and of a pupil meet where children are given a platform to share their own classes successes and learning with peers from around the country/world. But I can also sense the fidgety bottoms of my less engaged pupils at having to listen for 30 minutes even if it was on an ipad!

What I could really see was 21st century children using tech to work collaboratively and then celebrating their combined successes with other children. Children’s own version of viral marketing!

My vision of pupil to pupil learning looked more like innovative project design for a global enterprise. One where roles and parts are done in different places, where collaboration is required from all for the outcome to be successful, where there may be one objective but many possible routes to meet it. Or where there was no overall objective, but opportunities to add even more value to an existing collaboration are seized when they arise?

Why can’t a lesson or a unit be treated like this? Why couldn’t with good streaming (restrictions noted) two classes in different places share one input, then work independently to create possible solutions and then collaborate to meet one end.

Why can’t children communicate thoughts and progress via blogs and skype?

Why can’t children’s artwork from one place be used and embedded into online e-books and written about by students in another year group in another school? Why can’t draft poems be uploaded, phrases magpied by another children, edited, improved and shared in recorded presentations of these merged ideas?

Why can’t we take the Mantle of the Expert principle and go virtual?

My early experience of such possibilities were when my class used one of @deputymitchell’s Year 6s students writing as part of a literacy unit we were doing. In many ways despite the success, I can’t help but feeling we all just brushed the tip of an amazing possibility that may have magnified the learning even further. What if Binyameen had written the opening of another story that the children in my class had continued (we were only focussing on the build up and climax)? What if … we had given him some of our stories to check and edit? What if … he had fancied continuing one through to its resolution and ending? What if … another class looking at manipulating imaging software had decided to create some images for the emerging story. What if … the list becomes endless.

I accept that this couldn’t happen for all of the curriculum, and the pressures we face as teachers mean that in many ways it may just add more! But the possibility I sensed last night felt as if, even if we did it once in a year –  we could give children a early experience and a glimpse of the world that we are preparing them for. It would help to maximise all the amazing tools online and give tech a point in its own right

I think the Epic Citadell Challenge is moving learning in that direction. There are probably others that I don’t know of. I am very interested to know of any collaborative learning projects.

So, as for setting up a new school, putting the best in the business all in one place – great idea! But why not think outside the box and allow pupils to experience this super school virtually? Rather than being a lone school held up as a shining example, we become innovative teachers that lead by example and guide others in the best interest of all children.