October 11

Don’t forget! The power of Skype….

It has been a while since I posted about Skype, however moving schools has meant that I have introduced Skype to another set of pupils, and indeed another set of teachers as I am always amazed that teachers haven't tried any kind of video linking with their pupils.

Firstly let me remind you of the fantastic resource that is EducateSkype or Skype in the Classroom now. A health warning here as this is becoming increasingly linked with Microsoft's infrastructure, however if you keep a school skype account separate from a home one you should be fine.

The Skype in the Classroom site will allow you to connect with pre planned lessons, video and all sorts of content. Everytime I have gone there I have found something I am looking for – it really is amazing. However skype does not have to be so 'organised'.

In a nutshell:

  • It's cheap (or free) – just equipment is needed!
  • It literally brings the world to your classroom!
  • It's easy to find contacts…
  • The children remember the experience…

Mystery Skype

The hashtag 'mysteryskype' has really taken off – you can find schools on the website mentioned above, or search on twitter. Connecting with schools from across the globe where the children try to guess where they are never gets dull. My pupils always love it. Admittedly they can sometimes guess pretty quickly, but pinning down to city rather than country, or county in the UK will keep them busy!

Digital Leaders

I am currently collecting email addresses from those keen to skype with digital leaders – please let me know in the comments if you would like to be involved. It's brilliant. The children already have something in common, and can begin with shared questions about they do and how they do it.

School Council

This is going to be my next project – school council's chatting to one another. Our school council is very new, but think it will work wonders if they chat to a more established one!

 

Languages

Connecting with those who speak the language you are learning has obvious benefits! Skype can also offer three-way calling, which means you can get partner schools involved!

 

Career talks!

Particularly useful for schools 'off the beaten track' – chatting to those who are in specific careers is much easier via Skype – and is less hassle for those giving the talk…

 

Have you had any brilliant experiences with Skype you could share?

 

 

May 19

Skype – Reflecting on the Adventure!

We have now had four successful skype sessions in our school, and a couple of not so successful sessions. I thought it would be useful to share  our experiences and to reflect on the usefulness of the session in the classroom. 

The Background
I initially wanted to use Skype for a topic one class was doing about their local area – I thought the chance to discuss their local environment with peers from around the world would be very powerful. I was also looking for something with a bit of a ‘wow’ factor to get our children engaged in their learning. As many of the children I work with speak English as an additional language or are very new to the country I thought they would enjoy the chance to chat with their peers from around the world.

I began by looking at the excellent website – Skype in the Classroom – and created a post for a World Book Day event (which didn’t happen – I was being a optimistic about what I could achieve!) However that didn’t matter as it meant that I began to make contacts with other teachers from around the world who were interested in these sessions. I also put it to my contacts in Twitter, and got a few teachers interested that way! The first session I examined here…

Now we have children chatting about their Skype session at lunch time, Digital Leaders who blog about it and teachers building a session into their planning. It really has taken off!

Firstly the successful sessions:

They have been led with a purpose in mind, and one teacher will create the question, or a theme will be discussed. One class have now met twice, and there is no doubt that the second time the children were much calmer and knew what to expect. 

The theme of ‘getting to know you’ is much better if key questions have been shared and discussed first.  A big thank you to one teacher Ana for guiding us in this way

One of our groups shared a book over Skype – the perfect example of purpose, and a curriculum link. This has proven popular with the teachers who wish to talk again as soon as they have finished their current book. Thanks to @PEandMe for this brilliant idea.

Other children and teachers have been involved in the successful sessions, I have included our Digital Leaders as recorders of events, and asked teachers to choose if they wish to take part. Eventually the organising of sessions will be left to teachers. 

The unsuccessful sessions:

Are plagued by technical issues or bad timing – you do need to give the sessions some time, and due to the nature of the technology some leeway if things don’t work. No point planning a session for fifteen minutes with another lesson straight away.

Your internet connection, whilst important does not need to be perfect, camera and microphone are important. Try out your equipment, can you hear the children? Are the children used to seeing themselves? Valuable time can be lost with waving and giggling into the camera!!

The least successful sessions are done at the last minute with little prep – the children are going to be curious and will want to get involved  – give them time to prepare with some questions, ideas about the country or the children or the topic to discuss. 

What we’ve learnt:

Try out your connection first – and think about what equipment you use. We find it works fine with iPads, but the Airserver link to the whiteboard created a delay that confused the children. 

Prep the pupils – point out the country discuss their experiences and make the links with the curriculum like any other subject.

Speaking and listening are important! As a result of this work we are going to begin September with a big push on these skills – ‘conversation’ if you like! Skype chats have shown that our younger children can struggle to formulate questions, and often don’t answer in full sentences, this can have a big impact in EAL learners, and the children we are chatting with!

Next steps

Now we are beginning to see smooth running sessions, I am investigating projects and ideas which would bring authors, experts or interested guests into the classroom. Such as discussed by Kate Messner in this article. Skype Splash

I am definitely getting more teachers involved as well, and as our class teachers get their own mobile device, connecting with Skype will be even easier!

Referenced from links in the article :

http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ922983&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ922983 – Article

Awesome blog and experience from a very valued contact! http://cegarvirtualclassroom.weebly.com/15/post/2013/05/ii-3-meets-their-peers-from-turkey-and-uk.html

The School Digital Leaders Blog : http://debeauvoirdl.blogspot.co.uk/

March 20

Skype – One Big Adventure

 

I wanted to find a way that I could really start to connect our pupils with the world around them. Schools in London have a wealth of geographical experience in their classrooms and I thought a great way to harness that would be Skype… 

Our skype adventure began with me browsing the Skype in the Classroom site...

This really great site linked me immediately to lots of people all over the world.. I had some pretty big dreams, you know – the explorer going up Mount Everest, the Astronauts and so on. However, I began small….

I set up the school Skype account, and then tested it on locally. The school has iPads, and I used those. I made sure not to leave the app logged in on the pupil iPads however. In fact, I got the Digital Leaders to remove the app from some of the iPads.

Then we set up a Skype date – a school in Qatar, and a teacher who contacted me initially over twitter.

(Big thanks to Mr Allen – @peandme)

We decided to set a theme – and as World Book Day was looming we went for a Book theme. Our Year 4 class was primed to talk about their book, and the teacher in Abu Dhabi, UAE prepped their children for their talk.

Once connected the debate was quickly lead by the children. Their excitement could felt in the room! We had to rehearse some questions and the children could, some of the time, stick to a script! However, with a class of 30, it was tough for them to do. It was nice to let them lead the questions though – and this was helped by having the skype display on the interactive whiteboard through AirServer.

This led then to the Digital Leaders writing up the experience for the parents and teachers to see.  See our school website here.

Year4SkypeMarch

So what worked?

  • Well the chat certainly did, and both schools were impressed…
  • The children and teacher are now sufficiently motivated to read the book they were reading and report back at the next chat.
  • The one session has been enough to make other staff ‘think big’ – and I am busy setting up other skype meetings!

Warnings: (or what I would do differently!)

  • We have had some ‘dodgy’ connections with one of our other classrooms… Have a back up plan!
  • I have been inundated with schools – don’t bite off more than you can chew! I was amazed at how many schools want to give this a go.
  • Think about the time difference – sounds silly, but it has a real impact on what is possible.
  • For the main skype session I prefer a fixed webcam and microphone rather than an iPad – the connection feels so much more solid!

 Future ideas? 

  • The motivation for writing, speak and listening are obvious… the children are able to see a purpose to what they are doing.
  • Speaking and Listening – sharing ideas and crossing a language barrier!
  • Topic based work? Specific and shared learning intentions? Sharing teachers?

Resources

Skype in the Classroom – a good place to start!

Ways to use Skype – Teach Hub

Interesting article from Time magazine – What Teachers Are Using Skype For

An Author in Every Classroom – Messner, Kate (2010) School Library Journal  – abstract – This article discusses how Skype and other video-conferencing software have become a staple for teachers, librarians, and authors who want to get kids excited about reading. The past year has brought a huge increase in the number of schools and libraries using Skype to connect classrooms and bring in experts to talk with kids. And with cuts in school funding limiting traditional author visits, meetups via Skype have grown even more popular. All of the authors interviewed in this article agree on one point: it’s important for teachers and librarians to prepare students for a Skype visit in advance. Reading at least one of the author’s books, either together or as a read-aloud, is a must, and kids who prepare questions in advance are generally more comfortable speaking on the day of the visit.

March 23

The future’s bright, the future’s Cumbrian!

I had the pleasure this week of attending a fantastic conference full of great speakers and big names in Education. Not the first time I‘ve done this of course, but this one was different in that it occurred on my doorstep. My Cumbrian doorstep.

The reality here is that since leaving London I have travelled hundreds of miles to hear the latest thoughts in Education, to be inspired and or discuss the latest policy and find out what impact it will have. Having our own conference such as #northernlights in Carlisle really was a revelation.

Why such a big deal I hear you ask? Well, it’s simple really, here in the North of England we often feel talked at. We feel like the poor cousin of the geographical family; not independent like Scotland, or central like London – and we are sometimes catapulted into the news because we are not quite as successful as we would like to be. We get tired of hearing about negative news stories and often struggle to see beyond our borders because, well, we work so damn hard!

So a huge thank you to all of those speakers who came this week to Carlisle to share positive messages, to allow dialogue where the North of England was put on centre stage and to put context into our challenges and successes. I won’t name all of the speakers here, but they know who they are, and they know the positive vibes and the buzz that was at the University of Cumbria. It was a great mix of local experts – nearby academics – CEO’s of successful academy chains and education experts! It means much to know that we are not alone, that despite any political differences at the end of the day we all want our children to have a world class Education.

I came away buzzing about the success of some of our Cumbrian schools – happy to share my own experiences and looking forward to shaping local thinking in the future. I thought hard about the future for Education in general and glad that, for once, it was Cumbrian colleagues that I was speaking to, Colleagues who I could easily catch up with again, whose schools I could visit and who are in a position to share resources and ideas. Because this is really what it’s all about – I make use of twitter and of Skype, but the chance to talk positively about changes and success on your doorstep really is inspirational. The chance to look at challenges honestly, to talk about retention and recruitment in a way that takes into account our context. To hear policy makers and influencers discuss what is actually important for our area and to help us make the changes needed.

A huge thank you to Michael Merrick who got this ball rolling, and everyone else who took the idea and ran with it. The University of Cumbria was a fantastic host and I know many people gave their time to making it succes. Here’s to being the change!

February 12

Ed tech – all or nothing?

Does the Technology in Education have to be such a polarising debate?

Is it really a case of all tech or no tech?

The debate has continued in earnest this week – with Apple’s Tim Cook weighing in with the sound bite ‘Classroom Tech not a Substitute for Teaching‘. This secret teacher  also seems to suggest that once SLT has decided it wifi became ubiquitous along with access as and when the children needed it. Unhelpful headlines and typical of th debate (regardless of the measured context that the schools are working in) It seems that for some there are no half measures.

This type of situation is unhelpful and surely not that realistic? Beyond emails – and updating online spaces (or providing material to update) – what else can we gain from forcing teacher to use technology or arguing that technology will replace teachers.

Fashion and Fad

Of course this isn’t helped by rumour and random news stories. The most recent being that Year 1 will be subject to a PISA style test which will be online. A few years ago a discussed times table test was rumoured to be online only. These ideas are just that, headlines designed as clickbait, however they point to a key problem. Technology in the classroom is seen as divisive. It is seen as a have-all or have-nothing and it is very much subject to the other whims of education debate. Taken into context then it makes no sense to have such an absolute vision. We don’t talk about assessment in such terms, or behaviour policies. Both of these examples are subject to the ideas and beliefs of the school and so should technology use.

Losses and Gains

Let’s face it – the breathless predictions of what teaching can get from technology comes from the providers themselves. Nothing more than free advertising using their user base as a megaphone. Change, of any sort, takes time in huge institutitions such as education and yet we are seeing it anyhow.

We have seen how technology has made administrative tasks much easier;  how whole school communication is made easier and  staying in touch with other stakeholders easier. How pupils can create and publish their work with ease. Now we know that there are pros and cons for any tools – (let’s not start on the email inbox!) but nothing seem to raise the hackles quite like the use of technology. We talk about the debate in absolutes –  around schools who are ‘all ipad’ rather than those who use it as and when it can support their pupil. We talk of ‘paperless’ rather than looking at the savings made via the use of email. Replacing teachers rather than supporting teachers. Automating and boring rather than creative and engaging.

The Future

Then there is the talk about the future – how the promised change that technology was to bring hasn’t happened. Apart from the fact that many of these promises are nothing more than advertisements we need to remember that this is about context. Every school will have their own story – success or otherwise. For every school that has found technology to be nothing more than an expensive distraction there will be a school that has benefited greatly. Finding the good news stories can be a little tougher because they don’t generate the same kind of headlines – but they are there. We just need to think about the wider picture. Consider the online networks of teachers supporting one another – or the blogging community. Think about Skype and how that has welcomed experts into the classroom – shared experiences across the globe. Think about pupils sharing their writing with other schools, instantly, with other authors or with their friends and families.

None of these examples require the absolute and only use of technology, but they wouldn’t be possible without it.

October 10

Can education technology ‘close the gap?’

There is a huge emphasis currently on ‘closing the gap’ for our pupils – that is to say ensuring that achievement is possible regardless of a background or deprivation.

Historically technology has been seen as an equaliser – a way to, for example, give the housewife time to work (washing machines, vacuum cleaners) or, more recently, a way to instantly share information, free of charge. Neil Postman, writing in 1996:

C.P Snow made what he regarded as a definitive answer to technology pessimists. He remarked that the industrial revolution made by possible advanced technology, was the only hope for the poor. Their lives were rescued from centuries old degradation by technology. Can anyone deny it?’

In fact, I wrote an essay on this very subject – which you can find here, if interested.

Download (PDF, 125KB)

However, the modern teacher has many, many problems with this – as many of you will know if you attempt to set homework via an online task. Or if you have been given a class set of laptops and then been asked to show impact, or bought iPads with Pupil Premium money… The fact is that some schools have huge expectations from technology yet  children (and families) have huge differences in what technology they actually access. And, to add to the confusion there are many different definitions of what ‘the gap’ is and what exactly the end result should be…

The question we should be asking, is what gap are we actually trying to close? What can teachers actually do?
Schools making good use of technology in education can:
  • offer cultural experiences that some children may miss out on via skype or virtual tours
  • connect children with other children that they may otherwise never meet, sharing experiences they may never hear (blogging / email / skype)
  • offer support for parents who may not know where to go, or may find it too difficult to access in person (websites / internet)
  • connect teachers who really are not sure where to go next… or whose school may be isoalted (social media / inernet)
  • offer specific support for pupils with SEND – supporting their education achievement (targeted apps / access programs / online resources)
  • offer cheaper and easier access to pupils and their families via school support and devices (kindles / internet access)

These are just some practical ideas that the use of technology can help with – it will help ‘close a gap’ – perhaps information, cultural or digital literacy – but it may not close the achievement gap. Here we are talking of cultural, digital, isolation and confidence. All of which are vital if we want our pupils to achieve.

 

If you are interested in this, the essay I wrote is at the top of this post!

Other resources of interest:

A recent report by Stanford into ‘closing the technology gap’ 

2014 look at how closing the technology gap can open a world of opportunities form Microsoft..