2016/2017

One of the #nurture2017 post – and I thought it would be fitting to use my own site for this as my reflection from last year focuses on how I have stopped writing, stopped using blogs to reflect and share and to ask. Some of this is work – working late or being tired means I stop connecting with fellow educators in order to ‘protect’ my time. Yet it is these interactions which fuel my own interests. How to get back into the habit of that – rather than skimmming what people have written giving things a quick RT or a quick like?

This year I very much want to get back to that – and I want to take more time to read more of what is written online. This I not just about education which is why I have joined in with the #52books2017 on twitter and goodreads. All of my interests are slowly merging into one big ‘online’ experience! I have tried to temper this – I have taken up kickboxing which get me away from work at a decent time and actually learning something new. I already have pretty active weekends, and I regularly take my dog into work which means that I often take him out (with children as well!!) at break times.

In terms of managing my own time I am a master of frittering away free time doing several things at once, but not actually doing anything with any real concentration or achievement.

This will be the real challenge I feel! Do I want to set myself goals? Hmmm… I think I will enjoy goodreads – and reading more is something that will benefit. But, I think I’ll leave it at that. Let’s see if I can work on making the most out of the free time I have. A popular theme at the minute – no excuses!!

Are our classrooms more digital?

A few years ago my interest in educational technology was ignited with an article in the TES arguing that technology made absolutely no difference to schools whatsosever. At the time, a teacher just starting out, I was outraged that all of the ways in which tech made school life easier was just glossed over. Look at the accountancy side? The sharing of information, the access to to resources, the collaboration- then, in my eyes, getting bogged down in individual games or apps – or resources – was not the way to do it.

This debate is still rumbling on, and I still stand by my opinion. It was interesting then to read the recent debates about minecraft, about coding and, more recently, the article in the TES arguing that classrooms are becoming more ‘digital’.

Take this site, for example, some content on here is three, even four, years old. Yet the top hit pages remain consistently about iPads, tablets and reading. Google is beginning to gain ground, but it feels like we have leapt forwards only to then stand stock still where we landed.

My question then is this, are you using technology more than you used to? Does your classroom increasingly feel digital? Are you forced to use tech that you feel adds no value to your teaching?

I’m working on an article about my school, and it’s use of tech – in the meantime I would love to hear your thoughts.

Why Tim Peake’s Mission was a Triumph for Ed Tech

My school was one of hundreds across the country that had a part to play in the amazing educational experience that was Tim Peake’s Principia Mission. For schools this opportunity combined so many elements; real life science experiments; a dash of danger; story-telling and adventure; and an actual application of technology in the classroom. See, whilst arguments rage around the transformative effect (or not) of ed-tech, here we are with an actual amazing bit of collaborative education that just would not be possible without technology. That is without technology in schools, in the classroom, used by teaching staff.

During this project we were able to live stream the international space station and other bits of the mission, straight into school. We have been able to watch, and repeatedly watch other important bits as recorded by the astronauts themselves. An amazing number of pupils took part in a live science lesson, from the International Space Station itself, sharing questions via video and social media whilst the International Space Station answered them. Yes – the children asked a question and they received a live answer, with demonstration from the space! Talk about awe and wonder!! Schools were able to communicate with the Space Station at other times, asking and answering questions via social media, or asking other astronauts or European Space Agency folk! We were inspired in other areas of school life as well, of course, and even our Code Club got in on the action…

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This project also asked us to grow seeds that had been in space – we received all this information via email, children recorded information using spreadsheets, video logs and photograph; sending in this information digitally, along with thousands of other children.

None of these elements of the experience would have been available without schools and teachers that were able to use technology in the classroom for collaboration and communication. Skyping interested parties, writing blogs, sharing information via cloud services are all integral parts of so many schools that we seem to be taking it for granted. Yet they offer primary pupils the chance to create their own content, to learn from experts that they would never otherwise get to meet and to collaborate with children from across the planet. This kind of ed tech is what pupils should be exposed to – the use of technology to do things that could not be done otherwise. I think we need to shout more loudly for the use of technology in such areas – investment in infrastructure and training rather than the ‘whistles and bells’ approach.

I’ve felt incredibly privileged to be a small part of this mission, to be able to enthuse our community about the value of science.

There is no doubt it has been a huge success!

Is Technology Good for Education?

Review of the book by Neil Selwyn

An answer to the often breathless and relentless drive for technology in our schools; this book pulls together some serious concerns and offers an interesting perspective.

Each chapter reviews the issues, asking key questions and illustrating ideas which impact on all areas of education. These are often side effects of the increase in technology in our society, often unintended consequences on our education system. There can be no question that there has been a huge increase in digital technologies in all areas of our schools; communication methods with staff and parents; screen based resources; paperwork and data collection and learning tools. A clear view of the impact this is having is always welcome.

The chapter on data is particularly illustrative of this – there can be no doubt that the ease of which we can collect, analyse and review all kinds of data from education and schooling is directly connected to the technology we have at our disposal. You only need to think of the rise of Management Information Systems to realise this – imagine the DfE collecting the phonics check results 20 years ago? Or attendance figures? How easy is it now to do a school wide census of staff and pupils? The issue, Selwyn points out, is where the choices are made – technology has made it easier to collect some types of data, but where is the value? Who has dictated what data is valuable? Is it enough to suggest that just because we can collect these data, we should? A similar concern is raised at how technology is changing the curriculum – mentioning the rise in coding across both America and the UK and the drive from industry for this.

Other chapters question the impact technology has really had on education. Another much discussed subject and Selwyn summarises the issues well. Citing areas where digital technologies have had clear impact, although not perhaps in a way we would appreciate – for example Wikipedia and the value of knowledge, or the Silicon Valley money pumped into systems such as Google Apps. Meanwhile the ground-breaking transformation of education via ‘flipped classrooms’ or online access to courses such as MOOCS has not transpired in the way promised. Technology can often provide alternative methods of achieving the same ‘outcome’ – e.g. Digital portfolios or online records. Has it genuinely transformed anything? As Selwyn explains: our Victorian ancestors, whilst possibly disagreeing with our methods and control, would recognise our classrooms, resources and organisation of the school day.

Further chapters explore whether technology has made education fairer, the control of technology in education and the management of personalised learning with technology.

The book finishes by exploring what ‘good’ education actually is. This debate could be a completely new book and some ideas are skated over too quickly here. The problem remains that as a society we cannot agree about what the aims of education are. Accreditation? Socialisation? A key aim that Selwyn is trying to achieve is more critically aware debate about what we want from education and the role technology has in this. The books is a good start on that debate.

The role of end-user technologies also concludes as an area that could be improved, but this too is problematic. Selwyn talks about rather than expecting primary children to use office based software there should be more done to provide primary friendly software to achieve the same ends. Much more could be said about this – and I remember clunky, under-supported and poorly designed ‘children friendly’ software which created more problems that it solved. Meanwhile there is a disparity between primary and secondary with children needing to relearn operating systems and software.

Conclusions are reached at the end of the book. I would have liked a few more far reaching ideas from Selwyn – however the strength in this book is not in providing the answers but the questions. The differences in education technology across and within education systems is not really discussed either yet is a problem for many users of the technology. Teachers whom have to relearn systems when moving schools. Governments who expect all pupils to have a similar level of broadband access or parents who fail to safeguard technology access at home.

Schools often head blindly towards technology, this book provides a useful reality check on the reasons why.

Digital Expectations….

What does digital literacy look like in a Primary School?

It’s a funny situation in Primary Schools at the minute. Up and down the country we are focusing on maths, english and grammar and SATS and all of the new curriculum challenges. Meanwhile, in technology we are being told that tablets are no longer the way forward, and that coding and computing is the focus. ICT as a subject looks to be marginalised whilst the use of ‘standard’ office type programmes is seemingly non existant.

I was recently asked to write a quick summary about the differences at ks2 for ks3 teachers. This summary was tricky to do because there was just so much I wanted to say. The computing / ICT section was frightfully short, and purely out of space considerations. The fact is that we now expect more from our children with technology than ever before. Parents often ask me why schools introduce certain technologies, or certain skills. I hope this list will help.

Five things schools will introduce to children when using technology.

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One. Their own space.
Every child at school will, eventually, be responsible for their own email address and their own online space. How young this starts depends on the primary school. This online space should be open to teachers at any time of course, but parents need to get used to children being responsible for this. At primary something as simple as a custom virtual learning space, or as recognisable as Google Drive. Either way, accessing homework or saving school work with passwords and email addresses will be down to the child. Eventually.

Two. Opening the internet!
Schools will teach children to navigate websites and external online resources. I have had a few dealings over the years with parents, and teachers, who just cannot understand why you might need to go on to the ‘outside’ internet and are worried about what their child might see. Schools have to teach children to navigate websites safely, and keeping themselves safe online is part of the curriculum. The fact remains that if children don’t begin to deal with the internet early on they will find it particularly open (and scary) as they get older. Hiding away from online safety issues won’t make your child immune to them, I’m sorry to say.

Three. Games.
School will use online and electronic games. Some don’t like this but it is a great way to engage children. It’s not the only way of course. But, be prepared for children to enjoy said games and want to replicate this.

Four. Social Media.
Schools will model the use of technology that is not appropriate for children. The easiest example of this is schools with a Twitter or Facebook account. Parents have asked me why schools have these accounts if the children can’t have them, and of course I explain, schools are not operating in a vacuum and we need to use as many methods of communication as possible. In the same way teachers drive and pupils do not. Teachers also need to model sensible use of sites such as You Tube, which pupils may not be using by themselves but will still see.

Five. Authors of work.
Children will be encouraged to create and share online. In essence publishing their work and commenting on the work of authors. They will be collaborating with their classmates on work which others can see. This may be closed within a school intranet or cloud service, or it may be on an online and therefore much more open, blog. There are many, many educational upsides to this, and, properly monitored very few downsides.

These are the main areas that spring to mind when discussing technology with parents. I would love to hear of any concerns, or surprises, people have come across with school expectations of technology.

Why I’m a fan of the BBC Microbit!

We were lucky enough to get hold of a few Microbits last week (thanks Lancaster Uni!!) for our Primary pupils to play with.

If you’re unsure of what they are check out this info here. A credit card sized computer inclusive of various input methods such as buttons and accelerometer, output via LED and a micro usb slot.

I love the innovative use of the tech – it’s all in the detail. The way the ‘bits’ of the computer are labelled on the back – the a, b buttons, the micro usb. There is lots on there to keep the pupils busy. Perfect for an introduction to computing and coding.

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Their website is also high quality and very useful, easy to navigate with several options for teachers to get involved. Lots of videos – including great ones for the children to watch and links to ‘live’ lessons that the BBC has carried out.

In a coding section – the virtual Microbit gives a chance to test something before you save it to the microbit encourages risk (and allows the teacher the chance to put restrictions on it).

Here’s why I think they should be in every school:

Recognisable input:
There are a few ways to input code onto the Microbit, text based as well as block based. For Primary children the block based input is very similar to Scratch and therefore easy to pick up. Explaining the language used is super simple, and great for teachers to play about with as well.

We were quickly able to create names and pictures upon different button presses and movement – it was a great opportunity for us to learn alongside the children!

Immediate feedback:
The LEDs are incredibly motivating for the pupils – and it is so creative – within the first few minutes they children could be responsible for their picture or their name on the LEDs.

How far do you want to go…
For primary you can immediately introduce the idea of logic, variables and repetition. However it can get as inventive as you like, offering obvious progress with block based coding and text input leading to Python and Javascript.

A community

I would like to see these brilliant machines in every school – the community built up around them offers many, many options for the development of resources!

We have a fantastic resource here – let’s make the most of it!!