04 Dec

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.

04 Jan

5 to avoid….

Those edtech mistakes you need to try to stamp out…

1. It worked for one, so lets buy thirty…

I've seen this over and over again. One teacher, usually keen and a bit tech savvy, found something that worked very well. Perhaps a new tablet, a specfic laptop or the next new classroom equipment. It worked for them, so we buy a class set, or one for each class. Then there is surprise when issues occur, when there is not as much use from other teachers (or no use) – connectivity issues as the school's creaking wifi struggles.

Always test put purchases in the 'least likely' class, link pilot studies with teachers who are looking for a specific outcome and, if possible use suppliers who will let you lend equipment first! (This worked a treat with our chromebooks).

 

2. Don't ask around….

Someone, somewhere will have tried that new idea of yours! It is a mistake to try something without asking other schools, other teachers, or even twitter – #ukedchat. Locally there may be companies that others have tried with better services, deals (e.g. A 30 day trial on equipment), nationally there may be common pitfalls that can be avoided!

 

3. Forget about the teaching…

All too often we are given technology as an answer to a problem that didn't exist. Don't forget it is about the classroom, the children, the teaching! Is there an issue with connecting your schools to others? Do the teachers need to share what's happening in their classroom? Does the technology need replacing? Can the pupils easily access their work? What is it you actually want out of your technology?

 

4. Lock it down…

Schools, once invested in expensive technologies, can (understandably) be reluctant to let them loose on the whole school. Whilst it makes sense to emphasize how it can be used safely, and how to properly look after such equipment, it is a mistake to put people off of making use any new technology or services. With new online services educate pupils, parents and teachers on e-safety. With equipment build into the budget some loss and demonstrate proper use at every opportunity. Teachers who are confident can be good role models for this, and sharing 'what works' in staff meetings is a must!

 

5. Ignore the pupils…

The pupils in schools can be involved at every stage of technological investment – from consulting to training on the use of anything new. Consider starting with what they already use at home, if you are considering investing in new technology this is a great way to get ideas. New services can be reviewed by pupils, helping you to decide what might be useful in the classroom. This also applies to parents, who can be involved in similar phases.

 

 

28 Dec

Ubuntu in School – Part II

Putting Ubuntu on our old Windows XP computers was a way of trying to breathe new life into the machines – making them useable again. That post is here.

It has made machines accessible for internet based work – bur schools often need more than that. At the end of the term I think some questions need answering…

What did Linux do?

I put on most of the machines Linux Ubuntu – but it turned out that this was a little too power hungry for some of the machines. On the laptops it was fine, I downloaded and installed a few basic programmes – inlcuding this open whiteboard software, Open Sankore. On others we struggled, I tried a few very stripped down versions, including Puppy Linux and children’s versions such as Qimo and Sugar on a Stick. The computers worked very well with these, but they were older operating systemz and not easy to update. This meant that software we needed, such as up to date internet browsers were difficult to locate and install.

What can the machines used for?

Laptops with Ubuntu on can be used for most purposes – but as they were not connected to the school shared drives (we are moving over to Google Drive) – this limited the usefulness for some. However I envouraged the use as if it were a chromebook. An updated browser was therefore crucial. The educational suite, GCompris, was also on the machines, providing some basic educational based games.

What were the machines actually used for?

In practice, the machines have actually been used by children more than staff. The pupils find adapting to an unfamiliar operating system much easier and actually enjoy finding things to do. I put a choice of Linux OS on some machines and this may have been a mistake as it put people off experimenting. Easy access to the internet is key. The machines are in shared spaces currently and children will choose to use them.

What’s next?

Decisions need to be made – there are still lots of the XP machines around school!! The chromebooks have been more useful and so easy to pick up for pupils and teachers.

  • I’ve started using the Digital Leaders in school to review the use of the machines and share it with other children and teachers.
  • Time is a huge problem. Teachers need time to explore, and this year, with the huge amount of change is already proving a big challenge on inset and staff meetings.
  • I’m going to perservere – giving a new lease of life to these machines is very useful and I think pupils do need to experience other operating systems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

27 Oct

Why we are teaching our pupils to code…

This question is asked with increasing frequency as more and more schools begin to get to grips with the new curriculum. The emphasis on understanding algorithms, creating and then debugging these creations, has opened up a whole new conversation about why we are asking all children to understand these concepts.

 

What is coding?

Communciation. Through an app, a programme and with a variety of devices.

This debate will rumble on – the catch all term ‘coding’ has definitely ruffled a few feathers – from a secondary (and therefore arguably more specialised) computer science perspective as well as those who work in the industry. However in it’s simplest form ‘coding’ lets you create a story using a language your device, programme and computer will understand. It’s about communicating ideas and manipulating language to create.

Why are we teaching our pupils to code?

There is a recognition that children will need to understand more fully the digital devices that they are growing up with. They will need to recognise that it is not some sort of ‘magic’ but a programmable device that people manipulate to get what they want.

However, when our pupils will leave school they will not be using the devices that we give them in primary school. The chances are they will never have to manipulate a dinosaur across a field using only directions, or come against a visual language such as Scratch – it is not about a specific language or a specific programme. It is about logic, about creativity and about problem solving. There is a place for some languages to be used so they can be recognised e.g. Java or Python, however the aim is for children to be resilient about searching for the answer and finding a way to manipulate the programme put in front of them.

 

Computer Science or Digital Literacy?

Digital literacy skills are still fundamental – these include the ability to find information; sift, sort and select what is useful; be safe online and to understand how the internet works.

They also include using and manipulating digital technology to create and store information e.g. Presentations, spreadsheets and cloud computing. These skills would be more about the old ‘ICT’ curriculum and, barring the odd area such as online safety, will be done through other areas of the curriculum. The key here is choice – can pupils choose what programmes to use? Can they choose how best to find information? Are they making good choices when communicating online?

Schools can do this because we can give our pupils a safe email address, we can give them cloud saving and give them responsibility over their work. We can show them how nothing is ever really deleted, so that silly comment you wrote from home can be shared with your teacher and parents. It’s probably the only chance they will get to make these mistakes and it be safe.

And the future?

The aims must be simple:

  • confident children who understand logic and approach problem solving in a logical fashion.
  • It must not be about specific devices, or specific programmes.
  • Schools need to take lead and give pupils choice, independence and the chance to make mistakes with a safe digital environment.

Further reading:

Made With Code

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/10584617/Computing-curriculum-Digital-skills-versus-computer-science.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/10468460/Coding-for-kids-schoolchildren-learn-computer-programming.html

http://code.org

21 Sep

Collaboration Inspiration..

Whilst pupils tend to be enthusiastic about the use of technology in the classroom particularly whilst it has that ‘brand new’ aspect – finding projects to keep involvement going is not always easy – not to mention stretching pupils who may have got the coding and computing curriculum covered.

QBL

This post then is nothing but a signpost to collaborative projects which can help take your pupils to the next level. Collaboration can develop all kinds of skills – including a reflective and evaluative approach to your own learning. For pupils, the chance to ‘debug’ programmes is a Key Stage 2 Objective – whilst the opportunity to share your work with the wider community can force a more detailed and critical approach.

Many of these projects are incredibly easy to get involved in – and most require a little work from both ends – if you need any help and advice just ask!

A word about e-safety : It goes without saying that anything that is part of the wider internet will contain links, comments and images you can’t always control. Best way to tackle this is to ensure your children are e-safety savvy. I talk about this here. 

Blogging Projects:

I talk about the value of blogs here.  A great way  to develop literacy skills and to develop and understand ‘digital etiquette’. Many schools will have web presences and blogs can either be a completely separate addition to this, or enhance this provision. It can be hard to develop a sense of audience though and that is where collaborative projects can work so well.

QuadBlogging – a more formal approach which puts groups of classes into and asks schools to ensure they not only post, but comment. It has been well received and I have seen it go from strength to strength!

Digital Leader Network – a shared blogging platform which, whilst giving your Digital Leaders a platform, could just as easily be used for a class project. Details regarding how to get started can be found on the site.

The Blog Exchange – a new site aimed at building mutual audiences. http://theblogexchange.wordpress.com

 

Filmclub

Creative Projects

Whilst I wasn’t sure if this was the same as blogging, I’ve included these as a separate category as they can be much more individual than blogs – in fact these could be used by targeted groups to support confidence and practice key skills!

100 Word Challenge  – a great idea with some really fantastic responses. A writing prompt is displayed weekly – which other pupils are then invited to comment on – it’s a good opportunity to give pupils an audience, create a competitive atmosphere if need be and teach digital etiquette skills!

DigitalTeacherLink.Com – this time linked to specific projects such as Scratch games – register at this site and your pupils can then request ‘testers’ for projects and then act on the feedback given. A really unique chance to put pupils in the seat of ‘game tester’ (or indeed developer)

Film Club  – I’m a huge fan of Film Club – if you’ve not come across it you can probably guess what it does! The great thing about the site though is that members of Film Club can post reviews of films, with ‘star’ reviews winning prizes. A real audience – and the chance to win things too!

 

Finding Partners

Of course sometimes you might want to set up a collaboration that is a bit more ‘permanent’ – The British Council Schools Site do an excellent job of forming partnerships – and I can recommend browsing through their ideas for activities once you have found a partner.

 

Further Ideas:

Sometimes you just want to be able to set something up that will get the whole school thinking! YOu could try a school ‘book review’ blog – browse Woodlands Junior for inspiration! Federations and Academies can easily create shared blogs – photo / short stories – anything really that will allow the pupils to share ideas!

Further Reading:

Using blogs to collaborate and share – reading.org

Igniting innovation in education through collaboration – Edutopia

Follow Digital Classrooms on WordPress.com

06 Sep

Classroom Collaboration – what you can try straight away!

Classroom collaboration was cited as one of the key reasons to begin using technology in the classroom in a recent (and quick) question and answer session….

There are many, many ways to get your pupils to collaborate more, and obviously using tech is only one strand of this. From role play, drama, team games and problem solving; once you get your pupils used to the different roles and the collaborative techniques of listening and working together it all becomes so much easier. How then can digital technology help?

An incredibly effective way to get collaboration is through a classroom (or school) blog. If the school is reluctant to get involved with this there are plenty of ways that you, as a class teacher, could get involved. It is very simple to start a blog through a free service such as blogger – and then use it in class to get children to collaborate on ideas such as storytelling or problem solving. Children can add their contributions in the classroom.

Give a voice…

A side effect of collaboration is that there will always be some children that are not heard, or who dot get to contribute. Programmes which allow for pupils to get involved without standing up in front of their classmates, or even saying anything, can be useful.

images

This example from educationismylife.com .

A simple idea is Padlet – and I’ve mentioned this lots on the site already – Padlet allows you to create a very quick whiteboard space which can be added to by clicking. You could set up a Padlet during a lesson with a question -and leave it on the computer for them to contribute to. For example – different ways to start a story, or solutions to maths questions. Using that Padlet’s code they can also contribute from home or through a different device in the classroom. I have already shared several examples of this – this post here looks at the use of Padlet for questioning.  However it has many uses – and even more so if you have a classroom blog which can be accessed from home-  groups can work on Padlets for different concepts, science planning and questioning for example. You can even password protect the Padlet so only children from your class can contribute.  The use is limitless – and a great way to get contributions from your pupils.

Popplet is another collaborative tool – allowing the group discussions to be contributed to, and accessed by anyone with the code for that popplet. It is also an app, and a website -so again if you have more devices in class the children can contribute as they see fit. I have used this versatile tool when story planning, allowing children to take their story off in different branches whilst we watched on the whiteboard. Again – I have written about Popplet before – and their are many examples of it’s use to be found!

Be creative…

More creative forms of collaboration were also mentioned by those advocates of technology in the classroom – a group working together to create something. iPads and tablet devices work brilliantly for this kind of thing – whether working together around one device or sharing and adding to their work. Obvious contendors for the iPad are Book Creator, Garage Band and Explain Everything. Garage Band is a particularly powerful tool – for example creating a radio advertisment with voice and music can be a powerful group task and the results using this app will sound impressive,

image

These apps are all incredibly easy to get started with and easily share the work within the tablet systems. But computers and laptops can be just as good for collaboration: Google Drive is another great way for pupils to contribute – registering your class as a user (either with a class email, or a temporary made up one) and when the pupils log in they can all share work and contribute to it. Of course, if the infrastructure is there you could register indiviuals in order to better control their work. This presentation has lots of ways to get you started!

Online apps such as Scratch also allow for collaboration – saving the class work, (or your example) on there lets the children take what you have created and then ‘tinker’ – indeed improving and debugging forms part of the KS2 computing curriculum anyway and Scratch is a perfect way of doing that.

General Tips

Just getting started with collaboraton can be tough in a primary classroom – it will only work if children are aware of the point of the collaboration and the behaviours expected!

  • Begin by giving roles – for example within a science lesson you might have a ‘recorder’ ‘analyst’ ‘equipment manager.
  • Demonstrate and be a role model for how you expect the groups to work -e.g. you might have to take part as a member of a group and then refer to the class for solutions when problems arise. An example might be a maths puzzle – one person may be the ‘accuracy checker’ – and then ask teh class what happens if you find a mistake? What should you do?
  • In the beginning have a tight hold on the technology – for example a blog where each group is to record their end result – model how you expect it to be used.
  • Then ‘loosen up’ – once the children are aware of the different tools at their disposal let them choose – for example how they present their art project is up to them – and the key is that they don’t have to make use of any digital technology at all!

 

I hope this helps – other common uses for technology came out of the twitter chat, and I’ll explore those later! Thanks for reading – feel free to comment!