18 Jun

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!

08 May

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!!

30 Mar

The Excitement of a 3D Printer!

For British Science Week this year I thought I’d get a 3D printer into school. I had a vague idea that it might inspire the children (and staff) – but really, I saw the create Ultimaker education project and felt inspired myself!! The Ultimaker Project allows you to borrow a 3D printer, and, once you have it they offer all sorts of advice, ideas and inspiration. Do check out the website.

 

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What then did we get out of a 3D printer?

Well, first of all it really was a great opener into all things 3D. Using the fantastic tinkercad the children can actually create their own designs. Even just going through the tutorials is a fantastic way in for most of the children. The conversations we had around 3D shape were fantastic and really gave the maths curriculum a bit of a lift.

The 3D printer also gave some concrete examples of fantastic real world science. We are in the middle of our Tim Peake Science Project and the chance to look at a wrench that was built on the space station was great! Nasa have some great 3D models here.

It was also really easy to see the printer working and to understand how it worked – even the younger years could talk about the different materials and the way it heated up to build and then cooled it down to make it solid.

Did we manage to design and print our own stuff?

Well, basically, yes we did. But this is probably the trickiest part for primary. I used an app called ThingMaker which allowed the children to design, and then print, figures. This was very easy and a number of children we able to give it a go, but the printing was very fiddly and didn’t always work. It did, however, stress to the children how important accuracy is. Always a good thing.
We also had a go with the TinkerCad, and was able to create a couple of items which were personalised. This again was tricky however, mainly because of the time it took to print. Not everyone could get their items printed.

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Worthwhile in the school?

The free loan is such a fantastic idea that I would recommend it to all schools. It had everyone in school enthralled – many had never seen one before much less had the chance to tinker with it. There a few health warnings – I spent a Sunday tinkering with it to get it working properly – but there are plenty of online plans for you to jump straight into the printing side of it once it’s calibrated!

 

21 Feb

How independent are your Digital Leaders?

Digital Leader Chat!

How to make your Digital Leaders independent… And what results can you expect?!

This post is part of the slow chat that takes place over a week on twitter. You can find out more by searching the #dlchat and asking any of the lovely people chatting with that hashtag!

This week (22-26 Feb 2016) I am exploring how independent your digital leaders are, and whether you are happy with this or would like them to develop their independence more.

This topic has many sides to it – obviously age and experience of your digital leaders will have some bearing on this – but also the expectations on them. I’m not even sure if there will be a primary and secondary divide on this because of time restraints.
I think this topic will give us a chance to explore the practicalities of digital leaders in different settings.

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The questions – roughly divided over a day and a half each:
Sunday afternoon…
Q1 – just how much time do your Digital Leaders spend being digital leaders? What are they expected to do in this time?
Tuesday Morning
Q2 – Is there a hierarchy in your Digital Leaders? Are they expected to organise themselves at all?
Wed afternoon
Q3 – How independent do you expect your Digital Leaders to be? What are they allowed to do?
Finish on Friday… Q4 One tip for encouraging independent Digital Leaders?

Look forward to chatting with you!

10 Oct

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.. 

 

 

07 Oct

On replacing the interactive whiteboards…

Our generation of whiteboards at school… The interactive type no less… Are slowly coming to the end of their useful life. The projectors are becoming more and more problematic, bulbs replacing with increased frequency and the hardware looking increasingly like it’s not going to last the year.

Fact is some problems: constant calibration, bulb changes, lost remote controls can all be sorted out, but, they are becoming more and more time consuming and less out of our expertise. Replacements are needed.

Where to start?

Some key questions need to be answered :

  • Do they really need to be interactive?
  • Do we want to continue using a laptop alongside a projector?
  • What size screen do we need?
  • And – controversially – do we even need a screen?

 

Observing

I’ve been thinking very carefully about this over the last few weeks, and spoken to many of those who will be directly affected. Fact is our whiteboards, particularly lower down the school are used interactively. Children manipulate images, draw, create and play games. Higher up the school, not so much, but they are still used with an element of demonstration from the teacher.

We also have visualisers attached, and these need still to work as they are popular with staff.

It’s also worth considering that we a GAfE school – and google infrastructure is used very well by most of the key stage 2 pupils!

I’ve got an idea of where we need to go next – but I would be incredibly interested to find out what works for others in schools… Thanks!