Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Independent Learners

It's hard to believe that we are over half way through the 1:1 iPad trial now! Another four weeks and we will be giving them back... The pupils are already starting to mourn their impending loss, and asking questions like "Is there ANYTHING we can do to keep them?".

I have no doubt that when we give the iPads back, it will be difficult for a little while - just as it was a little difficult to start with when we got the iPads. But even though we won't have our iPads anymore, there are some invaluable things that we have learnt, and that will do our best to hold onto.

The most valuable of these is the confidence that has grown within the pupils to 'have a go' at tasks that they would previously have deemed "too difficult" or beyond them. Since beginning to use the iPads the pupils have been so much more willing to try tricky tasks - confident in the knowledge that their iPads will help them if they get stuck. I think (and really hope) that this is not just a temporary thing. Many pupils, and particularly those who find French more challenging, have been surprised at what they have been able to achieve in terms of language production. But more of that in my next post...!

The other thing that has totally changed the dynamics of our classroom is that the learners in the room are so much more independent. My role in the classroom has changed for the better - the amount of time I spend at the front of the room has reduced, and the amount of time that I can now spend with individuals, personalising learning, has increased dramatically. The first port of call when a pupil is stuck is now the iPad, not me. Pupils no longer have to sit with their hand up in the air, arm aching because I am 'busy' dealing with someone else - when stuck, they turn to their iPad, which invariable has the right answer for them somewhere!

A typical lesson for us these days involves me putting some lesson instructions and activities out to the pupils, either by email or on a learning platform like Edmodo. They then go through the activities at their own pace - differentiation is natural because they are working independently, meaning they access as much or as little of the information as they are able to. And because of the wide range of Apps that they could use to produce their work, they can work to their learning style, meaning that learning truly is personalised. When revising vocab, for example,if someone organises their thoughts best with a mind map, they use SimpleMind, if they prefer to use flash cards, they use Flachcardlet, for something more visual, Bamboo Paper. I am there to encourage them along when they need it, and offer them support. They are in control of their learning.

What is so lovely to see as well, is that in enjoying their learning, they are so much happier to help each other. Another dimension of their independence is that they have been going away from lessons and researching apps that they feel will help them in the classroom. When they come back into the classroom, they share ideas with each other and naturally begin to work collaboratively on tasks. One pupil will have an app open, the other an online dictionary, and they will produce high-quality pieces of work together.

So these are the two main things I want the pupils to have gained from being part of this 1:1 iPad trial - the confidence to 'have a go' and stretch themselves, and the ability to take charge of their own learning - using me as a facilitator and a resource to their learning.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Lesson 6 - cover

Last night I found myself in the dreaded position of writing cover work and for the first time was actually just a little tiny bit excited - time for another iPad experiment! Truth be told, setting cover work is usually a pain, and striking the correct balance of cover work that is simple yet worthwhile and engaging, I have found to be a near impossibility.... That is until today...!

I was quite conscious that the pupils haven't really spent much time with the iPads in lessons. This was to be their 6th hour with them and after last lesson's negative end I knew this had to be a success.

I decided to set them a challenge - they were to lead their own learning. Rather than giving the instructions to the cover teacher (well, I did, just in case, but the pupils didn't know that!) I emailed them out to the pupils and told them that they were in charge of helping each other to make sure everyone understood and completed the work. I told them that I would be just an email away if they needed help, but to try and work it all out for themselves first.

In their email they had full instructions for each task, a link to Word Reference, a worksheet to complete on their iPad, a written task to email me, and an iBook with instructions on how to produce a Sock Puppet show based on the work that they had done in class.

By the end of the lesson, everyone had sent me the work that they needed to and I was very impressed with the quality. They had helped each other, although some did email me a few times at the beginning of the lesson in confusion (they are not used to working quite so independently - I shall be working with them on this!)

I was able to sit in my onesie on the sofa with my Lemsip, keep an eye on the work being produced in class, help my pupils to progress and have peace of mind that the lesson was not being completely wasted. I know this method is not for everyone - I can see why some might be irritated at the thought of a teacher 'working' whilst 'off-sick', and I certainly don't think it should be an expectation. But for this project it worked, and I liked it :)

Maybe that's just the control-freak in me!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Non 1:1 iPads

 In addition to our trial set of iPads from Jigsaw, we also have a class set, which as of last week can be booked out by any member of staff for use in a lesson. I used them several times last week and so I thought I would share some of the Apps that I have enjoyed using so far:

  • Edmodo. I have been using the full web version for a while and I have to say the app is just as good. A great platform for sharing work with pupils, getting feedback and grading assignments. Pupils love its 'Facebook style' appearance and enjoy using it. It is simple and very safe - only you and your pupils (who have a code to enter the online group) can view posts. The only drawback is that not many apps are compatible with Edmodo yet, so in order to upload work they really need to upload a screenshot of what they have done.
  • SimpleMind+ A way for pupils to create mind maps to organise their thoughts. I have also found it very useful for vocabulary building - pupils are given a topic and they can use the online dictionary and SimpleMind to note down as many relevant words as they can find in 5 mins. 
  • Flashcardlet My GCSE class have been making revision flash cards with this app. They like it!
  • Audioboo Works a little bit like Twitter, but with sounds. Pupils can record a piece of speaking and give it a hashtag - all recordings stored under the same hashtag can be easily searched for by the teacher.
  • Bamboo Paper Lots of fun :) Pupils can write on it, draw, upload images, highlight things.... etc. Good for annotating images/diagrams, marking work (upload screenshot of text and use highlighters/pens to mark), grammar analysis, taking notes, having fun, drawing................
  • Socrative Think this is one of the best apps I have seen for education. Using a teacher account you can create quizzes or tasks for your pupils. Pupils log into your online classroom with a pupil account and 'room number'. As they go through the quiz you see their answers updating on your iPad in real time. A report is emailed to you at the end of each session with details of what individual pupils got wrong/right.
Been using lots more too... but that will do for now!

Coming soon - 1:1 iPads vs classroom sets...  (1:1 is currently winning in my opinion!)

Lesson 5 - HARD WORK.

After the first lesson of this week I was not a happy bunny! It was really hard. I was in two minds about writing this blog post - I can see iPad critics smirking as they read it - but then I reminded myself that I was writing an honest blog about this project, warts and all. And, as I have heard myself saying so many times this week, to so many people, it is a trial, an experiment and as such it is expected that things will go wrong from time to time. And we will learn from them and hopefully won't make the same mistakes again!

The long and short of it is that I tried something new (again), didn't work (my fault) and the pupils suddenly seemed very unmotivated, which isn't like them. There was a point in the lesson where I asked the pupils what they wanted to do and they told me they wanted to use pen and paper, which then left me feeling equally deflated, and so we spent the rest of the hour sitting in a very unhappy room!

I had been so wrapped up in my own thoughts about the trial, that I hadn't really been thinking enough about how the pupils were feeling. I had just assumed that they were happy - they had iPads, which they loved, and as far as I could see, all was good. But as much 'stuff' as there is for me to get my head around, the pupils also have a lot to think about - each lesson they have to learn not just French but a new iPad skill, invariably they have to set up a new account, remember their password, sometimes the app will work first time, sometimes it just won't, sometimes we have to start all over again, sometimes we just give up and try something different.... and all of this must be quite frustrating for them too!

I have learnt something from this lesson though - don't try something new every lesson. There is plenty of time to try new things. Allow the pupils a bit of a break from time to time - use apps they already know. If they want a piece of paper, give them a piece of paper (they can always take a photo of it).

3 days away from their iPad classroom they came back re-enthused, desperate to use their iPads again - I knew it wouldn't last!!

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Lesson 4 - First FULL iPad lesson

After two weeks of the pupils having their iPads, this is only the first lesson that we have had the opportunity to use them for the full 60 mins. Previously we were tied by the FCSE assessments - external exams that the class could not complete on their iPads (maybe one day...!).

We tried the Socrative app today, with great success. Socrative is brilliant! There is a teacher version and a student one - it allows the teacher to send out questions to all pupils in their class - the pupils answer the questions, which then update to the teacher's device in real time. It's very appealing and engaging to pupils and saves lots of marking for teachers! At first my plan was to use this app to assess learning in a plenary, but actually today I used it to structure the whole lesson.

I set the class 10 questions about the school system in France. The Socrative app divided the class into four groups and their task was to research answers to the questions on the internet. The first group to have all answers completed on Socrative were the winners. This worked really well, especially for my very competitive class! Having done the same lesson with other classes - without Socrative and without iPads - I can assure you that this was by far the most efficient and fastest way of doing things!

Their next task was to use that information to create an informative cover page for their new module. They began to create these in Bamboo Paper by finding some images that they could write various facts and pieces on information over. We shared a few of these via Apple TV, I then sent their homework to them via email, and they shall send me their completed cover pages before next lesson.

A couple of small issues are cropping up. One of them is that pupils are unclear on the appropriate way to address members of staff on email, e.g. hearts and kisses, and 'babe' not appropriate! I have had to speak to them a couple of times about this now and I think they are learning - it's actually a very valuable lesson to learn in any case. The second is the playing on apps when they should be working. Still happening and still not entirely sure how to combat it... Apart from nag nag nagging, which gets rather tedious for all concerned after a while!

Still, things are going generally very well at the moment, far better than I originally thought they would at this stage. And although I thoroughly enjoy teaching all of my classes, I have to admit that I really look forward to the iPad lessons!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Apple TV - amazing!

Finally my fears about not being able to teach 25 teenagers with brand new iPads are beginning to subside! Thursday's lesson was another general success. Although I must admit I am still not really sure what I mean by success... Did they learn as much as they would have done without the iPads? No, not yet, although I am still confident that this will come. After all it is lesson three, and they and I are still trying to navigate ourselves through using an iPad, let alone learning French with one! Did the lesson feel successful in terms of behaviour, engagement and focus? Definitely. In fact in some cases I would say that there has already been a marked improvement in focus on the lesson, and improved focus and engagement in turn make for better behaviour - which fills me with confidence that there is definitely potential for outstanding learning with the iPads.   

Today the pupils had to do an external exam in the first half of the lesson, so there was no scope for iPad use there. In the second half, the pupils began their new module (Education and Future Plans) by using a couple of bilingual dictionary apps to look up words that thought might be useful for their new module and then created a mind map in SimpleMind, which they really enjoyed. The most fun bit was at the end when they discovered independently that they could share their work with each other via Apple TV!! Of course I then had to quickly come up with an 'acceptable use policy' for using Apple TV... ;) 

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Getting There...

Today's lesson was better, generally, which was a great relief to me! It wasn't perfect and there is still a long way to go, but today I saw the first glimmers of how brilliant the iPad project will hopefully be by the end :)

Firstly, pupils finished recording their speaking assessments on Audioboo. Audioboo is a revelation to me! The app allows pupils to record themselves and then tag their 'boo', works in the same way as a Twitter hashtag, meaning that I then have all of their speaking assessments in one place. They then did their writing assessments on Evernote and emailed them to me. Even the most potentially boring assessment lesson was transformed with the iPads - never have I known a class to get so excited over doing an assessment!

The things that made this lesson a success were

  • I was able to email the class the day before to remind them about their upcoming assessments
  • Speaking assessments did not take a lesson and a half like they used to - instead they were all done in 15 minutes
  • All of the writing and speaking assessments are in one place ready for marking and sending back to the pupils, and as they are on email, are not 'misplaceable' by me or the pupils!!
  • The pupils had the most fun they have ever had doing an assessment!

There were definitely hiccups as well, but I am not so naive as to think that this project will be a success overnight!

The main problem is one that shouldn't really be a problem, and that is that pupils are still VERY excited. On the one hand this is obviously a good thing, however it does cause a bit of a nightmare when trying to settle them! They are also naturally testing the boundaries and seeing what they can get away with. The only way I have found to deal with this so far is to take their iPads away for a little while; but this probably won't work in the long run so I need to come up with a different sanction... any tips greatly appreciated!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The first lesson...

Well we had the first lesson today and it was HARD WORK. The beginning of the lesson was fine - they responded well to my rule of not using the iPad until given permission, they asked sensible questions about the project and seemed pleased with the idea of Tweeting about the progress of the iPad trial.

It was when we tried to start working that the trouble started... in hindsight I probably shouldn't have expected as much from them on the first lesson. I have been informed by many that the first few lessons of an iPad trial are often a bit of a write-off in terms of work. The iPads are still very much a novelty for the pupils and although I am confident that they will become more focussed during lesson time I do also think that it may be a little harder than I had first imagined! Once the pupils realise that there are still rules and consequences for breaking them (e.g. having iPads taken away, Apps blocked etc) things should become a little easier. They are naturally testing the boundaries, as pupils always do when there is change.

In fact I am probably being a little over-critical here. The truth is that despite the lesson seeming quite hard to manage, all of the pupils successfully downloaded another learning App, recorded two pieces of speaking work and most managed to send me their work on Audioboo as well. In the grand scheme of things that's pretty good going for a first lesson I suppose! I just look forward to the time when we can do that and more, without the constant rule-reinforcements and nagging!

Patience is a virtue...

Smiley faces

The year nine group received their iPads on Tuesday. Somebody from the company running the pilot came in and talked through the setup of the devices with the pupils. It was like a second Christmas for them - they were SO excited! Setting up the iPads was not as complicated as I thought it would be. there was the odd hiccup along the way but nothing disastrous and now everybody has a working iPad. The next day I was inundated with pupils wanting to show me Apps that they have found - it was lovely and they seemed so grateful to be a part of the project.

An introduction

I work in a mixed comprehensive school in a market town in Devon. It is a lovely school with a great buzz about it. The thing I love most about the school is that despite appearances (we were unfortunate enough to miss out at the last minute on a shiny new building) it is a very forward thinking place where experiments are encouraged and change is embraced.
It was the prospect of a new-build that saw us on our way towards a 1:1 device system. And when the plans fell through our Assistant Head in charge of New Technologies decided to take the idea forward regardless, and so here we are!
Every pupil in my mixed ability year 9 French group has one, and another 7 year 11 pupils who take French as an extra GCSE. Quite a few teachers have also chosen to take part, and we will have the devices till Easter. This blog will follow our progress :)