Getting Boys to Write

The National Literacy trust has revealed that, based on its own research, boys are half as likely to enjoy writing as girls and almost a third never or rarely write outside of class.  So working in a boys’ school, it’s a fair assumption that there are more than a couple of reluctant writers in my classes.  Which, given the importance of extended case study writing in geography exams, can become a problem.  The challenge is thus twofold, getting students to memorise the case study information and then getting them to practise writing the information concisely.

Several years ago, two of my students decided to make songs of all their A level case studies and publish them to youtube.  Whilst never troubling the charts with their work, they did manage to achieve good A-level results.  This got me thinking, could music be used to help memorisation and also encourage writing in boys.  Before the i-Pad, this kind of activity would have been difficult, but the built-in recording and editing in Garageband makes this a relatively simple process.

The task that was set was to either produce a rap about the Haiti or Japanese Earthquake, or one that compares them.  They had to write 3 verses and a chorus, and record it over a Creative Commons approved backing track.  The written aspects of this are challenging for 13-year-olds, as they have to consider not only the geographical details, but also write using rhyming couplets and rhythm.  Effectively they were writing poetry in disguise, and they were enjoying doing so.  Here is an example of the finished work:

People often ask whether using technology can help develop writing skills, and I would argue that it can, but it needs to be planned carefully.  In this example, the technology has been the catalyst, a motivating influence that helped the boys consider rhythm in writing as well as creating a device that enable students to remember the crucial details needed for the case study answers. I mean, who doesn’t remember the words from songs they listened to when they were young!


The role of technology in the classroom

There has been a lot of sensationalist headlines in the UK press recently regarding the role of technology in the classroom, which has once again brought the topic of tablets back to the public’s attention.  Articles such as this, from the Sunday Times, have very sensationalist headlines:

Ban Tablets says ‘Tsar’

However, Tom Bennett, the government advisor on behaviour has clarified his position in his blog (Tom Bennett), which has a more balanced view where he recognises that technology can have a positive educational impact when used in the right way.   I don’t disagree with Tom, technology can be distracting, but so can many other things.  In the 20+ years that I have been teaching I have seen students distracted by paper (who doesn’t remember making paper aeroplanes?), pens (graffitti anyone?), open windows and most recently books being read under the table in another lesson.  We obviously don’t advocate banning all those things!  The truth is, students are easily distracted, but technology, used the right way can have the opposite effect.  When students are busy making film, or demonstrating learning via animation they are more focussed, more engaged and most importantly,  learning.

At Pleckgate we banned personal mobile devices in the classroom, but gave students an iPad that the school owned and controlled.  These devices were filtered, in and out of school; all social media was blocked and the app store removed so that students could not download games.  We also gave teachers the control needed to lock devices, control what websites they can go on, and monitored their use.  The MDM (mobile device management) profiles on devices gave us that control, and basically made it impossible for students to personalise the devices with their own apps.  A tough policy on use of devices also made it clear that any mis-use, or deleting profiles (not an issue now DEP is in UK) and they would lose their device.  However, the key for the success at Pleckgate was not about the devices at all.  We always said the device was there as a tool to aid teachers, we did not advocate everything had to be done on them.  The school embraced the TEEP model for improving teaching and learning, and the iPad development plan was matched into this to ensure the focus was on pedagogy not technology.  We always maintained that the technology was an enabler for improving/diversifying pedagogical practices proven to work (Meta-cognition, feedback, collaboration, homework etc.) all proven to improve outcomes by the EEF.

Here is an example of how the iPad programme was mapped into the plan to improve learning and teaching and the TEEP (which is now also being researched as a successful intervention by the EEF).  Ipad Development Plan.  An example of a lesson where technology really made a difference to learning was in geography.  In this lesson, students made stop motion animation videos to demonstrate how physical landforms were made.  Without the technology, students would have drawn some diagrams and added labels, but this is easy to copy and do without thinking. By re-creating the physical steps students  had to really understand the processes and they were therefore able to re-call this information much more clearly, as was evidenced by written exam answers ( and yes, the students did still answer an exam question, essay style, with a pen).

The introduction of iPads, combined with all the other interventions, helped our last year 11s achieve the highest results in the school’s history.  Did the iPads do that on their own, of course not.  So if you are planning a 1:1 roll out, do not do so without careful planning, and do not rush deployment.  You must make decisions on many things, including levels of control, but most importantly how the iPads fit into a wider plan to improve learning and teaching.

Ade Institute 2015: EMEIA Region highlights

A week ago ADE institute in the Netherlands finished, and I returned back to the UK, tired, but invigorated having had a productive week with fellow ADE’s from across the EMEIA region.  The top 5 highlights for me personally were:

1) The 3 minute ADE showcases that started each day.

The showcases were started off brilliantly by Catherine Jessey from Hove Park with her Animating and Narrating in Science, and the content varied from Lindsay Durell’s Rethinking PD pedagogy to the beautiful showcase from Marta Ruiz Benito.  Every single one, and I do mean all 45, were brilliant and made me reflect on my own, and my school’s practices.  So many ideas came out of these sessions and I really liked the 3 minute showcase format.  Where can I get some digital countdown timers?

2) The SEN showcases.

The institute dates coincided with the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the Americans With Disabilities Act, so it was apt that there was a focus on SEN during many of the showcases and keynote sessions.  Stuart Hammersley showcased the progress one his students has made thanks to iPad, and on the final day we saw showcases from Poland and Czech Republic on how iPads are making a difference in SEN education.  The final showcase, ‘SEN means “dream” in Czech’ by Iva Jelinkova and Lenka Rihova was particularly moving.

The potential for technology to change lives was highlighted by the story of Christopher Hills, who really demonstrates that anything is possible:

3) Bill Frakes

A Pulitzer prize winning photographer who took all our professional portraits gave an excellent masterclass on photography.  His work is awe inspiring and he’s such a humble, nice guy it is impossible not to listen and want to go out and take photos.

4) The educational leadership learning community ‘Time for a Change’ that I am now part of.

It was great to listen to the stories from different countries and how their 1:1 visions have gone or are planning to go.  This community has members from 3 continents, ranging from Delhi to Cape Town, Holland and the Arctic Circle in Finland.  We all have so much experience as leaders and we really learnt well from each other.  I am sure the support from this group is going to make a really big difference to my Institute projects.

5) The UK ADE team

With 50 members, the UK team were the largest of the countries at Institute, and we all worked well as a team.  I am looking forward to continuing to collaborate and work with my fellow ADEs, especially the team from the North West.

My final reflection of the week is that Institute was not about the technology, but about the people.  A great week collaborating, hopefully i’ll get the chance to do it again.

RTC reflections and TPCK Tips

I was recently fortunate enough to attend the UK RTC Summer conference, where teachers and educators  come together to share ideas and lessons where technology can ‘redefine’ the learning experience  (see earlier post on SAMR for more details).  The sessions were run by fellow ADEs, and were all based around the theme of closing the gap, an area of growing importance and scrutiny in UK schools.

The first session was essentially a treasure hunt that challenged our literacy and numeracy skills and allowed us to reflect on different learning styles, as well as thinking about how we can meet the needs of different types of learner such as EAL students.  Our teamwork and communication skills were further tested by the second activity where we had to as a team build some flat pack shelves with no instructions and no speaking.  We only had sign language and our Ipads to help us.  This was actually very difficult (not least because I do like to talk!), but it really made me reflect on my own classes and how technology can help overcome some barriers to learning, such as text to speech and language translation.  It didn’t help that only one screwdriver was actually the right size for the screws!

We then went onto model mathematical concepts using stop motion animation and lego, a technique that I personally use a lot in my lessons as Geography has so many processes and landforms that can be explained using stop-motion animation.  I always get the students to then record their explanation over the top of the animation in Imovie before answering an exam question to demonstrate their learning. For the students at Pleckgate, being able to demonstrate a process and develop their oral explanations first really helps develop final exam technique. Our adventures in film continued with the excellent 5,4,3,2,1 idea from Simon Pile.  The idea is simple, 5 shots, 4 people, 3 props, 2 minutes and only one take… no editing.  This ensures more time spent planning, writing and preparing and prevents the students from being bogged down in an editing process.  Other excellent ideas from day 1 included adding revison material to create songs, and using the SparkVUE app and PASCO sensors to model scientific processes.  We cleverly combined the two by rapping about the contaminated fountain, and I can still remember what we wrote and sang/rapped a week later.   Students are always  able to remember words of songs perfectly, so this is a really effective technique, one that I remember 2 A level students employing years ago to aid their revision to good effect.

The first day ended with a keynote from Dr Ruben Puentadura, who created the SAMR model and he introduced the TPCK model (Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 60-70.).

TPCK color logo

The idea of this model, summarised, is that effective technology integration for teaching specific content or subject matter requires understanding and negotiating the relationships between these three components: Technology, Pedagogy, and Content (TPC). If a  teacher is capable of negotiating these relationships, then it represents a form of expertise different from, and  broader than, the knowledge of a disciplinary expert (say a scientist or a musician or sociologist), a technology expert (a computer engineer) or an expert at teaching/pedagogy (an experienced educator) (Archambault & Crippen, 2009).  So a content expert who lacks pedagogical knowledge will struggle to get students to learn effectively, and similarly a teacher who has the subject knowledge and understands how to teach and the role of technology to facilitate this, will be able to create immersive, redefining learning experiences.

So how might this look in practice in the classroom?

An example was given to us on day 2 that I thought was absolutely brilliant, and captured this well.  The idea was using De Bono’s thinking hats (Pedagogy) to facilitate a group discussion on a topic (content) but delivered through ItunesU (Technological).  An  ItunesU course was quickly set up in front of us, which had one post, and a series of discussions set up; one for each ‘colour’ hat.  Each student then gives as many responses as they can to the topic with their ‘hat’ on, and then we moved into mixed hat groups to debate the central question.  The beauty of this was that the technology allowed each student to draw on a wider pool of opinions related to their hat than they would’ve thought of on their own, and the use of the thinking hats strategy ensured the effective delivery of the content.  I hope to get this idea filmed in one of my colleagues lessons next week to demonstrate how effective this is for learning and progress.  Watch this space…

ADE Class of 2015

Quite some time ago I applied to join the Apple Distinguished Educator programme, a scheme where international teachers who are innovative with Apple technology, and secure good outcomes in their classrooms, join together to share good practice.  The application process was quite tough and included a long written section that identifies how you are using technology to transform and innovate learning, and a video that shows this in action. I never really considered myself ‘creative’, so the video aspect was daunting, especially as I am a busy deputy headteacher with numerous responsibilities and little time.  In the end, I was pleased with the final product, despite the inconsistency with sound levels and music, as it got across what we have achieved at Pleckgate.  This is my video:

I feel extremely lucky to be selected as an Apple Distinguished educator for the class of 2015, and I am now looking forward to the Institute where I can develop my skills further, grow my network of innovative teachers, and get the best CPD possible.  However, for me, the most important thing I have gained from this process so far is the ability to reflect on the journey we have undertaken, as well as build a really good PLN of fellow ADE hopefuls.

So, to celebrate this reflection, I thought I’d share 5 key things to consider when planning a 1:1 roll out.

1) Start with a clear vision, and make that vision about the pedagogy.  The technology has to be second.  I would look at the vision for planning, teaching and assessment and then plan how the technology will enhance, modify and re-define those processes.

2) Work closely with your ICT network team.  You have to plan for concurrency as well as coverage, and time spent getting the infrastructure needed to support 1:1 right will lead to a smoother roll out and greater staff confidence in the classroom.

3) Get the staff ready first.  Ensure they understand the vision and then give them time to plan.  This is something I wish we had done more at Pleckgate.  So for example, if you want iTunes U as the planning part of learning, ensure staff have the time to sit together and actually set that up before the students get their iPads.  It will ensure a smoother roll out and higher engagement from the staff and students.

4) Have a plan for Apple IDs.  The Apple ID is essential for students as it allows them to enrol on courses, receive apps etc.   Originally we asked students to set their own, but this created problems as they could download games, which isn’t a major problem so long as you manage the behaviour. The bigger problem was when they forgot their passwords, as it could take over a day for them to re-set, than go home and check their personal e-mail etc.  We therefore decided we would manage the appleIDs, which student devices are locked to.  This means we can update apps over the air, restrict the downloading of games etc. and also ensure each student can enrol on courses quickly, with no extra fuss.  This approach isn’t for every school, but we found this has helped us gain better confidence from our staff and our parents.

5) Identify your digital champions (staff) and your digital leaders (students).  These groups can identify the innovative approaches to teaching and learning, and if it is done well, this is easy as staff are free to experiment and innovate.  I wish we’d used the digital leaders more at Pleckgate, as they are a great resource that can really help transform learning.

There are lots of other important steps, including getting parents fully on board, but I feel that these 5 steps are something to consider first.  The most important being that 1:1 is about pedagogy and learning; make sure that stays at the heart of your vision.

Developing Oracy through iPad presentation tools

Having just helped lead Pleckgate out of Special Measures in just over 12 months, it’s fair to say we have had our fair share of Ofsted inspections.  One consistent theme that always comes through is that our students’ verbal or oracy skills are weak.  This is not necessarily surprising given the EAL profile of our students, but it is a key area for improvement as students cannot write what they cannot say.  As a result, one of the most common uses of the iPads in our classrooms is to prepare presentations which helps address this key area. So, I’ve put together an introduction to three of the top apps for making presentations.



Keynote is Apple’s presentation software that now comes free with newer iPads and Macs.  It is a really simple, intuitive programme that works brilliantly on the iPads.  It is simple to use, for example it’s much simpler to align and position images/objects than in Powerpoint and it’s much more multimedia friendly.  Plus it has some excellent transitions and animations (Magic Move is nice), and it’s simple to export into other apps in a variety of formats.  The key drawback for developing Oracy and verbal skills is that it is almost too engaging… students love to create animations and visuals, and forget about the presentation part, and therefore revert to simply reading back the written information in the slides.  A good way round this is to get them to open it in Explain Everything so that they are forced to think of the presentation aspects too.

Adobe Voice

Adobe voice

I was introduced to this app just recently, and I was immediately taken with its simplicity.  Insert simple creative commons licensed images, choose from a limited licensed pool of music and record your voice to tell a story.  The limited options mean students only focus on the verbal aspects of the presentation which means its great for developing oracy in students.  Students can also create great stories in a matter of minutes.  The downsides are also its strengths, the lack of customisation means that this is an occasional app rather than a frequent flyer.

Haiku Deck

Haiku deck

Haiku Deck is similar to Keynote and Powerpoint, but it constrains the user into set templates and styles which makes it harder to overwhelm the audience with too much text.  This forces students to focus on what they are saying, and the ‘Deck’ is just there as a visual reference point… as it should be.  One downside that has been reported by some teachers online is the nature of the images and that they are not always appropriate for younger students.  Definitely something to look out for.

Whichever presentation tool you use, it really comes down to the teacher focussing students on the essentials for good presentations.  As with all good lessons, teachers need  to share clear outcomes and objectives that are agreed from the outset so that students are clear what is expected.  If these foundations are put in place then any of these apps will help develop students’ oracy skills.

‘Creativity is about liberating human energy’ Howard Gardner

When I was younger I thought creativity was only for certain types of people; the eccentrics, the mavericks and the talented.  In fact my secondary school exaggerated this view by putting all the musicians in their own tutor group, and only a select few were ever allowed in.  I was never allowed in, despite my flirtations with music in a punk band called Death by Yoghurt.  And I do use the term music loosely in this context.

In fact, I went through my early adult years thinking of myself as a rational scientist, and lacking the skills to be creative. That is, until I became a teacher.  Faced with students who didn’t really seem to care that much about glaciation or maps, I had to find creative ways of getting them to learn, often without them realising.  In fact, my lessons are devoted to the creative process of ‘developing ideas that are original and of value’ (Robinson 2001). I want students to make videos, I want them making songs about their work, I want them to question everything and therefore engage with the learning process in a dynamic way that enables them to learn effectively.  I like students to have choice in the classroom, or at least the opportunity to express their thoughts in different ways, whether that is up to them or decided by the teacher. I think Ken Robinson has some great ideas about education and creativity, and his TED talks are worth a look if you’ve not seen them before.  This is also a nice summary.

Recently, I was lucky to be invited into a classroom by Mrs Sholicar, an English teacher at Pleckgate.  Her year 8 class was completing some display work on Gothic literature, a tried and tested approach to inspiring creativity in students.  However, in this lesson, the students were using their iPads to completely redefine  what display work is. Firstly students were writing biographical details about selected authors (an important literacy skill), then using a green screen app (Do Ink Green screen) to record this biographical detail in front of key images relating to the author’s life and work.  These videos were than edited together in iMovie.  Students designed posters and used these as trigger images to create augmented reality displays using Aurasma.  The end result is displays that literally come to life with students talking eloquently about the subject matter when scanned with the iPads.

The lesson was a joy to be part of, even as an outsider, as students were independent, showing enjoyment for discovering things for themselves, problem solving, working well as teams, trying to be unique and owning their learning.  An excellent way of using creativity to engage students in writing, and an innovative way of using and displaying student work.