My daughter – the fussy client!

Today I started a new project with my wonderful S3 class (actually I have two, but these are my end-of-week favourites). I wanted to give them a chance to work with a client: someone really fussy, who changes their mind as much as a real client does… so my precocious daughter was an obvious choice!

Two years ago I recorded a few video clips of my daughter answering a simple question – “if my class could make you any game, what would you want it be be like?”. Instantly thrilled that strangers would be making a game for her, Mia started describing a scenario involving a baby butterfly, a daddy butterfly, a flower, a vase and an evil flower-stealing bottle!

My S3 class loved the way my daughter described the game, stopping mid-sentence to describe something else that she had forgotten about earlier. They saw that it wasn’t serious, but at the same time they had to listen carefully to understand what she wanted. I helped them by drawing a visual representation on the SmartBoard while they jotted down written paragraphs in their Requirements Specification.

I played the class three videos during the lesson and in the second and third videos the pupils saw what happens when you don’t get your Requirements Specification signed off – Mia moved the goal posts, added in more requirements, changed the enemies, DEMANDED more levels. The class were rapt, the class were fully engaged with this 4 year old who was attempting to describe this wonderful idea inside her head.

Discussions bounced around the classroom as everyone tried to grasp a mental image of the game Mia wanted – what happens if you touch the bottle? Where does the butterfly get the flower from? When does the music play? All valid questions a Systems Analyst should be asking their client.

The bell went far too soon and the class hovered around a little longer than usual on a Friday to see the end of the third video. Two years on from recording I am still surprised, amused and proud of what my daughter is describing and how she is holding the attention of my (her?) class. I think I might need to ask her for some CPD in the future – she seems to have this teaching lark sussed.

Using iPod Touches in the classroom #3

Thanks for your comments, tweets and face-to-face discussions regarding the previous posts on using iPod Touches in the classroom (part 1 / part 2). This blog post concentrates on the issue of using QR codes with a mobile device that doesn’t have a camera!

I met with a colleague from the Aberdeenshire iPod Development Group this week to share what we were doing and to see if there was potential to work together. They discussed an idea to use the iPods in an outdoor learning exercise and wondered about using QR codes to allow pupils to access educational resources while exploring a forest.

I’d also been reflecting on using QR codes within the school for an iPod treasure hunt and we had both realised that the lack of a camera on the iPod Touch 3G made this tricky. Tricky but not impossible. The BeeTagg Reader Pro app (currently free) can read QR codes (and other types) from the iPod Photo Library!

I had successfully tried this app before but wanted to know if I could put more information into the image containing the QR code. This would allow the pupils to be able to differentiate between them in the Photo Library. I tried adding some text underneath the QR code and transferred this image to the Photo Library.

It worked! However the text is a little difficult to read on the small screen, especially when you only have the smaller tile view of the Photo Library. So next I tried colour-coding the QR code images.


It worked as well! I imagine that colour-coded or labelled QR codes could be printed out and placed in appropriate locations (either in the forest or within the school. Or even within your classroom!). The pupils could match up the QR code to the ones pre-stored in the Photo Library and then access the material on their mobile device. This method also enables use of mobile devices with cameras, so has longevity if planned correctly. The material linked to the QR codes can also be modified without having to reprint the labels so resources can be tweaked to improve pupil learning at will.

There are more pressing concerns as to how the content will be stored on the iPods or accessed from within a forest (I imagine you’ll need a 3G signal for internet access unless you can set up some kind of adhoc wifi network in the trees!) but allowing pupils to access this content quickly means mobile devices already have a significant benefit to classroom teachers.

Using iPod Touches in the classroom #2

In my last post on this topic I described the hardware setup process involved in getting iPods ready for the classroom. This week I had my first development day dedicated to the setting up appropriate processes for teaching staff to bid in to use the iPods with their own classes.

I began by creating a proforma for booking the iPods but wanted to keep it as short but as informative as possible. Therefore I sketched out a design for a database I want to build which will help me keep track of where and when the iPods are required but also keep track of how the iPods have been used and how well the teacher involved thinks their project impacted the learning of their pupils. Once I’d done this creating an appropriate single page was much easier.

I also reflected on how these proformas could be introduced to staff. A twilight training session might be involved to show the hardware but I felt that the best way to fill in the form was to provide an example for my colleagues to take inspiration from – much like we do with our pupils in class.

This is the initial draft which will be used to kickstart a dialogue with colleagues and SMT.

I have also been thinking carefully about how to ensure iPods and their accessories are used appropriately and safely by pupils. I can’t be with every class that use the iPods, nor would I want to be, but I do want to give the classroom teacher enough information about the resources they are issuing so that they can be used by pupils in a safe and responsible way.

For example, each iPod Touch comes with its own set of bud earphones. Sharing these between pupils is a health issue that must be considered. Buying one set of earphones for each pupil in a school of 900 if not an option. Luckily there are a number of individuals and companies out there who realise that using the earphones (and touch screens) in an educational environment needs to be addressed. From my research, there are a number of products which could be used to remove dirt and germs from the iPods and their accessories but costs are quite prohibitive. The solution I decided upon is to use gentle antibacterial wipes for the earphones and touch screens and provide hand gel with the iPods for pupils to apply before use in class. I spoke to other workers in other sectors who share IT equipment and this seems to be standard procedure now. Perhaps IT labs in schools also need to consider this more (but after their breakfast).

I don’t doubt that the processes and procedures I’ve come up with will evolve over time as the iPod administrators in each school share their experiences. However it is much easier to adapt an existing process than an ad-hoc idea and I want to ensure that my colleagues have the opportunity to investigate the iPods and reflect on how using them could positively impact on the learning of their pupils.

In the afternoon I had fun – there is no better way to describe it. I can imagine a fantastic INSET training day just using iPods to create content for individual subject areas.

I researched a number of other schools who use iPod Touches in the classroom – mostly primary / early years focussed to be honest – but got some great ideas for apps from them.

* Bump – originally great for transferring photos and contacts between iPods, the app has now been upgraded to allow sharing of music suggestions, app ideas and calendar content too. You need to have a wifi connection to use this obviously and this is an issue at my current school but I think it is possible to create a suitable wifi network (with no internet access) using the MacBook.
* Evernote – this has just been updated (1st March) and the difference to the iPod app is amazing. This requires that the iPod Touch has internet access to synchronise the account but can store local text, audio and image notes in the meantime. I’ll dedicate a blog post to my ideas around how Evernote can be used with classes in the future.
* SonicPics – this app (paid, but a cut down Lite version is available) allows you to create a photo slideshow using images stored in your Photo Library then create a video file with an audio track – basically a screencast with static visuals. Very simple to use, very quick and very very good.
* Comic Twist – again, use images from your Photo Library to create content. This time you can add speech bubbles, thought bubbles and captions to let your pupils create a story or a summary of a concept they have learned in class. Very easy to use with primary schools.
* Strip Designer – this has been mentioned by a number of my secondary colleagues as a good app to have. I feel that it is slightly more complicated than Comic Twist so could be used to differentiate on a task to create a visual learning resource.

Once I’d downloaded these apps, I set about creating an example exercise which could be easily replicated during a staff training session. I used a creative commons image search to find a suitable picture of Stonehaven then imported it into comic twist, opting for the two panel comic layout. I added a few captions and exported it to my photo library.

Then I used the same photo, a map image of Stonehaven and a few other random pictures from my photo library in Strip Designer. I found that there were much more options available to allow you to customise your comic strip. Again I exported it back to my photo library then used SonicPics Lite to create a photo slideshow with voice over. Here it is!

It was so quick and easy to do I think that pupils will find the iPod apps far more intuitive than traditional software packages. The limited menu options and functionality due to the small screen size could actually be more beneficial to an educational setting!

If you are interested in finding out more about how iPods are being used in primary / secondary education in Aberdeenshire there is an internal Aberdeenshire iPod Development Group in GLOW but, as that has restricted membership, I set up a wiki where educators from anywhere in the world can read (or share) their own ideas or experiences of using iPod Touches in the classroom.