On wellbeing

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It’s fairly commonplace to be self-reflective at this time of year and, for teachers anyway, the holidays are usually when we consider how to improve our own wellbeing. Recovering from a draining term, it has definitely been on my mind…

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I was intrigued by the Twitter discussion #teacher5adaySlowChat over the past few days however decided to lurk instead of post. Long-time Twitter friend Robert Macmillan wrote a fantastic discussion piece yesterday on teacher wellbeing. I found this section particularly jarring:

If you are naive enough to believe the pundits and the politicians, then we’re treated quite well. Indeed, the ‘Get Into Teaching’ website preaches that as a “valued professional” you can look forward to:

Job satisfaction, “competitive salary, generous pension”.

It goes on to tell about long holidays in which you can: “pursue your interests, travel and spend time with family and friends.”

Not for them the lower life expectancy that has seen several of my former colleagues die just after retirement.

I wouldn’t paint all schools with this broad brush but have experienced the highs and lows of working in locations where teacher wellbeing is either a high priority or completely ignored. Teaching is a career that can completely overwhelm all other aspects of your life and needs careful attention to ensure that you don’t spend your long holidays recovering from illness, fatigue or stress. My family spent most of the last term swapping bugs which left us all exhausted by Christmas and I’m sure a lot of other teachers would have been in the same boat around the world. Even one week in we’re nowhere near 100%. Hence my preference to lurk and consider at the moment – at least I’m managing to spend time with my family…

Milan traffic ban

Milan is a beautiful, vibrant city with so much variety to observe and explore. However what I found most striking recently was the (non-peak) ban on vehicles in the city. Yesterday the city was eerily quiet between 10am and 4pm for the first time since 1999. I had imagined it would be reminiscent of traffic levels when we arrived in early August, when most of the Milanese head for less stifling heat, however it was completely different. I walked with the kids to a local supermarket and saw a handful of low-emission cars quietly whirr past on the way but was delighted to see how many people were out on the street chatting to neighbours, walking slowly, enjoying the winter sun. For someone who is used to everyone moving quickly and with purpose, it was a unique and enjoyable experience. I don’t know if the vehicle ban is going to help current smog levels to be honest, but it appears to be improving the quality of life for its residents in other ways.

How to be happy

The Guardian article “New year, new you – how to be happy” by Rachel Kelly didn’t contain anything that hasn’t been said before however it groups advice from yoga techniques through to recent screen time recommendations in one easy-to-reference list. I don’t agree with the “60% rule” heading but do feel that sometimes our perfectionism forces us to overwork.

The pros and cons of digital connections

While some of us decide to take regular digital detoxes to improve our wellbeing. While I agree that you need balance between online and offline activities I disagree with the idea that you need to force yourself to take a month off to realise:

The other thing that struck her was just how much pointless “digital noise” there was in her life. “When I got back home, I realised I didn’t have any messages that were actually important, that needed me to do anything. No one had died.”

Without our regular Skype or Appear.in chats with family back in the UK, my Facetime and iMessage discussions with friends and teaching colleagues I would certainly feel very isolated as suggested by the Ages 2.0 project.

iTunesU Course Creator #RGCdevicetrial

The end of term approaches and this means that the coursework and project submissions are pouring in and the focus of learning and teaching turns to final exam preparation. The iPad has been passed on to a colleague (hope you are enjoying it Wendy!) and I now have a brief opportunity to try out the Macbook Air.

I have been so impressed by the iPad in recent weeks that I want to try and replicate the functionality on a laptop to see if I have just been dazzled by technology. It wasn’t just functionality I was impressed with, but I feel that if I can augment my learning and teaching to the same degree as easily on another device it will make the final discussion on device choice much more balanced.

One of the things I found out about at a Apple Store event in Aberdeen during February was iTunesU. To be honest I’ve not found iTunesU that easy to navigate and usually find a keyword search turns up a lot of university level courses and nothing suitable for secondary students. When I heard that you can create your own course I  assumed that it was possible with the iPad. Unfortunately not as it only appears to work with Safari browser for Windows or Mac at present.

After reading this blog post from TNW I recorded a quick screencast using Quicktime Player on the Macbook and edited it slightly using iMovie before uploading to YouTube. There were a few issues with getting the movie from Quicktime Player into iMovie which I’ll put down to user inexperience for the moment (update, it was!)

There are a few things I’d like to see in future (or discover if they already exist!):

1. Importing of multiple web links embedded in a YouTube playlist

2. Importing of a document that contains the outline of a course e.g. page structure and content and turns weblinks in the document into resources in the Materials section.

3. A preview course feature within the browser!

17 iPad apps for teachers #RGCdevicetrial

Tomorrow I hand over the iPad to a colleague, so I’m signing out of all linked accounts and removing whatever personal data I can.

I’ve also purged the apps installed and categorised them so the next person using the iPad isn’t overwhelmed with pages upon pages of apps to investigate. Here are the apps that survived the three weeks:

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When designing the timescale for each part of the device trial I thought three weeks would be enough. Judging by the feedback received from my colleagues it can either be too long (for example if they don’t like the device) or not long enough!

Some highlights:

  • Being able to create documents with the Pages (£6.99, link) app has been great although I do agree with reviews about its value for money. See my previous blog post about how I used it with my Higher Computing class.
  • I had really hoped to make better use of Explain Everything (£1.99, link) but, most annoyingly, I found it wasn’t able to record browser screens that contain HTML5. My planned walkthrough of Snap! on the iPad for the blog is still on the to-do list…
  • …Synchronised to-do list app Remember the Milk (free, link) to be exact. I use it as I’m still not 100% happy with my Evernote workflow (especially using the web version we access at work) as the searches suggested by The Secret Weapon do not always work. Remember the Milk is on my Android phone, in the Chrome browser on my laptop and I’ve made good use of it on the iPad too.
  • That said, Evernote (free, link) has been fantastic for helping me carry less paper around. Using the iPad to quickly scan documents (from my notebook) into an Evernote note has been a real eye-opener. At the moment I don’t have a notebook at all, but I feel I still need a small amount of paper to jot ideas down quickly.
  • Being able to create Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents is still necessary and given that it’s a three week trial I’m not going to throw away years of knowledge in an attempt to break away from Microsoft Office. I’ve used CloudOn (free, link) quite a bit although you have to be online to use it so I’ve made best use from home. It is fairly fast, allows quick sharing of files (great for discussing prelim marks over the weekend with your boss! Sorry…) and keeps documents compatible with the desktop at work.
  • Marking music has been essential and I’ve enjoyed the Podcasts (free, link) app. However apart from that I didn’t use it nearly as much as I had envisaged. I realised that I listen to most of my podcasts on the train or walk home and the form factor of the iPad doesn’t suit. Time to transfer what I’ve downloaded onto the Samsung Galaxy Y…
  • I never thought I would type this but my other half has made good use of the Kindle (free, link) app. Strongly against eReaders in the past, she was convinced to try reading on the iPad as her book group choice was 20p on Amazon and out of stock in the local libraries. Her feedback was that the iPad felt cold and it was a bit tricky to hold while in bed, so she would choose to have a suitable case to protect it if dropped and to make it more enjoyable for the reader to hold.
  • For image editing, Aviary (free, link), Luminance (free at the moment, link) and Snapseed (free, link) have been great. I hated the Photoshop app – everything seemed to require an in-app purchase – and it was quickly deleted.
  • iDownloads+ (free, link) allows iPad users to manage downloads and extract compressed files. I found this especially useful when looking at the Computing At School site, with email and also to access my zip files on Dropbox (free, link) which has always been a favourite app of mine since the days of the iPod Touch 2G!
  • Programming on the iPad was covered in an earlier blog post, but I still want to recommend Pythonista (£2.99, link), A.L.E.X (first 25 levels free, link), TouchDevelop (web link) and Snap! (web link). Textastic (£5.99, link) looks great for creating code but I haven’t yet had time to use it fully. Something else for the to-do list!
  • GoSkyWatch Planetarium for iPad (free, link) is such an amazing app to use. I downloaded this for my three year old son and he found it really easy to use. I don’t think I could use it to enhance my teaching, but it definitely enhanced our learning!
  • Flipboard (free, link) is such a beautiful app, full of interesting stories to inspire and inform your lessons, that I’ve just spent ten minutes reading it instead of finishing this blog post! Oops…

Using an iPad and Pages app to improve student attainment #RGCdevicetrial

Recently my Higher pupils sat their Computing prelim. In previous years I have gone through the marking scheme question by question, describing the ‘best answer’ where possible and highlighting which my students answered a particular question well. Unfortunately their peers rarely see these answers, so have to rely on what I say or put on the board.

This year as I marked the prelim I created a spreadsheet showing how many marks each candidate gained for each question (using the CloudOn service for iPad). I do this to help me highlight areas of development when discussing prelim performance with individual students, but this year used it to help create a document the whole class could use:

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Part of the document, shared with students via our Edmodo group

The document replaced the marking scheme and allowed them to see the ‘best answer’ as written by their peers. There was one occasion where no student managed to achieve full marks for a particular question so I selected the best answer from the class and added some suggestions for improvement.

It was very easy to create using the Pages app for iPad and, although a little time-consuming on my part, took as long as going through that section of the prelim with the class. The advantage here is that I know all pupils have a permanent and consistent revision aid and I can use it when working with individual pupils on their areas of development. I also hope to use it next year to prepare students for their prelims by getting them to assess other student answers.

I entered the questions into the Pages app first, then used my spreadsheet to identify which student answer to add into the document. Taking photographs of their written answer using the iPad rear camera was so simple thanks to the ‘tap to focus’ feature and I was then able to crop the image quickly in Pages. The document auto-saves, which was very useful later in the process as the iPad ran out of memory a few times and crashed the Pages app. It caused a nervous moment the first time it happened but, once I was confident no information had been lost from my document, I put up with the inconvenience until all questions were associated with an image of a pupil answer.

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Exporting the document from Pages as a PDF file was a straight-forward process, however the file size was a whopping 40MB! The file can be sent to a variety of apps as a Pages file, PDF or Word document. Uploading that size of document from a home Internet connection takes a long time, especially galling when I compressed the file on a desktop PC to 1.4MB using Adobe Acrobat. If anyone has worked out how to compress PDF files on the iPad I’d love to hear from you.

Once complete I shared the document with the class via Edmodo. I immediately made use of it by setting homework with similar questions. The average score in that homework was over 30% higher than their prelim score. In a few cases it was over 50% up! Obviously you have to take into account the fact they had access to their textbooks and the Internet while completing the homework task, but I feel that this type of document has definite value in improving student attainment.

Breaking out of the silo? The VLE formerly known as Glow

I’ve been out of the Glow-sphere for eighteen months now. In that time I have been waiting patiently for parental logins, sighing knowingly when my 8 year old daughter describes forced IT lessons using Glow as the medium (and if she realises they’re forced, something is seriously wrong with using Glow to enhance learning and teaching) and reading – with increasing interest – the often faltering attempts to rebuild Glow as a serious VLE built for learning and teaching but that also allows students and teachers to move beyond the silo and harness the myriad services that exist on the Internet for digital creation, curation and citizenship.

A Digital Learning Environment for Scottish Schools clearly states that teachers “should be trusted to use their professional judgment in how ICT should be used.”, enabling staff to decide how best to use Internet-based or locally installed services to augment their learning and teaching. Some staff will be more comfortable in finding and utilising these services than others, so ICTEx proposed that ‘best of breed’ services should be made available through a national schools Intranet (they have called it Glow+ in their document). The accelerating pace of change in both hardware platforms and software resources means that any solution has to be future-proof and this means that (1) the system must be easily adaptable with regard to access, platform and cost (2) the interface must be device agnostic (3) it should be a springboard for innovation in the classroom, not a constraint.

This goes against the grain of the original Glow design – already out of date when I first saw it in 2006. At that point the security was so tight that access to resources from another school was near impossible, there was no search functionality to make links with other teachers and your individual upload limit was 5MB. There was no option to access via a mobile device (I’m still amazed at how quickly the smartphone explosion has changed the way we demand to access services, but even so I wasn’t designing a future-proof national intranet for Scottish Schools) and no way for students to get feedback or inspiration from those outside of their school but completing the same certificate course.

Admittedly there was an attempt to improve things but, by then, it was too little and far too late. Glow as it exists today is suffering from dwindling numbers of users due to the development of freely available VLE competitors, tech-savvy teachers setting up their own Moodle / Google Sites / hand-built solution or formerly positive teachers becoming disenfranchised with utilising technology in their classes and being forced to use Glow over any other solution by their local authorities.

I’ve sat in on enough seminars, workshops and online discussions to know that the current demand is to utilise existing services in a way that makes the learning outcome greater than the sum of its (online) parts. Rather than having data hidden in silos, unable to control who has access to the information you created, actively sharing content across a number of web services to develop digital citizenship skills and engage students creatively and collaboratively is rightly placed high on the educational agenda. The last two years of presentations at the Scottish Learning Festival have taught me that there is no single solution to the problem of enhancing learning and teaching through the use of technology.

The way the solutions were shared was consistent but the solutions themselves were disconnected. Research and development was inefficient. Schools still remain silos of ideas unless you happen to have connected to an individual teacher in another establishment via social media, email or good old face-to-face meetings. The only difference in these methods of communication is speed of access.

One development that may encompass the aims of the ICTEx group as well as provide a means of sharing good practice between educational establishments is Glew, a single sign-on service that allows access to a variety of Web 2.0 or social sites. Since initial creation in late 2011 Cults Academy Teacher of Computing Charlie Love has utilised the Agile model of development to quickly extend the functionality of his Glew service based on user feedback. The current iteration utilises GlewTiles – a user interface based on Windows Metro – to allow users to customise their Glew desktop.

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Glew is accessible from desktops, tablets and smartphones. Visit http://www.glew.org.uk to sign up to the service and try it for yourself. Then tell Charlie what you’d like him to add!

Digging deeper with Edmodo

I learned a lot about Edmodo today. I used it and talked to other teachers about it a lot too.

In fact, in the past week I think I’ve taught more classes through Edmodo than in the whole of last term!

My learners have, on the whole, been fantastic adopters of the new system. My Higher Computing students have curated information sheets on flow charts, pseudocode and structure diagrams and risen to the challenge of completing homework quizzes through Edmodo; Advanced Higher students have received timely notifications on classroom changes, avoiding the need for paper signs and crossed fingers and are beginning to access the simple but well-designed audio player to revisit concepts or catch up on lesson podcasts; My S3 class have been making use of digital cameras to record their learning and have been accessing the notes folder to read up on concepts before, during and after class. I had a quick check of the analytics this evening – there has been 225 visits to our various class groups by pupils and teachers since we introduced them to the system 6 days ago. It has been a really good start, echoing  sentiments from this eSchool News article from August 2011:

“They also want more time to reflect on what they learn… Too often, because we have so much to cover in the curriculum, deeper understanding is lost in the milieu” – Mike Larzelere, Teacher at Port Huron Area School District, Michigan

 

The feedback I’ve received from them has been great too – highlighting issues with sharing links which were posted directly to me (I’m still working on a solution to that one) as well as pointing out that the quiz timer doesn’t stop when you navigate away from the questions. I solved that one by increasing the time limit for my quiz to 24 hours (1440 minutes seems to be the maximum allowed by the quiz module) but may need to use the assignments option rather than quizzes in the future, although I do like the feedback mechanism of the quiz more.

 

I’m excited about the new ways we are going to take responsibility for our own learning over the coming weeks. We are awaiting installation of AVS Video Editor on first teaching and then all student desktops in the Computing department. I can’t wait to see what my classes can do with the HD video capabilities of the digital cameras we purchased last year to document their individual learning and to share their work with others. Recap and revision podcasts – historically recorded by me and consumed silently by learners (both rewarding because they are being listened to and frustrating because of the passiveness of that act) – will now be a shared responsibility which should highlight and celebrate their learning achievements as well as increase engagement in the learning process. I’m also keen to experiment with the dialogue opportunities Edmodo offers through its Facebook-style interface. For example, tomorrow afternoon my Higher Computing class will be role-playing System Analysts who have to extract as much information from a variety of clients using direct posts and replies. I’m not sure how easy it will be for me to carry on all of those conversations at the same time, but in an attempt make it a little easier I’ve created sub-groups of pupils in Edmodo. I hope to post again soon with the results of that experiment.

Do not disrupt: thoughts on invisible technology

I’ve just come back from a two-week holiday in Slovenia. It was my first time there and I highly recommend a visit – we were based at Lake Bled but had the benefit of a hire car for four days midway through the fortnight which allowed us to tackle the Vršič Pass (and get lost on a one mile “easy” walk as advertised by our error-strewn Sunflower walking guide), take in the sights of Ljubljana’s Old Town (although I’m sad I didn’t have enough time to get to Metelkovo mestro as taunting snippets of its graffiti were in every guide book, calendar and even merchandise. Take a look at the video embedded in Piran Cafe’s Ljubljana Graffiti Tour if you are wondering what I’m on about) and have our plans to drive to Lipica and Trieste thwarted by thunderstorms. We struck lucky by staying at one of the most kid friendly hotels I’ve ever experienced, the Hotel Savica, and as a result every single member of the family returned home in great spirits (despite 7 different modes of transport between our hotel and house!).

Here’s a great on-board video of the Vršič Pass to give you an idea of how twisty-turny the route is. I loved it (and drove most of it in 1st  and 2nd gear).

Of course I took the old iPod Touch 2G with me. I still love its portability and even though it is showing its age now (stuck on/off button, can’t upgrade past 4.2.1 iOS) it was a godsend during the holiday for route planning, weather forecasts, translation, news and social media. My PLN were fantastic in suggesting things to see and do while in Slovenia (thanks Freda O’Byrne and @shirlpj) and I was able to keep up with some great education conversations and thoughts. I’d signed up to Doug Belshaw‘s Things I’ve Learned This Week newsletter just before the end of the Scottish school term (I used to love reading his short blog posts on this topic and thought he had simply stopped doing them) and some of the links and ideas he mentioned are now in a nice little “to investigate” list in my iOS Notes app. The iPod also allowed me to keep up to date with the Computing At School group posts which continues to inform my planning for the 2012-13 session and simultaneously marvel at the great work that has been done to reintroduce or refresh Computing Science concepts in the UK and Ireland. I lurk there a lot but intend to get more involved as I get further along the road with a few developments (my Raspberry Pi being one of them!).

Slovenia had a fantastic free wifi network: from hotels, bars, airports and museums let me connect quickly without registration and the bandwidth seemed very generous. The most striking moments of high tech connectivity for me were: being able to access fast broadband at a rustic restaurant in Trenta (a tiny village beyond the aforementioned Vršič Pass) and the FREE public wifi available at Ljubljana airport as we checked in for our return flight. Those responsible for digital infrastructure in the UK could do well to take inspiration from their Slovenian counterparts. It was hassle-free, reliable and meant I could get on with my holiday rather than battling with settings, email confirmations, logins, etc.

Although I used Twitter on a daily basis while on holiday, Facebook was a different matter. Their mobile app, almost universally accepted as being pants, has been long erased from the iPod Touch. I did update my status whilst on holiday to let family and friends know how the holiday was going, but made use of Selective Tweets to cross-post from Twitter to Facebook through use of a ‘#fb’ hashtag. This workflow is simple and reliable and saves me a whole heap of app crashes and mood swings.

Although the percentage of Slovenia’s population who have internet access is much lower than that of the UK, they seem to have the right idea about how it should, or rather should not, disrupt normal everyday life. Because access was simplified, I felt that I used my device more effectively to enhance my holiday experience. I didn’t have to spend an hour after breakfast surfing for information and alienating my family, instead looking for information, news or communications on the go when it was needed. I do realise this is what most people with 3G connections can do already, but they pay through the nose for it.

At my previous school I battled to make use of the wifi network to utilise a class set of iPod Touches. The connection authorisation process was so unwieldy that in the end I was forced to take some staff members out of school to the local library to train them. I understand the desire to lock down access to files and personal information on the school network but when the primary use would be to access the internet I feel it should be as open as possible. The traffic would still be going through the school’s filtering system and logs would still be held on the server so the activity of each device can still be monitored. From a learner’s point of view access is most important and, like the staff who were new to mobile devices and wifi at my previous school, difficulties in this area will reduce their confidence in the technology. However if they can focus on extracting or curating information without disruption…

On the journey home I thought a lot about my own workflows and how they can be refined as I begin my new role as PT of ICT for Learning at my current school. I’ll go into this in the detail it deserves in a future blog post.

Reflection on use of Safari Photo Africa as stimulus for P7 writing

Over the last few weeks I’ve been using Safari Photo Africa with a P7 class to inspire their writing. As I see them once a week we have been creating podcast material since August but the interest was definitely beginning to wane. I decided that first-hand experience of an African safari would inspire them to create a script for their final task: a short section for a whole class radio show.

I gave them the option of imaginative response, factual writing or poetry. I also allowed learners to write notes while watching others play the game. In later weeks I let some of the class move on to the machines to type up their scripts or begin to record their podcast as I noted some of the class were disengaging with the task, rather than being inspired by it. Here’s a section of my notes which were jotted into my iPod straight after the class left in week 2.

Audio cable connected to smartboard, sound much better. Took class through giraffe level. Less appropriate as took long time to find creatures so class disengaged. More wanted to do silly things and show off which at one point required game to be restarted. Teacher in class to see resource being used impressed by potential. Tighter planning required to keep class engaged. Some good extended responses to questions: whats a hyrax? (An antelope); where do vultures nest? (In rock crevices) – new learning for many pupils (and me!). End of lesson feedback: class agreed elephants level was better as more happened. Would have been good to have class in groups to play game while others worked on recordings.

After reflecting on the second week I decided to spend a lot more time with the game before the final session with the P7 class. By this point two-thirds of the class had played the game and more than half had made significant progress with their writing. I wanted to take on board their feedback about enjoying the game more when things happened (I’ll admit, finding your way down off a mountainside is a good challenge (the giraffe level, week 2), but in an hour-long lesson where pupils were taking turns it just didn’t suit) and to provide the class with an action-packed finale! I played through the game for another six assignments and found two excellent scenarios to place the class in: a helicopter safari where the character didn’t have to move, just take photographs (quickly – which made it very challenging and a great team level), and a night-time lion hunt where the photographer could be as easily eaten by a lurking crocodile as pounced on by a lion.

The helicopter assignment was very successful as there was a lot of action, audio instructions and animals to take photographs of. I also changed the structure of the lesson so those who had already written their stories or poems could make progress with typing up their scripts then begin to record the last part of their podcast. This worked really well as it allowed me to help those who were struggling with storage space for their recordings while entrusting two game experts to guide those who hadn’t played the game before.

I had also made sure to work through a few extra levels and save games at exciting points. This allowed me to change the game quickly to a night safari during the second half of the period. The night safari follows a lion hunt and is a much more challenging assignment. The remaining pupils had to restart the level quite often as they got too close to the pride or one of the crocodiles lurking in the dark depths of the river.

Over the three weeks there were many successes – I noted a high degree of co-operation between peers and a levelling of the playing field with regard to general knowledge as well as game-playing technique. One pupil who regularly struggled with podcasting skills became one of the game experts and patiently explained the controls to his classmates to allow them to make the most of their time as the photographer. Another pupil shared her surprisingly detailed knowledge of the animals appearing on the screen. Surprising that is until she told me that she had been to Kenya on holiday with her family and had gone on a real safari. She regularly commented on the accuracy of the game in its portrayal of the environment and the actions of the animals roaming them. Two weeks on from using the game, the podcasts are nearing completion and sounding fantastic! The variety of writing has surprised: poems, stories, news reports, even a few raps!

There were a few technical hitches too. I had originally planned to have two pupils play the game at one time (inspired by Dawn Hallybone’s posts on using a similar game on Nintendo Wii) by setting up an iPod Touch as a wireless mouse controller for the pupil controlling the camera. The other pupil was to use the laptop to move the photographer around the environment. As I explained in my last post on Safari Photo Africa, I managed to set this up successfully at home but due to interference in the classroom the virtual wireless network regularly dropped out so the iPod could not be used. If I used the game again in future I would make sure I had a wireless mouse / Gyromouse rather then the convoluted virtual networking setup.

Safari Photo Africa, although released in 2006, kept a demanding P7 class enthralled in the main and certainly inspired their writing (which I’ll share in a future post along with some podcast snippets if I can). An added bonus to using the game was that as well as allowing situated cognition and development of themed writing each photo the pupils took within the game was saved to the laptop hard disk, meaning that good shots can be printed for wall displays, added to pupil work in future or added to blog posts (like this one!). In fact I intend to use them to create African-themed Christmas cards and calendars in the final session with the class before the holidays.

Improving learner-teacher dialogue using Edmodo

On Friday afternoon I heard some great news. My school is to extend the trial of Edmodo until Christmas, allowing other teachers in my department to experiment with using Edmodo to positively impact their learning and teaching. This may prove to be the beginning of a big change in whole school policy as, up until now, use of external websites was limited to passive teaching resources such as YouTube and Prezi – only teachers were allowed access.

As part of the approval process I wrote a report on how my Higher Computing class made use of Edmodo in their classwork, homework and preparation for assessment. I was able to answer the concerns of the school’s IT manager with regard to data protection and responsible use. I’ve embedded the document below for anyone else who is interested in investigating Edmodo further.


If the extended trial proves successful Edmodo could become the main resource for allowing external access to pupil resources and, most importantly, providing learners with a permanent record of their knowledge development in a place where it is much less likely to be lost or damaged. Learner-teacher dialogue can be referenced and revisited; gaps in knowledge due to absence could be filled; knowledge could be pulled from the class group rather than pushed. I intend to share my experiences in using Edmodo with my colleagues and blog readers in the coming months.

I’m excited about the possibilities but know Edmodo is not a magic bullet. As part of my research into how Edmodo is used worldwide I set up a Twitter search via TweetyMail and received hourly summaries peppered with disillusioned, confused and angry students who were being forced to use the service simply because it was there, not because it enhanced the classroom experience. I can see the benefits of opening classroom discussion with carefully crafted questions on Edmodo, where every learner has the opportunity to contribute not just the one who thinks fastest. However I can also see the potential for misuse by the minority who want to use Edmodo to keep their classes quiet or too busy to realise that their needs are not being met. It needs to be used in a carefully considered way where it should enhance the learning and teaching of all students in the classroom, but teachers also need to bear in mind that it offers the advantage of being able to hold a 1:1 discussion over a long period of time. The teacher has to make time to read the comments and adapt their usual classroom practice to best serve their learners.

So, in short, it offers the opportunity to deliver a flipped classroom model of education. I’ll investigate this further in future blog posts.

TeachMeet Aberdeen October 2011

On Wednesday evening I once again found myself at MacRobert Building, University of Aberdeen six months on from the last one organised primarily by Stuart Brown. The wikispace advertising the TeachMeet can be found here and, in addition to this, Stuart made use of social media to extend the reach of the promotional material. This approach, along with the assistance of Jim and Linda at the University in selecting the optimum date for engaging PGDE and BEd students, resulted in over 60 attending the evening. At times the online stream had viewers into double figures but we were beset with technical issues, most disruptive was the lack of constant wifi and this seriously hampered our online impact as well as preventing the planned link up with TeachMeet Strathclyde. However the evening could be considered a success and as we were able to record most of the presentations on the laptop I hope we can – in time – share the talks with a wider audience.

To whet your appetite, here is a YouTube playlist of the May 2011 TeachMeet Aberdeen presentations.

When I find the time to edit and upload the individual presentations to YouTube I’ll update this post but I’ve included my notes on each presentation and relevant links to the web sites mentioned.

Stuart Brown – “Why de ye bother with aww that?’ – Justifying the use of ICT in the classroom

Stuart Brown: "the way we communicate is changing"

I felt this was an excellent start to the night. Stuart highlighted the fact that 19C teaching methods and environments are not suited to 21C learning. That most pupils have access to instantaneous information using devices which are often more technologically advanced than the computers and resources available in school puts today’s teachers at a disadvantage. I agreed (through gritted teeth as I recognised the phrase “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater” from many unfocussed, confused presentations on implementation of Curriculum for Excellence) with Stuart on the need for all teachers to adapt, not rebuild to ensure that we are serving our learners sufficiently. I recommend you watch Stuart’s last TeachMeet talk (May 2011) which is a stepping stone to this presentation.

I loved the phrase Stuart used in the presentation “to stratify education” – but felt it needed explanation. Internet searches show this to be standarisation of education or use of standard tests and tracking methods.

Ian Simpson – “Becoming Orson: Podcasting the War of The Worlds”

I did this so I won’t comment for long on the actual presentation. On reflection this talk was a little early, my lunchtime podcasting group had only been working on this for about 5 weeks (30-40mins per week) and despite their excellent progress there was little evidence to share with the teachers present. However it was a good starting point for a future presentation (maybe TeachMeet Aberdeen October 2012?) on how these learners have self-organised themselves into an amateur radio drama production group. After working with them the day after the presentation and seeing how they continued to innovate and collaborate with the newly-arrived high quality microphones I have high hopes of achieving our ambitious target to have recorded and shared the full radio play by next October. Follow the progress via this blog or my twitter stream @familysimpson.

In addition Dave Adams, DO Curriculum and Quality Improvement Service for South Lanarkshire, got in touch in September and kindly sent his ideas based around the 1938 Orson Welles War of The Worlds radio play for CBS. I’ve emailed Dave to see if these lesson ideas are publicly available and will update the links section if this is the case.

Nikki Stobbie – Random Name Generator

Nikki Stobbie describes how she uses classtools.net with her classes

A presentation from a press-ganged student! Nikki showed us http://www.classtools.net and, in particular, the random name generator. Great resource to use in class and a great 2 minute presentation!

Mark Hay – ‎”Look what I did…” E-Portfolio’s using glow wiki

I didn’t see this presentation as I had to run to the shop for supplies but will update once I’ve extracted the presentation from the video clips currently sitting on my laptop.

Martin Coutts – “Maths is just a game”  – Using GBL to raise attainment

Martin showed how he used Mangahigh with an Access 3 / Foundation class to improve their motivation and attainment. Pupils were taught maths through combination of games and Prodigi technique. Competitive aspect through bronze, silver and gold and school leaderboard. Martin especially recommends sigma prime.

Kathryn Roper – “GeoBus – A mobile Earth Science Resource”

GeoBus: based at St Andrews University but a national funded resource for secondary schools (or P7 at a push). Kathryn seems very passionate about Earth Science and claims to be able to develop activities to suit your curricular area.

GeoBus launches January 2012 but those interested can get in touch with Kathryn now via kathryn.roper@mac.com

Gretchen Perk exemplified how she uses the Frayer model to enhance literacy

Gretchen Perk – “Frayer Model in Literacy”

Meldrum Academy English teacher Gretchen spoke about the Frayer Model which is a “vocab aquisition graphic builder”. She found it great for more effective learning of keywords through use of higher order skills such as analysis and synthesis. I personally found the use of non-examples especially useful. Gretchen highlighted the fact that it is a good teaching strategy for all subjects I’m already thinking about how to use this with Computing classes.

Charlie Barrow – An outward facing classroom using Augmented Reality – Junaio

Charlie repeated his May 11 talk on using augmented reality in the classroom but wanted to inspire teachers to build an Aberdeenshire channel for augmented reality. I’ve included the video of his presentation from May and hope to be working with him in the future on his vision for an Aberdeenshire channel.

More information on his own use of augmented reality in the classroom can be found at http://www.charlesbarrow.com

Stephanie Orr – Medieval Law and Order

Stephanie gave a quick 2-min presentation on using games in class to motivate and educate by stealth. http://www.tudorbritain.org/joust

Ed Walton – Fusion, Meta-cognition and The Learning Story

Presentation written during teachmeet! Ed shared how Fraserburgh Academy used Glow effectively to dissemenate work to pupils unable to attend school during snowdays. Three themes; fusion, meta-cognition And the learning story. Ed showed snow work posted for AH on glow featuring embedded prezis for self-directed learning, stagework.org which allows users to be the director for a scene from His Dark Materials. It looked fantastic! Ed showed Comic Life which he has used with classes and whole-school assemblies to explain meta-cognition. Finally Ed explained how Fraserburgh Academy has been using Honeycomb / I Can as a trial school to build an ePortfolio which remains with the child as they progress from primary through secondary. I was interested to note that because data is stored on a separate server from Glow there is no upload limit so videos and large image files can be posted. To be honest the presentation was actually 3 or 4 but there was lots of useful information.

Darren Gibb describes how he uses a variety of ICT tools to enhance learning and teaching in the English classroom

Darren Gibb – ICT teaching and learning tools

The last talk of the night was delivered by Darren Gibb, teacher of English at Banchory Academy. He exemplified many ICT tools that has augmented his learning and teaching. Again the audience was treated to a suite of presentations on different services from Todaysmeet to Evernote, Wikispaces to Glow.