#RGCdevicetrial staff drop-in sessions

We are just shy of 3 weeks from the end of the #RGCdevicetrial and I realised I haven’t yet blogged about the weekly staff drop-in sessions. Every week since early March most staff involved in trialing the devices have given up roughly 45 minutes of their afternoon to talk about their experiences, try out other devices and get troubleshooting help for theirs. Every week @stefanhorsman sends the invite to all staff and every week the attendees and questions have been different. In short, it has been a really great thing to do.

This afternoon we met in the Junior School. I love this venue as it already has the WiFi network coveted by the rest of the campus and, as the drop-in session is hosted in one of the device trialist’s classrooms, we have an Apple TV permanently connected so those experimenting with Macbooks, iPads or Windows 8 tabtops (and Air Parrot) can try wireless projection as well as the devices themselves. In addition the room layout lends itself well to both round-table discussion and informal groupings.

The sessions themselves are organic – there is no agenda apart from to experience the devices and take the opportunity to ask questions. People are welcome to arrive late and leave whenever they like. Today we even welcomed our first pupil who was very quick to explain to her (teacher) mother why they really needed an Apple TV at home!

I’ve blogged already about my experiences with the iPad and Kindle Fire (which I’ve been allowed to keep for a week in return for the Dell XPS tablet – I think I got the better deal there!) but has been really interesting to talk to staff and address misconceptions on cost of devices. Most of the time it is assumed that the Apple products are the most expensive (true for the Macbook Air, but not the iPads), the Kindle is the cheapest (ok, by FAR the cheapest) and the Windows products are somewhere close to £300 as “that’s what normal laptops cost”. When I explain that, bar the Macbook each of the Windows 8 / RT devices in our trial are at the top end of the price list, jaws drop.

Today I explained this as I attempted to reinstate the touchscreen on one of the Samsung ATIV Smart PCs: a touchscreen device that allows you to turn off the touchscreen! Not only does it make very little sense, the process is hugely convoluted and therefore difficult for users to remember – meaning troubleshooting at best takes time and at worst requires a visit to IT support and then a longer wait without the device. The Windows devices also need two batch files I created to set up the IPv4 Internet settings correctly for home (or any DHCP network) and school (static IP and DNS servers) use [if these would be useful to you, connect with me on Twitter and ask].

The more I experience the Windows 8 / RT machines the stronger my belief that we should move away from devices where users cannot customise without navigating screens of administrative features that are not linked, grouped or even described particularly well. I don’t think a tenfold increase in the apps available for these devices would matter either: for learning and teaching we have 40 or 80 minutes where our lessons need to be pacey, varied, stimulating and above all educational. It’s hard to do that when the teacher has their head in a user guide because an incorrect keyboard combination or tap shuts down the core functionality of the device.

 

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.

This Is My Classroom – August 2012

The return to school coincided with the first consecutive days of sunshine I’d experienced since Slovenia. At the end of last term I had decided to replace the orange monolith (which had previously been full of a colleague’s resources and simply served as a display board) and mini stage with another computer workstation, primarily to be used by learners to record and edit video off the network.

The monolith has gone!

I was overjoyed to see the space released by removing these two items. Now I had a large display area between whiteboard and door as well as space (and power) for a small desk in the future. This display space is the most prominent in the entire room so I wanted to make its contents stand out as well as be accessible to my learners to allow them to evolve the content and take responsibility for recording their class’s development. I intend to try SOLO taxonomy with a number of my classes this session and have put up a few items to get started with thanks to the inspiration of Tait Coles, Darren Mead and Pam Hook.

Learning Wall

I also wanted to increase my visibility to learners and other educators so I’ve taken the simple step of putting my timetable on the door. This is nothing spectacular as I remember my university lecturers doing the same but hope that this will reduce unnecessary email asking where I am hiding!

Before the end of last session I also began to investigate recommended reading lists for learners. Not necessarily textbooks but non fiction (and fiction hopefully!) that are related to the field of Computing Science and ICT. I plan to liaise with the school librarian to ensure copies are available or put on the wish list for the future.

Also to enhance learner engagement with the wider community I intend to put up a list of computing-related events going on the local area. I also want to make further use of the digital frame in the corridor to display pupil work, thought process and reflection.

By removing a few items of furniture I’m hoping to enable my learners to interact with the classroom environment rather than be served by it which, on reflection, is how I approached my classroom design last year. And while I mean interact in the most low-tech way possible, the newly rejuvinated gyromouse and Promethean tablet may help in their own way too.

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.

Getting ready for a safari

Tomorrow I take my laptop, preloaded with Safari Photo Africa – Wild Earth, to the Junior school to immerse the class in a scenario closely linked to the work they are doing with their primary teacher. I only have an hour with them, so want to make sure everything is set up to work as quickly as possible.

Originally I had wanted to make use of a Nintendo Wii with Wild Earth African Safari but this was not possible (or affordable) as a proof of concept in the timeframe available, so I found an old copy of Safari Photo Africa – Wild Earth for PC and installed it on my laptop.
It looks brilliant when displayed on the data projector and allows the players to take part in a virtual animal photograph safari – taking shots for magazine articles. The photos taken in the games are automatically saved to the user’s My Pictures directory on the PC, meaning that they can be used in other applications at a later date. I think this is also possible in the Nintendo Wii version of the game but imagine it’s a little trickier to get the images onto a PC.

 

When you complete an assignment your photos are inserted into a magazine article = instant reward!

 

The main advantage of a Nintendo Wii over a laptop is that the wireless wii controller supports exploration of the game by groups of learners sat in front of the SmartBoard. I’ve read posts by Dawn Hallybone and Nicky Newbury who maximise the interactivity of the class by pairing up learners and having one pupil move and the other take the photographs. The laptop could allow this but would mean a lot of moving around and swapping places, so I wanted to try and find the best way to interact with the game wirelessly. There is a GyroMouse in my classroom but no sign of drivers or installation CDs and I wanted to be able to use the keyboard wirelessly as well. Then I remembered reading about using an iPod Touch as a wireless mouse and found Logitech TouchMouse, an app which not only allows users to control the mouse pointer on the PC using the portable device but also access its keyboard. I installed it and after a little bit of fiddling with Windows 7’s firewall settings (you need to allow it to access the Private networks, not Public – go through Control Panel for this) I got it to work!

The only issue with using the iPod Touch as a wireless controller is that it needs a wifi connection that is shared with the laptop to communicate. This is a real issue in school where there are no wireless routers and a very tight rein on network security. When I was Mobile Learning Leader for Inverurie Academy I investigated using the school’s MacBook White to set up ad-hoc wifi networks to allow iPods to access the Internet. There was little success with the Internet-access part, but the iPods were all able to communicate with each other. If only there was a way to do this in Windows 7 I thought – and luckily enough, there is!

After a little Google searching I found Virtual Router – a freeware program which allows your laptop to be set up as a wifi hotspot with the intention of sharing its Internet connection with other devices. Set up is incredibly simple – you give your ad-hoc network a name and a password and it uses WPA2 encryption to ensure no rogue devices interfere with the laptop!

“at this moment i am typing part of my blog using the ipod touch wireless keyboard – i have turned off all connection to the INTERNET and only had to restart the logitech touchuse wireless server!”

It seems to work best if you access the iPod app before starting the Logitech TouchMouse wireless server. If you don’t you may find that the devices don’t connect.

Unfortunately although the keyboard presses do get sent to the laptop, using the keyboard for games control seems impossible. Neither Logitech nor HippoRemote Lite allowed me to control the game character so I may need to allow one child to use the laptop. This may mean one learner is looking at the laptop screen instead of the SmartBoard but if I can position the laptop in a suitable place it may be a minor issue.

I ran through the first assignment on my own and it took about 40 minutes – too long for the lesson tomorrow but if I can set up saved games to allow the class to jump in at appropriate points (meeting the elephant herd for the first time, giraffes grazing, the swimming crocodiles around the elderly elephants) I feel that the class will be able to generate excellent material for their podcasts.

If you have been using computer games to augment your teaching and learning I highly recommend you visit the Consolarium site. This service, offered by Education Scotland (new name for LT Scotland) aims to explore and share how the appropriate use of computer games can have a positive impact on teaching and learning. It has received international praise and attention, and for good reason.

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.

#edchat Summary: How does giving students more control of their education affect the quality of the education?

I’ve hovered around #edchat fringes for a couple of years now. Adding the occasional link but never really sure when to take part as people post using that hashtag all the time. I was chatting with @drdouggreen and he was kind enough to give me some more details about when the scheduled chats take place (5pm / midnight GMT on Tues in UK).

So on Tuesday I took part in my first #edchat. I hadn’t realised that they had two different topics for the weekly #edchats and had been expecting discussion on the flipped classroom, but I was more than happy with the alternative: how does giving students more control of their education affect the quality of their education?

I really enjoyed the hour and noticed a few familiar faces from the UK join in as well. I think it worked well for me as I’m on October break and this makes a 5-6pm chat feasible. Usually I’d just be getting in the door and I don’t think the family would appreciate me disappearing with the laptop instead of finding out about their day. I don’t think I’d like that either, so perhaps a midnight #edchat is the way forward – for me at least!

I’m a big believer in promoting learner choice in my classroom. I teach to the planned outcomes (sometimes in a round-about way!) but in a way that suits the class. That one class. It means a lot of work for me at times, but I get a huge kick out of the enthusiasm it generates amongst my learners. What works for one class or child may not work for another and I would not be doing my job properly if I ignored this fact. Yes, you have to retain your role as troubleshooter (I typed behaviour manager first but that sounds far too controlling!) and facilitator but sometimes – and as much as possible – you have to let your class take charge of the learning. I didn’t do this based on any educational research or current policy, I remembered the best and worst lessons of my own school years and remembered that when we were given the freedom to play within the boundaries of the topic we enjoyed it and saw relevance. With that in mind I want to share with you a TED talk by Alison Gopnik. She explains a little about what babies are thinking.

You may think this is a strange choice of supporting video. Please watch it, I hope all becomes clear.

http://www.ted.com/talks/alison_gopnik_what_do_babies_think.html

Here are some of the main themes from the discussion:
  • Personal learning
  • Project-based learning
  • How to learn
  • Motivation
  • Passion
  • Learning through making mistakes
  • Open and honest discussion with learners
Here is a selection of some of the comments:
  • “Hopefully we do not give students “much” control over content…but give them some control over how they demonstrate mastery.” – berryed1
  • “It will improve quality from the child’s point of view. What else matters?” – drdouggreen
  • “If kids rely on the teacher for the answers, then we have failed them as teachers. ” – stumpteacher
  • “Ownership ups the ante of the student’s interest, involvement and motivation.” – drmcgettigan
  • ” ‘Children should be given a voice not only about the means of learning but also the ends, the why as well as the what.’ Alfie Kohn” – cybraryman1
  • “I would love the concept of Personal Learning Networks to be introduced to, and used by students early on.” – tomwhitby
  • “We have to stop thinking we are the only experts/teachers/leaders in our classroom” – pernilleripp
  • “Listen outside clssrm door: Who’s voice do you hear? If solely tcher’s voice: Tcher-Directed. If studs’ voices: Student-Centered.” – prlowe91
  • “Teaching kids how to learn is more important than what content to learn. If they commit to the content, the how to becomes easier.” – tomwhitby
  • “good for teachers to say “i don’t know”, brings in whole class and dilutes the idea that the teacher is the source of all answers.” – familysimpson
  • “Stdnts need 2 feel “allowed” 2 make a mistake or get something wrong & comfortable enough 2 try again. That’s when learning happens.” – KristinHenry1
  • ” the goal matters & it’s got to be their goal” – inquirebook
  • “Yes, I hope to make poor choices! Makes me human & helps me learn! I’ve learned more from poor choices!” – davidwees
 
To follow the complete discussion see here
As ever, there were some great links shared:

New to Edchat?

If you have never participated in an #Edchat discussion, these take place twice a day every Tuesday on Twitter. Over 1,000 educators participate in this discussion by just adding #edchat to their tweets. For tips on participating in the discussion, please check out these posts!

More Edchat

Challenge:

If you’re new to hashtag discussions, then just show up on Twitter on any Tuesday and add just a few tweets on the topic with the hashtag #edchat.

What do you think? Leave a comment!

Ian Simpson is a Scottish secondary teacher, specialising in Computing. His particular passions include: mobile learning, web 2.0 & games based learning.

The coffee shop as a classroom: mobile learning environments

Image shared under Creative Commons licence - Kate Williams

I like coffee. No – let me rephrase that – I LOVE coffee. It plays a big part in my teaching – at times providing a versatile prop for explaining the difference between an object and operation, at others simply providing the nervous energy to keep the learners learning. (I’ve been re-reading #MoveMeOn, curated by Doug Belshaw @dajbelshaw. thanks to @frankcrawford for that particular gem!)

I managed to clear my desk on Thursday earlier than planned so took the opportunity to walk around the three shopping malls near my new workplace. Not just to kill time (heaven forbid Mr McCormac!), I wanted to expand an ongoing series of lessons on data protection and loyalty schemes I had delivered to my S4 ICT class earlier in the term and me having an up-to-date knowledge of the businesses in the local area was a pre-requisite. It didn’t take long to complete what I needed to do (UK shopping malls or shopping centres are much smaller than in the US with perhaps 20-40 stores, some smaller) so I had a quick stop at the Apple store in Aberdeen to eavesdrop of a group of six pensioners who were being shown how to use their brand new iPads then started my lunch break at the nearby Starbucks with a crème brulee macchiatto and a quick refresh of my social media sites on their free wi-fi.

It was a lot busier than usual – I had, in the past, only used this particular Starbucks as a go-to when late afternoon trains were cancelled and I had an hour or so to kill before the next one – but I found a small table with plenty of scope for people-watching. The coffee-house furniture is a mixture of hard back chairs and small “regular” tables, sofa chairs and low tables, benches and long tables, stools and narrow bars. Students, parents, office workers and transients like myself sat and chatted, read quietly, enjoyed their purchases and from time-to-time accessed their devices if they had them and if they needed to. A few of my Advanced Higher Computing students had had a similar idea to my own, joined me at my table (they asked first!) and then… we had a fantastic unplanned seminar on what had been taught over the past few weeks, about mobile apps, about Steve Jobs, about programming, about social media,  and then finally about learning spaces! During this enthralling conversation (I think we all learned a lot in this half-hour) one asked why schools didn’t create spaces like this and I saw immediately what he meant because it had been percolating in my head at that moment too. Why can’t we all have learning rooms where the furniture offers visitors choice of working areas, where the wireless Internet access is a background consideration that “just works with a quick log-in”, where there isn’t a designated space for the teacher to lecture from, where learning becomes personalised? All three of us had mobile devices on the table between the cups and plates and augmented our conversation with these when we needed to: I showed them Twitter for example and explained why it was such a great resource for me to make contact with others who share similar interests. I posted this tweet:

Coffee chains have undoubtedly studied the effect of their environment on their customers from a financial point of view and have generally come to the conclusion that a varied, customisable, slightly eclectic environment is the worm that keeps us on the hook. So who is doing this for education? There are educators in each authority, in roles from classroom to management, who are striving to find the best furniture or layout for existing classrooms. Most of us tend to tinker with our rooms if we can. But if you’ll indulge the point of view of a Computing teacher for a moment (well you’ve got this far!) this may be the problem – moving the furniture in any space which has been built to deliver the Victorian model of education has inherent restrictions but when you also have electrical equipment, cables and power sockets to worry about you really can’t change very much without the firm belief and financial support of your school management team. And then you move on and the next teacher has a different idea… it’s really not that feasible an option for any subject with fixed resources.

But why do they have to be fixed? Hasn’t the last decade of technical innovation shown that mobile devices are here to stay? That an increasing number of learners arrive in classrooms with devices that can easily be personalised to suit their learning, rather than forcing the learner to make use of a machine set up to a generic specification? Are educators really, as a group, nervous about losing control?

And who is studying the effect of the coffee shop environment on learners? Well, a few have come to my attention. I stumbled on a paper whilst writing this blog post called “The Classroom Coffeehouse” which focusses on reworking the layout of an English classroom to promote sharing of written work between New Jersey 8th graders – well worth a read! Also highly recommended is the well-considered post “The Coffee Shop: A Classroom for Creativity, Reflections from a Coffee Shop in Harbin, China“. The Edinburgh Coffee Morning model is something which I envied a few years ago while at Inverurie and provides a nice text break below!

Edinburgh Coffee Morn Stop Frame from brandfeed on Vimeo.

Edinburgh Coffee Morning: from Mike Coulter, DigitalAgency.com on Vimeo.

Last night I read Angela Maiers’ post “What If You Knew You Mattered?” where she describes an increasingly common experience of customer non-service where recognition of failure and empathy with the customer would do much more than a discount voucher. It’s at the core of GIRFEC policy for teachers to make their learners feel included and respected while at the same time encouraging their development as respectful and inclusive citizens. The two words “you matter” apply to each young person who steps into your classroom, but if you are delivering your education as if you were working a conveyor belt at a factory when do you have the time to make sure your well planned generic summaries (and even the differentiated materials) are actually arriving at their destination? Through spending some time listening to the learners and learning something new yourself. Where better than the relaxed environment of a coffee shop?

I’m not advocating that we all abandon our classrooms for the nearest coffee chain but that school leaders and decision makers take a look around the wider world and really see what engages people. I highly recommend you view the articles, blog posts and videos I’ve linked to if you are in any way interested in developing mobile learning, and please suggest more using the comments option below! I am already planning to make this chance meeting a more formal part of my teaching at upper secondary level in the next term and although, yes, it will be more work initially filling in risk assessments and carefully planning my mobile lessons and – depending on the numbers – speaking nicely to the manager of the coffee shop! Escaping the classroom might be just what our learners need, and all it took was a coffee.

FIFA Thursday

It is nearly the end of term and the assessments for the year are finished. The restructured S3/4 course has been designed so that the pupils are engaged in creating their own multimedia applications – hence there have been few calls for a rest day as they have been making and playing each other’s games for the last few weeks. More on that in another blog post I think as their work this year has been pretty inspirational…

I set up an old laptop (resurrected by my Advanced Higher pupils a year ago and still working well!) as a machinima station in my class, permanently hooked into the data projector feed to record walkthroughs from the ps3. The plan is to allow pupils to explore Fifa 2010/11, collaborate in multiple player games and coach new players (including me!) in how to play well. I also wanted them to try recording matches or training to build up video guides or to edit game highlights.

The two PS3 consoles were set up at either end of the classroom allowing space for the class to move around freely. It also allowed those not playing to watch or use the iPods or their own PCs. Too late I realised a selection of games (including FIFA) could have been preloaded on to the iPods. A large number of the audience chose to play The Sims 3 while waiting and I observed the same kind of peer coaching between small groups as occurred with FIFA. They organised a fair length of game (3min each half) and an inclusive practice to ensure as many of their classmates got the chance to play a game within the single periods.

Two pupils brought their own controllers and supplied the FIFA game disks which allowed at least two players on each PS3. Compared to the single player Heavy Rain which I used (selectively) with my Higher class earlier in the year and Little Big Planet (which allows multiple players but is viewed by a number of pupils as too childish unless they are building their own levels) I felt that the pupils were sharing more expertise, were more deeply involved in the experience and that the audience got more out of passive participation. For example, a number of the songs in FIFA 11 interested pupils enough to complete a complex web search to find the track and look for further songs by the same artist.

Discussions about local teams were also well informed. One pupil was attempting to show me how to round the goalkeeper by using L2 and the right analogue stick – a skill I have yet to master – and he softened my failure a little by pointing out that Aberdeen players in Fifa are probably too slow to manage tricks successfully!

If there was an obvious difference between the two main games played in my class today it was that the girls in the class preferred The Sims 3 and were more vocal in their coaching. The majority of the boys played Fifa silently, even when they were on the same team! They all responded well to the challenges set by the game and I can safely tell you that even after a free period of practice I was only hitting the net 20% of the time. Pupils will be running virtual rings around me for a while yet!

This Is My Classroom, May 2011

It’s May and the certificate classes are on study leave. This is a time to catch up, reflect and plan for the coming session. One of the things I want to do is keep a visual record of my classroom as it changes (and share it with other educators for advice or feedback). I think it would be great if we could get a few teachers uploading images of their teaching environments and reflecting on how it affects pupil learning so, with that in mind, I’ll start!

If you are interested in joining in. Here’s some guidelines I’ve quickly come up with to maximise the dialogue:

  • Post the images of your class – I’ve taken photos of my desk, the view from the back of the room and the display areas.
  • Post a link to your site in this blog and I’ll be happy to comment!
  • You have free reign to comment on my post. See something you don’t agree with, or don’t understand? Feel free to ask! I might be missing something or might have something useful to share!