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.

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!