Education – do examinations get in the way of learning?

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Talk about learning and educators will enthuse about creativity, discovery and development. Add the term examination or grades and the conversation takes a different slant. The post below from Tricia Kelleher (Principal of the Stephen Perse Foundation) skilfully highlights the importance of ‘space for development’ ahead of a ‘collection of grades’.

“Watch out for the sharks! The plank is for the bad pirates.” This snatch of conversation between two 3 year old children in our Pre-prep captures brilliantly their learning experience. Adults tend to equate learning to the amount of time children sit behind desks. The children I observed today were outside, creating a world of buccaneers, princesses and sword wielding heroes. I was even given a lesson in ballroom dancing by two little girls keen to share their skills with me.

Of course, the principle underlying the lesson was independent learning. The teachers had skilfully configured the spaces to support discovery and creativity. Each child was encouraged to explore the possibilities offered to them and “to play” – by play I mean problem solving, creativity, showing initiative. Essentially developing a positive learning disposition.

The year 2 children meanwhile were coming to the end of plan-do-review day and were reflecting on what they had learnt. They had complete freedom to design their own project. Sadly the pressure of time had prevented the completion of a model of Henry VIII, the painting of a cottage and the markings on an aeroplane. All the children had learnt an important lesson about time management and, as one boy observed, how much they enjoyed “collaboration” (his word).

This window into the world of young children’s learning was a timely reminder to me about the importance of providing space for children to develop. The national obsession with measuring progress places a premium on cognitive development which, whilst more easily measurable, is not about the whole child.

Interestingly, at the other end of the educational spectrum, the International Baccalaureate offers a sixth form programme which is about breadth both in terms of subject content and assessment. Students enjoy an intellectual challenge which stretches them and an assessment framework which requires more than performance in a terminal examination – group work, extended essay, presentations are an integral part of this programme. Intellectually coherent and clearly valuing so much more about the student, there is much to recommend the IB. The learning is embedded in this programme.

And then we have our national qualification. It strikes me as someone with responsibility for children aged 3-18 that our examination system almost gets in the way of learning. With national exams required to fulfil different purposes – measuring a school, value added, individual’s attainment – is it any wonder that the development of an individual can get lost in the exam conveyor belt? The current debate about standards in education has become subsumed by proposed changes to the national examination framework. In my view this is the wrong way round. Surely the big debate should be focused on learning and exams configured to capture what we truly value.

Yet I also know that we measure what we measure because we always have done it this way. The exam machine is grinding away and our children are destined to pass through it for better or worse. This is their passport to the future. As a school we are determined to add stamps to this passport – for us it is about the education of an individual and it is our responsibility to ensure this is about more than passing exams. A young person is surely more than a collection of grades; they are the future.

View the original post on Tricia Kelleher’s blog 

The Impact of New Technology in Schools – Results are in!

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I should state from the outset I’m not sure the impact of any new technology in the classroom will ever be truly measurable. It won’t be for the want of trying and there are a number of case studies trying to do just that. However, with that in mind, what conclusions can I draw from two years of iPad use in the classroom?

I have two areas that can be discussed anecdotally. The first is an A level class of 15 students who have spent the last two years studying PE using iPads. This group of students recorded the best results at A level in my ten years at the school. For those familiar with the way UK grades are measured the value-added average was + 17%. As well as using iPads for two years with this group I also introduced the concept of ‘flipped learning‘. Often the group were asked to view a keynote presentation that had been recorded to replace homework. That meant we had an opportunity in class to work through issues and lessons tended to take on more of a seminar feel.

I’m not about to start claiming the iPads are the only reason for this success. Similarly I don’t think the ‘flipped’ learning environment would be the only reason for the boys high achievement. The point is, the introduction of new technology and indeed the pedagogy that is developing, didn’t obstruct the boys learning and achievement. I firmly believe it enhanced the learning process but this is difficult to prove without a control group. If I was to compare it to the previous years set of results they are markedly higher, but there could be many different reasons for this.

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The second area of discussion comes from the Stephen Perse Foundation in Cambridge. The school has been 1:1 iPad for a year and they have just received a record breaking set of GCSE results. 74% A* or 94% A*/A is remarkable by any standard and again serves as an indicator to the positive impact of new technology in schools. I’m not suggesting that the iPads are the reason for the success. However, they clearly didn’t have a detrimental effect on the performance of the school at GCSE level.

So we have an entire GCSE cohort in a 1:1 iPad environment and a trial A level group who have both performed outstandingly well when compared to their predecessors – so what conclusions can I draw?

It is obvious that engagement with the learning is crucial. Top grades are very difficult to achieve without a firm understanding of the subject matter. I believe the new technology has enabled our learners to engage more readily with material and context. It certainly isn’t the only way to achieve the levels of engagement required, but I personally found it much easier to access with the new technology.

The real impact of new technology in school doesn’t have anything to do with grades. The fact that I was able to bring many different opportunities for learning into my classroom always felt right as we went through the process at A level. As you can see in the video above, at the Stephen Perse Foundation the GCSE cohort had many opportunities to express their learning. At a time when collaboration and communication skills are at the top of any employers desirable qualities, it is fitting we are seeing more of it in our classrooms.

As schools discuss the rights and wrongs of tablets in education I can only offer an opinion based on two years of usage and an interesting time deploying iPads in secondary schools. The opportunities they provide have led to a shift in my own teaching and this doesn’t appear to have had a negative effect on my students. It also felt right to adjust what I had been doing for 10 years and I’m certain I’m a better educator for it. Time will tell if this trend is seen across different groups, institutions and countries but I feel secure in the knowledge that, after two years with iPads . . . . . it wasn’t necessarily a bad decision!

The iPad Toolkit for Learning?

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THE STARTING POINT?

It is interesting to reflect how this simplification of iPad key tools has changed in a relatively short space of time. iWork suite aside, you could purchase the above apps for less than the cost of a textbook and have a model that could enhance learning with the right application.

For those educators who are using iPads in the classroom, the suggestions above will be nothing new. The hope is that other educators will not feel overwhelmed by the diagram and actually view a number of core apps as manageable for their own learning curve.

It must be said that there are a number of applications that I could happily add to the diagram that would be useful for the toolkit. For example, Showbie (a way of collecting, assessing and handing back student work) would certainly meet the requirements of many iPad learning environments. The point is that less than 15 apps can be a starting point for learning, with the substitution of applications based on the learner’s needs and educator’s requirements. I have had many conversations with educators who feel that the pedagogical shift and adaptation to the new technology can be intimidating. The diagram above serves to reduce that feeling and start a conversation moving forward with increased technology use in the classroom.

KEY CONSIDERATIONS

You will notice that Google Drive and Explain Everything are an integral part of the learning process. A centralised store with the ability to share folders and information is crucial for educators and students alike. Google Drive has been chosen as it allows 30GB of free storage for every user. You must be registered as a Google Apps For Education institution.

Explain Everything serves as a platform to enhance and demonstrate learning. It has been written about many times as the go-to app for education. However, it is only as good as the user. The educator can record screencasts, transform feedback and personalise learning with it. Students can demonstrate learning, collaborate, create and feedback as well as export their work to their required destination.

The rest of the tools have creation and collaboration at their core alongside the assessment for learning with feedback mechanisms. It is my intention to blog about these processes, as their use develops in our own 1:1 iPad environment and I welcome any input. Any of the apps recommended above are well worth looking into and are suggested after much discussion and debate.

(Incidentally, I am a firm believer that Augmented Reality will play a significant role in education. Consequently I am using Aurasma to enhance learning in the classroom. I would have included it in this toolkit but feel I need to explore its potential a little further. Needless to say, it is well worth looking into if you are fortunate enough to have the technology available).

-with thanks to Greg Hughes @deepexperience1

Google Drive for Teachers with ‘How-to’ video links

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Google has tripled free storage space, across Gmail, Google+ and Drive, bringing the total to 15GB. This is a serious move by Google as it places the company at the forefront of cloud based solutions with institutions working to tight financial constraints. Having turned to Google Drive as my main storage facility, I thought I would highlight some advantages of using the platform. (Please click on the links for further explanation.)

Advantages

  • Access files anytime on any device with an internet connection.
  • Work offline with documents.
  • Share files/documents with others and collaborate in real time.
  • Share folders with students and receive and feedback on assignments.
  • Allow read only access on documents and share with students as resource with no photocopying.
  • Save a document in a variety of formats.
  • Works with other Google Apps to provide platform for forms, surveys, projects.
  • Save to GoogleDrive with two taps of an icon or clicks of a mouse.
  • Search files in Drive for name or keyword.

(courtesy of Anson Alexander)

Google Drive provides a platform to organise and enhance workflow for teachers. The most obvious example is how quickly resources can be shared, annotated and collaborated upon. A shared folder with a student could contain assignments, screencasts and resources that could serve to form a digital portfolio and a reference point for teacher and parents. In my opinion, the fact that we can now share more storage space for free, places Google Drive firmly ahead of Dropbox. This is supported by the recent announcement that you can also save web resources at the click of a button, bringing Google Drive into line with the functionality of Dropbox.

As with other cloud based solutions, there are a number of disadvantages to using Google Drive. Not least the requirement to sign up students via a Gmail account and the testing question of the whole school solution. However, as we make our way with cloud based storage, I can recommend giving Google Drive a try. With 15GB for free what have you got to lose?

iPad in the Classroom – Can we make it simpler?

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With many educational institutions choosing to use tablets for learning, it can be quite intimidating for teachers when faced with so many applications. The diagram below serves to illustrate that less than 20 core apps can play a significant part in the learning process and hopefully temper any trepidation.

iPad Key Tools

(with thanks to Greg Hughes @deepexperience1 for his ideas and input)

The apps indicated serve to enhance or modify existing practice with scope to be transformational. The extent to which the learning environment can be changed is up to the educator and students.

COLLABORATION

Twitter and Skype are part of many students’ lives, with immediate contact and communication a must. There is no reason they can’t be utilised in the classroom and to support learning at home. A class twitter account provides an easy way to convey links/information and is simple to set up and make private. Skype provides a free way to collaborate with peers and indeed experts in a subject area with little technical know-how.

A PDF annotator and Skitch (with the ability to annotate images) might take a little more getting used to, but are invaluable to the educator with tablets in the classroom. Existing resources are easily modified and the ability to redo and share can’t be underestimated. Students quickly learn shortcuts and the learning process can be enhanced with minimal attention paid to the technology.

Perhaps the most important collaborative tool however is GoogleDrive. Leaving GoogleApps aside, the sharing options and collaborative documents make GoogleDrive a really powerful app and one worth spending some time learning all about.

(with thanks to dc12norfolk)

As the video illustrates, GoogleDrive is a very powerful learning tool with transformational possibilities for students and educators alike.

RESOURCES

I firmly believe that the reason why the iPad is the right choice for schools lies with two unique applications – iBooks Author and iTunesU. The ability to collate all existing and new resources into an iBook with iBooks Author and set out a course and its administration for a period of time in iTunesU will change the way some schools work. If you add to this the simplicity with which educators can create screencasts for their students using Explain Everything, then you have resource applications that are far beyond current methods.

Once an iTunesU course or iBook has been created, students just require a link to be able to download it to their iPad. A real plus is that any changes made by the author are automatically synced to any subscriber’s iPad. No more queuing for the photocopier!

AFL/WORKFLOW

Plenty has been written about Edmodo and Socrative as tools for learning and I concur, they are superb. Socrative will provide plenty of information for the educator with exit ticket reports (a real winner when planning for the next lesson). Edmodo also provides the ability to receive/annotate and grade assignments without any need for paper and students receiving their feedback as soon as it is completed by the educator.

(with thanks to Ron Bosch)

If educators only get to grips with these two applications they can have a real impact on the learning process and also the day to day management of workload.

MODELLING

Attention to detail is always enhanced when a student believes their work might be displayed to their peers. AppleTV allows any iPad on the same wireless network to be mirrored to a projector. This means that apps such as iMovie, iThoughtsHD and Notability allow students to create and share their work at the behest of the educator. It’s amazing how, after a couple of attempts, students’ work ethic improves when they have the opportunity to receive immediate feedback on their creations.

(with thanks to XMA4education)

I’m not suggesting there aren’t other generic apps that are very suitable for the classroom and I could have included many more. There are also countless subject specific apps that can really help educators and students alike to convey and discover information. The point of this post is, hopefully, to illustrate how a few apps and a 1:1 iPad environment needn’t be a daunting prospect.

All thoughts very welcome.

The No.1 App for Every Teacher….

Not all apps are created equal.

The first version of Explain Everything was good. The second version is outstanding.

As an educator my life revolves around learning, organisation, workflow and school requirements. Lessons are delivered, work is assessed and data is recorded. Thankfully new technologies are providing ways of coping with the increasing demands. Explain Everything is central to my current workflow.

At its base level Explain Everything is an interactive whiteboard into which you can insert text, pictures and videos. This can be shared with a class through the projector or sent to individuals as required via a number of export options. However, this is not where the power of Explain Everything lies. The power is in the application and its suitability inside and outside the classroom.

An existing presentation can be imported into the app from a Dropbox or GoogleDrive account. This can be displayed at the front of the class whilst the teacher or students annotate the slides. An explanation can be recorded at the same time and this can be exported as a movie file to be watched by the students. In short you can keep a record of every lesson/plenary you do in class for the students to watch at a later date.

Similarly a teacher can record anything that happens in class, via the camera, and then annotate/comment on the work. Again, this project can then be shared with individuals or the whole class.

(courtesy of Digital First Ohio State)

As you can see from the ‘how to’ video there are a number of different functions in the new version of Explain Everything that lend themselves to the classroom. However, I firmly believe the real benefit can be seen outside the classroom walls. As you sit collating resources for a lesson, they can all be brought into the app to share with students. A simple commentary on the resources can become a starter presentation, a resource to look at before the lesson, or a stimulus for a student who needs further guidance. These short ‘videos’ can then become the basis for a ‘flipped classroom‘ approach.

Explain Everything can also have an impact on assessment. With a student’s piece of work inserted into the app an educator has the opportunity to annotate and comment at the same time. As you highlight key areas the commentary allows for explanation and the posing of further questions. Again, this can be exported to the student as a movie file. (I can strongly recommend setting up an unlisted YouTube account for this purpose. That way you only need to share the link with the student and it isn’t available to the wider public.)

This process is complemented by the recording of video to illustrate a point and the use of that video, annotation and commentary to highlight key areas to enhance learning. One example could be taken from a model answer script. A 5 minute explanation with annotation, that can be paused and reflected upon by the student, is a key weapon in a teachers arsenal. There’s no reason the students can’t do the same and create a bank of resources for each other and future revision. The video can also act as a further visual stimulus to support the learning of an individual.

Explain Everything is a ‘must-have’ application for teachers who have access to an iPad. It really does support the learning process inside and outside the classroom and is a key part of my own working practice. I can recommend spending a little time importing a few resources and sharing your efforts with students. Their feedback is always telling.

Digital Leaders – Why you need them in your school? (Plus a few tips on how to get started)

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Students are curious.

Without this curiosity, I don’t believe a Digital Leader programme would be so successful. Show them something they are interested in and they want to know more. If they come up against a barrier, they want to overcome it. If they can find out something no-one else knows, they want to share it. Successful Digital Leaders are the epitome of the curious student with more to offer schools than perhaps any other student body at this time. The classroom environment is changing and students and teachers need their help.

DIGITAL LEADER RESPONSIBILITY

  • A guide when using technology to support learning
  • Exponent of new and existing applications
  • Trainer and supporter of school members including parental, teacher and student bodies

The example below is taken from our 1:1 iPad initiative which serves to illustrate how crucial Digital Leaders will be to the success of the rollout. It must be emphasised that the roles and responsibilities are transferable to any technology in schools. I would suggest that the process is a little easier as all students have the same device.

DIGITAL LEADER MODEL

  • An iGenius in each class (responsible for communication with students and teachers alike)
  • Four further Digital Leaders in each class
  • Genius Bar run every lunchtime (in a very public space)
  • Training every Friday lunchtime given to Digital Leaders to support their development
  • Edmodo group for communication, sharing good practice and new ideas

SELECTION

  • Students submit a 30 second presentation to a panel of interviewers. The presentation can involve any application although the most common is an iMovie with different apps used to create the content
  • The panel then ask questions centred around communication and commitment. An ability to understand that skill levels are varied is key to the selection process, alongside communication skills
  • Digital Leaders chosen to meet the model requirements (with respect given to outstanding candidates above and beyond the four Digital Leaders per class)

TRAINING

  • First to receive information about new apps/ideas
  • Friday lunchtime training for selected Digital Leaders based on focus for the week ahead. This allows for weekend interaction and feedback amongst the group. Training includes appropriate digital communication and presentation suggestions
  • Access to key information from teaching body and IT support
  • Consistent rewards for attendance and application – in line with school achievement policy

PRACTICALITIES

  • The primary aim of our Digital Leader programme is to support learning in the classroom
  • The presence of four ‘experts’ in the classroom means a teacher should never have to deal with technological issues – Wifi, App use, Workflow etc. The reality is that the Digital Leaders provide a safety net without having to call a member of the IT support team. Consequently, teachers are more likely to try new applications knowing the Digital Leaders are trained to support them
  • A teacher needs to manage when the Digital Leaders can offer support and ensure it doesn’t hinder their own learning
  • Feedback and praise works very well in the iPad environment as it can be shared instantly. The Edmodo groups serve as an excellent way of highlighting contributions
  • The Genius Bar, run by an iGenius and four Digital Leaders, must serve to solve issues for any school member. It helps to have a focus that the Digital Leaders can demonstrate to encourage interaction. Set up is easy as everything is wireless!
  • The presence of four or five Digital Leaders in each class means that absence or forgetfulness is barely noticed. If in doubt, more is definitely more

EXAMPLES OF SUCCESS

  • Dropbox sign up for new students was as simple as asking the Digital Leaders to ensure all members of their class had an account (GoogleDrive will be the same)
  • A question from a teacher posted on the Edmodo ‘wall’ led to fifteen responses with answers to the query. As a result an app was ‘gifted’ to all students that hadn’t been previously used
  • A Digital Leader came up with a method of downloading any file from the internet into Goodreader that meant we had a one step process to transfer files (including from existing VLE)
  • If the Digital Leaders have an issue they communicate with each other, via Edmodo, discover the answer and thank anyone that helped for their time. As a consequence their ‘chatroom’ will be used a as a model of good practice

The reality is, I can’t see how a 1:1 programme could be properly supported without Digital Leaders in the classroom. There isn’t the funding or manpower to support all teachers and students and, if I’m honest, I think fellow students are better equipped in many situations. There is a time commitment to the process and the initial setup is crucial to success. However, I can assure you it is worth it and the payback for all the questions you don’t have to answer cannot be underestimated.

ONE LAST TIP

Train your Digital Leaders to be masters of workflow. Your fellow teachers will thank you.