Don’t Break the Chain!

After “handing in” my blog for assessment as part of my University course in late November, my blog has been in a virtual lockdown for the last few months whilst it was being marked.

Marking was completed about two weeks ago; however I have found it difficult to get back into blogging. I think this is because when you stop doing something it becomes easier to miss a day and then another and then another and eventually months go by without doing what you wanted to do.

This ties in with Jerry Seinfield’s productivity tip “Don’t break the chain”. For this tip all you require is a big wall calendar and a marker pen of your choice. You write at the top of your calendar something you want to achieve (e.g. exercise, read a novel for 30 minutes, practise playing the piano for 30 minutes etc.). When you have achieved your goal you put a big cross over that date. After a few days you have a chain and your goal is to not break it. Brad Issac sums up the power of this simple technique in this blog post stating that ‘the consistent daily action that builds extraordinary outcomes’.

Charlie McDonnell (charlieissocoollike) explains how he uses this concept in this video.


As I go into my final teaching placement I don’t think I’ll be able to blog everyday, but I think my target will be to spend 10 minutes a day planning things to blog and then share a few of these every week.

See you soon!

My vision statement for ICT: the past, the present and the future

My vision statement as a wordcloud. This worldcloud was made using http://www.wordle.net/

This post sets out my vision statement for how ICT should be taught in primary schools. It starts by considering how ICT in schools has evolved, why it is important, what teaching it should look like and finally some barriers to successful ICT.

It is a useful time to reflect on the nature of ICT due to the disapplication of its programme of study (as discussed in an earlier post). This means that we are currently in a state of opportunity, whilst the new programme of study is being finalised.

Before considering what the future of ICT should look like, it is useful to consider how it has developed over time. Technology has often influenced teaching in schools. John and Wheeler (2008) state that in the industrial revolution the oral tradition slowly gave way to a literate one and now this is slowly being superseded by digital technology.

ICT has only become a distinct subject in the national curriculum in 1995, with the addition of “communication” in the 1999 national curriculum (Easingwood, 2008). As this suggests, ICT in schools has always had a difficult time establishing its place within the curriculum. The nature of the subject is still contentious, with an article in the TES suggesting that it means different things to different people.

Alongside the pedagogical shift, there has been a technological one with Evans (2012) suggesting that the iPad has made computers, interactive whiteboards and laptops obsolete. As such, the past of the subject is muddled and the future uncertain. This makes it necessary to consider why ICT should be taught in the first place.

Firstly, as Rory Cellan-Jones’s recent experiment for BBC News shows, technology has become ingrained within our everyday lives. The presence of Web 2.0 tools have provided a way to easily collaborate with others and to share a wealth of information. However, the tools used are constantly changing as new services come along and provide something that better fits our needs (Barber and Cooper, 2012).

This means that nobody can predict what the future will look like or how technology will shape it. However, John and Wheeler (2008) predict that those who are able to adapt to new technologies will be best placed to succeed. This means that schools need to start children on their lifelong journey of harnessing technology.

So far, I have considered the changing nature of ICT. It is now necessary to consider what is essential to the subject. In the past ICT has been considered to incorporate four elements (Allen, 2007; Easingwood, 2008).

The first element is interactivity, which is about the relationship between the children, computer and teacher. These are not mutually exclusive relationships, instead they interlink. However, the focus should be on the human relationships, so that the children are in control of what they are doing. This strands links into the second, which is provisionality. This focuses on the fact that anything produced using ICT is ephemeral as it can always be modified. I think that this does not just involve the ability to edit children’s work, but also that technology is constantly being revised.

Additionally, ICT includes capacity and range, and speed and automatic function. These aspects mean that ICT enables children to access lots of data very quickly. As such, Barber and Cooper (2012, p.105) have argued that knowledge has become a ‘cheap commodity’ and now children need the skills to use it effectively.

As such, ICT in primary schools must be adaptable. Furthermore, in needs to teach children to be digitally literate, which involves children learning how to use digital technology with understanding. John and Wheeler (2008) suggest that digital literacy is made up of different literacies that need to be learnt in order for children to benefit from technology. These kinds of skills can be used across the curriculum because ICT is an effective ‘cross-curricular tool’ (Easingwood, 2008, p.147). Ofsted (2011) states that such an approach is characteristic of ICT in more effective schools.

However, ICT is much more than digital literacy. Clarkson (2011) states that to focus on this aspect of the ICT curriculum would be analogous to focusing only on spelling in English. Indeed, the Royal Society’s report on the future of ICT in schools has suggested disbanding the term and segregating the subject into digital literacy, Information Technology and Computer Science. Information Technology involves the use of computer systems to meet the user’s needs, whilst Computer Science is a ‘rigorous academic discipline’ (The Royal Society, 2012, p.10). The new draft of the programme of study for ICT incorporates these categories (NACCE, 2012).

Alongside the national curriculum for ICT, schools influence the subject through the way they decide to teach it (Haughton, 2012). For example, Ofsted (2011) states that teacher’s subject knowledge is essential in developing good ICT teaching. This is coupled with providing challenge for higher ability children, whom Ofsted (2011) state are not stretched enough.

However, in order to provide technology rich experiences investment is required in resources, which The Royal Society Report (2012) states many schools are not yet doing. Schools needing to update technology as it changes is an issue that will need resolving. However, our lessons at University have shown that although the hardware has to be bought there are lots of things that are free to use, including Scratch and QR Codes.

An additional area that can derail ICT is e-safety, which the Royal Society (2012) state is holding back the subject. Internet safety is clearly an important concern for schools and my experience has suggested that it can be integrated into the curriculum in a way that does not hamper creativity.

In conclusion, the future of ICT in schools is uncertain and faces challenges. To overcome these problems I think that the subject needs to be adaptable, whilst being underpinned by a clear rationale for why it’s an essential part of school life. I believe that ICT should continue to support all aspects of the curriculum, whilst emphasising its distinctive pedagogy and subject content.

Paper-based references:

Allen, J., Potter, J., Sharp, J. and Turvey, K. (2007) Primary ICT: Knowledge, Understanding and Practice. 3rd ed. Exeter: Learning Matters.

Barber, D. and Cooper, L. (2012) Using New Tools in the Primary Classroom: A practical guide for enhancing teaching and learning. London: Routledge.

Easingwood, N. (2008) Teaching Information and Communication Technology: The Principles. In: Boys, R. and Spink, E. (eds.) Primary Curriculum: Teaching the Core Subjects. London: Continuum. pp.144-155.

John, P. D. and Wheeler, S. (2008) The Digital Classroom: Harnessing Technology for the Future. London: Routledge.

Inspiring children to create their own content!

In this post I want to reflect on a range of issues explored in our University sessions from this and last year. In an earlier post I discussed the fact that I explored the use of iPads to create films in Year 2. This was done as part of my second year ICT assignment and I will re-synthesis my ideas from this to support this blog post.

The poster gives an example of how ICT can be used to make films to support teaching in History (click the image to download it). The approach incorporated a variety of different apps to help children engage in the filming from conceptualisation through making to releasing to the public. The use of film is pertinent in history because it helps to enhance children’s historical understanding through developing their communication skills.

Due to the immense benefits of film to the History curriculum, the poster does not specify a particular topic. This is to emphasise that it could be used to support work across Key Stage 2. Furthermore, the History national curriculum does not prescribe fixed topics for certain year groups and this means that it would limit the benefits of the poster for teachers if it was restricted to one fictional example (DFEE and QCA, 1999). As such, the poster has been made open-ended to allow teachers to adapt the poster to their own requirements and topic.

The open-ended approach is furthered by the fact that there are no instructions on how to use the apps on the poster. This is because I wanted to encourage teachers to experiment with the apps themselves and come up with their own creative ways to use them, instead of prescribing a set process. Additionally, apps constantly change and this could mean that my instructions could have a limited shelf-life due to a change to how the app is organised.

From creating this blog in ICT sessions this year I have come to see the importance of the final stage of the sequence – publishing it for others to see. I have commented elsewhere about the benefits of sharing resources online and I really think this is an important thing to do.

Undertaking a project such as this requires the teacher to have confidence in the children’s ability to use different types of technology. Green and Hannon (2007) state that developing children’s ability to use these types of technology is vital and that adults need to have more confidence in children’s ability.

This reminds me of a feature film that was written, filmed and produced by a group of sixth-form students. The producer, Nathan Craig, said that the support of the college’s Film Department helped to support the process. This was an out of school project, with a budget bigger than any primary school could provide for filming (although we are talking £3000 here – itself not a vast sum in the film industry).

The film is called “Strings” and you can watch the trailer here:

The film has been nominated for Best Debut at the 20th Raindance Film Festival, for a BIFA in the category “The Raindance Award”  and played at the International Rome Film Festival.

The success of the film can be partially attributed to social networking sites, especially Twitter. The cast and crew tweeted the premiere of the film in the month leading up to its release at the Raindance Film Festival. This helped to contribute to tickets selling out for the screening.

The festival itself benefited from social media within a wider context, with Elliot Grove (Founder and organiser of Raindance) stating that social networking site impressions were reaching about a million daily, with admissions up 33%. For further insight into Raindance you can watch the awards ceremony here:

There are two points that I want to take away from this example and the overall post. Firstly, social networking can be an amazing way to promote ideas with the wider world (of course they only spread if they are good)! Secondly, ICT is a bit like a pen. It takes practise to learn how to use it and is annoying when it breaks. But when it does work the possibilities are as limited as one’s own imagination.

And finally, the success of this film could mark the start of my acting career… :P

Paper-based references:

DFEE and QCA (1999) The National Curriculum Handbook for Primary Teachers in England. London: HMSO.

Green, H. and Hannon, C. (2007) Their Space: Education for a digital generation. London: Demos.

Hoodless, P. (2008) Teaching History in Primary Schools. Exeter: Learning Matters.

The joys of blogging!

This post aims to serve two purposes. It is partly aimed at meeting the university assignment criteria that this blog was originally set up as part of. This requires proof of “other’s engagement” and I hope this post provides evidence towards this.

But most importantly, this post is to say thank you to everyone who has visited and commented on my blog – I’m glad you have found it useful! Some highlights from outside the blog have included being featured in the ScratchEd Weekly Roundup and being “scooped” as part of someone’s Scoop.it site.

I have also received some great messages on Twitter, alongside being re-tweeted by a whole host of people. This lovely message is one of my favourite:

I think the experience since “going live” has emphasised to me the benefits of blogging. Blogging provides an opportunity to share ideas with the internet and receive comments and feedback from people from all over the world. I can imagine how excited children must feel when someone comments on their blogs and I will definitely comment on different school blogs in the future.

One way that schools can ensure their blogs get the publicity they deserve is through signing up to QuadBlogging.  The QuadBlogging website states that in the last year 100,000 pupils in 40 countries have been involved in the scheme. There is a great video on Youtube that outlines the process: 

Furthermore, my colleague, Lindsay Morris has provided some more insights into Quadblogging on her blog and I suggest you check it out. 

In the spirit of sharing I wanted to finish this post with a song that was recommended by TES SEN on Twitter, who posted a link that contains lots of songs that include Makaton signing. This particular song is being sung by some of the people from Shabang. The TES website states that this could be a great ice-breaker or introductions song, which I think ties in with the theme of this blog update. Plus, I think it’s a really catchy tune that could be used in special or mainstream settings. Enjoy!

Session 5: Mobile Technology – curriculum applications

In this session KerryLindsay and I worked together to produce a lesson using mobile technologies. We decided to combine the idea of a scavenger hunt with using QR codes.

The scavenger hunt was set up around the University campus. The purpose of the lesson is for children to scan QR codes to get a clue about where the next QR code is located, along with a word. Once the children have completed the scavenger hunt they have to re-arrange the words to create a sentence.

This picture shows an example of what would be seen if you scanned the first QR code in our scavenger hunt route.

The rest of the QR codes and corresponding pictures are arranged, in order, in this PhotoPeach spiral. The words have been redacted to avoid spoiling the surprise sentence for you!

The ICT skills required to produce the scavenger hunt are quite simple. You need access to a computer in order to visit www.scan.me to create the QR codes and a QR reader (such as an iPad or iPod touch) to read the QR codes. This animation, made in VideoScribe, summarises the process.

As you can see this is a straightforward process. Combining text and photographs did slightly complicate things, as we had to merge the text and original photographs to create a single image. These then had to be uploaded to Photo Bucket and linked to the QR codes.

However, we have no doubt that children in Key Stage 2 could make QR codes, progressing to embedding quite sophisticated information within them. Classes could make QR code scavenger hunts for each other. For example,  Year 5 could make a Scavenger hunt for Year 1 children using simple audio clues. This would give the Year 5 children a real purpose for their work.

The Year 1 class could evaluate how well the scavenger hunt works. For example, our scavenger hunt may have been easier to set up if we colour coded the order that the QR codes go in (instead of them all looking the same). The order of the colours could be kept secret by the people who made the scavenger hunt.

Session 4: Mobile technology – skills and techniques

In this session we looked at a range of different mobile technology applications, such as using QR codes, making films and using animation software. I decided to focus on using QR codes in the classroom, as I had not used them before. I have used iMovie to edit movies before; indeed this was the focus on my Year 2 assignment (which I will discuss in a separate blog post).

QR (Quick Reference) codes are funny looking things that look like barcodes. However, they provide much more information than old fashioned bar codes. The information contained within them can be accessed by using a QR code reader available on iPads and smartphones.

They can be used to direct you to simple text, a website, an image or even a spoken message (recorded on sites such as audioboo or Record MP3). The latter provides a great opportunity for differentiation, for example they could be stuck in exercise books and played back for children to gain a recap of instructions, if they need them.

This extract from BBC Click gives an insight into how QR codes work and can be used. It’s from a few years ago now, but it gives a good general introduction to them.

To start exploring how these work I used the Scan iPad app to read QR codes in a maths puzzle from Helen. The maths puzzle is presented here:

When the individual QR codes are scanned a sum shows up for the children to answer.

The individual QR codes could be cut out and placed around the classroom for children to solve. QR codes can be presented in different colours, allowing for differentiation, with different teams completing different trails.

After exploring how QR codes work, I had a go at making one of my own using www.scan.me.

My example is inspired by the ancient Egyptians. It could be used as part of a classroom museum, focused on the class’s topic for the term. The children could create the QR codes themselves for different objects and this would give them a sense of ownership of their work, which is important to help children remember the information they have learnt (Jeffrey and Woods, 2009).

The following picture shows you my mock-up of a classroom museum, including the object and it’s QR code.

If you tried to scan the QR code in the picture of the classroom museum you may have found it hard to connect (at least I did). The Primary Ideas blog discusses that recognition can be a problem when using QR codes. They suggest the use of URL shortening services (such as TinyURL or bit.ly) to shorten original URL addresses when linking to websites. This makes the QR code simpler, making recognition easier.

Another benefit of making the URLs shorter is that these can be typed directly into the address bar, for example if someone doesn’t have access to a QR reading device.

The use of these two services in a school newsletter is a really good idea because they would allow parents to be directly taken to examples of their child’s work. This can be supported by a textual explanation in the newsletter to set the work in context.

There are some great additional ideas available on this Google Docs Document about using QR codes in the classroom. I particularly the following two ideas:

  1. Children’s targets: A quick audio or video extract could be stuck next to children’s targets in their exercise books. This could provide a simple summary of their targets and what they need to do next. This might be more helpful for some children than just seeing their targets written down.
  2. Tour of the school: QR codes could be placed in key areas of the school, providing information about the different areas. The use of videos, pictures and audio information would help to provide an insight for visitors into life in the school at different times of the year, for example a QR code in the hall could show a short film of the school’s Christmas play.

In my Year 1 e-portfolio I discussed the use of QR codes in Bordeaux Southern France. You can read the discussion point by clicking here. Unfortunately, the interactive version of the document cannot be uploaded as my blog doesn’t support the file format I exported the finished product from eXe to.

In my e-portfolio discussion point I discussed the issues of using technology in school, including the problems of recording evidence of children’s progress. I think that the use of QR codes provides opportunities to evidence children’s progress because their completed QR codes are saved online for later retrieval. Furthermore, individual codes can be printed off so that they can be easily scanned for people to see the progress children have made.

Since writing my e-portfolio discussion point I have seen a rapid increase in the use of iPads. I have also seen an increased uptake in life outside of school. For example, I saw this advertisement with a QR code on it when I was on train the other week and other mobile devices in schools. I think this helps to address the issues of access I mentioned.

I believe that mobile devices have a lot of potential for use in the classroom and I look forward to working as part of a group in the next ICT session to create a classroom resource.

References:

Paper-based references used in this blog post are available here.

Jeffrey, B. and Woods, P. (2009) Creative Learning in the Primary School. London: Routledge.

We’re going on a scavenger hunt!

Last week in science we went on a scavenger hunt in the University’s forest school, as part of our exploration of teaching ecology in the primary school classroom. During the hunt we collected samples and took pictures of our surroundings.

There are several benefits to taking pictures of items on the scavenger hunt list. Firstly, it means that you do not damage the environment by picking lots of things to bring back to the classroom. It also helps to avoid items going missing or blowing off in the wind.

The pictures can be looked at in the classroom and discussed. Pictures can be easily added to the working wall to support children’s learning and they can be shared on the class blog to support home-school links, with parents able to look at the pictures with their child.

I uploaded our photographs to PhotoPeach. This is a great resource to use to create something impressive with pictures collected during the school day in a few minutes. I have created a “spiral” display of the photographs, but there is also an opportunity to make slideshows with text describing what’s happening in different pictures.

We’re going on a scavenger hunt! on PhotoPeach

Northants BLT meet: Tuesday 23rd October 2012

Today I attended the first meet of the academic year for the Northants BLT (Better Learning using Technologies). It was an interesting event, with the 90 minutes packed full of techy-goodness.

Here are my lucky seven ideas from the event:

Greenscreen iPad app: This looks like a really cool app to use in the classroom. Children can stand in front of a screen and the background is changed to look like different backgrounds. This would be a great app to use across the curriculum. The presenting pair showed it being used with children to recreate the Titanic in history. It could also be used to produce a newsroom in English.

Drama in ICT: This idea isn’t so much about a particular resource to use in ICT, but instead about how ICT lessons can be developed. ICT lessons do not have to involve children staring at computer screens, but can be given a real-life context to give the children’s work a purpose. Value and purpose are two key aspects of creativity and this helps to fully utilise the potential of ICT.

Tagging learning: Tom Barrett gave an interesting presentation about tagging moments of learning, with reference to a school he is working with down south. He stated that the school started to build up the concept of tagging in the classroom before applying it in the ICT suite. This meant that the children manually tagged their work across the curriculum, highlighting what the work relates to with subject specific tags (Mathematics, English), subject detail tags (addition, plants) and emotional tags regarding how the work made the children feel (struggling, happy, excited).

This tied into three reflective questions for the children to consider:

  • Where have I been?
  • Where am I now?
  • Where am I going next?

This was a very interesting presentation, showing how ICT skills can be started outside of the ICT suite and how it can be used as an formative assessment tool.

Twitter in lessons: Another use of ICT as an assessment tool was provided with the suggestion of using Twitter during mini-plenaries, for example by getting the children to summarise their learning so far in the lesson. Differentiation is provided because the higher ability have a word limit (they can’t write reams and reams) and the lower ability are provided with a manageable target to achieve. If school wifi is patchy or technology limited then tweeting could be done manually, for example on mini whiteboards, or maybe children could share their ideas verbally against the clock (for example 15 seconds to share what you have learnt this lesson).

Aurasma lite iPad app: This app provides an insight into the displays of the future! The app uses augmented reality software, which can be used to digitalise displays. The app allows schools to setup their own aurasma channel to store the content they have made and want to display when you point your phone at the content.

iStop motion iPad app: This looks like a great app to use to make stop motion movies. Like all of the resources shown at the meet it could be used across the curriculum. The presenter discussed how a child that struggled in other curriculum areas really enjoyed using this app and helping other people with it – underlining the potential of ICT.

Magic whiteboard paper: This last one isn’t a type of technology, but is still very nifty. Magic whiteboard paper can be used by children across the curriculum to jot down ideas in groups. Its “magical” property means that it can be stuck on the wall without the need for any adhesives, allowing children to easily share ideas with each other.

And there we are, 7 things I discovered at the Northants BLT.

There was also a whole host of stuff related to QR codes, computer programming and the power of the blog, but these will be covered in detail in other posts.

Session 3: Teaching computer programming in the classroom

Following on from last week, Kerry, Lindsay and I worked together to produce a unit of work using Scratch. The unit of work is aimed at Year 6 children, as their final ICT project before moving to secondary school.

Overall unit objective: We are learning to create an animated game. 

Part 1: Testing games

In the first activity the children are to work in mixed ability pairs to play a range of games from the sqowrl set. They are to add words about what makes a good game to the class answer garden. Children can all work on the class answer garden at the same time, with the words presented updating in real time. If a child likes someone else’s word they can click on it and then re-submit it. This makes the word bigger, showing that more people agree with this opinion.

Ingredients of a good game… at AnswerGarden.ch.

The answer garden can be turned into a word cloud (the one in this blog post was made in wordle). The class can discuss the different words that they have come up with together to ascertain what the most important ingredients of a video game are.

Part 2: Fish tank game

Discuss as a class how video games are created.

Introduce the children to Scratch. Go through how to create a simple fish tank game.  Get the children to work in friendship pairs. Provide the children with the online video demo of the game, so that they can refer to it when making it in their pairs.

When the children have created their fish tank game they can upload it to the Scratch website and to a class sqworl link (containing the games made by the different pairs). They can then select different scratch card activities to help them further explore the potential of Scratch.

Part 3: The Dragons’ Den

Show the children the Morfo video of Duncan Bannatyne setting the challenge for the children by clicking on this link:  The Dragon’s Task. When creating Duncan Bannatyne’s speech we used the voice changer built into the app to make his voice have a lower pitch (to disguise our own); however on reflection this can make it difficult to ascertain what is being said. It would be great if future versions of the app had different degrees of voice changing, so that the low-pitch wasn’t too low and the hi-pitch wasn’t too squeaky.

Generate success criteria for computer games with the children using Spicynodes. The children could have a baseline target for how many of the different elements to include in their games, for example 3. Here’s an example of a success criteria we created earlier:

Part 4: Making games

Children work in friendship pairs to create their games. They use wallwisher as a working wall to document their ideas and queries. We liked the idea of this in principle, but we found that in practise it was clunky and we’d prefer to have it for refernce at all times – not just in ICT.

Part 5: Poll rating

In the final stage of the unit of work the children present the work to a panel of Dragons. This can be supported with a poll on the class blog for children to vote for their favourite game.