A place for the fun stuff

I love teaching children new stuff.

Today I taught my Year 1 boys how to do stop motion animation. Admittedly it was pretty primitive. We used iPads on book stands to take the photos (an app called iMotion). The subjects were toy dinosaurs. The outcomes were pretty basic too – 3 seconds (at most) of jerky stop motion video.

But the boys all made a video. They all learned that if you move the camera it spoils the video. They all saw that if you had the patience to move the subject just a little bit each time it makes the best video. All that in 45 minutes.

I sometimes wonder about this kind of fun stuff. In Year 1 reading is the big thing. Closely followed by mathematics, with spoken language and written work tying for third. These things are the key to academic success. Should we really bother with niceties like stop motion animation?

In many schools, the fun stuff is increasingly squeezed to spend more and more time on English and maths. But I like the fun stuff. It keeps the interest of both the children and teachers flowing so I think it’s important to keep on with it.

#28daysofwriting Day 26

Collecting the Good Stuff

One of the reasons I am an inconsistent blogger is that I quickly run out of ideas. I spend a few months building up a list of things I’m bothered about, which I then vomit into my blog. And then I go quiet for a bit.

This is an issue when trying to do #28daysofwriting (1 post for every day in February). Last time I tried this sort of thing, I ran out of steam half way through and didn’t finish.

So to inspire me, I’ve begun collecting other people’s blogs. I use ifttt.com to automatically search twitter for the hashtag #28daysofwriting and send the tweets, including any urls with related content, to a spreadsheet here. It’s been quite good so far. It’s tuned me back into Tom Barrett’s blog and made me see a couple of other people’s posts who have presented me with more food for thought – more ways to stay inspired.

Unfortunately I only thought of this a couple of days ago, so I haven’t collected everything since the start of February, but at least it’s a start!

#28daysofwriting Day 13

Testing the Digital Leaders

Many aspire to the badge, but not all can attain it…

#28daysofwriting Day 10

I made a mistake last year in my digital leaders programme. I interviewed each boy (remember – my school is a boys school, so I am not being sexist: there are literally no girls to choose from) based on their technical prowess. I chose them from that, and also a little bit of they’re-not-involved-in-anything-else-so-I-feel-sorry-for-them.

I didn’t look for their ability to work in a team. You’ve probably heard that phrase: ‘you can’t have too much self esteem, you can just wear it badly‘. Exactly. I had a few boys who wore their self esteem badly. Let’s face it they were just plain arrogant. They ended up abusing some of the privileges they had been given and being banned from the computer room.

So this year, I have been choosing the digital leaders more carefully.

Out goes the one-size fits all interview. In comes a presentation session in which they all have to present to each other about why they should be a digital leader.

This was most enlightening.

I actually had one boy declare to the other boys that he was a ‘child genius’ and that’s why he should be a digital leader.

What was even more enlightening was how they listened to each other. Some hung on every word of the other presentations and clapped enthusiastically at the end of each one. Some couldn’t be bothered until it was their turn.

Next I have given them the task of supporting the Year 1 boys in making a ‘Dinosaur Fact website.’ This was interesting as neither the Year 1 boys, nor the Year 6 boys had seen Google Sites before, and yet the Year 6 boys picked up the logging in quickly (the biggest barrier is logging in) and were all pretty good at supporting the younger boys.

My final challenge will be to work on their own ‘Digital Leaders website’, in which each one will have their own section. This will be interesting to see how they collaborate, because it is quite easy to sabotage someone else’s work when building the same website together, and I can imagine it being tempting to do that so that your own pages look the best. But of course I will be looking for good teamwork as my driving criteria.

And soon I will have some Year 6 boys who are no longer ‘Provisional Digital Leaders’, but actual ones.

Back into Google Apps

#28Daysofwriting Day 7

It’s been since I posted anything Google-y. I’ve been a bit disconnected from the network over the past couple of years. There are a range of reasons for this, none of which are relevant to this post.

This week, having mainly done work on Paint recently, I got my Year 1s making their own website. The subject was: dinosaurs.

Having already made a fact book, it seemed only logical to produce the same information in html.

The first task was showing the boys how a website is organised. I did this and I set up 6 subpages of the main page, each named after one of the dinosaurs we had chosen: velociraptor, ankylosaurus, diplodocus, stegosaurus, pterodactyl and triceratops.

Then each boy created their own subpage of these subpages (3 layers) and wrote a sentence about each one. We did it all in Google Sites, using the slowly developing Google Apps domain I acquired for the school.

That was on Monday. Today I showed the boys how to insert a photo. I haven’t done the copyright thing yet. It was enough to find a relevant phot and show them how to insert it using a link. The rights and wrongs of fair usage can wait a few weeks.

What was great is that my new digital leaders from Year 6 helped with the process. They hadn’t seen it before, but soon picked it up and helped the little boys with their task.

I’m not sure as yet what the Year 1 boys are learning from the process as typing is a major barrier, so effectively the whole exercise is typing practise.

They always say you need to start your Google Apps implementation with one thing. Last time it was Gmail. Maybe this time it will be Sites.

Lessons in Feedback #3: instant images

This week I could see that some pupils weren’t getting it and others clearly were. When this happens I like to the use the good work of some as exemplars to those who haven’t ‘got it’ yet.

But how to do this?

Of course, I could wait, mark the good work and the bad work and then start the next lesson by showing some how they have failed. But this seems a little harsh to me.

Or I could hold up the good work and talk about what makes it so good. But then some can’t see it.

The best thing for me is to instantly show an image of the good work so that all can see what their successful peers have done and work towards getting it.

Now I’ve had very efficient ways of doing this in the past at previous schools:

  • visualisers are great, but I don’t have one in my classroom.
  • I’ve found an iPad connected to an Apple TV to work great.
  • I’ve tried to use an Android tablet with a Chromecast, but the wifi settings of a Chromecast are often not geared for the networks found in schools and so don’t work.
  • a tablet with Reflector App on your PC works well, so I’m told, but I haven’t got that working in my classroom yet.

And so, without the required technology, I was forced to take a photo on my tablet, share the photo with my computer (via the cloud) and then display the photo on the screen. Rather an inefficient process.

Although this took a few extra seconds, it was still a more efficient way of feeding back than holding up the work and expecting everyone to see from all over the classroom.

And now I’ve added the ‘more efficient image feedback’ heading to my New Year’s resolution mindmap – so I have to find a more efficient solution by the end of the year.

ClassDojo is Awesome

I’m new to a school and wanted a way to motivate the children but use the school’s behaviour system at the same time.

I’ve come from a school where I was both the technology lead and the behaviour lead to a school where I am neither. At my previous school I had built up Google Apps from scratch and a behaviour system that worked. At my new school I was just getting my head round Outlook for the first time in about 10 years.

All I had was the internet and the memory that someone had once recommended using Class Dojo for classroom management.

So on Monday morning I realised I had failed to print out any sticker charts for the school’s house points. I wasn’t that confident with the school’s printer or indeed using Publisher, which I am well out of practice with. But I had the internet.

Twenty minutes later Class Dojo was up and working, filled with the names of the children in the class with the generic rewards rep[laced with the rewards that match the system of the new school. I had even grouped the children into their ‘houses’.

It is literally awesome. It had saved me time, the school paper and the boys love it. Ace.

Passcode on iPad Google Drive app is genius

Look! You can set a Passcode on the Google Drive App
Look! You can set a Passcode on the Google Drive App

If you’ve read any of my #necessaryendings posts then you’ll have realised that by now I’ll have started a new job. I have. And by the second day with the children I was itching to do something with technology.

Like many schools, this school has a cabinet full of iPads. These iPads get some use but it would be fair to say that their use has not been maximised.

Like many teachers I got my children to write about their holidays today. It’s one of those assessment activities you do to find out how many can hold the pencil properly, form letters, apply phonics, write sentences and all that. So with that done, I thought it would be good to get pupils to explain their holiday writing to camera so I could compare what they write with what they say. The iPads were the obvious recording choice for this activity.

After the initial hilarity of five year-olds seeing each other’s faces on an iPad screen, many of the pupils settled down to try and hold the iPad still enough and close enough to actually record what their partner was saying and most of them said some good stuff.

All done and dusted. Children gone home, settled down in my classroom with a cup of coffee. Now to get all the videos off the individual iPads and edit them together so that tomorrow’s lesson could start with a bang, reminding the pupils of what they had been doing and how they could improve both what they have said and written.

And that’s where I hit a problem.

It seemed that there was no App on the devices for getting the videos off them. And when I plugged them into my classroom Windows PC I discovered that there was no way of transferring the files directly (the PCs are quite locked down and I don’t have administrator access).

Then I noticed Drive. Each iPad had an unused ‘Google Drive App’ icon on it. Problem solved. I quickly signed in and began transferring the videos to a Google Drive account.

But then I realised that with each iPad being used by any of the 180 pupils in the school, I had signed them all into a Google Drive account that I didn’t want anyone else accessing. Whoops.

But things have changed with Drive on the iPad since I last used it. I fiddled around and discovered that in ‘settings’ there is a ‘passcode’ option (pictured above). Now I could set each iPad to only use the Drive account I had signed in with when a certain passcode is entered. Genius. IPads have always been a brilliant tool for creating content, but now they are also brilliant for collecting that content.

Safe Search: The ‘Anu Ojha’ Test

Anu Ojha, Space Scientist, in action
Anu Ojha, Space Scientist, in action

This is Anu Ojha OBE, Director of the National Space Academy programme in the UK. Here he is ‘making a comet’ in front of a whole load of Primary school children at an event I attended. When I Googled him, I didn’t realise it would test the ‘Safe Search’ of my school.

You see there’s another Anu Ojha on the internet and she doesn’t tend to wear the same quantity of clothes as the distinguished space scientist I was interested in finding out more about.

As you’ll have seen from my recent posts, I’m tremendously proud of how we use Chromebooks at my school, but here is a problem: you can ‘force Safe Search’, but how Safe is Safe Search? And how safe should it be?

I was interested in this part of the admin console for Chromebooks which allows me to lock the Search Provider:

It's tempting to lock the Onibox so only one search provider can be used.
It’s tempting to lock the Onibox so only one search provider can be used.

The problem with Google Safe Search is that you still see some suggested images. And while the other Anu Ojha isn’t entirely naked, I am uncomfortable with the amount of clothing she is wearing and inadvertantly showing those images in a primary school classroom.

There are some safe search options that avoid images altogether. Kidrex and Paws Explore are two I’ve come across that do this and both seem to do a decent job. If you click on those links, you’ll see that both only bring up articles about Anu Ojha OBE, Space Scientist with no images in sight.

But there’s another argument too – should I stop being so prudish and just teach children that sometimes they come across unhelpful images? At the moment I haven’t locked school search to Paws Explore – but it is an option that we can use – I would be interested to hear different views on this…

Update (13:15 8th May 2015) courtesy of @adammcevoy: PrimaryschoolICT.com also pass the ‘Anu Ojha’ test.

 

Ten Minutes to a Safe and Purposeful Chromebook

Recently I visited a school where the headteacher was worried about their Chromebooks. A device that was merely a window to that internet? Full of all those unedifying images and distracting videos? How could that help her primary school children?

I countered that some of the children at my school take school Chromebooks home with them and that I believe (quite confidently) that when they do so, the Chromebooks are the safest device in their home. What’s more, they are purposeful too.

It transpired that the school in question hadn’t purchased the management licenses for the Chromebooks, which is the single hidden cost I wrote about yesterday. So a week later, when the school had purchased said management licenses from the reputable Google Apps re-seller, Cloud technology Solutions (although in the interest of fairness, and because they also do a brilliant job, I always recommend C-Learning as an alternative), I returned and gave a quick ten minute guide to get them started. Here’s how it went:

  1. Help the children stay safe on Chromebooks by enabling safe browsing, blocking malicious sites and blocking geolocation.
    Enforce Safe Browsing, Block Malicious sites and geolocation
    Enforce Safe Browsing, Block Malicious sites and geolocation

     

  2. Make sure you can track what children do on their Chromebook by blocking incognito mode and saving the history.
    Disallow incognito mode and save browser history
    Disallow incognito mode and save browser history

     

  3. Encourage access to safe content by forcing safe search on both Google and Youtube searches.
    Force Safesearch for both Google and Youtube
    Force Safesearch for both Google and Youtube

     

  4. Make sure those popular and sometimes inappropriate search suggests don’t appear.
    Block Search Suggest
    Block Search Suggest

     

  5. Block those ‘bonus’ bookmark bars that often promote adware.
    Block bookmarks
    Block bookmarks

     

  6. Load some pages on start-up that the children and teachers will find useful.
    The pages that my Year 4 class have loaded at start-up
    The pages that my Year 4 class have loaded at start-up.

     

Ten minutes later, the school I was working with had Chromebooks with both a safe and purposeful user-experience. Obviously a lot more fine tuning can follow, but it seems to me that getting technology out to children that is both safe and purposeful in only ten minutes saves an awful lot of time that can be better spent on teaching.

Why am I saying this now? Time to declare an interest: I’m presenting at the free, online Google Education on Air Conference this Saturday with the title “Chromebooks, the easy classroom companion.” I’ll be telling some of my school’s story with using Chromebooks over the last 4 years and explaining more of why Chromebooks are the ideal device for the classroom. Come along, join in and share your view…

The hidden cost of the Chromebook

When I bought 20 laptops for my school and put them in a trolley back in 2007 I thought I had solved my school’s IT problems. No more badly laid out IT suite – the future was mobile. I had bought 20 cheap but reliable windows laptops. These devices would be used by the teacher in their own classrooms. Wow – I thought I was starting a revolution.

But I hadn’t counted on the hidden costs.

At the time, all the software we were using was Windows based and it all cost money. About 25% the cost of each device. And then there were technician costs. Setting up the things and configuring them for the network seemed to take days. But looking back it was about 6 half days – about 5% of the cost of the devices. After setting up, some of the devices went wrong – they needed software re-installing and drivers updating. Another 5%. And after a year some of the batteries started to go – not for all of the machines, just three or four – but it was expensive and added another 5% to the price of the solution.

But the biggest hidden cost was teacher time. The laptops took at least 5 minutes to fully load and get onto the network. Do this three times a day and you’re looking at 15 minutes a day. Do this every day in a 192-day UK school year and you’re looking at about 15 days. That’s £3000 at current supply rates, or about 50% of the cost of the solution. And that doesn’t even count the disillusionment that the teachers feel at the wasted time at the start of each lesson.

What’s more, having to charge the laptops up over dinner time, because with only 3 hours battery life, they wouldn’t last into the afternoon, caused even more time loss and frustration.

But now I have Chromebooks. The hidden cost is £19 for the management console. Setting up time takes 2 hours for 30 Chromebooks and my technician doesn’t need to do it – some volunteer children in Year 6 do it instead. The battery means they last all day. The eight-second start up is a huge bonus for teachers previously frustrated by technology. In short the hidden costs are about 10% of the device cost. Compare that with the laptops I bought in 2007 where the hidden costs where at least 85% of the cost of the device and you can see why I’m so pleased with the Chromebook solution.

Have you counted the hidden costs of your IT solution?

Why am I saying this now? Time to declare an interest: I’m presenting at the free, online Google Education on Air Conference this Saturday with the title “Chromebooks, the easy classroom companion.” I’ll be telling some of my school’s story with using Chromebooks over the last 4 years and explaining more of why Chromebooks are the ideal device for the classroom. Come along, join in and share your view…