How do you move a Primary School to #BYOD

First of all you’ve got to have a purpose for mobile technology. As I previously stated, my purpose is threefold: use, danger and expense. But behind all that is the belief that the the ideal device for mobile learning is the brain and the best thing to educate the brain of a child is a learned adult.

So with that as a given, how have we gone about it? Well, in five steps:

  1. You need some technology that works. Something that the children can access on any device and use productively. We chose Google Apps and used it for a year before looking into any mobile devices. We have also used Education City and are looking at changing our MIS system to an entirely cloud-based one called Aspen.
  2. You need to try some mobile devices. It’s no good allowing this to happen if the staff haven’t used them at all. We got some Chromebooks into school and have recently been trialling some iPads courtesy of XMA.
  3. You need to send some devices home. I called this SOOD – Send Our Own Devices. It’s a bit different from BYOD because it involves us as a school sending some devices home. I think this is an important step because it shows families that you trust them and allows you to try out a small test group of children and see what happens when they have a device with them 24/7. If we could afford it, I’d love to go SOOD for our whole school, but we don’t have the budget.
  4. You need to beef up your wifi. We got a system called Meraki which is cloud-based and allows me to monitor what happens on the network. I’ve setup a free open network for students using this. Ideally this would not have a proxy filter system as changing a proxy on a device can be a bit of a fiddle, but I don’t have that luxury at the moment – I still have to teach the children how to input for a proxy in school and a direct internet connection at home.
  5. You need to make it easy for your families to buy devices. There are various schemes out there, but we’re about to go for a system called All Learn by XMA – they setup a monthly payment portal for parents, insure the devices against breakage and insure the school against non-payment – it’s a win-win!


Now, I’m not going to lie here. We’ve only got to step 4 in my school. The rubber is going to really hit the road with Step 5 over the next six months – I’ll let you know how it goes…

Why should a primary school go to #BYOD

It’s been a while in the making, but this year we’re finally opening up our school to #BYOD.

For those who’ve not heard that acronym, it means Bring Your Own Device.

Yes, after years of banning Mobile phones – taking them off the children as they walk through the door and handing them back at the end of the day, we’re going to suddenly allow them into the classroom.

Here’s why.

  • Mobile Devices are really useful.
    • They act like a pen or a pencil, because you can create your own text and images in them.
    • They also act as an exercise book because you can store work and have it marked on them.
    • Finally they act as a text book because they are connected to the web. You can Google stuff, research stuff and even chat to experts to find out all sort of information.
  • Mobile Devices are really dangerous. We’ve had all sorts of incidents where children have used their mobile devices that they already own inappropriately. This does not happen in school, but irrespective of that it affects school performance. I’ve had to deal with cyberbullying, text broadcasting, threats, and mental abuse, even though none of these things happened in school. I can keep the children much safer if they bring their devices into the classroom, and are taught how to use them safely and appropriately.
  • Mobile Devices are really expensive. These are austerity times and so schools don’t have much money. Even though I value technology and appreciate its value to accelerate learning, it cannot compare with the role of the teacher in the classroom. Direct instruction and then effective feedback from a learned adult is far more valuable for a student’s learning than any device can ever be. I need to spend my school’s money on maintaining the adults we have, developing their subject knowledge and their pedagogy. I must not spend my school’s money on technology that has less of an impact on learning. #BYOD allows the families that have already spent their money on devices for them to be more fully utilised.

In my next post I’ll be moving from the why to how.

Homework is just a tool to punish middle-class parents

My son does his homework project
My son does his homework project

It happens every week.

I return from the rigours and challenges of my job as a primary deputy head, step through the door of the family home and prepare to be ensconced in the joys of family life for the weekend.

And then I find out my children have homework. Quite often the children will turf out some hastily photocopied sheets that will take them an hour or so on a Saturday morning. Normally these sheets will be either laughably easy or completely incomprehensible.

Worse than the photocopied sheets is the project.

I now regret all those years were, as an inexperienced teacher, I set the children a project over the weekend or a half term break. If I could, I would gather all those children together for my own version of a truth and reconciliation commission and find some way to apologise for my mistakes. Mercifully most of my teaching has been in more deprived areas, where the parents wouldn’t have any time for my benign errors – I’ve not taught that many children from Middle Class backgrounds where there would have been project-damaged.

The thing is, middle-class parents like me have pride – education pride. We don’t like to be outdone by other middle-class parents. And so we work ourselves to the bone to make sure our children’s project look GREAT. Let’s be honest, we pretty much do them ourselves.

What a strange thing to do! Imagine that – an education system where the adult does the work for the child. Bonkers.

For years now, I’ve been increasingly convinced that homework serves no purpose, especially at a primary level. In fact the only reason we do it is to ‘get children ready for secondary’ – it has no educational merit in its own right.

And then that Sutton Trust report came out recently and verified my personally held convictions with actual research.

And here’s the irony.

I had a load of ideas of things I was going to do with my son today. Dad-type things that us middle class fathers are supposed to do. But I suspended them so I could help him with his homework. And after going through the steps needed to make his Tudor House, we both realised that after half an hour or so, he didn’t need my help anymore. So now I’m writing this blog.

Writing this blog instead of spending time with my son.

What kind of madness is this?

Welcome to Fraction County in the United States of Maths. Population: ⅗

twinpeakspsykopaintI’ve often heard it argued that learning maths is like learning another language. There is a whole vocabulary and a way of speaking that is alien to people who don’t live in the land of maths. Abstract concepts are understood by saying things that only maths people understand. The conjunction is the equals sign; verbs are operators; a degree-level literature essay is a second-order differential equation.

If that’s true, then Fraction County is the kind of place where the banjo stops playing when you walk into a bar. The talking stops. The locals all put down their home-made moonshine and all that can be heard is the faint rustle of tumbleweed blowing along the street outside. And you realise that the language they were talking is a completely different dialect from one that you’ve understood before.

It is no wonder that many children panic when they hear the word “fraction”.

Think about this.

The children walk into a room and see ¼ written on the board. The teacher asks “how do you say this?”

 

A brave child sticks their hand up and says “one line four”. Another child, emboldened by the first contribution, suggests “one point four”. Then someone asks “is it a fourth?”

 

“That’s not exactly how we say it,” corrects the teacher, obliquely referring to some shadowy group of people the children have never heard of. A group of people that obviously can already speak ‘Fraction’. “We say ‘quarter’” The teacher smiles reassuringly, but inside is concerned. She knows that the children should already be able to read and say a quarter and she utters a silent curse at the children’s previous teacher.

 

The lesson continues. The children learn that fractions are something to do with pizza (or if you listen to Sal Khan, pie). Then, after seeing that ¼ of a pizza is one piece out of 4, the teacher holds up 4 multilink cubes that are all joined together in a small tower. She asks the children how many cubes are in the tower. The children say “four”. The teacher breaks off a cube. She asks how many cubes she broke off. The children say “one”. “Ah, but what fraction did I break off?” asks the teacher, with an air of mystery. “Half?” asks a child. “A third?” asks another.

 

Ever patient, the teacher persists. “How many cubes were in the tower?”

 

“Four.”

 

“So what is the ‘out of’ number?”

 

“Four.”

 

“So this cube is one out of four,” declares the teacher triumphantly, writing ¼ on the board again. “How do we say that?”

 

“One line four” says a child.

 

“One four” says another.

 

“Quarter” says a third.

 

“Yes,” says the teacher, pouncing on the learning. She vigorously shakes the child in sheer joy that someone has got it. “And we write a quarter, one over four.”

The problem is in the language. The children have already learned that division is one word that means two different things – sharing and grouping. Now there’s the whole same thing going on with fractions. They’re sharing pizzas and calling each piece a fraction. Then they’re grouping sets of objects into equal subsets and calling each subset a fraction. Then despite the fraction being called “a quarter”, the teacher describes it as being “one out of four” whilst explaining that you write it “one over four.” The concepts behind these aren’t impossible to grasp, but the language we use to describe them is just so inefficient.

This is one of the reasons that my favourite thing to come out of the old National Numeracy Strategy was the book on maths vocabulary – describing the kind of words that children should be taught in each subsequent year.

But knowing the words is only part of the problem. I know some French words and some Spanish words but (to my shame) I find it hard to put them in the right order. The language of ‘Fraction’ is similar. It takes practice and good teaching to put them in order. If your teacher is woolly in their teaching and you don’t practice enough, you won’t learn the language. Worse, I know plenty of people whose maths teacher lost patience with them during some maths lesson or the other and shouted at them for not getting it quickly enough. This is often a reflection on that teacher’s subject knowledge, not the maths ability of the student. It is a reason why I recommend Derek Haylock’s excellent book on teaching maths.

So next time you’re on the road to Fraction County, make sure you’ve rehearsed some of your lines – you may just teach your child to know their denominators from their numerators.

We still don’t know what schools are for.

paganel_snowIt seems bizarre that having had schools for so long – over 100 years in this country – we still don’t really know what they are for.

Some of us know what we’d like schools to be for. Many of us have preconceptions of what schools already do. But none of us really know what they are for. No shared understanding exists for the purpose of schools.

How do I know this? Simple: snow closures.

This week’s debate about the vagaries of snow closures has demonstrated beyond a doubt that we do not know what schools are for.

Amused reporters have appeared on TV pointing out the closed school and the open school within close proximity to each other. Headteachers have argued about the difficulty of making a decision that balances the safety of their children with the education of their children. Teachers and children have cheered at the prospect of snow closures. Except that is, teachers whose own children are off, while they themselves have to work. Meanwhile participants of radio phone-in have told us that it wasn’t like this in the 60s. And the CBI have warned us that snow closures could push the economy back into recession. Mind you, they already told us that last year.

So what does all this tell us about perceptions of the purpose of schools?

  • The CBI thinks that schools are for babysitting – their main purpose is to keep adults in work and keep the country productive.
  • The radio phone-in participant from the 60s thinks that schools are there to serve the community and should remain open whatever
  • The headteacher who closes their school because of snow thinks that schools exist to nurture and protect children.
  • The headteacher who opens their school despite the snow thinks that schools are there to develop a sense of risk and adventure.
  • Children think that school is for making them bored, as snow days are the very definition of fun.
  • Teachers think like the children, unless their pay is docked because their own school is actually open.


Of course, this is massively over-simplified. I’ve faced the difficult decision of opening or closing my school several times this week and I’ve had several conversations with people who have been disgruntled at coming down on one side or the other – parents who are losing money because we’ve closed. Parents are frustrated that they’ve had to make the effort to get to school because we’ve been open. Children who are bored of the snow and just want to have some lessons. Teachers who can’t believe we’re opening. Teachers who can’t believe we’re shutting. Fortunately neither the CBI, nor any TV reporters have knocked on my door this week.

Either way, it’s really interesting listening to what people say about school closures, because it opens up a little window into what they believe schools are really for.

What have you heard this week? And what do you think schools are for?