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.

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…

Chromebooks are how much?

Samsung Chromebook
My Original Samsung Chromebook 500

When I first bought a Chromebook back in 2011, I bought an experiment. It was quite an expensive experiment too. Now Chromebooks are so cheap that I can’t imagine buying anything else for use in my school.

So there’s lots of things to say here. I could tell the story of how Chromebooks have come down in price. Or I could explain my belief that children do best with technology when they have a range of different types of device to use. But the main thing is this: it’s teachers that make a difference to children in schools. And that’s why it is important that Chromebooks are cheap – because schools that can minimize their technology spend can maximize their spend on teachers.

Think about it this way – what you prefer: a school with the best devices or a school with the best teachers? I know the answer – it’s both! But we live in austerity times – maintaining and developing the quality and number of adults we have teaching children has to be our priority.

I bought my school’s first set of Chromebooks back in 2011. They were the same kind as the one I had experimented with as a personal device. They were great because they were easy to maintain and perfect for running our Google Apps on. But there were expensive. For twice the price of a Chromebook back then I could buy a device that could do a lot more than twice the stuff – Chromebooks were not superb value for money.

So, 3 years later, when our next device purchasing round came round, I was thinking I would dip my toes into the waters of device-agnosticism and buy something different. But by then Chromebooks were cheaper. At only £165 each I could increase the number of devices the school had to a point where it would make classroom management a lot easier (I’ve always thought children sharing computers is a bad idea). And now I can no longer buy an alternative device that costs twice as much and can a lot more than twice the stuff.

This year it got even harder. Chromebooks at £120 each. “Chromebooks are how much?” I said to myself. Wow! Now I can kit a classroom out with basic devices for less than £4000. I find that my technology budget can go loads further than it did before. And I can still focusing the majority of the school spend on staffing, which (as I said above) is the most important thing.

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…

 

Why you should apply for the Google Teacher Academy #gtauk

The Google Teacher Academy is coming up in London this October. I was lucky enough to be part of the first one in 2010. If you’re a teacher this is why I think you should apply for it:

  1. It’s amazing. No. It really is. I learned more in the first half hour on the Google Teacher Academy that at any other full day CPD event I have ever been to. And that was just the first half an hour on Google Search. When you add that to Drive, Classroom, Apps for Education and all the other stuff, you will come away with a huge list of amazing things to do in your classroom or school.
  2. The presenters are fantastic. You can learn loads about how to use Google tools (that are usually free*). You’ll learn stuff that you can take back and put into your classroom practice immediately and you’l feel inspired to do so.
  3. You’ll meet brilliant teachers. The other teachers there are as FAB as you – and you get to meet them and continue networks with them that will continue to inspire your practice for years to come. Some of the best things that have happened in my school have happened because other Google Certified Teachers helped me make them happen.
  4. You’ll meet Googlers. That’s the name for people who work for Google. It’s no accident that Google are one of the most successful companies in existence – their recruiters are the top guys on the planet and it means the people they bring in have brains the size of small moons. I know not everyone gets inspired by meeting really clever people, but if you do, the GTA is for you!
  5. You get a badge. You can put the badge virtually on your website or wear it at conferences. I find that really useful because it stops salespeople talking to me.
  6. It’s awesome. Yes – there will be some Americans there, and ‘awesome’ is their word. Get used to it. It’s OK – in fact it’s better than OK – its awesome. But apart from that, you’ll get a taste of what Google is like to work for – even that can inspire you to make changes in your classroom and school. If things get really good, you might even hear someone say, “just raw awesome”.

If you to apply, the application is here. You have until the end of next Monday (22nd September).

(* by ‘free’ I mean cost no money)

Chromebooks: the ideal device for the UK classroom

On Thursday at BETT, I spoke on the Google stand with the slightly contentiously titled talk, Chromebooks: the ideal device for the UK classroom.

Now I have to be clear: I think there is no ideal device for a classroom. In fact, I think the ideal classroom has multiple different devices: a mixed economy, or a device-agnostic approach as some like to call it.

Having said that, I believe the UK classroom is in a peculiar situation at the moment, and it’s a situation which lends itself to Chromebooks. Let me explain below, but first here are my slides:

The situation is this:

1. We live in austerity times. Less money has been paid into the education sector in recent years and while this may not have affected school budgets directly, it has affected central services. Schools find it harder now than ever to find speech therapists, social support, education psychologists, behaviour support, specialist subject support, and so on. This means that schools have to make a choice: invest in external support, or maintain internal staffing levels.

2. Not many people know it, but we have a growing bank of great research for what really works. The EEF teacher toolkit has listed some great research for the interventions that really make a difference in schools. What surprises me is that so few teachers know about it or pay much attention to it – at #tmBETT14 recently, when Oliver Quinlan spoke about it, I saw several tweets from people who hadn’t heard of it before. A second surprise is that digital technology is so far down the list – the consequence of this is that you’re far better off investing your resources in training your teachers to give effective feedback than your are investing in technology.

3. We have lots of change, so let’s keep what we can the same. Curricula are changing. Assessment regimes are changing. Teacher standards and performance management have changed. Entire schooling structures are changing with free schools and academy chains. This means we should keep what we can the same – why invest in radically different technology, when our teachers have already had so much change to deal with?

So summing this up: we don’t have much money; spending what we have on technology is probably a waste; changing things puts additional stress on to our teachers.

This is where Chromebooks come in

  • they are cheap. At under £200 each, a class set costs £6000 and support costs are less than £600 a year. The money you save on such a cheap solution can go into funding the interventions that actually make a difference.

  • teachers don’t have to learn anything to use them. Since Chromebooks just do the web – and everyone knows how to use that – learning to use them is not a huge CPD piece.

I have a load of other reasons for why Chromebooks are an amazing device for school but right there were my main two: they are cheap and they are easy. That means all staff in school can spend their time getting on with their main business, which is educating our children.

I created a free visualiser this morning.

Visualisers are highly useful in classrooms. They turn something small, like a page of a book, or a piece of children’s work, into something big so that everyone can see it.

So when I did my banjo assembly this morning, I wanted to be able to show all 240 children the book I was using from. My point was, you see, that you only need 2 things to learn something new: practice and a good teacher, and I wanted to show that my ‘Teach Yourself Banjo’ book was a reasonable-to-moderate teacher.

Unfortunately I have no visualisers in my school, nor would a fixed visualiser in a classroom be of much use in the assembly hall.

So I logged the hall laptop into my school Google+ account and then used my personal Google+ account on my phone to video call (Google Hangout) with my school account.

The year 6 children who operate the equipment clicked ‘join this call’ when the call showed up, which meant I could sit still in ‘banjo posture’ whilst showing all the children in the Hall some of what was in my book. There was a bit of a lag in the sound, which was slightly off-putting for me, but the children could all see the music in the book, which meant I didn’t have to waste any time scanning images into slides, nor did I have to present the information to them ‘in tiny’ by holding it up in front of them.

It also only took 30 seconds from the logging in to the showing the images to the children.

So there you go: an almost-instant, kind-of-free visualiser. All you need is 2 Google+ accounts, a helpful Year 6 child, 1 laptop, 1 phone, 1 projector, 1 huge screen and an internet filter that allows Google+ and hangouts to work. No Problem.

Chromebooks after 2 and half years

So I’m coming round to the point of view that I need more Chromebooks, not less.

They have been brilliant in my school.

We have used them since September 2011 and they have been reliable and effective. Teachers have gone from a point of disaffection with old technologies to enthusiasm and trust – they know the Chromebooks will work: the only barrier is the ability of the child to remember their password.

I have 6 months left on the ‘life’ of my Chromebooks and I’ve been toying with what to go for next. But everything else is so expensive. I can get 30 Chromebooks into a classroom for around £6000 a year. With apps and technician costs, 30 iPads would be closer to £12000 and 30 PCs would be around the same.

The thing is that Chromebooks take no technician time at all – I employ a technician for half a day a week and the bulk of job is to keep the servers going for the admin staff and maintain the wifi network. And because they’re ‘just the web’, which everyone uses, they don’t take much CPD time either. I’ve had an old-school teaching assistant who has always stayed out of technology lessons tell me that she would prefer to cover a class using the Chromebooks than in the PC suite, because they just work.

Chromebooks are just there now for us. Like pencils, like exercise books. They’re part of the furniture – part of the environment that allows teachers to teach and students to learn.

 

The Pros of iPads and Chromebooks

Having spent the previous three posts musing on the destructive arguments of favouring one device over another, I thought I’d spend a few moments listing what I think are the pros of both iPads and Chromebooks.

Sorry no cons here.

iPads.

  • So intuitive your granny could use one, and she probably already does.

  • Brilliant at multimedia work – take photos, shoot videos, record sounds, apply green screen effects, mix, edit and publish – they’re all-in-one technology perfection.

  • The app store increases flexibility no end – they can literally do nearly anything because of that saying “there’s an App for that”

  • Robust and reliable – good build quality means they last well.

  • Regularly updated – support for the operating system is excellent.

  • Super fast – switch it on and it works within 8n seconds, taking minimal time from lessons

Chromebooks

  • Cheap – chromebooks can be purchased for half the price of a laptop and with cloud servcies such as Google Apps can be just as productive.

  • Flexible – the chrome webstore allows for a wide variety of apps to be used.

  • Easily managed and controlled. With Chrome management, Chromebooks can be setup to suit the exact needs of the user who logs in.

  • Multi-user – a Chromebook behaves according to the login credentials, making one device suit many students.

  • Regularly updated – Chrome Os is updated frequently, meaning that it gets better over time.

  • Super fast – switch it on and it works within 8 seconds, taking minimal time from lessons

Developing Digital Literacies. #4: have a safe place to experiment.

Having been challenged by Steve Wheeler that maybe primary schools do have a role to play in digital literacy, I’m now thinking about what we actually do at my school to encourage, or even teach digital literacy.

4. Have a safe area to experiment.

Schools are safe places to make mistakes. As the behaviour co-ordinator, I have several incidents throughout the year were children make mistakes and then I try to teach them ways to avoid the making that mistake again. Examples include: using an angry tone of voice; responding violently or aggressively to a stressful incident; using inappropriate language. If an eight year old can be taught to respond to stress without using violence, then that will help them immensely when they are older – the violence a 14 year old or a twenty year old could perpetrate is potentially a lot more harmful than that of an eight year old.

Surely the same is true of online communication.

When children at my school email each other insults, it gives me a chance to talk to them about losing their temper online. We use Google Apps at my school and the system is set so that children can only contact other members of the school – any mistakes are kept within the school online environment, just as mistakes on the playground are kept within the school. This means I can educate children about the dangers of losing their temper when their fingers are near a keyboard; or taking a playground grudge online – such things are recorded. I would far rather children make these mistakes using Google Drive and Gmail within the protection my school’s domain than when they’re older on Facebook and Twitter, or indeed on a public Google Drive or Gmail account.

There are many other alternative safe places to Google Apps that schools can use – Edmodo, Frog and J2E are just some examples that I have flirted with in the past.