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.

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…

 

Mathemateers and their Chromebooks

Something I’ve not mentioned too often in my posts about my remedial group: the Mathemateers, is that each of them have a Chromebook.

A Chromebook is a complete non-event as a device. All it does is provide seamless access to the online materials you need to use to educate your children.

So I’ve previously written about using Khan Academy and Google Classroom to give my children meaningful homework and challenging practice. Seamless. Khan Academy and Google Classroom just work.

And here’s the thing: my school owns the devices, yet I let the children take them home. How can that be? Where is the safety in that? The management console in Google Apps allows me to enforce safe search in both Google and Youtube. I’m pretty confident that the Chromebooks are the safest device the children have at home.

But it must be an effort managing that sort of thing? No. Not really. It’s less time than marking a set of books and moreover my technician in school spends no time managing Chromebooks. He spends some time distributing apps to iPads and considerable time managing our Windows network, but no time managing Chromebooks.

I’m going to be speaking in more detail about how ace I think Chromebooks are at the Google Education on Air conference at the start of May. Here’s the details of my session. Even better, the Mathemateers will be there in person, through the power of the Google Doc. Might see you then.

Trialling Google Classroom

Google Classroom: a streamlined easy experience
Google Classroom: a streamlined, easy experience

I mentioned early on in my Mathemateers posts that I would be using Google Classroom to help me ‘deliver content’. So a few words about Google Classroom.

It’s easy. Really easy.

As the teacher, I choose my students from the Google Apps for Education users (we have Years 2-6 set up as individual users). The children receive an email to ‘accept’ the invite, or they can enter a code to join the new class that has set up. From there I can do one of two things:

  1. Make an announcement.
  2. Set an assignment.

The only difference in functionality between the two is that the children don’t have to respond to announcements. With assignments I write a title, write a sentence or two of description, set a due date and then I can attach ‘content’ in various ways:

  • as an uploaded attachment,
  • as a Google Drive file (docs, slides, sheets or drawings),
  • as a Youtube video,
  • as a URL.
The assignment screen on Google Classroom
The assignment screen on Google Classroom

It’s over to the students then. Each of my students has a touchscreen Chromebook – this may seem extravagant, but at less than £170 per device I think it is well worth the investment.

I’ve added Google Classroom to the screen of their Chromebooks via the Google Apps admin console, so it’s right there whenever they log on to their device. They can open it and quickly see which assignments they have done, or are yet to do, or (occasionally) are late at handing in.

Like the teacher, they can attach work to their ‘turn in’ comment. So far this has range from Google Drawings to screenshots of other work they have done online. This takes a bit of training, but once they’ve been through the routine a couple of times they soon have the hang of what to do when they have finished their assignment.

So far I’ve mainly used it for homework – it’s so satisfying to know that students are doing meaningful work without sending them home with polypockets full of photocopied worksheets.

It’s early days so far – I’ve only been using it with children for four weeks, but I can’t wait to get it going with the whole school. It may just revolutionise the way we do homework…