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.
It’s taken a good year, but my staff now use Chromebooks with their children as a first preference. Given the choice they put Chromebooks ahead of our other devices.
We have 30 chromebooks in a Lapsafe charging trolley and 30 Windows PCs in an ICT suite. The teachers know the PCs – they’re what we’ve used for years – they’re comfortable with them. But the Chromebooks are now more convenient.
The 8 second start up means very little lesson time is lost at start up. Even if the odd device does not connect to the wifi first time, a restart takes 10 seconds – and now we have an open Meraki network around the school, devices connect 99% of the time.
The portability of the Chromebook means that they work really well in normal classrooms. Teachers can use them in the room where they are most comfortable.
Google Apps makes a big difference too. Being able to produce work in Google Docs, share ideas in Google Groups and output best work to Blogger means the Chromebooks are really versatile, productive devices.
But what summed it up for me was last week when a teaching assistant was acting as a cover supervisor for a teacher who was absent. This particular lady is not the most confident with technology, saw the plan the teacher had left for her and I gave her the choice – ICT suite or Chromebooks.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
The joy of following many other education technology people on Twitter is you get to find out loads of tips and suggestions for things to do to make education better in my school. Increasingly though, I find myself following people who, when they blog, post about iPads and how they are using them. That’s all very well, but is becoming increasingly irrelevant to my school, since we do not have any iPads.
“Hold on,” I can hear you saying, “I thought this post was about Chromebooks“. It is – kind of. I can hear other people saying, “Hold on! No iPads? How can you sustain school improvement without iPads?”
So the thing is, whenever I think about writing a post about Chromebooks, it ends up becoming a post about something else, so I don’t write it. For example when my students used storynory.com and Blogger to read, listen to and then review a story. They did all that on a Chromebook – but the key thing was the websites they used. Or when my students used Youtube and Google Docs to re-write the lyrics of a well-known song. They collaborated together on the same Google Doc, partly in lesson time, partly over the weekend. They used Chromebooks to do that, but it was Youtube and Google Docs that made the activity work.
I am caught in the trap of wanting to build up a bank of evidence to say that Chromebooks work in classrooms, just as others are doing with iPads. Every time I try to justify that argument I find myself focusing on a particular way of teaching and a particular set of web-based technologies that support that, not the actual Chromebook. Damn Chromebooks – they’re just so faceless, so lacking in charisma – they just let you get on with teaching.
I wish they had more shiny about them. If only they were more complex or more difficult to setup – for example if they took a good day of technician time to setup , then, at the least, the technician would know about them. But no. Not Chromebooks. They just work. The kids use them. For learning. Boring really.
One of the things that I found a real bind when I became a deputy headteacher was organising the school’s rotas and timetables. No school can operate in chaos – several spaces have to be shared (despite my negativity towards shared spaces) – and so timetables have to exist to make sure that we don’t get two classes turning up to the same hall all togged up in their PE kits, and then one class having to turn back.
For a couple of years now I’ve been using Google Calendars to help me organise the school. It look like this.
Now that might look like a big mess, but what is important is that none of the colours overlap. That means no two classes are in the same place at the same time. There: chaos averted.
It starts by me sharing a Google Doc with all the staff to ask them when they want to use their various spaces. I then place their classes on the various calendars to give them their best wishes as much as possible. Where classes occur, I normally talk to the teacher to find a second best option. Once all that’s done, the calendars are ready to be checked – no overlaps means perfection – no clashes.
I’m aware that computer screens are not everyone’s first choice for reading information, so I then print out the calendars (how dreadfully old-fashioned!). Despite the advances in recent iterations of Google Docs, I still prefer Microsoft Word for the print medium…
…so I use Jing to cut and paste each calendar into a Microsoft Word document. I can then display the calendars on a noticeboard in the staffroom.
But it is not over there. Oh No. As you’ll notice from the “Main Hall” calendar, there are many times during the week when the Main Hall is used. And it just might be that some teacher wants to use the Main Hall for an additional session. Can they do this without asking me directly? Yes! Because I have setup each of these calendars as a ‘resource calendar’. This means that when you add an event to your own calendar, you see a list of ‘rooms’ that you can do that event in. If the room is already booked then it won’t appear on the list – so teachers when planning their week know instantly if they can use the room they want to or if they have to make other arrangements.
While I personally am quite interested in ‘Earth, Sun and Moon’, it is one of my least favourite topics to teach in Primary School science. It is to me a ‘dry topic’. It is one of those topics that there seems to be very little actual science you can do with the children. With forces you measure friction on cars down a ramp; with dissolving you can investigate the effect of heat on dissolving salt in water; with health you can measure pulse rate after exercise.
But what can you measure for Earth, sun and moon? Particularly when it has been raining. And it has rained heavily for the last two Wednesdays. Raining on my dry topic.
The planning document that I was working from started with the sentence: “On a sunny day…” Obviously that wouldn’t wash. But fortunately I had some things to help me:
A very large ball
A tiny bead
The first thing I did was to get the children to predict the relative sizes of the earth and moon, compared to the very large ball I had found in the PE cupboard.
I was pleased to see that the children predicted things wrongly, because it meant I could teach them something. So I gave them some facts – diameters even:
Sun = 1390000km
Earth = 12500km
Moon = 3500km
I then showed them how I could use a Google spreadsheet to calculate that relative to the very large ball of 60 cm diameter, the Earth would be 0.55 cm (Size of sun ÷ Size of Earth x Size of very large ball) and the moon would be 0.15 cm. It took a few moments for the children to realise that 0.55cm was really very small and was only the size of a bead on a bead string. The moon was a sprinkle that you might put on a cake.
The sprinkle was particularly difficult to see, but I think it made the point.
I then used Google Docs to work out the relative distance of the Earth from the Sun. The actual distance is 150 000 000km, which means that the relative distance for a 60cm diameter very large ball is about 65m. We paced that out in the corridor, with a teaching assistant holding the Sun in position and the children coming with me to be the Earth. We had to keep 2 sets of double doors open as we did so.
Back to the classroom and how could we use this knowledge? Presented in a Google Doc was the first answer. The children all began their topic presentations to show others what they were learning.
Having seen that the children were beginning to get the relative sizes and distances of these celestial objects I wanted to move on to thinking about how the Earth moves round the sun, how it rotates and all that sort of stuff. No here’s where a shadow and some sunlight can be a helpful starting point. Still no shadows – it was still raining. But mercifully someone has invented Brain Pop.
Embedded within our Google Apps domain, Brain Pop is becoming an increasingly valued addition to our learning platform. It is especially exciting for me, being slightly obsessed with spreadsheets and data, because whenever the children finish a test, their score is automatically updated to a Google Spreadsheet that sits within my document list.
Shortly, the children had watched their first video – an effective explanation of the Earth – and were answering questions on it. Soon they had moved on to the phases of the moon. The one flaw in this – I had forgotten to bring any headphones – this meant that the inimitable sounds of Tim and Moby were soon issuing from 30 Chromebooks.
Mercifully, the rain stopped briefly and we were able to go outside and walk a quarter orbit of the sun (the field was a bit too muddy to walk the rest of the way).
James and Maruwa were able to demonstrate the moon orbiting the Earth as the Earth orbits the Sun – earlier they had been delighted when watching Tim and Moby’s explanation of the concept: “It’s just like ours,” they exclaimed.
With new-found Brain Pop enthusiasm, I’m hoping that one or two more Brain Pop quizzes will have been completed on related subjects by this time next week. And I really hope the sun shines next Wednesday afternoon.
First, some context. Ofsted are the National body in the UK that inspects state-funded education. Recently (January 2012) a new inspection framework was produced that streamlined some 22 categories into only 4. Consequently, we had begun hearing some horror stories of many schools in our area moving down a category – it seemed it was harder to average out at the same grade you had previously been on. Ofsted judges schools in one of 4 ways: 1 – Outstanding, 2 – Good, 3 – Satisfactory and 4 – Inadequate.
Of course, our fears were that we would move down a category, losing our good status to take on that dreadful label – ‘satisfactory’. It was not to be. We came out as a ‘Good’ school and the report reads particularly well (I think).
So what of the data?
Well, we knew in our hearts that we do a good job for our children. The school is set in a part of Birmingham within the highest 20% of deprivation in the country. The children enter the school well below average and leave the school broadly in-line with national expectations, but how could we prove that in numbers?
It was a function and 3 Google Spreadsheets that came to the rescue.
I keep tracking sheets for reading, writing and mathematics for all students and looking at them, I could see that the children who we’ve taught for a while achieve better than those who’ve just joined us. In other words the children we teach, do well; we have a small but significant group of children who join us late and don’t make as much progress.
So I used my Google Spreadsheets to calculate a range of measures from current attainment in each subject, to the progress being made. The function that helped me the most was the ‘countif’ function – I’d recommend finding out how it works if you don’t already – there’s guidance within both Excel and Google Docs.
I used the countif function to help me calculate 12 important numbers for each group – overall, boys, girls, SEND (special educational needs or disabled), FSM (free school meals) and higher achievers. This data showed that all groups who had been taught by us through the Key Stage 2 department (ages 7 to 11) were achieving at or above national expectations
In addition, a second sheet showed that in each year group, progress in reading, writing and maths was good or outstanding.
Sample of the progress data for each year group (if you’re a UK education data guru, you’ll understand what those numbers mean.
In all, I used the spreadsheets to calculate 363 separate numbers to demonstrate to Ofsted that we are still a good school.
I was helped in this process because we use an assessment system called Incerts, which fills up my spreadsheets with meaningful numbers from teacher’s assessments. Once we demonstrated that our monitoring of this assessment was effective by analysing current samples of teacher assessments in books, the inspection team were content to believe that our data did indeed demonstrate that we are doing a good job for our children.
And next time we’ll be ready to argue for ‘outstanding’.
It has taken 15 years and 8 Oftsed inspections, but I have finally achieved an Outstanding lesson at Ofsted.
For those people not from the UK, Oftsed is the national body that inspects state-funded education, and ‘Outstanding’ is the highest grade they give.
I’m aware that I could be answering the question “why has it taken you so long?” Or “what on earth have you be doing all this time?” But instead I’m going to tell the story of how I achieved outstanding.
It began the day before when the lead inspector briefed the staff. Gathered in the staff room, sweaty palms and hearts thumping, he introduced himself and went on to give us some friendly advice.
“Just be yourself,” he assured, in his soft Welsh tones. “Perhaps now is not the time to try that experimental drama lesson you’ve been wondering about, but if you were going to take a risk, then take it. Just be yourself.”
At this point the teaching assistant I was working with looked nervously across it me. Not only does my teaching demonstrate a tremendous lack of risk-aversion at times, but I had already planned some experimental drama that week. And the teaching assistant was leading it. And it was in a maths lesson.
The second piece of advice the lead inspector gave us (and I would recommend this to anyone about to undergo an inspection) was to do a ‘mini-plenary’ as the inspectors walk into the room. Inspectors used to watch whole lessons, but these days their time is so tight, they can generally only see half-an-hour chunks. A mini-plenary is where you would stop the activity or whatever was going on, check on how much the children have learned, remind them what they were aiming to show they had learned by the end of the lesson before proceeding with the rest of the session. The idea is to show the inspectors that progress has been made (even though the inspectors might not have seen it) and more progress is still expected. Inspectors get very excited when they see progress.
Of course I didn’t follow this advice either. Experimental drama and no mini-plenary? And I have the cheek to call myself a teacher.
Admittedly, the lead inspector was a little bemused when he walked into my room. Or so he told me afterwards.
It was 9:30am on the second day of the inspection. The lesson was half an hour old and the inspector could see:
one student playing shops with the teaching assistant;
another student playing dominoes with myself;
assorted apparatus scattered on the floor;
fraction cards stuck to the wall;
the rest of the students intently staring at the screens of their Chromebooks.
Half an hour later, when he walked out he said one word to me. “Stunning.”
So what had turned a potential mess of different activities into a ‘stunning’ outstanding lesson?
Answer: Google Docs
You see, Google Docs had enabled me to have high quality interactions with three different groups of learners, using only two adults. Here’s how.
Group 1: The experimental drama
I have some children within the class who, despite being eleven years old and nearly at secondary school, have great difficulty remembering maths facts and them applying them to real life situations. They just don’t get the link. Hence the maths role play area.
The week before we had set up a ‘stationery shop’ in the classroom – everything was priced from pencils to sparkly sharpeners. With the teaching assistant as the shopkeeper their task was to choose items for less than a set amount, say £10 – then work out how much they would have to pay and how much change they would get. The teaching assistant is particularly good at teaching the children how to add up quantities with differing amounts of digits, like £3, £1.15 and 45p – something that often causes confusion.
By the time these sort of children get to eleven years of age, they have often labelled themselves as maths failures. For them, maths become a grey despair. The drama adds a light-hearted element to their maths learning. Enjoyment brings engagement, engagement leads to motivation and motivation accelerates learning. The inspector was impressed by the motivation of these lower-attaining children and recognised that it was accelerating their progress.
Group 2: The dominoes game
Some of my children don’t know any games. Draughts, Monopoly, chess – they’re all a mystery. We have some marvellous versions of dominoes that are brilliant at showing the equivalence between fractions, decimals and percentages. However for many of the children I can’t use the game because the very act of playing dominoes is too much of a barrier.
In this lesson I was able to use dominoes 1:1 because the Google Docs (which I’m coming too) enabled me to. The advantage of playing dominoes with a child 1:1 not only could I support them with the game, but when they were stuck finding an equivalent for the dominoes in their hand, I could unpick their misconceptions and teach them the concepts. For me, a 1:1 interaction with a student provides the best moments of teaching and hence the most powerful learning. The inspector was impressed that I’d planned time for these 1:1 interactions to take place.
Group 3: The Google Docs
Often, whilst a teacher works with a small group or an individual, the rest of the class complete tedious worksheets or engage in something known as ‘group work’. Not with Google Docs.
Each child worked individually on a small part of a Google Drawing to represent what different fractions would look like. This particular group of children need lots of concrete examples to help them understand the abstractness of fractions. Showing a child the digits ¾ is often not enough – children need to represent it with apparatus and images. In this case the children demonstrated to the inspector when he spoke to them that they were really understanding fractions in a way they hadn’t previously.
Moreover, when the students were stuck, they contacted me via chat. So instead of shouting out (and disrupting their peers), or bringing their work over to me as the teacher (and thereby disrupting the domino game), they were able to silently ask questions of me.
I had opened 4 Chromebooks on the table next to me, each displaying one of the fractions Google Docs that different children were using. Two fifths had the most activity, but other children attempted five sixths and three eighths.
The inspector was particular impressed that the children supposedly on an ‘independent activity’ still had the means to seek adult support, and therefore be taught, rather than spending the whole lesson being stuck. And the Google Docs chat feature minimised the disruption to other learners.
The Google Docs them prompted some excellent discussion at the end of the lesson, particularly the five sixths pictures, which two students had drawn incorrectly. Each had drawn five sevenths instead of five sixths. The discussion in the plenary draw out their misconceptions and we were able to correct them collaboratively on the Chromebooks.
Google Docs had enabled both myself and my teaching assistant to work more effectively as teachers – to spend more of our time actually teaching. As a consequence the children were motivated and enjoyed their learning and so the inspector could only see outstanding progress being made during the lesson.
It’s been some time since I added to my growing list of Chromebook posts.
Previously, in the Chromebook saga, a near-fatal flaw in Chrome Os had put the whole Chromebook experiment in jeopardy. Unable to get through the proxy server setup, the Chromebooks, all beautifully sparkling in their brand new charging trolley were a bit like a bank of door wedges – I might as well have bought ZX Spectrums – at least they’d have been a more wedge-like shape.
Many of my previous posts had me wrestling with complicated equipment such as paper clips and using interesting Star Trek-like phrases such as “I have now erased the stateful partition.” But the marvellous Matt from the Chrome Os support team in Mountain View got me back on track. In his laid-back Bay Area voice he explained, suggested, advised and encouraged until, with the help of a more updated version of Chrome Os, the Chromebooks starting working again.
And then what?
I was expecting the next problem. This is ICT you see – it never is completely straightforward. What would be the next barrier? The next obstacle? The next mountain to climb?
There hasn’t been one. All the Chromebooks work. Perfectly.
We take them into the classroom and give them to the students. The students use the Chromebooks in some or all their learning. Then we put them away again.
So the solution is even better than the Chromebooks working perfectly – it’s like they’re not there at all. There is no fuss about them. They have no charisma, no personality. They are faceless devices. They. Just. Work.
What that means is that the students can concentrate on using the software. So, during the last month students have:
used Khan Academy to practice maths skills (on the Chromebooks);
used Education City to practice phonics and literacy skills (on the Chromebooks);
used GoAnimate to make animations (on the Chromebooks);
used Aviary to create their own music (on the Chromebooks).
Some students even used Google Search to find out information for their topics…
Having had a bank of wireless Windows laptops in the past, Chromebooks have already proved to be better in the following 5 ways.
The 8 second start up means that the only time wasted is distributing the Chromebooks to the students, whereas the laptops could take up to 2 minutes to boot up and access the network.
No virus checker means that the Chromebooks work fast from the start, whereas the laptops would be slowed by for ten minutes by the inevitable start up of various Windows processes.
An 8 hour battery life in the Chromebooks means that they only need to be charged over night, whereas the laptops would have to be charged during lunchtime to give afternoon users a chance.
The light weight of the Chromebook means you can carry them around the classroom to show other people what you’ve been up to, whereas our laptops had been much heavier.
The VGA adaptor that comes with every Chromebook has been really useful for showing what’s on the screen on the classroom projector. The laptops by contrast often did bizarre things when connecting to a projector.
There have been two small non-Chromebook related barriers. The first is that sometimes the children can’t log on because they don’t spell their names correctly. Or they forget their password. The second is that it has exposed the frailties of the school wifi network – for most of the above applications everything was fine, but for Aviary (online sound editing) the demands of thirty children all trying to create their own “Burial of the Pharoah” music was a bit too much for the sole wifi access point. Looks like Meraki could be the answer to that. Mercifully the 2 second shut down / 8 second start up (mentioned earlier) saved the day here – when a Chromebook got stuck trying to get through the access point, a quick re-start sorted it out.
In Chromebooks, it seems like we have found a device that enhances productivity – because you don’t really notice that its there. Instead of being a magnificent in-your-face piece of technical kit, Chromebooks are instead magnificently faceless, allowing all the fantastic software available online to come to the fore.
Today was the first time that all the staff got their hand on the Chromebooks.
It was a mixed success, mainly because of the ongoing problems we’re having with how Chrome Os talks to the proxy server. I’ve already written about those particular problems. I had put the Chromebooks out before the staff arrived and of course they all started playing with them. That’s great – I normally encourage such practice. However I knew this time it would augur a disaster. You see I had ‘backdated’ all the Chromebooks to version 14, which has no proxy problems. But unfortunately version 14 automatically updates itself to the next version, which does have proxy problems. So of course, those staff that started playing with the Chromebooks first couldn’t use them by the end of the session.
However, for some staff (those teachers who had left their Chromebook lids closed), the experience was very positive. They accessed our new learning platform and played around with some of the tools that the students could use, including Purple Mash, which was a real hit. From the simplicity of software such as Simple City – great for Early Years children, to designing your own cut out car, it all looks great. My particular favourite, though I admit it’s quite gimmicky, is ‘Mashcam’ where the children take a photo of themselves using the Chromebook webcam and it gets pasted into an outline of some other figure, like a spaceman or a police man. I’m particularly looking forward to the Year 3 children picturing themselves as Tutankhamun in a few weeks time as they get their Egyptian topic underway.
I really think that Purple Mash is an ideal match for the Chromebooks – sitting alongside our Google Apps domain, I think it will enhance the children’s experience and give opportunities for younger children in particular to access ‘The Cloud’. I’ve been aware that it is mainly our Key Stage 2 classes that have been using our Google Apps domain and Purple Mash looks just the right thing to draw in the younger children (especially the teachers of those younger children).
Back to the technical issue with the Chromebooks. After the session was over, the post arrived and there were the flash drives sent from Google Europe in Ireland with the experimental patch for version 16. Hopefully it will soon all work.