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

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.

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.


  • 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


  • 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

iPads are inherently evil

To understand this post you really should read this previous one first.

Of course, iPads aren’t actually evil, but let’s just pretend that they are.

Let’s start with the money. All those hundreds of pounds for a device produced in Chinese factories where working conditions are at best questionable. And then you get it and it can’t connect to the wifi particularly well.

And speaking of money, Apple only pay 2% tax in the UK. 2% on 7.4 billion profit, when corporation tax is in the region of 24%. That means they could be paying another 1.4 billion – roughly an iPad for every Primary school child in the country.

Then there’s all the Apps. when you buy an iPad you need to budget for a whole load more money to get the basics.

And the compatibility issues. They virtually don’t sync with anything. Well, maybe a bit with Dropbox. And Google Drive. And some other cloud platforms, but hardly anything. Once your data is in Apple format is it easy to get out? No – I don’t think so!

I mean: what is the point of an iPad?

Chromebooks are inherently evil

To understand this post, you really should read my previous post first.

Chromebooks, of course, are not inherently evil, but let’s just say that they are.

For a start, £200 for something that only browses the web? That is ridiculous isn’t it. For £200, you could buy a decent phone that does the same thing. You could probably spend that money more productively on a camping holiday in Shropshire. Or a really nice bottle of whisky.

Then there’s Google. The company that pay no tax. And they’re the only ones doing it. Not Apple or Dell or any other tech companies, who of course are the model of civic consciousness. I heard someone say that if Google paid their tax, every child in the country could be bought a Raspberry Pi…

And what do Google get out of Chromebooks. They get our data. All that information that tells them how to send us just the right advert to tempt us, to make us spend even more of our money.

And there’s the World Wide Web itself. That vile world of http which is about one quarter porn, another quarter gambling and the rest spoof sites and wikipedia.

I mean what is the point of a Chromebook?

Musing on my first week with an iPad

Mainly I’ve downloaded a lot of Apps.

Evernote, iBooks, Google+, Drive, Gmail, Youtube, Green Screen FX, iMovie, Morfo, Hootsuite, Explain Everything, Skitch, Popplet, Garage Band, Puppet Pals, TED, Khan Academy, Edmodo, Paper, Chrome and Incerts Snap.

I’ve tried to use some of these apps. I was pleased to get my mail and twitter feeds syncing, but then swiftly became overwhelmed by another device that is syncing all my feeds. That’s not the iPads problem though, it’s my problem for being “over-teched”.

Most of the Apps still have the blue New band across them because, despite the fact that they look ace, it does take time to get into them. I’ve signed into Evernote and got it working, but I’m not entirely sure what it offers me over Google Apps. I think that in terms of the documents I have to produce and manage for work, my laptop and my Chromebook are still going to be the devices of choice. I tend to use the Chromebook to take the notes from any meeting, share them with colleagues, manage data in spreadsheets and events on school calendars. If I need to print something for a staff notice board or a classroom display, I’m still likely to use Microsoft Word on my laptop, or Publisher if I’m working beyond A4 paper size. Microsoft still has the upper hand for me when things need printing.

The great success with the iPad has been in experimenting with images, video and audio. I haven’t done anything productive with it yet, but I love Garage Band. I’m especially looking forward to plugging my real guitar into it and trying out some of the different amps on there – I can feel a renaissance in my song writing about to dawn. I’ve also managed to make iMovie and GreenScreen FX work nicely today. I saw an ADE present on them earlier in the year and like he said, they are really easy to use. The GreenScreen app did crash a couple of times, but a quick restart of the iPad sorted that out.

Today I recorded some video into iMovie and then edited it down to a reasonable length. I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t make devices have to edit, compress and process any more video than they need to – edit first is my preferred option. I then took the green screen bit of the video and ran it through Green Screen FX. Then I put that back into iMovie and made a finished version of it. Here it is: Why I like Rising Stars

I have found myself doing a lot of comparing with the other devices I have, thinking things like “that’s really neat” or “that could work better”. For example, the normal video editor I use on my laptop is Techsmith’s Camtasia – so of course in my head I’ve been comparing how iMovie works with that. What I really should be doing is thinking about what my students will be doing with these iPads if and when they get them. I like the idea that they can do amazing multi-media story telling, but I’m not sure if that’s they thing they most need to do. The teaching of basic English and maths is important in my school and I’m not yet convinced that iPads are the best use of money to meet that need.

I have one main frustration with the iPad. The wifi receiver seems to be more sensitive to walls than any of my other wifi devices. I can upload a video to Youtube from my phone whilst standing in my kitchen, but I can’t do the same on the iPad because the signal isn’t strong enough. I don’t know if this is a problem in schools or when 30 iPads all try to connect through the same access point, but it is a worry at the back of mind at the moment.

Next week I’m going to teach some children how to make some iMovies. It will be interesting to see how they get on with doing all the movie making on one device – previously we have used flip cameras and a video editor to do that.

My first 24 hours with an iPad

me holding my first iPad

So after some reluctance, the nice man from XMA finally convinced me that I should consider iPads for my school.

I am considering them.

To help convince me he left me with an iPad – a whole one. In fact he left two and I gave the other to a keen colleague who is bound to get the most out of it.

Now if you’ve read any of my previous posts you may be thinking that this isn’t a fair trial – he’s such a Google fanboy you’re thinking. If it doesn’t say Chromebook nearby he’s not interested. Actually, what I’m interested in is getting rid of the servers in school and having devices that spend more time in children’s hands than in the hands of technicians. I have to concede that the iPad may be such a device.

So what about those first twenty four hours.

The first thing I did was get onto Amazon and order an Apple TV. I was really keen to see how the iPad might link to that and make the art of instructing children more efficient. That ordered, I picked up the iPad and started sweeping left and right on the screen: swishing my fingers with gusto. I soon realised that with only 2% charge I would have limited swishing, so plugged in the iPad to my laptop to charge. Only it didn’t charge. iPads only charge via USB when they’re off. Oh well. I switched off, my growing excitement thwarted, and left it to charge.

Later on that day, when it had reached 28% charge I had another go and made it connect to our school network. No problem – it coped with the proxy fine too – a distinct advantage over Android devices which seem to be sadly lacking in the proxy department (I believe this stems from a philosophical issue at Google who can’t believe that people would want to filter their internet). I had a few more swishes at this point and tried to sign up to iCloud but realised that with the XMA email as the iPad’s user account I wouldn’t be able to do too much. I really wanted to see how Google Docs and mail worked on the device but realised that I would need to download the App, which needed a working iTunes password, which I didn’t have. I was stuck.

And so I went home.

There I had my only technical disappointment. Bizarrely it wouldn’t connect to my wifi unless I was in the same room as the access point. All the other devices I have – my Lenovo laptop, Chromebook, Nexus 7 and Galaxy – all connect with no problem anywhere in the house, but not so the iPad.

Reasoning that I shouldn’t give up on the device just because of my own priorities, that evening I had a go with some of the Apps on there. I was blown away by Garage Band – the sound of the guitars was just so authentic. I had a quick look at Sock Puppets and Morph, but the download-my-own-Apps itch was still there so I wiped the iPad and set it up with my own iTunes account.

I had owned an iPhone until a year months ago and so still had a range of functional apps to download. And of course I could get those Google Apps ones I wanted to try.

Google Docs works really well on the iPad – it has similar functionality to an Android device, you can only create text documents or spreadsheets and the sharing options are not completely comprehensive. But it works well. I was also able to explore how to sync my mail onto it, although it is rather overwhelming now having 4 devices all telling me that I have email.

The next day, I could see by the smile on my colleague’s face that she’d done a lot better than I had. She had made a brilliant little animation using Sock Puppets that made me regret wiping the device the night before – now I’m going to have to pay for that App myself! And Garage Band!

Speaking of Apps, the Google Doc I made was intended to gather up some recommendations for great Apps to use. If you have any do get on to the document and add them – I’ve embedded it below so you can see how the list is coming along.

Over the next couple of days I’m going to be investigating Evernote and that Apple TV device when it arrives.

To sum up how I’m feeling – I’m not desperately excited about the device in itself, but I am excited by what other teachers and students will do with it when they get hold of them.

The real reason I don’t like iPads

iPads are amazing.

So I’m trying to work out why I don’t like them so much. Many educators I know rave about them, talking about how they are transforming classroom practice. How can it be that I dislike something that benefits children? Is it their cost? Ease of use? Reliability? Compatibility? The fact that I’m a bit of a Google-head and just suffering from raw iPad-envy?

No. It’s none of those. You can justify their cost if the educational benefits are high enough; they are clearly ease to use. Reliability issues would hit the national press and so must be none existent. As for compatibility – there are so many Apps in the App store, who cares if the iPad is a bit of a closed system. Educators like Daniel Harvey have made great lists of iPad-related resources that make it easy to use iPads in the classroom for even the most inexperienced of users.

So what is my problem? I have realised it is school leaders.

At a recent conference for hundreds of headteachers and deputies, I was bemused to see purple-covered iPad after purple-covered iPad emerge from their designer containers only for the basic ‘Notepad’ App to be switched on. Then headteacher after headteacher began taking notes, one index-finger at a time.

It doesn’t take much searching to find that there are many other note-taking Apps out there – many of which would at least improve the experience of taking notes, or even better, the productivity, with something like Evernote. It struck me that many of my colleagues would have been helped with the simple addition of a keyboard, or maybe even, (shock, horror) dispensing with the technology and using paper and pen.

Meanwhile, I sat taking notes on my Chromebook and pulling up web pages relevant to the topics in hand, surrounded by colleagues with more expensive technology using them extremely ineffectively. If only they followed a twitter stream like #ipaded – then at least they might be getting some value out of their technology.

But that wasn’t all.

A few weeks later I spoke to an ICT co-ordinator who had come back from the Summer vacation to find that his headteacher had spend a substantial chunk of his ICT budget on iPads. The headteacher had been seduced by the shininess of the iPads and the kudos he would get from the students by purchasing them, without having thought about what the students would actually do with the iPads. Not only that but the ICT co-ordinator was disgruntled and disillusioned that he had been bypassed so. It’s a headteacher’s perogative you might argue, but it strikes me as a poor decision on more than one level.

In conclusion, my dislike stems from the decision-making of fellow school leaders. I’m excited when I see educators make the most of their technology for the benefit of the education of their students. It disappoints me when I see educators spending a lot of public money on technology that isn’t well used.

No technology has an impact on learning on its own: success depends on how it is used.”

Nesta, Decoding Learning

Chromebooks – there’s really nothing to say

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.

There’s nothing else to say.

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