The New No.1 App in Education? With Video and User Guide

I have made no secret of my fondness for generic apps that enhance learning. Explain Everything, Google Drive andEvernote can aid the educator and student alike. However, there is a new contender on the block for the No.1 app in education. Socrative 1.0 was very good – Socrative 2.0 looks excellent.

This brief introduction to Socrative 2.0 highlights its potential and possible use in the classroom. I look forward to hearing about the effect it has in schools.

Education – do examinations get in the way of learning?

Talk about learning and educators will enthuse about creativity, discovery and development. Add the term examination or grades and the conversation takes a different slant. The post below from Tricia Kelleher (Principal of the Stephen Perse Foundation) skilfully highlights the importance of ‘space for development’ ahead of a ‘collection of grades’.

“Watch out for the sharks! The plank is for the bad pirates.” This snatch of conversation between two 3 year old children in our Pre-prep captures brilliantly their learning experience. Adults tend to equate learning to the amount of time children sit behind desks. The children I observed today were outside, creating a world of buccaneers, princesses and sword wielding heroes. I was even given a lesson in ballroom dancing by two little girls keen to share their skills with me.

Of course, the principle underlying the lesson was independent learning. The teachers had skilfully configured the spaces to support discovery and creativity. Each child was encouraged to explore the possibilities offered to them and “to play” – by play I mean problem solving, creativity, showing initiative. Essentially developing a positive learning disposition.

The year 2 children meanwhile were coming to the end of plan-do-review day and were reflecting on what they had learnt. They had complete freedom to design their own project. Sadly the pressure of time had prevented the completion of a model of Henry VIII, the painting of a cottage and the markings on an aeroplane. All the children had learnt an important lesson about time management and, as one boy observed, how much they enjoyed “collaboration” (his word).

This window into the world of young children’s learning was a timely reminder to me about the importance of providing space for children to develop. The national obsession with measuring progress places a premium on cognitive development which, whilst more easily measurable, is not about the whole child.

Interestingly, at the other end of the educational spectrum, the International Baccalaureate offers a sixth form programme which is about breadth both in terms of subject content and assessment. Students enjoy an intellectual challenge which stretches them and an assessment framework which requires more than performance in a terminal examination – group work, extended essay, presentations are an integral part of this programme. Intellectually coherent and clearly valuing so much more about the student, there is much to recommend the IB. The learning is embedded in this programme.

And then we have our national qualification. It strikes me as someone with responsibility for children aged 3-18 that our examination system almost gets in the way of learning. With national exams required to fulfil different purposes – measuring a school, value added, individual’s attainment – is it any wonder that the development of an individual can get lost in the exam conveyor belt? The current debate about standards in education has become subsumed by proposed changes to the national examination framework. In my view this is the wrong way round. Surely the big debate should be focused on learning and exams configured to capture what we truly value.

Yet I also know that we measure what we measure because we always have done it this way. The exam machine is grinding away and our children are destined to pass through it for better or worse. This is their passport to the future. As a school we are determined to add stamps to this passport – for us it is about the education of an individual and it is our responsibility to ensure this is about more than passing exams. A young person is surely more than a collection of grades; they are the future.

The Impact of New Technology in Schools – Results are in!

I should state from the outset I’m not sure the impact of any new technology in the classroom will ever be truly measurable. It won’t be for the want of trying and there are a number of case studies trying to do just that. However, with that in mind, what conclusions can I draw from two years of iPad use in the classroom?

I have two areas that can be discussed anecdotally. The first is an A level class of 15 students who have spent the last two years studying PE using iPads. This group of students recorded the best results at A level in my ten years at the school. For those familiar with the way UK grades are measured the value-added average was + 17%. As well as using iPads for two years with this group I also introduced the concept of ‘flipped learning‘. Often the group were asked to view a keynote presentation that had been recorded to replace homework. That meant we had an opportunity in class to work through issues and lessons tended to take on more of a seminar feel.

I’m not about to start claiming the iPads are the only reason for this success. Similarly I don’t think the ‘flipped’ learning environment would be the only reason for the boys high achievement. The point is, the introduction of new technology and indeed the pedagogy that is developing, didn’t obstruct the boys learning and achievement. I firmly believe it enhanced the learning process but this is difficult to prove without a control group. If I was to compare it to the previous years set of results they are markedly higher, but there could be many different reasons for this.

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The second area of discussion comes from the Stephen Perse Foundation in Cambridge. The school has been 1:1 iPad for a year and they have just received a record breaking set of GCSE results. 74% A* or 94% A*/A is remarkable by any standard and again serves as an indicator to the positive impact of new technology in schools. I’m not suggesting that the iPads are the reason for the success. However, they clearly didn’t have a detrimental effect on the performance of the school at GCSE level.

So we have an entire GCSE cohort in a 1:1 iPad environment and a trial A level group who have both performed outstandingly well when compared to their predecessors – so what conclusions can I draw?

It is obvious that engagement with the learning is crucial. Top grades are very difficult to achieve without a firm understanding of the subject matter. I believe the new technology has enabled our learners to engage more readily with material and context. It certainly isn’t the only way to achieve the levels of engagement required, but I personally found it much easier to access with the new technology.

The real impact of new technology in school doesn’t have anything to do with grades. The fact that I was able to bring many different opportunities for learning into my classroom always felt right as we went through the process at A level. As you can see in the video above, at the Stephen Perse Foundation the GCSE cohort had many opportunities to express their learning. At a time when collaboration and communication skills are at the top of any employers desirable qualities, it is fitting we are seeing more of it in our classrooms.

As schools discuss the rights and wrongs of tablets in education I can only offer an opinion based on two years of usage and an interesting time deploying iPads in secondary schools. The opportunities they provide have led to a shift in my own teaching and this doesn’t appear to have had a negative effect on my students. It also felt right to adjust what I had been doing for 10 years and I’m certain I’m a better educator for it. Time will tell if this trend is seen across different groups, institutions and countries but I feel secure in the knowledge that, after two years with iPads . . . . . it wasn’t necessarily a bad decision!