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Saturday, 17 March 2012

Learning to be Better

Please check out my new professional development blog - Learning to be Better - The Diary of a Lifelong Learner.

The blog can be found here: http://learningtobebetter.co.uk

It will feature things I have been doing, places I've been and questions I've asked. Check it out and join in the conversation!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

New School Blog - Please Help!

Hello and thank you in advance to everybody and anybody who takes the time to read this post. I am taking a slight detour from my usual blog posts about our school's iPod Touch project to bring you this.

With the help of John Sutton of creativeblogs.net we have just taken the giant leap into the world of class blogging at our school and I am personally incredibly excited about the world of possibilities that this will open up to our pupils. Having explored some fantastic examples of blogging in schools, such as the class blogs at Heathfield Community Primary School - the brainchild of Dianne Spencer and David Mitchell - we were sure that we'd made a good decision.

We have begun introducing the blogs to pupils in the past two school days an some classes have already had some reluctant boy writers blogging as soon as they're home from school. Amazing!

Along with a few colleagues who have some experience of the benefits of blogging with children, I am doing everything I can to enthuse our staff and pupils about the exciting things blogging has to offer.

So, I am asking for your help! I have a mighty job on my hands trying to get around 70 members of staff and over 650 pupils blogging at our school - Bowling Park Primary School in Bradford. We have set up 23 class blogs and more are being set up for specific projects, clubs and members of staff to use! I would be so unbelievably grateful if you could do anything in your power to help convince our staff that blogging is as powerful tool as I know it is, and to help our pupils become hooked on it from the get-go.

What you can do to help

If you get a spare moment, it'd be marvellous if you could take a quick look at what we've got so far by visiting http://www.bowlingparkprimary.net/ 

If you're feeling really generous with your time our children would be thrilled if you could leave them a comment on one of their class blogs (which are all listed in the sidebar on the right of the homepage). Our Year 5 classes are learning all about the Victorians at the moment and are trying to find out as much as they can about Queen Victoria. Could you help them? Year 6's 'Big Question' is 'How can I live to be 101?' - they'd love to hear what you know about the way our bodies work. All of our classes will be blogging away over the next half term and so we'd love you to pop along to one of their blogs and introduce yourselves - they'd be thrilled to hear from you.

I also have a new school blog of my own - Mr. Mayoh - Excellence in ICT. It is really important that this blog attracts lots of visitors and gets lots of comments so that I can lead by example and prove to staff that blogging is a great way to provide a real audience for your work. Why not take a look and help me keep my job? :)

Finally, one of the easiest things you can do to help is to follow me on Twitter and look out for my tweets about the work our pupils are doing. If you like what you read we'd be delighted if you could retweet the link to give our pupils an even wider audience!

Thank you to everybody in advance. Your support is much appreciated.

On a related note...


Those of you who are used to seeing blog posts about our iPod Touch project - we will naturally be blogging away using these devices at some point soon. Look out for future posts which will hopefully combine the two worlds neatly! Exciting times.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Innovating with iPods - Learning with Apps Part 3 - Rory's Story Cubes

The next post in my series of iPod Touch app reviews will focus on the truly brilliant Rory's Story Cubes. (It is worth pointing out, if it wasn't already obvious, that almost every app featured is compatible with a range of iOS devices, including iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad).

A bit of pretty exciting context.

Aside from the world of iPods exists an exciting educational game called Rory's Story Cubes. The game, which can be bought for a measly £10, consists of 9 dice, each of which has a seemingly random image on each of its 6 faces. The idea is simple: to create a short narrative linking all 9 ideas.

The information from the official Story Cubes website states:

"Begin with 'Once upon a time', and tell a story that links together all 9 face-up images. Start with the first symbol that grabs your attention.

Rory's Story Cubes can be enjoyed solitaire or by taking turns with multiple players.

Remember there is no wrong answer, the goal is to let the cubes spark your imagination. It really is that simple!"

And it is. It has massive potential to be a great tool for providing an environment to nurture creative writing.

And as they say on the Apple ads... there's an app for that! Rory's Story Cubes is available in the iTunes store here for £1.19.

Here's a video from YouTube which demonstrates the app:



It's a really marvellous way to encourage children to become great writers. Of course it also has marvellous applications for other areas of literacy. Why not link ideas together using interesting connectives? Or use fantastic 'WOW' words to describe your favourite images? Work on improving speaking and listening skills by practising oral storytelling to talk partners, groups or the whole class? You could even record these stories using Easi-Speak Microphones or flip cams? The sky's the limit.

Have you got any other creative ideas for using this resource effectively? Have you used the cubes or the iPod Touch app with your class? If you have anything at all to share, I'd be thrilled to hear from you. Please leave a comment.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Innovating with iPods - Learning with Apps Part 2 - Whiteboard Free

My next few posts will focus on specific app reviews. Some will be far more detailed than others. Due to some technical issues, I'm going to keep this one very short (whilst I mull over a move to a more competent blogging platform. There, I said it).

The first app I will review is Whiteboard Free - a free whiteboard app! (You probably guessed that, right?) It can be found in iTunes here.

This does exactly what it says on the tin in that it's a simple little app which allows students to write or draw away on a single 'whiteboard' which fits within the length and width of the screen (i.e. not scrollable. There must be a more geeky word for this?)

It's a simple way of jotting down thoughts, workings or answers. We use it as a quick AfL tool just like we would with regular whiteboards, for the teacher to check for understanding and provide instant feedback. 

The benefits over a regular whiteboard are threefold:

1. By pressing the home screen and power buttons at the same time, pupils can take a snapshot of the screen, saving their workings or answers into their Photos app. Pretty cool.

2. It is fully collaborative! I don't know what the physical limit is in terms of actual numbers, but automatically via the inbuilt Bluetooth, users within range of each other can wirelessly connect to each other's whiteboards. This means that pupils can work collaboratively with each other in real time (to play simple games or share ideas). That's a really cool feature.

3. It's really easy to share your whiteboards. The app is neatly set up to post to Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr and has full email integration.

Top Tip: Take care with regards to e-Safety when using this app. Despite our largely successful efforts to educate pupils about safe use of technology, we have had one incident of a pupil writing inappropriate comments to other pupils using this app, so there is an inherent e-Safety issue to be aware of. Naturally, the situation was promptly dealt with and there have been no further instances of misuse.

The only limitation that I'm aware of with the free version is that you are limited to writing in red. Not a major stress, really. The Pro version is currently available for £0.59 if you're deeply offended by the colour red and need the option to write in black, blue and green as well.

For more information, check out the developer's information page about both versions of the app here.

Have you used this app with your students? Do you have any other ideas of how we could use it? Do you know of a better whiteboard app? Post a comment!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Innovating with iPods - The Project Launch

April 2010

After months of discussion, planning, preparation, researching and a whole load of learning, James Langley and I were finally ready to roll out the iPod Touch project with our Year 5 pupils. We were so excited. We had no idea how it was going to go. Sure we'd tested everything countless times, but we'd never had the capacity to test a whole class of iPods all at the same time. How would the wireless cope? Would there be any unforeseen technical issues?

Not ever wanting the use of iPods to be an add-on, we had planned an engaging session which was tightly linked to their curriculum. Pupils were learning all about UK coastal town, Whitby, in preparation for a residential visit. They were reading Robert Swindells' Room 13, which is set in the area, and were learning all about the history and geography of the town.

We had always imagined that the iPods would be useful for two different types of learning.

1. For quick mental maths, brain training and word games that, with lots of repetitive use, would see pupils make great progress with these areas of their learning

2. For more extended, project-based learning, such as their topic work about Whitby

The first lesson

We had unbelievably managed to keep the project a complete secret from the pupils right up until the very last minute! We'd explained to them that both James Langley and I were going to be teaching something very exciting, but we hadn't revealed anything at all about the project.

We started by revealing the device and the nature of the project, to a room of audible gasps. Fourteen seconds into the project and we'd got them already.

A brief explanation of how to handle the devices followed (every class in school has a cheap Easi-View visualiser from TTS, which helped us to demonstrate the device), plus a hands-up poll of children who'd used the device before, purely out of our own interest. Across the three classes, no more than four or five had used an iPod Touch previously.

We allowed them to spend a short while working out how to navigate around the devices (swiping, tapping the home button, using the screen lock, etc.), and then directed them to their first bit of learning (as if exploring the devices wasn't learning enough). We showed them how to launch apps and asked them to launch Times Tables (more about this app in a future post). It was explained that pupils should choose one of their target tables to test themselves. Once they'd finished they should have another go, attempting to either attain a higher percentage of correct answers, or increase the speed at which they got them right if they had 100% success.


Once we had managed to prise them away from their intrinsic desire to better their own scores, we showed them another great app - Word Dash (again, more details will follow in a future post). This app is a Boggle-esque game where pupils have to make as many words as they can from a selection of tiles at the bottom of the screen.

They certainly found this quite a challenge,  but soon regained any waining enthusiasm once they discovered that shaking the iPod shuffled the letters (good old accelerometer!)

All of this took us no more than ten minutes. The pupils were evidently hooked. The class teachers (whose only real training in the use of this technology was to be in the form of these modelled lessons) were also suitably impressed.

Whitby work

Once we'd spent time having a play, we explained that as well as these great apps, iPods could also be used as a quick and easy way to access the internet. We told them that since we were planning to go to Whitby in a few weeks we'd be able to have a quick sneak peak before we got there.

We used the preloaded Google Maps app to locate their own homes before searching for the seaside town. We tried to find some of the important places that we were going to explore when we got there, including the Cook Monument, Whitby Abbey and, crucially, the Youth Hostel where we were going to be staying!

One pupil very quickly learnt that using the satellite view was interesting to a point but discovered a far more exciting way to take a look around - StreetView. The idea spread like wildfire amongst his peers and we were all now comparing the localities of Bradford and Whitby with much greater ease.

But it wasn't going to stop there. It was all well and good looking around, but we wanted some evidence that we'd really seen some things in Whitby that we couldn't find in Bradford. It's OK telling everybody that Whitby's got a great beach but how were we going to prove it?

Top Tip: (This will be totally old hat to  anybody who has used an iOS device before, I'm sure). We took screenshots of the things we found particularly interesting on our virtual visit to the seaside. To do this, press and release both the home screen and power buttons simultaneously, et voila, the image is instantly saved into the device's Photos app).

We used this nifty feature to allow pupils to save pictures of things they really wanted to look for when they actually got there for real. We wrote on the board a short list of street names, postcodes, etc. of anything particularly interesting that pupils found so that others could go and find them for themselves. We had very cunning plans about how to use the photos in future lessons.

Winding down the lesson

There was no question that the lesson had been a great success. Every pupil had been engaged, on task and learning, but it was time to pack away.

We'd bought some CD boxes from WH Smith which worked really well to store the iPods in. The children labelled the boxes with their group names, and then placed the iPods inside:


We repeated much the same lesson for all three classes partaking in this project and enjoyed the same levels of success in each class. There was no doubt that the pupils were excited about the prospect of being able to use their new devices more and more as time progressed.

And I was very pleased (although not entirely surprised) to see the level of care that all pupils took in caring for their iPods. There was a real sense of ownership and pride in their new pieces of technology. A few months on and we're still seeing this as strongly as on Day One.

Oh yes, and as for the technical questions? We needn't have worried. The iPods could all access the internet at the same time FAR faster than our netbooks could have done. It looked very much like we could have been onto a winner!

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Innovating with iPods - Learning with Apps - Part 1

An obviously important part of the setup process in our iPod Touch project was to find some great educational apps which we could use effectively in the classroom. We had a few main criteria:

- The apps needed to be easy to use

- They needed to have a genuine educational benefit - not just a fad

- They needed to be cost-effective

Preloaded Apps

The iPod Touch is equipped with some genuinely useful apps. Sadly, it's also burdened with some hopeless ones which you cannot remove. I am yet to find a use for the enforced 'Stocks' app. Answers on a postcard.

However, the following preloaded apps are very useful:


1. Voice Memos 
Voice memos are a really good way to record ideas, stories, character dialogue, etc. right onto the iPod Touch. It's simple to use, with one touch record. There is the option to rename the files created and even share them via email.

Another great way of sharing created voice memos is to sync them to iTunes. There is a setting under the 'Music' tab in iTunes which allows you to automatically sync voice memos. This allows pupils' work to be easily shared with the rest of the class.

Sadly, the current iPod Touch does not come equipped with a microphone. To allow for voice recording, 'Thumb Tac' microphones can be purchased (for £8.95 at the time of writing) at Play.com and plenty of other places.

Despite their minute appearance, the sound quality from these microphones is really impressive - I can't recommend them highly enough! You won't need one per device as it's basically impossible for a whole class of pupils to record audio at the same time. We've currently got one mic per table group (i.e. 6 per class).

2. Google Maps


As you would expect from Google, this app is really well made. It requires a wi-fi connection to operate and includes functions to search for a desired location, pinpoint your current location or to find directions from a point A to B. Zooming in and out of the map is as easy as pinching the screen with two fingers.

There is the option to show a conventional road map, a satellite image or a hybrid of the two. You can also drop pins to easily refer to places later or help to plan a route.

Perhaps most impressively, though, is the fact that Google Maps on the iPod Touch supports StreetView. Just type in the name of a town/city, street or postcode and next to the name label there will be a red and white icon if the area has StreetView support (this is now the majority of the UK). Tap this icon and the screen reorientates itself into landscape mode. You can now navigate around your chosen location from the comfort of your classroom.

Note: There will be more info about uses for this app in the classroom in my next post.
3. Calculator

Does what it says on the tin this one. Its great hidden feature is that if you turn it to landscape mode it becomes a scientific calculator. Clever! Also, if you press and hold the 'answer' you have the option to copy it to another app. This could be useful if pupils are using the calculator app to find answers that they are typing into another app.

4. Notes


Again, this app is pretty much as you'd expect, but it's really useful. The main things we've used it for is to copy and paste chunks of information from the internet, or just as a simple way to write whilst on the go. As it does not require an internet connection it is possible to use the app to take notes whilst on school field trips and educational visits, which we've found particularly useful.

5. Clock


Now, quite obviously, this app contains a clock! (I worked that out all by myself). However, it also allows you to add clocks from around the world which could be used as part of work around contrasting localities, for example.

This app is also the place to find the iPod's inbuilt alarm. However, it is the timer and stopwatch functions which make this app really useful. These could be used very effectively for science experiments, etc. The stopwatch feature could also be used to time fastest laps in P.E. or as a way to try and improve speed at mental arithmetic.

Other Preloaded Apps

The other most useful preloaded apps include 'Music' - where you can manage audio content, including educational podcasts. The 'Videos' app works in much the same way.

'Weather' can have its uses, particularly if trying to compare parts of the world, and 'Safari' is the inbuilt web browser for accessing the whole of the world wide web (unless it's made with Flash - naughty Apple)!

Prize for the best suggestion of what to do with 'Stocks.'

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Innovating with iPods - How to Lose a Day of Your Life - Part 3


April 2010

This is the third and final part of the blog post about the day James Langley and I spent at Easter 2010 setting up our 3 class sets of iPod Touches and Macs ready for our new project.


Configuring iPods in iTunes

We'd now configured iTunes and were ready to plug in the iPods for the first time. We plugged 20 in at a time by using the Parat 'Parasync' charging and syncing unit mentioned in this earlier blog post. When you do this you are confronted with a number of screens. (Note: if iTunes is not already open, it will open automatically when you plug in an iPod).

You will notice that the iPods will all be listed in the menu on the left hand pane. The first screen you should encounter asks to register the iPod. I didn't bother with this, and just clicked 'Register Later.' You have to do this the first three or four times that you plug the device in. Then instead of 'Register Later' it will say 'Never Register' - click this and you won't be bothered again. (Unfortunately you have to go through this process for each iPod! (We had 96 - it took a while).

You may also be asked whether or not you wish to participate in a free 60-day trial for Mobile Me - Apple's online cloud storage facility. Again, we skipped this step.

You will be asked to accept the Terms and Conditions of the software before being moved onto the following Setup screen:


If you have set up more than one iPod, you will have the option to restore the new iPod from the backup of a previous device. Don't do it! Set each iPod up as a new iPod and press 'Continue.' You will be asked to name your device. I used the system BP01 to BP96 for each device. BP being the school's initials, the number referring to the number physically displayed on that back of the iPod.

Top Tip: When having our labels created we positioned the iPod's individual number on the bottom right corner of the device. This was a bad idea! As we were using a Parasync charging unit, once we set them into the dock, we could no longer see the number! It would have been much more helpful to print the number into one of the upper corners.

Top Tip: When naming the devices in iTunes, make sure to use zeros before single digit numbers, e.g. 01, 02 rather than 1, 2. iTunes automatically lists devices alphabetically in the left hand pane, which can speed up identifying any issues later.

The next screen gives you the option to automatically sync:
  • songs
  • photos
  • and applications
I made a BIG mistake here. So that you don't do the same:

Top Tip: Do check all three boxes to automatically sync content! It is much simpler to do this now than later, as you have to do it manually for each iPod on each occasion. 'Songs' refers to all audio content including Voice Memos (but you can change exactly what content later). My fear about photos was that it would automatically sync ALL photos on the system by default. It does not. Only the ones from a specific folder (iPhoto on a Mac, for example).

Once you have done this it will take you to a Summary screen, with tabs across the top to customise options for Apps, Music, Photos, etc. (See image at the bottom of this post).

We then set up each device to make sure it automatically synced all 'Events' from iPhoto, but no other photos.

We set up each device to automatically sync the entire music library (we currently have no music on the Macs we're using) and also checked the box to include voice memos (this can be very useful later).

And it was basically done. We had to go through this process on each of the Macs, for each class, and it took a couple of hours from start to finish. The status of all updates, downloads and installs is displayed in the grey bar at the top of the iTunes window.

Issues with syncing

Every now and then when we sync a lot of apps with a lot of devices, a few of the apps fail to install on a few iPods. Sometimes a variety of error messages will appear on screen. It's usually very easy to remedy: simply turn off the Parasync unit or unplug the device(s) manually (once all the syncing is complete) and then plug them straight back in. They will try and sync automatically again, and this almost always solves the problem. The classic "turn it off and on" procedure!

Serial numbers

In order to assign devices to pupils (we have one device per pupil, which remains theirs throughout the course of the project) we set up a simple spreadsheet with the following columns:
  • Pupil surname
  • Pupil forename
  • Pupil class
  • iPod number (e.g. BP60)
  • iPod serial number
This has been a really easy way to keep on top of which iPods belong to which pupils and a copy of the lists have been given to each of the class teachers.

It is also likely that for school inventory and insurance purposes you will need to hold a list of serial numbers. It seemed to make sense to collect these at the same time as compiling this list.

Serial numbers can be found in three places on an iPod Touch:
  1. Etched into the bottom of the iPod on the back of the device
  2. In the menu of the iPod itself. Go to Settings > General > About > Serial Number
  3. In iTunes (which we thought was the quickest way, as you can easily click through to the next iPod in the list on the left):

Once these numbers are collected you're done. If you've already downloaded a few apps to get you started, then you're just about ready to go. If not, then this will be your next step. My next blog post will detail some of the great apps that we've downloaded and how we've used them.

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