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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 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.'