Author Archives: Mark McShane

Supporting Absent Pupils – Update

In December of 2012, I posted about our aspirations and plans for supporting pupils through the use of our website and wireless devices:

I said that I’d update you when I had something to report, at which point it was very likely that no such update would be required. I’m pleased to say that it is. Before we go on I should say that the emphasis on absence is reduced here; we’re mostly about supporting pupil-centred independent and collaborative learning. Oh yes, and making learning fun.

For a start our bid for twenty three iPad Minis, cases and some other bits and pieces was a success! I’m not sure who is more excited; students or staff. I insisted that we did not break the news until the goods were in our hands. We have them now and we’re very pleased with them – lesson: if you don’t ask you don’t get.

Secondly, our local authority (Perth and Kinross) has publicly stated that it is moving towards an open wifi and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) situation and that we can anticipate having this by the end of the summer term! My wary approach still holds, but if this materialises then we will make much greater progress.

Thirdly, my staff and the students have engaged very enthusiastically with the kit and the approaches: Not news…it’s what we all knew would happen.

Thus far we have been feeling our way. However, we have learned a few things and confirmed some others:

We said that we would only get 50% of the values of these devices without network/internet access. The percentage is open to debate, but we feel even more strongly about this. Stand-alone-app. based access is NEVER going to be enough to support independent learning. There are some great apps to be had and we are making full use of the ones we find as we go along (see example Space, below). There are lots of great apps allowing students to consider stellar measurements, view planets and stars, consider the astronomical unit, etc. However, we still need to return to teacher/board/projector-centred approaches to show them film clips such as the “Scale of the Universe”, “Minute Physics” or “Sixty Symbols”. Some of the apps listed allow students to synthesise their own notes and presentation, but without wifi they have to be saved locally. This then creates the problem of students having to use a certain device each time!

I imagine that most people reading this will understand that our aim is not to get our hands on shiny kit. You’ll probably also agree that the “engagement” argument is good, but it’s not enough. The point of this work is to support our students in being better independent and collaborative learners.

So, one-way access to learning materials with no effective mechanism for students to save their work or contribute to a growing corpus of “learned stuff” is…how shall I put it…rubbish. We’ve got iPads woo hoo! We’re living in the late 90s, but with 21st Century kit. When we finally have open wifi, with unfettered internet access then, AND ONLY THEN, will our students become effective contributors instead of consumers.

My S1 class is studying chemistry and has been investigating the three states of matter. Well, people have done this for a long time and we can still draw diagrams of particles, but diagrams don’t vibrate or move. How do we address this (see example 2 below (S,L,G):
1. mix of traditional intro lesson and practicals on S,L,Gs (compressibility, volume, shape, etc.)
2. book-based and iPad-based research and note-making
3. use if ComicLife to explain a state
4. use of comic as story-board for iMotionHD animation of particles n a solid, liquid or gas.
5. show and explain to the class: old maxim – “If you want to learn something try teaching it.”

What are our next steps?
1. to continue to develop our learning content for the upcoming units, making them accessible for mobile devices and hosting them on our site:
2. to keep emailing and calling HTs, DHTs, council officers, support services, Information Compliance Officers and anyone else we can think of to push our requirement for acceptable internet and wifi access as soon as possible.
3. to showcase the outcomes of the students’ work to them, parents, council officers and the public. We aim to use the OneLan system in our “street”.
4. to continue to us and promote a mix of learning approaches…not just ICT.
5. to keep asking students for ideas and views.

Here are a few points that we have confirmed:
1. the Griffin Survivor cases (23 pounds from XMA) are a good buy.
2. the iPad Mini is not too small for group work.
3. we need to find a sustainable method of recharging to pay for apps.
4. we’re using iTunes an slaving all of the iPads to one account, but that’s a slow process. The Apple Configurator might be a better route. Any ideas?
5. using Google Drive and caching content for offline use works well, but is also time consuming.
6. Notability is the most flexible note-taking app that we have found so far. It allows import and export of note to and from a variety of other apps and formats.
7. students can’t wait to start bringing in and using their own gear.
8. a mix of platforms (iOS, Android, etc.) is easy to support (although Blackberry can be a bit trickier).
9. “giving” a device to staff so that they can learn with and about it is a good idea (surprise!).

Here are a some people that need to do some work:
1. Pasco. The SparkVueHD app, which should allow us to use our interfacing equipment, is woeful. It is a perfect example of old code being dropped into a new environment. This app needs to be rewritten from the ground up. It slows the iPad to a halt, is the opposite of “user-friendl” and does not allow quick and easy use of kit. The idea is good, but get in touch Pasco and we can have a chat.

2. Smart. The Notebook app is a disappointment. This is a shame, as it really should be a leading tablet app. Contact us and we can talk.

Example 1: (Space)
To support S3s BGE/N4 students studying Space we are using:
Reference materials: Solar Walk (excellent), Planets (very good). Student note-making Notability or Evernote (excellent), ComicLife (excellent)
Storing learning materials: Google Drive (excellent), FileExplorer (early days), iTunes U (excellent).
Preparing learning materials: DocsToGo (excellent), iBooks, iBooks Author/Pages/Keynote (excellent).

Example 2: (S,L,G)
To support S1s studying Solids, Liquids and Gases we use:
Student note-making: Notability or Evernote (excellent).
Student media-making: ComicLife (excellent), iMotion HD (very good).
Storing learning materials: Google Drive (excellent).
Preparing learning materials: iBooks Author/Pages/Keynote (excellent).

Supporting Absent Pupils

I’ve never understood how anyone finds the time for blogging, at least not regularly. So, I suppose this means I must be fairly excited about a recent development, if I can set aside time to write about it.

I spent a number of years “supporting” the early implementation of Glow in Perth and Kinross. All I’ll say about that is that it might not have been the best use of a fair chunk of my adult life.

However, recently my very enthusiastic colleagues and I have been considering how we might best support independant learners as we develop our BGE and N4/N5 provision. To this end we have developed It won’t set the heather alight, but it works for us.

We are aiming to publish all of our resources there with guidance and support for students…but what about the ones who are absent for any length of time? Well, it turns out that even Glow might have its uses.

Upon receiving a guidance request to support one such scholar in absentia I emailed the usual list of physicsatkhs links. Then I wondered how useful a GlowMeet would be, posted instructions on our site and sent out the user details (yes, I had to do that).

The student involved “attended” the class that same day! What’s more they seemed very happy with the (fairly pedestrian) level of interaction. I ended up emailing out homework to be returned for marking as a photo from a phone.

Yes, I was an ICT Support Officer for more years than made any sense, so you might wonder why I get excited about such low level ICT.

The answer is that I find that ICT usually works best when it is applied like any other teaching tool…for a specific purpose and with a minimum of fuss: just a basic “telepresence” with them able to ask for help and perhaps follow an audio feed. GlowMeet, email and a digital camera (or phone), not a techno-behemoth. But, I expect anyone reading already knows all of this.

So, now we’re lining up a few other students for this kind of support. We’ll be be looking at what approaches work best and for whom. to this end we’d be happy to hear from anyone else with similar experience.

As things go on I’ll post any progress.