The revolution will not be televised!
There is a lot of discussion out there at the moment about the advantages of using the latest digital technologies in the classroom. We can’t ignore the huge part that devices such as mobile phones and tablets play in the everyday life of not only ourselves but our students. The reaction you get when you confiscate a mobile phone is quite unbelievable, and seemingly students find it difficult to contemplate the thought of having to deal with not having it. As social media has revolutionised learning & teaching in the UK and put CPD at all our fingertips it is surely only right that we explore the ways in which all sorts of digital technology, including social media can indeed transform the learning experience of our students. This is an issue which has been discussed in school a great deal lately, not least of all in the Science department, who are trialling the use of class sets of iPads; “Speaking Science”. Their first aim was to increase the pace of lessons for ‘reluctant writers’ and improve engagement when these pupils work independently, using videos, photos and voice recordings to provide evidence of their practical work. The hope is that this will allow pupils to develop more sophisticated investigative skills, and then move on to the questioning aspects of lessons, where a higher level of thinking is required. The science department have acknowledged the instinctive nature of technology for students and are keen to see whether by being in the ‘instinctive zone’ pupils would extend that habit to their problem solving and analytical skills and become much more independent. The department have gone into “Speaking Science” “eyes wide open”, aware of the potential pitfalls of this kind of technology; from the need to ensure that lessons provide the same level of progress as they would traditionally to potential classroom management issues, to dealing with the dip in enthusiasm when the initial novelty wears off to the inevitable technological issues they will face.
The iPads have been installed with safari (web browser), video and photograph recording and editing, showbie (for e – document flow), pages (word processer), keynote (presentations/slides) and a spreadsheet app.
There are groups from across years 7-11 and a spread of abilities taking part in “Speaking Science” as well as three different classroom teachers. Therefore the iPads are being shared between a number of different classes, meaning that students are not able to save their own work locally.
The department are using the app ‘showbie’ to manage workflow as well as converting lesson PowerPoints to pdfs so that students can make use of these during lessons. The same has been done with worksheets and quizzes. To develop further student independence in the new practical science lessons students have had the practical instructions made available as pdfs so they can work through them at their own rate. There continue to be teething problems with a number of the installed applications which Carmel and her team are endeavouring to work through. For example, Siri has not proved useful as a voice dictation tool as too many mistakes were being made.
At present a typical iPad lesson looks like this:
- Pupils enter the classroom and collect their allocated iPad.
- Students log onto showbie and select that day’s assignment, which contains all the lesson resources needed for that session.
- The lesson then proceeds as normal with pupils working on the activities placed in the assignment folder (no annotations on documents are available outside ‘showbie’ if exported – a problem more for the teacher than the students – an issue Carmel is exploring with other apps).
In a year 8 lesson I watched recently the lesson began quickly as each student came in and took their allocated iPad, using the first few minutes of the lesson to work on their factual recall for their weekly test. They then moved onto a practical experiment and it was here that the iPad really came into its own. Students could view the experiment instructions on their iPads and in pairs they were able to record the experiment as a video or a series of photos. Many students completed voice overs to their recordings to show what was happening in their experiment. As the experiment came to an end they then completed a set of questions on the experiment either as notes or voice recordings on the iPad. When I asked the students about the iPads they told me that they preferred them to the more traditional methods as there were more varied methods of completing their work and that they were much quicker. They said that they enjoyed using the iPads and it was making them less reliant on their teacher, as they have all the lesson materials at their fingertips as well the internet.
The team have noted that the marking of work is quite quick but depends upon the tool the students have used to complete it – for example, 20 videos of practicals might mean that they can’t all be viewed in their entirety. Carmel shared with me some of the voice recordings she has been marking in relation to a practical and students are articulating their findings well in short clips of around 10 seconds. However, through the duration of a practical this might mean that Carmel would receive in excess of ten recordings per student, making verifying all their findings much more time consuming than marking them in a book. However, from a personal perspective Carmel did note that she finds it far easier to mark using the iPad, as somehow it is less daunting than a large pile of exercise books! One of the areas we are now exploring is the development of a pupil portfolio outside of showbie where summaries of each unit of work can be stored.
The Science department are also working hard this year on improving students recall skills. Each student is given a set of 10 facts to learn on a weekly basis and is tested on them each week. Each week there will also be some facts from the previous week and this inevitably means that students are having to recall facts from further in the past. This has become a standardised homework across the department across all classes. Carmel has been keeping a record of the average score in each of her classes each week and has found the results to be quite mixed. For example, in one group the average score in the previous two weeks has been 23% and 39% respectively. As part of “Speaking Science” Carmel has completed the most recent test for this group following a period of revision using the iPads, where all students made voice recordings of the facts. The average score rose to 85%.
In year 11 the response to using the iPads has been mixed and thus Carmel has put a comparative trial in palace, allowing some students to use more traditional methods Vs. those with iPads.
I am intrigued to see how “Speaking Science” progresses and look forward to seeing how Carmel, Hannah and Phil get on trialling new apps as well as investigating ways to develop peer/self-assessment and responses to feedback. Carmel has already made a plea for further technology; headphones with microphones as well as a stylus to go with each iPad. I am particularly interested to see how we can develop oracy through the iPads.
It is encouraging to see other departments looking at the development of technology. At our first NAML session Aaron shared his plans for the use of his iPad in PE, as well as looking at the development of application technology to support the development of skills in practical PE. Similarly, Rosie has begun the social technology revolution by looking at the use of twitter to support her GCSE dance students. Greg, a self-proclaimed “iPad in the classroom sceptic” even got thinking about their potential use in History after discussing their use in Science. It was not long before he had started tweeting @iPadchampions to explore their use in the History classroom.