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For the whole of March, we'll be sharing exclusive content centred around Innovation On A Budget. How can schools ensure steady progress with often-stretched funds?

"The need to innovate despite limited funds is a familiar challenge for schools," comments leading edu-preneur and Giglets advocate, Helen Bowen. "Innovation ought to bring improvement, but we’ve all encountered examples of ‘the latest thing’ that brought only confusion and delay.

"In this context, the thought of changing practices in an attempt at innovation is easily dismissed. Why spend money changing what we know? I can only recommend that each of us becomes extremely picky when trying new products and services. For example, Giglets is perfect for quickly updating a school library with high-quality fiction and nonfiction books."

Change is good, but it’s also challenging. The best resource is one where you can’t imagine how you ever managed without it – but you need to be ready to take the first step.

Tech is cheap, talk is priceless

Jodie Lopez

Jodie Lopez is a self-confessed geek and proud of it. Her career started in sales and customer service, and she left this to become a Primary teacher. She is now a freelance consultant and founder of lovEdtech. Jodie speaks at conferences for schools about using technology on a shoestring. Jodie is passionate about ensuring that every penny spent on tech in schools is both fit for purpose and keeps teachers coming back for more!

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Image courtesy of author // Pupils recording their own stories. Image courtesy of author // Pupils recording their own stories.

Sorry for starting this article straight into a brag (I am more humble by nature, I promise), but when I was a teacher and ICT coordinator, my school won a number of awards for our use of technology embedded throughout the curriculum. As a larger-than-average Primary school in South East London – a typical inner-city set up – people were surprised by how much we achieved on a very tight budget. I am frugal by nature, and that fed through into my teaching and tech acquisition too.

I always liked to share what we were doing with ICT across the school – especially in literacy, showcased on the website, which is getting dated now as I left the classroom a few years back, but the projects are still valid and can still have a big impact without much cash required! So here I will list the technology we purchased and the projects this allowed us to complete.

We did have all of the standards you will find across most schools – interactive whiteboards in every classroom, a computer suite with “We worked hard on a culture that allowed group work to mimic the workplace.”30 computers, and a few repurposed old computers in a corridor for pupils to access during lunchtimes etc. On top of that we bought a class set of Nintendo DS devices, which were used for a number of projects. However, the main projects we showcase on Getting Into Literacy were all using the following kit:

  • Five netbooks – £200 each. No great requirements other than long battery life and an ability to get online.
  • Five USB microphones – £15 each. Unidirectional are best to ensure that background noise of the classroom is mostly drowned out.
  • 5 cameras – £30 each. Do not be tempted by massive (and often expensive) ‘kiddy’ cameras. Cheap cameras of 8MP+ are easy to find. They are cheaper usually if they are powered by AA batteries rather than lithium rechargeable. So just spend a few quid at a pound shop to ensure a constant supply of power. Plus, at £30 we only ever had one broken, and the child who dropped it was devastated – my budget was not! Easy to buy a replacement.
  • Rainbow Easispeak microphones set from TTS Group - £239.95.
  • Audacity – FREE! A great tool for editing recordings.
  • Windows Movie Maker – FREE! Or iMovie if you have spent lots more on your computers and have Apple.
  • LGfL podcast site (LGfL schools) or Podbean – FREE podcasting sites.
  • A free blogging service (there are a few to choose from depending on your needs and platforms you already use).

“Only five of everything?!” I hear you exclaim. Yes indeed. These all feed into fantastic group projects (the technology side at least). In all cases pupils were all given the chance to write their own scripts/stories etc, but we then entered into democratic processes to enable group work for the final projects. Although this can be a challenge, it is also a fantastic learning curve. I don’t believe in a group work where one child can sit and twiddle thumbs and the rest get on with it, or where one child has the loudest say. So we worked hard on a culture that allowed group work to mimic the workplace. Children would each have their own role and task as part of the project. The first project with every class was always a competition – the best group output would win. I would always stress that I would know the groups who worked well by the output alone. And of course that is true. The second project with every class would then always be better. They would understand more about their roles and the importance of communication and hard work.

So, a total cost of £1464.95 and now you can ensure technology is used across the curriculum in your school. Not an add-on or something that involves a trip to the ICT suite. The above goodies will enable technology to be infused into any number of projects in every year group. Here are some of the projects we used them for, to great effect. When I say effect I mean that the technology added a new dimension to the projects. It was not a token gesture, but it was also not a major hassle to be embedded. Quick and easy and meaningful; never detracting from the learning; always adding value.

Podcasting -

The easiest project for anyone to get involved in. You can find lots of great examples of our podcasts following this link, and we used the microphones from “We liked to work as closely as possible to how a professional would.”Nursery through to Year 6. The Easispeak microphones are great for allowing nursery children free reign of the technology. As soon as we started adding their podcasts to the publicly available site, and their parents started listening in from home, we couldn’t stop them. A personal highlight from Reception is Faiza’s Rap version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star! And yes, he was a little star! The microphones are easy for little hands to use, and they would chat and sing into them whenever they got the chance. We uploaded the best, the rest were still listened to in class almost daily. Fantastic for coaxing children out of their shells in the younger years.

Older pupils would take the Easispeak microphones out on school trips and journeys to record their day, and practice presenting / interview techniques. A great way to use these would be to have a podcast channel for roving reporters who will create great podcasts for a radio show – maybe they can record and edit commentary from school sports matches, or interview key staff members about the school and community. Our pupils also interviewed grandparents for their World War 2 topic. We allowed them to borrow the microphones to take home for this.

For projects in class we used the USB microphones to record direct into Audacity. These were used for the Year 5 Greek Myths project – later we added them to illustrations in Windows Movie Maker to make full video versions, which we uploaded to YouTube.

YouTube link

YouTube link

YouTube link

This took no more time that they previously used for this topic for prior cohorts. We simply told them they had less time to complete their myths. This did not mean they were rushed – but they certainly spent less time procrastinating, and the written myths were some of the best ever produced. The promise of a global audience was a great motivator, and also helped us to weave in some e-safety and understanding of the impact they can have as young authors.

Podcasting also gives a voice to those who struggle with writing for any reason. Giving them access to a microphone to record their thoughts, stories, poems and more, will allow them to show off their best work and also aids them if they can listen to this back and then pause and write it out a line at a time – perfect for those pupils whose brain works faster than their handwriting (I am one of those pupils, which is why I started podcasting with them and why I love technology so much myself)!

Filmmaking -

As well as the Year 5 Greek myths mentioned above, we used filmmaking across the curriculum in different ways. For all of our film projects we used Audacity, with the microphones and netbooks to record and edit soundtracks. The most important part of filmmaking, from an educational point of view, is to really devote time to the storyboarding and/or scriptwriting part first. The reason projects such as filmmaking and podcasting can take a long time is a lack of planning and structure up front. This stage is vital. The Year 4 adverts is an example of one project in literacy using filmmaking.

YouTube link

YouTube link

YouTube link

They were required to think very carefully about the script and storyboard the advert. We liked to work as closely as possible to how a professional would. Although our end results may not always be professional, our process always was. This was vital to us as we were always wanting to ensure our pupils were aware of all of the careers available to them after leaving school – technology and internet access are brilliant for making this possible.

For filmmaking we would sometimes use photos that the pupils took with the cameras; sometimes have them filming themselves using the built-in webcam; sometimes we used animations made with Lego or whatever else we had to hand; and sometimes just find pictures we could use online – ensuring we found copyright free images. By far the most popular way, though, was for them to illustrate stories themselves. This then covered even more of the curriculum, by bringing art and design into the mix.

Blogging -

Our first foray into blogging was actually in a “walled garden” set up, with a blog shared only with another school. We wrote a chapter of a novel each fortnight and published it to the shared page. The other school would read it and their pupils would comment. We would then use their feedback to edit the previous chapter and write the next. We also podcasted each chapter. The final novel is, I say with pride on behalf of the Year 6 pupils involved, an absolute triumph. Every child involved went on to gain a Level 5 in their Writing SATs, and credit the project as a big part of their success. After this then we went on to allow pupils to add to blogs more often. These are now defunct - they have all long since left the school - but we had some fascinating blogs discussing world news, in particular some very moving responses to the tragic tsunami of 2011. If you are interested in getting your pupils blogging and reaching a global audience, with fantastic literacy results which will surely follow, then get in touch with the blogging guru David Mitchell. You can also get involved in 100 Word Challenge, with former headteacher Julia Skinner if you want to test the water with some great prompts.

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