Interview: How I embraced New Technology over the school year

Nathan Ashman

Nathan Ashman is lead teacher for New Technologies at St Wilfrid's Academy in Blackburn, an 1:1 iPad school. He has been a new technologies excellence practitioner and a curriculum leader for Film and Media Studies, and has led New Technology enquiry groups at previous schools. Nathan has been involved in the direction of teaching and learning through focus groups, coaching and mentoring roles at whole school level. He is excited about new technology, although not necessarily in how the technology works, but what opportunities it brings, in all aspects of education, leisure and communication.

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For our end-of-year celebrations, we wanted to interview an educator who embodies the unstoppable, innovative spirit of the education community. Thankfully, Nathan Ashman of Blackburn-based St Wilfrid's Church of England Academy was able to fit us into his busy schedule. We’d last seen Nathan at Lead, Learn, Lancs earlier this month, and wanted to find out how his year had gone as a whole.

1. So Nathan, how's your school year been?

This year at the academy has been one of establishing deep roots. It's been my second year at St Wilfrid's in Blackburn, leading on New Technology, so the settling in period is well and truly over. This year has been all about taking learning deeper with technology, being consistent with routines and getting into the groove of using technology in the classroom as an everyday tool for purposeful improvement of teaching and learning.

2. We saw you recently at Lead, Learn, Lancs 2016 - that workshop was a blast, lots of fun. Tell us more about what inspired it.

We have an immersive space at the academy, allowing for creative lessons where students are encouraged to be in-role as they learn and discover in an alternative environment. This is a great opportunity to take students outside, while remaining inside, which heightens their senses and stimulates their learning muscles. I wanted to see if I could take this narrative driven way of learning into the classroom, where students are given the ability to unearth information in a scenario-based environment. The new technology helped to facilitate this, in using Aurasma to trigger MSQRD-style videos and placing QR codes on physical evidence to allow moments of discovery in the role of a detective. Apps such as Padlet and Socrative helped learners to collaborate and document findings in an inclusive way, that can be stored securely and shared later.

3. What would you say your biggest success has been of this year?

My biggest success would be the change in culture at St Wilfrid's for Key Stage 3 classes. My next challenge is to do the same for Key Stage 4.

Through various training strategies, coaching, workshops, teacher partnerships and collaborations, we have changed the New Tech culture at St Wilfrid's, where teachers are trying new ways to use iPads in their classrooms to share, collaborate, interact and create. This hasn't been solely down to me, but teachers have seen the positive impact technology can have and have been brave enough to try things out, get things wrong, modify and change practice for the better.

These have been small steps, with lots still to do but there has been a distinct change since I have been at St Wilfrid's.

4. How about a small victory that's yielded real satisfaction?

Our iPad roll out, induction and training was much better this year, as we evaluated the process carefully from previous years' experience. Apple's DEP really helped with managing and setting up devices. As I presumed, this has saved a lot of time throughout the year as problems to do with lost devices, re-setting devices and forgotten passwords have been easily solved.

5. Tell us about your biggest challenges of the year. How have you fought / overcome them?

My biggest challenges as ever have been busy teachers. In my experience, on the most part, teachers can see the benefit of having technology in the classroom and are not reluctant users, they just don't have the time to make it part of their pedagogical workflow. Working alongside teachers to be able to personalise training and having short, snappy drop-in sessions throughout the year has really helped. Little by little our culture is changing, but only when teachers take the time to develop their practice in this area. Ideally, I'd like to sit down with every teacher individually, ask them what elements of their teaching they would like to improve and explain how the use of technology may be able to offer some efficient and effective solutions, but I'm not Doc Brown and I haven't got a time machine.

6. Have you had a pupil who's faced and overcome real difficulties this year?

We have an amazing student at school called Caitlin Leigh, who is one of our iGenius Digital leaders. Caitlin suffers from glaucoma and her vision is sadly deteriorating. Caitlin tackles every situation in her life with such confidence and self-belief, seizing every opportunity to contribute to other students experience in a wholly positive way. She happily sits at our iGenius help desk, answering staff and students queries and is always the first to volunteer for academy events. Caitlin is in Year 7 and had no qualms at all in delivering part of an assembly to the whole of Year 10. She really is an inspiring young lady.

7. What have been your favourite resources this year? Tell teachers what they should give a go.

I’m loving Google Cardboard and all the VR fun that brings at the moment. If you have a smartphone already, this is very inexpensive. Why not take your students outside of the classroom without even leaving it?

Kahoot! (@GetKahoot) is probably my favourite classroom resource that harnesses the power of the technology we have available to us in every classroom at my St Wilfrid’s. The students love it as they feel like they are in a game show, where their actions are instantly recognised and rewarded through a fun and engaging way to learn.

Book creator (@BookCreatorApp) is certainly one of the best apps we use at the academy. We have just used it for a museum visit, creating an interactive book to help explore the museum, rather than a paper worksheet. It’s offered so many benefits that I will be blogging about in the near future.

Socrative (@Socrative) is also an interactive resource I have used a lot this year to help facilitate verbal discussion. By having every student in the class answer a quick, short-answer question, I know what they all understand. I can clarify misunderstandings, ask specific students to elaborate on their answers, get students to respond to each other's answers and we can vote to see whose answer is best. No more hidden voices in the classroom.

8. Whom would you like to give a shoutout to?

My lead teacher team at St Wilfrid's: Gwen Rees and Gill Parker. Members of the English dept: Lauren Fallows, Simon Bellusci, Emma Hornby, Emily Willcox and Eleanor Greenwood.

ADE North West friends: Nic Ford, Rachel Smith, Paul Ridgway, Louise Zwanepoel and Lisa Whittaker.

Respected colleagues who are making waves in education: Emma Suffield, Mark Anderson, Carmel Bones, Danny Ross, José Picardo, John Jones and Sarah Bedwell.

9. What're your ambitions for the 2016/17 school year?

Key Stage 4 is a real focus next year to take learning deeper, facilitated in some part by New Technology. Teachers and students want meaningful ways that enhance the learning experience, so there will be training focussed on these aspects. We are using Firefly as an online teaching resource for homework at the moment, although we will be scaling this up to provide online courses, content and instruction for new curriculum models. We want Key Stage 4 and 5 students to have more independence in their learning and have opportunities to work at their own pace.

10. Any good plans for the summer holiday?

I am very excited to have some time experimenting with 360° VR over the summer to see how it can enhance the learner experience in a purposeful and innovative way in our classrooms, Plus, there’s a European trip starting in Holland, where I was on an Apple conference last year. The coastline is a real unspoken treasure. The beaches are gorgeously clean, the people friendly and my family will have loads of fun cycling around. We then go off to Belgium and France before returning to the UK. I will be encouraging my kids to make a video of our adventure as we go.

What were your successes of the year? Let us know below!

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