Take your edtech back to basics

Adam Chase

Adam Chase is the Year 5 class teacher at Old Hall Primary School, where he is also the Computing lead. Adam is also a Bury Local Authority leading teacher for Computing. His focus is using Computing to enhance other areas of the curriculum, rather than it being a standalone subject.

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“If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow” - John Dewey.

I was first introduced to this quote by Lee Parkinson, and I think it illustrates perfectly how we should think of edtech. When it comes to technology in the classroom, we tend to follow the most up-to-date trends; this has been how I have used technology such as Minecraft and online memes (ideal for grammar). Plus, there really is an app for absolutely everything. However, to bring real benefit to edtech usage, I’m now changing my thinking.

I had always believed that, in a fast-paced world, we need to find the latest app of the week and involve it in the class to best stay at the cutting edge. However, more recently I have backed off a little. I came to the realise that learners don’t need our help on discovering apps, or figuring out how to access them. They need help with using these resources creatively and effectively. So, at Old Hall Primary our approach has changed from having the latest app on the iPad, or the newest piece of software on the computers - we have slightly gone back to basics.

Apple apps - Back-to-basics

For me, Keynote, Pages and iMovie are a necessity on any school iPad. Admittedly, I was guilty of not using these enough, but since taking the time to really understand them - as well as going through the free Apple Teacher programme - I have done a u-turn. This could be due to the ease of many other apps, or possibly user interface on third-party apps that we use more regularly, but investing the time can really pay off. I think this could also be the case for Google and Microsoft products too, both of which offer self-taught programmes similar to Apple Teacher. I thought I would share one ‘hack’ / feature for a few resources...

Keynote... and Magic Move!

Keynote can used to create presentations. It’s similar to Powerpoint, but with a cleaner, less complicated look, which does help the user interface. A fantastic feature that I wasn’t aware of is Magic Move, a transition tool you can apply between two slides. If the next slide shares any objects such as images, text or text boxes with the previous slide, those objects will be magically moved from one position to the next, and this can then be saved as a video! Therefore, you could turn a presentation into an informative animation, which would be very helpful to explain relationships and cause & effect, such as:

  • Movement of tectonic plates.
  • Circuits.
  • Solar System and the movement of objects.
  • Explaining computing concepts.

Pages… and Instant Alpha!

Pages is Apple’s word processing software, best described as a mixture of Word and Publisher which has the simple, intuitive look of most Apple products. The main feature that I got excited about was Instant Alpha, which allows you to delete the background or a selected space of an image. This offers a couple of benefits: it makes the image look more part of the text, rather than the old copy and pasted image with a box around it, and it also allows for a basic ‘Photoshopping’ effect of a couple images becoming one.

 

iMovie… and CCTV footage!

This is probably the Apple software that people are the most familiar with, iMovie is a very effective video editor where you can add pictures, videos, audio or a combination of all three. The effect I like to do was shown to me by Amy Kingsley, an Apple ADE based in Manchester. Amy uses Apple products in an inspirational way in KS1, creating a CCTV effect video!

In truth, the effect is actually using two features. The colour filter is enabled done by tapping a clip, selecting the Filter button, and selecting a filter (I like to go for a black and white one for this end product). If you only want a portion of a clip to have a colour filter, just split the clip and add the filter to the segment you want. The second part of this is to add a title. This is done by selecting a section of the video, tapping the Title button, and choosing the style of font and its position (for this I prefer lower). The end product is very effective, especially for creating exciting videos such as dinosaurs or aliens invading the school, or even staging a break in to help inspire a newspaper report.

Seesaw… and changing your Classwork Mindset!

Seesaw is an online portfolio system that can be used to collect and comment on work. More importantly, children’s parents, guardians and carers can comment on the work too! To get started, teachers will need to upload pupils’ names separately (or, for speed, they can enter a full class list). Seesaw then does the rest. Honestly, this is enough to give each child a login and account for Seesaw. Not only that, but Seesaw does all the hard work to give the child’s parents a log in, too. Plus, it’s free!

Seesaw provides the perfect way to keep a constant record of a child’s progress. It links brilliantly with other apps, so it is a fantastic way to collect and share work with pupils on their iPads. As Seesaw links well with other apps, information can be uploaded in a variety of ways:

  • Photo – I have done this with artwork, homework projects, work from class, and even Science experiments, as well as work from Computing.
  • Video – I have used this for Science experiment videos, PE work in dance and gymnastics, Computing for explanation videos. Any videos from the camera roll can be uploaded.
  • Drawings – I have done this with explanations to gauge children’s understanding; similar to how I use Explain Everything.
  • Note – Not the most amazing feature in comparison to the rest but still valuable for research purposes.
  • Link and File – These are great for sharing work from the teacher and doing some project-based learning.

 

It is worth noting that all of the above features can also be improved further with a brilliant feature with is adding a sound file, or annotation. This can be the child explaining what they have done or the teacher giving feedback to a piece of work. In addition, there is the facility for parents to add feedback too, which is very powerful!

Skype... and Book Creator

I enjoy using Skype, as there is so much power in having an expert stranger - I was lucky enough to get Jillian Morris-Brake. Jillian runs Bimini Shark Lab in the Bahamas, and has years of experience where she has traveled, filmed and photographed extensively across the globe. I was excited for my class to get the opportunity to speak to Jillian, as she could provide not only the content for our persuasive text, but also the purpose, which was going to be to shared on her website sharks4kids.com.

Launching Skype in your classroom is a fairly simple process. All it requires is a new account, some video and audio equipment, and a device to broadcast from. Skype used to only be available through the computer, but you can now use it on many different devices.

Following a Skype interview with Jillian, I asked the children to discuss the notes that they had made; they even swapped notes that they had made from Jillian’s lesson. We followed this with some research in class using iPads, laptops and, of course, books.

The next day I set the class up on Book Creator Chrome, which I had used with small groups, but I had wanted to try in a class situation. Dear me, what a game-changer! Book Creator itself is an app that has been used in schools for a number of years. Recently however, a Chrome site was launched. This has many of the same features, with one major addition: collaboration. Now, I have had some good moments with edtech, but 24 laptops accessing and working on the same book at the same time - wow! In short, we wrote an informative eBook about sharks and the threats to them, and managed to complete it in four hours: two hours were spent writing it, and then two the next day to edit.

In summary, I am not necessarily suggesting that you go out and use these specific edtech resources. This year, choose any piece of edtech that you are unfamiliar with, or haven’t used in a while, then spend some time learning its features. Brainstorm how to use it, share it with a colleague, give it a month or so of using it now and again in class, and see where it goes.

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