3 ‘must-haves’ for classroom software designers

This is a great topic for the me and the other Global Search for Education: Top 12 Global Teacher Bloggers to discuss as it offers us an opportunity to highlight to technical people that success for technology in education is about placing learners before technology.

app design

Let’s first look at what the most successful apps education have in common. As examples from a long list of possibilities, I would consider:

All five seem to offer very different outcomes and opportunities but to me they have 3 key elements that all software designers thinking of targeting education need to be aware of.

1. A Blank Canvas

All the successful apps offer a space to create and personalise the learning outcome. This makes the app adaptable to the learner’s need. As education moves away, or at least tries to, from a standardised delivery model, successful apps need to reflect a world where everyone expects to be able to personalise their own experience.

2. A Social space

All the apps that I like to use and recommend teachers try have a social element. Again, this is something that the world and its children have become accustomed to. Making connections and the building of relationships are simultaneously where the strongest learning takes place and are themselves key skills for young people to develop. My experience in using technology for decades, including hundreds of apps shows that students are happiest when their learning is connected and shared.

3. Student Driven

It is still the case that most people, including software designers, outside education are not fully aware of the quite monumental shifts in conversation about how education will operate over the next twenty years. The primary element in this shift is the move to student driven environments. Successful software in schools will always be that which allows the students to shape what takes place and allows the teacher to guide from the side.

Final Thought

Something I’ve mentioned many times on this blog is how New Zealand leads the world in the shift away from prescribed content delivery. As a teacher in this country, this has meant I have never had the need to download a ‘closed’ content delivery app and developers need to be aware that this should be the last of their design considerations if they want a lasting success.

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EduWells2015Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International Speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.

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How I’ll be learning in 2016

2016 Learning-EduWellsIt’s that reflective time of year again. It’s now that educators like me consider what will define our approach to teaching and learning in the next 12 months. It’s made more reflective where I live, as the New Zealand school year runs February to December, so I’ll be starting with new classes in a few weeks.

So, here we go! Everyone else is producing target lists for 2016, so why not me. I don’t assume that my 5 personal focus points for next year are a definitive description of the perfect education, but it’s where I’ve got to and what I’ll be focused on with my students. I also want to highlight that none of the 5 explicitly mention technology. Our future-focused system in NZ has pushed many of us beyond the need to overtly talk about tech as an isolated topic.

I’m busy at the moment writing my book on teaching in New Zealand and why it’s the best system in the world. One of the many points I am raising in this book is how free I am, as an NZ teacher, to focus on these important issues and skills, having not been given a standardised list of content by the government that I must cover. Over here, it’s the teachers that maintain and develop what should be taught. Look out from my book next year if you want to know more.

Here are my 5 BIG things I’ll be focused on in 2016:

Collaborative learning

One of my big concerns is how most schools and classrooms operate in such a way that it forms habits amongst the students for depending on teachers and the school structures to move things forward. A strong emphasis on creating a collaborative learning environment means students will move away from asking teachers for everything and understand how much potential they have between them to sort problems and organise their own learning.

ITERATE

Learning has no finish line. All learning must have a context, expect students to look into all aspects involved, and propose and test solutions and/or new knowledge they’ve come up with. This new knowledge can then be peer evaluated to encourage feedback to highlight the iterative learning process.

Community

Schools often claim to be connected to the community but this does not always include the learning. Connections and perspectives from outside the school gates is crucial to making learning real and relevent. This might be local or from across the world and may involve visits, webcams, problems posed by outside agencies to be tackled by students, or simply publishing for real-world feedback as part of the learning. You might be using Design Thinking or Project-Based Learning but it should at some point connect to the outside world.

Connect

This is as close as I get to directly mentioning technology. Whether it’s other students, field experts, other educators, and whether you are blogging, tweeting, messaging or skyping, learning in 2016 must be connected and shared. Groups, hashtags and commenting can add more depth to the discussion.

Self & peer assessment

Involving students in the design of how their work and projects will be assessed must become a norm. Publishing the marking matrix is one thing but having the students develop it is quite another. I was amazed in 2015 how seriously my students took designing marking matrix for team projects. One class happily took 2.5 hours over it on a shared Google Doc! It makes them consider what to focus on and can be developed as an ongoing process throughout the work. This gives them far more ownership over the learning process, than the standard top-down judgement approach.

There you have it. These are what I’ll be working on in 2016. I hope it gives some people food for thought.

Challenged by Seductive Technology

Technology can still be so inviting to teachers, it can often damage the potential for learning. I recently trialled the app Floors by Pixelpress, planning it to be a fun and creative exercise in computer game design. After introducing the app and explaining the activity, I realised I had missed an opportunity to plan a much more thought provoking exercise. It made me realise that even now, I can succumb to the seductive ‘cool’ of an app and design a shallow learning experience. Here’s the trailer for the app:

The app is really impressive and scans pencil game designs immediately into real playable iPad games. This sounds so good, it was easy to consider it as a just a fantastic blend of tactile and tech learning. What I missed was an opportunity to raise the level of both thinking and collaboration. Like me, many teachers are falling for the modern teaching trap to think “the app does all the work.” On most occasions, if you think an app does the job for a lesson, you’re more likely just killing time rather than ensuring true learning is taking place.

IMG_0008 (1)The next lesson gave me a chance to reflect and act on this mistake. The type of game the activity produces is a platform game of 3 levels. Before they started, I reminded them of the Design Thinking process we’d used before and asked them to consider what makes games addictive and why their level design would be considered better than another design. This had groups discussing designs being too easy or too hard and what made them so. It also introduced situations where students challenged each other’s assumptions. This does not happen if you allow them to simply play with the app as presented in the trailer.

There are enough options within the app to make very complex game challenges but it’s the job of the teacher to plan how the opportunities presented by the app can enhance the type of activity in the classroom. We must remember that it’s what takes place in the mind of the student that is most important. I have mentioned before that in New Zealand we generally grade students on their ability to collaborate and generate new knowledge, rather than learn a fixed curriculum. This means, it’s my job to make students generate connections between elements and concepts they come across. The collaboration & communication is important as it adds depth to their understanding.

FloorsThe app encouraged me to focus on skill competency and open ended creativity:

“This app is fantastic! It will have them be creative with non-tech and the technology allows them test and reiterate the process to improve the outcome.”

I redesigned it as collaborative Design Thinking to ensure a more robust learning outcome:

“Before you open the app, collaborate in considering how this activity might be more successful in producing a game people will not want to put down. There are too many games in the App Store to only be producing yet another one. Every student in the class has the potential to create the best game in the room but what makes one better than another?”

The Floors app is a technology that allows for rapid testing of ideas but its ensuring the students take a considered approach that’s important rather than adding elements randomly without any particular reason. This teaching situation is common for many apps and I’m always keen to remind teachers to not underestimate children in their ability to handle more complex thinking.

App designers often consider the functional activity over the learning experience. It’s our job as teachers to not succumb to this and consider first what’s being developed in the minds of our students.

Here’s a presentation I did on this story fro #AppShareLive with Mark Anderson:

Hey teacher, would YOU be a student?

If you ask me, the elephant in the classroom, especially high school classrooms has always been the fact that teachers would rarely choose for themselves, the daily experience they inflict on their students.  [Img Cred]

bored student

If you ask a high school teacher if they’d be happy with a daily experience such as:

  • an hour of trigonometry;
  • an hour of Macbeth;
  • an hour of plate tectonics;
  • an hour of tennis, followed by
  • an hour of chemical reactions
  • with no attempt to relate any of the learning.
  • oh, and do you want to sit in the middle of 300 teenagers for an hour long assembly?

Nearly all teachers say NO! (I’ve asked many)

So, two questions for schools:

1. What excuses do we have for creating a learning experience we wouldn’t choose for ourselves?

2. Why are we surprised at an increasing dropout rate and general switching off from school in a connected and active world of Facebook and Youtube?

An alternative with positive outcomes.

21C Classroom Layout

 

This year a visited a school that had re-purposed their existing physical classroom / corridor spaces, and redesigned their timetable to create a whole new learning experience. I could see within 10 minutes that the students were more driven and positive about school than in most schools I’ve been to. It did this by dividing itself into a mini-schools within the site. Rather than confine each student to a particular room from which learning would be ‘received’, every student had permission to design their own school day (every day) and had free access to up to 4 differently purposed rooms depending on what their needs were at any particular moment.

New use of school space

The 4 rooms that each child had free access to would include:

  1. a “Cave” (silent room),
  2. a pairs room (for peer tutoring),
  3. a group room (for project/teamwork)
  4. a tutorial room (They had to book into tutorials that the teachers ran on a rotation).

It was up to the children to use these spaces according to needs and be responsible for productive time management. Something that was very evident during my visit, where I could see that through practice and extensive experience in self-driven learning, the average student was more confident, organised and keen to discuss their progress.

New use of School time

Students are free to organised their own day. They had to book in to a certain amount of tutoring in a week but by choice could tailor the tuition to their needs. They negotiated injury projects at the beginning of terms and worked on them in teams. They were encouraged to work together and solve their own problems. They also booked out technology from a central hub when required, rather than assume that technology was a must all day, like some schools suggest.

New use of Teachers

Teachers rotate between giving tutorials and roaming as mentors. A nice touch is for the principal to be signing off the final projects. Teachers have more time to talk to students and guide teams in their negotiated inquiries. Teachers were happier through working with students who were intrinsically motivated to learn on projects designed by themselves. All the national curriculum and regular content was still covered and any direct teaching needed was available, just never in a one-size-fits-all approach.

Question the old, not the new

One simple piece of advice is to spend more energy challenging your school’s status quo, than any alternative that might be suggested. Turn around and challenge that “elephant” that so many teachers and even more students are talking about.

The “WHY” Guide to #Edchat topics

Although many educational models and pedagogies can seem like a conveyer belt of fads sometimes, many of them at least focus on one or two key educational concerns. Regardless of whether you think it a passing fad, many of them have an aim that you should know about and be considering as a teacher in the 21st Century. I must admit though, as busy teachers, it is understandable that to fully implement a number of them is unrealistic. So here’s my summary of the key take-aways from each model that you should aim to implement in your teaching. (Click for larger version)

EduWells WHY Guide to edChat

WHY FLIPPED TEACHING?

OLD FLIPPEDIt’s not about lessons becoming homework. Flipped teaching solves all of the traditional complaints teachers have when teaching traditionally (Chalk & talk), such as:

  • I don’t have enough face-to-face and/or practical time in the classroom
  • I struggle to get through all the content
  • Students just don’t listen or are distracted by others or are away too often.
  • I wish I had time to stretch my more gifted students
    Here’s my post on Flipped Teaching.

WHY BLENDED LEARNING?

You might be against all this staring at screens but learning must involve digital if it is to prepare young people to be productive in the 21st Century. But digital does not allow students to practice all skills. Real-world collaboration and debate are also survival skills in a successful future. Don’t do the work for them! The students must practice balancing and selecting the appropriate tools, digital or not for a task. At the end of the day though, a good balance is the way of the world.

WHY SAMR?

i4S SAMR MindsetThere is some confusion over SAMR but it does make teachers reflect on the impact tech is having in their classroom. It encourages good conversations about pedagogy rather than being focused on tech for tech’s sake. My advice is allow the students to experiment and introduce you to new approaches. SAMR challenges teachers to push tech to do more for students. It also encourages tech use towards connecting and collaborating rather than just regurgitation and helps teachers to move forward with pedagogy.
Here’s my post on SAMR.

WHY UDL?

I am happy to raise my hand and admit my guilt about not planning well enough to consider individuals in my class who have specific extra learning challenges and obstacles. Anything from a sever disability to simple a lack of social confidence. Too many teachers plan whole units and lessons just for the “average” student Universal Design for learning asks you to start your planning with those with the greatest needs on the basis the others will cope. ensure your room has multiple options for accessing the learning and that you become aware of the extra aides available inside various technologies you have. Offer the required variety of media so all can access the learning.
Here’s more info on UDL.

WHY PROJECT-BASED LEARNING?

i4S PBL AppsThe world operates in teams whilst most students don’t. Project-based learning prepares students more for productive social interaction and team skills. An emphasis for presenting to external clients or experts adds a real edge and accountability to learning. PBL improves the scope for genuine community connections and authentic learning. It can also add a much needed purpose to schooling, often missing in the normal abstract content teacher delivery.
Here’s my post on PBL.

WHY CONNECTED LEARNING?

i4S-The Connected Class ChallengeThe internet and improved access through BYOD means that learning that encourages wider connections Inspires young people to make a real contribution to the world. They are not learning to be citizens, they are citizens NOW! Offers new perspectives & live learning, not available in an isolated classroom. Encourages peer-to-peer support & independence, creating more definite life-long learners. Oh, and Skype Classroom is free !
Here’s my post on a connected classroom structure for the students to practice with.

WHY DESIGN THINKING? (My new Favourite)

Design-Thinking-iPadWellsDesign thinking can present a little like PBL but offers specific structure that has:

  • a bias towards action (How might we …)
  • a easy structured process for the classroom
  • a Focus on thinking, empathy and prototyping ideas immediately.
  • it also encourages input from all, on the basis that any suggestion might form part of the solution.
    Here’s my post on Design Thinking.

WHY SOLO TAXONOMY?

In New Zealand, our national high school assessment is based around SOLO. We grade our students on their depth of thinking more that their ability to regurgitate the ‘right’ answer. Solo helps student consider their depth of understanding on any topic. It has a focus on the relationships between topics and themes to enhance learning rather than just the isolated topics themselves. Solo aims for students to show understandings by moving content into other contexts or from other perspectives.

Here’s my Star Wars Solo taxonomy Poster:

HAN-SOLO-TAXONOMY-iPadWells

Redesign your teaching year with just the key take-aways

I do hope this has helped some busy teachers, who haven’t had the time to look into these models. I also hope it might have some teachers reconsider elements in their teaching that require a little more attention.

Are your kids always staring at screens?

IMG_0651I’m a father of two girls (7 & 10)  and like many fathers in developed world in 2015, school holiday time has become “constant screen time” for my kids. Unless I painstakingly structure every minute of their day, given the choice, they pick screen time before considering other activities. They are kids after all and it may have been 1987 and it may have been an Atari ST, but I was just the same.

The 70s gave us screen time, the 80s brought it home, the 90s expanded the choice and the 21st century has now given many young people the power to download further screen time options when they feel like it.

What’s good for kids?

If most parents are allowing it, is it ok to deny your own kids (as a parent or teacher) the access other’s enjoy? What long-term effects will show themselves in 20 years? Will they be positive or negative? You can find news stories and studies to prove any case you’d like to.

So, what do we parents and teachers do with a generation who have increasingly higher expectations for how much screen time is considered normal? I have written before on categorising screen time to give more value to creative pursuits and this has helped family time in my house considerably. But here’s other ideas I’ve had that help in this increasingly challenging debate about what is good or not good for children.

Children generally think of the games first but are also naturally curious and creative and often just need reminders of the more productive activities available. Here are some ideas for how to structure these reminders.

Idea 1: Make rules & reasons clear

Folders screentimeRealistically, most families I know would allow a couple of hours in any day for iPadding. Organise apps into folders based on family rules about screen time. As examples: 20 minutes playing games; 40 minutes playing ‘thinking’ games; 1 hour of these creative apps. Using the Control Centre (swipe up from bottom of screen) you can quickly access the timer to ensure the kids get an alarm to say ‘time’s-up’. I also use Emoji characters to help the kids remember why they’re categorised (see pic). It seems sometimes that screen time becomes the issue more than worrying about exactly what’s on the screen. and my kids will move onto more productive activities, if it means more screen time. (Sad, I know)

Idea 2: Make them earn this precious resource

Yes, they will do almost anything for screen time and so use this to your advantage and make them earn it. The parenting advice on this also changes week to week, depending on which book, expert or website you follow but generally, publishing a list of ‘good citizen’ tasks that all earn screen time works well. It puts the onus on the child to carry out good deeds before the earn device time. My daughters have very tidy bedrooms, we have an automatic filling dishwasher and the fire wood was transferred to it’s winter location all because of the desire for the screen. I’ve had no arguments about work around the house if it’s weighed up against iPad time.

Idea 3: Become master of the games you want your kids playing

Here are some games I’ve recently become very good at, so as to spark discussion and competition within the family.

land of vennMath: The Land of Venn – Geometric Defense This is a great game where young kids learn and draw geometric shapes as weapons against monsters. It quickly had my 7-year-old daughter using math vocabulary she might never have used at home. Lots of extras to win and spells to purchase with your winnings. Cleverly designed to award more power to the more complicated shapes. Great fun and sparks good conversation.

 

English : Sentopiary

sentopiaryThis was a great distraction that both my daughters enjoyed as it reinforced things they’d studied at school and was interactive enough that even I learnt a few things regarding grammar. As the app states: “Guided by Common Core standards, it is intended to be used both at home and in classrooms and works well in environments where iPads are shared.” This is true as it also sparks conversation between 2 people looking at it.

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Languages: Duo Lingo

duo lingoWe’ve made it a family challenge to learn Spanish using this app. My elder daughter has now decided that after Spanish, she’s ‘gonna learn Russian’ :-). Make it a weekly challenge to work through a particular number of lessons. The app is very carefully crafted to make sure you build your knowledge and skills in successfully in written, reading and spoken forms. There is discussion about the teaching of languages dying out in schools but this app and gasified online system could be the saviour for language learning.

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Art: Sketchbook Express

Sketchbook ExpressThis free app gives you advanced tools presented in a straight-forward fashion. Even I could reignite my liking for art with some nice first steps tracing a photo using the layers available (see pic). This immediacy and extra safety (kids don’t like to mess up their pictures) of this layering made it an instant hit with my 10-year-old daughter.

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Movie making: iMovie

iMovieUsing siblings, pets or classmates to put together a story introduction using iMovie’s Trailer option is a popular activity that I find with some theme prompting from me always gets my kids outside and ‘acting’. The other day, all I had to say was “what about using our chickens for a trailer?” and they were off!

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Logic & Coding: Kodable & Thinkrolls 2

IMG_0642Both these apps challenge the brain for logical thinking. They present themselves as games but in such a way that the kids have to pause and think rather than just react on instinct like typical gaming.

Kodable is a great introduction into coding that both my daughters will play for the full 30 minutes overtime they’re reminded of its existence.

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screen322x572Thinkrolls 2 looks easy to start with but quickly gets very challenging and is cleverly designed to deliver challenges in quick succession that my kids will choose to play this without reminding.

This means WAR!

Yes, as a parent or teacher you might feel you are in a constant fight and you may win some and loose some battles but if we are careful, I believe we will win the war. With some thought and a positively mindset, this screen time might create a generation of thinking, creative and collaborative people. By setting up structures to help the children self-manage their screen time, I am hoping that I can already see the benefits of what these apps have to offer transferred to ‘real-life’ with two girls who are happy to help, keen to solve problems and create projects of their own design. Make sure you make some time to showcase the results of their more productive device use and it will encourage more.

Good luck everyone !!!

Design Thinking in the Classroom

Design thinking is a powerful tool to really get your students thinking about and tackling a problem or topic at a much deeper level. It is a structured task that focuses on giving considerable time to thinking about and empathising with the people within the situation (Target audience or client), designing and prototyping a possible solution that is immediately challenged in order to improve it. It is used much in business and the design industry but can be used as a general classroom task within any subject area. It also gets students to work quickly without much introduction.

Design thinking promotes creative thinking, team work, and student responsibility for learning.

Design Thinking - EduWells

It is a form of solution-based, or solution-focused thinking; starting with a goal (a better future situation) instead of solving a specific problem. This keeps minds open to multiple solutions.

The core rules behind Design Thinking:

  1. The Human Rule: All Design Activity Is Ultimately Social in Nature
  2. The Ambiguity Rule: Design Thinkers Must Preserve Ambiguity
  3. The Re-design Rule: All Design Is Re-design
  4. The Tangibility Rule: Making Ideas Tangible Always Facilitates Communication

The infographic / poster above is a guide to a simplified version you can use in your classroom. This version can be carried out in an hour, over a week, or even longer.

This versions splits the task into 5 key stages. It’s good to set fixed time frames for each of these stages and for their sub stages.

1. Goal Setting (Whole Class)

How Might WeHOW MIGHT WE DESIGN / ACTION WHAT AND FOR WHOM IN ORDER TO CHANGE SOMETHING?

The first stage is to devise an atoll goal to improve something. This is best started with 3 key words: “How might we …” Starting this way can have a powerful effect on successful classroom engagement. “How” is a word that has a bias towards action. It implied the something is to be done. “Might” acts as a safety blanket as it offers the students the freedom to fail. This ensures tham more are likely to give it a go. “We” pushes the collective responsibility and collaborative aspect meaning nobody will be alone. It also removes the classroom hierarchy, bringing the teacher onto the same level as learner alongside the students.

During this goal setting stage it is important to select as a class:

  • WHAT” = An object – E.g. App, Gadget, Speech, Toy, Campaign, Website etc.
  • WHOM” = A Specific Client/target – E.g playground users, garbage droppers etc.
  • CHANGE” = A better world – E.g. Target result, Improved situation,

Examples:

As an extra idea, I have considered it even as a fun theoretical teaching task such as:

  • How might an iPad app have helped George Washington win the War of independence in half the time?

There’s nothing to stop posting up a number of big ideas or challenges for teams to pick from but ensure the students have been part of formulating them.

2. Thinking – Individual then Group

Think DTDecide on an amount of time that students will individually think around the topic. This personal thinking space is important for letting quiet, reflective and deeper thinking take place to start the process off. This might only be 5 or 10 minutes but means more will come to the table when the group starts discussions.

The individual thoughts are then brought to the group. I recommend groups of 3 or 4 as bigger than this can become less manageable for the students.
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3. Empathise

a) Facts  b) Opinions  c) Interactions

EmpathiseThis is the crucial stage where considering the people and situation that the solution will be dealing with is broken down into 3 stages to help the students allow for as fuller picture as possible. These 3 stages might take anything from 10 to 30 minutes.

  • First the Profile the target as a list of facts. What do they do? What do they have? What are we dealing with physically?
  • Second they imagine or research all the typical opinions and feelings that the solution will have to allow for.
  • Thirdly they consider all the connections within the situation. Who talks to who? Who shares things with who? Who or what competing with what or who?

By the end of this stage, the students will have done far more genuine thinking about the situation than they might have done if asked to just “research the situation.”

4. Solution Design – “Ideate”

ideateA minimum of 20 minutes is now needed for the group to dream up a solution. The important emphasis here is that no idea should be squashed too quickly. Let the students dream up ideas that may or may not be possible and allow the discussion and challenge evolve. The point of this whole process is for all possibilities to surface and be challenged. Sometimes the craziest idea can lead to successful divergent solutions.

App and gadget design can be applied to most situations and the fact that the students may or may not be able to make the final product should’t matter and allows them to focus on the needs that the product meets.
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5. Prototype Critique – Feedback & Improve

PrototypeThis stage simultaneously develops multiple skills whilst also encouraging a more optimistic growth-mindset as teams present and challenge each other. The emphasis here must be on growing ideas and not judgements. One thing I would highlight to students is that designers and problem solvers always seek advice and feedback and so can use and appreciate anything that gets fed back to them.

Even after good thinking and empathising stages, there’s always a number of “what ifs” that any team will not have thought of. This also highlights to all students that there’s always another view and this feedback loop is key to any significant success that will last. Just keep asking why? why? why?

 

Which apps help with Design Thinking?

Essentially, the apps that help design thinking are those that allow students to collaborate around their ideas and  creative output. Here’s a few to help.

post-itSecrative can be used to canvas the class for foreseen problems to be solved and once target problems are chosen, it can then ask students to submit How might we… questions to frame the task around.

Nearpod can also be used to collate the class ideas for problems.

Post-It Plus amazingly allows an individual’s real Post-its be captured by camera and shared as digital post-its with the group. You can even edit the digital copies!
Here’s a review.

Drawp is another great collaborative system and app for class activities.

Talkboard is an instant and free collaborative drawing board for the group to scribble down ideas on. Might need a stylus to get the best from this.

Prezzi can be used to present a plan.

 

Design Think Links and Info

NoTosh are a key organisation pushing Design Thinking in education. Great info and resources.

Stanford Uni have produced a whole crash course in Design Thinking!

 

 

Future Proof your Learning Environment

BlogBut-app14“Did you know, there’s an app for that?” In fact, there’s 100s of new apps everyday and many teachers are put off technology because of it’s rapidly changing landscape. “How can I possibly keep up with what I should be asking the kids to use?” is a common question. The secret is to not worry about which app is the right one. Let the kids collectively do the ground work and worry about keeping abreast of the generic technologies and capabilities that numerous apps are making available.

But before you even worry about overall technologies, worry about what skills your teaching (regardless of content) might be developing. It is becoming a much talked about subject that any particular content schools might have “delivered” in the past is diminishing in value as A) it all becomes available on-demand on the internet in both written and video format and B) the world changes at an increasingly faster rate and priorities change year-on-year.

Universal Skills – prepare for a changing world

kids ipadMy planning starts with analysing universal skills I think are lacking amongst the students.

  • Do my students need more practice at collaborating?
  • Do they need more time on reflecting on previous work or experiences?
  • Should they be working on successfully communicating in writing or visually?
  • How about project planning or connecting with the community?
  • … and so on.

I also then ensure I have answers for the kids regarding why this is a skill worth practicing. Much of how I operate is around student devised projects but I work with the students on what they might focus on if I feel they or their team are not proving strong at a particular skill, like those I listed above. In a rapidly changing world, these are the skills that help develop what for me is the key skill: learning to learn. Why? For example, recent research is showing that unto a 3rd of jobs that exist in western countries will be replaced by automated robots or computers in the next 2 decades!    Picture Credit

Universal Content – add purpose to education

ocKids-iPadWhat information is most important these days? That’s a hard question. Given the uncertainty over even the next 5 years, how does any teacher know what they are teaching will be both paramount or relevant in five years. In New Zealand, I’m lucky that the National Curriculum took account of this uncertainty over where the future might lead and in 2007 removed nearly all content to focus on universal skills relevant to improving communities and the economy in the 21st century.

Universal technologies not apps

The freedom the iPad brings to each student’s learning experience is key when the skills and content being dealt with can be so varied within a class. Let the students find relevant apps whilst teachers focus on knowing the available technology types that they might be expect to see or encourage as options for dealing with material, even if it’s just occasionally. Here is my list of technologies that iPads now offer to a student:

  1. Movie making (Telling stories) – see here for movie making skills
    Narrative is so important in learning and allowing students to tell a story whilst combining multiple media types (film/photo/audio/voiceover) can be one of the most powerful and enjoyable learning experiences. The importance I have placed in any one-to-one device having a camera that can be used for this activity never fails to prove itself every week in my school.
  2. Animation – A challenge in planning and patience
    The opportunity to plan and produce animation, either in 2D or 3D is a real challenge at any age. It’s also fun and allows students to recreate any situation for any topic of story they might want to present.
  3. Collaborative cloud documents / presentations / planning
    This is very much how the world will operate for the next few decades and so building these skills and also their new forms of “netiquette” become paramount. The power in crowdsourcing ideas and skills when producing learning outcomes and the way in which live collaboration speeds up the process whilst developing social / team skills is crucial to all industries from the arts to business to sports.
  4. Web publishing – Blogs / wikis / iBooks / video / apps
    The fact that young people can now publish instantly for free is still not fully understood as the world-changing situation that it is by many educators. The world audience that many people under the age of 16 already have and the self-made learning network the children build for themselves through feedback and professional advice can not be underestimated in how it will change the landscape in schools over the next 10 years.
  5. Green Screening
    This technology is a powerful and fun addition to the world of mobile device learning. It is powerful for telling stories, reporting on events already filmed, school work produced in class or acting out impossible scenarios never before imagined in the classroom. My students were able to stand inside their iPad work whilst they talked us through in a video.
  6. Modelling – Allow students to play with that that would normally be impossible or difficult
    Many apps now model or simulate objects and scenarios for the students to play with but there’s also numerous opportunities to build models with on-screen clay, lego, paint, metal, or electronics. This is not ideal as the real thing is often better but if arranging or funding the real thing is difficult logistically, these virtual technologies are brilliant, especially in the way they can be instantly reset for numerous attempts.
  7. Augmented Reality
    This is the new frontier becoming increasingly mainstream. AR, as it’s referred to, is the idea of adding a layer of on-screen information, written, colour or 3D, on-top of what you can see through the camera in real life (think Robocop). Google has just completed it’s first trial with “Google Glass” and what DAQRI are doing for industry is amazing. Here’s my intro to the Augmented Reality for schools
  8. Coding
    Code.org and “Hour of Code” are part of an international push to have young people all coding. Whether you knew that or not or are already onto debating its merits or not, it can’t be argued that the results of coding now rule our lives and children should have at least some exposure to what it looks like and is about. There are now many teach-yourself systems and apps on the market and most are entertaining and successful at introducing young people to how coding works. Here’s one of my post on iPad coding.
  9. Building Networks
    This has become natural and normal practice for many children. Kids start networking online as early as age five with sites like MoshiMonsters.com and even coding apps like Hopscotch build on this with uploading, commenting and peer support through what they call “Branching”. Tumblr, Facebook and even Snapchat can be seen by parents and teachers as worrying signs but a positive view is to see them as practice for what some business experts have already predicted will be the most crucial skill of all over the next 30 years – networking & connecting. Many of my senior students will setup support Facebook groups or pages regardless of it being mentioned or not by the teacher. It’s just how they operate.
  10. Bookmarking
    Being able to not only save web discoveries but also collate, organise, collaborate and share collections of bookmarked material is an essential skill from the “to-do list” to more serious research. Systems like Evernote and others are great at helping people manage the vast array of stuff on offer. Modern bookmarking apps are also great when teams are collaborating on one project.

An open ended challenge

There are thousands of apps that offer entertaining and even interactive experiences with specific content. The issue for schools is becoming too reliant on a specific app’s existence. It is hard more most app developers to maintain the business and compete in such a difficult market and they often disappear after 2 or 3 years. Allow students to discover and use content apps but don;t centre your teaching on them. Focus your energy on universal skills and technologies and allow the students to practice and showcase their innate curiosity and talents for mastering specific apps collaboratively. in short, future proof your learning environment.

Please let me know if you have ideas for other technology types and I’ll add them to the list. Thanks.

iPads for Teachers – The Unboxing

unbox iPadI’ve been asked a number of times to help with iPad “unboxing” sessions in schools and it can get messy if you try to do too much. It is temping to download and run through numerous “amazing” apps and quickly showcase all of their abilities in transforming the classroom. But from my experiences, I have learnt that many teachers are unaware of fundamentals that others understand as everyday knowledge, so be careful. Keep it simple and avoid needing the internet as much as possible during the session. I know of a school where they asked everyone to get iMovie, which is 500MB! This not only killed the internet but the rest of the session also! For me, the important fundamentals are iCloud, Photo, (small) App download and messaging. Photo Credit.

iCloud.com

I recommend everyone get a new iCloud.com email during the iPad setup screens and use this as their Apple account to ensure they aren’t restricted from using any of the Apple services. Restrictions can crop up later if you use something like a Gmail. The smallest of task can take a while when a number of people attempt it at once. A simple task that more advanced users can help the novices through works much better.

Messages

imessageIntroducing teachers to the idea that free web-based messaging is available using the iCloud accounts is something I think is important. It can greatly reduce the pressure on the school email and people quickly get used to it and many often prefer the format of messaging over email. Group messages can be started between 3 or more, which can help department discussion too. Get your school leaders messaging as a group and they will love iPads forever :-)

Here’s my list of do’s and don’ts:

  1. pair-up the less confident with a more confident buddy.
  2. For your first session task, only attempt to use pre-installed or free apps that don’t rely on the internet connection after they’re installed (reduces problems by 80%)
  3. Make sure people get the best from the iPad by setting up an iCloud.com email account using the iPad setup screens (easiest way to setup the account) Advice: use the same email name as your normal (most used) email name, e.g. johnDoe86@gmail.com = JohnDoe86@iCloud.com
  4. Other than the iCloud account, don’t spend too much time with other account setup. It’s more engaging to get on with some fun first.
  5. Make sure they have at least taken a photo, downloaded an app and sent an iMessage. (iCloud based iMessages can reduce the strain on the email system and only use wifi)
  6. Make your first tasks are fun and use a small number of apps
  7. In most cases, don’t let the technician run it. In my experience too many technicians focus on technical issues like server connections and file transfers. This can kill the fun and initial desire to use iPads.
  8. Have instructions in writing (with screenshots if possible). Relying on verbal instructions to any audience gets very messy very quickly.

The main aim is to have a task that everyone can enjoy, regardless of the ability level. Photo Booth and Pic Collage are both simple but fun apps that all can enjoy and this is why I included them in my resource below.

I thought I’d put together a quick resource that you might use if issuing a number iPads to teachers in your school. Hope you find it useful and good luck! This JPG links to a PDF version.

iPad handout PD-iPadWells

How to Keep iPad children safe online

5670717552_5b4766bb55_zHas your child got an iPad from Santa? I may be an iPad teacher calling myself @iPadWells and running this blog on iPad use but I’m also a father of 2 daughters with all the normal excitement and fear that comes with that. One of my daughters soon reaches the magical double-figure age of 10 and there is talk of her maybe (insert usual “if she’s a good girl” rhetoric that usually gets ignored) having an iPad for her birthday.

The thought of her sitting alone in her bedroom with access to all that the internet has to offer scares me just as much as I’m sure will the day she steps into the first boyfriend’s car. But I’m calm. If there’s one person who can keep her safe on an iPad, it’s gotta be me or I may as well stop blogging. Photo credit.

Where to begin?

restrictionsThis topic is another reason I continue to recommend the iPad for young people, schools and families. The iPad has so many settings built-in to it’s iOS (Operating System) to keep children safe from both adult content and health issues like RSI and hearing loss. Google too has many filtering settings that can be applied to an account. These days, independence starts online before it might do in real life and online Apple and Google accounts seems scary but is necessary if a parent is to maintain a level of control. As a parent I can use the legal requirements that an online account creator needs to be 13 as a way to explain why both the iCloud/App Store account and the Google Account’s passwords must be only known by the parents.

Which Age?

11607904776_dd1a338324_zChildren still need to be able to explore the world online and also discover apps that might be of use. I think free-reign on purchasing from the App Store before 13 has gone wrong for many, especially if the child isn’t earning the money themselves. Saying that, I would want my child to be able to explore the store for potential tools and games and justify to me why they are worthy or productive.  Given what we teach to 13 year-olds in New Zealand about sex education and the like, plus what will be discussed in the school playground, I decided that 13 would be the age I would start to relax restrictions on content but until then I’d like to know things were filtered a little. Photo credit.

Filtering & Restrictions

Make sure when you turn on iPad Restrictions (see help sheet below) you at least turn off restrictions on Safari, Camera & Airdrop. Kids need: the web to learn 21st century citizenship; the camera to make films, trailers and photograph events in their life and Airdrop is useful for transferring files (like photos) between devices. Once the iPad’s website filtering is applied, websites can be unlocked with a passcode and even listed as permanently ok. I will simply tell my child she can see me to unlock a site.

Music can be filtered for explicit content and under General – Music settings, the max volume can be limited which is great for anyone but especially young people who are proving around the world to be suffering from noise-induced hearing loss due to regular earphone wearing.

Why Google and Apple Filter?

The iPad will filter the sites from loading but not the Google search results. You need to separately log the child in to Google and turn on search filtering for the account so all searches show appropriate results only. This filter can then be locked with a passcode. (See help sheet)

Below is my quick click-by-click guide on getting started with filtering for safe iPadding:

(This is version 1.1 – no black arrows on step 4)

Child-Safe-iPad-@iPadWells

Next step?

PLAYING-MAKING-iPadWellsOnce your child is using the iPad you might want to have a discussion about screen time and how it might be limited. Here’s a previous post and poster about the discussion/agreement I had with my kids: iPad Screen Time