A Few Favourite Apps

We are now well into our iPad program. I am often asked about the apps that I would recommend for use in the classroom. Reflecting on this, it really isn’t a straight forward question to answer. Apps provide capability, but in the end it is application of the app that really opens the possibilities. Also the app might be used quite differently depending on the age and capability of the students.

The apps I have chosen are ones which have the potential to really extend the learning experience of students of all ages.

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iMovie: This needs to be seen in context of using the onboard capability of the iPad to deliver a camera. Having the capability of being able to immediately film and then create a movie easily is very powerful. iMovie also has the capability to form a part of a workflow in which it might be the finished product or a part of the process. In the classrooms teachers have also used the trailer format to create rich, punchy reflections on work. iMovie is probably one of the most actively and widely used apps across the grades.

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Explain Everything: The name says it all. This app is really versatile. It can be used at a basic level as a simple whiteboard or at a very sophisticated level involving a number of slides, animation and media. It interacts well with many other apps and has the capability of being a part of a workflow e.g. bring in PDFs, web pages, pictures, video etc or can be the finished product.

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Puppet Pals: It is really worth purchasing the Directors Cut version of the app as it enables the user to include their own puppets and backgrounds. So many possibilities and very engaging. Create a narrative or an informative documentary Puppet Pals is flexible enough to do both. This is also a very engaging app. Able to be shared on YouTube.

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Showbie and Edmodo: Relative newcomers to our classrooms. One of the challenges for teachers using iPads has been to be able to easily move work to and from iPads. Showbie and Edmodo help with this process and also enable teachers to interact with students. While the apps are similar they aren’t quite the same. I particularly like Showbie’s capability for students and teachers to directly record voice and video within the app along with the simple uncluttered interface. Edmodo on the other hand can provide polling and interactive discussion. Both have good compatibility with other apps. Both can be used as a flipping tool as they are available on the web as well as an app on mobile devices. (I would like to mention iTunes U here too as it is a great delivery tool, but it lacks the two way capability of these two apps and also is restricted to an iOS app form so students can’t access the information on any other but an iOS device.)

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Visualize and Skitch: Two apps with similar capability. There is a cheap paid version of Visualize (Viz) which is worth the investment. We haven’t used Skitch since we discovered Viz. Skitch has, I think, evolved and probably has greater capability since updating, but don’t know if it is yet as good as Viz. Viz has been very popular amongst students. Students can essentially create a poster page which can include pictures, text, drawings, annotations etc. Work produced could form a part of a workflow or be a product of a workflow. Both apps are really easy to use.

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Book Creator and Creative Book Builder: Great apps with the capability to create multimedia eBooks. Students can bring in text, pictures and video. Once again a great workflow apps. Creative Book Builder is a more complex application and would be better suited to older students. (For younger students I also really like Scribble Press because of its rich drawing pallet and it has some templates to help students to create a story.

These are a few of the really rich apps that I have seen regularly in action. There are many others that provide great possibilities or which add to workflows e.g. GarageBand, Pages, Comic Book. It really depends on the outcomes being sought. I do like the idea when thinking about apps that “less is more”. What I mean by that is to target apps for specific purposes. Too many apps can be confusing. It is better just to use a few apps that work together really well and that you know how to use. That being said having a rich pallet of apps for students is great for differentiated learning.

A few lesser known apps that might be really useful.

Paper Camera: This is a great app for altering appearance of pictures quickly. Pictures can be altered to various preset formats and brightness, contrast, lines can be adjusted too. A useful way for students to bring a creative touch to photographs.

Side by Side: This app is great for multitasking / researching because a number of different windows can be opened at once in the app including a browser. It is also possible to bring in content such as PDFs from Dropbox.

Cloudon: A great app for accessing cloud storage Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, SkyDive. Possible to view a large number of different file types. Has a great Microsoft Office type workspace for editing files.

Greenscreen: This app enables you to put a different background behind movie action. Available on the iPad, but really an iPhone app. Great possibilities for short movie snippets in different locations.

Qrafter Pro and Aurasma: The paid version of Qrafter allows for creation of QR codes and reading of codes. The free version only allows reading of codes. Giving students the ability to create their own codes means that they can easily add additional elements such as video commentary to their work. Aurasma is also worth mentioning as it adds similar capacity, but can react to images instead of QR codes – great for commentary on art, literature etc.

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A Different Direction – Thinking about learning spaces.

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I have always felt that flexible use of space in classrooms makes sense. My early years teaching were in Infants (K – 2) classes and teaching in these classrooms carried a multipurpose intention. In later years I was lucky to team with some other teachers, with great Infants experience, while teaching Year 4. This was like a perfect storm for me in many respects. Our rooms opened out onto a large multipurpose hall which ended up becoming an extension of our classrooms. We also teamed with other support teachers and learning environment became a supercharged, differentiated, dynamic place. I believe the learning was rich as a result and the teaching was immersive for us as teachers too.

One of the most visible impacts of mobile technology is that there has been a discernible shift in the way that the students work. Classrooms are being used differently. They are starting to evolve into more collaborative, versatile spaces. The more traditional chair and desk arrangements of the Primary 3 – 6 are where change can be observed most dramatically. In Infants classrooms the change is less discernible as they are already structured to be flexible. I am observing that activities being undertaken are more eclectic and the classrooms along with ancillary learning spaces need to become more versatile to accommodate different needs of both teachers and the students.

I am conscious that sometimes change can be daunting. In our own circumstances teachers shouldn’t be concerned because I am seeing change in classrooms happening organically anyway. Additionally the journey we are undertaking in our Professional Development both around differentiation, curriculum and technology are taking us in this direction too.

Last year I visited The Northern Beaches Christian School in Sydney’s North. I loved the ideas being generated there. They seemed to be leveraging mobile technology, pedagogy and spaces to create synergy of learning. Clearly the vision was strong, and inspired in part, by looking at examples of best practice occurring in Europe and Scandinavia. Many of those countries leading the world (PISA Assessments) are moving to versatile learning spaces.

In a recent study by the University of Salford and architects, Nightingale Associates, it was found that the classroom environment can affect a child’s academic progress over a year by as much as 25%. Once again here I am forced to reflect on Hattie’s, influential work, which places little value on the space. He states “buildings are important as they must be there in some form for a school to exist, but that is about it.”(John Hattie, University of Auckland, Australian Council for Educational Research, October 2003). I take a more wholistic view as would Michael Fullan – it is about finding the right drivers. (Fullan Centre for Strategic Education Seminar Series Paper No. 204, April 2011)

Similarly a paper by Bocconi et al. consider the advent of Creative Classrooms (CCR) which are conceptualized as innovative learning environments that fully embed the potential of ICT to innovate learning and teaching practices. (Stefania Bocconi, Panagiotis Kampylis, Yves Punie, European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, http://www.elearningpapers.eu n.o 30 • September 2012)
In contrast to Hattie’s view we see the worlds best systems innovating in wholistic ways and this includes learning spaces.

In Sweden about 30 secondary schools were “designed using KED’s architectural programme, which has been developed over the years by all our school principals, teachers and our architect Kenneth Gärdestad, is the last important element in this equation. The starting point is not to divide space into static classrooms with connecting corridors, but to regard the entire space as a potential learning area. Rooms are conceived in different shapes and sizes; they range from a large arena to rooms for small groups and have sliding glass walls. Most areas have multiple functions.” (The Kunskapsskolan (“the knowledge school”): a personalised approach to education CELE Exchange 2011/1 © OECD 2011)

Here I am compelled to grab a big chunk of text from Stephen Harris, Director, Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning & Principal, Northern Beaches Christian School. He says it far better than I can and with greater authority.

“Today’s students are immersed in a world of technology from birth. It is natural for them to live within the internet, rather than using the internet as is likely the case for their teachers and parents. Seymour Papert was among the first to make statements calling for a complete re-think of education models, with the advent of ubiquitous computing. In an essay co-authored with Gaston Caperton, they commented that educators have tried ‘to use new technologies to solve the problems of school-as-it-is instead of seeking radically new opportunities to develop school-as-it can-be’ (Papert and Caperton, 1999, p.2).
The essay goes on to suggest that conversations about schooling ‘ought to be about developing and choosing between visions of how this immensely powerful technology can support the invention of powerful new forms of learning to serve levels of expectation higher than anything imagined in the past’. Somekh and Mavers picked up this conversation adding that ‘teachers are not resistant to change, but are caught in a constant tension between the technicist demands of the system and their instincts to assist children to learn by engaging actively with ideas and concepts’ (Somekh and Mavers, 2003, p.3).
Papert used the concept of ‘Megachange’, to describe the immense shift that
has occurred in the last twenty years as so many of the systems of our society
– banking, health, shopping, communication, have been fundamentally altered through the advance of ICT. But he pointed out that ‘megachange’ was not evident in the school system.
More recent researchers have been quick to highlight that in a world of rapid technological change, today’s students are demonstrating serious signs of disengagement. As Marc Prensky highlights in ‘Engage Me or Enrage Me – What Today’s Learners Demand’ (Prensky, 2005,p.2):
“Rather than being empowered to choose what they want … and to see what interests them … and to create their own personalized identity – as they are in the rest of their lives – in school, they must eat what they are served. And what they are being served is, for the most part, stale, bland, and almost entirely stuff from the past. Yesterday’s education for tomorrow’s kids.”
The challenge is patently clear – schools have to embrace the ‘megachange’ required and construct new paradigms for learning in the twenty first century world. Mavers made the comment that:
‘As digital technologies proliferate and become established in the everyday world of home, work and community, schools are inhabited by young people who are experienced users of a range of media and whose use is characterized by agency and adaptability.’ (MAvErS, 2007, P.52)
(The Place of Virtual, Pedagogic and Physical Space in the 21st Century Classroom)”
(Stephen Harris, Director, Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning (Australia) Principal, Northern Beaches Christian School, Australia)

Anne Knock (SCIL) provides useful questions which helps to provide a framework with which to consider how we can shape learning and spaces to meet the changing needs of students.

“1. Human resources (staff and students):

How do we support staff to work in new ways?
When building new spaces, what work is undertaken prior to occupancy to help change mindsets?
How does the activity of learning need to change?

2. Technology:

Who is making technology decisions in your school?
Does the infrastructure enable movement, flexibility and productivity?
Is ICT seamlessly and almost invisible, or is it still about ‘whistles and bells’?

3. Physical space

What do the learning spaces say about your culture and values?
Are there walls and structures that can be eliminated?
Does the furniture and the spaces cater for different working styles and activities, for collaboration and for physically appealing environment?” (Ref: Anne Knock, SCIL)

There is a sense that shift is inevitable and that while we are starting our journey there are those who are further along. One of the great things about the Education Community is the delight educators have in sharing. Leveraging the experience of others can help to make the journey easier and the choices less complex.

A Mobile Imperative

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Hattie’s rather clinical analysis of data has suggested that technology isn’t an influential factor in student outcomes. Fullan’s paper Choosing Wrong Drivers identifies technology as being a Wrong Driver. On this basis it would be easy to dismiss technology out of hand.

In reality their messages aren’t really about the technology at all. They are actually about teaching and learning. Both authors would argue that”without pedagogy in the driver’s seat….. that technology is better at driving us to distraction.” (Fullan)
And in juxtaposition Fullan argues it can also be a Right Driver if the pedagogy is right. The way forward is clear. Fullan states it well. “Go all out to power new pedagogical innovations with technology. As I noted, there are numbers of these developments currently under way that are aimed at the next generation of learners. What makes these advances crucial is that they combine so many elements needed for success: engagement; entertainment; ease of access to information and data; group work; humanity; social relevance; and so on. In a word, they make education easier and more absorbing. Learning and life become more seamless.” (Fullan)

UNESCO suggests “The learning potentials of mobile devices are impressive and, in many instances, well-established. while hardly a cure-all, they can meaningfully address a number of pressing educational challenges in new and cost-effective ways.
In a world that is increasingly reliant on connectivity and access to information, mobile devices are not a passing fad. As mobile technologies continue to grow in power and functionality, their utility as educational tools is likely to expand and, with it, their centrality to formal as well as informal education. For these reasons, UNESCO believes that mobile learning deserves the careful consideration of policy-makers.” (UNESCO 2013)

Similarly a study into an iPad roll out at Longfield found “The evidence from this study clearly confirms the views of Melhuish, Gliksman, Spang and others that the use of iPad and similar tablet devices in schools is beneficial to both learning and teaching.
Such devices cannot be dismissed as mere toys or distractions and while they bring with them technical and management issues, these are far outweighed by increased student motivation, progress and collaboration. Students using them regularly indicate that their iPads have become an indispensible tool, facilitating research, communication with teachers and, as in art, saving considerable time so enabling greater achievement.” (Naace: A study of the introduction of iPads at Longfield Academy, Kent 2011)

Schools need commit to the development of teachers clearly a fundamental essential in enabling student learning. While basic technical capability is necessary the focus must be more around the pedagogical application of technology in learning programs. In the near and longer term all schools will implement the new National Curriculum. ICT is identified as one of the General Capabilities.

“The general capabilities encompass the knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions that, together with curriculum content in each learning area and the cross-curriculum priorities, will assist students to live and work successfully in the twenty-first century. They complement the key learning outcomes of the Early Years Learning Framework (COAG 2009) – that children have a strong sense of identity and wellbeing, are connected with and contribute to their world, are confident and involved learners and effective communicators.

The Australian Curriculum includes seven general capabilities:
• Literacy
• Numeracy
• Information and communication technology (ICT) capability
• Critical and creative thinking
• Personal and social capability
• Ethical understanding
Intercultural understanding.” (ACARA, General capabilities in the Australian Curriculum 2013)

A mobile device program provides the capability for schools to address the needs of the Australian Curriculum.
In addition to the General Capabilities strand of ICT which crosses over all areas there is also a specific Technology Curriculum that will be included as a key learning area of the National Curriculum.

“The Australian Curriculum: Technologies aims to develop the knowledge, understanding and skills to ensure that, individually and collaboratively, students:
• are creative, innovative and enterprising when using traditional, contemporary and emerging technologies, and understand how technologies have developed over time
• effectively and responsibly select and manipulate appropriate technologies, resources, materials, data, systems, tools and equipment when designing and creating products, services, environments and digital solutions
• critique and evaluate technologies processes to identify and create solutions to a range of problems or opportunities
• investigate, design, plan, manage, create, produce and evaluate technologies solutions
engage confidently with technologies and make informed, ethical and sustainable decisions about technologies for preferred futures including personal health and wellbeing, recreation, everyday life, the world of work and enterprise, and the environment”
(ACARA – Draft Australian Curriculum: Technologies – February 2013)

Schools must commit to a long term program of Professional Development that will provide the knowledge and skills to enable teachers. The sort of development required needs to be deep and purposeful. The focus needs to be on pedagogy rather than just skills / knowledge.

“To capitalise on the advantages of mobile technologies, teachers need to be trained to successfully incorporate them into pedagogical practice. In many instances, a government’s investment in teacher training is more important than its investment in technology itself. UNESCO’s research has shown that without guidance and instruction teachers will often use technology to ‘do old things in new ways’ rather than transform and improve approaches to teaching and learning.” (Ref UNESCO, Policy Guidelines for Mobile Learning 2013)

When excellent pedagogy combines with powerful, mobile technology tools and rich environments the possibilities around student outcomes can grow exponentially.

Towards a Culture of Learning

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Hattie (Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education) has identified a number of factors that are important in achieving positive student learning outcomes. Not surprisingly pedagogy was rated as being crucial. While his work is influential not all of his conclusions are as compelling as he advocates measuring teachers through assessments which does little to advance the outcomes of students. “make sure our money is spent well, is tie it to the performance of children and look at the whole test accountability notions to make sure we’re spending the money the right way.” (Hattie / Sahlberg interview) Fullan questions this idea “A focus on accountability uses standards, assessment, rewards and punishment as its core drivers. It assumes that educators will respond to these prods by putting in the effort to make the necessary changes. It assumes that educators have the capacity or will be motivated to develop the skills and competencies to get better results.” As Fullan points out the US has been using this approach for 30 years and their system hasn’t seen substantial improvement.

Similarly Pasi Sahlberg (Director General of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation (CIMO) in the Ministry of Education in Finland) emphasises the importance of the quality of teaching. Finland leads the world in PISA assessments (International benchmark comparisons – OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment). “Because many young people when they look at what the primary school teachers do with a high quality academic master degrees that they earn in our universities, they see pretty much what the medical doctors, or lawyers or engineers or anybody else with a similar degree are doing, with their autonomy, independence, respect, professional collective nature of work.”

Carrie Leana (2011) a business professor at the University of Pittsburg. “She starts with the well-known finding that the patterns of interaction among teachers and between teachers and administrators when focused on student learning make a large measurable difference on student achievement and sustained improvement. This is called ‘social capital“. (Fullan)
Similarly Fullan (Prof Michael Fullan to Department of Education and Training Queensland) while looking at educational drivers states. “The first of these is about making sure that the centrepiece of action is based on learning and instruction. In this regard, relentless development of what we call ‘capacity building’ – to make learning more exciting, more engaging, and more linked to assessment feedback loops around the achievement of higher order skills (which I have called the new average) – is the main agenda.”

The creation of a culture of learning in schools is also suggested in an article by
Rick DuFour and Mike Mattos – How Do Principals Really Improve Schools?
“Of course, teaching and learning are not divorced from each other. The key to improved student learning is to ensure more good teaching in more classrooms more of the time. The most powerful strategy for improving both teaching and learning, however, is not by micromanaging instruction but by creating the collaborative culture and collective responsibility of a professional learning community (PLC).”
They cite a number of studies “which offer an unequivocal answer to the question about whether the literature supports the assumption that student learning increases when teachers participate in professional learning communities. The answer is a resounding and encouraging yes. (Vescio, Ross, & Adams, 2008, p. 87)”
To foster school cultures in which professional Learning Communities flourish, schools “need to focus on forming teams in which members share responsibility to help all students learn essential content and skills, providing teams with time to collaborate, helping to clarify the work that teams need to do, and ensuring that teams have access to the resources and support they need to accomplish their objectives.” (DuFour & Mattos)

These ideas seem to sit well with the ideas of Fullan, Leana and Sahlberg. Sahlberg states “We are putting much more emphasis in Finland on well-being, happiness and health of children. So everybody is healthy and ready to develop themselves and to take the responsibility of their own learning.”
It is about finding the right drivers as Fullan suggests and advocating for a culture where schools focus on the student and on teaming to drive learning in purposeful ways, on creating Professional Learning Communities.