Back in the saddle

I have dusted off my blog and am getting back into the swing of things before school starts for the new year in less than a month.

I am really excited about focussing fully on eLearning at Berkhamsted and am spending my time brainstorming ideas for CPD sessions, organising plans for a new Berkhamsted eLearning blog and gathering potential research project plans together.

It’s going to be a really interesting year and a big gear change for me after being away on maternity leave and spending the previous seven years running MFL departments.

My first thoughts are all about productivity and all the organisation teachers need to do before a new year starts. I’ll be sharing my favourite tools and will be keen to hear how you get everything shipshape before the students arrive!


Caldicott Digital Learning Conference: 9th October 2012

I was honoured indeed to be asked to speak at Caldicott’s Digital Learning Conference today. I shared the bill with Nic Amy, Director of Learning at Wellington College and James Stanforth, Head of Digital Education at Eton College.

These were the key ‘takeaway’ ideas from my presentation about using iPads in MFL:

  • Schools are traditionally cautious about being cutting edge when it comes to technology. However, progress towards digital work was validated last year when examination boards changed their policy about the use of IT beyond those who use laptops for SEN purposes, now allowing anyone who uses IT as their normal way of working to do so in public exams too.
  • “The only thing that these students will hand write when they leave school is a birthday card…”
  • I am not a great fan of Language Labs. Mostly because in my ten years in MFL I have never been in one that worked properly. Could you spend that £30k better? YES.
  • Authentic audiences, learning in real contexts, creativity and collaboration can all bring classrooms to life and build engagement  and raise standards.
  • Previously hard-to-capture learning such as speaking work can be shared and assessed with ease.
  • There is no panacea: no single app will solve all your problems. Workflows, not single apps, are the way to get the most from working with iPads.
  • Learning stamina!

A new Berkhamsted conference

Exciting news: new Deputy Head of Boys (Academic) Nick Dennis has announced that Berkhamsted School will be hosting a brand new conference focussed on teaching, learning and assessment on Saturday 16th March, 2013. It will be a fantastic opportunity to bring together practitioners from different sectors to talk about the ‘why, how and what’ of learning in their classrooms.

See [ilink url=""]Nick Dennis’ blog[/ilink] to find out more details about the event, to volunteer to speak and to see a selection of the speakers so far. 


ICT as a catalyst for change in pedagogy

I recently wrote an article jointly with the Principal of Berkhamsted School, Mark Steed, on ICT as a catalyst for change in pedagogy. It was published in the ISC Bulletin, 29, June 2012, pp.30-34.


‘Each change in technology in schools makes us revisit and re-evaluate how and why we do what we do in the classroom. New technologies no longer just automate what we did in the past but they open up new possibilities. Mobile Devices, Cloud-based documents, iTextbooks and a whole new generation of educational applications have placed learning much more firmly in the control of the student, giving them scope to work and collaborate with whom they want, whenever they want. These developments are not going to do away with the need for teachers, but they are going to call for a new pedagogy. In this article, Mark Steed and Laura Knight outline how new technologies are changing how young people learn and suggest some ways in which teachers can support them in their learning.’

Co-author: Mark Steed, Principal, Berkhamsted School


A great teacher workflow: Evernote + Skitch on iPad

I have exciting news.

My classroom at school is now kitted out with an Apple TV and an Airport Express (Father Christmas did eventually deliver!) so I can wirelessly mirror my iPad onto my board at the front of the room. This has really got me thinking about the joy of untethering from my IWB, but also threw up some questions about my workaday apps for getting stuff on the board for my students.

I was looking at my collection of drawing apps which I could use as a whiteboard space for outlining concepts and jotting ad hoc material. I have quite a few and tested them out as pseudo-whiteboards / slates.  I don’t tend to do lots of Keynote style presentations and like to have a more freeform set of tools. I came to a free app from Evernote which I hadn’t previously used much, called Skitch.

Skitch allows you to really instantly save your creations to Evernote: a perfect fit with my workflow. I already do all my lesson planning in Evernote and sync my notebooks across my various machines and mobile devices. I can then quickly and easily find and share the notes I make in class with colleagues or kids who are absent and need to catch up.

What’s more, Skitch+Evernote makes the perfect assessment tool. I can annotate screengrabs, photographs student work or even maps; display them on the board and instantly sync and share them via Evernote. One student whose homework is being monitored didn’t complete his handwritten assignment on Friday so I quickly snapped it on my iPad, annotated what needed improvement and emailed it within seconds to his pastoral leader. I also found it really handy to input a photo of a paper resource and have students annotate it on my iPad from anywhere in the room.

I’ve only been using this in my lessons for a day and already so many great ideas are surfacing: I am sure that Skitch will easily earn its place amongst my favourite classroom apps.  I can certainly see it becoming the engine room of a student eportfolio. I love it when a workflow comes together!

Video: iPad lesson workflows



This is the video I created at the Apple Teacher Institute 2012 this week in Cheltenham. I made it for my team as a strategic tool to open our professional development session at the beginning of term. I was keen to produce something with a genuine purpose (it was going to take a day to make, after all!) and that would bring together the skills I’d learned at ATI. I also wanted to see what the experience of a relatively complex workflow using multiple apps and creative elements would be like.

In terms of content, my aim was develop a trigger for strategic discussion about lesson planning and resourcing in my team which will help us move beyond the ‘single app for a single purpose’ approach that has been a little limiting so far in our iPad deployment. I plan to model a workflow for them which will help demonstrate how moving content through a pathway of multiple apps can generate far more impressive outcomes that single apps can.

I created all the elements for the video and edited them on my iPad – no other devices were needed apart from a tripod with an iPad mount for the interviews with the Apple Distinguished Educators.

My workflow for creating the video was as follows:

  • Brainstorm all the key elements in the mindmapping app Popplet to plan the order of the movie.
  • Record video elements of interviews with ADEs using the standard Camera App. (I considered using a green screen app but I had struggled with convincing quality so I chickened out!)
  • Build presentation slides with text and graphics in Keynote.
  • Import Keynote slides and record voiceover in Explain Everything, then export video to Camera Roll.
  • Screenshot remaining Keynote slides in presentation mode and save to Camera Roll.
  • Save web-harvested images and import and crop in Puppet Pals (I have the Directors’ Pass which allows the import of your own pictures)
  • Record Puppet Pals sequence and export to Camera Roll.
  • Import all video elements into iMovie and edit together. Add soundtrack, transitions and titles.
  • Upload finished project to Vimeo direct from iMovie.

The whole thing took a leisurely 7 hours as I spent a long time at the beginning of the day on my Popplet planning and establishing exactly what the content would be. I’ll publish further posts about the key learning from the course shortly!

Do let me know if you find this video useful.

Six ideas for teachers when launching an iPad deployment

Here are six pieces of advice I would pass on to anyone leading the Teaching and Learning side of an iPad deployment. I’ve learned as much from our successes as our shortcomings and hope you find this helpful.

1. Start with the learning

Bringing new technology into your classrooms will evoke change, but it won’t improve poor pedagogy. It may provoke new reflection as the old routines and engrained habits are challenged: refreshing for some and unsettling for others. No one wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so looking at planning, schemes of work and learning objectives, teachers still need to ask “Where is the learning?”

2. Scaffold activities

Whilst some colleagues will be comfortable with the shift from analogue to digital and can see their way to transforming how learning happens in a relatively short period of time, others will need scaffolding to progress. Developing model activities to demonstrate how to build digital learning into familiar lesson structures will help those less confident to make the leap. Once they have leapt it is easier to take the next steps towards a more transformative approach. My team have found home-made how-to videos a helpful starting point.

3. Create a showcase

Shouting loud about excellent work serves a number of purposes and it’s easy to let it fall to the bottom of the to-do list (it did for me and I regret it!). Students will see great models and be inspired to remix them, adapt them, or better them. Staff will gather ideas about the kinds of output their own classes can achieve. The students whose work is being praised get to feel good about their contributions, especially if they are the ones with rubbish handwriting skills whose work never got shown off before!

4. Create opportunities to play

Fostering curiosity in colleagues is not a uniformly easy task. Some take longer to be convinced, others will be scared of breaking the kit. Creating fail-free play opportunities with the equipment builds confidence and reinforces questioning behaviours in staff that will help them manage their classes. Practicing the workflows and moving away from trying to write everything down will generate further ideas as they experiment and diversify.

5. Share

Discussion where there is no right answer, no competitive point-scoring and no agenda beyond helping each other out is essential. And difficult. Can you find space either physically or virtually to talk about what works and what doesn’t?

6. Always find a workaround, even a partial one

Colleagues don’t want to hear that something doesn’t work. One small limitation colours their perception of all the good stuff the tool can do. Tough though it can be as I’m not a technical expert, I do my best to always present an alternative if a Flash element of a website renders it useless on the iPad, or a particular video won’t embed.

7. Get students involved

A digital leaders programme, a lunchtime club: there are lots of ways to encourage students and teachers to work together on improving everyone’s skills and ideas. Our Year 7 club make video guides about new apps and test out workflows. No-one asked them to, they just showed up! We are only just beginning to harness this enthusiasm and I can see it becoming hugely valuable in the future.




Technological change and grumbles in the staff room

I wish I could travel back in time to the era when children in school stopped writing on slates and started writing on paper and in exercise books. It must have been the most tremendous shift: students could accumulate a bank of their own written work and it no longer had to be carried entirely in their memories. Rote learning and the ability to recall facts was the backbone of a traditional education.  Can you imagine being a fly on the wall in the staff room of the day, when Masters would bemoan the flagrant waste of valuable paper, the new plague of inkstains and the erosion of standards?

A century or so on and our attitude to memory is changing. In their future lives, today’s students will have a different attitude to memory and I’m guessing they will rarely have to remember lists of facts or dates, recite quotations off by heart or recall the appropriate formula to use for a calculation. Instead of a body of facts taking top intellectual priority, perhaps a skillset to include the following will be more sought after:

  • resourcefulness: knowing where to look for information
  • mastery of the specialist vocabulary required to enter the appropriate search terms: sometimes the hardest thing is asking the internet the right question
  • discernment to appreciate the quality of the information at hand
  • perspective to enable the compilation of different elements from varied sources in a sensible manner
  • understanding to manipulate that finished picture into something meaningful and coherent that answers the question asked and moves the learner on to the next thing.

So back to the staff room, where sceptical grumbles roll on in this century like they did in the last about the demise of traditional educational standards. Those standards simply are no longer the best measure for excellence in today’s society. In fact, they might never have been: nostalgia is a wonky yardstick with which to measure the present. I suspect a proportion of educationalists have always clung to the past and always will, whilst others throw themselves headlong into change. We are all human.

Perhaps it is worth reminding those sceptical colleagues that technological shift isn’t new. It has been changing the way learning happens for over a hundred years across the developed world. The chalkboard, the pencil, mass-produced paper, the OHP, slide projectors… you can map quite a history of development before computers even arrive.  (Read more about changing classroom technologies here) The pace of change continues to move onwards and more and more teachers and educational leaders are taking steps to ensure their students are not left behind. A few grumbles in the staff room are hardly going to hold back the tide!