Holland Park Primary decided on LearnPad after careful thought, research and its own pilots
Tracey Campbell is ICT manager at Holland Park Primary School in Clacton-on-Sea. An expert with technology for learning, she was an original member of the highly respected but now disbanded Essex ICT support team.
Teaching and learning is the top priority for her at Holland Park where she works four days a week (she has helped the school for 14 years, her own children were pupils there and she was active on the PTA). She supports other schools on the remaining day.
Holland Park’s journey with LearnPad started in Easter 2014 but has stepped up dramatically. It has two PC networks running on RM Community Connect Setup with 65 computers on one server and 11 on the other. “There are 20-odd laptops and now we’ve got 177 LearnPads,” said Tracey. “If you were a business you would have to have somebody managing that wouldn’t you?”
Up there with the iMac for desirability
Now the school also has five Folio 2 large-screen devices (21.5-inch), like an Android version of an Apple iMac, except with a touchscreen and battery for full interactivity and mobility. Its sleek design puts it up there with the iMac in terms of desirability too. (See “Independent, agile, good value and cool – LearnPad”.)
"Our school has always been at the forefront of ICT and I have always tried to strive to keep it that way,” said Tracey. “But when I looked at mobile technologies it was the managing side that I was concerned about because my network is an RM CC4 network. From my computer I can download software, allocate software, and be completely in control of what goes on.
"Obviously I have looked at iPads and other devices too. We bought a few Androids, to have a play and set-up, to look at possible 1:1 implementations."
Things started changing when Tracey went to BETT educational technology show in 2014 and looked at the LearnPad management system, ClassConnect. “We have 420 kids so it's a large school and I thought, "If we are going to do something it’s going to grow, and how am I going to manage it?' The answer was ClassConnect.”
On the morning of our conversation she’d already had requests for help from two teachers. One wanted a lesson on Buddhism, the other something for maths. “We searched through our content and looked at lessons already created and it was very simple to amend them,” she explained.
QR codes – 'Kids love them'
Once ready, they were transferred to the children’s devices by simple QR codes (like bar codes). “Kids love them,” she said. All they have to do is point the cameras on their tablets at the QR code and the school network does the rest, loading the relevant content and links into the tablets. It’s very simple and effective (and worked perfectly on the review Folio 2 and Decimo.
The lessons and their content can be simply created on any PC with a browser, or on the 6-inch Decimo tablets (£124 ) which have been supplied to all teachers. They all use them with the children for assessment too, with software provided by Avantis.
Their Decimos are all ‘unlocked’ which means that teachers can download apps for their own use from the Google Play store without being confined to the LearnPad environment. Like the children’s tablets, they can be charged wirelessly. Just rest them on a charging pad and they charge reasonably quickly – no connections required.
Holland Park opted for LearnPads because of the ease of management and the close focus on what teachers and children have to do in class. Apple’s iPads were tested too.
“I have nothing against the iPad,” explained Tracey. “In fact, if somebody said to me they were going to give me an Android or an iPad for my personal use, I’d have an iPad. It’s a good product. But if somebody asked me, ‘What would you do in a school?’ I’d say LearnPad, because it’s so manageable.
'Children less distracted by whatever else is going on'
"The material that’s actually on the desktop for a particular lesson is just there for that lesson, which makes children less distracted by whatever else is going on. They are totally focused.
“If they are doing Buddhism it will just be for Buddhism. There won’t be anything else. It will just be the tools for that lesson.” That is something which is not lost on the children who, out of school, have access to all sorts of technology. “Straight away the children were like ‘Oh, it’s a learning tool,’. It was not an iPad, so they were not looking for games,’ she added.
“Even though it’s a mobile device they don’t look at it in the same way as they would an iPad. They say, ‘It’s our learning tool’. That’s how we promoted it to them and that’s what it is.”
Incidentally, that approach is becoming common in schools. Recent visits to two ICT flagship schools, Broadclyst Community Primary School in Devon, and Shireland Collegiate Academy in Sandwell, revealed identical policies. Children use the tablets as their learning devices in school. They are not taken home, although that is a possibility. It just depends on the school policy. It’s also an obvious advantage for esafety.
“Obviously we are controlling what’s on them, so whether or not parents would want to buy into something that’s controlled by the school I don’t know,” said Tracey. “But we do have a set for our pupil premium children, and the management could set something up on them and lend them out. You would have to connect to your wifi at home and we have proxy settings here. Someone would have to unlock them and advise on wifi connection for home.”
There is a real wow factor around the new LearnPads at Holland Park, particularly the large-screen devices that include 15 Folio 2s (21.5-inch) and two large-screen Murus. But they are relatively new additions so there is not so much feedback on them yet.
“They love their tablets,” said Tracey, “because children love mobile technology and they love something new but, after the initial wow, now they use them all the time.
“They are very confident using them, it has brought their independent research skills on immensely because they are searching, but in a safe environment. Say with Buddhism, they will only go where I want them to go. They are still researching but they are not spending an hour in my ICT suite printing out the equivalent of War and Peace and then going back to the classroom and finding out the facts.”
The children are also excited by the new Folio 2s which are part of the newest phase. The first feedback has been that they are more useful than whiteboards for working with small groups. They are highly mobile and can even be run on their internal batteries for a couple of hours.
The younger children are also very impressed by the LearnPad ‘table’, the Tabulus (from £799 ), which is a project table with a Folio 2 docked horizontally in the centre for collaborative work (surrounded by wireless charging plates for students' LearnPads).
While schools are very aware of the competitive deals they can get from suppliers, Holland Park is taking care not to go too far too quickly. They are happy to work with just a few devices to find out just how effective they are before investing in more. Like the two massive 65-inch Murus screens. These range from networkable interactive screens with built-in LearnPad/Android technology (£2,499) to those with integrated PCs (£2,999).
'LearnPad focuses everyone on the work in hand'
Holland Park’s journey with LearnPad has created interest from so many schools that Tracey has created her own blog, charting progress. As far as she is concerned there is no argument about the teaching and learning aspect. LearnPad focuses everyone on the work in hand, with no distractions. But what about the practical issues?
When most of your children and all of your teachers are equipped with devices that can take pictures, record video and handle media with ease, where do you put all the ‘stuff’? On the school network? In the cloud? Keep it on the tablets? The practical issues are important and they are all in Tracey’s domain.
The school makes the most of what’s on offer, taking advantage of both Microsoft’s Office365 and Google Docs, and learning as they go along, all the time keeping a watchful eye on emerging technology trends. But it’s not like horse racing – you don’t have to pick a 'winner'.
Right now there is plenty of choice and no right or wrong technology. Most of it works just fine. The choice is for the tools that can deliver the learning and teaching that the school wants in a secure environment. And of course there is the price.
As far as Holland Park and Tracey Campbell are concerned LearnPad scores on all three counts. The journey continues. Holland Park is now a LearnPad Leader School so it will be sharing progress on the school website. Follow Tracey’s contributions to find out.
It’s an exciting time for her, the children and the teachers.
Tracey Campbell left Holland Park in 2015 to work with a British School in Abu Dhabi on ICT equipment and curriculum for pupils aged 4 to 16. She is now freelance helping schools in Essex with IT/computing training and specialises in esafety and LearnPads (and free resources for schools).