Teacher educator Steve Bunce attends innovative professional development where learners star
“It wasn’t like this in my day,” was the dry, opening under-statement from primary headteacher Carl Faulkner who has seen many changes in technology. “Remember the big old VHS video cameras that the teachers carried around on their shoulders? Compare that with making videos on the iPod touches – the children are now producers, with the power to make films.”
At an innovative continuing professional development (CPD) event in Middlesbrough, these future Hitchcocks amazed school leaders and teachers by teaching them how to use the new technology.
“It’s impossible to keep them quiet with the drive inside them to share what they’re doing,” said Carl Faulkner, from Normanby Primary school. Describing how the iPod Touches are used in lessons, he said, “Children spend more time speaking and listening.”
Children and teachers from Normanby Primary and Riverdale Primary schools are benefiting from the introduction of the handheld devices, due to the strong leadership and forward-thinking of their headteachers. Kirsty Reilly, headteacher at Riverdale Primary, highlighted “dramatic engagement” and “quicker starts to lessons” as two of the benefits of these easy-to-use, instant-on devices. They help develop a child’s self-image: “We are trusting our learners and they thrive on this trust.”
What attracted the attendees from across the North East to the event at the Redcar and Cleveland City Learning Centre (CLC)? Many of the schools were interested in using handheld devices in their own classrooms, but were unsure where to begin. The passionate opening to the day from Carl Faulkner and Kirsty Reilly was very convincing and honest. They explained where, initially, there were issues with the wireless internet access, required for operating so many devices at one time. A poor wireless internet service can be a serious block to teachers adopting technology because the unpredictability undermines their confidence.
This is where it was very evident that the schools are working closely together with their local authority.“ Technology is an enabler,” said Kevin Coates, senior voice and data engineer for Redcar and Cleveland. In an accessible manner, he explained about the importance of working together and engaging with the schools. This was refreshing, as there can often be communication difficulties between schools and their internet suppliers.
Kevin explained that it is a “service to the kids to enhance their learning in the classroom.” The schools have also worked closely with Andrew Nagle, Apple regional education manager, who was there on the day to share his expertise.
Not just talking about handheld learning – seeing it in the classroom
This was just the beginning of the learning adventure, as the attendees boarded a bus to go and see the children in action in their schools. Unlike many professional development events, where people talk about how the technology is being used, this one bravely allowed visitors to walk into the classrooms to witness it for themselves.
At Normanby Primary, the ‘iPad band’ welcomed everyone with a musical performance of "Jingle Bells", before teachers toured three classrooms. Would introducing iPod touches be distracting? Would the children do all of their work on the device and forget about writing with pens?
In the lessons, the children were studying Troy. They discussed the characters, they imagined the words they would speak, they empathised with the characters. The devices were about as distracting as pencil cases. Some children wrote their ideas on dry-wipe boards while others drafted directly on to the devices. Cartoon-strip software enabled the children to capture photos of the characters and add their own thought and speech bubbles instantly.
In another lesson, the children had written plays and were filming scenes. The devices enabled them to shoot, review, discuss, reshoot and edit – all in a short time. And the children were able to move around the room easily, due to the portability and quick start-up time of the devices. If they had been using laptops, battery life and size would have been factors affecting the pace and enthusiasm of the lesson.
By now attendees were buzzing with ideas and questions. On return to Redcar and Cleveland CLC, they wanted to know more about e-safety and classroom management. The day was expertly orchestrated by local authority consultant Andrew Stogdale; he not only works around the schools, but teaches literacy to enable himself to gain first-hand experience of using the technology.
The children are so motivated about the activities, he can tell them, “If you want to do this for homework you can,” – and most of them will! The iPod Touches enable them to draft and redraft. They can use apps, such as Dragon Dictate for speech-to-text, which give them opportunities to “rehearse what they’re going to say, which gives them self-esteem”.
Regarding e-safety, the children so value using their devices that they do not risk having them taken away by accessing unsuitable internet sites or using them for cyberbullying. The schools can spot-check the devices and the children were quick to confirm that they clearly understand the consequences.
Teachers have gone from novices to experts
Finally, the day concluded with practical and energetic presentations for two teachers from the schools. Again, unlike any other professional development event it involved children from the schools to help the adults. Sarah Smart, a teacher from Riverdale Primary, shared how the iPod Touches had “transformed the classroom environment”. But it hadn't affected their use of appropriate tools for the tasks in hand: “We still use pen and paper – this just adds to it.”
Sarah Smart described how teachers have gone from novices to experts using the devices, with a real enthusiasm for learning. And one child stressed, “I’d have never wrote this much properly!” Then Craig Nicholson, a teacher from Normanby Primary, gave a great example where children videoed themselves doing column addition in numeracy so that they could watch it at home to remind themselves of the process. "iPod Touches," he concluded, "are the Swiss Army tool of ICT.”
When Kirsty Reilly and Carl Faulkner started the day by saying that handheld devices offer something different for schools they were speaking to an eager audience that got to see and experience exactly what they were looking for. It was a great day – passionate leaders, teachers and children not just talking, but doing, with strong support from their local authority.
At a time when professional development is changing and getting out of school is becoming more difficult, teachers need good value for their time. The format of the day combined face-to-face, honest testimonies from headteachers and staff, combined with the confidence and courage to invite people into the classroom to demonstrate the learning. This style of event is rare and clearly has the potential to be replicated as a convincing way to exploit the potential of handheld devices in schools.
A closing coment from Carl Faulkner summed up the day, “It’s all about the pedagogy... As the standards of teaching go up, attainment goes up too.”