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Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Category: Mobile (page 1 of 2)

Using iPads in the classroom – Rising Stars/Guardian Teacher Network

Another brief post to announce a new CPD unit on using iPads in the classroom for Rising Stars/Guardian Teacher Network Essential CPD site.

I wrote the unit to serve as a short introduction to the process of using iPads in schools. The unit is formed around the following:

  • Why do you want to use iPads;
  • How you can use particular applications to move learning beyond simple activities;
  • What are other schools are doing that will help guide your use?

The focus is really on the pedagogical purpose of the device in schools. The unit is free and forms part of the excellent online material offered by Rising Stars. Let me know if you find it useful!

Many thanks to the Rising Stars team, especially Andrea and Camilla, for their help.

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Using new technologies to enhance teaching and learning in History

Using New Technologies book coverA brief update to publicise a book that I have contributed to and edited by Professor Terry Hadyn of UEA. Using New Technologies to Enhance Teaching and Learning in History (Routledge) is now available in paperback and a ebook friendly version will be available within the month.

I recall a few years ago being told by someone very prominent in the History teaching community that ‘ICT had been done’ and did not require any more thought. This book indicates that the judicious use of technology is still an issue to be grappled with especially as the thoughtful use of technology stems from careful thinking about subject knowledge, skills and literacy.

The ebook version will have links which will be constantly updated and may come with additional chapters. My contribution includes how iPads can be used to enhance History teaching and also the use of iBooks Author. I hope you find it useful and let me know if you have any questions.

Contents are below:

Professor Terry Hadyn What does it mean to be good at ICT as a history teacher and We Need to talk about PowerPoint),

Neal Watkin The history utility belt: getting learners to express themselves digitally

Ali Messer History Wikis

Arthur Chapman Using discussion forums to support historical learning

Dan Lyndon Using blogs and podcasts in the history classroom

Richard Jones-Nerzic Documentary film making in the history classroom

John Simkin Making the most of the Spartacus Educational website

Ben Walsh Signature pedagogies, assumptions and assassins: ICT and motivation in the history classroom

Johannes Ahrenfelt Immersive learning in the history classroom: how social media can help meet the expectations of a new generation of learners

Alf Wilkinson What can you do with an interactive whiteboard?

Nick Dennis and Doug Belshaw Tools for the tech savvy history teacher

Janos Blasszauer History webquests

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ISC ICT Conference and TeachMeet 7th November 2012

I am really looking forward to this year’s Independent Schools Council ICT conference. Part of my excitement stems from the fact that I do not have to travel far to attend (it is being held at Berkhamsted) and part is also due to the quality of the speakers we have confirmed:

  • Luciano Floridi, Professor of Philosophy and UNESCO Chair in Information and Computer Ethics at the University of Hertfordshire, and Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford.
  • William Florance, Head of Enterprise EDU – EMEA, Google UK Limited.
  • Miles Berry, Senior Lecturer and Subject Coordinator for ICT Education at Roehampton University and Chair of the National Association of Advisers for Computers in Education (NAACE).
Booking details for the conference can be found here and tickets are priced at £125.

We are also hosting a TeachMeet after the conference which is free to all (to be clear, you do not have to be at the main conference to attend the TeachMeet). If you would like to attend and share some of the excellent work in your school, please sign up here.

I look forward to seeing you on the 7th November!

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Goodbye to all that – Apple RTC events April 19th, May 31st and July 6-8th 2012

And so it begins – my final participation in the Apple Regional Training Centre events at Felsted this academic year. My colleague and new Assistant Head, Sarah Capewell, will be taking over the running of the Apple RTC at Felsted and will be available to discuss how to make the best use of tools to support learning. What you will get from Sarah is a learning focussed approach with a keen eye for detail (she is, after all, a Classicist!) and she has some exciting projects in the pipeline for the next few years. If you would like to attend the final two events at Felsted where Sarah and I will be leading the sessions together, please go to this page and sign up. My final appearance as a Felsted employee/Apple RTC Manager will be at the national Schools History Project Conference in Leeds in July where I will be showcasing some of the work at Felsted using History as a focus.

Reflecting on the journey over the last few years as an Apple RTC, there are a few things that I have learned which spring to mind (a longer post will no doubt appear in the last few days):

  • Technology amplifies professional knowledge. Poor professional knowledge of the learning process is still poor when technology is used to just ‘engage’ students. And it shows. Clearly.
  • Excellent integration of technology in the learning process requires deep thinking about the learning that needs to take place. Sometimes, the best way to use technology is not to use it. Yes, you can be an excellent teacher without using technology in your lesson but if you are an excellent teacher, you will most probably be looking for other ways to develop your excellence and technology may help you.
  • For all the keynote talks about improving schools using technology or new approaches to learning or 21st century skills (and I have no idea what these skills are as they sound very similar to previous skills in my opinion), implementing these ideas is not easy; they all require hard work. I’ll say it again. It requires hard work, being disciplined and rigourous. Then again, if you are a teacher or in education, you know that supporting young people develop can be hard work but you do it anyway. The key thing is that after a while, the effort lessens and your capacity to use the technological tools at your disposal improves.
  • A tool in itself does not transform education or ‘change the game’. Transformation and ‘game changing’ happens because someone has thought carefully and explored ways in which the tool can be used to help learning. The human dimension is integral but gets neglected or obscured by the focus on the tool.

Next academic year I take up the post of Deputy Head (Academic) at Berkhamsted School which is not an Apple Regional Training Centre. However, there are a number of excellent practitioners using ICT there and I am looking forward to working with Laura Knight (director of eLearning) and Rosie McColl amongst others. They and others are doing some amazing work with iPads and Google Apps and I can safely say that if you would like to visit and see the work in action, you are more than welcome.

Despite being the public ‘voice/face’ of the Apple RTC, the success of the relationship with Apple and the events themselves are down to a number of people. They are too numerous to mention here (and they will get their personal recognition in other ways) but I can say that without their help, Felsted would not be the successful RTC it is, and will continue to be, with Sarah’s stewardship. Finally, I must thank you, readers, for turning up. There is no point in holding training events if people see no value in them, which strangely enough, occurs when things are free! We have been privileged to host colleagues from Devon, the North, the Midlands and closer to home in Essex. Your questions and experience has validated what we believe and has also challenged us to be better. So, if you haven’t had the opportunity to visit, learn and share with us at the Apple RTC, please do. It is not long before I have to say goodbye to all of that at Felsted.

Image: Lanier67@Flickr

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Interview on Mobile Learning at BBC Essex

Audio from the BBC Essex Dave Monk show broadcast on the 16th January.

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Google meetup and Chromebook thoughts

In December I received an invitation to a meeting at Google’s London headquarters. Having missed the Google Teachers’ Academy, I was quite pleased to meet up with other colleagues using Google Apps and hear more from Google about their plans for education (especially as we now have Google Apps at Felsted and my next place of employment). After being ushered in to Google’s offices I heard a number of speakers talk about how they use Google Apps and Google state that they really wanted to support and encourage teachers. To this end, they provided a Google Chromebook to all attendees which, in my humble opinion, was a very nice Christmas present! I must admit that ever since the ‘launch’ of  the Cr-48 by Google, I had always been interested in the concept because it fits within this growing trend of ‘Post PC’ technology (what I take to mean that the desktop computer with an internal hard drive is not the dominant means for accessing information and creating content). Below are my general impressions after using it for almost three weeks.


The Chromebook looks exactly like a traditional laptop with a 12 inch screen and I was pleased to feel that it felt solid, mirroring the general view of the meetup attendees that it had a certain ‘heft’.  The keyboard was pleasant to use and the screen felt surprisingly large after using an 11 inch MacBook Air although I did miss the obvious colour enhancement that comes with a ‘glossy’ screen. What was really disappointing was the trackpad; it felt cheap in comparison to the rest of the device and not as accurate as I would have expected. The Chromebook comes with two USB ports, one mini VGA, one SD Card slot and the biggest surprise being the SIM card holder. I popped a SIM card in from my old iPad and I was given the option to connect either through Wifi or through the mobile network. Mobile data reception was good and it worked well on a variety of train journeys around the country (although this may have to do more with the network rather than the device itself). Other minor quibbles presented themselves with prolonged use – the light sensor worked relatively well with automatic dimming and brightness depending on conditions but it was a little inconsistent when travelling by train and the trackpad would be unresponsive at times. On balance, I found the Chromebook to be a solid device with an impressive battery life. However the key feature would be the software…


The Operating System is based on the Chrome web browser and did what you expect when viewing content so no more needs to be said. However, things took a turn for the worse when I tried anything more than this. For all of Google’s savvy, the file browsing experience when plugging a USB stick/SD Card in reminded me of old versions of Windows (and not in a nostalgic way). I also found it very frustrating when trying to open a document via USB that a message asked me to upload the document first rather than open and convert it for me via Google Docs.  This was in complete contrast when electing to print a document and I was automatically given the option of converting it to a PDF and uploading to my Google Docs account. Viewing media content was a little better and the Chromebook was able to handle images and video via the SD Card slot well (although I only tested the mp4 format). I was quite pleased with this feature until I tried to upload to something to dropbox or Flickr which was not possible within the OS (although I am sure there must be an extension in the Google Marketplace for this). What really struck me at this point was the inconsistency of experience – some things worked as you would expect with a Google product and others, well, it smacked of a lack of development time. It also showed the major weakness of the Chromebook; if you are not completely wedded to the Google Apps experience, it can be hugely frustrating to use in a personal context but I can see that within a managed environment, this may be seen as an advantage and Google also offer management tools for schools to help with this.

Closing thoughts

I liked the Chromebook and it has rapidly become the other device I use when travelling.  Would I recommend it to schools? There are essentially three things to think  about here. The first is the necessary infrastructure required to run these devices; robust wifi and the deployment of Google Apps are essential otherwise the experience and learning possibilities are practically meaningless.  The second issue is price. At £399, the Chromebook is comparable to laptops and even the iPad it comes off poorly in a number when making comparisons in term of screen size, storage and the ability to run both a wide variety of applications (PC Laptop) and dedicated ones (iOS apps). Priced at £200-300, I would seriously rethink this view…

The last, and most important element, is how it would support teaching and learning within the classroom and outside it. The design and features including the ability to use a 3G network would lend itself to being used on trips and in the classroom and when integrated with Google Docs, possibilites for collaboration are impressive and some of the web only appliations are impressive (such as Aviary). However, it does not appear to offer enough (yet) to differentiate it from other pieces of technology but I believe that this is a first generation offering and I fully expect the hardware and the services it uses to improve greatly over the next year or so. One hope is that Google works with mobile operators to offer a data package to schools with filtering and management tools to encourage use in different contexts…

I want to thank the Google team for taking a first bold step in engaging with the education sector and I look forward to their escalating involvement with schools this year starting with  BETT and hopefully including plans for another Google Teacher Academy. My reasoning is very selfish; education is such an important task that I not only use all the brains I have but also all the brains I can borrow (apologies to Woodrow Wilson).

Image: slgckgc@Flickr 

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How to use an iPad effectively in your classroom: #2 Feedback Support/Overviews with Attitude

Feedback on students’ work is, according to the research (John Hattie and Dylan Wiliam), the most effective way to raise achievement. Despite knowing this, we find it hard to give the necessary time to discuss in depth the strengths and areas for development due to perceived constraints (syllabus/curriculum coverage, behaviour management issues or lack of time). I remember a few years ago when I was struggling to find a way to incorporate feedback that an inspirational teacher (and good friend ) Iain Biddle at Presdales School pointed me in the right direction. Iain would set up a task and then use the lesson to meet every student for a few minutes to go through their work. His argument that the feedback was more important than the curriculum being covered for one lesson stuck with me and I soon adopted his idea with my own students but I always felt a little dissatisfied about the tasks I set as I felt that sometimes there was more emphasis on keeping the students busy rather than learning.

With my IB History class this term I have really worked hard to give effective feedback but I was at the point in my Scheme of Learning where I really needed to start the new topic of Mao’s consolidation of power in China 1949-57. I normally start a new topic by using an overview so students can gain a sense of the ‘Big Picture’ and lean heavily on the work of Ian Dawson. However, the overviews I employ demand heavy teacher involvement which means not being able to spend quality time giving the necessary feedback. I needed an alternative.

I had been toying with the idea of using ePub books for a while but needed to find the right time. ePub is an electronic book format that can be created using a number of applications including Apple’s Pages application and the results can be pretty stunning with audio, video and images embedded with the text. This seemed to be a good alternative in terms of giving the students information but I also wanted them to gain a sense of chronology. An ePub book by itself was not going to allow me to do this (apart from using a very drab timeline) but I returned to one tool that has been incredibly useful for teaching chronology: Beedocs’ Timeline 3D. What is impressive about the application is the ability to create timelines and embed multimedia into the timeline itself giving both a sense of chronology and knowledge. Having created a timeline with clips from a number of documentaries on China and audio clips by Professor Rana Mitter and Dr Patricia Thornton from the University of Oxford, I embedded the video file created by Timeline 3D into Pages. I added a few questions for the students to work on and made sure the video file was ‘inline’ with the text (necessary to do otherwise Pages cannot convert the document to ePub). I then copied the ePub file to the iPads and told the to bring their headphones in to the next lesson.

What followed was an example of the pedagogy driving the use of the device, not the other way round (or as I have started to say, the device is not the pedagogy). I handed the students the iPads, pointed out iBooks to them and told them to open the book and complete the work. The duly plugged in their headphones and set about gaining an overview of Mao’s China. Whilst they were watching/listening/reading, I spoke to each student individually about their essay using the following format:

  • I ask  how they felt the essay went (they usually fill in a self assessment form when they submit work).
  • I go through the aspects I really like
  • We then discuss specific things they could do to improve.

As I have come to expect, the students responded positively to the feedback but what was particularly interesting was what I noticed when I observed the students using the iPad:

  •  Students could pick up their learning where they left it after discussing their work and they did not feel disadvantaged by spending a few minutes in the corridor discussing their work;
  • The ability to ‘scrub’ through the clip and minimise the video within the ePub so they could see the questions allowed them to replay important points at their own speed and to reduce the friction between moving between the questions and the resource.

This may seem a pretty mundane lesson as essentially they were given some material and I spoke to them individually about their work. The result in the first instance was extremely positive; they were able to return the following lesson and relate the overview of events to the abstract discussion on Mao’s political ideology which I was very pleased about. As for the feedback, I am looking forward to the next essay as I now get drafts before the deadline with the feedback incorporated into the work. It may not be the most ‘showy’ use of an iPad, but it certainly was very effective in terms of learning.


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How to use an iPad/Apple TV effectively in your classroom: #1 Mirroring

iPad mirroring menu

iPad mirroring menu

With the advent of wireless video mirroring in iOS5, the possibilities of using the iPad to help support the learning process grew. The iPad could, of course, mirror content through a physical link to a projector or HDMI capable TV, but it would mean being more rooted to one area. Moving around the classroom and engaging with the students resonated with me as it would allow me to:

1) Use the iPad as a document camera – I could show the work of one student to the class for modelling or critique purposes (in a Ron Berger style);
2) Bring up a web page anywhere in the room and share it with the class;
3) if I was feeling really brave, use something like the Penultimate app to write on the iPad (would need a stylus to make it very useful).

What really peaked my interest was the idea of a class equipped with iPads where the students could show what they were doing/modelling/critiquing. An effective use of technology to support learning.

All I would need to help this work is a HDMI capable projector or TV, an Apple TV and a wireless point. This last piece of information seemed counter-intuitive to me as I would expect an elegant solution where the iPad and the Apple TV would communicate without the need for an additional wireless point…

Once the iPad and Apple TV are connected over Wifi, you have to double press the ‘Home’ button on the iPad and then swipe to the right (or use four fingers and swipe up on the iPad and then swipe to the right when you see the applications at the bottom). You will then see the music controls with an additional Airplay icon. If you tap the icon you should see the image leading this post and it gives you choice streaming content to the Apple TV or mirroring the iPad screen. Of course, you need the latest updates on your Apple TV and your iPad to make it work.

What works well

  • Video streams very well (you may need to wait a few seconds) and the quality was surprising;
  • You can use the camera over Wifi as a visualiser and you can record video while streaming and then play it back on the projector/TV in full screen view;
  • Works great with a dedicated Wifi point that has no other ‘traffic’.


Screen from Morris Lessmore

Screen from Morris Lessmore

What could be improved

  • Sometimes the iPad dropped the mirror image and would not display it again despite turning it off and on again on the iPad.
  • Not all apps play with sound. The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore worked sometimes and at other times, it did not work. The Elements did not play with sound.
  • Mirroring was not full screen. Using The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore again, the brilliant visuals looked a little truncated on the screen.
  • No pinch and zoom with photos/images over wifi.
  • If you have school wifi points that link to the network, mirroring may take a hit in performance terms especially when streaming video.
Despite these issues, I am looking forward to testing this with my classes over the next half term. Of course, if you come to the Felsted Apple events, you can experience it for yourself.
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Coming up…

Now that term has started, it is time to dust off the blog for the new academic year. To kick things off, below is a list of things that are helping the working process, I am working on and events coming up…

  1. 4Matrix – Results analysis software with the emphasis on tackling in-school variation. Really pleased with the product so far and hope they can include options for independent schools/Sixth Form analysis.
  2. Due – task reminder app on iPhone and iPad. Very handy when you need to note something down quickly. This app has quickly become one of my favourites.
  3. Xobni for Outlook – I run Windows 7 on a Mac Mini and this makes Outlook ‘bearable’ (copyright Doug Belshaw). Especially after using the Mac version of Outlook.
  4. Planbook for iPad/Mac – great teacher planner.
  5. Felsted MIS – really pleased with the development this year and if I say so myself, the grade book is a thing of beauty. If you visit the school, we will be happy to show you how it works.
  6. Visit from Belgrano Day School, Buenos Aires 15th September – I had a great time visiting this school in the summer and look forward to returning their great hospitality. Steak not included.
  7. Mobile Learning: Now and the Future event, 28th September – one day conference with Steve Molyneux and some guy called Doug Belshaw.)
  8. Meeting with the GSMA about a potential mobile learning project…
  9. Apple Regional Training Centre at Felsted 20th October – sign up coming soon. We will be looking at ePub books for iPad amongst other things. Get in touch if you want to come to the Tatler and Financial Times cited event.
  10. London History Network at the National Archives, Kew 21st October – premier event for History teachers in (and around) London. Ben Walsh, textbook author and researcher, will give the keynote and we will also be hosting a TeachMeet session.
  11.  Ron Berger’s An Ethic of Excellence. Read it. Now.

Also working with Square Code on a few things. Welcome back to the new term!

Image by 

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Check in – what have I been doing in the last two months?

I have been away from the blog and twitter for the last two months. What have I been doing?


Being a senior leader in a school is always challenging in terms of extending your own capacity and helping others to do the same. This term has again provided many learning opportunities and victories in helping staff and students develop their potential. My International Baccalaureate class have devoured everything I have thrown at them in terms of 20th Century Chinese History and I feel happy about their position coming in to the mock exams. We have set up the new internal MIS system and instituted a new website and the mobile learning project is coming along.


With the support of many of you I have managed to raise over £300 for the Prostate Cancer Charity. I am humbled to think that a bit of face furniture can make a difference…


It is finally here and I am very pleased with the first issue. Editing takes a lot of effort (as I have learned!) but it has been worth reading every single word. James Michie has worked hard on the design and the support of the community on Twitter has been heartening. I look forward to reading/hearing about the reaction and we are already in the advanced stages of the second issue with a focus on mobile learning.

London History Network

I will be upfront and say how much I admire a woman who goes on national TV with ballons under her arms and shouts, ‘Good morning Year 7’. Esther Arnott, filmed for the teachers tv programme From Good to Outstanding and the woman with the ballons under her arms, let me in on her plan to create a network for History teachers in London. We now have the first London History Network meeting at the Department for Education on the 28th January. If you would like to sign up, please register your interest at the network website.


I have been negotiating with the mobile phone provider Orange for the better part of a year about a deal to provide mobile devices in the hands of staff, parents and students so that mobile learning can truly take off at Felsted and beyond. I am pleased to say that we have reached the final stage and the project should go live in January alongside Radley College and Haberdasher’s Aske’s Boys’ School. The parents and students are looking forward to the devices and I am very interested to see the effect of a lower entry price point in device standardisation.

Independent Schools Council

Somewhat to my surprise, I have been invited to be a member of the Independent Schools Council ICT Strategy group. Consisting of Headmasters/mistresses and ICT specialists from the different independent school associations, the group offers strategic advice relating to ICT to Heads, Governors, Bursars and other senior leaders at independent schools across the UK.

What is coming next?

I have been invited by the Faculty of Education, Cambridge to run a seminar on educational technology and RE teaching in January and then I am going to the Apple Education Leadership Summit in London. If you are coming to the latter event, it would be good to meet and exchange ideas. I have also agreed to write a A Level History textbook with a difference for the Schools History Project/Hodder if I can fit it in…

Image: lululemon athletica@ Flickr

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