Nick Dennis's Blog

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Tag: Apple

#TLAB14 iBook

It has taken a while but the #TLAB14 iBook has now been submitted to the iBook store. Created by our A Level Media students and Apple Distinguished Educator Nick Davies on the day of the conference, it captures the essence of the conference and includes some additional video footage too. You will need an iPad or a Mac with iBooks installed to view.

If you can’t wait for the iBook store version, you can download it from Dropbox: 

A PDF version (with no interactive elements) can also be downloaded from Dropbox:

Many thanks to Nick, the students and Mike Munn for their help.

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#SHP12 Reflections

My Saturday evening wear at SHP - Viking mask

My Saturday evening wear at SHP

On my way back from the national Schools History Project conference, I read this passage in Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan’s ‘Professional Capital’:

‘People are motivated by good ideas tied to action; they are energized even more by pursuing action with others; they are spurred on still further by learning from their mistakes; and they are ultimately propelled by actions that make an impact’. p.7

For me, this neatly described the ongoing attraction of a conference in its 24th year; people are drawn to and spurred on by actions which make a difference in classroom across the country. The conference is unique as far as I know; classroom practitioners mingle with subject advisers, publishers, academics and trainers with the express purpose of improving historical understanding and buying into the key principles of the Schools History Project:

  • History should be meaningful
  • Historical enquiry should be the bedrock of learning
  • Studies should take the long view to enhance chronological understanding
  • Diversity in terms of content, approaches to study and peoples is important
  • Local history should play a key role in the historical education of young people
  • History should be fun and rigorous.

Everything that followed from Michael Riley’s opening address tied to the core principles which he outlined and not just limited to the workshops but also in the spaces in-between; the coffee areas, the dining hall and the pub. I was surprised and delighted with the new faces at the conference and there seems to be a growing shift in the age of attendees which bodes well for the continuation of what is possibly the longest serving curriculum development project in the world.

Dr Michael Riley – SHP Director

I presented two sessions and I thought the first one was poor by my usual standards. Everything I normally do before giving presentations I did not/was not able to do (I have a routine, like athletes do). As a result, I felt that is was middling at best. I then spent most of lunch and the Saturday afternoon/evening ironing out the technical/logistical issues. As a result, the second session on Sunday felt a lot better. One key learning takeaway for me? Make sure that all equipment is set up for me (especially when using around 50k worth of kit loaned by Apple) and if not possible, limit your ambition! I would like to thank Leonie and Mike at Apple for their help in arranging the iPads and Macbooks for the conference. We should all keep an eye out for some exciting things coming from English Heritage and the National Archives on the mobile learning front…

As usual, Don Cumming and Dan Lyndon‘s session showed the positive power of collaboration in the classroom and how it can be used to solve genuine historical issues. Their enthusiasm and deep understanding of learning left me lots of things to think about. Donald and Don’s campaign for Olaudah Equiano’s Blue Plaque is something I would urge you to get involved in. The only other session I was able to attend was the brilliantly practical workshop by Tim Jenner and Paul Nightingale on using sources. The argue that source skills should not be taught as a ‘bolt-on’ but should become familiar to students through  I liked how they used the ‘splat’ game to get students to hit inferences created by the class/teacher. I loved their idea of cutting up a source and asking the students to recreate what they think it is and then at the end of the lesson, compare with the original. The example they used in the workshop was ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ with the images cut up. Our group created an image to conform to our expectations of ‘normal’ which seemed plausible. As the lesson progresses, the students are asked to move the images around to reflect the learning. I thought this was particularly powerful as it meant that students could then explain why the church appears upside down and in the sky due to the nature of the religious upheaval rather than just guess at it when they see the source for the first time. I will certainly be using their ideas in all my lessons next year.


The World Turned Upside Down – in pieces

A TeachMeet was also held this year and once again, I cannot thank the contributors enough (some did not know they were presenting until I twisted their arms when they walked into the room)! Feedback was great with attendees loving the rapid-fire nature of the presentations.


TeachMeet SHP12 attendees


The plenary sessions I attended were led by Richard McFahn and Neil Bates, Ben Walsh and Chris Culpin. I really enjoyed all of them, albeit for very different reasons. Richard and Neil’s session gave you pratical tips to take away and use, Ben (the ‘Silver Fox’ of History teaching – he sure is a handsome man!) left me laughing about the pressures we face as history teachers with some great clips to illustrate his points. This was my favourite as it showed how dangerous a very small amount of historical knowledge can be:

Saturday’s entertainment, as ever, was supplied by Ian Dawson. Making the point that Anglo-Saxon history is important (yet takes little time in the school curriculum), Ian showed us through militant Witans, jovial, shameless Vikings and an inspired King Alfred (played by Chris Culpin) that we really are missing a huge part of history when we leap from the Romans to the Normans (there was even a quick rendition of Monty Python’s ‘What have the Romans done for us?’ sketch).

Chris Culpin’s talk resonated with me as he is clearly focused on core purpose and principles and this was the running thread of the conference for me. It is clear that for over 40 years, the Schools History Project has worked hard at staying true to their principles and it was a challenge to me as I thought I may not be able to attend the conference next year due to the new role at Berkhamsted. I now think this was wrongheaded of me to even entertain this idea. Why would a senior leader in a school pass up the opportunity to see in action an educational organisation that operates so tightly and effectively within its principles and promotes high quality staff development?

Say ‘hello’ when you see me next year.

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An Ethic of Excellence – in opposition to ‘quick fixes’.

Ron Berger

As a society we seem very willing to adopt trends or ideas that seem to offer a quick solution to the ongoing problems we face. Education, with its heavy idealist bent, is no different but in the search for a ‘quick fix’ we often neglect to understand what is required to create a lasting and effective change. One educational approach, which is not really new but is in danger of being viewed as a ‘quick fix’ is Project Based Learning. The name causes quite a reaction; the word ‘project’ conjures up memories and associations of poor learning, last minute panic work and the result sitting somewhere in the corner/box/shed after a brief appearance at a ‘public’ event to demonstrate ‘good’ learning. To remedy this problem, I would urge you to read Ron Berger’s ‘An Ethic of Excellence’ where he proposes something more valuable and deeper than the poorly reasoned project attempts mentioned above. He suggests the following as essential ingredients of a successful project:

1) Projects should inspire and challenge students;
2) Projects should cover a range of learning;
3) It must solve a particular problem (genuine research);
4) It should involve models of what the work should look like
5) Multiple drafts are encouraged;
6) Critique as part of the drafting process is necessary (see Darren Mead’s blog and Neal Watkin’s video);
7) The work is publicly displayed so there is a substantive real world outcome for the learning process.

Of course, this process cannot be fully effective if it is not embedded within a wider culture of learning and Berger has demonstrated that this is possible in the schools he has worked in (such as High Tech High in San Diego) where the project is not an addition to the curriculum, it is the main thing. One of the things that struck me after reading Steve Jobs’ biography is how Berger’s process seems to be imbued in the culture of one of the world’s innovative companies (although the critique part could be brutal in Jobs’ case). The work is always challenging, involves multidisciplinary efforts to resolve particular problems, goes through numerous revisions (the description about the invention of the iPad is particularly telling in the book) and has a public audience. I’m pretty sure that if Jony Ive was asked about whether his work gives him meaning, the response would be positive.

Doing something worthwhile (designing products to be used by millions or doing a piece of work on an incredible historical story) requires the person working on the project to be inspired and challenged by what they do. Berger, and the work of his students, point to something fascinating in relation to education – an opposition to ‘quick fixes’.

Image from

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Past, future and present: mobile musings

Where should I be?

Typically for this time of year, I have put off doing non-essential things like updating this blog to focus on the ‘business end’ of the year. My IB History students have now finished their exams, I have marked/moderated the A2 History coursework and I have been prepping my Year 11/Year 10 for their GCSE exams. The hardest thing I have had to do this term was coming to terms with the fact that I am not Rick James and should not attempt to sing ‘Super Freak’ to help a student’s Music Technology coursework (I have asked him to use the ‘autotune’ function liberally). If it were not part of the Assistant Head job description, I would never have done it (I am praying it does not make it on to Youtube).

Another enjoyable but less terrifying aspect of my work this term has been the reading and planning in preparation for the mobile learning project that will be launched at school this year. I am really looking forward to see how we will use the technology to enhance the learning of the students and to the professional dialogue surrounding it; there certainly is a ‘buzz’ around the proposal and I hope to elaborate on the specifics in a few weeks. As a happy coincidence, the Languages Department have bought into the idea of mobile learning and are moving towards a new Language Lab next year that will be made up of iPod Touches and Flip Video cameras. Combined with the upcoming use of the new information management system and Moodle across the school, it is easy to be carried away with big plans for the future and forgetting the pull of the immediate. I was reminded of this earlier this week when I returned an iPod Touch to a student. He clicked on it and I noticed a strangely familiar picture on his screen. He noticed and said, ‘It makes it easier to find out what class I have’. He had taken a screen shot of his timetable from the school website and saved it as a background picture on his iPod. Genius.

Innovative and effective ways of teaching and learning using mobile technology is great, but sometimes it is more than enough if it can help you get to where you need to be. I went back to my office and did the same thing. Now if only I could find out a way for cover lessons and appointments to show on it…

Image: Leo Kan @Flickr

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Breaking cover…

Climbing a wall

Nearly there...

Now that I am on my Easter break, I have a chance to catch up with everything I was supposed to have done during term time. One thing that I said I would do is write about my visit to Turkey with Doug Belshaw to give a presentation and two workshops. We were invited by the European Association of History Teachers (EUROCLIO) to give share our ideas on History teaching and ICT with Turkish History educators including university professors, textbook writers and teachers. We were very pleased to accept the invitation and saw it as an opportunity to build on the work started by Michael Riley in his workshop in January. The main thrust of our discussion was that ICT should support learning and should not be thought about in an ‘add ICT and stir’ approach. I think the opening presentation went really well with lots of questions at the end. As a result, we decided to change the focus of our workshop and although it was acceptable, we both felt that it was not as sharp as it could be. The second workshop was far better from our point of view (the smiling faces gave us some clue!) and we think the delegates got a lot from seeing the ‘theory’ of historical learning put into practice using technology. The presentation and accompanying notes and video (they are in Turkish) can be found here.

From a personal point of view, the real highlight was seeing the work carried out by the educators since January. Despite being relatively experienced, I still struggle with key concepts/skills when planning a lesson or sequence of lessons and it really was fantastic to see how much work the delegates had put in since the previous meeting. Some of the ideas needed just a little development to be outstanding and I came away with a few really good activities to try out in my lessons (there was one great time line activity I will definitely use next term). What was particularly engaging for me was that nearly every single conversation was based around learning and it caused me to reflect deeply about my own work. Sometimes being an Assistant Head doesn’t leave you much room for reflexive thinking about your own teaching but I certainly left Turkey with a renewed purpose. Doug and I have been invited to work with EUROCLIO again I am looking forward to it.

Since coming back from Turkey, historiography has weighed heavily on my mind. I teach 19th Century Chinese history at IB and have been looking around for different lines of thought on the downfall of the Qing Dynasty. I have many great quotes from different writers but as I was looking around, I found that unless I was in a university department, I could not gain access to the latest research in the areas I teach. Sure, I can provide quotes from Gray, Spence and Chesenaux et al but I personally have little sense of the debate about the Qing downfall in comparison to the debates about the place of the Nazis in German history or Mao’s role in China. It may be my lack of reading (I’m sure it is) but even with the topics I just mentioned, why is there no helpful place where it is all together in a clear format I can use with my students? I can see another project being formed… 🙂

iPhone 3GS times 2

Boxfresh Apples from Orange.

Finally, the school is looking at doing some really exciting things with mobile technology in the next few months. Orange and Apple are helping with the set up of a trial project and once we have consulted the students about what they think is useful, I hope we will have a clear steer about where we should be going. I have realised that discussions around innovative technology take time and demand very good planning and the views of the students are absolutely essential (and neatly links with my other responsibility at school). One thing I will recommend they look at is the work at ACU. They have been a great source of inspiration for me and some of their faculty have set up network to foster debate about mobile learning. I suggest you take a look to see how the debate breaks cover from the usual arguments about mobile learning…

Lead image by Sam Judson @ Flickr

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Comic Life and changing life in Germany 1933-1939: an update.

Today was the day students used the Regional Training Centre MacBooks and Comic Life to create the display/revision guides for changing life in Nazi Germany. Overall, I was pleased with the end product and the historical thought that went into the process of creating the pages. However, there were a few issues:

  • Lack of time meant that I could not show the students all the features they might need. When I do something like this again, I’ll make sure I give enough time to go through the program properly.
  • I did have to cajole them to think historically more than I wanted too. I think they were really excited by the activity and the technology and this detracted from the thinking process somewhat. As the lesson went on, many went into their books and notes to make sure they were using the correct information and they were making sure that the images they were using were appropriate for the subject matter. I firmly believe that when we use Comic Life again, concentration will be at the level I usually get from them as the ‘newness’ of the activity will wear off.

There were minor issues and they will be addressed. However, I thought the first attempt was pretty stunning and conveys the concept of change fantastically. What do you think?

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Comic Life and changing life in Germany 1933-1939

We have almost come to the end of the first unit of the new GCSE and I want to help the students revise some of the topic and create a wall display that is more than decorative. My first plan of attack was to use the pictures/graphics from the excellent Schools History Project book ‘Essential Germany’ to illustrate change through the use of representative characters in 1933 and then their position in 1939. However, I thought this would be too passive and students would move into ‘cutting and sticking’ mode and not really reflect on the process of change. Dale Banham, one of the authors of the textbook, was kind enough to send me his presentation from the Schools History Project conference in 2009 and in it he had photos of students representing different stages of medical development through time aided by props and clothing to help identify the period/technology. Normally,  this would be an excellent idea to represent change but in the context of Nazi Germany, I wanted the students to take the subject seriously and also think carefully about how the lives of different groups (women, workers, children, Jewish Germans) were affected during this period.

A representation of Banham's change graphic on women in the 'Essential Germany' book (made with Balsamiq Mockups).

To help them really think about the topic, I decided to change the focus slightly by asking the students to create/bring in items that represent the lives of the people in 1933/1939 and photograph them. Text boxes (like the ones titled in the graphic above) would still explain the changes between two dates but the information in them would build on the image rather than just explain it. As great as this sounds in terms of the learning, it does not make for a particularly effective display and this is where Comic Life comes in. This great piece of software on the Mac (and now on the PC) allows you to create stunning comic/graphic novel pages easily. By placing the images and text within this format, my students will be able to take away something visually appealing, reflective and creative. Their understanding will be demonstrated not only by what they write but also the images they choose to represent change and after each group has created their page, I will be able to combine them into one graphic novel/revision booklet on changing everyday life in Nazi Germany. I hope to publish some of their work within the next week and would appreciate comments as this may be one of the things we look at as an Apple RTC…

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We are now an Apple Regional Training Centre!

I am very pleased to announce that my school has now become an Apple Regional Training Centre (RTC). Basically, this means that we will offer free training (to any school) using Apple tools to help enhance teaching and learning but with a slight twist…our RTC will focus on History as a specialism and will specifically look at how technology can support historical understanding of change/continuity, causation and other historical concepts using tools like BeeDocs Timeline 3D (as used in the example here and explained in more detail here). Of course, we will offer training covering all subjects and general creativity in the classroom but I am particularly pleased as it will allow me to share my love for the subject (and all things Apple). The second exciting aspect for us as an RTC is exploring how mobile technology can be used in the classroom to enhance learning and assessment.  I hope to showcase some of the work at the Schools History Project conference this July but will blog about/discuss what the school plans to do over the next few months. Get in contact if you would like to come to a free session!

Image: kyz@Flickr

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