Nick Dennis's Blog

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Tag: iPhone

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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2010 – The Year of the Monolith?

iPod Touch

iPod Touch – 2010 style

After talking and thinking about how I would use mobile devices in the History classroom with a variety of people on Twitter and at Ed Tech Round Up, I decided to look at a few applications that may help me achieve my objectives. I always have in mind a number of questions when looking at technology/applications and the most important is whether I can do the same job without it (it keeps my inner geek instinct to use new tools without thinking about how useful they are in check).

One of the apps that has some impressive possibilities is Big Nerd Ranch’s eClicker and eClicker Host for the iPod Touch/iPhone. Louise Duncan plans on using it with her iPods (I recommend reading her blog if you are interested in using the iPod Touch in your classroom) and I can see why. Apart from its apparent ease of use and visual feedback is how it fits into Dylan Wiliam’s 2007 paper on good assessment in the classroom (thanks to Neal Watkin for passing this one to me). Essentially, Wiliam thinks good questions with multiple answers (without designating one correct answer) relays how much students understand and allows the teacher to adjust their teaching accordingly. For example, I may set a question on Women in Nazi Germany with five possible answers and the students have a minute to answer. All the choices may be correct but at different levels of the GCSE markscheme. So if the minimum target grade of the class is a ‘B’ but half give answers akin to a ‘C’ or ‘D’ grade I can then discuss this with the class and tease out the misunderstanding. It also allows the results of the sessions to be emailed for further analysis so decisions about the process in the classroom can be made.

Of course, this can be done using cards or mini-boards and the teacher checking visually and adjustments made during the lesson. What is really interesting is how the technology allows you to aggregate the information from the students in email form to be studied closely when more time is available for reflection, leading to a more thoughtful calibration of the teaching/learning process. Ideally, combining both the app and the cards/mini-boards would be a great way to check understanding in the classroom. I hope to explore the technological side of this in more detail over the coming year as well as looking at other ways to integrate mobile technologies into the classroom.

Image by nickhumphries @ Flickr

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Mobile devices, Megatron and the History classroom

What I look like when homework is not handed in. Apparently.

I have been thinking about using mobile devices in the classroom for a long time. Doug Belshaw and I used them to great success with Twitter and presented our findings at the National Schools History Project conference in 2008. The students found it very useful in terms of revision or asking questions quickly (I hasten to add this was sanctioned by the Headmistress at my previous school and at no time did I see the students’ ‘phone numbers). Twitter then removed its free text message service and the project had to dropped. I’ve gone on to use mobile devices in many ways, drawing on the work of many other educators but have still felt that I was not really tackling the issues within my classroom.

For me, they revolve around two key areas:

1) Organisation – how can I help my students become more organised in terms of accessing work set, completing it and reviewing their progress?  If possible, I want to link into the work on Assessing Pupil Progress mentioned in the last issue of Teaching History.

2) Collaboration – how can I get the students to work with each other inside and outside the classroom to create a piece of historical work that would remove the constraints we face in terms of time and location? Mobile technology, especially with the use of GPS data tagged to photos or uploading videos creates all kinds of interesting activities for field trips for example.

You will notice that History as such is not really mentioned and that is simply because that is my job not the role of the technology. I may be overstating the obvious here but sometimes, just sometimes, technology is viewed as the panacea to the problem in front of us. The two issues identified above are not really major problems in that they can be overcome using traditional methods (review sheets with target grades on, sharing pictures of visits once we get back to the classroom or my transformation into Megatron* wrecking havoc on pupils who dare to hand homework in late because they forgot it was set). However, I would like to try and claim back some of the time spent becoming the leader of the Decepticons and being the teacher who is able to create engaging activities.

In terms of what devices/technologies we will use, I’m pretty sure we will cover the iPhone/iPod Touch/Blackberry as the main devices (as this is what many of the students already have) but basically any device that has unlimited data connections. Moodle and a few other tools will be used too but that will require some work with the ICT dept. If anyone has any other ideas about how to promote learning using mobile devices, I’ll be glad to hear from you. My students will be glad too; as Optimus Prime says, ‘Megatron must be stopped’.

*One of the many nicknames I have acquired and the students share with me. I like to think it has something to do with my geekiness…

Megatron image from mdverde@ Flickr

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