A different approach to ‘teaching’ GCSE Maths

Consider this an attempt to get together my thoughts on how this year is going to pan out. It is not a plan, even if at times it begins to sound like one. I’d rather you thought it of it as a conspicuous update to an under utilised blog during a period in which I have little else to do, than that.

This year our iPad 1:1 rollout program extends its reach to our Year 10 students. I am fortunate enough to have two classes in the year, one at either end of the perceived Mathematical ability spectrum, as well as an additional class studying the AQA Further Maths GCSE. So it is with these classes that I shall be attempting something a little different.

That different thing shall be giving each student access to all of the learning materials that they are likely to require to be successful in their GCSE Maths courses on day one, and letting them get on with it at their own pace wherever possible.

Most of my classes are used to me experimenting with various flipped/blended/time-shifted teaching approaches in recent times and it has, for the most part, worked pretty well. It has undoubtedly saved valuable time in lessons to work on additional problems, but it isn’t transformational. The impact has been overwhelmingly positive, but the students are still usually restricted to a particular topic in each lesson by me. This seems unnecessarily restrictive given the technology we are fortunate enough to now have available.

I have created the courses using iTunes U, so that the students will be able to access all of their materials whenever they like on their iPads. I have used iTunes U because it has a nice simple structure and layout, a relatively high ease of use and unlimited storage (other platforms are available). I also plan on sending parents the enroll code to give them access to the course as soon as possible and iTunes U provides the required closed environment with complete control over who access.

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The course consists mainly of in-built videos (created by me using Explain Everything), PDFs of worksheets and links to other web locations – mainly YouTube videos and extension information. Differentiating has never been so easy. I am still working on an additional part – the ‘creative tasks’. More on those another time.

I will be offering my students the option of whether they complete the worksheets using pen and paper or on their iPads (Notability would be the suggested app). I could write an entirely separate blog post on this debate, but for now I’m happy to accept either form. More on this another time.

And what will I be doing in the classroom I hear you say? Helping out. Guiding. Wandering around aimlessly. I don’t really care. It isn’t about me.

And what will I do when one of the students completes the entire course, all of the worksheets and all of the tasks within the first term? Feel justified.

I will endeavour to let you know how the plan goes.

Feel free to get in touch and let me know what you think. If you are also about to start teaching the aforementioned GCSE Further Maths course, feel doubly free to get in touch. Sadly access cannot currently be given to the course due to potential copyright issues. The intention is to make it public once this hurdle has been overcome.



Inserting images in Socrative quizzes

A little while ago the very popular instant response app Socrative announced the introduction of a much requested new feature: the ability to add images to quizzes (and gradable short answers) and after a little bit of bug fixing it is now fully up and running. Here’s a quick look at how to do it on a PC/Mac and how to do it using only your iPad. There are probably lots of other ways to do this, but since I haven’t written a blog post in a long time this seemed a sensible opportunity to share my methods.

Signing up for access to the new features

Sadly the new features don’t just appear automatically, you have to complete your teacher profile first – remember to enter the email address you signed up to Socrative with and your account will be upgraded with the new features as if by magic.

How to create and insert images for a Socrative quiz on a PC/Mac

Let’s assume that you haven’t actually got any images to insert into your Socrative quiz yet – or you have but they are in the form of a PowerPoint presentation.

1) Create/open your quiz in PowerPoint or Keynote ensuring that each question has its own slide (see example below).

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2) Select ‘File’ then ‘Save as’ – if you have the option to ‘Save as Pictures’ this will save you a step.

3) Depending on the version of PowerPoint/Keynote you are running, you may need to select ‘Other Formats’ to access the alternative file formats. Select ‘Format’ or ‘Save as type’ and scroll down to select JPEG, then select ‘Save’. You may then be offered the chance to save all of the slides in your presentation as JPEGs or only the current slide.

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4) Visit the Socrative website and login as a teacher to create your new quiz

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5) Select ‘Manage Quizzes’ and ‘Create a Quiz’. When you select your question type you should now see the option to ‘Add Image’ below the question box. Select the ‘Add Image’ option, browse for your JPEG file and insert it into your quiz!

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Of course, you could do all of this on your iPad…

1) Create your quiz using Keynote following the ‘single slide per question’ rule as above. NOTE: you don’t have to use Keynote, any iPad app that allows you to save as a PDF (e.g. Explain Everything, Pages, Notability) would also work for you here.

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2) There are two options I have found useful here:

  • Switch Keynote to fullscreen mode and take a screenshot of each slide that you would like to insert into your quiz, automatically saving your required images to the camera roll
  • If you have lots of slides to import into your quiz, it may be quicker to export your file as a PDF to another app. If you select to export as a PDF to DocScanHD you will then be able to export the entire PDF as multiple image files to your camera roll (see image)

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3) Open the Socrative app and select ‘Manage Quizzes’ and ‘Create a Quiz’ as before. When you select your question type you should now see the option to ‘Add Image’ below the question box. Select the ‘Add Image’ option, ‘Choose Existing’ and insert the required image from your camera roll. Job done.

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Please get in touch if you have any other ways of making these new Socrative features work for you.

Bett 2013 – A collection of random thoughts…

2013 saw my first trip to Bett, so I jumped on the train with @carledgar86 and headed down to London armed with a double pack of Lucozade and six Twix caramel slices.

I would like to think that most people attending Bett this year would have been a little disappointed to be greeted by over a dozen companies selling interactive whiteboards – most of which seemed to be almost identical to each other. However, I got the increasing feeling that this was merely the norm. That said, it didn’t appear to stop floods of people from visiting these stands (or indeed the companies from lashing out in excess of £50k to be there for the week). One unnamed interactive whiteboard firm had even managed to differentiate its interactive whiteboard range from the others by lying it on its side and turning it into a table. It goes without saying that they were the most popular.

The same could be said for the plethora of companies selling visualisers, which are apparently still able to supply enough to meet their ever increasing levels of expected demand. At least a bit of healthy competition might help drive the price down a little. The point made by @James_Bowkett leaves little else to be said about the matter.

I would also like to think that most people would have been disappointed to see plenty of VLEs at this year’s event. But let’s face it, no educational technology show would be complete without their fair share of VLEs and bright colours, which irresistibly combine to make them infinitely more attractive to potential customers. I spent a reasonable amount of time playing with the soon-to-be-launched Frog4OS – interested to see if they had been able to design a VLE that is fully compatible with mobile devices (after watching a Frog employee try five times to drag a dashboard widget into place I decided enough was enough). I had one question – ‘will you be able to upload and download all types of files from your iPad into Frog?’. The answer was ‘well, er…the iPad doesn’t have a native file browser so that isn’t possible’. No further questions were asked. I arrived expecting that attempting to integrate a Frog VLE into an iPad 1:1 would be unecessarily difficult, I left knowing that attempting to integrate a Frog VLE into an iPad 1:1 would be unecessarily difficult.

Moan over. There was lots of great stuff – here were my 5 highlights:

Mathspace – I was generously pointed in the direction of Mathspace by @timstirrup, who kindly alerted me to its potential greatness and then even more kindly told me where it was when I couldn’t find it. Billing itself as ‘online maths training like you’ve never seen before’ – Mathspace might just signal a new generation of exciting maths products. Currently only available in Australia and under development for the UK curriculum at the moment, Mathspace is a web based tool or iPad app and there is a free trial available if you can’t wait for it arrive permanently. I haven’t bothered explaining what it actually does, the video below covers that. I just hope they don’t price themselves out of the UK market.

Zondle – I was almost slightly embarrassed to have never come across Zondle before. A games based learning site with versions available for mobile devices, Zondle allows teachers to create and access previously made quizzes on any subject whilst managing the progress of their class. Zondle is different from other games based learning sites in that you can ‘play any quiz, with any game’, cleverly separating them to ensure that a topic is not only associated with a specific game. Most of the content is aimed at younger students (primary or KS3), but you can easily develop your own quizzes in a matter of seconds. Their website also contains the words ‘Zondle is free, and always will be!’

Beluga Maths – Beluga have recently released their Learn Maths with Beluga iPad app, a games based approach to learning mathematics that really aims to develop an understanding of each topic. The content is currently only aimed at younger students, but will soon be extending all the way up to A Level problems, with a HTML5 web-based version on its way soon too. It will be really interesting to see how this one develops. Their website also contains the words ‘free forever, with unlimited updates’. Very nice, although student tracking comes at an additional cost.

Showbie – I have long been a fan of Showbie for iPad workflow, but I became more a fan this week when it became free to all users. It isn’t the finished product, but it definitely offers the easiest workflow for teachers looking to collect, mark and redistribute content created on the iPad.

Hackasaurus – This wasn’t technically a Bett discovery since I came across this following #tmbett2013 courtesy of @mberry, but I can scarcely believe how great it is as an introduction to coding. Hackasaurus is a bookmark that allows you to see and alter the code for any web page – watching the end result change as you remix it. An alternative version of my blog may be on the cards.


An iPad 1:1 checklist

I have been thinking recently about THE point at which I overcame my initial inbuilt skepticism and concluded that the iPad would be a great device for learning. Was there one specific thing that tipped me over the edge? Probably not, but I certainly recall being blown away by my first encounter with the screencasting app Explain Everything.

Let’s face it, every school possesses teachers who will write the device off before they even try it as ‘another technology – and I don’t get on with technologies’ or ‘I’ve been teaching pretty well for years without it’. What I’ve tried to come up with here then, is a list of things that they should at least try to do with their iPads in a 1:1 environment. If after trialling each of these for a reasonable period of time you are still convinced that you and your class are better off without the device, only then you will be permitted to publicly denounce it. Not until then.

Checklist for an iPad 1:1 class (secondary education)

Create and run Socrative quizzes with your class

The first port of call for most iPad demo sessions,  instant response system Socrative helps turn the iPad into a great device for assessing learning. Equipping the iPad with all of the tricks of these ill-fated Promethean handsets  from a few years back (and more), Socrative provides immediate access to quiz reports that allow for truly differentiated learning – and doesn’t cost £1699.

Create a video using Explain Everything and use it to ‘flip’ the learning

I mentioned that I was seriously impressed when I first came across Explain Everything and that certainly hasn’t changed. Grab yourself a stylus, import a PDF/PPT, stick together a short video and upload it to YouTube.  Share the video with your students so that they can access it on their iPads whenever they like and save yourself a bit of time in the classroom for developing your students’ understanding of the topic. Not for everyone, but you can’t rule it out until you have tried it…

Set up your class on Edmodo

You don’t need an iPad to use social learning platform Edmodo, but since your students now have a device that provides them with 24/7 access, this should be seen as the ideal opportunity. Ideal for the quick sharing of documents, quizzes  and creating an online learning environment in which your students can help each other when you aren’t there.

AirPlay your students’ iPads

I have found AirPlay to be a major selling point for the iPad. The ability to mirror multiple iPads for display to a whole class opens lots of previously unthinkable opportunities for demonstrating learning. There are a few ways of doing this these days: Apple TVs, Reflector, or AirServer – my solution of choice.

Use iTunes U to deliver a sequence of lessons

Possibly the most important app – in terms of its impact on learning – is iTunes U. By accessing iTunes U Course Manager anyone (with an Apple ID) can create courses and enrol students. Upload videos, course documents, links to websites and provide your students with access to easily differentiated, personalised learning through just one app.

Set your class open-ended tasks

Be brave and set your class open-ended tasks which provide them with the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in creative ways. Don’t tell them which apps to use. They might just prove that the iPad is not a consumption only device.

If you have trialled each of these and still aren’t sure about the impact of the device, make sure to ask your students what they think of the ways you have attempted to enhance their learning. Unless you don’t want to hear it.

iTunes U as a Learning Management System

Note: This blog post contains no displays of outlandish iPad creativity. It is unashamedly about student consumption.

During the first months of our iPad 1:1 program we have relied heavily on Dropbox as our primary method of sharing files with our students. It is a bit of a pain to set up – all students need a Dropbox account, you have to type all of their email addresses in when sharing a folder and even then they can delete the files at will. Having said that, it has worked fairly well so far with very few complaints.

As the first year of the 1:1 progresses, we will be integrating iTunes U heavily into both staff and student workflow, completely replacing the need to share Dropbox folders. iTunes U offers serious functional improvements over previous methods of resource distribution.

Anyone who possesses an Apple ID can begin creating courses via iTunes U Course Manager, although I recommend signing up your institution so you can take advantage of unlimited courses and unlimited student enrolment (otherwise you are limited to 12 courses and 50 students per course at the moment). By default, the courses you create are private and you have full control over who enrols in them. If you are working in an iPad 1:1 environment and not using iTunes U to deliver content, I highly recommend you try it out.

Here is a list of benefits and annoyances that come with using iTunes U (so far). They are not comparing iTunes U to a traditional Learning Management System (VLE) but rather against the next best iPad alternative – although there is one comment relating to a VLE in there somewhere…

Benefits of using iTunes U

  • Setup – I’m not going to describe the process of actually creating an iTunes U Course as easy (it does take a bit of getting used to), but once your course has been created the process of enrolling your students is very straightforward. Just share your enrol code with your students and check the roster to control who has access.
  • Student organisation – Setting up ‘in-session’ courses in iTunes U Course Manager allows you to assign a ‘due date’ to each assignment. This allows your students to receive push notifications and view a calendar of assignment dates which they can manually tick when each one has been completed.
  • Paperless – iTunes U allows you to easily share any documents with your students. They can then access these files from their devices and open them for editing (this is also possible via Dropbox, Evernote etc). Considerable cost savings should be possible.
  • Differentiation – since the cost of true classroom differentiation often comes with a hefty photocopying bill, the fact that iTunes U promotes a paperless classroom also paves the way for differentiated learning. It has never been easier to distribute a large variety of resources to your students. Extension material can readily be added as extra resources or inserted as hyperlinks.
  • Everything in one app 24/7 – students open up iTunes U as they arrive in a classroom knowing that everything they need for the course (and more) will be contained within the app. These resources will be available to the students 24/7 throughout (and after) the course, during which they can then be exported, edited and stored elsewhere.
  • Inserting video – videos created by both staff and students using Explain Everything can readily be inserted into iTunes U courses. Usually I choose to export the file to Dropbox (where it saves as an mp4) so I can upload it to iTunes U Course Manager on my PC. You can also take notes whilst watching videos embedded directly into iTunes U, making it ideal for delivering a new type of learning experience rich in both resources for home access and time for additional problem solving in lessons.
  • Teacher led – the ways in which iTunes U is used by teachers will vary greatly between individuals. Some will use it to provide their students with everything they need for lessons, some will attempt to ‘flip’ their classrooms and others to merely post homework tasks. iTunes U allows for this flexibility, providing the opportunity for teachers to experiment with the benefits of different approaches.
  • It is a major Apple product – there is good reason to believe that iTunes U will continue to improve and move towards becoming the primary way of delivering learning resources on the iPad for students of any age, rather than just the published university content we see at the moment.
  • Parental sign up – in the same way Edmodo codes can be distributed to parents, iTunes U enrol codes can also be sent out to provide access to parents with iOS devices, allowing them to keep up to date with their child’s modules and assignments (this idea was stolen from @fraserspiers).
  • Cover lessons – iTunes U makes it easier to deal with teacher absence. Any previously uploaded materials can be accessed by your students with a reduced impact to learning.
  • It is free (i.e. not expensive)

Annoyances caused by using iTunes U

  • Currently iTunes U Course Manager does not look kindly upon those teachers that share a class. Either teachers must share their logins with each other, use departmental Apple IDs or run two courses separately for the same module.
  • iTunes U Course Manager is not available on iOS devices and only available through the Safari browser on Mac/PC.
  • There is currently no social aspect to iTunes U. Currently most courses will run alongside an Edmodo course, but surely this will be on the list for future iTunes U updates.
  • It insists on calling every resource you upload an assignment

Are you using iTunes U as a learning management system? Please get in touch if so. If you are in the process of creating an iTunes U course and need a little help here is an iTunes U Course on how to create iTunes U Courses.

iPad workflow & feedback

There is little doubt about it, iPad workflow is a nightmare. To the many technologically unsure educators the process of distributing, collecting, marking and redistributing student work on the iPad remains somewhat of a minefield. There are certainly lots of options – see this slideshow by @gregkulowiec and this excellent PDF guide by @john_larkin titled ‘Sharing your iPad Stuff: Not that easy’. Sometimes lots of options can be a bad thing. Especially when none of the options are particularly effective.

Have a look at this well versed workflow model:

  1. The teacher distributes a worksheet/assignment
  2. The students complete the worksheet in their books/on a sheet
  3. The students hand their work in to the teacher
  4. The teacher marks the work
  5. The teacher hands the work back to the students
  6. The students (supposedly) read the helpful comments the teacher has written on their work and learn greatly from the formative feedback that they have received

The question is, can that model be improved upon using an iPad? As it stands at the moment, the answer is a resounding no (if you believe this is not to be true, please get in touch).

This blog post is largely inspired by a post I came across yesterday about one of my favourite models for technology integration – the SAMR model of Ruben R. Puentedura (see below). As a general rule, redefinition is the aim; if you can only achieve substitution then integrating a technology probably isn’t worthwhile.

When you consider the integration of iPads purely in terms of a traditional workflow model, the iPad is nowhere near achieving the lowly ‘substitution’ status afforded by the SAMR model above. It clearly isn’t a direct tool substitute; to achieve the equivalent six point ‘traditional’ process would actually result in a functional loss, given how difficult replicating the process currently is on the iPad.

Of course the iPad offers plenty of other opportunities for redefinition and modification, otherwise presumably it wouldn’t have been so heavily integrated into education already. The problem is that formative assessment is considered a hugely important part of the learning cycle and it seems that this part of iPad pedagogy has largely escaped without consideration. There seems little point in teachers printing off student work completed on the iPad to re-enact the time honoured workflow model with pen and paper.

So lets take a bit of time to pick apart some of the potential (free) iPad workflow solutions that exist.

  • Dropbox – great for sharing work with students, which can be done via a shared folder (Otixo and WebDAV can provide access to Dropbox from iWork apps). The problems begin when students need to return work to the teacher. This can be done by the shared folder again, but then the class will be able view each others work. Each student could share a folder individually with the teacher, but having a shared folder with every student you teach is likely to cause more confusion than it is worth unless you organise your shared folders with pinpoint precision. Using sendtodropbox presents similar problems with vast quantities of email addresses required. It is possible to recreate a traditional workflow, but I wouldn’t like to try and convince any newcomers that it is possible with ‘no functional change’.
  • Edmodo – again, great for sharing work with students. Great for posting links to video content and can work in tandem with Dropbox using copied links. Unfortunately, using Edmodo to try and recreate the traditional workflow model involves a process that can only be generously described as lengthy, since you can’t upload to Edmodo from your iPad.
  • Evernote – again, pretty good for sharing work with students. Work can be submitted to the teacher using the Evernote email address, but unless you are a premium user (£££) you are somewhat back to square one when it comes to marking and returning work to your students.
  • Email – the classic fallback option, always there if all else fails. In fact, if you are prepared to put up with a serious increase in inbox activity that will result in each student in each of your classes emailing you work it isn’t a bad solution. Presumably though you’ll still want download each piece of work and save a copy for yourself at some point.
  • Google Docs – have you tried using Google Docs on the iPad?

When you consider both the options and the resources created on iPad workflow, you will notice they concentrate almost entirely ‘sharing and submitting’. What comes next, which is surely almost as important, appears to have been largely ignored.

Showbie appears to be a little different and – unlike its paid alternatives – offers considerable functionality in its free version:

  • Web version for staff/student access
  • New iPad app
  • Very straightforward setup method of creating a class and sharing a code
  • Students only have access to files shared with them as part of each ‘assignment’
  • WebDAV access to files and folders from a huge selection of apps
  • Ability to access submitted work and provide feedback to individuals
  • Teachers can ‘archive’ assignments for future reference
  • In-built voice feedback tool (currently only in the iPhone/iPod touch version but soon to be on the iPad)

It is by no means perfect but definitely represents a huge step in the right direction. The new iPad app has a bit of a propensity to crash at the moment and it would also benefit from allowing links to be submitted as assignments. It also deliberately has no social aspect, but could function happily alongside Edmodo. The good news is that as far as workflow goes, it works and it isn’t complicated either. It might even achieve ‘substitution’.

Moving forward, with tools like Showbie functional improvements may even be on the horizon with workflow and feedback. Feasibly, student presentations created in Keynote could be sent via WebDAV to the teacher, opened, annotated with voice recordings by the teacher in Notability and returned to the student using WebDAV at their leisure (I say feasibly because Notability appears to have WebDAV issues at the moment). But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

If you have any alternative iPad workflow models that work, please please get in touch.

iTunes U & 1:1 iPads

You may have noticed I have become a little obsessed with iTunes U recently. Whilst this obsession hasn’t yet become too serious (relatively I have spent far more time sorting out my fantasy football side this week) it seems to be a problem that is set to stay.

Here’s why:

Apple recently announced that anyone with an Apple ID will be able to create courses for sharing, without having to upload them to the iTunes U catalogue as part of a registered institution. This is a pretty big deal for schools.

Here’s why:

Previously iTunes U was a place largely reserved for universities where you could readily indulge in a course on pretty much anything, provided it has some suitably complicated content. Whilst publicly – as far as action in the iTunes U catalogue goes – that is likely to remain the case, Apple’s recent announcement opens up a lot of opportunities for schools to make use of iTunes U privately.

iTunes U Course Manager is the tool that allows you to create iTunes U Courses. It is a relatively straightforward web-based tool that allows you to use iTunes U as a course management system; when you update your course in iTunes U Course Manager, it updates (almost) instantly on the students’ devices. The ideal-for-use-with-classes option of creating an in-session course allows your students to access the course in a ‘calendar style’ as assignments are given a selected date.

A successfully created iTunes U provides 24/7 access to all of the required study materials for each course as part of an iPad 1:1 program. As a result, it is an ideal platform for those willing to trial a flipped classroom approach. Create the content you wish to share with your students on the iPad, upload it using iTunes U Course Manager on your PC/Mac, create an assignment, specify a date and test it for yourself. The lesson that follows should benefit hugely from the time saved due to not having explain the new concept(s) in detail from the beginning.

Here’s some help:

As part of my recent obsession with iTunes U, I stuck together a course using iTunes U Course Manager called ‘Creating iTunes U Courses‘. I’ve also stuck the videos that are part of that course on YouTube, although collectively they don’t make much sense without the waffle that precedes them in the course.

Here’s where it needs to go:

iTunes U lacks one huge thing: a social aspect. To be truly effective as a course management system or as part of a flipped classroom, iTunes U needs to integrate discussion and chat facilities as a minimum requirement. Having access to videos and note-taking opportunities galore is great, but by no means a substitute for students learning collaboratively. For now, running courses alongside an Edmodo group appears to be the next best alternative.

Oh, and I would love to see iTunes U Course Manager available in a browser other than Safari. But something tells me that is far less likely to happen.