Social Media: What Is The Significance of Parental Engagement?

Today in the UK there is a plethora of different social media available. 72% of 12-15 year olds and 91% of 16-24 year olds use the internet for social networking (RSPH 2017). Certainly, the ability to communicate in a variety of manners, instantaneously across the globe, has introduced a myriad of advantages to almost every sector, including education. However, it has also brought with it serious challenges such as computer security, viruses, data hacking, fake news and of course, online bullying and harassment.

Click on the image to download this free iBook

Recent news headlines have called for the banning of mobile phones in schools; discussed controversy surrounding social media platform’s handling of content promoting self-harm and suicide and highlighted potential damage social media can do to mental health.

It is certainly true that many children connect to social media just when their social and emotional development levels leave them exposed, yet despite the widespread concern, social media can also undoubtedly bring benefits to young people that use it. For example, socialisation, communication and relationships have all been made easier to manage, whilst health information and emotional support have also been made more accessible. Furthermore, social media platforms also provide an opportunity for young people to express who they are and promote positive self expression and have provided the platform for a ‘revolution’ in young people’s engagement in politics (Orehek and Human, 2017).

This situation leaves parents, and indeed teachers, in a seemingly permanent battle between the potential educational and social advantages of social media, and the possible negative effects that some content may have on children’s attitudes, behaviour and safety.

In an effort to discover more about this conundrum, and offer research-based guidance to both educators and parents, I undertook an investigation that also formed part of my MA in Educational Leadership and Management. I conducted a critical examination of the importance of parental engagement, the disadvantages of social media and the current practice of parents when mediating their children’s social media usage. Furthermore, I am happy to be able to share that research with you for free on Apple iBooks.

 

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Everyone Can Create a Better Internet

Since it’s inception in 2004, Safer Internet Day has gone from strength to strength and reportedly, in 2018, 45% of UK 8-17 year olds were involved in the annual event. The 2019 Safer Internet Day takes place on Tuesday 5th February, and this year’s global theme is ‘Together for a better internet’. The day provides an opportunity to put a spotlight on the positive uses of digital technology and investigate the role everybody plays to create an online community that is increasingly safer and responsible.

2018 was not just a success for Safer Internet Day. It was also the year in which Apple released their highly anticipated ‘Everyone Can Create’ curriculum. Four superb iBooks were made freely available on Apple Books on 1st October. Each one provides expert guidance for children to develop and communicate their ideas through drawing, music, photography and video on iPad.

So, for Safer Internet Day 2019, why not take the opportunity to unleash the creativity of your pupils and use the Everyone Can Create books to help them understand the significance of safe and responsible use of technology.

At Burton Joyce Primary School in Nottingham, Apple Distinguished Educator, Marc Faulder, has done exactly that and put together the following plans that link the Everyone Can Create guides to their existing ‘Digital Skills’ long term plan which is part of the school’s Computing curriculum:

Many of the strands in the Burton Joyce curriculum, such as ‘Image’, ‘Film’, and ‘Sound’ correlate exactly with the projects and activities from Everyone Can Create and therefore can be mapped to digital skills for each year group in Primary school.

Indeed, this enabled Marc to be able to select appropriate projects and activities for pupils to work on for Safer Internet Day this year; here are some examples:

Year 6:

  • Objective: Create ‘e-Safety’ Tutorial Videos.
  • Everyone Can Create: Video Guide; Chapter 4; Tutorials

Apps:

  • Pages (for script typing and using the teleprompter feature)
  • Clips/iMovie to create

Pupils in Year 6 will follow the tutorial for filming a ‘teaching show’. They will be familiar with the ‘how-to’ style of video from their own viewing habits on YouTube, therefore this style of filming is very relevant to them. They will film tutorials that explain how pupils can talk about any issues they may be facing online; highlighting a variety ways pupils can report e-Safety problems both in and out of school.

Year 5:

  • Objective: Performance Poetry, Raps and Podcasts
  • Everyone Can CreateMusic Guide; Chapter 5; Writing and Recording Lyrics

Apps:

This project comes from the Music guide from Everyone Can Create. Pupils will follow this chapter to write lyrics for a rap, performance poetry or spoken word podcast. They can share their advice for creating a better internet for all or draw on their own experiences, giving first hand accounts of existing problems and why we need to work together to make the internet a better place.

Year 3 and 4:

  • Objective: Health and Well-Being Collage
  • Everyone Can Create: Photography Guide; Chapter 5; Project: Create a personalised collage (page 41)
    (Children need to refer to Chapter 2 to take their silhouette or portrait photo)

Apps:

This project teaches pupils concepts from the new Burton Joyce e-Safety long term plan. Based on the recommendations in Education For A Connected World (February, 2018), we now teach our pupils a healthy lifestyle for device use. This strand explores well-being, sleeping routines and emotions when using technology for different purposes and at different times of day. Pupils will create a personal photo collage of device use throughout a typical day in their life. Their photo collage will reflect their usage but also their emotions when engaged in this activity. This project aims to give our Year 3 and 4 pupils a chance to reflect on habits that may be forming already and how to adapt these choices to make their technology use better.

Year 1 and 2:

  • Objective: e-Safety Emotions
  • Drawing Guide: Chapter 1; Word Art – Activity 1; Sketch and express with an emoji

Apps:

Using the Everyone Can Create guides with younger students can be a challenging process. Instead of selecting a project from the Drawing guide, we took an activity and broke it down in to smaller steps. Children listen to a range of e-Safety themed stories such as Troll, Little Red Riding Hood and the Woolly Sheep and Daisy Chain. They map out these stories and discuss the emotions the characters feel when using technology throughout the story. They will reflect on how they feel when using devices and bring their own experiences in to the story mapping. Next, children will be taught how to draw shapes and patterns on a digital paint program first. Then they will begin designing emojis which represent their feelings when using technology and how others feel when problems arise. Finally, teachers will review the advice on what to do when something goes wrong online, referring to the plots from the stories read.

Final Note:

When integrating Everyone Can Create projects with your existing curriculum, it is important to know the skills and interests of your staff. These projects were not just allocated to staff, they were carefully planned for, based on the teachers professional development. Year 1 and 2 teachers have already used the Drawing guide to create digital drawings of poppies for the school’s Remembrance Day exhibition. They are now familiar with the apps needed in this activities. The teacher in Year 5 is also the school’s music specialist. Planning to use the Music guide in Year 5 supports the teacher’s strengths and interests, making the technology use relevant to her curriculum plans too. The teacher in Year 6 achieved Apple Teacher when this professional development tool launched in 2017 and she has already planned from the Animatics’ chapter in the Everyone Can Create Video guide. This project is the next step for her pupils learning.

For more of Marc’s resources and ideas, check out his blog; Enabling Environments

iPad CPD for schools; how to get it right.

During the previous 30 years, powerful digital technology has restructured how we communicate and how we live. Internet-ready mobile phones, tablets and laptops have become an intrinsic part of everyday life that has been mirrored by a seismic growth of educational technology in schools. Indeed, global expenditure is expected to reach as much as £190 billion by 2020 (Spaven, 2016). Broad academic opinion suggests that digital technology has the potential to improve learning opportunities, workflow and even reduce teacher workload (Bingimlas, 2009).

Nevertheless, some research indicates that digital devices in schools can also have a significant negative effect on outcomes and can be an expensive gamble for schools when budgets are already stretched. Some difficulties derive from an incoherent understanding of the everyday instructional benefits that technology can facilitate (Adams, 2016) . Moreover, much of the academic literature suggests that many of the challenges originate from poor long-term planning that failed to consider network infrastructure, ownership models, stakeholder engagement, evaluation of progress and perhaps most fundamentally of all, associated continuous professional development (CPD).

As teachers know, there is an ever-growing variety of different CPD options available to schools, however the increasing range by no means guarantees quality. Like with the adoption of technology, ill-considered CPD leadership and management can be expensive and is unlikely to wield improved student outcomes. For every expensive failed technological adoption there is an equally ineffective education “guru” who is willing to charge schools a small fortune for their wisdom yet with little or no evidence of impact. Whatever CPD you experience, it is worth remembering that it should not be a short-term intervention, rather a long-term process.

At the school I work at, we have invested significantly in digital infrastructure which has been the backbone behind a 1:2:1 iPad adoption from Year Six to Year Eight, where the expectation is that all pupils bring in their own device to assist with their learning. The project is nearly at the end of it’s third year and previous in-house research has demonstrated that opinion on the iPad scheme from teachers, pupils and parents has been positive. Nevertheless, when considering that one of the prevailing reasons for failed technology implementations is a lack of suitable continuous professional development, we have offered a variety of different CPD solutions to help teachers and pupils get the best out of the devices. However, how useful has it been? I recently conducted some research for my MA in Educational Leadership and Management to ascertain perceived value and work out some useful strategies moving forward, which can also be applied to more general CPD as well.

Resources:

Paramount to the success of any technological adoption is the procurement of suitable resources. This does not simply mean buying a bunch of iPads.  The accompanying infrastructure all needs to work as well. Although, it should be remembered, even when resources are available, it does not guarantee a successful integration. 

 

This study revealed a sizable minority (33.3%) of teachers reporting they felt they did not have the required resources to successfully deploy iPads. Interestingly, the iPads themselves were not cited as resources that were causing issues, rather it was surrounding infrastructure such as projectors, access to devices and time that were cited. Instead of simply amassing more technology, leadership and management need to ensure a sustainable plan is in place for the maintenance of all equipment involved in iPad workflow.

Internal Workshops

High-quality internal professional development offers the opportunity to remove barriers and improve teacher efficacy (Kopcha, 2011). We have run internal workshops on a varity of Apps, pedagogical concepts and ways in which to integrate iPads into everyday teaching.

 

80% of all respondents had attended internal workshops; these have taken various formats and have normally occurred on average three times a term. Furthermore, 100% of attendees reported a positive impact, 28.6% stating a ‘highly positive’ impact. The qualitative data cited ‘the chance to learn in a ‘relaxed environment’, ‘learning new skills and gaining confidence’, ‘able to ask questions’, and ‘peer-to-peer collaboration and hands on learning, not just a session delivered from the front’ as advantages of the in-house workshops and reasons why staff returned for more than one session

Nevertheless, the data also revealed that 57% of teachers had only attended between 1-3 sessions; timing and workload were cited as reasons for this. Therefore, leadership and management should undertake a creative analysis of time allowance for CPD and make subsequent provision for staff development.

External Workshops

Sometimes expensive external workshops or CPD sessions can prove to be intellectually superficial and inadequate for teacher needs. However, we have tended to utilise free opportunities like the highly regarded sessions run by TRAMS in London. Again, all respondents reported that external workshops had a positive impact; 40% implying it was highly positive. The opportunity for ‘networking’, to ‘chat to experts’ and ‘see the wider pictures of how Apps can be used’ also provided qualitative information about the advantages as deemed by staff. Nevertheless, over 50% of the teachers who responded had never actually attended an external workshop and 60% only attended one session.

The unlikelihood of long-lasting change occurring when professional development is not continuous is well-documented. Therefore, by their very nature workshops with no follow-up are unlikely to have a deep impact. Teachers referenced workload, cover and finances as reasons why attendance was generally low.

Coaching and Mentoring

Mentoring should be considered as a process to manage career transition, normally between an experienced mentor and a less experienced mentee. Various studies suggest that mentor programs assist novice teachers and the moral and emotional support is valued as much as pedagogical guidance. Coaching is a different, but equally as powerful mechanism for situated professional development that involves peer-to-peer discussions that provide the coached teacher objective feedback on both weaknesses and strengths in self-selected areas. Coaching can help develop meta-cognitive articulation, reflection and exploration skills whilst helping teachers to become more aware of their pedagogic understanding.

Only 34% of respondents confirmed they had experienced either coaching or mentoring as a form of iPad CPD. All respondents reported a positive impact, but coaching in particular had a high impact upon practice according to the results. Qualitative feedback confirmed perceived advantages of coaching and mentoring as ‘a chance to ask very basic questions’, ‘developing good relations with trusted partners’, ability to ‘ask specific questions to my own use’, ‘can-do rassurance and ‘gain in confidence’. Disadvantages were cited as time constraints and internet connectivity issues.

Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s)

Although not all PLN’s are digital, teachers are increasingly utilising digital technology for CPD. Global networks of support allow them to take advantage of collective knowledge and experiences from friends, colleagues, teachers and educationalists from all over the planet. These PLN’s offer constant, on-demand support therefore allowing for cost and time effective development of practitioner careers.

Teachers involved in PLN’s formed 43% of respondents and 100% of them reported an impact on practice. Advantages specified included ‘new ideas’, ‘comfort knowing that colleagues struggle with same issues’, ‘keeping up-to-date with current issues in teaching’ and ‘amazing for subject knowledge’. Nevertheless, 57% of teachers were therefore not benefiting from the perceived advantages of Personal Learning Networks and again, time restraints were revealed as a difficulty. The sheer amount of information was also mentioned as a disadvantage.

Apple Teacher

The Apple Teacher is a free professional learning course aimed at supporting and celebrating educators who use Apple technology for teaching and learning. Eight badges are required to pass and each badge can be obtained after completing a short, multiple-choice quiz on-line. It has been introduced as part of the iPad CPD programme within the context of this study as an optional CPD pathway. 30% of respondents reported that they had passed the course and were now Apple Teachers whilst 40% reported to have earned some of the badges – this constituted 12 teachers.  12 respondents also reported the program had impacted upon their practice. Advantages of Apple Teacher included learning new methods, increase in confidence and improved proficiency.

 

Two teachers reported ‘No Impact’ from Apple Teacher. All disadvantages that were shared once more focused on the school level barrier of time as being the main constraint.

Practices, Beliefs and Attitudes

The behaviour of teachers is normally determined by attitude as opposed to knowledge (Pajares, 1992). Therefore, preordained negative views of different types of CPD has the potential to be a significant barrier to any introduction. The problem deepens for school leaders hopeful of integrating coaching, mentoring or PLN’s as teacher beliefs are rarely completely reversed and, over the course of time, can become ever more firmly entrenched and highly resistant to change (Ertmer, 2005). Nevertheless, there are inconsistencies concerning teacher belief and the actualities of classroom behaviour. Indeed, contextual influences could hinder the opportunity for teachers to administer personal beliefs in their classrooms; for example, avoiding high quality personalised CPD within an overriding culture of learning and innovation would be incompatible.

Regarding the use of iPads in education, general opinions at my school were positive among respondents; 88% believed that iPads allowed for greater ownership of learning whilst 72% did not consider iPads to be a distraction. Indeed, not one teacher disagreed with the notion that if used effectively, iPads had the potential to enrich the learning experience of pupils. 

Conclusions

In conclusion, nearly every modern proposal for improving education and adopting new technologies cites high-quality professional development as a key component. Therefore, as the Independent Preparatory School at which this research took place recently adopted Wi-Fi and iPads, an evaluation of the associated CPD provision offered an opportunity to critically reflect on current practice and consider possibilities to improve teaching and learning. This study ascertained a positive overview of the iPad CPD provision and indeed, an encouraging staff attitude towards the devices. It revealed that the form of CPD itself need not be a concern as long as it provides high quality, personalised opportunities for teachers to improve teaching and learning when using iPads in their classroom. However, it also revealed that many teachers were not utilising all the different CPD opportunities at their disposal and raised concerns about the availability of resources.

Therefore, this study proposes that to improve the situation and help maintain a genuine learning culture in which iPads are ubiquitously used by teachers to facilitate transformational learning opportunities, there are ten key actions for development:

  • A holistic shared understanding of the aims of iPad CPD
  • Relevant resources need to be available and maintained
  • Raising awareness of available personalised CPD opportunities
  • Utilisation of PLN’s to be encouraged
  • Sufficient time allowance needs to be made for professional development
  • iPad CPD opportunities need to be personalised
  • iPad CPD needs to be monitored and impact evaluated
  • Positive personal experience of iPad needs to be facilitated
  • Good practice needs to be shared and modelled
  • An environment created that encourages teacher leadership

In addition, this research necessitated a subsequent measurement of impact via future rounds of research.

It is widely acknowledged that simple acquisition of technology in education will do nothing to improve standards. This research and the wider literature agree that school leaders, and those in charge of CPD, whether iPad related or not, need to develop a culture of learning, where teachers know that opportunities for professional development will help improve their practice, skills and knowledge. Teachers need to be able to tailor their professional development for direct impact on their own practice and be afforded the opportunity to take responsibility for pedagogical improvement. When adopting iPads or indeed other new technologies or strategies successfully, they must become an everyday part of teachers’ repertoire with tangible results and positive impact in their classrooms. The needs of teachers are best ascertained by clear and open-dialogue. With relevant and positive conversations taking place, the evolution of common-purpose may contribute to the ability of this school, and those further afield, to maintain and develop the use of iPads in a transformational way. Indeed, the creation of a culture with genuine distributed leadership could also provide an environment where teachers routinely and willingly learn from one another and from their wider PLN’s. Furthermore, teachers would be more likely to feel empowered to experiment with iPads and utilise the new skills and knowledge they have procured.

Like teachers, each educational system, and each school within it, must be regarded with their own identity, idiosyncrasies and culture. Nevertheless, unless change initiatives ultimately have direct, positive impact on students for whose future teachers are partly responsible, they are unlikely to succeed anywhere. Although it is too early to ascertain any-long term impact of this research, the findings of my study have already impacted upon practice at my school. The mentoring and coaching program has been expanded and more people are becoming involved with the planning and delivery of iPad CPD; indicative of increased distributed-leadership. Furthermore, this research has already helped shape future technological, iPad CPD and leadership developmental plans and will continue to do so with further action-research cycles.

Fundamentally, if school leadership teams are focused on the provision of the highest possible standards for their students and feel iPads can assist with that goal, they must develop and sustain a culture that encourages teachers to experiment, discover and learn from their mistakes together.

References:

Adams, R. (2016) Students who use digital devices in class ‘perform worse in exams’. The Guardian. 11th May 2016, [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/may/11/students-who-use-digital-devices-in-class-perform-worse-in-exams

Bingimlas, K.A. (2009) Barriers to the successful integration of ICT in teaching and learning environments: A review of the literature. Eurasia journal of mathematics, science & technology education5(3).

Ertmer, P. (2005) Teacher Pedagogical Beliefs: The Final Frontier in Our Quest for Technology Integration? Educational Technology Research and Development, [online] 53(4): pp.25- 39. Available at: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02504683

Kopcha, T. (2011) Teachers’ perceptions of the barriers to technology integration and practices with technology under situated professional development. Computers and Education, [online] 59(4): pp.1109-1121. Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131512001352

Spaven, E. (2016) Report: EdTech spend will reach $252bn by 2020 [online]. Available at  https://www.uktech.news/news/report-edtech-spend-will-reach-252bn-2020-20160526

 

 

It’s not whether you use social media, it’s how you use social media…

“It’s not whether you use social media, it’s how you use social media”

On Friday 4th May, we are hosting a Social Media Awareness Afternoon at King’s and for those parents that can not make it, I have linked the presentation to this blog post. The message really centres around the above quote. We live in a digital age where the number of people engaging on social media dwarfs the population of the worlds biggest countries. There is no point in burying our heads in the sand or scare mongering about the inevitable apocalyptic end-game that social media will bring to humanity. Rather, we strongly recommend a proactive, mediative approach where parents educate both themselves and their pupils about the dangers of social media, but also about it’s virtues and ensure that the correct measures are taken to make sure user experience is optimised.

Social media is here to stay. Recent news stories about Facebook data mining and trolls on Twitter have not seen a large decline in the social media giants’ respective user-base. Even if one of the social media giants did fold, it would only be a matter of time before another replaces it and becomes a part of every-day life for everyone with an internet connection. However, the invasive nature of social media in all our lives does highlight the need for education about the pitfalls of clickbait, unsolicited hyperlinks, sharing personal data and digital footprints. We are confident that the children at our school enjoy an engaging digital literacy program whilst at school and also realise that they probably know far more about the social media that they use on a daily basis then most adults. Therefore, during the afternoon, pupils will also be presenting and demonstrating which social-communication tools they use, how they protect themselves and why the power of conversations and communication between parents and pupils is a great way to develop deeper understanding. Furthermore, we will offer reassurance that children’s online lives can be positive if sensible procedures are established and followed. More detailed advice is available in the Prezi below.

http://prezi.com/wfxn5-bnw47q/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

 

 

 

Absorbing ADE2017: Five Things I Took Home From Windsor

Windsor is a stunning town, situated on the River Thames, 20 miles or so west of London. It is the home of Legoland UK and the world famous royal residence, Windsor Castle, originally built by William the Conqueror in the 11th Century. In July 2017, it also was one of the locations that welcomed the new Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) class of 2017 and I was lucky enough to attend as Alumni. They were a brilliant few days, and I’d like to share five things that I took away from a remarkable experience.

1.Teaching Is Amazing

With all the negativity surrounding Ofsted, SATs, teachers pay, teacher recruitment etc. it is easy to forget what an amazing job teaching actually is and what a brilliant job teachers do.  At ADE2017, all attendees were provided with ample opportunities to hear stories from classrooms across the world, demonstrating the wonderful work that takes place on a daily basis. From showcases to informal conversations, it was inspiring to hear so many marvellous projects taking place, orchestrated by a brilliant team of educators.

2. Chase and Status Don’t Just Make Brilliant Music

One of the highlights was the interview conducted by Peter Ford with Chase and Status’ very own Will Kennard (aka Status). I have long been a fan of Chase and Status and was amazed when Mr Kennard appeared on stage! He provided a fascinating insight into his own education and how although he attended a good school, was not engaged with the education available there. He passed his exams and went to university as he felt he had too, but “dropped out” after a year (much to his Mum’s dismay) to concentrate on his true passion; electronic music production and DJing. It proved to be the right choice as Chase and Status are now global superstars within their scene and regularly tour the planet, headlining major music festivals across the planet. We also got a sneak preview of their new album, Tribe, which sounded typically awesome. However, the most inspiring aspect of Will’s story was that he used his negative experience of education to try and make a positive difference to young people today by forming the East London School for Arts and Music (ELAM). The objective of ELAM is to give children the opportunity to develop their skills in music, arts and drama, regardless of their background. Furthermore, their unique curriculum allows the fusion of songwriting, poetry, news articles, gig reviews, and even plays that have been performed at the National Theatre. The dreaded OFSTED had even confirmed what a stellar job Will and his team are doing when they awarded the school ‘Outstanding’ in their most recent inspection.

3. There Are More Fantastic Swift Playground And Coding Resources Available

I have already used Swift Playground, Apple’s quite excellent coding App, with Year 7 and received fantastic feedback from students. However, it looks like there may be even more excitement next school year as there is now bluetooth connectivity to robots, drones and musical instruments including Lego Mindstorms Education EV3, the Sphero SPRK+, Parrot drones and more. Furthermore, the younger pupils will be able to enjoy more coding as I will be using the free Get Started With Code teacher guide. I will be using it alongside Tynker, CodeSpark Academy and Keynote. All resources are free and each lesson has editable slides, purpose built for the classroom and importantly, in case you get stuck, the answers!

4. Clips Are Everywhere and Bursting With Potential

If you are a teacher on Twitter, you may have noticed a sudden burst of #classroomclips appear on your timeline. One of the main reasons is that us ADE’s were set the challenge of producing something useful, tangible and constructive using the new, simple and intuitive Apple App, Clips. It is free and allows for very quick production of pretty professional looking video clips, ideal for sharing on social media. I have already seen some brilliant projects unfold, such as the #ClipsTours videos which showcase parts of the world visited by ADE’s or the @TechTeachGoals team who are now sharing short but useful hints and tips for #Edtech use in the classroom. However, I am most excited by the prospect of seeing what the pupils will produce when back at school and are unleashed upon the Clips App themselves.

5. The amazing prospect of Apple School Manager & Shared iPad

Over the summer, we are lucky enough to be adding 20 brand new iPads to our resources at King’s ready for September. They are the new ‘iPad’ which means that we will be able to set up users on the devices who will be able to log-in and find their respective set up. Our existing shared iPads were iPad Mini 2’s and although they have proved brilliant for our pupils, there were lots of occasions where work was lost, wrongly edited or settings had been changed. Instead, with Apple School Manager and shared iPad, individual users log-in to the device to find their own unique settings. We will be among the first schools in the UK to be using the new feature and I can’t wait to get started. Regarding the old devices, they will now be exclusively for Y4 whilst the new devices, for Y5. Furthermore, we are lucky enough to have 1:2:1 iPads in Y6,Y7 and Y8 so our pupils iPad provision has never looked so healthy.

 

Operation: Cosmic Dust – A Pupil Powered Mission To Space

In September 2016, an email from The Principal began what was to become a remarkable adventure, not only for Roffa The Teddy Bear, but also for the pupils of my place of employment; King’s Prep School in Rochester. The mission, code named ‘Operation: Cosmic Dust’ was clear; get Roffa The Bear into space and back whilst obtaining some footage of the journey! Simple, right?

Captain Roffa The Bear

Immediately, this seemed like an ideal challenge based learning project for the Prep School’s extraordinary Digital Genius team; two members of each class that meet once a week with myself to learn about everything Edtech and to be on hand in every class to assist teachers and their fellow pupils. As the Michaelmas term ‘blasted’ towards Christmas, naturally the weather started to deteriorate. Therefore, our wonderful ‘cluster’ of Digital Geniuses spent the rest of the term procuring the required equipment; accompanying Captain Roffa on his journey was two SIM card GPS transmitters, a 64GB SD card and a Go-Pro Camera to record the adventure. Most of the equipment was purchased from the fantastic team at Sent Into Space.

The Digital Genius Team and Roffa’s kit

The Digital Genius team immediately set about designing and building the payload to carry Roffa and the equipment into space. Once completed, it was simply a matter of waiting for the right weather conditions to occur. Roffa could not travel north due to air-traffic, whilst travelling east was no-good due to the proximity of the Thames Estuary and the North Sea. Days turned to weeks, and weeks to months until, deep into May, the metaphorical planets aligned and the launch date was finally decided for Thursday the 25th.

The landing predictor finally comes up trumps!

When the countdown had finished and take-off day was upon us, at lunch time the whole school gathered on the school field, known as The Paddock, to watch the extraordinary event unfold. When everything was prepared, everybody shouted out the countdown from 10 and then, in a blink of an eye, Roffa’s astonishing ascent to the stratosphere began. As Roffa majestically disappeared from sight, it was down to Head of Science – Mr Caithness, and myself to head off into the Kent wilderness in the hope we could retrieve the Astrobear.

The school gathers to watch the launch of Roffa

Finally, after 4 hours Roffa made contact and provided GPS coordinates stating he had landed just east of Hadlow. With no hesitation, we sped over to the location but, to our dismay, after an extensive search, it was clear Roffa was gone…

Roffa was recovered in Hadlow by Mr Tim Shilton

However, just as we were about to return to school empty-handed, Mr Caithness received a phonecall! Thankfully, Roffa had been found by a Mr Tim Shilton of Hadlow! We made the short journey to Mr Shilton’s house who then explained he had been enjoying a glass of Shiraz with his wife when he suddenly saw the bear descend near the bottom of his back garden! He retrieved Roffa from a tree and then made the call.

Roffa Featured in The Times

The next day, the Digital Genius team carefully opened the payload and ejected the SD card and the footage they found was simply stunning. The curvature of the earth was clear alongside East Anglia, the Isle of Wight, France, Belgium and beyond and all can be seen the film at the bottom of this post.  Roffa’s journey was subsequently featured in the Medway Messenger, The Times and even the international press. Furthermore, the Digital Genius Team were invited to present their project at Sussex University as part of the Solutions INC Annual Education Summit.

The Digital Genius Team at Sussex University

Nevertheless, most importantly of all, Roffa’s adventure inspired the learners of King’s Prep School in what was a truly memorable experience for us all.

Operation: Cosmic Dust – Launch Day from King’s Prep School on Vimeo.

Getting started with Swift Playgrounds

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Apple’s Swift Playgrounds is a fantastic app built to help teach programming. It is ideal for the classroom and it’s purpose is to help children from Y6 onward get started with coding and learn some of the fundamental concepts involved. It uses Apple’s own programming language, Swift, and is intuitive and beautifully designed. Furthermore, it is relatively simple to use and best of all – it’s free!

Getting Started:

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Tap the featured button to choose your playgrounds

Once you have downloaded the app, you need to select the playground you wish to start in. To do so, tap on the featured button and then I would strongly recommend that you pick ‘Learning to code 1; Fundamentals of Swift’ before embarking on any other of the challenges . Simply because it will provide a basic scaffold on which pupils can start to build their understanding of the app and the Swift language itself.

Navigating The App:

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Playgrounds has introductory slides for each concept

Once downloaded, you tap on the Playgrounds and an in-built keynote presentation will walk you through the coding concept of each section. The first is commands and the presentation gives a nice overview before the coding starts.

Once the introductory presentation is finished, the first playground starts up and you are ready to start coding! The annotated picture below shows you what’s what.

 

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Teacher Guide:

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-12-28-42To accompany the app, Apple have also released a brilliant teacher guide available in iBooks. The book is designed for use with students and is packed full of fantastic content to help teachers, including those that are less confident, use the app in the classroom. The materials included align with curriculum standards for computer science and provide lesson plans, learning objectives, key vocabulary, a whole host of activity ideas, a grade-book to track progress and achievement and best of all – the answers, in case you get completely stuck! Furthermore, the book also contains the following interactive features which really help when rolling out Swift Playgrounds:

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Keynote Slides

The Keynote slides are very helpful and once downloaded, fully customisable. They contain interactive examples of children’s work, key vocabulary and explanations. There are also additional activities that are a great add-on to the playgrounds themselves; providing the opportunity for children to learn the key concepts unplugged. Or in otherwords, examine what the concepts mean without computers.

Using SeeSaw 

The grade-book is great for summative assessment, but for formative assessment Apple recommend that teachers use the awesome SeeSaw. SeeSaw is a fantastic, simple-to-use portfolio App that means pupils can hand in examples of their work in video or picture format. Teachers can then annotate, like, and provide feedback (verbal or written) to the pupils and they receive instant notification. All their work is stored in personal folders making it easy to monitor and very helpful for events like parents evening!

Summary

Swift Playgrounds really is a fabulous tool for the classroom. Whether you are a Computer Science wizard, or a primary teacher who has unwillingly been given the responsibility of running the coding curriculum, the App and accompanying resources provide a wonderful opportunity to engage, challenge and promote computer science in any school that is fortunate enough to have iPads available for their pupils.