Going, Going, Gone…

Sleepwalking into it…

paperless-1It sort of crept up on me… then there was the dawning realisation that it had actually happened – that inevitable feeling that there was no going back and no idea how I was going to cope.

A paperless work environment wasn’t something I had actually wanted or strived for. There were too many ideas that needed sorting / written down. There were observations that needed to be completed and reflected on. There were too many documents that required printing, studied and dissected. There was the planning – daily / weekly / half-termly / termly… all needing to be written down and handed on. As well as that there was also the preparations for the Parent-Teacher Meetings and reporting on the NINA and NILA assessments.

Then, just at half-term I realised that I had gone through the first 8 weeks having done all this without resorting to a paper copy of anything of the above (except for the copy of the results for the parents – which, even then,  I had contemplated emailing).

 

Waking up

onedriveIt never occurred to me that I might be able to do this in the C2k environment and it does speak volumes about all the positives in the new provision in that it has essentially contributed to this change happening.

The biggest change in this has been the ability to access cloud storage – namely One Drive – where I store all my documents now. This has meant that I am able to access my teaching planners on my school computer without having to print them out to annotate on them. I have them permanently open on my desktop and can annotate and change as much as I want.

As well as this, it has been the ability to use my own Surface RT device in tandem withMicrosoft_Surface_RT-e1360270484638 this setup. I can have that up-to-date planning at my fingertips anywhere I go in school and am not now tied to the desktop / laptop to do all this. Evaluations of lessons and notes for children’s progress can be completed on the ‘fly’ in the knowledge that there is seamless syncing between devices on OneDrive. The Surface RT is the first thing opened on the desk in the morning to help me through the day!

For my coordinators and principal, instead of handing in reams of notes – it is now a link in an email where they can access all this planning and work with it, accordingly. It will be interesting to see if other teachers start taking this approach. Personally, I feel that it is making my planning much more meaningful – with the updates or changes easily made without too much fuss. Changes are highlighted there and then and can be acted upon on the same device.

However, the biggest single change in this has been the use of OneNote to support all of this in the classroom.

Fosbury Flop

Settling Dust

Microsoft-Education-Global-Forum-2014So, a week has now passed since returning home from the Microsoft Expert Educator Global Forum In Barcelona and I have my own thoughts on what was, again, an extraordinary event.

To be sharing a platform with so many committed and passionate educators was a privilege that I will continue to value and draw inspiration from. There were so many nations represented over the days and it is remarkable to see what some people are doing on what amounts to very little access to technology. It would be interesting to have people re-evaluate their issues with access to technology when you hear stories that include one teacher ‘smuggling’ in her laptop so that some of her 100 students get at least some access to technology to broaden their horizons.

Again, I have to pay tribute to my own Principal who gave me permission to attend the Forum for the week in the knowledge that it will increase the school’s profile and that it would have a positive impact on our students. Some teachers who attended the Forum had their wages docked!!! How’s that for encouraging innovation in the classroom?? Awful!

It is also an opportunity to meet with and mix with a range of cultures during the event -WP_20140311_10_27_53_Pro to learn from each other and see what the different approaches to education in each other’s countries are. We were given a Learn-a-thon working group where, briefly, our team (which consisted of teachers from Hong Kong, USA, Egypt and India a well a myself0 had to design a learning task that we would take back to our schools to use with each other. Although very difficult to organise given the significant language barriers, we had some modicum of success. However, share a pint with me and I will tell you the full story! ;)

What did come out of it was the chance to work with the wonderful Chelsei Fox and Debbie Chan as we pursued our group – One World, One Voice, One Choice – and look forward to working in partnership with these committed and excellent teachers in the future.

High Bar

The Fosbury Flop of the title refers to Dick Fosbury who completely changed the approach to the High Jumps with his radical technique. Of course, by doing so, he also did one thing – raised the bar higher. Suddenly, it wasn’t innovation anymore – it became a way of reaching greater heights and, ultimately, watching as others took the idea and crafted it to their way.  But it was still the same technique that he introduced.

In this way, I feel that I might also be hitting that plateau. When does being innovative become the norm (not that I am suggesting that I am any more innovative that anyone else) and turn into an unstructured attempt to do things too differently – just to feel ‘innovative.’?

I am always advocating that we, as teachers, should always be learners first. We should be evaluating our own practice and looking to see where it can be changed or improved upon. I think that I might have to do my own evaluation; a critique of where I really am right now with my teaching.

Should I be looking at the curriculum to see where I can change it, mash it up, ‘technify’ it – so to speak – to make it relevant to my class as I see it? For example, had planned to get my children to retell the story of Irish emigration through Scratch animation over the next few weeks – hereby increasing their programming skills as well as helping to understand a period of history (I hope). But then, is that only my interest? Might it not be better for their passage into Post Primary that I give them the facts, assess them on it and then move on? It’s certainly traditional and something that would be more recognisable as teaching and learning.

All Flop and no Fosbury

Like most people I know in teaching at the moment, we are struggling to get by on the mountain of workload; embedding the curriculum; struggling with the new tech, wading trough paperwork – while at the same time trying to deliver lessons that are engaging and differentiated up as well as down. That doesn’t include the plethora of other responsibilities – however, everyone works hard and this isn’t a complaint.

WP_20140311_09_23_58_ProI ‘genuinely’ think I’m running out off steam. The project that I took to Barcelona was, as I said in passing, ‘just’ a literacy lesson. And that’s all it was – with a slight slant. But, was I doing it to give the children a valuable experience at the expense of other curricular time or did I approach the project in the way that I did because people expect me to do these things? That is something that I think have to evaluate. I know that they really enjoyed it and it was, when really examined, a good opportunity for the children to embed their Thinking Skills – the 21st Century Learning that Microsoft Education hold very dear.

I just don’t know. Maybe it is a confidence ‘thing’? Do I always want to be pushing boundaries I hope that there are a generation of teachers who are more than willing to think creatively and share it with others The success of TeachMeet Northwest is reassuring and I hope that future TeachMeets in NI continue to find that new generation willing to change things.

New Toy – ACER W510

From what I have posted in the past it is obvious that I work very much rooted in a Windows environment. Indeed, part of the reason for doing this blog is because of my success at the Microsoft Innovative Teacher awards in 2010.

More about forthcoming Barcelona trip soon ;)

Take your tablet

Since that time, the rise of the tablet has been unstoppable and this is primarily through Apple’s behemoth… Its infiltration into the education market has been remarkable and it has opened up a range of educational opportunities like never before. Its ease of use attracts nervous users who are familiar with their iPhones and iPods hoping that the experience will be similar – and in that, it is very much so. However, in these times not everyone has the budget for Apple’s tablet.

It has been well reported that Microsoft has been late coming to the game – with the release of Windows RT alongside Windows 8 being an addition to an already bulging market of iOS and Android offerings. And this is true – but I do think that lots of people are having their heads turned by shiny silver stuff without maybe taking a good look at what is already there.

However, I remember seeing all this before Apple came to the market….

‘Oh….Shiny Thing…’

So…. Shiny, silver ACER W510 landed into my lap for a trial run a couple of weeks and I have to say that I am smitten with it. I’m not going to go into all the tech specs – they can be found here.

However, I am going to reflect on how it has been used in class and at home and my time with it.

First up – it is running windows 8.1 Pro with absolutely no issues! First job I did was install Kodu followed by MovieMaker for the work going on in class.

Both work with ease – real ease which is brilliant to see on the Atom processor. I was sceptical – but it worked straight away. The added benefit of being able to use a mouse in the USB meant that Kodu was a success as well as plugging in an XBOX controller to use the programme.

The separation from keyboard to tablet is extremely smooth and a real benefit in the classroom. The children were able to take the tablet out and film a project, bring it back to the keyboard and use MovieMaker to edit their film using the keyboard and mouse controls. Now, I think iMovie is an excellent piece of software for the iPad and gives children an easy way into movie editing. But, I find it too simplistic – so much is done for you that the actual skill of creativity is taken over sometimes. MovieMaker isn’t the complete answer, either, but I find it a great piece of software for the children to extend their skills.

They edited their piece of film on the same device instead of having to upload the footage from a camera – the problem of finding digital cameras / flip cams that don’t work properly, etc. taken out of the equation.

The benefit of the W510 running W8.1 ‘out of the box’ is massive. Although it doesn’t have a CD drive, many of the programmes I would be using in class are downloadable and can be accessed on the device.

Let’s get physical

No bones about it – I love the feeling of the physical keyboard in my hands. In fact, I am doing this entry on the W510 – something that I tried on an iPad and got frustrated with. I love the fact that I can see the full screen while working – have a full Office experience when I need it as well as being able to multi-task the screens. Yes, I know that there are a multitude of keyboards for iPads and have used them very successfully – but there is something natural about the W510′s keyboard + trackpad / tablet + touchscreen combination. It just works! It works really well… One niggle is that the model I am using has the US keyboard style. When setting it up for UK use – the ‘@’ and ” keys reverse – as well as trying to work out how to get ‘\’ onto the screen to log onto the C2k network! However – just a niggle.

I like Windows 8. There, I said it! I like the natural flow of the Live Tiles with the practicality of the PC experience. I feel that it comes into its own with the W510 solution. I have been using it as a consuming tablet around the house as well as a productive laptop for school and work. That combination is, I feel, successful.

Identity Crisis

So… does it have to be a tablet or a laptop? Can it be both? As in The Lego Movie (go with me here) it can be both at the same time – just like Good Cop / Bad Cop. I definitely think that it has a place for both. The 270+ degree keyboard acts as a stand making the W510 an excellent personal multimedia device. I have had it playing my music playlists around the house whilst in stand mode – a discrete piece of kit. And also used it in stand mode for cycling training videos from YouTube. It sat securely on a shelf and was more than ready for the job.

As well as that, I found myself lying in bed reading from the Kindle App (synced wonderfully to my account) as well as having the Bing News App available to switch to when I wanted. As well as this, I had my headphones plugged in and was able to listen to my music via streaming service.

Since getting my hands on the W510, my laptop has remained in my bag! The once attractive 15 inch now seems unweilding, clumpy and ‘too much’ like a laptop. The W510 has ticked every box that I needed and has replaced the laptop in all ways. It is ultra portable and was a great device to take out and work on presentations that I have been doing. Indeed, there were a lot of curious public glances as I switched between tablet and keyboard mode – just for the fun of it :) all the files I needed were in my Dropbox and SkyDrive account and I was able to access them with ease to continue work already begun.

And I haven’t mentioned the battery life! 18 hours!!! 9 hours each in the keyboard dock and the tablet. It holds it too! I have given it a good hammering over the past two weeks and have had to charge it only three times! Very impressive!

‘Appy Enough

Of course, the big issue that W8 RT has had since its launch has been the sparse App store. It is an issue – but the gap is shrinking – albeit very slowly. How could it be any other way- given the head start. I don’t know if there are a lot of Apps on the store that I need as the W510 will run desktop mode and Office applications / Programmes that I need. The Micro HDMI to VGA cable meant that I was able to link it up to my IWB to demonstrate MovieMaker… as well as demonstrating how to use it to the class before they were let loose. Indeed, I intend to use it to give my presentation to a forthcoming conference – a combination of tablet usage (swiping to move to slides) and Laptop (tapping to open links) should showcase its versatility (though the Air capabilities of iPad are remarkable).

I have yet to fully explore the App store for Apps that I will use – but am sure that I will be able to report in the future.

Solutions

So, where do we go as a school?

I want to give my pupils the widest experience as possible and have a vision of integrating technology throughout the school in a  way that they are prepared for all eventualities. So, I hope / intend to put iPads into a number of classes where the teachers have expressed an interest and tablet PCs into the other classes. The pupils will then progress through the school developing their skills in all areas and leaving us with, hopefully, a wealth of knowledge to carry them on in their new environments.

You may have noticed that I said ‘tablet PCs’ above…

The ACER is 18 months old and time (and tech) marches on. ASUS have recently added a similar model to their range of tablet PCs – the T100 and it has got me really excited. It is very similar to the W510 in form factor but is also extremely quick (according to reviews) and I wonder if I will leave the W510 behind knowing that it introduced me to the W8 tablet universe but was edged out by a younger model?

I would love ACER to upgrade the processor to a more recent one – to keep the W510 ahead of the game and the gaining competition.

As  a general class tablet / PC I couldn’t recommend it enough. The 32GB and 64GB is expandable with Micro SD up to 64GB. There is Skydrive / Dropbox storage available – working on the new transformed C2k network (with which it is compatible). It has the USB slot (expandable with a hub). It runs Windows 8.1 comfortably. Lightweight and portable. Full Office capabilities. Runs Windows 8 Pro programmes – though I wouldn’t try to exert it (but would you in a primary classroom?. The expanding App store being added to daily. Battery life is a real bonus – as well as being able to ‘hot desk’ keyboard docks around the classroom – no one is limited to one place.

Those who can … do Guerrilla Poetry!

“If you do what you enjoy doing, then you never have to work a day in your life” was so appropriate today as my class excelled in my expectations and ambitions for their efforts.

WP_20131115_14_21_19_ProWe had a ball and it made poetry on the page come alive for the children. I guess I am being a bit cruel and short-sighted but when I apologised to the class today for ruining their experience of poetry for the next 5 years – I meant it! Words on the page came alive to their imagination and interpretation. I just hope that when they are taken through their Post-Primary journey that it is given the same life that they injected into it today.

Educationalist first – Technologist second

We were fortunate enough to have a visit yesterday from a delegation from the UAE BZH6GYrCcAEZ9p5that was looking at implementation of technology in education in the UK. This flying visit gave them an overview of what went on in the classroom – but one thing that the delegation felt was that our approach to integrating technology in our education approach was that the learning led the way and the technology supported the ambitions. This was pleasing to hear as we want the children to be comfortable in using technology in their learning instead of seeking to rely on it.

I feel that this was very vivid today in what we did and achieved in a short period of time!

Feed the Guerrillas!

Without going into a lot of detail, we were short of time today so the children had, in total, about two hours to do the Guerrilla Poetry exercise.

I chose poems from a variety of books and matched them to the pairs of children that were ready to go. To build the excitement, the children didn’t know what poems they were getting nor were they allowed to look at them before I gave permission. There was a mixture of classic and modern, humorous and sad, Shakespeare, Milligan and Zephaniah. A spectrum of work!

BZHMQsJIgAA7ALrThe challenge was to read the poem (most of which wouldn’t have been read or heard before), interpret its meaning, choose a suitable piece of music for it from the Audio Network App in MySchool and record themselves saying it with the music as accompaniment using Audacity. This was then exported to mp3 format, saved to Dropbox where I was able to create a link that could be linked to a QR code. The children then had to design a very quick poster to advertise their poem for their parents to download onto their Smartphones when they picked them up!

Skilled up

The activity above includes a multitude of skills beyond simple classroom practice but the heart of the activity was for the children to read and interpret poetry in their way. The technology was a vehicle to drive the interest – not the means to an end and I hope that the children appreciate this side of the lesson.

They took to it with such enthusiasm and eagerness! Roles in the poem were shared, music was researched and downloaded (give or take a crash or too in the C2k system :/)

BZH6banCAAA1qG2Audacity was launched and parts recorded, downloaded, mixed, edited and exported. Every bit of space was utilised to do the recording (I doubt that DE will build me a recording studio!) but it does highlight the ridiculous nature of the building of our school that has A THIRD LESS accommodation of a similarly attended school. It is the children who suffer and this woeful inequality will (hopefully) be addressed soon.

With half an hour until the end of the day – we flew into full swing using PowerPoint as the design tool for the  posters containing the QR codes.

It was hectic and crazy (with the value of clued in Classroom Assistants coming to the fore) but with 5 minutes until the gates opened a squad of children went flying out to stick up their posters for their parents to see.

BZH40mECEAAeJJMThere was general delight amongst the children as they dragged their parents over to the posters and codes, getting them to take their phones out and then showing their parents what to do! Total control of learning and sharing.

As we debriefed before they went home, we thought about the role I played today in helping and it turned out to be simple BZH20ziCEAIWCJ5- copying the files to my Dropbox and creating the QR code on the website for them as they designed their posters! A brilliant sense of independence!

I have a feeling that this is something that may stay with them for a while!

Some examples, I hope you like them:

Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright

Ning, Nang, Nong

Macbeth

Cloths of Heaven

I went to the cinema tomorrow

What If

If

I went to the Cinema Tomorrow

Dis Poetry

 

Day I

Well, I have to say that the first day went much more smoothly than I anticipated.
By all accounts, people seemed impressed by the new system and what it has to offer initially. The layout is simple and pleasing to the eye.
Not everyone had access to everything – sine spent time having to look (seriously, that hard to find ActivInspire?!?). Only a niggle but it did throw up one interesting aspect that neither C2k or Capita can legislate for…

Teacher time!

I wonder if it would not have been wide to build ICT coordinator day one support time into the budget? That way, I could have been going around the classes to be on hand to help with the first views.
By being in class, I wasn’t available until the end of the day at a staff meeting to run through some of the basics with staff.

Definitely think this would be of benefit to others.

Biggest surprise? PaperCut software that visually counts down printing credits!

So it is working. Again, however, I have to credit the install team with the effort put in to ensuring it was fit for purpose. The more I explore, however, the more I will probably uncover.

Stay tune

Pilot’s Licence

frustrationBeing a teacher or any member of the public service brings its share of criticism from many angles – public, politicians, users, workers within the system and so on. As adults we hope and expect that we can take this criticism as ‘constructive criticism’ where we can learn from mistakes and do the best we can to eradicate them and stop them happening again.

I know that doesn’t speak for everyone but if you have professional pride in what you are doing, one would hope that the effort would be made to improve things. It is disconcerting, though, how the political football of ‘blame’ gets kicked around from one person to the next with vicious criticism being considered the norm without consideration for those that are the human face behind the public profile. We are also very good at passing that political football around. How many times have we heard that schools and teachers are to blame for educational failings only for this, in turn, to be passed onto parents’ style of parenting only for this to be the fault of computer games / councils / TV / curriculum choices / insert appropriate subject here and back again! No doubt that all have their own level of responsibility – but my unease is how this pits people against each other when they should be working together.

I think the same has been happening with the Northern Ireland C2K computer system in schools. We have been very quick to criticise the provision in the past and it has almost become a ‘bye-word’ for failings and things going wrong. Indeed, one of the on-going jokes is the fact that the helpline phone number ends in ’666.’

ComputerFrustrationThere are many elements of it that don’t work – it is cumbersome when wanting to add new technology; restrictive in its approach to genuine innovation; inflexible and short-sighted in an fast-paced, ever-changing technological landscape and very, very expensive when wanting to buy new equipment that worked within it. The contract didn’t suit the reality of many schools as they are now – pro-active in embedding new innovative teaching ideas through the use of technology (mobile or otherwise). But, who’s fault was this? It can’t be laid at the door of those workers who are manning the phones on a daily basis or out in the field working with teachers to get the best out of the system. This is an infrastructure decided upon by politicians and political advisors who were looking for the cheapest option, surely. And, if you buy cheap, you know what to expect…

However, I think that this is changing in the new ‘Transformation’ that primary schools are going to go through. Our school has been asked to be a pilot school to test the system and to provide feedback to benefit future schools. Again, this is from the basis of a primary school, it will be interesting to get perspective from our friends in post-primary in the future.

Installation

8, count them, 8 days!! That’s how long the install lasted and how long the system was technically ‘down’. However, this was a team of engineers arriving in school before many of the staff and leaving after staff had left. So, it is obvious that they wanted to do a good job. They were led by an excellent team-leader who listened to what we wanted as a school. He was then able to offer his own advice based on experience but, the bottom line was always what we wanted for our school. The team worked away – always polite, always engaging and engaged – a credit to the company. As well as this, I was constantly informed of what was happening, and why. This meant that I was able to feedback to my principal. This was followed up even further by emails that helped explain things further – including one on Saturday morning after the install had finished! I hope all schools get the same experience

Mission Control

After the initial technical work of installing the hardware had been completed, the next phase was the testing by Capita technicians and C2k staff. A team descended on the school and tested every element of the system – inside and out – to ensure that the new system was ready to go for Monday morning. A quarter of our hall genuinely did look like Mission Control as banks of monitors were flickering away beneath our large screen at the back of the hall. I regret not taking a photograph!

Clean and Simple

The login screen for MySchool is well laid out but also customisable so I can set the layout to suit the school. By far the biggest surprise will be for teachers is the ‘Start’ button! Unlike Windows8, there actually is one but there are no programmes behind it! Everything is driven by the ‘MyApps’ that is accessed from the front of the MySchool Login page! Culture shock awaits! it will take a bit of time for users to get into the habit of accessing their programmes from the ‘MyApps’ but once you have it in mind, I feel that it should become second nature.

myschool

As yet, I need to find out about installing your own programmes onto the PCs and where they will be accessible from. However, this is the reason why being on a pilot is good – you can ask the questions, give the feedback and, hopefully, see the results.

It seems clear that a lot of thinking has gone into the layout of the screens and their accessibility. As well as this, the level of access to sites has also been given a lot of thought. As ‘Network Manager’ I can set permissions for sites – including Social Media. However, this will, of course, cause some headaches for schools where there will need to be agreed policies on use (as with any work place). But, it is getting there. I found it intuitive and straight-forward. With a bit of technical support, I have even been able to embed the school’s Twitter feed into the teachers’ desktops – and give Tweeting rights if wanted.

Bear in mind, the world of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube et al didn’t exist when C2k got going and there was no provision in it at the time. This move indicates that there is a willingness to listen to schools and what they want – within reason, I suppose.

Holy Grail of WiFi access

The MERU wireless seems to be working well. Logging in from external devices is something similar to accessing Starbucks’ system – connecting to the system, then entering C2k login details on a webpage. This, in turn, gives access to the WiFi for devices and there was a plethora of devices being tested! It’s not entirely complete yet – I know that there are some Android issues and my W8 phone wouldn’t work (I knowwwwwwwwwwwww) but iPads / iPhones and iPods were all happily chirping away. To be honest, the heart of the system is security for users and C2k so I can understand if there is a bit of a hoop to jump through.

To print from such devices, though, there needs to be a print server on the system for them to talk to – both Mac and PC – something I wasn’t aware off and will look into facilitating in school if I feel it can be justified. I wonder if wireless printers could be a future option?

As well as this, there is still lack of clarity regarding Games Consoles being able to access the system. As you may be aware, I am a great fan of Kodu but it won’t work on an XBOX360 if it doesn’t have an internet connection. Again, something that being on a pilot assists the team with – and can be looked at in the future.

Close your eyes and jump!

June-19th-Trust-thumbThis is Sunday 15th September. Tomorrow, when the teachers all return to school and power up their new PCs and link to the Whiteboards, then the real story will unfold. I will keep this blog updated with snippets of information if it helps others in the process but, as I very vocally claimed on Friday night…

It works! It’s not perfect but, so far, it works!

Let’s hope it continues to do so!