Today, Thursday 11th October, I was given the opportunity to share with other teachers what happens in my classroom at The Handheld Learning Conference in Hull. Here is what I shared.
One thing that always seems to ring true, usually in hindsight, is that you should use the right tool for the job. The reasons are varied but usually amount to reducing the amount of effort to get a job done or ensuring you don’t damage your work (or yourself).
In fact, Abraham Lincoln said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
This, in essence, is what I want to talk about today: mobile devices as tools. I do not believe that they are a magic wand that will solve all of our problems. In fact, I am of the opinion that if they are introduced as some kind of ‘quick fix’ to somehow enhance teaching and learning, that they could end up having the opposite effect and could actually hinder good learning and progress. And so, it’s important to understand that I started by thinking about learning – the devices came after.
I love the TED app on my iPad. I can sit for hours browsing and watching inspirational talks. One of the first I watched was a talk by Sir Ken Robinson (the king of creativity) speaking about how he believes that our current education system is killing creativity. What made me think the most was when he said this: “Shakespeare was in someone’s class once, right?” And I thought wow! I have never considered who I may have in my class! I had never realised that in my class could be the next Steve Jobs, the next Prime Minister… What if there is a child in my class now who has the potential to cure cancer… When I started thinking in this way, it changed everything. It made me realise that the most important thing was ensuring that every individual child in my class, realised and reached their full potential.
To make things worse, with that in mind, when I evaluated the teaching and learning in my classroom, I realised that it was not fit for purpose. Regardless of the good observations, I couldn’t, hand on heart, say that the teaching and learning in my classroom inspired and enabled every individual to reach their full potential and develop their individual talents. So I changed it.
Forgive me for sharing this aspect but remember, teaching and learning first, tools second. What’s the point in having an axe if you don’t have a tree to cut down? So briefly, here I some of the things that I’ve done…
I scrapped whole class carpet time. I worked out that if children sit on the carpet for a 15min intro and plenary every lesson of every day from year 1 through to year 6, they will spend a total on 96 days (24hours) sitting in the carpet!
I asked the children what they wanted to learn about and how they wanted to learn it.
I completely changed the classroom layout. I scrapped set seating arrangements. I scrapped ability groups and therefore 4-way differentiation.
This is now my classroom layout. (See picture). It is based on a problem solving and development room at a company called Maya based in Pittsburgh. Children move freely around the area/zones. Differentiation is now 30-way, personalised to the needs, likes and talents of the individual. In essence, it’s personalised, project-based learning. This includes literacy and numeracy. Every child’s individual ability in these core areas are assessed and monitored daily, and individual targets are set and reviewed regularly on a 1:1 basis.
It’s messy… I’ve labelled it ‘messy learning’… But, I am confident that I now have a system in place that doesn’t kill creativity but rather encourages and engages children in learning. Most importantly I’m confident that we are developing an environment in which all children, supported by me (the facilitator), can begin to realise and reach their full potential.
So… Why iPads?
Well, this where ‘the right tool for the job’ becomes applicable. If I am expecting children to become responsible, enthusiastic consumers of knowledge, then 2 slow computers in the corner of the room are not fit for purpose. If am encouraging children to work collaboratively on creative projects, supporting them as they develop their artistic, musical and cinematic skills, then large, difficult to use, slow, fixed machines are not fit for purpose. If I am wanting to enable 21st century learners to reach their full potential and make a real difference in a 21st century world, driven by new technologies, then in my opinion, children need to be using and exploring the power of new technologies in a relevant way.
I’d like to finish by sharing my favourite use of the iPad… Blogging… The 16 iPads that I have in my classroom have really opened up a world of possibilities with regards to the sharing of learning and giving children’s work a wider audience. Children are now able to upload writing, pictures, videos etc to the class blog with the touch of a few buttons. Children can take a photo, using the iPad, describe what they have been learning to do and upload it for the world to see. Children do this during the school day and by the time they are collected by their parents, the parents can have seen what their children have been doing during the day and have a great discussion about it on the way home.