New Toys for The New Term


vrblogA fun term was had by all! It would be great if this was always the case for everyone, but as we know the life of a teacher can’t always be fun. However, I’ve had some great moments  trying out some new tech ideas this term at St Wilfrid’s and thought I’d share a few with you that transform the classroom and really capture students imagination.

The first is CoSpaces – an interactive web-based platform that lets the user create a virtual environment that they or others can explore.

I have had a real journey into 360˚ and Virtual Reality (VR) for education over the last five months that started at an ADE Global institute in Berlin in June (something I’ll be taking about in more detail at the Bett Show in January).  University educator, Sarah Jones (@virtualsarah) introduced me to various educational notions including CoSpaces . What excites me about this is that students are not only immersing themselves in an exciting environment, but they are able to go into a world that they have created themselves. As a child I played the PC game, Themepark and really wanted to be a customer experiences the park, rather than just the architect or business manger behind it. Well with CoSpaces , you almost can.

I first used the platform with students to make virtual museums. St Wilfrid’s, in Blackburn, has teamed up with EDN school in Catalonia, Godby High School in Åland and Simono Dacho School in Lithuania for a two year Erasmus project, where we are bringing new life to elements of local history in the form of a virtual museum.

Students had the chance to enter their own virtual museum.

We will had the initial thought of using ThingLink 360 as a presentation platform, but need to wait and see what develops over the next 18 months before solidifying our plans. CoSpaces was put to great use on our first international meeting in Åland this September, where students could display their historical research in a virtual 360˚ environment, allowing them to fully understand the concept of an immersive environment and visualise their creative ideas.

Using Cardboard, students could immerse themselves in a 360 VR envirnment.

I then used CoSpaces in my English lessons back at school, where students were learning about transactional writing through creating their own theme park and writing leaflets to attract people to visit. Students were able to design their themed worlds using CoSpaces and then invite other class members to virtually visit it. In using this immersive technique to experience their world, they could then be prompted to use extended vocabulary and exciting adjectives to sell their park and the experience of being in it.

I’m sure this immersive experience technique could also be used to inspire creative writing in English, as well as recreating historic landmarks in History and Geography lessons.

Seppo is another exciting web-based platform for education, which combines interactive multi-media activities and real world environments.

Students have to navigate a pre-loaded map, where they are assigned different tasks at different places. They use an electronic mobile device to answer multiple choice questions, take pictures/videos or enter text to solve a problem. In moving around the environment, whilst using metacognitive processes to decide how to respond to tasks, their brains become more active than if they were sat in a classroom looking at a screen.

Here is our interactive map of the school that students had to navigate.

As a teacher, you can monitor activity, mark students assignments and send messages to students as they are out and about. We used Seppo as part of our two day iPad induction programme at St Wilfrid’s to try and funk up our delivery of the iPad code of conduct. Each assignment had a task related to rules about iPad safe usage and behaviour. The students had to use the map of the school on their iPads to find where each activity was and complete it to the best of their ability.

Here teachers can view activities and give feedback whilst students are out and about.

With elements of Pokémon Go and using the full toolkit of multi-media elements that students are used to using, they really enjoyed the treasure hunt methodology, mixed with the SnapChat style tasks and were all well versed in our iPad code of conduct.

When showcasing this at one of our #TMLancashire Teachmeets at St Wilfrid’s, teachers were impressed with the fun that could be had whilst learning.

The third Christmas treat I’d like to share is the newest feature of my favourite web-based learning platform, Kahoot! Kahoot Jumble exercises the brain even more than the quick fire questions we are used to with this game-show style service, by asking students to sort and rank possible answers.

Kahoot have added some great Christmas activities to test this out with classes, and as ever, there are great educators around the world adding their own content to the platform for teachers to use. I have had limited use of this platform so far, but tested it out with putting words into alphabetical order for younger students and sorting films by their release date in my Media Studies class.

Kahoot Jumble in action

Ideas that could work really well are sorting elements in science, putting fractions in order of size in Maths lessons and putting events in order in an English narrative or in a History lesson.

I think the next step would be to be able to mix and match regular Kahoot questions with Kahoot Jumble questions.

These are some great ideas to try out in the new year if you haven’t tried them already. I suggest you have a play with them after the festivities to get yourself pepped up about returning to school. Merry Christmas everyone.

For more about my experiences in VR and 360° come and see my talk on the Bett Futures stage on 28th January.


Using Technology to Facilitate Verbal Discussion – Giving Every Student a Voice.

This morning at Saint Wilfrid’s Academy in Blackburn I presented the first in a new series of New Tech breakfast meetings. This series is looking at interactive response systems and how they can transform the classroom. To be able to get ideas from every student in the classroom is extremely powerful if used in purposeful and meaningful ways.

In being able to get the views of every student in the classroom, rather than the select few who put up their hands or those that the teacher pick, as a teacher you can delve deeper into questioning, using answers that you may not have received without the use of technology. I use Socractive a lot to do this. The ad-hoc feature of asking students for a short response allows me to see all students’ views and then share those views with the entire class, using the vote button put into the app.

The questioning develops when the teacher picks  a students’ response and gets the writer of it, or other class members to elaborate on it in a basket balling type of technique. This has made discussion times in the classroom more sophisticated and meaningful. Check out the Socrative app and the ad-hoc features it offers. Plickers is another great app to facilitate verbal discussion. Although, this time you will have to print off some voting cards for your class and question the students after a multiple choice question.


Interactive ebooks for Field Trips – No more crumpled booklets!

In my role as Lead Teacher for New Technologies at St Wilfrid’s C of E Academy in Blackburn, I enjoy exploring ways that new technology can enhance the learner experience for more purposeful and memorable learning. When approached by our History department to investigate ways to innovate a year 8 trip to Liverpool’s Merseyside Maritime Museum, I was excited to see what we could accomplish with interactive, multi-media books that the students could access and complete on their mobile devices. 

Superb History teacher, Ann Toole (@a_toole) was at the helm for this journey, taking 245 12-13 year olds to learn about Liverpool’s maritime history of magnificent trade, tragic incident and brutal slavery. She wanted to find engaging ways for students to not only discover information, but also ways for them to apply their own understanding, create stories and share their museum experiences. 

We use Book Creator (@BookCreatorApp) in various subjects a cross our Academy to achieve these goals but had never used it to create activities for a field trip, that we could take away, keep and more importantly, share. Making books is intuitively easy with Book Creator and students can create stunning interactive books in minutes. A powerful feature within the app is to be able to lock text boxes, images and shapes as you create them. This allows you to create templates for students that they cannot easily mistreat or make a mess of. With the ability to add sound files and videos, students do not have to read all the instructions for activities as they can see and hear them, when pre-recorded by their teacher. 

After a recce to the museum, taking lots of photos and making an abundance of site specific notes, Anne was able to create a multi-media interactive book for students to complete whilst at the museum. Some of the activities within this book included recording the sound of a slave ship; taking a selfie as one of the passengers or crew on the titanic; finding a particular exhibit, sign posted by a photo in the book, then noting down some relevant information. Rather than just note taking or filling in boxes, the functionality of the ebook allowed the students to be much more creative and involved with the museum. The books were shared on Showbie (@Showbie), an easy way to distribute the resource efficiently and collect the ebooks back in once they had been completed. 

This experience was wholly different from the days of walking round with a paper booklet and clipboard, trying to flick through to relevant pages and writing with a blunt pencil, only for the booklet to end up crumpled up in the bottom of a bag. 

The students were responsive to this change on the day and with structured debrief and content sharing lessons after the the trip, they shared their experiences using Google Forms. Here are some of their results:

When asked about ease of use, just 8% of students said that it was difficult or very difficult. Some of the more fiddly tasks within the booklet may be changed for next year. 

When asked about the types of tasks the students enjoyed, over 40% said that their favourite type of activity was being able to take pictures and insert them into their ebooks, something that they would not have been able to do with a paper booklet.

When asked about their preference of a paper booklet or an ebook 75% said they they preferred the ebook. 

So a resounding success, with just a few changes to make for next year. No more crumpled booklets and wasted resources. But how else can we utilise the interactive creativity of an ebook on other field trips in other subject areas? More to follow…

5 Best Betts

I think I enjoyed Bett this year more than any other. I went down with purpose; speaking about CPD at my school on the Thursday and investigating learner management platforms on the Friday. Although these challenges were met, it was all I discovered when looking around that really got me excited. Networking, seeing old friends and watching the teachmeet were also highlights but these 5 things made my top 5 Best Betts.

1. Veo Edcation – Video Enhanced Observations

I discovered these guys in the Bett Futures section, possibly my favourite part of The Bett Show. After just going through a video observation coaching programme myself and having to sit back and cringe at myself on camera whilst I teach, this slick app to make the process more focussed was an instant hit. I found the process of watching myself teach incredibly eye opening, but to be able to tag parts of a lesson whilst filming it, in order to instantly jump to different foci opened my eyes wider. A great idea in developing teachers in a slick way that really uses technology to enhance a process. 


2.  David Kirtlan’s iPad Band  

Back for another year and on a tour from stand, to theatre, to arena. This year they took to the main stage in the Bett Arena and rocked out the entire convention floor with iPad renditions of Guns & Roses’ Sweet Child of Mine, amongst others. The students have truly honed their craft with timing tight and vocals harmonised perfectly. This really was a relaxing and inspirational treat in the heart of this technoverse full of techbabble and sales pitches. 


3. Two Dan’s Book Creator Q & A with Neil Emery 

The boys behind Book Creator gave a fantastic Q & A session on the Albion stand. Hosted by fellow ADE, Neil Emery, they started at the creation story of this groundbreaking app, and took us right through to the exciting new features recently released. Best things I learnt: How to make the most of the supercool comic book features (Marvel and DC fonts included) and how to combine books if students; perfect for school trips or foreign exchanges. Who needs Biff and Chip? 


4. Kahoot

These guys didn’t really show me anything new, but they didn’t have to! The energy coming from their combined stand oozed confidence in their product which they know is AWESOME!  I have been a massive advocate of Kahoot since I was introduced to it in Catalonia and it really transforms my classroom environment into a hive of activity and energy. The element of competition and instant feedback enthuses students, generating excitement. I use Kahoot in most of my staff training sessions as adults enjoy the interactivity as much as the students. Another great way to use technology to enhance the learning experience, rather than just compliment it. Also got a free T-shirt! 


5. Explain Everything Collaborative Whiteboard

I was surprised to see Explain Everything in the Bett Futures section at Bett, as it has been a stalwart core app for most schools running iPad schemes. They have already enhanced the self recording whiteboard with great sharing features, but here comes a new app: Explain Everything Collaborative Whiteboard. This allows one person to control a whiteboard on their iPad and invite others to collaborate on the same whiteboard on their iPads. The devices must be on the same wifi and their is a subscription cost to make, but this seems like a brilliant development in seeing students working together using tablet technology, rather than on their own projects. I can’t wait to try this out.

The Holladeck – Immersion is More Than Engaging

Lead Teacher for New Tech’ is my title although most of my time is spent with just mobile technology. At St Wilfrid’s Acadmey we have the luxury of a book able immersive space (iSpace), complete with easily moveable classroom furniture and a 3D projector. It feels like the Holladeck would on the Star Trek Voyager.It would be wrong of me to say that this room is used everyday but it is an excellent space to to inspire and give a different flavour to the students’ learning experience. Recently I have taken my classes back to Dickensian London when looking at A Christmas Carol and to a graffiti-clad brick wall when when analysing creative prose written about school.


These were incredibly engaging experiences for students as they enter a room where sights and sounds are created to take them into a learning location where they will have a totally different kind of lesson. We respond to sights and sounds all around us instinctively, all of the time, and these practical skills bring out an abundance of ideas and creativity in students. When asking students to write about their thoughts and feelings when glancing upon Scrooge’s counting house or spotting the clues that let us know about his character, there is an excitement to engage with the book but also a deeper understanding that generates an enthusiasm to perform.

I decided to use this technology with mobile technology and old tech too (whiteboard markers), to embed QR codes within the iSpace projection and get the students to respond to the information behind each of them. Students were engaged, enthused and working independently with a desire to perform.

 Just as the Holladeck on Star Trek, I don’t recommended staying in this environment for long periods of time and not too regularly that you lose a sense of reality. When the time or theme warrants such a trip to the iSpace, great things always happen.

Starters and Plenaries Facilitated by iPads

I had a request this week to focus our New Tech’ Breakfast meeting at St Wilfrid’s on Starters and Plenaries. iPads can help to facilitate engaging activities at the start a lesson and consolidatory activities at the end. Most of the ideas noted are to be used in a 1:1 mobile device school.Ideas for Starters

Padlet is a great tool to start instant collaborative discussion at the start of a lesson. By putting your Padlet’s QR code on the whiteboard as students enter the classroom, they are thrown into a discussion created by teacher. A discussion can be based around a question or a picture, using Padlet’s media tools.

QR Codes are brilliant for reavealing information to students with a great sense of discovery to engage. I used these on the reverse of a card sort activity to give students extra facts to inform their decision making. An example would be to ask students to rate countries on their quality of life. After their initial ranking, they could flip over the country cards, scan a QR code and get some additional facts about the average life span for people on that country. They could then rank again, with the teacher asking how the information changed their decision making.

The Socrative student response system is a great hook into the start of a lesson. By starting a quiz before students enter and displaying log in instructions on the classroom’s whiteboard, students can get on with a quiz straight away, focussed on the topic of the lesson that day. Should you have classes that come into your classroom in dribs and drabs, Socrative’s self paced feature is great to get students on board whenever they enter the room. By adding an open ended question at the end, those who come into class earlier and whiz through the quiz are kept occupied until others have finished and are being stretched.

Ideas for Plenaries 

Socrative’s ad hoc question feature is a good way to gauge student understanding at the end of a lesson. If students are asked to provide a short written answer, these answers can then be shared with the entire class on their mobile devices. The voting feature allows students to read each other’s answers and vote on the best one, helping them to learn from each other.

Plickers is a fun AFL tool to see where your class is, in terms of their understanding. Setting up questions on the app is easy and students find it straight forward to hold up their Plicker voting card to be scanned. Multiple choice answers can be based on levels of understanding and the need for more support.


Helping Students to Create Quality Videos

Being a film and media teacher for the past 9 years, I have welcomed the introduction of multimedia mobile technology whole heartedly. iPads afford students the access to film, edit and publish film with relative ease. It is great to see teachers across the curriculum giving their students video projects to demonstrate their understanding, however how can we ensure that the quality of the video is as good as the content that the students are presenting?

For any project of this nature students are given subject specific success criteria to ensure the content of their video reflects the learning that has taken place in lessons, but we also need to provide students with additional production guidelines to ensure that the quality of the video that comes back has appropriate production value.

Without wanting to bamboozle students with high level media terminology, I have produced a simple guide to help students produce videos that they can be really proud of.