Computing with iPad

Ever since the arrival of the National Curriculum subject ‘computing’ in 2014, figuring out how exactly to teach computer science and coding in a Primary school has become a hot issue. Using a Mac or PC (or even a Raspberry Pi), there are some obvious contenders: ‘Scratch’ from MIT, maybe a bit of ‘LOGO’ or even some ‘Python’ for the more adventurous. But what about the iPad? Can computational thinking and an understanding of algorithms be taught using Apple’s intuitive and easy-to-use touch screen device?

There has been a range of coding apps for iPad right from the start, but only recently has the iPad started to really shine when it comes to learning to code. Here are three strong contenders.

codeSpark Academy with The Foos

This paid-for app (with free access for educators) aims to teach the basics of computational thinking to children aged 4+ with a fun, visual and no-words approach. It’s based around five different characters, called ‘The Foos’, who all have different skills and abilities that can be used to solve problems to try and catch the elusive ‘Glitch’. Using an intuitive interface and attractive 3D graphics, it quickly teaches children about sequencing, loops, events and conditions. There is also a curriculum that teachers can download, including ‘off-line’ activities to help explore coding concepts further.

We tried out using codeSpark Academy with our Year 1 children as part of the Hour of Code in December, and are now using the full app this half term as part of their computing lessons. I really like how it uses puzzles to really get children to think and increasingly harder levels to teach new concepts and consolidate learning. Definitely worth taking a look!

LEGO Education WeDo 2.0

Version 1.0 of LEGO WeDo was first released in 2009 and offered a simple way to teach robotics and coding to 7-11s using LEGO bricks. A USB hub connected various sensors to a computer, such as distance and tilt, as well as a motor. Following the onscreen building instructions in the software, children could construct various models and then use block-based coding to program them, e.g. making a crocodile shut its mouth when something is put inside it. We’ve been using these kits for several years and children love them: it’s accessible computing and you get to build with LEGO!

In 2016, LEGO announced WeDo 2.0, with brand-new models and parts and a Bluetooth hub to connect the updated sensors with iPads and Chromebooks, as well as PCs and Macs. The new WeDo 2.0 is a free download (obviously requiring the paid-for LEGO kits) and includes all the build instructions and a range of ‘Guided Projects’, both for science and for computing.

Version 2.0 is a really strong upgrade, both in terms of the hardware and iPad compatibility, but also in terms of the pedagogy; it requires problem-solving skills and creativity from children to both build and extend models as well as design the code required to complete the different projects.

Swift Playgrounds

Debuting at WWDC in June 2016 and launched last Autumn, Swift Playgrounds is a truly remarkable piece of software. It aims to teach children (Year 7+, but definitely accessible at the start for those in Years 5 and 6) the foundations of computational thinking whilst using real Swift code – a programming language Apple created that is used today by professional developers in many popular apps. Many other computing apps take a ‘block-based coding’ approach, where students can drag and drop pre-defined blocks of code and combine them to create a program. This is great for teaching the concepts of computer science, but leaves a chasm of confusion when students try and code using a typed language. Swift Playgrounds overcomes this by using written code from the start, but code that can be selected from smart autocorrect suggestions above the keyboard and then can be dragged around as if it were a ‘block’ of code.

The app is also really fun to play! On the right of the screen is a 3D world that you navigate to solve puzzles, entering code on the left of the screen. The puzzles can be quite challenging, requiring student to think carefully, spot patterns and apply the skills they have learned in a variety of ways. As you progress through the levels, it really does teach you how to think like a programmer through crafting efficient, reusable and readable code.

Accompanying each of the ‘Learn to Code’ books in Swift Playground is a multi-touch book that teachers can download. These provide a full curriculum to help with teaching using Swift Playground, complete with Keynote slides for each lesson.

All three of these apps show how iPad has really grown up as a platform for learning computational thinking.

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Managing Change: the S-Curve

A few years ago I attended an Apple education event where a story was used to help us think about change management. We were invited to imagine that we were on a desert island, with another, better island in the distance. What sort of person were we? Were we the swimmer who immediately jumped into the water and started speeding off to the next island? Or were we the observer, standing on the shore with our binoculars and surveying the water for dangers, obstacles and perhap sharks? Or were we the flag-holder, someone who was going to stay put on the current island thank you very much and had no intention of going anywhere?

I would definitely say I was a swimmer, but it was interesting to discuss about the positives and negatives of each position and how all were important in managing change. Swimmers might get to new places quicker but could also get themselves into trouble. Observers are good at looking ahead and identifying possible problems and issues with a change, but can also be slow to actually take action. Flag-holders are good at championing the benefits of the status quo and questioning the genuine need for a change, although they can hold it back unnecessarily.

What was said next was the most fascinating though: to get to the island, what you really need is a boat. There needs to be a way that everyone can get across to the new island without leaving people behind. And sometimes you might need to burn the flag – staying behind and avoiding the change isn’t an option any more!

This way of thinking about managing change suggests a deep understanding of the Diffusion of Innovations theory (or S-curve). The S-curve theory is about the process of how new ideas, innovations and technology are adopted within a society or social group. It suggests that there are:

  1. Innovators – those who first invent or use a new technology or idea
  2. Early adopters – this who begin to use it more widely
  3. Early majority – a larger group who begin to also use the innovation
  4. Late majority – most of the remaining half of people who then accept the innnovation
  5. Laggards – those who relunctantly capitulate to the innovation, a significant amount of time after the innovators and early adopters

The theory can be applied to any new innovation in history, be it boiling water to sterilise and kill germs, the emergence of the motor car or using computers in school. Returning to the picture of the islands, perhaps the swimmer is the innovator and early adopter, the observer is the early and late majority, and the flag-holder is the laggard.

As someone who wants to see education transformed with (Apple) technology, this theory is really fascinating. Only a small proportion of teachers will adopt a new idea to begin with, but over time many, most and finally all will also adopt it too. I have found this with all of the changes I’ve sought to bring in school, be it with introducing Macs, teacher iPads, ditching Smartboards or going 1:1 iPad with kids or starting to use Slack. It takes time to introduce a change, but there is a critical point where a ‘boat’ is required to accelerate its adoption and give people an easy enough path to move from where they are into the new thing. There is also a point where the old approach and method needs to be decisively removed to enable everyone to move together.

 

Quicker and Easier on iPad

At the end of last year, we did some monitoring about how Showbie was being used in our school. One of the insights from that was all of the work that was done in Computing could be done quicker and easier on iPad rather than using an iMac.  In our school, children have a timetabled ‘Computing’ slot when they get to go and use the iMac suite.  The children do enjoy it, but in this increasingly mobile age, children are just not as familiar with using a mouse and keyboard, let alone using an arguably more complex desktop operating system that is OSX. Perhaps they just need the practice, but actually the iPad allows children to achieve remarkably complex things (visual programming, video creation and editing etc.) with relative ease.  If we add in the simple but powerful e-portfolio workflow that Showbie offers for iOS, iPad increasingly comes up tops when compared to Mac.

So, what apps do we use for Computing on Mac and how can iPad replace/improve them?  Is it possible to go ‘iPad Only’ with Computing?

Email

We use LGfL’s London Mail to provide safe and restricted access to email for students during certain Computing units. It’s hosted by Microsoft and is accessed via a web browser.  It works fine on Mac as well as iPad, but on iPad it’s super easy to screenshot learning and add it into Showbie.

Visual Programming

We already use Hopscotch, Kodable, A.L.E.X. and Daisy the Dinosaur on iPad to teach coding using pre-programmed blocks.  On the Mac, we use Scratch, a great coding environment created by MIT. There is a (literally) junior version of it called Scratch Jnr, which is suitable for younger children but unfortunately they haven’t released a full iPad version yet.  However, there are other alternatives out there, such as Tynker.

Typed Coding

When we developed our Computing curriculum a few years ago, we included a strand which focused on getting children to type in computer code, starting with learning to type, then moving onto languages such as LOGO and Python. You can get typing apps for iPad, and even ones for LOGO and Python. Fun as it has been to introduce these to children, I think that they might be just a bit too tricky for Primary aged kids, so instead we’re going to introduce some more fun iPad coding apps.  Like Floors (which allows you to design your own platform games…)!

iWork

Pages, Numbers and Keynote are as fully-featured on iOS as a Primary school kid would need, so no contest there.  And are arguably easier to use.

iLife

iMovie on OSX is powerful, but it does add so many steps to the movie-making process: capture video on another camera, then import into Mac, then edit. iMovie for iPad is so simple and easy to use to use, with the advantage of being able to do everything on one device.

LEGO WeDo

The only sticking point was LEGO WeDo, a simple programmable LEGO kit.  WeDo 1.0 runs of a wired USB hub to connect the motor/tilt sensor/motion sensor.  However, LEGO have recently announced WeDo 2.0, which connects via Bluetooth to an iPad…yay!  I recently had a play with it at BETT and it was really great.

So, I think that going all-in on iPad for Computing can work!

Introducing Showbie

We’ve started using Showbie in my school.  Which feels a bit like saying, “Hey, guys, did you know that they’ve invented colour TV?” Or, “I finally had a ride on one of those new-fangled horseless carriages…wasn’t so bad.”

I’m not sure when Showbie was first launched, but it’s definitely been vaguely on my radar as a paperless classroom solution for iPad ever since the magical tablet first appeared in 2010. Since then it’s become a de-facto app solution for managing digital workflows in iPad schools, even appearing as number 4 in a Top 10 list of apps as votes by ADEs in the Summer. However, I’ve always dismissed it as being useful in a Primary school that wasn’t 1:1 with iPads, so haven’t given it much consideration up until now.

However, last year a brilliant Apple Distinguished Educator Julian Coultas came to visit our school to suggest ways that we could take our iPad journey further, and he mentioned about Showbie. We were increasingly hitting the problem of how to evidence, record and generally deal with the digital content that was being made in lessons using iPad. Lots of interesting learning was happening in classrooms using technology, but it was often hard to tell this looking in children’s books.  Some teachers were willing to go through the laborious process of printing off children’s work and then sticking it in books, but most were not: why make a lively, engaging iPad lesson into a laborious bureaucratic chore? Plus, how exactly does one go about printing a video?

Instead, Showbie offers a solution to three interrelated but distinct problems:

  1. Digital portfolio – keeping a record of children’s learning. With Showbie, each pupil has their own account where iPad learning can be handed into. This then creates a record of the learning process on iPad, complete with comments and dialogue between the child and the teacher.  And with the latest version of Showbie, there is even the ability to create ‘proper’ student portfolios!
  2. Managing ongoing projects with shared iPads. Once work-in-progress has been saved to Showbie, a child can then log into Showbie on any iPad, re-download it and then continue.  With shared iPads across year groups, then avoids the issue of children having to remember the iPad they used the lesson before.
  3. Distributing resources/documents. Showbie makes it easy for teachers to distribute documents/images/instructions to children for a given lesson.  We’ve already got a generic email account setup for each class set of iPads which currently offers a lo-fi version of this – teachers can email images and web links to a set of iPads – but Showbie adds more power and flexibility.

We launched all this a week or so ago, complete with some class demos and a staff meeting from Julian, which unfortunately coincided with a horrendous Showbie outage. Despite being entirely unable to even log into Showbie to show them, teachers seemed really up for the solution Showbie offered to the problem of a student e-portfolio/continuing work on a shared iPad/distributing content.

Since then I have been working my way around classes to give brief Showbie demos so that both children and teachers feel confident in the workflow (which, after enrolling into a class, is basically: log into Showbie, do you work, ‘Open In’ Showbie and hand work in at the end of the lesson, and then log out of Showbie).

In order to make the creation of student accounts manageable in a large school, we’ve gone for the paid ‘Pro School’ account. The guys at Showbie have been incredibly helpful and supportive and have ironed out any issues we’ve run into.

The Great iPad Reset

I’ve finally conceded defeat that 6 iPads per class isn’t working.  6 iPad is just not useful in your average classroom as it’s difficult to use as a whole class and involves careful planning to make use of them in small groups.  Compared to the daily use in Foundation Stage, the KS2 iPads were just sitting in cupboards. Which isn’t great!

So, we’ve decided to turn those 30 iPads into two class sets, one for upper KS2 and one for KS1.  Ideally, I’d love to have a proper sync/charge box, but there isn’t the budget for that at this time of year.  So instead it’s a case of wiping (which is easy, thanks to Apple Configurator) and then an old-school iTunes sync. We’re going to charge them in some IKEA lockable cabinets and then sync them with iTunes over wi-fi. We’ll then have a plastic box which teachers can transport the 15 charged iPads to their classes.

Let’s hope that increases their usage!

Explain Everything

I have been hunting for a while for something that would replace smartboard functionality on an iPad. Display mirroring to an AirPlay receiving device (such as an Apple TV or a Mac with Reflection running) is half the battle, but the other is finding an app worth its salt.

There are a few possibilities for free, but they have their shortcomings. Such as:

  • Educreations. Simple, allows drawing and writing, well written. Unfortunately you cannot save and then edit a slideshow – it only lets you record one and play it back. Which essentially renders it useless for advance planning!
  • Doceri. There’s a free and a paid version and it seems nice. The display mirroring mode is cool too, allowing the iPad user to see the controls but for them not to show on the big screen. The handwriting tools are particularly effective. However, it doesn’t let you enter text.
  • ShowMe Interactive Whiteboard. Not bad but doesn’t allow you to enter text.

SMART have now released an iPad version of their Notebook software (for the tidy sum of £4.99) but it’s pretty much useless on several accounts. Firstly, when mirroring the app, the iPad still turns off the screen after 2 minutes, which is not helpful. Secondly, the internal file system is bust as whenever you import a new notebook file it just opens the most recent file instead. Oh, and then pen functionality sometimes doesn’t work too.

So, I was very pleased when I discovered Explain Everything. It can be a little clunky to use, but has the following plus points:

  • Gazillion ways of getting files in and out of the app (Dropbox, Evernote, WebDAV etc)
  • Allows you to type text
  • Robust onscreen writing
  • Prevents the screen turning off when in use
  • Easy manipulation of anything onscreen
  • Can record audio as well as an animation of all your interactions

Generally good stuff. And a bargain at £1.99!

Why not to do 1:1 iPads

I had an interesting discussion last night with a friend about 1:1 iPad deployment in a primary school. She was horrified at the thought of every child getting an iPad which they could use all day long. She has an iPad at home that she lets her kids use, but she is always concerned to limit the amount of screen time her children are having, even if they are playing educational games. Life is bigger and wider than staring at and tapping on a glass screen all day. Maybe she has a point?

Apple Education Event

Today I was at an Apple Education Event, organised by Toucan at the Apple European Briefing Centre above the Regent Street Apple Store. The venue is a bit like a private Apple Store, with all the various Apple products laid out on wooden benches in the refreshments area, and then a mid-sized meeting room with big screens and swivel chairs. Very swish!

The day was composed of an opening Apple Spiel (pretty much exactly the same as the other Apple Events I’ve been to, ie. how mobile technology is changing the face of education and how Apple stuff is supremely place to capitalise this) and then various speakers from schools who’ve used iPads. One stand-out feature from the opening ‘on-message’ part was the power of iTunes U. Schools, and even just individual teachers, can create private courses and manage all the content that students access. The iPad in a sense becomes a VLE (virtual learning environment), offering something far richer and more useful than the horror that is Fronter. I hope to look into this very soon, particularly as a way to get the Y5&6 teachers using their iPads.

The rest of the presentations seem like a bit of a blur now, but here are some of the highlights which stand out:

  • Other methods can work, but it seems that a one-to-one deployment of iPads is the best and most productive way. I’d really like to see somewhere where this is happening and grill them over the details. It’s not something that is ruled out for our school, but the case has got to be strong.
  • Cedars School of Excellence (home of Fraser Speirs and the first ever 1:1 iPad deployment in the world) got a mention, including a natty little video explaining what they’d done. All the kid’s iPads weren’t in cases though – apparently Apple asked for them to be removed in the video!
  • Meraki got a mention as a way of managing loads of iPads. I really want to look into this, as it is apparently free! The mention was from a large international school, in the process of deploying 600 or so iPads, so it can’t be that bad.
  • There were lots of different apps demonstrated, some with more success than others. It seems that the recommendation is to find the ‘core’ apps for your school and really use them effectively, rather than buying gazillions of apps. Interestingly, content creation apps really are the key ones (ie. iLife and iWork titles plus things like Comic Life or Book Creator).
  • DIY charge and sync solutions also got a mention. It was nice to hear someone also balking at the thought of spending £1000 to sync and charge 16 iPads when a more homespun solution works pretty much as well.
  • The newly announced VPP programme (Volume Purchase Programme) was talked about a few times too. I’m glad it’s here but probably won’t be using it until June 2013 when further iPads are deployed.

I guess I’ve come away feeling a little overwhelmed at the enormity of the task of getting these iPads to really work in a school, but also the huge potential they hold in transforming children’s learning. I hope that we get it right!

Video Central now takes .m4v

LGfL offer a great video hosting service for schools called Video Central, which allows schools and children to upload video work for private or public sharing. All was well until I discovered that the latest iMovie now exports its videos by default in the .mp4 format. Which Video Central didn’t accept.

Now, you can pretty easily convert these video files into a .mov file (which they do accept) using QuickTime, but this is one extra layer of complexity that we could all do without. So I thought I would send some feedback about this via LGfL’s webmaster, only to then be told that they’ve now included the .m4v format. Joy!