Why iPad

When I was training to be a teacher back in 2007, I originally thought that I would teach Year 6. After all, I had done A-Level maths and so it would be fun to teach 11-year-olds algebra, right?

However, when I began my initial placements in school I was shocked by how boring this education business was for children: lots of sitting on the carpet staring at a whiteboard, then lots of pencil and paper work in books. There obviously is room for this approach, but it depressed me that children didn’t have much opportunity for independent exploration and discovery, working with rather than against the in-built curiosity of childhood.

I then spent a couple of days in a Reception classroom where I could see children showing independence and genuine agency in their learning, learning through play and exploration and in a way that matches the way that children learn. I then switched to the Early Years route in my PGCE and ended up getting my first teaching job in Nursery.

Fast forward to today and I now lead a 1:1 iPad deployment in a primary school. Is there a connection?

It stuck me, as I sat in some professional development from Apple about the ‘5 Elements of Learning‘, that there is a link! Those 5 elements are as follows:

  • Teamwork – working together on learning
  • Communication and Creation – expressing your ideas to a real audience
  • Personalisation of Learning – students have a choice about the approach to learning
  • Critical Thinking – students creating solutions to problems
  • Real-World Engagement – engaging in tasks that serve a genuine purpose outside the classroom

These elements make up effective learning, and iPad can be used effectively as a tool for learning in all of those elements. But actually, those quite nicely describe a decent early years classroom.

So why iPad? Used well, it allows children to learn in a more creative and meaningful way, not just when they’re in Early Years!

Getting excited about…printers?

At BETT this year I got talking to the guys at the Epson stand and ended up looking at their range of business ink jets. Now I am not a huge fan of printers generally as they cost a lot of money to run and you can make savings and reduce printing costs by utilising digital workflows. But the reality is that you sometimes do need to print so I was interested in ways that we could trim the budget for my school on this.

What interested me about Epson’s printers was their approach to using inkjet. They have taken the same technology they use on a commercial scale and have shrunk it down to provide a reliable and affordable alternative to laser in an office/school etc.

The printers I saw had some cool features:

    Because they don’t need to fuse toner onto a piece of paper they use a lot less energy to run and have much faster startup times
    Print speeds are really fast
    There are fewer parts to maintain and replace — ink comes in bags that can be slotted in — which lowers costs

All of this results in printers that are substantially cheaper to run. Comparing the WorkForce Pro WF-C5210DW with our existing HP laser printers, consumable costs with inkjet are basically half that of laser. So even with the outlay of buying new printers, we are estimating a 30% saving this financial year. Which means more money for iPads!

So we got one of the Epson printers at my school to try out, and I’m pretty impressed so far. The ink comes in little bags that just slot in and take way less space to store. Print speed is very fast with a good print quality as well. It even has decent AirPrint support as well, which makes setup on our network nice and straightforward.

In these increasingly financial constrained times for schools, the thought of saving money by not burning through expensive toner is certainly welcome!

2018: A Year in Review

It’s that time of year when it’s good to reflect on what has been and look forward to what is ahead. Nothing ever stands still with technology (apart from in schools…I jest!) so it’s always fascinating to take a look back over a 12 month period and see what’s changed and what’s been accomplished. So, what’s been happening for me with Educational ICT in 2018?

Google Drive

At school we finally made the move to cloud storage this year, prompted in part by the release of Google Drive File Stream which allows a Mac/PC user to have their files and file hierarchy of their personal and Team drives on their desktop without all the files and data being copied down. This allows Team drives to work like glorified SMB shares in a Mac, with data being pulled down from the cloud as needed and changed being synced back up.

We made the switch with our admin team/SLT first, setting up a series of Team Drives for the different subsets of users and then copying across data from the old Windows shares. Apart from a few problems with files not syncing and the File Stream app needing the occasional restart, it’s been working pretty well!

Following this success, we moved the remainder of our network drives to Google Team Drives in September. It’s a no-brainer in education as it gives you unlimited cloud storage that you can access on a multitude of devices and platforms.

The Google Drive app on iPad is pretty decent enoough, allowing for easy viewing and sharing of files between staff. It doesn’t offer proper integration with the Files app on iPad, so it’s still the case of opening a copy of files in Pages/Keynote/Explain Everything and then uploading to Google Drive when you’re done. As teachers were used to WebDAV before, it works at least comparable to that.

One nice extra feature is the ability to share links to Google Drive files in Slack, which then displays the file itself (so long as you’re using single sign-on with G Suite).

Back the the Mac

Having trialled going #iPadOnly at school, we decided to put some macs back in classrooms for all teachers at the end of the summer term. It felt a little bit like a defeat, but actually was also a relief as iOS can’t yet take the full weight of being the only computer you use. The replacement retina 4K iMacs are lovely machines as well!

Recently, we recycled some rather old 2011 iMacs and instead bought a few of the new 2018 Mac mini’s. They are really fast little computers, with very handsome ‘space grey’ colour scheme.

#iPadOnly

Having said that, I still find that the iPad Pro is an excellent productivity machine, particularly with a keyboard and an Office licence (much as I hate to admit it). But what’s been particularly great is the regular stream of iWork updates from Apple, relentlessly adding in desktop functionality to the iOS version. The fact I can now edit master slides in Keynote, edit conditional formatting in Numbers and even publish eBooks in Pages makes using a ‘proper’ computer increasingly unnecessary.

I hope to be able to roll out some more iPad Pros to teachers, giving them a powerful mobile productivity device with an amazing stylus (perfect for teaching!).

Showbie in KS1

We had the wonderful opportunity of extending our 1:1 programme to include Years 1 and 2 in September, and I decided that we would use Showbie for organising all the learning rather than Seesaw as we’d used previously. Because kids don’t have to log out of Showbie on a 1:1 device, this gets rid of the username and password barrier. I’ve been impressed with how teachers are really making the most of the annotation and voice memo tools in Showbie to really make the most of each learning opportunity. We’re seeing a lot more development in oracy this year!

Shared iPad

With KS1, we also deployed the devices in Shared iPad mode. It’s worked pretty well, although there is a big restriction on the number of apps that can be installed due to the partitioning of space on the devices. There have been a few strange app issues too when moving files around, probably something to do with the Shared iPad mode.

Managed Apple IDs

It was with great joy that I welcomed Tim Cook’s announcement in March 2018 of 200GB of storage for school Managed Apple IDs. We had been using them with students because of the relative ease of making hundreds of Apple IDs at a time, but hadn’t used them with staff because of the 5GB storage limit. With the increase in storage, we moved all staff over to Managed Apple IDs. It wasn’t an easy process, as you basically have to download and re-upload all the photos and documents from one ID to another, but it’s definitely been worth it. Knowing that there’s more than enough storage for teachers, plus the ability to easily reset passwords, is great. Plus it’s free!

Cheaper Education iPads

The March 2018 Apple Education event also brought us the (slightly) cheaper and faster entry level iPad. It’s a great price with a more than decent processor, so it made choosing the device for our 1:1 programme very straight forward. Sure, it’s not got a laminated display or a super-amazing camera, but they seem pretty tough as iPads go (on delivery of our KS1 iPads, one of the pallets had been punctured in transit and one of the iPads was seriously bent by the impact, but yet the screen had not shattered).

#EveryoneCanCreate

This resource was previewed in the summer and was launched at the beginning of the Autumn term. It provides student and teacher guides with suggestions for how you can weave video, photography, drawing and music-making across the curriculum using iPad. I’ve been having a go at some of the resources with some Year 3/4s on a Friday afternoon, and it looks like good stuff. It definitely is Apple’s unique offering for iPad in education.

What have been your highlights?

Updating to iOS6

One of the horror stories I’ve heard about iPads in schools is when it comes to iOS updates. Our apple reseller warned it was a laborious process of plugging iPads into iTunes one by one and then waiting an hour per device. Not fun. So I was intrigued to know if iOS 6 would be able to update on the device or if it needed a wired connection to iTunes. The good news is that wireless updates work fine!

Our iPads are set up to work completely independently from iTunes; after an initial setup with Apple Configurator. Updating them just involved tapping ‘install update’ in Settings and then waiting a short while for it to install. The iPads even helpfully pre-downloaded the update when sitting charging on wifi.

The only slight annoyance is that the iPads seem to forget their Apple ID for the App Store after the update, but that’s not too much of an inconvenience to fix. It does mean that I can’t so easily just ask a teacher to do the updates on their iPads as the Apple IDs are all slightly obtuse iCloud accounts I have set up…

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!

Legacy and Education

One thing I like about Apple is that they are happy to jettison the past in order to make way for the future.  The opposite can be said for educational ICT, which doggedly clings to legacy technology.  T.  The thing that depresses me about using Macs in schools is that the software teachers use all day long is Microsoft Office, a bloated and ageing necessary evil that was originally released on the Macintosh in 1989.  Or that we’re still using SMARTBoards that require a USB-serial connector.  And that we’re having to run a Windows virtual machine in order to support PC-only software that was released circa 2003.

What I’m looking forward to about starting to use iPads in September is that legacy is excluded.  You can’t keep doing things the old way but instead have to embrace the new.  Instead of Word, Pages.  Instead of SMARTBoards, video mirroring to your screen of choice.  Instead of Windows-only handwriting software, all manner of interactive letter-forming apps.  Well that’s the dream anyway.

Learning with Apple

I’m currently on the bus, on my way to the South London Apple Education Leadership Summit… should be fun! There’s very much going to be an iPad focus, which is good as I want to really get my head around the best way to deploy, use and manage iPads in a school. I’m not sure how technical it will be, but hopefully there will be some techy people there for me to interrogate.