Simple

“It used to be ‘simple when you know how’ but now it’s just ‘simple.'” That’s how Abdul Chohan from Essa Academy summed up making use of the Apple ecosystem in his school (AppleTV, iPod Touch, iPad and Mac). However, watching one Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) try and demonstrate an iPad workflow to a room of beginners made me think that using iPads in schools is not always as easy as one might think.

The South London Apple Education Leadership Summit was pretty good fun though. It was held at the Kia Oval, with fantastic views of the cricket ground (and cricketers) as we drank coffee beforehand on a sunny balcony. Great hospitality and very friendly delegates.

The events started with an Apple spiel, explaining Apple’s commitment to education right from the beginning and how the iPad is part of the disruptive post-PC world. I’m not sure quite how true the historical sketch was, but I liked the comparison to the introduction of the printing press (One book per student? Are people crazy?). There was also the emphasis of the 4 sources of content for the iPad – web, iTunes U, iBooks and App Store. I am eager to get my hands on iTunes U a bit more once we get some iPads in!

Then came a case study from the principal of Fitch Green Primary in Essex. She showed loads of clips and videos of the impressive work children had been doing with Apple devices. It was very inspiring (sickeningly even!). She talked about the importance of getting children to think and mentioned how the National Curriculum has, in a sense, deskilled teachers as they don’t have to think as much. Perhaps.

Joe Moretti, an ADE, then talked us through lots of different apps we had on our (Apple-supplied) iPads. The wireless USB microscope was pretty cool.

A brief introduction to a new purchase programme then followed, which allows parents to contribute to a school hire-purchasing iPads. This includes a very comprehensive insurance package as well. Might be something to look into…

Before and after lunch was a hands-on workshop about the iPad from another ADE. I went to the ‘introduction to the iPad’, which was I think aimed at those who had never really touched an iPad before. It was quite helpful for seeing how to introduce the iPad to members of staff. There were quite a few questions about the practicalities of deploying iPads and quite a lot of confusion about getting files on and off iPads. DropBox was promoted highly as a solution to this, but it still seems pretty fangled to me. Maybe I need to look into it more.

One thing that particularly interested me was a mac app called Reflection. This allows an iPad to be mirrored to the screen of a Mac, wirelessly. It’s only $15 and could well be a cheaper solution to an AppleTV. My concern with the AppleTV is that it’s adding one more layer of complexity with the projectors – switching sound sources on amps, changing the projector channel etc. If it works, that would be awesome!

The event closed with a talk from Abdul. He covered much ground to what he said in January, but put in a bit more detail about how they use the iPod touches that they have deployed to every child. What struck me was how they always ask ‘why’ when evaluating traditional education technology (such as the ├╝ber-expensive IWB) and spend the savings they make on Apple kit instead. Nice.

I came away feeling that it was a useful time, but now I think I want to go to a more super-technical Apple event. They did say they would be trying to organise one, so we shall see.

Apple European Education Leadership Summit

It sounds a pretty impressive title, and it was a pretty impressive day! Epic location – St Pancras Renaissance Hotel – and usual Apple polish and detail. But it was a very useful and interesting day, with big and small session input, discussions with schools and even presentations from kids using iPads about their learning (very startling that one!)

Apple TV

I think the Apple TV was the secret star of the show, effortlessly allowing iPad screens to be mirrored to any projected surface or TV. This sets the iPad free to become a genuinely useful tool to teach from, share children’s work and all kinds of other things. Lots of interest in this. And it’s remarkably, remarkably cheap. I feel that the rip-off days of the ‘Interactive-if-you’re-lucky-whiteboard’ are numbered.

The ecosystem (the ‘glue’)

A guy called Abdul Chohan from a secondary academy called ‘ESSA’ in Bolton had an amazing story to tell. The school he worked at had something like 55% of pupils achieving 5 A*-C at GCSE. Not great. Something had to be done. So he bought an iPod touch for every student. That, plus lots of other changes, saw the now academy turned around and they now have 100% achieving at least 5 A*-Cs. It’s not magic but technology plays a huge part in it. They now have a purpose-build new campus with technology everywhere. It looks like a stunning place.

The really interesting part came though when he talked about the apple ecosystem (the ‘glue’ – mac/iPod/iPad). In a workshop, he showed us the wiki server that they use to deliver all their lessons. Pupils log on using their iPod touches and then download any resources required, such as ePub documents that can be viewed in iBooks anytime (no Internet connection required). I’ve used the wiki server at school for our ICT club but I never seriously thought of using it to replace a VLE…

Shoes-off Learning

There was also this guy called Stephen Heppell who talked about lots things he’d seen in technology over the world. One thing he mentioned was where classrooms were ‘shoes off’ (mainly in Scandinavian places) which hugely helped children’s learning and behaviour. Apparently it helps kids feel more like they’re at home and so are more relaxed and engaged. Worth a try sometime…?

He also talked about a thing Apple do called Challenged Based Learning. Worth a look too.

Anyway, that’ll do for now. Brain very buzzing!