Curriculum, Learnpad, Technology

Sharing experiences – the BETT Show

The #BETT2016 team from LearnPad

Us teachers are a cynical lot. But we are a friendly lot too.


I met a fair few teachers over the last few days at the Bett Show, representing LearnPad and talking to them about my experiences. We are always wary of sales people, wary of people just pointing out what they want you to hear, so being able to talk to potential customers as an impartial teacher was really refreshing.

My role was to share my experiences in school, talk about a few lesson ideas and, what I was particularly surprised about, to share the negatives with customers. To be fair to the good people at LearnPad, I didn’t really have any negatives to share, but of course customers always came with a list of concerns.  Understandable, as they were possibly about to invest sizeable chunks of their budgets in the products, and I really enjoyed the fact that I could help to alleviate their concerns by telling them about the support I have received, both from the Technical Support team and from trainers such as Hannah.  I could share a range of lesson ideas, from simple ones using inbuilt tools like Annotate for those who were a little tech wary, to more complex ideas combining apps like Animate and Movie Maker.  Some just listened to the ideas and asked questions, but others came back with new ideas that I have pinched for the classroom! Whatever their view though, the teachers were all grateful to have the opportunity to talk to other teachers and hear what we had to say.  In fact, many of those I spoke to were in exactly the same situation that our school was in not so long ago: a handful of iPads, lots of old and deteriorating laptops and an ever increasing need to make a decision about what route to go down when spending their budgets.  To me, it seemed that technical advice from the experts, practical advice from experienced teachers and packs of free Wonka bar pencils was a winning combination, and so people left the stand smiling!

I consider myself to be a very confident LearnPad user, but I too learned a huge amount while I was away. Before the stand opened and during quieter times, I had the opportunity to explore new products too – I am going back into school tomorrow with a huge wishlist!  I was really excited to be able to tell people about the new ClassBoard app (available from the app store and Google Play), which is available to any school, and is a secure forum for schools to share pictures and work with their parents via their tablets and smart phones.  The first thing I did yesterday evening (during my “evening off!”) was to register my school and add a few demo posts, so I can take it to show the other staff.  It’s a great way to be able to keep parents informed and engage them in everyday life – something which we are always keen to do! Showing photos and work straight from the LearnPads via the ClassCloud is also a great incentive for those more reluctant users to get them out and use them – they have a whole new audience to share their work with.

I also spent a HUGE amount of time playing on the new Murus board – a whiteboard unlike any I’ve seen before.  There was a massive amount of interest in the board – not least from me – as it looks incredible and the idea of using SNAPS on it (simple apps) made it really easy to use.  I couldn’t talk to teachers about how I’d used it, as it’s a brand new product, but as the two days went on, I had more and more lesson ideas to show people.  Some of us on the stand made it our mission to try and put different lessons onto the board each time we demonstrated it, so between us, we built up quite a bank of ideas!  The LearnPad team regularly asked us what else we wanted on the board – as we played with it, we came up with an idea or two which the team took away.  I loved the fact that our opinions were valued so much – ultimately, we are the users and the consumers, so what us teachers have to say about a product really matters. Again, some of the teachers we spoke to came back to us with lesson ideas of their own… more to add to the bank in my head!

Having time to share ideas with others is really valuable, and is something we just don’t do enough of. When I agreed to go to the Bett Show, I had no idea what I was signing up for.  It was a terrifying prospect.  But it was a valuable experience in so many ways – meeting lovely people (both customers and people on the team), sharing great ideas, discovering fantastic new products and, last but not least, a huge boost to my confidence. Yes, the two days were exhausting, but two days that I am so glad I was a part of.

Curriculum, Learnpad, Technology

The aliens land…

Animator is available for Learnpad - click image for more details
Animator is available for Learnpad – click image for more details

What a week it’s been.  After our fantastic alien invasion on Monday, we have been animating our Alien Blobs this afternoon.  After playing with the Animator app to create stop frame animations on the Learnpads yesterday afternoon, the children had a go at creating a more slick animation today.  All of the children planned out their work, although admittedly, some in more detail than others, and sought out unusual places for the aliens to be found.  Many then completely scrapped their plans when they realised that play doh can’t actually defy gravity, but it was all a learning curve!

Click in the image to see The Alien in the Sink!
Click in the image to see The Alien in the Sink!

While the movies the children made were all impressive, the quality of them did differ quite vastly.  But, if I’m honest, the final product was by no means the most important part of the lesson.  For me, today was all about the attitude and the atmosphere.  I am fortunate enough to work with a really lovely bunch of children. They are generally very happy and positive.  But for some, concentrating for anything longer than a few minutes can be an enormous challenge.  For others (or perhaps the same few!), an opportunity to use a Learnpad means an opportunity to attempt selfies or videos of others.  So, imagine my trepidation when, after my brief introduction, the children went off to shoot their movies with almost an hour and a half to spend on them.  Imagine my greater horror when half the class wanted to go off and shoot their movie elsewhere. How was I to be on hand to help with technical issues AND police selfie-abuse in two different places at once?

I really needn’t have worried.  I might as well have not been in the room (or on the playground!) at all.  The atmosphere was amazing, as even those with the shortest attention spans stayed completely focussed for the entire lesson.  And not a technical issue to be seen – the children planned and shot their movies, exported them and handed them in, all completely independently. The only time I was needed all afternoon was when someone shouted; “Miss, come and see this, it’s amazing!”  It was a common cry all afternoon, just with various substitutions for “amazing”.  In fact, there were times I really felt I was in the way – “Miss, can you move please, you’re in our frame” or “Miss, DON’T touch the table, there’s a big sign on it!” (There really was: WARNING.  Do not touch this table.  We are making a movie).  Even when the Reception children came out to play and interrupted shooting, there were no issues: those who had to stop got themselves a drink and sat down in the sun for 10 minutes, the rest carried on animating with an enormous and hugely impressed audience!

I said at the beginning of the week that I was more excited about what we had planned than anything I have done before.  I haven’t been disappointed.  The children have been completely engrossed; many have gone home to download Stop Motion apps on their tablets and phones. Already, the movies are being emailed in. I have never seen them so enthused by technology.  Tomorrow, we have scrapped what we intended to do and are adopting a “free for all” approach.  Play doh and props provided, but bring in whatever you think you can animate: whatever you can imagine, you can do.

Today, I heard one boy say: “I never thought I would be so excited by 4 seconds of movie!” By the time he had finished, it was 11 seconds long.  I really don’t know how he managed to contain himself.

Curriculum, Learnpad, Technology

Capturing the imagination

Today, I made my first foray into the world of Augmented Reality.  Nothing ambitious, but a fantastic way to hook the children into our literacy work for the week, and to pre-empt our alien Learnpad animations.

To be honest, the plans for the day escalated quite significantly, largely due to my childish nature and my love of a gimmick, but clearly the enthusiasm of the children and other adults contributed massively.

Click on the image to view movie clip

The initial plan was to show the children a very brief Augmented Reality clip of a spaceship on the playground, made with Action Movie FX.  The Headteacher (HT) was roped in to share this video footage with the children, and that was a far as it was meant to go.  However, over the weekend, I discovered Simitator, a website for creating fake tweets and Facebook conversations.

Tweet generated using Simitator
Tweet generated on Simitator

These proved to be a huge help today – more of that later.  I created a tweet from the alien leader to the HT and a Facebook post between the aliens.

In my excitement, I shared these on Facebook, and so along came the next step from a friend: the Class Tools Breaking News website.  In came David Cameron – our little video clip had turned into an issue of National Security!

News report generated using Class Tools
News report generated using Class Tools

The drama began at the end of assembly today, when the HT announced to the school that Year 4 would have to stay behind to receive some worrying, rather shocking news.  The faces of the staff around the hall were fantastic, as there were actually a few I hadn’t managed to show my clips to!  The HT was amazing – he created a whole back story, embellished with all kinds of anecdotes, and shared the social media and news images.  The children were hooked – their faces ranged from disbelief to worry to amusement – we had it all! Sadly, due to his busy schedule, the HT didn’t have time to notify the parents, so we had to write the letters for him – what a responsibility!

This was where the lesson was supposed to end, but break time brought about some new revelations.  The children spent the whole of break time looking for evidence.  I was faced with a huge plastic bag full of rubbish, ranging from discarded fuel rocks to scorched moss from the vapour trail to plastic alien scales.  Apparently, the “new” gouges on the playground had occurred where the spaceship had vanished, a (very faint) circle on the floor was caused by the blast, and supposedly smelled burnt if you got down on the floor and sniffed it!  They scrutinised the wall where the spaceship disappeared, and found tiny pock marks, apparently from where it disintegrated into the wall! I have never been mobbed by quite so many children at the end of a break!

So as not to dampen their enthusiasm, I sent a group of children down to present their “evidence” to the HT… who swiftly appeared in the classroom looking extremely concerned, and joined them on the playground sniffing scorch marks!  It seems this evidence was serious enough to warrant involving the Prime Minister, as thHT reappeared in the classroom a few minutes later in the middle of a phone call to Mr Cameron himself!

As the children finished their letters to their parents, they were all eager to contact the aliens directly to find out their intentions.  It just so happened that I had 14×10 squared paper in the classroom – by sheer coincidence, the number of characters allowed in a tweet! So, they moved on to composing tweets to the Alien Leader, with the most detailed but succinct being chosen to send.  At lunch time, the winning tweet was sent and, surprise surprise, a reply was received.  The children were over the moon to have received a response directly from the Alien Leader.

Of course, at the end of the day, when the children all had their letter to take home to their parents, I did have to come clean – there were some real believers in the class, and it didn’t feel it fair to send them home without knowing the truth.  But rather than being disappointed, they were all amazed at the amount of trickery involved.  Many have gone home today wanting to download new AR apps.

Without doubt, this will be a day that I will not forget.  Technology played an enormous part in it, but without willing and extremely enthusiastic adults and accepting children with wild imaginations, the technology would have meant nothing.  I’m not sure it can ever be replicated, but I am certain that the children will remember today too.  Hopefully, their alien animations will be all the more meaningful because of this experience; I can’t wait for phase 2 tomorrow!

Curriculum, Learnpad, Technology

Hunting for QR treasure

Today, I tried something new in my maths lesson. I’ve read lots online about QR code treasure hunts, but hadn’t quite got my head around how I could use them in class. Today, we were ordering and comparing numbers greater than 1000: potentially a dry objective! So, rather than getting the children to generate their own numbers and compare them, I set up a series of questions around the classroom on QR codes, set on to display text when they were scanned. Each of these gave the children 4 digits and then a statement about them, for example “4562 – a number > 6524” The children would then use their whiteboards to look at the possible combinations of numbers and then find the correct answer. Rather than just writing the answer in their books, the children then had to insert their answers into a spreadsheet on the Learnpad lesson, which then gave a right/wrong statement depending on the answer they had inputted. Some of the questions were more challenging, such as “4632. Smallest to biggest, the 3rd number”. This then required the children to think more logically about the numbers they were creating, ensuring they were listing them in a sensible order to make sure they found the correct answer.

For the more able children, they had to find a pin number to unlock a phone. They had a series of clues as to what their 4-digit number was: as well as there being some like I have already mentioned, some indicated which digits were bigger or smaller than others, odd or even etc. This required a lot of logical thought, although there were a couple of clues to help them out if needed. These children then went on to create their own (paper-based) clues for friends to solve.

Of course, all of this could have been done as a paper based activity, and the learning would have been the same. I’m very fortunate to have a class who (mostly!) remain engaged and focussed on a task: they are keen to learn and challenge themselves. However, this was a really fun way for them to take part in the lesson, and I’m sure lots of them would have gone home and talked about their treasure hunt. Other children coming into the classroom were intrigued by the QR codes posted around the room, and were also keen to have a go.

There were, of course, teething problems: I had to explain the format of the clues and how to use the spreadsheet. Two children discovered that if they clicked on the RIGHT/WRONG cells, the formula was revealed which gave the correct answer (fortunately, they discovered this with only a couple of minutes to go – my next challenge is to work out how to hide this!). I’ve also learned that ten times is clearly not enough times to check that the questions and answers tally – the same child also found a mistake in my spreadsheet which I had to amend and quickly send out to the Learnpads. Despite this, the children are desperate for more, and I shall certainly be obliging. I had worried that one or two of the children in my teaching group would find the task too easy – the same child again had expressed concern that he would not be challenged. This was easily resolved, as I just printed the codes for my harder task out and scattered them around the room (obviously on a different colour paper!). I invited him to switch tasks whenever he felt he was ready to move on. Needless to say, he didn’t. The list questions kept him – and the rest of the class- busy as they decided which digits they needed to swap each time.

The first activity I created did admittedly take a while to make, mainly while I worked out a question format which would fit the small text bar that the Learnpad allowed, but the second was certainly far quicker. If the lesson lends itself to it, I have no doubt that we will be doing much more treasure hunting from now on!

Curriculum, Learnpad, Observations, Technology

Learnpad vs iPad

I’m not a computing leader, just someone with a very keen interest in technology. As a school, we have a PC in each classroom, a Computing Suite with both PCs and laptops, 3 trolleys full of out of date and partially defunct laptops for class use, a few iPads (in KS1) and a class set of Learnpads. I’ve written before about how much I love the Learnpad, but the time has come as a school for us to make a decision. The trolleys full of laptops were purchased many years ago and are no longer fit for purpose, so some kind of replacement needs to be purchased.

The choice seems to be whether to purchase a class set of iPads or another trolley full of Learnpads. It’s a difficult decision, as obviously the financial implication for the school will be rather large. The trolley full of Learnpads lives outside my classroom door, and my year group love to use them. Since my last blog about them, I know at least 2 other year groups have ventured down my corridor to collect the trolley, but that’s it. The staff are still scared of them: luckily, we have training scheduled for our staff meeting this week, so all of that could be about to change. In my opinion, there needs to be some insistence by the SLT that staff use them at least once in class this term, otherwise the impetus to use them will be lost once again. It’s not logical for us to even consider purchasing more if those we have aren’t being used.

In my house, we often debate the advantages of Learnpads versus iPads. I’m an Android Learnpad user, MVNTH is a huge fan of the iPad. As yet, we haven’t reached a conclusion as to which is best, but here are some of the points we have argued.

App availability

There are clearly thousands of iOS apps available and regularly promoted on Twitter. There are many teachers sharing incredibly inventive ways of using the apps on iPads. I’m always exrtremely jealous of the lessons and activities I see people using. Mark Anderson, amongst others, shares ideas on #appsmash to satisfy a huge range of learning objectives. While there are bloggers and tweachers sharing Android equivalents, my Twitter feed seems to be predominantly Apple centred. The Learnpad store does have many good apps available in it, and schools can select some themselves to make them easier for teachers to find. However, adding Android apps yourself can be a challenge: I have just spent over an hour trying to work out how to add them via the Google Play Store. I have figured it out, I think, but whether the apps will appear on my lessons in school tomorrow remain to be seen.

App organisation

The Learnpad wins for me here. If a child uses an iPad, they have access to all of the apps installed on it: the ultimate temptation for some. However, the Learnpad enables teachers to just give the children access to the apps or websites they want, ensuring they remain focussed on the task they have been given. This is especially important for younger children, who inadvertently exit apps and end up somewhere completely different. I like the way you send out different lessons to the Learnpads and can have different children working on different tasks. I have lessons set up for my maths passports which we use from time to time: the children scan the QR codes for their passport and away they go.

Ease of use

For me, I find the Learnpad easy to use. I have spent enough time working with it to understand where to find menus and how to overcome problems. However, staff might have iPads at home, as might the children, so they would be familiar with them. The Learnpad can be very daunting at first, which is a huge worry for staff. What is important to consider is the investment the school has already made. We already own 32 Learnpads for the children and one per year group for the teachers. We are investing more time and money into training. Having both iPads and Learnpads available might just cause confusion, which could result in neither being used. I think either tablet would be best being used exclusively rather than trying to flit between the two.

Security for the children

The Learnpad has inbuilt security online, so that children can only access websites added by the class teacher. This is a brilliant feature, although it does have drawbacks. Any links that you want the children to access from a page have to be whitelisted, which is time consuming, or else the Learnpad needs to be unlocked, which defeats the object of the online security feature. A feature that I particularly like is the class dashboard – the children’s Learnpads can all be monitored from a computer and can be controlled – they can be frozen, paused or muted, either individually or as a class, at any time. It’s a very “Big Brother is watching you” type feature, but I have found it really useful. It only needs one child to be caught out doing something wrong to ensure that none of the others ever dare to try. A supply teacher was teaching a lesson in my classroom using the Learnpads. I just happened to log on to the website on the other side of the school and found one of my boys had logged on as a rather inappropriate name. It just so happened that I was working with the Computing Leader (who is also the Deputy Head) at the time, so we both paid my class a little visit. It goes without saying that their Learnpad etiquette is now impeccable!

Using the tablet for demonstration

Both can be used on an interactive whiteboard, but for the Learnpad, it is a free feature of the website. Any of the Learnpads can be accessed at any time and shown on the whiteboard, which is brilliant for demonstrations and showing work. My main concern with the Learnpads is that our computers aren’t up to the job: setting up a demonstration on some of them takes several minutes (with the newer computers, it’s instant) and the connection can be unreliable. In a recent staff meeting, I was demonstrating using Evernote to create our portfolios of work when the connection was lost: my demonstration froze and I ended up showing people on the tiny Learnpad screen. Clearly not a fault of the tablet or the website, but something to consider all the same. The same computers also won’t allow the “handout” facility – sending out documents or files to individual Learnpads – as the operating systems are too old. The iPad can be shown on the whiteboard, but either through an Apple TV box or an Air Server, both of which cost money and could be cost prohibitive. The iPad could be hard wired to the computer, but would need both visual and audio cabling, which is not ideal. This would be a further cost implication for us if we were to buy a class set of iPads: it’s not essential to be able to connect to the whiteboard, but a definite advantage.

Printing work

The iPad seems to win here. If you have the right kind of printer and the right password, you can print directly from it. Easy. With the Learnpads, though, it’s more difficult. Maybe it’s just our set up at school – I don’t know enough about it to know whether direct printing is possible, but for us, it is a challenge. The children have to “hand in” their work, which sends it to the Learnpad website. I then have to print or save each piece of work separately from my computer. The children very quickly got to grips with how to hand in, but my part of the job takes time. It just makes life a little more difficult as the work often ends up being printed after the lesson and thenA takes time to give out. Not a big deal, admittedly, but an inconvenience all the same.

For me, the decision for our school seems a straightforward one: we should buy more Learnpads. While they might not be as commonplace as the iPads, there are certainly an awful lot of advantages with them. Given the right training, support, and eventually, confidence, I am sure that all children will be given access to quality lessons using them to enhance their learning.

CPD, Curriculum, Learnpad, Technology

Life since the Learnpad

When I returned from maternity leave almost a year ago, I found, lurking in the Computing Suite (although it was an ICT suite in those days!) a mysterious looking trolley. It didn’t look anything like the laptop trolleys that were dotted around the school, no, it was far more interesting than that! My curiosity was piqued – I’m a sucker for anything techy. It turned out that, hidden away in this locked trolley, was a whole class set of Learnpads. Of course, having been on maternity leave, I had missed all of the training on how to use them. Well, I liked the look of them, so I hounded our ICT Coordinator (that was his title back then!) until he gave me some training. Within minutes, I was sold. To be honest, having not had any tablets available in school prior to the Learnpads, they could have done anything and I would have been impressed. So the fact that they were easy to use and had so many resources available was an enormous bonus.

I set to work straight away planning some easy lessons where I could use the Learnpads – one of the first was to set up categories for each of Henry VIII’s wives with information and SimpleMind+ so the children could create mind maps of their information. When the time came for the lesson, I was a little apprehensive to say the least: to say I was anywhere near competent with using the Learnpads would be a huge stretch of the imagination, but I was desperate to have a go. I warned the children beforehand that anything could (and probably would!) happen, and that things could go wrong. But, miraculously, they all managed to do their research, the school wireless held up long enough for them to watch some Horrible Histories video clips (they’re available on BBC Class Clips and they’re brilliant!) and they all managed to electronically hand in their mind maps for me to print. A huge success all round! The children were sold too and were desperate to do more.

Since that lesson, the Learnpads have been a regular feature in my lessons, particularly in maths. I have lots of interactive games set up on them for different topics, and lessons set up ready for each of the Maths Passports they are working on. The children have QR codes printed out in their maths trays for the passport lessons: if they are working on them for part of our mental maths practise, they just scan the codes and away they go. We have used Comic Strip It! in science to create evaporation stories and in literacy to create story boards for narrative writing. If I’m honest, I couldn’t do without them now.

The only way to get used to using the Learnpads is to dive in and have a go. If you were to look at the school diary, you would only really see my year group booking them out. This isn’t because the others don’t want to use them: they do, but they didn’t dive straight in and use them. Completely understandable: we all have a hundred and one things to deal with every day, and learning to use a completely new resource takes up valuable time. And the longer you leave using them, the scarier the prospect comes as that training becomes a dim and distant memory. But all it takes is a colleague to show the way: I’m sure my teaching partner wouldn’t mind me saying that she was wary of using them, to say the least. But after only a few sessions with the Learnpads, and lots of questions, she is now happy to use them and is able to troubleshoot some problems herself. Every year group now has a teacher’s Learnpad which is invaluable: now I can plan my lessons online at home and try them out myself, just to spot any glitches in websites or activities. I’m well and truly hooked on them.

So my advice would be this: if you have a wonderful resource like the Learnpads in school, dive in and use them. Ask around to find out what others have done. Share ideas and resources. You will soon get to love them, and the children will love you for it. Unless they are in my class of course: they are very possessive over “their” Learnpads and will be devastated when everyone else has a go and they are no longer permanently parked outside of our classroom door! Whether it’s a Learnpad, an iPad or any-other-Pad that’s out there, they are the way forward. Give them a go and don’t get left behind!