Sunday, 17 June 2012

'iPad Journey' Will your Wireless System Cope?

Since I started blogging about iPads in Education I've been getting carried away with the positives that this handheld technology can bring to the classroom, but there's been one major area of concern that I'm encountering if the schools 'iPad Journey' is going to hit the ground running  - it's the schools wireless network!

As ICT coordinator one of my biggest headaches over the last year has been our wireless networking. The downsides are the notoriously unpredictable wireless technology and its performance, which can lead to high levels of frustration for both teachers and pupils. The wireless is going to be a central especially when there could be any thing up to 30+ iPads and or iPods that all need wireless access at the same time and all expecting a fast connection to the internet. A powerful wireless network is therefore essential to a successful implementation of handheld devices in the classroom.

A bit of background ...

Over a year ago, the school invested in a class set of laptops - Fizzbooks, (the iPad 2 hadn't been released yet!) with a charging trolley. Before the Fizzbooks were released to staff we needed a wireless network to support these devices around the school. The wireless system which was installed just didn't work! I'd be the first to admit that I had no idea or the experience on what was required to get 30 laptops onto the wireless network all the same time. I relied on advice on what to buy, bought it and the routers were installed. The consumer level routers that were installed couldn't cope - we were lucky to get a third of the laptops connected to the internet. It was a disappointing start. Needless to say the initial hype of the laptops soon diminished, children and teachers were left frustrated and so was I. This was a costly error in both time and money, and we had to learn a lesson from this mistake.

Therefore, needing to get a class set of laptops working wirelessly, we needed some expert advice, so we contacted a company who advised installing a whole-site wireless network. 14 wireless access points across the school site were installed. The wireless local area network (WLAN) was supporting 802.11g. This system has been adequate, although by no means perfect, in terms of getting 30 Fizzbooks connected wirelessly to the internet for simple web browsing.

802.11g Wireless System
Whilst this wireless system has done a resonable job keeping up to 30 Fizzbooks connected to the internet, how will it cope with a flood of iPads and iPods all needing wireless access at the same time? The simple answer is, it won't! I want children using iPods or iPads to blog using Wordpress or Posterous apps, using google Docs for Education, simply web browsing, uploading iMovies to Vimeo, using Dropbox to access documents, etc etc. All of this will require a robust wireless system otherwise it just won't work and teachers and pupils will once again be left frustrated and return to the static ICT suite in their droves.

A Managed Wireless System?

Meraki Managed Wireless System

Again we needed some expert advice. I contacted an Apple reseller who suggested a Meraki managed wireless system would be the way forward. The Meraki system 'provides a solution to the burden that handheld technology can have on a wireless system and uses the newest standard in wireless technology - 802.11n. This system was design to improve on the 802.11g in the amount of bandwidth supported by utilising multiple wireless signals instead of just one.'

Advantages of Meraki & 802.11n
  • the system is designed for heavy tablet usage
  • built in firewalls segregates and restricts network access from unauthorised devices
  • Security appliances provide easy to manage content filtering and security
  • it operates with complete visibility and control over uses, content and devices
  • an easy to use cloud base management system that can be used without dedicated training.
In Conclusion

A new wireless system need to be simple, reliable and constant. The network and not the devices should be in control, becuase a traditional wireless system gives equal access to all devices, which can congests the network. If as a school you are wanting a large number of handheld devices to access your wireless system, you need a solution that won't let you down leaving your teachers and pupils to get on with what's really important; teaching and learning! I guess the wireless is one of those things schools would be reluctant to shell lots of money on money on, it not glamorous it just makes things work - but it is essential if the iPads and iPods are going to hit the ground running and revolutionise teaching. The advice I am getting is go big and use a managed wireless system, doing so will likely make life easier for everyone. 

As a school we will be buying 16 iPads for Key Stage 1, 16 iPads for Key Stage 2 and iPods for each of the children in Year 6, but first, it's the Managed Wireless System ...

Monday, 11 June 2012

How the iPad Change the Pedagogy of a Design & Technology Project

Part 1: How can the iPad change the Pedagogy of a Design & Technology Project?

Having taught the Year 6 Design & Technology unit 6D (Controllable Vehicles) in the same way for the past 6 years with a few improvements here and there, I was looking for complete transformation on how this project is taught using the iPad and how it can bridge the gap between the school curriculum and technology.

The controllable vehicle project, previously involve an introduction session then a demonstration at the beginning of each session. Because of the nature of this task each session had to be sequenced like this; session 1 - Make the Chassis, session 2 - The Axels etc  This method had its flaws. Whilst many children followed the instructions at the beginning of the lesson, this method left others frustrated and required a lot of repetition of instructions. Another flaw was that the more able in the class would usually finish the objective of the session and I'd ask them to support others in the class. Furthermore, everyone in the class had to finished the previous session before they were ready for the next, so there was never any flow. Children just couldn't work at their own pace - it was far too teacher led and offered the children few opportunities to tackle a problem for themselves.

So the question was, how could we (Mr Andrews & Mr Williams) shift this project from teaching centred learning to children centred learning and use the iPad to enhance learning?

Myself and Mr Williams began tackling this issues, by jotting down some initial ideas. It quickly emerged that the only way to shift the pedagogy from teacher led learning to child centred learning was to create a sequence of short videos, which could be accessed at the children's own pace through the iPad. Once we had realised that the solution to our problem was addressed by the iPad, not only could the children have access to the videos, but the creative potential of a range of apps could enrich other areas of the curriculum. Initial ideas including using iMovie to creative a advert which would including a theme tune composed in Garage Band, a poster to promote our end of project motor show, Numbers to create a spreadsheet for cost of parts and hire of equipment with the only boundaries been our creativity and the children's - the potential appeared limitless.

The filming of the video was straight forward, Mr Williams filmed using the video camera on the iPad, whilst I demonstrated the steps to make a controllable vehicle. The videos were edited using iMovies. The only snag being that on the first day of filming we ran out of time, so the following week, for continuity reasons I had to make sure I was wearing the same shirt!

How were we going to get the videos onto numerous iPads? Our first thoughts were to download the videos to Vimeo, as it was one of the download options in iMovies. YouTube's blocked in our school! One major flaw with this option is that our Wireless is notoriously unpredictable and even if it was working to its full capacity I wouldn't be confident that it would stream 15 videos onto the iPads. Next we considered syncing the video using iTunes onto the iPads and putting them into the camera roll, but it didn't feel right, it wasn't slick enough. Then we discovered the perfect solution. We would create an ebook, using Creative Book Builder than could be viewed in iBooks.

Creative Book Builder was perfect for what we wanted. The children could access the videos on each page of the book, we could add chapters for each step, add instructions, equipment and tools that the children could access at their own speed as and when they needed to.

What we did with Creative Book Builder (CBB)

I can't emphasise enough how easy this was. Once you've started a new book, you just simply add the number of chapters you want and edit them. Click Chapter and add an element (see image below). In this case a Title, Paragraph and a Video.

Screenshot of Creative Book Builder

To insert the video into your eBook you just simply select it from your camera roll and it appears in the content the page. By tapping edit you can move, copy, delete or change ordering of any element you've added. Next you click publish and your given the option to Generate Book.

This is where we hit a problem. Whilst processing our eBook it would get stuck at 85% time after time. Creative Book Builder had already created an eBook, using just one video and some text and opened up in iBooks, so we knew that it worked. It was decided to split the eBook into two separate book - that didn't work either! But three books did.

We opened the eBooks in iBooks. The image below show how they appeared on the book shelf (see top left).

Instructional eBooks on the iBooks shelf

We used Strip Designer to create the covers for the eBooks and saved them to the camera roll. Three different coloured covers were chosen, so that the children could easily differentiate between eBooks 1, 2 & 3. In CBB if you haven't already added a cover to your eBook, when you click publish it will ask if you want to add a cover image now?

iBook Cover created in Strip Designer
Below you can see an example page from one of the eBooks:

Step 1: Video, equipment and written instructions

It was decided because we have 60 children in Year 6 that we would need at least 15 iPads  - 1 iPad to every 4 children. The school doesn't have a set of iPads yet that can be accessed by each class, so we organised to collect all teachers iPads (not an easy task) and then download the eBook on to teachers iPads. This was a fairly straight forward process, although things will be made much easier once we've invested in a iPad syncing unit. The iPad on which the eBooks were created was connected to the MacBook and then transferred to Books in iTunes. Each iPad was connected to the MacBook, the eBooks highlighted then synced to each iPad. The iPads were now ready for some real action!

Part 2: How the iPad was used to improve the pedagogy of a Design & Technology Project

Part 2 is going to examine how the iPad was used to improve the pedagogy of a Design & Technology project and allow child initiated learning by motivating the children to discover new skills and knowledge through project based learning.

The hall was set up with tables and chairs for 60 children, materials and equipment the children would need to make their controllable vehicle and teachers iPads were collected and made available - we were ready for action! The children were allowed to choose their partner and sat themselves at a table of four with one iPad on each table. Because there was only 1 iPad between 4 children they would have to work collaboratively, both in their pairs and with others at their table. After a brief introduction concerning safety, protecting the iPad from saws, glue etc, how to access the iBook 'Controllable Vehicles' and having been shown an example of a finished product the children were raring to go.

The Children using the iBook to assist their learning

On the iPads the children had access to an eBook, which included instructions and a sequence of short videos. They could pause, rewind and watch the video as many times as they needed to, as they progressed through the controllable vehicle project. This allowed the children to work in a much more independent way and more importantly at their own pace. When the children were ready to move onto the next section there was a list of equipment they would need, which was available at the front of the hall.
The use of the iPad ebooks (with video) made children secure and confident to try and retry things and by having constant access to the eBook it opened the door to more advanced thinking and problem solving. For example, some children wanted an on/off switch on the side and other investigated the use of extra batteries. The outcomes were excellent. However, there was a minority of children who lacked independence, problem solving skills and basic initiative. These children, to start with anyway, weren't prepared to try and learn from any mistakes - they wanted it doing for them. They were sent back to their table. It didn't matter if they made mistakes, they could learn from them and improve next time. Eventually these children came round the idea that myself or Mr Williams were not going to do their work for them. Had our prescriptive teaching/curriculum mean that children had been moved out their comfort zone because they had never had to take control of their work before and accept responsibility for their role in the learning process? Having said that the majority of children were 'in the zone', and thoroughly enjoying this challenging project.

The focus of the children was exceptional, they were all on task, motivated and fully engaged in what they had to do. It was incredible to see. The head teacher came in and hadn't even realised there were two classes in the hall. He said "there was an incredible working atmosphere!" The children were working autonomously through the project and it also allowed them to work in ways that complemented the various learning styles. Myself and Mr Williams both had to overcome our instinct to step in, the children were clearly enjoying tackling and solving the problems this project presented. It became apparent to us that we had become the 'guides on the sides' and only needed to assist the children if they asked - but this was usually just to remind them to watch a particular part of the video or to read an instruction which was on the eBook. Another notable success was that there was full collaboration from every single child - even from those who had struggled to develop positive relationships all year. On the second day I had to deal with 'ICT issues', but Mr Williams was more than happy to be left on his own - it wasn't a problem. 60 children were getting on with challenging Design & Technology.

There was relatively little whole class teaching, apart from on a few occasions a direct instruction was required. For example, whilst constructing the chassis of the vehicle some children's were clearly too big which could potentially have made things extremely difficult for them later down the line in terms of making a net for the vehicle or having enough power from a small battery to be able to control such a larger vehicle.

The use of the iPad to assist the children's learning was a huge success. It was an outstanding learning experience for the children with such a challenging topic. A huge majority were producing work of a superior quality compared to previous attempt in other years.

Part 3: Using iPads as a creative and innovative approach to learning

The third and final part to the controllable vehicle project puts the children in Year 6 centre stage. After the children had completed their controllable vehicles myself and Mr Williams wanted to continue the project using the iPads and apps creatively and in an innovative way, making maximum use of the built in AV (Audio Visual) tools. Furthermore, we wanted to incorporate as many different subject as we could, whilst still keeping the learning meaningful to the project 'controllable vehicles'.
Below is a list of how the iPads were used over 2 very intensive weeks of work:

  • Designed and made a controllable vehicle (following an iPad video instruction manual made by the teachers)
The children's finished controllable vehicles

  • Used a spreadsheet created in the Numbers app to consider costings for their project, including costs and number of parts and hire of equipment per hour.
A spreadsheet used to work out the costs of parts and hire of equipment
  • Planned a car advert using a storyboard.
The children planned their car adverts using a storyboard
  • Filmed and used the iPad's camera to take videos and still shots of the car, Which would be later edited in iMovies to create an advert for their car. Incorporating self-composed jingles created in Garageband, songs and backing music.
The children's Car Adverts ready for the Car Show
  • The winning advert by Keeley and Hollie:

  • Researched and created a persuasive and informative brochure using marketing words for their vehicle and published this as an eBook using the Creative Book Builder app.
The children's eBook on the iBook's Shelf

An example of children's finished iBook
  • Wrote an ongoing blog about their work which was published to a wide audience and has received immediate global feedback. Visit the children's Year 6 blog for more information
  • Prepared for and delivering a showcase presentation to parents/carers and Key Stage 2 children. Presented and evaluated their controllable vehicle, showed their car advert and car brochure on the big screen.
'The presentations by the children were outstanding, I was amazed
how confidently they spoke!' Year 6 Parent.

Parents & carers, teachers and pupils enjoying the
presentations at the car show.

Outcomes of the Project

Pupil interest and effort was evidently higher than myself and Mr Williams had seen before. What made this remarkable was that this was post SATs and history had taught us that this period was notably a tricky one for Year 6 teachers as children's motivation takes a dip after the SATs are over. The children produced high quality car design, there was an increase in writing levels in blogs and brochures and outstanding video adverts.

The attendance from the parents was amazing! Bearing in mind that the children had only taken a letter home (that they had written themselves) only 2 days prior to the event. Pupils had made sure their parents attended the Car Show because they cared about and valued their work. There was more parental interest and attendance for any other project that we'd been involved in. 

Above all, when the children spoke they demonstrated an astounding depth of knowledge, understanding and confidence. The standards of their spoken presentations were unexpectedly high. Teachers were genuinely staggered.

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