Just take the phones off them

school-32616_1280Been thinking about this for a long time – years in fact, as teacher, but it’s taken some things happening to us as a family to convince me that smartphones should not be given to children until they’re really old enough to understand the risks associated with them.

I’m not saying that technology doesn’t have a part to play in the development or the learning of children – it does (though probably not as much as I thought it did 10 years ago), nor that children should never see a screen in school. I just think that the potential benefits of having a smartphone are outweighed, by quite a long way, by the damage they can cause.

Phones cause self-image problems, facilitate bullying, are a conduit for sharing pornography, hate imagery and they pose a personal safety risk. I would argue that most children are unable to really understand the nature or extent of those risks. What’s more, phones distract children from learning when they’re in school – and they stop families from talking together when they’re at home. I’m not sure that there are many upsides – what positive things do children actually use their phones for?  Do any scattered examples of ‘great things my kid has done with their phones’ counterbalance the great harm that phones are doing elsewhere?

Following our discovery that our eldest (year 8) was chatting online with strangers (despite lots of discussions about the dangers of this, and other online risks).  So, we took her phone from her – with the intention of giving it back in 6 months. That time is nearly up – and we’ve decided that we’re not going to give it back, ever.

Since we took the phone away she’s been a much happier person – she’s sleeping better, doesn’t spend hours covering her face with make up and pouting at her phone, she spends less time having feuds with others, and much less time worrying about her appearance.  She’s playing computer games again, and reading many more books than she did before – in other words she’s free to be a child.

So, anecdotally (yeah, I know) it seems they can thrive without them, and if we all agreed that kids would be better off with a http://amzn.to/2gw307p so that we can call them if we need to, I hope that lots of similar problems would diminish. So, why can’t we just take the phones off them?

Teacher Dashboard and Google Classroom #28daysofwriting

I used to think that ICT would ‘transform’ education, and that it could also ‘transform’ society.  Well, perhaps it will, but it hasn’t yet.  As I get more experienced it seems to me that ICT, like any tool, has its benefits and its downsides.  It also seems to me that one of the big problems with the use of ICT in learning is that students quickly learn to game whatever system they have been asked to work with, and that this works in the directly opposite direction of my main aim as a teacher.  I want students to slow down, to get caught up, to be forced to think again. They want a high score, or to get to the end, or simply to be finished, on to the next thing.  Even if they get beyond this, often they want what they’re doing to be ‘good’ (or sometimes ‘good enough’). ICT can make all of this far too easy.

That’s why I tend to use less ICT directly in the classroom than I used to, and when I do I always try to ask myself ‘why am I taking the extra time to do this using ICT?’ or ‘why are we learning this in the ICT suite instead of our normal classroom’.  Sometimes I can’t find a decent answer to this question, and then we go back to the classroom and to books and pens and pencils.

In the past I have used classroom blogs a great deal, and know colleagues using them to great effect – Alan Kydd’s www.heathenhistory.co.uk for instance.   However, sometimes I don’t want a public blog for my class, for instance.  I want to know who is reading it, and I don’t want to worry about the administration of usernames and privileges.  What I do want is a quick way of getting information, links and assignments to students.  Previous experience with various VLEs has taught me that this can be an enormous pain in the bum, and that the difficulties that these things represent can quickly sap the energy from efforts to use ICT to help teacher/student communication.

Recently I’ve been looking at Google Classroom, which does seem to offer me some quick and easier solutions for the problems I have run into whilst using classroom blogs.  Classroom isn’t transforming my practice, but I am finding it useful for the usual things like homework reminders and answering queries from students.   However, what I like it for best is for fleshing out those throwaway remarks, or passing conversations we have with students who are interested in topics not directly related to our syllabus.  Links to extra reading, radio or TV shows, catch up notes and historical novels that we have discussed.

Teacher dashboard is a set of apps with even more potential, which I’m still experimenting with.  This service from Hapara gives you the ability to create a folder in your students’ google drive (not their personal drive, but one connected to their institution), and to send them google documents and other resources.  Using the dashboard I can then tell which students have amended their documents, and when they did so. I can also give them feedback on their work as they progress.   I’ve been using this with some year 10 GCSE students. Their assessment in 2016 will be on paper, so I’m reluctant yet to spend a great deal of time asking them to type answers into google docs.  What I have been using it for is revision presentations.

I have been asking students to go home after each lesson and make two or three slides to record what they learned in each lesson.  In this way I’m hoping that I can encourage them to see that revision shouldn’t be something that happens at the end of a course, or just when you have an important assessed test coming up.   In trying to use something I learned from making it stick – that effort expended in trying to remember something will help later recall – I ask the students to first draft their slides without looking at their notes.  When the first draft is done, then they should make the notes.  We have a short formative assessment every month or 5 weeks, and they hand in a printed version of their revision presentation as the test starts.

I can’t honestly say that this has yet had a huge impact on grades. I have noticed that their retention and use of important information has improved.  What it is doing is setting up a routine and expectation that revision is ongoing.  I also get an example of what they do when they revise, and I’m going to use this to help them revise better as the course goes on.

So, Classroom and Teacher Dashboard is ICT that isn’t revolutionary, but is genuinely helping me in my task of enabling students to learn.

ICT for learning about history

Prezi and collaborative learning

This isn’t rocket science, but I was really impressed by the easy way in which Prezi worked, the students were enthused and were able to easily share their knowledge using Prezi’s ‘edit together’ set up.  I was so impressed, I thought I’d share it with you.

The scenario is this.  I’m working with a small year 10 group.  They’re keen on history – but they don’t like writing copious notes.  Neither do I for that matter, so we have something in common.   I have made a deal that we’ll do lots of writing of answers, but not a great deal of writing of notes.

So, how to record what they’ve learned, if we’re not allowed to do lots of note-taking?  Well, we’ll try the usual things – spider diagrams, tables, highlighting and making posters and stuff.  I thought that prezi might make a nice way in though, as an activity early in the year.

Prezi, if you don’t know is a zoomable presentation editor.  You can make presentations that zoom in, allowing you to represent the big picture, and precise detail.  For this lesson I created a base presentation – which you’ll find here.

For homework, students visited prezi on their own and created themselves one of the free prezi accounts – this meant less faff when the lessons started – though there were one or two who needed help in creating their accounts. Whilst they were being helped, the class read a sheet about the different countries involved in the first world war, and how they were affected – highlighting some key points.

When they’d done that I shared an ‘edit this together link’ to the presentation with them on our blog. They clicked, logged in and we were away. Their task was to use their exercise books and the highlighted sheets to build the presentation – specifically the precise detail they’d need to really understand the topic and get the grades they wanted.

Whilst they were editing they could see little avatars of their classmates, telling them who was working on which bit.

Prezi in action

What they came up with was:

Which I’m really pleased with. We ended the lesson with a go at improving an answer, using the specific detail in their presentation – they printed their improved versions out and stuck those in their books. A quick go with the class tools fruit machine as a check for understanding and memory and we were done.

Italy Update

I’ve updated a few things on the previously moribund Italy page. I’m going to be adding things as I teach them this year. There’s also a podcast (almost all written – I’m 10 years off unification!) and class website at www.ictforlearning.org.uk/italy/. If you’re teaching Italy, and you’d like to get involved with the site get in touch via the contact form!

ICT with the interns at OUDE

This session on homework and ICT is going to start us thinking about how we can get around restrictions on the use of ICT in schools (mainly a shortage of available computer suites for history classes) and still enable our pupils to use ICT to help their learning.

I’m planning this morning around two central propositions:

  1. great learning with ICT starts with great planning; and
  2. we can use the ICT that pupils have access to outside lessons to help them learn history.

So, we’re starting with a look at wallwisher – with the central question being ‘what’s the point of homework’. I’m hoping that by considering the purposes of work outside of the classroom, we’ll start to think carefully about how ICT might help support some of them.

After that we’ll look at an online spider diagram which considers some of the reasons we might set homework.  I want to show that there is more than one way to get ‘brainstorming’ or crowd collaboration going in homework, depending on the kind of thing you want to do.

After we’ve got our basic propositions settled we’ll move on to looking at three ways of setting homework that achieves some of those reasons.

  1. Yacapaca
  2. Voicethread
  3. Blogging (you could also try edublogs or edmodo)
  4. Feedback, and the results of feedback
  5. Film making

When that’s done we’ll take a look at my ‘51 things to do with ICT for learning‘ and have a cup of tea.  After break, I’ll be supporting interns in creating their own homework using ICT for learning.


This is really a sort of proof of concept.  We do a lot of revision sessions, and I wanted to see if we could ask one teacher in particular to use a livescribe pen to do a pencast of one or two of his sessions.  This is by way of encouragement!

Pencast for Alan
brought to you by Livescribe

The 'e-baldie' roadshow continues…

Tomorrow I’m speaking to Learning Plus conference at Easthampstead Park Conference Centre, Entitled “Working Towards Success at 16-19 and Beyond”, and as always my schtick will be ‘ICT for Learning’.  I’ll be using the attached powerpoint, but also the online technology I’ve been banging on about via this blog and my recent talks.

I’ll be using an example of a KS5 Law activity from Yacapaca

I’ll also be showing this video, which would be ideal for kS5 business, ICT and other students.

I’ll be showing the filmsforlearning.org website, which could easily be utilised by teachers in 6th form, specifically this example of a teacher – made KS5 Geography video.

I’ll be showing an example (one that’s getting a bit long in the tooth now) of a blog I ran with some KS5 Cold War Students.

We’ll also look at Simon Ross’s great KS5 stuff on www.ilovehistory.co.uk.

Finally, I want to show the Google Forms Feedback idea that I’m planning on using next year.

Hopefully that will be enough to inspire some discussion, as we’ve been timetabled for 50 minutes of questions and discussion!

We love yacapaca

As you might know from my last post, I made various presentations today at the University of Reading Institute of Education about using ICT to teach history.  I think it went well, and I’ll find out later when I see what feedback I got using a google form.

I had great help in preparing for this presentation from Ian (@yacapaca on twitter) and his colleagues at Yacapaca.com.  One of the sessions involved the student teachers having a go at a mock up of an old style GCSE paper 2 that I’d made using yacapaca.  I discovered last week that the links had stopped working.  I mailed the support line at yacapaca.  Not only was I given excellent advice, but then I received an email from Ian this morning:

Ed, you lucked out. My colleague Alex worked until 2am to fix the
files list in time for your presentation tomorrow. I’ve just checked
it, and it all works now.



Talk about service.  To top it all off yacapaca raised a great deal of interest at the session.  Thank you Ian (and Alex!)