Book Creator: bringing cardboard castles to life

In my son’s school their homework policy is that every teacher sets two ‘projects’ per term. One homework is to be completed during each half term and brought into school just before the half term/end of term break. He’s had homework tasks as simple as designing a poster, as fascinating as researching the history of television, or (in the most recent case) as creative as building a castle.

Suddenly cardboard boxes and plastic bottles were being hoarded like they were made of gold.

He made his castle one rainy Sunday afternoon in November, but a little spark of inspiration gave me an idea, and this blog illustrates how this homework took on a life of its own.

From a teacher’s perspective, I had always liked the idea of constructing something and documenting the process through pictures or video, and then creating a book. This book, in my mind, would be something the learners could use to show how they had created this ‘thing’ without having to write at great length about it. Imagine how proud they would be to send this book home and show off what they’d made and how they’d made it? All I was lacking was a topic, but I knew that would come in time.

It has always been my tactic to test ideas out on my own children before taking them into the classroom, so this seemed a perfect opportunity – we were going to document the creation of this castle and make it into a book, and the app of choice had to be Book Creator.

I can’t say enough good things about Book Creator! From my experience of using it so far, it’s so easy to use, offers almost-endless opportunities for creativity and brings down many barriers that learners associate with writing (i.e. “it’s boring”, “I don’t know what to write” or even learners who struggle with physical barriers to writing).

My belief is simple: not everything has to be written on paper.

My son, Ben, had played with Book Creator before, but hadn’t properly explored its features. I didn’t feel I needed to show him either, I simply gave him my iPad and left him to be creative. He decided he wanted to include a time-lapse video of his castle being built, he wanted to show some photos of our recent trip to Chepstow Castle and he wanted to make a movie (of something?) with Coldplay as the background music.

They were his three objectives, he had decided these without any input from me, and crucially he knew exactly how he was going to do it. He was fully engaged, couldn’t wait to get started and was producing new ideas at an alarming rate!

Remember, from my perspective the point of this exercise was to test out this method before taking it to the classroom. So will I be doing this with my own learners?

Absolutely.

Just think for a second: if I’d told him to write about how he made his castle, do you think for one second he’d have been the least bit interested? Yet here he was, taking an entire day to film the process of building his castle and edit the video clips. Then the following Sunday he couldn’t wait to get his hands on my iPad again to add pictures, voice overs and text, decide on his colour scheme and produce his finished book. He’s shown everybody how he built his cardboard castle, but his level of engagement was incomparable to writing his method on paper.

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Once the book was made, he wanted to share it with his friends, his teacher and everybody else in the family. Now, it is possible to publish a book to iBooks Store from Book Creator, but to do that you need a Mac and I only have my iPad. So we came up with a solution – I’ll host the file from my Google Drive account and we made a QR code for him to take into school.

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I am so proud of the work he’s done to produce this castle and of course the book that goes with it, and I know he was too. But the icing on the cake was when he got called to the Headteacher’s office to receive a special award for his castle, QR code and book.

And guess what?

Now he wants to make another one. And another one. And another one.

It’s going to be a busy couple of months at Hann Publishing!

Feel free to follow this link and download Ben’s book. If you have an Apple device, it should offer you the option to open it in iBooks.

If you haven’t used Book Creator yet, you and your learners are seriously missing out!

Right, pencils down. That’s the end of our time. Until next time – hwyl fawr!

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Why learners must be stretched: avoiding boredom

There are two great quotes I’d like to share with you. The first one is from Robert John Meehan, who says:

“Teachers who love teaching teach children to love learning”

Carl W Buechner also once said:

“They may forget what you said, but they will not forget how you made them feel”

Learners will forget some individual ‘facts‘ they learn in school. Not everything can be retained all of the time, and I know that this is still the case in adulthood (believe me – if it isn’t written down then it stands no chance of being committed to memory!). But, children will never forget a good teacher because they remember how they made them feel about learning. Seemingly, our memory of feelings and emotion is greater than our memory of words.

This brings me to the story I wanted to share with you to illustrate this point. My daughter started secondary school this September, which is a massive milestone in her young life. I never worried about her settling in to her new school and she has made some new friends as well as keeping her close circle of friends from primary school. However, secondary school brings a very different level of responsibility – she had never previously had to worry about which room she needs to be in, which books she needs to take or whether she’s completed the homework ahead of the next lesson. 

Her favourite subject in primary school was Maths. It was also mine at the same age, and I was always on cloud nine when her teachers reported that she was top of her class for Maths at parent’s evenings.

However, when she started in Secondary school her attitude towards maths changed suddenly. She described it as ‘boring‘ and rolled her eyes when she talked about it. So what had changed? Well, two very simple things. 

Firstly, I have surmised that her new maths teacher made little attempt to bond with the learners or get to know much about them. It is apparent that a large part of her dislike with the subject was due to the fact that the teacher ‘shouted‘, ‘got angry quickly‘ and was ‘confusing‘. He, in my daughter’s own words, managed to make her favourite subject boring.

The second thing he did was actually something he didn’t do. As I’ve already said, my daughter was a high-achiever in Maths. Part of her boredom came from the fact that he failed to challenge her in any way. She was asked to complete work at a level she had been exceeding a full academic year previously. For example, she was asked to identify that the angle at 90 degrees is called a ‘right angle’. In primary school she had been measuring and calculating angles of far more complex polygons. She was one of the first to complete the work, and then asked to ‘help others’ until the end of every single lesson.

With boredom came disinterest, a lack of  motivation and an attitude that ‘maths is rubbish‘.  How dangerous is that attitude at the age of 11?

Now, as luck with have it she was moved to a new class after half term and the difference is like night and day. She LOVES maths again. Her new teacher is the exact opposite of everything the last teacher was – he makes a few jokes without being a stand up comic, doesn’t shout yet the learners listen to him, has the respect of the learners because he shows respect back. Maybe most importantly though, he has quickly determined each learner’s ability and sets an appropriate level of challenge in each lesson. Now she once again has the spark in her eye when she talks about maths. This week, she actually came home excited for the next day so she could learn the next equation in the list. In fact, she did not stop talking about it all evening, she waxed lyrical for about six hours about how great her new maths class is. As a parent, how could I ask for more than that?

As a future teacher, isn’t this the goal?

Now, please don’t think I’m berating the previous teacher. I don’t think for a second any teacher goes into work planning to do a bad job, and I’m absolutely sure he was trying his best. Maybe he is inexperienced? Maybe he is just finding his feet in a new school? I don’t know, but what I do know is it highlights two important points:

a) how we make learners feel has a huge impact on how much they get from our lessons. unmotivated learners are a dangerous element in a classroom.

b) children want to be challenged and stretched in order to feel like they have achieved something. My daughter wasn’t happy  because she ‘wasn’t learning anything new’. Challenge them, make them think. Plan for the highest achievers just as much as the lowest.

As I reflect on my teaching practice for the future, I know these are two points that will be very much at the front of my mind.

Right, pencils down. That’s the end of our time. Until next time – hwyl fawr!

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How can technology support learning?

Today was a good day. Today I did something I’ve never done before. Today I stood in front of 255 Year 11 pupils at the University of South Wales, Treforest Campus, and delivered an hour-long session on the topic of ‘Digital Revision’, looking at ‘How technology can support learning’.

Around a month ago I volunteered to deliver this session, but little did I know at the time it would turn out to be one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had since starting my degree.

The use of technology to support learning and understanding is a really big interest of mine. However, it’s fair to say I was a little daunted when given the brief to introduce the pupils to technology that will help support their GCSE revision. That’s quite important, right? What if I stand in front of them and try to teach them things they already know? Even the most patient of adults couldn’t sit quietly whilst being taught to suck eggs for an hour!

So imagine my delight at the opening few minutes: I’ve introduced myself, I’ve successfully logged 250 pupils onto the University’s WIFI network – no mean feat in itself – and I’ve introduced the premise of the session, “I’ll show you technology that might just help you get better grades in your GCSEs“. A bold start, but they’re listening.

So far so good.

The first area I address is using technology to test your own understanding. This looks at ways in which we can use websites or apps to see how well we truly understand a topic. I offered three suggestions: KahootSocrative and Quizlet.

The majority of the pupils had used Kahoot before and the room erupted into excited chatter when I hinted that we might even do a Kahoot quiz during the session. Hardly any had used Socrative or Quizlet, so naturally I gave more time to discussing these resources. I stressed the point I was trying to make on more than one occasion – of course this should be fun, but think about what you’re having to do in order to make these quizzes. A few faces looked at me knowingly, they understood the point. In order to create the quiz you need to know the answers to the questions you’re setting. You need an in-depth knowledge of the subject matter so that you can make the quiz difficult, otherwise everybody will simply answer every question correctly and it won’t be fun.

I offered the pupils the opportunity to take photos of the slides on the screen so that they could document what I’d shown them for use in the future, but hardly any did. Though my experience tells me this is widely done in University lectures, I suspect there is a certain stigma attached to an act like this at their age. A clear learning for me, duly noted.

I then discussed resources that might help those who learn best by watching. The obvious example is YouTube, and the point I emphasised here was to be aware of who the author of the content is when you’re watching something. Do they seem reputable? Are they trustworthy? A Donald Trump ‘fake news’ reference had been made in my notes, but in the moment I decided against introducing politics to the session.

The next resource was one which nobody in the room had heard of, which I was secretly pleased about. I introduced the Khan Academy, explaining that from my own research I had found few sites that compared to the Khan Academy in terms of the sheer volume of content. My enthusiasm for this resource must have come through in the presentation, because I was genuinely blown away when I signed up to test it.

We then moved away from ‘watching‘, and towards those who might prefer ‘reading‘ and ‘listening‘, discussing the merits of iTunes U and BBC Bitesize podcasts. Most had heard of them, but a surprisingly small number had engaged with these resources.

I then moved the spotlight to those who prefer to learning by ‘doing‘, discussing how the app Book Creator could be used to make an e-Book on a particular topic that the pupils wish to revise. Essentially it’s a way of revising and making notes, but in a more engaging format and with the benefit of being able to use pictures, audio and text. You can share the book by publishing it to the iTunes bookstore, which judging by the number of raised eyebrows in the first few rows, seemed to appeal to the pupils.

I briefly talked about how Google Drive could be used to collaborate on a revision document, as groups of pupils could work on them from home at a time to suit them, rather than having to be in the same place at the same time to revise together. This didn’t seem to appeal to them as much as I expected it to, so I swiftly moved on.

I finished by pointing pupils towards Twitter, and some twitter handles that they may find helpful, such as @GCSEPod, @getrevising and #revisiontips.

So what have I taken away from this?

A big learning: Year 11 pupils do not like answering questions in front of their peers. Don’t build your session around their interaction, because you might not get it unless you offer a ‘mask’ – for example, none of them had an issue with answering questions in an online quiz.

Another learning: I regularly stopped and asked them to discuss a question with those next to them. That really seemed to help break up the session so I wasn’t lecturing them for a whole hour.

Finally: online quizzes such as Kahoot are fantastic for any age. If you’re a teacher, seriously consider using it. If you’re teaching older children, however, be aware that no matter how many times you say ‘any offensive names will be banned’, there will always be one that tries, especially in a group of 255.

The trick, it seems, is knowing when something is actually offensive. Final learning: whatever age group you teach, know enough of the pupils’ slang terms so that you know when a word is offensive. Ideally, before you read it out to congratulate them on a high scoring round in an online quiz.

That aside, I am ever so grateful for this experience and I hope the opportunity presents itself for more of the same in the future.

Right, pencils down. That’s the end of our time. Until next time – hwyl fawr!

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An Apple a day….

I can add the last seven days to the list of ‘good things that happened in 2017’, for this was a week in which I achieved two proud moments in my University life.

Firstly, I became an Apple Teacher.

What is an Apple Teacher? Well, to become a recognised Apple Teacher you must read through guides and complete a quiz to earn eight different badges. Each badge relates to a different app or skill, and you can complete the badges for Mac, iPad or both.

Once you’ve earned all eight badges you’ll become an Apple Teacher, and receive an email with your official Apple Teacher logo, which looks a bit like this:

20170204_211955000_ios

I found working through the materials to be a great CPD tool, and I would encourage educators of all knowledge and experience to consider doing as I did.

If you’re still not sure, here are a few of my thoughts about the whole process:

The guides are written with a consistent structure flowing through each one, meaning you can pick up a guide on any subject, from Guitar Band to Numbers, and easily find the section you need. Finding information within each guide is not difficult, as each has a contents page with hyperlinks to take you directly to the section you need. This could be a fantastic tool for more-able learners in KS2 to use and teach themselves new skills.

The problem I often have with guides is that reading the theory alone can can make it difficult to picture how you would apply it to a real life scenario. The Apple Teacher guides address this by actually taking you through the process of creating something. For example, the Numbers Guide talks through the creation of the ‘Butterfly Investigation Lab Report’, including a simple table, checklist and pie chart. Seeing this come together makes it much easier for me to understand how I could use this in other projects in future.

The addition of interactive functions within the guides adds real value to what you are reading. For example, within the Garage Band Guide you can listen to sound clips of what you’re supposed to be creating, to check that you’re on the right lines. Many of the pages have windows you can swipe through to see the progression of the stages you are following. All of these functions add a great deal of support on just one single page.

The process of taking the test online is also very simple and easy to access, with a smooth transition between the different sections.

 

Having completed the Apple Teacher badges, I then looked in to further learning available on the Apple Teacher site.

Which brings me to my second achievement. I sat down yesterday determined to complete the Apple Teacher Playground Swift badges too. The Swift badges are all related to coding, a subject that is surely daunting to many teachers who have never taught this before.

However, after reading through the guides and drawing on some hazy memories of previously-forgotten A-Level Computing knowledge, I successfully completed the Apply Teacher Playground Swift badges.

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Yes, it’s true I had a previous understanding of coding, and a good familiarity of Apple systems. But consider this – I last studied coding 11 years ago, and I’ve never used apps like Garage Band in my life. I was basically a beginner again. If I can do it, why can’t you?

Interested in becoming an Apple Teacher yourself? What are you waiting for? Follow this link, read the resources, take the tests and get qualified!

appleteacher.apple.com

Right, pencils down. That’s the end of our time. Until next time – hwyl fawr!

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Placement Looms: Real pupils in real schools

The day after my very first post, an email arrived from the University’s School Experience Officer. The subject left no air of mystery whatsoever:

‘PROVISIONAL PLACEMENTS: BA PRIMARY YEAR 1’

It was an email I hadn’t expected, but had been eagerly (and anxiously) awaiting for some time. What school would I be going to? Would it be a good school? How far will I have to travel?

Each student on the BA Primary course has to undertake a placement in a learning environment in each of the three years. My placement this year is scheduled between March and May. With it being the very first one, I don’t think anyone truly knows what to expect. Until now I’ve been able to put the idea of actually teaching children – REAL children – into a part of my mind where I can acknowledge it’s going to happen eventually, but satisfy myself with the thought that it’s still some way off.

Until now.

Now it’s very real. Now I have a school. Now I have something I can’t file away. I have something to put in my diary, a website I can look up, an ESTYN inspection report to read, and a Twitter profile to start following.

It doesn’t matter how relaxed you are about the idea of teaching (I’m genuinely really looking forward to qualifying) because when you’re faced with the thought of going into a school and teaching your very first lessons, I would challenge anybody who says they’re not a bit nervous.

But is nervousness a bad thing?

Sure, it might shave some hours off your average sleeping time. But doesn’t nervousness keep you sharp, focused and ‘on-task’? Doesn’t it make sure you don’t rest on your laurels? We’re nervous, apprehensive and maybe a little worried for one simple reason:

We care.

We care about doing it right. We care about doing a great job, and showing how good we can be.

Whilst the email from the School Experience Officer left no air of mystery, my first teaching experience is a huge step into the unknown.

Right, pencils down. That’s the end of our time. Until next time – hwyl fawr!

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The Difficult First Post

I’ve written a personal blog for over three years now, so I should know exactly how to get started with a new one, right? Wrong.

Somehow, the responsibility of starting a professional blog seems like a very serious undertaking. If I start too strongly, I might mislead you into thinking this blog will be something it can’t live up to. If I don’t start strongly enough…well….you won’t still be reading now.

Could do better. Stronger start needed.

In September 2016, I turned my back on a 12 year career in Retail Management to embark on a new venture into the world of teaching. Teaching is something I’ve always dreamed of doing, but entering Higher Education as a mature student is still no less daunting than my 18 year old self would have found it.

Much better. Keep it up.

The University of South Wales in Newport will be my home until the summer of 2019 (doesn’t that seem a long way away?) but in the meantime this blog will chart my thoughts and ramblings as I negotiate the choppy waters of being a student teacher. My hope is that my experiences will resonate with other students also trying to keep their metaphorical vessels from sinking.

As I survive lectures, assignments, observations and placements I will be sharing everything I find useful, whether it be apps that could add value in the classroom or lesson plans and ideas that I particularly like. But maybe most importantly, I’ll tell you what it’s like to be a mature student teacher in Wales in 2017.

Right, pencils down. That’s the end of our time. Until next time – hwyl fawr!

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