School shares virtual knowledge

New developments in e-learning were on the agenda at a conference for teachers hosted by Bolton School

Members of the science department at Bolton School Boys’ Division welcomed teaching colleagues from across the north to an e-learning conference for the North East and North West Standing Committee for Science (NENWSCS). Teachers at Bolton School shared their experience and knowledge as they spoke about how the science department has embraced technology and iPad use by all students.

Headmaster Mr Philip Britton, himself a physics teacher, opened the conference by explaining how Bolton School had come to adopt mobile technology and e-learning. He reminded the audience that there is a difference between trendiness and trends and that, in his view, “e-learning will happen”. Having contemplated it for a while, it was whilst sat on a rock in the North Yorkshire Moors during the Easter vacation of 2011 that he decided it was something that the school had to do. With governing body sign-off secured a year later, iPads were gradually deployed to all pupils from the infant school to the sixth form. Now they are an integral part of learning for over 2,000 pupils throughout the campus.

The head said one of BECTA’s maxims had been to ask “what learning can be achieved that is impossible or very difficult to do with another device?” and he said this was something that teachers at the school are still very mindful of. Whilst Mr Britton felt the introduction of e-learning had been an enormous success, he did point out that there would be hurdles to overcome, the first of which is to ensure that the school’s wireless system works – this can take time and there is a cost to bear. However, many of the concerns that had worried people pre-roll-out had proven unfounded, including children playing computer games and never exercising, disruption to households and the “social media beast”.

Technology and apps are merely tools for learning, the headmaster explained. Notability is the modern-day equivalent of a jotter and file, iTunes U is the former textbook and handout, Showbie is the pigeonhole and One Drive the locker. He highlighted other key apps that have helped teachers make a difference, including Socrative, Educreations and Explain Everything.

There followed further presentations and workshops from science teachers who shared their first-hand experience of e-learning and offered practical tips. Students also talked about their experience and their work was showcased to the audience.

The e-learning conference was organised by Mark Ormerod, head of physics in the Boys’ Division, who had arranged for each delegate to be given an iPad for the day so that they could use the technology first-hand. However, teachers running workshops and talks throughout the conference also considered alternative devices; they showed attendees other apps which work on android devices as well, showing that these techniques and methods of working can be transferred for use on all tablets.

The focus throughout the day was on how technology can enhance the experience of pupils. Dr Kristy Turner spoke about “flipping classrooms” with 14-16-year-olds, explaining how this inverts the traditional classroom, so that note-taking and extensive teacher talk are removed from the classroom and replaced by note-taking by students pre- and post-lesson. Pupils can then enjoy more time in class focusing on experiments and practical activities, whilst filming and making notes at home, which help consolidate their learning. These short films can then be referenced during revision periods. Often the school will make the video and pupils write the notes on the video. Dr Turner, who also works at the University of Manchester, said it had been a hugely positive experience and felt that the note-making at home involves more effort on the part of the student than merely taking notes in class.

Mr Teasdale shared his knowledge on how best to use iPads to enhance self-supported learning. He explained how to create courses and upload them using iTunes U and two powerful apps – Explain Everything and Educreations. He said that iPads encourage students to think creatively about ways of demonstrating their knowledge, including through text, hand annotations, videos, images and multiple slides. He encouraged the group to think about the ways in which they could see iPads being used in their classroom. He also spoke about iBooks where you can zoom in on an image, watch a movie or animation, find something interesting and highlight it, add a note to the text, find out what the “study” function offers, browse the iTunes store and find a book that may be useful. The posting of lessons on iTunes means pupils can catch up on missed work; it also allows for differentiation as well as additional and extension work.

Miss Crowther spoke about the apps that she found most useful. For her, the OneDrive app is the best way of transferring files to your iPad. DropBox she found good for transferring files and she told how some staff have set up shared folders with students or members of their department to share resources. She currently accesses individual files through WebDav but the school will shortly move to Cloud Storage. She demonstrated the Showbie app, which allows teachers to directly write on students’ work when marking or through using text boxes. Larger items such as chemistry revision material can be made public or private via iTunes U. The one app that she “could not live without” is iDoceo – an organiser and mark book. Many teachers, she said, found Keynote was a good app for delivering presentations. Notability allows students to work on worksheets (PDFs work best) and then to send their work back to the teacher.

Dr Turner offered a practical workshop showing how tablet technology can be used in chemistry. Utilising the tablet camera and the RGB camera app, she conducted research in colorimetry. She explained how the tablet app offers a viable alternative to buying a colorimeter for the department, which can cost around £100.

One attendee said: “This has been a really good and thought-provoking course. I thought the course was very useful and I actually learnt a lot. I will definitely be sharing and discussing a lot of ideas when I get back to school. I think there was the right combination of activities and the day was pitched at the right level. You can definitely tell that this has been prepared by teachers … it was excellent! Thank you.”

NENWSCS was the brain-child of Colin Chambers in the late 1980s as a way of ensuring that good practice was shared among science teachers in independent schools.

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