我们使用 iPad 学习中文

My weekly Chinese lesson with a combined third and fourth grade class finished last Monday for another term, and we filmed ourselves speaking Chinese for a digital portfolio. When the iPad first came out I had been teaching Chinese for about three years and using various bits of technology to add spice to the lessons.  Often these lessons would feature a game of vocabulary bingo or perhaps a Keynote presentation showing some video footage of Chinese daily life.  Seldom did we get much further than the Substitution stage of Puentedura’s SAMR model.

When Chinese apps started to appear in greater numbers and teachers were beginning to discover the iPad’s potential for engaging students’ attention, we were really still no better off.  Flashcards were now virtual rather than card; character practice could now be done on a screen with one’s finger rather than on paper with a brush but the number of apps that truly took students to new places cognitively was tiny (perhaps iTunes U should be mentioned as an honourable exception: Chinesepod was an unmissable blog for me while I was gathering raw materials in my school in Mexico).

It was when I realised that I was completely missing the point looking for “Chinese apps” that I finally struck lucky. Having spent hours working with teachers on projects using PuppetPals HD and Pages, it struck me that these were perfect apps for introducing in my Chinese lessons.  Students could create puppet shows as easily in Chinese as in any other non-native language. They just needed a little technical knowhow.  The same goes for Pages. Students can create eBooks in Pages and include photos, video and recorded dialogue where necessary.

So in the next term we’ll be working from the get go on a term project to write our own textbook.  It will try to gather together the dialogues and info that the students find most useful, and illustrate them with images and video where appropriate.  I hope to feature it here when it’s finished next year.  In the meantime, here are some of my students working on a video last week – and using the app Teleprompt HD to help them remember their lines.




Learning from the ESSA Experience

ShowkShowk Badat: ESSA Academy Principal


I have to admit it concerned me watching Question Time a few weeks ago that a politician of the calibre of Menzies Campbell could make a statement like “Only in the most affluent communities will you find students with iPads”, and not one of his fellow panellists contradicted him.  Campbell may simply have been misinformed or ignorant, but the truth here is so worthy of discussion that I thought it a shame that the opportunity was lost.

The comment reminded my of ESSA Academy in Bolton.  Although it was the example of Cedars School of Excellence in Greenock that served as the true template for Project i at ACS Cobham, the path beaten by Showk Badat and Abdul Chohan at ESSA Academy was certainly in my mind too, especially after ESSA had transitioned from iPod Touches to iPads and I had had the first of many meetings with Abdul during his appearances at events such as the Apple EU Summit.  To say ESSA Academy exists in an affluent community would be to severely underestimate the challenges that faced the teachers and administrators who made such a shining success out of the school.  Abdul once told me the school was the sort of place that made his parents determined to work hard all their lives “to ensure I wouldn’t have to go there”!  The turnaround Showk and his team effected in ESSA is an astonishing and heartening success story, and Showk is in no doubt that it was achieved largely through the sensible deployment of transforming technologies.

Although neither Showk nor Abdul were able to join us live for the recent ECIS Technology Conference, Showk kindly agreed to be interviewed for a screening we held on the pre-conference day.  Consequently, we sent a team to Bolton a week before the conference and filmed him answering questions about his school’s 1:1 iPad rollout.  A video link to the entire 22-minute interview can be seen here but I do want in this post to unpack three of the most important points he left us with.  These are not necessarily without controversy, but Showk is a sincere man who has considerable experience under his belt and whose record speaks for itself.

Firstly, Showk emphasises that the transformation began with an analysis of the problem that focused on the teaching and learning. It was the recognition that a gap existed between what passed for teaching and what was happening in terms of learning that led him and his team to look for ways to bridge that gap. Technology, therefore, offered a possible solution to a problem of practice that had already been observed and identified. It was able to offer this because it made possible the empowerment of learners by giving them access to learning opportunities not just within the confines of a structured timetable of lessons but anytime it is needed.

Secondly, Showk states that once his team had decided the iPod Touch represented the technology they were seeking to introduce he resisted the attraction of piloting the idea with a small group.  My own research in both the UK and the USA reveals that this is unusual. Most 1:1 technology implementations are begun on a small scale – either because funding prohibits the immediate launch of large-scale implementations or because schools genuinely want to gather data from a sample before committing wholesale to the idea.

Showk’s resistance to a pilot scheme stemmed from his scepticism that results from a pilot could be reliably generalised to a wider population.  He simply thought a pilot study would show only that distributing iPod Touches to a pilot group would tell him how it worked on a pilot study scale.  He wasn’t interested in that; he wanted to look at what a large-scale rollout would produce.   In September 2009, therefore, ESSA Academy issued every child in the school (nearly 900 children) with an iPod Touch.  Staff also received an iPod Touch each. But the students received theirs first.

Showk is clearly a rational man with a sensible head on his shoulders. He states that when something significant is done, the rationality of the act can be lost in the symbolism. The children (and the families) receiving their iPod Touches regarded them as valuable and the act was perceived as overwhelmingly positive.  Showk recalls how at the parent night when the iPod Touches were distributed he was hugged by families coming to receive them. yet the cost of the devices was about £150, and in his local authority each child represented between £5,000 and £6,000 of LEA funding.  Give a bit of that back, says Showk, and suddenly you’ve got that bridge.

On the question of staff attitudes, Showk readily admits that teachers were quick to foresee potential problems with the change he was driving “as teachers are wont to do” he says, but he makes it clear that they kept faith with the idea that what they were bringing into the school for the first time was a possible transformation of fortunes and he observes that when it was clear that many of the problems that teachers had foreseen did not in fact materialise they became much more confident.

The third point Showk makes in his interview that I wish to unpack here is connected with the legacy ESSA Academy wishes to build. Showk describes this in terms of a foundation supporting three pillars: personalised learning, professional capital and social capital. These pillars hold up ESSA’s mission. He makes a practical point about funding that one of my readers recently tweeted me to clarify.  I went back to the source for some clarity which I hope will be useful.  Showk pulled off a trick here which he claims helps him to think of resourcing in a liberating way”

“Do not think of your resourcing (in terms of iPads etc.) as capital; think of it as revenue. So when you come to do your budgetary planning you tend to capitalise your assets, right? Don’t capitalise your technology resources. Treat them as revenue, treat them as consumables. Now once you put them as your ongoing costs in your budgetary headings you will inevitably look for budgetary heading adjustments to enable that to work. And that’s exactly what we’ve done. What we have done here is we have the same revenue budget allocation on an annual basis that buffers the ups and downs of demand across time using our reserves. What that means is that we refresh our iPads every two and half years”.

Showk includes in his interview a response to an invitation we gave him to present a top 5 list of tips to schools seeking to introduce 1:1 schemes.  His response reminded me of Stephen Covey‘s aphorism “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”.  Showk’s advice was “Don’t be one of those schools that does the wrong things well”.  If I thought, listening to this, that I might be the only person in the room who thought immediately of interactive whiteboards, Showk lost no time is assuring us that IWBs were exactly the sort of thing he was talking about.  “They are the wrong thing”, he said. “Try to think about doing the right things as well as you can, and get your people in that frame of mind because when we trust our professionals we empower them to make the right decisions”

As is common these days, many members of Showk’s audience were tweeting during his talk.  I read the tweets on the hashtag later that day. By far the favourite piece of Showk wisdom was this one (fittingly, the one I’ll close this post with):

“Accept that whatever you do you’re going to be wrong. And therefore, don’t wait for the right time. Just do it. By not doing it, guess what you’re going to prove? That you were wrong!”


Leadership Day


The ECIS technology Conference began with an all-day pre-conference workshop titled Leadership Day.  During Leadership Day school heads, IT directors and others with a leadership position in international schools met in the morning to hear from three keynotes speakers, watch a video presentation (from ESSA Academy head Showk Badat, whose words of advice to schools considering iPad deployments will be the subject of my next blog post) and attend speed dating sessions on aspects of leadership, pedagogy and technology.  The afternoon began with classroom visits in the Early Childhood, lower school, middle school and high school divisions of ACS Cobham and finished with a closing Keynote and wrap up session.

Marc Prensky opened proceedings with an unpacking of his famous digital native and digital immigrant metaphor.  He told the audience his metaphor had been challenged – particularly in the UK, but all it was meant to describe was the analogy between the traditional and the cyber age versions of the immigrant, who has experience of living in two cultures and the native, who has experience of only one.  Accept that and you’ve understood the extent (as well as the limits) of the metaphor.

We also heard from high school ICT teacher Patsy Davies who had surveyed her students to find the extent to which teachers integrated technology into their lessons, and Andrew Wetherall from the International School of Amsterdam, who illustrated his discussion of the ease with which our initial false assumptions about technology can prove to be lasting ones with a discussion of his experience learning to skate in Holland in preparation for the Elfstedentocht!

Predictably, it was the students who were the true stars.  The first graders were completely unfazed by the arrival of forty adults in their classroom, and the fourth graders simply used the visits as an excuse to explain patiently how you use an iPad to teach yourself biology and maths.


IMG_1796 IMG_1795

Learning to Love the iGeneration: Viewpoints from our Keynote Speakers


The ECIS biennial Technology Conference has come and gone and left in its wake a rich discourse on the place of technology in the modern classroom and in modern society.  We had engaging and challenging keynote speakers, provocative and practical breakout sessions and panel discussions that were often heated but always respectful.  The media were there in number and our visiting guests included representatives from the business community as well as the international education sector.  Our local MP also stopped by on Friday to meet the keynote presenters and exchange views (see below).


Above: Dom Raab MP (centre) with Richard (l) and event chairman Steven Cliff (r)

It was notable how many times keynote speakers took issue with the title of the conference.  Two pointed out that they didn’t feel they needed to learn to love anyone. One observed that the term iGeneration (Larry Rosen‘s term originally) would probably be rejected by this generation as they are the first generation who will name themselves rather than accept a label foisted onto them by their elders.  Curiously, enough Rosen’s article itself takes issue with the terms “Y Generation” and “Millennials”, calling them “an insult to our first true cybergeneration”. Words matter, it seems, and keynote speaker Marc Prensky‘s own terms digital native and digital immigrant were themselves challenged at the conference.


Above: Teaching Digital Natives author Marc Prensky (speaking on his birthday – the Ides of March) gives the conference’s opening keynote.

The breakout sessions mixed the practical (programming with Scratch 2.0, flipping your classroom, working with Nearpod) with the grander designs of setting up research projects and framing pragmatic schemes within theoretical frameworks.  My two fellow presenters and I were gratified to see such a large attendance at our own presentation “iPad Therefore I Learn?”, and as usual these days, we received live Twitter commentary as we were proceeding.  I do hope those of my readers here who were in attendance last Friday got something useful out of the session.  I’ll upload a version of the Keynote to Slideshare soon – and put a version here too.  Unfortunately, the longbow I passed around during the hands on section was later broken by Jeff Utecht (that guy simply doesn’t know his own strength!)  I let him stew for a while thinking he’d done irreparable damage to a priceless mediaeval relic before telling him I bought it online in 2000 🙂


Jeff Utecht began proceedings on Day Two with a rousing call to celebrate old tech – particularly the Atari 2600: the best gaming system EVER! That’s not even controversial 🙂 W00t W00t!

A nice contrast to Jeff Utecht’s nostalgic trip back to the eighties was given by Julie Lindsay, who presented the concept of the flat classroom.  In the flat classroom the walls are removed (or flattened) and the learners are taught and encouraged to see themselves as global community members.  There are some exciting technologies enabling this approach these days, and Julie shared some of her experiences, noting that the asynchronous activities (i.e. those that do not depend on all the collaborators being active at the same time) are just as valid as the synchronous activities.  This observation encourages teachers to look for potential sources of telecollaboration far beyond the time zones of the originating classroom.

Calilean Hargrave, who closed the conference on Saturday afternoon, was notable for his energy, his colourful shirts and the fact that he was the only keynote speaker to make use of Prezi.  I remember giving my own first Prezi in my first week of becoming principal at the International School of Paris back in 2009.  It felt new then, but I was genuinely surprised to see at a technology conference of all places how new it still appears to be to audiences four years on.  Excellent though Prezi is, however, no presenting tool can make up for poor content, and Cailean’s enthralling vision of the present and near future was far more than simply an entertaining slideshow.  He drew from technologies showcased in IBM‘s 2011 book Making the World Work Better (published to mark that company’s centennial year), as well as many new technologies invented since then.  It was thrilling and also a little unnerving.  Education faces the challenge of how to ensure we take optimal advantage of new technologies, but the traditional model we have espoused for so long of a bricks and mortar building in which students matriculate across a curriculum composed of core subjects and electives is completely up for grabs.


The dynamic Cailean Hargrave: his funny, informative and energetic closing keynote rounded off a successful conference brilliantly.

As he built up to his announcement that he would be offering a prize of a placement and on-site project support using items picked from IBM’s catalogue of products, Cailean reminded us that the number of patents held by IBM is greater than the next eighteen highest patent holders combined!  His company started, 102 years ago, with a cheese and bacon slicer. “I like to think we’ve come a long way since then”, he quipped.

Without a doubt the most contentious keynote speaker was Chandran Nair, and speaking as the man who booked Chandran I would have been disappointed if this hadn’t been the case. Chandran’s last appearance at an ECIS event back in 2010 had seen him positioned as the techno-sceptic opposite technophile John Couch (Apple’s Vice president, Education) and the more neutral Sugata Mitra.  On that occasion Chandran revisited one of his favourite themes, considering the relative priority Indian society gives technological advancement at the expense of basic needs like sanitation.

IMG_1826Global Institute for Tomorrow CEO, Chandran Nair, closing the first day of the conference with a challenging (and for some, uncomfortable) address.

This time, Chandran launched a counterpoint to the vision Marc Prensky had outlined earlier that morning which assumed technology would continue to shape our lives and redefine learning and becoming for the iGeneration.  Chandran began by telling his audience to turn off their devices. Most of us had been taking notes on iPads, Chromebooks, laptops and phones all conference – and tweeting commentaries to the conference hashtag as the keynotes went on too, but Chandran was adamant that wasn’t going to happen during his talk.  “It’s called respect”, he said. “I don’t do Facebook. I’m too cool for that. I do Face People”. He went on to say “I don’t do that other thing either. What’s it called? Twatter?”

If at this point he had some of his audience wondering whether he might like to rethink the title of his organisation (the Global Institute for Tomorrow), he quickly explained that his was an Asian perspective and he wanted to offer his audience something different from “worshipping at the church of Google”.

Chandran’s argument was that there is something severely wrong with a society where the number of mobile phones is significantly higher than the number of toilets (India). Strongly pro-China, he asked (rhetorically) “If you were poor, what would you rather be, Indian or Chinese?” And he challenged his audience to consider whether the sacrifice of individual freedoms for the greater good of the many wasn’t after all a legitimate point of view.  His implication was that this was the Chinese way.  As someone who is partly Chinese himself, speaks Chinese and who lived there for many years in the eighties and nineties, I could easily contextualise Chandran’s arguments – albeit I disagree with his conclusions.


Above: A consistent feature of the conference was the inclusion of students as M/C’s, presenters and panellists.  After all, it would be odd to have a conference dedicated to the needs of the iGeneration that omitted its members from the line-up!

It was Jeff Utecht who got the best laugh out of the keynotes – and it was at Chandran’s expense although it was not until the following morning when Chandran himself was on an aeroplane flying back to Hongkong (he was barely in the country twenty-four hours). “I finally figured out what this guy’s problem with technology is”, Jeff told us at his own keynote speech on Saturday. “He’s got one device… and it’s a Blackberry!”

Engaging with the iGeneration Pt. 2

These are some thoughts Sol (aged ten) will be sharing with an audience of about a hundred administrators, IT personnel and teachers just before joining Marc Prensky‘s panel discussion this Friday on the opening morning of the ECIS Technology Conference 2013.  The panel discussion is titled “Listening to the iGeneration”.  Marc, a Baby Boomer himself – who will actually be celebrating his birthday that day, was interested in chairing a panel made up of genuine experts – in other words, the iGeneration members themselves.

SolXO TextAbove Sol with the XO laptop (remember those?) she keeps for sentimental reasons.  Really serious work she now does on her MacBook Pro – with iPad apps like Teleprompt + (second picture) also coming in handy for practising speeches to VIP audiences 🙂 

I’m ten years old. Most of my grade level will live their entire lives in the 21st century – and some of us will still be alive in the 22nd. 

I was born the year the first iPod was released and I’ve never used a floppy disk. 

My dad showed me how an audio cassette worked the other day. Quaint.

Last week I asked my younger brother (born 2007) what he thought grandma (born in 1933) did when she was a little girl.

He said she probably played with her iPad unless it needed charging. 

He can’t imagine a world without Angry Birds.

And, by the way, the iPad is older than the youngest sixty students enrolled at this school!

13% of American babies born last year had an e-mail account while they were still in their mummy’s tummies. Some even had Facebook accounts. 

I imagine the status updates were a little samey.


Sucked thumb.

Grew some more

Listened to more Mozart from the Baby Einstein CD

The world we’re growing up into is different from the world you grew up in. We both need guidance.

And the only source of that guidance is each other.

So teachers you need to understand that although we might sometimes know more about technology gadgets than you, that’s probably the only thing we do know more about.

And there are important other things we need from you.

Like how to stay safe online

How to know if we can believe stuff we read on some websites when another website says something different.

How to mix digital skills with traditional skills like editing, summarising and finding connections.

And if you do your job well, then with luck…

You’ll have educated the generation that cured cancer, invented sustainable cheap energy and maybe even brought education to all the World’s children rather than just some.

That would be worthy achievement for the iGeneration.


Engaging with the iGeneration Pt. 1

Ahead of the ECIS Technology Conference we are hosting at ACS Cobham from 14th to 16th March 2013, I’m considering in this month’s posts the iGeneration and the challenges we face as educators serving the needs of this unique and fascinating cohort of young people who engage with the world in ways that intrigue, fascinate and sometimes infuriate us.



In an article in Education Leadership in February 2011 (see above) Dr. Larry D. Rosen discussed the names we have given to the generations growing up since the end of World War Two.  All taxonomy is subjective but Rosen appears to agree that there is at least some value in considering the commonalities that exist among people born in periods of time defined by the prevailing technology.  The first of the post-war generations Rosen considers is known as the Baby Boomers.  These are people born between the end of the war and 1964.  In terms of technology, these are people who were born into the television age – the time when television was taking over from radio as the most popular medium.  Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, Tim Cook, Eric Schmidt, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak are all baby boomers by this definition.

Next, according to Rosen, we had Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979 – although all these dates are approximate). This generation is not easily categorisable but Douglas Coupland‘s Book Generation X recognised that this generation differed in some significant ways from the typical Baby Boomer, especially in the way they reacted to change.  Marissa Mayer, Martha Lane Fox and Larry Page are examples of Gen-Xers in the tech world.

The next generation – born in the 1980s and growing up in the Internet Age, have often been referred to as Generation Y. Rosen says they are more accurately called the Net Generation. They are comfortable with Internet technologies and they include many of the people who are shaping the current technology landscape such as Mark Zuckerberg.

But there is a generation following, born since about 1999 that Rosen argues can be defined by their technology and media use.  They are the iGeneration.  The i can be seen in the technologies they have made their own – from the Wii to the iPad and beyond.  they expect connectivity and connectedness. They assume technology will work and that it will facilitate what we still call twenty-first century skills – skills like collaboration, perseverance, problem-solving, systems thinking and innovation.

This is the generation every student in K-12 education today represents. Some call them the digital natives – those born into the current digital landscape.  Others say that is a misleading term and that it reveals only metaphorical truths about what iGeneration students need from their elders.  It is an intriguing debate and one that will influence the very natures of the classroom, the school, the learner and the learnéd.

The title of the ECIS Technology Conference ACS Cobham is hosting this month is “Learning to Love the iGeneration”.  For Baby Boomers this phrase might hearken back to the movie about Dr. Strangelove and the apocalyptic fears that surrounded the bomb. But 1960’s black comedy aside, the very serious contention herein is that we all need to learn to love the iGeneration because love begets understanding, and without understanding there can be no progress.