ECIS Seville, 2014 – adios, iPad 2; bienvenido Office Suite for iPad

Seville was a lovely surprise last month.  I was there to present the current stage of my research into iPads in the classroom at the ECIS Leadership Conference but I wasn’t prepared for how stunning the city looked in the late spring sunshine and how the whole place seemed to be blooming.  I had missed the Exposition during 1992 because I was on teaching practice in Lisbon and the only weekend my tutor could fly out from London to meet with me was the same weekend my colleagues and I had earmarked for a Seville trip.  So this was catch-up time and I made the most of it.  There was a moment, sitting under an orange tree on a street terrace with my wife and children, waiting for our (world class) tapas to arrive and listening to a street quartet playing just a few yards away, when I wondered if a moment in life could be any more perfect.  Then the tapas arrived and I realised it just had done!

The conference coincided with a couple of iPad-related news items that have already begun to affect schools.  One is the withdrawal of the iPad 2, the classroom stalwart that has served us so well since March 2011.  From now on this device will no longer be manufactured and schools will have to choose other options.  For schools such as ours in which iPads are leased, not bought, the removal of the iPad 2 from the Apple options list is significant.  It is not merely the new agreements with alternative models (I suspect most schools will opt for the iPad Air as we are doing) that have to be processed but also new cases (NutKase had an impressive stall at the Seville conference and although I don’t normally use this blog for the purpose of promoting brands I have to say I was struck by the student-designed protective iPad Air cover they demonstrated), new MDM set-ups and in some cases new insurance agreements too.  Most students and teachers will regard the replacement of their iPad 2 with an iPad Air as a good thing, but it is not without its issues for those administrating the switch.


Another recent development (and one that is still unwinding as I write this at the end of May) is the decision by Microsoft to throw in the towel on iPad apps and abandon the failed “Windows First” policy they stuck by under Steve Ballmer’s leadership.  The clearest manifestation of the policy change in Microsoft is the decision to release iPad versions of Excel, Word and PowerPoint.


Of these, Excel is the most significant as it is the only one that is demonstrably and undeniably the superior application in its field.  Those of us who use spreadsheets regularly, and especially those who require pivot table facilities and more advanced tools, will welcome the arrival of ExCel to the iPad.  This isn’t the case for the other two apps. Word is easily replaced by any number of word processing apps, and PowerPoint … well how can I put it and still be polite?  But the move does put a final nail in the coffin of those who continue to argue that the iPad is for content consumption and not for creating new stuff.  Quite obviously, Office Suite apps are intended to create new stuff.  In fact, Microsoft has configured the release so that the only way they will make money is from subscribers who buy the creation facility.  those like me who simply download the apps to be able to read what Office users send us pay not a penny.


Collaborating in a 1:1 Setting

Reflective educators seldom accept received wisdom as something beyond questioning.  When it comes to iPads in the classroom received wisdom has less than four years’ provenance and it is, therefore, only right that we reassess what we think we know about these amazing tools and their place in the school room and the school day.

I was thinking about this earlier this month when I was observing a class of fourth graders working on scripts for a play set in Roman times.  The students had chosen a character from the Roman era, and their plays were to tell the story of their character’s move from their hometown to Rome, but other than that basic outline the students were free to interpret the task freely.  Most of the students in the class I was observing were using a combination of paper and pencil and their iPads to do the preparation.  Later, the scripts would be polished and published and then incorporated into a Readers’ Theatre presentation.


The iPad is obviously an excellent tool for all manner of tasks associated with such projects. Students can use it to research aspects of the Roman era (see above), and to draft writing or multimedia work for later editing or publication. But I knew that one of the skills the teacher had been focussing on was collaboration, and this interested me from the perspective of classroom management.  The received wisdom on collaboration from researchers such as Sugata Mitra has been that the ideal ratio of devices to student is around 1:4 with upper primary/middle school students (Mitra conducted his research with Year 7 students.  During his work with Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLES) Mitra found that students worked in an insular fashion if each had permanent access to their own screen.  Collaboration was facilitated by groups of four students sharing the device.  Our own research at ACS Cobham in 2011, which I discussed with Mitra the following year, found that although this was true with older students the conversations younger students shared in this ratio were overwhelmingly concerned with whose turn it was to use the iPad.  These conversations disappeared when the iPad-to-student ratio reached 1:2, and that observation shaped our development of our iPads programme in grades one and two for the next three years.


The observations I made in the first few minutes following the teacher’s initial presentation certainly supported the Sugata Mitra position that students worked insularly when each had their own iPad (see above).  But as the minutes ticked by more collaborative behaviours were observed (see below)

IMG_7994 IMG_7995 IMG_7998 IMG_8003 IMG_8009 IMG_8012

The difference the teacher had made was simply to teach the students collaborative skills.  We tend to talk a lot about the need for students to acquire skills such as collaboration, systems thinking, creativity, critical thinking and analytical problem solving, and we even joke about how we still find this battery referred to in the literature as “twenty-first century skills”, but we tend to talk less about the mechanics of teaching such skills. It’s perhaps the digital equivalent of that point in the 1980’s when we realised we were requiring students to learn how to take notes but nobody had bothered to do any research on how to teach it.

It turns out collaboration is admirably supported in the Responsive Classroom approach used in ACS Lower School (Responsive Classroom is a philosophy of teaching and learning that extends from research-based practice and training promoted through the Northeast Foundation for Children – NEFC).  The students were quite comfortable putting their own iPad down for a few moments to work with a colleague on their Roman project or to concoct something together that was greater than the sum of the parts either could have created on their own.  I am sure that other approaches would have worked too (although Responsive Classroom is certainly an extremely effective way to embed collaboration skills). The key was that the teacher had set aside some time to teach an interdisciplinary skill before the Roman project had ever been introduced.

I’ll be watching this development with some interest as it clearly has ramifications beyond technology-linked classes.  The key practices of Responsive Classroom such as interactive modelling, and the three domains of engaging academics, positive community and effective management on which it is founded may contribute towards how teachers develop other twenty-first century skills too. but this was by far the most collaborative lesson I have ever seen in a 1:1 iPads classroom and I would love to think that it came from a sustainable model of classroom practice. 


The Great War on a 9.7-inch Screen

This year’s centenary commemorations of the start of World War One have had a conspicuous presence on television and in the printed media and as the summer approaches and we mark 100 years since the Old Contemptibles marched in France it seems fair to guess that the coverage in the mainstream media will be even more thorough.  Schools across Europe are no doubt giving thought to how best to reflect those happenings in the classroom.  Certainly, we at ACS are pondering the question of what are the most appropriate and effective ways of giving children a context in which to understand the Great War.

kitchener_posterFor people of my age, schooled in the seventies and eighties, the Great War belongs to the twilight of living memory.  I grew up in an environment where the oldest generation, including several of my relatives had experienced the war either as soldiers on the Western front and other theatres, or as members of the home front.  My grandfather, great uncles and several members of my extended family had all been soldiers.  One lost a thumb at Gallipoli; another had been gassed and passed away at an advanced age in the nineteen-seventies after a lifetime of lung problems; two great uncles were killed in action in 1918 and my grandfather survived the war only to die of illness in 1929.  Tins could be found in the bottom drawers of various cabinets in my childhood home containing medals, ribbons, coins, letters and military badges from the period.  Two cards, lined with black and a few sepia photographs spoke to the memory of the two great uncles who had lost their lives.  The war felt part of my personal history.

That feeling is not possible in the same way for the current school generation.  My first two years as a teacher, in 1992 and 1993, coincided with the last two years anyone I knew of invited surviving World War One veterans into the classroom to address the children.  I remember one surprisingly sprightly nonagenarian telling my students how he had joined up in time to see the last few months of the war at the Western front – and how he had got through it “without even a scratch”.  He, and all his comrades, are now long gone.  The last British Tommy, Harry Patch, died in July 2009, and the last WWI veteran of any nationality, Florence Green, passed away in February 2012.  Today’s children’s understanding of the war – and their ability to make sense of it and relate it to their experience of the world, will depend not on hearing live first-hand accounts, but on their ability to navigate the multitude of resources available to them, and the guidance we give them in doing so.

A major part of those resources exist in places these students will access via their iPads.  The temptation for many teachers will no doubt be to regard online resources as material for consultation and review. iPads are certainly useful tools for such consumption of reference material, and there are scores of apps available for reproducing, sometimes in beautifully presented forms, the pictures, posters, newspapers and moving images from the war’s four-year period.

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These content consumption apps also include trivia quizzes and Top Trumps-style virtual card games (see below) that ostensibly teach the consumer something about the machinery or weaponry used in the war (with aviation disproportionately represented to a conspicuous degree).

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Content consumption is also the driving force behind the many podcasts, television and film productions and even poetry recital and music albums currently being prominently displayed on the iTunes store, not to mention the books, audio books and games that take World War One as a backdrop or theme for the events or action they feature.  But there are also many opportunities for students to create appropriate content using the resources on the Great War. Posters in apps such as Trevor D’Arcy-Evans’ comprehensive World War One Posters (shown below) can be incorporated into student written work, artwork or combinations of graphics and images in presentations using Pages, Moodboard, Keynote, ArtRage, Puppetpals, iMovie and so forth.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 12.48.56Projects like these can be used to connect today’s students to the young men and women of 1914 who, informed and influenced by the media and social commentary of the day, joined up in their thousands to serve their countries.  Such work brings the period to life and allows today’s students to identify with and personalise the experience of the time they are studying.

More formal courses of study, some of which are connected to genuinely interactive work, are available via the iTunes U.  History and literature studies of the period of the Great War are offered, for example, by the University of Oxford (below).

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 13.04.43 The Great War is, therefore, extremely well represented in formats suited to the 9.7-inch (or 7.9-inch) iPad screens, and war resources available for iPads such as timelines, interactive archives, reference eBooks and the like can be incorporated into the modern classroom in a way that at least approaches the authenticity of my sprightly nonagenarian friend from 1993.  Imaginative use of authentic archive material also allows a multitude of perspectives to be understood, rather than one man’s personal memories, a caution Harry Patch himself mentioned in his only memoir, The Last Fighting Tommy.

For all those who did indeed get through the war unscathed – or at least in one piece, there are those who did not.  As I write this blog entry I have in front of me a letter written by one such member of the Fallen, my great uncle Syd.  The letter was written by Syd to his brother, Arthur, a private also on the front.  The envelope in which the letter was placed is addressed to M.G.C D Section, 106 Company, B.E.F. France, and is dated April 8th 1918.  In the letter, Syd says “…well, old boy, like you I am fed up with the whole thing, if it wasn’t for Bess and the children I should wish I was somewhere out of it but I think I shall trust to luck now I have had so much of it”.


Syd’s letter to his brother, Arthur. Written on April 8th 1918.
Syd was killed in action eight days later.

The letter was delivered to Arthur and it made it home to my family’s archive. Sadly, Syd did not make it home.  Stuck to the back of the envelope was the announcement of Syd’s death, killed in action at the age of 37, just eight days after he wrote the letter.

This letter has personal resonance for me and for my family, but there are equivalent stories in millions of families around the world, and there is deep and lasting learning associated with school projects that tap into such stories.  Clearly, we have a responsibility to ensure that events like the Great War can be understood, contextualised and made real for our students. Thanks to content creation apps and the efforts of teachers, iPads can have a useful role in that.

Top Tens

Recently, the Stephen Perse Foundation ‘s Daniel Edwards published a list of the top ten apps in use at his school’s two-year-old 1:1 iPad programme.  He noted that all ten apps were multipurpose apps, and he included in his list a description of how each app fitted in with the workflow developing at the school.

The list will make reassuringly familiar reading to FOMO-afflicted school leaders who have been dabbling or diving headlong into the world of 1:1 iPads, but it also indicates strongly how far the shift has been completed towards content creation.  With the arguable exception of iTunes U, every one of the’s top ten apps is primarily or exclusively designed to get users creating new content, not consuming existing content.  Here is Daniel’s list

Book Creator

Book Creator

Edmodo Edmodo Explain EverythingExplain Everything iMovieiMovie

iTunes U iTunes U

Keynote Keynote

Notability Notability


Showbie Showbie

Socrative 1.0 and 2.0 Socrative

Daniel’s list got me thinking about another list I realise I’ve been mentally compiling without actually writing it down.  In my many conversations with teachers and administrators in iPad schools across the country, I have noticed how the same questions are being asked and shared.  Not many of these questions have definitive answers – often it’s a case of personal preference or school philosophy, but here are some of the questions that are most commonly asked of me as an administrator in a school where our oldest 1:1 iPads programme is now entering its fourth year.

1.  What MDM do you use?

2.  Who pays for the iPads?

3.  What is your insurance structure?

4.  Do you recommend 1:1, shared iPads or a combination?

5.  What age range is the iPad best suited to?

6.  Do the iPads go home or stay at school?

7.  What eSafety issues do the presence of iPads raise?

8.  What training structure and timetable have you found most successful?

9.  Why iPads as opposed to Android or other devices?

10.  How do iPads best engage the students with the demands of the new curriculum (e.g. the demand for programming etc.)?

This list is by no means exhaustive. I could certainly add questions about how students save their work, what peripherals are most recommended, which subjects are best served or least well served by the apps on the App Store, how well iPads work with Google Apps schools and so forth. But following Daniel’s lead of naming only the top ten, these are the ones that are most often asked, and the ones to which I do find I have preferred answers borne of our experiences since we got started in January 2011.

I will endeavour to work my way through these questions and answers over the next few posts.

The Joys of Instant On and Elongated Battery Life

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Today’s power cut was a good illustration of the attractiveness of two features of the iPad that nowadays often get overlooked but which at the time the iPad was released made it so welcome to educators.  When the power cut hit Cobham this afternoon the computer teacher and students were able to switch immediately to their iPads without any need to wait for log on delays (worked out by an ECIS colleague of mine a couple of years ago as typically the equivalent of two whole days over a school year!)  Nor were there any concerns that the iPads would have flat batteries despite it being the afternoon and the iPads having been in use all day.

Instant On and a ten-hour battery life are taken for granted nowadays, but back in 2010 these two features rescued many of us from a huge IT headache.  Today was proof that these features are still essential.

Show and Tell (for grown ups!)

One of my mantras as a school administrator (and I don’t feel I have that many) is that the best teachers understand the experience of school from the students’ perspective.  It’s one of the reasons I’m an advocate of shadowing – following a student’s day and getting a sense of the pace, structure and division of the seven, eight or nine hours per day that students are in school.  Recently our school put on a highly effective faculty meeting that involved little more than a carefully planned sequence of show and tell presentations.  Each presentation was about five minutes in length and although we did use the Apple TV and large display screen it was only because of the size of the audience. Any one of them could feasibly have been hosted in a classroom.

The sequence ran the gamut of the school – from Early Childhood to twelfth grade.  teachers showed student-created work on iPads and explained the benefits of Edmodo, Showbie, Socrative, Explain Everything, Collabracam, Book Creator and so on.  Teachers who hadn’t yet tried what was being presented took notes, asked questions and from time to time downloaded recommended apps.  It was quintessential peer-teaching.  With the exception of the downloading, the audience of teachers was set up to participate in the session in exactly the same way we assume students will participate.  There was discourse but it was channelled. Most of the new information came from the presenter and then the audience shared their take on what was being presented.  I was reminded of Robert Fulghum’s famous poem Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

When it came to the turn of the Early Childhood teachers, my own son’s former teacher (from last year) stepped up to demonstrate how his class of 4- and 5-year-olds had responded to their class readaloud, Jan Brett’s adaptation of the Ukrainian folk tale The Mitten.


The pre-kindergarteners had created PuppetPals shows to retell the story in their own ways – much as Brett had done with the original folk tale.  This meant learning how to take a picture from a bank of images and insert it into the background menu and cast list that PuppetPals HD makes available to creators of new shows.  With teacher assistance, even pre-kinder students could do this.


Here, for example, the student has reordered the visitors to the mitten so that the fox gets a turn before the badger and owl (who, for those unfamiliar with puppetPals, are seen waiting off stage in the edit mode view above, but who would not be visible to the audience watching in presentation mode).  The students can also add new animals, provide a soundtrack or voiceovers or even change the ending of the story if they wish.


It’s a simple lesson to the veteran iPad user, but it engages these young students at an appropriate level of involvement in the story, and it sets them on the path that leads to mature reflections on reading as an active process that will inform their self-reflections in later grades.  Although there were some fascinating presentations at the meeting, it was this one that perhaps provoked in me and many of my colleagues the most pause for thought.

Happy New Year – and a Christmas joke that didn’t quite go to plan…

It’s New Year’s Eve and I was just preparing to close the laptop and get ready for the party when a message pinged into my inbox telling me visitors to this blog have increased by 55% this year.  There are thousands of visits – and I think I can assume that’s not just my mother clicking multiple times!  Seriously, many thanks for the support and for the comments I’ve received from you via WordPress, Twitter and Facebook.  Those of us exploring the roles of iPads in K-12 education rely on the wisdom of each other to gain insights and make progress. I appreciate learning from all of you reading this blog.

It being Christmas my wife and I took the children to a slightly earlier service on Christmas Eve than we were used to attending in our days before kids.  It was fun with plenty of carols, mince pies and mulled wine mixed in with the more serious messages this time of year brings.  At one point the vicar asked the children in the congregation what they thought the best Christmas present was. He was preparing to tell that old joke about it being a broken drum (because you can’t beat it – yes, I know!)  It didn’t quite go as planned.  The first response from the crowd of under-tens was “an iPad”.

When he replied that he was thinking of something even better than an iPad another child offered “Two iPads?”

Happy New Year.  May the best of 2013 be your worst of 2014. And thanks for reading!