Google Expeditions

Following James’ visit to BETT 2017, he managed to arrange a visit to school from Google Expeditions. If you’re unfamiliar with Google Expeditions, its a free VR app available on Android and iOS which is designed to work with Google Cardboard. Google Cardboard is a low-end VR device, made of cardboard which works with a smartphone.

Together we took over two Junior School classrooms for the day, armed with about sixty Asus devices and Cardboards, a couple of Android tablets, two routers and an army of charger cables.

In half hour or so sessions, we took the whole Junior School (Years 3 to 6) and some volunteer sixth formers through immersive 360 degree images of the International Space Station, volcanoes of the world, Barcelona, Egypt, Beijing, the Great Wall of China, the Great Barrier Reef, Antarctica and rainforests.

It was amazing to hear their reactions, bowled over by how immersive they found it. They reached out instinctively to touch penguins only to find their adjacent classmates, gasped at how high they were in space over the Great Barrier Reef.

Each individual Google Cardboard and Asus device allowed the student wearing it to look in any direction they chose, while we ‘drove’ the experience from the tablet. We were able to access more information about each scene, point items out (the students saw arrows guiding them to the targets) and stop and start the experience for everyone. We could see where they were looking at any point with a swarm of smilie face icons.

The girls didn’t want to stop exploring, and it was hard to prise their teachers away from the same to come and try controlling the expedition!

As snow fell outside the classroom window,  it didn’t quite compare to the Antarctic Expedition scenes inside. Proof it was a truly unusual day for all.

A-Level Psychology Research Methods Published

Paula put some epic work into her A-Level Psychology book on Research Methods. She drafted the full text in Google Docs, including outlines for the interactive elements, links to videos and recommended texts.

The book was published internally at BGS in late summer 2016, ready for her to teach the A-Level course, but we hadn’t got round to amending certain pages which related to particular models or questions from the course text. We always publish original work on the iBooks Store.

Paula’s book received a lot of interest and requests for public publication so it’s good to get it out there at last. It’s definitely the most detailed book published at BGS so far, and it was an honour to work on the layout. I look forward to working more on the book as she refines it through teaching it.

Download A-Level Psychology Research Methods for free

How the iPad Camera can be All You Need

I’ve published a second blog post to the BGS Innovation and Technology blog this week. It covers a recent visit to Year 8 English. With all the apps and clever stuff teachers do at BGS it’s easy to believe that just using the camera is ‘basic’. It’s an incredibly effective tool to record speaking and presentation, a key skill in English.

Visit Year 8 English with me on the BGS blog

Sharing our Apple Story

It’s been a fantastic couple of days at Bedford Girls’ School. As an Apple Distinguished School we were proud to host over 100 educators from Finland, Poland, Denmark and Greenland. The delegates had come over to the UK to visit BETT 2017, and also visit other schools who use Apple technology to improve teaching and learning.

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As part of the visit we gave some short presentations on our iPad story, as well as how we use iTunes U and iBooks to support learning. I was nervous but excited to explain my part of the strategy as Digital Design Creator.

The highlight of each of the visits was the opportunity to take a group on a learning walk, which is a tour of classrooms. The timetable for lessons remained unchanged and the visitors were joining ordinary lessons across a range of year groups and subjects.

Jo MacKenzie, our Head, also wrote about the visits. The girls were really excited to share what they got up to, and how iPads changed their education.

Not only did we all learn a lot about how other schools approach technology and learning, but we swapped ideas and discovered how anything from the school day structure to how marking and feedback is handled differs.

New School Blog on Innovation and Technology

As part of my role as Digital Design Creator at Bedford Girls’ School, I’ve taken on the challenge of writing a blog about innovation and technology.

So much of what goes on is considered ‘ordinary’ by the students and staff because the school has progressed so far with technology in five years. However, understanding how the classroom has changed with a 1:1 iPad environment is a really common question from parents and teachers unfamiliar with how we work. By visiting lessons and blogging about them, I hope to give an insight.

The first post features our Maths Department.

BGS Apple Distinguished School Story

Following Bedford Girls’ School’s approval as an Apple Distinguished School in late 2016, we published our story to the iTunes Bookstore.

The application process for an Apple Distinguished School is to complete an iBook covering 5 particular areas, using a particular template base. Once an ADS, you are invited to publish the book (subject to extra approval and vetting from Apple for use of product images, logos, etc.) to allow others to read.

You can download the Bedford Girls’ School book here.

Export Explain Everything to Google Drive

Created for our Year 7 students who are creating their own eBooks about computer systems using Book Creator. The girls completed an Explain Everything presentation about non-volatile storage and then exported it as a video to add to the book. At the end of the course their completed eBook will be graded.

We added the video to their iTunes U course to help.

Sharing Our iPad Story with Local Schools

In conjunction with Apple Education, we welcomed some guests from schools from our county and neighbouring counties today, to share our iPad story.

We explained how we used the iPads, iTunes U and iBooks amongst many other tools to enrich learning, and took our guests on a tour of some lessons.

Some of our guests had sets of iPads, others were considering Microsoft, but we all had common ground in the challenges we face.

ISC Digital Strategy Group Conference 2016

This year’s Independent Schools Council Digital Strategy Group conference was held at Microsoft’s UK Campus. The Conference theme was Digital By Design, Digital By Default. 

I had the opportunity to attend on behalf of the school, to listen to a variety of presentations both in person and via Skype from abroad. We also saw some live demos of collaboration with Microsoft’s tools, naturally, as we were on their turf.

There were many speakers during the day, but in summary from my notes:

Mark Steed spoke on teaching in the Middle East. 95% of Dubai schools are for-profit, which has introduced commercial drivers to education. Schools are concerned with ROI, economies of scale, and keeping staff costs down, which in turn impact school size, facilities, teacher qualifications and the amount of contact time.

This approach has meant schools have invested in blended learning to enable limited contact time, and also make use of video conferencing.

He predicts that for-profit will become the global norm to fill the gap in demand and supply for education. It will become a luxury to be taught by a specialist, superstar teachers will be demanding high salaries in the secondary sector while primary teachers shall be supported by robots as it will always require human interaction. Finally, he predicts VR will disrupt secondary education.

Vaughan Connolly spoke about how the future of professions, employment and schools are changing. He drew comparison to Moore’s Law, and reflected that we tend to over-estimate short-term impact, and under-estimate long-term impact.

Throughout the day several speakers referred to the development of artificial intelligence, Connolly referencing a Wilcocks and Lacity study which found that technology liberates people in the short term, to allow humans to do what humans do best.

Miles Berry shared examples of projects and the impact of problem based learning. As my focus is on computing, Berry’s talk felt very relevant, though at BGS we are already implementing creative and computational thinking in the computing curriculum. It was also useful to look at KS4 and KS5 computing, and the perspective of universities for potential computer science undergraduates.

Ian Phillips followed with further practical examples of computational thinking in action with the BBC Microbit. He had challenged his students to find a problem in life they couldn’t solve and then to work together to present a solution at open day, encouraging playfulness, curiosity and deep learning. One of the students gave a confident presentation about their experience and how the opportunities had led to great success.

Andrew Storey spoke of his school’s misfortune of a sinking building being turned into a great opportunity to design a new learning space. Modern learning spaces are flexible, placing students at the centre of the lesson. Storey explained how they went as far as training their students for 6 hours on how to be efficient in the classroom with technology.

Following this we had the opportunity to hear from overseas educators via Skype. James Mannion discussed sharing successful process with neighbouring school districts, turning teachers into problem solvers rather than dictating a solution. Bill Brennan discussed support networks between schools, encouraging adults to break out of their comfort zones with a smile.

Cat Scutt asked us to consider how we delivered teacher CPD, and whether we applied our use of technology for teaching students to how schools developed their staff.

We also heard about the Bloodhound Project, and had a chance to try out Microsoft’s HoloLens, which displays a blended VR overlaid on the real world, to the point it appeared a person was stood amongst us in the room which we could walk around and through while we explored human biology.

Meeting Tanmay Bakshi & Programming in Swift

Today we were very kindly invited by Apple to meet Tanmay Bakshi, a 13-year-old developer from Canada who is the world’s youngest IBM Watson programmer. IBM Watson is an intelligence engine which handles artificial intelligence amongst other things – a sort of super computer.

Tanmay is on a mission to reach 100,000 new developers to inspire them to code, by the time he is 15. He inspired us with his story: he created a very popular time tables app aged nine and by age 12 he was working with IBM and Apple.

James Potter (Director of Digital Strategy at BGS) and I brought a small group of girls from the computer science club down to London on the train for the day. After a presentation from Tanmay, we joined a workshop.

In the workshop Tanmay led us through how to create our very own iOS apps with Swift. We created one which would predict whether a person would be male or female based on their name. To do this, we trained IBM Watson with 7,000 names. Although we didn’t quite have enough time to finish our app in the session, we tested Tanmay’s app with one of girls’ names, curious at what Watson would predict. After a few hiccups – the app eventually returned the correct answer.

One Cat's Adventures in Technology and Teaching