Jenny Watson, Head Teacher of Middleton Park School, Aberdeen talks EdTech.
I am passionate about technology and am constantly looking for the next big thing that will enhance learning, engage and motivate my pupils. But my budget is extremely limited so how do I ensure I choose essential technology and not invest in a gimmick that will be left gathering dust?
In education we are bombarded by emails and sales pitches promising transformational technology that will make a difference to our pupils. Sometimes it is hard not to be taken in by the powerful patter and promises but I try to always think carefully and ensure that the technology we buy is actually going to make a difference.
Social media provides a constant stream of information about new technologies that can often be very useful. I discovered Cubetto at their launch through Twitter and approached their company, Primo Toys, to ask if they might consider letting us pilot one of their wooden robots. They did and it was a win-win situation as our pupils were empowered to evaluate Cubetto and we were able to buy one at a reduced price. It has been a very welcome addition to our growing collection of robots. As always, our approach is pupil led and our older pupils take the lead in exploring any new technology and then sharing their skills with younger pupils.
Outside partnerships greatly enhance the curriculum at our school and are a great way of both introducing and trying out new products. BP introduced us to Lego Robotics; Expedition Pioneers Programme to Google Explorers and MAKE, a local creative enterprise, introduced our pupils to 3D Printing. All of these experiences were free and allowed our pupils and teachers to evaluate the effectiveness of new technologies and to decide if these will be one off experiences or if we want to purchase these for more regular use in our curriculum.
Sometimes, a small investment can make a big difference. Five years ago, when I became head teacher at Middleton Park School, the school had no mobile technology and very limited connectivity. But I had previously used iPads to create digital content, and with a budget to buy four iPads, I worked with our P7 pupils, trained them as our digital experts, and they started using iMovie to create short films. The content could all be created without wifi and I would then upload the films to Vimeo at home. The films were shared across the school and the link sent home via Groupcall. This created a tremendous buzz and excitement around the school and our families loved having a window into their children’s learning.
Every Friday a new film is broadcast and shared with our community. To date we have produced over 350 films that have been watched by a growing global audience of 36K in over 120 countries. We gradually increased our iPads and currently have 20. As the confidence and skills of our P7 pupils increased, other apps were introduced and our P7 experts shared their knowledge with younger pupils and teachers.
Sometimes it is important to maximise the use of technology already in place before purchasing anything else. This allows time for staff and pupils to build their confidence and not become overwhelmed by too many new initiatives at the same time. We have invested money by taking one of our classes to the Sky Academy in Livingstone, where they created their own films in the high tech studios. They returned with new skills, enormous enthusiasm and increased aspirations for creating more professional films.
Technology is constantly evolving and changing in our society. As a leader in a school, I am very aware that we can never keep up. However we can offer our pupils rich opportunities to experience different technologies without having major investments. I invited a friend with high tech drone to enhance a film our P7 pupils were creating from Macbeth. We then purchased two drones for the pupils to experiment with and to then cascade their learning with younger classes. The pupils decided to create obstacle courses and challenged their younger buddies to fly the drones through the course in teams. Often less technology allows for greater collaboration and creativity and richer learning. By waiting, the prices of drones has dropped and we can now afford to buy a few more.
This approach allows for a very strategic approach when we are choosing new technologies. For example, next term our whole school context is ‘Habitats’, so our planning includes using Google Explorer to compare environments around the world; the use of drones to capture images of our own locality and coding our robots, Cubetto, Dash and Dot and Bee-Bots to explore pupil-made maps. As a staff we have identified that we need to purchase more robots and drones. At BETT this year, that will be my focus.
Looking forward, we are now exploring the use of Google Classroom and Chrome Books to further share learning between home and school and as a powerful platform for collaboration and creativity. This has been an aspiration for the last five years but has only been possible with a new intranet in our school, which has greatly increased our connectivity. I like having a blend of technologies within the school as I feel this will best prepare our pupils for their future lives.
We will continue to invest in our pupils as digital leaders and to be our evaluators in helping to decide what is the next big thing. I know our journey with technology will be constantly evolving and changing and that we will never ‘crack’ it! But most importantly I hope it will continue to be engaging and motivating for our pupils and fun!
Hear more from educators within the Bett community over the next coming weeks! Make sure to stay connected and check out our social media channels below.
Bett is the first industry show of the year in the education technology landscape, bringing together 800+ leading companies, 103 exciting new edtech start ups and over 34,000 attendees from the global education community.
Location & Opening times:
ExCeL London, Royal Victoria Dock, 1 Western Gateway, London E16 1XL, United Kingdom.
Wed 22nd January, 10:00 - 18:00
Thu 23rd January, 10:00 - 18:00
Fri 24th January, 10:00 - 18:00
Sat 25th January, 10:00 - 15:00