Last week I made my first visit to the Hampshire ICT Conference, a regional event for education staff who are delivering the computing curriculum in the primary sector.
As usual, I am somewhat out of my comfort zone at this sort of event – whilst I have a good understanding of what happens in the classroom, I am not a teacher. I support the staff who deliver all subjects, including ICT. It’s my job to ensure that they are able to deliver the curriculum through a ‘path of least resistance’. By this, I mean that the infrastructure, tools and support for their planning and delivery should be aiding their progress and not hindering it. My interest in a conference of this sort is therefore perhaps slightly different from those in a teaching role.
The conference surprised me almost from the start. I’ve been to plenty of educational events and heard plenty of different speakers, but none quite like Tim Rylans and Sarah Neild. Tim and Sarah are a double act – a brilliant one, too. Tim is quite loud (in a nice way) and makes some truly awful jokes (also in a good way), while Sarah has so much fun making her contributions that each is often punctuated with an excited giggle. The premise of their presentation in this instance is to introduce delegates to a plethora of different tools that will help them in their delivery of ICT. For the confident and experienced, this provides a great opportunity to expand the set of tools they may already using in the classroom. For anyone less confident, there is plenty of incentive to get stuck in; in my experience some staff will find the sheer number of apps overwhelming. Even experienced staff can get carried away with the excitement of a new tool before properly assessing its value and matching this to a specific need.
If we simplify the theme to ‘here are some great apps you can use in the classroom’, my mind starts thinking about some related points.
What I noted from most of the resources Tim shared (all of which can be found on Tim’s website, by the way) is that they can each be implemented using the infrastructure you will already find in all of the schools represented at the conference. For anyone with one or more tablets or laptops, a wired or wireless network, reasonable Internet access and some form of classroom visualisation, you can probably implement many of the suggested resources right away.
I’m going to make some recommendations that I think supplement Tim’s app suggestions. Before I do, there’s one thing I heard during the presentation that I don’t recommend. Once tip suggested using mobile video streaming tools and sending children off to explore your school as investigative reporters. This might be indoors, and could equally be outside. If you venture outside, you will need some wireless access and could ‘put the access point on the window sill’ to extend your wireless coverage. It will probably work, but if you have a managed wireless infrastructure, moving access points around when you need to isn’t a feature that will have been considered in during the specification and design process. I’m not saying don’t do it, but rather to check with your ICT staff about your classroom needs before you start to make changes – they should be pleased to help.
So now you’ve got a bumper crop of new resources to try in the classrooms and you are hungry for more. Tim’s website is great, but perhaps you want a slick method of reading new posts without having to open your browser each time. Most websites have a way to read content in feed of news known as RSS (really simple syndication) and is a means of delivering website content to another output for consumption or re-use. Navigate through all Tim’s recommendations like a pro with an RSS feed and your favorite reader. I use Feedly, which presents to me the latest items in a feed – like a ‘daily digest’. I can then decide whether I intend to do anything with the app. If I do, then I can use the sharing options to send the article somewhere else – maybe a ToDo list or an Evernote notebook. If not, the article is marked as read and removed from my reading list.
You’ve got some great tools, but how are you managing those user accounts? Why not use a password manager, like LastPass? Once you get past a couple of different passwords, it becomes a bit more difficult to remember them (because your passwords aren’t all the same, are they!?). With the help of a good password manager, your passwords are always available and safely stored for you to access any time. The great thing about many password managers is that they can be used through your browser, so you won’t have to get your ICT team to install anything first – but do check, because it’s always good to have a second opinion before you install any browser extensions, since some of them aren’t a nice as they might seem. Once your password manager extension is installed in your favourite browser, you should be able to save and recall passwords with ease and on any computer the extension is installed.
From Time to time, apps have their prices dropped or even go free for a while. Find out when the apps you really want go free with App Shopper. App Shopper watches the iOS and Mac app stores and lists applications by platform and category where a prices has dropped. There are a number of ways to view the price changes, but if you are waiting for a few specific apps to drop in price, I suggest that you create a user account, add some apps to your wish list and choose to receive an email notification when the price changes. You might just find a bargain or two!