4 hours of learning with iPad

4 hours of learning with iPad

A guest post from Simon Armitage from the Stephen Perse Foundation of schools (@s_armitage)


Check BBC News app and Twitter feed. Teaching geography to year 9 at 9am and the subject is ‘world development’. If I can’t make this relevant and current to their lives there is something wrong. Political unrest continues in Hong Kong. We’ve already referred to it in previous lessons.

Spot an entry at the top of my Twitter timeline from @ThatIanGilbert who I know is an educator living in Hong Kong. It follows on from an image of the protesters’ recycling scheme which caught my eye the other day.

Fire off a quick email to business contact working in the Hong Kong financial markets to see what his opinion is.

There’s a reply from Hong Kong by 8.11am

Email reads: ‘Apart from a few roads blocked (although also less cars on the road) it’s really business as usual in Central. ironically it is other areas such as Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and TST that are being more affected and as these are shopping areas the local shops and taxi drivers are starting to get very annoyed with the protesters. I give it the weekend before it dies out as they are already fighting amongst each other and there is zero chance the Central Government giving in (people forget it is not a Hong Kong decision).’

This contrasts nicely with the Ian Gilbert blog post. I tweet to Ian Gilbert and we have an impromptu dialogue about the situation. I am now ready for my starter with year 9.

World Development – iTunes U course

9am Lesson topic is ‘why is the world so unevenly developed?’. I have my iTunes U course ready with resources so I am not worried about the direction that the lesson might take. My starter is to ask the class about what they know about the HK protests and to discuss how political systems (democracy / dictatorship) might have an impact on development. I read the email to them. Class love the images from the blog – I could be AirPlaying these via Reflector but it is actually easier to plug and play with the wires.

Finding out that the leader of the protests is only 3 years older that them and seeing how the students are protesting from the blog and images gives an unexpected and contrasting start to their engagement in the lesson. Not 100% sure how much students really understand the nature of the political system or the full details of the extent to which political structures might have an impact on development but then the main thing is that we are learning about a real and relevant issue. Certainly, there is an understanding that life in other parts of the world is very different to here in Cambridge.

We collate our checklist of factors affecting levels of development and divide them into human and physical issues. Most students prefer to use pen and paper for this. A few are working on iPads and will add their file to their GoogleDrive folder into which I am shared so I can see what they have done. I don’t want to encourage them to do everything on the iPad – it’s just not necessary.

9.40am One student suggests, correctly, that living in an extreme environment could have an impact on levels of development. She suggests that cold environments might be especially difficult. We discuss for a bit but, as a class, we struggle to grasp the challenges of these locations. Fortunately, I know that I have a playlist on my YouTube channel which includes a link to a video about life in Oymyakon, Siberia – the coldest permanently inhabited place on Earth. It’s only 7 mins of video but brings home the realities of life below -55 degrees Celsius in a way I can’t do with words or static images. One student asks the obvious question, “so why do they live there?” which leads us back to location of natural resources but also the politics of the trans Siberian express and locations of gulags. “So, politics does have an impact on development after all”, comments another student.

My YouTube channel only has 3 subscribers so I suffer an amusing loss of credibility with the class! I explain that it is simply my digital video storage ‘dump’ and I’m not bothered by subscribers or views. Don’t think they are convinced! Perhaps they won’t need to use YouTube as part of their digital portfolio storage as Google have just announced unlimited free storage is coming on Google Apps for Education?

Planning with the iTunes U course

Quick consolidation gaming exercise direct from a weblink in the iTunes U course. Students link ideas associated with causes of development. Worked well for 4 mins (all that was needed really) until one student works out she can beat the system by piling all the items on top of each other, thus clearing the board in world-record time! Must reconsider this link in my iTunes U course. At least it will be easy to adjust. Still, everyone seemed to have fun beating the system and the learning has been achieved anyway.

10.00am Back to the iTunes U course for a diagram showing the poverty cycle. We save the image direct to the Camera Roll and add it to a new page in the Notability app to annotate with some thoughts. Notability file is exported to GoogleDrive folder and class make a note of the inclusion on their books so they remember where it is.

Homework is already set as a two week task on ‘the meaning of development’ – instructions are on a Pages file in the iTunes U course. They’ll be using a Pages template (I recommended ‘simple newsletter’) which will allow the simple inclusion of diagrams and images (gathered during previous lessons and now on their Camera Rolls) without spending time adjusting the layout. The layout compels the students to refer directly to the images that they include. More time spent on learning, less on fiddling around with technology. Win, win.


10.20am Off to prepare for senior school open day. Checking a couple of additions that we have placed onto our Stephen Perse Foundation app and trying out the iBeacons which we have placed around our site. Pleased to be able to include two great items of geography work from last year’s class – so easy to re-present work when it is held digitally.

11.00am Help to put up some posters in the science staircase area – difficult to get them exactly straight. Downloaded a spirit level app. I wasn’t expecting to use technology to help with that today!

Some final thoughts

  • A lot of this would have been much more difficult pre iPad. Real-time information in my lesson has become increasingly important to me as a teacher. I can respond much more quickly with the iPad.
  • iTunes U is beautiful. Such an easy curation of resources for the lesson. Frees me up to teach.
  • It wasn’t all perfect, but then that’s life! We all learnt something.
  • Not all the work was digital – it doesn’t need to be
  • Digital content is becoming a critical key to presenting the learning life of schools – great for the student, amazing for the teacher and brilliant for the school’s publicity and communications.



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