My Showcase Journey Part 1: The Story

I had the opportunity to present a showcase at ADE Academy in London last week.  It was a scary, exhilarating, encouraging and wonderful privilege; certainly one of the highlights of Academy for me.

A good bit of arm-twisting went on to encourage me to apply to present.  Some Alumni who had seen my application video encouraged me that I had a story to tell and that I needed to apply.  My initial reluctance to do it wasn’t because I felt that the story wasn’t important – I am tremendously proud of the pupils and the staff I work with.  My reluctance was more along the vein of ‘sure everyone does the same kind of work!’ I know from watching, talking to and working with the rest of the ADE Class of 2017 that everyone is passionate and hardworking, what I do in my setting isn’t particularly different to what happens elsewhere.

I heard that I’d been selected to present at the end of May, only four weeks before the end of term.  It was a mad dash to get photo and video permissions in place and gather all the resources.  One thing I knew wouldn’t be hard to sort out was the story – I’ve been living it for the past four years.

The school I work in is set in the most educational deprived area of Northern Ireland.

82% pupils qualify for free school meals.

40% pupils are on the Special Educational Needs Register.

Four years ago we introduced iPads into every class.  Despite the improvements we have seen in motivation levels, engagement, Literacy and Numeracy, for me, the important story is the change in pupil aspirations.  Before iPads my 5-6 year old pupils struggled to think of what they might be when they grew up.  The idea they would have a job was strange to most of them.  Now with iPad those children are authors, illustrators, coders, game developers, collaborators, artists and architects.

I was asked at Academy what prompts I gave the children before I recorded them saying what they wanted to be when they grew up.  The answer is none.  I just told them that I wanted to record them saying what they wanted to be.  I got a wide range of answers: baker, florist, make-up artist, hairdresser, chef, footballer, youtube, Apple Teacher (!), designer, game developer, army IT support worker, navy engineer, inventor, architect, archaeologist and astrophysicist.  I couldn’t include them all so I picked the ones I knew were dreams that came from the influence of the iPad experiences.

The little girl who wants to be an astrophysicist is 10.  She taught herself to code with Python at home and since its release her favourite app has been Swift Playgrounds.  She is a Digital Leader in the school and is always willing to help out her peers, younger pupils and teachers.  She relishes a challenge.  Recently she was unable to play outdoors at break and lunch – out of all the options available to her she choose to sit inside and read her book.  Brian Cox’s Forces of Nature.  A signed copy that she got at Belfast’s SSE Arena when she convinced her parents to buy her tickets and take her to see him.  Now, for her, astrophysics is a total valid and achievable career path and honestly I will be surprised if she doesn’t achieve it.  Its either that or President of the World – I can see both happening.

I titled my showcase “Creating Dreamers” because thats what happened, an outcome I never would have predicted, but certainly a story I will tell and retell again and again.



ADE Academy 2017: First Reflections

I’m just back from ADE Academy 2017 in London.

I have so many thoughts and feelings that it’s going to take me time to process and reflect properly, but I’m also aware I want to get some initial thoughts down before they float away and are forgotten.

Over the next few days and weeks expect to see blog posts on these themes.

Start with the why….

My showcase journey.

Change and influence.

Create. Share. Amplify.

For now let me just share with you these thoughts.

Passion is contagious

Community is the key

When we collaborate we make each other better. Together we shine more brilliantly than we ever could alone.

I’m not the only crazy one.


ADE Academy 2017 – Rockstars and Rocks

Back in April I was accepted as an Apple Distinguished Educator.  Honestly it’s one of the things in my professional life that I am most proud of and excited by. To be a member of the community that I have looked up for years is such an privileged opportunity. Part of being a new ADE is attendance at Academy.  Mine is in London and we have just finished day one of formal programme.

Coming to Academy I knew (from social media and my own butterflies!) that most of the new class were feeling a pretty much equal mix  of nerves and excitement. When you look up to people and work for something for so long and then you get it you don’t quite know what to expect. There’s also the inevitable feelings of imposter syndrome;  you know that everyone who is there is amazing because you’ve followed their work for so long.

It was great to hear yesterday someone say that being an ADE isn’t about being a rockstar, though people I have met here definitely are rockstars – albeit the humble, approachable kind.  Being an ADE is about being a rock, a foundation that builds other people up, who have the firm foundations of pedagogy to build their practice on and can model that good practice for others. They are the Advisors, Author, Ambassadors and Advocates who support their schools and the schools around them. They have influence and impact at local, regional, national and international levels, not because they are rockstars, but because they are rocks, supporting others. Like a rock at the seashore helping support the whole ecosystem of a rock pool, just by being there and doing their thing.

I was nervous until I arrived, but after some kind words from Alumni, Advisory Board and Apple Staff and the warmest welcome possible, the nerves totally disapated. These people are like me. They get me. They are the person like me in their schools and I get to be a part of that community.

Staff rooms are funny places. Once I was subbing in a school for a two week block, back the start of my teaching career.  It was a really large school and one that I knew extremely well, just not from a teaching perspective. This Staffroom was the most uncomfortable place to be. The staff, creatures of habit, had their set chairs and groups.  Cups in the cupboard were for the use of specific people only and there seemed to be a pecking order for the hot water for tea.

I asked to sit and join a group of teachers to be told no, before being informed that the teacher I was covering usually sat over there.  No one spoke to me. No one asked about my day, if I had settled in or offered help.  It was awful. I’m pretty resilient and it didn’t put me off the school at all, but it did shape my practice for how I treat subs, new teachers and other people in general.


ADE Academy is not like that Staffroom.


I know now I could confidently sit beside anyone and start chatting- it’s actually encouraged. No question is too small or silly. We have been told repeatedly that we are supposed to be here, we don’t need to second guess ourselves or hold back. Let the story sharing begin, let’s ask deep questions of each other, let’s clarify, lets push each other on. All in the most supportive environment I think I’ve ever encountered among a group of strangers.

I’m doing a short showcase presentation on Friday. The number of people I’ve never met before who have said to me- “we’ll all be cheering you on” is huge. We want each other to succeed. We want to push on as community. We want to share stories and projects and impact. We want to share successes and failures, because failing forward is part of learning.

ADE Academy is not like that Staffroom. These people are Rockstars, what they do is brilliant and inspiring and encouraging, but they are also rocks.

I can’t wait to see what today holds.

Rock on!

Apple Classroom 2.0

Last summer I went to an Apple Edu event for teachers introducing Apple Classroom. At the time I was really intrigued by the possibilities that it would bring to my own classroom, but was disappointed to find that I wouldn’t be able to be used given our current set up. 

Then came the update, Classroom 2.0 which is the game changer I’d been waiting for. 

I haven’t had a chance to use this in practice yet, but I’m excited to give it a go. I have just updated our small class set of iPads to iOS 10.3 and updated the classroom app to version 2.0. 

Teacher iPad steps

I set up my class in the app on my teacher iPad which took two seconds. I set class name and my name.  I tapped to add pupils and got a short numeric code to type in. 

Pupil iPad steps 

 I opened settings on the pupils iPads to set them up to join the class automatically. 

In the classroom app section of settings, I typed the code from my teacher iPad and the pupils iPads registered automatically to my class. (I just hit add on the teacher iPad once I could see them) I changed the settings on the pupil iPad to allow teacher control “always” and to join the class automatically in the future. 

What you can do with Classroom

Screenshot  from Classroom on my teacher iPad – I’ve still more pupils to add!

From the teacher app in classroom I can see what each pupil is looking at on their screen, force open apps, navigate through safari, lock their iPads or mute them.  If a child has let their iPad auto-lock I can open up the app again. For an early years teacher this takes a lot of the fiddlyness out of the start of a lesson. While there is a level of independence that you want to build it’s nice to be  able to help those who are struggling to get started and to save time if learning to open an app isn’t something you want  to spend time on in every lesson. 

It’s also good to be able to lock pupils into an app with one tap rather than using guided access and setting each iPad individually. 

The other tool which I know that I’ll use is the lock function. If I tap lock iPad on the teacher app it comes up on the pupil screens that the iPad has been locked by their teacher. I know this will come in useful for non iPad times within a lesson. My class find it hard to stop tapping…

Displaying and sharing pupil work is also made much simpler by the fact that I can share pupil iPads to the whiteboard via Apple TV myself, rather than pupils airplaying themselves. Again this is something very useful, particularly as the lavolta kids cases my class use sometimes make pulling up the control panel tricky.  

The only downside for me at the moment is that across school we have a range of iPads, from iPad 2s to brand new airs. Only the newer ones will be able to update to 10.3 and run classroom 2.0. So it’s my class and Foundation Stage that will be able to utilise it at the moment. 

There are other features, like the ability to group pupils iPads and control groups in different ways, but I won’t need these in my SEN class just yet.  

Long term I’m thinking about what we will do when our older school iPads become too slow to keep up with what we need our children to be able to do. Already we can’t update our software on some of them. I don’t have any answers yet on that one. The recycling programmes really aren’t cost effective and our budget (or lack of it) means simply replacing them is not an option.  I don’t think that one is going to have an easy solution.  So classroom may just be a foundation stage tool for us for a while. 

For now I’m excited about the potential of Classroom to make the set up/management of a lesson a bit easier/slicker and let the pupils focus on the learning that comes from the activity without getting tangled up in the processes to get to it.   

I like the potential of Classroom for much of the same reasons I like Nearpod.  It’s a way of letting the iPad be a tool the teacher has control of while the pupils have individual experiences of using it.

Apple produced a great guide for classroom which you can find here.

Hong Kong 1.2

As a group we’ve had a full programme of visits for the past three days. We’ve met with the British Council, Hong Kong University, the Education Bureau and a range of different schools.  We have been warmly welcomed into classes, computer suites, tech lounges and maker spaces.   People are very keen to share what they do and talk about what they hope is next for education in Hong Kong, broadly as well as in their own schools and classes.  Words that we keep hearing are STEM, computational thinking and 21st century skills. It’s interesting because the discussions that we are having are similar to those we would have back in Northern Ireland.  

Questions like:
How do we make sure that the tech is fully and intentionally integrated into the lesson, not just an add on, substitution or shiny new toy?

What are the skills we want pupils to develop?

How can we equip our pupils for a future we can’t imagine yet?

It’s interesting to see so many similarities between what happens in schools in Northern Ireland and schools in Hong Kong. I’ve observed in classrooms this week where Nearpod, iMovie, BookCreator and Kahoot have been used to enhance teaching and learning. It’s the same sorts of things that I do in my own classroom or see colleagues do throughout my school.  It’s very affirming. 

It’s led me to wonder about good practice in a globalised society. 

I wonder if because the world is a much more connected place, good practice is good practice the world over.  

Teachers are increasingly interconnected.  Sharing good practice is on a global scale now with teachers creating PLNs on social media, reading international research, being informed about tech initiatives and trends on a global scale through news, tweets, retweets and blog posts. I know I look with interest at what is considered best practice from educational tech expos from around the world, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. 
If teachers are globally interconnected does that impact on practice, are the gaps closing rapidly between country to county? 

I wonder if the educators who are striving for excellence in ICT are implementing the same things the world over, because they know what is the best that’s out there and push for it.  Thinking of my own practice I follow a number ADEs on twitter, I link in with twitter chats to find out best practice on a global scale, I read online and in the iBooks store about what’s done in other places.  My PLN spans the globe. As a teacher and digital learning leader my practice is informed from what happens in the USA, UAE, Asia, Africa and across the UK, as well as from practice from down the road. 

I suppose what I’m beginning to think is that the teachers who want to push for best practice look beyond their country anyway so rather than see huge differences in pedagogy and practice we only see variations in terms of implementation.  Obviously every school will have its own model of how to do things, own resources, budgets, time constraints and staffing levels. Each school will have a slightly different flavour coming from its ethos and vision. But if a school is engaged and pushing for innovation surely they will take an international perspective in that.   

Perhaps good practice is good practice the world over?

Hong Kong 1.1 – Journeys 

I’m rubbish at waiting for things, I have all the patience in the world for children and people but I really struggle to wait for things. The stretch between finishing exams and getting the results were always a nightmare for me. In someways it seemed like this trip came round very quickly, but in others it seemed like it was taking an age. 

The Northern Irish group met at Belfast City airport to start the long journey to Hong Kong on Saturday afternoon. Crazy to think it would be late Sunday afternoon by the time we arrived. 

I’m writing this on the plane to from Heathrow, I’ll post it when we get wifi. 

Already we’ve all been sharing our journeys in using educational technology and the journeys our schools have been on in developing practice. Sharing ideas, taking about how things work in our schools and passing on tips about how we implement edtech in our settings. There’s been lots of talk about magpieing- troubleshooting problems and getting advice. It’s fantastic to hear about the work that’s happening in other places, St Cecilia’s digital leader programme sounds fantastic! 

I know that the next six days are going to be jam packed, but I’m hoping that there will be lots of time to just chat with each other and share what we do. As well as seeing practice and how things are done, this trip is going to be as much about making connections with other teachers- and not just teachers from overseas.  

International Study Visit 2017 -Hong Kong

In December I applied to go on an international study visit to Hong Kong with the British Council and in January I found out that I had been selected as a participant. It’s such an exciting opportunity, not only to visit another country and culture but to get a real insight into life and education there from visiting schools and meeting with international colleagues. 

 I know a few teachers who have been on these visits before and they all speak very highly of the impact it’s had on their teaching. The Hong Kong trip focuses on the strategic implementation of digital technology, other trips running this year looked at cyber bullying in Canada and newcomer children in Berlin. I can’t wait to see how educational technology is used in a variety of different settings in Hong Kong. We are visiting six schools in four days, meeting with the Education Bureau and two edtech companies.  It looks like we are covering lots of Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories so it should be a great general overview of edtech there. 

 I’m heading away with five other teachers from Northern Ireland, a mix of primary and post primary, senior management and class teachers, country schools and urban schools.  I’m excited to learn from and share with local colleagues as much as the international ones! When we are there we will be linking in with a group from the British Council in Wales, looking at the same focus. It’s been great chatting to some of them already through twitter. 

I’m hoping to update this blog daily when I’m away, as well as tweeting as much as I can (and I’m sure instagramming a LOT!) Fairly certain I’ll walk around with eyes like saucers trying to drink it all in! If you’d like to stay up to date with what the team get up to you can follow the official hashtag #ISV2017 on twitter.  The unofficial hashtag seems to be #teamHK 

Photo Credits: British Council NI