Apps for Good

With the wind of change definitely blowing schools towards digital learning and teaching, many schools may be feeling anxious about how to build digital skills into the curriculum and looking for some straightforward approaches and resources.  Print

During our sleuthing to identify free or low cost resources that are available to support schools, we came across Apps for Good.  Apps for Good is a charity which provides a free app design course to schools and is targeted at pupils aged 10-18 years.Their resources are used all over the UK with most interest coming from London and Scotland.

We arranged a Skype call with Emily and Natalie from Apps for Good, just to see if it was the kind of project we could recommend to schools as part of our work, and we were really impressed. The resources are mapped to the Scottish and English curricula, and teachers looking to get involved don’t need to be particularly ‘techy’, as training and support is provided.

Interested schools are asked to take on an app development project. Groups of pupils are asked to think about a problem affecting their community and have to generate an idea for an app which could help with this.  Initially this is a problem solving challenge. The pupils form a start-up company and develop a prototype of their app using coding skills.

As we mentioned above, there is a programme offering online training that supports teachers through every stage.  The training could be worked through in advance but from speaking to people, it seems that many do it as they are going along. The altruistic aspect to the project ticks so many boxes for teachers looking for a really meaningful way to introduce a technologies project to their classes, and the end products have a chance to go forward for Apps for Good awards each year, with the winning team having their app made commercially available.

We like these resources as they offer a ready made framework, with support, that still allows for a huge amount of personalisation and creativity. Any teachers interested in finding out more can sign up here at their website – we already have!



Results of the Digital Strategy Consultation

Back in November, we attended one of the face to face events for the Development of a Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy for Scotland Consultation. The government was looking to canvass views on the need for a national digital strategy for education, and what should be included in such a strategy.

As well as a series of these face to face events, there was an online/written consultation, a consultation of older children via Young Scot, and a consultation of primary children aged 8-11, carried out under the auspices of the Children’s Parliament.

The results of the face to face and online consultations make for interesting reading. There is a clear feeling that investment in infrastructure is essential to ensure equity of opportunity for all learners, alongside appropriate professional learning opportunities and effective leadership. There was an identified need for a benchmark of digital competency for teachers, as at the moment many practitioners don’t know where to begin and what is expected of them as far as digital learning and teaching is concerned. This ties in to the feeling expressed by respondents that initial teacher education should outline clear expectations in this area, supporting student teachers to reach an acceptable standard, backed up with a change to the GTCS standard for full registration, making it clear that engaging with digital learning and teaching is not optional.

Of course, we agree with this wholeheartedly, but we do wonder how representative the consultation findings are of the views of the wider teaching community. Nationwide, there were 139 responses to the online/written consultation (76 groups and 63 individuals) which seems less than representative. There were 11 face to face events across the country, the Young Scot 2-part consultation gathered 358 responses in total, and the Children’s Parliament consultation only worked with 5 schools in 3 authorities. While it’s not a bad overall response, when it comes to the adults taking part we do wonder how much those who are less than engaged with digital learning and teaching would feel represented by the findings. There is the danger of an echo-chamber effect in Scottish education. The same people repeatedly talk to like-minded people and self-validate, coming to believe that what we feel must be right, because everyone around us agrees, perhaps not realising that this is because we are only engaging with others who are invested and interested in the topic in the same way we are. We don’t have a solution to the problem of how to engage those for whom this is not a main area of focus, but it does make us look on the results of consultations such as these with more than a pinch of salt. We worry that, when the strategy is published, those who weren’t involved might feel defensive, overlooked and overruled, hindering any attempts to make significant changes. We wonder if there might have been a missed opportunity somewhere to raise the profile of the consultation and gather a wider range of responses. After all, how many teachers and other practitioners even knew of the existence of the consultation?

If you haven’t read the consultation findings and would like to, you can find them here:

The proposed digital strategy itself is scheduled for release this summer, lining up nicely with the switchover from HGIOS 3 to the more digitally aligned HGIOS 4.

If the prospect of wading through a hefty document doesn’t appeal this fine Friday evening, we heartily recommend reading the responses of the 8-11 age group – you’ll especially enjoy the illustrations of the future classroom. We’ve reproduced one of our favourites below – nice to see teachers won’t be obsolete in the digital future!

teacher is human

We’ll return to the consultation responses next week, with a closer look at what the children had to say. 

One to One Devices – A Route to the Digital Future?  

Encouraging news coming out of West Dunbartonshire this week, as the council have pledged £250,000 to fund Chromebooks for every P7 learner next session – over 950 devices. The Chromebook is a lovely, versatile and cheap device, and should bring real benefits for learning and teaching. Of course, any announcement of this sort throws up a raft of questions, some more cynical than others.

After all, this is the council that in recent months saw the first teacher strike in decades over proposed management restructuring in secondary schools, which was seen by many as stealth cuts. It may be that those striking teachers will look upon this outlay of cash as a statement that resources are worth more than teachers to those in charge.

Other questions, at least from those of us outside the council (one would hope those on the inside already have the answers) might be more concerned with the logistics. Do all the schools have wi-fi? Can the kids take the devices home? How much control do they have over what goes on them? What happens if they’re lost or stolen? What happens at the end of P7 – do the devices go with them to secondary school or do they get handed back, slightly scabby, for the next year’s P7? How do the teachers feel about managing their use?

However, these aren’t the questions that really need to be asked. What we want to know is how are they going to be used. What is the pedagogy underpinning the project? The article on the council website is unsurprisingly vague. We are told learners will “use the devices to present classwork and also for research and revision”. All very well, but do teachers, schools and the authority have a planned approach to ensure the best use of the powerful wee tools, or is this a knee-jerk reaction to HGIOS 4?  The success or failure of these schemes doesn’t really have anything to do with the device itself; rather, it has everything to do with the learning and teaching. Do the teachers feel supported? Will the learners have direction and focus or, even better, opportunities for exploration and creation in a safe and gently guided environment? We really hope so.

The more successful schemes of this type we see with whole authority (or – dare we hope? – nationwide) backing and support, the weaker the arguments against incorporating technology into everyday learning and teaching become. To slightly paraphrase Madonna, we are living in a digital world, and we should we doing all we can to ensure that our children are growing up as digital girls (and boys!).