A simple exercise in tonal/value work

Teaching the basics of drawing and what a simple pencil is capable of is one of the first things I like to get to grips with my first years (aged 12) at the start of the year. They are familiar with the idea of line, the setting up of an arrangement, but tonal work is often limited to shading an area in gently with a shade of grey. I want to deal with the extremes of shading, going from the whitest white to the darkest grey and everything in between that a 3B or 4B pencil can offer. I want to cover the gradations in shading and how you can achieve sensitivity in your results. Building on this I like to lead onto the modelling of form that can be achieved.

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fullsizerender-7There are numerous ways of doing this, from shading in boxes, drawing cylinders and imaginary balls. The ‘how to draw’ books are full of such exercises. Technically they cover the same ground, but they hardly catch a twelve year old’s imagination and leave them with a feeling of ‘wow’ as they leave the art room.

Yesterday I had the chance to cover some of this ground when I visited a neighbouring school to lead two, two hour workshops. I decided to cover these same areas with the two classes of 23 twelve year olds.

Working with a gridded up version of one of my favourite subjects, Chuck Close I was also able to bring in a little art historical context that was completely new to the pupils. After discussing his work for a while I was able to set them loose on trying to produce high contrast fragments of a large scale group drawing.

Four hours later I had a reworking of the first Close self-portrait and his image of a young looking Philip Glass and a classes full of children wanting to photograph the result to share what they had achieved as a class working together. In terms of creativity the assignment might not be the most experimental. But as an exercise in an important technical skill it does lay a basis that can be built on later.

For a more challenging variation see:

Tonal drawing and a favourite resourch

Classes with split personalities

It is no secret in education that a class at the start of the day is often a different proposition to a class at the end of the day. My timetable this year has thrown up, for me at least, one of the clearest examples of this that I’ve had in fifteen years of teaching. I thought about changing the name of the class to give them some anonymity, but let’s not, its V3S. They know who they are, they also know already that I see them as something of a schizophrenic bunch (in the nicest possible way of course!).

splitclasses

I should perhaps start by saying that it is a class I like teaching a lot, twenty-seven fourteen and fifteen year olds. They are sociable, they are interested in more than just themselves, they are as a class really quite creative and able, and have a good feeling for humour. In fact, there haven’t been many classes that I’ve laughed so much with. All really enjoyable character traits for a class, especially for one that is actually built up of several quite distinctive ‘groups’, groups where the interaction between them is fairly modest.

But having said all that, the difference in the mind-set of the class for my last lesson of the day on a Thursday afternoon and then when I see them again for the first lesson on Friday is regularly quite huge. Friday morning can feel like being in a public library, Thursday afternoon like teaching in a market place on a Saturday afternoon.

It almost feels like I have two different classes, conscientious hard workers and a disorganised rabble. Part of my task as a teacher is obviously to try and ensure that in both modes V3S continue to be productive. Generally, I can achieve this, although if I was to stop to analyse it a carefully I’m sure I’d discover that more was being produced in that second lesson, but that has to be weighed against the verbal language production in the first one.

I mention the verbal production point because as well as the art content of my lessons, verbal language production is also important. I am after all an art teacher teaching my lessons in English to help these Dutch pupils to develop and improve their English. With this in mind I am reluctant to impose silence in the classroom, especially when it is a class where we have carefully cultivated the use of English as being the absolute norm and the class has responded so well in playing their part in this.

But oh, the chatter on a Thursday afternoon can at times be quite baffling. I recently complimented one of the boys for managing to talk continuously in English throughout the lesson, not straying into Dutch on a single occasion. He was, if I can be a little critical for a moment, talking absolute nonsense, and doing it nonstop for sixty minutes, but he was doing it in English!

The factors that come together to produce this sort of apparently split personality class are varied, the timetable has thrown up art followed by physical education on a Thursday afternoon, this generates a sort of ‘release’ after a morning of more ‘academic’ lessons in the morning. They are perhaps a little tired, and when I see them again at 8.20 on a Friday morning dare I say that they are still a little dozy?

All in all, it’s not too much of a big deal for me, however it does perhaps highlight the educational issue of good timetabling. Someone of course has to teach the difficult classes last thing on a Friday afternoon, just as long as they are not teaching the same group at the end of Wednesday and Thursday too!

iPad education……two years in, and is it time for a new Apple purchase?

With this as background extra courses for new teachers are being offered and an afternoon of workshops covering various useful apps and possibilities of the device will be on offer.
Throughout the last two years I have been part of the iPad steering group that has been responsible for helping plan out the educational direction we are following with regard to this in-class form of digitalization. I think it is fair to say that I am an enthusiast, I lead workshops for colleagues, have followed the odd course myself, but above all have set out to try and work out how the iPad can be best used in my art lessons.
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As a result of my enthusiasm, the task of starting the school-wide study session In a couple of weeks has fallen to me! ‘You’ve always got I’m two years into my own adventure into iPad supported education. As a school where I work it’s nearly three years, first with a cautious pilot project and then an extension to the first year bilingual classes (where I teach) plus a couple more. That’s been the level for the last two years. But next year comes the big step, school wide in years one and two (12-14 year olds). Suddenly that’s a whole lot more pupils and perhaps more significantly, a whole lot more teaching staff! It’ll become more a case of who’s not involved rather than who is involved.
such interesting things to show of what you’re doing with the iPad!’, says Albert my colleague, and iPad coordinator, in a suitably flattering sort of way. Hmm….thanks for that Albert! The brief is in ten to fifteen minutes to show my colleagues what I’m up to and what is possible with the device.
To avoid people just saying, ‘it’s easy for you, you’re an art teacher’ I have my own sub-text to the brief; to show a number of interesting and exciting iPad things that:
• Aren’t exclusively art and creativity related
• Potentially might have some use or relevance across a number of subject areas
• Could potentially work at different academic or age levels
• Present the potential diversity of options that the iPad offers and avoid relying too heavily on just one app
…..this is starting to sound quite complicated!

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But perhaps the trickiest part is that the audience is, as is often the case in education land, quite a varied bunch. There are enthusiasts, like myself, who have already spent considerable time working out the options on offer. There are the beginners, who perhaps to need an enthusiastic presentation of some of the possibilities, as long as it doesn’t become too scarily complex! And then finally, there are the skeptics who, if I can paraphrase for a moment, think that we might be barking up the wrong educational tree.
Whether or not we turn out to be heading up that wrong tree remains to be seen. Although I’ve seen enough in my subject area to be confident that this isn’t the case. It is a work in progress, a new form and approach to education. It shouldn’t come to control everything, but it certainly does offer some interesting and new possibilities.

Control is a word that often seems to come up. Teachers understandably like to feel like they are in control of their classroom and maybe more importantly in control of the learning that is going on. Faces to the front and listen to the teacher offers a form of control on which education has relied for many a year. It sounds obvious, but that’s why the tables in most classrooms point in the same direction. Children facing one another does tend to create unnecessary distractions. Some will also say that having an iPad on the table in front of a pupils often does the same.
The distraction issue, like the control one, has been a theme that has been a bit of a recurring one through our last couple of years of iPad experiments. Maybe as an art teacher I’m a bit less affected by it than most of my colleagues, but the level of interest and excitement that has met the new Apple Classroom app was a bit of an eye opener. Having been given a demonstration of the software it would seem that it may well ease the distraction issue and hand the control back to the teacher. Being able to control the functionality of the pupils’ device feels to me simultaneously attractive and dictatorial.

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I think the teaching staff will, in general, want to have this application. But I can’t help feeling that there is an irony here. We are all now equipped with these fantastic devices that can do so much, and that we have all bought from Apple. Now we are having to buy a new app, also from Apple, to limit them. Would we ever buy an additional product from a car manufacturer to limit the performance of a vehicle? An argument could certainly be made for a restricting device so that a car would stay within the speed limit? The question would be is it desirable, would it be acceptable? A slightly mischievous comparison perhaps but I think there is still a discussion to be had in school around some of these issues.
Needless to say, the pupils aren’t particularly happy, but I’m sure they’ll cope, they do after all still have their phone in their pocket which we can’t limit. In the end it might all come down to money and costs. Apple know full well that an app of this kind is addressing an identified problem. They also know it can potentially be a big earner, and for us, a school where in a relatively short time 1000+ pupils will be working with an iPad, a relatively large cost.

Contentious Quotations – a CLIL assignment

Stimulating a point of view is important in an art lesson. I guess I would often say that in a way having a point of view or and opinion is almost as important as the opinion itself. In this regard maybe my subject area is a little different to many others, being in absolute agreement with the ‘right answer’ is not normally the main aim in the art room.

But even in the ‘hard’ science areas there is room for discussion and opinion, certainly when exploring a new area or theme and when you are trying your best as a teacher to unlock pupils’ prior knowledge and intuitions. This can be done in a number of ways in the classroom, a group discussion, a brainstorming session on the board or individually or something as simple as providing pupils with key terminology and asking them in a group to discuss what they think the words might mean.

The following activity is designed to:

  • Allow space for diverse opinions from everyone in the group
  • Encourage an awareness that different people have different ideas that can be expressed in different styles and terminology
  • Encourage an awareness and analysis of others opinions be they from their peers or ‘experts’ and accept their validity
  • Encourage the viewing of a subject from multiple standpoints
  • Encourage an understanding of differences in standpoint and why it happens and why it might actually be useful
  • Encourage the understanding that the context of a statement might be important. The when, the how and the why behind the statement
  • Stimulate verbal engagement

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How it works

The instructions below are for how this assignment might work in my art lesson, but by switching the artwork image for a different sort of image, diagram or film with different subject matter the basic principle should work across most subject areas.

Select the artwork. For the purpose of this example let us use the example of Picasso’s Guernica. If you’re not sure about the history and importance of this artwork take a quick look at some background information here.

  • At random hand out a sheet of paper to each pupil in the class. On each sheet the image of the artwork (Picasso’s Guernica in this case) is at the top and one of the numbered quotations below underneath it. (I should add that the ‘quotations’ used are fictitious ones that you the teacher should formulate in order to take the lines of thought of the pupils into desirable areas)
  1. “the Spanish town of Guernica was bombed by the German Condor Legion on Monday 26 April 1937. 3000 bombs were dropped killing more than 1600 people”
  2. “In this work we can see that Picasso was experimenting in the way he was painting, but there are definitely still Cubist influences”
  3. “After standing in the queue at he museum in Madrid I was finally able to get in, I was shocked to see just how big the work actually was”
  4. “Everything about this artwork is focused on destruction, the broken bodies, buildings and spirit of the people is clearly what the artist has focused on. There is just one small sign of hope….”
  5. “For me the real problem with this art work is how unrealistic it is. I get that it is about destruction and death, but I don’t get why the artist has painted it in such a basic way”
  6. “This image is absolutely at home in the UN headquarters in New York, it is exactly the sort of place that this image should be hung so that everyone can see what it is about”
  • Ask the pupils to think entirely for themselves (and without discussion) about the image and the quotation. They need to focus on their reaction to the statement. Do they agree or disagree with it, why that might be? What sort of person might have made the statement and why do they think that? When do they think that it was made and under what circumstances? Plus other comments they have, reminds me of…. Etc.
  • Encourage the pupils to look up words that they don’t know or facts or content in the quotation that they don’t understand.
  • When the written reactions are complete ask those with quotation number one to go and sit together, quotation two form another group, and so on. Within the group ask the group to explain their thoughts to one another and discuss the reactions, observations and thoughts that each had. Whilst doing is ask the pupils to discuss their observations and then to write down the areas of agreement and where the differences lie.
  • Subsequently ask a spokesperson from each group to present the quotation and the groups thoughts to the class as a whole.
  • The discussion phase can then be broadened out a step further by allowing the discourse to become class wide, with individual standpoints that they can articulate to the class.

The overall benefit of this structure is that it allows you the teacher to steer the engagement with the lesson material into desired areas though careful choice of the ‘quotations’ that you present to the class. However it requires the pupils to do the work in these areas as they engage with, and reflect on the different perspectives that can be taken in relation to a single subject.

The results of the assignment could easily be taken further and used as the basis for a more extensive written exercise relating to the theme.

3d Printing in the classroom

I don’t normally write a post that is not much more than a request for information, but……

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Along with a couple of colleagues, I am looking into the viability and practicalities of running some new projects that will involve some three dimensional design elements and (we hope) some 3d printing.  My own experience with 3d printing is minimal, but I’m sure that with a little research that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

However I am very interested to hear from others about the practicalities of 3d printing in a classroom context.  The pupils involved would be in the 14-15 year old age group. If you do have some experience in this area, positive or negative I would love to hear feedback on points such as:

  • favourite printers and why?
  • running costs
  • favourite software
  • potential technical ‘issues’
  • the practicalities of a large class and a single printer

Any thoughts on whether to ‘out source’ the actual 3d printing to commercial companies rather than doing it ourselves would also be interesting to hear, although loosing the ‘magical’ quality of doing it in the classroom would of course be lost.

 

 

 

Do you trust your device in a classroom?

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I’ve been working for a year and a half with an iPad in classrooms of children all similarly equipped.  It’s been eighteen months of leaps forward, steps backwards and occasionally periods where I’ve pondered hard as to how best to implement the device into my art lessons.

I should say that I have approached the digital developments with considerable openness, I’ve been part of the steering group at school and I’m quite digitally literate. Added to this the background of my own
arts education taught me always to look and think broadly about methods, tools and materials that may be on offer. A kind of ‘consider everything and use what works for you’ approach.

Now a year and a half in I feel I am starting to feel the experimentation with the tablet and its apps are perhaps starting to become a little more embedded in my lessons and teaching materials. Whilst many of my colleagues have encountered problems with materials and apps provided by educational publishers, in the art department we have always been used to developing our own material and deciding exactly which route to take independently. In this way I’ve discovered apps that are useful and of an appropriate level for the twelve and thirteen year olds that are working in iPad classes up until now. Up until now that’s Brushes Redux and Bamboo Paper for digital drawing activities, iMovie for a film and the extremely versatile Photoshop Mix for digital collage.

This last one, Photoshop Mix, raises an interesting point. I could see that this undoubtedly was a fantastic app that suited FullSizeRender (40)my needs perfectly. However I was rather worried that the complexity of how it worked and the technical opportunities on offer were simply too great and my class of twelve year olds would struggle to get it to do what they wanted. But as it turned out the lesson was a fantastic example of peer to peer driven teaching and learning. Each new technical discovery made by me or any pupil seemed to spread rapidly around the class. By the time it came to hand in the work it was clear that everyone had grasped the content of the assignment and the technical possibilities offered by the app. A note to self, be careful not to underestimate the abilities of the pupils!

If there is one area of concern in all my iPad activities it is undoubtedly a question of how far I can go in saying that I have full confidence in the device to fully function in the way intend it to when leading a lesson.  Lesson situations have adversely been affected by issues such as linking my own iPad to the screen at the front of the room, pupils not being connected correctly to the cloud to allow full use of some apps, Internet connection issues and so on.

On the surface many of these sorts of problems are relatively small and definitely solvable. However, when you encounter them unexpectedly, even if the problem only effects a couple of the pupils in the class the disruption to the main task of the lesson can be extremely significant. It is also all too evident that bad experiences count and weigh heavily on the mind. If you don’t feel confident that your device (an iPad in this case) is going to allow you to simply get on with what you intended to do, is it not better and safer simply to fall back on what you know and have always done and put the tablet back in your bag?

It is a phase that a digital school has to go through perhaps, kind of painful and frustrating at times, but something that has to be experienced a worked through. To do this you obviously need the right technical support, but you also need enthusiasts willing to take chances and experiment, you need leadership prepared to lead by example and to commit to broad digitalization projects and who can take their whole team with them. But maybe above all you need time and patience to develop that all important trust in device and its role in the new classroom possibilities that it offers.

With the classroom door closed…

classroomdoorA couple of weeks ago something unusual happened. I had visitors in one of my classes. Obviously the pupils were there, they always are, but sitting at the back I had my bilingual department head, an educator from New Zealand and two teacher trainers from Leiden University complete with video camera. I knew they were coming, all of us except for the guest from New Zealand are part of a professional development study group in the area of bilingual education. With this as background it really didn’t feel like a big deal, except it did feel, like I said at the start, rather unusual.

The reason it felt this way is that in teaching, certainly once you get beyond your first year or two in the job, you are largely left alone. The bell goes, the class comes in, the classroom door is closed and you get on with it. As long as no complaints come in from pupils or parents this is generally the way things stay. With this as background it is no wonder that when visitors do come to the classroom it feels at best unusual and at worst threatening.

It is an irritating fact that part of my job is a couple of times a year to spend the best part of a week sitting watching a classroom full of pupils complete tests and exams, checking nobody cheats, but otherwise doing nothing. At the same time there is virtually no time or opportunity to sit and watch a colleague teach, to learn from them or to offer them feedback. Occasionally attempts are made to try and facilitate this sort of visit, but the reality is that it is incredibly difficult to find the space for it in an otherwise packed timetable. Classroom visits to colleagues’ lessons are very definitely not the norm in education. As a result of this it does feel slightly strange to walk into another teacher’s classroom, if only just for a moment. You feel as if you are stepping into someone else’s territory, crossing a line!

It is slightly bizarre that we try to educate our pupils in the importance of working in groups, stressing the benefits that it can bring, learning from the strengths of others and helping them with things that they find more challenging. Yet when it comes to our key activity of being in a classroom with up to thirty children, coping with issues of content delivery, communication, classroom management, use of IT, differentiation and so on, the benefits of working with and learning from others is extremely underplayed.

I feel fortunate that I work at probably a quite open and social school, staff room discussions in the breaks are normally open and frank. Yet I still can’t help feeling that so much could be gained if there was the chance for more observation of other peoples’ teaching styles. But that would seem to require something of a shift in both classroom and school culture, an opening of the doors, doors that like the fire doors in the corridor, tend to swing shut when the last pupil has come in. Are we not missing a chance for better education when a teacher with fifteen years of classroom experience can say that it feels slightly strange to have someone sitting at the back of his classroom?

Finding that right movie

Around this time of the year, every year I am faced with the same challenge; trying to find the right feature film to show to the fifteen and sixteen year olds who I teach a broad cultural education program to.

Although the course as a whole covers all sorts of artistic disciplines I like to start the year if possible with a movie, for the pupils its familiar territory and compared to some areas of art and culture film is generally quite accessible to them. The idea is to watch a feature film together and then become engaged with a little film analysis to give them some insight and appreciation of the craft and practices of film making.

babadookI said at the beginning that I try to find a suitable film, well actually I try to find several. I teach three parallel classes of twenty five to thirty pupils, so this year a total of eighty two pupils, and importantly for me that means eighty two reflective essays at the end, each of around one thousand words. I don’t Think that I have to enlarge on what eighty two films about the same film does to your head when you’re marking them!

So with this in mind I often return to films that have proved popular  and effective in the past, but also try to add at least one new one each year. Last year I wrote here at some length about the response on my class to Asif Kapadia’s excellent documentary entitled Senna about the formula one racing driver Ayrton Senna. So struck was I by the class’ response to the film last time that I had no hesitation in showing it again this year to one off my three classes. Once again the atmosphere in the classroom at the end of the movie was amazing, a hushed stillness as the pupils took in and tried to order and evaluate the captivating climax of the film. So much of the average teenager’s entertainment world is often trivial, violent or superficial it is truly fantastic to show them something that has been constructed with such skill that the narrative that all the film fragments carry take us right to the heart of a high profile sportsman’s world, it’s pressures, it’s challenges and ultimately it’s horrendous risks. For many it was wide open eyes and hands on mouths at the end!

You can find further reflections on Senna by clicking here and here for posts from last year.

A second film I chose to use this year was Australian director Jennifer Kent’s excellent The Babadook.  For several years I have wanted to take a look at a horror film with my fourth year groups. But trying to find an appropriate movie has been so difficult. Many teenagers in the fifteen to sixteen age bracket love horror films and have seen many. Others in the class though have seen virtually none or doubt whether they want to see one. Some pupils seem largely insensitive to the tensions of a horror movie whilst others struggle to cope. Add to this a personal requirement to only use a film that I feel comfortable myself showing, also  keeping in mind that I too am a father of a fifteen year daughter. What wouldn’t I mind her seeing at a school screening? With all these points to consider it has been difficult, I’m not happy to show excessive violence, blood or gore, I am also cautious of using a film with a huge number of ‘shock’ moments. Finally though, The Babadook has come along and after watching for myself I felt relatively sure that this could be the one. It has more of a creeping tension, as with many of the best horror movies, the fear is more in what you imagine rather than what you actually see. It also makes use of a good number of ‘classic’ horror film elements, a scary domestic context, relatively innocent key characters, sound effects and ultimately a monster. All good stuff when it comes to critically trying to unpack the movie with the pupils afterwards.

Below is a review of the film by Mark Kermode on BBC radio.

As I write this I am half way through the class with class V4D. I offered an alternative film to anyone who really didn’t fancy a horror film. Three chose that option, which was fine, and a fact that went uncommented on by the rest of the class. I watched the first fifty minutes together with the class this week. I’ve already of course watched the film several times and so regularly found myself watching the pupils watching the film rather than focusing on the film myself!

Reading the reports at the end will be the ultimate test of the enjoyment. But as far as I could see there seemed to be three categories of viewers:

  1. Viewers (most often, although not exclusively boys) who were just lapping it all up, completely enjoying themselves
  2. Viewers who whilst regularly seeming to be frightened by occurrences or frightened in the anticipation of what was going to occur, but who nonetheless were still enjoying the experience
  3. Viewers who when you looked at their faces were either transfixed by the action or turning continuously away.  Were these pupils actually enjoying the experience? Or was it more a question of endurance?

I worry a little about the third category, have they felt pressured to stay and watch? Are they wishing that they had chosen the alternative. I offered the choice again, nobody wanted to leave.

When it comes to writing about their cultural experiences and their opinions pupils are in my experience extremely open and honest, so I expect I’ll get a clearer picture in the end, but for now it’s another forty five minutes of pupil watching as the climax of the movie comes closer and I look forward to the discussions afterwards!

iPad education and looking for Creativity

A year into the experiment of digital enriched education at the school where I work and I am becoming increasingly interested by the place creativity has in this new form of teaching. As a device the iPad, or any other tablet for that matter, offers so much. Each pupil has on the desk in front of them a camera, a video camera, a microphone and countless apps that seem to open so many doors. The creative possibilities would seem to be so extensive, more than I could have ever dreamed of just a few years ago. And yet I have a niggling doubt, a dissatisfaction at the back of my mind.

ipad creativity

Many friends and colleagues are enthusiastic at the new possibilities on offer in their lessons. But maybe it is the duty of the art teacher to look and ask questions about creativity and whether we are getting the most out of these digital devices. Are we actually developing in ourselves as teachers and in our pupils a creative and critical edge in our judgement of what we are doing and making?

If we focus for a moment on the use of the camera, both video and still. These tools are so immediate and easy for our pupils to use, just point and shoot. Equally easy on their phones too, this is the generation that has grown up totally used to documenting everything in their lives, and why take one photograph or one fragment of film when you can shoot ten or twenty or thirty?

This sort of costless freedom is fantastic, but at least in the hands of the teenagers I teach there does seem to be a creative trade off. Do I observe them making critical and formal judgements in the images they are capturing? Well, no not really.  And this fact is often exacerbated by the apps that are then used to present or rework the visual material. In no time the pupils throw the images and film fragments into iMovie or some other app, make use of the ready-made formats, themes and stencils on offer and have in no time a slick final product. But the question the art teacher must surely ask is, “are they actually being creative?” It is equally true when you ask them to present their photographs, a few filters may be applied to make the image more eye catching in some way, but they don’t even stop to think if cropping the image in some way could actually improve it.

Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely not against working digitally. I am a great fan of working with Photoshop or other similar software. The wealth of choices on offer provide fantastic creative options. And there in that word options or decisions perhaps you have an important distinction. Creativity is about decision making and a critical evaluation. Does too much of the app market rely or a quick fix within a too restricted range of choices? It certainly does seem to encourage and invite an over reliance on essentially ready-made solutions.

There are undoubtedly apps that allow an extensive range of creative possibilities, I have made use of a number in the last year, and seen some good results. There is also nothing to stop a young photographer or film-maker setting about using their camera in an incredibly creative way. There lies perhaps the new challenge for the art departments in schools to stop and consider how they can instruct and encourage the use of the tablet computer or other device to extend creative possibilities. This would seem both desirable and necessary. My observations of my pupils up to now certainly don’t give me the feeling that this will take care of itself.

So in conclusion, a note to self for this coming school year; start to work out strategies and places in the educational material for more creative use of the chances on offer.

If anyone has particular favourite apps that seem to encourage the sorts of options that I am talking about here I would be only too glad to hear about them.

First year of the iPad in my art classes

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One of the motivations for starting this blog eighteen months ago was that the school where I work had decided to make the step to a more digital rich form of education with every pupil ultimately working with an iPad.  We are now approaching the end of the first year of this project and our current first years (12 year olds) have a year behind them of an increasingly light school bag and an increasingly full tablet in their bag. It’s time for a little reflection and evaluation I think.

So what have the benefits and gains been this year?

The pupils have always got their books with them.

After years of pupils regularly forgetting to bring the books they need to school, this problem seems to have instantly disappeared. For some reason the pupils never ever forget to bring their iPad! I’d like to think it was because of the lesson material that is now on the tablet and is needed in the lessons, but I’m realistic enough suspect it might have more to do with all the other uses the device has.

My lesson material has never looked so good

I’ve always written all my own lesson material. For years I have sent my booklets of text and images to our school printer to be printed out in black and white. Now though I deliver it as PDFs to the pupils, complete with YouTube films, links to websites and all of it in full colour. The pupils open the booklets in iBooks or some other app where they can make notes on the material, add drawings and so on, before saving all onto the iPad for next lesson.

It almost seems like the pupils like taking notes

Maybe it is still the novelty of the device and the apps, but all the underlining, highlighting, post-it stickers and other accessories that these note taking apps offer almost seems to make the pupils more keen to make their own notes.

Internet access

Instant internet access is really pretty handy in the art room, it really does offer too many possibilities to name!

New creative tools

Yes we still work with paint, pencils, clay and wood. But we do also now work with digital drawing techniques, painting apps, apps that help you explain perspective, ones that allow pupils to build word webs and so on. The drawing and painting apps really offer new sorts of opportunities for a freedom and rapid approach that even the most cautious of young artists seems to respond well to. Some even allow you to play back the process of the development of the image in a short film. These are all aspects that are totally new to my art room this year.

The apps

There are so many out there, the choice is overwhelming. Often the the problem is more finding the ones best suited to your class, and once found remembering to return to them on other occasions. Sharing information and finds with colleagues is crucial in this area.

I’ll post some views about the creativity, and at times pseudo-creativity offered by apps sometime in the future.

Individuality and own pace in lessons

The role of the classical form of teaching has been changing a little through the year. Yes, I do still stand up at the front and explain things to the whole class at times, but other options are coming along too. I’ve experimented with getting pupils to watch YouTube films not on the big screen at the front every time, but also on their iPads with headphones on. They watch at their own pace, stop and replay parts they want to hear again.  The level of focus at these moments seems significantly higher than when we watch as a class. Any discussion I want to have can still take place at the end.

The fact that the iPad is the gateway to so much information offers great possibilities for assignment extensions for early finishers or even alternative routes for pupils struggling with one particular approach or assignment.

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So all in all a positive experience generally. It’s an extra dimension, and extra opportunity, in fact I don’t really have the feeling that anything much has been replaced or lost by the arrival of the iPad in my art lessons. That though is not to say that there haven’t been some less positive aspects and downsides to this first year.

Everyone moving at about the same speed?

It was inevitable and easily predicted, but the way that all users, pupil and staff, get to grips with the new device varies enormously. We’ve offered lots of in-school workshop sessions to guide and instruct colleagues in various areas which have undoubtedly been useful, but it is fair to say that the staff members who are making the most progress are the ones who have stopped to ask themselves “what can I do with this new device in my lessons” and subsequently have had the drive to try and find some answers for themselves.

A series of practical problems……

Fortunately practical problems are often the ones that are the simplest to resolve, but they are problems nonetheless.

I’ve lost count of the number of broken iPad screens that I have seen this year. A twelve year old’s school bag would seem to be a dangerous place for digital devices.

Memory problems have increasingly become a problem as the year has gone on. For the pupils this has often arisen because of the games and other non-school apps that have been installed. But my 16Gb iPad Air is also constantly reaching the point of being full, purely with work related material. My advice…?, buy the biggest capacity that you can afford.

One of the big potential gains of iPad supported education is being able to connect your iPad to the large screen at the front of the class, be that a beamer, smart board or large scale LCD screen. Personally I have found this to be fantastic this year, conducting your lesson from the back of the class, or from sitting next to a particularly troublesome pupil! I can draw on my iPad and it appears on the screen, I am liberated from the computer at my desk.  Or at least I am if the connection between the iPad and the computer works well, and there lies the problem. We have huge problems throughout the school with this connection this year, a frustrating business!

Attention please….

The presence of all the possibilities the iPad offers, sitting there on the desk in front of pupils, is at times difficult to resist. All teachers are in the process of having to discover new ways to keep pupils on task.  In the art room I have to say my experience of this problem is relatively small, when we’re not actually using the iPad it goes away in the bag. Paint and clay don’t mix too well with such devices, but where lesson material and workbooks are all on the iPad it is asking more creativity from the teacher.

Creativity

Maybe at the moment, my biggest disappointment with the iPad is the way that on the surface so called ‘creative’ apps are anything but creative.  So many of them offer a wealth of readymade solutions or ‘one-click wizards’ that might give eye catching results, but are the pupils actually being creative in making these digital products. This is a particularly interesting area for me, perhaps the most interesting of all the iPad developments in the classroom and it certainly warrants a more extensive post at a later date, how do we stimulate creativity with the device?

Other potential problems/issues

Time issues are a well-known problem in educationland, the arrival digital lesson opportunities requires extra work and a process of discovery that not all teachers are willing or able to embark on. School leaders should make no mistake, staff have to be facilitated in time and support is a school wants such a digital project to succeed.