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UK School Closures - Are you prepared? Advice, Suggestions and Ideas on how to get prepared.

I work in many schools across the UK and my question to all these schools is "Are you prepared for an extended closure?". We face a problem that may result in the closure of many schools in the UK. Now, I'm not talking about a couple of days because of snow, I'm talking about a global problem that seems to be getting worse, where schools are closing for weeks if not months. Schools have to prepare for this! Many international schools around the world have closed, some will not open for over a month, possibly longer. International schools are much more prepared, they have 1:1 device programmes in place, they have learning platforms where students can access learning anywhere and anytime, they have policies that outline the procedures to ensure that in the event of extended closure, their teachers and students know what to do. International schools have an obligation to ensure learning continues, after all the parents are paying for their children's education. However, we as educators have an obligation to ensure learning continues despite school closures. The technology exists for learning to continue outside of a physical building, but I fear in the UK many schools are just not prepared. And unfortunately one of the reasons is the priority schools put on education technology.

Learning can happen anywhere if the mentality behind learning changes. Learning should not be confined to the classroom. Learning should be embedded in everything and teachers need to have more confidence to facilitate this.

A wonderful thing happened the other day with my daughter and I wanted to share it. As a

parent I was blown away, as a teacher of digital skills I was so proud. My daughter has a note book and a pen and often comes home from school and writes a small story in her note pad. My daughter is five years old and this alone makes us proud. But what happened

next was amazing. She was in her room and she was struggling to spell a word, so she decided to ask Amazon Alexa for help. She says "Alexa, how do you spell 'nice'?" Alexa responded by giving her the correct spelling. My wife and I have not taught her this. She did this completely independently by figuring this out for herself, that Alexa knows how to spell.

With my daughter doing this, it epitomises what I am trying to achieve as an educator. Learning can happen anywhere and technology allows this to happen. The role of the physical classroom is changing to become a place where learning can be shared the teacher is there as a guide to ensure that learning happens appropriately and that progression is ensured.

I was working in a school the other day coaching three Year 3 teachers on how they could integrate iPads into the learning in the classroom. One teacher was very confident with using the iPads, one teacher was completely against using them and made this very clear to me before we started the full day coaching session. The third teacher was somewhere between the two! There was a feeling from the negative teacher that she wasn't quite understanding how the iPad could enhance learning in the classroom and beyond. There is often a misconception of how iPads are used in learning. Often they get used as an app machine where students play a game or go to a website. This teacher just needed some direction on how these wonderful devices can be used as a tool to enhance learning experiences. I always tell teachers that technology does not improve learning, technology improves engagement, and engagement improves learning. Using iPads can give students a learning experience and that learning experience is a trigger for them to learn.

The iPad is just one device that can be used as a tool for learning anywhere. When you integrate this tool with the correct learning platform, such as Google Classroom, Seesaw or Showbie, learning can then start happening anywhere. And there are many other tools that do similar things.

I am a big advocate for Google Classroom. It just gets better and better. Recently, they updated Google Classroom to include rubrics and originality reports (see videos). These are game changes for the teacher and the

student. These tools:

  • allow for far easier self assessment for the student.

  • reduce time for teachers so they can focus on the facilitation of the learning.

  • allows for realtime feedback while students are doing the task.

  • instant commenting on progress

  • allows for learning to happen anywhere!

So on that last point, if a teacher can plan a lesson effectively in Google Classroom, then as long as the student can log on to their Google Account, they can learn anywhere.

Teachers can easily record video tutorials for students to complete work. I often do this when I am unable to be in class and a teacher has to cover my lessons. Below is a screencast video I did on the iPad for a Year 1 Christmas card lesson using Seesaw. I did not need to be there. This lesson could easily have been sent home for the students to do at home. I did spend some time editing the video, but a screencast video can be very basic.

Technology becomes a means for students to create. Encouraging them to create something that will show they understand their learning becomes so powerful using the technology they have. So for example, my aim as a teacher may be for the students create something that will show how they understand Parts of a Flower. With an iPad they could produce any one of the following and possible many other things:

  1. A poster - Keynote, Pages, Canva, Google Slides

  2. An Info Graphic - Canva, Keynote, Google Slides

  3. A Scratch animation -, Scratch Jr

  4. A movie presentation - iMovie, Keynote, Garageband

  5. A news report - Clips, iMovie, Garageband

  6. An animation - Keynote, iStopMotion, I Can Animate

  7. An AR Movie - AR Makr, iMovie, Garageband

  8. A podcast - Garageband, Anchor

  9. A report - Pages, Google Docs, Word, Notes

  10. A Comic - Book Creator, Comic Life

The finished product can then be sent to the teacher via the Learning Platform (Google Classroom, Seesaw, Showbie etc)

Give the students the tools and they will create something. The process of creating one of these becomes the learning experience and as a result they will learn the parts of a flower.

I am a big fan of coding and use Scratch to develop many different skills. Coding allows for the integration of many different areas of the curriculum. I have developed a series of video courses for Year 3 to Year 5 which can be done independently outside of the classroom.

Several years ago I developed an online course The Ten Essentials IT Skills for Students. This course was run using Google Classroom. You can find the syllabus here. I will be updating this to include the Digital Learning skills from the this website. These skills should be tackled so our students can be prepared with the skills they need to progress.

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