What I learned about: EdTech part II (Mobile Tech)

Mobile Tech

Mobiles in the classroom? This can be a testy one and probably not appropriate for all classrooms. I currently work in a Bring Your Own Device School or BYOD campus, where students are allowed to bring any smartphone or tablet to class with them, although in Grade 9 upwards (Year 10 UK style) we insist on a laptop.

BYOD campuses bring their own challenges for the learning community but they certainly can bring benefits to classrooms, so long as the focus remains on the learning and not on the “ooohhh” factor of playing with new toys. The SAMR model (below) is a great starting point for launching your thinking about how to use EdTech in the classroom, although to reach the higher levels of the model does require a significant of investment of time for the teacher to be proficient enough with the technology to design appropriate learning engagements. Schools that aim to get in involved with tech in the classroom should pay head to this training need for teachers.


As a science teacher some of the areas that I have experimented with in using Mobile tech is to ask students to create “how to videos”. Mostly these would be created on iPhones or iPads using iMovie but there are other devices and software available. For example, carrying out foodtests and learning about the diagnostic tests for starch and simple sugars etc is a normal part of a middle school science program. The learning here underpins learning of deeper concepts further up the school, for example using colourimetery to test for the concentration of sugars. In a traditional classroom, science teachers would teach the theory before a class would carry out the tests in a practical lab to get experience of actually carrying out the tests. By adding in the task of making a “how to video” students would be asked to carry out the task as usual but to use their phones to record the tests and at the end put together a short video that demonstrates each of the tests in action. What I like about this is that it causes students to reinforce the learning by applying the theory in a new context; not only in the practical but in the further explanation of the method via the video. Students are effectively being asked to visually write a method, which they can share with friends, or save for revision time. When these videos are uploaded to Youtube it becomes very easy as a teacher to assess and provide feedback on the learning via the comments section.

I include some videos of this below that show the student work. The results do vary.

Mobiles can also be used for higher order learning and not simply the description of methodology but also the explanation of concepts. I have only tried this once with a grade 11 (Year 12 or L6th).

In these tasks students were asked to demonstrate their understanding of a concept by creating a short video about it. Students record a sequence of steps using molymods or playdoh to illustrate an idea. Their lecture is therefore recorded and their thinking is made audible and visible. Peers and teachers are able to review this thinking to give feedback to the student. Tasks can be individual or in small groups, as were done in the creation of this video explaining hydrolysis and condensation reactions.

The task can be scaled up into whole groups as in this explanation of transcription by my current grade 11 HL students. Here I asked students to study the material prior to class. When they came to class I asked each of them to write a model answer to a question about transcription. I then snowballed the students into a group who were now asked to write a script for an animation of transcription. Finally the students were asked to animate their script using play-doh and to record this with one of the students phone. The result can be viewed here:

One of the things that I like about this approach is that it is multi-sensory. Students are not confined to simply writing and reading, activity that is divorced from relying on all our senses to learn. Students can craft a model with their hands, while using their voices and sense of hearing to articulate their thinking and critique the work of each other.

This type of activity can be taken even further and can across classrooms. It can ultimately provided students with their own revision tool, if the explanation is correct or it can be used for further rounds of critique until it is perfected. Students in the same class or in future classes can critique the work to spot and correct any mistakes in the explanation, all the while students are getting familiar with and practice at using the scientific terminology.





What I learned about: EdTech part I (Social Media)


I left school in 2001. At the time my school had a computer suite and I believe that as a student I had an email address but I never used it. I got into email in a big way on my year out as my only means of communicating with family and friends while overseas, although I suppose I could have started a blog then. When I started university in 2003 we students were regularly advised to check our emails daily and this and DUO (Durham University Online) became two major technologies used in the delivery of the courses I studied.

I rejoined school as a teacher in 2008 and between then and now one of my internal fascinations and dialogues has been concerned with the sheer change and opportunity that technology has afforded schools; initially I was struck by the difference wrought by Skype and social media, between what I experienced at the very end of my schooling and what secondary students in a boarding school in 2008 were experiencing. Since then I have listened, intently, to the debate that has raged about teachers, schools and students and social media – should they, shouldn’t they?

That was the beginning, but it hasn’t just been social media and its opportunities and problems for the education community that has had my attention during my professional career to date. I now work in what can only be described as a “tech-saturated” school and while there are still things I am unsure of, embracing technology in my classroom meaningfully has allowed me facilitate learning in the last two years in a way that was unimaginable even 10 years ago.

I often wonder if anyone who doesn’t work in schools and left school prior to 2000 can possibly have the faintest idea about what classrooms look like now. I wonder what scenarios my parents, who were in school in the 1950s and 60s, must imagine when they think of me as a teacher. The same goes for my (much) older siblings.

In a series of three posts I want to distill the experiences I have had with a variety of different educational technologies to condense my thinking of different areas of what is a vast topic for schools. This post will look at social media, the next with mobile technology in the classroom and the final will look at screencasting.

I expect that I will use future posts to expand on elements in all of these posts.

Social Media

I have been a member of Facebook since 2006. When I joined I needed to use my university alumni email address as at the time you had to be a member of certain universities to join.  I am no stranger to the idea of social media then, but I have been very reluctant to bring it into the classroom. Doing so certainly presents challenges; exposing your personal profile to students so that they and parents know where to find you has been a perennial concern particularly if, like me, your early days on the platform were littered with tags in photos from days at university you would rather not have a grade 9 student poke around through. There are ways around this, particularly if spending hours tinkering around with your privacy settings is the way you like to spend a Friday night (are privacy settings always that private?) so the problem is not insurmountable. However, personally, I think I have been reluctant to use social media because I felt the clue was in the name. “Social” is not the same as professional.

All that said I have experimented with social media in my classroom. Initially this was with Facebook but I have moved on from this platform now and would not use it in my classroom again as I decided last year to change my name and to keep this platform specifically for non-professional life. Because of this I branched out to Twitter and LinkedIn as my professional-social media outlets and it is Twitter that I am now actively considering ways to utilize it in my teaching. Here are some of my thoughts about social media in the classroom, distiled:

Facebook can be used to create groups which can be used like classes or clubs, groupings of students based on certain attributes. Students can be invited to join these groups and this can be a great way to set assignments, share news stories or other activities with them. Student responses can be assessed and the interaction can be really positive. Also there is no need to add students as friends so if your privacy settings are secure then they won’t be able to sneak a peek at those pictures of you down the pub.

Clearly there are advantages to using Facebook in the classroom. If students are engaged and motivated it becomes very easy for them to read, and re-read shared stories or each others work. Facebook can also be used to set up dialogues, quite a interesting one from the point of view as a science teacher. Part of what I want my students to understand is the context that scientific discoveries were made in. If you can get that then you appreciate the wonder even more. Having students write up a facebook dialogue between two competing scientists (for example a dialogue between Franklin, Crick and Watson to name one) could help bring the topic to life. I haven’t actually done this but I have thought about it.

For me, because I joined Facebook as a student when social media was a new thing, I think its best for me to keep the families and students away from that account and so I move to twitter.

Twitter can be handy too. Creating a hashtag for your class and asking students to tweet short reflections, or to upload photos from class to twitter using that hashtag and/or your twitter handle, can create online repository of learning artefacts that track the learning journey in that classroom. These materials from the group can easily be found again when it comes to revision time just by searching for the handle.

I like twitter. It is open and you know how open it is. The privacy settings are simple and to be honest if you want privacy don’t use it. It is made for public engagement. The first thing that interested me was the thought that my students could tweet a well know or celeb in the science world. Someone like @AdamRutherford or@DrAliceRoberts who they see on the TV and in class as well as hear on the podcasts I play them. People like this could be contacted as expert advice for a school project although there is no guarantee they will reply.

Twitter can also be used to create dialogues between students as themselves or as actors, concepts can be explained in real time and the thinking is then recorded easily and interactively for assessment.

It is really important to divide private and professional social media; it is healthy to keep work in work and home life at home and the same goes online. Therefore I now only use Twitter for personal professional reasons, whereas Facebook I now keep private. It is also very important that the focus remains on learning not on using the technology.

Practical & Teaching Resource: Genetic Databases


One of the challenges I have found for teaching the new (2016) IBDP Biology syllabus is getting up to speed with the new content as expressed in the understandings, applications and skills sections of the syllabus. This has been particularly true when this new “content” implies an understanding of new technologies such as the huge rise in bioinformatics databases. To make matters worse, I am the only biology teacher in my school and I have been acutely aware of this when, stumbling across new requirements, I have had no one to bounce ideas off (or steal resources from! :))

So what do you do when you have new content that you have not taught before, that relies on an understanding of bioinformatic technology that wasn’t widely available, or covered on your masters in ecology eight years ago and you have no colleagues to help you? You go back to the drawing board…

When planning my course the year before I had shunned ordering the text book written by the chief examiner for the subject for my students on the grounds that it was too big and heavy. I had opted for a slimmer, light-weight textbook that was written by an old colleague. However, In preparation for times like this, I had purchased a copy for my own reference, not to teach from the textbook, you understand, but to refer to when I was unsure of exactly how much depth a topic needed going into (and therefore how much classtime to devote to it) or what the chief examiner had in mind when he wrote the course as part of the curriculum review committee.

While I applaud the move away from a list of learning statements as we had in the old syllabus, statements from the understandings section, like this one from topic 3.1 Genes:

The entire base sequence of human genes was sequenced in the Human Genome Project”

often leave me wondering how much time needs to be allocated to them. This is where having a copy of the chief examiners textbook comes in handy.

The Practical

Earlier this term I was teaching the IB Biology core topic 3 – Genetics and while planning came across the following statements:

3.1 S1: “Use of a database to determine differences in the base sequence of a gene in two species

3.2 S1 “Use of databases to identify the locus of a human gene and its polypeptide product”

These along with several other “application” statements in 3.1 an 3.2 left me slightly bamboozled as to how to approach teaching this, seeing as I had never used these kinds of databases in this way myself, and whats more I was left asking the question – aren’t the kinds of databases that these statements refer to way too complicated to expect 16-18 students to be able access?

Anyway, the instruction was there so I had to do something with it. In the end I referred to the Allott & Mindorf (2014) textbook along and the inthinking biology teacher resource website and combined and adapted two of their practicals to use in my classroom. The result is below:

  1. I designed a practical protocol worksheet which is available here, which could be printed out and handed to students. There is QR code which, when scanned, links to the following video.

Download (PDF, 70KB)

  1. I made the following video that takes students through the worksheet. They can be used together.


The video and the activities together take about an hour or just over to complete and do count towards practical hours on the PSOW. I am hugely indebted to the work of Allott & Mindorff and David Faure at inthinking to be able to produce this. Students are able, if they have a mobile phone and QR scanner to link directly to the film and follow the instructions. Alternatively the video can be played on a projector. Students could also complete this as a homework task but this couldn’t then count as practical.

I think that the video and the activities could be broken up into smaller individual activities as I think this may help students to process exactly and clearly what they are doing. These databases can be complex to navigate and contain a lot of information which can be overwhelming for anybody who is new to this area.

While I personally like this part of the syllabus and think that there are some possible IA ideas here, especially when combined with evolutionary studies, I can’t help but think that this material is a bit too advanced for 16-19 year old students, particularly for SL students. It is fairly niche and I would be interested to know how many universities would cover this type of bioinformatic content in their first or second years.