Dingbats, coding and iPads

It is right to start at the beginning of education – there is too much focus on the end examinations and their content and structure in terms of influencing educational debate – cart before the horse.

Laying the right foundations is key. Working at a school which runs from age 3 to 19 (the Stephen Perse Foundation), I have a window on this process that is fortunate. I can see how 3 and 4 year olds learn through their creativity, for example. I don’t need a debate about the relationship between creativity or skills and intellectual rigour – I can see it being played out in the classroom. Pupils learn far more content and rigour because they are allowed to be imaginative in the ways in which they are discovering knowledge. The freedom of these early years, away from assessment criteria, is precious. Importantly, students don’t progress just because they are being assessed.

The problem of assessment, league tables and the like is that it leads to the mantra ‘if it is important we should be measuring it to see how good it is’. This swiftly leads to artificially constructed parameters of assessment which restrict learning and reduce it to the more easily assessed common denominators – does the child know the date of the Magna Carta? Who was Florence Nightingale, how many times-tables can be recited etc.? Not that these are, by definition, bad things to know – far from it, so let’s not get drawn into that debate. However, this approach generally leads to a dilution of the possibilities of education.

How wonderful then to spend a couple of hours in our Junior School the other day, talking about gaming and coding. The learning revolution that is being brought about via tablet computers is a force to be reckoned with. However, it is not all about the iPad – it is, rather, all about the student and their learning! The iPad is just one tool in the arsenal – but it is a tool that allows the student perhaps more autonomy and wider engagement than anything has ever done before.

6letter6 letter words (free) is a puzzle app introducing the user to the concept of crosswords whilst also helping spelling and flexible thought as the letters are eliminated from the rotating cube. More than this, it is great prompt for lateral thinking.

dingbatDingbats is going to be good for this too. Getting students used to making connections between topics, ideas and being creative with it has surely got to be a good thing and this makes it easy to guide. This one is a pay-for app.

chickChicktionary (free) has got to be a lot of fun – especially if you are 6 to 11 years old (which is probably also a recommendation for older students and teachers too!). It’s a version of ‘Boggle’ where the object is to make as many words out of a given jumble of letters within a timeframe. Quick, simple, everyone can have a go – free. A winner!

cargoA superb coding app. Cargo-bot is another freebie. Logical steps needed to move the crane arm and to reconfigure the building blocks. This one is superb for reasoning at almost any level – I can see it being used to illustrate induction and deduction with a 6th form IB Diploma group in Theory of Knowledge classes but it could also be that window into computer coding that might spark the interest of a 10 year old.

Release some learning

Finally, if you have wondered what learning looks like when you remove the shackles, take a look at this – an inter-disciplinary project for a year 9 group (14 years old) to create a design for a redevelopment zone in Cambridge, where our school is. Everything from scraps of paper, craft knives, building blocks, iPads, architectual drawings, groups, individuals – the lot. I think that the fusion of technology with tradition is particularly impressive. No limits. The results were impressive – not only artisitcally but also in the engagement with social, environmental and economic considerations of a redevelopment. Now, that is learning.

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