Mobile phones and iPads hamper learning !! – In defence of Technology in Education

“Whats the point of using technology it detracts from learning ” a teacher said to me. All the evidence points against it and the government are going to ban them anyway.

Deep sigh – where has this come from?

“Mobile phones and iPads could be banned from classrooms”

screams the Telegraph citing Tom Bennett

Mr Bennett said: “Technology is transforming society and even classrooms – but all too often we hear of lessons being disrupted by the temptation of the smartphone. Learning is hard-work and children are all too aware of this. So when they have a smartphone in their pocket that offers instant entertainment and reward, they can be easily distracted from their work. The Telegraph omitted the following that the Guardian included:

In a blog for the TES, Bennett poured cold water on headlines suggesting mobiles could be barred altogether in class. “This may shock you, but I don’t think mobile phones should be banned from school. Or iPads from the classroom,” he wrote.

Then there is the LSE report : A study by the London School of Economics in May found that banning mobile phones from classrooms could benefit students’ learning by as much as an extra week of classes over an academic year, benefiting low-achieving children and those from disadvantaged backgrounds most. 

I am a huge advocate of using technology in lessons when it adds significantly to learning and does something you cant do without it.  You dont even need to change your teaching style, just use tools that enhance your understanding of the students learning journey. Assessment for Learning can be transformed with Plickers /Socrative/Shadow Puppet and instantly and painlessly provides you with data that informs your lesson planning.    But first comes humanity and relationships and good behaviour management.

And it is that behaviour management that is key. Allowing students to access the most distracting device on the planet in lessons is clearly going to have a negative impact on learning. In banning them, the schools have removed this classroom management issue and there was a corresponding rise in the results.  Having worked in turning around failing schools It was very clear that anything that you changed in order to improve behaviour – be it uniform, equipment etc had a positive impact as long as it was applied consistently. Those teachers finding mobile phones were a pain would be very supportive of the ban.  I feel it is plausible that simply  enforcing rules may have been a significant factor,  rather than explicitly the mobile phones.  Though the study also pointed out that the biggest impact was on the lower achievers – those most likely to be switched off lessons and hence reach for their phones. Could we look at why they were switched off rather than simply seeing the distraction as the issue?  Could the phones be their solution to the problem of the inappropriateness of the curriculum to their needs rather than the problem itself?

Then there is pedagogy – Headline from BBC Business

“School technology struggles to make an impact”  

We now have digitally competency measurements from Pisa – always slightly worrying how much store governments put on them. Sir Ken Robinson ” Pisa is to education what the Eurovision Song Contest is to music”

The Pisa assessments now provide first-of-its-kind internationally comparative analysis of the digital skills that students have acquired, and of the learning environments designed to develop these skills.

These data show that the reality in schools lags considerably behind the promise of technology.


The crux of the piece is that those countries that have invested heavily in technology have not shown any improvements and in some there has been a decline. Sadly there is also no evidence it improves the poverty gap inequality.

What it is not saying is how the technology is being used. These devices are simply tools and if they are being used inappropriately then they will hinder progress.

I totally agree with Tom Bennett  that learning takes effort. See my posts on Clarity vs Confusion and thinking

Technology can make the learning journey very easy. I can copy and paste, use google translate, photomath  and very quickly come up with the answer to things that I do not retain in my memory (hence will be gone by the time the exams come)  So no deep learning has taken place.  Many students are happy to hand in their plagiarised homework  as their idea is that the teacher wants to see work rather than learning.  Or students spend a disproportionate amount of time creating a pretty Powerpoint that keeps them working but not learning and I think this may be a huge issue.  They can work for hours on something, look engaged, but learn nothing. Having taught many different subjects when the students are on computers the amount of teaching I do can fall significantly  as the students are just “getting on with it.”

Only add the Technology when you know what value it adds to learning 

The BBC report gives two interpretations both of which I feel are true

One interpretation is that building deep, conceptual understanding and higher-order thinking requires intensive teacher-student interactions, and technology sometimes distracts from this valuable human engagement.

Another interpretation is that schools have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology; that adding 21st-Century technologies to 20th-Century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.

I worry that many teachers are drawing the conclusion that technology hinders learning. There is no doubt that technology used badly is worse than a waste of time. Taking the students to the computer room is often an easy lesson unless you carefully plan why the technology enhances learning. I know I have been guilty of this when absolutely exhausted and needing a break. It keeps the kids quiet !

I think far more training is needed on the transformational technological tools –  not the flashy gimmicks. How to effectively manage your classroom where the students use their mobile phones for learning.  Things have changed and we live in a connected world. Simply banning technology may in the short term be effective at improving exam results, but can we justify our classrooms  diverging even further from the real world?

Technology is neither good, nor bad. It is simply a tool that can massively enhance learning if used well. The problem is that it isnt being used well due to lack of understanding of what it can do.

One thing technology cannot do is enhance poor teaching. A poor teacher with students  who have mobile devices will have a class off task but apparently compliant. It can be used as a  sticking plaster that hides  bigger issues and that is an issue we need to resolve

Blogs worth reading that put pedagogy before technology

Steve Wheeler @timbuckteeth

Mark Anderson@ICTEvangelist

Martin Burrett @ICTmagic

Mr Parkinson @ICT_MrP

Mark Richardson @ICTMarc


The Magnificent Seven – Simple Strategies using Technology to Transform Learning

Part of what will form a series that aid learning, behaviour  and make me more effective as a teacher. These are my seven favourite things – The Magnificent Seven – Simple Strategies using Technology to Transform Learning – Please feel free to add yours in the comments section or link blogs

My rules for using technology;

  • Only use technology  when it does something you cant do without it (or it makes it better/simpler)
  • It has to improve learning – or my assessment of  their learning (following their learning journey)
  • It has to be simple to learn and reliable to use
  • Free

(1) Plickers – Multiple Choice Assessment App you only need one device to use

How does it work ?

Students are assigned printed paper  Plicker codes that they hold up for you to scan with your phone/tablet. They can choose A,B,C or D depending on their orientation. The scan on your phone tells you who has chosen what and if your wifi is working records it on their website in the reports section . It also has a live view.

It is so good I wrote a blog about it here  see it on UKEdCHAT here 

What makes it so great?

  • Incredibly quick and easy to use
  • Only need a single device – Android or IOS
  • Can use it without wifi
  • Students cant see what each other have chosen so prevents copying and reduces stress
  • Perfect for showing progression

(2) Socrative  Assessment App – Online and cross platform

Its been around for a while and still holds its place for several reasons. As a teacher you create a room and give that room number to the students. They log onto your room using any device and answer multiple choice or short answer questions.

It’s very reliable if you have strong wifi or 3/4G signal but students may have issues in weak signal areas. I would tend to use plickers  for ‘on the fly ‘ multiple choice (unless you need 5 options) as for plickers they dont need to log into a room or have their own devices.

To me where Socrative really comes into it’s own is the Short Answers option. This allows you to ask students anonymously (or given name if you’d prefer) their opinion /ideas or definitions.

So for example I can ask them to define evolution, make an estimate, proffer an opinion as to the cause of …. etc. Socrative then collates these in a list . This is fantastic on it’s own, but the ace up the sleeve is that you can get students to vote on one of the comments so . Which is the best definition/closest estimate/most likely reason etc.  So my students have given their ideas, evaluated others and chosen one in a few minutes . The same question can be asked at the end of the lesson hence progress can be shown.

You can also create test that are automatically marked as well as importing ones that are already made from Socrative Garden here though please check them as they are not quality assured ! They also link to visible thinking  which will be in Magnificent Seven – Simple Solutions to more Active Learning due to be published soon

ICT Evangelist has a blog on Remixing Lessons here integrating Socrative

Socrative guides  available  here 


(3) Padlet 

Used to be called Wallwisher another relative oldie. Remarkably simple to use you can create a wall in seconds and share it with your students using a QR code. They then all have access to the wall and can add comments, images, videos, links or upload work.

So perfect for sharing ideas, work ( a dream for Art/Tech/ anything visual) , peer evaluation etc. It’s a great collaborative tool and as you can put links in enables Educreations/Pinterest/Shadow Puppet to be embedded into the wall. Full set of tutorials here 

(4) Shadow Puppet – Instant feedback with audio and video  – Sadly IOS only tho Google Docs users may want to look at kaizena   Thanks @ictmagic

A ridiculously simple way of giving quick feedback – Photograph the students work, highlight areas and add your voice feedback and email it back to them. Or put it on Pdlet or tweet it. Record and highlight videos stop them at appropriate points (PE teachers this is a dream app)

(5) Educreations  – Interactive whiteboard on a tablet

I prefer Educreations over Explain Everything for daily use as although Explain Everything is fabulous and feature rich it takes a bit more getting to know and doesnt give you the hyperlink that educreations does that allows you to instantly share through padlet/email/twitter. Educreations is ridiculously simple – though be aware that you have to register after you have created something!

(6) Pinterest  – Digital Filing Cabinet

Pinterest is used by millions but rarely professionally. It is a brilliant way of compiling a set of resources for whatever subject you are teaching . Either find them already on Pinterest or upload them or add from virtually any website. Create a shared Pinterest for your department to collaborate on resources. Get your students to find great sites and share them with you to populate it

(7) Blendspace – Digital lessons and SoW

So we have a whole load of fabulous resources in Pinterest, have created some wonderful Educreation tutorials, some great Shadow Puppet feedback showing misconceptions , numerous Padlet walls. How can we now combine them in a coherent manner ? – Blendspace !

Could this be a dream app for BTEC and IB teachers – giving the potential of e-portfolios that can be shared and collaborated on. Flipped lessons ? The possibilities are endless

A mention to Twitter for building a Personalised Learning Network and connecting to an awesome global bunch of educators I’m @natkin   for technology  try @ictevangelist and @ictmagic are both awesome


Honourable mention to  BookCreator, iMovie, Edmodo, Showbie and Puppetpals HD

What are your Magnificent seven ?








Transforming Technology with a Single Device for Free – Plickers

Many schools still have a no mobile phone policy for students or lack 1:1 devices, but there are a few things that can be used if the teacher has a or phone/tablet. One of the simplest of these is Plickers which is a way of collating multiple choice responses from students. Its free and brilliant

  1. Students are given a unique barcode ( a paper plicker )
  2. The teacher asks a multiple choice question (these can be set up beforehand or used on the fly)
  3. The students show their answer by holding up their paper plicker – the orientation of the plicker allows them to choose ABCD
  4. The teacher scans the class with their phone
  5. A bar chart of responses is immediately produced on the phone and if you have wifi/3G on a linked computer as well – It will work on your phone without any signal so dodgy wifi is not a problem
  6. Reports of responses are stored on the plickers website so progress (or not ) can be demonstrated

More detail

The teacher prints out plicker cards which have a number on them and 4 letters. They act like a QR code in that when they are held up and scanned with the camera on the phone/tablet the number of the card is recorded  as well as the response of that card A to D depending on the orient

plicker-codeation of the card when the student holds it up. The letters are written small so that the other students cant see what each person is choosing. Often with mini whiteboards students will look at others responses before making theirs. You can get your students to write the letters on the back of their cards if they have any disability or for younger students

The teacher then scans the class


It records multiple cards at once and a rescan will not mess up your results as it only records the individual cards once. You can set the orientation of your phone but dont change it . Without thinking I rotated my phone from portrait to landscape and wondered why everyone thought the answer was C when it was A

plickers pic

Results are shown on your device and if you have wifi on the website as well

plickers bar

On the plickers website classes can be set up and the cards assigned to students. The student then sticks the card in their book/planner  so that at any time we have an instant way of assessing what the class is thinking. Reports are saved on the website so  progress (if any is made) can be demonstrated.

Plickers_report plick report

A video overview

A nice slideshare tutorial is here

  • Plickers in PE here  PE teachers might want to laminate cards to take out with them





Humanity – Pedagogy – Technology

The world is changing in unprecedented ways. Mobile technology becomes ever more powerful, more wearable and we become more connected(or isolated from the real world and immersed in a virtual world – depending on your perspective)  As educators we need to be able to use this technology effectively. It’s easy to get carried away with the shinyness of the new and forget the core of education and forget what has to be in place first

To me it needs to be;

Humanity – Smile ! Build authentic relationships and quickly establish their identity by valuing them – Learn their names, find out about them, know what they are good at. If you have students who have high status outside your classroom, but are weak performers in it, then you can expect problems. Imagine that your headteacher has only seen you at your weakest, has never seen you perform well, how would you feel about them observing you ? We need to remove the fear of failure and we do that by making them feel secure so we can lead them on journeys into the unknown and push them to their limits. If they never fail, they will never know how far they can go.

Pedagogy – Teach them , or allow them to learn effectively. I passionately believe there isnt a right way to teach. We teach students, not a subject and we teach what is in front of us. The variables are so huge that to me much research doesnt inform us of very much. So reports like the Sutton Trust point out that

  • allowing learners to discover key ideas by themselves – is not supported by evidence

As a scientist this is like saying; In the short term (passing exams )  if you give people fish they become fatter than if you teach them how to fish. Later when we then expect them to do something for themselves, some of these dependent ones will not know what a live fish looks like, let alone how to catch one. This may be my confirmation bias kicking in, but I want my students to be independent learners (and I do give them fish at times as some would starve without that extra support)


Technology – Add the things you cant do without the technology. Technology is neutral, neither good, nor bad. It can be used effectively or it can waste hours making pretty presentations with no effective learning. As teachers we dont need to be able to use all these technology tools. Our role as educators is to assess learning , however it is presented to us. preventing the students from using technology because we dont know how to use it is a sin ! We need to know what can be done and release the students from the bondage of our own limitations.


humanity - pedagogy - technology venn


I used this Video to support my presentation at #2015TMBETT. You need to decide in what  order the cartons fall over in.

The crowd had to make a decision as to the last one to fall over. Put your left hand up if you think it is the empty carton, both hands for the half full and right hand for the full one. Keep your hands up and find someone who disagrees with you, tell them why they are wrong and try to change their mind. How many changed their opinion ? 2 out of 450 ! When we have a belief we hang onto it – The work of Jonathan Haidt is interesting here

The answer to the cartons is here 

Ok so it isnt. We remain curious about things that are incomplete, that we dont know the answer to. Even more so when we have a stake in the outcome – hence getting people to argue. I did this in a class and a girl lost it when I was about to reveal, then said I’d do it tomorrow.

‘What! you are going to leave us in suspense?’

“Thats exactly what I’m going to do”

‘You are the most annoying teacher alive’ then in an aggressive manner ‘I’m going to do it at home!’

A total paradigm shift to most classrooms – a challenging student saying – stuff you,  I’m going to learn this ! Its thinking through the back door.

At the Teachmeet I started to show Infuse Learning, but ran out of time. I do think this could be a real game changer. I was going to get the crowd to draw their understanding of the cartons (I’m hopelessly optimistic as to what you can achieve in 7 minutes)

In Infuse Learning you can send a drawing to others to annotate and then can see all the results. It is rapid to set up, free and reliable. What’s not to like! Another feature is ordering results, so for example you can have 4 statements which are all correct but some are better than others. This is in terms of thinking a world away from the simple right and wrong that most quizzes produce.

And the answer to the cartons?

Do it yourself ! I dont give people fish when they can catch them themselves 🙂


7 Things to do to prepare your students for the future

In times of change it isn’t the strongest, fastest, fittest or most intelligent that survive, it is those that can adapt to the new conditions. We are undoubtedly entering a period of unimaginable progress, driven by mobile devices, and as educators have a duty to equip our young people with the skills to do so. Continuing to do what we have always done is not an option.

Progress does not always necessarily mean improvements. When humans moved from being hunter gatherers to agriculturalists (described by anthropologist Jared Diamond as our ‘Worst mistake’ see here. there was a massive increase in time invested to feed ourselves. Difficulties such as overpopulation and the resulting aggression and social problems began to emerge.

A new skill set was needed, the ability to throw a spear was less important than being able to grow and store crops. It wasn’t enough just to grow things for yourself, you needed to be able to collaborate and trade with others. The concept of land ownership and settled communities were established wreaking havoc on the nomadic hunter gatherers.

Historically, before the Industrial revolution, the strongest man in the village had a real value and was capable of doing things others were not.The industrial revolution however removed the limitations of muscle power and soon the tractor driver could accomplish far more than the strongest man. Now the World’s strongest man is who? We don’t know because it is not important to us, unlike of course the worlds fastest man.

What value does he have?

What value does he have?

According to the likes of Andrew McAfee in the video below, we are now on the cusp of a digital revolution where the limitations of brain power will be overcome. Are we in danger of our education system missing this transformation? It undoubtedly cannot keep up with developments.

There is a lot of debate about the fine points of education, the value of direct instruction and evidence based learning. Is this comparable to fine tuning our strongman’s training program? Do we need to think completely differently?

Could we be educating our students to be the cleverest kid in the village only to have the one who knows how to use a mobile device and a personal social network effectively outperform them in almost every way?

How long will it be before our exam system starts to look like an anachronism, if it doesn’t already. Take some students, remove all digital support tools and personal networks, give them a pen and paper and see what they can do, isolated from reality. This is starting to look as effective a way of assessing what people can do as by how far they can pull a truck in a given time or lift a very heavy ball. How often does anyone in the ‘real’ world solve problems or create new things isolated from others. Most things are now mashups. The wide scale adoption of social media has transformed what I personally can do. I put requests out on Linkedin , twitter and Facebook and receive wisdom, collaboration and answers. Digital tools transform what questions I can answer even without asking others given my phone: with Siri I don’t even have to type anything.

Currently Exam questions tend to fall into one of three categories

The familiar – Students have answered similar questions before.
The procedural – Students follow a set of learned procedures in order to solve the problem.
The novel – A question presented in a new context that requires deeper thought.

The majority of questions fall into the first two categories and students can be effectively prepared for them by giving them lots of practise with past papers (this is how I passed my Physics degree ) When the exams unexpectedly have novel questions in them all hell breaks loose, for example 2010 AQA Biology paper had questions about shrews. The students came running out of the exam screaming at the teacher ‘you didn’t teach us about shrews!’ The teachers responded with ‘Shrews were not in the book or the specification!’ What was expected in the question was the application of ideas, but many students couldn’t do this as they had only been prepared for the familiar and procedural questions. The fault lies not with the students, nor the teachers, but a standardised testing system that judges performance only. Performance then becomes the focus instead of learning; teaching to the test and a risk averse system becomes the norm. The curriculum becomes the focus rather than developing the students themselves. What would happen if we just tried to create outstanding students through the curriculum rather than those who could just pass tests. Do we even share with our students what we would like them to be? The pressure is on us as teachers to be outstanding, shouldn’t we shift this burden onto them? Dylan Wiliam described schools as ‘places where kids come to watch teachers work’ is this true of your classroom?

The issue with the familiar and novel types of questions is that they are relatively easy to solve with now commonplace technology, such as my phone.

Wolfram Alfa has a series of algorithms that can solve most maths and physics problems. Given a tablet and Wolfram Alfa I can answer all the familiar and procedural questions.

Wolfram Alfa Algebra

Wolfram Alfa Algebra

Wolfram Alfa Algebra Solution

Wolfram Alfa Algebra Solution

I am not suggesting for a moment that we don’t teach our students how to solve maths problems manually. I believe that we need a sound base of knowledge and skills in order to make the connections to reach the state of Extended Abstract in solo taxonomy. To see how the subject really fits together. My argument is that it is no longer enough just to solve the problems an algorithm can solve. We need our students to be creative and independent problem solvers, to be able to apply their skills to solving problems, not dependent learners coached for familiar processes.

Digital devices and artificial intelligence will struggle to solve the novel and this I believe, should be our focus in order to prevent students being perfectly equipped for a world that no longer exists.

‘Sir will this come up in the exams?’ should be dismissed with a rant about the future. Siri , Watson and Andrew McAfee’s video shown. It might not come up in the exam, but may prevent you from becoming redundant as the droids take over! We are aiming to educate, not simply to qualify.

What can we do to try and future proof them?

(1) Embrace the use of technology where it can transform learning, and be aware of the SAMR model see and TPAK. I am a big advocate for the use of mobile devices in the classroom but only when they do something I or the students couldn’t do without them. We must set our students free to use tools that we might have little knowledge of ourselves. Our role is to instruct when needed, tools like socrative (@socrative) and Answerpad (@theanswerpad) give us an incredible insight into the knowledge and ideas of our students to allow intervention when needed. Mobile devices enable students to use tools like iMovie which gives them a fully featured video editing package to record, express and share their ideas. However only use the technology when it adds real value to the learning

(2) Use SOLO Taxonomy. In physics I cannot teach about electricity until my students understand forces. Most of electricity is pretty much the action of forces on charged particles and my students need a thorough grounding in order to see how simple the fundamentals of physics really are. Yet rarely, if ever, do we see schemes of work which connects topics and learning. For more information see Pam Hook’s work here  or David Didau’s here  . What might this look like in practice? Here . Ideally have your students understand and self assess using SOLO.

(3) Possibly more controversially encourage your students to make social network links and to set themselves up, as Steve Wheeler calls it, a ‘Personal Brand’. He argues that it will no longer be enough to send your CV and impressive batch of qualifications. The future is connected and digital so create your own youtube channel and twitter account; create an online presence.  Already people are not getting jobs because they don’t have enough twitter followers or their blogs are not read enough. Google are not looking at qualifications when they hire people, but on what they have done Shouldn’t we be preparing our students for this future where you are responsible for your own impact on the world. There are some great examples of school blogs here and here from @jbohistory. Please give me links to more so our students can use them as models.

(4) Make thinking visible in the classroom and encourage your students to move out of their comfort zones and challenge their own beliefs. Two blogs I have written Teaching your students how to think here and 9 strategies here with visible thinking outlined here

(5) Encourage problem solving using approaches like Dan Meyers 3 act maths outlined herehere  . Act 1 is the ‘hook’ that gets their interest and engages their curiosity. Act 2 is the ‘explore’ phase where solutions are considered. Act 3 is the ‘reveal’ . To see this in action see an example popcorn picker here  on this can be developed in most subjects.

(6) Use Thunks as a basis to answer and create abstract ideas and thinking here

(7) Get yourself using the tools such as twitter, get yourself blogging, use Pinterest in a professional capacity. Join the revolution that is about collaboration and freely sharing resources. If you know how to use these tools you can help your students build their own networks.

We cannot keep up with all technological developments, but need to develop the skills to be able to adapt.

Please feel free to comment and add ideas