Resources for French Phonics – project round up

Jane Bland is Assistant Headteacher at Rushey Mead School, and has lead on a DigiLit Leicester innovation project. Her project has developed guidance to support Modern Foreign Language (MFL) staff in the use of technology to support the teaching of French phonics. You can read Jane’s initial project post, creating and sharing resources to teach French phonics and here interim project post – both c0me with ideas and resources. Here, Jane reflects on the experience of the project:

It is almost 12 months since I learned that my DigiLit Leicester project bid had been successful and this blog post is an account of my journey; creating the phonics schemes of work, sharing the resources and using tablets to enhance my teaching.

The phonics schemes of work came from an idea in how to support our primary colleagues in transition from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3. I wanted our feeder schools to focus on phonics and pronunciation, rather than a variety of vocabulary at a superficial level. The idea for the ‘Phonic Friends’ came from Jane Somerville who created them initially as part of a LinkedUp project:

I wanted to create a scheme of work that was progressive and cumulative, adding in one new phonic at a time, ensuring that the words learned only included phonemes that had already been introduced.

Introducing French Phonics – Scheme of Work (word)

For each of the 25 phonemes we created a Phonic Friend, a French person with the phoneme in their name, and we made posters to accompany each sound which are displayed in all classrooms:

phonics classroom display


Click here for a copy of all the posters: Phonics Posters (PowerPoint)

I then made a powerpoint for each sound that introduced words containing that individual phoneme (or others that had already been introduced so they were cumulative).

phoneme picturesClip art images used available under public domain via

phoneme words

Each slidedeck also contains a variety of activities; a song, a rhyme, a tongue twister, a story, a dictation. I wanted this to fit in with the new programmes of study so that a primary school could meet all the new criteria by using this scheme of work.

Cache-Cashe CochonsCover image of Cache-cache cochons, copyright Arlene Dubanevich, 1984

Polisson pour attaper les sons!


Click here for example of a slide deck: 4 ch LeTS introduce phonics (PowerPoint)

As we had never taught French phonics in our secondary school before I decided we should trial it with our year 7 students. I hadn’t anticipated quite how successful this would be, and we have now rolled this out to all year groups throughout Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4.

The impact on students’ speaking skills has been huge, and we continue to see an increase in their confidence and their French accents. We have embedded the phonics into our year 7 scheme of work, and we have now created more resources to reinforce the phonics throughout year 8 and year 9. We revise the phonics on a regular basis with all year groups, they have access to phonics place mats in class, and they now read new words with accuracy and ease.

phonics placematPhonics placemat

Click here for an example PowerPoint to revise the first 12 sounds: Can you remember sounds 1-12 (PowerPoint)

All year groups have benefited from the phonics, and also from the ipads. These are used on a very regular basis throughout the faculty, for French, Spanish and Italian. To read about the key apps we use with students please refer to my previous blog:

Whilst we still have our old favourites we continue to develop our own knowledge and skills and discover new teaching and learning strategies all the time. This week one of the year 11 groups have been practising for their oral assessment using ‘Notes’ to write an example sentence and listen to the correct pronunciation. By the end of one lesson I had begun to see an improvement in their pronunciation and intonation, and they remained engaged and on task for the whole hour.

Year 11

I have been delighted with the positive impact we have seen in our faculty with our students, but it has also been great to hear from colleagues in other schools who have contacted me to say they are using these resources in their classroom and starting to see an impact on their children.

If you would like more information about our phonics scheme of work, or other MFL support that is available, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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Blog 2! Using voice activated software

Ruth Fairley is a Special Education Needs (SEN) teacher at The Lancaster School – an all boys secondary (ages 11-16) school in Leicester. Ruth’s innovation project explores the use of iPad accessibility features and apps to support students with learning disabilities, and you can read her initial post here. The project enables her to develop her own skills, and represents a new approach to working with SEN learners in the school. Ruth updates us with her progress to date:

As writers often say, ‘many months passed reader!’ (no I didn’t marry him!)

My project to use tablets (iPads) with voice activated software for my six dyslexic and disaffected students has gathered momentum and speed! My participants were identified, my iPads set up and we were good to go.

I had done some preliminary research on the boys taking part and for this update I am going to focus on three boys who were very responsive to the project.

Firstly I reviewed staff comments on the boys’ behaviour which the school records on our Learning Management System. This provided a rough and ready bench mark to check any positive impact of the new approach against. I also took record of the boys working at levels at the beginning of the project to see if it could help them improve their grades.

The training for the boys to use the technology was very simple and straightforward, so much so that I could do it in less than a minute and that’s amazing considering my luddite ways!

I also informed the boys’ class teachers and in particular in any subjects that had a strong literacy based focus. The response from staff was generally positive, in particular from Heads of Year who often had to sort out the fallout from the boys’ lack of engagement.

I also made it clear to the boys that if they abused the usage of the devices in class then they would be withdrawn for a two week period. I had spoken to all parents involved and all were very keen to support their sons’ use of the iPads.

I started small!! As I taught a lot of the boys either for English or on one to one support basis for their learning disabilities, it was easy to find a starting point to roll out the devices. The boys, who were previously reluctant to start work in English and write, took to them like ducks to water.

I ran the project for a full term then looked at a quick assessment of impact, at this point I will focus on the three boys who have taken part in the project from the start. Two other boys who were selected to take part weren’t keen originally, but have subsequently joined in.

So, some small case studies:

Boy 1

By the end of term 2 his effort grades have improved, they have gone from 3 and 4 to 2 and 3.
His behaviour points in term 1 were 213, in term 2 they reduced to 86.
His NC levels for literacy based subjects where he has used the tablet made expected progress, one sub level per term. Whilst this may not seem much this was from a boy who had made little or no progress since he had started at the school.
On a purely selfish note, he now wants to come to English!

 Boy 2

His level of engagement in English has improved dramatically. His achievement in literacy based subjects improved by one sub level in one term and his effort grades improved in all areas.

Boy 3

His behaviour points were 112 in term 1 and this reduced to 55 in term 2. His SEN review was very positive and it noted improvement in his willingness to engage.
His NC levels had gone up in all subjects.

Based on this quick measure of improvement the initial introduction of the tablets has been positive for the three learners. There were and are some issues to be resolved, such as the boys using the tablets to access games and occasionally being off task playing them.

I wish I had a tablet with voice activated software for every boy who needed it!

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Getting Started with GIS in the Geography Curriculum

Post by Rob Manger – English Martyrs’ Catholic School, Leicester

Rob Manger is a Geography teacher at English Martyrs Catholic School in Leicester, which supports learners between age 11 and 18. Rob’s ICT innovation project focused on developing his own skills in the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), with the aim of increasing the effective use of technology use across his department. You can read about the projects initial phase here: Incorporating GIS into the Geography Curriculum. In the course of the project, he has also developed and shared a range of teaching resources for use across key stages 3-5. The final project report which follows, along with resources, can be downloaded here:

Getting Started with GIS in the Geography Curriculum (Word)

Getting Started with GIS in the Geography Curriculum (PDF)

Are there any land use patterns in Leicester? (PowerPoint)

Planning a coastal walk using Digimaps (PowerPoint)

This work was supported by Leicester City Council’s DigiLit Leicester project.

At the beginning of my BSF ICT Innovation project I identified the key reasons I wasn’t using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in my teaching as:

  • I didn’t have time to learn how to use and implement GIS.
  • I didn’t have access to reliable computers.
  • I didn’t know what the best software for me to use with my learners might be.
  • I didn’t know if I would have to pay for subscriptions to sites, or if it would be possible to use GIS for free.
  • I didn’t know which data I could use and where it could be sourced from.
  • I didn’t know what support might be is available should it all go wrong!

I feel I am now in a much better position in which to comment on these barriers and perhaps remove a few.

I didn’t have time to learn how to use and implement GIS

Time is always the enemy and there are never enough hours in the day. I have been lucky enough to have been allowed to attend two courses. The first of which was useful in widening my experience of Google Earth, the second was an introduction to using the ESRI ArcGIS Online mapping platform. This inspired me to take the time to experiment and learn. The time invested has been worth it and I’m pleased with my progress and the outcomes.

There is no denying learning to use GIS requires a significant amount of time. It is important to feel confident in the concepts underpinning the GIS, it’s applications and confident to cope with any problems and misconceptions that may arise. A lot of these only become obvious through taking the risk to try things out both personally and with a class. The time and risk will only benefit the students in being able to analyse, question and interpret large amounts of spatial data, quickly. Therefore, the initial time learning to use the GIS is time well spent in order to deliver a high quality geography curriculum, with less time spent on lower order skills of creating the presentations and more time spent on the high order thinking skills of interpretation, analysis, and evaluation.

I didn’t have access to reliable computers

We now have improved access to computer rooms and devices, thanks to the investment made in the school by BSF. These are working well and our IT support work incredibly hard to fix any problems we encounter.

I didn’t know the best software to use.

The best software to use will depend on the task and the age group of learners. Below I’ve included a table of my comparison and evaluation of different Geographical Information Systems. I have reviewed Google Earth, Digimaps for Schools, and the free and subscription versions of ESRI ArcGIS Online,

In my opinion, Google Earth and the subscription version of ArcGIS online offer the most flexibility. ArcGIS online is the only GIS I have reviewed that gives the user the ability to filter, query and perform analysis on geo spatial data within the software, allowing the user to identify more detailed patterns and solve more advanced problems. I found Digimaps to be more useful in terms of introducing younger students to the concept of GIS and digital map skills.

Google Earth

Google Earth is probably the programme that the majority of staff and students are most familiar with. I discussed Google Earth at length in my first project blog post. It remains a main stay of my teaching when describing the location of a place due to the ease of navigation and visual appeal. I have created a piece of virtual fieldwork using Google Earth based on a fieldtrip to the Field Studies Council (FSC) Blencathra Centre. Whilst I think this has been a useful learning experience for me and is a useful teaching tool for revision and those students whom were unable to attend the fieldtrip, the creation of the virtual fieldtrip was time consuming and I think it is a bit clumsy.


Google Earth


In the future I would use the ArcGIS online Story Map application to create the virtual fieldtrip in half the time with a better outcome, and allowing for greater geographical analysis.

I have also begun to use GE Graph to display data directly on to Google Earth. This requires a free piece of software to be uploaded onto your computer. Points or Polygons can be drawn and saved as a KML file. These are then uploaded to the GE Graph progamme and the data added to the point or polygon. This is then uploaded back onto Google Earth. See below for examples of work by Vicki Johnson of Rushey Mead School and myself. Some experimentation is required to get the desired presentational results, however this is very intuitive and easy.

Bar chart to show the self-reported health as bad or very bad

Enviromental Quality Survey of Bede Island

For me, the most powerful use of Google Earth is to support learners in exploring concepts of place and space – for example, using the platform to create a tour of their local area, England, or beyond.

Edina’s Digimaps for Schools

Digimaps for Schools is very useful for interpreting OS maps in a digital format. The package is much more visually appealing and less daunting than other GIS software packages. My favourite part of Digimaps for Schools is the fact that it uses the same OS maps and symbology that students are expected to use in paper format in examinations thus increasing their familiarity with them. This has been more appealing to many students particularly boys and more practical to many geography departments as they will no longer be required to store many paper copies of OS maps. It offers a different format to interact with OS maps, interpreting relief, symbols and land use, however, students will still need to be able to demonstrate the skills of grid referencing, measuring distance, and area manually for examination purposes.
Digimaps for Schools allows learners to interact with digital mapping with the inclusion of a number of tools to identify points, draw polygons, measure distance and area and create buffers. These could be used in order to explore enquiry questions posed by a teacher, for example, which land uses will be affected should the cliff at X retreat by 10m. (It is possible to develop this enquiry question much further in ArcGISonline by adding further demographic and socioeconomic layers of data to the map.)
Apart from the appeal of digital OS maps and the basic analysis tools, another useful function is the ability to view a historical map layer from 1890. (An update in September 2015 will also include 1950s mapping in full colour which will enable students to further analyse change over time) I have enjoyed using this to illustrate the growth of settlement both with year 7 students and year 13 students. This would be of value to history departments as well and I will be sharing this accordingly.
Alan Parkinson has created a number of free resources for Digimaps to introduce the skills required. I have created two lesson plans to help students to continue to explore the uses of Digimaps. One of these explores a piece of coastline to create an information board for tourists with year 8 learners:

Digimaps for schools


An example of a students work using Digimaps for Schools

An example of a students work using Digimaps for Schools

An example of a students work using Digimaps for Schools

An example of a students work using Digimaps for Schools

The second resource I created with Digimaps for schools is designed to for Year 7 learners to investigate land uses with in settlements and urban morphology:

Digimaps - settlements and urban morphology

These have been well received by the students. However, I have identified a number of issues:

  • When using the grid line function of Digimaps the grid lines overlay the photographs. Either deselect the grid line function or suffer poor presentation quality (I wanted to use the work for a grid referencing activity at a later date so chose to keep the grid lines layer).
  • Be aware of issues with numeracy when comparing area as the units change at different scales m2 to km2.
  • Objects cannot be ‘sent to the back’. Choose the order that objects are added to the map carefully.

Overall, the students have reacted well to Digimaps; they enjoy investigating the variety of maps, including historical maps, and have enjoyed the tasks given to them. As a teacher, the software is fairly intuitive and has not been time consuming to get to grips. It is important to become familiar with the software in order to warn the students of some of its limitations. The lack of an undo button (students regularly confused the start again button for an undo button, leading to much frustration) and the limit of 30 characters when labelling features for example. The ability to save and print the students work on high quality OS maps is also a huge bonus. It is now up to me to develop more relevant and useful tasks to engage the students with map work. I plan to use Digimaps for Schools with years 7 and 8 in order to introduce them to GIS and interact with OS maps in a more student friendly and contemporary format.

Digimaps has recently been updated to include a number of different functions, including a limited ability to upload data in the form of a csv file and Grid reference tool. Please see this blog post for the updates.

Digimaps for Schools new upload CSV tool now allows a similar work flow to that of ArcGISonline with regards to the collection of primary data. Students can collect data for identified points using longitude and latitude, eastings and northings or postcodes and add a piece of data to that point. The fact that this is the same workflow as ArcGISonline only with fewer data fields will further differentiate the analysis required nicely for Keystage 2 and 3 by asking them to look for highest and lowest figures only rather than requiring students to analyse lots of different data all at once. I believe it may also be possible to create a Google Document which will allow for the collection of primary data in the same way as the Geoform technique does for ArcGISonline as described below.

This new function makes Digimaps for Schools an excellent starting point for younger students to get to grips with the concepts of GIS before moving on to the more advanced analytical tools in GIS software platforms such as Esri’s ArcGISonline.

ESRI ArcGIS online

ESRI’s ArcGIS online is the best GIS I have used in terms of flexibility and the powerful analytical tools it provides. Whilst it is the software that has required the greatest amount of time from me and definitely caused the most frustration, it has also inspired me to use more geospatial data and introduce this to my students. I can think of many more applications for ArcGIS online in our curriculum than the other programmes I reviewed.

My experience is with the free version and we have recently purchased a subscription for an organisational account. I would still say I was a beginner with using ArcGISonline, however I have been inspired to learn more and I am making good progress in spite of a few tantrums.

One of the main advantages of using ArcGISonline is the function to upload geospatial data either from your own fieldwork, ready-made layers from ArcGISonline and Esri or from geospatial data contained in websites such as This data is automatically plotted for you which allows more time to focus on analysis and problem solving.

My initial questions were: what geospatial data can be uploaded to ArcGIS online? Where can it be sourced? Why isn’t the data being plotted in the way I was expecting it to be?

Any data that has been linked to a specific location can be mapped in ArcGIS; however, some data sets will require more work than others. The easiest data to plot is data that is linked to latitude, longitude and post codes. I’ve had issues when attempting to plot data using place names and country names due to variations in the spellings of place names. These can be overcome with a little effort and investigation.

Student work - data plotting

@RHSB_Geography – Work completed by Raphael Heath demonstrating plotting data using middle layer super output areas (MSOA)

Sourcing the data: primary data or secondary data can be used. I’m excited about the ease with which students will be able to collect their own data in the field, locate that data with a longitude and latitude, and then upload it to the computer to be analysed. This can be done by using ESRI’s ArcGIS Collector or by using predefined data collection points with known longitude and latitude, or by manually identifying the longitude and latitude of the data collection point using a smart phone and entering it onto a piloted data collection sheet or spreadsheet and uploading the data at a later date for analysis. The creation of a Geoform is a further technique with which to collect primary data. I aim to use this in September to collect data about tourist destinations to further analyse in ArcGISonline.



Link to Geoform

Secondary data can be found all over the internet. The first place to search for information should be ArcGISonline itself. There is a wealth of data already mapped in ready made layers. A further interesting source I have found is the Gapminder website. It has a library of data that it uses for its visualisations and has collated these making it easy to use them.

When using secondary data it is very important to make sure that the spreadsheet is saved as a .csv file and is as ‘clean’ as possible. By clean I mean it is highly likely that you will have to spend some time editing the file to ensure the data is unambiguous for ArcGIS online to interpret it accurately. This is easier said than done sometimes!

The work we have completed using ArcGIS online has been as simple as measuring the area and coastlines of continents with year 7 students. We have taken part in Raphael Heaths GIS world record attempt inputting data about quality of life and then analysing the results and year 9 have analysed the location of instances of graffiti using the density mapping function to identify which areas would benefit most from a graffiti wall.

Student work - index of deprivation

Years 12 and 13 have explored the Index of Multiple Deprivation for Leicester.

I have also attempted to create a Story Map of a piece of fieldwork we completed, evaluating the success of the City Challenge in Leicester. I attempted to create the story map as an afterthought and didn’t have the detail or information in a format I required. I now understand that this requires better planning prior to the trip in order to achieve the best results and be of the most use to the students. StoryMaps are an interesting tool provided by Esri that require further investigation on my part.

The EcoMartyrs, our school eco group, have used ArcGISonline to analyse the modes of transport students use to travel to school. From our investigations we have discovered students of English Martyrs’ Catholic School are driven almost 3,000km to and from school each day. That is the same as travelling to Warsaw, Poland and back, every day. The average distance a student is driven to school is just 4.4km. The total amount of time English Martyrs’ students spend travelling in a car each day is over 80 hours. The average car journey lasts just 7.4 minutes. These statistics were calculated using the analysis tools within ArcGISonline. The numeracy required to interpret these statistics begins to highlight the cross curricular links that GIS can open to us. We plan to use this information to inform students and parents, SLT and school governors and possibly the City Council in order to encourage more students to use sustainable modes of transport.


Since subscribing to ArcGISonline I have really learned to appreciate how to use geospatial data within the classroom. My mind is a buzz with applications and as someone more intelligent than I once said, “the only limit is our imagination.” I have begun to write a list of all of the areas of our existing curriculum I can embed GIS to supplement the learning that takes place and also develop further resources for our ever changing curriculum and geography.


The report includes comparisons of Google Earth, Digimaps for Schools, Esri ArcGISOnline (free version), and Esri ArcGISOnline (paid version). Download the full report here:

Getting Started with GIS in the Geography Curriculum (Word)

Getting Started with GIS in the Geography Curriculum 150813

Project conclusions

The ability to analyse geospatial data is an increasingly important skill. We are exposed to more geospatial data in web applications, smart phone apps and in the media. It is therefore extremely important that we can interpret it, analyse it and evaluate it ourselves. Our students are also expected to have experience of GIS throughout the key stages.

Primary and secondary geospatial data can be collected or downloaded from many different sources. The core issue is the flexibility of the platform used. It is more helpful if the platform is compatible with wide a range of geospatial data, and provides a range of ways to interpret and analyse this data.

When deciding on a subscription to a piece of GIS software, it is important to assess the requirements of your learners and the amount of time in which you are willing to invest in order to learn how the different software packages work and how to use them in order to help your learners achieve your learning intentions and beyond. In my opinion, ArcGIS online offers the most opportunities for teachers to use geospatial data efficiently with students, and to incorporate work with data into the curriculum providing they are willing to invest the time and effort required to become confident in its use. Otherwise Google Earth (free) and Digimaps for Schools both put a tick in the box for using GIS with in the curriculum and allow learners to analyse data spatially with less time commitment required from teachers to learn how to use the software.

Overall, Esri’s ArcGIS online is the one for me. Although, as stated in the subjective comparison above, it does require a substantial amount of time and effort (I’m a bit of a geek like that and my wife is very understanding) – however, the long term gains for the students’ geographical understanding are worth the investment. The fact that it is widely used in business and government is an added bonus which would give students worthwhile experience for their future academic studies and employment.

Getting Started with GIS in the Geography Curriculum by Rob Manger / English Martyrs’ Catholic School

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Introducing the Open Schools Network

OER schools iconsAt the end of the 2014/2015 school year, the DigiLit Leicester project put out an open call to all schools in the Leicester City Council’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) Programme to participate in a new collaborative open schools network. Network members will support their schools in developing staff digital literacy in relation to copyright and the creation and use of electronic resources, building on the council’s work on open educational resources (OER). They will also provide support for other BSF and primary schools across the city who want to develop their work around the use, creation and sharing digital resources.

Last year, the council became the first in Europe to provide school employees with formal permission to openly licence educational resources created in the line of their work. Providing this permission helps raise awareness about OER and open educational practice, and sends a clear message of encouragement for staff to find out about, and make best use of, openly licensed resources. You can read more about our work in relation to this here, and access and download resources to support your local authority and school implement their own OER policies.

We also provided schools across the city with OER guidance, resources, activities and information, which are also shared openly.

The newly formed group currently consists of ten network leads and two network coordinators, representing 12 city secondary and special schools. The network is made up of school support staff, teachers and leaders from a wide range of different types of schools:

Open School Network Coordinators

Coordinators will help facilitate network activities, and ensure everyone gets to hear about what is achieved.

Suzanne Lavelle, Researcher, Children’s Hospital School Leicester

Nora Ward, Assistant Headteacher, St Pauls Catholic School

Open School Network Leads

Antoinette Bouwens, Business Manager, St Pauls Catholic School

Harjit Kaur, ICT Network Manager, Keyham Lodge and Millgate School

Pearl King, Assistant Headteacher, Rushey Mead School

Sharon Malley, Head of Mathematics, Crown Hills Community College

Michael Richardson, e-Safety and Communications Officer, Ellesmere College

Sera Shortland, Citizenship Coordinator, Hamilton College

Lucy Stone, Computing Teacher, Sir Jonathan North Community College

Mark Sutton, Assistant Curriculum Leader for Design and Technology, Soar Valley Community College

Christine Turner, Science Teacher, English Martyrs’ Catholic School

Peter Williams, Maths Teacher, The City Of Leicester College

The network will be taking part in a range of activities over the next academic year, including:

  • Developing their own knowledge of open educational practice, open educational resources and open licences
  • Support school governing bodies in implementing school based OER policies
  • Promoting school staff understanding and awareness of what open educational resources are, how to find them, and how to reference them
  • Promoting the use, creation and sharing of OER across schools
  • Supporting Leicester primary schools and other BSF schools in relation to staff awareness and use of open educational resources
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Technology to support English as an Additional Language

Post by Simon Newman, EAL Coordinator, The Lancaster School:

Simon previously reported on the professional development innovation project he undertook this year, exploring the use of iPad features and apps to support students working with staff in the school’s English as an Additional Language (EAL) Department. Here he provides an update, along with recommendations from and tips for teaching assistants.

One of my aims for the project was to introduce the use of tablet computers in the English as an Additional Language classroom environment, and to explore the impact on pupil learning – with the aim of supporting better progress.

The pupils found the iPads useful as it gave them some independence and allowed them to have greater control over their learning. Pupils identified the following resources as particularly useful when they were working independently:

  • Google Translate and iTranslate. They allow instant translation for many languages and it is easy to switch between languages. The ability to hear the words spoken in some languages was very useful, especially if the pupils were not literate in their own language. Longer sentences are translated less accurately however, and meaning could be lost. The pupils preferred the iPads over normal dictionaries because of the speed of translation, and felt this enabled them to focus on the lesson more effectively.
  • Google images. This was especially useful to get an understanding of the keywords for the lesson.

The iPads have been used by about 8 different staff members. The staff liked the pupils using the iPads because it gave them independence and improved their ability to access the lesson. I think we are still at an early stage of iPad classroom use. Some staff appear unsure how they can be useful, so more input is required on my behalf to make the benefits clear to them.

It is also clear that making effective use of the iPads needs to be planned –  effective use doesn’t happen by just having devices in the classroom. EAL pupils made most progress from those teachers who put careful thought to how they were to be used.

The iPads have also been used by my EAL teaching assistants and also other teaching assistants within the school. These staff members were very positive about iPad classroom use and about the way the devices have helped support EAL pupil progress.

In addition to translate and image search, the teaching assistants identified these resources as particularly useful:

  •  BBC Bitesize – staff and learners used this in Science, English and Geography. The teaching assistants liked the use of the images available and the simple language. For EAL pupils the KS2 Bitesize was most appropriate (free).
  • Dropbox – This allowed instant access to lesson worksheet and presentations so the TA’s could revisit ideas to support understanding. Dropbox’s terms and conditions specify that the service is only for use by people 13 years old and over (free).
  • Clicker Sentences (link to Apple App Store) – Clicker Sentences is an app that supports sentence construction and can be used to build tailored resources for specific lessons. The sentence construction can be supported by images allowing better pupil understanding. It also has the ability for resources to be saved to Dropbox. Once saved the resources can be shared easily between other iPads (£19.99)

Clicker Sentences

  • Nearpod – This is a resource for creating presentations which include a range of interactive elements including multi-choice and open-ended questions, audio, video and quizzes. The presentation plays on all iPads at the same time and the pace is controlled by the teaching assistant or teacher (basic version free).

Our English teaching assistant recommended the following apps for grammar work:

Teaching assistants using iPads in the classroom

The use of iPads by teaching assistants can have significant benefits for EAL pupils in the classroom – we believe they have enabled EAL pupils to make more progress than they would have made without them.  EAL pupils can often struggle with the use of vocabulary or key words in lessons. The iPads allow the teaching assistant to revisit words or pictures used by the teacher to allow for clarification or can use images or translation to ensure the EAL pupils are clear in their understanding.

Understanding does not come about just by knowing the meaning of the key words. They need to see them in context and then have a chance to use them in context to ensure the learning is secure.

Tips for teaching assistance using iPads to support EAL learners in lessons

  • Use pictures to illustrate key language where possible so pupils have a visual image to allow them to link with own language.
  • Maps can be very useful where appropriate.
  • Translate the words into the pupils own language.
  • Show learners the words in context in English so they can see the word in use.
  • Ask learners to explain the meaning of any language used and model language as appropriate for them to practice.
  • Help students practice using the words in context by using an app like Clicker Sentences (or with the words written on a mini whiteboard.)

Clicker Sentences

  • Ask pupils to use the same words in a sentence of their own.
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Arduino for Art, Design & Technology

Post by Paul Wilby, Head of Art, Design and Technology, English Martyrs Catholic School

For a while I’ve been seeing references to Raspberry Pi and Arduino computer programmable boards, and a while ago I decided to invest £30 or so in buying a couple of the Arduino boards. I also had a raspberry pi given to me. I talked with a few students in the sixth form and year 11 who I knew liked computers and tinkering around, to see if they would like to try out the boards. They looked at them and politely declined the offer, and the boards went back into the drawer to gather some more dust. I kept promising myself that I would try and learn to use them myself. Anyway I had marking to do, lessons to prepare, forms to fill in and all the thousand and one jobs that a faculty head has to do. The boards remained in the drawer occasionally being seen when I needed an LED and reminding me of my promise to learn how to programme and use them.

When the design and technology programmes of study were published in September 2013 I realised that I had to do something to fulfil the new requirements, particularly:

  • understand how more advanced electrical and electronic systems can be powered and used in their products (for example, circuits with heat, light, sound and movement as inputs and outputs)
  • apply computing and use electronics to embed intelligence in products that respond to inputs (for example, sensors) and control outputs (for example, actuators) using programmable components (for example, microcontrollers)

I had previous experience of using BBC computers (remember them?) in control and having taught a bit of ICT (or computing) over recent years I recognised the need to update my programming skills. I had a Chip Factory PIC programmer and could write some interesting and fun programs to program PIC chips (essentially small microchips that can be programmed to read sensors and to output signals to control electrical devices). There are a lot of these systems on the market such as PICAXE and GENIE and there is a reasonable amount of support for them in education but it is becoming clear that more ubiquitous systems like the Arduino are becoming industry standard for off-the-shelf programming and control. The programming also uses C which is a common language for a lot more than just programming Arduinos. I felt that if I could master this and teach it I would be introducing the students to a widely used standard language.

With the help of a Leicester DigiLit staff development award I bought an Arduino starter kit and an Arduino robot buggy and started working my way through the examples in the pack.

The hard copy project guide that comes with the kit is well laid out and clear in how to construct the projects and write the programs in C. The choice of using a small print font, metallic inks on some pale backgrounds causes problems in reading the text in some light conditions was annoying (a sentiment shared by others when I went on to the Arduino web forum to see if there was a PDF version available). It also makes photocopying pages for class use difficult. This is a shame as the materials are meant to be freely shareable under a creative commons licence. Scroll down to see my notes on the project guide.

Having said this the book is a useful start and the explanation of each command and the structure of C programming is well laid out and explained. However I think there is scope for deeper explanation particularly where a teacher is explaining what is happening in the program. The operation of the electronic components is reasonably done and is at a level that could be managed by an able student in year 9. The kit comes with a wide range of electronic components including LED, servo motors, DC motors, sounders, a liquid crystal display and temperature sensor. The kit comes with plenty of spares which is useful considering the small nature of many of the parts. The kit comes as a nice package but once opened and assembled it is impossible to put everything back. I transferred the content to a small divided tray to store and organise the parts.

Having worked my way through the projects in the starter kit I have become very aware of the power of the Arduino as a control system and I can see why it is taking off and encouraging a wide range of people to learn to program and construct electronic circuits. As the boards and the programming are all open source it is not too surprising to see others imitating the system. It is possible to buy well-made clones of the Arduino Uno for around £4 compared to a “real” Arduino Uno for around £25 from Maplins. It is also interesting to see companies such as Intel producing their own versions of the system using the same pin configuration and providing a faster speed and a greater range of functions. The Bare Conductive company have launched their own version for small electronics using their conductive paint system. It is a low profile board that would be easy to fit into textile projects.

On the downside it is fiddly to make connections and the programming language is wordy and has to be accurately typed in. This is an advantage once used to the language as the program has very little waste of memory space and it does use ‘C’, so can be used to introduce learners to “real” programming.

There is a wealth of support on the web, both in the form of projects and tutorials. Artists use the system to incorporate interactivity into their art.

There are plug-in “shields” available to allow connections to be more robustly made but these add an additional complication to making circuits.

I’m now more confident in using the Arduino but I’m not so sure that I could use it in its natural form with a class. It is more suited to a club activity where there is the time and space to get over the inevitable problems with electronics and coding.

I think it would be better to create some shields where some of the projects are permanently soldered in so can plug straight into the Arduino and then the students can concentrate on the coding rather than the electronics. I would use the breadboard method for more able and interested students who may want to develop their skills and knowledge using the raw connections and components.

My next step then is to construct a few soldered projects that simply plug into the board. My favourite projects so far are the servo motor controller, the keyboard, the light Theremin and the Zoetrope.

Teaching Notes on the “Arduino Projects Book”

You can read the notes below, or download in PDF: Arduino for Art, Design & Technology – Project Book Notes (2015)

or Word: Arduino for Art, Design & Technology – Project Book Notes (2015)

This book comes (in hard copy) with the starter pack and provides a useful introduction to a wide range of applications for the Arduino in projects. However as I worked my way through the circuit construction and the programs I noted a number of pitfalls that could cause someone new to programming in C (like me) to give up.

General points – Punctuation

An important part of programming in C is the use of brackets.

Curly brackets { }

denote a loop function. If you click on a { the corresponding } will be highlighted by a box around it. I found it useful to go through a program clicking on each bracket and looking for the corresponding one to be highlighted. This helped me to make sure that I hadn’t missed out any brackets.

Plain brackets ( ) denotes where information needed by the program could be found for example whether a pin is an input or an output or what the state of the pin is (high or low). They are also used for comparisons such as less than, more than or equal to arguments. Again it was useful to click on each bracket and make sure that the corresponding open or close bracket had been included.

Square brackets [ ] are used to denote an array of numbers or information where the program looks up the position of the number in the array rather than the number itself. Project 07 – The Keyboard Instrument uses this function to denote musical frequencies and rather than having to keep entering the frequency each time the program looks at the position number of the array to obtain the required value. Similarly, as with other brackets each one can be clicked on to discover the corresponding bracket.

The semicolon ; is used after values or plain brackets the only exception being if the bracket is before a curly bracket. I have found it is very easy to miss out the semi colon and the program, frustratingly, will refuse to compile and will give you an error message telling you are missing one.

The use of the decimal point . caused an issue in the case of the ‘float’ instruction. This refers to a floating decimal point number rather than an integer (given by the ‘int’ instruction). When using the ‘float’ instruction any numbers, even if they are integers, must include the decimal point (for an example look at Project 3 – Love-O-Meter on page 49)

Speech marks “ “ are used along with the Serial.print instruction to print on screen the state of inputs, outputs or values.

The use of !=   means not equal to.

Notes on the projects

As I worked my way through each of the projects in the starter pack I came across some issues and things that I needed to do in order to get the circuit to work. I think it might be worth sharing these.

On a general note, while the book covers a fair amount of basic electronics and circuits I would advise a little caution. Some information is over generalised and some misleading. For example, on page 30 Ohm’s law is introduced and used to calculate the value of the bias resistor for the LED. The calculation ignores the voltage drop across the LED itself and so with higher voltages may give a false value for the resistor that could end up damaging the LED. The use of the term “amperage” for current is annoying.

Project 03 The Love-O-Meter

This project introduces the TMP36 temperature sensor. This component produces a linear output temperature reading unlike many thermistors, 10mV change of output represents a temperature change of 1C. Note the need for the offset to read from 0C. The device can measure from -50C and will start from this temperature if the offset is not included in line 20.

Notice in line 15 of the code the ‘float’ instruction needs the decimal point included. This line results in voltage changes of around 5mV to be detected and acted upon this means that the device measures 0.5C steps.

The project uses analogue to digital conversion (ADC)

Note the need for a short delay when using ADC.

Project 04 Colour Mixing Lamp

This project introduces light dependant resistors and multicolour LED. It also includes the use of pulse width modulation (PWM). Output on the board marked with symbol ~ can produce a PWM output. This function is useful for motor speed control and light dimming.

Project 05 Mood Cue

This project introduces a variable resistor used as a potentiometer (ie all three pins connected) and a servo motor (a motor that uses gearing to move its axle through an angle of rotation up to a maximum of 180 degrees)

The project introduces ‘libraries’ or pre-set information that someone has compiled to convert output voltages to servo output angle.

The servo included in the pack has a three pin female plug attached to the lead. In order to connect this to the breadboard it comes supplied with a strip of header pins, I found this solution doesn’t work so used some jump leads to make the connection. A better solution is to cut off the plug and solder header pins directly to the three wires from the servo motor.

I was very impressed by the accuracy and control of the servo. One turn of the potentiometer moved the servo almost 180 degrees and half a turn of the potentiometer produced a 90 degree turn.

For the fun of it I replaced the variable resistor with a light dependant resistor and a 10K resistor as a potential divider. The top of a bic biro with its small hole at the top acted as a good mask and allowed for slight changes in shadow to operate the servo.

Project 06 Light Theremin

This project introduces the ‘tone’ function and discusses the difference between the constant 50% duty cycle of the tone function and the variable duty cycle produced by the ‘analogWrite’ function. The calibration routine used to identify the most to least shadow and modify the program to accommodate different depths of shadow is an interesting and clever part of the program.

This program worked well and again the bic pen top worked well to give a good variation of shadow to obtain a full sound range.

Project 07 Keyboard Instrument

This project is a good example of an array. The frequencies of four musical notes is given in the array and the array uses the position of the notes in the array to identify the note rather than having to keep entering the note frequency in the ‘tone’ instruction. A resistor ladder is used to produce differing voltages that are converted to frequencies when the buttons are pressed.

In figure 1 the resistors are connected in series, pressing more than one button doesn’t change the resistance the analogue port “sees” the voltage over the resistor nearest the junction to the analogue port.

The layout of the breadboard shown in figure 2 is the circuit shown in figure 3. This circuit does change the voltage “seen” by the analogue port when more than one button is pressed. However the values of the resistance chosen don’t make significant changes. It is worth using the resistors in parallel formula to work out the voltages when a combination of buttons is pressed.

In the example array on page 83 line 2 generates a conflict error. It isn’t needed so leave these two lines out.

Project 08 Digital Hourglass

In this project the timing function “millis” is introduced. This tracks how long the Arduino has been running in milliseconds. It makes the distinction between the “millis” function and the delay function. The delay function freezes the board’s state until the delay is over, this means it can’t take in information while the delay is going on.

The project describes how to extend the information storage to a 32 bit number by using the “long” function.

The code shows how to compare time and give an accurate time interval for timing events. The time interval for 10 minutes (600 000 milliseconds) is given in line 6. I got bored waiting the 10 minutes so changed it to 10 seconds (10 000 milliseconds)

The circuit uses a tilt switch.

Project 09 Motorized pinwheel

This project is good as it shows how to control motors using an external power source by using transistors, in this case a MOSFET. It also shows the need for a diode to remove damaging voltages caused by back emf from the motor.

Project 10 Zoetrope

This project takes some building. It builds on the pinwheel in project 09. It is a nice project to build and try out. The motor supplied is good quality and it can really spin the wheel. On a safety note it can easily fly off. The wheel can also launch cd’s so be careful if using with students, good fun but may need safety specs just in case.

The potentiometer supplied keeps popping off the breadboard and then the speed increases. When held down it does have a good range of speed. The circuit does use a very useful IC called a H Bridge this makes it easier to reverse the motor direction and removes the need for including additional diodes to eliminate the back emf from the motor.

The code doesn’t introduce any new functions and is fairly easy to follow. There are though a lot of lines of code and it easy to miss appropriate brackets, semicolons and capital letters (if used). It took me four attempts to fill in or correct code.

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Digital Art for Schools

Digital arts - lights in jarsOn Friday 12 June, a group of art teachers from six city secondary schools met at Interact Labs (based in Leicester’s Phoenix Arts Center) to find out more about digital art.

From work with low-resolution computer screens and black-and-white pen plotters in the 1950s and 1960s, to the photo-realistic renderings of modern video games, artists have often been at the forefront of innovation in computing. For over 50 years artists have been exploring how modern art can be made with the latest digital technology. Indeed, it’s amazing to think that something as seemingly new as “digital art” is actually as old as acrylic paint. However, digital art does not always get the recognition it deserves in arts education.

The workshop introduced school staff to the history and development of digital art, and looked at practical ways staff might develop digital arts practice in schools.  The event also provided an opportunity for staff from schools across the city to network, and find out about local digital artists and digital arts organisations and events in Leicester.

The workshop was led by  Sean Clark, a Leicester-based practicing digital artist. Sean collated a bank of useful resources to introduce and get staff started in digital arts, covering the history of digital art, key exhibitions, artists and art works, and teaching resources.


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TEDx Leicester – Open and Connected Learning: Transforming School Practice

TedxLeicesterI was delighted to be invited to speak at the first ever TEDx Leicester. I looked at why open and connected learning is a critical priority for the schools sector, and looked at some of the exciting work taking place in Leicester’s schools relating to digital literacy. Leicester is currently causing a stir internationally in terms of open learning – my talk explained what Leicester City Council has been doing in the schools sector, and why:

Leicester is a large and diverse city in central England. I work for Leicester City Council, where I lead on technology for one of the country’s biggest school building programmes. As well as the huge investment being made in ‘bricks and clicks’, we’ve been working with our school communities to transform educational practice through open and connected learning. We’ve also been working openly, sharing what we’ve found and the resources we have created online under Creative Commons open licenses so that teachers, schools, and councils across the UK and internationally can benefit – and ultimately, so that all our learners can benefit.

There is no doubt that in the UK and many other countries the internet is now a mainstream site of everyday activity. Currently around 40% of the global population have access to the internet. This means that many of us are working, learning, and living in digital as well as physical environments. We post pictures of our children, we build and develop our personal, professional and learning networks, we find romantic partners and fall love, we buy and sell goods, provide and access services.

In many countries in the world the local percentage of the population who go online online are in the majority – so much so that in these countries we now talk about digital divides, and digital exclusion. There are lots of reasons why the minority populations aren’t online in what we can characterise as digital societies – including poverty, disability, and literacy.  The mainstreaming of online spaces as sites of social, cultural, economic and political sites provides all kinds of new opportunities – but also risks exacerbating inequality amongst those who aren’t able to take advantage of new, digitally mediated forms of contact, communication and collaboration.

Globally, digital inclusion is not just about functional technology skills and access – it’s also about the confidence and knowledge to critically engage in online environments – or, digital literacy.

There are different ways to describe digital literacy. The definition I use most often is functional technical skills + critical thinking + social engagement = digital literacy. There are quite a few definitions of digital literacy about at the moment – mine has the advantage though of being one of the shortest ones.

Digital literacy is important because social, political and economic participation is important – the ability to contribute to, and to shape and change our communities. The House of Lord’s recently published report ‘Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future’ (2015) recommends that digital literacy should be regarded as a necessary life skill, along with literacy and numeracy. The report cautions that not doing so constitutes a significant risk to individuals and to the UK, of missing the many opportunities afforded by digital technologies.

Digital literacy is also situated in practice. When we think of other essential skills – numeracy for example – it’s easy to understand that every one of us benefits from a basic level of numeracy, and that we’d find a lot of day to day management of our lives extremely difficult without this. If we were to take up a career as an accountant, or a chemist, we would of course need additional, specialist numeracy skills.

Similarly, digital literacy is important for all citizens. Everyone benefits from a basic understanding of finding, evaluating and managing information, being able to communicate and collaborate, being able to buy goods and access services, and being able to keep themselves and their data safe online.  For some groups, for example those supporting learners and learning, specialist and specific skills & knowledge are obviously going to be an important part of their professional practice.

In the context of publically funded schools, staff confidence and knowledge of basic digital literacy is particularly important, since most will be supporting some digitally excluded young people. Schools have critical role to play in ensuring no sixteen year old leaves compulsory education without the skills, knowledge, and confidence to make use of technologies to support and enhance their ability to learn and work, and their social and political participation. For some of our learners, schools may be the only place where they see digital literacy practices being modelled, and are actively supported in the creative, safe and effective use of technologies.

For the last few years, I’ve been working with Professor Richard Hall from Leicester’s De Montfort University and Lucy Atkins on the DigiLit Leicester research project.  In partnership with the 23 secondary and specialist provision schools in the city’s Building Schools for the Future Programme, we identified the key areas of digital literacy for school staff. Based on these key areas, we created a survey which has been carried out city-wide over two consecutive years. The data collected has helped us to identify the strengths and gaps in digital literacy practice, in individual schools and across the city. These strengths and gaps can be taken as indicative of other secondary schools and specialist education provision across the country. We’ve responded to the findings by carrying out a range of projects designed to consolidate and promote our strengths and address gaps. All of the resources from the work we and the schools have done has been openly licensed.

One of the gaps identified by the data relate to finding and creating digital resources – a key, everyday activity for school staff. We’ve identified that a healthy culture and spirit of sharing and reuse does exist, and that this sharing is characteristically informal. One of the reasons for this marked informality is a lack of confidence and knowledge around Intellectual Property Issues as they relate to digital resources. In particular, we found a significant lack of awareness of copyright, and open educational practices and approaches – particularly in relation to open licences and open education resources (OER). For example, the majority of staff have not knowingly come across or used Creative Commons licensed resources.  It’s likely that this is typical of school staff working across the UK, and certainly colleagues I have compared notes with across Europe and the US have indicated that awareness of OER and the opportunities they afford schools and learners is a cause for concern.

There are many reasons why it’s important for us to address this gap in digital literacy. School staff are modelling practice for learners every day, typically in physical classrooms but also, increasingly, in online environments. Ensuring the schools workforce is confident and well informed about basic copyright issues, including the use of open educational resources, provides an opportunity to support learners by demonstrating great practice that we shouldn’t be missing out on.

While it’s great news that the majority of school staff in the UK have embraced a culture of sharing and reusing resources, the informality of this sharing ultimately limits and localises benefits – benefits that could be that could be more fully realised through open licensing. It means that staff and schools very often don’t get credit for their work – in turn making it harder for others to contact them and develop collaborative practices. Staff and schools may find their work being used and reused in ways that they aren’t happy with. Sharing and promoting work publically is also fundamentally limited if that work contains elements that the author doesn’t have permission to include and hasn’t accredited appropriately.  For example, if I’ve created a great, high quality and effective resource, which contains an image I’m not sure if I have the rights to use, or an activity that was informally adopted from someone else’s shared work, I am going to be less inclined to attach my name to that work and make it publically available for others to use. Schools can and have been fined for publishing images and using other resources online that they don’t have rights to. Being confident about the content of resources, including web pages, and properly attributing any content we have built on, means that they can be made publicly available and promoted – many of our staff and schools are producing amazing work, that they should rightly be proud of, that could be used and built on by other educators locally and globally to support learners.

The other key drivers with respect to this area of school and school staff digital literacy practice are the ones that get mentioned again and again – time and money.  Open education licences and practices have a long and established history. Creative Commons, the leading provider of open licences globally, was established in 2001, and there are somewhere around 900 million CC Licensed works currently online. UNESCO adopted the term ‘open education resources’ (OER) in 2002. Schools and school staff can’t take advantage of the existence of OER and openly licensed materials if they don’t know about them.

Imagine the time and money that could be saved if instead of 70 staff individually creating resources to support the same learning objective, resources were pooled and developed collaboratively, so that time could be spent instead on refining model resources to best suit the needs of learners. The reality of the situation is actually staggering in terms of the numbers of staff currently struggling in silos with very limited capacity and resources, with this situation being replicated across and multiplied by the whole of the curriculum. In this context, it becomes a practical matter of urgency that we take a fresh look at how schools and school staff globally work with, create and share digital resources, and how open and collaborative working practices can better support our learners. Open licences, which build on top of existing copyright frameworks, provide a clear indication as to how resources can be used – providing legal and practical foundations for the development resources and of collaborative approaches.

In Leicester, we’ve been taking the first steps on this journey. Working with Dr. Bjorn Hassler and Helen Neo, and with our school staff acting as critical friends to the project, we’ve produced easy to understand OER guidance for school staff on what open educational resources are, how to find them, how to develop and accredit them, and how to create and share them.

As well as ensuring the guidance is as practical as possible, we’ve produced walkthroughs for staff to demonstrate how easy it is to change and enhance current practice by using OERs. For example, we’ve created simple guides to finding and accrediting openly licensed images on the photo sharing site Flickr, to enhance resources, presentations, and web pages.

The work we’ve done is not just about supporting staff in tapping into the great range of resources out there, but to encourage and support them to contribute to open education by creating and sharing their own OER. In order to do this, we’ve had to take a look at Intellectual Property and employment laws. In the UK, as in many other countries, unless there is a specific agreement in place, your employer is likely to have ownership of the intellectual property rights and copyright of the work you produce in the line of your employment. This doesn’t just apply to school employees, but it’s worth addressing in the case of public employees, particularly those who are producing educational resources. I believe very strongly that where publicly funded educational resources can benefit others than the group of learners they have been created for, they should be shared openly. This ensures we get the best possible value from the work we are doing, and helps to put in place the working practices we need to establish to put an end to the wasted time and money we are spending on duplicating resources locally.

To facilitate this, Leicester City Council has given blanket permission for all it’s school employees to openly licence the educational resources they are producing for work. The council employs the majority of teaching staff in the city, but there are several types of school where the governing body is the legal employer – for example, academies, trusts and some faith schools. To support these schools we’ve produced model local OER policies that can be adopted and adapted to support their employees. The policies, guidance and resources can all be downloaded from our schools website and are openly licensed, so they can be used, adapted and reused for free. They have already been adapted for the university and further education sectors by Jorum, and are being translated into French and Portuguese by the African Virtual University.

I’m very proud of the start we’ve made across the city to introduce and embed open educational practices and resources, and I very much hope that other cities, regions and countries will benefit from and build on our work here –  please do enjoy, use and share our work, and help us to open and connect educational practice.

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Eye Gaze for Assessment – Project Update

etherhall School are exploring how eye tracking systems can be used to support and provide accurate assessments of learners with disabilities and creating support materials for staff wanting to use eye tracker technology with learners. You can read the initial project post here.

The project is being led by Erica Dennies and Helen Robinson. The school has provided the following update:

In December 2014 we trailed a range of different programmes to use with the eye tracking technology. Having hands on experience of the range software available allowed us to make informed choices about which were most appropriate to use for the project. We’ve invested in a programme called Tobii Gaze Viewer. This is an assessment tool which records the eye tracking data from any application which can then be saved as a single image or a video. It uses heat maps and gaze plots which we can then use to assess the pupil’s ability to use the eye tracker and their cognitive understanding. For example we can assess understanding of language comprehension, prepositions, colours or size by analysing where the pupil is looking on the screen. It can also record the audio track of people talking in the room so we can record the level of verbal prompting staff gave to pupils. It will provide us with exactly the data we need to be able to use eye tracking technology as an assessment tool. It is however expensive at £617 for a single user licence.

The other software packages we trialled and purchased gave us a range of graded activities to use with eye tracking technology. This provides us with pre-made activities to use with pupils.

Originally we anticipated having 2 tablets of different sizes, the larger 18” and a smaller 10”. The smaller screen would allow us to work more closely with a small number of pupils who are not easily positioned in front of a screen; when positioned over a physiotherapy wedge for example. The smaller visual field would ensure ease of view with less screen to scan and less head movement required.

However, escalating costs of software was making it difficult to keep within our budget. To keep in budget, we reduced the size of the screen view on the 18” screen and put a black backdrop behind the images for those pupils who needed a smaller image. So we purchased just the 18” screen. For most pupils however, a full image on an18” screen provides an excellent sized image.

Our final order of items required for the project were as follows;

  • SB18 18” classroom touchscreen PC running Windows 8 which comes with additional amplification, switch connections and mounting plate.
  • Tobii PC Eye to Eye tracking camera
  • Floor stand
  • Gaze Viewer assessment software
  • Look to learn software
  • Scenes and Sounds software
  • Sensory Eye FX


The Tobii camera is portable and can be used on any PC or laptop. It is highly accurate and quick to set up. We have found it very easy to use and reliable. The software we purchased is designed for the earliest level of computer access allowing all our pupils to engage with the technology at the simplest level. We will be able to comment further on their value when we have completed the project.

We also bought a day’s training from Smartbox who supplied all the hardware and software. This took place in January and provided us with detailed knowledge of how to set up and use the Tobii eye gaze and all the activities available on the software and how the assessment software worked.

We chose a group of seven pupils for the cohort, assuming that some pupils would be absent from school or non-co-operative. We could therefore guarantee a cohort of four in the final project.

To gather baseline information about our cohort of pupils, we devised and distributed a simple, open question questionnaire to send to parents, teachers and other professionals who work with the child. We asked questions about what the child likes to watch, did they recognise photos of themselves, favourite activities, favourite sounds etc. We also asked if the respondent thought that the child could understand drawings, symbols, photos, real objects, and questions about their ability to track objects and see them in different positions.

This information gave us a view as to what understanding different people held about the child’s visual skills and their cognitive level with regard to taking meaning from two dimensional images. It also gave us information about what would interest the child and be more likely to hold their attention. We received all the questionnaires back from professionals and a few from parents, collecting sufficient detail to inform our strategies and develop some of our own activities to use with individual children with the eye gaze.

We videoed each child in their normal classroom situation so we could record their usual levels of attention and comprehension. We could observe if they were comprehending the activities they were participating in and what form of representational images they were gathering information from. This formed our baseline.

We were now ready to start using the eye gaze with individual pupils and recording their levels of interaction with the screen using the Gaze Viewer software. Each pupil had an initial session with the eye gaze participating in activities which we thought they would like and which would engage them in using the technology. We also videoed the pupil during the session so we could link their physical movements with their heat maps. The maps show where the pupil had looked on the screen and for how long. The areas where pupils had looked the longest show a red blob, less frequent gazes are shown in green So, if the heat map was not showing any evidence of the child looking at the screen, we could check the video to see in the child had looked away, or closed their eyes.

At the end of the session we had evidence of the heat maps showing where the pupil had looked on the screen and for how long, the gaze plot of the order in which they looked at images on the screen, the audio track of what was said during the session and video of the pupil’s face whilst they were participating in the session.

Our initial learning from this first round of sessions is:

  • Gaze Viewer is an excellent tool for analysing if the child is looking at the screen and what they are looking at.
  • Activities on the purchased software have a lot of detail and can be confusing or just not interesting for the child. So we had to make some simple activities using our own single images produced using Powerpoint.
  • We found it was worth taking time to collect evidence from others who knew the young people well about their interests – we designed activities in response to this and these did hold our pupils attention.
  • The eye gaze does not need to be calibrated for that specific child for it to pick up the child’s gaze and provide informative data.

Now the pupils are happy to engage with the eye gaze and we have seen them with the technology, we are now going to run a second set of sessions with specific activities to test the pupil’s cognition and check if our understanding of their understanding of specific concepts is accurate.

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