DigiLittle Acorns: a personal learning network

Since December 2013, the science department at English Martyrs’ Catholic School have been working together on The DigiLittle Acorns Learning Network project. The network itself is intended initially as a school-wide platform, where staff can share information about innovative projects they are working on. As part of the bid, the school’s science department have been working on three main strands of activity:

  • App development
  • Trialling existing apps
  • Developing the DigiLittle Acorns Personal Learning Network (PLN)

The main project team consists of: Christine Turner, project lead and Chemistry teacher; Ian Sadler, Chemistry teacher and Stephanie Patrick, Biology teacher. Ian’s work has focused around the creation of apps for use in Science teaching, Stephanie’s work has focused on existing apps and evaluating their use and Christine has focused largely on the PLN, but also on supporting her colleagues throughout the project process. Other staff from within the department have also participated in the project.

digilittle acorns

 

Since December 2013, the science department at English Martyrs’ Catholic School have been working together on The DigiLittle Acorns Learning Network project. The network itself is intended initially as a school-wide platform, where staff can share information about innovative projects they are working on. As part of the bid, the school’s science department have been working on three main strands of activity:

  • App development
  • Trialling existing apps
  • Developing the DigiLittle Acorns Personal Learning Network (PLN)

The main project team consists of: Christine Turner, project lead and Chemistry teacher; Ian Sadler, Chemistry teacher and Stephanie Patrick, Biology teacher. Ian’s work has focused around the creation of apps for use in Science teaching, Stephanie’s work has focused on existing apps and evaluating their use and Christine has focused largely on the PLN, but also on supporting her colleagues throughout the project process. Other staff from within the department have also participated in the project.

App Development

App development was the first activity undertaken, as it took time to order and receive the iPads and Appshed could be used on a PC in the meantime.  Both Ian and Christine made and trialled (on a small, pilot scale) apps that they had made using Appshed.  Both found learning how to use Appshed was fairly straightforward using the videos linked to the Appshed website.

After creating their first apps, it was time to upload, test them, and look for mistakes.  It is worth noting that developers can still edit their apps and users are be able to update their apps when they are connected to the internet. The apps produced were used with Year 10 and Year 11 Chemistry classes as homework and with Year 12 and 13 Chemistry classes both in class and at home (student evaluation can be found in the project report below).

Ian also supported a teacher in another school (Uppingham Community College) in learning how to produce her own app. This teacher went on to provide whole school training to her staff, the PowerPoint from which can be accessed at http://www.slideshare.net/ChristineTurner2/producing-an-app-digilittleacorns.

App Trials

Stephanie wanted to investigate some existing apps to try out with students.  She initially found some free AQA Revision iBooks and thought that they were great.  However, the books went from being free to £3.49 each, so they were not downloaded.  In fact it was noted that many apps that were free at the start of the project now have a small cost. The team aimed to locate free apps wherever possible.

A number of apps were trialled by the team, including:

  • Infection – a biological warfare game in which the player attempts to infect the global population – used for studying microbes and disease.
  • Energy Island – a game in which the player is responsible for providing energy to the inhabitants of Siemens Island, in an economical and environmentally friendly way.
  • Educreations – turns your device into a recordable whiteboard. The application records audio, images and handwriting to help users to create video lessons.

At the end of the project, Stephanie created the following table to summarise all of the apps that she had trialled:

App Name

Year Group

Subject

Possible use

Calculator

All

All

Any lesson involving numeracy
ShowMe + Educreations

All

All

Presentation tool – best for students to produce a quick presentation which can incorporate photos and other media  e.g. human body model or circuits
Formulas Lite

12-13

12

Chemistry

Chemistry

Identifying homologous seriesTeaching names of polyatomic ions
Nova elements

9-11

Chemistry

Allows students to build atoms; teaching electronic structure and the Periodic Table
Cell Stain

12-13

Biology

Allows students to stain their own cell in order to visualise organelles
Physical Science Glossary

All

Physics

Contains flashcards and videos of physics concepts and vocabulary
Visible Body

All

Biology

Contains 12 excellent quality free videos showing how the human body works
AtomsHD

9-11

Chemistry

Allows students to build atoms; teaching electronic structure
Planets

7-11

Physics

Shows appearance of planets and location of constellations in the night sky
Jurassic

10

8

Chemistry

Geology

Teaching students about PangaeaShows sedimentary rock formation
Xperica

9-11

Physics

Contains 4 physics experiments –moments, heat capacity, resistance and oscillations from which students can collect data
Chem Spider

12-13

Chemistry

Shows how to draw organic molecules
iCell

All

Biology

Teaching students cell structure during topics 7A and 8C
Mitosis

12

Biology

Teaching different stages of mitosis.  Contains videos and tests.
Infection

7-9

Biology

Teaching students about the spread of infection, pandemics and vectors
Siemens Energy Island

7-10

Physics

Teaching students about the different methods of electricity generation and resources
Half Life Hero

11

Physics

Teaching students about uses of radioactive isotopes

Further trials, and student evaluations can be found in the full project report below.

DigiLittle Acorns PLN

The first part of the development of the Personal Learning Network was the development of the website.  Initially, this PLN was designed to host three case studies.  Each case study focused on one ICT feature that will improve digital literacy in several of the DigiLit framework strands. The project timeline was decided upon and uploaded to the website using Dipity, and a forum was also added. This was in addition to the Facebook group, as Facebook could not be accessed at school.  The blog provided an opportunity to connect to anyone interested in the project and also helped when writing project reports as it detailed the steps of the project in chronological order.  The website was maintained by Christine throughout the project.

Two main connections with other schools have been made during this project.  Firstly, there has been some networking with Rushey Mead school’s science department who are currently investigating whether they could use the iPads which exist in the school (but not specifically in their department) to enhance science lessons. Secondly an app share has taken place between Uppingham Community College, who kindly allowed us to use their app and have been trying out ours in return. This was an effective partnership set up by Ian. In addition, the Twitter account has gathered some followers from across the city, for example @LessonToolbox (a colleague from The City of Leicester College).

Christine also felt that the project has been successful in developing the digital literacy of her colleagues, particularly those who rated their skills and confidence at Core level in the 2013 DigiLit Leicester Survey.

To summarise, the project reports that when considering the use of iPads in lessons, students find them easy to use, fun to use and able to be used as a tool for learning.  When considering the use of Appshed to build apps, developers find it easy to use, if cumbersome, and users find the apps made easy to use, and able to be used as a tool for learning.  There is much scope for building better and more fun apps.  When considering the development of a Personal Learning Network, tools that support this are Twitter, Facebook, blogs and websites and the benefits of these are increased communication opportunities with colleagues inside and outside school, and across the city.

More information can be found at the project website: http://digilittleacorns.weebly.com/

Report

The team have written up their project as a piece of action research. The full report, including methodology and detailed findings, can be accessed here:

DigiLittle Acorns PLN Final Report             Word               PDF

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