Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Ah, I Remember What I Liked About BETT!

Blogging is a strange thing. If you know me, then you'll know I do tend to say things as I see them. My blogs are often a reflection of how I feel about something and tend to 'ramble' somewhat as I commit these to the screen. Therefore writing these things down and publishing them to the public, does sometimes leave me feeling a little exposed. In my last blog, I mentioned how I personally felt that the BETT show, since moving to Excel had become very 'corporate' and that it didn't have the noise, hustle and bustle and dare I say the heart, that was so very much part of BETT when it was at Olympia. Was this just me, or did anyone else feel the same? Unless someone comments on a blog post I don't really know how people are reacting to what I've have written. Are they indifferent, whole heartedly agree or really upset with the things I write? Interestingly that last post did generate some feedback from people who read it. They generally seemed to agree with the problems around trying to get teachers from Wales to visit or with the corporate nature of this education event. It's nice to now that I'm not the only one who was feeling this way.

So, what about BETT 2015 itself? Well, I arrived on Friday afternoon at the Excel, on what is traditionally the busiest day of the event. I met up with a good friend and we began our expedition around the hall. A generalisation but this is what I saw; lots of shiny new things from people telling us that they are much better than the shiny things you bought last year, many companies selling you pupil tracking and assessment platforms, and companies offering infrastructure solutions. Both Microsoft and Google had very busy stands, with lots of good demonstrations from teachers. Apple, always conspicuous by their absence, the company that just made an historic £11.8bn profit in the last quarter. I seem to remember that several years ago Apple made the world-wide decision not to attend any trade shows. Nothing like engaging with the the education community, who are spending a small fortune on your products, at Europe's biggest educational tech show then!  ;-)

I liked a couple of things. Firstly the Blue-Bot from TTS. I've always had a soft soft for the Bee-Bot and Pro-Bot in the primary school. Basically the Blue-Bot is a Bee-Bot that can be controlled via Bluetooth from an iPad app (Android coming shortly). Create a sequence on the app, send it to the Blue-Bot, debug the sequence if required and resend. Much like the Raspberry Pi, the Blue-Bot has a clear shell so that pupils can see the workings inside. Unlike the Bee-Bot the Blue-Bot can also perform 45 degree turns. Great stuff.

I was also really happy to see that Google Play for Education has finally been released in the UK. Schools with managed Android tablets and Chromebooks now have a very easy way to select and deploy apps to individual students, a whole class or the whole school. In my opinion it's taken far too long for Google to sort this out, but now that it has it could very well be a game changer for schools in the UK.

I was also quite taken with the ongoing developments in 2Simple's Purple Mash 2Code product. I believe that subscribers should shortly be able to have access to detailed lesson plans to go alongside a lot of other teacher support materials already available. Finally ZU3D tickled my fancy. A very simple but effective stop frame animation tool that can be used on a Mac, PC or iPad. Great opportunities to use technology to support literacy.

Reflecting on things, I now realise what it was I really enjoyed and found valuable about BETT, it was actually the seminar program (which you notice I haven't mentioned once in this post). For the last couple of years I'm sorry to say haven't been into one session due to lack of time, or perhaps focus. Several years ago our team would visit for at least two or three days. This gave me time to look around but also to get into seminars to listen to what's going on in schools. In the past I have picked up some great ideas and approaches. It's a shame that most teachers would not have the time to be able to do this. Therefore my resolution for next year is this - a two day visit built around the seminar program. In between these sessions I shall stroll around this corporate gathering, viewing stands with newer super improved shiny things, and drinking lots of coffee :-)

Thursday, 22 January 2015

A Place To Stay 'Fresh'

Another year, another BETT Show begins and I'm going to be travelling up to Excel London tomorrow (Friday) to attend. I first visited as a classroom teacher and ICT coordinator in about 1999. An early morning Friday start, on a coach arranged by the local authority, full of excited teachers, happy to have escaped their school for the day. A four hour trip (if we were lucky and there were no hold ups) down the M4 to Olympia, London. Since then I think I've attended every single BETT event, first at Olympia and more recently at its new home at the Excel in London's Docklands. In about 2009 I even gave a presentation at BETT on the use of the CBBC Bamzooki software in classroom to support ICT modelling. However, I've noticed that over the last couple of years I don't get the same sense of excitement about attending. During the last couple of days I've been thinking about why I feel like this. I am actually looking forward to meeting some colleagues that I work with there, and I have a couple of other meetings with friends, but not necessarily about seeing the event itself. To me, since the move to the Excel it's become 'corporate'. Corporate is the only word I can think of to describe it. The Excel is certainly a modern, purpose built facility for this type of exhibition, one can even find a chair to sit down and eat at the many and varied food outlets! But to me, it just doesn't have the same 'buzz' that Olympia had. I also think that the move to Excel has put off many teachers from my part of the UK attending. Travelling in a coach across London is probably going to add at least another 45 mins onto the journey, likewise my journey on the underground and DLR from London Paddington. It can be a long, tiring day of travelling. Perhaps it's the travelling I'm not looking forward to?

So, what is point am I trying to make here? Well if you ignore my whinge about it being 'corporate' ("Get over it Gareth and move with the times!"), I am concerned about the number of classroom teachers and more so the strategic leads for ICT in a school who get to visit. Those first couple of years that I attended, really helped to enthuse me in my subject and provided me with lots of ideas about where I wanted to take ICT in my school. But all around Wales those LA teams who may have organised buses for teachers have gone. I personally believe that going to an exhibition like BETT helps to keep you 'fresh' as the lead person for technology in your school. It's an excellent place to see first hand many of the latest technologies for learning and teaching, and also going into seminars and listening to what practitioners from around the country are doing in their classes. If you are looking to develop your 'vision' for how technologies are going to be used across your school over the next couple of years, it's an excellent place to begin to shape your thoughts.........even if it is all a bit too 'corporate' ;-)

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Downloading YouTube Videos

I haven't blogged for a while but I've just seen something I thought was really neat and I thought I should share it. At one time I used to do a lot of work with schools on using film trailers. One activity we used to do with classes was using a recent trailer in iMovie, strip off the audio track and get the children to rebuild the trailer using original music they've created from Garageband, adding sound effects, and a new narration track. Some great opportunities for literacy work and the creative use of audio. I used to use Zamzar to help me download the video, however several years ago this feature was removed. However, I've just seen a very useful tweet that showed me how to download Youtube videos very easily. Basically between the www. and the just add ss - eg. You then get taken to a page where you can download the video to your computer. Simples!
REMEMBER - Think about copyright and don't be tempted to post these videos on your school websites. Use these as practice examples and get the children to create their own original trailers.