Just before Christmas 2012, I was presented with an iPad. I was told to take it home over the holidays and practice using it because next term I would be using it to support some of the children in my class. At first I was extremely excited and it resulted in me going out the very next day and purchasing a little Christmas present to myself…… the iPhone 5. That evening whilst attempting to set up and get to grips with my new phone it dawned upon me that my ICT skills left much to be desired.

This led me to reflect upon my own experiences with technology. My parents always wanted me to be technology lingual. I remember when my father brought home our very first computer a Commodore Amiga 500. I spent hours playing ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘Bubble Bobble’. Over a number of Christmas’s my sister and I received Game Boys, a Sega Mega Drive and a Nintendo 64 and I remember playing ‘Super Mario’. I have bought myself a laptop, a Wii (which only comes out at Christmas, New Year and whenever the family get together), a Play Station and a baby pink DS Lite. My thoughts then spread to the mobile phones that I had used and the development from personal tape player to personal CD player and most recently the iPod that was my daily companion whilst travelling around the world for seven months.

I know you must be thinking, why is she telling us about her life experiences when what I want to know is about how I could use iPads within the classroom, but I shall reach my point shortly. For me each piece of technology was a fad, something I wanted because it was what everyone wanted, the latest craze. My knowledge of how they all worked was very limited and often my use of these products was for a very limited time. I lost interest very quickly whereas my sisters persevered. I had to ask myself why this had become a repetitive pattern in my life. The answers were because I often became confused, I didn’t give myself time to experiment with new things and I was a little bit scared of breaking it by pressing the wrong button.

The iPad that was sat in my handbag suddenly became quite a daunting piece of equipment, something that I had been given that I would have to learn how to use effectively and most importantly become confident with. It dawned upon me that receiving this iPad would change my whole way of thinking about technology, both within my professional and personal life. However, here I am over six months later typing this very article on that ever so worrisome iPad that has changed the way I teach, plan and assess. Initially I was given the iPad to support SEN children within my class and I have focused upon this area within this article.

Initially I looked for books that were child friendly and would encourage children to read on a regular basis. We now have a number of books available for children where they can have the story read to them, or read with the iPad, they are also able to record their own voices reading the story. These books allow the children to read independently but still have support when they feel they need it. For one child an IEP Target related to her use of vocabulary and ability to discuss objects and pictures. I downloaded an app called ‘WIld Friends’ created by Fotopedia which allows you access to thousands of beautiful pictures of animals. It has lead to many interesting discussions about the pictures she does and does not like and importantly she is encouraged to express her opinions about them. Also, she is now able to explain and identify what is similar and different about the animals. The ‘Toca Monsters’ app helps to encourage discussions about food and helps you to address issues with food that children may have; for example why people like or dislike certain types of food, how to cook food and why it is important to eat our lunches etc. This was particularly supportive tool when covering the Science topic ‘Healthy Eating’ and next year I will be using it to support EAL learners within the class to introduce key vocabulary for the unit.

To support children with weak writing skills I have recently used the ‘Toontastic’ app. This is an app that allows you to create a cartoon following a very simple set of instructions which are both written and spoken. The children have a choice of characters and settings which I then encouraged them to plan and create a story about. To create their story the children then manipulated the characters around the screen and recorded their voices for each character. This app was particularly supportive for children who are EAL as it took away the ‘writing’ aspect of story writing and allowed them be creative orally, which lead to spontaneous creativity. What I found using this app is that even though I had used and practiced using this app prior to the lesson, the children’s inhibitions and willingness to experiment meant that they soon exceeded my knowledge.

There are a number of games that support and help develop key skills for learners. I have used simple matching games such as ‘Touch then Match’ and simple puzzles that are aimed at young children and were ideal for particular children within my class. I have also found that playing games and just using the iPads regularly has helped to develop the children’s fine motor skills. Having to manoeuvre and manipulate images on the screen has resulted in better pencil grip and neater handwriting.

Having had regular sessions with iPads I have also noticed a boost in confidence for many of my children. A dyslexic child in my class found it very difficult to begin any task independently and needed reassurance throughout every lesson. When they were first introduced to the iPads he reacted in the same way. However, a few weeks later he was happy to try any new activity on the iPad independently and now feels confident to experiment and find out solutions for himself. Last week he taught me how to use ‘Minecraft’ a complex building game, and was extremely supportive when I became confused and needed help. This has had a positive effect upon him in other lessons too where he now enjoys the challenge of working independently.

The iPad has also become a key assessment tool within my classroom and practice. In any lesson I can quickly take pictures of what the children are doing or have achieved. I am able to record group and class discussions quickly and can reflect upon them when evaluating my lessons. Particularly within PE and Music sessions you can record the children and have them immediately evaluate their own work and identify their own next steps to make an impact upon their progression. Stories, cartoons, films etc that the children create can be downloaded and watched by all, giving them a greater purpose for the work that they are generating. The TA’s and other adults who support during lessons are also able to use this technology, which ensures I can assess my class’s progress more thoroughly.

Teachers as the creators of the technology

The time where teachers just modelled or facilitated learning using new technologies has long passed.Recently, their interest in new technologies started to shift from ‘user’ profile to ‘creator’. Today, there are fantastic apps and softwares designed directly by teachers. The story behind each creators interest in making an app or software is going to vary. I tried out Math Evolve for iPads and I had to say I was very impressed not only with the design features of the app, but also with its content. Looking at how the progression of mathematical concepts were created. I wondered if the designer had talked to a maths teacher. I was neither right nor wrong as the designer was a teacher. So this is the story behind the creation of MATH EVOLVE by ADAM COCCARI, Founder of InterAction Education and an Elementary school teacher.

The Concept

The origins of Math Evolve began long ago, when I was a child growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, enchanted by the thrill and creativity of playing video games. However, like most inventions, the idea to create a maths game came from practical challenges in my daily life. I started teaching 4th grade in a small independent school with no formal training or education degree. I knew that I loved working with kids and helping people learn, so I thought it would be a great place to start.  The school quickly saw my interest and ability to teach maths concepts, so I was put in charge of the maths classes and curriculum for 4th grade. As you probably remember, in 3rd and 4th grade you are forced to memorize your multiplication facts (times tables), usually through a mixture of flash cards, verbal recitation, and speed drills. Some children take to this naturally and learn them quickly, but for others it is painful. Unlike some subjects, knowing the multiplication facts is absolutely because they are the foundation of all maths that comes afterwards (fractions, percentages, ratios, ect).  So, it became my task to get my students to reach automaticity with the facts through any means necessary.  I would use every tool in my arsenal: flash cards, visual aids, physical toys, and long speeches to teach them about how important it was.

I would have them play games, jump around the room like a madman, and even have them do relay races involving multiplication, all with the hopes of getting them excited about maths.

It was a tough battle, because at the core of it, memorizing these facts is really boring for most kids.  The flash cards and quizzes can feel like torture, and it becomes even harder when they get home.  They need to practice in the evenings, but the kids loathe it and the parents don’t want to get in fights every night about it.  It becomes a source of tension for a lot of parents, and most would rather give up and enjoy the time with their kids than get in a fight every night about flash cards.

It was in this context that I realized that both teachers and parents needed better ways to make maths. We used a computer lab for an hour a week, and I started using a lot of free educational games on the Internet to reinforce the maths facts. I grew up loving video games as a kid, so I knew first hand how engrossing and rewarding games could be. The kids loved the games because they provided a fun change of pace, instant feedback, and competition amongst each other. I saw the power of educational games and the potential they held, but most of the games that were available were very basic and cheaply made, so the kids would tire of them quickly and never choose to play them in their own time.

It was around this time that the iPad was first released, and I bought the first version.  I brought it over to a student’s house for a tutoring session, because I knew this particular student was obsessed with video games but had a deep aversion to maths. I found a few maths games for him to play, and I watched as his fear and anger toward maths practice melted away as he tried to defeat some robot dogs in an app called Maths Ninja. I saw how well the touch screen worked as a device for educational content, and his anxiety about maths was alleviated when presented in a game context. Although I found a few good apps for my students to play, I was surprised by the general lack of truly fun and high-quality educational games available for the iPad and iPhone (this was 2010). Most apps merely presented the facts in flash card format, requiring you to simply type in or touch the correct answer. These apps usually had the maths separate from the game, thus the game became a thinly-veiled way to get children to practice maths facts in the traditional format.

 After surveying the app market, I knew that I could do better. With my understanding of video games and the wacky tastes of 4th graders, I felt confident that I could create a game that would be fun and entertaining for anyone, regardless of the fact that it was ‘educational’. My goal was to create a maths game that would be so fun that children would choose to play it on their own, thus turning maths practice into something that students would want to engage in happily instead of being a battle. The CreationAfter deciding that I would invest my life savings into creating a maths game, I started coming up with game concepts that could match my vision. I would draw designs on paper, and thought of many different styles of games that could be integrated with maths.    A friend of mine suggested a game in which you flew through the sky in three dimensions, hitting numbers to solve equations.  I really liked the idea, but I had been enjoying a few top-down shooter games on the iPad and decided to make it a 2-d reminiscent of old games I grew up loving.I began designing the game through a mixture of mock-ups, written specifications, crudely made demos. I knew that i wanted it to play and feel like a classic video game, with multiple levels, weapon upgrades, bosses, and an engaging narrative.  At the same time, I wanted the app to function effectively in a classroom setting and provide valuable feedback for teachers. From the beginning I knew that I wanted to support multiple student profiles and include a Practice Mode that was highly customizable and tracked student performance. Once I had a good idea of what I wanted, I started looking for people to help me bring it to life.It was around this time I had the incredible fortune of partnering with the person that would give Math Evolve its visual style and personality. Clinton Bopp, the art teacher at my school, was an incredible painter and illustrator pursuing a separate career as an artist. I mentioned my project to him one day, and he instantly offered to help, no questions asked.  We started by brainstorming the theme and setting for the game; should it be set underwater? In Outer space? In the jungle? Our creative sessions were loose and freewheeling, and would always involve us drawing ideas and throwing concepts on the wall.In the end, we ended up with a variety of different themes but couldn’t decide which one we liked the best. This is why we decided to use just a few of them, and have the main character ‘evolve’ through the different environments. When I mentioned the concept to my students, they responded positively and excitedly started adding their twist on it. My students became an amazing source of inspiration and a critical part of the creative process. We would bring in the new drawings and ask for their input, and they would come up to me at recess and tell me about ideas they had for the game.One of my students came to me in class one one day said, “You should have one of those crazy fishes with the lightbulb on their head, but have it shoot lasers!””Genius,” I replied, and that became the boss for level 8.  It was very satisfying having the students at school involved, because they loved seeing some of their ideas come to life and it kept us true to the zany and original style that appeals to kids. We originally had an orca whale as a main character, but we discovered that the girls much preferred a dolphin. They helped us select and shape our designs until we had a final set of enemies and characters that would be included in Math Evolve.Finding the right team to create the app was difficult, but I settled on a video game studio in Colombia and partnered with a publisher in New York called Zephyr Games. I wanted a company that was experienced with creating games, not just apps, because if Math Evolve was going to stand out among the thousands of other maths apps on the store, I knew that it was going to have to be a truly premium experience that was as good as the apps kids played on their own for fun. I managed the development process on the side, often coming home from work and staying up late at night to test the latest version and send feedback to Colombia.

As the app developed, I would bring it in to school and have my students and friends test it and provide feedback. As in all projects like this, we made lots of changes along the way in response to input from our testers. The most important insight was that some kids were very good at video games but struggled with the maths, whilst others were very good at the maths elements but had no experience playing a game like Math Evolve.  This caused me to separate the game difficulty and the maths difficulty options, which is the feature that makes Math Evolve suitable for a very wide range of skills and abilities.

Math Evolve In The Wild

Now that Math Evolve has been out for 18 months, I couldn’t be happier with the response it has received from both parents, teachers, and students around the world. It has received many wonderful reviews and rewards, and is now available on every platform.  I have had many parents write to me and leave reviews saying that Math Evolve is their child’s favorite app, or that it is the only way they can get their child to practice maths. This let me know that we were successful in realizing my initial goals, and that Math Evolve has given parents a fun way to improve and reinforce maths facts at home without a battle.

We have also seen lots of educational sales from schools and districts around the world. I think the best way to use Math Evolve in a classroom setting is as a change-of-pace activity to reinforce the facts that students are learning through other methods, or as a station through which groups of students rotate. Other teachers use it as a reward (which I love), for successfully completing other maths assignments. I don’t know exactly where and how it is being used everywhere, but It’s great to occasionally see things about Math Evolve being used in education. Just last week the New York Times published an article about the use of iPads in Dutch schools, and opened the piece by saying that Math Evolve has been incorporated into the curriculum of the Netherlands. A teacher sent me a video once on twitter of her entire classroom in England playing Math Evolve together, and all the kids were cheering and celebrating as they destroyed the enemies.  These moments make me feel like we have truly succeeded and also incredibly proud, knowing that an idea that started as a dream and sketches on paper has touched thousands of students across the world.

Please visit for more information.

Associate professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa

What is the Problem?

The problem is that home literacy is changing faster than school-based literacy. There is a widening gap between the literacy that children are experiencing at school and what they are engaging with at home. For example, my ten-year-old son Connor was reading the novel Cabin on Trouble Creek (Van Leeuwen, 2008) at school and doing homework assignments related to this novel, but as soon as he was done, he was either on a smartphone, IPod, or IPad engaged in digital literacies using digital technologies. Not too long ago, school-based literacies and home-based literacies were more similar. Students were reading books in print at school and at home with the difference being mostly the selection of reading material. With the ever growing availability of new literacies for children, books in print are quickly becoming boring and obsolete. Our family has book shelves at home filled with a huge array of print literature representing various genres and topics that Connor is able to read, including many graphic novels and comic books, but they are beginning to gather dust. He loves to read, but print books no longer hold his interest; they can’t compete with the trans-literature available through multimedia interactions that involve all of his senses.

What is Minecraft?

Minecraft is a video game originally created by Swedish programmer and designer Markus “Notch” Persson and fully published in 2011. The game illustrates a virtual world or an online community that takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment. Players create and take the form of avatars which are visible, that can interact with each other and use and create objects.

Communication between players include text, graphical icons, visual gestures, and sounds. Some communication may also include using touch, voice command, and balance senses, depending on the version and technology being used by the players. Because of the interplay of senses being provided, players experience the sensations of telepresence or the feeling of actually being present within the imaginary, fantasy world.

The creation of the world. Minecraft is a three dimensional, procedurally generated audiovisual world meaning that the computer graphics and sound, including speech and music, are automatically created by the computer program with seemingly infinite variation. In the beginning, players are given a seed or a number that is used to initialize the creation of the world. Multimedia including the combination of text, audio, animation, video, and interactivity come into play to fully enhance the fantasy experience for the players.

The Appeal and Benefits

The information content of Minecraft is relative to the literature genre of high fantasy in which a highly complex imaginary world is created by the author. Even though this world could not exist in reality, it is so effectively developed that the world seems real and believable to the reader, but in the format of a trans-literature game, the reader is known as the player. The genre of high fantasy appeals to both boys and girls, and Minecraft is also played by both. Just as in high quality fantasy, players are able to transcend everyday experiences. Minecraft engages the players in battles, danger, fearful creatures, weapons, and real things and places that they can learn more about and talk about with friends. These discussions can take place through social media technologies such as weblogs, social blogs, podcasts, and wikis, to name a few. Through engagement with Minecraft, students can learn technological skills. Minecraft can be played on desktop computers, IPods, IPads, laptops, and smartphones, and is filled with an ever changing array of items through updates that students can read about and look forward to. Students enjoy competition and challenges. Minecraft has various means for players to achieve or complete certain tasks, but there is no end-game involved, so players have infinite choices and experiences. Minecraft encourages exploration and invention on the part of the player, something students appreciate, therefore, the challenges are not required in order to participate in the game, but rather are present in case players want to try them.

Instructional Applications of Minecraft

The instructional applications of Minecraft range through all subject areas studied in the classroom and include the following topics and themes: farming (animals and crops), natural resources, adventure, survival, hunting, exploration, mining, smelting, crafting, building, and trading or bartering. Below, I have explained curricular relationships of the game to the main subject areas typically taught in the classroom.

Reading and Writing. Players learn about each of the content elements and how to participate in Minecraft through reading written text within the game itself, however; reading about how to engage in Minecraft does not stop there. Players can also participate and learn through collaborative trans-literacy projects available within Wikipedia, blogs, micro-blogs, and wiki pages. Players can read and write through content communities such as YouTube and DailyMotion, and social networking sites such as Facebook. Students can engage in the participatory culture of creating and publishing their own multimedia projects based upon their responses to Minecraft.

Science. The world of Minecraft lends itself to the study of the Earth sciences. The Minecraft world is divided into biomes or the world’s major habitats that range from deserts, grasslands, rainforests, and tundra. The biomes contain land features such as mountains, caves, plains, valleys, and various bodies of water. Players can lean about each of these biomes through exploration and interacting with the natural materials located in each biome.

Students can learn about the concepts of physics. Players in Minecraft are able to virtually move matter through time and space with energy and force. Complex systems can be constructed by the players using primitive mechanical devices, but students can also learn more complicated electrical systems using switches, circuits, and magnetism.

Social Studies. Players in the world of Minecraft learn about the primitive tools and resources that were used by people for survival. Students learn to craft their own tools consisting of such things as axes, shovels, and pickaxes from natural resources that they gather from the different biomes. They use the tools that they craft to chop down trees, dig soil, build shelters, and mine and smelter ores and learn that tools made out of stronger resources, such as iron and stone, will perform their tasks more effectively. Although the overall setting of the world of Minecraft draws from the Medieval period of history in Europe, it also, through fantasy, integrates concepts and elements from today’s world and popular culture.

Throughout the course of the game, players encounter various non-player characters known as mobs (short for mobile character), including animals, villagers, and hostile creatures. During the daytime, non-hostile animals such as cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens are generated or spawned, and players can craft tools such as swords, bows and arrows, and axes from wood, stone, iron, gold and diamonds for hunting the animals for food and clothing. Players also have the ability to craft swords and shields from resources that they gather from the biomes that they can use for protection and defense against hostile creatures.

During the nighttime and in dark areas,hostile creatures spawn; including large spiders, skeletons, zombies, and unique to Minecraft, an exploding creature called a Creeper, and a creature called an Enderman that has the ability to teleport, or disappear and reappear in a different location. Players can protect themselves from the hostile creatures by building shelters made from gathering resources in the environments such as dirt and wood, and mining and smeltering cobble stones.

Math and Engineering.

Players in Minecraft learn about maths and engineering concepts through building constructions out of textured three dimensional cubes. This activity is related to the use of computer aided geometric design (CAGD), in which shapes are designed and used for creating objects and space. Students are able to visualize their building ideas and realize their functionality through their own virtual designs.

Bringing Minecraft to Your Classroom

Minecraft can be integrated into your curriculum. MinecraftEDu is an educational organization that was formed in 2011 with the goal of introducing Minecraft into schools. The group works with the publisher to make the video game affordable and accessible to schools. In September 2012, the organization reported that approximately 250,000 students around the world have access to Minecraft through the organization. Besides offering educational discounts, they offer customised versions of the game, simplified multiplayer software, tools for teachers to use for integrating their own content, a free library of activities that teachers can use to teach various subject areas, and they offer on-site workshops and inservice training.


We can prepare our students for being competent in today’s rapidly changing global mainstream by incorporating new literacies into our curriculum and instruction. It’s important that schools keep pace with how technology is being used in the world for getting things done. It may be difficult to set aside novels that are sentimental to us, and replace them with trans-literature, but if we don’t, we run the risk of increasing the divide between the literacies taught in school and the literacies that students engage with at home, and thereby causing students to become even more disenchanted with their education.


Leeuwen, J. V. (2008). Cabin on Trouble Creek. London, UK: Puffin.

Persson, M. (2011). Minecraft [Videogame]. Stockholm, Sweden: Mojang.



As a child I spent many hours sitting and building creations out of Lego. As a parent I have spent hours helping build or just watching my children play. Lego can bring out the inner child in us, it is often the one toy as adults we have the urge to pick up and start to play. So when looking at planning ICT to be told we have Lego WeDo sets (not only Lego but it also connects to the computer!), I have to say my inner child was a little excited. 

After a trial run at home, I managed to build a crocodile and use the software to control movements of the mouth. The software came with the set and could print off a large document with instructions. After several attempt to read and follow, I discovered that plug it in and play around was much more fun. I was ready to go and unleash 30 year 4 children on the sets.

We have enough sets that the children could work in pairs. Sets were handed out and children shown how to locate the instructions to build, and command software on the system. Then I let them play. At first it was clear that many were not regular Lego builders. As I observed and assisted in building, I was able to assess skills in transferring a two dimensional image into an actual three dimensional model. At first there were questions, “Is this the right bit?” or “Does it go there?” This got the response “I don’t know. How we can check?”

Lesson 1 only two pairs completed an activity, and that was just building. However, over the weeks their building skills rapidly improved and they developed ways of describing which bricks they needed. Some of the tasks were more complicated than others. Some had a series of cogs and belts to control movement, which meant that one slight error and their model would not work. We discussed the need for cogs to link together. The children rapidly dismantled and rebuilt their models to solve these engineering issues.

The software which I initially found baffling, but the children were able to  play with just a basic instruction. They quickly became able to complete a series of commands. As they continued to try different commands they could create a series of movements. The children were not only supportive with their partner but would quickly support other pairs to teach their new found skills. The class worked collaboratively with each other and simply enjoyed ‘playing with Lego’.

Last week I attended a training session on coding. A little nervous, as I have never experienced coding before (not sure I knew what coding was). Yet my initially worries were soon diminished as the software (scratch) was almost the same as the Lego. The skills I had built up with the class were transferable to another programme. As the ICT curriculum is moving towards computing and ensuring children have skills in programming.  Why not start them off just playing with Lego?

by Chris Carter

A Team Leader, Tech Coach, and Teacher using tech as a tool to guide kids through higher-order thinking, project-based learning experiences at Concordia International School Shanghai, China


Threaded discussions, or forums, or discussion boards, are becoming a common means of communication both in wholly on-line and hybrid high school classes. Whilst they are used to promote both healthy social academic environments and to promote critical thinking, some researchers question if threaded discussions actually accomplish either task.  Recent quantitative and qualitative research indicates that threaded discussions do at least as well as in-class discussions, and have the potential to achieve higher levels of success, in both areas. Research indicates that systemic change is necessary both in how teachers are trained to use the technology, and in how educators perceive their roles in the online environment.

Threaded Discussions

Threaded discussions are asynchronous, computer-assisted communication that graphically represent posts and replies, thus allowing participants to track the progression of conversations around a common theme or prompt (Business, n.d.). They make up the heart of communication for most on-line and hybrid courses around the globe, due in a large part to their allowing both students and instructors to communicate free from time and space constraints, and due to the fact that students prefer discussion boards over synchronous communication (Shin Yi & Overbaugh, 2007; Mayfield, 2010). The 2009-10 academic year saw over 1 million K-12 students take wholly online courses in the United States alone, and this with a projected growth rate of 30% for the foreseeable future (Thomson, 2010). In addition, 4 million 4-year college students, and half of all community college students in the United States take on-line courses (Batts et al., 2010). When the (currently unknown) number of hybrid K-12 classes is included, the scale of discussion board use in academia becomes apparent.

To clarify what a threaded discussion is, perhaps it is best to address what it is not.  As an asynchronous form of communication, it is not an instant messaging system, such as twitter, chat rooms and text messages are.  Discussion boards are not email, in that they are viewable by all members of a course and are threaded, or stacked, so that viewers can follow the flows of separate sub-discussions that develop from a common prompt, rather than having to scroll through every reply to every post.

This allows for greater clarity in the formulation of arguments and responses. Also, threaded discussions are persistent, remaining viewable from the initial prompt to the latest post for the duration of the course, and beyond should the instructor so choose.  For these reasons, and also for their perceived benefits in building social learning communities and developing critical thinking skills, discussion boards are the communication form of choice in hybrid and wholly on-line courses (Cox & Cox, 2008).

Voices of dissent. Despite the ubiquity of discussion boards and their general acceptance as excellent forms of communication (or perhaps because of it), some scholars raise serious questions as to their educational efficacy.  These researchers are troubled by the relatively few large-scale qualitative studies on the subject, and particularly that those studies that do exist tend to examine graduate students, and not the typical user of online courses. In her synthesis of 37 studies, Looking for Critical Thinking in Online Threaded Discussions, professor Paula Maurino makes this concern explicit (Maurino, 2007). The objections strike at the perceived twin strengths of threaded discussions, the community building and critical thinking aspects (Chen & Hung, 2002; Maurino, 2007; Maurino, Federman & Greenwald, 2007). Issues with building social learning communities. Most researchers see the building of social networks through discussion boards as a positive benefit, or even necessary prerequisite, both for increased student interest and participation, and for the deeper learning that is presumed to result (Beckett, 2010; Cox & Cox, 2008; Grisham & Wolsey, 2006; Shin Yi & Overbaugh, 2007).  In quantitative studies, instructors and professors see achieving social and cognitive goals through discussion boards as inseparable (Maurino, Federman & Greenwald, 2007). Yet this goal is questioned in that some researchers believe building community may actually inhibit the kinds of discussions that build critical thinking. Essentially, the argument runs, if students are more concerned with maintaining positive relationships than with arguing issues, then they may not disagree or offer counterarguments to those positions posed by classmates. As Maurino points out, though students in the studies under her examination did create social relationships, these relationships did not appear to foster critical thinking.

“Expansive or deep learning requires conflict or contradiction” (Maurino, 2007, p. 50). Researchers Der-Thanq Chen and David Hung expand this argument by indicating that students using threaded discussions are successful creators of “idea artifacts” based on collective knowledge, but do not internalize and subjectivize these artifacts into “knowledge objects” of personalized understanding (Chen & Hung, 2002, p. 280). In other words, students quickly reach common understandings that are not debated or internalized.

Tellingly, several researchers who are more enthusiastic toward the present use of threaded discussions also reflect concerns for the need for respectful argument. Doctor Sarah Prestridge, after an exhaustive study of 8 Australian primary schools, concluded that there are collegial conversations and critical conversations evidenced in threaded discussions, and that these two types are mutual exclusive (Prestidge, 2009). Researcher T. Solhaug, in developing his elements of discursive democratic practice, includes the importance of presenting differing viewpoints and questioning authority as two of the five essentials (Solhaug, 2009). More broadly, open-ended prompts are seen as key in encouraging differences of opinion and building nuanced arguments, as identified by several researchers (Guzdial & Turns, 2000; Jeong, 2003; Rizopoulus & McCarthy, 2008).

Issues with building critical thinking skills. Not surprisingly, given their concerns over the impact of social community, the above researchers find the development of critical thinking through the tool of discussion boards to be lacking (Maurino, 2007; Chen & Hung, 2002). Again, the issue of lack of large-scale qualitative studies is raised (Maurino, 2007). Yet at this point a measure of balance must be addressed. None of the researchers reject outright the use of discussion boards as a useful learning tool.  Chen and Hung offer a solution to critical thinking development through the implementation of visualizations to assist in the creation of “knowledge objects” (Chen & Hung, 2002, p. 280). In all three of Maurino’s studies the researcher finds the instructor to be the key component, and raises several suggestions to improve threaded discussions that will be incorporated into the professional development piece following (Maurino 2007; Maurino, 2007; Maurino, Federman & Greenwald, 2007). That the threaded discussion is not living up to its presumed capacity to develop deeper, more critical thinking, and that this shortfall may be due to current instructor practices, is strongly suggested by the conclusions of many studies which specifically call for modifying instructor practices (Archambault et al., 2010; Batts et al., 2010; Mayfield, 2010; Rosenthal, 2010; Thomson, 2010). These findings clearly point to a need for ongoing professional development, both in pre-service and in-service settings, to equip pedagogues in the most effective uses of this primary means of communication for on-line and hybrid courses.

Insight: threaded discussion versus face-to-face discussion.While wholly on-line courses are somewhat limited in their communication options, and thus default to threads, face-to-face classroom settings do not have the same pressure to include asynchronous discussions, thus becoming de facto hybrid courses.  While anecdotal evidence from several research efforts

suggest the utility of discussion boards in principle, six studies under review specifically examined threaded- versus face-to-face discussions for their academic efficacy (Brown & Green, 2009; Kamin et al., 2001; Larson, 2003; Miller & Benz, 2008; Prestridge, 2009; Zacharis, 2010). First, the question of equity is addressed by Brown and Green’s research into how much time students in both settings spend actually participating in discussions.  The study concludes that the formats foster roughly equal amounts of participation (Brown & Green, 2009).  Another study examines threaded- versus fishbowl discussions.  The researchers conclude that both threaded- and fishbowl discussions increase academic performance, but go on to state that discussion boards are usable with both small and large groups, and benefit from not having time and place restrictions (Miller & Benz, 2008). The Zacharis study concludes that students of multiple learning styles are just as successful with on-line classes as with the classroom setting (Zacharis, 2010). The remaining three studies conflict somewhat in outcomes. The Prestridge research effort concludes that face-to-face discussions are more collegial, while threads develop more critical thinking (Prestridge, 2009), in direct contradiction to Maurino’s findings (Maurino, 2007).  The Kamin and Glicken study supports the Prestridge conclusion, but only in a quantitative, not qualitative, way, thus leaving room for argument (Kamin & Glicken, 2001). Larson reports that threads allow for a more egalitarian exchange (Larson, 2003). All of the reports support threads in hybrid and on-line settings, yet their varied findings are troubling.  Clearly, other variables are at work.  The next insight addresses one possibility.

Insight: the silent student. Threads have long been thought to give voice to the silent students. To begin, author and researcher Mary Reda takes issue with the presumption that the introverted, reflective student is disadvantaged in face-to-face discussions (Reda, 2010). Reda argues that many silent students simply process differently, learning at least as well as more verbose students while quietly forming complete arguments in their minds. Reda does state, however, that these students often see in-class discussions as high-stakes verbal testing rather than knowledge construction, and thus opt out of the exercise (Reda, 2010). This position seems a confirmation that quiet students may be choosing not to participate at some cost to their intellectual development. Other researchers take this more traditional view that silence is somehow detrimental to the student, and comment on the egalitarian nature of threads versus face-to-face discussions, where the most extroverted dominate, with Larson noting, “Several “quiet” students  shared extensively in the threaded discussions,” (Larson, 2003, p. 363; Grisham & Wolsey, 2006; Solhaug, 2009).  Solhaug goes so far as to refer to silent students as “empty shells” (Solhaug, 2009, p. 417).

But drilling down into the numbers reveals a more subtle reality. Researchers JeongMin Lee and Youngmin Lee used the Myers-Briggs type indicator to measure introvert-extrovert personalities, and then divided 96 undergraduate students into a homogeneous extrovert group, an introvert group, and a heterogeneous group, to find the quantitative and qualitative results of the threads these three groups produced. After careful analysis, the research reveals that the extrovert grouping consistently produces the most posts, but the least depth of thought, while the introvert group consistently posts the least (JeongMin & Youngmin, 2006). The greatest depth of thought, however, is being generated in the heterogeneous groups, where extroverts take the lead in initiating discussions but introverts successfully deflect and defeat these initial offerings through carefully thought out and reasoned rebuttals.  The resultant threads are rich in cognitive development and collegial exchanges and challenges (JeongMin & Youngmin, 2006).

hus, the silent, “empty shells” are always learning, but learn best when paired with the traditionally vocal students, who dominate in-class discussions, but typically fail to fully form their arguments, and thus fail to maximize their critical thinking potential.  If this research holds true, then threads are potentially more beneficial for both extroverts and introverts than in-class discussions, provided the groups and discussions are structured in ways that allow the time necessary for all students to participate.

Insight: labeling the thread. A key benefit of threaded discussions that make them attractive when compared to other forms of communication is the structure of the thread itself.  By allowing participants to view posts and responses that spread like roots from the common “tree” of a given prompt, threads facilitate understanding and, presumably, lead to deeper learning. That being said, scholars are concluding that additional structure, in the form of labeling of responses to both the prompt and posts, leads to more frequent argumentation and greater depth of thought (Guzdial & Turns, 2000; Chen & Hung, 2002; Jeong, 2003; Brooks & Jeong, 2006). The earliest study under review focuses on the use of the CaMILE (Collaborative and Multimedia Interactive Learning Environment) system for labeling threaded discussion posts and responses between rebuttals, clarifications, explanations, and other forms of communication (Guzdial & Turns, 2000). The later pieces examine other systems of labeling, but the core goal of increasing participation and depth of thought through additional structure remains. The Chen and Hung piece takes labeling to the level of symbols (“!” for ideas, “?” for questions, “+” for strong argument, “-” for weak argument, etc.), yet the fact remains that these symbols serve to further clarify the structure of the threads (Chen & Hung, 2002). In their 2006 study, Brooks and Jeong achieve impressive results by comparing pre-structured threads using labels versus a control group using unsupported threads.

The labeled threads show a 64% increase in challenges per argument, thus strongly supporting the understanding that the addition of labels contributes to increased debate, and thus increasing critical thinking (Brooks & Jeong, 2006). Taken together, the research pieces all indicate that increased structure results in increased discourse and more critical thinking.  The specific structure appears less important than that there be the added structural support.  That being the case, Brooks’ and Jeong’s labels of claims, challenges, supporting evidence and explanation are particularly suitable for their brevity and utility (Brooks & Jeong, 2006). Yet, increased structuring of threads alone will not maximize the benefit of discussion boards. The single most consistent finding in the available research is the need for effective instructor training.

Insight: it is all about the instructor. Of the studies and examinations under review, 10 overtly identify either the lack or need of teacher participation in the use of threads. Dr. Maurino is the most direct in stating, “teachers need to become more involved as experts in classroom discussion.” (Maurino, 2007, p. 50) Again, Maurino identifies the most common failings of threads as being the lack of teacher effort and unclear goals (Maurino, 2007).  Though uncharitable, perhaps, her assessment is not unique. A recent study, though praising the efficacy of threads, does make clear that professors must participate more in them as monitors and guides in order to enhance thread effectiveness (Becket, 2010). The remaining 7 studies do more to fix the problem than to fix the blame, either identifying the lack of instructor preparation, or offering concrete steps to remedying the deficit. Maurino herself calls for teacher remediation (Maurino, Federman & Greenwald, 2007), and studies from recent months echo this conclusion. Researcher David Batts sees teachers as being chronically undertrained, concluding “… nearly two-thirds of the faculty taught themselves how to create and deliver online courses.” (Batts, et al., 2010, p. 28) Researchers Gronseth and Brush flatly conclude that teacher technical proficiency is not sufficient to integrate technological best practices into their courses (Gronseth et al., 2010). Though every teacher training program they evaluate contains a technology component, the technology instructors themselves, they conclude, are like the blind leading the blind in that they do not have the time nor the training to keep pace with the latest research and technological innovations (Gronseth et al., 2010). A successful professional development program as described by Dr. Leanna Archambault is unique in the studies under review in that it pulls teachers out of regular duties specifically to create planning time and provides a stipend, while also demanding proof of redesigned and implemented units that incorporate use of technology (Archambault et al., 2010).

Not surprisingly, the results are impressive, as teachers transform their styles from sages on stages to guides on the side, a necessary perspective shift echoed anecdotally by Professor Irene Rosenthal, and supported by a massive examination of over 2400 gifted K-12 students (Rosenthal, 2010; Thomson, 2010).

Need for Service Learning Projects. Taken together, these studies make a profound case for improved teacher pre-service and in-service training.  The old saw of there being insufficient funds for technology integration cannot withstand the near ubiquity of student access to the internet. Scores of free or extremely low cost options for threads and other technologies abound (Singh, Mangalaraj & Taneja, 2010). Nor can the argument fairly be made that teachers do not wish to learn these skills, when nearly two-thirds of college level instructors are teaching themselves, however imperfectly, how to implement these technologies (Batts et al., 2010).

Clearly, there is demand, and there is will among the faculty. Resolve at the administrative level is needed to turn these resources into effective pedagogy. As Goethe said, “We always have time enough if we will but use it aright.”


Lessons Learned. Synthesizing several research findings, a picture of effective teacher training in threaded discussions emerges. First, overt, clear guidelines for what is expected of student interactions must be used (Solhaug, 2009; Rosenthal, 2010; Mayfield, 2010).  Solhaug’s five elements of democratic discursive practice serve as a useful resource here (Solhaug, 2009, p. 419). Second, a robust rubric, an excellent example being found in the Rizopoulos and McCarthy piece, backed by a significant grade, facilitates active participation (Maurino, Federman & Greenwald, 2007; Rizopoulos & McCarthy, 2008; Mayfield, 2010; Rosenthal, 2010). Third, in addition to the inherent structure of threads, increased structure in the form of labels results in more frequent academic arguments, thus promoting deeper thinking, with Brooks and Jeong offering a simple four-category model that is a good starting point (Guzdial & Turns, 2000; Chen & Hung, 2002; Jeong, 2003; Brooks & Jeong, 2006, p. 372; Rosenthal, 2010). Fourth, teachers must see themselves as highly participative guides in the learning process, rather than aloof towers of knowledge (Maurino, 2007; Maurino, Federman & Greenwald, 2007; Solhaug, 2009; Archambault, et al., 2010; Mayfield, 2010; Rosenthal, 2010). Fifth, the prompts themselves must be open ended and interesting, inviting discussion and debate (Guzdial & Turns, 2000; Jeong, 2003; Larson, 2003; Maurino, 2007; Maurino, Federman & Greenwald, 2007; Rizopoulos & McCarthy, 2008; Mayfield, 2010; Rosenthal, 2010).

Please click here to view the Bibliography page.

At Wilbury we have always valued learning through participating in International projects.  We believe that it provides children with very valuable opportunities to develop their understanding of worldwide issues such as sustainability and also opens a window into other cultures through online collaboration with children from other countries.

One of the projects that we are delighted to be part of is called Global Partners Junior, which is a technology driven education program that connects urban middle schools from around the world. This program was developed by New York City Global Partners, the non-profit organization that connects the Mayor’s Office of the City of New York to cities around the world.

This year the focus of the project was Urban Stages, where the children investigated their own city, discovered how things were different in other cities around the world, by doing not just online research but also reading and replying to other children’s work in the online shared area.

The students began the project by introducing themselves in a few sentences; some of them got more creative and used a video or photo messages. They shared information about the main facts about our own city and discussed the theatre districts in the cities, such as Broadway in New York, The West End in London. The children then moved onto storytelling and playwriting. After exploring the basic elements of what makes a good story, they made their own storyboard for a story that they liked.They also looked at famous musicals such as; Mamma Mia, Wicked, The Lion King. They identified the main roles in a theatre; scriptwriter, director, set designer, costume designer, etc. The children have written short play scripts which then they animated using ‘I Can Animate’.

The next focus of the project was sound and music. The children started their project by just listening to the sounds around our school, then the sounds where they lived. They came up with an idea of expressing the best of London by using sounds.  They have written a rap to tell other children about the food, music and landmarks of London. They then used the ‘GarageBand’ programme to create their sound files, and then used ‘iMovie’ to edit their videos. The schools that were the most active during discussions and produced a final product were given a prize.  Wilbury team was awarded a certificate of excellence for their outstanding work and presented with 3D puzzles of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. The feedback we received was the evidence for their hard work and excellent contributions. Their participation has been described as exemplary throughout the project. As it stated on the assessment form; “Students demonstrated a good grasp of unit material and actively posted in most of the assignments. The posts are thoughtful and descriptive, providing relevant and interesting information. Students demonstrated a high level of excitement and enthusiasm as they engaged with the curriculum and showed interest in learning about cultures around the world”.

We are now working on the final part of the project, where the children are designing an open-air theatre to make better use of part of our playground. They came up with a script, designed costumes and created props. They also used the ‘Toontastic’ programme to share their own individual scripts to decide the best ones to be performed on a stage. We are hoping to complete our theatre design and perform our short stories about New York very soon.

I would like to share the reasons why this project has been so successful in our school as a list:

Resources: The well-designed curriculum planning folder created by the Global Partners Junior team, which has all the resources, web links, tool suggestions, and focus questions not only makes it easier to teach but also to evaluate. The children were given their own project book that they could take home when needed to extend their learning. Again their workbook had all the information they needed to work on the various activities.

The layout of the workbook was very clear, children from many different learning needs were able to access and accomplish the task easily. The topics studied were all about our lives. This enabled the children to understand the culture of the world they live in, which I believe will lead to connecting with people in a positive manner and also to work on shared issues to make the world a better place for everyone.


Given time to learn: One of the main advantages of this project is, it runs for a whole year which allows the children to master their skills such as; research, design, discuss, collaborate online, organize ideas and many more. It also gives them the scope for using digital technologies which motivates them to learn and prepares them for more advanced use of technology for learning.  It also enables them to use/improve other skills such as; team work, decision-making and problem solving.

Dynamic and flexible learning:  The activities planned were always hands on which enabled us to carry our learning into spaces outside of the school. Sometimes in our local area, sometimes via Skype, we had an opportunity to learn everywhere through interactions with our peers in London and around the world. The learning was not based only on pen and paper. It involved technology, drama, art, design in a very creative way, which made learning more fun and also more relevant to the children’s needs and interests.

We are very privileged to be part of Global Partners Junior and are looking forward to participating in the next project to learn more, to share more and to collaborate more!

Next year’s program will focus on digital storytelling in cities around the world. Students will explore local and global fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and create multimedia projects to bring their own stories to life. We plan to add even more great international schools to the program and welcome applications. Already we have schools participating in Accra, Berlin, Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Copenhagen, Cuernavaca, Delhi, Dublin, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Jerusalem, Johannesburg, Karachi, Lima, London, Melbourne, Mexico City, Mumbai, Paris, Prague, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto, Vancouver, and Warsaw.

For more information or to request an application, please contact:

by Yasemin Allsop

ICT Coordinator, Wilbury Primary School

What is Web 2.0?

Web 2.0 simply means web-based tools of which many are available for free. If it is used as part of well-designed lessons following a project based learning approach, because of its motivational power, it can have a positive impact upon children’s learning. It would be useful for teachers to get familiar with these programs so that they can map how they would use these tools into their lesson plans. The clarity of what they aim to manifest by using Web 2 tools within teaching and learning, will help them to decide the strategies and pedagogy they need to adopt for their teaching. For example if the aim is to develop children’s collaborative work skills then using wikis would be appropriate, however, if the children’s literacy skills in writing fiction stories is the target, then a story creator would be a useful tool. Sometimes there are so many tools, it becomes a very difficult job to decide which one to use. My advice is always discuss the issue with your colleagues, but also involve the learners too. When the tool is more relevant to learners needs and interests as well as the lesson objectives, the learning manifested also becomes an enjoyable experience.


There is a growing emphasis on teaching children critical thinking skills, so that they will become successful learners. Thinking, as the main foundation of cognition can be seen as the process of making constant connections between what we know and what we understand of concepts to develop further meanings. If we are to teach children thinking skills we need to focus on developing their ‘inwards thinking’ which allows them to check what they know and make a link between what they know and the new knowledge in their minds and their ‘outwards thinking’ which allows them to apply what they know into real-life situations in a physical world.

Web 2.0 tools can be used for designing a learning content and environment, where the learners can learn at a pace, where they can use their cognitive resources. They can create / design a product or a solution which involves planning, investigating / exploring, decision making, designing / creating, communicating / sharing, collaborating and finally evaluating. However, having these skills doesn’t alone guarantee that the student will learn. Learning is extensively derived on how well students can transfer and apply these skills to different learning contexts. Using Web 2.0 in teaching and learning, gives the learners the opportunity to be the driver of their learning journey, where constant conversations with ‘self’ and ‘others’ takes place.

What we need to remember is Web 2 tools can only help learners to develop their core skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, if the lesson content and the learning space is designed and managed to accommodate the application of these skills. There is no point in expecting children to improve their collaboration skills when they are not allowed to work with others because the noise level in the classroom increases. Similarly, can we assume that they would be able to evaluate their peers work if they are not allowed to move around. What this tells us is that when using digital technologies in the classroom, how the classroom is designed and managed as a learning space, will define how learning manifests itself. Be flexible in both your approach to learning, the strategies you use in the classroom and don’t rush children. Let them have time to think and turn their ideas into a design. This is why I encourage people to use a Project Based Learning approach when teaching with technology as it allows learners have enough time to master their knowledge and skills. Finally, don’t assume that you need to know everything about technology, be ready to learn with your students. It is fun and changes the way they perceive you as a teacher in a positive way.

Tune in to learn with the learners!

Click here to download the ‘Web 2 tools by Subject’ PDF booklet.



In attempt to make this article both interesting and useful (!) I’ve been routing round the internet to recommend some literacy apps.

I am a tablet novice.  Tablets have seemingly passed me by, so when a friend suggested I borrow an iPad for the weekend I duly obliged with some hesitation. I had survived so far without one so I wasn’t expecting it to bring anything to the table. However, the draw of the screen and the graceful glide of my fingers, as they slid across the surface like Torvil and Dean, was far too tempting. Alright, so perhaps I am romanticising slightly but I came to the instant conclusion that they are so addictively good! There’s bags of learning opportunities to be had too with each month bringing a slew of educational apps ripe for discovery. My Year 1 class of 5 and 6 six year olds have been very enthusiastic test subjects. Their fingers have furiously flicked from app to app in an attempt to channel and challenge their creativity. (It’s at this point I would like to say that the whole class get a higher score than I do on ‘Temple Run’. Sigh!)

My advice when roaming around for the best education apps are:

  • Go by recommendation. Read the reviews – see what the public have to say.
  • Find out what you can get for free. Some of the more expensive apps are too distracting with unnecessary add-ons and showy graphics. Keep it simple to allow the learning to embed.

Handwriting and Phonics

Pocket Phonics (£1.99)

This has been designed and tested by teachers in the UK – so if it isn’t any good, then you’ve got them to blame! Having said that you shouldn’t have any real complaints as this is pretty perfect for letter sounds, handwriting and first words. Children are guided to write each letter with a ‘follow me’ arrow. An award winner, and a thoroughly decent app!

Alphabet Tracing (Free)

For beginners this is a must have app. It is not a phonic app so don’t expect it to feature, but it does have the means to practise upper and lower case letters as well as numbers and words.  There’s also ABC Letter Tracing too which again doesn’t phonetically sound out the letters. It could use a starting arrow too for each letter but on the whole it’s not bad at all!

Cursive practice (Free/£0.69 for Full Screen version)

This is very loopy indeed! It has famous quotes to copy and the full screen version will set you back £0.69.  Something I have discovered is that even the most stubborn pupils who don’t like to write are easily convinced when presented with an ipad and a splendid app like this.

Pop Words (Free)

This is challenging and awfully addictive. This is an interesting twist on ‘Boggle’. Some of my Year 6 children were puzzling over it for some time. There would be occasional shrieks of ‘I’ve got GLEAMING!’ and ‘I’m one letter off of FORTUNE!’. I would use this as a starter to a lesson or as early morning work to get their brains into gear.!/id472853634?mt=8

Grammar and spellings

Squeebles spelling test (£1.49)

This comes with three test modes and there’s a mini-game with bonus rewards for high scores. It allows you to set up tests, enter words and then record audio versions of those words for the children to listen back to before they spell them. Stats are available too on each child so that you can see which words they are struggling with. I recently trialled this at school and it went down well with a group of Year 2 children. Thankfully their spolling spelling has got bitter better through the experience!

Grammar Up (Free)

Grammar Up provides 1800 multiple choice questions for English in over 20 grammar categories. I tried it and quickly discovered that my grammar ‘weren’t goodish’! So back to the drawing board for me! Also LearnEnglish Grammar by the British Council (Free) gives you a series of tests which you can improve on and build your score. The pupils can work up the levels to be a grammar master!

Stories for Reading and Retelling in Key Stage 1 (Nosy Crow steal the show!)

Pip and Posy (£1.99)

This is one for nursery and Foundation stage but a great app to start off with. Axel Scheffler’s drawings are as delightful as ever. The games are spot on with ‘matching pairs’ and ‘making a face’. I found the ‘spot the difference’ quite tricky but observational skills have never been my strong point!

The three Little Pigs (£3.99)

When it comes to story apps, Nosy Crow are the ones to beat for sheer excellence.  They are consistent award winners – but plaudits aside – children are fascinated by their apps. Their apps entertain and educate effortlessly and they have chosen a winning formula by updating the fairytale classics. There are loads of characters to discover and plenty of interactive surprises too. The best bit of course is when you get to be the wolf and blow the houses down through the microphone. Who hasn’t wanted to do that?

Cinderella: a 3D Fairy Tale (£3.99)

Again, Nosy Crow have come up trumps. So often app animation can look so formulaic but this looks stunning thanks to the creative eye of Ed Bryan. Children can read along and interact with the story . Highlights include building the magical carriage with the Fairy Godmother, and selecting music for the Prince and Cinders to dance to. (Which would you choose – Bollywood or Disco?) With ‘Cinderella’ and ‘The Three Little Pigs’, children are guaranteed a different reading experience every single time. It’s magic! Seriously, I can’t wait for ‘Little red Riding Hood’ which should be downloadable sometime this month.

The Grunts: Beard of Bees (Free)

(Just as a little free extra, it’s worth downloading The Grunts: Beard of Bees. This is also produced by Nosy Crow taken from the enormously enjoyable books by Philip Ardagh . He also narrates this ‘bees’-tly game as you try and attach as many as you can to Mr Grunt’s face before the timer runs out.  Though please take care of stray butterflies and flowers as Mr Grunt will tell you off for trying to add them to his ghastly face. I should also like to point out that Philip has the most wonderful beard in real life but thankfully it is not made of bees.)

Sir Charlie Stink Socks and the really big adventure (£2.99)

You can download the lite version of this but don’t be put off buying the real deal as it is a lovely app. It is brilliantly written and illustrated by Kristina Stephenson. The children can interact by playing with the Wiggly Woos, or press the words to hear Michael Maloney’s narration;  or simply use the painting mode to colour their own pictures from the story. It helps with learning and literacy development and is a whole heap of fun to boot! (lite version!)

Creative Writing Apps

Poetry Creator (Free)

I don’t know about you but my refrigerator is covered in magnetic words to make amusing little phrases as I burn dinner for my family. This app essentially does the same but it doesn’t come with a fridge!  This app has brought tears of laughter to a collection of Year 4 and 5 pupils as we were testing its mettle. It inspired the glorious poem that we called ‘Florist Robber’.  It is a pretty little ditty that goes like this:

‘The Florist Robber’ by Wilbury School

‘Everyone of you Freeze!’

Said the ‘balaclava wearing’ cheese.

‘Give me the money please!’

Raged the banana-wielding cheese.

‘Those flowers make me sneeze!’

Gasped the allergy ridden cheese!

‘Atchoo- Atchoo-Atchoo!’ – and he surrendered to his knees!

Surreal beauties like this can then be shared via email or saved to your devices’ photo album. A simple, effective app for any budding Shakespeare or would –be rapper.

Writer’s Hat (£0.69)

This a great table top app to help generate ideas for stories. The word prompts help to stimulate creative thinking for writing, speaking, drama and art. Once your class has generated some words they can be plan and piece together a narrative independently or in a group. Again, simplicity is the key here. By listing words to accompany ‘Who’, ‘What’, ‘Where’ and ‘When’ the student is given the opportunity to play around with their imagination. It’s easily reset and there’s also a bank of words which can be added to.

Here’s a sample for you to try. Make a story from the following:

Who: Policeman

What: Spaceship

Where: City

When: 1970s

What are you waiting for? Go and create a masterpiece!

Mind Over Monsters (Free)

Those darn, pesky monsters! Perhaps I’m being unkind as while they are causing havoc in the stratosphere, they are enabling children to brush up on their literacy skills. Each level poses different problems to solve by bashing the critters that have the right answers.

APPy Endings!

As an extension to all these apps is the teaching that accompanies them. The speech and language opportunities are plentiful and it’s just as important to ensure that time is taken to discuss collectively what you are setting out to achieve. They key is to not let apps take over but to use them selectively and purposefully to back up the pedagogy.

Happy APPing!


(Des Hegarty is a teacher at Wilbury Primary School. You can follow his book blog ‘Storysplat’ by clicking here:

Also you can watch Des in action telling stories on Youtube:

‘Gus You Are a Superstar’

The Grizzlegrog’

Mr Gum and the Goblins – by Andy Stanton

..and finally you can follow him on Twitter @The Grizzlegrog)




by Marina Screpanti

I’m a Primary School teacher and I’m involved in many European projects, both Comenius and eTwinning. I teach English but I am fortunate to also teach PE, history, geography and technology so my teaching definitely has a wide range of topics. Lately my eTwinning partners (“V.O.I.C.E.” and “SUPERCITIZEN’S ALMANAC” projects’ partners) and I created a VIRTUAL CLASS with all of our students. The pupils worked together basically through playing, so they didn’t even realize that they are studying and acquiring competences and skills and connecting information. This new way of approach to studying is real and emotional and this helped them to improve their learning.

A new way where “fun” is the most important word and where effective and real “communication” is the winning key. I have experienced a lot of games and examples of communication via the virtual class. This has led to improving my pupils’ language competences and their self-confidence in the use of a foreign idiom. The virtual class allows you to work using video-conferencing or communicating through platforms like eTwinning on various activities such as working on the same ddocuments like google docs.

work on the same documents like google docs. If you would like to get an idea of how my students have worked on their virtual class, have a look at : p_l_id=20179680 . In this game both French and Italian students wrote their descriptions and then they exchanged them publishing them on the Twinspace (a special place online platform where partners can share materials and communicate).

During the video-conference, one French student sat in front of the webcam while the Italian students, were looking at the French descriptions, asked questions to the mysterious boy/girl about his/her family, likes/dislikes, hobbies trying to guess his/her name. In the descriptions, in fact, each student had to talk and write about the information above. After having guessed, it was the turn of an Italian pupil to be mysterious…. This game led students to use a common foreign language (which in our case was English) in a real communicative context, enhancing their speaking and listening competences, also improving their vocabulary but first of all having fun !

Another way our virtual class experienced is shown on layout?p_l_id=21272324 where Polish and Italian students tested their knowledge about Europe by creating a quiz for their European classmates. The questions and anwers have been shared through the eTwinning platform constantly opened in the classrooms. Have a look at it! The virtual class we created in V.O.I.C.E. also invented a way to help each other, in fact each country had to propose to the partner countries a way to solve one of their school problems asking for suggestions (click on……). To understand the positive impact of working in virtual classes, the best thing is to have a try! I recommend every teacher tries this new experience. It opens students’ minds and horizons !






For the last few years I have been co-ordinating school projects working together with lots of different European partners. The one major goal for which I have aimed over these years, is that the pupils, and their teachers, would find that – my European friends are not that different from me. All kids are the same, but different- In these projects I have always included the use of videocommunication, because I believe it is important that the pupils meet each other, even if it is only via screens. In my case, my pupils are too young to travel and actually meet with their peers, but given modern ICT-technology they can meet, without leaving home. For me who am Swedish, English has been the common language when video-communicating.

I work with pupils from ages 6 to 12 and although their English is not that good in their younger age, they learn quickly and by having recurring video-communication they are triggered to become better and better. They get a real hands on experience about the importance of good English. I also believe that videocommunication gives and encourages so many more ways to communicate other than just talking to each other. This is about speaking English. Now, about communication. The pupils need to overcome the nervousness and anxiety that comes with a “blind date” on the internet, and this one is with sound and moving pictures. This means that “my” Swedish pupils work with their questions and practice how to talk, discuss and prepare on their English in lessons. And, on the Skype conferences they go LIVE.

Skype is the program which I have used for the conferences. It is free, easy to navigate and another big advantage….many of the pupils can help me if I lose myself in the program. They are quite used to using Skype. Its not only about talking, they also see each other and each others classrooms. Similarities and differences, the diversity of Europe. Johan Eggers is a teacher in the primary school and kindergarten at Rodeby primary school (Sweden), responsible for the morning and afternoon centres, which he refers to as educarecentres. He is the co-ordinator of International School Projects. 5 The way I have used this is by having a Skype-relay with all partners and a given theme. The theme has been obligatory since I have always had a project to report back to. It is also nice to have the talk maybe divided into four parts. The first one would be establishing contact, greetings etc. The second one is about the theme questions from both parts. Then it would be time for the most popular part, the pupils own questions, time to discuss music, football teams etc. The fourth part is about closing and saying goodbye. During these talks which sometimes could involve 7 countries and over 100 pupils I have many golden memories. On one occasion I remember how my pupils, talking to our English partners about how the Swedish football player Zlatan Ibrahimovic crushed England with a bicycle kick from 30 metres.

Another memory is when my 5th graders tried to speak Croatian with the Croatian kids. Pupils discussing if One Direction is the best pop group ever or not. A great feeling of being together and European. And also very funny. On another occasion we had a Facetime conference via iPads and sang songs to each other and showed photos. This time without understanding a word each other said. Still it was great fun and a good learning experience. I encourage all to use video-communication as it enriches school and gives the pupils good practice in preparing their talks, language skills etc.