Royal Andy, Low batteries, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam discuss how technology is impacting education with special guest Emma Potter. Do pupils get freedom to choose whether they use a computer or paper? Does technology mean more training is needed for teachers and staff? Plus, hear from Emma whether parents have had an issue with too much screen time.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School podcast.
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Welcome back. It's an exciting day here on the School of School podcast. We've got a special guest, which is always exciting on the show. Emma, Emma Potter. How are you this morning, Emma?
I'm very well, thank you. Very pleased to be here.
Wonderful, wonderful. I've just said good morning. It's 4:30 in the afternoon when we're recording this. I'm not sure what's happened. Emma I'm going to hand back over to you and say for the listeners who haven't heard your voice before, would you mind just telling us a little bit about what you do and how you help children?
So I have a few roles, so I'm a year six teacher, at a school called Cheam Park Farm, which is part of the LEO Academy Trust. And at Cheam Park Farm, I'm also the vice principal, which is basically, in England, a posh name for the deputy head, that looks slightly different. We've got snazzy names. And then I also work for the trust as the director of maths as well. So I go into schools and I support their school improvement in maths, but also through teaching and learning as well. So I spend a lot of my time talking to teachers, talking to leaders, about how we can improve maths, especially, but also their teaching and learning as well. And then I spend the other part of my time with my class and within my own school as well. So I'm here, there, and everywhere.
And I think I'm right in saying that across your trust, you are seven, just about eight schools. Is that right?
Yeah. So we're seven schools and then another one's just joined. So we're just at eight schools now. Well, we've got one that's in the joining, not joining pot that happens before trust.
I suppose, that you've got a really wide scope and you are overseeing, that you get to step back. And what I was really interested in is the role of technology and maths. And can you just tell us a little bit about that?
Yeah, so we're actually really fortunate in the LEO Academy Trust. So every child in key stage two, so from year three to year six, have a Chromebook that they can take home every day and it's theirs during their time while they're at the school. And then we also have other devices available for the key stage one and our EYFS and nursery children. So we are in a very fortunate position, because technology is becoming embedded within everything that we do. We're still on a journey. And obviously the bigger the trust becomes, the more we have to spread that journey across the different schools. But in a lot of our schools, the children will use their Chromebooks every day. Somebody from the trust once said that we don't have a Chromebook lesson, it's just a tool for our learning. And so you might use your Chromebook to research, but you might also use it in maths. You might use it in English.
Can I just interrupt just for one second, just provide a little bit more context to what you're saying, because this is fascinating. As a result of the pandemic, were you already doing things like that? It's just for my clarity in my head about what that looked like.
So we already began the journey before the pandemic. We had it in, well, we did a trial year in just one year group to year four. So across the different schools, they trialled it. And then actually we were on the journey to introduce it into key stage two, for years three. The year fours had obviously moved up to year five. The year fours were going to do it. Again, and we also introduced it into year three. And then I think I'm right in saying just as the pandemic hit, we were able to then use some of the other devices to spread that across to year six as well. So during the pandemic, we were actually able to offer a device to all children that needed one that didn't have one at home. And then when they returned to school, that's when it became key stage two. All had one and key stage one had them available at school as well.
We've been really fortunate. I think that, not fortunate the pandemic hit obviously, but that actually helped to springboard what had already started before the pandemic. And now actually it's become a lot more embedded, because actually teachers have had to teach online. They've had to use technology and I suppose its something good that's come out of the pandemic, that actually we've been able to promote technology throughout everything. And I know that our director of technology, that's still her mission, to keep going with that. And so she goes into schools to support the embedding of technology across the curriculum, in everything that teachers do, because I think sometimes technology can just be seen as a computing side of things. And actually we try to use technology as to actually enhance learning as well.
What are some of the challenges that you run into with the technology, using that much technology in the school with the pupils? And the reason I ask this question is, first of all, I think it's remarkable what you guys are doing. And I wish more schools would push towards something like that. And I also like the fact that you said that we don't have a classroom on Chromebooks. Chromebook is just a tool, just like a pencil, or a piece of paper, or whatever. A lot of people would be worried about introducing and maybe distributing. And I assume you guys have purchased the Chromebooks and you've given them to the children. People would be worried that they wouldn't come back, that they would get broken, that kids would come to school with computers that aren't charged, or whatever. What are some of the issues that you run into and how do you get around those?
So we quite often have children that don't charge their Chromebook, but they do have a bit of an agreement at the beginning of the year. "These are the things that you need to do. You need to look after your Chromebook. You need to keep it in its case. You need to bring it to school charged," but you are always going to have sometimes when that doesn't happen. And so we encourage children to charge them at the beginning of the day, if they haven't been able to charge them overnight, because that's also really important, is not to stop any children from using it. It's annoying if they haven't charged it, but there are a whole host of reasons why they might not have been able to charge their Chromebook. So actually we need to give them that opportunity.
And as long as they've given us a bit of time, we can get those on charge for them to help, because we know how important it's to support with their learning. And we have a bit of a bank of Chromebooks, because they do get broken. My year six children are the people that have had their Chromebook since they were in year four. So they're now three years old. So there's always going to be wear and tear, especially when you are using them as frequently as we do. So it's having those systems set up, where you can have it sent off for repair. You can have a replacement and things like that. And I think that's just how it's worked for us, is having those systems set up so that it doesn't become a barrier. Just like if a child didn't bring a pencil, you would give them a pencil to use.
Can you give me an idea? I'm what I can't do is I can't imagine what a lesson looks like, for example. So what if we were about to do a maths lesson, or something like that. What does it look like? What happens?
So we would all either have it in front of us, on a Chromebook. We would have the lesson on slides, or PowerPoint, whichever one you want to use. I don't know if there's any promotion, but we use Google suite a lot of the time. And so they have that.
Do you use Google Classroom-
... in your classroom?
So it's all posted out to the children on Google Classroom, it's all organised. And then they would open up. They would look at the resource on there. They might share something. They might have something called a jam board where they're able to use manipulatives on it. They can record there, they can write on their Chromebooks, they can type on it and they can also hand write, because they're touch screen as well. So you could record it in that way. But also what's really important for us now is that element of choice. So if you want to record it on the Chromebook, you can record it on the Chromebook. If you want to record it on pen and paper, because that's how you prefer, then do that as well. And I think that's a real point to make as well. That actually just because you've got a Chromebook doesn't mean you that's necessarily the best way for everyone.
We encourage them to use it, but some of them prefer to have it in front of them as well. And we wouldn't want to take away any of the concrete manipulatives that they're using just because they've got them on the screen. Actually, they can use it and concrete as well. So it's just trying to get that choice element. So, that would obviously be the beginning, we might then do some teacher input where you can use different things like near pod where you can move the slides on for the children. You can add in extra bits where they can collaborate together. Really the possibilities are endless and it's all about teacher knowledge in the facts of different things that they can use. Different tools within it, because it's only as good as that. Just giving them a Chromebook's not going to enhance anything.
How much support do you give to teachers? Like training the teachers on the various tools and encouragement to use them and all that sort of stuff.
So we do have training and run through the trust. So you have the experts, if you like, who are training it within it. Cheryl, who's our director of technology, she does a lot of the training, but then she also trains other people to then be able to have that. And then within the schools, you'll have teachers who naturally have taken to it more. And so then they can promote it within their schools. And what's really important is that the leaders know about the technology as well. So they will often do we have things called Google level 1, Google level 2, and they'll do that as well. So they're skilled up as well. So when they're monitoring something, or doing a learning walk or observing, they actually understand what's happening.
And then you always get teachers, and this is what I love about teaching, is they see something on Twitter, or they see something on Facebook and they think, "Oh, that's new. I want to try that in my classroom." And then you get that ripple effect that teachers are then teaching teachers, because they see it and they see it's really good. And it actually just helps with learning. So I suppose in the amount of training, we probably do quite a lot. And we had to do a lot, obviously during the pandemic, where we were skilling teachers up quite quickly and now it's just a sharing experience, but we still have that training within everything. Technology doesn't stand still and that's something that's really crucial as well. Is that just because you did something last year and it worked really well, there could be something better out there for you. So I suppose that's what we're constantly doing.
I was just curious of what some of the obstacles are for the students. I know children tend to gravitate towards digital devices in a way that maybe where we would've been reluctant a little bit at their age, or even at our age, because we're indoctrinated into our ways of the world. But for them, I would imagine they go to it a little bit more naturally. But there must still be some obstacles, there must be some challenges with the pupils. What are some of those challenges look like, other than charging? We heard about that one.
Charging is a big one. Just sometimes they just don't like it on the screen. I think sometimes-
You make it okay. You said that it's okay if they use paper.
Yeah. If they choose to make that it's about that... There's probably posh term for it.
Yeah, it's the freedom of being able to choose to actually, "This is better for me." And so if we were to present something, then some may choose to do it online. Some may choose to do it on paper. But I think suppose some obstacles could be, I'm not as fast as somebody else online. And so we just try skill them up as well. And we do, it's called the digital passport. So they have little things that they can do little steps. So we almost train them up as well into how to use the different tools. And then what we really rely on is that peer support, because at the end of the day, the children are often better at picking something up and teaching their friend in a way that actually helps them. And so we do a lot of that collaborating together and sharing, "Oh, can you just show him how to do X, Y, and Z?" And then they can support each other that way. So I suppose that's how we get around some of the obstacles, but we tend to find that they prefer it.
I'd be amazed if you didn't get some kickback from parents under the banner of screen time. I'd be amazed if that didn't happen. Maybe it was one single parent, I'm not sure, but for those educators that are listening to this, because I'd say your school was ahead of the curve pre-pandemic. It must have been a massively supportive thing. And I was thinking, then we often talk on this podcast about curriculum, but often that's about the content of what's being taught. I would say that what you've described is going to be a necessary skill forever and a day. That fact, that we've got to have that flexibility of thought and to be able to collaborate digitally and those sorts of things. It's not just during a pandemic, it's here for keeps. I think we have to all accept that.
So what you are doing is providing a skill set that I think every child has to be equipped to deal with in the future. So coming back to my question, so schools that are listening to it and thinking, "Wow, that sounds really exciting." Other than getting inundated with phone calls and emails and stuff. How did you deal with, and did you have to deal with parents who screen time was an issue?
Yes and no. I suppose the fact that we didn't just throw the Chromebooks and say, "You're going to do every lesson on this." They are at all in the classroom. So the children don't spend all day on their Chromebook. It's like fitness for purpose as well. Something that you would do in on pencil and paper that works really well, you wouldn't necessarily do on a Chromebook. So for example, measuring things sometimes on the Chromebook, obviously you've got online assessment tools, but actually getting a ruler and measuring something is probably better, because that's the tool that you use. And until technology is so advanced that we then using that for measurement in the real world. That's what we do. So I suppose it's looking at what you are doing and is that going to enhance the learning, or is that actually just, it's nice and flashy and you've seen it. So actually I think that's where we perhaps didn't have the complaints about screen time, because we've tried to make it so that everything they do on there is purposeful and it isn't all of the time.
Well it's massively reassuring and it warms me hard to hear that, because I think that sometimes with things that, I don't know, under the banner of technology, it's putting tinsel around something and expecting it to perform better. It just doesn't quite work like that.
And sometimes you do things on the Chromebooks or using the technology and actually think, "Oh, when we used to do this, it actually was better." And I think it's having that reflective nature as a teacher to think this hasn't worked or this really worked, let's make sure we do more of this. And I think it's getting that balance. It's not just about getting them out at every opportunity, because also children would get bored and then you've lost it.
It's just like any tool. At some point, if you're talking at manipulatives and you could say, well, I don't know whatever it is, whatever you happen to be fixated on record Rex, or based 10, maybe Ten Frames. "Oh, 10 frames are great. They're amazing. You can do all these wonderful..." But at some point you move on. It's not appropriate anymore. And there's a point where it doesn't make any sense to use it at the beginning. It's like it's optimised for a couple of maybe there's 10 things that you could teach really, really well with a Ten Frame and then you move on. And any tool is like that.
It's understanding when it's appropriate and when it's not appropriate. I'm interested in what were some of the challenges that the school. You guys are an academy, so I guess you're part of a trust. And I suppose the decision making process within there is a little bit more free than some other schools, but what were some of the challenges? Was it the funding, or was it the governors. I have no idea how the political structure of your organisation works, but somebody came up with this idea, how hard was it to sell it into this school as a concept?
So I think most people were on board with it. Money, obviously, was a big thing. And obviously, I don't deal with the money side of things, but I know that that obviously is been a big outlay of money across the whole trust. But I think what was really important was that we had trialled it within a year group. And actually that then meant that you could look at some of the things that worked really well, but also some of the pitfalls and we didn't repeat those. So you had the buy-in of teachers, because you could see it actually happening within that trial year group. And I think that's just really important that actually it wasn't just somebody decided one day our CEO didn't say actually now we're all going to use this. It was actually-
CEOs don't do things like that, do they. I'm just looking at Adam and Robin's face when I say that to see some kind of response anyway, sorry.
No, so he didn't just make that decision. It came from a lot of thinking and trialling and looking at lots of different options, what would be the best for our children? And I think that's something that LEO, that always comes down to is our CEO is just focused about children and is it going to make an impact on our children? Is it going to make their lives better? We're preparing them for jobs that perhaps we don't even know exist yet. Yes, this is a step forward for us. And I think that's what's been really important for us as a trust, is actually seeing the benefit of it and actually how learning can be advanced because of it.
I think that's so important in education full stop. Again, this is just cheering me up no end. And what some people may not know is that, well, I don't know if this is still a case you might know it's been a while since I've signed a cheque in a school, but you used to come out of a part of a budget, there's capital budget. So it was like the buildings and that sort of stuff, but also your technology stuff. So sometimes you had some money in there and it was kind of like, "Oh, I feel I need to spend this part of the budget. We need to just get it. And so I got a sense sometimes, when talking to colleagues and I may have been guilty of myself, where you think the job's done once you've signed the check and you've taken delivery of these things.
And then it's like, if we're being completely honest, we're leaving it a bit to chance. And we can put a spin on today, we can say, "Oh, those children are very intuitive." So now that we've taken delivery of them, just give them to them, give it free rein. And they're so intuitive. We can't help but have success, or something like that. So I think that what you are saying though makes sense. I think it's far more like in, I don't know, business. I think in the private sector, of course, you have to trial things to make sure that it makes sense, because, "It's got to make financial sense, duh, duh, duh." But I don't know. I think in education sometimes that willingness to take time to have a pilot study first and to evaluate it over a decent amount of time, not just, "Did the children like it for a week?" "Let's go wholesale across the school." Doing something where you are really looking and that's what it sounds like you guys do across the trust. And it just sounds so obvious and makes sense when you say it loud.
But I think it's that sort of time aspect and taking time to see tangible results before doing something, because it might be the financial aspect, but of course the most important thing is something that you've said that you, and I have absolutely no doubt you share the same ethos, that that's the children. It's the impact on the children. And I think that that's so important. So anyway listen, I just think it seems so obvious, but I'm not always convinced that is, or people are willing to give it that amount of time to evaluate it.
I think it's also important to remember you're on a journey and just because we introduced Chromebooks and we started using them and we used technology is not to say that that's it, because actually we've got to evaluate it. Is it still working? How can we improve this? And I think as a trust, we're never standing still. We're always trying to improve things for our children. And that's really important that actually you have that reflective nature that it's not just, "Oh, this works really well. We're really good to see it. So, that's the end." It's actually, "Yes, this works really well, but how can we make it work better? And how can we actually share this as well?" That's something at LEO that we do really promote is actually sharing our expertise. And we're often having people come in to see the technology being used.
And I think we always think, "Oh, we could improve," and people always really wowed at what they see. And I think if we can share that and we can share that within other schools, other trusts across the country, wherever, then that's helping us on our journey as well, because we can start unpacking things that perhaps don't work or do work and actually seeing the success of that as well. So if anybody does want to come and visit, they'll be very welcome at LEO to see the technology happen.
Oh, I'd like to come and visit Emma. So there you go.
Put my name down.
Oh can I come?
Andy, I need a plane ticket.
I think, Emma we're going to take you up on that. I might bring some people with me if that's all right. Is that okay?
You would be absolutely welcome. That's no problem royalty coming in. I don't know if I'll be able to contain myself.
Let's not. I'll make sure I bring my pointy hat in my studded robe. So what's next? What's next for the trust? Where do you guys go from here?
I think it's the embedding now. So as I've said, we've got seven schools hopefully soon to be eight. So actually how can we embed that? It's no point us just having one place where it's working really, really well. It's actually sharing that expertise across the schools. And that's when us, as directors are quite useful to be able to support that across the schools. But I suppose it's just, like I said, not standing, still seeing what else is out there. Other ways that we can get technology into the classroom just to support learners as well. So we have technologies for supporting our least able.
We have technology for all of our teaching, but actually how can we embed that and make sure that the learners are getting the most out of it, as well as teachers feeling confident to teach it as well, because that sometimes can be a bit of a barrier, is actually the teacher not feeling like they can do a great job with it. And so then they perhaps reticent to actually use it. So I think it's actually encouraging sharing expertise and developing that and just sharing our knowledge to other schools as well. I think that's really important for everyone.
And what would you say to people who create tools for schools? Digital technology tools for schools. First of all, do you think, and this is just to wrap it up. Do you think that they're doing a good enough job and if they're not doing a good enough job, what do they need to do to support you better?
I would say make them all free. No. I would say make, I think come into schools and see what we use them for, because sometimes the desired effect that they think it's for actually, isn't always like that. And I think just making sure that the tool that they create, isn't just flashy. That's always nice, but it's not going to enhance. And I think it's got to be user friendly. It's got to be-
More pedagogy. But, sorry go on.
Yeah. We've got to look at actually, how can we use the teaching and learning fundamentals and actually replicate that on the technology that's actually going to enhance the learning? Not just exist, I suppose.
Yeah. Gotcha. Emma, thanks so much again for joining us.
Thank you for joining us on the School for School podcast.