BETT 2016

I was fortunate enough to be released from school for 1 day this year to attend BETT on Friday and Saturday. Following my invitation to the Apple Education Leadership Summit in 2014 I was excited to get back to a large scale Education event to see what developments there has been in #EdTech.

Given that this was my first visit, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I purposely didn’t go with a specific focus or plan of attack(despite everything online telling me that this was the way to go!), instead I decided to use this year as an opportunity to get a feel for the show and who/what was there; it both fell short of & surpassed all expectations at the same time.

The Good

24026555193_7c4d4b5091_kThere was a lot of cool, geeky tech on show, and not just expensive kit like 3D Printers or C-Touch Interactive Touchscreens(I’ve got 3 and I LOVE them…more to come on that topic in another post), but also lots of affordable kit such as the BBC micro:bit (free to all S1s/Year 7s), a large number of cool projects to extend the micro:bit such as this robot kit, crane kits and the pi-top which allows you to create a Desktop or Laptop computer using the RaspberryPi!

There was also this cool animated wall created using around 1000 micro:bits which I couldn’t help snapping a short video of!


24653347975_1e80c476d6_oOther highlights included the Microsoft and Google stands which showed the benefits of using Office 365 and Google Apps respectively in the classroom. I’ve previously expressed my interest in Office 365 to encourage a collaborative classroom and am about to embark on a pilot project using Google Apps for Education and specifically Classroom & Hangouts to assess their impact on my classes.

The Bad

Many of the stands, I personally felt, had no specific education focus, but instead were high cost corporate products being pitched at the education market and sadly exhibitors who were clearly fed up or too exhausted to care by Friday afternoon(read – the majority of the Website/App development stands along with the multiple Green screen/video editing solutions that I passed).

One stand that I’d been very keen to visit, but was sadly disappointed with was Show My Homework. I’ve long been a fan of a paperless approach to things like homework. I realised very quickly after I started teaching that the majority of my students bin their homework diaries after 3 or 4 weeks of school, but carry their mobile phones and iPods with them at all times, so now ask my class to take a photo of the homework assignment or add it to their reminders app.

I was impressed with their web based system, push notifications to student’s phones and the fact it ties in with many SIMs systems, they also apparently have a SEEMiS tie in on their roadmap for 2016. Personally I found them too pushy on the sales front; I know that they have sales targets to hit, however I made it clear when I first spoke to them that I was only scoping out products to suggest to our SLT and didn’t have the authority to make a large scale IT purchase, I was asked several times “What can I do get you to agree to take our product today?” and “What would you say if I offered you a 3 year deal to match your current homework diary pricing?”. They also had no clear pricing structure, seemed to guess what prices they would offer based on my answers to their questions and had absolutely no pricing on paper that I could bring back to my senior leadership team.


BETT 2016 was a fantastic experience and I came away with lots of ideas for developing our whole school ICT strategy as well as my own classroom, however having experienced it in person I would plan my next visit more rigorously and collaborate with colleagues in our Local Authority IT team to ensure that I had a clear focus for my visit and didn’t spend as much time visiting stands that had no benefit to my school or others in the area.

The ever changing face of Apple Education

APLEveryone who knows me knows that I’ve got a bit of an obsession with all things Apple but one thing that does slightly irritate me about the iOS ecosystem so that it can change drastically with a new update and very little notice.

I have sole responsibility for managing iOS devices in our school, with the numbers currently sitting at 73 iPads, 4 iPods and 3 Apple TVs, which I managed with a combination of Apple Configurator and Meraki MDM. We’re not currently enrolled in the Apple VPP program which give us some challenges not faced by other schools but we’ve managed to overcome them so far.

The release of iOS 9.1 brought the ability to roll out free apps through Meraki without touching the devices which led me to collect the iPads from staff and begin to update the software and settings on them (some of which are still running iOS 6.1!!!)

The latest Apple announcement is that iOS 9.3 will give Education even more control over the devices, allowing students to personalise their device by logging in with their AD credentials. I’m not sure how this will work in practice, e.g. will it require AD synchronisation or is that feature optional, will the students require their own school issued Apple IDs? There’s a lot of questions that will need to be answered before I decide to collect all of the devices in and upgrade them again.

I know that Apple have a pretty strict NDA in place with their staff and developers, however it would be really useful if there was a process in place to allow Education IT Managers prior knowledge of updates to allow for more effective ICT planning.

What’s the point in [insert lesson topic here]?

“Here sir, what’s the point in learning this?” is a question that I’m sure many teachers have fielded from pupils at one point or another; I remember asking it quite a lot in Maths & Physics when I was at school. As a classroom teacher looking back now I can see the progression from the skills learned and topics covered in S1-S3 through to National and Higher courses but many pupils in S2 learning to program must be sitting thinking “When will I ever use this?”.

I’m fortunate enough to have kept in contact with many of the people that I went to university with, who are now working in industry in Glasgow, London and beyond, and I quite often refer to the work they’re doing when introducing new units to the pupils. But I keep thinking surely this introduction would be better coming directly from them rather than via me?

Following my #HourOfCode meetup with the St Louis School of Milan, I started to think about curricular uses of video conferencing, Google Hangouts in this case. The most obvious links I could think of had nothing to do with Computing; connect to an international classroom and let our students practice Spanish/French, connect to an author and allow the pupils to ask them questions about the text they’ve been studying. Then I started to think about my own faculty; would app developers be will be to chat about how they go about developing a new app – showing the pupils that in the ‘real world’ the software development cycle is actually used, what about a systems analyst or tester describing their role in the process?

I think that schools are missing a fantastic (and importantly free!) opportunity to show our pupils that the skills they’re learning in classes can be directly transfered into the real world. The biggest difficulty that I can see beyond the technical requirements is finding the right contacts. I recently read about #MysterySkype, a guessing game that uses Skype to link international classrooms allowing the pupils to guess where the other class are. The pupils develop their teamwork, communication and internet research skills while talking to other pupils around the world. This lead me to register for the Microsoft Education Community which tries to link speakers with classrooms.

Whether through the use of Skype or Google Hangouts, I’m hoping to begin to introduce video conferencing to my pupils as soon as possible.

If you’d be willing/able to help out please feel free to get in touch!


As in previous years, I decided to take part in the #HourOfCode with my classes this year. If you’ve not heard of the HourOfCode before have a look at the video below.

Through Twitter I got in touch with the Faculty Head of ICT at St Louis School of Milan who had ambitious plans to link international classrooms together during the HourOfCode week. After a few Google Hangouts to discuss the plans we were ready to go. We all made introduction videos which were to be played to the other classrooms at the beginning of the period, after this we had a live link up between the classes.

The students at my school were definitely a bit on the shy side compared with those in Milan, however they enjoyed answering questions from the pupils at St Louis, and were really interested to hear about the multi-national classes in Milan.

Our Google Hangout with Milan
Our Google Hangout with Milan

Having seen how seamless the Hangout was, I’ve now got big plans to extend the use of Google Hangouts in the school. My first step is to get the school signed up to a Google Apps for Education account and issue all pupils & staff with a Google Account. Once that’s done I’d love to have regular hangouts with classrooms around the world as well as experts in various curricular areas.

International Education

I recently came across this tweet from Ian Simpson, Head of Computer Science and ICT at the St. Louis School of Milan.

#HourOfCode is an initiave that I’d heard of, but never really paid any great attention to, partly due to the fact that programming is already pretty embeded into the Scottish Computing curriculum. It launched in 2013 and asked teachers, schools, even full districts to pledge to do a 1 hour long session of coding through a variety of different activities. You can find out more by watching the video below.

I decided that this year I’d give it a go with a couple of classes and contacted Ian; it seems like a nice way to push our International Education links – we already have existing links with schools in Tianjin, China and Donkorkrom, Ghana. You can read Ian’s blog post about the event over on his blog.

The classes that I’ve picked out seem really interested in the project, particularly with the chance to link up with a classroom in another country.

I’ll be sharing my experience of the event here after the live link up on the 11th of December and (fingers crossed) provided it all goes to plan I’ll be on the look out for other opportunities to link up with classes in other cities & countries.