Truly believing that all students deserve the very best start in life, Spire Junior School in Derbyshire has an ethos that is centred around improving student outcomes and transforming learning opportunities. Prioritising student wellbeing and encouraging class-wide participation through interactive technology, Assistant Head and Year 6 Teacher, Alex Bramley, talks us through the importance of positivity and innovation in the classroom…
Being one of the lucky winners to receive an ActivPanel in Promethean’s nationwide competition, Classroom Stories, Alex’s innovative streak hasn’t stopped there… With an authentic outcomes driven curriculum, Spire Junior School challenges its students to work creatively, whilst deepening knowledge and understanding through engaging and enriching experiences.
All students are encouraged to work towards an end-goal and are immersed in exciting projects that have been designed to expand their horizons and as a result, the teachers use the tools and equipment at their disposal to make learning as interesting and engaging as possible.
“As a teacher, I truly believe that positivity and fun should be a fundamental part of each curriculum lesson. The teacher plays a pivotal role, not only in student understanding, but also in the way a student feels about their learning and how they engage with it, because of this I always try to make learning interesting and engaging. Students learn best when they have memorable experiences, fun whilst learning or enjoy taking part in tasks. This method of stimulating curiosity is a core part of my teaching philosophy,” Alex explained.
At Spire Junior School, teachers are supported and inspired to use their intuition, take risks and create innovative experiences. Using classroom technology and having a sense of freedom, teachers are motivated to find new ways of delivering engaging and dynamic lessons. “At Spire Junior School, we are always learning and adapting our teaching methods to provide the best classroom experiences for our students. Communicating with our colleagues on social media, we are continually sharing and receiving best practice advice on technology use in lessons to fuel discussion and interactivity,” continued Alex.
Designed specifically for education, the Promethean ActivPanel has proven instrumental in supporting Alex to transform his classroom environment into a connected hub of interactivity. The functionality of the ActivPanel has enabled teachers at the school to embed further technological experiences into the classroom in a streamlined and effective way. Allowing students to interact with their learning, the ActivPanel has enabled Alex to introduce fun and interesting ways to learn different topics and inspire peer-to-peer collaboration and understanding.
“We regularly initiate split screen challenges in which we’ll have two groups of students who will form a team to complete tasks, such as long division, faster than the other. This competitiveness encourages the students to work together and the ActivPanel perfectly facilitates this. They also sometimes compete with me and we record the results for social media to share with other educators, I’m not ashamed to admit that they often beat me,” commented Alex.
Playing a significant role in the learning space over the last year, technology was instrumental at Spire Junior School to support students when adjusting to learning from home, maintaining communication between teachers and encouraging wellbeing breaks. With vibrant classrooms that are environments that bolster student participation and the discussion of ideas, the absence of this social element posed a risk to student wellbeing.
To navigate these challenges, Spire Junior School made it its mission to support regular communication between students. Organising Zoom meetings for students to chat to each other and school-assemblies that helped to boost morale, the school encouraged conversation, involvement and visibility between students and teachers. Coming up with Through the Keyhole style tours of classrooms and getting teachers to take part in Bushtucker Trials, students and teachers were made to feel involved in school-wide activities despite the physical distance between them.
With technology at the heart of his traditional classroom activities, Alex also ensured he kept up the interaction level when students were learning away from the classroom. “Although unable to use my ActivPanel to the level we were used to, the ActivPanel and accompanying technology formed an integral part of our distance learning strategy. If I was in the classroom, I would record myself on my phone delivering a lesson using the technology. If I was at home, I was able to use Promethean’s lesson delivery software, ActivInspire to deliver lessons digitally. Using my prepared lesson content, I saved valuable time in the hybrid process and as a result, students were presented with tools they recognised.
“The platform also has a screen recording functionality, which established the grounds of my teaching methods. Using ActivInspire Screen Recorder, I was able to record my screen and talk students through the key learning points of the lesson as I would usually do in the classroom,” continued Alex.
Engagement has naturally been an issue for students when learning away from the classroom, but Spire Junior School has continued to innovate and inspire students wherever they are. Spending a lot of time on digital devices, whether that be for educational or enjoyment purposes, Spire Junior School encouraged distance between screens and promoted daily exercise using educational driven tasks. Such tasks included Alex’s own innovative idea, ‘Lamppost Orienteering’, that took students out in the fresh air to fulfil curriculum requirements such as number recognition, problem solving, maths, map reading skills and coding.
“‘Lamppost Orienteering’ was created by taking a screengrab of a map, which detailed the local area around the school. I then walked the area and selected a series of lampposts and their corresponding numbers to use, before lacing dots on the map and recording the codes for the answer sheet. These were then shared with the students to go and find the correct answers and codes. This not only helped students to bolster their coding and number skills, but also gave them a new and interesting task to participate in whilst also getting outside in the fresh air.
“Innovation and creating interesting tasks is a fundamental part of my job as a teacher. With students back in the classroom full time, I am looking forward to embracing technology even further and continuing to drive engagement through positive attitudes and exciting lesson delivery,” concluded Alex. Forming the backbone of its pedagogical philosophy, technology and positivity are transforming the learning environment for both teachers and students. Using tools that have been designed for the learning space, coupled with a determination to enhance student outcomes, Spire Junior School’s support of its teachers to inspire new and innovative learning experiences has revolutionised lesson delivery and use of technology within the classroom.
Edtech and formative assessment
Prometheans has published 10 ideas for making lessons more interesting, engaging and fun through formative assessment, while also giving pupils valuable feedback.
Formative assessment is integral to effective teaching. It helps teachers to cater to different learners within a mixed-ability class, while also allowing pupils to understand their academic strengths and weaknesses.
Because formative assessment is an essential part of the learning process, it’s vital that teachers have everything they need to make learning interesting, engaging, fun and successful.
- Polling tools
By asking questions and developing lines of enquiry that combine prior knowledge and real-world observations, you can add a new level of interaction to lessons. So, instant polling can be used to help keep lessons interesting. What’s more, by immediately identifying and addressing any gaps in knowledge – both at an individual and class level – you can tailor your lessons to the real needs of each pupil, providing the stimulus needed to help keep students engaged.
- ActivInspire with ClassFlow. Facilitating active participation by pupils and instant assessment by teachers, and optimised for use with the ActivPanel, ClassFlow allows you to collate whole class responses to questions, at the moment of learning, in real time. Students can also draw on the screen using their devices and move things around which makes it so much more interactive than just choosing a, b, c, or d.
- Mentimeter. An interactive presentation tool, Mentimeter lets you poll your students and check their level of understanding. There are many different types of questions you can create including image-based, multiple choice, scales, open-ended, questions from the audience and more. You can even generate word clouds out of your student’s responses.
- Poll Everywhere. Helping you to engage your class in real time, Poll Everywhere is a live audience polling tool. You can ask questions during your lessons, and see live data and reports with responses appearing in animated graphs/charts.
- SurveyPlanet. SurveyPlanet’s simple but powerful survey tools allow educators to build and share online surveys quickly and easily.
- Collaboration tools
Helping to develop critical thinking and 21st-century skills, collaborative assessment is an essential part of learning today. Not to mention a powerful engagement avenue for students.
- Quizlet. Quizlet is helping teachers to improve their school’s results by introducing flashcards, games and more into the classroom. With Quizlet for teachers, you’ll also find fun yet challenging revision resources to suit students of all levels.
- Spiral. Spiral helps educators to transform any classroom into an interactive learning space. Students teams can create and share collaborative presentations from linked devices, while you can carry out quick-fire formative assessments to see what the whole class is thinking.
- ActivCast. Using ActivCast with the Activpanel students or teachers can easily connect their device and share their screen with the wider class, making it quick and simple to collaborate as a group.
- In-class activities
For quick formative assessment during lessons, you want activities that are simple to create and efficient to deploy.
- One-minute papers. Students can create one-minute papers on a specific subject matter in response to a teacher-posed question. For example, you could ask your students “what was the most important concept you learned in class today?”
- ActivInspire. When educators combine the ActivInspire collaborative lesson delivery software with an ActivPanel, they get access to a vast suite of tools that enable them to create and deliver more dynamic lessons. And, over the last decade educators have helped to shape millions of ActivInspire lessons and activities. As such, you benefit from something that has been formed by educators, for educators.
- Activpanel. With ‘Activities’, students complete tasks based on the lesson subject matter, and the software tracks correct/incorrect answers, as well as the time the activity has taken. Activities on the ActivPanel is also great for consolidating, reinforcing and extending pupils’ learning.
- Online portfolios
Digital portfolios provide a dynamic way for students to work. The online equivalent of an old-fashioned mood board, these portfolios can also be used to present work for formative assessment. Creative pupils particularly love this style of evaluation as it allows them to demonstrate their aesthetic skills
- Padlet. Padlet allows teachers and their students to make beautiful boards, documents, and webpages. Easy to use and fun to contribute to, you can include a huge range of information including photos, documents, web links, video, and music to make the text come alive.
- Pinterest. Pinterest is an information sharing website and app that lets people ‘pin’ content and build and maintain ‘boards’.
- Seesaw. Seesaw is another digital portfolio and communication tool. It allows pupils to express themselves, reflect on their learning and create a collection they are proud to show to others. Parents and guardians can view their children’s work and leave comments.
- Video assessments
One formative assessment medium that has become particularly popular with teachers and students is video.
As well as making video lessons, you can also get students to make their own content. To do this you should introduce pupils to a concept, and present them with some guidelines. Students are them instructed to research the topic more deeply before creating a video to show to their classmates. An open discussion follows each video with the student asked to discuss the process they went through to create the video and defend their perspective. This encourages learners to examine their own thought processes.
- Edpuzzle. With Edpuzzle, teachers can turn videos into lessons. It’s easy to add your voice narration and questions. You can use videos from platforms such as YouTube, or record and upload your own. You can also insert a quiz anywhere and track student progress.
- Flipgrid. With Flipgrid, students record short videos and reply to each other’s videos. Educators are 100% in control with video moderation, access controls.
- Live learning games
Keeping students engaged is a common challenge in every classroom. Live gaming tools help to keep your students focused and motivated.
- Gimkit. Gimkit is a game show for the classroom that requires knowledge, collaboration, and strategy to win. Students answer questions on their own devices and at their own pace. And each student gets exposure to the questions multiple times to ensure mastery.
- Kahoot! Kahoot! makes it easy to create, share and play fun learning games or trivia quizzes in minutes. The Kahoot! website also includes practical tips and inspiring classroom stories.
- Prodigy. Branded as “The most engaging math platform in the world”, Prodigy has content from all major topics, with a diagnostic test to place students in the correct grade, embedded assessments, and automatic differentiation.
- Interactive lessons
Interactive lessons using front-of-class displays, like the Promethean ActivPanel, provide a seamless and efficient tool for teachers to formatively assess their pupils. You can make use of your preferred assessment or apps directly from the panel. Through this connected technology, you can also access pupil work, and make faster adjustments to your teaching methods where necessary.
- InsertLearning. InsertLearning is a Chrome extension that lets you turn any webpage into an interactive lesson. You can highlight text, add sticky notes, insert questions and videos, or even a discussion.
- Nearpod. Nearpod lets you create engaging lessons with informative and interactive assessment activities.
- Pear Deck. Founded by educators, Pear Deck provides solutions rooted in active learning and formative assessment. It makes it easy for you to connect with learners of every age and ability.
Teachers can ask students to create a visualisation of what they learnt. For example, you can ask each student to create an illustration or doodle to demonstrate learning.
- Google Charts. With a rich gallery of interactive charts and data tools, Google Charts is powerful and straightforward to use.
- Pixon. With Pixon, students can create comics about anyone or anything with no drawing or art skills required.
- Comparative assessments
Comparative assessment allows pupils to weigh up the pros and cons of various options. And, according to Robert J Marzano’s 2007 book The Art and Science of Teaching, studies show that asking students to identify similarities and differences through comparative analysis leads to significant gains in student achievement. Not least because, by focusing student thinking on contrasting ideas, this approach strengthens their ability to remember important content.
- Thumbs up/down. Students use their thumbs like at the end of a Roman Coliseum show.
- Venn diagrams. You can ask students to compare and contrast a topic using a Venn diagram.
- Diffen. Diffen is the website that lets you compare anything. You can access ready-made options or try creating some lists of your own.
- Exit tickets
Teachers can use lesson exit tickets to show them what students are thinking and what they have learned at the end of each lesson. These quick, informal assessments enable you to quickly assess student understanding of the material. Unlike polling, which is used for opinion-based feedback, assessments are a hands-on way of ascertaining whether pupils have grasped a subject matter.
- ActivInspire. Within the ActivInspire assessment feature, you can use different testing formats, easily adapted for different subjects. Questions can be randomised, students can easily navigate or skip, and you can set a time limit, if applicable. Thanks to the specific properties, delivery options and question choices, ActivPanel assessments can be designed to collect more than just correct or incorrect responses. Feedback can be set per answer or per right / wrong response, depending on the question type.
- Plickers. Plickers lets you collect on-the-spot formative assessment data without students having to use devices, paper or pencils. Instead, you create and print specially coded cards that students hold up in class as their responses. You then use the Plickers app to scan the cards and collect the data.
- Socrative. Socrative is a classroom app for fun, effective engagement and on-the-fly assessments. You can design and save assessments specifically for your students.