Power of Collaboration

When a learning experience is designed with collaboration at its heart – alchemy happens.

This is true for most age groups but especially powerful in KS3&4. Tasks that lend themselves to collaboration are ones that require discussion and decision making – in short – challenge based learning tasks.

The big question is when and how often students are exposed to the opportunity to truly collaborate, to discover their hidden talents and skills in order to satisfy a task.

Recently, there was an opportunity to reimagine a transition point between Prep and Senior schools – in a meaningful and dynamic way. The nature of the day was to broadly introduce a wide spectrum of personalities to a new way of working in an unfamiliar environment. Combining a lot of unknown elements with the expectation that the students would overcome any barriers and rise to the challenge. This is a risky business when there’s 250+ students.

The ambitious plan was set in motion, the challenge was for groups of student to make a digital campaign about an environmental issue that they ‘cared’ about. Further, the students were placed into social groups (based on a house system) so that they would have the opportunity to make new acquaintances, for these to become an anchor in an undulating sea of unfamiliarity, once they started as newbies in the new term.

Make me care – this was the result of one group challenge. There were many examples of amazing, surprising and thought provoking work. I was amazed that the boys were able to sub divide the task so quickly, effectively identify their strengths and then going on to carry out their roles so efficiently. One boy chose, having been introduced that morning to a modelled version of a Keynote slide deck, to compile his own version with emotive images about climate change. A second and third boy worked on a collaborative Pages document to write a poem which turned into lyrics for a song, assisted by a third boy who put himself forward to sing the lyrics to a backing track created in GarageBand by the fifth member of the team. The end result was emotive.

This one stood head and shoulders above the others for a few particular reasons:

  • These five students had never met or worked together before.
  • They worked to a deadline ( approx. 2.5hrs of working time)
  • They showed diligence and self belief in offering up their particular skill set. They were creative and collaborated at every stage in a supportive manner.
  • They were mindful of the needs of the individual as well as focused on the final group outcome.
  • They took risks, they dared to be different. They took ownership of their learning and took responsibility to do their role to the best of their ability.
  • They were confident and unconstrained by what had come before and reimagined their response.
  • The end product transcended expectations of their tutors but more importantly of themselves. They were proud and a little surprised by what they had produced… resulting in sustained, enthusiastic response of the audiences applause.
  • They were left with the desire to have the opportunity to work in a similar way again, curious to discover new ways of sharing their learning and where this springboard would take them next…

Student Lens – iPads in KS4

It’s all too easy to overlook or even dismiss the students view of their learning. As teacher, or as we increasingly use digital tools, perhaps experience designers is a more apt description – we need to be open to listening to our students. Their view on their learning is personal, emotionally based and fully committed. So, I was delighted when I challenged a group of girls recently to explain – from their point of view-the role that digital tools take in their learning. Here is the result

The video took three hours to compile, this process included:

  • Discussion of the task and the possibilities of what to include, mindmap using Notes
  • Negotiation leading to agreement on outcomes and separating into smaller groups (delegation)
  • Allocation of tasks, independently sourcing resources, scripting, collation of resources, filming and editing, decision making whilst refining and responding to limitations. Solving & overcoming problems with availability of footage. (Collaborative features of Pages, Keynote, iMovie, Notes, Camera, Google Classroom, Airdrop) working to deadlines and completing a task in allocated time scale.
  • Editing skills using critical analysis and suitability to audience.
  • Sharing ideas and evaluating impact of end presentation – does it answer the original challenge/question posed? Is it a true reflection from the students point of view?
Warden Park Digital Leaders – embody independent learning with iPad.

Behind the Scenes – WWF Science Challenge

Making of an ‘Inspired By Nature’ Digital Genius Challenge.

This blog reviews the process that one group of students underwent from attending the introductory WWF workshop to presenting their ideas at the Annual Education Summit. 

This challenge was conceived in partnership with our friends & experts at WWF.Uk with this particular Science and Nature Challenge is specifically targeted at KS2 students.

What is the actual challenge? 

The ‘Inspired by Nature’ Challenge poses two questions:

1) How can we invent new products which  reduce the impact on the Earth’s fragile resources?

2) How can we learn and mimic nature to make these new inventions sustainable?

Task: Design a sustainable invention that is ‘inspired by nature’ that has mimimum impact on the world’s resources. Present your  work in a ‘logbook format’  which shows how you developed your  initial sketches through to a working prototype. 

Science & Nature Challenge Badge

Step 1:  Register for the challenge with Digital Genius.

Step 2: Book an introductory workshop held at the Living Planet Centre, HQ of WWF.Uk.  This is a free two hour workshop which is led by the education team from WWF.

Step 3: Attend the  WWF.uk ‘Inspired by Nature’ workshop at the Living Planet Centre. This invaluable interactive and hands on session will give students the knowledge and inspiration to spark ideas.

The interactive activities included in the workshop are both collaborative and thought provoking. Digital tools allow the students to capture their ideas as they begin to consider how to develop their solution. Green Screen footage, interviews, note taking are combined into an ePub document created in Pages or BookCreator.

The Venus Fly Trap is an example of how a group of students began to develop the concept of designing a mechanism for capturing plastics from the oceans.  The flash of inspiration started as a discussion

Step 4:  Back at School the student’s ideas should continue to be developed. This can be in a variety of ways:

* continuing to add to and update initial ePub document (BookCreator, Pages, Keynote, Explain Everything)

*capture video interviews of team on how developments are progressing (Camera, Clips, iMovie)

*creating an animation from a line sketch drawing as a prototype (Keynote, Clips, iMovie)

* making a working model of prototype (3D modelling)

*annotated notes to explain prototype development (Keynote, Pages, Thinglink)








Inspired by Nature – workshop #1

“Eyes for your ears”, “Nocturnal Safety Camera” or the “Echo Headband” are some of the prototypes resulting from the first inspired by nature workshop held at the Living Planet Centre. It was a humbling yet thrilling experience. Supported by our friends at the World Wildlife Fund UK Education Team, the inaugural workshop got off to a flying start!  In fact, “a flying submarine”  was inspired by the wonderous activities provided by  Lizzie, Christiane & Alison.

They made the students and staff from Tudor Court Primary & Writtle Junior School’s feel very welcome and provided an inspiring environment in which to discover and learn about how nature can guide us to design our world more sustainably. As consumers we should be influenced by the animal kingdom using biomimicry to create inventions that can work in harmony with our needs as consumers.

The best part about the workshop is being able to explore ideas interactively in the learning pods. This spurred on the studnets to really put their mind to planning, designing and creating prototypes which were the first thought solutions to the Digital Genius science challenge.

The students used recycled materials to craft their ideas into models so they could elaborate and explain their innovations using Book Creator. Collaborative conversations meant that the ideas were already beginning to change and develop – I’m looking forward to seeing the how the inventions evolve. The unveiling of the ideas will be at the WWF.UK partnered “Inspired by Nature Zone” at the Annual Education Summit. I can hardly wait …


Here are are a few of the ideas being considered…




Dancing Robot Challenge – Starters guide

Robot Dancing Challenge – A Starter’s Guide.

If you are thinking of taking on the Robot Challenge there are five easy steps to take. Watch the short screencasts to show you how to lay down your moves quickly and easily…

Step 1: Buy your MeeBot, download the Jimu app onto your iPad and build your Robot.


Step 2: Create an original score. Use GarageBand Live loops and record your track for the robot to dance to.


Step 3: Code your new moves using Swift, either in the dedicated playground or using the Swift option in the Jimu app itself under coding.  Save your commands.


Step 4 : Synch your robots newly coded moves to your Garageband score.


Step 5: Record your sequence. Register for a golden ticket for the dance off at the AES.

Teach Meets are happening over the next few weeks to give you the opportunity to come and try out coding the moves for yourself. So sign up now!

The students will be asked to submit their final dances at the end of April. So plenty of time to get involved!


Coaching -CPD that has impact.

What really changes behaviour?

*This generation of youth is facing daunting challenges. Unemployment rates among young people are in at an all-time high. Far too many students find their schooling boring and irrelevant, and don’t consider it a predictable route to a good job and life.

Teachers need to find the energy to generate change and fast.

With technology this is easier than anything else seen in past efforts to reform. New learning tools and resources can accelerate change when a new learning partnership emerges between students and teachers when digital tools and resources become pervasive.

Given the right conditions this would be unstoppable.

But this takes ambition, even bravery. With the instinct to go against the accepted route and to strike out. Being prepared to disrupt and question with a healthy dose of resilience to keep going when all those around doubt. That’s exactly what some forward-thinking schools are choosing to do. Having assessed their student body and made the connection between the wider world that surrounds the school. Teachers, school leaders and educationalists are beginning to really champion technology. Not because it’s the latest fad, it’s here to stay. More importantly, it will drive the future. Enabling our students the use this tool to code, communicate and control their world.

Let’s face it, teachers are provided with the opportunity to train when they are either a) exhausted or b) juggling a million other roles or worse both! I have experienced a wide range of training from lectures led in badly ventilated rooms, to small cluster groups after school when the presenter reads their slide deck. Then helpfully hands out the whole deck printed and stapled almost as a justification of my time. This isn’t training. Or effective to initiate a change in practice.

Q: So what works?

Simple, in a word. Coaching.

…a way to get back to basics, to connect on a personal level with a teacher in their own environment where they are more willing to ask questions that are relevant to their practice. They embrace ideas and new practices because they can see an immediate application. This can then be supported and nurtured through modelling the inclusion of technology in class, involving TA’s or colleagues through observation, who then also witness the impact immediately. A mutually trusted foundation on which to build. Confidence is high as the teacher remains in control. After the initial steps , this teacher is willing to push the possibilities and expand their repertoire using technology . It follows that they are more likely to embrace and sustain the new pedagogy and want to share their positive experience with like minded colleagues.

Three simple steps to success: this is the model that I have introduced into schools who have successfully embraced technology in their teaching and have witnessed the positive impact this has on their students.

Introduction: confidence building – planning for change

Inspiration: competent practitioners – modelling in the class the new pedagogy.

Innovation : committed teachers – taking responsibility for and ownership of the new practices.

These are the comments of a cohort of amazing teachers who are nearing the end of their phased support at Bickley Park Prep School. They are already set to coach the next cohort as the process had such a profound effect on their teaching. Building a community of learners with a new learning partnership with technology as the tool that enables effective change.

I rest my case.

*A Rich Seam Executive Summary This report is about three new forces that are converging to break open prodigious learning possibilities.

Robots in the curriculum

Teach Meet#3 was hosted at Bickley Park School by Robert Cobb assisted ably by some students. The focus today was on coding. Specifically the Robot Dancing challenge which pairs an original score composed in GarageBand with the coded movements of the Jimu MeeBot. The Robot can be purchased from Apple stores but GarageBand is free with iPad. The availability of two dedicated Playgrounds in Swift makes this an ideal way to introduce students to using both block coding and swift language.

Watch this clip to see how to get started with your students on the Robot Dancing Challenge.

The session began with a run through of the timeline for the Digital Genius Challenges. The showcase for the students at the Annual Education Summit is in the diary for June 15th 2018, so there’s a lot of creating, collaborating and composing time! Deadlines for the final submission of work will be May 14th 2018, but student work can be submitted from now via email to vickiebacon@solutions-inc.co.uk.


As with all Digital Genius Challenges, it’s not just about the wow moments with a limited group of students. Moreover, it’s about working to develop links to the wider curriculum and to find ways to engage teachers and expose to the digital possibilities. Today’s Teach meet masterclass revolved around this very subject. Delivered by Rob, Deputy Head, who eloquently explained how he has integrated robotics and particularly Lego in to Bickley Park’s computer science curriculum. His students code routinely and work with Lego components to build on their skill set by having the opportunity to explore through experimentation and challenge. The students love it as one boy explains…


Here’s a flavour of Rob’s Masterclass.

During the workshop there was lots of discussion around how robotics was shaping the minds of the students. From the earliest years using BeeBots, through to Sphero, Meebots and Lego’s Educational offers of WeDo2 and Mindstorms. This can be extended into Swift Playgrounds where the third party devices deepen understanding of coding protocols. Some schools are reporting that the uptake of girls into computer science is attributable to the accessibility and foundations laid using Swift on iPad. Many teachers take on their own challenge to become an Apple Teacher with Swift Playgrounds, which motivates students to become even more amazing!

Rob addressed the question of cost and the consensus was that affordability is eased when the computational thinking aspects are linked in a cross curricular way. Creative teachers extending the possibilities to include robotics and coding into all areas of the curriculum. The students lead the way here by embracing the Digital Genius Challenges! So don’t leave the expensive kit in a box waiting for the one hit lesson in the summer term! Be creative, innovate and make your lessons inspirational.

We also discussed age limits of the challenges. Although the MeeBot box says age 8, the app which accompanies it is rated 4+, students are ready for the coding when they can access it. I’m 50 and I enjoyed the challenge of building, coding and making the MeeBot dance! All the Digital Genius Challenges are purposely set so that all ages can attempt them, whether at a less sophisticated level or with extreme ingenuity and aplomb.

So thank you Rob – your Robotic masterclass was exactly that, masterly.

Robot Dancing

Teach Meet #2 held at Tormead turned out to have quite surprising outcomes. The Digital Genius family extended it’s inclusive arm to both students and staff. ( …this event also attracted a parent too!) the difference on this occasion was the mix of experience. The greatest, by which I mean knowledge of Swift, coding experience was actually a Y7 student. She happily sat and gave us all her pearls of wisdom and displayed an unabashed approach to tackling coding the MeeBot to dance using Swift Playgrounds. Which is one of the amazing challenges that can be undertaken this year by our Digital Genius students; I can’t wait for her submission.

The challenge incorporates an additional element, of composing an original score in GarageBand. The Apple Teacher programme does a great job of guiding teachers through the seeming complexities of this incredibly versatile app. On the surface the app looks complicated but as we proved at our short evening session, GarageBand is fun! It has some incredibly powerful features and most importantly can turn even the most tentative musician into a virtual maestro! At the Teach meet we all had an opportunity to become mixologists…of music and not cocktails. Using the live loops option is so easy and allows even the reluctant musicians to produce a harmonious melody especially one that a robot can be coded to dance to…as a result of our thirty minutes hands on session, five more teachers are now going to give it a go. Heading for their students golden ticket for the final dance off to be held at Solutions Inc’s Annual Education Summit on June 15th 2018.

If you’d like to inspire your students to have a go at coding with Swift to synchronise a MeeBot Robot to move to an originally composed score then this years coding challenge is for you. Check out the Digital Genius Website for more information. Better still sign up and come along to one of our ambassadors Teach meets and experience a masterclass from some of our amazing partner school ambassadors.

Innovative storytelling … trail blazing.

Read, write, perform!

The first Teach Meet to Support Digital Genius Challenges was held at Writtle Junior School. Our host, Jenny Greensted an inspirational teacher who understands the power of digital fluency to enhance learning, led a masterclass on how to include stop frame animation, green screen and video editing to achieve amazing results in the classroom. Her honest and practical approach, belies her influence. She is a giant amongst teachers, talented and forward thinking, she effortlessly ‘infects’ her colleagues with self belief and wonder.

Jenny believes that teachers have a fantastic opportunity to bring language alive when they engage with their students with digital tools. Writtle Juniors a small state school near Chelmsford are taking a critical look at their curriculum and crucially, at the demands that the curriculum asks of their learners. Is it relevant? Is it fun? Is it achievable? When the answer is no they tear up the rule book and refresh their collective thinking on how to approach the curriculum, in this case literacy, utilising the digital tools at their disposal.

Read, write, perform resonated in the ears of many teachers with initiates being pushed into primary schools to get the learners as active participants in acquiring literacy. This process focused approach is paying dividends from reception to Year 6. Early mistakes are learnt from, refined and strengths built on so that learners are provided with the appropriate time allocated in the timetable, environments are changed and classroom furniture cleared to break the barriers down that are preventing quality work being created. Leg space is planned for and TA’s respond by providing the ‘unusual’ requests for equipment to support the children’s needs. Problem solving, critical thinking and most importantly responsibility to get the task completed in the time scale, rests on the shoulders of the students. They do the work. They have been prepared by skill sessions to get them to practice and rehearse their new skills of camera angles, lighting and editing. They embrace the process completely and involvement invariably grows beyond the classroom back to parents who provide Lego characters or similar props.

The apps that are required for innovative storytelling include Stop Motion,

Stop Motion Studio by CATEATER, LLC


Book Creator

Book Creator for iPad by Red Jumper Limited


Green Screen

Green Screen by Do Ink by DK Pictures, Inc.



iMovie by Apple


At the end of the hours session, the audience was left feeling enthused and excited to get back into their classroom to try out this exciting way of learning. Safe in the knowledge that they had taken the opportunity to have a go and try it out themselves first! The Digital Genius Challenges are available to inspire the students especially the innovative storytelling challenge.

Tip of the day – buy green tables to double up as mini green screens! Genius!

Teach Meets are held regularly to support the Digital Genius Programme – Go to the Solutions Inc website register your details and come along to the next Teach meet in your area.

Build, Code, Play with Lego Boost.

Does Lego Boost have a place in the classroom?

When I’m looking for a kit to recommend I have some strict criteria that it has to satisfy in order to be considered worthy of classroom use (in no particular order).

1) Is it easy to use straight out of the box?
2) Is it collaborative?
3) Is it gender balanced or age limited?
4) Does it foster creativity ? Beyond enabling a student follow instructions accurately…
5) Does it have longevity? (device agnostic)
6) Is it affordable?
7) Is it durable/classroom proof?

Looking at the list of criteria I am aware that I haven’t mentioned any curriculum mapping references, as a teacher working with the growing raft of technology, the skills I look to foster are of problem solving, resilience and communication. These are my three guiding practices.

For Lego devotees the pleasure has always been the build. Lego have introduced fantastic models with endless pieces of plastic which defy imagination or tap in to a particular brand, like Star Wars. Old favourites co-exist with the of the moment builds, keeping Lego fresh and relevant. Lego Boost is the latest offering from the engineering geniuses at Lego. For me it sits between Lego Dimensions and Lego Mindstorms. It is marketed for its coding capabilities and that’s my number one interest.

But, to be clear this is high quality fun.

Selflessly, in order to test out my classroom criteria, I enlisted the help of my 7 year old godson, AJ. My reasoning was I would see the sets true limitations and capture a sense of how it could work in the classroom. As this is a joint road test, I have included his opinions too.

Criteria 1: Easy to use? Out of the box-ability. 8/10

Download the app 10/10 LEGO® BOOST by LEGO System A/S

Multi touch and colourful, no disappointments here, but stages prior to preparing to build are required. You’ll need 6x AAA batteries from the outset. Once located it’s easy to assemble.

The packets of amazingly engineered colourful bits and blocks come in numbered bags 1-11, each matching a level of skill. As you progress through, the challenges ramp up.

Accessing the building instructions on the app is a matter of choosing the model you wish to build. AJ and I (…well mostly AJ) chose Vernie the rolling robot, by tapping on his image access the build instructions were revealed. Then the small matter of connecting the app to the motor took another few minutes and finally the firmware was installed. We were ready to build! This was the most stressful part of the build, I’ll return to this later …

Criteria 2 & 3 – is it collaborative, gender balanced or age limited? 8/10

The box states the recommended ages, but it does have applications beyond 12 years of age. It depends on the child’s experience with Lego too, AJ is a two handed Lego ninja so found the set compatible with his interests and skill level, he is only 7, the recommended age to start this kit. Gender wise it cleverly includes a robot pet, I personally can’t wait to dismantle Vernie to build the cat…
Is it collaborative? Well yes, the build experience can be a shared one. And no, the intricacies of the model lends itself to a one person build. In the classroom you could insist on taking turns but the level of focus required to ensure everything is assembled correctly is the reason for the high level of ownership & personal satisfaction felt once built.

Criteria 4 – Does it foster creativity? 9/10

Having unlocked each level through accurate building and practice, the build motivates the builder to continue to the next stage. There’s a perfect balance between building, coding and playing. Each numbered bag completed results in an inbuilt ‘treat’ – actually it’s a test that you’ve constructed the model properly – and how to apply the technology appropriately. My personal favourite was having only half constructed his body, Vernie spoke to ask for high- five and looked down with his captivating eyebrows and realising he had no hands asked the builder to continue to make them! Genius!

As far as collaborative features, the block coding is both simple and intuitive but multi layered. The initial block coding which is an intrinsic part of the build process, offers simplified instructions, although it becomes clear that these can be edited to deal with complexity during self discovery. For example, the programming of Vernie to play hockey…it comes with a mat which can be the start of a coding journey.

Criteria 5: Does it have longevity? 10/10

Most Lego is timeless and this is one such set…AJ and I would have happily continued to ‘play and code’ Vernie all day. In fact the four hours we worked together flew past. In the classroom this would have to be distilled into a club or lessons so could easily motivate a group of learners for a term, just scratching the surface of one models capabilities. Remember there are five to build in the set and each has various challenges to solve… there’s no chance of boredom. AJ’s commented that the experience was ” beyond amazing, fun and it’s on my birthday list! ”

The only limitations are the coding capabilities and with the addition of possibly using Swift in the future, the glass ceiling of coding would be smashed to pieces. Although compatible, presently only Mindstorms are available as an accessory/ additional playground in Swift playgrounds by Apple https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/swift-playgrounds/id908519492?mt=8 for iPad.

Lego Boost should be welcomed to the party in the August 2017 update to Swift.

Criteria 6: Is it affordable? 9/10

This set cost £150 direct from the Lego Store. It is not cheap, but the quality of the product holds up Lego’s reputation and it is considerably cheaper than Mindstorms. Perhaps a contribution from the PTA makes it ‘obtainable’ for school’s with limited budgets. It shouldn’t just be for the coding club either. Train up your TA! Or how about considering this as the subject of your next staff Inset day? It would be the best way to illustrate to staff the power of coding not just as a series of abstract tasks in lessons but as life long learners that you should never stop marvelling in the incredible possibilities! When you build with Lego you tap into the child within you and by reminding oneself of how that feels, it is liberating. Refreshing staff’s attitude to and the value of play.

Criteria 7: Is it classroom proof?

I began by saying  to earn a place in my classroom it had to satisfy the three working practices of problem solving, resilience (an ability to work a problem through, debug and consider alternatives) and be an aide to communication. Lego Boost undoubtedly does this.  10/10 in that respect.

Realistically, for a class of 30+ you would need to have access to enough built models in order to utilise the excellent block coding. Once opened the numbered bags would have to be replaced with zip tied bags or similar… However, if you were forward thinking ( or if your budget allowed) & embraced technology then this is a must have. Remember earlier, I mentioned stress? The preparation process was a little more in depth than I had expected but it was absolutely necessary for me to go through this stage so that the experience moving forward was positive. Yes, you would have to be organised and ensure the set was updated prior to the lesson but it demands nothing new of the usual high level of teacher’s professionalism.


Lego Boost embodies why technology should be in the hands of our students. It would be a positive addition to the technology tool kit and could be incorporated into the classroom, as AJ reminded me young fertile open minds, given the opportunity to use the technology can excel and produce incredible results. Utopia should be now and a place for Lego Boost should be found in schools. Students are amazing!