Sunday, 24 June 2012

Raising Standards in Boys' Writing using the iPad for Gaming


In recent literacy lessons I have been exploring the potential of the iPad to motivate children to write for different purposes. One ongoing target in our school is the emphasis on boys’ writing so the theme here is going to be how one app has been used to encourage boys to write with confidence, in an appropriate style and with a strong level of knowledge. Having collaborated with David on the controllable vehicle project ( it struck me how confident and knowledgable the children were in terms of speaking about their work, and this clarity and depth had a direct and hugely positive impact on the children’s writing. I wanted to see if using a popular gaming app would be able to make an impact on the writing of the children I teach.


The app I chose to use is Bike Baron by Qwiboo and Mountain Sheep. Players get to test their prowess on a motorbike as the Bike Baron, as they roll, flip, tumble and speed their way through sequences of ramps, loops and levels. This is a very popular game in class. Levels are short and quick to play, there are thrills and spills on the way, graphics and sound are engaging and its really not that hard to complete. A very accessible game!

Use in the Classroom

Over the course of 3 weeks a group of 12 children took part in the Bike Baron Project. The aim was to produce writing for 6 different purposes. The way the lessons worked was that the specific task and writing purpose was introduced alongside an objective for children to complete on the game. Pupils had access to one ipad between 4. (1 iPad per table). Following the introduction the children were given time to take turns on the game, as the other children discussed and noted down key ideas and drew up/completed plans and writing frames. Each piece of writing took 2 days to plan and complete, there was additional game play time and shared discussion/peer review.

The use of the game started every lesson and children were encouraged to take turns to play and discuss what was happening in the game, in relation to the specific writing prompt.

Lesson Outline

Day 1

1: Introduce context for writing/gaming focus.( Teacher)

2: Groups take turns to play as they plan and discuss the writing task.

3: Pupils begin writing individually

4: Shared progress review within group.

Day 2

1: Revise context/ success criteria/objectives

2: Game playing time. Groups discuss progress/further ideas.

3:Individual writing time.

4: Peer feedback opportunity with members of different group.

The Tasks

a) Recount. ( To retell events).

Pupils had to watch each other complete a single difficult jump or ramp in the game (with a high probability of a tumble for the Bike Baron.) After playing/practising and discussing the task for about 10 minutes the pupils then completed their main attempt. The task was to write about it with clear detail from the point of view of the rider ( Bike Baron) in the first person/past tense. The day I jumped the ramp.

Bike Baron clears a ramp

b) Report ( To describe how things are).

Pupils were encouraged to play a few of the levels and as they watched one another to discuss the qualities/features of the Bike Baron. His safety equipment, his attitude, his skills ( such as timing and balance), the risks he faces etc. Having looked at a basic outline of a non-chronological report the children produced a diagram/plan as they took turns to play. The writing task was to write a report about The Life of A Motorcycle Daredevil.

c) Instructions ( How to do something).

Pupils were encouraged to play a few of the trickier levels of the game, producing more thrills and spills. Having been shown the key features of instructional writing they were asked to discuss how the Bike Baron could avoid injury when completing a jump/loop. This discussion carried on as pupils took it in turn to play the game. Writing task: How to ride a stunt bike safely/How to avoid injury when leaping ramps.

d) Explanation ( How or why things happen).

Pupils were encouraged to take turns to play a few levels of the game and talk about the controls/key features and technical side of the game. Having looked at examples and success criteria for Explanation writing they plan and take notes as they take turns on the game. Writing Task: How to play Bike Baron.

The Bike Baron negotiates a loop
e) Persuasion ( Why you should think this).

The pupils were given some time at the beginning of the lesson to play a few levels and discuss the task. They had briefly seen an example of persuasive writing and details of the key features and language structure. The theme for discussion is the reasons the Bike Baron would give when encouraging others to take up the sport ( it could quite easily be discouraging). As with the other tasks, gameplay and discussion at the beginning of each session. Writing task: Why you should take up stunt biking.

The Bike Baron takes a tumble
f) Discussion ( reasoned argument presenting differing viewpoints).

Pupils begin by playing the game in turn and discussing the prompt having seen an example of a balanced argument leading to a conclusion. Details of the structure of this type of writing have been given along with key language features. This is really a chance for the children to discuss the validity of stuntbiking as a potential Olympic sport. Writing task: Should stuntbiking be part of the Olympics?

Part 2: Outcomes and ways forward


A group of children took part in a series of literacy lessons centred around the popular game Bike Baron by Qwibooand Mountain Sheep as outlined in detail at The aim was to raise standards in writing. The work is based on the success of the Controllable Vehicle project which demonstrated that the iPad can significantly enhance pupil understanding and interest in a topic leading to accelerated progress in speaking, listening and writing.

Pupil response: Gameplay

All of the children really engaged with the game quickly. The short, moderately challenging levels and simple controls proved popular as did the variety of courses and the high frequency of dramatic crashes. The portability of the iPad, its ability to be passed round a group easily, its large screen for spectator viewing made the gameplay on the iPad perfect for this type of activity.

Pupil response: Talking and Planning

At the beginning of lessons the pupils were given unhurried time to play the game. They had been provided with a note-taking sheet and a checklist detailing key features of the particular type of writing. Talk was encouraged with an emphasis on collecting language and sharing ideas. It quickly emerged that the children were comfortable watching each other play games and productive talk came quickly and easily. The pupils naturally commentated on each other’s performances, engaged in wordplay and chatty banter about the events in the game. Pupils who had played the game referred to the Bike Baron in the first person as if it really had been them leaping the burning barrels.

Note-taking, productive talk and Bike Baron on the iPad

Note taking didn’t come naturally at first but as the project developed the pupils began to record good ideas and useful phrases. This happened as other pupils were taking their turn on the game, one eye on the game, note-taking pen scribbling things down from time to time, mouth fully engaged in stunt-bike conversations, mind racing to keep up with the on-screen actions.

Pupil outcomes: Writing

Once the allotted time for gameplay had elapsed the iPad had served its purpose and the pupils were ready to write. The quality of written work for all types of writing was very good and reflected improvements in standards for all those involved. One noticeable impact was the pace which children were able to write. Some children who in recent tasks had struggled to get their ideas down and structure sentences managed to complete a full A4 page of accurately punctuated coherent written content in an unexpectedly short time.

'I am the Bike Baron!' The children relive their experiences on the ramps

These are some examples of some of the pupils recounts based on a jump they performed as Bike Baron.

In terms of impartial assessment of the work I have sent examples to the writing moderation blogger @modblog1 and will follow with interest the online writing levelling process and compare outcomes with current teacher assessments. To observe or take part in this process follow the link:

The impact of the iPad:

The impact of the iPad in this project has been immense. The role of the iPad was to provide pupils with a strong depth of knowledge and understanding with which to base their writing on. It worked! The room was filled with fully-engaged purposeful writers who could not get their ideas and sentences on paper quickly enough. The ability to share, pass round, comment on, discuss and relive an action packed game had been provided by the iPad; this in turn impacted directly on pupil writing.

Rolland Chadic, very kindly left this video feedback on how this approach made an impact in his classroom in Canada.

Ways forward:

Having developed and overseen this project alongside David Andrews it is clear that the iPad has significant potential in the classroom. Each of the writing types described in Part 1 could be expanded and further enhanced with other creative elements of iPad apps such as movie making, musical composition, book publishing etc. The Bike Baron project provided a whistle-stop tour through different types and purposes of writing and could be regarded by some pupils and teachers as a little intense. Expanding the variety of apps used could keep the process fresh and highly motivating. The ideas can easily be adapted to many different gaming apps such as Temple Run, Angry Birds, Harbour Master, Where’s My Water? and countless others. The timescale of the teaching process could also of course be adapted as required.

It does seem that many schools and teachers are recognising the value of the iPad in the classroom yet there is clearly a need for effective training and sharing of good practice to ensure it is used to full effect. Seeing the cross-curricular impact of the iPad in a school influenced by the vision of a forward-thinking headteacher and the outstanding David Andrews, it is crucial that as more and more schools make iPad purchases, they really have the knowledge and understanding of exactly how the iPad will enhance teaching, learning and the curriculum.

© 2013 Mr Andrews Online

Monday, 11 June 2012

How the iPad Change the Pedagogy of a Design & Technology Project

Part 1: How can the iPad change the Pedagogy of a Design & Technology Project?

Having taught the Year 6 Design & Technology unit 6D (Controllable Vehicles) in the same way for the past 6 years with a few improvements here and there, I was looking for complete transformation on how this project is taught using the iPad and how it can bridge the gap between the school curriculum and technology.

The controllable vehicle project, previously involve an introduction session then a demonstration at the beginning of each session. Because of the nature of this task each session had to be sequenced like this; session 1 - Make the Chassis, session 2 - The Axels etc  This method had its flaws. Whilst many children followed the instructions at the beginning of the lesson, this method left others frustrated and required a lot of repetition of instructions. Another flaw was that the more able in the class would usually finish the objective of the session and I'd ask them to support others in the class. Furthermore, everyone in the class had to finished the previous session before they were ready for the next, so there was never any flow. Children just couldn't work at their own pace - it was far too teacher led and offered the children few opportunities to tackle a problem for themselves.

So the question was, how could we (Mr Andrews & Mr Williams) shift this project from teaching centred learning to children centred learning and use the iPad to enhance learning?

Myself and Mr Williams began tackling this issues, by jotting down some initial ideas. It quickly emerged that the only way to shift the pedagogy from teacher led learning to child centred learning was to create a sequence of short videos, which could be accessed at the children's own pace through the iPad. Once we had realised that the solution to our problem was addressed by the iPad, not only could the children have access to the videos, but the creative potential of a range of apps could enrich other areas of the curriculum. Initial ideas including using iMovie to creative a advert which would including a theme tune composed in Garage Band, a poster to promote our end of project motor show, Numbers to create a spreadsheet for cost of parts and hire of equipment with the only boundaries been our creativity and the children's - the potential appeared limitless.

The filming of the video was straight forward, Mr Williams filmed using the video camera on the iPad, whilst I demonstrated the steps to make a controllable vehicle. The videos were edited using iMovies. The only snag being that on the first day of filming we ran out of time, so the following week, for continuity reasons I had to make sure I was wearing the same shirt!

How were we going to get the videos onto numerous iPads? Our first thoughts were to download the videos to Vimeo, as it was one of the download options in iMovies. YouTube's blocked in our school! One major flaw with this option is that our Wireless is notoriously unpredictable and even if it was working to its full capacity I wouldn't be confident that it would stream 15 videos onto the iPads. Next we considered syncing the video using iTunes onto the iPads and putting them into the camera roll, but it didn't feel right, it wasn't slick enough. Then we discovered the perfect solution. We would create an ebook, using Creative Book Builder than could be viewed in iBooks.

Creative Book Builder was perfect for what we wanted. The children could access the videos on each page of the book, we could add chapters for each step, add instructions, equipment and tools that the children could access at their own speed as and when they needed to.

What we did with Creative Book Builder (CBB)

I can't emphasise enough how easy this was. Once you've started a new book, you just simply add the number of chapters you want and edit them. Click Chapter and add an element (see image below). In this case a Title, Paragraph and a Video.

Screenshot of Creative Book Builder

To insert the video into your eBook you just simply select it from your camera roll and it appears in the content the page. By tapping edit you can move, copy, delete or change ordering of any element you've added. Next you click publish and your given the option to Generate Book.

This is where we hit a problem. Whilst processing our eBook it would get stuck at 85% time after time. Creative Book Builder had already created an eBook, using just one video and some text and opened up in iBooks, so we knew that it worked. It was decided to split the eBook into two separate book - that didn't work either! But three books did.

We opened the eBooks in iBooks. The image below show how they appeared on the book shelf (see top left).

Instructional eBooks on the iBooks shelf

We used Strip Designer to create the covers for the eBooks and saved them to the camera roll. Three different coloured covers were chosen, so that the children could easily differentiate between eBooks 1, 2 & 3. In CBB if you haven't already added a cover to your eBook, when you click publish it will ask if you want to add a cover image now?

iBook Cover created in Strip Designer
Below you can see an example page from one of the eBooks:

Step 1: Video, equipment and written instructions

It was decided because we have 60 children in Year 6 that we would need at least 15 iPads  - 1 iPad to every 4 children. The school doesn't have a set of iPads yet that can be accessed by each class, so we organised to collect all teachers iPads (not an easy task) and then download the eBook on to teachers iPads. This was a fairly straight forward process, although things will be made much easier once we've invested in a iPad syncing unit. The iPad on which the eBooks were created was connected to the MacBook and then transferred to Books in iTunes. Each iPad was connected to the MacBook, the eBooks highlighted then synced to each iPad. The iPads were now ready for some real action!

Part 2: How the iPad was used to improve the pedagogy of a Design & Technology Project

Part 2 is going to examine how the iPad was used to improve the pedagogy of a Design & Technology project and allow child initiated learning by motivating the children to discover new skills and knowledge through project based learning.

The hall was set up with tables and chairs for 60 children, materials and equipment the children would need to make their controllable vehicle and teachers iPads were collected and made available - we were ready for action! The children were allowed to choose their partner and sat themselves at a table of four with one iPad on each table. Because there was only 1 iPad between 4 children they would have to work collaboratively, both in their pairs and with others at their table. After a brief introduction concerning safety, protecting the iPad from saws, glue etc, how to access the iBook 'Controllable Vehicles' and having been shown an example of a finished product the children were raring to go.

The Children using the iBook to assist their learning

On the iPads the children had access to an eBook, which included instructions and a sequence of short videos. They could pause, rewind and watch the video as many times as they needed to, as they progressed through the controllable vehicle project. This allowed the children to work in a much more independent way and more importantly at their own pace. When the children were ready to move onto the next section there was a list of equipment they would need, which was available at the front of the hall.
The use of the iPad ebooks (with video) made children secure and confident to try and retry things and by having constant access to the eBook it opened the door to more advanced thinking and problem solving. For example, some children wanted an on/off switch on the side and other investigated the use of extra batteries. The outcomes were excellent. However, there was a minority of children who lacked independence, problem solving skills and basic initiative. These children, to start with anyway, weren't prepared to try and learn from any mistakes - they wanted it doing for them. They were sent back to their table. It didn't matter if they made mistakes, they could learn from them and improve next time. Eventually these children came round the idea that myself or Mr Williams were not going to do their work for them. Had our prescriptive teaching/curriculum mean that children had been moved out their comfort zone because they had never had to take control of their work before and accept responsibility for their role in the learning process? Having said that the majority of children were 'in the zone', and thoroughly enjoying this challenging project.

The focus of the children was exceptional, they were all on task, motivated and fully engaged in what they had to do. It was incredible to see. The head teacher came in and hadn't even realised there were two classes in the hall. He said "there was an incredible working atmosphere!" The children were working autonomously through the project and it also allowed them to work in ways that complemented the various learning styles. Myself and Mr Williams both had to overcome our instinct to step in, the children were clearly enjoying tackling and solving the problems this project presented. It became apparent to us that we had become the 'guides on the sides' and only needed to assist the children if they asked - but this was usually just to remind them to watch a particular part of the video or to read an instruction which was on the eBook. Another notable success was that there was full collaboration from every single child - even from those who had struggled to develop positive relationships all year. On the second day I had to deal with 'ICT issues', but Mr Williams was more than happy to be left on his own - it wasn't a problem. 60 children were getting on with challenging Design & Technology.

There was relatively little whole class teaching, apart from on a few occasions a direct instruction was required. For example, whilst constructing the chassis of the vehicle some children's were clearly too big which could potentially have made things extremely difficult for them later down the line in terms of making a net for the vehicle or having enough power from a small battery to be able to control such a larger vehicle.

The use of the iPad to assist the children's learning was a huge success. It was an outstanding learning experience for the children with such a challenging topic. A huge majority were producing work of a superior quality compared to previous attempt in other years.

Part 3: Using iPads as a creative and innovative approach to learning

The third and final part to the controllable vehicle project puts the children in Year 6 centre stage. After the children had completed their controllable vehicles myself and Mr Williams wanted to continue the project using the iPads and apps creatively and in an innovative way, making maximum use of the built in AV (Audio Visual) tools. Furthermore, we wanted to incorporate as many different subject as we could, whilst still keeping the learning meaningful to the project 'controllable vehicles'.
Below is a list of how the iPads were used over 2 very intensive weeks of work:

  • Designed and made a controllable vehicle (following an iPad video instruction manual made by the teachers)
The children's finished controllable vehicles

  • Used a spreadsheet created in the Numbers app to consider costings for their project, including costs and number of parts and hire of equipment per hour.
A spreadsheet used to work out the costs of parts and hire of equipment
  • Planned a car advert using a storyboard.
The children planned their car adverts using a storyboard
  • Filmed and used the iPad's camera to take videos and still shots of the car, Which would be later edited in iMovies to create an advert for their car. Incorporating self-composed jingles created in Garageband, songs and backing music.
The children's Car Adverts ready for the Car Show
  • The winning advert by Keeley and Hollie:

  • Researched and created a persuasive and informative brochure using marketing words for their vehicle and published this as an eBook using the Creative Book Builder app.
The children's eBook on the iBook's Shelf

An example of children's finished iBook
  • Wrote an ongoing blog about their work which was published to a wide audience and has received immediate global feedback. Visit the children's Year 6 blog for more information
  • Prepared for and delivering a showcase presentation to parents/carers and Key Stage 2 children. Presented and evaluated their controllable vehicle, showed their car advert and car brochure on the big screen.
'The presentations by the children were outstanding, I was amazed
how confidently they spoke!' Year 6 Parent.

Parents & carers, teachers and pupils enjoying the
presentations at the car show.

Outcomes of the Project

Pupil interest and effort was evidently higher than myself and Mr Williams had seen before. What made this remarkable was that this was post SATs and history had taught us that this period was notably a tricky one for Year 6 teachers as children's motivation takes a dip after the SATs are over. The children produced high quality car design, there was an increase in writing levels in blogs and brochures and outstanding video adverts.

The attendance from the parents was amazing! Bearing in mind that the children had only taken a letter home (that they had written themselves) only 2 days prior to the event. Pupils had made sure their parents attended the Car Show because they cared about and valued their work. There was more parental interest and attendance for any other project that we'd been involved in. 

Above all, when the children spoke they demonstrated an astounding depth of knowledge, understanding and confidence. The standards of their spoken presentations were unexpectedly high. Teachers were genuinely staggered.

© 2013 MrAndrewsOnline