It’s true that schools should never START their technology journey by deciding on a device, but by thinking about their curriculum and what they want to be able to achieve using technology before considering which device BUT the real truth is that most schools are not starting with a blank sheet. They have numerous devices of different types already in their school.
In my experience most Primary schools have Windows devices of some kind, often with a mixture of Windows 7 and 10. Most have file sharing to a local server of some kind so that pupils can pick up any device and find their work.
Lots of Primary Schools have a number of iPads. Some have a small number for group work, others just an iPad per class, others a full class set of 30+ iPads!
Some Primary Schools are looking at some of the cheaper devices such as the Windows 10S devices or Chromebooks. Some have experimented with Raspberry Pi too.
So if your school is looking to start a tech refresh you need to understand what each devices strengths and weaknesses are, so that you can match the right device or devices to match your desired outcomes.
Before we get to devices maybe we need to consider storage. Many primary schools have ageing server technologies which are reaching the end of their life. The CC4 Store was a popular cut-down server from RM in the UK which has not been available for a number of years. The ones that are in schools are generally reaching end of life, with Windows updates causing various issues slowing down or stopping some servers, so is it time to consider the cloud?
If you have a good server then by far your most sensible option is still to buy laptops to use with your existing server. If your server is nearing replacement it’s time to consider how you are working, and how you might like to work in the future, and whether it would be best to save yourself the thousands of pounds it will take to replace your server and consider the cloud instead.
There are two main cloud options for schools. Any school can have an Office 365 cloud solution from Microsoft or a G-Suite cloud solution from Google for free. Some schools are using both as they both have strengths and weaknesses.
On the plus side:
- Free to schools
- Email accounts
- Shared storage using Sharepoint and One Drive
- Collaboration spaces using Microsoft Teams and groups and sharepoint
- Shared One Note notebooks
- Familiar software means staff and pupils can use office suite on personal devices or web versions which don’t require installation or updates
On the more minus side:
- Can be confusing to set up collaboration
On the plus side:
- Free to schools
- Email accounts
- Shared storage using Google Drive
- Collaboration using Google Classroom and Google Sites is very intuitive and easy to use.
On the minus side:
- Can be out of the comfort zone for staff particularly
Windows 10 Professional
This is the device of choice if you have a reliable server and want to keep it. Combined with a server you can fairly easily manage software and all users have a login which means they have secure personal storage and also the ability to access shared storage. With a Windows 10 Professional machine you also have the ability to use web-based software and Cloud storage as well as locally installed software and apps too.
This is Microsoft’s answer to the Chromebook. It is a cut down and cheaper version of Windows 10 which aids battery life and promotes cloud storage. The Windows 10s devices can only install software as apps from the app store. Your school computer administrator can choose which apps are available. You will need Azure if you don’t have a physical server.
With all Windows devices you can still make use of either Office 365 OR G-Suite.
The Chromebook is fast becoming the go-to cheap computing device. They are still more popular in secondary schools rather than Primary ones. They are very fast to boot as there is not much of an operating system. Android Apps are available for installation on newer Chromebooks though some are not compatible. They are designed to be used with G-Suite but also can be used with Office 365 without any issues.
The iPad from Apple is still amongst the most creative tools available for the Primary Classroom. There are so many apps covering so many areas of creativity that it wins hands down on creativity. They are harder to manage BUT with new features such as Apple School Manager and the Classroom app and a plethora of MDM solutions available it’s become easier to take control of new devices and have them set up for pupils to use as shared devices.
The Raspberry Pi is a very cheap computer, HOWEVER they do need a screen with an HDMI connection to be able to use them. They have a version of Linux which runs on them and they can be used for programming and controlling devices. They have limits to what they can do so make sure you really understand what they offer before buying.
Schools often already own a range of peripheral devices used to help deliver their curriculum. Here’s a list of the most common.
Beebots are simple programmable devices often used in Early Years and Key Stage 1. You can program them with a number of steps using a forward/backwards motion and right-angle turns. Newest versions (like the Bluebot) can also be programmed via blue-tooth from tablets and phones or dedicated programming boards.
The Probot is the ‘big brother’ of the Beebot and has a screen and a number of sensors for inputs. The Probot’s programs can be edited and can use the inputs to modify the program such as reacting to bumping into something .
Almost every school seems to have a grey circular Roamer knocking about. The newer version of the Roamer runs on smaller batteries and boasts the ability to change keypads meaning you can have more or less complex controls which can be tailored to match your pupil’s level of computing engagement.
The Sphero at first glance looks like a remote-controlled ball. It has a number of free apps on the iPad which allow you to program the Sphero to get it to navigate a route or to create games.
The MicroBit devices were given to year 7 pupils although they were originally intended for Primary pupils. They are small microcomputers with a range of built-in sensors and an array of LEDs for outputting information. They are programmed from a computer or iPad as they can connect using a USB cable or via blue-tooth. They can work together via Blue-tooth or one can be programmed to control the actions of another. MicroBits are relatively cheap and the software is all online. There are a range of add-on robots and connection boards available for use with the MicroBit. There is a massive community being built up around the MicroBit offering support, resources and also a growing range of additional items which can be used to augment the MicroBit.
The Crumble is a robust device for controlling motors and lights etc from Redfern. They are simple devices programmed from a PC. They are very robust and the programming language software is available for free and is very Scratch-like.
The LEGO WeDo has been around for a while now. Whilst not the cheapest option and having a very limited range of outputs and inputs it is part of an organised ecosystem with resources designed to support teachers and teaching.
There are a myriad of other peripherals from data-loggers to fully-fledged robots but these are some of the key items for Primary schools in my view.
Know what you want to achieve, how you want to teach and how you want to engage your pupils and then go looking for how to do it!