Devices, devices, devices?

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.

Cloud Solutions

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.

Office 365 from Microsoft

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


G-Suite from Google

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


Computer Devices

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.


Windows 10S

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.

Raspberry Pi

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.

The others…

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.

Your Journey

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!


Snapshotting understanding

A couple of weeks ago I was challenged to provide inset for one of my regular schools to help them get more use out of their iPads.  To be honest I didn’t get around to really thinking about it until the day before, and then it was a bit late to get apps sorted so I reflected back on how I thought I should be using iPads more.

Recently as a company we’ve been recommending Prowise interactive screens, as much for the software as the hardware.   There’s one excellent feature of the software that seems a real game-changer to me and as it’s web-based, device agnostic and also FREE.  It got me thinking on how I could use it more.

Prowise Presenter is fairly simple to use and quite feature-rich compared to many interactive whiteboard programs I have tried in the past BUT the clincher for me is ProConnect.  This feature links your whiteboard to a large number of internet connected devices (iPad, smart phone, android tablet, chrome book, laptop, PC) via a simple code.  Once the devices have joined you as teacher there is so much you can do.  There is a free Proconnect app for iOS, Andoid and I believe Windows too.

You can ask a quick question, vote, use and create quizzes.  You can also share your screen out to their devices and they can annotate or create content on the screen you have shared and then hand it back again for you to share on your board.  For instant class engagement it is really efficient and easy to do.

That then got me thinking about other cheap or FREE options for class engagement using iPads:

Plickers is possibly the least high-tech (and so least technically demanding for schools).  Each pupil is provided with a unique laminated QR code which they can hold up one of four ways.  This enables pupils to show one of four choices (A, B, C or D).  The teacher uses an iPad (or other smart tablet/phone) with the Plickers app to very quickly sweep the room and it records each person’s response.  Quick and easy.  Ask a multi-choice question and capture instant responses.  Plickers is currently free to use.

Socrative is an app I looked at years ago and then forgot about or ignored.  I think it has developed a lot since then, and I will be using it a lot more.  Pupils need internet connected devices BUT again these can be anything (phone, iPad, chrome book, pc…).  The teacher logs into their Socrative ‘room’ and the pupils use a unique code to join.  The teacher can ask questions, set quizzes, take votes etc all with ease and instant capture to spreadsheet or PDF file.  Socrative is free, though they now have a pro level you can purchase for a small annual fee.

Kahoot! is a fairly new app to me.  It’s a teacher-lead game show where pupils race each other against the clock to answer questions.  The quicker you answer the higher your score.  There is a large bank of ready-made Kahoots to use, or you can make your own online.  Again, at present, this is free to use.

There are lots of alternatives to the ones mentioned here, but these are the ones I ended up sharing with the staff at this particular school, and I will be using these more in the future!

Micro:Bits in the Primary Classroom

I attended an excellent hands-on workshop with the BBC Micro:Bit at an RM Seminar at the back end of 2016.  I forget who it was that lead that session, (though it might have been Stuart Ball).

In the session we were told, anecdotally, that the Micro:Bits had originally been intended for Year 6 pupils and although I had dismissed them it became immediately apparent that they are eminently usable by all Key Stage 2 pupils using the blocks editor which is very like Scratch!

I had spent many years wandering in the wilderness (well around Bett) looking for that perfect storm of a computer-controllable device which didn’t break the bank and was suitable for Primary Schools – it suddenly looked as if I had found it!

At only £15 including VAT for a starter kit from Kitronik they really seem a no-brainer!  Combine that with the Inventors kit for less than £25 or the Line Following Buggy for less than only £27 they are truly flexible, adaptable and cheap!

I must mention here that I am not on commission (I wish I was) and that I don’t work for Kitronik but they have been really helpful and supportive and I enjoyed meeting them at Bett 2017.

Since investing in a class set of these I have really enjoyed introducing them to pupils from year 3-6 (aged 7-11) starting with the virtual experience programming the online emulator (free to do at before watching their faces light up as they successfully transfer a program to the actual physical thing and it lights-up before their eyes!

We started simple, basic scrolling text controlled by a variety of inputs.  We moved on to the basic Dice program before exploring other dice options.  We then created our own compass and even moved into controlling an eco-house created from an old dolls house and using the Inventors Kit.


Whether your computing platform is PC, Chromebook or iPad based (yes they work via bluetooth too) if you are looking for something to control on a budget then I would HIGHLY recommend the Micro:Bit!

The Blogging Revolution Comes to Oxfordshire?

Following the really well received Blogging Keynote from David Mitchell at LWT2012 we felt it would be useful to share some of the information and links. What makes anything like Blogging or Podcasting really come alive is to give it a REAL audience and purpose. Blogging by publishing into a vacuum (ie onto a site with very few viewers) soon dies and is very unsatisfactory for all. To get around that, the biggest issue, David Mitchell founded a site to partner up groups of schools into clusters of four schools so that they could take it in turns to blog about focussed issues of things of interest as a major focus for a week, then spend three weeks as the audience for the other schools. The language work invovled in being an audience is still massive, and again with a real purpose and also with the abilty to write back well thought out comments, questions etc. Almost like pen pals but on a different scale! Since LWT2012 we have already heard from many Primary schools who are setting up blogs for children as young as Year 2. Many Oxfordshire schools have since started to create their own clusters to support each other with audience and purpose, many within school partnership or geographic areas. If you are struggling to set up a cluster of your own or if you need more schools to join you then please feel free to email the Oxfordshire CC Curriculum ICT Team and we will see if we can help schools find each other!

For a more global picture though we would highly recommend Quad Blogging!   Below you will find links to some other sites where you will find more information.

David Mitchell’s Blog can be found at His school blog can be found at


QuadBlogging – The defibrillator of the blogging world!

 A defibrillator: To deliver electrical energy to the heart to stun the heart momentarily and thus allow a normal sinus rhythm to kick in via the heart’s normal electricity centre.

QuadBlogging: To deliver electrical energy of a global audience to the heart of a blog to allow a rhythm of excitement to kick via the blog’s widening global audience.

Imagine four schools that had a partnership/agreement that would mean that for a four week cycle, each school’s blog would be the focus for one week out of four. Each school in the Quad would spend some time visiting the blog of the school for that week, leave comments etc. After that week, another one of the four schools would be the focus and this would be repeated for the four week cycle and then repeated. It wouldn’t take the pupils long to work out that during their week, they would get a boost in visitor numbers and comments. This would give a real focus to have posts online ready for this bulge in visits. During the other three weeks, pupils get to visit and comment on other blogs in their quad. Pupils being pupils, they would also venture out of the quads and visit other blogs that are linked.

Text taken from the Quadblogging Website at where you can also find out more about how you can QuadBlog too!

Welcoming Personally Owned Devices into the Classroom?

This has long been heralded as the only option ahead for schools.  Certainly Secondary School Pupils carry around smart phone devices with computing power and applications to rival those available in their own schools, yet still most schools ban these devices from the classroom and will happily take them away and lock them up rather than allowing them into the classroom as a welcome tool.

Can schools afford to keep doing this?

Certainly educators such as Stephen and Juliette Heppell think not.  They have been running a study into the use of both Facebook and mobile phones in the classroom and it makes for interesting reading

Other educators are also starting to prompt schools into again considering this as an option including Terry Freedman who blogged about it only recently at

As long ago as 2009 the Guardian ran an article about leaders of teaching unions urging schools to “reap the benefits of modern technology” by overturning mobile phone bans in schools (read more about that at )

Schools cannot afford to ignore the ipod touch, the DSi even, let alone the smartphone and the netbook that children already own.  Schools need to plan for the future.  They need to invest in a robust wireless infrastructure and be ready to have policies and teaching practices in place to welcome personally owned devices into the classroom with open arms!

BETT 2012

Once again the BETT show is nearly upon us.  It is the technology in education show for the UK running from the 11th-14th January this year in Olympia in London.  The show usually boasts more than 30,000 visitors and more than 600 exhibitors distributed through four zones spread over two halls and two galleries.

You can get more information and book your FREE place at or you can read more about what’s happening on the BETT BLOG at

Will you get the opportnuity to wander the halls and galleries?


Is it the ICT or the USE of ICT?

An interesting debate has been sparked on  the Naace newslist recently which was started by a document entitled “Toolkit of Strategies to Improve Learning” ( which is a paper which makes recommendations about how to spend the Pupil Premium and was produced by the CEM Centre of Durham University.

The debate has been rekindled into exactly what we should be focussing on to raise standards.  A lot of money was pumped into UK schools to improve standards, but the majority of that was used to purchase hardware and software.  The feeling of many people is that school standards will only be raised using ICT if staff are given high-quality training in how to harness the technology they have!  At a time when UK school’s budgets have been significantly reduced many Head Teachers are faced with the dilemma of shedding staff or significantly reducing CPD, in some cases to say NO to CPD at all!  Surely something is wrong here?


Kinect™, Kindles™, Know How and Learning Impact!

From Naace and Vital

Engaging Schools with 3rd Millennium Learning Development.

Meet experts and enthusiasts in your area to learn about groundbreaking impact of technology in schools.

Come along and join in an afternoon or twilight session with representatives of Vital, Naace and local schools who are reaping the benefits of inspired use of technology.

Attendance at this event will offer your school the following opportunities:

•    To receive free access to three (Vital) new subject Portals for five of your staff
•    To engage in a trial project using Kinect in your classrooms
•    To be part of a test-bed of schools using Kindles to empower learning
•    To hear about how you can be a pilot school for 3rd Millennium Learning award
•    To meet school representatives in your area that want to collaborate with you through the use of technology
•    To learn more about the free Self-review Framework; the key points to make it all work efficiently
•    To gain access to Vital’s collaboration tools
•    To have access to Vital’s Online conferencing system (inter school networking)
•    To receive Top Tips document for 10 subject areas.

Schools taking part in the programme may be selected to report on impact upon teaching and learning at the Naace Strategic Conference 2012 and Vital website.

To find out more and for details of cost etc please visit

Computing at School Hub meeting at Bletchley Park near Milton Keynes

The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) is based at Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes and provides opportunities for ‘learning’ at the Museum.

For almost a year TNMOC  have hosted visits from schools and colleges from across the UK in support of both Computing and ICT courses, mostly at GCSE and A level.

The TNMOC team are keen to develop the Museum to provide even better value for their student visitors and make TNMOC a positive choice as a visit for teachers and their students who are engaged in these learning programmes.

One of TNMOC’s actions has been to join CAS (Computing at School ) and become a CAS Hub for meetings with teachers across the region.   They feel the Museum is a useful and interesting place to meet and offers teachers a chance to see their Museum and feedback ways in which it can better help them in the delivery of their subject.   Their aim is to meet perhaps meet three times a year.

The first meeting is detailed at  For part of the meeting they are planning to show the Museum to those attending and ask for their comments, ideas and feedback and begin perhaps a dialogue with teachers to improve the Museum over time.  TNMOC feel it is important that their collection is responsive to the needs of education in both Computing and ICT.

On the same day OCR are running their course at TNMOC: GCSE Computing (J275): Get started – an overview to help successful first delivery (, they hope some of the OCR course attendees to stay on to the CAS meeting.

Teachers from Oxfordshire and surrounding areas are most welcome to join in

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