Transforming a department with iPad

5 weeks ago we started work on what is one of the most exciting mobile learning projects in the UK with Broadgreen International School. The project has been to bring about a 10 week transformation with the Maths department through better use of the 90 iPads available. Results were below targets, staff had come and gone, and the department was in transition. It was the perfect time to do something transformational. This was our sneak peak video...

We’ve just passed the half way stage of the project, and I wanted to pull the curtain back and give you a glimpse of what we’ve up to. We won’t be giving away all our secrets (I can almost hear the sighs ringing out), but it will give you the starting framework that you apply to your own school for similar results.

What were the project goals?

We don't like fluffy phrases like ‘engage students more,’ because it has no direct relevance to learning outcomes. Instead, through meetings with the SLT and leaders, we put in place key goals that would be measured throughout the project relating directly to the school’s improvement plan. For maths these were:

  1. Raise student attainment
  2. Increase variety of maths activities for teachers to call upon including increasing problem solving work and bringing more real world maths examples into the classroom
  3. Improve passive learning, giving students an opportunity to explore on their own
  4. Improve group work opportunities, and collaboration between students
  5. Long term sustainability. Train the maths teachers so that they can share and replicate their departments success throughout other school departments.

To measure the impact against each of these goals a anonymously survey of the students was put in place. Here are the results contrasting the start of the project with the 5 week mark. First up student enjoyment of maths lessons.

Second we looked at the targets in detail. Students were able to answer from multiple choice. The options were

  • Excellent / Always
  • Good / Often
  • Average / Sometimes
  • Poor / Never

This chart below groups student answers in the Excellent / Always and Good / Often categories together to minimise on data displayed. The key is the positive impact in each. In most categories the biggest improvement was in the Excellent / Always category.

Broadgreen data
Broadgreen data

How did we achieve such large improvements in such a short time frame?

In the first 5 weeks James and I have been onsite for 6 full days with the maths team. This kind of access to staff, students, curriculum and schemes of work is invaluable, because it allowed us to fully integrate into their existing practices. We didn’t approach this project looking to tear up the rule book and start again. Instead we’ve built the project right around their teachers current practices - improving, complimenting and in some cases revolutionising those practices. We did this across 3 key areas.

1. Creating ‘teams’

The maths department has 8 staff, half of what a typical school would put into a CPD session. The first action was to split those 8 individuals into 2 groups. This had a number of benefits:

  1. It allowed James to work very intensively with them in groups of 4, tailoring the content to a higher degree with each.
  2. It allowed us to focus on the key goal for each group. Group A was more confident using technology so we focused on developing content and pedagogical skills. Group B were nervous about using iPads in the classroom, so we prioritised developing confidence and competence first and foremost.
  3. It created an internal support system for teachers. Group B knew they could ask Group A for help using the iPad within the classroom if we weren’t available. This created the foundation for what is called continuous development. Because we mapped out a solution process for when a challenge occurred (and challenges always occur on any iPad project), challenges were dealt with and removed, rather than taking hold and slowing the project down.

2. Identifying the greatest area for growth

Our time with the project was finite, just 10 weeks, so we prioritised the biggest area for growth and sought only to transform that. On this project we zeroed in on marking & feedback, digitising it through Showbie on the iPad. This gave us the following benefits:

  1. It saved staff a huge amount of time when marking student work. This improved their work/life balance, improving their freshness for school and creating more time to work on iPad/pedagogy related tasks. The head of department commented he was getting through 1 hour’s worth of marking in just 15 minutes!
  2. It significantly improved communication between students and staff as feedback was almost instant. Work in lessons was submitted via Showbie, so the teacher could instantly review and feedback on it from their desk. For homework, teachers were able to feedback within 24 hours in most cases, and students could leave follow up feedback at anytime. This reduced what was previously a 2 week process down to 2 days.
  3. It allowed staff to deliver richer, more relevant feedback through audio & video recordings to students. This feedback was also archived within Showbie, hitting all the top Ofsted criteria and fully ready for inspection.

3. Embedding the iPad into the curriculum

The 3rd area that we focused on was fully embedding the iPad into each teacher’s daily rituals. The iPad must always be secondary to the teaching objectives, yet too many schools (and even iPad trainers!) get this the wrong way round. We spent time with all staff, working through the pedagogical aspects of using the iPad to make a positive impact. This included taking department lessons to better understand their students, team teaching with staff to give support within lessons, analysing current schemes of work and focusing on core department goals. The key aspects we’ve prioritised are as follows:

  1. We’ve laid the foundations for long term success. We don’t want the wheels falling off this project once our part in it is complete, so we’ve trained all staff to a high level in digital pedagogy, helping them to become self sufficient.
  2. We’ve challenged staff to try new things. When we started the project digitising marking & feedback seemed like a daunting challenge. Now staff are reaping the enormous rewards of delivering better quality feedback, engaging with their students more regularly outside of school and saving time. This has shown them they can achieve and be part of the cutting edge of mobile learning.
  3. We’ve achieved positive growth across every goals the school set out to achieve. Some are marginal improvements, while others have made great leaps. But perhaps most importantly is that more students are enjoying maths, and for the long term growth of the department this can only be a good thing.

Where does the project go next?

We’re certainly not done yet, and with another 5 weeks with Broadgreen we’re looking to maximise the impact as much as we can. We’ll spend a lot of the remaining time ensuring that everything we’ve put in place becomes habit. We work in projects (and not training plans) because we understand that positive impact should continue to grow long after we’re gone. Our role with Broadgreen is to build the snowball and begin rolling it down the mountain. What we put in place through these 10 weeks will have an impact on this school for the next 10 years. We’ve started the beginnings of implementing blended learning at Broadgreen. which we hope will grow further. Our final goal for the project is to begin turning their Explain Everything lesson content into a fully fledged flipped learning YouTube channel that students can access whenever they need help. This will be our parting challenge to the maths team at Broadgreen on this particular project, and we’ll give them all the tools to make it happen. It’s been an immense pleasure working with all of their staff so far, and with them achieving so much in such a short space of time, I’m fully confident that before long they’ll have a YouTube maths channel to rival the best!

You can check in live on the project, or chat to the teachers directly involved in it through Twitter by using #BGipad

As the project nears completion there’s sure to be plenty of updates so look out for them! As always I'd love to hear your thoughts. You can contact us direct via email at, or tweet me on LearnMakerJay