Westfields Junior School & Apps for Good: What we learned

Apps for Good: What we learned from Westfields Junior School                    By Debbie Forster, UK Managing Director, Apps for Good

In 2011, Apps for Good had 1,250 students in 38 secondary schools and colleges across England. In October of that year, I was approached at a Naace event by some lovely people from Westfields Junior School, who wanted to teach Apps for Good to their primary students. Initially I hesitated; I told Headteacher Karine George that our course was designed for secondary and college-age students.  As Karen Richards, Year 6 Teacher at Westfields, explains in her article on Apps for Good in Teach Primary magazine, “Having learnt never to underestimate our pupils’ capacity to tackle ICT challenges, Karine remained undaunted.” Given such enthusiastic and determined head and teachers, how could I refuse? I decided to take them up on the challenge and pilot the programme, asking them to help us adapt our course for primary school children.

Westfields Junior School had an extraordinary first year with us. They had not one but two teams make it to the Apps for Good Awards 2013, the finals for our national app competition. Although the teams did not win an Award, they impressed the judges and delighted the audience with their enthusiasm and creativity. The school was also named our 2013 School of the Year, selected from 97 Apps for Good schools.

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Thanks to the hard work and determination of the staff at Westfields, this year we have 13 primary schools among our 230 Education Partners across the UK. We can’t wait to see what great teams and ideas come from them this year.

Our partnership with Westfields Junior School taught me that we can’t always anticipate how our programme will or should be used by our partners. It also reinforced that the best way we can inspire our students and change education is by building on and supporting the creativity and knowledge of our communities.

This is one of the reasons our Education Partners are so crucial to Apps for Good. They give us guidance and feedback to make sure the course really works in the classroom, adapt our materials, and share with us the very best educational approaches to meet the needs of our increasingly diverse range of students.

We asked Westfields Junior School to share what they learned during their first year with Apps for Good and provide some tips to other schools. Here’s what they had to say.

Westfields Junior School: What we learned from Apps for Good 2012/2013   By Apps for Good Educators at Westfields Junior School

  1. Be clear about what the programme is and what you want your pupils to benefit from/gain in taking part in the project. This makes it easier to focus, support your own school’s vision for learning and evaluate your success clearly to show impact. It would also help you to justify it to Governors and parents (if yours need convincing!).
  2. Dedicate enough time to the programme. Last year, we delivered the programme to 105 Year 6 children across three parallel classes within curriculum time. This formed a large part of their ICT curriculum and learning development time. This year we have adjusted our curriculum further in order to dedicate more time to this and be able to get the very best from our pupils and allow them to develop their ideas and skills to an even greater level.
  3. Prepare your students to work together for long periods of time. When the children decide on their groups, prepare them well for working together for a really extended period of time; although our children use different types of collaborative learning a lot, they are not so used to sustaining the same group for the full length of a project such as this.
  4. Provide lots of reflection and evaluation time along the way for the children. Towards the end, ours came up with some amazing insights into the way they worked and we could have made more of this along the way.
  5. Use “useful people” from your own school community to get involved. Our Governors and some parents have been really supportive and used their skills with the children. We provided our children with an opportunity early on to “Meet the Experts” where we engaged community business people and Governors in providing a panel that each group of children could present their initial ideas to. This gave them valuable feedback on their app and the way in which they presented, as well as focusing them on key points and making the project real for them in the very early stages. We felt that this worked really well for our age of pupils and gave them really good practice of speaking and presenting to a real person they weren’t so familiar with, so that when they were “faced” with an Apps for Good Expert they were much more confident.
  6. Use as many Expert Sessions as you can. They are brilliant and really engage the children. We gave our children a dry run to other groups first and provided some of our less able children with some sentence openers and useful phrases for dealing with questions, queries or suggestions.
  7. Upload completed tasks as you go along. We wish we had been better at this last year as we put ourselves under quite a lot of pressure towards the end!
  8. Ensure that you have good technical backup. Our ICT technician has been invaluable in supporting our non-specialist teaching staff to deliver this.
  9. Before you start, spend time getting really familiar with the platform and all the resources that are available to you. We could have made better use of this last year.
  10. Don’t hold back when you start the programme and worry about it. Just be brave and get going. The children will just explore, learn and problem-solve from the very beginning with energy and enthusiasm!

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