I have always valued the peer observation programme we have in place at my school. Typically two teachers will joint-plan a lesson, one will then teach it and the other will observe, giving feedback shortly afterwards.
The observer will then teach the lesson themselves, taking into account the suggestions for improvement that they made. It has never ceased to amaze me how two teachers with different styles can take ostensibly the same lesson plan and resources and teach two very different lessons.
Eighteen months ago I started working on Imvoto, an app that uses students’ mobile phones in the classroom, offering them real-time assessment feedback. When I started the development, I was cognisant of my peer-observation experience – that my teaching style and use of resources is very different from that of my colleagues.
I decided that, rather than trying to develop an app that would do everything that I imagined my colleagues would want, I would instead write something that was useful for me in my classroom. With this in place, I would then ask colleagues what they thought and what would be most useful to them.
Thanks to a Fellowship I was awarded by the 21st Century Learning Alliance, I feel that I have been able to experience some excellent and valuable collaboration with colleagues.
The funding my Fellowship provided has allowed me to spend time talking with teachers from around the country. Indeed, many of them are readers of SecEd, having got in contact with me after my initial article last year setting out what Imvoto is.
Involvement of other teachers has really driven my project over recent months, so I first need to say thanks to everyone who has got involved. It was great to hear that others could see Imvoto as being a useful addition to their classroom and that they were excited by the future possibilities.
It was also reassuring to find other teachers who would prefer their students’ phones to be visible on their desks rather than hidden away underneath. I got a number of emails saying “I’ve wanted to do this for ages, but didn’t know how”.
At the point when other colleagues got involved in this project, we had an app that was fantastic in the maths classroom. The main focus now is to make Imvoto a useful tool in other settings as well. In particular, we have put a lot of effort into opinion-gathering, working in situations where there is not a right or wrong answer.
It has been fascinating to observe how ordinarily shy pupils, who would never voluntarily contribute to a class discussion, come alive when they see their comments on screen, aware that they are not alone in their views. So much so that they have also been willing to get involved in the subsequent discussions stemming from the mobile-sourced starting point.
Implementing more open questions has found its way back into my maths classroom and changed my own practice, especially when preparing pupils for GCSE exams.
For example, when explaining why a particular angle in a geometry problem is 54° we need pupils to be very precise with their language and vocabulary. Within minutes, I can now get 30 explanations projected onto the board, which we look through as a class, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses in each.
I also found that teachers’ views regarding Imvoto were sometimes in opposition. For example, a number of teachers were desperate for us to make use of the cameras present on most mobile devices, which would allow students to take photographs of their written work, to then project on the board for analysis by the class.
However, others cautioned me that they were concerned about safeguarding issues. To meet the needs of both of these groups of teachers, we took the approach to implement what the first group wanted, by making use of camera functions, while also providing the option of being able to disable the camera if so desired.
Above all, the biggest help has been from those teachers who have committed to writing quality questions to be used on Imvoto. While I am pleased with the questions I have written, the variety of other teachers’ contributions makes my lessons even more interesting and, I believe, develops my students’ understanding even further. We have also put in place a Creative Commons licence to allow questions to be freely shared.
Our aim over the coming months is to develop a community of teachers to continue the massive progress we have already made. If you would like to be a part of that community, download our app and send me an email to get involved.
Jamie Freeman is head of key stage 4 mathematics at Comberton Village College in Cambridge and a Fellow of the 21st Century Learning Alliance.