The rapid pace at which technology has grown over the past few years has left many educators fumbling to keep pace with the rapid advancements and the growing call for them to use more technology in the delivery of their lessons. Steve Bambury, however, is not one of those teachers. He is not the kind of educator who likes to sit on the side-lines. He is a seeker of knowledge and an innovator, whose passion for technology has driven him to become one of the best information and communications technology teachers in the UAE.
Mr Bambury hails from Essex, England. His work in the field of education, especially the integration of technology in the teaching and learning process is well documented. He has had a documentary done on his work by Channel Four in the UK, which showcased the work he did using film with his students. He has also had BBC do a spotlight on him. Even though he has shifted focus to technology, he still uses his background in film to the benefit of his school and students. Last year he took a team of Year 6 students to the first Children’s International Film Festival where they won awards in four of the five categories they contested in.
He has been an educator for almost thirteen years, seven of which he has spent at JESS Jumeirah School in Dubai. After a few years of teaching in England, he was ready for a change of pace and scenery. The beginning of a new and amazing chapter in his life brought him to JESS Jumeirah.
Who inspires you most?
There are a lot of people at this school that inspire me. In my position as Curriculum Innovation Leader and Head of Computing, I find myself in and out of every year group, where I get to see brilliant innovators at work every day. I am lucky that I get to work at such an amazing school where we have such a strong staff. In terms of the use of technology, Tony Vincent who runs Learning In Hand in the U.S. inspires me. A good friend of mine Sabba Quidwai who works at the
University of Southern California also inspires me. I look to these people when it comes to best practice with the use of technology in the classroom.
What are some of the ways in which you use ICT to help other educators to improve in their practice?
JESS has always been at the forefront of using cutting edge mobile technology. We adopted the use of the iPad in 2011. Asa Firth, who is now our Deputy Head Teacher and Head of Key Stage 2, and I spoke about the use of mobile technology at the very first What Works event held by the KHDA. We presented on ideas that are still being used today at conferences all over. Both Asa and I were very passionate about finding ways to infuse the use of technology in lessons at a time when it was not as prolific as it is today. I have been running Tech Byte sessions for the past few years. These are optional professional development sessions that staff can attend. In these sessions, I look at new apps, how to use them effectively in lessons and also new software that might be useful to teachers and students. We have hosted Apple Distinguished Educator David Kirtlan of Elsium Solutions in the UK at our school twice and we have also hosted Spark teach meet events here.
Within the student body, we have the Tech Leader Programme. Tech Leaders are trained to assist other students, parents and even teachers with understanding new applications that they may need help with. Students applying for the position of Tech Leader have to submit a short one minute video clip in which they tell me why I should consider them for the position. I insist that as a requirement of the application process, they need to upload their videos to our Dropbox.
From Year 4-6, we have a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy in effect that allows students to use their own iPads. The students and parents are given a contract, which they both have to sign. In rare instances, we have used this contract to remind them of their agreement with us about the acceptable use of these devices.
Share with us two successful ICT projects that you ran in the school. The one that we always go back to is the project that led to our current use of mobile technology in the school. This was in 2011. Asa was Head of Year Four and I was working with him then. At that point, the school had invested in a number of iPads so each class had one. We sat down before Christmas to discuss potential projects for the next term. We mulled over a particular idea for hours… what if we did everything on an iPad? What if we taught exclusively on an iPad for an entire week? This formed the foundation of what we named Mobile Tech Week. We used all the iPads that we had in the school and trialled the BYOD system for the first time to supplement the numbers. Overall, we had enough devices for the entire year group of 88 students to share one between two.
We used Book Creator, which is still one of the best apps to use in schools, to create multimedia ebooks throughout the week. The focus of the work was habitats and adaptations. Students chose particular habitats to research and represent using various forms of multimedia within the ebooks. On the final level, students were told to plan a trip to the habitat, so they were looking at apps like Skyscanner, Google Maps and Apple Maps to find the locations of restaurants and safaris. In the end, students had ebooks with dozens of pages of text, images, video and audio footage.
Last year, when I moved to Year 6, I ended up with the same cohort that I had taught back for the Mobile Tech Week project. Obviously, we couldn’t use the same type of project, as it would not engage or challenge them. I love being ahead of the game and by then, so many great new apps became available. One project involved having them choose mountains from around the world which they presented in video form using the amazing Tellagami. They wrote non-fiction pieces to use as the script. Some of them even used iMovie to create split screen conversations (similar to journalists).
What were some of the surprises that these projects revealed?
One of the main surprises that the project revealed was how ready the children were for technology-infused learning. My own kids are two and three years old and they both have had iPads since they were one year old. My three year old daughter Jessica has just started in Foundation 1 and she’s been learning about shapes. She came home from school the other day and started to point out all the circles around our home to me. I told her to use her iPad to take photos of all the circles that she saw which she set off doing independently. I then sat down with her and opened up a collage app called Moldiv and used it with her to help present her circles. The next day she took it to school and was so proud of herself.
How can other teachers implement similar projects? What resources would they need?
It’s about gauging how confident your staff members are and not expecting them to run before they can walk, where technology is concerned. It involves ensuring that your staff are trained and confident. Also, of optimum importance is having the right infrastructure to support the technology. There is nothing worse than training the staff to use something and then on Day 1 it breaks. After a while people will not trust it to work and won’t bother to try.
You have to be realistic with the goals that you have in mind. There are many apps that are great to use in the classroom. However, you have to be careful so as not to spook anyone by being overly ambitious with what they can or should be able to achieve. The point is that being able to use just one properly, can be a great achievement for those who are not as confident using technology.
Another thing that teachers need to keep in mind is that they need to be receptive and open to learning from their students. I consider myself fairly good at what I do. However, I learn from my students all the time. A few weeks ago, I was doing E-Safety work using iMovie with my Year 5 students. I changed the flow of my lesson based on a suggestion from a 10-year-old student. So, don’t be afraid to learn from your students. A lot of the time they are the experts. They are versatile and great at problem solving especially when it comes to technology.
What project do you have next?
My focus this year, in my new role as Head of Computing, is on Computer Science – mainly programming. This is not new to us at JESS Jumeirah, as we have been integrating it for the past few years. We want to make sure that it is being delivered in a progressive way. I’m currently doing a lot of game design. I’ve just used Sketch Nation in Year 3, to design a 2D computer game similar to Flappy Birds. They were doing a healthy eating project, so they had burgers as obstacles and cabbage-like Pacmen characters. In Year 4, we have been using the world- renowned Scratch programme out of MIT for digital literacy. Year 5 students have been creating games using Pixel Press Floors. The focus here has been on effective game design rather than actual programming, so that when we move on to that side of things, their actual design thinking will be more strategic. Our Year 6 students are currently coding using Kodu from Microsoft to design full 3D games.
Share with us three gadgets that every teacher should have and use in their classes. Why?
I do love gadgets. I have a bunch of them in my room and I’ve even tried Google Glass, which I think is a little ahead of its time. It’s still got bugs but the future is pointing towards wearable technology. In terms of actual gadgets that are practical for the classroom, I would obviously go with iPads. If you have iPads in your classes, I would recommend that you look at getting cases that protect the corners. If you don’t protect the corners; it will be more easily damaged. A Charging solution is another gadget that is effective especially for BYOD classes. There are always a few kids who will walk in with their iPads out of charge. I was sent a Charge Bus from a company in the UK, which is a brilliant gadget. This is essentially a box that allows you to charge up to 16 iPads at the same time using just one plug socket. It can also fast sync the iPads to iTunes if you want it to. Styluses are another worthwhile purchase and they are getting better at last. They are particularly useful when using smaller screens. The next generation of styluses should be more precise and should be similar to using an actual pen or pencil for writing.
What is the best advice that you would give to teachers who are afraid or nervous about integrating technology into their lessons?
I may have touched on it earlier. Don’t be afraid to learn from the students. It is O.K. to take small steps until you understand how to use the technology more effectively. Do what you are comfortable with. When I train teachers who are not tech-friendly, I like to look at apps that are not complicated or ones that they are already familiar with. A brilliant example is Nearpod. If you are already familiar with PowerPoint then you don’t have to start from scratch with it as you can convert a tired old PowerPoint into an engaging, interactive Nearpod session in a short amount of time.
Mr Bambury is highly respected by his colleagues, students and parents. His background in film, passion for technology and education provides him with a unique skill set that makes him an asset to the JESS team. Educators outside of the JESS community have also benefitted from his vast knowledge of technology via his presentations at the What Works Conference, the Global Education Forum at GESS and other events around Dubai.