Half a world away. VR helping to cross the cultural divide.


I live on the Isle of Man and this is going to be our year of going global and yet we aren’t ever going to leave our classroom.

I was fortunate enough last year to meet a fellow teacher Rosie Kolster, she came to the island from Muscat, Oman to see how we use iPads in our MFL classrooms.  It was a great couple of days and at the end we agreed to attempt a project between our students.

Sometimes with real beginners in second language learning connecting with native speakers can be difficult for them and as result I have found that making connections with other early stage language learners can be highly motivational. Rosie and I decided that our students would make ebooks about themselves and we’d simply swap them.  Rosie’s class filmed some fabulous videos using green screen whereas my class decided to show our Omani friends our school and our town through the use of 360 photography . Our work was added to bookcreator app and once complete, exchanged.


The mere mention of 360 photography or video is often followed by groans from educators around the world as it is seen as extremely costly.  The cheapest 360 video cameras come in around £300 and most school simply can’t afford to have sets of them in their classrooms but working with 360 photography needn’t be expensive and  it can still provide those wow moments for students.

When my students made their 360 photos they used 2 tools;

  1. Google street view app
  2. storyspheres.com

Making 360 photos using street view is very easy. Open the app and tap the big yellow camera. Next select camera; a white circle appears on the screen move your screen until the white circle aligns with a yellow dot, once aligned a portion of the 360 photo is taken.  Continue to do this whilst moving around in a circle; don’t forget to look up and look down so that you get a full 360 experience.  Once you have taken your photo it appears at the bottom of your screen, tap it and then tap the export button.  Select share privately and add the photo to your camera roll.

Now it’s time to add the photo to storyspheres.com

At this point I should like to point out that like all the best ideas, this one is ‘stolen’ When I say stolen, what I mean is that someone far more experienced and knowledgable pointed me in the right direction with easy VR for the classroom.  I’m lucky enough to be able to call her my friend and she is undoubtedly the person to follow on twitter for any help or advice regarding VR in the classroom so, stop reading for a moment and start following @virtualsarahj and tell her I sent you 🙂

Storyspheres allows you to upload 360 photos and add a sound file to go with your photo – which makes it perfect for use in the languages classroom.  You need to make an account then follow the simple steps and upload your photos and sound files.  Now that you have your story in storysheres you can share the link.

For our project with Rosie’s class we didn’t add a sound file as the children were adding voice recordings in the Bookcreator app. In order to share our photos the students took a still photo for each 360 photo and we used this in Bookcreator to link to our 360 photos in Storyspheres.  Rosie tweeted me yesterday to say that all she could hear in her class when her pupils opened the photos was ‘wow this is so cool!’ it enabled our Omani friends to become immersed in our world. They could stand on Ramsey beach or at the harbour or in out assembly hall and get a really good idea of what our town and school are like.  360 photos and VR can help to build empathy and understanding and help us to cross cultural divides.

Here are some of our 360 images made using Street View and uploaded to Storyspheres

School Playing fields

Mooragh Park, Ramsey

Ramsey Harbour

Ramsey Beach

Some of my students have never left the Isle of Man so projects like ours with the British School Muscat help to open their eyes to a whole world, one that they could never previously conceive and although VR is no substitute for the real thing it’s certainly one step closer than a still photograph or a film.

If you are interested in using VR in your classroom. There are a number of resources that are well worth a look at.  YouTube now supports 360 videos and there are  numerous videos worthy of a look.  Street view meanwhile, will show you how many 360 photos there are in any particular area.  So, you could look up the Eiffel tower and tap on a 360 photo and be taken there.  Google Expeditions ,a new kid on the block but brilliant for use in class.  This free app allows you to lead your class on an expeditions pointing things out as you go.

If you’d prefer your students to create rather than consume take a look at cospaces.io Here,  students can create 360  virtual worlds which they can then ‘walk’ through using the cospaces app.  Please note that students have to create using a desktop or laptop but they can add sound and labels. I have yet to use it with a class but it has great potential and I have booked our computer suite this week so that Y8 can give it a try another blog post will no doubt follow…

In the meantime enjoy throwing the windows and doors open on the world with your students using VR let me know how you get on!


ADE Institute 2016 – A Reflection

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I’m writing this from seat 20D of my easy jet flight from Copenhagen after a fantastic 2 week family holiday in Denmark. I’m guessing most reflections have been written & read but family first and so 3 weeks after the event and with tunes from the ADE soundtrack blasting in my ear here are my reflections on a week of learning, laughter & friendship.

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Those who want the world the stay as it is don’t want the world to stay. I found this quote as graffiti on the Berlin Wall, it sums up exactly what an Apple Distinguished Educator is not. ADE’s believe in pushing boundaries, collaborating not just within their schools or school districts but across the world. They want to put a dent in the universe, they truly believe that they can change education for the better. The first thing that hits you when you go to an ADE institute is the friendship. Our hotel lobby was full of hellos and ‘so pleased to finally meet you in person! You see, most ADE’s don’t wait until institute to collaborate most have been doing it virtually for years but it is at a global institute that they get to meet face to face so you can only imagine the force of nature that is a group of ADE’s working together.

Collaboration is key at these events. During the week we all work on a project of our choosing with other educators. My chosen group was the sketch noting group. We were made up of 2 Brits, 1 Irish, 3 Americans, a Canadian & a Colombian. Our aim is to show via an iBook how we have incorporated sketch noting into our work as educators both in the classroom and for our own personal use. I am not artistic in any way but I love sketch noting & I learnt so much from the many brilliant teachers that I worked with that week. I came away inspired by them with a real desire to try & improve my own sketch noting as well as trying to incorporate it more into my work with students. Thanks goes to Sharon Drummond who showed me her 100 days of sketching in which she learnt a new German word a day & sketched it. I’m definitely going to try that with students but we’ll start smaller 7 days of sketching most probably 🙂


During the week we were privileged to be able to attend sessions given by our fellow ADE’s I was lucky enough to be able to attend firstly a session on podcasting and then a session on 6 word stories. The podcasting session was lead by Kelly Croy. Despite having listened to his podcast I have never previously connected with him online but as soon as I entered his ‘classroom’ I was bowled over by his warmth & passion. I have dabbled with podcasting in the past but thanks to Kelly & his fantastic presentation it is something I intend to persue with this coming school year! Thanks Kelly it was truly lovely to meet & chat to you!

My next session was lead by Don Goble another incredible teacher, like Kelly I really warmed to his generous spirit & enthusiasm. Don told us how he & his students went about creating six word stories, again this is something I intend to emulate in my foreign language classroom this year. Thanks Don for the inspiration – can’t wait to share our French 6 word stories with you!

During the week we were also treated to sessions from Apple experts on GarageBand, Keynote, Swift playgrounds, iMovie, iBooks and Final Cut Pro. I’m definitely going to animate using keynote this year with students & maybe see if we can enter Simon Pile’s school’s film festival with one of our films! Also watch out for more Dupstep MFL. I’ve use GarageBand live loops in class before but having had hints & tips from the experts expect bigger & better grammar songs from my foreign language classroom this year!

Collaboration isn’t just about work & you work hard at institute it’s also about getting out of your classroom with others and discovering and so on Wednesday we went out in groups to discover the amazing city of Berlin. Our group decided to create a BookCreator book about our adventure based on the ‘Where’s Wally’ books we called it where’s ADE, the basic premise being that an ADE hid in a crowded scene in Berlin, a photo was taken and readers had find them. It started as a bit of a giggle but by the end of our day we were all thinking that this project would work with students too! This is typical of institute, ADE’s just try stuff no matter how daft, after all it might just work!IMG_4322.JPG

Team ‘Where’s ADE?”

The highlight of institute for us all is ADE spotlights. Each morning starts with a selection of ADE’s telling their stories in 3 minutes, no more, no less. There’s a huge clock with 3 minutes on it that counts down as each ADE speaks and when 3 minutes is up the spotlight dies and the mic is cut whether they have finished or not! This year I loved  Shaun Kirkwood‘s 5 minutes of fun Brit Morgan & Cathy Hunt‘s art work Simon Pile & Stuart Hammersley‘s video work as well as my roomie, Sarah Jones‘ fabulous work with 360 VR. I loved the work of many teachers taking their students out of their classrooms & documenting their work via iPads.


Spotlights are incredibly inspirational & scary as hell as I found out on the last day as it was my turn!!!! I can honestly say it was one of the best things I have done right from conceiving an idea to talk about right up to the presentation itself. It makes you focus & reflect on your work in the classroom. It makes ensure that your story connects and the your slide deck is of A1 quality – this is Apple after all!


ADE’s try stuff, push boundaries, collaborate, inspire, share & support not just each other but all educators and that’s how we put a dent in the universe!

ADE 2015 or no man is an island – thank goodness!

Back in March I applied to become an Apple Distinguished Educator it was something that I had long wanted to do.  A few months later I was delighted to receive an email telling me that I had been selected, to say I was thrilled doesn’t quite cover it! 

As part of your new found ADE status you are invited to attend a week long ADE institute which this year took place in Amsterdam. This is my review of a truly awe inspiring week.

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I live on the Isle of Man it’s a rock 35km by 12km in the middle of the Irish Sea it’s a beautiful place but believe me when I tell you that it can sometimes be wild and desolate too.  Island life can be… well, isolating. There are times when you feel well and truly cut off from everything.  One of the reasons I took to Twitter 3 years ago was to try and combat the sense of isolation in an education context.

The one thing that you learn on Twitter is that there are many of us who use technology in our classrooms to enhance teaching and learning but we are still in the minority and you can feel a bit like a one man band or as Stuart Hammersley @depipads puts it the “mad iPad man”  And yet when you step into your ADE institute the feelings of isolation and indeed madness fade away because literally every single person you meet is as passionate as you are about the use of technology in the classroom. It is incredible.

It has taken me ages to write this blog post largely because my head has been so full of ideas since institute, it has taken me weeks to process all that I learnt, in fact, I am still processing.  I went on holiday straight after institute and for the first week I swear I barely slept as idea after idea kept spinning round and round in my head. In the end I had to write a list on my iPhone in order that I could get some sleep!

Institute was a full on week of CPD.  I was captivated and inspired by the presentations of my fellow ADE’s leading me to sometimes wonder how on earth I had managed to become an ADE in the first place!  Bill Frakes’ session on photography was incredible his work on Estonia made me cry and his Nebraska skies film took my breath away! 

I have a long held, passionate dislike for text books and I already had it in my mind that I was going to make greater use of iBooks Author and produce my own iBooks in the coming academic year so sessions on how to create them and Alan Rosenfeld’s session on design really resonated with me. 

I really appreciated the chance to be able to talk things over with others who think like I do.  I have had a community project idea in my head for many years now but I have never really been able to get it off the ground.  Institute relit the glowing embers of this idea for me as one of the task set for us during the week was a community project.  As it happens I chose not to go down this route right now instead choosing to do produce a One Best Thing iBook, but following many, many discussions with Apple staff, fellow ADE’s and alumni and a great session on community projects I know that I will now get this project off the ground.

Institute helped me to define myself as an educator. What kind of teacher am I?  I concluded that I love being creative in the classroom and producing interesting lessons that will hopefully captivate my students and encourage them to have a love of language learning.  Lessons like – solving a murder, designing a new home for a victim of the Haitian earthquake, learning about adjectives and animals via the works of Henri Rousseau. I could go on and on.  What has also become clear is that Apple products will help me and my students to continue being creative and my fellow ADE’s will be the ones who push me to continually improve as a teacher.

My favourite thing about the week was the people.  They are passionate believers in purposeful use of technology in the classroom.  They are generous sharers of ideas.  They  are great listeners and advice givers. They are funny, kind, supportive and friendly and I am very, very proud to be one of them.