Thursday 16 March 2017

Is there a super quick way to make card sort tasks?

Since getting iPads at Chesterton Community College in 2013, Dr. Katharine Hutchinson (Director of eLearning and CPD) had been looking for a tool to create digital ‘card sorting’ activities for students. She was a fan of traditional paper activities like this and knew many other staff were too.

The activities involve students being given a set of information presented in bitesize pieces on cards, which they read and then sort through in a pair or small group - it’s a type of task used in schools all over the world. Students might have to sort cards to answer a particular question, be asked to categorise them into groups or arrange them in a certain way. The problem is the amount of time it takes to set them up!

Katharine explained: “It’s just so time consuming. When working with bigger classes, I might divide them into 18 pairs. That means you need 18 sets of cards. Imagine you have 20 pieces of information in each card set…. that makes for a lot of card printing and cutting out! Then one child will drop a card and you won’t know which set it belongs to, so next time you will have to create it all over again to ensure that every pair is working with the full set of cards."

@sylviaduckworth and @edappadvice's adaptation
Since taking on a new role in early 2017, she had an extra focus: “My key goal in terms of being Director of eLearning is to move more from Substitution/Augmentation of tasks through iPad use, into Modification/Redefinition so that we get an absolute transformation of learning.” This is in reference to the SAMR Model (see right), popularized by Dr. Ruben Puentedura.

Finding Thinking Kit

Katharine was just about to give up on finding a tool to create iPad card-sorts, when she heard about our first suite of apps (Digital Mysteries) on Twitter and gave us a call. We were actually developing the Thinking Kit: a tool to create iPad activities. We often describe them as ‘mysteries’ (see Professor David Leat/Thinking Through Geography's work) but in the most basic sense, they could be called ‘digital card sort tasks’. Academic research shows these are excellent for initiating discussion and building thinking skills, plus suited to various subjects.

When we told Katharine about Thinking Kit, she was instantly excited to try it. She became an early tester and helped shape it into what it is today. She explained: “Why do we work with Reflective Thinking? Because they listen, and we like that. We like the idea that we can work in partnership. It ensures we are creating something really beneficial for the learning of the students that we work with.” Also, “the idea of not having to cut the cards and the whole thing being complete the next time I go to use the task is just incredible. It really gives me a boost in terms of confidence...because I know everything is in place.”

Please click here to go straight to free trial information.

Using Thinking Kit to create card-sorting tasks for iPads

One of Katharine's activities (Geography)
At first, Thinking Kit was largely used by the Humanities Faculty (Katharine’s specialism) at Chesterton; then use of the tool grew in Modern Foreign Languages as well as Music. Maths and Science teachers have since created lots of Thinking Kit activities for use with various year groups. When we visited Chesterton and observed a Maths lesson, there was a fantastic use of the tool for matching angles with their correct terms. Students screenshotted their final layouts for GCSE revision. The English Faculty are also keen to get on board. Katharine said: “I think the Thinking Kit App is applicable to every subject area. If you’ve got somebody in your department team who is creative, I can guarantee that they will be able to find a way of students benefitting from it. It’s been transformative for us. It’s been brilliant.”

A Music task by Catherine Wilson
We asked Katharine if there were any reduced costs. “How much is a teacher’s time worth? I have got no idea! I’ve never worked it out, but let’s say I’m making a standard card sort on a piece of card. By the time I’ve typed it in I might as well have just typed it into Thinking Kit. I’ve then got to find a printer and print a single copy. Then I’ve got to find 18 different colours of card (because I don’t want one card being dropped then not know which set it goes back in) and photocopy the sheet 16 times. Then I have to cut it all up and put it in bags. What’s that… two hours maybe? Instead of five minutes. I genuinely don’t know what the calculation is for how much a teacher’s time is worth...but two hours is worth a lot to me.

Using Rhiannon's Treaty of Versailles task.
Colleague Iain Dover added “Another time saving aspect is that any changes you might want to make can be done quickly. If you revise the lesson after teaching it to one class, or the framework of the lesson changes from a previous year, you might need to make changes to some cards. With Thinking Kit, this takes minutes, whereas when you are using paper it means reprinting all the cards again, and making sure you dispose of the old ones (otherwise they often get mixed in with the new sets).”

Head of History, Rhiannon Evans, agreed: “The thing I love most about Thinking Kit is the time it saves me! I think card sorts are such a valuable way of facilitating/extending student thinking and discussion, but we all know how long it takes to create them by hand. Having an app that allows you to create them in minutes is just brilliant.” Teachers across the school told us similar things.

Please click here to go straight to free trial information.

Thinking, reflection, revision and Project Based Learning

Thinking Kit is based on Moseley et al.’s (2005) ‘strategic and reflective thinking’ model so provides tools that have extra, previously inconceivable benefits compared to paper card sorts (ideal to progress towards transformation in the SAMR Model). A specific part often mentioned is the Reflection Stage. This allows students to play back, and interact with, their session alone, as a small group, with their teacher or as the basis for a whole class discussion.

Roger De Souza, Science Teacher, explained: “The playback feature is really useful, and students can access it in their own time.” Katharine explained that such tools are helping in her key goal (in terms of being Director of eLearning) to move towards the Modification/Redefinition end of SAMR. “The challenge now is not just creating something using the Thinking Kit because it’s quicker, but creating it on the Thinking Kit and using it there in a way that’s better, that’s actually transformed the learning...for me, that’s key. Being able to play back the way you’ve (students) looked at the slips, the way you’ve grouped them, to print out your PDF (report) afterwards, is fantastic.”

Andy Cornick using Thinking Kit
and Reflector
It was fantastic to see Maths Teacher Andy Cornick’s use of Thinking Kit combined with Reflector. He beamed up students' layouts onto the projector and the class discussed their choices. When Andy explained whether he agreed or disagreed with the layout, he could also annotate on top of the cards and provide a deeper explanation. Students could probe further then actively move cards into the right area. This was excellent for the GCSE revision exercise they were doing and by having the playback saved on their iPads, they will now refer back to it at a later date for revision.

There is also the option for students to create their own activities; perhaps for their peers to use in class, or even those in another school or country. Katharine had told us previously, “My colleague is currently getting his Year 10 class to design some activities as part of an end of unit progress check. They are a very low ability group and have been really motivated by the idea of their work being turned into an app that other students can use. I’ve just had one of them come to see me to show me what they’ve done so far and I’m impressed by the understanding that they have shown.” This is something to watch out for, and we will be waiting to hear how students progress.

Final comments and how to have a free trial

At the time of drafting this post (15th March 2017), Chesterton Community College staff/students have created 169 tasks which between them have been downloaded 4575 times. It is safe to say they are power users of Thinking Kit. Would they recommend it? Bethany Baker-Williams, History Teacher, had this to say: “I would recommend Thinking Kit to others because it is a really versatile resource. It can be used for a card sort around a certain question, for putting events into sequence or chronological order, or for organizing ideas and thoughts before a written task. I love the fact that the same sets can be used in lots of different ways, and students really enjoy the interactive element of the app. It’s accessible to everyone, and not restricted by literacy issues...Minimum input time for busy teachers, maximum output for our learners!”

To have a free trial, be put in touch with Katharine, or to simply ask a question, please click here. We also have a special offer on all levels of subscription until the start of Easter weekend (14th April). Enter cardsort30 into the discount code field to get 30% off, or quote it if you want to order via the form on the link above/by email to

Some information on Chesterton Community College
Dr. Katharine Hutchinson is the Director of eLearning and CPD at 11-16 school Chesterton Community College in Cambridge, England. There are 900 students and 120 staff. It is a very popular school where each student has their own iPad. Over 25% of pupils come from homes where English is not the first language. The school is in the top 5% of schools nationally in terms of their Progress 8 results.

Chesterton is a National Support School and its Head is a National Leader of Education; with these roles, the school is happy to be involved in ‘school to school’ support opportunities. Please do contact the school if you would like further information about this. Click here to email Chesterton.

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