Even where schools have limited, or next to no access to ICT provisions, lots can still be achieved. Whilst I would always recommend investing in additional technology it’s not always possible, so it’s good to make the most of what you already have.
The best way to make full use of ICT provisions effectively, is to timetable it for good use. Even for schools with masses of technology available to them, it’s not going to have any impact if it’s not used.
- In-class computers: In my previous school, we had been given advice not to have an ICT suite, and to instead have 2/3 computers per class. The thought behind this was that children would have constant access to computers and thus skills could be developed as part of daily learning. In reality however, computers were often just left, and ICT skills couldn’t ever really be taught as that would mean teaching only 2-6 children while the rest of the class were doing something else. Fortunately, we did have a good space available and were able to create an ICT suite with 16 desktop computers.
Space is a huge issue in some schools though, and those schools have to rely on class computers. Where this is the case, timetabling for the use of the computers is essential. Children should be in the routine of turning them on first thing in the morning and should be timetabled on them. In my recent coding blog, I noted how for a time my children accessed ‘hour of code’ in pairs as part of a timetable. Computer coding teaches children not only computer science but instructional writing, logical thinking, problem solving, aspects of maths (including angles, measure, directional language, coordinates etc), and many other skills, and should never be seen as children missing out on other areas of the curriculum. In a week, one hour of a lesson – be it language, maths, R.E. or anything – is not going to impact on a child’s learning of that subject when they are instead developing vast amounts of skills through a course such as an Hour of Code course (code.org/learn).
Sumdog is another fantastic tool that can be timetabled for during maths time – 5 maths lessons a week at normally an hour each. This time easily allows for your children to be timetabled on to the class computers for 20 minutes individually to complete Sumdog challenges (www.sumdog.com).
Often the importance of touch typing is underrated. In our day and age, typing quickly and efficiently is just as important as being able to write legibly and quickly. The skills developed in typing are the same as those obtained through writing. For dyslexic children, cursive handwriting is very beneficial to their retention of words due to muscle memory so should not be underestimated; this is also true for touch typing. Two great touch-typing websites are BBC dance mat typing (p2-4) and typing.com.
Class computers are of course also great for research tasks and for interactive finisher tasks.
For younger children, Microsoft paint is fantastic for developing Mouse Control and practicing drawing and writing letters. There are also many interactive games that can be left on the computers for children to explore.
- Small ICT suite: Used well, an ICT suite of only 8 computers can be just as effective as one of 30 computers, again, it is all about timetabling it to be so. With a smaller number of computers, I would recommend fewer scheduled sessions (none less than one hour long). I would recommend three main uses of the ICT suite.
–ICT suite for developing digital literacy. org has the most fantastic code course that your children can work through at their own pace. Teachers can create a free account and provide their children with a login where they can work through the course at their own pace. This can be done in school or at home. I’d suggest, in a small ICT suite to have children doing paired-programming (working with a partner). This is something that code.org are really big on, and most of their videos are tailored to it – one child is the ‘driver’ and in charge of operating the computer, whilst the other is the ‘navigator’ and in charge of spotting errors or better routes. In a smaller suite of say 8 computers, this would only be about half the class; however, with effective timetabling, the other half could be doing an unplugged coding activity (I will blog more ideas about this soon) or an instructional writing or other task. After half the lesson (30-45 minutes) your two groups could swap. This is a very effective way of delivering high quality digital literacy sessions, and with an instructional teaching input at the start and plenary at the end can really deepen the children’s understanding of coding as a problem solving and literacy experience rather than something separate from their other learning.
–ICT suite for developing numeracy. I’ve already mentioned Sumdog. Sumdog should always be done as an individual activity. In a similar manner to code above, I’d have three maths stations in a small ICT suite with Sumdog as one of them and two other stations, with children rotating after 20-30 minutes. Sumdog has been proven to raise attainment in numeracy and is included in the Scottish attainment challenge.
–Other. There are many other ways to utilise a small ICT suite, but again timetabling is key. An unused ICT suite is a wasted learning opportunity as in this digital age children should be preparing themselves for a digital world of work. Unused times to prepare for that world are wasted opportunities.
- iPads – Where there are limited numbers of iPads (say 5) they can either be used as part of a timetabled learning experience, as with the ICT suite, or be used to enhance learning experiences. I’d strongly suggest the latter. For this section, I will assume that there is no WiFi with the iPads.
–Peer assessment and evaluation. Use of the ‘camera’ to record video and/or photos can be a valuable self/peer assessment for the children, especially when used with apps such as clips and iMovie. Let’s take P.E. for example, and the ‘Evaluating and Appreciating’ Outcomes HWB 0-24a to HWB 4-24a, children could use the iPads to film their partner doing say a gymnastics routine. The children could then look at the footage and use it as evidence during the ‘feedback’. The children could import it into clips and add text and arrows to highlight aspects of their feedback. Again, the learning experience could be achieved without the iPad, but the use of it truly enhances that learning experience as the children are much more quickly able to recognise how they can improve their own performance. In literacy, children can use the camera to take photos of parts of other children’s work and highlight why they think it was good, by using ‘mark-up’ to write on and highlight parts of the work without actually damaging or changing the original.
–EXA. So many aspects of the EXA experiences and outcomes can be better realised with the assistance of the iPad. Creating short films in iMovie can bring to life children’s dramas and ideas. Garageband (although its interface can be intimidating at first, it’s actually very simple to use – especially ‘live loops’ – I’ve had P2 using it in the past) is a fantastic tool for letting children compose and create their own music without having to worry about first learning musical notation.
- Logins – I’d strongly recommend a whole school login and saving work into a class folder in ‘my documents’ rather than class logins – as these eat into time. In Mosspark, our Tech Team are timetabled to log on to the computers every morning as part of their duties so that they are ready for the children to use as soon as they go to class. Children don’t log out of the computers.
I have published a blog article recently about the power and importance of a digital leaders team and I can’t recommend them enough. Not only can they support children, they can support teachers. Whereas in the past, teachers would all come to me for advice on something that they were doing, and then it was a case of finding time for me to come in to them when I wasn’t in class; now, they can ask for a member of the team to come in and support them at any point – be it, show them how to work something, or work with some children. Where my team don’t know how to do something, I support and then train the team in that area so that we are always learning. A digital leaders team is truly invaluable!
ASN support groups
In Mosspark, we are being followed by Education Scotland this year as part of their ‘live narrative’ in our use of digital tools to raise attainment across the curriculum. As part of this, we have daily Sumdog groups where targeted children have a daily 30-minute Sumdog session with a member of support staff, either from 9am-9:30am or from 1pm-1:30pm, and the ICT suite is not timetabled to classes during this time. This daily Sumdog input has had a very positive effect on our young learners, and you will soon be able to access this information on the Education Scotland website.
We have also had a fantastic input from the ASL Technology service, with an especial focus on Ivona Mini-Reader (available on all GCC computers and most authority ones – just search for it in your start menu.) This program will read any computer based word-processed text (if you can highlight it and copy it, it can be read). This means that our children can highlight any word/sentence/paragraph and the computer will read it to them, allowing them to access the same content as their peers without a member of staff working individually with them. All they need is headphones. The self-confidence of our children that use this program has improved dramatically, as there is no stigma now of someone having to read everything to them.
I am still looking into more ways to raise attainment in literacy this year through tech as my main focus and look forward to blogging about my findings towards the end of the year.
PLNs or Professional Learning Networks
Often the thing that holds schools back the most in the deployment and effective use of digital technologies is staff confidence and knowledge about what is available. Many schools, including ours, are now encouraging their staff to use twitter as a PLN as part of their CPD. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough as since being on twitter my own practice has improved so much, as I am continually inspired by colleagues from across the world and get ideas every time I go online. There are of course many other PLNs including Facebook groups, but Twitter is the one that I get the most out of.
Sharing Learning on Social Media
Most schools do use Twitter and other sites now to share learning which is fantastic. One thing I think schools could do better to allow parents easier access to their children’s work is to use hashtags. In Mosspark, each class has a class hashtag (e.g. #MossparkP1a or #MossparkP7) so that parents can simply search for their child’s class to see what they’ve been learning rather than having to search through the school feed continually. Note though, if you’re doing this, special characters can’t be used in a hashtag, so composite classes, such as P3/2 have to be tweeted as #MossparkP32.
We have also built into our WTA that teachers send at least one example of learning and photo per week to be tweeted so that all classes are represented on a weekly basis.
I hope that this has been helpful.
There are so many ways that technology can be used where there is limited provision, but I think the above is a good starting place for any school.