My teacher is an app

Beaudesert Park School, Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire. 19th May 2014.
Picture by Clint Randall ww

Beaudesert Park School, Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire. 19th May 2014. Picture by Clint Randall - Credit: Archant

Technology is changing the classroom and turning traditional teaching on its head. Marianne Sweet looks at how schools are going virtual

NORTH. STORY REPORTERS. Students at Ellesmere College using technology in the classroom. Three stude

NORTH. STORY REPORTERS. Students at Ellesmere College using technology in the classroom. Three students from left, Lucy Mundell, Imogen Marsh and Olivia Hughes, all age 14 with their teacher Rhiann Waddams (CORR). 29/01/14 PIC BY IAN SHEPPARD. Copyright MNA - Credit: Archant

There’s a revolution going on in the classroom as schools harness the galloping technology revolution.

According to the Pew Research Centre, almost half of teenagers now own smartphones, up from 23% in 2011 and 95% of teenagers use the internet at least weekly.

The way pupils learn is fundamentally changing. A flexible, blended classroom model is replacing the one-size-fits-all approach.

Teachers are using digital technologies to engage pupils with more personalised learning experiences. In essence the integration of technology is enhancing their teaching and also developing pupils’ knowledge.

Wycliffe in Stonehouse aims to have its BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programme completed by 2016. As part of its roll-out, iChampions have been leading the scheme, sharing their training and learning with other staff.

The iChampions keep a blog of good practice so that staff can read what’s worked well and what hasn’t in the classroom.

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Lead iChampion Ian Russell is trialling a concept called ‘flipped classrooms’ where the typical roles of teaching and homework are reversed.

For example, pupils watch short videos for homework in preparation for their lesson and complete a quick online assessment as part of the process to test the knowledge of what they have learnt. Then in-class time is devoted to working on harder questions related to that particular topic.

“In a flipped lesson, the two processes of content delivery and homework are reversed,” explains Mr Russell. “The content delivery is assigned as homework, and the harder individual work is done in class time. That way the teacher has the time to address individual needs as they arise and can spend one-on-one time with every learner.”

Oswestry School adopted Google Apps for education in early 2012 and in September 2013 rolled out the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) scheme across the school.

“Teachers now increasingly set and mark work online and, on occasion, have used the new technologies to work with their pupils outside class time,” said Tim Jefferis, Deputy Head (Academic).

“But the biggest transformation for us has been in our ability to record and solicit the views of our pupils using Google forms. Twice a term now pupils at Oswestry have a one-to-one meeting with a member of staff in an attempt to replicate the high-input tutorial systems found at Oxford and Cambridge.

“Tutors are given prompts via a Google form as to issues that they should be discussing with their tutees and thus the quality of these meetings is assured. As the tutorial develops tutors record, in note form, the content of their discussion online. This information is then shared with senior managers and heads of year such that, at any given time, it is possible to have a highly-resolved view of the pastoral and academic welfare of all the pupils in the school.”

Tutees facing problems are quickly flagged up and remedial action is devised says Mr Jefferis. He says pupils value a one-to-one, unhurried private discussion and problems of an academic or pastoral nature are often pre-empted.

At King Edward’s School in Bath, secure Wi-Fi across the entire site, the building of a new library and the 10,000th VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) page, are all helping to take full advantage of rapidly changing technology to support pupils’ learning.

At Ellesmere College in Shropshire, the science departments are utilising resources class webpages, virtual learning environments and Ellesmere online to provide a revision portal that breaks the subject down into easily digestible segments.

Pupils can access the webpage from their own computers and navigate around the simplified content. The site contains information on the syllabus, teaching notes, downloadable materials, images, videos from YouTube showing experiments and external links to revision sites such as BBC Bite size. It is updated regularly so that pupils can have instant access to their lesson plans.

Vicky Pritt-Roberts, deputy head at Ellesmere College, says the subject is still being taught through traditional text book methods but the introduction of such sites is supporting pupils’ development and understanding of the subject.

The way tablets were introduced at Ellesmere followed an increasingly common pattern: first a limited pilot with teachers using the devices, then a trial with children, and finally the full rollout across the school. The process has included training teachers, evaluating apps and introducing a more efficient Wi-Fi connection, so that students are able to bring their own device. The school also provides tablets via the bookable resource, so no one is left out.

The use of technology in the classroom at Ellesmere College is a blended learning experience that embraces mobile phones and social media.

The overall goal is to provide independent learning for children and enable them to take ownership of their work and utilise all the tools available to them so they progress their knowledge and understanding.

Rhiann Waddams, head of geography, said: “If you’re a school, you have to get beyond this just being a device that you use. You can create what’s on it as well, and that’s been the transformation in the last year.”

Some teachers at Ellesmere have effectively integrated Twitter into courses, lessons and projects to get pupils more broadly involved in subject specific communities and encourage learning through additional research and from the wealth of experts on Twitter who are eager to share their knowledge.

Beaudesert Park School near Stroud is taking a more measured approach, with plans to have iPads for all within a few years.

“An important part of good teaching is about bringing subjects to life for children, and new technologies can really help that happen in the classroom,” explains Headmaster James Womersley.

“As with everything however, it’s a balance. Technology is important, but so is good old-fashioned one-to-one time with a teacher, teamwork in the classroom, good food, fresh air, firm friendships and lots of sport.”


This article is from the September 2014 issue of A+ Education