A revolution in learning

The Government's plan for all school subjects to use ICT has gathered pace
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The Independent Online

Thanks to information and communications technology (ICT), science lessons have been transformed at Houghton Kepier school, Tyne and Wear. Science teacher Andrew Anderson explains: "Recently, we were doing a project on pollution and birds. In the past, analysis of graphs on this kind of project was problematic for pupils, and if they were given a graph in an exam it really scared them. Now, because we use ICT, they are able to see for themselves the effect of pollutants on the birds and translate this into a graph on the computer. It's fun and gives them more control over their learning, which helps them understand more, as well as giving them a sense of pride in what they're achieving."

Thanks to information and communications technology (ICT), science lessons have been transformed at Houghton Kepier school, Tyne and Wear. Science teacher Andrew Anderson explains: "Recently, we were doing a project on pollution and birds. In the past, analysis of graphs on this kind of project was problematic for pupils, and if they were given a graph in an exam it really scared them. Now, because we use ICT, they are able to see for themselves the effect of pollutants on the birds and translate this into a graph on the computer. It's fun and gives them more control over their learning, which helps them understand more, as well as giving them a sense of pride in what they're achieving."

The Government's aspiration is to embed ICT in all subject teaching, with the aim of improving learning strategies and creating a deeper level of engagement across all age groups. In primary schools average expenditure on ICT has risen from £68m in 1998 to £201m in 2003 and in secondary schools from £143m to £223m. Between 2003 and 2006, £330m has been earmarked for schools to purchase eligible digital content for teaching use.

At Athelston primary school, Sherburn in Elmet, Leeds, years 4 and 5 are benefiting from ICT to learn about healthy lifestyles. Indigo Multimedia's It's Your Goal takes an unhealthy footballer in a Harry Potter-style castle and uses an interactive environment to get students to help him give up his slovenly ways.

It would be misleading to suggest all schools are using ICT at this level, however. Take-up of government funds has been surprisingly slow in some educational institutions, and a May 2004 Ofsted report found that most schools were still falling far short of the Government's vision: inspectors described pupils' ICT experiences as "sporadic and teacher-dependent".

A variety of initiatives by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) aims to change this. Among them is an independent evaluation service - one part of this is run by Evaluate and the other by Schoolzone. "We produce classroom-based evaluations of software by practising teachers," explains Elizabeth Collie of Schoolzone. "We have trained a considerable number of them to provide this service and their evaluations are available to all teachers for free so that they can become informed purchasers of educational software."

"Hands-on Support" is another DfES initiative where teachers can receive one-to-one mentoring from fellow teachers who are experts in the use of ICT in their teaching. Meanwhile, future teachers will be aided by the DfES and Teacher Training Association working together to ensure ICT is a major part of initial teacher training.

In addition, there are some strategies in place specifically for primary schools. "A series of CD-Roms on learning and teaching using ICT have been developed in conjunction with the Primary National Strategy and are now available to schools," says a spokesperson for the DfES. "A National Whitebaord Network has also been developed to support schools in the use of their interactive whiteboards."

Likewise, in secondary schools, a series of video case studies combined with a range of advice and guidance in subjects at both Key Stage 3 and 4, has been available to teachers since January this year. Also being produced by the DfES is an "ICT Across the Curriculum pack" (ICTAC) and a series of subject specific books on exemplar use of whiteboards.

Perhaps most exciting are the upcoming subject-specific road shows for Key Stage 3 teachers, which will move around the country between 18 October and 7 December this year. "These will be hands-on events run in conjunction with the Subject Associations and will provide teachers with the opportunity to experience first-hand how they can use ICT effectively to enhance their teaching," explains the DfES spokesperson.

"It's one thing to read about our evaluations, but it's quite another to say, 'Here's what's available in your subject. Have a go yourself'," says Elizabeth Collie, who is working in association with the DfES on the roadshows.

The roadshows will help in demonstrating that it doesn't have to break the bank to purchase these products, says Collie. Basic ICT software and equipment can be used by schools unable or unwilling to commit the time and resources to top-of-the-range materials such as simulation video software. They will also show that ICT doesn't have to be complicated to use, she adds. Video-conferencing between schools in different countries can be used to discuss issues for citizenship classes, for example. For schools that want something more high-tech, however, the options are certainly there.

Annie Hamblin, a former teacher who now works for Schoolzone, believes the benefits of the Government's plans to integrate ICT into everyday classroom life are wide-reaching. "Pupils have more opportunities to learn at their own pace or according to styles of learning that best suit them," she says. "ICT also makes lessons more lively, varied and interactive so that pupils engage more. Pupils feel more empowered, too. Something like the interactive whiteboard means children can look at simulations of, say, solids, liquids and gasses in a science class - and they can see what happens when they make predictions. There's a real 'wow' factor in that."

Hamblin adds that whatever subject ICT is used in, it can help children vocationally for the future. "Even getting them to write their own PowerPoint presentations involves skills that will stand them in good stead in the future," she says.

Academies particularly welcome the growing use of ICT in subject teaching, says Jean Hickman, head of the Walsall Academy. "Independent learning is the very ethos of academies, so ICT is an extremely important tool for us," she says. "If you go into our music technology suite, for example, we use software to enable students to experience all aspects of music including creating and writing music and they do this at their own pace. It is extremely effective."

'We decided to make ICT part of the very infrastructure of the school'

Five years ago, the Sacred Heart High School in Fenham, Newcastle upon Tyne, decided to wake up to the benefits of ICT. "We decided to seriously invest not only in equipment and software, but in making ICT part of the very infrastructure of the school," says assistant head teacher, Fiona Temple Jones. The first step was to create some dedicated rooms where students could become familiar with the practical use of ICT, with the help of ICT specialists.

"We felt that if we didn't do that, students would have difficulty utilising ICT in their individual subjects," she says. "That worked well, and now ICT is embedded into every subject. With music, for example, we use software that allows students to create music with confidence. In physics classes, students manipulate figures and change variables so that they can really try things out and work within some very difficult contexts."

The school has also developed its own software. "We have created a CD-Rom for the textiles class, for instance, which is a virtual reality room where students can look around and see what fabrics are used and why."

For most students, ICT has been a great motivator and a huge confidence booster, says Temple Jones. "It helps them work at different levels and really engages them because it's so interactive."

Teachers benefit too, she says. Each has a laptop, with the aim of reducing workload. "Initially, there was quite a bit of training around the software. But in the longer term, it will help teachers with things like lesson planning and reporting."

The school has just appointed an e-learning director, who will look at ways to further enhance teaching through ICT.

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