Tech at school: Teachers are doing it for our kids

Image: Kate Keily, teacher librarian at John Purchase Public School

Our children are growing up in a new world, one that is continually evolving. Their life has been filled with technology since birth and they have never known a time without gadgets and stimulation. They are the children of the 21st century, the ‘igeneration’, as they have been described. Never has a generation had so much at such an early age.

The journey begins

In the Australian curriculum, including the NSW syllabuses there is a far greater emphasis on multi-modal delivery and integrating technology. This can be a challenge for some teachers who are not at ease with technology. How on earth are they going to teach their students to use these devices and programs when they have no confidence to do so themselves? Teaching has fundamentally changed forever.

This is the story of how, over two years or so, John Purchase Public School went from using technology in a limited way in the classroom to using it as a meaningful learning tool across the whole school.

John Purchase Public School (JPPS) is located in Cherrybrook and has an enrolment of 680 students. At the start of this journey, around five years ago, we had a computer room with desktops. Additionally, each classroom had one or two functioning computers, relying on a very slow wireless network for internet access. A few staff had an interest in technology and the rest of us were a fairly average cohort, slightly on the mature aged side. How does a school move forward from here? The answer is quite simple, in small steps, project by project.

Equipping the teachers

The first such project was instigated by Pat Ryan, the principal at the time. She wanted to ensure all teachers had a computer as they needed this to learn, experiment and become confident. Teachers were soon required to enter data on their computer and add it to shared folders. These skills were a big step for some teachers who had never used computers before. The tasks became increasingly more demanding, as they were part of the school data collection and because it was compulsory, teachers just saw it as part of their job. Whole school training and development sessions and days were used to continue to upskill teachers.

The drive for technology was becoming stronger and the need to resource the school became a priority. Interactive white boards were a must for classrooms. Various fundraising efforts, along with school funds being channelled in this direction soon saw every classroom equipped.

Resourcing the students

The decision was made to make an initial purchase of banks of 10 iPads with each bank to be shared across Stage groups. Meanwhile, the staff as a whole was becoming more confident and skilled, making this the right time for the first big project. Every class was to produce an animation for the school time capsule. After the announcement of this initiative, collective gasps from the staff were audible for all to hear. On the faces of some, a look of sheer panic could be seen.

After the initial shock and weekly professional learning sessions on various animation skills and techniques, panic died down and staff genuinely got involved and began to enjoy it. It was a great time of mentoring and collaboration within the school with more technically skilled teachers providing great support and guidance for those who were struggling. In many cases, it was the less experienced teachers, who had recently graduated, who were able to provide the most assistance.

The new relationships that were forged have continued to support the technology integration process and have resulted in a more cohesive learning team. There were some stressful moments along the way as the project was completed. The stress was worth it as some of the results were amazing.

Creative engagement

The success of the project from a student engagement perspective and the buzz surrounding it in the staffroom started to encouraged teachers to try new things in their own classrooms. It is wonderful how many very talented teachers there are and the staff members at John Purchase Public School were certainly no exception. It was not long before individual teachers were implementing all kinds of programs within their classrooms. Teachers set up their own class blogs, set homework online and generally were more focused on using technology. Teachers taught other teachers and technology and ideas were beginning to spread.

Taking it to the library

The school was moving ahead at a rapid rate and as the information hub, the library was an integral part of the journey. The challenge, as always, was to integrate the technology in a meaningful way. Using computers for research and explicit teaching of skills to do this well are very important for student learning. I wanted to reinforce this by giving these skills context and purpose.

Purpose brings motivation, an essential element in achieving learning goals. I also wanted to tap into the creative opportunities that technology can offer to students.

My first major project that year was for Book Week. I decided that we would make our own book trailers to showcase the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) short list. As class groups we researched current book trailers and discussed the features: what made them good and bad, what techniques had been used and what equipment we might need to make our own?

There was great enthusiasm as students set about creating with the use of cameras, iPads and computers. There were a large number of students waiting each lunch time to come into the library to work on their trailer. Like all projects it had varying degrees of success. Some trailers were amazing – fabulous mini feature films using iMovie. Others were simple PowerPoint presentations with music and nice transitions. The exciting thing was that every child in every class learnt new skills.

I certainly learnt an enormous amount, especially from the students. I also learnt an extremely valuable lesson that has enabled me to move forward with bigger and better projects. Don’t be scared to say to students, ‘I don’t know how to do that’ or ‘Does anyone in the class know how?’ How about, ‘Let’s research this together. We can see if there is a YouTube clip that can teach us how’.

Many primary students today are able to use technology creatively and by seeking their assistance I was providing validation for their talents. The enthusiasm and sharing of information and skills for meaningful learning was overwhelming.

Reaping the rewards

Engagement and choice were my new key features in planning units of work for students. The use of technology appeals to this generation enormously and can be used to keep the attention of the most reluctant students. The one key feature one must never lose sight of is the learning outcome you are trying to achieve.

I have gone on to many other collaborative learning projects and use technology in most classes. I now have a bank of seventeen desktop computers and five iPads. The iPads have been a very useful addition as their portability, ability to film and take photos and the many varied apps have created opportunities for new projects.

The school has a new wireless network and a large bank of iPads that are now used extensively in the school across all Year levels. Some examples of how students use them include:

  • accessing online programs in reading and maths groups
  • filming of plays and re-enactments
  • making short movies and animations
  • publishing their own stories on iBooks
  • note taking
  • research
  • reading digital books.

The uses are only limited by one’s imagination. There have also been other whole school projects such as the Education Week celebrations where we QR coded the whole school and created a scavenger hunt. Parents and visitors were asked to bring their smart phones and iPads with them to scan and follow the trail. It was an exciting day for all.

Exciting teaching opportunities

The use of iPads and technology has been a great benefit as it is has challenged many of us to question the way we teach. It has provided great opportunity for collaboration amongst staff and peer mentoring. I really enjoyed the Stage meetings at our school where teachers had to present to colleagues one technology program or application that they would recommend. I went away and tried and used many of these.

The use of technology is infectious; the more teachers implement and learn new programs the more others follow. It is really a matter of making a start, committing to the cause and giving something new a try.

Keywords: iPads, learning

How to cite this article: Keily, K. 2014, ‘Tech at school: Teachers are doing it for our kids’, Scan 33(3)

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